Why Mourinho Was Sacked. Top 5 League Talking Points

While this week wasn’t as interesting as the last, there are still plenty to talk about so let’s start with Germany

Bundesliga

Frankfurt Outclass Leverkusen

While Bayern and Leipzig all pick up big wins, let’s look at Frankfurt, who continued their great start to the season with a 2-1 victory over Bayern Leverkusen. While Frankfurt have been very good this season, Leverkusen are still a side that can cause any side trouble, with Werder Bremen conceding 6 against them. They also haven’t lost since the 11th of November, so this was a tough task for both sides.

Let’s start with the winners, who won this game, even without their young shot machine Luka Jovic, who started the game on the bench. This wasn’t as bad as it seems. They still had both Ante Rebic and Sebastian Haller, who have been very good this season. Rebic has continued on from his World Cup exploits, with the Croatian scoring 5 and assisting 2. His shot numbers are healthy considering he’s played all over the field this season, and he’s creating 1.8 chances a game, showing how much of a well rounded player he is. While he has been good, Haller has been absolutely brilliant. He’s scored 9 goals and is at the top of the assists chart in the Bundesliga, with 8. If you count the Europa League, he’s in double figures for both goals and assists. He’s incredible in the air and while he has been rather fortunate to have this many goal contributions, he has still been arguably the best player in the Bundesliga this season. Against Bayer Leverkusen, he took 4 shots, created 3 chances and won a ridiculous 12 aerial duels. Dragovic and Tah just couldn’t deal with him, with the pair only winning 3 aerial duels. I wouldn’t be surprised if clubs aren’t looking at him, for bids in the summer. He’s only 24, meaning there is still a ceiling to hit. He was only signed for £6.3m from Utrecht. What a brilliant bit of business from a club that seems to keep impressing me.

While Haller was as good as ever, the man of the match was arguably Filip Kostic. The Serbian was great on the day, scoring and assisting to help his side get the 3 points. He also created 2 chances, made 4 tackles and interceptions and 6 clearances. Frankfurt play in a way where their full backs are pushed so far forward, that they are almost like inside forwards. The first goal showed this, with Kostic assisting Da Costa with a beautiful low cross. It gives their side a constant attacking threat in all areas, and it means players like Rebic and Haller can stay more central without worrying about lacking isolation. But their marauding full backs come at a cost. It leaves them so vunarable at the back. Leverkusen were probably unlucky to not get more out of this game. They started it off so well, with Brandt having two great chances, and Bellerabi having a goal disallowed. They exploited the wide areas that are always left so free at times, and if not for better finishing, would have let Frankfurt pay for it. But they didn’t, and Frankfurt continue on this season, looking to get Europa League football.

La Liga

Betis back on track

While November did include a brilliant victory over Barcelona, it wasn’t a great month for Betis. It was their only win last month, with a draw against Celta and a defeat to a poor Villarreal, it left them in a position where they couldn’t seem to put two wins together. Now in December, they haven’t lost a single game yet, with their only points dropped being in the Europa League. Wins and clean sheets against Sociedad and Vallecano, means they are finally showing how good they really are. This side have a solid defense, and a great midfield. This actually transitions very smoothly to talk about Giovanni Lo Celso. The Argentine is one of my favourite players to watch this season, and has been the best midfielder in the league. While he’s only started 9 games, it is because the horrible Europa League campaign they are also playing in. He’s clearly being saved for those games, and it’s understandable why. Lo Celso is a midfielder who can play anywhere in the midfield. His tackle numbers and great dribble numbers make him a very flexible player, similar to Moussa Dembele or Allan. The difference here is goals. Lo Celso is Betis’s top scorer, and while it’s only with 4, it does show how good he at getting in the box. He also ranks third in the squad for shots per game, and xG says he is achieving what he should be, which shows there isn’t much luck or a purple patch here. This is Lo Celso playing his game, which is just frightening. He’s only 22, meaning there are still plenty of years left.

He was the man of the match in this game, taking 4 shots and completing 4 dribbles. Lo Celso is not a creator. Canales takes that role (and is another who has performed very well), while Lo Celso plays as the player who arrives late in the box, but is also an expert at winning the ball back. It does seriously trouble me why Paris let him go out on loan, and are now forced to play Marquinhos to play as a holding midfielder, a position where Lo Celso could definitely fill in. It would would amaze me if Paris actually let him go. He’s a player with massive potential would offer something different in a midfield which will see Rabiot leave by the summer. He is such a good player and is the reason why Betis are such a threat.

Ligue 1

Monaco Misery Continues

It is fair to say Monaco have been the worst side in Europe. They have went from Ligue 1 runners up, to a side hiring a manager with zero experience, and are now suffering for it. They have conceded the 4th most goals in the league, and scored the 3rd least amount of goals in Europe. They have turned from league winners, to a shambles. This game against Lyon just shows their weaknesses in both areas. They are currently suffering with 16 players out in the sidelines. I can definitely sympathise with Henry in that department. He has been forced to play Raggi as a right back, a player who should really not be at the club at this point. Monaco were truly awful in this game. It may become boring just looking at numbers, but they sum up the situation perfectly. The five highest shot takers in this game were all Lyon players, and the most dribbles were all Lyon players. Falcao actually won 3 tackles, more than all of his teammates. A striker should never be doing that. They had a pass accuracy of 77%. That is just awful. You expect a side, with ball players like Monaco to have at least 80%. You expect lower than that from direct managers like Mourinho and Sam Allardyce. While Lyon managed 21 shots, Monaco managed a poultry 4, meaning Aouar and Depay had more shots than their opposition, with 5 each. This all wasn’t helped from Golovin getting sent off. The Russian decided to throw a terrible challenge in, earning a straight and justifiably got his marching orders. They offered nothing in this game, which can’t be highlighted more than Benaglio getting the second highest amount of touches with 45. It was just a nothing performance from a side that has been no where near average this season.

Let’s quickly look at Lyon. They are now looking like the second best team in Ligue 1, which they are. Their best player on the day was Nabil Fekir. It might be an exaggeration, but he is arguably one of the top 20 players on the planet. Not many attackers can boast his creativity, shot numbers, set piece ability, dribbling and versatility. There’s so much to his game that is makes him such a desirable player to every top club. He could get into any team in the world. This game showed his quality. He scored, created 6 chances and completed the most passes out of any forward for Lyon. He was at his unbeatable best in this game, tearing through Monaco as if they were a light piece of paper. It was a great performance from a player who is just too good for this league. Another who stood out is Kenny Tete. He completed the most tackles and created 4 chances, with only Fekir creating more. His cross for the second goal was fantastic, and showed this determination and fight that he clearly has.

