Barcelona Won’t Win the Treble because…. Top 5 League Talking Points

There were plenty of big games to discuss this weekend, so let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga – Bayern finally lose. Nagelsmann’s new Vs old.

The Bundesliga was very interesting this week. It shows how that even though Dortmund fought from behind to beat Leverkusen, and to top the Bundesliga, that they aren’t even the main two talking points. Let’s begin with Bayern, who lost their first league game under Niko Kovac, losing to an inform Hertha Berlin side by 2 goals to 0. It was mostly a deserved win for Hertha, who took advantage of a very mediocre Bayern display. Bayern had 25 shots, but only 5 on target, with Lewandowski getting the best chance of the game when it was 0-0. Expected goals had Bayern at 2.41 because of the sheer amount of shots they had. It doesn’t excuse individual errors however, with Boateng making such an unnecessary tackle to give Hertha the first goal. Duda has continued his excellent start to the season by scoring his 5th goal of the season. But the stand out performer for Hertha was their full back Lazaro, who made 5 interceptions and got the assist for his teammate. He did everything you expect a full back to do in the modern game. Kovac set his team up in a 4-1-4-1, but when looking at the average player positions, Both Robben and Ribery were playing near Lewandowski. It looked more like a 4-3-3 in the end. Maybe Kovac wanted them further back to limit the effects of the wingers, who knows, but it was clear attacking was their priority. Renato Sanches was another who wasn’t so impressive. Kovac has put a lot of faith in the Euro 2016 winner, after his disastrous spell in Wales, and his first season struggles in Germany. It has mostly paid off, but in this game he was very poor. While his defensive work in a game where Bayern had 69% possession is irrelevant, you want Sanches doing more in a creative or attacking sense. He didn’t make a single key pass or even a cross or long ball. He was a passenger and just didn’t contribute enough in the game. It was a bad day at the office for Bayern, and no the pressure is on.

Nagelsmann had a very awkward day in the office, with his Hoffenheim side playing his future employers RB Leipzig, where he saw his current side lose 2-1. Leipzig played this game very well, using the very intense style of Hoffenheim to their advantage. Werner was used effectively in dragging Akpoguma wider, which gave Poulsen room in that space to run. He had an excellent game, scoring both goals for the away side. He also made 4 key passes, completed 7 aerial duels and had 3 shots on target. Poulsen had always been a useful player, but never a consistent scorer. He already has 3 goals this season, which is one less than his entire tally last season. If he keeps it up, he could finally prove he is ready for the top level. However Hoffenheim were not at their best in this game. While it was very close, their just didn’t have the players upfront to put them over the line, in the same way Leipzig do. Both Szalai and Belfodil only managed a single shot on target between them. It does give something for Julien Nagelsmann to look forward to, when he gets his hands on that RB Leipzig team, and most importantly their scouting network, they could be a real home for young players and talented ones alike.

La Liga – Another draw for Barca. The Madrid Derby.

The top of the table just seems to keep getting interesting, because it seems no one wants to be there. Barcelona had to win this game, to get that advantage over their Madrid rivals, who played each other later in the day. They didn’t do that however, and ended up having to scrape back a goal to draw against Athletic Blibao. Valverde continues to puzzle me with his strange tactical decisions when choosing his side. With Umtiti injured, it left only Pique and Lenglet as viable options for the game. While both are good defenders, neither have the incredible strength and athleticism that their French teammate possesses. Valverde’s team selection really only baffled me further up the pitch. Why play Roberto in midfield, when you’d think Semedo would come in to give him a rest for the Champions League tie against Spurs? You’d think playing Rafinha would make more sense. The forward line was the most baffling of all. He left Malcom out of the squad entirely. Why? This was a perfect chance to rest Suarez and Messi, and start a forward line of Dembele Coutinho and Malcom, to see if playing all three could still work. Yet he decided to play Suarez again. Suarez is still a useful player, but is not near the level he was when he arrived. He takes less shots and just doesn’t offer as much as others in build up. I said in the title that Barcelona will not win the treble they should probably be aiming for, and this is why. Valverde seems to have no idea how to please all of these players and how to correctly use his squad. Busquets, Pique, Messi and Suarez have been so important over the recent years, but they are all over 30 now, and need to be managed right. Valverde has not done that, and I could mean a struggle as the season goes on. A poor result and another baffling decision from the Barcelona manager.

