Are Dortmund Doing The IMPOSSIBLE? Top 5 League Talking Points

What a fascinating week of football. Some huge upsets, big victories and frankly terrible performances. Let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga

Dortmund extend their lead

This was by far the biggest clash of the week. League leaders Dortmund face a lesser, yet strong Bayern side. It delivered exactly what we all expected, with Dortmund winning the game 3-2, thanks to a late winner from Alcacer. This was a huge game for both. Dortmund have been excellent, but there was an element of if they have been a bit lucky. Plenty of times this season they have won thanks to a late goal, or by a singular goal margin. While they do deserve to be at the top, this could just be a side in red hot form, instead of a side ready to keep it up for a whole 34 game season.

Bayern on the other hand have been a bit frustrating. Dortmund have blossomed in squad rotation, while Bayern haven’t. Kovac seems unable to find a team and formation to stick with, and it’s easy to understand why. He lost both Coman and Tolisso, two players who definitely would have been important this season. They failed to fix the midfield. With Vidal and Rudy both leaving, and Goretzka not playing much at all, it leaves Kovac with an injury prone Alcantara and an immobile Javi Martinez. There have been positives. Lewandowski has finally hit some form, Hummels has looked solid and Gnabry has been excellent since filling in for Robben. It’s about time their wide areas are being replaced.

The away side started the game excellently, thanks to an early header from Lewandowski. He scored a good header, thanks to a peach cross from Gnabry. Lewandowski did well against his former side. Before the game, he had scored 12 goals against Dortmund since moving to Munich, with 3 coming at the Westfalenstadion. He reminded Dortmund fans why he was so loved by them so long ago. Bayern only created 3 goal scoring chances, and Lewandowski scored 2 of them. He also created 2 chances and won 3 aerial duels.

One player who was incredibly wasteful for Bayern was Thomas Muller. To say the German hasn’t been at his true best for a while now is an understatement. This season has seen him at his worse, when he’s at an age where he is in his prime years. He didn’t create a chance, have a shot on target, complete a dribble or have a real involvement in the game. Muller is one of the players at Bayern who has plenty of influence in the dressing room, and at this point does not deserve it.

Now onto the victors, who while did have less of the ball, created the better chances. They had 5 shots on target compared to Bayern’s 3. It isn’t a huge margin, but it was definitely decisive. While Dortmund were good, Bayern’s mistakes really helped. Neuer gave away the penalty for coming out of his box too slowly, intercepting Reus and giving them the equaliser. While Reus’s second was a class finish from a class player, there was a clear issue from a Bayern perspective. Javi Martinez let him run free and didn’t even attempt to keep up with him. It was pure laziness that allowed Dortmund to spring a comeback. Their last goal was brilliant. Thanks to quick interplay between Sancho and Reus, it allowed them to counter incredibly quickly and allow Witzel to play a lovely ball to Alcacer, who chipped Neuer like he was ordinary. Dortmund now have a 7 point lead on their rivals, leaving them in a comfortable place to win their first league title for 7 years.

Their man of the match was Marco Reus, and justifiably. Ever since Favre moved him into a number 10 position, he has absolutely flourished. It means he doesn’t have to move as much as he would outwide, meaning he can save his energy more in the final third. It has reinvigorated Reus, and he has been one of the hottest players in the continent. He was responsible for Dortmund’s first 2 goals, and was a real driving force for their victory. He had 4 shots on target, completed 3 dribbles and made 4 tackles. He was the deciding factor in this game. He’s been so unlucky over the years, and deserved the success he gets.

While Reus was the best player on the pitch, one of their defenders certainly deserves some praise. I loved Dortmund’s defensive signings over the summer. Akanji, Diallo and Hakimi all were brilliant additions to a defense that was slowly aging. One of their signings, Dan-Axel Zagadou, went under the radar, and has established himself already as an important player in the team. The 19 year old was one of their best players on the day. While Piszczek was also brilliant, Zagadou really caught my eye. He Frenchman made 2 tackles, an interception, 8 clearances and won 7 aerial duels. He helped keep Bayern mostly quiet. For someone of his age to perform that well in the biggest game in German football, deserves a lot of credit. His ability on the ball cannot be disputed either. In this game, Zagadou completed the most passes for his side. While Akanji is the superior passer out of Dortmund’s centre backs, seeing a 19 year old complete 8 long balls against the champions is ridiculous.

As said before, Dortmund are now 7 points clear of their Der Klassiker rivals. They seem to be the best side in the division. While other sides might have a better attack or defense, Dortmund play with such confidence and swagger, that it is hard to not want them to finally crush Bayern’s domination. As for Bayern, they are now in 5th. The teams around them have been excellent this season, and it is the deserved punishment for a side full of players who seem to have down tooled just because they aren’t a fan of the manager after a short time. While I do blame their board for the failings this season, for lacking ambition, Kovac still deserves criticism. His constant changes to the side have made it difficult for any player to get a run of form together. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bayern do win the Bundesliga again, but hopefully it will be a wake up call for the entire club, to step up their game.

Frankfurt pummel Schalke

Now onto the team just above Bayern Munich, Frankfurt cruised past an underperforming Schalke side with a 3-0 victory. After a relatively successful season last season, with current Bayern manager Niko Kovac guiding Frankfurt to a DFB-Pokal victory over Bayern. They seem to have built on that this season, with the winners sitting in 4th, equal points to Bayern but with a +13 goal difference. They chose Adi Hütter has Kovac’s replacement. The Austrian found plenty of success last season with Young Boys, who he helped break Basel’s dominance over Swiss football. His appointment was a risk, but has so far paid off. They have scored the second most goals from open play, with 19. However to call them lucky is a massive understatement. Thanks to their massage 7-1 victory over Dusseldorf, it has swayed their stats and numbers to look better than they really are. They take 4.5 shots a game, the 5th worse in the division, with Hoffenheim leading the Bundesliga 6.8. It’s crazy how one game can change how an entire side is perceived, but that is exactly what’s happened here.

