Tag Archives: tottenham

Harry Kane, It’s Time To Go

After their latest disappointment, it is time for Harry Kane to leave Tottenham…

Harry Kane, lad, you do not need this negativity in your life. You are a fantastic player; you do not need to be dealing with this.

Now, we love loyalty here. Players building a connection with a club and supporters, sticking out through hard times to be there when the success is had, leaving as a cult hero among a community of people. That is an aspect of football that seems to be dwindling, rightly or wrongly, in this new generation. This is a very nice aspect of the sport for me, someone who supports two clubs that, in the grand scheme of the current football world, are not “big” clubs. We should love the amount of love and dedication and loyalty that Kane has shown Tottenham over the years, and he is without a doubt the most important Spurs player of this generation and one of the best to play for the club in my lifetime, if not ever.

But come on, man. You deserve so much better than this.

Tottenham’s 3-2 aggregate defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League, the latest in a long line of crushing disappointments, shows just how far away Spurs are from winning major honors. From the highs of the Pochettino era, Spurs have now fallen to the outside of the frame of main contenders, having to scrap for a Europa League place last season and possibly not finishing in a European place at all this season. They were one of the best teams in the league just a few years ago, but now they have fallen to a level where having talented players cannot save them from being largely forgettable. We are reaching the end of one of the brightest eras in the history of this club, an era that gave them a player who will likely end his career as one of the best Premier League strikers ever, and there is nothing to show for it.

Now, before you all come at me and say “but actually…”, yes, I know Spurs are in the EFL Cup Final. Yes, I know anything can happen in a cup final. While any halfway sentient living being would look at that match up and favor Manchester City and their team of football-playing terminator robots, anything can happen. And yes, I understand that, for a club that has not won a trophy since 2008 (that being their only trophy since 1991), winning the EFL Cup is progress. As a supporter of a club that has not won a trophy since 1995, I would gladly take Everton winning the EFL Cup to break that trophy drought.

But after all of these years, all of these goals scored, all of the fight and sacrifice, just an EFL Cup? Is that worth Harry Kane wasting his entire prime at this club? To have won the same amount of domestic honors for Spurs as Jermaine Jenas? To say that you have one (1) more trophy than Matt Le Tissier? And you are supposed to be one of the best English strikers ever? One of the best players in the world?

If there is one thing that was proven by that game in Zagreb, it is that the club has gone backwards under Mourinho. Tottenham’s peak, going wire-to-wire with Leicester for the title in 2016 and making the Champions League Final in 2018, is just that, a peak. They are descending down the mountain, the Pochettino highs getting further and further away as each day and each match passes. Mourinho was brought in to make this club into winners and reverse the defensive frailties that were becoming exposed under Pochettino, yet we now find Spurs out of Europe after a calamitous defensive display in Zagreb, ripped to shreds by Arsenal in the North London Derby, and falling further behind the race for European places. They are no closer to winning a league title than they were in 2016, and they have seemingly lost the traits that made them a Champions League constant under Pochettino.

This is obviously not Harry Kane’s fault. Without him, Spurs would likely be a mid-table team. But Kane’s adamant loyalty to a team that does not deserve a player of his talent is, quite frankly, ruining what could be a legendary career. Should he stay in the Premier League, it is very possible Kane will end up as a top four all-time league goalscorer, but that is about it. Will his amazing talent be overshadowed by being the “almost trophy winner”? He almost won a league title, he almost made it to a World Cup Final, he almost won a Champions League. Will this put him in the Le Tissier category of player instead of the Shearer or Agüero or Henry category? And if this admittedly fairly-ridiculous-but-not-completely-off-base take is even remotely close to being the case, then why should he stay at Spurs?

Kane clearly deserves better. He deserves to be playing for a club that is contending for league titles and European honors on a regular basis, and it is clear that Spurs are no longer that club. It is also clear that there is definitely a market for a player of Kane’s quality. Dortmund’s Erling Håland is obviously the most-wanted striker on planet Earth at the moment, but obviously only one club can sign him. Whether that be Real Madrid or Man City or Chelsea or whoever, that will still leave plenty of teams needing a striker who are unable to secure the Norwegian’s signature. And that is where Kane comes into the picture.

If it has not happened already, I imagine we will start seeing reports of Kane demanding to leave Spurs. Since he is still under contract at the club until 2024, Spurs will likely not be motivated to sell him for anything under a £120 million-plus mega deal, a world-class fee for a world-class player. The financial impact of the COVID Pandemic likely means that deal is not possible this summer for the vast majority of top teams in Europe, but it is still possible that Kane is able to pressure Tottenham to accept a lower bid. Who would be the contenders for his signature? Manchester United need a striker. Chelsea and Manchester City could be involved if they do not sign Håland. The same goes for Real Madrid and Barcelona, should Barcelona figure out how to balance their books that quickly. All of those teams, to varying degrees, would give Kane a much better opportunity to contend for silverware than this current Spurs team. And at the end of the day, Kane deserves his chance at winning trophies. He deserves to be playing for a team that is contending for league titles and Champions League glory, and right now, Spurs do not appear to be one of those teams. He has simply been wasting away his prime footballing years as an unbelievable player on a team that is at least good enough to be in conversations around top teams, but not good enough to actually be hoisting major honors or to contend on the biggest stages.

Harry, take this advice from someone who you have never and will never meet in your whole life. I know, I am clearly a very reputable voice, but still hear me out. Leave Tottenham. Push to leave the club. You have given them years and years of faithful, unquestioning loyalty and service. You are not a “Judas” figure for doing so, and there is no one on the planet that can question how loyal you have been to the club. But now you deserve to chase after the highest honors and play under the brightest lights, and at the moment, that requires leaving Spurs.

You do not owe them anything. You deserve your chance at greatness.

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An Unexpected Reunion

Why Gareth Bale could, and could not, be exactly what Tottenham needs…

Tottenham announced the shock resigning of Gareth Bale this past week, with the player returning to North London on loan from Real Madrid. It was a deal that seemed to come out of the blue, almost seemingly being a tacked-on extra to Tottenham’s signing of Real Madrid left back Sergio Reguilón. Bale needed to leave Real Madrid, and a move back to his former club could be seen as a positive turn in the right direction for the Welshman’s career. Even if he is not fit to play until November, the excitement around his return offers the momentum needed to possibly help turn their fortunes around following a rough previous season and rough start to this season, potentially allowing manager Jose Mourinho to get the results that he desires.

As we have asked with every transfer on this site, let us examine how this Bale move will work out, and whether this is the right or wrong move for Spurs to make. It is certainly a move that has generated quite a bit of hype and generated many opinions and takes throughout the football world.