The hotly anticipated Madrid Derby didn’t go to plan, with the game ending in a 0-0 draw. This is the fourth time in a row where this game has ending in a tie, with the last victory going to Madrid 2 seasons ago (famously remembered for Ronaldo’s hat trick). While it did end goalless, there is still plenty to talk about. Let’s begin with the goalkeepers. Jan Oblak has been the second best goalkeeper for a while now, and further showed that against Real. He made 6 saves in the game, including an excellent one to stop Asensio from scoring. Courtois also had a good day against his former team, with the Belgian making 2 great saves to stop both Costa and Griezmann from scoring. Both clubs are blessed with elite stoppers, and is one reason why their defense can always be relied on. Two other players who were good on the day were Toni Kroos and Rodri. Both midfielders are playmakers, yet from different generations. One is a world cup winner, the other was signed from Villarreal in the summer and called one of the signings of the summer by myself. Atletico have had a bit of a midfield problem to say the least. Since Gabi’s departure, they have not been able to fill the void that their talisman left. Rodri since a great controller, usually averaging over a 90% pass accuracy, and is also able to do his defensive work. He showed both against Real Madrid, He had the highest pass accuracy in the game (excluding substitutions of course), put in 6 tackles and interceptions, and made a key pass. It was an overall solid performance from their young Spaniard. On the other end of the spectrum, Toni Kroos put in one of his usual performances. There was plenty of creating and passes, with Kroos completing 103 passes, and making 4 key passes. Anther solid showing from an established star. After this draw, it leaves both Madrid sides and Barcelona in real contention for the title. It is still very difficult to predict.

Ligue 1 – Lille Smash Marseille. Monaco at Rock Bottom.

Ligue 1 is turning more into a one horse race as the season is going along. Lyon just struggle to consistently gather, Marseille still look weak away from home, and Monaco are just a mess ( oh we will get to them). Let’s start with Marseille, who were truly humiliated against Lille, who won 3-0 at home. It was a real bad performance from the away side. Payet didn’t play this game, neither did Sanson, Amavi or Mitroglou. I criticised Mitroglou last week, but Germain wasn’t much better. The Frenchman didn’t even manage a shot all game, and just showed how ineffective Marseille were in the final third. While they were very lackluster in the final third, it was defensively where they were at their worst. Both Gustavo and Mandanda have away penalties, that looking back on, they should have never given them away. Both were reckless and are experienced enough to not be giving away penalties like that. That isn’t to take anything away from Lille however. While two of their goals were penalties, their third goal was an absolutely great team goal, and just showed why they deserved the win. Both Bamba and Pepe were key for the home side again. Their forwards have not been firing, so seeing their wide players contributing so well must be a relief. It’ll be interesting to see how both Bamba and Pepe continue to perform this season. Many top sides are always in need of wide talent. It they continue their great run of form, it could result in a big move for one of them. Both have started every game, and have scored 5 goals each. They have been electric. Lille now sit in 2nd, ahead of both Montpellier and St Etienne. This could finally see their return to the big time.

Monaco just cannot get a few wins together. They lost another game on Friday, this time to St Etienne by 2 goals. This wasn’t as bad as some of Monaco’s earlier performances, with both Falcao and Adama Traore having good chances to put the visitors ahead, but failed. St Etienne were very clinical on the day. They won the game thanks to an excellent performance from Kazri. The Tunisian was in hot form in this game, scoring two brilliant goals to put his side ahead. St Etienne did deserve the win, if not a bit lucky that Monaco are just in this much of a rot at the moment. Monaco were very wasteful in this game. Both Diop and Falcao managed 9 shots between them, yet only got 2 target. Falcao especially was poor in this regard. He had an excellent chance to put his side ahead with a chance at the near post, and missed it. It’s hard to say where Monaco go from here. They now sit at 18th, with only 1 win this season. Their model of selling and replacing with upcoming talent just hasn’t worked. They’ve only managed 8 goals this season. They haven’t been nearly as good as last season. Let’s hope Jardim can turn this around. For all he’s done for that club, he at least deserves that.

