Are Juventus Favourites? UEFA Champions League Preview 19/20 – Group D

Atletico Madrid

The summer transfer window was one of the most critical windows for Atletico during this decade. They lost an entire back-line, alongside their best midfielder and attacker in Rodri and Griezmann respectively. They went about fixing these problems in quite exciting ways, with a combination of experience and younger talent, including the addition of one of the hottest prospects in Europe; Joao Felix. It keeps Atletico Madrid competitive in the short term while allowing them to improve over the next few years.

Simeone’s side is currently top of the league, winning all of their games. However, they’ve shown an unusual trait in the opening 3 games. They’ve remained defensively solid as ever, with only Sevilla, Bilbao and Getafe facing fewer shots per game. They are deservedly top of the table, but what stands out is in the attack, where their shot numbers are fascinating. No side takes fewer shots per game than Atleti’s 6, but they’re managing to get 4 of them on target, the joint 7th best and by far the most efficient. In fact, Barcelona is taking 4.3 shots on target in 13 shots per game. It seems Simeone’s side are focusing on only taking shots from strong locations. Their xG per shot is 0.29, better than Sevilla, Barcelona and Real Madrid. It’s an approach I doubt is sustainable, but the idea of your players focusing only on high-quality shots is delightful.

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While Morata and Costa have started the season brightly, their big-money signing Joao Felix has to be the player that rest of the teams here have to keep their eye on. The Portuguese international broke onto the scene with a bang. In his first full season of top-flight football, he scored a hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt, making him the youngest player to score on in the Europa League. A lot of clips of the young forward went viral, showcasing his skill and ability on the ball in training. While that is great to watch, by far his best quality is his movement. Felix plays as a second striker, making him effective wherever he plays. The 19-year-old can find pockets of space to expose the opposition in different ways. He can either find room to receive the ball and bring others into play or go for goal himself. Playing in such a forward position has put pressure on him to contribute to goals, but it hasn’t had an effect on the way he plays. It’s by far one of my favourite things about him. Felix enjoys playing football, and you can see it on the pitch whenever he plays and makes the game look so natural. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops under a defensive coach like Simeone, but Felix possesses the qualities right now that can make him a world-class talent. His shot location and movement off the ball are genuinely excellent but offers so much in terms of dribbling and creativity that will make it so difficult for his opponents to handle.

My only worry regarding Atletico is during the knockout stages, but right now, I don’t expect them to have any issues in terms of reaching the round of 16. Their games against Juventus will undoubtedly be exciting, just to see if they continue their consistently high-quality chance creation.

Bayer Leverkusen 

One of the more attacking sides in the competition, Leverkusen have the forward talent to match nearly any team in Europe. Even with Julien Brandt’s departure, Leverkusen still possesses arguably the best forward options in the league, with Volland, Diaby, Demirbay, Bailey, Bellarabi and Havertz all being extremely useful for any coach to have. Ever since Peter Bosz’s appointment midway through the season, they’ve been an absolute joy to watch. Last season, he managed to improve all of the attackers’ output, while ensuring the side weren’t leaking goals nearly as often. Before the Dutchman’s arrival, Leverkusen were struggling to remain in competition with the other teams seeking Champions League football. The change in management was a real boost for all involved. Brandt and Volland were the two who benefitted the most. Out of Brandt’s 18 goal involvements, 14 came after Bosz’s appointment, and Volland scored 8 out of his 14 goals during the second half of the season. A change to a 4-3-3 with the players reaching their expected talent level ensured they deservedly finished inside the top four.

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As mentioned, there are a lot of players that Juventus, Atletico and Lokomotiv have to watch, but by far their biggest threat is Kai Havertz. The 20-year-old is not only the best player for his club but the future of the German national team. At such a young age, Havertz has shown so many qualities that will make him one of the best in the world. While goal-scoring has attracted all the attention, his creativity is his best quality. The midfielder, capable at playing from a six to a ten, is a fantastic passer. His teammates, primarily Bailey and Brandt last season, were great at stretching a defence, which allowed Havertz to pick up the ball in dangerous areas. The German consistently picked out the likes of Volland and Bailey through defence-opening through balls or accurate crosses into the box. It’s tough to stop Leverkusen from scoring goals, but stopping Havertz is the best way to ensure they’re not a threat.

The only problem with Bosz, and it’s a big one, is his naivety. It all goes back to that Europa League. He fell right into Mourinho’s hands and played the way the Portuguese tactician predicted. Ever since it’s been a consistent worry for whenever his sides play one of the big clubs. Bosz possesses a lot of good qualities like other Cruyffian thinkers. The difference between him and other managers like Pep and Koeman is he doesn’t make the necessary changes for specific opponents. His sides will consistently play the same way week in and week out, and while that is good when facing weaker opposition, it makes it so easy for a good thinker to outsmart him. In a group containing the best defensive coach of the decade and a Juventus team famed for dealing with sides like Leverkusen, I just can’t see a world where they finish ahead of either of them.

Juventus

The way Juventus were eliminated in last year’s competition was worrying. A poor, but effective performance to earn a 1-1 draw away against Ajax gave them an advantage during the second leg in Turin. The problem was Juventus just decided to sit on their small lead, instead of taking the game to Ajax. The Dutch side was fantastic and highlighted not only their old-fashioned approach but the weaknesses in their team, especially the midfield. Frenkie De Jong and Donny Van De Beek walked right through Can, Pjanic and Matuidi. Since Pogba’s departure, The Old Lady have failed to adequately replace him, settling for older players who could do a job, instead of improving the team.

It’s what made Juventus’s summer quite perfect. Aaron Ramsey added a player who could offer a lot in goals and creativity from deep, something the previous crop of midfielders could not give. Rabiot is by far their best acquisition. While the Frenchman’s off the field issues put off a lot of clubs from signing him, there is doubting his talent. Rabiot is quite similar to a younger Luka Modric, arguably the best compliment to give him. He makes a lot of defensive actions per game, with the 24-year-old making 5.5 tackles and interceptions last season for PSG. He is an elite progressor of the ball, completing 1.3 dribbles and over 10 deep progressions. He is what Juventus needed, a midfielder who could actually transition the ball through dribbling.

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So far this season, Juventus haven’t been playing their new signings, with Sarri still opting for Khedira, Matuidi and Pjanic. What’s so fascinating about this is just how good they’ve been this season. If Sarri continues to get this output out of these ageing stars, I wonder what he can do with Rabiot once he is settled. Juventus now have a more attacking coach who could help guide Juventus to the Champions League they’ve been trying to win for years. With a solid defence, an improved midfield and Ronaldo still scoring goals, it’s hard to look past Juventus as one of the favourites for the competition. Simeone might cause them problems, but I can’t imagine Juventus failing to escape this group.

Lokomotiv Moscow 

It’s difficult to see how Lokomotiv Moscow find a way out of this group. The Russian side ended the 18/19 season in second place, finishing 8 points behind champions Zenit and equal on points with Krasnodar. Out of the top teams in Russia, Lokomotiv was arguably the worst. They overachieved xG and were lucky to finish so high up the field. Even after losing a lot of their older talent through free transfers, they have made some exciting additions. Joao Mario arrives from Inter Milan on loan, and while I’ve never been his biggest fan, he can offer a lot to a Moscow side who have just lost Manuel Fernandes. Grzegorz Krychowiak was signed permanently during the summer, after being on loan in the 18/19 season. The Polish international had a torrid time in Paris, but his move to Russia has been an enormous success. Usually playing as a defensive midfielder, Krychowiak has already scored 3 this season and is taking 3 shots per game. It’s clear he’s enjoying his football again, and it’s the best he’s been performing since his time for Sevilla.

Lokomotiv’s most significant threat has to be the Miranchuk twins. A rare occurrence to see twins playing for the same team, and makes it even more unique to see them being their team’s best players. Let’s start with Aleksey. The 23-year-old is more experienced than his brother, making his debut at 17 while his brother Anton, didn’t play for the first team until he was 20. Aleksey primarily plays as a number 10, using his incredible passing ability to create for his brother and the other forwards. Last season, Aleksey was making 2.6 key passes per 90, and it’s risen to 3.4 this season. Most of Lokomotiv’s attacks run through the attacking midfielder, which has made him not only one of his club’s best players but one of the stars of his national team.

