UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group G

Just 2 more groups left now. This group isn’t exactly a stand out compared to other groups, but there is still things to talk about. So let’s just get right to it.

CSKA Moscow

Starting with another regular of the Champions League, Moscow come into this year’s competition after a summer of a few key departures. They lost World Cup star Aleksandr Golovin to Monaco for €30m, and Vitinho went back to Brazil. Some of their older players have also retired. They were still involved in the first team, so a lot of replacing was needed. Some of their notable bits of business (and there is a lot) are Abel Hernandez signed on a free, Magnusson was signed from Bristol City, and Nikola Vlasic joined the club on loan from Everton. They have began the season is a solid 3-5-2. It brings the most out of the players they have, with Mario Fernandez being a very attacking full back. Vlasic is a very energetic player and can help drive the play forward. One of their key players so far has been their young forward Fedor Chalov. The world cup quarter finalist has started the season on fire, scoring 6 in 7 already. Hernandez also has started well for his new side. Scoring and getting 2 assists. As previously mentioned, Fernandez has excelled in this system. He’s been so good, that he has already got 3 assists as a wing back. They have a solid set up, a goalscorer and form. But it will not be enough for them to get out of the group. Both Roma and Madrid are better sides, but they will be getting Europa League football.

Real Madrid

One of the favourites for the tournament, talking about the qualities of Madrid is already getting tiresome. So let’s quickly go over what has changed since Ronaldo and Zidane’s departures. Madrid have looked much more balanced since their record scorers big transfer to Juventus. When playing under Zidane, their main approach to games was to create as many chances for Ronaldo as possible. It was why the full backs were so advanced and why Benzema didn’t contribute much, because he sacrificed a lot of his game for the Portuguese star. But he already has 4 goals. In the entirety of last season, he only managed 5 goals. His shot numbers are higher, he’s winning more aerial duels. He is also getting fouled more, showing his involvement in dangerous areas. Asensio has so far been the ‘replacement’ (I use that term lightly because they have different roles) for Ronaldo. He has started on that left side, helping Bale and Benzema through his great dribbling and creative abilities. He is completing 2.3 dribbles per 90 so far, and is putting in 2.8 shots per game. He has given balance that forward 3, and allowed the other forwards to focus on getting in goal scoring areas. Madrid do not have the same goal scoring machine, but they still look like a real threat. We’ll have to wait to see how they do against the bigger sides, but they will win this group.

Roma

The Giallorossi have not been great so far this season. A late winner against Torino, a draw against Atalanta, a defeat against an average Milan side, and then a giving away a 2 goal lead against Chievo, means Roma go into this game with only a single win. By now I thought Di Francesco would have his team playing better and stopping that over reliance on Dzeko. But yet they still lack good wide talent, and struggle when Dzeko isn’t on his day. Defensively they just set up poorly. They seem unable to play a high line, yet still continue to. However I think they will get out of the group. Moscow are tough to beat, but Roma just have a better side. It could be close but Roma will finish 2nd. However not signing Malcolm could be the biggest regret of the season.

Plzen

Another team I know very little about, FC Viktoria Plzen are back in the Champions League for the first time since 2013, where they failed to get out of the group. The same will happen here too. While they haven’t lost a game since their defeat to Sporting in March, they are still not near the level of Real Madrid, and cannot compete with Roma and CSKA. It’s fortunate that they are drawn in a difficult group. They have started their domestic campaign very well, with their main forward Krmencik scoring 7 in 8 games. They are currently second in their table and look on course to compete for the title in their league. My knowledge of the Czech top flight is extremely limited, but it wouldn’t make a difference. The sides are simply better.

Final Table

1. Real Madrid

2. Roma

3. CSKA Moscow

4. FC Viktoria Plzen

5 Talking Points From The Top Five Leagues – 20/08/18

With the season underway, I have decided to start discussing the main talking points from each of the top 5 leagues, every week. With football back in our lives, we can start watching all football that takes place around the continent. So let’s begin

Bundesliga – ?

The season has not began yet so there isn’t really anything to say here, so let’s wait till next week.

Serie A – Ronaldo Debut and Inter Fall Behind

The Serie A has went from a league that everyone seemed to not care about, to a league that everyone is starting to take interest in. This actually didn’t begin with the Ronaldo transfer (it did help however) but it began with Napoli. Last season it was notable for actually having a title race. Most other leagues were decided by February, making the leagues uneventful. But Napoli famously beat Juventus away from home at the 90th minute. It kept the title race open, until Juventus did their usual thing and won the title again. It kept the league interesting and began to make it a memorable household name.

Juventus began their season against Chievo, a team that finished comfortably mid table, meaning Juventus should usually win this game. However they made hard work of it. The Old Lady did dominate the game, with the away side having 28 attempts on goal. They created a lot of good shots, but the Chievo goalkeeper, Steffan Sorrentino, was having a great game. Ronaldo had his usual productive game, with the Balon d’Or winner having 9 shots in the game, his incredibly high shot amount. While he didn’t score, he showed signs of things to come. Juventus have a team of winners, players who know exactly how to win games, and league titles. What helped was Inter’s poor start.

