Is Simeone Running Out of Time? Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool – UEFA Champions League 19/20 Preview

After a lengthy absence, the Champions League finally returns with so many juicy fixtures to discuss. I’ll be previewing all of these games, starting with Atletico Madrid facing the holders Liverpool.

Atletico Madrid currently sits outside of the top four, with La Liga featuring some fierce competition for the Champions League spots for the first time in years. We’ve discussed Atletico’s messy summer, which revolved around the sales of their biggest stars. Griezmann, Godin, Rodri, Hernandez, Felipe Luiz and Juanfran all departed the club; a core of talented players, some of whom helped Atletico to the title back in 2014.

Some of their new arrivals have actually been massive success stories. Felipe and Mario Hermoso fit right in Simeone’s defensively phenomenal back-line, and Kieran Trippier has been their second most creative player, only behind Koke. While their signings in defence have all worked out well, as usual, the issues lie on the other side of the pitch.

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Replacing Antoine Griezmann was always going to be a tough task. The Frenchman not only contributed to a lot of goals, but he was very creative and consistently found pockets of space to help advance the play. Griezmann was always suited to a more attacking team, but playing for Simeone did help bring out skills you’d never expect to see from him if he had been playing under an attacking coach.

I always had my reservations on Atletico Madrid’s £135 million acquisition of Joao Felix. The Portuguese prospect did look like an exciting talent, but spending all of the Griezmann money on a player who only had a single season of first-team football under his belt is insanely risky on the short term. Felix could turn out to be a world-beater, but right now he is not contributing nearly as much as Atleti thought he would. Felix has only managed 2 goals and an assist in La Liga. He still looks very raw, not almost at the level of a Jadon Sancho or Kylian Mbappe. Felix has underperformed massively in attack, with Understat showing Felix should have doubled his goal tally. I can sympathise with that, considering the team’s reliance on him and Morata to do something magical in the final third. The problem with Felix is his underlying numbers have been sub-par. He’s making less than a shot assist per 90 and completing 30% of his dribbles.

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Atletico’s most prominent problem coming into this tie is the number of injuries they’re facing throughout the team. Costa, Felix, Morata, Koke and Trippier are all likely to miss this game, leaving Simeone without a first-team number nine. Their attacking options were already quite barren; now it’s insane to think Atletico will even score against the best team in Europe. The worrying part about this is all the injuries are muscle-based. I can’t comment on how this team trains because I don’t know, but it’s troubling to see all of their forwards suddenly pick up injuries around the same time.

I initially chose Alvaro Morata as the player to watch for Liverpool, but now I have no idea. Carrasco might be their biggest threat, considering he is the only player currently in the squad with a modicum of excitement in the way he plays. After Atletico Madrid’s awful display in their second leg against Juventus in last year’s competition, I can’t see them beating a better team with a worse group of players.

On a more positive note, let’s talk about Liverpool. The current holders have been absolutely fantastic domestically, currently going unbeaten and only dropping points on one occasion. Every player is performing at or above their level at the moment. The Reds’ forward line remains one of the best in Europe, with each of their attackers able to turn a game on their own. Their full-backs dominate the ball, primarily progressing the ball through their incredible passing ability and sheer dynamism. Their goalkeeper, Alisson, who has somehow made the best defence in the league look even better, with shot-stopping so good, he’s undoubtedly the best keeper in the Premier League.

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The midfield has always been an area I’ve been hesitant to call good, but after a year, I finally understand why their midfield works. Klopp doesn’t use his midfielders as other managers do; the likes of Pep use them for ball progression and creativity. Klopp uses his midfielders as defenders, to allow the full-backs to push up and not worry about opposition counter-attacks. Klopp prefers progression through the full-backs because, excluding the obvious answer of how good Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are, it still gives them some security in defence. If the pair do manage to lose the ball, they won’t lose it in dangerous areas. It isn’t nearly as problematic as Henderson or Wijnaldum losing the ball. Klopp and Liverpool have built a team properly, getting the best out of their players, in a system which allows them to blossom and cover for their weaknesses.

There is no denying Liverpool are a genuinely great team but are they one of the best teams we’ve seen of the modern game? They’re definitely up there, but I’d probably put Pep’s 2011 Barca, Heynckes’ treble team and Pep’s Centurions over Klopp’s team. Those three sides were insanely dominant while putting in the performances to show it. Liverpool has been the best team in the league, but their dominance doesn’t show in a similar way to the teams mentioned. Manchester City would be a lot closer if they weren’t suffering from a few off games and some bad luck. The area in which Liverpool have benefitted the most is in their opposition. Numerous times this season, we’ve seen teams play Liverpool and suddenly forget how to put chances away. The likes of Southampton, Watford, Wolves, Manchester United and Manchester City all perform under their expected when playing against the soon-to-be Premier League Champions. Is Liverpool to blame for this? Not necessarily. It’s more to point out how they haven’t been the perfect team many are making them out to be.

