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


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It may not be the most glamorous position on the field, with strikers and attacking midfielders often stealing the glory, but no good side is complete without a top-class goalkeeper.

Here are five of the best young emerging keepers in Europe…

Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan

When given his senior debut by Sinisa Mihajlovic last season, Gianluigi Donnarumma became the youngest goalkeeper in the history of Serie A at the age of 16 years and eight months.

Almost immediately, a new superstar of calcio was born. The teenage quickly established himself as the Rossoneri’s first choice between the posts, keeping the vastly experienced Christian Abbiati out of the team.

Standing at 6ft 5ins tall and blessed with remarkable reflexes for such a large young man, Donnarumma has all of the physical gifts to excel as a top-level goalkeeper.

But perhaps the now-17-year-old’s most valuable attribute is his temperament. Ever since making his Serie A bow back in October 2015, Donnarumma has carried himself with the poise and unawed demeanour of a seasoned veteran.

The Milan stopper, who wears the number 99 to reflect the year of his birth, demonstrated his value to the team in the closing stages of their season opener against Torino at the San Siro. Milan were hanging on to a slender 3-2 lead when the away side were awarded a penalty in stoppage time. It was the first time in his fledgling career that Donnarumma had faced a spot kick. But with the coolness of a much more experienced keeper, he made a superb diving save to deny Andrea Belotti and seal the three points for his team.

In just 41 appearances for Milan, Donnarumma has already kept 15 clean sheets. So far this season, he is averaging 2.91 saves per game and has a 100 percent success rate when coming to claim crosses.

This is the kind of form that led to him becoming the Azzurri’s youngster ever goalkeeper when making his debut in a friendly against France in August.

Alban Lafont – Toulouse

In France, 17-year-old Toulouse goalkeeper Alban Lafont has been earning rave reviews.

The teenager became the youngest keeper in Ligue 1 history when he made his first-team debut at the age of 16 years and 10 months last November. At 6ft 4ins, Lafont has all of the physical tools to thrive in his position despite his tender years, and has represented France at under-18 level.

Born in Burkina Faso, Lafont moved to France when he was nine. It wasn’t long before the young man’s athletic gifts were noticed and, after receiving a host of offers from clubs all over the country, he elected to join Toulouse’s youth academy.

With the team shipping goals and struggling at the bottom of the table, Lafont’s introduction to the first team coincided with Toulouse’s turnaround. His debut came in a 2-0 win over high flying Nice; it was Les Pitchouns’ first clean sheet of the campaign.

In the 14 games before his debut, Toulouse had conceded 29 goals; the subsequent 24 matches with Lafont between the sticks they allowed 27 goals. And this season he has been in equally superlative form, with his performance in the 2-0 win over champions PSG in September particularly impressive.

Former Lyon goalkeeper Gregory Coupet believes the key to Lafont’s success is his maturity: “He is a smart goalkeeper who reads the game well. It is possible to feel that. He brings a lot of confidence despite his young age.” It also helps that he is playing behind his good friend Issa Diop. The 19-year-old centre-back was a team-mate of Lafont’s at youth level and the pair have now both become key players for Toulouse.

Jordan Pickford – Sunderland

There are few reasons for optimism for Sunderland fans at the moment. Davis Moyes’s team are bottom of the Premier League having taken just two points from their first 10 games.

But the emergence of young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is providing a small ray of hope in these dark times for the Black Cats.

The 22-year-old England under 21-international has spent the last four years gathering first-team experience through a series of loan spells in the lower divisions.

Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End have all benefited from the burgeoning talent of Pickford in recent seasons.

The youngster made his Sunderland debut in December 2015 in an FA Cup defeat to Arsenal. When he made his maiden Premier League appearance against Tottenham Hotspur nine days later, it meant that he had appeared in all of the top four divisions in England by the age of 21.

An injury to regular first-choice keeper Vito Mannone handed Pickford the chance to impress at the Stadium of Light earlier this season. Although Sunderland continue to struggle, the number 13’s stock has risen.

Were it not for Pickford’s average of 3.38 saves per game and 100 percent claim success this season, Sunderland could be in an even worse position.

Joël Drommel – FC Twente

FC Twente’s 19-year-old goalkeeper Joël Drommel made his first-team debut against the mighty Ajax in a 2-2 draw December of last year.

The youngster, who is a product of Twente’s own youth academy, went on to make 15 appearances for the Dutch club last season.

This term, Drommel has been back-up to the more experienced Nick Marsman, but there is no rush for the talented stopper to be thrust into regular senior action as he only turns 20 this month.

Much like Donnarumma and Lafont, Drommel cuts an imposing figure for one so young, standing at 6ft 4ins. His decision-making ability and reliability when collecting crosses marks the youngster out as having a level of maturity beyond his years.

Though yet to appear for the Netherlands at under-21 level, the Bussum-born teenager was called up to the Jong Oranje squad last season.

Raúl Gudiño – FC Porto

Mexican goalkeeper Raúl Gudiño signed for FC Porto from Guadalajara in his homeland for $1.5 million in the summer of 2015, following a successful 10-month loan spell with the Dragões.

Gudiño is yet to make his first-team debut for Porto, but he does have Primeira Liga experience thanks to spending last season on loan with União da Madeira.

The 6ft 5ins 20-year-old is renowned for his lightning-quick reflexes and shot stopping ability.

