Can Tottenham Compete Without Kane? Tottenham Hotspur vs Rasenballsport Leipzig – UEFA Champions League 19/20 Preview

Next to Paris vs Dortmund and Real Madrid vs Manchester City, this tie is right up there with the games I’m most anticipating. Tottenham under new manager and Champions League winner Jose Mourinho, facing managerial prodigy Julian Nagelsmann and his young RB Leipzig side. This could be one of the closest ties in the competition.

I’ve already gone in-depth on Pochettino’s sacking, so let’s actually discuss whether they’ve actually improved under Mourinho. To simply put it, yes. This isn’t exactly a surprise. The players clearly didn’t want to play for Pochettino anymore. So a fresh face, eager to prove his doubters wrong was always going to improve the team. For the first few games, the players looked reinvigorated, ready to remind the league why they reached a Champions League final.

Since Mourinho and Pochettino have both managed the same amount of league games this season, now is the perfect time to compare their records. Mourinho has managed to earn 23 points, six more than the man he replaced. The defence has conceded fewer goals (15: four fewer goals), and the attack has been just as productive (22: one more goal). Looking in more depth, Tottenham’s xPTS under Mourinho is at 19.14 (overachieving by 3.86) while Pochettino’s was at 17.10. This highlights one of the apparent issues Tottenham were facing at the beginning of the season. It wasn’t just the fact that the results weren’t coming in, but the performances showed they didn’t even deserve to be higher in the table. There have been some games under Mourinho where they’ve been lucky (their 2-0 win over Manchester City instantly comes to mind), but at the same time, they’ve drawn a few where they deserved 3 points.

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On the pitch, Tottenham has already shown some of Mourinho’s apparent traits. He’s already ensured only one full-back pushes forward, while the other sits alongside the centre-backs; to stop potential counter-attacks. In past Mourinho teams, it’d be Marcelo, Maicon, Ashley Cole or Ashley Young. Now, it’s Serge Aurier. The former PSG defender has put up pretty good numbers. Over 5 tackles and interceptions, 1.3 key passes and 1.7 successful dribbles. But that’s mostly down to Aurier being given the freedom to push as far forward as he is. He could easily be improved upon, and actually think Trippier would’ve performed excellent in this system. The right side is a massive weakness for Tottenham, and it’ll be an area in which Leipzig will want to exploit, with Werner and Nkunku preferring to drift to that side.

Left-back has been a position they’ve struggled with since Mourinho’s arrival. Ben Davies was the best option to play there. The Welshman has always been a solid, if unspectacular player, who became more useful as Danny Rose began to pick up regular injuries back in 2016. What made Davies such a suitable option for this more defensive role was his experience there, playing as a third centre-back for his national team. Davies’ only game under Mourinho was in his first, a 3-2 win over West Ham. It was arguably Tottenham’s best performance under their new manager. Davies has the needed recovery pace that Vertonghen lacks whenever he’s played there, while still being a good defender with the necessary experience; qualities Sessegnon is yet to have. Tangana has actually performed pretty well as a left-back, but it’s not his favoured position, and I doubt Mourinho would trust him now Davies is back.

Kane’s injury is a massive loss for Tottenham, leaving them without a first-team number nine to play. The obvious answer is to play Son up-front, but this left another issue. Without Son, a lot of pressure was placed upon Lucas Moura to provide that same pace and danger in the box; something he’s failed to do all season regularly. This is why the signing of Steven Bergwijn was so important. It allowed them to play Son as a striker, without the drawbacks.

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Moving onto Leipzig, who have been very good in Nagelsmann’s debut season. I’ve spoken about Germany’s most hated club numerous times, for how impressive they’ve remained throughout the season. Nagelsmann kept what made Leipzig so enjoyable before, their speed in transition and counter-attacks, and built upon that by adding a possession game. The centre-backs, all at the top level in possession, could push forward and help in build-up play. Upamecano perfectly shows this. The Frenchman has completed the most paces into the final third in the squad with 120, 40 more than second-placed Sabitzer. Nagelsmann has been playing full-backs Klostermann and Halstenburg in defence, because of their speed and ability on the ball. Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim sides were always fun to watch but lacked the defensive personnel needed to play such an attacking style. Leipzig has three of France’s most promising defensive talents in Europe; Nordi Mukiele, Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano. They all possess an extreme level of athleticism for their age, which makes it less likely for them to be caught out through the numerous counter-attacking sides present in Germany.

There is a massive issue with Leipzig’s defence; inexperience. There is no denying that all of their young defenders are great now and potentially world-class later on, but their lack of experience is present. This is why they’ve struggled to get results against the teams besides them. In their first half against Bayern Munich at the beginning of the season, Leipzig was easily the weaker side. Bayern strolled through their press and scored thanks to Muller noticing the amount of space Lewandowski had, ending with the Pole scoring. This isn’t even the only example; Union Berlin, Borussia Monchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund all outperformed Leipzig in the first half, taking advantage of how slow they can be at the beginning of games. This will be the area Tottenham will be desperate to exploit.

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The main reason everyone was excited to see Nagelsmann manage RB Leipzig was to see what he could do with the forwards at his disposal, primarily Werner. We saw Belfodil, Gnabry and Uth all perform well above their talent level during their spells at Hoffenheim. Nagelsmann has taken Werner to another level. Not only has Werner been scoring more than usual, but his creativity is leaps and bounds ahead of any forward in Germany. This is down to Werner playing more as a second striker. It’s what many fans who don’t consistently watch the Bundesliga don’t realise. Werner either plays in a front two, alongside a more physical striker like Poulsen or Schick, or on the left side of a front three. Werner’s pace and intelligent decision making in and around the box make it sensible to have him less centrally. We saw at the World Cup how Werner struggles on his own, and it limits what he can do off the ball. Under Nagelsmann, Werner is given licence to drop deep, make runs into the channels or play as a natural winger. It makes him so difficult to stop.

Nagelsmann using his magic to turn Patrick Schick back into a goalscorer again does deserve a lot of credit But how Nkunku has become one of the best creators in Germany at only 22 is one of the stories of the season. Nkunku reminds me of the many playmakers Arsene Wenger signed during his last decade at Arsenal. The former PSG midfielder is mature in his decision making and space awareness, making him effective wherever you play him. Nagelsmann has played him in a midfield three, on the left side of midfield and as a number ten, but his performances have remained consistently high. No player in the Leipzig squad has completed more passes into the penalty area and through balls. He isn’t only creating chances, but he’s the best in a team full of talented players at doing it.

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This attack is Leipzig’s biggest strength. Even if they start slow, you can rely on Werner and co to drag the team over the finish line. It’s why I think RB Leipzig will be progressing to their first quarter-final appearance. Tottenham might have the edge in terms of knockout round experience and a winning manager to back it up, but Leipzig has the superior team in terms of style and personnel. There is no doubting this game will be a close one, but Tottenham are at a disadvantage in terms of players, but this could be a real classic.

The Sacking of Pochettino: Where Did It Go Wrong and Where Do Tottenham Go From Here?

