Manchester United’s Baffling Transfer Policy

In a recent post, I discussed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and why I think he was United’s best signing of the past decade. His towering presence arrived after multiple summers of underwhelming arrivals that showed how United were without a cohesive plan in how they wanted to recruit. They were obsessed with bringing back success as quickly as possible without any regards to sustaining it. Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City all had long term visions and have succeeded in bringing their respected clubs into the spotlight across Europe. United needed a plan, and people who knew how to execute it.

This summer was planned to be the departure from those shirt-selling superstars and a push to bring in players who could execute the system that Solsjkaer wanted to deploy. There was an emphasis primarily on British/Irish players, young guys with previous experience playing in England. It explains the signings of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and the strong links to Harry Maguire and Sean Longstaff. This approach does make a lot of sense for United. The Red Devils have had high profile flops in Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Alexis Sanchez and the club wanted to move towards players with lower wages and a desire to play for arguably the biggest club in England. Young British talent have been everywhere for the past couple of years, and it is clear there are some very talented players. The under-20 side who won the World Cup, Chelsea’s youth teams over the past couple of years and the most apparent reason for this policy, Jadon Sancho’s success at Dortmund. The club does not want to have the same problems they have had with Sanchez, high wages no one else is crazy enough to pay and get players who could add something to the side while possessing resell value.

As expected, I have a massive problem with this. The approach is admirable, but the execution is terrible at the moment. I still really like the signing of Dan James, and while he won’t be a starter, he has something to offer the team and didn’t cost a tremendous amount of money. Wan-Bissaka is another who I have no problem with. The England Under-21 full back was an obvious signing, and the fee is reasonable for the best defensive prospect in Europe. But the other recent links to the club make no sense from a financial point of view, an essential factor for Manchester United. I cannot emphasise this enough, but the top 6 clubs should never deal with the mid-table clubs, like Leicester, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Everton. You are guaranteed to be overcharged for players and are forced to pay the British premium. You could easily find better deals elsewhere or from clubs in the Championship. United only seem to be going for the most well known British players, instead of attempted to go under the radar. Why not take risks on guys like Kalvin Phillips, Philip Billing, Reece James or Matt Grimes. Football is a sport that has a history of rooting for the underdogs, and while seeing a £50m player perform is satisfying, it’s also expected. Seeing any low-cost player arrive with no fan fair and become an essential first team player is still a great site, similar to how Robertson, Alli, and Gomez have become vital to their teams.

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This recruitment of young Britsh players seemed to be the priority this summer, yet United have found themselves in the hunt of a big money signing, predominantly Bruno Fernandes. This is a player that United should avoid. I do think Fernandes is an excellent player and had a fantastic season in 18/19, contributing to 33 goals in just as many games. He’s a fantastic creator and is never afraid to take risks in the hunt for goals. I have reservations on the Portuguese international, the first being Liga NOS. Like the Eredivisie, Liga NOS has had a reputation of being a flip of a coin. You could get a player who could become one of the best players in his position, similar to Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo or Deco, or get a player who isn’t good enough for a top 5 league, like Jackson Martinez, Nani or Renato Sanches. You have to take their form with a pinch of salt. If Jonas and Bast Dost can be the best goal scorers in the league, there is a definite talent gap. The idea of United spending up to £60 million on a player, when they are rumoured to only have £100 million to spend is insane. This would only seem likely if United managed to sell a lot of assets, but that isn’t happening. I can only see Fernandes coming in if Pogba was to be sold, but that would be a massive downgrade. Pogba has been fantastic during his United career and still has a lot more to give, while I look at Fernandes and think that could be his best output. This is just another example of United failing to see the promise in players. Fernandes was absolutely superb before his move to Sporting. Why the club only sign players when they have had headline seasons is baffling. They should be signing players before their actual value is discovered.

Bruno Fernandes has dominated the summer window, but another player who has been heavily linked to the club is Wissam Ben Yedder. The Frenchman has been one of the best forwards in La Liga with his clinical finishing and solid hold up, highlighting him as a potential replacement for the outgoing Romelu Lukaku. Ben Yedder has been one of my favourite strikers in La Liga since his arrival, but this another move I would recommend United making. Ben Yedder is 28 and would cost United up to £35 million, a lot for a player without any resell value.

Signing younger players is very important for United at the moment. It’s clear that their chances of returning to dominance is not happening while Liverpool and Manchester City are at the top. They need to make long term investments to ensure they will eventually reach the same level as their rivals. Signing players in the profile of Ben Yedder work when your club are on the brink of success and just need that push. This has been done throughout the Premier League era. It began with Eric Cantona becoming the figure of Ferguson’s early success, to Claude Makalele joining Chelsea to start their dominance in the mid-2000s and most recently David Luiz returned to Chelsea and pushed to win a league title. If United managed to sign Ben Yedder, he would be a success, but the club would arguably waste his best years in football. If United were closer to their rivals, this would be a must signing.

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While bringing in players is a priority in pushing United to the next level, it is so vital they finally get rid of a lot of the dead weight in the squad. Six players need to leave the club ASAP, and that isn’t even considering the potential departures of Pogba and De Gea, two of United’s most important players. When you look at the team that City were before Pep’s first title-winning season, the difference in quality is frightening. City went out and fixed all of their problems quickly while letting their senior players out of the club. Selling Fellaini back in January was the right move. He was the representation of the darker years of Manchester United in the Premier League era and felt like a step in the right direction by selling him. The same needs to be done to the likes of Jones, Smalling and Darmian, players who cannot offer enough in the long term for the club and their exit could finally signal the transition into a new United, a team which focuses on building a team, something that has been lost since Ronaldo’s departure.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Manchester United: A Perfect Pair

I’ve been a Manchester United fan my whole life and by far my favourite season to follow was the 2016/17 season. While I remember watching the club lift the Champions League in Moscow and failing to beat Barcelona a year later, I began losing interest in the sport for a few years. Thankfully that loss of interest occurred during the Moyes era, which is why that point of time doesn’t hurt as much as it hurts other fans. My fascination with football returned with Van Gaal’s arrival. It felt like a fresh start and a chance to return to the sport I, like many young kids, dreamed of playing.

Moyes was seen as a safe option when he was appointed. A manager who was successful with Everton in keeping them competitive for over a decade. He managed to get the best out of middling players who seen as not good enough for their previous club or too much of a risk for bigger clubs. He was Premier League proven and was handpicked by Sir Alex Ferguson as his successor, but a combination of issues led to the Scotsman being sacked after only 8 months in charge.

The mistakes in the summer of 2013 are well documented. United decided to give Moyes a six-year contract with the expectations being long term success. Moyes was indeed out of his depth at United. Home records broken, humiliating defeats by the hands of arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester City and a style of football that was seen as ineffective, to say the least. Moyes is predominately to blame for that horrendous season, but criticism has to be given to Sir Alex and the Chief Executive. Ferguson was desperate to win one more title before his impending retirement, which meant many short term decisions were made so he could achieve that. The signing of Robin Van Persie was essential to that 20th title. It gave United the best striker in the league during his best years, and it weakened a direct rival. While his signing was influential, it wasn’t as needed as many like to believe. Manchester City only managed to score 4 more goals than United in the previous season, it was in defence where United saw problems. Ferdinand and Vidic were still playing regularly during a time where they didn’t possess the speed to keep up with the best forwards in the league. Fergie was desperate for that final title, and history has proven that buying a striker is a much quicker route to success than buying a defender. Ferguson always looked at the future at United and always kept an eye on his players, to ensure they were moved on at the right time. So many of these players needed to be replaced years before Moyes’s arrival, but short term success was seen as more important.

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It brings us on to that infamous summer of 2013. This was Ed Woodward’s first summer in charge at Manchester United, and as mentioned regarding the age of some players, it was vital that it was done right. Woodward was looking to stamp his mark at the club through acquiring some immense talent. The six players who were heavily linked to the Red Devils were Gareth Bale, Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Ander Herrera, Sami Khedira and Leighton Baines. The likeliness of United even convincing Bale and Alcantara to join them was highly unlikely with the former destined to join Madrid and the latter wanting to play under Pep Guardiola. Woodward’s ambition can be credited, but realism was needed in this situation. It’s the first of so many examples of Woodward desperate for the big names, players who arrive from big clubs and could increase shirt sales, instead of choosing the more realistic offer. It meant that United’s disastrous summer ended with the signing of Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini. He arrived with little fan fair and seemed to only be signed because United needed at least one signing. Fellaini struggled under Moyes because he was played usually as a defensive midfielder, a position he has never played before. It was the only place where he could play since Rooney, and Van Persie both cemented their place as the starting forwards. Fellaini’s strength is as a more direct option for the attack, working well off the bench and not as starting central midfielder, He doesn’t possess the mobility or the awareness to cover in that area. Juan Mata arrived in the following January, and while he is a very gifted player, his signing emphasised the scattergun approach Woodward was using. There isn’t a world where Juan Mata and Fellaini can play to both their strengths in the same system for the reason that the pair have contrasting styles. One is a small, intelligent playmaker while the other is a battering ram, a way to exploit oppositions who are weak in the air.

United ended the Moyes era by finishing seventh without a manager and with a squad full of players who needed to be replaced. The following summer saw Woodward do a lot of things right. Van Gaal was signed on the 19th of May, meaning there wouldn’t be any issues regarding the future of the club and could continue with preseason as usual. The signings from the summer of 2014 had some highlights. A number of players at the club like Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Hernandez, Welbeck, Cleverley all departed the club. This was long overdue and it was signalling the end of United’s dominance at the beginning of the century and a chance to move on. The Red Devils brought in Luke Shaw, arguably the most promising full back in the country for a record fee. Ander Herrera was brought after his transfer failing to be finalised the previous summer. Daily Blind arrived to give depth at both full back and central midfield and Rojo was a much-needed addition at centre half.

While they were seen as sensible moves, Woodward couldn’t resist his urge to make the headlines. United broke the British transfer record to bring Champions League winner Angel Di Maria to the club. The Argentine reached 3 finals that year with his performance in the Champions League final earning him the Man of the Match over the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale. He is a fantastic player who would offer pace, creativity and elite dribbling who could push United closer the Manchester City and Chelsea. The other galactico who arrived that summer was Radamel Falcao. The Columbian was one of the deadliest forwards in Europe at the time of his arrival. He was signed on loan with an option to buy due to his injury record and would give United another option. United sold both Chicarito and Welbeck that summer, leaving them low on options with Van Persie struggling with consistent injuries and Rooney beginning to show his age. These were two big names that added on top of the solid bunch of signings that would improve the squad. 

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Ironically, the signings who succeeded were the players who didn’t have high expectations. Ander Herrera was fantastic whenever he played in midfield, giving United a player who could play that box to box role and contribute in the final third. In his debut season, Herrera scored 6 and assisted 4 in 19 starts, showing his value to the side. He also was second in the team for tackles per game with 3, with only Valencia ahead of him. He gave a lot to the side, which needed a player who could do a bit of everything. Throughout his career at United, he had the drive to succeed at the club, which other players didn’t. Di Maria was the most anticipated signing and while he did contribute to 13 goals for a side where the manager wasn’t selecting him at the tail end of the season. He ended his time at United after only a season, with his departure clouded with distaste from the fans after refusing to join the rest of the team for preseason. At least that fantastic goal against Leicester will be remembered fondly. Falcao was arguably more disappointing, with the Columbian only scoring 4 goals. He hadn’t looked the same player since an ACL injury that forced him to miss the 2014 World Cup.

After finishing 4th and looked particularly underwhelming in doing so, United looked to the transfer market to fix the problems. Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Matteo Darmian, Sergio Romero and Anthony Martial. While sensible signings, they weren’t the level of signings that United needed. The other clear issue was Louis Van Gaal. The Dutchman is a descendant of the Cruyffian school of football. There are either two ways you can take Cruyff’s teachings, either taking pressing and free-flowing approach, as seen with Guardiola or Rijkaard, or you can take the more systemic and organised routes of the system and develop them further, think Arigo Saachi at Milan. Van Gaal took the latter, playing a brand of football that while protected a defence that still featured players who simply weren’t good enough, it made United lack any sort of spark and attacking flair. Five games finished 0-0 in Van Gaal’s final season just highlighting how United struggled to score goals throughout the season. It meant that arguably United’s most exciting signing from the 2015 summer window, Memphis Depay, was destined to fail. Van Gaal demands all of his players to track back and help on the defensive end, something that Depay isn’t good at doing. The winger’s strengths are in attack. He always wants the ball played to his feet, so he can cut inside on his stronger right foot. He is a player who feeds on confidence, and when he was consistently dropped after poor displays, it made it difficult for Depay to succeed.

United fans couldn’t stand watching Van Gaal’s United for another season, and while the Dutchman brought home an FA Cup, it wasn’t enough. A season where United scored only 49 goals, the second lowest in the top 10. Van Gaal’s restrictive football made it nearly impossible to deal with sides that played in a deep block. Rashford’s end season emergence helped in giving Van Gaal a fast and aggressive forward who was scoring with nearly every shot, but a season full of dire performances made it difficult to justify keeping the former Barcelona manager.

One might ask what does all of this have to do with Zlatan Ibrahimovic? The short term history of how United consistently struggled in the transfer market was to highlight just how significant of a signing Ibrahimovic was to United, and especially for Ed Woodward. His first summer was full of targets that didn’t want to join the club. His second was a mix of shirt sellers and squad players but was a mess in regards to where they all fitted in. The third summer was a failure in how those signings performed in their debut season, with Anthony Martial the only player even remotely a success. Woodward needed to smash his first summer transfer window with Jose Mourinho, with every signing being first team starters.

The summer of 2016 is still the only transfer window where I’d consider Woodward to be successful in recruitment. They fixed every glaring issue in the squad. They added a young promising defender in Eric Bailly who was capable of playing the ball out from the back and added much-needed pace in defence. Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrived for £27 million to add creativity in the final third. The Armenian was voted the player of the season in the Bundesliga and was an essential signing to boost United’s goals and chance creation. United even went a step further in putting their names on the headlines, with the record Premier League winners breaking the transfer record to bring Paul Pogba back to the club. The Frenchman could add an inventiveness to the midfield and offers a player with a unique skill set that is still hard to match. They were all great signings, but the icing on the cake was easily Zlatan’s arrival.

