PLAYER ANALYSIS: David Brooks and How Young Players Should Develop

When a young player reaches a certain age and is yet to establish themselves in the first team, a loan move away is usually the best move. It allows them to be given a higher of getting game time, while also learning from others players and coaches. What’s become more popular in recent years in big clubs buying these young players, in a hope to secure a potential talent for a low price. Jadon Sancho is the most recent example of this, with Michael Keane and Serge Gnabry also fitting into this category. The only thing a young player should worry about about is playing football, and if another club promises that, they can never be blamed for saying yes. One element of this that is overlooked is what coach they will be playing under. Players want to develop the strengths of their game under coaches will know how to do that. It’s reminiscent of Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen side from 2016. While they were defensively suspect to say the least, but he did allow players like Bellarabi and Julien Brandt to flourish and put out some of their best outputs in their career. Players need to make a choice that will improve them on the long term, and David Brooks’s choice to join Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth is at the centre of this.

To say that I’m not Eddie Howe’s biggest fan is a slight understatement. He isn’t a bad coach in the slightest, but when I see many fans and pundits link him to Arsenal or Tottenham, I have to ask what they’re seeing. After a strong start which saw them sit sixth by November, they did what they usually do and drop off, now sitting in 14th. They are a defensive mess, with Howe’s side conceding the 17th most goals in the division, with only the teams sitting in the relegation area conceding more. It’s a record that has unfortunately continued from last season, where they conceded 61 goals. It’s simply not good enough for a manager who many think is ready for a step up. I do have some sympathy this season however, with the Cherries suffering injuries to key players. Callum Wilson, Lewis Cook, Diego Rico and Simon Francis have missed parts of the season due to injuries. Howe has a defensive, excluding Nathan Ake, needs upgrading if they wish to compete in the top half of the table.

I have criticised Howe heavily here, but by far his biggest strength has a coach is how he forms his attacks. The way he has gotten the best out of his attackers a feet to be proud of. Josh King, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser have performed this well in their careers, and have blossomed in Eddie Howe’s counter attacking system, which has seem them score more goals from counter attacks than any other side in the league with 9. No one would have predicted both Fraser and Wilson equalling a Premier League record for goals contributions between two players, with 12. While they have been fantastic, not many would have the thought the answer to bringing the best out of the trio was to add a 20 year old Welshman from Sheffield United, right?

Enter David Brooks, one of the most exciting young players in the league. There is an element of bias here. As a Welshman myself, the thought of seeing a genuine talent come through is just too exciting. Bournemouth paid a very reasonable £11m for the wide player. On the surface, it’s crazy how Brooks has had this impact in his first season in the Premier League. In his last season at Sheffield United, he did make 30 appearances, but only 9 were starts. Brooks has now started 29 games for the Cherries, and has been the attacking signing they needed so badly. Fraser is great at making that final pass, Wilson is their best finisher, and King’s strength and dribbling make him great at driving those counter attacks. Brooks fits right in these three. During their strong start to the season, only Josh King was attempting more pressures than Brooks. However what is most exciting about the Welshman is his offensive involvement. Brooks’s role in Howe’s side is seemingly to help overload areas of the pitch, and use his impressive intelligence to find space and help move the ball to the likes of Fraser and Wilson. Out of the 4 attackers, Brooks’s xGChain is the highest with 0.66 (a metric that shows players’s involvement in goals that lead to goals or assists). He is the one that keeps the provides the more decisive players, and seems to flourish in that role. His number aren’t exactly stand out, with Brooks taking 1.4 shots, making 1 key pass and completing 0.8 dribbles per game. Brooks is one of those specific players where stats cannot measure a player’s effectiveness. It’s similar to how Jesse Lingard and Gini Wijnaldum’s success for their side cannot be measured by numbers, but their sides are certainly better when they are in the XI. It’s no coincidence that Bournemouth’s attack has arguably had its biggest success since Brooks has arrived. He has been the final jigsaw piece they needed, and has a bright future ahead of him

PLAYER ANALYSIS: André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and the Effects of Relegation

Relegation can be a part of football that has more to it than meets the eye. The Premier League over the past few years has changed the perspective of relegation, from it showing generally low quality sides, to producing sides with some stand out players. From Idrissa Gueye shining in a poor Aston Villa side, to Gini Wijnaldum leaving relegated Newcastle and having a huge impact on Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Even Huddersfield, one of the worst sides in the history of the league have Philip Billing and Karlem Grant present themselves very well. While teams can perform poorly, they can have players that are too good to face the drop.

