UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group D

After going through two incredibly hard groups to predict, let’s look at a group with less quality, but is just as hard to predict.

Galatasaray

The Super League champions go into this group with a good chance of getting out of it. Galatasaray have started the season relatively well, scoring a lot of goals, but a loss to Trabzonspor was not good, losing 4-0 away from home. When talking about stand out players, there are a few who have started well. Fernando is among a few who has started the season very well. The former Manchester City midfielder has put in a great 4.6 tackles and interceptions. While his ability in the offensive side has never been stand out, his great defensive work is enough. Another who has stood out is Eren Derdiyok. The swiss forward has started very well, putting in 4.4 aerial duels per 90, which should tell you enough on his style of play. He has been putting in a very average 2.2 shots on target per 90. The forward could be seen as over performing, but let’s hope he continues it into the competition before his form fades. They have already scored 11 goals at home in 3 games. Their home form is a threat, but there is question marks on if they can do it away from home. Nevertheless, I do think they will escape the group and reach the round of 16, but won’t top it. They just have more quality than the rest of the teams here.

Lokomotiv Moscow

The Russian League Champions were incredibly lucky in their group draw. They were in the same pot as Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona and teams at that stature. They avoided all the top teams, but still could have drawn some difficult sides. They were lucky to draw teams that are definitely beatable. Even with the lucky draw I am not expecting much from the Russian side. They have been very poor at the start of the season, as they sit in 9th place in the league. They have struggled to score and defensively are not keeping the opposition away from the box. Players like Smolov, Eder and Fernandez have failed to make an impact this season. I have no hope for them at all in this group, and expect a bottom finish.

Schalke

Schalke were a strange one last season. While they did finish second, it was more down to the other teams not performing, instead of Schalke being great. This season has proved this. With Bayern at their usual superhuman ways, and Dortmund looking good, Schalke have been exposed. They haven’t had the easiest of starts, but Wolfsburg, Munchengladbach and Hertha are still beatable. They have just been struggling in front of goal this season. I thought the signing of Mark Uth would be an excellent addition to the forward line, with him being an exciting Hoffenheim’s top scorer last season. He hasn’t started so well, but so hasn’t the rest of the team, excluding Caligiuri. He has started the season very well, he’s averaged 4.7 tackles and interceptions, and making 3 key passes per 90. Schalke just seem to be out of form at the moment, and it will continue into the group stages. A 3rd place finish it will be for the German side.

FC Porto

Porto are in a great position at the moment. They went from constantly staying behind Benfica, to now being the league champions, after winning be league with a more workman approach. They sold both Ruben Neves and Andre Silva, two very promising players, and instead of replacing them, chose to use the players at their disposal in a different way. They went from a 4-3-3 into a 4-4-2. They went for a front two of Aboubakar, a player who was out of favour, and Marega. Both are in their prime years and won the league by sharing the goal load between them. They also have Yacine Brahimi. The Algerian has risen to become one of the more important players for the club. He is an excellent dribbler and is a real driving force in that attack. He has been taking 2.5 shots already this season, showing that he has no intention of slowing down from last season. If Porto are to do anything in the Champions League, it will be on Brahimi. Porto do have the best side in this group, and will top it.

Final Table

1. FC Porto

2. Galatasaray

3. Schalke

4. Lokomotiv Moscow

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group C

While I’d argue that Group B is the group of death, Group C is seriously not far from it. With last year’s finalists, Ligue 1 champions, Europe’s hipster team, and the team with the craziest fans, it’s going to be every interesting.

Red Star Belgrade

Talking about the way Red Star play or their threatening players is difficult because I do not know much about them at all. All I can take is how they performed against Arsenal last season in the Europa League, where they defended well and caused Arsenal the occasional problem. They only just about reached the competition, by beating Red Bull Salzburg on away goals. They have won every game so far this season, with their most recent win being a Vojvodina 4-1. They go into the competition in good form. However what they are most known for is their crazy supporters, to a point where they have been banned from the away games. They will create an atmosphere that will trouble all the teams that will go there, and could even cause an upset with their crazy supporters behind them. But the quality of the other teams is too high, so a bottom finish for them, but they will surely be entertaining.

