Are Napoli Favourites for Serie A?

While Madrid is spending a fortune on talent, the Neymar transfer saga and Bayern Munich looking to future proof their squad, it seems Serie A has been left in the dust. It’s strange considering Italy is by far at its most intriguing since Allegri joined Juventus back in 2014. There has been a lot of managerial turnover in the last couple of months. After having an underappreciated short time at Chelsea, he has arrived in Turin to give Juventus a more attractive style. While I have already spoken about how I think this move doesn’t make much sense, you can at least admire the optimism. Both Milan clubs have also seen changes in managers, with Conte replacing Spaletti after his struggles in taking Inter to that next stage, and Milan bringing in Marco Giampaolo who saw success with Sampdoria through developing their younger talents. Roma are the final top side to see a change in their coach. After Monchi and Di Francesco failed in the capital, former Shakhtar Donetsk manager Paulo Fonseca who has been a top target for many other top clubs for a while. It means many of these clubs are in a state of instability, with their new coaches needing time to adjust with a new group of players and employing their preferred systems. It means only three clubs are not going through a transitional period, being Atalanta, Lazio and Napoli. Gasperini has done miracles in finally getting his side into the top four, securing Champions League football for Atalanta for the first time in their history after coming close on numerous occasions. They could be a threat once again next season but are unlikely to challenge for the title. Initially, it seemed Juventus have chased Lazio for Simone Inzaghi, but they were unwilling to their manager leave for the most hated club in the league. Le Aquile are in a similar position to Gasperini side. They will not be challenging for Serie A but could be a problem for the other top clubs with their attacking approach to games. It leaves Napoli has the most secure side in the league, so let’s look to see if they are capable to finally ending Juventus’s dominance in Italy.

Ancelotti’s appointment last year made a lot of sense. His predecessor built a team playing arguably the best football seen in Italy since, coincidently, Ancelloti’s Milan side full of elite playmakers. This was easily Napoli’s best side for a long time and needed a combination of elite talent and a coach to get that talent performing to its potential. Ancelotti has had a history of getting the best out of teams full of talent with Italian being one of the very few managers who can handle the egos seen in the game today. He built an exciting side through deploying 4 playmakers in the same team with Kaka, Serginho, Rui Costa and Seedorf and finding success. He did similar work at Chelsea, where he brought the best out of Anelka, Malouda, Drogba and Anelka. His has seen success wherever he has gone but has come across issues in some of his most recent jobs, most notably Bayern Munich, which saw club legend Arjen Robben criticising some of Ancelotti’s methods for lacking intensity. It’s understandable why the players were having issues with Ancelotti. Bayern had appointed him right after Pep, arguably one of the most demanding managers in recent history. Ancelotti is excellent at getting the best out of sides packed with talent but might struggle in more demanding leagues. It’s why a return to Serie A for a team who have a core of players ready to start winning. While they were a pressing side, it wasn’t their main approach to games as you’d see at Liverpool or Salzburg, instead focusing on possession. This is a more suitable style for the former Madrid manager, enabling his current group of players to perform at the same level they were under Sarri.

Embed from Getty Images

Ancelotti couldn’t possibly keep Napoli playing the exact same way, so how has he added his stamp on the side? He has substituted the slower build-up play into a more direct style, making transition much more fluid and attempting to make them less predictable. This can be seen by a couple of things, the first being the signings. Dani Ceballos, Fabian Ruiz and Giovani Lo Celso have all been developed into top talents by Real Betis. While Ceballos and Lo Celso have had struggles at bigger clubs, Ruiz has been a success. He was one of Ancelotti’s first signings when he was appointed and was a transformative signing. He perfectly summarises the contrasting styles between Sarri and his successor. Ruiz arrived as Jorginho’s replacement, yet couldn’t be more different. The Spaniard excelled as creative number 8 for Betis, combining fantastic dribbling, creativity and solid defensive work, while Jorginho possessed a tremendous pass, a good reading of the game and retained the ball well. Jorginho was immobile, but it worked thanks to Serie A not being as aggressive as the Premier League and the slower pace of the league has turned Ruiz from a knife into a sword. While he hasn’t started as many games as I would wish, he contributed to 9 goals from 20 starts, an impressive return for his first season with a Champions League-level club. The departure of Hamsik means that there are even more minutes to go around and it wouldn’t surprise me if Ruiz becomes a key player for Napoli next season

