Predictions for Ligue 1 – 19/20

While Ligue 1 doesn’t possess the same competitiveness throughout the league like the Premier League or even the Bundesliga, it is a gold mine in terms of young talent. It’s what makes the French top division so enjoyable, potentially seeing the next generation of talent come through before they earn big money moves. I will focus on a lot of players from Ligue 1 throughout the season, but first, let’s look at my predictions for the 2019/20 season.

Outside Shout – Montpellier 

The 2011/12 Ligue 1 winners are far from that success at the moment, but this season could be a big step to at least fighting for those Champions League places. With Lille weakened after the sales of Mendes and Pepe, and Lyon under new management, this could be the season where Montpellier finally return to European football.

This is surprising considering just how close they were to relegation. In the 16/17 season, Montpellier finished 15th, only 3 points above the relegation zone. Head-coach Frédéric Hantz was sacked midway through the season and replaced by Jean-Louis Gasset. However, he was not given the job permanently. Gasset was only seen as a stop-gap, to steady the ship for the next coach. That coach was Michel Der Zakarian, a manager who spent ten years of his playing career with Montpellier, playing over 200 games for the club. Zakarian was appointed after mutually terminating his contract at Reims. From the outside looking in, this appointment does seem mostly sentimental, something we’re seeing more of when mid-table clubs appoint their next managers.

It is hard to argue that Montpellier haven’t improved since their relegation scare. During Zakarian first season in charge, they finished 10th, a respectable finish. However, it was last season where everything seemed to click. Laborde and Delort were fantastic additions upfront, adding physicality and a real aerial threat for next to nothing. Their signings allowed Zakarian to deploy a direct style. Last season, they averaged less than 50% possession per game but were in the top 3 for aerial duels. Their attacking approach was to get the ball to Delort and Laborde as quick as possible, through goal kicks or the centre-halves. Zakarian is fully aware of the lack of attacking quality in midfield, so instead used the dynamism of the full-backs and the creativity of Morret to drive the attack. Their ugly yet effective brand of football was essential in an impressive 6th place finish.

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La Paillade are fully aware of how to take advantage of the transfer market, selling Mbenza, Lecombe, Aguilar and Skhiri for £36 million, while only spending £18 million and new arrivals. Those arrivals included Teji Savanier, the best midfielder in Ligue 1 last season, Andy Delort on a permanent deal, Jordan Ferri and Arnaud Souquet. Savanier’s signing was a stroke of genius. While on the older side, he will give more creativity from midfield, to ensure those 15 draws from last season drop substantially.

Similar to La Liga preview, I am not expecting Montpellier to challenge for Ligue 1, but a top-four place isn’t being unrealistic. Lyon, Monaco, Marseille and Lille all look weaker compared to last season. Montpellier have improved, and this is their best chance to get into the most desirable position in the league.

Over-achievers – Monaco

It’s insane just how quickly Monaco have fallen from their surprising title win in 2017. The constant sales of their best players and replacing them with young players is hazardous. The club expected Jardim to work with over 10 new arrivals while losing a solid midfield of Fabinho and Moutinho and two forwards in Balde and Lemar. Their output was difficult to replace with young talent.

Looking at their signings from last season, some of them were good. Golovin was wanted by a lot of Europe’s elite after his impressive World Cup performances. Beni Hendrichs was excellent for Bayer Leverkusen, and it was a sensible move for the price. However, some of the new arrivals did make very little sense. They spent over £30 million on Chadli and Geubbels. The former was extremely lacklustre during his last season with West Brom, and the latter hadn’t played for Lyon’s first time yet and only went on to play 7 minutes in Ligue 1. Jardim left near the beginning of the season due to the club’s incompetence, being replaced by Thierry Henry. The Arsenal legend’s time at the club can best be described as out of his depth. The stupidity in Monaco appointing him and the arrogance of Henry in believing he could succeed without any previous experience is laughable. He failed in spectacular fashion, which lead Jardim returning once again and guiding Monaco to safety.

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Monaco admitted they shouldn’t have put Jardim in such an awkward position regarding the signings. They have resolved those issues by bringing in more experienced players in Ben-Yedder, Slimani, Aguilar and Maripan to blend with their younger players. When you add that with Onyekuru and Lecombe, you have clear improvements all over the pitch. Ben-Yedder is such an excellent addition to the side. His lethal finishing made him one of the best forwards last season. Spending £35 million on a 28-year-old is a lot, but his reliance on movement and good shot locations mean he should age better than most forwards.

Do I expect Monaco to be good this season? I doubt it. Their midfield options are weak, and the lack of creativity worries me. You look at that team, and it’s difficult to pinpoint who starts every week. Yet, Jardim is still a good manager, and I trust he should get enough out of the players at his disposal to at least fight for the Champions League spots.

Under-achievers – Nice

Nice’s 16/17 season was peak Favre. Dynamic full-backs experienced central defenders and a reliance on star power upfront to carry the attack. That season, they defied expectations and finished 3rd, ahead of Lyon and Marseille. However, the following season wasn’t nearly as impressive. European football took a significant toll on the squad and only managed to win 4 in their first 14 games. Losing both of their full-backs and the Seri’s drop in form had a massive impact and resulted in a significant decline from that impressive 3rd place finish.

With Favre understandably departing the club to join Borussia Dortmund, Nice decided to make a riskier appointment and brought in Patrick Viera. The former Arsenal midfielder had an auspicious time in the MLS with NYFC, and many clubs seemed to want Viera based on the name alone. However, no one knew how good he would be in a better league.

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Viera’s first season in charge was fortunate to put it politely. They finished in a respectable 7th, but when you look at their issues, it makes you wonder how they even managed to finish that high. They only managed to score 30 goals, the 3rd worst in the division and only better than 2 relegated sides. The loss of Plea was huge, and Balotelli’s form dropped off a cliff, as per usual. Saint-Maximin was their top scorer, a player known for his lack of end product. While they did overperform massively in defence, that attack needed to be addressed if Nice wanted to avoid finishing in the bottom half of the table.

They have attempted to resolve their issues through the transfer market, with Dolberg arriving from Ajax. Dolberg, like Nice, hasn’t been at his best since 2016/17 but he’s still only 21. He does lack the technical ability to hold up the ball effectively, but if you can create enough chances, you can get plenty of goals out of him. Nice are currently close to signing Lorient winger Alexis-Claude Maurice. He is extremely young, but what from I’ve heard, he does have the potential to reach the same levels as the likes of Thomas Lemar or Nicolas Pepe.

When adding that to the promising form Cyprien has shown at the start of the season, Nice could really be a threat in the upcoming season.

So why are they, my potential under-achievers? Simply because of that possibility, this might not work out. Nice are relying heavily on two young players to produce now, and there are plenty of examples that simply hasn’t worked out (Monaco being the most obvious). I hope for the sake of their players, they have a good season, but I have my doubts.

Best Transfer – Abdou Diallo

Joachim Andersen, Teji Savanier, Timothy Weah and Idrissa Gueye are all great signings to choose from, but my pick goes to Abdou Diallo. Dortmund’s sale of the Frenchman and the arrival of Hummels was one of the strangest moments of the window. The deal would have made more sense if they actually earned more of a profit than they did. They bought Diallo last season for just under £30 million and sold him for the same amount. However, Dortmund’s loss is Paris’s gain.

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Last season, Lucien Favre had 3 promising centre-backs to choose out of Akanji, Zagadou and Diallo, and the latter is by far the best. Diallo is not only a fantastic centre-back but managed to fit in perfectly at left-back, still amassing huge dribble numbers. He reads the game well for his age and possesses the speed and strength to play in an elite side. His ability in the air isn’t great, arguably one of the reasons Dortmund were willing to let him go. Yet, Diallo is an improvement over who Paris have. With Thiago Silva ageing, they needed to nail this signing, and they have.

