Tagged: The Boot Room

Why Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Premier League start shows he’s the best forward of his generation | The Boot Room

Why Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Premier League start shows he’s the best forward of his generation | The Boot Room

My piece for the Boot Room on the one and only Zlatan.

Thirteen league titles, sixteen domestic cups, one European title and one world title amassed in four countries. Numerous individual awards and records. Dazzling goals, assists and overall play. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has it all.

The 35-year-old Swedish striker is the ultimate journeyman footballer.

Ibrahimovic has played for eight of the biggest clubs in the world during his career and no one can say he failed at any stop. Those titles, accolades and his generally excellent play are why he is the greatest forward of his generation.

Some may not like Zlatan’s arrogance and bravado but few, especially now after his short time in the Premier League, can deny the player’s greatness. As with any player, legend or otherwise, Zlatan has his  fair share of critics. The main knock against him is that every team has played on has won the Champions League before, or after, his arrival. Some would say he is not a team player considering his attitude but the player himself knocks down such assertions.

In his latest sojourn, the Manchester United forward stated in an interview with ManUtd.com that his focus is on the team first. It’s hard to argue against that when you consider the results. Zlatan is a serial winner. One could argue that success was inevitable given the teams he has played on and the players he has played with but Zlatan was a key part of all those teams. His last three stops, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United have also showcased some of the leadership abilities of the big Swede.

Zlatan’s one regret, if it comes to pass, will be the lack of a Champions League medal. Another criticism that comes hand in hand with that is a perceived failure to perform in the biggest games. Goals in De Klassieker in Netherlands, Derby della Madonnina and Derby d’Italia in Italy, El Clásico and the Catalan Derby in Spain, Le Classique in France, Manchester Derby and North-West Derby in England offer a solid argument against that.

Zlatan possesses a unique array of skills that none of his contemporaries can match. The likes of Thierry Henry, Michael Owen, Samuel Eto’o have all made their mark in various ways. It’s Zlatan’s mix of physical, technical and mental skills, along with his long list of trophies, which suggest he will go down as one of the game’s greatest players. Among the number of great forwards to illuminate the game after Ronaldo, “El Fenomeno if we must clarify, Zlatan is ahead.  The fact that, at 35 years old, he can still be in the conversation against the likes of Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski among others is astounding.

No other forward could have the durability and mental strength to jump into Premier League in its current state at 35 and perform so well.

A Premier League title looks highly unlikely at this point in the season but we’ve seen enough to suggest Zlatan will play his part in the challenge. The Manchester United forward still has a chance at three trophies this season with the EFL Cup, the FA Cup and Europa League still to come. It wouldn’t be surprising to see his contract renewed for another year given his play so far and the likelihood of a trophy. A Premier League title would cement his legacy even further but his work so far speaks for itself.

Things were always going to be more difficult on the international stage despite Sweden having plenty of talent in his earlier years. Still, Zlatan is the country’s top goalscorer and certainly had his moments of brilliance as shown by his goals against Italy and England.

Zlatan has always been among the goals at his various clubs and was only below single digits a few times early in his career. Per Soccerbase.com the Swedish striker had a ratio of 0.62 goals per game in league play and 0.5 goals per game in other competitions in his club career. He was not always about goals though as his Ajax upbringing ensured he liked to be involved in his side’s buildup. His mixture of strength and technical skills made this quite easy and that side of his game has been on display more in recent seasons.

Even if we take away the two Juventus titles due to Calciopoli scandal, Zlatan still has 11 league trophies in four countries. If he stays with United beyond this season then he has the chance to make it 12 in five. Zlatan didn’t need to move to England to prove anything given his career so far but he’s definitely added plenty to his story so far at Manchester United.

Why Atletico Madrid should go all out for the Champions League | The Boot Room

My piece for the Bootroom on Atletico’s Time Going to An End

Why Atletico Madrid should go all out for the Champions League | The Boot Room

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. The progress Los Rojiblancos have built up in the last few seasons has seemingly ground to a halt in 2016/17.

