Are Dortmund Doing The IMPOSSIBLE? Top 5 League Talking Points

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

Bundesliga

Dortmund extend their lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankfurt pummel Schalke

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

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

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

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

La Liga

Barcelona’s home record ruined

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

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

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

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

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

Sevilla take on in form Espanyol

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

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

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

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

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

Ligue 1

Paris put pressure on Henry

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

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

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

Depay’s dazzling display

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

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

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

Premier League

The Manchester Derby

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

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

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

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

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

Wolves continue run against Top 6

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

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

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

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

Serie A

Inter humiliated

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

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

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

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

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

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Are Manchester City Unstoppable? Top 5 League Talking Points

Goals goals goals! This week contained many big scorelines, so let’s get into the usual detail of the leagues, and see what’s new.

Bundesliga

Hoffenheim walk over Leverkusen

By far one of the most interesting matches of the weekend was Hoffenheim’s comfortable victory over Leverkusen. Originally Hoffenheim were seen as a quite defensive side under Nagelsmann when he took over. However in the last couple of seasons, the young German tactician had turned his side into an extremely direct side that attack with incredible speed. This game just highlights the ferocity of Hoffenheim.

While Leverkusen outshot and dominated the game (it was their home game after all), they failed to capitalise on their dominance. Julien Brandt had a very good chance to get Leverkusen back in the game, but hit his shot wide.

What won Hoffenheim the game was how clinical they were in front of goal. While Leverkusen have been poor this season, they are still a side full of talent. Hoffenheim needed to take their chances if they wanted the three points, and they definitely did so.

Expected goals had this game 1.89 to Leverkusen and 1.93 to Hoffenheim. While it doesn’t show the final result, it highlights how well Hoffenheim finished on the day. The forward two of Reiss Nelson and Joelinton worked so well together. Both scored on the day, including Joelinton scoring a brace and Nelson scoring an excellent finish near the beginning of the game. While the Brazilian did score 2, Nelson was very impressive. The Arsenal loanee created 2 chances, scored, and even made a tackle and an interception. It was a very well rounded performances from a player who is still so young.

With Sancho getting many of the headlines, it’s good to see another Englishman in Germany doing so well. Not only does it show how good these players are, but also about the league and the coaching. Both Sancho and Nelson are performing so well because of the coaches they are playing under. Many ignorant pundits say it’s about going abroad to show off quality, when it isn’t. It’s about joining a club that is willing to put faith in your ability and teach you a different system. While fullbacks are arguably the most important position in football, it’s young attackers who are getting chances because they usually do not require as much discipline and knowledge of the game defensively. It allows them to blossom and that I hope they continue to do.

Freiburg surprise again.

Onto a more surprising match, Freiburg actually did carry on from their surprise victory over Mönchengladbach, by getting a point at the Allianz against the reigning Champions.

I said after their win over Mönchengladbach, that they will have to hope that they give the same performance and hope to surprise the Bundesliga, and they did. After the game being goaless for a large majority of it, it was Gnabry who broke the deadlock. But thanks to a very late goal from Höler, Freiburg earned a very good point.

Their goalscorer, Lucas Höler was excellent on the day. The German was part of a side that were resilient and held off a very average Bayern side. Höler scored his only shot on target, created 2 chances, completed 2 dribbles and most impressively, made 4 tackles. It just shows how the entire fought so hard in this game, to take advantage of an out of form Bayern side.

Speaking of Bayern, this really wasn’t the performance that Kovac would want to see. I do sympathise with him in some way. He lost both Tolisso and Coman to injury. Both Frenchman would have seriously helped him in the situation he is in. Tolisso was arguably Bayern’s best midfielder last season, and Coman is extremely talented, but injuries seem to keep holding him back. It means he has to rely heavily on both Robben and Ribery, two players who should be on their way out, yet remain to be key players in the side.

Bayern have had the same problems since their last champions league win. Ever since Dortmund dropped off, they had no challenge and by the time the crunch champions league games arrived, the players struggled because of the sudden step up. This is the first time where Bayern are finally challenged, they seem to be unable to keep up. The lack of challenge over the years is the reason why Robben, Ribery and Rafinha are still key players in the side. Bayern would have realised back in 2016 that these players cannot keep starting as many games. They let Douglas Costa go because he was unhappy with his place in the side. Bayern have cruised the Bundesliga for too long, and are finally being punished for it.