Replacing Jorginho with a more direct player was one way of changing how Napoli plays, but the other difference was the flexibility in formation. Ancelotti quickly released he didn’t need to set up his side in 4-3-3 because they didn’t need to build up possession in the same way without their Italian maestro. They quickly changed to a 4-4-2, and it was a genius move from Ancelotti. It was built on an energetic and powerful midfield duo of Ruiz and Allan. Both are great at ball recovery and fantastic in transition, with Allan being an elite dribbler and Ruiz, as previously mentioned, is an excellent creator from deep. It emphasises just how direct Napoli have become under their new manager, taking away the regista and inserting more physically threatening players. The strength in midfield is a benefit due to the change of formation, but the real boost has been in attack. It has (as expected) allowed Ancelotti to field an extra attacker, usually Milik playing alongside Mertens or Insigne. All have been given plenty of opportunities to play, with the three all starting over 20 games in Serie A.

Milik’s transformation to a critical member of the squad has been fantastic to watch. He arrived back in 2016 after the sale of Gonzalo Higuain for nearly £30 million to give that needed firepower. However his first season in Naples was cut short after suffering from a long term injury, which forced Sarri to deploy Dries Mertens as a false nine, which worked so well, in fact when Milik eventually came back, he couldn’t get back into the side. What made things even worse for the Polish international was a second long term injury suffered in his second season, forcing him to miss 29 games. What has been fascinating about him is he hasn’t stopped scoring. He played just under 1000 minutes under Sarri, yet managed 10 goals which is astounding considering he only started 10 games. His shot numbers are high, he is good from set pieces and is pretty creative for a striker. He isn’t a fantastic dribbler or excellent in the air, but Napoli plays to his strengths and has brought the best out of him. Milik has never necessarily struggled for Napoli but has finally finished a season without a serious injury.

Embed from Getty Images

After going through the difference Ancelotti has made, let’s look at how he has done in his first season for Napoli, which is mostly positive. I thought they were again the best side in Serie A. With Juventus having an awful season in terms of entertainment value and quality and the Milan clubs showing their lack of direction on the pitch, it made it very easy for Napoli to stand out. They were one of the most dominant sides in possession, outshot all of their competition, including shots on target. They completed more passes than any other team in Serie A and were creating more chances than any other side. On paper, they were clearly better than their opposition, and expected goals show that, with understat.com showing them to have the highest xPTS in Italy, 2.57 ahead of Atalanta in 2nd. They slightly overperformed by 4 points, but that is nothing compared to the 19 points Juventus overperformed by.

Starting from the defence, they primarily defended through pressing. All of their players have the mobility and can cover large areas of the pitch. It’s why Zielinski and Callejon have mainly been the first choice wingers. They are energic players and are assisted by their teammates in pressing teams in the wide areas. It’s similar to how they were defending under Sarri, but the pressing, in general, has looked more aggressive and is using the fitness and energy of the whole team to their advantage.

Embed from Getty Images

Napoli have stayed very similar in defence, but it’s in attack where it has looked interesting. In build-up play, Sarri’s side usually kept possession through the centre backs, fantastic passers Albiol and Koulibaly, and Jorginho, waiting for space to open up and play through the wide areas, with the other two midfielders pushing forward. Ancelotti has effectively taken the middle man out of that build-up, with the centre backs now quickly hit the ball into the channels for either the fullbacks or wide players to receive. While a small change, it has made Napoli much quicker in the build-up and has effectively adapted to attacking without their key midfielder. This change highlights Ancelotti at his best, being able to get the best out of what he has been given and making an effective attack.

One of Sarri’s most significant faults as a manager is his lack of rotation. It’s down to him preferring a very small group of players he likes, and will only change if faced with injuries or suspensions. This can be seen in his final season for Napoli, where only 13 players started over 10 games. With a team full of talent, it’s an issue Ancelotti has attempted to address. Ancelotti’s debut season saw 17 players play over 10 games, a vast improvement for the players. He turned Zielinski from a squad player into a vital member of the squad, with only Koulibaly playing more minutes than the former Empoli midfielder. He has been used effectively as a wide playmaker, with a substantial defensive contribution and 1.6 key passes per game have shown why he has been heavily favoured by his manager. It’s in the forward area where his squad rotation has been most impressive. As mentioned, Insigne, Mertens and Milik have played a similar amount of games. This was unimaginable at the beginning of the season.

