In the space of three years, Kevin de Bruyne swapped London for Manchester, via Germany. Brought to Chelsea under André Villas-Boas, it was Jose Mourinho who deemed him not good enough to play in the Premier League after a loan spell at Werder Bremen which was soon followed by a permanent move to Wolfsburg.

Not for the first time the Portuguese manager has been proved wrong (Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata) as in 2015, Manchester City shelled out £55 million for De Bruyne, which has seen him go from strength to strength to make him one of the world’s most complete midfielders. Oh how Mourinho could do with him at their neighbours, Manchester United.

But why has De Bruyne made an instant impact in a Manchester City in comparison to summer signing Paul Pogba, who returned to Manchester United in a record breaking deal.

Signing for Chelsea at the tender age of 20, De Bruyne featured just nine games for the London club in his career. But with a combined 107 games in Germany for Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg, the dynamic midfielder scored 30 and assisted 53.

Establishing his game at Wolfsburg under the tutelage of Dieter Hecking, De Bruyne made a name for himself which saw equal the Bundesliga record for the most assists in one season, 20 – which was previous held by Zvjezdan Misimovic in 2009.

Considering Manchester United already had Pogba on their books – albeit as a 16-year-old – to pay so much to bring him back is quite staggering. Granted, he wanted first team football and to be paid a respected wage – of which he wasn’t – which saw him move on to Juventus, whom he helped to four Serie A titles in a row.

Under the watchful eye of Antonio Conte, Pogba slowly improved in a midfield which included Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal. In the end, the now France international knew that he had to improve on his discipline and work his way up to the top – something that he did so under new coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Once Pirlo and Vidal left the club, it was Pogba’s role be the driving force of Juventus – so much so that he was given the famous number 10 jersey, once donned by Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini.

The £89m that Ed Woodward & Co. forked out to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford, is almost double that Manchester City paid to bring in Wolfsburg midfielder De Bruyne to the Etihad. Instead, should the Red Devils should have secured a deal to sign De Bruyne from Wolfsburg when the opportunity arose?

During his time at Chelsea, Mourinho once labelled De Bruyne as “an upset kid” after he moaned about not getting a move away from the London club.

Despite his earlier (than planned) exit from Chelsea under Mourinho, the Belgium international has no hard feelings towards his old manager. Although, he did tell FourFourTwo that he needed to move on if he was to progress his career, as he did.

“I’ve no idea and I don’t care [why I never won over Mourinho]. I waited four months, then I said to myself that wanted to play football every week,” he told FourFourTwo.

“I couldn’t get the game time I wanted, so leaving was the obvious choice. I wanted to start a new chapter – not be loaned out and come back to the exact same situation. It was a really smart move on my part. But of all the choices I have made in my career, I don’t regret one of them – even going to Chelsea. It didn’t work out. I wanted to play football; I didn’t; so I left.”

There’s clearly no bitterness between the two, but if De Bruyne hadn’t departed Chelsea, would he be half the player he is today? Many suggest that the Belgian wouldn’t even be named in the same bracket as Pogba.

But, just who got the better deal? Both are modern day examples of what clubs want in a complete midfielder; athletic, technical, intelligent and decisive. Both can score goals and assist others, but why doesn’t De Bruyne get the praise he duly deserves?

To put into context the transfer fees involved, the £55m that Manchester City forked out on De Bruyne was three times that of which Chelsea sold him to Wolfsburg for in January 2014 – his performances for Pep Guardiola this season makes the fee paid for him make sense, unlike Pogba’s – which has seen him slowly start to gel with his new teammates at Old Trafford.

At Wolfsburg, he became such a key ingredient that the team was built around him. He was in Germany, where he was wanted and where he had a team built round him. Now, at Manchester City, De Bruyne is starting to excel, whilst the rivalry with Pogba will certainly be one to keep an eye on.

Now that both De Bruyne and Pogba are back plying their trade in the Premier League, they’re always going to be comparisons drawn. Manchester United vs Manchester City, Jose Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola, Paul Pogba vs Kevin de Bruyne.

The debate over who got the better deal will be a never ending one, but at the minute, it’s definitely the £55m that Manchester City paid for De Bruyne.

About the author – Daniel Pinder

Daniel is a Yorkshire based sports journalist that specialises in German football. Having fallen in love with the country during the 2006 World Cup thanks to the trio of Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger, he has visited the country six times in the past two seasons to watch Cologne. Daniel has also had work published on FourFourTwo, Deutsche Welle, Goal and Gazetta Worlds, whilst he aims to bring news and analysis from Germany to an English audience.

Twitter: @DanielJPinder


Share this article:


By this point, the 2016-17 season is ramping up into full gear. Title races are beginning to formulate across Europe, while it is becoming evident which clubs are going to struggle to stay afloat in their respective divisions.

There have been spectacular goals, thrilling matches and wonderful skills; underdog success stories, bitter rivalries and managerial mastery.

But amid all the excitement, several top-level players have seen their careers stall, almost becoming forgotten about. Some previously heralded talents are now struggling to make matchday squads, let alone earn valuable game minutes.

Morgan Schneiderlin

Morgan Schneiderlin joined Manchester United from Southampton last summer in a £25 million move. The switch to Old Trafford was meant to be the Frenchman’s shot at the big time; it was supposed to signal his arrival among the elite.

But, instead, the 26-year-old former Saint has struggled to make any discernible impact in Manchester and rarely even enters the conversation over who should start for the Red Devils on a weekly basis.

Schneiderlin was signed by Louis van Gaal to sure up United’s midfield last season. Having impressed with Southampton on their rise from League One to the Premier League, becoming a full France international in the process, the former Strasbourg player was expected to add a degree of physicality and drive to the 20-time champions’.

He made a total of 29 Premier League appearances in his maiden Old Trafford campaign, but failed to truly influence games in the way he had at St. Mary’s Stadium.

This term, under José Mourinho, the 15-cap Les Bleus player has made just one league appearance – as a late substitute in the opening day win over Bournemouth – and frequently misses out on making the 18-man matchday squad.

If Schneiderlin has any hope of resurrecting his flagging United career, he needs to take full advantage of the few minutes he is afforded by stamping his authority on games as he is capable of. If not, a move away from Manchester could soon be on the cards.


Real Madrid midfielder Isco has found regular first-team football hard to come by since Zinedine Zidane took over at the Bernabéu in January.

The 2012 Goldon Boy award winner has found it hard to displace the impeccable pairing of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the Madrid midfield, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are understandably preferred in the wide attacking roles.

But just as talk of a possible January transfer away from the Spanish capital began to pick up speed – Tottenham Hotspur were thought to be readying a £30 million bid – Isco completed his first full 90 minutes since April in Los Blancos’ 6-1 victory over Real Betis.

The gifted midfielder scored twice and generally performed to the level of his early Real Madrid career, forcing Zidane to once again consider the former Malaga man as a genuine regular.

With Modric injured, Isco started again last weekend as Madrid edged out Athletic Club 2-1 at the Bernabéu. His seventh-minute assist for Karim Benzema to open the scoring means that the 24-year-old has now set up more goals that any Madrid player since 2013.

