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Looking to 2021 Part 4: Stories to Watch

The stories that will develop this year that you need to keep an eye on…

Welcome back to the final part of our 2021 preview series. In this part, we will be looking at the big, overarching stories that look to dictate conversation in the football world this year. These are the things you need to look out for.

Actual, real, legitimate title races

After an incredibly boring 2019-20 season with only one of the “top five” leagues being remotely competitive, we go into 2021 with three of those leagues having new teams at the top, with Lyon topping Ligue 1, AC Milan topping Serie A, and Atlético Madrid topping La Liga. Every league also has a competitive points margin. Four points separate first place Liverpool and fourth place Everton in the Premier League. Six points separate first place Atlético Madrid and third place Real Sociedad in La Liga. Five points separate first place Lyon and fourth place Rennes in Ligue 1. Two points separate first place Bayern and third place Leipzig in the Bundesliga. A bit more lengthy seven points separate first place Milan and third place Roma in Serie A. But still, these leagues are close, and with several teams having games in hand over the teams around them, it looks like it can get even closer. There is seemingly no one dominant team in any of the top five leagues, so there is no real clear title favorite in any of them, and the teams that have dominated these leagues over the last few years look to have a serious fight on their hands against the teams around them.

We still have quite a bit of football left to play, and the slog of late league seasons and cup competitions could take their toll on some teams, especially if the COVID Pandemic requires league matches, or even whole seasons, to be delayed, but it is still looking good for us to have some serious competition in the major European leagues in the second half of this season.

Euro 2020, but in 2021

I will admit, international football is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I know I probably enjoy it a bit more than most fans around the world. International competitions still attract plenty of interest, however, and this European Championship looked to be the biggest spectacle the competition has seen in recent years, with the competition being spread out over the entirety of the continent. However, due to COVID, it does not look like that will happen, or at least happen with fans in attendance. While that is a real shame and does take away some of what could have made this Euros great, it still looks set to be a great competition because, just like the domestic leagues, there does not seem to be one clear favorite.

Sure, France are the reigning world champions and probably the most talented team in the competition, but with some of the performances they put up in qualifying and some of their friendly performances in 2020, I am not so sure they should be favorites. While they are still very talented on paper, some of the key players from the World Cup team, including Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté, Samuel Umtiti, and Antoine Griezmann, are not in good form. France has plenty of talent, but football is not a sport where you can just throw talent on the pitch and they will win. It also seems unclear whether manager Didier Deschamps is willing to trust that young talent, or even if he knows what formation and system suits his team the best. Belgium is another interesting case, with most of their “Golden Generation” beginning to either hit their peak or start to age out. They still have one of the best players in the world in Kevin De Bruyne, and they will be boosted by a more in-form Romelu Lukaku, but they do seem to be questionable defensively. Roberto Martínez has also not necessarily shown he has the managerial nous to get Belgium over the hump and finally win a major tournament.

Meanwhile, some of the “other” teams look pretty dang good. Italy seem to have quietly built one of the most balanced teams on the continent, England still have plenty of attacking talent even with questions around manager Gareth Southgate, and Spain look to be ushering in a promising young generation spearheaded by Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres. Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Denmark all have talent needed to at least make some noise at the tournament, if not win the whole thing. It is a very interesting tournament, and it is very possible that we have a champion that is not expected.

A real shame that there will not be fans, though. I would have enjoyed watching England play Scotland at Wembley. That would have been some spectacle.

A potential summer transfer upheaval

This upcoming summer transfer window looks to be a very interesting one. The obvious story is the future of Lionel Messi, but there are a few big pieces that will be at play this summer.

Firstly, Real Madrid did not save all of that money from last summer for no reason. Los Blancos look to be major players in this transfer window, especially if they do not end up winning the title this season, as they need to usher out the previous generation and bring in new talent. Kylian Mbappé has long been a name connected with Real Madrid, and there is genuine momentum around Real Madrid making a move for the French phenom this summer. But has recent events at the club changed his mind about wanting a move away? With Mauricio Pochettino’s arrival in Paris, PSG have seemingly never had a better chance at winning the Champions League. Would Mbappé want to stay in the capital and see that opportunity out? Or does his dream of playing for Real Madrid still remain? Beyond Mbappé, are there other moves that Real Madrid will make? Who leaves the club? Club captain Sergio Ramos is a notable player whose contract expires at the end of the season, and it does not look like a renewal agreement will be reached at this moment. Can the club afford to lose such a valuable player? Where does Ramos go? Who does Real Madrid bring in to replace him if he does leave? Mbappé is the most interesting moving part connected with Los Blancos, but he certainly is not the only one. It will be a busy summer for Real Madrid.

Moving from Mbappé to France in general, the recent catastrophically failed Téléfoot TV deal means French clubs are going to be losing a whole lot of money this year. With many French clubs, including major powers Lille and Marseille, already facing financial difficulty, this could mean an exodus of talent from Ligue 1 to other leagues. With Lyon and Lille in particular having quite talented teams, it is very possible those teams get picked apart in the summer as the talent moves to leagues across Europe. Ligue 1 could prove to be a fertile farming ground especially for mid-level clubs lacking the pull and finances of the top echelon of clubs in Europe, with the league boasting plenty of talented young players, outside of just the big name players, that will be available for reasonable prices. It is not just the Houssem Aouar’s or Renato Sanches’ or Eduardo Camavinga’s of the world, but players like Sven Botman, Youcef Atal, Mohamed Simakan, and Denis Bouanga will be names you hear connected with moves across the continent and could be the most successful moves from Ligue 1.

This window is also very interesting because there seems to be more key teams involved. With the leagues having more balance and parity this season, there will be teams going into the market this summer to maintain their high level or push beyond that to become true contenders. This is especially the case in England, where Liverpool and Manchester City will look to the market to maintain their high level, while Manchester United, Tottenham, Everton, and Leicester will go into the market to continue closing the ever-closing gap between them and the top of the league. Atlético Madrid and Borussia Dortmund will also likely be very active, as will basically the entire top six or seven teams in Serie A. It will be very busy for everyone, as we are seemingly now in a world where the gap between the top and the chasers is nearly nonexistent.

Lionel Messi’s Future

Yeah, we will inevitably get to a decision point. Lionel Messi’s Barcelona contract, as you may know, runs out at the end of this season. In the summer of 2021, Lionel Messi will be a free agent. Will he stay, or will he go? Messi is free to negotiate with new clubs starting now, but he has said he has no plans to negotiate with other clubs until the end of the season out of respect for Barcelona. So we will really be waiting until the very end to find out the answer.

Does he stay? After all, he is Mr. Barcelona. He is their greatest ever player. He is so connected to that football club that it is hard to imagine one without the other. He is also their most important player right now, and while they are even struggling with Messi on the pitch this season, it is not impossible that things will only get worse should he leave Catalonia in the summer. With Barcelona presidential elections coming up in a few months, it is very possible that a new club president comes in and reverses much of the poor decision making and leadership that characterized Josep Bartomeu’s reign. Will Messi see the manager he wants? Potentially Xavi returning to the Camp Nou as manager? Can Barcelona get their finances right to be able to make the moves in the transfer window they need to make? Messi still has a few years left in him, enough time for one more run at the Champions League, time to exorcise the ghosts of Rome and Liverpool. He can still cap off his career as a winner with the club he has spent almost his whole adult life at.

Or does he go? Realistically, are Barcelona going to get themselves out of this mess in a few years? Will anything change in leadership at the top? Is keeping Messi even still in their best interests? The legend is getting older, it is possible it may be in all parties best interest to part ways, allowing Barcelona to build for the future around Ansu Fati and Pedri. Ronald Koeman’s tenure as manager has not gone well, but with Guardiola and Pochettino off the market, is there really a good alternative? Would Xavi even be a good choice? And there are plenty of options for Messi, plenty of clubs where he can make a run at the Champions League one last time. Manchester City and PSG are likely the two favorites to sign him should he leave, and both clubs would be Champions League contenders, or even favorites, instantly with the addition of Messi. He could also leave European football behind, returning to Newell’s Old Boys with the goal of helping them win the Copa Libertadores. He could go to MLS, or Japan, or somewhere else, somewhere less stressful and less burdensome and less of a wreck than Barcelona at the moment.

Where is Messi going to end up? I truly have no idea, but we do not have to wait long to find out.

There you have it. These are the major stories in the football world in 2021. These will be the ones that dominate the headlines over the next 12 months. And this concludes our 2021 preview. Thank you for your readership, and look out for more articles and content coming from us this year!


Looking to 2021 Part 1: The Year’s Potential Breakout Stars

In our first preview of the year, we look at some of the young players that could enjoy break out years and enter the mainstream football discussion… Welcome to 2021! As a follow up to our 2020 Year In Review, I will be writing a few posts to give you some topics, stories, players, and […]

Looking to 2021 Part 2: The Big Names to Watch

Looking at the big names that could take up the headlines this year… Welcome back to Part 2 of our 2021 preview series! Today, we are looking at the players who will likely be the center of attention this year for a variety of reasons. Most, if not all, of these players will be more […]

Looking to 2021 Part 3: Teams to Watch This Season

In this part, we look at the sides that you need to watch when you have the chance… AC Milan Are AC Milan back? Will they win the Scudetto? I have no idea, but they are certainly a team to keep an eye on. They are a fun team to watch, and while they may […]

Meet Taiichiro Saito, The Man Who Made Football His Life-long Career Part 2: Working with 40,000 Cambodian kids and The Ongoing Venture into Academy Management

In Part 1, I looked at Saito’s rarely spoken about playing career that saw him leave Japan and ply his trade in Singapore, Australia, Ghana, and Bolivia. However, at the age of 32, Saito decided it was time to draw his playing days to a close. Yet, it is always impossible for someone as passionate […]

Looking to 2021 Part 3: Teams to Watch This Season

In this part, we look at the sides that you need to watch when you have the chance…

AC Milan

Are AC Milan back? Will they win the Scudetto?

I have no idea, but they are certainly a team to keep an eye on. They are a fun team to watch, and while they may not be the most stylistically pleasing to watch in Italy, they can still score some goals, and their team spirit makes them an easy team to root for. Plus, they are full of talent. Zlatan is the obvious one, but they really have talent in every position. Ante Rebić, Alessio Romagnoli, Gigio Dommarumma, Ismaël Bennacer, Sandro Tonali, Franck Kessié, Jens Petter Hauge, the list goes on. They are definitely talented enough to win the Scudetto, especially in midfield, and Stefano Pioli deserves more attention and praise for the job he is doing. Plus, Milan look to be fairly active in the January window, with Strasbourg youngster Mohamed Simakan at the top of their list. An already talented team could be adding more young, promising talent, forming a team that could be contenders in Serie A for years to come. Milan are on their way back.

Manchester United

In a similar theme to Milan, are Manchester United back? Are they going to win the Premier League title this season?

Again, I have no idea, but I am interested to see what happens. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been under pressure as a manager, but he has now seemingly figured out how to get the most out of the talent at his disposal. United are clearly very talented, revolving around the talismanic Bruno Fernandes in midfield. Their other stars have had good seasons, with Marcus Rashford in particular impressing on and off the pitch. They have also gotten good performances out of role players, including the likes of Scott McTominay and Eric Bailly. Right now, their entire team is seemingly playing with confidence and are in good form, helping them start 2021 joint-top of the table. My one caveat with this team is their great run of form has come against mid-to-lower-mid table teams, not truly being tested in the league outside of forgettable draws against Man City and Chelsea. Their European form was also questionable, losing to PSG and RB Leipzig to get knocked out of the Champions League. Things can change quickly in football, though, and the match at Anfield in two weeks will be a great barometer to see where this United team are at. With Liverpool’s current slip ups, that match at Anfield becomes the biggest of the season so far, with United being fully in the thick of the title race alongside Liverpool and Manchester City should they leave Merseyside with all three points.

Even if they do not win the league this season, I do feel this United team are a right winger, defensive midfielder, and center back away from being serious contenders on the domestic and European stage. They will likely be busy this summer, and they will be a team to keep tabs on for the 2021-2022 season. Like I said before with Milan, Manchester United are on the right track.


We have just finished year one of the Carlo Ancelotti project at Everton, and despite some inconsistencies in form, as well as a rather dismal loss to West Ham on New Year’s Day, the Toffees still find themselves within reach of the top four after an incredibly hectic festive fixtures run and being without several major players. Ancelotti has done incredible work in just one year on Merseyside, but they are still not a team that will shatter the world this season. It is entirely possible that Everton finish in the top four this season, but I do not believe it will happen. Top six is likely, but that is not the reason why they should have your attention.

Especially if they get European football for next season, they will likely be active in the summer transfer window. Given how successful they were in the last window, attracting talents such as James Rodríguez, Abdoulaye Doucouré, and Allan Marques to the club, it is going to be interesting to see who else Ancelotti and Marcel Brands, the club’s sporting director, are able to bring in. I imagine they will be one of the teams that are able to take advantage of the potential talent exodus from Ligue 1, mentioned previously in this series when discussing players such as Sven Botman and Renato Sanches. Brands is known for being able to make smart, financially sound moves for hidden gem talents, so this window could be the perfect opportunity to put that reputation to the test. It is apparent that Everton have the man at the helm needed to lead their project, and as he gets more time and more windows to build his team, it is possible that Everton could improve and truly become the team that gatecrashes into the “Big Six”. It is very possible that the Toffees could look a bit different, and a whole lot better, just 365 days from now.


Here is your feel good story for this year.

Fresh off of their 1-0 win at Anfield yesterday, I think it is safe to say that Saints have earned themselves some admirers this season. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s redemption arc at Southampton, and in his managerial career in general, is something quite remarkable. His reaction at the full time whistle against Liverpool says quite a bit. Unable to hold back the tears, he likely remembered his early struggles with Unterhaching and VfR Aalen, the rocky and rather cutthroat end to his time in Leipzig, the fears of losing his job on the South Coast after the infamous 9-0 game against Leicester, all of the struggles he overcame to reach the point where he can stand on the Anfield turf, having been victorious over a man he was often compared to. And he can look at his players, a group that bought into his philosophy and coaching despite the struggles and fears of relegation or his firing. Truly a heartwarming moment.

Hasenhüttl has demonstrated that he is one of the most, if not the most, underrated managers in the Premier League. The job he has done at Southampton is nothing short of remarkable. And the team he has assembled is not half bad either. It is a group of veteran players, many who were often overlooked or discarded at bigger sides but managed to find form and confidence under the management of the Austrian. Alex McCarthy, Ryan Bertrand, Stuart Armstrong, Danny Ings, Oriol Romeu, and Theo Walcott are just among the names that have found a second life at Southampton. There is even a solid set of younger, promising players in this team as well, including the likes of Che Adams, Kyle Walker-Peters, Moussa Djenepo, Ibrahima Diallo, and Jan Bednarek. Saints are still flying high, technically only four points off the top but, in more realistic aims, well within reach of a European place. On paper, you do not fancy this team’s chances of finishing in the top six places.

But they could. They really could. And if they did, that would be one of the best stories of the year.

Paris Saint-Germain

The Mauricio Pochettino era is about to begin in Paris. Having just been announced and made official, the ex-Tottenham manager looks to be returning to the club he once captained to become their next manager. This instantly becomes possibly the most interesting project in European football. He inherits an obviously talented team, one including two of the best players in the world, but one that has had a rocky season and currently is in the midst of a serious title race, something the club has not been accustomed to over the last few years.

In the short term, Pochettino’s project will be repairing the obvious deficiencies in this team in order to get them back on track and retaining their league title. They might do so by making some moves in January, with the club being linked with two of Poch’s former players in Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. The club has also made it clear that new contracts for Kylian Mbappé and Neymar are also major priorities. Obviously, though, he was brought in with the long-term aim of winning the Champions League. They made the final last season, coming within touching distance of the trophy they have long desired, but there is still work to be done to make PSG a true consistent European contender. Managerial expertise and ability to handle big situations has been something PSG has lacked on the European stage, with last season’s Final disappointment joining a long list of PSG failures in Europe under Thomas Tuchel, Unai Emery, and Laurent Blanc. Pochettino is a manager who, while he has very little in the way of silverware to his name, has managed in the big moments before, famously guiding Tottenham to the Champions League Final two years ago. It is this expertise and reputation that brought him to Paris.