Before even discussing the whole Tottenham situation, let’s talk about Ajax, and more specifically, Rinus Michels. I consider him one of the greatest and most influential coaches in the history of the game. He was a primary factor in Ajax’s dominance in the early seventies, as well as Holland’s fantastic run to the 1974 World Cup final. There is no doubting his importance to how the game is even played today, with the Dutchman’s emphasis on players interchanging positions, ball-playing defenders and an extreme press. His first job on his arrival in 1965 was to avoid the drop, which he did through installing a robust training regime, which pushed his players to new levels. Ajax went on to win 4 league titles and reaching 2 European Cup finals, winning their first in 1971. However, as we now know about pressing teams, it’s very demanding on the players. They eventually reach a point where the constant work needed to put in can be too much, and they become sick of it. This drop off is exactly what happened with his Ajax team once Michels departed to Barcelona, and Stefan Kovacs was appointed. The players were at a stage where they didn’t need to work as hard as they were. They were European Champions at this point. All they needed was someone who would let them express themselves and continue to dominate. Two European Cups in two seasons later, the players became tired of Kovacs, with training and match preparations not at the same level as they were under Michels.

The point of that rather long story is because, on a somewhat smaller scale, it’s a replication of what happened at Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino. He completely turned the club around, taking them from an inconsistent mess of a side to title challengers and then European finalists. No more struggling to challenge for the Champions League spots and relying on individual talents to carry them. Instead, they were a great team, defensively solid while still being a lot of fun to watch in-possession. Pochettino showed himself to be an excellent coach, turning the likes of Harry Kane, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela into great players through using a demanding, aggressive and enjoyable style of football. Between 2015 and 2018, Tottenham were arguably the second-best team in the league. Alongside Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, Pochettino side was one of the frontrunners in using pressing as a useful tool in defending and winning the ball high up the pitch.

Everything was going so well for Tottenham under Pochettino in those first three years, but the beginning of the end can actually be traced back to the summer of 2017, and the sale of Kyle Walker. The England right-back wasn’t precisely a world-class talent, so selling him for £50 million did make sense. Still, they failed to replace him adequately, with Aurier arriving to add competition to a defensively-weak Kieran Trippier. This might not have been a massive issue at the time, but looking back, it’s clear where a lot of problems would later arise.

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I think the problems became more apparent in the summer of 2018, a transfer window in which Tottenham failed to sign a single player. There was already a lot of questions regarding if that Tottenham side needed additions and if the squad was good enough as it is. It’s easy to look back now and criticise the club for not adding new players, especially with the gaping hole in midfield that was opening as Dembele was turning into a shadow of the player he was. One of the reasons why teams sign players is to freshen things up. That Tottenham squad had been together for four years. Rarely is there a team that can stay motivated for that long. Clubs need to continually add new faces in the dressing room. It keeps the senior players on their toes, knowing there will be a player ready to take their place in the starting eleven if their form begins to slip. The added competition has kept Manchester City, Juventus and PSG competitive on all fronts, with depth in all positions. Tottenham aren’t on the same level as one of these superclubs, but not signing a single player comes across as insanely arrogant, especially when the team was in desperate need for midfield additions. 

The 2018/19 season was by far Pochettino’s most impressive as a manager. He was stuck with an inferior squad to the one he had in the past, which included injuries to key players like Harry Kane and Dele Alli throughout crucial points of the season. Spurs were not good last season, but Pochettino somehow managed to get enough out of his team to get top four as well as reach a Champions League final. He did this through nearly sacrificing a lot of what made his Spurs side so good for 3 years, instead opting for a more adaptive and reactive approach to his team. Pochettino was more or less changing his tactics depending on the opponent, whether it was formation or personnel. Their surprise 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in August 2018 does showcase this rather perfectly. During this game, Pochettino changes his formation a lot, switching between alterations of 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 diamond, 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1. The message was becoming apparent. This team, especially after an exhausting World Cup year, were not at the level to be showing the same intensity as they did in the past.

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Spurs were not good last season, in fact in the second half of the season, they were awful. At the time it was easy to defend their terrible form in 2019 because of their run in the Champions League, which was a lot different to their domestic form. In Europe, Spurs managed to beat Dortmund home and away, somehow progress past Pep’s City and displayed so much fight and heart to edge past the neutral’s favourite, Ajax. Tottenham were not the second-best team in Europe last season, they weren’t even top five, but Pochettino managed to get everything out of the players he had. During buildup, he would regularly bypass the midfield of Sissoko and Winks, due to their lack of ability in ball progression. With Kane injured, it was the best way to utilise Fernando Llorente’s strengths, placing quick players around him like Son and Moura. Their performances in the Champions League were extraordinary compared to their league form, which was truly atrocious. Convincing defeats to Bournemouth, Southampton, Burnley and West Ham showed Tottenham at their worst; games where chance creation was lacking and Pochettino’s players just didn’t look nearly as solid and organised as they did back in 2017. They were facing 12.9 shots per game last season, a considerable increase from the 9.4 they were facing in 17/18. The Athletic even notes:

“Spurs’ pressed sequences increased in absolute and relative terms over the first four Pochettino seasons. From 11.6 per game in 2014-15, joint-eighth in the league, to 15.6 in 2017-18, the second-most in the league, at their pressing peak.

Then, last year, a dramatic drop down to 13.2, their lowest since Pochettino’s first season, and only the 10th highest in the league. That tells the story itself.”

The numbers, performances and results all paint this picture of a manager willing to do anything to take Spurs to win something. Their final defeat to Liverpool, a make or break game which could have defined Pochettino’s legacy at the club, instead highlighted the leap in quality between them and their opponents. That final season seemed to have taken every last ounce of energy out of Pochettino, which makes it more baffling to why he decided to stay. 

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Even with the much-needed additions of Tanguay Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, the sale of Kieran Trippier did leave a massive hole at right-back. Llorente also departed the club in the summer, meaning there was no one to cover for Kane, who has become half the player he was before his infamous ankle injury. I still thought Tottenham would quite easily get into the top four. Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea still had clear holes in their team, and Spurs have been one of the most consistent sides in the past four years. It made sense to think they would finish there with the signings of two of the best young midfielders in Europe. 

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Tottenham were terrible last season, but have somehow been even worse in 19/20. So far, Tottenham have only managed 3 wins 12 games, a shambolic amount of wins considering the talent at their disposal. Those 12.7 shots faced last season has risen to 14.8. They’re 10th for shots taken per game and lacked any cohesion in the final third. Their defence has become noticeably bad, but in terms of chance creation and shot location, they’re just as useless. Tottenham are 17th for non-penalty xG with only 13.15, with only Palace, Newcastle and Norwich behind them. The players have looked out of ideas on numerous occasions. Their 1-0 defeat to Newcastle was one of the worst performance I’ve seen during Pochettino’s reign. They were narrow and failed to create anything of substance against one of the worst teams in the league. Their 3-0 defeat to Brighton was somehow even worse. Spurs were comfortably second best in every area, allowing Brighton to create plenty of quality chances, while Spurs failed to create anything of note. Vertonghen and Alderweireld were beaten far too easily for Connolly’s goals. Kane and Eriksen were poor, and they were simply beaten by a better team.