For Spurs, this move is a bit of a gamble while still filling an immediate need in the team. Under Jose, Spurs have often lined up in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, with Kane as the front striker with two wingers running off of him, sometimes utilizing a number ten behind him and sometimes not. Despite the tactical organization of Jose’s teams, the attacking strategy has often revolved around the individual brilliance of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. The third spot in the front three has been filled by several options, most notably Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn, but neither have consistently shown enough to be the solid third option. Also, when Son and Kane missed significant time last season due to injury, the attack struggled, having to rely on other players who were not able to contribute at the level of their injured counterparts. In Bale, Spurs have a player who can naturally fit into that right winger role, being a left-footed right winger able to cut inside and score, as well as play as a striker when the tactical situation demands it or if Kane were to be out due to injury. Despite whatever the last few years has shown, Bale is still a fantastic player on his day. Skillful and aggressive with an eye for goal and a pension for doing the spectacular, Bale quite simply makes Spurs better if he is able to find his footing and perform at the level that we all know he is still capable of. After all, we are only two years removed from him nearly single-handedly winning Real Madrid the Champions League against Liverpool with two incredible goals. There is still talent there, and if Bale is able to find form, then he could be in for a fantastic season.

I anticipate Spurs would line up in a 4-3-3 when Bale is fully fit and in the team, with him playing on the right in a front three with Son on the left and Kane playing through the middle. In this set up, Spurs more or less emulate Liverpool’s front three or, more applicable for Bale, Real Madrid’s Bale-Benzema-Cristiano partnership. Kane, while being known for being a great goalscorer, is also very good at playing somewhat of a false nine role, with the positional understanding to drop into space and occupy the center backs to free up space for his teammates. He is also a very underrated playmaker, with the vision and ability to pick a pass that many strikers do not have, as he demonstrated with his four assists against Southampton this past weekend. In an ideal attacking scenario, Kane’s movement is able to open up space for Son and Bale to attack, leading to plenty of goalscoring opportunities for both wingers, similar to Firmino for Liverpool and Benzema for Real Madrid. In this sense, Bale has re-entered a scenario where he had plenty of success, entering a team that emulates an attacking pairing he enjoyed during his prime in Madrid. In a situation not as toxic as the one he left behind, Bale will hopefully be able to fit into the Spurs team naturally and combine with the other attacking players to form what could potentially be one of the best attacks in the Premier League.

For Bale, this is the most logical move to make. Bale has long needed to get out of Madrid. While he is at fault for his share of the degrading relationship between himself and Los Blancos‘ manager Zinedine Zidane, it has been apparent for a while now that this loveless marriage between Bale and Real Madrid needed to come to an end. He needed to go to a club where not only would he play and play a significant part in the team, but he would also be comfortable. Even before the serious problems with Zidane began, it was clear that Bale was not fully adapted to life in Spain. Not only does he now return to the United Kingdom, but he returns to the club where he made his breakthrough into superstardom. It is this facet that has me believe that returning to Spurs was the better decision than going to Manchester United, the other English club that was seriously exploring the options to sign him. Sporting-wise, neither Tottenham or Manchester United are exactly in great positions at the moment. Neither club will seriously contend for the title this season, and they will likely both be in scraps to maintain Top Six status and chase a Champions League place against Arsenal and, potentially, Everton, Wolves, and/or Leicester City. A move to United would have likely been a permanent move, unlike the loan he is currently on, and he probably would have been paid more in Manchester and likely would have also started immediately, but he is not going to get the sense of comfort he will from playing for his former club. This ability to feel comfortable and be in an environment you are used to, especially after everything he went through in Madrid, will be important in allowing Bale to return to the level that we all know he can achieve.

However, there are plenty of reasons as to why I am skeptical of this move, or at least skeptical of this move being exactly what Spurs need to elevate them back into a top four side. First, let us revisit that attacking system we discussed earlier. This team, even with Bale in it, is still incredibly reliant on Harry Kane. It is still a system that needs Kane’s very particular set of skills to create serious attacking chances. Liverpool can at least rely on the fullbacks to create some chances, and Real Madrid could always find chances from Modric and Kroos, but Spurs have not shown to have any consistently serious attacking threats outside of Kane and Son. Bale could prove me wrong in this sense and provide some form of creative element, and I recognize this criticism is not necessarily about Bale, but I do not see this attack working nearly as well if Harry Kane were to go down injured again. Also, this is a Jose Mourinho team. Jose’s teams are not quite known for being high-speed attacking sides similar to the Liverpool team I compared this front three to. It is very possible that Jose’s pragmatic, more defensive approach means that we do not get to see this front three play with the handbrake off, and Bale’s influence in the team could be more limited. Again, another criticism about the Spurs team and not necessarily Bale, but these concerns with Spurs do show that bringing the Welshman back may not be something that fully revolutionizes the team overnight.

Ok, now let us actually talk about concerns with the player, as there are definitely some concerns about this move. Bale has had quite the unfortunate injury record since leaving London, and this has seen him spend several long stints on the sidelines and was probably the main reason that we were never able to see the full potential of the Bale-Benzema-Cristiano front three. Bale is now 31, having not played a significant role in a team for several years, so if his injury history has followed him back to London, it could be something that ruins his ability to gel in the team. Especially for a player like Bale, whose best and most famous trait has seemingly been his lightning-quick turn of pace, injury concerns could hamper his ability to contribute in the team. After all, he already comes in carrying an injury that has ruled him out until November. Considering the very unfortunate injury luck Spurs had last season, they better hope that does not carry over into this season.

Bale could also not be the right archetype of winger needed to make the most impact. Throughout his career, Bale has always been a very direct player, primarily effective as a goalscorer on the wing and not necessarily always known for creating chances for his teammates. Yes, Bale is still a need for the team and is still better than the other options at the club, but Spurs already have a winger of that style in Son, and something that they still immensely struggle with is chance creation. Since Christian Eriksen’s departure last season, they never really had a player who was able to create attacking chances to that degree. Part of that was by design, with Jose not really preferring Eriksen even when he was still with the team, but part of it was also due to the inability to replace Eriksen’s impact outside of an over-reliance on Kane. It is very possible that Spurs have these three very effective attacking players and not enough creativity behind them to get them the chances they need. Hence, my point in the previous paragraph, their over-reliance on Kane might still be a downfall in the team, and Bale might not be able to solve that.