In the meantime, he has some interesting decisions to make. How do they fix this midfield? Will he buck previous trends and trust their youth team? Do they make Moise Kean’s loan deal permanent? What happens with Neymar? With Mbappé? With Di María? With Icardi? Can they actually bring Lionel Messi to the club? Plenty of interesting possibilities are on the table, and it will be interesting to see what Poch is able to do with this team.


You have heard it here first: Italy have quietly assembled one of the most balanced national teams in Europe. They should be considered a dark horse contender for the Euros this summer, and I would not be surprised if they go far in the tournament.

People seem to have forgotten all about the Azzurri, though to be fair, failing to qualify for a World Cup does have that effect. After the disaster in 2018, the national team began their rebuilding process under new manager Roberto Mancini. While not the most famed and alluring coaching candidate, and with many wanting the return of Antonio Conte, Mancini has done a great job instilling a sense of discipline and team spirit back into the team, two things that was vacated under the fairly negative and somewhat toxic management of Gian Pieo Ventura. He also got the team attacking and scoring goals again, something that was also lacking under Ventura. Mancini’s time in charge also coincided with the rise of a new generation of Italian stars, one that makes up a substantial part of this team. And man, some of these players are quite exciting.

This is what brings this team balance. Not only do they have a great blend of youth and experience, but it is spread throughout the team and not just concentrated in a few positions. Leonardo Bonucci, Francesco Acerbi, and Alessandro Florenzi are veteran players in the heart of defense joined by the younger and potentially-future Italy captain Alessio Romagnoli. The delayed Euros could allow prodigal winger Nicolò Zaniolo to return fit in time for the competition, joining what could be a terrifying attacking front three with Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne. Should he not be fit for the competition, then no problem. Domenico Berardi, Federico Chiesa, and Vincenzo Grifo can fill in. Their midfield is probably the most remarkable part of their entire team. Marco Verratti has been a fixture in the Azzurri midfield for years now, and Jorginho has joined recently and has stuck. Verratti is having a fine season, but Jorginho is struggling for form. Who could they bring in to join Verratti if Jorginho cannot go? Well, they could use Inter’s Nicolò Barella, or Roma’s Lorenzo Pelligrini, or Milan’s Sandro Tonali, or Sassuolo’s Manuel Locatelli, or Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli, or Udinese’s Rolando Mandragora. The options in depth is remarkable, especially in an area of the pitch that is so crucial in winning the slower, more methodical style of match played on the international stage. And they go into the Euros with the added bonus that most of their crucial players are in good form. Immobile is scoring goals for fun, Insigne is back at his dynamic best. Romagnoli and Donnarumma have been solid. There are a number of very good midfielders they can use who are in great form. Even players once on the fringe of the national team, including Moise Kean, Davide Calabria, Mattia Zaccagni, and Leonardo Spinazzola, are in fine form, offering even more options for Mancini.

I am telling you, Italy are dangerous. I would not be shocked at all if they went far in the Euros, and even if they do not succeed this summer, keep them in mind for the World Cup next year.

Bayer Leverkusen

Home to Florian Wirtz, the main future star talent we highlighted a few days ago, Bayer Leverkusen have assembled a high-octane attacking team that, when they are at their best, are a joy to watch.

Leverkusen are seemingly the “other” team that has found themselves in the middle of Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig’s title fight. Sitting currently in third and only five points off first, they are most definitely in the hunt. While they are not the favorite, they are a dangerous team that could have their say in who brings home the title this season. They are the joint-second highest scorers in the Bundesliga through 14 matches, and they have the young talent needed to possibly not be weighed down by pressure and expectation when it comes to chasing down Bayern. They also find themselves in the Round of 32 in the Europa League, and with the talent in this team, I would not be surprised to see them go deeper into the competition.

And what about that talent? Well, there is a lot of it, a nice mix of youth and experience. Leverkusen manager Peter Bosz is not short of experience in working with younger players, coming from his time at Ajax and Dortmund, and this team is no different. We talked about Wirtz earlier in this series, but the rest of their attack includes the 21-year-old Moussa Diaby, 23 year old Jamaican forward Leon Bailey, and 24 year old Czech striker Patrik Schick. They are young talents to watch elsewhere in the team, including 22 year old midfielder Exequiel Palacios and 21 year old center back Edmond Tapsoba. Combining this with the experience from the likes of Lukáš Hrádecky, Charles Aránguiz, and Lucas Alario, and you find a very balanced and exciting team, with the youthful dynamism to be dangerous and the experience to be composed in big situations. Definitely fun to watch for the style of play and goals, but worth sticking around to see if they make some noise near the end of the season.

Real Sociedad

And finally, another team to watch purely because they are fun. Like Leverkusen, Real Sociedad are one to watch for those who want to see goals.

La Real started the year off in scintillating form, climbing to the top of the La Liga table while being the league’s top scoring team. Their form has tailed off recently, but they still go into 2021 in third place and only eight points off the top of the table. It is possible they can still contend for the title this season, but I do not believe they will. This does not mean they are not a team to watch, however, as they are, like Leverkusen, an incredibly entertaining side with plenty of young talent to keep an eye on. Imanol Alguacil has a team with a good blend of experience and youth, but they are a team that is fully committed to attacking and scoring goals. Despite losing Martin Ødegaard after last season, David Silva has arrived from Manchester City and showed that there is still magic in his left foot, taking up the role vacated by the Norwegian and performing very well. Mikel Oyarzabal is continuing to show why he is one of the top rising stars in La Liga, on pace to put together arguably his best year as a professional and captaining his boyhood club. In midfield, Mikel Merino and Igor Zubeldia form a strong partnership, with Merino in particular being one of the more impressive midfielders in the league over the last year. Alexander Isak has put his struggles at Dortmund behind him and is showing why he is such a special talent, and the emergence of young winger Ander Barrenetxea has given Sociedad another young, dynamic danger man to call on.

They may not win the league, and while they will likely win the Copa Del Rey Final against Athletic Bilbao (which was supposed to be last season but will likely be played sometime in 2021), they may not win anything else of note this season. However, still watch them. They are just such a fun team. Everyone needs to keep a tab of a few teams to watch just to see goals and attacking football. In the past, it has been Pep’s Barcelona or Klopp’s Dortmund and Liverpool or Sarri’s Napoli. Now, I am telling you, it is Real Sociedad and Bayer Leverkusen this season. Keep an eye on them this year.

Those are just a few teams to keep an eye on this year among the major domestic leagues and the Euros this summer. In the final part of this series, we will talk about some of the biggest stories and sagas that will develop over the year that you should keep an eye on. Who knows, maybe it will be something that seriously impacts the team you support?


Looking to 2021 Part 1: The Year’s Potential Breakout Stars

In our first preview of the year, we look at some of the young players that could enjoy break out years and enter the mainstream football discussion… Welcome to 2021! As a follow up to our 2020 Year In Review, I will be writing a few posts to give you some topics, stories, players, and […]

Looking to 2021 Part 2: The Big Names to Watch

Looking at the big names that could take up the headlines this year… Welcome back to Part 2 of our 2021 preview series! Today, we are looking at the players who will likely be the center of attention this year for a variety of reasons. Most, if not all, of these players will be more […]

Meet Taiichiro Saito, The Man Who Made Football His Life-long Career Part 2: Working with 40,000 Cambodian kids and The Ongoing Venture into Academy Management

In Part 1, I looked at Saito’s rarely spoken about playing career that saw him leave Japan and ply his trade in Singapore, Australia, Ghana, and Bolivia. However, at the age of 32, Saito decided it was time to draw his playing days to a close. Yet, it is always impossible for someone as passionate […]

Looking to 2021 Part 2: The Big Names to Watch

Looking at the big names that could take up the headlines this year…

Welcome back to Part 2 of our 2021 preview series! Today, we are looking at the players who will likely be the center of attention this year for a variety of reasons. Most, if not all, of these players will be more mainstream names, as compared to Part 1’s emerging talents. These are all players that are must-watches in 2021 because of their scintillating form, budding superstardom, transfer interest, or any other reason. These already established stars are poised to have big years.

João Félix, Atlético Madrid/Portugal

After a rather mediocre first season, it looks like we are finally seeing the João Félix we were all promised when he made his mega-money move to the Spanish capital. The Portuguese wunderkind can have a genuine claim at being the best player in La Liga for the first half of the season, amassing eight goals and four assists in 20 games in all competitions, as well as adding a league player of the month award to his list of accolades, as he helped Atlético Madrid end 2020 top of the league.

As the best attacking player in the team, Félix usually plays up front in the traditional Simeone 4-4-2, but his positioning can vary, usually allowed to roam around in the attack as more of a center forward rather than an out-and-out number nine. In this role, he can use his incredible ability on the ball to beat opponents on the dribble and combine with his teammates. He has likely benefitted the most with Atléti’s signing of Luis Suárez, and the two have combined well to be a deadly duo for Simeone’s team. It is his dynamic ability on the ball that has allowed Atléti’s attack to be much more potent than in years past, and it is part of the reason why they are serious contenders for silverware this season. If Félix continues this form, Atléti could very well be champions of Spain at the end of the season, and Portugal will be getting a very in-form attacking player for their run at defending their Euros crown. Félix’s continued growth makes him one of the main players to watch this year, as he grows into a superstar right in front of our eyes.

Mikel Oyarzabal, Real Sociedad/Spain

The other main superstar of La Liga outside of the El Clásico teams, Mikel Oyarzabal has been one of the best attacking players for arguably the most entertaining team in Spain at the moment. The Basque winger and captain of the club was receiving serious attention from Manchester City last summer, being identified as a potential replacement for Leroy Sané, and will likely be one of the next big stars on the move.

Oyarzabal has the ability to play on either wing or as a number ten behind a striker, but has primarily played on the left wing for La Real. He is not the typical inverted winger, as he is a primarily left footed player playing on the left. He is a very good dribbler, able to beat defensive players with simplicity rather than serious amounts of flair. His positioning is still similar to an inverted winger, though, as he often comes inside and operates between the defense and midfielders to combine with the rest of the Sociedad attack and primary creative midfielder, last season being Martin Ødegaard and this season being David Silva. It is here where that dribbling ability comes into play, as he is able to move inside and beat defenders, creating opportunities for key passes or shots. He has managed seven goals and four assists through 18 games in all competitions, helping guide La Real to third in the league and the Round of 32 in the Europa League. He has also become a constant in the Spain team, especially due to his flexibility in Luis Enrique’s system. He will likely feature at the Euros, and if he follows up a strong season with La Real with a strong performance at the Euros, I imagine there will be a list of big teams wanting to sign him.

Olivier Giroud, Chelsea/France

2021 could be the year that Olivier Giroud becomes France’s all-time leading goalscorer. Bit mad, right?

Giroud has always been a fairly underrated player throughout his career, but even while he is no longer a consistent starter for Chelsea, he retains the admiration of France manager Didier Deschamps. The towering striker was a constant in the World Cup-winning team in 2018 despite not scoring in the competition, and he appears to remain the top choice for starting striker going into the Euros this summer. Deschamps has expressed his displeasure in how little Giroud plays for Chelsea, however, and has said he wants the player to leave the club in January in order to be ready for the Euros. A few teams throughout the continent have registered interest, including the likes of Inter and Juventus, and it will be interesting to see if Giroud can find a club where he can play regularly and remind us all of how good he can be. Should he make the move that allows him to retain his spot with Les Bleus, Giroud only needs eight goals to surpass Thierry Henry’s 51 goal record to be France’s all-time leading scorer. It would be a remarkable achievement for a player that has been the target of criticism throughout his career, who often did the thankless work needed to make attacks work for club and country, and who has often been the unintended target of animosity when discussions around Karim Benzema’s absence from the national team surface. I hope he breaks the record; it is an accolade he deserves. Keep an eye on him this year to potentially see history.

Dayot Upamecano, RB Leipzig/France

The French brick wall, who starred last season in Leipzig’s run to the Champions League semifinal, Dayot Upamecano will be a name that gets mentioned quite a bit this season for two main reasons: the Euros and his release clause.

Upamecano was always known as a strong and rapid center back, able to use his recovery pace and sheer force to defend well and win tackles. The reason he really catapulted as high as he did last year, however, is how much he has grown as a positional defender and with the ball, no longer being reliant on his physicality to defend. His football IQ has grown by leaps and bounds, and his ability to read the game and be in the right positions, skills that top tier center backs need, is what has turned him into a budding world-class talent. This was best shown during Leipzig’s 0-0 draw against Bayern last season, where he helped to nullify the incendiary Bavarian attack. Having grown this much as only a 22-year-old, he has become one of the best young talents, let alone young center backs, in the world. He has continued at a high level this season as part of a Leipzig defense that is the best in the Bundesliga in terms of goals conceded. If Leipzig are to overcome Bayern and win the league, it will be because of Upamecano and their defense, rather than their attack.

This is also an interesting year, as Upamecano recently made his debut with the French national team. While he looked visibly nervous, he was alright, and it is not crazy to think that he has a shot of making the Euros team for Les Bleus, which would make his transfer situation even more interesting than it already is. With a relatively cheap release clause in his new contract, it looks like this will be his last season in Leipzig. It was fairly assumed he would be moving to Bayern, with a rumored move falling through last summer, but should he perform well this season and in the Euros, there could be some more competition for his signature. He is one to keep an eye on. He is a promising talent that will likely be a part of one of the biggest transfer tug of wars this summer.

Jules Koundé, Sevilla/France

Yes, another French center back.

Jules Koundé burst onto the scene last season, following his move to Sevilla from Bordeaux. The diminutive afro’d Frenchman was a rock at the back for Julen Lopetegui’s team, forming arguably the best center back partnership in La Liga last season alongside Diego Carlos and being a large reason why Sevilla ended the season with a Europa League title. While Carlos was impressive for his own reasons, Koundé was the true gem of the team. Despite being only 5’10”, he is a very fearless player, and he makes up for lack of strength with very strong positional awareness and ability to win the ball back. He is also great on the ball, being the more composed passer between him and Carlos. Apart from his height, he demonstrated all the tools needed to succeed as a modern center back.

His success with Sevilla last season attracted plenty of attention, with the club reportedly having turned down a large money offer from Manchester City. He is currently continuing his strong run of form, playing very well for a Sevilla team in the hunt for European places in La Liga and in the Round of 16 in the Champions League. Despite likely not being in the running to go to the Euros with France, he will still attract plenty of interest in the transfer window. Center backs, especially young ones that possess world-class potential, are a rare commodity in this market, so a player of Koundé’s caliber and potential will be coveted by clubs across the continent. Sevilla are renowned as a club that has a good eye for talent while also not being afraid to sell important players, knowing they have the infrastructure needed to replace them. I imagine that, should Koundé’s form continue, there will be clubs wanting to sign him this summer. He may not be the first name brought up in the center back transfer discussion, as that should be Upamecano, but I would not be surprised if he played well enough to earn a move.

Emile Smith Rowe, Arsenal/England

So, he is a big name at the moment. Sure, he is technically a breakout star, worthy of inclusion in yesterday’s article, but I did sort of forget to put him in. His recent performances have still made him worthy of discussion and definitely one to watch this season.

Emile Smith Rowe is one of the new crop of youth team graduates from Arsenal’s Hale End Academy. He struggled for consistent first team chances, only really featuring in cup matches and Europa League games before going out on loan to Huddersfield last year. This season, Mikel Arteta had been looking for solutions to solve the Gunners’ run of woeful form, so he made the move to bring in some of the younger players, including Smith Rowe, starting for their match against Chelsea. And well, it worked like a charm. Smith Rowe has starred in Arsenal’s last three matches, racking up two assists and arguably being the best player on the pitch in all three. He offers Arteta something that no other creative player had previously: a desire and confidence to take on players and play risky forward passes. His passing and movement actually helps to create genuine goal scoring chances, something that no other Arsenal player had been able to offer this season. With most of Arsenal’s previous goals coming from dead ball situations, and with lengthy scoreless runs in the league under their belt, Smith Rowe appears to be a heaven-sent gift for Gunners fans. With all the rumors surrounding a loan move for Isco or a pricey permanent deal for Julian Brandt, it appears Arsenal have no real reason to search the market for a creative midfielder. Smith Rowe is exactly who they need, and he will likely be a fixture in the team for the rest of the season. Despite how poor Arsenal have been over the last few months, they are only six points off of fourth place. Smith Rowe could be the key to Arteta and Arsenal turning things around. Trust the kid, Mikel. You have nothing to lose.

