Why So Many Crosses? Real Madrid vs Manchester City – UEFA Champions League 19/20 Preview

The final battle of the round of sixteen, and it might be the best one. Real Madrid, the only team to win the competition three times in a row; against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, the best attacking team in Europe. Will their attack be enough to overcome their defensive instabilities, or will Madrid return to the winning machine we saw during Zidane’s tenure. Let’s find out.

We’ll start with Los Blanchos, who have arguably been the best team in a rather weak La Liga season. Real Madrid are the second best defensive team in the league, only behind their city rivals for xG against. They’re second in the league for shots against, with the league’s surprise package of the season, Getafe, being the only side bettering their 9.2 shots against per game. Madrid restrict their opponents to poor shots, which is different to the defensive performances seen during Zidane’s final year. Madrid were heavily reliant on Ramos or Varane to bail them out of poor organisation. Now they’re more of a cohesive unit, able to surpress the best attacks in Spain.

What’s helped Madrid a lot is improvements in personnel. Ferland Mendy has become the starting left-back for the club and while he isn’t nearly as fun to watch going forward as Marcelo, he’s younger and has the pace to recover; something Marcelo simply doesn’t have anymore. Courtois has gone from a underwhelming to above average again, and Carvajal has returned to his best.

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It’s in midfield where personnel has been a factor, with the way Zidane has managed to make them functional deserving plaudits. I criticised Madrid for not buying a midfielder in the summer, while allowing both Kovacic and Ceballos to leave the club. It left the midfield without balance, and put even more pressure on Casemiro to do the hard yards for Kroos and Modric. I expected Zidane to keep playing the same midfield trio he did during those successful Champions League wins, even with Modric now 34 and far past his best. Yet, he’s surprised me again. Casemiro has been the best defensive midfielder in Europe this year, putting in an insane amount of defensive work for the team and even contributing in ball progression; with no one in the squad completing more through balls than Casemiro’s 6.

Casemiro has been sensational, but Fede Valverde’s involvement in the team was the balance needed to compliment Casemiro’s defensive work and Kroos’s ball progression. Valverde is obviously not the player Modric was four years ago, but he is exactly what Madrid need. He has the energy to cover the distance, and is the only player in midfield who can press. Valverde isn’t the flashiest, but is comfortable in possession and does the defensive work needed to help carry some of Casemiro’s load. The 21-year-old has played in a majority of the big games, and wouldn’t surprise to see him start against Manchester City.

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Real Madrid have always garnered a reputation for having some of the best attackers to ever grace the game. However under Zidane, it’s arguably been the most boring and unimpressive part of their game, even when Ronaldo was still there. Madrid’s main outlet for attacking is crosses. No other team in La Liga has completed more crosses than Zidane’s team. It’s always baffled me why they do it. Crossing is famously one of the most ineffective ways of scoring goals, and only works when you have a team of excellent passers. Madrid use their full-backs for a majority of creativity, with Carvajal and Ferland Mendy completing a combined 13 crosses into the penalty area in La Liga. It might not sound like a lot, but crossing is an unproductive use of possession. If looking at quantity over quality, Mendy and Carvajal have attempted roughly 122 crosses, which means they have around a 10% success rate.  (These have to be taken with a pinch of salt. I’ve used fbref.com to find the crosses into the penalty area and whoscored.com to find the amount of crosses attempted. Nevertheless, the point still stands).

Their style of crossing can perfectly define their attack this season: quantity over quality. Madrid are top of the league for shots taken per game with 16.02, nearly 3 shots more Villarreal, who are in second with 13.42. Top teams should always be the ones racking up the most shots, since they’ll be dominating games and have more of an opportunity to do so. The volume is good, but the quality is not. Their non-penalty xG per shot is at 0.10, placing them seventh in La Liga and behind their classico rivals Barcelona with 0.13. Zidane has gone down the logic of if we create enough chances, no matter the quality, we’ll eventually score. This does work against inferior opposition, but without Ronaldo, this just isn’t as effective. Benzema has been great this season, but the question marks surrounding his finishing quality persist. Luka Jovic could be that guy, but right now it makes Madrid a team with all bark but still without the bite.

Let’s move onto Manchester City. It’s hard to talk about the champions without discussing their upcoming European Ban after constant Financial Fair Play problems. Unfortunately, this is an area where I don’t have a full opinion on, based on the fact I don’t know the full extent of the rules and the full story; it simply isn’t my area of expertise. We’ll stick to the football, where it’s the best in Europe at times, and frustrating at others.

Pep’s quest for creating the perfect attacking has reached a new peak this season. With Kevin De Bruyne back and fully fit, It gave City their best creator back. Bernardo Silva did a fantastic job in filling for De Bruyne, while adding that extra bit of energy in midfield, but lacked the same level of creativity his Belgian teammate could offer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better passer in the Premier League than De Bruyne. His vision and way he can hit a pass just perfect for one of the forwards to reach it in the box is pure magic. It’s not even on the eyes where De Bruyne blows me away, but in the numbers. He’s top of the league with passes into the penalty area and 11th for passes into the final third, showing just how influential he is for not only chance creation, but ball progression as well. He comfortably leads the league for assists with 17, making De Bruyne incredibly likely to beat Thiery Henry’s record of 20, by quite a margin.