Embed from Getty Images

Insigne has been one of the best wingers in Europe for the past 4 years, and the idea of him taking a lesser role was insane to imagine, but it has worked for all players involved. Milik’s impressive form has made it nearly impossible to drop him, with the striker scoring 17 goals in 27 starts. Ancelotti has seemed to be more careful in how often he has deployed Dries Mertens. The Belgian international became a vital player for Sarri but has seen his game time decrease under his new manager. It’s thanks to Mertens now being 32 and is at an age where Ancelotti doesn’t want to rely on him too heavily. The Italian has also historically preferred to have a more traditional striker has his first choice, with Inzaghi, Benzema, Lewandowski and Drogba performing very well under him in the past. While Mertens did transform himself into a very good poacher, Milik is 7 years his junior and has the same energy and intelligence in the box as his teammate. It seems Ancelotti has attempted to push Mertens away from his importance to the side slowly, and put more emphasis on using Milik.

Before looking at if this side is ready to face Juventus for the title, we have to discuss the potential signing of James Rodriguez. The Colombian is my favourite number 10 in Europe and will go down as one of the underutilised players in the history of the modern game. He’s been fantastic whenever he has played, but managers have preferred other players over him, making it difficult for him to nail down a starting place. After a season that didn’t see enough game time for a player of his talents, there seems to be only one man that can fix that, and that’s Carlos Ancelotti. Rodriguez was fantastic in his debut season under Ancelotti and after his struggles under Zidane, went to join the Italian again at Bayern. He excelled again, with his chance creation being outstanding, even during his last season under Kovac, he was still Bayern’s creator. In only 13 starts in the Bundesliga, The former Monaco midfielder contributed to 10 goals, creating 2.6 chances which were the most for his side. He even showed a solid defensive work rate too, consistently tracking back in more pragmatic Bayern side. Napoli already possess gifted playmakers, but Rodriguez is a next level player and could fit in well in Ancelotti’s system. The Italian has experimented with a 4-2-3-1 before, which is perfect for James. The argument could be made that his arrival could limit Insigne’s game time, which is likely. However, as mentioned previously, Ancelotti has given a healthy amount of minutes to all of his forwards, and all seem pleased with the game time they are getting. James can play out wide as a playmaker if needed and can arguably play in a 4-3-3 as an advanced number 8. He has had a history of playing multiple positions at club level, so finding a place for such a quality player has to be done. He’s insanely gifted as a footballer and has one plenty of trophies, something he could bring to a group of players who have struggled to win in the past to earn the silverware.

Embed from Getty Images

With the possibility of Juventus having a down year, there isn’t a better chance for Napoli to win Serie A. They have had a season to adapt to Ancelotti’s more direct style, they have a right blend of young, prime players and the more experienced and with the possible addition of James Rodriguez. It has given them that star quality that could finally break Juventus’s dominance. Ancelotti is at his best when given players who just need that extra push to succeed, and there isn’t a team that needed it more than Napoli.

Maurizio Sarri to Juventus: A Good Move?

With Allegri leaving the club at the end of the season, Juventus are in a place of difficulty. They spent a lot of money on players who were at their peak to win the Champions League. First, it was Higuain. The Argentine arrived for over £75 million. He scored a record 36 goals in the league and was seen as their best chance at finally winning the trophy at eluded the team for so long. While they did reach a Champions League final in 2017, they were truly outclassed by a better Real Madrid side. After succumbing to defeat by the hands of the European Champions again, it left Juventus in a difficult place, of where to take this team next.

The Old Lady decided to sign the same player who was consistently stopping them from winning the Champions League, signing a 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo for £100 million. At the time it was arguably the best move for all parties involved. Real Madrid managed to get a colossal amount for a player who was coming to the end of their career, allowing them (in theory) to find a long-term replacement for the forward. Ronaldo was given a chance to win another league title and prove he is the solution for a team’s hope of winning in Europe. Juventus were given the best player in the competition’s history. This was their best short-term solution to winning the Champions League.

