Should Tottenham Fans be Worried? UEFA Champions League Preview 19/20 – Group B

The second group of this year’s competition, while not as competitive as others, still could be full of surprises. Two teams, you expect to progress and two that have been difficult in the past, there is still a chance for an upset

Red Star Belgrade

The Serbian side have garnered a reputation for being one of the scariest grounds to visit. Passionate and aggressive fans in an old stadium make an atmosphere some rarely experience in the modern game. We first saw Red Star at their best in recent memory in their surprising 2-0 win over Liverpool. It could be placed on Liverpool having an off game, but 2 first-half goals mounted a lot of pressure on the eventual winners that they couldn’t overcome. 

I fully expect Red Star to continue in their consistent enjoyment of causing problems for teams during their visit to Serbia, but it still won’t be enough. They’ll continue to struggle away from home, and while Marin, Van La Parra and Pavkov have their moments, It’s improbable they’ll escape this group. 

Bayern Munich

Bayern under Kovac have been tricky to describe. They did deservedly win the Bundesliga once again, but many issues were exposed. Weaknesses in midfield, lack of players in the wide areas and an overreliance on Lewandowski showcased a dominant team with so much work needed in keeping the side competitive in the future. 

Bayern’s first plan of action was to resolve their defence through the added additions of Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. It’s strange how they’ve spent so much money fixing their defence when it was already the best in the league. Clear areas were needing of improvement, but I can understand their desire to add numbers. Hummels and Boateng were approaching the latter stages of their careers, and Kovac seemingly wanted more athletic defenders than the options at his disposal. Pavard and Hernandez were World Cup-winning defenders, capable at playing at either full-back or at centre half. 

Their acquisitions would have made more sense if they actually resolved the issues regarding wingers. Robben and Ribery finally departed the club and left huge holes that needed to be fixed through the transfer market. Bayern’s summer was dominated through the continual pursuit of Manchester City forward Leroy Sane. The German international would have been a sensational signing, giving a perfect winger, able to create and score. Unsurprisingly, The Premier League champions were unwilling to sell, and it left Bayern in a real predicament. Bayern are one of the few big clubs who are usually reluctant to pay more than their valuation. We’ve seen Manchester United, Barcelona, PSG, Liverpool and Juventus spend too much on individual players in their goal of being the best in Europe. Bayern are more traditional in a sense and do not want to get involved in the mess that is the transfer market. While it is respectable to have such an approach, sometimes beliefs just have to be sacrificed if you want to compete with the best teams around. 

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We even saw how they aren’t nearly as frightening as they once were in last year’s Champions League. Bayern were the first team to be absolutely ripped open by Ajax. It was the first time since in years we’ve seen Bayern struggle so much against opposition that isn’t Real Madrid or Barcelona, and it continued in the round of 16, where they were drawn against Liverpool. Their performance in both legs was poor. Bayern went to Anfield with conservatism in mind, opting to stop Liverpool instead of playing them. The Bavarians have been so imperative at the Allianz for years, that it made sense to take a point and attempt to beat the Reds back on their own turf. The problem is they were playing the second-best team in Europe, known for their ability to tear open big sides like Bayern, and were comfortably beaten by the eventual winners. This game displayed just how much needed to be done in turning Bayern back into the juggernauts they were under Heynckes and Pep.

Nevertheless, I expect Bayern to win this group. They will struggle when the round of 16 arrives, but for now, they’ll be at their usual best. They’ve started the season in extraordinary form, and I expect Kovac and his players to ease past a relatively weak group.

Olympiakos

After missing last year’s competition, Olympiakos return after qualifying in extremely comfortable fashion, beating Viktoria Plzen, Krasnodar and Başakşehir while only conceding a single goal, while scoring 13. There is a possibility they could cause a threat to either Tottenham or Bayern, but it’s improbable. Their best attacker, Konstantinos Fortounis, suffered an ACL injury back in July and isn’t returning until 2020. It leaves them with Mathieu Valbuena, Daniel Podence and Masouras as their main attacking threats, which just isn’t enough to worry their opponents. It may sound harsh to write them off completely, but I cannot see Olympiakos escaping this group at all, but will most likely finish in 3rd if they manage to overcome Red Star. 