Napoli

Napoli were absolutely sensational last season. They played some of the best football in Europe, with a team so balanced and full of players that have turned into real world beaters. However unfortunately for them they were against Allegri’s winning machine, and couldn’t beat them over the line, but they did come so close, and kept Serie A entertaining. However the summer wasn’t great. While Ancelotti is a solid appointment, Sarri built that team in his image, and it’ll be difficult to change it. Losing Jorginho was predicted, but still difficult. He is one of the best controllers of the game in Europe. He is one of the reasons Sarri ball worked so effectively. Fabian Ruiz is a fine addition to the side, and Diawara and Zielinski are both talented enough to fill that void effectively. Napoli have been slightly inconsistent to start the season, however they have had a difficult start to say the least. Playing Milan, Lazio, and Sampdoria to start the season is a tough way to introduce a new manager. Their 3-0 defeat to Sampdoria was difficult to watch, with Napoli just being so poor on the day, especially in attack. I do think they are going to struggle in this group. They play 2 sides that are so good at counter attacking and can hit so hard on the pace that it’ll be difficult for Napoli to compete. While they are a very good side, they just had the wrong end of the draw. Europa League again for the Italian side.

Liverpool

Liverpool go into this group as my favourites. Their team is now at a stage where it can win a major trophy, whether it’s a league title or this competition. They fixed some of their bigger areas, being their midfield and goalkeeper. Allison already looks like twice the player that Karius was, being so composed and confident in goal. The additions of Naby Keita and Fabinho give some great depth in an area I have criticised Liverpool for not addressing for a while now. Keita is one of the most complete midfielders around and Fabinho is excellent in the air and gives good defensive support to the centre halves. Speaking of centre halves, the difference Virgil Van Dijk has made to that side is just outstanding. Having a defender that confident, strong and intelligent, just makes the rest of the team so much more confident. He is by far Liverpool’s most important player, and has transformed himself into one of the best defenders in the world. However it’s their attack that always catches the headlines. Salah, Mane and Firmino is easily the best front three in Europe. While it can be argued that Barcelona and PSG have better individual players in those as areas, they just work so well as a unit. Mane is incredibly flexible, and can create and score. Firmino gives so much for team, with his tackling and movement, and Salah is just a goal machine. They have the ability to beat anyone, and I think they will top this group.

Paris Saint-Germain

The Ligue 1 champions look extremely deadly going into this tournament. They finally have a coach that can match their ambition of winning a champions league. Tuchel’s coaching ability cannot be underestimated. He kept Dortmund competitive and will now make Paris better than they’ve ever been. They have improved on areas in their squad I have had issues with. Mainly their goalkeeper and left back. I never liked Kurzawa. His off the field antics kept him from being a top level defender. Bringing in Juan Bernat, a player with a great dribbling ability and contributes well in the final third, is a great move. Gianluigi Buffon is a great signing. He is the best goalkeeper of all time in my opinion, no matter how old he is, he will add something to any team. Their attack is still incredibly deadly. Mbappe is coming off a historic world cup, Cavani is an elite forward, and Neymar is an excellent player, and continues to fight for that Balon d’Or. However he is part of the problem with this team. He seems to be a problem for the team. His clear ambition to move to Madrid will hold Paris back in the long term. Rabiot is another who as emerged as a real problem. The Frenchman acted incredibly immaturely when not selected for the France squad before Russia. Marco Veratti is another who seems to not be on good terms with Tuchel, with the manager making the midfielder lose weight because he doesn’t deem him fit enough to play. Tuchel has a lot of work settling this squad. But they are still so talented and will get out of this group based on manager and player quality.

Final Table

1. Liverpool

2. PSG

3. Napoli

4. Red Star Belgrade

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group A

Europe’s elite competition is finally back, so let’s look at how it could shape up, group by group.

Atletico Madrid

After a great summer of signings, with Lemar, Arias, Rodri, Kalinic and more arriving to boost an already strong squad. Having already the best defense in Spain, and now adding the right attacking players to give them more flexibility going forward, it should now be their time to challenge for the league and Champions League right? Well not so far. They have already dropped 5 points out of a possible 9, with a defeat against Celta Viga, and a draw on the opening day against Valencia. The whole team just doesn’t look as sharp as it was at the end of last season. I have a feeling it could carry into the group stages. While eventually they will get their act together, they do not have long to do that however. Their first game of the Champions League is away against Monaco. And while both were incredibly disappointing last season, it will still be a hard game. While I think they will struggle. They will have the players to get out the group’s, so I’m going for a second place finish for Spanish side.