With Paris already seemed to have wrapped up the league, Lyon could seriously shock some sides the champions league. Barcelona are arguably the favourites for the competition, but injuries to their defenders and Luis Suarez’s ability to have an incredible off day, means they are definitely beatable. Valverde’s pragmatism is his biggest weakness, and best quality. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it just doesn’t work. Losing to Roma, failing to win the league because of his complete team change against Levante, and their terrible performance against Betis only last month. It leaves questions on whether they can actually go the distance. They go against this Lyon side. A side full of attacking quality, and a side that showed a lot of versatility in the past, able to play a 4-4-2, a 4-4-2 diamond, a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3. It could be a real challenge, as Manchester City found out.

Premier League

Manchester United outclassed

While this is quite late, let’s look at Mourinho’s last game in charge of Manchester United, arguably his side’s worst showing. I compare every single bad performance from United this season to that game against Brighton, where I saw nothing in attacking sense and complete incompetence in defense. Even the games against, Southampton, Valencia, Juventus, Manchester City, Spurs and Derby, they just weren’t as bad as Brighton, but the against their closest rivals is definitely the worst. Allowing Liverpool to have 36 shots, is a disgrace. United just sat back and allowed Liverpool to attack relentlessly. While Liverpool were quite wasteful, with Fabinho, Lovren and Mane all wasting chances, they still created so many chances and were allowed so because of just how bad United were. While United did get a goal back thanks to an Allison mistake, it was not deserved. Liverpool won the game thanks to goals from Xherdan Shaqiri. I think the line up was the start of things to come for United. No Martial, Pogba or Mata meant a huge lack of creativity and spark in the side. It made United so much more predictable and passive in an attacking sense. They lacked Mata’s ability to drift and find space, Martial’s speed and chance creation and Pogba’s pure arrogance. While I like Herrera, he isn’t going to offer anything in a creative sense, and Matic is just not very good. I like Lingard, but he works better when he’s playing off other attackers. Rashford, while he tried his hardest, did struggle in this game. United are an absolute mess, and it truly doesn’t make sense. This side has some of the best attackers in the league. Lukaku was scoring over 20 goals only 2-3 years ago, Martial was carrying United’s attack, Rashford was ruthless in his first full season, Sanchez was linked to every single top during his final year at Arsenal, Mata is arguably as good as David Silva. How this team isn’t scoring more than Arsenal and Chelsea is mind blowing. Mourinho started his time at United so well. Two trophies, an arrogance and swagger with the signings of Zlatan and Pogba, and huge progress to be made. However it’s just been downhill from there. This is written right after Mourinho was sacked, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been appointed. The Norwegian will hopefully bring back the confidence in this side, and make times at Old Trafford much more enjoyable.

While I still do not think Liverpool are near City in performance and quality, credit needs to be given. They were very good against United. It does help that their opponent was so bad, but they themselves were good. Fabinho was their best player on the day for me. While many have given Shaqiri the man of the match for his effect on the game, I think Fabinho did show exactly why Liverpool have been such a solid side this season. While he started slow, he seems to have finally found his place and purpose in this side. Considering he was playing in defensive midfield, he played more as a number ten. He had 5 shots, created 2 chances and 3 dribbles. He got the assist for the first goal, with an excellent ball that cut the United defense open like cheese. He dominated this game and could be a real important player in a season where Liverpool finally seem ready for a trophy.

Serie A

Roma entertain Genoa

With all the big clubs getting typical wins, let’s look at the most entertaining of those wins, being Roma’s 3-2 victory over Genoa. Roma have been poor this season. I still have massive question marks over Di Francesco, and Monchi just hasn’t had the impact all expected him to have. I do think it is a massive shame that Malcom made the wrong decision in joining Barcelona. If he did sign as he was expected to, they would definitely be more of a threat in front of goal. Roma have scored a very good 29 goals, but an injury to Dzeko has left them with a difficult situation. Schick hasn’t impressed in the slightest since his arrival from Sampdoria last season. Instead, they started Zaniolo. The Italian didn’t manage a shot on target in the game, but having the opportunity will definitely help him grow as a player. For the first time this season, I can say Roma’s midfield were very good. Di Francesco chose to start Bryan Cristante and Steven N’Zonzi in this game. Cristante is a player who isn’t full of talent, but he did show what he’s got against Genoa, scoring and creating 3 chances. His midfield partner was even better. N’Zonzi has not been great since his arrival in the capital. He’s started show his age, and struggling with the pace of some sides in Italy. But in this game he was back to his best. He completed 6 tackles and interceptions, and won 8 aerial duels. He is finally showing why Monchi chose to take another risk on him, at an age where he should start to be fading. He hasn’t been at his best this season, but he is still a presence in midfield and hopefully he can find a certain place in this side. With Pellegrini in the sidelines, it was important that the pair stepped up, and they did.

Genoa can truly call themselves unlucky. They had a lead in this game, with the shot monster Piatek and Hiljemark both scoring, but Roma clawed back and got the result. xG had this game at 1.88 to Roma and 2.18 to Genoa. This is mainly due to how good Piatek is. The Polish marksman has been on fire this season, and showed it here. He had 5 shots, with every single shot on target. It’s something you don’t usually see from a forward, being able to hit every shot on target in a game against the second best defense last season. There is no doubt that Piatek is over performing, but he is playing for a side that isn’t exactly a top 6 contender. They don’t create a crazy amount of chances, so it’s very impressive. It’ll be hard for Genoa to keep hold of him, if any big clubs would go for him.

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How Good is Emery’s Arsenal? Top 5 League Talking Points

While illness did restrict me from talking about last week’s talking points, let’s look at this week. I’ll start to lessen the amount I discuss, just to make sure they are out at a reasonable date. Let’s start straight into it.

