Predictions for the Bundesliga – 19/20

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

Bundesliga 

Outside Shout – RB Leipzig 

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

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

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

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

Over-achievers – Borussia Dortmund 

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

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

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

Under-achievers – Bayern Munich 

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

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

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

Best Transfer – Kerem Demirbay

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

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Potential Flop – Ivan Perisic

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

The Promising Signs from Marco Rose’s Borussia Monchengladbach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Jerome Roussillon and Wolfsburg’s Recovery

‘The Bundesliga dropoff’ is a term I like to associate to a consistent pattern that occurs in the German top flight. Whenever a team (that isn’t Bayern Munich) has a very good season, there will be a massive drop off in the following season. It usually goes down to sales of players, with the Bundesliga being a league that consistently sells its biggest players. The most recent example of this would be Schalke. They’ve gone from the runners up last season, to barely withstanding a relegation scare. This dropoff has also transpired at the other big clubs, with Dortmund, Monchengladbach, Leverkusen and Koln all suffering after having outstanding seasons. The Bundesliga does not possess the same finances as seen in La Liga and especially the Premier League. It means that the big clubs (again, that aren’t Bayern Munich) fail to consistently secure the top spots. Whenever they have a good season, with electric players adding magic and goals to a side, it doesn’t take long for a bigger club to take that magic away.

Wolfsburg is my favourite example when discussing the dropoff. They had a brilliant 2014/15 season, which saw them finish runners up to Bayern Munich, amassing an impressive 69 points. While xG predicted they massively overperformed in attack, so did the rest of the top sides that season. So many players had arguably the best season in their careers. Kevin De Bruyne scored 10 and assisted 20, which was the record for most assists in a single season (until Emil Forsberg broke that record for Leipzig). It was that fantastic season that saw him earn his mega-money move to Manchester City. Bas Dost scoring a goal for every game he started, Naldo had one of his best seasons, in a career that seemed to improve the older he got. Ivan Perisic, Ricardo Rodriguez, Daniel Caligiuri and Luis Gustavo all shined for a side that would eventually face that dreaded dropoff. After the huge sales of De Bruyne and Perisic, they attempted to replace them with the additions of Max Kruse and Julien Draxler, while hoping the other players in the squad would continue their good form. While a good run to the Champions League quarter-final stage and an 8th place finish isn’t a poor season, it would get a lot worse. They ended the 2016/17 in 16th, only surviving through the 3rd place playoff. Draxler left in a cloud to Paris, Andre Schurrle joining Borussia Dortmund, Caligiuri moving to Schalke, Max Kruse returning to Werder Bremen and Dante moving to Nice. It highlights how poor they were in the transfer market after their 2nd place finish back in 2015. They wasted a lot of money on players who weren’t improvements over what they had, which ended with a squad poorly put together. They were put back on track this season. They began selling the players who didn’t work out and focus on the players they had while bringing in 5 players for a combined £36 million. It helped add some extra depth in some areas while fixing their goal problem. They only managed to score 36 goals last season, half of what they managed in the 14/15 season. The signings of Weghorst and Ginczek added the goals needed. Their 62 goals was one of the main reasons why they will be playing in the Europa League next season. However, it is another signing from last summer’s window that needs the spotlight, that being the £4.5 million signing of Jerome Roussillon from Montpellier.

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Ricardo Rodriguez was one of the many players to leave the club and fail to be adequately replaced. While it did take a year to find an able replacement, it was worth the wait. Roussillon had 3 solid seasons at Montpellier, playing over 30 games in each of his 3 seasons. He was putting up solid defensive numbers while also showing himself to be a very good dribbler. The Frenchman is fast, very fast. it’s by far his best attribute. His ability to bomb up and down the wing has given his side another direction in attack. Whether it’s tracking back to help his teammates or giving an extra option in the attack. Roussillon constantly tries to make himself available.

As a youth player, Roussillon primarily played as a winger, and it shows. He dribbles with such confidence and drive, facing opposition defenders with force and using his superior pace. It has made him the side’s best dribbler, completing 1.8 dribbles per game. Combine that with a solid success rate of 62% and it is easy to understand why Wolfsburg have improved so much after his arrival. While 40% of their attacks have come down the right side (compared to 36% down the left), Roussillon still takes advantage. He will cut inside and help overload the central areas when his side is attacking down the right. He helps give another option and ensures that if Wolfsburg loses the ball, they are able to quickly retrieve it. It displays his past as a winger, with the Frenchman looking comfortable in this role.

One would expect a player who was formally an attacker to struggle defensively, but as Wan-Bissaka shows, this isn’t the case. Roussillon has been putting in a solid 2.6 tackles and interceptions per game. A respectable number for a player who is so focused on the offensive end. The most impressive side of his game would be how often he is beaten in one on ones. He is only dribbled past 0.4 times a game, better than Jordi Alba and Andy Robertson, arguably two of the best left backs in the world. It’s the lowest amount in his career, showing a continual improvement in his defensive displays. Having the physical advantages, as well as the ability to deal with opposition wingers has made him one of the best left backs in the league.

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His creativity is another part of his game that is very impressive. The Frenchman creates 1.1 chances a game, while also completing 1.1 crosses. His accurate balls into the box have been perfect for his teammates, and especially Weghorst, a player who uses his height to easily win those key aerial battles. Roussillon has scored 3 and assisted 4 goals this season, meaning he has contributed to a goal every 4 games, a great return for a defender.

For only £4.5 million, he has to be considered as one of the bargains of 2018 summer transfer window. At 26, he has established himself as an important part of the team and could be vital for what Wolfsburg will be planning for. While Bayern, Dortmund and RB Leipzig seem to be improving, there could be a place opening up in that top four. Gladbach have lost their best player in Thorgan Hazard, Leverkusen will always be defensively vulnerable, Hoffenheim are losing their coach and Frankfurt are losing Jovic. This could be a chance for Wolfsburg to creep back into that Champions League spot, with a left back who deserves to be playing there.

 

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Yussuf Poulsen and The Joy of Partnerships

With football being an ever-evolving sport, there are trends that will come in and out of style. Whether it’s the back three, natural wingers or target men, new systems and ideas will introduce weaknesses used in the past. One element of football that hasn’t faded from obscurity yet is the two strikers. In a world full of 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3’s, it can be nice to see a side deploy a relatively old fashioned style of attacking. This isn’t as much of an anomaly as many like to perceive, myself included. There are still a host of sides that deploy two strikers with true success. Jardim’s Monaco broke PSG’s monopoly at the top of the table thanks to a combination of experience and raw, youthful power in Falcao and Mbappe. Atletico Madrid found a lot of success in using a 4-4-2, reaching 2 Champions League finals in 3 years. Leicester is by far the most famous example, playing a very old fashioned way of playing. Full backs not leaving the halfway line, midfielders entirely focused on winning the ball back, and huge centre backs who used their strength to dominate opposition forwards. There’s something nostalgic about seeing sides play like that.

One side that has become famous for playing two strikers would be RB Leipzig. The Redbull club has been a success story based on smart investment and an endless scouting network that has enabled them to find talent across the world. All of their clubs are run very well and do not make the same risky signings as you see the big clubs take. While they did finish 3rd, they were arguably the second best side in the Bundesliga. They had a solid defence, making the most tackles and only Bayern facing fewer shots. Add that with strikers who scored a combined 31 goals this season and you have a side that deserved a top 3 finish. While Timo Werner has been a massive success since joining Leipzig, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid both heavily interested in the German forward. However one of my more controversial opinions would be that Timo Werner does not work as a single striker. While he has been relatively good for Germany, he hasn’t been nearly as impressive as he has been at club level. Germany usually play a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, leaving Werner quite isolated. He looked lost at the 2018 World Cup and was arguably one of their worst performers at the competition. I do think one of the reasons why Werner has been so good is because the player next to him has allowed him to be.

This brings us nicely onto Yussuf Poulsen. While I am not nearly as romantic with football as others are, there can be some stories that do bring out the softer side in me. Poulsen has been with Leipzig since the club was in the 3rd division. He has made the most appearances for the side and is their third top scorer. While he has never been hugely prolific in front of goal, he has stayed by the club and contributed important goals in their race to reach the top. Since RB Leipzig earned promotion to the top flight back in 2016, Poulsen hasn’t reached the same heights as his German teammate, scoring 5 in his first season and 4 in his second. His role in the side has always seemed to be to give a more direct option for his side and help create space for Werner, and he excels in that. In an interview earlier in the season, Werner said “It’s great for me with him up front. We complement each other really well. He likes going for aerial challenges, which I don’t. He’s got an amazing set of lungs.” It perfectly sums up their relationship as forwards. His numbers even show this. He attempts 9.5 aerial duels per game with a 48% success rate, a solid number for a striker. While shot numbers aren’t high, taking 2.1 a game, it’s because Werner takes a majority of the side’s shots. He also creates 1.1 chances a game, showing the strong relationship he has with the forwards. When you watch the Dane play, you certainly understand why Werner loves playing with him. Poulsen constantly drifts out wide, effectively adverting pressure from his teammates. He is a player who uses his physical gifts to his advantage. His size and strength to push defenders away. His height to win balls in the air for his side. His speed to race down the wing. It’s why Poulsen is so highly regarded by his teammates. He does a lot of work off the ball to allow them to flourish.

