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.

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Spurs To Drop Out? Champions League Heroes and Zeroes

My new series, where I look at 5 players/managers who have had a good or bad week in the champions league. Let’s go!

Hero – Paul Pogba

The Frenchman has been under constant scrutiny through out his time at United, for dancing, too much social media use, and not performing well enough in the bigger games. I am a huge Paul Pogba defender. I think he has been United’s most consistent outfield player since his arrival. He as just been unfortunate in both of his season. He had an Ibrahimovic who just couldn’t finish the great chances he was giving him, and he missed a lot of games last season. Last season, the injuries began on that first Champions League night, so finishing the game as captain was a huge deal. He did that, while also scoring 2 and assisting Anthony Martial. He was fabulous on the night and was the driving force for United on the pitch. He made 3 key passes and had a 92.6% pass accuracy. Another great performance from the Frenchman. His first goal was also brilliant

Zero – Mauricio Pochettino

The Tottenham manager was asked so many questions regarding his decision to not take both Trippier and Alderweireld to Milan. He defended his choice and said the places he took would be enough. While I think Aurier did make more sense to play, because Perisic can be a handful to deal with, it’s Alderweireld where I have an issue. In that first half, Spurs were so sloppy on the ball, giving away the ball so cheaply and allowing Inter to press them, knowing they seemed so threatened on the night. Alderweireld is an excellent distributor, and would have definitely made a difference on the night. Spurs having a lead, and losing it thanks to a moment of magic from Icardi, and a moment from madness from the backline, was the last thing Poch needed. It put further inspection onto his decisions on the night. The post match press conference was not pretty. It was as if I was watching Mourinho after the Spurs defeat. A man who couldn’t protect his players except from pulling attention away from them. Not a good night for the coach.

Hero – Lionel Messi

Praising Messi is a normal occurrence for everyone in football, but just because he gets love for being the best, doesn’t mean she should stop receiving it. Messi was the star as Barcelona dispatched of PSV Eindhoven 4-0. Messi ended the game with a delightful hat trick, with two of the goals just showing his excellent ability at scoring goals under any circumstance. This is a big year for Barcelona, and Messi. After their collapse in Rome last season, they need to put that behind them and push for the big prize. Messi needs to remind Ronaldo who the real winner is. Ronaldo’s record in the competition is frankly ridiculous, and Messi has fallen behind in recent years, because of Barcelona’s inconsistent form. With Ronaldo now suspended (we’ll get to that), it gives Messi a chance to close the gap on the all time scorer. It’ll be a big season for the football legend.

Zero – Cristiano Ronaldo

What a terrible way to start the new Champions League season. Ronaldo received a red card for his actions towards Murillo. It could have been the hair pull or the push, but it’s unsure what exactly he was sent off for. But no matter what it was, getting sent off is the last thing that Ronaldo wanted. Ronaldo is a serial winner. He wants to score the most goals in every competition, and now with him having the chance of being suspended for 3 games, it gives him less time to score goals. Ronaldo has been the top scorer now for the last 3 years, and he wants to keep that going until his retirement. Juventus still managed to win the game, thanks to penalties taken by Pjanic. Ronaldo needs to now focus on the league, until his eventual suspension is over. Juventus will still be fine. That team will always find a way to carve out a good result.

Hero – Nabil Fekir

The Frenchman was the driving force behind their surprise win over Pep’s Manchester City. I mentioned in my preview for their group that Lyon have been so frustrating and it’s impossible to tell which Lyon would turn up. The best one turned up today. Fekir was the stand out player for the French side. His qualities are seriously underestimated. He is just an incredibly versatile forward, being a great at getting goal scoring chances, creating, and he is a great dribbler. He is Lyon’s most important player because he is that player who can win them a game. He was at his best today. He managed 3 shots, 3 key passes and completed 2 dribbles. He was fouled 5 times in this game, showing how much of a threat he was in this game. Lyon set up in a 4-4-1-1, to help defend against a strong city side, and player more on a counter attacking way, using the pace of Cornet, Depay and Fekir to hurt them when they had the chance. The whole team put in a great defensive show, and Fekir highlights this. He put in 3 tackles in the game. Fekir is a player who usually does not do defensive work, but in this game it was all hands on deck to defend the narrow lead they had. An excellent performance and let’s hope they continue on these performances in the league.

Zero – Napoli

Carlos Ancelotti’s side failed to make the most of their easiest opponent in their group. They drew 0-0 against Red Star Belgrade, meaning they now have to play Liverpool and Paris without a win under their belts. The worst part for Napoli is they had the chances to seal the game, yet didn’t put the ball away. Callejon had a half chances that could have easily been a goal. The worst one by was Mertens, who miss hit the ball from a few yards out. Napoli had 73% possession, and had 20 shots, yet just couldn’t find a way through. Even though Napoli did dominate the game, and outshot their opponent, they still didn’t threaten Red Star enough. The majority of the game was spent in the middle third of the pitch, with 50% of the game being spent there. 34% was spent in Red Star’s third of the pitch. Napoli just didn’t do enough on the day. Mertens was the only one with the clear chance in the game, which isn’t good enough. It leaves Napoli in a bad place. As seen from my preview, Napoli are not a stronger side than Paris or Liverpool, and now having to play both of them could mean their elimination is decided early. They needed to capitalise on having the easier side to start, to get the momentum for their next fixtures. It’ll make getting out of this group even harder now.

Hero – Jürgen Klopp

Liverpool (as predicted) are now in the driving seat for group C. They beat Paris Saint-Germain 3-2, with Roberto Firmino scoring the late winner off the bench. Klopp is the winner here for carrying his league form into Europe’s elite competition. One of the criticism of teams who play with a high intensity is their inability to play that same way multiple times in the same week. They were very good against Paris. They exploited their weak and imbalanced midfield by playing a very workman like midfield, of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum. They made the Ligue 1 champions look average at best. A performance that makes Liverpool a threat on both ends this season.