Gudiño was named the CONCACAF Young Goalkeeper of the Year in 2013 for his performances with Mexico at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, and has appeared five times for EL Tricolor at under-23 level.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midland’s 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’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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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


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Last season was the seventh time in a row that the champions failed to successfully defend their title and it was 5000/1 shot Leicester City that became the sixth different winner of the premier league. Due to this the 2016/2017 Premier League season is arguably going to be the most exciting and debated about season ever. Here we look at the teams that have started well and their subsequent title chances:

Manchester City:

Maximum points after six games, plus 13 goal difference and off to a flyer in the Champions league. Terrifying statistics for the rest of the league and just what the blue half of Manchester wanted and were expecting after the appointment of Pep Guardiola as manager. His predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini, started in similar fashion and even won the Premier League in his first season in charge and City’s second in three years but two lacklustre attempts since then cost him his job and City needed someone to spark life into their team. Who better to do this than Guardiola and he has done just that, it took barely three minutes for a rejuvenated Raheem Sterling to be felled by Van Aanholt and Aguero to score the subsequent penalty. A nail biting finish in this game eventually saw City come out on top but the fashion in which they despatched Stoke, West Ham, Bournemouth and Swansea was like watching Barcelona do the same thing in La Liga. They never looked like losing the Manchester derby, a game that was widely tipped to be a title decider, and ultimately exposed the weaknesses in their rivals’ squad as much as displaying their own strengths. Guardiola seems to have found the right formula on the training ground and intelligent signings such as Nolito, Gundogan and Stones have added to an already top class squad. Players such as Sterling, Silva and Kolarov appear to be loving life under Pep and have regained their confidence and are almost like new signings in themselves!

Verdict: Strong favourites

Tottenham Hotspur:

The manner in which Spurs faded away from the title race and ultimately let bitter rivals Arsenal take second place last season was quite worrying and cast doubts over Pochettino’s ability to take Spurs to the top. Sir Alex Ferguson’s endorsement of Pochettino was glowing and he rated him as one of the best managers in Europe and a future title winner and their start to the current season suggests that this might be accurate. Unbeaten after six games and only three goals conceded points to Tottenham being strong contenders. Vincent Janssen has been brought in to provide much needed cover for Harry Kane and the squad as a whole seems settled and is full of young, fresh, hungry players learning their roles together. Their style of play has become synonymous with attacking full backs providing a threat from the wide areas and Kyle Walker is fast becoming one of the best attacking full backs in Europe. If Spurs and Pochettino can work out how to juggle Champions league football and the busy domestic season they look like one of the teams that can challenge City and if it doesn’t happen this year they are only going to get stronger.

Verdict: Perhaps too soon but strong contenders


No title since the ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/04 and a missed opportunity last season in coming second place are two major factors in the fans becoming restless with their team’s fortunes. The pressure is always on Arsene Wenger to succeed and has undoubtedly done so at Arsenal despite having to seemingly rebuild the team every three or four years. This club philosophy at Arsenal has seen them move to a new stadium and become one of the top teams in Europe but the fans demand titles and this season might be the time for Wenger and Arsenal. Contrary to previous seasons Arsenal have kept their key players and look like building up some real momentum with a team full of international talent. There was no shame in the defeat to Liverpool and the draw with champions Leicester seemed to be the final wakeup call that allowed Arsenal to find top gear this season. The fitness of key players such as Sanchez, Ozil and Cazorla is going to be important for their title chances but in Arsene Wenger they have the most experienced manager in this league and could that prove crucial?

Verdict: Always the bridesmaids but will inevitably be contenders


Jurgen Klopp was the perfect fit for Liverpool and has improved everything about them in the 12 months he’s had in charge. Impressive cup runs in the EFL cup and Europa league, resulting in two finals, ultimately provided quite the distraction from league performances last season and an eighth place finish has seen previous managers lose their jobs but the obvious positive reaction from the Anfield faithful and rejuvenated performances on the pitch were enough for Klopp to earn a full season in charge. He and Liverpool have faith and confidence to once again bring success to the red half of Merseyside and their opening performances have proved that this may be tenable. The pressing approach, of which Klopp is a huge advocate, is proving very successful for Liverpool. The flowing interplay and team defense mentality of Mane, Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana is a wonder to behold and with Henderson anchoring everything from deep it seems Liverpool have got the wind in their sails and if they cut out results such as the one against Burnley they could quite conceivably mount a serious title challenge this season.

Verdict: They continue to go from strength to strength, don’t count them out.

Manchester United:

A world record signing, one of the world’s greatest managers at the helm and the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic are just three of the reasons why United fans are more hopeful of their chances this season than the previous three since the retirement of club legend Sir Alex Ferguson after winning his thirteenth title in 2013. Jose Mourinho’s almost untouchable ‘aura of invincibility’ took a bit of a beating last season and he as well as some United players have got a point to prove. Mourinho has got a tough job finding the right players to work in the right systems for United this season after inheriting a somewhat disjointed team and this has been apparent already in the Manchester derby and defeat to Watford however an instant impact from Zlatan and glimpses of world class football in their other games leads us to believe it will not be long before we see United back near the top of the table. The manner in which they despatched champions Leicester was particularly impressive and this was with club captain Wayne Rooney watching from the bench, a typically headstrong decision from Mourinho but if it ultimately proves to be the right one he will once more be heralded a genius.

Verdict: Might just fall short of the ‘noisy neighbours’ again but will do everything to push them to the wire.


Last season was the worst defence of a premier league title ever and the reasons for this could be debated for weeks and still not be fully understood. The manager lost his professionalism, the star players never turned up and ultimately it will be a season that Chelsea want to forget. Antonio Conte is the latest high profile name in the hotseat of the Abramovich project, and nobody could deny that he has the credentials to be a success. A mixed start to the season began with fine victories against West Ham, Watford and Burnley, Hazard and Costa were back to their best and Chelsea were purring but subsequent losses to title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal might arguably have cost them the title already. It is still early in the season however and the quality in the Chelsea squad is abundant, they will not have European football to distract them and once they fully adapt to the new system Conte has installed they are more than capable of going on a title winning run of form.