Potential Flop – Renato Sanches

Lille have lost a lot this season. Not only did they sell their best player in Nicolas Pepe, but the sales of Rafael Leao and Thiago Mendes were massive loses. Mendes was a vital cog in that midfield, adding a lot in terms of defensive work and creativity but selling to a rival made it even worse. Leao made sense considering Milan’s colossal offer, but a potential star has been let go a year too early. It made this summer essential in keeping Lille competitive, with so many areas to fix.

While Yazici was very close to being here, as soon as I saw a fee agreed for Renato Sanches, there was no doubt he would find himself on this list. It was slightly unfair for Sanches to be painted as the next future superstar after his impressive Euro 2016 performances, which earned him a £35 million to Bayern. However, the former Benfica midfielder has had a torrid time since his move to Germany. His game time under Ancelotti was minimal, and after an odd yet disappointing loan move to Swansea, his future at the Bavarians looked extremely daunting.

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After another season of barely appearing for Bayern, Lille decided to take a punt on the young Portuguese midfielder. There is still clearly talent in Sanches, but it’s strange that after 4 years of playing two of the top five leagues, his sample size is still relatively small. Taking away international football and his time at Benfica, he has only played 2230 minutes since joining Bayern Munich, that’s fewer minutes than Nicolas Pepe played last season. He is a young player who has lacked substantial game time in the past 3 years and possibly having attitude problems, as his time at Swansea showed. This is arguably Lille’s most prominent risk of the summer. There is a lot of pressure on Sanches to be half the play he was predicted to be. If he fails to have an impact in another league, I fear his career could be over before it ever had a chance to begin.

How are Lyon Looking Under Sylvinho?

When writing my massive preview for the season, Lyon were a team I spoke about. For years they have looked able to compete with Paris, but inconsistency has always been their problem. They were able to create plenty of chances through Depay, Fekir, Aouar and Ndombele, but struggled to convert those chances. Moussa Dembele’s arrival did bring that clinical edge to the side but had minor injury problems throughout the season.

A lot has changed at Lyon over the summer, with Bruno Genesio being the most significant change. The Frenchman struggled at times to find a place for all of that attacking talent, which meant the likes of Traore and Cornet struggled for consistent game time. Genesio never seemed like the guy to take that group of players to the next level. He did oversee his side pull off some magnificent performances, with a 2-1 win over PSG and beating Premier League champions Manchester City at the Etihad.
The Lyon hierarchy could have appointed a more experienced coach but opted to take a massive risk in selecting Sylvinho. The former Arsenal defender has had little experience in management, with his most recent job being assistant manager to Tite for the Brazil national team. No one knew what this Lyon side would look like with Sylvinho at the helm. Would they continue to be the free-flowing attacking side of the past, or sacrifice that entertainment for a more pragmatic approach? This will be the focus today, to see what Sylvinho has changed during his early days as the new Lyon manager. I cannot stress this enough, but these views are not final. These are just my first impression on what Sylvinho has implemented thus far, so all opinions are not final.

Before looking at their first game of the new Ligue 1 season, let’s review their summer window. Their sales, rather than their purchases, attracted all the attention. Les Gones sold some of their prizes assets in Tanguay Ndombele, Ferland Mendy and Nabil Fekir for a combined £115 million, a considerable profit on players purchased for less than £10 million. All three players added a lot to the side. Ndombele was an all-action midfielder who added strength, energy, composure and a large amount of ball progression in midfield. He was what every club wants from their midfielders, and he arguably left the most significant void in the team. Ferland Mendy was another excellent talent. The former La Havre defender was another perfect example of excelling in your position. Mendy was not only solid defensively, but was arguably one of the best dribblers in Ligue 1, from a defensive position. Nabil Fekir, while not gaining a similar profit as their other sales, was a massive player for Lyon. The club captain was arguably one of the best attackers in Europe back in 2017. However, due to injury problems, struggled last season and didn’t have the same impact as seen in previous years. Fekir had that element of unpredictability about him that made him such a threat. A fantastic dribbler and chance creator, it made him one of the most complete attackers in Europe.

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Lyon’s arrivals were one of plenty of discussions, starting with the midfield, which saw Thiago Mendes arrive from Lille for £18 million. Ndombele is a tough player to replace with a tiny group of playing possessing a similar skillset to the now Tottenham midfielder. It was a sensible move to pick up Mendes. While he didn’t have the same fantastic ball progression as Ndombele, he did add better defensive numbers and still possessed similar creativity.

With Ferland Mendy’s departure, it meant left-back was one of the most critical positions in terms of recruitment. His replacement was Youssouf Kone, another player signed from Lille. While not offering nearly the same attacking output as Mendy, he did provide some outstanding defensive work, putting in over 5 tackles and interceptions for Lille last season. It’s another move that seemed realistic for Lyon. Finding a full-back with equal qualities to Mendy is insanely difficult. Taking a punt on a relatively young full-back and hoping those low attacking numbers improve in a better side is a risk worth taking for £8 million.

Last but not least, let’s talk about their best signing of the window, Danish defender Joachim Andersen. He is the first signing at centre-back that I would consider promising after Marcelo and Morel are finally being phased out of the team. Andersen was an in-demand player throughout the summer, with Arsenal, rumoured to be heavily interested. Moving to Lyon makes a lot of sense. The loss of Ndombele cannot be understated, and bringing in a ball-playing centre back to add that extra bit of ball progression is vital. Anderson is a gifted passer who is very comfortable on the ball. The Danish defender completed 15 dribbles last season, the 4th highest out of centre backs in Serie A. What he can add in position is impossible to argue. Andersen isn’t great defensively. However, for £21 million and still being only 23, he has time to improve.

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The combination of Lyon’s sales and arrivals made me wonder how they were going to set up throughout the season. While seemingly putting faith in the talent currently at the club is understandable, there is a vast amount of pressure on some of these players to step up. Cornet and Traore have always looked great when given chances, but can they be relied on throughout the season? It begged the question if Lyon were being a bit too confident in terms of assessing their own talent. There is now more pressure on Aouar to continue with his excellent ball progression and improve now Ndombele has departed. The issue with this group of players is some of the players they are putting faith in. I like Dembele a lot, but his history of injuries is still concerning, even if he has been a monster to play against whenever he has stepped foot on the pitch. The full-backs also worry me. Full-back pairings have usually worked with one taking an attacking role, and the other taking a more reserved part. Last season, it was Mendy who excelled in attack, and Dubois who blossomed on the defensive side, but now I have my doubts. Kone and Dubois have never shown the ability to play in that attacking role, leaving the team with even more pressure on the wide players to create and carry the ball.

If going off their 3-0 win over Monaco, there are plenty of elements to be excited about. Defensively, Lyon remained on the front foot, consistently using Aouar and Mendes to press the opposition during buildup play. Depay and Traore would drop deeper to change the formation to a more solid 4-1-4-1. While both are consistent tactics used by many coaches across the continent, it worked well. It could be down to Monaco continuing their poor performances into the new season, but Sylvinho’s side does deserve some praise here. Lyon used Mendes and Aouar to press the opposition defenders and force the ball into the wide areas, with Les Gones having a numerical advantage in those areas. It also got the best out of their full-backs. As we’ve covered, Dubois and Kone are not the most attack-minded defenders but are fantastic defensively. Forcing Monaco to attack down that side made them easier to nullify. The 2017 Ligue 1 winners only managed a single shot on target, showing how much they struggled to break Lyon down. The early signs of Lyon improvements defensively are bright, but it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against some of the sides in the Champions League. The different attacking teams could be challenging to contain.

