How are Lyon Looking Under Sylvinho?

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

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

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

Embed from Getty Images

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

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

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

Embed from Getty Images

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

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

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

Embed from Getty Images

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

The Netherlands vs England – UEFA Nations League Semi-Final Preview

While there was plenty to discuss regarding the clash between Switzerland and Portugal, it is this fixture that is by far the most exciting. Both teams here escaped groups that were seen as a challenge. It’s a surprise for them to even be here, yet they fully deserve it.

Let’s start with The Netherlands. It can be difficult to argue just how important the Dutch have been for football. Their innovations during the early 70s with Total Football, a brand of football which changed how the game was played. Rinus Michels, the manager of Ajax during this revolutionary period, wanted the pitch as small as possible when the opposition had the ball, and to make the pitch as big as possible when his side had the ball. It’s a system that encouraged pressing and movement. Players were coached to cover multiple roles throughout the team. It was an evolution from the famous Hungary side that humiliated England in 1953. It was how football was meant to be played and the achievement of a club with a plan.

Their history on the international front has been fascinating. In 1986, Michels came back to manage the national team, leading them to win their first international tournament, Euro 88. While they had some success during the 90s, reaching the semi-finals at Euro 96, they failed to stay the dominant side they were in the previous decade. Their golden generation, which included many from that famous Ajax side who lifted the Champions League in 1997, failed to win anything on the international front.

The 2010s have been a forgettable decade to the say the least for the Dutch. While they reached the World Cup final in South Africa, they sacrificed 40 years of a Total Football style in favour of kicking Spain, a side who were the embodiment of what Cruyff and Michels taught so long ago. After failing to qualify for the last 3 international tournaments, the Dutch seemed lost. But like the success of the national team in the past, you can always look to Ajax for a boost. With generational talents in Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt, it has given them the boost they’ve needed. A solid base to build the rest of the team around, and to find success in the future.

Embed from Getty Images

I’m not Koeman’s biggest fan, but the impact he has made on his national team is hard to argue. He’s built a team that has balance throughout the squad. The experienced and young, the technically gifted and hard-working. But what persists throughout the side is what the Dutch are known for, players who can fill multiple roles. Daily Blind, Memphis Depay, Frenkie De Jong, Quincy Promes. These are players have played in different positions throughout their career. They’ve added fluidity to the side, making them unpredictable in the final third. Koeman has added more unfavoured players to the squad, with Martin De Roon being the most notable. The Atalanta midfielder, while offering zero in the final third, is great defensively and allows the more expressive players to push forward. Koeman has been gifted with by far the most talented players since the end of their golden generation, but he deserves credit for making this group of players function as a team.

The Netherlands were placed in a very tough group, facing the former World Cup winners Germany and current holders France. Both of their opponents have arguably some of the best talents in the world to choose from. While their first game ended in defeat, losing 2-1 to the World Champions, it was their next game against Germany back in the Johan Cruyff Arena that showed they were ready to compete. They humiliated the Germans with an emphatic 3-0 victory. It was the game in which Koeman brought in De Roon, which made a huge difference. He put in 6 tackles and interceptions in this game, giving them a defensive presence in midfield. It allowed Frenkie to play a less restrictive role, constantly looking to get on the ball and keep possession from a dangerous German side. The Netherlands then went on to beat France and showed a lot of fight to come back and earn a valuable point against Germany. It sealed their place in the semi-finals, the most deserving result for a national team which has finally shown the quality they have always been known for.

While Van Dijk, De Ligt, De Jong and Wijnaldum are all going to play a role in this game, Depay is by far the Dutch’s most important player. After his poor stint in England, he moved to Lyon to revive his career and return to the form he showed for PSV. In a Lyon side which includes Fekir, Aouar, Ndombele and Dembele, Depay has emerged as their most important player. He thrives in a role where importance is placed upon him and was the sole reason why Lyon remained competitive at the beginning of the season. His goal contributions were near non-existent after the new year, but his numbers remained high. He leads the line effectively for Koeman. His flexibility as a striker makes him very difficult to deal with. He has the pace the reach those long balls usually played into the channels by the centre-backs, the strength to hold the ball for his teammates and the confidence to take on an entire team on his own. He adds that star quality to a forward line which has lacked it since the retirement of Van Persie. His impact will be hard for England to suppress.

Embed from Getty Images

Let’s move onto their opponents. After their defeat to Iceland in 2016, it highlighted a consistent problem that had been failing England for a long time, being their focus on players over the system. One reason why England won the World Cup back in 1966 was because of the balance in that side. Charlton and Ball were able to produce in the attacking end because they had Manchester United’s defensive midfielder Nobby Stiles protecting the back four. It has been a simple concept of building a team that England have seemingly forgotten how to do since that triumph. The constant debate regarding Lampard and Gerrard in midfield, forcing Scholes out wide and persisting with a 4-4-2 when the system was far outdated, with managers choosing an extra midfielder to help keep possession. England had star power, but managers who seemed too afraid to make the right decisions, that were best for the team. You simply cannot play Gerrard and Lampard together without a defensive midfielder (it made Carrick’s consistent absence baffling)

They made these same mistakes at Euro 2016. While Hodgson has been an important coach in his earlier years, introducing pressing in Sweden, he seemed to succumb to the same pressure as managers in the past have. He played a strange midfield including Alli, Rooney and Dier. An odd choice considering Alli had never played in that position before. His choice to play Sturridge as a winger was even more baffling, a player who has never been a dribbler or creator throughout his career. Hodgson resigned after their embarrassing defeat to Iceland, an end to an era which produced the same mistakes as previous managers.

Southgate’s appointment was an uninspiring choice, to say the least. It seemed like the safest choice for England to make. A coach who failed to take a talented group of players out of the group stages in the European Under-21s Championships, relegation with Middlesborough and lacked any charisma that made the former England international fail to stand out.

England were placed in a safe qualification group, while they never truly stood out, it did give Southgate time to experiment. Nobody knew how the Three Lions were going to line up in Russia until their friendly against Costa Rica. It was the first time England started with a back three and the first time England looked to have a plan. It gave them enough numbers in defence while allowing their attacking players to flourish.

While they never played the same attractive football we saw from Belgium and France, they were efficient and were playing to their strengths. Southgate made a lot of smart decisions to get the best out of the players in his possession. He played a back three containing Maguire, Stones and Walker. All three possess strength and athleticism, allowing them to cover a lot of ground. Walker and Maguire would consistently push up to help give options to the midfielders, and most importantly to make sure that Trippier and Young could push up without the same space they leave at club level. Southgate ensured his side took advantage of set pieces. While simple, set pieces are a chance to score, and with his side still not fully accustomed to the system, they were good opportunities to get a goal. They reached the semi-finals, but some of their weaknesses were exposed. They lacked pace in the side, which meant England lacked bite and couldn’t trouble a Croatia side which contained a lot of older players.