Zero – Thomas Tuchel

I do have some sympathy for Tuchel. He said before the window ended that the full backs were not good enough. And that they were desperate for a number 6, and only brought in Juan Bernat. It left him in a position of weakness, because he couldn’t use the squad to its full potential. He was forced to play a midfield three of Di Maria, Marquinhos and Rabiot. None of them managed a key pass between them. They were largely ineffective and couldn’t control the game. It is clear that Paris are missing Veratti, but it doesn’t excuse Lo Celso joining Betis. He would have done a better job than Marquinhos in that role. Juan Bernat also didn’t cover himself well in the spotlight, with the Spaniard giving the penalty for Liverpool. It was a needless challenge to make, because Wijnaldum was not a threat. Tuchel is at a disadvantage, not having the players he wanted, but this team has some incredible talent, and he needs to do better against Red Star and Napoli.

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group H

And last but not least, the final group. One of the toughest groups here, it contains Scutdetto winners Juventus, 2x winners Manchester United, Marcelino’s Valencia side and last but not least, Swiss champions Young Boys. It’s going to be an interesting group.

Juventus

Let’s start with Juventus. The Old Lady to into this tournament as one of the favourites, based on 2 words, Cristiano Ronaldo. The five time Balon d’Or winner is by far the best player in the history of the tournament. Juventus have signed the top scorer in the Champions League, who has been the main reason why Real Madrid were able to win three champions leagues in a row. Their other signings were also very good. João Cancelo was great for Inter Milan last season, and will give them a real attacking addition. Mattia Perin has performed well for Genoa over the past few years, and will give competition to Wojciech Szczęsny. They have a very good squad, but the only issue is their midfield. It just isn’t as strong as the other sides, like Barcelona, Madrid and Man City. I like Pjanic, but Matuidi and Khedira are just not as good as they used to be. If they just invested more in that area, they would be definite be main challengers. They will top the group, because of their solidarity at the back, and their attack.

Manchester United

Just the perfect draw I wanted my team to get. United go into this tournament a slight mess. The loss to Sevilla is still fresh in the minds of the supporters. After a summer of disappointment in the transfer market, it has left the manager in a tough place. Mourinho is one of the few managers in the world that can only succeed if he is fully backed. There is no point having Mourinho if you are not going to give him what he wants. The squad is full of players who are not good enough, and players who seem unhappy. There have been a few positives this season. Luke Shaw has been excellent in every he has played, Lukaku has already got 4 in 5, De Gea is at his best, and United have finally started putting some wins together. United have some excellent individuals, and are able to punish any team on their day. But the problem is holding onto those leads, and making the changes count. Lukaku needs a lot of chances to score, and United struggle defensively in every sense of the word. I think they’re better than Valencia and Young Boys, and could challenge Juventus at home. They will finish second, but that might be me being biased.

Valencia

Valencia started last season like a rocket. They had Zaza, Guedes and Rodrigo in great form, but by the new year, their form started to slip. Now they have started the new season quite poorly. Besides a good point against Atletico, they have lost against Espanyol, and draws against Betis and Levante. They just haven’t hit the ground yet and need a win desperately. They have some very good players that can damage any team. Geoffrey Kondogbia was great last season at recovering the ball and driving the ball forward and Santi Mina was excellent in the second half of the season. The signings of Gameiro and Batshuayi give them extra options up front. Batshuayi is great addition. His form for Dortmund was excellent and hopes he can do the same for Valencia. Marcelino is amazing at setting up a defense, as seen by Gabriel actually being good. But it’s the other end of the pitch they have been struggling with. They have only managed 3 goals so far, and have only been managing 3.8 shots on target per game. Valencia will always make it hard for other teams, but because of their lack of goals, they will not be getting to the round of 16.

Young Boys

Besides the strange name for the team, Young Boys are in the competition after winning their domestic title for the first time in 30 years. However even after losing their manager, they still look great. They have won every single game this season, with their three top scorers, Fassnacht, Hoarau and Ngamaleu, have contributed to 14 goals in 6 games. They are in excellent form right now and are ready to bring it into Europe’s elite competition. However, while I think they could shock a side (my money would be on United), Juventus and United have the pedigree and the quality to compete. But I do think they will still come out of this competition with their pride in tact.

Final Table

1. Juventus

2. Manchester United

3. Young Boys

4. Valencia

3 Players Who Attract Unwarranted Hate

With how popular social media has become over the last 4-5 years, and how pundits and other commentators will say whatever it will take to earn clicks and attention, it is fair to say some crazy things are said. Let’s go through three players who seem to be hated by certain people, when it isn’t entirely justified. There isn’t a ranking of any sorts here, because hate is something that shouldn’t exactly be ranked.