Premier League – Embarrassing Mourinho. The Best Draw

I think there is no where else to start but Manchester United. The club is currently at its worst since Fergie left. While the club were clueless under Moyes, boring under Van Gaal, they are now an embarrassment. You have the manager and the best player making constant drama off and on the pitch, a board and chairman who care more about the profits than actually competing for trophies, and a manager that is so bad at his job, that this is his last job at a big club. This is the third time in a row that Mourinho has had the dressing room turn against him. There is no big club that will look at him and think he is worth the constant investment over a long period of time. Anyways, back to the game. Mourinho set up his side in a strange way. He played a 3-5-2 with Matic, Fellaini and Pogba as the three. The problem with playing this is Fellaini and Matic are just not athletic enough. It’s a formation where plenty of ground needs to be covered and both the attack and defense needs support. Matic has not performed for months, and nothing else needs to be said about Fellaini at this point. I don’t know why Mourinho is refusing to play Fred. The Brazilian might not be complete package, but he is very energetic and wants to contribute in the final third. A midfield of him, Pogba and Herrera would be pretty perfect in a 3-5-2, but Mourinho didn’t opt for that. His favouritism towards Fellaini, Matic and McTominay has resulted in the three of them getting more games than they probably deserve. Neither of them are good enough for the club, yet because the manager likes them they get games. It left United with a mountain to climb before the game started, because West Ham had an advantage. It didn’t get better, with United conceding in the first 5 minutes. He played McTominay in a back 3 and it his lack of experience showed. Why is an apparent great tactician playing a player with very limited ability in a position that barely any player could fill. He was asked to play in central defense, a position he can’t even play, yet he’s being thrown in there by Jose. The attackers were left isolated, and even when given chances, they just didn’t show anything related to drive and urgency. This is not to take anything from West Ham. They were great on the day and outperformed United in every position. Their sudden transformation into the side we all expected is such a pleasure to see. Many critics, like myself, praised the club for finally conducting the right business in the summer, and it seems to be finally paying off. A terrible day for José Mourinho, and a great day for the victors.

On a more positive note, Liverpool and Chelsea possibly produced one of the most entertaining draws in a while. It was end to end, entertaining, and probably deserved more goals than it was given. Liverpool for most of the game were more of a threat, with Salah, Mane and Firmino quickly hurting Chelsea, and taking advantage of their advanced fullbacks. Firmino especially was very good, making 4 key passes and making 2 tackles. He did everything we expect from the Brazilian at this point. However while their forward three was productive (and arguably very wasteful), their midfield was mostly anonymous. While Milner continued his excellent form and put in a good performance away from home, his teammates, Wijnaldum and Henderson, were anonymous. Henderson will have these games where he struggles to get involved, and it can pass him by when the pressure is on. He, however, was not nearly as bad as Wijnaldum. The Dutchman is not exactly my favourite around, in fact I think he is average at best. This is a game where he showed it. He didn’t do anything in defense, and didn’t contribute anything in attack. He offered nothing in a game where Liverpool needed to make a statement, and instead reminded me why he cannot be relied on in touch away games. He seems to lose his spine when he isn’t playing in Anfield. Chelsea had a similar issue. Because of the speed in which Liverpool attack, it was difficult for Sarri’s side to play the game in the way they wanted. Kovacic did have a very good game however, getting the assist, while also putting in 3 tackles. This game was everything the neutral, like myself, wanted. Let’s hope there are more. It leaves the both of them, and Manchester City in a very tight place, where if any of them slip up, it could be difficult to catch the leaders.

Serie A – Ronaldo’s Big Performance. The Rome Derby

Serie A had an excellent few fixtures to look forward to. Let’s start with the first big title deciding game of the season, where Juventus came out 3-1 victors over Napoli. While Juventus were the better team, it wasn’t completely smooth sailing. Mertens took advantage of a poor Leonardo Bonucci mistake, and stuck his side ahead. However thanks to a great performance from Ronaldo, Juventus eventually got the result they wanted. It was a very selfless performance from the Portuguese international, having a key involvement in every one of their goals. It was his perfect cross which gave his side the equaliser. It was his shot that gave Manzukic the tap in for second, and his second half strike that Bonucci taps in. He is paying back that €100m by every game he plays. His big performance is what put Juventus over the line. Selfless is not exactly a word which is best described for Ronaldo. He has always loved being the central figure of every side he’s played for, but in this game he had drop wide, and help his side in every way. It was just as good as seeing him score a great hat trick. This leaves Juventus comfortably ahead of any rival, as expected. It means the champions league must be top priority. It is the trophy that alludes Juventus. Their team is capable, and with many of the top sides over Europe currently in transition periods, this could be their chance.