Yet, I still have a tremendous amount of respect for this Liverpool team. It’s the same kind of respect I have for Mourinho’s great sides or Sean Dyche’s Burnley. I appreciate how well Klopp’s team operates and wins games. Liverpool is a well-oiled machine, capable of competing against all of the winning Champions League sides from the past.

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As mentioned before, Van Dijk is by far their most valuable player, but Mohamed Salah is a close second. The Egyptian forward has been frighteningly good since his return to English football. Many like to point out he isn’t as good as he was during that first season since his goal return has dropped off, but that criticism has zero weight behind it. Salah is still as creative and threatening in front of goal as he was in 2018. The difference is that teams have begun doubling-up on him. It’s why Mane’s goal output suddenly skyrocketed last season. Salah has effectively opened up space for his teammate through sides labelling him as Liverpool’s biggest attacking threat. It’s quite amazing how Mane is even being discussed in the conversation for player of the year, when Salah, among other Liverpool players, have been a lot better.

If Atletico wishes to progress beyond the round of sixteen, they must pray and hope luck goes their way. Also, they must cement enough of an advantage at the Wanda Metropolitano. We’ve seen Liverpool in the past couple of seasons perform below their level during some away matches, most notably against Napoli on two separate occasions and at the Camp Nou. This first leg is vital. If Atletico waste it, they won’t have a chance at Anfield.

If Liverpool wishes to return to the final once again, they must focus a lot of their attacks down the left side. Simeone will be forced to play Sime Vrsaljko, someone who has only started two games in La Liga this season and has suffered from consistent injury problems since his impressive World Cup performances for Croatia.

My money for this would be on Liverpool. Even if they do manage to lose the first leg, I can’t trust Simeone to set up his side in the right way at Anfield, after the awful in which they exited the competition last season. You can’t hope to sit on leads away from home. The strategy doesn’t work anymore, as Barcelona have proved on two occasions. I can see Simeone sitting on a 1-0 lead and hoping Liverpool forget how to score goals, something that won’t happen. Liverpool will be in the quarter-finals once again.

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

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

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

 

Predictions for La Liga – 19/20

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

Outside Shout – Sevilla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overachievers – Atletico Madrid

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

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

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

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

Underachievers – Barcelona

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

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

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

Best Transfer – Frenkie De Jong

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

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

Potential Flop – Munas Dabbur

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

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

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

Andre Gomes

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

Ayoze Perez

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

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Wesley

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

Oli McBurnie

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

Danilo

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

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Antoine Griezmann 

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

Jasper Cillessen/Neto

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

Marcos Llorente

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

Denis Suarez

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

Mats Hummels 

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

 

20 Reasons to be Excited for the 19/20 Seasons #4

Los Blancos’ Return 

We’ll keep this one nice and short since I’ve discussed Real Madrid on multiple occasions. After arguably their worst season in the current century, Real Madrid were left in desperate need for surgery in crucial areas. Perez failed to replace Ronaldo adequately and left the side without the 40 goals that Ronaldo was giving the side every season. Entrusting Bale and Benzema to double their goal tally at their age is unrealistic. They were embarrassed by Ajax in the Champions League and were left so far from their closest rivals, signalling the time for a rebuild.

Madrid were insanely quick in acting upon their need for players. Eder Militao was signed back in March for over £50 million. The Brazilian was fantastic for Porto, comfortably playing at both full-back and centre half. He is one of the most promising defenders in Europe, and his signing makes perfect sense with Ramos and Nacho getting old. He wasn’t the only defensive signing, with Ferland Mendy arriving for £47 million. Mendy is an excellent full-back and can give a similar attacking output as Marcelo while not being nearly as error-prone as his new Brazilian teammate. Madrid’s defence now looks in much better shape. Ramos and Varane are still fantastic and now with Eder and Mendy, have long term replacement for their ageing stars.

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Eden Hazard was by far the biggest signing of the summer. The Belgian has wanted to leave Chelsea for a long time and has finally achieved his dream move to the Spanish capital. While he is far from value for money, Madrid are getting a player who has come off the back of his best season in his career. Hazard was the best player at the 2018 World Cup, and he finally showed how well he could perform under an attacking coach. Chelsea had their problems under Sarri, but Hazard’s form was by far the most significant strength from his time in London. Hazard will be fantastic for Zidane, but I doubt he will reach a similar goal tally as Ronaldo. He will be much more creative than Ronaldo ever was under Zidane, and should contribute to at least 30 goals.