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Aleksey’s attacking output has been improving as he gets older, mainly his shot volume; something his brother already excels at. Anton Miranchuk had to wait four more years to play alongside his brother in the first team, which is very surprising considering just how good he is. While his brother plays in the middle, Anton sees most of his game time on the left, cutting inside to shoot or create for his teammates. Aleksey is slightly more creative, with Anton averaging 2.2 key passes per 90, but Anton is far more of a goal threat. Last season, the wide player was scoring 0.51 goals per 90, a massive difference to his brother’s 0.13. This is primarily down to the pair having different roles in the side, but it’s good to see where they differ.

It might be slightly unfair to write them off before the competition even begins. But it’s difficult to imagine a world where Lokomotiv can escape this group. Atletico possess a fantastic manager, Juventus have talent across the pitch, and even Leverkusen have some of the best attackers in Germany. It’s one of the many flaws with the Champions League group stage structure, and it seems each of these previews showcases this perfectly. I’m still unsure how to necessarily fix this, but something needs to be changed to benefit those who did win their league titles. After all, it is called the Champions League, not the super club’s league.

20 Reasons to be Excited for the 19/20 Season #3 – Conte turning Inter into Scudetto Challengers?

De Ligt Joining Europe’s Elite 

This transfer window has been the summer full of players that everyone knew were going to move. We have already seen Eden Hazard and Antoine Griezmann make their dream moves to Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. The next player who is likely to leave their club is Matthijs De Ligt.

His growth from a frail kid playing against Manchester United in the Europa League to becoming a generational talent, while not as fascinating as the journeys of Jamie Vardy or Ollie Watkins, it still fantastic just because of the calibre of player De Ligt now is. The Dutchman is the complete package in what teams want from a centre back. He is an elite distributor, possessed a large frame, can catch any forward with his pace and was his team’s captain at only 19. The Eredivise has kept its reputation of being a flip of a coin in terms of either fantastic talent like Van Dijk or Memphis Depay, or a player who struggles to adapt to a better league (Bas Dost and Vincent Janssen spring to mind). De Ligt is different. His numbers in his domestic league are outstanding (he’s been taking more shots in the league than Diego Costa this season) but what makes the prospect of seeing him in one of the top 5 leagues is what he showed in the Champions League. He put fantastic performances in both legs against Juventus and Tottenham, scoring against both teams, including the winner in Turin. It’s arguably my favourite trait of his, being his presence in the opposition box. When Ajax would get a corner, the cameras would zoom in on De Ligt, and around him were usually two players, ensuring he cannot make those deadly runs into the box. What’s so fascinating about this is De Ligt is unstoppable. His winner against Juventus was headed between Pjanic and Sandro, where they could not do anything to stop him. Set-pieces have become more critical than ever, with clubs in desperation to take advantage of a goalscoring opportunities that many have failed to seize. It’s why Van Dijk and Harry Maguire are valued so highly. Their threat in the box gives their team an outlet that can give them those extra goals to move further up the table. De Ligt is among Europe’s elite defenders already, and it’s what makes all the big clubs desperate to get his signature.

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His strengths are well known by now, but where should the Dutchman go? De Ligt is linked to numerous big clubs, with Juventus, PSG, Manchester United, Liverpool and Barcelona all interested in getting his signature. He would be a perfect addition to all these clubs. Barcelona will have their long term heir to Pique while allowing them to sell Umtiti, a player who is currently out of favour with Valverde. PSG would get an improvement over what they now have in defence and would most likely give De Ligt a league title for every year he plays. PSG were rumoured to have offered De Ligt a 4-year deal. He could finish the contract, and he would still only be 23, meaning he would still have a future to join other clubs with even more title-winning medals. Manchester United should sign him if they can, but I would not recommend De Ligt join that sinking ship of a club.

Juventus are the favourites to sign him. The Old Lady have done some great business during the summer window. Both Aaron Ramsey, Gianluigi Buffon and Adrien Rabiot have arrived on free transfers and three defensive prospects in Luca Pellegrini from Roma, Cristian Romero from Genoa and Merih Demiral from Sassuolo for over £50 million (It’s important to note that Spinazzola, Sturaro and Rogerio have been swapped for the respective clubs). So many football experts have been wondering how Juventus have this much money to spend. A club that can pay Ronaldo’s wages, as well as a dozen of other high earners is also able to pay £60 million for De Ligt as well as paying his rumoured £350k a week he is demanding. It’s interesting to see what Juventus would be willing to let go to ensure they can get their man.

Even with Juventus most likely to sign him and the likeliness of this happening now very low, I would love to see De Ligt playing under Jurgen Klopp next season. Liverpool, while arguably one of the best in the history of the league and possessed a side that only conceded 22 goals last season, the best record in the league. Most of that is down to Van Dijk and Allison having superb seasons and keeping their side organised. They have a fantastic defence, but the departure of Moreno and possibility of Lovren leaving the club has left space in the squad for additions. While the pair were not essential members of the team, they at least gave cover to positions that needed reinforcements. While left-back is by far the priority for signings this season, adding a player as good as De Ligt is a great idea. Van Dijk is fantastic, but if he does suffer a significant injury, which he has in the past, would leave Liverpool at a severe disadvantage in their attempts to challenge Manchester City once again. It would give Liverpool the best centre back partnership in the league, and if Van Dijk were to get injured, they would cope without him. While De Ligt would be successful no matter where he goes, he would genuinely show his talents and increase his reputation for playing for one of the best sides and under an elite coach.

Leverkusen’s Best Chance

Moving back to the Bundesliga, let’s look at another side that could be very exciting to watch. Peter Bosz is a coach who, while not making the sturdiest defences, he can get his side scoring goals. His Ajax side did show immaturity at times, but Bosz did manage to get a lot of goals out of Kasper Dolberg, something Ten Haag has failed to do. Think of Bosz’s side as the start to the what Ajax did last year. After his disastrous spell with Dortmund, being offered a job at a team full of attacking talent was precisely the job Bosz needed.

It is no understatement when mentioning how attacking Leverkusen are now being managed by Bosz. This change was so significant, and it seeing how well Leverkusen were performing before and after his appointment. Leverkusen were sitting in 9th, and deservedly so. They only managed seven wins out of 17 and most worryingly, were 9th in goals scored with 26, behind Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg. It’s arguably what got Herrlich sacked and why Bosz came in. They have a terrific group of players, especially in attack and should consistently be in those Champions League places. Havertz, Brandt, Volland and Bailey are talented enough to compete with anyone in the Bundesliga.
The issue has been trying to get all their talented players in the same team and getting them to perform at their highest level. Bosz seems to have done this, with many players standing out since his arrival. His first change was the formation, going from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3. It involved moving Brandt more centrally and turning Havertz into a free-roaming 10. It brought the best out of both players. It gave Brandt the chance to get involved more on the ball, enabling him to use his intelligence and exceptional passing to help find gaps in opposition defences. Brandt had a fantastic second half of the season. He ended the season with 18 goal contributions, and 14 of those came after Bosz arrival. His new coach was the first to turn Brandt from a talent into an excellent player. Brandt isn’t the only attacker who has improved massively under Bosz. He has pushed Havertz to another level from the high bar he has already set, got Volland performing more consistently than ever before and managed found goals in Alario, with his xGP90 under Bosz sitting at an incredible 0.88.

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Leverkusen’s current crop of players is very exciting, but some of their new additions make their prospects even more impressive. With Brandt leaving for a small £21 million, being one of the bargains of the summer, but Leverkusen’s replacement is even better, with Kerem Demirbay arriving for £28 million. I’ve spoken heavily about Demirbay before, but it’s hard to deny just how good of a replacement this is. The German attacker has been Hoffenheim’s drive in attack since his arrival. Aggressive, a great passer and a love for a longshot, Demirbay will give similar productivity to Brandt, with the added benefit of possessing a real cutting edge in the final third. Mousa Diaby is another exciting arrival. Leverkusen managed to get the French prospect for a bargain £13 million thanks to Paris having to deal with their FFP problems. Even with his limited minutes, he managed to make an impression. Out of under 23 players in Europe who played over 1000 minutes, only Sane, Iwobi and Gnabry finished the season with a higher xA per 90 than Diaby. While you can argue that he was playing for a team far above their competition in terms of talent, he was still performing whenever given a chance. He’s still only 19, and if Bosz can give him the minutes he needs at a young age, he could develop into another breakout star to develop in the Bundesliga.

