Manager Merry Go-Round incoming..

Well that Premier League is well underway and whilst it looks like it could be ‘Liverpool’s Year’, there is plenty to talk about with the stuttering teams behind them. With some very strange results and some concerning defeats for the so called ‘Big 6’ in the Premier League, question marks are being to arise around the management at the clubs not just in the Premier League but also abroad, especially in La Liga too.

Something is happening at Spurs which nobody is quite sure about. The way the players are performing and acting resonates with me as a Chelsea fan who has seen players down tools under managers such as Mourinho or Conte etc.. But how can a team who reached the heights of last season become so lacklustre and poor this season? Investment (or lack of) in the summer is probably the main issue but keeping players such as Vertonghen, Erikson and Alderwiereld at the club and allowing them to run down there contract and leave for free when they probably wanted a move anyway just seems an absolute nightmare decision. Other clubs usually cash in and take the offers for players entering the last 12 months so they can start to build for the future without them rather than wait and wait to see if they may sign. Pochettino is a top manager, he has transformed Spurs on limited budget and I’m sure he will have many clubs wanting him if he leaves Spurs – mainly Real Madrid or Man Utd. But Levy would have to spend £32million to sack him (and Levy rarely gives away cash if he doesn’t have too) so ultimately could end up hoping Poch resigns or another club approaches for him – this could all take a very sour turn.

 

‘Ole’s at the Wheel’ – or as I said in April – ‘Sacked By Christmas’. All jokes aside, Manchester United as a club are in dire straits. From owners taking Billions out of them whilst also putting hundreds of millions in debt. Ed Woodward supposedly being the businessman but also somehow landed himself the transfer kitty too. I’m of the opinion that Managers must have a say in who they want to sign or atleast what type of player who will fit into your vision. You can’t expect a manager to turn up one day and work with a piece of kit that they have no interest in or wanted something different – ultimately if it’s your team it should be your players but this is seemingly not happening as much anymore, especially not in the elite clubs who are more commercially invested in sponsorship deals and big names.

Ole has never proven himself as a manager and that lack of knowledge/experience mixed with the current squad was never going to work in my opinion. The Squad is not Manchester United and not even close and to make matters worse, the youth academy and prospects coming through are nowhere near up to standard of a Top 6 team now. I’m all for sentiment and hoping that Ole as a legend would do something special and maybe if they give him 4 windows to prove he can do something then it will change but honestly can’t see the club being able to afford a couple seasons out of European Football (which is what is going to happen) and the Owners/Board settling for mediocrity and giving Ole a £500m war chest without proven experience of knowing how to use it.. Someone like Allegri may be an attractive proposition to the United Board. The former Juventus manager who won so much with the club, would have a good relationship with key player Paul Pogba and also would turn United into a hard team to beat.

Unai Emery up until about 2 weeks ago was being touted for the sack but Arsenal have won a few games and find themselves back in the Top 4 again but I wouldn’t be surprised when Arsenal go on their standard Feb/March drought and they begin to call for his head again. Tactically I don’t think we will see Arsenal challenging again but they could take advantage of other teams transition seasons and get back into Champions League football. With some promising youngsters coming through such as Willock, Martinelli and Baka – the future looks bright for them!

Zinedine Zidane must be on his last chance by now at Real Madrid, those white handkerchiefs have been out in force at the Bernabeu already and with the world’s most fickle fans seemingly not pleased with recent performances, especially in the Champions League and star names like Hazard and Jovic not setting the world alight, the potential for Zidane to go is mounting. Maybe as long time admirers of Pochettino, Madrid will made a bold move to sack (or Zidane resign due to the negativity) and replace ZZ with Poch in the hot seat but Mourinho was also being touted in the Summer for a return? Zidane may step away from management all together after this latest stint in charge but if PSG or Juventus come calling for him, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him in the French Capital.

One thing is for certain, Jurgen Klopp isn’t going anywhere and Pep Guardiola has to stay at City until he brings them a Champions League or he’s failed in my opinion.

Managerial Predictions for beginning for the 2020 season:

 

Tottenham Hotspur – Eddie Howe (personally think it would be a class appointment, plays unreal football and deserves a chance)

Manchester United – Massimo Allegri

Real Madrid  – Mauricio Pochettino

PSG – Zinedine Zidane

Arsenal – Unai Emery

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VAR too Far?

How much reliance are we going to give to VAR?

Now there will be a lot of people either side of this argument and I’m going to keep this unbiased (hopefully). The penalty in the 1st minute of the Champions League Final between Liverpool & Spurs has caused a lot of controversy. Fans of either side have their opinions and the neutrals are split, myself included.