Bundesliga

Werner wins game for Leipzig

With Dortmund and Bayern winning rather uneventfully, let’s look at Leipzig. When they arrived in the Bundesliga a couple of seasons ago, they started off like a rocket, actually ahead of Bayern by Christmas. While hated by the Bundesliga fans, they are ran so well and with Nagelsmann coming next summer, this season seem to only be a transition, to make sure they have a satisfactory season and stay in the Top 6, however they’ve actually been incredible. They currently sit in 3rd and have been an absolute wall at the back. While they didn’t start off well, conceding 4 against Dortmund in the first game and conceding 2 against Hoffenheim, they haven’t actually conceded since their game against Hoffenheim. That was at the end of September. They have been incredible defensively and have surprised everyone.

Let’s move on to the game in question. RB Leipzig beat in form a good Borussia Mönchengladbach side 2-0, with Timo Werner scoring a brace. On paper, this would have been a very difficult game for RB Leipzig. Their opponents put 3 past Bayern Munich and only Dortmund have scored more than their 30 goals. They’ve been in incredible form and were going to be tough to hold back. However Leipzig got the 3 points, scoring two and making Mönchengladbach look like an average side. The victors created twice as many chances, and were very effective on the counter attack. They used the likes of Werner, Poulsen and Bruma to use their pace to break Mönchengladbach quickly. While Bruma was underwhelming, Poulsen and Werner were at their very best. They are probably one of my favourite striking partnerships in Europe right now. Werner is a goalscoring machine, being one of the best players in a one on one. While Poulsen does lack that killer instinct, he is brilliant in the air and a solid creator for his German partner. Both goals just showed how well they work together. Poulsen won the ball in air and gifted it Werner in a good position to carry the ball, which he eventually scored. The second was an excellent showing, with Poulsen getting on the end of a long ball and gifting Werner with an open goal. In this game, Poulsen created more chances than anyone else, and won 3 aerial duels, with only Konate winning more for his side. I always wanted to see a better goalscoring rate from Poulsen, but I finally see why Leipzig love him so much. He helps the team around him in such an effective way. It could actually explain why Werner was so poor in the world cup. He didn’t have his partner in crime to give defenders a difficult job, to give Werner more space to get in behind.

This season was not supposed to be this important. Ralph Rangnick however has kept them so competitive, and arguably better than they’ve ever been. It makes the arrival of Nagelsmann even more exciting.

La Liga

Madrid dispatch Valencia

With Barcelona just failing to show consistency, it’s left La Liga in a weird place. Sevilla drew to in form Alaves, and the Blaugrana were able to win 2-0 against strugglers Villarreal. However focus this week will be on Madrid, who cruised past a frustrating Valencia with a 2-0 victory. Solari’s arrival stunk of panic and hope of a Zidane scenario, where he will hit the ground running and motivate the squad. But after a humiliating defeat to Eibar, and an underwhelming victory over Roma, it hasn’t started out as well as everyone hoped. This win was an impressive one.

Madrid started the game with a very different starting XI. Vasquez was brought in on the right side, with Bale shifting to the left. On paper, Vazquez seemed to be playing to keep Guedes and Gaya, two very attacking players, quiet. This turned out to be true, with Vazquez putting in 6 tackles and interceptions in this game. He truly put a shift in for his side, and helped them get the win. He also scored late in the game to seal the win, showing how he helped Madrid in both departments. While the chances to their attack were interesting, their midfield was very different. With an injury to Casemiro, it forced Modric to play alongside Ceballos and Llorente. All three were fine on the day, with Ceballos standing out with the Spaniard making 7 tackles. It does seem as if Solari wants to use these younger players. There are plenty of reasons why. The first being both Llorente and Ceballos will add some sort of defensive stability in the absence of Casemiro, and the other, more believable one, is egos. A problem a lot of top clubs have is the amount of egos in those dressing rooms. Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid all famously have teams full of players with high demands. Whether it’s Sergio Ramos being Perez’s mouth piece, or James Rodriguez criticising his own manager after a couple of months, it seems Madrid players love to have their way. Playing young players who are desperate to play pleases not only those players, but the fans. Madrid fans, like their players, are very irritating. Their showings of white flags and booing of players like Ronaldo, who did so much for them, paints such a bad picture. They prefer when they see guys like Asensio and Ceballos play. It’s because most Madrid and Barcelona fans are also huge national team fans. They want not only their country to succeed, but to succeed with their players.

Let’s quickly touch on Valencia, who were not good on the day, or all season. Their drop off has been staggering to say the least. With Champions League football returning, and signings like Wass, Gameiro and Batshuayi all looking exciting, everything seemed to be on the up, but it’s been far from that. Last season they were extremely lucky. They started off with Simone Zaza in hot form until the New Year. After his drop off, Santi Mina came in and carried on from his teammates great start. They are struggling in front of goal and that cannot be understated. While they have been defensively solid, with only Atletico Madrid conceding less, they cannot stop drawing games. They’ve drawn a total of 8 games in La Liga, which at this point of the season is crazy. To show I crazy it is, only Bilbao have drawn as many games as Valencia, in all the top 5 leagues. They just cannot kill games off and it’s easy to see. None of their forwards have scored more than 2 goals, and they’ve all looked poor. Santi Mina just cannot hit the back of the net at the moment. Rodrigo’s numbers have stayed the same, but is having a similar problem. However the biggest drop off has to be Gonzalo Guedes. The former Benfica forward has been a shadow of the player he was last season. His dribbling and key pass numbers have dropped off a cliff, and just seems to not have the same confidence and fearlessness as last season. When I said that Valencia were lucky last season, it mainly stemmed from how they over performed xG last season. It’s the complete opposite this time. They are arguably the unluckiest team in Europe at the moment, with xPTS saying they should have roughly 23 points, which would put them in 3rd. It’s honestly incredible how they’ve changed. Marcelino is a good coach however, and there is a high chance he will turn it around.

Ligue 1 –

Lyon play entertaining draw with Lille

While PSG finally dropping points might be interesting, my distain for that club and most of their players leaves me not wanting to give them attention, so let’s look at Lyon and Lille. Both sides have been good this season, with Lille looking back to their best and Lyon finally getting some form after a relatively slow start. On paper, this was going to be a must watch, and I’d say it was.

