Predictions for the Premier League – 19/20

Let’s finally discuss arguably the only league much care about, and for understandable reasons. While the Bundesliga is the league I cannot keep away from, England’s top division has the competitiveness and star quality that many more casual fans want to see. England’s top-flight currently possesses the best team in Europe and the best team the Premier League has ever seen. There is always plenty to talk about, so let’s get into who will succeed, and who will fail. 

Outside Shout – Southampton

Since I’m bored of talking about Leicester, let’s look at another team, one that might finally be on the up. Between 2013 and 2016, Southampton were one of the most likeable clubs in the league. They were getting quality from a host of domestic talent in Shaw, Lallana, Bertrand, Clyne, Rodriguez and Ward-Prowse. They combined this well by picking up players from more inferior leagues, like Tadic, Van Dijk and Sadio Mane. They were consistently finishing in the top half of the table and brought two talented coaches to the league, with Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino both moving on to better things. They weren’t following the trend of other mid-table teams, in making generally bad decisions in terms of appointing the old guard of managers. They were more forward-thinking than most clubs, which enabled them to stand out in a league where the quality of football below 7th was questionable at best.

There were apparent issues off the pitch, but the moment the club’s problems became apparent was during the 2016/17 season. In the previous season, Koeman managed to push his side to finish 6th, ensuring they had European football the following season. After the Dutchman departed to join Everton, Southampton replaced him with the experienced French coach Claude Puel. I saw this appointment as a smart one from Southampton. While he was never fantastic at either Nice or Lyon, he still did a very respectable job. During his time at Lyon, they reached the Champions League semi-finals, the first time in their history. The club attempted to give Puel the players to help him succeed in arguably their biggest season, with the signings of Nathan Redmond, Sofianne Boufal and Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg. Redmond showed at Norwich that he was good enough for the Premier League, while Boufal came off the back of a stand out season in Ligue 1, contributing to 15 goals for Lille. All were under the age of 23, which helped continue their habit of signing younger players and aiding in their development.

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The problem for Puel during his reign was the high bar which was set by the previous managers. An 8th place finish alongside a cup final is an acceptable finish for a side which lost their best attacker in Sadio Mane. Southampton were ineffective in the final third and Puel does deserve some criticism for that, but what did they expect? Puel had a reputation for being a defensive coach, and with his lack of attacking talent, it isn’t a surprise his team were quite dull to watch. He was let go at the end of the season, and replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino.

This is where things went from decent to very bad. The club failed to bring in any forwards during the 17/18 summer window and left Pellegrino with very little in attack. There was no rhythm or inventiveness in the final third, which made the Saints one of the most boring sides in recent memory. After being ambitious with their managerial choices, it wasn’t a surprise it finally came crashing down. Poor recruitment throughout the team resulted in a side where goals were a rarity, which resulted in Pellegrino’s sacking. Mark Hughes arrived to steady the ship, and while they were slightly improved, he did not deserve a three-year deal. The idiocy on giving him a long term contract came back to bite them, after Southampton only managed to win a single game in the 18/19 season, before his sacking after a 2-2 draw with Manchester United in December. 

After 2 years of ruining the good reputation they built for themselves, they finally made an appointment to match the ambition they once shown. Ralph Hassenhuttl arrived after departing RB Leipzig after a disappointing follow-up season to their second-place finish in 16/17 season, where they crashed out of a relatively easy champions league group. Hassenhuttl is an excellent coach, who built an aggressive, pressing side in Germany that enabled them to compete with the very best. For the first time since Koeman, it felt like Southampton were finally going somewhere.

While his half-season with Southampton wasn’t spectacular, Hassenhuttl did lead them to survival in a comfortable fashion. Redmond went from 0 goal contributions under Hughes to 10 under his new coach, a definite improvement for one of their most important players. There were slight improvements all over the field. A back 3 with an aggressive midfield partnership of Höjbjerg and Romeu and focus on the wing-backs pushing forward saw an increase in results and general entertainment. 

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Many do not predict Southampton to challenge the other top 6 chasers, but I do believe that once everything clicks, they could be one of the best sides outside of the top 6. They’ve started the season in mixed form, losing 2 of their opening 3 games. However, they have been so unfortunate not to have an unbeaten start. Liverpool were fortunate to win as well as Brighton. Djenepo is an excellent addition and could add that much-needed creativity and dribbling that the team is desperate for. Che Adams is a slight risk at £15 million but has the potential to contribute. This could be another disappointing season, but there is a possibility that everything goes right. 

Overachievers – Arsenal

Arsenal are really bad, and at this point, it is getting worrying. Emery’s debut season was dreadful. They had a chance to sneak into that top 4, but three consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester ensured they would be forced to play Europa League football once again. It wasn’t just the league table where things were looking bad, but especially on the pitch. Arsenal went from a fun but extremely vulnerable side under Wenger to a dull yet weak team at the back. The overreliance on Aubameyang and Lacazette to convert every chance that came to them, which they basically did, is not a practical way to build an attack. Aubameyang ran hot throughout the season and carried Arsenal to at least challenging for top 4. 

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Arsenal did have a good summer, with record signing Pepe adding an elite player to the right-side. David Luiz and Kieran Tierney added better defensive personnel, and Ceballos finally filled that Santi Cazorla-shaped hole. However, if early season form is anything to go by, I do worry if Arsenal can actually become a champions league-level side. Their shot numbers are still deficient, and if their Gabon forward suddenly hits a dry patch, I have no idea how they will cope. It’s unlikely they will drop out of the top 6, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if Chelsea with a transfer ban or an extremely poor Manchester United finishes above them. 

Underachievers – Chelsea

Speaking of Chelsea, I genuinely have no idea what to expect from Lampard’s side. They have a very talented team and still waiting for Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi to return from long-term injuries. This transfer ban, while having apparent issues, does have its positives. Lampard has said multiple times that everyone was going to be given a chance, something we have seen already. Tammy Abraham has started 2 of the first 3 games of the season, showing how faith has finally been put in him. Mason Mount is another to start a majority of the season. Even though I’m not his biggest fan, there is a clearly a decent player in there. The midfield and central defensive options are still elite. Having Ngolo Kante in your team will always keep your midfield functional, and the added addition of Kovacic’s permanent signing is a massive boost in ensuring the middle of the park is secure. 

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My worry with Chelsea is the strain that European football and potential injuries could have on the side. Emerson is Chelsea’s only real left-back, and Azpilicueta isn’t the most forward-thinking. There is also a very likely chance the attack simply doesn’t click. Pulisic has never put in a lot of goals and assists, We still do not know if Tammy can play at the top level and I’m not sold on Mount. I hope their younger talents live up to the potential they have shown for years and guide Chelsea to a successful season. However, the chances of everything falling apart if these players do not flourish under Frank Lampard.

Best Transfer – Dani Ceballos

As mentioned, Ceballos is truly a great addition. While Ndombele, Wan-Bissaka, Rodri and Iwobi are fantastic signings, Ceballos’ added quality to a lacklustre Arsenal side was what they needed. The former Real Betis midfielder is a perfect allrounder, being able to play as both the teams’ creator, the anchor and the transitioner. It makes Ceballos so useful to have for a manager, being able to change his role based on the opposition or to accommodate specific players on his own team. This versatility in midfield is something Arsenal lack; a problem that intensified after the sale of Aaron Ramsey. Torreira can do a bit of everything, but you’d never play him as the most attacking in a two-man midfield, and Granit Xhaka is a player you have to facilitate due to his lack of speed and defensive awareness. Ceballos will give Arsenal an elite midfielder who could easily find a place in all the other top 6 sides. A masterstroke from the Gunners. 

Potential Flop – Jean-Philippe Gbamin

Everton have this habit of making good signings, then suddenly ruining all that in some foolish decisions. This time it was the sale of Idrissa Gueye. I’m fully aware there was no stopping him leaving. The defensive midfielder wanting to go in January but had to wait until the summer to earn his deserved move to PSG. He was Everton’s most valuable player and losing him would mean a lot of money would need to be spent on replacing him. Even from someone who has a love for midfielders in Gueye’s ilk, I had no idea who they could realistically sign. Sangare was linked, but he doesn’t possess the same speed as Gueye. Ander Herrera would have been a decent choice, but, like Gueye, his heart was set on joining PSG. This signing needed to be perfect if Everton want to meet their aspirations of reaching the top 6. 

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Their choice of Mainz midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin was a very odd one. While I haven’t seen much of Gbamin play, I expected his tackle and interception numbers to match that of the player he was replacing, yet they do not seem alike. In fact, it is a massive drop off compared to Gueye. The Ivory Coast midfielder only averaged 3.5 tackles and interceptions last season, an enormous difference to Gueye’s 6.8. Everton cannot afford Gbamin to fail. If he does, that could mean the end of Andre Gomes. As mentioned before, Gomes only had a successful season due to Gueye covering for him defensively, allowing the Portuguese midfielder focus on ball progression. Gomes now has to contribute more defensively, which he has never been able to do. Gbamin could fail to replicate Gueye, which would result in Everton having an unstable midfield. 

Predictions for Ligue 1 – 19/20

While Ligue 1 doesn’t possess the same competitiveness throughout the league like the Premier League or even the Bundesliga, it is a gold mine in terms of young talent. It’s what makes the French top division so enjoyable, potentially seeing the next generation of talent come through before they earn big money moves. I will focus on a lot of players from Ligue 1 throughout the season, but first, let’s look at my predictions for the 2019/20 season.

Outside Shout – Montpellier 

The 2011/12 Ligue 1 winners are far from that success at the moment, but this season could be a big step to at least fighting for those Champions League places. With Lille weakened after the sales of Mendes and Pepe, and Lyon under new management, this could be the season where Montpellier finally return to European football.

This is surprising considering just how close they were to relegation. In the 16/17 season, Montpellier finished 15th, only 3 points above the relegation zone. Head-coach Frédéric Hantz was sacked midway through the season and replaced by Jean-Louis Gasset. However, he was not given the job permanently. Gasset was only seen as a stop-gap, to steady the ship for the next coach. That coach was Michel Der Zakarian, a manager who spent ten years of his playing career with Montpellier, playing over 200 games for the club. Zakarian was appointed after mutually terminating his contract at Reims. From the outside looking in, this appointment does seem mostly sentimental, something we’re seeing more of when mid-table clubs appoint their next managers.