Embed from Getty Images

However, it did not turn out as expected. Ronaldo wasn’t nearly as effective as many were hoping he would be. While he did win Juventus the tie against Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side, that was mainly thanks to Simeone making some huge mistakes in the game and allowed Juventus to score those goals. Juventus spent a lot of money on a player who failed to win the golden boot in the league and on the continental stage. Messi scored twice the goals Ronaldo did in Europe, while veteran forward Quagliarella and journeyman Duvan Zapata all finished ahead of him in Serie A. It isn’t to say Ronaldo has been bad but spending so much on a player for short term success should give you more goals than this.

What has been worse for Juventus is the effect that the Balon d’Or winner has had on the rest of the squad. Higuain and Caldara left in a swap deal with AC Milan, to bring Bonucci back to Turin. It’s similar to the situation the LA Lakers were in when LeBron James joined them last year, They had to bring in a bunch of older players, guys who were at the same stage as LeBron, who didn’t need any time to develop and were ready for success. Juventus lost one of the most promising Italian defenders around in favour of bringing back a player who left for disagreements with Allegri. It’s also meant that Rugani’s game time has diminished, going from starting 22 games before Bonucci’s arrival to now starting 15. Juventus making moves for these older players will make players like Rugani and Caldara leave, meaning the club have no players to succeed their experienced ones when they depart or retire.

Dybala is another who was massively affected by the arrival of Ronaldo. The Argentine was seen as the heir to Del Piero, wearing his famous number 10 shirt. He had been fantastic for Juventus since his arrival and was easily the jewel of their crown. Soon as Ronaldo arrived, Dybala’s future was in doubt. He couldn’t play in the same attacking midfield role in a 4-2-3-1 as he did when Higuain was in front of him. He was excellent at covering a lot of ground and linked well with Dybala. Ronaldo has never done that, meaning he couldn’t play in that free role he performed so well in, because Ronaldo was to have that role. Allegri seemed unsure with what to do with Dybala and it has now led to speculation on whether their superstar will remain at the club.

Embed from Getty Images

After failing to win a domestic double and crashing out to a talented Ajax side, it has left Juventus with having arguably their worst season under Allegri. He was tactically beaten by Erik ten Hag and were the worst side in both legs. Their performances in the league weren’t good, with the effect of Ronaldo making them predictable and uninspiring in attack. He’s a player who you have to build your whole attack around if you wish to get the best out of him. Atalanta were taking more shots and Napoli were playing a better style of football. Juventus were playing football similar to the Milan clubs, who have been criticised all season for being lacklustre. The most troubling thing for Juventus is how xG shows just how poor they have been. According to xPTS (expected points), Juventus would have finished 4th, behind the clubs mentioned.  This Ronaldo move has ended in calamity, and it could be worse if their younger players are to leave.

With Allegri now gone, Juventus have turned their attention to Maurizio Sarri. The Italian has had a slow road to the top, not managing in Serie A until he was 55. He managed to save a good Empoli side, which earned him a move to Napoli in 2015. This was seen as a strange appointment at the time and after only gaining 2 points in his first 3 games, doubts were raised. Napoli legend Diego Maradona even stating they should have kept Benitez. However, these doubts were erased quickly. By November 2015, they were only 2 points from the top, with Higuain scoring 9 in 12.

Sarri transformed a defensive side under Benitez to one of the most attractive sides in the history of the game. He changed the defensive 4-2-3-1 to a free-flowing 4-3-3. He changed Jorginho from a rotation player to their most important midfielder. Allan arrived from Udinese to add a defensively solid player who could help transition the ball. Pepe Reina arrived from Bayern Munich. While past his prime, he offered experience and is a solid distributor. These signings helped turn Napoli into an aggressive, pressing side off the ball, and a patient, possession side when with the ball. They are a side gifted with technical players all over the pitch, allowing Napoli to make quick passes to expose the opposition defenders. Their full-backs offered great width, with Hysaj and Ghoulam comfortable attacking in the final third. Jorginho is a fantastic passer who helped the side keep the ball, while Hamsik and Allan were better in attack with the pair pushing forward to support the forwards. Lorenzo Insigne was by far the best player in the team. He was the player who could add that spark and brilliance in the final third. His teammates were always looking to get the ball to him. fully aware of how he could break through the tough defences in Serie A.