Inter had a very good summer. They added genuine quality in the likes of Keita Balde, Nainggolan and Keita Balde. While adding good league experience in Asamoah and De Vrij. They bought really well and cemented themselves as Juventus’s possible challengers for the throne. Challenging Juventus in Italy is an extremely difficult task. To beat Juventus, it means winning almost every game, while also hoping you don’t drop points yourself. However losing against a mid table side is not the way you want to start your title challenge. Inter began their season with a 1-0 defeat against Sassuolo. Sassuolo have beaten Inter 6 times in their last 7 games. It is starting to look very bad for Inter whenever they play Sassuolo. The game even showed this. It was a relatively close game for most of it, with both Sassuolo and Inter having chances in the game. However the winning goal was decided earlier on in the game, with Miranda foolishly taking down De Francesco to win the penalty, which was despatched by Berardi. Inter had 70 minutes to get back into this game, yet the best chance they had was a couple of chances from Icardi. Only Martinez, De Vrij and Asamoah started the game out of their two signings, and it was definitely two ends of the spectrum. Asamoah had a solid game, with the Ghanaian completing 2 dribbles and making 3 key passes. Martinez, however, was anonymous throughout the game, with the youngster failing to have a shot on target. The only positive for Inter is they still have more players left to come back, and usually when Icardi starts scoring, then Inter start performing.

Ligue 1 – Mbappe stars. Others do not

Another league where the champions are usually much ahead of their competition, PSG already look like continuing their dominance in France. The champions looked in trouble are going 1-0 against Guingamp, but thanks to a well taken penalty from Neymar, they were back in the game. However it wasn’t Neymar taking the headlines for this game, instead it was young French superstar Kylian Mbappe. The world cup winner came on for Timothy Weah, and made a big impact. He scored a brace to win the game for Paris, with both goals highlighting his incredible finishing in front of goal. Tuchel has started life in Paris well, with this his second win on the bounce. He also seems to be wanted to play younger players, with Weah, Dagba and Bernede all starting the game. Tuchel has previously complained that his full backs aren’t at the level he wishes them to be at, so finding alternatives could be the answer for him. However what made this victory even more satisfying was their closest rivals dropping points. Both Marseille and Lyon lost their games against Nimes and Reims respectively, and Monaco had to settle for a draw against a poor Lille side. With the strength that PSG have, the last thing their rivals could do is drop points this early on in the season. This will help give PSG the advantage they always during the season.

Premier League – Liverpool Win Dirty. United showing their weakness

It has been covered throughout the summer that Liverpool could be the only real challengers for Manchester City. The Reds made some excellent signings in Naby Keita, Fabinho and Alisson, all who are first team addition to strengthen an already strong eleven. Their competition however, are the record beating Manchester City side that eased to 100 points last season, and just beat Huddersfield 6-1, showing that they can demolish teams even without Kevin De Bruyne. Liverpool also beat a weaker side, but in a much more impressive way. They beat a Crystal Palace side that are very difficult to beat, with exciting full backs, a solid base in midfield and a brilliant dribbler in Zaha. Liverpool were outclassed for most of the game, but they remained resilient and kept their narrow lead, until Wan Bissaka’s sending off, a player who definitely has a positive future. Liverpool secured the win, and hopefully winning in this very dirty way could be an asset in those tough away games they struggled with last season.

Speaking of tough away games, United were completely outclassed by a good Brighton side. United dominated the game, but the problem was they didn’t use that domination in an effective way. The attackers were very poor, with both Mata and Martial both anonymous throughout their time on the pitch. Paul Pogba did create 2 chances, but lost the ball 23 times, just showing how he was not having a good game in the slightest. United looked much better as soon as Fellaini came on, but that is the problem. With all the brilliant attackers united possess, why is Fellaini, a player with limited ability, always relied upon? It just seems to push the view that Mourinho does not know how to set up a team in an attacking sense, and in this game, in a defensive sense. Bailly, Lindelof and Young were all very poor. They all seemed out of their depth when going against an aging striker in Glen Murray and average wingers in Knockheart and Marsh. United are a team incredibly low on confidence, and at any moment, could spell the end of Jose Mourinho.

La Liga – Barca Continue. Atletico Drop Points

The title race this season in La Liga looks to be very heated this season. Atletico looked to have the best squad they have had since their title win. Barcelona, while weak in midfield, still have an incredible forward line and goalkeeper. Madrid are definitely weaker, but with a new manager, an inform Gareth Bale, it could be a season where the team seem motivated under a new regime. While both Madrid and Barca comfortably won against Getafe and Alaves respectively, Atletico dropped points against a good Valencia side. An away game against Valencia is a hard one to win, with Marcelino being an expert at organising his team and having quality, lively players in the attack with Rodrigo and Santi Mina being constant threats for the red and white. Rodrigo in particular was brilliant. He had three shots in the game, with the last leading to the goal. On the other side, Costa and Correa were very good. Costa won 3 aerial duels in the game, the joint most in the match, and played do his usual strengths of completely causing the defenders nightmares throughout. Correa was another who really showed why he should have a role in this team, even with the arrivals of Lemar and Gelson Martins. However it was the defensive side of the game where Atletico were not great. A sentence that is never usually uttered by anyone. They couldn’t deal with Rodrigo and Mina at all. It seemed Juanfran was starting to show his weaknesses as he has aged, and explains why Arias was brought in. Diego Godin, however, was at fault for the goal, making his first defensive mistake in 6 years. A point against Valencia is fine, but it was a game they should have won and will feel hard done by. However defensive mistakes by Godin will not happen again. Barca and Real will drop points, so Atletico just have to wait and pounce.

