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

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

Hero – Edin Dzeko

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

Zero – Nemanja Matic

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

Hero – Rafinha

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

Zero – Hugo Lloris

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

Hero – Fabinho

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

Zero – Valencia

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

Hero – Viewers of Hoffenheim vs Lyon

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

Zero – Atletico Madrid

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

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UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group H

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

Juventus

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

Manchester United

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

Valencia

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

Young Boys

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

Final Table

1. Juventus

2. Manchester United

3. Young Boys

4. Valencia

Top 4 Most Improved Players This Season

Instead of writing about the Chelsea game, where I’d be repeating the same points from the Huddersfield, Liverpool and Spurs games, I’ve chose to speak about players who have improved. These players have had their doubters and a poor spell at another club, but now have turned it around and now are seriously performing like top players.

Simone Zaza

Simone Zaza went from the laughing stock of the Euros and the Olympic Stadium, to one of the most inform players this season. It actually has astounded me how much he has improved. When I watched the Italian for West Ham, he looked a player out of his depth, a player who had poor positioning and decision making who just couldn’t shoot. West Ham decided to end he loan early and Zaza was off to Valencia, to try and safe a once great club from relegation. After scoring 6 goals in 18 appearances, Valencia decided to make that loan spell permanent and now they have no regrets. Zaza already has scored 9 goals, only Messi has scored more. He’s averaging a goal a game which definitely an improvement over his time in East London. But not only is he scoring goals, he’s also playing really well. I decided to watch Valencia play Sevilla and the highlights for thriller against Betis, to see how much Valencia have improved. Zaza was great in both games. He held up the ball well for his goal against Sevilla, while also hitting the ball perfectly into the side netting. His goal against Betis was different. He made a great run behind a tired Betis defence, and while his first touch was quite poor, his finish, again, was sublime. It seems I was wrong about Zaza as a player, and maybe it just shows how good Valencia are doing and how bad West Ham are.

Raheem Sterling

Since his big money move to the blue side of Manchester, Sterling has shown moments of magic, but has failed to show consistency. But worrying enough too was his quality in the final third. He would rarely get into positions good enough to receive the ball, and if he did, he failed to take the chance. But it seems Pep’s coaching ability has finally taken its effect on Sterling, who has already scored 7 goals, as many as Lukaku and Morata. Yes the goals he has been scoring have been relatively easy to score, but he’s finally getting into these positions where he can finish these chances. But mostly he has rescued some games for City, including the Everton game where his goal saved them the point, and the Bournemouth game where his goal won them the game. He’s finally delivering on the potential we’ve all known he’s had. There were so many Man City players who could have been included here, such as Leroy Sane, who like Sterling, has improved on his positioning. Stones and Otamendi have finally created a partnership where they have some sort of understanding, and Delph is actually playing football. Pep deserves a lot of credit for improving these players, and it could be why they’ve looked so good.

Ben Davies

Another example of a player that Pochettino has got the best out of. Davies was a fringe player, who would slot in if Rose got injured, but since Rose has came back from injury, he just has failed to get back into the starting eleven, because of Ben Davies’s incredible form. He’s been able to still add the same width that Rose has been getting so much praise for over the last couple of seasons.  Spurs have such a reliance on their fullbacks as their creative force. It’s spurs’s biggest weakness and their biggest strength. Their over reliance is shown since they’ve been playing three at the back. Players like Eriksen and and Winks normally look for the run of the fullback, who will then try and get the ball in a dangerous area. Davies can now seamlessly fit in to the system now which must be a blessing for Spurs fans.

Paulinho

When he signed for Barcelona I did laugh. I just didn’t understand it, and I still don’t. I know I usually say money shouldn’t matter, but they paid £40m for a 29 year old. Paulinho can have the season of his life but since he’s 29 they’re only getting a good 2 years out of him. It was obvious Marco Verratti was their first choice, which makes sense considering his quality and his brilliant all around ability. But Paulinho adds something different to the team. My biggest criticism of many teams but especially Barcelona is a lack of a plan B. They have this arrogance to them where they think they can just play any team off the park. Sometimes this doesn’t work and having a different kind of player always helps. Paulinho has scored 3 goals already this season and seems to be doing excellently so far. He’s a very physical and energetic player who is a great aerial threat. Barcelona have so many pretty players its a real breath of fresh air to see a bit more of an uglier player in their team. A plan B is great to have, but their is still question marks on his longevity.