The Swedish forward was everything United needed on and off the pitch. He a huge personality and possesses the arrogance and hunger for that United have been in itching for since Sir Alex’s departure. From a young age, Zlatan has always had an ego the size of a mountain. From refusing to do auditions for Arsene Wenger at youth level to only agreeing to remain in Paris if the club built him a statue. He is a man who demanded your attention, which younger players could look towards as a role model for the player they should be thriving to be. While many United fans were excited to see a world class forward arrive at the club, opposition fans had their doubts. “He’s only scored in a farmers league” or “he’s past it.” We all heard these criticisms against Ibrahimovic, but both the player and manager weren’t worried. “Zlatan needs no introduction. The statistics speak for themselves,” said Mourinho on his arrival, and he was right. Ibrahimovic had arrived at United after a fantastic final season with Paris Saint-Germain, in which he scored 50 goals in 51 games, 38 of those in Ligue 1, a club record. It was the first time United signed a European superstar striker since Van Nistelrooy, a fantastic poacher but wasn’t effective in linking others into play. Ibrahimovic was the opposite of the Dutchman, with the Swede constantly dropping deep to play as a number nine and a half. His arrogance and personality were personified in how often he didn’t like to remain in a forward position, preferably moving to where the cameras were focused. Ibrahimovic was one of the very few superstars playing in the game, a quality he showed very early on in his United career. His first appearance for the club was in a preseason game against Galatasaray, in which he scored an overhead kick in the 4th minute of the game. While it wasn’t a vintage goal, with the forward’s connection with the ball being imperfect, to say the least, however, the ambition is worth praise.

Zlatan began his United career by showing all of his best qualities. He scored a last minute header against Leicester to win the Community Shield for the club, towering over Wes Morgan, one of the best defenders in the previous season, with ease. His giant character was both literal and metaphorical in this case. He didn’t have the constant effect many expected him to have, but he still managed to appear for the most critical moments. While his first competitive game showed his love for the big moments, his second showed his star quality. United were on track for a straightforward win away to Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth with goals from Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney, the game was sealed through the long strike from Ibrahimovic. He simply picked up the ball and scored from a distance United fans were not used to seeing a goal out of nothing like that. It wasn’t the same structured and planned attacks we were used to seeing under Van Gaal. It was the first change of ideas, from Van Gaal’s Cruyffian roots to a more individualistic approach to scoring goals, and Zlatan was the centrepiece. Ibrahimovic went on to score 10 in his first 20 games, an impressive return for his first season in English football and for a side who were still in transition.

Ibrahimovic was a shot machine during his time for United. This isn’t exactly a quality that is stand out for a United player to possess, with Rooney, Ronaldo and Van Persie all taking a lot of shots during their spells at the club. It doesn’t take away from the fact that the Swede was a terrifying forward to face. He was taking over 4 shots a game, an amount no other United player has managed to beat since his only full season at the club. Any player can take a high volume of shots, but Ibrahimovic showed himself to be a lethal finisher from wherever he was shooting from. His xG showed this, and according to Understat, he overperformed his expected goals by 3, and when going through his goals again, it shows. His fantastic chip against Everton that so nearly didn’t go over the line, his low ranged strikes finding their way past the keeper and some fortunate strikes through deflections, his goal threat was undeniable. Ibrahimovic’s knack for scoring goals from everywhere shows from his dominance in the air. Out of the 17 goals he scored in the Premier League, 4 were headers. His strength will always be with the ball at his feet, but his aerial threat was arguably the most threatening of a striker in the league.

While his image has a selfish and arrogant player were well known, he sure didn’t show it on the pitch. Ibrahimovic was an excellent link man for the rest of the players in the team. It was an important inclusion in his skillset. Like his time at Paris Saint-Germain, he helped bring other talented attackers into the fray. In France, it was Cavani, Lavezzi, Di Maria and Lucas Moura and at United, he had Rooney, Rashford, Lingard, Martial, Mata and Mkhitaryan. While not being given the same experienced scorers as he had in Paris, there were still fantastic talents at the club that needed space to get the goals. Zlatan was an excellent creator throughout his time at United, assisting some of the vital goals during Mourinho’s debut season, with the highlight being a magnificent cross for Mkhitaryan to finish with a spectacular scorpion kick (even though the Armenian was offside). He liked to find space on the right side and for a good reason. United would usually play either Mata, Lingard or Mkhitaryan on that side, with the three players preferring to come inside due to their history as number 10’s. Ibrahimovic would find space on the far side to help keep the width and use his excellent eye for a pass to find his teammates in the box. His drive to contribute to goals, whether scoring or assisting, was what made him such a lethal player.

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The player he sparked the best on and off the pitch relationship with was easily Paul Pogba. The Frenchman arrived for a record fee, and the pressure on him was indescribable. Every single thing Pogba did was going to be scrutinised, and it made it very difficult for him to play his game to the same effect as he did at Juventus. While his relationship with Jesse Lingard was always strong, he grew to form a formidable partnership with Ibrahimovic. While one was 11 years older than the other, they were both so similar, prominent personalities with love for entertainment through their talents. Pogba was continually looking to send long balls for Ibrahimovic to run to and regularly resulted in goals. In a tight game at Selhurst Park, it took United’s two most prominent players to find the victory. During the final minutes of the match, Pogba had the composure to send a delightful ball to the feet of Ibrahimovic, who scored with a powerful shot into the side-netting. The highlight of their relationship was an FA Cup game against Blackburn Rovers. United were left with the possibility of facing a replay in the competition until Mourinho decided to play his aces. Pogba and Ibrahimovic came on as second-half substitutes and their class shined, with Pogba sending a ball through the Blackburn defence, to give his teammate a simple finish. It was by far Pogba’s best season for United, and it was thanks to Ibrahimovic being his perfect partner in attack.

By far his best performance for United came in the EFL Cup final. It was the club’s first chance to win some silverware under Mourinho (not including the Community Shield) and it was a game defined by a brilliant performance from United’s superstar. Ibrahimovic scored a free kick in the first half, before putting United back in the lead right in the dying minutes of the game, with a fine header from a Herrera cross. This was a game truly won by the former Milan forward and he seemed to cherish the responsibility on the pitch. This was one of the reasons why he was brought to the club, to perform on the biggest stage and push United over the line when they needed a shove.

While the good cannot be argued, he still managed to attract plenty of controversy during his short stint in England. The most infamous being his confrontation with Bournemouth defender Tyrone Mings. It was an aggressive game for United in their second fixture against the Cherries. Mings was tightly marking Ibrahimovic throughout the game which seemed to frustrate United’s star striker, to the point where Ibrahimovic was seen throwing Mings to the ground in a show of anger. Things became more heated when Mings stepped on Zlatan’s head, resulting in Zlatan lashing out for a final time, by elbowing Mings during a United corner. With the pair failing to be appropriately booked for their behaviour, The FA quickly punished them, with Ibrahimovic facing a 3 match ban and Mings facing 4. While a moment of madness can sometimes be excused, the childish manner in which Ibrahimovic acted was inexcusable.

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It does move on to another problem with the Swede, being his finishing. I did recently compliment his ability to score from anywhere, and while that is still true, there were a lot of chances Ibrahimovic should have put away yet failed to do so. Out of all forwards in the Premier League, no one missed more chances than the current LA Galaxy forward with 18. This isn’t to diminish his ability as a forward at all. One of the players behind is Sergio Aguero, who is seen as one of the best forwards in the history of the league, yet missed 13 big chances. The issue arises when looking at the chances in isolation and seeing how frustrating he was at times. A penalty miss against Bournemouth, a huge miss at Anfield after a lovely pass from Paul Pogba and a powerful shot aimed directly at Heaton during United’s 0-0 draw at home to Burnley are the few stand out chances he failed to convert.

His United career was cut short after a serious injury suffered in the Europa League quarter-final second leg against Anderlecht, after landing awkwardly on his knee. It was a painful way to end a fantastic debut season. It meant United were to do without their star Swede for the remainder of the season, missing the rest of United’s winning Europa League campaign and some key clashes with Tottenham and Arsenal. While United were a lesser side without him, with Rashford playing as the starting striker, it did highlight one other flaw with playing Ibrahimovic. United couldn’t be as tactically flexible with him in the side. Ironically, United’s most impressive performances during that season, a 2-0 home win over champions Chelsea and a tactical masterclass in the Europa League final, helping United secure a 2-0 win over a young Ajax side. Both games saw Mourinho at his best, using Herrera to man-mark Hazard throughout the game, never leaving the Belgian’s side during the game. While that is a task that could have been achieved with Ibrahimovic, the performance of Marcus Rashford was something that couldn’t have been replicated. Rashford’s raw pace and ability to run the channels made it difficult to see Zlatan do the same thing. United’s young prospect kept constant pressure on Chelsea’s back line and made it difficult for them to effectively build from the back. Ibrahimovic came on as a late substitution, displaying how he was not needed for this victory. Their win over Ajax in the Europa League final was even more impressive, with United playing an extremely direct style, using Fellaini to help quickly transition the ball into the final. The Belgian won 14 aerial duels in this game, showing his importance to United’s first Europa League trophy.

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Unfortunately, Ibrahimovic’s time at United didn’t end with the same shining spotlight as it began. He was allowed to remain at the club for the treatment of his injury and was given a new contract at the end of August. It was made clear Mourinho was not going to use him as frequently as he was used during his first season, with Lukaku giving a younger and pacier forward for a large sum of money. It meant we only saw Ibrahimovic briefly during his final few months at the club, with the spotlight now on Lukaku. One of his most memorable performances was in a disappointing draw at home to Burnley. Ibrahimovic was taken off at halftime for Jesse Lingard, who scored both goals for United. Ibrahimovic couldn’t play with Lukaku in the same team. Both were not mobile enough and it meant a lack of pressure from the forwards. It was the last notable games that Zlatan played for United, until his departure for LA Galaxy in the following January, where he has gone on to score bundles of goals. It was his chance to spread his name to a country that was still in need of quality in the league.

It was a sad way to end such a perfect match. Since Woodward arrived, he was desperate to bring in a true superstar, a player who could sell shirts and show how United were still a European force. After failed attempts to get a marquee signing in his first summer and failing with Di Maria and Falcao in his second, it seemed as if Woodward wasn’t going to get that big name he wanted. Ibrahimovic was the perfect player for Woodward.  A player to show United’s ambitions and the club he wanted them to be. A name known across Europe and could be the push United needed on the short term, similar to when Cantona arrived. He is arguably United’s greatest signing of the decade but it’s just a shame we couldn’t see more of him.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Ander Herrera and Improving PSG

With Paris crashing out of Europe in the round of 16 for a third time in a row, questions are going to be asked. What makes this different to the previous eliminations is who they lost to. While losing to Barcelona thanks to controversial refereeing decisions, followed by a defeat to the eventual champions Real Madrid the following year are all understandable, losing to a weakened Manchester United side has no excuse. While Tuchel was unable to choose Neymar, Cavani or Rabiot, his team was still strong enough to progress past a Manchester United side which were injury struck. Manchester United were the first team in the history of the Champions League to overcome a two goal defeat in the home leg to progress to the second round. It’s an embarrassing fact for PSG to face. I’ve already criticised the Ligue 1 champions plenty of times, and for good reason, but it seems this summer they are eager to fix these problems. While their full back areas are in desperate need of surgery, their midfield is in need of depth. With Manchester United failing to secure contracts with key players, it’s given Paris the chance to steal one of their key midfielders in Ander Herrera. Let’s look to see how he can improve PSG.

Herrera has had a very up and down time in Manchester. Primarily used as a squad player under Van Gaal, he did have a solid impact in his two years under the Dutchman. In his first season, he managed to contribute to 10 goals in 17 games, a solid output from a central midfielder. In a midfield consisting of an ageing Michael Carrick and an immobile Fellaini, he added energy and some needed bite to the midfield. While his game time didn’t improve in Van Gaal’s final season, it was the arrival of Jose Mourinho that truly brought the best out of the Spaniard. With Mourinho desperately searching for a player to partner Paul Pogba, Herrera was by far the best. His work rate and reading of the game was unrivalled in the squad, and gave the perfect balance to his french midfield partner. Their partnership brought the best out of each other, with Herrera’s huge 5.3 tackles and interceptions protecting a fragile defence. Herrera is one of the few players in the Premier League who understands how to take advantage of the rules of the game. It’s a common consensus that every Premier League fan hates Herrera, except United fans. He knows the dark arts of the game, like you see from the Catenaccio sides from the sixties. He will take a yellow card for the team, if it helps stop an opposition attack. He will always stay on the ground for longer than needed, and harass referees to help get the decision to go his way. While many authentic football fans do not like this side of the game, winning teams are built with players like Herrera. A combination of huge defensive work and adding that extra bite to midfield is perfect when you want to hold onto a lead near the end of the game, and to help disrupt more possession based sides. PSG’s midfield has missed that energy and aggression since the departure of Blaise Matuidi.

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So what are the issues with the Spaniard? He doesn’t offer enough in the attacking front. It’s strange to see a player who blossomed as an attacking midfielder under Marcelo Bielsa to have a lack of attacking output. Herrera’s drop off in the final third is massive from his final season for Bilbao. His key passes, shots per game and dribbles have all halved since then. While this could be down to a change in role, which is true. He isn’t relied on in an attacking sense anymore, thanks to the dominance of Paul Pogba, but the problem comes when he has to be relied. When Pogba suffered a short term injury during Mourinho’s second season, Herrera replaced him in a 4-2-3-1, playing alongside Matic. The Serbian couldn’t offer anything on the attacking front, and it was up Herrera to bring something to the midfield. United truly struggled during this period, with a stale draw at Anfield, a loss to Chelsea and an embarrassing lost to Huddersfield. Pogba was huge blow and Herrera just couldn’t add the same flair and arrogance as his teammate. It wasn’t a surprise as soon as Pogba came back, United beat a gritty Newcastle side 4-1.

So what would Herrera add to this side? As mentioned they are lacking in midfield depth. They have been forced to play Dani Alves and Marquinhos in that position because they are truly lacking options. Herrera would add a physical and defensive presence to a midfield that has looked shaky at times. It’s a team full of superstars, but having a player who isn’t afraid of doing the hard yards is always needed to succeed. As the famous Zidane quote goes when Makalele was sold to Chelsea. “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Marcus Rashford and Fulfilling Potential

There’s always been a question on when do players hit their peak, but the problem is it’s a question with not a single answer. Certain players hit their peak at an extremely young age, similar to how Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney are seen as players who never aged as well as many wished, but in reality were at their best in their early twenties. It can work the other way too, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic not showing his best until he was in his thirties. It’s not to say these players didn’t play a role before or after their best years, but they will be remembered for the days where they were unbeatable on the pitch.