10 Best Signings Across Europe

After recently discussing every premier league side’s best signing, let’s look at the rest of Europe. One issue with living in the UK, is how little European transfers are covered unless they are huge ones (e.g Ronaldo or Neymar) so it’s important to try and keep up with all of them. Let’s go through ten of the best signings in the rest of the continent.

10. Tanguy Ndombele – Lyon

I might have mentioned before, but the amount of incredible midfield talent around now is just astounding. The likes of Modric, Kroos, Busquets and Kante will all go down as greats of the game. Even in young talent, it is clear that the amount of midfield talent seems never ending. One of those said young midfielders is one I’ll be highlighting right now. Lyon signing Tanguy Ndombele for only €8m is just insane business. This is considering that the young Frenchman was one the best midfielders last season. Lyon have recently been finding some absolute brilliant young players. In the current squad, they have the likes of Aouar, Depay, Mariano, Tousart and Diakhaby all have been excellent since given more prominent roles in the team. It has given these players a chance to express themselves and perform at the top level. Ndombele has easily been the most stand out player in that team however. He did a perfect box to box role for Lyon, being solid defensively and brilliant in moving the play into the final third. Ndombele was putting in 3 tackles and interceptions last season, very good numbers from a guy who’s responsibility wasn’t defensive minded. What is most impressive is his key passes and dribbling. He has an astonishing 78% successful dribbles, beating £56m signing Naby Keita’s 56%, and even averaged the same key passes. While 1.4 doesn’t sound as high as other midfielders, it’s important to note that it isn’t his main focus. The Frenchman is an all rounder, the fact that it’s over 1 just shows how much of a real prospect Ndombele is, being able to do just everything. Lyon have a world beater in their team, and he could be seen as a future signing for one of the top clubs in Europe. But for now he must continue to perform at Lyon, and to see if he is able to keep this incredible level of performances up.

9. Rodri – Atletico Madrid

Speaking of incredibly talented midfielders, the signing of Rodri from Villarreal should play a huge involvement in Atletico’s title challenge. While this is technically a January signing, he didn’t arrive until the summer. One of Atletico’s issues recently has been replacing Gabi, a player who has been the physical embodiment of Diego Simeone on the pitch for so long. He is a very hard player to replace, but they might have just found the guy. Rodri had an excellent season for Villarreal last season. He was a key player for the yellow Submarine, and was excellent in defensive midfield. It is crazy just how similar both Rodri and Gabi play. Both average very good defensive numbers, and also are excellent passers. Rodri was averaging 65 passes per game with a 90% accuracy. For a 22 year old, being able to be that good on the ball is very promising. He even averages 4.4 long balls, showing his brilliant range of passing. It even betters Gabi’s 85% accuracy. Rodri also does his defensive work, averaging a very good 3.2 tackles and interceptions per game. Rodri is a real talent, and he arrives at a time when Atletico need a player like him the most, a guy who will keep possession effectively, while also protecting the defense effectively. While it will take years before he will have the same influence on the pitch as Gabi did, he is still the perfect guy to replace him on ability.

8. Aleksandr Golovin – Monaco

Russia were a bit of a surprise package at the world cup. The hosts arrived with a team missing key members, and expected to not get out of the groups. However they progressed further than all would have predicted. One reason for this was the brilliant performances from their advanced midfielder Aleksandr Golovin. The CSKA midfielder was one to watch at the world cup, but still exceeded expectations. While he was very good at the world cup, he was still very good last season. Golovin excels as more of an attacking midfielder (less Ndombele more Aouar). He was averaging some very good numbers last season. He was taking 2.1 shots per game, showing the threat he was offering in front of goal. It is important to not that 1.6 of those shots were taken outside of the box. Not only does he shoot from distance, he also took the free kicks for CSKA last season. His dribbling is one aspect of his game that has been improving each season. In the 2016\17 season, he was averaging 0.9 successful dribbles. This number doubled last season, now averaging 1.8 dribbles. It shows that the Russian international is still improvement every season. This was a signing that Monaco needed. With Moutinho now out of the team, Monaco needed that midfielder who would be able to transition midfield into attack, and help the likes of Lopes and Falcao in front of goal. This could be a very instrumental signing in Monaco regaining their success from 2 seasons ago.

7. Gonzalo Higuain – AC Milan

Like Everton, Milan’s huge spending didn’t work out as expected. They were overshadowed by rivals, who already had established styles and players who knew the system. They brought in so many players, that it was impossible for Milan to have any instant success. It didn’t help that some of their bigger signings just didn’t work out. Andre Silva failed to make an impact in the league and Andrea Conti suffered a serious injury near the beginning of the season. The worst one by far was Leonardo Bonucci, who just couldn’t carry his incredible consistency to the San Siro. They have so far attempted to fix their mistakes. It involved 3 players. Juventus were able to get their old defender back. Milan however got better end of the deal. They were able to get the promising Matteo Caldara, while also getting Argentine hitman Gonzalo Higuain on loan. Getting him on loan was easily the best option here. Higuain is on a bit of a decline. Since his record breaking 36 goal season at Napoli, he then scored 23, and last season scored 16. It is no fault of his own. It is an effect all players are effected by, being age. His shot numbers have been decreasing since his final season for Napoli. They at a frankly ridiculous 5.2, to 3.5, and now at 2.9. That is still a really good number for a striker, but it is clear he is declining. Higuain is still an elite forward, who is still a great, consistent goal scorer when it comes to leagues. It is exactly what Milan need at the moment, which is a guy who is going to guarantee them goals. It’s something that Higuain has given every team he’s played for. Since arriving in Europe in 2009, he has never failed to score less than 12 goals in all competitions. While many can question his ability in those knock out games, no one can argue that he is one of the most consistent goal scorers in the last 10 years, and will go down as a Serie A great, no matter what he does at Milan. A great signing that could be the driving force for this Milan side to succeed in the future.

