Tag Archives: Milan

Serie A is back!

And this is slightly late cus they had a cup final a few days ago…

Feature Image by Marco Pomella from Pixabay

Serie A has returned, and with it, the four of the top five leagues with plans to return this season have all followed through. Italian football really returned last week, as the semifinals and final of the Coppa Italia were finished, but the league will resume this weekend. So, you know the usual questions at this point. Where did we leave off? What do you need to watch for? What players should you pay attention to?

First, a quick recap of the Coppa Italia. Italy’s premier cup competition resumed last week with the second legs of the semifinals. Juventus drew 0-0 with Milan but advanced on away goals after a 1-1 aggregate, while Napoli beat Inter 1-0 to advance 2-1 on aggregate. In the final, Napoli beat their arch rivals on penalties to win their sixth Coppa Italia and first trophy since 2014. Dries Mertens’ goal against Inter in the semifinal made him Napoli’s all-time leading goal scorer, surpassing former teammate Marek Hamšík. These two games offered some deserved vindication to Napoli manager Gennaro Gattuso, who seemed to not put a single foot wrong for either game. His line up and tactical decisions in the final were a significant reason for the Partenopei success, with the structure of the team in defense designed to force Juventus out wide and into crosses that would be easily dealt with by the center backs. This should be a significant momentum boost for Napoli, a team with an outside chance of finishing in the top four this season, and it is a way to start the season with momentum that no other team will have.

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

So, we left off with a title race, but is it a two horse race or a three horse race? Really, I am not quite sure. We left off with Juventus in first while Lazio and Inter are one and nine points behind them, respectively. While nine points is a significant gap for Inter, they do have a game in hand on the other two, so that deficit could be knocked down to six points with a win. Even with a six point lead, Inter are seemingly on the outside looking in when it comes to this title race. They are still in it, but they need quite a bit of help. However, we also return to a Juventus team in crisis. They did not play well in either the Milan or Napoli matches, and they seem to be more reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo than ever. When Ronaldo does not deliver, as he did not in the Coppa Italia Final, there seems to be not much more this Juventus team can do. Their midfield, especially, is still massively struggling outside of the usually great Rodrigo Bentancur. The defense is still solid, with Matthijs de Ligt finding his feet and becoming a key player in the team, but when they are not scoring enough, they will struggle to keep stringing together 1-0s and 1-1s. Lazio sit in perfect position, waiting for Juventus to mess up. Simone Inzaghi’s team have been the surprise package of the Serie A season, with quality players littered across the team. Ciro Immobile has been in incredible goalscoring form, and the midfield trio of Luis Alberto, Sergej Milinković-Savić, and Lucas Leiva have been nothing short of outstanding. Francesco Acerbi has been a rock at the back, as well. The spine of this Lazio team is fantastic, fully deserving of being in the position they are in. They also know that they still have to play Juventus, which gives them the opportunity to make up any ground they need to on the Bianconeri.

Below the top three, there is Atalanta in fourth, Roma in fifth, and Napoli in sixth. Those teams are the major contenders for the final Champions League place, with Atalanta and Roma being the main two teams in that fight. With Napoli’s Coppa Italia momentum, they definitely cannot be ruled out, but they have much more ground to make up. Atalanta are the top scorers in the league, assembling an incredibly entertaining and talented team that is able to compete for another season in the Champions League. Roma have been inconsistent under new manager Paulo Fonseca, but if they get young budding superstar Nicolò Zaniolo back healthy, they could be in with a good chance of finishing in the top four. Napoli have had a difficult season, sacking manager Carlo Ancelotti in December and replacing him with former Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso. It has not been smooth sailing for the Rossoneri legend in Campania, but with their triumph in the Coppa Italia, it seems that things are finally starting to turn around. If you wanted to expand this European discussion, there is a nine point gap between Napoli in sixth and Fiorentina in 13th. Sixth and seventh, currently occupied by Hellas Verona, are both Europa League qualifier places. It is a difficult path into Europe, but it would be a massive deal for some teams. One of those teams is Milan, currently in eighth. The ever-struggling Rossoneri are desperate for European football to alleviate some of the issues of Financial Fair Play and keep some of their key players at the club. Due to Napoli’s interesting position, they are able to challenge for the top four or drop out of the top six, and they need to maintain their momentum from winning the cup to finish the season well.