Let’s discuss the game in question. Frankfurt created more chances and their opponents, 14 to 5. However while they did dominate, it did take a while for the deadlock to be broken. The first half was very uneventful to say the least. Frankfurt did have the better of the chances, with Luka Jovic taking many shots. However he wasn’t taking his shots from good positions, and was just trying more than thinking. The second half was definitely where the game began. Frankfurt scored twice in 11 minutes to give them a deserved advantage. Frankfurt are very good at creating good chances for both of their forwards, Haller and Jovic. Their shot numbers are low, but having 2 forwards will always make those chances mean so much more. Haller is excellent in the air and Jovic is great at taking shots in the box. They are a classic big man little man combo and are working so well. XG had this game at 2.62 to Frankfurt and 0.82 to Schalke. It shows how good Frankfurt are at creating goal scoring opportunities for their forwards.

Let’s talk about the forwards, and especially Luka Jovic. But before we discuss the young Croatian now leading the Bundesliga’s goal scorers, let’s talk about his partner in crime, Sebastian Haller. While Jovic has had plenty of the headlines, let’s not forget that Haller is currently only a single goal behind him, and even has 3 more assists. The Frenchman has been excellent this season, winning a crazy 4.9 aerial duels and creating 1.3 chances a game. He is a perfect partner to a forward like Jovic. He is able to create space for others and give a real vocal point to his side. He is overachieving XG, with him only projected to have 6 goals and 2 assists. That would still be a healthy return and shows just how good he has been. In this game, he wasn’t incredible, but was effective. He only managed 2 shots, created 1 chance, and won 2 aerial duels. It wasn’t his best game, but still managed to score.

Now let’s move onto Jovic. The Benfica loanee (which I didn’t even know until I looked him up on transfermarkt) has started the season in absolutely amazing form. His 5 goals against Dusseldorf has given him an arguably unjust position as the top scorer in the Bundesliga. After seeing those 5 goals, there is a player who has potential to have a good career at the top. However I had doubts, thanks to Dusseldorf just being terrible in a defensive sense. After seeing his performance against Schalke, it proves there is a young player who should be watched by all around Europe. Teams like Spurs, Manchester United, Marseille and even Bayern Munich should all be looking at him. I’ll explain why now. His performance against Schalke was elite. He had 7 shots, 3 on target and scored a brace. He was comfortably the man of the match in this game. This game continued his already incredible start to the season. He takes 3.3 shots per game, which is incredible for a player for his age. What is most impressive is the fact he takes 93% of his shots in the box. He is getting into great position that you don’t see from a player who’s career is still only in its infancy. His stats are so good, but what I love the most is the power in his shots. It’s a small thing, but every time he gets the ball in a goal scoring position, he hits it as if he’s trying to break down a brick wall. It reminds me of Aguero, who I’ve seen hit the net off the ground with his power. Jovic shoots to kill in the box, and it shows what a talent he is.

La Liga

Barcelona’s home record ruined

While there were 4 games I could have easily spoken about, this one was a guaranteed talking point. While Barcelona have always been a relatively attractive team to watch (as previously mentioned when discussing the 2011 Champions League), I love seeing them lose. They are a club I have a dislike towards. Whether it’s their questionable deals in the past with Qatar airways, to the sheer arrogance of their fans, they are an incredibly easy team to hate. They lost at home to Real Betis by 4 goals to 3. It was a truly embarrassing display from the Champions, and was the defeat that they finally deserved to receive. After some luck against Sevilla and Vallecano, it was about time that their opponents got their own bit of luck.

Let’s start with Betis, who are and have been a very good side now since January. Signings like Lo Celso and Carvalho did drastically improve their midfield, and dominate games as well as the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have been in lackluster form recently, with their win over Barcelona their first win in five matches. While a defeat to Atletico Madrid is understandable, they should not be losing to Getafe and Valladolid. I highlighted how well I thought they played in their last game against Celta Vigo, and they carried it on in this game. They had more shots on target in this game, 8 to the home side’s 5, and deserved the lead they had. They took advantage of a poor Barcelona side on the day and showed why they have been such an interesting this year.

While Lo Celso continued on from his fine display against Celta, Betis’s best player on the pitch was Junior Firpo. The young full back was Betis’s best attacking threat on the day, completing 2 dribbles, creating 2 chances, scoring and assisting against the Champions. He’s primarily been used as a full back and excellent in that role, completing 3 tackles and interceptions a match and creating a chance a game. He gets into very good positions for a player of his age, while also not leaving his defensive work behind. It does seem strange seeing him moved into a more advanced position, with his dribble and shot numbers not exactly spectacular. Quique Setièn must have moved him thanks to his recent goal and assists for his side, and hoped he would replicate that against the best side in the league, and he definitely did.

One player definitely showed his former employers what they are missing, and that is Mark Batra. The Spaniard joined Betis in January from Borussia Dortmund, and has been the catalyst for all the good that has came to that club. He was just the perfect fit for the 3-5-2 system being played by Betis, and turned them into one of the best defensive sides in La Liga. He was a wall in this game, making 7 tackles, 5 interceptions, 6 clearances and 4 aerial duels. No other player on the pitch managed that many defensive actions. It was truly an elite performance from a player who has blossomed in this system.

Now onto Barcelona, who as mentioned before, did deserve to lose this game. While XG did give it Barcelona, with 4.08 to the home side and 2.37 to Betis, I do think they deserved to lose based on how poorly they defended through out this game. Firpo got the best of Roberto and eased past him to score the first. It has to be made clear that Roberto is terrible defensively. He might put a few tackles, but it’s more of awareness and positioning that lets him down. He should have allowed Firpo to come inside the way he did. The second goal was strange to say the least. After the ball was played inside, it was deflected into the path of Joaquin, who had not a single player near him, allowing a free shot on goal. Lo Celso’s goal should never have been allowed to score the third, with Ter Stegan not putting a strong enough hand forward to stop the shot. The problem with Valverde is when his defence performs this badly, it makes it hard for the fans to get behind him. He is a pragmatic coach by nature, and relies on the solidarity of his backline to win games. It is clear that Umtiti is heavily missed. The Frenchman is one of the best defenders around and his athleticism and quality on the ball is unrivalled in Europe. But Lenglet and Pique should be enough to deal with a side who only managed to score 8 goals before this game. It’s a terrible performance that already puts pressure on Valverde, who already gets enough criticism from the fans. They face Atletico Madrid after this game, which will not be pretty if they defend the same way.

Sevilla take on in form Espanyol

While this game wasn’t as dramatic as the Madrid club’s games, it was an interesting one never the less. Sevilla took on Espanyol, who sat in 2nd before this game. It was a chance for Sevilla to get back into 2nd place, and keep pressure on Barcelona.