I am also going to spare a moment to talk a bit about the first big-picture, domino-falling impact that this move has had: it has seemingly pushed Dele Alli closer to the exit door. Dele has been through a wild ride under Mourinho at Spurs. His revitalization during the early days of Jose’s reign was seen as the telltale sign that Jose was having a massive impact on the team, but he has seemingly since fallen out of favor with the Portuguese manager. After being subbed off after only 45 minutes against Everton and not featuring at all against Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the Europa League Qualifiers or against Southampton in the league, it seems that the Bale transfer is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I understand that Bale’s return is too difficult of a prospect to turn down, and I understand that Dele has been inconsistent in recent seasons, but is it really worth giving up on him now from Spurs’ point of view? I am not quite sure. Yes, he has not consistently hit the levels he was at during his breakout seasons in North London, but I would argue that was not entirely on him. Yes, his attitude and injury issues were part of the problem, but his utilization was also an issue. Under Pochettino, he was slowly but surely shoehorned into a deeper lying role, away from his desired attacking number ten role and in a way that did not allow him to have serious influence on the attack. Mourinho started playing Dele back in that attacking role, and he thrived in it early on, but Mourinho slowly but surely forced him further back as well. Many look at Dele as a lost cause or failed talent now, but despite how long it seems he has been in the spotlight as a player, he only just turned 24. He has plenty of time to turn around his misfortunes and find the consistency in his career that he needs, but it does not seem that Spurs want to do what they need to do to get the best out of the player.

This is seemingly a story that is told at many clubs Jose manages; a young player not trusted by the manager leaves and has success elsewhere. At Manchester United, it was Memphis Depay. At Chelsea, it was Kevin De Bruyne. At Real Madrid, it was Nuri Sahin. At Inter, it was Leonardo Bonucci. Will Dele be another case of this? Bale is a very short-term risk; he is only at the club for one season, and even if it was not a loan, he is already 31, with a bad injury history and very high wages. This is part of Jose’s, and chairman Daniel Levy’s, plan to win right now, a gamble Jose often makes, which is part of the reason why clubs have often been left in a worse situation when Jose leaves compared to when he arrived. This is the bedrock of why this move is such a massive risk. If Bale is a star and Spurs win silverware or get back into the Champions League while he is at the club, then it is a massive success. If he does not thrive and Spurs finish outside of the top four, or potentially outside of the top six, it could lead the club down the road that most Jose managed teams have gone down, with key players leaving and the club falling from their peak. With this move, Spurs are essentially trading a player who could still become a valuable future asset for a player with a very limited shelf life remaining in an attempt to win immediately. If Dele goes to another club and succeeds, then it will likely haunt Spurs for the foreseeable future, especially if they do not win a trophy with Bale.

Gareth Bale’s move has sure got people talking, and with good reason. This could potentially make a very exciting Spurs team, or it is a massive risk that may or may not pay off for Jose Mourinho and Daniel Levy. For Bale, it offers him a chance to redeem his legacy. If he wins silverware with Spurs, then many will likely forget about the issues he has had in his last few seasons in Madrid. Bale gambled on himself, and Levy gambled on Mourinho’s ability to build him a winning team right now. Given all of the factors in this deal, I think it was the right gamble to make. Spurs need something that massively shifts the mentality and attacking side of this team, and taking a risk on a year of Gareth Bale is not a ridiculous move to make. I think Spurs might regret fully giving up on Dele Alli, but I feel his time in North London was numbered regardless of this move.

If it does not work out, I am sure there are plenty of great golf courses in the south of England that Bale would enjoy playing.

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Premier League Week in Review

The start of something special for a few teams?

Welcome to the Premier League Week in Review, where we take a look back at everything that has happened in the last week or so in England’s top flight league. We go over our player of the week, name three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned. And man, did we learn quite a bit.

Player of the Week

Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United

What else is there to be said that has not been said already? The Portuguese midfield magician has been a revelation since his arrival in Manchester, becoming United’s most important player and arguably among the best players in his position in the league. In United’s last two games, 3-0 and 5-2 demolitions of Brighton and Bournemouth, respectively, Fernandes was the best player on the pitch, pulling the strings from midfield and acting as the conductor of the terrifying Manchester United attack. His finishing ability and eye for a pass were on full display in both games, amassing three goals and two assists over those two matches. Two incredible performances from one incredible player, his rise to near-world stardom is coinciding with a potential phoenix-like rise of the new Manchester United.

Honorable Mention: Mason Greenwood (Manchester United), Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United)

Winners of the Week

1.) Manchester United

Yes, the competition was not great, but oh boy did United look good. Yes, there were issues in defense (R.I.P. Harry Maguire’s ankles), but United showed they have enough firepower in attack to be an absolutely terrifying team for the rest of the season and going into next season. The midfield pairing of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba has been nothing short of outstanding, and Ole has seemingly found a working front three of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood. The movement of the front three and ability of the midfielders to provide for them and score themselves makes United an incredibly fluid, difficult to predict, and hard to stop team when on the attack. They have the ability to counter with pace through all three of the front players, as well as utilize the creative ability of Pogba and Fernandes to pick apart teams sitting back and defending. This team is on the cusp of title contention, and while they definitely are not there yet, this attack is a major part of the larger solution for Solskjær. I would say United are currently the favorites to finish in the newly formed race for third place between them, Leicester, and Chelsea.

2.) Arsenal

In a similar vein to United, you can sense that the pieces are starting to come together for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. The Spaniard’s shift to a back three has provided some needed defensive solidity and seemingly brought out a consistently solid David Luiz. The back three has also juiced up the Arsenal attack, adding in the element of attacking wing backs to the equation. The wing backs, Kieran Tierney especially, have shone in the last two games, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, and Nicolas Pépé have all put in solid shifts in attack. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos have been solid in midfield, despite some shakiness in the second half against Wolves, and things seem to be progressing on keeping Ceballos in North London for at least one more season. Positive improvement on the pitch sees the Gunners with a solid chance at qualifying for the Europa League next season, which is a massive improvement compared to where they were when the season resumed a few weeks ago. The most important developments have happened off the pitch, though, as the club confirmed new contracts for youngsters Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, and rumors in the tabloids indicate that there is positive momentum leading toward a contract extension for Aubameyang. For a season that seemed to be falling apart at the seams when the league was suspended, Arsenal and Arteta have done well to not only get back on the rails, but begin building toward something great.