At the bottom of the table, two of the relegation places seem more or less decided. Brescia and SPAL seem destined for Serie B, being seven and six points away from safety, respectively. The real race is for the last spot, currently occupied by Lecce, who are only behind Genoa on away goals. There is a seven point gap between 18th and 11th, so theoretically all of those teams are at risk of relegation at this moment. Lecce, Genoa, Sampdoria, Torino, Udinese, Fiorentina, Cagliari, and Sassuolo all find themselves, more or less, within the wide frame of the relegation fight. The real race is including Udinese, Torino, Sampdoria, Genoa, and Lecce. Udinese, in 14th, and Lecce are only separated by three points. There is genuine talent in some of these teams, especially Udinese, Torino, and Sampdoria, but the race will likely be tight until the end of the season.

So who are the main names you should keep an eye on? You probably know the main ones: Ronaldo, Dybala, Immobile, Mertens, Insigne, Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Skriniar. There are definitely others, however, and, as usual, I will point them out here. Despite his struggles to adapt earlier in the season, it is worth giving another look to Matthijs de Ligt, who is showing the level of quality we all remember seeing when he was in Amsterdam. Milinkovic-Savić gets the most attention from outside Italy when discussing Lazio’s midfield, but Luis Alberto is a brilliant creative midfielder and currently the league’s assist leader. He is not just the Liverpool flop that many English fans remember him as being. Milan may continue to struggle, but left back Theo Hernández and midfielder Ismaël Bennacer have been stars this season, likely putting on great auditions for moves to other teams when the transfer window opens. Speaking of “audition for moves away”, surprise package Hellas Verona have two eye-catching Slavic center backs that have been stars this season. Kosovoan Amir Rrahmani and Albanian Marash Kumbulla have been fantastic all season and have attracted significant interest from other teams, the 20-year-old Kumbulla especially. Rrahmani seems to be going to Napoli, but Kumbulla has a long list of suitors within and outside of Italy vying for his signature. His defensive intelligence, ability on the ball, and maturity despite his young age makes him one of the best center back prospects on the continent. I am not going to select a single Atalanta player, but I am going to encourage you to watch them. Your player to watch for Atalanta is all of their players. Genuinely, they are such a fun team, playing such an intense attacking style and scoring plenty of goals. Their front three of Josip Iličić, Duván Zapata, and Alejandro “Papu” Gómez are the stars of the show, but there is so much that makes that team work. Further down the table there are plenty of great attacking players, such as Andrea Belotti at Torino, Federico Chiesa at Fiorentina, and the aging-like-fine-wine Fabio Quagliarella at Sampdoria. There are also a good set of brilliant box-to-box midfielders, including Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli, Udinese’s Rodrigo De Paul, and the much-discussed Brescia wunderkind Sandro Tonali.

So, what is going to happen? Well, at the top, I do genuinely think this is the year that Juve’s hegemony ends. This seems to be a Juventus team in crisis, a team that has spent so much money on financing Ronaldo’s move that they have been unable to really upgrade the rest of the team. Their main competition, Lazio, seems to be an incredibly complete team that has many fewer weaknesses than Maurizio Sarri’s team. Sarri has seemingly reached a crisis point following their Coppa Italia failure, as there is a real possibility that the Bianconeri end the season without any trophies. Should that happen, it would likely lead to Sarri’s departure. Inter’s struggles have likely taken them out of the title race, but I believe they will comfortably finish third, with Atalanta rounding out the top four. Napoli will make a run, but not enough to catch Atalanta, finishing fifth, while Roma finishes sixth. I think Hellas Verona will narrowly hang on to seventh over Milan and Parma, but Milan, especially with a healthy Ibrahimović, could finish in that sixth spot. At the bottom, I think Brescia and SPAL both go down, with Lecce being the team to join them. Lecce are in a race for survival, but I think they are the least talented of the relegation fighting teams, and with the restart allowing some of the other more talented teams to get some much needed rest, Lecce will suffer the most.

Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

The return of Serie A still feels weird. Italy was the hardest hit European country by COVID, and the impact of the disease will be felt in Italian society for decades to come, especially in the north of the country. Lombardian clubs Inter, AC Milan, Brescia, and Atalanta return to play in the region hardest hit by the virus. While things seem to be returning to “normal”, there is a sense that nothing will be what is was before and that the definition of “normal” has been forever changed. In a way, this can be said about every country in the world, not just Italy. I just hope that the return of football can bring some much needed joy back into people’s lives, put smiles on the faces of people who have been, and continue to be, impacted by this virus.

Where Next for Thiago Silva?

4th October 2011 will be a dark day that Jack Transou will remember for the rest of his life. On that fateful day, Qatari Sports Investment bought Paris Saint-Germain, and it marked a new era of Parisian dominance in French football. While Thiago Motta and Alex arrived in the Winter transfer window, it was the following summer when PSG flexed their financial muscle. Many big names were brought into the club for then-big fees: Ezequiel Lavezzi was brought in for €26.5 million from Napoli, Lucas Moura cost €45 million from Sao Paulo, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was purchased for €20 million from Milan. Joining him from Milan was none other than Brazilian international Thiago Silva, whose transfer fee was rumoured to be €42 million.

Unlike the other big-name signings who have since left the club or retired, Silva has remained at PSG and, together with Marco Veratti, is the longest-serving player at the club since the Qatari takeover. Well, after spending almost a decade in Paris, it looks like Thiago Silva will finally move on to greener pastures elsewhere after it was announced that PSG were not going to renew his contract. Even though he turns 36 in September, that hasn’t stopped clubs and reportedly, a host of suitors are lining up to acquire his services. If he remains fit, whichever club that buys him would have gained a solid centre-back who not only still has at least 1 to 2 seasons in him, but also a real leader in the dressing room and a great mentor for young defenders.

The question then beckons, what is the next best destination for Thiago Silva?

Reconnecting with Ancelotti at Everton

Image by jorono from Pixabay

Carlo Ancelotti was the man who brought Silva to PSG from Milan, and signing the Brazilian rock at the back would undoubtedly be a real statement of intention for Everton. For several years now, Everton have been trying to break into the top 4 and are aiming to play Champions League football regularly. Yet despite spending loads in the transfer market, things haven’t always gelled well at the club. However, that may change under Ancelotti’s guidance, and he may finally transform the club into a real powerhouse in the Premier League.

This season, Everton have been really leaky at the back, and they lack a real physical presence in the team. Their poor defending was especially evident in their match against Newcastle, when ridiculous defending allowed the Magpies to score 2 goals in the 94th and 95th minute of stoppage time and draw the game, 2-2. Michael Keane had tons of promise when they first arrived at Goodison Park but he haven’t lived up to the hype. Yerry Mina is a decent option but he needs a good partner and that partner isn’t Keane.

Mason Holgate has shown that he has the potential to be an excellent centre-back in the future, but he needs a player who acts as both a reliable partner in defence and a mentor. None are as ideal as Thiago Silva. Just ask Marquinhos at PSG. Sure, the younger Brazilian was brimming with potential and was certainly a gifted footballer when PSG transferred him in. However, it was arguably spending time as Silva’s partner in the heart of defence that helped raise Marquinhos’s game to the next level.

With no transfer fee involved, Everton should be able to afford Silva’s staggering wages. Silva’s arrival could also be beneficial for Mina and Keane, who could benefit from Silva’s presence. More importantly, Silva would help Everton’s lack of depth in centre-backs. Mina, Keane, and Holgate are the only first-team centre-backs currently in the Everton squad, and Silva could provide more cover for that position. Thiago Silva also speaks Italian and he could help rein in Moise Kean.

Overall, a move to Everton would not only be beneficial to Everton but offer a similar kind of challenge for Thiago Silva to the one he had at PSG – helping to transform an above average team into a great one.

Becoming a Locker Room leader at United

Image by Jakub Mularski from Pixabay

For some time now, I have been saying that Manchester United lack experienced heads in the locker room. And I’m not talking about players who’ve racked up hundreds of games. I’m talking about consistent title-winners who know what it takes to win championships and cups regularly. Harry Maguire is a fitting captain for the club, but there still seems to be little locker room leaders at Old Trafford. Thiago Silva’s arrival would surely help plug that lack of leadership. After all, the Brazilian international has been captain for both club and country for several years now.