In discussion of players hitting their peak, Marcus Rashford is the player who we will be looking at today. The Englishman has been a key member of United’s squad since his breakthrough back in 2016. In a season that consisted of a lack of goals, Rashford coming into the scoring with nearly every shot he was taking was just perfect to see, even if it was not sustainable. His time under Mourinho can be difficult to describe. Some of his strengths truly started to blossom. He showed himself to be a very versatile forward, being able to put in good performances playing on either wing or as a central striker. His strength and power were improving every week, and add that to player who already had pace to burn, it built a recipe for a player with the physique to succeed at the top. While his new found versatility was a good asset, it was seen as block to halt his progression. Mourinho’s lack of trust in Rashford to lead the line for his side meant his chances to play as the number 9 were very limited. He couldn’t learn how to play in his preferred position because he wasn’t as big as Zlatan and Lukaku. It meant that when he was one on one with the goalkeeper, multiple times he would make the wrong decision. The moment that springs to mind would be United’s 2-2 draw to Leicester in the 2017/18 season. It was Rashford up against Schmeichel, and seemed to not know what he wanted to do, and he ended up wasting a chance, taking too long to make a decision. When Mourinho’s United collapsed as expected, Rashford was one of the few players to keep any semblance of a good name, and he continued and even improved on that when Solskjaer arrived. Rashford finally started to fulfill that potential. In the first couple of months of Ole’s reign, Rashford seemed to go out on that pitch with a point to prove. The forward went out on that pitch with a point to prove, to show that he is ready to become the first choice. Rashford’s shot numbers finally started reaching elite levels, with the FA Cup winner hitting 5 shots in many games. His shot locations could definitely improve, but it’s showing a desire to score that he seemed to not have. He was the first player to truly get what Solskjaer was trying to implement, and showed the rest of the league what this United team could be. He combined that excellent finishing from his time under Louis Van Gaal, with the added physique from his time under Mourinho, to make a striker who finally showed just why his old Dutch manager put him in the first team. He’s now taking 3.1 shots per 90 (it would be much if his time under Mourinho was discounted) and is also creating 1.3 chances per 90. Rashford is on a respectable 10 goals in the league, but would be higher if he positive runs were rewarded. Rashford is great at finding space to exploit, and his first thought is always to attack.

However his good form was put to a halt thanks to an ankle injury against Manchester United’s biggest rivals, Liverpool. The forward hasn’t looked the same since, with that risk and energy not being an ever present. Even when looking at United’s historic comeback against PSG, Rashford had a bad game. While he did score the winning penalty, it was clear that he was still struggling with that injury, and it meant that United did miss some great chances to seal the game early. His decision making is still a bit of a concern. While he is fantastic at getting into goal scoring positions, he will occasionally make the incorrect decision. In the first couple of minutes at the Nou Camp, Rashford had a chance to put United back in the game, yet decided to try and lob the keeper, ending with the ball going over the crossbar. It’s very clear where he needs to improve, but those are elements he can improve on over time. Rashford has the blueprint to succeed at the top level, and for now he needs that brake over the summer, to get back to full fitness and show the world next season why Solskjaer trusted him so much at the beginning of his reign.

What Is WRONG With PSG? Manchester United vs Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Champions League Review

When this tie was drawn back in December, it looked like the game was already over. PSG were flying under Tuchel, and while they had their defensive problems, having Mbappe, Neymar and Cavani instantly made them favourites. United on the other hand were having their worst season in a very long time. Mourinho had clearly lost the players and was almost asking to be sacked, however this all changed before the first leg. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in and gave United the boost they needed, and looked like they couldn’t be stopped. Paris were in a worse situation. They weren’t playing Rabiot because of his refusal to sign a new contract. He was carrying that midfield for a majority of the season, and it looked like they would massively suffer without him. What made it worse was that both Neymar and Cavani both picked up injuries, leaving that front 3 missing 2 of it’s most senior players. It left the tie more open than anyone expected.

Let’s start with the first leg, with ended 0-2, thanks to goals from Mbappe and Kimpembe. Many were truly underestimating the French champions in this game. Many pundits and fans thought without Neymar and Cavani, it would be difficult for PSG to pick up a result. But they all forgot how good of a coach Tuchel is. He is one of the best around, able to adjust his system for whoever he is facing, while also having a very clear identity. He was able to turn both Pulisic and Dembele into some of the most desirable players in Europe. Tuchel got his tactics spot on against United. His plan was to cut their supply lines by putting Marquinhos very tight on Pogba, United’s best player. This worked, with Pogba having a difficult game, ending up with the Frenchman getting sent off for a stupid challenge on Dani Alves. While Paris looked like they set up in a 4-2-3-1, it looked more like a 3-4-2-1. Dani Alves looked more like a wing back, and Draxler and Di Maria were playing more like second strikers, with a weak United defence being quite easy to exploit. PSG nullified United’s attack, while also taking advantage of their weaknesses. It was almost a perfect performance in a knock out stage, and was a massive step up from their struggles against Real Madrid last year.

United on the other hand has massive struggles, but it’s hard to place blame. The Red Devils lost both Lingard and Martial to injuries, and were forced to bring on Sanchez and Mata, who both could not replicate the same energy and speed on the counter attack as the players they replaced. While Martial and Lingard weren’t exactly great, they are more of a threat. They would have always left United with an option to get back into the game. What PSG noticed and took advantage of is just how left sided United are. With Pogba, Shaw and Martial/Sanchez being their most creative players, PSG decided to double up in that area, and it left them much easier to deal with. United have almost no option on that right side, with Young being very wasteful in the final third, and Lingard being given more of a free role to move inside. It’s a problem they need to address in the summer, and with rumours of Jadon Sancho being possibly brought in, it could leave that problem being resolved very quickly. United failed to create any good chances in this game, and were punished with effieciency from PSG, and Solskjaer was taught a big lesson by one of the best managers around.

The tables were turned for the second leg. Thanks to a tough game against Liverpool, United were left with even more players out injured, with the total being 10. The possibility of United advancing to the quarter finals was at 4%, making it an impossible challenge. Yet they managed to do it. I will go on later about the main reasons on why they did so, but there were still impressive parts to United in this game. While Paris were missing good chances and were so much worse than they were in Manchester, United still defended very well, with Lindelof, Smalling, Shaw and McTominay all putting in great performances to ensure they could hold on to their advantage, when the game was getting tough. I saw some United fans say it was some master class approach from Solskjaer, when it really wasn’t that impressive. He started Eric Bailly as a right back, which as seen under Mourinho, doesn’t work. He gets caught too easily and seems to not understand what a defensive line is. While Solskjaer did bring on Dalot to replace him, moving Ashley Young to the right back position, it did seem like that was the decision he should of made in the first place. United weren’t as incredible as many said they were. Now with time to reflect and emtion out of the window, it’s clear to see that United took advantage of 3 mistakes, but held on impressively.

What even happened to Paris on this night? They arguably were deserved of the win, but that isn’t saying much considering United as a whole only created 2 chances in the game. Mbappe and Di Maria both had chances to win the game for their side, but didn’t take them. There was still an element of a side who already thought they were through, so didn’t have to try their hardest to win it. It’s an approach Madrid also favoured against Ajax, but there is a difference. Madrid are the holders so they have a somewhat right to be arrogant. Paris on the other hand do not. They have failed 3 years in a row now, to reach the quarter finals and prove that their costly investments are paying off. Instead they looked so casual and didn’t have the same desire they showed in the first leg. You can question United all you want in this game, believe me I have, but one thing that cannot be argued is they went in there with the hope to win that game. All the players on pitch turned up and players like Fred and McTominay had arguably the best games of their United careers. PSG didn’t and were punished for their lack of concerntration throughout the game. I do think they still have plenty of room to improve. Those full backs still need improving, with Alves and Meunier not being good enough to win this competition. Lo Celso is also set to return, which will give them a player who I am very fond of, for being able to do everything in midfield. They’ll need another midfielder, with Rabiot on his way out in the summer, but if they improve these areas, they will become more competitive than ever before. I just wish they took advantage of the gift of being the only big club in Paris. Players like Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, N’golo Kante, Anthony Martial and former PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi. No other city produces talent like this. PSG seem to be taking advantage of this on a small scale, with Moussa Diaby, Nkunku and Kimpembe all finding their feet in the first team, but they have to start dominating from the academy level. They let Mbappe slip out of their hands to another rival, as well as players like Kante leave the country. They also do not dominate on the domestic front as Juventus and Bayern do. Juventus are great at this. They sign players from all over Serie A, to show the domination and weaken the sides around them. Paris do not do this. It’s frustrating because I believe that every side in Ligue 1 has a talent that could be at a bigger club. Thuram, Savanier, Jullien, Sangare, Lala and Atal are a few players that Paris could sign. While most wouldn’t start, they could send some of the younger players on loan, and find out if they are worth keeping. Something at Paris needs to change, if they ever want to be taken seriously as the European powerhouse they claim to be.

Will Solskjaer Get the Job FULL TIME? Manchester United vs Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Champions League Preview

By far one of the clashes of the tournament. The french champions go against a high flying Man United side. It’s a tie that could go either way and it’s very difficult to even predict this, but I’ll try my best.

Let’s start with Manchester United, who three months ago, would have made this fixture so easy to predict. Under Mourinho, this side were absolutely awful.There was no clear future and seemed to change how the team set up in every game. In the end, why even blame the players when the manager was doing so much wrong. Now under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they look like a completely different team. They attack much faster and take advantage of the incredibly talented attackers they have. Who knew that playing Martial and Pogba, two of the most talented players in the team, would help win games? Since the Norwegian has taken over, United have closed an 11 point gap, to overtaking Arsenal and only a win away from top 4. They are unbeaten and even beat Asenal and Tottenham in the process. Even looking at xG, only the Tottenham game can be seen as a game where United rode their luck, but you can do that when you have one of the best keepers the game has ever seen. I think what’s most impressive about Solskjaer so far is just how quickly he identified the problems. He brought Herrera back into the team and made Martial and Rashford key players in what he was trying to do. This is the best United have been playing since Sir Alex retired, and is arguably the most likeable United have ever been.

Their key player for this fixture is not even a debate, and that is Paul Pogba. The Frenchman’s form has been next level in recent months. He has more goal contributions than any other Manchester United player, and is performing at the level we all knew he could reach. Pogba has always been incredible for United, but now he’s adding those goals and assists that all of his critics have been craving. His numbers have been absolutely sensational this season. He’s taking 3.5 shots a game, making 1.6 key passes and completing 1.9 dribbles. No other United player ranks higher in these departments. He is essentially carrying the attack and he seems to be loving it. He is especially good when it comes to counter attacks. It’s an approach that the team have been using in the tougher games, and thanks to Pogba’s strength and vision, it’s working. While Pogba as been the best player, Marcus Rashford isn’t far behind. The forward was one of few players who showed a lot of fight even when Mourinho was at the helm. He has been the first choice number 9, since Lukaku just doesn’t look up to it in this system. Rashford’s speed and ability to interchange with the other forwards making an unpredictable threat. His shot numbers since Solskjaer took over have gone to Harry Kane numbers. He’s averaging 5 shots a game, and is really looking like a player I never thought he would be. It’s great to finally see the 21 year old look like a player who truly is deserving of starting for the club.

Let’s look at Paris, who while having a record breaking start to the season, amassing 14 wins in a row, seems to be surrounded by off the pitch problems. The first seems to be Thomas Tuchel’s transfer demands. The former Borussia Dortmund coach seems to have this reputation of having high demands. He fell out with the Borussia Dortmund board because of the issues he was having regarding transfers, and it seems to have continued him into the French capital. Before the season started, Tuchel made it very clear that full backs he had were in his view, not good enough. With Thiago Motta retiring, it left Paris without their best defensive midfielder. What made things even worse was Rabiot’s contract situation. He was refusing to sign a new deal, because he wanted to play for Barcelona. The board did not like this, so Tuchel is now not allowed to play him at all. The problem is none of these issues have been resolved, and it has left Tuchel very frustrated. Juan Bernat was the only full back that was signed in the summer, and only last month the club decided to replace Motta, with Leandro Parades, a player who I really like. The problem is it should have never been left this late. They are still a midfielder short, and with their failed attempt to bring in Idrissa Gueye from Everton, it has left Tuchel wondering if his club really want to win the Champions League. Their performances in the league have been amazing, but you expect that. When you some of the best attackers in Europe playing in the worst out of the top 5 leagues, of course they are going to perform exceptionally. If you just focus on their performances in Europe, there is a significant difference. That is going to happen when playing better opposition, but it’s staggering how much of a difference there is. Mbappe, Neymar and Di Maria have stayed consistent, but the likes of Bernat, Cavani, Kimpembe and Marquinhos all look worse. It does address a problem this side have. Many of their players just aren’t elite. They have these high ambitions of winning the Champions League, but you look at the other top teams, like Juventus, Barcelona and Manchester City, they have talent in every area of the side. Paris’s full backs aren’t good enough, and have a lot of players starting to age out. It isn’t their fault entirely. They play in a league where attracting talent can be difficult, but it begs the question why not focus on their domestic league? Ligue 1 is not as competitive as other leagues, but you can go into every single team and you would be able find one talent that is stand out. Sangare, Thuram, Pepe, Thauvin, Aouar, Atal, Lala. My point is they should be smarter regarding bringing in talent. It has hurt Bayern to an extent, but Juventus and Lyon have all excelled when finding domestic talent. They are the only top club in Paris, so why do they not use that pull to bring the best talent in the country?

Anyways, lets look the players that Manchester United should truly be worried about. There is no other place to start than arguably the best young talent in the history, Kylian Mbappe. The World Cup winner has actually taken his game to a whole new level this season. With Neymar mssing both fixtures thanks to another injury, the pressure is on the young forward to step up on the big stage. While Neymar was comfortably their best player in the group stages, Mbappe was still amazing. He started all 6 games, and finished the group stages with 7 goal contributions, the same as his Brazilian teammate. No other player in this side was taken more than his 3.1 shots per 90. He was thir most lethal player in the box. With Neymar dropping incredibly deep in some games, it left Mbappe as one of the most advanced players. He was also creating 2.3 chances a game, and even completing 2.5 dribbles a game. He will be a massive handful for which ever defenders are selected for the game.