3.) West Ham United

I will not lie, I absolutely did not see West Ham’s win over Chelsea coming, and I know I am not alone in this. The Irons have been largely hapless this season under both Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes, but when they needed it most, they seemed to pull the rabbit out of the hat here. The Chelsea defense was shockingly poor, having difficulty dealing with the creative ability of Jarrod Bowen and pure dynamic unpredictability of Michail Antonio. It was a match seemingly defined by chaos, with Andriy Yarmolenko’s 89th minute winner the epitome of this, coming on a wild counter after Chelsea were pushing for a winner. It is one of those games that makes you miss having fans in the stands, as the delirium that ensued following Yarmolenko’s goal would have been that much better with fans in attendance at the Olympic Stadium. While their 2-2 draw to Newcastle was disappointing, having conceded twice from winning positions, results around the relegation zone meant that the single point they got at St. James’ Park lifted them to four points above the drop zone with five matches to play. They are not safe by any means, especially since they still must play Norwich, Watford, and Aston Villa, but they get a tiny extra bit of security from the drop. That win over Chelsea may be the reason that the Irons stay up.

Losers of the Week

1.) Norwich City

Norwich continued their trend of looking decent at times in open play but being unable to score, despite the talent they have going forward. A 4-0 demolition at the hands of Arsenal followed by a very disappointing 1-0 loss to Brighton caps off four matches without a point and without a goal since the league season restarted, leaving the Canaries seven points from safety with five matches remaining. While they have matches remaining against Watford and West Ham, they must also face Chelsea and Manchester City, two matches in which they would be very unlikely to pick up any points. It looks like Norwich will be relegated to the Championship. Their season can really be characterized by one lasting image: the shot of midfielder Todd Cantwell slumped onto the pitch following the Brighton loss, a look of defeat and resignation on his face. Despite the talent that Norwich have, including the dynamic, exciting Cantwell, they have never been able to fully figure it all out for an extended run of games.

2.) Sheffield United

Chris Wilder and his merry band of Blades have ran into a serious stumbling block in their hunt for European football next season. Sheffield United had failed to win since the season restarted before a 3-1 win over Spurs this week, but a 1-1 draw to Burnley in the very next match continued this stuttering form that has seen the Blades fall out of the European places into ninth, one point behind Arsenal in seventh with five matches remaining. The European dream is beginning to die for Chris Wilder’s team, and while their next four games (Wolves, Chelsea, Leicester, Everton) can reverse their fortunes completely, it is hard to envision Arsenal’s new form massively slowing down. It feels like it will be either Wolves or Arsenal occupying sixth, with the other occupying seventh. Eighth can be a European place if City’s appeal of their European ban fails, but it is not safe to assume that will be the case. Chris Wilder needs positive results in those four matches to get into Europe, but without that, it will likely be a mid-table finish for the Blades. Mid-table is nothing to scoff at for a newly promoted team, but the knowledge that it could have been much more might be painful for Sheffield United fans to deal with.

3.) Watford

Whatever good form and positive energy existed when Nigel Pearson was hired is now gone. Watford have failed to win a league match since their shock 3-0 win over Liverpool back in March, and that rut in form has dragged them right back into the relegation fight, leaving them clinging onto safety by only a point. The Hornets’ attack has struggled to find their feet since the league season resumed, with Ismaïla Sarr and Abdoulaye Doucouré especially being unable to regain their pre-lockdown form. They still must face Norwich and West Ham, which should allow them to pull away from the relegation places, but with Manchester City and Arsenal as their final two games, there is significant pressure to get positive results in their next three games before that awful finishing duo. Anything less than five points in their next three matches could leave them in serious danger of going down, with at least seven points being the ideal target. Watford are good enough to stay up, but that is the thing about the relegation race this season; you could say that about every team that is fighting the drop.

What we Learned

1.) Arsenal and Man United are building something special

This has been covered in other areas of this post, but it is worth emphasizing again. Both teams began a rebuild this season, and you are beginning to see the image of what these rebuilt giants can become. Manchester United have built a terrifying attack, with really an attacking five that can rival the best in the league. Arsenal have found stability in a back three that is able to get the most out of the players at their disposal. Both are moving toward finishing in a European place this season, which will provide them a solid platform to build on in the coming transfer window. Both have flaws in defense, Arsenal especially, but the vision is there for what Solskjær and Arteta want to create. Next season might be too soon to consider either a true contender, but they are two teams to watch over the next 12 months.

2.) We all aren’t sure what to take from Man City 4-0 Liverpool

Part of me thinks this resounding victory for City was Pep’s men throwing down the gauntlet for the title challenge next season, staking their claim as arguably the best team in England despite their unfortunate season this term. Part of me also thinks this was an über-motivated City team taking advantage of a figuratively, and probably literally, hungover Liverpool team. Part of me wants it to mean everything, and another part of me wants it to mean nothing. That is where I am at. This is a match that served as a good reminder that City are still a very strong, albeit flawed, team that is capable of winning the title and Champions League basically every season. However, the results around this game, mainly City’s losses to Chelsea and Southampton, remind you of the major flaws in this team (notably in defense) and why Liverpool won the title so easily in the first place. City will likely be title contenders next season, as I do not see Liverpool running away with the title again, but they still have things to fix in order for them to fully be in contention again. It is wild that we are saying this about arguably one of the best teams ever assembled in the Premier League era, but here we are. Leroy Sané’s departure will likely hurt the Citizens, but it does provide them with the funds to bring in a much-needed center back partner for Aymeric Laporte. Bringing in help at fullback will also be important, and while the COVID impacted transfer market will likely not hinder City all that much, it is ever more important for them to stay within the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, since their entire organization now operates under a microscope. So in conclusion, does City thrashing Liverpool mean anything? Not really. Will City be title contenders next season, though? Probably.

3.) One step forward, two steps back for Everton

It was very difficult to find a place in either the winners or losers tab for Everton, despite being a team that we need to discuss. Carlo Ancelotti’s team seemingly took a massive step toward European football with two…let’s call them gritty…wins against Norwich and Leicester, but their drab and uninspiring 1-0 loss to Spurs yesterday acts as a sudden crash back to Earth for the Toffees, seemingly in a way that only Everton can provide. Ancelotti deserves incredible praise for the work he has done so far on Merseyside, guiding a very weird squad to an outside chance at finishing in a European place, seemingly punching above his weight with a thin and not incredibly talented Everton team. Europe was seemingly a bridge too far, however, and unless Everton win their remaining matches and a miracle happens around them, it is unlikely that they will be playing in the Europa League next season. There is definitely an argument that not being in the Europa League, and especially not having to deal with whatever wild schedule comes out for the Europa League qualifying rounds, is a blessing in disguise for an Everton team that is not quite ready for that step up. However, having to deal with their neighbors’ title celebrations must make life especially difficult for Evertonians, who are still frustrated at the apparent lack of progress in their team after all of these years. They are on the right track, but they have a long road ahead of them. Trust the process, Evertonians. Trust the process.