It is hard to argue that Montpellier haven’t improved since their relegation scare. During Zakarian first season in charge, they finished 10th, a respectable finish. However, it was last season where everything seemed to click. Laborde and Delort were fantastic additions upfront, adding physicality and a real aerial threat for next to nothing. Their signings allowed Zakarian to deploy a direct style. Last season, they averaged less than 50% possession per game but were in the top 3 for aerial duels. Their attacking approach was to get the ball to Delort and Laborde as quick as possible, through goal kicks or the centre-halves. Zakarian is fully aware of the lack of attacking quality in midfield, so instead used the dynamism of the full-backs and the creativity of Morret to drive the attack. Their ugly yet effective brand of football was essential in an impressive 6th place finish.

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La Paillade are fully aware of how to take advantage of the transfer market, selling Mbenza, Lecombe, Aguilar and Skhiri for £36 million, while only spending £18 million and new arrivals. Those arrivals included Teji Savanier, the best midfielder in Ligue 1 last season, Andy Delort on a permanent deal, Jordan Ferri and Arnaud Souquet. Savanier’s signing was a stroke of genius. While on the older side, he will give more creativity from midfield, to ensure those 15 draws from last season drop substantially.

Similar to La Liga preview, I am not expecting Montpellier to challenge for Ligue 1, but a top-four place isn’t being unrealistic. Lyon, Monaco, Marseille and Lille all look weaker compared to last season. Montpellier have improved, and this is their best chance to get into the most desirable position in the league.

Over-achievers – Monaco

It’s insane just how quickly Monaco have fallen from their surprising title win in 2017. The constant sales of their best players and replacing them with young players is hazardous. The club expected Jardim to work with over 10 new arrivals while losing a solid midfield of Fabinho and Moutinho and two forwards in Balde and Lemar. Their output was difficult to replace with young talent.

Looking at their signings from last season, some of them were good. Golovin was wanted by a lot of Europe’s elite after his impressive World Cup performances. Beni Hendrichs was excellent for Bayer Leverkusen, and it was a sensible move for the price. However, some of the new arrivals did make very little sense. They spent over £30 million on Chadli and Geubbels. The former was extremely lacklustre during his last season with West Brom, and the latter hadn’t played for Lyon’s first time yet and only went on to play 7 minutes in Ligue 1. Jardim left near the beginning of the season due to the club’s incompetence, being replaced by Thierry Henry. The Arsenal legend’s time at the club can best be described as out of his depth. The stupidity in Monaco appointing him and the arrogance of Henry in believing he could succeed without any previous experience is laughable. He failed in spectacular fashion, which lead Jardim returning once again and guiding Monaco to safety.

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Monaco admitted they shouldn’t have put Jardim in such an awkward position regarding the signings. They have resolved those issues by bringing in more experienced players in Ben-Yedder, Slimani, Aguilar and Maripan to blend with their younger players. When you add that with Onyekuru and Lecombe, you have clear improvements all over the pitch. Ben-Yedder is such an excellent addition to the side. His lethal finishing made him one of the best forwards last season. Spending £35 million on a 28-year-old is a lot, but his reliance on movement and good shot locations mean he should age better than most forwards.

Do I expect Monaco to be good this season? I doubt it. Their midfield options are weak, and the lack of creativity worries me. You look at that team, and it’s difficult to pinpoint who starts every week. Yet, Jardim is still a good manager, and I trust he should get enough out of the players at his disposal to at least fight for the Champions League spots.

Under-achievers – Nice

Nice’s 16/17 season was peak Favre. Dynamic full-backs experienced central defenders and a reliance on star power upfront to carry the attack. That season, they defied expectations and finished 3rd, ahead of Lyon and Marseille. However, the following season wasn’t nearly as impressive. European football took a significant toll on the squad and only managed to win 4 in their first 14 games. Losing both of their full-backs and the Seri’s drop in form had a massive impact and resulted in a significant decline from that impressive 3rd place finish.

With Favre understandably departing the club to join Borussia Dortmund, Nice decided to make a riskier appointment and brought in Patrick Viera. The former Arsenal midfielder had an auspicious time in the MLS with NYFC, and many clubs seemed to want Viera based on the name alone. However, no one knew how good he would be in a better league.

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Viera’s first season in charge was fortunate to put it politely. They finished in a respectable 7th, but when you look at their issues, it makes you wonder how they even managed to finish that high. They only managed to score 30 goals, the 3rd worst in the division and only better than 2 relegated sides. The loss of Plea was huge, and Balotelli’s form dropped off a cliff, as per usual. Saint-Maximin was their top scorer, a player known for his lack of end product. While they did overperform massively in defence, that attack needed to be addressed if Nice wanted to avoid finishing in the bottom half of the table.

They have attempted to resolve their issues through the transfer market, with Dolberg arriving from Ajax. Dolberg, like Nice, hasn’t been at his best since 2016/17 but he’s still only 21. He does lack the technical ability to hold up the ball effectively, but if you can create enough chances, you can get plenty of goals out of him. Nice are currently close to signing Lorient winger Alexis-Claude Maurice. He is extremely young, but what from I’ve heard, he does have the potential to reach the same levels as the likes of Thomas Lemar or Nicolas Pepe.

When adding that to the promising form Cyprien has shown at the start of the season, Nice could really be a threat in the upcoming season.

So why are they, my potential under-achievers? Simply because of that possibility, this might not work out. Nice are relying heavily on two young players to produce now, and there are plenty of examples that simply hasn’t worked out (Monaco being the most obvious). I hope for the sake of their players, they have a good season, but I have my doubts.

Best Transfer – Abdou Diallo

Joachim Andersen, Teji Savanier, Timothy Weah and Idrissa Gueye are all great signings to choose from, but my pick goes to Abdou Diallo. Dortmund’s sale of the Frenchman and the arrival of Hummels was one of the strangest moments of the window. The deal would have made more sense if they actually earned more of a profit than they did. They bought Diallo last season for just under £30 million and sold him for the same amount. However, Dortmund’s loss is Paris’s gain.

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Last season, Lucien Favre had 3 promising centre-backs to choose out of Akanji, Zagadou and Diallo, and the latter is by far the best. Diallo is not only a fantastic centre-back but managed to fit in perfectly at left-back, still amassing huge dribble numbers. He reads the game well for his age and possesses the speed and strength to play in an elite side. His ability in the air isn’t great, arguably one of the reasons Dortmund were willing to let him go. Yet, Diallo is an improvement over who Paris have. With Thiago Silva ageing, they needed to nail this signing, and they have.

Potential Flop – Renato Sanches

Lille have lost a lot this season. Not only did they sell their best player in Nicolas Pepe, but the sales of Rafael Leao and Thiago Mendes were massive loses. Mendes was a vital cog in that midfield, adding a lot in terms of defensive work and creativity but selling to a rival made it even worse. Leao made sense considering Milan’s colossal offer, but a potential star has been let go a year too early. It made this summer essential in keeping Lille competitive, with so many areas to fix.

While Yazici was very close to being here, as soon as I saw a fee agreed for Renato Sanches, there was no doubt he would find himself on this list. It was slightly unfair for Sanches to be painted as the next future superstar after his impressive Euro 2016 performances, which earned him a £35 million to Bayern. However, the former Benfica midfielder has had a torrid time since his move to Germany. His game time under Ancelotti was minimal, and after an odd yet disappointing loan move to Swansea, his future at the Bavarians looked extremely daunting.

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After another season of barely appearing for Bayern, Lille decided to take a punt on the young Portuguese midfielder. There is still clearly talent in Sanches, but it’s strange that after 4 years of playing two of the top five leagues, his sample size is still relatively small. Taking away international football and his time at Benfica, he has only played 2230 minutes since joining Bayern Munich, that’s fewer minutes than Nicolas Pepe played last season. He is a young player who has lacked substantial game time in the past 3 years and possibly having attitude problems, as his time at Swansea showed. This is arguably Lille’s most prominent risk of the summer. There is a lot of pressure on Sanches to be half the play he was predicted to be. If he fails to have an impact in another league, I fear his career could be over before it ever had a chance to begin.

Why I Hope Barcelona’s 5-2 Win Over Real Betis is a Sign of Things to Come

Barcelona, like many of Europe’s elite, are a side I love to complain about. It’s primarily down to incompetence from the board, focusing on galactico signings instead of continuing on the path Cruyff set and Pep developed. Their work resulted in the most exceptional team in the Champions League era, mostly focused on La Masia graduates and some significant signings in Dani Alves, David Villa and Seydou Keita. It’s what made Pep’s 2011 side so magnificent. A majority of that starting XI was built with players who knew the Barcelona system. It’s why Pep has never been able to build a team as good as his treble-winning side. While his Bayern side had an idea of how Pep wanted to play through Louis Van Gaal, he had to start from scratch at Manchester City, which is why his first season in England was so underwhelming.
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The problem with Barcelona since Neymar’s signing is they’ve basically turned into Real Madrid. Losing the best manager of the modern game is going to have an effect on how much value you can get out of specific players. However, the change in style and player profile has been the most significant issue regarding Barcelona since Pep’s departure. Barcelona were never a tiki-taka side because they had so much purpose in possession. They would break teams down through counter-pressing, wingers stretching the defensive line and Messi being fantastic. Pep had all of his players actually work defensively, and it’s what made them so different to Real Madrid. They never allowed any player to have a completely free role.
I bring this up because Barcelona’s 5-2 win over Betis was the first time in a while, where I’ve seen Barcelona actually look like a team. They weren’t perfect, far from it, but they showed signs of showing that aggressive counter-press with actual wingers. While this will not continue when Messi and Suarez return, it’s good to see Barcelona play well without their star players. To make it very clear, I have not watched much of Barcelona in the past couple of years. With La Liga being a pain regarding its TV rights, I only managed to watch them in the Champions League. I also missed their defeat to Bilbao, where I heard they were awful.
Here’s how Barca set up for this game:

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A very different eleven to what we are used to seeing, but there was enough quality in the team to comfortably dispose of Betis, and they showed this for the first 10 minutes. De Jong and Roberto were drifting wide to stretch the midfield, allowing Griezmann to drop deeper to find space. This made the French forward a problem for the defenders. He was effectively creating space for his teammates to exploit.
In theory, that was supposed to happen, however, in the first half, Barcelona looked so stagnant in the attack. This was especially problematic in the wide areas. Carles Perez did look threatening when receiving the ball but was consistently left isolated. Semedo kept coming inside, instead of giving Perez an overlapping run. This wasn’t nearly problematic on the left, with Alba still being a menace when going forward. Rafinha was mostly ineffective through the first half, continually drifting inside. It’s difficult to blame him since he is a central midfielder and shouldn’t even be at the club, never mind playing on the wing.
The wide areas weren’t the only issue. When Griezmann dropped deeper to create space for his teammates, the midfielders were supposed to make runs into those gaps that were created through Griezmann. This just wasn’t happening, with Roberto and De Jong not taking advantage of the space. De Jong, especially, looked very uncomfortable moving further up the pitch. The Dutchman usually plays in Busquets’ position, where he can progress the ball through the midfield. During the start of the game, De Jong received the ball inside the box. Instead of shooting as most players would, he chose to pass, which resulted in losing possession. It perfectly represented how an attacking role just isn’t what De Jong should be doing. This forced Busquets to push forward to aid the forwards, which worries me if that has to happen more often. Busquets is increasingly becoming a liability as he ages. He has never had the legs to push forward, and it’s something he really shouldn’t be doing anymore and shows how ineffective the rest of the midfield were in the attack.
This became even worse after Fekir’s goal, which in itself was not a good look for Barca. Busquets played a very risky ball to Rafinha, who looked half asleep and Betis score just seconds later. It was their first shot on goal and their first real attack in the game. It caught Barcelona off guard and put them in a position they didn’t deserve to be in. Despite the issues previously mentioned, they were still the better side, but wrong decision making in the final third and static movement was holding them back.
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One area of their game that remained consistent throughout the game was their intensity. Betis have a handful of players who are excellent in possession, with Fekir, Tello, Canales and Carvalho all being able to cause a threat to Barca. Valverde ensured his side stopped this from happening, through the forward three and the midfield pressing high to force goalkeeper Daniel Martín to pump long balls into the channels. It allowed the home side to recover possession quickly and nullify their opponents. Betis only completed 78% of their passes, showing how they struggled to build-up play. They were pushed back throughout the game due to Barcelona pressing from the front. I wonder if the press would be just as effective with Messi in the side. Since Pep’s departure, his off the ball work has left a lot to be desired. It’s such a shame to see a player who was elite on and off the ball lose that skill down to managers giving him freedom or the precise control he has over the team.
Griezmann did manage to bring his side level right at the end of the half, but this game had to end with 3 points. After the defeat in Bilbao, they could not fall 6 points behind Atletico after only 2 games. Thankfully, all of my problems from the first half disappeared. Barcelona looked so much better and didn’t have the same nerves we saw in the first half. That Griezmann goal seemed to push them to start taking risks and use the full length of the pitch. At one stage, Rafinha and Griezmann switched positions, and they looked fantastic. While it was only for around 5 minutes, Rafinha held the ball well, which led to Griezmann’s second goal. The Brazilian held possession until Roberto arrived, who played the ball to the French forward, who scored with some style.
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Semedo began to give Perez as an option on the overlap. The Spaniard is very one-footed and made his constant cutting inside predictable and easy to deal with for Sidnei, the Betis central defender. Semedo finally began making those runs for support. It enabled them to be more varied in how they attacked Betis, which led to Semedo picking up an assist for Perez’s first goal for the club. For his first start, the young attacker had a very positive impact. He looked a threat when in possession, but his work off the ball does need improvement. Yet, there is a player here who could play a part in Barcelona winning their third successive title.
This win did show a lot of the better qualities of Barcelona. Their control over games, aggressive counter-pressing and quick interchanges made them a joy to watch throughout. However, I’ll hold my reservations on whether they remain good enough to win a Champions League. Having Messi will always give you a chance, but Valverde’s slightly negative tactics in the bigger games have shown them to be weak when facing opponents of a similar level. When Barcelona concede early, it shakes them, and they don’t seem to have the drive and desire to fight. They’ve collapsed twice in Champions League semi-final, after securing 3 goal leads in the first legs. I loved the approach for the game, with the forwards actually defending for once, but you expect them to beat the every non-top 4 sides in La Liga. I’ll come back to talk about Barcelona when they face an opponent of equal level, whether in the league or in Europe.

 

Predictions for La Liga – 19/20

La Liga, next to Serie A, is probably my least favourite out of the top 5 leagues. While part of it is down to myself being unable to watch the games legally, I have other problems. It’s primarily down to my distaste for Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two clubs that dominate all discussion in Spain. Nevertheless, let’s look at the teams and players who will stand out in the 19/20 season, for good or bad reasons.

Outside Shout – Sevilla

While the signings of Nabil Fekir and Borja Iglesias have pushed Betis as top 4 contenders, I’d back Sevilla to do even better. I’m not claiming Sevilla are title challengers in any sense of the word. But with the quality and quantity of signings, they are arguably in a fantastic position to finish in that 4th spot.

Sevilla had a mixed 18/19 season. After a fantastic start to the season, which saw them top of the table at the end of November, it all fell apart. They dropped out of the top 4 after only winning 2 games between the start of December and the 10th of March. It meant the Europa League was their best chance of getting back into the Champions League. However, this ended in disaster, losing to Slavia Prague in the round of 16. This culminated in the sacking of head coach Pablo Machin, which left Sevilla with another rebuilding job.

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Who else to be at the helm of the tough task than Monchi. The Spaniard departed the team in 2017, joining Roma. However, after an unsuccessful stint with the Giallorossi, he returns to bring back the same magic he did for years. With all the top clubs desperate to bring in a director of football, there aren’t much better than Monchi. The value he managed to find out of the transfer market, especially Ligue 1, was remarkable. The likes of Lenglet, Gameiro, Banega, Navas, Sergio Ramos and Dani Alves were all discovered by the former Sevilla midfielder, showing his eye for talent is unrivalled. While his time at Roma wasn’t auspicious, with the Italian side dropping down the league during his two-year spell, returning to where his success began is the best thing for both parties.

With Joaquín Caparrós diagnosed with chronic leukaemia, the search for a new head coach was on. Julien Lopetegui was appointed head coach on the 4th of June, and I’m unsure what to think about it. Judging him based on a problematic four months at Real Madrid is unfair, considering how little he was backed in the market. While he was very successful with the Spanish national team, his managerial experiences at club level are not the most comforting. His most notable job was with Porto, where he finished 3rd with £57 million spent on 18 players, 7 of which were Spanish.

Joining a club that isn’t as insane as Real Madrid, where he will be given more time to take Sevilla back into the Champions League, will be fascinating. Lopetegui has always favoured a classic 4-1-2-3, a formation that Sevilla have not been playing in recent seasons. Lopetegui needs to resolve some of the consistent issues with the side, in defence and now upfront. Sevilla have sold two of their best assets in Pablo Sarabia and Wissam Ben-Yedder, meaning Lopetegui can start from scratch with the current core of players and plenty of new arrivals.

Sevilla did some of the best business in the window. They went out and resolved their most significant issues, being wide talent and defenders. Monchi targetted plenty of players from Ligue 1, with 4 of their 11 signings coming from the French top flight. Rony Lopes has left the sinking ship known as Monaco to finally play for a club where his talents can be showcased. Ocampos has arrived from Marseille, and while I’m not his biggest fan, I acknowledge he does offer a lot in terms of dribbling and physicality. Sergio Reguillon comes after unfairly being pushed out from Real Madrid. This is a delight to see because Sevilla have finally picked up a good left-back after years of being so one-sided, even if it is just a loan deal.

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Their best signing, by far, is Joan Jordan. The Spaniard had a very successful spell with Eibar, earning him a move to Sevilla. This is such an improvement over Vasquez and Mesa. The midfielder is solid defensively and offers a lot of ball-progression. This is one of the most sensible signings of the window, and I’m surprised other clubs weren’t showing interest.

Sevilla have made some signings where I have my doubts, but right now, they are in a great position to get that 4th spot. A balanced experienced yet youthful team that possess the qualities to challenge the other top sides in La Liga.

Overachievers – Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid’s summer can best be described as a mixed bag. Losing their best attacker in Griezmann, their best midfielder in Rodri and the hugely impactful Diego Godin was huge. While they did pick up over £200 million from only 3 of their sales, it meant a lot of work was needed to turn this into a Champions League squad once again. Atletico recruited without any sort of consistency, which is understandable. They brought in a mix of young talent in Felix, Lodi and Hermoso to keep the squad fresh on the long term, combining that with the experience of Trippier, Herrera and Felipe. It allows them to remain competitive in the short term while also giving them a future in two of their most important positions; attack and defence.

In concept, I do like a lot of their business, but during a closer examination, I have my doubts. Let’s start with Joao Felix. The teenage sensation arrives for a gigantic £113 million. There is no doubting the forward is talented, but substantial game time is something lacking in his repertoire. The 18/19 season was Felix’s first season of top-flight football and displayed some promising qualities. His shot location was generally fantastic, and his technical ability is undeniably excellent, but factors come into my reservations on this transfer. The first is Liga NOS. The Portuguese top-flight is difficult to judge when it comes to talent. Your club might pick up a Bernardo Silva, Alex Sandro or a Willy Boly, or end up with a Mangala, Jackson Martinez or Enzo Perez. Joao Felix could be just as useful as Griezmann, or even better, however, there is a likely chance the pressure on him might be too much. Felix is one of the only pacey forwards Simeone can use. There is no other player like him in the squad, with Morata and Costa both preferring the ball in the air. Atletico have paid a lot of money to seemingly beat the competition and remind the rest of Europe they are a threat.

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I’ve expressed my doubts about Marcos Llorente before, and my opinions on Trippier and Felipe aren’t nearly as negative as many. Simeone has a reputation of supercharging defenders, and I think he will find the value out of the pair. They definitely didn’t need to spend that much money on them, especially on Felipe, but they’re decent acquisitions in terms of the players they are getting. I like Hermoso and is arguably their best signing in the window, with the defender performing well in a similar system at Espanyol and still has time to improve.

So why are they, my overachievers? Most of their squad are recent summer arrivals and as noted, aren’t all likely to succeed. Simeone has a reputation for grinding out results better than any other coach in the game. He rarely uses the exciting talent given to him, and it makes me wonder if Simeone will just stick with his compact system, only to remain close with the top two. Atletico will finish the top four but will look bad doing so.