Speaking of teams performing poorly, this brings us onto Fulham. After spending a lot of money on talent across the continent, the Cottages have had a real poor season. The team was full of good players, but they couldn’t form a team. Having 3 different managers through out the season did not help the situation. A lack of consistency can sum up their season, constantly changing their goalkeeper, the midfielders and their wide talent. They have had some good performers this season too. Aleksandar Mitrovic has had a very good season, scoring 11 and putting up some very good shot numbers. Ryan Babel arrived in January,  and was there to add some goals from outwide to at least give them a fighting chance. He did manage 8 goal contributions in 14 games, a decent return considering the team were struggling for goals when he arrived. These are some of the business this season that has actually worked out well, but a majority of their other business did not turn out well. Andre Schurrle continued his reputation of wasting good chances. Seri’s chance creation was good, but offered little to zero defensive protection, completely unbalancing the midfield, and one of those struggling midfielders is the player we will be discussing today, being André-Frank Zambo Anguissa.

The Cameroon international arrived right at the end of the summer transfer window, for a reasonable sum of £22.5m. He was actually a player I spoke of highly in the summer, with the midfielder being my first choice to solve Arsenal’s midfield. His physicality, agility and aggression made him the boost that they needed. He was arguably Fulham’s best signing of their luxurious window, but suffered thanks to Seri’s lack of defensive work. While his 3.6 tackles and interceptions are pretty solid, he was still beaten a lot, because he was the only line of defence. It blows me away why the spent so much on Seri when Anguissa can do what he can do, but better. His chance creation isn’t nearly as high as his Ivorian teammate, but he has shown that he is still a very good passer. In their most recent game against Cardiff, he touched the ball 114 times and completed 94 passes, the most in the game. He helps keep hold off the ball and is very good dribbler. He’s actually been one of the best dribblers in the league this season. He’s joint 10th with Aaron Wan-Bissaka with 1.8 dribbles per game, and is completing more than Paul Pogba and Son Heung-Min. He’s a player who is great at winning the ball, but also has enough ability on the ball to have an impact in possession heavy sides. Fulham wanted to play a more attractive style of football this season, but as that dream seemed to be impossible as the games were piling on, Anguissa seemed to be the only midfielder who remained just as useful, unlike some of his teammates.

When comparing his numbers from his time in France to Fulham, they’re remain consistent. His defensive numbers have only dropped slightly, with his tackles and interceptions going from 4 to 3.7, but it’s nothing to be concerned about. What’s more worrying to me is his dribbling. Completing 1.8 dribbles per game is very impressive, and it is identical to how many he was completing for Marseille. The issue is he’s getting fouled less and dispossessed more, with The midfielder losing the ball 1.9 times this season, to compared to 1.1 last season. He’s getting dispossessed way easier, and it could be a lack of confidence. With Anguissa getting fouled less this season, it seems his desire to drive the ball up the pitch has diminished slightly. It’s as if he is taking the easy way out, instead of fighting to keep hold of it. I do believe this would change if he was playing for a better side, but it was still an area that needed addressing.

The likelinesss of Fulham keeping hold of all of their summer business seems incredibly unlikely. Seri seemingly has one foot out of the door, and it’s understandable. Sergio Rico is going back to Sevilla, and the chances of Andre Schurrle taking a step down is next to impossible. I think Anguissa is in the same boat, but hasn’t painted himself is nearly as bad a light as his teammates. There was a reason why I thought a top 6 club should sign him, and he hasn’t done anything to change my mind on that stance. He is an aggressive midfielder, with a good ability on the ball and fantastic at moving his side up the pitch. If I was one of Manchester United or Arsenal, I would consider him, but if I was Tottenham, he should be a must signing this summer.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Andre Gomes and How Opinions Change

If it isn’t a surprise by now, there are many things in football that I have failed to get right since starting this blog. From Brazil or Spain winning the World Cup, Axel Witzel being a bad signing or Seri being one of the best signings of the previous summer. You can always learn from your failings so it is mostly a good thing when I get these predictions wrong. This current player is another who I might have gotten wrong in the past, that being Portugese midfielder Andre Gomes.

When he joined Barcelona for €50m back in 2016, there was a lot of pressure on him to succeed. Champions at the time, Barcelona were still looking at replacing Xavi and finding a worthy successor to Iniesta and even Busquests. Gomes was apart of a Valencia side that was ripped apart by Jorge Mendes’s sharp claws. They went through 3 managers that season, and it was crazy to think any player could come out of that side with a semblance of positivity. It was a crazy summer for Barcelona in 2016. They seemed destined to through money away. Even if you exclude Umtiti, a majority of their signings from that window are not at the club. Alcacer, Digne, Denis Suarez, Cillessen and Gomes all highlight a club that wanted players to just fill the eighteen, instead of truly challenging for first team places. Gomes was the most expensive out of all of these signings, and was arguably the worst. It can all be summed up in Barcelona’s worst defeat that season, their 4-0 defeat to PSG. Gomes started that game, and looked truly out of his depth. He was taken off before the hour mark, and looked like a passenger. He only touched the 39 times, with Iniesta touching it twice as many times. it highlighted a greater problem for Gomes, what does he add to this side? He isn’t as good defensively as Busquets, not as effective in the final third as Iniesta and isn’t nearly as good a passer as Rakitic. For a lot of money, Barcelona got a very average player, and it was clear that he didn’t have a long term future at the Nou Camp.