After failing to win since the end of September, Pochettino was given the boot. It’s divided the footballing world, especially with Mourinho arriving as his replacement. I do think Levy is to blame for some of the issues in the dressing and the lack of transfers during 2018, but it’s obvious the players were clearly tired of all the work, as seen by their pressing numbers dropping. But it’s not only the players, but Pochettino also seems to face exhaustion. He was considering leaving the club after the Champions League final if the result went in their favour. This is similar to what happened at Espanyol. During his final press conference in Spain, Pochettino said: “I have been in the world of football for many years and understand that a coach has a sell-by date.” Even with the outside factors, the relation between Pochettino’s Tottenham and Michels’ Ajax are clear. Players will only perform in these intense systems for 3-5 years before it starts to decline.

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So is Mourinho going to be the Kovacs of Tottenham? Well, I don’t think Mourinho will be as bad as many believe, but I don’t think it’s going to work as well as Levy and Mourinho want. The former Chelsea coach does have a considerable advantage compared to his start at United. The majority of Tottenham’s players are ready to go now. Kane, Moura and Son are at a perfect age while Lloris, Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Rose offer much-needed experience that Mourinho craves. The constant fitness and training done under Pochettino means Mourinho can focus more on the tactical side of the game, something he has always favoured. He has a lot of players who I can see him liking already. I can see Sissoko playing in those big games because of that size, aggression and speed he can offer in midfield, and Son and Moura are both very flexible in where and how they can play. Mourinho has two things he has to do on the short term; fix the defence and fix Kane.

Even if United’s defence was awful in Jose’s final two seasons, he still earned a reputation for creating a solid base to start building from. Alderweireld and Vertonghen are better than the defenders he had in Manchester, so expect the same robust and resilient backline we saw at Chelsea and Inter. The right-back area is an obvious problem, but Mourinho has never attacked with two full-backs. He’ll likely use Rose as his primary attacking full-back, and choose Foyth, Sissoko or Aurier to fill in on the right-side.

Kane is the biggest problem. Many like to paint this image of Kane as this complete forward, bringing others into play as well as scoring bundles of goals. But this is simply not true. Kane was at his best between August 2017 and March 2018, before that ankle injury against Bournemouth. He was not only taking a high volume of shots but taking them in great areas. He scored 24 goals in 29 games, taking over 5 shots per game with an xG per 90 of 0.88, the highest of his career so far. The ankle injury isn’t even the most significant problem to why Kane has fallen out of that top three forwards bracket. He needs to stop dropping so deep, and actually focus on getting in the box. His shot numbers have dropped massively down to 2.7, and his xG per 90 is down to 0.44. Kane is literally half the striker he was in 2017/18. Mourinho has always gotten a lot out of his forwards. Whether it’s an old-school forward like Milito, a young hardworking striker like Benzema or an all-rounder in Zlatan. Mourinho could be the perfect guy to reinvigorate Kane and turn him into the player he used to be. 

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As for Pochettino, I’d recommend taking a year off. This whole Spurs’ situation seems to have drained him. Just like Pep after departing Barcelona, Pochettino could do with the time off, to rethink his approach and recuperate after a very long five years. He will have plenty of jobs when he decides to return to football. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and possibly Paris Saint-Germain could all be looking for a coach next summer. Pochettino has proven he can build a team, get the best out of his assets and improve his teams in defence while bringing an entertaining style and aggressive press with him. Tottenham needed a fresh face in the dugout, just like Pochettino needs a new environment. 

The Netherlands vs England – UEFA Nations League Semi-Final Preview

While there was plenty to discuss regarding the clash between Switzerland and Portugal, it is this fixture that is by far the most exciting. Both teams here escaped groups that were seen as a challenge. It’s a surprise for them to even be here, yet they fully deserve it.

Let’s start with The Netherlands. It can be difficult to argue just how important the Dutch have been for football. Their innovations during the early 70s with Total Football, a brand of football which changed how the game was played. Rinus Michels, the manager of Ajax during this revolutionary period, wanted the pitch as small as possible when the opposition had the ball, and to make the pitch as big as possible when his side had the ball. It’s a system that encouraged pressing and movement. Players were coached to cover multiple roles throughout the team. It was an evolution from the famous Hungary side that humiliated England in 1953. It was how football was meant to be played and the achievement of a club with a plan.

Their history on the international front has been fascinating. In 1986, Michels came back to manage the national team, leading them to win their first international tournament, Euro 88. While they had some success during the 90s, reaching the semi-finals at Euro 96, they failed to stay the dominant side they were in the previous decade. Their golden generation, which included many from that famous Ajax side who lifted the Champions League in 1997, failed to win anything on the international front.

The 2010s have been a forgettable decade to the say the least for the Dutch. While they reached the World Cup final in South Africa, they sacrificed 40 years of a Total Football style in favour of kicking Spain, a side who were the embodiment of what Cruyff and Michels taught so long ago. After failing to qualify for the last 3 international tournaments, the Dutch seemed lost. But like the success of the national team in the past, you can always look to Ajax for a boost. With generational talents in Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt, it has given them the boost they’ve needed. A solid base to build the rest of the team around, and to find success in the future.

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I’m not Koeman’s biggest fan, but the impact he has made on his national team is hard to argue. He’s built a team that has balance throughout the squad. The experienced and young, the technically gifted and hard-working. But what persists throughout the side is what the Dutch are known for, players who can fill multiple roles. Daily Blind, Memphis Depay, Frenkie De Jong, Quincy Promes. These are players have played in different positions throughout their career. They’ve added fluidity to the side, making them unpredictable in the final third. Koeman has added more unfavoured players to the squad, with Martin De Roon being the most notable. The Atalanta midfielder, while offering zero in the final third, is great defensively and allows the more expressive players to push forward. Koeman has been gifted with by far the most talented players since the end of their golden generation, but he deserves credit for making this group of players function as a team.

The Netherlands were placed in a very tough group, facing the former World Cup winners Germany and current holders France. Both of their opponents have arguably some of the best talents in the world to choose from. While their first game ended in defeat, losing 2-1 to the World Champions, it was their next game against Germany back in the Johan Cruyff Arena that showed they were ready to compete. They humiliated the Germans with an emphatic 3-0 victory. It was the game in which Koeman brought in De Roon, which made a huge difference. He put in 6 tackles and interceptions in this game, giving them a defensive presence in midfield. It allowed Frenkie to play a less restrictive role, constantly looking to get on the ball and keep possession from a dangerous German side. The Netherlands then went on to beat France and showed a lot of fight to come back and earn a valuable point against Germany. It sealed their place in the semi-finals, the most deserving result for a national team which has finally shown the quality they have always been known for.

While Van Dijk, De Ligt, De Jong and Wijnaldum are all going to play a role in this game, Depay is by far the Dutch’s most important player. After his poor stint in England, he moved to Lyon to revive his career and return to the form he showed for PSV. In a Lyon side which includes Fekir, Aouar, Ndombele and Dembele, Depay has emerged as their most important player. He thrives in a role where importance is placed upon him and was the sole reason why Lyon remained competitive at the beginning of the season. His goal contributions were near non-existent after the new year, but his numbers remained high. He leads the line effectively for Koeman. His flexibility as a striker makes him very difficult to deal with. He has the pace the reach those long balls usually played into the channels by the centre-backs, the strength to hold the ball for his teammates and the confidence to take on an entire team on his own. He adds that star quality to a forward line which has lacked it since the retirement of Van Persie. His impact will be hard for England to suppress.

