PLAYER ANALYSIS: Juan Mata and the Slow Decline of Number 10’s

Not so long ago, the number 10 was seen as one of the most valuable and sought after positions in world football. They were seen as the creative hubs of the side in charge of chance creation, but like many elements of football, it was just a trend. Thanks to managers either preferring the side to be more defensibly solid from every area of the pitch, it meant the once favoured attacking midfielder was replaced. Many players who were born to play as a number 10 had to adapt or be left behind, and many did so. Marek Hamsik turned into a goalscoring number 8 for Sarri, Dries Mertens turned into one of the best poachers in Serie A, and Di Maria already turned into a very good winger. While these are some of many players who succeeded in transitioning into another position, there are still some players who aren’t having a similar success. Oscar left Chelsea thanks to not being able to have a role in Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 system, Mesut Ozil seems to not be wanted at Emery’s Arsenal and James Rodriguez looks to be struggling for Bayern, even with his good performances. It’s a shame that these players are struggling, but it’s just how football works. It’s a sport that goes through trends and right now it’s a position that isn’t favoured.

The player who we’ll be talking about, regarding this decline in the desire for an attacking midfielder is Juan Mata. He arrived in England in 2011, when he was signed by Chelsea for £26m from Valencia, and was truly loved at Stamford Bridge. He won the player of the season twice in both of his full campaigns, and truly lit up the league. His departure from Chelsea is still seen as rather baffling. Mourinho let him go because he didn’t think he did enough defensively to start over Oscar. After their relationship soured, he joined Manchester United for £37m. While many do not like Mourinho, me included, he was right on this. It became even more apparent when Louis Van Gaal joined the club in the summer of 2014. He originally found game time difficult, with record signing Di Maria slotting right in at the beginning of the season, however he did eventually find a space on the right side of a 4-1-4-1. While his numbers were never spectacular, he still contributed under Van Gaal with some important goals and kept the side moving the ball in the final third. He played in every Premier League game in the Dutchman’s final season, and his numbers showed this to an extent. He completed 47 passes a game, the second highest in his United career, was taking 1.5 shots and rarely was getting dispossessed. His chance creation was low at 1.4 but that’s more of a problem with Van Gaal’s incredibly pragmatic system. The problems that Mata was suffering from during his time at United were struggling to fit his skill set in a side that didn’t have the space for it. Players like Jesse Lingard and Henrik Mkhitaryan offered more off the ball and were quicker. Mata couldn’t play in the middle because he didn’t have enough defensively to play as a number 8 in a 4-3-3, and couldn’t play outwide because he didn’t have the pace and dribbing. While Mourinho did use him more than any expected him to, the issues didn’t get better as he aged. His disadvantages have became even more apparent under Solsjkaer. The former United striker wanted to impliment a pressing style in the side. While this did bring the best out of the likes of Rashford, Lingard and Herrera, Mata is a play who has not had the same boost. Mata just doesn’t have the same speed and energy as Lingard, and whenever he replaced his teammate, it just showed how out of his depth Mata seems to be in this sort of system. Mata is and always will be one of the most technically gifted footballers United have seen in the last 10 years. His reading of the game, combined with his ability at finding space in the final third make him a useful player, but not in the team that United aspire to be.

It’s discussions like this that make football sound harsher than it can be; adapt or be left behind. While this usually happens with managers, Mata highlights just how prominent it can be with players. This isn’t to say that number 10’s are prehistoric, but at this moment they are just out of trend. It means players, like Mata just have to try and find a way to continue to perform at the top level. Many players have figured this out, but unfortunately some can’t, and must wish they were born earlier, so they could truly have the great career they deserve.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: David Brooks and How Young Players Should Develop

When a young player reaches a certain age and is yet to establish themselves in the first team, a loan move away is usually the best move. It allows them to be given a higher of getting game time, while also learning from others players and coaches. What’s become more popular in recent years in big clubs buying these young players, in a hope to secure a potential talent for a low price. Jadon Sancho is the most recent example of this, with Michael Keane and Serge Gnabry also fitting into this category. The only thing a young player should worry about about is playing football, and if another club promises that, they can never be blamed for saying yes. One element of this that is overlooked is what coach they will be playing under. Players want to develop the strengths of their game under coaches will know how to do that. It’s reminiscent of Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen side from 2016. While they were defensively suspect to say the least, but he did allow players like Bellarabi and Julien Brandt to flourish and put out some of their best outputs in their career. Players need to make a choice that will improve them on the long term, and David Brooks’s choice to join Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth is at the centre of this.

