Where is the Best Destination for Jadon Sancho?

With the football season unofficially over, we might as well look at the summer. I was planning to do a lot of work on the European Championships. However, with that delayed until next year, transfers are the only real talking point in the football landscape. It might be somewhat irrelevant to talk about transfers, especially during the current health pandemic facing the world. Nevertheless, we might as well continue with business as usual. 

I’ll be covering some of the most wanted players in Europe, and deciding which club is the best place for said player’s development. We’ll be starting with England prospect and current Borussia Dortmund Jadon Sancho, who is wanted by pretty much every big club in Europe. He’s easily the best winger in the Bundesliga, capable of scoring, as well as creating for his teammates. His maturity in the opposition box is arguably his most valuable skill. Not many players at the crazy young age of 20 can lead the league in assists and be one of the leading figures for goals. Sancho’s decision-making is what’s made him one of the first names on the teamsheet. He never looks under pressure, and will always make the choice that benefits the team, instead of putting himself in the spotlight. So who should Sancho join this summer?

Embed from Getty Images

Manchester United

Where else to start with than with the club linked to every player with a shred of talent? I’ve not been huge on a majority of players rumoured with moves to Old Trafford. Jack Grealish and James Maddison have been heavily linked since November. However, the signing of Bruno Fernandes negates the need for these players. Sancho will definitely cost over £100 million, but it at least makes a lot more sense. United haven’t had an actual right winger for years. The last real winger the club had was debatably Antonio Valencia, before being converted into a right-back by Louis Van-Gaal. Daniel James has primarily played on that right side, but I don’t think he’s good enough to start for United in the long term. Sancho possesses a vast skillset, making him a deadly weapon for Solsjkaer, no matter the opposition. Sancho also holds that star power the Manchester United board are obsessed with. 

I don’t think you can argue against Sancho being a massive improvement over all of United wingers. My only reservations are related to United’s other requirements. A winger is definitely needed, but there is still a gaping hole in the centre of the park. Fernandes has taken a lot of the creative burden from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial; who have proven they are capable of scoring the goals needed to take United into a title race. I would only sign Sancho when the rest of the issues are resolved. There are plenty of players in the team who’s futures are uncertain. Sancho feels like a final piece of a puzzle, but United need to solve the rest of it first. 

Chelsea

With their transfer ban finally over, Chelsea looks ready to unload a chest full of funds in an attempt to return to the top of the table. Hakim Ziyech was an early arrival, with the Ajax playmaker confirmed to be a Chelsea player in February. With Ziyech’s arrival, it’s made clear that if Sancho was to sign, his role would be very different than the one given if he was to sign for Manchester United.

A versatile winger, able to play on both sides is a player Chelsea are desperate to bring in. Willian and Pedro have needed to be moved on for years. Their off the ball work is worth praising alongside their reliable chance creation, but both forwards are over thirty and take a lot off the wage bill. If it weren’t for the transfer ban, I doubt the pair would still be in London today. Sancho would bring an insane spike in creativity and shot quality. The Borussia Dortmund winger is averaging over 0.84 non-penalty xG+xA; a better output than Willian (0.45) and Pedro (0.47). 

Embed from Getty Images

A move to London makes sense for both parties involved. Chelsea’s young squad has been a delight to watch, and adding another prospect to the project only makes things better. If Sancho was to return to England, Chelsea would be the best destination, in terms of developing his game. The goalkeeper problem is obviously is a big one, and it is one of the significant issues, next to Lampard, which is holding Chelsea back. Sancho is not only a perfect Eden Hazard replacement but could surpass the Belgian.

Liverpool 

Similar to Chelsea, Liverpool needs to start looking at moving on some of their attackers. The difference between the clubs is the reason. Chelsea needs to clear up space and sell two players whose impact are dwindling as they age. Liverpool, on the other hand, should sell because it’s the right thing to do. If I had to choose one, it would be Sadio Mane. The decision isn’t even a difficult one. Mohamed Salah is far more talented and is left-footed; a rare and exceptional trait for a right-winger to have in the modern game. Mane has just come off a golden boot winning season in 18/19 and scoring 14 goals before the season’s suspension. Mane might be better than Firmino, but the Senegalese international is younger and worth more, especially with some of Europe’s elite keen to add world-class production from the wing. Liverpool has become one of the best clubs in Europe when knowing when to sell their players. They sold Coutinho for a lot more than anyone expected and let Suarez go at the perfect time. 

Sancho is among a handful of excellent players who could replace one of Liverpool’s acclaimed front three, and it’s another which makes so much sense. Not only does Sancho excel on the right side, but is more of a threat on the left, since he’s naturally right-footed. Sancho might not be as good of a scorer as any of Liverpool’s front three, but this is something that could easily improve overtime. He’s still so young and could be a key player in keeping Liverpool relevant at the top of the table. 

Barcelona 

The current La Liga holders have had a lot of their most significant issues exposed over the last six months, primarily with their squad. It still surprises me that a club of Barcelona’s size and stature can be so idiotic in the market. Their team has been built so poorly. A majority of their signings just haven’t worked out. The likes of Andre Gomes, Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Nelson Semedo and Samuel Umtiti have all failed at the Camp Nou for varying reasons. The most significant and most inexcusable act from the club is how they’ve been unable to even look for replacements for Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi. The core from their 2015 treble-winning season is even more critical than ever, even when they are evidently declining (excluding Messi of course). Barcelona doesn’t even look like they have a plan to replace the greatest player of all time and will continue to rely on him until he retires.

Embed from Getty Images 

Barcelona should do everything in their power to sign Jadon Sancho. They’ve already made a huge mistake in signing Antoine Griezmann and would make it even worse if they decided to resign Neymar. Their hunt for one more Champions League for Messi is blinding them from future-proofing their squad. Having a young and incredible talent in Sancho at least gives them reassurance in the future. 

Borussia Dortmund 

I include Sancho’s current club because that’s where he should be next season. I think one more season in yellow will not only help Dortmund in their title challenge but will give the club enough time to find the perfect replacement. The team has looked more settled as the months have progressed this season. The back three has helped solve their huge defensive problems, while Emre Can has given the midfield that extra steel needed in the big games. Dortmund’s insanely high level of attacking talent will always keep them in the conversation for the title. If they manage to add some extra pieces in terms of depth and defensive personnel, they could pose a real threat from the beginning, especially with Haland at the club from matchday one. 

The only issue is if Dortmund can keep him. Most clubs outside of Europe’s elite are going to be affected by the lack of matchday revenue and complications regarding television rights. I highly doubt any Bundesliga clubs will face anything as drastic as liquidation, but lack of finances could propose a problem in the summer. Dortmund might have to sell their most valuable asset if they wish to improve other parts of the team.

Is Simeone Running Out of Time? Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool – UEFA Champions League 19/20 Preview

After a lengthy absence, the Champions League finally returns with so many juicy fixtures to discuss. I’ll be previewing all of these games, starting with Atletico Madrid facing the holders Liverpool.

Atletico Madrid currently sits outside of the top four, with La Liga featuring some fierce competition for the Champions League spots for the first time in years. We’ve discussed Atletico’s messy summer, which revolved around the sales of their biggest stars. Griezmann, Godin, Rodri, Hernandez, Felipe Luiz and Juanfran all departed the club; a core of talented players, some of whom helped Atletico to the title back in 2014.

Some of their new arrivals have actually been massive success stories. Felipe and Mario Hermoso fit right in Simeone’s defensively phenomenal back-line, and Kieran Trippier has been their second most creative player, only behind Koke. While their signings in defence have all worked out well, as usual, the issues lie on the other side of the pitch.