What made Sarri’s Napoli so impressive is how they improved every season. They achieved 82 points in their first season, 86 in their second and 91 in their final season. It was Sarri’s last season which saw Napoli at their best. While playing at a high level for 2 years, they took it to another level. Napoli went viral. Their goals beginning with defenders and finished with the precision of their forwards. They were gifted with players who could play in between the lines and expose those difficult sides, and overload the wide areas to find weaknesses. They were the side the whole of Europe were hoping and praying to take the Scudetto from the Old Lady, but failed thanks to falling off right at the end. While failing to win a trophy that season, it was a side made many fans remember how football could be played in Italy.

With Sarri’s contract expired, he moved to Chelsea. While bringing Jorginho with him to help implement his style with the hardest role to play, it didn’t turn out as successful as Chelsea would have hoped. While a 3rd place finish and a Europa League (the viral clip of Sarri admiring his medal was arguably one of the purest moments of football this year) does seem good on paper, many problems with his Chelsea side were identified.

The first being the midfield. The sight of Kovacic, Jorginho and Kante in midfield before the season began was terrifying for opponents, but as the season progressed, it didn’t have the same impact as Sarri’s midfield at Napoli. While Kante is a fantastic destroyer and a good passer, he isn’t nearly as good as Allan with his impact in the final third. Kante completed 0.9 dribbles per game, while Allan completed 2.1 per game during his final season for Sarri. Kante is one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, but he played in a role he has not quite adjusted to yet. Kovacic was another who didn’t offer enough. Hamsik was scoring goals from midfield, positioning himself outside of the box to give an option to the forwards and find space to take a shot from distance. He was taking 2.3 shots per game, while Kovacic was taking less than a shot per game. Kovacic is another great player, but he wasn’t accustomed to playing this role. He arguably would have suited playing in the role that Kante was occupying. The Croatian has great tackle numbers while being a great dribbler. Hamsik wasn’t afraid to take risks to push his side further up the pitch, while Kovacic just isn’t as good in attack as Sarri arguably wanted him to be. Finally, let’s talk about the player who has been criticised the most out of the trio. What I think about regarding the issues many have had with Jorginho is out of ignorance. When Rio Ferdinand blasted the Italian for not getting assists, it underlines an issue of expectation. Jorginho has never been a creator in the final third, with his highest return for Sarri previously being 4. His tackles and interceptions have stayed similar and his passing has been strong as ever. Kante cannot play at the base of the midfield because Jorginho isn’t as athletic as the Frenchman. Jorginho works at the base of the midfield because he is an intelligent player who can set the tempo of the attack. I’m not completely defensive of Jorginho, because he has been far from flawless. Teams have targetted him in big games and he hasn’t made it difficult for them. Jorginho is a player who is quite immobile. He has struggled to adjust to the speed of the Premier League and struggled through the tougher periods of the season.

Embed from Getty Images

The attack has been a major issue for Sarri. It’s been very reminiscent of watching Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal. When approaching the final third, there was a lack of movement, making it difficult for his United side to score goals.  It’s similar to what is happening for Sarri. While Hazard has a similar skillset to Insigne and is a better player than him, the rest of the team doesn’t match the same quality that Napoli had. The midfielders do not contribute enough in the final third, the full backs don’t offer the same attacking prowess and defensive strength and the strikers do not possess the same intelligent movement as Mertens does.

To say that Sarri has had a problem with his forwards is an understatement. He began the season with Morata. While the Spaniard did link well with his teammates, he was frustrating in front of goal, scoring 5 in 16 appearances. Higuain came in as Sarri’s choice. The Argentine had his best season in club football under the Chelsea manager and it seemed like a safe choice, but Higuain has been getting worse since that record-breaking season. He had fitness concerns at Milan and his sharpness is not nearly as good as it once was. He’s been very disappointing for Chelsea, as expected. The work rate he was famed for is not nearly as good as it once was, and the team has generally looked worse since his arrival. While Morata wasn’t great in front of goal, he at least was a presence in the air and linked well with Hazard. Higuain’s poor form meant that Giroud was given a consistent run in the team. The World Cup winner is a selfless forward and brought back the best side of Hazard but is far from a long term solution.

Chelsea were fantastic for the first couple of months in the season, but teams began targetting Jorginho and effectively making them predictable and easy to defend. Their form plummeted during the winter and a 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth highlighted some of the problems with the side. Chelsea did improve as the season went along, with Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek playing a vital role for their club in the final stages of the season. Hudson-Odoi offered a more inventive and exciting forward on the right, while Loftus-Cheek finally added that goal threat from midfield that Chelsea were craving. Their injuries were massive losses for Sarri because those two players were a big reason why Chelsea seemed back on track at the end of the season.