6. Sime Vrsaljko – Inter Milan

I have been praising Vrsaljko since the beginning of the world cup. The Croatian was easily one of the top performers for his national team, given such great width on that right side for his team. He was one key reason why Croatia reached the final of the world cup. He was also a key player for Atletico Madrid, going from a back up your Juanfran to his replacement. He was an important figure in Atletico’s Europa League winning side last season. It was as if a young Juanfran was playing. It is still quite incredible that he was even allowed to leave Atletico in the first place, being one of their best players. Just looking at his stats last season, it was very clear how effective he was. He put in a brilliant 4 tackles and interceptions per 90, just showing how solid he is defensively in a team that’s known for their defensive solidarity. He also contributed very effectively in the final third. Because of the type of wingers Atletico Madrid usually play, it means the full backs have to push up and contribute, while also doing their defensive work. It has been made clear that Vrsaljko is extremely good defensively, but also contributes going forward. He ended the season with 4 assists, which is a fine end. He is a guy who likes to cross a lot in games, as seen in a the world cup, where his target was the aerial monster Mandzukic. He target for Inter will be one of the best strikers around in Mauro Icardi. One issue Inter faced was the complete drop in form from everyone bar Icardi. They didn’t have many options outwide, meaning Antonio Candreva was playing throughout the season, even though he didn’t contribute to a goal from December onwards. Vrsaljko isn’t exactly a winger, but he will help in the final third. A very good signing from a side who made many.

5. Stefan De Vrij – Inter Milan

Another Inter Milan signing here, De Vrij is one of the best defenders in Serie A. His time at Lazio has been one great success. Last season, Lazio had a very interesting season. They brought the best out of their attackers, with Immobile scoring 29 goals and getting 9 assists. Even Luis Alberto, a player who was written off at Liverpool, excelled at Lazio last season, being one of their best creators. However over the years, their most reliable player in recent years has been Stefan De Vrij. The Dutchman has excelled throughout his time at Lazio, and he continued this form last season. One area of his game that cannot be praised more is his ability on the ball. Throughout his career his pass accuracy has always been very high, always getting over 80%, but last season was a career high, with 91%. He is getting even better with every season under his belt. He also averaged 2 interceptions per 90 last season, which just shows how intelligent he is as a player. The Dutchman plays as more of a sweeper, than a destroyer, which gives balance to a defense that consists of two great destroyers in Skriniar and Miranda. One issue that Inter faced last season was the lack of defensive options. If one of Miranda or Skriniar suffered an injury, they would have one other defender as back up. Bringing De Vrij in will give much better options for Inter, who are now in the champions league for the first time since 2012. De Vrij is another addition that could seriously help Inter push Juventus to the end.

4. Thomas Lemar – Atletico Madrid

This could be Diego Simeone’s last chance at a title challenge. Both Madrid and Barcelona are currently in real transitional periods. With Madrid losing their best player and one of the best goalscorers of all time. It is still unknown on how Madrid will set up this season, because of the huge loss. Barcelona are the champions, however their squad is very old. While I like the signing of Lenglet, Malcolm doesn’t really make much sense, for the player especially. Atletico Madrid, however, are not in any transitional period. They still have Diego Simeone, who is still one of the best managers in Europe. They kept hold of their best players in Oblak, Griezmann and Godin. Not only that, they have also improved massively. They fixed their winger problem by bringing in Lemar and Gelson Martins, however I think it’s Lemar who is the better signing out of the pair. Atletico had a very big problem from January onwards. After the losses of Carrasco and Gaitan, they began to look too central. As mentioned when discussing Vrsaljko, Atletico full backs are usually the perfect full backs. They have to work hard to give plenty of width, and still do the defensive work required to have a solid backline. They usually rely on full backs for width because of the inverted wingers they used. Players like Koke, Saul and Correa, who are not wingers in nature, played there to overload the middle. Bringing in Lemar will definitely give them much better options going forward, and most of all makes them less predictable. Lemar is a great creator, who can play as a left winger or a number 10. The French man has been excellent for Monaco, and while his form did drop off compared to his brilliant title winning season, he was still very impressive. He was averaging a great 1.8 key passes, which will definitely help Griezmann and Costa in their pursuit in goals. He also averages a very good 1.5 dribbles per 90. Lemar will be a huge asset on the counter attack. Pace is one area of the team that was needed, after losing their other wingers. Lemar will help massively in giving Atletico Madrid another option and another way of playing, in their pursuit of the league title.