Embed from Getty Images

Replacing Antoine Griezmann was always going to be a tough task. The Frenchman not only contributed to a lot of goals, but he was very creative and consistently found pockets of space to help advance the play. Griezmann was always suited to a more attacking team, but playing for Simeone did help bring out skills you’d never expect to see from him if he had been playing under an attacking coach.

I always had my reservations on Atletico Madrid’s £135 million acquisition of Joao Felix. The Portuguese prospect did look like an exciting talent, but spending all of the Griezmann money on a player who only had a single season of first-team football under his belt is insanely risky on the short term. Felix could turn out to be a world-beater, but right now he is not contributing nearly as much as Atleti thought he would. Felix has only managed 2 goals and an assist in La Liga. He still looks very raw, not almost at the level of a Jadon Sancho or Kylian Mbappe. Felix has underperformed massively in attack, with Understat showing Felix should have doubled his goal tally. I can sympathise with that, considering the team’s reliance on him and Morata to do something magical in the final third. The problem with Felix is his underlying numbers have been sub-par. He’s making less than a shot assist per 90 and completing 30% of his dribbles.

Embed from Getty Images

Atletico’s most prominent problem coming into this tie is the number of injuries they’re facing throughout the team. Costa, Felix, Morata, Koke and Trippier are all likely to miss this game, leaving Simeone without a first-team number nine. Their attacking options were already quite barren; now it’s insane to think Atletico will even score against the best team in Europe. The worrying part about this is all the injuries are muscle-based. I can’t comment on how this team trains because I don’t know, but it’s troubling to see all of their forwards suddenly pick up injuries around the same time.

I initially chose Alvaro Morata as the player to watch for Liverpool, but now I have no idea. Carrasco might be their biggest threat, considering he is the only player currently in the squad with a modicum of excitement in the way he plays. After Atletico Madrid’s awful display in their second leg against Juventus in last year’s competition, I can’t see them beating a better team with a worse group of players.

On a more positive note, let’s talk about Liverpool. The current holders have been absolutely fantastic domestically, currently going unbeaten and only dropping points on one occasion. Every player is performing at or above their level at the moment. The Reds’ forward line remains one of the best in Europe, with each of their attackers able to turn a game on their own. Their full-backs dominate the ball, primarily progressing the ball through their incredible passing ability and sheer dynamism. Their goalkeeper, Alisson, who has somehow made the best defence in the league look even better, with shot-stopping so good, he’s undoubtedly the best keeper in the Premier League.

Embed from Getty Images

The midfield has always been an area I’ve been hesitant to call good, but after a year, I finally understand why their midfield works. Klopp doesn’t use his midfielders as other managers do; the likes of Pep use them for ball progression and creativity. Klopp uses his midfielders as defenders, to allow the full-backs to push up and not worry about opposition counter-attacks. Klopp prefers progression through the full-backs because, excluding the obvious answer of how good Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are, it still gives them some security in defence. If the pair do manage to lose the ball, they won’t lose it in dangerous areas. It isn’t nearly as problematic as Henderson or Wijnaldum losing the ball. Klopp and Liverpool have built a team properly, getting the best out of their players, in a system which allows them to blossom and cover for their weaknesses.

There is no denying Liverpool are a genuinely great team but are they one of the best teams we’ve seen of the modern game? They’re definitely up there, but I’d probably put Pep’s 2011 Barca, Heynckes’ treble team and Pep’s Centurions over Klopp’s team. Those three sides were insanely dominant while putting in the performances to show it. Liverpool has been the best team in the league, but their dominance doesn’t show in a similar way to the teams mentioned. Manchester City would be a lot closer if they weren’t suffering from a few off games and some bad luck. The area in which Liverpool have benefitted the most is in their opposition. Numerous times this season, we’ve seen teams play Liverpool and suddenly forget how to put chances away. The likes of Southampton, Watford, Wolves, Manchester United and Manchester City all perform under their expected when playing against the soon-to-be Premier League Champions. Is Liverpool to blame for this? Not necessarily. It’s more to point out how they haven’t been the perfect team many are making them out to be.

Yet, I still have a tremendous amount of respect for this Liverpool team. It’s the same kind of respect I have for Mourinho’s great sides or Sean Dyche’s Burnley. I appreciate how well Klopp’s team operates and wins games. Liverpool is a well-oiled machine, capable of competing against all of the winning Champions League sides from the past.

Embed from Getty Images

As mentioned before, Van Dijk is by far their most valuable player, but Mohamed Salah is a close second. The Egyptian forward has been frighteningly good since his return to English football. Many like to point out he isn’t as good as he was during that first season since his goal return has dropped off, but that criticism has zero weight behind it. Salah is still as creative and threatening in front of goal as he was in 2018. The difference is that teams have begun doubling-up on him. It’s why Mane’s goal output suddenly skyrocketed last season. Salah has effectively opened up space for his teammate through sides labelling him as Liverpool’s biggest attacking threat. It’s quite amazing how Mane is even being discussed in the conversation for player of the year, when Salah, among other Liverpool players, have been a lot better.

If Atletico wishes to progress beyond the round of sixteen, they must pray and hope luck goes their way. Also, they must cement enough of an advantage at the Wanda Metropolitano. We’ve seen Liverpool in the past couple of seasons perform below their level during some away matches, most notably against Napoli on two separate occasions and at the Camp Nou. This first leg is vital. If Atletico waste it, they won’t have a chance at Anfield.

If Liverpool wishes to return to the final once again, they must focus a lot of their attacks down the left side. Simeone will be forced to play Sime Vrsaljko, someone who has only started two games in La Liga this season and has suffered from consistent injury problems since his impressive World Cup performances for Croatia.

My money for this would be on Liverpool. Even if they do manage to lose the first leg, I can’t trust Simeone to set up his side in the right way at Anfield, after the awful in which they exited the competition last season. You can’t hope to sit on leads away from home. The strategy doesn’t work anymore, as Barcelona have proved on two occasions. I can see Simeone sitting on a 1-0 lead and hoping Liverpool forget how to score goals, something that won’t happen. Liverpool will be in the quarter-finals once again.

My Premier League Team of the Decade

With the 2010s coming to a close, everyone’s been discussing who’ve been the stand out players of the decade. Since this has been the first decade where I’ve been able to follow the Premier League from start to finish, let’s look at which players have stood out among the competition, players who will be remembered for years to come. There is a few names I’ve not included here which a majority of people will disagree with. This team is a combination of players who have left a lasting impression on me. Some of them might not be the best players we’ve seen during this decade, but these are the guys I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching during the last ten years.

David De Gea

Starting with by far the most obvious pick, David De Gea has not only been the best goalkeeper during the last decade but arguably in league history. It’s well-documented by now that the Spaniard had a tough first couple of years in England, struggling to adapt to a more physical league, but Ferguson knew he would need to adjust. De Gea did start a lot of games under United’s legendary manager, 29 in his first season and 28 in his second. But if De Gea did have a couple of bad to mediocre performances, Ferguson would take him out of the side to ensure his confidence wouldn’t plummet entirely. This was the best decision, with De Gea going on to start over 34 games in all of his campaigns since the Scotsman’s retirement from management.

During a time where United have been inconsistent or underwhelming to put it lightly, De Gea remained a constant, always making those game-changing saves and made a pretty weak defensive unit look like the best in the division. His best season was by far the 17/18 season, more specifically, away at the Emirates. De Gea had the best goalkeeping performance in Premier League history. He made 14 saves against the Gunners, and they weren’t just simple stops. Some of the saves he was making were groundbreaking. The best among his many saves in this game was his fantastic double save. Lacazette was gifted a chance in the penalty area, which De Gea magnificently stops, only for the ball to fall to his future teammate Alexis Sanchez. De Gea had seconds to react, and from 6-yards out, he managed to save the Chilean’s shot with his leg. It was a save that not only saved United’s defence, which was awful on the day, but perfectly summarised United in the past 6 years. De Gea has been the sole reason for the Red Devils having one of the best defences in the league.

