8 Injury-Prone Players Having Excellent Seasons

Let’s look at 8 players who after having a difficult time with injuries, have bounced back this season. Injuries are that part of football that everyone does not want to see. When an player’s fitness and health are so important, the last thing you want to see is someone suffering an injury that will delay their potential in a career that could end in their thirties. Nothing is better to see than a player overcome massive injuries to finally reach that potential we all knew they had.

Sergio Canales

Canales is actually the inspiration for this list. The Spaniard was always seen as a promising player, with his performances all the way back in the 2009/10 season. He scored 6 and assisted 4 in 19 games. For a teenager it was very impressive. It earned him a move to Real Madrid, which saw him only play 293 minutes. Due to such limited minutes, he then went on loan to Valencia. While his minutes did increase to start, this is where the serious injuries back. He already suffered 2 minor injures in Madrid, both being ankle injuries, but nothing to worry about. He suffered a cruciate ligament rupture in October 2011, which resulted in him missing 37 games for Valencia. Things got even worse for Canales, with the midfielder then suffering the same injury a month after coming back, which resulted in him missing 189 days of football. Valencia actually signed the then 21 year old for a reported €8 million and on a 5 year deal. It was proof that they still believed in him. He only started 7 games the following season, which is understandable. He only returned from that second rupture at the start of November, and it takes time to get back to 100% when you suffer an injury that keeps you out for that long. In those brief appearances, he did manage 2 goals and 2 assists. His highlight at Valencia was arguably his performances in the Europa League in the 2012/13 season. Canales scored 2 in 5 starts, and was taking 3.6 shots a gamem the highest of his career. Canales was finally getting the minutes he deserved.

In January 2013, he moved to Real Sociedad, and continued to get the minutes, starting 13 games in the second half of that season. His 2014/15 was notable. It was the first time he started over 30 games domestically, and it was a sign that all those horrible injuries were behind him. Unfortunetly, that same ligament injury came back. In a 3-1 defeat to Madrid in late 2015, he tore ligaments in his left knee. What was most worrying about this was which knee was torn. The other injuries were all in his right knee, which made this injury even more worrying. He missed 266 days of football. While the following season was mostly a recovery process, of trying to get back into the groove of things, he did have a very good 2017/18 season. Like his time in Valencia, his highlight was the Europa League. He got 6 assists in as many starts, and was creating 4 chances a game. He had a very good season overall, but after difficult negotiations with the club over a new contract, he parted ways with Sociedad.

Canales then joined Betis on a free transfer. To say he is in the form of his career is an understatment. The Spaniard has started 21 games, scoring 6 and assisting 2. His numbers are all at the highest they’ve been in La Liga. He’s been taking 2.2 shots, creating 1.8 chances and completing 1.7 dribbles. Canales was always seen as a very Spanish advanced midfielder, so technically gifting and showed great ability at a young age. He was one of Spain’s brightest prospects and is now finally showing why.

Marco Reus 

Marco Reus is another who was highly promising at a young age. he started life at Borussia Monchengladbach, where he shined under current Borussia Dortmund manager Lucien Favre. He was just improving every year, and went from scoring 8 in 27 in the 2009/10 season, to scoring 18 and assisting a further 9 only 2 seasons later. He was arguably Germany’s most talented player at the time, and it seemed he would be a potential player of the year. After that stellar season for Monchengladbach, he signed for then champions Dortmund, where he had a great debut campaign, but it was his follow up season where it seemed he could possibly win the Balon d’Or. In the 2013/14 season, scored 16 and assisted 13 in only 30 appearances. He was seen as one of the best players in Europe, and the only way was up.

So when did the injuries start? Well after his supernova season, he started to pick up consistent injuries. He missed 19 games in the 2014/15 season, a season in which Dortmund massively struggled and missing their key player was the last thing they needed. While he did miss 10 games the following season, it ended on a massively sour note. Reus suffered Osteitis Pubis. It forced him to miss Euro 2016, a tournament which would have needed the flair and speed of Reus on that left side for Germany. After making his recovery the following season, it again ended on a huge negative. In the DFB Pokal final against Frankfurt, he suffered a ligament tear in his knee. It ended a campaign that was full of difficulties, and it forced him to miss 220 days. It didn’t see him return until January 2018. He ended the season very well, scoring 7 in 11 starts, and helping Dortmund qualify for the Champions League. He also finally played in the World Cup, even if Germany were really bad.

We now reach this season, where Reus is finally at his best. After perfoming mostly through the middle in the previous season, Favre decided to play him as more of a second striker, to make sure he gets more involved in play and allows the young wide talent they have to play and flourish. Reus has had his best season since that supernova 2013/14 season. With a side so young across all positions, having a player who has been at the club longer than most is so valuable. Reus has went from that young player to helping ones like Larssen, Sancho, Diallo and Hakimi. With Dortmund having a weird striker problem, Reus has been the goalscoring vocal point for the side. He’s scored 13 in 19, and is looking very good, considering the team he’s playing in. Favre famously just allows his attackers to express themselves. It’s different to how Tuchel and Klopp set up, which were to get the most out of the attackers, and to dominate games from the front. It means Reus is more efficient, but statistically, isn’t having his best season. His dribbling is very low, but since he’s more central, he doesn’t have to be beating men as often as he did as a winger. His shot numbers are still good, and is his chance creation. It’s what happens when you age. You shouldn’t be trying to push yourself as much. Players at Reus’s age are starting to fade, so need to play in a way which still allows them to flourish. While he never reached the potential we all knew he could, he has still became a top player, and needs to be credited massively for being able to come back and perform after such a difficult time.

Ilkay Gundogan

Onto another Borussia Dortmund player. Like Reus, Gundogan showed a lot of promise at a young age. He shined at Nuernberg, playing as a central midfielder is excelled in the final third of the pitch, being able to create and score. He scored 5 in 24 for his side, and helped Nuernberg finish 6th in the Bundesliga that season. He then signed for title winners Borussia Dortmund, clearly as a replacement for Nuri Sahin, who departed for Real Madrid. He was so good in their success of keeping hold of the title, that it was as if Sahin never left, but just got a lot faster. He was putting in 5.1 tackles and interceptions that season, and was even creating 1.5 chances a game. It showed he was a very well rounded midfielder, and it highlighted him as one of Europe’s future superstars.