The icing on top of the attacking cake is Serbian striker Luka Jovic, who was one of the breakout stars of last season. Jovic is a forward who can score all types of goals, who relishes constant chances in the box to pounce. He is two-footed and can score headed goals. It’s what made him stand out for Frankfurt; his elite finishing and getting into excellent scoring positions. His shot map last season was a pleasure to see. The former Benfica striker is a lethal finisher and is the goal threat that Madrid were craving for last season. Benzema, while scoring a lot of goals for Madrid last season, is far past his best and shouldn’t be relied on as the primary goal threat anymore. Jovic couldn’t have picked a better time to arrive.

All of these signings and the current experience they possess, have instantly made them one of the favourites for the Champions League. They have fixed their most prominent issues in both defence and attack. The only issue that remains is the midfield. The midfield trio of Modric, Kroos and Casemiro is not a midfield you can play consistently anymore. Modric is very old now, and Kroos has never been a mobile player. What makes it so worrying is the sales of Llorente, Kovacic and potentially Ceballos. All offer more defensive work off the ball than Kroos and Modric and give the midfield some energy to help Madrid in tougher games. I fear that midfield will lack the energy against sides like Liverpool or Tottenham. If Madrid can bring in one of Pogba or Eriksen, there wouldn’t be an issue, but it is looking improbable.

Valencia’s Fortune Coming Back

Valencia had a bizarre 18/19 season, having a miserable start to the season but managing to finish in the top 4 deservedly. Marcelino is one of the best defensive managers in Europe and managed to turn Valencia into a tough side to face. He gave stability to the club after barely surviving relegation in 2016. After a very positive 17/18 season which saw all of their strikers run hot all year, it got them back into the top 4 and allowed them to return to Europe’s elite once again. He managed to get a lot out of players who failed at their previous clubs, with Garay, Gabriel, Kondogbia and Neto all standing out in their debut season.

Their disastrous start to last season is one of the strangest occurrences I’ve witnessed since following football. They only managed a single victory up until the middle of November. At first glance that looks bad, but when looking at the numbers, they should never have been in such a drought. What’s even more baffling about this is they only managed one defeat before November, meaning they drew all but 2 games. The defence remained solid as ever, but it was in attack where they couldn’t catch a break. I mentioned before that their strikers were all running incredibly hot in terms of form. What made this so unfortunate was Mina and Rodrigo both hit a dry patch at the same time. It meant many games at the beginning of the season ended in draws due poor finishing. Marcelino faced a dilemma, and while he did manage to rally his players in the second half of the season, taking advantage of Sevilla dropping off a cliff, it still painted a very mixed season. Valencia’s top scorer that season was midfielder Dani Parejo with 9. It’s easy to see where Valencia needed to improve.

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They acted in sorting their issue with the signing of Maxi Gomez from Celta Vigo in an odd deal which saw both Santi Mina leave permanently and young defender Saenz on loan. They have brought in a player, while I think he lacks in finding good shot locations, he is one of the best aerial forwards in La Liga and could help bring more goals out of both Guedes and Rodrigo. Let’s hope that they do not begin next season with the same bad luck.

Atalanta Finally Reach the Champions League

It has been a long time coming, but Atalanta have finally reached the Champions League after a couple of years of getting close. La Dea have been a club producing talent for clubs ranging from Juventus down to clubs in Serie C. Chelsea are a club who garnered a reputation for having an obscene number of players out on loan, but Atalanta takes that to another level, with 76 players out on last season. Context is important here, with players like Petagna and Kessie virtually signing for their new clubs, but the fee not being paid till this summer. They have been a selling club for Italy’s biggest clubs for years with a youth system unlike no other.

Their success last season came down to getting every ounce of talent out of a trio of ageing forwards in Josep Illicic, Papu Gomez and Duvan Zapata. With Gomez already captaining the side, Illicic and Zapata arrived for a combined £17 million and all have flourished. They are on the older side, with the trio all over 28 but Serie A has blossomed thanks to its reputation for allowing older players to play slower-paced league. Gomez has been one of my favourite players in Europe for the last couple of years. He’s caused so many defenders issues with his elite dribbling and can carry the attack on his own. Both Gomez and Illicic have practically been given free roles under Gasperini in terms of positioning, looking to create for Zapata. He has been the centrepiece for the side, scoring more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Dries Mertens last season. It’s his highest goal return since playing in Serie A and has excelled due to the high chance creation in the side. His shot map shows a player taking shots in fantastic positions. He’s been blessed with a team full of creation throughout the side. Out of his 118 shots in Serie A last season, 89% were taking from inside the penalty area. The Colombian is a poacher at heart and feeds off chances. It’s been similar to all of the top scorers in Serie A and while Quagliarella scoring over 25 goals in his late thirties is impressive, getting 23 goals out of a journeyman like Zapata has been nothing short of genius from Gasperini.