Embed from Getty Images

Some would see a couple of factors that hold De Gea back from being the best goalkeeper of the decade. His first couple of years in England weren’t great and his form has fallen from the best in the world to pretty average since 2018. He’s never been great on the ball compared to the likes of Ederson and Allison. Yet, there were four years of elite production that I’ve never seen a goalkeeper replicate. 

Kyle Walker

The full-back areas have been difficult to choose, not for a vast amount of choices, but the lack of them. With not many names to choose from, Kyle Walker is easily the most obvious choice to fill the right-back position. Walker was an up-and-coming player during his early years, but up until 2015, he failed to live up to his potential. He was still starting a lot of games for Spurs, but was somewhat inconsistent and defensively still had massive holes in his game. It was the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino, like for many of the Tottenham players, changed the course of his career. During his three years under the Argentine, Walker turned into the best right-back in the league, giving his side plenty of width while having the speed to make those recovery tackles if possession was lost. He was never a massive goalscoring threat like Marcos Alonso nor a great creator like Alexander-Arnold, but Walker remained solid. He was a constant outlet for Tottenham and seemed to live up to that promise he showed early on. 

Embed from Getty Images

Walker’s move to Manchester changed his game. Guardiola already had, at the time, Benjamin Mendy has a very attacking full-back, so Walker was to take to a more reserved role in the team. He stopped pushing forward as far as he did under Pochettino and AVB, yet still remained heavily involved in build-up play, completing over 70 passes per game last season. Even with more talented players around him, The England right-back has been a critical member for both Pochettino and now Pep Guardiola. Ricardo Pereira and Trent Alexander-Arnold might be more talented, but Walker is an excellent player to have for any manager and has stood out during the 2010s.

David Luiz

Maybe putting David Luiz in this team might be rather daft, but when I think of players who have defined the 2010’s, David Luiz is one of the first names to come to mind. The Brazilian has had moments of stupidity at times, with his brand of defending leaving his teammates rather exposed at times, but what David Luiz has always excelled at is distribution. People like to look at Rio Ferdinand as the first defender in England to honestly look comfortable and composed on the ball. Ferdinand did revolutionise the position here, but David Luiz took the next step and became the best defender in terms of ability on the ball. The issue that many managers have found with Luiz is if you don’t play him in a particular system, he might be your worst defender, but in the right one, he is your best defender.

Luiz has played under a lot of Chelsea managers, 7 in fact. He arrived in January 2011, going onto play 11 games under Ancelotti. David Luiz was loved at Chelsea. His aggression, positivity and the way he has always worn his heart on his sleeve has made him very easy to like. He was genuinely great under Villas-Boas and Di Matteo, but it was Mourinho’s arrival that almost forced Luiz into departing Chelsea. Luiz has many qualities, but defending in a deep block, similar to how Mourinho likes to deploy, isn’t playing him to his strengths. He broke the record for the most expensive defender, moving to Paris for £50 million. At PSG, David Luiz was fantastic and did his usual long balls and runs out the back to help progress the ball. Laurent Blanc usually played possession-based football, with a high-line. This was perfect for Luiz.

Embed from Getty Images

After two successful seasons in Paris, David Luiz returned to Chelsea, coincidentally, the season after Mourinho departed. Many neutrals laughed at this deadline-day signing. Why bring back a player you sold two years ago, who is now 30 years old? It was a weird move at the time, but a lot had changed since that first stint. Antonio Conte was now Chelsea manager, a coach who plays a deep block similar to Mourinho. It usually included a libero, a defender who focuses on sweeping up after the other defenders and using their passing ability to help move the ball further up the field, think Beckenbauer or Leonardo Bonucci. Luiz fitted this mould perfectly and had his best season during his long club career. Luiz was genuinely fantastic under Conte, gaining a place in the team of the season and finally winning a title at Stamford Bridge. Luiz eventually earned the credit he had deserved for years, showing that when placed in the right system, no one in England was better than him. After falling out with Conte, Luiz returned to being a first-team regular under Sarri, another manager who saw Luiz as the great defender he is. His excellent reading of the ball and world-class distribution meant that he fitted seamlessly into Sarri’s possession-heavy system. 

The criticisms which have faced Luiz for years have always been the mistakes and lack of concentration, which are reasonable. He will occasionally give away needless penalties and make the wrong decision when facing teams with pacey forwards. Under a certain amount of pressure, Luiz can crumble, and still does. Now playing for Arsenal, Luiz needlessly pulled Mohamed Salah’s shirt in the box and gifted Liverpool a penalty. It was a moment that many have come to expect from Luiz. Whenever he makes mistakes, he tries his hardest to make up for them, only to make the situation worse. Luiz, at his worst, can be a problem, especially during substantial stints without possession, but at his best, is one of the best defenders the league has ever seen. Maybe putting him over Vincent Kompany might be slightly baffling, but no defender has defined the evolution of centre backs more than Sideshow Bob himself. 

Toby Alderweireld 

Since his arrival in England, Alderweireld has been apart of some the best defences of the past 5 years. Firstly on loan under Ronald Koeman at Southampton, where he helped form the second-best defence in the league. Many, including me, saw Jose Fonte as the stand out player out of the pair, but it was, in fact, Alderweireld, who was the key man. He then earned a move to Tottenham, which not only showed his qualities but turned Tottenham from a mess into arguably the best team in the league for two years. They went from having the worst defence out of the top six to having the best in Alderweireld’s first season. The former Ajax defender offered so much more than any defender Tottenham had in the past. He was the best ball-playing defender in the league, not only comfortable in possession but even helping move the ball into the final third, earning 2 assists in 15/16, both to Dele Alli with long balls right into the England international’s feet. The way he could receive the ball and send this calmness across the ground was something rare to see. In 17/18, he had an injury-plagued season, where he only managed 13 starts, but since then, has continued to be a mainstay in Spurs’ defence.

Embed from Getty Images 

Alderweireld might not be a physical monster like Virgil Van Dijk or have the goal threat of John Terry. Still, the Belgian was at one point comfortably the best defender in the league and was the reason for Tottenham’s consistently high performances between 2015 and 2018. It’s instead a shame he hasn’t been able to win a trophy in England, but on quality and consistency alone, no one deserves to be here more than Alderweireld. 

Cesar Azpilicueta

Another example of a position where choices are limited. However, even if there was a fantastic left-back to choose, Azpilicueta is fully deserving of a place as one of the best players of the decade. The Spaniard has been Mr Consistent since arriving in England, moving from right-back, to left-back under Mourinho, centre-back under Conte and now back to right-back. He’s never suffered from a single injury since playing in London and has been loved by every manager who he’s played under. In the summer of 2014, Mourinho brought in Brazilian left-back Felipe Luiz from Atletico Madrid, with Ashley Cole departing and Ivanovic covering at right-back, it was presumed that Azpilicueta would play as a back-up. But he kept his place in the side, and keeping arguably one of the best left-backs in the previous year, on the bench. 

Defensively, Azpilicueta is one of the best full-backs the league has ever seen. He has consistently put up massive tackle and interception numbers, has always been difficult for opposition wingers to beat and reads the game so well. It’s a testament to his defensive qualities that he fitted in rather flawlessly in Antonio Conte’s back three, alongside David Luiz and Gary Cahill. Azpilicueta was primarily winning the ball back and pushing up in build-up play. The Spaniard was putting in less than a foul per game during that title-winning campaign under Conte and played every game of that spectacular season. 