To say that I’m not Eddie Howe’s biggest fan is a slight understatement. He isn’t a bad coach in the slightest, but when I see many fans and pundits link him to Arsenal or Tottenham, I have to ask what they’re seeing. After a strong start which saw them sit sixth by November, they did what they usually do and drop off, now sitting in 14th. They are a defensive mess, with Howe’s side conceding the 17th most goals in the division, with only the teams sitting in the relegation area conceding more. It’s a record that has unfortunately continued from last season, where they conceded 61 goals. It’s simply not good enough for a manager who many think is ready for a step up. I do have some sympathy this season however, with the Cherries suffering injuries to key players. Callum Wilson, Lewis Cook, Diego Rico and Simon Francis have missed parts of the season due to injuries. Howe has a defensive, excluding Nathan Ake, needs upgrading if they wish to compete in the top half of the table.

I have criticised Howe heavily here, but by far his biggest strength has a coach is how he forms his attacks. The way he has gotten the best out of his attackers a feet to be proud of. Josh King, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser have performed this well in their careers, and have blossomed in Eddie Howe’s counter attacking system, which has seem them score more goals from counter attacks than any other side in the league with 9. No one would have predicted both Fraser and Wilson equalling a Premier League record for goals contributions between two players, with 12. While they have been fantastic, not many would have the thought the answer to bringing the best out of the trio was to add a 20 year old Welshman from Sheffield United, right?

Enter David Brooks, one of the most exciting young players in the league. There is an element of bias here. As a Welshman myself, the thought of seeing a genuine talent come through is just too exciting. Bournemouth paid a very reasonable £11m for the wide player. On the surface, it’s crazy how Brooks has had this impact in his first season in the Premier League. In his last season at Sheffield United, he did make 30 appearances, but only 9 were starts. Brooks has now started 29 games for the Cherries, and has been the attacking signing they needed so badly. Fraser is great at making that final pass, Wilson is their best finisher, and King’s strength and dribbling make him great at driving those counter attacks. Brooks fits right in these three. During their strong start to the season, only Josh King was attempting more pressures than Brooks. However what is most exciting about the Welshman is his offensive involvement. Brooks’s role in Howe’s side is seemingly to help overload areas of the pitch, and use his impressive intelligence to find space and help move the ball to the likes of Fraser and Wilson. Out of the 4 attackers, Brooks’s xGChain is the highest with 0.66 (a metric that shows players’s involvement in goals that lead to goals or assists). He is the one that keeps the provides the more decisive players, and seems to flourish in that role. His number aren’t exactly stand out, with Brooks taking 1.4 shots, making 1 key pass and completing 0.8 dribbles per game. Brooks is one of those specific players where stats cannot measure a player’s effectiveness. It’s similar to how Jesse Lingard and Gini Wijnaldum’s success for their side cannot be measured by numbers, but their sides are certainly better when they are in the XI. It’s no coincidence that Bournemouth’s attack has arguably had its biggest success since Brooks has arrived. He has been the final jigsaw piece they needed, and has a bright future ahead of him

What Is WRONG With PSG? Manchester United vs Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Champions League Review

When this tie was drawn back in December, it looked like the game was already over. PSG were flying under Tuchel, and while they had their defensive problems, having Mbappe, Neymar and Cavani instantly made them favourites. United on the other hand were having their worst season in a very long time. Mourinho had clearly lost the players and was almost asking to be sacked, however this all changed before the first leg. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in and gave United the boost they needed, and looked like they couldn’t be stopped. Paris were in a worse situation. They weren’t playing Rabiot because of his refusal to sign a new contract. He was carrying that midfield for a majority of the season, and it looked like they would massively suffer without him. What made it worse was that both Neymar and Cavani both picked up injuries, leaving that front 3 missing 2 of it’s most senior players. It left the tie more open than anyone expected.