Embed from Getty Images

However, in hindsight, it was a short term solution for the purpose of showing the country what this side can do. They inspired their fans for the first time in 20 years, to give hope for a team that was still growing. Many players who featured heavily in Russia would not remain as key figures for Euro 2020. They needed to evolve and turn into a side which could play a more attractive style of football. Trippier, Young, Lingard and Walker would all not be started with such frequency.

The Nations League was the first time we could see what Southgate had changed since their success in Russia. He changed from a defensive 3-5-2 to a more standard 4-3-3, which enabled his side to attack with more unpredictability down the wide areas. A lot of players benefited from this change. Sterling was placed in a role where he could play to his strengths instead of playing as a second striker. Marcus Rashford was given a more important role in the setup, instead of merely being Kane’s backup. They impressed in their win over Spain and fought hard to come back against Croatia. The future seems clear from Southgate and is looking more positive.

There are still concerns, however. I mentioned how some of the players who featured in the world cup will begin to be faced out, but Southgate hasn’t done that yet. Trippier and Walker are still included in the setup. It’s frustrating when Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka have been fantastic, but aren’t being given a chance in the XI. While Declan Rice was given a chance, there are so many talented young players who could have a future in the setup. Abraham, Maddison, Mount and Barnes all deserve a chance for their country.

Sterling has been by far England’s best player since the World Cup. He has reached a point where he should be in the conversation for one of the best players in Europe. He’s a great dribbler, intelligent and a solid creator. While he was always promising, it was the arrival of Pep Guardiola that changed Sterling. He took away that overthinking. When he would receive the ball, Sterling would usually take a few touches before making his next move. Pep took that out of his game and made him so much more direct. Sterling is now far less predictable. With Kane still recovering from another injury, England will put their faith in Sterling to help score the goals.

Embed from Getty Images

If The Netherlands wish to progress to the final, they have to win the battle in midfield. England only possesses a couple of players I would consider real central midfielders, being Delph, Henderson and Rice (Dier is better as a centre back). Koeman has one of the top 3 young central midfielders around in De Jong. The now Barcelona midfielder is so versatile in how he can be played. He’s very reminiscent to Luka Modric, in how he is a great creator while being one of the best players at transitioning the ball into the final third. His best performance was in Ajax’s 1-1 draw against Juventus. Allegri attempted to place Bentancur on him to limit his effectiveness. De Jong just kept dropping between the centre backs and dragging Bentancur into places he did not want to go. The Dutchman is an intelligent player and can avoid pressure easily. England tried to stop Spain from building play by aggressively pressing Busquets. While effective on an ageing midfielder, this will not work on De Jong. The Netherlands need to get their maestro on the ball as much as possible if they wish to beat a tough England side.

If England wishes to come out victorious, they have to focus on the wide areas. The Dutch usually start Dumfries and Blind as their fullbacks. It’s an area where England can exploit. They have a lot of pace in the team, with Sterling, Rashford and Sancho offering a threat against their defenders. Blind has never been quick throughout his career and Dumfries has been exposed for being positionally poor. He is great as an attacking outlet, but space can be found behind him. It’s why Sterling could be so important. Not many fullbacks in Europe have been able to deal with the winger. He is the key to unlocking the backline.

While England will be a threat, I think the Dutch will be the side to progress. Their weaknesses aren’t nearly as obvious as England’s. The Three Lions are likely to play without Kane. He has been so important for his country, offering a great range of passing and a forward who can do nearly anything. While Rashford has improved a lot this season, he isn’t nearly as his good as his teammate. The Netherlands are in incredible form right now and seem unstoppable.

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Daniel James and Improving Manchester United

Manchester United’s defence is always an area of discussion when it comes to improving the team, but the wide areas are definitely an area that has needed improving since Sir Alex Ferguson departed the club. While United have players like Martial, Rashford, Lingard and Mata, who can all play there, it isn’t their favoured position. They actually haven’t had a natural winger since Januzaj and Depay left the club. It has meant that United have been largely too predictable. Many of United’s best players are left sided, meaning if a team can just overload that area of the pitch, it massively limited United’s creativity. While a large 43% of United’s attacks go down the left side, they only attack the right side of the pitch 31% of the time, the lowest in the league. It’s understandable why United are like this. Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard, the two players who usually play there, like to come inside, meaning Ashley Young is usually the only option on that side of the pitch. Young is simply not good and shouldn’t be relied on to this extent, and it’s a side of the pitch that needs better options. If recent reports are to be believed, United are in talks with Swansea City to sign 21 year old Daniel James for £15 million. Is he the player to solve this problem?

James has more of an involvement this season than anyone really expected. After an unsuccessful season loan at Shrewbury Town, and later deciding not to go on loan to league 2 side Yeovil Town, the Welshman remained at Swansea to fight for his place, and it’s safe to say he has made an impression. He originally caught the eyes of football fans for his incredible solo goal against Brentford in this year’s FA Cup, which saw him single-handedly run 80 yards, through 3 players and score a great solo goal. He also scored in Wales’s first game for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, dispossessing one of their defenders, thanks to his blistering pace, and putting the ball away to win the game for Wales. It is by far his strongest attribute. While it is quite straight forward, having such speed gives you a natural advantage over defenders. His pace is a factor helps with other parts of his game, one being his ability to press. It’s why Leeds were desperate to sign him. He constantly keeps pressure on opponents and can the speed to be able to cover a lot of ground for his side. His versatility also deserves praise. Graham Potter likes his players to be able to play in numerous positions, to help tactical flexibility and formation changes. James has been stand out in this regard. He’s played both as a left winger and on the right side, while also playing as a number 10 and as a striker. Potter has used him in very inventive ways, and has brought out unique qualities in him. When looking at his numbers, we will only be looking at his performances only as a left winger. This is because it’s the position where he has seen the most minutes, so there is more to look at. He has been taking 2.9 shots a game, with 2.1 shots coming from inside the box. James is showing himself to be an intelligent player, taking shots in very good positions. He’s been making 1.3 key passes a game, with all coming from a short range. One of the only areas of improvement for the 21 year old would be his dribbling. While completing 1.3 dribbles is pretty good for a player who isn’t involved heavily in transition, he is only completing half of his attempted dribbles. He should be aiming for at least completing 60% of his dribbles, but it isn’t a huge area of concern at the moment. One of the best parts of James’s game is his ability on the counter attack. The Welshman is so fast that he has more control over counter attacks than any other player. He is the player who his teammate’s first want to pick out. His viral goal against Brentford shows this. When he receives the ball in his own half, he first hits it forward to chase onto it, knowing he can outrun anyone he is up against. He beat 3 defenders to score a brilliant individual goal. It was by far his highlight of the season. Many will look at James and see a player who has only managed 4 goals and 7 assists in the league. While that is a relatively small number for a player who is being linked to a top 6 club, his numbers show a player who if given more time on the pitch, could add more goal contributions.

