Why Zidane is a Problem! – UEFA Champions League Preview 19/20 – Group A

The competition I never stop talking about has finally returned, full of the same juicy fixtures that excite all football fans. There are plenty of talking points in all of the groups, and group A is no exception. While this group doesn’t look competitive on paper, the specific context has made it slightly more open. On a side note, there will be particular clubs (like the first one here) that I don’t know that much about, so apologies if I lack any depth with specific teams.

Club Brugge

Starting with arguably the weakest side in the group, let’s look at Club Brugge. The Belgian club finished runners up in their domestic league, allowing them to qualify through the third round. Their place was finally secured after victories over Dynamo Kyiv and LASK. 

They’ve become a European regular in recent years, with their performances last year being better than expected, finishing third in a tight group including Dortmund and Atletico Madrid. While smashing Thierry Henry’s awful Monaco was a surprise at the time, they still managed to stop Atletico and, most impressively, Dortmund from scoring. They didn’t necessarily offer much in attack, yet they shouldn’t be looked down upon by any side. Last year, they adapted to their opponents, changing to a 4-4-2 to suppress Dortmund’s attacking talent, then switching to a 3-5-2 to stop Simeone’s side. 

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Their summer window saw three of their first-team players leave the club, with Wesley and Nakamba both joining Aston Villa, and Danjuma joining Bournemouth. Yet, the summer did include the arrival of Philippe Clement as head coach. The former Brugge player arrived after winning the league with Genk and started the season well with his new club, getting 11 points out of a possible 15. They’ve looked the best side in the league and are arguably in a better position than last season to reach the round of 16.

However, even with their strong start to the season, I don’t expect Brugge to escape this problematic group by any stretch. It’s still tough to tell just how good the Belgian top-flight actually is, to know if their players are genuinely talented or just performing well in a bad league. Two of the other teams in this group are arguably favourites for the competition, making it very hard to expect any surprises. They’ll most likely finish bottom of the group, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see one of the big sides frustrated away from home. 

Galatasaray

With data being available from the Super Lig, it makes predicting how they will play a lot easier. Galatasaray have been one of three big names in Turkey, alongside Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe, to consistently partake in the competition every year, yet barely make an impact. This primarily goes down to the reliance on players who simply aren’t good enough to be playing at the top anymore. Turkey has been seen as one of the many favoured retirement leagues, due to the clubs willing to pay the high wages of ageing stars. We’ve seen Pepe, Quaresma, Fernando, Van Persie and now Falcao all move in search of one last payday. 

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What makes Galatasaray so much more enjoyable this season is a slight change in that tired approach. In fact, the club have brought in Jean Michael Seri, Mario Lemina, Emre Mor and Florian Andone all arrive on loan this summer. Their profile is different to who you expect to be coming in Turkey. All are under 28, are in their peak years and are ready to contribute now. While Seri and Mor have had minimal impacts at their previous clubs, Andone and Lemina were let go when they were clearly good enough to be playing in the Premier League. I expected Manchester United or Tottenham to pick up Lemina, yet unfortunately, he has joined a club where you have to feel his talents are slightly wasted. 

Yet, they’ve paired those attractive acquisitions with two ageing stars in Falcao and Steven Nzonzi. While Falcao has something to offer, I do not like Nzonzi’s signing at all. The Frenchman was very poor for Roma last season, being a shadow of the player he was at Sevilla. I don’t expect his legs to suddenly work as they used to, making it hard to believe he will succeed in Turkey.

The club have had a mixed start to the season, but I fully expect them to finish third. Their chances of escaping this group rest entirely on how well they perform at home. If Ryan Babel can continue with the form he has displayed in the past year, there is a chance one of the big sides will be left disappointed.

Paris Saint Germain

Now onto a team I have some knowledge about. Paris have been one of the most frustrating teams in the Champions League in the past 5 years. From giving up a 4 goal lead against a weak Barcelona side to letting an injury-riddled Manchester United team come back and win in the Parc des Princes. It’s always been a slight mystery to how PSG keep consistently fail in Europe. Personally, I think it’s been a combination of poor recruitment and individual mistakes in the big games. PSG’s signings before deadline day were generally excellent. The midfield finally was given some steel in Herrera and Gueye, two players known for high tackle and interception numbers, with some dark arts to help hold onto leads. They are both turning 30 this season, but they definitely offer something for Tuchel to deploy against tougher opponents. Pablo Sarabia arrives for a bargain £16 million after a stand-out season with Sevilla, where only Messi assisted more goals than the Spaniard. With Di Maria ageing and Neymar not playing enough, adding another creator for a very reasonable amount made a lot of sense. As mentioned in my Ligue 1 preview, Diallo was my signing of the season. PSG, like Sarabia, took advantage of a player being extremely undervalued by their club and took Diallo for as much as Dortmund bought him for from Mainz. 

However, I still have my doubts on whether PSG can finally have an effect on this competition. It all begins with just how poor they were at the end of last season, where they just couldn’t put the title to bed. It was a poor finish which also saw them lose in the Coupe de France final to Rennes, a team that comfortably beat Tuchel’s side at the start of this season. Even with the clear steps forward they’ve taken in terms of resolving some of their most pressing issues, they’ve still failed to address their most significant issue, being full-backs. Last season Tuchel said that the full-backs weren’t good enough, and funnily enough after failing to recruit there once again, they still aren’t. The whole Neymar saga seemed to turn their attention away from fixing their most significant issue, and it’s hard to see PSG as a serious contender once again. 

