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

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

Hero – Edin Dzeko

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

Zero – Nemanja Matic

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

Hero – Rafinha

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

Zero – Hugo Lloris

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

Hero – Fabinho

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

Zero – Valencia

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

Hero – Viewers of Hoffenheim vs Lyon

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

Zero – Atletico Madrid

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

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5 Premier League Teams to Watch Next Season

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

Chelsea

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

Arsenal

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

Liverpool

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

West Ham

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

Fulham

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

8 Players Unlucky To Not Be at the 2018 World Cup

With only 23 players available for each squad, it means some players miss out for some particular reason. Whether it’s injury or manager had better options, these are players who would feel a bit unlucky that they won’t be in Russia this summer.

Mauro Icardi

When Sampoali was appointed the manager of Argentina, I thought this would be a chance for change in team selection. While Dybala is finally getting the chance he so rightfully deserves, Icardi is still not getting the same chances. Argentina have the joys of having so many attacking options, in Aguero, Messi and Higuain. It means other players getting a chance can be difficult. Icardi has for 4 years straight, been one of the most consistent strikers in Europe. He is a very good all around finisher, whether it is with his feet or with his head. He was the top scorer of Serie A last season, with 29 goals. It is just so surprising that the top scorer in Italy isn’t going to the world cup. I think he should be going instead of Higuain. Higuain is now 30, and Icardi is 26. Icardi has another world cup left in him. Bringing a much more inform striker, one who is still in his prime. Just makes much more sense.

Philipp Max

While many would say Alex Sandro is unlucky to miss out, it hard to argue when both Marcelo and Felipe Luis were both better last season. However an argument can be made for Philipp Max being taken to the World Cup. The Augsburg full back was easily the best left back last season in the Bundesliga. He averages a solid 3 tackles and interceptions per 90, but that isn’t why you play Max. His creative output is incredible. He averages an outrageous 2.4 key passes per 90. That’s more than David Silva and Paul Pogba. He also averages 3.2 crosses per 90, which is far superior than Plattenhardt’s 1.5. I completely understand that Lowe has a system and certain players he favours, but not taking the most inform German left back in Europe, is a huge mistake.

Radja Nainggolan

Another player who should be rightfully unhappy for not being selected. While Nainggolan did drop off compared to how incredible he was in the 2016/17, he was still very good. He averaged 2 shots per game and 1.9 key passes per 90. He still was more than good for Roma. I myself do not like Roberto Martinez in the slightest. He somehow has got the Belgium job, after 2 11th places with Everton. It doesn’t make any sense to me how a mediocre manager gets rewards with a team full of talented players. Why Nainggolan should feel angry is because Fellaini was chosen instead. My feelings on Fellaini have been made very clear. He is not good enough for the top level and never will be. Nainggolan offers so much more and definitely should have been chosen instead.

Aleksandr Kokorin

The hosts go into this tournament with no sort of expectations, except to make their country proud. Their squad has a serious age problem. The average age for their 23 man squad is 28.4, which is just too old. One big miss for Russia is the Zenit forward Aleksandr Kokorin. He was in outstanding form last season, scoring 16 and assisting 5 in all competitions. He is your classic big striker, winning 1.8 aerial duels per 90. Having such a physical prescence in the opposition box is always a plus. While having Dzyuba and Chalov, both who are also in pretty good form, is still fine, it would have been better to have a guy who has been consistent up until his injury. Kokorin suffered a terrible injury in the Europa league, ruling him out for the entire world cup. It will be a big miss and they hope they will still get through a relatively tough group.

Harry Winks

Another player who is unfortunately missing the world cup through injury. Winks has been a brilliant player to watch grow, from an occasional cameo, to an important squad for Spurs. One of my favourite things about spurs squad is their depth in midfield. Both Dyer and Wanyama can offer a very physical prescence, Sissoko might not have much talent, but does have a lot of energy, and Winks is a great passer of the ball. He has a great 90% pass accuracy, with 3 long balls per game, showing his range of passing. His progression was cut short when he suffered a serious injury early on in the season. His lack of games makes his stats look worse, such as his low 0.5 key passes. This could have been higher if more games were under his belt. I wrote a piece a couple of months ago saying that Winks should have start, but that injury has ruined a chance for him to show England and world that they have a quality player who could be the future for that team for years.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlein

When the Ox signed for Liverpool last season, many questions were asked. During his time in London, he always showed promise, but Wenger constantly played him in multiple positions, which would eventually lead to him wanting to leave the club. He then joined Liverpool, the club he supported as a youth and dreamed of playing for. From then on, he finally hit the heights we all thought he could reach. Oxlade-Chamberlein was brilliant last season, in playing as an energetic midfielder who would help transition by winning the ball back high up the pitch. His contribution of 5 goals and 7 assists really helped Liverpool advance to the champions league final. But when he suffered that ACL injury against Roma, it was not a shame for the Reds, but also for England. England’s midfield is easily their biggest weakness. While I like Henderson and Dier as defensive midfielders, but don’t offer much in an attacking threat, and Delph is a good box to box midfielder. Ox would add a bit of a direct player to that midfield, and help drive England forward up the pitch to speed up transition.

Ruben Neves

Originally I was going to include Neves in my players who could be become superstars, but then I found out he wasn’t even included in the Portugal squad. Neves was by far the best player in the championship last season, and shown why he was bought for £16m from Porto. What has shown him to be a player above the rest is his passing, He ranked 5th in the championship in passes completed. What’s important to note is all the players above are Fulham players, who played 3 extra games since they qualified through the play offs. He also takes 2.2 shots per game from defensive midfield. What’s most impressive is 2.1 of those shots are from outside the box, which resulted in 6 brilliant goals from outside the box. He also averages 4 tackles and interceptions per game, which proves he doesn’t let his defensive work go. He had one brilliant season, which makes it real shame he wasn’t picked.

Fabinho

The final player is a real surprising one. I have a lot of respect for Tite in the aspect of picking players to fit a particular system, but Fabinho should feel a bit hard done by. He had another brilliant season for Monaco. While many of the big stars like Mbappe, Mendy and Silva all left, he stayed, and continued to show his class. He’s averaged 4.7 tackles and interceptions per 90. What makes this even more impressive is his passing numbers. He averaged a good 1.1 key passes per 90 in Ligue 1, and averaged 4.7 long balls per 90, showing his range in passing. He also contributes to 8 goals and 3 assists. While Monaco themselves dropped off compared to their league winning season, Fabinho can be one of the high points. Tite has stuck with the experienced Fernandinho and Paulinho, and the dynamic Fred and Casemiro. Bringing Fabinho might have been too much, but such a good player should feel a bit unfortunate.