1. Paul Pogba

By far the player who seems to attract the most hate, Paul Pogba is a controversial player since his world record transfer. Whether it is Garth Crooks constantly complaining about his haircuts (which to this day is a stupid thing to criticise a player for), or the mainstream media saying he doesn’t do enough for the team in the bigger games. Everyone always wants to find a guy to blame, because it’s easier than finding a real problem. I do not know how many times I have to keep stressing how much of a special talent the Frenchman is. If United play well, it’s because of Paul Pogba. I have only seen him have a few bad games in a United shirt, being Spurs away, Chelsea in the final of the FA Cup, and in the league cup final. Other than that, I don’t think he has any particular bad games. In his first season for the club, Pogba was getting a lot of unnecessary stick, but it can be defended very easily. I remember on the last game of the season against Crystal Palace, where Paul scored and assisted. Ian Wright on Match of the Day said he wasn’t good enough because of his lack of goal contributions. But I think that’s too vague. I constantly complain about pundits not doing their research, and this is another example. Zlatan Ibrahimovic that season had a conversion rate of 12%. You expect your striker at the top level to get around a 25% conversion rate. While Zlatan did carry them in an attacking sense, he would still have his moments of failing to good chances away, and who picked him out during these missed chances? Paul Pogba. The now world cup winner was excellent in picking out his Swedish teammate, but Ibrahimovic failed to convert these chances. You cannot blame to the creator for his striker not putting the ball away, when he probably should. What’s important to remember about United is that they rely heavily on Paul Pogba. One of the main reasons he has been playing so deep is so he is able to get on the ball as much as possible, but doing that limits his ability going forward. Pogba is a player who is great when dropping wide, and also excels in front of goal. You want him further up the field to get the best out of him. Having him further back puts more emphasis on his defensive work, which isn’t great, and at times woeful. But that is not the strengths of the player. You want him playing a role where his defensive work, while not absent, is more limited. It also does seem that fans and pundits just do not like how he presents himself off the pitch. I can defend his ability and performances on the pitch, but what he does off the field is more or a matter of opinion. Many fans do not like all the haircuts, the dancing and the Instagram videos. My opinion on the social media side is the who really cares? If Pogba wants to enjoy life, let him. He shouldn’t be scrutinized on his personal life. When he performs, it is never mentioned, but when he has the occasional average performance, social media is the first thing that is blamed. I just will never understand why it is relevent. It could be the Manchester United fan in me, but I do feel the hate he gets is very unjust. Let’s hope he continues to silence his numerous critics.

2. Raheem Sterling

I briefly mentioned the hate he was receiving when discussing players that I wanted to see succeed in the summer, but I will try and elaborate. Up until last season, Sterling was always a very frustrating player, but was never a bad one. He is an excellent player in getting in goal scoring positions, but just failed to convert his chances. However that seemed to change last season. It was famously covered that Pep gave him one very useful tip in changing the way he played. Instead of stopping the ball when receiving it, take a heavy touch and try and beat the opponent with pace. It was so effective, because it just made him so much more unpredictable. Sterling was absolutely fabulous last season. In a record breaking season, he was one of their best players, ending the season with 18 goals and 11 assists. Those are real world class numbers for a wide player. However even after that incredible season, there is still doubt from other fans, especially England fans. Sterling still has that moment of missing chances, and that it was people remember. In the first game at the 2018 World Cup, he had two chances, that he failed to convert near the beginning of the game against Tunisia. Sterling was seen as one of the worst players for England. While I do not think he was great, he was playing a role that he is not used to. He had to play as creator, while also helping create space for Kane, while also trying to give width to the team. It was very difficult for the Manchester City winger, and he ended up sacrificing a lot of his game, for the sake of the team. That cannot be credited more. However his performances were not the main talking point about Sterling. Before the world cup even began, a certain tabloid tried to paint the winger in a negative fashion by highlighting the gun tattoo on his leg. This unnecessary attention towards an aspect of his life that isn’t related to football was wrong in so many ways. It seems like the media in every other country wants to support their team before a huge competition, but not in England. The media is desperate for clicks in any sense that they are willing to put the people against the players. But if you go through all of that certain tabloid’s posts about Sterling, it is more than just the tattoo. They have criticised him for buying his mother a house, going in regular plane travel, driving his car, and even shopping discount shops. While Pogba’s hate was mostly from fans and old fashioned pundits, Sterling’s hate is based mostly on nothing related to his career. If any players gets hate that is completely undeserved, it is Raheem Sterling.

3. Mesut Ozil

Another player I have defended multiple times in the pass. Mesut Ozil is by far my favourite attacking midfielder in Europe. No other playmaker in the top 5 leagues possess his incredible vision and technical ability on the ball. He is by far the best creator in the premier league. While De Bruyne, Hazard and Eriksen are all excellent creators, I think Ozil just edges them. Attacking midfielders are positions that are quite flexible. You have creators, like Ozil, who specialise in helping the attackers in the final third. Goal scorers, like Alli, who are more second strikers, and extra midfielders, like Banega, who are great at dropping into midfield to provide extra numbers. Ozil is the best creator. His creative numbers have been excellent throughout his career. His best season was the 2015/16 season, where he averaged a frankly unbeatable 4.2 key passes per 90. While that number has declined, it has still stayed over 3 since that season. Even at the world cup, where Germany underperformed, Ozil was still very good. Pundits like Martin Keown will say the usual he doesn’t work hard enough, but he still made 5.5 key passes in his two games. He does his job to the best of his ability. However Ozil is a player who has gathered hate from all over the country. A lot of Arsenal fans dislike how he fades in the “big games” (an argument I just don’t understand), and pundits, as previously mentioned, dislike him for his lack of defensive contribution. This has a lot to do with system. Ozil has so far been struggling this season, because of the more defensive approach of Unai Emery. It isn’t a strength of the ex German international. You can criticise him in the way of him not changing his game. But Ozil plays in a way that you have to build around him. Emery in my opinion has to get the best out of him in the same way that Wenger was able to. This summer has seen criticism in another form for Ozil. In the middle of May, Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, were pictured alongside the Turkish President, a controversial figure in Germany. This resulted in numerous backlash from German fans, including racist and discriminatory insults towards the Arsenal playmaker. The backlash became so bad that it ended with Ozil retiring from the German national team. Ozil was a player in his prime years so retiring this early was a bit of a shock for everyone. Even this decision resulted in backlash however, with international team mate Toni Kroos branding his racist comments “nonsense.” It does seem ignorant from Kroos to deny that racist comments were made, with it being the main reason why Ozil made that decision. Originally this was going to be about 7 players, but the players mentioned receive hate on another level compared to other players I was going to discuss (Henderson being disliked and Morata not being what Chelsea fans wanted were going to be 2 of them). Going into length about these 3 players was needed, to show a more darker side of football, and to show the difficult circumstances that footballers can find themselves in.