The stats are showing a player who is putting in the shots and creating the chances that you see from elite players. Even comparing his stats to other players in the United squad, he would rank 2nd for shots per 90, with only Pogba being ahead of him. James is far from a finished article, but his ability to press, his versatility and his pure electric pace, especially on counter attacks, gives United additional options in an area they are in desperate need of fixing.

Why Barcelona Have Been Underwhelming – Lyon vs Barcelona -UEFA Champions League Preview

These previews have been some of the best posts I’ve put out, and judging by the views they are attracting, it seems others agree. With only 3 left, it seems we are finally so close to finishing them. Let’s look at one of the final previews, being Lyon’s huge game against La Liga leaders Barcelona. With both teams having game defining players, it could be a very memorable tie.

Let’s begin with Lyon, who are having a fine enough season so far, but I have had some problems with them. It just bothers me when they drop points against such poor opposition, and with Lille 4 points clear and Marseille and St Etienne not far behind them, it begs the question of why aren’t Lyon doing better? Well defence is a massive problem. While their full backs are actually pretty solid, with Mendy, Tete and Dubois all performing very well, it’s put more pressure on Lyon’s defenders. While I think Marcelo is a solid defender, I don’t think Denayer is not a good player in the slightest. Jeremy Morel is now 34, and is still getting plenty of game time. It worries me that a team with such a good attack, might be held down by a central defence that is old and easy to expose. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of their manager, Bruno Genesio. I can give him sympathy for having deal with a club who aren’t willing to spend much on defenders, which is why Denayer is even at the club. He has also added some impressive flexibility to the side, with Lyon deploying 8 different formations this season. It has mostly worked, but it was more to get the most out of what he has, and he seems to be unsure on what his best team even is. He’s played Aouar, Depay, Fekir and Traore in so many different positions, because he doesn’t know where to fit them all in. He’s tried Fekir and Depay as a striker, mainly due to both lacking a great work rate. However while both have played a lot of games there and can work on the occasion, they are better behind the striker. Depay is an amazing creator, so having him on the left or behind the striker is much more effective. Fekir is similar. He loves to get on the ball and run at defenders, and his shot locations aren’t great, with half of his total shot coming from outside the box. He’s another who shouldn’t lead the line. While Genesio’s masterclass against Manchester City and PSG is very impressive, I just don’t think he has taken advantage of Marseille and Monaco falling off as much as they have, in the same way Lille have capitalised.

What cannot be denied about Lyon is they have some of the most desirable players in Europe, starting with Memphis Depay. The Dutch international is in the form of his life at the moment. It has actually surprised me why a club like Chelsea or Real Madrid have not even considered him. While I did say I do not like him as a sole number 9, he is still an absolutely amazing attacker. He is taking 2.9 shots a game, creating 3 chances and completing 1.7 dribbles. These are all signs of a complete forward. Since Lacazette’s departure, he has been the main man at Lyon. With Fekir having consistent injury problems, Depay has been so important for everything Lyon have been doing. With his versatility, arrogance and ability, he makes for a forward who could fix any attack. It’s just so good to see Depay finally reach that potential we all knew he had. Barcelona might truly struggle to deal with him, because he can just do so much. He is so unpredictable. While Fekir and Traore could all be huge threats in this game, Aouar deserves some praise here. With incredible XGBuildup numbers and a great dribbler, it’s just amazing he’s still only 20. He is one of the best young players in Europe and has continued his amazing form from last season into this one. What has made him more impressive is the drop off of his teammates. Tousart and Ndombele have both not been nearly has good as they were last season, so it’s made Aouar look even better. I just love how good he is on the ball, and how good he is when it comes to transition. Ndombele’s dribble numbers have dropped, so it’s helped massively that Aouar has actually improved. A lot of clubs have been looking at him too, and it’s so easy to see why. He is a guy with a bright future, and is vital to Lyon getting a result in this game.

Let’s look at Barcelona. I have titled this post why Barcelona have been underwhelming, and I’ll explain. This La Liga season has been very confusing. With Villarreal and Valencia all dropping off a cliff this season, one would assume that a team that brought in huge talents like Malcom, Lenglet, Arthur and Arturo Vidal, you’d think they would be so much further ahead than they are. Real Madrid are having their worst season in years, yet they’re only 6 points behind them. While they have been winning and mostly deservingly so, but there have been consistent problems, and it all comes back to Valverde. His time at Barcelona can only be seen as satisfactory. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he is a bad manager. He is a very good manager, but isn’t a Barcelona manager. Thanks to Cruyff and Pep, they have such a high standard for the football that is being played, that anything that isn’t at the level, isn’t good enough. He has had a mostly successful time in charge, but he has individual moments that have soured his relationship with the fans. Letting Messi leave early last season for a friendly, which lead to the club losing their unbeaten run on the last day of the season against Levante, losing 5-4 in humiliating fashion. While that was bad, losing a 3 goal advantage against Roma in a truly awful performance in the Italian capital. It’s these moments where the fans and neutrals get frustrated, because he just struggles on the big stage at times. While I can see this as his biggest fault, the biggest problem is definitely his player managment. I do think he has been given players he doesn’t neccessarily want (I’ll get to that) and he has nearly no idea how to use them, and has instead relied heavily on Suarez and Busquets, and playing them even if they are tired. Both are aging and need to be managed carefully. Rakitic is another who is loved by Valverde, but wants to play him so much, that the fans are becoming tired of him. These are all good players, but they are all becoming old, and shouldn’t be relied on as much as they are. He has massively struggled with dealing with some of the bigger signings, starting with Coutinho. His signing in the first place was strange, because there wasn’t neccessarily a place in the squad for him. He was seen as an Iniesta replacement, but I don’t think they are as similar as thought. He cannot play as an 8, because he isn’t good defensively as an 8 should be. He also isn’t and has never been a winger, but can play there. He is a 10, but Messi occupies that area so where does he fit? He is useful to have in the squad, but Valverde seems to have no idea what to do with the £142m player. Malcom is a much worse situation, because Coutinho at least plays. But that blame is more on Malcom that Valverde, because he should be at Roma, but decided to go to Barcelona, when there wasn’t even a place in the squad. Valeverde is struggling in some aspecs in one of the hardest manager job’s in the world.