Isco’s lack of playing time had seen him miss out of Spain’s Euro 2016 squad, but with the player apparently recovering form, La Roja coach Julen Lopetegui will be counting on him for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Yaya Toure

Yaya Toure is arguably one of the greatest and most important players in Manchester City’s history. Signed from Barcelona in 2010, he was the driving force behind their 2011-12 Premier League title win. Two years later, he scored 20 league goals to wrap up another championship success for the Citizens.

But since that phenomenal campaign, in which he was crowned the club’s player of the year, Toure’s influence has steadily faded.

Since Pep Guardiola took the reins at the Etihad this summer, the Ivory Coast midfielder has not played a single minute of Premier League football.

The 33-year-old’s only appearance this term came in the Champions League qualifier defeat of Steaua Bucharest.

The former Monaco star was linked with a summer move to Internazionale, but no such switch materialised. After a fallout with Guardiola over criticism of the coach from the player’s agent, there appears no way back for Toure at City, and a January transfer may be the only solution to get his career up and running again.

Cesc Fabregas

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas has only started one Premier League game this season under new manager Antonio Conte.

Fabregas moved to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2014, signing from Barcelona in a €33 million deal. The former Arsenal man was a key figure in José Mourinho’s title winning side that season, scoring three goals and registering an impressive tally of 18 assists in 34 appearances.

He was unable to replicate this kind of form last season, though, as Chelsea failed to mount a serious defence of their Premier League crown.

Conte’s recent switch to a 3-4-3 formation has seen the Italian coach opt for the more physically imposing and tactically disciplined pairing of N’Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic in central midfield, with Fabregas on the sidelines.

At 29, Fabregas still has plenty of miles left on his clock at the highest level. But with no natural position within Chelsea’s new system, a move away from Stamford Bridge may be required.

In what would be the surprise switch of the January transfer window, Manchester City are reportedly eying a £20 million move for Fabregas, with Pep Guardiola keen to reunite with the midfielder he signed for Barcelona in 2011.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


The Manchester derby is always a big occasion, especially since Manchester City were elevated to the level of regular Premier League contenders when Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan – better known as Sheikh Mansour – took over the club in 2008, investing heavily in the first-team squad and club’s infrastructure.

And the battle for Mancunian supremacy between Manchester United and City has provided no shortage of drama in recent years: there was Michael Owens late winner in United’s 4-3 victory in 2009, Wayne Rooney’s stunning bicycle kick to seal a 2-1 win for the Red Devils in 2011, City’s famous 6-1 triumph at Old Trafford later that year, and Marcus Rashford’s strike to grab three points at the Etihad for United last season.

But the upcoming clash between the two sides, at Old Trafford on Saturday (10 September), is the most eagerly anticipated Manchester derby ever.

The intrigue in this match lies in several different narratives. There’s the resumption of José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola’s heated rivalry, the cast of recently purchased stars set to make their derby debut, the fact that the two clubs have made an undefeated start to the season and are the current bookmakers’ favourites to lift the Premier League title in May.

The Mourinho-Guardiola dynamic will dominate most of the pre-match coverage, as two of the world’s finest and most successful coaches pick up where they left off with their mutual disdain.

The bitterness between the two festered during their time on opposite sides of La Liga’s Clásico divide, with Mourinho in charge of Real Madrid and Guardiola at Barcelona, but the seeds of their rivalry can be traced back slightly further.

By the time Mourinho arrived in Madrid in 2010, Guardiola had already spent two years transforming Barça into the best and most attractive side in Europe. But the previous season, the Portuguese had gotten one over on the Blaugrana by knocking them out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage with Internazionale.

Mourinho’s Inter utilised hyper-negative tactics to frustrate Barça’s pass masters, while the manager set about engaging in press-conference and touchline posturing to rile his opposite number.

And when Mourinho arrived in Madrid, he recognised that his side were inferior to Guardiola’s in footballing terms, so he again turned to the dark arts to gain any possible advantage; the media baiting and touchline antics recommenced.

Initially it was Guardiola who came out of top though, as his Barça thumped Mourinho’s Madrid 5-1 in their first Clásico as opposite numbers, with the Catalans claiming that season’s league title as well as the Champions League.

But as time wore on, the bitterness took a visible toll on Guardiola, and the following season, after Madrid romped to the title with a record points and goals haul, he left his position as Barça coach.

The eyes of the world will be watching to see how the two men interact on Saturday, and which of these two brilliant tacticians will outwit the other on the pitch.

Predicted line-upsderby-xi-article

There will also be plenty of interest to see which of the two clubs’ major signings will prove their worth. Zlatan Ibrahimović will be motivated to avenge the defeat he suffered to City in the Champions League with Paris Saint Germain last season, and there will be no more fitting stage upon which Paul Pogba could justify his world record £89 million fee will a stellar performance in midfield.

City new boy Ñolito has impressed since his £16 million move from Celta de Vigo, and he’ll be hoping to make a decisive contribution at Old Trafford. Both sides each signed a 22-year-old centre-back at great expense this summer too; John Stones and Eric Bailly will both want to continue their strong early-season form.

Tactically, this match stands to be a fascinating duel between Guardiola’s free-flowing, positionally fluid, possession-based ideology and Mourinho’s tactically disciplined and physically-imposing counter-attacking style.

Guardiola has introduced his complexed philosophy to great effect so far this season, lining up his side in a 4-3-3 which morphs into a 2-3-5 in possession. The full-backs have been moving into the central midfield zone, with Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva – who both act as central midfielders when City are out of possession – moving into high attacking midfield areas when their team has the ball, and the rejuvenated Raheem Sterling and Ñolito pulling wide while Fernandinho holds the fort.

But City will be without star striker Sergio Agüero on Saturday, after the Argentinian was hit with a retrospective three-match ban for an elbow on West Ham United defender Winston Reid two weeks ago; will Guardiola make the like-for-like change of playing Kelechi Iheanacho as his centre-forward, or will he take the opportunity to use Sterling as false-nine and bring in Fernando to sure up the midfield?

Mourinho’s United set-up is simpler but no less effective. Their 4-2-3-1 formation offers adequate cover of the back four, with a double-pivot of Marouane Fellaini in the more disciplined role, and Pogba afforded a little more freedom to push forward, while enabling a cast of potential match-winners — in the shape of Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Ibrahimović — to occupy the attacking zones. Without the ball, the Red Devils fall back into a basic 4-4-1-1 shape, from which they can either employ a low-, medium-, or high-block press dependent on the opposition.

