It was the most anticipated weekend of the summer for football fans everywhere, and the excitement was answered with plenty of goals and entertainment.
Arsenal and Leicester kicked things off with a seven goal thriller. Lacazette headed the Gunners ahead 94 seconds into his Premier League debut, only for Okazaki to equalise just two minutes later. We were off to a flyer and that intensity continued over the 90 minutes with Leicester taking a 3-2 before Ramsey and Giroud swung the balance in Arsenal’s favor in the last 10 minutes.
Arsenal are always one of the teams that play the brand of football that, on its day, can be out of this world. Going forward they are always deadly but they are still missing something. If Wenger can find the balance and keep more clean sheets but continue to score plenty of goals, this season could see them push for the title again.
Watford and Liverpool were next up and the goals continued. Miguel Britos scored a controversial 93rd-minute equaliser for Watford to give them a share of the spoils at Vicarage road. As good as Liverpool were in attack, their defense was showing the same problems of last season.
If you want to be a title contender you have to win games like this. I know it’s tough playing away at Watford but you are still Liverpool – a club that should be aiming to win the league. You can’t be that easy to cut open. To be in with any chance of contending the title, they need to be more solid, especially away from home.
Chelsea were involved in the shock result of the weekend, falling three goals behind Burnley at Stamford Bridge. The team looks too light. I already said it weeks ago – I don’t see Chelsea winning this one because the big focus is the Champions League. Your squad needs to have the depth to handle both compeitions, and at the moment it is too thin. If you want give the youngsters a chance it will take time and patience is needed, but I’m not sure the blues want to wait for glory and if that’s the case they need to strengthen if they want a great season again.
Huddersfield also looked like a surprise package, defeating Palace 3-0 in their own back yard. Most people have predicted Huddersfield to finish rock bottom this season and on paper they are the smallest club in the league, but if they can stay positive and take each game as it comes they could cause some surprises. As we all know football isn’t played on paper, and they can look at the likes of Bournemouth and Swansea for inspiration.
Man Utd looked the best they have for some time during their 4-0 win over West Ham. It was Lukaku who grabbed the headlines with his brace, but Matic was key in midfield and looked like the piece that had been missing from Jose’s puzzle. He’s not Roy Keane, but his presence in the midfield was reminiscent of the former skipper and could turn out to be an important player for United this season.
I never understood Chelsea for letting Matic go to their rivals. I’m sure Chelsea thought they are paying over the price, but still, you know how much Mourinho needed him after last season. Pogba was doing both jobs and with Matic in the team now he has the security behind him so he can start producing more of the stuff that should make him one of the best midfielders in the world.
Away from the Premier League, Neymar made his PSG debut with a goal. There was so much expectation on the Brazilian and he delivered the goods saying that he feels more alive than ever. Barcelona played the El Classico without him, and Real Madrid got the better of them with goals from Asensio and, of course, Ronaldo. Ronaldo was sent off and will miss 5 games for pushing the referee. He can play in the Champions League but will not return to domestic action until 20 September against Real Betis, giving Messi a 5 game head start in the season’s battle for top scorer.
Barca looked like they were out of balance without Neymar and I’m sure they knew they were about to miss magic when he left to PSG. But in the Clasico they got the confirmation. Madrid was too strong and the quality that came off the bench was no different to what was starting.
It maybe will take some time to fix the Neymar shaped whole, but I’m sure Barca are working hard behind the sense to find an answer.
They did it again – trophy number 5 is a fact.
It’s been an interesting journey for Chelsea because winning a trophy a season is a must. Conte came in and everyone thought he was going to play a very defensive game, not much different to the style of Mourinho. And that was myself included because I know the tradition of the Italians is enforcing a defensive that’s unbeatable.
I know defending is an art but I love to add goals to that. He implemented the new system of 3 defenders, wingback, two holding midfielders and freedom for the front 3 from the begin of the season. The only problem he was dealing with was that he had a lot of players that had to adjust to the fact he was stepping away from the old system of 4-3-3 that had brought so much glory to Chelsea in the Mourinho days.
The season started with a similar system of Mourinho but when they got outclassed by Arsenal the alarm bells started ringing and there was no time to get used to the new system. Conte’s 3-4-3 had to start there and then, and he would only revert to the old system if it would suit the situation. What he’s done to the players is make them more disciplined and responsible, as well as given them freedom. Those three were key and were what he kept repeating from the technical area.