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What makes things even worse for Tuchel is injuries. During their 4-0 win against Toulouse, Mbappe, Cavani and Diallo all suffered injuries. While Diallo’s wasn’t something to worry about, Mbappe isn’t returning until October, and a question mark still resides over Cavani’s return. This is a huge problem that is difficult to ignore when predicting how they will do in the group. Mbappe is everything to Paris. He is the attacking player that can add that moment of magic to any game. We saw this last season against Manchester United, where his blistering run through Bailly and Lindelof allowed him to finish past De Gea efficiently. Without the young Frenchman, Paris lose their ace.

I mentioned before how I liked PSG’s business up until deadline day, where they made one final deal which baffled me. I liked Keylor Navas’ arrival a lot, who needs to be appreciated by one big club before he retires. My issue is with the loan signing of Icardi. I’ve said before that all clubs should stay away from him. He is not worth the trouble for anybody, and if PSG do decide to sign him permanently, I worry if they’ll ever be able to get rid of him once he begins causing problems. His quality cannot be questioned, but in a summer which saw Leonardo state the club were moving away from the superstar approach from the past, it’s strange to see the club sign one of the worst ones out there in terms of all the off-field problems he will bring. 

Nevertheless, PSG will escape this group. The other opposition, bar Real Madrid, shouldn’t be too much of a problem for them and I fully expect Tuchel to figure out a way for his side to continue performing at the same high level without Mbappe for the first couple of games. 

Real Madrid

The record champions go into the competition with familiarity. Zidane is back in the dugout, with plenty of expensive additions to add to an ageing squad that just isn’t good enough to be winning the Champions League anymore. Their new additions made a lot of sense in terms of their importance. Eder Militao joined an ageing defence and can also play right-back. Ferland Mendy is one of the best attacking full-backs in Europe and is an ideal replacement for Marcelo. Luka Jovic is by far the most interesting of the new arrivals, with his goalscoring earning him plenty of praise in Germany, making him a great choice to bring much-needed goals to the side. Eden Hazard arrived for an insane amount of money, and while they have definitely overspent, there is doubt he is an improvement over what they had. 

I liked their business, but there are still plenty of problems in the side. The first being Zidane. After Lopetegui and Solari failing to get Madrid contesting with Barcelona and overseeing an embarrassing Champions League run, Zidane returned with all the power given to him. I’ll definitely credit Zidane for getting his way, but Madrid bringing him back just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. My worry with the Frenchman’s return is how willing he seems to completely ignore the new talent, and continue using the players who should start being faded out by this point. Zidane’s treatment of many players is frankly awful. At one point, Isco seemed to be his favourite player at the club, and suddenly his game time was gone, similar to what’s happened with James Rodriguez. The Colombian playmaker was thought to be the first player out of the club as soon as the window began, but he’s still there, with Zidane seemingly changing his mind. While the treatment of the pair is confusing, how he has acted towards Bale and Jovic is even worse. Zidane publicly stated that Bale was not in his plans, hoping the Welshman would leave the club after having arguably his worst season for Madrid. However, once again he has changed his mind, with Bale now staying. There were rumours Zidane was far from a fan of Luka Jovic, with the Serbian seemingly likely to go out on loan. While Zidane did deny those rumours, it is worrying when he wants to get rid of a player after one injury in pre-season. 

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I just worry that Zidane will continue to ruin the reputations of the players that gave him success at the beginning of his reign. After the sales of Llorente and Kovacic, as well as Ceballos going out on loan, we’ll still likely see the same old midfield of Modric, Casemiro and Kroos. The trio should not be starting together anymore. Modric is now 33 and is unable to do everything to the same level as he once could. Kroos is such a liability out of possession that even Casemiro won’t be able to cover for him adequately anymore. What makes their situation even worse is how Ramos still remains to be so important. Their club captain is now 33, and I worry that his evident decline will hinder not only the team but his reputation. This is my problem with Zidane. His reliance on these older players does not only limit them in moving on but could ruin their legacies. He’ll still be starting Benzema and Marcelo week in, week out until they are unable to run anymore.

Madrid’s failure to recruit midfielders and the many injuries throughout the squad means they are at their weakest in years. If PSG can get their act together, I can’t see Los Blancos topping this group. 

Future Superstars! – Under 21 Team of the Season 18/19

With everyone making their team of the seasons and discussing which players should take the award of player of the season when it comes to a close, we’ll instead look at  young players across the big leagues in Europe, and make an XI of players who have stood out for their sides. We’ll mainly focus on players in the top 5 leagues, with some obvious inclusions from other leagues, so let’s get started. Important is they have to have been 21 when the season started, so if players who are 22 are here, then you know why.

Goalkeeper – Gianluigi Donnarumma 

There aren’t truly many options for this position, but we’ll go for AC Milan number one Gianluigi Donnarumma. The Italian has went to further establish himself in a Milan side that are still trying to find their feet. While his teammates are inconsistent to say the least, he has remained one of the best players in the side. He is a good distributor, commands his box and has put in some excellent performances for Milan. One of his stand out performances had to be against Genoa. The 20 year old made 8 saves, and had a 93% pass accuracy. His future still seems to be as bright as it was when he broke onto the scene as a 16 year old.