Embed from Getty Images

So what are Sarri’s strengths? He is capable of building a side that have an identity, a style of play which would be unique to the club and enable them to stand out. He is able to work with what he has, getting the best out of older players like David Luiz, Giroud, Raul Albiol and Pepe Reina. He will generally improve the attackers given to him and enable them to flourish in an attacking system. Sarri-ball is arguably the closest some teams will get to playing the football seen under Pep Guardiola, a style that every fan wants at their club.

Sarri generally has a lot of weaknesses. The first being his lack of squad rotation. Sarri doesn’t care what players, fans and owners want. If a player is good enough to him, he will start. His Napoli side, while fantastic, rarely ever gave the rotation players in his squad a chance. Highly rated players like Diawara, Zielinksi and Marco Rog only managed to start 19 games between them. It’s been one of his biggest issues at Chelsea. Fans were desperate to see Hudson-Odoi start consistently well before Sarri began doing it, but he didn’t deem him ready. If you want your younger players to come through and break into the first team, Sarri is one of the worst managers for doing that. He wants to find eleven players who can play a majority of the games, not wanting to change that. His desire to find a small group of players to rely on is seen by Gary Cahill’s dismay of Sarri. The former England international has been hugely frustrated in how he has been treated, but he isn’t good enough anymore and Sarri knows that. You could deem the Italian old fashioned, but it has worked in building a good side. Sarri also needs extremely technically gifted players for his system to work. His buildup player revolves around players knowing how to effectively distribute the ball under pressure, and quick passes and intelligent movement is vital in how Sarri wants his sides to play. These are problems that simply have to be resolved through the transfer market. Some players just cannot play the system Sarri desires.

Would Sarri be the right fit for Juventus? the short answer is no. While the squad does have players that Sarri would definitely like, with Sandro, Cancelo, Dybala and Cuadrado all being players the Chelsea manager would favour, however, the signing of Ronaldo has made this move impossible. Ronaldo will not press from the front or offer enough off the ball to fit what Sarri would want to do. Juventus have spent a lot of money on the forward and cannot afford to have him placed on the bench. What Juventus need is a short term solution in someone similar to Allegri, to allow them to begin turning over the older players in the side. Sarri’s system takes at least 2 years to fully implement, depending on the personnel at his disposal. Sarri would be a better fit once the older players in the side are moved on. If Juventus never signed Ronaldo, this move would make much more sense.

 

La Liga is Wide Open! Top 5 Talking Points from the Top 5 Leagues 25/09/18

I thought I would wait until some of the mid week games were finished before discussing this week’s football, and I’m glad I did. Let’s get straight to the point and talk about the biggest talking points from the week.

Bundesliga – Leverkusen back on track. Bayern finally drop points

It’s no secret that both Leverkusen and Schalke started the new season in terrible both, with both sitting in the relegation zone last week, and while Schalke remain in their rot, Leverkusen are on the way up. Leverkusen have a very good side, with Leon Bailey getting plenty of plaudits and Havertz looking like a real prospect. They have won their last two games, beating both Mainz and Dusseldorf. Their win against Mainz was close, they were quite lucky to come out of their most recent win over Dusseldorf with the victory. Expected goals had the game in the home sides favourite, with it in favour of Dusseldorf. But with their drop at the moment, getting the wins is what matters. They need to get back in the groove of winning. In their last win, it was Kevin Volland who helped the side win. The German scored two to put them over the line. While his goals got the win, it was the performance of their defensive midfielder, Dominik Kohr that deserves the most credit. He won 11 tackles and interceptions, made 2 key passes and got an assist. It was a very gritty performance from Leverkusen and might be a deserved win, but they showed their quality on the day.

Bayern have had a very mixed week. They beat rivals Schalke after a James Rodriguez winner. But they followed that by drawing 1-1 with Augsburg. The game, from a performance level, was very close, with expected goals putting the game at 1.43 to Bayern and 1.33 to the away side. But just watching the game it was clear Bayern should have put that game to bed. Renato Sanches had so many chances to end any chance Augsburg had if only he put it away. The midfielder had 5 shots and only 2 on target. Bayern drew the game because of their lack of precision and a mistake from their captain. Neuer came out to catch the corner ball, but failed and the ball was then gifted to Felix Gotze, who then was gifted the easiest chance of his career. Bayern did rest players in this game, with Alaba, Ribery, Rodriguez and Lewandowski all not starting the game. Kovac thought he could take it easy for the home game but will wish his side was more ruthless on the day. After Borussia Dortmund’s 7-0 beating of Nuernburg. The pressure is on now to keep an in form Dortmund side from catching up.