3. Michy Batshuayi – Valencia

Valencia were a bit of strange one last season. They massively over performed expected goals, and Simone Zaza, who started the season off so well, just struggle in the second half of the season. However it was still a great season for them. They went from the next big club to drop, into a team that finally started buying smartly, with the likes of Kondogbia and Guedes all performing incredibly for Valencia. However their luck last season, with over performing expected goals, is a worry. They solve this goal problem by bringing in Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian strangely seems unwanted at Stamford Bridge. It puzzles me because of his incredible performances for Dortmund, ending his half season loan spell with 9 goals in 14 games. He gave them a real vocal point after their loss of Aubameyang. However even if this loan spell isn’t included, he was still excellent for Chelsea in his very few appearances. He only started 4 games for Chelsea last season, yet he still ended his time with 4 goals. I think Batshuayi is a definite improvement over Valencia’s options. While I really like Santi Mina, I think Rodrigo isn’t great and Zaza is inconsistent. Having a pure goalscorer, like Bats, is perfect. Valencia are back in the Champions League, and need a great goalscorer to compete in it, and the Belgian sure does fit the bill.

2. Arturo Vidal – Barcelona

While I have been complaining about the strange squad that Barcelona possess at the moment, it is difficult to disagree with what an excellent signing Arturo Vidal is. During his last 2 years at Juventus, an argument could have been made that he was the best midfielder on the planet. That Juventus team that reached the champions league final was arguably one of the best midfields around. It had an incredible passer and press resistant player in Andrea Pirlo. A brilliant box to box midfielder in Claudio Marchisio, and one of the most unique midfielders of all time in a certain Paul Pogba. Even with these exceptional talents, Vidal was the standout player. He was the most advanced midfielder, and has a lot of responsibility. He was one of the first players to initiate the press and had to help Marchisio in protecting Pirlo. Even with all of this responsibility, he was still excellent in every department. In the 2013/14 season, by far his best, He was averaging 4.7 tackles and interceptions. That is frankly outstanding for a central midfielder. But was also averaging 1.8 shots and 1.5 key passes, just showing how well rounded he is as a player. He continued this incredible form when he signed for Bayern, with his shot numbers even increasing to 2.2. The issue in recent seasons has been injuries. He is still a fabulous player, but he has been playing less and less games every season. In his first season at Bayern, he started 24 games, then 21, then 17. He also is famously not in perfect health, being a smoker and drinker. But he is that good he is worth all of these downsides. Barcelona’s midfield is by far their weakest area in their team. They have now let go of Paulinho and Gomez, who both I don’t think were good enough for Barcelona. The loss of Iniesta is a huge hit for them as well. He was looking like a shadow of the player he was, but was still a big player in that dressing room. Busquets and Rakitic are both near 30, and are starting to decline. Vidal does not solve the age issue, however a player of his qualities will give them a perfect stop gap, until the right player is available. He will give them some bite and aggression in a relatively weak midfield. It will give them a real boost in their fight to retain the title and go further in the champions league.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus

Finding something wrong with this move is been on my mind for a while, and I have nothing. His age? Not a problem. It’s publicly known that Ronaldo has kept himself in incredible condition, with information from medical revealing that he has the body of a 22 year old (could call it a publicity stunt). Juventus were just the perfect club to sign the Balon d’Or winner. They usually dominate their domestic league, even if the competition is starting to improve. They have a manager who is able to get the best out of aging players (Lichsteiner, Barzagli, Khedira, Pirlo are great examples), who is also an excellent tactician. With Juventus’s dominance in Serie A, it means that Ronaldo will be primarily used in the Champions League. After two final losses, with the old lady being purely outclassed on both occasions, their desire to win it is at an all time high. They have came so close, and failed on both occasions to win. Bringing in the best player in the history of the champions league is the quickest and best way of doing that. Juve still have an incredibly solid defense, good attacking fullbacks (now with the acquisition of Joao Cancelo), and players who know how to win games. In the long term, this might be a bad move, but for the next 3 years, this is Juventus’s last and best chance of winning this trophy. Going through Ronaldo’s stats right now is almost irrelevant, because we all know that he takes over 5 shots a game, is incredible in the air and his in the box movement is some of the best in modern football. He has transformed from a flying, powerful winger, into one of the best poachers in world football. His aging body will have any effect on the way he plays, which will be perfect for Juventus. If he is able to win the champions league with them, then Ronaldo will go down as the best player, and goalscorer, in the competition’s history. It will be frankly ridiculous to debate it after winning the competition so many times and with three different, all while breaking every record imaginable. Just the perfect signing for both player and club.

2018 World Cup Round of 16 Preview – France vs Argentina, Uruguay vs Portugal

With the group stages finally over, let’s look at the round of 16, where teams will need to step up their game and prepare for the knock out portion of the tournament.

France vs Argentina

The first game of the round of 16 is a huge one. Both teams have a huge history and would like to add to that this year. Let’s begin with France. The 1998 winners go into this game unbeaten, and only conceding 1 goal. However this looks much less impressive when looking at their performances. They only scored 3 goals and got the first 0-0 of the tournament. They also did not keep the same team in any of their games. It continues to show further incompetence in Didier Deschamps. He is easily the most overrated manager at this tournament and it amazes me how he still has a job, with other Frenchman like Zidane and Wenger available. It should be classed as a crime to not be performing with the best players on the planet. They have looked very poor as a team, and I can’t see them getting far in this tournament.

