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Can No Business Be Bad Business?

By: Sam Hill

The summers of 2018 and 2019 were vastly different for Liverpool Football Club. One was coming off the heels of a devastating loss in a Champions League final when they signed one of the world’s best keepers and defensive midfielders, also a player in Naby Keita, who has the potential to be among Europe’s elite, and a shrewd piece of business in Xherdan Shaqiri. That summer of 2018 set the tone for the 2019 transfer window. Liverpool are the holders of the Champions League and are coming off a league campaign where they finished with 97 points and loss just a single game, yet they decided to stand pat and sign zero first-team players. That is not to say they weren’t linked or interested in anyone, Winger Nicolas Pepe was a target as well as Midfielder Bruno Fernandes and a little fella named Phillipe Coutinho. The inactivity led to unease among some fans due to the fact that Liverpool’s best option off the bench was… well, club legend Divock Origi? Ya, not so inspiring. So I have decided to write about why Liverpool MAY regret not deciding to splash the cash. (Full disclosure, I am a Liverpool fan so there may be a little bias. Keep in mind.)

History

History, oh what a lovely word. History and Liverpool are used a lot in the same sentence due to the fact that the club has quite a bit of it. Now, I am not going to talk about the trophies won in the years when the Vietnam War was going on, but instead, the years when a trophy wasn’t won but maybe should have been. Liverpool has came extremely close to the Premier League on three separate occasions. On two of those occasions, the main reason for them not winning the title was, no not a curse, but the lack of depth. Those seasons were the 2008/2009 and 2013/2014 campaigns (hard to call the reason for not winning the league with 97 points anything but hard luck).

In 2008/2009 a team led by a midfield of Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso and a prime Fernando Torres finished four points off champion Manchester United. This team lost just two games all season but had an atrocious ELEVEN draws. Usually, when a team vying for the title is tied in a game late they bring on their secret weapon, think Javier Hernandez or Dimitar Berbatov or Florent Malouda or in the case of City, Riyad freaking Mahrez. Well, Liverpool did not have a player like that in 2009, their best option off the bench was.. well David N’gog or how about Nabil El Zhar or what about even Andriy Voronin. Let’s just say they didn’t exactly have game-breakers to bring off the bench.

This 2019 iteration of Liverpool could have similar issues if they are tied 1-1 away at Goodison Park in a shitty late February match. They look to the bench and see Divock Origi, a 17-year-old Rihan Brewster who hasn’t played a minute of PL football to this point and Xherdan Shaqiri who seems to have been exiled out by Jurgen Klopp. A versatile forward such as Pepe or PSV forward Steven Bergjwin would have been very useful in situations like this. Both players are fast and direct with the ability to get in behind the defence and draw a penalty. Late in games when teams are wearing down, attributes like those are key.

In the case of the 2013/2014 season, that team had many, many flaws. One example is the fact that a wayyyyyy past his prime Kolo Toure played TWENTY… twenty premier league games. Yet going into the last three games of the season Liverpool still controlled their own destiny thanks to an incredible attacking season from Luis Suarez and Co and a memorable home win against Manchester City in late April, their main rival for the title. What some people tend to forget about that match is Jordan Henderson got sent off late on. Henderson was a key player for Liverpool that year due to his late runs from midfield, energy and ability to create and find space, something that Liverpool lacked. This meant he missed the Chelsea game and although people attribute the reason they lost to well “Slippy G” haha great banter, a major reason Liverpool lost was due to the lack of Henderson and flexibility in the way they played without him. It was incredibly difficult for Liverpool to open Chelsea up for good opportunities due to the lack of replacement for Henderson. This is an issue with the current iteration of Liverpool’s squad. Klopp loves a workhorse midfield but they lack somebody who can break open a game with his creativity from that position. A player like Nabil Fekir from now Betis or the previously mentioned Bruno Fernandes would have been very helpful as they have knack for creating space for their teammates either with their movement or with a pinpoint pass. Liverpool struggle less than they used to with breaking teams down, but when things do go stale they could be in trouble. As Mark Twain once said History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes and that is bad news for Liverpool’s title hopes.

Henderson got sent off late on in Liverpool’s big win back in 2013/2014 causing him to miss the Chelsea match

Flexibility and Workload

Liverpool’s front three does many things extremely well, including getting into arguments on the field and then making up on twitter. They also have played an insane amount of footy in the last 24 months. All three played in the world cup two summers ago and all three featured in an international tournament no more than 12 weeks ago. Firmino himself played 3400 minutes last season, Mane and Salah both clocked in at around 4300 minutes. They rarely ever get rest because, well firstly, they are really fucking good, but secondly, their replacements are 3-4 levels below them. They are three special players and together they form the scariest attack in the world, but they are also so heavily relied upon by Liverpool to not only score but also create their own chances due to the lack of creativity and attacking threat from midfield. Point being here is that with the amount of football they have played with little break, the odds of them getting injured are increased and if one of them goes down the other two suffer immensely because of the understanding that they have built with each other.  Liverpool’s main rivals Manchester City recently lost their best centre back Ayermic Laporte for the foreseeable future and the effect of his absence has already been felt as they lost their first match without him to newly-promoted Norwich and conceded 3 times in the process. A blow to one of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah or Roberto Firmino would have a similar effect on Liverpool’s chances at the title. Liverpool scored 112 goals in all competitions last year, the front three had a total of 95 goal contributions and scored just over 60 percent of the team’s goals. The reason Liverpool would be in big trouble if they lost one of the 3 is that they do not have an adequate replacement because they decided against spending money this summer.

Injuries do happen in football and if one of the front three does suffer a major blow, it will be Liverpool’s fault they didn’t find a backup. I mentioned him previously but a player such as Steven Bergjwin would have been very useful due to the way he plays, his ability to play each position in the front 3 and he is a young player who would be willing to take a lesser role and learn from a top manager. Bergjwin played 23 times for PSV Eindhoven last year at Left Wing and 17 times at right-wing scoring 15 goals and 13 assists in all competitions as a 21-year-old. He has also played through the middle to start the new season and is doing well in the role. 