Azpilicueta’s speciality is defending, and he’s really good at it, but that isn’t to diminish his qualities on the ball. The former Marseille defender has racked up 29 assists during his Chelsea career, with his long balls over the top to Alvaro Morata during the 2017/18 season a highlight of his career, assisting the Spanish forward 6 times that season. He was making those difficult balls into the final third that you usually expect David Luiz to play, but Azpiliciueta once again showed just how good and versatile he is. 

Embed from Getty Images

There isn’t a massive fault in his game or in his credentials to play in this team. No one has been more consistent and loved by multiple managers in the same way as Cesar Azpilicueta. An absolute shoo-in for everyone’s side of the decades. 

Fernandinho

Maybe not putting Ngolo Kante in this team might be baffling, but hear me out here. Fernandinho has not only played in this league longer than the Frenchman but has been even better. The Brazilian arrived in this league at the age of 28. Usually, this is seen as the age where players begin losing their physical edge and start to become easier to expose, think Steven Gerrard or Toni Kroos, who after the age of 28, began to show weaknesses defensively. Fernandinho was a short term fix in a sense. His arrival and the sheer amount of defensive work he did during City’s 13/14 title triumph (6 tackles and interceptions), which not only helped add some protection to the defence but covered for Yaya Toure, allowing him to have that great 20 goal season. Fernandinho had an arduous task ahead of him. Pellegrini teams are famously a lot of fun to watch and gets the best out of his attacking talents, but it can leave the defence extremely vulnerable if the personnel isn’t at the same level as the attack. Fernandinho was one of the reasons why City were actually good defensively that season. 

He continued his consistently high standards on the pitch in Pellegrini’s final couple of seasons, even if the team was weaker as each year passes. However, it was the arrival of Pep Guardiola that indeed showed Fernandinho as the best defensive midfielder of the decade. Even at the age of 31, Fernandinho was vital for City’s end of decade dominance. He was the sole midfielder in a three-man midfield containing David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. While Pep and De Bruyne are credited for creating the ‘free eight’ role on the pitch, it wouldn’t be possible without having Fernandinho behind him, allowing the Belgian to push forward and create. Fernandinho has been doing everything you can ask from a midfielder. He puts in a lot of defensive work, reads the game well, and can play those penetrating balls through midfield, can dribble, can score and knows when to partake in the dirtier side of the game.

Embed from Getty Images

His quality can be best be shown with just how bad City were in the 18/19 season without him. While Gundogan isn’t a bad player, he doesn’t do nearly enough defensively to allow the other midfielders to push forward. Fernandinho missed most of the December fixtures, which resulted in defeats to Leicester and Crystal Palace. Even finding a replacement for Fernandinho proved difficult. The Champions finally settled on Rodri, after being linked to Jorginho, Fred and Aouar. City’s midfield so far this season has looked weaker without Fernandinho. Rodri is excellent but doesn’t possess the same speed, intelligence and ability to stop attacks before they materialise. People will always look at Aguero, Kompany and Silva as the players who have been the driving force for City’s success. While that is true, most of it under Guardiola has been down to Fernandinho being so well-rounded, so perfect for the whole that his coach requires. 

Santi Cazorla

I love Santi Cazorla, a lot actually. It’s hard to really put in words how fantastic he was to watch during his peak years in England. Cazorla arrived at a very frustrating time for Arsenal fans. It was another summer where they sold their two best players from the previous season, Robin Van Persie and Alex Song, to bigger clubs. It left Arsenal with a massive problem, goals and creativity. Giroud and Podolski arrived to fix the goal problem, while Cazorla arrived to supply their new forwards. The Spaniard arrived in a league where two Spanish playmakers dominated in style and production. David Silva and Juan Mata were their teams’ most important players, consistently linking midfield and attack so fluently. While they were at their best as a number 10, they could even play as a wide player, move freely into the centre and cause all sorts of problems for their opponents. Cazorla arrived into the league much later than his national teammates, being 27 while Mata and Silva were 23 and 24 respectively, but that added experience gave the additional quality. Cazorla was a two-footed, intelligent, exciting, while still possessing a burst of speed that let him play on the left.and could dribble through the smallest of gaps. His tight control of the ball was unmatched in the league. 

Cazorla’s first season for Arsenal is arguably the best creative season during this whole decade. I still believe that if Arsenal managed to sign Cazorla and keep Van Persie, they would have been league champions in 12/13. Arsenal were excellent that season, with Walcott, Arteta, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Sagna have their best seasons at the Emirates. If it weren’t for Manchester United desperate to commemorate their manager in the right way and Arsenal’s usual patchy results (I’d imagine they’d be different with Van Persie in the side), the Gunners would have ended their long trophy drought. Cazorla played in every Premier League game in 12/13, playing centrally or on the left, and dominated Arsenal’s stats. The former Malaga midfielder was second for most shots in Arsenal’s squad, first for chance creation, second for dribbles completed, second for passes completed and was even putting in over 4 tackles and interceptions. He ended the season with 12 goals and 11 assists. His best season for Arsenal was the season where he was at his most important. He was responsible for doing nearly everything in attack and ball progression while having to do his fair share of defensive work. The fact he did so and more, shows just the level of player Cazorla was at Arsenal.

Embed from Getty Images 

Cazorla’s versatility was arguably his biggest strength, but in the arrival of Mesut Ozil, a flaw. Wenger saw how Cazorla didn’t need to play centrally to be effective, so bringing in Real Madrid’s best creator and moving Cazorla over to the left did make sense. Ozil, and later Sanchez, did start to be looked at as Arsenal’s best players, from their vast reputations at previous clubs, but Santi Cazorla remained as crucial as ever. The reason why you play Cazorla and Ozil together is that it means you can’t stop the creativity. You couldn’t merely mark Ozil out of the game, because Cazorla would then take centre stage. It’s what made them so good for Cazorla’s first couple of years at the club, even with Giroud being very frustrating. It’s arguably what Arsenal’s most significant problem in recent years. The lack of creativity in the side means they are so easy to silence under Emery. Without having a variety of creators, it makes it so easy to stop you from dominating games and creating chances. 

Cazorla’s final couple of full seasons at the Emirates showed just how important he was for Wenger. Even with Ozil, Sanchez, Ox and Walcott preferred in the forward areas, Wenger had to have in the team somehow, so chose to play him in a double pivot alongside Francis Coquelin. Cazorla was once again fantastic, and it made so easy for him to receive the ball, evade pressure effortlessly and continue to play defence-breaking balls into the final third. 

However, his long-term ankle injury in October 2016 ruled him for nearly 2 years, leaving Arsenal and Cazorla with no choice but to part ways. His departure coincided with Arsenal losing their competitive edge, and they suddenly fell off a cliff. Ozil became easier to mark out of games since there wasn’t anyone else to carry that creative burden, and Arsenal generally went from a great team to a bad yet fun team under Wenger. Cazorla might not have the same longevity or titles as other players, but he has genuinely been one of the best players the league has ever seen.

David Silva

The next three players here have all been involved in the best team of the decade, but let’s start with David Silva. Like Walker, Silva has been in the league from the start and has been remarkably consistent. His first season in England was famously not great. While 11 goal contributions and toping the team for key passes with 2.1 is still substantial, it still showed that Silva, and Manchester City, weren’t yet ready to win their first title. The physical side of the league did seem to have an effect, but Silva did eventually got to his best. The former Valencia midfielder had an absolutely sensational campaign in City’s first title win. Silva went from 11 goal contributions in his first season to 21 in his second. This is where Silva established himself as the best creator in the league, linking up so well with the other forwards and always finding space in the final third to exploit. Like Cazorla, Silva was regularly played as a wide playmaker, with an emphasis on coming inside and looking for holes to exploit between the defence and the midfield. He could evade pressure so smoothly and was vital for creativity and ball progression.