Renato Sanches, LOSC Lille/Portugal

We could be on the verge of seeing Renato Sanches’ redemption arc be completed, as the Portuguese midfielder has overcome some early career struggles to become one of the more coveted talents in Europe.

After failing at Bayern Munich and Swansea, he found his confidence and form playing for Lille the last season and a half, showing his ability to dictate the tempo of a match and be a strong presence defensively. In that short time, he has become one of the best central midfielders in Ligue 1, showing off all of the traits that made him such a coveted talent when he was at Benfica. He is still only 23, after all, he still has so much more room to improve and grow, and finding a good situation to get his career back on track means he is still able to fulfill his sky-high potential. Young players can often get unfair treatment in the “what have you done for me lately?” world of football, so it is good to see that the naysayers calling Sanches a flop a few years ago might be proven wrong very soon.

With the Téléfoot deal in France failing, Lille have been thrusted into a position where they need to sell players to alleviate their serious debt issues, despite their strong season and serious potential of getting back into the Champions League and, potentially, winning the Ligue 1 title. Sanches will be one of the most coveted players in this team, with some rumors saying Liverpool are interested in bringing him in to replace Georginio Wijnaldum in January. Should he leave in January, expect him to be a serious contributor immediately at whatever club makes a move for him. Should he stay past January, I would expect this to be his last season for Les Dogues, but he could be important in Lille winning their first league title since 2011. Keep an eye on him, this is not the same Renato Sanches many of you may have seen with Bayern and Swansea.

Memphis Depay, Olympique Lyonnais/Netherlands

Speaking of redemption arcs, quite a bit has happened since Memphis Depay’s failed stint with Manchester United.

The petulant child has grown into a mature and confident player, captaining Olympique Lyonnais to the Champions League semifinals last season and to being top of Ligue 1 this season while coming off a major cruciate ligament injury. Eight goals and four assists through 17 games this season playing as the “false nine” in Lyon’s attack puts Depay on pace for one of the best statistical seasons he has had in France, and his performance and role in the team will be crucial for Lyon’s title chances. Only problem? His contract is up at the end of the season, and it does not seem like he wants to sign an extension to stay in the Rhône. He almost left this past summer, having a deal already agreed with Barcelona falling through due to their inability to sell a player and open up room for the Dutchman’s arrival. Lyon sporting director Juninho has said they have no intention of selling key players in January, but press speculation has indicated they could be willing to sell Depay at an incredibly cut rate fee to get something of value for him instead of him leaving on a free transfer in the summer. January will likely be a stressful window for Les Gones, but if they make it through without selling Depay, he should continue his strong form in what could be a “Player of the Season” level campaign, potentially being the reason Lyon win the league. Should he leave, then he would be an incredibly shrewd signing for a club desperate for a creative, dangerous, and tactically flexible forward. Like Renato Sanches, look for him to potentially be a big mover in January, and even if he does not leave in January, this is most likely his final season in Lyon. He will be on the move in the summer at the latest, whether it to be Barcelona or somewhere else.

Manuel Locatelli, Sassuolo/Italy

Manuel Locatelli might be a name you recognize but have not seen in a few years. Locatelli shot into the spotlight in 2016 when he scored a thunderbolt of a winning goal for Milan against Juventus. Only 18 at the time, Locatelli was viewed as the bright young prodigy that could help rescue Milan from their growing issues. He then seemingly fell off the face of the Earth, falling victim to the madness and failure that plagued Milan in the mid-2010s. His lack of trust in club leadership led to him demanding a transfer, eventually going to Sassuolo in 2019.

Well, I am here to tell you that he is still only 22 and he is definitely still a promising young star. He is arguably the brightest young gem in a Sassuolo team that unbelievably found themselves fourth in the league at the end of 2020. Playing as the regista, or deep-lying playmaker role (think Andrea Pirlo), he is able to dictate the game and keep possession ticking over in midfield, setting a platform for a team to attack from. He is also a good enough defensive player to be the deepest lying midfielder. He is an incredibly polished player, growing by leaps and bounds in the short time since he left Milan. He has been so impressive that Sassuolo have valued the player at between €40-50 million, a skyrocket in valuation for a player that moved to the Neroverdi for a quarter of that value. He will be a name that you hear quite a bit this summer, with Juventus especially being one of the teams that will go after his signature. Expect some Premier League teams to join that hunt, however, especially if he plays well for Italy at the Euros. He could be one of the players that benefits the most from the spotlight that the Euros will give him, and given that players like Jorginho and Sandro Tonali are having poor seasons, Locatelli might be given his chance to shine on the biggest stage for his country.

Alejandro Gómez, Atalanta/Argentina

Papu Gómez could be on the move this month. The star of everyone’s favorite underdog team last season, Atalanta’s Alejandro Gómez has been one of the best attacking players in Italy over the last few seasons, being the most important player for La Dea in a team that has truly punched above its weight class. However, he has had a disagreement with manager Gian Piero Gasperini that has only gotten worse, forming a serious rift between the two. Because of this, Gómez has expressed his desire to leave the Bergamasque club in the January window, with no shortage of suitors lining up for his signature. He reportedly wants to stay fairly close, which means the two Milan clubs are likely the favorites, being geographically very close and two teams that could very much use a player of Papu’s talents. There has also been some rumors about him leaving Italy altogether and going to MLS, which would be very interesting, but I imagine the two favorites to sign him are the Milan clubs.

It is a potential move that has generated discussion. While AC Milan and Inter are both very good teams and could use a player like Gómez, it is very possible that moving away from Atalanta would be the worst thing for the player to do. Gómez is a very good player, but he is a star in part because he fits the Atalanta system perfectly, and leaving that system might expose his weaknesses as a player. It is definitely a massive risk, especially if he stays in Italy. He could be a massive piece for a Scudetto-winning Milan or Inter team, but it could also be a massive failure that hurts his legacy within Serie A. Either way, he is for sure a player to keep an eye on this year.

There you have it, the ten stars you poised for big years or big moves that you should keep an eye on. In the next part, we will look at the teams you should be watching in 2021.


Looking to 2021 Part 1: The Year’s Potential Breakout Stars

In our first preview of the year, we look at some of the young players that could enjoy break out years and enter the mainstream football discussion… Welcome to 2021! As a follow up to our 2020 Year In Review, I will be writing a few posts to give you some topics, stories, players, and […]

Meet Taiichiro Saito, The Man Who Made Football His Life-long Career Part 2: Working with 40,000 Cambodian kids and The Ongoing Venture into Academy Management

In Part 1, I looked at Saito’s rarely spoken about playing career that saw him leave Japan and ply his trade in Singapore, Australia, Ghana, and Bolivia. However, at the age of 32, Saito decided it was time to draw his playing days to a close. Yet, it is always impossible for someone as passionate […]

2020 In Review

A look back at the highlights from a difficult year as a reminder of why we love football… 2020 has been a very difficult year for all of us. It has also been a difficult year for football as an industry, leaving lasting financial effects that will be felt for years to come. The COVID […]

Looking to 2021 Part 1: The Year’s Potential Breakout Stars

In our first preview of the year, we look at some of the young players that could enjoy break out years and enter the mainstream football discussion…

Welcome to 2021! As a follow up to our 2020 Year In Review, I will be writing a few posts to give you some topics, stories, players, and teams to keep an eye on as we get into the new year.

In part 1, we will look at every football hipster fan’s favorite topic: the next big names you need to know for the year. Especially with the Euros in the summer, there will be plenty of opportunity for young, up-and-coming players to show off their talents to the world, potentially earning them transfers to bigger clubs, maybe even the club you support. These are a few of the young talents that could enjoy breakout years this year, a few to keep your eye on as we progress through 2021.

Florian Wirtz, Bayer Leverkusen/Germany

Leverkusen youngsters have been a common theme of discussion in recent years. Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz both shot to stardom and earned their big money moves away after reaching star levels with die Werkself. Go back a little further, and you will remember a young Heung-Min Son lighting up the league in Leverkusen. Well, we now have the next in line.

Florian Wirtz moved to Leverkusen from FC Köln in January 2020 and moved quickly from the youth team to the first team, making his league debut in May and becoming Leverkusen’s youngest ever Bundesliga debutant (breaking the record previously held by Kai Havertz). He would also score his first goal against Bayern in June, becoming the youngest ever Bundesliga goalscorer at the time (a record since broken by someone we will talk about later). While Leverkusen are a team full of exciting young talent, Wirtz is considered THE guy, the next young German prodigy from this team. With Havertz gone, Wirtz has been thrown into the number ten role that Havertz vacated, and he is having a great first season, with five goals and six assists in 19 games in all competitions and has Leverkusen sitting second in the Bundesliga and in the knockout stages of the Europa League.

While more diminutive compared to Brandt and Havertz, Wirtz makes up for his lack of size and strength with an incredible skill on the ball and ability to read the game. He is such a composed player for his age, very exciting and fun on the ball, and has the passing ability and IQ to orchestrate a high-power and potent Leverkusen attack. He is, in my opinion, the most likely and biggest breakout star coming in 2021. While a spot in the Euros team with Germany might be one step too far, expect Wirtz to make headlines in 2021 and announce himself to the world as an up-and-coming talent. If Leverkusen have success this year, Wirtz will likely be one of the main reasons why.

Ryan Gravenberch, Ajax/Netherlands

Ajax, as you all know, are very good at growing youngsters into serious talents. We all saw the midfield pairing of Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek grow from young academy graduates to incredibly talented and highly coveted future stars. Now that both players have left the club, many wondered how they would be able to replace two influential players. Well, this is Ajax, there is always someone next in line.

Enter Ryan Gravenberch, the towering 6’3″ midfielder who is the next prodigal talent to come through in Amsterdam. He has actually been around the first team for a few years now and made his senior team debut back in 2018, when he became the youngest Ajax player to play in the Eredivisie, breaking Clarence Seedorf’s record. He remained a bit part player until last season, when the departure of Frenkie de Jong and Lasse Schøne opened up more opportunities. When van de Beek left the club last summer, Gravenberch was trusted to step in as a major player, and he has impressed. Combining a strong physical frame with an incredible ability on the ball and cracking long shot, he has grown into possibly the most promising young center midfielder in Europe at the moment. While he does not have van de Beek’s engine, his incredible technical ability has made him the ideal number eight midfielder, able to use a strong passing range to set up play from deeper positions but also move forward with the attack and get the occasional goal and assist. His skillset reminds me of a young Paul Pogba, and he definitely has the potential to live up to that comparison.

While he may not be leaving Ajax for another few years, he is a player to get to know now, and Ajax’s potential to make a run in the Europa League could give Gravenberch the spotlight to show off his skill to a wider audience. As we get later in the year, when he has a full season of being a crucial player under his belt, I expect that his performance level will rise even further. He will be a fun player to keep an eye on this year.

Sven Botman, LOSC Lille/Netherlands

Liverpool fans, pay attention. He could be playing for your team very soon.

Sven Botman, the towering and rather intimidating looking center back, is another one of the latest talents to come through the football factory that is Ajax Amsterdam. However, despite being rated highly in the youth teams, Ajax let him leave the club last summer following a loan spell with Heerenveen in the 2019-2020 season. Lille, with their incredible eye for finding young talent for relatively cheap, immediately snapped him up for a paltry €9 million, seeing him as the ideal replacement for Arsenal-bound Gabriel Magalhães. He has so far fit the billing, with his aerial ability and comfort in winning defensive duels replacing the key traits that made Gabriel so good for Les Dogues. He has been one of the most impressive center backs in Ligue 1 this season despite being only 20 years old and playing his second season of top flight professional football. His talent and ability to form a solid partnership with club captain José Fonte is a large reason why Lille find themselves second in the league at the end of 2020 with the second best defense in the league in terms of goals conceded.

Botman, as a player, is very similar to Gabriel in many ways. Both are tall, good in the air offensively and defensively, are fairly decent on the ball, and both won a high percentage of their defensive duels. While Botman is not the quickest player off the mark, he is more than comfortable playing in a defense that regularly allows its fullbacks to attack up the pitch, and he is able to make up for a lack of pace with a strong positional sense and a desire and aggression that permeates through his game. He reminds me of Nemanja Vidić in that sense, right down to the fact that they both kind of scare me. He definitely is not the perfect center back prospect, as is the case with most 20 year olds, and he does need to improve his passing ability, especially at longer distances, and his one-on-one defending, where his aggression can lead to him putting in a rash challenge that allows his man to get by him or draw a foul. Despite this, he still has plenty of time to grow as a player, and his consistency and reliability for both Heerenveen and Lille make him both an experienced player for his age and a desirable prospect.

However, due to the poor financial situation facing Ligue 1 clubs following the collapse of the Téléfoot TV deal, as well as a growing debt problem at Lille, it is very possible that Botman leaves the club even as soon as January, with Liverpool reportedly among the favorites to land his signature. A move to Liverpool, while a massive step up in a very short time, would be good for Botman. Klopp has a reputation of helping guide young players from inexperience into the first team, and the lack of fit defensive players gives Botman chances to play immediately without having the pressure of needing to be the main option in defense for years to come. He would be one for the future for Liverpool, a potential ideal partner for Virgil Van Dijk and/or Joe Gomez down the road. It would be a shame for Lille to lose such an important player, and his departure might dampen their title hopes, but it would give Botman the chance to show his talents to a wider audience.

Noni Madueke, PSV Eindhoven/England

Ok, let us talk about one of the other Dutch clubs now.

Noni Madueke is another of the “Jadon Sancho School of Development”. The London-born former Tottenham youth team prodigy was one of the most coveted young players in England a few years ago, having starred in the youth ranks in North London and becoming a U-18s regular at just 15 years old. His incredible youth team career for Spurs made him wanted by teams across the country, with Manchester United in particular working hard to bring in the talented youngster. Despite this interest, Madueke chose to leave England. Being inspired by Jadon Sancho’s move to Dortmund, Madueke sought out opportunities on the continent, eventually choosing to move to PSV in 2018. As a 16 year old, he starred in PSV’s U-19 team, becoming a favorite of coach and PSV legend Ruud van Nistelrooy, before making his professional debut with Jong PSV in 2019. His rapid ascent continued, making his senior team debut in March 2020 in what would be PSV’s final match of the 2019-2020 season before the COVID Pandemic forced the league to halt. As the 2020-2021 season began, Madueke found himself as a permanent fixture in the first team, playing on the right or as a center forward in a 4-2-2-2 utilized by new manager Roger Schmidt. While he may be behind Mario Götze, Mohamed Ihattaren, and Donyell Malen in the pecking order, he has still had plenty of chances to play, tallying six goals and seven assists in 20 appearances in all competitions as a kid who just turned 18. He said when he moved to PSV that he wanted to get into the first team as quick as possible, feeling that it was incredibly difficult for younger players to get first team time while playing for big clubs in England. It seems that gamble has paid off.

Madueke started his career as a tricky and skillful winger, proficient at cutting inside on his preferred left foot to score and assist. Since arriving in Eindhoven, though, you can see how his game has adapted and matured. With the U-19s, van Nistelrooy took a particular liking to him, helping him work on his finishing and goalscoring ability. Since Schmidt’s arrival, Madueke has had to adapt and learn how to play in a 4-2-2-2 as well, learning how to play as a wider winger and as a center forward. You can see the results, especially in his much improved movement and attacking intelligence. While he is still probably best used as a winger, he is able to play as a center forward and play off the shoulder of the center backs, giving Schmidt plenty of attacking options. It will not be long before Madueke becomes a regularly discussed name among fans of English football, much in the way Sancho did once he starred for Dortmund. This is a very talented PSV team, once that is firmly entrenched in a title scrap against Ajax and Feyenoord. If they do end up as champions, Madueke will be one of the influential players in the team, as he stars alongside…

Cody Gakpo, PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands

There seems to be a very unique tradition tied to PSV and developing left wingers. Dries Mertens, Memphis Depay, and Steven Bergwijn have all come through PSV as left wingers in recent years, starring in the team and making big moves to the “top five” leagues. Now we have the next in that line of development.