His team started playing some great football. Everything was set and some players started to shine again. Hazard was back to his best, Kante showed why he’s the key in this system and Fabregas used his intelligence either from the start or the bench when the team wasn’t playing well.
We can go on about the likes of Moses and Luiz playing their best football, while Costa wasn’t just out there looking for red cards but solely to score goals. After Arsenal they had another big moment in the season against Manchester City. They had to show they could bounce back from losing the previous game. When they did that I was like if people weren’t sure they were going to win it they were now.
Man Utd found a way to stop them by man marking Hazard, and that will happen again but that just shows how good the Belgian is. It will only make him better because I’m sure after the game he must have thought I couldn’t unlock myself but next time I’ll be ready, and that’s what we saw against Everton.
They asked me before the game if I thought they were going to win the title against West Brom on Radio 5 and I said for sure. The mindset of Conte is so strong that it’s all about winning and not looking for draws. That’s why Inter Milan wants to do whatever it takes to bring him home again. But he has started something very beautiful in London and I don’t think it will make sense to go to Inter and play clean up before he can start making them shine too.
I have enjoyed this season and I want to thank all of my fans for talking about this beautiful game online and in person.
Congratulations to all my fellow blues. Now it’s all about the FA Cup, and trust me, Conte wants nothing more than the double. Next season I can bet you the Champions league is the only thing that would make him sit on his bench for more than just a minute because that man has some energy!
We’re almost at the half way point in the Premier League season and Chelsea will sit at the top of the tree this Christmas. A 10th straight win for Antonio Conte puts the blues 6 points clear at the top. Fabregas’ goal also meant Sunderland stay pinned at the bottom of the league.
It’s exciting at both ends of the league and everyone will have different opinions about how the table will look come May.
Man City made a flying start to their campaign under Pep, winning their opening 6 games. It wasn’t just the results but the way they picked apart their opponents that had many making early calls for City winning the title.
On their day City can be unplayable, and if Guardiola get’s them playing at the top of their game quickly they will cause the other title contenders a lot of trouble. As it stands though, they have won just 6 of their last 15 games in all competitions going into Sunday’s tie with Arsenal.
Arsenal have also been great to watch. Their mid-week game with Everton was the first they have lost since the opening day of the season, and Alexis Sanchez has looked particularly brilliant. His pace and finishing is causing defenders all kinds of problems and he’s adjusted to his new role excellently. The game on Sunday could be one of the games of the season with the way both teams like to play.
Liverpool have also been great so far this season, but they will need to sort out their defensive problems if they are to be serious title contenders. They’ve scored the most goals in the league but they’ve also conceded more than any of the top 7. Their 3-0 victory against Middlesbrough last night shows they can be solid at the back, but Klopp will need to make sure they stay consistent.
Man Utd have struggled a little bit and Mourinho is always under the microscope so everybody knows it. But Jose is a winner and you can never count out Utd going on a crazy run of form until the end of the season. Spurs are also in the mix and can always cause a surprise like they did last season. Pochettino has played 3 at the back a few times to great success and it looks like it suits the players. They could be a dark horse in the new year.
At the other end of the table things are quite tight for the bottom eight. Sunderland sit rock bottom but are only 6 points off 13th place Burnley. The pack includes the Champions Leicester who were always going to have a tough season after winning the league last year. The extra games that come with being in Europe was going to be tough as they don’t have as much strength in depth as the usual big four.
Hull, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Palace join Sunderland as the favourites to go down, all winning only 3 or 4 games so far. It will probably be a fight to the end and it will be interesting to see who spends in January.
Whatever happens it will be thrilling for the fans and I hope Chelsea can repeat history: Each of the four times they have been top of the Premier League at Christmas they have gone on to win the title.
I have probably seen the best Chelsea game of the season and some are saying it might be the best game since the beginning of last season for us blues.
It does help a team when a new man is put in charge. Every player starts from square one to get his place in the squad, fighting for a spot in the starting line-up. Even before they get to a club, new managers know what the problems are with each player’s mentality and come up with a plan to attack that. How they find that out I still don’t know, but the do, and Conte is clearly no exception.
Look at hazard – he’s fit and playing the role he wanted, starting from the left but with way more freedom because Chelsea are playing with two holding midfielders. That allows the attackers to take more risk because if you lose the ball Matic and Kante are there to take care of it.