Let’s start with the first leg, with ended 0-2, thanks to goals from Mbappe and Kimpembe. Many were truly underestimating the French champions in this game. Many pundits and fans thought without Neymar and Cavani, it would be difficult for PSG to pick up a result. But they all forgot how good of a coach Tuchel is. He is one of the best around, able to adjust his system for whoever he is facing, while also having a very clear identity. He was able to turn both Pulisic and Dembele into some of the most desirable players in Europe. Tuchel got his tactics spot on against United. His plan was to cut their supply lines by putting Marquinhos very tight on Pogba, United’s best player. This worked, with Pogba having a difficult game, ending up with the Frenchman getting sent off for a stupid challenge on Dani Alves. While Paris looked like they set up in a 4-2-3-1, it looked more like a 3-4-2-1. Dani Alves looked more like a wing back, and Draxler and Di Maria were playing more like second strikers, with a weak United defence being quite easy to exploit. PSG nullified United’s attack, while also taking advantage of their weaknesses. It was almost a perfect performance in a knock out stage, and was a massive step up from their struggles against Real Madrid last year.

United on the other hand has massive struggles, but it’s hard to place blame. The Red Devils lost both Lingard and Martial to injuries, and were forced to bring on Sanchez and Mata, who both could not replicate the same energy and speed on the counter attack as the players they replaced. While Martial and Lingard weren’t exactly great, they are more of a threat. They would have always left United with an option to get back into the game. What PSG noticed and took advantage of is just how left sided United are. With Pogba, Shaw and Martial/Sanchez being their most creative players, PSG decided to double up in that area, and it left them much easier to deal with. United have almost no option on that right side, with Young being very wasteful in the final third, and Lingard being given more of a free role to move inside. It’s a problem they need to address in the summer, and with rumours of Jadon Sancho being possibly brought in, it could leave that problem being resolved very quickly. United failed to create any good chances in this game, and were punished with effieciency from PSG, and Solskjaer was taught a big lesson by one of the best managers around.

The tables were turned for the second leg. Thanks to a tough game against Liverpool, United were left with even more players out injured, with the total being 10. The possibility of United advancing to the quarter finals was at 4%, making it an impossible challenge. Yet they managed to do it. I will go on later about the main reasons on why they did so, but there were still impressive parts to United in this game. While Paris were missing good chances and were so much worse than they were in Manchester, United still defended very well, with Lindelof, Smalling, Shaw and McTominay all putting in great performances to ensure they could hold on to their advantage, when the game was getting tough. I saw some United fans say it was some master class approach from Solskjaer, when it really wasn’t that impressive. He started Eric Bailly as a right back, which as seen under Mourinho, doesn’t work. He gets caught too easily and seems to not understand what a defensive line is. While Solskjaer did bring on Dalot to replace him, moving Ashley Young to the right back position, it did seem like that was the decision he should of made in the first place. United weren’t as incredible as many said they were. Now with time to reflect and emtion out of the window, it’s clear to see that United took advantage of 3 mistakes, but held on impressively.

What even happened to Paris on this night? They arguably were deserved of the win, but that isn’t saying much considering United as a whole only created 2 chances in the game. Mbappe and Di Maria both had chances to win the game for their side, but didn’t take them. There was still an element of a side who already thought they were through, so didn’t have to try their hardest to win it. It’s an approach Madrid also favoured against Ajax, but there is a difference. Madrid are the holders so they have a somewhat right to be arrogant. Paris on the other hand do not. They have failed 3 years in a row now, to reach the quarter finals and prove that their costly investments are paying off. Instead they looked so casual and didn’t have the same desire they showed in the first leg. You can question United all you want in this game, believe me I have, but one thing that cannot be argued is they went in there with the hope to win that game. All the players on pitch turned up and players like Fred and McTominay had arguably the best games of their United careers. PSG didn’t and were punished for their lack of concerntration throughout the game. I do think they still have plenty of room to improve. Those full backs still need improving, with Alves and Meunier not being good enough to win this competition. Lo Celso is also set to return, which will give them a player who I am very fond of, for being able to do everything in midfield. They’ll need another midfielder, with Rabiot on his way out in the summer, but if they improve these areas, they will become more competitive than ever before. I just wish they took advantage of the gift of being the only big club in Paris. Players like Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, N’golo Kante, Anthony Martial and former PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi. No other city produces talent like this. PSG seem to be taking advantage of this on a small scale, with Moussa Diaby, Nkunku and Kimpembe all finding their feet in the first team, but they have to start dominating from the academy level. They let Mbappe slip out of their hands to another rival, as well as players like Kante leave the country. They also do not dominate on the domestic front as Juventus and Bayern do. Juventus are great at this. They sign players from all over Serie A, to show the domination and weaken the sides around them. Paris do not do this. It’s frustrating because I believe that every side in Ligue 1 has a talent that could be at a bigger club. Thuram, Savanier, Jullien, Sangare, Lala and Atal are a few players that Paris could sign. While most wouldn’t start, they could send some of the younger players on loan, and find out if they are worth keeping. Something at Paris needs to change, if they ever want to be taken seriously as the European powerhouse they claim to be.