Born and raised in Eindhoven, Cody Gakpo came through the club’s youth system, making his professional debut with Jong PSV in 2016 and his senior team debut in 2018. While clearly incredibly talented, he played in a position where PSV had quite a bit of talent already at the club, meaning he had to wait his turn. With the departures of Bergwijn and Hirving Lozano in 2019, opportunities arose for the young Eindhovenaar. He featured 39 times for PSV last season as a starter and substitute, bringing in a respectable tally of eight goals and nine assists in all competitions. In 2020, under new manager Roger Schmidt, Gakpo has been deployed on the left as a hybrid wide CAM/winger in Schmidt’s 4-2-2-2, a slightly different role from his winger role in previous 4-3-3s, but one that he has adapted to well.

As a player, Gakpo is very different from the Bergwijn/Depay mold of winger that came before him, and he is even very different from his aforementioned teammate Noni Madueke. While players like Bergwijn and Madueke are smaller and more technical dribbling wingers, Gakpo is very powerful and direct, able to use his 6’2″ frame and mobility to play more as a wide striker. Do not get me wrong, he is still very good on the ball, with the vision and passing ability to play as a CAM or winger and provide for his teammates, but he is not the skillful winger that the likes of Bergwijn and Madueke are. That almost makes him a more attractive prospect, as his technical and physical traits make him able to play in that wide role as well as a center forward role in place of, or sometimes alongside, fellow Dutch future star Donyell Malen. He is also capable with both feet, allowing him to play on both wings. He has played almost an equal number of games for PSV this season as a left winger, center forward, and right winger. It is that flexibility that has made him such a key player for PSV, being able to utilize him in multiple positions and allowing Roger Schmidt to fit in the plethora of attacking talent he has at his disposal. With nine goals and three assists through 18 games in all competitions, Gakpo is on pace for what could be his best season as a professional, which has piqued the attention of Netherlands manager Frank de Boer. Should Gakpo maintain this form through the second half of the season, not only could he guide his boyhood club to their 25th league title, but he could also find his way into the Netherlands squad for the Euros. Should he go to the Euros, he could be one of the players that benefits from the enhanced audience watching him, possibly being one of the players making a move to a “top five” league following the competition.

Viktor Tsygankov, Dynamo Kyiv/Ukraine

Now for one completely out of left field, but here me out here.

Viktor Tsygankov is a name that is likely unfamiliar to most apart from serious fans of Ukrainian football or serious fans of FIFA Career Mode and Football Manager. The Ukrainian winger has been considered a prodigy for a few years now, being the next big thing in Ukrainian football. He had incredibly impressive seasons for Dynamo Kyiv in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and after a less successful 2019-20 due to injuries, he is back at his best this season. A very strong technical winger, he is a deadly goalscorer cutting in from the right wing, and he is able to combine with his teammates and register a few assists as well. With 10 goals and three assists in 19 matches in all competitions this season, he is putting together another fantastic domestic campaign, but he will unfortunately not get the attention he deserves with just domestic performances. Dynamo Kyiv have reached the round of 32 in the Europa League, so I anticipate he could have some great performances in the knockout stages if they are able to go far. He will also be crucial for Ukraine this summer. He is an already established fixture within the national team, even having scored goals against France and Spain last year, and if Ukraine do well in the Euros, Tsygankov could be one of the players who benefits most from the added attention.

The concern is he becomes like Andriy Yarmolenko. Yarmolenko was also a star winger for Dynamo Kyiv who impressed with performances in the Europa League. He was rumored to leave Ukraine for several years but never did so until it was too late, hurting his progression as a player. If Tsygankov performs well this season and in the Euros, I imagine he will not follow that mistake and make his way to Western Europe. He is a name that may not reach the highs of the two players I mentioned previously, but he could be one of the stars of the Euros and a name you hear a lot more very soon.

Unai Simón, Athletic Bilbao/Spain

Spain was said to have a serious goalkeeping question ahead of this Euros. With David De Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga struggling at times for form and confidence, people were actively questioning who would wear the gloves for La Roja this summer. Well, Luis Enrique’s decision was actually quite easy. While Kepa and De Gea floundered, Unai Simón was shining in La Liga and earned himself a chance with the national team.

Simón came through the Basque academy at Athletic Club, earning his chance in the first team when Kepa left for Chelsea. When injury to his competition gave him a starting chance in 2018, he took it. Despite impressing, he was relegated back to second choice later in the season. Ahead of the 2019-20 season, he was named the first choice, and man, did he impress. Simón was among the best goalkeepers in Spain that season, conceding only 29 goals in 33 matches and finishing third in the Zamora Trophy race, awarded to the goalkeeper with the best goals conceded-to-games ratio, finishing behind only Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois and Atlético Madrid’s Jan Oblak, widely considered two of the best goalkeepers on the planet. Considered by many in the Basque Country to be better than the Premier League-bound man he replaced, Simón has quietly become one of the best young shot-stoppers in Europe with an ever-improving ability on the ball in distribution. Having only just turned 23 years old, the world is seemingly at his feet.

Spain have done quite a bit of rotation of their goalkeepers in recent international matches, with Enrique not really giving away who his preferred number one and number two options are. While De Gea and Kepa could still be the two choices, do not be surprised to see Simón on the plane for the Euros this summer, and, despite somewhat of a rebound in form from De Gea recently, do not be surprised if you hear discussions around Simón being Spain’s number one for the Euros. He is a brilliant keeper, one of the most underrated in the world at the moment. If he gets a chance in the Euros, I imagine he will be one of the players that earns a move off of the spotlight that the Euros provides.

Silas Wamangituka, VfB Stuttgart/DR Congo

Look away, Arsenal fans. Your former head of scouting may have unearthed another gem.

Sven Mislintat, the famed former chief scout at Borussia Dortmund and brief technical director at Arsenal, was named sporting director at Stuttgart two years ago, truly beginning his sporting project following Die Schwaben‘s relegation to the second division at the end of the 2018-2019 season. He brought in several young attacking players that played a key role in getting Stuttgart back into the top flight, and they continue to play a key role in a team enjoying a fairly positive return to the Bundesliga. Chief among those signings was a tall and incredibly skillful winger named Silas Wamangituka.

The Congolese winger moved to France in 2017, spending a little over a year and a half with Olympique Alès before moving to Ligue 2 side Paris FC. He looked to be a star in the making in Paris, as his 11 goals and two assists nearly helped to carry the club to promotion. This caught the eye of Mislintat, who brought the talented winger to Stuttgart in 2019. He once again was one of the stars of the show, with his seven goals and eight assists helping Stuttgart achieve promotion back to the Bundesliga. He has continued to impress in the top flight, racking up eight goals and 3 assists in 14 games in all competitions, the most notable being the two goals and one assist in his Man of the Match display against Borussia Dortmund last month. His performances this season earned him the Bundesliga’s Rookie of the Month award for the month of November and potentially put him in discussions to win Player of the Month for December. Despite Stuttgart’s inconsistencies this season leaving them firmly mid table, they have built an exciting young team that could be dangerous in a few years, and the 21-year-old Wamangituka is at the heart of it all.

Silas is a very interesting combination of physical and technical traits. Not to harp on the fairly racist “pace and power” stereotypes that follow African players, but the Congolese dynamo is 6’2″, fairly strong, and quite quick, and that is something that makes him incredibly dangerous as an attacker. He is also an incredibly gifted technical player, with a dribbling ability and sense of confidence that allows him to attack defenders in one-on-one situations, navigate through tight and congested spaces, and makes him an absolute nightmare to defend against when he is on form. This combination of physical and technical traits allows him to play anywhere in an attacking front three, starting his career as a striker but later moving into wider positions that allow him the space to run at defenders and beat them off the dribble. In the top flight, he has been deployed on the wide left or right positions in Stuttgart’s sort of weird but also sort of unique 3-1-4-2 system, giving him the room to attack space on the counter, dribble at opposition fullbacks, and still cut inside and find a few goals. Silas is a very unique player and one that is a joy to watch when he is at his best. As this young Stuttgart team improve over time, I imagine he will become one of the Bundesliga’s biggest young stars. He is one to keep an eye on, especially as we get later into 2021.

Timothée Pembélé, Paris Saint-Germain/France

He may not be the most exciting young French player, but he certainly is the most interesting.

Timothée Pembélé is the most recent graduate of the PSG academy, a youth set up that is often overlooked in discussions about being among the best on the continent despite the litany of incredible young talents that have come through there over the years. Pembélé broke into the first team very recently, only making his professional debut and scoring his first goal this season. He may not be the first thing you think of when you ponder young French stars, but he is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Why? Because he is a right back. Despite the litany of young talents coming through in France at the moment, right back has remained a problem position for Les Bleus. When Bacary Sagna aged out after Euro 2016, there was no real ideal replacement. While Benjamin Pavard did a commendable job at the World Cup in 2018, he was a center back for most of his career before that competition, only selected for that role due to being the best of a list of mediocre candidates. Now, there are some more options. Leipzig’s Nordi Mukiele is an interesting option as a center back turned wingback. Saint-Étienne’s Yvann Maçon almost made this list, but his cruciate ligament injury has likely pushed back his true “break out year”. Even outside of just looking at the France team, there are not that many true budding star right backs in the world. There are very few star right backs in the world in general. It is a position that has not had many great players in the late 2010s, so Pembélé has the chance to become a very unique youth prospect. This distinction will likely get him more attention from around the continent very soon.

Pembélé remains the most impressive of the young French right backs, being a natural right back with the physical skills needed to also play center back. He combines impressive technical skill and ability to attack with a solid defensive IQ, which even allows him to play any role in a defense on top of his preferred right back position. He has been one of the main positives in a so far rocky season for PSG, showing that he is ready to be a consistent first team player right now. Should PSG actually choose to trust their youth academy, something they infamously tend to not do, Pembélé could be a fixture in their team for the next several years. Do not get me wrong, he is not ready to play for France, and he is most likely not going to be on the plane for the Euros. But despite this, if he carries his strong form with PSG into 2021, he will become one of the most talked about young players in Europe.

Youssoufa Moukoko, Borussia Dortmund/Germany/Cameroon

Remember that kid who I said broke Florian Wirtz’s “Youngest Bundesliga Goalscorer” record? Well, this is him.

Youssoufa Moukoko sprung into the mainstream football world after his absolutely absurd youth team goalscoring stats made their way to the internet. And yes, they are hilariously absurd. In the 2016-2017 season, playing for Dortmund’s U-15 team as an 11 year old, he scored 33 goals in 21 games to guide Dortmund to their regional title. In October 2017, when he was just 12 years old, he scored a brace for Dortmund’s U-17 team against Schalke to help them come from 4-1 down to draw 4-4. He scored 40 goals for the U-17 team in that 2017-2018 season, including decisive goals in their national title semifinal against Leverkusen and final against Bayern. Again, he was 12 years old at the time. He would score 50 goals for the U-17 team in 2018-2019, setting an all-time record for the competition and earning him a move up to the U-19 team, where he scored a record 34 goals in just 20 games. He was 15 at the time. That is insane.

Due to the DFB changing laws around the age at which a player can get their professional license, Moukoko is now eligible to feature for the senior team at 16 years of age. He has already done so, appearing as a substitute against Hertha Berlin in late November and becoming the youngest debutant in Bundesliga history. He has since become the youngest debutant in Champions League history and the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history. Again, this is all just bafflingly insane.

It is interesting to think about where he could play with the senior team. He was a number nine with the youth teams, but with Erling Håland playing that position and also scoring goals at insane rates, he is likely not going to play there in the short term. He is not small, but his 5’9″ frame does not really suit playing as a sole striker. He has an impressive ability on the ball, however, and that skill combined with his quickness and agility makes him suited to playing slightly wider or off of a striker. He has quite a bit of competition for places in the other attacking positions, but with Jadon Sancho presumably on his way out of the club and Marco Reus not getting any younger, the chances will definitely come. Allegedly-incoming manager Marco Rose and his high-energy Red Bull-disciple system will likely benefit a player like Moukoko, and it is possible he starts seeing not-insignificant amount of time next season, likely playing just off of Håland as a second striker or wide forward. Dortmund’s future attack looks terrifying, even if Håland does leave the club soon, as Moukoko joins Jude Bellingham and Giovanni Reyna as prominent attacking talents at the club under the age of 20.

I do not want to stack expectation on the kid. It is very possible he does not feature prominently for Dortmund this season. He might go out on loan next season. You never know. But I do think he will play senior level football somewhere, whether it be at Dortmund or elsewhere on loan. And when he plays, he is going to be a sight to see.

There we have it, just a few names for you to keep your eye on this year. I always found that watching young players grow into stars is one of the most satisfying parts of being a football fan, and these players look to be the ones on the cusp of becoming big names in the sport.

In part 2, I will discuss a few more established players to keep an eye on this year, either due to under-appreciated performances, a potential big transfer, or the chance to elevate their game to the next level in their domestic league or at the Euros.


2020 In Review

A look back at the highlights from a difficult year as a reminder of why we love football… 2020 has been a very difficult year for all of us. It has also been a difficult year for football as an industry, leaving lasting financial effects that will be felt for years to come. The COVID […]

The Curious Case of William Saliba

Why the Frenchman is nowhere to be seen, and how internal politics at the football club may cause Arsenal to miss out on a bright young star… In July of 2019, Arsenal completed a massive transfer coup in signing Saint-Étienne’s wunderkind teenage center back William Saliba for a reasonable-but-not-insignificant fee of £27 million. The Gunners […]

The Ludovic Casset Story Part 1: Making History in Vietnam

Ludovic “Ludo” Casset may be an unfamiliar name to many in Southeast Asia, but it is a name that many Vietnamese football fans are well aware of. The current Etoile FC Academy director in Singapore had a short but eventful professional playing career with Đà Nẵng F.C in the V.League 1. While some of his […]

2020 In Review

A look back at the highlights from a difficult year as a reminder of why we love football…

2020 has been a very difficult year for all of us. It has also been a difficult year for football as an industry, leaving lasting financial effects that will be felt for years to come. The COVID Pandemic, among other things, has irreversibly changed the lives of millions of people and left its mark on the football world.

Today, as I write this, is New Year’s Eve. A fine time to say goodbye to the bad from 2020 and welcome in 2021, hoping for better and brighter in the coming year. It is also a good time to look back on the year and pick out the positives, and there definitely were positive moments in the football world this year. In this post, I will highlight my “Best of” moments for the year in football, with several categories talking about the highlights of the year and some things to look forward to in 2021.

Let us start with some of the easy ones first…

Player of the Year

Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich/Poland

Had to be him, right? The man that came remarkably close to breaking Gerd Müller’s Bundesliga single season goal record, the man who guided Bayern Munich to a historic treble, the man that epitomizes the cliché “he scores when he wants”. Robert Lewandowski was the best player in the world in 2020 and demonstrated to the world that he is one of the best strikers of his generation. Combining an incredible attacking intelligence, knack of knowing exactly where to be, an underrated passing ability, and an absolutely lethal finishing ability, Lewandowski is exactly what every team looks for in a striker. With 17 league goals in only 12 appearances this season, on top of three goals in four Champions League games, the Pole is well on his way to maintaining the ridiculous goalscoring level he set last season, when he scored 55 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions. He notably won the Player of the Year award at FIFA’s The Best awards, and, had the Ballon d’Or been awarded this year, he likely would have won that as well. Long considered one of the most underrated players in the world, Lewandowski is now getting the recognition he has deserved for years.