With Neymar out, there was also concern that Marco Verratti would also mix the tie. Thanfully for Paris, he will be available for this game. Verratti has been the best midfielder in France and one of the best in Europe. He has been in the Ligue 1 team of the season every year for the past 4 years (Don’t quote me on that). Even after initial problems with Tuchel, with the German claiming Verratti was overweight, he is back to his best this season. In the Champions League, he was averaging 85 passes a game. No other player in the squad was making more than the Italian international. He also had the highest pass accuracy than any outfield player to start more than 1 game. He was winning the ball back more than any other Paris player, with Verratti making 4 tackles a game, twice more than anyone else. He is the reason why the French champion’s midfield is even functional. His distribution and ball winning ability make him essential in linking the defense and the attack together. Without him, they look so much slower and have less of that drive in the midfield. He is a vital player to PSG.

If Manchester United want to progress to the next round, there is one thing they must do. Play on the counter attack, in a similar fashion to how they did against Arsenal. They play full backs that love to go forward, but don’t have the speed to get back if United move the ball. Rashford, Martial and Lingard have to start this game. If Rashford and Martial split wide, it will make life very difficult for their defense. A lot also rests on Paul Pogba. Their midfield isn’t the strongest. If the Frenchman can use his incredible athletic ability and passing range to find the forwards, it’ll mak United very difficult to deal with. They are missing their best player, so it’s vital that they take advantage of that.

If Paris wish to advance to the quarter finals, they must attack more centrally. While Herrera and Matic have both been good under Solkjaer, Herrera has this habit of going out of position to recover the ball, and Matic is also very slow. You expect intelligent passers like Verratti and Parades to find the holes to get through the wall. It also helps that United’s defense has this habit of making mistakes. Mbappe and Cavani have to make sure whoever is playing with Lindelof is the one receiving the ball. Lindelof is the only one with the confidence to try and break out of the line. If you limit United to goal kicks and long balls into the channels, it makes dealing with their attack much easier. While they have improved, there is definitely still a Mourinho-sized shadow looming over some of these players.

This tie is so hard to predict. Paris can beat anyone on their day, but their inability to deal with sides with good wingers makes them quite easy to beat. Liverpool and Napoli proved that beating this side is not difficult. United have proved that they know how to deal with tough away games and come back with the 3 points, as seen by their wins in North London, but Europe is an entirely different stage. I think I’ll go for a United win. Tuchel still hasn’t got this side as good as it should be, and with their midfield looking worse than the Red Devil’s, it is just the perfect time to play them.

5 Players Who Could FIX Manchester United’s Defence

United are on a real resurgence at the moment. Oli Gunnar Solskjaer has just broken an English record for the first manager to win his first 5 games with a +2 goal advantage in each game. A strange record broken but it is still impressive nevertheless. United are currently attacking better, moving the ball faster and overall look happier. It wasn’t going to take a master tactician to improve United. They just needed a coach who was going to make the players happy, and not alienate half the squad with pointless masculinity tests. Ever since Solskjaer has arrived, Pogba has gone into supernova, and putting in some of the best performances of his career, Rashford is looking like the striker I never thought he could be, and even Matic is looking competent again. But one area that needs changing no matter what happens in the next 5 months is the defence. United’s pool of defenders just isn’t good enough. Even looking at last season, United might have kept the most clean sheets, but that wasn’t down to the defenders and the way United sat back. It was down to David De Gea having the best season a goalkeeper had ever had. Now that De Gea has came back to earth, it has exposed United’s defence to being average at best. It’s time for this back-line to get reshuffled, whether it’s now or in the summer. Let’s look at the players currently at the club, and go on to see where they need to improve.

Victor Lindelof

A player who didn’t exactly start his United career off in the best of ways, making an awful mistake to gift Huddersfield with a huge win over the Red Devils. After the occasional start last season, he has truly shown why United spent so much money on a relatively unknown player. You just have to look at his man of the match display against Newcastle. He was so calm on the ball, which is a massive boost for United, having a defender who doesn’t look so nervy whenever the ball is near his feet. He has shades of Alderweireld in the way he distributes the ball. He created 2 chances against Newcastle. That is crazy considering he is a centre back! He suits exactly what you United thrive to be. The biggest issue is his aerial ability. It’s a problem that just cannot be avoided. While he can read the game relatively well, he just struggles when balls are played in the air. This can be seen from his aerial with percentage. While elite defenders like Van Dijk and Sergio Ramos win 71% and 70% respectively, Lindelof wins 57%. It’s a clear weakness to a player with a very good skill set. Not only is he staying, but he has to start.

Conclusion – Starts Every Game!

Eric Bailly

While Lindelof started poorly and came into his own, Bailly has almost went into reverse. He was signed almost out of no where, only being at Villarreal for less than 2 years, before making a big £30m move to United back in 2016. I had no idea what to expect, but in his first 2 months, I was incredibly impressed. His composure, speed, aggression and intelligence made him stand out among a group of defenders with zero ability on the ball. However injuries arrived. From memory I remember one during United’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, which kept him out for a couple of weeks, and in his second season he missed most of the winter period again, coming back to rescue United against Liverpool. While his recklessness can let him down, as seen against Bournemouth. He barely gets dribbled past, wins a majority of his tackles, and is great when needing to make a recovery tackle. He’s still only 24. I would definitely keep him around, and hope he can regain the form that looked so promising when he arrived.

Conclusion – Keep as a squad player

Chris Smalling

An ever present under every manager since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, Smalling has been able to keep his place in the side, based on bring the best out of a bad bunch. He excelled under Louis Van Gaal, with the Dutchman’s style and set up massively protecting Smalling. Soon as he was given as much protection under Mourinho, he was massively exposed for his inability to deal with small agile players, like Hazard and Sterling, who can run circles around him. He is great at dealing with aerial threats, but that’s it. He can’t distribute effectively and is getting too old to be able to learn more. While he could be a decent squad player, it’s time for this club to finally grow a pair, and not settle for average. I wouldn’t be surprised if a team in the lower half of the table would be interested.

Conclusion – Sell

Phil Jones

Injuries, clumsiness, slow, dangerous. Just some of the words to describe Phil Jones. I would go into detail but by now it’s so obvious she should be sold.

Conclusion – SELL IMMEDIATELY

Marcos Rojo

Another who was plagued by injuries. He was a player I wanted gone from United after his first season. He was just a defensive nightmare throughout his time under LVG. It included the worst left back I’ve ever seen. After Shaw’s leg break, Rojo filled in at left back for a majority of the season, and was just awful. Truly, truly awful. He did have a very good debut season under Mourinho, including an incredible performance at home against Spurs. But I just think he’s a liability in the squad. His injuries and mistakes mean he cannot remain in Manchester. I would sell him January for anyone who would be slightly interested.

Conclusion – Sell immediately

Axel Tuanzebe

Who a small majority of you are asking? Well Tuanzebe is a current prospect who is on loan at Aston Villa. Many Villa fans have been heaping praise on the young defender, for his calmness on the ball and his maturity at such a young age. I can completely understand where they are coming from. Every time I’ve seen him play I notice just how cool and relaxed he looks. He can read the game well and is a very good distributor of the ball. He is completing the most passes for Aston Villa with 49. However he has a similar problem as Lindelof, he just isn’t great in the air. He is playing in a league where a majority of the times do play it high, which is going to make it more difficult for him. He is still only making 2.1 tackles and interceptions per 90, which seeing as he ranks high in his defensive actions, is more of a sign of the team he’s playing for. He is definitely not going out on loan next season, and with Bailly being consistent with injuries, he could be useful to come in during the busy winter period. I’m unsure if he would want that role though.

Conclusion – Keep as a back up

After going through the current crop of players, it’s c lear that with the average age of the remaining players being 23, it’s clear some experience is definitely needed. While having such young talent is useful, some of these players still need guidance and a leader beside them, to bring the best out of them. Another quality that is definitely needed is some aerial dominance. As mentioned, Lindelof and Tuanzebe both aren’t great in the air, and need a player who can deal with that threat. They also need to have some ability on the ball, as seen with my criticism of Smalling and Jones. These are a lot of criteria’s to fill here. Not all will fill them, but a couple definitely will. Let’s go through them, from best fit, to some good options.

Kalidou Koulibaly

When Liverpool signed Virgil Van Dijk last year, it was seen as a genius bit of business. Van Dijk was the definition of a defender at his peak. He has everything to succeed at the top level, having an amazing range of passing, superiority in the air, able to read the game well and is even very useful at set pieces. While I would love to argue that Liverpool have been pretty lucky this season to even be at the top of the table, Van Dijk has still been a massive improvement at Merseyside. I bring this up because I thnk Kalidou Koulibaly would have a very similar impact.

The Senegalese international’s rise to the top as been a great story. He began his career playing in the second division of French football, playing for Metz. He was only 18 at the time, but he went on to start 16 games, and then 21 in the following season. He only stayed for 2 seasons, signing for Genk in 2012 for £1.1m. He then went on to further establish himself in Belgium, putting in some very good performances in the Europa League. He made 7 appearances in the 2013/14 season, and put in some great performances in their run to the round of 32, after losing to FC Anzhi Makhachkala. Koulibaly put in 5.3 tackles and interceptions, made 4.3 clearances and 2.4 aerial duels. He was only 21 at the time. They were great signs of a player with plenty of potential.

His time at Napoli can only be seen as an absolute success. His first season was under Rafa Benitez, a season where he performed very well. Even though he was playing for a better side, he still managed to have better defensive numbers, was barely getting dribbled past and his pass numbers truly started to blossom. He finally started to show why Napoli seemed to think he was ready for the big stage. After Benitez departed for Madrid, Maurizio Sarri arrived. This was the start of all the praise the defender began to receive. He fitted a difficult and demanding system perfectly. He was fast and strong enough to be able to deal with the constant counter attacks Napoli would face, due to their players being so high up the pitch. It also helped that he is an excellent distributor. This season, the defender has been averaging 4.9 long balls per game, with only Raul Albiol beating that. It shows how good is range of passing is, helping his side keep hold of the ball, and allow their midfielders to receive the ball at higher areas of the pitch. It’s an essential quality to have in a defender in the modern game, giving more flexibility in how to approach different games.

He adds that high level in defence to a United side in desperate need of it. His presence and ability will not only improve the team, but improve the players around him. Those incredibly close games, like that game against Tottenham, would have been so close. United face way too many shots. With the likes of Huddersfield, Crystal Palace and Wolves all facing less shots than the Red Devils. They are allowing their opponents to create chances in good areas. Having better players does help to fix this. It will allow the manager to approach games with less fear, because they have defenders who aren’t going to be caught out and allow the opposition players to take advantage of it. Koulibaly is at an elite stage and is in his prime years. While £95 million is a lot for any player, if they can get him, they should.

Toby Alderweireld

While this may seem boring, it just has to be done. United’s long chase for the Belgian has became tiring at this point, and while discussing him might be a bit safe, it’s easy to forget why the Red Devils wanted Alderweireld so badly.

I like to think of Alderweireld as the worst mistake made by Atletico Madrid and in maybe Southampton to an extent. Back in 2014, fresh after winning La Liga and reaching a Champions League final, Alderweireld was sent out on loan to Southampton. It’s easy to see why however, with the Belgian only starting 10 games in the league that season. Atletico had the best defence in Europe that season, with Godin and Miranda forming an aggressive and tough defence, one that Alderweireld just couldn’t fit into. In hindsight, leaving the club was definitely the best idea. He isn’t a player who is fantastic in the air, or never put in massive tackle and interception numbers. He didn’t fit the Simeone system, and it was time to move to a club that fitted his style.

His arrival in the South of England was one of many smart deals done by Southampton that year. The sales of Lovren, Lallana, Shaw, Lambert and Chambers gave them plenty of cash to splash in the market, and replaced them very adequately, and in some cases, improved them. Sadio Mané and Dusan Tadic were brought to add some creativity and flair to a side that just lost its best attacker in Lallana. Bertrand arrived from Chelsea to fill in at left back, and became a very good player in the process, and Pelle and Long arrived to fight for a place upfront. They took players from all over the continent, in a bid to outsmart some of the clubs at the higher end of the table. By Christmas, Southampton were 2nd in the table, and their smart business practices seemed to have paid off.

Alderweireld was one of the highlights here. His distribution and reading of the game made for a perfect partner to the more aggressive Jose Fonte. At the time, many saw Fonte as the superior player. His numbers show that, making 5.3 tackles and interceptions and making 5.5 clearances. But now thanks to hindsight, it’s clear to see that Alderweireld was given his teammate the freedom to be doing all of the destroyer work. Alderweireld might have been putting in less defensive work (Fonte also had the advantage of playing more games. 37 to to his teammates 26), he was completing more long balls and was giving away less fouls. There are usually two types of defenders. The more aggressive type, like a Chiellini or Ramos. These are players who will rush out and put pressure on the attackers. The sweepers have to fill in for the space that the destroyers leave behind. David Luiz, Gerard Pique and of course, Toby Alderweireld all fill this quota. They are the more intelligent players usually, and are key to a defence functioning. It puts less pressure on their partners, knowing that if they fail to make the challenge, someone will be there to make the recovery tackle. It was no surprise that after Alderweireld left the club to return to Atletico Madrid, Fonte was never able to recapture this career high.

His first season at Tottenham was simply outstanding. He played all 38 games, registering 4 goals and 2 assists. The curious question is how did a central defender get 2 assists? Well this leads into Alderweireld’s best quality, his passing. The 30 year old has arguably the best passing ability out of any centre back in Europe. Both of his assists that season came from balls right over the top to Dele Alli, landing straight to his feet, gifting him a chance at goal. This exact move happened twice, and it shows why he became so valuable. Before his arrival in the 2015, Spurs’s defence was seen as a massive weakness. During the 2014/15 season, Tottenham conceded the 5th most goals in the league with 58, more than the likes of Sunderland and Burnley, who were relegated that season. After Alderweireld arrived, they conceded the joint least amount of goals with 35. This could be down to Pochettino just improving his team and improving in all departments, but Alderweireld still deserves plenty of credit. His calmness and great reason of the game gave Vertonghen, Rose and Walker more freedom in a way. Rose and Walker didn’t have to worry as much in a defensive sense, giving them a licence to attack without having to worry about being caught out by opposing winger. While the England pair did get plenty of benefits with Alderweireld’s arrival, it was Vertonghen who gained the biggest boost. This wasn’t the first time they have played together. Both play for Belgium and they also played for Ajax in their younger days. Their time in North London together created one of the best defensive partnerships in recent memory. This isn’t to discredit Vertonghen in any way. He is one of a very small group to win player of the month as a defender. He was finally given a competent partner in defence, who would allow him to not worry when he steps put to intercept the ball. One player was able to bring the best out of an entire defence, and Alderweireld deserves all the credit for that.