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The most interesting part about Manchester City’s attack is, like Madrid, crossing. Even excluding De Bruyne, Manchester City do possess some of the best passers in the league, and have looked to beat teams through the elite passing ability of their players. City comfortably top the league for crosses attempted and completed. This has worked in a way.  Having De Bruyne sending the balls into the far post is cheating slightly, since he’s so good at it. I still don’t like crossing as a main method for scoring goals, but it’s hard to deny City have the talent to pull it off, even if they shouldn’t do it.

The Belgian playmaker’s success does dovetail quite nicely to why City have just been so far behind Liverpool in the league. Luck does definitely play a part in this. City have underperformed both in xG for and against. There have been some games (both games against Spurs are perfect examples) where City have dominated the game and created enough chances, but failed to score the decisive goal; mostly down to poor finishing.

However, it’s defensively where the issues are most apparent. Just starting with the backline, Manchester City have faced a massive injury crisis. Laporte suffered a long term injury; when combining that with Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones struggling to find form all season, it leaves City with a lot of uncertainties at the back. Fernandinho has had to cover there for most of the season. The Brazilian is very old now, and while he’s still great, his aggression and issues in the air become more apparent when playing further back.

Manchester City’s very long pursuit for a new defensive midfielder to replace Fernandinho took far too long, which ended up with them spending a lot of money on Rodri when they could have gotten him a year earlier for far cheaper. That’s another topic entirely, but the adaption period hasn’t been as smooth as expected. Rodri and Fernandinho are very different. Rodri is a better passer, more physically dominant and of course, younger. The issue is his lack of speed and just lacks the experience of his Brazilian teammate. City face a lot of counter-attacking opportunites and having someone with the in-game awareness of Fernandinho, massively helped in supressing any potential goals. He regularly put in a foul, just to stop any attacks materialising. Rodri does actually commit a lot of fouls, but not in same vital way that Fernandinho did, instead doing it out of desperation rather than reading the situation.

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Rodri wouldn’t be as much of a problem in midfield, if it wasn’t for the attacking dominance. As mentioned, Pep has sought to keep getting the attack better, even at the cost for defensive solidity. Their 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at home epitimised the Champions at their worse. They consistently left themselves vulnerable to counter-attacks; arguably Manchester United’s biggest strength in attack. It’s baffling because it seemed Pep was desperate to protect his team from counter-attacks, but has instead increasingly left them more open. Pep’s side has the joint worst xG per shot against in the league, alongside West Ham United. City give up the ball rarely, but when they do, they constantly give their opponents great scoring opportunities.

De Bruyne is a problem in this regard. Guardiola has tried to adjust his lineup, in an attempt to give De Bruyne a free role in attack, and cover for the space he opens up for his general lack of defensive work. Playing Rodri as a single pivot just doesn’t work against teams who can punish them with counter-attacks. Pep has switched to a 4-2-3-1 in a handful of games this season, playing Gundogan alongside Rodri, but this hasn’t lead to much success either. City will always be vulnerable to counter-attacks, but I’ve never seen a Pep team look this bad when caught out of possession.

This tie is so difficult to call because even after looking at both teams, I still don’t know who will go through. Madrid still have the experience of winning these knockout games and could take advantage of how poor Manchester City is in defence at times; but Benzema could have one of his off-days and not be decisive enough in front of goal. Man City have the best attack in Europe and could simply overwhelm Madrid. I’d probably back Madrid to win both legs, especially with how unlucky City have been at times this season.

The Best Team in Europe? – UEFA Champions League Preview 19/20 – Group C

Arguably one of the least competitive groups in the competition. It’s undeniable who will top the group, but that second place is still very much up for grabs.

Atalanta 

After missing out from a playoff defeat back in 2017, Italy’s new hipster club are finally making their first appearance in the Champions League, and they fully deserve it. Atalanta have been one of the best sides in Italy for the past 3 years, credited for their attacking football and the value they’ve managed to uncover from a wide variety of talent. Back in the 2016/17 season, they were also famed for the young players they were producing. The likes of Franck Kessie, Roberto Gagliardini, Andrea Conti and Bryan Cristante all flourishing at the club. Atalanta seemed like the breeding ground for both Italy and Europe’s next generation of footballers, with the 4 players mentioned now playing for Italy’s more established big clubs. 

What last season did show was not only how Atalanta should now be considered one of Italy’s most dangerous sides, but just how they are doing that. Instead of focusing on young talent, their primary focus seems to be getting the best out of players who were written off by other clubs. This ability at finding value in the market made their 3rd place finish, with the best attack in the Serie A, even more impressive. Their front three revolves around Duvan Zapata, Papu Gomez and Josep Illicic. The trio are all over 28 and were brought in for a combined £22.05 million, some of the best value for money you’ll see. Gomez and Illicic play as inverted playmakers, given free roles to create for Zapata, as well as score themselves. While Gomez adds that unpredictability and skill to forward line, Zapata was by far their best performer last season. I can’t stress enough just how good his teammates were at creating chances for the Colombian, but Zapata’s knack for shooting in generally good positions turned those chances into goals. A majority of his goals were coming from inside the six-yard area, whether from set-pieces or from open play. These players can cause any side in Europe a lot of problems, and I fully expect them to bring their A-game to the rest of the teams in their group. 