Manager of the Year

Hansi Flick, Bayern Munich

Again, had to be him, right? Hansi Flick was a long-time assistant for the German National Team under Joachim Löw, but joined Bayern in 2019 as assistant to Niko Kovač after a few years in a sporting director role for the national team. When Kovač resigned as Bayern manager in early November 2019, Flick took over as the interim manager. Bayern never intended for Flick to be the new permanent manager; he was simply a stopgap until they could find a new permanent manager, with many saying they were going to make an offer to ex-Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Bayern lost twice early under Flick, to Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach, and then they did not lose for the rest of the season. They ran away with the league, won the DFB Pokal fairly comfortably, and stormed through the Champions League, capping off a historic treble year with a fairly routine win over PSG in the Champions League Final. Bayern went unbeaten for nearly nine months under Flick, amassing a 23-match winning streak that ran from a 4-1 win over Köln in mid-February to their 4-1 loss to Hoffenheim in late September, a loss that remains their only loss in 2020 and only the third loss Flick has on his record in management. The stats are absolutely crazy, but that is not all. Flick has Bayern playing like a well-oiled machine, shattering goalscoring records last season and looking to break those same records again this season. The same Bayern team that looked lost and clueless at times under Kovač were turned into a terrifying force of nature under Flick. The likes of Thomas Müller and Jérôme Boateng enjoyed a renaissance in form, while Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich enjoyed their first steps into superstardom. Hansi Flick has done a remarkable job in his short time in management, and he is without a doubt the best manager of the year.

Best Team of the Year

Bayern Munich

Again, easy choice. They won five trophies and lost one game this whole year. Since hiring Hansi Flick, Bayern have basically become the footballing equivalent of the Death Star from Star Wars. They are a terrifying attacking team with an incredibly balanced midfield and strong defense and, if the rumors about the impending arrival of Dayot Upamecano next summer are true, they will only be getting better. Even when you do everything right against them, they can still find ways to win (as Leverkusen learned earlier this month). They are just an incredible team, the best team in the world at the moment, and one that could make history next year by winning back-to-back league and European trebles.

Ok, that is enough Bayern Munich love.

Young Player of the Year

Erling Håland, Borussia Dortmund/Norway

The lanky, awkward-looking Norwegian that burst onto the scene scoring goals for fun for RB Salzburg continued doing so in the Bundesliga. His strong physical presence combined with deceptive speed and long strides made him an absolute nightmare to defend against, seemingly being equally able to function as a target man and get in behind defenses. His positional sense is also phenomenal, and his ability to unleash thunderbolt shots with his left foot is just the cherry on top. Despite only 18 total appearances for Dortmund last season, all conveniently coming in 2020, he scored 15 goals in all competitions, a startling return for a player in his first half season playing in a “Top Five” league. He has continued that red-hot form into this season, scoring 17 goals in only 14 appearances in all competitions.

He just turned 20 this year. This is all patently absurd.

Yes, Dortmund have had their struggles this year, leading to the dismissal of manager Lucien Favre. With rising star Marco Rose looking to replace him, it looks like things will be looking up for die Schwarzgelbe soon, and Håland could lead this talented team to silverware before his time in Westphalia is up. Or, if the papers are to be believed, he might be moving back to England to his dad’s former club in the summer. Who knows…

Biggest Surprise Team

AC Milan

Yeah, I did not expect this either.

In the final game of 2019, Milan lost 5-0 to Atalanta. They were dreadful, having lost nearly half of their opening 17 games and sitting firmly mid-table with one of the worst goal differences in the league. And that was two months after they had sacked manager Marco Giampaolo and hired Stefano Pioli. It looked as though Pioli was on his way out as well, with the club having begun secret negotiations to bring in Ralf Ragnick as the new manager. Things began to turn around in January, with the free transfer signing of Zlatan Ibrahimović giving the club a talismanic striker and leader to rally around. They were not great, but they were good. They had improved, Zlatan continued to win his battle against aging, and you could see some of the talent in the team.

Then, the COVID Pandemic hit and halted the league. Serie A would eventually restart in June, and Milan began the restart with a 4-1 win over Lecce. They did not lose for the rest of the season. And then the new season started, and Milan still did not lose. 26 total matches unbeaten, a run dating back to last season, has turned Milan into the most in-form side in Italy and has them sitting top of the Serie A table at the end of the year. They are also the only unbeaten team remaining in Europe’s “Top Five” leagues in the 2020-21 season, an honor that not even Bayern Munich or Liverpool can boast. It is not just all on Zlatan either, as playing without the Swede this season has demonstrated just how talented this team is and how well-managed it is. The likes of Hakan Çalhanoglu and Alessio Romagnoli are enjoying their best runs of form as professional players, while Ismaël Bennacer, Franck Kessié, and Theo Hernández are growing into future stars. The job Stefano Pioli has done is nothing short of remarkable, as he has built a talented team with a true fighting spirit. Even if they do not win the Scudetto this year, it is a sign that Milan, a truly legendary club in European football, are on their way back to prominence.

2020’s Breakout Star

Theo Hernández, AC Milan/France

A talent that may not have fully “broken out” for mainstream fans, Theo Hernández has still been phenomenal for Milan this year, arguably being one of their most important players and becoming, at least in my opinion, the third best left back in the world at the moment. A player who is able to combine rapid pace, strength, great technical ability, and an eye for picking out a pass and finding a goal, Theo has become the prototypical attacking fullback. Having notched six goals and three assists for Milan last season, the Frenchman is seemingly raising the levels of his performances, having already gotten four goals and three assists through half of this season, including the winning goal in stoppage time against Lazio in the Rossoneri‘s final match of the year. He turned 23 in October, so he is still technically a “young” player, even though I did not put him for the breakout young star category. He has a bright future ahead of him, and this fantastic year may have been enough to put him on the radar when it comes to top talents in Europe, as well as potentially put him on the plane for the Euros this summer. If Milan qualify for the Champions League next season, or even if they find a way to bring home the Scudetto, Theo will be a major reason for their success.

2020’s Breakout Young Star

Eduardo Camavinga, Stade Rennais/France

One that is a bit out of left field, and a player who technically “broke out” in 2019, but it still counts. And trust me, you will be hearing this name a whole lot more very soon.

Eduardo Camavinga, Rennes’ teenage sensation who made his professional debut only a year ago, has become the brightest young star in France, a country that has never really lacked bright young rising stars. He followed up a great 2019, where he became Ligue 1’s youngest ever Player of the Month winner, with an even stronger 2020, cementing himself as one of the best midfielders in Ligue 1 and attracting attention from across Europe. He even earned his first cap for the French National Team, becoming the youngest player to make his debut for Les Bleus since Réne Gérard in 1932. He even added a brilliant individual goal for Rennes against Montpellier and a goal in his first start for France against Ukraine to an ever-expanding highlight reel.

A daring and confident midfielder who is silky-smooth on the ball and has an eye for a pass, Camavinga looks to be a constant fixture in the France midfield for years to come. He performed admirably for Rennes in the Champions League, and he looks to have les Rennais in position to potentially make it back to the Champions League next season. With the impending financial trouble in Ligue 1, however, it would not be a surprise to see Camavinga leave the Brittany club sooner rather than later. Either in January or the summer, I would expect the youngster to leave Ligue 1 behind, with Real Madrid and Manchester United being among the clubs interested. You will be hearing this name even more soon enough.

Best Transfer of 2020

Bruno Fernandes, Sporting Club to Manchester United, January 2020

I know this dead horse has been beaten relentlessly over the last few months, but I am going to do so again. Let us face it, Bruno Fernandes is a world-class player, and he has seemingly transformed the fortunes of Manchester United, as well as possibly saving Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s job, almost immediately. A dynamic, creative playmaking midfielder, Fernandes is seemingly at the center of quite literally everything Man United do going forward. Having amassed 12 goals and eight assists in all competitions in just 22 appearances for United last season, he firmly cemented himself as the team’s best and most important player, a large reason why they were able to make it back into the Champions League this season. He would follow that up with 14 goals and nine assists in all competitions so far this season, as well as being at or near the top of the list of chances created among all Premier League players. This is a remarkable immediate return for a player that just entered the Premier League less than a year ago, a league that can often take quite a while for newly arriving players to adapt to. He has fit into this United team perfectly, and his visible vocal leadership has also helped to instill a more decisive and ruthless mentality into the team.

Manchester United find themselves just three points off the top of the league at the end of 2020, a massive step forward from where they were when Fernandes joined the club, and the Portuguese maestro is a large part of the Red Devils’ success this season. It is hard to say that Fernandes has not been among the four or five best performing players in the Premier League in 2020, and he will go into 2021 as one of the contenders to win PFA Player of the Year, potentially being the reason United win the league when it is all said and done.

Best Match of 2020

Liverpool 2-3 Atlético Madrid, Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg, 11 March 2020

The final major European match before the COVID Pandemic halted the European season was a dramatic battle under the lights at Anfield. Atlético Madrid, holding a 1-0 aggregate lead, had to hold out against a siege from the Liverpool attack. Strong performances from Jan Oblak and Thomas Partey in particular held the defense for as long as they could, but a rather fortunate rebound falling to the foot of Roberto Firmino allowed Liverpool to take a 2-1 aggregate lead in extra time. It looked almost certain that Liverpool would be going through.

And then, the legend of Marcos Llorente was born.

A mishit pass from Adrián fell to the feet of João Félix, who managed to find Llorente in a bit of space. The Spaniard got the ball on his stronger right foot but was closed down, having just enough time and space to let off a prayer of a shot. It somehow found its way in past a stumbling Adrián. 2-2 on aggregate, with Atléti going through on away goals as things stood. Seven minutes later, Atléti got another chance, with Álvaro Morata starting a counter and finding Llorente in space. With the Liverpool defenders backing off of him, Llorente had time to get the ball onto his right foot and fire another shot at the Liverpool goal, which also went in. 3-2 on aggregate, a prayer from the heavens, los Colchoneros looked like they could really escape Anfield with the win. Liverpool needed two goals, but for all their might, they could not get past Oblak. In the final minute of the match, Llorente played through Morata, who finished calmly past Adrián. 4-2 on aggregate, Atléti were through. The entire team piled on top of Morata, Diego Simeone ran arms extended and screaming toward the traveling Atléti fans. 120 minutes of madness at Anfield had ended, and the reigning European champions were out of the competition.

It is hard to think of another match with the same level of sheer madness as this one. The electric atmosphere at Anfield, the dramatic twists and turns, the brilliant performances, and a cult hero being born all added up into the best match I saw this year. Had we known it would be the last big match we all saw in a full stadium, we might have appreciated it much more at the time.

Best Goal of 2020

Jordan Flores, Dundalk vs. Shamrock Rovers, 28 February 2020

I mean, just look at it.

Click the hyperlink above. Watch the goal.

Did you watch it yet? Good.

How in the world was this not a finalist for the Puskás award? Flores got his foot basically above his head to strike a cross from a corner first time into the top corner. Amazing. I do not think a ball has been struck that well the entire year, and Flores may never strike a ball that sweetly for the rest of his career. Just an absolutely baffling combination of athletic and technical ability, a fantastic goal that should have gotten more love than it did.

Best Moment of 2020

Olympique Lyonnais eliminate Manchester City from the Champions League, 15 August 2020

Sorry, Leeds fans. I know the best moment should probably be your team getting promoted back to the Premier League for the first time in nearly two decades. But, I am a Lyon fan and the one writing this blog, so there was no way I was not going to include this moment.

The Pandemic condensing the football schedule meant that, after leagues restarted, UEFA was forced to condense the Champions League, moving to one game rounds for the quarterfinals and semifinals instead of the two legs that was used before. Many thought this would increase the chance of an underdog story in the knockout stages of the competition. However, the underdogs began tumbling out of the competition, with Atalanta and Atlético Madrid losing at the first hurdle. All that was left was Lyon, who finished their worst league season in two decades and, due to Ligue 1 canceling their entire remaining season, did not play a competitive match for several months prior to narrowly escaping against Juventus a week prior. Surely this would be simple for Man City. This would be the best chance for Pep Guardiola to get his Champions League title with City, arguably being one of the best teams remaining in the competition. Lyon were talented, for sure, but there was no way they could stand a chance against City. This would be routine.

24 minutes in, Maxwel Cornet scored. 1-0 Lyon. That was not in the script.

City seemed flustered, this was not part of the plan. They did fight back, Kevin De Bruyne eventually leveling the match with 20 minutes remaining, but Lyon, attacking through their star midfielder Houssem Aouar, took the lead again, with Moussa Dembélé beating Ederson in a one-on-one after Aouar played him through on goal. City fought back again, and Raheem Sterling had the opportunity to level the match. All he had to do was pass it into an open goal after receiving a brilliant cut back pass. And he skied it. As if determined by fate. Lyon scored their third moments later, with Dembélé scoring from a shot spilled by Ederson. It was over, City were out. Lyon pulled off the historic upset, one of the biggest wins in their club’s history, and knocked out arguably the presumptive favorite to win the competition. In a dismal year that featured three Champions League semifinalists that were far from romantic, Lyon reminded us that the Cinderella story is still alive.

My Best XI in 2020

Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi

Kevin De Bruyne, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller

Alphonso Davies, Sergio Ramos, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold

Manuel Neuer

This is the end, but I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your readership in 2020. It means so much to us that you all take time out of your days to read our content. It was a successful starting year for us, and we are excited to continue bringing you content for the upcoming year! I will be publishing a follow-up to this talking about things to look out for in 2021.

I wish you all peace, health, and happiness in the upcoming year.


The Curious Case of William Saliba

Why the Frenchman is nowhere to be seen, and how internal politics at the football club may cause Arsenal to miss out on a bright young star… In July of 2019, Arsenal completed a massive transfer coup in signing Saint-Étienne’s wunderkind teenage center back William Saliba for a reasonable-but-not-insignificant fee of £27 million. The Gunners […]

The Italian Job

How Carlo Ancelotti needed only a year to dramatically change Everton’s fortunes, and where they go from here… On Christmas Day 2019, Everton Football Club found themselves in 15th. A few weeks prior, they had sacked manager Marco Silva, the fourth permanent manager to be removed by the Merseyside club since David Moyes’ departure in […]

On Dominik Szoboszlai’s Move to RB Leipzig

Keeping it in the family… Yesterday, RB Leipzig announced the signing of Hungarian international and wunderkind sensation Dominik Szoboszlai from sister club RB Salzburg in Austria. The youngster will join Leipzig in January on a four and a half year deal after the club activated his €25 million release clause. The move is a coup […]

The Ludovic Casset Story Part 1: Making History in Vietnam

Ludovic “Ludo” Casset may be an unfamiliar name to many in Southeast Asia, but it is a name that many Vietnamese football fans are well aware of. The current Etoile FC Academy director in Singapore had a short but eventful professional playing career with Đà Nẵng F.C in the V.League 1. While some of his […]

On Dominik Szoboszlai’s Move to RB Leipzig

Keeping it in the family…

Yesterday, RB Leipzig announced the signing of Hungarian international and wunderkind sensation Dominik Szoboszlai from sister club RB Salzburg in Austria. The youngster will join Leipzig in January on a four and a half year deal after the club activated his €25 million release clause. The move is a coup for the new Bundesliga giants, and a disappointment for the clubs also pursuing the Hungarian’s signature.

Szoboszlai is the first big domino to fall of the January transfer window for 2021. January is usually a time where very few big name deals get done, as it is difficult to convince teams to sell their players mid-season while also being difficult to incorporate new players into an existing team during the middle of the season. Despite that, last January saw several massive deals go down, with Bruno Fernandes moving to Manchester United from Sporting Club, Christian Eriksen moving to Inter Milan from Tottenham, and Erling Håland moving to Borussia Dortmund from RB Salzburg being among the biggest of the bunch. Szoboszlai is the first big move in this window, one that was expected due to the Hungarian’s relatively cheap release clause.

What does this move mean for Szoboszlai? For Leipzig? What kind of player are die Roten Bullen getting? Will it make a difference in their pursuit of their first ever Bundesliga title? What does this mean for the other clubs who were pursuing this high-profile player? Let us discuss…

Whatever you make of the morality and sporting ethics behind the Red Bull system and the relationship between Leipzig and Salzburg, you cannot doubt their ability to produce star talents, with Szoboszlai being the next on that list. His move to Leipzig makes quite a bit of sense for him. Not only is he moving to a (relatively) bigger club on a bigger stage, entering a team fixed in a title fight and in the knockout stages of the Champions League, he is taking the next step down the pipeline that has produced a litany of quality players, including his new teammates Marcel Sabitzer, Dayot Upamecano, Konrad Laimer, and Amadou Haidara. Szoboszlai is a brilliant player who is already assembling a highlight reel of brilliant goals and moments, and this move to the Bundesliga will put him on a bigger stage, under brighter lights, and able to demonstrate his talent and ability to the world. The highlight reel player will now have more cameras on him.