Bergjwin (pictured) would have been a perfect fit for Klopp’s team

Another argument for why Liverpool probably should have dipped their toes in the market is that they are not a very tactically flexible team with the personnel they have at the moment. Last year Liverpool used two formations, the 4-2-3-1 with a double pivot of sort and their classic 4-3-3 with a deep-lying 6, usually Fabinho. They were quite successful at times in the 4-3-2-1 but for most of the biggest games last year they reverted to the 4-3-3. Part of this was due to the fact that to implement the 4-2-3-1 they had to shuttle players like Naby Keita and Adam Lallana out wide; two natural central midfielders. Klopp did it on occasion because of the defensive stability it gave Liverpool and because it got Firmino and Salah more touches on the ball. If Liverpool had signed a wide player who is adept at playing both wings then the 4-2-3-1 could have been used much more naturally this season giving Klopp the option to switch between the two formations when he sees fit. Flexibility is important, Spurs and Manchester City both have the players to play two, three, even four different formations and with the squad Klopp has at the moment, he can’t. Had they signed a classic number 10 such as Hakim Ziyech from Ajax, a player that through his smart movement and high passing ability creates chances for fun, the 4-2-3-1 would have been a perfect formation to use for that type of player, if Klopp didn’t trust him in a midfield three. 

Why it might just not matter

Other than a slight slip up in the champions league, Liverpool has started the season as well as they could have. With fifteen points from fifteen in the league, they are top of the table with a five-point lead over main rivals City, which at this stage in the season, shouldn’t go unnoticed. The front 3 looks re-energized, a fully fit Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and hopefully soon a fully fit Naby Keita, adds a different dimension to their midfield. With Manchester City in an injury crisis, now is Liverpool’s time to take advantage. They have another big game at the weekend against Chelsea to further establish themselves as the top dogs this season. Klopp is a big believer in continuity and has huge faith in his players, he likes the workhorse midfield that he employs because it does the job he wants. Another potential reason why Liverpool didn’t sign anyone major this summer is that they may be eyeing up a potential giant transfer for next summer with the likes of Jadon Sancho and Kylian Mbappe being linked to the club. Whatever happens this year, at least Liverpool cannot be accused of “Buying the title”

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Top 5 From the Top 5: First Edition

This is the first of what will be a weekly article where I pick the five most impressive teams from the top five leagues that weekend. The teams will be picked based on their opponent, how they played, the importance of the game and how fun to watch they were. For every team picked I will put the XG (Expected goals: Learn more about it here https://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com/2015/4/10/8381071/football-statistics-expected-goals-michael-caley-deadspin)  for that game. 

Let’s start with some honourable mentions: Bournemouth, Napoli, West Ham

Lukaku finished Milan off late on

5. Inter: Coming in at number five is Inter. The Nerazzurri defeated bitter rivals Milan 2-0 on Saturday with goals coming from Marcelo Brozovic and new star striker Romelu Lukaku. The latter goal being a brilliant counter-attacking move which ended with a lovely Nico Barella cross being turned in by Lukaku, showing exactly why Inter paid upwards of 65 Million for the player. Inter dominated the chances and if not for the post and a solid performance by Milan keeper Gigi Donnarumma, it could have been a lot more. Inter were coming off a poor performance in midweek as they drew at home to Czech side Slavia Prague and this performance was needed. Safe to say they delivered as they made it four wins from four to start the Serie A season. 

Inter 2-0 Milan

XG: Inter 1.8 – 0.6 Milan

Leipzig’s win brought them back to the top of the table

4. RB Leipzig: Leipzig is turning out to be one of the most exciting teams to watch all around Europe this year. They continued their strong start to the season with a 3-0 away win at Weder Bremen. Captain Will Orban started the scoring in the twelfth minute with a bullet header, Marcel Sabitzer then put away a stunning free-kick in the 34th minute to double Leipzig’s lead. It was smooth sailing the rest of the way and in the 82nd wing-back, Marcelo Saracchi added to Bremen’s misery after the ball was parried right into his path for an easy tap in and Leipzig’s third. Leipzig is top of the table in Germany with thirteen points from a possible fifteen and young German manager Julian Nagelsman has got them playing some exquisite football.

Bremen 0-3 Leipzig

XG: Bremen 0.56 – 1.72 Leipzig

Neymar saved PSG once again

3. PSG: This was definitely not the most exciting performance of the weekend but it was impressive none the less from PSG. Missing two of their potent front three once again, they were very stout defensively and held Lyon to zero shots on target. The midfield of Gana Gueye, Ander Herrera and Marquinhos stifled Lyon all game and rarely let Lyon have the ball in dangerous areas. PSG controlled 63 percent of possession and had more than enough chances to score. In the end, Neymar’s brilliance saved the Parisians but boy are Lyon lucky that Mbappe and Cavani were unfit to play.

Lyon 0-1 PSG

XG: Lyon 0.36- 1.16

City showed no mercy against a helpless Watford side

2. Manchester City: Oh look City are still good, shocker. Look when you beat a team 8-0 in the Premier League no matter who it is, it is pretty damn impressive. It really could have been double digits too, they were just unplayable on the day. Judging by Watford’s starting XI you would’ve thought they were holding onto a one-goal lead with one minute to play but nonetheless, it’s safe to say their defensive lineup didn’t work very well. City had 28 shots, eleven on target, they hit the woodwork three times and Kevin De Bruyne created FOUR big chances by himself. Bernardo Silva got his first hattrick for City. It was just a thumping and it was quite impressive to watch. They scored FIVE goals in the first 18 minutes. Oh Norwich, what have you done.

City 8-0 Watford

XG: City 6.83!!!! – 0.34

Granada fans were happily surprised by their teams incredulous performance

1. Granada: The most shocking result this weekend was newly promoted, Granada picking up their first home win of the season against Barcelona! Granada put on a defensive clinic, allowing just one shot on target and holding Barca to just 0.5 XG. Granada was flat out the better team and made up for their lack of possession with high-quality chances. They created their first goal by robbing the ball off Barca’s left-back Junior Firpo and then getting a ball into the far post where Ramon Azeez headed home.  Messi came out late but even he could not unlock Granada’s defence. Granada is now third in La Liga after five games and has beaten the reigning champions. Quite the performance from them and one that they will not forget for a long time.