So when did the injuries start? Well 2 seasons later, on the opening day of the 2013/14 season, Gundogan unfortunately suffered an awful back injury. It meant he was forced to miss more than a year of football, and like Reus, forced him to miss the 2014 World Cup, and watch his country win from the sidelines. When he signed for Manchester City in 2016, he told Sky Sports, “I was really scared, and I didn’t know if I was ever able to play football again.” Out of all the players on this list, his injury might be one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Spinal injuries are much harder to perform surgery on, because of how vital they are in how your body moves and functions. It’s an experience I wouldn’t want any player to go through. After Dortmund deciding to offload the midfielder, he was sold to Manchester City. After starting 15 games in his debut season, including 6 starts in the Champions League, another injury faced Gundogan. In late 2016, Gundogan was forced off with a ligament tear in his knee, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.

After all these set backs, Gundogan is not the same player as he used to be, but that has not stopped him from contributing to one of the best sides in Europe. With Fernandinho and David Silva all aging, and Manchester City going far in so many competitions, it has given Gundogan a very important spuad role to fill. He is able to fill in every midfield position, and has scored 5 goals in 14 starts in the league, and has become a very important player to Pep. Let’s hope he doesn’t face another long term injury in his career.

Luke Shaw

While the other 3 players might be as discussed as they should be, a majority of football fans are aware of what happened to Luke Shaw. When he broke onto the scene under Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton, he was seen as the future England left back, since Ashley Cole was finally aging out, it was time to be finally replaced. Young Shaw was actually in the team of the season in that 2013/14 season. he started 35 games that season, the most of his career. He was only 17 at this point, which shows why he was seen as the future. He was averaging 1.6 dribbles per 90, the only time he has averaged over a dribble in his career. He was also creating a chance a game and was also putting in 3.2 tackles and interceptions per 90, the highest in his career domestically. These weren’t just good numbers for a young player, but a player of any age. It’s what lead Manchester United to break the record for money spent on a teenager, and was hopefully going to be a mainstay in that United defence for more than 10 years. However his first season under Louis Van Gaal wasn’t great. As the likes of Depay, Varela, Januzaj and Blackett will all know, Van Gaal has a very dated approach to dealing with young players. There’s an element of if you don’t perform, you’re out. It’s an attitude that saw all players leave during or right after Van Gaal’s tenure. Luke Shaw struggled just like the others, but things were looking good for the young defender in his second season, which saw him start the first 9 games of the season, and look like he had rediscovered his form that earned him a move to Old Trafford.

Then that game against PSV Eindhoven took place. With only 15 minutes on the clock, Luke Shaw makes a bursting run into the box, and was taken out by Hector Moreno. The tackle was not a pretty one, and it resulted in the young England full back suffering a leg break. When Shaw is asked about this injury, he mentions how he nearly lost his leg if he didn’t have surgery. Just when you watch this injury back, you can just see how seriously hurt Shaw was by that tackle. It’s by far one of the worst injuries that I’ve ever seen and it was going to take a miracle for him to recover.

Shaw returned from injury by the beginning of next season, and he faced his biggest challenge on the pitch, being Jose Mourinho. The three time Champions League winner seemed to not like him in the slighest. It lead to Shaw only starting 9 games that season, during a time when Manchester United didn’t have any other real left back option. After Shaw came off the bench to help United salvage a point at home against Everton, Mourinho came out after the match saying “Shaw used his body with my brain” and was one of many moments where Mourinho seemed to show his dislike to the former Southampton player. Their relationship didn’t improve, with Shaw only starting 8 games the following season, and many United fans were starting to lose patience. He didn’t seem to want to get into the team and fight for his place, and a lifestyle that showed a player who wasn’t in the rush to get in better shape. He was one of many players United fans wanted to see leave the club last summer.

These opinions all changed after that first game of the season against Leicester. Shaw scored and put in a solid performance to boast. He was one of very few United players to not down tools when the results were getting bad. This even continued under Solsjkaer, who has kept him in the side. Shaw has started 23 games this season, more than he’s managed in the last 2 campaigns. I don’t think he has been excellent, but he’s at least playing. He’s looked great defensively, but just needs to contribute more going forward. He’s only completing 0.8 dribbles per 90, but has proved at Southampton that he can do much better. United finally have a left back with dynamism and future, something they’ve lacked since a young Patrice Evra. He will stay at the club for a long time if he keeps up this new positive attitude.

Santi Cazorla

Santi Cazorla has got to be one of the most technically gifted players the Premier League has ever seen. He was one reason why Arsenal’s chance creation was so good during Wenger’s latter years at the club, and ability to find space and pick out the right pass made him their best player that season. I hold the firm belief that if Arsenal did not sell Robin Van Persie that summer, they would have won the league in the 2012/13 season. City, Liverpool and Chelsea all underperformed, and Man United lacking Van Persie wouldn’t have touched that trophy. A lot of Arsenal’s players truly stept up that season, with Podolski, Walcott, Gibbs and Arteta all having their best seasons for the Gunners. Cazorla however was arguably the best player in the league that season. After losing Nasri, Arsenal needed a new creator, someone to help all of these talents score the goals to replace those lost by the departure of Van Persie, and Cazorla fitted that bill. Not only did he replace Nasri, but he made the entire side even better, and must go down as one of the best bits of business Arsenal have ever made in the Premier League era. If Bale didn’t go supernova that season, Cazorla would have won the player of the season. The Spaniard scored 12 and assisted 11, taking 3 shots a game, creating the most chances and completed 2.3 dribbles. He even put in 3.7 tackles and interceptions, putting in the perfect midfield performance. He played every game that season, proving just how vital he was for the Gunners.