Verdict: Might just be a season to return to normal after last term’s debacle but must be dark horses.

About the author – Liam Bailes

Liam has been a football fanatic since the early 1990s and continues to be delighted by the sport today. He follows the 5 big European leagues as well as the npower championship and major cup competitions both domestically and internationally. He is an FA level 2 coach and loves to be involved with football at every opportunity.


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On a hazy evening at Old Trafford in May 2003, Andriy Shevchenko took a deep breath. Facing Gianluigi Buffon, the Ukrainian icon was 12 yards away from securing AC Milan’s sixth European Cup, with the deciding penalty in a shootout against domestic rivals Juventus.

Sending Buffon the wrong way, he scored and sent the Rossoneri into raptures. It was the height of yet another powerful era on the red and black side of the San Siro, with Carlo Ancelotti, a key protagonist for both Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello in the late 1980s and early 90s, in charge, leading the likes of Shevchenko, Clarence Seedorf, Paolo Maldini and, a year or two later, Ricardo Kaka, to numerous successes.

In the very same month, and about 180 miles to the south of Manchester, West Ham United were in crisis. Despite having one of the Premier League’s more talented squads, packed with the likes of Freddie Kanoute, Jermain Defoe and Joe Cole, the East London side were relegated under the stewardship of Trevor Brooking, the club legend who stepped in after boss Glenn Roeder suffered a brain tumour.

There could hardly have been a greater contrast between the two clubs at that time, but football never stays the same and nothing is ever permanent. The fluctuations of the game make it so brilliantly unpredictable.

In this case, financial changes have made a huge impact. Now 13 years on, West Ham are in the hunt to take Milan’s top striker, Carlos Bacca, to the Olympic Stadium as the star attraction as the dawn on a new era rises, with a very good chance of sealing a deal for the Colombian.

While Milan have regressed for a number of years, under the faltering ownership of Silvio Berlusconi, this is just one example of a wider phenomenon sweeping the English game this summer. Some of the biggest clubs in Europe are now struggling to match the clout most Premier League sides.

When Xherdan Shaqiri left Milan’s city rivals Inter for the one-time epitome of football’s dark arts Stoke City last summer, it became the move with arguably the most media attention of the window. Eyebrows were raised, but with the way transfers are going, it looks like becoming standard practice nowadays.

Arguments and debate could continue forever, but with the lack of defined criteria, it is hard to know which league is the best in the world. Perhaps in terms of quality, the Premier League lags behind La Liga and possibly the Bundesliga, but from a business and marketing side, there really isn’t any competition.

Because the biggest stars in the world play for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, it once looked as though there would become a real gulf in the world of football. Impressive performances from the likes of Atletico Madrid and Leicester City show the impact of effort and teamwork, but more importantly, none of that trio top the list for financial income with sponsorships, meaning gaps are shrinking.

Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool will all earn more from shirt deals over the next few years, giving them an advantage even before the brand new television deal, which is also distorting the whole of football.

In 2015, French side St Etienne’s co-president Bernard Caizzo claimed that, unless UEFA acted, the Premier League would become the ‘NBA of football’; something La Liga chief Javier Tebas insisted must be avoided in the same year. Per Caizzo’s request, European football’s governing body are powerless to stop the Premier League’s growth, with the Financial Fair Play rules not being breached as clubs spend what they earn: The TV money, for the most part.

Throughout the league, teams are able to buy above their station quite easily and it wasn’t just Shaqiri last summer who surprised. Newcastle were able to persuade PSV Eindhoven’s Eredivisie winning captain Gini Wijnaldum to swap Champions League football for an ultimately unsuccessful relegation battle.

All the while, transfer fees continue to rise. Gone are the days of £20 million buying a world-class striker, or £10 million being enough for a potential future star.

Traditionally, Real Madrid are the world’s wealthiest buyers, breaking the world transfer record no fewer than five times in the 21st century. Even they were priced out of the race for Paul Pogba, who signed for Manchester United for a world-record £89 million deal.

Both on an off the pitch, the age of the underdog is rising. From Leicester’s title to Iceland and Wales’ impressive displays at Euro 2016, David is proving he can beat Goliath, but soon historically big clubs could be on the receiving end of rude awakenings from seemingly average sides on these shores.

Just thirteen years have past since Shevchenko’s penalty and West Ham’s demise, but now Milan look like losing their biggest asset to the Hammers. The most shocking thing of all is it is no longer a deal where the word ‘audacious’ is an applicable description.

About the author – Harry De Cosmo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo, Squawka and The Press Association.

twitter – @harrydecosemo


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Dele Alli signed with Tottenham Hotspur from MK Dons in January of this year, before going back on-loan to finish the season with the Milton Keynes club in an attempt to achieve promotion to the Championship – which, with the help of Alli, they did so.

Alli’s meteoric rise to top-flight football has been nothing short of mesmerising. A 19-year-old that has played majority of his professional career with League One side, MK Dons, to fitting in superbly well with a top Premier League side in this day and age, is unheard of.

In recent years, with Mousa Dembélé’s lack of form and Paulinho’s shoddy performances, Tottenham have been longing for a midfield presence that glides the surface from box-to-box. A powerful dominator that wins a challenge more often than not but can also add to the goal tally and help out his forwards. Dele Alli has risen to that challenge and is now being commended for doing so.

It is rare to see such a young player take the Premier League by storm, and with what Alli is already achieving, it’s not hard to see that his potential is sky high.

