Let’s Talk About Manchester United…

For a club that has seemed pretty inactive, there is a lot to talk about here. I am a Manchester United fan so it is of course the club I keep the most notice of. While I try and stay unbiased, it can be hard not to start feeling frustrated and worried for the club I support. So let’s just go through everything that there is to talk about.

Transfers

Easily the most talked about topic revolving the club, it has been a very strange window so far. The players we have brought in have been very good signings. Fred fixes a huge problem we have in the team, which is a player who can adapt to different roles. The Brazilian is an excellent box to box midfielder, being able to do the defensive work, while also possessing quality on the ball, helping the team when attacking. One area in our midfield last season was lacking in that department. While both Pogba and Matic had good seasons, the mostly played in a two. The problem with doing that is they both do not balance each other in the slightest. Pogba is a player who excels in carrying the ball from midfield into the dangerous areas and helping create, while also being a real goal threat. Matic is great at covering the defense, and a safe distributor. Matic does not have the legs to cover the ground Pogba has to leave to help the attack. As the season went on we did move towards the midfield 3, which did help give us balance. The problem is that third player was usually either Herrera, Fellaini or McTominay. All of these three were mostly unable to contribute in any way to attacking (or in Fellaini’s case, defensively). It left us so reliant on Pogba, that marking him out of a game would make us so predictable. Fred is a player who is able to contribute to attack, which means he will be able to either drive the ball into the final third, or allow Pogba to make those runs into the box. Dalot was another signing I was pleased to see. Strangely enough, my favourite thing about him is how little I know about him. It feels very old fashioned, relying on only word of mouth to know what the young Portuguese full back is good at. From what I know, he is able to play at both right back and left back, and is very good in both attack and defense. Unfortunately he has picked up an injury, but should return by December. If both of these signings are positive, then what is the problem? Well it’s the other areas we haven’t strengthened. It was made very clear that centre back was an area that Mourinho wanted to strengthen. Throughout this window, we have been linked to many different defenders, including Harry Maguire, Toby Alderweireld, Milan Skiriniar, Marquinhos and Gary Cahill. But it seems the board are unwilling to meet some of the crazy prices places by their clubs. It is clear that Mourinho is getting frustrated with it, because he wants to go into the new season with every hole filled. Out of the names previously mentioned, Skiriniar would be my choice. The Slovenian is not only composed, but shows great maturity and is very good in the air. Many would favour Alderweireld, but I still have my reservations. Over the last 2 years he has suffered serious injuries, which have worsened by the year. If Manchester United spent in excess of £50m on a 29 year old, who could have another serious injury left in him. It is way more of a risk than is being made out. Buying from Premier League clubs is always a problem, because they can charge how much they want (as seen with John Stones and Virgil Van Dijk) because they know how much your club needs that certain player. Maguire would also be a red flag. While I do really like him, buying him would be a huge rip off, with Leicester asking for £65m. If it was for less than £40m I’d be okay with it, but I don’t want the club overpaying for players. It’s an issue that can be seen at the moment, being the disconnect between Mourinho, and the board. Mourinho has constantly been complaining about the lack of signings and the lack of additions to the squad. I agree with him to an extent. Mourinho is similar to Guardiola, in the sense of they both need full backing if they are to win trophies and make their clubs successful. We have seen Guardiola get this treating at City, with the club spending £100m on just full backs. Mourinho has made it clear that he doesn’t believe he is being backed in the same way. Even just looking at last season, United were constantly linked to Perisic, but the club were unwilling to match Inter’s valuation for the winger. We do not know how important Perisic could have been for the team, but it could have been the difference that was needed. The board seem to want that Galactico signing, like a Bale, Ronaldo or Neymar. But Mourinho, and I, think that is unnecessary, when the rest of the squad need serious surgery and it isn’t being addressed. However I do sympathise with the board in some aspects. The players that the club have brought in for Mourinho have not all worked out. The two that do stick in my mind are Henrik Mhikitaryan and Victor Lindelof. Both players were wanted by Mourinho. Mhikitaryan was bought for a pretty reasonable price at the time, and while he did play very well in the Europa League, his inconsistency in the league was his downfall. Lindelof has had a very mixed start to his united career. Last season he barely put in any tackles or interceptions, but did show some very good composure on the ball. Both of these signings not working could be the reason why the board do not want to put 100% backing into Jose, because they have had their hand bitten already. The relationship between Mourinho and the board will become the end of the the two time champions league winner, like it has before with other clubs.