This importance did slowly decline once Mesut Ozil arrived, who instantly became their best creator, but that didn’t stop Cazorla contributing. He was moved into wide areas of the pitch, to accomodate their new record signing. However Cazorla still remained effective, scoring 4 and assisting 8 for his side. He was less productive, but since he wasn’t the main focus of the side anymore, that is understandable. He was then moved into a deeper position in the 2014/15 season. Arsenal were suffering from a lot of injuries in midfield, with Ramsey, Flamini, Wilshere and Arteta all missing out in the season. It forced Wenger to recall Coquelin and start Cazorla as a defensive midfielder, and Cazorla still performed great. He massively helped Arsenal in transition and helped get the ball up the pitch much faster. Coquelin gave the Spaniard plenty of protection and concerntrate more on attacking. He lead the team in assists and was key in their FA Cup win.

So when did the injuries start, well Cazorla always had the occasional knock, but nothing like the ankle injury he would receive. He already had ankle damage before. It began all the way back in 2013, where he received damage on his ankle. Even after that injury, he still had a lot of pain in his ankle, but it reached its limit in October 2016, where the worst 2 years any player has experienced. Cazorla missed 618 days due to injury, and it was through multiple problems in his ankle, the worse being a bacterial infection that was eating away at his ankle bone. The injury was so bad, that doctors in London had no idea if he would be able to play again. Those doctors are to blame for a horrible end to a footballer’s career. This infection was there all the way back in 2013, yet they had no idea. Surely a club the size of Arsenal would have a medical team that would at least be able to spot and treat a problem that has halted a great career.

He has since left Arsenal to join boyhood club Villarreal, where he been excellent. He’s started 18 games in La Loga, scoring 4 and assisting 5, so let’s hope he can end his career on a high.

Danny Ings

The final Premier League player to be on this list. Danny Ings has had a potentially solid career delayed thanks to two awful knee injuries. Ings was a promising player during his time in Burnley. The forward was a big reason why they got promoted in the first place, he scored 21 goals in 40 games, which was the driving force for their promotion. He then had a pretty solid debut campaign, scoring 11 in 35 for a side who were destined to go down. his form earned him a move to Liverpool, who at the time just couldn’t make good business. With Ricky Lambert and Mario Balotelli leaving the club after not adding the goals Liverpool hoped, they decided to bring in Ings and Benteke. Both just weren’t good enough for the club. Underwhelming business like this was a reason why Rodgers was eventually sacked, and in came Jurgen Klopp. He seemed to not like Benteke in the slightest, who was eventually sold the following summer. Ings had a bigger problem however. After starting 3 games, he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury, which resulted in the forward missing the rest of the season. What made things worse for Ings was he suffered another knee injury the following season, only 3 months after recovering from his last injury. It forced him out for another season. After having minimal impact in the 17/18 season, he decided to depart the club.

I thought a loan move at the time would make more sense, just to show other clubs that he can play consistently over a season. He was a massive gamble no matter where he was going, but Southampton were the ones who ready to take that risk, signing the English forward for £16 million. Ings has been a hit in South England, getting 8 in his first 14 games. He was a favourite for Mark Hughes and now with Hassenhuttl. He is taking 2.5 shots and creating a chance a game, good numbers from a player in desperation to finish a season. He has truly bounced back after years of injuries.

Ondrej Duda

Arguably the most unknown on this list, Ondrej Duda is currently playing for Hertha Berlin, and is having the best season in his short career. The 24 year old signed for Hertha back in 2016, and had a very miserable 2 years in Germany. He arrived from Warsaw with Pantella problems and didn’t have an impact in the first season and struggled in his second season with confidence. Since he wasn’t playing, it made adjusting to life in a new country so much more difficult.

However this season he finally seemed to be reaching his potential. He’s scored 10 goals and assisted 2 in 21 starts. He’s won Hertha so many games this season. including a massive win over Schalke away from home. He scored 2 goals to beat last year’s runners up. While he is definitely riding hot (he is expected to be on roughly 4 goals), it is still nice to see a player contributing to his side after so much problems.

Max Gradel

And finally we have to talk about Max Gradel. The winger has had quite a tough time in recent years. His injuries began back in 2013, where near the end of the season, he suffered a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out for 6 months. He did improve and scored 17 goals in just 31 appearances (23 starts) and earned himself a chance to shine in England, signing for Bournemouth in 2016. He had a real tough time, suffering from another ligament injury, which kept him out for another 6 months. When a club is trying to stay up, they need players like Gradel, someone who is able to add an element of unpredictability to a side. He is arguably their most exciting signing since their promotion, and it’s a massive shame he just didn’t work out.

He has been absolutely fabulous for Toulouse. He arrived back in France in 2017, and has given them a fighting chance in surviving relegation. He has scored 10 and assisted 4 in Ligue 1, and is completing 2.4 dribbles and taking 3.4 shots, numbers similar to before he moved to England. He has finally found his form and it’s good to see him contributing massively again.

Conclusion

While the last few might seem rushed, it’s because they haven’t had the same long history as Canales and Reus have had. This was originally going to be 10, but because of this taking way too much time, it had to be cut. Hope you enjoyed regardless.

 

5 Teams Who Are Surprising Their League

With the season underway, let’s look at a handful of teams that are currently under the radar, and performing exceptionally well. It’ll be one team per league.