The game ended 2-1 to Sevilla, who deservedly won this game. They had 23 shots compared to Espanyol’s 14, and deserved to win based on the better chances they made. Sevilla have been able to carry on scoring at an insane rate, with only Barcelona scoring more goals than their 24. It has largely been down to how well their attack has performed this season. Silva has managed 7, while Ben Yedder has managed 6 in only 6 starts, having a goal contribution every 63 minutes. Both are in fine form and showed it in this game. Silva managed 9 shots with 4 on target, while Ben Yedder, who only played 45 minutes, managed 3 shots and completed 2 dribbles.

While their attack is always effective, a special mention needs to be given to Jesus Navas. He was always I couldn’t stand at Man City, mainly due to how wasteful he was at times. To say he’s flourished since playing as wing back is an understatement. It’s became common to see old fashioned wingers, like Navas, Young, Antonio Valencia Kostic and Milner playing as full backs in the past. They focus on stretching a defense and attempting a cross, instead of cutting inside. It’s what many managers want from their full backs and Navas provides that. His defensive work is non existent, but he’s not there for that. He completed 7 of his 10 crosses, and created 6 chances. He’s arguably been one of the surprising players of the season. He was once a player I thought was finished, but he’s proving he still has life next to him.

Onto Espanyol, who have had a very good season so far. While they have been relatively reliant on Iglesias, they have been solid at the back. They have only conceded 10 goals, only Atletico Madrid have conceded less with 8. They are ranked 3rd with tackles, the same as Atletico Madrid. They are an aggressive side who win the ball back and attack quickly, quite similar to Simeone’s side. While they are relatively middle of the road with their amount of shots, they are 3rd in shots on target, making them a very clinical side. One of the players who have been hugely responsible in their goals is Borja Iglesias. The Spaniard doesn’t seem to be getting the credit he deserves. Andre Silva has been on everyone’s lips, but Iglesias has arguably been better. While his shot numbers are slightly lower, 2.7 to Silva’s 3. However he wins more aerial duels, creates more chances and has now scored the same amount as Andre Silva and added an extra assist. He scored against Sevilla, had 3 shots, won 2 aerial duels and made 2 tackles. He came in to replace Moreno and has done an excellent job.

Both sides are definitely taking advantage of taking of advantage of Madrid and Valencia dropping off. Sevilla are relying more on outscoring their opponents, based on their crazy line up and the goals they score. The only problem will be if a side attacks them in the same way. Barcelona did the same thing to them and scored 4. They flourish against defensive sides, but it’ll be interesting to see how they handle Barcelona and Real Madrid again. I’m unsure if Espanyol will keep this up. While Iglesias has performed accurate to XG, the side have been very clinical, and eventually that will ware off.

Ligue 1

Paris put pressure on Henry

Monaco are in arguably the worst position in recent time. After their 4-0 humiliation to Club Brugge (check out Heroes and Zeroes from game week 4 to find out more), the last side they would want to play is PSG, a side who broke the record for most consecutive wins at the start of the season. They have won every game this season, and were playing a Monaco side who have only won a single game all season. I would get straight into complimenting the winning side, but I think they get enough praise from me and other critics so let’s look at the losing side and see what is going wrong.

Let’s start with the defense, which was by far one of the worst performances from a defence I’ve seen this season. It may sound harsh but it seemed as if the players were being lazy. The first goal was Sidibe not playing the high line properly and put Cavani on side. The second involved Sidibe again, where he didn’t seem to realise Diaby was making a run right behind him, which let Cavani score again. The third goal was a magnificent goal, but the players just stood there. They were all ball watching and just allowed PSG to play their way. That is not how you defend against players like this. Liverpool proved the way to take a game to them is to be aggressive. Many of these players are relatively soft. They will complain to the referee constantly to get their way, and you have to keep being aggressive. Make the players lose focus on actually playing. Instead there was no sort of pressure from the midfield or the defense. I think what summed up this performance from Monaco was the amount of tackles being put in. When your on the back foot for the majority of the game, winning the ball back at any means necessary should be priority, but not for this side. PSG actually put in more tackles than their opponent, 15 to Monaco’s 14. PSG had nearly twice the possession too. They had no need to make that many challenges, yet they did.

At the end of the day, the ones who should get the blame are the Monaco board and Thierry Henry himself. Why it was ever a good idea to hire a man who’s only known coaching experience was under one of the worst defensive coaches in the world is beyond me. Monaco had one of the best managers in Europe in Leonardo Jardim. A man who knew how to deal with squad turnover and bringing the most out of the players he had. I do think Jardim was right in leaving. He was left with a completely new squad, with players who weren’t nearly as good as players he was given in the past. The board were so focused on selling, they clearly forgot to sign good players. Signings that helped them win a league title only 2 seasons ago. Now onto Henry, I can understand wanting to take a job of this calibre. It was a top level job and it would show of his managerial skills to the world, if it was successful. My problem with Henry is his sheer arrogance. Players who played during his time were smart about their choices. Patrick Viera, a player he knows very well, started out in MLS, a league that would show generosity to him, before going to Europe. He now manages Nice and has done a fine job so far. Even Frank Lampard, who was criticised for not taking a lower league job, took over Derby and has given the fans something to be excited about. Henry should have learnt from Gary Neville, and why you shouldn’t take jobs for their size, and especially for the amount of pressure you’d be be under. Monaco are a mess, and deserve the situation they’re in based on the bad decisions they’ve made.

Depay’s dazzling display

Onto a more positive note, let’s talk about Memphis Depay. I’ve brought up before how much I love Depay as a player. His versatility and flexibility in how he plays, being able to create and score is so impressive. Last season he went quite under the radar with his incredible displays, scoring 19 and assisting 13 in 36 games. He is a sensational footballer who thrives for Lyon, thanks to the reliance and confidence put into him.

This season has been a similar story. He already has 10 goal contributions (5 goals and 5 assists) in only 11 games. What has impressed me so much is his versatility. He’s usually seen as a left winger, but he’s played as wide attacking midfielder, a striker, a number 10 and a winger. He’s just so good as an attacking threat wherever he plays. He’s one of the leading players in Europe for chance creation, with the Dutchman creating 3.2 chances per game. Only Dimitri Payet is ahead of him in Ligue 1 with 3.7. I’ve mentioned before but I think one of the top European clubs should seriously have their eyes on him, mostly Real Madrid. He’s on the verge of a breakout season.