He has picked out the ideal team to join footballing-wise. Leipzig are a dynamic attacking team, managed by possibly the brightest young star in football management in Julian Nagelsmann. They are a team that, quite simply, scores plenty of goals and plays an attractive brand of football, ideal for a dynamic and dangerous player like Szoboszlai. Systemically, while Nagelsmann has moved away from the traditional Red Bull 4-2-2-2, the mantra of quick, attacking football still exists. Even without the traditional Red Bull formation, the youngster still fits in well for Leipzig. For Salzburg, Szoboszlai often played on the left side in the Red Bull 4-2-2-2, drifting inside onto his stronger right foot. For Hungary, he plays as a creative number 10 in the middle of the pitch. This experience works ideally for Leipzig and Nagelsmann, who utilize a combination of a 3-4-2-1 and 4-2-3-1, both having an ideal space open for the Hungarian. In their 3-4-2-1, which is their most-used formation, their front three usually is composed of two more creative players behind a “pivot”, either a target-man striker, like Yussuf Poulsen or Alexander Sørloth, or another creative player acting as a false nine. The 4-2-3-1 is a similar idea, with three creative attacking midfielders playing behind a “pivot”, which is, again, either a target-man striker or a false nine midfielder. Szoboszlai will fit in with the two creative midfielders in the 3-4-2-1, which were usually some combination of Dani Olmo, Emil Forsberg, Amadou Haidara, and Christopher Nkunku. Szoboszlai is able to play on the left side of that pairing, which puts him in a similar role to where he played for Salzburg. In the 4-2-3-1, he is able to fit into the middle or left side of the attacking three, which is, again, similar to where he played for Salzburg and Hungary. He seems to fit into the team like a glove.

There will be some slight tactical adjusting. Playing off of one target man as compared to a strike partnership at Salzburg, his utilization in build up will be more different, much more central than at Salzburg and less of cutting inside on his right foot. He also has to work with an overlapping wing back, with Angeliño bombing up the left side much more than the fullbacks at Salzburg would. These are small differences, and I still believe that Szoboszlai will fit in well tactically, but these are small things that will be around Szoboszlai on the pitch, slight differences that he will have to get to terms with immediately.

From a Leipzig perspective, the biggest concern about Szoboszlai is his consistency. Some have described him as a player who is equally likely to make a brilliant, match-defining moment as he is to go completely missing in a match. I saw another person describe him as someone good for two to three moments a match, then nothing else for the remainder of the 90 minutes. Usually, some of these claims are blown out of proportion, and people tend to throw around “lack of effort” to explain star players struggling, but to be fair, there are some instances where Szoboszlai has gone missing and, for instance, has not put in his share of the defensive duty. These are not damning traits for a player, however, and it is something that can be removed from the game of a young player as he develops and matures. In moving to Leipzig, he is now in a team surrounded by a higher level of talent to work off of during a match. He also has a significant amount of competition for his place, meaning his star power alone is not enough to keep him in the team. He is now working with an experienced manager in Nagelsmann who can nurture him from an inconsistent but talented young player to a true top talent. He needs to buy in, though, and while I have seen no signs that he will not do so, these concerns are still relevant.

Tactically, despite some issues, a move for Szoboszlai seems to work perfectly. He is able to play on the left and drift in toward the middle of the pitch as the other Leipzig creative players are able to do, and he can offer a level of aggression and one-on-one attacking ability that the likes of Forsberg and Nkunku cannot. He also poses a significant attacking threat by himself, as his ability to score from distance will draw the attention of defenders and help create opportunities for his teammates. It is safe to say that players moving within the Red Bull family are not going to be left out at sea by moving into a completely different tactical set up, but even with the changes Nagelsmann has made since his arrival, Szoboszlai still fits in perfectly with what the young German manager wants to do.

Despite Leipzig winning the race for the youngster, Szoboszlai was a very sought-after player, so I will spare a quick thought for the teams that lost out in the race for the Hungarian’s signature. There were seemingly three other main contenders in this duel: Milan, Real Madrid, and Arsenal. Milan tried and failed to sign Szoboszlai last summer, while Real Madrid and Arsenal were at least enquiring about a possible deal. With the Hungarian now off the market and seemingly no major competition with Leipzig for the deal, it does show a lot about the priorities of the other clubs involved.

Milan likely sensed that they missed their chance last summer, as the top priority of the club since then has been agreeing contract extensions with key players, including current attacking midfielder Hakan Çalhanoglu, who would have likely been replaced by Szoboszlai had a transfer been agreed. While not as talented as Szoboszlai, the Turkish international has been fantastic for Pioli’s Milan, being a key contributor in a Rossoneri team that could at least find their way back into the Champions League next season, if not win a Scudetto this season. It is a miss for Milan, but their self-control is understandable. Things are finally going well for the club after years of financial and sporting turmoil. They do not want to rock the boat before they make it back to the Champions League and receive the much-needed financial windfall that comes with it.

Real Madrid were likely never serious contenders. Most top young talents are inevitably linked with clubs of the gargantuan size as Los Blancos, but this was never a deal that was going to happen. The club has invested in Martin Ødegaard to be the creative midfielder for the future, and the board likely have still held back all transfer funds for deals next summer, when Kylian Mbappé and Eduardo Camavinga, among others, could become available. No doubt that Real Madrid are in need of some creativity and goalscoring threat, but this was never a deal they would have seriously considered.

And then we come to Arsenal. There probably is not a major club on the planet that could have used a player of Szoboszlai’s caliber more than Arsenal. Desperately in need of some form of creative dynamism, anything to make the incessant crossing stop, a move for the Hungarian would have made perfect sense for Arsenal, especially given the relatively cheap price tag. The move did not materialize, obviously, and it seems that both sides did have their hesitations. For Szoboszlai, it does not seem controversial to think that a move to league title-contending and Champions League-constant Leipzig made much more sense than a move to a horrendously struggling Arsenal team. While he would start and be among the star players in both teams, it makes more sense for a young player to go to the better situation, which definitely is not Arsenal, in order for their progression and growth to not be hindered. On the other side, there were reports that Arsenal had doubts over the player’s defensive work rates. Again, these concerns are not unfair, but it did seem like Arsenal may have taken too much interest in those concerns and possibly turned down the exact player they need to fix their attacking woes. Whatever the case may be, it never seemed like Arsenal were truly in the running. Moving forward, should Arsenal remain in the Premier League next season (which they probably will but you never know), they will likely try for a serious move in the summer for a creative player, with Lyon’s Houssem Aouar likely being their dream target. With several major contracts expiring in the summer, including Mesut Özil’s much-discussed contract, Arsenal should feel more liberated financially, able to make a major move to improve the team, should a major move be available for them.

So how will this move work out? Personally, I am a big fan of Szoboszlai as a player. I like his confidence, a trait that is very important for a player in his position. He never looks afraid to take on a defender or play a risky pass or take a shot from distance, and that confidence will be important for him to hit the ground running at Leipzig. Working with a manager as talented as Julian Nagelsmann will allow the player to grow and mature into a consistent talent. He slots into that Leipzig team perfectly, being the ideal eventual replacement for aging club stalwart Emil Forsberg and an ideal piece that can rotate into the team alongside the likes of Forsberg, Dani Olmo, and Christopher Nkunku. Will he have the impact for Leipzig that his former Salzburg teammate Erling Håland is having for Dortmund? Probably not, but it is at least worth remembering that Szoboszlai was considered one of the two diamonds of that Salzburg team alongside Håland, and he has a considerable amount of natural talent. It is possible that he blossoms into a superstar in the Bundesliga, but I do not think it will be to the degree and immediacy of Håland’s rise.

Regardless, this deal makes Leipzig much better at little cost to them. Having already lost Timo Werner and potentially losing Dayot Upamecano this summer, it seems like the window for Leipzig to win the Bundesliga is beginning to close. Making a move like this could be the difference between Leipzig winning their first ever Meisterschale and losing out to Bayern Munich once again. Leipzig are already a very good team, they probably did not need to sign Szoboszlai, but it is a move that makes them much better and could be the tipping point in their season. It is very rare in this post-Neymar-to-PSG transfer market that you get the opportunity to sign a potentially world class talent for a cut rate fee, and when you find chances like that, you take them without thinking. Leipzig did just that with this move.

And they benefitted from their ability to keep him in the family…


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Super Bayern

How Hansi Flick’s Bavarian Revolution turned a season nearing disaster into one of complete European conquest…

Feature Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Bayern Munich are champions of Europe for the sixth time in their history. It was never really in doubt, was it?

Aside from a few scares against Lyon in the semifinal and a tense first half against PSG in the final, it seemed as if Bayern coasted to the Champions League title. They demolished Tottenham, Chelsea, and Barcelona on their way to the final, and looked fairly comfortable against PSG when they got there. They won the league by 13 points and demolished Bayer Leverkusen in the DFB-Pokal Final. They cruised all the way to a European treble, only the second in Bayern’s storied history, but was there ever really a doubt?

Well, yes there was.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, Bayern’s title defense once looked like it was going off the rails. On November 2, 2019, Bayern were demolished 5-1 by Eintracht Frankfurt. The Bavarians were fourth, their manager, Niko Kovač, had just resigned, and it looked like their season was on the brink of collapse. We were only 10 matches into the league season, but this just felt different. Bayern were very unconvincing throughout the whole season, Leipzig and Gladbach looked like genuine title threats, and this Eintracht loss seemed to indicate that this would be the year that a team not named Bayern went home with the Meisterschale.

Appointed to replace Kovač was his assistant, Hans-Dieter “Hansi” Flick. The long-time Germany assistant arrived in Bavaria before the season, intended on acting as the number two to Kovač. When things were falling apart, he was thrusted in to act as an interim, righting the ship until Bayern could find a more permanent replacement. Flick was always well-regarded in Germany but lacked major first team managerial experience, and while no one opposed the move, he was working under the assumption that he would only be there temporarily while the club worked to find their next big-name manager. Flick impressed in his interim spell, and while Bayern did lose twice, they strung together enough positive results to get their season back on track, and, with a 4-0 win over Dortmund, showed they still had the quality to win the league. He was given the managerial job until the end of the season, seemingly to give the club more time to find a suitable replacement.

Those two games Bayern lost during Flick’s interim period would be the last two games they would lose the whole season. They would fail to win only once more, a 0-0 draw against Leipzig in February. They won every single other competitive match they played (I am not counting the friendly they lost to Nürnberg), and they averaged scoring about three goals per game during that run. When Kovač was sacked, they had scored 25 league goals through 10 games, and by the end of the season, they had reached 100 league goals. They became the first team to win all of their Champions League matches, a trend that started under Kovač but was accelerated under Flick. A eight-month run that can only be described as absurd has ended with Bayern winning everything under the sun. A season teetering on the brink of disaster has ended with maybe the best Bayern team of the last decade being crowned champions of Europe and completing their second-ever European treble. How did this transformation happen?

This Bavarian revolution revolves around Flick and the incredible changes he was able to make in the short time he has been manager at Bayern. Under previous regimes, there were always seeds of discontent in the Bayern changing room. Veteran players were consistently unhappy with the tactics, changes, and mentality of several previous managers. Specifically under Kovač, many inside and outside of the club were upset with the defensive, reactive style of football the Croatian had been utilizing. Many managers had under-utilized, or completely dropped, Thomas Müller within the team, and they were struggling to replace the departed Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry. Flick arrived in a tumultuous changing room and seemed to smooth things over. The veterans in the team seemed to lock in step with him, and the rest of the team followed suit. Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, and Jérôme Boateng enjoyed revitalizations in defense, and Thiago Alcântara has emerged as one of the best midfielders in the world, but the main key of this man-management turnaround was the un-shackling of Thomas Müller. The Bavarian-born Müller was taken from an afterthought and made the life-blood of the attack, returning to his Raumdeuter roots and being able to make a difference in all areas of the attack. While Robert Lewandowski got the (deserved) praise for his incredible goalscoring season, Müller glued everything together, with his positioning, intelligent runs, and creative ability on full display. Müller became the Bundesliga’s assist king for the season and broke the league’s single-season assist record, just one of the several records Bayern broke this season.

Flick also passed a significant amount of trust and responsibility onto non-veteran players this season, and they have repaid that trust with some incredible performances. Everyone by now knows the story of Alphonso Davies, the young Canadian who has gone on an incredible journey from Liberian refugee to young stud MLS winger to arguably the best left back in the world before he even turned 20. Davies is genuinely that good, marauding up and down the left side, terrifying opposition defenses while being able to cover his own position exceptionally well, which is truly remarkable for someone who was turned into a left back a few years ago. The “FC Bayern Road Runner”, as Thomas Müller affectionately called him, was so good in such a short amount of time that he displaced former club stalwart left back David Alaba, though the Austrian is currently thriving in a center back role. Further forward, Serge Gnabry has truly emerged as a world-class winger, firing in 12 goals and 10 assists in 31 league matches, as well as 9 goals in only 10 matches in the Champions League. His pace, ability on the ball, cleverness, and underrated ability to pass and shoot with both feet make him such an incredibly deadly attacking player. He has begun to fill the void left by Robben. Joshua Kimmich has emerged as one of the best utility players in the world, able to function incredibly well either as a right back, holding midfielder, or even as a center back if needed. He is a crucial cog in the Bavarian machine, able to link things together between defense, midfield, and attack. When combined, Flick has been able to get the whole team locked into his management and philosophy, creating a motivated and terrifying Bayern team.

Calling this a success story of man management does not give enough credit to Flick, however. He has put together a tactical philosophy that is able to get the best out of his team and play a fluid attacking style and high-press system that forces mistakes, creates plenty of chances, and scores plenty of goals. Flick was always regarded as an intelligent tactical mind in the Germany set-up, and he was able to put that to good use in this role. Bayern attack by utilizing the space in wide areas to create overloads and space for their attacking front four. This space created opportunities for their forwards, which mostly fell to the brutally lethal Robert Lewandowski, but they also found goals from Gnabry, Müller, and others. Defensively, their remaining back three of (usually) Alaba, Boateng, and either Kimmich or Benjamin Pavard were able to hold the line at the back when Davies ventured forward, and the inverse was true of Davies and the other two staying back when the right back ventured forward. Their two holding midfielders also did their fair share of defensive work. Their high press is also a crucial part of how they play, as Barcelona unfortunately learned the hard way. They use their front four to aggressively pursue opposition defenders when they play out of the back, initiating the press when the ball is ushered toward wide areas or toward the goalkeeper. This rapid, fierce pressure in these areas often led to mistakes, creating easy chances and goals. It was not by chance or fluke that Flick’s Bayern scored this ridiculous amount of goals in a short space of time; they are a team designed to play at a quick tempo and score frequently.

Flick also demonstrated at times, namely in the second half against PSG, that he can craft a team that can slow the game down and see out a result. He is able to utilize those center midfielders to slow the pace down by having them get their foot on the ball and slow down the build up play. They are not rapidly looking to fire passes into space in the wide areas, but looking to maintain control and play easier, more methodical passes. Their defensive block was able to limit the chances of the opposition and ensure that, even in close games, it would not be too nervy of a finish. This was done very successfully against the Parisians, as their fearsome front three of Neymar, Mbappé, and Di María hardly got many good looks in attack during that second half. All great teams can play in different ways when situations called for different methods, and all great teams are able to dictate the match to their opponent and force the opposition manager to adapt to their style of play. It only took Bayern about eight months to reach this point under Flick, and they are still able to get so much better.

Bayern being this successful was no accident, but it was also no guarantee. We have seen plenty of talented teams underachieve over the last several years; it really takes the right blend of talent and management for good teams to become great. Bayern’s season was on the brink of disaster back in November, but in only a few months, Hansi Flick has led a revolution, turning an underachieving team into conquerors. The Bavarians are deserved champions of Europe, and Flick has laid the groundwork for a dominant Bayern Munich team on the domestic and continental stages for years to come.

Oh, and this team is adding Leroy Sané next season…

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End-of-Season Special…

Welcome to the final Bundesliga Week in Review of the season. We will go over our player of the week, winners and losers, and wrap up some of the main things we have learned these last few weeks about the Bundesliga. We’re going to wrap up the season with a nice bow, only returning potentially for the DFB Pokalfinale and/or the relegation playoff.