And last but not least, the Rome Derby, which saw Roma defeat their local rivals Lazio by 3 goals to 1. It was a great game and it just showed how much this game means to the players and fans. Every player put their full effort on that pitch. Roma did deserve their win. The first goal was thanks to some great hold up player thanks to Edin Dzeko, and finished with a nice back heel from Pellegrini. After Immobile got Lazio back in the game, a delightful free kick from Kolarov put the home side back in the lead. Roma were great on the day. I have been doubting Di Francesco recently, unsure if he really is the man to push Roma to that next level. Roma have been really good recently, proving maybe it was an over exaggeration from myself. I still have my doubts on how he sets up his defense, but his forwards are scoring plenty, which is why their form has been so good recently. I do feel that Lazio will not be as entertaining as last season, with Anderson and De Vrij both leaving the club, but they will still compete for that top 4 spot. Roma need to sort some of their defensive issues if they are to compete with Napoli for the best of the rest, but it will be interesting to see.

Let’s Talk About Manchester United…

For a club that has seemed pretty inactive, there is a lot to talk about here. I am a Manchester United fan so it is of course the club I keep the most notice of. While I try and stay unbiased, it can be hard not to start feeling frustrated and worried for the club I support. So let’s just go through everything that there is to talk about.

Transfers

Easily the most talked about topic revolving the club, it has been a very strange window so far. The players we have brought in have been very good signings. Fred fixes a huge problem we have in the team, which is a player who can adapt to different roles. The Brazilian is an excellent box to box midfielder, being able to do the defensive work, while also possessing quality on the ball, helping the team when attacking. One area in our midfield last season was lacking in that department. While both Pogba and Matic had good seasons, the mostly played in a two. The problem with doing that is they both do not balance each other in the slightest. Pogba is a player who excels in carrying the ball from midfield into the dangerous areas and helping create, while also being a real goal threat. Matic is great at covering the defense, and a safe distributor. Matic does not have the legs to cover the ground Pogba has to leave to help the attack. As the season went on we did move towards the midfield 3, which did help give us balance. The problem is that third player was usually either Herrera, Fellaini or McTominay. All of these three were mostly unable to contribute in any way to attacking (or in Fellaini’s case, defensively). It left us so reliant on Pogba, that marking him out of a game would make us so predictable. Fred is a player who is able to contribute to attack, which means he will be able to either drive the ball into the final third, or allow Pogba to make those runs into the box. Dalot was another signing I was pleased to see. Strangely enough, my favourite thing about him is how little I know about him. It feels very old fashioned, relying on only word of mouth to know what the young Portuguese full back is good at. From what I know, he is able to play at both right back and left back, and is very good in both attack and defense. Unfortunately he has picked up an injury, but should return by December. If both of these signings are positive, then what is the problem? Well it’s the other areas we haven’t strengthened. It was made very clear that centre back was an area that Mourinho wanted to strengthen. Throughout this window, we have been linked to many different defenders, including Harry Maguire, Toby Alderweireld, Milan Skiriniar, Marquinhos and Gary Cahill. But it seems the board are unwilling to meet some of the crazy prices places by their clubs. It is clear that Mourinho is getting frustrated with it, because he wants to go into the new season with every hole filled. Out of the names previously mentioned, Skiriniar would be my choice. The Slovenian is not only composed, but shows great maturity and is very good in the air. Many would favour Alderweireld, but I still have my reservations. Over the last 2 years he has suffered serious injuries, which have worsened by the year. If Manchester United spent in excess of £50m on a 29 year old, who could have another serious injury left in him. It is way more of a risk than is being made out. Buying from Premier League clubs is always a problem, because they can charge how much they want (as seen with John Stones and Virgil Van Dijk) because they know how much your club needs that certain player. Maguire would also be a red flag. While I do really like him, buying him would be a huge rip off, with Leicester asking for £65m. If it was for less than £40m I’d be okay with it, but I don’t want the club overpaying for players. It’s an issue that can be seen at the moment, being the disconnect between Mourinho, and the board. Mourinho has constantly been complaining about the lack of signings and the lack of additions to the squad. I agree with him to an extent. Mourinho is similar to Guardiola, in the sense of they both need full backing if they are to win trophies and make their clubs successful. We have seen Guardiola get this treating at City, with the club spending £100m on just full backs. Mourinho has made it clear that he doesn’t believe he is being backed in the same way. Even just looking at last season, United were constantly linked to Perisic, but the club were unwilling to match Inter’s valuation for the winger. We do not know how important Perisic could have been for the team, but it could have been the difference that was needed. The board seem to want that Galactico signing, like a Bale, Ronaldo or Neymar. But Mourinho, and I, think that is unnecessary, when the rest of the squad need serious surgery and it isn’t being addressed. However I do sympathise with the board in some aspects. The players that the club have brought in for Mourinho have not all worked out. The two that do stick in my mind are Henrik Mhikitaryan and Victor Lindelof. Both players were wanted by Mourinho. Mhikitaryan was bought for a pretty reasonable price at the time, and while he did play very well in the Europa League, his inconsistency in the league was his downfall. Lindelof has had a very mixed start to his united career. Last season he barely put in any tackles or interceptions, but did show some very good composure on the ball. Both of these signings not working could be the reason why the board do not want to put 100% backing into Jose, because they have had their hand bitten already. The relationship between Mourinho and the board will become the end of the the two time champions league winner, like it has before with other clubs.