While the defensive improvements give reasons for optimism, it’s in the attack, and primarily buildup play, where I have early reservations. During the first game of the season, Lyon attempted to transition the ball through their centre-backs recycling the ball, waiting for a chance quickly switching the ball towards the wide players. They use their excellent dribbling to attack the opposition. This makes a lot of sense. Andersen and Denayer are some of the best distributors of the ball in France, so building the ball up using their strengths is advantageous. The problem at the moment is the lack of ball progression through the middle. It’s the biggest hole that Ndombele has left the club. Aouar is a fantastic dribbler and seemingly the only midfielder who can. It puts a lot of pressure on him to drop deep if the wide options weren’t available. This might be different from Adelaide’s arrival from Angers, but at the moment they have looked dependant on Aouar to carry the ball. The other issue that became apparent at times during their first game of the season was their poor shot locations. This is likely due to the red card given to Cesc Fabregas, which forced Monaco to sit much deeper. Their 6-0 win over Angers did show a much better attacking side, but Lyon did massively overperform during their first 2 games of the season. At the moment, this isn’t too much of a problem. It is still in the extremely early stages of Sylvinho’s reign.

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I do imagine a lot of those early problems will be resolved as the season continues. This side seems built to be more accustomed to tougher opponents, and the emphasis on playing out from the back and a smaller squad could be a sign of harmony among the players. There was a reason why Lyon were one of my teams to watch. A new manager, the apparent significance of the fringe players and a better defence make them a team that all must keep an eye on this season.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Ibrahim Sangare and The Best of Ligue 1 #2

After discussing Kenny Lala and his importance to Strasbourg, let’s look at Toulouse midfielder Ibrahim Sangaré. A player I’ve already discussed on more than one occasion, let’s look at why I rate him so highly among the young midfielders across Europe.

Toulouse have been a side surviving relegation by the skin of their teeth. In the last 5 seasons, they have finished no higher than 13th. It’s crazy to see a side which has produced some exciting talents in the last few years, with the likes of Ben Yedder, Issa Diop, Serge Aurier and Alban Lafont all developing for the southern French side. They always seem to trust their younger players with a high amount of responsibility, in a circumstance where clubs wouldn’t usually do so. While the signing of Max Gradel has given them that spark in the final third, it has been the breakout season of his compatriot that has been the most notable.

Calling last season Sangaré breakout season is incorrect to an extent. He did start 18 games in 17/18 and put in some very good numbers, but he took it to another level. While his tackle numbers have remained the same, it’s his ability on the ball that has seemingly been improving. His passes completed have gone from 40.4 to 54.1 per game. His shots, dribbles and long balls per game have all slightly increased and show a player who is developing. The Ivorian has played every game he can possibly play and has become an invaluable player to the team and it can be highlighted by how Toulouse played without him. During the 9 games Sangare missed, Toulouse only managed a single win and failing to earn victories over 2 relegated sides, drawing with Dijon and losing to Caen. Toulouse played 10 different formations last season, and he found a place in all of them. Whether playing as a single defensive midfielder or with a partner, he has shined wherever he has played.

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While looking at his insane defensive numbers show a player similar to a Ndidi or Kante, a player who specialises in breaking up play by tackling, Sangaré is more than that. He does put in an impressive 3.6 tackles per game, the most for his side, but he is great at reading the game as well. He will always look to position himself in front of the defence, to stop those dangerous passes to the strikers. However, it doesn’t change the fact that his tackling is by far his best attribute. Sangaré recovers the ball with ease when faces in one on one situations, never giving his opponent space to run beyond him. He rarely goes to ground and tries to stay on his feet, using his physicality as an advantage over smaller players. The Ivorian completes 75% of his attempted tackles, showing how he effectively recovers the ball for his side. One area that is rather disappointing would be his aerial duels. He wins 1.4 aerial duels per game but it could be down to long balls rarely landing in his direction.

Sangaré’s passing is another area which needs improvement. His pass accuracy has increased from 74% to 79% but it needs to be higher. The reason for his pass accuracy seemingly being low is his attempted long passes. He’s attempting 7.9 long balls per game, completing less than half of them. He constantly looks to quickly switch play and while he does fail a majority of the time, his ambition is notable.

He’s defensively solid, but his dribbling takes his skill set to another level. Sangaré’s completing over 70% of his dribbles. His strength and height give him a boost in this aspect, making it difficult for opposition players to dispossess him, with the Ivorian only losing the ball 1.2 times per game. For a player attempting so many, it’s impressive how little he is dispossessed. What makes his dribbling so impressive is his speed. Sangaré isn’t very quick, yet is beating players with ease. It shows how he doesn’t rely on pace to beat players and uses his ability on the ball instead.

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There are a lot of clubs that should be keeping tabs on Sangaré, with Everton, Arsenal and Tottenham already showing interest in the 21-year-old. While those are all destination in which he will start regularly, they are not the club I think he should join. If Atletico Madrid do end up selling Thomas Partey this summer, Sangaré would be the sensible replacement. Both players are strong physically, while the pair excel in recovering the ball and using their dribbling to help move the ball into the final third. While Partey has been a reliable player for Simeone, Sangaré would be an upgrade. He is 4 years younger, much taller, a better dribbler and does more defensive work. Partey is a better passer, his shot locations are awful. Sangaré also takes a majority of his shots from outside of the box, but it isn’t as bad as Partey, who out of his 1.1 shots per game, he is taking just 0.2 from inside the box. While the Ghanian has scored some beautiful goals this season from outside the box, a majority of them are wasting possession for his side.

Sangaré is a player who deserves to be playing at a better, and will hopefully be another Toulouse player to succeed in Europe, alongside the likes of Ben Yedder and Lafont, instead of ending up like Braithwaite or Gradel.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Kenny Lala and The Best of Ligue 1 #1

As I have reiterated, Ligue 1 sides contain some talents that big clubs should be keeping an eye on. With Marcus Thuram already covered, we’ll move on to another player who has had a standout season, that being Kenny Lala. Strasbourg have been one of many historical clubs to suffer in the 21st century. A club that saw success in the sixties, beating Nantes to win the Coupe de la Ligue in 1966. After years of unremarkable league finishes, relegation and financial trouble, it left the club facing liquidation in 2011. They were eventually reinstated into the 5th tier of French football.

Their rise back to the top has been nothing short of astounding. They returned to Ligue 1 in 2017, where they have remained ever since. After their debut season which saw them survive by the smallest of margins, it was last season which saw them take a step into the right direction. They finished in 11th, fixing their defensive issues while also adding more goals in attack. While xG claims they overachieved in attack, they still deserved to stay up. Their mid-table finish in the league looked even better after their victory over Guingamp in the Coupe de la France, their 4th victory in the competition. A great season for a club who have fought so hard over the years to get to such a point.

Lala was instrumental in this success. The 27-year-old is by no means a prospect and has been playing for different sides in Ligue 2, including Paris FC, Valenciennes and Lens. Strasbourg picked him up after his contract expired with Lens, signing him on a 2-year deal. He has been superb for the side. After his debut season for the Blues, which saw him contribute to 7 goals from right back, showing himself to be a good dribbler and solid defensively, he truly stepped up his game last season.

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Strasbourg have been lining up with a variety of formation, with the consistent theme being a back three being deployed in a majority of the systems used. Lala has been playing as the right wingback. He has been their primary source of creativity and is by far his best quality as a player. The Frenchman is averaging 1.8 key passes per game, the most in the side. He will always look to receive the ball as wide as possible. It shows during Strasbourg’s buildup. Lala will usually wait on the halfway line, to give his team an option when attacking. He is the heartbeat of this side. No other player averages more crosses and key passes than Lala. It’s where he excels. He has a fantastic range of passing, enabling him to quickly switch the ball when under pressure. The reliance placed on him can be shown when looking at how his numbers have changed from his debut season. His dribbling has dropped from 2 to 1.1 dribbles per game and defensive work has plummeted from 4.2 to 3.1 tackles and interceptions per game. It shows how his role has changed last season, moving from a regular full back you’d see in the modern game, to the creative hub we see today. He tops the side for assists with 9 and while xG shows how he has massively overachieved in this area, he has assisted some goals that should usually be saved (the opening goal in their 2-1 win over Monaco is a perfect example). It shouldn’t diminish his achievements, however, since he has still been a great creator for his side. His crosses are pinpoint and consistently finds his teammates in the box.