La Liga – Barca and Real lose!

By far the most interesting story of the week. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have lost a game on the same day for the first time since 2015. Both did not go into their defeats in good form, with Real scraping a 1-0 win and Barcelona drawing 2-2 with Girona at home. Let’s start with Barcelona. The league leaders started the game comfortably, with Coutinho scoring an excellent volley to put them into the lead, but 69 seconds of terrible defending left Barcelona getting their first defeat of the season. The reason for that complete failure in defense falls onto Gerard Pique. He was at fault for both goals. For the first, he was in no man’s land, and left Umtiti on his own to deal with both players. While Vermalean also failed to keep up with El Zhar, Pique should be better there. The second goal was a pure error, giving the ball to Oscar Rodriguez and gifting him the goal. Pique is a very good defender who doesn’t get the credit he deserves sometimes, but he has these games where he just loses his ability to read the game. Barcelona can call themselves lucky though. Their rivals Real Madrid also lost so their defeat is not as bad as it could be. They have Bilbao at home next, which is a must win. Both Madrid clubs play on Saturday and if Barca can an advantage over one of them, it’ll make the title race much easier.

Madrid finally showed the vulnerability that I knew they had, when they lost 3-0 to an entertaining Sevilla side. Madrid were simply caught out 3 times in the game, and it resulted in them conceding 3. They just gave the ball away and were correctly punished for it. Marcelo miss placed a pass in his own half and let the Sevilla forwards hit them back. The issue with Madrid is they struggle to deal with counter attacks. While Ramos and Varane are the best around, they play quite a highline and it leaves them easy to get by when attacked with numbers. Kroos is very poor in a defensive sense (as I mentioned when talking about why Germany failed at the world cup). Modric is still not up to scratch yet, after his phenomenal world cup performance. He is usually so good at watching the space Kroos and Marcelo can leave, and can help deal with it. Sevilla were just the perfect team to beat them, and it’s worrying to see if they draw a team like Liverpool in the champions League, because they could struggle against their pace and quick attacks. A poor day at the office for Madrid, and with their local rivals being the next side they play, they must bounce back and keep pressure on Barca.

Ligue 1 – PSG dominating. Lyon Vs Marseille

While Ligue 1 is looking like it’s usual on horse race, Paris have just became the fourth side to win their first 7 games in the league’s history. They have been efficient as ever in the league, putting teams away like they are from another planet. While I do think there are huge holes in side, mainly the full backs and in defensive midfield, they just have so much talent in the final third that it makes it impossible for them not to score. One players return has been an absolute blessing for Tuchel’s side. He keeps thinks ticking in midfield and his presence means that Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani do not have to drop so deep to receive the ball. His different could easily be seen with their 4-1 win over Reims. He had 138 touches of the ball, the most on the pitch. He also made 125 passes. He was the only player to complete over 100 passes on the pitch. He is so important for Paris will be needed in the big Champions League games. Other than that, it was a usual Paris win. Let’s hope they show more of this in the Champions League, after their poor showing against Liverpool.

On another note, Marseille were beaten by Lyon by 4 goals to 2. Both Payet and Thauvin were effective in the game as ever, but their problem was Mitroglou. The Greek International has never proven to meet that he should be playing at the top level. He seriously lacks agility and works better when paired (as seen with Jonas at Benfica). He only managed a single shot in the game, and it wasn’t even on target. Both Germain and Mitroglou are good squad players, but they both have failed to convince me that they are good enough to lead a line. Lyon were very good in this game. Both Fekir and Ndombele were excellent in the game, completing a combined 9 key passes between them, with Ndombele getting 2 assists. They were key in exposing Marseille and countering them quickly. But the star man of this game was easily Bertrand Traore. The former Chelsea man has been an important addition to the current crop of talent at Lyon. His pace and ability to beat a man is always good when facing any side. In this game he was absolutely excellent. He gave Amavi constant problems and caught him out over and over, which resulted in one of the midfielders or centre backs having to spilt wide, leaving space for Depay and Fekir. This was shown from Lyon’s attack side map, showing that they made 48% of their attacks on the right side, where Traore was playing. He had an excellent game and capped it off with 2 goals. Just a perfect perfect performance. Both teams shouldn’t have much to worry about, with Lyon now showing some consistency, and Marseille have won three of their games so far, with Payet and Thauvin looking great at the start of the season. With Monaco being awful, it means top 3 could be comfortable for both of them.