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It’s strange to see a club rooted with youth success having a squad full of older players, but the model is working. Atalanta have even added another Serie A veteran in Luis Muriel to their ranks, to add to that incredible frontline. The Nerazzurri are one of my teams to watch in the Champions League next season. They’ve managed to reach the biggest competition in Europe with a squad full of players who weren’t good enough for the usual big sides. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them cause a massive upset next season.

Barca’s Ageing Squad

Most clubs discussed so far have all been making positive moves and showing long term thinking, but Barcelona are far from that. The La Liga champions were underwhelming for the whole of last season. They managed to make by far the most comfortable title win their recent history look more complicated than it needed to be. It makes the consistently disappointing performances in the Champions League, more concerning with the way the squad is going. They have spent an insane amount of money on a host of attacking talent but have failed to address some of their critical areas in the squad, primarily left-back and centre-back. They are seemingly desperate to sign even more attacking talent and are failing even to consider finding long term replacements in defence.

Let’s start with left-back. I disliked Jordi Alba for years, and while he was an excellent attacking option, he was such a liability in defence that I thought he was an area that needed addressing for a long time. However, Valverde’s pragmatic system did finally manage to get the best out of the Spaniard. He has been fantastic for Barca over the last couple of seasons, but the club’s laziness in not signing another left-back left them in such an awkward position. It forced them to give Alba a high earning, long term contract because he was fully aware of how desperate they were to keep him. Alba is turning 31 next season and as we’ve recently seen with Tottenham, is usually far past the expiry date of a modern-day full-back. If Alba begins to drop off similarly to Marcelo or suffers a long term injury, it could derail Barcelona’s whole season and what makes it even worse is Barcelona aren’t linked to anyone in that position. Their whole seasons rests on the form of Alba staying healthy.

The centre-back problem is almost as clear as the same issues as left-back. As soon as Frenkie De Jong signed for the club, it seemed apparent to see De Ligt play alongside his teammate at the Nou Camp. However, it didn’t happen. Valverde has issues with Umtiti and Pique’s age is becoming more noticeable per season. Pique’s success has been quite fascinating. A player who has lacked pace throughout his career being able to play a high line successfully is to his credit, but we’ve seen in the past how when certain players age (Steven Gerrard and Diego Godin), their awareness seems to diminish. Pique has mostly been fantastic under Valverde but has had moments where you have to question if he is the same player he once was. What is becoming more worrying for Pique is the likely departure of Umtiti. While the Frenchman has struggled with injury, his ability to rush out of defence made him an ideal partner for someone incapable of doing that successfully.  If Pique is forced to play over 30 games in the league once again, it could make his decline extremely painful to watch.

I cannot stress this enough, but I can’t stand the signing of Antoine Griezmann and the potential return of Neymar. Barcelona have just spent over £100 million on an ageing forward who isn’t even guaranteed to start. I love Griezmann as a player, but anyone who signed him was going to suffer. Spending that much money on a player who wasn’t essential is just baffling. Real Madrid signing Hazard made sense because they were desperate for a player who could fire them right back to the top and fill in a position they were in desperate need for since the departure of Ronaldo. Griezmann doesn’t possess that same urgency that Hazard did, making his signing stink of panic. Real Madrid acted swiftly in bringing in Jovic, another player who seemed destined to sign for the Blaugrana. Barca didn’t have a plan B and have waited too long to bring in Griezmann. The Frenchman feels like an expensive stop-gap in their future pursuit of Kylian Mbappe, which isn’t worth the money for a club who are already full of financial difficulties.

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Neymar’s rumoured return might be even worse than Griezmann’s signing. The Brazilian has been a massive failure, and while his performances on the pitch have been the second-best in the Paris side, he has missed many games through injury, most notably both round of 16 clashes with Manchester United. The reason why Paris signed Neymar was to make their chances of winning the Champions League increase dramatically. He has failed to do so and with his awful attitude off the pitch, it makes it extremely difficult in justifying keeping the forward any longer. Barcelona made a strange yet enticing offer of £90 million and 2 players. I understand why PSG want the money they paid back, but taking two of Dembele, Malcolm, Coutinho, Umtiti, Rakitic or Semedo would help fix some significant issues in the squad and makes them a much better team without their Brazilian superstar. Barcelona’s constant search for more attacking talent baffles me. They have the best player ever to play the game and continues to carry that side more than ever. If you have Messi, your attack is going to function well. They need to focus on fixing the defence and adding some younger talent.