4.) Great week for young English players

This was a momentous week for four young English players in the Premier League: Manchester City’s Phil Foden, Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, and Liverpool’s Curtis Jones. Foden started proceedings in City’s 4-0 thumping of Liverpool, scoring and assisting in a fantastic display against a very good side. Greenwood followed suit with three goals in two games, with his second thunderous strike against Bournemouth being the pick of the bunch. The young United striker continues his Wayne Rooney-esque ascendancy to superstardom, while, across the city, Foden demonstrated that he just might be able to live up to his “Stockport Iniesta” nickname. The other two are an interesting pair. Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka and Liverpool midfielder Curtis Jones both signed new deals at their respective clubs this week, with Saka’s coming at a major relief to Arteta and the Arsenal hierarchy. Both are considered to be very promising young players at their clubs, both being academy graduates, and both clubs and managers will likely be overjoyed having them tied down to long-term deals. Both also scored their first Premier League goals this week, both ironically on half-volleys, in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Wolves and Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa, respectively. Both players are very good stories, and seeing them succeed at the top level for their boyhood clubs is heart-warming. If you are English, seeing the progress of these four players has to be exciting, and given the amount of young talent in the England player pool at the moment, one has to think that it is only a matter of time before “football comes home”.

5.) What a goal from Che Adams

Let’s just all take a moment to talk about Che Adams and his goal against Man City. Firstly, if you have not seen it, go watch it. Now that you have, yeah, what a goal. The goal by itself is already quite impressive, having the confidence to chip a keeper as good and athletic as Ederson from that kind of distance as well as having the technical ability to pull it off, is quite remarkable. However, that is not the full story. That goal was Adams’ first ever Premier League goal, having arrived at Southampton from Championship side Birmingham City before the season started. He featured about 30 times for Saints in all competitions, failing to score until this moment. I genuinely cannot think of a more astounding way to score your first Premier League goal, considering the manner the goal was scored, the opponent it came against, and the fact that it was the winning goal. A moment so unique and insane for the young English striker that it deserved its own special shoutout.

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The Premier League is Back!

The one many of you have been waiting for…

Feature Image by Kelvin Stuttard from Pixabay

The Premier League has returned! Despite all of the questions, doubts, and concerns surrounding Project Restart, it seems that the Premier League (and Championship) season will be completed. But where did we leave off? What are the major stories to follow? Who are the players to watch?

The other major leagues in Europe were or will be welcomed back with a title race, but what about in England? Well…not quite. Liverpool currently sit 25 points clear of Manchester City, on the verge of rounding out a historic season with their first league title in 30 years. They need two more wins, or one win with one Manchester City loss, to clinch the title, so unless a meltdown of equally historic standards takes place, then Liverpool will be champions of England, and it would be absolutely deserved. The talent in basically every position is staggering, and apart from a few bumps in the road, Jürgen Klopp has masterfully managed this team through a nearly unbeaten season. If Arsenal beat Manchester City, then Liverpool have the very unique opportunity of winning the title against derby-rivals Everton. It is not as unique, as there will not be fans present at Goodison Park, but it is still a unique opportunity.

Image by Andreas H. from Pixabay

The real major interest starts with the European races, which remain as wide open as they were months ago. Manchester City seem safely set in second, but Leicester City and Chelsea, who occupy the other top four spots, are not quite as safe. The gap between Leicester, in third, and Wolves, in sixth, is only 10 points with nine games remaining. The gap between fifth, currently Manchester United, and 12th, currently Everton, is only eight points. We have a situation where the teams currently in the Europa League places have the ability to catch the Champions League teams or be overtaken by teams below them. I have said it in every other league returning blog, but a fast start is going to be very important for teams in this race. These leads seem to be large, but with nine matches remaining, a quick start by some teams and slow by others can massively change the outlook of the table in a very short time.

There are quite a few teams to talk about here, so to save time, we will group them together. The three surprise packages, Leicester, Sheffield United, and Wolves, have really taken the top six race by storm. Leicester got there on the back of the Brendan Rodgers revolution, creating a system and style that is able to get the best out of their star-studded midfield and rejuvenate a 33-year-old Jamie Vardy. They are also supported by a strong defense, with the veteran presence of Jonny Evans and Kasper Schmeichel paired with the younger vibrancy of Çaglar Söyüncü, Ben Chilwell, and Ricardo Pereira. Wolves’ continued rise was expected, given how good they were last season, but they are still a fantastic team, especially in attack. The major surprise, however, is Sheffield United. Much was said about their team, and especially their manager Chris Wilder, when they were promoted from the Championship, but they were still largely considered relegation favorites going into the season. However, under the leadership of Wilder and his tactical genius, most notably the overlapping center backs, has allowed United to achieve more than the sum of their parts. Not only have the Blades avoided relegation, but they are firmly in the European fight.

Image by Bernie Varem from Pixabay

Paired with these surprise packages are three of the Big Six sides having disappointing seasons. Manchester United and Arsenal have continued their struggles from last season, and Tottenham have joined them with a season well below their recent standards. United and Arsenal have continued their struggles related to their managers. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has kept his job up to this point at United, but Unai Emery has been sacked at Arsenal, replaced by Mikel Arteta in North London. Both teams have struggled with injuries and had some issues with scoring goals, but Arsenal have had a unique struggle in defense, with a back line that has long since been not good enough for their aspirations. They both had a slight turnaround come January, but each of them find themselves outside of the Champions League places, with Arsenal outside of the Europa League places as well. United will hope that Marcus Rashford can come back healthy into the team, adding to their improved attack spearheaded by new signing Bruno Fernandes. Their new signings have fully meshed in the team, and Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have added quite a bit to their defensive ability. Arsenal will have to continue riding the goalscoring form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the adjusting-but-talented winger Nicolas Pépé. They will also have to rely more on their youth, even outside of Bukayo Saka, in order to deal with the rotation and fitness issues they will face. The task is much more difficult for Arsenal than for United, but both are still in the hunt for Europe. Spurs have also had quite a poor season, especially compared to their top four, Champions League-finalist season last year. Their disappointing season has led to the departure of manager Mauricio Pochettino, replaced by Premier League stalwart Jose Mourinho. Their players on expiring contracts has been a major story for the season, with Christian Eriksen having already departed, but their struggles are not isolated to that. The defense has struggled all season, but the attack has not been up to standard apart from Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. Spurs find themselves in the same position as Arsenal, on the outside looking in but able to turn things around with a quick start to the season. They will hope that the lay off will allow their injury issues to subside and key players can return to the team.