Talking about Messi as a key player is pointless, because of course he is. He’s the best player in the history of the game, so he’s easily the biggest threat on the pitch. Let’s look at someone else instead, that being Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman’s time in Barcelona has been mixed. Don’t get me wrong, he has been amazing whenever he has played, but because of his issues with Valverde, and the board seemingly not liking him, it’s taken a while for him to establish himself in the side, but he’s been great. His performances in the Champions League have been outstanding. His shot numbers, chance creation and dribbling went supernova. He scored 2 in the group stages, with only Messi scoring more. He adds that creativity from the wide areas and is one of the dribblers in Europe. He is still such a promising player, and it’s good to see him finally showing it for a side that don’t deserve him.

If Lyon wish to win the round, they must deal with Busquets. The Spaniard is the best defensive midfielder in history, but he is 29 now. He is such a smart player but if Lyon attempt to deal with him, it’ll make Barcelona so much easier to deal with. The other is to hope Sergi Roberto is playing. He is good offensively, but is so easy to expose. They have to attack fast and keep hold of the ball. If they fail to do that, Messi and co will punish them.

If Barcelona want to advance, they have to play 2 in the middle. Lyon advanced as one of the few unbeaten teams, but only managing a single win. Those defenders are old, so if they play Messi and Suarez together, it might put a lot of pressure on the players at the back. Denayer and Morel aren’t good defenders, and Barcelona should find it easy to break them down. They need to use their experience. This team still has plenty of the winners from their 2015 Champions League win, and need to beat a side full of young players. Show them how winning is done. It’s why I think they will win. While a shock could definitely happen, I think Barcelona just have so much going for them to lose in the same way as last season.

Are Dortmund Doing The IMPOSSIBLE? Top 5 League Talking Points

What a fascinating week of football. Some huge upsets, big victories and frankly terrible performances. Let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga

Dortmund extend their lead

This was by far the biggest clash of the week. League leaders Dortmund face a lesser, yet strong Bayern side. It delivered exactly what we all expected, with Dortmund winning the game 3-2, thanks to a late winner from Alcacer. This was a huge game for both. Dortmund have been excellent, but there was an element of if they have been a bit lucky. Plenty of times this season they have won thanks to a late goal, or by a singular goal margin. While they do deserve to be at the top, this could just be a side in red hot form, instead of a side ready to keep it up for a whole 34 game season.

Bayern on the other hand have been a bit frustrating. Dortmund have blossomed in squad rotation, while Bayern haven’t. Kovac seems unable to find a team and formation to stick with, and it’s easy to understand why. He lost both Coman and Tolisso, two players who definitely would have been important this season. They failed to fix the midfield. With Vidal and Rudy both leaving, and Goretzka not playing much at all, it leaves Kovac with an injury prone Alcantara and an immobile Javi Martinez. There have been positives. Lewandowski has finally hit some form, Hummels has looked solid and Gnabry has been excellent since filling in for Robben. It’s about time their wide areas are being replaced.

The away side started the game excellently, thanks to an early header from Lewandowski. He scored a good header, thanks to a peach cross from Gnabry. Lewandowski did well against his former side. Before the game, he had scored 12 goals against Dortmund since moving to Munich, with 3 coming at the Westfalenstadion. He reminded Dortmund fans why he was so loved by them so long ago. Bayern only created 3 goal scoring chances, and Lewandowski scored 2 of them. He also created 2 chances and won 3 aerial duels.

One player who was incredibly wasteful for Bayern was Thomas Muller. To say the German hasn’t been at his true best for a while now is an understatement. This season has seen him at his worse, when he’s at an age where he is in his prime years. He didn’t create a chance, have a shot on target, complete a dribble or have a real involvement in the game. Muller is one of the players at Bayern who has plenty of influence in the dressing room, and at this point does not deserve it.

Now onto the victors, who while did have less of the ball, created the better chances. They had 5 shots on target compared to Bayern’s 3. It isn’t a huge margin, but it was definitely decisive. While Dortmund were good, Bayern’s mistakes really helped. Neuer gave away the penalty for coming out of his box too slowly, intercepting Reus and giving them the equaliser. While Reus’s second was a class finish from a class player, there was a clear issue from a Bayern perspective. Javi Martinez let him run free and didn’t even attempt to keep up with him. It was pure laziness that allowed Dortmund to spring a comeback. Their last goal was brilliant. Thanks to quick interplay between Sancho and Reus, it allowed them to counter incredibly quickly and allow Witzel to play a lovely ball to Alcacer, who chipped Neuer like he was ordinary. Dortmund now have a 7 point lead on their rivals, leaving them in a comfortable place to win their first league title for 7 years.

Their man of the match was Marco Reus, and justifiably. Ever since Favre moved him into a number 10 position, he has absolutely flourished. It means he doesn’t have to move as much as he would outwide, meaning he can save his energy more in the final third. It has reinvigorated Reus, and he has been one of the hottest players in the continent. He was responsible for Dortmund’s first 2 goals, and was a real driving force for their victory. He had 4 shots on target, completed 3 dribbles and made 4 tackles. He was the deciding factor in this game. He’s been so unlucky over the years, and deserved the success he gets.

While Reus was the best player on the pitch, one of their defenders certainly deserves some praise. I loved Dortmund’s defensive signings over the summer. Akanji, Diallo and Hakimi all were brilliant additions to a defense that was slowly aging. One of their signings, Dan-Axel Zagadou, went under the radar, and has established himself already as an important player in the team. The 19 year old was one of their best players on the day. While Piszczek was also brilliant, Zagadou really caught my eye. He Frenchman made 2 tackles, an interception, 8 clearances and won 7 aerial duels. He helped keep Bayern mostly quiet. For someone of his age to perform that well in the biggest game in German football, deserves a lot of credit. His ability on the ball cannot be disputed either. In this game, Zagadou completed the most passes for his side. While Akanji is the superior passer out of Dortmund’s centre backs, seeing a 19 year old complete 8 long balls against the champions is ridiculous.

As said before, Dortmund are now 7 points clear of their Der Klassiker rivals. They seem to be the best side in the division. While other sides might have a better attack or defense, Dortmund play with such confidence and swagger, that it is hard to not want them to finally crush Bayern’s domination. As for Bayern, they are now in 5th. The teams around them have been excellent this season, and it is the deserved punishment for a side full of players who seem to have down tooled just because they aren’t a fan of the manager after a short time. While I do blame their board for the failings this season, for lacking ambition, Kovac still deserves criticism. His constant changes to the side have made it difficult for any player to get a run of form together. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bayern do win the Bundesliga again, but hopefully it will be a wake up call for the entire club, to step up their game.