Embed from Getty Images

It was actually under Pep where he cemented himself as all time great. During Manchester City’s centurion season, Silva had his best season for the club. While De Bruyne did take the headlines for some of his fantastic assists and performances, Silva’s role had transformed. He was now alongside De Bruyne as a ‘free 8,’ and excelled in this fast, possession football that needed players like Silva, so technically gifted and intelligent to help drive the ball and create chances for the other forwards. During this super season, Pep’s wingers would stretch the defence, Cruyff-style, and give space for Silva and De Bruyne to exploit. Silva was so good when getting the ball in the 18-yard box, to quickly play a pass into one of his teammates in the box when their opponents had no time to adjust to the speed in City’s attacks. You couldn’t stop him from wiggling through defenders and play those simple, yet so effective balls into the feet of his teammates.

I’ve been in more depth with other players here, because in some cases, primarily Cazorla and Luiz, I’ve felt I have needed to justify their selections, but Silva will be in everyone’s team of the decades. He’s consistently performed every season and played a big part in all of City’s title winning seasons. From the leading creator, linking midfield to defence during his peak years, to using his invaluable experience and ability on the ball to find pockets in the opposition’s box, Silva has been a joy to watch during the last 9 years. 

Raheem Sterling 

Sterling might be a hard player to justify including, considering how he didn’t start playing regularly until 2012, in which he was very much a raw talent, being a great dribbler but still needing time to mature. Sterling was great alongside Suarez and Sturridge in one of the few seasons where Liverpool were close to winning the title. His follow-up season was a struggle, yet not as bad as many like to remember, considering he was only 20 and still getting into double figures for goal contributions. We look back and see that £44 million paid for Sterling and think it was a good deal, but at the time, people were not happy. The idea of spending so much money on a young player who was still unproven in a sense was crazy. What made it slightly worse was the arrival of Kevin De Bruyne, who at around £10 million more, Manchester City were getting arguably the best player in the Bundesliga in the previous season. He was at an age where he was ready to produce now. Sterling defined the money clubs were willing to spend on the next hot English talent.

Like 3 other players on this list, Pep Guardiola arrived and changed Sterling from a promising winger to one of the best wingers in Europe. Pep took out the weakest parts of his game, being his shot location and directness. One of Sterling’s problems was how wasteful he could be when in good positions. They improved during his first season in Manchester, but this was down to some dominant Manchester City performances, but what changed under Pep was where his shots were coming from. Sterling began looking for space in the penalty area, with all of his goals coming from inside the box. In the 17/18 season, down to improvements in his own game and a much better Manchester City team, Sterling looked unstoppable. He contributed to 29 goals in City’s first title win under Guardiola and stood out with some vital goals against Southampton, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Everton and Huddersfield. He was one of the reasons why City even managed to win the league and get to a historic amount of points. He was primarily played on the right, with his objective to stay wide in a very Dutch way, to stretch the opposition back four and allow his teammates to find space in behind. Sterling’s dribbling did help him stand out. The problem before Pep’s arrival was the way he was dribbling was slowing down attacks, choosing to take multiple touches on the ball. Pep made the slight yet significant change of telling him to take a single touch and move the ball. It keeps opponents in an uncomfortable position, with Sterling’s speed making it harder to predict his next move. 

Embed from Getty Images

Sterling remained insanely consistent in City’s follow up campaign, scoring 17 and assisting 10. His goals were still being taken in very good areas, even with Kevin De Bruyne missing for most of the season. Pep also began playing him on the left, his preferred position due to the winger being right-footed. Pep clearly sees Sterling as a vital member of his team, with Sane dropping to the bench and the likes of Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, two naturally right-sided players, playing to get the best out England’s exciting attacker. 

Maybe including a player who has only had 3 genuinely great seasons in the Premier League is a bit extreme, especially choosing him over Hazard. But Sterling is one of the best wingers on the planet, and his goalscoring, creativity, dribbling are all fantastic. His skill set is more varied than Hazard’s and has been sensational in the best team of the decade. 

Sergio Aguero 

Another Manchester City player who must be included in this team. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Sergio Aguero is the best South American to ever play in the Premier League. His level of consistency since 2011 is absolutely outstanding. Only once did he manage to score less than 15 goals in a season, scoring bundles of goals and winning games for every manager he has played under. 

Aguero arrived during Manchester City’s early spending spree, joining in the same summer as Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy and joining other big-money signings like Yaya Toure, David Silva and Joleon Lescott. Aguero had some fierce competition in terms of players in the pecking order. Edin Dzeko was another expensive arrival and offered a lot in terms of build-up play and in the air. Carlos Tevez didn’t reach the point of being virtually hated by all sets of fans in Manchester and was still considered one of the most lethal forwards in the league. Mario Balotelli was another player who, while controversial, was still useful, and at this point, promising. Aguero arrived to add that element of speed and coolness in front of goal, while still being very comfortable on the ball and could offer a lot in terms of build-up play, even with a weaker frame to Dzeko. The Argentine famously had one of the best debuts in Premier League history, coming off the bench in a 4-0 win over QPR. In only half an hour of football, Aguero managed to score his first goal, create two more for his teammates and score the final goal. He also scored THAT winning goal against QPR on the last game of the season, with his intuitive and powerful finish winning Manchester City their first Premier League title. 

His best season to me was the 14/15 season, where he won the golden boot with 26 goals (yet didn’t make the team of the year). Aguero was in absolutely monsterous form. He scored all 4 goals in a 4-1 win over Pochettino’s Tottenham, reaching the 10 goal mark by the beginning of November, and actually reached 100 goals for Man City in a 4-2 derby defeat to Manchester United. It took him only three and a half years to reach a goal tally for a club that some strikers never reach. Aguero’s numbers in that season were ridiculous, ending 14/15 with 0.93 non-penalty expected goals contributions per 90. There is only one season where he bettered that, in Pep’s centurion season, playing in a team with a much better supporting cast. I have fond memories of Aguero over the years, with the one that stands out is a particular goal he scored. I still can’t remember what side this goal was against, but all I can remember is when Aguero struck the ball, and you can see the net being close to breaking. 

Embed from Getty Images

His time under Pep did initially start on bad terms. The Argentine marksman bafflingly didn’t seem to fit Guardiola’s blueprint for his ideal striker, with there being a huge question mark over his build-up play. Aguero has always been a consistent chance creator, but as he has gotten older, his primary focus has always been on goalscoring. There were even rumours in January 2017 than Pep would consider selling Aguero, with Jesus being preferred in terms of his ability to drop deep and drag defenders with him. However, Jesus picked up a severe knee injury not long after his arrival, meaning Pep had to turn back to Aguero, an opportunity the Argentine took and proved his manager wrong. From March onwards, he scored 13 goals in all competitions, including 2 huge goals in a spectacular Champions League tie against Monaco. Pep was wrong to doubt Aguero, but the striker proved himself to be the undroppable player he has proven to be for every manager. 

Aguero has been the perfect forward since arriving in England. A consistent, creative scorer who always turns up for big games. Newcastle are his favourite opponent to play, but Chelsea and Tottenham are right behind them, with Aguero in double figures against both London clubs. Like Silva, he has been heavily involved in all of Manchester City’s success in the past decade. Premier League fans still tend to place Henry and Shearer ahead of Aguero, but it is just so difficult to argue against Aguero being at their level. A Premier League legend for sure. 

Sadio Mane

Maybe including Sterling is reasonable, but Mane might be a stretch too far, but hear me out. Mane arrived during Southampton’s best time of the decade, helping them achieve back to back top half finishes. Coincidentally, as soon as he departed, Southampton went from a fun team into the tedious slog they are today. Mane has never failed to score less than 10 goals in every season he has played in English football. The former Salzburg winger had a solid start to the Premier League. In the 14/15 season, he broke the record for fastest hat-trick in Premier League history, scoring 3 goals in only 2 minutes 56 seconds. This hat-trick perfectly showcased what Mane was all about. He was quick, direct, strong and had a lethal strike on him. He was a defender’s worst nightmare.