Further down the table, we have a very interesting relegation race. Norwich City seem set to be relegated, but the other two places are still up for grabs. Four points separates Aston Villa, in 19th with a game in hand, from Brighton, in 15th. Realistically, Villa, Brighton, Bournemouth, Watford, and West Ham are all involved in the relegation fight. Southampton, Newcastle, and Everton, starting comfortably mid-table, run the risk of being dragged into this fight should they start the season in a Schalke-level of a rut. The staggering thing, which has been mentioned by other writers throughout the season, is that each of these teams mentioned are all at least pretty good overall. There will be some good teams relegated this season, better than some of the usual teams that are sent down to the Championship. While there are various things going wrong with each of these teams, too many to go through in one blog, each of these teams has their own amounts of talent on it. Players like Jack Grealish, John McGinn, Felipe Anderson, Callum Wilson, and Abdoulaye Doucouré are on teams involved in this relegation race, genuine talent that are on teams in desperate situations. That is the most interesting part of all of this. There will really be some good teams going down this season, quite a massive difference to other seasons, and in a season where many considered the Premier League to be weaker than usual.

So some players to look out for? Well, you all will know basically all of the big names in the Premier League, playing for the biggest teams, so I will try to highlight some who are not firmly in the spotlight, while also highlighting some who are but deserve their praise. At the top of the table, everyone knows about Liverpool’s incredible front three and very strong defense, but their midfield has been relatively under-appreciated. Club captain Jordan Henderson has put in a stellar season, earning him consideration for PFA Player of the Year, while Brazilian defensive midfielder Fabinho continues to float under the radar despite being one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe at the moment. Manchester City’s team is another known quantity, with Kevin de Bruyne arguably being the best player in the league this season, but we need to appreciate David Silva and Fernandinho, who are both still important contributors, as it will not be long before they are no longer in the Premier League. With Silva, a City legend, leaving at the end of the season and Fernandinho likely leaving in the next few years, it will not be long before these two Premier League stalwarts leave England for good. In the Top Four/Top Six race, much has already been said about Leicester’s phenomenal season, but it is worth highlighting Wilfried Ndidi once again, among the best defensive midfielders in the league this season. He was always very talented, but Leicester’s rise to the top four has allowed him to show this talent to a wider audience. Chelsea’s young core might be broken up by new signings, but center back Fikayo Tomori will be hard to displace. Having nearly been sent out on loan before the season started, Tomori emerged as a surprise star in Frank Lampard’s team and will likely be a fixture in the back line for years to come. For Wolves, Raúl Jiménez has emerged as one of the best strikers in the league. A complete number nine in so many ways, he has the combination of physical and technical skills that make him so difficult to deal with for opposition defenses. Quick enough to get in behind defenses, tall enough to be deadly in the air, and strong enough to hold the ball up for the wingers, Jiménez is truly the complete package. Bruno Fernandes has truly changed the game for Manchester United, acting as a number 10 that can pull the strings in attack, occupy dangerous spaces, and is still a goalscoring threat himself. Sheffield United have several underrated players and are definitely worth a watch, but I will highlight the effect John Lundstram has had on their team, and likely your Fantasy Premier League team. A transition from a struggling center back to a dominant box-to-box midfielder has allowed Lundstram to become a key cog in the Blades’ engine room. The headlines at Arsenal have been dominated by Aubameyang, for multiple reasons, but Bukayo Saka has emerged as the brightest gem of their latest Hale End Academy class. Originally a winger, Saka has deputized at left back as injuries ravaged the Arsenal defense, and he has emerged as one of the league’s rising stars, despite playing in an unnatural position. His assist for Eddie Nketiah’s goal against Everton is quite possibly the highlight of his season, and it poses an interesting question for Arsenal about what to do when Kieran Tierney is fit.

At the bottom end of the table, probably-relegated Norwich still have some young stars in right back Max Aarons and attacking midfielder Todd Cantwell. They will likely be some of the names that other clubs pursue if Norwich do indeed go down. Despite Aston Villa’s struggles, Jack Grealish has been phenomenal this season and will likely earn a move to a Big Six team regardless of whether Villa go down, but John McGinn has gone a bit under-appreciated, possibly because of his injury issues. A complete box-to-box midfielder, McGinn was arguably Villa’s best player earlier in the season, and his injury issues have had a massive impact. West Ham center back Issa Diop has been handed the impossible task of making that Irons defense look good, but despite their defensive struggles, he has shone as an individual player. He is able to combine his large physical frame with an incredible ability to time tackles and position himself well, especially on set-pieces. None of this is an exhaustive list, but just a few names to look out for as the season concludes.

Image by Kelvin Stuttard from Pixabay

So, what is going to happen? Well, Liverpool will be champions, Norwich will go down, but I am not fully sure on the rest. I am somewhat confident in Chelsea and Leicester’s ability to finish in the top four, but the other European places are really up in the air. If Manchester City’s appeal of their UEFA ban is upheld, then fifth would be a Champions League place and eighth would be a Europa League place, which obviously changes everything. Things have changed massively for United since Fernandes arrived at the club, but unless Marcus Rashford is able to come back fully fit, I do not think they will finish fifth over Wolves. I think Arsenal and Spurs both have the ability to make a run for the Europa League places if they come back healthy, and I think Sheffield United are the most precariously placed of all of the teams in the top six. Especially for Spurs, if they are able to get a healthy Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son back, then they are a significantly more dangerous team. Assuming eighth is a European place, I believe both Spurs and Arsenal will make it and Sheffield United will miss out. With relegation, it is all about momentum and quick starts. Watford were riding the momentum they got when Nigel Pearson was hired, but I am worried the hiatus to the season will stifle that. West Ham have also been struggling massively, and the hiatus has not given Aston Villa enough time to recover from their significant injury issues. I think Bournemouth are very precariously placed, and that they will be one of the three that goes down. Eddie Howe has done all he can, but I do not think that team is good enough to stay up. West Ham, despite all of the times they want to sabotage themselves, are still too talented to go down in my mind, and I think Watford will find a way to regain their momentum and stay up. The relegation zone will finish exactly as it is now, with Norwich, Bournemouth, and Villa going down.

Well, the Premier League is back! Slowly but surely, football is returning to our television screens. Despite no title race, there is quite a bit of obscurity with the rest of the table, so it should still be a thrilling finish to the season.

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Champions League Round of 16 Preview Part 3 (3/10-3/11)

A quick preview for this week’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg matches…

Tuesday 3/10

RB Leipzig vs. Tottenham

None of this is really ideal for Spurs, is it?