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One of my favourite parts of Poulsen’s game is his fouling. While a strange thing to love, it does continue to highlight just how good he is off the ball. One area of strikers that becoming to be noticed is how often they foul opposition players. It can show how good the player is when it comes to recovering the ball or pressing. Poulsen commits more fouls a game than any other Leipzig player with 1.8. It’s actually more fouls than Diego Costa was committing during his best season at Atletico (he was committing 1.5 per game in the 2013/14 season). Managers are beginning to want a lot more from their strikers other than goals. Poulsen does all the off the ball work required. Rangnick has gotten the best out of the forward and got him playing to his strengths, while also scoring goals.

Poulsen is that aggressive, strong, hardworking forward that other teams would dream of having. While his goals have always been a question mark clouding his reputation, he has enabled Werner to be one of the most wanted strikers around. With very few teams possessing a player like Poulsen, it has left Leipzig with a valuable player, not in price, but in importance.

The striking partnership, while being old fashioned, can be so effective when given the right players. Watching Werner and Poulsen play alongside each other is a joy. It’s reminiscent of watching Heskey and Owen, Cole and Yorke, Ronaldo and Rivaldo, Rooney and Tevez, Shearer and Sutton and Costa and Falcao. Players who worked so well together, creating some of football’s fondest memories. Let’s hope Werner does decide to stay and let us witness such a strong relationship, and keep the striking partnership as alive as ever.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Kerem Demirbay and Replacing Julian Brandt

Bayer Leverkusen have been a host of fantastic young talent, with the club being essential in the development of Leon Bailey, Kai Havertz, Karim Bellerabi, Jonathan Tah and Benjamin Hendrichs. However with the side continuing to play an attractive style of football, they seem unable to find a coach who is able to succeed while using the host of attacking talent. Roger Schmidt, Sami Hyypia and now Peter Bosz failing to make this side the Champions League club it could be. It’s given the chance for big clubs to take some of their talents, including German talent Julian Brandt. He’s been attracting a lot of attention with Brandt looking to move on from Leverkusen, with Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur both looking to get his signiture. With Brandt’s current club forseeing this sale, they have already acted swiftly in finding his replacement, Hoffenheim playmaker Kerem Demirbay. Let’s look to see if he will be able to replace what Brandt offers.

Demirbay was signed from Fortuna Dusseldorf in the summer of 2016, and has been involved in the transformation of Hoffenheim under Julian Nagelsmann. He had a fantastic debut season under young tactician, scoring 6 and assisting 8 for a side who successfully finished in the top 4 after only narrowly surviving relegation. While his second season was halted by injuries, he has returned to his best this season. The midfielder has contributed to 13 goals in 26 appearances. An impressive tally that shows how he is continuing to grow as a player, and has shown the best numbers in his career. His xA per 90 is at 0.40, the highest during his time in Hoffenheim, showing how influencial he has been to Nagelsmann’s side. While he is one of the best creators in the league, it’s his dribbling that is arguably his biggest strength. His technical ability and skill make him great when facing opposition players. He attempts 2.9 dribbles per game, with a very impressive 75% success rate. These are the numbers that Moussa Dembele was showing during his best years at Tottenham, when he transformed what a midfielder can do. He is important in moving the ball for a side who have had arguably the best attack in the league. He is the representation of what Nagelsamnn was trying to do on the pitch. Demirbay shows the aggression, speed and pressure that his manager is aiming for. One other interesting part of his game is his shooting. Demirbay epitimises a distance shooter. Out of his 2.3 shots per game, 1.8 are taken from outside the box. It shows when Hoffenheim attack. With their focus being attacking down the wide areas, it can leave space for Demirbay outside of the box, and gift an opportunity for a slightly more riskier attempt at goal. Usually I would criticise a player for this, but he’s taking these shots in better positions than when you see from someone like James Maddison or Andros Townsend. Demirbay shows himself to be a well rounded attacker, who has an element of unpredictability to him that have made him such a threat.

Now knowing what kind of player the Hoffenheim playmaker is, how does he compare to Brandt? If Brandt did depart his club, it would leave Demirbay to fill the same position. Leverkusen set out their team in a 4-3-3, which Brandt occupying the left side of the midfield three. He will constantly find positions inbetween the opposition midfield and defence, to help transition the ball to the attackers. This is similar to what Demirbay does for his side, with his high dribbling numbers help move his side into the attacking third. The former Dusseldorf midfielder also is left footed, enabling him to fit in even more comfortably on that left side. With Leverkusen also trying to attack through the wide areas, it gives Brandt the chance to find space just outside of the box. This is shown with his excellent finish against Hertha Berlin. Brandt found space outside of box, and thanks to a brilliant ball from Aranguiz, he was able to shoot with calmness into the top corner. Both players are intelligent and can find space in the final third, but also offer a work rate to help recover the ball. They are both difficult to dispossess, and are vital in how their sides attack.

Demirbay would offer a very similar skillset to Brandt, but adds an element of aggression to his game. While Brandt offers a calmer figure on the ball, Demirbay is more erratic. While he does lose possession more than his German counterpart, it’s usually in the attempt to help his side score. He’s a player who is ready to take risks. While Brandt has contributed to more goals, Hoffenheim have not been nearly as prolific as Leverkusen. They have arguably been one of the unluckiest side in the division, with the side being denied constantly by the woodwork and good chances being missed that are expected to be scored. If looking at xPTS, they would be in 3rd, ahead of Leverkusen, Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund. If better finishers were placed in front of Demirbay, there is a good chance he would have ended the season with a better return.

I do think that Demirbay is an improvement over Brandt. He’s consistently shown to be one of the best playmakers in the league. Taking a team’s best player is showing a real state of intent from Leverkusen. They aren’t going to sell one of their best players and allow themselves to fall behind the competition. I like Brandt a lot and they might miss his versatility, but Demirbay isn’t a prospect, he is ready made and will keep Leverkusen competitive in a league that will see other sides improve, like RB Leipzig and Dortmund. It is already one of the best signings of the summer.

Why Mourinho Was Sacked. Top 5 League Talking Points

While this week wasn’t as interesting as the last, there are still plenty to talk about so let’s start with Germany

Bundesliga

Frankfurt Outclass Leverkusen

While Bayern and Leipzig all pick up big wins, let’s look at Frankfurt, who continued their great start to the season with a 2-1 victory over Bayern Leverkusen. While Frankfurt have been very good this season, Leverkusen are still a side that can cause any side trouble, with Werder Bremen conceding 6 against them. They also haven’t lost since the 11th of November, so this was a tough task for both sides.

Let’s start with the winners, who won this game, even without their young shot machine Luka Jovic, who started the game on the bench. This wasn’t as bad as it seems. They still had both Ante Rebic and Sebastian Haller, who have been very good this season. Rebic has continued on from his World Cup exploits, with the Croatian scoring 5 and assisting 2. His shot numbers are healthy considering he’s played all over the field this season, and he’s creating 1.8 chances a game, showing how much of a well rounded player he is. While he has been good, Haller has been absolutely brilliant. He’s scored 9 goals and is at the top of the assists chart in the Bundesliga, with 8. If you count the Europa League, he’s in double figures for both goals and assists. He’s incredible in the air and while he has been rather fortunate to have this many goal contributions, he has still been arguably the best player in the Bundesliga this season. Against Bayer Leverkusen, he took 4 shots, created 3 chances and won a ridiculous 12 aerial duels. Dragovic and Tah just couldn’t deal with him, with the pair only winning 3 aerial duels. I wouldn’t be surprised if clubs aren’t looking at him, for bids in the summer. He’s only 24, meaning there is still a ceiling to hit. He was only signed for £6.3m from Utrecht. What a brilliant bit of business from a club that seems to keep impressing me.

While Haller was as good as ever, the man of the match was arguably Filip Kostic. The Serbian was great on the day, scoring and assisting to help his side get the 3 points. He also created 2 chances, made 4 tackles and interceptions and 6 clearances. Frankfurt play in a way where their full backs are pushed so far forward, that they are almost like inside forwards. The first goal showed this, with Kostic assisting Da Costa with a beautiful low cross. It gives their side a constant attacking threat in all areas, and it means players like Rebic and Haller can stay more central without worrying about lacking isolation. But their marauding full backs come at a cost. It leaves them so vunarable at the back. Leverkusen were probably unlucky to not get more out of this game. They started it off so well, with Brandt having two great chances, and Bellerabi having a goal disallowed. They exploited the wide areas that are always left so free at times, and if not for better finishing, would have let Frankfurt pay for it. But they didn’t, and Frankfurt continue on this season, looking to get Europa League football.

La Liga

Betis back on track

While November did include a brilliant victory over Barcelona, it wasn’t a great month for Betis. It was their only win last month, with a draw against Celta and a defeat to a poor Villarreal, it left them in a position where they couldn’t seem to put two wins together. Now in December, they haven’t lost a single game yet, with their only points dropped being in the Europa League. Wins and clean sheets against Sociedad and Vallecano, means they are finally showing how good they really are. This side have a solid defense, and a great midfield. This actually transitions very smoothly to talk about Giovanni Lo Celso. The Argentine is one of my favourite players to watch this season, and has been the best midfielder in the league. While he’s only started 9 games, it is because the horrible Europa League campaign they are also playing in. He’s clearly being saved for those games, and it’s understandable why. Lo Celso is a midfielder who can play anywhere in the midfield. His tackle numbers and great dribble numbers make him a very flexible player, similar to Moussa Dembele or Allan. The difference here is goals. Lo Celso is Betis’s top scorer, and while it’s only with 4, it does show how good he at getting in the box. He also ranks third in the squad for shots per game, and xG says he is achieving what he should be, which shows there isn’t much luck or a purple patch here. This is Lo Celso playing his game, which is just frightening. He’s only 22, meaning there are still plenty of years left.