One change Mourinho may be keen to make, would be to swap Mata for a more dynamic option on the right wing. Mata has performed well so far this season, but if Guardiola intends to push his full-backs into midfield when they have the ball, a direct approach with pace out wide could exploit the space in behind City’s left- and right-backs in the transitional phase.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have been the ideal candidate to fulfill this role, but an injury picked up while on international duty with Armenia means the £26 million signing from Borussia Dortmund faces a race against time to be fit for the derby. Jesse Lingard or Rashford could come in instead. If Mourinho does view this area as a potential weakness of City’s, he may want to consider partnering Pogba with Ander Herrera. The Spaniard does not have the defensive acumen of Morgan Schneiderlin or even Fellaini – so in that respect it would be somewhat of a risk to play him – but his speed of thought and execution would be more conducive to springing counter-attacks than any other United midfielder. Although, Michael Carrick could offer a healthy balance between defensive cover and vertical passing ability.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


The Manchester City squad inherited by Pep Guardiola this season is a squad of the highest calibre. With several experienced stars within its ranks, many are citing the Blues as the favourites for the Premier League crown in the upcoming 2016/17 Premier League campaign.

But with experience comes ageing players and City are notorious for having one of the oldest squads in the topflight of English football. An average age of 28 admittedly has its pros and cons; first team experience comes at the cost of older players who have shorter remaining career spans.

At Guardiola’s previous two clubs, he left behind a legacy – a youth orientated philosophy. When he departed Barcelona back in 2012, his first-team squad had an average age of just 23.9, compared to 24.9 when he took charge at the Camp Nou.

That change was a result of the Spanish coach completing a mass overhaul of the existing squad. He sold multiple high profile names, including Thierry Henry (32), Zambrotta (31), Edmilson (31), Deco (30), Ronaldinho (28), instead opting to more regularly utilise the likes of Pedro (19) and Lionel Messi (20).

He also promoted Sergio Busquets (19) from Barça’s youth side and purchased Dani Alves (25), as well as re-signing Gerard Pique (21) from Manchester United.

All of the young players Guardiola either promoted or recruited remained at Barcelona for several years, with several still plying their trade for the Catalan giants.

Meanwhile the Bayern Munich outfit that he left last season had an average age of 26.8.

Longevity appears to be an intrinsic aspect of Guardiola’s DNA and the initial signs of that are already being demonstrated at Manchester City after just a month in charge.

During his unveiling at the Etihad Campus earlier this month, Guardiola declared that his players ‘have to show me and the fans again. That is the past, people don’t come here to see what we did.’ Reputation alone does not guarantee a player space in Guardiola’s frame if they do not have the right attitude or ability.

The past means nothing and the future means everything.

Since he uttered those words to the delight of the club’s supporters, City have been touted with moves for some of the world’s finest young talent. Having already snapped up Ukraine international Oleksandr Zinchenko (19), the Citizens are believed to be close to signing Real Sociedad goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli (24), Everton centre back John Stones (22), Schalke ace Leroy Sane (20), Brazilian wonderkid Gabriel Jesus (19) and Colombian forward Marlos Moreno (19).

As well as scouting young talents on a global scale, Guardiola has already been impressed with some of the existing youngsters from the club’s Elite Development Squad during the current pre-season tour.

Fullbacks Angelino and Pablo Maffeo, centre back Tosin Adarabioyo and midfielder Aleix Garcia have all inspired confidence and appear ready for some potential first-team action this term.

These enthusiastic youngsters bode well for the future in the blue half of Manchester; blending them into the first team could also provide healthy competition for their more experienced counterparts.

Guardiola will not be afraid to incorporate youth into his line-ups, as has been demonstrated by his spells in Barcelona and Bavaria. This comes in direct contrast to Manuel Pellegrini’s unwilling stubbornness to nurture the young produce available at his disposal, even in times when the Chilean manager complained about the lack of time to recovery between fixtures.

Kelechi Iheanacho impressed far more than Wilfried Bony and yet was still behind the Ivory Coast striker until very late on last season. If Guardiola had been at the helm, he would most certainly have been given the chance to impress much sooner.

The aforementioned healthily competitive nature of the squad under Pep means that City supporters should finally see one of Pellegrini’s aims achieved: to acquire two top quality options in each position.



City will have incredible depth next season

But whereas Pellegrini appeared keen to solely buy existing brilliance for instant success, Pep will bring the addition of prudishly promoting rising stars.

Whether Joe Hart retains his number 1 jersey, is reduced to second choice or is sold, there is no doubting that he is a top quality keeper. However, mistakes riddled his outing at Euro 2016 and his poor distribution has reportedly cast doubt in the mind of Guardiola – a coach famed for goalkeepers who can play with the ball at their feet.

Young stopper Angus Gunn was the hero in City’s pre-season penalty shootout win over Borussia Dortmund and he is keen to stick around at the Etihad in order to prove himself between the posts.

However, at 20 years of age, Guardiola may instead opt to acquire an experienced keeper such as Claudio Bravo to use as his first choice, while Rulli is expected to return on-loan to Sociedad for the season.

Aleksander Kolarov could be sold, leaving Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta, the latter of which appears set to stay following links with Roma. All three of these fullbacks are versatile and able to play on either side of the defence, whilst Angelino and Maffeo are excellent young options for rotation purposes.


The future looks bright for Manchester City

In between said fullbacks, the future of captain Vincent Kompany hands precariously by a thread – a thread which is still probably somewhat stronger than the Belgian’s calves. Injury issues across the past few years could make the 30-year-old a casualty under Guardiola’s ruthlessly stringent procedures.

Although it may seem ludicrous to suggest, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi could form a formidable pairing under Guardiola’s guidance. Both are comfortable in possession and are capable of passing the ball through the lines with pinpoint accuracy, a vital element in Pep’s philosophy. Youngsters Jason Denayer and Tosin Adarabioyo fit the mould too and will be eagerly anticipating their opportunity.

Existing midfield options include Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan, Fernando, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Samir Nasri, all of whom are comfortable in possession and able to dictate football matches to some degree.

The success of wide players Raheem Sterling, Nolito and Jesus Navas – as well as possibly Leroy Sane – will be pivotal to City’s success, or lack of it.

Up front, Wilfried Bony is available for sale, with Sergio Aguero a dead cert in leading the line as the Blues’ talisman and Iheanacho ready in reserve.

Some fans are disappointed that a marquee name such as Toni Kroos, Paul Pogba or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not been obtained.

But I have a genuine belief that this season, City’s squad as a whole will be greater than the sum of its individual components. It certainly has the capacity to form the foundations for years to come.

About the author – Jordan-Luke McDonald

Jordan-Luke is a footballer writer who was a finalist at the National Football Blogging Awards 2015 in two categories. He has contributed towards Manchester Evening News, CaughtOffside and TheseFootyTimes to name but a few.

twitter: @TheSilvaLining


Share this article:


Manchester City have had the lure of playing Champions League football, competing on multiple fronts and providing high wages for several years now. But with the additional attraction of working under Pep Guardiola next season, many world class names have been linked with a potential move to the Etihad Stadium this summer.

Having already acquired a couple of household names in Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito, the Blues are looking to bolster their armoury to fully support their new manager’s ambitious campaign next term.

As is the case with most of the high profile European outfits, City have been continuously linked with a plethora of top quality players over the last few months.

It would be ludicrous, however, if they were to sign even half of those names on a long list of potential targets which has been accredited to them by the media. One of those heavily tipped to make the move to Manchester was Aymeric Laporte. The 22-year-old, currently plying his trade at Athletic Bilbao, is perceived to be one of the best young defenders across the globe, and had attracted the attentions of Guardiola due to his ball-playing qualities. However, the Frenchman recently signed a contract extension, tying him to the Basque club until 2020.