Let’s start with Lille, who started the season off so well, have finally started to slow down. They haven’t won a game since the end of October, and have since lost to PSG and lost in the Coupe de la Ligue to Strasbourg. The most worrying signs have been the form of Bamba and Pepe. I said both have been arguably the most inform players in Europe, but have since slowed down. Pepe hadn’t scored since their defeat to PSG, and looked so poor against Nice. Bamba has also really slowed down, with the Frenchman not scoring since the 6th of October. While not being at their best in recent weeks, they started his game off like a rocket. Thanks to goals from Loic Remy and Nicolas Pepe, it gave them a deserved 2 goal advantage. While both were good on the day, with Pepe finally putting in those shot numbers expected by now, Thiago Mendes stood out. The Brazilian has been a consistent name on the team sheet this season. He put in 4 tackles and interceptions in this game, and created 5 chances. Lille were very much playing on the counter attack, and Mendes played his role brilliantly. The home side only had 28% possession, and Mendes only completed 21 passes, meaning he created roughly a chance every 4 passes. What a very effective performance from the midfielder.

Let’s move onto Lyon, who clawed back after conceding two. They didn’t create many chances, but that can be explained by their desperation to win the game in the second half, meaning the chances you make aren’t usually the best ones. One player who stood out in different ways was Memphis Depay. After releasing releasing his strange yet brilliant 5 million Instagram followers rap, he followed that by missing a penalty. It’s just so poetic. He was still good on the day however, creating 4 chances and had 5 shots. He just seems to be unable to slow down at the moment. After a start which I vividly remember calling underwhelming, they seem to finally be back on track. This squad has some very talented players, and it won’t be long until their talent is taken from them. They have to make this season a memorable one, because it could be the end of this promising team

Premier League

The North London Derby

By far the biggest game in Europe on the weekend, Spurs went to the Emirates to play their biggest rivals, Arsenal, and to see where both are at this stage of the season. It was Arsenal who came out as the victors, with the Gunners cruising past a nervy Spurs side 4-2. The first half was interesting to say the least. After Vertonghen giving away a very unnecessary hand ball, Aubamayeng slotted home the following penalty. After a fightback from Tottenham, Arsenal eventually ran out winners.

Let’s start with Arsenal, who arguably put in their best performance of the season. While they will always seem to be defensively suspect, they played the game well and especially their midfield. Both Xhaka and Torreira were very dominant in this game. Over the years, the biggest criticism of Arsenal has been their lack of bite in midfield. Players like Coquelin, Elneny, Flamini and Arteta have all been criticised for just not being good enough. But since Torreira’s arrival, they’ve seriously stepped up. While Torreira isn’t a great creator, his aggression, fight and speed make him such an effective partner to Xhaka. Let’s quickly touch the Swiss international. Since he’s been starting with Torreira, he has been given less responsibility in a defensive sense, and allowed him to carry the ball and help transition. The problem Xhaka has had is he has been playing with Ramsey in the last couple of years, a player with nearly zero defensive responsibility. It left Xhaka with a lot to do and he just isn’t mobile enough to do it. Torreira has transformed him and made them arguably the best partnership in the league. I said before the season even started that Torreira is an excellent player and even called him Arsenal’s best signing, and it’s good to see my predictions coming true.

Arsenal are finally looking like evolving. They became passive and were always written off before the season even began. Now with Emery, they have added some bite and resilience to a side in need of it. He seems to have actually turned Arsenal into how they were in the 90s, where they didn’t win by much, but were solid and had big players all over the park. They were threatening from the word go, and scares oppositions in the tunnel. There is still so much work to do however. Emery still needs to figure out how to get Aubamayeng and Lacazette in the same side. He also needs to add some width into his team. Iwobi seems to be the only player in this side who you’d count as a winger. They’ve been linked to Nicolas Pepe, a player I have covered extensively, and would definitely be a needed addition in January. While those are important matters, it’s their defense which needs the most improvement. While they have improved slightly, they are still arguably the worst side in the top 6 in a defensive sense. They face much more shots than the top 3, and don’t even put in as much tackles and interceptions as expected. xPTS says they are actually the luckiest team in the league. The Gunners are on 31 points, when they are only expected to get 22, which would place them 9th in the league. There is still plenty of work to do, but there are signs that the future could be bright.

Let’s quickly touch on Spurs, who just didn’t turn up in this game. The Emirates has always been a real unlucky ground for them, with their last win there coming in 2010. There was always doubts if Pochettino’s side could hold their nerves and get a victory against a side which has been incredibly lucky. If the Premier League was ranked based on half time results, Arsenal would be bottom. It meant that Spurs needed to start the game off with a bang and try and shut up shop. They failed to do so, and it cost them. It’s as simple as they didn’t turn up. It’s been a consistent criticism under Pochettino, how one game they can go to Old Trafford and walk all over Manchester United, and then suddenly lose to Watford the next. Spurs are a great side, but they have these occasions when the pressure gets to them. This game sums it up. Even when Spurs were better than their rivals, Arsenal still were able to put up a performance when Spurs came to town. Something needs to be fixed in the way they approach these games.

Serie A

Serie A is really starting to liven up with some incredible fixtures. This week, Inter Milan visited struggling Roma, to play the most played fixture in Serie A history (117 times).

Let’s start with the home side, who have not been great this season. Their defense seems to have gotten worse since last season, which only conceded 28 goals last season. They have already conceded 18, which isn’t a good sign from a team that relied heavily on their defensive resilience. While their 24 goals scored is a respectable amount, it’s arguably their most positive aspect this season. Only Juventus take more shots on target than Roma. They have been slightly unlucky. If they sort their defense out, they should be back to their best.

Let’s move on to their game against Inter, where they were able to salvage a draw, thanks to an amazing goal from Under and a penalty from Kolorov. The game was slightly in Inter’s favour, with the away side having more shots and having a majority of the possession. Roma definitely had chances however, with Florenzi hitting the post early on being a game changing moment. The Giallorossi as a team were very good. It’s a performance they needed, after losing to both Udinese and Real Madrid, Di Francesco needs to keep up with Milan and Lazio for that 4th spot. Patrick Schick definitely helped his side on the day. I haven’t been impressed with him since his arrival from Sampdoria back in 2017. While his game time has been minimal, he just hasn’t given enough reason for Dzeko to not start. He won 6 aerial duels in this game and created 2 chances, including the Florenzi miss previously mentioned. While he didn’t take a shot, he was still effective for his side.