He was the man of the match in this game, taking 4 shots and completing 4 dribbles. Lo Celso is not a creator. Canales takes that role (and is another who has performed very well), while Lo Celso plays as the player who arrives late in the box, but is also an expert at winning the ball back. It does seriously trouble me why Paris let him go out on loan, and are now forced to play Marquinhos to play as a holding midfielder, a position where Lo Celso could definitely fill in. It would would amaze me if Paris actually let him go. He’s a player with massive potential would offer something different in a midfield which will see Rabiot leave by the summer. He is such a good player and is the reason why Betis are such a threat.

Ligue 1

Monaco Misery Continues

It is fair to say Monaco have been the worst side in Europe. They have went from Ligue 1 runners up, to a side hiring a manager with zero experience, and are now suffering for it. They have conceded the 4th most goals in the league, and scored the 3rd least amount of goals in Europe. They have turned from league winners, to a shambles. This game against Lyon just shows their weaknesses in both areas. They are currently suffering with 16 players out in the sidelines. I can definitely sympathise with Henry in that department. He has been forced to play Raggi as a right back, a player who should really not be at the club at this point. Monaco were truly awful in this game. It may become boring just looking at numbers, but they sum up the situation perfectly. The five highest shot takers in this game were all Lyon players, and the most dribbles were all Lyon players. Falcao actually won 3 tackles, more than all of his teammates. A striker should never be doing that. They had a pass accuracy of 77%. That is just awful. You expect a side, with ball players like Monaco to have at least 80%. You expect lower than that from direct managers like Mourinho and Sam Allardyce. While Lyon managed 21 shots, Monaco managed a poultry 4, meaning Aouar and Depay had more shots than their opposition, with 5 each. This all wasn’t helped from Golovin getting sent off. The Russian decided to throw a terrible challenge in, earning a straight and justifiably got his marching orders. They offered nothing in this game, which can’t be highlighted more than Benaglio getting the second highest amount of touches with 45. It was just a nothing performance from a side that has been no where near average this season.

Let’s quickly look at Lyon. They are now looking like the second best team in Ligue 1, which they are. Their best player on the day was Nabil Fekir. It might be an exaggeration, but he is arguably one of the top 20 players on the planet. Not many attackers can boast his creativity, shot numbers, set piece ability, dribbling and versatility. There’s so much to his game that is makes him such a desirable player to every top club. He could get into any team in the world. This game showed his quality. He scored, created 6 chances and completed the most passes out of any forward for Lyon. He was at his unbeatable best in this game, tearing through Monaco as if they were a light piece of paper. It was a great performance from a player who is just too good for this league. Another who stood out is Kenny Tete. He completed the most tackles and created 4 chances, with only Fekir creating more. His cross for the second goal was fantastic, and showed this determination and fight that he clearly has.

With Paris already seemed to have wrapped up the league, Lyon could seriously shock some sides the champions league. Barcelona are arguably the favourites for the competition, but injuries to their defenders and Luis Suarez’s ability to have an incredible off day, means they are definitely beatable. Valverde’s pragmatism is his biggest weakness, and best quality. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it just doesn’t work. Losing to Roma, failing to win the league because of his complete team change against Levante, and their terrible performance against Betis only last month. It leaves questions on whether they can actually go the distance. They go against this Lyon side. A side full of attacking quality, and a side that showed a lot of versatility in the past, able to play a 4-4-2, a 4-4-2 diamond, a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3. It could be a real challenge, as Manchester City found out.

Premier League

Manchester United outclassed

While this is quite late, let’s look at Mourinho’s last game in charge of Manchester United, arguably his side’s worst showing. I compare every single bad performance from United this season to that game against Brighton, where I saw nothing in attacking sense and complete incompetence in defense. Even the games against, Southampton, Valencia, Juventus, Manchester City, Spurs and Derby, they just weren’t as bad as Brighton, but the against their closest rivals is definitely the worst. Allowing Liverpool to have 36 shots, is a disgrace. United just sat back and allowed Liverpool to attack relentlessly. While Liverpool were quite wasteful, with Fabinho, Lovren and Mane all wasting chances, they still created so many chances and were allowed so because of just how bad United were. While United did get a goal back thanks to an Allison mistake, it was not deserved. Liverpool won the game thanks to goals from Xherdan Shaqiri. I think the line up was the start of things to come for United. No Martial, Pogba or Mata meant a huge lack of creativity and spark in the side. It made United so much more predictable and passive in an attacking sense. They lacked Mata’s ability to drift and find space, Martial’s speed and chance creation and Pogba’s pure arrogance. While I like Herrera, he isn’t going to offer anything in a creative sense, and Matic is just not very good. I like Lingard, but he works better when he’s playing off other attackers. Rashford, while he tried his hardest, did struggle in this game. United are an absolute mess, and it truly doesn’t make sense. This side has some of the best attackers in the league. Lukaku was scoring over 20 goals only 2-3 years ago, Martial was carrying United’s attack, Rashford was ruthless in his first full season, Sanchez was linked to every single top during his final year at Arsenal, Mata is arguably as good as David Silva. How this team isn’t scoring more than Arsenal and Chelsea is mind blowing. Mourinho started his time at United so well. Two trophies, an arrogance and swagger with the signings of Zlatan and Pogba, and huge progress to be made. However it’s just been downhill from there. This is written right after Mourinho was sacked, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been appointed. The Norwegian will hopefully bring back the confidence in this side, and make times at Old Trafford much more enjoyable.

While I still do not think Liverpool are near City in performance and quality, credit needs to be given. They were very good against United. It does help that their opponent was so bad, but they themselves were good. Fabinho was their best player on the day for me. While many have given Shaqiri the man of the match for his effect on the game, I think Fabinho did show exactly why Liverpool have been such a solid side this season. While he started slow, he seems to have finally found his place and purpose in this side. Considering he was playing in defensive midfield, he played more as a number ten. He had 5 shots, created 2 chances and 3 dribbles. He got the assist for the first goal, with an excellent ball that cut the United defense open like cheese. He dominated this game and could be a real important player in a season where Liverpool finally seem ready for a trophy.

Serie A

Roma entertain Genoa

With all the big clubs getting typical wins, let’s look at the most entertaining of those wins, being Roma’s 3-2 victory over Genoa. Roma have been poor this season. I still have massive question marks over Di Francesco, and Monchi just hasn’t had the impact all expected him to have. I do think it is a massive shame that Malcom made the wrong decision in joining Barcelona. If he did sign as he was expected to, they would definitely be more of a threat in front of goal. Roma have scored a very good 29 goals, but an injury to Dzeko has left them with a difficult situation. Schick hasn’t impressed in the slightest since his arrival from Sampdoria last season. Instead, they started Zaniolo. The Italian didn’t manage a shot on target in the game, but having the opportunity will definitely help him grow as a player. For the first time this season, I can say Roma’s midfield were very good. Di Francesco chose to start Bryan Cristante and Steven N’Zonzi in this game. Cristante is a player who isn’t full of talent, but he did show what he’s got against Genoa, scoring and creating 3 chances. His midfield partner was even better. N’Zonzi has not been great since his arrival in the capital. He’s started show his age, and struggling with the pace of some sides in Italy. But in this game he was back to his best. He completed 6 tackles and interceptions, and won 8 aerial duels. He is finally showing why Monchi chose to take another risk on him, at an age where he should start to be fading. He hasn’t been at his best this season, but he is still a presence in midfield and hopefully he can find a certain place in this side. With Pellegrini in the sidelines, it was important that the pair stepped up, and they did.

Genoa can truly call themselves unlucky. They had a lead in this game, with the shot monster Piatek and Hiljemark both scoring, but Roma clawed back and got the result. xG had this game at 1.88 to Roma and 2.18 to Genoa. This is mainly due to how good Piatek is. The Polish marksman has been on fire this season, and showed it here. He had 5 shots, with every single shot on target. It’s something you don’t usually see from a forward, being able to hit every shot on target in a game against the second best defense last season. There is no doubt that Piatek is over performing, but he is playing for a side that isn’t exactly a top 6 contender. They don’t create a crazy amount of chances, so it’s very impressive. It’ll be hard for Genoa to keep hold of him, if any big clubs would go for him.

Is The Serie A Title Race Already Over? Top 5 League Talking Points

Bundesliga

The Revierderby

While Dortmund’s game against Bayern is always a huge fixture, their game against Schalke is arguably just as big. Both sides are only a 23 minute drive away. They are both located in a real working class area and this derby has produced 152 meetings, with Schalke coming out as the better of the pair. Going into this game, it was clear that while Schalke have picked up some form in recent weeks, Dortmund were the favourites. While it was close, it was Dortmund who came out as victors, thanks to goals from Thomas Delaney and Jadon Sancho. Schalke did bring the game level thanks to Caligiuri’s penalty, but it just wasn’t enough.