RB – Aaron Wan-Bissaka 

My love for Wan-Bissaka isn’t hidden at this point. The Crystal Palace defender has been the best full back in the Premier League this season. His crazy high 6.2 tackles and interceptions per game, comfortably the highest in the team and the second highest in the league. He has only been dribbled past by less than 10 players in the league, highlighting just how good he is in those one-on-ones, and his anticipation shines. I even highlighted the Englishman last season for his great performances, by putting him in my team of the season for players outside of the top 6, and seeing him succeed is just so gratifying. Wan-Bissaka actually came through the ranks as a winger, which explains why he’s such a good dribbler, completing 1.7 per game. With Manchester United and Bayern Munich looking at right backs, it makes the prospect of Palace keeping him nearly impossible.

CB – Matthijs de Ligt

I cannot imagine anyone arguing with this choice. De Ligt’s transformation from a small kid playing in the Europa League final against Manchester United, to one of the best young defenders the world has ever seen has to go down to hard work and a brilliant mentality. Playing for arguably the best club in Europe for developing young players, it has given him the platform to succeed and show the world what kind of player he is and can be. His performances in the Champions League have been fantastic. He has shown a calmness and maturity that you don’t see from many players of his age. His distribution also needs to be admired, with the 19 year old completing 63 passes per game, with a 88.2% accuracy. It’s an area which many elite clubs are looking to improve, and he showing all of these things at an age where it gives him years to still improve. If Van Dijk’s record remains this summer, I will be very surprised.

CB – Ibrahima Konate

Leipzig have been a recent breeding ground for young defenders, with Upamecano, Mukiele and Bernardo being recent talents to blossom for them. Konate is another prospect to shine for them. He’s already beeing touted for a big move to Arsenal and it’s earned. With Leipzig playing such an offensively minded system, stand out defenders are needed. Konate is both athletic and a great reader of the game, with the Frenchman making 2.3 interceptions per 90. Thanks to their defenders being so high up the pitch, it leaves them vunerable to long balls towards opposition strikers. It makes the importance of aerial dominant defenders important, and Konate fits the bill. The Frenchman has a respectable 67.3% aerial win percentage, showing how he can deal with the threat. His passing could be better, with a defender’s ability on the ball a sought after part of their game. He is still only 19, meaning his future remains very bright. He’s been one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga and has stood out in a side full of promising players.

LB –  Achraf Hakimi

When discussing Real Madrid’s systemic failure this season, it can be aquainted to making bad decisions. Whether it is selling their best player and not replacing him with a player of similar quality, or in Hakimi’s case, letting a player leave who could have definitely had an effect on the side. The Moroccan international has been the boost that Dortmund needed. With constant injury problems related to Schmelzer and Guerreiro, adding a player who could help with giving the side width, and most importantly, moving the ball. Hakimi is an excellent dribbler, and was nearly the opposite of his full back partner, Lukasz Piszczek, who defensive first. It gave Hakimi a lot of responsibility on a side of the pitch that didn’t have the same consistency as the other. He relished this role, and has been one of the most sought after full backs in Europe. His ability to play on both sides makes him so useful to have, but its his dribbling that is so great. He’s completing 2 dribbles per 90, which is great for both a full back and a young player. He is isn’t a stand out creator by any means, but that isn’t his role. He has to get his side far up the pitch, using his athleticism and ability on the ball. He ranks 4th in the squad for passes completed per game. He is essential in Dortmund’s attempts to move up the field, with not many young players in the world being so adept at passing in a possession that rarely sees that quality. A must for this side

RM – Jadon Sancho 

Rumours are already surfacing, linking Jadon Sancho with £100m moves to the Premier League, and I would definitely pay that. Sancho is having a similar break out season that Mbappe had in that final season at Monaco, which saw the Frenchman earn a £170m move to PSG. Sancho is having a similar season to that. The teenager is one of only a handful of players who is in double figures for both goals and assists. He’s turned into a very good dribbler and creator. Sancho was always seen to be a player who destined for great things, but for him to do it this rapidly is just incredible.  His shot numbers stand at a decent 1.6 per 90, but he’s completing a crazy 3.9 dribbles and making 2.6 key passes. Those are top 10 players in the world numbers, and he’s doing it for a title challenging side in a respectable league. His xGP90 is sitting at 0.58, which is roughly a goal contribution every other game. This shows just how promising the young winger is, being able to have such a stamp on a side full of talent in his first true season. His numbers are spectacular, but there’s more to him than that. His maturity, intelligence and his risk taking is what makes him such a desirable prospect, and arguably the break out star of the season.

