UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group B

Now onto the group of death. Let’s look through by far the toughest group this year.

Barcelona

The La Liga champions go into the tournament as one of the favourites for not only their group, but for the whole tournament. Barcelona have a very good squad, but there are some issues still there. Their midfield is still very old and their over reliance on Busquets is too obvious. That cannot keep happening when Busquets is now 30. He needs to be rested for these games now. Valverde is also a clear weakness. Barcelona won the league because of their tight defense (that seemed to vanish in the last couple of months of the season) and Messi just reminding the world why he is the best around. Valverde did not give their fans the entertaining style seen under Pep and Enrique. But Barcelona have a huge advantage this time around. Coutinho and Dembele will both be eligible for the Champions League, giving them much better options going forward. It’ll mean their best creators can flourish and help them beat teams, like Roma, who played very well defensively. They do have a good of going all the way. But it’s down to Valverde, and if he is able to approach the toucher games with less of a pragmatic way, but they will definitely top this group.

Inter Milan

A return of a European giant. Inter make their first appearance in the Champions League since 2012. They arrive with some very good elements in their team. They have one of the most consistent goal scorers in Europe in Mauro Icardi. They have very good depth in their centre backs in De Vrij, Miranda and Skriniar. They also shockingly signed Sime Vrsaljko on loan from Atletico Madrid. There are good components to a great team here, and will feel very unfortunate to draw the group they did. While I do like their team and Spaletti in charge, I don’t think they are ready to compete with Barcelona and Tottenham just yet. Inter are looking old, with Nainggolan, Miranda, D’Ambrosio, Valero, Candreva and Handanovic all over 30. While they could easily surprise me, the Europa League is where they will end up.

PSV Eindhoven

The Dutch champions come into this group as the weakest team, but still possess the ability to cause some real damage in this group. Unlike Spurs or Inter, PSV are unbeaten so far this season, even beating Willem II by 6 goals to 1. They have some real talented players in their side as well, most notably Hirving Lozano. The Mexican forward has been an instant hit since making his move to Europe, not only contributing to 25 goals in 29 appearances in the Eredivise, but also being a huge bright spark in a Mexico side who shocked the world by beating the world Champions Germany in their opening game in Russia. If PSV are to do anything, they need to make their home advantage count. Spurs’s away record against the top 6 in England is not great, which means that they can be beaten when out of their comfort zone. They have a chance too, but because of the quality of the other teams, they will finish rock bottom.

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs are in a strange place right now. After beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, they then go and lose to Watford away from home. It shows how Spurs seem to constantly tire themselves out in their big games, and then fail to turn up against lesser teams. This is why they will finish 2nd in this group. While many can question their consistency. It is hard to argue that Spurs fail to turn up when they put their mind to it. They always get ready for the big games, as seen with their wins over Dortmund and Real Madrid last season. League form is irrelevant when discussing this competition, meaning Spurs will probably get through okay. Barcelona are beatable, Inter are still trying to fit in many players, and they have a more talented side than PSV. The only worry is Harry Kane. The golden boot winner has looked so poor at the start of the season. He should not be playing in league games if Spurs want the best out him in the group, because has looked off the pace since his injury back in March. It’ll be a second place finish for the London side.

Final Table

1. Barcelona

2. Tottenham

3. Inter Milan

4. PSV

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

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

Bundesliga – ?

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

Serie A – Ronaldo Debut and Inter Fall Behind

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

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

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

Ligue 1 – Mbappe stars. Others do not

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

Premier League – Liverpool Win Dirty. United showing their weakness

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

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

La Liga – Barca Continue. Atletico Drop Points

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

2018 World Cup Round of 16 Preview – France vs Argentina, Uruguay vs Portugal

With the group stages finally over, let’s look at the round of 16, where teams will need to step up their game and prepare for the knock out portion of the tournament.

France vs Argentina

The first game of the round of 16 is a huge one. Both teams have a huge history and would like to add to that this year. Let’s begin with France. The 1998 winners go into this game unbeaten, and only conceding 1 goal. However this looks much less impressive when looking at their performances. They only scored 3 goals and got the first 0-0 of the tournament. They also did not keep the same team in any of their games. It continues to show further incompetence in Didier Deschamps. He is easily the most overrated manager at this tournament and it amazes me how he still has a job, with other Frenchman like Zidane and Wenger available. It should be classed as a crime to not be performing with the best players on the planet. They have looked very poor as a team, and I can’t see them getting far in this tournament.