After another underwhelming follow-up season for Barca, he decided to give the Premier League a go, joining Everton on loan. It strange summer. Everton made a lot of business that seemed good on paper, with Digne and Richarlison being instant hits on Mersyside, while Mina and Zouma haven’t been great been great. Gomes was an important addition to the side. While I’m not a massive fan of his, he does offer much more in a transitional sense than Schneiderlin and Gueye. Both are much better in a defensive sense, and while both are good players, they cannot start them together for a season. They don’t offer enough creatively and in keeping hold of the ball. Gomes was there to add that level of maturity and spark to a midfield full of defensively minded players, and has done that. He’s completing 1.6 dribbles per game, the highest in the side, and completes the most long balls in for any outfield player for the Toffees. His contribution going forward is quite lacklustre, but he has offered very good ball retention and helps Everton begin dominating games. One of his stand out games this season was Everton’s unfortunate draw against their local rivals Liverpool. He added a level of confidence and maturity in a ground where Everton have struggled for a long time. He completed 4 dribbles and made 45 passes, with only Coleman completing more with 52. While he hasn’t been a signing of the season, he’s added an element of class to a side in desperate need of it.

When I titled this post, it wasn’t with the intention of how Gomes turned from a flop into a huge success, it was the fact that I understood him. I mentioned how he was supposed to be the future for Barcelona, but didn’t have an obvious skillset to replace any of their top talent, but moving to a lower side has brought a skillset out of him. Gomes is a good dribbler who can help certain sides retain possession. I would recommend Everton sign him, but for anything less than £30 million. While he has improved them, he hasn’t done enough yet for a side to be ripped off when signing him. Some players just have a certain level where they flourish, and Gomes has found his

PLAYER ANALYSIS – Bernardo and the Forgotten Fullback Role

Fullbacks have been an everchanging role, that has evolved from it’s role in the 90s as more wide centre halves, growing into players that are able to contribute in the final third. In one of the most famous clips in Monday Night Football’s history, Jamie Carragher said that fullbacks are either “failed wingers or failed centre halves.” While an element of that is true, with Manchester United finishing second in the Premier League last season with their first choice fullbacks being Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, two players who were used during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign in his latter years. Even current prospect Aaron Wan-Bissaka came through Crystal Palace’s academy as a winger, but was moved further back. It can paint this image of a fullback being a position that isn’t of grave importance, compared to the demand for well rounded forwards or centre halves with a vast range of passing. This is of course far from the truth. It’s a position that offers great flexibility and seperates a mid table team to a truly elite one. There have been huge innovations in this field, with like many of the changes in the modern game, go back to Pep Guardiola. The Catalan coach deployed Alves and Abidal more as wingers, with their need to defend absent thanks to Pep’s emphasis on possession. After his sabbatical, he became Bayern Munich’s and went to further innovate, using the incredible versatility and intelligence of defenders David Alaba and Philip Lahm, to use them more as inverted full backs. They would come inside and overload the midfield, to make the simple job of tracking them nearly impossible. Antonio Conte was another who changed how fullbacks could be seen, using two failed wingers in Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses as wingbacks in his famous 3-4-3 system at Chelsea. Both were athletic and could contribute effectively in the final third, giving the side plenty of numbers defensively and offensively.

One would wonder what does any of this have to do with Bernardo? It’s more for context, and how the original purpose of a fullback has changed so much since the turn of the millenium. It seems their role as defenders has been forgotten, but Bernardo is different. The Brazilian was part of the Red Bull machine, starting his career at Red Bull Brazil, and going on to play for RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig respectively. After having a very good season with Leipzig, he earned a £9m move to Brighton. It was a very good signing, like many of their signings last summer. It made a lot of sense for Bernardo as well. While playing 1350 minutes last season is fine for a player who still hasn’t hit his peak. Moving to a club that was willing to make the same step up was the perfect solution for both parties. Bernardo is apart of a strange new breed of defender, strangely being defensive first. As mentioned, the role of the fullback has changed over the years. Bigger sides realised that having as many players have attacking ability gives them such an advantage. It’s different at the other end of the table. Players like Bernardo, Wan-Bissaka and Chilwell are all really good defensively, but do not offer much on the attacking end. There is an assumption that all fullbacks now bomb forward and help the other wide players. They might help give an option for their teammates, but defending is their priority. Bernardo is the best example of this. In their most recent game against Tottenham, The Brazilian showed all of his best qualities. He is very good in the air, winning more than half of his aerial duels. His tactical versatility has been very impressive. He helps keep the defensive line and is so good in a one on one. Lucas Moura struggled in the first 30 minutes because Bernardo kept forcing him wide, making him so much less effective and persuading Pochettino to switch him and Son. He caused Tottenham a lot of problems when they were attacking. His tackling is by far one of his best attributes. He attempts 4.1 tackles per 90, and wins 80% of them. That’s better than Chilwell’s 65% and not far off Wan-Bissaka’s insane 92%. The 3 players mentioned rarely get dribbled past. Bernardo has only been beaten 0.7 times per game, showing just how solid he is. He definitely lacks attacking qualities, but that isn’t his role or his strength. Brighton are a side that will fear relegation for the next couple of years. They don’t want a full back who will make Marcelo eat his heart out, but someone who won’t get beaten and help make sure their side aren’t conceding preventable goals, and Bernardo is filling that void.