La Liga

Barcelona lucky

Barcelona had an incredible week last week. They disposed of Inter without Messi, and cruised past Real Madrid with way too much ease, without Messi. Their players have seriously stepped up since their best player received a relatively short injury. However against Vallecano, they can call themselves fortunate to say the least.

At one point, Real Vallecano were 2-1 and minutes away from getting the 3 points, however thanks to goals from Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, the Blaugrana got the win they might have not deserved. Let’s talk about the home side first, who really impressed against the Champions. While Barcelona dominated as everyone expects, they might have used to it as well as they should. Vallecano had more shots and completed twice as many dribbles. That could been because without Messi, who takes a majority of their shots and completes and an incredible amount of dribbles, but you still expect them to be better.

For Vallecano, their stand out player was arguably Adrian Embarba. The Spaniard was excellent on the day, creating 3 chances and completing 4 dribbles. He was a driving force for his side on the day. Alejandro Gálvez was another who held strong in the game. He completed the most defensive actions in the game, including 5 tackles, 4 interceptions and 2 clearances. He was one of the key reasons why they were so close to winning the game.

Now let’s start about how Barca failed to win this game comfortably. I believe it’s the fault of their wide players, Philippe Coutinho and Rafinha, were just below average on the day. Valverde will continue to confuse for the rest of his time as manager, but choosing to play Rafinha, a guy he tried to sell in the summer over Ousmane Dembele will never seise to confuse me. Rafinha and Coutinho are just not wingers. They both do not have the pace and drive to be able to stretch a defense.

I called Rafinha one of the heroes after his solid performance against Inter Milan, but I thought that would be a one off game. He has continued to start, despite looking worse in every game I see of him. Coutinho is a very good creator. His ability to find that killer ball to break open a defense makes him one of the most useful players in Europe. While he did play as a winger under Klopp because of how interchangable that front three were, it worked. But more is desired from him under Valverde, and he just shouldn’t be playing there. I have no idea how many times I have to say this but Dembele really should be starting every game for Barcelona. At the beginning of the season, I said he was the most impressive players in La Liga. He started the season off on fire, and yet after winning so many games for Barca, Valverde still doesn’t start him or seem to trust him. His speed, trickery and raw power would put him into any side in Europe, yet he can’t start over two players who are out of position. Decisions like this are why many Barcelona fans really do not like Valverde at all, and I can understand that. He needs to realise that to win games, risks have to be taken as a player. If you limit a player, like Dembele who relies heavily on his natural ability at beating opponents and creating chances for his side, it will make the team weaker and predictable. Barcelona will have to step up if they wish to win the Champions League, because let’s face it, that’s what they really want.

Betis and Celta Vigo play a memorable draw

This next match infuriated me, because I decided to watch AC Milan scrape a victory than watch this goal fest. The game in question is the entertaining draw between Real Betis and Celta Vigo, which ended 3-3.

Both sides have turned into real entertaining sides in La Liga, and two I usually keep an eye out when looking at upcoming fixtures. Both have quality players, making this fixture even more exciting (and even more puzzling on why I chose Milan over this). This was very close, with both sides having a similar amount of shots (14 to Betis and 15 to Celta) and XG putting this game at 1.73 to Betis and 1.69 to Celta. It shows there wasn’t much separating the sides. A huge surprise of this was who stood out. Both teams have experienced players who guarantee consistency. However it wasn’t players like Aspas, Carvalho, Mallo and Bartra who stood out, in fact it was the younger players, being Lo Celso, Firpo, Méndez and Beltrán.