Squad

Now with all things to be said about transfers out of the way, let’s just look at how the current group of players are being handled. This current squad of players have been managed very poorly, and context is very important here. In Mourinho’s first season, I constantly praised him for truly bringing the best out of his squad. The likes of Jones, Rojo, Herrera, Fellaini, Rashford and Valencia all were giving out their best performances and it gave Mourinho plenty of credit for getting the best out of his players. But last season became very different. All of the players mentioned just didn’t show the same level of performances. Jones started off very well, but seriously struggled January onwards. Rojo was coming back from an injury for most of the season, leaving him lacking match fitness. Herrera was by far the most frustrating. He went from an instant starter, into a player who failed to contribute anything to the team. Playing him alongside Matic was the problem. Matic averaged a very good 3.7 tackles and interceptions last season, leaving Herrera with the Pogba role of transitioning play. It was a role he excelled at for Bilbao, however now playing as more of a destroyer, it is a role he is no longer comfortable performing. Fellaini was another who came in for Pogba and performed very well, but was a key problem for United against Sevilla, a game all United fans just want to forget. Rashford’s development in that first season was going very steadily. His contribution to the team was very good, even making the most appearances for the club in that season. Rashford seemed to be lacking real confidence during the season, which limited his minutes and contribution for the team dropped, and wasn’t giving the same solid output. Valencia performed very well, giving a real driving force on that right side. However he began to show his age, failing to contribute effectively in the final third, like a modern day full back should. I’m bringing this up to show how Mourinho has failed to make those average players usable. Instead he failed to get the best out of his players, thus making united a much poorer side on the whole. While Mourinho fail to improve his players is one massive discussions, it is his treatment of two players, being Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Both have been on the firing end by the manager, and in my opinion, it’s mostly unjust. Mourinho was criticising Pogba for a lack of consistency, lack of focus, and for not performing. This mainly came from the Spurs game at Wembley, where Pogba on a defensive level, was very poor. Mourinho subbed him near the beginning of the second half, and brought on Fellaini to “offer something different” and he said it was purely “tactical.” However Pogba’s appearances for the club were much more limited, with the Frenchman being benched for both legs against Sevilla in that same month. Mourinho has been utilising Pogba incorrectly for most of the season. The ex Juventus midfielder has been playing in a deeper role, as more of a creative midfielder (like a Pirlo, Fabregas, or Xavi) But that is not his strengths. While Pogba is indeed an excellent passer of the ball, his strengths are his dribbling and creativity in the final third. Pogba’s main responsibility should be scoring and assisting, but Mourinho needs his midfielders to be disciplined, and work very hard defensively. Those are not his strengths. Pogba is such a unique player, in fact a one in a kind. Never have I seen a midfielder who is that fast, that strong, that technically gifted and that good in the final third. He can do things midfielders do not usually do. Getting the best out of him is the way for Manchester United to succeed. The signing of Fred might be the key to his shackles, to allow him to play his game. Martial is another who is definitely struggling in recent months. Martial was actually very good for United up until the signing of Alexis Sanchez. He went from a potential player of the season until a player stuck on the bench, to make way for a player who did not deserve the starts he was getting. Every time Martial played last season, he looked so good. In only 1584 minutes played, he contributed to 14 goals. That is a goal every 113 minutes. It shows how effective Martial was whenever he played, and how important he was for United. However Mourinho clearly doesn’t see what I see, as he seems fine to let the wide man leave this summer. If signing Alexis would have limited Martial’s minutes this much, maybe signing him was a bad idea. My expectation was to see Martial on the left with Sanchez on the right. It would allow us to play an inform player, while fixing a clear issue on that right side. It just seems baffling to bench a player who was performing so well, thus weakening United as an attacking threat.