Frankfurt pummel Schalke

Now onto the team just above Bayern Munich, Frankfurt cruised past an underperforming Schalke side with a 3-0 victory. After a relatively successful season last season, with current Bayern manager Niko Kovac guiding Frankfurt to a DFB-Pokal victory over Bayern. They seem to have built on that this season, with the winners sitting in 4th, equal points to Bayern but with a +13 goal difference. They chose Adi Hütter has Kovac’s replacement. The Austrian found plenty of success last season with Young Boys, who he helped break Basel’s dominance over Swiss football. His appointment was a risk, but has so far paid off. They have scored the second most goals from open play, with 19. However to call them lucky is a massive understatement. Thanks to their massage 7-1 victory over Dusseldorf, it has swayed their stats and numbers to look better than they really are. They take 4.5 shots a game, the 5th worse in the division, with Hoffenheim leading the Bundesliga 6.8. It’s crazy how one game can change how an entire side is perceived, but that is exactly what’s happened here.

Let’s discuss the game in question. Frankfurt created more chances and their opponents, 14 to 5. However while they did dominate, it did take a while for the deadlock to be broken. The first half was very uneventful to say the least. Frankfurt did have the better of the chances, with Luka Jovic taking many shots. However he wasn’t taking his shots from good positions, and was just trying more than thinking. The second half was definitely where the game began. Frankfurt scored twice in 11 minutes to give them a deserved advantage. Frankfurt are very good at creating good chances for both of their forwards, Haller and Jovic. Their shot numbers are low, but having 2 forwards will always make those chances mean so much more. Haller is excellent in the air and Jovic is great at taking shots in the box. They are a classic big man little man combo and are working so well. XG had this game at 2.62 to Frankfurt and 0.82 to Schalke. It shows how good Frankfurt are at creating goal scoring opportunities for their forwards.

Let’s talk about the forwards, and especially Luka Jovic. But before we discuss the young Croatian now leading the Bundesliga’s goal scorers, let’s talk about his partner in crime, Sebastian Haller. While Jovic has had plenty of the headlines, let’s not forget that Haller is currently only a single goal behind him, and even has 3 more assists. The Frenchman has been excellent this season, winning a crazy 4.9 aerial duels and creating 1.3 chances a game. He is a perfect partner to a forward like Jovic. He is able to create space for others and give a real vocal point to his side. He is overachieving XG, with him only projected to have 6 goals and 2 assists. That would still be a healthy return and shows just how good he has been. In this game, he wasn’t incredible, but was effective. He only managed 2 shots, created 1 chance, and won 2 aerial duels. It wasn’t his best game, but still managed to score.

Now let’s move onto Jovic. The Benfica loanee (which I didn’t even know until I looked him up on transfermarkt) has started the season in absolutely amazing form. His 5 goals against Dusseldorf has given him an arguably unjust position as the top scorer in the Bundesliga. After seeing those 5 goals, there is a player who has potential to have a good career at the top. However I had doubts, thanks to Dusseldorf just being terrible in a defensive sense. After seeing his performance against Schalke, it proves there is a young player who should be watched by all around Europe. Teams like Spurs, Manchester United, Marseille and even Bayern Munich should all be looking at him. I’ll explain why now. His performance against Schalke was elite. He had 7 shots, 3 on target and scored a brace. He was comfortably the man of the match in this game. This game continued his already incredible start to the season. He takes 3.3 shots per game, which is incredible for a player for his age. What is most impressive is the fact he takes 93% of his shots in the box. He is getting into great position that you don’t see from a player who’s career is still only in its infancy. His stats are so good, but what I love the most is the power in his shots. It’s a small thing, but every time he gets the ball in a goal scoring position, he hits it as if he’s trying to break down a brick wall. It reminds me of Aguero, who I’ve seen hit the net off the ground with his power. Jovic shoots to kill in the box, and it shows what a talent he is.

La Liga

Barcelona’s home record ruined

While there were 4 games I could have easily spoken about, this one was a guaranteed talking point. While Barcelona have always been a relatively attractive team to watch (as previously mentioned when discussing the 2011 Champions League), I love seeing them lose. They are a club I have a dislike towards. Whether it’s their questionable deals in the past with Qatar airways, to the sheer arrogance of their fans, they are an incredibly easy team to hate. They lost at home to Real Betis by 4 goals to 3. It was a truly embarrassing display from the Champions, and was the defeat that they finally deserved to receive. After some luck against Sevilla and Vallecano, it was about time that their opponents got their own bit of luck.

Let’s start with Betis, who are and have been a very good side now since January. Signings like Lo Celso and Carvalho did drastically improve their midfield, and dominate games as well as the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have been in lackluster form recently, with their win over Barcelona their first win in five matches. While a defeat to Atletico Madrid is understandable, they should not be losing to Getafe and Valladolid. I highlighted how well I thought they played in their last game against Celta Vigo, and they carried it on in this game. They had more shots on target in this game, 8 to the home side’s 5, and deserved the lead they had. They took advantage of a poor Barcelona side on the day and showed why they have been such an interesting this year.

While Lo Celso continued on from his fine display against Celta, Betis’s best player on the pitch was Junior Firpo. The young full back was Betis’s best attacking threat on the day, completing 2 dribbles, creating 2 chances, scoring and assisting against the Champions. He’s primarily been used as a full back and excellent in that role, completing 3 tackles and interceptions a match and creating a chance a game. He gets into very good positions for a player of his age, while also not leaving his defensive work behind. It does seem strange seeing him moved into a more advanced position, with his dribble and shot numbers not exactly spectacular. Quique Setièn must have moved him thanks to his recent goal and assists for his side, and hoped he would replicate that against the best side in the league, and he definitely did.

One player definitely showed his former employers what they are missing, and that is Mark Batra. The Spaniard joined Betis in January from Borussia Dortmund, and has been the catalyst for all the good that has came to that club. He was just the perfect fit for the 3-5-2 system being played by Betis, and turned them into one of the best defensive sides in La Liga. He was a wall in this game, making 7 tackles, 5 interceptions, 6 clearances and 4 aerial duels. No other player on the pitch managed that many defensive actions. It was truly an elite performance from a player who has blossomed in this system.

Now onto Barcelona, who as mentioned before, did deserve to lose this game. While XG did give it Barcelona, with 4.08 to the home side and 2.37 to Betis, I do think they deserved to lose based on how poorly they defended through out this game. Firpo got the best of Roberto and eased past him to score the first. It has to be made clear that Roberto is terrible defensively. He might put a few tackles, but it’s more of awareness and positioning that lets him down. He should have allowed Firpo to come inside the way he did. The second goal was strange to say the least. After the ball was played inside, it was deflected into the path of Joaquin, who had not a single player near him, allowing a free shot on goal. Lo Celso’s goal should never have been allowed to score the third, with Ter Stegan not putting a strong enough hand forward to stop the shot. The problem with Valverde is when his defence performs this badly, it makes it hard for the fans to get behind him. He is a pragmatic coach by nature, and relies on the solidarity of his backline to win games. It is clear that Umtiti is heavily missed. The Frenchman is one of the best defenders around and his athleticism and quality on the ball is unrivalled in Europe. But Lenglet and Pique should be enough to deal with a side who only managed to score 8 goals before this game. It’s a terrible performance that already puts pressure on Valverde, who already gets enough criticism from the fans. They face Atletico Madrid after this game, which will not be pretty if they defend the same way.