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Let’s move onto their opponents. After their defeat to Iceland in 2016, it highlighted a consistent problem that had been failing England for a long time, being their focus on players over the system. One reason why England won the World Cup back in 1966 was because of the balance in that side. Charlton and Ball were able to produce in the attacking end because they had Manchester United’s defensive midfielder Nobby Stiles protecting the back four. It has been a simple concept of building a team that England have seemingly forgotten how to do since that triumph. The constant debate regarding Lampard and Gerrard in midfield, forcing Scholes out wide and persisting with a 4-4-2 when the system was far outdated, with managers choosing an extra midfielder to help keep possession. England had star power, but managers who seemed too afraid to make the right decisions, that were best for the team. You simply cannot play Gerrard and Lampard together without a defensive midfielder (it made Carrick’s consistent absence baffling)

They made these same mistakes at Euro 2016. While Hodgson has been an important coach in his earlier years, introducing pressing in Sweden, he seemed to succumb to the same pressure as managers in the past have. He played a strange midfield including Alli, Rooney and Dier. An odd choice considering Alli had never played in that position before. His choice to play Sturridge as a winger was even more baffling, a player who has never been a dribbler or creator throughout his career. Hodgson resigned after their embarrassing defeat to Iceland, an end to an era which produced the same mistakes as previous managers.

Southgate’s appointment was an uninspiring choice, to say the least. It seemed like the safest choice for England to make. A coach who failed to take a talented group of players out of the group stages in the European Under-21s Championships, relegation with Middlesborough and lacked any charisma that made the former England international fail to stand out.

England were placed in a safe qualification group, while they never truly stood out, it did give Southgate time to experiment. Nobody knew how the Three Lions were going to line up in Russia until their friendly against Costa Rica. It was the first time England started with a back three and the first time England looked to have a plan. It gave them enough numbers in defence while allowing their attacking players to flourish.

While they never played the same attractive football we saw from Belgium and France, they were efficient and were playing to their strengths. Southgate made a lot of smart decisions to get the best out of the players in his possession. He played a back three containing Maguire, Stones and Walker. All three possess strength and athleticism, allowing them to cover a lot of ground. Walker and Maguire would consistently push up to help give options to the midfielders, and most importantly to make sure that Trippier and Young could push up without the same space they leave at club level. Southgate ensured his side took advantage of set pieces. While simple, set pieces are a chance to score, and with his side still not fully accustomed to the system, they were good opportunities to get a goal. They reached the semi-finals, but some of their weaknesses were exposed. They lacked pace in the side, which meant England lacked bite and couldn’t trouble a Croatia side which contained a lot of older players.

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However, in hindsight, it was a short term solution for the purpose of showing the country what this side can do. They inspired their fans for the first time in 20 years, to give hope for a team that was still growing. Many players who featured heavily in Russia would not remain as key figures for Euro 2020. They needed to evolve and turn into a side which could play a more attractive style of football. Trippier, Young, Lingard and Walker would all not be started with such frequency.

The Nations League was the first time we could see what Southgate had changed since their success in Russia. He changed from a defensive 3-5-2 to a more standard 4-3-3, which enabled his side to attack with more unpredictability down the wide areas. A lot of players benefited from this change. Sterling was placed in a role where he could play to his strengths instead of playing as a second striker. Marcus Rashford was given a more important role in the setup, instead of merely being Kane’s backup. They impressed in their win over Spain and fought hard to come back against Croatia. The future seems clear from Southgate and is looking more positive.

There are still concerns, however. I mentioned how some of the players who featured in the world cup will begin to be faced out, but Southgate hasn’t done that yet. Trippier and Walker are still included in the setup. It’s frustrating when Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka have been fantastic, but aren’t being given a chance in the XI. While Declan Rice was given a chance, there are so many talented young players who could have a future in the setup. Abraham, Maddison, Mount and Barnes all deserve a chance for their country.

Sterling has been by far England’s best player since the World Cup. He has reached a point where he should be in the conversation for one of the best players in Europe. He’s a great dribbler, intelligent and a solid creator. While he was always promising, it was the arrival of Pep Guardiola that changed Sterling. He took away that overthinking. When he would receive the ball, Sterling would usually take a few touches before making his next move. Pep took that out of his game and made him so much more direct. Sterling is now far less predictable. With Kane still recovering from another injury, England will put their faith in Sterling to help score the goals.

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If The Netherlands wish to progress to the final, they have to win the battle in midfield. England only possesses a couple of players I would consider real central midfielders, being Delph, Henderson and Rice (Dier is better as a centre back). Koeman has one of the top 3 young central midfielders around in De Jong. The now Barcelona midfielder is so versatile in how he can be played. He’s very reminiscent to Luka Modric, in how he is a great creator while being one of the best players at transitioning the ball into the final third. His best performance was in Ajax’s 1-1 draw against Juventus. Allegri attempted to place Bentancur on him to limit his effectiveness. De Jong just kept dropping between the centre backs and dragging Bentancur into places he did not want to go. The Dutchman is an intelligent player and can avoid pressure easily. England tried to stop Spain from building play by aggressively pressing Busquets. While effective on an ageing midfielder, this will not work on De Jong. The Netherlands need to get their maestro on the ball as much as possible if they wish to beat a tough England side.

If England wishes to come out victorious, they have to focus on the wide areas. The Dutch usually start Dumfries and Blind as their fullbacks. It’s an area where England can exploit. They have a lot of pace in the team, with Sterling, Rashford and Sancho offering a threat against their defenders. Blind has never been quick throughout his career and Dumfries has been exposed for being positionally poor. He is great as an attacking outlet, but space can be found behind him. It’s why Sterling could be so important. Not many fullbacks in Europe have been able to deal with the winger. He is the key to unlocking the backline.

While England will be a threat, I think the Dutch will be the side to progress. Their weaknesses aren’t nearly as obvious as England’s. The Three Lions are likely to play without Kane. He has been so important for his country, offering a great range of passing and a forward who can do nearly anything. While Rashford has improved a lot this season, he isn’t nearly as his good as his teammate. The Netherlands are in incredible form right now and seem unstoppable.

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Jean-Philippe Mateta and Harry Kane’s Backup

Since his title of one season wonder was successfully shaken off thanks to back to back golden boot winning seasons, there has been much discussion on Tottenham finding a player who could fill in for Harry Kane, in case of injury or England’s talisman needing a rest for a big midweek game. While I’ve never seen this as much of a priority as needing midfielders, it has increasingly become an area of concern. Kane has suffered from minor injuries for years, but an ankle injury sustained in a game against Stoke back in February 2018 has left Tottenham with a problem. Kane has always had this habit of coming back from injuries earlier than expected, but this time was different. He arrived back from injury weeks earlier and didn’t look the same. He looked slower and his shot numbers dropped from 5 down to roughly 3.5. It was clear that Kane needed a rest, but unfortunately, it was a World Cup year, and Kane was needed for his country. After playing nearly every game, he returned to Tottenham looking exhausted. His lack of sharpness continued into the season, and while he was scoring goals, he wasn’t looking nearly as impressive as he has been in previous years. After suffering another ankle injury in their 1-0 win over Manchester City, it seems the search for the Harry Kane understudy is underway.