When compared with Steven Gerrard at the same age, the stats were compelling and in Alli’s favour. At the age of 19, 7 months and 15 days old, the youngster had played 17 times for Spurs, netting twice, two times for England U-21’s and four times for the England team, scoring an absolute wonder goal on his first International start. Comparing that with Gerrard, England’s former captain, the current LA Galaxy star played 33 times for Liverpool – scoring once – and three times for the England U-21’s at the same age. This suggests that Ali is on the right course for stardom if he can just follow in the same footsteps as Gerrard. Shouldn’t be too difficult, then.

Gary Neville, currently acting as assistant manager for England, is seemingly very impressed with the youngsters attitude and ability, especially in his starting debut against France, “There was a tackle in the lead-up to Dele Alli’s goal for England against France that ranks as one of my favourite moments as an England coach,”

‘There was a sense of pride watching someone perform like that, in his first game, against the likes of Matuidi, Schneiderlin and Pogba. You are thinking – what a performance that was by a young player.”

Not only was it an impressive goal by Alli, it was in the manner that it was taken – with complete control and vigour that you wouldn’t normally associate with a player that’s not only making his debut for England, but also just 19-years-old.

Neville was so impressed with Alli’s performance, he goes on to say that it’s been one of his highlights while with England as a coach, “This lad was playing League One football recently. Now he can handle himself against one of the best midfields in Europe. He can run, pass, tackle, head. And he’s tough. That performance against France was a highlight of my time with England.”

Tottenham have only lost one game from 14 in the Premier League this season and conceded 11 – the League’s second fewest – and with Ali’s presence sitting in that midfield – while also posing a threat going forward – you can see why. He presents himself in a manner that oozes confidence from within and will back himself no matter the opponent.

Alli cleverly sits just in-front of his back four and provides them with that all important cover, but when the opportunity arises itself, the England international will go on a surging run whistling past defenders trying to create something.

If you’d have said at the start of the season that Dele Alli could be in the England squad for the European Championships in France next year, you’d have been laughed at. However, with his consistent authoritative performances – none better to highlight this with his Man of the Match award against Arsenal in the North London Derby – you would think, if he can keep this level of performance, he has a prominent claim in being there. Alli may be the future of England, but why not incorporate him in a manner that also gets the best out of his youthfulness?

About the author – Liam Canning

Liam is a free-lance journalist who has featured on The Mirror, Telegraph, London Evening Standard, Independent, Squawka and FoutFourTwo.

twitter: @OffsideLiam


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With Barcelona dominating the club game and Spain bossing the international scene, the period between around 2008 and 2012 saw many teams across Europe attempt to replicate the pair’s proactive, possession-based style of play.

Stoke City under Tony Pulis were always an exception to that trend. Their football was invariably based on keeping things tight at the back, launching long balls forward to a targetman striker and making the most of attacking set-pieces. It was common for the defence to be made up of four centre-backs, while experiments with more technical players –Tuncay Sanli and Eidur Gudjohnsen to name but two – generally did not work out. The defining image of Pulis-era Stoke was probably Rory Delap drying the ball on a towel while preparing to unleash one of his wicked long throws into the penalty area.

It was not football for the purists, but there was something enjoyable about the variety that Stoke’s differing approach provided. When Mark Hughes took over from Pulis in 2013, the Potters began to play more expansively, their possession figures increasing and the emphasis shifting from the physical to the technical.

That transformation looked to have been completed this summer, when Barcelona’s Ibrahim Afellay and Moha El Ouriachi, Chelsea’s Marco van Ginkel and Inter’s Xherdan Shaqiri were added to a squad that already contained the likes of Bojan and Marko Arnautovic.

Curiously, though, a glance at Stoke’s results show that their season so far has been based on defensive solidity rather than attacking firepower. Only Manchester United (nine), Arsenal (11) and Tottenham Hotspur (11) have conceded fewer goals than Hughes’ men’s 12, with five clean sheets in 13 matches evidencing their terrific ability to keep the opposition out.

Stoke have lost just one of their last eight games to climb away from the relegation zone and into mid-table; even more impressively, they have recorded five defensive shut-outs in their last six outings, keeping out the various threats posed by Chelsea, Southampton, Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Swansea City. Such statistics were common in Pulis’ tenure, but it is interesting that they have continued this term despite Hughes encouraging and developing a more attack-minded philosophy in the last couple of years.

There is a fine blend and balance to the side at present, with the aforementioned flair players such as Bojan and Shaqiri part of a team that also features its fair share of strength and aggression in Ryan Shawcross, Erik Pieters and Glenn Whelan. Many believed the Potters had attempted to overhaul their squad too quickly in the summer, but it was sensible of Hughes and the club’s hierarchy to retain some of the men who are more associated with the ‘old Stoke’ as they attempt to create a new identity and way of doing things at the Britannia Stadium.

Ahead of Saturday’s clash with Sunderland – whose backline, conversely, has been breached on 26 occasions, more often than any other Premier League outfit but Bournemouth – Stoke find themselves in a positive position, with another top-half placing the likely target this campaign after a ninth-place finish last time out. They are likely to become more expansive as the season goes on but, for now, Hughes’ charges are showing many of the qualities – solidity, commitment, organisation – that were common under Pulis.

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


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Claudio Ranieri was appointed on the 13th July in replacement of Nigel Pearson as Leicester City head coach, in which many casted their doubts over whether the Italian was the right man for the job considering his catastrophic spell while in charge of Greece.

Labelled ‘The Tinkerman’ for his innate desire to rotate his squad to an extreme extent, Ranieri stated in August that colleagues of his have adopted similar stances, “The Tinkerman was one [man], now there are a lot of Tinkermen!”

A revolutionist? Perhaps not, but Ranieri is known for defying the odds of management, not always necessarily for the greatest of reasons.