Squad

Now with all things to be said about transfers out of the way, let’s just look at how the current group of players are being handled. This current squad of players have been managed very poorly, and context is very important here. In Mourinho’s first season, I constantly praised him for truly bringing the best out of his squad. The likes of Jones, Rojo, Herrera, Fellaini, Rashford and Valencia all were giving out their best performances and it gave Mourinho plenty of credit for getting the best out of his players. But last season became very different. All of the players mentioned just didn’t show the same level of performances. Jones started off very well, but seriously struggled January onwards. Rojo was coming back from an injury for most of the season, leaving him lacking match fitness. Herrera was by far the most frustrating. He went from an instant starter, into a player who failed to contribute anything to the team. Playing him alongside Matic was the problem. Matic averaged a very good 3.7 tackles and interceptions last season, leaving Herrera with the Pogba role of transitioning play. It was a role he excelled at for Bilbao, however now playing as more of a destroyer, it is a role he is no longer comfortable performing. Fellaini was another who came in for Pogba and performed very well, but was a key problem for United against Sevilla, a game all United fans just want to forget. Rashford’s development in that first season was going very steadily. His contribution to the team was very good, even making the most appearances for the club in that season. Rashford seemed to be lacking real confidence during the season, which limited his minutes and contribution for the team dropped, and wasn’t giving the same solid output. Valencia performed very well, giving a real driving force on that right side. However he began to show his age, failing to contribute effectively in the final third, like a modern day full back should. I’m bringing this up to show how Mourinho has failed to make those average players usable. Instead he failed to get the best out of his players, thus making united a much poorer side on the whole. While Mourinho fail to improve his players is one massive discussions, it is his treatment of two players, being Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Both have been on the firing end by the manager, and in my opinion, it’s mostly unjust. Mourinho was criticising Pogba for a lack of consistency, lack of focus, and for not performing. This mainly came from the Spurs game at Wembley, where Pogba on a defensive level, was very poor. Mourinho subbed him near the beginning of the second half, and brought on Fellaini to “offer something different” and he said it was purely “tactical.” However Pogba’s appearances for the club were much more limited, with the Frenchman being benched for both legs against Sevilla in that same month. Mourinho has been utilising Pogba incorrectly for most of the season. The ex Juventus midfielder has been playing in a deeper role, as more of a creative midfielder (like a Pirlo, Fabregas, or Xavi) But that is not his strengths. While Pogba is indeed an excellent passer of the ball, his strengths are his dribbling and creativity in the final third. Pogba’s main responsibility should be scoring and assisting, but Mourinho needs his midfielders to be disciplined, and work very hard defensively. Those are not his strengths. Pogba is such a unique player, in fact a one in a kind. Never have I seen a midfielder who is that fast, that strong, that technically gifted and that good in the final third. He can do things midfielders do not usually do. Getting the best out of him is the way for Manchester United to succeed. The signing of Fred might be the key to his shackles, to allow him to play his game. Martial is another who is definitely struggling in recent months. Martial was actually very good for United up until the signing of Alexis Sanchez. He went from a potential player of the season until a player stuck on the bench, to make way for a player who did not deserve the starts he was getting. Every time Martial played last season, he looked so good. In only 1584 minutes played, he contributed to 14 goals. That is a goal every 113 minutes. It shows how effective Martial was whenever he played, and how important he was for United. However Mourinho clearly doesn’t see what I see, as he seems fine to let the wide man leave this summer. If signing Alexis would have limited Martial’s minutes this much, maybe signing him was a bad idea. My expectation was to see Martial on the left with Sanchez on the right. It would allow us to play an inform player, while fixing a clear issue on that right side. It just seems baffling to bench a player who was performing so well, thus weakening United as an attacking threat.

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5 Premier League Teams to Watch Next Season

With the season arriving in less than a month, let’s look at 5 teams that you should just keep your eye on next season.

Chelsea

For the first time since Ancelotti, Chelsea have an attacking manager. This isn’t to take away from Mourinho and Conte, who both had good spells in charge. But they were always so pragmatic with how they set up their teams. Efficient is easily the best compliment that can be given to both of their title winning teams. But now they finally have brought in a manager who is famed for his attacking style. Sarri is one of my favourite managers in Europe. The team he built in Napoli was just so fun to watch. He was able to bring the best out of the players at his disposal. He turns Dries Mertens into a very good false 9, Insigne into one of the best wingers in Europe, and turned Reina from not good enough for Liverpool, to a very solid goalkeeper. He reminds me of Pep, in his ability to bring the best out of what he has. Speaking of Napoli, the signing of Jorginho was just what they needed. The Italian is a very good game controller, which is an area they have been missing since Fabregas began his decline. Sarri teams like to keep hold of the ball, so bringing in a guy who completes nearly 100 passes per game, is just ideal. However there still many issues for the Blues. The futures of Eden Hazard of Thibaut Courtois are all in doubt, with both heavily linked to a move to the Spanish capital. Both are key players and need to be tied down for the future. Hazard is a player who could finally shine, now with a manager who will not limit him. Courtois has also just came back from a golden glove winning world cup, meaning keeping him should be key. Chelsea are also heavily linked to Russian midfielder Oleksandr Golovin, and if they pull that move off, Chelsea’s midfield should be fixed. While they are not currently in the best place, Chelsea are finally in a place of unknown, which makes it so exciting to see where they go from here.