Lala is a player who possesses one enormous strength but features some shortcomings. The first is how he fairs defensively. While he can perform well in a back four, it would lead to losing that creativity he offers from the wide areas. His 3.1 tackles and interceptions aren’t low, but it’s when viewing him you can see how often he can be exposed. Wingers have loved to target his side. He can be easy to dispossess, which will lead to the right side exposed. He isn’t as pacey as Kyle Walker or Roussillon, meaning he can’t make those recovery runs other players can easily make. He is also not great in the air. He only wins 44% of his aerial duels, and considering he only attempts 1.8 per game, it isn’t a good sign to see a player struggle in the little number of duels he attempts. While he helps his team a lot in the final third, Lala can leave Strasbourg vulnerable defensively.

From the way I’ve described his strengths and weaknesses, he is very reminiscent of Kieran Trippier. Both are gifted passers but struggle defensively when under pressure. The difference between the two is that Lala is being played to his strengths, and is relied on heavily by his teammates. Trippier, on the other hand, has struggled this season, partly due to the injuries and lack of midfielders available for Tottenham. Lala has been allowed to excel and while he has his weaknesses, he has been vital in the steps forward that Strasbourg have taken this season.

 

 

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Marcus Thuram and Safe Risks for Big Clubs

One matter regarding the big clubs in Europe that can be frustrating is the lack of risks some of them rarely ever take. When there are so many young talents performing well and available for a cut-price, they are rarely ever taken by the bigger clubs. It’s why the rumours of United chasing Daniel James and Tottenham looking at Jack Clarke were so interesting. These are players available for less than £20 million, with little risk, yet are never signed. If they work out, you have at least a squad player, with potential to grow and if it fails, they can be sold without drastic loss. Juventus are a club who have understood the benefits of doing this. Players in the mould of Zaza, Stuararo and Caldara. Domestic talents they can sign and profit from. It’s one factor to how the club has consistently been able to afford some of the top talents in Europe. It was one of my many criticisms of PSG after their humiliating defeat to Manchester United. While Ligue 1 constantly earns critique for its lack of talent compared to the other top five leagues, I will still stand by the statement that there is an interesting talent in every team in the league. To prove this point, let’s look at a player who plays for the worst team in Ligue 1, yet is still attracting interest from across Europe.

Guingamp, like many sides at the bottom of the table, were the furthest from inspiring. They only managed to score 28 goals and conceded 68, the worst in the league in both departments. It makes the idea of any player standing out quite difficult to believe, but Marcus Thuram has done that. Famously the son of World Cup winning defender Lillian Thuram, Marcus ended the season with 9 goals and an assist, meaning he contributed to more than a third of Guingamp’s goals.

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The young Frenchman, like his father, is a real physical presence. He matches centre backs, like Jan Vertonghen and Harry Maguire in strength and it works well alongside his pace. Many full-backs have struggled to deal with Thuram this season. He is hard to dispossess because players cannot simply push him off the ball. He is given an advantage over many other wingers. His size has given him the edge in the air. The winger has been winning 3.5 aerial duels per game, the third-highest in the squad. He has been a focal point for Guingamp in attack. The goalkeeper Caillard (or Johnsson) will constantly use Thuram to quickly transition the ball from defence to attack. Since he is matched up against full backs, it makes it easier for him to win the ball. Against Lyon and Marseille, he was using this aerial dominance to cause their right backs trouble throughout the game. In their 4-0 defeat to Marseille, he won a ridiculous 8 aerial duels, the most on the pitch.

In this same game, he also completed 9 dribbles. It’s surprising just how good he is at dribbling. It’s usually the smaller players who excel in this area, thanks to their low centre of gravity, but Thuram stands out. He’s good technically, can quickly evade pressure when opponent attempt to retrieve the ball and most importantly, his size and power make it so difficult for players to even get near him. Thuram usually likes to receive in the wide areas, drive with the ball and looking for space to shoot in the box. The Frenchman can have a serious case of tunnel vision. When receiving the ball, his first thought is always to go straight on the front foot (as cliche as it is) and try and help his team score.

One of the most encouraging signs of Thuram is his performances in the bigger games. Some of his best performances this season have come against the top sides in the league. While all of your displays should never be judged based on a small number of games, it’s promising for any top side who would consider signing him (we’ll get to that) to know he can play well against better opposition. He scored a brace against Lyon, put away the winning penalty against PSG in the Coupe de France and scored against 4th place St Etienne on the opening day of the season. While young, he has shown how he can perform on the big stages.

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Playing for a poor side, especially a side who mostly play without the ball means as a forward you will be tracking back. Thuram does this constantly. He isn’t afraid to do the hard yards for his side. With the added benefit of having a player so physically gifted, it makes it a role he is ideal to play. The 21-year-old has been putting in 1.4 tackles per game, a high amount for a forward. It’s a promising sign for clubs to see. A lot of coaches want their players to defend in all areas and Thuram is comfortable doing this.

While I’ve complimented his physicality and his dribbling, it’s his shot locations that are most impressive. Thuram is taking 1.9 shots per game, with 1.6 coming into the penalty area. I’ve criticised plenty of players in the past for poor shot locations. Ziyech, Maddison and Milinkovic-Savic have all been frustrating for how often they’ll take shots from bad areas. Thuram isn’t as wasteful as his peers. It could be an effect of playing for a side who need to take their chances if they want any chance of survival, but he’s showing a lot of maturity at his age. Being such a good dribbler, it makes it easy for him to find space in the box to take those shots. The last trait a bigger club wants to see is a player give the ball away needlessly.

With taking all of his strengths to account, being his size, speed, dribbling, work rate and shot location, which side should sign him? The first club that comes to mind is Arsenal. The Gunners have a lack of pace and adequate dribblers in the wide areas, with Iwobi being the only natural winger I’d consider them to have. They are in desperate need of reinforcements in that area of the pitch. We’ve discussed Ryan Fraser in the past, and came to the conclusion he is not the player Arsenal should be looking at. Thuram definitely fits the type of player they’re looking for. Guingamp have stated they’re asking for roughly €20 million for their prospect. With Arsenal lacking funds, it could be one of their best options in the market for them. He improves that squad. While they’re questions on whether he would start, he is a great option to have in the team. He is a must signing for the red side of North London this summer.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Tanguay Ndombele and the Mousa Dembele Effect

The evolution of the defensive midfielder is a fascinating one. From the physical destroyers in Keane and Gattuso to intelligent readers of the game in Alonso and Busquets. The next step in this evolution was Belgian midfielder Mousa Dembele. He arrived in the Premier League as an attacking midfielder for Fulham. After a relatively successful spell for the Cottages, he arrived in North London, signing for Tottenham. While he was good under AVB, it was the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino that transformed him. He decided to move Dembele deeper, using his superior dribbling to help transition the ball from defence. This truly changed what a defensive midfielder could do. Since his fantastic 2015/16 season, we’ve seen the emergence of players with a similar skillset to Dembele, with Kondogbia, Sangare, Kovacic and Allan. These players who combine elite dribbling with solid defensive output have made them a player in high demand. Clubs are ready to spend a lot of money on players with these skillsets.

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Dembele’s importance to that Tottenham side can be seen how much they’ve struggled in midfield this season. After Dembele’s defensive work slowing down each season, it was an area where they needed to strengthen in the summer. However, as it’s well documented, they didn’t sign any players. While Dembele has shown his age, no one expected such a huge drop-off. He looked a shadow of the player he once was, and his usefulness to Pochettino was dwindling. Some midfielders will reach this drop-off, especially those focused on their hard work, energy and defensive output. It left Tottenham in a real conundrum. They were lacking any midfielder who could effectively transition the ball from defence into attack. The solution they found just continues to highlight the genius of the Spurs manager, being able to get every last drop of quality out of both Winks and Sissoko, forming a midfield partnership that would solve the issue on the short term. It has given them a huge problem in attack, however. Without Dembele’s elite dribbling, it has forced Alli and Eriksen to come deeper to receive the ball, which has weakened their output and has put more pressure on them defensively. Pochettino has opted to place either Alli or Eriksen in central midfield, with his options that low. It has highlighted their midfield as the area that is in desperate need of improvement.