My only doubts towards Leverkusen next season is the rather negative reputation Peter Bosz has had in terms of his tactics in the big games. While a win over Bayern was impressive, Leverkusen did faulter against the other top sides in the league, with defeats to Hoffenheim, Dortmund and RB Leipzig showing once again how better coaches consistently outclass Bosz. He doesn’t have that same reactive thinking that has helped Pochettino and Zidane stand out in the past. There is a very slim chance they will challenge for the title, but if you want to see a good team play arguably the best football in the league, Bayer Leverkusen should be the first team to watch.

Napoli’s Scudetto Challenge 

We’ve already discussed their chances not long ago, so we’ll keep this short. Napoli are the only settled team out of the top sides in Italy. Juventus have just appointed Maurizio Sarri, a manager who as we’ve recently seen with Chelsea, will need time for his players to adapt to the system that Sarri will attempt to place on the side. While Napoli have made fantastic signings, especially a generation talent in De Ligt, there are still many senior players in that side that need to be moved on. It’ll be challenging for Juventus to compete on all fronts and I doubt if they do finish next season as Champions, it will not be nearly as comfortable as it has in the past. Milan, Roma and Inter (we’ll get to them soon) are going through similar situations, so it makes them unlikely contenders.

It leaves Napoli in an excellent position. Ancelotti attempted to change Napoli from a dominant possession side into a more direct team focused on an energetic midfield and fitting in forwards like Insigne and Mertens into partnerships and cover the channels. Napoli primarily deployed a 4-4-2 and meant they could play more of their attacks and aim to attack through the wide areas. It made them way less patient in build-up, and while it did leave them fragile at times since they weren’t retaining the ball nearly as much, it did make them just as fun to watch and brought the best out of many players in the side. After an excellent debut season, which saw improvement in some players and a drop in others, it showed the potential that Ancelotti’s side could reach when given more time and better players.

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They’ve already made smart moves in the market. They offloaded both Albiol and Diawara. Albiol was getting old, and it was about time for him to leave the club and Diawara wasn’t getting the game time we’ve all wanted him to get since his arrival from Bologna back in 2016. The midfielder’s departure gave Napoli the chance to bring in Kostas Manolas. While he can be wreckless and was apart of a weak Roma backline, he is younger than Albiol and possesses a vast passing range and has the pace needed to cover the vast distance required in a high line. If they can get a deal for James Rodriguez over the line, it could be the signing to give Napoli their best chance to win Serie A for a very long time.

Conte Fixing Inter

Inter Milan have been extremely disappointing for the past couple of years. The appointment of Luciano Spaletti and some huge signings during his tenure showed ambition and a goal of competing with Juventus. However, even with some huge additions in Skriniar, De Vrij, Nainggolan, Martinez and Vrsaljko, their new quality was not seen on the pitch. While the defence remained fantastic throughout Spaletti’s spell at the club, they still had a lot of players who were not good enough. Sime Vrsaljko wasn’t registered in the squad after January due to consistent injuries, and Nainggolan faired even worse. Spending over £30 million on an ageing midfielder who famously had a very unhealthy lifestyle should never have happened. Nainggolan was fantastic during Spaletti’s reign at Roma but had a very average season under Di Francesco. His goal contributions were dropping, and he was consistently putting in less defensive work. He continued showing these negative sides to his game and has gone on to be one of the worst signings in the past decade.

Conte has a lot of work to do in Milan. The Nerazzurri finished 21 points behind Juventus and need to close that gap. Conte is arguably the best defensive manager in the world and can organise any side in Europe and ensure they are at least stable. One of his first signings for next season was Valentino Lazaro. The Austrian, able to play at either right-back or right midfield, puts in above-average defensive numbers while pushing forward to help Hertha Berlin in the final third. He would be a natural fit in Conte’s famous 3-4-3 formation. Inter’s starting back three for next season could be the best in the league. Skriniar, De Vrij and Godin offer a tough and experienced backline that can deal with a majority of attacks in Europe. All are comfortable on the ball, and while Godin is far past his best, he will help keep them organised on the pitch.

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Their midfield offers versatility and quality, with players able to fill in multiple roles to help Inter dominate the centre. Conte has always preferred hard-working midfielders who can stay organised and put in a substantial amount of defensive work. His title-winning partnership of Ngolo Kante and Nemanja Matic displays this correctly. It isn’t a surprise that Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio had the best years of their career under Conte. Two players who were known for their energy, strength and defensive power in the midfield. Inter, even after the signing of Italian midfielder Nicolo Barella, have an imposing midfield roster. Marcelo Brozovic has been one of the best midfielders in Serie A for years now, with his fantastic passing ability and impressive defensive output showing his superiority in the middle of the park, even if he does rack up a lot of yellow cards. Vecino offers a solid yet unspectacular option, and Gagliardini was a promising signing at the time but has never been given the game time by his previous managers. There is enough talent here for Conte to work with and could get the best out of past players who failed to shine under Spaletti.

The midfield and attack were never a huge issue as a whole; instead, it was in attack in which Inter were continuously struggling, with issues on and off the field showing Inter as arguably the worst attacking side out of the top 7. It has to begin with Mauro Icardi. While undoubtedly one of the best finishers in Europe, his off the field issues have consistently halted his career and is why so many clubs are put off by him. His deliberate attempts to frustrate Maxi Lopez, threatening the Inter ultras and now faking injuries to avoid playing for the team. He would be problematic for clubs, and it’s why Inter are pushing him out of the club. The issue is no one will want to sign him, meaning Inter will have to persist with him until the end of the Argentine’s contract. Icardi’s trouble has forced Inter to look elsewhere for a forward, with Lukaku being Conte’s first option, which isn’t the first time the Italian coach has pursued Lukaku. In 2017, Chelsea were seen as the favourites to sign the Belgian marksman, but Manchester United swooped in the last minute to sign him. Conte seems desperate to work with Lukaku, and it’s easy to see why. He is a great finisher who can score all types of goals. He is a physically gifted striker, able to chase balls into the channel or play as a more old fashioned number 9. While Icardi is a deadly marksman, Lukaku will give them the better all-round striker and could offer more in build-up play. The issue with signing Lukaku is just how poor he was playing at times last season. He looked lethargic and was aiding the opposition in neutralising any threat posed by United. If Inter can get Lukaku at his best, he will score bags of goals for them.

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Am I expecting Inter Milan to win the Scudetto in Conte’s first season? No, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I remember doubting Conte and what he could with Chelsea when he arrived in England. He was up against Guardiola, Pochettino, Klopp and Mourinho. I thought they wouldn’t get near the title, yet Chelsea went on to be one of the best sides the league has ever seen. Conte is that good of a coach that Inter winning the league is never off the table.

PSG’s Change in Approach

It’s safe to say that the Neymar project has been a colossal failure. He arrived to help push PSG closer to winning the Champions League, while also increasing his chances of winning the Balon d’Or by exiting Messi’s shadow. Neymar has been fantastic whenever he has played. The issue is he has not played nearly enough minutes for the most expensive player of all time. He missed PSG’s round of 16 clashes once again, and his complaints regarding their lack of competitiveness in Europe’s premium competition is hypocritical, considering he failed to help PSG reach their goal of being taken seriously among Europe’s elite. His consistent injury problems and awful attitude has meant that the spotlight is on Kylian Mbappe, who has been the second-best player on the planet in the last 18 months. While he has struggled at moments, he has been sensational and is the best young player I have ever seen. Last season, he was the first player under 21 to score over 30 goals in the top 5 leagues since R9, which should show the gap Mbappe has made between himself and the competition.

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With Leonardo now PSG’s sporting director, his first aim was to discard the superstar approach that the Champions had in the past. He seemed to be targetting Neymar, and it’s so easy to see why Leonardo is tired of the Brazilian. Mbappe has taken over as PSG’s best attacker so selling Neymar for as much Barcelona are willing to offer the best plan of action. I agree with Leonardo’s new look at PSG. While they do provide the same wages the other superclubs can, they can’t offer the same competitiveness as Real Madrid or the top Premier League clubs. They cannot please players like Neymar, and it makes his decision to leave Barcelona in the first place even more moronic.