Arsenal

I think the end of Wenger’s reign couldn’t have ended more horribly. Missing out on champions league football for a second time and having an absolutely terrible away record. There were also huge issues with the team, lacking a good centre half, a defensively minded central midfielder, a competent goalkeeper, and a wide player. The appointment of Unai Emery, while not as high profile as everyone wanted, is still a safe and solid choice. He is known to be a great motivator and trains his players very hard. In fact after their last pre season game, his players went straight back to training, showing how much work needs to be done to have them ready for the new season (or maybe the lack of work Wenger was doing). The signings made have also been mostly fine. While both Leno and Papadopoulos aren’t great players, bringing both in for less than £20m is good business, and are improvements on what they already have. While Lichsteiner is the definition of a short term solution, he will give competition to a very inconsistent Bellerin, and offers good delivery in the final third. The best signing however is easily Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira. He had a breakout season for Sampdoria, giving them a real Kante role. He was a player who was excellent at recovering the ball, and also a fine distributer. He will give some real steel to a midfield that lacks a defensive workhorse. It is the first time in so long that Arsenal will finally be different, which is why it’ll be interesting to see how they perform next season.

Liverpool

While it does hurt to admit, Liverpool have easily made the best business of the window. They have fixed all of their key issues and look ready to challenge Manchester City for the title. While their defense was never a huge issue for them in my opinion (mainly because the way they play result in them looking very leaky), they have improved that with the signing of Allison. While they might have overpaid for him, he was easily the best available option for them in this current market. The Brazilian was brilliant for Roma last season, with only De Gea beating him in stopping expected goals. Allison is a great signing, but it’s their improvement in midfield that is most impressive. My issue with Liverpool’s midfield has always been the lack of flexibility. When playing against teams, like Manchester City, they excel because all of their players are great at pressing and do not need the ball. When they play against teams who would rather sit back, they do not have a central midfielder who is able to carry the ball out effectively and dribble through a midfield. They have brought in one of the best box to box midfielders in Naby Keita, and one of the most well rounded defensive midfielders in Fabinho. Keita is just great at everything. He is able to do the defensive work, is an incredible dribbler and is able to score and create. He will add a player who is able to fill in plenty of roles and who will help the reds keep possession more effectively. Fabinho gives them a real defensive midfielder. While Henderson has performed relatively well, he was never a true DM. Fabinho is one of the best defensive midfielders around, putting in over 4 tackles and interceptions per 90, while also helping in moving the ball, with a very solid 1.1 key passes per 90. He also wins 2.9 aerial rules. Which could mean the centre backs do not have to go towards the ball as much as they do, now with a player who is able to win it further up the pitch. This is a huge season for Jürgen Klopp’s side. Progress will need to be seen, and so far it is definitely there.

West Ham

I have always been so critical in how West Ham have signed players over the last year. They were signing the wrong players and their owners were always making these ridiculous promises. However this window has actually seen some real improvement. Gold and Sullivan decided to bring in Manuel Pellegrini to replace David Moyes. The obvious step up aside, it is a real coup for the hammers. They have finally found a manager who will be able to match the owner’s crazy ambition. What has been even better is the signings. Some smart signings were made very early on, like bringing in Ryan Fredericks on a free, and Fabinaski for less than £10m. They have matched these safe signings with some real ambitious ones, like highly rated youngster Issa Diop from Toulouse, finally giving them another option besides the usual James Collins and Winston Reid. While other signings like Yarmolenko and Wilshere are also pretty good, it’s their signing of Lazio winger Felipe Anderson that has really blown me away. The Brazilian was excellent in Serie A last season. In only 9 starts, he scored 4 and assisted 7. His stats also make for a great read, averaging 1.8 key passes and making 3.7 successful dribbles per 90. One thing that has been great to see in the Premier League is every club having a player good enough for the top 6, now West Ham have their man. They still have some key areas to strengthen, mainly in midfield. While Wilshere is a fine enough addition, that midfield is still missing quality. 3 managers have now fielded a Koyate and Noble midfield, and everytime have shown why it doesn’t work. They will hope that Wilshere can stay fit, and that Obiang has a real breakout season, otherwise they could well struggle to protect the defense. It is still a much improved summer for the Irons.

Fulham

As mentioned, I like seeing all teams have a top 6 quality player. It can be debated on whether Sessegnon is at that level. He isn’t at the moment, but he definitely will if he continues on this path. He just needs to improve in the box, mainly with the amount of shots he takes. Fulham did pull off one of the signings of the season in bringing in Jean Michael Seri from Nice for £27m. This is the same player who has been constantly linked with moves to Arsenal and Chelsea, and has ended up in Fulham. I do actually think this is the best for the player. Seri didn’t have a place in one of those sides because they already had good creators. Both of those teams needed something else (which they did get with in Torreira and Jorginho respectively). But Seri does fit right in for Fulham. One huge issue that some teams have when making that step from the Championship to the Premier League is making the right improvements in the side, while also keeping to what worked. Fulham prefer a possession style, favouring short passes. Seri fits that bill, being a player who’s speciality is his ability on the ball. He averages 86 passes with a 90% accuracy, which shows how he is able to help keep possession effectively. He also averages a very good 2.1 key passes, better than captain Tom Cairney’s 1.9. It is clear they have found that extra bit of quality in their team, to help them stay up. At the time of writing, they are also close to signing Andre Schurrle from Dortmund. If they pull that off, then the rest of the league should keep an eye on them.

2018 World Cup Team of The Tournament – Kante, Hazard, Godin

Now with the tournament coming a close, let’s look at the players who have impressed the most.