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There is more to Atalanta than just their attack. In fact, their midfield has remained a force even with the departures of Kessie and Cristante. Remo Freuler and Martin De Roon combined to form a midfield pairing focused on winning the ball but remain adept at progressing it to their gifted attackers. De Roon’s massive defensive output does deserve praise, but Freuler is comfortably the best out of the pair. The Swiss midfield combines massive defensive actions of 4.4 tackles and interceptions alongside over 9 deep progressions, placing him in the top 10 in Serie A for progressions from deep. The pair cover the wide areas of the pitch so effectively that it has enabled their wing-backs to push up and give Atalanta width. 

While I can expect Dinamo and Shakhtar to have a shot at escaping this group, La Dea is by far the favourites to finish 2nd. A great coach in Gasperini, the best attack in Italy, a solid midfield and marauding wing-backs, they could indeed turn the heads of many casual fans.

Dinamo Zagreb

The Croatian side has garnered a reputation for producing some of their country’s best talent. Luka Modric, Matteo Kovacic, Mario Mandzukic, Dejan Lovren, Marcelo Brozovic and Marko Rog all played and eventually departed to join some of Europe’s elite. Dinamo Zagreb’s production line earns more plaudits than the actual team, but the team do deserve some praise. Their performances in the Europa League last season were excellent, topping Group D and going undefeated in a group containing Fenerbahce and Anderlecht. A Round of 16 departure to Benfica is respectable enough, considering they managed to take the Liga NOS champions into extra-time. They brought the same impressive form to their qualification, easing past Rosenborg, Saburtalo and Ferencvaros. They’ve earned their place here and were always going to struggle to get out of the group based on Dinamo being in a low pot. 

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Dinamo has a chance to get to the round of 16, but it rests on the form of Dani Olmo. The 21-year-old is a player who I have a lot of respect for, possessing the courage to leave La Masia at 16 and move to Croatia. It’s not a path you see Spanish players take, but joining Dinamo Zagreb must be a decision he doesn’t regret. It allowed him to start playing first-team football at a young age, enabling him to develop as a more refined player than you see from other players at his age. Olmo has primarily played as a winger but has recently moved inside, which is the best move for his future. He is calm under pressure and can dribble in wide areas. Playing him in a wider position does make sense when Olmo wasn’t fully developed as a man but has grown and increased in muscle, making him even more challenging to dispossess. Last season in the Europa League group stages, Olmo completed 19 dribbles, more than any other player in the competition. He isn’t just the best player in Croatia but is at the level where he could start for an established Champions League club. The young midfielder has a varied skill set, being an excellent dribbler while also being one of the most prominent distributors in the Dinamo side, with no other outfield player completing more than his 33 passes per game in the Europa League. He is everything for Dinamo in the attack, and his form could decide their outcome in this year’s competition. 

Manchester City 

Manchester City is placed in a group where their chances of losing or near the land of impossibility. It’s hard to argue against Pep’s side is the best in Europe. They boast the best forward line, some of the best creators and one of the best goalkeepers. Not only that, but they are managed by one of the best managers the game has ever seen. Many like to lambast Guardiola for the money spent on fixing this side, but you can’t argue just how much better a lot of these players have become since moving to the Etihad. De Bruyne is now one of the top 5 players in Europe, Bernardo Silva is far more than just a good winger, and Sterling has been completely transformed. This Manchester City side is the best the Premier League has ever seen and is likely to retain the title once again. 

Man City already had the best team in Europe but went about improving the only weak areas they possessed, by bringing in Angelino and Rodri to cover Zinchenko and Fernandinho respectively. Angelino is unlikely to start often in the league, but gives that needed depth for next to nothing, after Fabian Delph departed the club. Rodri was the addition that the champions required since 2017. City lack proper central midfielders. David Silva, Bernardo and De Bruyne play there, but they’re more like free-roaming 8’s. Gundogan and Fernandinho are all they had, so signing a successor to their Brazilian powerhouse was the most crucial signing in recent history, and they have nailed it with the Rodri’s arrival. While the Spaniard isn’t nearly as quick as Fernandinho, he has a vast range in passing and puts in a lot of defensive actions. At the moment, he isn’t as good as Fernandinho, based on the fact that the Brazilian can do everything in midfield. However, he is now 34. Pep has consistently evolved his defensive midfielders. Busquets was a fantastic passer and reader of the game, and one of the main reasons Barca have been so good in attack for over a decade. Arturo Vidal was different, being more of a box to box, aggressive ball-winner to help against sides like Dortmund under Tuchel. Fernandinho is similar to Vidal but could read the game on a higher level than the Chilean, sensing danger and stopping attacks through a well-timed tackle or a tactical foul. It’ll be interesting to see how Rodri grows into the role, but it’s hard to deny that Pep’s side is somehow even better than last season. 