I bring all of this up because they all back up exactly what he would offer to United. Whether it’s Solsjkaer or Pochettino managing the club next season, they need a leader and a great distributor. Alderweireld ticks all of these boxes very effectively. He will give not only his defensive partner (most likely Lindelof) a calmer and experienced head beside him, but will give the full backs the reassurance to bomb forward, and finally get to good positions to support the forwards. There is a problem here however. The first being his age. Alderweireld is now 30, putting him in a position where improving is unlikely, and declining is very unlikely. You don’t know how some players adapt as they age. Will they stay consistent in some cases improve, like Chiellini and Xavi, or decline at a rapid pace, like Ferdinand or Iniesta. Spending money on an older player is always a risk, but this actually brings into the next positive. The Belgian will be available for only £25 million. Even if there is a chance he will decline, you hope by then the younger players will be ready to step up. Alderweireld might not be my first choice, but I would have no issue with him playing at Old Trafford, but there are definitely better options now.

Kostas Manolas

Onto a player who has only recently became a possible option, Manolas has became a very good defender during his time in the Italian capital. While he wouldn’t be my first choice, I would have zero complaints if he was brought in. His time at Roma has largely been a success. He arrived in Rome with a lot of pressure, with Manolas arriving to replace outgoing defender Medhi Benatia. Benatia was one of the best players in Italy that season, and losing him was problematic. He was signed for £10 million from Olympiacos. Looking back now it can be seen as a real bargain. He was also heavily linked to Arsenal before moving to Serie A, showing how he had impressed more than his current club. It was his displays the 2014 World Cup that got the attention of some big clubs in Europe. Greece weren’t exactly impressive in that tournament, but he was still able to make a very good impression. His very traditional, physical style of defending is one reason why many clubs were so interested. He arrived that just after the World Cup, playing under Rudi Garcia for 2 years. Roma were runners up in both of those seasons, and Manolas was a key figure during those very good finishes. His great interception numbers showed why he is considered such a good player. It’s by far the best part of the game. He was making 2.5 interceptions per 90, with only the late Davide Astori making more. Manolas also made 30 appearances that season, more than any other defender. He quickly showed himself to be the most reliable defender in this side.

This form continued under their next manager Luciano Spaletti. The current Inter manager highly favoured Manolas, to the extent of trying to sign when he became the new Inter manager back in 2017. He said:

“I want Manolas to stay at AS Roma, I’ve told him already. He is physically and mentally very strong. He arrives everywhere on the pitch, sometimes he exaggerates with sliding tackles.”

Roma were one of the most fun sides in Europe in that final season under Spaletti. Many players in that side, like Nainggolan, Salah and Dzeko went supernova. While Manolas wasn’t nearly as good as his attacking teammates, it was still arguably one of his better seasons. It did help that his defensive partner this season, Federico Fazio was having the best season of his career. Roma were also very flexible this season, playing 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. It shows that Manolas is very adaptable. Koulibaly has predominantly played a 4-3-3 during his time in Napoli. When you have a player who has had a history of playing in different systems, it helps with whatever the manager wants to do going into individual games. If it was Pochettino coming in, he would like to have someone like Manolas. The current Tottenham manager who has previously fiddled with different systems and formations, makes players who can quickly learn these systems, would be massively beneficial.

While my first preference for a central defender would be Kalidou Koulibaly, I would have no problem with the Greek international coming in. It does seem like he does want to leave the club, with Manolas being increasingly close to leaving back in 2017, with Zenit coming very close. He doesn’t have long left on his contract, which explains why his release clause is only £32 million. The problem is that this release clause doesn’t actually activate until the summer. His agent is also Mino Riola. The man has had an involvement in many recent Manchester United deals, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba. Dealing with him is a problem, and he famously will rinse your club for all he can. I just look at that pricetag and think it’s too hard to pass up on. Transfermarkt value him at £40.50 million and they usually value players in their twenties quite accurately (Potential isn’t usually considered and instead only look at what they’ve done). He would definitely improve Manchester United.

Milan Škriniar

With the 3 more experiences players done, let’s at younger options. If the club do not want to invest heavily in players who do not have a high resell value (even if this model can be frustrating at times). Lets start with Milan Skriniar. The Slovakian originated from Sampdoria’s young talent machine, which includes Patrick Schick, Lucas Torreira and Mustafi all being some high profile sales. With the last 3 players, there were clear reasons for why these players were signed. Koulibaly, Alderweireld and Manolas all showed their talent at their previous clubs, but Skriniar is different. He was apart of a very average Sampdoria side, and the Slovakian defender wasn’t exactly stand out in his final season. He is was only putting in 2.2 tackles and interceptions per 90, and putting in 1.4 aerial duels. These aren’t stand out in the slightest, but the problem is defenders are very difficult to judge from numbers. Midfielders are simpler because you can see what kind of midfielders they are just by seeing what their numbers show. Defenders can be in different systems so tackle and interceptions are useful, but don’t tell the whole story. There were still other parts of his game that were very impressive. He was an excellent distributor. He had the highest pass accuracy out of any of his teammates with 91%, and was fourth for his side in passes completed. He was great when bringing the ball out from the back (the theme of all the players on this list). He wasn’t spectacular, but showed enough promise to earn a move to Inter Milan the following summer.

During his time at Inter Milan, he shown himself to be one of the best defenders in Serie A. His signing made so much sense at the time. Miranda wasn’t getting any younger, and he needed a partner who was younger and more athletic. Miranda’s defensive numbers dropped massively during Skriniar’s first season, going from 4.9 to 2.7. This is because Skriniar seemed be given the more aggressive role, with the Slovakian committing more fouls and winning more tackles than he was at Sampdoria. Miranda had a more reserved role, to help allow Skriniar to play with more confidence, to not have to worry about making mistakes, when he has one of the best defenders of the last 10 years beside him.

It does open up a very good question. Is he ready to be the leader of a title challenging team? A reason why he has excelled is because he has had an experienced head like Miranda next to him. United do not have that luxury. The club have 2 young defenders, who both would excel if they had a top level defender beside them. Skriniar is younger than Bailly and Lindelof, so is he ready to be the main man? I would say he is. Skriniar has the most starts out of any outfield player for the Nerazzurri (only Handanovic has made more). His numbers have stayed relatively similar to his breakout season, and he looks like he just keeps improving. He is already the defender who is trusted the most, so how couldn’t he excel in Manchester?

Nikola Milenkovic 

Last but not least, let’s look at by far the youngest option. I mentioned with Skriniar that Manchester United in the past have looked at the resell value of players, as seen by the club’s refusal to sign Alderweireld because of his age. He’s a player I have spoke about before near the beginning of the season. I highlighted how good he is on the ball and in the air. Now months later, has anything changed? Well not exactly. That isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. I wasn’t expecting him to keep up his early form, considering it was his first time starting consistently for Fiorentina.

Let’s go over by far his biggest strength, being his aerial ability. Milenkovic is 6.4ft. The man is a giant. and it shows from his aerial duels. He attempts 4.8 aerial duels per game, and wins 60% of them. In the Fiorentina squad, only his defensive partner, Germán Pezzella has won more aerial duels than the Serbian. He is also putting in a very solid 3.3 tackles and interceptions for his side. He also rarely ever gets dribbled past, only 0.3 times a game. The defender has all the qualities to become a complete defender. He is tall, strong, fast, confidence while also having a humbleness about him, and he has a great ability on the ball.

One of his stand out moments of his short career was his performances in the most recent world cup. Serbia had a lot to be excited about in Russia. Key players like Mitrovic, Matic and Milenkovic-Savic all came into the tournament in great form, and with other solid players like Tadic, Kolorov and Ivanovic making it a strong side all over the pitch. Even with these well known players, it was Milenkovic who stood out among his teammates. He was one of only 5 players to play every minute at the world cup for Serbia, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s important to remember that before the world cup, Milenovic wasn’t a starter for Fiorentina, so this was the first time we could all see how good the young defender was. He had the highest pass accuracy out of any player to play more than 90 minutes for his country, made the most clearances and won the second most aerial duels. This was his break out tournament and showed why there was so much promise surrounding Milenkovic.

So where does he fit in at Manchester United? Well firstly he will add that aerial prowess that the team desperately needs. Lindelof is a great reader of the game and excellent distributor, but he struggles against teams who play a more physical and direct style of play. Milenkovic is not only tall and strong, but he is also very fast. One problem I’ve realised this season regarding the defender is he has actually spent a majority of the season playing as a right back. While he isn’t as good as he is playing as a centre back, he was actually still very impressive. At a young age, Nikola Milenkovic actually used to be a sprinter, which explains why he is still adept at playing at full back. It’s a demanding role in modern football that needs players which have great athleticism. Milenkovic is surprisingly fast considering his size, and he’s done a fine job in a position he is not accustomed to. I bring this up because it would help if Solskjaer was still the manager. The team will always be defensively vulnerable because of how high up the pitch they play. Having Bailly, Lindelof and Milenkovic, three defenders with pace to burn, makes it easy to deal with any dangerous counter attacks. While I did mention previously mention that having a more experienced defender would definitely make more sense (and is still think it’s the right decision), I highly doubt Manchester United would sell Rojo, Jones and Smalling all in the same window. The club seem to have a problem with selling players, because of their contracts. They have given all these players big money contracts because of how long they’ve been at the club. It’ll be so hard to sell them because no one is going to want to pay for players over 27 with limited ability, and pay their huge wages. The club have put themselves in a difficult position. Signing someone like Milenkovic would ensure that players would be able to make those recovery tackles. He will also give us a real aerial threat at set pieces. While we are second in the league for set piece goals with 11 (it is including free kicks), we still seem very lacklustre at moments where the team should be taking advantage of a great chance to score. He takes 0.8 shots a game. It isn’t massive in the slightest, but it’s nearly double of Chris Smalling’s 0.5, which is the highest out of United’s defenders. It’ll give the club an extra advantage in an area they need to improve at. Liverpool are at the top of the Premier League and have scored the most goals from set pieces. They are a must for a team that wants to compete for a league title. Milenkovic would apparently cost €45 million. It’s a figure that United can definitely pay. While it would be a risk considering he’s only 21, but it could be a genius move on the long term.

My Top 50 Favourite Players (50-41)

Ah the big one. Football is full of all sorts of different players. Different fans like different players. Some prefer strikers who score the simple goals, and some others like those silky dribblers in midfield. I’m no different. I like players for all sorts of reason. Either it’s reasons due to their ability on the field, off the field, or some other reason. I usually attempt to stay very objective. While some choices will be here for that very reason, some will not. So let’s get straight into it.

50. Alexandre Lacazette

To start things off, let’s go with a player who is currently playing at the top of his game. The Arsenal forward is an absolutely tremendous player. Not only is he an amazing goal scorer, he also offers so much off the ball. His movement and pressing of the defenders is incredibly useful. I was so happy when Arsenal signed him. He was just brilliant at Lyon, and after 3 seasons of goalscoring, he finally earned that move. While Lyon are now a great club for young players and attackers in general, back then they were very reliant on Lacazette to lead the line. His last season at Lyon was arguably his most prolific. He scored 28 in 28 starts, and was the only Lyon player to score over 10 goals in Ligue 1. He’s also a really good creator. In that season he had 3 assists, but created 1.7 chances a game. He was exactly what Arsenal needed and is now doing the same there. He is just an amazing goal scorer and watching him on the pitch is just so enjoyable. However my love for Lacazette comes from Fifa out of all things. For 3 games (15-17), he was that elite striker you’d always sign for a top club because of his potential and amazing stats. He was fast, strong and so good in front of goal. He was worth all the money you’d spend, and sometimes you could resell him for over £100m. He was one of the best players on the game and gave me so many fond memories. Thank you Laca.

49. Edin Dzeko

I’ve spoken about my love for the guy before on Heroes and Zeroes, but let’s go through it again with maybe more detail. I never truly thought about him when he was playing for Man City. Of course I disliked him for the soul reason of playing for my rivals, but I only knew he was good in the air and was a perfect alternative to Sergio Aguero, however my attention wasn’t drawn until his move to Roma. Roma at the time weren’t exactly full of goal machine’s. I always have an issue with any side that sign Seydou Doumbia. It almost tells me you’re desperate for goals and have no other option. I thought Dzeko was a good choice. There was proof of his time at Wolfsburg that he can carry a team’s goals, and learnt more link play skills while in England. He was ready to lead the line for a side on his own. To say he’s been a success at Roma is a huge understatement. While his first season wasn’t exactly prolific, only scoring 8 in 31. He offers so much in link up and trouble for defenders that he’s always justified his occasional small goal numbers. But after that he has truly been incredible. He scored 29 in the 16/17 season, and was a huge player for Roma’s huge 91 point season. His goals have decreased in the league since then, but he was amazing in the Champions League. He scored 8 in 12 last season, and is now on 4 in 5 this season. Why I love Dzeko is he is the blueprint for a dying art, the target man. The Bosnian can do everything you want from a huge number 9. He is so good in the air and always has been. It’s an ability that no matter how old you get, you never lose that effectiveness. He’s now 32 and is still incredible at winning the ball in the air. However is best feature is circumstance. It’s a weird feature, but let me explain. He is playing in a side full of wide talent. Under, Kluivert and El Shaararwy are all good players, but still need to start showing consistency. Having a player like Dzeko, who is so effective in giving space to teammates and giving them good chances to score. He is benefitting more than just himself, and that selflessness is why I love him as a player.