Underachievers – Barcelona

Barcelona have lost their traditions in recent years. While they have never been likeable, you could at least respect them for putting more faith in youth than big-money signings. However, the same luxury signings they seemingly mocked Real Madrid for making are now the players they want. This has culminated in a squad full of different players, and not in the right way. This team lacks pace in the attack and balance in the midfield. Even though I dislike the Griezmann signing, They did end bring in an understudy for the ageing Jordi Alba and one of the best midfield prospects in Frenkie De Jong. This squad is a general improvement over last year’s title winners, but many problems remain.

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Ernesto Valverde is by far the biggest and most frustrating problem at the club. I actually had a lot of respect for what he did during his first season. He turned Barcelona from a free-flowing, direct and pacey team into a very defensively solid and efficient one. It wasn’t the most entertaining watch, but it was working and kept Barcelona better than the rest of the league. In spite of their title-winning season, only losing a single game in La Liga, the fans were not happy. They didn’t just want to win, but in a way that Cruyff would be proud of. While insanely smug and arrogant, I can understand. Barcelona have the best player ever to grace a football pitch. Seeing him in the best attacking side in Europe and playing to his fullest while his career to starting to wind down is essential. Messi is the only reason why Barcelona have won the league under Valverde. While Messi hasn’t been at his untouchable best like he was back in 2011, this has been his most impressive time at the Nou Camp. In his thirties, he is still carrying his side more than ever before, and it’s comfortably established him as the greatest there is.

Barcelona have the best side in the league, but mediocre squad building and the wrong manager has made them weaker than they should be. They’ll underachieve through not playing to their potential. They will most likely win the league, but not nearly as comfortable.

Best Transfer – Frenkie De Jong

This is arguably the most of outstanding signing Barcelona have made since Ter Stegen. The former Ajax central midfielder was fantastic both domestically and in the Champions League, where he was vital in Ajax reaching the semi-final. He has so many qualities that persuaded Barcelona to pick up his signature. De Jong is an allrounder. He is good defensively while possessing a great passing ability and solid dribbling numbers. It allows him to be versatile in how he plays, whether as a ball-progressor or even or a centre-back. His ball retention is by far his best quality. During their dominant victory over Juventus, the old lady attempted to man-mark De Jong out of the game. This didn’t work; however, with De Jong dropping so deep that it made him difficult to mark. He would consistently receive the ball and dribble right through Juventus’ deep block. He was one of the most challenging players to dispossess in Europe.

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There isn’t even debate on whether he starts. De Jong has to play whenever he is available. The Dutchman, alongside Arthur, offers a young central midfielder with more risk on the ball than his teammates. Rakitic is not as adventurous as he once was, Busquets has been overplayed for years, and Vidal hasn’t really worked out in Barcelona since his arrival. De Jong’s versatility would allow him to not only excel wherever he plays but to give Busquets and Rakitic a chance to be rested. De Jong’s arrival has zero drawbacks and is by far their best business since Luis Suarez.

Potential Flop – Munas Dabbur

Sevilla’s business overall was fantastic, but their forwards were always going to be difficult to replace. Los Hispalenses lost 3 of their starting forwards in Ben-Yedder, Silva and Muriel. It left them with only Munir as a starting striker, leaving them with a lot of work to be done. I have my doubts about Luuk De Jong, but he can play as an effective target man. It’s their acquisition of Isreali forward Munas Dabbur where my suspicions are raised. The former Salzburg striker was fantastic during his time in Austria. Dabbur was a well rounded forward who could score as well as create. He was excellent in the Europa League, where he scored 8 in 10 and helped guide Salzburg to winning every game in their group. It’s obvious Dabbur has talent, but excelling in a league where Salzburg are a level above everyone else means there is an instant reason to be worried. He’s also 27. Usually, when taking a talented player from a weaker league, they need to be at an age where they can improve or have re-sell value. As per usual, I could be wrong, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Dabbur leaving the club in a year.

Predictions for the Bundesliga – 19/20

With all leagues, excluding Serie A, underway, it’s time to make some predictions. As a majority of previews have shown, I’m bad at predicting football, but that’s a good thing. 50% of football results are decided by luck. It’d be worrying if I was getting these right. We’ll be making predictions for the outside shout, over-achievers, under-achievers, best transfer and potential flop.

Bundesliga 

Outside Shout – RB Leipzig 

While not exactly the most surprising choice, I’m still expecting this side to take a massive step forward under Julien Nagelsmann. The former Hoffenheim coach is already one of the best in Europe, showing a willingness to adapt depending on his personnel. He has demonstrated this throughout his career in the Bundesliga. His sides have primarily been possession-based, focusing on creating an insane amount of chances for their forwards. However, the German has consistently made adjustments to suit the constant changes in his squad. In his first full season, he used the direct route of Sandro Wagner to his advantage, focusing on quick transitions to the forwards. This Nagelsmann side was incredibly reliable defensively, only conceding 37 goals. However, with the losses of both Wagner and Rudy, the team needed to be tweaked. The 17/18 season saw Hoffenheim qualify for the Champions League for the first time. While they did concede 11 more goals than in Nagelsmann’s first season, there were improving in the final third. Thanks to the arrival of Serge Gnabry on loan and the form of Mark Uth, They scored more goals in open play than in the previous season with a far weaker side. It showed that Nagelsmann was more than the defensive coach he seemed to be when he broke through. In actuality, he is one of the best coaches at building an attack out of spare parts.

In the summer of 2018, it was agreed that Julien Nagelsmann would be joining RB Leipzig at the beginning of the 19/20 season. It was the best managerial appointing since Pep’s arrival in Manchester and showed the power and ambition of Red Bull. They managed to convince the best young coach in Europe to join their project when Bayern was showing interest.

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What makes this appointment so exciting for Leipzig is the players that Nagelsmann has to work with. This is arguably the first time in his managerial career where he has some genuinely fantastic talent to work with. A young midfield pairing of Tyler Adams and Amadou Haidara is one of the most promising in Europe. Both are solid defensively and have the technical ability to offer a vast amount of ball progression. Nagelsmann has worked with talented midfielders before, but it’s in attack and defence where the talent is so noticeable. Timo Werner is one of the best strikers in the league, and when paired alongside Yussuf Poulsen, who finally reached the goal total we knew he could reach. This is a remarkable improvement over who he worked with at Hoffenheim, where Mark Uth and Issak Belfodil were relied upon for the goal output.

One of the biggest cliches in football has always been a manager’s ability. “Let’s see how Pep does with Burnley” is something you might have heard at least once. However, Nagelsmann has done this. He took a relegation side into the Champions League places. He has a club and a group of players to match his talents, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Leipzig win the Bundesliga during his reign.

Over-achievers – Borussia Dortmund 

This isn’t to say they will be bad throughout the season. In fact, I believe Dortmund will keep the title race exciting for a majority of the season. The main reason why I think they will overachieve is because of Lucien Favre. The former Nice coach has a history of defying the numbers. He usually builds a relatively solid defence and relies upon the talent of the attackers to carry the side. The lack of planning on the attack has made them rather poor against better opposition if his players are in a bad patch. Luckily at Dortmund, Favre has been given the most talented teenager in Europe and an injury-free Marco Reus. Both were fantastic last season, and their sheer talent carried Dortmund over the line on numerous occasions, with their 3-2 victory over Bayern being the game that stands out. It’s what made their quite impressive second-place finish somewhat misleading. Dortmund were very fortunate that Bayern started the season very poorly and Leipzig had gone through a bad patch near the end of the season. If Bayern weren’t so unfortunate up until December, there wouldn’t have been a title challenge.

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I’m expecting more of the same this season. Bringing in both Hazard and Brandt to replace Philipp and Pulisic was a stroke of genius. Both are at the right age to contribute effectively for the next few seasons, while still being able to improve. I didn’t like the signing of Hummels, and the sale of Diallo made it a lot worse, but the German’s experience could be that extra edge they need. There were countless occasions where Dortmund lost against weaker opposition, primarily down to set pieces. If Dortmund had someone of Hummels’ leadership, it could have made the difference.

Will Dortmund have a good season? Most likely, but I can guarantee if they finish runners-up once again, they will not have been the 2nd best team in the league.

Under-achievers – Bayern Munich 

Oh, Bayern. This summer window was predicted to be the most significant window for Bayern in the past decade. With Robben and Ribery departing, Lewandowski now 31 and James Rodriguez returning to Madrid, there was a lot of work to be done. Leroy Sane was the player consistently linked to the Champions, but they failed to agree on a fee with Manchester City and were forced to look elsewhere. Nicolas Pepe seemed to be an option at some point, but they waited too long in pursuing him. While missing out on those two is a huge loss, their decision not to sign Ousmane Dembele was arguably the most baffling. Barcelona are clearly open to offers, and with their desire to see Neymar return to the Camp Nou, it was a chance for Bayern to get the young Frenchman. However, Bayern are refusing to pay the massive fee for a player who Barca are willing to sell.

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Bayern’s transfer policy this summer has to come into question once again. For years, the champions were making such safe signings in the market, knowing full well the Bundesliga was always going to be theirs. However, Dortmund showed that wasn’t the case, and proved Bayern aren’t the invincible juggernauts as they perceive themselves. This was the summer where they would genuinely show ambition in the market and actually challenge the likes of Barcelona, Man City and Liverpool for the Champions League. But they got it all wrong.

Bayern’s business this summer has instantly made them susceptible to losing their dominance. Dortmund and Leverkusen have added even more attacking talent, and Leipzig looks to be the real deal this season. Bayern might win the Bundesliga once again, but it will not be as comfortable as they wish.

Best Transfer – Kerem Demirbay

Speaking of Leverkusen, they’ve had a surprisingly good window. The additions of Moussa Diaby and Nadiem Amiri are more exciting additions to arguably the best attack in the league. However, the icing on top of the cake has to be Kerem Demirbay’s arrival from Hoffenheim. The German playmaker has arrived for a hefty £28.80 million, but the fee is reasonable considering Leverkusen did sell Brandt for a £22.50m. Demirbay is a couple of years older than Brandt but does possess that extra bit of quality. The former Dusseldorf midfielder has consistently been putting up outrageous numbers since his arrival in the Bundesliga, with his shots and key passes being some of the highest in the league. He is, in reality, quite similar to Brandt in some ways. Both like to be heavily involved in the play, looking to receive the ball just outside of the box. The difference between the pair is for me is Demirbay possesses that extra bite. He is a tough tackler who has an excellent eye for a pass. Last season for players to play over 1000 minutes, his expected assist was at a fantastic 0.40 per game, the same as Muller and more than Brandt and Forsberg. There is no doubting Demirbay’s talent, so it’ll be interesting to see what Bosz does with his skillset.