Tottenham Hotspur

Mauricio Pochettino’s side spectacularly reached the Champions League final. Their historic comeback to beat the neutral’s favourite team Ajax will go down as one of the best comebacks in Champions League history, but their whole season can be best described as overperforming. They were laughably placed in the same title-chasing bracket as Manchester City and Liverpool by Christmas when they were never close to them. Spurs were overperforming expected goals throughout the season. The only reason they managed to finish in the top four was down to their strong start, because their form during their second half of the season was relegation worthy, losing to Bournemouth, Burnley, Southampton, West Ham and Manchester United. 

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Tottenham finishing in the top four and reaching a cup final should all be credited to their manager. Pochettino managed all this without signing any players and missing crucial personnel through vast stretches of the season. Not only that, he had to work without any competent midfielders. Spurs went from a generally fun side to watch to be more direct and efficient, due to their lack of midfield talent. When attacking, they would continually skip the midfield and attempt to play it long to the attackers, which worked well considering their situation. The reality is that Tottenham should never have reached that far in the Champions League. They narrowly escaped their group and got lucky with wins over City and Ajax. 

After a summer which saw significant improvements in midfield but weakened in other areas, I’m expecting Spurs to struggle again. They’ve started the season poorly, and their performances against Newcastle and Aston Villa highlighted some glaring issues in attack. I still expect Tottenham to escape the group, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them limp over the line in worrying fashion. 

Football Opinions I Disagree With

With so many different platforms to express opinions, it gives people the opportunity to give their opinions on certain topics, and with football, it’s ever present. With so many opinions, it also offers many responses, and here are mine to some topical issues in the world of football, ranging from pundits to popular fan opinions, let’s go through some popular opinions.

Defenders aren’t as good as they used to be

One that many of the old school pundits love to throw around. They come to these opinions because of lack of top defenders on the market. That isn’t because of the lack of defenders, as many want you to believe, it is because of the qualities defenders need to have now, compared to 20 years ago. In the Premier League for example, many will say players such as Keown, Adams, Bould and Pallister were some of the best the Premier League, while the likes of Otamendi, Stones, Lovren and Christiansen earn plenty of criticism. We look back at those players in positivity because they were good defenders, but the game has evolved. All defenders during that time had to do was be solid in the air, and have some ability in reading the game. Expectations of defenders have changed massively. Not only do they need those qualities, be need to be comfortable on the ball, able to have a quick turn of pace, able to play as either a sweeper or a destroyer, and man mark certain players. They have such responsibility now that it is no wonder that old defenders get so much more praise. There are a few modern defenders who will go down as some of the best in their position. The likes of Sergio Ramos, Vincent Kompany, Matts Hummels and Leonardo Bonucci could all easily fit into any greatest eleven.

What pundits also fail to mention is the improvement in attack. The likes of Keown, Neville and Adams like to bring up how they played against some of the best players around in Ronaldo, Crespo, Kaka and Zidane. But while they bring up players, they fail to bring up systems. Ever since Pep Guariola changed how a team should attack, it has made defending against these teams so much harder. They seem to care more on criticism, rather than complimenting the attack.

Jonjo Shelvey is a great passer of the ball

One opinion that has suddenly came out, and of course a bit incorrect. Every ex England player under the sun said not taking Shelvey was a mistake, because he’s the best passer of the ball England have. While not going into the obvious things like not knowing Southgate’s system, his teammates or his role, let’s look into why he should go. The Newcastle midfielder is always called the best passer England have. It’s simple to explain why. Shelvey averages a below average 72% pass accuracy. If we compare that to the player pundits like Shearer and Murphy want him to replace, Jordan Henderson. The captain has a solid 81% accuracy, much higher than Shelvey. Defenders of Shelvey would say it is because of Shelvey’s more dynamic passing. This is also incorrect. Both Shelvey and Henderson average just over 5 long balls per 90, showing they have a similar range of passing. The only area where Shelvey betters his ex Liverpool teammate would be key passes, where he has 1.4, compared to Henderson’s 0.8. But that can be explained by their roles in their teams. Shelvey has Moh Diame next to him, who has been doing much of his defensive work for him, while Henderson has a more reserved role. Shelvey is a typical match of the day player, and the fact that people thought he should start seriously makes me question these “experts.”