Let’s discuss the victors, who weren’t great on the day, but still managed to win the game. The Veltins-Arena is not an easy ground for Borussia Dortmund, with their last win coming in October 2013, so the fact they were able to pick up the victory is still very impressive. However their performance wasn’t their best showing. They only managed 3 shots on target. Schalke managed the same but they have a valid reason being they lack forward options at the moment, with Mark Uth and Breel Embolo both picking up injuries. Dortmund didn’t have any massive injury troubles going into this game. They started all of their big performers, with Reus, Sancho, Alcacer and Brunn Larson all starting as their attackers. Reus was very good on the day. He has been revived this season, and while isn’t the brilliant winger in his earlier days, he has evolved as a player, similar to how R9 changed from a player who relied solely on physical power, and instead used his technical prowess to his advantage. Reus is the leader in this young side, and knows what it means to play for the club. In this game he created 3 chances, more than any other player on the pitch, and got the assist with a delightful free kick into the box. Other than Reus, their attackers weren’t good enough on the day. Both Sancho and Brunn Larson were lack lustre, but they are young players. This is a game that is so hard to predict, and it can be overwhelming. Paco Alcacer was arguably the worst out of the three. He didn’t manage a single shot on target, and was taken off for Mario Gotze. While Dortmund should be happy with the win, it wasn’t vintage from them. Lucien Favre has garnered a reputation for completely misleading xG. They are currently top of the table, yet xPTS claims they should actually be 2nd, with Bayern as the comfortable leaders. They are actually the luckiest team in the league, with Favre’s side only expected to score 27, 12 less than they have actually managed. Dortmund have been very good this season, there is no denying that. But with Bayern being more dominant, Hoffenheim taking more shots and Leipzig having a better defense, it does show how maybe they’re fortunate to be where they are. I still hope they can keep it up. The Bundesliga has been very boring for a while now and it needs this refresh. Not only does it throw Dortmund right back at the top, but it will make Bayern really reconsider how well they think they’re ran.

La Liga

Atletico Madrid show quality against in form Alaves

Onto La Liga, which has had a predictable, yet interesting week. The high scoring game between Levante and Eibar, but let’s look at Atletico Madrid. They have truly disappointed me this season. With the huge additions they made in the summer, it was expected for them to finally push on. They have been fine enough. They still have a very good defense, but Simeone has faced some real problems. The first was his midfield. Since the loss of Gabi, a player so similar to Diego Simeone, it was as if there were two of them. The signing of Rodri from Villarreal was so good. I’ve already gone through previously why he’s so good, but there was doubt he could be the guy to replace Gabi. But after a start to a season which lacked minutes, he has finally found his place in the side. Only Koke completes more passes a game than Rodri. He also completed the most tackles in the side and the most clearances out of any midfielder. He holds the ball very well and is a great shield for the defense. I bring this up because he was one of Atletico’s best players on the day. He scored, completed more passes than any other Atletico Madrid player, and made 3 tackles and 8 clearances. He was very good on the day, and it seems Simeone finally has put his trust in him.

The Rojiblancos were deserving of the victory. They created better chances, and kept Alaves quiet and unable to create real substantial chances. While Alaves did take more shots, they only managed 3 on target. Atletico Madrid are one of the best sides in Europe at ensuring the chances you make are poor ones. It is why they are such a good side, and even with aging defenders, they are still rock solid at the back. One of their stand out defenders in this game was Santiago Arias. The Columbian was brought in as a replacement for the departing Sime Vrsaljko, and has been a worthy successor. He had a very successful time at PSV, where his dribble numbers and attacking threat were his most notable attributes. He was very good in this game, and showed all these qualities. He created 2 chances, more than any other defender, and even got an assist. It was a very good display from a player who will need plenty if he is to replace Juanfran.

Let’s quickly touch on Alaves, who while didn’t deserve the 3 points, they still had some chances in this game. Ibai Gomez managed more shots on target than any of his teammates, with 2. Alaves have been fine this season. While they don’t score many goals, they take the chances they get and play a very direct style. They can seem old fashioned, with Alaves being near the bottom of the table in shots, possession and pass accuracy, but right now they are just taking advantage of the state that is La Liga right now. The league is a mess, which has left teams like Alaves and Levante to climb the table, in times where they really shouldn’t be this high. While they are having a good season, it’s mainly because of how bad some other sides in La Liga have actually been.

Ligue 1

Ligue 1 will not be spoken about this week. The yellow vests protects have brought up security concerns. France is not exactly the happiest nation at the moment. 5 games have been suspended this weekend, including the game I most looking forward to, St Etienne against Marseille. It is still unsure when these games will be played, but I will cover Ligue 1 when it eventually comes back.

Premier League – Manchester City stunned by Sarri

Arguably the game of the weekend, Sarri was the first manager in the Premier League to truly dismantle Pep’s side. While City did dominate, Chelsea took their chances and limited City to create chances that aren’t as high quality as usual. It was arguably the most interesting game of the season.

Let’s start with Chelsea, who were truly great on the day. They came into this game in arguably the worst of situations. They lost 2 in their last 3, with their win coming against Fulham, a side even United could put 4 past. There was reason for worry, and even in the first half that worry was still there. City dominated and definitely should have got on the score sheet, but Chelsea rode their luck, and thanks to a goal from N’golo Kante and a late header from David Luiz, the blues managed to get the win. When I say that City dominated that first half, it was no exaggeration. Kante’s goal was Chelsea’s first shot on target. It’s Kante’s 4th goal contribution this season, the same as he’s managed in his last 2 seasons for Chelsea. While he is still learning his new role of box to box midfielder, it cannot be argued that he is definitely showing progress. While both Kante, Hazard and David Luiz will be remembered for what they did going forward, the man of the match was comfortably César Azpilicueta. The Spaniard was a monster at the back, that if you just add up all his defensive actions, he made 24. That is unheard of and it could be the first time I’ve ever seen a player amass that many. No matter where he plays Azpilicueta will always be one of the most consistent players in the side. He is just a delight to have for any squad. What Chelsea did so well is actually realise they are a lesser team than Man City. They might have played a 4-3-3, but in defense, it looked more like a 4-5-1. They were fine to have less of the ball, because they knew they could score a goal at the perfect opportunity. Both Kovacic and Kante are incredibly athletic, and could definitely help transition. It’s was a great approach from Sarri, and seems to be doing well at Chelsea, playing a different style to many of his predecessors.

This did seem like a huge off day for Manchester City. The champions dominated the first half, but late in the game they failed to get back a goal, and the pressure seemed to have got to them. The biggest talking point of the game was Man City’s lack of striker. Pep after the game said he was happy with how they played and the how his side set up, but I disagree. While he has played a striker-less team before, it just didn’t work here. Sterling just doesn’t have the same ability as someone like Jesus, to get in behind and make very intelligent runs. Sterling has been incredible this season, but it’s more as a winger, not a striker.

While Liverpool might be top of the table, City are still comfortably the better side. Every result they have had all been earned, with no luck to speak of. Let’s hope the better side actually win it this year.

Serie A – Juventus extend lead at the top

With Serie A going back to its one horse self, let’s look at their Friday night battle against Inter Milan, a side who have massively disappointed me so far this season. They have a very good manager, and made additions that should have seen them skyrocket up the table, but have been labouring on. While Icardi and Brozovic have been their usual great selves, Perisic, Nainggolan, Candreva and Vrsaljko have all underperformed this season. Perisic has always been their main creator, so having him slow down is a massive problem. Luckily, Keita Balde has been in good form recently and has helped his side. However even Keita couldn’t make the difference, with Juventus winning 1-0.

Inter had 2 incredible chances to get ahead, but thanks to Icardi creating them, instead of being on the end of them. Gagliardini hit the post and Skriniar hit it over the bar It meant they didn’t have their most clinical striker taking the shots. Other than those two chances, Inter only managed a single shot on target. They were wasteful in the final third and but the fact they created the chances they did, does earn credit. Vrsaljko was arguably their best player. While he hasn’t been as good as I expected, he did definitely bring his a game in this one. He completed 2 crosses, more than any other Inter player, and had their only shot on target. He was arguably one of the only highlights from a defense that wasn’t good on the day. xG had this game at 1.41 to Juventus, and 0.95 to Inter.

Let’s move on to the victors, who while weren’t great, still managed to get the job done. It’s classic Juventus. They are a winning machine. They have a team full of players who know how to win games, through the more dirtier side of the game, with players who have played at the top level for a long time, and know what it takes. They were good in this game, creating better chances than their opponents, with their forwards performing very well. Paulo Dybala was very impressive on the day. He created 3 chances, took 4 shots and even completed 4 crosses out of his 5 attempted, which is frankly ridiculous to see a player be that accurate. Mandzukic scored the only goal, and also had the most shots on target, and created 2 chances. Ronaldo wasn’t stand out in his game, but it’s good to see his teammates performing even when their main man isn’t. However another full back stole the show, this time it was João Cancelo. The Portuguese, while disappointing in Spain, has simply been brilliant since arriving from Valencia last summer. He was signed permanently by Juventus in the summer, after his loan spell with Inter came to an end. He has arguably been the signing of the season in Serie A. He created 3 chances, made 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and got the assist with a delightful ball to Mandzukic.

It’s hard to see how Juventus aren’t favourites for practically every competition they’re in. They have a deep squad, quality in every position, and huge competition for places. I still think their midfield is a bit weak. It’s the only thing truly holding them back from being the best side in Europe. While Atalanta and Napoli might be more fun to watch, Juventus are winners, and that is what’s most important when winning league titles.