Paris are taking the right steps in reinforcing their new strategy. The arrivals of Herrera, Sarabria and Diallo are sensible moves that improve the team. While Herrera is on the older side, he offers that bite and defensive work rate that will make him a great choice in the bigger games. He won’t start every game but will be a valuable player for Tuchel. Sarabria was another smart piece of business, arriving for £19 million. He was one of the best creators in La Liga and has worked well with managers who demand a lot from their players physically. Diallo is another astute signing from the Parisians. He was made seemingly available after Dortmund’s purchase of Matts Hummels, and it’s safe to say Paris have the better end of the deal. Diallo offers a comfortable ball player and physically strong defender who is still very young for only £28 million. He might not be as good as De Ligt, but he is a fantastic acquisition.

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These new arrivals blend well with the departures of Buffon, Alves and Rabiot. Three players on high wages, who were replaceable. PSG now have more of a bite in the team, with players willing to do the hard yards that Tuchel will demand. Even though losing Rabiot is enormous, he has obvious attitude problems and is the last player you want in a dressing room. PSG have a complete side and arguably look better than ever to challenge for the Champions League.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Kieran Trippier and Brits Abroad

With the Premier League becoming the most popular and money driven league in the world, it’s an attractive prospect for both player and manager, with the league becoming the most desirable item for broadcast companies. It’s helped attract elite coaches like Sarri, Pep and Klopp, which in turn became a reason for some of the best talents to join the league. With the increase in money and popularity, it did leave one massive issue that not many other leagues experienced, the lack of British players moving abroad. Thanks to no other league being able to offer the same high wages as Premier League clubs could offer, they had no real insentive to move. Thanks to the elite coaches in the league, the players didn’t have a football related reason to leave. While it could be a sign of laziness, why leave your country to be paid less in different and unfamiliar environment. While we have seen a rise in young British players moving to the other top 5 leagues for the purpose of game time (Sancho, Oxford, Nelson and Aina to name a few), many English players in their prime do not leave the Premier League.

It’s what makes the idea of Kieran Trippier moving to Ancelotti’s Napoli an interesting idea. Since Sarri departed the club to join Chelsea, bringing Jorginho with him, the former Bayern Munich and Real Madrid manager has tried to stamp his own identity onto the side. He has made them less of a team reliant on build up through long stretches of possession, into a side which is slightly more direct. While they haven’t been as good as they were under Sarri, they’ve been able to keep their place in the top four. Ancelotti has been able to get the best out of some of the talent his disposal, with Milik, Malcuit and Ruiz having great seasons for the Gli Azzurri. The issue they currently face is moving on some of their older stars. While Serie A does have a well known reputation for hosting many players in their twilight years, but there does come a point where some of these stars have to be replaced. Mertens, Albiol and Callejon have been vital to the side over the past couple of years. While they have young players, they do have some important business to make if they want to remain competitive.

Trippier could be a very useful addition for Napoli. The former Burnley defender has gained a reputation for being one of the best creators in the league. He became a well known player after his stand out performances at the World Cup. While I did put Sime Vrsaljko as the best right back in Russia, Trippier wasn’t far behind. He flourished playing as a wing back for Gareth Southgate, and was vital for England on the attacking side. He has continued this incredible attacking output this season. He’s averaging 1.8 key passes per game, the second highest in the Tottenham squad, and has been averaging 2 crosses per game, the joint second highest in the Premier League, and the same amount as Trent Alexander-Arnold. He has consistenly improved every season, from being Kyle Walker’s understudy, to being a player heavily relied on by Pochettino. During Spurs’s incredible comeback against Ajax, Trippier was vital. He was adding the width and creativity that they needed to beat a very good side. His threatening ball to Llorente was important in the second goal. He is arguably the best creative full back in the league, and continues to give his side an option down that right side.

So what are his drawbacks? While he is great at going forward, it’s the defensive side that leaves a lot to be desired. Walker had these same problems, but he had least had the pace and strength to recover for when an opponent found space past him. Trippier doesn’t have the same luxary. If he is caught out in possession, he is unable to catch players like a Sadio Mane or Leroy Sane. It’s one reason why Tottenham went behind in the first half in Amsterdam. Ajax were constantly attacking down his side, knowing how they can overload that area and expose his weaknesses. These issues can be fixed when Tottenham deploy a back three, so there isn’t as much space left when he goes forward. It’s why he was so good in the World Cup. England were playing athletic defenders in Walker, Stones and Maguire, to cover the wide areas while the wing backs could push forward. He doesn’t have that same advantage when playing for a Tottenham side struggling with injuries all over the field. Trippier’s strengths are as a wide creator, and will fail if asked to cover the areas you expect more athletic defenders to be able to cover.

So where would he fit into this Napoli side? While saying at right back would be a simple observation, he would actually be much better as a right midfielder, taking over from Jose Callejon. While Callejon has been very good since signing from Real Madrid, he is a player who is going to struggle as his pace begins to drop. Trippier could help give width for a side without consistent wide talent. When playing further up the pitch, he wouldn’t be exposed as easily as he does in a back four. He would also had a better defensive presence to the side. While Callejon works well in a 4-3-3, playing further back means more defensive work is required, since the midfielders aren’t able to cover as much ground. Trippier could be a great option for Napoli in the wide areas, adding the same creativity while also adding something different.

If this move does end up going through, he will be the first notable English player to move abroad since Joe Hart. With younger players already seeing the benefits of playing in other leagues, maybe it’s time for the more experiences players to test themselves in a different environment, in a side that eager to challenge for a title.

Most Overrated Manager? Ranking All 20 Premier League Managers

I’ve been meaning to do one of these lists for a while, but because of the whole manager merry go round that is the Premier League, I decided to wait for the season to reach a point that contained an element of stabililty. The table doesn’t look like it will change from now on so let’s rank all 20 Premier League managers. There is definitely some controversial choices here, but this list isn’t permanent, meaning these could change by the next year. I do believe that needs be stated, so let’s begin

    20. Scott Parker – Fulham

By far the easiest choice here. This isn’t anything personal against Parker. The former England midfielder has only been in the job for a handful of games, meaning it is difficult to judge him. Parker took charge after both Jokanovic and Ranieri failed in keeping Fulham out of the relegation zone. Fulham do not look like they will be appointing another manager, and right it seems to be damage control. This has been a failure of a season for Fulham, and now Parker has been left in a very difficult position. Let’s hope he can find his feet in the game and recover from being in this circumstance.

    19. Jan Siewert – Huddersfield

Another who has joined a sinking ship, Jan Siewert is another I sympthaise for. His appointment seemes to be in the hope of regaining promotion back into the Premier League, instead of survival. Huddersfield are already one of the lowest scoring teams in Premier League history, and have a squad that is arguably worse than some teams in the Championship. The fact that Huddersfield survived last season was nothing short of a miracle, and now it seems reality has hit them. A poor summer window just showed that this is a side that just isn’t ready for the Top flight, and need time to establish themselves as a bigger club. I have no idea if Siewert is the right manager to do that, but he seems to be a long term fix, rather than trying to fight the inevitable.