Premier League – Manchester City’s 5 goal thriller. United drop points again.

Let’s focus on Manchester this week, where one side showed their quality, and the other showed their lack of it. Let’s start with the blue side, who absolutely walked over newly promoted side Cardiff with a 5-0 win. This is the second time they have scored over 5 in a game so far this season. It keeps them in touching distance of Liverpool, and on equal terms with Chelsea, after their disappointing 0-0 draw with West Ham. City were at their usual best in this game. City were excellent at creating good chances, with 86% of their shots coming inside of the 18 yard box. Their quality was shown in this game. When talking about stand out performers, one has to simply discuss Bernardo Silva. While the Portuguese did have his moments in the first team last season, he was never a consistent choice. However with the injury to Kevin De Bruyne, it has forced Silva to be put in his number 8 position. Pep is a genius for a reason, because he is able to fill the gap with the adequate solution. Silva was excellent in this game, getting a goal and an assist. He made 4 key passes, and even completed 3 tackles, a side of his game I thought he never had. City cruised this game, and it will keep them in the race against a Liverpool side who many tip to beat the Champions.

On the other side of Manchester, the red devils dropped more points at home, with a 1-1 draw against a good Wolves side. It was a very poor performance from United in an attacking sense. They failed (as usual) to create good chances for Lukaku, and were forced to take shots from anywhere, with 67% of their shots being taken from outside of the box. United had more shots, but had less shots on target (United having 6 and Wolves having 8). Expected goals shows this too, with United only having 0.61, and Wolves having 1.10. United had a majority of the ball, yet didn’t show that killer instinct their rivals show. While United did fail to create the right chances, Lukaku was still poor when given the chance to score. He only had 22 touches, and didn’t have a single shot on target. He seemed to look exhausted, and like a striker who was on a long goaless run. He is needed it United want top 4. While United were terrible, Wolves still deserve plenty of credit. Their midfield pairing of Neves and Moutinho showed discipline and caused United problems. Their average position was very close, leaving no space for United to exploit. They will be a problem for the bigger sides, with the newcomers already picking up points against both Manchester teams. Let’s see if they can keep it up.

Serie A – Insigne and Roma scoring.

With teams in Italy having 2 games in a week, it could have been a problem for some of the bigger sides, with the players not given a rest for the weekend and the champions league. However this wasn’t the case, with two sides, Napoli and Roma, both picking up 3 points with plenty of goals. Let’s start with Napoli, who followed their 3-1 win over Torino, with a 3-0 win over Parma. While Napoli haven’t been nearly as impressive as their were under Sarri, they are still playing well and looking competitive for the champions league places. Their star performer this season could only be one guy, Lorenzo Insigne. The Italian has been one of the best players in Europe over the last 3 years, not only being a great creator, but also being able to score plenty of goals. He has been like Hazard has been under Sarri, but over a much longer period of time. He is truly a great talent. He already has 5 goals and an assist this season in only 7 games. He was Napoli’s key player in this game, scoring and assisting. He likes to cut inside and shoot when given the chance, which he showed with having 5 shots in this game. His average position in this game was very close to the striker, showing how often he likes to come central. I’m still so surprised he has not been picked by Barcelona or Real Madrid over the last few years. He has had a great week, and continues to show his class.

Roma were another who scored plenty in the week, with them beating Frosinone 4-0. This wasn’t a difficult game in the slightest, but Roma have had an inconsistent season to say the least. It was important to get a huge win, to keep the players confident and get them ready for the big Rome derby. The attacking players in this game were great, Stephan El Shaarawy. The Italian’s career hasn’t reached the heights we all expected while he was at AC Milan, but has still had a good career so far. He was excellent in this game. He had 3 shots on target, made 2 key passes, completed 2 dribbles and scored a goal. Some of their players were rested in this game, with Dzeko and Florenzi both starting on the bench. They still dominated the game, and go into their huge game against Lazio in confidence.