How Good is Emery’s Arsenal? Top 5 League Talking Points

While illness did restrict me from talking about last week’s talking points, let’s look at this week. I’ll start to lessen the amount I discuss, just to make sure they are out at a reasonable date. Let’s start straight into it.

Bundesliga

Werner wins game for Leipzig

With Dortmund and Bayern winning rather uneventfully, let’s look at Leipzig. When they arrived in the Bundesliga a couple of seasons ago, they started off like a rocket, actually ahead of Bayern by Christmas. While hated by the Bundesliga fans, they are ran so well and with Nagelsmann coming next summer, this season seem to only be a transition, to make sure they have a satisfactory season and stay in the Top 6, however they’ve actually been incredible. They currently sit in 3rd and have been an absolute wall at the back. While they didn’t start off well, conceding 4 against Dortmund in the first game and conceding 2 against Hoffenheim, they haven’t actually conceded since their game against Hoffenheim. That was at the end of September. They have been incredible defensively and have surprised everyone.

Let’s move on to the game in question. RB Leipzig beat in form a good Borussia Mönchengladbach side 2-0, with Timo Werner scoring a brace. On paper, this would have been a very difficult game for RB Leipzig. Their opponents put 3 past Bayern Munich and only Dortmund have scored more than their 30 goals. They’ve been in incredible form and were going to be tough to hold back. However Leipzig got the 3 points, scoring two and making Mönchengladbach look like an average side. The victors created twice as many chances, and were very effective on the counter attack. They used the likes of Werner, Poulsen and Bruma to use their pace to break Mönchengladbach quickly. While Bruma was underwhelming, Poulsen and Werner were at their very best. They are probably one of my favourite striking partnerships in Europe right now. Werner is a goalscoring machine, being one of the best players in a one on one. While Poulsen does lack that killer instinct, he is brilliant in the air and a solid creator for his German partner. Both goals just showed how well they work together. Poulsen won the ball in air and gifted it Werner in a good position to carry the ball, which he eventually scored. The second was an excellent showing, with Poulsen getting on the end of a long ball and gifting Werner with an open goal. In this game, Poulsen created more chances than anyone else, and won 3 aerial duels, with only Konate winning more for his side. I always wanted to see a better goalscoring rate from Poulsen, but I finally see why Leipzig love him so much. He helps the team around him in such an effective way. It could actually explain why Werner was so poor in the world cup. He didn’t have his partner in crime to give defenders a difficult job, to give Werner more space to get in behind.

This season was not supposed to be this important. Ralph Rangnick however has kept them so competitive, and arguably better than they’ve ever been. It makes the arrival of Nagelsmann even more exciting.

La Liga

Madrid dispatch Valencia

With Barcelona just failing to show consistency, it’s left La Liga in a weird place. Sevilla drew to in form Alaves, and the Blaugrana were able to win 2-0 against strugglers Villarreal. However focus this week will be on Madrid, who cruised past a frustrating Valencia with a 2-0 victory. Solari’s arrival stunk of panic and hope of a Zidane scenario, where he will hit the ground running and motivate the squad. But after a humiliating defeat to Eibar, and an underwhelming victory over Roma, it hasn’t started out as well as everyone hoped. This win was an impressive one.

Madrid started the game with a very different starting XI. Vasquez was brought in on the right side, with Bale shifting to the left. On paper, Vazquez seemed to be playing to keep Guedes and Gaya, two very attacking players, quiet. This turned out to be true, with Vazquez putting in 6 tackles and interceptions in this game. He truly put a shift in for his side, and helped them get the win. He also scored late in the game to seal the win, showing how he helped Madrid in both departments. While the chances to their attack were interesting, their midfield was very different. With an injury to Casemiro, it forced Modric to play alongside Ceballos and Llorente. All three were fine on the day, with Ceballos standing out with the Spaniard making 7 tackles. It does seem as if Solari wants to use these younger players. There are plenty of reasons why. The first being both Llorente and Ceballos will add some sort of defensive stability in the absence of Casemiro, and the other, more believable one, is egos. A problem a lot of top clubs have is the amount of egos in those dressing rooms. Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid all famously have teams full of players with high demands. Whether it’s Sergio Ramos being Perez’s mouth piece, or James Rodriguez criticising his own manager after a couple of months, it seems Madrid players love to have their way. Playing young players who are desperate to play pleases not only those players, but the fans. Madrid fans, like their players, are very irritating. Their showings of white flags and booing of players like Ronaldo, who did so much for them, paints such a bad picture. They prefer when they see guys like Asensio and Ceballos play. It’s because most Madrid and Barcelona fans are also huge national team fans. They want not only their country to succeed, but to succeed with their players.

Let’s quickly touch on Valencia, who were not good on the day, or all season. Their drop off has been staggering to say the least. With Champions League football returning, and signings like Wass, Gameiro and Batshuayi all looking exciting, everything seemed to be on the up, but it’s been far from that. Last season they were extremely lucky. They started off with Simone Zaza in hot form until the New Year. After his drop off, Santi Mina came in and carried on from his teammates great start. They are struggling in front of goal and that cannot be understated. While they have been defensively solid, with only Atletico Madrid conceding less, they cannot stop drawing games. They’ve drawn a total of 8 games in La Liga, which at this point of the season is crazy. To show I crazy it is, only Bilbao have drawn as many games as Valencia, in all the top 5 leagues. They just cannot kill games off and it’s easy to see. None of their forwards have scored more than 2 goals, and they’ve all looked poor. Santi Mina just cannot hit the back of the net at the moment. Rodrigo’s numbers have stayed the same, but is having a similar problem. However the biggest drop off has to be Gonzalo Guedes. The former Benfica forward has been a shadow of the player he was last season. His dribbling and key pass numbers have dropped off a cliff, and just seems to not have the same confidence and fearlessness as last season. When I said that Valencia were lucky last season, it mainly stemmed from how they over performed xG last season. It’s the complete opposite this time. They are arguably the unluckiest team in Europe at the moment, with xPTS saying they should have roughly 23 points, which would put them in 3rd. It’s honestly incredible how they’ve changed. Marcelino is a good coach however, and there is a high chance he will turn it around.

Ligue 1 –

Lyon play entertaining draw with Lille

While PSG finally dropping points might be interesting, my distain for that club and most of their players leaves me not wanting to give them attention, so let’s look at Lyon and Lille. Both sides have been good this season, with Lille looking back to their best and Lyon finally getting some form after a relatively slow start. On paper, this was going to be a must watch, and I’d say it was.

Let’s start with Lille, who started the season off so well, have finally started to slow down. They haven’t won a game since the end of October, and have since lost to PSG and lost in the Coupe de la Ligue to Strasbourg. The most worrying signs have been the form of Bamba and Pepe. I said both have been arguably the most inform players in Europe, but have since slowed down. Pepe hadn’t scored since their defeat to PSG, and looked so poor against Nice. Bamba has also really slowed down, with the Frenchman not scoring since the 6th of October. While not being at their best in recent weeks, they started his game off like a rocket. Thanks to goals from Loic Remy and Nicolas Pepe, it gave them a deserved 2 goal advantage. While both were good on the day, with Pepe finally putting in those shot numbers expected by now, Thiago Mendes stood out. The Brazilian has been a consistent name on the team sheet this season. He put in 4 tackles and interceptions in this game, and created 5 chances. Lille were very much playing on the counter attack, and Mendes played his role brilliantly. The home side only had 28% possession, and Mendes only completed 21 passes, meaning he created roughly a chance every 4 passes. What a very effective performance from the midfielder.

Let’s move onto Lyon, who clawed back after conceding two. They didn’t create many chances, but that can be explained by their desperation to win the game in the second half, meaning the chances you make aren’t usually the best ones. One player who stood out in different ways was Memphis Depay. After releasing releasing his strange yet brilliant 5 million Instagram followers rap, he followed that by missing a penalty. It’s just so poetic. He was still good on the day however, creating 4 chances and had 5 shots. He just seems to be unable to slow down at the moment. After a start which I vividly remember calling underwhelming, they seem to finally be back on track. This squad has some very talented players, and it won’t be long until their talent is taken from them. They have to make this season a memorable one, because it could be the end of this promising team

Premier League

The North London Derby

By far the biggest game in Europe on the weekend, Spurs went to the Emirates to play their biggest rivals, Arsenal, and to see where both are at this stage of the season. It was Arsenal who came out as the victors, with the Gunners cruising past a nervy Spurs side 4-2. The first half was interesting to say the least. After Vertonghen giving away a very unnecessary hand ball, Aubamayeng slotted home the following penalty. After a fightback from Tottenham, Arsenal eventually ran out winners.

Let’s start with Arsenal, who arguably put in their best performance of the season. While they will always seem to be defensively suspect, they played the game well and especially their midfield. Both Xhaka and Torreira were very dominant in this game. Over the years, the biggest criticism of Arsenal has been their lack of bite in midfield. Players like Coquelin, Elneny, Flamini and Arteta have all been criticised for just not being good enough. But since Torreira’s arrival, they’ve seriously stepped up. While Torreira isn’t a great creator, his aggression, fight and speed make him such an effective partner to Xhaka. Let’s quickly touch the Swiss international. Since he’s been starting with Torreira, he has been given less responsibility in a defensive sense, and allowed him to carry the ball and help transition. The problem Xhaka has had is he has been playing with Ramsey in the last couple of years, a player with nearly zero defensive responsibility. It left Xhaka with a lot to do and he just isn’t mobile enough to do it. Torreira has transformed him and made them arguably the best partnership in the league. I said before the season even started that Torreira is an excellent player and even called him Arsenal’s best signing, and it’s good to see my predictions coming true.