Let’s talk about the game in hand, where Depay scored 2 and assisted 2 for Lyon against relegation struggles Guingamp. He played as a second striker in this game, playing just behind Moussa Dembele. When Lyon went a goal down thanks to a lovely header from Thuram, it was Depay who found space and played Aouar through for the equaliser. His goals were absolute individual brilliant. His first was a stunning effort from outside the box, and the second was an amazing free kick that seemed unsavable. This game showcased everything good about Depay. His creative ability, his individual brilliance and goalscoring. He is just the perfect player to have lead your team in the front line. Let’s hope he gets another chance to play for a big side.

Premier League

The Manchester Derby

I never have seen such a divide between the two sides like this in my lifetime. I grew up seeing United as the dominant side and City as the struggles. Ever since Ferguson left, the gap just got bigger and bigger. That season was the last time the red side of Manchester finished about their rivals. Ever since it has just been complete dominance from City. This game was the biggest difference on quality I’ve seen.

Let’s start with the champions, who were absolutely superb. They played the game very professionally, playing way more reserved after their first goal. They knew how to manage games, a real sign of a good team. United usually wake up when they go behind, so Manchester City decided to just retain the ball, to make sure they couldn’t attack at all. While simple, not many players have the ability to do that, making it very difficult to initiate. They only allowed United a single shot on target, and that was a penalty. A perfect big game display from arguably the best team around.

While David Silva and Fernandinho were brilliant, City’s stand out man was Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese winger has covered so effectively for De Bruyne in midfield. He retains possession so well and can truly pick out a pass. He was the player who helped transition the midfield into the attack so well. It was his ball into the box that set up David Silva. He was a creative hub in this game, creating 6 chances, completed 2 dribbles and got 2 assists. While those stats are amazing for a midfielder, what impressed me the most was his defensive work. He made 3 tackles in this game. With Silva originally being a right winger, it was good to see that he’s even putting in the defensive to the midfield role. He’s a player who has really impressed me this season. While he did make the most appearances for City season, he didn’t truly blow me away. He started a lot of games, but because of the form of Sterling and Sane, he just didn’t have the same monsterous effect as them. He’s blossomed in midfield however, where his lack of pace and strength aren’t relevant. He’s been brilliant this season and it will be a shame if his place is taken once De Bruyne returns.

Now onto Manchester United, who were outclassed in every area. While the defense is usually the area that gets the most criticism, it was actually the midfield that underwhelmed the most. Fellaini is excluded here. The Belgian was solid defensively and he shouldn’t have been expected to contribute as much as the other two in attack. Herrera was very poor against City. He was dispossessed in very dangerous areas, and was one of the key reasons why United lacked any control or threat from midfield. Herrera was once the perfect partner for Paul Pogba. Back in José’s first season, he was an industrious midfielder who aggressively won the ball back and really helped protect Pogba’s defensive issues. The problem since then, and most of United’s problems, is Matic. Whenever these two play together, they are unable to contribute anything in the final third. It really baffles me because Herrera used to be a good number 10 under Bielsa, but seems to have all of his old creative spark. He offered nothing in attack in this game, and didn’t do as much defensive work as his midfield partners (Fellaini and Matic both made 5 defensive actions). Pogba was a huge loss in this game. United lacked that arrogance, flair and spark in the middle of the park. It’s why United lost this game. They couldn’t get the ball to the forwards, and lacked the mobility to keep up with them.

It leaves both clubs in complete contrasting positions. City are comfortably the favourites for me. They have the squad and have by far the best manager. United now sit in eighth. While things are not good right now, there is a possibility it will get good again. Their Champions League fixtures are much easier now that Juventus are out of the way. They also have had 2 of the toughest away games they could have had. While Liverpool and Arsenal could be very difficult. It will leave their next few fixtures with a high chance of winning. Let’s hope they make the top 4 race interesting.

Wolves continue run against Top 6

Wolves have been one of my surprise packages of the season. While I can gladly question their goalscoring, what cannot be faulted is how disciplined the players are in this system. They function so well and are so difficult to break down, yet are still able to create good chances. They’ve already done relatively well against the Top 6. The were able to get draws against both Manchester clubs, and now Arsenal, which is the game we’ll be discussing.

Let’s begin with the newly promoted side, who were easily the better side. They only had 28% possession, yet managed more shots than their opponent (13 to 10). They took advantage of the highline Arsenal usually play, and used Costa, Cavaleiro and Jimenez to counter. It worked even better thanks to the incredible range of passing that Neves and Moutinho possess. It caused Arsenal plenty of problems and it is why they were the more deserving side of the 3 points.

While their midfield is incredibly dominant and solid, it’s their wing backs that remain to be their most impressive players. The sale of Barry Douglas in the summer was confusing. He was great in the Championship and I would have presumed would have continued to play in the Premier League. However their replacement has been excellent to say the least. Jonny arrived from Atletico Madrid and has been absolutely great. In this game he made 11 tackles and interception and kept Bellerin and Iwobi very quite (they only managed a key pass between them). However the man of the match was Wolves’s other wing back, Matt Doherty. The Irishman also did his share of defensive work, making 5 interceptions and 5 clearances. But what set him apart from his Spanish teammate was his offensive work. Doherty created 3 chances, the most in the game. Both have to be seen as the most inform full backs in Europe at the moment. Just incredible from the pair.

Onto Arsenal. This game was another example of the luck that Arsenal have had this season. This is the 3rd time of note where Arsenal probably should have lost the game, with Everton and West Ham recently being games where they won and can call themselves fortunate. They dominated this game, but created less chances than a side who had 28% possession. What usually helps them through all games is their incredible attack. Ozil, Lacazette and Aubamayeng are incredible talents and have plenty of magic to help them in tougher fixtures. Emery has done a great job so far. He’s mostly fixed their midfield, got Granit Xhaka functioning in a midfield and finally made their defense better. Not a huge improvement, but any organisation is an improvement over last season. Looking at XG, it is clear to see that Arsenal have actually been the most fortunate side in the Premier League. XG has them down to be on only 16 points, 8 less than they are on now. While the improvement is definitely there, there is still plenty of work to do for Unai Emery.