Sissoko appeared to be pointing/ordering at a team mate as Mane crossed the ball from about 1 metre away.. on first viewing on TV it looked like it hit his hand but on closer viewing it’s hits his chest first and rolls down.

The letter of the law (12):

It is usually an offence if a player: touches the ball with their hand/arm when: the hand/arm has made their body unnaturally bigger. the hand/arm is above/beyond their shoulder level (unless the player deliberately plays the ball which then touches their hand/arm)..

So, with Sissoko pointing and having his arm away from his body, it IS in an unnatural position and it is making his body bigger.. however, it hits his chest first? The photo very clearly shows this so where does VAR come into this?

sissoko

 

The decision went to VAR and on the biggest stage of them all, with the whole world watching, this ‘independent panel’ of referees decided that he referee was correct, even with the unlimited amounts of angles that they have on offer. Couldn’t they see that Mane was so close to Sissoko, there was no way of moving out of the way? Could they use common knowledge and decide this? Was he stopping a goal-scoring opportunity? Mane was simply going to cross the ball and hope to create a chance. All of this added to the drama but it also has left a sour taste for Spurs fans who feel it ruined their chance of the biggest footballing trophy of all.

 

Anyway, away from this decision, VAR is changing the game. We were told that VAR would eradicate human error, it would stop the doubt and the decisions which could prove costly to all teams. In my opinion, it’s opened the game up to more disrepute.

One piece of technology that has changed the game for the better is Goal-Line Technology. This is a huge positive to the Premier League and the one and only example that needs to be given to signify this came at the Etihad this season where Liverpool somehow missed out on a goal by millimetres which ultimately could have been the Premier League Trophy defining moment.

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Had John Stones not made that clearance, had Goal-Line technology not been available to clear up all doubt then we could of found ourselves with all sorts of question marks hanging over the Champions head. From watching it live, this looked a clear goal. So why is VAR not so conclusive?

Lots of examples available but I will look at few..

Offsides –

Harry Kane was controversially given Onside by VAR in a cup tie against Chelsea back in January. The striker ran through, was wiped out by the Goalie and a penalty was given and converted. However, on reflection, angles came to light after the game which clearly showed Kane’s top half offside… again, one up for debate and not remove the ‘doubt’ that VAR was supposedly there to do. The only part of the body that isn’t possible to score with is your hand/arm. His head is shown to be past the ‘VAR Line’ so why wasn’t this given? Why didn’t VAR have the correct angle for this decision?

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Penalties (for holding) –

World Cup 2018. 3 words which are key to VAR and this example. Never has a World Cup had so many penalty incidents – the amount given was up 174% in fact. A huge increase and it had its highs and lows.. for England it was good. Maguire, Kane and co were man-handled in most games and penalties kept being given.. there is a fine line between holding (football is a contact game remember) and dragging an opponent down. Where should the game of Football draw the line? VAR will highlight that shirt holding/tugging but isn’t that part of the game that we love? Obviously to an extent but still, if we take this side of the game out of it and allow people to have a clear run or not compete for a header then are we taking the competitive nature out of the game?

Diving/Contact in the area –

Now this is a controversial section. One which you shout for if it’s your attacker or you throw the TV out the window if it’s against you.. a player goes down in the box and the referee heads to VAR. Slow motion zooms in the contact area and you see the slightest contact, maybe even a shoe lace brushing an opponent. To the letter of the law, it’s contact and the defender didn’t get the ball and it’s a penalty.. but do we really want this to happen? As soon as an attacker gets to a goal threatening area, defenders will be afraid to make any contact and instead of making tackles they will simply just try and block or deflect away. Common sense needs to prevail. Diving is cheating and we need to be clear that contact needs to strong enough to cause someone to go down and fall over.

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VAR in the Premier League.

We all love a big crunching tackle, but as we all know, what was acceptable back in the 80s and 90s is not possible now. The game has changed in a way where it is more about flair and skill rather than passion and brute force. Some people love it, some people loathe it. VAR will be introduced into the Premier League this season, expect less big tackles and a more sterilised version of Football as managers ask players to rein it in to ensure they have 11 men on the pitch and give them a better chance of winning.

One worry I have is the infrastructure that we have in place. People have probably seen the wonky lines we currently get on the photos and in turn then more doubt around the decision. Does the English Stadia have the network in place to catch all angles and aid VAR to the extent that it needs? American Football are huge stadiums, all with cameras that follow the play overhead and capture all angles. The Premier League does not have this sort of access at all stadiums apart from a small handful of Champions League / Top 6 clubs. I can’t imagine Turf Moor or Carrow Road being able to have this set up in place so will VAR be successful on potentially trophy deciding decisions.