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Depth at centre-half is a slight issue, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Walker or Fernandinho fill in there until Laporte’s return, but City should ease through this group. This isn’t to say the teams in group C are weak, but City is that far ahead of the competition. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against the elite clubs when the knock out stages arrive, but for now, this shouldn’t be much of a challenge for City.

Shakhtar Donetsk

Shakhtar, similar to Atalanta and Dinamo, have garnered reputable status as one of the best feeder clubs of Brazilian talent. Fred, Willian, Fernandinho, Douglas Costa and Alex Teixeira are a handful of players who flourished in Ukraine, eventually moving on to star-studded leagues. Yet, Shakhtar’s reputation in Europe is pretty respectable, even with some glaring off the field problems, primarily down to tensions between Ukraine and Russia. They’ve been a mainstay in the Champions League since their first inclusion back in 2001, and have even gotten as far as the quarter-finals in 2011, losing to Pep’s Barcelona. They also managed to win the UEFA Cup back in 2009 and reached the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2016. They have European pedigree and mostly kept their side from last season together, alongside some improvements. Yevhen Konoplyanka arrives after having a torrid end to his time at Schalke and could add some creativity and pace from the wide areas, with Taison and Marlos both 31. 

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The Ukrainian side does have a chance of getting out of this group. They have started the season in perfect form under new coach Luis Castro, winning all 6 games. They are against a Dinamo side who are heavily reliant on a single player and an Atalanta team who have never played in the Champions League before. Shakhtar has performed well under more stringent circumstances, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see them finish above their competition. That said, I do think they will finish in the Europa League spot. Their best players are now another year older, and I’m unsure how long they can keep performing in Europe. They’ll perform well, but it won’t be enough against two sides, who in Atalanta and Manchester City, have a more talented group of players and better coaches.

Where Do Atletico Madrid Go From Here?

While most of the transfer news this summer is focused on Real Madrid, it seems we’ve all forgotten about their local rivals. Last summer, Atletico spent a huge £141 million in an attempt to overtake a defensive Barcelona side and a Madrid side who lost their top scorer. This high spending included £63 million on Monaco winger Thomas Lemar, who could add some creativity from the wide areas they desperately needed. When adding these extra additions on top of the established players, it seemed this was one of Atletico’s best chances of reclaiming La Liga.

This season has not turned out as expected for Atletico. While finishing behind a Barcelona side that continues to be dragged by arguably the best player to ever play the game is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s more in the manner of the finish. They spent so much money on improving an attack that became slightly predictable, relying heavily on Antoine Griezmann to drag them through a lot of games. Nothing seems to have changed in that regard. Griezmann was their top scorer with 15, as expected, but when looking at who is behind him is troubling. Morata is second with 6, and behind the Spaniard is Saul, Correa and Godin. It’s been a consistent issue we will cover later. They’ve scored fewer goals (55) compared to last season (58), and there have been a lot of games where their lack of attack has let them down. Their start to the season displays this perfectly, with a lacklustre draw to Valencia and a poor showing against Celta showing Los Rojiblancos beginning to decline.

Let’s look at the team, piece by piece, to see where it has all gone wrong for Simeone’s side, starting with the defence. The beginning of the season saw the departure of Sime Vrsaljko. While he had a fantastic World Cup with Croatia, he didn’t show the same quality at club level and in hindsight, seemed wise letting him leave. This brought the arrival of Colombian right-back Santiago Arias from PSV. The defender has shown himself to be a good defender while also being a great attacking option with solid chance creation and decent dribble numbers. He arrived for a fair price of £9 million and would hopefully replace Juanfran. While Arias has started 20 games, 2 more than his Spanish teammate, it should be higher.

This nicely leads on to the biggest problem with Atletico Madrid, being the game time to the senior players. Simeone is by far one of the best defensive coaches in Europe. He has built a side that hasn’t conceded over 30 goals in the league since the 2012/13 season. That’s 6 seasons of a nearly imperious defence. This backline has remained consistent with Godin, Juanfran and Luis all being part of the same squad that won the league 5 years ago. While they have aged relatively well, this season has highlighted how they aren’t the same players. Atletico have slowly been facing more shots per game each year. This season, they faced 11.4 shots per game, a slight increase from last season where they faced 11.7, the season in which they changed grounds which would take time to adjust. During the defence’s peak years (2014-16) they were facing less than 10 shots per game, never allowing their opponents to get in good positions thanks to their wide players overloading the central areas and making chance creation very difficult. Atletico have been getting worse defensively, and it is mostly down to the defenders ageing. The three players mentioned earlier are all now over 33. They are so far past their prime that is has hurt the rest of the team. While Luis and Juanfran were never fantastic attackers, they at least gave the side width in the final third, but they cannot do that anymore. They aren’t able to cover the same ground as they once could. They have had to be protected and has resulted in the rest of the team suffering. I can sympathise with Lucas Hernandez suffering from knee injuries all season, but when you allow Jonny Otto and Theo Hernandez all to leave in the last 2 seasons then that same sympathy turns into criticism.