The next sensible question would be if Bernardo could handle a step up into a side that demanded more from their full backs offensively, and I wouldn’t think he could. It’s not to say that he couldn’t join a club with more prestige than Brighton, but he couldn’t join a side, like Tottenham or Napoli, who demand a lot from their fullbacks. He would have to join a side with a more pragmatic approach, where he could still focus on the defensive side of his game. One key area he would have to improve in however is his distribution, Bernardo has averaged a pass accuracy of 73% throughout his career, that would have to peak in the eighty’s if he could be relied on in possession. He turns 24 soon, which gives him less time to improve as other younger full backs, but some teams could truly use a player like Bernardo, where his offensive inability can be brushed aside when seeing just how good he is for his side defensively.

 

Future Superstars! – Under 21 Team of the Season 18/19

With everyone making their team of the seasons and discussing which players should take the award of player of the season when it comes to a close, we’ll instead look at  young players across the big leagues in Europe, and make an XI of players who have stood out for their sides. We’ll mainly focus on players in the top 5 leagues, with some obvious inclusions from other leagues, so let’s get started. Important is they have to have been 21 when the season started, so if players who are 22 are here, then you know why.

Goalkeeper – Gianluigi Donnarumma 

There aren’t truly many options for this position, but we’ll go for AC Milan number one Gianluigi Donnarumma. The Italian has went to further establish himself in a Milan side that are still trying to find their feet. While his teammates are inconsistent to say the least, he has remained one of the best players in the side. He is a good distributor, commands his box and has put in some excellent performances for Milan. One of his stand out performances had to be against Genoa. The 20 year old made 8 saves, and had a 93% pass accuracy. His future still seems to be as bright as it was when he broke onto the scene as a 16 year old.

RB – Aaron Wan-Bissaka 

My love for Wan-Bissaka isn’t hidden at this point. The Crystal Palace defender has been the best full back in the Premier League this season. His crazy high 6.2 tackles and interceptions per game, comfortably the highest in the team and the second highest in the league. He has only been dribbled past by less than 10 players in the league, highlighting just how good he is in those one-on-ones, and his anticipation shines. I even highlighted the Englishman last season for his great performances, by putting him in my team of the season for players outside of the top 6, and seeing him succeed is just so gratifying. Wan-Bissaka actually came through the ranks as a winger, which explains why he’s such a good dribbler, completing 1.7 per game. With Manchester United and Bayern Munich looking at right backs, it makes the prospect of Palace keeping him nearly impossible.

CB – Matthijs de Ligt

I cannot imagine anyone arguing with this choice. De Ligt’s transformation from a small kid playing in the Europa League final against Manchester United, to one of the best young defenders the world has ever seen has to go down to hard work and a brilliant mentality. Playing for arguably the best club in Europe for developing young players, it has given him the platform to succeed and show the world what kind of player he is and can be. His performances in the Champions League have been fantastic. He has shown a calmness and maturity that you don’t see from many players of his age. His distribution also needs to be admired, with the 19 year old completing 63 passes per game, with a 88.2% accuracy. It’s an area which many elite clubs are looking to improve, and he showing all of these things at an age where it gives him years to still improve. If Van Dijk’s record remains this summer, I will be very surprised.

CB – Ibrahima Konate

Leipzig have been a recent breeding ground for young defenders, with Upamecano, Mukiele and Bernardo being recent talents to blossom for them. Konate is another prospect to shine for them. He’s already beeing touted for a big move to Arsenal and it’s earned. With Leipzig playing such an offensively minded system, stand out defenders are needed. Konate is both athletic and a great reader of the game, with the Frenchman making 2.3 interceptions per 90. Thanks to their defenders being so high up the pitch, it leaves them vunerable to long balls towards opposition strikers. It makes the importance of aerial dominant defenders important, and Konate fits the bill. The Frenchman has a respectable 67.3% aerial win percentage, showing how he can deal with the threat. His passing could be better, with a defender’s ability on the ball a sought after part of their game. He is still only 19, meaning his future remains very bright. He’s been one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga and has stood out in a side full of promising players.