Bundesliga – Hertha Berlin

I covered Hertha Berlin and their surprise victory over Bayern Munich, so let’s go into a bit more depth. Hertha finished in a very underwhelming 10th. They drew 13 games, which showed how maybe they were unable to put the nail in the coffin in certain games. Their priority going into this season was to add more goals in the side. And I’d say that was achieved. They are currently sitting in fourth, with the same amount of points as Bayern. Their great form is down to a few players. But by far the stand out player has been young midfielder Javairo Dilrosun. He was signed on a free after being released from Manchester City (another player excelling in Germany that maybe City might be regretting) and he has truly been great. He has already scored 2 and assisted 3. While he would prefer to play in the middle, he has been excellent on the left of a 4-2-3-1, playing alongside Ondrej Duda and Soloman Kalou. What’s important to note is that he is still only 20, meaning that there is still parts of his game that needs improving. His 1.2 key passes, in a side that averages less than 50% possession, is impressive for his age. What else has actually impressed me is his work rate. The Dutchman is putting in 2.2 tackles and interceptions in an advanced possession, showing how he isn’t afraid to do the hard yards for his team. XG shows how he is definitely overperforming, with Dilrosun only expecting 1.55 assists this season. It means there is a chance that he might be unable to keep up this great early form he’s showing. But it is still good to see a young player showing good performances in a top league. Another who has performed very well (that isn’t Ondrej Duda) is Valentino Lazaro. The full back’s move was finally made permanent, after initially being on loan at Hertha. I’ve already said so many times that the full back position is by far the most important position in football at the moment. It is a position that is in such high demand, and can give so much in attack, to free the players in front to drift in to more central areas. With Marvin Plattenhardt on the left, and Lazaro on the right, it gives Hertha a great foundation to build on. Lazaro has already scored and assisted 2 this season. While his attacking output is clearly effective, with 1.2 crosses and 1.8 key passes per 90, his defensive work is not being left behind, with the Austrian completing 4 tackles and interceptions per 90. If he keeps up this brilliant start, some bigger clubs (and hopefully not Bayern) could be coming in for him. Hertha Berlin have a real chance to compete for European football this season. With both Schalke and Leverkusen looking a shadow of their former selves, it could be a chance for Hertha, and Mönchengladbach, to really fight for that 4th spot.

Ligue 1 – Lille

Ligue 1 has gained a reputation for having a very clear one horse race (farmers league is strangely used very often). While I understand why, with Paris having such a superior team compared to their rivals, it doesn’t mean the other sides are necessarily bad sides. Both Marseille and Lyon are very good (as proven with the former getting to the final of the Europa League last season, and the latter beating champions Manchester City away from home). However both have started the season in such mixed form. Marseille had a 3 game run, where they started to look so good. However after losses to both Lyon and Lille, there are still question marks. Lyon have the same problem. They are such a fun side, yet have stuttered throughout their start this season. The team I’ll be discussing today is actually in 2nd, and deservedly so, and that is Lille. The former Ligue 1 champions have recovered after a dreadful 2017/18 season, which resulted in them finishing 17th, thanks to a terrible start under Bielsa. Their squad needed a refresh, and with the huge sales of Bissouma, Amadou and Malcuit, it left them with plenty of cash to spend. They spent their money wisely, and now look to be back to their best, thanks to an entertaining style of play, which includes taking the second most shots a game (14.9), which even betters the league leaders (14.3). They almost through the kitchen sink at sides, and thanks to two certain wingers, Jonathan Bamba and Nicolas Pepe, they seem to have those two magicians, who have the flair and quality to put you over the line. Their most impressive victory so far was easily their win over Marseille. While the Europa League finalists did rest a few key players, including Dimitri Payet, but that doesn’t hide the fact that Marseille were humiliated by a better side. Both Bamba and Pepe were excellent in the game, with both scoring in the game. They have both scored 5 goals in 8 games, and both look to be the next best thing to come out of Ligue 1. Pepe is taking the second most shots in the league, with only Fekir taking more shots in the league. What’s most impressive is that a crazy 2.9 shots are taken inside the area, meaning not all of his chances are being wasted. He is a big reason on why Lille have been so good this season. For the sake of the league, I seriously hope they can keep it up, and at least challenge for a European spot.

La Liga – Sevilla

After the departure of Jorge Sampaoli, Sevilla dropped off a cliff. They were so unorganized last season, with their goal difference dropped from +20 down to -9. They went from an organised side into a side who could score a goal, but would struggle to hold the lead. After the sacking of Montella (a manger who was fired twice in a single season), they appointed Pablo Machin. The Spaniard did excellent work with Girona, making them one of the best defensive sides the division, in their first season. He would hopefully help organise Sevilla, while also using their new attacking signings, like Silva and Promes, to continue to score goals. They have been so good this season. With Barcelona looking like they will continue as champions, and Valencia looking unable to win games, it could give Sevilla a chance to sneak right back into the champions league. Goals have been a key component on why they are looking so good. They already have scored the second most goals from open play in the league, with only Barcelona scoring more (a team that beat Huesca 8-2). Machin has played a 3-5-2, with The Spaniard playing a very attacking side, with both Sarabia and Banega starting in midfield. However their stand out performer has to be Andre Silva. The Portuguese international had a horrid time in Milan, where he only managed 2 goals in the entire league campaign (he did do pretty well in the Europa League however). He has already outscored that record, with Silva already scoring 7 goals in 7 games, contributing to 44% of Sevilla’s goals. He has shown every quality we knew he had to perform at the top level. His performance against Madrid was especially great. He was so quick, strong and powerful against the Champions League holders, and put in a man of the match performance, scoring 2 goals in their 3-0 win. His stats this season highlight his excellent form. He is taking 3.1 shots per game. That is already a great amount, but what’s most impressive is where he’s taking his shots. 2.1 of those shots are coming inside the penalty area, showing how the chances he gets are good chances. Seeing a striker score a goal a game, and get in good positions doing it, proves how this isn’t luck, but in fact ability. Another player who deserves a mention in Jesus Navas. During his time at Manchester City, he used to be one of my least favourite players in the league. While his speed and dribbling were useful in beating full backs, he just had zero end product, and it was frustrating to watch a premier league title challenger put up with such inconsistency. However he has been very good at the start of he season. Navas has played his football on the right midfield, where it is his responsibility to stretch the opposition defense, which would leave space for either Silva or Ben Yedder to exploit, or to create a goalscoring chance. He has done plenty of the former, with the Spaniard already assisting 3 goals. He is making 1.6 key passes, while also taking 1.1 shots per game. He has been an important piece for why Sevilla have been so good at the start of the season. Win the fun style of football they play, coupled with their goalscorers, who are currently in excellent form, Sevilla could seriously shake up La Liga again.