Granada 2-0 Barcelona

XG: Granada 1.87- 0.5 Barcelona

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Top 5 From the Top 5: Second Edition

Breaking down the the top performances from this weeks action across the top 5 leagues. Expected goals (xG) will be provided to give a better idea of how the featured games went.

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5. Sevilla: Sevilla were involved in a war with mid table opponents Real Sociedad on Sunday. After an early effort from Mikel Oyarzabal made it 1-0 for Sociedad, Sevilla settled in and were able to command the rest of the game, midfielder Ever Banega lashed home a half volley across the keeper to equalize in the 18th minute, then just after half-time, Sevilla were able to take advantage of a sleeping Sociedad on a set piece; the ball would find winger Lucas Ocampos who did brilliantly to beat his marker and strike a venomous ball right past the ear of keeper Moyǻ. Finally with ten minutes to go Italian midfielder Franco Vazquez subs on for Ever Banega and seals the deal almost instantaneously slotting away a rebound in the box. Sociedad were able to grab one back from substitute attacker Portu, but it wasn’t enough as Sevilla’s impressive performance was enough to hold out the hot Sociedad team that had only lost once coming into this. 

Final: 3-2 Sevilla

xG: (1.60 – 0.72)

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4. Inter: Inter Milan once again find themselves among the top performers of the week, the Nerazzurri haven’t dropped any points yet, they sit at a perfect 6-0-0 with another spectacular performance coming this past weekend. In new signing Alexis Sanchez’s first start for Inter, the Chilean forward was not only able to net his first goal for the Italian club in the twenty-second minute, but the lad also went on and picked up two yellow cards in under 50 minutes! The second of the two saw Sanchez trying to win a penalty for Inter but it was of no avail as the referee booked Alexis for simulation and sent him to the dressing room early. Opponents Sampdoria were able to ride the momentum of the red card and pull one back, thanks to a left-footed effort from from Czech midfielder Jakub Jankto which found the bottom right corner. The confident Inter side weren’t phased and were able to stabilize themselves after losing Sanchez and conceding. Marcelo Brzovic played a brilliant ball that parted the back line and was able to find the foot of Italian Roberto Gagliardini; the 25 year-old was denied on his attempt to redirect the quick pass, but turned in his own rebound; lifting Inter to their 6th straight league win. Next week will be their biggest test as they come up against Cristiano Ronaldo and second place Juventus at the San Siro.

Final: 3-1 Inter

xG: (2.17 – 1.31)

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3. Nantes: Now, in no means was this the most exciting fixture of the weekend. But it would be criminal to leave Nantes’ recent efforts unnoticed. The french side have held five clean sheets out of eight games, winning four of their five wins by a score of 1-0. Call it luck, call it whatever you want; this club is keeping the ball from going in their net. They came up against a tough task in Lyon this past weekend, but the level of opponent didn’t seem to worry the confident side. Despite being outshot, outpossesed and outchanced by Lyon, Les Canaris did what they do best and hung on, their resiliency was eventually rewarded as the ball took an odd deflection off Lyon defender Fernando Marçal in the fifty-eighth minute and fluttered over the head of keeper Anthony Lopes and just over the line, this flukey goal is all 20 year-old French keeper Alban Lafont needed as he made numerous saves to keep his team ahead and eventually succeeded with Nantes moving on to another very impressive 1-0 win. 

Final: 1-0 Nantes

xG (0.52 – 0.96)

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2.Leicester City: Brendan Rogers’ Leicester City are really hitting their stride early in the season, the foxes sit at 3rd in the premier league at the moment, with recent wins against Tottenham in the league and Luton Town in the league cup, this weekend they moved on to Newcastle at home. Leicester played arguably their most dominant performance of the season so far; holding nearly 70% possession and keeping their opponents at 0 shots on target for the entire game. It was only 1-0 up until the forty-third minute where Newcastle midfielder Isaac Hayden put in a reckless challenge on Belgian midfielder Dennis Praet which found the Newcastle player sent off and left with 10 men to deal with Leicester City. The foxes came out in the second half looking to capitalize, and that’s just what happened, Leicester front man Jamie Vardy was able to net two goals in 10 minutes along with a Paul Dummet own goal in between and a Wilfreid Ndidi volley in the 90th minute which added insult to injury for Newcastle. In a start to the season with some of the top six sides struggling, a big question at hand is whether Leicester can continue their form and find themselves back in champions league football once again. They lost star centre-back Harry Maguire, but the side have defended as well as ever with new pairing Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans playing incredibly well together. They come up against their toughest task yet, as they face undefeated Liverpool away from home in what should be an absolute cracker. 

Final: 5-0 Leicester City

xG: (1.82 – 0.05 LMAO)

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1.Schalke: Last but not least is Schalke, Schalke faced a very tall task in Bundesliga leaders RB Leipzig away from home this past weekend. Manager David Wagner mapped out a smart game plan and Schalke were able to sit back and burn Leipzig whenever the opportunity arose, holding only 36% possession, you would think they spent most of the game watching, but Schalke tremendously were able to create tons of offence in the little time they had with the ball; outshooting their opponents 8 shots to 6 (on target), with two first half goals coming from a Salif Sane header and a converted spot kick from leading goalscorer Amine Harit, this put Leipzig on their heels early and was very key for Schalke’s plan as it opened up tons of room for counter attacks in the second half, this was the result of Schalke’s third goal as 19 year-old Welsh winger Rabbi Matondo netted his first ever Bundesliga goal in his first ever Bundesliga appearance, what a way to make your debut! The only mistake Schalke made on either side of the pitch came late, as keeper Alexander Nubel misdirected a long shot from Emil Forsberg into his own goal. Probably something the keeper will laugh off after as great of a performance as that. 