Diego Simeone’s introduction as manager in 2011 culminated in an impressive rise for Atletico Madrid. The team that has Barcelona and Real Madrid looking over their shoulders domestically, and European clubs hoping to avoid them at all costs, is no longer an immovable object. Some of that is down to the struggles of a change in style this season coupled with a lack of form of key players. The fact that La Liga has been extremely competitive this season is another reason.

Atletico are currently six points off the pace in La Liga and have played one game more than the league leaders, Real Madrid. They are in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey and the Round of 16 in the Champions League. This has become the norm for Atletico under Simeone, but the club might be on the tail end of a good run.

Rumours and speculation continue to surround Simeone and the club’s star man, Antoine Griezmann, as time goes on. The future doesn’t seem particularly set in stone, especially after ESPNFC reported on the shortening of Simeone’s contract and Griezmann’s comments about playing club football with his good friend Paul Pogba. The club, players and otherwise, would surely have been affected by those actions.

Simeone has forged this team into perennial contenders and this may just be an off year. If the club comes up empty for a second season running, after five seasons with a trophy, then the two big names may head to greener pastures. They may do so even in the event they do grab silverware and there would be no better trophy to leave with than the Champions League.

Atletico has little chance of reeling in Real Madrid at this stage unless there is a monumental collapse. The Copa del Rey will add some gloss but leave an even deeper sense of missed opportunities elsewhere. It’s in the Champions League that Simeone and his side have unfinished business.

While Atletico stumbled early on in La Liga they were perfect until it no longer mattered in the group stages. The home win over Bayern Munich was typical of this side and a reminder of the approach that resulted in two trips to the Champions League finals in the last three seasons. Teams will still fear facing Atletico during a two-legged tie and the road to Cardiff begins with familiar opponents in Bayer Leverkusen. Griezmann is rounding into form with three goals in three games to start the year after a barren spell in December.

There is no clear favourite in the competition currently, though Real Madrid will likely get the nod given their recent streak. It is still unknown how Zinedine Zidane will react to any period of real adversity, and that period will come at some point this season. The other big guns, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, have faced their own struggles this season and Atletico will feel confident enough given their performances against that duo already this season. It’s hard not to see them stifling the likes of Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City as well.

If Simeone decides its best to hold off on plans to introduce a more fluid, forward-minded Atletico to grab the silverware that has eluded him he must do so quickly. Atletico can gain some steam with a decent schedule in the league coming up, along with Eibar in the Copa del Rey. Should they get knocked out of the Copa then the quest for Champions League glory increases tenfold. Jan Oblak, a key part of the club’s defensive fortitude, could return in time for the tie against Leverkusen.

Atletico will be heading to a new stadium next season, per ESPNFC, and there would be no better way to celebrate that than with a Champions League trophy in hand. They might be without their two biggest stars, Simeone and Griezmann, but arguably the biggest trophy available would convince them to stay. Third times the charm Atletico.

Will the second half of the 2016/17 campaign be as intriguing as the first? | The Boot Room

Will the second half of the 2016/17 campaign be as intriguing as the first? | The Boot Room

My piece for The Boot Room on what the rest of the season holds after a fascinating first half of 2016/17

 

The end of 2016 sees most of Europe’s top leagues take a break from what has been a fascinating first half of the 2016/17 season.

Teams in Spain, Germany, France and Italy will go off on their various holidays to refresh themselves while the Premier League hogs the festive spotlight. One can’t help but look out for the only source of quality football during that period with some sort of joy, amusement or, if you’re an Arsenal fan, apprehension. With a glut of games beginning on Boxing day through to the New Year, there’s a good chance we’ll see a surprise or two in the world’s most entertaining league.