Serie A

Inter humiliated

Inter looked to be on trackin recent weeks. Big wins over Genoa and Lazio reminded us all why we thought they were going to challenge Juventus this season. But their 4-1 defeat to Atalanta this week has really put massive question marks over their long term ability to challenge Juventus.

Let’s start with the victors, who have quietly went about their business in Serie a since their impressive 4th finish in the 2016/17 season. They finished in a very respectable 6th. What has kept Atalanta going strong is two key elements. The first is Gian Piero Gasperini. His side are excellent to watch. They take the 3rd most shots in Serie A, with only Juventus and Napoli amassing more shots. They attack relentlessly with the talent they have. Speaking of talent, it’s actually their transfer activity that’s mostly impressive. Whether it’s selling young talent like Kessie, Conti and Gagliardini, to buying players many would deem as average, and turning them into very useful players. Martin De Roon epitomises this. The Dutchman was signed from Middlesbrough last year, and has been a brilliant defensive shield for the backline. He’s been arguably the best defensive midfielder in Serie A. He makes 5.7 tackles and interceptions this season, and creates a chance a game. Very good numbers for a defensive midfielder. He got an assist against Inter, and created 2 chances. His defensive work wasn’t there but Inter’s terrible display justifies that.

The real talking point however from an Atalanta point of view is that front three. Zapata, Illicic and Gomez. I’ve been a huge fan of Papau Gomez for a few years now. He’s a versatile, skillful and a brilliant all rounder. This game showed this. He scored an absolute stunning goal to seal the win, but he also was excellent in a creative sense, creating 6 chances. Another display to show just how good he is for a side that truly loves him. While Illicic has only started 4 games, he’s scored 3 and assisted 3. His numbers are truly outrageous. He takes 3.1 shots, makes 2.6 key passes and completing 2.1 dribbles. He’s truly went under the radar since signing from Fiorentina, and is playing out of this world. He was incredible game. He ended the game with 2 assists, and completed 7 dribbles. He was the best out of the three, but that isn’t to take credit away from Zapata. The Columbian completed 6 dribbles, won 2 aerial duels and took 4 shots. The huge amount of dribbles just shows how interchangable they are. They work so well together and are in hot form right now.

Now onto Inter, who were truly terrible on the day. Each goal was scored because of the mistakes made by the players. Asamoah let Hateboer run completely free and score the first. The second and third were thanks to poor marking at set pieces, with Skriniar and Icardi both at fault. The fourth was a moment of magic from Gomez, so players cannot be blamed there.

The midfield was also weak. Throughout the game, both Illicic and Gomez were constantly allowed to run through the middle. I usually view Vecino as a defensive midfielder, yet he only made a single tackle all game. There was a complete lack of intensity all over the park, and it all resulted in Inter’s humiliation.

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Top 5 Worst Transfers of the Summer – Malcolm, Bonucci

After doing the best transfers of the window, let’s quickly go through some signings that are on the other end of the spectrum. These are the top 5 Worst signings from this summer’s window.

5. Malcolm – Barcelona

This might be a controversial pick, but this signing just doesn’t make much sense to me at all, for both player and club. I like Malcolm. He is a player who has an incredible left foot on him, from distance and in the box. While he did have a good season for a struggling Bordeaux, it didn’t seem enough for Barcelona to spend nearly £40m on. My problem with the transfer is that he was close to signing for Roma, which would have made so much more sense. Ever since the loss of Salah, Roma have been struggling for goals from around the pitch since the departure of Salah and after Nainggolan’s goals dried up last season (he was still very good). Malcolm would have definitely helped them in this department. He would have given them an extra attacking threat, and put less pressure on Edin Dzeko. It would have been so perfect to have a front three of Kluivert, Dzeko and Malcolm. However that is not the reality of the situation. I can understand that joining Barcelona is an opportunity of a life a lifetime, but it would be better to join a club of their prestige when a guarantee of starting is there. Valverde seems eager to play a 4-3-3, to get the best out of the players in his possession, and to give better protection to Sergio Busquets. The problem is where does Malcolm start in this forward 3? Messi is a guarantee to start on that right side, and Dembele will play on the left, and is also able to play on the right. Malcolm could have seen what happened to the likes of Denis Suarez and Lucas Digne. Two players who chose Barcelona when they were not at that level yet. His chances will come very short, but that is his choice.

4. Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus

Last summer, I praised the acquisition of Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan. They were buying the best centre back in Europe for only €30m and it just seemed like a great bit of business. However a year on, it was not. Talking about this signing means going into the whole deal between the two clubs. It was agreed that Higuain would join Milan on loan for €17m with an obligation to buy for €31m. Matteo Caldara also joined Milan as part of the deal, with Bonucci joining Juventus. The deal itself addresses the problem. Juventus should have never given these players away. Higuain’s numbers have been dropping since his arrival in Turin, so keeping him as Ronaldo’s number two would have worked, to give Ronaldo the required rest for the crucial games. Selling Caldara just makes no sense. The young Italian has looked good for Atalanta over his two year loan spell. He was ready to become at least a squad player for The Old Lady. Bonucci, like Malcolm, is a bad signing not exactly based on the player’s ability, but it has to do with the circumstances surrounding the move. Juventus have weakened areas in their squad to have him back, and it has not helped the aging squad.

3. Sokratis Papastathopoulos

It is not exactly a controversial opinion to say that Arsenal’s squad is a pure mess. While the signings of Torreira and Guendouzi do address the gaping hole in midfield, and Lichteiner will give competition to a very stagnant Hector Bellerin, but it is the other defensive signings I have a problem with. Bernd Leno is a very horrible signing. He made the second most defensive errors last season, but because of how useless Cech is, he will be an improvement. Sokratis on the other hand just isn’t a good move. I just do not understand this move at all. Sokratis is an okay distributor, but he is more of a destroyer than a sweeper. Arsenal needed a more intelligent defender, that isn’t so positionally poor. In the first two games, Sokratis has been one of Arsenal’s worse performers for an already poor Arsenal team. Having a back two of Mustafi and Sokratis is asking for them to get caught out over an over again. Borussia Dortmund were very poor last season in a defensive sense, which explains why they signed young promising defender Abdou Diallo. Sokratis was a huge fault for that poor defense. Arsenal bringing in a guy who is now 30 to fix a defense that needed a more intelligent player just doesn’t make sense, and the worst part is he is still one of their better defenders.