Leroy Sane should be going to the World Cup

While on the surface, not choosing the PFA young player of the year is a strange decision. But this is Joachim Low we are talking about. This is a manager who in my opinion, gets way too much praise. His loyalty to certain players and his overall mindboggling decisions make me question why Germany can’t do better than Joachim Low. Even looking at their world cup winning campaign, he chose to play Lahm in midfield, leaving a huge weakness on the right side. He refused to take Marcel Schmelzer when he was in top form (we’re seeing this again with his refusal to take Philipp Max. He even tried to play Mario Gotze as a false nine, which doesn’t work. But regarding Leroy Sane, I think he is actually right. Low’s decision to take Brandt, Draxler and Reus over the City winger do make sense. Even with his injuries, Reus is a proven world class footballer. Julian Brandt has been with the setup since the beginning, and has performed for Germany. Julian Draxler is another play Low seems to favourite, with the manager choosing Draxler as the captain for Germany in their confederations cup. Sane has played 12 games for Germany, and has failed to score. The manager, and the senior players have even mentioned that some of the younger players seem to be missing what it means to play for Germany. Sane decided to have surgery during an important qualifying game. Not a single manager likes it when a player refuses to play, so in this circumstance, Low is right, and Sane needs to change his attitude regarding the national team setup if he wants to be remembered fondly by his fellow countrymen.

Salah deserved the PFA Player of the Year

While this could be surprising, I do think Salah didn’t deserve to win the player of the year. It’s a combination of two things. The first being he plays in a Liverpool team where any good forward has the chance to excel in a system where they are the focus. That isn’t to take away from his achievement. I thought he was excellent last season and helped drag Liverpool in some key games (the home games against Spurs and Roma stick out). The second being my pure fondness for Kevin De Bruyne. This isn’t a case where I think there is anything wrong with Salah winning. I am indeed fine with that. But De Bruyne helped carry City to a title, and proved to have one of the best individual seasons for a midfielder I’ve ever seen. His contribution to that title winning season was world class to say the least. He contributed with 8 goals and assisted 16, which almost beat his record for last season, 18. The Belgian is at a point where he is competing with himself. While Salah played in the best front three in Europe, De Bruyne played in the best midfield in Europe. By April, he created the most chances in Europe, with 102. He has also registered the most assists in Europe since arriving in England. Not only has he been brilliant in a creative sense, averaging 3.2 key passes per game, 1 more than David Silva, he also has been solid defensively. He’s averaged 2.4 tackles and interceptions per 90, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but considering he also creates the most in Europe, it is still impressive. This is definitely an opinion not many will agree with, but my appreciation for midfielders will always favour them over attackers.

Wilfred Zaha is ready for a bigger club

Another opinion I am pretty against, Wilfred Zaha should definitely not be moving this summer. His dribble numbers might be outrageous, but his finish of 9 goals and 3 assists just aren’t enough to warrant a move to a big club. If you compare him to Mahrez, it is clear who is ready for the step up. Mahrez ended the season with double figures in goals and assists, in a Leicester team that was on and off throughout. Zaha played for a Palace side that had plenty of attacking quality. For a player who can be good to watch, he just isn’t ready for that next step up.

How Germany Should Line Up at The 2018 World Cup

The reigning champions go into the tournament as one of the favourite, having experience, yet also containing plenty of young players. Let’s go through the team I believe they will start.

GK: Marc Andre Ter-Stegen

This all depends on whether Neuer is fully fit to travel. Neuer would usually automatically start, since he has been the number one for the past 8 years, but if he isn’t available, then Marc Andre Ter-Stegen will be the first choice. Ter-Stegen has easily been the second best keeper on the planet this year. He is averaging 6 saves per goal, which is absolutely insane. Ter-Stegen for years has been that player who has always looked like he will become a top keeper. He has finally reached that top bracket and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

RB: Joshua Kimmich

While the left back slot is much more difficult to decide, right back picks itself. Kimmich is not only the best right for Germany, but one of the best in Europe. This season he has been one of Bayern’s best players, in a team full of quality footballers, it’s been a young German player who has excelled. This season he’s earned 12 assists for his team, with 3 of those in the group stages of the champions league. He’s averaging 2.2 key passes per game. That’s a midfielders numbers. In fact James Rodriguez, who has been brilliant this season, is averaging 2.5 per game. Kimmich has been outstanding and can’t be questioned when starting in this eleven.

CB: Matts Hummels

A centre back who has continued to flourish even though he is beginning to age, Matts Hummels is a guaranteed starter. He has been one of the most consistent centre halves for Germany and for Bayern Munich for a couple of years now. Hummels is a very talented defender, who is not only able to defend like a top defender, but is also able to distribute the ball like all the defenders who are so sought after. Hummels is a player who is a guaranteed starter in this side, alongside his partner

CB: Jerome Boateng

Boateng is a player who is full of talent, but over the past couple of years has struggled with injury. During Bayern’s last title win, Boateng suffered a terrible injury and has finally recovered from it. Bayern Munich currently have three top centre backs in Hummels and Sule. Boateng has had less pressure to return from injury and has able to return at a steady pace. He is now becoming ready for the world cup, and to prove why he is one of the best defenders around.