Another long-term French target who now appears to be more of a long-shot is Paul Pogba. The Juventus powerhouse will be upset at having fallen at the final hurdle of the European Championship final on home turf. But it is believed that he is set to leave the disappointment behind and move on from his time in Turin, although media reports indicate that the 23-year-old could be set for a return to City’s rivals Manchester United for a world-record transfer fee.

Yet City are seemingly being more prudent with their purchases, at least so far this summer. Gundogan and Nolito cost just 19.7 million and 13.8 million respectively – respectable fees considering the experience and quality of both players, not to mention their compatibility in Pep’s system and the attention of several other top sides, including Guardiola’s former club Barcelona.

However, there is no point in being frugal if its only point is just to prove a point. If doing so means that you miss out on your top targets, then it probably isn’t worth it. Of course, City are now in a position where they do not have to be held to ransom to acquire their targets and they should not pay over the odds, as is shown through their previous, and now lack of, interest in Pogba. Another example of such an episode is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

With Borussia Dortmund having already lost Gundogan to City and captain Mats Hummels to rivals Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga side were not prepared to sell the Gabon international for a small sum. Instead, their demands reportedly reached 65 million, which City were not prepared to pay.

One player who would be a huge addition to Guardiola’s ranks, however, is Toni Kroos. Sold against Guardiola’s wishes at Bayern Munich, Kroos would be the perfect midfield signing for the Etihad outfit. City fans will be familiar with the German’s quality as he has played against their team five times, producing some sensational performances in the process.

Kroos speaks Pep’s language; not German, but rather his ‘footballing language’. Kroos understands the ideology inside the Spanish coach’s head and he would be able to assist the City stars during the period of transition by translating it onto the training field.

Why? Because in his first days in Bavaria at Bayern Munich’s Sabener Strasse training camp, Guardiola worked meticulously with the 26-year-old in order to alter his body position when receiving the ball, ensuring he was able to comprehend and complete the next pass in one fluid movement.

Another name which has been bandied around the Etihad Campus as a possible new recruit for Guardiola’s revolution is John Stones. Signing him appears to make a whole lot of sense and it would be the perfect signing for all parties involved. Pep would be perfect for Stones and Stones perfect for Pep; Stones would be able to work under a coach renowned for improving players, especially young ones, whilst Guardiola would attain a young, ball-playing central defender whose mind set is still particularly mouldable. Everton would receive a sizeable fee, whilst in City’s interests, the England international would contribute towards the much-discussed home-grown quota.

Last season, Manuel Pellegrini faltered throughout the season due to numerous injuries to key players. However, his Premier League squad was not at the maximum capacity; in fact, the only players classified as home-grown  were Joe Hart, Gael Clichy, Fabian Delph and Richard Wright, with Raheem Sterling counting as an under-21 player last season. With Wright retiring and Delph’s future hanging precariously in the balance, the Blues could be left with just three home-grown stars, meaning their domestic squad would be restricted to just 20 players – even lower than last season’s total of 21.

Therefore, City desperately need to incorporate some home-grown talent to bolster their squad size to the permitted limit. Ultimately, the aim is for the newly constructed state-of-the-art academy facilities to produce fine talent for the first team, but the most promising youngsters will still fall into the under-21 bracket for the upcoming campaign.

“You go for English players and they ask you for £20 million more than a Spanish player or German player or Italian player,” Pep stated last weekend, highlighted in the reported 45 million fee for Stones. “You have to deal with it to try and find what you need.”

What is it that City ‘need’ then? Quality young talents who are hungry, ambitious and have the raw potential necessary to grow. If there is no desire to learn, then Guardiola cannot teach them effectively.

And despite the talk of quotas and restricted squads, Guardiola is ‘looking forward’ to working with English players.

“I love working with young players” he also declared and there is a reason why; in addition to their longevity in terms of the remainder of their careers, they are more likely to be adaptable. Evidenced by the likes of Kingsley Coman and Joshua Kimmich in Munich and Sergio Busquets and Pedro in Barcelona, Guardiola takes pride in nurturing the newest crop of young talent wherever he goes.

He even took Thiago with him from Barcelona to Bayern and the central midfielder is another who would be a huge coup if they could capture his signature. The 25-year-old has followed Guardiola wherever he has gone and another transfer in his manager’s footsteps has been mooted by the English press.

In a similar vein to German compatriots Gundogan and Kroos, Thiago is a midfielder who is comfortable on the ball and capable of dictating the play from deep, with a hint of superlative Spanish technical ability, but whether there is genuine interest from the Etihad officials is yet to be seen.

However, one star who is expected to make the move to Manchester is Leroy Sane. As with Gundogan, Guardiola will know all about the Schalke winger from his time in the Bundesliga. A move worth in the region of 40 million is believed to be close to completion and the German international would afford City depth in wide areas.

Wingers are a vital component of Guardiola’s teams, providing pace, width and pressing. Securing both Sane and Nolito would be a signal of intent and would strengthen the City squad in more ways than one. Last season, Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas were the only two out-and-out wide men. Having signed two additional definitive wingers, the Blues will have strength in depth on the touchlines, but it would also enable them to utilise all of David Silva, Samir Nasri and Kevin De Bruyne in their preferred central roles, instead of being forced to shift them further across the pitch.

Fullbacks are the other wide area on the pitch and they too require improvement. With all of City’s current fullbacks the wrong side of 30 in a position that demands stamina and pace, Guardiola will be looking to inject fresh young legs into the fold. The pairing of Ricardo Rodriguez and Bruno Peres of Wolfsburg and Torino respectively have been mentioned regularly over the last few weeks. The former, a set-piece specialist, is 23-years-old and appears to be the natural replacement for Aleksander Kolarov, whilst Bruno Peres is expected to supplant the outgoing Pablo Zabaleta.

The final defensive position in question is the goalkeeper. It is well-known that Guardiola prefers goalkeepers who are capable of ‘playing with their feet’. Joe Hart has cemented his position as the Citizens’ man between the goalposts for some time now, yet it appears Guardiola is prepared to rip up the concrete foundations and lay his own, with Marc-André ter Stegen of Barcelona recently cited as his preferred option.

The 24-year-old would provide direct competition to Hart, in contrast to the likes of Costel Pantilimon and Willy Caballero of recent times, which could potentially benefit both players as they vie for the number 1 jersey.

About the author – Jordan-Luke McDonald

Jordan-Luke is a footballer writer who was a finalist at the National Football Blogging Awards 2015 in two categories. He has contributed towards Manchester Evening News, CaughtOffside and TheseFootyTimes to name but a few.

twitter: @TheSilvaLining


Share this article:


To varying degrees, each of the clubs from last season’s Premier League top four have experienced a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Champions Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have all fallen short of pre-season expectations, which means we can expect change this summer. Managerial changes have already been confirmed for Chelsea and City, with the appointments of Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola respectively. And many fans of Arsenal and United are hoping for a similar overhaul at their own clubs.