Let’s begin with Betis’s young stars. Lo Celso was absolutely superb in the game. The Argentine has slowly turned into one of my favourite players in Europe at the moment. He came to light when he was selected to start for Paris against Madrid in the Champions League. It was the first time I ever heard his name, and he stared in the defensive role, playing as a destroyer alongside Verratti. He was strangely unused at the world, thanks to Sampaoli’s incompetence in charge. He is now being commonly selected because of his versatility and energy. I’ve been more accustomed to seeing him as a defensive midfielder, but in this game he played as a wide attacking midfielder, and he remained excellent. He took 4 shots, created two chances, completed 2 dribbles, made 3 tackles and got an assist. He is still only 22 and is showing amazing versatility and maturity. It’s crazy how Tuchel let him go out on loan. Another Betis player who shone in this game was young wing back Júnior Firpo. While his attacking output wasn’t there in this game, that can be explained by the player he was playing against later. Firpo’s defensive work in this game was definitely there. He put in 5 tackles, 4 interceptions and 4 clearances. He helped Betis remain the defensive wall that they are, on a day where they needed it.

Now onto the young stars of Celta. Let’s start with Brais Méndez, who by far the best player who started the game for Celta. The Spaniard is only 21 years old, and gave a real top class performance against a solid defensive side. He was playing against Firpo, and while he did well in keeping Mallo and Méndez quiet, it didn’t stop Méndez from having an excellent performance. He had 4 shots, 2 on target, made 2 key passes and won 2 aerial duels. Celta have been known recently for finding talent and helping them flourish, with Aspas, Sisto and Mor coming to mind. Méndez seems to be another player who seriously looks impressive at a young age.

Another who performed well on the day was Fran Beltrán. The midfielder is 19 had a great game against one of the best teams in La Liga. He made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions and a key pass. He made more defensive actions than any other midfielder on the pitch, and credit needs to be given to him for doing this at such a young age. He hasn’t exactly been incredible this season at all, with his creative play needing plenty of work. But that doesn’t matter. At this age, what is important is that he is playing games at the highest level. Eventually he will become more adventurous in his play. Right now he players as a pretty effective destroyer. Celta could have a player on their hands if he continues to play games. He’s already started 10 games this season, so they must have a lot of faith in him. He was signed from Vallecano in the summer, and it could possibly be one of the bargains of the season.

While I don’t expect both of these teams be challenging for top 4 or anything, I do hope they earn success, whether it’s Betis doing well in the Europa League, or Celta upsetting some of the bigger sides. Let’s hope they can continue on this and earn even more plaudits for their style and flare.

Ligue 1

Montpellier walk over Marseille

Let’s start with by far the most satisfying victory of the weekend. Montpellier continued their good start by comfortably disposing of big guns Marseille. Not long ago, we all thought Marseille were back thanks to their excellent run the Europa League last season, and finishing in the top 4 back again. It seems they are back to underperforming.

Let’s not take credit away from the victors however, because after their 3-0 win over Marseille, they now sit in 2nd. Thanks to PSG beating their closest competitior Lille, Montpellier now are above them on goal difference. While the title race is already over, Montpellier have now swept aside one of the harder games of the season, leaving them full of confidence. They outshot their opponent, put in more challenges and created better challenges. They really showed why they are in 2nd place in the league, with them attacking fast taking their chances well.

The man of the match was comfortably Paul Lasne. Montpellier lined up in a 3-4-3. This was genius from Zakarian. This formation is perfect in dealing with a 4-3-3. It allows the wing backs to press the opposition full backs, and completely nullify any wide talent. This worked brilliantly, with Lasne and Aguilar putting in a combined 11 tackles. It was a showing on how important wing backs are, and Lasne was the epitome of this. The Frenchman put in 7 tackles, 2 interceptions and 4 clearances. He also made a key pass and scored the final goal to seal it. A great performance in a game where they needed a top quality performance.

Now onto Marseille. Saying they had an off day is an understatement, because this isn’t the first time this season where they have failed to show up. I’m slowly becoming tired of constantly criticising their strikers, so let’s criticise their defenders instead. Adel Rami was pretty bad on the day. The Frenchman can go down as one of the worst players to ever win a world cup, and this game isn’t changing my mind. He was at fault for the first goal, not marking Laborde and gifting him a free header. He also didn’t put in a single tackle or interception in the game, showing how easily he was exposed by opposition in this game. Marseille have now conceding 21 goals in Ligue 1, the second worst total in the division.