Final:3-1 Schalke

xG: ( 2.65 – 1.28)

For more info on xG, check this out: https://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com/2015/4/10/8381071/football-statistics-expected-goals-michael-caley-deadspin

Champions League Recap : 1st Edition

This will be a new article series where every time the Champions League rolls around we will recap every game and give our thoughts on it. As well as a Man of the Match for each match. 

Tuesday Games

Atalanta vs Shakhtar Donetsk

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Champions league week 2 action kicked off with Ukrainian representative Shakhtar Donetsk travelling to Italy, to take on Atalanta. 

The two sides match up pretty well on paper; Atalanta would be recognized as a slight favourite due to being at home and having a tad more quality throughout the squad. Although they held these advantages, Shakhtar are no strangers to Champions league football; they qualify and compete almost every year and have been able to win games against top clubs from around Europe, so both teams understood they had their work cut out for them. Atalanta striker Duvan Zapata opened the scoring for the home team; after a fifteenth minute penalty shot from Josep Ilicic was stopped by Shakhtar keeper Andriy Pyatov, the Colombian got his head on the end of a twenty-eighth minute Hans Hateboer cross and directed the ball past the charging keeper to make it 1-0 for Atalanta. Not long after, the visitors were able to put a halt to Atalanta’s momentum; in the fortieth minute, striker Junior Moraes rounded keeper Pierluigi Gollini and slotted home the equalizer; 1-1. The home side were able to escape a huge scare when Shakhtar Donetsk nearly took the lead off a Marlos free kick which connected with the crossbar, just on the stroke of halftime. The two sides weren’t able to be separated until just about the last kick of the game; into the remaining seconds after added time, Shakhtar right back Dodo squeezes a perfectly weighted through ball in behind the Atalanta defenders and finds substitute striker Manor Solomon, Solomon executes and Shakhtar steals three points on the road. After a loss to Dinamo Zagreb last week, Atalanta have put themselves in a tough situation already, dead last in the group and still having to face giants Manchester City twice, it could be all over for the Italian club.

Man of the Match: Ismaily

Real Madrid vs Club Brugge

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The second of the 12:55pm kickoff games was Spanish giants Real Madrid versus Club Brugge of Belgium, from the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. 

As many would have predicted, it didn’t take long for a goal to be scored. But what people didn’t see coming was that the goal came from the underdogs. It only took nine minutes before 21-year old Nigerian striker Emmanuel Bonaventure was able to redirect a low cross past Madrid keeper Thibault Courtois and into the back of the net to give Brugge the early lead. Real; eager to reply, put on the pressure following the goal but weren’t able to beat ex Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet. The next goal came in the thirty-eighth minute, where man of the hour Emmanuel Bonaventure gets on the scoresheet again! The Nigerian steals the ball off 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric and finishes his breakaway into the top right corner; adding insult to injury with a cold blooded Cristiano Ronaldo celebration in front of all the Madrid supporters. The celebration of a man who owns countless amounts of historic champions league moments in that very stadium, the Nigerian had just made his own. After Halftime, Real came out determined to claw back into the contest. Struggling keeper Thibault Courtois was replaced by French backup Alphonse Areola, and the substitute was able to deny Bonaventure of his hat trick early on in the second half. Not long after, Los Blancos were able to get on the scoresheet. Following some intelligent passing around the box, the ball was whipped in by forward Karim Benzema and headed home by the Madrid captain Sergio Ramos; cutting Brugge’s lead in half with over thirty minutes to go. Real continued pushing throughout the half and were held out by Brugge until the eighty-fifth minute, when midfielder Ruud Vormer of Brugge was handed his second yellow card and sent off in the process. Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos took advantage of the spot of the foul and swung in a peach of a ball, which found the head of Brazilian Casemiro who beats Mignolet and ties the game at two. With only about five minutes to play, Madrid pushed as hard as they could to complete the comeback, but they fell just short as time ran out, although they were able to salvage a point from halftime, Real will be very disappointed with their performance and their inability to get the win against an opponent they always feel they should beat.

Man of the Match: Emmanuel Bonaventure

Manchester City vs Dinamo Zagreb

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Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb visited the Ethiad Stadium to challenge Premier League champions Manchester City in a massive underdog story. 

There wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary in this match up, City attacked and Zagreb defended for almost the full ninety minutes. The citizens held 81% possession, completed 820 passes compared to Dinamo Zagreb’s 192 and only conceded just 1 shot on target. Surprisingly, it took City over an hour before substitute Raheem Sterling was able to break the deadlock and give his side the lead, Dinamo never looked as they were gonna score all game and no prayers were answered, as City midfielder Phil Foden was able to seal the deal in the final minutes of added time. 2-0 it ended, it wasn’t close to what we have come to expect from Manchester City’s attack, but it was enough to get the 3 points which is all that mattered for Pep Guardiola’s team. 

Man of the Match: Raheem Sterling

Red Star vs Olympiacos

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Two of the most passionate fan bases in world football going at it in group B action.

 Visiting side Olympiacos were the first to strike as centre back Ruben Semedo was able to get on the end of a set piece and put a weak effort past Red Star keeper Milan Borjan to make it 1-0. Red Star weren’t able to respond until they caught a break; a second yellow card issued to Yassine Benzia meant the midfielder’s day was over, and the Serbian side took advantage. Just five minutes later, Milos Vulic equalized on a left footed shot from the left side of the box which caught Olympiacos keeper Jose Sa off guard. Then with only three minutes of normal time to play, centre back Nemanja Milunovic takes advantage of the extra man and finds an open patch in their opponents box off of a corner and headers Red Star into their first lead. They were able to repeat this routine only a couple of minutes later as Ghanaian striker Richmond Bokaye was the man to score this time, wrapping up the 3 points for the home team and sending the fans home happy. This was textbook work from Red Star on how to take advantage of the extra man, as they move to second place in group B after this week. 

Man of the Match: Nemanja Milunovic

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Lokomotiv Moscow vs Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid travelled to Russia to play hosts Lokomotiv Moscow. 