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This isn’t a new experience for Spurs. In 2016, they signed Vincent Janssen for £22 million. It was seen as a smart investment, with the Dutchman scoring 27 goals and putting up very high shot numbers. However, the cliche of the risk involved in signing players from the Eredivisie continued, with Janssen looking short of confidence throughout the season. After a failed loan spell at Fenerbahce, he returned to Tottenham, where he has since remained and only played 36 minutes of Premier League football this season. Llorente was the next player to fill in for Kane. The Spaniard was the complete opposite in approach compared to Janssen. Llorente had played for Bilbao, Juventus, Sevilla and Swansea. It was in Wales which persuaded Tottenham to take a punt on the striker, who scored 15 goals in his only season for the Swans. He was a short term solution that could fill in for Kane when needed and have an impact off the bench. This has not worked. He has only managed a single goal in the Premier League and has shown his age, with his lack of mobility highlighting how inferior he is to Kane. In search of a new forward, multiple strikers have been linked, with Callum Wilson, Moussa Dembele, Jarrod Bowen and Maxi Gomez all being linked to the Champions League finalists. However, the player I am recommending is not any of the players mentioned, and will hopefully enable Kane to receive the rest he deserves.

The player I’m referring to is French striker Jean-Philippe Mateta. He has had a very good season for Mainz, scoring 14 goals in 34 appearances. He is one of many forwards to have a breakout season. With the talk all surrounding Jovic, Lukebakio, Belfodil and Joelinton, Mateta has gone under the radar. The 21-year-old has had a difficult journey to the top. Growing up just outside of the French capital, Mateta was playing more unfashionable clubs, like FC Sevran and FA Drancy. Unlike many of the top French talents today, he was never picked up by one of the top clubs at youth level and was playing in the third division of French football as recently as 2016. After a season which saw him score 13 in 26, Lyon signed the young striker. He failed to make an impact during his first year at the club and dropped to a tier below, playing for Le Havre, a club famous for promoting young talent like Paul Pogba. Mateta scored 17 in 35, which then persuaded Mainz to sign him for a small fee of €8 million.

Mainz have had a huge issue in regards to scoring goals. Before Mateta’s arrival, no player had scored over 10 goals since Yunus Malli scored 11 in the 2015/16 season. Last season, they were one of six sides to score fewer than 40 goals in the league, an achievement that highlighted the need for goals in the side. Mateta gave just what they needed. When you hear Mateta is a 6.3ft striker who even compares himself to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it paints a picture of a forward who must be fantastic at holding the ball and is able to bring others into play effectively, but that isn’t the case. I’m unsure why he compares himself to the huge Swede because he is actually quite different. Mateta is much faster than you expect a player of his size and figure to be. He is very quick on his feet, constantly looking to make threatening runs in behind the opposition defenders. He is agile, being able to quickly turn and beat defenders with ease when receiving the ball. Mateta rarely ever drops deep. The Frenchman only averages 13 passes a game for Mainz. It makes the Zlatan comparison even stranger. Mateta’s only focus is on scoring goals and is very good at taking shots in good locations. Out of the 3.4 shots he takes per 90, 2.5 are coming from inside the penalty area. This is very impressive for a side that is starved of creativity. He is making the most out of the chances he is getting, and it is why I’ve found him so impressive this season. He is one of very few players who managed to match what their xG predicted and had a better expected-goals than Yussuf Poulsen and Kai Havertz, players who managed more league goals than him. It shows how good of a finisher he is, and while his xGP90 could be higher, he is the focal point for this side and seems to relish in the responsibility. His desire to chase every chance coming his way is admirable. He has been one of the best players in the league at finding space in the box and is arguably his best quality.

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While his goalscoring is solid, there are still areas that could be improved. His build-up play could do with a lot of work. While he is faster than Zlatan, The LA Galaxy striker has always been fantastic at using his technical ability and strength to help bring others into play. Mateta is currently not at that level yet. While he is a good dribbler, he can be dispossessed relatively easily when holding the ball, in hope of his teammates joining him in attack. If he could strengthen in that area, it could make him a much more well-rounded player.

So is Mateta the perfect player to help keep Kane playing at his best? I think he is one of the best who would be available. While Llorente has largely been a failure, he still offers something different to Kane. Mateta can do the same, but add that sharpness, speed and agility that Llorente never possessed during his time for Spurs. The only issue in this move would be Mateta himself, and if he would be comfortable playing fewer games, after finally playing over 30 games in a top league. It would be the player’s decision, but it would allow him to learn from one of the best coaches in the game, while also playing for a side competing for trophies. If Pochettino would be comfortable in resting Kane for more games than he usually does, it would keep Kane at his best, while ensuring he finally gets the right amount of rest he deserves. His injuries are only getting worse, and it’s time for Tottenham to start looking at a player who can succeed in that number nine position.

 

 

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

Hero – Atletico Madrid

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

Zero – Liverpool

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

Hero – Harry Kane

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

Zero – Thierry Henry

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

Hero – Real Madrid

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

Zero – Juventus

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

Hero – Gabriel Jesus

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

Zero – Lyon

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

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group B

Now onto the group of death. Let’s look through by far the toughest group this year.

Barcelona

The La Liga champions go into the tournament as one of the favourites for not only their group, but for the whole tournament. Barcelona have a very good squad, but there are some issues still there. Their midfield is still very old and their over reliance on Busquets is too obvious. That cannot keep happening when Busquets is now 30. He needs to be rested for these games now. Valverde is also a clear weakness. Barcelona won the league because of their tight defense (that seemed to vanish in the last couple of months of the season) and Messi just reminding the world why he is the best around. Valverde did not give their fans the entertaining style seen under Pep and Enrique. But Barcelona have a huge advantage this time around. Coutinho and Dembele will both be eligible for the Champions League, giving them much better options going forward. It’ll mean their best creators can flourish and help them beat teams, like Roma, who played very well defensively. They do have a good of going all the way. But it’s down to Valverde, and if he is able to approach the toucher games with less of a pragmatic way, but they will definitely top this group.

Inter Milan

A return of a European giant. Inter make their first appearance in the Champions League since 2012. They arrive with some very good elements in their team. They have one of the most consistent goal scorers in Europe in Mauro Icardi. They have very good depth in their centre backs in De Vrij, Miranda and Skriniar. They also shockingly signed Sime Vrsaljko on loan from Atletico Madrid. There are good components to a great team here, and will feel very unfortunate to draw the group they did. While I do like their team and Spaletti in charge, I don’t think they are ready to compete with Barcelona and Tottenham just yet. Inter are looking old, with Nainggolan, Miranda, D’Ambrosio, Valero, Candreva and Handanovic all over 30. While they could easily surprise me, the Europa League is where they will end up.