CM – Frenkie De Jong

The Eredivise has had this huge problem with analysing talent. Players can have truly excellent seasons, but thanks to the standard of the league, you have to take it with a grain of salt when looking at their numbers and involvement. This current Ajax team has been trying to break that rule, and no one has done so more than Frenkie De Jong. The Dutchman came off the back of a very good 2017/18 season, and decided to take that to the next level. It’s earned him a £75m move to Barcelona, and will add so much to a side that has been needing a player like him for a long time. De Jong is a true all rounder. He is averaging 3 tackles and interceptions per 90, while also completing 80 passes, creating 1.4 chances and completing 2 dribbles.  These are numbers similar to a peak Modric, who was helplessly embarassed by De Jong. While his numbers in the Eredivise have been outstanding, it’s his performances in the Champions League that have really taken the headlines. He dismantled Real Madrid in their own turf, and when playing Juventus in the Johan Cruyff Stadium, he made it nearly impossible to take him out of the game. Every time Bentancour tried to get near him, De Jong would just drop between the defenders to receive the ball. Since he is such a good dribbler, he can just get the ball and walk right through the opposition defence, with no one able to get a finger on him. He’s attempting 1.8 dribbles in the Champions League per match, and is completing 78% of them. Those are peak Moussa Dembele numbers, a player who was famed for his dribble success rate. De Jong will be a superstar, and has everything to put him down as a potential great.

CM – James Maddison 

Moving back to the Premier League and for the final time, let’s look at James Maddison, who has had a spectacular season. The former Norwich midfielder took the step up the Premier League, and already looks like he belongs here. With Leicester losing Mahrez, they needed a creator and someone to help with moving the ball into the final third, and Maddison has fitted the bill. He is creating more chances than any other player in the league with 3.3 key passes per 90. While Leicester have been inconsistent to say the least, Maddison has put in good performance after good performance. His chance creation is incredible, but his dribbling should not be forgotten here. He’s completing 1.5 dribbles per 90, which is good for a player who has been played behind the striker. He reads the game well and has created a great relationship with Jamie Vardy. He constantly wants to get on the ball and is always looking to make positive moves. The only problem is his shooting. His shot map is a mess to say the least, with Maddison taking shots in bad places. A coach needs to try and wipe that out of his game, and ensure he is not wasting chances like that. The future is bright for Maddison, and could be the real central creator that his country has been looking for.

LM – Joao Felix

I mentioned how some leagues have created this impression of risk, and Liga Nos might be the most infamous. Whenever you see an Oblak or Nelson Semedo, you’ll see a Perez or a Jackson Martinez. It’s a league that doesn’t create the same teams that you see in Holland. The sides are usually good defensively and efficient in attack, which makes attackers especially a huge risk. While there have been many failures, Joao Felix doesn’t look like one. The Benfica attacker has had a great season, breaking the record for youngest player to score a hat trick in the Europa League, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. His best performances have all come as a striker, where he has scored 12 and assisted 6 in 18. His shot numbers aren’t crazy high, but when he’s played, it’s usually been with Seferovic, who’s taking roughly 2.6 shots per game (Felix is at 2.4). There has been more to his game than this. He’s also creating 1.1 chances a game, the fourth highest in the squad. His general anticipation and maturity is what has made him stand out, but I think any move for him this summer would be premature. he doesn’t seem to be showing the same insanity in terms of elite numbers, but there is a top level player here. He just needs to play more games before making the step up. A great start for Joao Felix in his break out season.

ST – Kylian Mbappe

Who else? Mbappe is now in the top 5 players in the world for me. Only Messi and Neymar can be argued to be more perfect attackers than the World Cup winner. He’s taking 4.7 shots per 90, with 3.5 coming in the box. He’s taking more shots in the box than most players are taking in a game. He’s had some stand out performances this season, with his hat trick against Lyon earlier in the season being arguably a career high. While he is arguably at the level of Messi and Neymar, he doesn’t have the same wow factor as they do. This is a complement if you can believe, because it makes him more direct and attack with less patience about it. Going on would be pointless because everyone knows just how good Mbappe is. He is player everyone in the world wants.

ST – Luka Jovic

Last but not least, we’re returning to the Bundesliga for our final player. Jadon Sancho has been on the lips of every Bundesliga viewer, but Jovic has been fantastic. I’ve watched a lot of the young Serb since those 5 goals he scored earlier in the season, and he just keeps impressing me. He’s taking shots in great areas, he’s two footed, good in the air and puts some real power on his shots. A small detail there but it’s great to see someone who looks like they want to break the net whenever they score. His xG contribution per 90 stands at 0.90, which is elite levels for a player who hasn’t had much experience at the top. In hindsight this could have been predicted. His xGP90 was 0.74 last season, showing how in little game time, he was still having an incredible effect on his side. The only thing he needed was a manager who was going to start him every game, and that is what he’s got. Jovic looks to be the next super star striker in Europe, similar to Kane or Aguero. It won’t be long until he’s playing for Europe’s truly elite.

 

 

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.