Inter were the side that probably deserved the 3 points. Both Icardi and Keita Balde have continued their great form into this game, with both scoring. However their best player was arguably Marcelo Brozovic. Croatia has had a golden age of midfield talent, with Modric, Rakitic and Kovacic all establishing themselves at the top level. While all are excellent players, Brozovic has been absolutely sensational this season. He has solid defensive work, with an incredible range of passing. The Croatian has actually been averaging 7.8 long balls per 90. He is a key component in Spaletti’s side. He keeps them moving and helps dominate in the midfield. In this game, he created 4 chances, had more touches than any Inter player and completed the most passes. He is truly an elite midfielder, and I’d be surprised if clubs like Paris and United aren’t keeping their eye on him.

Barcelona Won’t Win the Treble because…. Top 5 League Talking Points

There were plenty of big games to discuss this weekend, so let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga – Bayern finally lose. Nagelsmann’s new Vs old.

The Bundesliga was very interesting this week. It shows how that even though Dortmund fought from behind to beat Leverkusen, and to top the Bundesliga, that they aren’t even the main two talking points. Let’s begin with Bayern, who lost their first league game under Niko Kovac, losing to an inform Hertha Berlin side by 2 goals to 0. It was mostly a deserved win for Hertha, who took advantage of a very mediocre Bayern display. Bayern had 25 shots, but only 5 on target, with Lewandowski getting the best chance of the game when it was 0-0. Expected goals had Bayern at 2.41 because of the sheer amount of shots they had. It doesn’t excuse individual errors however, with Boateng making such an unnecessary tackle to give Hertha the first goal. Duda has continued his excellent start to the season by scoring his 5th goal of the season. But the stand out performer for Hertha was their full back Lazaro, who made 5 interceptions and got the assist for his teammate. He did everything you expect a full back to do in the modern game. Kovac set his team up in a 4-1-4-1, but when looking at the average player positions, Both Robben and Ribery were playing near Lewandowski. It looked more like a 4-3-3 in the end. Maybe Kovac wanted them further back to limit the effects of the wingers, who knows, but it was clear attacking was their priority. Renato Sanches was another who wasn’t so impressive. Kovac has put a lot of faith in the Euro 2016 winner, after his disastrous spell in Wales, and his first season struggles in Germany. It has mostly paid off, but in this game he was very poor. While his defensive work in a game where Bayern had 69% possession is irrelevant, you want Sanches doing more in a creative or attacking sense. He didn’t make a single key pass or even a cross or long ball. He was a passenger and just didn’t contribute enough in the game. It was a bad day at the office for Bayern, and no the pressure is on.

Nagelsmann had a very awkward day in the office, with his Hoffenheim side playing his future employers RB Leipzig, where he saw his current side lose 2-1. Leipzig played this game very well, using the very intense style of Hoffenheim to their advantage. Werner was used effectively in dragging Akpoguma wider, which gave Poulsen room in that space to run. He had an excellent game, scoring both goals for the away side. He also made 4 key passes, completed 7 aerial duels and had 3 shots on target. Poulsen had always been a useful player, but never a consistent scorer. He already has 3 goals this season, which is one less than his entire tally last season. If he keeps it up, he could finally prove he is ready for the top level. However Hoffenheim were not at their best in this game. While it was very close, their just didn’t have the players upfront to put them over the line, in the same way Leipzig do. Both Szalai and Belfodil only managed a single shot on target between them. It does give something for Julien Nagelsmann to look forward to, when he gets his hands on that RB Leipzig team, and most importantly their scouting network, they could be a real home for young players and talented ones alike.

La Liga – Another draw for Barca. The Madrid Derby.

The top of the table just seems to keep getting interesting, because it seems no one wants to be there. Barcelona had to win this game, to get that advantage over their Madrid rivals, who played each other later in the day. They didn’t do that however, and ended up having to scrape back a goal to draw against Athletic Blibao. Valverde continues to puzzle me with his strange tactical decisions when choosing his side. With Umtiti injured, it left only Pique and Lenglet as viable options for the game. While both are good defenders, neither have the incredible strength and athleticism that their French teammate possesses. Valverde’s team selection really only baffled me further up the pitch. Why play Roberto in midfield, when you’d think Semedo would come in to give him a rest for the Champions League tie against Spurs? You’d think playing Rafinha would make more sense. The forward line was the most baffling of all. He left Malcom out of the squad entirely. Why? This was a perfect chance to rest Suarez and Messi, and start a forward line of Dembele Coutinho and Malcom, to see if playing all three could still work. Yet he decided to play Suarez again. Suarez is still a useful player, but is not near the level he was when he arrived. He takes less shots and just doesn’t offer as much as others in build up. I said in the title that Barcelona will not win the treble they should probably be aiming for, and this is why. Valverde seems to have no idea how to please all of these players and how to correctly use his squad. Busquets, Pique, Messi and Suarez have been so important over the recent years, but they are all over 30 now, and need to be managed right. Valverde has not done that, and I could mean a struggle as the season goes on. A poor result and another baffling decision from the Barcelona manager.

The hotly anticipated Madrid Derby didn’t go to plan, with the game ending in a 0-0 draw. This is the fourth time in a row where this game has ending in a tie, with the last victory going to Madrid 2 seasons ago (famously remembered for Ronaldo’s hat trick). While it did end goalless, there is still plenty to talk about. Let’s begin with the goalkeepers. Jan Oblak has been the second best goalkeeper for a while now, and further showed that against Real. He made 6 saves in the game, including an excellent one to stop Asensio from scoring. Courtois also had a good day against his former team, with the Belgian making 2 great saves to stop both Costa and Griezmann from scoring. Both clubs are blessed with elite stoppers, and is one reason why their defense can always be relied on. Two other players who were good on the day were Toni Kroos and Rodri. Both midfielders are playmakers, yet from different generations. One is a world cup winner, the other was signed from Villarreal in the summer and called one of the signings of the summer by myself. Atletico have had a bit of a midfield problem to say the least. Since Gabi’s departure, they have not been able to fill the void that their talisman left. Rodri since a great controller, usually averaging over a 90% pass accuracy, and is also able to do his defensive work. He showed both against Real Madrid, He had the highest pass accuracy in the game (excluding substitutions of course), put in 6 tackles and interceptions, and made a key pass. It was an overall solid performance from their young Spaniard. On the other end of the spectrum, Toni Kroos put in one of his usual performances. There was plenty of creating and passes, with Kroos completing 103 passes, and making 4 key passes. Anther solid showing from an established star. After this draw, it leaves both Madrid sides and Barcelona in real contention for the title. It is still very difficult to predict.

