Are Liverpool Overrated? Champions League Heroes and Zeroes Game Week 4

Hero – Atletico Madrid

For redeeming themselves after their horrific defeat at the hands of their opponents in their last meeting. They beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0, thanks to goals from Saul and Griezmann. Before complimenting how good Simeone’s men were in this half, let’s discuss just how bad Dortmund were. They didn’t manage a single shot on target. They have been pretty good in attack, while overachieving in some sorts. So seeing them not even test the keeper is disappointing. Anyways, on to Atletico Madrid. They were back to their best in the Champions League after their biggest defeat in the competition. They only managed 32% possession, yet dominated the game. They blocked Dortmund out completely, and reminded Europe why they are so difficult to beat. Their stand out player in the game was comfortably Saúl Ñíguez. The Spaniard played on the left side of midfield, and not contributed in attack, with him scoring the first, but also had 2 shots and created 2 chances. While his form in the league can vary, no one can question he has been one of the best players in the Champions League. Felipe Luis is another who stood out on the night. Simeone is an expert at getting the best out of his players. 2-3 years ago you could say that the Brazilian was the best left back around. Now 33, his ability is dropping but he is still a solid defender in this system. He put in 4 tackles and 5 interceptions. He also created 2 chances and got an assist. After all their summer spending, it’s good to see Atletico looking like the prospect I thought they would be.

Zero – Liverpool

Who else to talk about her. The reds suffered a humiliating defeat to the hands of Red Star Belgrade. This was actually the Serbian side’s first ever win in the competition, which was just mind boggling to find out. Liverpool were truly terrible. While they had 23 shots, they only managed 4 on target. Salah and Van Dijk were the only ones who managed to test the keeper, meaning 8 other out field players didn’t even manage to get a shot on target. It’s crazy to think that a team with such an apparent good attack, failed to have many stand out chances against a side that they walked over at Anfield. Two players were pretty disappointed, being Sturridge and Wijnaldum. Sturridge had the chance early on to put his side ahead, but missed a simple chance to give his side the lead at that point. It was a chance for him to challenge Firmino for a place in the side, and failed. I really dislike Wijnaldum as a player. I just do not think he offers enough to justify the amount of games he starts. This game perfectly shows this. In a game where you want your most advanced midfield to help the attack, he offered nothing. That isn’t necessary true. He had 2 shots and made an interceptions. You just want so much more in a game where attacking is all you’ll be doing. It serves another example of when Wijnaldum vanishes in away games. A poor day all round for the Reds, and will need to finally step up this season.

Hero – Harry Kane

Spurs were in a bad place before this game. After consecutive loses in their first two, and a draw against PSV, it left them in a difficult place. They had to win against PSV and Inter if they wished to have any chance of progressing. After falling behind thanks to a great header from De Jong, they had a mountain to climb. But as usual, it was their captain who dragged them through it. Kane was the reason why Spurs were even able to win the game. He was absolutely sensational and seemed to be be back at his best pre ankle injury. He had a monsterous 8 shots in this game, which means he had a shot roughly every 6 touches. That is just incredible. He also completed 3 dribbles as well, which is impressive for a guy who seriously lacks pace. Kane hasn’t been at his best this season. Thanks to a world cup hangover and spurs suffering an injury crisis, he has had to sacrifice a lot of his game. He has still managed 6 goals in the league and is now on 4 in 4 in Europe’s competition. He has brought his A-game when he needed to and credit needs to be given to him for that.

Zero – Thierry Henry

Oh Monaco. They went quickly from Europe’s new hipster club, to a side in serious trouble. After Jardim decided he couldn’t do anything else with this side, Henry was brought in to try and salvage something out of this season while there was still plenty of it. To say he’s had a bad start is an understatement. He’s been in charge for 5 games and has now only managed 2 points out of a possible 15. Of course it’s hard to judge a guy who has only been charge for a month, and I do sympathise with him. He’s under an immense amount of pressure, and is probably quite unsure what to do with these players. Monaco signed a lot of players in the summer, using their model of recruiting prospects and hoping they work. After underwhelming France last season and losing Fabinho, Lemar and Moutinho, all key players, they are really struggling. Their game against Club Brugge might be their worst. They lost 0-4 to Brugge, which is their biggest defeat in the Champions League. There nearly had as many chances as Brugge, having 6 efforts on target to Brugge’s 7. But conceding the goals they did must have drained them of confidence. Antonio Barreca blatantly handballed it and allowed Brugge to sit back and defend the goals they already scored. It’s such a shame to see a team once seen as one of the most exciting in Europe, to now struggling to stay in their own league.

Hero – Real Madrid

For the first time in Champions League Heroes and Zeroes, we welcome Real Madrid. The European champions looked to finally show why they even have that title, with a comfortable 0-5 victory against Viktoria Plzen. After the sacking of Julien Lopategui, Santiago Solari was brought in temporarily, until a replacement was found. He has definitely got Madrid playing much better, and due to this, results have definitely picked up. They have won every game under Solari, and are creating much better chances. Speaking of creating, Toni Kroos was outstanding. He was one of many players who completely dropped off near the end of Lopategui’s reign, and is back to his majestic best. At point, he was the best midfielder around. But thanks to his legs beginning to go and Kroos generally doing less defensive work, he has lost that title. He was magnificent against Plzen. He created 6 chances, had 3 shots and completed every long ball he attempted. He also capped his performance off with a delightful finish to chip the keeper. Another player who performed well is Benzema. The Frenchman has been on the decline for years now. He was criticised heavily last season for lacking in goals, but that was because he was making space for Ronaldo. This season however, the pressure is on him. He wasn’t actually great in this game, scoring with every shot on target he had. I have credited other players in the past for being that clinical, but for a Madrid player, they need be taking so much more shots when they are dominating games. Kroos, Bale and Ramos all had more shots than Benzema. He seems to be getting in less goal scoring positions, and it just shows how much he is decreasing by the season. He has been a good servant, but he will need serious replacing. A good performance from Madrid, and it’s good to see the champions showing why they have won it 3 times in a row.

Zero – Juventus

While Manchester United do deserve credit for somehow getting 3 points, when they didn’t deserve it at all. Juventus deserve plenty of criticism for not putting this game to bed, and failing to deal with United’s changes. Juventus had 23 shots compared to United’s 9. Dybala, Khedira and Cuadrado all had chances to seal the win, yet failed to take it. The worst of all was actually Allegri. He has been incredible in recent years, for getting the most out of aging players, and being smart when on the pitch. However his decision to bring on Barzagli, and switch to a 3 in the back was what spurred United on to win the game. It gave so much more space for United to get near the box. They won the game from set pieces. They are areas you expect an Italian side to be able to defend. They truly struggled to deal with the aerial threat of Fellaini. If they wish to win the Champions League, they cannot allow a weaker side to take advantage of them like this.

Hero – Gabriel Jesus

Because of the monsterous form of Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus’s minutes have been limited. He’s only started 2 games in the league, but has started 3 games in the Champions League. Pep seems to trust Aguero more in the Premier League (where he is performing at an incredible level) and is using Jesus in competitions where Aguero can be rested. This could be the last season where this can be used. Jesus will want more minutes as he gets older. Pep probably does have a solution in how to use him, but I’m unsure how long Jesus will remain happy with this role. He was truly amazing for City, scoring his first hat trick in the Champions League, and being only the third Manchester City player to score a hat trick, joining Negredo and Aguero who also have scored hat tricks. He must have reminded Pep why he was brought in to begin with. His movement and off the ball work is still top level, and is a great box predator. He is reminiscent of Icardi some ways. He doesn’t need too much of the ball to have an effect. He managed 28 touches in the game, the least out of any player who started for the Champions. However he still managed 6 shots, 4 on target and made 2 key passes. He’s just so effective whenever he plays. It’s the game he needed. Pep now has a dilemma. He has two strikers in red hot form. Pep only had this dilemma because of Jesus’s incredible game, so credit to the Brazilian.

Zero – Lyon

Last time Lyon and Hoffenheim met, I said it was by far one of the best games in the Champions League so far. Their second battle was still a spectacle, with the game ending 2-2. While last time I gave credit to anyone who was able to watch the game, it is time to look at it with more of a critical eye. Lyon are zeroes here, because they squandered a 2 goal advantage. What makes it even more disastrous is Hoffenheim were down to ten men. Lyon could have won this game rather comfortably. They comfortably had more shots, 28 to Hoffenheim’s 16. The goals they conceded were soft. Kramaric was given room to shoot freely, and they drew due to a set piece, an area where they had an advantage. Both teams have been impressive in this Champions League so far, but this game was Lyon’s for the taking.

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Most Underrated Striker in Europe? Champions League Heroes and Zeroes Game week 3

Another week, another great round of Champions League fixtures. Let’s get straight into who has done well this week, and who has failed.

Hero – Edin Dzeko

I don’t know how controversial it is to say this, but Dzeko has been one of the best players in the Champions League since last season. He was excellent in Roma’s surprise semi final finish, scoring 8 in 12 for his side. He has continued his form into the new season, with the ex Manchester City forward already scoring 5 goals in only 3 games. His stats just show how brilliant he has been. In the Champions League, Edin Dzeko has been taking 5 shots, making 1.7 key passes and winning 3.3 aerial duels per game. What make his shot numbers even better are the fact he’s taking 4 of them inside the penalty area, and 0.7 in the 6 yard box. He is getting in very good positions and the chances he is getting are good chances. However my critical side knows that he has played very inferior opponents. I just can’t take that away from him however. A brilliant start for a guy who just doesn’t get enough credit for all the work he does for that side.

Zero – Nemanja Matic

Instead of watching any other game, I decided to support my team and watch our game against our first real European elite since Bayern Munich in 2014. It was a huge test for United and it was a chance to see how much they have developed since that season under Moyes. If referring to how United are under Mourinho, it was a perfect representation. There was a lack of attacking structure, midfielders not given clear roles and instructions, and no sort of plan from Mourinho. While Jose has fallen out publicly with a handful of players, the two players he seems to most get along with, Lukaku and Matic, have been terrible this season. I sympathise with Lukaku. Mourinho just uses him in the wrong way. He isn’t a target man, like Dzeko or Costa, but a poacher (Chicarito with a gym membership would be the best way to describe him). United should build their entire system to give him the ball in the box as much as possible. But because of the pragmatic system that is deployed under Mourinho, Lukaku has to drop deep to receive the ball, to get any involvement in the game. I have no sympathy for Matic however. The Serbian doesn’t offer enough to justify starting him in every single game. The game against Juventus shows this just perfectly. While stats might make it out like he did a good defensive job (he made four tackles in the game), he did not. Many criticised Pogba for being out of position and not giving the defense effective cover. People forget that it was Matic who let Dybala through for the first goal, and failed to track him effectively through out. Every time Matic received the ball, United’s attacks would halt to a stand still, and any motion made, would be gone soon as he would put his foot on the ball. He is the one guy who is holding United back, giving them a weakness in a position that by now, should not be a problem. Matic is by far the biggest loser this week.

Hero – Rafinha

Rafinha was a player I thought I would never see in a Barcelona shirt ever again. That’s not to say he is not a good player. In fact he has shown plenty of promise whenever he has played. However it’s injuries that have held him back. It is the reason why Barca were so adamant to sell him, but no one could agree with their pricing of the Brazilian. He remains and after starting over world cup winner Ousmane Dembele, he has a lot to show, and he did. Rafinha scored the opening goal for Barca against his former side. He played as more of an inverted winger, drifting inside, while Roberto would give the width. He did this excellently, taking 3 shots and getting all of them on target. He also had a 94% pass accuracy , and completed a key pass. He caused Inter plenty of problems in the absence of Messi. I still think Rafinha should be sold, because he isn’t worth the hassle he puts on a side that still has some deadweight, and needs to add players that aren’t plagued with injuries.

Zero – Hugo Lloris

Oh Lloris. I still think nothing highlights Lloris better than captaining his side in the world cup final, to then make a horrible mistake to give Mandzukic a simple finish. I like Lloris and the criticism he’s getting (Henry Winter and Jermaine Jenas I’m referring to) from pundits is a little harsh. While I really do not think he is at the level of De Gea, Ter Stegan or Ederson. He is still a competent goalkeeper, and plays in a position that is very hard to find a replacement for. However I cannot defend what he did against PSV Eindhoven. His sprint outside of the box to intercept the ball, went horribly wrong, and ended with the captain getting his marching orders. What makes this worse is this the second time this season that Lloris has been sent off for the same sort of challenge. It baffles me why he keeps trying these incredible risky challenges. Lloris is the loser for simply not learning from his mistakes, and causing more dilemmas for Pochettino, regarding his goalkeeper situation.

Hero – Fabinho

I wanted Fabinho at United before they signed Matic, but it seemed he would stay at Monaco for another year before joining Liverpool the following summer. I have been an admirer of the Brazilian since his permanent signing at Monaco, where he originally played as a right back. He excelled in that position, but Jardim still decided to move him into midfield, and it was a genius move. Last season, Fabinho was a highlight in an otherwise average Monaco side, putting in incredible tackle and interception numbers, and being arguably one of the best players in Europe at winning aerial duels. Liverpool signed the 25 year old for a bargain £40m, but since his arrival he hasn’t started a game. This is mainly due to the excellent form of Milner, Keita, Henderson and Wijnaldum. This game against Red Star was his first start for the reds, and to say he took it was an understatement. Fabinho was perfect in this game. He won 9 tackles, more than any other player on the pitch, 6 aerial duels (only Van Dijk won more) and was very good on the ball. He completed 80 passes with a 90% accuracy, higher than anyone else on his side. He showed exactly why Liverpool bought him, and has given even more questions for Jürgen Klopp.

Zero – Valencia

With Manchester United losing their fixture against Juventus, Valencia needed to get 3 points against Young Boys if they had any chance of getting out of the group, and making United’s horrible match in Turin even worse for them. Young Boys are the worst side in this group (as seen from José’s United breaking them down easy), but they still seem to have an attack that is threatening. Against Valencia, they did show this, they managed 7 shots on target, bettering Valencia’s 2. What was most impressive was their shot zones. They took 72% of their shots in the 18 yard box, showing that they created very good chances. It was a game where Young Boys deserves all the points, but just couldn’t put the game to bed. Valencia have been so poor this season. While they have remained good defensively, their attack has fallen off a cliff. Valencia were overachieving massively last season when scoring goals. Their three top scorers, Zaza, Mina and Rodrigo, scored 41, but were only expected to score 32. Their numbers seem to have come back to earth this season, with Mina, Rodrigo and Batshuayi (who came in to replace Zaza) have only managed 2 between them. They have all struggled and not having that excellent start, like they did last season, just hasn’t given them a leg to stand on. They are the losers for making an interesting group on paper seem so much more predictable.

Hero – Viewers of Hoffenheim vs Lyon

This was by far the game of the week, with the game ending 3-3. It had everything in an attacking sense. Hoffenheim played their usual extremely direct football, with Szalai winning the second ball, and the players around him receiving it. Lyon played with their incredible young talent, and moved with pace and speed to get in behind a very weak defense. While I’d love to compliment Hoffenheim, their defending in this game was poor beyond description, with Baumann, Vogt and Akpoguma all making mistakes in the three goals they conceded. If it wasn’t for these amateur moments, Hoffenheim would have easily came out of this game as victors, but they only have themselves to blame. Now onto their attack, which was excellent. Their wing backs, Schulz and Kaderabek, advance incredibly high up the pitch, and in this game they made it count. Schulz managed 2 key passes, while Kaderabek managed 6. Kramaric was arguably the man of the match in this game, after his 2 great strikes to give Hoffenheim the lead, and back in the game. Lyon can definitely call themselves lucky. They were falsely denied a penalty, after Denayer’s clear hand ball, and Vogt missed a very good chance to seal it. After Memphis Depay scored what Lyon thought what would be the winner, Joelinton came off the bench and scored the equaliser that got them back in the game, which made this game arguably one of the best games

Zero – Atletico Madrid

While I did say Matic is the loser of the week, Diego Simeone’s side come incredibly close. They lost 4-0 away from home to high flying Borussia Dortmund. The Westfalenstadion is a very difficult ground to visit, with Real Madrid going there back in 2013 and being humiliated. This was actually Atletico Madrid biggest defeat under Diego Simeone, and they definitely deserved to lose this one. It might sound relatively basic, but the effort and energy just wasn’t there from Madrid. Atletico usually put in a high amount of tackles in a game, with them averaging the 3rd most tackles in La Liga this season. However it was Dortmund who put in the most tackles in this game, and Piszczek getting the most with 6. It was the little things like this that made it look like Dortmund wanted it more. The average positioning of Simeone’s side just didn’t make sense either. Koke was the furthest back out of the midfielders, yet started quite advanced. Another thing that was obvious was some of Atletico’s aging squad might be starting to show. 52% of Dortmund’s attacks were down the left side, the same side as Koke, who didn’t help defend that side at all, and Juanfran, who is definitely past the point of playing at the top level. Both Hakimi and Larsson couldn’t be dealt with. Speaking of Hakimi, he was great on the night, finishing the match with 3 assists. His defensive work was next to nothing, but he didn’t have to defend. Juanfran wasn’t offering what he did 5 years ago, and Koke spent the entire game in a central area. He had the freedom of the left side to himself. A great performance from the Real Madrid loanee. It puts Dortmund at a point where they could seriously surprise people in this competition, while Atletico need to get their problems sorted quickly, if they wish to make that huge spending count.

Lopategui To Be Sacked? Top 5 League Talking Points

It was a very eventful week in European football. Big teams failing, and some real stand out performers. Let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga – Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 4-0 wins.

The Bundesliga was by far the most interesting league to discuss this week. Because I usually stick to just two matches (to not stretch the content too long and to add some consistency), it left me unable to even bring up Luka Jovic scoring 5 goals, Bayern back to winning ways, Schalke back to losing ways and Bayer Leverkusen getting a late equaliser. But let’s stick with the league leaders here, with both Dortmund and Mönchengladbach securing 4-0 victories. Let’s start with Dortmund, who earned a relatively comfortable victory over Stuttgart. This game seemed to just highlight how good Dortmund have been this season. While it is still early, it does seem that they are finally ready to challenge Bayern, with the champions underachieving massively. Dortmund did an excellent job in this game of ending any chance of their opponents of winning the game, with Sancho, Reus and Alcacer scoring in the first half an hour. Dortmund only managed 4 shots on target in this game, but were able to put their chances away, an element of their game I have not been impressed with in recent years. Favre has turned this side into a pretty multi functional one. They are able to play a possession style, while also being able to play on the counter attack (Dortmund have scored the most goals from counter attacks, with 4). While I did criticise the signings of Delaney and Witzel at the time, I cannot deny how well they have performed this season. Delaney was very good in this game, making 7 interceptions, 2 tackles and 5 accurate long balls. Witzel continued his very good start to the season, with the Belgian completing the most passes, and making 2 key passes. Both have given a very solid base in midfield, and it has given their forward players even more freedom, because of how well both have retained possession this season, resulting in more forward moving from the attacking players. It will be interesting to see how Dortmund will fair when they play both Bayern and Mönchengladbach, but they currently sit at the top, with the best attack in the league.

Speaking of Mönchengladbach, they secured a 4-0 win over Mainz. While Dortmund’s was more of a clinical performance, the second placed side in Germany produced a much more dominant performance. They out shot and had more possession than their opponent, and were fully deserving of their victory. While Hoffman will earn all the headlines for his brilliant performance, it was Thorgan Hazard who stole the show. The Belgian has lived in the shadow of his brother for a long time, but is a very, very good footballer. He is a great dribbler, like his brother, and is much more versatile, using his incredible movement to case defenses problems no matter where he plays. While Plea has been one of the signings of the season, Hazard has arguably been the player of the season so far. He has already scored 4 and assisted 3 for his side. He was the reason why Hoffman was able to get a hat trick. Hazard’s ball across for his second goal was brilliant, even though Mueller should have came out earlier to receive the ball. Hazard’s goal was superb, with the forward volleying the ball right into the top of the goal to seal the win for Mönchengladbach. It now leaves Mönchengladbach in a good position. They play Freiburg next, a team in the bottom half of the table. If they secure this win, it leaves plenty of pressure on both Bayern and Dortmund to keep getting results.

La Liga – Barca and Sevilla thriller, Madrid lose another.

La Liga is at his most competitive in years. The top teams are probably at their weakest in a long time, which left Sevilla at the top of the table. They travelled to the Nou Camp, in a tie between the top two sides, and to say it was entertaining is an understatement. The game ended in Barcelona’s favour, with the now league leaders beating their opponents 4-2. It was a marvelous display of attacking football from both sides, with there being a combined 42 shots in this game. Sevilla have had much success this season, by playing attacking players throughout their side, with their midfield persistent solely of number 10s. It is one of the main reasons why they have been so fun this season. However Barcelona did deserve the win here. They created the better chances, and definitely took them. Messi was key for the early lead, with the Argentine setting up Coutinho and scoring the second. However he came off due to injury, which now puts Barcelona at a huge disadvantage for the classico this weekend. It was still smooth sailing for Barca, with Semedo having a particularly good game. The Portuguese has been in rotation with Roberto since arriving, and definitely shown why he is such an alternative to the Spaniard. Semedo is much more direct, and might have less ability when it comes to controlling the game, but is a much better dribbler and uses his pace to cover more ground. As mentioned, he was very good in this game, in an attacking sense mostly. 42% of Barcelona’s attacks came down that right side, with Semedo having the joint most touches of the ball. While his defensive work was mostly non existent, he completed 3 dribbles and made a key pass. Both him and Alba were real driving forces on the flanks. However it was Ter Stegan who was comfortably the man of the match. He made 5 saves in the game, with one in particular being an absolutely impossible save for most keepers. I have always said De Gea is comfortably the best keeper around, and while I still believe that, Ter Stegan is comfortably the second best. It leaves Barcelona leading the pack, and with the classico coming up, it could leave their rivals without a chance.

Speaking of their rivals, Real Madrid lost another game. It leaves them with their worst start in 16 years, and has put an incredible amount of pressure on Julien Lopategui. The rumours are already circling that it could be the end for the Spaniard, and it wouldn’t be the worst decision. While I do not like the idea of him constantly wanting a high line, when they should start to grind out games instead of leaving themselves so exposed. I can sympathize with him. Florentino Perez did not back him in any way in the summer. Madrid only bought in another goalkeeper, a back up right back and bringing back Mariano Diaz, a player who isn’t good enough to start for them. I can respect putting faith in Bale and Benzema, two players who have shown in the past that they can perform at a high level. I just do not understand why Madrid didn’t make that Galactico signing. They were linked to Hazard, Icardi, Mbappe, Neymar, Dybala, yet didn’t move for any of them. Bale, Benzema and the rest of the team could add more goals, but not enough to fill in for all the work Ronaldo did. Ronaldo didn’t only score goals, but he was excellent in taking shots in really good areas, and giving Madrid a vocal point. Madrid do have a lot of shots, but are just so much more wasteful. This game might be a bad example, because they were chasing the game for 75 minutes, meaning there was definitely an element of desperation. Madrid under Zidane might have been poor defensively, but they were so good at creating good chances, and especially scoring them. Lopategui does deserve plenty of blame, but Perez is by far the biggest culprit to why Madrid are failing. It was made so clear in the summer that Lopategui was not his first choice, but it doesn’t give him a reason to throw him in a job where he would never succeed. It perfectly captures why Madrid can burn managers out. They need to fix this, otherwise attracting top talent might not seem as easy, with the club in such a mess.

Ligue 1 – Lucky Marseille, Montpellier sit in 3rd

Ligue 1 has not been great to look into this season. Paris are walking the league already, after another 5-0 victory, and Lille are closest team towards them. They do not look near equipped enough to challenge for a title. Let’s look at Marseille, who can call themselves fortunate to beat Nice. The home side had more shots on target, created more chances and dominated the game. However thanks to a brilliant ball from Sarr, Morgan Sanson put Marseille ahead and held their own throughout. While Nice did have chances to get back in the game, credit has to be given to the away side, who thanks to very good performances from Mandanda, Sarr and Amavi. Amavi had the most touches of the ball for Marseille, and put in 4 tackles and 2 interceptions. A very defensive display from a more attacking player. Nice may have deserved more out of this game, with Balotelli and Saint-Maximin having very good games. Balotelli had 4 shots, and 2 on target, whilst Saint-Maximin completed a crazy 8 dribbles. Nice have lost many of their best players since that 3rd place finish. However if they keep up playing the way they do, it will improve over time. Viera has done a very good job so far for Nice, considering it is his first job in a top five league. Marseille face PSG this weekend. If they show the same resilience they showed here, there do have a chance, but it is still very minimal.

Let’s quickly talk about Montpellier, who are currently sitting in 3rd in Ligue 1. While they haven’t been spectacular by any standards (like Ligue 1 itself), but they have been very good this season. Ever since their surprise title win back in 2012, Montpellier have been trying to get back to those glory days. They finished in 10th last season, while their 9 defeats were less than the five teams above them, they ended the season with 18 draws, struggling to turn those draws into wins. While there are elements of that not changing this season, they are unbeaten since their defeat on the opening day to Dijon. They have struggled to retain their leads, but have still been very impressive. Defensively they are one of the best sides in the division, facing the 4th least amount of shots in the league. They remain organised in their system. They are really hard to beat, and use their two forwards Laborde and Delort to do the business on the other end. Out of the pair, Delort has definitely been the standout player. He has 4 goals and 1 assist to his name this season, the most for his side. He has been a huge vocal point for Montpellier, with his 4.2 aerial duels the highest in the side. He does so much off the ball work and is still able to offer so much in the final third. Expected goals shows how this has not been a fluke, with him expected to get 4.50 goals this season. He is performing to his level. While Lille have been the real surprise package, Montpellier do deserve a mention.

Premier League – Chelsea’s equaliser, High five for City

The Premier League title race is really starting to heat up, with Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea all looking good at the top of the table. While I still think City are comfortably the best side in the league (we’ll get to them), the sides around them are still excellent sides. Let’s start with Chelsea, who fought back against Manchester United to retain their unbeaten record against the red devils at home. This was a game that many had written off for United, because of their awful start to the season and just how good Chelsea have looked this season. However United did surprise everyone here. While they did not exactly deserve to win the game, credit is due for their impressive comeback, thanks to great work from both Rashford, Mata and Martial. They were all amazing on the day and really helped United salvage a point. Chelsea were definitely the better side. Both Kante and Jorginho were brilliant in the middle of the park. Kante completed 4 tackles and 2 interceptions, while Jorginho completed 3 and 1, while also making 2 key passes. I do think Chelsea were quite lucky in this game. I do not think there should have been nearly as much injury time as was given, and on another day, United would have won that game. This does not excuse just how terrible United were on set pieces, with both Lindelof and Pogba being at fault for the first goal. The second goal was just a chaotic mess, with Chelsea players lining up for the finishing blow. It leaves Chelsea still in a very strong position, with them looking like the better side now against 3 of their rivals. United are a mess, and should not even be in the discussion for top 4.

Manchester City’s 5-0 win over Burnley is just another reason on why there is a high chance they will retain their title. This is the 3rd time they have scored more than 5 goals this season. While many critics will say the teams they are beating are not at a high level, they are still absolutely destroying these sides, showing so much ruthlessness in games. It’s Pep wanting the most out of his players, and wanting them to treat every game like it’s a cup final. Pep actually rested a few players for this game, with Sterling, arguably their best player this season, not even coming off the bench. This game actually highlighted one player’s huge influence after the absence of another, and that is Bernardo Silva. Funnily enough, Silva made the most appearances for City last season, with 53. It was crazy to find that out, because he seemed like such a bit part player through most of the season. He has really excelled as a number 8 in De Bruyne’s absence. So far this season, he has made 1.7 key passes, taken 1.3 shots, made 1.3 tackles and has scored 3 and assisted 1. It does seem Pep has really favoured him since his arrival, and De Bruyne’s injury might be a blessing in disguise for Silva. The reason why I say that City still look like the favourites is because of games like this. While they have the occasional slip in the big games, you just can’t see a team below 5th having any chance of stopping them. They are just relentless and so difficult to break up. They could go down as the best side in the league’s history of they keep this up.

Serie A – Juventus drop points, Milan Derby

Let’s start with arguably the most interesting talking point this week in Serie A, being Juventus dropped their first points of the season. The old lady were held to a 1-1 draw at home against Genoa. While Juventus did manage 21 shots in this game, only 3 were on target, and they were all Ronaldo. The 5x Champions League winner had a handful of chances to really put the game to bed. While criticising him for not scoring every chance he gets is quite unfair, I’m putting more blame on his teammates. When Ronaldo plays, the main attacking strategy is to create as many chances for him as possible. While there is still a lot of pressure for him to score the goals, he usually delivers. But when he has a day where some of his chances aren’t getting out away, the others around him as still need to contribute. Mandzukic for example. The Croatian didn’t manage a single shot or key pass in this game. And while Cuadrado did manage 3 key passes, he didn’t manage a single shot on target. His teammates cannot rely on him constantly, and need to still contribute. One player did seriously deliver in this game was Alex Sandro. The Brazilian didn’t have the greatest of seasons last year, after falling out with the board, but seems to be back on track. He had 120 touches, and was the only player to manage over 100 touches. He had a 92.5% pass accuracy and managed 5 key passes. He is one of the best full backs in Europe for a reason, because of his incredible contribution. He really showed that against Genoa. While Piatek didn’t score in this game, to continue his run of scoring in every game, he still managed to win 7 aerial duels, showing how scoring isn’t his only contribution in games. Juventus are still comfortable favourites, but it is good to see they are human.

The big game of the whole weekend was the Milan Derby, and it didn’t disappoint. The Milan Derby is a game I never miss, because of the sheer emotion felt by both teams. Inter won the derby, thanks to a late goal from their captain, Mauro Icardi. It was a deserved win. Their captain was his usual best in this game. In only 16 touches, he managed 3 shots, 2 on target and 3 key passes. Icardi is easily my favourite striker in Europe right now. His great consistency, his ability to take shots in great areas and his ability to get involved in build up play is only improving. Icardi is a rare breed of striker that barely every touches the ball, doesn’t shoot as much as others. But because of how good he is of getting on the end of chances, it makes him the most clinical striker in Europe. Last year, he scored a hat trick to win the game for Inter, has won it again. However his fellow countryman, Higuain, didn’t do so well. He seriously struggled to get into the game. He only managed 2 shots, and both were off target. What sums his bad game was he only managed 10 passes. He barely had an involvement in a game. Suso has been the best player in Serie A this season, yet he struggled to really show it today. While he did manage 4 shots, he was only player to get a shot on target for the Rossoneri. His goalscoring isn’t his best feature, it’s it’s chance creation. He only managed a single key pass in this game. While it isn’t all his fault, his wasn’t his best performance. It leaves the Milan clubs in very different positions. Inter are now looking like they are ready to finish in the Champions League spots again, while Milan still have a long way to go.

Memorable Matches – FC Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United

After the international break becoming baron when discussing relevent football, let’s talk about matches from the past. Games that will never be forgotten in the minds of the fans who watched. Let’s start with a game that I even remember watching at a younger age. The second encounter in two years between Sir Alex’s United, and Pep’s treble winning Barcelona. Both sides previously played each other in the 2009 champions league final, also remembered as Ronaldo’s final game for the club. The game was quite close, but incredible games from both Xavi and Messi put Barcelona over the line. This game was the rematch, which would hopefully see Fergie finally land the victory over Pep. But we all know that is not what happened. So let’s get into it.

United’s great first 10 minutes

Let’s start with by far United’s best moment. Ferguson’s plan was to use both Park and Valencia to deal with the full backs and midfielders. Park would drop deep to stop Alves from making any as advancing runs. Valencia and Park are both incredibly good at tracking back and helping their full backs. It was a classic Ferguson move. He always liked to play players, like Park, in these big games to help nullify the opponent. United played a classic 4-4-2, with Giggs and Carrick in midfield. Their other approach to deal with their midfield disadvantage was to bring one of the wingers inside depending on which side Barcelona were playing. For example, if the ball was on the side of Pedro and Abidal, Valencia would put pressure on them, while Park would come into midfield to limit the effect of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. Both Rooney and Hernandez had very important roles. Rooney had to keep on Busquets. The defensive midfielder is so important in how Barcelona build up play. He is one is able to receive the ball and pick out a further advanced player, to help with possession. Rooney at times helped with this (we’ll get to why it didn’t work later) and Hernandez kept pressure on the back two of Pique and Mascherano. This worked so well for the first 10-15 minutes, but we will now get to why this didn’t exactly work.

A Xavi Masterclass

I constantly love to compliment midfielders. Whether it has been my constant defense of Paul Pogba, my praise for Luka Modric, my love for Vidal’s all round excellence, or the many memories I have of Paul Scholes. Xavi is better than all of the above. I fondly remember watching him, and his Barcelona teammates majestically move around the pitch and win 3 international trophies back to back. I do not think there will ever be a better player than Xavi in the middle of the park. His incredible ability at transitioning play, finding space and retaining possession will never be beaten. He was at his mesmerising best in this game. When Busquets was having a limited effect in the first half, Xavi would drop incredibly deep to receive the ball. He would usually then recycle the ball back to the centre halves, until there was space available to advance play. When Xavi dropped this deep, it left Rooney and Hernandez with a difficult decision, either stick with their role, and leave Xavi to retain possession, or try and deal with Xavi, but not full commit to the game plan. It left United chasing the game, because they failed to deal with the change that one player made. Xavi is the one who won the game for Barcelona. His dismantling of United’s plan is the reason why they cruised the game. He was recieving the ball all over the field, and he was just so good at helping Barcelona get the ball in dangerous areas. It was easily one of the best midfield performances you will ever see.

Messi at his best

If Xavi was the captain of the destruction of United’s approach, Messi was the first mate. Messi as a player as evolved dramatically since his long haired teenaged days at the Camp Nou. He began as a right winger, using his pace and dribbling ability to assist Eto’o and Ronaldinho in their dazzling displays in the final third. However Pep saw something else in him, being his ability at finding space. Messi under Pep was easily one of the hardest players to deal with when defending. If the centre backs chose to track him, it would leave space wide open in the back for one of Villa or Pedro to exploit. But if a midfielder chose to track him, it would leave the midfield disjointed. United had this similar problem. It seemed Carrick was the one with the responsibility to deal with Messi. Like the rest of the side, it was fine for the first 10 minutes. Messi didn’t have much of an involvement near the start of the game. But then the Argentine just dropped deeper and deeper, until Carrick couldn’t follow. That was the point where Messi was at his most deadliest. While many will call Messi an excellent dribbler and goal scorer. His best attribute will always be his ability to find space to receive the ball, which would bring the rest of the team into play. There is a reason why Pep told Messi to never receive the ball in the 18 yard box, because he knew exactly how good of a false nine Messi was. Throughout the game you would see Messi drop near enough in his own half, receive the ball, and just run at United. It worked so often and he was untouchable throughout the game. What helped massively was United’s inability to keep up with Barcelona. Their tireless running, aggression and high energy game was really taking its effect as the game went on, by the hour mark, United had zero legs to stand. Barcelona had that much control of the game, that United would never be able to get back into it. Messi and Barcelona were excellent in just waiting for this moment, and really made them suffer.

To conclude, this game was a huge turning point. It was the first time Sir Alex would look at a game and even admit that there was nothing he could do. While their first encounter in Rome was closer in pure ability of the players on the pitch, the rematch was not. United didn’t have the furocious front line of Tevez, Ronaldo and Rooney anymore. Fergie’s magic still brought the best of the aging and average talent throughout the squad, but there was a limit to this. Pep’s team and squad was of such a high standard that any line up Fergie put out on the day, would not have won the game. It was the first time I ever saw Sir Alex get completely outclassed on a tactical level.

It was a high point for his opponent however. This victory ensured that this team of players would go down as one of the best teams to ever play the game (and the best in my opinion). Every player in that team was at their peak, and worked so well together to produce a team that few were ever able to beat. It’s still the team that Pep is trying to equal in achievement and style. A game where the old was beaten by the new, in such a dominant display, and that is why this is a memorable match.

One of the Signings of the Season is… Top 5 League Talking Points

What a crazy week. Both the Bundesliga and La Liga being mental, let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga – Bayern Embarrassed, Dortmund’s Dramatic Win

Before the season started, I thought the only way the Bundesliga could be dramatic, would be if Favre could get Dortmund winning again, and if Kovac did the opposite, and surprise surprise, that is happening. Bayern were absolutely humiliated at home against Borussia Munchengladbach. They were beaten 3-0 by Dieter Hecking’s side, and it was definitely a deserved victory. Bayern looked so lacklustre and laid back in this game. The first goal came from Yan Sommer, and the ball was carried by the team, until Plea put the ball away with a great finish. The Frenchman has been a great signing for Mönchengladbach. He is just such a well rounded forward, being an excellent finisher, and is able to help in build up play. He already has 5 goals and an assist this season. He could really help drive his side to a top four spot. The issue with Bayern in this game was their passiveness. The first goal showed this. Mönchengladbach were able to play right around them. None of their players were showing desire to retrieve the ball, or even put in a tackle. The second goal was even worse, with Thiago making a very out of character mistake and giving the ball to Plea, who then gifts it to Stindl, who scores excellent goal. The German had a very good game, scoring the second goal, putting in 3 tackles, completing 2 dribbles and won two aerial duels. It was a very hardworking performance from the forward. It seems Bayern find it difficult to deal with forwards who don’t play as traditional target men. Bayern found it extremely difficult to deal with Tadic in the Champions League, because how often he would move away from the middle and make it hard for Bayern to track him. Kovac needs to learn how to deal with this problem. I am still very unsure if he is the right man, but this is the first risk appointment and Bayern need to follow through with it. Let’s hope for a young manager’s sake, he can turn this around.

Now to talk about the league leaders, Borussia Dortmund got a dramatic 4-3 victory over Augsburg. Dortmund continue their unbeaten run this season, and have looked great. Their attack has looked great so good, and have been rotating players pretty effectively. Sancho is leading Europe in assist, yet this game was his first start of the season. It’s very good to see Marco Reus finally put a long string of games together as well. Even though he is starting to get on, he has been fabulous so far this season. He has already contributed to 6 goals in 7 games, showing just how well he has adapted to life under a familiar face in Lucien Favre. However the star of the show against Augsburg was Paco Alcacer. The Spaniard now also has 4 goals this season, thanks to his hat trick in this game, including a delightful free kick in the last minute to win it. He didn’t even start the game either. He came on with only half an hour to go. In his short time on the pitch, he managed 6 shots in only 22 touches. It shows how forward Dortmund were playing in the latter stages of the game, and with Alcacer given plenty of changes. A great game from a player who finally seems to fulfilling his potential seen at Valencia. Another stand out performer was Dan-Axel Zagadou. Dortmund now have 3 excellent young center backs, and it’s now Zagadou’s turn to show his quality. He came into this game after a great performance in the Champions League, and continued his form. He won 7 aerial duels, which is impressive considering the player he was facing, Finnbogasan, is a very big threat in the air. The Frenchman is starting to look like a very good prospect. Dortmund are currently overseeing another golden generation. With experienced players like Witzel, Reus, Burki and Pitzchek blending very well incredible young talents, like Akanji, Diallo, Sancho, Dahoud, Larsson and now Zagadou. They will give Bayern a very good challenge this season.

La Liga – Atletico’s Big Win. Valencia vs Barcelona

La Liga is a mess right now, but it makes it very entertaining. Valverde still doesn’t know how to correctly manage his squad and Madrid can’t score goals at the moment. Atletico could finally win it again, but it’s still too soon to tell at the moment if they can finally do it. What shows how much of a mess La Liga is at the moment is Sevilla are currently at the top, being the only side to win 5 games this season. While Madrid losing is a massive talking points, we’ll actually talk about their rivals. Atletico Madrid got a classic Simeone win with a 1-0 victory over Real Betis. This is an impressive victory because Betis have been a very good side since last season, having a solid back line and are very difficult to beat. This wasn’t the most eventful game you’ll see, but there are still things to talk about. First was Atletico’s selection. Lucas Hernandez, Nikola Kalinic and Juanfran all came in for the game, and performed fine. Lucas Hernandez was especially good. He won 3 aerial duels, 4 tackles and completed 6 long balls, the most for his side. He hasn’t featured much this season, so it is good to see him return with a good performance. Rodri was another who had a good game. He is really starting to show why Atletico saw him as the replacement for Gabi. He completed 4 tackles and had a 94% pass accuracy. He keeps possession very effectively for his side. However it was Angel Correa who scored the winner. The forward has been used all over the pitch for Simeone, used more as a versatile player to fill in different positions. He put a real shift when he came on, making 4 tackles and scoring the winner. It was a needed victory. With Barca and Real dropping points, it keeps pressure on for the rest of La Liga.

Speaking of Barcelona, they dropped points again. They drew 1-1 with underachieving Valencia, thanks to an early goal from Garay, and an equaliser from Messi (who else?). While in the grand scheme of things, a point against a team that finished in the top 4 last season isn’t bad at all, but context is always important. Valencia have been at the start of the season, only managing 2 wins so far, with this game being their 6th draw. Barca have to see this as 2 points dropped. They have shown again this season how they struggle when a goal down, as seen against Bilbao too. It could come down to the mid week game, but it has to be more than that. The goal they gave away was just a mess. Vermalean was at fault for the goal. He got a slight touch on the ball, which gave it directly to Garay. It still amazes me how he still starts for that club, with Lenglet, a player who is definitely good enough to start, is stuck on the bench. Even when Barcelona got back into the game, it wasn’t a vintage attacking performance. Besides Messi, the rest of the side just weren’t pulling their weight. Barcelona only managed 10 shots in the game, a game they were trailing for 88 minutes. You expect a side to do more when they’re behind so early, yet they just didn’t do enough. Messi had 6 of those shots too, showing just reliant they still are on their record scorer. There is nothing wrong with relying on the best player to ever play the game, but in the rare circumstance that an opponent can take him out of the game, it would leave Barcelona without any sort of way of attacking. Even with all the money spent and the players brought in, it seems they still struggle in games. They will definitely need improve, and most of all play Dembele.

Ligue 1 – Kylian Mbappe on Fire. 2nd vs 3rd.

Ligue 1 might not be so interesting at the moment, with Paris already 8 points clear. Let’s begin with the league leaders, who disposed of one of their tougher opponents in a very dominant display, beating Lyon 5-0. It was a game that just highlights how much better Paris are than the rest of the league. Lyon are already not so great defensively (and going down to 10 men didn’t help), but the manner of which PSG beat them was just astonishing. Before going into the main performer of the game, let’s look at another player who performed very well. Marquinhos was excellent as a defensive midfielder in this game. While I still do not think this is his best position, credit has to be given when he is performing so well in a position he does not know well. He completed 5 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 aerial duels, and even got an assist for one of Mbappe’s many goals. Speaking of Mbappe, the young Frenchman was absolutely brilliant in this game. After Cavani came off in the first half, it was up to Mbappe to lead the line, and to extend the lead, thanks to an early goal from Neymar. To say he did well is an understatement. He just put in, by far the best performance of an attacking player this season. He had a monsterous 9 shots, with 6 being on target. Those are numbers that Ronaldo would only average in a handful of games. Mbappe was just in the right place at the right time with a couple of the goals, with isn’t a criticism. You want your forwards being in the right place when the ball is in the opposition’s box. However the first and third goal were great finishes, with the latter very reminiscent of one of his goals against Manchester City back in his first season at Monaco. A great day for Paris, as they now extend their lead even further from one of their toughest opponents. The league could already be done and dusted for the Champions.

When saying 2nd vs 3rd, the assumption would usually be discussing one of Lyon, Monaco or Marseille. However with this season just being so strange, it is actually Lille vs St Etienne. This was a big game for both, as it would allow Lille to extend their further ahead in second, and it would allow St Etienne to overtake their opponents. It was Lille who earned the victory in this game, with a comfortable 3-1 victory wrapping up 3 points for the home side. Lille have just been so fun to see this season, and for the sake of entertainment, I really hope they keep up their great run of form. Finding more players to discuss for Lille, other than Bamba and Pepe, is becoming difficult. They are the driving force behind the counter attacking style of football that Lille play. Whenever Lille receive the ball, their first thought is to give to one of their two wingers. They are too important. Bamba was absolutely brilliant in this game. From his usual left wing position, he had 3 shots with 2 on target, made 2 key passes and scored Lille’s first two goals. This was a performance he needed to show in front of his former club, who let him go on a free. Bamba is now on 7 goals this season, as many as Eden Hazard and 3 more than Ronaldo. He has to start being discussed as one of the signings of the season. He was brought in on a free transfer, and is now an important player in Lille’s revival. What a brilliant piece of business from a side who have made many mistakes over the years. Both teams are having good seasons so far, but Lille do look like they could take a European spot at the end of the season.

Premier League – Arsenal Strengthen Top 4 Chances. United Comeback

With Manchester City travelling to Liverpool turning out to be not the game we all expected, let’s look at two other eventual games, first being Arsenal’s 5-1 win over Fulham. It was an excellent performance from the Gunners, who are finally starting to find their rhythm in the attack. Emery hasn’t had an instant effect, but there are things being established. Firstly being the most covered, and that is the goalkeeper more involved with play. I still think that Leno is a bad goalkeeper, but he is good when it comes to using his feet. He will help maintain the ball and distribute it effectively. Moving the ball back to the goalkeeper gives an opportunity for the defenders and midfielders to find a better position to find the ball. Leno was very good on the ball against Fulham, with the German having a 76% pass accuracy. Considering he also attempted 14 long balls, it does show how much of an improvement he is in this area. The attack does seem to be finally clicking. Arsenal were horrendous defensively last season, however in attack, they were brilliant. Aubamayeng hit the ground running, and Lacazette scored 15 in the league. A good return for his first season. Both were excellent against Fulham, with both scoring 2, and Lacazette winning the man of the match. He was particularly good on the day. He was great in link up play, and his moments of individual magic were what put Arsenal in a comfortable position. What helped Arsenal the most was how poor Fulham were in both departments. In defense, Jokanovic decided to change to a 3-5-2, to accommodate the limited amount of players he had in defense. It didn’t work at all. The wing backs left a lot of space out wide and it let Iwobi and Bellerin plenty of space out wide to stretch the rest of the defense. In attack, they were just so wasteful. Fulham had 21 shots in this game, yet only managed a single goal. This was because of how wasteful Andre Schurrle is. The German managed 7 shots, and most were just not good shooting opportunities. Fulham really could struggle to stay up, if they do not find a consistent line up and system.

Manchester United completed a dramatic comeback over 90s rivals Newcastle, with the home side earning a 3-2 win after conceding 2 goals in the first half. The whole game summed up United under Mourinho. They were poor, slow and lacking desire in the first half, and in the second half it was completely different. Pogba took the game and was the main reason why United won that game. Many have been criticising the Frenchman this season, and many are quite unjust. While his comments off the pitch can definitely be questioned, he has comfortably been the best player for United, excluding Luke Shaw. He has been one of the only players who shows a desire to win the game, and has always added the quality needed. He was excellent against Leicester, Wolves, Young Boys, Watford and now Newcastle. He has been at his usual excellent self. This was actually the first time United have conceded 2 goals in the first 10 minutes at home. It was a shambles, with Ashley Young letting Muto straight past him as if he didn’t even have to try. But it all changed in the second half. To Mourinho’s credit, bringing off Bailly as early as he did really made a statement, that it was going to be all or nothing for the rest of the game. While Fellaini didn’t make much sense, Sanchez definitely did. The ex Arsenal forward scored the winner in the last few minutes of the game, which was his first goal of the season. While it was a commendable effort from United, it doesn’t change anything. They have still been very poor this season, and can call themselves lucky that Newcastle couldn’t put the ball away. The Red Devils need to get rid of Mourinho as soon as a plan is in place. They cannot keep persisting with this style and with his arrogant, dividing way of managing a team.

Serie A – Mauro Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain Finding Their Feet

Serie A didn’t have any surprises or big scorelines, so let’s talk about two of the most prolific Argentine strikers in Italy, Mauro Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain. Both play for rival teams and have started their season pretty well. Let’s start with Icardi’s Inter, who won away at SPAL by 2 goals to 1. It now puts into in 3rd, with only 2 points behind Napoli. Inter had a very poor couple of games, but seemed to finally find their grove. Icardi is the main reason for that. He is by far one of the most underrated players in the last 4 years. He has been as consistent as Harry Kane, but plays as much more of a poacher. In fact his goal against Spurs in the Champions League was his first goal from outside the box for Inter. It just shows how good he is at getting on the end of chances, and at finding space. He was at his usual self against SPAL. While he was lucky for this first goal, thanks to a deflection from Djourou, his second was Icardi at his best. He made a run towards the ball and received it with no one around him, and put the ball away so comfortably. Icardi had 3 shots, 2 on target, and won 4 aerial duels. He is arguably the best finisher in Europe, with the chances he gets being just perfect for any forward to put away. While Icardi was the man of the match, credit has to be given to Ivan Perisic. I included the winger in my world cup team of the tournament, because of his excellent performances for Croatia in Russia. He has continued that fine form into the new season, reminding the league why he is one of the best wingers in Italy. He got the assist for Icardi’s second, and has been a real boost for Inter since his late start. This is a big season for Inter. After their big spending and their first season in the Champions League for 7 years, they need to show how they can remain consistent. Napoli are a mess defensively, so second place is definitely up for grabs for the Nerazzurri.

Let’s move on to their rivals. Milan disposed of Chievo with relative ease, with a 3-1 victory. It now puts Milan in 10th. It might sound underwhelming, but they are only 3 points behind Lazio, who are in 4th. Higuain was great in this game. Like his fellow Argentine, he also scored a brace. I was a very small minority of people who did like the Higuain signing. I thought he would give them guaranteed goals for the short term, and would give Cutrone a player who has plenty to teach him. Higuain has been everything they could ask for. He already has 4 in 5, and is taking 4 shots a game this season, already showing numbers similar to his time at Napoli. He is another who seems to be severely underrated by many fans. While he has had a reputation of not performing on the biggest stage, his consistency in a 38 game season cannot be criticised. There many players in Europe who are as good in the league as Higuain. He had a very good game against Chievo, getting 4 shots, 2 key passes and has a 92% pass accuracy. While Higuain was good, he wasn’t the best player on the pitch. That honour goes to Suso. It amazes after the changes of owners, managers, players and systems, Suso keeps performing. He got a mental 8 key passes in this game, which led to him getting 3 assists, which means he now has the joint most assists in Europe. Milan also have a big season on their hand. They are competing with both Roma and Lazio for that 4th spot. There are still questions on whether Gattuso is the right man for the job (I really don’t think he is), but the risk could pay off.

5 Teams Who Are Surprising Their League

With the season underway, let’s look at a handful of teams that are currently under the radar, and performing exceptionally well. It’ll be one team per league.

Bundesliga – Hertha Berlin

I covered Hertha Berlin and their surprise victory over Bayern Munich, so let’s go into a bit more depth. Hertha finished in a very underwhelming 10th. They drew 13 games, which showed how maybe they were unable to put the nail in the coffin in certain games. Their priority going into this season was to add more goals in the side. And I’d say that was achieved. They are currently sitting in fourth, with the same amount of points as Bayern. Their great form is down to a few players. But by far the stand out player has been young midfielder Javairo Dilrosun. He was signed on a free after being released from Manchester City (another player excelling in Germany that maybe City might be regretting) and he has truly been great. He has already scored 2 and assisted 3. While he would prefer to play in the middle, he has been excellent on the left of a 4-2-3-1, playing alongside Ondrej Duda and Soloman Kalou. What’s important to note is that he is still only 20, meaning that there is still parts of his game that needs improving. His 1.2 key passes, in a side that averages less than 50% possession, is impressive for his age. What else has actually impressed me is his work rate. The Dutchman is putting in 2.2 tackles and interceptions in an advanced possession, showing how he isn’t afraid to do the hard yards for his team. XG shows how he is definitely overperforming, with Dilrosun only expecting 1.55 assists this season. It means there is a chance that he might be unable to keep up this great early form he’s showing. But it is still good to see a young player showing good performances in a top league. Another who has performed very well (that isn’t Ondrej Duda) is Valentino Lazaro. The full back’s move was finally made permanent, after initially being on loan at Hertha. I’ve already said so many times that the full back position is by far the most important position in football at the moment. It is a position that is in such high demand, and can give so much in attack, to free the players in front to drift in to more central areas. With Marvin Plattenhardt on the left, and Lazaro on the right, it gives Hertha a great foundation to build on. Lazaro has already scored and assisted 2 this season. While his attacking output is clearly effective, with 1.2 crosses and 1.8 key passes per 90, his defensive work is not being left behind, with the Austrian completing 4 tackles and interceptions per 90. If he keeps up this brilliant start, some bigger clubs (and hopefully not Bayern) could be coming in for him. Hertha Berlin have a real chance to compete for European football this season. With both Schalke and Leverkusen looking a shadow of their former selves, it could be a chance for Hertha, and Mönchengladbach, to really fight for that 4th spot.

Ligue 1 – Lille

Ligue 1 has gained a reputation for having a very clear one horse race (farmers league is strangely used very often). While I understand why, with Paris having such a superior team compared to their rivals, it doesn’t mean the other sides are necessarily bad sides. Both Marseille and Lyon are very good (as proven with the former getting to the final of the Europa League last season, and the latter beating champions Manchester City away from home). However both have started the season in such mixed form. Marseille had a 3 game run, where they started to look so good. However after losses to both Lyon and Lille, there are still question marks. Lyon have the same problem. They are such a fun side, yet have stuttered throughout their start this season. The team I’ll be discussing today is actually in 2nd, and deservedly so, and that is Lille. The former Ligue 1 champions have recovered after a dreadful 2017/18 season, which resulted in them finishing 17th, thanks to a terrible start under Bielsa. Their squad needed a refresh, and with the huge sales of Bissouma, Amadou and Malcuit, it left them with plenty of cash to spend. They spent their money wisely, and now look to be back to their best, thanks to an entertaining style of play, which includes taking the second most shots a game (14.9), which even betters the league leaders (14.3). They almost through the kitchen sink at sides, and thanks to two certain wingers, Jonathan Bamba and Nicolas Pepe, they seem to have those two magicians, who have the flair and quality to put you over the line. Their most impressive victory so far was easily their win over Marseille. While the Europa League finalists did rest a few key players, including Dimitri Payet, but that doesn’t hide the fact that Marseille were humiliated by a better side. Both Bamba and Pepe were excellent in the game, with both scoring in the game. They have both scored 5 goals in 8 games, and both look to be the next best thing to come out of Ligue 1. Pepe is taking the second most shots in the league, with only Fekir taking more shots in the league. What’s most impressive is that a crazy 2.9 shots are taken inside the area, meaning not all of his chances are being wasted. He is a big reason on why Lille have been so good this season. For the sake of the league, I seriously hope they can keep it up, and at least challenge for a European spot.

La Liga – Sevilla

After the departure of Jorge Sampaoli, Sevilla dropped off a cliff. They were so unorganized last season, with their goal difference dropped from +20 down to -9. They went from an organised side into a side who could score a goal, but would struggle to hold the lead. After the sacking of Montella (a manger who was fired twice in a single season), they appointed Pablo Machin. The Spaniard did excellent work with Girona, making them one of the best defensive sides the division, in their first season. He would hopefully help organise Sevilla, while also using their new attacking signings, like Silva and Promes, to continue to score goals. They have been so good this season. With Barcelona looking like they will continue as champions, and Valencia looking unable to win games, it could give Sevilla a chance to sneak right back into the champions league. Goals have been a key component on why they are looking so good. They already have scored the second most goals from open play in the league, with only Barcelona scoring more (a team that beat Huesca 8-2). Machin has played a 3-5-2, with The Spaniard playing a very attacking side, with both Sarabia and Banega starting in midfield. However their stand out performer has to be Andre Silva. The Portuguese international had a horrid time in Milan, where he only managed 2 goals in the entire league campaign (he did do pretty well in the Europa League however). He has already outscored that record, with Silva already scoring 7 goals in 7 games, contributing to 44% of Sevilla’s goals. He has shown every quality we knew he had to perform at the top level. His performance against Madrid was especially great. He was so quick, strong and powerful against the Champions League holders, and put in a man of the match performance, scoring 2 goals in their 3-0 win. His stats this season highlight his excellent form. He is taking 3.1 shots per game. That is already a great amount, but what’s most impressive is where he’s taking his shots. 2.1 of those shots are coming inside the penalty area, showing how the chances he gets are good chances. Seeing a striker score a goal a game, and get in good positions doing it, proves how this isn’t luck, but in fact ability. Another player who deserves a mention in Jesus Navas. During his time at Manchester City, he used to be one of my least favourite players in the league. While his speed and dribbling were useful in beating full backs, he just had zero end product, and it was frustrating to watch a premier league title challenger put up with such inconsistency. However he has been very good at the start of he season. Navas has played his football on the right midfield, where it is his responsibility to stretch the opposition defense, which would leave space for either Silva or Ben Yedder to exploit, or to create a goalscoring chance. He has done plenty of the former, with the Spaniard already assisting 3 goals. He is making 1.6 key passes, while also taking 1.1 shots per game. He has been an important piece for why Sevilla have been so good at the start of the season. Win the fun style of football they play, coupled with their goalscorers, who are currently in excellent form, Sevilla could seriously shake up La Liga again.

Premier League – Wolves

The promoted teams this year in the Premier League have been very interesting. Cardiff have looked absolutely hopeless, as if they gave up before even starting. Fulham have at times looked good in an attacking sense, but have been very poor defensively so far this season, already conceding 14 goals, one less than Cardiff. But Wolves, however have started so well. After walking the Championship last season, many expected the club to invest in the summer, and improve and add the quality that is necessary to stay in the Premier League. They haven’t went too crazy, like Fulham, and have at least tried, unlike Cardiff. Their first bits of genius was signing both Diego Jota and Willy Boly on a permanent basis. They were excellent last season and already know what Nuno will want in the following season. However their best bits of business were some of the best in the whole of Europe. Because of the drama surrounding Sporting Lisbon, they were able to sign Rui Patricio on a free transfer. It was just incredible at the time, being able to bring in an elite shot stopper to a newly promoted side. João Moutinho was later signed for only £6m. A bargain for a player with great technical ability and has had plenty of experience in Europe’s most elite competition. They have yet to make a single change in their starting eleven, being the first side in premier league history to play their first 9 games without making a change. Nuno sets his side up in a 3-4-3 formation. He likes to use his midfield pairing of Moutinho and Neves, to sit deep and protect the back four, while then moving the ball through the wing backs into the front 3, where Raul Jimenez is used as vocal point (thanks to his incredible aerial ability) to link the attack together. While they have been relatively okay in attack, it’s in defense where they have easily been most impressive. They have only conceded 5 goals this season, and that is thanks to a very organized defense, which only allows only 11.6 shots per game, which is better than Tottenham, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace. While all of their back three have been impressive, Willy Boly has carried his championship form into the new season. He’s putting in 4.1 tackles and interceptions, winning 3.3 aerial duels, and has a solid pass accuracy of 83%. Another stand out player has been Matt Doherty. He is another individual who has shown so much for his side in the new season. Both him and Jonny have been very good, but the Irishman has arguably been one of the best full backs in the league so far. He has already scored and assisted 2 this season. While his 1.3 key passes is in fact very impressive,

Serie A – Sampdoria

I’ve already covered Sampdoria quite a few times, so I won’t go into the same detail as the others. Sampdoria have been excellent since the start of the season. They have excelled and proven some surprise results, including a huge 3-0 victory over Napoli, and a 5-0 smashing of Frosinone. What they have excelled at his providing their two front men. Both Defrel and Quagliarella have been a great partnership so far, with Quagliarella assisting his team with 4 assists, while Defrel has scored 42% of his side’s goals, with 5. They play a narrow 4-3-1-2, which ensures they are able to dominate the game. Having an experienced player like Quagliarella helps with linking up play, means it can make attacking much more unpredictable. Another player who has stood out has been Lorenzo Tonelli. The former Napoli player has been very solid since his arrival. While his defensive work hasn’t been massive, his distribution has been excellent, with his 84% pass accuracy. While I would like to get excited, like the other teams here, but I really don’t think they can keep it up. They rank in the bottom half of Serie A for shots in the penalty box, meaning they aren’t creating many great chances. Another reason is their main striker Defrel. While scoring 5 goals is impressive, he has hugely been overperforming. Expected goals shows how he should be on roughly 2 goals. He is very clinical at the moment, but his shot numbers are all incredibly low for a forward, with 1.6 being its highest. Good strikers get at least 2.5, while elite forwards get even more (Messi touches around 6). While they should be commended for their form, it could only be temporary.

How Important is Messi? Champions League Heroes and Zeroes – Game week 2

Hero – Paulo Dybala

Because of the signing of Ronaldo, it has put Dybala in a very strange place. He seems to no longer be the centre piece of the side because of the arrival of the Portuguese and all the fame and arrogance that comes with it. He has so far become a bit part player this season, with Allegri still unsure one where he fits in. However after Ronaldo’s suspension, it was Dybala’s chance to show Allegri that he needs to find a place for him, and boy did he take it. Dybala scored a fabulous hat trick against Young Boys, to put Juventus at the top of their group. That first goal was excellent ball from Bonucci, and an even better finish from Dybala. It’s his fourth hat trick for his side. It now pressure on both Ronaldo and Dybala, to see who is truly fit to lead the line for the side.

Zero – Bayern Munich

For not being able to bounce back after their first league defeat of the season. They played a very good Ajax side, but you still expect the champions to put aside any team. Ajax truly took the game to them and arguably should have won the game. The away side completely outdid their opponent, using Tadic as a false nine to confuse the Bayern defenders, and use Van Der Beek to exploit the space that Tadic was making. Bayern don’t usually deal with a false nine, which it made it so difficult to deal with. Both Lewandowski and Ribery had strangely ineffective games, which saw both of them fail to register a shot on target. It was very out of the ordinary for the forwards. It shouldn’t be too difficult for the German side to progress to the next round, but Ajax did show how vulnerable they are during Kovac’s early days.

Hero – Sergio Aguero

For helping Manchester City end their 4 game losing streak in the Champions League, and to drag his side over the line, against a very resilient Hoffenheim side. Hoffenheim caught the champions out very early on (in fact the fastest goal since El Shaararwy’s goal against Chelsea last season) and it left city with a mountain to climb. However thanks to Aguero scoring not long later, it made it much easier for them. David Silva was also at his silky best in this game, but Aguero’s performance, included taking a crazy 7 shots, is what got the win for his side

Zero – The Real Madrid Fringe Players

This was a chance for players like Ceballos, Vasquez, Nacho and Reguilon to make a statement to Lopategui, that they all deserve a chance in this star studded eleven, however it wasn’t a day to remember. Thanks to an early error from Toni Kroos of all people, Real just didn’t turn up at all in Russia. While they did amass a crazy 26 shots, only 4 were on target. Because they conceded a goal so early, it left Real desperate to get back into the game, resulting in many half chances that were wasted. While the players I previously mentioned didn’t impress, it was actually Karim Benzema who stood out in the worst way. The Frenchman struggled without his Welsh superstar beside him. He had 5 shots, yet didn’t manage to get one on target, or make a key pass or complete a dribble. It just wasn’t his night. Madrid will get out of their group, but hopefully Lopategui has learnt not to rest players in Europe’s elite competition.

Hero – Lionel Messi

For just showing why he is the best player to ever play the game. On paper, Spurs away is a tough fixture, but Barcelona made it look easy. It is a huge part thanks to their little magician. Messi was at his unearthly best. The Spurs backline just couldn’t get near him. The amount of times he would receive the ball and drive at the spurs defense and make it look like they weren’t even there was outstanding. His stats even show this, with the Argentine scoring 2, having 4 shots on target, and making 3 key passes. He was just excellent as ever.

Zero – Romelu Lukaku

I had to sit and suffer through a very flat and slow Manchester United performance. Mourinho chose the same static midfield again, and it was ineffective, again. However by the far the worst performer was Romelu Lukaku. I do not know what happened to him after the world cup, but he just doesn’t look his usual lively self. His movement wasn’t there. He was giving his teammates no forward option, because of his lack of willingness to find space and keep United moving forward. Throughout the game you could see Pogba screaming at him to make a run, because he just wasn’t giving anything to the side. I think what shows his lack of involvement in the game was his lack of touches. The Belgian only managed 33 touches, which is 31 fewer than Sanchez and Rashford’s 64. Both of them were trying to get the ball forward and create opportunities. If I was Jose, I would be considering leaving Lukaku on the bench for the next game against Newcastle.

Hero – Antoine Griezmann

For helping his side secure their first home win of the campaign. After a slow start, Atletico Madrid are finally showing what we all expected from them. Lemar looks to have finally settled, and Arias seems to be playing a big part for the side. However the best element of their side remains Griezmann. The Frenchman has been a key reason for why they are back on track, and he showed this against Club Brugge, who after scoring an absolute wonder strike, just couldn’t contain him or Costa. Costa’s game has been sacrificed massively for Griezmann, but it is definitely working. They might have just formed the most deadly partnership in Europe. The second goal highlights this, with Costa making the run, and instead of shooting, decides to play it to Griezmann, who puts it away comfortably. The world cup winner had a hand in all the goals, and seems to be one of the most in form players in the tournament.

Zero – Jürgen Klopp

Liverpool have now not won a game in 3. The reds have been tipped to be team to dethrone Manchester City at the top, but their performance against Napoli did show some real vulnerability. They didn’t manage a single shot on target throughout the game. In games against possession based sides, Liverpool can usually use their workman ethic and ball winners in midfield to attack the side quickly. But Napoli completely outperformed their opponents. They won more tackles and aerial duels. The reason why this is impressive (and why Liverpool were pretty poor) is because these are stats where Liverpool usually excel. It was a bad day for Klopp, and with Manchester City next on the calendar, it could be a change to make a statement in England.

Barcelona Won’t Win the Treble because…. Top 5 League Talking Points

There were plenty of big games to discuss this weekend, so let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga – Bayern finally lose. Nagelsmann’s new Vs old.

The Bundesliga was very interesting this week. It shows how that even though Dortmund fought from behind to beat Leverkusen, and to top the Bundesliga, that they aren’t even the main two talking points. Let’s begin with Bayern, who lost their first league game under Niko Kovac, losing to an inform Hertha Berlin side by 2 goals to 0. It was mostly a deserved win for Hertha, who took advantage of a very mediocre Bayern display. Bayern had 25 shots, but only 5 on target, with Lewandowski getting the best chance of the game when it was 0-0. Expected goals had Bayern at 2.41 because of the sheer amount of shots they had. It doesn’t excuse individual errors however, with Boateng making such an unnecessary tackle to give Hertha the first goal. Duda has continued his excellent start to the season by scoring his 5th goal of the season. But the stand out performer for Hertha was their full back Lazaro, who made 5 interceptions and got the assist for his teammate. He did everything you expect a full back to do in the modern game. Kovac set his team up in a 4-1-4-1, but when looking at the average player positions, Both Robben and Ribery were playing near Lewandowski. It looked more like a 4-3-3 in the end. Maybe Kovac wanted them further back to limit the effects of the wingers, who knows, but it was clear attacking was their priority. Renato Sanches was another who wasn’t so impressive. Kovac has put a lot of faith in the Euro 2016 winner, after his disastrous spell in Wales, and his first season struggles in Germany. It has mostly paid off, but in this game he was very poor. While his defensive work in a game where Bayern had 69% possession is irrelevant, you want Sanches doing more in a creative or attacking sense. He didn’t make a single key pass or even a cross or long ball. He was a passenger and just didn’t contribute enough in the game. It was a bad day at the office for Bayern, and no the pressure is on.

Nagelsmann had a very awkward day in the office, with his Hoffenheim side playing his future employers RB Leipzig, where he saw his current side lose 2-1. Leipzig played this game very well, using the very intense style of Hoffenheim to their advantage. Werner was used effectively in dragging Akpoguma wider, which gave Poulsen room in that space to run. He had an excellent game, scoring both goals for the away side. He also made 4 key passes, completed 7 aerial duels and had 3 shots on target. Poulsen had always been a useful player, but never a consistent scorer. He already has 3 goals this season, which is one less than his entire tally last season. If he keeps it up, he could finally prove he is ready for the top level. However Hoffenheim were not at their best in this game. While it was very close, their just didn’t have the players upfront to put them over the line, in the same way Leipzig do. Both Szalai and Belfodil only managed a single shot on target between them. It does give something for Julien Nagelsmann to look forward to, when he gets his hands on that RB Leipzig team, and most importantly their scouting network, they could be a real home for young players and talented ones alike.

La Liga – Another draw for Barca. The Madrid Derby.

The top of the table just seems to keep getting interesting, because it seems no one wants to be there. Barcelona had to win this game, to get that advantage over their Madrid rivals, who played each other later in the day. They didn’t do that however, and ended up having to scrape back a goal to draw against Athletic Blibao. Valverde continues to puzzle me with his strange tactical decisions when choosing his side. With Umtiti injured, it left only Pique and Lenglet as viable options for the game. While both are good defenders, neither have the incredible strength and athleticism that their French teammate possesses. Valverde’s team selection really only baffled me further up the pitch. Why play Roberto in midfield, when you’d think Semedo would come in to give him a rest for the Champions League tie against Spurs? You’d think playing Rafinha would make more sense. The forward line was the most baffling of all. He left Malcom out of the squad entirely. Why? This was a perfect chance to rest Suarez and Messi, and start a forward line of Dembele Coutinho and Malcom, to see if playing all three could still work. Yet he decided to play Suarez again. Suarez is still a useful player, but is not near the level he was when he arrived. He takes less shots and just doesn’t offer as much as others in build up. I said in the title that Barcelona will not win the treble they should probably be aiming for, and this is why. Valverde seems to have no idea how to please all of these players and how to correctly use his squad. Busquets, Pique, Messi and Suarez have been so important over the recent years, but they are all over 30 now, and need to be managed right. Valverde has not done that, and I could mean a struggle as the season goes on. A poor result and another baffling decision from the Barcelona manager.

The hotly anticipated Madrid Derby didn’t go to plan, with the game ending in a 0-0 draw. This is the fourth time in a row where this game has ending in a tie, with the last victory going to Madrid 2 seasons ago (famously remembered for Ronaldo’s hat trick). While it did end goalless, there is still plenty to talk about. Let’s begin with the goalkeepers. Jan Oblak has been the second best goalkeeper for a while now, and further showed that against Real. He made 6 saves in the game, including an excellent one to stop Asensio from scoring. Courtois also had a good day against his former team, with the Belgian making 2 great saves to stop both Costa and Griezmann from scoring. Both clubs are blessed with elite stoppers, and is one reason why their defense can always be relied on. Two other players who were good on the day were Toni Kroos and Rodri. Both midfielders are playmakers, yet from different generations. One is a world cup winner, the other was signed from Villarreal in the summer and called one of the signings of the summer by myself. Atletico have had a bit of a midfield problem to say the least. Since Gabi’s departure, they have not been able to fill the void that their talisman left. Rodri since a great controller, usually averaging over a 90% pass accuracy, and is also able to do his defensive work. He showed both against Real Madrid, He had the highest pass accuracy in the game (excluding substitutions of course), put in 6 tackles and interceptions, and made a key pass. It was an overall solid performance from their young Spaniard. On the other end of the spectrum, Toni Kroos put in one of his usual performances. There was plenty of creating and passes, with Kroos completing 103 passes, and making 4 key passes. Anther solid showing from an established star. After this draw, it leaves both Madrid sides and Barcelona in real contention for the title. It is still very difficult to predict.

Ligue 1 – Lille Smash Marseille. Monaco at Rock Bottom.

Ligue 1 is turning more into a one horse race as the season is going along. Lyon just struggle to consistently gather, Marseille still look weak away from home, and Monaco are just a mess ( oh we will get to them). Let’s start with Marseille, who were truly humiliated against Lille, who won 3-0 at home. It was a real bad performance from the away side. Payet didn’t play this game, neither did Sanson, Amavi or Mitroglou. I criticised Mitroglou last week, but Germain wasn’t much better. The Frenchman didn’t even manage a shot all game, and just showed how ineffective Marseille were in the final third. While they were very lackluster in the final third, it was defensively where they were at their worst. Both Gustavo and Mandanda have away penalties, that looking back on, they should have never given them away. Both were reckless and are experienced enough to not be giving away penalties like that. That isn’t to take anything away from Lille however. While two of their goals were penalties, their third goal was an absolutely great team goal, and just showed why they deserved the win. Both Bamba and Pepe were key for the home side again. Their forwards have not been firing, so seeing their wide players contributing so well must be a relief. It’ll be interesting to see how both Bamba and Pepe continue to perform this season. Many top sides are always in need of wide talent. It they continue their great run of form, it could result in a big move for one of them. Both have started every game, and have scored 5 goals each. They have been electric. Lille now sit in 2nd, ahead of both Montpellier and St Etienne. This could finally see their return to the big time.

Monaco just cannot get a few wins together. They lost another game on Friday, this time to St Etienne by 2 goals. This wasn’t as bad as some of Monaco’s earlier performances, with both Falcao and Adama Traore having good chances to put the visitors ahead, but failed. St Etienne were very clinical on the day. They won the game thanks to an excellent performance from Kazri. The Tunisian was in hot form in this game, scoring two brilliant goals to put his side ahead. St Etienne did deserve the win, if not a bit lucky that Monaco are just in this much of a rot at the moment. Monaco were very wasteful in this game. Both Diop and Falcao managed 9 shots between them, yet only got 2 target. Falcao especially was poor in this regard. He had an excellent chance to put his side ahead with a chance at the near post, and missed it. It’s hard to say where Monaco go from here. They now sit at 18th, with only 1 win this season. Their model of selling and replacing with upcoming talent just hasn’t worked. They’ve only managed 8 goals this season. They haven’t been nearly as good as last season. Let’s hope Jardim can turn this around. For all he’s done for that club, he at least deserves that.

Premier League – Embarrassing Mourinho. The Best Draw

I think there is no where else to start but Manchester United. The club is currently at its worst since Fergie left. While the club were clueless under Moyes, boring under Van Gaal, they are now an embarrassment. You have the manager and the best player making constant drama off and on the pitch, a board and chairman who care more about the profits than actually competing for trophies, and a manager that is so bad at his job, that this is his last job at a big club. This is the third time in a row that Mourinho has had the dressing room turn against him. There is no big club that will look at him and think he is worth the constant investment over a long period of time. Anyways, back to the game. Mourinho set up his side in a strange way. He played a 3-5-2 with Matic, Fellaini and Pogba as the three. The problem with playing this is Fellaini and Matic are just not athletic enough. It’s a formation where plenty of ground needs to be covered and both the attack and defense needs support. Matic has not performed for months, and nothing else needs to be said about Fellaini at this point. I don’t know why Mourinho is refusing to play Fred. The Brazilian might not be complete package, but he is very energetic and wants to contribute in the final third. A midfield of him, Pogba and Herrera would be pretty perfect in a 3-5-2, but Mourinho didn’t opt for that. His favouritism towards Fellaini, Matic and McTominay has resulted in the three of them getting more games than they probably deserve. Neither of them are good enough for the club, yet because the manager likes them they get games. It left United with a mountain to climb before the game started, because West Ham had an advantage. It didn’t get better, with United conceding in the first 5 minutes. He played McTominay in a back 3 and it his lack of experience showed. Why is an apparent great tactician playing a player with very limited ability in a position that barely any player could fill. He was asked to play in central defense, a position he can’t even play, yet he’s being thrown in there by Jose. The attackers were left isolated, and even when given chances, they just didn’t show anything related to drive and urgency. This is not to take anything from West Ham. They were great on the day and outperformed United in every position. Their sudden transformation into the side we all expected is such a pleasure to see. Many critics, like myself, praised the club for finally conducting the right business in the summer, and it seems to be finally paying off. A terrible day for José Mourinho, and a great day for the victors.

On a more positive note, Liverpool and Chelsea possibly produced one of the most entertaining draws in a while. It was end to end, entertaining, and probably deserved more goals than it was given. Liverpool for most of the game were more of a threat, with Salah, Mane and Firmino quickly hurting Chelsea, and taking advantage of their advanced fullbacks. Firmino especially was very good, making 4 key passes and making 2 tackles. He did everything we expect from the Brazilian at this point. However while their forward three was productive (and arguably very wasteful), their midfield was mostly anonymous. While Milner continued his excellent form and put in a good performance away from home, his teammates, Wijnaldum and Henderson, were anonymous. Henderson will have these games where he struggles to get involved, and it can pass him by when the pressure is on. He, however, was not nearly as bad as Wijnaldum. The Dutchman is not exactly my favourite around, in fact I think he is average at best. This is a game where he showed it. He didn’t do anything in defense, and didn’t contribute anything in attack. He offered nothing in a game where Liverpool needed to make a statement, and instead reminded me why he cannot be relied on in touch away games. He seems to lose his spine when he isn’t playing in Anfield. Chelsea had a similar issue. Because of the speed in which Liverpool attack, it was difficult for Sarri’s side to play the game in the way they wanted. Kovacic did have a very good game however, getting the assist, while also putting in 3 tackles. This game was everything the neutral, like myself, wanted. Let’s hope there are more. It leaves the both of them, and Manchester City in a very tight place, where if any of them slip up, it could be difficult to catch the leaders.

Serie A – Ronaldo’s Big Performance. The Rome Derby

Serie A had an excellent few fixtures to look forward to. Let’s start with the first big title deciding game of the season, where Juventus came out 3-1 victors over Napoli. While Juventus were the better team, it wasn’t completely smooth sailing. Mertens took advantage of a poor Leonardo Bonucci mistake, and stuck his side ahead. However thanks to a great performance from Ronaldo, Juventus eventually got the result they wanted. It was a very selfless performance from the Portuguese international, having a key involvement in every one of their goals. It was his perfect cross which gave his side the equaliser. It was his shot that gave Manzukic the tap in for second, and his second half strike that Bonucci taps in. He is paying back that €100m by every game he plays. His big performance is what put Juventus over the line. Selfless is not exactly a word which is best described for Ronaldo. He has always loved being the central figure of every side he’s played for, but in this game he had drop wide, and help his side in every way. It was just as good as seeing him score a great hat trick. This leaves Juventus comfortably ahead of any rival, as expected. It means the champions league must be top priority. It is the trophy that alludes Juventus. Their team is capable, and with many of the top sides over Europe currently in transition periods, this could be their chance.

And last but not least, the Rome Derby, which saw Roma defeat their local rivals Lazio by 3 goals to 1. It was a great game and it just showed how much this game means to the players and fans. Every player put their full effort on that pitch. Roma did deserve their win. The first goal was thanks to some great hold up player thanks to Edin Dzeko, and finished with a nice back heel from Pellegrini. After Immobile got Lazio back in the game, a delightful free kick from Kolarov put the home side back in the lead. Roma were great on the day. I have been doubting Di Francesco recently, unsure if he really is the man to push Roma to that next level. Roma have been really good recently, proving maybe it was an over exaggeration from myself. I still have my doubts on how he sets up his defense, but his forwards are scoring plenty, which is why their form has been so good recently. I do feel that Lazio will not be as entertaining as last season, with Anderson and De Vrij both leaving the club, but they will still compete for that top 4 spot. Roma need to sort some of their defensive issues if they are to compete with Napoli for the best of the rest, but it will be interesting to see.

La Liga is Wide Open! Top 5 Talking Points from the Top 5 Leagues 25/09/18

I thought I would wait until some of the mid week games were finished before discussing this week’s football, and I’m glad I did. Let’s get straight to the point and talk about the biggest talking points from the week.

Bundesliga – Leverkusen back on track. Bayern finally drop points

It’s no secret that both Leverkusen and Schalke started the new season in terrible both, with both sitting in the relegation zone last week, and while Schalke remain in their rot, Leverkusen are on the way up. Leverkusen have a very good side, with Leon Bailey getting plenty of plaudits and Havertz looking like a real prospect. They have won their last two games, beating both Mainz and Dusseldorf. Their win against Mainz was close, they were quite lucky to come out of their most recent win over Dusseldorf with the victory. Expected goals had the game in the home sides favourite, with it in favour of Dusseldorf. But with their drop at the moment, getting the wins is what matters. They need to get back in the groove of winning. In their last win, it was Kevin Volland who helped the side win. The German scored two to put them over the line. While his goals got the win, it was the performance of their defensive midfielder, Dominik Kohr that deserves the most credit. He won 11 tackles and interceptions, made 2 key passes and got an assist. It was a very gritty performance from Leverkusen and might be a deserved win, but they showed their quality on the day.

Bayern have had a very mixed week. They beat rivals Schalke after a James Rodriguez winner. But they followed that by drawing 1-1 with Augsburg. The game, from a performance level, was very close, with expected goals putting the game at 1.43 to Bayern and 1.33 to the away side. But just watching the game it was clear Bayern should have put that game to bed. Renato Sanches had so many chances to end any chance Augsburg had if only he put it away. The midfielder had 5 shots and only 2 on target. Bayern drew the game because of their lack of precision and a mistake from their captain. Neuer came out to catch the corner ball, but failed and the ball was then gifted to Felix Gotze, who then was gifted the easiest chance of his career. Bayern did rest players in this game, with Alaba, Ribery, Rodriguez and Lewandowski all not starting the game. Kovac thought he could take it easy for the home game but will wish his side was more ruthless on the day. After Borussia Dortmund’s 7-0 beating of Nuernburg. The pressure is on now to keep an in form Dortmund side from catching up.

La Liga – Barca and Real lose!

By far the most interesting story of the week. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have lost a game on the same day for the first time since 2015. Both did not go into their defeats in good form, with Real scraping a 1-0 win and Barcelona drawing 2-2 with Girona at home. Let’s start with Barcelona. The league leaders started the game comfortably, with Coutinho scoring an excellent volley to put them into the lead, but 69 seconds of terrible defending left Barcelona getting their first defeat of the season. The reason for that complete failure in defense falls onto Gerard Pique. He was at fault for both goals. For the first, he was in no man’s land, and left Umtiti on his own to deal with both players. While Vermalean also failed to keep up with El Zhar, Pique should be better there. The second goal was a pure error, giving the ball to Oscar Rodriguez and gifting him the goal. Pique is a very good defender who doesn’t get the credit he deserves sometimes, but he has these games where he just loses his ability to read the game. Barcelona can call themselves lucky though. Their rivals Real Madrid also lost so their defeat is not as bad as it could be. They have Bilbao at home next, which is a must win. Both Madrid clubs play on Saturday and if Barca can an advantage over one of them, it’ll make the title race much easier.

Madrid finally showed the vulnerability that I knew they had, when they lost 3-0 to an entertaining Sevilla side. Madrid were simply caught out 3 times in the game, and it resulted in them conceding 3. They just gave the ball away and were correctly punished for it. Marcelo miss placed a pass in his own half and let the Sevilla forwards hit them back. The issue with Madrid is they struggle to deal with counter attacks. While Ramos and Varane are the best around, they play quite a highline and it leaves them easy to get by when attacked with numbers. Kroos is very poor in a defensive sense (as I mentioned when talking about why Germany failed at the world cup). Modric is still not up to scratch yet, after his phenomenal world cup performance. He is usually so good at watching the space Kroos and Marcelo can leave, and can help deal with it. Sevilla were just the perfect team to beat them, and it’s worrying to see if they draw a team like Liverpool in the champions League, because they could struggle against their pace and quick attacks. A poor day at the office for Madrid, and with their local rivals being the next side they play, they must bounce back and keep pressure on Barca.

Ligue 1 – PSG dominating. Lyon Vs Marseille

While Ligue 1 is looking like it’s usual on horse race, Paris have just became the fourth side to win their first 7 games in the league’s history. They have been efficient as ever in the league, putting teams away like they are from another planet. While I do think there are huge holes in side, mainly the full backs and in defensive midfield, they just have so much talent in the final third that it makes it impossible for them not to score. One players return has been an absolute blessing for Tuchel’s side. He keeps thinks ticking in midfield and his presence means that Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani do not have to drop so deep to receive the ball. His different could easily be seen with their 4-1 win over Reims. He had 138 touches of the ball, the most on the pitch. He also made 125 passes. He was the only player to complete over 100 passes on the pitch. He is so important for Paris will be needed in the big Champions League games. Other than that, it was a usual Paris win. Let’s hope they show more of this in the Champions League, after their poor showing against Liverpool.

On another note, Marseille were beaten by Lyon by 4 goals to 2. Both Payet and Thauvin were effective in the game as ever, but their problem was Mitroglou. The Greek International has never proven to meet that he should be playing at the top level. He seriously lacks agility and works better when paired (as seen with Jonas at Benfica). He only managed a single shot in the game, and it wasn’t even on target. Both Germain and Mitroglou are good squad players, but they both have failed to convince me that they are good enough to lead a line. Lyon were very good in this game. Both Fekir and Ndombele were excellent in the game, completing a combined 9 key passes between them, with Ndombele getting 2 assists. They were key in exposing Marseille and countering them quickly. But the star man of this game was easily Bertrand Traore. The former Chelsea man has been an important addition to the current crop of talent at Lyon. His pace and ability to beat a man is always good when facing any side. In this game he was absolutely excellent. He gave Amavi constant problems and caught him out over and over, which resulted in one of the midfielders or centre backs having to spilt wide, leaving space for Depay and Fekir. This was shown from Lyon’s attack side map, showing that they made 48% of their attacks on the right side, where Traore was playing. He had an excellent game and capped it off with 2 goals. Just a perfect perfect performance. Both teams shouldn’t have much to worry about, with Lyon now showing some consistency, and Marseille have won three of their games so far, with Payet and Thauvin looking great at the start of the season. With Monaco being awful, it means top 3 could be comfortable for both of them.

Premier League – Manchester City’s 5 goal thriller. United drop points again.

Let’s focus on Manchester this week, where one side showed their quality, and the other showed their lack of it. Let’s start with the blue side, who absolutely walked over newly promoted side Cardiff with a 5-0 win. This is the second time they have scored over 5 in a game so far this season. It keeps them in touching distance of Liverpool, and on equal terms with Chelsea, after their disappointing 0-0 draw with West Ham. City were at their usual best in this game. City were excellent at creating good chances, with 86% of their shots coming inside of the 18 yard box. Their quality was shown in this game. When talking about stand out performers, one has to simply discuss Bernardo Silva. While the Portuguese did have his moments in the first team last season, he was never a consistent choice. However with the injury to Kevin De Bruyne, it has forced Silva to be put in his number 8 position. Pep is a genius for a reason, because he is able to fill the gap with the adequate solution. Silva was excellent in this game, getting a goal and an assist. He made 4 key passes, and even completed 3 tackles, a side of his game I thought he never had. City cruised this game, and it will keep them in the race against a Liverpool side who many tip to beat the Champions.

On the other side of Manchester, the red devils dropped more points at home, with a 1-1 draw against a good Wolves side. It was a very poor performance from United in an attacking sense. They failed (as usual) to create good chances for Lukaku, and were forced to take shots from anywhere, with 67% of their shots being taken from outside of the box. United had more shots, but had less shots on target (United having 6 and Wolves having 8). Expected goals shows this too, with United only having 0.61, and Wolves having 1.10. United had a majority of the ball, yet didn’t show that killer instinct their rivals show. While United did fail to create the right chances, Lukaku was still poor when given the chance to score. He only had 22 touches, and didn’t have a single shot on target. He seemed to look exhausted, and like a striker who was on a long goaless run. He is needed it United want top 4. While United were terrible, Wolves still deserve plenty of credit. Their midfield pairing of Neves and Moutinho showed discipline and caused United problems. Their average position was very close, leaving no space for United to exploit. They will be a problem for the bigger sides, with the newcomers already picking up points against both Manchester teams. Let’s see if they can keep it up.

Serie A – Insigne and Roma scoring.

With teams in Italy having 2 games in a week, it could have been a problem for some of the bigger sides, with the players not given a rest for the weekend and the champions league. However this wasn’t the case, with two sides, Napoli and Roma, both picking up 3 points with plenty of goals. Let’s start with Napoli, who followed their 3-1 win over Torino, with a 3-0 win over Parma. While Napoli haven’t been nearly as impressive as their were under Sarri, they are still playing well and looking competitive for the champions league places. Their star performer this season could only be one guy, Lorenzo Insigne. The Italian has been one of the best players in Europe over the last 3 years, not only being a great creator, but also being able to score plenty of goals. He has been like Hazard has been under Sarri, but over a much longer period of time. He is truly a great talent. He already has 5 goals and an assist this season in only 7 games. He was Napoli’s key player in this game, scoring and assisting. He likes to cut inside and shoot when given the chance, which he showed with having 5 shots in this game. His average position in this game was very close to the striker, showing how often he likes to come central. I’m still so surprised he has not been picked by Barcelona or Real Madrid over the last few years. He has had a great week, and continues to show his class.

Roma were another who scored plenty in the week, with them beating Frosinone 4-0. This wasn’t a difficult game in the slightest, but Roma have had an inconsistent season to say the least. It was important to get a huge win, to keep the players confident and get them ready for the big Rome derby. The attacking players in this game were great, Stephan El Shaarawy. The Italian’s career hasn’t reached the heights we all expected while he was at AC Milan, but has still had a good career so far. He was excellent in this game. He had 3 shots on target, made 2 key passes, completed 2 dribbles and scored a goal. Some of their players were rested in this game, with Dzeko and Florenzi both starting on the bench. They still dominated the game, and go into their huge game against Lazio in confidence.

5 Players Who Have Started the Season Well

While there have only been around 5 games in each game played, there are already players who are in electric form. So let’s go through some players who have had good starts to the season. There will only be 1 player per Top 5 league, to add variety.

Ligue 1 – Dimitri Payet

Starting in France, Dimitri Payet has to be here. While Paris have won every game they’ve played (no surprise there), it does take a lot more to impress me, because of their superior talent. But Payet is by far good enough to play for them. He is has been the key player in a Marseille side that has been incredibly interesting to watch. Marseille over the last couple of seasons have transformed into a team that was Europe’s next giant to fall, into a side that are only on the way up. Marseille have mostly been making smart business. It was something I would not have expected, with most new owners trying to fix a team instantly, but in Marseille’s defense, they’re signings have been very good. Just last summer, Marseille signed Amavi on a permanent for only £9m and brought in Kevin Strootman to replace the outgoing Zambo Anguissa for the same price. They have a blend of solid players and players with a lot of skill. Payet is the lynch pin for the whole project. The ex West Ham midfielder has been a sensation since his return to Marseille, and has continued his form into this season. In the first 5 games, he has managed 3 goals and 2 assists. Payet has been one of the best creators in Europe since 2014 and has shown it, making an incredible 4.4 key passes per game this season. A huge issue for Payet himself over the last few years is the lack of talent in front of him. His incredible creative ability has been wasted with average talent like Germain, Mitroglou and Andy Carroll being in front of him over the years. It makes it even more impressive to see that Marseille have already scored 14 goals in 5, which is 2.8 goals a game. Payet is the reason why Marseille are so good going forward, and will continue to be vital in that area. If he can stay injury free (which has been a problem for him at times), then he could drive Marseille into the champions league positions.

Serie A – Allan

There haven’t been any outstanding performances from forwards so far this season. Ronaldo hasn’t hit the ground running as expected, Icardi is yet to score a league goal, Dybala’s game is getting sacrificed for Ronaldo’ benefit, and Immobile has only managed a goal so far. Looking away from the forwards, there has been one midfielder who has excelled so far this season, and that is Napoli midfielder Allan. The Brazilian has been one of the best ball recovery players, and also one of the best carries of the ball. He is excellent at quickly transitioning play and hitting an opposition quickly. This season has brought out some more qualities out of Allan. Napoli have looked weaker since the departure of Jorginho, because his replacement just hasn’t been performing for me. Don’t get me wrong, Zielinski is a good player, but I don’t he suits the role of controller of the game. He is a better attacking midfielder, who takes a lot of shots and helps the forward three. It just comparing Jorginho and Zielinski this season, the Pole has been dispossessed 1.6 times, while Jorginho only 0.8 times. I bring this up to show why Allan has performed so well. Allan has had to do even more work in middle of the park to compensate for the loss of his midfield partner. Allan is putting in nearly double the tackles in from last season, from 2.8 to 5.5, but because of his high tackles numbers, he is committing more fouls (with Zielinski losing the ball more it’s clear to see why). Even creatively he has improved, with his key passes doubling to 1.6. While Napoli have not shown their best this season, it’s good to see their most industrious midfielder still playing to his best.

Bundesliga – Ondrej Duda

It might be strange choice, but with Bayern being their usual boring perfect self, and Dortmund starting okay, it’s actually Hertha I’m most impressed with. They sit at second place with ten points, and after getting seven points out of Mönchengladbach, Wolfsburg and Schalke, they have to be given some credit. This form will not be consistent, but I’ll give credit where it is due, and the player that gets most of the credit will be Ondrej Duda. The Slovakian has scored 4 goals in 4 games, and there are a few things to be impressed by. The first seems to be his versatility. He has started already in central midfield and in the no 10. Being able to play in both positions does tell you a lot about the player, and the importance of him in the team. But what’s most impressive for the player must be that he has started the season in general. Duda’s time with Hertha has been nothing but injuries. He only managed 9 starts last season, after struggling with fitness. Seeing the player finally put a string of games together is great to see. After his brace against Schalke, he came out and said he doesn’t think he ever scored more than a single goal in a game before. It just goes to show how good he is playing at the moment. His performance against Schalke is the one I’m going to highlight. Lazaro said after the game that Duda’s game was to put pressure on Sebastian Rudy and to make sure he is ineffective, and to see that Rudy only made 18 passes with a bad 61.7% pass accuracy, he clearly did his work. He also scored both of the goals, with the first showing his how good he is at late runs into the box, and the second being a brilliant free kick. He was by far the best player on the pitch, and has been the best player in the Bundesliga so far.

Premier League – Eden Hazard

Not even a debate here, Hazard has been absolutely incredible since June (where he was robbed of the player of the tournament), and has carried that form on into the new season. He has already scored 5 in 6 games so far this season, which included his first hat trick in 4 years. Hazard is a player that just doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His ability to perform under so many different manager’s just shows his talent and flexibility. Players like Alli, Sterling and Zaha are great players in the system they play, but Hazard is able to perform under any manager. He is by far the best attacker in the league. The problem for Hazard is the managers he’s played under. Guys like Benitez, Mourinho and Conte are all defensively minded managers. He has never been able to express himself under an attack minded coach, until now. Sarri is playing him in the Insigne role (his job to create and score) and he could even be performing better than the Italian. Hazard no longer has the sole responsibility of driving the team up the pitch, because of Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic all having plenty of control in the midfield, meaning Hazard does not have to drop so deep. His numbers this season have went supernova. While his dribble numbers have dropped, it’s because he is staying further up the pitch now. He doesn’t have to drop so deep to receive the ball anymore. His shooting numbers have went up from 2.1 to 2.7. His passes per 90 have went from 32 to 57, his pass accuracy as went from 83% to 88%. His key passes have stayed roughly the same too. There is still a question mark on whether he can keep these numbers up, mainly because Sarri still needs time for system to be perfected. I am not doubting the player at all, but Sarri needs time and it could mean some inconsistent performances from Chelsea. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses this season.

La Liga – Ousmane Dembele

While Bale and Benzema have been excellent at the start of the season, I’m going for Ousmane Dembele. The world cup winner has started the season brilliantly. He didn’t have the best debut season after his £135.5m from Borussia Dortmund. He suffered an injury that kept him out for 3 months, and then Valverde just wasn’t playing him. He stuck to a very safe 4-4-2, which didn’t give much of a chance to Dembele. But Valverde has changed it up this season, going to a more Barcelona style 4-3-3, with a front 3 of Messi, Suarez and Dembele. He has been excellent this season and is finally showing his worth after many doubted him. Dembele is chiefly a creator, not a scorer. But is doing both at the moment. He already has 3 goals in 5 games. His ability to beat a man and pick one of the other forwards is by far his best skill. His stats show just how well he’s been performing for the Champions this season. He has been making 2 key passes per 90, taking 2.8 shots, completing 50% of his dribbles, and completing 1.2 crosses per 90. He’s just had a great start, and for the sake of football Barcelona, let’s hope he keeps it up.