However, unlike Everton, United do have a wealth of defenders at their disposal. Even if the club does sell Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, and Phil Jones, they would still have Victor Lindelöf, Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Would it be wise for United to sign Thiago Silva, who would probably play for two seasons max? Such a move would not only alienate either Bailly or Lindelöf but also potentially stunt the development of Tuanzebe.

Furthermore, Silva may not be starting every game for the club. Supposedly, there are plans to partner Tuanzebe and Maguire together. If Thiago Silva is content with being a rotation player at the club, then a move to United might make sense. However, I feel that it would be a shame if he did not start games. Unless the club decides to sell Bailly or Lindelöf, a move to United would not be the most ideal for all parties.

Solving Arsenal’s Defensive Crisis

Image by jorono from Pixabay

For the longest time, Arsenal have had a defender crisis at their hands. Sokratis and Mustafi have failed to convince that they deserve a spot in the starting line-up while David Luiz, Rob Holding, and Callum Chambers have all been mediocre at best. Arsenal have yet to effectively replace the defensive pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. There is hope for the future, however, with William Saliba and Konstantinos Mavropanos set to return to the Gunners next season.

In particular, a centre-back partnership of Thiago Silva and William Saliba would sound tantalizing to Arsenal fans. As things stand, Arsenal fans are eagerly waiting to see their new man Saliba in action. Touted as an exciting prospect, he ushers in hope for Gooners, who mostly are fed up with the club’s regular poor defensive displays. Like with Holgate, Silva would be an ideal mentor to a young talented defender like Saliba. Under the Brazilian’s tutelage, he could definitely raise his game to the next level just like Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe.

If Arteta feels that Saliba needs to be eased into the Premier League instead, the Spaniard could revive the partnership of David Luiz and Thiago Silva instead. Having played together for PSG and the Brazil National team, both players can top on their shared chemistry and act as a short term fix for Arsenal’s defensive issues. At the same time, Saliba and Mavropanos are groomed to replace them.

Then there’s Pablo Marí who Arteta is looking to sign permanently. A partnership between Marí and Silva could be interesting as well and perhaps better than a pairing of Silva and Luiz. Hence, if Arsenal plan to acquire Silva, they need to clear out the deadwood. Mustafi and Sokratis need to be offloaded while either Chambers or Holding should be sent out on loan. If not, the defence would be cluttered with players.

Short-term Cover for Barcelona

Image by Iwan Bettschen from Pixabay

How has it gone wrong for Samuel Umtiti?

He was supposed to be Gerard Piqué’s successor but hasn’t delivered when it has mattered. Barcelona have reportedly slashed his asking price and it would seem that his days as a Barcelona player are drawing to a close.

If Umtiti does leave, and he probably will, Barcelona are only left with Gerrard Piqué and Clément Lenglet as experienced centre-backs. Yes, it is true that the Catalonians have Todibo next season, who will return from his loan at Schalke, and Barcelona B central defender Ronald Araújo, who has already featured once in the league this campaign. However, these players lack significant experience and are, quite truthfully, still not ready for consistent first-team football just yet. Even then, Barcelona are supposedly looking at selling the Todibo. If Araújo’s debut is anything to go by, he has a lot to learn. The Uruguayan debuted against Sevilla in October 2019, coming off the bench to replace Todibo in the 73rd minute only to be sent off 13 minutes later. The defender was all over Javier Hernandez, who was clear through goal. Even though it seems like Javier Hernandez made the most out of Araújo’s tugging, it is clear that the young Uruguayan does not possess enough experience yet. Hence, brining in a player like Silva makes a lot of sense.

In essence, Barcelona will replace Umtiti with Silva, albeit probably on a short term basis. Regardless of the length of his tenure at Camp Nou, the Brazilian’s arrival helps provide short-term depth in central defence. Besides gaining a mentor for the younger defenders, Silva’s arrival would give time for a young defender like Araújo to grow instead of rushing them into the first team. But Silva’s true purpose would be to buy Barcelona some time so that they can assess long-term options for central defenders instead of panic buying.

