Revenge for Bayern? Chelsea vs Bayern Munich – UEFA Champions League 19/20 Preview

This is another of the many tasty clashes in this year’s Champions League. Chelsea’s young and hungry side under Frank Lampard, against a weaker, yet still deadly Bayern Munich team under Hansi Flick. The last time these two met in Europe’s premium competition was back in 2012; a game where Bayern was outdone by an extremely defensive Chelsea. Will the result be the same; or will Bayern get their payback? Let’s find out.

This season for Chelsea was arguably their biggest since Roman Abramovich acquired the club at the turn of the millennium. The Blues were under a transfer ban for breaching UEFA’s rules of signing players under eighteen. It meant they couldn’t offer the near-unlimited pot of cash they’ve been able to offer every season. What made matters worse for Chelsea was the expected departure of Belgian superstar Eden Hazard, which left a massive creative void in their team from the get-go. The team already had apparent issues under Sarri. They only way to address their problems in defence, full-back and striker was from within.

It’s why Frank Lampard’s appointment was genius in a way. It had nothing to do with the football (which was far from perfect at Derby), but the effect it would have for the players, and especially the fans. Chelsea has always come across as having one of the most impatient sets of fans in the league. They weren’t willing to give Conte or Sarri the time needed to improve a group of players that weren’t nearly good enough to win a title. Lampard is a legend at that club, who would at least keep the fans on his side, no matter how bad the performances got. He also seemed willing to play the young players who were desperate to show they had something to offer. Chelsea’s academy had been seen as an afterthought for years, only there to make a profit on homegrown players. The higher-ups at the club always said they wanted to see the youngsters given a chance; which made the appointments of Sarri and Conte baffling. Both coaches who demanded support in the transfer market and who stuck to a small core of players. I just wanted to see Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and especially Tammy Abraham, given a chance in the first team. They all showed how they were good enough to play a full season in the Championship, and in Tammy and James’ case, be the best player on their team.

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The young players have been the story of the season and for good reason, but some of last season’s underperformers have really turned it around. At the beginning of the 18/19 season, a midfield three of Kante, Kovacic and Jorginho looked unstoppable. However, in practice, it didn’t live up the high expectations set by people like me. Originally it was about Kante. Many fans still saw Kante as that midfield destroyer which helped Leicester win the league in 2016. Kante proved he was an exceptional passer, with a high level of match intelligence in making runs into the penalty area. Sarri realised this and turned Kante into the player he was always meant to be. The problem was Jorginho, and especially Kovacic.

Jorginho was criticised for not getting enough goals and assists by many pundits, but that’s not what he does. Jorginho is one of the best in starting attacks. His xGBuildup has always been great, with the Italian top of the Chelsea squad with 11.15. The defensive side of the game was his issue. A lot of teams (Arsenal being the best example) aggressively marked him out of the game, and Jorginho just seemed to lack the ability to change his game and adjust, similar to what the likes of Thiago Alcantara or Kevin De Bruyne would do. Kovacic under Sarri can best be described as restricted; stuck in a system that didn’t allow him to show the best parts of his game. Kovacic is one of the best dribblers in the league but looked uncertain of what he was actually supposed to be doing in Sarri’s system. Lampard has reinvigorated both of these players; justifying the combined £100 million spent on the pair. They’re both playing to their strengths. Jorginho is still starting attacks, as well as putting in a lot of defensive work. Kovacic has looked the player we’ve all wanted to see in England, putting up an insane amount of dribbling and off the ball work. A real asset to the team.

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I’d say Chelsea have performed how I thought they would. They’re in the top four race; given a lot of their younger players minutes and been a joy to watch, especially during the first half of the season. This is where the problems lie for them now. The blues’ overall performances have dropped off a lot since their 2-1 defeat to Manchester City. Since then, the results have stopped coming, and their firm grip on fourth place has loosened. If it wasn’t for Tottenham and Manchester United underperforming, I doubt Chelsea would still be in the Champions League spots. Why exactly have they been a lot worse? Chelsea has had defensive issues all season, but a lot of that is down to the open style they play and Kepa Arrizabalaga being the worst goalkeeper in the league. These issues have been present since the first game of the season. The reason why Chelsea’s form has dropped off is down to their attack, or lack of it. Lampard has managed this team rather poorly in terms of the minutes being shared. It’s the same issue present under Sarri, but a lot worse. Abraham, Hudson-Odoi and Mount have been heavily relied upon through vast stretches of the season. These guys are still really young, and Lampard has looked close to burning them out. Abraham has struggled with slight knocks, which has made his level of performances drop as the match-days pass. Mason Mount started the season in fine form, but he’s looked exhausted over the last couple of months. I don’t want any of them to suffer the same fate as Rashford; a young player relied upon so heavily that his manager will do anything to have him on the pitch, even to jeopardise his future.