Will Solskjaer Get the Job FULL TIME? Manchester United vs Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Champions League Preview

By far one of the clashes of the tournament. The french champions go against a high flying Man United side. It’s a tie that could go either way and it’s very difficult to even predict this, but I’ll try my best.

Let’s start with Manchester United, who three months ago, would have made this fixture so easy to predict. Under Mourinho, this side were absolutely awful.There was no clear future and seemed to change how the team set up in every game. In the end, why even blame the players when the manager was doing so much wrong. Now under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they look like a completely different team. They attack much faster and take advantage of the incredibly talented attackers they have. Who knew that playing Martial and Pogba, two of the most talented players in the team, would help win games? Since the Norwegian has taken over, United have closed an 11 point gap, to overtaking Arsenal and only a win away from top 4. They are unbeaten and even beat Asenal and Tottenham in the process. Even looking at xG, only the Tottenham game can be seen as a game where United rode their luck, but you can do that when you have one of the best keepers the game has ever seen. I think what’s most impressive about Solskjaer so far is just how quickly he identified the problems. He brought Herrera back into the team and made Martial and Rashford key players in what he was trying to do. This is the best United have been playing since Sir Alex retired, and is arguably the most likeable United have ever been.

Their key player for this fixture is not even a debate, and that is Paul Pogba. The Frenchman’s form has been next level in recent months. He has more goal contributions than any other Manchester United player, and is performing at the level we all knew he could reach. Pogba has always been incredible for United, but now he’s adding those goals and assists that all of his critics have been craving. His numbers have been absolutely sensational this season. He’s taking 3.5 shots a game, making 1.6 key passes and completing 1.9 dribbles. No other United player ranks higher in these departments. He is essentially carrying the attack and he seems to be loving it. He is especially good when it comes to counter attacks. It’s an approach that the team have been using in the tougher games, and thanks to Pogba’s strength and vision, it’s working. While Pogba as been the best player, Marcus Rashford isn’t far behind. The forward was one of few players who showed a lot of fight even when Mourinho was at the helm. He has been the first choice number 9, since Lukaku just doesn’t look up to it in this system. Rashford’s speed and ability to interchange with the other forwards making an unpredictable threat. His shot numbers since Solskjaer took over have gone to Harry Kane numbers. He’s averaging 5 shots a game, and is really looking like a player I never thought he would be. It’s great to finally see the 21 year old look like a player who truly is deserving of starting for the club.

Let’s look at Paris, who while having a record breaking start to the season, amassing 14 wins in a row, seems to be surrounded by off the pitch problems. The first seems to be Thomas Tuchel’s transfer demands. The former Borussia Dortmund coach seems to have this reputation of having high demands. He fell out with the Borussia Dortmund board because of the issues he was having regarding transfers, and it seems to have continued him into the French capital. Before the season started, Tuchel made it very clear that full backs he had were in his view, not good enough. With Thiago Motta retiring, it left Paris without their best defensive midfielder. What made things even worse was Rabiot’s contract situation. He was refusing to sign a new deal, because he wanted to play for Barcelona. The board did not like this, so Tuchel is now not allowed to play him at all. The problem is none of these issues have been resolved, and it has left Tuchel very frustrated. Juan Bernat was the only full back that was signed in the summer, and only last month the club decided to replace Motta, with Leandro Parades, a player who I really like. The problem is it should have never been left this late. They are still a midfielder short, and with their failed attempt to bring in Idrissa Gueye from Everton, it has left Tuchel wondering if his club really want to win the Champions League. Their performances in the league have been amazing, but you expect that. When you some of the best attackers in Europe playing in the worst out of the top 5 leagues, of course they are going to perform exceptionally. If you just focus on their performances in Europe, there is a significant difference. That is going to happen when playing better opposition, but it’s staggering how much of a difference there is. Mbappe, Neymar and Di Maria have stayed consistent, but the likes of Bernat, Cavani, Kimpembe and Marquinhos all look worse. It does address a problem this side have. Many of their players just aren’t elite. They have these high ambitions of winning the Champions League, but you look at the other top teams, like Juventus, Barcelona and Manchester City, they have talent in every area of the side. Paris’s full backs aren’t good enough, and have a lot of players starting to age out. It isn’t their fault entirely. They play in a league where attracting talent can be difficult, but it begs the question why not focus on their domestic league? Ligue 1 is not as competitive as other leagues, but you can go into every single team and you would be able find one talent that is stand out. Sangare, Thuram, Pepe, Thauvin, Aouar, Atal, Lala. My point is they should be smarter regarding bringing in talent. It has hurt Bayern to an extent, but Juventus and Lyon have all excelled when finding domestic talent. They are the only top club in Paris, so why do they not use that pull to bring the best talent in the country?