So how did the Bundesliga table look after the final match day? Let us see…

1.) Bayern Munich82 pts.Champions League
2.) Borussia Dortmund69 pts.Champions League
3.) RB Leipzig66 pts.Champions League
4.) Borussia Mönchengladbach65 pts.Champions League
5.) Bayer Leverkusen63 pts.Europa League
6.) Hoffenheim52 pts.Europa League
7.) Wolfsburg49 ptsEuropa League Qualifiers
8.) Freiburg48 pts.
9.) Eintracht Frankfurt45 pts.
10.) Hertha Berlin41 pts.
11.) Union Berlin41 pts.
12.) Schalke39 pts.
13.) Mainz37 pts.
14.) Köln36 pts.
15.) Augsburg36 pts.
16.) Werder Bremen31 pts.Relegation Playoff (opponent TBD)
17.) Fortuna Düsseldorf30 pts.Relegated
18.) Paderborn20 pts.Relegated

Player of the Week

Andrej Kramarić, Hoffenheim (4 goals in 4-0 win over Dortmund)

I was so convinced I was going to put a Bremen player here, but wow, what a performance from Kramarić. Four goals against the second-best team in the league, becoming the only player in the Bundesliga this season to score four times in a single match. Let us just go goal by goal, cus it was quite a performance. His first came eight minutes into the match, with a fantastic curling effort from outside the box. His second was the least nice of the lot: a tap in after reacting to a rebounded shot that no one else reacted to. His third was a darting run behind the defense, fake shooting to turn Piszczek inside out, before finishing calmly past Bürki. His final goal was a no-look penalty, in the same vein as the one done by ex-Hoffenheim and current Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino. He really demonstrated all of the key qualities needed to be a successful center forward in all four goals. The first showed the individual talent necessary to score a beautiful goal; the second showed the instinct needed to be in the right place at the right time; the third showed similar instincts but for making intelligent runs behind defenses, and the final showed the level of audacious confidence needed to succeed as a goalscorer at the top level. A complete number nine’s performance from the player who was not even the starting number nine, which sealed their path to the Europa League in spectacular fashion.

Honorable Mentions: Milot Rashica (Werder Bremen), Yūya Ōsako (Werder Bremen), Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)

Winners of the Week

1.) Werder Bremen

6-1???? Are you serious???

Well, in their biggest game of the season so far, a game that they had to win to have a chance at staying up, Werder Bremen sure did show up. A complete performance in all areas of the pitch, die Werderaner were dominant from minute one against a Köln team with nothing to play for. Milot Rashica and Yūya Ōsako, highlighted in the honorable mentions above, were the pick of the group, but Werder really got the performances from the whole team that they were not able to get all season. While the win did not secure safety outright, they are still in a significantly better position than they were in when the league resumed from hiatus. Now, with a relegation playoff against an opponent yet to be decided to still contend with, Florian Kohfeldt will have to keep the energy and momentum going within his team. If they put out the same level of performance in the playoff matches that they did against Köln, I would feel comfortable saying that they would undoubtedly stay up. The added layer of the relegation playoff potentially being a Nordderby against Hamburg adds a chunk of pressure onto Werder, but Kohfeldt has to manage the expectation and guide his team through the biggest test of the season. This is where we are really going to see the managerial skills of Florian Kohfeldt in action.

2.) Borussia Mönchengladbach

Champions League qualification was in their hands, and all they had to do was beat Hertha Berlin. Like Werder and Hoffenheim, Gladbach saved possibly their most impressive performance for their final, must-win match. While the scoreline may not indicate it, Gladbach were dominant, controlling possession and putting up eight shots on target to Hertha’s two. Marco Rose, like much of the season, had a gameplan and stuck with it, while allowing his young and talented team to express their individual skill and creativity on the pitch. It was not even a full-strength team, as star forwards Alassane Pléa and Marcus Thuram did not feature at all. It was young Swiss forward Breel Embolo who was the main star, playing in place of Pléa and providing a goal and an assist. Finishing in the top four is a fitting result for Rose and his team, as they were one of the most exciting and enjoyable teams in the Bundesliga this season. While they were unable to keep up their title challenge in the second half of the season, at least finishing in the Champions League places is a deserved result for die Fohlen.

3.) Hoffenheim

A 4-0 win over Dortmund, regardless of when it happens, is likely going to be a massive result for any team. When this result guarantees you Europa League football next season, it really becomes landmark. Andrej Kramarić was the star of the show, but it was also great performances from Ihlas Bebou, Robert Skov, and Pavel Kaderábek, who each provided an assist, which allowed Hoffenheim to truly dominate their opponents. Yes, Dortmund were likely unmotivated, as their second place finish was already secured, but it is still a fantastic performance regardless. In their first season following the departure of landmark manager Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim put out some strong performances and did enough to be in Europe next season. Mission accomplished, I would say.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Fortuna Düsseldorf

They fought until the final day of the season to keep their top flight status, but it was unfortunately not to be. Following their 3-0 defeat to Union Berlin and Werder Bremen’s 6-1 win over Köln, Fortuna have officially been relegated to the 2. Bundesliga. It is always unfortunate to see teams go down, but such is life in football. At the end of the day, Fortuna were not good enough to stay up. Werder Bremen completed a remarkable turnaround that allowed them to finish in the playoff position, and Fortuna was the club that fell victim to that turnaround. While their latest stay in the Bundesliga was short, it is still sad to see them go. Here’s hoping that they recover well in the second division, and they are able to challenge for, or earn, promotion next season.

2.) Schalke

And I thought the 4-0 loss to Dortmund was bad. Here they go recreating that with a worse performance against a Freiburg team that, while they are a good team, were not as good as the Dortmund team that whitewashed them when the league restarted. There really is not much more to say about Schalke at this point (although I will say more later on) but this is likely the end of the road for David Wagner and several key players. At the end of January, Schalke were fifth. They finished the season 12th. That is jarring and probably quite angering for Schalke supporters, and if they want to avoid issues next season, they will likely have to change things and quickly.

3.) Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen did what they had to do but, unfortunately for them, Gladbach’s win means that Leverkusen will miss out on Champions League next season. Because of this, one of the most exciting young teams in Europe will likely begin to be broken up in the next transfer window. You could say that this break up has already started, with Julian Brandt, Bernd Leno, and Benjamin Henrichs leaving in the last two years, but it is likely to be slightly accelerated now. The obvious gem of this team is 21 year old wunderkind Kai Havertz, who has attracted interest from major clubs all over the continent, but it is also possible that other key players leave. Jonathan Tah, Nadiem Amiri, and Edmond Tapsoba could join Havertz in leaving the club. Leverkusen have done a very good job in replacing previous outgoing players, but it will be a very tall task replacing a player with the influence on the team that Havertz does. This next transfer window will be defining for the direction of this Leverkusen team.

What we Learned

1.) Congratulations to Bayern Munich, 2019-20 Bundesliga Champions

There have been very few marriages between club and manager in football that have worked out as well as immediately as Hansi Flick and FC Bayern München. Unbeaten since the end of December and scoring basically three goals a game, Bayern coasted to the league title in style, becoming one of the few Bundesliga sides to score 100 goals in a single season and with a significant amount of that coming following Flick’s arrival. While Robert Lewandowski fell well short of Gerd Müller’s single-season goal record, Thomas Müller surpassed Kevin De Bruyne’s single-season assist record. Bayern continued their record streak of Bundesliga titles. Just records all around for this team, arguably the best Bayern team since the early 2010s. They are a unique combination of experienced leadership and youthful flair. The hardened veteran presence of the likes Lewandowski, Müller, David Alaba, and Manuel Neuer mixed very well with the young talent on display from the likes of Alphonso Davies, Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, and Benjamin Pavard. This is a team already set to be massive favorites for the Bundesliga title next season and will likely be among the favorites for the Champions League over the next two years at least. Oh, and they are probably adding Leroy Sané to that team next season. Terrifying.

2.) I doubted them at times, but Werder Bremen really just might survive

The case of Werder Bremen was always interesting because, on paper, this team has talented players in it. The likes of Davy Klaassen, Yūya Ōsako, Milot Rashica, and Maximilian Eggestein are clearly talented players who would have likely found significant interest from other clubs had Werder sealed relegation, but they never consistently gelled while together this season, and this is for a variety of reasons. Since the restart of the season however, and following a bad defeat to Leverkusen, Florian Kohfeldt has seemingly figured out how to get enough out of his team to get just enough to be in range of survival. Come the final day of the season, whatever Kohfeldt told them before the match clearly worked, as everything clicked together for Werder. Every player on the pitch put out a fantastic performance reflective of the level of talent that they clearly all have. If they play like this in the playoff, they will stay up. It is up to Kohfeldt to get that same level out of his team.

3.) Achraf Hakimi, Mario Götze, Timo Werner, and others, the Bundesliga is going to miss you

The Bundesliga is likely going to see an exodus of talented players, and several departures are already confirmed or basically almost confirmed. Timo Werner, Leipzig’s prolific goalscorer, will be going to Chelsea, while Achraf Hakimi, Dortmund’s star wing-back, is basically confirmed to be joining Inter Milan next season. Mario Götze, while not confirmed to be leaving the Bundesliga, will be leaving Dortmund at the end of the season. Brazilian center forward Raffael, who was a long-time servant for Gladbach, is also leaving the club at the end of the season, though it is not confirmed that he will be leaving the Bundesliga. Several others might follow, with significant transfer rumors surrounding Kai Havertz, Jadon Sancho, David Alaba, and Dayot Upamecano. There could be a significant exodus in talent from the Bundesliga in the next one or two transfer windows, so I hope we all enjoyed watching some of these players in the Bundesliga, as we might not get the chance to next season.

4.) I worry for Schalke and Köln next season

Schalke’s issues are well-documented. David Wagner has reached the end of the road, and he probably needs to resign. If the board is too afraid to let him go, then Schalke could really struggle next season. Their financial situation means that they will not be able to bring back loaned in players Jonjoe Kenny and Jean-Clair Todibo, they are already losing goalkeeper Alexander Nübel, and other key players, such as midfielder Amine Harit, might also be on their way out. Protests continue to call for the resignation of chairman Clemens Tönnies for, basically, wildly racist comments and comedically poor management of the club. So yeah, things are going well in Gelsenkirchen.

I also have concern for Köln. While their season is largely positive, having turned around a poor start to stave off relegation and finish mid-table, they have not looked good following the hiatus. They have failed to win any of their matches since the league resumed, including draws against several teams in the relegation fight and their aforementioned drubbing at the hands of Werder Bremen. While this could have just been a result of the circumstances of the season, it is still worrying. Should things not change, Köln will likely be among the teams fighting relegation next season. Whether it is a change in manager, work in the transfer window, or just a rethink in philosophy, Köln need to right the ship before they face relegation.

5.) It is time for Dortmund to make a decision about their manager

Once again, we all thought that this would finally be the year that Dortmund overtake Bayern and win the title, and once again, we were all wrong. While this is not entirely on Dortmund, as Bayern and Hansi Flick have to be given credit for their incredible form in the second half of the season, this is still another opportunity missed for Dortmund. These past two seasons were the most vulnerable Bayern’s hegemony has been, and both times, Dortmund have failed to capitalize largely due to their own misfortune and ineptitude. For the last two years, questions have constantly been raised around manager Lucien Favre’s ability to lead BVB to a title. Poor results in winnable games, bottling leads in the standings, and a general lack of composure when it matters the most has characterized Favre’s Dortmund, and it is now time for his position as manager to be evaluated. While the Dortmund teams of the last two years were not perfect on the pitch, they were talented enough to win the league, but it was their weakness in the technical area that has costed them. Flick’s Bayern will likely rule over Germany for the next several years, and Dortmund have missed their chance, so now presents the perfect opportunity for them to move on, find another manager, and prepare their team for their next chance at the title.

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Bundesliga Match Week Review (6/12-6/14)

Another twist in the relegation race, plus much more…

Welcome to the Match Week Review, where we talk about the football we just watched. We will name our player of the match week, three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned from Match Week 31 in the Bundesliga.

So what happened this weekend? In case you missed it, here are the results:


Hoffenheim 0-2 RB Leipzig


Paderborn 1-5 Werder Bremen

Köln 1-2 Union Berlin

Wolfsburg 2-2 Freiburg

Hertha Berlin 1-4 Eintracht Frankfurt

Fortuna Düsseldorf 0-1 Borussia Dortmund

Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach


Mainz 0-1 Augsburg

Schalke 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Player of the Match Week

Davy Klaassen, Werder Bremen (2 goals in Bremen’s 5-1 win over Paderborn)

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In a match that Bremen had to win, their talisman, leader, and best player stepped up and delivered for them. Klaassen was the best player on the pitch by a mile, dictating play in the middle of the pitch, pulling the strings in attack, and even getting involved in the goalscoring himself. He contributed on the other end, did everything you could ask of a center midfielder, and basically ran himself ragged. Throw in a yellow card for good measure and he really did a bit of everything. The ex-Ajax captain had been Bremen’s best player this season, and he once again showed up to help dig them out of their predicament.

Honorable Mentions: André Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt), Wout Weghorst (Wolfsburg), Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) Werder Bremen

Bremen absolutely, positively, 110% needed to win this match. There was no two ways about it. They had to beat Paderborn, and they did so convincingly. A comfortable 5-1 win, even against the last-placed team in the league, will do much to restore their confidence. But, when combined with results from elsewhere, it should ignite the fires for Florian Kohfeldt’s team, showing them that survival is not only possible, but the pathway to safety is much clearer than they, and I, once thought. At the end of the weekend, Bremen sit level on points with Fortuna, only staying in 17th on goal difference, and they are only three points behind Mainz, who are currently safe. Knowing they play Mainz in their penultimate match, Bremen have to believe that survival is now very possible. Their current situation even gives them some luxury going into this Bayern match this week, as Mainz face Dortmund and Fortuna face Leipzig in the same match week. Unless one of those teams pulls off a shocking result and nicks points off of one of the three best teams in the league, Bremen will be at least in this same situation with two matches remaining in the season. Kohfeldt has to focus his team on the ultimate goal: any result against Bayern will be taken graciously, but the priority is beating Mainz next weekend. They must win that game to stay up.

2.) RB Leipzig

Nagelsmann needed a reaction from his team following a very disappointing draw with Paderborn last week, and he definitely got it. It was not easy, Hoffenheim had their chances, but Leipzig overcame and ran out 2-0 winners, an important three points against a very good side. They showed off their strength in depth, with Dani Olmo shining in midfield in place of Christopher Nkunku, while the makeshift center back pairing of Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann, playing without the suspended Dayot Upamecano, did enough to hold Hoffenheim at bay. Leverkusen’s draw to Schalke and Gladbach’s loss to Bayern is an added boost, putting the Red Bulls five points clear of the chasing pack, six points to the good in the top four. A win against Fortuna Düsseldorf, combined with Gladbach dropping points against Wolfsburg, would officially send Leipzig into the Champions League for next season, without needing to worry about getting a result against Dortmund. While it was not the season that Nagelsmann would have hoped for, securing Champions League football for next season would still be a success, so they cannot afford to blow it right at the home stretch.

3.) Union Berlin/FC Augsburg

Union and Augsburg both occupy the final spot for a similar reason. Union’s win over Köln and Augsburg’s win over Mainz lifted both of them away from the relegation fight, putting both teams four points ahead of Mainz and seven points ahead of Fortuna and Werder Bremen. Safety is not yet secured, but they seem to be in the clear. If Fortuna do lose to Leipzig this week, then any result for either of those teams, along with Köln, will see them safe in the top flight for next season. This would be a massive deal for Union Berlin, who were considered the favorites for relegation before the season started. Another year added to their top flight adventure would be historic for a storied club from a region of Germany, the former East Germany, that does not have much representation in the Bundesliga.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Fortuna Düsseldorf

I do genuinely feel bad for Fortuna. They did everything right in their match against Dortmund for about 94 minutes and 15 seconds. They fought, they clawed, they scrapped, they had quite a few goalscoring chances of their own as well, they did enough to at least warrant a draw against Dortmund for 94 minutes and 15 seconds. The issue is that the five seconds after that saw a lofted-but-dangerous cross from Manuel Akanji find the forehead of Erling Håland, who thumped the ball into the back of the net. For 94 minutes and 15 seconds, Fortuna did enough to earn what would have been a massive point for them, and that was all undone in the final few seconds. A point would have been big, maybe not enough to fully keep them up, but enough to still have a point cushion over Werder Bremen. That gap would have been handy going into their match against Leipzig this week, knowing a loss would be fine if Bremen also lost to Bayern, but now goal difference has become a factor. Should they get a result against Leipzig, that would be massive, but if not, they must get a result, and probably win, their final two matches of the season in order to guarantee at least a relegation playoff. Knowing Bremen still play Mainz, wins in their final two matches could also see them secure automatic safety. Their fate is still in their hands, but it got a whole lot more difficult.