Borussia Dortmund

A side I have been complimenting and criticising. Dortmund go into this tournament with a new manager, and plenty of new signings. Last year, Dortmund started the season under Peter Bosz, they were awful in the champions league, losing both legs to Spurs and Real Madrid. They have a new manager in Lucien Favre. While he doesn’t play the best football, he does solidify the back, and let’s the forward line express themselves. While the signings of Alcacer, Akanji and Diallo are all excellent bits of business, and give upgrades to what they already have, but I labelled Witzel and Delaney as the worst signings of the entire window. I just do not like the additions at all and are spending a lot of money and short term players who are not that talented. However what I will give both of them is that they are disciplined players, and will help make those games where they have less of the ball more difficult for the opposition. A team with the attacking talent of Dortmund. With both Pulisic and Reus being some of the best around, and Sancho looking like the rest deal, it could give them the edge in a difficult group. They will top the group.

Club Brugge

I will not deny that I do not know much about Club Brugge, but after doing some research, I learnt that they won their league by more than 10 points, and went on an impressive 11 game winning run. There is no doubt that they deserve to be there, however there is still a clear difference between their competition. While Wesley and Danjuma have started well, with both contributing to 5 goals in 10 games, they will have to hope that these guys turn up against these very tough opponents. They lost Diaby to Lisbon, who clearly a huge loss with sporting putting a giant release clause on him. It will be a tough campaign for Brugge, so I do not see more than a 4th finish

Monaco

And last but not least, Monaco. The Ligue 1 runner ups have also not had the greatest of starts. They lost two of their midfielders, and lost one of their best creators in Lemar. However they have done well in improving the squad, with Golovin, Pele (not that one), Henrichs, Barreca and Geubbels all adding an already young squad. They have started the new season in pretty bad form, losing to Marseille and Bordeaux, and drawing to Lille. The main reason I’m putting them to finish third is the amount of players they have signed. They are not bad players in the slightest. However the squad is now at an average age of 23.7. That would have beaten Toulouse’s average age of 23.85, making them the youngest squad in Europe. It will be very unlikely to see them get out of the group, because it will be the first time many of these players participate in this competition. They will need the experience first.

Final Table

1. Borussia Dortmund

2. Atletico Madrid

3. Monaco

4. Club Brugge

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

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

Bundesliga – Kovac starts brightly. Dortmund Dominate.

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

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

Ligue 1 – Lyon Win in Style, Monaco Falling Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Talk About Manchester United…

For a club that has seemed pretty inactive, there is a lot to talk about here. I am a Manchester United fan so it is of course the club I keep the most notice of. While I try and stay unbiased, it can be hard not to start feeling frustrated and worried for the club I support. So let’s just go through everything that there is to talk about.