Let’s move onto Bayern Munich, who look unshackled under new manager Hansi Flick. The former Germany national team assistant has got this Bayern team pressing again, and the players look a lot happier than under Kovac. There have been some results where Bayern have been unlucky, their draw to Leipzig and defeats to Leverkusen Monchengladbach were games where Bayern had the better chances. It was a classic case where, on another day, Bayern would have left with the three points. Since November 9th, Flick’s first game, Bayern have undoubtedly been the best team in Germany. They’ve achieved the most points, have the best xG difference and are matching their xPTS. Their results are back to matching their high level of performances not seen since Heynckes’ final season.

Besides their increased intensity (they only allow 6.35 passes per defensive action), Flick has transformed some of the players in this squad; either back to or into world-beaters. Let’s start with Muller. The World Cup winner epitomised a great German attacker. He might not be as silky on the ball as Brandt; or as fun and dynamic as Leroy Sane, but it’s hard to argue against Muller being Germany’s most intelligent attacker. The way he finds perfect shooting opportunities in the box or picks his other attackers with a fantastic pass is nearly unrivalled. Muller has always performed, but previous managers simply didn’t know what to do with him. Muller doesn’t have the pace or trickery to play as a traditional winger but doesn’t play like a regular number ten. Flick simply solved this problem by playing him as a winger and a midfielder, depending on the opposition. Coutinho might be better than Muller at many things. But Muller’s pressing and work-rate, combined with his efficiency, making him a favourite of Flick’s. He’s already racked up 14 assists in the league this season and tops the team for shot assists.

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Alphonso Davies has arguably been the breakout star of the Bundesliga. There was an amount of uncertainty surrounding this move. It was interesting to see a prospect from MLS join one of Europe’s elite, in a squad severely lacking in wide talent. But funnily enough, Davies has mostly played as a left-back, allowing David Alaba to cover at centre-back. From performances alone, you couldn’t tell Davies was playing out of position. He’s putting in a lot of defensive work (over 6 tackles and interceptions) while still being a lot of fun in the final third. The Canadian international’s speed and skill have practically given Bayern another winger. Since he regularly starts Bayern’s attacks further away from the opposition half, his involvement in ball progression is apparent. He tops the team for xGBuildup with 13.03 (since Flick’s first game) and tops the team for completed crosses. I don’t think anyone expected Davies to look this good at only 19.

I struggle to see Chelsea advancing to the quarter-finals. Bayern is playing their best football since not seen since before Kovac, and Lewandowski has looked unstoppable. Lewandowski has unarguably been the best forward (that isn’t called Messi or Ronaldo) in the last 5 years. Lewandowski does everything you want from your striker. He takes a large number of shots, with many inside the penalty area, while holding the ball up well in the box. My favourite part of Pole’s game is how he has this art of playing the defensive line to perfection. Lewandowski has scored a lot of goals where you just have to question if he’s even onside; only to watch the replay and see his sharpness shine, always that extra yard faster than his opponents. There have been apparent comparisons between Lewandowski and Timo Werner; the two leading scorers in the Bundesliga. The big difference for me is Lewandowski makes the players around him better. Even when Lewandowski is having an off-day, you can trust him to drag defenders to open up space for his teammates.

If these teams were drawn together during the group stage, I think the match would have been a lot closer. However, Chelsea has gotten a lot worse in attack, while their defensive issues have remained ever-present. Bayern looks miles ahead of their last round of 16 game, being their spineless defeat to eventual champions Liverpool. I have no idea if Flick will remain at the club after this season, but he is an option that is at least worth considering.

 

 

 

2018 World Cup Team of The Tournament – Kante, Hazard, Godin

Now with the tournament coming a close, let’s look at the players who have impressed the most.

Goalkeeper – Thibaut Courtois

No matter how much I wanted to place Pickford here, I cannot ignore Courtois. The big Belgian has been absolutely brilliant for his team. I have always seem Courtois has just a very good keeper, not on the level of De Gea or Oblak, but still a very solid choice for a top side. However in this tournament, he is starting to make me rethink that. Against Brazil, he made a brilliant 9 saves, which is one of the highest amount of saves in a single game. Compared to his club career, Courtois is making more saves in every area of the pitch, showing how this world cup has brought he best out of him. With Madrid looking for a new keeper, it could be what has given him the motivation.

Right Centre-Back – Raphael Varane

While attacking might be a huge question mark over this current France team, what cannot be doubted is how brilliant they are defensively. A huge part of that has been their defensive partnership of Varane and Umtiti, and while the Barcelona man has been very good, it’s his El Classico rival who has been the most impressive. Varane has been the leader in a back four lacking experience. Having a player so young who has won 4 champions leagues is such a positive for the team. Not only has he been a real leader, he has also lead by example. His biggest strength is his athleticism. He is able to recover the ball so quickly and help in counter attacking situations. His performance against Belgium was especially brilliant. He really helped stop Belgium from getting the goal they so desperately needed. Even against Uruguay, he scored the winner to send France to the semi finals. A great tournament from a great player.