Wolfsburg Taking a Risk

Let’s end this list where we began, with the Bundesliga. The effects Austrian football has had on the Bundesliga in recent years has been vital in its development into becoming the breeding ground for young coaches. When discussing this effect, the Red Bull clubs are usually the first link that comes to mind. It was Salzburg who have been responsible for the rise of Marco Rose, Ralph Hassenhuttl, Roger Schmidt and Adi Hutter. It’s not only coaches too, with Naby Keita, Amadou Haidara, Marcel Sabitzer and most recently Stefan Lainer. The Austrian Bundesliga contains a pool of talent that Germany takes full advantage of and it seems other leagues are finally seeing the perks of looking at a historical footballing nation for players.

However, in this case, we are not looking at a manager who has had previous relations with the Red Bull machine. Oliver Glasner arrives after a very successful 4-year spell at former club, LASK Linz. He took them from fighting for promotion the Austrian top flight, to qualifying for the Europa League. This success is primarily down to Glasner, who’s fascinating system got the best out of players at his disposal. While I’m not an avid viewer of the Austrian Bundesliga, but from what I can gather, Glasner is a forward-thinking coach who follows in the footsteps of Rose and Hassenhuttl in creating a physically demanding pressing system. It’s an appointment that makes much sense for Wolfsburg. After suffering from the Bundesliga drop off, nearly facing relegation in 2016/17, they managed to bring themselves back into the conversation at the top of the table, with a direct style of football revolving around star striker Weghorst, an aerial-dominant forward who became the focal point of his side. Wolfsburg began looking for players they could acquire for less money than their evaluation. Signings like Jerome Roussillon and now Kevin Mbabu for a combined £10 million is the kind of genius business that have turned Wolfsburg from that struggling side to one of the best teams in the division.

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Glasner’s appointment shows ambition from the club, to establish a style that will allow them to get back into the Champions League spots. Wolfsburg’s positive appointment is another reason why the Bundesliga is the league to watch next season. The clubs are not obsessed with big stars in a similar fashion to the Premier League and La Liga. They do not get nearly the same amount of money as those leagues and need to stand out. It’s why these clubs are run so well and can sign players for so much less money than you expect them to be. I suggested Arsenal should sign Marcus Thuram, expecting his valuation to be around the £15 million mark, yet Borussia Monchengladbach have just picked up the Frenchman for £8 million. The Bundesliga is a league I have such respect for, and I hope it reaches the high bar I have set the sides this season.

 

20 Reasons to be Excited for the 19/20 Season #1 – Lampard to Change Chelsea?

With the season returning in a month (it cannot come any quicker), there are already so many players, teams or managers who could do something special next season in taking their team to another level. These are twenty things you should be keeping your eye on next season. There isn’t a particular order, but it does include some teams I have discussed in the past. I thought I’d split them up into four parts so it wouldn’t be so overwhelming.

Atletico Madrid’s rebuild

After a hugely disappointing season in both La Liga and in the Champions League, this might be one of Atletico Madrid’s most important seasons to date. With the futures of Griezmann, Rodri, Partey, Oblak and Morata all in a cloud, and Hernandez already departing the club, this is arguably their most significant rebuild since the summer of 2015. An ageing defence, their best attacker leaving a potentially losing their whole midfield paints a picture of a team that needs a lot of reinforcements this summer.

It isn’t just signings, but the manager. I have a lot of respect for what Simeone has done with Atletico Madrid over the last 5 years, but his tactics seem to be showing their age. Their defence will always be reliable, but it is in attack where the problems have consistently been. Players have been brought in for a lot of money, talented ones that have shown a lot of promise at their previous clubs, but as soon as they arrived in Madrid, that form went out of the window. We’ve seen Lemar, Costa, Carrasco, Gaitan, Gameiro, Mandzukic all fail after succeeding at their previous clubs. Since their title win, they have continually sacrificed attacking output to ensure they have remained stable at the back. This isn’t a way to win a league title. Simeone seemingly forgot what won him the league back in 2014, which was a huge goal output from Diego Costa, who scored 27 goals. Griezmann managed 15 with Morata managing 6.

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The massive rebuild is a chance for Simeone to return to a more attacking style. With the arrival of Europe’s next big superstar in Joao Felix, this could be the perfect chance for Atleti to start looking like the title challengers we all want them to be. Madrid and Barcelona are both looking miles ahead of their competition in terms of talent, so this could be Simeone’s chance to surprise them once again.

Julien Nagelsmann’s Leipzig 

Without a doubt, the Bundesliga looks to be the most exciting league to watch next season. All of the top 6 in Germany have an exciting coach. Favre’s Dortmund defying xG as usual, and Adi Hutter getting the best out of a Frankfurt side with impressive attackers are 2 teams I haven’t put on this list, solely for not wanting to crowd this list with the Bundesliga.

