From the start of the season I made it clear that City and United would be the teams to respect.
Both have got their tactics on point and look like they can score from any position. Even when fans, pundits, and the press question their style of play, the two managers will stick to what they think is best for their teams.
Man City in particular have so much talent going forward, even when one of the league’s most deadly strikers Aguero is sidelined due to injury. Imagine if the goal machine Harry Kane was out of the Spurs side – they would struggle to get the goals. But City have Jesus and others to deliver the goods in Aguero’s absence.
Man Utd is a different team that is focused purely on results. It doesn’t matter how they beat you, but they just want to make sure they get what they need out of the game. Like their game against Liverpool at the weekend – where you can argue that Klopp’s men were the better team, but they could not finish the game off, so you have to say the result was better for Mourinho.
I do worry about Chelsea to be honest. They have a great striker in Morata but look lost now that he is injured. And I’m not sure they have enough belief in Batsu because he hasn’t been starting, usually coming on from the bench. A striker needs confidence and belief from his team to fire them to the wins they need.
But who else can do it if they don’t want to play a striker? They tried it with Hazard, but found that they need quick wingers because Eden likes to drop deep to pick the ball up, and if no one goes deep they won’t be able to stretch teams. It also means that if they lose the ball in the midfield the pressure will be on immediately.
My main concern is that I hope they don’t become predictable like they were towards the end of Mourinho’s second spell. Opponents knew how to stop them and once that happens the team starts playing against itself.
I do agree there has to be more quality added to the squad, and if the club doesn’t want to invest in more talent than please add some young blood to the team and take some risks because at the very least, they will be unpredictable to anyone facing them.
It’s always fun times when the Champions League returns because as a fan you get to see the best competing against the best.
I remember dreaming of one day playing in the Champions League after going to watch Ajax by myself. My friends would tell me it is too cold to watch, so I would go to my teammates and ask them – but would hear the same thing. “It’s too cold, you’re crazy!”
So I would go on my own. If I told you the number of times that I sat on my own in the stadium watching Ajax, with my knees and ankles being frozen, you would tell me this guy is an iceman. But I learned so much and sometimes I got goosebumps and sat there with a big smile on my face as the team walked out with flowers to throw to the fans while the famous Champions league music played.
Not long after it was my turn to play against the best, with the likes of Zidane showing me football that was out of this world. Damn that guy was good. I can go and talk to you for days about how great it was but it think we will need a couple more pages for that because watching and playing will be never the same sensation.
Now that I’m a fan and watch the action from a birds eye view it still gives me that amazing feeling when I hear the Champions League song. That piece of music gives you the feeling a boxer gets when he hears “let’s get ready to rumble!”
Back to the guys who are active and entertaining us today, I think Madrid are looking great again. Ronaldo is always demanding the best of himself, which is what makes him so unique, and the team is so well-oiled and look like the hunger is still in the team and I love seeing that. They all want it again and will do whatever it takes to make it three in a row.
All the English teams have started strong and I expect a lot from them this season because they have invested a lot of time, money and effort to make their squads big enough to compete in two competitions. This is going to be a long season so all the players want to end it with a big trophy before going away for the summer to fight for the even bigger one, the World Cup.
Chelsea’s main focus is winning the Champions League because that’s always the next objective after you win the domestic league. You want more and there’s only one trophy out there to make your season even better. But they have Man Utd and City going after it with the same determination, that we could see in all of their first games. This season could be the time that the English teams start ruling again.
Spurs also looked impressive in their win over Dortmund. This German side have become one of the dark horses to watch out for in Europe, finishing as runners-up in 2013 and making the quarterfinals last season. But Spurs showed why they are becoming one of the top sides in England with a 3-1 win.
Liverpool could also cause some surprises with their counter attacks and speed. They’re England’s most successful club in Europe and their comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 final shows how you can never rule them out.
PSG look great but can they play the way they did in that great first half against Barcelona throughout the whole tournament? I’ll be watching them closely over the next couple of games to see if they are solid enough to win it. The surly have the players to do so.