48. Saul Ñíguez

Saul is an amazing midfielder. My love began after his incredible solo goal against Bayern Munich back in 2016. Thanks to that solo goal, that I assume Alaba, Vidal and Alonso have still not recovered from, it turned into a name I would not forget. After looking more into him, I then realised he also scored that incredible over head kick against Real Madrid in 2015. It almost sums up why I love him. He is a hard working player who puts in good tackle and interception numbers, yet is capable of these crazy moments of magic. He’s your classic don’t judge a book by it’s cover player. I think the assumption made about him comes from playing for Diego Simeone. Before recent huge signings like Lemar and Martins, his team were a hardworking unit that were great at winning the ball high up and using their physicality to their advantage. From the way he plays, he is quite similar to a Gabi, Koke or Turan, but he’s more than that. He can be relied on in tough moments and is capable of those quality moments. I love him for these moments and has made me gasp multiple times with some of his goals.

47. Joe Allen

As mentioned before, this is very much a personal list. These are players who may contain a great memory and it’s why I have an affection towards them. Joe Allen might be the epitome of that. A player who never really achieved much at club level, thanks to his disappointing time at Anfield. However that is not important. I am Welsh, and thanks to his incredible performances at the 2016 Euros, I will never forget him. The current Stoke midfielder was an important player in that side. Ramsey is a disaster positionally and Joe Ledley only recovered from an injury while the tournament was still going. Allen had a lot of work to do, and he was amazing. He controlled the midfield and he also protected the defense well. It was strange to see such an average manager in Chris Coleman figure out how to finally get Allen playing well consistently. He was so good that he was actually in the team of the tournament. He has a nickname in this country, the Welsh Pirlo, because of his similar haircut. However in that summer, he turned into Pirlo and was a key reason why my country had their most successful tournament since Pele was playing. Thanks Joe!

46. Pepe

Quite the controversial player, but effective in his own way, Pepe is an incredibly memorable player. He used to have the title as the dirtiest player in Europe, with memorable horror challenges on Messi and against Getafe’s captain at the start to life at Madrid. However after that indefensible incident, he changed as a player. He said that he was considering his future in football after lashing out in 2009, and after a few years of continuing the bad reputation, he truly turned it around. After that sending off in a 2011/12 El Classico, Pepe has not received a single red card at club level (he did receive one at the 2014 World Cup however). Why I love him does come from this. He kicked out the ugly side of his game, and turned into an incredible defender. His performance at the 2016 Euros could possibly be the best seen from a defender at a major tournament. He made 3.2 interceptions, won 3.8 aerial duels and commited under a foul a game. Pepe’s transformation is why I have such a fondness to him. He went from a joke into one of the best around. A player who knew the dark side of the game and knew how to exploit it. A real winner.

45. Moussa Dembele

While he has dropped off a cliff in the last couple of seasons, no one can argue that when Dembele was in his peak, he was one of the most useful and wanted midfielders to have in Europe. Dembele has never been a spectacular midfielder, like a Kroos or Thiago, but he filled a hole in a side that everyone wanted. He was so good at winning the ball back and a brilliant dribbler. Between 2012 and 2016, he was arguably the best dribbling central midfielder in Europe. He was so powerful and quick that it was nearly impossible to dispossess him. He even did plenty of defensive work too. When Spurs were at their best, it was because they had an incredible midfielder who did the most wanted role in anyone’s midfield. It’s similar to why I have such a liking towards him. It could be out of sheer jealousy, since my side does not have a player similar to peak Moussa Dembele. He’s everything I want a midfielder to be. A well rounded player who should have earned so much more praise than he got.

44. Diego Forlan

While my memories of him at Manchester United aren’t exactly vast, his performances in La Liga and at the 2010 World Cup is what made me love the forward. He put in performances that made him one of the best strikers in the world at Atletico Madrid and Villarreal. He could take set pieces, penalties and was a machine in front of goal. He was also a pretty good creative forward. He was the blueprint for what a forward in the modern game should be. He also scored against Liverpool at Anfield. If any player does that, they are worshipped at United. In fact his name was chanted by United fans when they were playing Sunderland in 2017, making José Mourinho ask the valid question “why are they singing his name?” I truly hate Liverpool, and any player who causes them misery makes me extremely happy. While that is always great, it’s South Africa in 2010 that is my fondest memory of him. It’s the first world cup I religiously watched and he was by far the most memorable part of the whole tournament. Uruguay were not tipped to reach the semi finals, yet still got there and it was all thanks to Forlan. He won the Golden Boot and did that by scoring some absolutely stunning goals. It could be down to the terrible ball used in the tournament, but he still deserves plenty of credit. That volley against Germany, which he hit against the ground to take Neuer the wrong way, was pure genius. It’s a shame I wasn’t old enough to remember him in his earlier days, but I still loved what I saw.

43. Edwin Van Der Sar

I think Van Der Sar might be the best goalkeeper United have had in the Premier League era. While Schmeichal is always remember fondly by United fans for his incredible and aggressive personality in goal, Van Der Sar was just incredible. Replacing Schmeichal took an extremely long time to do for a club of United’s size. His lack of an adequate replacement is why United’s early 2000s weren’t great. Fergie was under a lot of pressure, due to Arsenal looking the real deal and Chelsea with their new oil money. While Rooney and Ronaldo were signings that would eventually turn United into the best team around, Van Der Sar was an immediate fix that just took too long to happen. He was signed from Fulham for only 2 million. In reality he probably should have been signed soon as his time in Turin was coming to an end. Soon as he arrived in Manchester, Ferguson’s winning machine was back to its best. My favourite memory of the Dutchman is easily the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow. It’s the first and only time I saw my team win the biggest trophy in club football, and it was thanks to Van Der Sar making that save. The entire side running and screaming in happiness to see their veteran keeper making the most important penalty save in his career. He was truly the best.

42. Kevin Prince Boateng

While his younger brother might be the superior player, Kevin Prince Boateng is a personal favourite of mine. Whether it’s choosing to play for Ghana over Germany, and constantly moving clubs, there’s just something unique about him. Boateng has played for a lot of clubs, 10 in fact, ranging from unsuccessful spells in England for Tottenham and Portsmouth, to playing for AC Milan and Genoa, to playing for Schalke and Frankfurt. He’s been around to say the least. What can truly be loved about the Ghanian is his versatility. From starting as a number 10 to moving further back, to playing as a striker for Las Palmas. He has proven to be a shot machine throughout his career, which is why with age, he was moved further up the pitch. The reason why I like him as a player is out of pure fascination. He never stayed longer than 2 seasons at a club and constantly moved around. It’s as if he was trying to see as much of the world as he could, and experience all the different clubs out there. Of course there is probably a more genuine reason why he has never stayed at a club for long, but that’s what I’d love to believe.

41. Ronaldinho

Oh where to begin with him. The king of the samba style of football has to be here. For anyone who grew up in the 2000s and obsessively played the Fifa Street games, there is nothing but love for tricky Brazilian. While I could go incredibly in-depth to how he probably inspired a sub category of FIFA games just because of his the pure entertaining way he played football, I’ll just stick to his game. The Balon d’Or, Champions League, La Liga, Serie A, World Cup, Copa America and Confederations cup winner is among one of the best players in history on pure ability. No other player in the start of the Millennium could move, dribble and beat opponents in the same way he could. He famously earned a standing ovation at the Bernabeu for putting in one of the best individual performances in history, scoring 2 incredible goals that must have embarrassed every defender on the pitch that day. On his day he was unplayable. He played the game in his own vision, with a huge smile on his face and just loved to show off. He played football like he lives life, to enjoy himself.

Are Dortmund Doing The IMPOSSIBLE? Top 5 League Talking Points

What a fascinating week of football. Some huge upsets, big victories and frankly terrible performances. Let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga

Dortmund extend their lead

This was by far the biggest clash of the week. League leaders Dortmund face a lesser, yet strong Bayern side. It delivered exactly what we all expected, with Dortmund winning the game 3-2, thanks to a late winner from Alcacer. This was a huge game for both. Dortmund have been excellent, but there was an element of if they have been a bit lucky. Plenty of times this season they have won thanks to a late goal, or by a singular goal margin. While they do deserve to be at the top, this could just be a side in red hot form, instead of a side ready to keep it up for a whole 34 game season.

Bayern on the other hand have been a bit frustrating. Dortmund have blossomed in squad rotation, while Bayern haven’t. Kovac seems unable to find a team and formation to stick with, and it’s easy to understand why. He lost both Coman and Tolisso, two players who definitely would have been important this season. They failed to fix the midfield. With Vidal and Rudy both leaving, and Goretzka not playing much at all, it leaves Kovac with an injury prone Alcantara and an immobile Javi Martinez. There have been positives. Lewandowski has finally hit some form, Hummels has looked solid and Gnabry has been excellent since filling in for Robben. It’s about time their wide areas are being replaced.

The away side started the game excellently, thanks to an early header from Lewandowski. He scored a good header, thanks to a peach cross from Gnabry. Lewandowski did well against his former side. Before the game, he had scored 12 goals against Dortmund since moving to Munich, with 3 coming at the Westfalenstadion. He reminded Dortmund fans why he was so loved by them so long ago. Bayern only created 3 goal scoring chances, and Lewandowski scored 2 of them. He also created 2 chances and won 3 aerial duels.

One player who was incredibly wasteful for Bayern was Thomas Muller. To say the German hasn’t been at his true best for a while now is an understatement. This season has seen him at his worse, when he’s at an age where he is in his prime years. He didn’t create a chance, have a shot on target, complete a dribble or have a real involvement in the game. Muller is one of the players at Bayern who has plenty of influence in the dressing room, and at this point does not deserve it.

Now onto the victors, who while did have less of the ball, created the better chances. They had 5 shots on target compared to Bayern’s 3. It isn’t a huge margin, but it was definitely decisive. While Dortmund were good, Bayern’s mistakes really helped. Neuer gave away the penalty for coming out of his box too slowly, intercepting Reus and giving them the equaliser. While Reus’s second was a class finish from a class player, there was a clear issue from a Bayern perspective. Javi Martinez let him run free and didn’t even attempt to keep up with him. It was pure laziness that allowed Dortmund to spring a comeback. Their last goal was brilliant. Thanks to quick interplay between Sancho and Reus, it allowed them to counter incredibly quickly and allow Witzel to play a lovely ball to Alcacer, who chipped Neuer like he was ordinary. Dortmund now have a 7 point lead on their rivals, leaving them in a comfortable place to win their first league title for 7 years.

Their man of the match was Marco Reus, and justifiably. Ever since Favre moved him into a number 10 position, he has absolutely flourished. It means he doesn’t have to move as much as he would outwide, meaning he can save his energy more in the final third. It has reinvigorated Reus, and he has been one of the hottest players in the continent. He was responsible for Dortmund’s first 2 goals, and was a real driving force for their victory. He had 4 shots on target, completed 3 dribbles and made 4 tackles. He was the deciding factor in this game. He’s been so unlucky over the years, and deserved the success he gets.

While Reus was the best player on the pitch, one of their defenders certainly deserves some praise. I loved Dortmund’s defensive signings over the summer. Akanji, Diallo and Hakimi all were brilliant additions to a defense that was slowly aging. One of their signings, Dan-Axel Zagadou, went under the radar, and has established himself already as an important player in the team. The 19 year old was one of their best players on the day. While Piszczek was also brilliant, Zagadou really caught my eye. He Frenchman made 2 tackles, an interception, 8 clearances and won 7 aerial duels. He helped keep Bayern mostly quiet. For someone of his age to perform that well in the biggest game in German football, deserves a lot of credit. His ability on the ball cannot be disputed either. In this game, Zagadou completed the most passes for his side. While Akanji is the superior passer out of Dortmund’s centre backs, seeing a 19 year old complete 8 long balls against the champions is ridiculous.

As said before, Dortmund are now 7 points clear of their Der Klassiker rivals. They seem to be the best side in the division. While other sides might have a better attack or defense, Dortmund play with such confidence and swagger, that it is hard to not want them to finally crush Bayern’s domination. As for Bayern, they are now in 5th. The teams around them have been excellent this season, and it is the deserved punishment for a side full of players who seem to have down tooled just because they aren’t a fan of the manager after a short time. While I do blame their board for the failings this season, for lacking ambition, Kovac still deserves criticism. His constant changes to the side have made it difficult for any player to get a run of form together. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bayern do win the Bundesliga again, but hopefully it will be a wake up call for the entire club, to step up their game.

Frankfurt pummel Schalke

Now onto the team just above Bayern Munich, Frankfurt cruised past an underperforming Schalke side with a 3-0 victory. After a relatively successful season last season, with current Bayern manager Niko Kovac guiding Frankfurt to a DFB-Pokal victory over Bayern. They seem to have built on that this season, with the winners sitting in 4th, equal points to Bayern but with a +13 goal difference. They chose Adi Hütter has Kovac’s replacement. The Austrian found plenty of success last season with Young Boys, who he helped break Basel’s dominance over Swiss football. His appointment was a risk, but has so far paid off. They have scored the second most goals from open play, with 19. However to call them lucky is a massive understatement. Thanks to their massage 7-1 victory over Dusseldorf, it has swayed their stats and numbers to look better than they really are. They take 4.5 shots a game, the 5th worse in the division, with Hoffenheim leading the Bundesliga 6.8. It’s crazy how one game can change how an entire side is perceived, but that is exactly what’s happened here.

Let’s discuss the game in question. Frankfurt created more chances and their opponents, 14 to 5. However while they did dominate, it did take a while for the deadlock to be broken. The first half was very uneventful to say the least. Frankfurt did have the better of the chances, with Luka Jovic taking many shots. However he wasn’t taking his shots from good positions, and was just trying more than thinking. The second half was definitely where the game began. Frankfurt scored twice in 11 minutes to give them a deserved advantage. Frankfurt are very good at creating good chances for both of their forwards, Haller and Jovic. Their shot numbers are low, but having 2 forwards will always make those chances mean so much more. Haller is excellent in the air and Jovic is great at taking shots in the box. They are a classic big man little man combo and are working so well. XG had this game at 2.62 to Frankfurt and 0.82 to Schalke. It shows how good Frankfurt are at creating goal scoring opportunities for their forwards.

Let’s talk about the forwards, and especially Luka Jovic. But before we discuss the young Croatian now leading the Bundesliga’s goal scorers, let’s talk about his partner in crime, Sebastian Haller. While Jovic has had plenty of the headlines, let’s not forget that Haller is currently only a single goal behind him, and even has 3 more assists. The Frenchman has been excellent this season, winning a crazy 4.9 aerial duels and creating 1.3 chances a game. He is a perfect partner to a forward like Jovic. He is able to create space for others and give a real vocal point to his side. He is overachieving XG, with him only projected to have 6 goals and 2 assists. That would still be a healthy return and shows just how good he has been. In this game, he wasn’t incredible, but was effective. He only managed 2 shots, created 1 chance, and won 2 aerial duels. It wasn’t his best game, but still managed to score.