LB –  Achraf Hakimi

When discussing Real Madrid’s systemic failure this season, it can be aquainted to making bad decisions. Whether it is selling their best player and not replacing him with a player of similar quality, or in Hakimi’s case, letting a player leave who could have definitely had an effect on the side. The Moroccan international has been the boost that Dortmund needed. With constant injury problems related to Schmelzer and Guerreiro, adding a player who could help with giving the side width, and most importantly, moving the ball. Hakimi is an excellent dribbler, and was nearly the opposite of his full back partner, Lukasz Piszczek, who defensive first. It gave Hakimi a lot of responsibility on a side of the pitch that didn’t have the same consistency as the other. He relished this role, and has been one of the most sought after full backs in Europe. His ability to play on both sides makes him so useful to have, but its his dribbling that is so great. He’s completing 2 dribbles per 90, which is great for both a full back and a young player. He is isn’t a stand out creator by any means, but that isn’t his role. He has to get his side far up the pitch, using his athleticism and ability on the ball. He ranks 4th in the squad for passes completed per game. He is essential in Dortmund’s attempts to move up the field, with not many young players in the world being so adept at passing in a possession that rarely sees that quality. A must for this side

RM – Jadon Sancho 

Rumours are already surfacing, linking Jadon Sancho with £100m moves to the Premier League, and I would definitely pay that. Sancho is having a similar break out season that Mbappe had in that final season at Monaco, which saw the Frenchman earn a £170m move to PSG. Sancho is having a similar season to that. The teenager is one of only a handful of players who is in double figures for both goals and assists. He’s turned into a very good dribbler and creator. Sancho was always seen to be a player who destined for great things, but for him to do it this rapidly is just incredible.  His shot numbers stand at a decent 1.6 per 90, but he’s completing a crazy 3.9 dribbles and making 2.6 key passes. Those are top 10 players in the world numbers, and he’s doing it for a title challenging side in a respectable league. His xGP90 is sitting at 0.58, which is roughly a goal contribution every other game. This shows just how promising the young winger is, being able to have such a stamp on a side full of talent in his first true season. His numbers are spectacular, but there’s more to him than that. His maturity, intelligence and his risk taking is what makes him such a desirable prospect, and arguably the break out star of the season.

CM – Frenkie De Jong

The Eredivise has had this huge problem with analysing talent. Players can have truly excellent seasons, but thanks to the standard of the league, you have to take it with a grain of salt when looking at their numbers and involvement. This current Ajax team has been trying to break that rule, and no one has done so more than Frenkie De Jong. The Dutchman came off the back of a very good 2017/18 season, and decided to take that to the next level. It’s earned him a £75m move to Barcelona, and will add so much to a side that has been needing a player like him for a long time. De Jong is a true all rounder. He is averaging 3 tackles and interceptions per 90, while also completing 80 passes, creating 1.4 chances and completing 2 dribbles.  These are numbers similar to a peak Modric, who was helplessly embarassed by De Jong. While his numbers in the Eredivise have been outstanding, it’s his performances in the Champions League that have really taken the headlines. He dismantled Real Madrid in their own turf, and when playing Juventus in the Johan Cruyff Stadium, he made it nearly impossible to take him out of the game. Every time Bentancour tried to get near him, De Jong would just drop between the defenders to receive the ball. Since he is such a good dribbler, he can just get the ball and walk right through the opposition defence, with no one able to get a finger on him. He’s attempting 1.8 dribbles in the Champions League per match, and is completing 78% of them. Those are peak Moussa Dembele numbers, a player who was famed for his dribble success rate. De Jong will be a superstar, and has everything to put him down as a potential great.

CM – James Maddison 

Moving back to the Premier League and for the final time, let’s look at James Maddison, who has had a spectacular season. The former Norwich midfielder took the step up the Premier League, and already looks like he belongs here. With Leicester losing Mahrez, they needed a creator and someone to help with moving the ball into the final third, and Maddison has fitted the bill. He is creating more chances than any other player in the league with 3.3 key passes per 90. While Leicester have been inconsistent to say the least, Maddison has put in good performance after good performance. His chance creation is incredible, but his dribbling should not be forgotten here. He’s completing 1.5 dribbles per 90, which is good for a player who has been played behind the striker. He reads the game well and has created a great relationship with Jamie Vardy. He constantly wants to get on the ball and is always looking to make positive moves. The only problem is his shooting. His shot map is a mess to say the least, with Maddison taking shots in bad places. A coach needs to try and wipe that out of his game, and ensure he is not wasting chances like that. The future is bright for Maddison, and could be the real central creator that his country has been looking for.

LM – Joao Felix

I mentioned how some leagues have created this impression of risk, and Liga Nos might be the most infamous. Whenever you see an Oblak or Nelson Semedo, you’ll see a Perez or a Jackson Martinez. It’s a league that doesn’t create the same teams that you see in Holland. The sides are usually good defensively and efficient in attack, which makes attackers especially a huge risk. While there have been many failures, Joao Felix doesn’t look like one. The Benfica attacker has had a great season, breaking the record for youngest player to score a hat trick in the Europa League, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. His best performances have all come as a striker, where he has scored 12 and assisted 6 in 18. His shot numbers aren’t crazy high, but when he’s played, it’s usually been with Seferovic, who’s taking roughly 2.6 shots per game (Felix is at 2.4). There has been more to his game than this. He’s also creating 1.1 chances a game, the fourth highest in the squad. His general anticipation and maturity is what has made him stand out, but I think any move for him this summer would be premature. he doesn’t seem to be showing the same insanity in terms of elite numbers, but there is a top level player here. He just needs to play more games before making the step up. A great start for Joao Felix in his break out season.

ST – Kylian Mbappe

Who else? Mbappe is now in the top 5 players in the world for me. Only Messi and Neymar can be argued to be more perfect attackers than the World Cup winner. He’s taking 4.7 shots per 90, with 3.5 coming in the box. He’s taking more shots in the box than most players are taking in a game. He’s had some stand out performances this season, with his hat trick against Lyon earlier in the season being arguably a career high. While he is arguably at the level of Messi and Neymar, he doesn’t have the same wow factor as they do. This is a complement if you can believe, because it makes him more direct and attack with less patience about it. Going on would be pointless because everyone knows just how good Mbappe is. He is player everyone in the world wants.

ST – Luka Jovic

Last but not least, we’re returning to the Bundesliga for our final player. Jadon Sancho has been on the lips of every Bundesliga viewer, but Jovic has been fantastic. I’ve watched a lot of the young Serb since those 5 goals he scored earlier in the season, and he just keeps impressing me. He’s taking shots in great areas, he’s two footed, good in the air and puts some real power on his shots. A small detail there but it’s great to see someone who looks like they want to break the net whenever they score. His xG contribution per 90 stands at 0.90, which is elite levels for a player who hasn’t had much experience at the top. In hindsight this could have been predicted. His xGP90 was 0.74 last season, showing how in little game time, he was still having an incredible effect on his side. The only thing he needed was a manager who was going to start him every game, and that is what he’s got. Jovic looks to be the next super star striker in Europe, similar to Kane or Aguero. It won’t be long until he’s playing for Europe’s truly elite.

 

 

From Mid-Table to Europa League – Let’s Fix Crystal Palace

I thought it would be fun to ‘fix’ a club. While there might not be anything wrong in particular, I want to try and push a club to the next stage, and decided to choose Crystal Palace. They have a very interesting way of playing, and gets the best out of the players there, while also keeping them solid defensively and allowing them to create chances. They are quite simple, but effective.

So what are Palace good at? Well first it’s chance creation. The Eagles are 6th in shots per game, ahead of the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal. They are a side that are very good at quickly transitioning the ball, with Zaha, Wan-Bissaka, Van Aanolt and Townsend all being good dribblers. They are 3rd in the league for dribbles per game, with only Man City and Chelsea ahead of them. Finally, their ability at winning the ball back has to be praised. Palace are a side that focus on quickly regaining the ball, and moving the ball up the pitch. It’s why their dribble numbers are so high. Milivojevic and Wan-Bissaka put in a lot of defensive work, and even players like Zaha and Ayew are putting in a tackle per match. It’s why I’ve chose Palace, because they have an effective style, and makes them a threat. They have the 7th best away form in the league, because their style suits that underdog approach.

Now that we know what is good, let’s look at the more negative side. The first is their home record. I mentioned how well Palace have done away, but their results at Selhurst Park have not being nearly as impressive. They home record ranks 18th in the league, with the Eagles only winning 4 games at home. To describe them as unfortunate is an understatement. xPTS would rank them at 7th in the league, with Palace being very unfortunate to have such a poor record. Their shots and dribble numbers are much better at home than on the road, which highlights the next problem. I mentioned how good they are when it comes to transition and creating chances, but they have a finishing problem. While Palace rank high when it comes to taking shots, their shots on target are not as impressive. They rank 15th in shots on target per game, eight places below where they rank with regular shots. It highlights their biggest problem when it comes to attacking, lacking a good striker. While Hodgson playing Townsend and Zaha as a striking pair did work, they just lack a vocal point, and someone who has a better ability at finding space and taking those chances. Batshuayi has added that to an extent, but I think they need something else, and his move seems more of a boost for the Belgian’s career than for Crystal Palace. The midfield could also use a boost. Kouyate is a below average player at best, and Max Meyer has been horrible, continuing his reputation of being a player many think is good, but just doesn’t offer enough to justify dealing with his baggage, meaning his wages. Meyer left Schalke because they refused to accept his wage demands, which makes sense considering he was bad last season.

Now that we’ve went through the good and the bad, let’s talk about what needs to change. The manager is one that might make a lot of sense, but as mentioned on my manager rankings, I like Hodgson a lot and is still getting the best out of this side, but if the owners do want to upgrade for justfied long term issues (maybe Pablo Machin is getable) but for now we’ll stick with him.

Let’s look at the players. Their goalkeeper options are fine for now. Both Hennessey and Guaita have been fine enough to keep around, with Hennessey finally being replaced. Defence is where it becomes a bit more of a priority. We’ll look at players to bring in later, but for now we’ll focus on who stays and goes. Starting with the centre back options, I think Tompkins and Sakho will be fine for now, but it will be area that I will be looking at later for additions. While both players are have formed a solid partnership, their back ups should be looking at moving on. Scott Dann used to be a regular in the side, but has only started 3 games. He’s also 32 and it might be time for him to leave. The team needs to ensure that they’re is solid competition in all areas. Martin Kelly was one I was thinking of letting go, but then we’d only be left with two centre halves. The full backs are an interesting topic. They arguably have one of the best pairs of full backs in the league, with Wan-Bissaka and Van Aanholt being great at transitioning the ball, winning it back and giving the side a lot of width. The former is going to be on many big club’s radar, but it would be vital to keep hold of him for at least another season. However if United do offer something crazy like £50m, I couldn’t blame Palace for accepting it. We aren’t going to be looking at another full back, since in this perfect world, Wan-Bissaka stays.

Moving on to the midfield, Max Meyer is the first to go. Since he has arrived on a free, you can get some money for the player, because he isn’t worth keeping around. Schlupp and Townsend both stay, with the pair having their best seasons in recent memory. They are versitile and can help fill a number of positions. McArthur, Milivojevic and Kouyate all stay. Regarding the forward options, all are going to be sold besides Zaha. Benteke, Sorloth, Ayew and Wickham are all going to be sold. All have failed to add goals on a consistent basis and also haven’t shown enough to justify even keeping in the first place. It’s an area that definitely needs improving.

Palace have been making conistently bad business in recent windows. Many just seem to have arrived based on the falsely believed ‘premier league proven.’ Palace are another side to show that just because you have players who have experience in the league, doesn’t make it a guaranteed success. I would never recommend any Premier League side sign a player from the same league, unless they’re a relegated side. There’s always an expense based on selling to a Premier League side, as well as many clubs refusing to give to their rivals. Ayew, Kouyate, Benteke, Townsend and Schlupp are average players at best, and the club could have found better options abroad, but decided to play it incredibly safe. Let’s get to the most interesting part, and talk about which players will be brought in, if I had such control.

Let’s begin with an additional centre back. With Sakho, Tompkins and Kelly all over 28, it means a younger addition makes the most sense. With the solid partnership that Sakho and Tompkins forming a decent partnership, it means there’s a chance to find some value in the market here. The first option that should be considered is a player from the tier below. After seeing plenty of players make the step up from the Championship, it’s proof that there is definitely value to be found. Bournemouth are a great example of this, with Brooks, Mephan and Lewis Cook all showing plenty of promise since making the step up. Palace could try a similar approach, since the quality in the Championship is starting to increase by the season. the first suggestion is 24 year old Bristol defender Adam Webster. Ever since their impressive run to the League Cup semi final last season, I’ve always kept an interest in seeing how they’re doing, and after their drop off during the second half of the season, they have definitely shown improvement. They currently sit in 5th, with the 3rd best defensive record in the league. Adam Webster has been very good in the heart of that Bristol defence, turning them into a side finally ready for a chance at promotion. This isn’t exactly a new revelation either. Webster should a lot of promise at Ipswich, with his high interception numbers and massive aerial duels showing him to be a player to keep an eye on, but he just wasn’t playing enough games at his former club, with Webster starting only 25 games in the 2017/18 season, thanks to another ankle injury. Bristol took that risk on him and to say it’s paid off is an understatement. He’s started 35 games this season and has become a vital player for them. Earning the nickname ‘Webdini’ (after Italian legend Maldini), he has come up with important moments, including a winner against Middlesborough. Webster has been putting in the numbers to back up this praise, making 2.1 interceptions per game, the 8th highest in the league. He is also a monster in the air, winning 6.3 aerial duels per match, again the 8th highest. He has been simply fantastic, and would be perfect for a side who are needing a younger defender. Defenders are harder to buy in the current market, so a bargain like this is exactly what the team needs.

Midfield is the next position that needs addressing. While Milivojevic has been great and has been winning points thanks to his penalty prowess, he need a better partner beside him. While he isn’t my first choice, I would still recommend Crystal Palace pick up Philip Billing. Huddersfield might go down as one of the worst sides in the history of the league, but Billing has been a stand out. He’s only 22, and has put in massive defensive numbers, with the Danish midfielder putting 4.7 tackles and interceptions and winning 3.3 aerial duels a game. He is still young, and since Huddersfield are now relegated, it makes picking him up so much easier. I think Palace could pick him up for less than £15m, which would be reasonable enough for a player who has performed well in the Premier League.

My real recommendation would be Jordan Veretout. While Zambo Anguissa and Joan Jordan were all looked at, I thought going for a player who is in his prime would be a great idea. It would be the Frenchman’s second time in the league, with the Veretout previously playing for Aston Villa, a Villa side that were really bad, and Veretout wasn’t good in the slightest. However he was much younger then, and after 3 successful seasons, 2 for Fiorentina, he has turned into a very good player. Veretout deserves another chance in England, and he would add a lot of Palace. He is a great creator, and can help in quickly moving the ball further up the pitch. His key passes are at a career high with 2.4, which would be higher than anyone else in the Palace squad. It’s one of my biggest issues with how Palace build up. They have this over reliance on attacking through the wide areas. They have been playing Zaha and Townsend have been playing as a partnership for most of the season, and it means they mostly lack any unpredictability sometimes. Having a midfielder who is actually able to create means they don’t have to keep relying on Zaha for everything. It’s their biggest flaw. While he is great at transition, he is awful in the final third. I’ll get more into fixing this problem soon, but having another player who can with that is really useful. It makes them so much better in midfield, instead of having just a solid pair, they have more than that. I think Fiorentina might sell if they’re offered between £20-£25 million. He’s 26 and has played a lot of games for them. It could be more, but that’s how much I think he is worth.

Let’s move on to strikers. Since all are departing, and Zaha will be playing as a second striker, bringing in two would make sense. The first is Karl-Toko Ekambi. The Villarrael striker has not had the best of seasons, but can’t all be blamed. Villarreal have been really bad this season, and have only recently looked like surviving. It was a massive decline from a side that qualified for the Europa League last season. Ekambi arrived in the summer to fix their goal problem, alongside Gerard Moreno. He has scored 8 and assisted 1 in 19 starts, which is good considering he’s playing for a struggling side. Many might look at this selection as a strange one, and I get it. His shot numbers aren’t crazy high and he’s 26, so the chances of this changing are unlikely. He’s getting selected because he’s a really good finisher. He doesn’t overperform or underperform his xG, and has a respectable 0.44 xGP90, which is good considering he doesn’t play much. He is just a really good finisher and would fix one of my biggest issues with Palace, being they take a lot of shots, but not good ones. Bringing in a guy who will put those chances away is needed if they want to push onto the next level. I think Villarreal would sell for more than £20m. He is on a 5 year deal which would make it difficult to sign him. Ekambi has proven before that he can score goals. Villarreal signed him because of his impressive 17 goal season in Ligue 1. If he can replicate that for Crystal Palace, it could be exactlywhat they need.

My next striker choice is more of a wildcard, but would be a lot of fun. I’ve already brought up how the level of the Championship has improved massively in the past couple of years, and my next choice shows this. While Brentford don’t seem to be getting promotion this season, they have a very interesting attack. Ollie Watkins has been on the radar of so many clubs, and seems to be on the verge to a Premier League club very soon. Said Benrahma has been one of the best players in the league this season, and is now in double figures for goals and assists. While both of those players are great, the player I will be talking about is Neal Maupay. The Frenchman has been insanely good this season, scoring 21 and assisting 7 in 38 appearances. He has played more than the players previously mentioned, and as been vital for Brentford. While small, he is quick, technically gifted and gets in very good areas. He is taking 3.4 shots per 90, more than anyone for Palace. While the clear quality difference needs to be pointed out, it’s still positive to have a young forward having such healthy shot numbers. He is also a good creator, which is needed they want to get even more out of Zaha. It’s something I forgot to bring up when talking about Ekambi, but both have very good key pass numbers. A little more is needed from them if Zaha is to work as a second striker. Maupay averages 1.4 per 90, which is very good for a striker. Bringing both Ekmbi and Maupay into the side will give them options and two very good finishers. It’s rumoured Brentford are asking for upwards to £20m for their forward, which is a fair price. It might be a lot for a Championship player, but he is clearly a step above that league.

That’s all the signings I would bring in. Let me know if there are any I might have missed. These names might not be the huge names, but it’s not about the names. It’s about being smart, in taking risks while also having players who are likely to succeed. The Eagles have potential to take that next step up. It’s insanely unlikely that they would take this advice, but it’s I would see in fixing this side.