But first, let’s talk about the Germans. Things are not entirely going great for them. Some dropped points in the league has probably handed Bayern the title, but Leipzig are still in a race to guarantee a spot in the Champions League for next season. They gave some rest to some key players, including Timo Werner, in their previous match against Wolfsburg, so they should come into the second leg with a near-full strength team. Werner is obviously the danger man in this team, with his goal in North London being the only difference between the two sides, but Christopher Nkunku will also be seen as a difference-making player in this Leipzig team. Nominated for the Bundesliga’s Rookie of the Month award this month, the Frenchman has dazzled this season with his turn of pace, ability on the ball, and knack to find a key pass. The Spurs defense, which has improved but is still not great under Mourinho, will have to work to limit his ability to pick a pass and find the forwards. Leipzig do not feel pressured to score, as Spurs need to score twice to overhaul the Germans’ away goals advantage, but come on, this is Leipzig we are talking about. The Red Bulls always play an attacking style, so they could be fancied to score in this match. Nagelsmann will just have to find a balance between looking for a second goal and preserving a lead, as he does not want control of this tie to run away from him.

Oh no, Spurs. Oh no, indeed. One point from their last nine available, as well as a bad FA Cup defeat to Norwich on penalties, is one thing entirely, but on top of all of that, January signing Steven Bergwijn is likely out for the season with a serious ankle injury. For those keeping score at home, that is now five of Spurs’ seven leading scorers either injured or, in Christian Eriksen’s case, no longer with the team. Not an ideal situation to be in when you are going into a Champions League second leg where you must score at least two goals to move on. Well, Dele Alli and Lucas Moura, the pressure is on you. Spurs have found some form of defensive solidity with the move to use Eric Dier as a center back, but they are still far from a defensively solid team. Burnley’s near dominance, especially in the first half, highlighted the many issues with this Spurs team outside of their injured goalscorers. Not even mentioned among their issues at the beginning of this paragraph, but Jose Mourinho’s very public dispute with midfielder Tanguy Ndombele is not going to help out his team in this situation. Spurs will travel to the former East Germany as strong underdogs. Mourinho will have to tap into whatever European magic Mauricio Pochettino found in this team in order to have any hope of moving on. Their likely strategy will be a defensive and counter attacking set up, deploying the five-at-the-back formation they used against Burnley and relying on the pace of Lucas on the counter. Spurs have a mountain to climb here, and it is possible, given the relatively poor form of their opposition, that they can overcome this trial, but it is not likely.

Prediction: I think it is safe to say that neither of these teams will be favorites to lift the trophy come May, but Leipzig are definitely the better team on paper of the two. While I do admit that football is definitely not played on paper, and Spurs do have a chance here, I think this will not be a massive challenge for Nagelsmann’s team. Leipzig move on, Spurs’ season is over.

RB Leipzig 2-0 Tottenham

Valencia vs. Atalanta

Speaking of longshots, hola Valencia…

I mean, they lost the first leg 4-1. Yes, they got the away goal, but this is quite the mountain for los Ches to climb. Overall, their recent league form has been inconsistent following a strong 2-2 draw with Atletico Madrid. A thumping at the hands of Real Sociedad was paired with a too-close-for-comfort win over a struggling Betis team and a draw to also struggling Alaves. Injuries have ravaged Albert Celades’ team, with them now being without forward Maxi Gomez until April. He joins center back Ezequiel Garay on the injury list, but, in good news for Celades, he will have Cristiano Piccini and Manu Vallejo both fit and available for selection. This still does not solve the biggest issue at the heart of the Valencia team, which is that they give up too many good chances to their opposition. While it is entirely possible that Valencia score one, maybe even two, goals in this match, it is hard to imagine them being able to keep Atalanta from scoring. They can take some comfort knowing they have a strong record at home in European competition, but this will not be a normal home match. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Spanish and UEFA authorities have ordered this match to be played behind closed doors. Valencia will not be able to be boosted by what was likely to be a red-hot, hostile atmosphere at the Estadio Mestalla. Seemingly everything has been working against Valencia going into this game. If they are to move on, they will have to put out a historic performance. In a pretty famous previous Champions League tie between an Italian and Spanish team, it was the Italian team, Roma, who overcame a 4-1 first leg defeat to move on to the next round on away goals against the Spanish team, Barcelona. The roles will have to be reversed here.

Atalanta are also being affected by the Coronavirus outbreak, as the Bergamasque side has not played since the beginning of the month. In that game, however, they scored seven goals, so it is fair to say that, on the field at least, they are in tip-top shape. It might be safe to assume that the virus has taken a toll on the team, however. Being located in Lombardy, the center of the virus epidemic in Italy, the government restrictions have probably affected the day-to-day activities of the club, players, and staff. It is not business as usual for Atalanta. Obviously, there are more important things than football, and this virus has had a massive impact on Italy and on the lives of millions around the world, but, for this specific blog, it is a fair assumption to make. Going into this game, Gian Piero Gasperini knows he has some breathing room, knowing Valencia must score three times and keep a clean sheet in order to move on, but, with the suspension of Serie A, he has no reason to not name a first-choice team. Rafael Toloi is the only injury concern in the team, but the Brazilian will probably be able to feature for la Dea in some manner. Star forward Duvan Zapata, who was on the bench for the first leg, should start the second leg after scoring a hat trick in the aforementioned seven-goal demolition of Lecce. Like Nagelsmann in the Leipzig-Spurs game, there is some sense of Gasperini needing to balance going for more goals with defending his lead, but with the sheer potency of this Atalanta team, it is very hard to believe that they will not score at least one more goal.

Prediction: It would be an incredible story for Valencia to move on, but I just do not see it. There have been several very famous Remontadas in previous Champions League history, but there is too much going against Valencia for this game to add another famous comeback. Valencia should score, but so should Atalanta. The Italians will move on easily.

Valencia 1-3 Atalanta

Wednesday 3/11

Liverpool vs. Atletico Madrid

*Insert cheesy tagline about European nights at Anfield here*

Yes, Liverpool have lost a few games. I do not think anyone saw their loss to Watford coming, and, while we all know the disdain Jürgen Klopp holds for England’s cup competitions, it was still surprising the degree with which they lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup. Their win against Bournemouth, paired with the knowledge that their league title quest is almost complete, will do much to restore the Reds’ confidence, as will the reassurance of knowing that they will be playing at Anfield, where they have been comfortable regardless of the challenge they face, but this is not a guarantee. Atleti got under their skin in the first leg, and they will have to devise a way to get around the proverbial parked Colchonero bus that will be in front of them. Klopp will likely be relieved by the return of captain Jordan Henderson, who missed the last four games with an injury he picked up in the first leg of this tie. The Englishman has quietly become one of the best midfielders in the Premier League this season, and he is crucial for how that Liverpool midfield operates. With goalkeeper Alisson Becker still sidelined due to injury, they will have to rely on Adrian once again between the posts. The Spaniard has had some issues in previous games, and he may not face that many attacks from Atleti this game, but Liverpool need him to be secure when he faces challenge. Another Atleti goal could make this lead almost insurmountable, given the Spaniards’ defensive reputation.