Arsenal are finally looking like evolving. They became passive and were always written off before the season even began. Now with Emery, they have added some bite and resilience to a side in need of it. He seems to have actually turned Arsenal into how they were in the 90s, where they didn’t win by much, but were solid and had big players all over the park. They were threatening from the word go, and scares oppositions in the tunnel. There is still so much work to do however. Emery still needs to figure out how to get Aubamayeng and Lacazette in the same side. He also needs to add some width into his team. Iwobi seems to be the only player in this side who you’d count as a winger. They’ve been linked to Nicolas Pepe, a player I have covered extensively, and would definitely be a needed addition in January. While those are important matters, it’s their defense which needs the most improvement. While they have improved slightly, they are still arguably the worst side in the top 6 in a defensive sense. They face much more shots than the top 3, and don’t even put in as much tackles and interceptions as expected. xPTS says they are actually the luckiest team in the league. The Gunners are on 31 points, when they are only expected to get 22, which would place them 9th in the league. There is still plenty of work to do, but there are signs that the future could be bright.

Let’s quickly touch on Spurs, who just didn’t turn up in this game. The Emirates has always been a real unlucky ground for them, with their last win there coming in 2010. There was always doubts if Pochettino’s side could hold their nerves and get a victory against a side which has been incredibly lucky. If the Premier League was ranked based on half time results, Arsenal would be bottom. It meant that Spurs needed to start the game off with a bang and try and shut up shop. They failed to do so, and it cost them. It’s as simple as they didn’t turn up. It’s been a consistent criticism under Pochettino, how one game they can go to Old Trafford and walk all over Manchester United, and then suddenly lose to Watford the next. Spurs are a great side, but they have these occasions when the pressure gets to them. This game sums it up. Even when Spurs were better than their rivals, Arsenal still were able to put up a performance when Spurs came to town. Something needs to be fixed in the way they approach these games.

Serie A

Serie A is really starting to liven up with some incredible fixtures. This week, Inter Milan visited struggling Roma, to play the most played fixture in Serie A history (117 times).

Let’s start with the home side, who have not been great this season. Their defense seems to have gotten worse since last season, which only conceded 28 goals last season. They have already conceded 18, which isn’t a good sign from a team that relied heavily on their defensive resilience. While their 24 goals scored is a respectable amount, it’s arguably their most positive aspect this season. Only Juventus take more shots on target than Roma. They have been slightly unlucky. If they sort their defense out, they should be back to their best.

Let’s move on to their game against Inter, where they were able to salvage a draw, thanks to an amazing goal from Under and a penalty from Kolorov. The game was slightly in Inter’s favour, with the away side having more shots and having a majority of the possession. Roma definitely had chances however, with Florenzi hitting the post early on being a game changing moment. The Giallorossi as a team were very good. It’s a performance they needed, after losing to both Udinese and Real Madrid, Di Francesco needs to keep up with Milan and Lazio for that 4th spot. Patrick Schick definitely helped his side on the day. I haven’t been impressed with him since his arrival from Sampdoria back in 2017. While his game time has been minimal, he just hasn’t given enough reason for Dzeko to not start. He won 6 aerial duels in this game and created 2 chances, including the Florenzi miss previously mentioned. While he didn’t take a shot, he was still effective for his side.

Inter were the side that probably deserved the 3 points. Both Icardi and Keita Balde have continued their great form into this game, with both scoring. However their best player was arguably Marcelo Brozovic. Croatia has had a golden age of midfield talent, with Modric, Rakitic and Kovacic all establishing themselves at the top level. While all are excellent players, Brozovic has been absolutely sensational this season. He has solid defensive work, with an incredible range of passing. The Croatian has actually been averaging 7.8 long balls per 90. He is a key component in Spaletti’s side. He keeps them moving and helps dominate in the midfield. In this game, he created 4 chances, had more touches than any Inter player and completed the most passes. He is truly an elite midfielder, and I’d be surprised if clubs like Paris and United aren’t keeping their eye on him.

Are Dortmund Doing The IMPOSSIBLE? Top 5 League Talking Points

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

Bundesliga

Dortmund extend their lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankfurt pummel Schalke

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

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

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

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

La Liga

Barcelona’s home record ruined

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

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

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

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

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

Sevilla take on in form Espanyol

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

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

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

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

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

Ligue 1

Paris put pressure on Henry

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

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

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

Depay’s dazzling display

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

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

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

Premier League

The Manchester Derby

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

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

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

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

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

Wolves continue run against Top 6

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

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

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

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

Serie A

Inter humiliated

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

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

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

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

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

Are Manchester City Unstoppable? Top 5 League Talking Points

Goals goals goals! This week contained many big scorelines, so let’s get into the usual detail of the leagues, and see what’s new.

Bundesliga

Hoffenheim walk over Leverkusen

By far one of the most interesting matches of the weekend was Hoffenheim’s comfortable victory over Leverkusen. Originally Hoffenheim were seen as a quite defensive side under Nagelsmann when he took over. However in the last couple of seasons, the young German tactician had turned his side into an extremely direct side that attack with incredible speed. This game just highlights the ferocity of Hoffenheim.

While Leverkusen outshot and dominated the game (it was their home game after all), they failed to capitalise on their dominance. Julien Brandt had a very good chance to get Leverkusen back in the game, but hit his shot wide.

What won Hoffenheim the game was how clinical they were in front of goal. While Leverkusen have been poor this season, they are still a side full of talent. Hoffenheim needed to take their chances if they wanted the three points, and they definitely did so.

Expected goals had this game 1.89 to Leverkusen and 1.93 to Hoffenheim. While it doesn’t show the final result, it highlights how well Hoffenheim finished on the day. The forward two of Reiss Nelson and Joelinton worked so well together. Both scored on the day, including Joelinton scoring a brace and Nelson scoring an excellent finish near the beginning of the game. While the Brazilian did score 2, Nelson was very impressive. The Arsenal loanee created 2 chances, scored, and even made a tackle and an interception. It was a very well rounded performances from a player who is still so young.

With Sancho getting many of the headlines, it’s good to see another Englishman in Germany doing so well. Not only does it show how good these players are, but also about the league and the coaching. Both Sancho and Nelson are performing so well because of the coaches they are playing under. Many ignorant pundits say it’s about going abroad to show off quality, when it isn’t. It’s about joining a club that is willing to put faith in your ability and teach you a different system. While fullbacks are arguably the most important position in football, it’s young attackers who are getting chances because they usually do not require as much discipline and knowledge of the game defensively. It allows them to blossom and that I hope they continue to do.

Freiburg surprise again.

Onto a more surprising match, Freiburg actually did carry on from their surprise victory over Mönchengladbach, by getting a point at the Allianz against the reigning Champions.

I said after their win over Mönchengladbach, that they will have to hope that they give the same performance and hope to surprise the Bundesliga, and they did. After the game being goaless for a large majority of it, it was Gnabry who broke the deadlock. But thanks to a very late goal from Höler, Freiburg earned a very good point.

Their goalscorer, Lucas Höler was excellent on the day. The German was part of a side that were resilient and held off a very average Bayern side. Höler scored his only shot on target, created 2 chances, completed 2 dribbles and most impressively, made 4 tackles. It just shows how the entire fought so hard in this game, to take advantage of an out of form Bayern side.

Speaking of Bayern, this really wasn’t the performance that Kovac would want to see. I do sympathise with him in some way. He lost both Tolisso and Coman to injury. Both Frenchman would have seriously helped him in the situation he is in. Tolisso was arguably Bayern’s best midfielder last season, and Coman is extremely talented, but injuries seem to keep holding him back. It means he has to rely heavily on both Robben and Ribery, two players who should be on their way out, yet remain to be key players in the side.

Bayern have had the same problems since their last champions league win. Ever since Dortmund dropped off, they had no challenge and by the time the crunch champions league games arrived, the players struggled because of the sudden step up. This is the first time where Bayern are finally challenged, they seem to be unable to keep up. The lack of challenge over the years is the reason why Robben, Ribery and Rafinha are still key players in the side. Bayern would have realised back in 2016 that these players cannot keep starting as many games. They let Douglas Costa go because he was unhappy with his place in the side. Bayern have cruised the Bundesliga for too long, and are finally being punished for it.

La Liga

Barcelona lucky

Barcelona had an incredible week last week. They disposed of Inter without Messi, and cruised past Real Madrid with way too much ease, without Messi. Their players have seriously stepped up since their best player received a relatively short injury. However against Vallecano, they can call themselves fortunate to say the least.

At one point, Real Vallecano were 2-1 and minutes away from getting the 3 points, however thanks to goals from Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, the Blaugrana got the win they might have not deserved. Let’s talk about the home side first, who really impressed against the Champions. While Barcelona dominated as everyone expects, they might have used to it as well as they should. Vallecano had more shots and completed twice as many dribbles. That could been because without Messi, who takes a majority of their shots and completes and an incredible amount of dribbles, but you still expect them to be better.

For Vallecano, their stand out player was arguably Adrian Embarba. The Spaniard was excellent on the day, creating 3 chances and completing 4 dribbles. He was a driving force for his side on the day. Alejandro Gálvez was another who held strong in the game. He completed the most defensive actions in the game, including 5 tackles, 4 interceptions and 2 clearances. He was one of the key reasons why they were so close to winning the game.