With the influx of cash generated by the new Premier League TV deal, coupled with the scorn of this season’s underachievement, we can also expect major surgery to each club’s playing staff, with no expense spared.

Champions Chelsea have fallen furthest, recovering from early season relegation form – which saw José Mourinho given his walking papers in December – just enough to clamber up to mid-table under veteran Dutch coach Guus Hiddink. Billionaire owner Roman Abramovic will not be taking his club’s failure to qualify for European competition lightly, and will likely arm his incoming Italian coach with a hefty budget to overhaul the squad.

Despite the change of manager, the Blues are being linked with a pair of familiar faces in Everton duo John Stones and Romelu Lukaku. England defender Stones was subject of Chelsea’s affection last summer under Mourinho, with Everton rejecting their £40m bid. It now seems that, despite the absence of Mourinho, Stones is still very much a wanted man at Stamford Bridge. And Lukaku, of course, will be no stranger to Chelsea fans as he previously played for the club following a £16.5m move from Anderlecht as a teenager in 2011. The big Belgian never got a fair chance in the Chelsea first-team and was shipped out on loan before being sold to Everton for £28m two seasons ago. If widespread reports are to be believed, the hard-nosed Conte wants to give Lukaku another shot, and is willing to pay £60m to do so.

With a striker and a centre-back identified as targets, that would give the impression that Diego Costa and out-of-contract captain John Terry may be surplus to requirements. Both players have plenty still to offer but with Costa’s ability to attract controversy and Terry’s advancing years, Conte may feel that the time is right to refresh things.

It is also thought that Conte will want midfield re-enforcements, and that he’ll look to the familiar surroundings of Serie A for answers. Roma pair Radja Nainggolan and Miralem Pjanic are believed to be high on his wish list.

Manchester City were runners-up, and many people’s tip to regain the Premier League trophy following a £130m investment in squad improvements. But, despite a one-year contract extension for manager Manuel Pellegrini, the former Malaga boss appeared a lame duck amid speculation that Pep Guardiola was to usurp his position next season — speculation that has since been confirmed.

City’s squad is not in an obvious state of disrepair. And aside from central defence, where almost £70m has been spent on Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi in the last two seasons, with little return – City’s is a squad that would require only a minor tweaking to get them firing again.

But Guardiola will want to shape City in his image. Despite an abundance of athletic, technically proficient midfielders, Guardiola will want to fill the centre of the park with master-passers, capable of executing his brand of attacking artistry.

For that, it seems he has earmarked Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gündogan. The 25-year-old German playmaker possesses the requisite skill on the ball and passing acumen to bring Guardiola’s City vision to life.

In addition to Gündogan, Guardiola is also likely to want a ball-playing centre-back, and a midfield pivot in the mould of his former Barcelona charge Sergio Busquets. It is believed that a tug-of-war for John Stones may ensue between City and Chelsea, although City are also known admirers of Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte, and retain their interest despite the young Frenchman breaking his ankle on international duty recently.

With Busquets not for sale, and Guardiola claiming he will not raid the Bayern team he is leaving behind, the search for an ideal pivot may prove tricky. Another Dortmund player, 20-year-old Julian Weigl, would be an ideal fit with the way he has conducted the BVB orchestra from deep this season. But Weigl is relatively inexperienced, this being his first season of top-flight football, and Dortmund will be reticent to sanction the sale of a second key midfielder in one summer.

In terms of league position, it looks like Arsenal will finish exactly where they were least season: fourth. But this season will be remembered as a huge opportunity missed for the Gunners. With the rest of the top four tripping over their shoelaces for most of the campaign, this was Arsenal’s big chance to step up and claim their first title in 12 years. But alas, despite sitting top in January, the Premier League trophy seems beyond their grasp as we approach the final stages of the season.

Planning ahead in the transfer market is key to success on Soccer Manager.

So where can Arsenal improve in order to make a real challenge next season? They finally sorted the goalkeeper position last summer by recruiting Petr Cech from Chelsea, but Wenger’s failure to sign a single outfield player until Mohamed Elneny came in in January, has cost Arsenal dearly.

They need a striker capable of 30 goals. Olivier Giroud is a solid centre-forward, and will always score his fair share, but his is not the sort of world-class option Arsenal can pin their hopes on. They were strongly linked with moves for Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín last summer, both of which, at the time, seemed fanciful. But following a season of off-field controversy, maybe Real Madrid would be more willing to listen to offers for their French striker this time around. And Higuaín has had a phenomenal season with Napoli, netting 30 Serie A goals, but after three seasons in Naples, maybe the Argentinian would be open to change this summer.

Arsenal also need a reliable centre-back to partner Laurent Koscielny. Per Mertesacker, though vastly experienced, can be exposed by strikers with pace, and Gabriel Paulista is a decent back-up option. Perhaps someone along the lines of Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk would represent a good option. Having had a year to acclimatise to the Premier League, the former Celtic player could add an assuredness to the Arsenal backline.

Manchester United currently sit fifth in the table, having finished fourth last season. The top four is not beyond their reach, but those already occupying the Champions League-qualifying spaces look reluctant to budge.

Whether Dutch manager Louis van Gaal is allowed to see out the final year of his contract, or whether the myriad rumours are to be believed and José Mourinho will be in charge next season, remains to be seen. But either way, United could use some squad improvements.

Despite spending £250m on incomings over the past two years, United’s squad still has holes. Daley Blind has coped admirably as a make-shift centre-back, but the former Ajax player is much better suited to a left-back or midfield role. Like Chelsea and City, United are thought to be weighing up an offer for John Stones, with the idea being that he could form a lasting partnership for club and country with Chris Smalling.

One of United’s foremost priorities this summer will be to hold on to David de Gea. The Spanish goalkeeper has developed into arguably the world’s best in his position over the last three years, and the Red Devils will have to fend off interest from Real Madrid.

A player strongly linked with a move to Old Trafford, with many European press outlets claiming a deal is already in place, is Benfica’s Renato Sanches. The 18-year-old box-to-box midfielder broke into the first-team at the Estádio da Luz earlier this season and has been a fixture ever since. Though still very raw – his short passing game needs refinement – the young Portuguese possesses the kind of energy and drive that has been lacking from United’s midfield for several years.

Whether or not United feel the need to sign a striker this summer depends how much they are willing to rely on 18-year-old Marcus Rashford next season. Rashford has been outstanding since bursting onto the scene in United’s Europa League triumph over Midtjylland in February, but it may be wise to bring in an experienced head to take some of the pressure off the still-developing Englishman. Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be the perfect solution. The 34-year-old Swede is out of contract at the end of the season and has already hinted that his future may lie in the Premier League. The main caveat being that the PSG striker does not see eye-to-eye with van Gaal, so a switch to Old Trafford would likely have to be preceded by Mourinho being appointed manager.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona strip with ‘Romario 10’ printed in the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.  Ryan’s musing on European football can be found here  www.theeurofootballblog.wordpress.com and you can find him on twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB.


Share this article:


Thiago Alcântara fidgets uncomfortably in his chair.