Moscow hoping to continue their good form from last week’s win against Leverkusen, would still need a good performance to take points from the favourites, unfortunately, they weren’t able to deliver. Although they created a few good chances, it wasn’t enough to crack the tested Atletico Madrid defence and star keeper Jan Oblak. Atletico comfortably moved the ball around the whole game; holding 62% of possession and early into the second half they were able to take their chance and convert on it. 126 million euro man Joao Felix was able to nab the first goal of his early Champions League campaign, as he put away his own rebound to give his side the lead. This goal would open up Moscow a little bit more and just ten minutes later, midfielder Thomas Partey gets on the end of a Diego Costa low ball too double Madrid’s lead. From this point on, Madrid saw out the last thirty minutes relatively easily and captured the win along with joint first place in group D. Side note: With Joao Felix scoring, he becomes the first teenager to score a Champions League goal in 60 years!!

Man of the Match: Joao Felix

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Tottenham vs Bayern Munich 

The German champions visited the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to take on Spurs in Tuesday’s main event.

I don’t think anybody could have predicted this one. In what was arguably the most highly anticipated match of the week, this had all the makings to be an instant classic and well it kinda was, just not the way Tottenham fans would have seen it becoming one. After a high impact start with chances coming from both ends, you could tell an early goal was coming. Tottenham’s sparkplug Heung-Min Son was the supplier as he ran onto a through ball and struck it across world cup winning keeper Manuel Neuer and into the bottom corner to give Spurs the early lead. This lead however lasted about two minutes, as Bayern Midfielder Joshua Kimmich unleashes a 30-yard screamer that takes the game back to even. The two sides don’t back down as they traded chances throughout the first half. Finally, just before the half time whistle, Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski picks up the ball at the top of the box from a broken play and makes no mistake as he perfectly places a finish into the bottom right corner and gives his team that ever so important lead going into half. At this point, the contest was even, Tottenham actually had a slight advantage in shots. The second half however was none of the same. Feeling deserved of the lead or at least to be tied; Mauricio Pochettino encouraged his team to keep the energy and stay aggressive, Bayern knowing that Spurs would push and being the top club that they are, countered spurs aggressiveness tremendously and were able to find two goals in two minutes from former Arsenal winger Serge Gnabry which made it 4-1 to Bayern. Not long after, Spurs were awarded a penalty kick as Danny Rose was taken down in the box. Harry Kane converted from the spot to make it 4-2, possibly a sign of hope for Tottenham as the game had been so open for the first hour. Pochettino knowing he’d need to take a risk for the points brought on attacking options Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela. This unfortunately made Tottenham’s defence look even worse than they’d been all day; conceding another three in the last ten minutes of the game and making it one of the most embarrassing losses in Tottenham’s recent history. Adding salt to the wound the undeniable man of the match was former Arsenal man Serge Gnabry who tweeted after the game that “London is red”. The German netted four goals in his return to England.

Man of the Match: Serge Gnabry

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Juventus vs Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen looked to bounce back from a week 1 loss, as they faced Italian champions Juventus.

Leverkusen were uninspiring last week against Lokomotiv Moscow, and this week was much of the same, the German side go a second week without registering a goal. Conceding early to a marvelous Gonzalo Higuain strike, they never seemed in the game from that point. Leverkusen held 55% of possession but amazingly enough failed to get even one shot on target! Juventus had no problem not having the ball if the opponents wouldn’t do anything with it, they took their chances to counter and did…. Easily. If it wasn’t for keeper Lukas Hradecky it could have looked a lot worse for Leverkusen. Juventus handedly walked out of this one victorious; adding two more goals to their lead in the second half, courtesy of Frederico Bernardeschi and Cristiano Ronaldo.They now sit joint first place with Atletico Madrid in group D. As for Leverkusen, they really need to figure something out if they want to continue their Champions League campaign, so far things have looked very poor. 

Man of the Match: Gonzalo Higuain

PSG vs Galatasaray

Image result for mauro icardi psg

Finally, Paris travelled to Turkey to take on Galatasaray. 

The travelling team faced a little bit of fatigue as Paris seemed a little bit tired moving forward throughout the contest, but they were still able to defend well; conceding only one shot on target in the entire game, they weren’t tremendously tested by any means but after new signing Mauro Icardi was able to give PSG their first lead in the fifty-first minute. The French giants did a great job at sustaining their lead and committing to keeping it. Thomas Tuchel probably would have liked to seen his team score more than just the one, but no Neymar and Mbappe starting means that the whole front three would operate differently. PSG have been one of the best defensive teams in world football so far; keeping a clean sheet in 9/10 games this season. If defence wins championships, this could be PSG’s year to go all the way. 

Man of the Match: Angel Di Maria

Wednesday Games

Genk vs Napoli – 0-0

Milik missed FIVE big chances in Napoli’s 0-0 draw

We start in Belgium where Napoli, coming off a 2-0 home win against Group E favourites Liverpool in matchday one, travelled cross-continent to face off against Genk who lost 6-2 to RB in the first week. This was an extremely open game that somehow ended up with zero goals. Arkadiusz Milik missed 5(five!!!) big chances and Napoli as a team hit the woodwork twice. Genk even had their fair share of chances including a goal-line clearance from Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly. The scoreline really should have read 5-2 for Napoli, but in the end, Genk run out with their first point and Napoli sit atop Group E with 4 points. 

Man of the Match: Kalidou Koulibaly

Lille vs Chelsea – 1-2

Tammy Abraham is off to a hot start for Chelsea

In what is shaping up to be the most exciting group of them all, Group H brought another tantalizing fixture with Chelsea going to France to face off against Lille. Both teams started off their campaigns with losses and were looking to get on the board. The game lived up to the hype as it was end to end with plenty of chances. N’golo Kante finally returned to the Chelsea lineup and he showed why they missed him so much. The game’s first goal came from Tammy Abraham who neatly took down a Fiyako Tomori ball, turned and slotted it past the Lille keeper. Lille started to make headway after that goal and finally broke through in the 33rd minute thanks to rising star striker Victor Oshimen. The 20-year-old has 9 goal contributions in 10 games so far for Lille with 7 goals. His powerful header beat Kepa and the game entered the break tied. Both teams shared chances until in the 78th minute Willian broke the deadlock with a wonderful first-time volley that bounced and looped over Mike Maignon into the Lille net. Chelsea fans may not like Willian, but that goal gave them their first win in Europe under Frank Lampard and puts them 2nd in Group H. Lille are now the only team in the group without a point.