Another who was quite disappointing was Florian Thauvin. I have expressed my fondness for his player on numerous occasions, but today wasn’t his game. While he did have 3 shots and complete 3 dribbles, he was disposed 7 times and had a 65% pass accuracy. He was completely neutralised in this game, and summed Marseille’s attack on the day. They failed to created chances, and out of the 11 shots they had, only 2 were on target. Thauvin an extremely talented player, but he is just not thriving in this side at the moment. It doesn’t help with the constant changes being made to the side. He has tried different formations and moved player in numerous positions, even trying Payet as some false 9 last week. Questions marks have to start be asked about how Garcia is managing this side. They have been terrible this season. If it wasn’t for how quickly Monaco fell of a cliff, so much more pressure would be Marseille

St Etienne and Angers play a classic

While La Liga and the Bundesliga had plenty of goals, Ligue 1 might just out do both of them. Nantes were victorious over Guingamp with a 5-0 win, and Nîmes getting a 4-0 away win over Dijon. However the match that outshined both of these was St Etienne’s 4-3 win over Angers. This game was very tight, and had everything. Late goals, own goals, good finishes and was an overall entertaining spectacle for the neutral. St Etienne dominated the game, but that’s mainly due to the fact they were playing at home, and were chasing the game for a majority of it. St Etienne did deserve to win the game, based on them creating better chances, with the home side having less shots outside the box, and more in the penalty area.

However while St Etienne did deserve the win, it was an Angers player who stood, and that’s Flavien Tait. While Reine-Adédaïde stood out with his 6 dribbles completed, he just wasn’t as effective in the final third as his teammate. Tait was indeed excellent on the day. He put all of his shots on target, made 2 key passes and completed 2 dribbles. He was in fact only one of two players in this game to get 2 goal contributions, with the other being the centre half Pavlovic. He was the best player on the pitch and it’s a shame he was on the losing side.

St Etienne still had some stand out players. By far their best player was Newcastle flop Remy Cabella. He is one of many players who just wasn’t suited for the Premier League, and is back in France and finally flourishing again. He played just behind Wabhi Khazri in this game, and was excellent. His very lean frame helps him slide and turn on the ball with such speed. He is a good creator who can also beat his man. This game showed both of those. He created 4 chances and completed 2 dribbles. He also got an assist for his work and was a key reason on why St Etienne got the 3 points.

St Etienne could actually finish in the top four this season. With Marseille, Lyon and Monaco all looking below par, it could leave an opening for teams to take their place. St Etienne have quality players in midfield with Khazri and Cabella, and players like Subotic, Perrin and Debuchy are reliable in defense. It could be a very important season for a club with such history in France.

Premier League

Manchester City do it again

What I mean when I say do it again is another 5 goal thriller from the Champions. This is fourth time this season they have beaten someone by a 5 goal margin. The team on the end of their beating was Mark Hughes’s Southampton.

I’d like to add just how terrible Southampton are and I’m dying to know what happened to them. They used to be a side who found talent in places no one else was looking, like signing Mané, Tadic and Van Dijk from clubs and leagues no one was paying attention to. They hired good coaches, like Pochettino, Koeman and Puel. They were developing players at a good pace and getting insane profit on them (just look at Liverpool’s entire side). Mark Hughes is truly a terrible manager and I’m tired of seeing being given good jobs based on a reputation made of sand. He will ruin any club’s defense, and relies heavily on individual talent in the forward lines. He is also incredibly frustrating to watch in interviews. Statements like we gave them too much respect mean absolutely nothing. They are statements said to fill space and make it sound like Hughes is being insightful. I hope Southampton sort themselves out. I was so fond of them and now they have turned into your usual short term club with no idea what to do after survival.

Now onto Manchester City, who were absolutely sensational on the day again. While Raheem Sterling will get all the plaudits, and justifiably so, it’s Sergio Aguero who stood out for me. The Argentine will go down as one of the top 5 strikers in Premier League history. His consistency is unrivalled and the way he’s been able to evolve his game at a stage in his career when that’s usually difficult deserves so much credit. This game showcased this step up in the way he plays. Aguero was always a poacher, but he seems to have turned into a perfect all rounder. He scored and got 2 assists. He had 4 shots, completed 4 dribbles and created 4 chances. These are stats we’re never used to seeing Sergio Aguero put up. What Pep has done with him is short of incredible. He turned an already world class finisher into a world class player.