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Their midfield has been very good thanks to the arrival of Rodri and Thomas Partey having an excellent season. While both are not as good in transitioning the ball as you see from Ndombele and Anguissa, they are great at recovering the ball and quickly moving it to the more talented attackers. Rodri has truly been fantastic. He arrived being defensively solid while possessing a great passing range and has brought this to Atletico. He has effectively replaced Gabi while keeping the same aggression and bite he gave to Atleti during his best years. However, they are facing a massive problem being both players are likely to leave this summer. Bayern Munich and Manchester City are both looking to sign Rodri this summer with his release clause making him available for €60 million. Partey is available for a reasonable price, with his £43.5 million buyout clause making him a prime target for Arsenal and Manchester United. It would leave the club without their starting two midfielders, players who formed a solid partnership in midfield.

While their defence has been getting worse, it’s their attack that is by far the biggest problem. To say that Simeone has struggled with pacey players who rely on good dribbling and flair to contribute in attack, is an understatement. When looking at some of the players he has signed in the past, guys who arrived with high expectations but immediately were dropped in favour of more disciplined and less exciting players. Yannick Carrasco, Nico Gaitan, Gelson Martins and Diogo Jota all have left the club in recent years and it does highlight how unwilling Simeone is in changing how his side play in the future. He’s always preferred playing central midfielders in wide areas like Saul, Turan, Koke and Augusto Fernandez. While this approach did work earlier on in Simeone’s time at the club, it has made them far less threatening than they could be. Atleti have had some good talent arrive at their club, but Simeone has always been unwilling to use them. Thomas Lemar is the latest to suffer due to the manager’s lack of ambition. While the Frenchman has dropped off since that title-winning season for Monaco, it’s easy to see that he is struggling in such a pragmatic system. His chance creation and dribbling has reached a career low, and only managed to contribute to 6 goals in 29 appearances in La Liga, not the output you expect from a player who was brought in for over £60 million. While Lemar’s struggles could be down to the player, Gelson Martins suffered even more by the hands of Simeone. The Portuguese international only started a single game in the league for Atletico. This was a talented player who was brought in at a cut-price due the off the field antics that took place at his former club. He was an added bonus on top of a summer which saw improvements in the squad. Simeone instantly deemed him insufficient and Martins departed in January, where he had a good end of the season with Monaco. With Carrasco falling out with the manager and Gaitan rarely being given opportunities, it displays a destination that any winger should avoid unless they want their career to stagnate.

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At the beginning of the season, their centre forward options were a problem. While Griezmann remained productive as ever, it was his striking partner that was the issue. Diego Costa’s return to Madrid will go down as one of the worst signings of the decade. They signed an ageing forward for £60 million, who has been awful. This season, he has been taking 1 shot per game, less than Partey and Saul. He’s creating less than a chance and winning far less aerial duels than he should be. His shambolic form resulted in Morata’s arrival. It’s Los Rojiblancos third attempt at signing a Spanish forward from Chelsea, and so far it’s their most successful attempt. Morata has been superb since his return to Madrid, scoring 6 in 13 starts. He’s adding that aggression and aerial dominance that Simeone has been desperate for since Mandzukic’s departure back in 2015.

While Morata was a bright spark, another player who seems to be struggling is Angel Correa. The Argentine has been a promising player since his arrival from San Lorenzo back in 2014. He has always been a very good dribbler who could cover multiple positions but has failed to establish himself as a regular starter. While he did play 36 games last season, he only started 20 games. Considering the lack of pace in the side, you’d expect him to start more. When he’s started, he’s been very good, completing 3 dribbles per 90 and taking 1.5 shots from the right midfield. These numbers are really promising and show a player too good to be sitting on the bench. It was rumoured back in May the forward has offers on the table and he should leave the club. Correa is 24-years-old and isn’t a prospect anymore. He should be moving to a club that will start him regularly, so he doesn’t waste the best years of his career.

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With Griezmann, Godin, Juanfran, Felipe Luis, Hernandez, Rodri, Partey and Correa all having futures certainly or potentially away from the club, it leaves a massive rebuilding job for Atletico. While this defensive style has been renowned and praised since Simeone’s arrival, it seems many forgot what won Atletico the league back in 2014, goals. Last season they conceded the most goals since that memorable title win, but the difference was they scored 77 goals, a number that still hasn’t been beaten since Griezmann’s arrival, arguably their best forward this decade. As the players Simeone loved and trusted all began leaving the club, he seemed to sacrifice goals in an attempt to prevent conceding them. Simeone needs to stop setting his team up in such a pragmatic way. Scoring 50 goals isn’t enough to win a league dominated by attacking sides. It’s worrying that there is a possibility that his legacy at this club could be tarnished thanks to this defensive first football. His side has always been defensive, but they used to be able to score goals and play a good style of football. Even with all of the talent leaving this summer, I trust the club to adequately replace them but the same trust cannot be placed with Simeone in pushing them forward to finally reclaim the title they’ve been desperate for.