Man of the Match: Willian

Artem Dzyuba had a big game for Zenit

Zenit vs Benfica – 3-1

Benfica’s rough start to the Champions League got even worse Wednesday, they were absolutely outclassed by Zenit from start to finish. Zenit opened the scoring through Artem Dzuyba after a silly error by Lubojmir Fesja, the Benfica midfielder was caught on the ball inside his own box and Dzyuba capitalized. Zenit scored their second in the 70th minute after a lovely ball from Wilmer Barrios split through the Benfica defence onto the foot of Vyacheslav Karavaev who crossed in only to have Benfica defender Ruben Dias turn it into his own goal. Sardar Azmoun wrapped up the 3 points for Zenit after he was sent through one v one from a quick free-kick. He promptly rounded the keeper and slid it home to ensure Zenit went home with all three points. Raul De Tomas scored a screamer (ahhhhhhhh) late on but it was just a consolation. Benfica is stuck on zero points and Zenit is atop Group G with 4.

Man of the Match: Artem Dzyuba

Playing as a winger, Acraf Hakimi scored twice

Slavia – Dortmund – 0-2

Dortmund picked up a tough away victory and made it look easy well doing so. Slavia Prague is never an easy team to play away from home but thanks to Acraf Hakimi who scored twice, Dortmund did the business. Other than Hakimi, whose two goals were brilliant, Julian Brandt looked worth every penny for Dortmund. He started in the Number 10 role and was sending his teammates in on goal left and right, ending up with both assists on the goals. Keeper Roman Burki also made some big early saves to keep a clean sheet. Hakimi, traditionally a fullback, is enjoying life as a remade winger. His pace and ability to use both feet make him deadly on counters and Slavia were way too open to stand a chance in this game. Dortmund is now tied with Barca atop the group with four points and Slavia is tied bottom with Inter on one point.

Man of the Match: Acraf Hakimi

Barcelona – Inter – 2-1

Suarez won the game for Barca by himself

Barcelona played their best half of the season in the second half to come from behind and beat Inter 2-1. Luis Suarez rolllllled back the years with a couple of fantastic goals. The first being an incredible volley from the top of the box that thrashed its way into the bottom corner past Samir Handanovic’s outstretched arm.  Lionel Messi then put on a show, dribbling past and around four Inter defenders before whipping a low ball into Suarez whose first touch took him right past Diego Godin and right into the box where all he had to do was slide it home. Barcelona started horribly, going down 1-0 in the 2nd minute thanks to a lovely finish from Lautaro Martinez. They then needed a couple of big saves from Marc Andre Ter-Stegen who kept them in the game. Maybe this is the game Barca needed to kickstart their season. They now are atop Group F.

Man of the Match: Luis Suarez

RB Leipzig vs Lyon – 0-2

A big win for Lyon ended a 7 game winless streak

Probably the most shocking result on Wednesday saw Lyon go to Germany and beat Leipzig 2-0. Leipzig seemed destined to score first but the usually deadly Timo Werner missed a glorious chance from 10 yards. Then in the 10th minute, a few mistakes from Leipzig’s young French CB pairing of Dayot Upemacano and Ibrahim Konate allowed Hassem Aouar to go through on goal, Memphis Depay ended up picking the ball up from his teammate and slotting home as Lyon went 1-0 up. Werner missed another huge chance in the 22nd after he put himself through, he chipped over the bar on a one v one. He then forced Lyon keeper Anthony Lopes into a lovely save which ensured Lyon went into the break ahead. Leipzig was trying to find an equalizer when in the 64th minute their other young French defender Nordi Mukiele made a calamitous error which sent through Martin Terrier who scored Lyon’s second. Lyon who entered on a 7 game winless run, went home with an undeserved win but they don’t care. They are on four points after 2 games, Leipzig 3. 

Man of the Match: Hassem Aouar

Valencia vs Ajax – 0-3

Ajax look set to go on another run this year

Ajax has picked up where they left off after last year’s semi-final appearance, starting this campaign with two 3-0 victories. They just overran Valencia with everything they had and although Valencia had a couple of chances including a Dani Parejo penalty miss, they had nothing to show for it. Hakim Ziyech scored a contender for goal of the year to open the scoring. Lobbing Jasper Cillesen from the top left corner of the box, leaving the keeper with nowhere to look but down. After Quincy Promes made it 2 for Ajax, their third goal was a thing of beauty. They strung together 9 passes (yes I counted) in 30 seconds to cut through Valencia within the final ball being a lovely slip pass by Dusan Tadic to put through Donny Van Der Beek who slotted home smartly. 

Man of the Match: Hakim Ziyech

Liverpool vs RB Salzburg – 4-3

Liverpool survived the scare thanks to these two

What is it with Red Bull and Soccer teams?!?!?!? The best match of the week happened at Anfield Wednesday. Liverpool went 3-0 up after half an hour through goals from Sadio Mane, Andy Robertson and Mo Salah. Salzburg then got one back just before half time through a magical goal by Hwang Hee-Chan, the winger dropped Virgil Van Dijk and smashed one into the top right corner. Shortly after the break Takumi Miniamino took advantage of a very open LFC defence and hit a brilliant first-time volley into the corner to cut the lead to one. Then teenage wunderkid Erling Haaland came on and tapped in Miniaminos cross to put his tally at 5 goals in two games in the competition and complete the comeback. American RB Manager Jesse Marsch ran the length of the pitch to join the celebrations. All of which was for nothing as in the 69th minute (Very Nice) Roberto Firmino nodded in Salah’s path who finished expertly to ensure Liverpool would go home with all three points. Group E is now a bit of a mess, Napoli on four, LFC and RB on 3 and Genk on 1 point.