Goalkeeper – Thibaut Courtois

No matter how much I wanted to place Pickford here, I cannot ignore Courtois. The big Belgian has been absolutely brilliant for his team. I have always seem Courtois has just a very good keeper, not on the level of De Gea or Oblak, but still a very solid choice for a top side. However in this tournament, he is starting to make me rethink that. Against Brazil, he made a brilliant 9 saves, which is one of the highest amount of saves in a single game. Compared to his club career, Courtois is making more saves in every area of the pitch, showing how this world cup has brought he best out of him. With Madrid looking for a new keeper, it could be what has given him the motivation.

Right Centre-Back – Raphael Varane

While attacking might be a huge question mark over this current France team, what cannot be doubted is how brilliant they are defensively. A huge part of that has been their defensive partnership of Varane and Umtiti, and while the Barcelona man has been very good, it’s his El Classico rival who has been the most impressive. Varane has been the leader in a back four lacking experience. Having a player so young who has won 4 champions leagues is such a positive for the team. Not only has he been a real leader, he has also lead by example. His biggest strength is his athleticism. He is able to recover the ball so quickly and help in counter attacking situations. His performance against Belgium was especially brilliant. He really helped stop Belgium from getting the goal they so desperately needed. Even against Uruguay, he scored the winner to send France to the semi finals. A great tournament from a great player.

Centre-Back – Diego Godin

By far Uruguay’s best player, Godin helped drag a very poor Uruguay team out of their group. Not only was he solid defensively, but was also trying to drag his team forward on the pitch, because of his teammates’s lack of urgency. Uruguay were so good defensively throughout the tournament, and it was thanks to Godin. He was brilliant in all of the group games, and also against Portugal. The defeat to France cannot be solely blamed on him, but he wasn’t at his best that day. Still, he was exceptional throughout the world cup.

Left Centre-Back – Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire arrived in Russia after playing every single minute for Leicester last season. He showed brilliant positional sense and was very good on the ball. While I did think he would have done fine, I never expected to be as impressive as he was. He was especially great in the knockout rounds, easily being one of the best players against Columbia and Sweden. He won an amazing 12 aerial duels against Columbia, and scored the first goal against Sweden. He was one of England’s best performers, and deserves his place here

Central Midfield – N’golo Kante

It’s a testimont to how good Kante, that we now almost have a ‘Kante Role’ in teams now. Players who are given a license to do their defensive work, without disrupting the teams shape (examples being Torreira, Herrera, Ndidi and Allan). He has shown his usual brilliant energy and tenacity, while also adding some real quality on the ball. His biggest criticism was his inability to distribute the ball effectively, however that has changed. Throughout the tournament, Kante would be seen making these huge long balls and driving the play forward. He is now looking like the perfect box to box midfielder. His performance against Argentina was very good. He really showed his opposition how a central midfielder should play.

Central Midfield: Luka Modric

Not even a debate needed here. Modric has been the key player for Croatia. His ability to dribble out of tight spaces, get into great positions to assist his teammates, and his solid workrate have all came in handy for a team already filled with technical talent. Even with all of Croatia’s games going into extra time, he was still able to play through them all, at 32 years old. An incredible player and he will easily go down as one of the best midfielders to play the game in the modern era.

Right Wing-Back – Sime Vrsaljko

While Trippier would be the obvious pick, I’ll be going for Vrsaljko. The Europa League winner has been a key player for Croatia. Filling Srna’s boots is a hard challenge, yet he exceeded expectations. Even with Modric performing excellently and Rakitic also excelling, Croatia still preferred to play a more crossing game. It didn’t bring the best out of their team in my opinion, but Vsaljko still performed. He was a huge driving force for Croatia and was always helping in attack while doing his defensive work. His only assist in the tournament was for that Perisic equaliser against England. A perfect moment for a player who was brilliant.

Left Wing-Back – Lucas Hernandez

While I think Hernandez did perform very well, he is mainly here out of a lack of options. Just looking at the semi finalists, Young didn’t perform, Strnic was good, but not great, and Belgium didn’t have a stand out left back. Hernandez falls right in here. I’m not taking away from him at all. He, like France, were excellent defensively and he even provided some very good width. Playing as a fullback with an inverted wide player in front of him is very demanding, so seeing in still show some consistency in his performances is really impressive. The young defender was averaging 2.3 tackles per game, just highlighting how good he was in his own half. A good tournament from a player who still has plenty of promise.

Left-Winger – Ivan Perisic

Many journalists and pundits seem to be forgetting about the Inter Milan winger. But Perisic has been stellar. Perisic has all the qualities to be a perfect winger. He’s two footed, a brilliant dribbler, can cut inside and is able to create. He showed all of these qualities in the semi final, scoring and assisting to put his team over the line in a real tight game. While he will be remembered for his handball, he was still excellent for Croatia. He ended the tournament with 3 goals and an assist. A great return for a player who is nearing his twilight years. If it wasn’t for Modric, he would be remembered as the stand out performer for the runners up.