Centre-Back – Diego Godin

By far Uruguay’s best player, Godin helped drag a very poor Uruguay team out of their group. Not only was he solid defensively, but was also trying to drag his team forward on the pitch, because of his teammates’s lack of urgency. Uruguay were so good defensively throughout the tournament, and it was thanks to Godin. He was brilliant in all of the group games, and also against Portugal. The defeat to France cannot be solely blamed on him, but he wasn’t at his best that day. Still, he was exceptional throughout the world cup.

Left Centre-Back – Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire arrived in Russia after playing every single minute for Leicester last season. He showed brilliant positional sense and was very good on the ball. While I did think he would have done fine, I never expected to be as impressive as he was. He was especially great in the knockout rounds, easily being one of the best players against Columbia and Sweden. He won an amazing 12 aerial duels against Columbia, and scored the first goal against Sweden. He was one of England’s best performers, and deserves his place here

Central Midfield – N’golo Kante

It’s a testimont to how good Kante, that we now almost have a ‘Kante Role’ in teams now. Players who are given a license to do their defensive work, without disrupting the teams shape (examples being Torreira, Herrera, Ndidi and Allan). He has shown his usual brilliant energy and tenacity, while also adding some real quality on the ball. His biggest criticism was his inability to distribute the ball effectively, however that has changed. Throughout the tournament, Kante would be seen making these huge long balls and driving the play forward. He is now looking like the perfect box to box midfielder. His performance against Argentina was very good. He really showed his opposition how a central midfielder should play.

Central Midfield: Luka Modric

Not even a debate needed here. Modric has been the key player for Croatia. His ability to dribble out of tight spaces, get into great positions to assist his teammates, and his solid workrate have all came in handy for a team already filled with technical talent. Even with all of Croatia’s games going into extra time, he was still able to play through them all, at 32 years old. An incredible player and he will easily go down as one of the best midfielders to play the game in the modern era.

Right Wing-Back – Sime Vrsaljko

While Trippier would be the obvious pick, I’ll be going for Vrsaljko. The Europa League winner has been a key player for Croatia. Filling Srna’s boots is a hard challenge, yet he exceeded expectations. Even with Modric performing excellently and Rakitic also excelling, Croatia still preferred to play a more crossing game. It didn’t bring the best out of their team in my opinion, but Vsaljko still performed. He was a huge driving force for Croatia and was always helping in attack while doing his defensive work. His only assist in the tournament was for that Perisic equaliser against England. A perfect moment for a player who was brilliant.

Left Wing-Back – Lucas Hernandez

While I think Hernandez did perform very well, he is mainly here out of a lack of options. Just looking at the semi finalists, Young didn’t perform, Strnic was good, but not great, and Belgium didn’t have a stand out left back. Hernandez falls right in here. I’m not taking away from him at all. He, like France, were excellent defensively and he even provided some very good width. Playing as a fullback with an inverted wide player in front of him is very demanding, so seeing in still show some consistency in his performances is really impressive. The young defender was averaging 2.3 tackles per game, just highlighting how good he was in his own half. A good tournament from a player who still has plenty of promise.

Left-Winger – Ivan Perisic

Many journalists and pundits seem to be forgetting about the Inter Milan winger. But Perisic has been stellar. Perisic has all the qualities to be a perfect winger. He’s two footed, a brilliant dribbler, can cut inside and is able to create. He showed all of these qualities in the semi final, scoring and assisting to put his team over the line in a real tight game. While he will be remembered for his handball, he was still excellent for Croatia. He ended the tournament with 3 goals and an assist. A great return for a player who is nearing his twilight years. If it wasn’t for Modric, he would be remembered as the stand out performer for the runners up.

Right-Winger – Eden Hazard

While I am completely fine with Modric winning the golden ball, I do think Hazard was the best player at the tournament. He shined in a very fluid Belgium attack. He was absolutely brilliant throughout for Belgium, and performed in every game for Belgium. In their defeat against France, he was by far their shining light, constantly beating his man and attempting to create for his side. He was excellent in the group stages, putting two excellent performances against Tunisia and Panama. He was averaging 2.5 shots per game, 2.5 key passes, and a monsterous 6.7 successful dribbles per game. He was brilliant in every department. He ended the tournament with 3 goals and 2 assists. A great return from the best player at the tournament.