Are we changing our game for the better or worse? There are arguments for both sides. I would hate for our game to become reliant on computers and technology and the ‘fun’ aspect is removed. Bad decisions are swings and roundabouts in football. Every team gets bad calls against them and then the following week will pick up a call in their favour. It gives us talking points and is part of the highs and lows of being a passionate fan. Waiting 2 minutes for a VAR decision to be made can stop celebrations or you’ve just fallen down 5 rows and sent limbs flying everywhere for no reason.

In my honest opinion, use VAR with common sense. Goal-Line technology, mistaken identity, Clear penalties that are NOT given (allow the ref to use his common sense and instinct) and potential horror challenges which get punished incorrectly.

Who will win the Champions League?

First things first, what an achievement from the 2 teams to make it to a European final and the glam of the Champions League. Both of these teams has a different story but ultimately there is only one goal and that is to win. I will pick up the differences below and why that night in Madrid could be huge for both clubs involved whether it be the biggest achievement in the history of the club or break a ‘voodoo’ and get some more silverware added to the cabinet.

 

I probably speak for most people who said 10 days ago, neither of these teams would be battling it out for the pinnacle of European Football, the Champions League trophy. That night at Anfield will probably live long in the memory of all Liverpool fans. 3-0 down against the Greatest player of all time, missing Salah and Firmino who are instrumental in terms of goals but also the style that Liverpool play in. Moments of magic from Gini Wijnaldum and Trent Alexander-Arnold allowed Liverpool to run riot over a Barcelona which were completely outwitted in all areas of the pitch. Tottenham on the other hand were down and out. 2-0 against a young Ajax team which were always looking dangerous and creating chances but as soon as Ziyech started missing chances, maybe it was meant to be? Lucas Moura produced his inner Ronaldo 9 and the 96th minute left limbs still being picked up around Amsterdam by the travelling faithful.

 

Liverpool have 5 European Trophies in their trophy cabinet, Spurs have 0. Maybe that is the 1st advantage given to Liverpool. The club is built on European success and I have no doubt that they won’t need reminding. For Spurs however, the pressure is off. Win and they become the greatest ever Tottenham team in history, instant legends. Lose and they lost to a team that have just got 97 points and somehow not won the league? Beaten Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG along the way so you may have to give credit where credits due, still a monumental occasion for the club and they will be hopeful of the future under Pochettino.

 

Liverpool are back to full strength and will be ready to fire on all cylinders after last year’s defeat to Real Madrid. They have won both Premier League fixtures vs Spurs this Premier League campaign by 2-1 at Home and Away so maybe that will also add a psychological advantage? Spurs are possibly going to risk Harry Kane for the big one and he won’t be 100% for sure, but a calculated risk and this occasion will not hold him back. Jan Vertongen is rumoured to be struggling which would also be a massive loss when having Salah and Mane charging down the wings so again, another advantage to Liverpool.

 

But, have you ever heard of the term ‘Spursy’? Well this has the potential to not be it.. Underdogs and 2 key players possibly not 100% BUT nobody wants to write Spurs off. Even getting to this stage has defied the odds. A headline in the Evening Standard on 12th December 2018 shows why.. PSV have told Tottenham to “thank us later” after holding Inter Milan to a 1-1 draw at San Siro to help Spurs reach the Champions League last-16 stage. I am sure PSV are even more delighted that the team they helped have now managed to knock out their arch rivals Ajax out in the semi-finals and saved themselves the antagonisation from Ajax fans that would of followed. With counter attacking football, Spurs are able to get from front to back very quickly with link up play between Alli, Son, Moura, Kane with the occasional cameo from Moussa Sissoko.

 

I think this final will come down to Full backs. Yes, I said Full Backs. Both strike forces have the ability to punish either team and create chances right until the end and maybe it could be an absolute goal fest? But with Alexander-Arnold and Robertson vs Trippier and Rose, this could be the real game changer. May be an easy selection to pick out but I really feel both sides are fairly even all over the pitch except here. Both have average to good midfielders (Liverpool maybe edge it with Fabinho, Gini, Henderson) A solid centre-half partnership and a very very good front 3.. so this full back mismatch could win it.. in Liverpool’s favour. Overlapping and Assists have been key to Liverpool’s success this season, TAA and Robertson have managed to transform that position into their own and nobody can get close to the levels that they have reached this season in the whole of world football.

 

Who is this game bigger for? Liverpool and Klopp are still chasing silverware as they have not managed to get one since 2006 in an FA cup Final at the Millennium stadium (yes it was that long ago) **2012 League Cup actually, I stand corrected** . They have obviously come close and are improving massively but they need to go that one step further and get the winning mentality back in the club and they could become a force for years. Spurs have an opportunity to be written into Folklore but again, they have not won a trophy since 2008 in the League Cup Final (if that counts). The winning of the Champions League is one that every footballer dreams of and for sure this game will be one to remember.