Let’s Talk About Manchester United…

For a club that has seemed pretty inactive, there is a lot to talk about here. I am a Manchester United fan so it is of course the club I keep the most notice of. While I try and stay unbiased, it can be hard not to start feeling frustrated and worried for the club I support. So let’s just go through everything that there is to talk about.

Transfers

Easily the most talked about topic revolving the club, it has been a very strange window so far. The players we have brought in have been very good signings. Fred fixes a huge problem we have in the team, which is a player who can adapt to different roles. The Brazilian is an excellent box to box midfielder, being able to do the defensive work, while also possessing quality on the ball, helping the team when attacking. One area in our midfield last season was lacking in that department. While both Pogba and Matic had good seasons, the mostly played in a two. The problem with doing that is they both do not balance each other in the slightest. Pogba is a player who excels in carrying the ball from midfield into the dangerous areas and helping create, while also being a real goal threat. Matic is great at covering the defense, and a safe distributor. Matic does not have the legs to cover the ground Pogba has to leave to help the attack. As the season went on we did move towards the midfield 3, which did help give us balance. The problem is that third player was usually either Herrera, Fellaini or McTominay. All of these three were mostly unable to contribute in any way to attacking (or in Fellaini’s case, defensively). It left us so reliant on Pogba, that marking him out of a game would make us so predictable. Fred is a player who is able to contribute to attack, which means he will be able to either drive the ball into the final third, or allow Pogba to make those runs into the box. Dalot was another signing I was pleased to see. Strangely enough, my favourite thing about him is how little I know about him. It feels very old fashioned, relying on only word of mouth to know what the young Portuguese full back is good at. From what I know, he is able to play at both right back and left back, and is very good in both attack and defense. Unfortunately he has picked up an injury, but should return by December. If both of these signings are positive, then what is the problem? Well it’s the other areas we haven’t strengthened. It was made very clear that centre back was an area that Mourinho wanted to strengthen. Throughout this window, we have been linked to many different defenders, including Harry Maguire, Toby Alderweireld, Milan Skiriniar, Marquinhos and Gary Cahill. But it seems the board are unwilling to meet some of the crazy prices places by their clubs. It is clear that Mourinho is getting frustrated with it, because he wants to go into the new season with every hole filled. Out of the names previously mentioned, Skiriniar would be my choice. The Slovenian is not only composed, but shows great maturity and is very good in the air. Many would favour Alderweireld, but I still have my reservations. Over the last 2 years he has suffered serious injuries, which have worsened by the year. If Manchester United spent in excess of £50m on a 29 year old, who could have another serious injury left in him. It is way more of a risk than is being made out. Buying from Premier League clubs is always a problem, because they can charge how much they want (as seen with John Stones and Virgil Van Dijk) because they know how much your club needs that certain player. Maguire would also be a red flag. While I do really like him, buying him would be a huge rip off, with Leicester asking for £65m. If it was for less than £40m I’d be okay with it, but I don’t want the club overpaying for players. It’s an issue that can be seen at the moment, being the disconnect between Mourinho, and the board. Mourinho has constantly been complaining about the lack of signings and the lack of additions to the squad. I agree with him to an extent. Mourinho is similar to Guardiola, in the sense of they both need full backing if they are to win trophies and make their clubs successful. We have seen Guardiola get this treating at City, with the club spending £100m on just full backs. Mourinho has made it clear that he doesn’t believe he is being backed in the same way. Even just looking at last season, United were constantly linked to Perisic, but the club were unwilling to match Inter’s valuation for the winger. We do not know how important Perisic could have been for the team, but it could have been the difference that was needed. The board seem to want that Galactico signing, like a Bale, Ronaldo or Neymar. But Mourinho, and I, think that is unnecessary, when the rest of the squad need serious surgery and it isn’t being addressed. However I do sympathise with the board in some aspects. The players that the club have brought in for Mourinho have not all worked out. The two that do stick in my mind are Henrik Mhikitaryan and Victor Lindelof. Both players were wanted by Mourinho. Mhikitaryan was bought for a pretty reasonable price at the time, and while he did play very well in the Europa League, his inconsistency in the league was his downfall. Lindelof has had a very mixed start to his united career. Last season he barely put in any tackles or interceptions, but did show some very good composure on the ball. Both of these signings not working could be the reason why the board do not want to put 100% backing into Jose, because they have had their hand bitten already. The relationship between Mourinho and the board will become the end of the the two time champions league winner, like it has before with other clubs.