One of the Signings of the Season is… Top 5 League Talking Points

What a crazy week. Both the Bundesliga and La Liga being mental, let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga – Bayern Embarrassed, Dortmund’s Dramatic Win

Before the season started, I thought the only way the Bundesliga could be dramatic, would be if Favre could get Dortmund winning again, and if Kovac did the opposite, and surprise surprise, that is happening. Bayern were absolutely humiliated at home against Borussia Munchengladbach. They were beaten 3-0 by Dieter Hecking’s side, and it was definitely a deserved victory. Bayern looked so lacklustre and laid back in this game. The first goal came from Yan Sommer, and the ball was carried by the team, until Plea put the ball away with a great finish. The Frenchman has been a great signing for Mönchengladbach. He is just such a well rounded forward, being an excellent finisher, and is able to help in build up play. He already has 5 goals and an assist this season. He could really help drive his side to a top four spot. The issue with Bayern in this game was their passiveness. The first goal showed this. Mönchengladbach were able to play right around them. None of their players were showing desire to retrieve the ball, or even put in a tackle. The second goal was even worse, with Thiago making a very out of character mistake and giving the ball to Plea, who then gifts it to Stindl, who scores excellent goal. The German had a very good game, scoring the second goal, putting in 3 tackles, completing 2 dribbles and won two aerial duels. It was a very hardworking performance from the forward. It seems Bayern find it difficult to deal with forwards who don’t play as traditional target men. Bayern found it extremely difficult to deal with Tadic in the Champions League, because how often he would move away from the middle and make it hard for Bayern to track him. Kovac needs to learn how to deal with this problem. I am still very unsure if he is the right man, but this is the first risk appointment and Bayern need to follow through with it. Let’s hope for a young manager’s sake, he can turn this around.

Now to talk about the league leaders, Borussia Dortmund got a dramatic 4-3 victory over Augsburg. Dortmund continue their unbeaten run this season, and have looked great. Their attack has looked great so good, and have been rotating players pretty effectively. Sancho is leading Europe in assist, yet this game was his first start of the season. It’s very good to see Marco Reus finally put a long string of games together as well. Even though he is starting to get on, he has been fabulous so far this season. He has already contributed to 6 goals in 7 games, showing just how well he has adapted to life under a familiar face in Lucien Favre. However the star of the show against Augsburg was Paco Alcacer. The Spaniard now also has 4 goals this season, thanks to his hat trick in this game, including a delightful free kick in the last minute to win it. He didn’t even start the game either. He came on with only half an hour to go. In his short time on the pitch, he managed 6 shots in only 22 touches. It shows how forward Dortmund were playing in the latter stages of the game, and with Alcacer given plenty of changes. A great game from a player who finally seems to fulfilling his potential seen at Valencia. Another stand out performer was Dan-Axel Zagadou. Dortmund now have 3 excellent young center backs, and it’s now Zagadou’s turn to show his quality. He came into this game after a great performance in the Champions League, and continued his form. He won 7 aerial duels, which is impressive considering the player he was facing, Finnbogasan, is a very big threat in the air. The Frenchman is starting to look like a very good prospect. Dortmund are currently overseeing another golden generation. With experienced players like Witzel, Reus, Burki and Pitzchek blending very well incredible young talents, like Akanji, Diallo, Sancho, Dahoud, Larsson and now Zagadou. They will give Bayern a very good challenge this season.

La Liga – Atletico’s Big Win. Valencia vs Barcelona

La Liga is a mess right now, but it makes it very entertaining. Valverde still doesn’t know how to correctly manage his squad and Madrid can’t score goals at the moment. Atletico could finally win it again, but it’s still too soon to tell at the moment if they can finally do it. What shows how much of a mess La Liga is at the moment is Sevilla are currently at the top, being the only side to win 5 games this season. While Madrid losing is a massive talking points, we’ll actually talk about their rivals. Atletico Madrid got a classic Simeone win with a 1-0 victory over Real Betis. This is an impressive victory because Betis have been a very good side since last season, having a solid back line and are very difficult to beat. This wasn’t the most eventful game you’ll see, but there are still things to talk about. First was Atletico’s selection. Lucas Hernandez, Nikola Kalinic and Juanfran all came in for the game, and performed fine. Lucas Hernandez was especially good. He won 3 aerial duels, 4 tackles and completed 6 long balls, the most for his side. He hasn’t featured much this season, so it is good to see him return with a good performance. Rodri was another who had a good game. He is really starting to show why Atletico saw him as the replacement for Gabi. He completed 4 tackles and had a 94% pass accuracy. He keeps possession very effectively for his side. However it was Angel Correa who scored the winner. The forward has been used all over the pitch for Simeone, used more as a versatile player to fill in different positions. He put a real shift when he came on, making 4 tackles and scoring the winner. It was a needed victory. With Barca and Real dropping points, it keeps pressure on for the rest of La Liga.

Speaking of Barcelona, they dropped points again. They drew 1-1 with underachieving Valencia, thanks to an early goal from Garay, and an equaliser from Messi (who else?). While in the grand scheme of things, a point against a team that finished in the top 4 last season isn’t bad at all, but context is always important. Valencia have been at the start of the season, only managing 2 wins so far, with this game being their 6th draw. Barca have to see this as 2 points dropped. They have shown again this season how they struggle when a goal down, as seen against Bilbao too. It could come down to the mid week game, but it has to be more than that. The goal they gave away was just a mess. Vermalean was at fault for the goal. He got a slight touch on the ball, which gave it directly to Garay. It still amazes me how he still starts for that club, with Lenglet, a player who is definitely good enough to start, is stuck on the bench. Even when Barcelona got back into the game, it wasn’t a vintage attacking performance. Besides Messi, the rest of the side just weren’t pulling their weight. Barcelona only managed 10 shots in the game, a game they were trailing for 88 minutes. You expect a side to do more when they’re behind so early, yet they just didn’t do enough. Messi had 6 of those shots too, showing just reliant they still are on their record scorer. There is nothing wrong with relying on the best player to ever play the game, but in the rare circumstance that an opponent can take him out of the game, it would leave Barcelona without any sort of way of attacking. Even with all the money spent and the players brought in, it seems they still struggle in games. They will definitely need improve, and most of all play Dembele.

