Europe’s top leagues come to an end this weekend with no suspense about the potential winners.
Teams in La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 will play their final games with most players concerned about the upcoming World Cup, or their holiday plans. The Premier League and Bundesliga already wrapped up last weekend. The only surprise this season where league titles are concerned was the battle between Juventus and Napoli in the Serie A.
Whereas all the other competitions finished, or likely will finish, with double-digit leads for the leaders, Napoli made Juventus work for a seventh consecutive title. Elsewhere, Manchester City accumulated a historic 100 points with a 19-point lead over Manchester United in England and Bayern Munich finished 21 points ahead of Schalke in Germany. Barcelona has a 12-point lead with one game remaining in Spain while Paris Saint-Germain waltzed to a 15-point lead over Monaco in France with one unimportant game remaining.
For all their dominance domestically, these teams failed to meet expectations in Europe.
Manchester City were dark horse contenders for the Champions League, and a solid run in the competition was expected considering the talent at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. City’s early season form, and the fantastic play that came with it, heightened expectations that a good run would occur barring disaster. That disaster came in the form of a confident, energetic Liverpool team and City were brushed aside over two legs. There’s no need for Guardiola’s side to be too concerned though.
The Citizens still have a fantastic squad with depth and experience. Yaya Toure’s departure means a new midfield addition is likely and the arrival of a left-back will free up Fabian Delph play his more natural role. If he stays. One major question will be whether Guardiola makes the right decision when City reach that stage again. He hasn’t made much of a dent on this competition since his Barcelona days. Next season would be a good time to start.
Barcelona will end the season with a double but it certainly feels underwhelming.
The Blaugrana were bailed out time and again by Lionel Messi in games big and small. The loss of Neymar decreased the squad’s attacking verve and Ernesto Valverde’s approach didn’t help. That was clear in the embarrassing collapse against Roma in the Champions League. The former Athletic Bilbao manager essentially trotted out a supercharged version of his former Bilbao squads this season. The defensive solidity was a welcome change but it made Barcelona reliant on Messi’s magic against well-organized opposition.
The squad will likely see an overhaul as it seems Valverde had a hard time trusting Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes in midfield. Barcelona fans would certainly have no problem with the latter getting the boot. The major issue will be Andres Iniesta’s departure and, again, central defense. It’s possible that Valverde, if he stays, will fit Philippe Coutinho in that role but there is still a lack of overall depth in the squad. It also matters that there are few real difference makers on the bench unlike their rivals, Real Madrid. Valverde will have to change something next season beyond players. If he wants to remain solid and is as averse to the 4-3-3 as he seems then a 4-2-3-1 with Messi behind Suarez would be better than the 4-4-2 we saw so much of this season.
Bayern Munich sacked Carlo Ancelotti early in the season and they probably aren’t upset with the result. Had they matched Real Madrid’s clinical finishing in the Champions League semifinal then they would be looking at a possible treble. There will certainly be some major decisions to make over the summer. Jupp Heynckes’ stint at the club is one, and overhauling an ageing squad is another. Bayern still has no problems domestically with the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery but the wing duo no longer have a major impact in Europe. The overall depth of the squad is okay but making James Rodriquez a full-time member of the squad should be a priority. Another forward to back up, or possibly replace, Robert Lewandowski would be a good addition.
A large part of Bayern’s success next season will depend on who is at the helm. They should return to the latter stages of the Champions League but it will be a long road.
Juventus. No more Gianluigi Buffon means a new era begins. It was sad to see the legendary goalkeeper’s last European game end as it did, especially after what was almost a fantastic comeback. Europe still eludes the Old Lady though Maximiliano Allegri led the side to another double this season. The domestic success came with some ups and downs. By the way, if you haven’t watched the Juventus series on Netflix then do so. It’s fantastic. Allegri’s decisions in certain games nearly cost Juventus another Serie A title just as much as Napoli’s collapse won it for them. The core of the squad makes for a serious contender in Europe but fresh faces are needed in defense and midfield.
Paris Saint-Germain already have a new coach, as BBC reports Thomas Tuchel has taken over from Unai Emery. That was expected after the disappointing defeat to Real Madrid in the Round of 16. The league is a given for this squad with Tuchel in charge. The possibility of Neymar’s departure will be a major cause for concern though. The Brazilian left Barcelona to be a leading force in a Champions League contender but saw his side fail miserably without him. A replacement for Thiago Motta’s experience in midfield will be necessary but, barring any major departures, Tuchel has a lot to work with. His inexperience in the Champions League may be the one thing that works against the Parisians.
My piece for the BootRoom on PSG and Unai Emery(written before Monaco clinched the title)
It’s difficult to think that this is what Paris Saint-Germain envisioned when they hired Unai Emery.
The former Sevilla man, fresh of a third straight Europa League title, was brought in to replace Laurent Blanc after another failed European campaign. Success on the domestic front would have been expected given the clubs resources and the talent in the squad. Progress in Europe was the main goal. Emery is failing on all accounts as things stand.
PSG are second in the table, three points a Monaco side with a game in hand and only three remaining. This is the same Monaco side that went further in the Champions League knockout stages and announced their domestic intentions by fielding a weakened side in their recent French Cup semi-finals matchup.
A cup double and a return the Champions League is likely but that is a step back from what Blanc achieved in his final season. Had there been signs of progress on the pitch despite the lack of silverware then Emery’s situation may be less precarious he still has work to do in terms of moulding the squad in his image. It was a surprise that he was chosen, despite his success, to lead a club with PSG’s ambition and resources, and the Spaniard has certainly had his ups and downs.
While Emery’s decision to listen to his players showed a good touch of man-management in a delicate situation, the discussion should have continued from there. A season-long transformation could still have transpired but instead we have seen Emery’s style of display in fits and starts while the manager has been forced to deal with various injuries, changes in form, and so forth.
The major victory in his season, so far, has been the rebirth of Edinson Cavani as the leading man up top. The Uruguayan, no longer in the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has revelled in being the man leading the line again to the tune of 45 goals in 45 games. Emery’s words and training throughout the season surely played a role getting the best from the frontman, but the cynics can argue that any new manager could have achieved similar results with Zlatan gone.
Unfortunately for Emery, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives.
While he also reinvigorated Angel Di Maria and has overseen good performances from youngsters like Presnel Kimpembe, his additions have been a mixed bag. The addition of Julian Draxler in the January transfer window brought about a mid-season surge, but that was to be expected.
Aside from the German, only Thomas Meunier, the least unfancied of his recruits, acquitted himself well. Jese Rodriguez was sent back on loan to Las Palmas in La Liga, Grzegorz Krychowiak has hardly stepped on the pitch and Hatem Ben Arfa’s form has come and gone throughout the campaign.
While it’s not all his fault – one can certainly cannot compare relative novice Patrick Kluivert to former Sevilla director of football, Monchi – where transfers are concerned, the manager certainly had his say in these matters.
The lack of change led to a continued reliance on a player like Thiago Motta, who is much more suitable to Blanc’s system, and casts doubts as to whether Emery really has control of the dressing room. The tactics and decision-making that led to the worst performance of the season, that 6-1 loss to Barcelona, surely wouldn’t have helped.
Various poor results on the domestic front, including losses to fellow title challengers Monaco and Nice, have decreased PSG’s aura of invincibility. That, and the club’s European disappointment, might have key players questioning the club’s ability to reach the top of Europe.
While the failure in Europe certainly has those in charge at PSG questioning their decision it may be hasty to get rid of Emery now. The Spaniard has proven himself in La Liga before and while his Champions League record isn’t the greatest, he is in a different situation now. If he can work together with Kluivert to mold the team in his image this summer then there will be plenty of cause for optimism heading into the 2017/18 season. There won’t be many, if any, big-name managers available for PSG to look at in any case and, as they would’ve seen with Manchester City and Pep Guardiola this season, European success does not come overnight.
Emery still has title-winning experience and PSG have a good squad. One trophy has entered the cabinet this season and they are strong favorites for the French Cup as well. The Spaniard was chosen by the PSG hierarchy last summer and, title or not, it makes sense to stay the course. Should that be the case, the manager will know that the hook will be out quickly if there is no progress next season.
My piece for the Boot Room and Unai Emery at Paris Saint-Germain
Paris Saint-Germain have been one of the surprises of the season so far, and not in a good way. The French champions sit third in the Ligue 1 table and second in their Champions League group. It may just be October but there has been cause for concern already this season.
When a team goes through as summer of changes as PSG did then a bedding in period can be expected. Except, when you are PSG, winners of four straight Ligue 1 titles and spenders of countless Euros, that bedding in period is almost nil.
Laurent Blanc departed after his failure to progress in the Champions League and Unai Emery took his place. Add to that the departure of talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his winning mentality, as well as David Luiz’s regular presence in defense and Emery has had a lot to contend with early on.
Still, a squad with this quality, and without much turnover in key departments, would expect to be humming along business as usual in a league they’ve dominated in the last few seasons. That hasn’t been the case.
Losses to Monaco and Toulouse as well as a draw with St. Etienne has already seen PSG lose some of its invincible aura domestically. Things aren’t much different on the continent either as Les Parisiens failed to finish off Arsenal and had to come from behind against Ludogorets in the Champions League amid some up and down performances. Of the key arrivals, only Thomas Meunier and Gregorz Krychowiak have contributed positively while Jese and Hatem Ben Arfa have yet to make an impact.
Those in charge at PSG wanted to head in a different direction and after Blanc’s tenure and Emery was certainly a good choice for that. The Spaniard has shown himself to be a very capable manager during stints with two of Spain’s storied clubs, Valencia and Sevilla. His three consecutive Europa League titles while at Sevilla would have played a major role in his appointment given PSG’s focus on European success. Yet, unlike Blanc, who won a title with Bordeaux before his stint at PSG, Emery has found silverware hard to come by domestically. While Blanc was perfectly fine continuing his predecessor’s work with some minor fine-tuning, with much success it must be added, Emery was to represent a significant change in style and mentality.
The Spaniard started the season trying to implement the 4-2-3-1 system he used at Sevilla but in recent games he has reverted to the 4-3-3 the side used under Blanc. Emery places less focus on possession and more on pressure of the ball than Blanc, and it seemed this was the way forward. According to Bleacher Report, several key players took issue with some of Emery’s tactical ideas which then led to the return to Blanc’s system.
While the formation may not have been the main issue Emery has put himself in a tough position. His acquiescence to the player’s preference weakens his position with a group of players used to winning a certain way. Conversely, a manager of his capabilities should see that a possession-based approach matched with his pressing would make PSG a more formidable prospect regardless of formation. If he can get the players to buy into both approaches then success should follow.
One positive for the Spaniard is the recent form of Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan has started to knock in the goals in a fashion similar to his Napoli days but, as shown by his display against Arsenal, there’s still a case of the yips in big moments and games. He has dealt with one of his major arrivals, Ben Arfa, quite strictly, something that may not have occurred under Blanc judging by his handling of Serge Aurier’s actions earlier this year.
The former Sevilla manager must be mindful that he’s in a different situation altogether, where increased expectations and egos mean much more will be demanded of him on and off the pitch. His three consecutive Europa League titles represent both a gift and a curse in that respect. While Sevilla dominated that competition, Emery has never done particularly well in the Champions League, PSG’s holy grail, while at Sevilla or Valencia. In fact, he’s failed to get past the Round of 16 with either side and was knocked out in the group stage last season with an abysmal record of two wins and four losses.
It may seem harsh to judge a manager so quickly into his reign but that is the status quo in football these days. Those in charge at PSG have spent millions to ensure their club becomes on of the biggest in the world. With that comes massive, and sometimes unrealistic, expectations. Emery has proved his capabilities with two of Spain’s well-known clubs but he faces a different beast here. His appointment, much like the transfers brought in after him, generated more curiosity than excitement.
Now it’s time for him to show that he’s up to the job.
Aside from the fact that Jose Mourinho would be considered the better manager tactically and has a better resume, I don’t really agree. We know the cycle for Mourinho teams and what occurred at Chelsea this season has to give teams some hesitation. PSG should consider whether the likes of Neymar, and even Eden Hazard despite the positive things he’s said publicly, would want to work under Mourinho. Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo will but that’s also a short-term solution and, given his overall lack of success, not a guarantee of anything but a boost commercially. A semifinal berth is by no means a guarantee with Mourinho in charge. This isn’t to say Blanc must stay, though I think he should get the chance, but Mourinho may not be the best option.
Definitely lots of thing for PSG to consider this summer. I think Blanc still deserves a chance but a number of changes as far as players go is to be expected.
Twice Ligue 1 champion. Twice Coupe de la Ligue Champion. One Copa America.
These are just a few of the trophies Edinson Cavani has been a part of while showcasing the array of skills modern football requires of its lone forwards, namely strength, pace, clinical finishing, work-rate and good movement. The Uruguyan striker is still a much sought-after player, as we read about every transfer window, but there’s one big question.
Has Cavani ever been the main man on any of those teams?
“El Matador” has yet to be the game-changer for Paris Saint-Germain, Uruguay and, to a lesser extent, Napoli despite averaging over 20 goals per game since the 2011/12 season. Those statistics illustrate the obvious qualities Cavani has but one gets the sense that he’s still coming up short. The player himself would point to his being played away from his favored central position as part of the reason for that. The fact that he still scores from these positions weakens that argument.
The Cavani conundrum has become increasingly prominent in the last few seasons. The big miss against Chelsea and poor performances in the leading role for Uruguay stick out. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s presence casts a major shadow at PSG and Cavani has yet to make his mark. The Swede has come back from injuries at various times this season to make key contributions while Cavani falters. His inability to displace a 34-year-old as the main striker, regardless of skill-level, leads to questions about his mentality. Indeed, his attitude was reportedly a major point of concern for higher-ups during the winter break.(h/t ESPN FC)
Cavani has failed to score or register an assist in five games since the turn of the year and has started only two. He failed to have an impact when coming on as a substitute but has seen other substitutes, Ibrahimovic in one case, make a difference when he’s preferred to start. He still has 13 goals and two assists all season according to ESPN. That productivity means the interest will continue but buyers should beware.
PSG is chasing a four-trophy haul this season and if Cavani fails to play a major role in any success, or is the cause for any such failure, then interest may dissipate. PSG will question, rightly so, whether they can count on him to be the main man, but there are really zero replacement options in terms of players with similar stature and skill-level.
Cristiano Ronaldo may not be a possibility until next summer due to Real Madrid’s transfer ban and Robert Lewandowski is unattainable. Sergio Aguero may be in that class as well while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might still not be a fit project-wise.(Meaning very good but not elite nor necessarily a marketing magnet)
Other alternatives include Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, Wilfried Bony, Javier Hernandez and or possibly even Olivier Giroud if they want to appeal to those looking for a more French feel to the side.
If Cavani shows he’s a difference-maker in the next few months then the decision is easy for PSG. If he continues to produce but only for the sake of statistical output then the summer will be interesting for all parties involved. At 28 going on 29, his window for being a truly elite player is closing.
Well, they got left back sorted now with Kurzawa and the goalkeeper situation will figure itself out. I think Van der Wiel will stay. The major issue is Edinson Cavani’s lack of productivity up front.
It’s an ominous sign domestically but could be for Europe as well. If they have the league mostly wrapped up in March they could have that much more strength for the Champions League. If they keep their focus up.
They have made some good moves so far, and if they get Angel Di Maria then they’ll really be a force next season. If certain players step up their individual performances then PSG will continue to go up.
Interesting viewpoint. Paris Saint-Germain’s ability to spend is a big part of their ability to compete with the traditional big clubs. Being a rumoured destination for a top star is a good start but ultimately they should have something to show for all their money at the end of the summer.