Transfers

Easily the most talked about topic revolving the club, it has been a very strange window so far. The players we have brought in have been very good signings. Fred fixes a huge problem we have in the team, which is a player who can adapt to different roles. The Brazilian is an excellent box to box midfielder, being able to do the defensive work, while also possessing quality on the ball, helping the team when attacking. One area in our midfield last season was lacking in that department. While both Pogba and Matic had good seasons, the mostly played in a two. The problem with doing that is they both do not balance each other in the slightest. Pogba is a player who excels in carrying the ball from midfield into the dangerous areas and helping create, while also being a real goal threat. Matic is great at covering the defense, and a safe distributor. Matic does not have the legs to cover the ground Pogba has to leave to help the attack. As the season went on we did move towards the midfield 3, which did help give us balance. The problem is that third player was usually either Herrera, Fellaini or McTominay. All of these three were mostly unable to contribute in any way to attacking (or in Fellaini’s case, defensively). It left us so reliant on Pogba, that marking him out of a game would make us so predictable. Fred is a player who is able to contribute to attack, which means he will be able to either drive the ball into the final third, or allow Pogba to make those runs into the box. Dalot was another signing I was pleased to see. Strangely enough, my favourite thing about him is how little I know about him. It feels very old fashioned, relying on only word of mouth to know what the young Portuguese full back is good at. From what I know, he is able to play at both right back and left back, and is very good in both attack and defense. Unfortunately he has picked up an injury, but should return by December. If both of these signings are positive, then what is the problem? Well it’s the other areas we haven’t strengthened. It was made very clear that centre back was an area that Mourinho wanted to strengthen. Throughout this window, we have been linked to many different defenders, including Harry Maguire, Toby Alderweireld, Milan Skiriniar, Marquinhos and Gary Cahill. But it seems the board are unwilling to meet some of the crazy prices places by their clubs. It is clear that Mourinho is getting frustrated with it, because he wants to go into the new season with every hole filled. Out of the names previously mentioned, Skiriniar would be my choice. The Slovenian is not only composed, but shows great maturity and is very good in the air. Many would favour Alderweireld, but I still have my reservations. Over the last 2 years he has suffered serious injuries, which have worsened by the year. If Manchester United spent in excess of £50m on a 29 year old, who could have another serious injury left in him. It is way more of a risk than is being made out. Buying from Premier League clubs is always a problem, because they can charge how much they want (as seen with John Stones and Virgil Van Dijk) because they know how much your club needs that certain player. Maguire would also be a red flag. While I do really like him, buying him would be a huge rip off, with Leicester asking for £65m. If it was for less than £40m I’d be okay with it, but I don’t want the club overpaying for players. It’s an issue that can be seen at the moment, being the disconnect between Mourinho, and the board. Mourinho has constantly been complaining about the lack of signings and the lack of additions to the squad. I agree with him to an extent. Mourinho is similar to Guardiola, in the sense of they both need full backing if they are to win trophies and make their clubs successful. We have seen Guardiola get this treating at City, with the club spending £100m on just full backs. Mourinho has made it clear that he doesn’t believe he is being backed in the same way. Even just looking at last season, United were constantly linked to Perisic, but the club were unwilling to match Inter’s valuation for the winger. We do not know how important Perisic could have been for the team, but it could have been the difference that was needed. The board seem to want that Galactico signing, like a Bale, Ronaldo or Neymar. But Mourinho, and I, think that is unnecessary, when the rest of the squad need serious surgery and it isn’t being addressed. However I do sympathise with the board in some aspects. The players that the club have brought in for Mourinho have not all worked out. The two that do stick in my mind are Henrik Mhikitaryan and Victor Lindelof. Both players were wanted by Mourinho. Mhikitaryan was bought for a pretty reasonable price at the time, and while he did play very well in the Europa League, his inconsistency in the league was his downfall. Lindelof has had a very mixed start to his united career. Last season he barely put in any tackles or interceptions, but did show some very good composure on the ball. Both of these signings not working could be the reason why the board do not want to put 100% backing into Jose, because they have had their hand bitten already. The relationship between Mourinho and the board will become the end of the the two time champions league winner, like it has before with other clubs.