Premier League – Wolves

The promoted teams this year in the Premier League have been very interesting. Cardiff have looked absolutely hopeless, as if they gave up before even starting. Fulham have at times looked good in an attacking sense, but have been very poor defensively so far this season, already conceding 14 goals, one less than Cardiff. But Wolves, however have started so well. After walking the Championship last season, many expected the club to invest in the summer, and improve and add the quality that is necessary to stay in the Premier League. They haven’t went too crazy, like Fulham, and have at least tried, unlike Cardiff. Their first bits of genius was signing both Diego Jota and Willy Boly on a permanent basis. They were excellent last season and already know what Nuno will want in the following season. However their best bits of business were some of the best in the whole of Europe. Because of the drama surrounding Sporting Lisbon, they were able to sign Rui Patricio on a free transfer. It was just incredible at the time, being able to bring in an elite shot stopper to a newly promoted side. João Moutinho was later signed for only £6m. A bargain for a player with great technical ability and has had plenty of experience in Europe’s most elite competition. They have yet to make a single change in their starting eleven, being the first side in premier league history to play their first 9 games without making a change. Nuno sets his side up in a 3-4-3 formation. He likes to use his midfield pairing of Moutinho and Neves, to sit deep and protect the back four, while then moving the ball through the wing backs into the front 3, where Raul Jimenez is used as vocal point (thanks to his incredible aerial ability) to link the attack together. While they have been relatively okay in attack, it’s in defense where they have easily been most impressive. They have only conceded 5 goals this season, and that is thanks to a very organized defense, which only allows only 11.6 shots per game, which is better than Tottenham, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace. While all of their back three have been impressive, Willy Boly has carried his championship form into the new season. He’s putting in 4.1 tackles and interceptions, winning 3.3 aerial duels, and has a solid pass accuracy of 83%. Another stand out player has been Matt Doherty. He is another individual who has shown so much for his side in the new season. Both him and Jonny have been very good, but the Irishman has arguably been one of the best full backs in the league so far. He has already scored and assisted 2 this season. While his 1.3 key passes is in fact very impressive,

Serie A – Sampdoria

I’ve already covered Sampdoria quite a few times, so I won’t go into the same detail as the others. Sampdoria have been excellent since the start of the season. They have excelled and proven some surprise results, including a huge 3-0 victory over Napoli, and a 5-0 smashing of Frosinone. What they have excelled at his providing their two front men. Both Defrel and Quagliarella have been a great partnership so far, with Quagliarella assisting his team with 4 assists, while Defrel has scored 42% of his side’s goals, with 5. They play a narrow 4-3-1-2, which ensures they are able to dominate the game. Having an experienced player like Quagliarella helps with linking up play, means it can make attacking much more unpredictable. Another player who has stood out has been Lorenzo Tonelli. The former Napoli player has been very solid since his arrival. While his defensive work hasn’t been massive, his distribution has been excellent, with his 84% pass accuracy. While I would like to get excited, like the other teams here, but I really don’t think they can keep it up. They rank in the bottom half of Serie A for shots in the penalty box, meaning they aren’t creating many great chances. Another reason is their main striker Defrel. While scoring 5 goals is impressive, he has hugely been overperforming. Expected goals shows how he should be on roughly 2 goals. He is very clinical at the moment, but his shot numbers are all incredibly low for a forward, with 1.6 being its highest. Good strikers get at least 2.5, while elite forwards get even more (Messi touches around 6). While they should be commended for their form, it could only be temporary.

Barcelona Won’t Win the Treble because…. Top 5 League Talking Points

There were plenty of big games to discuss this weekend, so let’s get straight into it.

Bundesliga – Bayern finally lose. Nagelsmann’s new Vs old.

The Bundesliga was very interesting this week. It shows how that even though Dortmund fought from behind to beat Leverkusen, and to top the Bundesliga, that they aren’t even the main two talking points. Let’s begin with Bayern, who lost their first league game under Niko Kovac, losing to an inform Hertha Berlin side by 2 goals to 0. It was mostly a deserved win for Hertha, who took advantage of a very mediocre Bayern display. Bayern had 25 shots, but only 5 on target, with Lewandowski getting the best chance of the game when it was 0-0. Expected goals had Bayern at 2.41 because of the sheer amount of shots they had. It doesn’t excuse individual errors however, with Boateng making such an unnecessary tackle to give Hertha the first goal. Duda has continued his excellent start to the season by scoring his 5th goal of the season. But the stand out performer for Hertha was their full back Lazaro, who made 5 interceptions and got the assist for his teammate. He did everything you expect a full back to do in the modern game. Kovac set his team up in a 4-1-4-1, but when looking at the average player positions, Both Robben and Ribery were playing near Lewandowski. It looked more like a 4-3-3 in the end. Maybe Kovac wanted them further back to limit the effects of the wingers, who knows, but it was clear attacking was their priority. Renato Sanches was another who wasn’t so impressive. Kovac has put a lot of faith in the Euro 2016 winner, after his disastrous spell in Wales, and his first season struggles in Germany. It has mostly paid off, but in this game he was very poor. While his defensive work in a game where Bayern had 69% possession is irrelevant, you want Sanches doing more in a creative or attacking sense. He didn’t make a single key pass or even a cross or long ball. He was a passenger and just didn’t contribute enough in the game. It was a bad day at the office for Bayern, and no the pressure is on.

Nagelsmann had a very awkward day in the office, with his Hoffenheim side playing his future employers RB Leipzig, where he saw his current side lose 2-1. Leipzig played this game very well, using the very intense style of Hoffenheim to their advantage. Werner was used effectively in dragging Akpoguma wider, which gave Poulsen room in that space to run. He had an excellent game, scoring both goals for the away side. He also made 4 key passes, completed 7 aerial duels and had 3 shots on target. Poulsen had always been a useful player, but never a consistent scorer. He already has 3 goals this season, which is one less than his entire tally last season. If he keeps it up, he could finally prove he is ready for the top level. However Hoffenheim were not at their best in this game. While it was very close, their just didn’t have the players upfront to put them over the line, in the same way Leipzig do. Both Szalai and Belfodil only managed a single shot on target between them. It does give something for Julien Nagelsmann to look forward to, when he gets his hands on that RB Leipzig team, and most importantly their scouting network, they could be a real home for young players and talented ones alike.