We’ll start with by far the most talked about young manager in Europe and his arrival to arguably one of the best-run clubs in Europe. Nagelsmann did miracles at his former club, turning Hoffenheim from relegation candidates to Top 4 challengers with a squad full of mediocrity. His teams were fantastic at creating chances for the forwards and were so adaptable. It begged the question of what could he do with a talented team which has the best scouting network around. Leipzig have a fantastic young group of players and could see the best form out of the likes of Werner and Poulsen. If Nagelsmann managed to get over 10 goals out of average forwards like Mark Uth and Belfodil, it’s crazy to think what he could with some genuinely elite attackers.

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What I’m looking forward to seeing from Leipzig is the output from the midfield. While Nagelsmann did do wonders with his former club, he never indeed possessed any top-level midfielders. Florian Grillitsch is very good, but he had to rely on players like Sebastian Rudy because he lacked any elite defensive midfielders. He now has Amadou Haidara and Tyler Adams, the most promising midfielders in the Bundesliga, and both developing through the Red Bull machine, with the pair coming from RB Salzburg and NY Red Bulls respectively. Both are great box to box midfielders with massive defensive numbers. It’ll be interesting to see if Nagelsmann can form one of the best midfielders partnerships in Europe, and push Leipzig to be the Bundesliga title challengers they could so easily be.

Marco Rose in the Bundesliga 

Austria has become one of the leading innovators in Europe, as it was a century ago. They have had managers like Roger Schmidt and Ralph Hasenhüttl coach in their first division, with systems focussing on pressing, attacking football. The next in this line of up and coming managers is Marco Rose. While Nagelsmann is an exciting appointment, Borussia Monchengladbach bringing in Rose is arguably the most impressive managerial signing of the summer.

The Austrian built a fantastic team in Salzburg that focused on full backs pressing extraordinarily high and crowding the centre. On paper, they set up in a 4-3-1-2, but when watching them play, their midfield can adapt to match their opponents and the current circumstances. This is slightly dependent on having midfielders who are physically spectacular, with the likes of Haidara, Schlager and Samassekou putting in an insane amount of defensive work. It’s a system that requires players who are tactically flexible and can cover a lot of ground. It’s similar to pressing systems deployed by the likes of Pep and Klopp, but there is much more intensity, that it suffocates their opponents.

Most of my viewings of Rose’s Salzburg side all came in Europe, where they were excellent. They managed to win every game in their Europa League group containing Celtic and RB Leipzig. Rose’s side managed to beat talented opponents using a superior, more effective approach that stopped the opposition from playing their favoured way. They could outnumber you in the wide areas, press your centre back and block of the passing lanes. They were one of the best sides in the competition two seasons on the bounce.

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It’ll be fascinating to see what Rose will bring to the top flight in Germany. Monchengladbach have been underachieving for some time now and have needed an elite coach like Rose to push them closer to those Champions League spots finally. I think he will like a few of the players he will be working with, guys like Plea, Zakaria and Elvedi could be significant in what Rose will want to implement. Monchengladbach were quick in giving their manager the players to fit his system, with Breel Embolo coming in as a very athletic and versatile forward, and Stefan Lainer joining from Rose’s former club as a much-needed improvement over Lang. Monchengladbach are easily the team to watch next season.

Lille’s Young Side in Europe 

PSG have been the expected champions of Ligue 1 for years now, with Lyon or Monaco coming in second. This changed this year, with Lille finishing as the runners up in France. This came as a surprise considering they were close to relegation under Bielsa on numerous occasions. The arrival of French manager Christophe Galtier seems to have changed the way the club plays and operates. They are a defensively solid side with players who are so dangerous on the counter-attack and are very difficult to deal with. Only PSG managed more goals on the break than Lille’s 10. Galtier managed to get the best out of a messy situation and got them performing. Lille continued to sign young talent but weren’t spending nearly as much, with Bamba, arguably their best signing, arriving for nothing. Combine that with the free acquisitions of Jose Fonte and Rafael Leao, and you have a team taking astute, low-risk signings.

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It’s given them the platform to allow them to sign players for nothing and sell them when their stock increases. We’ve already seen this with the recent sales of Thiago Mendes, El Ghazi and Kone how they can turn a profit on their players. They’ve picked up a sensible model of how to operate in the transfer market, and with a rather pragmatic style of football, leaves it more comfortable for players to adapt to the system. Not only are they smart in selling players, but bringing in talent. The signing of Timothy Weah is a stroke of genius and another export from PSG’s academy, one that cannot stop producing talent. He could potentially be the striker I’ve previously mentioned they’ve poorly needed. They’re returning to Europe after a 5-year hiatus, and this could be the chance for Lille to show Europe how good they are when it comes to player recruitment.