2 & 1 – Thomas Delaney and Axel Witzel – Borussia Dortmund

While it could be cheating, putting two players as joint first and second,
I have been unable to make up my mind on which out of these is a worse signing. Lucian Favre is an appointment I am not exactly a fan of. While has previous experience in the league, doing a fine job at Munchengladbach, his time at Nice did not end so well, with the club overachieving in their first season by finishing 3rd, to then finishing 8th. Many of the players in that team were performing well over their potential, with the likes of Dante, Balotelli, Seri and Le Marchand all overachieving that season. The problem with Favre is the style of play he chooses is not exactly the most attractive, which can make him a very a hard manager to sit through. Dortmund have not had the best of windows. They didn’t properly address their striker problem, and the signings themselves aren’t great. While I like Diallo and Hakimi on loan, I think their midfield signings of Delaney and Witzel are both atrocious. Both are very functional players, that do not excel in any department. Delaney’s defensive numbers are very decent and he did win 3.7 aerial duels a game last season, but the problem with the Danish international is that he is very poor on the ball. Since Tuchel’s arrival, Dortmund have been playing midfielders with very good technical ability, surrounded by players who have a lot of energy and are effective in pressing and assisting in attack. His technical players in the past have been the likes of Gundogan, Dahoud and Weigl, all players with an excellent ability on the ball. However with the departure of Castro and Gundogan over the years, and both Weigl and Dahoud not having the best of seasons last season, it could have been a position that needed strengthening. But they have went the wrong way in signing these players. Favre could have put his faith in the midfielders he currently has. He has spent €40m on two players with such limited ability, which could hinder the currently young talent that the club possesses. One could say that they are only there maybe to partner one of Dahoud or Weigl, but this is Favre. He will play Witzel and Delaney together because of their discipline and aggression. I think Dortmund are better than these players, and they should not be wasting their relatively low resources on quick fix options, and should instead be going for players with a high technical ability.

3 Players Who Attract Unwarranted Hate

With how popular social media has become over the last 4-5 years, and how pundits and other commentators will say whatever it will take to earn clicks and attention, it is fair to say some crazy things are said. Let’s go through three players who seem to be hated by certain people, when it isn’t entirely justified. There isn’t a ranking of any sorts here, because hate is something that shouldn’t exactly be ranked.

1. Paul Pogba

By far the player who seems to attract the most hate, Paul Pogba is a controversial player since his world record transfer. Whether it is Garth Crooks constantly complaining about his haircuts (which to this day is a stupid thing to criticise a player for), or the mainstream media saying he doesn’t do enough for the team in the bigger games. Everyone always wants to find a guy to blame, because it’s easier than finding a real problem. I do not know how many times I have to keep stressing how much of a special talent the Frenchman is. If United play well, it’s because of Paul Pogba. I have only seen him have a few bad games in a United shirt, being Spurs away, Chelsea in the final of the FA Cup, and in the league cup final. Other than that, I don’t think he has any particular bad games. In his first season for the club, Pogba was getting a lot of unnecessary stick, but it can be defended very easily. I remember on the last game of the season against Crystal Palace, where Paul scored and assisted. Ian Wright on Match of the Day said he wasn’t good enough because of his lack of goal contributions. But I think that’s too vague. I constantly complain about pundits not doing their research, and this is another example. Zlatan Ibrahimovic that season had a conversion rate of 12%. You expect your striker at the top level to get around a 25% conversion rate. While Zlatan did carry them in an attacking sense, he would still have his moments of failing to good chances away, and who picked him out during these missed chances? Paul Pogba. The now world cup winner was excellent in picking out his Swedish teammate, but Ibrahimovic failed to convert these chances. You cannot blame to the creator for his striker not putting the ball away, when he probably should. What’s important to remember about United is that they rely heavily on Paul Pogba. One of the main reasons he has been playing so deep is so he is able to get on the ball as much as possible, but doing that limits his ability going forward. Pogba is a player who is great when dropping wide, and also excels in front of goal. You want him further up the field to get the best out of him. Having him further back puts more emphasis on his defensive work, which isn’t great, and at times woeful. But that is not the strengths of the player. You want him playing a role where his defensive work, while not absent, is more limited. It also does seem that fans and pundits just do not like how he presents himself off the pitch. I can defend his ability and performances on the pitch, but what he does off the field is more or a matter of opinion. Many fans do not like all the haircuts, the dancing and the Instagram videos. My opinion on the social media side is the who really cares? If Pogba wants to enjoy life, let him. He shouldn’t be scrutinized on his personal life. When he performs, it is never mentioned, but when he has the occasional average performance, social media is the first thing that is blamed. I just will never understand why it is relevent. It could be the Manchester United fan in me, but I do feel the hate he gets is very unjust. Let’s hope he continues to silence his numerous critics.

2. Raheem Sterling

I briefly mentioned the hate he was receiving when discussing players that I wanted to see succeed in the summer, but I will try and elaborate. Up until last season, Sterling was always a very frustrating player, but was never a bad one. He is an excellent player in getting in goal scoring positions, but just failed to convert his chances. However that seemed to change last season. It was famously covered that Pep gave him one very useful tip in changing the way he played. Instead of stopping the ball when receiving it, take a heavy touch and try and beat the opponent with pace. It was so effective, because it just made him so much more unpredictable. Sterling was absolutely fabulous last season. In a record breaking season, he was one of their best players, ending the season with 18 goals and 11 assists. Those are real world class numbers for a wide player. However even after that incredible season, there is still doubt from other fans, especially England fans. Sterling still has that moment of missing chances, and that it was people remember. In the first game at the 2018 World Cup, he had two chances, that he failed to convert near the beginning of the game against Tunisia. Sterling was seen as one of the worst players for England. While I do not think he was great, he was playing a role that he is not used to. He had to play as creator, while also helping create space for Kane, while also trying to give width to the team. It was very difficult for the Manchester City winger, and he ended up sacrificing a lot of his game, for the sake of the team. That cannot be credited more. However his performances were not the main talking point about Sterling. Before the world cup even began, a certain tabloid tried to paint the winger in a negative fashion by highlighting the gun tattoo on his leg. This unnecessary attention towards an aspect of his life that isn’t related to football was wrong in so many ways. It seems like the media in every other country wants to support their team before a huge competition, but not in England. The media is desperate for clicks in any sense that they are willing to put the people against the players. But if you go through all of that certain tabloid’s posts about Sterling, it is more than just the tattoo. They have criticised him for buying his mother a house, going in regular plane travel, driving his car, and even shopping discount shops. While Pogba’s hate was mostly from fans and old fashioned pundits, Sterling’s hate is based mostly on nothing related to his career. If any players gets hate that is completely undeserved, it is Raheem Sterling.