Striker – Kylian Mbappe

The golden boy winner gets place in this team. While leaving out Griezmann and Lukaku is difficult, Mbappe has to be in this team. He was the pace and power for France, who gave them that extra bit of flair in the forward department. What is so impressive about Mbappe is how direct and mature he is. Just comparing him to young players like Rashford and Werner, Mbappe is so clinical in his finishing. He plays like an experienced forward, instead of a teenager. Mbappe has been key for France throughout his tournament. His perfect runs, no nonsense dribbling, and cool in front of goal. He’s been the spark in an otherwise very pragmatic team. He will become a great of the game.

2018 World Cup Debutants XI

The world cup is easily the biggest competition in the world, and on the big stage, it is a big chance for players to make a real impression. I will not be including players under the age of 23, because that will be saved for another list.

GK: Marc Andre Ter-Stegen

It’s actually quite incredible that this will be the first world cup for Ter Stegen. The Barcelona stopper has proven himself to be one of the stoppers around, making an already solid Barcelona defense into an absolute wall. With the big injury to Manuel Neuer, not only will he be on the plane, but he might also be starting.

RB: Dani Carvahal

This is by far the craziest addition, just because of the high level that Dani Carvahal has been playing at for the past 3 years. It is understandable why he wasn’t including. He only arrived back at Madrid half way through the season, after a successful loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen. The four time champions league winner is now one of the best right backs in the world, and now instantly starts for his team.

CB: Marquinhos

The next two players just about qualify for this, but still are eligible. While I don’t rate him as highly as he seems to be, I think he is still a very good defender. This Brazil team, defensively, seems to be going through a transitional period. Thiago Silva and Miranda are both near the ends of their long careers and Dani Alves seems to be finished for Brazil. Marquinhos is still only 24. He has a long career ahead of him in the middle of this strong Brazil team. He needs to be apart of this defense, to add some structure. He could be very valuable for Tito’s side.

CB: Samuel Umtiti

Another who just about qualifies for this XI. Samuel Umtiti has turned into one of the best defenders around. With a Gerard Pique who might be cultured on the ball, but lacks the positional play at times. Having someone so athletic and so confident in the tackle is so handy to have. If he is partnered alongside the equally brilliant Raphael Varane, France should have no issues in Russia.

LB: Danny Rose

While he hasn’t been at his best in recent months, it is still clear Rose is one of the best left backs in the Premier League. His solid athleticism and brilliant contribution in the final third has shown him to be a perfect modern left back. His place is for some reason, still up for debate, but if Gareth Southgate has a brain of any sorts, he is a must start.

CDM: Nemanja Matic

Since Serbia did not qualify for the 2014 world cup, it means this will be Matic’s first World Cup, and about time. The Serbian veteran has been a brilliant defensive midfielder over the years, and now will be his time to serve his country. He has such an excellent ability of reading the game, and most of all, composure. He is such a calm presence, and in a team full of young players, it will be a perfect addition, and a perfect addition in this team.

CM: N’golo Kante

With Kante’s relevance only appearing in 2015, there would have been no chance for him to be selected in the previous world cup. But after his terrific campaigns with Leicester and Chelsea, it is now time to add his brilliant aggression and tenacity to a France squad full of quality. What’s changed since the Euros is his improved quality on the ball. He has went from a very good destroyer, to a pretty good passer on the ball. With this clear improvement, it will add extra to an already well rounded defensive midfielder.

CM: Isco

Another player who was surprisingly left out of the last Spain squad. Even during that season, he was apart of the Madrid team that won La Decima. He has now transformed into one of the best attacking midfielders on the planet. His ability to find those small gaps, and use his close control ability to dribble past opposition players. He has been invaluable to Madrid in recent seasons. His contribution in front of goal had sky rocketed, and proved that staying and fighting for your place is the way to do it. When Verrati says that playing against Isco is harder than playing against Messi, that should tell you enough.

RW: Nabil Fekir

Another France player who didn’t have similar potential to other young players, Fekir has had the season of his life. Even with a horrific injury, he still was able to score 16 goals in the league. He is an absolutely powerful player who defines attacking at full speed. His place in the squad is completely deserved.

ST: Harry Kane

One of the best strikers in the world is going to his first world cup. Kane arrives as one of the most hotly anticipated players. With his future at Tottenham in slight doubt, clubs like Real Madrid might be watching this to see how he handles the big stage, to see if he is the Galactico they definetly need. Even though he didn’t get the golden boot, he still scored 30 goals, which puts him in the top 10 goalscorers in premier league history. He is leading the line for a very interesting England side. This could br his chance to show the world, just like Michael Owen.

LW: Mohammed Salah

Speaking of golden boots, Salah will be his countries hope in a competition they haven’t played in for 20 years. Salah is the talk of the world right now. With his record breaking season, and brilliant performances in Europe, everyone knows the name Mo Salah. He scored the winning penalty to send his country to Russia. He is able to handle the toughest of pressures. With him alone, they could go from scraping to get out the group, to getting to the quarterfinals.