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

Hero – Atletico Madrid

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

Zero – Liverpool

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

Hero – Harry Kane

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

Zero – Thierry Henry

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

Hero – Real Madrid

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

Zero – Juventus

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

Hero – Gabriel Jesus

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

Zero – Lyon

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

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4 International teams to watch

With the usual boring international break coming back to bore all the football fans around the country, why not look at a few teams that you should have one eye on for the upcoming world cup in Russia

Brazil

Tite’s Brazil is already looking like an absolute power team that could reach the final. With the Brazilian making the most of the players he has, such as Paulinho, Jesus, Coutinho and Fernandinho. I’d argue that this is the most inform team in the world at this current moment. The likes of Neymar, Casemiro, Marcelo, Paulinho and Jesus in incredible form at the moment. All of these players are impressing immensely in their respected leagues. The Brazilians are impressing against some of the bigger teams in South America, like beating Uruguay 4-1 with Paulinho getting a hatrick. If all their players stay fit and Tite can continue to bring the best out of his flair players, then Brazil are the favourites for the competition

Spain

If it wasn’t for Brazil, it would be Spain that would contain some of the most inform and world class players. The likes of De Gea, Ramos, Carvahal, Isco and Busquets are some of the best players in their positions. They will give them a solid base to work around and clear reliability and most importantly, a winning mentality. Most of these players have won trophies. It’ll give them the edge in crunch games where they will need cool heads to get them through the tough games. They also have some great young players that could be in the team by the end of the season. Saul, Asensio and Morata are all players who will be able to get into the first 11 and ensure they have something to offer. This team still contains players who won the Euros and World Cup. They are still winners who are thirsty for more.

Italy

This will be the last tournament where Buffon, Chiellini and Barzagli will be that their best. This is a back line of experience, aggression and intelligence coming to an end. These players are so important for their national team, but now is their last chance to really achieve something. With a good striker finally emerging in Belotti, and a world class midfielder in Verratti controlling the game, this can be a great chance for the Italians to get far in the world cup. Not only that, the Azzurri also have some players who can influence a game with their talents. The likes of Insigne have so much creativity and talent that Belotti and Immobile will be gifted chances. They also have so many good young players that could establish themselves in the national team or even give the manager an option. The likes of Conti, Pellegrini, Rugani and Gagliardini are already playing for top teams in Italy, and could give the manager some tough decisions. This Italian team is a blend of young players and experienced players, if they can get the best out of them, then they will definitely reach the latter stages of the competition.

Germany

Another obvious one, this will be the last time some of these German players will be at their best. the likes of Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are in their prime. After the next world cup, these players will be on a slow decline. The Germans need to retain their World Cup, to ensure that their golden generation remains remembered as one of the greatest World Cup teams. Thomas Muller has became a world cup performer. If he continues to score at the rate he does, he could break Klose’s recent record. Germany are known for having a great academy structure, and it shows in their national team. Young players like Sule, Kimmich, Werner and Goretska are performing at a good level and could be important by the time the world cup arrives. The only issue with this team is their manager. It might be strange to discredit a man who has won a world cup, but Joachim Loew is not a good manager. Even through the last world cup he continued to just make stupid mistakes. He kept playing Philip Lahm, one of the greatest right backs to play the game, in midfield. It made no sense because they didn’t have any other right backs, and were forced to play Howedes or Mustafi out of position. He keeps making decisions that Pep would do, but Loew isn’t near as intelligent as Guardiola. Playing Mario Gotze in a false nine is a bad idea, but he refused to change his system, so he wouldn’t need a striker. If Germany do not win this world cup, it’ll be his fault.

3 teams that need to improve next season

Last season saw some very typical title winners but otherwise most leagues were very interesting. Especially with underachievers, which we saw plenty of last season. So here are 4 teams that must improve next season if their players and manager want to keep their job.

PSG

Oh how the mighty have fallen. PSG won the league by 26 points in Laurent Blanc’s final season, and to improve, they hired the superior Unai Emery, who just won 3 Europa leagues with Sevilla. This was indeed a huge statement, because they’ve been dying to be considered a big European powerhouse through progressing far in the Champions League, because they have already proven in charge of Ligue 1 and their domestic cup, and with a quality squad and manager, they’ll win everything right? Well not exactly. PSG struggled most of the season, especially in the league. They didn’t have the same dominant figure in Zlatan and not enough players were scoring. Cavani did carry them through most games, who had an excellent season, but with only Di Maria scoring, it was up to him to get the goals. In the market they were also very poor. Ben Arfa not making sense in the first place, Krychowiak not bringing the same consistency Emery knew him for, and Jese failing to adapt. Draxler turned out okay, but was too late to change their failing season. In Europe they weren’t any better. After a dominant performance against Barca, they allowed them to make the greatest comeback ever and hand them a place in the quarter finals. PSG need to bring back their dominance and make a huge statement in the market this summer. With Monaco losing their players, this is their chance to regain their throne.

Man City

This downfall is one I’m very happy about. Pep Guardiola’s brought out the arrogance of the Man City fans. They hired a man who had everything so far in his career at this point. He won the treble with one of the best teams in history in 2009, and dominated the Bundesliga for 3 straight years but failed to achieve anything on the European stage. Man city prepared for his arrival for a long time, bringing in a director of football to ensure that Guardiola had the players at his disposal to win. City also spent the most money in the summer, so the pressure was on. And for the first 10 games, they did very well. They scored a lot of goals and players like sterling and De Bruyne were playing excellent. But at some point during the season it all fell apart, and the reason for that could be placed on the signings. They signed 8 players and objectively you can only say 2 of them could be considered money well spent. Sane and Jesus were definitely successes, with Sane’s maturity and flexibility being needed for the team, and Jesus was the jumpstart they needed. But they were the only signings that performed. Gundogan is a great player but is injury record is terrible, Nolito was very poor, Stones struggled massively and Bravo was just unreliable, the worst thing to say about a goalkeeper. Pep can be blamed massively for what happened, failing to hold their lead in Monaco and coming across with a terrible attitude in press conferences. His failure to sign younger Fullbacks and asking some players to do tasks they were not capable of just shows his ignorance. Next season he needs to know what he wants from all his players, and make sure he has players who can do the tasks he asks them to do. And most importantly, fix that defense.

Inter Milan

Oh inter. They started the season hopeful with Frank De Boer, bringing in multiple players like Jao Mario, Gabigol and Candreva, and with quality players like Handanovic, Perisic and especially Icardi. This was the chance for a team to finally challenge the almighty Juventus. But after a terrible start to the season, De Boer was sacked after 3 months. The long plan Inter had instantly was abolished and they gained no ground on their other opponents, like Roma and Napoli. Inter went from a challenger to falling behind even Lazio and Atalanta. But things could be improving, with Spaletti appointed, this could be the big improvement inter need. To get a consistent run of form. Icardi cannot be continued to be relied on for goals.