 

The fans will be there in their thousands and I’m sure the atmosphere on the streets will be like a carnival. Whatever method of transport people have been forced to use to get there due to the greed of the airlines and the hotels, this will be one to remember forever.

 

May the best team win but I believe Liverpool will edge this 2-1.

 

 

**Photo Courtesy of sportinglife.com**

The best league in the world?

So with the end of arguably the most exciting Premier League title race in history complete, Manchester City ran out Champions again but the question that appears to be asked now is whether the Premier League really is the pinnacle of World Football? With both European Competitions dominated by English Teams, some would believe that this is the answer to your question, however critics could say this is not always how the cookie crumbles.

Manchester City, the greatest team of the Premier League era, were tracked all the way until the final whistle by Liverpool, the greatest team to ever come 2nd (?) if there is a commendation for that. However, the gap to the rest and the quality of the competition may not have boosted the form claim in question. With Huddersfield Town ending on only 16 points – 3 wins, 7 draws and a -54 goal difference – Fulham managing to scrape 26 points and Cardiff battling hard but falling late on with 34 points.

Looking into Europe, the leagues are clearly dominated by 1 or 2 Teams everywhere. PSG 16 points clear and despite the endless piggy bank funding them, they still have no recent european success. Barcelona have taken advantage of an abysmal Real Madrid season have won the league at a cantar with Atletico 11 points adrift. Bayern Munich are stuttering to a possible marginal league title again over Borussia Dortmund. Juventus strolled to a 13 point margin lead over the rest in Serie A with Inter Milan in 3rd a whopping 23 points behind. So maybe we do have the best league in the world, right? Manchester United are the biggest club in World football, huge budget and finished 32 points behind the league leaders.

Sky Sports and BT Sports money is pumped into the Premier League. Hundreds of Millions in fact. Parachute payments for relegated teams are more than the budgets of most european clubs so I would hope that the quality of those bottom clubs would provide a better return on what we are currently getting?

The Premier League is often known to be the most exciting in the world where anyone can beat anyone on their day but this season seems to have been a strange affair. Teams would prefer ‘not to lose’ and especially when setting up away from home, it has turned into an Attack vs Defence at most stadiums in the country and hopefully hit them on the counter. Most bottom half teams are even adopting this strategy at home vs the ‘Big 6’. This philosophy may keep them in the league and ultimately depending on the ambition shown by the club and the manager then this may be enough however one example of success I have enjoyed this season would be Wolverhampton Wanderers. Yes they heavily invested but some of those signings have been a revelation. Playing attacking wing backs such as Doherty (a fantasy football favourite) and a midfield containing a bargain Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves feeding into Jimenez has caused ‘upsets’ by simply attacking the so called ‘Big 6’ and not giving the respect supposedly all big teams deserve.

An early 1-1 draw at Home to Man City in August set the tone for the season ahead. Followed up by a 1-1 draw away at Old Trafford and a 1-1 draw at The Emirates. A 2-1 home victory against Chelsea when coming from behind. First loss was at Home to Liverpool (the only team to not drop any points against Wolves this season but they did lose 2-1 in the FA Cup). Wolves beat Spurs away 3-1, lost 3-0 to City, Drew 1-1 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge undone by a 93rd Minute Hazard equaliser, 2-1 win against Man United and finally a 3-1 win at home to Arsenal.

Now ‘anybody can beat anybody’ is a typical cliche and the magic of the FA cup does show that but the table at the end of the season never lies. The finances of the Premier League allow all clubs to attract top talent from all over the world but ultimately the pinnacle of most players is to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona in front of the Camp Nou.

Could bottom half teams invest better and be able to play a brand of football that Wolves adopted and ultimately match the big boys of the Prem?

With the Champions League and Europa League finals contested by 4 Premier League teams, the standard of our top teams is clearly peaking in comparison to other leagues in Europe. England’s performance at the World Cup was very encouraging and we are definitely moving in the right direction but still not the best in terms of national teams. We can certainly look at our amazing academy’s and be proud of what we are now producing. Talent such as Jadon Sancho who has torn the Bundesliga apart but Premier League clubs have young english talent yet to play consistently enough which may be holding back their development. Callum Hudson-Odoi, Phil Foden, Dominic Solanke, Mason Mount, Reiss Nelson and so on.. all have the world at their feet but may not have the opportunities available to them.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has been voted the best right back in the world this week. Given a chance by Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and now in his 2nd Champions League final in 2 years as well as creating ‘that’ goal in front of the Kop to produce one of the greatest comebacks in football. English football has the potential to be the best National Team in the world to match arguably having the best club teams at the top of the league. Give the youth a chance and it will benefit both club and country.