I was not disappointed in Argentina in the slightest. In fact I expected this. They have some talented players, but they don’t have balance. So far they have not proven me wrong. Even in their last minute win, they still didn’t play good. That game was won from a Marcus Rojo of all people bagging the winner. Even though they were poor, there are still some positives. Ever Banega was very good. He added a player with real ball ability in that midfield. But it still brings up the issue of why is Perez and Mascherano still starting for Argentina. Mascherano is not near the player he was 5 years ago, yet he is still starting every game for Argentina. Why isn’t Lo Celso starting, a guy with real ball winning ability. Or even taking Parades. Even though he is playing in a poor league, he is still a great distributer. Sampoali has baffled me throughout this tournament with these strange selections.

For France to beat Argentina, midfield is their key. If they want to take a book from Croatia, who beat Argentina because of their superior midfield. It is a game where France need all their best ball players, so a midfield 3 of Pogba, N’Zonzi and Kante would be perfect. Pogba and N’Zonzi have a brilliant range of passing and would help bypass that weak midfield. Playing Kante would help win the ball higher up the pitch, to stop players like Banega and Mascherano keeping hold of the ball. For Argentina, they need to give the ball to Messi as much as possible. He hasn’t lit up the world, but he is still the best player of all time. He did look much better in a front two. His run for that first goal against Nigeria was perfection all around. The run, the touch, the second touch, the finish. It was all perfect. Messi as usual, is the key for Argentina’s success. This game contains a team that can’t attack in France, and a team that can’t defend in Argentina. Based on goals needed to win games, the Argentine’s will be the victors

France 1-2 Argentina

Uruguay vs Portugal

Both teams can come into this game with some positives. Uruguay went through their group without conceding a single goal. While they did look very poor in their first 2 games, they stepped it up against the hosts Russia, and started playing a midfield 3, adding Torreira to a midfield of Bentacour and Vecino. It gave them much more fluidity and a real drive in the final third. Another bonus for them would be the form of their attackers and defenders. While Suarez has been poor, he has still bagged 2 goals and Cavani also scored his first against Russia. Their biggest positive to take away from the group games would be their defense. Godin and Gimenez were both fantastic. Godin especially was a real leader in those games. He was the one making sure his other teammates would start attacking because he was doing his job, so why weren’t the rest of the team. There were points against Egypt were Godin would run with the ball because no one else would.

Portugal also have some real positives. They have been successfully protecting their old central defenders, even if at times they have been caught out. Ronaldo has also been brilliant. His form is the main reason why Portugal are where they are. He seems to love having the amount of responsibility he does. However they still have some real issues. The rest of the attackers have not been great. Fernandes was dropped after the first game after not having a good game (even though he was out of position). Guedes also has been very disappointing. He just hasn’t shown that raw skill he was shown all through last season. Even in midfield, a partnership of Joah Moutinho and William Carvalho doesn’t scream energy and attacking threat. Their biggest positive is easily how organised they are. Because of their brilliant full back options, it means the centre halves can stay very narrow so they don’t get caught in places where they will be exposed. Fernando Santos has been fine in that aspect, however in the attacking sense they could be better. Putting Guedes outwide, and putting Martins on the right would give them so much pace and width. Andre Silva definitely deserves a chance too. These would definitely help give them a bit more of a threat.

Uruguay can beat Portugal simply their strikers. Both Suarez and Cavani are very hard to deal with for defenders. If they both can help deal Pepe and Fonte, it would allow the midfield players to come from deep and outnumber the opposition. They play such a deep 4-4-2 that just getting their technical players in the box would be enough to cause Portugal plenty of problems. Portugal just have to simply give the ball to Ronaldo. He has been their best attacking player so getting him on the ball as much as possible is their way to win. I can see Uruguay winning here, but because of Portugal so far suprising me, I might just go for a close game but Ronaldo magic to win it

Uruguay 1-2 Portugal

4 Most Disappointing teams at the 2018 World Cup

With so many players and teams showing the world what they are made of, let’s look at the other side of the coin. These are four teams who have completely disappointed me so far in this tournament.

Germany

The most obvious disappointments so far. Germany have looked a shadow of how they were 4 years ago, and explaining why is pretty simple. One of the biggest changes from Brazil is losing their leaders. Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philip Lahm all have since 2014. While they have found some good replacements in Kimmich, Goretzka and Werner, they have lost their experience and leadership. The partnership of Kroos and Schweinsteiger was key during their winning captain and gave a sense of stability to that midfield. Their midfield in general has looked so poor since the start of the tournament. Joachim Low has continued to play a midfield two,with Toni Kroos who usually does not work playing with only one partner, and Khedira, who is a shadow of a player he was 4 years ago. With his increase in age, he lost his defensive ability and any sort of creativity with that. Both were exploited during their defeat to Mexico. Kroos was marked out of the game, while Khedira just couldn’t keep up with the energy and power in Vela and Lozano. Khedira was instantly replaced in the following with Sebastian Rudy, a player who’s only compliment would be solid. Kroos still needs to be put in a midfield three to work, maybe bringing in Goretzka and putting Rudy in a deeper position would give Kroos more time on the ball and would stop him coming so deep to receive it. Even in the attack, it is clear that losing a player like Klose has been a huge hit. It seems even with playing Werner throughout qualifying, they still seem to play as if he is 5 inches taller. I love Werner, but for the way Germany play at times, it seems like he might be the striker they need. He definitely has a use however. Germany are still a very strong team, but are not the same machine they were in 2014.