Right-Winger – Eden Hazard

While I am completely fine with Modric winning the golden ball, I do think Hazard was the best player at the tournament. He shined in a very fluid Belgium attack. He was absolutely brilliant throughout for Belgium, and performed in every game for Belgium. In their defeat against France, he was by far their shining light, constantly beating his man and attempting to create for his side. He was excellent in the group stages, putting two excellent performances against Tunisia and Panama. He was averaging 2.5 shots per game, 2.5 key passes, and a monsterous 6.7 successful dribbles per game. He was brilliant in every department. He ended the tournament with 3 goals and 2 assists. A great return from the best player at the tournament.

Striker – Kylian Mbappe

The golden boy winner gets place in this team. While leaving out Griezmann and Lukaku is difficult, Mbappe has to be in this team. He was the pace and power for France, who gave them that extra bit of flair in the forward department. What is so impressive about Mbappe is how direct and mature he is. Just comparing him to young players like Rashford and Werner, Mbappe is so clinical in his finishing. He plays like an experienced forward, instead of a teenager. Mbappe has been key for France throughout his tournament. His perfect runs, no nonsense dribbling, and cool in front of goal. He’s been the spark in an otherwise very pragmatic team. He will become a great of the game.

Worst Players at The 2018 World Cup XI – Kroos, De Gea, Mascherano

With the tournament reaching its final stages, let’s look at the players who have disappointed the most. I will not be selecting players from teams that were expected to not perform. These are players who play for nations full of talent, but failed to show their own.

David De Gea

I really wanted to put Manuel Neuer here, for looking so unfocused and was clearly not ready. But I am giving him plenty of sympathy, because he should have never been playing. David De Gea however had one of the best seasons a goalkeeper has ever had. He was the main reason why United had a good defense. However at this world cup he just didn’t look like himself. He only managed to make one whole save in this entire tournament. His tournament can be summed up by that mistake against Portugal, a mistake he would usually never make.

Yannick Carrasco

I can’t blame him too much for being here. He is an attacking left winger, playing as a wing back. It might be a bit harsh, but he still was not great at all. His weakness as a player playing out of position was highlighted throughout the tournament. His positional awareness was very poor, resulting with him being one of their worst performance in their comeback against Japan. He was then dropped for the Brazil game, just showing how he didn’t impress.

Federico Fazio

It might definitely be harsh putting a player who only played one half of football all tournament, but out of all of the terrible defenders who played for Argentina, he was by far the worst. He didn’t make a single defensive contribution against France, a team who scored 4 past them. A player who was just shown up by much better players.

Jerome Boateng

Germany were very poor in this tournament, and their lack of organisation was one of their downfalls. While his partner, Matts Hummels, was actually pretty good, considering how bad the defense was. Boateng was very poor. While his defensive work looks very good (racking up 4.5 tackles and interceptions per 90), it’s important to remember how small of a pool it is to judge. He only played two games. But out of the stats seen, he made 2.5 fouls per 90, which was his downfall. He seems to not have that steady head he usually has and was so much more reckless. It was a very out of character tournament for him.

Javier Mascherano

Why is Javier Mascherano still playing at a world cup? The man is way past it and should have never been selected in the first place. Why wasn’t Lo Celso starting instead, or why wasn’t Parades even taken? It just makes zero sense why Mascherano was even taken. His age is definitely showing, especially in that Croatia game. Modric and Rakitic ran circles around him and it just highlighted his vulnerabilies. He also completed a very high 86 passes per game, however only 0.7 key passes, showing how ineffective he was creativity. He is a player who didn’t perform when he was never expected to.

Toni Kroos

While it might be controversial, I think Kroos was Germany’s worst performer in the world cup. Low consisted with his 4-2-3-1. The problem with that Kroos only works in a 3 man midfield. Just looking at him at Real Madrid, Casemiro does most of his defensive work, and Modric and can do everything else. It gives Kroos the opportunity to go forward and assist the team, but in a 2 with Sami Khedira (we’ll get to him), it doesn’t give him this licence. The problem however, was this team had zero organisation. He never played as a defensive midfielder throughout the tournament, and continued to play like an 8. It was so frustrating and I have to have some sympathy for his teammates. A poor showing from a player I expect so much more game management from.

Sami Khedira

By far the worst performer. The Juventus midfielder looked a shadow of himself against Mexico. He was completely outran by Herrera, Lozano and Guadrado, and had zero control over the game. A pairing of Kroos and Khedira would have worked 4 years ago, but Kroos needs more men around him, and Khedira is just completely past it. He doesn’t offer anything creativity or defensively, so it is a real question why he was playing. Just another example of Low showing too much loyality.

Maximiliano Meza

Why was he even taken? Again I have to question Sampoali’s squad here. Why was a player who is average at best, going over Angel Correa, Mauro Icardi or Parades. It’s a mystery to me why he was not only going, but he was actually playing. Meza was playing over Dybala. Sampoali even said he was never going to start Dybala, so why even take him. Dybala is one of the best forwards on the planet. Why play an average player over him is beyond me. Meza was also very poor himself. He failed to impress in any of the games he played, especially against France.

Bernardo Silva

A player who is actually like, Silva did struggle for starts last season for City, but looked like he could help this Portugal side earn more glory after their 2016 Euro triumph. However it just wasn’t the tournament for him. In an attack where Ronaldo seemed to be the only one who brought his A game, Silva was one who was very underwhelming. He failed to score or assist in his 3 games, which led to him being dropped for the round of 16 game. He was very ineffective in the final third, failing to really give that bit of quality that the forwards needed. A poor showing from a player who is far from that.