I do not think Atleti anticipated being in this situation going into the second leg. Their win against Liverpool in the first leg was fairly improbable, and outside observers would think that big victory would help Atleti kick on in the league, right? Well…that is not quite the case. Following that win, they did add another big win in the league, a 3-1 triumph over top four rival Villarreal, but followed that up with two disappointing draws to Espanyol and Sevilla. Those two matches were microcosms of Atleti’s season, with their defense not always being good enough when the attack finds the goals, as their attack is not always good enough when the defense gives them the chance to win the game. The Liverpool game is different, though, and their league struggles may not be fully reflective of their ability to leave Anfield with a result. The basis of Atletico’s style, the very essence of what makes Cholismo what it is, is the idea that Atleti are the underdogs that must resist the attacks of a larger force. Atleti’s struggles under Diego Simeone, historically, have come from times when they were forced to play a more expansive style against a “smaller” team, while their best performances came when they embraced Cholismo playing against a “bigger” team. On top of this, Atleti, especially when they embrace that underdog mentality, become the anti-Liverpool. Liverpool were unable to create many clear cut chances in Madrid because Atleti robbed them of their most threatening aspect, the ability to press and win the ball high up the pitch, leading to uneven attacks where the pace and dynamism of their front three causes mayhem. Atleti scored a very early goal and demanded the Liverpool team get around a deep lying block. Knowing they have this early lead, Atleti will likely see what they can get early on in the game, but spend most of the game playing on the defensive and aiming to frustrate Liverpool. It has worked previously, and it can work again. If they concede, however, then they run the risk of losing control quickly.

Prediction: There is no guarantee here for Liverpool. This will be a very tough match for them. While Atleti have their own issues, they have shown their ability to formulate and execute the perfect gameplan to shut down a team like Liverpool. They have also gotten healthier since the first leg. This is a very intriguing match up in many ways, but weird things tend to happen at Anfield. The bounces tend to go Liverpool’s way. Call it witchcraft, luck, or “European nights at Anfield”, I think this is going to go Liverpool’s way.

Liverpool 2-0 Atletico Madrid

PSG vs. Borussia Dortmund

The battle of the European wunderkinds. Will PSG be able to cast aside their European skeletons in the closet, or will they suffer another humiliation on the continental stage?

PSG have safely won the league, there is no real reason to doubt that. Their goal was always the Champions League, however, and they are in a very difficult situation. The Parisians were incredibly disappointing in the first leg, with Neymar being the only player who really covered himself in any glory. They will not be benefitted by the amount of goals they have conceded recently. A total of 11 goals conceded in five matches against Lyon (twice), Nantes, Amiens, and Bordeaux is not exactly the form your defense needs to be in going into an important European match against a team with a very good attack. The availability of Thiago Silva is also a massive doubt. While it is possible he is fit enough to feature, they could likely have to rely on Abdou Diallo or youngster Tanguy Kouassi for this match. They will also be without Marco Verratti and Thomas Meunier, who miss out due to suspension. With off-pitch disputes between Thomas Tuchel and Kylian Mbappe, as well as questions about Tuchel’s future in Paris, also circulating through the media, this seems to have the makings of another Parisian European meltdown. Where this situation is different, however, is the form of their attack. Unlike their loss to Manchester United last season, their entire attack, including Neymar, is fit and able to take part. They are beginning to iron out some issues in their 4-2-4, and they are beginning to get the most out of both Mbappe and Neymar in the formation. The introduction of Pablo Sarabia into the team has also made a massive impact and provided more balance to a team that was often too attacking and exposed at the back. Dortmund’s defense, while improved, is not exactly stacked with talent, so PSG should fancy their chances to score, given the amount of firepower they have going forward. Disappointingly, as Valencia are not able to lean on the support from their home crowd, PSG will also be without the backing of a home crowd at the Parc des Princes, as the match has been ordered to be played behind closed doors due to the Coronavirus outbreak. While PSG have had some notable disappointments in Europe, they have also had some major successes, and the basis of some of those successful European nights was a hostile atmosphere at home. Atmosphere does make a difference, and playing this match behind closed doors, while probably necessary, is a disadvantage for PSG. They will have to hope for a worse performance from the Dortmund defense, especially from ex-PSG center back Dan-Axel Zagadou, and to outscore the Dortmund team.

The beginning of this paragraph will be the only mention I give to Erling Haland in the Dortmund section of this preview. Yes, he has been incredible, but that has been covered and has not been the driving story of BVB’s last few matches. Jadon Sancho, however, has been the omnipresent force that has driven Dortmund forward in the last month or so. He has probably been involved in a goal in every game in the last month, and the Englishman is undoubtedly enjoying his best season as a professional footballer, going into a summer where he will be the most wanted man in Europe. But that is for later, and right now, Sancho will be the key man for Dortmund if they want to move on to the quarterfinals. The story that Sancho is now covering up, having been the story covered up by Haland, is that now, the Dortmund defense may not be completely terrible. Having been a mess of errors earlier in the season, Dortmund have kept clean sheets in three of their last five matches. Their defense did enough in the first leg to keep out a potent Parisian attack, with ex-PSG man Zagadou being the star in that match and ever since. The towering center back has hardly put a foot wrong in Dortmund’s last few matches, and he could be playing himself into a Euros or Olympics appearance in the summer. He will be looked upon again to lead a defense in what is probably Dortmund’s most important match of the season. It is safe to assume that both teams will score, but Dortmund have to limit the damage that PSG can cause if they hope to move on.

Prediction: It is very hard to tell how this match will go. Going into this tie, I think we all had flashbacks of the Manchester City-Monaco tie a few years ago, and while the first leg was not the goalfest we all expected, it is clear both of these teams are still potent. There will be goals in this match, but it will come down to which defense I trust more. While Kouassi has been very impressive for PSG this season, I am blown away by Zagadou and the Dortmund defense as of late. They will not be perfect, but they will be enough to send the Germans into the quarterfinals and break Parisian hearts once again.

PSG 2-2 Borussia Dortmund