3. Mesut Ozil

Another player I have defended multiple times in the pass. Mesut Ozil is by far my favourite attacking midfielder in Europe. No other playmaker in the top 5 leagues possess his incredible vision and technical ability on the ball. He is by far the best creator in the premier league. While De Bruyne, Hazard and Eriksen are all excellent creators, I think Ozil just edges them. Attacking midfielders are positions that are quite flexible. You have creators, like Ozil, who specialise in helping the attackers in the final third. Goal scorers, like Alli, who are more second strikers, and extra midfielders, like Banega, who are great at dropping into midfield to provide extra numbers. Ozil is the best creator. His creative numbers have been excellent throughout his career. His best season was the 2015/16 season, where he averaged a frankly unbeatable 4.2 key passes per 90. While that number has declined, it has still stayed over 3 since that season. Even at the world cup, where Germany underperformed, Ozil was still very good. Pundits like Martin Keown will say the usual he doesn’t work hard enough, but he still made 5.5 key passes in his two games. He does his job to the best of his ability. However Ozil is a player who has gathered hate from all over the country. A lot of Arsenal fans dislike how he fades in the “big games” (an argument I just don’t understand), and pundits, as previously mentioned, dislike him for his lack of defensive contribution. This has a lot to do with system. Ozil has so far been struggling this season, because of the more defensive approach of Unai Emery. It isn’t a strength of the ex German international. You can criticise him in the way of him not changing his game. But Ozil plays in a way that you have to build around him. Emery in my opinion has to get the best out of him in the same way that Wenger was able to. This summer has seen criticism in another form for Ozil. In the middle of May, Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, were pictured alongside the Turkish President, a controversial figure in Germany. This resulted in numerous backlash from German fans, including racist and discriminatory insults towards the Arsenal playmaker. The backlash became so bad that it ended with Ozil retiring from the German national team. Ozil was a player in his prime years so retiring this early was a bit of a shock for everyone. Even this decision resulted in backlash however, with international team mate Toni Kroos branding his racist comments “nonsense.” It does seem ignorant from Kroos to deny that racist comments were made, with it being the main reason why Ozil made that decision. Originally this was going to be about 7 players, but the players mentioned receive hate on another level compared to other players I was going to discuss (Henderson being disliked and Morata not being what Chelsea fans wanted were going to be 2 of them). Going into length about these 3 players was needed, to show a more darker side of football, and to show the difficult circumstances that footballers can find themselves in.

5 Talking Points from Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United

Oh what a comeback! That first half was another shocking performance, but that second half was incredible. So let’s go through that complete emotional rollercoaster

A Terrible 45 Minutes

Before going into the good stuff, let’s just go through how truly terrible that first half was. We looked unorganized, lacking ambition, and most of all, not interested. I truly believe that we have the worst defence out of the top 5. Even though De Gea has kept the most clean sheets in the league, we also face the most shots per game. It shows when watching that first half again. So many times we just let them come towards us and play their game. Mourinho seems to believe that this is the way to defend, and he might be right. But when we have players who seem unable to defend, it is impossible to make any system work. Valencia, Young, Bailly and Smalling were all tragic in the first 45 minutes. Valencia seemed desperate to ruin any shape we tried to have, Sterling put Young on a plate multiple times, Smalling was at clear fault for the first goal, and even Bailly was giving the ball away in stupid. It was poor all around and just continues to remind me how poor that back four is as a unit. I still argue that Liverpool have a better defence than united, while we have kept more clean sheets (thanks to a certain Spaniard), Liverpool do not allow opposition teams to take many shots. If their keepers were more consistent, they would easily be the third best team in the country. Another issue that seemed to continue was United in general struggling to move the ball. It was classic Mourinho, send long diagonal balls to Lukaku and hope that he is able to win the header. The issue here was the balls given to him were consistently poor. Even if Lukaku was closer, there was no one close enough to win the second ball. I do never want to see such a poor first half ever again by Manchester United, especially against our second biggest rivals.

Dealing with Fernandinho

The Brazilian has continually been the cog to this phenomenonal team, and to deal with him, is the key to dealing with city. In the first half United used Lukaku to shadow Fernandinho, but because the Belgian also had to put pressure on Otamendi and Kompany, this didn’t work. Matic also came out to pressure the Brazilian, but this also didn’t work. When he did this, it left Herrera and Pogba to cover for him, and with those two sitting further back, it gave more space for Gundogan and Silva to move and receive the ball. In the second half however, there was one slight adjustment made. Herrera would go further back to make a back 5, so if a player would step out to Fernandinho, it wouldn’t leave United as exposed. A smart move to nullify a player who is capable of moving City much further up the pitch.

Sanchez improvement

Since signing from Arsenal, it is safe to say Alexis hasn’t been an instant success, but the second half shown the quality of player we have at the club. One of my biggest issues with Sanchez has actually been on the ball. He seems to miss time his passes, resulting in United losing possession. This could have been a result of only signing recently, meaning he still isn’t on the same wave length as his teammates yet. His performance on Saturday was a definite showing of how good he is. Mourinho said after the game he wasn’t happy with Lingard and Sanchez in that first half, and wanted them to come closer to Lukaku, which they definitely did. Sanchez started to move more towards the middle, giving Danilo a much harder task, and had an involvement in 3 of United’s goals. The Chilean managed to create 5 chances, more than any other player for United on the day. The ball for Pogba’s header was inch perfect. It was a delivery we expect from a player of his calibre. It is great to see him finally showing why we were so happy to sign him.

Pogba’s Payback

But of course the biggest talking point is the performance of a certain Frenchman. Pogba in the second half was everything we needed in one of our biggest players. But let’s begin with his first half. In all honesty I didn’t think he was as bad as everyone else. He was at least trying to move the ball up the field, even though it did end in failure. It was incredible to see him change that much. It was the first time all season we have seen him run into these dangerous positions, to remind us why he scored so many for Juventus. It is still up for debate whether he decided to do this himself or if Mourinho gave him these instructions. The manager did say after the game that he was happy with the midfield, so it can be safely assumed Pogba decided himself. He is turning into a real character, and especially, a leader. A leader is something that cannot be bought, but made. Most importantly he scored two good and important goals to put us back into the game, against I team I despise from the bottom of my heart. But for me the best thing he did was give Otamendi a proper hard tackle. It was something that wouldn’t even be questioned if Keano or Scholes did the same thing. A choice to waste more time and to remind city that he is there. A show of pure passion and desire. Rumours and criticism of Pogba isn’t deserved. He has struggled recently, but we all know he can become a truly brilliant player at United, and let’s hope he continues

The Party Ruined

Oh the smile on my face when seeing all those city fans miserable at full time. At the end of the day the Champions League is more important for City. They have a tough game against Liverpool and need their bigger players ready for it. But they have also missed a one in a million chance. That being winning the title in front of their rivals. I’m glad they didn’t win, but they still have this title wrapped up. If City lose to Liverpool though, I do think they have underperformed this season, which will be explained if that happens.

Top 5 Premier League Signings (As of Match Day 11)

The recent transfer window has easily been the most frantic window of all time. The record was broken with the signing of Paul Pogba to Manchester United and there was still some other big money moves in the summer, like Benteke to Crystal Palace and John Stones to Manchester City. But instead of just listing them, I’ll be counting down the best Premier League signings as of November 2016, good chance there will be another list in a few months time, depending on any player who has made a difference. The way I’ll be judging these transfers is what they add to the team they’re joining and if the club that signed the player has done good business in the market.

5. Steven Defour – Anderlecht to Burnley (£8m)

Any team that gets promoted are instantly relegation candidates and that’s just the reality of it. Any team that get promoted have to make sure they have a lot of depth, because the premier league is tiresome league. Players don’t get that winter break the La liga players and the Bundesliga get. They need a goalscorer. Proof of that can be seen with Sunderland last season. Without Defoe, they wouldn’t of got out of that bottom 3 at any point during the season. Villa got relegated because they didn’t have that 10+ goalscorer, to score those important goals in big games. Burnley have that with Andre Gray and Sam Vokes. But they can’t score goals without the right service, and that’s what Steven Defour gives you. I was very impressed when I saw Burnley bag the Belgium for only £8m. What a bargain! Defour adds that quality every team needs, someone who can make something out of nothing, who can bring the ball into the opponent’s half and give those strikers the chances they need to win games. The first moment I saw of the midfielder was an assist to Andre Gray against Liverpool. I just sat there thinking “that is exactly what they need.” I’m not sure if he keep it up all season, but early signs show he can do it.

4. Ilkay Gundogan – Borrusia Dortmund to Manchester City (£21m)

This was the first big transfer of the window, and what a way to start. Gundogan is a class player and City got him for a bargain, they just have to hope they can’t keep him fit. He has been great player for Dortmumd for a few seasons now, and it was a big money move we were all waiting for. He gives Pep everything he wants from midfielder, calm, composed, intelligent and a great attacking threat. I never used to think of Gundogan as a massive attacking threat but after seeing him recently for City, I’m pretty surprised. He has this ability to come out of no where to give support for the likes of Sterling and Aguero. But there is a problem with the German, and that is his injuries. He’s pretty similar to other City players like Aguero and Silva, quality on their day, but at some point will be injured. If Pep can sort out his injury problems, then Gundogan will be one of the best midfielders in the league.

3. Ashley Williams – Swansea City to Everton (£12m)

Ashley Williams is easily one of the best leaders, and defenders, in the league. He was one big reason why Swansea have stayed up over the last few seasons, and why Wales went as far as they did in the Euros in France. He gives you a voice, a presence, someone who will carry the weaker players when needed. Every team needs a player like him, especially Everton. The toffees last season were so poor in the back. Conceeding 55 goals all together. Much of that blame can be put on Roberto Martinez. It seemed as if he had no idea how to organise a defence. Everton were  very solid under David Moyes, but it seemed Martinez sacrifices a solid back line for an entertaining style of play. They were great to watch, but there is no point in scoring plenty if you’re gonna conceed even more. Those kind of decisions got Martinez sacked, and now under Koeman, Everton are still entertaining and are even keeping clean sheets, and Williams can take a lot of credit for it.

2. Sadio Mane – Southampton to Liverpool (£35m)

I was one of those people who did question Sadio Mane’s move to Anfield. The main reason for that being his inconsistency, he was a great player to watch at Southampton, but he lacked consistency. He’d score two goals in a game and then go 5 games without scoring again, but it seems like Jurgen Klopp has got the best out of the former Southampton man. Mane has became everything Liverpool needed last season, someone who’s first thought was run forward and cause some problems for the defenders. Mane has been in great form, scoring 6 and assisting 2 so far this season and if he keeps it up, he’ll be in the team of the season for sure.  Liverpool’s front three have became the most deadly front three in Europe because of their speed and intensity, and Liverpool fans can be thankful to Klopp bringing in the right man to change that. 

Honourable Mentions

Eric Bailly – Villarreal to Manchester United (£30m) 

Idrissa Gueye – Aston Villa to Everton (£7.1m)

Joel Matip – Schalke FC to Liverpool (Free)

 Shkodran Mustafi – Valencia to Arsenal (£35m)

Nathan Redmond – Norwich to Southampton (£10m)

1. N’golo Kante – Leicester City to Chelsea (£32m)

Who else? Who else could possibly be a better signing than N’golo Kante to Chelsea, he would what some people refer to as a title winning signing, and I can’t agree more. Kante gives you what any title contender needs, consistency, an engine and someone to do that dirty work. Last season proved that some of those Chelsea players can’t be relied on, and they needed someone who can always be relied on. Kante was the meaning of consistency last season, playing in almost every game last season for Leicester, only missing one game from injury, and doing all the dirty work needed so Leicester could counter the opposition and help them win the league. Conte signing the French man must of made Chelsea fans wonder who Jose Mourinho was. He fits into Conte’s system so well because of his ability to go unnoticed, Kante can be like a ghost on the pitch, taking the ball off the opposition without them even realising. Not only did Chelsea sign the best midfielder from last season, they also got him pretty cheap for what they are getting. If Chelsea spent up to £50m for him, no one would of batted an eye. He is that good.