    18. Chris Hughton – Brighton

While I do like Hughton as a coach, being able to build a solid defensive structure and having experience in getting sides promoted, the disconnect between transfers and coach seem to be so apparent that it makes Hughton a very frustrating figure. When teams get promoted, what they need most is creativity and to beat the teams closest to them. Brighton did this, mainly down to Pascal Gros bringing the chance creation that he showed at Ingolstadt, and was the main reason why Brighton stayed up. Other signings like Matt Ryan and Davy Propper helped in this regard too. It is clear that whoever is in charge of Brighton’s transfers is incredible at finding great talent for very reasonable fees. They did similar business in the summer, with talents like Bisouma and Jahanbakhsh arriving, but this is where my frustration with Hughton is from. The higher ups at Brighton are bringing in very talented footballers, yet Hughton just isn’t playing them. Bernardo, who arrived from RB Leipzig, has played less games than 30 year old Gaetan Bong. Jahanbakhsh has only started 6 games, while Anthony Knockaert, one of the worst players in the league, has started 15. While guys like Sarri and Guardiola can get criticised for never changing the way they play, Hughton is being gifted improvements over the players he has, and isn’t using them. They have one of the best defences in the league, if Hughton actually decides to start his best players. I just worry for Brighton. I do not like to see clubs who are doing good things struggling because of one man refusing to use his best tools. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hughton is let go in the future at some point

    17. Eddie Howe – Bournemouth

While many might see this and disagree, I do believe he is the most overrated manager in the league. I think there is an element that the English media wants to see an English manager succeed, especially when they are young and have built a football romance story by getting Bournemouth to the Premier League. This doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t a great manager. By far his best quality is building solid attacks. Howe has been given some very good players in Wilson, King, Fraser and Brooks. He uses these players very effectively, and has been able to get all of these players into the same team, and working well. Fraser is only behind Hazard in assists in the league, and has turned into one of the most effective wingers this season. David Brooks is currently having one of the breakout seasons, scoring some important goals and showing himself to be a very flexible attacker. Howe has turned Bournemouth into a fast, counter attacking side, and has shown some adaptability in changing his style. By far the worst part of his Bournemouth side is their inability to defend. Bournemouth have conceded 56 goals this season, with all sides in the bottom four conceding more. It means that Brighton, Southampton and Newcastle, all sides below them in the table, have better defences than them. Newcastle and Manchester United both face roughly same amount as shots as Bournemouth, yet have much better defensive records. It shows that Bournemouth are giving their opponents great chances to score, consistently. The argument is made that they are a small club, yet both Hughton and Benitez, two managers working with more of a budget, concede less goals. Until Eddie Howe learns how to actually build an effective defence, no club will consider him. He is still young however, so there is plenty of time for him to learn.

    16. Neil Warnock – Cardiff 

While his methods of coaching can definitely be questioned, there is no argument that he is a specialist in promotion. His Cardiff side were arguably the worst out of the 3 sides that got promoted last season, yet they still deserved to get promoted. He is an old fashioned coach who likes an old fashioned way of playing, and it is very effective. Before the season started, I thought they would be going straight down. They didn’t seem to recruit in the right areas and were going to have to be very lucky to survive. Somehow Warnock is doing the impossible, and is getting the best out of what he’s got. They are one of the best sides in the league when it comes to aerial dominance. They are good at creating chances too. The Welsh side have taken 1.1 shots a game from inside the six yard area, only 6 teams are ahead of them, and are actually better than Chelsea. Warnock has even been saying at the beginning of the season that surviving was nearly impossible, and he was right. They haven’t been great, but they haven’t been nearly as bad as Fulham and Huddersfield. They rank bottom for possession and passes, yet Warnock has kept them out of the relegation zone for most of the season. From moving Callum Paterson from full back to a striker, dragging every ounce out of 34 year old Sol Bamba, and fitting Camarasa and Josh Murphy right into the side, he is getting the best out of what he has and is giving them a chance of survival. They have been on the end of some huge defeats, that will happen when you have a Championship level squad. What he has done for Cardiff is another achievement for Warnock. Even at the age of 70, he still remains a good manager in improving a side on the short term. I like Warnock, but there are 15 other managers who I think are better.

    15. Sean Dyche – Burnley 

It might sound stange, but there are some clear similarities between Sean Dyche and Diego Simeone. Both build very resilient back lines, use two blocks of four to defend, and require a lot of defensive work from all their players. One other similarity is how they are awful at using more flair players. While Dyche doesn’t have Lemar, Carrasco, Gaitan and Martins as a list of failures, there are stll some clear standouts. Nakhi Wells is the first. He was the first of a few attempts to add something different to his attack. It didn’t work out in the slightest, and is now at QPR. Another player who came in was Steven Defour. At the time, I thought he was a very good signing, but it’s a shame he didn’t play much. Last but not least would be Vydra. The Czech Republic striker had came in after having a steller season with Derby, and like the others, just hasn’t been getting the minutes. Dyche is just afraid to risk that small chance of relegation, in favour of spicing up is attack. While Burnley did really well last season, their drop off was expected. Dyche was defying expected goals. By putting nearly all of his outfield players in the 18 yard box. It tricked the system because even if the opposition were getting in good positions, they were never having clear shots at goal. It did also help that Nick Pope had a great season, and made sure that Heaton’s presence wasn’t missed. Burnley’s luck has just ran out. They have struggled all season defensively and struggle in creating good chances. Without that solid defence, it puts even more pressure on the forwards, and aren’t producing. Dyche does things that I like, but he might need to start changing his methods. It’s a shame too, because this team still contains good defenders, but maybe using Vydra, and not building a defensive system based on luck isn’t a great idea. I trust that he could do this, but if they do not improve, they might be trouble.

    14. Marco Silva – Everton

I liked what Marco Silva had done with Hull. He turned a side that had less than 18 first team players at the beginning to the season, to giving them a fighting chance to stay up. He continued this good work at Watford, where he made a hard working side with a real attacking drive. It didn’t end well for Silva in London. After accusations that he was starting to look unfocused, after interest from Everton, he was sacked by Watford. It was still understandable. These accusations happened while Watford were in dreadful form, so it was quite understandable. He has since joined Everton, where he has been hit and miss. He has improved the attack. The toffees have went from 9.4 shots a game to 12.1. They’ve already scored 43 goals, one less than they managed in the entirety of last season. He has given some consistency to the team and has given the team some flexibility. They aren’t as predictable as they were under Allerdyce. Richarlison has been a huge signing for them. He has continued in getting into great positions, just like he was at Watford. The difference is he is now scoring them. The attack has improved, but the defence is the problem. Setpieces are the biggest concern. By the 6th of February, no other Premier League side had conceded more goals from set pieces than their 11. They use zonal marking, like many sides, but the problem for a majority of the season is they aren’t very good at it. They have improved slightly in recent weeks, but it just hasn’t been good enough. There was always a huge gap between the goalkeeper and defence, meaning it’s simple as one good ball into the near post would gift a team with a goal. As mentioned, Silva has improved in this area, with their 2-0 win over Chelsea showing this, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Their home form has to be better. If they want to be considered European football contenders, they have to stop losing in a ground once considered one of the toughest to go in England. Silva still seems to have a lot to learn in the game, and it’s why he is so low down on this list.

    13. Javi Gracia – Watford

Now onto Marco Silva’s replacement at Watford. Javi Gracia came in with the job of damage control. Watford had a strong start to the season, but thanks to a very poor winter period, they needed a boost. Gracia did that, and after a summer that saw improvements in the goalkeeper and forward departments. For the first time, Watofrd didn’t go crazy in the transfer market, and instead were willing to get the most out of what they had. Gracia has now built a very direct, aggressive and physical side that are deservingly in the top half of the table. They have been quite fortunate in a handful of games however, with their 5-1 win over Cardiff definitely flattering to decieve, but they have been winning games and playing to their strengths. No other side in the league attacks more centrally than Watford, with 31% of their attacks coming through the middle. He full backs provide width, while Troy Deeney gives an aerial threat that is almost umatched in the league. I like how Gracia has finally made Watford a real tough team, without having to spent much at all. Instead he made a system that gets the most out of the tools he has, and it makes a lot of these players look great. Deulofeu is finally looking like a good footballer, and Jose Holebas is having a real standout season at the age of 32. He’s found a core group of players he can use and the players seem to enjoy what he’s doing.

    12. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United

While many might see this and think why is the current Manchester United manager not even in the top 10 managers in the league, well I have my reasons. I still believe that any manager could have came in and improved the squad in the same or similar manner as the Norwegian has done. United fans a lot of the media see this appointment and love it in the romantic sense, which is understandable. It’s good to see a former player come back and join the club where he had plenty of success, and the fans still love him. But many are overlooking the obvious. The first and most obvious is that any manager could have came in and improved this squad after the disaster that was Jose Mourinho. If a manager came in and just played Pogba and Martial, you would have a clear improvement. It’s why I find what he’s done so far not that impressive. When United have been very fortunate in games against Tottenham and Paris, there is an element of the truth being hidden by the scoreline. United did not deserve that win against Paris. They only created 2 chances, and on any other day, they would not get that comeback. I do like some of the changes that Solskjaer has made, including playing to Rashford’s strengths and bringing the best out of Ander Herrera, but I do think if United want to insert themselves back into the European elite that they so crave, they must at least try and look at someone like Pochettino. With the fans and media both saying that Ole should be given the job permanently, it means the board might not even try looking at a director of football or even another manager. Every top club now has a director of football, someone with a clear view of where the team will be in the next 5 years. Solskjaer could definitely become an elite manager, but having a world class would at least make the prospect of joining United more tempting.