This is where Tanguay NDombele fits in. The Frenchman was one of the breakout stars of the 2017/18 season, establishing himself as one of the brightest midfield prospects in Europe. In a young and exciting Lyon side, Ndombele has been given the platform to flourish. His signing deserves a lot of credit from whoever handles Lyon’s transfers. In a summer which saw them lose both Tolisso and Lacazette for nearly a combined £90 million, it left a challenge for the club. They acted smartly in bringing in Mariano for less than £10 million, and NDombele on loan. It’s what makes NDombele’s arrival so strange. He arrived on loan and was signed for £7.2 million before the 2018/19 season, a true bargain in today’s market. Nothing was well known of him at the time and only made 3 starts for Amiens before leaving for Lyon. The club has been known for finding players in obscurity before. They’ve taken risks on older players like Marcelo and Jallet, while also ready give the younger players a chance. During the 2017/18 season, Genesio was starting Tousart, Aouar and NDombele in a midfield three. All were young and excelled in their bid to secure Champions League football. NDombele was the stand out of the trio. His maturity and strength showed him to be above his peers in terms of importance for the side. He was essential in giving the side defensive stability, while also using his incredible ball retention skills to help push Lyon further up the pitch. Lyon is a side full of great dribblers. Aouar, Fekir, Depay, Traore and Mendy are all excellent in moving the ball into the final third, but NDombele stands out. He’s been averaging over 70% success rate for dribbling, a high figure for a player who usually receives the ball in crowded areas. It’s actually one of his most impressive qualities. No matter how many players attempt to stay tight to him, he will always find a way to avert pressure. During their impressive 2-1 win over champions Paris Saint-Germain, NDombele had one of his best games. He would constantly find space to receive the ball and would drop deep to drag the opposing players in areas they did not want to go. He completed 3 dribbles, made 58 passes, the highest in the side, put in 3 tackles and completed 4 long balls. A well-rounded performance that helped show his best qualities. There is no player in Europe with such a similar skillset to Mousa Dembele. Good defensive numbers, a solid passer, a fantastic dribbler and a player who is press resistant make NDombele a player who is sought after.

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Can Tottenham sign the highly rated Frenchman? It is a possibility. If they are finally ready to spend money and show the rest of the league that they are ready to challenge both Tottenham and Liverpool, they have to. Ndombele was heavily linked to PSG, Barcelona and Manchester City for months. However, with Barcelona signing Frenkie De Jong, Manchester City looking at Rodri from Atletico Madrid and PSG focusing their attention on Allan, it has left Tottenham with a chance to sign him. It does beg the question of if they can afford him. He’s been rumoured to cost over £65 million. While that would be a fee that Tottenham could pay, the issue is there are other areas of that squad that need attention. If Trippier departs for Napoli, they will need another right back. If Alderweireld does decide to leave, as well as Eriksen, Rose, Lamela and Llorente, it leaves a lot of players that need replacing. While signing NDombele is possible, signing him while also needing to find replacements for all the players listed (as well as a goalkeeper with Lloris showing his age). When I spoke about the midfielders that Tottenham need to sign, I didn’t mention NDombele because I thought the idea of signing him was extremely unlikely. Spurs have a gift of having a manager who is able to get the best out of the talent at his disposal. The club might decide to look at players more in line of Billing, Grillitch, Anguissa and Lemina. Players who won’t cost an extraordinary amount while still improving the squad. If Tottenham do want to be taken seriously, it’s time to start buying the best players around, to show the ambition they claim to have.

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Giovani Lo Celso and PSG’s Mistakes

It seems like criticising PSG is a club I consistently criticise, and for good reason. They sacrifice building a good team for the sake of shirt sales. While a very blunt statement, they haven’t failed to prove me wrong as of yet. When they brought in Kylian Mbappe and Neymar for record fees, it was in the attempt to fix a lack of goals in the squad. While this did work, it further went to highlight the lack of balance in the side. While their attacking options are vast and give them depth to compete on multiple fronts, it’s the rest of the pitch where the problems lie. They had to resort to bringing in the ageing Gianluigi Buffon to give them a better goalkeeper, but now it seems they want to bring in David De Gea to add another to the list of goalkeepers they’ve tried to bring in. Their full-back options are simply not good enough, with Tuchel even pointing out before the start of the season that he was in desperate need of players in that area. Bringing in Juan Bernat is an improvement, but he isn’t as good as the full-backs you in the Bayern Munich, Liverpool or Man City starting XI. As mentioned when discussing Ander Herrera in the previous analysis, the midfield is a problem, and it will take more than Herrera on a free to fix it. It makes the departure of Giovani Lo Celso even more puzzling.

Arriving in Paris from Rosario in 2016, Lo Celso arrived as a skilful midfielder with an eye for goal. While he didn’t become a prominent member for the Champions until the 2017/18 season, he did show value to Unai Emery. He made 33 appearances, starting 18 games, and added a different element to a very good midfield. He was a fantastic dribbler and was very good at recovering the ball. While Verratti, Rabiot and Motta are all composed players and great passers, Lo Celso gave that Argentine aggression that they needed. While he did have a very good season, it’ll be your performances on the big stage that will be remembered. During their defeat at the Bernabeu, Lo Celso had a very poor display. Playing as a defensive midfielder, a position has been able to cover before, he gave away a penalty and generally had a poor game. He was outplayed by the superior Modric and Isco, and it a stamp on a good reputation he was establishing. In came Thomas Tuchel, arguably one of the top three coaches in Europe. He made it very clear he wasn’t going to use him as much as Emery did. Tuchel said back in September, “Personally I think it’s not a number 6. It’s more like an 8, an 8 and a half, even a 10 if you like.” He is right. Lo Celso is better as an advanced midfielder. While his tackle numbers are high, it’s more in an attempt to get the ball in the final third, not to protect the back four. The young Argentine decided to join Betis on loan in an attempt to receive more minutes, with an option to buy for €30 million.

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To say he’s had a successful spell in La Liga is an understatement. In only one season, he went from a promising player, into arguably the most desirable midfield prospect in Europe. While you’ll see young midfielders like Ndidi, Rodri or Sangare who are great defensively, or Rabiot and Tielemans, who are fantastic progressors of the ball, Lo Celso is something different. His good shot numbers from deep, high dribbling and tackling numbers, it made Setien slowly move Lo Celso from the left-sided number 8 to a number 10 and now a striker. This does make sense. He is by far their best attacker and moving him further up the pitch gives him more chances in front of goal. It was also to resolve another huge problem, that being the passive side of Betis. They’ve struggled in many games to take advantage of their domination and struggle to break down opponents who prefer to sit deeper. Setien’s idea was by moving Lo Celso as a striker in a front two was to help find space between the midfield and defence. In the game against Villarreal, he would constantly drop deeper from the defensive line, to help give an option to the side. It would allow his teammates to find space in the areas he’s opening up by coming deeper. It adds another strength to a player who is full of them. Lo Celso is a player who is seemingly growing a persona every time I’ve watched him. His constant asking for the ball, his speed and aggression in which he dribbles and the pressure he puts on the defence. It’s truly fascinating to watch him play for just how well rounded he is. He matches a tireless work rate in midfield with this direct style that has made him so effective. From playing in many different positions, he has scored 9 and assisted 4. He is Betis’s top scorer in La Liga and has more goal contributions than any other player in the side. He seems to have blossomed in the over-reliance placed on him. While some of his defensive numbers have dropped as the season’s progressed, this is due to him being played in more advanced positions. If looking at his numbers when played as a central midfielder, he has been making 2.3 tackles per game, an increase to the 1.6 he’s been averaging throughout the season. Lo Celso must be a gift to have as a manager. His versatility, speed and technical ability make him such an appealing prospect for all big clubs. He’s by far been Betis’s best player this season and looks destined for a move to a league challenging side.