La Liga – Another draw for Barca. The Madrid Derby.

The top of the table just seems to keep getting interesting, because it seems no one wants to be there. Barcelona had to win this game, to get that advantage over their Madrid rivals, who played each other later in the day. They didn’t do that however, and ended up having to scrape back a goal to draw against Athletic Blibao. Valverde continues to puzzle me with his strange tactical decisions when choosing his side. With Umtiti injured, it left only Pique and Lenglet as viable options for the game. While both are good defenders, neither have the incredible strength and athleticism that their French teammate possesses. Valverde’s team selection really only baffled me further up the pitch. Why play Roberto in midfield, when you’d think Semedo would come in to give him a rest for the Champions League tie against Spurs? You’d think playing Rafinha would make more sense. The forward line was the most baffling of all. He left Malcom out of the squad entirely. Why? This was a perfect chance to rest Suarez and Messi, and start a forward line of Dembele Coutinho and Malcom, to see if playing all three could still work. Yet he decided to play Suarez again. Suarez is still a useful player, but is not near the level he was when he arrived. He takes less shots and just doesn’t offer as much as others in build up. I said in the title that Barcelona will not win the treble they should probably be aiming for, and this is why. Valverde seems to have no idea how to please all of these players and how to correctly use his squad. Busquets, Pique, Messi and Suarez have been so important over the recent years, but they are all over 30 now, and need to be managed right. Valverde has not done that, and I could mean a struggle as the season goes on. A poor result and another baffling decision from the Barcelona manager.

The hotly anticipated Madrid Derby didn’t go to plan, with the game ending in a 0-0 draw. This is the fourth time in a row where this game has ending in a tie, with the last victory going to Madrid 2 seasons ago (famously remembered for Ronaldo’s hat trick). While it did end goalless, there is still plenty to talk about. Let’s begin with the goalkeepers. Jan Oblak has been the second best goalkeeper for a while now, and further showed that against Real. He made 6 saves in the game, including an excellent one to stop Asensio from scoring. Courtois also had a good day against his former team, with the Belgian making 2 great saves to stop both Costa and Griezmann from scoring. Both clubs are blessed with elite stoppers, and is one reason why their defense can always be relied on. Two other players who were good on the day were Toni Kroos and Rodri. Both midfielders are playmakers, yet from different generations. One is a world cup winner, the other was signed from Villarreal in the summer and called one of the signings of the summer by myself. Atletico have had a bit of a midfield problem to say the least. Since Gabi’s departure, they have not been able to fill the void that their talisman left. Rodri since a great controller, usually averaging over a 90% pass accuracy, and is also able to do his defensive work. He showed both against Real Madrid, He had the highest pass accuracy in the game (excluding substitutions of course), put in 6 tackles and interceptions, and made a key pass. It was an overall solid performance from their young Spaniard. On the other end of the spectrum, Toni Kroos put in one of his usual performances. There was plenty of creating and passes, with Kroos completing 103 passes, and making 4 key passes. Anther solid showing from an established star. After this draw, it leaves both Madrid sides and Barcelona in real contention for the title. It is still very difficult to predict.

Ligue 1 – Lille Smash Marseille. Monaco at Rock Bottom.

Ligue 1 is turning more into a one horse race as the season is going along. Lyon just struggle to consistently gather, Marseille still look weak away from home, and Monaco are just a mess ( oh we will get to them). Let’s start with Marseille, who were truly humiliated against Lille, who won 3-0 at home. It was a real bad performance from the away side. Payet didn’t play this game, neither did Sanson, Amavi or Mitroglou. I criticised Mitroglou last week, but Germain wasn’t much better. The Frenchman didn’t even manage a shot all game, and just showed how ineffective Marseille were in the final third. While they were very lackluster in the final third, it was defensively where they were at their worst. Both Gustavo and Mandanda have away penalties, that looking back on, they should have never given them away. Both were reckless and are experienced enough to not be giving away penalties like that. That isn’t to take anything away from Lille however. While two of their goals were penalties, their third goal was an absolutely great team goal, and just showed why they deserved the win. Both Bamba and Pepe were key for the home side again. Their forwards have not been firing, so seeing their wide players contributing so well must be a relief. It’ll be interesting to see how both Bamba and Pepe continue to perform this season. Many top sides are always in need of wide talent. It they continue their great run of form, it could result in a big move for one of them. Both have started every game, and have scored 5 goals each. They have been electric. Lille now sit in 2nd, ahead of both Montpellier and St Etienne. This could finally see their return to the big time.

Monaco just cannot get a few wins together. They lost another game on Friday, this time to St Etienne by 2 goals. This wasn’t as bad as some of Monaco’s earlier performances, with both Falcao and Adama Traore having good chances to put the visitors ahead, but failed. St Etienne were very clinical on the day. They won the game thanks to an excellent performance from Kazri. The Tunisian was in hot form in this game, scoring two brilliant goals to put his side ahead. St Etienne did deserve the win, if not a bit lucky that Monaco are just in this much of a rot at the moment. Monaco were very wasteful in this game. Both Diop and Falcao managed 9 shots between them, yet only got 2 target. Falcao especially was poor in this regard. He had an excellent chance to put his side ahead with a chance at the near post, and missed it. It’s hard to say where Monaco go from here. They now sit at 18th, with only 1 win this season. Their model of selling and replacing with upcoming talent just hasn’t worked. They’ve only managed 8 goals this season. They haven’t been nearly as good as last season. Let’s hope Jardim can turn this around. For all he’s done for that club, he at least deserves that.