This leaves City in an incredible position. They are comfortably ahead of Chelsea and Liverpool when discussing goal difference. They have a big squad and even without their best midfielder, are still walking over opposition. The Manchester Derby is next, and this is a chance to put on a show against their biggest rivals. This could really show how far ahead they really are.

Overachieving Bournemouth halted

Bournemouth have always frustrated me. While I do think it’s impressive they are still in the division, they seem to avoid criticism just because of their size. Last season they were terrible. Only Stoke conceded less goals, and they put in the least amount of tackles and interceptions in the league. They almost allowed opposition to score past them. Nathan Ake was the player of the month 3 times for them. If that doesn’t sum up their story, I don’t know what will.

However it seems to be different this season. When I saw where they were sitting in the Premier League, I just assumed they were overachieving and eventually they would hit reality. However looking at XG, it does seem they are performing as they are expected to. They aren’t lucky in attack or defense, and are performing at their level. So what has changed? Well firstly it’s penalties. The Bournemouth are the second most fouled team in the division, and it’s shown with how many they’ve scored from penalties. They have scored 5, more than any other side. They take the chances that are gifted to them. They have also changed the way they play. They’ve turned from a wannabe possession side, into a really good counter attacking side. They have incredibly fast players with King, Wilson and Frazer being able to move the ball so quickly. They now soak up pressure so well and attack so quickly. They seem have finally fixed their biggest problems.

Looking at this game however, Bournemouth should have been further ahead than they were. They had a few chances at the beginning of the game, that if they took them, would have comfortably won the game. They took the early lead thanks to Calum Wilson, who now is the only English player in the league to have 10 goal contributions. While Wilson was good, Fraser continued his brilliant form into this game. He had 2 shots on target and created 3 chances. He has by far the surprise package of the season.

Now onto United, who were absolutely terrible in the first 20 minutes, but thanks to a usual turn around in the second half, managed to get the 3 points. Many said that Lerma absolutely pocketed Paul Pogba. When it couldn’t be further from the truth. If he truly did, then how did Pogba maneged to have 3 shots, create 4 chances (the most in the match), and completed 2 dribbles. I’m just assuming the old school pundits want to push the narrative because of their dislike towards the Frenchman. United created a lot of chances in this game and were better than Bournemouth in the full 90 minutes. XG put this game at 1.89 to Bournemouth and 2.98 to the Red Devils. Maybe it can be said that United probably should have won by more.

After another nothing performance from Nemanja Matic, it asks the valid question of should he be dropped? And he definitely should. United’s defense is terrible, but their forward line is very good. In an ideal world, United would start with a midfield of Pogba, Herrera and Fred. Pogba is a creative hub and can drive your midfield so effectively. Fred is an energetic player who keeps the ball pretty well, and wins the ball well. The Brazilian won 5 tackles against Bournemouth, the most out of any United player. Herrera is personal favourite of mine. He has a lot of bite and is great at winning the ball. United should focus on outscoring the opposition, instead of trying to sit deep.

While Pogba was great in this game, Anthony Martial was the man of the match. While I criticise the Manchester United board for a lot of things, but stopping Jose from selling Martial was by far their best decision ever. He is in fine form this season, and thanks to the heroics of the Frenchman, United claimed the 3 points. The goal was his 5th in 4 games, the first time he’s scored in 4 consecutive games. He’s been fabulous since his Newcastle, and continued this against Bournemouth. He had 4 shots, created 2 chances and scored the equaliser. He’s just reminded Jose how good he is.

Serie A

Inter hit five

Another league, another goal fest. This time it is Inter Milan. Who absolutely walked over Genoa in this game. Inter now haven’t lost since the 15th of September. Before this game, they absolutely smashed Lazio 3-0. They are in super form right now and seem ready to take 2nd off Napoli. They won 5-0. While that is impressive, what is the best part is Icardi didn’t even score. Inter have been incredible at creating chances for Icardi, and they became incredibly over reliant on him. Spaletti rested Icardi for this game, with assumption of the importance of the Barcelona game being priority.