When he took over from Fernando Santos at the helm of the Greece National team, there were high expectations for Claudio Ranieri – in which would see Greece qualify for the 2016 European Championships in France.

For some reason or another, things didn’t go accordingly and Greece in fact ended up bottom of Group F, which saw them also lose to the Faroe Islands. Twice.

Humiliating? That’s one word to describe the Italian’s treacherous tenure while in charge of Greece, but instead of sulking when out of work, Ranieri looked for his next challenge – which appeared in the form of Leicester City.

Ranieri quickly divided opinion when being appointed last July as the Foxes’s manager. “He’s the anti-Pearson,” stated Marcus Christenson of the Guardian. “Claudio Ranieri? Really?” tweeted life-long Leicester City fan, Gary Lineker. It’s evident that the appointment didn’t go down too well, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and there would be different words said now.

Five months into Claudio Ranieri’s stint and how’s he getting on? Currently sitting 3rd in the Premier League – yes, really – and playing possibly the most attractive football in the League. What Ranieri’s doing so well, that his successor in 2004 at Chelsea isn’t, is that the Italian is getting the utmost best out his players. Those being Jamie Vardy, who’s scored nine goals in his last nine games and on course to break Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 10 in 10 , Riyad Mahrez, the wonder-kid from Algeria, who has taken the Premier League by storm providing five assists and scoring eight times in 11 appearances.

The point has been put across that Claudio Ranieri has been fortunate with landing the Leicester City job. And in fact, his positive results are nothing more than Nigel Pearson’s hard work in surviving the drop the previous year. One manager in particular, Tony Pulis of West Bromwich Albion, suggested that people should not be deceived by the Italian’s results because he’s only picking up the pieces from Nigel Pearson.

When Pearson commented on the matter last week in the Sunday Times, he was reluctant to agree with the Albion manager. “I know I left the club in a very sound situation but it us up to the new manager to take that on and the signs are good.”

Precisely, the signs are good and Leicester City fans will be more than ecstatic with how Ranieri has his team playing under him. One negative – as we must always try to find one – is Leicester’s seeping defence that is leaking a large amount of goals.

Like Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson in his final season in charge, between the months of August and December, the goals flying past David De Gea and Andreas Lindegaard were astronomical. Luckily, the Scottish manager quickly fixed the problem and went on to win the Premier League, but it could have been their downfall if they weren’t alert to it. Ranieri will be hoping to emulate similar results.

No one is expecting the Foxes’ to amount a sustained title charge, not by any means, but is a top six finish really out of the question? Well, it shouldn’t be. With the flailing Chelsea, the European race is blown wide open with Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in contention to claim fourth and fifth. That leaves a Europa League sixth place open. Yes, Chelsea aren’t going to be this diabolical all season, and there have been signs of them playing in a more coherent manner, but, providing Leicester can keep the wind in their sails, they should be more than hopeful of finishing inside the top six.

Ranieri has deployed some excellent attacking football – and if they can steady their defence –everyone down at the King Power Stadium should be watching this season not only with anticipation, but also pure glee of the delightful show the Foxes’s are putting on. Jamie Vardy could make history in the coming weeks, but Leicester City could well perform the biggest turnaround football has ever seen – from moments away of being relegated to finishing in the top six and playing Europa League football. It would be sensational.

About the author – Liam Canning

Liam is a free-lance journalist who has featured on The Mirror, Telegraph, London Evening Standard, Independent, Squawka and FoutFourTwo.

twitter: @OffsideLiam


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The 31-year-old Serbia captain is entering the final six months of his contract, and with the form he is currently in, the new offer is unlikely to follow.

Contrasting opinions exist over the Chelsea’s distinctive transfer policy.

The Blues have opted not to discuss new contracts with players over 30 years of age, at least until February of the final year in their deals. What is more, the most experienced players in the squad can mainly hope for nothing more than one-year offer with an option for a further one if additional requirements have been met.

Branislav Ivanovic has been living in London and playing for Blues since 2008, and being a proper family man Bane, as he is called in Serbia, is not the kind of a person who is keen on changing his surroundings that often. Hence, all the Inter Milan rumours that have been circulating recently should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Serbian defender has become an established first-team member, gave his best for Chelsea through thick and thin, proving his worth and maintaining his place under seven different managers.

It took him some adapting to do under Avram Grant, since he arrived with a lack of fitness due to the fact that the Russian Premier League season ended a couple of months before his signing. However, once he got his feet back on the ground, Ivanovic was not to be removed from the starting berth.

Physically strong and dominant, the Chelsea vice-captain is characterized by his great areal ability. In addition, Ivanovic can be very useful as an extra presence for defending and attacking set pieces. Even though his natural position is centre back, Branislav Ivanovic has been mostly deployed as the right back, but his quick pace has made him a real threat in the attack as well.

During Chelsea’s triumphant run last season, Branislav Ivanovic had been one of the most prominent and outstanding performers throughout the campaign. Jose Mourinho praised his spirit on numerous occasions, publicly calling for the Chelsea management to wrap up the new contract for the Serbian defender.

His stats were impressive.

With the total of 38 league appearances and 4 goals on his tally in the entire season 2014/15, Ivanovic had created total of 36 chances for his teammates, had an average pass accuracy of 81%. Ivanovic won 56% of his duels and even had the 60% success rate with his tackles.

If we are to break down his numbers even further, Ivanovic’s stats for the first 12 games of the last season, the same number of games that have been played so far in the new campaign, are even more imposing.

Successful tackle rate of 69%, 62% of duels won and an average pass accuracy of 82% speak volumes of Ivanovic’s influence.