Marcus Berg

Marcus Berg took the most shots without scoring. If that doesn’t give him a reason to be here I don’t know what will. Berg was part of a Sweden team that really failed in the attacking third. They won their first game through a penalty, and only beat Switzerland thanks to a lucky deflection. Luck is the best word to describe Sweden in this tournament. Berg was very poor in front of goal. One chance sticks in my head, being an easy finish for him against Korea, but he instead hit it right at the keeper, or his volley from less than 6 yards out. Filling Zlatan’s shoes is tough, but Berg failed spectacularly in his attempt.

Timo Werner

I love Werner, and seeing have a poor world cup is difficult. His poor performances weren’t all his fault. The team seemed to be playing as if he was Klose or Gomez, instead of giving through balls to take advantage of his incredible speed. Werner, however, was still poor. He failed to contribute to a single goal. He also was quite poor in an attacking sense, losing the ball 2.3 times per game. Which is much higher than his usual 0.7. Werner his a player with very high potential, so let’s hope this tournament isn’t a stumbling block for him.

2018 World Cup Quarter Finals Preview

As we’re closing in on the final, the stakes are higher, with players feeling the stage getting bigger and the stakes getting higher. Let’s look at the next round of games in this brilliant World Cup

Uruguay vs France

Last time I discussed these teams, I expected them to lose. How wrong I was. France surprised me in that I didn’t expect them to attack in the way they did. My issue was them playing Matuidi on that left side, because it gave them a real weakness on that side when attacking, however I was wrong as usual. Deschamps did this to help overload the midfield and it would also let Griezmann drift in areas where a left winger would usually operate. I still think having a more natural wide player in that position would be better, however it so far has worked in giving them balance to the team. It has also gotten the best out of Kylian Mbappe in a certain way. Throughout the game against Argentina, he was making excellent runs and being that real needle France needed to penetrate that weak defense. Because of Giroud’s selfless style, it gives Mbappe the space for these runs. He ended the game with 2 goals, being the first teenager to score a brace since Pele in 1958. Mbappe is probably the best young player since R9. He’s even better than Ronaldo and Messi were at his age. Mbappe shows incredible maturity and power in his play. Pogba also has been incredible. He has been making those brilliant runs and killer balls we’ve been wanting him to make .

Uruguay surprised me in another way. I had previously criticised Luis Suarez for just not showing his qualities in the tournament. He definitely wanted to prove me wrong, because he was excellent. His hold up play was simply incredible and his cross for Cavani’s first goal was great. While he hasn’t been great in front of goal, he has definitely made up for that by being a great partner for Cavani. Uruguay conceded their first goal of tournament against Portugal. It is simply incredible that it has taken that long for them to concede. It was a pretty bad goal to concede. Pepe and Ronaldo completely outsmarted Godin and it resulted in Pepe being able to run in an open area to head it into the back of the net. While conceding a simple goal could be a worry, the injury to Cavani is so much worse. Cavani was brilliant in the game against Portugal, finishing his game with an honestly brilliant finish. His injury is not good news at all for Uruguay. They have two good players in reserve, being Maxi Gomez and Christian Struani. While both had excellent seasons, with the pair scoring over 10 goals for Celta Viga and Girona respectively, they both haven’t played enough in this tournament. They haven’t been given enough time to be able to fill Cavani’s boots in any way. It’ll be a real concern for Oscar Tavares.

For France to beat Uruguay, they will need to play in a similar fashion to how they beat Argentina. They need to use Mbappe in a similar way and most importantly, get Pogba on the ball as often as possible. For Uruguay to beat France, they need to make sure France to not play in that similar way and Torreira and Vecino need to protect that back four. Suarez also needs to continue in a similar fashion. He needs to get into those position where the centre halves do not want to go, and open space for his partner up front. I think France are too strong however, and will win, but not comfortably.

Uruguay 0-1 France

Brazil Vs Belgium

Easily the best tie of the quarter finals, both teams to into this game having excelled in the forward department.

Let’s start with Brazil, who are easily the favourites for the tournament. While this Brazil team isn’t the best in terms of entertainment, it is certainly the most balanced. The most recent winning Brazil teams always had a solid base, to make the most out of the attack. In 1994, they had Dunga, while he wasn’t a good manager, he was an excellent defensive midfielder. In 2002, they had Gilberto Silva, one of the best defensive midfielders ever. He could just do everything you need in a DM. And now in 2018, they have Casemiro. While the Real Madrid midfielder isn’t exactly an all rounder, he is one of the best destroyers around. He gives that defense an excellent screen and ensures a solid base, something they haven’t had since 2002. Another seemingly controversial issue seems to be Neymar. As the tournament as gone on, his performances have definitely improved. Against Mexico he was a constant threat, with him scoring and putting in a great performance. However it’s his diving that has caused a lot of attention. His reaction to a light tap on his ankle from Miguel Layun was the definition of an overreaction. I can kind of understand why players do this. It’s the world cup and they will do anything to win. However for his own image, it doesn’t help him at all. I have no issue usually when players stay down, but when they do it like Neymar, I start to have an issue with it. Coutinho has also been very good for Brazil. So far in this tournament he has been a real hero for them, scoring their first of the tournament, and the winner against Costa Rica. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in the rest of the tournament.