    11. Roy Hodgson – Crystal Palace

Out of all the managers, Hodgson’s position on the list is very questionable. When he arrived at Palace, his failure with England was still fresh in the minds of many, so his appointment was definitely a strange one. He was also 69 at the time, which meant it wasn’t exactly long term. I only think Palace are one of the top 10 teams in the league, and a lot of it is down to Hodgson. He’s the first manager to truly get any sort of consistency out of Wilfred Zaha. He turned Palace into a speed machine. With dynamic fullbacks in Van Aanholt and Wan-Bissaka (one of the best full back pairings in the league) running up and down the wings, and Zaha and Townsend adding that sprinkle of unpredictability, it makes them a very good side against any opposition. They are also aggressive. Wan-Bissaka, McArthur and Milivojevic are all great at winning back the ball. They play in a direct and straight forward way, but it’s so effective. Palace are 7th in shots per game and are 3rd in dribbles. While both are mostly down to Zaha, they are still great to watch. Hodgson has done wonders and done something no one would have expected. I put him over Solskjaer because he pulled off an impossible job at the time, and if Palace just had a striker with actual confidence, they could really fight for a top 10 manager. An old manager who seems to still have a bit of life left in him.

    10. Manuel Pellegrini – West Ham United

Now onto the top 10, and first it’s West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini. West Ham have been a real laughing stock of the Premier League for the last 2 years. unplanned signings, bad protests, owners leaking transfers, hiring David Moyes. These are just a few things that made West Ham impossible to take seriously. It all goes back to that awful stadium move, but after nearly 3 years, they seemed to have finally settled. Last summer was the first time West Ham seemed to make smart business. Issa Diop, Balbuena, Fabianski, Yarmolenko and to top it all off, Felipe Anderson. The Brazilian has been West Ham’s best player all season, and arguably the best player they have had in the last decade. He’s an excellent dribbler and everything good that West Ham do goes through him. Even though he is going through quite a dry patch, with Anderson failing to score in the Premier League in 2019. He has still been really good and has been the boost they need. Pellegrini has mostly used a 4-1-4-1, to give midfield protection and make sure they aren’t exposed on the flanks. It worked well, with the side being great to watch in attack and having the occasional good defensive display. Pellegrini has made them unpredictable to say the least. One game they will put in an unbelievable display and beat Arsenal and Manchester United, and another they conceed 3 to Huddersfield. He has still improved that defence, and has found new life in Snodgrass, Zableta and Cresswell, players previous managers didn’t favour. He’s actually built a functional midfield out of a group of players that I never thought would do anything. Rice is now one of the names on everyone’s lips, with the now England midfielder looking like a solid distributor. There is still plenty of work to be done for Pellegrini, but he has given them a future.

    9. Rafa Benitez – Newcastle United 

How Rafa is still at Newcastle I will never know. The Spaniard has proven to be one of the best defensive managers in Europe. Newcastle have an owner who almost refuses to invest in the club, and it’s left Rafa with one of the squads in the league. Almiron has recently just broken a 14 year old transfer record, held by Michael Owen. He has been a massive boost for them, adding that creative spark they previously didn’t possess. Benitez is in the top 10 for the reason of being able to keep this side in the Premier League. You give this team to any other manager in the bottom half of the table and they would struggle to stay out of the relegation zone. However thanks to Benitez adding that solid defensive structure and midfielders like Hayden and Longstaff covering the backline, it has made them one of the toughest teams to break down. The only reason he is not any higher is because while they are a defensive side, they can be a bit too pragmatic. Throughout the season. Rondon can be seen so isolated, because they are so focused on keeping goals out instead of scoring. This has been different since Almiron’s arrival, so let’s hope Benitez can bring Newcastle back to their glory days.

    8. Brendon Rodgers – Leicester City

This might be one of the toughest to defend, but I do believe Rodgers is a great manager. He gave Liverpool a genuine hope of a title, even if Manchester City were always better (sounds familiar). The problem he had Liverpool were making really bad decisions in the transfer market over and over again, and it left him with a really difficult squad to work with. He did make plenty of mistakes along the way, but his time at Liverpool should still be looked at one a more positive note. He then went to Celtic and actually imprvoed them. They went unbeaten for nearly 2 whole domestic campaigns. While they were embarrased multiple times in Europe, they are Celtic, so not much should be expected. He’s arrived at Leicester with the hope of making them more consistent. Puel is a good manager, but he was making decisions that were baffling at times. Dropping Vardy, putting Pereira as a winger even though he is one of the best tacklers in Europe and starting Morgan way more than he should be. Leicester have the best squad outside of the top 6. Some of the best full backs in the league, One of the best creators and prospects in Maddison and other young players like Ndidi, Chilwell, Iheanacho and Barnes. Rodgers has a great group of players to work with here. He started his first game against Watford with a 3-4-3, and he’s on the right track. Why have wingers when you have incredibly good full backs who will provide plenty of width. It means Maddison can play further up the pitch, and when he’s averaging 2.9 key passes, that’s what you want to do. I am very excited to see where Rodgers will take this side. Next season they could be one of the best attacking sides in the country.

    7. Nuno Esperito Santo – Wolves

Nuno Esperito Santo has taken the Premier League by storm. Wolves are one of many clubs that have risen since massive investment, but one massive difference has been they have constantly made good decisions. During their last season in the Championship, they focused on bringing a handful of players on loan, like Diogo Jota and Willy Boly. Soon as their promotion was confirmed, the first thing they did was sign these guys on a permanent deal, to keep the chemistry in the squad at a high. Great signings like Jimenez, Patricio, Jonny and Moutinho have given them one of the strongest starting 11’s in the league. Nuno was so happy with his side, that he just didn’t change it. He kept the same XI for the first couple of months, because of how good they were performing. Nuno had made the side so difficult to deal with, especially for the big sides. Intelligent passers in midfield, wing backs who comfortable in defending and get into good areas and a defence that has continued so strong from the Championship. The addition of Patricio has made this side even better, adding an experienced goalkeeper with great shot stopping and distribution. Wins against Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea, and taking points off City and Arsenal have made them a side to be feared. The best thing about Nuno is he wasn’t afraid to change it. After a few bad results, the former Porto manager realised a midfield two of Moutinho and Neves just doesn’t have the legs to compete against more energetic midfields. After losing back to back against Huddersfield and Cardiff, Nuno tweaked his side a little and changed from a 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2. He dropped Helder Costa, who wasn’t performing consistently enough, and added Dendonker to give the midfield some energy. He has never looked back since. They are now able to control games much better and even counter with better quality, since Jota and Jimenez are now closer together. Nuno has built a side that are great defensively, and create high quality chances. They have a great group of players, and a top level manager to push this side to upset the rest of the league.

    6. Ralph Hassenhuttl – Southampton

Putting a manager who’s side is battling relegation might be quite left field, but there are reasons why he’s so high up. Let’s start with his Leizpig side. Hassenhuttl built a great young side, which saw the best seasons from Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita, and saw them finish runners up in the Bundesliga, ahead of the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke. It was clear that the Austrian took insperation from Jurgen Klopp, with the east German side pressing aggressively from the front. It’s what made them such a threat, having players with the ability to go head to head against anyone. Southampton have had a clear drop off since the departure of Ronald Koeman. While Puel wasn’t bad, they were hoping for more from him. Pellegrino turned out to be an awful appointment, but it was the appointment of Mark Hughes that made me almost lose hope in them. Hughes is just really bad and it seemed to be a sign of desperation. However after they finally made the right decision in sacking him back in December, they appointed Hassenhuttl, which was very reminiscent of the smart choices they made in Koeman and Pochettino. He has so far been a success. While he still seemingly struggling to find his best XI, he is making slow progess. For years, Southampton were an example of a side with good full backs, but after both Bertrand and Cedric forgot how to attack, Hassenhuttl put young full backs Matt Targett and Yan Valery into the side, and it has given them a huge boost. Targett has already got 3 assists this season, more than anyone else. While Valery hasn’t been sensational, he has looked very good and shows more courage to attack than Cedric ever did. He has made Southampton better in midfield and has helped Bednerak and Vestergaard establish themselves in the league. If Hassenhuttl is given time and backing, they could go back to a side who were fighting for European football.