PSV Eindhoven

The Dutch champions come into this group as the weakest team, but still possess the ability to cause some real damage in this group. Unlike Spurs or Inter, PSV are unbeaten so far this season, even beating Willem II by 6 goals to 1. They have some real talented players in their side as well, most notably Hirving Lozano. The Mexican forward has been an instant hit since making his move to Europe, not only contributing to 25 goals in 29 appearances in the Eredivise, but also being a huge bright spark in a Mexico side who shocked the world by beating the world Champions Germany in their opening game in Russia. If PSV are to do anything, they need to make their home advantage count. Spurs’s away record against the top 6 in England is not great, which means that they can be beaten when out of their comfort zone. They have a chance too, but because of the quality of the other teams, they will finish rock bottom.

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs are in a strange place right now. After beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, they then go and lose to Watford away from home. It shows how Spurs seem to constantly tire themselves out in their big games, and then fail to turn up against lesser teams. This is why they will finish 2nd in this group. While many can question their consistency. It is hard to argue that Spurs fail to turn up when they put their mind to it. They always get ready for the big games, as seen with their wins over Dortmund and Real Madrid last season. League form is irrelevant when discussing this competition, meaning Spurs will probably get through okay. Barcelona are beatable, Inter are still trying to fit in many players, and they have a more talented side than PSV. The only worry is Harry Kane. The golden boot winner has looked so poor at the start of the season. He should not be playing in league games if Spurs want the best out him in the group, because has looked off the pace since his injury back in March. It’ll be a second place finish for the London side.

Final Table

1. Barcelona

2. Tottenham

3. Inter Milan

4. PSV

Every Premier League Club’s Best Signing

Now with the transfer window coming to a close, and most clubs getting all of their business done, it’s time to look every clubs best summer signing. Most of these will be very brief, as I will be discussing 20 transfers and so not want to drag it on. Enjoy! (I will update this list if a certain club makes a better signing)

Arsenal – Lucas Torreira

Even with Arsenal signing 6 players, Torreira is the only exceptional bit of business. Torreira is a player I have praised all summer, for not only being a defensive machine, but also being an excellent passer, completing the most for Sampdoria last season. He will give Arsenal that bit of bite they have been missing since Gilberto Silva left the club. He will finally make Arsenal’s midfield look solid and will help them in their quest for top 4 again.

Bournemouth – Diego Rico

I still find it crazy that Bournemouth do not get more criticism than they should get. Last season was easily their poorest in their 3 years in the division, and no thanks to their defense. Bournemouth ranked bottom for tackles won, and 19th for interceptions. Their defenders were poor (besides Ake, who was pretty good) and it was their downfall in progressing from their 9th finish in 2016/17. The Cherries have brought in Leganes defender Diego Rico. Who had a very good season for the Spanish club. While Bournemouth were poor in a defensive sense, Rico was not. He was averaging an outrageous 5.5 tackles and interceptions per 90, which is a vast improvement over Ake’s 2.7. Hopefully Rico will add some solidarity to the back four and it might to an improvement compared to last season.

Brighton – Bernardo

Full backs are by far the most important position in football right now, which makes it crazy why there aren’t many to choose from in the world right now. Brighton, however, have added a very solid one to their ranks. The versatile defender Bernardo has signed from RB Leipzig, and is a very good addition. The Brazilian is excellent in the air, winning 2.8 aerial duels, while also completing 3.7 tackles and interceptions. He doesn’t offer much of an attacking threat however, but his versatility and defensive strength could be a real asset for seaside club.

Burnley – ?

As of the 30th of July, Burnley are yet to sign a player, which is confusing considering they could be playing Europa League football next season. This will be updated if they do sign a player however.

Cardiff City – Bobby Reid

I’m tipping Cardiff as relegation candidates. The Welsh side are probably the worst side that were promoted. Both Fulham and Wolves look more like Premier League sides, while Cardiff seem to be unable to possess the same quality. However I will give credit where it is due, with Bobby Reid being an excellent bit of business. The forward was excellent for Bristol last season, looking like a real all around forward. Finished the season playing every game, scoring 19 and assisting 7. He was averaging 1.9 shots per game. What is notable is where he is taking these shots from, with 1.2 coming from inside the penalty area, showing how he gets into very good areas. He also isn’t afraid to do some hard yards for the team, putting in 1.1 tackles per 90. If Reid can adapt immediately to the league, it could be the difference between survival and relegation for Cardiff.

Chelsea – Jorginho

Even though the Italian is the only signing Chelsea have made, he is still an excellent addition. For Sarri to impliment his system effectively, he needs a player who is excellent at controlling a game. Fabregas could do that, but his legs are gone. Who else to bring besides the guy who performed so well for Sarri’s last team, Napoli. The midfield maestro is a pass machine, averaging over 80 passes per 90 with a 90% accuracy. Chelsea have went from having an imbalanced midfield, into having one of the best in the league. That is how good of a signing Jorginho is.

Crystal Palace – Max Meyer

What an absolute bargain of a signing for the eagles. After some issues with the Schalke board, the young German was not given an extension on his contact, and was allowed to leave for free. Meyer was very good last season, topping the league with 2.8 interceptions. He was moved deeper last season, to take advantage of his ability on the ball, and it worked in his favour. He averaged an 89% pass accuracy last season, and ended the season with 4.3 tackles and interceptions. An improvement on his 1.2 in the 2016/17 season. Palace have given all of the creative burden to Zaha. Now with Meyer, it could allow Palace to be even more of a threat.

Everton – Richarlison

At the time of writing, Lucas Digne is very close to completing his move to Everton, however I still think Richarlison is the best signing of the window so far for the toffees. The young Brazilian looks like a real promising player. When many young wingers arrive in the premier league, they are usually incredible dribblers but do not contribute enough in front of goal (Adama Troare is the perfect example). Richarlison is not a great dribbler, however he is excellent in getting in goal scoring positions. While seeing the player not score a goal after November can be quite worrying, he is still very young, and his finishing will improve. A great signing all round.

Fulham – Jean Michael Seri

One issue many promoted teams face when arriving in the premier league is making that step up, to have the quality to stay in the league. Fulham have so far done a very good job in buying good level players, the likes of Mitrovic, Schurrle, Le Marchand and Fabri are all effective in showing the intention that Fulham are going for. However their best addition by far is Ivory Coast international Jean Michael Seri. Seri is a very good midfielder, not great, but is definitely an improvement on what they have. Seri averages 90 passes per game, with 2.1 key passes. He will add that extra bit of spark to the London side, and hopefully enough to stay up.

Huddersfield – Terence Kongolo

After looking at Huddersfield’s recruitment so far, I was very impressed. Selling Tom Ince and bringing in Sobhi is pretty good business. Diakhaby will give them another option, Eric Durm is a no risk signing, that could pay off. However getting Kongolo on a permanent was excellent. The Dutchman didn’t get much of a chance for Monaco, but he has excelled since arriving in Yorkshire. He was averaging 5 tackles and interceptions for Huddersfield, and even won a very good 2.2 aerial duels won. He doesn’t contribute much going forward however, but Wagner clearly is happy with the solid defensive work he does for the team. A great addition to the team.