But Victor Moses might be the big headline of them all. I played with Victor when he was at Wigan. Martinez was very impressed by his talent and we once talked about how we couldn’t believe no big club could see it.
I do have to say he sometimes had to learn to be more focused, not just in the games but in training. He was only 20 years old back then, and I think that’s something every young star has to deal with when they break through. You have to learn to separate the jokes from work because when you hit the pitch, whether in a game or training, it means business.
It didn’t take long before Chelsea saw Victor’s qualities and snapped him up. Then there was a long loan out process at a number of clubs until Conte came and changed the system. He put victor in a role where he had way more responsibility than he was used to. In the United game I saw Victor in his own box more then I’ve seen him ever in a game. Back-tracking and winning balls and headers like he was a defender.
Wing back isn’t an easy position to play, of course it asks for a lot of fitness, but also intelligence because you need to be on time, helping out the defence, but when the team goes forward you need to be there to give them the outside option and even take people on to deliver a cross into the box.
It’s a fun position to play because you always get the ball and are super active. But you always need to keep your focus and remember you can’t slip up, or you’ll pay for it. Moses has managed to adjust and handle his new role well and I hope he can keep this great form going.
On paper it was clear that Pep Guardiola had a great chance of starting the season well. I think the likes of Chelsea and Man Utd needed more work to find the way to dominate the league again, while City had a lot of good players already in the squad, so just needed a little adjustment.
All three teams bought a lot of great players but I’m not convinced they really focussed enough on the specific quality they needed. I still think Chelsea’s defence hasn’t been taken care of and the attacking force will have problems if one of the key figures gets injured. United, on the other hand, lack the pace we are used to seeing in Mourinho’s sides going forward. Where are the wingers that you usually see dribble past players down the flanks, with plenty of goals and assists?
Man City did a great job in tweaking things and invested in some young stars for the future. For example, they already had Raheem Sterling and De Bruyne, but they added Leroy Sane and the new Brazilian wonder kid that every top team was after, Gabriel Jesus.
Pep goes to work very strategically, understanding what type of players are already at the clubs he takes over, checking that the team already has the players that will understand his philosophy. (If the team is far off then I don’t think he would even consider taking charge of that club).
He then has the amazing record of winning the biggest trophies and making players love his style of play, and then building from there. When Pep wants you, and like any player you want to win trophies, you’d be mad not to consider signing for him. And if you’re in his team you’ll enjoy playing for him, but like every big coach, if you’re not part of his plans you’ll know about it.
There is an unwritten rule that exists everywhere, in any job in the world, and is especially true in football. If you manager doesn’t talk to you or even look at you then you know you aren’t as important to him as the others that he does interact with. And most likely trouble will occur very shortly.
Pep is the same as all the other big managers: they will give you signals that you can recognise as a player. He’s a confident man, sticks to his tactic no matter what happens, and will make sure you do what he says. If not, you’re out.
The one thing the top clubs all have in common is money, so now it will come down to who spends it the most effectively to be the best team in England.
Lukaku is a player that seems to divide the opinions of fans. Many say he’s brilliant, just like myself, but some consider him inconsistent because he has set the bar so high as we have become used to seeing him score goals every week. He did have a dry spell of 1139 minutes in front of goal – but broke that drought in incredible style with an 11-minute hat-trick at Sunderland last week.
It was his longest barren spell in front of goal since arriving in England, and after his treble he told Everton TV: “I am back in business now… I’ve got the goals flowing.”
The truth is, that like any other 23-year old, Romelu Lukaku is a work in progress. And right now he’s on the verge of becoming a world class striker.
All you have to do is look at his goalscoring statistics. He’s now scored against 21 different clubs in the Premier League, and since he came to England four years ago, only Sergio Aguero has scored more goals than the Belgian forward’s 64. At the age of 21 he had scored more goals than Rooney, Aguero, Messi, Shearer and Owen had at his age. And look what became of their careers.
It’s pretty phenomenal. Yet some people don’t place him as one of the top strikers in Europe. But it’s easy to forget how young he is when he possesses so much power.