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Potential Flop – Ivan Perisic

I cannot stand this signing, and it just shows Bayern’s desperation in search of wingers. This is what happens when your wide options are an injury-prone Kinglsey Coman and a rather average Serge Gnabry. With Bayern missing out on their top targets, they had to settle for quick fixes, even if they might not fix anything. Perisic is a player who all top clubs should have avoided. Inter were asking for an obscene amount of money for the Croatian. He has been slowly declining since 2017 and only contributed to 11 goals last season, the lowest during his time in Italy. Perisic is a decent creator who can help defensively, but Bayern do not need defensive players. They’ve spent over £100 million on defensive reinforcements when they already had the best defence in the league. Perisic is here for his work in the final third, and he won’t offer enough. It baffles why Bayern weren’t even looking at Ziyech, Neres or Bailey. It’s hard to place blame on Kovac at this point. He is working for a club that isn’t willing to give him the same talent other managers have been able to work with.

The Promising Signs from Marco Rose’s Borussia Monchengladbach

I failed to hide my excitement for Borussia Monchengladbach appointing young German coach Marco Rose. The 43-year-old built a fantastic side at Salzburg, adding so much versatility in attack and emphasised the growing influence Austrian football was having on the rest of Europe. This was most prominent in Germany. With the arrivals of both Oliver Glasner and Marco Rose, it signals the innovation that the Austrian Bundesliga is adding to European football. Both Gladbach and Wolfsburg are clubs that sit right outside of the top 4. They have the resources to back their new managers while not being in a position where instant success is required. It gives their new managers a chance to get their messages across to their respective squads.

Monchengladbach have been a very frustrating team over the past couple of years. Last season, they started the season in incredible form, sitting in third and only 3 points behind champions Bayern Munich. It’s been a consistent pattern for Die Fohlen. They start seasons strong but have consistently finished in poor form. They finished last season failing to win in their previous 8 home games. Dieter Hecking did add a good brand of football to the team, but the defensive frailties were becoming too apparent. With the departures of Hecking and Thorgan Hazard, it allowed Gladbach to start again, and who better to do it with than one of the best upcoming managers in Europe.

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Marco Rose’s impact at RB Salzburg was hard to ignore. Their dominance in the league was expected, but their performances in the Europa League garnered heaps of praise, from me, included. Their versatility in attack and aggressive press left a lasting impression during their run to the Europa League semi-finals back in 2018. It was a brand of football that so many club owners wanted to see. However, there was always the risk involved. Salzburg’s lack of competition in Austria did beg the question if Rose could teach his ideas in a better league with more varied opponents.

It’s what made Gladbach taking that risk so exciting. RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg all took huge steps forward last season. The danger of falling behind their closest competition is a worrying reality for a club that should be fighting for those Champions League spots every season. Rose is a forward-thinking coach who could help guide his new side back into the top four.

Their summer signings were exciting and showed the direction they were heading. Stefan Lainer was a sensible move. The defender played under Rose at Salzburg and having a player who knows what the coach wants to implement is vital considering the importance of the full-backs at his former club. While Lainer doesn’t possess the same physical traits as some of the best full-backs in Europe, his eye for a pass and match intelligence does make him perfect for Rose’s system.

With Oscar Wendt now 33, left-back was another position that needed addressing. Gladbach chose to bring in Ramy Bensebaini from Stade Rennes for £7.20 million. The Algerian, who recently won AFCON with his national team, arrives in Germany after having some stand out seasons with Rennes. While I haven’t watched much of the defender, I’m curious to see what they’ve seen in him. Bensebaini is fantastic in a defensive sense but hasn’t shown the same attacking output as Lainer before his move. I could be wrong in my early assessment, and Rose could turn the defender into someone capable of playing in his system.

Their attacking signings, however, were truly exciting. With the departure of Thorgan Hazard, it left a huge void to be filled. With Rose’s wanting to continue using his preferred 4-3-1-2 formation, attackers were a needed addition. Gladbach chose to bring in two very promising forwards in Marcus Thuram and Breel Embolo, two players who have shown so much promise in the past. Thuram has recently come off a solid season for Guingamp, the worst side in Ligue 1 last season. He was their most crucial attacker, using his strength and height to give his former club a direct option. The Frenchman is also a good dribbler and displayed enough flexibility in attack to persuade Gladbach to sign him. While he is still very raw in parts of his game, there is no harm in spending £10 million on a young forward that could become a great player.

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Embolo has not had the best of times in the Bundesliga. Last season was the first time the Swiss forward started over 10 games in the league. His career so far has been plagued with injuries. His signing is far riskier than Thuram’s, but there is no harm in signing a young forward for a respectable £9 million. Maybe a fresh start is what Embolo needs, so let’s hope those injuries are finally behind him.

Rose now has enough talent to work with. The likes of Zakaria, Neuhaus, Elvedi, Ginter and Plea are good players, but like the team, have lacked consistency. If Rose can finally get these players heading on the right track and in a system that brings out their strengths, they could be a scary opposition to face in the league.

Their first game of the season, against David Wagner’s Schalke, was a chance to see the changes Marco Rose has already implemented. Let’s start with the positives, the first being the press. The first thing I noticed was just how aggressive Thuram, Plea and Embolo were in their attempts to close down their opponents, primarily Jonjoe Kenny. The young defender has recently arrived, and his ability on the ball has consistently left a lot to be desired. Gladbach’s forwards were always putting pressure on Kenny, making his Bundesliga debut a day to forget. It’s one of the best strengths of their attackers. The attackers have the physical ability to harass the opposition defenders and force errors continually. This worked well and made Rose’s team challenging to break down from the beginning. When Gladbach were in possession, the forwards, especially Plea, were exceptional in finding space in the wide areas. Thuram and Plea would consistently look to find space in the wide areas to receive the ball and allow quicker transitions. This became an effective method in breaking down Schalke’s deep defence.

The midfield also deserves plenty of praise for how they have adapted to their new manager’s style. Rose’s Salzburg team was insanely flexible in how they were able to attack their opposition. If the centre was overloaded, they could successfully exploit the wide areas through their full-backs bombing forward. If their opponents chose to stop Salzburg using the full size of the pitch, they would instead attack through the centre. Last season it was Amadou Haidara and Xaver Schlager, and now for Rose, it’s Neuhaus and Beres. The pair did show promise in fulfilling those important midfield roles, Beres especially. The Slovakian put in 3 tackles, had 3 shots and excelled in pushing forward and giving support to the forwards.

While Neuhaus and Beres put in good performances, it’s Zakaria that stood out in that midfield. The Swiss midfielder played the more defensive role in midfield, stopping attacks before they had a chance to materialise. During buildup play, he would also drop deep to give an option to his defenders, while the other players would push forward. Zakaria is another who at times showed the ability to play at the highest level but has struggled with form. This season could be his chance to finish the season as promising as he starts them.

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Gladbach were by far the better side in this game, but missing out on 3 points does transition nicely into the first big problem at the beginning of Rose’s reign, being finishing. This isn’t necessarily Rose’s fault, but looking at the chances that were created, this should not have finished goalless. The numbers highlight this, with understat showing Gladbach scored 1.43 xG while Schalke were on 0.76. This game would have been entirely different if Plea scored that chance in the 54th minute or if Thuram had a better connection with the ball when his header went over the bar.

However, this isn’t to say that Monchengladbach created a high volume of chances. Rose’s team struggled at times to support their forwards, especially on that left side. Wendt and Neuhaus weren’t supporting Thuram on enough occasions, and he was left isolated throughout the game. This should improve over time, but shows the work Rose has to do in turning this club into a top 4 side.

This is a side I will definitely revisit as the season progresses. While I’m not expecting Gladbach to challenge Bayern and Dortmund, I am hoping their general approach in games to improve. The midfielders will improve in giving numbers in attack and chance creation, in general, is the priority in terms of where this side needs to improve. I expect a coach as talented as Rose to find a way to get this squad to click, and bring back the glory they received so long ago.

How are Lyon Looking Under Sylvinho?

When writing my massive preview for the season, Lyon were a team I spoke about. For years they have looked able to compete with Paris, but inconsistency has always been their problem. They were able to create plenty of chances through Depay, Fekir, Aouar and Ndombele, but struggled to convert those chances. Moussa Dembele’s arrival did bring that clinical edge to the side but had minor injury problems throughout the season.

A lot has changed at Lyon over the summer, with Bruno Genesio being the most significant change. The Frenchman struggled at times to find a place for all of that attacking talent, which meant the likes of Traore and Cornet struggled for consistent game time. Genesio never seemed like the guy to take that group of players to the next level. He did oversee his side pull off some magnificent performances, with a 2-1 win over PSG and beating Premier League champions Manchester City at the Etihad.
The Lyon hierarchy could have appointed a more experienced coach but opted to take a massive risk in selecting Sylvinho. The former Arsenal defender has had little experience in management, with his most recent job being assistant manager to Tite for the Brazil national team. No one knew what this Lyon side would look like with Sylvinho at the helm. Would they continue to be the free-flowing attacking side of the past, or sacrifice that entertainment for a more pragmatic approach? This will be the focus today, to see what Sylvinho has changed during his early days as the new Lyon manager. I cannot stress this enough, but these views are not final. These are just my first impression on what Sylvinho has implemented thus far, so all opinions are not final.

Before looking at their first game of the new Ligue 1 season, let’s review their summer window. Their sales, rather than their purchases, attracted all the attention. Les Gones sold some of their prizes assets in Tanguay Ndombele, Ferland Mendy and Nabil Fekir for a combined £115 million, a considerable profit on players purchased for less than £10 million. All three players added a lot to the side. Ndombele was an all-action midfielder who added strength, energy, composure and a large amount of ball progression in midfield. He was what every club wants from their midfielders, and he arguably left the most significant void in the team. Ferland Mendy was another excellent talent. The former La Havre defender was another perfect example of excelling in your position. Mendy was not only solid defensively, but was arguably one of the best dribblers in Ligue 1, from a defensive position. Nabil Fekir, while not gaining a similar profit as their other sales, was a massive player for Lyon. The club captain was arguably one of the best attackers in Europe back in 2017. However, due to injury problems, struggled last season and didn’t have the same impact as seen in previous years. Fekir had that element of unpredictability about him that made him such a threat. A fantastic dribbler and chance creator, it made him one of the most complete attackers in Europe.