Premier League – Embarrassing Mourinho. The Best Draw

I think there is no where else to start but Manchester United. The club is currently at its worst since Fergie left. While the club were clueless under Moyes, boring under Van Gaal, they are now an embarrassment. You have the manager and the best player making constant drama off and on the pitch, a board and chairman who care more about the profits than actually competing for trophies, and a manager that is so bad at his job, that this is his last job at a big club. This is the third time in a row that Mourinho has had the dressing room turn against him. There is no big club that will look at him and think he is worth the constant investment over a long period of time. Anyways, back to the game. Mourinho set up his side in a strange way. He played a 3-5-2 with Matic, Fellaini and Pogba as the three. The problem with playing this is Fellaini and Matic are just not athletic enough. It’s a formation where plenty of ground needs to be covered and both the attack and defense needs support. Matic has not performed for months, and nothing else needs to be said about Fellaini at this point. I don’t know why Mourinho is refusing to play Fred. The Brazilian might not be complete package, but he is very energetic and wants to contribute in the final third. A midfield of him, Pogba and Herrera would be pretty perfect in a 3-5-2, but Mourinho didn’t opt for that. His favouritism towards Fellaini, Matic and McTominay has resulted in the three of them getting more games than they probably deserve. Neither of them are good enough for the club, yet because the manager likes them they get games. It left United with a mountain to climb before the game started, because West Ham had an advantage. It didn’t get better, with United conceding in the first 5 minutes. He played McTominay in a back 3 and it his lack of experience showed. Why is an apparent great tactician playing a player with very limited ability in a position that barely any player could fill. He was asked to play in central defense, a position he can’t even play, yet he’s being thrown in there by Jose. The attackers were left isolated, and even when given chances, they just didn’t show anything related to drive and urgency. This is not to take anything from West Ham. They were great on the day and outperformed United in every position. Their sudden transformation into the side we all expected is such a pleasure to see. Many critics, like myself, praised the club for finally conducting the right business in the summer, and it seems to be finally paying off. A terrible day for José Mourinho, and a great day for the victors.

On a more positive note, Liverpool and Chelsea possibly produced one of the most entertaining draws in a while. It was end to end, entertaining, and probably deserved more goals than it was given. Liverpool for most of the game were more of a threat, with Salah, Mane and Firmino quickly hurting Chelsea, and taking advantage of their advanced fullbacks. Firmino especially was very good, making 4 key passes and making 2 tackles. He did everything we expect from the Brazilian at this point. However while their forward three was productive (and arguably very wasteful), their midfield was mostly anonymous. While Milner continued his excellent form and put in a good performance away from home, his teammates, Wijnaldum and Henderson, were anonymous. Henderson will have these games where he struggles to get involved, and it can pass him by when the pressure is on. He, however, was not nearly as bad as Wijnaldum. The Dutchman is not exactly my favourite around, in fact I think he is average at best. This is a game where he showed it. He didn’t do anything in defense, and didn’t contribute anything in attack. He offered nothing in a game where Liverpool needed to make a statement, and instead reminded me why he cannot be relied on in touch away games. He seems to lose his spine when he isn’t playing in Anfield. Chelsea had a similar issue. Because of the speed in which Liverpool attack, it was difficult for Sarri’s side to play the game in the way they wanted. Kovacic did have a very good game however, getting the assist, while also putting in 3 tackles. This game was everything the neutral, like myself, wanted. Let’s hope there are more. It leaves the both of them, and Manchester City in a very tight place, where if any of them slip up, it could be difficult to catch the leaders.

Serie A – Ronaldo’s Big Performance. The Rome Derby

Serie A had an excellent few fixtures to look forward to. Let’s start with the first big title deciding game of the season, where Juventus came out 3-1 victors over Napoli. While Juventus were the better team, it wasn’t completely smooth sailing. Mertens took advantage of a poor Leonardo Bonucci mistake, and stuck his side ahead. However thanks to a great performance from Ronaldo, Juventus eventually got the result they wanted. It was a very selfless performance from the Portuguese international, having a key involvement in every one of their goals. It was his perfect cross which gave his side the equaliser. It was his shot that gave Manzukic the tap in for second, and his second half strike that Bonucci taps in. He is paying back that €100m by every game he plays. His big performance is what put Juventus over the line. Selfless is not exactly a word which is best described for Ronaldo. He has always loved being the central figure of every side he’s played for, but in this game he had drop wide, and help his side in every way. It was just as good as seeing him score a great hat trick. This leaves Juventus comfortably ahead of any rival, as expected. It means the champions league must be top priority. It is the trophy that alludes Juventus. Their team is capable, and with many of the top sides over Europe currently in transition periods, this could be their chance.

And last but not least, the Rome Derby, which saw Roma defeat their local rivals Lazio by 3 goals to 1. It was a great game and it just showed how much this game means to the players and fans. Every player put their full effort on that pitch. Roma did deserve their win. The first goal was thanks to some great hold up player thanks to Edin Dzeko, and finished with a nice back heel from Pellegrini. After Immobile got Lazio back in the game, a delightful free kick from Kolarov put the home side back in the lead. Roma were great on the day. I have been doubting Di Francesco recently, unsure if he really is the man to push Roma to that next level. Roma have been really good recently, proving maybe it was an over exaggeration from myself. I still have my doubts on how he sets up his defense, but his forwards are scoring plenty, which is why their form has been so good recently. I do feel that Lazio will not be as entertaining as last season, with Anderson and De Vrij both leaving the club, but they will still compete for that top 4 spot. Roma need to sort some of their defensive issues if they are to compete with Napoli for the best of the rest, but it will be interesting to see.

5 Players Who Have Started the Season Well

While there have only been around 5 games in each game played, there are already players who are in electric form. So let’s go through some players who have had good starts to the season. There will only be 1 player per Top 5 league, to add variety.