New signing Lautaro Martinez started this game, and he wasn’t exactly impressive. He had 5 shots, but didn’t manage one on target. He is still 21, so wastefulness in front of goal is still expected. He’s the understudy of the best striker in Europe at the moment, and will definitely improve over time. While he wasn’t great in front of goal, Roberto Gagliardini was. The Italian scored his first brace in Italian football, and showed why he is one of the most promising players in Italian football. He scored both of his shots on target and created 3 chances. Let’s hope he can put a stamp onto this side.

The man of the match was quite comfortably Jõao Mario. The Portuguese has been a bit of joke in recent years. His time at Inter started so badly, that he had to join West ham on loan for a short period to regain form. This game showed why Inter bought him in the first place. He created 4 chances and ended the game with a goal and 2 assists. An improvement from a player who seemed to be on the way out.

Let’s take a quick second to point out just how bad Genoa were defensively. For every goal they seemed to just make the wrong decision. They gifted Nainggolan for a free header, they stepped out too late, allowing Politano to finish his chance pretty easily. If Martinez and Perisic finished their chances, it would have been 7. It actually blows me away how this side were able to take points away from Juventus and then put in a terrible performance like this. Inter still deserve plenty of credit, but this was a shambles from Genoa.

Torino show Sampdoria reality

While Lazio and Napoli also put up amazing wins, Torino are the ones I’m highlighting here. It’s been difficult for Turin based side since their 2016/17 season, where Andrea Belotti went supernova and scored 26 goals. He definitely overachieved but because of the board’s happiness in his season, they were asking for an absurd €100m for the Italian. It was an example of player who should have been sold, because it was the first time Belotti ever got those numbers in the league. United and Chelsea were interested, but instead went for Morata and Lukaku respectively, who were cheaper than what Torino were asking. They ended keeping their star forward, and to say last season was underwhelming is an understatement. He played three less games than his stand out season, yet managed less than half of the goals. He could be down to the team, but it is still disappointed considering he was being spoken as a triple figure player. He now has 4 goals in 10, and is looking better than last season already.

The reason I bring this up is because of the performance he put in against Sampdoria. Torino can be called lucky to have won this comfortably. The game ended 4-1 to Torino, and performed well against a good Sampdoria side in their back yard. XG had this game at 2.24 to Sampdoria, and 1.93 to Torino. Torino won this game thanks to their excellent finishing and the very good chances they created.

Belotti really gave a performance reminiscent of his break out season, scoring a header and a penalty that he won. Headers were something he specialises in. The rooster is excellent in the air, winning 5 aerial duels in this game alone. His height and incredible jump make him a difficult player to deal with. He also has 5 shots on got 3 on target. It was a very good game from a player who I hope goes back to his best.

As mentioned before, Sampdoria should probably feel hard done by to some extent. They created good chances and could have got back into this game. When mentioning teams who were surprising their league, I said while Sampdoria are doing well, eventually this will stop. It seems to have happened earlier than expected. They have no lost 2 on the bounce and not won since the start of October. They now sit in 11th, which is where about you expect them to finish.

One player who seriously stood out for them was Albin Ekdal. The Swede was a real presence in midfield for his side. Lucas Torreira was a massive loss for Sampdoria. The Uruguayan was excellent at ball recovery, while also doing at transition and distribution. Ekdal filled all of these roles. He completed 4 dribbles, while also making 3 tackles and 2 interceptions. He had a great game considering the result.

Both of these teams aren’t expecting to open Serie a wide open or anything, but sometimes it’s good to put the spotlight on sides who have a good week, when others might not. Let’s hope these teams continue to have solid seasons.

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.

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.

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

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.

4 Teams to watch in the Europa League

As usual all focus is on the champions league, and for justified reason. But the Europa League does contain some exciting teams that everyone should pay attention, if they aren’t already tired of football by Thursday

Lyon

Let’s start with a team many might dismiss based on on the players they’ve sold. Lyon sold their main forward Lacazette, their young midfielder Corentin Tolisso and their more experienced midfielder Gonalons. All of these players were big for them, but their replacement were very good. They signed Bertrand Traore for less than £10m, Tete from Ajax for £3m, Mariano from Madrid for £10m, and Papa Cheikh Diop from Celta. Lyon replaced their big players very effectively. The players they sold were for huge fees. Lyon replaced them with good young players and earning a huge profit. Lyon haven’t got worse, i’d say they’ve stayed the same quality. Fekir has started brightly, Mariano is already showing his quality with four goals. This team is fast and exciting. Last season they showed that they can score plenty of goals, it’s just defensively where they struggle. The game against Ajax, where they were torn apart by the same winger they signed. If they can resolve these issues then they have a chance to reach the later stages of the competition.