Now let’s start about how Barca failed to win this game comfortably. I believe it’s the fault of their wide players, Philippe Coutinho and Rafinha, were just below average on the day. Valverde will continue to confuse for the rest of his time as manager, but choosing to play Rafinha, a guy he tried to sell in the summer over Ousmane Dembele will never seise to confuse me. Rafinha and Coutinho are just not wingers. They both do not have the pace and drive to be able to stretch a defense.

I called Rafinha one of the heroes after his solid performance against Inter Milan, but I thought that would be a one off game. He has continued to start, despite looking worse in every game I see of him. Coutinho is a very good creator. His ability to find that killer ball to break open a defense makes him one of the most useful players in Europe. While he did play as a winger under Klopp because of how interchangable that front three were, it worked. But more is desired from him under Valverde, and he just shouldn’t be playing there. I have no idea how many times I have to say this but Dembele really should be starting every game for Barcelona. At the beginning of the season, I said he was the most impressive players in La Liga. He started the season off on fire, and yet after winning so many games for Barca, Valverde still doesn’t start him or seem to trust him. His speed, trickery and raw power would put him into any side in Europe, yet he can’t start over two players who are out of position. Decisions like this are why many Barcelona fans really do not like Valverde at all, and I can understand that. He needs to realise that to win games, risks have to be taken as a player. If you limit a player, like Dembele who relies heavily on his natural ability at beating opponents and creating chances for his side, it will make the team weaker and predictable. Barcelona will have to step up if they wish to win the Champions League, because let’s face it, that’s what they really want.

Betis and Celta Vigo play a memorable draw

This next match infuriated me, because I decided to watch AC Milan scrape a victory than watch this goal fest. The game in question is the entertaining draw between Real Betis and Celta Vigo, which ended 3-3.

Both sides have turned into real entertaining sides in La Liga, and two I usually keep an eye out when looking at upcoming fixtures. Both have quality players, making this fixture even more exciting (and even more puzzling on why I chose Milan over this). This was very close, with both sides having a similar amount of shots (14 to Betis and 15 to Celta) and XG putting this game at 1.73 to Betis and 1.69 to Celta. It shows there wasn’t much separating the sides. A huge surprise of this was who stood out. Both teams have experienced players who guarantee consistency. However it wasn’t players like Aspas, Carvalho, Mallo and Bartra who stood out, in fact it was the younger players, being Lo Celso, Firpo, Méndez and Beltrán.

Let’s begin with Betis’s young stars. Lo Celso was absolutely superb in the game. The Argentine has slowly turned into one of my favourite players in Europe at the moment. He came to light when he was selected to start for Paris against Madrid in the Champions League. It was the first time I ever heard his name, and he stared in the defensive role, playing as a destroyer alongside Verratti. He was strangely unused at the world, thanks to Sampaoli’s incompetence in charge. He is now being commonly selected because of his versatility and energy. I’ve been more accustomed to seeing him as a defensive midfielder, but in this game he played as a wide attacking midfielder, and he remained excellent. He took 4 shots, created two chances, completed 2 dribbles, made 3 tackles and got an assist. He is still only 22 and is showing amazing versatility and maturity. It’s crazy how Tuchel let him go out on loan. Another Betis player who shone in this game was young wing back Júnior Firpo. While his attacking output wasn’t there in this game, that can be explained by the player he was playing against later. Firpo’s defensive work in this game was definitely there. He put in 5 tackles, 4 interceptions and 4 clearances. He helped Betis remain the defensive wall that they are, on a day where they needed it.

Now onto the young stars of Celta. Let’s start with Brais Méndez, who by far the best player who started the game for Celta. The Spaniard is only 21 years old, and gave a real top class performance against a solid defensive side. He was playing against Firpo, and while he did well in keeping Mallo and Méndez quiet, it didn’t stop Méndez from having an excellent performance. He had 4 shots, 2 on target, made 2 key passes and won 2 aerial duels. Celta have been known recently for finding talent and helping them flourish, with Aspas, Sisto and Mor coming to mind. Méndez seems to be another player who seriously looks impressive at a young age.

Another who performed well on the day was Fran Beltrán. The midfielder is 19 had a great game against one of the best teams in La Liga. He made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions and a key pass. He made more defensive actions than any other midfielder on the pitch, and credit needs to be given to him for doing this at such a young age. He hasn’t exactly been incredible this season at all, with his creative play needing plenty of work. But that doesn’t matter. At this age, what is important is that he is playing games at the highest level. Eventually he will become more adventurous in his play. Right now he players as a pretty effective destroyer. Celta could have a player on their hands if he continues to play games. He’s already started 10 games this season, so they must have a lot of faith in him. He was signed from Vallecano in the summer, and it could possibly be one of the bargains of the season.

While I don’t expect both of these teams be challenging for top 4 or anything, I do hope they earn success, whether it’s Betis doing well in the Europa League, or Celta upsetting some of the bigger sides. Let’s hope they can continue on this and earn even more plaudits for their style and flare.

Ligue 1

Montpellier walk over Marseille

Let’s start with by far the most satisfying victory of the weekend. Montpellier continued their good start by comfortably disposing of big guns Marseille. Not long ago, we all thought Marseille were back thanks to their excellent run the Europa League last season, and finishing in the top 4 back again. It seems they are back to underperforming.

Let’s not take credit away from the victors however, because after their 3-0 win over Marseille, they now sit in 2nd. Thanks to PSG beating their closest competitior Lille, Montpellier now are above them on goal difference. While the title race is already over, Montpellier have now swept aside one of the harder games of the season, leaving them full of confidence. They outshot their opponent, put in more challenges and created better challenges. They really showed why they are in 2nd place in the league, with them attacking fast taking their chances well.

The man of the match was comfortably Paul Lasne. Montpellier lined up in a 3-4-3. This was genius from Zakarian. This formation is perfect in dealing with a 4-3-3. It allows the wing backs to press the opposition full backs, and completely nullify any wide talent. This worked brilliantly, with Lasne and Aguilar putting in a combined 11 tackles. It was a showing on how important wing backs are, and Lasne was the epitome of this. The Frenchman put in 7 tackles, 2 interceptions and 4 clearances. He also made a key pass and scored the final goal to seal it. A great performance in a game where they needed a top quality performance.

Now onto Marseille. Saying they had an off day is an understatement, because this isn’t the first time this season where they have failed to show up. I’m slowly becoming tired of constantly criticising their strikers, so let’s criticise their defenders instead. Adel Rami was pretty bad on the day. The Frenchman can go down as one of the worst players to ever win a world cup, and this game isn’t changing my mind. He was at fault for the first goal, not marking Laborde and gifting him a free header. He also didn’t put in a single tackle or interception in the game, showing how easily he was exposed by opposition in this game. Marseille have now conceding 21 goals in Ligue 1, the second worst total in the division.

Another who was quite disappointing was Florian Thauvin. I have expressed my fondness for his player on numerous occasions, but today wasn’t his game. While he did have 3 shots and complete 3 dribbles, he was disposed 7 times and had a 65% pass accuracy. He was completely neutralised in this game, and summed Marseille’s attack on the day. They failed to created chances, and out of the 11 shots they had, only 2 were on target. Thauvin an extremely talented player, but he is just not thriving in this side at the moment. It doesn’t help with the constant changes being made to the side. He has tried different formations and moved player in numerous positions, even trying Payet as some false 9 last week. Questions marks have to start be asked about how Garcia is managing this side. They have been terrible this season. If it wasn’t for how quickly Monaco fell of a cliff, so much more pressure would be Marseille

St Etienne and Angers play a classic

While La Liga and the Bundesliga had plenty of goals, Ligue 1 might just out do both of them. Nantes were victorious over Guingamp with a 5-0 win, and Nîmes getting a 4-0 away win over Dijon. However the match that outshined both of these was St Etienne’s 4-3 win over Angers. This game was very tight, and had everything. Late goals, own goals, good finishes and was an overall entertaining spectacle for the neutral. St Etienne dominated the game, but that’s mainly due to the fact they were playing at home, and were chasing the game for a majority of it. St Etienne did deserve to win the game, based on them creating better chances, with the home side having less shots outside the box, and more in the penalty area.

However while St Etienne did deserve the win, it was an Angers player who stood, and that’s Flavien Tait. While Reine-Adédaïde stood out with his 6 dribbles completed, he just wasn’t as effective in the final third as his teammate. Tait was indeed excellent on the day. He put all of his shots on target, made 2 key passes and completed 2 dribbles. He was in fact only one of two players in this game to get 2 goal contributions, with the other being the centre half Pavlovic. He was the best player on the pitch and it’s a shame he was on the losing side.

St Etienne still had some stand out players. By far their best player was Newcastle flop Remy Cabella. He is one of many players who just wasn’t suited for the Premier League, and is back in France and finally flourishing again. He played just behind Wabhi Khazri in this game, and was excellent. His very lean frame helps him slide and turn on the ball with such speed. He is a good creator who can also beat his man. This game showed both of those. He created 4 chances and completed 2 dribbles. He also got an assist for his work and was a key reason on why St Etienne got the 3 points.