Leicester – James Maddison

Replacing a player with Mahrez’s quality is a difficult challenge. The Algerian was an all rounder. He was able to create, dribble and also assist. The foxes made two great moves in doing this. The first being the acquisition of Portuguese full back Ricardo Pereira, a player with outstanding defensive and attacking numbers. The other was the signing of up and coming attacking midfielder James Maddison. The ex Norwich playmaker was absolutely excellent for them last season. Ending the season with 14 goals and 8 assists, making him one of very few players in the championship to end the season with over 20 goal contributions. His attacking numbers are actually very difficult to believe. He was averaging 2.8 key passes (David Silva averaged 2.2 last season), 2.6 shots, (Lukaku averaged 2.5), and 2.4 dribbles, more than Mahrez. A brilliant signing that could be the real push for Leicester.

Liverpool – Naby Keita

While the signings of Fabinho and Allison are both excellent in their own right, it is hard to compare to Naby Keita finally arriving at the club. The Guinean is one of the best box to box midfielders in Europe, and bringing him in for a bargain £50m (yes bargain) is excellent. Keita is a player who excels in all departments, being solid defensively, a good creator, an excellent dribbler and a player who will help massively in the final third. One void that Coutinho left when he departed to join Barcelona was his incredible dribbling ability. While Keita might not be as effective from distance, he still will be an brilliant player to give the ball to. Liverpool have lacked a player in midfield who can help against teams who sit back. Having Keita and Fabinho will help the reds break these teams down, and finally begin to launch a real title challenge.

Manchester City – Riyad Mahrez

Another signing here based on lack of options. Mahrez is a really good player, but they have spent a lot on a player who might not even play a majority of the games. This trick in bringing in league winning talent in every position has worked for Pep before. At Barcelona he had the choices Villa, Sanchez, Messi and Pedro. At Bayern he could choose Koman, Costa, Robben and Ribery. He likes to fill his team with players all at the same level, to increase competition to ensure every player is doing their best. the difference here is price. At Bayern, he used Costa and Koman as competition, who both costed less than £30m (Koman was on loan during Pep’s time as manager), and at Barca, Sanchez and Villa were not brought for much money at all. While I did think their wide talent did need strengthening, it was prominently their left side. However he will still perform very well for City and should help them retain the title.

Manchester United – Fred

I recently discussed the signing of Fred, but to reiterate, he is very good one. He might not be the flashy Brazilian signing we see in the modern game, but he is still a quality player. Fred is a very good box to box midfielder, able to fill in multiple roles, being able to play as a number 10 and a number 6. His biggest strength is his versatility. One issue United have been facing is how easy they are to suppress in big games. By just keeping Pogba out of a game, United always looked so much weaker and struggled to break teams down. Putting men on Pogba meant that he would have to come deep to receive the ball, basically making the Frenchman a zero threat. Having a player who also has good quality on the ball will mean the team will have more than one outlet of attack. Fred could be one very important signing.

Newcastle UnitedKenedy

While I like the permanent signing of Dupravka, I think bringing Kenedy back was a good move. I mentioned how much I liked Kenedy last season. He gave Rafa a real perfect winger. A guy who was able to put in some real defensive work, while also beating players and helping the team in a creative sense. Bringing him in for another season can only benefit the team. Newcastle are definitely going to struggle next season. They haven’t recruited in the right areas. They have failed to bring in a striker yet, with Mitrovic gone, and Gayle not performing last season. The magpies bringing back Kenedy will hopefully help them in their battle for survival.

Southampton – Mohamed Elyounoussi

Southampton’s biggest issue over the last couple of seasons has easily been their lack of goals. Charlie Austin was their top scorer last season with a small seven. While fixing the striker would be the easy solution, the goals from around the rest of the team just aren’t good enough. Nathan Redmond ended the season with only a single goal to his name. The worst part about that was he had 48 shots. The players are clearly needing competition. Bringing in the Norwegian international is very important. In 65 appearances in the swiss league, he got a goal contribution every 100 minutes. He was extremely impressive for Basel. He will add creativity, as well as a goal threat to a Southampton team in dire need for some.

Tottenham Hotspur – Harry Kane

While it isn’t technically a new signing, keeping their best player is so important, with Madrid looking for a new goal machine to replace Ronaldo. Spurs have put themselves in a position where they can never get rid of him. While they haven’t signed anyone, they don’t really have to. Everyone are saying they are weakened because of their lack of activity. But even if they do not sign someone. They have managed to keep Alderweireld and Rose, to players who were seemingly on their way out. Pochettino and Daniel Levy have managed this core group of players excellently. They are not in desperate need for a player, but some improvements could be useful. Maybe a back up to Eriksen could be handy to take the creative press off him (Grealish could fill that role) and a replacement for the aging Dembele (maybe going all out for Thiago Alcantara would be perfect). Spurs aren’t desperate for players, but improvements could definitely be made.

Watford – Gerard Deulofeu

Watford just seem so lackluster going into this season. They are in need for a new centre half, and most importantly, a striker. I am not expecting much from the hornets at all, however the signing of Deulofeu is still a good one. The Spaniard arrives at the club after joining them on loan back in January. After the loss of Richarlison, Watford now look like less of a threat in an attacking sense. Deulofeu and Richarlison are not similar players in the slightest. Richarlison is excellent at getting into the box and finding good areas, while Deulofeu is better at bearing his man and stretching the defense. Deulofeu makes them a bit less unpredictable. Let’s hope it’ll be enough for them to stay in the division.

West Ham United – Felipe Anderson

I’ve spoke about West Ham in another post, so I’ll keep this one short. Felipe Anderson is similar to Dimitri Payet in the sense of it gives West Ham a player with an ability to unlock a defense. I’m starting to love the fact that every team seems to be getting a top six standard player, and the Brazilian fits the bill. He is an incredible dribbler and is great creativily and in front of goal. West Ham needed to add goals to the rest of the team, and to add overall quality to match the aspirations of the owners. Anderson could definitely be that player to put them back into entertaining us again.

Wolves – Rui Patricio

No question in this choice. Wolves have signed a player (with the help of a certain super agent) who has not only won league titles, but has won a European trophy with his country. One area that recently promoted teams struggle with is defensively. Premier league teams attack in multiple ways, and it can expose a defense all sorts of ways. Having a goalkeeper who has played against and with some of the best players around, can only be beneficial. One of the best signings of the summer right here.

5 Talking Points from England Vs Tunisia

I’ve said before that I genuinely believe this England team is a very good team, and while I am not an England fan myself, it was good to see all these talented players get some real credit. Let’s go through 5 talking points from last night’s game.

A rocket of a start

England began the game brilliantly. They pressed high up the pitch and and quickly moved the ball up the pitch. It was the way they were bound to play. With players like Lingard, Alli, and Sterling, you are given players who are great at finding space and at moving zones. The first 10 minutes were great signs. Lingard has a couple of chances which he probably should have stuck away, but it was different to what I have ever seen an England team do, have a plan. My issue with England over the past 16 years is they seem to not have any sort of tactic on how to approach the game. They seem to just rely on star players like Beckham and Gerrard, hence why they seem to jam them all in a team even though it didn’t work. This England team however has so much balance. The midfield highlights that pretty well. You have two solid defensive midfielders in Henderson and Dier, two good ball carriers in Lingard and Loftus-Cheek, an energetic midfielder in Delph and a good creator in Dele Alli. This midfield worked so well and it is mainly because of a certain Geordie.