Sevilla take on in form Espanyol

While this game wasn’t as dramatic as the Madrid club’s games, it was an interesting one never the less. Sevilla took on Espanyol, who sat in 2nd before this game. It was a chance for Sevilla to get back into 2nd place, and keep pressure on Barcelona.

The game ended 2-1 to Sevilla, who deservedly won this game. They had 23 shots compared to Espanyol’s 14, and deserved to win based on the better chances they made. Sevilla have been able to carry on scoring at an insane rate, with only Barcelona scoring more goals than their 24. It has largely been down to how well their attack has performed this season. Silva has managed 7, while Ben Yedder has managed 6 in only 6 starts, having a goal contribution every 63 minutes. Both are in fine form and showed it in this game. Silva managed 9 shots with 4 on target, while Ben Yedder, who only played 45 minutes, managed 3 shots and completed 2 dribbles.

While their attack is always effective, a special mention needs to be given to Jesus Navas. He was always I couldn’t stand at Man City, mainly due to how wasteful he was at times. To say he’s flourished since playing as wing back is an understatement. It’s became common to see old fashioned wingers, like Navas, Young, Antonio Valencia Kostic and Milner playing as full backs in the past. They focus on stretching a defense and attempting a cross, instead of cutting inside. It’s what many managers want from their full backs and Navas provides that. His defensive work is non existent, but he’s not there for that. He completed 7 of his 10 crosses, and created 6 chances. He’s arguably been one of the surprising players of the season. He was once a player I thought was finished, but he’s proving he still has life next to him.

Onto Espanyol, who have had a very good season so far. While they have been relatively reliant on Iglesias, they have been solid at the back. They have only conceded 10 goals, only Atletico Madrid have conceded less with 8. They are ranked 3rd with tackles, the same as Atletico Madrid. They are an aggressive side who win the ball back and attack quickly, quite similar to Simeone’s side. While they are relatively middle of the road with their amount of shots, they are 3rd in shots on target, making them a very clinical side. One of the players who have been hugely responsible in their goals is Borja Iglesias. The Spaniard doesn’t seem to be getting the credit he deserves. Andre Silva has been on everyone’s lips, but Iglesias has arguably been better. While his shot numbers are slightly lower, 2.7 to Silva’s 3. However he wins more aerial duels, creates more chances and has now scored the same amount as Andre Silva and added an extra assist. He scored against Sevilla, had 3 shots, won 2 aerial duels and made 2 tackles. He came in to replace Moreno and has done an excellent job.

Both sides are definitely taking advantage of taking of advantage of Madrid and Valencia dropping off. Sevilla are relying more on outscoring their opponents, based on their crazy line up and the goals they score. The only problem will be if a side attacks them in the same way. Barcelona did the same thing to them and scored 4. They flourish against defensive sides, but it’ll be interesting to see how they handle Barcelona and Real Madrid again. I’m unsure if Espanyol will keep this up. While Iglesias has performed accurate to XG, the side have been very clinical, and eventually that will ware off.

Ligue 1

Paris put pressure on Henry

Monaco are in arguably the worst position in recent time. After their 4-0 humiliation to Club Brugge (check out Heroes and Zeroes from game week 4 to find out more), the last side they would want to play is PSG, a side who broke the record for most consecutive wins at the start of the season. They have won every game this season, and were playing a Monaco side who have only won a single game all season. I would get straight into complimenting the winning side, but I think they get enough praise from me and other critics so let’s look at the losing side and see what is going wrong.

Let’s start with the defense, which was by far one of the worst performances from a defence I’ve seen this season. It may sound harsh but it seemed as if the players were being lazy. The first goal was Sidibe not playing the high line properly and put Cavani on side. The second involved Sidibe again, where he didn’t seem to realise Diaby was making a run right behind him, which let Cavani score again. The third goal was a magnificent goal, but the players just stood there. They were all ball watching and just allowed PSG to play their way. That is not how you defend against players like this. Liverpool proved the way to take a game to them is to be aggressive. Many of these players are relatively soft. They will complain to the referee constantly to get their way, and you have to keep being aggressive. Make the players lose focus on actually playing. Instead there was no sort of pressure from the midfield or the defense. I think what summed up this performance from Monaco was the amount of tackles being put in. When your on the back foot for the majority of the game, winning the ball back at any means necessary should be priority, but not for this side. PSG actually put in more tackles than their opponent, 15 to Monaco’s 14. PSG had nearly twice the possession too. They had no need to make that many challenges, yet they did.

At the end of the day, the ones who should get the blame are the Monaco board and Thierry Henry himself. Why it was ever a good idea to hire a man who’s only known coaching experience was under one of the worst defensive coaches in the world is beyond me. Monaco had one of the best managers in Europe in Leonardo Jardim. A man who knew how to deal with squad turnover and bringing the most out of the players he had. I do think Jardim was right in leaving. He was left with a completely new squad, with players who weren’t nearly as good as players he was given in the past. The board were so focused on selling, they clearly forgot to sign good players. Signings that helped them win a league title only 2 seasons ago. Now onto Henry, I can understand wanting to take a job of this calibre. It was a top level job and it would show of his managerial skills to the world, if it was successful. My problem with Henry is his sheer arrogance. Players who played during his time were smart about their choices. Patrick Viera, a player he knows very well, started out in MLS, a league that would show generosity to him, before going to Europe. He now manages Nice and has done a fine job so far. Even Frank Lampard, who was criticised for not taking a lower league job, took over Derby and has given the fans something to be excited about. Henry should have learnt from Gary Neville, and why you shouldn’t take jobs for their size, and especially for the amount of pressure you’d be be under. Monaco are a mess, and deserve the situation they’re in based on the bad decisions they’ve made.

Depay’s dazzling display

Onto a more positive note, let’s talk about Memphis Depay. I’ve brought up before how much I love Depay as a player. His versatility and flexibility in how he plays, being able to create and score is so impressive. Last season he went quite under the radar with his incredible displays, scoring 19 and assisting 13 in 36 games. He is a sensational footballer who thrives for Lyon, thanks to the reliance and confidence put into him.