Chelsea Under Lampard

This might be the most significant power move Abrahamovich has played since bringing Jose Mourinho back to the club. The arrival of Frank Lampard might seem premature, and its primary purpose seems to be to give Chelsea fans something to smile about since their transfer ban. From a non-football perspective, it makes sense. It is insanely unlikely the Chelsea fans will turn on their manager like they usually do when the manager is one of their greatest ever players. Lampard will not put up with some of the poorer attitudes witnessed in the Chelsea dressing room in recent years. The Blues are going to have a tough season, suffering from the same problems they have had for a long time. A squad full of talent in some areas but incredibly weak in others. The departure of Eden Hazard has left this team, and the Premier League, without their most talented player and the man who has dragged Chelsea in an attacking sense since his arrival, that it’ll be fascinating in what Lampard will do to get this attack working without the Belgian superstar.

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By far the most enticing prospect of having Lampard in charge is what he will do with the younger players. It’s been a desire from everyone to see this trophy winning youth side produce players who actually play for the Chelsea youth team. I’m not expecting 30 players to be handed debuts, but the most promising players to at least are given a chance. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James and Ethan Ampadu to be given an opportunity in the Premier League, to see if they can add something to a team that I criticised under Sarri for not having players who were willing to change the system. This could be Lampard’s chance to show everyone at Chelsea that the club can produce Champions League level talent who can start for Chelsea, instead of resorting to the transfer market for every issue.

Where Do Atletico Madrid Go From Here?

While most of the transfer news this summer is focused on Real Madrid, it seems we’ve all forgotten about their local rivals. Last summer, Atletico spent a huge £141 million in an attempt to overtake a defensive Barcelona side and a Madrid side who lost their top scorer. This high spending included £63 million on Monaco winger Thomas Lemar, who could add some creativity from the wide areas they desperately needed. When adding these extra additions on top of the established players, it seemed this was one of Atletico’s best chances of reclaiming La Liga.

This season has not turned out as expected for Atletico. While finishing behind a Barcelona side that continues to be dragged by arguably the best player to ever play the game is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s more in the manner of the finish. They spent so much money on improving an attack that became slightly predictable, relying heavily on Antoine Griezmann to drag them through a lot of games. Nothing seems to have changed in that regard. Griezmann was their top scorer with 15, as expected, but when looking at who is behind him is troubling. Morata is second with 6, and behind the Spaniard is Saul, Correa and Godin. It’s been a consistent issue we will cover later. They’ve scored fewer goals (55) compared to last season (58), and there have been a lot of games where their lack of attack has let them down. Their start to the season displays this perfectly, with a lacklustre draw to Valencia and a poor showing against Celta showing Los Rojiblancos beginning to decline.

Let’s look at the team, piece by piece, to see where it has all gone wrong for Simeone’s side, starting with the defence. The beginning of the season saw the departure of Sime Vrsaljko. While he had a fantastic World Cup with Croatia, he didn’t show the same quality at club level and in hindsight, seemed wise letting him leave. This brought the arrival of Colombian right-back Santiago Arias from PSV. The defender has shown himself to be a good defender while also being a great attacking option with solid chance creation and decent dribble numbers. He arrived for a fair price of £9 million and would hopefully replace Juanfran. While Arias has started 20 games, 2 more than his Spanish teammate, it should be higher.

This nicely leads on to the biggest problem with Atletico Madrid, being the game time to the senior players. Simeone is by far one of the best defensive coaches in Europe. He has built a side that hasn’t conceded over 30 goals in the league since the 2012/13 season. That’s 6 seasons of a nearly imperious defence. This backline has remained consistent with Godin, Juanfran and Luis all being part of the same squad that won the league 5 years ago. While they have aged relatively well, this season has highlighted how they aren’t the same players. Atletico have slowly been facing more shots per game each year. This season, they faced 11.4 shots per game, a slight increase from last season where they faced 11.7, the season in which they changed grounds which would take time to adjust. During the defence’s peak years (2014-16) they were facing less than 10 shots per game, never allowing their opponents to get in good positions thanks to their wide players overloading the central areas and making chance creation very difficult. Atletico have been getting worse defensively, and it is mostly down to the defenders ageing. The three players mentioned earlier are all now over 33. They are so far past their prime that is has hurt the rest of the team. While Luis and Juanfran were never fantastic attackers, they at least gave the side width in the final third, but they cannot do that anymore. They aren’t able to cover the same ground as they once could. They have had to be protected and has resulted in the rest of the team suffering. I can sympathise with Lucas Hernandez suffering from knee injuries all season, but when you allow Jonny Otto and Theo Hernandez all to leave in the last 2 seasons then that same sympathy turns into criticism.