Ligue 1 – Dimitri Payet

Starting in France, Dimitri Payet has to be here. While Paris have won every game they’ve played (no surprise there), it does take a lot more to impress me, because of their superior talent. But Payet is by far good enough to play for them. He is has been the key player in a Marseille side that has been incredibly interesting to watch. Marseille over the last couple of seasons have transformed into a team that was Europe’s next giant to fall, into a side that are only on the way up. Marseille have mostly been making smart business. It was something I would not have expected, with most new owners trying to fix a team instantly, but in Marseille’s defense, they’re signings have been very good. Just last summer, Marseille signed Amavi on a permanent for only £9m and brought in Kevin Strootman to replace the outgoing Zambo Anguissa for the same price. They have a blend of solid players and players with a lot of skill. Payet is the lynch pin for the whole project. The ex West Ham midfielder has been a sensation since his return to Marseille, and has continued his form into this season. In the first 5 games, he has managed 3 goals and 2 assists. Payet has been one of the best creators in Europe since 2014 and has shown it, making an incredible 4.4 key passes per game this season. A huge issue for Payet himself over the last few years is the lack of talent in front of him. His incredible creative ability has been wasted with average talent like Germain, Mitroglou and Andy Carroll being in front of him over the years. It makes it even more impressive to see that Marseille have already scored 14 goals in 5, which is 2.8 goals a game. Payet is the reason why Marseille are so good going forward, and will continue to be vital in that area. If he can stay injury free (which has been a problem for him at times), then he could drive Marseille into the champions league positions.

Serie A – Allan

There haven’t been any outstanding performances from forwards so far this season. Ronaldo hasn’t hit the ground running as expected, Icardi is yet to score a league goal, Dybala’s game is getting sacrificed for Ronaldo’ benefit, and Immobile has only managed a goal so far. Looking away from the forwards, there has been one midfielder who has excelled so far this season, and that is Napoli midfielder Allan. The Brazilian has been one of the best ball recovery players, and also one of the best carries of the ball. He is excellent at quickly transitioning play and hitting an opposition quickly. This season has brought out some more qualities out of Allan. Napoli have looked weaker since the departure of Jorginho, because his replacement just hasn’t been performing for me. Don’t get me wrong, Zielinski is a good player, but I don’t he suits the role of controller of the game. He is a better attacking midfielder, who takes a lot of shots and helps the forward three. It just comparing Jorginho and Zielinski this season, the Pole has been dispossessed 1.6 times, while Jorginho only 0.8 times. I bring this up to show why Allan has performed so well. Allan has had to do even more work in middle of the park to compensate for the loss of his midfield partner. Allan is putting in nearly double the tackles in from last season, from 2.8 to 5.5, but because of his high tackles numbers, he is committing more fouls (with Zielinski losing the ball more it’s clear to see why). Even creatively he has improved, with his key passes doubling to 1.6. While Napoli have not shown their best this season, it’s good to see their most industrious midfielder still playing to his best.

Bundesliga – Ondrej Duda

It might be strange choice, but with Bayern being their usual boring perfect self, and Dortmund starting okay, it’s actually Hertha I’m most impressed with. They sit at second place with ten points, and after getting seven points out of Mönchengladbach, Wolfsburg and Schalke, they have to be given some credit. This form will not be consistent, but I’ll give credit where it is due, and the player that gets most of the credit will be Ondrej Duda. The Slovakian has scored 4 goals in 4 games, and there are a few things to be impressed by. The first seems to be his versatility. He has started already in central midfield and in the no 10. Being able to play in both positions does tell you a lot about the player, and the importance of him in the team. But what’s most impressive for the player must be that he has started the season in general. Duda’s time with Hertha has been nothing but injuries. He only managed 9 starts last season, after struggling with fitness. Seeing the player finally put a string of games together is great to see. After his brace against Schalke, he came out and said he doesn’t think he ever scored more than a single goal in a game before. It just goes to show how good he is playing at the moment. His performance against Schalke is the one I’m going to highlight. Lazaro said after the game that Duda’s game was to put pressure on Sebastian Rudy and to make sure he is ineffective, and to see that Rudy only made 18 passes with a bad 61.7% pass accuracy, he clearly did his work. He also scored both of the goals, with the first showing his how good he is at late runs into the box, and the second being a brilliant free kick. He was by far the best player on the pitch, and has been the best player in the Bundesliga so far.

Premier League – Eden Hazard

Not even a debate here, Hazard has been absolutely incredible since June (where he was robbed of the player of the tournament), and has carried that form on into the new season. He has already scored 5 in 6 games so far this season, which included his first hat trick in 4 years. Hazard is a player that just doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His ability to perform under so many different manager’s just shows his talent and flexibility. Players like Alli, Sterling and Zaha are great players in the system they play, but Hazard is able to perform under any manager. He is by far the best attacker in the league. The problem for Hazard is the managers he’s played under. Guys like Benitez, Mourinho and Conte are all defensively minded managers. He has never been able to express himself under an attack minded coach, until now. Sarri is playing him in the Insigne role (his job to create and score) and he could even be performing better than the Italian. Hazard no longer has the sole responsibility of driving the team up the pitch, because of Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic all having plenty of control in the midfield, meaning Hazard does not have to drop so deep. His numbers this season have went supernova. While his dribble numbers have dropped, it’s because he is staying further up the pitch now. He doesn’t have to drop so deep to receive the ball anymore. His shooting numbers have went up from 2.1 to 2.7. His passes per 90 have went from 32 to 57, his pass accuracy as went from 83% to 88%. His key passes have stayed roughly the same too. There is still a question mark on whether he can keep these numbers up, mainly because Sarri still needs time for system to be perfected. I am not doubting the player at all, but Sarri needs time and it could mean some inconsistent performances from Chelsea. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses this season.

La Liga – Ousmane Dembele

While Bale and Benzema have been excellent at the start of the season, I’m going for Ousmane Dembele. The world cup winner has started the season brilliantly. He didn’t have the best debut season after his £135.5m from Borussia Dortmund. He suffered an injury that kept him out for 3 months, and then Valverde just wasn’t playing him. He stuck to a very safe 4-4-2, which didn’t give much of a chance to Dembele. But Valverde has changed it up this season, going to a more Barcelona style 4-3-3, with a front 3 of Messi, Suarez and Dembele. He has been excellent this season and is finally showing his worth after many doubted him. Dembele is chiefly a creator, not a scorer. But is doing both at the moment. He already has 3 goals in 5 games. His ability to beat a man and pick one of the other forwards is by far his best skill. His stats show just how well he’s been performing for the Champions this season. He has been making 2 key passes per 90, taking 2.8 shots, completing 50% of his dribbles, and completing 1.2 crosses per 90. He’s just had a great start, and for the sake of football Barcelona, let’s hope he keeps it up.