Now let’s move onto Jovic. The Benfica loanee (which I didn’t even know until I looked him up on transfermarkt) has started the season in absolutely amazing form. His 5 goals against Dusseldorf has given him an arguably unjust position as the top scorer in the Bundesliga. After seeing those 5 goals, there is a player who has potential to have a good career at the top. However I had doubts, thanks to Dusseldorf just being terrible in a defensive sense. After seeing his performance against Schalke, it proves there is a young player who should be watched by all around Europe. Teams like Spurs, Manchester United, Marseille and even Bayern Munich should all be looking at him. I’ll explain why now. His performance against Schalke was elite. He had 7 shots, 3 on target and scored a brace. He was comfortably the man of the match in this game. This game continued his already incredible start to the season. He takes 3.3 shots per game, which is incredible for a player for his age. What is most impressive is the fact he takes 93% of his shots in the box. He is getting into great position that you don’t see from a player who’s career is still only in its infancy. His stats are so good, but what I love the most is the power in his shots. It’s a small thing, but every time he gets the ball in a goal scoring position, he hits it as if he’s trying to break down a brick wall. It reminds me of Aguero, who I’ve seen hit the net off the ground with his power. Jovic shoots to kill in the box, and it shows what a talent he is.

La Liga

Barcelona’s home record ruined

While there were 4 games I could have easily spoken about, this one was a guaranteed talking point. While Barcelona have always been a relatively attractive team to watch (as previously mentioned when discussing the 2011 Champions League), I love seeing them lose. They are a club I have a dislike towards. Whether it’s their questionable deals in the past with Qatar airways, to the sheer arrogance of their fans, they are an incredibly easy team to hate. They lost at home to Real Betis by 4 goals to 3. It was a truly embarrassing display from the Champions, and was the defeat that they finally deserved to receive. After some luck against Sevilla and Vallecano, it was about time that their opponents got their own bit of luck.

Let’s start with Betis, who are and have been a very good side now since January. Signings like Lo Celso and Carvalho did drastically improve their midfield, and dominate games as well as the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have been in lackluster form recently, with their win over Barcelona their first win in five matches. While a defeat to Atletico Madrid is understandable, they should not be losing to Getafe and Valladolid. I highlighted how well I thought they played in their last game against Celta Vigo, and they carried it on in this game. They had more shots on target in this game, 8 to the home side’s 5, and deserved the lead they had. They took advantage of a poor Barcelona side on the day and showed why they have been such an interesting this year.

While Lo Celso continued on from his fine display against Celta, Betis’s best player on the pitch was Junior Firpo. The young full back was Betis’s best attacking threat on the day, completing 2 dribbles, creating 2 chances, scoring and assisting against the Champions. He’s primarily been used as a full back and excellent in that role, completing 3 tackles and interceptions a match and creating a chance a game. He gets into very good positions for a player of his age, while also not leaving his defensive work behind. It does seem strange seeing him moved into a more advanced position, with his dribble and shot numbers not exactly spectacular. Quique Setièn must have moved him thanks to his recent goal and assists for his side, and hoped he would replicate that against the best side in the league, and he definitely did.

One player definitely showed his former employers what they are missing, and that is Mark Batra. The Spaniard joined Betis in January from Borussia Dortmund, and has been the catalyst for all the good that has came to that club. He was just the perfect fit for the 3-5-2 system being played by Betis, and turned them into one of the best defensive sides in La Liga. He was a wall in this game, making 7 tackles, 5 interceptions, 6 clearances and 4 aerial duels. No other player on the pitch managed that many defensive actions. It was truly an elite performance from a player who has blossomed in this system.

Now onto Barcelona, who as mentioned before, did deserve to lose this game. While XG did give it Barcelona, with 4.08 to the home side and 2.37 to Betis, I do think they deserved to lose based on how poorly they defended through out this game. Firpo got the best of Roberto and eased past him to score the first. It has to be made clear that Roberto is terrible defensively. He might put a few tackles, but it’s more of awareness and positioning that lets him down. He should have allowed Firpo to come inside the way he did. The second goal was strange to say the least. After the ball was played inside, it was deflected into the path of Joaquin, who had not a single player near him, allowing a free shot on goal. Lo Celso’s goal should never have been allowed to score the third, with Ter Stegan not putting a strong enough hand forward to stop the shot. The problem with Valverde is when his defence performs this badly, it makes it hard for the fans to get behind him. He is a pragmatic coach by nature, and relies on the solidarity of his backline to win games. It is clear that Umtiti is heavily missed. The Frenchman is one of the best defenders around and his athleticism and quality on the ball is unrivalled in Europe. But Lenglet and Pique should be enough to deal with a side who only managed to score 8 goals before this game. It’s a terrible performance that already puts pressure on Valverde, who already gets enough criticism from the fans. They face Atletico Madrid after this game, which will not be pretty if they defend the same way.

Sevilla take on in form Espanyol

While this game wasn’t as dramatic as the Madrid club’s games, it was an interesting one never the less. Sevilla took on Espanyol, who sat in 2nd before this game. It was a chance for Sevilla to get back into 2nd place, and keep pressure on Barcelona.

The game ended 2-1 to Sevilla, who deservedly won this game. They had 23 shots compared to Espanyol’s 14, and deserved to win based on the better chances they made. Sevilla have been able to carry on scoring at an insane rate, with only Barcelona scoring more goals than their 24. It has largely been down to how well their attack has performed this season. Silva has managed 7, while Ben Yedder has managed 6 in only 6 starts, having a goal contribution every 63 minutes. Both are in fine form and showed it in this game. Silva managed 9 shots with 4 on target, while Ben Yedder, who only played 45 minutes, managed 3 shots and completed 2 dribbles.

While their attack is always effective, a special mention needs to be given to Jesus Navas. He was always I couldn’t stand at Man City, mainly due to how wasteful he was at times. To say he’s flourished since playing as wing back is an understatement. It’s became common to see old fashioned wingers, like Navas, Young, Antonio Valencia Kostic and Milner playing as full backs in the past. They focus on stretching a defense and attempting a cross, instead of cutting inside. It’s what many managers want from their full backs and Navas provides that. His defensive work is non existent, but he’s not there for that. He completed 7 of his 10 crosses, and created 6 chances. He’s arguably been one of the surprising players of the season. He was once a player I thought was finished, but he’s proving he still has life next to him.

Onto Espanyol, who have had a very good season so far. While they have been relatively reliant on Iglesias, they have been solid at the back. They have only conceded 10 goals, only Atletico Madrid have conceded less with 8. They are ranked 3rd with tackles, the same as Atletico Madrid. They are an aggressive side who win the ball back and attack quickly, quite similar to Simeone’s side. While they are relatively middle of the road with their amount of shots, they are 3rd in shots on target, making them a very clinical side. One of the players who have been hugely responsible in their goals is Borja Iglesias. The Spaniard doesn’t seem to be getting the credit he deserves. Andre Silva has been on everyone’s lips, but Iglesias has arguably been better. While his shot numbers are slightly lower, 2.7 to Silva’s 3. However he wins more aerial duels, creates more chances and has now scored the same amount as Andre Silva and added an extra assist. He scored against Sevilla, had 3 shots, won 2 aerial duels and made 2 tackles. He came in to replace Moreno and has done an excellent job.

Both sides are definitely taking advantage of taking of advantage of Madrid and Valencia dropping off. Sevilla are relying more on outscoring their opponents, based on their crazy line up and the goals they score. The only problem will be if a side attacks them in the same way. Barcelona did the same thing to them and scored 4. They flourish against defensive sides, but it’ll be interesting to see how they handle Barcelona and Real Madrid again. I’m unsure if Espanyol will keep this up. While Iglesias has performed accurate to XG, the side have been very clinical, and eventually that will ware off.

Ligue 1

Paris put pressure on Henry

Monaco are in arguably the worst position in recent time. After their 4-0 humiliation to Club Brugge (check out Heroes and Zeroes from game week 4 to find out more), the last side they would want to play is PSG, a side who broke the record for most consecutive wins at the start of the season. They have won every game this season, and were playing a Monaco side who have only won a single game all season. I would get straight into complimenting the winning side, but I think they get enough praise from me and other critics so let’s look at the losing side and see what is going wrong.

Let’s start with the defense, which was by far one of the worst performances from a defence I’ve seen this season. It may sound harsh but it seemed as if the players were being lazy. The first goal was Sidibe not playing the high line properly and put Cavani on side. The second involved Sidibe again, where he didn’t seem to realise Diaby was making a run right behind him, which let Cavani score again. The third goal was a magnificent goal, but the players just stood there. They were all ball watching and just allowed PSG to play their way. That is not how you defend against players like this. Liverpool proved the way to take a game to them is to be aggressive. Many of these players are relatively soft. They will complain to the referee constantly to get their way, and you have to keep being aggressive. Make the players lose focus on actually playing. Instead there was no sort of pressure from the midfield or the defense. I think what summed up this performance from Monaco was the amount of tackles being put in. When your on the back foot for the majority of the game, winning the ball back at any means necessary should be priority, but not for this side. PSG actually put in more tackles than their opponent, 15 to Monaco’s 14. PSG had nearly twice the possession too. They had no need to make that many challenges, yet they did.

At the end of the day, the ones who should get the blame are the Monaco board and Thierry Henry himself. Why it was ever a good idea to hire a man who’s only known coaching experience was under one of the worst defensive coaches in the world is beyond me. Monaco had one of the best managers in Europe in Leonardo Jardim. A man who knew how to deal with squad turnover and bringing the most out of the players he had. I do think Jardim was right in leaving. He was left with a completely new squad, with players who weren’t nearly as good as players he was given in the past. The board were so focused on selling, they clearly forgot to sign good players. Signings that helped them win a league title only 2 seasons ago. Now onto Henry, I can understand wanting to take a job of this calibre. It was a top level job and it would show of his managerial skills to the world, if it was successful. My problem with Henry is his sheer arrogance. Players who played during his time were smart about their choices. Patrick Viera, a player he knows very well, started out in MLS, a league that would show generosity to him, before going to Europe. He now manages Nice and has done a fine job so far. Even Frank Lampard, who was criticised for not taking a lower league job, took over Derby and has given the fans something to be excited about. Henry should have learnt from Gary Neville, and why you shouldn’t take jobs for their size, and especially for the amount of pressure you’d be be under. Monaco are a mess, and deserve the situation they’re in based on the bad decisions they’ve made.

Depay’s dazzling display

Onto a more positive note, let’s talk about Memphis Depay. I’ve brought up before how much I love Depay as a player. His versatility and flexibility in how he plays, being able to create and score is so impressive. Last season he went quite under the radar with his incredible displays, scoring 19 and assisting 13 in 36 games. He is a sensational footballer who thrives for Lyon, thanks to the reliance and confidence put into him.

This season has been a similar story. He already has 10 goal contributions (5 goals and 5 assists) in only 11 games. What has impressed me so much is his versatility. He’s usually seen as a left winger, but he’s played as wide attacking midfielder, a striker, a number 10 and a winger. He’s just so good as an attacking threat wherever he plays. He’s one of the leading players in Europe for chance creation, with the Dutchman creating 3.2 chances per game. Only Dimitri Payet is ahead of him in Ligue 1 with 3.7. I’ve mentioned before but I think one of the top European clubs should seriously have their eyes on him, mostly Real Madrid. He’s on the verge of a breakout season.

Let’s talk about the game in hand, where Depay scored 2 and assisted 2 for Lyon against relegation struggles Guingamp. He played as a second striker in this game, playing just behind Moussa Dembele. When Lyon went a goal down thanks to a lovely header from Thuram, it was Depay who found space and played Aouar through for the equaliser. His goals were absolute individual brilliant. His first was a stunning effort from outside the box, and the second was an amazing free kick that seemed unsavable. This game showcased everything good about Depay. His creative ability, his individual brilliance and goalscoring. He is just the perfect player to have lead your team in the front line. Let’s hope he gets another chance to play for a big side.

Premier League

The Manchester Derby

I never have seen such a divide between the two sides like this in my lifetime. I grew up seeing United as the dominant side and City as the struggles. Ever since Ferguson left, the gap just got bigger and bigger. That season was the last time the red side of Manchester finished about their rivals. Ever since it has just been complete dominance from City. This game was the biggest difference on quality I’ve seen.

Let’s start with the champions, who were absolutely superb. They played the game very professionally, playing way more reserved after their first goal. They knew how to manage games, a real sign of a good team. United usually wake up when they go behind, so Manchester City decided to just retain the ball, to make sure they couldn’t attack at all. While simple, not many players have the ability to do that, making it very difficult to initiate. They only allowed United a single shot on target, and that was a penalty. A perfect big game display from arguably the best team around.

While David Silva and Fernandinho were brilliant, City’s stand out man was Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese winger has covered so effectively for De Bruyne in midfield. He retains possession so well and can truly pick out a pass. He was the player who helped transition the midfield into the attack so well. It was his ball into the box that set up David Silva. He was a creative hub in this game, creating 6 chances, completed 2 dribbles and got 2 assists. While those stats are amazing for a midfielder, what impressed me the most was his defensive work. He made 3 tackles in this game. With Silva originally being a right winger, it was good to see that he’s even putting in the defensive to the midfield role. He’s a player who has really impressed me this season. While he did make the most appearances for City season, he didn’t truly blow me away. He started a lot of games, but because of the form of Sterling and Sane, he just didn’t have the same monsterous effect as them. He’s blossomed in midfield however, where his lack of pace and strength aren’t relevant. He’s been brilliant this season and it will be a shame if his place is taken once De Bruyne returns.

Now onto Manchester United, who were outclassed in every area. While the defense is usually the area that gets the most criticism, it was actually the midfield that underwhelmed the most. Fellaini is excluded here. The Belgian was solid defensively and he shouldn’t have been expected to contribute as much as the other two in attack. Herrera was very poor against City. He was dispossessed in very dangerous areas, and was one of the key reasons why United lacked any control or threat from midfield. Herrera was once the perfect partner for Paul Pogba. Back in José’s first season, he was an industrious midfielder who aggressively won the ball back and really helped protect Pogba’s defensive issues. The problem since then, and most of United’s problems, is Matic. Whenever these two play together, they are unable to contribute anything in the final third. It really baffles me because Herrera used to be a good number 10 under Bielsa, but seems to have all of his old creative spark. He offered nothing in attack in this game, and didn’t do as much defensive work as his midfield partners (Fellaini and Matic both made 5 defensive actions). Pogba was a huge loss in this game. United lacked that arrogance, flair and spark in the middle of the park. It’s why United lost this game. They couldn’t get the ball to the forwards, and lacked the mobility to keep up with them.