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Lyon’s arrivals were one of plenty of discussions, starting with the midfield, which saw Thiago Mendes arrive from Lille for £18 million. Ndombele is a tough player to replace with a tiny group of playing possessing a similar skillset to the now Tottenham midfielder. It was a sensible move to pick up Mendes. While he didn’t have the same fantastic ball progression as Ndombele, he did add better defensive numbers and still possessed similar creativity.

With Ferland Mendy’s departure, it meant left-back was one of the most critical positions in terms of recruitment. His replacement was Youssouf Kone, another player signed from Lille. While not offering nearly the same attacking output as Mendy, he did provide some outstanding defensive work, putting in over 5 tackles and interceptions for Lille last season. It’s another move that seemed realistic for Lyon. Finding a full-back with equal qualities to Mendy is insanely difficult. Taking a punt on a relatively young full-back and hoping those low attacking numbers improve in a better side is a risk worth taking for £8 million.

Last but not least, let’s talk about their best signing of the window, Danish defender Joachim Andersen. He is the first signing at centre-back that I would consider promising after Marcelo and Morel are finally being phased out of the team. Andersen was an in-demand player throughout the summer, with Arsenal, rumoured to be heavily interested. Moving to Lyon makes a lot of sense. The loss of Ndombele cannot be understated, and bringing in a ball-playing centre back to add that extra bit of ball progression is vital. Anderson is a gifted passer who is very comfortable on the ball. The Danish defender completed 15 dribbles last season, the 4th highest out of centre backs in Serie A. What he can add in position is impossible to argue. Andersen isn’t great defensively. However, for £21 million and still being only 23, he has time to improve.

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The combination of Lyon’s sales and arrivals made me wonder how they were going to set up throughout the season. While seemingly putting faith in the talent currently at the club is understandable, there is a vast amount of pressure on some of these players to step up. Cornet and Traore have always looked great when given chances, but can they be relied on throughout the season? It begged the question if Lyon were being a bit too confident in terms of assessing their own talent. There is now more pressure on Aouar to continue with his excellent ball progression and improve now Ndombele has departed. The issue with this group of players is some of the players they are putting faith in. I like Dembele a lot, but his history of injuries is still concerning, even if he has been a monster to play against whenever he has stepped foot on the pitch. The full-backs also worry me. Full-back pairings have usually worked with one taking an attacking role, and the other taking a more reserved part. Last season, it was Mendy who excelled in attack, and Dubois who blossomed on the defensive side, but now I have my doubts. Kone and Dubois have never shown the ability to play in that attacking role, leaving the team with even more pressure on the wide players to create and carry the ball.

If going off their 3-0 win over Monaco, there are plenty of elements to be excited about. Defensively, Lyon remained on the front foot, consistently using Aouar and Mendes to press the opposition during buildup play. Depay and Traore would drop deeper to change the formation to a more solid 4-1-4-1. While both are consistent tactics used by many coaches across the continent, it worked well. It could be down to Monaco continuing their poor performances into the new season, but Sylvinho’s side does deserve some praise here. Lyon used Mendes and Aouar to press the opposition defenders and force the ball into the wide areas, with Les Gones having a numerical advantage in those areas. It also got the best out of their full-backs. As we’ve covered, Dubois and Kone are not the most attack-minded defenders but are fantastic defensively. Forcing Monaco to attack down that side made them easier to nullify. The 2017 Ligue 1 winners only managed a single shot on target, showing how much they struggled to break Lyon down. The early signs of Lyon improvements defensively are bright, but it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against some of the sides in the Champions League. The different attacking teams could be challenging to contain.

While the defensive improvements give reasons for optimism, it’s in the attack, and primarily buildup play, where I have early reservations. During the first game of the season, Lyon attempted to transition the ball through their centre-backs recycling the ball, waiting for a chance quickly switching the ball towards the wide players. They use their excellent dribbling to attack the opposition. This makes a lot of sense. Andersen and Denayer are some of the best distributors of the ball in France, so building the ball up using their strengths is advantageous. The problem at the moment is the lack of ball progression through the middle. It’s the biggest hole that Ndombele has left the club. Aouar is a fantastic dribbler and seemingly the only midfielder who can. It puts a lot of pressure on him to drop deep if the wide options weren’t available. This might be different from Adelaide’s arrival from Angers, but at the moment they have looked dependant on Aouar to carry the ball. The other issue that became apparent at times during their first game of the season was their poor shot locations. This is likely due to the red card given to Cesc Fabregas, which forced Monaco to sit much deeper. Their 6-0 win over Angers did show a much better attacking side, but Lyon did massively overperform during their first 2 games of the season. At the moment, this isn’t too much of a problem. It is still in the extremely early stages of Sylvinho’s reign.

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I do imagine a lot of those early problems will be resolved as the season continues. This side seems built to be more accustomed to tougher opponents, and the emphasis on playing out from the back and a smaller squad could be a sign of harmony among the players. There was a reason why Lyon were one of my teams to watch. A new manager, the apparent significance of the fringe players and a better defence make them a team that all must keep an eye on this season.

The 10 Worst Signings of the 19/20 Window – Gomes, Griezmann, Danilo

While we have already discussed the reasons to be excited about the new season, let’s look at the more negative side of the window. These are the 10 players whose arrivals have disappointed me the most. There isn’t an order to this list.

Andre Gomes

It seems I cannot avoid criticising the Portuguese midfielder, even after he had arguably his best season in club football. There were two reasons why this was the case, the first being the level he was playing at. Gomes struggled at Barcelona because he was outclassed by a majority of the players around him. Going to a club where he would be the best technical player in the side allowed him to be a big fish in a smaller pond and gave him the chance to show his talents. The other and most important reason is Idrissa Gueye. The now PSG defensive midfielder has been one of the most underrated players in the Premier League since his arrival. No one in Europe’s top 5 leagues put in more tackles and interceptions than Gueye. Gomes is below average defensively and having an elite destroyer next to him allowed him to focus on his strengths, being ball progression. Everton spent over £20 million on a good ball progressor, who lacks any creativity and defensive ability. Soon as it was announced Gueye was departing the club, it made Gomes’s signing instantly bad.

Ayoze Perez

Jamie Vardy seems immortal. Just when you think the former Fleetwood forward is finally going to slow down, he goes on and scores 18 league goals for the Foxes. It’s understandable why Leicester have continuously tried to find understudies for Vardy, expecting him to start to show his age eventually. Iheanacho was the first and has not worked out as well as many hoped. Leicester’s strategy in terms of finding a Vardy backup came in looking for a player who could play in several positions. This happened in the form of Spanish forward Ayoze Perez, who had an awe-inspiring season for Newcastle, but for £30 million it does seem a bit insane. Perez did score 12 goals in the most defensive side in the league last season, and while that can be credited, his numbers did look very underwhelming. This could be down to the limiting system that Benitez plays, but Perez has garnered a reputation for being a hot and cold player. At times he would be great, but others non-existent. I think it’s more frustrating because Leicester had arguably the best summer window in 2018, with Maddison and Pereira signed for less than £30 million. It’ll be a consistent case of there being better value in the market. What is most frustrating is he arrives in an exciting young attack, only to lack the same talent as his new teammates. This could be a signing the former champions regret at the end of the season.

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Wesley

Belgium is a league in which talent can be challenging to measure. We’ve seen Ndidi, Tielmanns and Dendocker all succeed in the Premier League and while Wesley could be a success, there is a difference. The three players previously mentioned were all midfielders, two of which are primarily defensive players. Their roles in the side are more straight forward and can adapt to a different league with ease. Forwards are another story. We’ve seen both Brighton and Southampton sign young attackers from the Belgian top flight. Yet, their acquisitions make more sense, with Trossard and Djenepo showing a lot of promise in terms of dribbling and output. When looking at Wesley’s underlying numbers, it does display an image of a player who looks more threatening than he is. The general opinion of Wesley seems to be he is a technically gifted target man, similar to Sebastien Haller. My issue regarding Wesley is he doesn’t show the same output as the Frenchman, who played in a much better league. The Brazilian won only 1.5 aerial duels last season and isn’t very creative. I think Villa have signed him in an attempt to get as many goals out of McGinn, Grealish and Hourihane. This isn’t a bad idea, with Wesley’s average position usually being outside of the 18-yard box. The issue is I don’t think the trio will reach the same crazy output they did last season. Replacing Tammy Abraham is very difficult for a club that can’t spend over £30 million on a striker. But there must have been better, more proven players out there. I really doubt this signing will work out, but I would love to be proven wrong.

Oli McBurnie

As we’ve just seen, a promotion side’s striker is arguably their most important position. Sheffield had a similar problem as their promotion rivals. While Villa didn’t have a Premier League quality forward to play, Sheffield United still had their duo of Billy Sharp and McGoldrick. But due to their age and lack of top-flight experience, they needed more capable forwards. While Mousset was a decent signing, he could still be quite a risk considering the lack of minutes he played during his time at Bournemouth. However, our spotlight will be on Scottish forward Oli McBurnie and why I’m not the biggest fan of this move. This isn’t to say McBurnie is a terrible player. In fact, there are parts of his game I do like. He’s a hardworking and tactically intelligent forward, something you’d need to be to play under Graham Potter. My issue with McBurnie is actually his goalscoring. McBurnie scored 7 headers, and most of his goals were due to him being in the right place at the right time. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but he never showed himself to be a great finisher. In a side where I doubt a lot of chances will be created, he won’t get the goals that the Blades will be hoping for. If McBurnie didn’t cost nearly £20 million, I wouldn’t have this much of a problem. A lot of pressure is on McBurnie to score the goals to keep Sheffield United in the Premier League, and I don’t think he’s the man to do that.

Danilo

Permanently moving away from Premier League signings, let’s move to Serie A. Juventus’s business in recent years has been a mix of smart and insane. However this summer it seemed they finally got it right. They managed to sign the most wanted centre back in Matthjas De Ligt, and the most desirable free agent in Adrien Rabiot. When you place those signings around their purchases of some of the young domestic talent and Aaron Ramsey, it looked to be their best window for a long time. Although, that praise didn’t last when Juve opted to sell Cancelo to Manchester City in exchange for Danilo and £27 million. Many questions were raised on where Juventus have found the money to pay those astronomical wages and hefty transfer fees. We now know there is a limit to their spending. Dybala seemed likely to leave, and while that would have been crazy, Cancelo’s departure and his replacement just show the apparent roadblock they have reached. When you look at the Cancelo/Danilo swap deal as a whole, Juventus wanted £60 million for the defender, so Manchester City offered £27 million alongside Danilo. That means Juventus have effectively paid £33 million for Danilo, which is insane. The Brazilian failed to establish himself at Real Madrid and Manchester City, and now he is the starting right-back for a Champions League contender. The downgrade from Cancelo is enormous, and it seems they prioritised the importance of Ronaldo over building a good team. Losing Cancelo has made Juventus so much weaker, and it’s another example of how they can make the right signings, only to follow them up with stupidity.