10 Best Signings Across Europe

After recently discussing every premier league side’s best signing, let’s look at the rest of Europe. One issue with living in the UK, is how little European transfers are covered unless they are huge ones (e.g Ronaldo or Neymar) so it’s important to try and keep up with all of them. Let’s go through ten of the best signings in the rest of the continent.

10. Tanguy Ndombele – Lyon

I might have mentioned before, but the amount of incredible midfield talent around now is just astounding. The likes of Modric, Kroos, Busquets and Kante will all go down as greats of the game. Even in young talent, it is clear that the amount of midfield talent seems never ending. One of those said young midfielders is one I’ll be highlighting right now. Lyon signing Tanguy Ndombele for only €8m is just insane business. This is considering that the young Frenchman was one the best midfielders last season. Lyon have recently been finding some absolute brilliant young players. In the current squad, they have the likes of Aouar, Depay, Mariano, Tousart and Diakhaby all have been excellent since given more prominent roles in the team. It has given these players a chance to express themselves and perform at the top level. Ndombele has easily been the most stand out player in that team however. He did a perfect box to box role for Lyon, being solid defensively and brilliant in moving the play into the final third. Ndombele was putting in 3 tackles and interceptions last season, very good numbers from a guy who’s responsibility wasn’t defensive minded. What is most impressive is his key passes and dribbling. He has an astonishing 78% successful dribbles, beating £56m signing Naby Keita’s 56%, and even averaged the same key passes. While 1.4 doesn’t sound as high as other midfielders, it’s important to note that it isn’t his main focus. The Frenchman is an all rounder, the fact that it’s over 1 just shows how much of a real prospect Ndombele is, being able to do just everything. Lyon have a world beater in their team, and he could be seen as a future signing for one of the top clubs in Europe. But for now he must continue to perform at Lyon, and to see if he is able to keep this incredible level of performances up.

9. Rodri – Atletico Madrid

Speaking of incredibly talented midfielders, the signing of Rodri from Villarreal should play a huge involvement in Atletico’s title challenge. While this is technically a January signing, he didn’t arrive until the summer. One of Atletico’s issues recently has been replacing Gabi, a player who has been the physical embodiment of Diego Simeone on the pitch for so long. He is a very hard player to replace, but they might have just found the guy. Rodri had an excellent season for Villarreal last season. He was a key player for the yellow Submarine, and was excellent in defensive midfield. It is crazy just how similar both Rodri and Gabi play. Both average very good defensive numbers, and also are excellent passers. Rodri was averaging 65 passes per game with a 90% accuracy. For a 22 year old, being able to be that good on the ball is very promising. He even averages 4.4 long balls, showing his brilliant range of passing. It even betters Gabi’s 85% accuracy. Rodri also does his defensive work, averaging a very good 3.2 tackles and interceptions per game. Rodri is a real talent, and he arrives at a time when Atletico need a player like him the most, a guy who will keep possession effectively, while also protecting the defense effectively. While it will take years before he will have the same influence on the pitch as Gabi did, he is still the perfect guy to replace him on ability.

8. Aleksandr Golovin – Monaco

Russia were a bit of a surprise package at the world cup. The hosts arrived with a team missing key members, and expected to not get out of the groups. However they progressed further than all would have predicted. One reason for this was the brilliant performances from their advanced midfielder Aleksandr Golovin. The CSKA midfielder was one to watch at the world cup, but still exceeded expectations. While he was very good at the world cup, he was still very good last season. Golovin excels as more of an attacking midfielder (less Ndombele more Aouar). He was averaging some very good numbers last season. He was taking 2.1 shots per game, showing the threat he was offering in front of goal. It is important to not that 1.6 of those shots were taken outside of the box. Not only does he shoot from distance, he also took the free kicks for CSKA last season. His dribbling is one aspect of his game that has been improving each season. In the 2016\17 season, he was averaging 0.9 successful dribbles. This number doubled last season, now averaging 1.8 dribbles. It shows that the Russian international is still improvement every season. This was a signing that Monaco needed. With Moutinho now out of the team, Monaco needed that midfielder who would be able to transition midfield into attack, and help the likes of Lopes and Falcao in front of goal. This could be a very instrumental signing in Monaco regaining their success from 2 seasons ago.