He bled for the team, literally in some occasions, and was publicly applauded for his relentless fighting spirit. And then, everything changed overnight, as Branislav Ivanovic became a shadow of his former self.

His numbers suffered a major dip and today they illustrate the size of his demise.

With 12 games gone, and eight of those which Branislav played before his injury, he had disappointing 38% successful tackles, 0% shot accuracy and 48% of duels won.

What numbers cannot show is that Chelsea vice-captain looks lost on the field. Without the appropriate support from the rest of the team and the fear factor gone, rivals are not afraid to take him on any more and, what is worse, he is unable to stop them.

Lack of pace, lack of speed and poor positioning have made him a laughing stock this season.

Far from steady and reliable, the 31-year-old defender has been dealt with a dramatic turn in form and was even forced to face the wrath of many who blamed him for the club’s poor results this season. Fans called for Jose Mourinho to drop Ivanovic and their wishes were granted when the Serbian captain picked up a hamstring injury while on international duty.

Ivanovic however did not turn out to be the main culprit for Chelsea’s disastrous form this term as it was witnessed in his absence. So, did Ivanovic deserve the heavy barrage of criticism?

Modern-day football has lost its charm in a certain way. Current financial tides have raised the bar drastically, you are expected to give all you’ve got, to give it right now and to keep giving it all the time. Chelsea’s ruthless transfer policy is there to prove it.

Failure is not an option, rough patches never forgiven – Branislav Ivanovic has become a fans’ scapegoat.

A quick line from the personal perspective I hope will give a different perspective to the story. The author of this article, yours truly, had the chance and honour of meeting Branislav Ivanovic on one occasion. A quick chat and a couple of minutes spent with the Serbia captain made me realize that he was the player of a different kind.

Not your regular professional football player most of the time unaware of the world surrounding him, Bane is a level-headed, emotional guy.

And the heavy criticism did play its part on his poor form this season. However, the above presented numbers do not reveal the real truth behind Ivanovic’s game – effort. That is one thing not a single Chelsea fan can use against him, as effort and dedication to the team’s cause are Ivanovic’s main traits, the strengths that have made him the player he is today.

Or was until recently.

In any case, his time has not passed. That’s one thing I am sure of.

About the author – Miloš Markovic

Sports journalist from Serbia, Editor in Cheif at Sportske.net and contributor to FutbolgradLive. Worked with Inforstrada and FIFA covering Serbia’s international games during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

twitter: @milosemarkovicu


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His name echoed from the terraces straight in his debut game, but what exactly did Aleksandar Mitrovi? do to deserve such an openhearted support from the Newcastle faithful after only a handful of Premier League games?

Steve McClaren wowed to bring revolution to Tyneside.

He succeeded. Despite being considered an old-fashioned soccer manager, during some 130 days of his mandate so far, Newcastle boss has implemented some modern footballing traits is his team’s play, at the same time investing in discipline, refurbished training regime and playing style. But most of all, he invested in bringing fresh blood to St James’ Park.

More than £50 million for the club of Newcastle’s (current) stature was more than hefty, and it showed a drastic change in club’s policy. Of all the players that were added during summer, name of the Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovi? stood out from the beginning. With Charlie Austin waiting for the Premier League clubs with his arms wide open, more than few Newcastle fans believed that McClaren had made a mistake in bringing an undisciplined youngster from Eastern Europe instead of the experienced Premier League striker.

Their doubts were well argued. From his first steps as the professional footballer, Aleksandar Mitrovi? has been followed by stigma, disbelief, and criticism. However, his convincing displays at Partizan and later at Belgian giants Anderlecht, where he scored 44 goals in 90 games, were strong counterarguments. Part Drogba, part Materazzi, this self-proclaimed Serbian Mario Balotelli was more interested in outrageous hairstyles and on-pitch antics than in his football at the beginning of his career, and Newcastle fans who knew their way around Serbian football simply knew what to expect.

But Steve McClaren succeeded in what many before him failed to accomplish. It took him some polishing work as two yellow cards in Mitrovic’s opening two games for Newcastle and then a red one against Arsenal are there to confirm it, but he managed to contain him. Goals against Manchester City and Norwich most recently are not something to go by, but statistics are hiding one important aspect of Mitrovic’s instant influence – the excitement.

This 21-year-old is an exotic specimen which is well recognized by the Newcastle family.

“From the second you see his name on the teamsheet your body seems to be overcome by a certain element of excitement and nervousness as you count down the minutes until kick off. There’s a roaring fire within his belly which simply cannot be taught, and from that fire comes a burning passion to drive forward and make a positive impact on the field, dragging his team-mates with him along the way”, an ecstatic fan wrote in an open ‘love letter’ to Aleksandar Mitrovi? after the Norwich game, published by gallowgateshots.com.

Hidden between these lines there lies the real reason behind infatuation with Mitrovi?. Newcastle fans have long suffered with their unconvincing attacking line. Looking back over a ten-year period and the last season Alan Shearer played at St James’ Park (2005-2006), none of the players who wore the Newcastle shirt managed to get out of the legend’s shadow. Michael Owen did his best, so did Obafemi Martins, Shola Ameobi. Marko Viduka tried, Andy Carroll was sold just when he was supposed to’ explode’. Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba are players of different kind.

Mere glimpse of Mitrovi?’s ability was more than enough to bring back fine memories of fans’ most loved one, of the legend. Their search was over, disbelief promptly transferred to hope and eagerness. They want it to be him, they want this bad boy from Serbia to be the striker Shearer once was. Not the false nine, not the wide player, but real, genuine striker.

Someone who will make his aerial presence known, someone to hold the ball firmly to his feet, someone to blaze in the net – near, far, from every angle possible. Someone brave.