Man of the Match: Takumi Miniamino

TOP 5 FROM THE TOP 5: Third Edition

In a weekend full of upsets and surprising results across Europe, the Premier League showed once again that anyone can beat anyone. In Italy, Serie A’s top teams did battle and Juve came out on top proving their title pedigree. Champions of Germany Bayern Munich were brought back down to earth after an impressive midweek performance and Spain’s peskiest team stopped the Real Sociedad hype train dead in its tracks. As usual, I will pick the five most impressive teams from the weekend’s action, talk about the match, where they go next and add in our favourite XG map for each game.

5. Juventus

Inter 1-2 Juve

The Old Lady showed why they should still be considered the title favourite this season. In what was a great match, they overpowered Inter by a score of 2-1. The first goal of the game coming early on from Paulo Dybala. Juve manager Maurizio Sarri made the big call to go with Ronaldo and Dybala up front and it paid off. Dybala ran onto a pinpoint over the top ball from Miralem Pjanic, settled it down and fired an absolute bullet past the outstretched hand of Inter keeper Samir Handanovic. After Inter equalized not long after through a Lautaro Martinez penalty, the game went into the break tied at 1. In the 65th minute, Sarri made a double change, bringing on Rodrigo Bentancur and Gonzalo Higuain. That decision ended up being an excellent one, 15 minutes after the sub, Bentancur slipped through Higuain who finished brilliantly past Handanovic, 2-1 Juve. A masterclass from Sarri and a good team performance from Juve is what gets them the fifth spot on this list. They move ahead on Inter into 1st by one point as we head into the international break.

XG: Inter 1.54- Juve 1.22

4. Getafe

Real Sociedad 1-2 Getafe

In what was by no means an exciting match, Getafe came from a goal down to defeat Sociedad, sending them to a second loss in a row. This game really only made the list because well there weren’t many options to chose from. Neither team hit 1 XG and none of the goals were particularly pretty. After an incredible season last year which saw Getafe finish in 5th and reach the Europa League, they have started this season poorly. Before this game, they were on just 7 pts having played 7 and Sociedad had won 3 of their last four games. Sociedad went down to 10 men in the 52nd minute and from there on Getafe took over, scoring in the 68th and then winning it with just two minutes to play. 

XG: Real Sociedad 0.77 – Getafe 0.87

3. Brighton

Aaron Connolly announced himself to everyone watching Saturday

Brighton 3-0 Spurs

WELCOME TO YOUR KODAK MOMENT AARON CONNOLLY. In all seriousness what a game from the young Irish international and what a game from Brighton. This game never looked like it was going Spurs way. Let’s just get this out of the way, I feel horrible for Hugo Lloris, a dislocated elbow is an awful injury and I can only imagine the pain he felt. But if you say you didn’t at least chuckle when you saw him catch the ball then immediately fall over as Neal Maupay headed into an empty Spurs net you’re a god damn liar. One of the most bizarre moments I have ever seen as a football fan put Brighton 1 nil up and they did not look back.

Spurs looked lost, disengaged and flat out, out of ideas. Ben Davies showed why he should never start a Premier League game for Spurs again and Toby Alderweireld showed signs that his decline could be starting a lot earlier than expected. Aaron Connolly pretty much said give me the ball and let me cross this fool for his second goal, running straight at Alderweireld, turning him and then blasting a lovely strike into the bottom right corner. Putting the cherry on top of a man of the match performance. I am a huge fan of what Brighton has done so far this year and a huge fan of their manager Graham Potter. Lewis Dunk showed why teams all around England should be in for him in January, his on the ball ability and defensive intelligence was really on display. As for Spurs, the international break could not come at a better time. A hard reset is needed and everyone going away for two weeks can be nothing but positive. This team, for the most part, has been together for 5 years with little change. There is a possibility that things are getting stale. I do not think that sacking Pochettino is the answer but there is no simple solution to this problem. For now, Spurs fans, take a breath, enjoy the two weeks off and watch Tanguay Ndombele compilations.

Brighton 2.80 – 0.48 Spurs

2. Hoffenheim

Bayern 1-2 Hoffenheim

No Nagelsman no problem! Hoffenheim shocked morning leaders Bayern on Saturday in what was a classic counter-attacking performance. Bayern was obviously coming off an unforgettable midweek win against Spurs but Hoffenheim brought them back down to earth. The game was nil-nil at the break but in fairness to Bayern, they should have been up by at least a goal. And they would come to rue those missed chances as early in the second half Hoffenheim midfielder Dennis Geiger robbed Corentin Tolisso of the ball deep in Bayern territory, then set up teammate Sargis Adamyan whose low drive went through Jerome Boateng and beat Neuer at his near post, stunning the Munich crowd. Bayern would again go on to miss a number of easy chances including two wide-open headers from Gnabry and Lewandowski. But finally, in the 72nd minute, they equalized through Lewandowski who managed to pull away from his defender and nod home a nice Thomas Muller cross. Everyone watching was thinking “now Bayern can go on and win this”. But NO! Hoffenheim showed their ability to counterstrike again, a low Robert Skov cross was controlled by Adamyan who quickly fired into the bottom right corner again! Neither Nikolas Sule or Boateng got close enough to the forward and Neuer couldn’t keep out his brilliant finish. Hoffenheim stifled every Bayern attack that came their way for the last 15 minutes and pulled off the upset. The Bundesliga has been wild this year and that loss put Bayern into a FIVE WAY TIE for third, two points behind leaders Gladbach. Hoffenheim up to 12th.

XG: Bayern 1.77-0.77 Hoffenheim

1. Wolves

City 0-2 Wolves!!!!