This season has been a similar story. He already has 10 goal contributions (5 goals and 5 assists) in only 11 games. What has impressed me so much is his versatility. He’s usually seen as a left winger, but he’s played as wide attacking midfielder, a striker, a number 10 and a winger. He’s just so good as an attacking threat wherever he plays. He’s one of the leading players in Europe for chance creation, with the Dutchman creating 3.2 chances per game. Only Dimitri Payet is ahead of him in Ligue 1 with 3.7. I’ve mentioned before but I think one of the top European clubs should seriously have their eyes on him, mostly Real Madrid. He’s on the verge of a breakout season.

Let’s talk about the game in hand, where Depay scored 2 and assisted 2 for Lyon against relegation struggles Guingamp. He played as a second striker in this game, playing just behind Moussa Dembele. When Lyon went a goal down thanks to a lovely header from Thuram, it was Depay who found space and played Aouar through for the equaliser. His goals were absolute individual brilliant. His first was a stunning effort from outside the box, and the second was an amazing free kick that seemed unsavable. This game showcased everything good about Depay. His creative ability, his individual brilliance and goalscoring. He is just the perfect player to have lead your team in the front line. Let’s hope he gets another chance to play for a big side.

Premier League

The Manchester Derby

I never have seen such a divide between the two sides like this in my lifetime. I grew up seeing United as the dominant side and City as the struggles. Ever since Ferguson left, the gap just got bigger and bigger. That season was the last time the red side of Manchester finished about their rivals. Ever since it has just been complete dominance from City. This game was the biggest difference on quality I’ve seen.

Let’s start with the champions, who were absolutely superb. They played the game very professionally, playing way more reserved after their first goal. They knew how to manage games, a real sign of a good team. United usually wake up when they go behind, so Manchester City decided to just retain the ball, to make sure they couldn’t attack at all. While simple, not many players have the ability to do that, making it very difficult to initiate. They only allowed United a single shot on target, and that was a penalty. A perfect big game display from arguably the best team around.

While David Silva and Fernandinho were brilliant, City’s stand out man was Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese winger has covered so effectively for De Bruyne in midfield. He retains possession so well and can truly pick out a pass. He was the player who helped transition the midfield into the attack so well. It was his ball into the box that set up David Silva. He was a creative hub in this game, creating 6 chances, completed 2 dribbles and got 2 assists. While those stats are amazing for a midfielder, what impressed me the most was his defensive work. He made 3 tackles in this game. With Silva originally being a right winger, it was good to see that he’s even putting in the defensive to the midfield role. He’s a player who has really impressed me this season. While he did make the most appearances for City season, he didn’t truly blow me away. He started a lot of games, but because of the form of Sterling and Sane, he just didn’t have the same monsterous effect as them. He’s blossomed in midfield however, where his lack of pace and strength aren’t relevant. He’s been brilliant this season and it will be a shame if his place is taken once De Bruyne returns.

Now onto Manchester United, who were outclassed in every area. While the defense is usually the area that gets the most criticism, it was actually the midfield that underwhelmed the most. Fellaini is excluded here. The Belgian was solid defensively and he shouldn’t have been expected to contribute as much as the other two in attack. Herrera was very poor against City. He was dispossessed in very dangerous areas, and was one of the key reasons why United lacked any control or threat from midfield. Herrera was once the perfect partner for Paul Pogba. Back in José’s first season, he was an industrious midfielder who aggressively won the ball back and really helped protect Pogba’s defensive issues. The problem since then, and most of United’s problems, is Matic. Whenever these two play together, they are unable to contribute anything in the final third. It really baffles me because Herrera used to be a good number 10 under Bielsa, but seems to have all of his old creative spark. He offered nothing in attack in this game, and didn’t do as much defensive work as his midfield partners (Fellaini and Matic both made 5 defensive actions). Pogba was a huge loss in this game. United lacked that arrogance, flair and spark in the middle of the park. It’s why United lost this game. They couldn’t get the ball to the forwards, and lacked the mobility to keep up with them.

It leaves both clubs in complete contrasting positions. City are comfortably the favourites for me. They have the squad and have by far the best manager. United now sit in eighth. While things are not good right now, there is a possibility it will get good again. Their Champions League fixtures are much easier now that Juventus are out of the way. They also have had 2 of the toughest away games they could have had. While Liverpool and Arsenal could be very difficult. It will leave their next few fixtures with a high chance of winning. Let’s hope they make the top 4 race interesting.

Wolves continue run against Top 6

Wolves have been one of my surprise packages of the season. While I can gladly question their goalscoring, what cannot be faulted is how disciplined the players are in this system. They function so well and are so difficult to break down, yet are still able to create good chances. They’ve already done relatively well against the Top 6. The were able to get draws against both Manchester clubs, and now Arsenal, which is the game we’ll be discussing.

Let’s begin with the newly promoted side, who were easily the better side. They only had 28% possession, yet managed more shots than their opponent (13 to 10). They took advantage of the highline Arsenal usually play, and used Costa, Cavaleiro and Jimenez to counter. It worked even better thanks to the incredible range of passing that Neves and Moutinho possess. It caused Arsenal plenty of problems and it is why they were the more deserving side of the 3 points.

While their midfield is incredibly dominant and solid, it’s their wing backs that remain to be their most impressive players. The sale of Barry Douglas in the summer was confusing. He was great in the Championship and I would have presumed would have continued to play in the Premier League. However their replacement has been excellent to say the least. Jonny arrived from Atletico Madrid and has been absolutely great. In this game he made 11 tackles and interception and kept Bellerin and Iwobi very quite (they only managed a key pass between them). However the man of the match was Wolves’s other wing back, Matt Doherty. The Irishman also did his share of defensive work, making 5 interceptions and 5 clearances. But what set him apart from his Spanish teammate was his offensive work. Doherty created 3 chances, the most in the game. Both have to be seen as the most inform full backs in Europe at the moment. Just incredible from the pair.

Onto Arsenal. This game was another example of the luck that Arsenal have had this season. This is the 3rd time of note where Arsenal probably should have lost the game, with Everton and West Ham recently being games where they won and can call themselves fortunate. They dominated this game, but created less chances than a side who had 28% possession. What usually helps them through all games is their incredible attack. Ozil, Lacazette and Aubamayeng are incredible talents and have plenty of magic to help them in tougher fixtures. Emery has done a great job so far. He’s mostly fixed their midfield, got Granit Xhaka functioning in a midfield and finally made their defense better. Not a huge improvement, but any organisation is an improvement over last season. Looking at XG, it is clear to see that Arsenal have actually been the most fortunate side in the Premier League. XG has them down to be on only 16 points, 8 less than they are on now. While the improvement is definitely there, there is still plenty of work to do for Unai Emery.

Serie A

Inter humiliated

Inter looked to be on trackin recent weeks. Big wins over Genoa and Lazio reminded us all why we thought they were going to challenge Juventus this season. But their 4-1 defeat to Atalanta this week has really put massive question marks over their long term ability to challenge Juventus.