With the right guidance the Serbian striker could indeed be their man, and Mitrovi? is by no means afraid of accepting the label of Shearer’s successor. But the fans have put all their hopes upon the young man’s shoulders and they must also take the responsibility to themselves. Immature, juvenile and obstinate, Aleksandar Mitrovi? is unpredictable in nature. Wild. Easily broken.

But handled with care, he can fulfill their dreams, and his own.

About the author – Miloš Markovic

Sports journalist from Serbia, Editor in Cheif at Sportske.net and contributor to FutbolgradLive. Worked with Inforstrada and FIFA covering Serbia’s international games during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

twitter: @milosemarkovicu


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The term ‘World XI’ and Watford FC might appear to be as dubious a partnership as Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier, but the newly promoted Premier League outfit are notorious for their global range of players.

Loading up their squad list at the start of Soccer Manager 16 reveals an astonishing TWENTY THREE different nationalities.

There are more tongues in the dressing room than a youth disco.

Which prompts the obvious challenge – give the Watford squad a homegrown overhaul, while avoiding relegation.

Without wanting to sound like a questionable UKIP campaign, my mission is to transform the Hornets’s line-up to contain players solely from English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh or Northern Irish backgrounds.

It’s something approaching mission impossible – I’m no Tom Cruise, but I am similarly diminutive, which should qualify me for a starring role.

This is my diary as I play through the challenge.

This is the second installment. To read July’s diary, click here.



The month begins with just over £5M in the bank, and a 2-1 friendly defeat to West Ham, though Callum McManaman scores for the third fixture in succession.

Shane Long (88) joins to share the goal-scoring burden, and is straight into the line-up for the first competitive game of the season – a visit from fellow newly-promoted outfit Norwich City, with precious Premier League points on offer.

The squad meets my homegrown criteria, though the bench is worryingly feeble. Less hornet, more house fly.

I select a 4-3-3 formation, resisting the urge to partner Long with Troy Deeney (85) up front, with the new signing picked ahead of the club captain to spearhead the attack.

But it’s Norwich’s frontline that dominates the early highlights, with a defensive cock up from new boy Adam Matthews (86) allowing Wes Hoolahan an easy opener.

Somehow, we dominate possession, despite playing a direct passing style, but are unable to find a breakthrough – and second half sub Deeney spurns a double-chance after a one-on-one to rescue a point.

Overall, the performance is OK but the squad’s lack of depth is exposed – my only real option from the bench was the ineffective skipper.

It’s back to the transfer market for me.


Ecuadorian winger Juan Paredes (86) is offloaded to West Brom for £2.25M, Hearts splurge £2.79M on Valon Behrami (89) and Fernando Forestieri (83) joins Hamilton for £2.03M.

Some of those funds are promptly reinvested in Kyle Naughton (87), whose versatility will be vital, ahead of a visit to Old Trafford, and the daunting prospect of Manchester United in the second game of the season.

Naughton replaces Matthews in the starting line up, at right back, but the squad otherwise remains the same.

With Paul Robinson (82) in goal, we find ourselves three down at half time, with Marouane Fellaini (91) adding to a Wayne Rooney brace.

Long misses a sitter moments before the break, and is punished by getting the hook, Deeney coming on in his place.

Deeney, though, repeats his team mate’s trick by wasting the first chance of the second half. We cling on for the rest of the match, with some brave defending from Phil Jagielka, in particular, but are well beaten.


By the time the team coach pulls off the M25 back into Watford, news of the League Cup second round comes through, with Millwall set to visit Vicarage Road. At least we avoided a rapid return to United.

The £3.2M departure of Odion Ighalo (86) frees up enough funds to capture Joe Allen (88) from Liverpool for £5.5M, an exciting signing for Watford irrespective of self-imposed restrictions.

My continued search for a decent goalkeeper, though, is running out of steam and, even when quickfire sales leave more than £10M in the bank, I’m unable to find a new number one.

So Robinson continues for the visit of Leicester City, a game it is crucial the side take something from.

Allen takes Ben Watson’s place in the starting line-up, and the squad is starting to shape up – though there are notable shortcomings in the centre of defence and between the sticks.

I can’t help but eye my reserve team with envy; the likes of Heurelho Gomes (85), Etienne Capoue (89) and Alessandro Diamanti (88) would be very welcome options.

Said weaknesses are exposed after just nine minutes, as Ritchie De Laet, inexplicably selected as a winger, crosses for Leonardo Ulloa (87) to head home unopposed.

Thankfully, my sulk is short lived, as we equalise straight from kick-off – James McArthur (86) bundling in the rebound from Long’s effort.

It’s not the most spectacular goal, but it’s the first competitive strike in my reign, so I celebrate like I’ve just seen a worldie.

My girlfriend reacts as though she’s just seen someone throw up in the street.

Leicester retake the lead with a carbon copy of their first, but from the opposite flank, with Shinji Okazaki (89) this time free to nod in – but, again, we’re level almost immediately, Anya tucking away instinctively from a corner.

On the hour mark, for the first time in the match – nay, season – we take the lead, when debutant Allen heads a duplicate of Leicester’s goals.

It sets up a dramatic finale, but the Foxes look shorn of options, and Jagielka is again commanding as we hold out for a first Premier League victory.

Even the chairman is impressed, as I receive a note of congratulations and thanks.

Presumably, he’s taken Quique Sanchez off speed dial now.


With time running out before the transfer window’s closure, I splash out on a record signing – the £7.71M acquisition of Phil Jones (89) from Manchester United.

Although, ideally, I’d add two wingers and a first choice goalkeeper, at the very least, to my squad, a remaining balance of just £3M, and five big money players still sat in the reserves, means I’m again hamstrung in the market.