2.) Mainz

Suffering a similar fate to Fortuna but under different circumstances, Mainz’s 1-0 loss to Augsburg is an absolutely brutal blow to Rouven Schröder’s team. Mainz fell behind about 40 seconds into the match thanks to a (pretty lucky) poacher’s goal from Florian Niederlechner, and despite everything they did, they were not able to get a goal of their own. They were arguably the better side, and they definitely created more chances, but they were unable to break down Augsburg and suffered a gutting loss at an awful time. They now only sit three points ahead of Bremen and Fortuna, and knowing they must still play Bremen before the end of the season, it is clear that Mainz’s survival hopes are now in serious danger. Their match against Dortmund this week, like Bremen and Fortuna’s matches against top three sides, is more or less an added bonus match, not expecting a result but will take one if they can, but their match against Bremen this weekend is basically a relegation playoff of their own. Win, and die Nullfünfer would be safe from automatic relegation, only having to deal with a relegation playoff as a worst-case scenario. Lose, and, well, things would get quite scary.

3.) Bayer Leverkusen

We return to the race for the final two top four places to find our last loser. Leverkusen had the easiest match between them, Gladbach, and Leipzig, only having to beat struggling Schalke. They were able to field a pretty strong side, with Kai Havertz returning to the team after missing their loss to Bayern, but they struggled to break down the Schalke defense. They trailed early in the second half, after a very unfortunate (and probably harsh) handball decision against Edmond Tapsoba led to a penalty, converted by Schalke captain Daniel Caligiuri. Leverkusen fought back, eventually forcing a just-as-unfortunate own goal from Juan Miranda to level the match. Leverkusen definitely had more chances, but I will defend Schalke here. I used xG last week to show why Schalke did not deserve a point against Union Berlin, but the xG for this match was 1.47-0.89 in favor of Schalke. While the penalty decision was unfortunate, a draw was a fair result, and Leverkusen’s rather tepid performance did not really warrant all three points. This massive setback has opened up a five point gap between them and Leipzig, and with the Red Bulls able to clinch a Champions League place this mid week, the race for the Champions League might now just be down to Leverkusen and Gladbach.

What We Learned

1.) The Great Escape is alive and well

Werder Bremen can actually do it. They were the club in crisis all season. One of Germany’s institutional clubs looked destined for relegation, another one to follow in the footsteps of Hamburg, Stuttgart, Kaiserslautern, and others. But they can do it. They can survive, and the path to survival is clear. Yes, they will probably be thumped by Bayern this week, but as long as Fortuna and Mainz also lose, that is not an issue. Mainz and Werder Bremen next weekend is now, more or less, a relegation playoff before the relegation playoff. Bremen must win to keep the dream alive, and if they are able to hang on to some of the confidence they got from their 5-1 win over Paderborn, you would have to fancy them heading into that match. The relegation race may be decided by the team that does not get too carried away by a loss to one of the top three, assuming all three teams end up losing. If one of them takes points off of their top three opponent, then things change massively.

2.) European Dream over for Hertha

It was always going to be a bridge too far for Bruno Labbadia’s team, but they gave it a go. Back to back losses to Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt put them eight points off of sixth place, most definitely too steep of a hill to climb with only three matches remaining. Should things go their way, then seventh, and a Europa League qualifier spot, is still feasible, but it is very likely that the European Dream is over for Hertha. This does not take anything away from how great of a job Labbadia has done since taking over, especially given the mess he inherited. Hertha have a lot of good things in place, a manager and tactical system that gets the best out of their team, and some budding stars in Matheus Cunha and Jordan Torunarigha. Depending on who they lose and gain in the transfer window, whenever we actually have a transfer window, they could be in a very good position to challenge for Europe or make a cup run next season.

3.) But all still to play for for sixth place…

Sixth place is most definitely not decided yet. Wolfsburg currently occupy the place, but only four points separate them from eighth-placed Freiburg. Schalke could also be looped into this discussion, being only seven points out of sixth, but they would need quite a few things to go their way in order to get the final Europa League spot. The race for sixth is definitely between three teams: Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim, and Freiburg. When looking at each teams final three matches, Hoffenheim seems to be a more clear favorite, seeing as they are the only one of those three teams that does not have to play the red-hot Bayern Munich, but they still have quite a difficult match against Dortmund on the last day of the season. Things will change over the last three matches of the season, so any of these teams could end up with the final Europa League place. Wolfsburg have their fate in their own hands, but remaining matches against Gladbach and Bayern make holding onto sixth a much more difficult task.

4.) And fourth…

I will go out on a limb and say the race for the Champions League is now down to two teams. Leipzig can seal a top four place as early as their Wednesday match against Fortuna Düsseldorf, and they hold a healthy six point lead over Gladbach in fifth. Leverkusen, however, are only safe in fourth by one point. They still have everything to play for. Champions League football would be a massive deal financially to both Gladbach and Leverkusen, especially given what the COVID pandemic has done to the economy of the sport, and while Leverkusen’s easier final three matches make them the favorite on paper, you can never really tell. Should they not improve from the performance they put out against Schalke, they will definitely drop points again. Interestingly, Hertha have the chance to be the kingmaker in this scenario, playing Leverkusen and Gladbach in the penultimate and final match of the season, respectively. An interesting wrinkle to this fantastic finish to the season.

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Bundesliga Match Week Review (6/3-6/7)

A clear champion now, but things are sure getting lively elsewhere…

Welcome to the Match Week Review, where we go over the previous match weekend in the Bundesliga. We will name our player of the match week, three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned from another match week in the Bundesliga. This week’s edition covers a slightly longer time frame in order to include the Eintracht Frankfurt-Werder Bremen match from Wednesday, the game in hand for both teams.

So what happened in Match Week 30 in the Bundesliga? Here are your results:


Werder Bremen 0-3 Eintracht Frankfurt


Freiburg 1-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach


Fortuna Düsseldorf 2-2 Hoffenheim

RB Leipzig 1-1 Paderborn

Eintracht Frankfurt 0-2 FSV Mainz

Bayer Leverkusen 2-4 Bayern Munich

Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Hertha Berlin


Werder Bremen 0-1 Wolfsburg

Union Berlin 1-1 Schalke

Augsburg 1-1 FC Köln

Player of the Match Week

Rouwen Hennings, Fortuna Düsseldorf (2 goals in their 2-2 draw vs Hoffenheim)

Bit of a different one for this week, as we go to the bottom of the table to highlight the best performance of the match week. Rouwen Hennings scored twice for Düsseldorf, helping them come from a goal down to draw 2-2 with European place-chasing Hoffenheim. His first goal was taken very well; a cool, calm header from a great cross to place it past Baumann. His positional sense came in handy again later in the first half, as he would put the ball in the back of the net once again, only for VAR to chalk off the goal due to a foul in the build up. He would get his actual second goal late on in the match, scoring from the penalty spot. A complete center forward performance from Hennings, who moved up to 14 league goals on the season. Düsseldorf securing a point in this match made a significant difference in the relegation picture, but we will get to that more soon.

Honorable Mentions: Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich), Julian Brandt (Borussia Dortmund), Pierre Kunde Malong (Mainz)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) Bayern Munich

The reigning champions and this season’s champions-elect continued their winning ways, storming to a 4-2 victory over a Kai Havertz-less Bayer Leverkusen. After a strong start to the match by Leverkusen, Bayern kicked it into another gear, firing three past poor Lukáš Hrádecky and taking a commanding lead by halftime. The second half was largely more of the same, and it could have been much worse for Leverkusen had it not been for a good showing from their defense, Edmond Tapsoba in particular, and a late goal from Florian Wirtz. In arguably their biggest remaining test this season, Bayern were dominant and passed with flying colors. The added cushion at the top allows them to go into next week’s match up against Gladbach without Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller, who both miss out due to suspension, without any worries. The title seems to be an afterthought at this point, and it has become about how many records this Bayern team could break. Lewandowski still needs 11 goals to surpass Gerd Müller’s single season Bundesliga goalscoring record, but Müller only needs two more assists to surpass Kevin De Bruyne’s singe season Bundesliga assist record. Bayern sit 12 goals away from surpassing the league’s record for most goals in a single season. They have remarkably gone from being a team in crisis in December to a historically good side. We continue to underrate how good of a job Hansi Flick has done.

2.) Borussia Dortmund

It was ugly at times, it was tense at times, but Dortmund got the job done against Hertha. A win is a win, as they say, and that was a valuable three points in a very tricky match for Lucien Favre’s team. Emre Can’s goal was all that stood between two fairly good teams, but it was enough to send Dortmund four points clear of Leipzig and into a more secure position in second place. While their chances of catching Bayern have come and gone, that win, combined with Leipzig dropping points, helps them stay away from the top four fight brewing below them. With a fairly easy next two fixtures, it is possible they can have second place wrapped up before their trip to Leipzig in the penultimate match week of the season. No Håland, some problems, but not enough to cost them at the end of the day.

3.) FC Augsburg

A point may not have been the most ideal situation for Augsburg, but considering how that point was secured, it was a good result for them. The Bavarians, despite playing well, found themselves trailing late in the match following an 85th minute belter of a goal from Anthony Modeste, a goal that seemed to have sealed the three points for Köln. Two minutes later, Philipp Max tapped in a cross following some very poor Köln defending, and seemingly from nothing, Augsburg were level. The point gave them at least a little bit of breathing room from the relegation scrap, and with some relegation six pointer matches coming up, they should feel like they are in a good position to stay up this season. Three points would have been much more ideal, but given the situation they found themselves in with five minutes remaining, a point is definitely something to be happy with.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Werder Bremen

The Impossible Dream just got a little more difficult. Werder were riding good form into this very crucial week, where they would play out their game in hand against Eintracht Frankfurt, followed by a league match against Wolfsburg. Two very difficult games, but even a point from either, along with results elsewhere going their way, would help them on their hunt for survival. Unfortunately for Florian Kohfeldt, his side lost both games, with a convincing 3-0 loss to Eintracht followed by a more tense 1-0 loss to Wolfsburg. Bremen now sit three points adrift of Fortuna Düsseldorf, occupying the relegation playoff place, and seven points from safety with only four matches remaining. Reaching safety might be a bridge too far, but the relegation playoff spot is still achievable, and giving yourself a chance of staying up in a relegation playoff is better than suffering automatic relegation. Looking at their final four matches, they will almost certainly lose to Bayern, especially with the form the Bavarians are in, so their matches against Paderborn and Mainz become must win games. They must also hope for help from elsewhere, as Düsseldorf still must face Dortmund and Leipzig, in order to guarantee overtaking the Rheinländer team. The dream is still alive, but it is on life support. Anything less than three points against Paderborn next week might doom die Werderaner to relegation.

2.) Union Berlin

Union Berlin have officially been dragged into the relegation race. Having only picked up one point since the league resumed, die Eisernen went into a match at home against a struggling Schalke team desperate for three points and some breathing room away from the relegation zone. They even took the lead only 11 minutes into the match, and Union looked comfortable and dominant against a hapless Schalke. Jonjoe Kenny’s goal around the half hour mark was a blow to Union’s resolve, and while they remained the dominant team for the rest of the match, they could not find the winning goal. This was two points dropped in the worst way possible. This was a match that Union should have won comfortably, three points that could have stopped a worrying decline in form, but they were held by a Schalke team who, really, did not do much going forward outside of Kenny’s goal. For you analytical people who love expected goals, the xG for this match was 2.40-0.17 in favor of Union. Schalke had no right being in this match and they came away with a point. This puts Union only four points ahead of the relegation playoff place with four matches to play, and with their current form, things could get scary for Urs Fischer’s team. Their match against Fortuna Düsseldorf on the last day of the season could be a relegation decider, depending on how things go.

3.) RB Leipzig

Yes, in theory, it was not a terrible weekend for Julian Nagelsmann’s team. Yes, they dropped points to the worst team in the league. Yes, they were quite poor, again, against the worst team in the league. Yes, star center back Dayot Upamecano will be suspended for at least their match against Hoffenheim after immaturely kicking the ball away in frustration after a referee decision. But, as both Gladbach and Leverkusen lost, they were able to extend their lead in third place to three points. Granted, this should have been more, as they were playing a team they should have comfortably beaten, and a five point gap over Gladbach and Leverkusen would have been much more comfortable, especially having to face Hoffenheim and Dortmund in two of their next three games, but it is still improvement. Ah, who am I kidding, it was not a great weekend for the Red Bulls. They did not look good against Paderborn, and, especially after Upamecano’s avoidable red card, looked like they were struggling. Two points dropped extends Dortmund’s lead in second to four points, so even with a victory over BVB in a week and a half, Leipzig will still be behind them by one point. More importantly, there is only a three point gap between them and fifth, so if they slip up against Hoffenheim, Dortmund, or another opponent, then they could potentially lose their grip on a Champions League place. They had a significantly easier opponent this weekend than either Gladbach, who lost to Freiburg, or Leverkusen, who lost to Bayern, so not being able to come away with three points against Paderborn is quite disappointing.

What We Learned

1.) Just give Bayern the title already

I mean really. They are the champions. They ripped Leverkusen apart like they were some random mid table team and not one of the best teams in the league. Seven points clear with four matches to go is not an insurmountable lead, technically, but given their relatively simple end to the season, paired with Dortmund’s clash with Leipzig, means they could lose to Gladbach next week and still be cruising toward the title. Hansi Flick deserves immense credit and celebration, being able to get this level of performance out of a team that so many managers before, apart from really only Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola, failed to do. They score three goals a game on average, which is absolutely absurd, and are on pace to break a litany of individual and team Bundesliga records. Just let them have the title. Let them lift the Meisterschale and let them throw those massive glasses of beer on each other. It is basically already decided. They are the deserved champions.

2.) We have a very clear picture of the relegation race

I am very much going out on a limb here, but the relegation race is pretty fixed at this point. Paderborn are likely already relegated, and Bremen would require a miracle to achieve automatic safety. But when it comes to the relegation playoff place, the contest is clearly between Fortuna Düsseldorf, Mainz, Union Berlin, and Augsburg (and technically Werder Bremen). Augsburg, being in the best form of those five teams, are still in the frame, but are more or less on the outside looking in. Mainz, Düsseldorf, and Bremen are in direct competition surrounding that relegation playoff place, and Union Berlin’s poor form have dragged them into that competition. The final four fixtures will make this a very interesting relegation race, as Werder Bremen must still play Mainz, Union Berlin must still play Fortuna Düsseldorf, and Augsburg still has to play both Mainz and Fortuna. Both Union Berlin and Werder Bremen must still play Paderborn, so the basically already relegated team has the chance to impact who else is dragged down to the second division with them. It is possible that Union’s match against Fortuna on the last day of the season is the difference between survival and the playoff. Things are very interesting at the bottom of the table, and they will only get more interesting as we get closer to the end of the season.

3.) But the frame of the Europa League race has expanded

As I have said in previous weeks, Hertha Berlin are a very good team. While the result against Dortmund was less than ideal, they still played fairly well. It leaves them seven points adrift of the final Europa League place, which might be too steep of a hill to climb, but given each team’s run in with at least one of the top four, as well as Freiburg’s matches against Wolfsburg and Hertha, there is potential for things to change. Hertha are still on the outside looking in, but I would say they are at least within the frame of the Europa League conversation, taking the place of Schalke in that conversation. I would still likely bet on one of Wolfsburg or Hoffenheim finishing sixth, but given the final run ins for each team, there is the potential for quite a few things to change. It is not as interesting as the relegation race, but it is something to keep an eye on as we get to the end of the league season.