Arsenal

Arsenal have one of the best squads easily in the competition. They have depth in most positions have real quality in Sanchez, Lacazette, Ozil and Kolasinac. They are easily one of the favourites in the competition. So what’s the issue? Well one main issue and that is the manager. I’m not going to sit here and go on like Arsenal fan TV or Ian Wright. It’s nothing personal at all. He’s tactically inept and is very stubborn. He refuses to change his formation and prepares adequately for specific games. But he has went to 3 at the back with a squad not containing great centre backs. Although I respect his decision to finally change his formation after years of 4-3-2-1,  he needs to learn when to use 4 at the back and 3 at the back. For example against Doncaster, the gunners played 3 at the back against a league 1 side. It just goes to show how stubborn Wenger is. They didn’t need to play so defensively against a team that is far behind their level. If Wenger can motivate those players to win a European trophy, then the final is a possibility for them.

Hoffenheim 

Hoffenheim finished fourth last season and were very unlucky not to qualify for the champions league, after being knocked out by a very dangerous Liverpool side. Even though they did lose Rudy and Sule, they did bring in Nordfeit from West Ham, Serge Gnabry on loan from Bayern Munich. They did also keep hold of their great front two Kramaric and Wagner, while also keeping hold of their brilliant midfielder Demibray. Their young manager Julien Nagelsmann has really turned that club from relegation battlers to top four battlers. He has them organised and deadly in the final four. Demibray is by far their best player and if he performs, then they can beat anyone in this competition.

AC Milan

AC Milan v KF Shkendija 79 - UEFA Europa League Qualifying Play-Offs Round: First LegProbably the instant favourites of the competition based on transfers, Milan are under a resurgence right now and progressing in Europe. Milan made some brilliant signings, including Andre Silva, Leonardo Bonucci, Frank Kessie, Andrea Conti, Ricardo Rodriguez and many others. Not only have they signed some of the best young players in Europe, they’ve also signed some veterans in the game in Bonucci and Biglia, players who know the league. Besides the beatdown they faced from Lazio, they have been very good and if Napoli weren’t as amazing as they are, they would be flying. Milan have a huge squad and will be able to get the best out of their players. They just need ensure this team is ready to play together by the knock out stages.

 

4 players who should have won the Balon Dor

With the individual trophy only going to one player per year, it can be a controversial choice. So lets look at 4 winners that I think should have won it.

David Beckham 1999 (winner: Rivaldo)

At one point, David Beckham should have won the Balon Dor in his career. And if it was at any point, it should have been after the treble winning season, where he was instrumental in those three major trophies. Beckham got 9 goals and 23 assists in all competitions. When looking at the iconic moments of that champions league run, being Roy Keane saving us against Juventus and those 2 goals in the final. Beckham had an involvement in all of these moments. Without Beckham united wouldn’t have won anything. Even looking at the winner Rivaldo, Barcelona didn’t even get out of the group stages in that champions league. He shouldn’t have one that award. To me the Balon Dor should go to the player who over performed in a year, and Beckham definitely did.

Oliver Kahn 2001 (winner: Michael Owen)

It amazes me that the daft pundit himself actually won the prestigious award. I am not doubting him as a player. To me he is one of the top three young players to ever play the game. But Owen was definitely not the best player in the world. Yes Liverpool did win a handful of trophies that season. But Bayern Munich won the champions league! Owen should have been considered, but not as the winner. Goalkeepers usually do not get the credit they deserve, with only Lev Yashin being the only player to win it. Brilliant goalkeepers like Casillas, Zoff and Buffon have never won the Balon d’Or. But Kahn in that season did definitely deserve to win it. The very vocal legend was one of the best keepers of his generation, and if anyone was going to win it. That was Kahn’s best shot and a second keeper’s best shot.