Ligue 1 – Lille Smash Marseille. Monaco at Rock Bottom.

Ligue 1 is turning more into a one horse race as the season is going along. Lyon just struggle to consistently gather, Marseille still look weak away from home, and Monaco are just a mess ( oh we will get to them). Let’s start with Marseille, who were truly humiliated against Lille, who won 3-0 at home. It was a real bad performance from the away side. Payet didn’t play this game, neither did Sanson, Amavi or Mitroglou. I criticised Mitroglou last week, but Germain wasn’t much better. The Frenchman didn’t even manage a shot all game, and just showed how ineffective Marseille were in the final third. While they were very lackluster in the final third, it was defensively where they were at their worst. Both Gustavo and Mandanda have away penalties, that looking back on, they should have never given them away. Both were reckless and are experienced enough to not be giving away penalties like that. That isn’t to take anything away from Lille however. While two of their goals were penalties, their third goal was an absolutely great team goal, and just showed why they deserved the win. Both Bamba and Pepe were key for the home side again. Their forwards have not been firing, so seeing their wide players contributing so well must be a relief. It’ll be interesting to see how both Bamba and Pepe continue to perform this season. Many top sides are always in need of wide talent. It they continue their great run of form, it could result in a big move for one of them. Both have started every game, and have scored 5 goals each. They have been electric. Lille now sit in 2nd, ahead of both Montpellier and St Etienne. This could finally see their return to the big time.

Monaco just cannot get a few wins together. They lost another game on Friday, this time to St Etienne by 2 goals. This wasn’t as bad as some of Monaco’s earlier performances, with both Falcao and Adama Traore having good chances to put the visitors ahead, but failed. St Etienne were very clinical on the day. They won the game thanks to an excellent performance from Kazri. The Tunisian was in hot form in this game, scoring two brilliant goals to put his side ahead. St Etienne did deserve the win, if not a bit lucky that Monaco are just in this much of a rot at the moment. Monaco were very wasteful in this game. Both Diop and Falcao managed 9 shots between them, yet only got 2 target. Falcao especially was poor in this regard. He had an excellent chance to put his side ahead with a chance at the near post, and missed it. It’s hard to say where Monaco go from here. They now sit at 18th, with only 1 win this season. Their model of selling and replacing with upcoming talent just hasn’t worked. They’ve only managed 8 goals this season. They haven’t been nearly as good as last season. Let’s hope Jardim can turn this around. For all he’s done for that club, he at least deserves that.

Premier League – Embarrassing Mourinho. The Best Draw

I think there is no where else to start but Manchester United. The club is currently at its worst since Fergie left. While the club were clueless under Moyes, boring under Van Gaal, they are now an embarrassment. You have the manager and the best player making constant drama off and on the pitch, a board and chairman who care more about the profits than actually competing for trophies, and a manager that is so bad at his job, that this is his last job at a big club. This is the third time in a row that Mourinho has had the dressing room turn against him. There is no big club that will look at him and think he is worth the constant investment over a long period of time. Anyways, back to the game. Mourinho set up his side in a strange way. He played a 3-5-2 with Matic, Fellaini and Pogba as the three. The problem with playing this is Fellaini and Matic are just not athletic enough. It’s a formation where plenty of ground needs to be covered and both the attack and defense needs support. Matic has not performed for months, and nothing else needs to be said about Fellaini at this point. I don’t know why Mourinho is refusing to play Fred. The Brazilian might not be complete package, but he is very energetic and wants to contribute in the final third. A midfield of him, Pogba and Herrera would be pretty perfect in a 3-5-2, but Mourinho didn’t opt for that. His favouritism towards Fellaini, Matic and McTominay has resulted in the three of them getting more games than they probably deserve. Neither of them are good enough for the club, yet because the manager likes them they get games. It left United with a mountain to climb before the game started, because West Ham had an advantage. It didn’t get better, with United conceding in the first 5 minutes. He played McTominay in a back 3 and it his lack of experience showed. Why is an apparent great tactician playing a player with very limited ability in a position that barely any player could fill. He was asked to play in central defense, a position he can’t even play, yet he’s being thrown in there by Jose. The attackers were left isolated, and even when given chances, they just didn’t show anything related to drive and urgency. This is not to take anything from West Ham. They were great on the day and outperformed United in every position. Their sudden transformation into the side we all expected is such a pleasure to see. Many critics, like myself, praised the club for finally conducting the right business in the summer, and it seems to be finally paying off. A terrible day for José Mourinho, and a great day for the victors.

On a more positive note, Liverpool and Chelsea possibly produced one of the most entertaining draws in a while. It was end to end, entertaining, and probably deserved more goals than it was given. Liverpool for most of the game were more of a threat, with Salah, Mane and Firmino quickly hurting Chelsea, and taking advantage of their advanced fullbacks. Firmino especially was very good, making 4 key passes and making 2 tackles. He did everything we expect from the Brazilian at this point. However while their forward three was productive (and arguably very wasteful), their midfield was mostly anonymous. While Milner continued his excellent form and put in a good performance away from home, his teammates, Wijnaldum and Henderson, were anonymous. Henderson will have these games where he struggles to get involved, and it can pass him by when the pressure is on. He, however, was not nearly as bad as Wijnaldum. The Dutchman is not exactly my favourite around, in fact I think he is average at best. This is a game where he showed it. He didn’t do anything in defense, and didn’t contribute anything in attack. He offered nothing in a game where Liverpool needed to make a statement, and instead reminded me why he cannot be relied on in touch away games. He seems to lose his spine when he isn’t playing in Anfield. Chelsea had a similar issue. Because of the speed in which Liverpool attack, it was difficult for Sarri’s side to play the game in the way they wanted. Kovacic did have a very good game however, getting the assist, while also putting in 3 tackles. This game was everything the neutral, like myself, wanted. Let’s hope there are more. It leaves the both of them, and Manchester City in a very tight place, where if any of them slip up, it could be difficult to catch the leaders.