In what was probably one of the best ever park the bus – counterattack performances of all time, Nuno Santos and Wolves shocked Pep Guardiola and his shiny bald head on his own turf. It has been a tough season so far for Wolves, the Europa League has taken a toll on them as they rarely ever rotate their starting XI and depth is not a major strength of theirs. This win, however, could be a major turning point in their season. Wolves came to the Etihad (which is by no means a fortress but nonetheless) and made City work for every inch. They suffocated City, shut them down, were on them like a rash whenever they had the ball in a dangerous area. And when they managed to win the ball back, they countered with pace and guile. They had three one v ones in the first half and although they missed all of them (Patrick Cutrone is awful) they showed they could hurt City. City, of course, created chances, but it was only a matter of time before the clown show at the back which is Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi, conceded. The first Wolves goal came not long after certified racist (this is a joke) Bernardo Silva missed a great chance from six yards out. City turned the ball over deep in the Wolves half and Raul Jimenez took his chance. Running almost the length of the pitch, dropping Otamendi before sliding it into the speedster Adama Traore’s path who slid it brilliantly passed Ederson to send the Wolves away section into a frenzy. Counter Attacking Clinic. City spammed as many crosses as possible but not even that worked. Then in the 94th minute, a near carbon copy of the first goal. Jimenez slipped in Traore again, whose finish looked like deja vu as he put it just beyond Ederson into the bottom right corner for the second time. The most shocking result of the season so far. City is now 8 points behind table-toppers Liverpool after just 8 games. Their decision to not sign another centre back in the summer proving costly once again in this one.

XG: City 1.62 – 1.19 Wolves

How Good can Mbappe be?

For the last half-decade football fans around the world have been looking for the player who would break the 10-year streak of the Balon D’or (the award for the best player in the world given out annually) going to either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Names like Hazard, Neymar and Bale were all touted as the one to breakthrough and yet all have failed. Messi and Ronaldo’s level of consistency over the past decade has been staggering. But someone will have to take over the mantle of the world’s best player when those two finally do fall off and that player is Kylian Mbappe. 

Ronaldo and Messi have won every Balon d’Or since 2008

Ever since Mbappe broke onto the scene at the age of 17 with the young, exciting Monaco team that shocked everyone by winning Ligue 1 and reaching the Champions League Semi’s, people have been watching him very closely. We will get into what makes Kylian so special, but first, let’s look at his goal record. In the 2016/2017 season, again at just 17, he scored 21 goals (6 in the Champions League) and supplied 8 assists. He did all of this in just 2000 minutes! That is a goal contribution every 74 minutes, absolutely ludicrous. Casual fans didn’t really watch what he was doing in the French league, but that didn’t matter because he showed up when it mattered, in the Champions League. Mbappe scored twice against Manchester City in the RO16, twice against Dortmund in the Quarters and then once more against Juventus in the Semis. 

If you call yourself any sort of football fan you know how good Mbappe is, but it cannot be understated how incredible he has been at such a young age. Of course, Mbappe got his big move to PSG in the summer of 2018 after winning the World Cup with France where he won Young Player of the Tournament, scoring 4 times. He was not what everybody expected in that first year with PSG. Of course, he still put up 17 goals and 11 assists in 35 games which is ridiculous, but there was something just seemed off. Part of it was the manager, Unai Emery could have done a much better job putting Mbappe in a better position to succeed, there were also some little injuries and there was also the fact that he was still just 18! Emery was subsequently sacked and we saw Mbappe unleashed in the 2018/2019 season. Playing mostly through the middle, the Frenchman put up just absurd numbers and showed his true potential. 37 goals and 12 assists in just 3000 MINUTES. At the age of 20, Kylian Mbappe was putting up numbers rivalled by only Lionel Messi, truly elite company. Just look at this performance from Mbappe last season, PSG was beating rivals Lyon 1-0 in a tight game, then Mbappe happened.

He absolutely blew them away with his speed, finishing, and intelligent movement putting 4 past Lyon in just 15 minutes.

Now that we have marvelled about Mbappe’s incredible stats, we can get into his potential. Some bold predictions coming up here, I am going to say that Mbappe will not only be the 2020 Balon d’Or winner, but he will also end up winning at least 3 Balon d’Or awards over his career. He will also go down as the top scorer for the French national team and when his career is all said and done, he will be held in the same esteem as French players like Platini, Zidane and Henry.

Now as to why I believe these things, firstly Mbappe has shown he wants to improve and is always trying to get better. A player like Mbappe who is faster than literally everybody could rely on his speed to get by, but he hasn’t done that. His finishing, movement, and overall link-up play has improved every year and for a young player as talented as him that is so important. He can beat any defender in the world one v one, he can play any position across the forward line and he can finish with both feet. He also has shown the ability to be a world-class poacher and yet is also a good playmaker for his age. In a lot of cases similar to Mbappe, young players have a lot of flair and technique, but the end product tends to be lacking, Mbappe has shown that end product is not a problem for him. He started this year on the injury table and only returned last month, but already he has 7 goals and 4 assists in just 400 minutes. That is a goal contribution every 36 minutes by the way, yes THIRTY-SIX. Mbappe has also shown his ability to overcome adversity so early on in his career, last season PSG were knocked out of the Champions League after a putrid performance at home where they blew a 2-0 aggregate lead to a less than inspiring Manchester United team. Mbappe, although scoring once and providing an assist in the two games, was scapegoated. The second leg was not his best performance by any means, he flubbed two good chances and was sloppy overall, but he was not the worst player on the pitch, not even close yet he was dragged through the mud for four days. PSG’s first game after the debacle was at home against Marseille, “Le Classique” as it is called in France, the biggest game the league has to offer. With the game deadlocked at 0-0, Mbappe did this,

A brilliant finish and a celebration that had social media buzzing. A shrug of the shoulders as to say “I am still here” twenty years of age and he was not bothered one bit by getting scrutinized by national and continental media.

Young players regularly get high expectations thrown on them unfairly after one good season or performance and they struggle to live up to the hype. Mbappe is the outlier, like Messi and Ronaldo before him, he has exceeded every expectation asked of him and more and he doesn’t look like slowing down. Mbappe has become not just a global superstar, but a phenomenon. Nike’s most marketable football star behind CR7, Kylian represents everything a young footballer wants to be. He is confident, unfazed, fashionable and is an overall likeable guy. Mbappe is not expected to stay with PSG for much longer, Real Madrid has always seemed like the next option and rumours of him going to Liverpool are only picking up steam. It doesn’t matter where he plays, he will score goals in any league, but some have doubts about the quality of Ligue 1 compared to the other top 5 leagues and honestly, a player like Mbappe deserves to be centre stage at all times.

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