Belgium are a very strange side. On paper they have been excellent, winning all their group games and scoring 3 or more in 3 games. However because of their manager, I still have so many reservations. Japan exposed them very easily so it’ll be interesting to see how they fair against a team with real good attacking players. They also seem to be failing to get the best out of Kevin De Bruyne. While I think the midfielder has been quite good in this tournament, he is definitely not enjoying that deep role. It means he has to come so deep to retrieve the ball, which means he in advanced positions to be able to make those same great opportunities he did for City. Their left wing back position seems to also have some cloud over it. Martinez chose to not take an actual left back because he believed Januzaj, Carrasco and Chadli has wing backs. So far it hasn’t worked. Carrasco looked very poor against Japan. While Chadli did look good when he came on, he has missed many minutes last season due to injury, and he was only used as an impact, so seeing how he would do as a starter would be very interesting. As an actual positive, their forward three have been brilliant. Hazard has been excelling in his dribbling and creativity, successfully completing 4.7 dribbles per 90 and he has already bagged 2 assists. He has been sensational. His partner, Romelu Lukaku, has also been excellent. While he did miss some good opportunities against Japan, he has still been one of the best forwards at the competition.

For Brazil to beat Belgium, Gabriel Jesus and Willian will both be key. If Boyata does not play, Belgium will lose his athleticism once again, meaning Jesus could benefit by making some excellent runs behind the aging back four. Willian will be key in stretching the defense and exploiting the space that the left wing back will leave. For Belgium to beat Brazil, they need to make every chance count. They have had the benefit of playing teams who do not have their same quality. They are playing a team that have been brilliant defensively. They cannot afford to take the same luxuries they have in their previous games. Japan was their warning, so they need to wake up now. I do believe Brazil will win here, and it will not be as close as many think

Brazil 4-2 Belgium

Sweden Vs England

A tie that many are righting off before it has even began. As I have mentioned so long ago, I’ve been rooting for Sweden through out this competition, after Wales’s disappointing campaign, I saw Sweden knock out Holland, and then knock out Italy in the play offs. They have been defying expectations ever since qualifying began, including a victory over France. They have been beating these big teams throughout the world cup. They have also been excellent defensively, keeping 3 clean sheets out of 4 games. Even against Switzerland, their approach was quite perfect. Berg and Toivenen were both excellent in pressing the goalkeeper and ensuring any short passing lane was blocked. It was to ensure that they were always in the game and it definitely worked, with Switzerland struggling to create chances. They also kept Switzerland’s most dangerous player, Xherdan Shaquiri, very quiet. Usually when he had the ball, there would be two players ready to put pressure on him. Their biggest issue is easily converting chances. Against the Swiss, Sweden had some very good chances, including an easy chance at the back post, and Berg in a one on one, but failed to convert the chances. They seem to get in these good areas but then failed capitalise, leaving them always with a worry of falling behind. Marcus Berg has also been quiet poor, being the player to have the most shots without scoring. They need to hope he will be having a good game.

After finally beating a team on penalties, England and their fans are on top of the world. They have a team of players who seem hungry and no pressure is pulling them down. It does help that their captain, Harry Kane, has been putting the ball in the back of the net whenever he can. This team contains a solid blend of defensive workhorses and quality players in the final third, and playing 3-5-2 seems to get the best out of those attacking players. They haven’t been perfect however. England have so far failed to keep a clean sheet, with them giving away goals that should be relatively easy to stop. Worst of all they seem to be failing to use Sterling effectively. I love Raheem Sterling. He gives so much movement in the final third and takes a lot of pressure away from Kane. However against Columbia, he was not given enough support, resulting in him being attacked by 3 different players. If they want to continue to play him, Lingard and Alli need to be giving him runs on the outside, so all of his runs are worth something. Another issue could actually be their fitness. England had to go to extra time against Columbia, and while it might not sound like much, it took a lot of energy out of them. Southgate needs to make sure these players are ready to do another 90 minutes.

For Sweden to beat England, they need to take their chances. As previously mentioned, Marcus Berg has been poor throughout this tournament. Sweden need to hope he can turn up for this game. They also need to be patient and wait for that perfect opportunity. England concede goals and usually have a lot of players attacking at once. The Swedes need to wait for that perfect moment and strike. For England to beat their opponent, they will need to use Alli and Lingard as much as possible. England do not possess a great creator, which means the only way to get past this Sweden team would be to use their dribblers to beat players. If they can beat that first line of defence, then they should be okay. I’m actually going for a draw here, with a penalty shootout occuring again.

Sweden 1-1 England (Sweden to win on penalties)

2018 World Cup Round of 16 Preview: Spain Vs Russia, Croatia Vs Denmark

Another day, another round of 16 preview. Let’s take a look at the 2 games on Sunday, where we’ll see the hosts take on the 2010 winners, and a great Croatia team take on an underwhelming Denmark side.