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It does beg the question if Lo Celso is PSG’s biggest mistake in the past few years. From a club’s perspective, it must be a yes. Betis have signed one of the best young midfielders in the world for less than half of what he’s valued. It does seem like the club didn’t expect him to kick on and perform at such a high level so quickly. He’s able to play in multiple different roles, and but is arguably best played as a number 10. He has the energy and defensive ability to match his technical skill. But it does come back to the question of if we would have known about this if he hadn’t moved to Betis. It’s an argument that is made in football in recent years, playing a certain player in a different system can bring other strengths. Think Antoine Griezmann and his ability to create and find space has been highlighted thanks to being played in such a pragmatic system. Bernardo Silva would be another example. Since Pep has opted to play him as a central midfielder, we have arguably seen the best side of him. He can lead a press so well and had more defensive output than anyone expected. Setien has discovered Lo Celso’s ability to career the attack, and his intelligence and desire to constantly want to make an effect on the match have shown him to be a player to be feared. It is worrying, however, that a side lacking midfielders would let one go, even if Tuchel wasn’t fond of him.

Why Mourinho Was Sacked. Top 5 League Talking Points

While this week wasn’t as interesting as the last, there are still plenty to talk about so let’s start with Germany

Bundesliga

Frankfurt Outclass Leverkusen

While Bayern and Leipzig all pick up big wins, let’s look at Frankfurt, who continued their great start to the season with a 2-1 victory over Bayern Leverkusen. While Frankfurt have been very good this season, Leverkusen are still a side that can cause any side trouble, with Werder Bremen conceding 6 against them. They also haven’t lost since the 11th of November, so this was a tough task for both sides.

Let’s start with the winners, who won this game, even without their young shot machine Luka Jovic, who started the game on the bench. This wasn’t as bad as it seems. They still had both Ante Rebic and Sebastian Haller, who have been very good this season. Rebic has continued on from his World Cup exploits, with the Croatian scoring 5 and assisting 2. His shot numbers are healthy considering he’s played all over the field this season, and he’s creating 1.8 chances a game, showing how much of a well rounded player he is. While he has been good, Haller has been absolutely brilliant. He’s scored 9 goals and is at the top of the assists chart in the Bundesliga, with 8. If you count the Europa League, he’s in double figures for both goals and assists. He’s incredible in the air and while he has been rather fortunate to have this many goal contributions, he has still been arguably the best player in the Bundesliga this season. Against Bayer Leverkusen, he took 4 shots, created 3 chances and won a ridiculous 12 aerial duels. Dragovic and Tah just couldn’t deal with him, with the pair only winning 3 aerial duels. I wouldn’t be surprised if clubs aren’t looking at him, for bids in the summer. He’s only 24, meaning there is still a ceiling to hit. He was only signed for £6.3m from Utrecht. What a brilliant bit of business from a club that seems to keep impressing me.

While Haller was as good as ever, the man of the match was arguably Filip Kostic. The Serbian was great on the day, scoring and assisting to help his side get the 3 points. He also created 2 chances, made 4 tackles and interceptions and 6 clearances. Frankfurt play in a way where their full backs are pushed so far forward, that they are almost like inside forwards. The first goal showed this, with Kostic assisting Da Costa with a beautiful low cross. It gives their side a constant attacking threat in all areas, and it means players like Rebic and Haller can stay more central without worrying about lacking isolation. But their marauding full backs come at a cost. It leaves them so vunarable at the back. Leverkusen were probably unlucky to not get more out of this game. They started it off so well, with Brandt having two great chances, and Bellerabi having a goal disallowed. They exploited the wide areas that are always left so free at times, and if not for better finishing, would have let Frankfurt pay for it. But they didn’t, and Frankfurt continue on this season, looking to get Europa League football.

La Liga

Betis back on track

While November did include a brilliant victory over Barcelona, it wasn’t a great month for Betis. It was their only win last month, with a draw against Celta and a defeat to a poor Villarreal, it left them in a position where they couldn’t seem to put two wins together. Now in December, they haven’t lost a single game yet, with their only points dropped being in the Europa League. Wins and clean sheets against Sociedad and Vallecano, means they are finally showing how good they really are. This side have a solid defense, and a great midfield. This actually transitions very smoothly to talk about Giovanni Lo Celso. The Argentine is one of my favourite players to watch this season, and has been the best midfielder in the league. While he’s only started 9 games, it is because the horrible Europa League campaign they are also playing in. He’s clearly being saved for those games, and it’s understandable why. Lo Celso is a midfielder who can play anywhere in the midfield. His tackle numbers and great dribble numbers make him a very flexible player, similar to Moussa Dembele or Allan. The difference here is goals. Lo Celso is Betis’s top scorer, and while it’s only with 4, it does show how good he at getting in the box. He also ranks third in the squad for shots per game, and xG says he is achieving what he should be, which shows there isn’t much luck or a purple patch here. This is Lo Celso playing his game, which is just frightening. He’s only 22, meaning there are still plenty of years left.

He was the man of the match in this game, taking 4 shots and completing 4 dribbles. Lo Celso is not a creator. Canales takes that role (and is another who has performed very well), while Lo Celso plays as the player who arrives late in the box, but is also an expert at winning the ball back. It does seriously trouble me why Paris let him go out on loan, and are now forced to play Marquinhos to play as a holding midfielder, a position where Lo Celso could definitely fill in. It would would amaze me if Paris actually let him go. He’s a player with massive potential would offer something different in a midfield which will see Rabiot leave by the summer. He is such a good player and is the reason why Betis are such a threat.

Ligue 1

Monaco Misery Continues

It is fair to say Monaco have been the worst side in Europe. They have went from Ligue 1 runners up, to a side hiring a manager with zero experience, and are now suffering for it. They have conceded the 4th most goals in the league, and scored the 3rd least amount of goals in Europe. They have turned from league winners, to a shambles. This game against Lyon just shows their weaknesses in both areas. They are currently suffering with 16 players out in the sidelines. I can definitely sympathise with Henry in that department. He has been forced to play Raggi as a right back, a player who should really not be at the club at this point. Monaco were truly awful in this game. It may become boring just looking at numbers, but they sum up the situation perfectly. The five highest shot takers in this game were all Lyon players, and the most dribbles were all Lyon players. Falcao actually won 3 tackles, more than all of his teammates. A striker should never be doing that. They had a pass accuracy of 77%. That is just awful. You expect a side, with ball players like Monaco to have at least 80%. You expect lower than that from direct managers like Mourinho and Sam Allardyce. While Lyon managed 21 shots, Monaco managed a poultry 4, meaning Aouar and Depay had more shots than their opposition, with 5 each. This all wasn’t helped from Golovin getting sent off. The Russian decided to throw a terrible challenge in, earning a straight and justifiably got his marching orders. They offered nothing in this game, which can’t be highlighted more than Benaglio getting the second highest amount of touches with 45. It was just a nothing performance from a side that has been no where near average this season.

Let’s quickly look at Lyon. They are now looking like the second best team in Ligue 1, which they are. Their best player on the day was Nabil Fekir. It might be an exaggeration, but he is arguably one of the top 20 players on the planet. Not many attackers can boast his creativity, shot numbers, set piece ability, dribbling and versatility. There’s so much to his game that is makes him such a desirable player to every top club. He could get into any team in the world. This game showed his quality. He scored, created 6 chances and completed the most passes out of any forward for Lyon. He was at his unbeatable best in this game, tearing through Monaco as if they were a light piece of paper. It was a great performance from a player who is just too good for this league. Another who stood out is Kenny Tete. He completed the most tackles and created 4 chances, with only Fekir creating more. His cross for the second goal was fantastic, and showed this determination and fight that he clearly has.