When I walked into the house of my dear friend Mbark Boussoufa, I met a footballer that was so polite, humble, and who opened up to me quickly like almost no footballer would. We are known for having the cat and mouse moment where we wait to see what kind of person you meet and what they want from you. But not Romelu. He told me about all the things he wants to get better at, and his dreams of bigger things than what he has already achieved. That will make him keep his head down and work harder until he get’s what he wants.
When he arrived at Chelsea he was immediately compared to Didier Drogba, and was seen as a potential future replacement. Speaking on his self-confessed idol last year, Romelu said: “I respect Didier a lot but I think there are still differences in our style of play and I am a young player. I want to play at a high level and help my team-mates out and hopefully at the end of my career I can say I did my best to create a name for myself.” He’s on track for doing just that.
It’s the most highly anticipated transfer market in recent memory and we’ve witnessed a lot of great buys. 13 Premier League clubs broke their transfer records, but we know that there are still teams that would’ve loved to buy more if they had more time to get the players they needed.
Chelsea, Man Utd and Man City knew who their target men were and made most of their deals pretty quickly. We know they have the financial backing and with three new managers looking to stamp their ground in their first seasons, they were always going to move fast and do their business before the last day.
The managers all had interested preparation coming into their new clubs. Pep knew he was leaving Bayern Munich so I’m sure he kept his cards close to his chest and didn’t share some of his interest until he arrived at City. For example, I’m sure Leroy Sane would now be at Munich if Pep had stayed in Germany.
Mourinho was well aware of his job even when Van Gaal was still in charge, so he began his focus from distance and saw where he needed to change players quickly to get his team ready and get off to a good start in the new season.
Conte maybe had the hardest challenge of the three because he was occupied with the Azzurri during the summer. He had to bring Italy as far as he could at the European Cup but also needed to get his Chelsea team in place. The signals are clear. None of the three will tell you they want the title but they sure do play like it and will go after it with hunger. ‘Don’t talk, just deliver’ is the mantra.
I, like everyone else, did expect Arsenal to get make some investments eventually, but they waited – and maybe a little too long – as the season didn’t start like it normally does for the Gunners. Let’s hope Arsenal and Liverpool get their balance back quick, pick up some form and make the title race more interesting.
Enjoy your international break #mmlove
Can Leicester Do It Again?
Leicester City will face a tough task in the Premier League this season. After writing the most unlikely story on the Premier League’s history under Claudio Ranieri, they now have two big challenges to overcome.
Firstly they will have to adjust to playing Champions League football. Leicester won the title with no distractions last season, while their main rivals had to cope with mid-week European games against the continent’s toughest opposition. Ranieri enjoyed making few changes to his starting XI, but balancing domestic and European football this year will call for depth, and the Tinkerman might be back. It could be tough for Leicester as the players have little European experience and quite a small squad.
And we all know that the big four are going to come back stronger. They were embarrassed by Leicester last season and will do everything to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Manchester United in particular have been spending big in the transfer market, and Mourinho, Conte and Pep will be looking to grab the title in their first seasons at their new clubs.
It will be interesting to see how Leicester cope.
Will Grigg Still Be On Fire?
It will also be interesting to see how Wigan’s star striker copes with life in the championship. Will Grigg scored 25 goals in league 1 last season to help the Latics win promotion, and despite not getting a game, he became one of the most talked about players at Euro 2016. There will no doubt be more eyes watching the Northern Irish talisman, and that pressure plus better opposition could provide a challenge.
If he starts of sharp and grabs a few early goals I’m sure Championship defences will be terrified.
Defying the odds is what AFC Wimbledon are all about. After winning the league 2 playoff final last season, they earnt their 6th promotion in 13 seasons. The club was founded by fans just days after the original Wimbledon was moved from south London to Milton Keynes to avoid bankruptcy.
Since being founded the club have had a fairytale, and with so much money in the game today it’s refreshing to see a club owned and run by fans, for the fans.
AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons have met each other before in cup competitions, but 16/17 will be the first time they meet in the same league. Wimbledon will have a chance to finish above the club they dislike the most, and I’m sure the players, fans and staff will be very motivated to do it.
N’Golo Kante will be a great addition to the Chelsea squad.
Every team would want a player who knows how to break down opponents and influence the counterattack as well as Kante does. After an amazing season at Leicester he said that moving to Chelsea, with a manager as brilliant as Conte and world class players, was an easy decision to make.