France

France easily have the most talented squad at this World Cup. They world class rising stars in Mbappe, Dembele and Mendy, while still keeping some solid experienced players in Giroud, NZonzi and Lloris. Even their second team could do very well. However what cannot be underestimated is how frustrating Deschamps is. France qualified relatively simple. However they did have some moments that can be questioned. They lost 3-2 to Sweden, which included a real howler from Lloris. That can be forgiven. Sweden are a solid team and have shown before they can beat any top opposition, as seen with Italy. However what cannot be forgiven is drawing a goaless draw against Luxembourg, a team Sweden beat 8-0. Deschamps in that game chose to play Matuidi and Sissoko, over Pogba and Kante. He has tried over 40 players in qualifying and still seems to not know his best team. France began the first game with a front line of Mbappe, Griezmann and Dembele. I believe that to be their best attack. It gives them three players who are extremely flexible, which enables them to interchange thorought the game. It makes it difficult for defenders to know who to pick up, if the forwards are constantly moving. However Deschamps changed this in the next game and played a 4-2-3-1, which Matuidi on the left and Giroud just in front of Griezmann. It shows a manager who still does not know what system and formation to play, at this point of the tournament that is worrying. The biggest insult is just the way they play. They seem to play a very slow possession game, with usually using Giroud as the link up to the rest of the attack. It frustrates me that they usually resort to that is because of the shear talent they have. Paul Pogba also seems to struggle in this system. Even when he plays with Kante and Tolisso, his most balanced partners, he still seems to not look his best. Pogba is at his best when he is able to drift out wide to the left and open the defense with his pace and power. He seems slow, and that is because of Deschamps. He seems to never play on the front foot. I like these players, but they are stuck with a manager who seems to limit their incredibly high ceiling.

Uruguay

Uruguay qualified at the top their group without conceding a single goal, and winning every game. That does sound good on paper, but when looking into each game, especially the first two, it is clear they are not doing great. Oscar Tavares has set up this team to be so defensive, and rely on the forwards to do something. The problem with this is they don’t have a real creator. He started the tournament with a midfield of Vecino and Bentacour. I like both players, but as a two they don’t work. Vecino just plays it too safe, and Bentacour actually played really well against Egypt, but with a lackluster partner, it made it difficult for him. Tavares only decided to change this in the final game, where he changed into a 3-5-2, to play a midfield of Torreira, Bentacour and Vecino. It worked much better, with Torreira adding his great energy and tenacity. Another problem for Uruguay has been the forwards. Context is so important when looking at the strikers Uruguay took. Suarez, Cavani, Struani and Gomez all scored over 15 goals in their respective leagues. All were in brilliant form and it gave them plenty of options. Suarez however has not looked himself in the slightest. He looks just so much more reserved and is lacking that usual bite (no pun intended) and aggression he usually gives in the penalty area. Cavani I think has been very good. It seems every time one of Suarez or Cavani received the ball to begin a counter attack, there was no other runner beside them, resulting in a situation they failed to benefit in. The first game of the round of 16, Uruguay vs Portugal, could not be as exciting as we hope it is, and speaking of Portugal…

Portugal

Most of Portugal’s issues I can sympathize with. They have an extremely old centre half partnership, with Pepe and Fonte both over 32. It means they have to play much more cautiously, with their centre halves playing very narrow. They have to protect them so it means less focus is on attacking. It gives a huge over reliance on Ronaldo to score while also hold up the ball, and create. They also have been unfortunate with injuries. They lost Danilo Pereira, who was excellent for Porto last season. But that is where my sympathy ends. I still believe this team isn’t hitting its heights. For some strange reason, Fernando Santos chose to take Joah Moutinho, Ricardo Quaresma and Cedric Soares, over players who were in much better form in Ruben Neves, Ronny Lopes and Nelson Semedo. It’s a similar issue that is seen with Joachim Low, who chose players who he liked over players who deserved a spot. Even in team selection questions should be asked. Why was Guedes playing as a striker alongside Ronaldo, instead of on the left hand side, where he has been excelling. He chose to play Jao Mario instead, and while he’s a fine enough player, he should be playing in midfield alongside Carvalho. It’s a position where I think he is much better in. Even though Andre Silva was poor for Milan, he still scored 9 in qualifying, which was the fifth most in Europe. He didn’t start until the last group game. Portugal themselves have been a bit of a chore to sit through. Their protection of the centre halves means it makes them difficult to sit through. They are lucky to have a very good Ronaldo, who has dragged them to this point. While you can question if they would be more balanced without him, like Sweden are now, he has still definitely delivered. Portugal could definitely go a long way because of their style, but I just wanted more from. So many of their attacking players were in such good form, especially Bruno Fernandes (who has been out of position) and it seems we will look back on this side and think, how were they not better.

Top 5 Best Performers Of The World Cup (As of Game Week 2)

After 2 games, let’s see which players have performed for their respective countries, and shown their ability to the world.