Analysing the latest Manchester United transfer rumours

As the summer transfer window now has begun, now is the best time to look at 4 players who have been linked constantly to the club, with the first two actually happening. So let’s see

Victor Lindelof

The first signing of the summer! This guy never left the gossip in January, but it turns out we never approached him and was all coming from the Portuguese press. So all united fans that was the end of it. But his name started coming up again, so it gave me the desire to look him up and see how he is, and he’s good, but I don’t know about great. I look at him and Bailly, the presumed partnership next season, to see what is different between them and there is a clear distinction between both. Bailly is a very aggressive defender who leads our defenders in tackles and interceptions. Lindelof’s number aren’t close to Bailly’s, but there is one stat that seperates them completely. Lindelof has completed 1990 passes in Portugal, that is 1000 more passes than Bailly. It’s clear that Mourinho wants better distribution from the back, with Rojo being out injured for months. It seems Mourinho wants Bailly to act as the more aggressive defender, making more tackles, like a Chiellini or Vidic, and wants Lindelof to act as the sweeper and distributer, similar to Bonucci, Ferdinand and David Luiz. On appearance Lindelof is perfect for a defender. He’s tall, strong and versitile, being able to play at right back. And of course he’s young. Ensuring him and Bailly could become partners for years to come, and hopefully Lindelof turns out a great signing.

Alvaro Morata

This name came out of nowhere. With Lukaku, Belotti and Griezmann constantly linked throughout the season. We all assumed one of them would be coming to Manchester this summer. But with Atletico Madrid having a transfer ban, Lukaku going to Chelsea and Belotti being way too expensive, Morata seems like the most likely player to arrive, and I’m very pleased. United’s biggest issue, as you should know by now, and Morata was a machine last season, becoming Madrid’s second top scorer behind Ronaldo. He’s tall, can header the ball, and most of all, he’s a deadly finisher. United need a man to keep scoring , and  Morata seems like the guy. Most importantly to me, he had battered the smaller teams in Spain. United haven’t demolished the smaller teams this season and need to not give them a chance. Morata has been playing for team that destroyed teams all season. We are paying a lot for the guy, but I hope he turns out good, and scores a number of goals.

Ivan Perisic

Another one that came out of nowhere but makes sense. Perisic is a good player who contributes greatly from out wide. An issue last season for the red devils was a player outwide who could hold on to his position. Martial was very inconsistent, Mhikitaryan didn’t start till November and only occasionally showed his quality and Mata wasn’t quick enough to damage Fullbacks. It resulted in Mourinho playing Rashford and even Rooney outwide to add something. It’s a position we need to fix desperately. We can’t be relying on Morata and Rashford to score all the goals. Perisic had a very good season, scoring 11 and assisting 8 in a team that was very poor expect Icardi. Perisic will give us a reliable player who can be relied on to score, ensuring that we won’t be seeing draws at home again.

Fabinho

And last but not least is another play we’ve been linked to for a long time. Besides Pogba and Herrera, we don’t have much depth in midfield. Fellaini has played well occasionally but isn’t suited for every game and Carrick is aging. Fabinho will add a player to give Pogba and Herrera less restriction. He’s a player who reads the game very well and spread the ball across the pitch. He’s usually the player to start attacks for Monaco, giving the ball to the creative players to open up space. Fabinho used to play right back for Madrid and occasionally for Monaco, which could allow Valencia to roam further forward. Fabinho would add some steel and creativity to the midfield, to give us one of the deadliest midfields in Europe

Manchester United vs Watford Match Review

Only two games to discuss this week. The usual Man United game and the Liverpool vs Spurs game. So let’s get straight into it:

Manchester United vs Watford

This was a must win game like every other at this point of the season, and we turned up! This was easily the best we’ve played in the league this season, with everyone putting in 100% and just having a go. Starting from the back, De Gea didn’t have to do much, except that exceptional save from a free kick. Bailly was phenomenal on his return. Even though Jones and Rojo have played brilliantly in the past couple of months, Bailly is just that next level. He was composed, strong and was keeping it easy and not rushing into anything. Smalling had a good performance, nothing special but no mistakes either. Both fullbacks both played well. Getting forward while doing their defensive duties. Herrera was stand out as ever. Most people who don’t watch Man United don’t understand how brilliant Herrera has been. If you compare him to the best midfielder in the league. N’golo Kante, Herrera is better than him in every statistic, except tackles. He goes unnoticed by the rest of the Premier League because he his job is a dirty work job. You normally never credit someone who does all the work no one else wants to do. You’ll usually credit a goal keeper for making an amazing save or a striker for scoring a beautiful goal. But the players who cover a lot of grass and stop some plays from happening just don’t get the credit they deserve. Herrera’s flashy partner in crime, Paul Pogba, had a brilliant. He wasn’t taking four players on or anything but he was creating chances and dominating the midfield. When he plays without Carrick it is important that he learns to not run forward too much but still having an impact on the game, and against Watford he proved he can. The attacking trio of Mata, Mhkitaryian and Martial played brilliantly. They all offer something different to the table. Mata is given a lot of freedom and can make these runs no one picks up, Mhiki glides with the ball through defences and Martial is one of our only players who will take men on. And now to Zlatan. Zlatan was very poor, even though some of his passes were okay, he was never in the box when he should of been. He’s supposed to be leading the line and he just isn’t doing that. The way we played against Watford is how I want to see us play against the smaller teams. We don’t need to play Carrick in games like this, let the players express themselves and put on a show for the fans. What was really pleasing was Mourinho saying he wants his team to play the united way. It’s been unbelievable how amazing he has been for us since coming in and it’s good to know he is learning our way of playing.