He will have learned a lot from Ranieri. His teams are about studying the opponent, finding their weaknesses and capitalising on them, and I’m sure Kante will bring that philosophy to the Chelsea team. He can bring balance to the team, and hold everyone together when the team is under pressure.
It’s always a good sign when a midfielder-come-coach wants you in his team, and especially when that man is Conte, who is a true leader and demands the best of everyone around him, as he did as a player and now from the sidelines. It will be interesting to see if Antonio can squeeze even more out of N’Golo.
Kante is maybe a more quiet type of player, sometimes seen as the unsung hero because he’ll do his job while others run away with the glory. At Leicester the success was due to the whole team’s effort, but it was the likes of Vardy and Mahrez getting the headlines with their goals and exciting attacking play.
Vardy has chosen to stay at the King Power stadium, but there are rumours that Mahrez might be on his way out too. Will Leicester react similarly to Southampton, and keep building on what they started, or will they crumble and get caught in a relegation battle?
It will be an important season for Chelsea because no Champions League football will feel strange after being in it for so many consecutive years. This season is one that can’t repeat itself, so we’re looking for a better start and hoping that the blues can come out of the pre-season better, fitter and sharper than the last one.
It couldn’t have come as any less of a surprise when Claudio Ranieri was announced as Premier League Manager of the Year.
There are now many clubs who would fancy their chances of winning the title every year, and Ranieri’s Leicester blew them all out of the water, finishing 10 points clear of second place Arsenal and 30 (thirty!) points ahead of last year’s champions Chelsea.
It’s been an unpredictable and unforgettable season, dominated by the character of Leicester City.
Just look at the investment in Ranieri’s team. The club spent a total of £26 million in last summer’s and January’s transfer windows. To put things in perspective, that’s £10 million less than Anthony Martial’s price tag for Manchester United, and less than half of what Manchester City paid for Kevin De Bruyne.
The success came from getting the best out of their resources, from the players to the sports science team and backroom staff. The focus has been there all season and the club showed a ton of character, which most teams were missing.
The goals were coming mostly from Vardy, we saw some great creative play from Mahrez, and Kante was the engine in midfield. The players managed to be in the right places at the right times, all season.
With most of the top clubs performing far from their best, many would argue this should have been the year for Arsenal – or even Spurs who were breathing down Leicester’s back for the second half of the season. It was the best opportunity Arsenal have had in a long time, but they missed that bad boy killer instinct that they need with the beautiful game they play.
Even great teams have off day, and you need a player that can pull you trough it – and I think that was the biggest thing missing from Arsenal.
Where is the class mixed with a dose of badness, like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vierra of Martin Keown? Those guys did not mess around when they saw their opportunity.
Spurs came so close but you could see that the experience killed them. When the time came to stay calm and grind it out they didn’t really have anyone lead the team forward. They looked more like they were relying on Pochettino to make all the calls, and on the field, the manager can’t always help because sometimes the pace is too quick to readjust, and half-time could be too late.
Chelsea failed to create any momentum at all, even going right back to their American tour. On top of that the club were probably over-confident after lifting the trophy last season. After being champions it was all falling apart, and it needed (and still needs) some adjusting. Next season we will need to see a lot of hard work from Conte, and it looks like it will be a tough job from the start.
Manchester City also struggled this year, and if you look at them as a team you may be looking at the best squad in the league. But it started to crack when Yaya got injured. Vincent Kompany had similar injury problems, and without these two in the team regularly, performances can start to crumble.
Liverpool is a team that was always looking to rebuild this season but with Klopp arriving I think it’s looking pretty positive and calm again. But of course the madness comes back him when his team scores. This man does not hold back his emotion so I’m always waiting to see what he does next.
Next season we should be more critical towards Liverpool because Klopp’s had some time to work with his squad and they should be ready to fight for the league.
Manchester United had a season full of ups and downs, after bringing in a stream of new players. We all know a new team needs time but expectations are incredibly high in the Premier League, not least at Man Utd. It’s a brutal league and if you don’t fix your problems immediately you’ll get punished again and again. When you think you’ve just got out of your difficult time, you get another set-back. Now there are a lot of rumours around the club and Van Gaal’s future, and it’s time they fix that so they can start the next campaign stronger.
We all look forward to seeing how every club will shape up next season. Every team will be ready for Leicester, and they will have the added luxury pressure of being the champions that everyone wants to beat.