For years, Silva has faced Messi either on the cub level or internationally when Brazil and Argentina collide. To see both players on the same team though, now that would be interesting.

Reuniting with Zlatan and reviving Milan

Image by chatst2 from Pixabay

Zlatan and Thiago Silva were playing together in A.C. Milan before they were both poached by PSG in the 2012 Summer transfer window. They played together in Paris for 4 years before Zlatan made a move to Manchester United in the summer of 2016. It would be the dream of every footballing romanticist to witness the reunion of these two formidable players. Even though they are in their mid to late 30s, both footballers are going strong.

Besides the prospect of playing alongside Zlatan again, what better way to finish off his career than to return to Milan and help them get back to their glory days. Milan today are a real shadow of their past and perhaps Silva’s return could help reinvigorate the club to it’s glory days. A partnership between Thiago Silva and Alessio Romagnoli could see Silva symbolically passing the mantle to the Italian international. Silva’s arrival would be timely given how like other clubs in this list, Milan lack depth in central defence.

A New Challenge in Japan?

Image by Philavert from Pixabay

Instead of a move to the Chinese Super League, which arguably pays more, many stalwarts have looked to Japan as the final destination of their playing career. David Villa, Fernando Torres, and Lukas Podolski have all played in Japan towards the latter stages of their careers. Currently, Andreas Iniesta still plies his trade in Japan and the J1 League has long known to offer a unique challenge for European footballers. After years of domestic triumphs with PSG, Silva has never won a continental competition at the club level. Could he fulfil this dream by joining a J League side and help guide it to an AFC Champions League triumph? Or think about the exciting prospects of Thiago Silva, Andreas Iniesta, and Thomas Vermaelen playing in the same team if the Brazilian joined Vissel Kobe?

Where to then?

Personally, I feel that Silva should make a move to Everton and link up with Carlo Ancelotti once again. Everton have the resources to build a solid team and Silva would definitely improve the current lacklustre defence. Besides linking up with Ancelotti, Everton also offers Silva the chance of regular first-team football – something that other clubs may fail to provide. However, Silva is but one man and for Everton to excel, changes need to happen. Top of that list would be to offload Michael Keane and bring in a new defender. The Merseyside club is rumoured to be after Gabriel Magalhaes of Lille and that would be a fantastic signing. Under Silva’s guidance, perhaps Everton will have a reliable defence in the future with Holgate and Magalhaes at the heart of it.

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Anatomy of a Win: Inter 4-2 AC Milan

Derby mania sends the Nerazzurri top of the league

Welcome to “Anatomy of a Win”, where we take a famous result from this season and break down how it happened. Today we look at Inter’s come from behind victory in the Derby della Madonnina from February 2020.

Inter came from two goals down to complete the comeback with a stellar second half performance. The win propelled Inter back to the top of the table and cemented the existence of a three horse race for the Scudetto. The loss for Milan was disappointing, especially given the manner in which they lost. It put a massive dent in the Rossoneri‘s confidence, especially having only lost one league game in their last 11 going into this match.

This is the classic example of the old phrase “a game of two halves.” In the first half, Milan were largely the dominant team. Despite Inter’s 3-5-2 formation giving them a numerical advantage in midfield over Milan’s 4-4-2, Milan dominated possession and controlled the middle of the park. Algerian midfielder Ismaël Bennacer put together what was possibly his best half in a Milan shirt, seemingly winning every tackle and 50/50 ball and using his excellent passing ability to provide the foundation for Milan’s attacks. The main focal point of the team, however, was a man who needs no introduction. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has plenty of Milan Derby experience, having featured for both Inter and AC Milan during his career, and his arrival back in Milan from America in January kicked off the Rossoneri run of form that they took into the derby. He became the main focal point around which every part of the Milan team moved. His ability to occupy the center backs and hold the ball up allowed the players around him, namely Ante Rebic and Hakan Calhanoglu, to attack the open spaces and find opportunities to test Inter back up keeper Daniele Padelli. Ibrahimovic was responsible for both goals in the first half, with his knockdown being turned in by Rebic for the opener and later doubling the lead with a goal of his own off a corner. Stefano Pioli’s men entered halftime with a comfortable 2-0 lead, having been the better side the whole of the first half and dreaming of a memorable victory over their hated neighbors.