Henderson – MOTM?

While Kane will get all of the headlines, and rightly so, Henderson does definitely deserve a lot of credit. Henderson is a player I have never loved, but I do understand why managers seem to like him. In this game he showed why. His passing was very impressive. Whether it was a simple ball to Alli or Lingard, or a long ball straight to the full back, he constantly kept things ticking. It was great to see him do so well. I’ve also mentioned how I don’t understand why Shelvey was even considered an option. Henderson had a much better pass accuracy and completed the most passes in the premier league last season. He has the quality and gives England a real shield for the defense. While I like Dier’s tenacity, Henderson definitely has been the right pick.

Solid Defense?

On paper, a 3 man back line of Maguire, Walker and Stones would be okay, and it was. The biggest positive with all three of these players is their ability on the ball. All definitely have confidence when in possession, and are able to carry the ball out effectively. This could be seen multiple times, with Walker slipping in a very good ball to Trippier in the first half, and John Stones always keeping that back four very calm. However there were moments that did show their inexperience. Kyle Walker had a moment of madness and elbowed the Tunisian forward, and Maguire misplaced a simple that could have lead to a goal. This back four contains a defender that has a never played at the top level, another who is still very young, and another who usually plays fullback. It will have its sketchy moments, but overall very positive.

Harry Kane

The new captain began his first world cup with a bang, and scored 2 goals that won his team the game. Before this tournament, Kane has been very decent for England. He managed to get only 5 goals in qualifying. This was a very low number when comparing to other top strikers, with Lewandowski banging 16, and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring 15. Like England, he wasn’t too impressive. But tournaments can bring the best out of a player, and so far it has. While Kane’s involvement in the game was pretty limited, with most of ball going to the two central midfielders or the full back, he still managed to get in that right place at that right time to back both goals. We always want the modern striker to get involved in the game and keep the ball to assist teammates, but sometimes a pure goal scorer is what they need. If he keeps it up, he could be remembered just as fondly as Lineker or Shearer.

Positive changes

I was very impressed with Southgate’s changes in the game. He took of Sterling, who didn’t have the best of games, and brought on Rashford. The United winger had a great impact on the game and gave England so much energy and was willing to take on players with his speed and strength. The next change was Loftus-Cheek for Dele Alli, who got a slight injury in the game. He gave quite the direct replacement, offering an incredible dribbling ability, and because of his size, was so hard to get off the ball. Dier for Lingard was right at the end, but that was just to waste time. Overall I thought Southgate is making the right decisions regarding making changes to the game.

2018 World Cup Debutants XI

The world cup is easily the biggest competition in the world, and on the big stage, it is a big chance for players to make a real impression. I will not be including players under the age of 23, because that will be saved for another list.

GK: Marc Andre Ter-Stegen

It’s actually quite incredible that this will be the first world cup for Ter Stegen. The Barcelona stopper has proven himself to be one of the stoppers around, making an already solid Barcelona defense into an absolute wall. With the big injury to Manuel Neuer, not only will he be on the plane, but he might also be starting.

RB: Dani Carvahal

This is by far the craziest addition, just because of the high level that Dani Carvahal has been playing at for the past 3 years. It is understandable why he wasn’t including. He only arrived back at Madrid half way through the season, after a successful loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen. The four time champions league winner is now one of the best right backs in the world, and now instantly starts for his team.

CB: Marquinhos

The next two players just about qualify for this, but still are eligible. While I don’t rate him as highly as he seems to be, I think he is still a very good defender. This Brazil team, defensively, seems to be going through a transitional period. Thiago Silva and Miranda are both near the ends of their long careers and Dani Alves seems to be finished for Brazil. Marquinhos is still only 24. He has a long career ahead of him in the middle of this strong Brazil team. He needs to be apart of this defense, to add some structure. He could be very valuable for Tito’s side.

CB: Samuel Umtiti

Another who just about qualifies for this XI. Samuel Umtiti has turned into one of the best defenders around. With a Gerard Pique who might be cultured on the ball, but lacks the positional play at times. Having someone so athletic and so confident in the tackle is so handy to have. If he is partnered alongside the equally brilliant Raphael Varane, France should have no issues in Russia.

LB: Danny Rose

While he hasn’t been at his best in recent months, it is still clear Rose is one of the best left backs in the Premier League. His solid athleticism and brilliant contribution in the final third has shown him to be a perfect modern left back. His place is for some reason, still up for debate, but if Gareth Southgate has a brain of any sorts, he is a must start.

CDM: Nemanja Matic

Since Serbia did not qualify for the 2014 world cup, it means this will be Matic’s first World Cup, and about time. The Serbian veteran has been a brilliant defensive midfielder over the years, and now will be his time to serve his country. He has such an excellent ability of reading the game, and most of all, composure. He is such a calm presence, and in a team full of young players, it will be a perfect addition, and a perfect addition in this team.

CM: N’golo Kante

With Kante’s relevance only appearing in 2015, there would have been no chance for him to be selected in the previous world cup. But after his terrific campaigns with Leicester and Chelsea, it is now time to add his brilliant aggression and tenacity to a France squad full of quality. What’s changed since the Euros is his improved quality on the ball. He has went from a very good destroyer, to a pretty good passer on the ball. With this clear improvement, it will add extra to an already well rounded defensive midfielder.

CM: Isco

Another player who was surprisingly left out of the last Spain squad. Even during that season, he was apart of the Madrid team that won La Decima. He has now transformed into one of the best attacking midfielders on the planet. His ability to find those small gaps, and use his close control ability to dribble past opposition players. He has been invaluable to Madrid in recent seasons. His contribution in front of goal had sky rocketed, and proved that staying and fighting for your place is the way to do it. When Verrati says that playing against Isco is harder than playing against Messi, that should tell you enough.

RW: Nabil Fekir

Another France player who didn’t have similar potential to other young players, Fekir has had the season of his life. Even with a horrific injury, he still was able to score 16 goals in the league. He is an absolutely powerful player who defines attacking at full speed. His place in the squad is completely deserved.

ST: Harry Kane

One of the best strikers in the world is going to his first world cup. Kane arrives as one of the most hotly anticipated players. With his future at Tottenham in slight doubt, clubs like Real Madrid might be watching this to see how he handles the big stage, to see if he is the Galactico they definetly need. Even though he didn’t get the golden boot, he still scored 30 goals, which puts him in the top 10 goalscorers in premier league history. He is leading the line for a very interesting England side. This could br his chance to show the world, just like Michael Owen.

LW: Mohammed Salah

Speaking of golden boots, Salah will be his countries hope in a competition they haven’t played in for 20 years. Salah is the talk of the world right now. With his record breaking season, and brilliant performances in Europe, everyone knows the name Mo Salah. He scored the winning penalty to send his country to Russia. He is able to handle the toughest of pressures. With him alone, they could go from scraping to get out the group, to getting to the quarterfinals.