Serie A – Ronaldo’s Big Performance. The Rome Derby

Serie A had an excellent few fixtures to look forward to. Let’s start with the first big title deciding game of the season, where Juventus came out 3-1 victors over Napoli. While Juventus were the better team, it wasn’t completely smooth sailing. Mertens took advantage of a poor Leonardo Bonucci mistake, and stuck his side ahead. However thanks to a great performance from Ronaldo, Juventus eventually got the result they wanted. It was a very selfless performance from the Portuguese international, having a key involvement in every one of their goals. It was his perfect cross which gave his side the equaliser. It was his shot that gave Manzukic the tap in for second, and his second half strike that Bonucci taps in. He is paying back that €100m by every game he plays. His big performance is what put Juventus over the line. Selfless is not exactly a word which is best described for Ronaldo. He has always loved being the central figure of every side he’s played for, but in this game he had drop wide, and help his side in every way. It was just as good as seeing him score a great hat trick. This leaves Juventus comfortably ahead of any rival, as expected. It means the champions league must be top priority. It is the trophy that alludes Juventus. Their team is capable, and with many of the top sides over Europe currently in transition periods, this could be their chance.

And last but not least, the Rome Derby, which saw Roma defeat their local rivals Lazio by 3 goals to 1. It was a great game and it just showed how much this game means to the players and fans. Every player put their full effort on that pitch. Roma did deserve their win. The first goal was thanks to some great hold up player thanks to Edin Dzeko, and finished with a nice back heel from Pellegrini. After Immobile got Lazio back in the game, a delightful free kick from Kolarov put the home side back in the lead. Roma were great on the day. I have been doubting Di Francesco recently, unsure if he really is the man to push Roma to that next level. Roma have been really good recently, proving maybe it was an over exaggeration from myself. I still have my doubts on how he sets up his defense, but his forwards are scoring plenty, which is why their form has been so good recently. I do feel that Lazio will not be as entertaining as last season, with Anderson and De Vrij both leaving the club, but they will still compete for that top 4 spot. Roma need to sort some of their defensive issues if they are to compete with Napoli for the best of the rest, but it will be interesting to see.

La Liga is Wide Open! Top 5 Talking Points from the Top 5 Leagues 25/09/18

I thought I would wait until some of the mid week games were finished before discussing this week’s football, and I’m glad I did. Let’s get straight to the point and talk about the biggest talking points from the week.

Bundesliga – Leverkusen back on track. Bayern finally drop points

It’s no secret that both Leverkusen and Schalke started the new season in terrible both, with both sitting in the relegation zone last week, and while Schalke remain in their rot, Leverkusen are on the way up. Leverkusen have a very good side, with Leon Bailey getting plenty of plaudits and Havertz looking like a real prospect. They have won their last two games, beating both Mainz and Dusseldorf. Their win against Mainz was close, they were quite lucky to come out of their most recent win over Dusseldorf with the victory. Expected goals had the game in the home sides favourite, with it in favour of Dusseldorf. But with their drop at the moment, getting the wins is what matters. They need to get back in the groove of winning. In their last win, it was Kevin Volland who helped the side win. The German scored two to put them over the line. While his goals got the win, it was the performance of their defensive midfielder, Dominik Kohr that deserves the most credit. He won 11 tackles and interceptions, made 2 key passes and got an assist. It was a very gritty performance from Leverkusen and might be a deserved win, but they showed their quality on the day.

Bayern have had a very mixed week. They beat rivals Schalke after a James Rodriguez winner. But they followed that by drawing 1-1 with Augsburg. The game, from a performance level, was very close, with expected goals putting the game at 1.43 to Bayern and 1.33 to the away side. But just watching the game it was clear Bayern should have put that game to bed. Renato Sanches had so many chances to end any chance Augsburg had if only he put it away. The midfielder had 5 shots and only 2 on target. Bayern drew the game because of their lack of precision and a mistake from their captain. Neuer came out to catch the corner ball, but failed and the ball was then gifted to Felix Gotze, who then was gifted the easiest chance of his career. Bayern did rest players in this game, with Alaba, Ribery, Rodriguez and Lewandowski all not starting the game. Kovac thought he could take it easy for the home game but will wish his side was more ruthless on the day. After Borussia Dortmund’s 7-0 beating of Nuernburg. The pressure is on now to keep an in form Dortmund side from catching up.

La Liga – Barca and Real lose!

By far the most interesting story of the week. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have lost a game on the same day for the first time since 2015. Both did not go into their defeats in good form, with Real scraping a 1-0 win and Barcelona drawing 2-2 with Girona at home. Let’s start with Barcelona. The league leaders started the game comfortably, with Coutinho scoring an excellent volley to put them into the lead, but 69 seconds of terrible defending left Barcelona getting their first defeat of the season. The reason for that complete failure in defense falls onto Gerard Pique. He was at fault for both goals. For the first, he was in no man’s land, and left Umtiti on his own to deal with both players. While Vermalean also failed to keep up with El Zhar, Pique should be better there. The second goal was a pure error, giving the ball to Oscar Rodriguez and gifting him the goal. Pique is a very good defender who doesn’t get the credit he deserves sometimes, but he has these games where he just loses his ability to read the game. Barcelona can call themselves lucky though. Their rivals Real Madrid also lost so their defeat is not as bad as it could be. They have Bilbao at home next, which is a must win. Both Madrid clubs play on Saturday and if Barca can an advantage over one of them, it’ll make the title race much easier.

Madrid finally showed the vulnerability that I knew they had, when they lost 3-0 to an entertaining Sevilla side. Madrid were simply caught out 3 times in the game, and it resulted in them conceding 3. They just gave the ball away and were correctly punished for it. Marcelo miss placed a pass in his own half and let the Sevilla forwards hit them back. The issue with Madrid is they struggle to deal with counter attacks. While Ramos and Varane are the best around, they play quite a highline and it leaves them easy to get by when attacked with numbers. Kroos is very poor in a defensive sense (as I mentioned when talking about why Germany failed at the world cup). Modric is still not up to scratch yet, after his phenomenal world cup performance. He is usually so good at watching the space Kroos and Marcelo can leave, and can help deal with it. Sevilla were just the perfect team to beat them, and it’s worrying to see if they draw a team like Liverpool in the champions League, because they could struggle against their pace and quick attacks. A poor day at the office for Madrid, and with their local rivals being the next side they play, they must bounce back and keep pressure on Barca.