Squad

Now with all things to be said about transfers out of the way, let’s just look at how the current group of players are being handled. This current squad of players have been managed very poorly, and context is very important here. In Mourinho’s first season, I constantly praised him for truly bringing the best out of his squad. The likes of Jones, Rojo, Herrera, Fellaini, Rashford and Valencia all were giving out their best performances and it gave Mourinho plenty of credit for getting the best out of his players. But last season became very different. All of the players mentioned just didn’t show the same level of performances. Jones started off very well, but seriously struggled January onwards. Rojo was coming back from an injury for most of the season, leaving him lacking match fitness. Herrera was by far the most frustrating. He went from an instant starter, into a player who failed to contribute anything to the team. Playing him alongside Matic was the problem. Matic averaged a very good 3.7 tackles and interceptions last season, leaving Herrera with the Pogba role of transitioning play. It was a role he excelled at for Bilbao, however now playing as more of a destroyer, it is a role he is no longer comfortable performing. Fellaini was another who came in for Pogba and performed very well, but was a key problem for United against Sevilla, a game all United fans just want to forget. Rashford’s development in that first season was going very steadily. His contribution to the team was very good, even making the most appearances for the club in that season. Rashford seemed to be lacking real confidence during the season, which limited his minutes and contribution for the team dropped, and wasn’t giving the same solid output. Valencia performed very well, giving a real driving force on that right side. However he began to show his age, failing to contribute effectively in the final third, like a modern day full back should. I’m bringing this up to show how Mourinho has failed to make those average players usable. Instead he failed to get the best out of his players, thus making united a much poorer side on the whole. While Mourinho fail to improve his players is one massive discussions, it is his treatment of two players, being Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Both have been on the firing end by the manager, and in my opinion, it’s mostly unjust. Mourinho was criticising Pogba for a lack of consistency, lack of focus, and for not performing. This mainly came from the Spurs game at Wembley, where Pogba on a defensive level, was very poor. Mourinho subbed him near the beginning of the second half, and brought on Fellaini to “offer something different” and he said it was purely “tactical.” However Pogba’s appearances for the club were much more limited, with the Frenchman being benched for both legs against Sevilla in that same month. Mourinho has been utilising Pogba incorrectly for most of the season. The ex Juventus midfielder has been playing in a deeper role, as more of a creative midfielder (like a Pirlo, Fabregas, or Xavi) But that is not his strengths. While Pogba is indeed an excellent passer of the ball, his strengths are his dribbling and creativity in the final third. Pogba’s main responsibility should be scoring and assisting, but Mourinho needs his midfielders to be disciplined, and work very hard defensively. Those are not his strengths. Pogba is such a unique player, in fact a one in a kind. Never have I seen a midfielder who is that fast, that strong, that technically gifted and that good in the final third. He can do things midfielders do not usually do. Getting the best out of him is the way for Manchester United to succeed. The signing of Fred might be the key to his shackles, to allow him to play his game. Martial is another who is definitely struggling in recent months. Martial was actually very good for United up until the signing of Alexis Sanchez. He went from a potential player of the season until a player stuck on the bench, to make way for a player who did not deserve the starts he was getting. Every time Martial played last season, he looked so good. In only 1584 minutes played, he contributed to 14 goals. That is a goal every 113 minutes. It shows how effective Martial was whenever he played, and how important he was for United. However Mourinho clearly doesn’t see what I see, as he seems fine to let the wide man leave this summer. If signing Alexis would have limited Martial’s minutes this much, maybe signing him was a bad idea. My expectation was to see Martial on the left with Sanchez on the right. It would allow us to play an inform player, while fixing a clear issue on that right side. It just seems baffling to bench a player who was performing so well, thus weakening United as an attacking threat.

How Germany Should Line Up at The 2018 World Cup

The reigning champions go into the tournament as one of the favourite, having experience, yet also containing plenty of young players. Let’s go through the team I believe they will start.

GK: Marc Andre Ter-Stegen

This all depends on whether Neuer is fully fit to travel. Neuer would usually automatically start, since he has been the number one for the past 8 years, but if he isn’t available, then Marc Andre Ter-Stegen will be the first choice. Ter-Stegen has easily been the second best keeper on the planet this year. He is averaging 6 saves per goal, which is absolutely insane. Ter-Stegen for years has been that player who has always looked like he will become a top keeper. He has finally reached that top bracket and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

RB: Joshua Kimmich

While the left back slot is much more difficult to decide, right back picks itself. Kimmich is not only the best right for Germany, but one of the best in Europe. This season he has been one of Bayern’s best players, in a team full of quality footballers, it’s been a young German player who has excelled. This season he’s earned 12 assists for his team, with 3 of those in the group stages of the champions league. He’s averaging 2.2 key passes per game. That’s a midfielders numbers. In fact James Rodriguez, who has been brilliant this season, is averaging 2.5 per game. Kimmich has been outstanding and can’t be questioned when starting in this eleven.

CB: Matts Hummels

A centre back who has continued to flourish even though he is beginning to age, Matts Hummels is a guaranteed starter. He has been one of the most consistent centre halves for Germany and for Bayern Munich for a couple of years now. Hummels is a very talented defender, who is not only able to defend like a top defender, but is also able to distribute the ball like all the defenders who are so sought after. Hummels is a player who is a guaranteed starter in this side, alongside his partner

CB: Jerome Boateng

Boateng is a player who is full of talent, but over the past couple of years has struggled with injury. During Bayern’s last title win, Boateng suffered a terrible injury and has finally recovered from it. Bayern Munich currently have three top centre backs in Hummels and Sule. Boateng has had less pressure to return from injury and has able to return at a steady pace. He is now becoming ready for the world cup, and to prove why he is one of the best defenders around.