It’s late March 2015 and there’s a camera in the young man’s face. It’s been a long time since Thiago played football, which means it’s been a long time since he last spoke to a lens; the unfamiliar experience of the interview is probably slightly uncomfortable for him. When he was playing regularly – well over a year ago now – encounters like this were second nature.

He’s agonisingly close to a return. The thought causes his composure to crack and a characteristic grin darts across his face for a split-second.

Physically, Thiago is changed from the man who signed for Bayern Munich in 2013. The midfielder now has an ugly scar painted on this inside of his leg for his troubles, and he’ll probably never be as agile as he was before the injury.

But it’s on an emotional level that Thiago has been impacted most; so much so that he’s organised for a documentary to be put together using video clips of his long & arduous recovery.

That’s what he’s shooting for now, sat relaxedly in a chair against a red backdrop with a camera in his face. At a prompt, he begins to speak in his native Spanish.

“Since my birth, everything was football, football, football,” he says. “I wanted to live my life, and that was football.”

“What I want is to be the best at what I set my mind to.”

At 24, he’s not far off.

Fast forward to now and Thiago is back – sort of.

The short documentary he filmed in March – which can be viewed on Thiago’s official facebook page – is a montage of clips of the player undergoing grueling physio sessions whilst a tone-setting Florence & The Machine track warbles on in the background. It might seem a little cheesy; it might seem a little clichéd. It was a film made to showcase Thiago’s emotional strength and willpower, and it does the intended job well.

But behind all the editing and the emotive music, the film leaves you with an overwhelming sense that this is a young man on the rise.

Just as difficulty shapes us as human beings, adversary defines football players. At the age of 24, Thiago Alcântara has faced more battles than most professional athletes do in their entire careers. It may prove to be his greatest strength.

Thiago suffered damage to the ligaments in his knee in March of 2014. What was initially meant to be a six-month recovery spiralled out of control and several serious setbacks meant that he didn’t return to action until April of the following year. It was a long and painful lay-off: he missed Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga title win. More significantly, he missed the World Cup with Spain, of which he almost certainly would have played a part. At the time of writing, he’s injured again; though this time, he’s ensured his fans, he’s unlikely to miss more than a few weeks.

Bayern manager Pep Guardiola will be hoping his crowning jewel is not struck with any more setbacks.

Even in a team stuffed to bursting with world-class players there is a sense that Thiago is the premium midfielder amongst the Bayern Munich squad. No one is a better age – Arturo Vidal is nearing his thirties, Gianluca Gaudino & Joshua Kimmich are still in the infancy of their careers – and had he not missed an entire year with injury Thiago would surely now be at the peak of his powers.

Despite the layoff, maybe he still is.

What we saw from the young Spaniard in his brief return was staggering. He is of the rare breed of player who can effortlessly control the sway of a game, dancing around the pitch like the conductor of some great orchestra. The score goes where Thiago says, the tempo of the music ebbing and flowing with each sweep of his magical right foot. He sees things other players simply can’t, passes that hardly seem to exist; then executes said passes with a nonchalant swagger. In his brief injury-free stretch this season we have witnessed the young midfielder take myriad teams apart with ease – including Arsenal, which he did with aplomb. It’s staggering to think that he’s been out for so long. It’s numbing to think that there could be more to come.

It was at the Under-21 European Championships in 2013 that Thiago truly announced his obvious intentions to steal Europe’s midfield crown. He was blindingly good; directing Spain’s swift and elegant attacks as they took apart everyone they faced. The captains armband seemed to glow around his bicep. He was the best player in the best team.

He was, in every sense, the ultimate Barcelona midfielder.

Why Barcelona failed to see that keeping Thiago Alcântara was akin to buying the best young midfielder in Europe may remain a mystery to all but those involved in letting him go.

Tito Vilanova’s reluctance to hand the Spaniard enough starts in his final season at the club – meaning that his release clause fell from $90million to $25million – cost Barça their most precocious midfield talent and the natural successor to Xavi Hernandez.

To be fair to Barça, they are doing okay without Thiago.

The fact remains, though, that he would still improve their first eleven. The idea that this Barcelona side could be improved at all might seem difficult to comprehend right now (as they systematically tear apart every defence unfortunate enough to stray into their path), but if there is one player who could take their midfield up a level it would probably be Thiago. Is he better than Sergi Roberto or his brother Rafinha? Without a doubt. Is he better than Ivan Rakitic or Arda Turan? Probably, yeah.

Thiago is a perfect blend of the two players that best represented what Pep Guardiola cultivated at the club. If you could take the mind of Xavi Hernandez, the feet of Andres Iniesta and build the perfect footballer, I think the outcome would look a lot like him.

It’s easy to see, then, why Guardiola moved quickest in securing Thiago when he hit the market in the summer of 2013. The player got to return to the man who had guided him from the depths of Barça’s La Masia academy to the first team; whilst the manager got to work with the young, talented embodiment of his ideals. It was an ideal fit.

The master and protégé relationship between the pair extends far beyond the football pitch, too. They share an agent; Pep’s brother Pere.

Pep Guardiola has won the Champions League twice. He’s won the league in Spain on three occasions and in Germany on two. He’s built the best Barcelona side – arguably the best football side – to ever grace the planet. And yet, there’s this odd idea that won’t go away: that Thiago Alcântara might be his best achievement yet.

It’s an odd concept that seems to pale in comparison to the honours that Guardiola’s teams have won, I admit. But what could possibly be more romantic as a coach than instilling in a player the entirety of your ideals? To watch an embodiment of everything you have advocated in football stride around the pitch, playing the game with your mind? To guide that player from obscurity to world-class? Little, I imagine.

There is a sense of destiny about Pep Guardiola & Thiago Alcântara. Everything has fallen into place for these two maestros, past and present, to shape the future of football together.

Of course, there are rumours of Guardiola moving on from Bayern in the very near future, and it’s highly unlikely the German side will make the same mistake as Barça and let their precocious midfield talent leave with their manager. The pair could go their separate ways very soon.

But the fact remains that for the rest of his career Thiago will fly Pep Guardiola’s flag. With every cushioned pass, every twitch of his head he writes the ode of Pep’s legacy. Guardiola has built the best team in the world; there is every chance that we will soon be able to say that he has built the best midfielder, too.

If, of course, Thiago can stay fit.

The fact that his knee injury is a recurring problem is worrying. The history books are littered with young players whose limitless potential was dampened by fitness issues that they never shook off. The idea that Thiago may never be able to ditch the injuries is a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.

There is hope yet, though. What Thiago’s slightly ego-heavy documentary shows is that this is a young man with a network of loving people behind him; his wife, his mother and his father Mazinho all feature, as does his talented brother Rafinha, still at Barça.

More than that, though, the film demonstrates that Thiago is a man who is not content to simply fail.

“What I want is to be the best at what I set my mind to,” he says. At the moment, his mind is quite clearly set on being the best midfielder in Europe. Right now he probably isn’t. By the end of the year – by the end of the rapidly approaching European Championship’s in France – he may well be.

And so we come full circle.

It’s been easy to forget Thiago Alcântara over the past year. His injury has meant focus has shifted to players like Paul Pogba, Mateo Kovacic & Marco Veratti – perhaps fairly, as they are all supremely talented players in their own right.