It leaves both clubs in complete contrasting positions. City are comfortably the favourites for me. They have the squad and have by far the best manager. United now sit in eighth. While things are not good right now, there is a possibility it will get good again. Their Champions League fixtures are much easier now that Juventus are out of the way. They also have had 2 of the toughest away games they could have had. While Liverpool and Arsenal could be very difficult. It will leave their next few fixtures with a high chance of winning. Let’s hope they make the top 4 race interesting.

Wolves continue run against Top 6

Wolves have been one of my surprise packages of the season. While I can gladly question their goalscoring, what cannot be faulted is how disciplined the players are in this system. They function so well and are so difficult to break down, yet are still able to create good chances. They’ve already done relatively well against the Top 6. The were able to get draws against both Manchester clubs, and now Arsenal, which is the game we’ll be discussing.

Let’s begin with the newly promoted side, who were easily the better side. They only had 28% possession, yet managed more shots than their opponent (13 to 10). They took advantage of the highline Arsenal usually play, and used Costa, Cavaleiro and Jimenez to counter. It worked even better thanks to the incredible range of passing that Neves and Moutinho possess. It caused Arsenal plenty of problems and it is why they were the more deserving side of the 3 points.

While their midfield is incredibly dominant and solid, it’s their wing backs that remain to be their most impressive players. The sale of Barry Douglas in the summer was confusing. He was great in the Championship and I would have presumed would have continued to play in the Premier League. However their replacement has been excellent to say the least. Jonny arrived from Atletico Madrid and has been absolutely great. In this game he made 11 tackles and interception and kept Bellerin and Iwobi very quite (they only managed a key pass between them). However the man of the match was Wolves’s other wing back, Matt Doherty. The Irishman also did his share of defensive work, making 5 interceptions and 5 clearances. But what set him apart from his Spanish teammate was his offensive work. Doherty created 3 chances, the most in the game. Both have to be seen as the most inform full backs in Europe at the moment. Just incredible from the pair.

Onto Arsenal. This game was another example of the luck that Arsenal have had this season. This is the 3rd time of note where Arsenal probably should have lost the game, with Everton and West Ham recently being games where they won and can call themselves fortunate. They dominated this game, but created less chances than a side who had 28% possession. What usually helps them through all games is their incredible attack. Ozil, Lacazette and Aubamayeng are incredible talents and have plenty of magic to help them in tougher fixtures. Emery has done a great job so far. He’s mostly fixed their midfield, got Granit Xhaka functioning in a midfield and finally made their defense better. Not a huge improvement, but any organisation is an improvement over last season. Looking at XG, it is clear to see that Arsenal have actually been the most fortunate side in the Premier League. XG has them down to be on only 16 points, 8 less than they are on now. While the improvement is definitely there, there is still plenty of work to do for Unai Emery.

Serie A

Inter humiliated

Inter looked to be on trackin recent weeks. Big wins over Genoa and Lazio reminded us all why we thought they were going to challenge Juventus this season. But their 4-1 defeat to Atalanta this week has really put massive question marks over their long term ability to challenge Juventus.

Let’s start with the victors, who have quietly went about their business in Serie a since their impressive 4th finish in the 2016/17 season. They finished in a very respectable 6th. What has kept Atalanta going strong is two key elements. The first is Gian Piero Gasperini. His side are excellent to watch. They take the 3rd most shots in Serie A, with only Juventus and Napoli amassing more shots. They attack relentlessly with the talent they have. Speaking of talent, it’s actually their transfer activity that’s mostly impressive. Whether it’s selling young talent like Kessie, Conti and Gagliardini, to buying players many would deem as average, and turning them into very useful players. Martin De Roon epitomises this. The Dutchman was signed from Middlesbrough last year, and has been a brilliant defensive shield for the backline. He’s been arguably the best defensive midfielder in Serie A. He makes 5.7 tackles and interceptions this season, and creates a chance a game. Very good numbers for a defensive midfielder. He got an assist against Inter, and created 2 chances. His defensive work wasn’t there but Inter’s terrible display justifies that.

The real talking point however from an Atalanta point of view is that front three. Zapata, Illicic and Gomez. I’ve been a huge fan of Papau Gomez for a few years now. He’s a versatile, skillful and a brilliant all rounder. This game showed this. He scored an absolute stunning goal to seal the win, but he also was excellent in a creative sense, creating 6 chances. Another display to show just how good he is for a side that truly loves him. While Illicic has only started 4 games, he’s scored 3 and assisted 3. His numbers are truly outrageous. He takes 3.1 shots, makes 2.6 key passes and completing 2.1 dribbles. He’s truly went under the radar since signing from Fiorentina, and is playing out of this world. He was incredible game. He ended the game with 2 assists, and completed 7 dribbles. He was the best out of the three, but that isn’t to take credit away from Zapata. The Columbian completed 6 dribbles, won 2 aerial duels and took 4 shots. The huge amount of dribbles just shows how interchangable they are. They work so well together and are in hot form right now.

Now onto Inter, who were truly terrible on the day. Each goal was scored because of the mistakes made by the players. Asamoah let Hateboer run completely free and score the first. The second and third were thanks to poor marking at set pieces, with Skriniar and Icardi both at fault. The fourth was a moment of magic from Gomez, so players cannot be blamed there.

The midfield was also weak. Throughout the game, both Illicic and Gomez were constantly allowed to run through the middle. I usually view Vecino as a defensive midfielder, yet he only made a single tackle all game. There was a complete lack of intensity all over the park, and it all resulted in Inter’s humiliation.

Are Liverpool Overrated? Champions League Heroes and Zeroes Game Week 4

Hero – Atletico Madrid

For redeeming themselves after their horrific defeat at the hands of their opponents in their last meeting. They beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0, thanks to goals from Saul and Griezmann. Before complimenting how good Simeone’s men were in this half, let’s discuss just how bad Dortmund were. They didn’t manage a single shot on target. They have been pretty good in attack, while overachieving in some sorts. So seeing them not even test the keeper is disappointing. Anyways, on to Atletico Madrid. They were back to their best in the Champions League after their biggest defeat in the competition. They only managed 32% possession, yet dominated the game. They blocked Dortmund out completely, and reminded Europe why they are so difficult to beat. Their stand out player in the game was comfortably Saúl Ñíguez. The Spaniard played on the left side of midfield, and not contributed in attack, with him scoring the first, but also had 2 shots and created 2 chances. While his form in the league can vary, no one can question he has been one of the best players in the Champions League. Felipe Luis is another who stood out on the night. Simeone is an expert at getting the best out of his players. 2-3 years ago you could say that the Brazilian was the best left back around. Now 33, his ability is dropping but he is still a solid defender in this system. He put in 4 tackles and 5 interceptions. He also created 2 chances and got an assist. After all their summer spending, it’s good to see Atletico looking like the prospect I thought they would be.

Zero – Liverpool

Who else to talk about her. The reds suffered a humiliating defeat to the hands of Red Star Belgrade. This was actually the Serbian side’s first ever win in the competition, which was just mind boggling to find out. Liverpool were truly terrible. While they had 23 shots, they only managed 4 on target. Salah and Van Dijk were the only ones who managed to test the keeper, meaning 8 other out field players didn’t even manage to get a shot on target. It’s crazy to think that a team with such an apparent good attack, failed to have many stand out chances against a side that they walked over at Anfield. Two players were pretty disappointed, being Sturridge and Wijnaldum. Sturridge had the chance early on to put his side ahead, but missed a simple chance to give his side the lead at that point. It was a chance for him to challenge Firmino for a place in the side, and failed. I really dislike Wijnaldum as a player. I just do not think he offers enough to justify the amount of games he starts. This game perfectly shows this. In a game where you want your most advanced midfield to help the attack, he offered nothing. That isn’t necessary true. He had 2 shots and made an interceptions. You just want so much more in a game where attacking is all you’ll be doing. It serves another example of when Wijnaldum vanishes in away games. A poor day all round for the Reds, and will need to finally step up this season.

Hero – Harry Kane

Spurs were in a bad place before this game. After consecutive loses in their first two, and a draw against PSV, it left them in a difficult place. They had to win against PSV and Inter if they wished to have any chance of progressing. After falling behind thanks to a great header from De Jong, they had a mountain to climb. But as usual, it was their captain who dragged them through it. Kane was the reason why Spurs were even able to win the game. He was absolutely sensational and seemed to be be back at his best pre ankle injury. He had a monsterous 8 shots in this game, which means he had a shot roughly every 6 touches. That is just incredible. He also completed 3 dribbles as well, which is impressive for a guy who seriously lacks pace. Kane hasn’t been at his best this season. Thanks to a world cup hangover and spurs suffering an injury crisis, he has had to sacrifice a lot of his game. He has still managed 6 goals in the league and is now on 4 in 4 in Europe’s competition. He has brought his A-game when he needed to and credit needs to be given to him for that.

Zero – Thierry Henry

Oh Monaco. They went quickly from Europe’s new hipster club, to a side in serious trouble. After Jardim decided he couldn’t do anything else with this side, Henry was brought in to try and salvage something out of this season while there was still plenty of it. To say he’s had a bad start is an understatement. He’s been in charge for 5 games and has now only managed 2 points out of a possible 15. Of course it’s hard to judge a guy who has only been charge for a month, and I do sympathise with him. He’s under an immense amount of pressure, and is probably quite unsure what to do with these players. Monaco signed a lot of players in the summer, using their model of recruiting prospects and hoping they work. After underwhelming France last season and losing Fabinho, Lemar and Moutinho, all key players, they are really struggling. Their game against Club Brugge might be their worst. They lost 0-4 to Brugge, which is their biggest defeat in the Champions League. There nearly had as many chances as Brugge, having 6 efforts on target to Brugge’s 7. But conceding the goals they did must have drained them of confidence. Antonio Barreca blatantly handballed it and allowed Brugge to sit back and defend the goals they already scored. It’s such a shame to see a team once seen as one of the most exciting in Europe, to now struggling to stay in their own league.

Hero – Real Madrid

For the first time in Champions League Heroes and Zeroes, we welcome Real Madrid. The European champions looked to finally show why they even have that title, with a comfortable 0-5 victory against Viktoria Plzen. After the sacking of Julien Lopategui, Santiago Solari was brought in temporarily, until a replacement was found. He has definitely got Madrid playing much better, and due to this, results have definitely picked up. They have won every game under Solari, and are creating much better chances. Speaking of creating, Toni Kroos was outstanding. He was one of many players who completely dropped off near the end of Lopategui’s reign, and is back to his majestic best. At point, he was the best midfielder around. But thanks to his legs beginning to go and Kroos generally doing less defensive work, he has lost that title. He was magnificent against Plzen. He created 6 chances, had 3 shots and completed every long ball he attempted. He also capped his performance off with a delightful finish to chip the keeper. Another player who performed well is Benzema. The Frenchman has been on the decline for years now. He was criticised heavily last season for lacking in goals, but that was because he was making space for Ronaldo. This season however, the pressure is on him. He wasn’t actually great in this game, scoring with every shot on target he had. I have credited other players in the past for being that clinical, but for a Madrid player, they need be taking so much more shots when they are dominating games. Kroos, Bale and Ramos all had more shots than Benzema. He seems to be getting in less goal scoring positions, and it just shows how much he is decreasing by the season. He has been a good servant, but he will need serious replacing. A good performance from Madrid, and it’s good to see the champions showing why they have won it 3 times in a row.

Zero – Juventus

While Manchester United do deserve credit for somehow getting 3 points, when they didn’t deserve it at all. Juventus deserve plenty of criticism for not putting this game to bed, and failing to deal with United’s changes. Juventus had 23 shots compared to United’s 9. Dybala, Khedira and Cuadrado all had chances to seal the win, yet failed to take it. The worst of all was actually Allegri. He has been incredible in recent years, for getting the most out of aging players, and being smart when on the pitch. However his decision to bring on Barzagli, and switch to a 3 in the back was what spurred United on to win the game. It gave so much more space for United to get near the box. They won the game from set pieces. They are areas you expect an Italian side to be able to defend. They truly struggled to deal with the aerial threat of Fellaini. If they wish to win the Champions League, they cannot allow a weaker side to take advantage of them like this.

Hero – Gabriel Jesus

Because of the monsterous form of Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus’s minutes have been limited. He’s only started 2 games in the league, but has started 3 games in the Champions League. Pep seems to trust Aguero more in the Premier League (where he is performing at an incredible level) and is using Jesus in competitions where Aguero can be rested. This could be the last season where this can be used. Jesus will want more minutes as he gets older. Pep probably does have a solution in how to use him, but I’m unsure how long Jesus will remain happy with this role. He was truly amazing for City, scoring his first hat trick in the Champions League, and being only the third Manchester City player to score a hat trick, joining Negredo and Aguero who also have scored hat tricks. He must have reminded Pep why he was brought in to begin with. His movement and off the ball work is still top level, and is a great box predator. He is reminiscent of Icardi some ways. He doesn’t need too much of the ball to have an effect. He managed 28 touches in the game, the least out of any player who started for the Champions. However he still managed 6 shots, 4 on target and made 2 key passes. He’s just so effective whenever he plays. It’s the game he needed. Pep now has a dilemma. He has two strikers in red hot form. Pep only had this dilemma because of Jesus’s incredible game, so credit to the Brazilian.

Zero – Lyon

Last time Lyon and Hoffenheim met, I said it was by far one of the best games in the Champions League so far. Their second battle was still a spectacle, with the game ending 2-2. While last time I gave credit to anyone who was able to watch the game, it is time to look at it with more of a critical eye. Lyon are zeroes here, because they squandered a 2 goal advantage. What makes it even more disastrous is Hoffenheim were down to ten men. Lyon could have won this game rather comfortably. They comfortably had more shots, 28 to Hoffenheim’s 16. The goals they conceded were soft. Kramaric was given room to shoot freely, and they drew due to a set piece, an area where they had an advantage. Both teams have been impressive in this Champions League so far, but this game was Lyon’s for the taking.