Ligue 1 – Kylian Mbappe on Fire. 2nd vs 3rd.

Ligue 1 might not be so interesting at the moment, with Paris already 8 points clear. Let’s begin with the league leaders, who disposed of one of their tougher opponents in a very dominant display, beating Lyon 5-0. It was a game that just highlights how much better Paris are than the rest of the league. Lyon are already not so great defensively (and going down to 10 men didn’t help), but the manner of which PSG beat them was just astonishing. Before going into the main performer of the game, let’s look at another player who performed very well. Marquinhos was excellent as a defensive midfielder in this game. While I still do not think this is his best position, credit has to be given when he is performing so well in a position he does not know well. He completed 5 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 aerial duels, and even got an assist for one of Mbappe’s many goals. Speaking of Mbappe, the young Frenchman was absolutely brilliant in this game. After Cavani came off in the first half, it was up to Mbappe to lead the line, and to extend the lead, thanks to an early goal from Neymar. To say he did well is an understatement. He just put in, by far the best performance of an attacking player this season. He had a monsterous 9 shots, with 6 being on target. Those are numbers that Ronaldo would only average in a handful of games. Mbappe was just in the right place at the right time with a couple of the goals, with isn’t a criticism. You want your forwards being in the right place when the ball is in the opposition’s box. However the first and third goal were great finishes, with the latter very reminiscent of one of his goals against Manchester City back in his first season at Monaco. A great day for Paris, as they now extend their lead even further from one of their toughest opponents. The league could already be done and dusted for the Champions.

When saying 2nd vs 3rd, the assumption would usually be discussing one of Lyon, Monaco or Marseille. However with this season just being so strange, it is actually Lille vs St Etienne. This was a big game for both, as it would allow Lille to extend their further ahead in second, and it would allow St Etienne to overtake their opponents. It was Lille who earned the victory in this game, with a comfortable 3-1 victory wrapping up 3 points for the home side. Lille have just been so fun to see this season, and for the sake of entertainment, I really hope they keep up their great run of form. Finding more players to discuss for Lille, other than Bamba and Pepe, is becoming difficult. They are the driving force behind the counter attacking style of football that Lille play. Whenever Lille receive the ball, their first thought is to give to one of their two wingers. They are too important. Bamba was absolutely brilliant in this game. From his usual left wing position, he had 3 shots with 2 on target, made 2 key passes and scored Lille’s first two goals. This was a performance he needed to show in front of his former club, who let him go on a free. Bamba is now on 7 goals this season, as many as Eden Hazard and 3 more than Ronaldo. He has to start being discussed as one of the signings of the season. He was brought in on a free transfer, and is now an important player in Lille’s revival. What a brilliant piece of business from a side who have made many mistakes over the years. Both teams are having good seasons so far, but Lille do look like they could take a European spot at the end of the season.

Premier League – Arsenal Strengthen Top 4 Chances. United Comeback

With Manchester City travelling to Liverpool turning out to be not the game we all expected, let’s look at two other eventual games, first being Arsenal’s 5-1 win over Fulham. It was an excellent performance from the Gunners, who are finally starting to find their rhythm in the attack. Emery hasn’t had an instant effect, but there are things being established. Firstly being the most covered, and that is the goalkeeper more involved with play. I still think that Leno is a bad goalkeeper, but he is good when it comes to using his feet. He will help maintain the ball and distribute it effectively. Moving the ball back to the goalkeeper gives an opportunity for the defenders and midfielders to find a better position to find the ball. Leno was very good on the ball against Fulham, with the German having a 76% pass accuracy. Considering he also attempted 14 long balls, it does show how much of an improvement he is in this area. The attack does seem to be finally clicking. Arsenal were horrendous defensively last season, however in attack, they were brilliant. Aubamayeng hit the ground running, and Lacazette scored 15 in the league. A good return for his first season. Both were excellent against Fulham, with both scoring 2, and Lacazette winning the man of the match. He was particularly good on the day. He was great in link up play, and his moments of individual magic were what put Arsenal in a comfortable position. What helped Arsenal the most was how poor Fulham were in both departments. In defense, Jokanovic decided to change to a 3-5-2, to accommodate the limited amount of players he had in defense. It didn’t work at all. The wing backs left a lot of space out wide and it let Iwobi and Bellerin plenty of space out wide to stretch the rest of the defense. In attack, they were just so wasteful. Fulham had 21 shots in this game, yet only managed a single goal. This was because of how wasteful Andre Schurrle is. The German managed 7 shots, and most were just not good shooting opportunities. Fulham really could struggle to stay up, if they do not find a consistent line up and system.