7. Gonzalo Higuain – AC Milan

Like Everton, Milan’s huge spending didn’t work out as expected. They were overshadowed by rivals, who already had established styles and players who knew the system. They brought in so many players, that it was impossible for Milan to have any instant success. It didn’t help that some of their bigger signings just didn’t work out. Andre Silva failed to make an impact in the league and Andrea Conti suffered a serious injury near the beginning of the season. The worst one by far was Leonardo Bonucci, who just couldn’t carry his incredible consistency to the San Siro. They have so far attempted to fix their mistakes. It involved 3 players. Juventus were able to get their old defender back. Milan however got better end of the deal. They were able to get the promising Matteo Caldara, while also getting Argentine hitman Gonzalo Higuain on loan. Getting him on loan was easily the best option here. Higuain is on a bit of a decline. Since his record breaking 36 goal season at Napoli, he then scored 23, and last season scored 16. It is no fault of his own. It is an effect all players are effected by, being age. His shot numbers have been decreasing since his final season for Napoli. They at a frankly ridiculous 5.2, to 3.5, and now at 2.9. That is still a really good number for a striker, but it is clear he is declining. Higuain is still an elite forward, who is still a great, consistent goal scorer when it comes to leagues. It is exactly what Milan need at the moment, which is a guy who is going to guarantee them goals. It’s something that Higuain has given every team he’s played for. Since arriving in Europe in 2009, he has never failed to score less than 12 goals in all competitions. While many can question his ability in those knock out games, no one can argue that he is one of the most consistent goal scorers in the last 10 years, and will go down as a Serie A great, no matter what he does at Milan. A great signing that could be the driving force for this Milan side to succeed in the future.

6. Sime Vrsaljko – Inter Milan

I have been praising Vrsaljko since the beginning of the world cup. The Croatian was easily one of the top performers for his national team, given such great width on that right side for his team. He was one key reason why Croatia reached the final of the world cup. He was also a key player for Atletico Madrid, going from a back up your Juanfran to his replacement. He was an important figure in Atletico’s Europa League winning side last season. It was as if a young Juanfran was playing. It is still quite incredible that he was even allowed to leave Atletico in the first place, being one of their best players. Just looking at his stats last season, it was very clear how effective he was. He put in a brilliant 4 tackles and interceptions per 90, just showing how solid he is defensively in a team that’s known for their defensive solidarity. He also contributed very effectively in the final third. Because of the type of wingers Atletico Madrid usually play, it means the full backs have to push up and contribute, while also doing their defensive work. It has been made clear that Vrsaljko is extremely good defensively, but also contributes going forward. He ended the season with 4 assists, which is a fine end. He is a guy who likes to cross a lot in games, as seen in a the world cup, where his target was the aerial monster Mandzukic. He target for Inter will be one of the best strikers around in Mauro Icardi. One issue Inter faced was the complete drop in form from everyone bar Icardi. They didn’t have many options outwide, meaning Antonio Candreva was playing throughout the season, even though he didn’t contribute to a goal from December onwards. Vrsaljko isn’t exactly a winger, but he will help in the final third. A very good signing from a side who made many.

5. Stefan De Vrij – Inter Milan

Another Inter Milan signing here, De Vrij is one of the best defenders in Serie A. His time at Lazio has been one great success. Last season, Lazio had a very interesting season. They brought the best out of their attackers, with Immobile scoring 29 goals and getting 9 assists. Even Luis Alberto, a player who was written off at Liverpool, excelled at Lazio last season, being one of their best creators. However over the years, their most reliable player in recent years has been Stefan De Vrij. The Dutchman has excelled throughout his time at Lazio, and he continued this form last season. One area of his game that cannot be praised more is his ability on the ball. Throughout his career his pass accuracy has always been very high, always getting over 80%, but last season was a career high, with 91%. He is getting even better with every season under his belt. He also averaged 2 interceptions per 90 last season, which just shows how intelligent he is as a player. The Dutchman plays as more of a sweeper, than a destroyer, which gives balance to a defense that consists of two great destroyers in Skriniar and Miranda. One issue that Inter faced last season was the lack of defensive options. If one of Miranda or Skriniar suffered an injury, they would have one other defender as back up. Bringing De Vrij in will give much better options for Inter, who are now in the champions league for the first time since 2012. De Vrij is another addition that could seriously help Inter push Juventus to the end.

4. Thomas Lemar – Atletico Madrid

This could be Diego Simeone’s last chance at a title challenge. Both Madrid and Barcelona are currently in real transitional periods. With Madrid losing their best player and one of the best goalscorers of all time. It is still unknown on how Madrid will set up this season, because of the huge loss. Barcelona are the champions, however their squad is very old. While I like the signing of Lenglet, Malcolm doesn’t really make much sense, for the player especially. Atletico Madrid, however, are not in any transitional period. They still have Diego Simeone, who is still one of the best managers in Europe. They kept hold of their best players in Oblak, Griezmann and Godin. Not only that, they have also improved massively. They fixed their winger problem by bringing in Lemar and Gelson Martins, however I think it’s Lemar who is the better signing out of the pair. Atletico had a very big problem from January onwards. After the losses of Carrasco and Gaitan, they began to look too central. As mentioned when discussing Vrsaljko, Atletico full backs are usually the perfect full backs. They have to work hard to give plenty of width, and still do the defensive work required to have a solid backline. They usually rely on full backs for width because of the inverted wingers they used. Players like Koke, Saul and Correa, who are not wingers in nature, played there to overload the middle. Bringing in Lemar will definitely give them much better options going forward, and most of all makes them less predictable. Lemar is a great creator, who can play as a left winger or a number 10. The French man has been excellent for Monaco, and while his form did drop off compared to his brilliant title winning season, he was still very impressive. He was averaging a great 1.8 key passes, which will definitely help Griezmann and Costa in their pursuit in goals. He also averages a very good 1.5 dribbles per 90. Lemar will be a huge asset on the counter attack. Pace is one area of the team that was needed, after losing their other wingers. Lemar will help massively in giving Atletico Madrid another option and another way of playing, in their pursuit of the league title.