But I think Thiago is better.

With time, guidance from Guardiola and a starring role in Spain’s rapidly evolving midfield he has all the tools to make this season the best of his career. When he returns to action in December it’s crucial he picks up where he left off, because the likes of Veratti & Pogba need to be reeled in. But he can do it.

What he wants is to be the best, and he will be.

About the author – Tom Curren

Writer & freelancer. Author & editor of scoutedfootball.com, a website dedicated to comprehensively profiling those whom the mainstream football media might miss.

twitter: @twcurren


Share this article:


A quarter of the way through the 2015/16 Bundesliga season, the destination of the title already looks to have been decided. Bayern Munich’s 1-0 victory over Werder Bremen on Saturday afternoon was their ninth in nine top-flight encounters – another Bundesliga record set by the Bavarians – with Pep Guardiola’s outfit already seven points clear of closest challengers Borussia Dortmund. The team that has won the last three German championships by margins of 10, 19 and 25 points look to have wrapped up another crown in mid-October.

It is an incredible spell of dominance that does not look like ending any time soon. The Bundesliga, which remains one of Europe’s most competitive divisions from second place downwards, has become monopolised by Bayern, whose combination of status and financial might dwarfs all of their domestic rivals.

The gap between the league leaders and Dortmund was showcased in the pair’s meeting before the international break: Bayern ran out 5-1 winners at the Allianz Arena, simply proving too strong for Thomas Tuchel’s charges, who themselves had begun the campaign extremely well.

Bayern took the lead in the 26th minute through Thomas Muller, who soon added a second from the penalty spot. BVB threatened a comeback with an immediate response from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Bayern found another gear after the break, a brace from Robert Lewandowski and strike from Mario Gotze sealing an emphatic triumph.

It was a similar story in the weekend’s clash with Werder, even if the narrow scoreline suggested a closely-fought encounter. Muller’s winning goal was the 29th Guardiola’s men have scored this term; with just five conceded, Bayern have an extraordinary goal difference of 25 after nine matches.

There is a debate to be had about whether Bayern’s imperiousness is a positive or negative thing for the Bundesliga. The 25-time German champions’ strength has allowed them to assemble a squad of truly world-class talent – from

between the sticks, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm and David Alaba in the backline, Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcantara and Arturo Vidal in midfield, Arjen Robben on the flanks and Lewandowski and Muller up top – that can compete with anything the rest of Europe has to offer.

Sport, though, is about competition; as German football writer Raphael Honigstein noted recently, the sheer brilliance of many of the side’s performances may attract overseas interest in the league, but the lack of a genuine title race at the top is likely to eventually lead to those viewers switching off. While Bayern’s quality will always make them worth watching, many consumers are likely to prefer watching games involving the likes of Barcelona or Manchester City if the points at stake are likely to be pivotal to their chances of finishing the season top of the pile.

The issue could accelerate calls for a European superleague involving the continent’s biggest clubs, something that many believe is bound to happen at some point in the coming decades. If Bayern – and, indeed, the rest of the Bundesliga – no longer believe the current arrangement is working for them, it is not too difficult to foresee a situation whereby they push for more regular games against other elite outfits.

For now, the Champions League probably sates that desire; if Bayern continue to dominate German football for years to come, however, a breaking point may not be too far away.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


Share this article:


Identity is underrated in football, but style is revered. However, style comes directly from the identity of a team, which can come in two forms – formation and player type. Over the years so many successful teams have had a strong identity coupled with a unique style of play, stemming from a good relationship between the formation and players used within it. In short, think of Barcelona from 2009-2011.

Identity is the nitty-gritty aspects of the game. Drills, formation training, the thinking behind how quickly opponents should be shut down, who to mark at set pieces – zonal or man mark? The basics that come with identity allow for style – the tricks and flicks.

That Barcelona team had a formation that was implemented and perfected over a number of years under Rijkaard and to a more prominent extent, Guardiola. Guardiola in particular was especially good at identifying the correct style of player to use in his formation. A simple square peg, square hole philosophy. Over time, Barcelona grew an identity that was desired by clubs worldwide; their high pressing, quick passing, through the lines football was quite simply breathtaking. No club side has come close to emulating the Catalans so far.

In South America, we’ll include Mexico for now, international teams are steeped in tradition. Managers will come and go on a regular basis, but formation and player type will almost always remain. Chile and Mexico are prime examples of sides who have used the same formations for a number of years and as such have claimed success in recent times. Using the 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 systems, each team built on their impressive World Cup appearances with silverware over the summer.

Chile have been particularly impressive and under Marcelo Bielsa disciple Jorge Sampaoli have really pushed on in the last two years, culminating in Copa America success this summer. Their style is derived from a formation that concentrates on utilising the players to the best of their ability. Although they rely heavily on Sanchez, Vidal and Vargas as a collective they are a force to be reckoned with and their defeat of Australia in the World Cup demonstrated how Chile can turn on the style at the drop of a hat. Their high pressure game draws similarities with Barcelona, but the style is wholly different as their ball retention is a slower and a lot less methodical. It can be argued that with their 2-0 victory over Brazil in the opening stages of CONMEBOL qualifying that Chile are now the strongest force in South America, in a formation and philosophy they have implemented over a number of years.

Mexico have also been under long-term guidance but this has changed in very recent times, since Miguel Herrera was removed from the hot seat after punching a reporter post their Gold Cup win. El Tri were desperately unlucky to lose to a resurgent Netherlands in the last 16 of the World Cup, but their electric style won them many fans. However, after Herrera’s dismissal Mexico have struggled for form, mainly due to a change in formation. Ricardo Ferretti is current caretaker boss and his orthodox 4-4-2 style is not suited to his squad, as a result Mexico suffered a humiliating draw with Trinidad and Tobago. With a crucial play off against the USA for the final Conferations Cup spot just around the corner it is almost certain that they will revert back to their traditional 5-3-2.

In Europe, things are starting to change. Long term philosophy was not necessarily the key for a number of sides, rather trying to fit players into formations that they were not suited to. However, Wales have taken the first steps to implementing a long-term identity by changing their formation to suit a squad, that outside of Bale and Ramsey, is really quite limited. Their adaptation of the 3-5-2 has come with a ‘hint of World Cup 2014′, as their use of wing-backs echoes the playing styles of Mexico, Chile and the Netherlands in the tournament. As such, their defensive record has improved massively, as two goals conceded in seven goals certainly suggests. Players such as Jazz Richard (full-back), Joe Ledley and of course Gareth Bale have particularly impressed over Wales’ outstanding qualifying campaign.

The Netherlands, have gone in a completely opposite direction. The team that impressed so greatly in the World Cup has been dismantled and reverted back to a 4-3-3 that simply no longer suits them or the player pool available to Danny Blind. It is noticeable that Blind is well out of his depth at this level.