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Their midfield has been very good thanks to the arrival of Rodri and Thomas Partey having an excellent season. While both are not as good in transitioning the ball as you see from Ndombele and Anguissa, they are great at recovering the ball and quickly moving it to the more talented attackers. Rodri has truly been fantastic. He arrived being defensively solid while possessing a great passing range and has brought this to Atletico. He has effectively replaced Gabi while keeping the same aggression and bite he gave to Atleti during his best years. However, they are facing a massive problem being both players are likely to leave this summer. Bayern Munich and Manchester City are both looking to sign Rodri this summer with his release clause making him available for €60 million. Partey is available for a reasonable price, with his £43.5 million buyout clause making him a prime target for Arsenal and Manchester United. It would leave the club without their starting two midfielders, players who formed a solid partnership in midfield.

While their defence has been getting worse, it’s their attack that is by far the biggest problem. To say that Simeone has struggled with pacey players who rely on good dribbling and flair to contribute in attack, is an understatement. When looking at some of the players he has signed in the past, guys who arrived with high expectations but immediately were dropped in favour of more disciplined and less exciting players. Yannick Carrasco, Nico Gaitan, Gelson Martins and Diogo Jota all have left the club in recent years and it does highlight how unwilling Simeone is in changing how his side play in the future. He’s always preferred playing central midfielders in wide areas like Saul, Turan, Koke and Augusto Fernandez. While this approach did work earlier on in Simeone’s time at the club, it has made them far less threatening than they could be. Atleti have had some good talent arrive at their club, but Simeone has always been unwilling to use them. Thomas Lemar is the latest to suffer due to the manager’s lack of ambition. While the Frenchman has dropped off since that title-winning season for Monaco, it’s easy to see that he is struggling in such a pragmatic system. His chance creation and dribbling has reached a career low, and only managed to contribute to 6 goals in 29 appearances in La Liga, not the output you expect from a player who was brought in for over £60 million. While Lemar’s struggles could be down to the player, Gelson Martins suffered even more by the hands of Simeone. The Portuguese international only started a single game in the league for Atletico. This was a talented player who was brought in at a cut-price due the off the field antics that took place at his former club. He was an added bonus on top of a summer which saw improvements in the squad. Simeone instantly deemed him insufficient and Martins departed in January, where he had a good end of the season with Monaco. With Carrasco falling out with the manager and Gaitan rarely being given opportunities, it displays a destination that any winger should avoid unless they want their career to stagnate.

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At the beginning of the season, their centre forward options were a problem. While Griezmann remained productive as ever, it was his striking partner that was the issue. Diego Costa’s return to Madrid will go down as one of the worst signings of the decade. They signed an ageing forward for £60 million, who has been awful. This season, he has been taking 1 shot per game, less than Partey and Saul. He’s creating less than a chance and winning far less aerial duels than he should be. His shambolic form resulted in Morata’s arrival. It’s Los Rojiblancos third attempt at signing a Spanish forward from Chelsea, and so far it’s their most successful attempt. Morata has been superb since his return to Madrid, scoring 6 in 13 starts. He’s adding that aggression and aerial dominance that Simeone has been desperate for since Mandzukic’s departure back in 2015.

While Morata was a bright spark, another player who seems to be struggling is Angel Correa. The Argentine has been a promising player since his arrival from San Lorenzo back in 2014. He has always been a very good dribbler who could cover multiple positions but has failed to establish himself as a regular starter. While he did play 36 games last season, he only started 20 games. Considering the lack of pace in the side, you’d expect him to start more. When he’s started, he’s been very good, completing 3 dribbles per 90 and taking 1.5 shots from the right midfield. These numbers are really promising and show a player too good to be sitting on the bench. It was rumoured back in May the forward has offers on the table and he should leave the club. Correa is 24-years-old and isn’t a prospect anymore. He should be moving to a club that will start him regularly, so he doesn’t waste the best years of his career.

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With Griezmann, Godin, Juanfran, Felipe Luis, Hernandez, Rodri, Partey and Correa all having futures certainly or potentially away from the club, it leaves a massive rebuilding job for Atletico. While this defensive style has been renowned and praised since Simeone’s arrival, it seems many forgot what won Atletico the league back in 2014, goals. Last season they conceded the most goals since that memorable title win, but the difference was they scored 77 goals, a number that still hasn’t been beaten since Griezmann’s arrival, arguably their best forward this decade. As the players Simeone loved and trusted all began leaving the club, he seemed to sacrifice goals in an attempt to prevent conceding them. Simeone needs to stop setting his team up in such a pragmatic way. Scoring 50 goals isn’t enough to win a league dominated by attacking sides. It’s worrying that there is a possibility that his legacy at this club could be tarnished thanks to this defensive first football. His side has always been defensive, but they used to be able to score goals and play a good style of football. Even with all of the talent leaving this summer, I trust the club to adequately replace them but the same trust cannot be placed with Simeone in pushing them forward to finally reclaim the title they’ve been desperate for.