Barcelona are impossible to leave out of the conversation as they are always in contention of winning it. Messi and co can pass their way through any defence in the world as they showed against Juventus in their opening game. It’s Buffon’s last chance to lift the trophy and if they can repeat their performances from last season and get a bit of luck along the way it could be the best sendoff possible for Gianluigi.
Bayern are the other big team that are in with a real chance of winning the competition. They have made the final three times since 2010, winning it in 2013.
Whatever happens this season it can’t be missed. Watching and playing football is still one of the happiest things in my life!
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.
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.
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.
When Real Madrid signed Jose Mourinho in 2010, his mission was a simple one: to knock Guardiola’s Barcelona off their perch.
It turned out to be a fierce rivalry both on and off the pitch, with many red cards and countless heated press conferences from both managers. By the end of Guardiola’s spell in Catalonia, he had failed to win just four out of a possible 18 trophies, and three of those four were to Mourinho’s sides (La Liga and Copa Del Rey with Madrid and the Champions League with Inter).
Six years on we are in a similar position, but this time, as the rivalry is renewed, Pep and Mourinho share a city. It almost feels scripted. Once City hired Guardiola, United had to bring in his arch-enemy.
Mourinho’s appointment has been lingering for many months and the news has come as no surprise. Van Gaal took over a stalled Man Utd but his tenure did not meet the expectations of fans, just missing out on the Champions league spots this time round. His possession football was also criticised, but it was great to see Louis end on a high note with the FA Cup trophy.
But if it’s exciting attacking football that Manchester United fans want, Mourinho may not be the right man, but one thing we know for sure is that he’ll be doing his best to bring more silverware to Old Trafford. His style is defensive and he likes to build his teams from the back. I’m sure he will do whatever it takes and spend money on transfers over the summer, reshaping the squad that has been built by three managers since Sir Alex retired. With the rumours of Ibrahimovic joining Man Utd, it will be interesting to see if Mourinho puts faith in the youngsters and continues the progression of Martial and Rashford.
Next season we will be treated to an intense Manchester derby, while the rivalry between Mourinho and Wenger will hopefully relight the fire that used to be the Man Utd and Arsenal rivalry (that seems to have died down a little in recent years). The arrival of Antonio Conte will also bring excitement and hopefully success to Chelsea.
Whatever happens, it won’t be dull.
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.
Marcus Rashford is a young man who plays without fear.
Sometimes you see teenagers get their chance on the big stage, and it’s easy to see the tension on their faces. That’s the usual reaction. But with Rashford it looks like it’s just another day when he is picked.
After bursting onto the scene with back-to-back braces against Midtjylland and Arsenal, Marcus’s electrifying introduction simmered down a little. But on Sunday, the lad from just down the road became a local hero on the red side of Manchester.
He plays with such confidence and maturity already, and it was clear to see with his goal at the Etihad. He controlled the ball elegantly, slowing Demichelis down before blitzing past with his second touch and slotting the ball past Joe Hart.
Martin Demichelis has had a long and distinguished career, but he’s always lacked pace, and at 17 years Rashford’s senior he was always going to struggle to contain him. I know that Van Gaal would have told Rashford to take advantage of that when one on one with Martin.
Van Gaal would always highlights opponent’s weaknesses to the extent that you would begin to dream about them.
And Marcus must have felt like he was dreaming in Manchester on Sunday. A well taken finish that any of the best would be proud of.
I do hope he’ll keep his feet on the ground and just concentrate on developing his talent. There are a lot of young players who ooze talent, but that stop working when they get a bit of glory. It’s a shame when that happens, but Marcus looks like he wants to learn.
He’s got a lot in his locker already, making it look easy at times. Van Gaal loves it when he finds young talent, and he always gives the youth a chance. When that talent works hard to get better he rewards them with playing time, so everyone is a winner.
This is a common situation for Van Gaal, and I hope Marcus capitalises on the opportunity, doesn’t believe the hype and just keep doing what he did at the weekend.