Success almost always comes from long-term processes that are put in place, continuity between formations and playing style is wholly undervalued. Smaller teams are starting to adapt to long-term strategies and are achieving success, thus closing the gap in world football. Until big teams adapt this strategy, there will continue to be upsets.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks


Share this article:


Sunday’s German Klassiker—or German Clasico if you want to follow the silly trend of the German media to use the Spanish term—between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund has dominated the football media in Germany this week. In fact, you could almost forget that both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund had other important European games this weekend.

Bayern Munich played Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday in what would be the continuation of Robert Lewandowski’s goal scoring show as he scored three goals in Munich’s 5-0 win over the Croatians—Lewandowski has now scored ten goals in 8 days (five against Wolfsburg, two against FSV Mainz, and three against Zagreb).

Lewandowski has been instrumental for Bayern’s recent run of good form, and the importance of the Polish striker was especially evident against VfL Wolfsburg and Mainz. Bayern’s first half against Wolfsburg was especially disappointing, and Wolfsburg could have easily been up by two points going into the break, Bayern coach Pep Guardiola added Lewandowski at half time after which Bayern quickly dismantled the Volkswagen club. Bayern’s first half against Mainz appeared equally lethargic, and it was not until Lewandowski’s goal in the 51st minute that Bayern woke up, and quickly tallied up another two goals for a final score 3-0.

Meanwhile in Dortmund the recent euphoria has been dampened as Borussia dropped points against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Darmstadt 98 in the last two games. Borussia’s results in fact have meant that many journalists in Germany already fear that Bayern could once again dominate the league, and easily win the title. Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung for example already declared Sunday’s encounter as the final for the German championship as a Bayern victory would see the Bavarians seven points ahead of Borussia.

It seems premature to declare the eighth round of the Bundesliga as the decisive round in the race for the German championship, and with 26 games remaining after this Sunday’s Klassiker, a Bayern victory would indeed not herald the traditional championship parade to Munich’s city hall.

Despite their first two slipups since Thomas Tuchel took over as a coach, Borussia will provide a strong challenge for Bayern at the Allianz Arena on Sunday—Tuchel now holds the starting record of any coach in Borussia history with five wins and two ties in the first seven matches. Furthermore, Dortmund easily dominated both games against Hoffenheim and Darmstadt, and under normal circumstances should have won either match easily.

Also Borussia Dortmund have their own goal scoring sensation in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Before the season kicked off Aubameyang promised that he would score 20 goals this season, he currently sits second in the goal scoring chart behind Lewandowski (ten goals) with nine goals in eight matches—his current pace means that he will easily surpass his promise of 20 goals.

Despite Aubameyang’s goal scoring progress, and Thomas Tuchel’s start record, the mood appeared sober in Dortmund. Hummels openly criticized the fact that Dortmund’s play was not clever enough to defeat Darmstadt on Sunday. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote that while both Dortmund and Bayern appear on the same level, Bayern still has that cleverness ahead of Borussia. Had Bayern been in the same situation as Dortmund they would have played on to add a third goal and put the game to rest—the Sueddeutsche Zeitung argued.

Indeed the Sueddeutsche Zeitung has a point. Last season for example Bayern had a perfect record against teams from the lower end of the table. In fact it was that perfect record that secured the Bavarians the championship as Bayern had a poor record against the top four in the Bundesliga. In the six games against Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and Borussia Mönchengladbach last season Bayern only managed two wins, one tie, and lost three with a goal differential of 4:9—making them last in that mini-table, in what is a wonderful argument against Premier League fans who believe that the Bundesliga is not competitive. Furthermore, Bayern also lost last year’s DFB-Pokal (German Cup) semi-final to Borussia Dortmund.

With Bayern’s recent fantastic form, and Borussia Dortmund appearing once again as the closest challenger to Bayern’s hegemony Sunday’s Klassiker should be one of the best, and is certainly a must watch for football fans around the world.

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at Futbolgrad.com.

twitter: @homosovieticus


Share this article:


The Spanish government has done everything in its power to stop Catalan’s bid for independence. So far the government in Madrid has already threatened that an independent Catalonia would be excluded from both the EU, and the Euro. Some papers have even suggested that Catalonia’s regional leaders could be arrested if the regional party Catalanistas wins the election on September 27.

None of these threats have so far swayed voters in Catalonia, as recent polls still have the Catalanistas party in a narrow lead. Now, however, Madrid has decided to bring bigger guns to the battle against Catalan independence as the Royal Spanish Football Federation has released a statement that in the case of Catalonia’s independence, Catalan clubs would no longer be allowed to participate in the Primera División (La Liga). This would mean the end of the Clásico, and would most likely lead to the decline of one of the best-ranked club teams in the world.

Barça functionaries have in the past been extremely outspoken in favour of Catalonian independence. Barça icons like Carles Puyol, Xavi, and former coach Pep Guardiola have all been advocates of independence as well, and Guardiola’s recent participation in a pro-Catalonian independence march in Munich has provoked harsh criticism with the Madrid-based media.

Barça functionaries have countered this latest threat by the Spanish football federation with a suggestion to create a new Iberian Super League, which would include Portuguese teams as well, but UEFA has been strictly opposed to the creation of any super leagues in the past; for example UEFA has recently been opposed to the creation of a post-Soviet Unified League.

The matter of fact Catalonia’s exit from Spain would result in Barça’s exit from La Liga, and could potentially lead to further fragmentation of Spain, and as a result of Spanish football. This would be the first time a European football powerhouse would fragment since the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

In fact the fall of the Soviet Union could be an important historical benchmark for football functionaries in Spain. The fragmentation of the Soviet Vysshaia Liga began in 1990 when Georgian clubs decided that they would leave the competition, and while there was an initial honeymoon period in which Dinamo Tbilisi—which was briefly renamed to Iberia Tbilisi—according to the Georgian journalist Mamuka Kvaratskhelia when 100,000 people managed to cram themselves into the 74,354 capacity Boris Paichadze Stadium for Dinamo’s first home game in the independent Georgian Umaglesi Liga.

Today, however, most games are played in front of just a few thousand people because the Georgian Umaglesi Liga, in comparison to the Soviet Vysshaia Liga, provides neither the narrative nor the competitive edge to make the games a hot ticket for Georgians. The same can be said for other clubs in the region; in neighbouring Armenia for example Ararat Yerevan was considered one of the best-visited clubs in the Soviet Union. Much like Barcelona today big clubs from smaller Soviet Republics like Dinamo Tbilisi or Ararat Yerevan were even considered national symbols. Once independence was achieved, however, these clubs lost the cultural support they once received, and the lack of national competition in the newly created national leagues meant that games also lost their sporting value. As a result most of the best players ended up leaving the clubs to play in bigger leagues elsewhere.

The example of Ararat Yerevan, and Dinamo Tbilisi could be especially telling for those Barcelona fans that support Catalan independence, as the club would surely suffer immensely if it had to withdraw from La Liga. But Real Madrid fans should also be worried, as major clubs in Russia also suffered huge financial lose when their rivals exited the league. The fragmentation of the Soviet Vysshaia Liga therefore could serve as a big warning for football officials in Spain, as well as Barcelona that support Catalonia’s independence.

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at Futbolgrad.com.

twitter: @homosovieticus


Share this article: