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UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group G

Just 2 more groups left now. This group isn’t exactly a stand out compared to other groups, but there is still things to talk about. So let’s just get right to it.

CSKA Moscow

Starting with another regular of the Champions League, Moscow come into this year’s competition after a summer of a few key departures. They lost World Cup star Aleksandr Golovin to Monaco for €30m, and Vitinho went back to Brazil. Some of their older players have also retired. They were still involved in the first team, so a lot of replacing was needed. Some of their notable bits of business (and there is a lot) are Abel Hernandez signed on a free, Magnusson was signed from Bristol City, and Nikola Vlasic joined the club on loan from Everton. They have began the season is a solid 3-5-2. It brings the most out of the players they have, with Mario Fernandez being a very attacking full back. Vlasic is a very energetic player and can help drive the play forward. One of their key players so far has been their young forward Fedor Chalov. The world cup quarter finalist has started the season on fire, scoring 6 in 7 already. Hernandez also has started well for his new side. Scoring and getting 2 assists. As previously mentioned, Fernandez has excelled in this system. He’s been so good, that he has already got 3 assists as a wing back. They have a solid set up, a goalscorer and form. But it will not be enough for them to get out of the group. Both Roma and Madrid are better sides, but they will be getting Europa League football.

Real Madrid

One of the favourites for the tournament, talking about the qualities of Madrid is already getting tiresome. So let’s quickly go over what has changed since Ronaldo and Zidane’s departures. Madrid have looked much more balanced since their record scorers big transfer to Juventus. When playing under Zidane, their main approach to games was to create as many chances for Ronaldo as possible. It was why the full backs were so advanced and why Benzema didn’t contribute much, because he sacrificed a lot of his game for the Portuguese star. But he already has 4 goals. In the entirety of last season, he only managed 5 goals. His shot numbers are higher, he’s winning more aerial duels. He is also getting fouled more, showing his involvement in dangerous areas. Asensio has so far been the ‘replacement’ (I use that term lightly because they have different roles) for Ronaldo. He has started on that left side, helping Bale and Benzema through his great dribbling and creative abilities. He is completing 2.3 dribbles per 90 so far, and is putting in 2.8 shots per game. He has given balance that forward 3, and allowed the other forwards to focus on getting in goal scoring areas. Madrid do not have the same goal scoring machine, but they still look like a real threat. We’ll have to wait to see how they do against the bigger sides, but they will win this group.

Roma

The Giallorossi have not been great so far this season. A late winner against Torino, a draw against Atalanta, a defeat against an average Milan side, and then a giving away a 2 goal lead against Chievo, means Roma go into this game with only a single win. By now I thought Di Francesco would have his team playing better and stopping that over reliance on Dzeko. But yet they still lack good wide talent, and struggle when Dzeko isn’t on his day. Defensively they just set up poorly. They seem unable to play a high line, yet still continue to. However I think they will get out of the group. Moscow are tough to beat, but Roma just have a better side. It could be close but Roma will finish 2nd. However not signing Malcolm could be the biggest regret of the season.

Plzen

Another team I know very little about, FC Viktoria Plzen are back in the Champions League for the first time since 2013, where they failed to get out of the group. The same will happen here too. While they haven’t lost a game since their defeat to Sporting in March, they are still not near the level of Real Madrid, and cannot compete with Roma and CSKA. It’s fortunate that they are drawn in a difficult group. They have started their domestic campaign very well, with their main forward Krmencik scoring 7 in 8 games. They are currently second in their table and look on course to compete for the title in their league. My knowledge of the Czech top flight is extremely limited, but it wouldn’t make a difference. The sides are simply better.

Final Table

1. Real Madrid

2. Roma

3. CSKA Moscow

4. FC Viktoria Plzen

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group F

While Group B and C are seen as the groups of death, this group comes incredibly close. 3 teams in this group are similar, yet so different and it will be interesting

Hoffenheim

Hoffenheim are a side that have been getting weaker by the season. But because of an extremely talented coach, have somehow stayed competitive. Even after losing some great players, like Gnabry, Uth, Sule, Rudy and Wagner. Hoffenheim play a brand of football that works to their strengths. They tend to not dominate games and use the little possession they have to quickly counter. Just by the way they play, it means they will able to challenge any team. But one of their issues (as mentioned before when discussing their game against Bayern Munich) is the way they set up leaves them weak on the flanks. Their full backs, usually Schulz and Kaderabek, go very far forward to press. The problem, as seen against Bayern, was the wingers were able to exploit the space that was left, which pulled the centre halves away and left them weak. When their press works, it works so well, but against teams which great wide players, it is difficult. They will do fine against Shaktar, but will struggle against the other sides. They also are suffering from a severe injury crisis. Two of their creators, Demibray and Amiri, are currently on the sidelines, as well as three of their central defenders. It will be difficult to get through with their current injury crisis, so I think they will finish bottom of the group.

Manchester City

The Premier League champions are probably facing and even tougher challenge than last season. They have to try and retain the title, while also trying to compete in the Champions League. City have started the season very well, with only a draw against newly promoted Wolves (a game that the referees ruined) stopping their perfect run. They haven’t been as good as they were last season however. They are seriously missing Kevin De Bruyne in some moments this season. His ability to pick out that killer pass has been seriously missed. While Gundogan is a good footballer, he is just not at the same level as De Bruyne. While City will still cruise through some of the easier games, it’s the games against teams who are similar to their level, like Paris or Barcelona, they will struggle to break them down. But one area they will never struggle in is their wide talent. Both Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane are coming off good games against Fulham. They are excellent wingers for a Pep side. Both are incredibly fast, great at stretching the play and always put in good shot numbers. They will both cause the opposition so much problems. City just have a great squad of players, and players all over the pitch to challenge for places. Pep has built a great team, and will definitely get out of the group.

Lyon

As seen from my Top 5 Talking Points From the Top 5 Leagues, Lyon have been quite frustrating so far. They have shown moments of their best, but then go on to lose games they should probably be winning. They just haven’t been putting teams away. Depay, Fekir and Dembele just haven’t been clinical enough in front of goal. They’ve been averaging around 20 shots a game, yet are only managing 1.6 goals per game. They’re dominating games so comfortably, yet just fail to punish teams. This is team is just so talented and young as well. Their midfield of Tousart, Aouar and Ndombele are some of the most promising midfielders in Europe. Ferland Mendy has started the season in excellent form. He’s already got a goal and assist, and while his defensive numbers are low, he counters that with excellent attacking output. It could be argued that their manager, Bruno Génésio, isn’t exactly the best. While I do not think they set up their defense in a great way, they attack so fluently and quick that he almost makes up for it. I just do not think Lyon are getting out of this group. With their league form so inconsistent, they should be focusing on that, but they still have the quality to get out of it.

Shaktar Donetsk

A regular in this competition in the modern game, the Ukrainian side are back again. While they have lost two good players in Fred and Bernard, they have brought in replacements in the same way they always do. They signed Maycon from Corinthians and Fernando from Palmeiras. Both are under 21 and are currently getting bedded into the squad slowly. Shaktar’s knowledge of the Brazilian league is already known to be deep. They have brought so many Brazilians, like Willian, Fernandinho, Texeira and Fred into the European spotlight. Even with both of those young coming through, they still have their experience. Taison and Marlos both offer flair and cause full backs plenty of problems. Another one of their new signings, Moraes, has hit the ground running. The Brazilian was signed on a free from rivals Dynamo Kyiv, and has already scored 7 in 8. It would make more sense to predict Lyon or Hoffenheim to finish second, but Shaktar Donetsk are in this competition all the time. They have the experience and the talent to beat all teams in this group. They even got out of a group containing Napoli and Man City last season, and even beat the Premier League champions. They will get out of this group, but I could most definitely be wrong.

Final Table

1. Manchester City

2. Shaktar Donetsk

3. Lyon

4. Hoffenheim

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group E

Now past the halfway point, let’s look at a group that might have one clear winner, but still has much to talk about.

AEK Athens

Beginning with the unknown, AEK Athens reach the competition through a long play off campaign, with the Greek side famously beating a very over confident Celtic side to knock them out on their way to qualifiation. They have started the season extremely well, with Athens not conceding a goal yet this season, while winning every game. They will need to bring in this great form against the historic teams in this group. Two stand out players so far for Athens have been Ezequiel Ponce. The Argentine has already scored 2 in his first 3 games. His partner in crime, Viktor Klonaridis, who came off the bench in their last game to score a brace. Both are in red hot form and could seriously threaten the bigger teams, however I don’t think there. Not much is known about them outside of their home country. I can only go on what their competition is, and they do not possess better quality than the other teams here. It’ll be a bottom place finish for the current leaders in the Greek Super League.

Ajax

Moving onto a team I have a bit more knowledge about. Ajax have really improved over the past couple of years. After their Europa League final, they seem to have got even better. Players like De Jong, Tagliafico and Neres have been huge upgrades on Traore, Klassen and Sinkgraven. These team just has a bit of everything. It has some real experience in Huntelaar (who has been on fire since his return to Holland), a great reader of the game and passer in Daily Blind. He is a very positive signing because he adds an experienced champions league player into a young side. Dusan Tadic is a fine enough signing, while his consistency can be question, and I do, he is still talented. For a few players to watch, the first is easily Hakim Ziyech. The Moroccan has been a great creator since his arrival from Twente. In his first six games he already has 2 goals and 3 assists. His numbers have been astounding. Making 3.4 key passes, 2.8 tackles and putting in 5.2 shots on target. He is by far one of the most in from players going into this tournament. Another stand out player has been Klaas-Jan Hunterlaar. The ex Madrid forward has already scored 6 in only 4 starts. Both of these players are going into their first game against Athens in red hot form. Because of the great way they’ve started and the good balance in their squad, I really do think they will come out of this group, and will finish second.

Bayern Munich

I’ve spoken so much already about Bayern at the start of the season, but let’s go over what is already known and what is expected of them in this group. Bayern have not looked any less super human under Nico Kovac. They are unbeaten in the Bundesliga, as expected, with Hoffenheim being their closest scare on the opening day. but thanks to goals from Thomas Muller, the threat was avoided. They have then went on to beat Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen, scoring 9 goals in all three games, and only conceding 2. The advantage that Bayern have over every team in Europe (maybe excluding Juventus) is their winning nature. They have won so many titles and have so much experience, that winning is in their blood. Players like Ribery, Robben, Hummels and Neuer are winners through and through and even as they grow old, can still add something to their side. They still have some players that are there for the future in Gnabry and Coman. While they aren’t as good as Robben and Ribery, they can still do a good job. Bayern are easily the favourites in this group, and because of their superior quality, they will definitely top the group.

Benfica

The historic Portuguese side go into the his tournament at debatably their weakest. While they are the top of the table at the moment, alongside Sporting, their business practise of buying young players and selling them at high prices has started to hurt them. While they have kept hold of key players like Pizzi, Jonas and Luisao, the constant sales of very talented players, like Ederson and Semedo, does hurt them when they are unable to replace them properly. They still have a good side however. Some of the current players in the team like Grimaldo and Zivkovic look like really talents. When talking about their stand out players, one has to look at Pizzi. The Portuguese international has started the season so well for the Eagles. He has already contributed to 6 goals in 4 games. While his goal scoring has been impressive, he has always been a good creator. He has been incredible so far in that aspect. He has been averaging 3 key passes, 8.8 long balls and 2.5 crosses (even though crosses are a hard thing to measure). He will be key to supplying Benfica with any hope. Their biggest issue is the injury to goal scorer Jonas. The Brazilian has been a machine for them since his arrival from Valencia. While I like Benfica as a club, they just do not have enough to get out of this group. Bayern are obviously better, and I just think Ajax have a solid side this year. While they could get through, I just think they’ll finish third. But it will definitely be close.

Final Table

1. Bayern Munich

2. Ajax

3. Benfica

4. AEK Athens

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group D

After going through two incredibly hard groups to predict, let’s look at a group with less quality, but is just as hard to predict.

Galatasaray

The Super League champions go into this group with a good chance of getting out of it. Galatasaray have started the season relatively well, scoring a lot of goals, but a loss to Trabzonspor was not good, losing 4-0 away from home. When talking about stand out players, there are a few who have started well. Fernando is among a few who has started the season very well. The former Manchester City midfielder has put in a great 4.6 tackles and interceptions. While his ability in the offensive side has never been stand out, his great defensive work is enough. Another who has stood out is Eren Derdiyok. The swiss forward has started very well, putting in 4.4 aerial duels per 90, which should tell you enough on his style of play. He has been putting in a very average 2.2 shots on target per 90. The forward could be seen as over performing, but let’s hope he continues it into the competition before his form fades. They have already scored 11 goals at home in 3 games. Their home form is a threat, but there is question marks on if they can do it away from home. Nevertheless, I do think they will escape the group and reach the round of 16, but won’t top it. They just have more quality than the rest of the teams here.

Lokomotiv Moscow

The Russian League Champions were incredibly lucky in their group draw. They were in the same pot as Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona and teams at that stature. They avoided all the top teams, but still could have drawn some difficult sides. They were lucky to draw teams that are definitely beatable. Even with the lucky draw I am not expecting much from the Russian side. They have been very poor at the start of the season, as they sit in 9th place in the league. They have struggled to score and defensively are not keeping the opposition away from the box. Players like Smolov, Eder and Fernandez have failed to make an impact this season. I have no hope for them at all in this group, and expect a bottom finish.

Schalke

Schalke were a strange one last season. While they did finish second, it was more down to the other teams not performing, instead of Schalke being great. This season has proved this. With Bayern at their usual superhuman ways, and Dortmund looking good, Schalke have been exposed. They haven’t had the easiest of starts, but Wolfsburg, Munchengladbach and Hertha are still beatable. They have just been struggling in front of goal this season. I thought the signing of Mark Uth would be an excellent addition to the forward line, with him being an exciting Hoffenheim’s top scorer last season. He hasn’t started so well, but so hasn’t the rest of the team, excluding Caligiuri. He has started the season very well, he’s averaged 4.7 tackles and interceptions, and making 3 key passes per 90. Schalke just seem to be out of form at the moment, and it will continue into the group stages. A 3rd place finish it will be for the German side.

FC Porto

Porto are in a great position at the moment. They went from constantly staying behind Benfica, to now being the league champions, after winning be league with a more workman approach. They sold both Ruben Neves and Andre Silva, two very promising players, and instead of replacing them, chose to use the players at their disposal in a different way. They went from a 4-3-3 into a 4-4-2. They went for a front two of Aboubakar, a player who was out of favour, and Marega. Both are in their prime years and won the league by sharing the goal load between them. They also have Yacine Brahimi. The Algerian has risen to become one of the more important players for the club. He is an excellent dribbler and is a real driving force in that attack. He has been taking 2.5 shots already this season, showing that he has no intention of slowing down from last season. If Porto are to do anything in the Champions League, it will be on Brahimi. Porto do have the best side in this group, and will top it.

Final Table

1. FC Porto

2. Galatasaray

3. Schalke

4. Lokomotiv Moscow

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group C

While I’d argue that Group B is the group of death, Group C is seriously not far from it. With last year’s finalists, Ligue 1 champions, Europe’s hipster team, and the team with the craziest fans, it’s going to be every interesting.

Red Star Belgrade

Talking about the way Red Star play or their threatening players is difficult because I do not know much about them at all. All I can take is how they performed against Arsenal last season in the Europa League, where they defended well and caused Arsenal the occasional problem. They only just about reached the competition, by beating Red Bull Salzburg on away goals. They have won every game so far this season, with their most recent win being a Vojvodina 4-1. They go into the competition in good form. However what they are most known for is their crazy supporters, to a point where they have been banned from the away games. They will create an atmosphere that will trouble all the teams that will go there, and could even cause an upset with their crazy supporters behind them. But the quality of the other teams is too high, so a bottom finish for them, but they will surely be entertaining.

Napoli

Napoli were absolutely sensational last season. They played some of the best football in Europe, with a team so balanced and full of players that have turned into real world beaters. However unfortunately for them they were against Allegri’s winning machine, and couldn’t beat them over the line, but they did come so close, and kept Serie A entertaining. However the summer wasn’t great. While Ancelotti is a solid appointment, Sarri built that team in his image, and it’ll be difficult to change it. Losing Jorginho was predicted, but still difficult. He is one of the best controllers of the game in Europe. He is one of the reasons Sarri ball worked so effectively. Fabian Ruiz is a fine addition to the side, and Diawara and Zielinski are both talented enough to fill that void effectively. Napoli have been slightly inconsistent to start the season, however they have had a difficult start to say the least. Playing Milan, Lazio, and Sampdoria to start the season is a tough way to introduce a new manager. Their 3-0 defeat to Sampdoria was difficult to watch, with Napoli just being so poor on the day, especially in attack. I do think they are going to struggle in this group. They play 2 sides that are so good at counter attacking and can hit so hard on the pace that it’ll be difficult for Napoli to compete. While they are a very good side, they just had the wrong end of the draw. Europa League again for the Italian side.

Liverpool

Liverpool go into this group as my favourites. Their team is now at a stage where it can win a major trophy, whether it’s a league title or this competition. They fixed some of their bigger areas, being their midfield and goalkeeper. Allison already looks like twice the player that Karius was, being so composed and confident in goal. The additions of Naby Keita and Fabinho give some great depth in an area I have criticised Liverpool for not addressing for a while now. Keita is one of the most complete midfielders around and Fabinho is excellent in the air and gives good defensive support to the centre halves. Speaking of centre halves, the difference Virgil Van Dijk has made to that side is just outstanding. Having a defender that confident, strong and intelligent, just makes the rest of the team so much more confident. He is by far Liverpool’s most important player, and has transformed himself into one of the best defenders in the world. However it’s their attack that always catches the headlines. Salah, Mane and Firmino is easily the best front three in Europe. While it can be argued that Barcelona and PSG have better individual players in those as areas, they just work so well as a unit. Mane is incredibly flexible, and can create and score. Firmino gives so much for team, with his tackling and movement, and Salah is just a goal machine. They have the ability to beat anyone, and I think they will top this group.

Paris Saint-Germain

The Ligue 1 champions look extremely deadly going into this tournament. They finally have a coach that can match their ambition of winning a champions league. Tuchel’s coaching ability cannot be underestimated. He kept Dortmund competitive and will now make Paris better than they’ve ever been. They have improved on areas in their squad I have had issues with. Mainly their goalkeeper and left back. I never liked Kurzawa. His off the field antics kept him from being a top level defender. Bringing in Juan Bernat, a player with a great dribbling ability and contributes well in the final third, is a great move. Gianluigi Buffon is a great signing. He is the best goalkeeper of all time in my opinion, no matter how old he is, he will add something to any team. Their attack is still incredibly deadly. Mbappe is coming off a historic world cup, Cavani is an elite forward, and Neymar is an excellent player, and continues to fight for that Balon d’Or. However he is part of the problem with this team. He seems to be a problem for the team. His clear ambition to move to Madrid will hold Paris back in the long term. Rabiot is another who as emerged as a real problem. The Frenchman acted incredibly immaturely when not selected for the France squad before Russia. Marco Veratti is another who seems to not be on good terms with Tuchel, with the manager making the midfielder lose weight because he doesn’t deem him fit enough to play. Tuchel has a lot of work settling this squad. But they are still so talented and will get out of this group based on manager and player quality.

Final Table

1. Liverpool

2. PSG

3. Napoli

4. Red Star Belgrade

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group B

Now onto the group of death. Let’s look through by far the toughest group this year.

Barcelona

The La Liga champions go into the tournament as one of the favourites for not only their group, but for the whole tournament. Barcelona have a very good squad, but there are some issues still there. Their midfield is still very old and their over reliance on Busquets is too obvious. That cannot keep happening when Busquets is now 30. He needs to be rested for these games now. Valverde is also a clear weakness. Barcelona won the league because of their tight defense (that seemed to vanish in the last couple of months of the season) and Messi just reminding the world why he is the best around. Valverde did not give their fans the entertaining style seen under Pep and Enrique. But Barcelona have a huge advantage this time around. Coutinho and Dembele will both be eligible for the Champions League, giving them much better options going forward. It’ll mean their best creators can flourish and help them beat teams, like Roma, who played very well defensively. They do have a good of going all the way. But it’s down to Valverde, and if he is able to approach the toucher games with less of a pragmatic way, but they will definitely top this group.

Inter Milan

A return of a European giant. Inter make their first appearance in the Champions League since 2012. They arrive with some very good elements in their team. They have one of the most consistent goal scorers in Europe in Mauro Icardi. They have very good depth in their centre backs in De Vrij, Miranda and Skriniar. They also shockingly signed Sime Vrsaljko on loan from Atletico Madrid. There are good components to a great team here, and will feel very unfortunate to draw the group they did. While I do like their team and Spaletti in charge, I don’t think they are ready to compete with Barcelona and Tottenham just yet. Inter are looking old, with Nainggolan, Miranda, D’Ambrosio, Valero, Candreva and Handanovic all over 30. While they could easily surprise me, the Europa League is where they will end up.

PSV Eindhoven

The Dutch champions come into this group as the weakest team, but still possess the ability to cause some real damage in this group. Unlike Spurs or Inter, PSV are unbeaten so far this season, even beating Willem II by 6 goals to 1. They have some real talented players in their side as well, most notably Hirving Lozano. The Mexican forward has been an instant hit since making his move to Europe, not only contributing to 25 goals in 29 appearances in the Eredivise, but also being a huge bright spark in a Mexico side who shocked the world by beating the world Champions Germany in their opening game in Russia. If PSV are to do anything, they need to make their home advantage count. Spurs’s away record against the top 6 in England is not great, which means that they can be beaten when out of their comfort zone. They have a chance too, but because of the quality of the other teams, they will finish rock bottom.

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs are in a strange place right now. After beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, they then go and lose to Watford away from home. It shows how Spurs seem to constantly tire themselves out in their big games, and then fail to turn up against lesser teams. This is why they will finish 2nd in this group. While many can question their consistency. It is hard to argue that Spurs fail to turn up when they put their mind to it. They always get ready for the big games, as seen with their wins over Dortmund and Real Madrid last season. League form is irrelevant when discussing this competition, meaning Spurs will probably get through okay. Barcelona are beatable, Inter are still trying to fit in many players, and they have a more talented side than PSV. The only worry is Harry Kane. The golden boot winner has looked so poor at the start of the season. He should not be playing in league games if Spurs want the best out him in the group, because has looked off the pace since his injury back in March. It’ll be a second place finish for the London side.

Final Table

1. Barcelona

2. Tottenham

3. Inter Milan

4. PSV

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group A

Europe’s elite competition is finally back, so let’s look at how it could shape up, group by group.

Atletico Madrid

After a great summer of signings, with Lemar, Arias, Rodri, Kalinic and more arriving to boost an already strong squad. Having already the best defense in Spain, and now adding the right attacking players to give them more flexibility going forward, it should now be their time to challenge for the league and Champions League right? Well not so far. They have already dropped 5 points out of a possible 9, with a defeat against Celta Viga, and a draw on the opening day against Valencia. The whole team just doesn’t look as sharp as it was at the end of last season. I have a feeling it could carry into the group stages. While eventually they will get their act together, they do not have long to do that however. Their first game of the Champions League is away against Monaco. And while both were incredibly disappointing last season, it will still be a hard game. While I think they will struggle. They will have the players to get out the group’s, so I’m going for a second place finish for Spanish side.

Borussia Dortmund

A side I have been complimenting and criticising. Dortmund go into this tournament with a new manager, and plenty of new signings. Last year, Dortmund started the season under Peter Bosz, they were awful in the champions league, losing both legs to Spurs and Real Madrid. They have a new manager in Lucien Favre. While he doesn’t play the best football, he does solidify the back, and let’s the forward line express themselves. While the signings of Alcacer, Akanji and Diallo are all excellent bits of business, and give upgrades to what they already have, but I labelled Witzel and Delaney as the worst signings of the entire window. I just do not like the additions at all and are spending a lot of money and short term players who are not that talented. However what I will give both of them is that they are disciplined players, and will help make those games where they have less of the ball more difficult for the opposition. A team with the attacking talent of Dortmund. With both Pulisic and Reus being some of the best around, and Sancho looking like the rest deal, it could give them the edge in a difficult group. They will top the group.

Club Brugge

I will not deny that I do not know much about Club Brugge, but after doing some research, I learnt that they won their league by more than 10 points, and went on an impressive 11 game winning run. There is no doubt that they deserve to be there, however there is still a clear difference between their competition. While Wesley and Danjuma have started well, with both contributing to 5 goals in 10 games, they will have to hope that these guys turn up against these very tough opponents. They lost Diaby to Lisbon, who clearly a huge loss with sporting putting a giant release clause on him. It will be a tough campaign for Brugge, so I do not see more than a 4th finish

Monaco

And last but not least, Monaco. The Ligue 1 runner ups have also not had the greatest of starts. They lost two of their midfielders, and lost one of their best creators in Lemar. However they have done well in improving the squad, with Golovin, Pele (not that one), Henrichs, Barreca and Geubbels all adding an already young squad. They have started the new season in pretty bad form, losing to Marseille and Bordeaux, and drawing to Lille. The main reason I’m putting them to finish third is the amount of players they have signed. They are not bad players in the slightest. However the squad is now at an average age of 23.7. That would have beaten Toulouse’s average age of 23.85, making them the youngest squad in Europe. It will be very unlikely to see them get out of the group, because it will be the first time many of these players participate in this competition. They will need the experience first.

Final Table

1. Borussia Dortmund

2. Atletico Madrid

3. Monaco

4. Club Brugge

Ronaldo Failing While Bale Flourishing? Top 5 Talking Points From The Top 5 Leagues

With the international break coming up, let’s look at how each of the leagues are looking going into this break.

Bundesliga – Wolfsburg Win Another. Dortmund Drop Points

As Bayern win another game, beating Stuttgart away from home, let’s look at another side, being Wolfsburg. They won 3-1 away from home against a young Bayer Leverkusen side. Besides winning away from home, this victory looks even better, because they also beat last year’s runners up, Schalke, by 2 goals to 1. Ever since the departure of Kevin De Bruyne, Wolfsburg have dropped from 2nd to 8th, and since 2016, have been fighting relegation. It’s just crazy to see a team that nearly knocked out Real Madrid, now struggle to stay in their own league. But this good start against tough opponents must be a positive for their fans. Besides Roussillon, a solid full back signed from Montpellier for only €5m. Their signings have not been great. Ginczek and Weghorst are both signed to add reinforcements upfront, but both did not score enough goals to justify singing them for a combined €25m. Wolfsburg were very good against Leverkusen. However it has to said that Leverkusen were not great in the slightest. Their back line of Weiser, Wendall, Tah and Dragovic only managed 6 tackles and interceptions between the 4 of them, while Wolfsburg’s back four managed 11. In an attacking sense, the away side were easily better. Weghorst, in particular, was very good for his side. The Dutchman managed 3 shots on target and ending his game with a goal. Wolfsburg’s front line in general worked extremely hard for this result. Leverkusen are a side who are difficult to play, because of their speed and the rawness in their side. Their forward line of Steffan, Weghorst and Brekalo managed 8 tackles between them. It was a result that was fought for and definitely earned.

Dortmund dropped their first points of the season, by drawing 0-0 with Hannover. They were not good on the day, and a loss of 2 points was definitely deserved. My worry with Dortmund playing under Favre is these games, where they need to blow teams away, but instead struggled. He continued playing the same midfield again, which is a mistake. He should have taken out Delaney, and brought in Gotze or Guerreiro, to add a bit of more drive or quality in that area. Favre also left his substitutions very late, not bringing on Sancho until the 78th minute. It makes you think why did he persist with Wolf, Philipp and Reus, when they only managed a single shot on target between them. If the forwards were having such an off day why not make a change. On a positive side, Dortmund still have Alcacer to come in, who will definitely help lead the line. On a defensive side, Dortmund were very solid. Piszczek was brilliant. He made 9 tackles and interceptions, while also winning 5 aerial duels. With Bayern already looking like carrying on where they left off, Dortmund cannot drop points against teams they should be beating, if they ever want to put pressure on the champions.

La Liga – Atletico’s Poor Start. Real Win Another

After Barcelona’s absolute demolition of newly promoted side Huesca, there’s look more into their rivals. Beginning with the red and white side of Madrid, they lost 2-0 to Celta Vigo away from home. It’s putting even more pressure on Atletico, since their big spending over the summer was thought to push them over the line. With their rivals winning all of their games so far, Atletico needed to continue winning games. They did not deserve anything from this game in the slightest. Rarely would I say that a Diego Simeone side was poor on both ends of the pitch, but it’s true. Celta bettered Atletico in almost every department. They had more shots on target, 4 compared to 0, completed more dribbles and had a better pass accuracy. While Atletico’s attackers deserve so much criticism for not managing a single shot on target, but one player in particular was a liability, and that being Steffan Stavic. The ex Fiorentina man was just awful in this game. Not only did he defend that second goal dreadfully, he also got himself sent off, by putting in a bad challenge on Pione Sisto, and a very high leg on Iago Aspas. Even looking at his stats, it was clear he offered nothing. He didn’t make a single successful tackle or interceptions, and only won a single header. Easily the worst individual performance all season. Atletico need recover, and with Arias possibly being included, it could be brighter for the next games.

While Atletico Madrid lost, their rivals won again. Madrid were excellent against Leganes. They have continued their winning run by securing a comfortable 4-1 win. As usual, Madrid dominated this game. They and 77% possession, had 17 shots, won more tackles, completed more dribbles. They deserved to win this game. Another game, another goal for Benzema and Bale. The duo have been brilliant so far this season. In 3 games, they’ve contributed 8 goals between them so far. They have both seriously stepped up since the departure of Ronaldo. I’ve already spoken enough about those two and Carvahal, so let’s at least put a spotlight on the best defender around, Sergio Ramos. I love Ramos as a player. He is the perfect leader to have in your team and can singlehandedly win you games and trophies. A commanding presence who would be brilliant in any side. He was brilliant in this game as usual. The Spaniard actually made the most touches in the game, a crazy 123. It says how important the defenders are to Lopategui, but does say how great Ramos is. He also had a 95% pass accuracy, only bettered in the game by pass master Toni Kroos. He is also taking penalties for Madrid now. If nothing else says how important he is, I don’t know what else there is.

Ligue 1 – Germain’s Late Winner. Lyon Lose Another

Marseille put on one great show on Sunday, beating Monaco 2-3, with Germain grabbing the late winner. It was a great game from end to end and it finally ended Garcia’s poor form against the top 3, with this being his first against them. While Marseille were good, there was one negative, and that being Adel Rami. The world cup winner had a real night to forget, with him being responsible for both goals. First with a poor back pass, and the other with a block that resulted in Falcao putting the ball in the back of the net. Excluding that one poor performance, the rest of Marseille were great. Payet was at his creative best, making 4 key passes and completed 2 dribbles. But one decision I can’t understand is starting Sarr and Sakai on the same side. Both play as full backs so starting them both gave a real lack of threat on that side. Sakai did perform well, making 6 tackles and interceptions. Sarr, the more advances player, did not perform as well. He didn’t manage a single shot on target and only made a single key pass. He was replaced in the second half Florian Thauvin, who really made a difference. In his half an hour, he scored and assisted for his team. Thauvin is such a talented player and probably should have moved in the summer. With Inter, Roma and Arsenal all looking for wide talent, it baffles me why he wasn’t even considered by these clubs. After Germain’s late winner, it puts more pressure on Monaco and benefits Marseille. Monaco have now lost two games out of four, and Marseille have just go their second win. It could be the driving force for Marseille, to push for that Champions League spot.

Speaking of losing, Lyon have lost another. They were beaten 0-1 at home to Patrick Viera’s Nice. The game was won by a Marcelo own goal. Lyon can call themselves unlucky here. They were better in most departments. They had more possession, and had 29 shots, bettering Nice’s 8. But Nice can call themselves lucky for one reason, being their goalkeeper Walter Benitez. The Argentine made a crazy 9 saves, which was every single shot on target that Lyon had. It was a heroic goalkeeper performance that will leave Lyon frustrated, that out of all days to face Nice, it’s the day that their goalkeeper decides to have an incredible game. Fekir was a constant threat. He had a frankly ridiculous 9 shots in the game. It just shows how unlucky Lyon were in this game. They can count themselves unlucky, but being this far behind Paris already is not good.

Premier League – Undefeated Watford. Arsenal firing

Watford have been a strange one so far. They came into the season as relegation favourites. With trigger happy owners, a manager who did not impress, and a group of players who are a mix of different manager’s views of how a team should be built. Yet here they are, one of only 3 teams that have won every game so far. Against Spurs, it’s easy to see why. Spurs were very poor on the day. Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen were not at the races at all. It’s a continuous issue with the lily-whites. They seem to turn up for one game, then seem to not show that performance against a weaker opposition. Spurs only had 2 shots on target. They seemed to fail to break Watford down throughout the game. Kane was especially poor. He only had 2 shots and not a single on target. The England forward usually has around 5 shots a game, ever since the start of the season he has just not looked the same. For Watford, they had a few stand out players. Jose Holebas was brilliant. The Greek International was a driving force throughout the game. He got 2 assists in the game and was so important in Watford winning the game. In a defensive sense, both Cathcart and Kabasale defending very well. They made a combined 26 clearances. When they didn’t defend clean, they sure did do the job. Watford have the ability to get far his season. My only issue is what happens if they face a team with more natural wingers. The Hornets seriously lack pace outwide so a good winger could do real damage. However they have been doing this well so let’s hope they keep it up.

Arsenal are another team that finally put in a good performance, beating newly promoted side Cardiff 3-2. This is only their second victory of the season. Emery has already won as many away games in 2018 as Wenger did, just the one. It was a very indifferent performance overall. The attacking side was great, with Arsenal outperforming their opponent in the final third. Both teams managed a high number of shots, but Arsenal had 11 on target, compared to Cardiff’s 4. On that basis it was clear Arsenal did deserve the victory. When looking at standout performers, Lacazette was by the best player on the pitch. He did everything for Arsenal going forward. He had 3 shots on target, made 3 key passes, and ended the game with a beautiful finish and an assist. It was performance he has been needing, since his starts have been lowering since Aubamayeng’s arrival. But the stats prove he should start more. He has bagged 8 goals in his last 9 starts, proving how he performs when given the chance. Another who performed well was Granit Xhaka. The midfielder gets constant criticism, and sometimes for good reason. He does lack agility and a defensive awareness. However he is still one of the best passers in the league, and made the third most final third passes last season. Many who criticise him do not know much about football to me. Arsenal fans constantly criticise Xhaka and Ramsey, yet never say a bad word about Wilshere, an average player at best. Xhaka was very good in this game. He made 3 key passes and had the most touches on the ball, a massive 120. His involvement and importance cannot be argued at his point. However defensively Arsenal were poor again. Emery has a lot of work to do and it will take a while until they look like a decent defensive unit. They leave space for set pieces and it is also full of average players. Sokratis is still a bad player, Mustafi is a terrible defender, and Monreal is 31 now. It will need a lot of work to fix it. But having Torreira and Guendouzi in front could help. They were troubled by an extremely predictable team which is never a good sign. While they great going forward, they still have a lot of work to do.

Serie A – Napoli Humiliated. Milan’s Big Win

Serie A was very eventful this week. Inter got their first big win, Juventus scraped a win against Parma, and the biggest of all, Sampdoria threw Napoli aside by beating them 3-0. It was a bad day for Carlos Ancelotti’s side, who lost his first game this season. What a way to lose it. Sampdoria just turned up against them. They had 3 shots on target and put all of them away. Napoli on the other hand had 18 shots and only put 4 on target. This could just be a bad day at the office for them, but the home side did definitely deserve the victory. The forward two of Quagliarella and Defrel were both great. Defrel in particular was a great partner for the Italian veteran. He only had 36 touches of the ball, but in those touches, he managed to score 2 in only 2 shots on target. A very clinical performance. A certain mention has to go to Quagliarella, who scored easily the goal of the season so far, with a tremendous back heel volley to seal the game. It wasn’t pretty for Napoli however. Simone Verdi in particular wasn’t great at all. He didn’t manage a single shot on target, and didn’t make a single key pass or a successful dribble. A real passenger throughout the game. However the substitutions were both very effective. Dries Mertens and Adam Ounas made a real difference when coming on. Mertens came on got 3 shots, which was the 3rd most for Napoli. It puzzles me why the Belgian forward isn’t starting more games. He has been a real big player for Napoli and after his late winner against Milan, I thought he would be getting more chances. But it isn’t meant to be so far. Adam Ounas is another who performed when coming on. The young Frenchman completed 5 dribbles, the joint most for the away side. He was only on the field for 45 minutes and came on for Verdi, and showed him what a forward should be doing. Napoli can call this a bad day at the office, but this kind of defeat cannot happen again.

Roma are another who were disappointing. They lost to AC Milan after Cutrone scored the late winner to make it 2-1 to the 3x champions league winners. Roma have been very disappointing so far. They were just able to beat Torino by a great finish from Dzeko. They had to fight from 3-0 down to draw to Atalanta, and now have lost their first game of the season. Di Francesco has not impressed me so far during his time in the capital. They have regressed since their great season under Spaletti. The signing of Malcolm might have been the difference, with the wide areas not being great. But they had enough time to find another option, there must have been another. With Inter, Napoli and now Roma all under performing, it has made Juventus’s season even easier. Milan, however, were very good in this game. They had 26 shots, they dominated the game and had 89% of a pass accuracy. Their first goal was a brilliant show of team play, and speaking of the goal, the scorer, Kessie, was great on the day. The young midfielder excelled. Not only did he score the first goal, he also had a brilliant 93% pass accuracy, 3 tackles and interceptions and scored his only shot on target. Kessie showed a lot of promise at Atalanta. His physical advantages at a young makes it much easier when playing at the top level. He also showed great technical ability, with his solid dribbling and his ability to get into the final third and help the attack. With Milan now having a majority of their players settled, it’s now time for Kessie to step up and deliver on that potential. Even after all of their signings, it’s their young academy players, Cutrone and Calabria. They both had a huge involvement in the match, with Cutrone bagging the winner, and Calabria putting in a man of the match performance. He put in the second most tackles and interceptions in the game (with 6), and completed the second most passes in the game. Milan might be a bit of a mess at the moment, but the future does look bright.

Lyon to WIN Ligue 1? – Top 5 Talking Points from The Top 5 Leagues

With the Bundesliga finally back, all leagues can finally be discussed. Not many big talking points this week, with the big teams winning, it makes everything a little predictable. But anyway, let’s go through the talking points.

Bundesliga – Kovac starts brightly. Dortmund Dominate.

The Bundesliga is easily one of the least competitive league in Europe. It’s been covered before but Bayern are just so far ahead of their competition. With their ability to hand pick the best talent in Germany (Goretzka, Sule, Gotze, Lewandowski all moved in the last 5 years). It makes their competition weaker, while making themselves stronger. This dominance is seen again when playing a very good Hoffenheim side, managed by young managerial sensation Julian Nagelsmann. Some sympathy has to be felt for the German, with two of his best attackers, Serge Gnabry and Sandro Wagner, both now at Bayern. Nagelsmann sets up his team in a very unique way, with a lot of emphasis on pressing from the front overloading the midfield. The problem with this, which Bayern exploited, is it leaves a lot of space in the wide areas. Throughout their 3-1 victory, Ribery and Coman ( who were excellent in the first half) constantly caused their opposing full backs plenty of problems. They were fouled a combined 7 times in the whole game, just showing how the opposition just couldn’t deal with the French wingers. Things did change a lot in the second half however. Zuber came on for Hoffenheim, and suddenly looked so much more threatening. They attacked with real desire and have Bayern, and especially Javi Martinez, a lot of problems. However the talking point of this game will be the VAR decisions. The referee in this game wasn’t great. He gave Muller a yellow card for a very soft foul and it seemed he lacked any control on the game. Bayern’s last two goals had involvements of VAR, where Bayern had to retake a penalty because of an offside call. It was a game that will show a comfortable win for Bayern, but watching the game will show that Hoffenheim did have their chances, and Bayern showed some real fragility.

Dortmund were another team that started very well. They beat RB Leipzig 4-1 at home, to start Favre’s reign on a positive note. He played the team that was expected to start, with new signings Thomas Delaney and Axel Witzel starting midfield, alongside Dahoud. What was so good about this line up was he defensive partnership, with Akanji and Diallo starting for Dortmund. Both of these players have high ceilings and will need game time together, if their possible partnership is to develop. Things didn’t start off so well however, with Dortmund just falling asleep for the first couple of minutes. Witzel failed to clear the ball, and Akanji didn’t win the header, which lead to Augustin scoring the first goal. However the only way was up for the home side, with Reus, Dahoud and Witzel all scoring. There was some players were seriously impressive for Dortmund. Abdou Diallo in particular was very good on the ball. He ended the game with 67 passes, which was the second highest behind Witzel, and had a 96.3% pass accuracy. He is already looking like the ideal modern centre back. On the offensive side of the game, Marco Reus was as good as he usually is. The German international ended the game with a goal and 3 key passes. While many will say injuries have ruined his career, it cannot be denied that whenever he doesn’t play, he makes a huge difference. I’m not a huge fan of their midfield however. Dortmund are a team that usually dominate games, and having a midfield of Witzel and Delaney does not scream possession style. While Witzel did complete the most passes for Dortmund, he get a single key pass and made 3 unsuccessful long balls, showing how the former Zenit midfielder does not offer much creativity from deep. The midfield does add a lot of steel however, and that can always come in handy in games against the likes of Bayern, who will have more of the ball. A good start for Dortmund, and one they will be hoping to build on.

Ligue 1 – Lyon Win in Style, Monaco Falling Behind

With Paris usually being the main talking point from France, let’s focus on the pack behind them, and the two teams that are the closest in competing with the champions.

Lyon are a team that are just so exciting to watch. Over the last couple of years, they have been selling their most talented players, and replacing them very effectively. Over the last 2 seasons, they have sold Tolisso, Umtiti, Lacazette and Gonalons, and have ended up replacing them perfectly. Ndombele signed permanently over the summer, to complete an already young and prosperous midfield containing Aouar and Tousart. Mariano arrived from Madrid for €10m and Depay has been a sensation since signing from Manchester United. They haven’t started their new season off in perfect form however, with the French club losing their second game against Stade Reims. Lyon went back to winning ways against Strasbourg, with the home side winning 2-0, with a classy finish from Bertrand Traore and a brilliant free kick from Memphis sealing the victory. Traore was by the most impressive player. He was another signing brought in for a small amount of money, and has given Lyon a very good option on that right side. The former Chelsea man had a very good game against Strasbourg, making 2 key passes, completing 2 dribbles and having 5 shots on target. He was a clear influence for Lyon. Another player who stood out for the side in question was Rafael. Surprisingly, the ex Manchester United right back was very solid throughout the game. He won 5 aerial duels, and won 6 tackles and interceptions. A very solid showing from the Brazilian. Could Lyon go all the way? Lyon seem to be PSG’s closest challengers, with an incredibly strong attack and young, dynamic midfield. They play a style that is so attractive on the eye that rooting for them what a purist of the game would do. But their main goal will be champions league first. There are only 3 spots available in France, and with Marseille and Monaco always remaining the threat, it will be important to guarantee that spot, to be able to attract players in the future, and to see their bright and young side to play in Europe’s elite competition.

Speaking of Monaco, they lost their first game of the season against Bordeaux. It was a very open game however, with Monaco having 15 shots, and Bordeaux having 14. Bordeaux, in an attacking sense, were definitely deserving of the win. Their wingers, François Kamano and Samuel Kalu, were excellent. They caused both Traore and Barreca so many problems throughout the game. Many questions were asked of Bordeaux if their wide talent would be able to step up after losing Malcolm to Barcelona, and against Monaco they proved they can cope without him. The pair took 10 of Bordeaux’s 14 shots, just showing the incredible attacking influence they had on the home side. Kamano in particular was very good. He had 3 shots on target and completed 3 of his dribbles. His second goal was a brilliant team move, that ripped Monaco apart. As for the away side, this can be seen as simply a bad day at the office. They still dominated the game and outshot their opponent. A mistake from Jemerson and a brilliant move from Bordeaux was why they dropped points. They still had some bright spots however. Their second highest scorer last season, Rony Lopes, was still very good. The Portuguese winger had 3 shots on target and made 2 key passes. The young Italian Pietro Pellegri scored the equaliser. He made an excellent impact from the bench and his finish was a good strike. Let’s hope Monaco can recover from this result and return to winning ways. As for Bordeaux, this was their first win of the season, so it’s important that Kamano and Kalu continue this into the next game.

La Liga – Gareth Bale in Great Form. Barcelona Saved by VAR

With La Liga looking very interesting already, let’s begin with Real Madrid. Madrid have started life under Julen Lopategui with another win, beating Girona away from home 4-1. It has been covered before that Madrid weren’t exactly exciting in the transfer window. They failed to replace Cristiano Ronaldo with another exciting name. They were constantly linked to Eden Hazard, Rodrigo and Edinson Cavani to replace the gaping hole left by the now Juventus forward. However they decided to not replace him, and instead keep faith in the players currently at the club. It would involve both Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema seriously stepping up. Bale missed a lot of the season due to injury, and Benzema did a lot of hard yards for Ronaldo, so he was able to have the freedom of the box. Both would have to contribute massively in attack. So far they are doing that. Bale has now scored in 6 consecutive games for Madrid in all competitions. It is so important that he remains injury free and that Lopategui takes extreme care of him. Both Bale and Benzema have scored in both games, showing early signs of being able to carry the attack. However it’s in the champions league where Madrid will need these players to seriously need to step up. The main reason why Madrid even won the Champions league for a 3rd time was because of Ronaldo’s 15 goals (a goal every 78 minutes). Madrid will always win these type of games, because of their excellent quality in all areas of the pitch. Bale was by the best the player on the pitch. The Welshman was at his best against Girona, giving his excellent explosiveness on the wing and causing a huge threat. He had 2 shots on target, made 3 key passes and completed 3 dribbles. One big positive without Ronaldo is it does take away the style they had with him the side. They mainly focused on only giving him chances, which is why he was averaging over 5 shots a game. It is similar to how Spurs play, with their main strategy being creating as many chances for Kane as possible. Having a 4-2-3-1, with Isco in the 10, Bale and Asensio as the wingers, and Benzema leading the line is a more balanced side. We will just have to wait for the first huge test for them, to see if this squad is able to compete without their top goal scorer last season.

Like their rivals, Barcelona have started this season very well, with a win against newly promoted side Real Valladolid. However it wasn’t exactly a comfortable win for the champions, with them only being able to beat their opponent by a single goal. While in an attacking sense, Barcelona definitely should have been better. Suarez is a player who’s decline is looking more and more obvious by the season. This isn’t his fault at all. The ex Liverpool forward is now 32. He is now longer in his prime years and is now reaching a point where he is unable to play as many games as he used to. He only had a single shot on target. For a team as dominant in possession as Barcelona, it just isn’t good enough. Messi was another who wasn’t at his best in this game. While did complete 4 dribbles, he didn’t have a single shot on target. This was a game where Barcelona really struggled. If it wasn’t for a bit of magic from Dembele, this would be a huge hit for them. On a more positive note, their defense was excellent. This is the first time in a while where it can be said that Barcelona are extremely good defensively. They play in a more pragmatic system, which brings the best out of their defenders. Sergi Roberto in particular was extremely influential in all areas of the pitch. He had 108 touches, the most for the away side, and made 6 tackles and interceptions, the highest in the game. Barcelona can thank VAR for their victory. In the late stages of the game, Keko managed to score the equaliser. The whole side was celebrating, until the referee used to VAR and noticed he was offside. While it does push the agenda of the officials favouritism towards Barca, it was the correct. Last season there would be a high chance that the referee would not have ruled that offside, and it would have been counted. Barcelona can call themselves lucky in this tie, and need to improve for their next fixture.

Premier League – Man City Drop Points. Spurs Win at Old Trafford

The Premier League is already full of talking points, but the top of the table is where all the interest is at the moment. With Liverpool and Chelsea picking up another win, it was important for Man City and Spurs to continue in their winning ways. Let’s start with City, who dropped points against a very resilient Wolves side. While many, including myself, will give a lot of credit to this Wolves side, for showing so much quality against a team that were only beaten twice last season, City were not at their best. While still dominated the game and had a brilliant 90% pass accuracy, they just didn’t threaten Wolves enough. While they did spend very well, they are still a newly promoted team and should not be dropping points against them. Kevin De Bruyne is a player who they definitely missed in this game. His ability to find a weakness against these teams that sit in a low block was key in their century season. While Gundogan and Silva are fine players, both do not possess his incredible ability of picking out a pass. Bernardo Silva and Sterling were also not very effective. They both only managed 3 shots between them. This is not to discredit Wolves in any sense however. City play such a high line, because it lets them dominate games and keep possession effectively. However this can be beaten if the ball is moved quickly to players with real pace. Diogo Jota was especially effective in this aspect. Him and Costa were both hitting City with real drive. However if they both were better in front of goal, it could have been more than a draw. The blue side of Manchester set such a high standard last season, that dropping points against lower teams is a huge disappointment. Pep will figure a way to break these kind of teams down, so in time City will be back to their usual selves.

Speaking of Manchester, the red side lost at home to Spurs for the first time since 2012. This has now cemented this season as their worst start since the first premier league season. However this wasn’t near as bad as Brighton. United in that game looked to have no ideas, no desire and a complete lack of urgency. However that first half against Spurs was a real bright spark. United overloaded the midfield, instead of playing their usual inside forwards (who are very ineffective). Fred was making great runs into the box and was causing the spurs back line some real issues. Like the rest of this start, Luke Shaw has been another bright spot. Throughout the game, he was pushing high up the pitch and giving some width, when no one else was. However it will be the second half that everyone remembers. Thanks to some very basic mistakes from the usual United culprits, 3 goals were conceded, giving Spurs their biggest victory at Old Trafford in 46 years. I have blamed Mourinho for many of United’s mistakes on the pitch for the last year, however this time he is not at fault for everything. With Bailly and Lindelof having such appalling games, changes had to be made. But the players that he had to bring in, Jones and Smalling, are just as bad. In Smalling’s defense, he was easily the better out of the two. Until that 3rd goal, he seems assured and confident in the back. It was his partner, Phil Jones, who was just atrocious. It was easily his worst performance in a United shirt for me. He almost gave away a penalty (if the referee saw his clear foul), he let Harry Kane have that header for the first goal, and was caught in no man’s land for the second goal, stuck ball watching while Eriksen ran ahead of him. And for the third goal, Smalling did what usually does. He has a pretty fine game, up until one moment where he just makes the worst blunder, diving in against Moura when he should have tried to slow him down. Mourinho is stuck with a defense full of average, so being forced to play so defensively seems to be only the way to play now. However I still think Mourinho can do better than this. He’s had these players for 2 years, so how he has been unable to set up any sort of defensive structure, and just keep relying on De Gea to save his side is just a terrible plan. Spurs, on the other hand, were excellent. Pochettino changed his system multiple times in the game. First to move Lucas Moura as a striking partner to Harry Kane, which helped press United’s back three more effectively. And then pushed Eriksen further forward, while moving Dembele to a wider position, so United’s passing lanes were completely blocked, making pressing the backline even easier. Spurs now play Watford, who are surprisingly one of only 4 teams to win all of their opening games so far. Spurs have always had the problem of continuing great performances against bigger onto the smaller teams, where that winning edge always comes in handy. Let’s see if they continue and really challenge for the league.

Serie A – Napoli Bounce Back. Roma’s Dream Comeback

It can always be hard to discuss Juventus all the time, because there isn’t much to add. They have been this consistent for nearly a decade now. Instead let’s focus on 2 of their closest rivals, Napoli and Roma. Last week we discussed Inter dropping points, so let’s move on to the other rivals. First let’s start with Napoli, who recovered from 2-0 down to beat AC Milan 3-2. It was an excellent comeback, that shows Napoli still play in such a purist way, even without Maurizio Sarri in charge. It was deserved victory for the home side, with them having more possession and more shots. When talking about outstanding performers in the game, no one else deserves more credit than Allan. The Brazilian has been one of the best midfielders in Serie A in the last couple of seasons, and this game he showed why. He made a ridiculous 4 key passes in this game, showing how much of threat he was going forward. He had an excellent 91% pass accuracy as well, which shows he is effective in dominating games. He also topped the match in tackles, putting in a monsterous 6. Allan is just a perfect all round midfielder, and is adapting his game very well under Ancelotti. Milan on the other hand should feel very disappointed. Being two goals up and allowing Napoli to come back into the game is not good. They face a very average Roma side next, so let’s see if they can continue.

And finally, Roma completed a very good comeback against a fun Atalanta side, coming back to draw 3-3. Roma have been a very inconsistent side under Di Francesco. They went from 2nd to 3rd last season, and scored less goals in the process. That could be explained by Nainggolan’s form not being as good as that final Spaletti season, and losing Mohammed Salah to Liverpool was a huge miss. I haven’t been a fan of Monchi’s work so far at the Stadio Olympico. They have been taking many risks so far on the likes of Under, Pellegrini, Karsdorp and Olsen. While I also like N’Zonzi, they already have an overload in that position and I’m not sure if that’s what they needed. Talking about the game, I thought Dzeko was great as usual. The Bosnian has been a real underrated forward in the last few years, being a great forward for Roma and so reliable. He was brilliant in this game too. He had 3 shots on goal, made 2 key passes and won 8 aerial duels, the highest in the game. While he is aging, he plays in a way that lets him keep his best assets as he ages. He doesn’t rely on pace or agility, and instead his strength and height. On an Atalanta side, Emiliano Rigoni was excellent in this game. The Argentine scored 2 of the away side’s goals, with both being excellent finishes. He completed 2 dribbles, made 2 key passes and scored both of his shots on target. Atalanta have such a good side. With Gomes still showing excellent quality, they still have a very fun side, with an academy that has produced some of the biggest stars in Italy, with Caldara, Kessie, Gagliardini and Andrea Conti all earning big moves after their time for the club. Roma will struggle this season, and I’m unsure if Di Francesco is the man to move them forward.

Top 5 Worst Transfers of the Summer – Malcolm, Bonucci

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

5. Malcolm – Barcelona

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

4. Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus

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

3. Sokratis Papastathopoulos

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

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

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