Chelsea lead the pack by six points but only four points separate second place Liverpool from fifth placed Tottenham. Manchester United seems to finally be picking up some steam and can certainly challenge if they get through this period unscathed. Last seasons surprise title winners, Leicester City, are only three points away from safety but a period without Champions League football should bring some good results. Of the promoted sides, Middlesbrough and Burnley are almost halfway to the vaunted 38-point safety net.

There have been the usual eye-popping results in the Premier League so far this season with Leicester thrashing Manchester City, Bournemouth’s comeback win over Liverpool and the Swansea/Crystal Palace slug-fest among them. Arsenal, however, continue to be the enigma they are each season. There will likely be more twists and turns before the season ends but it might come down to a race between Liverpool and Chelsea given their lack of European commitment.

While most of Europe’s leagues have a familiar look there’s no telling what will happen when the remaining leagues restart in January.

The biggest surprise so far is in France, where Nice hold a two point lead heading into the break. Lucien Favre’s side have done extremely well so far, beating Monaco, Marseille and Lyon at home while tying Paris Saint-Germain away. The French champions lie in third, behind Monaco and ahead of Lyon, while Marseille have moved up to sixth. PSG’s domestic form has been shocking, with four losses already to date, and the recently appointed Unai Emery is on the hot seat. Just like the leaders in the Premier League, Nice have no European commitments while their main challengers do. Monaco may just have the best chance to haul them in if Emery can’t right the ship but Nice have certainly made Ligue 1 much more interesting this season.

Another team that has eyebrows raised are proving the motto of their majority owner. Red Bull Leipzig might not have adhered to the traditional ownership expected in Germany but that is one reason they have been so successful. The newly promoted club sprouted wings to quickly rise up the divisions and sit second in the league right behind Bayern Munich. That, coupled with Borussia Dortmund’s inconsistent domestic form, has the traditionalists in Germany breathing into a paper bag despite the challenge to Bayern’s hegemony. The other heavyweights in the league, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke, are in eight and eleventh respectively while Wolfsburg languish in 13th place. As is the case in France, the defending champions have a new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, and their main challengers currently have no European commitments. Bayern’s talent and Ancelotti’s experience mean the Bavarians will still likely come out on top and they made sure to put their opponents in their place with a 3-0 win in final round of the year.
While things in Germany and France vary from what was expected there’s definitely a familiar look in Italy and Spain.

Juventus haven’t been as dominant as in recent seasons but the Old Lady leads the league with a game in hand on her rivals. Roma and Napoli continue to fight it out for the role of challenger but Juventus has beaten both teams already this season. The surprise of the season in Italy is the resurgence of AC Milan. Vincenzo Montella’s reputation has certainly been enhanced by the work he has done reviving a fallen giant. Without much money to work with, and a mixed bag of talent at his disposal, Montella has his side sitting fifth and in the hunt for a Champions League spot. Only two point separate Milan from second place Roma and if they get a few reinforcements in January they could solidify a Champions League spot. While Montella hopes to end the season as he started a fellow Italian is trying to undertake a similar revival in La Liga with Valencia.

Cesare Prandelli took charge of Valencia at the end of September but has been unable to stop the club’s free-fall. Los Che stand 17th in the league after only one win in their last nine games. Relegation is a strong possibility. At the top half of the table eyes may roll seeing the familiar names of Real Madrid and Barcelona occupying the top two spots. It hasn’t been all easy for either side though, as Madrid have yet to look particularly dominant while Barcelona have suffered some shock results, notably a loss to Alaves at home. Atletico Madrid’s luck seems to have run out as they trail the leaders by 11 points in sixth place with Sevilla, Villarreal and Real Sociedad above them and Athletic Bilbao right behind.

Each league has had its share of surprises in the first half of the season and there’s more to come.

There have been managerial changes aplenty at some of Europe’s top sides to go along with the usual player transfers. Those changes have undoubtedly played a role in the current scenario in Europe’s top leagues as new managers taking time adapting to new clubs and, sometimes, leagues has certainly had an effect.