Spain Vs Russia

This could well an truly be the most interesting tie of the day. Both teams have looked very good at points, while also showing some significant weaknesses. Let’s start with Spain, who go into this game as the winners of Group B, winning 1 and drawing 2. Talking about this Spain side without mentioning the early sacking Lopategui is difficult. While you can criticise the decision or agree with it, it has added an unnecessary pressure to this side. They were already tournament favourites for me, but losing the man who cruised them through qualifying and didn’t lose a single game, it will always be a what if. If the new Real Madrid manager was still in charge, would we have seen a much better side than we are seeing? We’ll never know. I think Spain haven’t looked at their best in this tournament. They seem to struggle to break down sides who play a low block, and they seem unable to get the best out of their forward, Diego Costa. Costa is a very specific forward. He is great at bringing in others into play, while also being incredible in the air. The issue is he doesn’t exactly fit into the way Spain want to play. Spain like to play a very patient possession style of football. It’s about overloading the midfield and the more technical players like Isco, Iniesta and Silva. They are all players who are able to find those pockets of space and use pick passes to put defenders in difficult places and exploit them. Costa works better in a counter attacking system. While he isn’t very fast, it’s his aggression and size that are his biggest benefit. You could argue they did overplay it against Morocco. I disagree. It seems to be the best way to break these low block teans down. While Spain haven’t shown their best, they still have been very good.

Russia have easily been the surprise package of this tournament. Even with their very old defense and injury list, they have definitely benefited from being the home team. You could argue that is their biggest strength. They seem to play with this fearlessness, as if every play just want to make their country proud. Their best players have easily been Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev. Both have been the best players Russia have produced over the years in talent. While Cheryshev’s club career did drop off a cliff after his time at Real Madrid, he has definitely performed in this world cup, scoring 3 goals. However while his club career has dropped, Golovin’s is only on the increase. The CSKA Moscow midfielder was sensational throughout the group stages. He did have a very good season for his club, but the issue is it’s hard to judge quality in Russia. However he has proved us all wrong. He has been the centre piece for that team. He has added that extra bit of quality and his ability on the ball has been excellent. He’s been averaging 2.5 key passes per 90, which has earned him 2 assists. His number of passes has dropped from Moscow, but his key passes have doubled. It shows how he is playing in a much higher position, and it definitely has benefited his team. After the 3-0 defeat to Uruguay, there are question marks on whether they can beat the former champions, but being a home nation always gives you that advantage.

For Spain to beat Russia, they need to make those centre halves as uncomfortable as possible. Their age and lack of mobility is their biggest weakness, and having such magnificent technical players could be key in getting right past them. They also have to get Costa on the ball much more. He will definitely help bring others into play and open space for his teammates. For Russia to shock us all, they need to show courage and play in the same mold they have all tournament. Make sure Golovin continues to be key and get him in those dangerous areas. Even if it would work, I still think Spain will get through his tie.

Spain 3-1 Russia

Croatia Vs Denmark

Both teams in this tie have reached my expectations. I expected Croatia to blow their group away, for simply having a great midfield and a solid defense. Denmark escaped their group, however it is clear that their over reliance on Eriksen is a huge issue. Croatia were very good in their group. They were only one of three teams to earn maximum points. They have a very good squad of players, with their midfield being easily their best area on the pitch. Next to Spain, I think Croatia have the best midfield in the tournament. They have a good balance in dictators and ball recovery specialists. Modric and Rakitic are brilliant dribblers and creators, however they struggle to play in a pair. This is wear Brozovic comes in, he has been the hard working player who has given his teammates a solid base, and give Modric and Rakitic less pressure. They dominated against Argentina because they completely outclassed them in that area. It has been excellent to see and why they have seen to be one of the favourites of the tournament.

Denmark actually have some very talented players. They possess some real talent in Pione Sisto, Youssaf Poulsen and Andreas Christiansen. However their best hope of getting anything out of this tournament is Christian Eriksen. He has been excellent for both club and country in the last year. He has contributed to all 2 of Denmark’s goals in the tournament, scoring one and assisting another. They have played some very good football in the tournament, and have used their forwards very effectively. Poulsen seems to play more as a second striker, while Sisto plays more as a traditional winger. It gives them a very good balance, and with Jorgenson very effective in connecting play, it has given them a good approach. I haven’t been paying too much attention to the Danish, so I will be interested in how they approach this game.

For Croatia to secure their place in the quarter final, they will need to take advantage of their midfield numbers. There will definitely be space between the midfield and the defense, with Denmark playing a very attacking 4-3-3. The likes of Perisic and Rakitic will need to get into those half spaces and help move the ball further up the pitch. Denmark have also given away 2 penalties, which means getting these players in bad areas could result in favourable decisions. For Denmark to beat the 98 semi finalists, they will need to take advantage of their more pacey players. Vida and Lovren are not exactly the greatest defenders, so using the pace of Sisto and Poulsen, could put these players in very comfortable positions. Eriksen will also be key for Denmark. Getting him on the ball as much as possible will be beneficial. I can still see Croatia getting through this one very easily.

Croatia 3-1 Denmark.