Manchester United completed a dramatic comeback over 90s rivals Newcastle, with the home side earning a 3-2 win after conceding 2 goals in the first half. The whole game summed up United under Mourinho. They were poor, slow and lacking desire in the first half, and in the second half it was completely different. Pogba took the game and was the main reason why United won that game. Many have been criticising the Frenchman this season, and many are quite unjust. While his comments off the pitch can definitely be questioned, he has comfortably been the best player for United, excluding Luke Shaw. He has been one of the only players who shows a desire to win the game, and has always added the quality needed. He was excellent against Leicester, Wolves, Young Boys, Watford and now Newcastle. He has been at his usual excellent self. This was actually the first time United have conceded 2 goals in the first 10 minutes at home. It was a shambles, with Ashley Young letting Muto straight past him as if he didn’t even have to try. But it all changed in the second half. To Mourinho’s credit, bringing off Bailly as early as he did really made a statement, that it was going to be all or nothing for the rest of the game. While Fellaini didn’t make much sense, Sanchez definitely did. The ex Arsenal forward scored the winner in the last few minutes of the game, which was his first goal of the season. While it was a commendable effort from United, it doesn’t change anything. They have still been very poor this season, and can call themselves lucky that Newcastle couldn’t put the ball away. The Red Devils need to get rid of Mourinho as soon as a plan is in place. They cannot keep persisting with this style and with his arrogant, dividing way of managing a team.

Serie A – Mauro Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain Finding Their Feet

Serie A didn’t have any surprises or big scorelines, so let’s talk about two of the most prolific Argentine strikers in Italy, Mauro Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain. Both play for rival teams and have started their season pretty well. Let’s start with Icardi’s Inter, who won away at SPAL by 2 goals to 1. It now puts into in 3rd, with only 2 points behind Napoli. Inter had a very poor couple of games, but seemed to finally find their grove. Icardi is the main reason for that. He is by far one of the most underrated players in the last 4 years. He has been as consistent as Harry Kane, but plays as much more of a poacher. In fact his goal against Spurs in the Champions League was his first goal from outside the box for Inter. It just shows how good he is at getting on the end of chances, and at finding space. He was at his usual self against SPAL. While he was lucky for this first goal, thanks to a deflection from Djourou, his second was Icardi at his best. He made a run towards the ball and received it with no one around him, and put the ball away so comfortably. Icardi had 3 shots, 2 on target, and won 4 aerial duels. He is arguably the best finisher in Europe, with the chances he gets being just perfect for any forward to put away. While Icardi was the man of the match, credit has to be given to Ivan Perisic. I included the winger in my world cup team of the tournament, because of his excellent performances for Croatia in Russia. He has continued that fine form into the new season, reminding the league why he is one of the best wingers in Italy. He got the assist for Icardi’s second, and has been a real boost for Inter since his late start. This is a big season for Inter. After their big spending and their first season in the Champions League for 7 years, they need to show how they can remain consistent. Napoli are a mess defensively, so second place is definitely up for grabs for the Nerazzurri.

Let’s move on to their rivals. Milan disposed of Chievo with relative ease, with a 3-1 victory. It now puts Milan in 10th. It might sound underwhelming, but they are only 3 points behind Lazio, who are in 4th. Higuain was great in this game. Like his fellow Argentine, he also scored a brace. I was a very small minority of people who did like the Higuain signing. I thought he would give them guaranteed goals for the short term, and would give Cutrone a player who has plenty to teach him. Higuain has been everything they could ask for. He already has 4 in 5, and is taking 4 shots a game this season, already showing numbers similar to his time at Napoli. He is another who seems to be severely underrated by many fans. While he has had a reputation of not performing on the biggest stage, his consistency in a 38 game season cannot be criticised. There many players in Europe who are as good in the league as Higuain. He had a very good game against Chievo, getting 4 shots, 2 key passes and has a 92% pass accuracy. While Higuain was good, he wasn’t the best player on the pitch. That honour goes to Suso. It amazes after the changes of owners, managers, players and systems, Suso keeps performing. He got a mental 8 key passes in this game, which led to him getting 3 assists, which means he now has the joint most assists in Europe. Milan also have a big season on their hand. They are competing with both Roma and Lazio for that 4th spot. There are still questions on whether Gattuso is the right man for the job (I really don’t think he is), but the risk could pay off.

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

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

Bundesliga – ?

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

Serie A – Ronaldo Debut and Inter Fall Behind

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

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

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

Ligue 1 – Mbappe stars. Others do not

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

Premier League – Liverpool Win Dirty. United showing their weakness

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

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

La Liga – Barca Continue. Atletico Drop Points

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

2018 World Cup Team of The Tournament – Kante, Hazard, Godin

Now with the tournament coming a close, let’s look at the players who have impressed the most.

Goalkeeper – Thibaut Courtois

No matter how much I wanted to place Pickford here, I cannot ignore Courtois. The big Belgian has been absolutely brilliant for his team. I have always seem Courtois has just a very good keeper, not on the level of De Gea or Oblak, but still a very solid choice for a top side. However in this tournament, he is starting to make me rethink that. Against Brazil, he made a brilliant 9 saves, which is one of the highest amount of saves in a single game. Compared to his club career, Courtois is making more saves in every area of the pitch, showing how this world cup has brought he best out of him. With Madrid looking for a new keeper, it could be what has given him the motivation.