Emery and Ancelotti were targeted by PSG and Bayern to improve their clubs chances in Europe but that wasn’t expected to come at the expense of domestic success. Questions may continue to be asked of Emery as he tries to steer an extremely ambitious club but Ancelotti has the experience to see his side over the line. Whether they meet expectations in Europe as well remains to be seen. In England, Jurgen Klopp has benefited from a full preseason with his side and no European distractions. There are still kinks to iron out but Liverpool look well-placed to challenge at the top. Ditto for Antonio Conte and league-leading Chelsea. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are coming to terms with work that’s needed to fix their new teams but you would bet on both Manchester clubs to be in the running at the end. Real Madrid’s impressive streak certainly bodes well for Zinedine Zidane’s current and future prospects in the hottest seat of them all. Whether he can avoid the drop-off the team had the last time they went to the Club World Cup remains to be seen.

The first half of the 2016/17 season brought plenty of surprising moments on the pitch. The big teams each have their issues to deal with, whether it be new managers, players in poor form or navigating multiple schedules. There’s sure to be more in store as we get into the business end of the season.

Is Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil more important to Arsenal? | The Boot Room

Is Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil more important to Arsenal? | The Boot Room

My piece for the Boot Room on which of Arsenal’s two superstars is more important. 

Arsenal’s two superstars have been the subject of much debate as the Gunners continue their fine start to the 2016/17 season.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have been key to Arsenal’s recent revival and much of their good form this season. The duo arrived in consecutive summers when their former employers sought high-quality, and highly expensive, additions from two of their rivals. Arsenal were the benefactors from those moves and two FA Cups have since arrived to end the club’s trophy drought. Success in other competitions has been non-existent but the strong start this season has increased expectations.

A major cause for that is the ever-improving on-field relationship between the two stars. Sanchez’s deployment as a full-time striker for the Gunners has led to a partnership between him and Ozil reminiscent of the days of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.

Arsene Wenger has received credit in some corners for a long overdue move to place the Chilean livewire at the head of Arsenal’s attack. That decision has led to an increase in productivity and quality from both stars, as they play closer together in the central of the park with skills that complement each other well.

Both players are well on their way to their best tallies for the club, with Ozil’s nine goals and five assists bettered by Sanchez’s 13 goals and eight assists in all competitions. Both have produced match-winning performances and moments so far and its no wonder Arsenal fans are biting their nails over any bit of negative news about the duo.

The Telegraph reported at the beginning of the season that the Gunners were set to enter contract talks with both players. There has been little sign of progression where those talks are concerned and time is of essence with Sanchez and Ozil’s contracts due to expire in 2018. If either side fail to reach an agreement, or if Arsenal fail to land a major trophy once the season ends, then the possibility of one or both players leaving becomes very real.

If Arsenal were to lose either player it would come as a massive blow to the club’s reputation and chance for further progression.

Sanchez and Ozil are both in their prime and are key players for club and country. While the German is arguably the best player in his position and Sanchez is still coming to terms with the regularity of his new role, Arsenal need Sanchez more.

When comparing the two and what they bring to the club, Sanchez hits more marks. The Chilean’s form so far this season suggests that Arsenal’s wait for a long-term heir to Thierry Henry has ended. Sanchez provides much of the same power, pace and drive as the Frenchman and has showcased his clinical touch as well. One could argue that Ozil’s presence behind him is why he has been so effective in this role but there’s nothing to compare unlike the differences between Sanchez and Olivier Giroud up front. Arsenal have a few players who could play in Ozil’s position while arguably providing similar statistics but none can match Sanchez’s talents. Ozil is standing in the way of a few players, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere among them, who could eventually move on if they find a better opportunity elsewhere.

A look at the statistics favour the Chilean as well.

In their time at the club, considering only games in the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, Sanchez has 53 goals and 30 assists in 109 games. Ozil has 29 goals and 47 goals in 137 games. Both players had their injury spells and runs of poor form but these statistics showcase two points. Sanchez is a much more productive player who has also spent the majority of his time behind the striker as Ozil has. The Chilean is also much more durable than his teammate, having played only 29 games less than his teammate, about half a season, despite joining a full year later. Ozil has shown signs of increased durability but Sanchez is already ahead in that game as shown by his quick return from injury during the November international break.

Neither player is bigger than the club, and if Wenger really wants to stick to his guns then both may leave. That would be a mistake.

In a perfect world both players would stay and do so in such a way that won’t upset the balance Wenger wants in his dressing room. Sanchez may not yet be considered a world-class striker like his teammate in attacking midfield but those strikers are hard to find, or are beyond Wenger’s taste as far as cost, while are many quality attacking midfielders around. His redeployment centrally has led to the increased dynamism in Arsenal’s attack. There certainly won’t be a replica of Ozil, but Arsenal can surely find a player of the requisite quality to replace the German.

If it comes down to a choice, then it is Sanchez who provides a much bigger need for the club in the short and long-term.

All statistics courtesy of ESPNFC

Can Borussia Dortmund really challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title? | The Boot Room

Can Borussia Dortmund really challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title? | The Boot Room

My piece for the Boot Room on Borussia Dortmund’s chances of challenging Bayern this season

Borussia Dortmund’s start to the 2016/17 season has been disappointing.

In a season in which Bayern Munich, regardless of their quality, are going through transition, the expectation was that Dortmund would provide a strong challenge for the Bavarian side.

Dortmund’s 5-2 win over Hamburg was their first Bundesliga win since September and Thomas Tuchel’s side enters the last international break of the year in fifth place. A record of five wins, three draws and two losses isn’t horrible, but slightly surprising.

One of those losses came at the hands of the Bundesliga’s surprise team so far this season, the newly promoted Red Bull Leizpig. Red Bull are currently Bayern’s sternest challengers, and are level on points with the champions, but have yet to face the juggernaut. The other teams above Dortmund include TSG Hoffenheim, who drew with Bayern at the weekend, and Hertha Berlin.

History suggests the cream usually rises to the top and these teams will eventually fall off but Red Bull in particular seem capable of pulling a Leicester, as it were. Dortmund, meanwhile, have their own issues to sort out.

The laundry list of outgoing and incoming changes at Signal Iduna Park makes the slow start somewhat understandable. Dortmund finished 10 points off the pace last season in second place but three key faces left during the summer. Any team would have found it difficult to replace the varied talents and experience of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Dortmund’s approach saw the club bring in players who have failed to live up to their full potential, like Mario Gotze and Marc Bartra, and wonder-kids like Ousmane Dembele. The effect has been mixed.

The stand-out performer so far from the new signings is Raphael Guerreiro, the Portuguese left back who has been extremely impressive in a midfield role. Both Dembele and fellow wonder-kid, Emre Mor, have shown flashes of their potential while Bartra put in some decent performances early on. Gotze and Andre Schurrle haven’t been hugely disappointing so far but more is expected from two well-established senior internationals. Marco Reus’ constant injury issues are further cause for frustration and one can envisage a much stronger side when all the senior players are fit and firing. In total, seven new players have been brought that have played a decent role so far.

Tuchel has tried to rotate things to keep players happy and that has played a part in the early form. Those decisions will help keep legs fresh towards the end of the season, but also means players like Shinji Kagawa have yet to find their best form. Consistency across the board has been a key issue for Dortmund so far this season.

There have been good signs from some players though, with Christian Pulisic continuing to progress well and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang retaining his prolific form. Aubameyang’s goals are the cherry on top of a league-leading 25 goals, to go along with 11 in the Champions League.

That attack hasn’t suffered too much after the departures but there is work needed in the defense.  The 12 goals conceded in the Bundesliga is the worst among those currently in the top seven although it is keeping in line with the 34 goals conceded in 34 games last season. More time to adapt to Hummels’ departure and the new talents to adjust defensively should fix that issue.

The January transfer will be key for Dortmund, as Tuchel will need to streamline the squad without ridding it of too much depth or quality. A place in the knockout rounds of the Champions League has already been secured and a decent run will be expected in the German Cup. Bayern will also be fighting on three fronts and their focus on the Champions League might leave them vulnerable domestically.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side has only shown glimpses of the imperious form that was on display under Pep Guardiola. The Italian’s track record in league campaigns isn’t the greatest and that has shown in Bayern’s rocky start. The league leaders will visit Dortmund when league play resumes and that game will show how much work needs to be done. It is only 10 games into the season, 11 after the derby is complete, but if Bayern find a groove it will be hard to catch up.

There is a long road ahead and certainly no need for Dortmund to panic. This is a youthful squad shorn of a few leaders, both through transfer and injuries, so some growing pains can be expected. Dortmund has the talent to surpass those ahead of them not named Bayern Munich. If the likes of Gotze, Schurrle and Reus provide the quality they are capable of then the end of the Bundesliga season will be a lot closer than previous seasons. A win against Bayern in their first meeting would be a good way to start. Dortmund bought for the future over the summer but they can get something out of the present as well.

How far can this resurgent AC Milan go under Vincenzo Montella? | The Boot Room

How far can this resurgent AC Milan go under Vincenzo Montella? | The Boot Room

My piece for the Boot Room on a resurgent Milan.

AC Milan’s 1-0 win over Juventus last Saturday set them apart as one of the surprise teams so far this season. The Rossoneri followed that up with a loss to Genoa cool any over excitement following the big win. Milan now sit third in the Serie A table but there’s no telling where they’ll be when the season ends despite the promising start, and that’s just the question: how good can this Milan side be?

A resurgent Milan is definitely good for Serie A and football as a whole but cool heads need to prevail. The long talked about takeover by Chinese investors was finalized at the end of this summer transfer window. Before that, the club made what was a shrewd and intelligent decision in recruiting Vincenzo Montella to take charge of the squad. The former Fiorentina manager proved in the past he can create solid and stylish teams in a way that would please Silvio Berlusoni. He’s youthful enough be in charge for a long time to come and had the experience that many of the most recent candidates, bar Sinisa Mihajlovic, lacked.

Montella will get the credit for Milan’s start but the foundation was certainly laid out by his predecessor.

This Milan side has already beaten Juventus, Torino, Sassuolo Lazio and Fiorentina so far this season. A loss to Napoli is the only negative among the big games thus far. Montella’s team has showcased a mental fortitude that Mihajlovic began to forge in his reign and it would’ve been interesting to see how the team would have reacted had Juventus’ goal not been, incorrectly, ruled out. Montella has also continued to show faith in young players with M’Baye Niang, Alessio Romagnoli and, of course, Gianluigi Donnarumma playing key roles. Most eyes are now wandering to the newest of the bunch, 18-year-old Manuel Locatelli, after his second game-winning goal of the season. The future looks good with those talents as well as the likes of Davide Calabria and players in their prime like Giacomo Bonaventura. Make no mistake though, this is not a typical Montella side.

The new owners are expected to provide Montella with funds in the January transfer window. While a complete overhaul is unlikely in the middle of the season, a few changes should be expected. A lack of creativity in midfield beyond Bonaventura should see that area targeted first, and both the attack and defense lack quality depth beyond the starters. The likes of Keisuke Honda and Jose Sosa have been used sparingly in attack while the same goes for Leonel Vangioni in defense. If a quality player becomes available in any position then Milan would do well to look but half a season of good work won’t be enough to tempt the real difference-makers. Montella may just as well stick with what he has come to know, and worked with, so far this season but that may dependent on where the club stands at the winter break.