5. Romelu Lukaku

When it comes to strikers, the choices were between Kane or Lukaku, and because all of Kane’s goals have required near zero skill, I’m giving it to Lukaku. The Belgian forward has been superb in the opening 2 games, scoring 2 braces. He is now averaging 17 goals in his last 10 for Belgian, which is an absolutely incredible record. He has worked so well in that front three, with Mertens and Hazard beside him. Mertens has given so much of the ball work, and Hazard has given his usual trickery. Lukaku has been getting in those positions and adding that perfect finish. While I like to criticise Martinez for so many things, one of them isn’t his use of Lukaku. My issue with Lukaku at United is how he is used as a target man. While he can be used that way, he is much more effective when running in behind, using his size and pace as his biggest advantages. Lukaku seems to be the favourite for the Golden Boot, and it’s justified. I don’t like to count penalty goals when discussing top goalscorers, because it doesn’t show the skill of that certain striker. Lukaku’s goals have all been from open play, and all have shown his ability in the air and in front of goal. What a brilliant performance so far from the big Belgian.

4. Carlos Vela

Mexico are usually a team to be threatened by. They have always possessed quality players all over the park, and this World Cup might be the last for many of their mainstayers. The likes of Hernandez, Ochoa, Guadrado and Herrera have all been great servants to the National Team. One of those said servants I would like to highlight would be LAFC’s Carlos Vela. The former Arsenal Winger has been absolutely key for his side in this world cup. Since moving to the MLS, Vela has actually been incredible. His has been the fulcrum of his side, being the main creator and goalscorer for a brand new club. He has carried his superb form over to his national side, where he has been key in Mexico’s games against Germany and South Korea. Looking at his stats, it is clear to see how superb he has been. He has been averaging a ridiculous 3 key passes per 90 and 3 dribbles completed per 90. He is also shooting 1.5 times on target per game. He was especially key in the first game against Germany, where he had the freedom of the pitch, with Kimmich going forward as much as he would. It meant Vela could tear the rest of that defense apart. He has by far been Mexico’s best player, and got what he deserved with a goal against South Korea. Well done Carlos!

3. Isco

I wholeheartedly believe that Isco is the fourth most talented player on the planet (the three ahead should be obvious). Only Messi is able to dribble out of tighter spaces than him, and his importance in that Real Madrid side cannot be emphasised more. He took a world record signing Gareth Bale out of the team and made Zidane rearrange his entire set up to accommodate the Spaniard. His importance for Spain also cannot be more emphasised. While there are plenty of talented players in that team, with Koke, Busquets, Ramos, Costa and Silva all showing in the past their world class ability, Isco is easily the best out of a great bunch. Already in this world cup he completed 140 touches in a match, which is the second highest. It shows his importance to the side because of how often they want him on the ball. While his key passes aren’t as high as they usually are, dropped to a 0.5 from a 1.7. the most interesting stat to take would be his passing in general. It has risen from 50 passes per game to 99. It shows how he keeps things ticking in this Spain side and helps them dominate games so effectively. Isco has been absolutely superb in helping Spain dominate their way through games, and let’s hope he continues it.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal have been pretty bad so far in this tournament. Their midfield contains a 30 year old Moutinho and William Carvalho, a player not known for his ability. Someone along the lines of Ruben Neves or if Danilo was available would have been much better. Even in attack they haven’t been too great. Guedes is a player I really like, but so far hasn’t shown that same ability he did at Valencia. However there is always one player Portugal can always rely on to drag them out of any situation, and that is Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has always struggled in World Cups. The Balon d’Or winner only managed a measly 3 goals in 3 different world cups for his country. However after his success with the national team and with his club, he seems more motivated than ever to finally do it on the big stage. He doubled his overall tally in the first game, scoring a hat trick against their neighbours Spain, including a fabulous free kick where Ronaldo finally learned how to take free kicks again. He then got the goal that helped seal the win against a much better Morocco side on the day. What is most impressive is his shot numbers. Ronaldo seems to be taking less shots but taking them in much better places. His shot numbers have dropped from 6.3 to a 5. While that is still incredibly high, it is showing how he knows that taking the right chance in a much inferior team is the right thing to do. Ronaldo will always be that player who keeps impressing me in some way, and he has done it again.

1. Luka Modric

My love for Luka Modric is so hard to put in to words. If someone asks me what a perfect midfielder is, I simply ask them to watch Modric. He can simply do everything a midfielder can do. He can tackle, read the game, dribble, create, dominate, shoot, he is simply well rounded in every department. Croatia themselves have a pretty great team. They have the best midfield in tournament, with Modric playing alongside Rakitic, Brozovic and Kovacic. They have a midfield full of players who can do different things, and it gives them plenty of options. Modric scored the penalty that won Croatia their first game of the tournament, and then put in a man of the match performance to beat a very poor Argentina team. He dominated that midfield with so much ease and continued to show his class. Throughout this tournament he has done so much defensive work, putting in 4.5 tackles and interceptions per 90, a vast improvement from his 2.7 for club. But it goes to show why Modric is just so good. He never had to do that defensive work because Casemiro would do that for him at Real Madrid, but at 32 he still shows that he can do anything without hesitation. His creative numbers have dropped as a result of his defensive work, with his key passes dropping from 1.5 to 1 (this could also be due to a small pool of evidence). His goal against Argentina just showed his pure elegance. He just bends it on the outside to fool Caballero and win the game for Croatia. He is such a huge part to this side and if Croatia do anything significant, it will be because of their midfield maestro.

Honourable Mentions: Aleksandr Golovin, John Stones, Jose Gimenez, James Rodriguez.