With Paris already seemed to have wrapped up the league, Lyon could seriously shock some sides the champions league. Barcelona are arguably the favourites for the competition, but injuries to their defenders and Luis Suarez’s ability to have an incredible off day, means they are definitely beatable. Valverde’s pragmatism is his biggest weakness, and best quality. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it just doesn’t work. Losing to Roma, failing to win the league because of his complete team change against Levante, and their terrible performance against Betis only last month. It leaves questions on whether they can actually go the distance. They go against this Lyon side. A side full of attacking quality, and a side that showed a lot of versatility in the past, able to play a 4-4-2, a 4-4-2 diamond, a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3. It could be a real challenge, as Manchester City found out.

Premier League

Manchester United outclassed

While this is quite late, let’s look at Mourinho’s last game in charge of Manchester United, arguably his side’s worst showing. I compare every single bad performance from United this season to that game against Brighton, where I saw nothing in attacking sense and complete incompetence in defense. Even the games against, Southampton, Valencia, Juventus, Manchester City, Spurs and Derby, they just weren’t as bad as Brighton, but the against their closest rivals is definitely the worst. Allowing Liverpool to have 36 shots, is a disgrace. United just sat back and allowed Liverpool to attack relentlessly. While Liverpool were quite wasteful, with Fabinho, Lovren and Mane all wasting chances, they still created so many chances and were allowed so because of just how bad United were. While United did get a goal back thanks to an Allison mistake, it was not deserved. Liverpool won the game thanks to goals from Xherdan Shaqiri. I think the line up was the start of things to come for United. No Martial, Pogba or Mata meant a huge lack of creativity and spark in the side. It made United so much more predictable and passive in an attacking sense. They lacked Mata’s ability to drift and find space, Martial’s speed and chance creation and Pogba’s pure arrogance. While I like Herrera, he isn’t going to offer anything in a creative sense, and Matic is just not very good. I like Lingard, but he works better when he’s playing off other attackers. Rashford, while he tried his hardest, did struggle in this game. United are an absolute mess, and it truly doesn’t make sense. This side has some of the best attackers in the league. Lukaku was scoring over 20 goals only 2-3 years ago, Martial was carrying United’s attack, Rashford was ruthless in his first full season, Sanchez was linked to every single top during his final year at Arsenal, Mata is arguably as good as David Silva. How this team isn’t scoring more than Arsenal and Chelsea is mind blowing. Mourinho started his time at United so well. Two trophies, an arrogance and swagger with the signings of Zlatan and Pogba, and huge progress to be made. However it’s just been downhill from there. This is written right after Mourinho was sacked, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been appointed. The Norwegian will hopefully bring back the confidence in this side, and make times at Old Trafford much more enjoyable.

While I still do not think Liverpool are near City in performance and quality, credit needs to be given. They were very good against United. It does help that their opponent was so bad, but they themselves were good. Fabinho was their best player on the day for me. While many have given Shaqiri the man of the match for his effect on the game, I think Fabinho did show exactly why Liverpool have been such a solid side this season. While he started slow, he seems to have finally found his place and purpose in this side. Considering he was playing in defensive midfield, he played more as a number ten. He had 5 shots, created 2 chances and 3 dribbles. He got the assist for the first goal, with an excellent ball that cut the United defense open like cheese. He dominated this game and could be a real important player in a season where Liverpool finally seem ready for a trophy.

Serie A

Roma entertain Genoa

With all the big clubs getting typical wins, let’s look at the most entertaining of those wins, being Roma’s 3-2 victory over Genoa. Roma have been poor this season. I still have massive question marks over Di Francesco, and Monchi just hasn’t had the impact all expected him to have. I do think it is a massive shame that Malcom made the wrong decision in joining Barcelona. If he did sign as he was expected to, they would definitely be more of a threat in front of goal. Roma have scored a very good 29 goals, but an injury to Dzeko has left them with a difficult situation. Schick hasn’t impressed in the slightest since his arrival from Sampdoria last season. Instead, they started Zaniolo. The Italian didn’t manage a shot on target in the game, but having the opportunity will definitely help him grow as a player. For the first time this season, I can say Roma’s midfield were very good. Di Francesco chose to start Bryan Cristante and Steven N’Zonzi in this game. Cristante is a player who isn’t full of talent, but he did show what he’s got against Genoa, scoring and creating 3 chances. His midfield partner was even better. N’Zonzi has not been great since his arrival in the capital. He’s started show his age, and struggling with the pace of some sides in Italy. But in this game he was back to his best. He completed 6 tackles and interceptions, and won 8 aerial duels. He is finally showing why Monchi chose to take another risk on him, at an age where he should start to be fading. He hasn’t been at his best this season, but he is still a presence in midfield and hopefully he can find a certain place in this side. With Pellegrini in the sidelines, it was important that the pair stepped up, and they did.

Genoa can truly call themselves unlucky. They had a lead in this game, with the shot monster Piatek and Hiljemark both scoring, but Roma clawed back and got the result. xG had this game at 1.88 to Roma and 2.18 to Genoa. This is mainly due to how good Piatek is. The Polish marksman has been on fire this season, and showed it here. He had 5 shots, with every single shot on target. It’s something you don’t usually see from a forward, being able to hit every shot on target in a game against the second best defense last season. There is no doubt that Piatek is over performing, but he is playing for a side that isn’t exactly a top 6 contender. They don’t create a crazy amount of chances, so it’s very impressive. It’ll be hard for Genoa to keep hold of him, if any big clubs would go for him.

Is The Serie A Title Race Already Over? Top 5 League Talking Points

Bundesliga

The Revierderby

While Dortmund’s game against Bayern is always a huge fixture, their game against Schalke is arguably just as big. Both sides are only a 23 minute drive away. They are both located in a real working class area and this derby has produced 152 meetings, with Schalke coming out as the better of the pair. Going into this game, it was clear that while Schalke have picked up some form in recent weeks, Dortmund were the favourites. While it was close, it was Dortmund who came out as victors, thanks to goals from Thomas Delaney and Jadon Sancho. Schalke did bring the game level thanks to Caligiuri’s penalty, but it just wasn’t enough.

Let’s discuss the victors, who weren’t great on the day, but still managed to win the game. The Veltins-Arena is not an easy ground for Borussia Dortmund, with their last win coming in October 2013, so the fact they were able to pick up the victory is still very impressive. However their performance wasn’t their best showing. They only managed 3 shots on target. Schalke managed the same but they have a valid reason being they lack forward options at the moment, with Mark Uth and Breel Embolo both picking up injuries. Dortmund didn’t have any massive injury troubles going into this game. They started all of their big performers, with Reus, Sancho, Alcacer and Brunn Larson all starting as their attackers. Reus was very good on the day. He has been revived this season, and while isn’t the brilliant winger in his earlier days, he has evolved as a player, similar to how R9 changed from a player who relied solely on physical power, and instead used his technical prowess to his advantage. Reus is the leader in this young side, and knows what it means to play for the club. In this game he created 3 chances, more than any other player on the pitch, and got the assist with a delightful free kick into the box. Other than Reus, their attackers weren’t good enough on the day. Both Sancho and Brunn Larson were lack lustre, but they are young players. This is a game that is so hard to predict, and it can be overwhelming. Paco Alcacer was arguably the worst out of the three. He didn’t manage a single shot on target, and was taken off for Mario Gotze. While Dortmund should be happy with the win, it wasn’t vintage from them. Lucien Favre has garnered a reputation for completely misleading xG. They are currently top of the table, yet xPTS claims they should actually be 2nd, with Bayern as the comfortable leaders. They are actually the luckiest team in the league, with Favre’s side only expected to score 27, 12 less than they have actually managed. Dortmund have been very good this season, there is no denying that. But with Bayern being more dominant, Hoffenheim taking more shots and Leipzig having a better defense, it does show how maybe they’re fortunate to be where they are. I still hope they can keep it up. The Bundesliga has been very boring for a while now and it needs this refresh. Not only does it throw Dortmund right back at the top, but it will make Bayern really reconsider how well they think they’re ran.