His £35 million move to Liverpool did raise a lot of eyebrows. While he did show a lot of talent at Southampton, the problem was his consistency and attitude. Koeman publicly called him out during the 15/16 season because of Mane’s lack of focus and concentration. It was clear that with Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Liverpool all interested, Mane wanted to join a bigger club. His form in that final season was also a problem. While his numbers did always remain positive, he would go through long periods with the Saints without scoring. Famously before his brace in a 3-2 win over Liverpool, Mane went four months without scoring. His xG per 90 throughout his career has remained at around a goal every other 3 games, a good return for a winger. What a lot of people don’t realise is players usually stop acting out once they get their dream moves, and Mane’s case, that remains true. He was the first big signing made by Jurgen Klopp to add a pace and goals from the wide areas. Mane has arguably been Klopp’s best signing at Liverpool, for kicking everything into motion and being the starting point for their future success. Bringing Mane in first made a lot of sense. His versatility and ability to press made him an ideal player to have while the majority of players adjust to a demanding style of football. In Mane’s first game, he scored the 4th goal in a spectacular 4-3 away win against Arsenal, hitting the top corner of the net with his weaker foot. His first reaction was to run to his manager, showing how this was the perfect match, for a player who’s acted out before, and a manager with love for players in Mane’s mould.

Embed from Getty Images

His second season saw Mane take a big leap forward. While his xG and his goal contributions did stay mostly the same, he was still consistently producing even with Mohamed Salah having an absolutely sensational season. Mane still had moments of pure magic, which included 10 goals in the Champions League and a goal in the final. In a final which saw Salah go off injured, they needed their other attackers to truly turn up, and Mane definitely brought his a-game. Mane was comfortably Liverpool’s best player, causing Carvahal all kinds of problems with his pace and trickery. 

Last season saw Mane score as many goals as his Egyptian teammate, finishing the season with a personal-high 22 goals. He did massively overperform, but with Salah being tightly marked through many of Liverpool’s matches, teams forgot about the threat that the Senegalese forward can bring. 

Salah could have easily appeared on this list, but it seems unfair to choose a player who has only been playing regularly in the league since 2017. Mane’s numbers have remained consistently high throughout his time in the Premier League, but it took a move to one of the best Premier League teams of all time to allow him to play at his level. 

Honourable mentions 

With the XI finally complete, there are plenty of other players who deserve praise. In goal, there were some other options to consider. Hugo Lloris would probably be my honourable mention, but De Gea has comfortably been the best goalkeeper, and Lloris has gotten noticeably worse in recent years. Lukasz Fabianski was fantastic at Swansea, and we saw Polish shot-stopper have a David De Gea season in 18/19, being the sole reason why West Ham didn’t have the worst defence in the league. Joe Hart even deserves mention for being an excellent goalkeeper during City’s early success but didn’t possess the same consistency for such a long period as David Silva and Aguero.

In defence, there were quite a few choices to select. John Terry was a player who, while past his best during the decade, was still an ever present in Chelsea’s team. However, I can’t include thanks in part to me not liking him as a human being and the former England captain only having 3-4 years where he didn’t look like the ageing player he was. Jan Vertonghen was another to consider, but Alderweireld was just better and transformed Tottenham’s defence on his arrival. Vincent Kompany is obviously the player that should be included, and for 3 years he was fantastic, but injuries began to impact him and lead to a player who struggled for consistent game time for 3 years. He did have an excellent final season at the Etihad. Still, David Luiz at his best was the best defender during the whole decade, and Alderweireld was partly responsible for Tottenham actually becoming good. The Arsenal pair of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker could easily start here, but both had massive injury problems, and Arsenal weren’t excellent defensively during this decade. Full-back, as mentioned, wasn’t stacked with option. Pablo Zabaleta is the only player who was genuinely in contention for a place, with the left-back position producing some weak options over the 2010s. 

There were plenty of midfielders to choose from. James Milner was so close to being put in midfield. He was an unsung hero during his five-year spell in Manchester. He went on to being a fantastic utility player for Klopp, filling in at left-back for a season, then moving back in midfield and being their best player in that position. Kante and Fabregas also could have easily been in this XI, but Fernandinho was simply better than Kante and Fabregas did have some fantastic seasons. Yet, Silva and Cazorla were must picks for Spanish midfielders. I’ve also heard people consider Kevin De Bruyne for this, but he’s missed as many games as he’s played while being in Manchester. He had two seasons of elite production, but two more that consisted of injuries. Yaya Toure is in a similar boat to De Bruyne, but the difference being that Toure arrived in this league a bit too late for his skillset. Ozil was close to being put in this team, but thanks to Emery wasting the two final years of the decade, it’s hard to put him here. 

Up front was arguably the area where a lot of good players had be cut thanks to Aguero being the clear choice. Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku were all considered, but it’s impossible to choose anyone over Aguero. Hazard was arguably the weirdest player to leave out, but his goal tallies have been massively swayed from penalties, and his 15/16 season was so bad, that it ruined his reputation for me

 

Predictions for the Premier League – 19/20

Let’s finally discuss arguably the only league much care about, and for understandable reasons. While the Bundesliga is the league I cannot keep away from, England’s top division has the competitiveness and star quality that many more casual fans want to see. England’s top-flight currently possesses the best team in Europe and the best team the Premier League has ever seen. There is always plenty to talk about, so let’s get into who will succeed, and who will fail. 

Outside Shout – Southampton

Since I’m bored of talking about Leicester, let’s look at another team, one that might finally be on the up. Between 2013 and 2016, Southampton were one of the most likeable clubs in the league. They were getting quality from a host of domestic talent in Shaw, Lallana, Bertrand, Clyne, Rodriguez and Ward-Prowse. They combined this well by picking up players from more inferior leagues, like Tadic, Van Dijk and Sadio Mane. They were consistently finishing in the top half of the table and brought two talented coaches to the league, with Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino both moving on to better things. They weren’t following the trend of other mid-table teams, in making generally bad decisions in terms of appointing the old guard of managers. They were more forward-thinking than most clubs, which enabled them to stand out in a league where the quality of football below 7th was questionable at best.

There were apparent issues off the pitch, but the moment the club’s problems became apparent was during the 2016/17 season. In the previous season, Koeman managed to push his side to finish 6th, ensuring they had European football the following season. After the Dutchman departed to join Everton, Southampton replaced him with the experienced French coach Claude Puel. I saw this appointment as a smart one from Southampton. While he was never fantastic at either Nice or Lyon, he still did a very respectable job. During his time at Lyon, they reached the Champions League semi-finals, the first time in their history. The club attempted to give Puel the players to help him succeed in arguably their biggest season, with the signings of Nathan Redmond, Sofianne Boufal and Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg. Redmond showed at Norwich that he was good enough for the Premier League, while Boufal came off the back of a stand out season in Ligue 1, contributing to 15 goals for Lille. All were under the age of 23, which helped continue their habit of signing younger players and aiding in their development.

Embed from Getty Images 

The problem for Puel during his reign was the high bar which was set by the previous managers. An 8th place finish alongside a cup final is an acceptable finish for a side which lost their best attacker in Sadio Mane. Southampton were ineffective in the final third and Puel does deserve some criticism for that, but what did they expect? Puel had a reputation for being a defensive coach, and with his lack of attacking talent, it isn’t a surprise his team were quite dull to watch. He was let go at the end of the season, and replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino.