St Etienne could actually finish in the top four this season. With Marseille, Lyon and Monaco all looking below par, it could leave an opening for teams to take their place. St Etienne have quality players in midfield with Khazri and Cabella, and players like Subotic, Perrin and Debuchy are reliable in defense. It could be a very important season for a club with such history in France.

Premier League

Manchester City do it again

What I mean when I say do it again is another 5 goal thriller from the Champions. This is fourth time this season they have beaten someone by a 5 goal margin. The team on the end of their beating was Mark Hughes’s Southampton.

I’d like to add just how terrible Southampton are and I’m dying to know what happened to them. They used to be a side who found talent in places no one else was looking, like signing Mané, Tadic and Van Dijk from clubs and leagues no one was paying attention to. They hired good coaches, like Pochettino, Koeman and Puel. They were developing players at a good pace and getting insane profit on them (just look at Liverpool’s entire side). Mark Hughes is truly a terrible manager and I’m tired of seeing being given good jobs based on a reputation made of sand. He will ruin any club’s defense, and relies heavily on individual talent in the forward lines. He is also incredibly frustrating to watch in interviews. Statements like we gave them too much respect mean absolutely nothing. They are statements said to fill space and make it sound like Hughes is being insightful. I hope Southampton sort themselves out. I was so fond of them and now they have turned into your usual short term club with no idea what to do after survival.

Now onto Manchester City, who were absolutely sensational on the day again. While Raheem Sterling will get all the plaudits, and justifiably so, it’s Sergio Aguero who stood out for me. The Argentine will go down as one of the top 5 strikers in Premier League history. His consistency is unrivalled and the way he’s been able to evolve his game at a stage in his career when that’s usually difficult deserves so much credit. This game showcased this step up in the way he plays. Aguero was always a poacher, but he seems to have turned into a perfect all rounder. He scored and got 2 assists. He had 4 shots, completed 4 dribbles and created 4 chances. These are stats we’re never used to seeing Sergio Aguero put up. What Pep has done with him is short of incredible. He turned an already world class finisher into a world class player.

This leaves City in an incredible position. They are comfortably ahead of Chelsea and Liverpool when discussing goal difference. They have a big squad and even without their best midfielder, are still walking over opposition. The Manchester Derby is next, and this is a chance to put on a show against their biggest rivals. This could really show how far ahead they really are.

Overachieving Bournemouth halted

Bournemouth have always frustrated me. While I do think it’s impressive they are still in the division, they seem to avoid criticism just because of their size. Last season they were terrible. Only Stoke conceded less goals, and they put in the least amount of tackles and interceptions in the league. They almost allowed opposition to score past them. Nathan Ake was the player of the month 3 times for them. If that doesn’t sum up their story, I don’t know what will.

However it seems to be different this season. When I saw where they were sitting in the Premier League, I just assumed they were overachieving and eventually they would hit reality. However looking at XG, it does seem they are performing as they are expected to. They aren’t lucky in attack or defense, and are performing at their level. So what has changed? Well firstly it’s penalties. The Bournemouth are the second most fouled team in the division, and it’s shown with how many they’ve scored from penalties. They have scored 5, more than any other side. They take the chances that are gifted to them. They have also changed the way they play. They’ve turned from a wannabe possession side, into a really good counter attacking side. They have incredibly fast players with King, Wilson and Frazer being able to move the ball so quickly. They now soak up pressure so well and attack so quickly. They seem have finally fixed their biggest problems.

Looking at this game however, Bournemouth should have been further ahead than they were. They had a few chances at the beginning of the game, that if they took them, would have comfortably won the game. They took the early lead thanks to Calum Wilson, who now is the only English player in the league to have 10 goal contributions. While Wilson was good, Fraser continued his brilliant form into this game. He had 2 shots on target and created 3 chances. He has by far the surprise package of the season.

Now onto United, who were absolutely terrible in the first 20 minutes, but thanks to a usual turn around in the second half, managed to get the 3 points. Many said that Lerma absolutely pocketed Paul Pogba. When it couldn’t be further from the truth. If he truly did, then how did Pogba maneged to have 3 shots, create 4 chances (the most in the match), and completed 2 dribbles. I’m just assuming the old school pundits want to push the narrative because of their dislike towards the Frenchman. United created a lot of chances in this game and were better than Bournemouth in the full 90 minutes. XG put this game at 1.89 to Bournemouth and 2.98 to the Red Devils. Maybe it can be said that United probably should have won by more.

After another nothing performance from Nemanja Matic, it asks the valid question of should he be dropped? And he definitely should. United’s defense is terrible, but their forward line is very good. In an ideal world, United would start with a midfield of Pogba, Herrera and Fred. Pogba is a creative hub and can drive your midfield so effectively. Fred is an energetic player who keeps the ball pretty well, and wins the ball well. The Brazilian won 5 tackles against Bournemouth, the most out of any United player. Herrera is personal favourite of mine. He has a lot of bite and is great at winning the ball. United should focus on outscoring the opposition, instead of trying to sit deep.

While Pogba was great in this game, Anthony Martial was the man of the match. While I criticise the Manchester United board for a lot of things, but stopping Jose from selling Martial was by far their best decision ever. He is in fine form this season, and thanks to the heroics of the Frenchman, United claimed the 3 points. The goal was his 5th in 4 games, the first time he’s scored in 4 consecutive games. He’s been fabulous since his Newcastle, and continued this against Bournemouth. He had 4 shots, created 2 chances and scored the equaliser. He’s just reminded Jose how good he is.

Serie A

Inter hit five

Another league, another goal fest. This time it is Inter Milan. Who absolutely walked over Genoa in this game. Inter now haven’t lost since the 15th of September. Before this game, they absolutely smashed Lazio 3-0. They are in super form right now and seem ready to take 2nd off Napoli. They won 5-0. While that is impressive, what is the best part is Icardi didn’t even score. Inter have been incredible at creating chances for Icardi, and they became incredibly over reliant on him. Spaletti rested Icardi for this game, with assumption of the importance of the Barcelona game being priority.

New signing Lautaro Martinez started this game, and he wasn’t exactly impressive. He had 5 shots, but didn’t manage one on target. He is still 21, so wastefulness in front of goal is still expected. He’s the understudy of the best striker in Europe at the moment, and will definitely improve over time. While he wasn’t great in front of goal, Roberto Gagliardini was. The Italian scored his first brace in Italian football, and showed why he is one of the most promising players in Italian football. He scored both of his shots on target and created 3 chances. Let’s hope he can put a stamp onto this side.

The man of the match was quite comfortably Jõao Mario. The Portuguese has been a bit of joke in recent years. His time at Inter started so badly, that he had to join West ham on loan for a short period to regain form. This game showed why Inter bought him in the first place. He created 4 chances and ended the game with a goal and 2 assists. An improvement from a player who seemed to be on the way out.

Let’s take a quick second to point out just how bad Genoa were defensively. For every goal they seemed to just make the wrong decision. They gifted Nainggolan for a free header, they stepped out too late, allowing Politano to finish his chance pretty easily. If Martinez and Perisic finished their chances, it would have been 7. It actually blows me away how this side were able to take points away from Juventus and then put in a terrible performance like this. Inter still deserve plenty of credit, but this was a shambles from Genoa.

Torino show Sampdoria reality

While Lazio and Napoli also put up amazing wins, Torino are the ones I’m highlighting here. It’s been difficult for Turin based side since their 2016/17 season, where Andrea Belotti went supernova and scored 26 goals. He definitely overachieved but because of the board’s happiness in his season, they were asking for an absurd €100m for the Italian. It was an example of player who should have been sold, because it was the first time Belotti ever got those numbers in the league. United and Chelsea were interested, but instead went for Morata and Lukaku respectively, who were cheaper than what Torino were asking. They ended keeping their star forward, and to say last season was underwhelming is an understatement. He played three less games than his stand out season, yet managed less than half of the goals. He could be down to the team, but it is still disappointed considering he was being spoken as a triple figure player. He now has 4 goals in 10, and is looking better than last season already.

The reason I bring this up is because of the performance he put in against Sampdoria. Torino can be called lucky to have won this comfortably. The game ended 4-1 to Torino, and performed well against a good Sampdoria side in their back yard. XG had this game at 2.24 to Sampdoria, and 1.93 to Torino. Torino won this game thanks to their excellent finishing and the very good chances they created.

Belotti really gave a performance reminiscent of his break out season, scoring a header and a penalty that he won. Headers were something he specialises in. The rooster is excellent in the air, winning 5 aerial duels in this game alone. His height and incredible jump make him a difficult player to deal with. He also has 5 shots on got 3 on target. It was a very good game from a player who I hope goes back to his best.

As mentioned before, Sampdoria should probably feel hard done by to some extent. They created good chances and could have got back into this game. When mentioning teams who were surprising their league, I said while Sampdoria are doing well, eventually this will stop. It seems to have happened earlier than expected. They have no lost 2 on the bounce and not won since the start of October. They now sit in 11th, which is where about you expect them to finish.

One player who seriously stood out for them was Albin Ekdal. The Swede was a real presence in midfield for his side. Lucas Torreira was a massive loss for Sampdoria. The Uruguayan was excellent at ball recovery, while also doing at transition and distribution. Ekdal filled all of these roles. He completed 4 dribbles, while also making 3 tackles and 2 interceptions. He had a great game considering the result.

Both of these teams aren’t expecting to open Serie a wide open or anything, but sometimes it’s good to put the spotlight on sides who have a good week, when others might not. Let’s hope these teams continue to have solid seasons.