Clearly, me and Louis Van Gaal hit it off earlier in the season, as he generously takes two more of my unwanted players off my hands, replenishing my pocket with a further £6M.

With just two days left of the transfer window, the visit of Newcastle is not the most conveniently timed fixture, though Jones is given his debut alongside Jagielka in the centre of defence.

That looks solid, but it’s hard to imagine many defences quivering at the prospect of facing Anya and McManaman (both 85) down the flanks.

With this in mind, I drop the pair to the bench, and switch to a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Watson (86) taking on the trequarista role, behind Deeney, who has been reinstated alongside Long.

It’s an attacking line up, but we’re behind within three minutes, Moussa Sissoko (90) converting from a corner.

Long equalises with a neat finish on the half hour mark, but Yoan Gouffran (88) robs the uncharacteristically ponderous Jagielka to put the visitors back in front.

Our adventure is rewarded with a point, though, when Long is hacked down; the Irishman bravely dispatching from the spot before hobbling off with a foot injury that will keep him out for just over a week.

How very un-footballer like.

It’s an encouraging display, but any thoughts of sticking with the 4-2-3-1 permanently are dashed by Long’s injury – a reminder of what little back up I have in reserve.

Instead, I make two last-ditch signings in the minutes before the window shuts – adding widemen Scott Sinclair (87) and Wayne Routledge (87) for a combined £6.83M. 4-3-3 it is, then.

It leaves me satisfied with my overall squad, with a top level goalkeeper the only box to go unticked – while just three players remain on the transfer list, rotting in the reserves, along with three redundant loanees.

Overall, it feels like a successful window – though I won’t be able to remedy anything for another four months…


About the author – Lee Price

Lee Price is a journalist and author with a passion for football, and crucially, virtual football management.

twitter: @Lee_Price


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When David Luiz completed his £50 million move to Paris Saint-Germain from Chelsea in the summer of 2014, the default reaction in England was to scoff. The Brazilian centre-back developed a reputation as something of a liability during his three years in the Premier League, derided as too instinctive and flamboyant to play in the heart of the backline.

Much of the criticism was fair: Luiz had a habit of making costly errors at Chelsea and, despite his undisputed natural ability, had been relegated to the substitutes’ bench by manager Jose Mourinho because he was perceived as too much of a risk.

There was, however, also a sense that Luiz was simply an unnatural fit with the English game, his manner of defending seen as incompatible with the values traditionally expounded on these shores. It was an issue highlighted by pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher in 2013, the pair suggesting that much of the criticism of Luiz in England came because his interpretation of the centre-back position – including playing on the front-foot, aggressively pushing up the pitch and a willingness to defend against a striker one-on-one – was so different to theirs and their countrymen’s.

£50 million is clearly an enormous fee – particularly for a defender – but Luiz has shown since making the move to PSG that he has a lot to offer. For a club owned by the extraordinary wealthy Qatar Sports Investments, moreover, such a sum is relatively insignificant.

Luiz was highly impressive last term, putting a disappointing World Cup behind him as PSG won their third consecutive Ligue 1 title and also reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the third year in a row. It is in the latter competition that Laurent Blanc’s side will be most tested this season: PSG are already five points clear at the top of the table in France’s top flight and will therefore be focusing the majority of their efforts on reaching the last four of Europe’s principal tournament for the first time.

In Ligue 1, though, Luiz has added an important dimension to the Parisians’ play. It was in evidence in the first Classique of the season with Marseille before the international break, when Luiz helped PSG secure a narrow 2-1 win.

Marseille were bold in their approach at the Parc des Princes, sending men forward to attack the hosts and deservedly taking the lead through Michy Batshuayi. Like many of PSG’s opponents this year, they pressed in midfield, looking to disrupt Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti in the engine room.

Michel’s outfit, however, were generally unwilling to close down too high up the pitch, which meant PSG’s centre-halves Luiz and Thiago Silva enjoyed plenty of time on the ball. It was here that Luiz’s ability in possession came into its own, with the 28-year-old assuming a playmaking role from the middle of his team’s defence.

Luiz’s vision is therefore vital for PSG, with his range of passing enabling the aforementioned midfielders to assume positions higher up the field and avoid dropping too deep and becoming ineffective. The Brazilian’s willingness to step into midfield and carry the ball forward also offers his side another attacking source from deep; with PSG usually utterly dominant in Ligue 1 encounters, furthermore, Blanc need not worry about Luiz coming under too much pressure defensively.

Whether or not the 1998 World Cup winner is concerned about Luiz’s position as a centre-back in the Champions League remains to be seen. A clash with Real Madrid next Wednesday, for example, would likely have seen Luiz challenged defensively by the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo had he not picked up a knee injury last week.

Domestically, however, Luiz has added a great deal to Blanc’s PSG. The former Chelsea man’s proactive and optimistic approach to defending was never likely to go down well in England but, over in the French capital, where PSG control most games and are tasked with breaking down compact and defensive units on an almost weekly basis, his superb technique and ability to pass and dribble with the ball solves more problems than it causes.

Formational shifts away from two strikers to one in the last couple of decades have seen the centre-back as a deep-lying playmaker become a more common phenomenon: with one defender marking the opposition forward, his partner is theoretically freer to focus on distributing the ball from the back. Louis van Gaal’s decision to field midfielder Daley Blind in the backline this year is likely motivated by such thinking, so too Barcelona’s redeployment of Javier Mascherano in their defence and Pep Guardiola’s use of Javi Martinez in the same role at Bayern Munich.

It is a function that Luiz is fulfilling in Paris, too. It may not have been Neville and Carragher’s favoured style of defending, but it is serving the Ligue 1 leaders extremely well at present.

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


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