    5. Unai Emery – Arsenal

The top 5 from here aren’t really any surprises, but some managers here I haven’t actually spoken about at any point. First is Emery, who while hasn’t been the instant hit, has shown a lot of promise. His appointment back in the summer felt like it was out of nowhere. It’s strange to think that, but I almost forgot that he was available. With Allegri and Tuchel on the lips of all Arsenal fans, it was expected that they would have tried harder for one of them. This isn’t to say Emery is a bad appointment, in fact I really like it. He has always been good at getting the best out of players under his management. While they have not been as good in attack as they were under Wenger, they have improved defensively. Bellerin, Kolasinac and Holding are all having their best seasons in an Arsenal shirt, he has also gotten the best out of the signings. I criticised Arsenal’s business in the summer, and rightly so. They didn’t bring in another defender, since Mustafi just doesn’t look good enough. Sokratis was seen as the worst for me. I never understood all the praise he was getting in the Bundesliga, with his positional sense being questionable at best and his recklessness making him a liability on the pitch. He has not been as good as the likes of Laporte or Rudiger, but has put in some big performances for his side. Emery also has got both Aubameyang and Lacazette firing, with the pair scoring 29 goals in the league. He’s also getting a lot out of fringe players like Guendouzi, Ramsey and Mkhitaryan and Iwobi. He’s given this side a boost and has attempted to even get Ozil to work in his system. He’s been very impressve in some of the big games. Wins against Tottenham, Chelsea and Man United, and even taking points from Liverpool. He has shown versatility and has changed his approach against tougher opponents, known his side can’t out play them. The Europa League will most likely define their season, and they have been very good. While they suffered a big defeat to Rennes away from home, Emery has still been smart in squad rotation. He played a lot of young talent in the group stages, giving them the opportunity to give the manager plenty to think about. Emery won this compeitition 3 times on the bounce, so it’s an area you expect them to succeed in. Progression has been there, but slow. You can trust Emery to advance Arsenal even further in the next couple of years. With the likes of Aybameyang, Sokratis, Ozil and Koscielny all approaching the latter years of their career, there is a lot of work to still be done.

    4. Maurizio Sarri – Chelsea

Sarri has been getting a lot of criticism in recent weeks, and a lot of it is understandable. I still do not understand why he has been playing Ross Barkey over Loftus-Cheek. Barkley isn’t as intelligent as his England teammate, and is poor as a number 8. I do think he has made some mistakes, but it seems the criticism that Chelsea fans are aiming at him is quite extreme, regarding his lack of squad rotation. The Chelsea board should have known what to expect from him. Sarri rarely ever changed his Napoli side, with players barely being given a chance to play. Ounas and Rog didn’t even start a game last season in Serie A, and 10 players started over 30 games. The XI was only changed when Ghoulam suffered a serious injury, which resulted in Mario Rui coming in. Sarri likes to play a core group of players and stick to it. This strict approach has caused some players to miss out on game time, and has also exposed some of the weak areas in the team. Marcos Alonso has shown himself to be one of the worst left backs in the league, with his lack of speed and defensive awareness, it makes him so easy to beat. While I like Azpilicueta, he just doesn’t contribute enough in the final third to justify starting him. Chelsea are already at a massive disadvantage next season. This squad needs a lot of work, and now without the ability to buy players in the summer, it means they cannot improve. Sarri is a great manager, but you need to give him what he wants. He obviously has problems with this squad, but now is unable to solve them. Sarri is still a great manager. His Napoli side was one of the best in Europe at ball progression, and successfully turned Insigne, Koulibaly, Jorginho and Hysaj into some of the best players in their positions. He also got the best years out of Higuain and Hamsik. Sarri’s Chelsea have shown many times that there is definitely potential to see a real great side here, but patience is needed. This isn’t like having Conte or Mourinho, two managers who can instantly improve a side. If Chelsea want to see success under Sarri, they need to give him time, even under the most difficult circumstances. The Blues aren’t exactly in the best position to be looking for managers, so it’s important that Sarri is given the time and resources he needs. He will build a spectacular side, that will challenge across the board. His sides play football in the way the world want to see it be played, and it’s why I constantly defend him. He’s above the likes of Emery and Nuno because I know just how good his sides can be. He has a philosophy and style that guarantees long term success.

     3. Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool

While I can assure that my ranking of the last 17 managers has been subjective to say the least, I’d be surprised if anyone disagreed with the next 3. The argument of winning defines a manager is a one I can’t disagree with more. A manager not winning trophies should not discount the work and improvement he has done, and Jurgen Klopp’s work should not be forgotten. He has taken Liverpool back to the top of world football, with smart spending, a positive brand of football and even taking advantage of set pieces, Klopp has added elements to the side that make them challenge contenders. Soon as he arrived in England, players like Henderson, Milner, Coutinho and Lallana all finally started showing the potential they had. He turned Liverpool from a side overreliant on individual talents from the likes of Suarez, Sterling and Coutinho, to building a functioning team with a way of playing that revolves around defending from the front and almost being the weakness to possession sides like a Barcelona or PSG. While the cash has definitely been splashed, with players like Alisson, Van Dijk, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlein all coming in for big money, but it’s what has to be done. He’s blended big signings with players who can add something to his team. Robertson, Wijnaldum, Shaqiri, Matip and Alexander-Arnold adding some balance to the side. What I’m most impressed about with Klopp is the changes he’s made to his side. Last season, Liverpool were a machine going forward. They were arguably the second best team in the Premier League last season, and even broke the record for most goals in a single Champions League campaign. They were ruthless in the final third, but the other areas of the pitch needed fixing. Bringing in Alisson gave them a better distributor in goal, and adding more of a presence there. He also gave his midfield better ball carriers, with Keita and Fabinho adding that extra bit of quality that improved an area which was exposed in last year’s final. These changes allowed Klopp to play a less heavy metal approach, and give his side a much better defence. They’ve also not been pressing as much, since he wants to compete on all stages, instead of having to focus on a singular competition. While they have had some bad performances this season, Klopp has arguably made the best Liverpool side of the century. They’re flexible, solid and have finally looked like the team that could keep Liverpool as European elite for a long time, and having a manager who gives Liverpool such a scary image is exactly what they needed.

     2. Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur

Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Heung Min Son. These are just some of the players who’s price tags have sky rocketed since Pochettino arrived in England. the former espanyol manager successfully turned Tottenham from a punchline, into the best side in London. The main reason why he’s so sought after for clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid is because of how he can bring the best out of players, and is incredibily versitile. Pochettino has been able to make plenty of in game adjustments, whether it’s changing from 3 to the back to 4, or adding an extra striker up front. He has given his side the ability to be able to change formation and systems on the fly. The most impressive display from Pochettino was actually against Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Pochettino made roughly 8 in game changes throughout the game. Moving Lucas into a central position, moving Dembele deeper, asking Kane to move a bit deeper. It’s what makes Tottenham so difficult to play at times, because you do not know how they will approach each opponent. While Tottenham have arguably had their worst season since 2014/15, this might actually be Pochettino’s best. He’s been struck with injuries all over the park, and has been using everything he has to get Champions League football. He got a man of the match performance out of Jan Vertonghen at left back, and even got some spectacular performances out of both Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko, a sentence I never thought I would say. He has done so much considering the situation. While they have dropped off in recent weeks, the fact they have stayed this competitive just speaks volumes on how good of a manager Pochettino is.