Anyways, lets look the players that Manchester United should truly be worried about. There is no other place to start than arguably the best young talent in the history, Kylian Mbappe. The World Cup winner has actually taken his game to a whole new level this season. With Neymar mssing both fixtures thanks to another injury, the pressure is on the young forward to step up on the big stage. While Neymar was comfortably their best player in the group stages, Mbappe was still amazing. He started all 6 games, and finished the group stages with 7 goal contributions, the same as his Brazilian teammate. No other player in this side was taken more than his 3.1 shots per 90. He was thir most lethal player in the box. With Neymar dropping incredibly deep in some games, it left Mbappe as one of the most advanced players. He was also creating 2.3 chances a game, and even completing 2.5 dribbles a game. He will be a massive handful for which ever defenders are selected for the game.

With Neymar out, there was also concern that Marco Verratti would also mix the tie. Thanfully for Paris, he will be available for this game. Verratti has been the best midfielder in France and one of the best in Europe. He has been in the Ligue 1 team of the season every year for the past 4 years (Don’t quote me on that). Even after initial problems with Tuchel, with the German claiming Verratti was overweight, he is back to his best this season. In the Champions League, he was averaging 85 passes a game. No other player in the squad was making more than the Italian international. He also had the highest pass accuracy than any outfield player to start more than 1 game. He was winning the ball back more than any other Paris player, with Verratti making 4 tackles a game, twice more than anyone else. He is the reason why the French champion’s midfield is even functional. His distribution and ball winning ability make him essential in linking the defense and the attack together. Without him, they look so much slower and have less of that drive in the midfield. He is a vital player to PSG.

If Manchester United want to progress to the next round, there is one thing they must do. Play on the counter attack, in a similar fashion to how they did against Arsenal. They play full backs that love to go forward, but don’t have the speed to get back if United move the ball. Rashford, Martial and Lingard have to start this game. If Rashford and Martial split wide, it will make life very difficult for their defense. A lot also rests on Paul Pogba. Their midfield isn’t the strongest. If the Frenchman can use his incredible athletic ability and passing range to find the forwards, it’ll mak United very difficult to deal with. They are missing their best player, so it’s vital that they take advantage of that.

If Paris wish to advance to the quarter finals, they must attack more centrally. While Herrera and Matic have both been good under Solkjaer, Herrera has this habit of going out of position to recover the ball, and Matic is also very slow. You expect intelligent passers like Verratti and Parades to find the holes to get through the wall. It also helps that United’s defense has this habit of making mistakes. Mbappe and Cavani have to make sure whoever is playing with Lindelof is the one receiving the ball. Lindelof is the only one with the confidence to try and break out of the line. If you limit United to goal kicks and long balls into the channels, it makes dealing with their attack much easier. While they have improved, there is definitely still a Mourinho-sized shadow looming over some of these players.

This tie is so hard to predict. Paris can beat anyone on their day, but their inability to deal with sides with good wingers makes them quite easy to beat. Liverpool and Napoli proved that beating this side is not difficult. United have proved that they know how to deal with tough away games and come back with the 3 points, as seen by their wins in North London, but Europe is an entirely different stage. I think I’ll go for a United win. Tuchel still hasn’t got this side as good as it should be, and with their midfield looking worse than the Red Devil’s, it is just the perfect time to play them.

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.