LB: Jonas Hector

If we are basing this truly on form, then Philipp Max would be starting automatically, but since Joachim Low has a system and certain players he keeps faith in, he will stick with Jonas Hector. The Koln captain has been a mainstay in the national team setup for a couple of years now, and has performed constitently ever since. The issue with choosing Hector right now is the fact he isn’t even playing at left back. He has been playing throughout the midfield for Koln this season. He is still averaging very good numbers however, getting 2.6 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game. It is a slight issue, because players like Plattenhardt and Max have been very good this season, playing at left back. Hector however has been a consistent in this side, and will continue to be.

DM: Sami Khedira

Another player for Germany who has been an ever present, Khedira will continue this trend by being the first choice for the holders. While he is beginning to decline, he is still a brilliant footballer. The Juventus midfielder is a bit of a jack of all trades. He can be a very good goal threat, from his 9 goals scored in 26 games for the old lady. He has a very strong pass accuracy with 87%, and he has the experience and know how in a tournament where wisdom can be a very good asset. Low will stick with Khedira, but an honourable mention should go to Leon Goretzka. The Schalke midfielder has been absolutely superb. If we are judging this on this season alone, Goretzka should start. But since Low has a system and wants to stick to it, Khedira will be in the starting XI.

DM: Toni Kroos

One of the best midfielders on the planet. Kroos is the definition of elegance on the ball. He has a frankly ridiculous pass accuracy of 93%. He also averages 1.8 tackles per 90 and a very healthy 2.3 key passes, one more than David Silva. What makes Kroos so brilliant to me is his ability in transitioning play. Any team in the world needs Toni Kroos. He is able to pick a pass, whether short or long, to his teammates. Even though Madrid have had a poor season, Kroos’s numbers have been superb. A player on his level has to start, no debate.

RM: Thomas Muller

While he might be slightly out of position, Thomas Muller has to start. Not only because of his brilliant qualities as a footballer, with his 32 goal contributions this season for the champions. But it’s more than that. Muller has been the center piece of this German dominance for this decade. He could well and truly break Klose’s record, with the form he is on in world cups. Muller is a real leader for the current crop of talented players, and it will help his team when seeing him on that right side.

AM: Mesut Ozil

A player that gets way too much stick for the odd bad performance. Ozil is one of the best creators on the planet. He is averaging a frankly ridiculous 3.6 chances created per 90. That is around as many as the world class Kevin De Bruyne. Germany seem to get the best out of Ozil. He is always allowed to be given the time and space on the pitch to pick out the players in those good pockets of space. He is a genuinely world class player who also gets right into this team.

LM: Leroy Sane

Sane justifiably won the young player of the year, when he even deserved a shout for player of the season. The ex Schalke winger has been absolutely incredible. The way he plays reminds me of a young Ronaldo. The speed in which he carries the ball and strength and power he possesses is simply so unique for a winger in the modern era. Sane was always going to live up to this potential. Last season he showed at moments how good he could be, but overall was very inconsistent. But Pep must have spoken to him before the season, because he has been an absolute monster. He is one of very few players to get over 10 goals and 10 assists this season. What I love about Sane the most is his flexibility in attack. He is able to cut inside and take a shot, or seek out a short pass, or even go very wide to stretch the defense and give players like Silva and Aguero space to run into. He has transformed into a potentially world class player. He might have not shown this quality in a Germany shirt yet, but this might be the tournament he shows the world what he is made of.

ST: Timo Werner

There is only one option here. With the national team struggling with strikers since Gomez began to show his age, Werner arrived at a perfect time to give the Germans a centre forward for the next 10 years. For Leipzig this season, he has scored 22 and assisted 9. What has changed the most for the young German is his shot numbers. Last season everything he hit was going in, now this season he is averaging 3 shots per game, which is a 0.6 increase. His numbers overall have dropped from last season. This could be because of Leipzig themselves dropping off this season compared to last. With the extra competitions Leipzig were playing wouldn’t have helped either. It does take some players time to adjust to playing more than one game a week, and this could be his transition into an elite forward. His energy and brilliant finishing will come in handy for Germany team looking to retain the World Cup