LB: Jonas Hector

If we are basing this truly on form, then Philipp Max would be starting automatically, but since Joachim Low has a system and certain players he keeps faith in, he will stick with Jonas Hector. The Koln captain has been a mainstay in the national team setup for a couple of years now, and has performed constitently ever since. The issue with choosing Hector right now is the fact he isn’t even playing at left back. He has been playing throughout the midfield for Koln this season. He is still averaging very good numbers however, getting 2.6 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game. It is a slight issue, because players like Plattenhardt and Max have been very good this season, playing at left back. Hector however has been a consistent in this side, and will continue to be.

DM: Sami Khedira

Another player for Germany who has been an ever present, Khedira will continue this trend by being the first choice for the holders. While he is beginning to decline, he is still a brilliant footballer. The Juventus midfielder is a bit of a jack of all trades. He can be a very good goal threat, from his 9 goals scored in 26 games for the old lady. He has a very strong pass accuracy with 87%, and he has the experience and know how in a tournament where wisdom can be a very good asset. Low will stick with Khedira, but an honourable mention should go to Leon Goretzka. The Schalke midfielder has been absolutely superb. If we are judging this on this season alone, Goretzka should start. But since Low has a system and wants to stick to it, Khedira will be in the starting XI.

DM: Toni Kroos

One of the best midfielders on the planet. Kroos is the definition of elegance on the ball. He has a frankly ridiculous pass accuracy of 93%. He also averages 1.8 tackles per 90 and a very healthy 2.3 key passes, one more than David Silva. What makes Kroos so brilliant to me is his ability in transitioning play. Any team in the world needs Toni Kroos. He is able to pick a pass, whether short or long, to his teammates. Even though Madrid have had a poor season, Kroos’s numbers have been superb. A player on his level has to start, no debate.

RM: Thomas Muller

While he might be slightly out of position, Thomas Muller has to start. Not only because of his brilliant qualities as a footballer, with his 32 goal contributions this season for the champions. But it’s more than that. Muller has been the center piece of this German dominance for this decade. He could well and truly break Klose’s record, with the form he is on in world cups. Muller is a real leader for the current crop of talented players, and it will help his team when seeing him on that right side.

AM: Mesut Ozil

A player that gets way too much stick for the odd bad performance. Ozil is one of the best creators on the planet. He is averaging a frankly ridiculous 3.6 chances created per 90. That is around as many as the world class Kevin De Bruyne. Germany seem to get the best out of Ozil. He is always allowed to be given the time and space on the pitch to pick out the players in those good pockets of space. He is a genuinely world class player who also gets right into this team.

LM: Leroy Sane

Sane justifiably won the young player of the year, when he even deserved a shout for player of the season. The ex Schalke winger has been absolutely incredible. The way he plays reminds me of a young Ronaldo. The speed in which he carries the ball and strength and power he possesses is simply so unique for a winger in the modern era. Sane was always going to live up to this potential. Last season he showed at moments how good he could be, but overall was very inconsistent. But Pep must have spoken to him before the season, because he has been an absolute monster. He is one of very few players to get over 10 goals and 10 assists this season. What I love about Sane the most is his flexibility in attack. He is able to cut inside and take a shot, or seek out a short pass, or even go very wide to stretch the defense and give players like Silva and Aguero space to run into. He has transformed into a potentially world class player. He might have not shown this quality in a Germany shirt yet, but this might be the tournament he shows the world what he is made of.

ST: Timo Werner

There is only one option here. With the national team struggling with strikers since Gomez began to show his age, Werner arrived at a perfect time to give the Germans a centre forward for the next 10 years. For Leipzig this season, he has scored 22 and assisted 9. What has changed the most for the young German is his shot numbers. Last season everything he hit was going in, now this season he is averaging 3 shots per game, which is a 0.6 increase. His numbers overall have dropped from last season. This could be because of Leipzig themselves dropping off this season compared to last. With the extra competitions Leipzig were playing wouldn’t have helped either. It does take some players time to adjust to playing more than one game a week, and this could be his transition into an elite forward. His energy and brilliant finishing will come in handy for Germany team looking to retain the World Cup