Squad

Now with all things to be said about transfers out of the way, let’s just look at how the current group of players are being handled. This current squad of players have been managed very poorly, and context is very important here. In Mourinho’s first season, I constantly praised him for truly bringing the best out of his squad. The likes of Jones, Rojo, Herrera, Fellaini, Rashford and Valencia all were giving out their best performances and it gave Mourinho plenty of credit for getting the best out of his players. But last season became very different. All of the players mentioned just didn’t show the same level of performances. Jones started off very well, but seriously struggled January onwards. Rojo was coming back from an injury for most of the season, leaving him lacking match fitness. Herrera was by far the most frustrating. He went from an instant starter, into a player who failed to contribute anything to the team. Playing him alongside Matic was the problem. Matic averaged a very good 3.7 tackles and interceptions last season, leaving Herrera with the Pogba role of transitioning play. It was a role he excelled at for Bilbao, however now playing as more of a destroyer, it is a role he is no longer comfortable performing. Fellaini was another who came in for Pogba and performed very well, but was a key problem for United against Sevilla, a game all United fans just want to forget. Rashford’s development in that first season was going very steadily. His contribution to the team was very good, even making the most appearances for the club in that season. Rashford seemed to be lacking real confidence during the season, which limited his minutes and contribution for the team dropped, and wasn’t giving the same solid output. Valencia performed very well, giving a real driving force on that right side. However he began to show his age, failing to contribute effectively in the final third, like a modern day full back should. I’m bringing this up to show how Mourinho has failed to make those average players usable. Instead he failed to get the best out of his players, thus making united a much poorer side on the whole. While Mourinho fail to improve his players is one massive discussions, it is his treatment of two players, being Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Both have been on the firing end by the manager, and in my opinion, it’s mostly unjust. Mourinho was criticising Pogba for a lack of consistency, lack of focus, and for not performing. This mainly came from the Spurs game at Wembley, where Pogba on a defensive level, was very poor. Mourinho subbed him near the beginning of the second half, and brought on Fellaini to “offer something different” and he said it was purely “tactical.” However Pogba’s appearances for the club were much more limited, with the Frenchman being benched for both legs against Sevilla in that same month. Mourinho has been utilising Pogba incorrectly for most of the season. The ex Juventus midfielder has been playing in a deeper role, as more of a creative midfielder (like a Pirlo, Fabregas, or Xavi) But that is not his strengths. While Pogba is indeed an excellent passer of the ball, his strengths are his dribbling and creativity in the final third. Pogba’s main responsibility should be scoring and assisting, but Mourinho needs his midfielders to be disciplined, and work very hard defensively. Those are not his strengths. Pogba is such a unique player, in fact a one in a kind. Never have I seen a midfielder who is that fast, that strong, that technically gifted and that good in the final third. He can do things midfielders do not usually do. Getting the best out of him is the way for Manchester United to succeed. The signing of Fred might be the key to his shackles, to allow him to play his game. Martial is another who is definitely struggling in recent months. Martial was actually very good for United up until the signing of Alexis Sanchez. He went from a potential player of the season until a player stuck on the bench, to make way for a player who did not deserve the starts he was getting. Every time Martial played last season, he looked so good. In only 1584 minutes played, he contributed to 14 goals. That is a goal every 113 minutes. It shows how effective Martial was whenever he played, and how important he was for United. However Mourinho clearly doesn’t see what I see, as he seems fine to let the wide man leave this summer. If signing Alexis would have limited Martial’s minutes this much, maybe signing him was a bad idea. My expectation was to see Martial on the left with Sanchez on the right. It would allow us to play an inform player, while fixing a clear issue on that right side. It just seems baffling to bench a player who was performing so well, thus weakening United as an attacking threat.

2018 World Cup Round of 16 Preview – France vs Argentina, Uruguay vs Portugal

With the group stages finally over, let’s look at the round of 16, where teams will need to step up their game and prepare for the knock out portion of the tournament.

France vs Argentina

The first game of the round of 16 is a huge one. Both teams have a huge history and would like to add to that this year. Let’s begin with France. The 1998 winners go into this game unbeaten, and only conceding 1 goal. However this looks much less impressive when looking at their performances. They only scored 3 goals and got the first 0-0 of the tournament. They also did not keep the same team in any of their games. It continues to show further incompetence in Didier Deschamps. He is easily the most overrated manager at this tournament and it amazes me how he still has a job, with other Frenchman like Zidane and Wenger available. It should be classed as a crime to not be performing with the best players on the planet. They have looked very poor as a team, and I can’t see them getting far in this tournament.

I was not disappointed in Argentina in the slightest. In fact I expected this. They have some talented players, but they don’t have balance. So far they have not proven me wrong. Even in their last minute win, they still didn’t play good. That game was won from a Marcus Rojo of all people bagging the winner. Even though they were poor, there are still some positives. Ever Banega was very good. He added a player with real ball ability in that midfield. But it still brings up the issue of why is Perez and Mascherano still starting for Argentina. Mascherano is not near the player he was 5 years ago, yet he is still starting every game for Argentina. Why isn’t Lo Celso starting, a guy with real ball winning ability. Or even taking Parades. Even though he is playing in a poor league, he is still a great distributer. Sampoali has baffled me throughout this tournament with these strange selections.

For France to beat Argentina, midfield is their key. If they want to take a book from Croatia, who beat Argentina because of their superior midfield. It is a game where France need all their best ball players, so a midfield 3 of Pogba, N’Zonzi and Kante would be perfect. Pogba and N’Zonzi have a brilliant range of passing and would help bypass that weak midfield. Playing Kante would help win the ball higher up the pitch, to stop players like Banega and Mascherano keeping hold of the ball. For Argentina, they need to give the ball to Messi as much as possible. He hasn’t lit up the world, but he is still the best player of all time. He did look much better in a front two. His run for that first goal against Nigeria was perfection all around. The run, the touch, the second touch, the finish. It was all perfect. Messi as usual, is the key for Argentina’s success. This game contains a team that can’t attack in France, and a team that can’t defend in Argentina. Based on goals needed to win games, the Argentine’s will be the victors

France 1-2 Argentina

Uruguay vs Portugal

Both teams can come into this game with some positives. Uruguay went through their group without conceding a single goal. While they did look very poor in their first 2 games, they stepped it up against the hosts Russia, and started playing a midfield 3, adding Torreira to a midfield of Bentacour and Vecino. It gave them much more fluidity and a real drive in the final third. Another bonus for them would be the form of their attackers and defenders. While Suarez has been poor, he has still bagged 2 goals and Cavani also scored his first against Russia. Their biggest positive to take away from the group games would be their defense. Godin and Gimenez were both fantastic. Godin especially was a real leader in those games. He was the one making sure his other teammates would start attacking because he was doing his job, so why weren’t the rest of the team. There were points against Egypt were Godin would run with the ball because no one else would.