This is where things went from decent to very bad. The club failed to bring in any forwards during the 17/18 summer window and left Pellegrino with very little in attack. There was no rhythm or inventiveness in the final third, which made the Saints one of the most boring sides in recent memory. After being ambitious with their managerial choices, it wasn’t a surprise it finally came crashing down. Poor recruitment throughout the team resulted in a side where goals were a rarity, which resulted in Pellegrino’s sacking. Mark Hughes arrived to steady the ship, and while they were slightly improved, he did not deserve a three-year deal. The idiocy on giving him a long term contract came back to bite them, after Southampton only managed to win a single game in the 18/19 season, before his sacking after a 2-2 draw with Manchester United in December. 

After 2 years of ruining the good reputation they built for themselves, they finally made an appointment to match the ambition they once shown. Ralph Hassenhuttl arrived after departing RB Leipzig after a disappointing follow-up season to their second-place finish in 16/17 season, where they crashed out of a relatively easy champions league group. Hassenhuttl is an excellent coach, who built an aggressive, pressing side in Germany that enabled them to compete with the very best. For the first time since Koeman, it felt like Southampton were finally going somewhere.

While his half-season with Southampton wasn’t spectacular, Hassenhuttl did lead them to survival in a comfortable fashion. Redmond went from 0 goal contributions under Hughes to 10 under his new coach, a definite improvement for one of their most important players. There were slight improvements all over the field. A back 3 with an aggressive midfield partnership of Höjbjerg and Romeu and focus on the wing-backs pushing forward saw an increase in results and general entertainment. 

Embed from Getty Images

Many do not predict Southampton to challenge the other top 6 chasers, but I do believe that once everything clicks, they could be one of the best sides outside of the top 6. They’ve started the season in mixed form, losing 2 of their opening 3 games. However, they have been so unfortunate not to have an unbeaten start. Liverpool were fortunate to win as well as Brighton. Djenepo is an excellent addition and could add that much-needed creativity and dribbling that the team is desperate for. Che Adams is a slight risk at £15 million but has the potential to contribute. This could be another disappointing season, but there is a possibility that everything goes right. 

Overachievers – Arsenal

Arsenal are really bad, and at this point, it is getting worrying. Emery’s debut season was dreadful. They had a chance to sneak into that top 4, but three consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester ensured they would be forced to play Europa League football once again. It wasn’t just the league table where things were looking bad, but especially on the pitch. Arsenal went from a fun but extremely vulnerable side under Wenger to a dull yet weak team at the back. The overreliance on Aubameyang and Lacazette to convert every chance that came to them, which they basically did, is not a practical way to build an attack. Aubameyang ran hot throughout the season and carried Arsenal to at least challenging for top 4. 

Embed from Getty Images

Arsenal did have a good summer, with record signing Pepe adding an elite player to the right-side. David Luiz and Kieran Tierney added better defensive personnel, and Ceballos finally filled that Santi Cazorla-shaped hole. However, if early season form is anything to go by, I do worry if Arsenal can actually become a champions league-level side. Their shot numbers are still deficient, and if their Gabon forward suddenly hits a dry patch, I have no idea how they will cope. It’s unlikely they will drop out of the top 6, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if Chelsea with a transfer ban or an extremely poor Manchester United finishes above them. 

Underachievers – Chelsea

Speaking of Chelsea, I genuinely have no idea what to expect from Lampard’s side. They have a very talented team and still waiting for Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi to return from long-term injuries. This transfer ban, while having apparent issues, does have its positives. Lampard has said multiple times that everyone was going to be given a chance, something we have seen already. Tammy Abraham has started 2 of the first 3 games of the season, showing how faith has finally been put in him. Mason Mount is another to start a majority of the season. Even though I’m not his biggest fan, there is a clearly a decent player in there. The midfield and central defensive options are still elite. Having Ngolo Kante in your team will always keep your midfield functional, and the added addition of Kovacic’s permanent signing is a massive boost in ensuring the middle of the park is secure. 

Embed from Getty Images

My worry with Chelsea is the strain that European football and potential injuries could have on the side. Emerson is Chelsea’s only real left-back, and Azpilicueta isn’t the most forward-thinking. There is also a very likely chance the attack simply doesn’t click. Pulisic has never put in a lot of goals and assists, We still do not know if Tammy can play at the top level and I’m not sold on Mount. I hope their younger talents live up to the potential they have shown for years and guide Chelsea to a successful season. However, the chances of everything falling apart if these players do not flourish under Frank Lampard.

Best Transfer – Dani Ceballos

As mentioned, Ceballos is truly a great addition. While Ndombele, Wan-Bissaka, Rodri and Iwobi are fantastic signings, Ceballos’ added quality to a lacklustre Arsenal side was what they needed. The former Real Betis midfielder is a perfect allrounder, being able to play as both the teams’ creator, the anchor and the transitioner. It makes Ceballos so useful to have for a manager, being able to change his role based on the opposition or to accommodate specific players on his own team. This versatility in midfield is something Arsenal lack; a problem that intensified after the sale of Aaron Ramsey. Torreira can do a bit of everything, but you’d never play him as the most attacking in a two-man midfield, and Granit Xhaka is a player you have to facilitate due to his lack of speed and defensive awareness. Ceballos will give Arsenal an elite midfielder who could easily find a place in all the other top 6 sides. A masterstroke from the Gunners. 

Potential Flop – Jean-Philippe Gbamin

Everton have this habit of making good signings, then suddenly ruining all that in some foolish decisions. This time it was the sale of Idrissa Gueye. I’m fully aware there was no stopping him leaving. The defensive midfielder wanting to go in January but had to wait until the summer to earn his deserved move to PSG. He was Everton’s most valuable player and losing him would mean a lot of money would need to be spent on replacing him. Even from someone who has a love for midfielders in Gueye’s ilk, I had no idea who they could realistically sign. Sangare was linked, but he doesn’t possess the same speed as Gueye. Ander Herrera would have been a decent choice, but, like Gueye, his heart was set on joining PSG. This signing needed to be perfect if Everton want to meet their aspirations of reaching the top 6. 

Embed from Getty Images

Their choice of Mainz midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin was a very odd one. While I haven’t seen much of Gbamin play, I expected his tackle and interception numbers to match that of the player he was replacing, yet they do not seem alike. In fact, it is a massive drop off compared to Gueye. The Ivory Coast midfielder only averaged 3.5 tackles and interceptions last season, an enormous difference to Gueye’s 6.8. Everton cannot afford Gbamin to fail. If he does, that could mean the end of Andre Gomes. As mentioned before, Gomes only had a successful season due to Gueye covering for him defensively, allowing the Portuguese midfielder focus on ball progression. Gomes now has to contribute more defensively, which he has never been able to do. Gbamin could fail to replicate Gueye, which would result in Everton having an unstable midfield. 

Is the League More Important? Liverpool vs Bayern Munich – UEFA Champions League Preview

With the first week of fixtures over, let’s start looking at next week’s games, starting with by the most interesting, Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and title challengers and last year’s finalists Liverpool. It’s a game between 2 European heavyweights, but do they both even want to win this tournament?