3. Michy Batshuayi – Valencia

Valencia were a bit of strange one last season. They massively over performed expected goals, and Simone Zaza, who started the season off so well, just struggle in the second half of the season. However it was still a great season for them. They went from the next big club to drop, into a team that finally started buying smartly, with the likes of Kondogbia and Guedes all performing incredibly for Valencia. However their luck last season, with over performing expected goals, is a worry. They solve this goal problem by bringing in Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian strangely seems unwanted at Stamford Bridge. It puzzles me because of his incredible performances for Dortmund, ending his half season loan spell with 9 goals in 14 games. He gave them a real vocal point after their loss of Aubameyang. However even if this loan spell isn’t included, he was still excellent for Chelsea in his very few appearances. He only started 4 games for Chelsea last season, yet he still ended his time with 4 goals. I think Batshuayi is a definite improvement over Valencia’s options. While I really like Santi Mina, I think Rodrigo isn’t great and Zaza is inconsistent. Having a pure goalscorer, like Bats, is perfect. Valencia are back in the Champions League, and need a great goalscorer to compete in it, and the Belgian sure does fit the bill.

2. Arturo Vidal – Barcelona

While I have been complaining about the strange squad that Barcelona possess at the moment, it is difficult to disagree with what an excellent signing Arturo Vidal is. During his last 2 years at Juventus, an argument could have been made that he was the best midfielder on the planet. That Juventus team that reached the champions league final was arguably one of the best midfields around. It had an incredible passer and press resistant player in Andrea Pirlo. A brilliant box to box midfielder in Claudio Marchisio, and one of the most unique midfielders of all time in a certain Paul Pogba. Even with these exceptional talents, Vidal was the standout player. He was the most advanced midfielder, and has a lot of responsibility. He was one of the first players to initiate the press and had to help Marchisio in protecting Pirlo. Even with all of this responsibility, he was still excellent in every department. In the 2013/14 season, by far his best, He was averaging 4.7 tackles and interceptions. That is frankly outstanding for a central midfielder. But was also averaging 1.8 shots and 1.5 key passes, just showing how well rounded he is as a player. He continued this incredible form when he signed for Bayern, with his shot numbers even increasing to 2.2. The issue in recent seasons has been injuries. He is still a fabulous player, but he has been playing less and less games every season. In his first season at Bayern, he started 24 games, then 21, then 17. He also is famously not in perfect health, being a smoker and drinker. But he is that good he is worth all of these downsides. Barcelona’s midfield is by far their weakest area in their team. They have now let go of Paulinho and Gomez, who both I don’t think were good enough for Barcelona. The loss of Iniesta is a huge hit for them as well. He was looking like a shadow of the player he was, but was still a big player in that dressing room. Busquets and Rakitic are both near 30, and are starting to decline. Vidal does not solve the age issue, however a player of his qualities will give them a perfect stop gap, until the right player is available. He will give them some bite and aggression in a relatively weak midfield. It will give them a real boost in their fight to retain the title and go further in the champions league.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus

Finding something wrong with this move is been on my mind for a while, and I have nothing. His age? Not a problem. It’s publicly known that Ronaldo has kept himself in incredible condition, with information from medical revealing that he has the body of a 22 year old (could call it a publicity stunt). Juventus were just the perfect club to sign the Balon d’Or winner. They usually dominate their domestic league, even if the competition is starting to improve. They have a manager who is able to get the best out of aging players (Lichsteiner, Barzagli, Khedira, Pirlo are great examples), who is also an excellent tactician. With Juventus’s dominance in Serie A, it means that Ronaldo will be primarily used in the Champions League. After two final losses, with the old lady being purely outclassed on both occasions, their desire to win it is at an all time high. They have came so close, and failed on both occasions to win. Bringing in the best player in the history of the champions league is the quickest and best way of doing that. Juve still have an incredibly solid defense, good attacking fullbacks (now with the acquisition of Joao Cancelo), and players who know how to win games. In the long term, this might be a bad move, but for the next 3 years, this is Juventus’s last and best chance of winning this trophy. Going through Ronaldo’s stats right now is almost irrelevant, because we all know that he takes over 5 shots a game, is incredible in the air and his in the box movement is some of the best in modern football. He has transformed from a flying, powerful winger, into one of the best poachers in world football. His aging body will have any effect on the way he plays, which will be perfect for Juventus. If he is able to win the champions league with them, then Ronaldo will go down as the best player, and goalscorer, in the competition’s history. It will be frankly ridiculous to debate it after winning the competition so many times and with three different, all while breaking every record imaginable. Just the perfect signing for both player and club.