     1. Pep Guardiola – Manchester City

Who else? Pep Guardiola is not only the best manager in the league, but in the whole in Europe. He has built some of the best sides in the game’s history, and this Man City side is among them.  Pep has built a side that is nearly unbeatable on their day, with their losses usually going down to missing key personel. Many like to point out that Pep didn’t need to do much since his club have spent an obsene amount of money, but these are arguments that hold no real weight. Sure having some top quality talent helps, but Pep’s touch on this side cannot be argued. He turned Raheem Sterling from an inconsistent winger into a certain PFA player of the year contender. John Stones’s reading of the game has grown since his arrival in Manchester. He has even gotten some of the best year’s out of City legends Aguero and Silva. His biggest achievement by far was how he adapted. His first season in charge was definitely a learning curve, with humiliating losses to Everton and Leicester highlighting just how much work needed to be done. He instantly fixed his full back areas, to give his side much more in the wide areas, and to keep Sterling on the right side, and Sane on the left. It was to ensure that they could receive the ball wide, and when you have incredible passers in Silva and De Bruyne, it makes it really easy to beat those deep blocks that City struggled to break down in his first season. When you also add the best distributor in his position in Ederson, it gives City an almost unlimited amount of ways to transition the ball. It’s thanks to having a manager, who has learnt and added more to his game as the years go on. He is the manager that every club wants and dreams of having.

 

5 Premier League Teams to Watch Next Season

With the season arriving in less than a month, let’s look at 5 teams that you should just keep your eye on next season.

Chelsea

For the first time since Ancelotti, Chelsea have an attacking manager. This isn’t to take away from Mourinho and Conte, who both had good spells in charge. But they were always so pragmatic with how they set up their teams. Efficient is easily the best compliment that can be given to both of their title winning teams. But now they finally have brought in a manager who is famed for his attacking style. Sarri is one of my favourite managers in Europe. The team he built in Napoli was just so fun to watch. He was able to bring the best out of the players at his disposal. He turns Dries Mertens into a very good false 9, Insigne into one of the best wingers in Europe, and turned Reina from not good enough for Liverpool, to a very solid goalkeeper. He reminds me of Pep, in his ability to bring the best out of what he has. Speaking of Napoli, the signing of Jorginho was just what they needed. The Italian is a very good game controller, which is an area they have been missing since Fabregas began his decline. Sarri teams like to keep hold of the ball, so bringing in a guy who completes nearly 100 passes per game, is just ideal. However there still many issues for the Blues. The futures of Eden Hazard of Thibaut Courtois are all in doubt, with both heavily linked to a move to the Spanish capital. Both are key players and need to be tied down for the future. Hazard is a player who could finally shine, now with a manager who will not limit him. Courtois has also just came back from a golden glove winning world cup, meaning keeping him should be key. Chelsea are also heavily linked to Russian midfielder Oleksandr Golovin, and if they pull that move off, Chelsea’s midfield should be fixed. While they are not currently in the best place, Chelsea are finally in a place of unknown, which makes it so exciting to see where they go from here.

Arsenal

I think the end of Wenger’s reign couldn’t have ended more horribly. Missing out on champions league football for a second time and having an absolutely terrible away record. There were also huge issues with the team, lacking a good centre half, a defensively minded central midfielder, a competent goalkeeper, and a wide player. The appointment of Unai Emery, while not as high profile as everyone wanted, is still a safe and solid choice. He is known to be a great motivator and trains his players very hard. In fact after their last pre season game, his players went straight back to training, showing how much work needs to be done to have them ready for the new season (or maybe the lack of work Wenger was doing). The signings made have also been mostly fine. While both Leno and Papadopoulos aren’t great players, bringing both in for less than £20m is good business, and are improvements on what they already have. While Lichsteiner is the definition of a short term solution, he will give competition to a very inconsistent Bellerin, and offers good delivery in the final third. The best signing however is easily Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira. He had a breakout season for Sampdoria, giving them a real Kante role. He was a player who was excellent at recovering the ball, and also a fine distributer. He will give some real steel to a midfield that lacks a defensive workhorse. It is the first time in so long that Arsenal will finally be different, which is why it’ll be interesting to see how they perform next season.

Liverpool

While it does hurt to admit, Liverpool have easily made the best business of the window. They have fixed all of their key issues and look ready to challenge Manchester City for the title. While their defense was never a huge issue for them in my opinion (mainly because the way they play result in them looking very leaky), they have improved that with the signing of Allison. While they might have overpaid for him, he was easily the best available option for them in this current market. The Brazilian was brilliant for Roma last season, with only De Gea beating him in stopping expected goals. Allison is a great signing, but it’s their improvement in midfield that is most impressive. My issue with Liverpool’s midfield has always been the lack of flexibility. When playing against teams, like Manchester City, they excel because all of their players are great at pressing and do not need the ball. When they play against teams who would rather sit back, they do not have a central midfielder who is able to carry the ball out effectively and dribble through a midfield. They have brought in one of the best box to box midfielders in Naby Keita, and one of the most well rounded defensive midfielders in Fabinho. Keita is just great at everything. He is able to do the defensive work, is an incredible dribbler and is able to score and create. He will add a player who is able to fill in plenty of roles and who will help the reds keep possession more effectively. Fabinho gives them a real defensive midfielder. While Henderson has performed relatively well, he was never a true DM. Fabinho is one of the best defensive midfielders around, putting in over 4 tackles and interceptions per 90, while also helping in moving the ball, with a very solid 1.1 key passes per 90. He also wins 2.9 aerial rules. Which could mean the centre backs do not have to go towards the ball as much as they do, now with a player who is able to win it further up the pitch. This is a huge season for Jürgen Klopp’s side. Progress will need to be seen, and so far it is definitely there.

West Ham

I have always been so critical in how West Ham have signed players over the last year. They were signing the wrong players and their owners were always making these ridiculous promises. However this window has actually seen some real improvement. Gold and Sullivan decided to bring in Manuel Pellegrini to replace David Moyes. The obvious step up aside, it is a real coup for the hammers. They have finally found a manager who will be able to match the owner’s crazy ambition. What has been even better is the signings. Some smart signings were made very early on, like bringing in Ryan Fredericks on a free, and Fabinaski for less than £10m. They have matched these safe signings with some real ambitious ones, like highly rated youngster Issa Diop from Toulouse, finally giving them another option besides the usual James Collins and Winston Reid. While other signings like Yarmolenko and Wilshere are also pretty good, it’s their signing of Lazio winger Felipe Anderson that has really blown me away. The Brazilian was excellent in Serie A last season. In only 9 starts, he scored 4 and assisted 7. His stats also make for a great read, averaging 1.8 key passes and making 3.7 successful dribbles per 90. One thing that has been great to see in the Premier League is every club having a player good enough for the top 6, now West Ham have their man. They still have some key areas to strengthen, mainly in midfield. While Wilshere is a fine enough addition, that midfield is still missing quality. 3 managers have now fielded a Koyate and Noble midfield, and everytime have shown why it doesn’t work. They will hope that Wilshere can stay fit, and that Obiang has a real breakout season, otherwise they could well struggle to protect the defense. It is still a much improved summer for the Irons.

Fulham

As mentioned, I like seeing all teams have a top 6 quality player. It can be debated on whether Sessegnon is at that level. He isn’t at the moment, but he definitely will if he continues on this path. He just needs to improve in the box, mainly with the amount of shots he takes. Fulham did pull off one of the signings of the season in bringing in Jean Michael Seri from Nice for £27m. This is the same player who has been constantly linked with moves to Arsenal and Chelsea, and has ended up in Fulham. I do actually think this is the best for the player. Seri didn’t have a place in one of those sides because they already had good creators. Both of those teams needed something else (which they did get with in Torreira and Jorginho respectively). But Seri does fit right in for Fulham. One huge issue that some teams have when making that step from the Championship to the Premier League is making the right improvements in the side, while also keeping to what worked. Fulham prefer a possession style, favouring short passes. Seri fits that bill, being a player who’s speciality is his ability on the ball. He averages 86 passes with a 90% accuracy, which shows how he is able to help keep possession effectively. He also averages a very good 2.1 key passes, better than captain Tom Cairney’s 1.9. It is clear they have found that extra bit of quality in their team, to help them stay up. At the time of writing, they are also close to signing Andre Schurrle from Dortmund. If they pull that off, then the rest of the league should keep an eye on them.