Portugal also have some real positives. They have been successfully protecting their old central defenders, even if at times they have been caught out. Ronaldo has also been brilliant. His form is the main reason why Portugal are where they are. He seems to love having the amount of responsibility he does. However they still have some real issues. The rest of the attackers have not been great. Fernandes was dropped after the first game after not having a good game (even though he was out of position). Guedes also has been very disappointing. He just hasn’t shown that raw skill he was shown all through last season. Even in midfield, a partnership of Joah Moutinho and William Carvalho doesn’t scream energy and attacking threat. Their biggest positive is easily how organised they are. Because of their brilliant full back options, it means the centre halves can stay very narrow so they don’t get caught in places where they will be exposed. Fernando Santos has been fine in that aspect, however in the attacking sense they could be better. Putting Guedes outwide, and putting Martins on the right would give them so much pace and width. Andre Silva definitely deserves a chance too. These would definitely help give them a bit more of a threat.

Uruguay can beat Portugal simply their strikers. Both Suarez and Cavani are very hard to deal with for defenders. If they both can help deal Pepe and Fonte, it would allow the midfield players to come from deep and outnumber the opposition. They play such a deep 4-4-2 that just getting their technical players in the box would be enough to cause Portugal plenty of problems. Portugal just have to simply give the ball to Ronaldo. He has been their best attacking player so getting him on the ball as much as possible is their way to win. I can see Uruguay winning here, but because of Portugal so far suprising me, I might just go for a close game but Ronaldo magic to win it

Uruguay 1-2 Portugal

The Last Straw! 5 Talking Points From Manchester United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion

A disgrace all around. After this performance, I am now fully embracing the end of Jose Mourinho. It isn’t the fact that we lost. If it was that I would have wanted him out after we lost to city last season if I was that simple, but it’s more than. So I will go through everything that frustrated me in this game and why it links to the hopeful end of Jose Mourinho, and actually who I want to bring in as his replacement

The Line Up

Out of all the games Jose didn’t play a 4-2-3-1 it wasn’t this one. He stuck with mostly the same time as our big victory over city. The big changes being Lindelof for Bailly, and Mata for Lingard. The issue is we needed a clear number 10 in a game like this. I understand to not change what is not broken, but adapting is something else. This a game that Lingard would have excelled in. He would be able been able to get between their poor team’s midfield and slow defence and do what he usually does, quick interplay to move the ball further forward. It made us so predictable without him. Herrera overall is not great on the ball, Pogba is relied on too much to create, and Matic’s job is to not create, and is to just sit infront of our defence. Playing a 4-2-3-1 doesn’t always work, but it has its place, and against teams like this, we need a player just behind the striker. They didn’t offer anything going forward, so playing Herrera was not needed. A 4-3-3 would work better if we had another centre midfielder who was able to at least create or dictate play. Without that certain player it is hard for Pogba to go forward or drift to the left if he also has to stay centrally. Moving on from the midfield, the forwards weren’t exactly the best choice. This is the game where Martial had to start. Putting a guy who is willing to make runs and actually run to the by-line. I don’t understand why we sign Sanchez if it involves dropping Martial. I have mentioned this multiple times but it still stands. Martial was contributing a goal contribution per game (0.6 goals and 0.3 assists). He was playing at his peak. His reward for his great form was to get dropped for a player we just signed. It was terrible management by Mourinho. Let’s compare it to the signing of Lucas Moura. I understand there is a difference in quality here. But Pochetino has been patient in using him. He doesn’t want to ruin a perfectly fine foundation and it’s giving him time to learn what are the player’s strengths and weaknesses. Instead Mourinho just threw him in and hopes he sticks. Sanchez has mostly been poor so it is crazy how Jose has not dropped in for more games. Mourinho needs to take blame for not only picking the wrong team, and also for not handling his players in the right way. I wouldn’t even blame Martial for leaving. He deserves better than the position he is in.

The Substitutions

They make sense in concept, but in execution they were so wrong. Taking Herrera off for Lingard was a fine change, but taking off Pogba for Martial? I agree that Martial should have came on, but for Sanchez, not for Pogba. Pogba was poor and I won’t deny that, but he took off the midfield. It meant that we had to resort to longballs, against a team that usually defends well against them. It was so school boy. They were changes you make on FIFA, not in a professional game. I thought Martial did okay, and Rashford wasn’t given enough time. The three changes looked positive, but were made for the wrong players.

Poor build up play

I’ll try my best to sum up how Manchester United play. Pass the ball to Pogba or Lingard, hit it to the wings, the full back will usually put a cross in, and will usually be a poor cross. There just seems to be no plan when we play. We rely so much on individual magic from Pogba, Martial, Rashford or Lukaku. If we sell any of these players we can wish a title challenge a big goodbye. They are so talented and the fact three of them are being linked with moves away is frightening. We are so slow and lackluster when transitioning the ball it is laughable. We are unbelievably lucky to be second. If it wasn’t for Liverpool being on and off, Spurs struggling in big games, and Chelsea being a mess. We would not be near top four. We need a manager who will help us play as a team.