Ligue 1 – PSG dominating. Lyon Vs Marseille

While Ligue 1 is looking like it’s usual on horse race, Paris have just became the fourth side to win their first 7 games in the league’s history. They have been efficient as ever in the league, putting teams away like they are from another planet. While I do think there are huge holes in side, mainly the full backs and in defensive midfield, they just have so much talent in the final third that it makes it impossible for them not to score. One players return has been an absolute blessing for Tuchel’s side. He keeps thinks ticking in midfield and his presence means that Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani do not have to drop so deep to receive the ball. His different could easily be seen with their 4-1 win over Reims. He had 138 touches of the ball, the most on the pitch. He also made 125 passes. He was the only player to complete over 100 passes on the pitch. He is so important for Paris will be needed in the big Champions League games. Other than that, it was a usual Paris win. Let’s hope they show more of this in the Champions League, after their poor showing against Liverpool.

On another note, Marseille were beaten by Lyon by 4 goals to 2. Both Payet and Thauvin were effective in the game as ever, but their problem was Mitroglou. The Greek International has never proven to meet that he should be playing at the top level. He seriously lacks agility and works better when paired (as seen with Jonas at Benfica). He only managed a single shot in the game, and it wasn’t even on target. Both Germain and Mitroglou are good squad players, but they both have failed to convince me that they are good enough to lead a line. Lyon were very good in this game. Both Fekir and Ndombele were excellent in the game, completing a combined 9 key passes between them, with Ndombele getting 2 assists. They were key in exposing Marseille and countering them quickly. But the star man of this game was easily Bertrand Traore. The former Chelsea man has been an important addition to the current crop of talent at Lyon. His pace and ability to beat a man is always good when facing any side. In this game he was absolutely excellent. He gave Amavi constant problems and caught him out over and over, which resulted in one of the midfielders or centre backs having to spilt wide, leaving space for Depay and Fekir. This was shown from Lyon’s attack side map, showing that they made 48% of their attacks on the right side, where Traore was playing. He had an excellent game and capped it off with 2 goals. Just a perfect perfect performance. Both teams shouldn’t have much to worry about, with Lyon now showing some consistency, and Marseille have won three of their games so far, with Payet and Thauvin looking great at the start of the season. With Monaco being awful, it means top 3 could be comfortable for both of them.

Premier League – Manchester City’s 5 goal thriller. United drop points again.

Let’s focus on Manchester this week, where one side showed their quality, and the other showed their lack of it. Let’s start with the blue side, who absolutely walked over newly promoted side Cardiff with a 5-0 win. This is the second time they have scored over 5 in a game so far this season. It keeps them in touching distance of Liverpool, and on equal terms with Chelsea, after their disappointing 0-0 draw with West Ham. City were at their usual best in this game. City were excellent at creating good chances, with 86% of their shots coming inside of the 18 yard box. Their quality was shown in this game. When talking about stand out performers, one has to simply discuss Bernardo Silva. While the Portuguese did have his moments in the first team last season, he was never a consistent choice. However with the injury to Kevin De Bruyne, it has forced Silva to be put in his number 8 position. Pep is a genius for a reason, because he is able to fill the gap with the adequate solution. Silva was excellent in this game, getting a goal and an assist. He made 4 key passes, and even completed 3 tackles, a side of his game I thought he never had. City cruised this game, and it will keep them in the race against a Liverpool side who many tip to beat the Champions.

On the other side of Manchester, the red devils dropped more points at home, with a 1-1 draw against a good Wolves side. It was a very poor performance from United in an attacking sense. They failed (as usual) to create good chances for Lukaku, and were forced to take shots from anywhere, with 67% of their shots being taken from outside of the box. United had more shots, but had less shots on target (United having 6 and Wolves having 8). Expected goals shows this too, with United only having 0.61, and Wolves having 1.10. United had a majority of the ball, yet didn’t show that killer instinct their rivals show. While United did fail to create the right chances, Lukaku was still poor when given the chance to score. He only had 22 touches, and didn’t have a single shot on target. He seemed to look exhausted, and like a striker who was on a long goaless run. He is needed it United want top 4. While United were terrible, Wolves still deserve plenty of credit. Their midfield pairing of Neves and Moutinho showed discipline and caused United problems. Their average position was very close, leaving no space for United to exploit. They will be a problem for the bigger sides, with the newcomers already picking up points against both Manchester teams. Let’s see if they can keep it up.

Serie A – Insigne and Roma scoring.

With teams in Italy having 2 games in a week, it could have been a problem for some of the bigger sides, with the players not given a rest for the weekend and the champions league. However this wasn’t the case, with two sides, Napoli and Roma, both picking up 3 points with plenty of goals. Let’s start with Napoli, who followed their 3-1 win over Torino, with a 3-0 win over Parma. While Napoli haven’t been nearly as impressive as their were under Sarri, they are still playing well and looking competitive for the champions league places. Their star performer this season could only be one guy, Lorenzo Insigne. The Italian has been one of the best players in Europe over the last 3 years, not only being a great creator, but also being able to score plenty of goals. He has been like Hazard has been under Sarri, but over a much longer period of time. He is truly a great talent. He already has 5 goals and an assist this season in only 7 games. He was Napoli’s key player in this game, scoring and assisting. He likes to cut inside and shoot when given the chance, which he showed with having 5 shots in this game. His average position in this game was very close to the striker, showing how often he likes to come central. I’m still so surprised he has not been picked by Barcelona or Real Madrid over the last few years. He has had a great week, and continues to show his class.

Roma were another who scored plenty in the week, with them beating Frosinone 4-0. This wasn’t a difficult game in the slightest, but Roma have had an inconsistent season to say the least. It was important to get a huge win, to keep the players confident and get them ready for the big Rome derby. The attacking players in this game were great, Stephan El Shaarawy. The Italian’s career hasn’t reached the heights we all expected while he was at AC Milan, but has still had a good career so far. He was excellent in this game. He had 3 shots on target, made 2 key passes, completed 2 dribbles and scored a goal. Some of their players were rested in this game, with Dzeko and Florenzi both starting on the bench. They still dominated the game, and go into their huge game against Lazio in confidence.

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group G

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

CSKA Moscow

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

Real Madrid

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

Roma

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

Plzen

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

Final Table

1. Real Madrid

2. Roma

3. CSKA Moscow

4. FC Viktoria Plzen

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

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

Bundesliga – Kovac starts brightly. Dortmund Dominate.

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

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

Ligue 1 – Lyon Win in Style, Monaco Falling Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 5 Worst Transfers of the Summer – Malcolm, Bonucci

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

5. Malcolm – Barcelona

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

4. Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus

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

3. Sokratis Papastathopoulos

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

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

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