We’ll start with Liverpool, who are arguably having their best season in the league since Suarez’s time in Anfield. A combination of a forward line whoj just get each other and defensive improvements have truly made them worthy challengers, but not deserving of a title. If their closest opponents were not this one in a million Manchester City side, I’d say they would definitely earn they praise. When talking about Liverpool, their summer window was one of their highlights. They fixed a majority of the issues I had with their squad. They fixed their hard working midfield by bringing an excellent defensive midfielder in Fabinho and a one in a million in Naby Keita (even if he hasn’t been at his best so far). The best part about bringing in these players is the added competition they’ve given. Wijnaldum and Milner have both improved this season, and have became regulars in the side. While I don’t like Wijnaldum in the slightest (his inconsistency and underwhelming numbers just make him not very useful player to me), it’s hard to deny he has had his best season at Merseyside. Milner is another who is in the form of his career. He is been the best creator in that midfield and balls to the full back have been intrusmental. I do say they haven’t deserved to be how close to city as they have, but they deserve credit for that. Klopp has weakened his press and put Salah as the point man in the team, and it’s been so successful. Firmino still leads the press, but it gives Salah the freedom to lead the line, and he might be in the best form of his career. He leads his team in every category, shots, chance creation and dribbles, and keeps that attack ticking with his pace and movement. The most important element of this side is the new found flexibility. When you move Firmino in a deeper position, it really helps give that midfield an option and doesn’t leave such a gap between the forward line and the midfield. It’s been a success, and now Klopp has even more options on how to set up his side. While their league form has been sensational, their performances in the Champions League have been worrying. Their defeats away to Paris, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade were very worrying, because it highlighted their weaknesses and their occasion to just forget the basics of football. Away games in the Champions League are tough, and Liverpool just dropped off. They were taking less shots and giving away way more big chances than they usually do. Their usual aggression and general effort just seemed to drop off, especially against Napoli. It’s left them with clear weaknesses, that if you deal with the midfield, it makes them so much easier to handle. They are still one of the best sides in the competition, and will be very hard to stop.

With Salah already highlighted. let’s look at 2 other players that will have an influence in this game, starting with Virgil Van Dijk. The Dutchman has single handedly fixed that defence and given them a monsterous aerial prescene and a great distributor. Liverpool were chasing Van Dijk for months, and finally landed their man for £75 million last January. He has arguably been one of Liverpool’s best ever signings in the Premier League era. He is just so reliable and leads that back line and has improved every defender who plays next to him. The best thing to say about Van Dijk is he is yet be dribbled past in the Premier League. That is absolutely incredible. He will be needed in a game against an opponents with true European pedigree, and Liverpool need a leader, especially at the Allianz. While I do like Van Dijk and mostly like Salah (the diving hasn’t helped him recently), I love Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian is the reason why that front 3 click so well. His pressing, creativity and work ethic make him the perfect partner for Mane and Salah. He has been so consistent during his time in Liverpool, He has contibuted to more than 15 goals in every domestic season for the Reds, and is a favourite for Jurgen Klopp. While Salah and Mane were great in the Champions League last season. He played every game and arguably gave his best performances. He contributed to 17 goals in 13 starts. He gave out the highest shot numbers and creative figures, and was the stand out performer for a majority of Liverpool’s games. Whether he is on the ball or off it, Bayern should be worried for what he can do to them.

Moving on to Bayern, who haven’t had as bad of a season as many have attempted to point out. The best way to describe it is unfortunate.  Just looking at thier xPTS, it shows that Bayern should be 8 points clear ahead of Dortmund, but thanks to a few unfortunate results and Favre breaking xG as usual, Bayern are 5 behind Dortmund and just in front of Gladbach. I’ve covered the negatives multiple times in the past so why not look at the more positive side? Well they still top the Bundesliga for shots, possession, pass accuracy and face the least amount of shots. They are still a very good side, but a lack of recruitment has made this squad weak in some areas. Niko Kovac is doing a good job, but has had the problem of relatively poor backing from the board have given Kovac criticism that isn’t entirely his fault. Bayern have an average age of 27,3, the highest in the Bundesliga. It’s worrying when their closest competitors, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund, have average age’s of 23,9 and 24,9 respectively. While signings like Goretzka, Gnabry and Tolisso show that they have thought ahead in some areas, there are still players in this side that should be looking at moving on. Robben and Ribery are leaving in the summer, which is long overdue. Both have been some of the best wingers of the century, but they shouldn’t be relying on these players when they are both in their mid 30s. Some of their defenders also need to be looking at replacing. While I think Boateng and Hummels are still great defenders, one of them should move on, most definitely Boateng. The World Cup winner has struggled with injuries, and has relied on his physicality for years now. Hummels does not, which makes him more useful as he ages. Even with Pavard coming in the summer, they need to start truly future proofing the side, and now with Koman and Gnabry being the only attackers in the side that can be seen as young, their next few summers could possibly be the most important in the club’s recent history. I do think Bayern have been hugely unlucky to not be top of the Bundesliga, but their problems are all their own.

While Lewandowski is by far their biggest threat, with the forward scoring the joint most goals in the group stages, and his shot numbers being very good with 4 per game, it’s too obvious. We’ll instead look at two other players that will cause Liverpool plenty of problems. The first being, as previously mentioned, Kinglsey Coman. The Frenchman has had his difficulties while playing for the champions, with his game time limited thanks to Robben and Ribery’s continued persistence to remain as key players, it has meant he isn’t given as much game time as he so rightly deserves. Why does he deserve it? Well he has confortably been their best wide player. With Robben, Ribery and Gnabry all not being at their best, it has made Coman vital to this side. Even with the winger missing a majority of the season due to an injury he sustained in the first game of the season, Kovac as seen Coman as a player that must remain part of his first team plans. He put in a man of the match display against Augsburg, which saw him score 2 and assist another, which have been his only goal involvments this season, but his numbers have still been very positive. His xG90 and xA90 combined this season is a good 0.64, the highest in his career. He has only made 11 appearances this season, but it shows just how well he has played under Kovac. He has been unbeatable at times, with his pace, dribbling and chance creation all incredible this season. He has to play every game, but it’s a shame his injury record is still a worry. He’s now 22, which means it is about time for him to truly show the potential he’s promised for so long. Finally, let’s discuss Thiago Alcantara. The Spaniard has been one of the best midfielders in Europe for the past 3 years, but like Coman, he has also had his injury problems in the past. This hasn’t stopped the Spaniard in being almost a complete midfielder. He averages 4.2 tackles and interceptions per game, completes 2.2 dribbles and averages 82 passes a game. Without Thiago in the side, they lack a player who isn’t afraid to get on the ball and help transition to attack, while relieving pressure off the defence. He is one of their most important players, and Bayern will need to get him on the ball as much as possible.

If Liverpool want to win this tie, they must attack down the flanks. If Bayern’s 3-1 loss against Leverkusen has taught us anything, it’s that they struggle when dealing with fast wingers, and Liverpool definitely have some of them. Bailey and Bellarabi cause Alaba and Rafinha plenty of problems, with the wingers completing 5 dribbles between them. Even with Kimmich coming back, it doesn’t change the fact that because Bayern advance their full backs so far forward, it leaves so much space for wingers to exploit. When Bayern struggle against teams, it’s against those who have more energy and hit them in the wide areas. Liverpool should deploy their 4-3-3. This kind of game is made for Firmino. His pressing will be key in dealing with an aging back line and a goalkeeper who is having his worst season in the his esteemed career in Neuer. Liverpool have been good this season, but it is time for them to turn on the spark of their incredible run last season, where their forwards that their best performances, and show this Bayern side that they aren’t top dogs anymore in European football.

However if Bayern want to advance to the next round, they must get Thiago on the ball as much as possible. I mentioned this before, but he is an excellent midfielder and if they are to get anything out of this game, Thiago needs to put his mark on this game. Modric and Kroos proved that if you play midfielders with game intelligence and great transitional play, it truly makes it hard for Liverpool. They cannot play anyone who isn’t afraid to run the length of the pitch. Coman. Gnabry, Rodriguez and even Goretzka have to play. Kovac might have to sacrifice everything that Pep has built and established, if they want to advance.

I’m going for Liverpool to advance here, and quite comfortably. This is still a good Bayern side, but this Liverpool side are still favourites. On their day, they can beat anyone, and they have the players and energy to break this Bayern side. The game at Anfield could be a battering, and it could be a massive statement for the Reds. Both want to win their domestic campaigns arguably more than this trophy, so it will be interesting to see how both will set up.