Let’s start with the victors, who have quietly went about their business in Serie a since their impressive 4th finish in the 2016/17 season. They finished in a very respectable 6th. What has kept Atalanta going strong is two key elements. The first is Gian Piero Gasperini. His side are excellent to watch. They take the 3rd most shots in Serie A, with only Juventus and Napoli amassing more shots. They attack relentlessly with the talent they have. Speaking of talent, it’s actually their transfer activity that’s mostly impressive. Whether it’s selling young talent like Kessie, Conti and Gagliardini, to buying players many would deem as average, and turning them into very useful players. Martin De Roon epitomises this. The Dutchman was signed from Middlesbrough last year, and has been a brilliant defensive shield for the backline. He’s been arguably the best defensive midfielder in Serie A. He makes 5.7 tackles and interceptions this season, and creates a chance a game. Very good numbers for a defensive midfielder. He got an assist against Inter, and created 2 chances. His defensive work wasn’t there but Inter’s terrible display justifies that.

The real talking point however from an Atalanta point of view is that front three. Zapata, Illicic and Gomez. I’ve been a huge fan of Papau Gomez for a few years now. He’s a versatile, skillful and a brilliant all rounder. This game showed this. He scored an absolute stunning goal to seal the win, but he also was excellent in a creative sense, creating 6 chances. Another display to show just how good he is for a side that truly loves him. While Illicic has only started 4 games, he’s scored 3 and assisted 3. His numbers are truly outrageous. He takes 3.1 shots, makes 2.6 key passes and completing 2.1 dribbles. He’s truly went under the radar since signing from Fiorentina, and is playing out of this world. He was incredible game. He ended the game with 2 assists, and completed 7 dribbles. He was the best out of the three, but that isn’t to take credit away from Zapata. The Columbian completed 6 dribbles, won 2 aerial duels and took 4 shots. The huge amount of dribbles just shows how interchangable they are. They work so well together and are in hot form right now.

Now onto Inter, who were truly terrible on the day. Each goal was scored because of the mistakes made by the players. Asamoah let Hateboer run completely free and score the first. The second and third were thanks to poor marking at set pieces, with Skriniar and Icardi both at fault. The fourth was a moment of magic from Gomez, so players cannot be blamed there.

The midfield was also weak. Throughout the game, both Illicic and Gomez were constantly allowed to run through the middle. I usually view Vecino as a defensive midfielder, yet he only made a single tackle all game. There was a complete lack of intensity all over the park, and it all resulted in Inter’s humiliation.

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group F

While Group B and C are seen as the groups of death, this group comes incredibly close. 3 teams in this group are similar, yet so different and it will be interesting

Hoffenheim

Hoffenheim are a side that have been getting weaker by the season. But because of an extremely talented coach, have somehow stayed competitive. Even after losing some great players, like Gnabry, Uth, Sule, Rudy and Wagner. Hoffenheim play a brand of football that works to their strengths. They tend to not dominate games and use the little possession they have to quickly counter. Just by the way they play, it means they will able to challenge any team. But one of their issues (as mentioned before when discussing their game against Bayern Munich) is the way they set up leaves them weak on the flanks. Their full backs, usually Schulz and Kaderabek, go very far forward to press. The problem, as seen against Bayern, was the wingers were able to exploit the space that was left, which pulled the centre halves away and left them weak. When their press works, it works so well, but against teams which great wide players, it is difficult. They will do fine against Shaktar, but will struggle against the other sides. They also are suffering from a severe injury crisis. Two of their creators, Demibray and Amiri, are currently on the sidelines, as well as three of their central defenders. It will be difficult to get through with their current injury crisis, so I think they will finish bottom of the group.

Manchester City

The Premier League champions are probably facing and even tougher challenge than last season. They have to try and retain the title, while also trying to compete in the Champions League. City have started the season very well, with only a draw against newly promoted Wolves (a game that the referees ruined) stopping their perfect run. They haven’t been as good as they were last season however. They are seriously missing Kevin De Bruyne in some moments this season. His ability to pick out that killer pass has been seriously missed. While Gundogan is a good footballer, he is just not at the same level as De Bruyne. While City will still cruise through some of the easier games, it’s the games against teams who are similar to their level, like Paris or Barcelona, they will struggle to break them down. But one area they will never struggle in is their wide talent. Both Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane are coming off good games against Fulham. They are excellent wingers for a Pep side. Both are incredibly fast, great at stretching the play and always put in good shot numbers. They will both cause the opposition so much problems. City just have a great squad of players, and players all over the pitch to challenge for places. Pep has built a great team, and will definitely get out of the group.

Lyon

As seen from my Top 5 Talking Points From the Top 5 Leagues, Lyon have been quite frustrating so far. They have shown moments of their best, but then go on to lose games they should probably be winning. They just haven’t been putting teams away. Depay, Fekir and Dembele just haven’t been clinical enough in front of goal. They’ve been averaging around 20 shots a game, yet are only managing 1.6 goals per game. They’re dominating games so comfortably, yet just fail to punish teams. This is team is just so talented and young as well. Their midfield of Tousart, Aouar and Ndombele are some of the most promising midfielders in Europe. Ferland Mendy has started the season in excellent form. He’s already got a goal and assist, and while his defensive numbers are low, he counters that with excellent attacking output. It could be argued that their manager, Bruno Génésio, isn’t exactly the best. While I do not think they set up their defense in a great way, they attack so fluently and quick that he almost makes up for it. I just do not think Lyon are getting out of this group. With their league form so inconsistent, they should be focusing on that, but they still have the quality to get out of it.

Shaktar Donetsk

A regular in this competition in the modern game, the Ukrainian side are back again. While they have lost two good players in Fred and Bernard, they have brought in replacements in the same way they always do. They signed Maycon from Corinthians and Fernando from Palmeiras. Both are under 21 and are currently getting bedded into the squad slowly. Shaktar’s knowledge of the Brazilian league is already known to be deep. They have brought so many Brazilians, like Willian, Fernandinho, Texeira and Fred into the European spotlight. Even with both of those young coming through, they still have their experience. Taison and Marlos both offer flair and cause full backs plenty of problems. Another one of their new signings, Moraes, has hit the ground running. The Brazilian was signed on a free from rivals Dynamo Kyiv, and has already scored 7 in 8. It would make more sense to predict Lyon or Hoffenheim to finish second, but Shaktar Donetsk are in this competition all the time. They have the experience and the talent to beat all teams in this group. They even got out of a group containing Napoli and Man City last season, and even beat the Premier League champions. They will get out of this group, but I could most definitely be wrong.

Final Table

1. Manchester City

2. Shaktar Donetsk

3. Lyon

4. Hoffenheim