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Antoine Griezmann 

Barcelona, similar to Juventus, can undermine some fantastic moves by making some very baffling ones. Signing Frenkie De Jong was a stroke of genius as well as the arrival of Junior Firpo for less than £20 million, but it is Griezmann where I have my issues. While the Frenchman isn’t necessarily a bad player, in fact, he is excellent. However, since he announced he was leaving Atletico Madrid earlier in the summer, anyone signing him was going to lose. Atleti were demanding over €100 million for him and considering he is 28, you won’t get enough output from the forward to justify such a hefty fee. It perfectly highlights Barcelona’s desperation to give Messi one last Champions League medal. It goes to the extent of selling Malcom, a young forward who played well whenever he was given a chance and brought in Griezmann. There are two massive issues with Griezmann, the first being the lack of certainty in his position. It’s a similar issue that everyone had with Coutinho’s signing. No one knew where he would play, and considering the significant money spent, it seemed he was guaranteed to start. We now know that lack of certainty regarding his position has helped lead to the Brazilian wanting to leave the club. The Griezmann signing stinks of Barcelona signing a big name for the sake of doing so when there are more pressing matters to attend to. Suarez is still without a long term replacement, there isn’t a top-level right-back, and they, unfortunately, need to begin thinking about life after Messi. While this might sound somewhat baffling, considering the different circumstances, but maybe Barca should have followed a similar route to Manchester United. While they massively overspent on both Maguire and Wan-Bissaka, it cannot be denied that they have fixed massive holes in the squad. Instead of adding that slight improvement in spending a colossal amount of money on another old forward, maybe more long term investments would have made more sense for Barcelona.

Jasper Cillessen/Neto

Staying in Barcelona, let’s look at one of the most confusing transfers I’ve ever seen. It started with Jasper Cillessen’s €35 million move to Valencia. At the time, I was puzzled. Why spend one of the highest fees ever seen for a goalkeeper when you have a perfectly capable shot-stopper in Neto? Only days later, it was revealed the La Liga Champions were signing Neto for €26 million. This was the second strange deal Valencia were apart of this summer, with Maxi Gomez’s arrival involving Santi Mina going the other way. The difference here is I don’t see enough of a difference between the pair of keepers to understand why this deal was necessary, but I can guess. Cillessen was extremely unhappy at Barcelona, with his game time close to non-existent. He wanted to move and get the minutes he needs at an age where moving is quite tricky. Valencia must have shown interest, and with Neto having experience in sitting on the bench for a better goalkeeper, it made sense. Maybe putting these two players as some of the worst signings is unfair, but their valuation shocked me, and it’s too strange to ignore.

Marcos Llorente

Atletico Madrid had an exciting summer. The sales of Griezmann, Rodri, Hernandez and the departures of Godin, Juanfran and Felipe Luis meant this was a summer of massive importance. Simeone’s side went into the summer missing a whole backline worth of talent, as well as their two stand-out players from last season. The Los Rojiblancos needed to nail this summer with recruitment that not only replaced their previous crop of talent but improved upon them. While there are some signings, I’m incredibly fond of, with Hermoso, Lodi and Morata making a lot of sense. The issue is their other signings persist of risks or just average players. A lot of people did not like the arrivals of Felipe and Trippier. While they aren’t the best use of money, I trust Simeone to turn the pair into useful members of the squad. I have huge doubts over Felix, but it’s Marcos Llorente where my concerns are raised. The Spaniard has barely played any football in the past 2 years, spending most of his time on Real Madrid’s bench. The last time (and the only time) Llorente played consistently was on a loan spell with Alaves, where he started over 30 games. The problem is there is a lot of expectation on filling Rodri’s boots, which is difficult for many players. Rodri has intelligence, an excellent passing range and a lot of defensive output. While Llorente has shown similar defensive numbers as his Spanish counterpart, it’s his ability on the ball where we will see the difference. I actually like Llorente for what he is, but I think they’ve spent £15 million more than he is worth.

Denis Suarez

Like Griezmann, anyone signing Denis Suarez was going to be a loser. It was Celta Vigo who took the risk. The Spaniard’s career in the last couple of years has been short, which is putting it lightly. Suarez has only played 136 minutes of domestic and European football in his previous two seasons. His January loan move to Arsenal was intended to give him the needed minutes, to allow Barcelona to cash in on him. While his time at Arsenal was a waste for both parties involved, it blew me away that Barcelona did manage to offload the midfielder, to Celta out of all teams. I can see where Suarez fits into the side, who primarily played a 4-4-2. Suarez could play off the left side, playing as an inverted midfielder and allowing him freedom in ball progression. There is definitely talent in Suarez, but for a player who has massive injury problems, there are risks that are just not worth taking.

Mats Hummels 

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The only Bundesliga signing on the list. On paper, the return of Mats Hummels makes sense. Near the end of their title-challenging season, Dortmund could have remained more competitive if they had more leadership at the back, with naivety shown at times by some of the younger defenders. Having a player like Hummels could change some of those disappointing defeats into three points. The issue with this move is the fee. Paying up to £30 million for an ageing Hummels is too much just to add experience to the side. When Arsenal add experience to their team in David Luiz for just £8 million, it’s troubling that Dortmund had to spend so much for a player that is on the decline. I didn’t like this move at first, but what made it even worse was it lead to the eventual departure of Abdou Diallo. The Frenchman was by far their most exciting defender, showing so much promise playing at both centre-back and left-back. Not only did they sell him to PSG, but barely earned a profit. Both moves have put even more pressure on Dortmund to succeed in the short term. Axel Witsel, Marco Reus, Piszczek are all a year older, and while Brandt and Hazard are exciting arrivals, Dortmund have to make this Hummels move count.

 

Have Aston Villa Done Enough to Stay Up? Assessing Their Summer Signings

Aston Villa have earned praise and criticism for their continuous recruitment this summer. They seem to be going down the same route as Fulham; recruitment players from weaker leagues that could either be great or bad. However, I’d argue that their business, in general, is a lot worse than the Cottages last season.

Fulham brought in a lot of players who had a positive reputation beforehand. Andre Schurrle was a Premier League proven winger, Mitrovic had that bite and dominance to the success in the league and Seri was linked to Barcelona only in the previous year. A lot of experts thought these players could have been snapped up by bigger clubs, myself included. Last summer, I wanted to see Zambo Anguissa join one of either Arsenal or Chelsea. What happened to Fulham is challenging to explain because so many players had a down year all at once. It’s an anomaly for many players on that side, and it’s how history will view that team.

One area of context is vital when discussing the comparisons between both of these sides. The main criticism against Fulham signing so many players was because they managed to keep their promotion team together. Their goal was to add as much quality as possible to ensure their chances of survival had increased. Villa were in a very different situation. Their most used eleven during their promotion campaign featured ageing forwards and defenders who were on loan. It meant there was a lot of surgery required to turn this squad into an average Premier League side. It makes the insane amount of signings more necessary than Fulham’s in the previous year.

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Villa, while spending £20 million more than Fulham, have brought in more players on permanent deals from leagues where the quality can be questioned. We’ll go through all of their signings so far in this window and judge whether they are good or bad, giving them a final verdict of either a hit or miss.

Wesley (Club Brugge) – £22.50m

Replacing Tammy Abraham is a difficult task for a promoted club. The Chelsea forward was absolutely sensational during his second spell in the Championship, scoring 26 goals for Villa. He proved once again that he is just too good for England’s second tier and should be starting in the Premier League. However, due to Chelsea’s transfer ban, the chances of signing Abraham were next to impossible. The signing of a striker of a vital, and unsurprisingly, I don’t like this movie.

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I’m not going to act like I’ve watched a lot of Wesley, but judging from the numbers I’ve seen, it doesn’t look so good. When signing players from a bad league, they need to be players who have truly stood out and are clearly better than their competition, and Wesley hasn’t done that. The Brazilian scored 12 non-penalty goals in the Jupiler Pro League. The arguments made against this is he is a target man who’s technical strengths allow him to bring others into play, think Sebastien Haller. However, the forward only wins 1.5 aerial duels per 90, not nearly enough to justify that opinion. I could be very wrong about him, but based on initial impressions, this could be one of the worst signings of the summer come May.

Verdict – Miss

Tyrone Mings (Bournemouth) – £20.07m

Signing players who succeeded on loan is usually pretty safe business, depending on how much-said player will cost. Mings was excellent last season, but paying over £20 million for a player with an injury-struck career, it does seem like a lot of money for him. Mings has missed two full seasons due to long term injuries. Usually, when spending a lot of money on players with very little resell value, you want guarantees that these players will be able to play as many games as possible. Mings is a risk, and while you want to keep some of the key players of that promotion campaign together, Villa have definitely overpaid for him. Mings could perform very well on his return back to the Premier League, but there was definitely better investments out there.

Verdict – Miss

Douglas Luiz (Manchester City) – £15.12m 

The first transfer I seemingly like, Douglas Luiz arrives to compete for those key midfield positions, offering versatility, solid defensive numbers and a very, very good dribbler. Luiz comes after impressing on loan at Girona, Manchester City’s sister club that has housed the Champions younger players in the past. Luiz didn’t necessarily have a breakout season, but he has shown enough to justify a side taking a risk on him. He’s still only 21, and for £15 million, it seems like a pretty good deal for him.

Verdict – Hit

Matt Targett (Southampton) – £13.95m

Targett has played a lot of Premier League games for a player who is still pretty young. He has also done very well in the Championship with Fulham during their previous promotion campaign. For a reasonable fee, Villa have brought in a decent full-back who is good enough defensively, however, the main reason for his signing is his crossing. Targett has consistently averaged over an accurate cross per game over the past 3 seasons, one of the highest in the league. He could function as a good creator for Dean Smith’s side, who were one of the most prominent crossing sides during the Championship. His inclusion makes, and wouldn’t depart if the team do suffer relegation. This is another arrival I’m okay with.