Milan’s brilliance in the first half was only equalled by Inter’s impotence. Antonio Conte’s men were uncharacteristically languid, lacking any energy and fight that you would normally expect from a Conte team and in a match as big as this one. Romelu Lukaku was seemingly the only major attacking threat, but apart from one major chance, where Mathias Vecino fired a Lukaku cutback pass directly at the keeper, Inter were not threatening. They seemed strangely content with allowing Milan to have time on the ball in midfield, not providing any pressure despite their numerical advantage. They had issues with midfield depth throughout the season, with Vecino, among others, not filling the necessary voids when injuries hit their first team starters, but with both Nicolo Barella and Marcelo Brozovic fully fit and featuring, the Inter midfield should have performed better than they did. The defense had a problem containing Ibrahimovic. Diego Godin, who did not enjoy a good first season in a Nerazzurri shirt, was partially at fault for the first goal, allowing Ibrahimovic to tower over him to knock the ball down toward Rebic. The normally reliable Milan Skriniar was responsible for the second goal, losing Ibrahimovic on the corner kick and allowing him to be unmarked in front of the goal. Daniele Padelli, who came in for the injured Samir Handanovic, was not exuding confidence in goal, and he was largely responsible for Rebic’s opener due to his poor positioning. It was a comedy of errors and shortfalls for Inter in the first half, and I imagine Conte was not too pleased with his team when halftime rolled around.

Whatever Conte said to the Inter team in the dressing room at halftime seemingly worked, as Inter came out in the second half looking like a team possessed. Within ten minutes after the restart, Inter were level. Brozovic fired a stinging volley past Donnarumma to bring them back into the game on 51 minutes, before Vecino atoned for his earlier mistakes by firing Alexis Sanchez’s cut back pass into the back of the net. In the sheer mania that followed that goal and the subsequent VAR review, the goal was incorrectly credited to Romelu Lukaku. Regardless of who scored it, Inter were level. 45 minutes of mistakes and errors was atoned for in just eight minutes. Milan were able to get their footing back in the match after the Inter blitz, but could not find a way through a more lively Nerazzurri midfield and defense. With 20 minutes to go, Stefan De Vrij fired Inter into the lead with a glancing header from an Antonio Candreva corner. As things stood, Antonio Conte’s men were sitting atop Serie A, but the match was far from over. Milan had a few more chances to earn a point, with Ibrahimovic coming mere inches away from equalizing. Christian Eriksen, making his Milan Derby debut, also came close for Inter, rattling the crossbar with a free kick from well over 30 yards out. In the third minute of stoppage time, Romelu Lukaku would head home a Victor Moses cross, sealing the three points for Inter and sending the Nerazzurro half of the San Siro into raucous celebration.

How was Inter able to turn things around in the second half? Well, they were just better. It is, at least sort of, that simple. Inter played with much more aggression and energy, especially in midfield. Vecino, Barella, and Brozovic really took control of the middle of the park, limiting the influence that Bennacer and other Milan players could have in possession. That increased control over the match provided more chances for Lukaku and Sanchez to impact the game going forward. The significantly increased pressure at the beginning of the second half led to the two goals, and the momentum noticeably swung in Inter’s favor. While Milan did their best to get back into the match, Stefan De Vrij’s goal was a deserved go ahead goal for an Inter team that largely dominated the second half. You could perhaps criticize Pioli of being too slow to change the team to counter Inter’s resurgence. The first two Milan substitutes, Rafael Leao and Lucas Paqueta, both could have influenced the match and potentially helped Milan retake the lead had they been introduced earlier than the 80th minute. Leao’s pace caused some problems, and Paqueta was able to provide service into the attackers, with his cross being the one Ibrahimovic redirected onto the post. Milan were just unable to fully recover from the shell shock of Inter’s two goals in ten minutes at the start of the second half, and the trademarked grit and tenacity showed by Antonio Conte’s men carried them to victory. You can criticize Conte all that you want, but he absolutely gets those characteristics instilled into every team he manages. The visible joy and excitement shown in the celebrations following Lukaku’s goal show a team that demonstrates that Conte level of passion and fighting spirit. It was another imperfect performance, but it was enough for the win. Inter were top of the league.