Right Centre-Back – Raphael Varane

While attacking might be a huge question mark over this current France team, what cannot be doubted is how brilliant they are defensively. A huge part of that has been their defensive partnership of Varane and Umtiti, and while the Barcelona man has been very good, it’s his El Classico rival who has been the most impressive. Varane has been the leader in a back four lacking experience. Having a player so young who has won 4 champions leagues is such a positive for the team. Not only has he been a real leader, he has also lead by example. His biggest strength is his athleticism. He is able to recover the ball so quickly and help in counter attacking situations. His performance against Belgium was especially brilliant. He really helped stop Belgium from getting the goal they so desperately needed. Even against Uruguay, he scored the winner to send France to the semi finals. A great tournament from a great player.

Centre-Back – Diego Godin

By far Uruguay’s best player, Godin helped drag a very poor Uruguay team out of their group. Not only was he solid defensively, but was also trying to drag his team forward on the pitch, because of his teammates’s lack of urgency. Uruguay were so good defensively throughout the tournament, and it was thanks to Godin. He was brilliant in all of the group games, and also against Portugal. The defeat to France cannot be solely blamed on him, but he wasn’t at his best that day. Still, he was exceptional throughout the world cup.

Left Centre-Back – Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire arrived in Russia after playing every single minute for Leicester last season. He showed brilliant positional sense and was very good on the ball. While I did think he would have done fine, I never expected to be as impressive as he was. He was especially great in the knockout rounds, easily being one of the best players against Columbia and Sweden. He won an amazing 12 aerial duels against Columbia, and scored the first goal against Sweden. He was one of England’s best performers, and deserves his place here

Central Midfield – N’golo Kante

It’s a testimont to how good Kante, that we now almost have a ‘Kante Role’ in teams now. Players who are given a license to do their defensive work, without disrupting the teams shape (examples being Torreira, Herrera, Ndidi and Allan). He has shown his usual brilliant energy and tenacity, while also adding some real quality on the ball. His biggest criticism was his inability to distribute the ball effectively, however that has changed. Throughout the tournament, Kante would be seen making these huge long balls and driving the play forward. He is now looking like the perfect box to box midfielder. His performance against Argentina was very good. He really showed his opposition how a central midfielder should play.

Central Midfield: Luka Modric

Not even a debate needed here. Modric has been the key player for Croatia. His ability to dribble out of tight spaces, get into great positions to assist his teammates, and his solid workrate have all came in handy for a team already filled with technical talent. Even with all of Croatia’s games going into extra time, he was still able to play through them all, at 32 years old. An incredible player and he will easily go down as one of the best midfielders to play the game in the modern era.

Right Wing-Back – Sime Vrsaljko

While Trippier would be the obvious pick, I’ll be going for Vrsaljko. The Europa League winner has been a key player for Croatia. Filling Srna’s boots is a hard challenge, yet he exceeded expectations. Even with Modric performing excellently and Rakitic also excelling, Croatia still preferred to play a more crossing game. It didn’t bring the best out of their team in my opinion, but Vsaljko still performed. He was a huge driving force for Croatia and was always helping in attack while doing his defensive work. His only assist in the tournament was for that Perisic equaliser against England. A perfect moment for a player who was brilliant.

Left Wing-Back – Lucas Hernandez

While I think Hernandez did perform very well, he is mainly here out of a lack of options. Just looking at the semi finalists, Young didn’t perform, Strnic was good, but not great, and Belgium didn’t have a stand out left back. Hernandez falls right in here. I’m not taking away from him at all. He, like France, were excellent defensively and he even provided some very good width. Playing as a fullback with an inverted wide player in front of him is very demanding, so seeing in still show some consistency in his performances is really impressive. The young defender was averaging 2.3 tackles per game, just highlighting how good he was in his own half. A good tournament from a player who still has plenty of promise.

Left-Winger – Ivan Perisic

Many journalists and pundits seem to be forgetting about the Inter Milan winger. But Perisic has been stellar. Perisic has all the qualities to be a perfect winger. He’s two footed, a brilliant dribbler, can cut inside and is able to create. He showed all of these qualities in the semi final, scoring and assisting to put his team over the line in a real tight game. While he will be remembered for his handball, he was still excellent for Croatia. He ended the tournament with 3 goals and an assist. A great return for a player who is nearing his twilight years. If it wasn’t for Modric, he would be remembered as the stand out performer for the runners up.

Right-Winger – Eden Hazard

While I am completely fine with Modric winning the golden ball, I do think Hazard was the best player at the tournament. He shined in a very fluid Belgium attack. He was absolutely brilliant throughout for Belgium, and performed in every game for Belgium. In their defeat against France, he was by far their shining light, constantly beating his man and attempting to create for his side. He was excellent in the group stages, putting two excellent performances against Tunisia and Panama. He was averaging 2.5 shots per game, 2.5 key passes, and a monsterous 6.7 successful dribbles per game. He was brilliant in every department. He ended the tournament with 3 goals and 2 assists. A great return from the best player at the tournament.

Striker – Kylian Mbappe

The golden boy winner gets place in this team. While leaving out Griezmann and Lukaku is difficult, Mbappe has to be in this team. He was the pace and power for France, who gave them that extra bit of flair in the forward department. What is so impressive about Mbappe is how direct and mature he is. Just comparing him to young players like Rashford and Werner, Mbappe is so clinical in his finishing. He plays like an experienced forward, instead of a teenager. Mbappe has been key for France throughout his tournament. His perfect runs, no nonsense dribbling, and cool in front of goal. He’s been the spark in an otherwise very pragmatic team. He will become a great of the game.