I was not disappointed in Argentina in the slightest. In fact I expected this. They have some talented players, but they don’t have balance. So far they have not proven me wrong. Even in their last minute win, they still didn’t play good. That game was won from a Marcus Rojo of all people bagging the winner. Even though they were poor, there are still some positives. Ever Banega was very good. He added a player with real ball ability in that midfield. But it still brings up the issue of why is Perez and Mascherano still starting for Argentina. Mascherano is not near the player he was 5 years ago, yet he is still starting every game for Argentina. Why isn’t Lo Celso starting, a guy with real ball winning ability. Or even taking Parades. Even though he is playing in a poor league, he is still a great distributer. Sampoali has baffled me throughout this tournament with these strange selections.

For France to beat Argentina, midfield is their key. If they want to take a book from Croatia, who beat Argentina because of their superior midfield. It is a game where France need all their best ball players, so a midfield 3 of Pogba, N’Zonzi and Kante would be perfect. Pogba and N’Zonzi have a brilliant range of passing and would help bypass that weak midfield. Playing Kante would help win the ball higher up the pitch, to stop players like Banega and Mascherano keeping hold of the ball. For Argentina, they need to give the ball to Messi as much as possible. He hasn’t lit up the world, but he is still the best player of all time. He did look much better in a front two. His run for that first goal against Nigeria was perfection all around. The run, the touch, the second touch, the finish. It was all perfect. Messi as usual, is the key for Argentina’s success. This game contains a team that can’t attack in France, and a team that can’t defend in Argentina. Based on goals needed to win games, the Argentine’s will be the victors

France 1-2 Argentina

Uruguay vs Portugal

Both teams can come into this game with some positives. Uruguay went through their group without conceding a single goal. While they did look very poor in their first 2 games, they stepped it up against the hosts Russia, and started playing a midfield 3, adding Torreira to a midfield of Bentacour and Vecino. It gave them much more fluidity and a real drive in the final third. Another bonus for them would be the form of their attackers and defenders. While Suarez has been poor, he has still bagged 2 goals and Cavani also scored his first against Russia. Their biggest positive to take away from the group games would be their defense. Godin and Gimenez were both fantastic. Godin especially was a real leader in those games. He was the one making sure his other teammates would start attacking because he was doing his job, so why weren’t the rest of the team. There were points against Egypt were Godin would run with the ball because no one else would.

Portugal also have some real positives. They have been successfully protecting their old central defenders, even if at times they have been caught out. Ronaldo has also been brilliant. His form is the main reason why Portugal are where they are. He seems to love having the amount of responsibility he does. However they still have some real issues. The rest of the attackers have not been great. Fernandes was dropped after the first game after not having a good game (even though he was out of position). Guedes also has been very disappointing. He just hasn’t shown that raw skill he was shown all through last season. Even in midfield, a partnership of Joah Moutinho and William Carvalho doesn’t scream energy and attacking threat. Their biggest positive is easily how organised they are. Because of their brilliant full back options, it means the centre halves can stay very narrow so they don’t get caught in places where they will be exposed. Fernando Santos has been fine in that aspect, however in the attacking sense they could be better. Putting Guedes outwide, and putting Martins on the right would give them so much pace and width. Andre Silva definitely deserves a chance too. These would definitely help give them a bit more of a threat.

Uruguay can beat Portugal simply their strikers. Both Suarez and Cavani are very hard to deal with for defenders. If they both can help deal Pepe and Fonte, it would allow the midfield players to come from deep and outnumber the opposition. They play such a deep 4-4-2 that just getting their technical players in the box would be enough to cause Portugal plenty of problems. Portugal just have to simply give the ball to Ronaldo. He has been their best attacking player so getting him on the ball as much as possible is their way to win. I can see Uruguay winning here, but because of Portugal so far suprising me, I might just go for a close game but Ronaldo magic to win it

Uruguay 1-2 Portugal