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Verdict – Hit 

Ezri Konsa (Brentford) – 11.97m

When discussing Tyrone Mings, I mentioned finding value in the market, and the possibility of better deals than Mings and Konsa is a better deal. The England under-21 only arrived at the Bees last summer and is already on the move once again. Brentford have earned a reputation of finding value in players domestically and across the continent; Konsa is another example of that. For a 21-year-old, the defender has shown a lot of promise and enough reason for a Premier League to consider him. He started 42 games for Brentford last season, completing 80% of his tackles, making over 50 passes and 3.6 clearances per game. What his most impressive about Konsa is how clean he is, only committing 18 fouls last season. There is a potential England international here and was picked up for a perfect fee.

Verdict – Villa’s best signing

Marvelous Nakamba (Club Brugge) – £10.80m

Initially, it seemed that Villa were going to spend up to £30 million for Leeds defensive midfielder, Kalvin Philipps, but opted to bring in Luiz and Nakamba for less. It was a very sensible move from the promoted side. With Luiz a good signing and Nakamba another good bit of business, I’d say yes. While Luiz is fine defensively and a good ball progressor, Nakamba is definitely on the defensive side. While his numbers in Belgium are unattainable for me, his time at Vitesse is. He showed himself to be a prominent ball winner, consistently putting over 5 tackles and interceptions per 90. While I’m not the biggest fan of Wesley’s signing due to his numbers not standing out in Belgium, Nakamba is a different case. No matter which league you are in, players like Nakamba, Ndidi or Gueye will succeed. Their skillset means they can succeed due to their game being primarily on defensive actions. While Nakamba won’t be an attacking threat, he will adequately cover for McGinn and Grealish as they focus on ball progression and scoring goals. Nakamba is still only 25, meaning it is another good bit of business for Villa.

Verdict – Hit 

Trezeguet (Kasimpasa) – £9.00m 

The Turkish Super League is a real mix bag in terms of recruiting talent. While many bigger clubs like to offload their highest earners to Turkey, signing players from there is quite a rarity. Trezeguet is an excellent dribbler, and while scoring 9 goals from the left-wing does sound promising for a 24-year-old, 5 of those goals did come from outside of the box. The likeliness of the Egyptian scoring that many again is very unlikely and I do not expect him to be this threatening against Premier League opposition. Trezeguet is expected to be a better bench option, which makes sense. He can be unpredictable, and his high dribbling could be great against tiring defences.

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Verdict – A hit if used sparingly 

Anwar El Ghazi (Lille) – £8.10m

Not much to say here. El Ghazi was used often during Villa’s promotion and keeping him is a safe thing to do, considering the lack of wide players Villa have. He doesn’t cost nearly as much as Mings will cost, and is unlikely to leave if Villa to succumb to relegation.

Verdict – No issues

Tom Heaton (Burnley) – £7.92m

While I do think they have slightly overspent on the 33-year-old, all three promoted sides have proven that a good shot-stopper is vital. Norwich managed to sign Ralph Fahrmann on loan and Sheffield brought back Dean Henderson for another season. While the other two sides were justified in their signings, Villa were in desperate need of a goalkeeper. There was constant rotation in that position throughout last season. Jed Steer did manage to earn a place as the number one near the end of the season, but he isn’t good enough for the Premier League. Heaton is a massive improvement over the three goalkeepers they have at the club, with his performances for Burnley earning him a lot of praise since his arrival in the Premier League. It’s a safe signing that has no drawbacks in terms of performances.

Verdict – Hit

Bjorn Engels (Reims) – £7.20m

Engels is third centre back arrival of the summer and is by far the most interesting. While I’m very excited to see how Konsa adapts to the Premier League, Engels is still an excellent addition. The Belgian defender played in a Reims side that defended very well, having the 6th best defensive record in Ligue 1. Engels was a considerable part of that, winning 66% of his aerial duels and making 5.4 clearances per game. My only issue is that while he could perform well against sides who prefer a more target-man approach, he might struggle against better teams in general. Engels only completed around half of his tackles last season, winning only 11. This is primarily down to style of play but could become a problem against the top-level teams. I think he is an okay addition, but I worry he won’t get the playing time he might want.

Verdict – No issue

Jota (Birmingham City) – £4.05m

This was a strange one. This was marketed as Dean Smith bringing back a player he was fond of during his time at Brentford. Villa were in desperate need for wide talent and bringing in the Spaniard for next to nothing does make sense. Jota is a decent creator, but he does lack any sort of ability to beat a man. He might struggle against Premier League full-backs, but for the price, he is bound to offer something for Villa, even if it is minimal.

Verdict – Hit for the price

Kortney Hause (Wolves) – £3.06m

The final transfer is another centre-back, this time from Wolves. Hause is another signing I don’t have an issue with. Hause, while not a mainstay in the Villa side last season, did start over 10 games for the team and performed well when given the opportunity. This signing did feel slightly unnecessary, considering it means Villa now have 5 centre backs at the club. However, the fee is so small I don’t think it is much of an issue

Verdict – Hit

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One might think if my opinion on a majority of the signings is positive, then why have not liked Aston Villa’s business as a whole. It’s because they spent over £40 million on two players who I do not think are a good value for money. It mainly points to Wesley being their only attacking signing of the summer, meaning there is a lot of pressure on him to perform well. I don’t think he will score many goals, but that isn’t what he is there for. He is there to be a focal point and allow Grealish, McGinn, Hourihane and Luiz to push forward and find space around the Brazilian. Last season, Aston Villa’s starting midfielders contributed to 43 goals. It is highly unlikely that they will add to that many, but it seems Smith is hoping that McGinn and Grealish can similarly replicate their success. That still isn’t enough to save Villa from relegation. They’ve lost a lot of goals through Tammy returning to Chelsea, and that could be the difference. Missing out on Maupay has a massive part in this. Villa were chasing the Brentford forward for a majority for the summer but failed to get his signature. His arrival could have brought the goals they need. I predict Villa, alongside Sheffield United, to go straight back down. I do like a lof these signings, but the lack of goals is what I worry about.

My Football Opinions: Teams Recruiting Poorly

While the transfer market has its enjoyment, it ultimately does take away from the reasons we all love football, to watch the game itself. The summer window is full of twists and turns, from players turning their backs on their respective clubs, to owners desperate to improve their teams. The area we will be discussing today is clubs who recruit in the wrong areas, and why it is so frustrating.

When talking about this problem, it comes back to one of the best managers to ever grace the game, Valeriy Lobanovskyi. His influence on the game cannot be underestimated. From introducing statistics and the power of science to the game, he also had one belief that should be embraced by all clubs, being the weak link. The legendary Dynamo Kyiv coach believed that a team’s success was primarily down to which side made the least amount of mistakes. Lobanovskyi famously said, “a team that commits errors in no more than 15 to 18 per cent of its actions is unbeatable.” It isn’t the number of superstars you have in attack that wins you titles, it’s how good or bad those lesser players are.

This belief has been tested throughout history, but no one pushed it further than Florentino Perez with his infamous Galacticos project. The idea of overloading your side with the best attackers was something never believed to be possible, and for a good reason. There isn’t a world where you can afford players of that world-class level and keep them all happy while keeping the side defensively solid. This turned out to be partly right. While one La Liga and a dramatic Champions League win in 2002 can be considered successful, it just wasn’t enough for the insane amount of money spent. The team was imbalanced to put it lightly, with Claude Makelele’s role in that team vital in doing all of the defensive work in midfield. You look at the signings during Perez’s first tenure. This included Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, R9, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Walter Samuel, Sergio Ramos and finally Robinho. While these aren’t all the signings Real Madrid made between 2000 and 2006, they were the most expensive. It’s clear where Perez was prioritising his finances, on selling shirts with the most attacking players in Europe. Only two of them I would consider being defensive signings. Los Blanchos’s team was built so irresponsibly, that it was no wonder the project was considered a failure.

I thought that Perez’s failed project meant that no other side would ever try and win similarly, yet I was wrong. While Barcelona haven’t gone as crazy as their rivals in terms of signing everyone available, their recent signings in the market scream a lack of planning. The signing of Griezmann shows how Barca are continuing to ignore the more pressing issues in their squad. Busquets, Pique and Suarez still remain without a worthy successor. They are blessed to have the greatest player of all time, yet seem to ignore the other parts of the side despite Messi now reaching the twilight of his career.

While these examples are on a grander scale, we still see clubs signing a player for a hefty fee without any idea of what to do with them. United signing Alexis Sanchez, even though Rashford and Martial were in fantastic form before his arrival. Everton brought three number 10’s in the summer of 2017, and it begs the question of why they needed to bring those players in when they failed to add pace in the wide areas. Even Arsenal signing Aubamayeng for a club-record fee can be seen as quite reckless considering the weaknesses that side had in midfield and defence.

The point remains. The clubs who succeed in football prioritise fixing their weaknesses instead of adding to their strengths. It isn’t a surprise that Manchester City and Liverpool are the two best sides in Europe. In recent years, the pair have always addressed their most significant issues first. The Reds did overspend on Alisson, but he solved their most significant problem; the lack of a commanding presence in goal. Manchester City’s first signing of the current window was Rodri, the Fernandinho replacement they were in desperate need for at specific points last season. It’s why they are miles ahead of their Premier League opposition. Their intelligent recruitment and desire to stay away from a messier side of the transfer market.

Even Manchester United, a club ridiculed for its inability to recruit adequately in the market, have begun moving towards signing players in their weakest positions. The arguments can be made for how much they are spending on the likes of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. There are premiums they are forced to pay for players with quality that can be questioned in certain areas. It’s vital that instead of spending an insane amount of money on Bruno Fernandes, they have stayed away in pursuit of a defender.

These points had to be made due to potential moves possibly being made in this transfer window, primarily Neymar. Barcelona might perhaps form the most fearsome frontline in world football, but in reality, Neymar might only improve Barcelona by around 5%, with their attack already the best in the division. Adding to that position is needless when other areas on the pitch need addressing. Studies have been made in the past that show the importance of clean sheets over goals. While goals to win you games, you realistically can score 2 goals and become the favourites to win the game. What’s essential is not throwing away those leads due to ageing stars in defence. If Barcelona invested a potential £200 million in resolving their right-back and centre half issues, it would make them a much better team than resigning Neymar. There is no need to continuously allow your weak points to increase, in favour of slightly improving your strengths.