Wesley Sneijder 2010 (winner: Lionel Messi)

It might be a controversial pick, but this was a year where Messi or Ronaldo didn’t deserve to win, but the talent that was Sneijder. The Dutchman won a treble that year with the underdogs Inter Milan, and most importantly, scored five goals to carry a decent Holland side to the final. Sneijder was brilliant in every competition he played in. He was easily the best player on the planet that year. But as seen with Rivaldo, Everyone just seems to love Barcelona and especially Lionel Messi. Dont get me wrong Messi is the best to play the game, but sometimes players have a better year than another.

Angel Di Maria 2014 (winner: Cristiano Ronaldo)

After discrediting Messi, now let’s discredit the other great player of our modern time. Angel Di Maria had the season of his life in that champions league season. He bagged 7 goals and 22 assists to help guide Madrid to a tenth European cup. Di Maria got the man of the match in the champions league final, and was involved in an Argentina team that reached the world cup final. Ronaldo on the other hand didn’t turn up that in that final and that Portuguese team didn’t even get out the group’s. Di Maria then made a move to Manchester united and got his name all over the internet. He started incredibly good and deserved the award to prove it.

Young players to watch next season

With the new season approaching and pre season well under way, it’s time to see if some of the best young talent around the continent will be able to prove themselves as first team players or to spend their time on the bench.

Marcus Rashford

Easily one of the most exciting talents around, Rashford will now be in his third season at united, and with his first team opportunities becoming more apparent. It is important for him to make sure that he is still in Mourinho’s plans. He is facing new competition this season, with Lukaku signing for a huge amount of money and Anthony Martial hoping to regain his place in the first team. Last season we saw another side of Rashford we didn’t see in his first season. He was played throughout the front 3, to accommodate Zlatan while still giving him minutes. We saw more trickery from the young forward and a belting cross from the right side. He began to be relied on by Mourinho after Zlatan’s horrific injury, with both Chelsea games showing him being tactically adept. Even with Lukaku at he club he still offers something different, and if he can sort out his finishing issues, he’ll turn into England’s main man.

Renato Sanches

Mentioned here in a less positive light. Sanches was signed purely with the intent of ensuring no one else bought him. But he was still an exciting prospect for Bayern. However his first season at the Allianz didn’t go to plan. Sanches mainly made appearances off the bench, and only starting six games. His lack of appearances could easily be excused for the better quality in the team, with Thiago, Vidal, Alonso and Kimmich were constant names on the sheet. They all show more quality and Kimmich shows more experience and maturity in his play. Sanches has to improve, if he ever wants to remain at the top level.

Kelechi Iheanacho

Iheanacho bursted onto the season around the same time as Rashford. Both were obviously compared as they played for rival teams. But their paths couldn’t of differed more. While Rashford has established himself as a starter at united, playing the most games out of anyone in the team. Iheanacho on the other hand was given very limited minutes, with Aguero and Jesus chosen over him. To fix his lack of game time, he decided to drop down to Leicester for £25m. This is a perfect move for the Nigerian. Leicester are a team that play with pace and aggression and Iheanacho fits that bill. Leicester lacked youth in the team, but with Maguire, Gray, Chilwell and fellow Nigerian Ndidi, it’ll give Leicester a solid blend of youth and experience, and Iheanacho will be leading the line.

Youri Tielemans

A player that’s remained a prospect for so long. Tielemans left Anderlecht to join champions Monaco. He left as club captain after making 139 appearances, and he’s only 20. He’s by far the most experienced player mentioned. He is player still with so much potential but has as much experience as a 25 year old. He was bought with the full understanding that Bakayoko would be sold. He ensures that the balanced midfield of a defensive midfielder and box to box midfielder is kept with Fabinho and Bakayoko respectively. Tielemans transfer is by far the most insane transfer this window. A player with such experience and potential for only £20m? It’s proof that bargains still exist in the market. It’ll just be interesting to see if the young Belgian can fill the same role as Bakayoko as effectively. He should of nothing to worry about. If you should watch Tielemans, it’ll be out of pleasure, not curiousity.