My choice

I would personally go for Luis Enrique. Out of the available managers, he seems the most ambitious. I want a manager who will take us in a good direction. He will help us move the ball better in a more fluid and fast way, while also getting the best out of our talented players. He made one of the best teams in recent years with that treble winning team. The only issue for me is the defensive side of it. I think Mourinho has been terrible this season, and mostly in defence. Enrique’s first responsibility would be to sort that defence out. Either sort Lindelof out, and give him a consistent run, or buy a player who would be able to help organise the back. He would need to get out full backs moving better, our midfield more balanced, and mostly just to play with a bit more arrogance. I don’t think he will be appointed. But it would be my dream scenario

Title Winners

Congrats to Manchester City for winning the league. I do not buy into all the praise they get. I do think they have been phenomenal, but more of lack of competition as well. I will never call this current team one of the greats, unless they retain the title. That is what proves what a great team is. One who not only wins it, but holds it.

5 Talking Points from Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United

Oh what a comeback! That first half was another shocking performance, but that second half was incredible. So let’s go through that complete emotional rollercoaster

A Terrible 45 Minutes

Before going into the good stuff, let’s just go through how truly terrible that first half was. We looked unorganized, lacking ambition, and most of all, not interested. I truly believe that we have the worst defence out of the top 5. Even though De Gea has kept the most clean sheets in the league, we also face the most shots per game. It shows when watching that first half again. So many times we just let them come towards us and play their game. Mourinho seems to believe that this is the way to defend, and he might be right. But when we have players who seem unable to defend, it is impossible to make any system work. Valencia, Young, Bailly and Smalling were all tragic in the first 45 minutes. Valencia seemed desperate to ruin any shape we tried to have, Sterling put Young on a plate multiple times, Smalling was at clear fault for the first goal, and even Bailly was giving the ball away in stupid. It was poor all around and just continues to remind me how poor that back four is as a unit. I still argue that Liverpool have a better defence than united, while we have kept more clean sheets (thanks to a certain Spaniard), Liverpool do not allow opposition teams to take many shots. If their keepers were more consistent, they would easily be the third best team in the country. Another issue that seemed to continue was United in general struggling to move the ball. It was classic Mourinho, send long diagonal balls to Lukaku and hope that he is able to win the header. The issue here was the balls given to him were consistently poor. Even if Lukaku was closer, there was no one close enough to win the second ball. I do never want to see such a poor first half ever again by Manchester United, especially against our second biggest rivals.

Dealing with Fernandinho

The Brazilian has continually been the cog to this phenomenonal team, and to deal with him, is the key to dealing with city. In the first half United used Lukaku to shadow Fernandinho, but because the Belgian also had to put pressure on Otamendi and Kompany, this didn’t work. Matic also came out to pressure the Brazilian, but this also didn’t work. When he did this, it left Herrera and Pogba to cover for him, and with those two sitting further back, it gave more space for Gundogan and Silva to move and receive the ball. In the second half however, there was one slight adjustment made. Herrera would go further back to make a back 5, so if a player would step out to Fernandinho, it wouldn’t leave United as exposed. A smart move to nullify a player who is capable of moving City much further up the pitch.

Sanchez improvement

Since signing from Arsenal, it is safe to say Alexis hasn’t been an instant success, but the second half shown the quality of player we have at the club. One of my biggest issues with Sanchez has actually been on the ball. He seems to miss time his passes, resulting in United losing possession. This could have been a result of only signing recently, meaning he still isn’t on the same wave length as his teammates yet. His performance on Saturday was a definite showing of how good he is. Mourinho said after the game he wasn’t happy with Lingard and Sanchez in that first half, and wanted them to come closer to Lukaku, which they definitely did. Sanchez started to move more towards the middle, giving Danilo a much harder task, and had an involvement in 3 of United’s goals. The Chilean managed to create 5 chances, more than any other player for United on the day. The ball for Pogba’s header was inch perfect. It was a delivery we expect from a player of his calibre. It is great to see him finally showing why we were so happy to sign him.

Pogba’s Payback

But of course the biggest talking point is the performance of a certain Frenchman. Pogba in the second half was everything we needed in one of our biggest players. But let’s begin with his first half. In all honesty I didn’t think he was as bad as everyone else. He was at least trying to move the ball up the field, even though it did end in failure. It was incredible to see him change that much. It was the first time all season we have seen him run into these dangerous positions, to remind us why he scored so many for Juventus. It is still up for debate whether he decided to do this himself or if Mourinho gave him these instructions. The manager did say after the game that he was happy with the midfield, so it can be safely assumed Pogba decided himself. He is turning into a real character, and especially, a leader. A leader is something that cannot be bought, but made. Most importantly he scored two good and important goals to put us back into the game, against I team I despise from the bottom of my heart. But for me the best thing he did was give Otamendi a proper hard tackle. It was something that wouldn’t even be questioned if Keano or Scholes did the same thing. A choice to waste more time and to remind city that he is there. A show of pure passion and desire. Rumours and criticism of Pogba isn’t deserved. He has struggled recently, but we all know he can become a truly brilliant player at United, and let’s hope he continues

The Party Ruined

Oh the smile on my face when seeing all those city fans miserable at full time. At the end of the day the Champions League is more important for City. They have a tough game against Liverpool and need their bigger players ready for it. But they have also missed a one in a million chance. That being winning the title in front of their rivals. I’m glad they didn’t win, but they still have this title wrapped up. If City lose to Liverpool though, I do think they have underperformed this season, which will be explained if that happens.

Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City

After 10 games off, it was great to us return with a bang. After city’s defeat on Sunday, let’s try and make this gap less embarrassing.