La Liga

Atletico Madrid show quality against in form Alaves

Onto La Liga, which has had a predictable, yet interesting week. The high scoring game between Levante and Eibar, but let’s look at Atletico Madrid. They have truly disappointed me this season. With the huge additions they made in the summer, it was expected for them to finally push on. They have been fine enough. They still have a very good defense, but Simeone has faced some real problems. The first was his midfield. Since the loss of Gabi, a player so similar to Diego Simeone, it was as if there were two of them. The signing of Rodri from Villarreal was so good. I’ve already gone through previously why he’s so good, but there was doubt he could be the guy to replace Gabi. But after a start to a season which lacked minutes, he has finally found his place in the side. Only Koke completes more passes a game than Rodri. He also completed the most tackles in the side and the most clearances out of any midfielder. He holds the ball very well and is a great shield for the defense. I bring this up because he was one of Atletico’s best players on the day. He scored, completed more passes than any other Atletico Madrid player, and made 3 tackles and 8 clearances. He was very good on the day, and it seems Simeone finally has put his trust in him.

The Rojiblancos were deserving of the victory. They created better chances, and kept Alaves quiet and unable to create real substantial chances. While Alaves did take more shots, they only managed 3 on target. Atletico Madrid are one of the best sides in Europe at ensuring the chances you make are poor ones. It is why they are such a good side, and even with aging defenders, they are still rock solid at the back. One of their stand out defenders in this game was Santiago Arias. The Columbian was brought in as a replacement for the departing Sime Vrsaljko, and has been a worthy successor. He had a very successful time at PSV, where his dribble numbers and attacking threat were his most notable attributes. He was very good in this game, and showed all these qualities. He created 2 chances, more than any other defender, and even got an assist. It was a very good display from a player who will need plenty if he is to replace Juanfran.

Let’s quickly touch on Alaves, who while didn’t deserve the 3 points, they still had some chances in this game. Ibai Gomez managed more shots on target than any of his teammates, with 2. Alaves have been fine this season. While they don’t score many goals, they take the chances they get and play a very direct style. They can seem old fashioned, with Alaves being near the bottom of the table in shots, possession and pass accuracy, but right now they are just taking advantage of the state that is La Liga right now. The league is a mess, which has left teams like Alaves and Levante to climb the table, in times where they really shouldn’t be this high. While they are having a good season, it’s mainly because of how bad some other sides in La Liga have actually been.

Ligue 1

Ligue 1 will not be spoken about this week. The yellow vests protects have brought up security concerns. France is not exactly the happiest nation at the moment. 5 games have been suspended this weekend, including the game I most looking forward to, St Etienne against Marseille. It is still unsure when these games will be played, but I will cover Ligue 1 when it eventually comes back.

Premier League – Manchester City stunned by Sarri

Arguably the game of the weekend, Sarri was the first manager in the Premier League to truly dismantle Pep’s side. While City did dominate, Chelsea took their chances and limited City to create chances that aren’t as high quality as usual. It was arguably the most interesting game of the season.

Let’s start with Chelsea, who were truly great on the day. They came into this game in arguably the worst of situations. They lost 2 in their last 3, with their win coming against Fulham, a side even United could put 4 past. There was reason for worry, and even in the first half that worry was still there. City dominated and definitely should have got on the score sheet, but Chelsea rode their luck, and thanks to a goal from N’golo Kante and a late header from David Luiz, the blues managed to get the win. When I say that City dominated that first half, it was no exaggeration. Kante’s goal was Chelsea’s first shot on target. It’s Kante’s 4th goal contribution this season, the same as he’s managed in his last 2 seasons for Chelsea. While he is still learning his new role of box to box midfielder, it cannot be argued that he is definitely showing progress. While both Kante, Hazard and David Luiz will be remembered for what they did going forward, the man of the match was comfortably César Azpilicueta. The Spaniard was a monster at the back, that if you just add up all his defensive actions, he made 24. That is unheard of and it could be the first time I’ve ever seen a player amass that many. No matter where he plays Azpilicueta will always be one of the most consistent players in the side. He is just a delight to have for any squad. What Chelsea did so well is actually realise they are a lesser team than Man City. They might have played a 4-3-3, but in defense, it looked more like a 4-5-1. They were fine to have less of the ball, because they knew they could score a goal at the perfect opportunity. Both Kovacic and Kante are incredibly athletic, and could definitely help transition. It’s was a great approach from Sarri, and seems to be doing well at Chelsea, playing a different style to many of his predecessors.

This did seem like a huge off day for Manchester City. The champions dominated the first half, but late in the game they failed to get back a goal, and the pressure seemed to have got to them. The biggest talking point of the game was Man City’s lack of striker. Pep after the game said he was happy with how they played and the how his side set up, but I disagree. While he has played a striker-less team before, it just didn’t work here. Sterling just doesn’t have the same ability as someone like Jesus, to get in behind and make very intelligent runs. Sterling has been incredible this season, but it’s more as a winger, not a striker.

While Liverpool might be top of the table, City are still comfortably the better side. Every result they have had all been earned, with no luck to speak of. Let’s hope the better side actually win it this year.

Serie A – Juventus extend lead at the top

With Serie A going back to its one horse self, let’s look at their Friday night battle against Inter Milan, a side who have massively disappointed me so far this season. They have a very good manager, and made additions that should have seen them skyrocket up the table, but have been labouring on. While Icardi and Brozovic have been their usual great selves, Perisic, Nainggolan, Candreva and Vrsaljko have all underperformed this season. Perisic has always been their main creator, so having him slow down is a massive problem. Luckily, Keita Balde has been in good form recently and has helped his side. However even Keita couldn’t make the difference, with Juventus winning 1-0.

Inter had 2 incredible chances to get ahead, but thanks to Icardi creating them, instead of being on the end of them. Gagliardini hit the post and Skriniar hit it over the bar It meant they didn’t have their most clinical striker taking the shots. Other than those two chances, Inter only managed a single shot on target. They were wasteful in the final third and but the fact they created the chances they did, does earn credit. Vrsaljko was arguably their best player. While he hasn’t been as good as I expected, he did definitely bring his a game in this one. He completed 2 crosses, more than any other Inter player, and had their only shot on target. He was arguably one of the only highlights from a defense that wasn’t good on the day. xG had this game at 1.41 to Juventus, and 0.95 to Inter.

Let’s move on to the victors, who while weren’t great, still managed to get the job done. It’s classic Juventus. They are a winning machine. They have a team full of players who know how to win games, through the more dirtier side of the game, with players who have played at the top level for a long time, and know what it takes. They were good in this game, creating better chances than their opponents, with their forwards performing very well. Paulo Dybala was very impressive on the day. He created 3 chances, took 4 shots and even completed 4 crosses out of his 5 attempted, which is frankly ridiculous to see a player be that accurate. Mandzukic scored the only goal, and also had the most shots on target, and created 2 chances. Ronaldo wasn’t stand out in his game, but it’s good to see his teammates performing even when their main man isn’t. However another full back stole the show, this time it was João Cancelo. The Portuguese, while disappointing in Spain, has simply been brilliant since arriving from Valencia last summer. He was signed permanently by Juventus in the summer, after his loan spell with Inter came to an end. He has arguably been the signing of the season in Serie A. He created 3 chances, made 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and got the assist with a delightful ball to Mandzukic.

It’s hard to see how Juventus aren’t favourites for practically every competition they’re in. They have a deep squad, quality in every position, and huge competition for places. I still think their midfield is a bit weak. It’s the only thing truly holding them back from being the best side in Europe. While Atalanta and Napoli might be more fun to watch, Juventus are winners, and that is what’s most important when winning league titles.