Magical Pogba

By now you have probably realised I have a real love for Paul Pogba. And against Stoke he really put in a Pogba performance. He was constantly demanding the ball and just driving us forward and acting as our main creative hub. He had his usual Hollywood balls to the fullback (which I would prefer him to do less of) and doing quick passes to give others space to take advantage of. He added two more assists to his tally this season, making 12 goal contributions in 13 games. To compare De Bryune has the same amount in 10 more games. I find it ludacris that Pogba is not discussed in the same bracket as the likes of Modric, De Bryune and Kroos. He has the biggest skill set of a midfielder on the planet and can do everything. Pogba is on course to have his best season in club football. Not bad for a dab merchant.

Return of Valencia

It was great to see our Ecuadorian powerhouse return in his position. With him playing it gives us a much more balances back line. While Lindelof did okay at right back, he will never have the same consistent performances in that position as our captain. It also shows why Valencia is captain in the first place. He leads by example by putting the same energetic displays every week. While he is great going forward and defensively, his cross still can’t beat the first man, he still the best right back we could get.

Lingard in midfield?

A strange decision from Mourinho but did pay off. While it wasn’t a perfect performance, he did show why Mourinho played him there. He showed his usual lively performance with some great passing moves as usual. While I love his flexibility and his new found end product. This really isn’t his best position. I would play him in these games against weaker sides, to give us an extra edge, but in tougher games I’d prefer Fellaini or Herrera to play there, to give us someone more disciplined and stronger. Good performance from Messi Lingardino.

4-3-3 working again

Another game, another reason why 4-3-3 works. It just is the right position to play, and with the possible arrive of a certain arsenal winger, it might get even better. The issue still remains that right side, and if the Sanchez rumours are true, then we might be ready next season. Sanchez will give us a big game player who is at the top of his game, ready to win games and trophies with United. While it will be costly, bringing glory back to the red side of Manchester will be worth it.

A typical English appointment

Paul Lambert? Really? It is just such an underwhelming appointment in general. I’m just tired of teams just picking the safe option. I mean there has to be someone better right. Lambert has a 27% win rate in the league, which is dreadful. He’s been appointed for doing a great job keeping Aston Villa in the league, a job he lost the season after to Tim Sherwood. The board clearly do not know what they’re doing or do not feel ambitious in their appointment. They just want a pair of predictable hands with no difficulties.

5 Talking Points from Manchester United Over The Winter Period

With so games being played, it’s time to look over the busy period with some key talking points.

Set Piece Defending

Easily the one thing that we need to improve on. On the top of my head I can remember conceeding 4 goals from set pieces. Mourinho has this reputation of being great at organizing a defence, but with all these goals being let in from set pieces, it’s incredibly worrying. Most of the time when we conceed I usually say it’s from individual errors, like the Stoke game early on was full of them, but recently I just think it’s our organisation. Mourinho recently has sorted this out clearly, with United keeping clean sheets against Southampton, Derby and Everton. The defence seems to be improving, but Mourinho to make sure that these players are not letting the opponent leave them for dead at corners. It’s seriously concerning and it could ruin all this work that can clearly be seen this season.

Lionel Jesse

Easily our most improved and our best performer, not including Pogba and De Gea of course. Lingard has just been sensational. He has finally added end product to his game, while still keeping his great work rate and quick passes. It’s something so small to love but since we struggle to break teams down that sit back, having someone who will play a quick pass to move us further up the pitch is exactly what we need. And most importantly of course, he can only score screamers. It’s as if he’s competing with himself for goal of the season, and he’s winning. He’s been the main reason why we haven’t let Chelsea keep second place. He saved us points against, Arsenal, Burnley, Everton, West Brom and Derby. He gets important goals. Even if he drops off he will be thanked for performing so well in December and going into January.

An Unsure Rashford

It’s clear to see Rashford is not in the greatest of form at the moment. In certain areas he’s been unlucky but it’s clear to see it’s just an error in his game right now. When he first broke onto the scene anything he hit went in. But now Rashford can’t even hit a barn door in the form he’s in. When you watch the moments he misses in more detail it is clear to see that he is overthinking the whole thing. The obvious one is the chance he missed against Leicester. He was one on one with the keeper and didn’t know weather to shoot or try and get a penalty. He took so long to decide the keeper eventually intercepted him. This is all just immaturity in his game. He needs to work on his under pressure decision making and literally the only way to work on that is to keep getting in those positions when given the chance. The fans just need to keep supporting him and hopefully he keeps it up and eventually this drought will end.

Resurgence of Luke Shaw

Shaw has started four out of his last five games. His most consistent amount of appearances for a while. He is also playing very well. He just looks so much sharp and most importantly, much fitter. It seems that Mourinho has had issues with his fitness recently and he seems to be proving the manager wrong. I’m glad to see Shaw playing regularly again. It’s been so long and he deserves this. I still think we need cover at left back. If Shaw continues to perform this regularly until the end of the season, then I might change my stance on that.

The 4-3-3

I’ve made this clear so many times in the past. The 4-3-3 is our best formation because it gets the best out of one of our very few world class players. When we play in a 4-2-3-1 we always seem to struggle, with Pogba having to do so much defensive work and come so deep to get the ball. Pogba is great at playing those long passes across the pitch. I like them but it bothers me because he is so much more. He is a one of a kind footballer that can do just everything, but especially he is great at running into space and beating opponents. He is just such a unique player that forcing to make those long switch passes just is a real shame. If we had 3 in midfield it will enable someone else to drop deep to get the ball from defence and give it to Pogba. With Herrera just not performing this season, it will have to be a new player to fill this whole. On the top of my head I can think of a few names. Milenkovic-Savic, Allan, Jao Mario, Rabiot, Fabinho and Goretzka come to mind. All these players could do exactly what we need. Of course if I could choose anyone it would be Luka Modric. But we can’t always have what we want.