If Milan remains in the top three heading into the new year then expectations and excitement will rise.

Beating Juventus, however fortuitous, means Milan will be closely watched by their Serie A rivals. Montella will be keen to ensure his charges keep their feet on the ground for all the upcoming challenges. The loss to Genoa showed there is still lots of work to be done and might have solidified any idea Montella had of strengthening in January. Realistically, the best, and most likely, outcome for Milan is a return to Europe preferably the Champions League. Then the real work would begin.

Milan has shown signs of resurgence under Montella this season. The key will be performing well for the rest of the campaign and building on that both in January and the summer. It will take some time for Milan to really become the Milan of old but the Rossoneri have started moving in the right direction after seasons of disappointment. A return to Europe beckons if all goes well.

Is Unai Emery the right man to take Paris Saint Germain forward? | The Boot Room

Is Unai Emery the right man to take Paris Saint Germain forward? | The Boot Room

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.

http://acdn.adnxs.com/ib/static/usersync/v3/async_usersync.htmlThe issue of Blaise Matuidi is also unresolved as the France international has, per to ESPNFC, made it clear he would have left the club if given the chance. A January departure could still be possible and would be another blow for the club given there are no replacements for him in the squad.

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.

Is Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette the man Arsenal should sign to win the Premier League? | The Boot Room

Is Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette the man Arsenal should sign to win the Premier League? | The Boot Room

My Piece for The Boot Room on a possible Lacazette to Arsenal move.(I highly doubt it will happen but the primary source of an Arsenal fan’s sanity nowadays is hope so what the hell)

In the Arsene Wenger era, Arsenal and French forwards go hand in hand. Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord and Olivier Giroud have been prominent in their compatriot’s plans since joining the club. It seems that this summer, they could be followed by another.

The Telegraph reports that Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette is a now on the Gunners’ radar after they missed out on Jamie Vardy. In truth, missing out on Vardy may actual be a blessing in disguise if a move for Lacazette comes to fruition.

Arsenal have been in need of a top-level forward for the last few seasons and have missed out on a few targets in that time. Gonzalo Higauin and Luis Suarez are the two names that stand out and; while not on their level yet, Lacazette would still be a fantastic signing, and has the potential to become one of Europe’s most feared hit-men.

The Lyon star is only 25 years of age and yet to reach his prime, so Arsenal can expect to pay a premium. The Frenchman has all the hallmarks of a stereotypical Wenger forward – able to boast fabulous pace, techinque, finishing, solid dribbling and mobility. Those are traits that every one of Wenger’s previous French forwards; Giroud aside, possessed. Lacazette has been consistent in front of goal over the last few seasons and possesses European experience as well.

Lacazette had 21 goals and three assists in 2013/14 followed by 31 goals and six assists in 2014/15, while the 2015/16 campaign saw him score 23 goals at the same time as adding 3 assists. He has done most of this as a part of an impressive but youthful Lyon side, and would certainly benefit from playing with the likes of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez.

Özil would thrive with another speedy target ahead of him, but it is the potential partnership with Sanchez that should excite Arsenal fans. Some of the Chilean’s best performances for The Gunners came when Danny Welbeck started up front for Arsenal. Lacazette would provide the Alexis with a similar partner who would be more productive in front of goal.

Sanchez has played his best when partnering another mobile forward, as he did with Antonio Di Natale for Udinese, and still does with Eduardo Vargas on the Chilean national team. If Wenger wants to get the best out one of the driving forces of his squad, then a move for Lacazette makes sense.

Lacazette has the versatility to play out wide as well if necessary, and that will aid the side when it comes to other line-ups. A starting front four of Lacazette, Sanchez, Özil, and one of Welbeck, Alex Iwobi or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should have more than enough creativity, pace and goal-scoring punch for the Gunners. With the ability to select the likes of Giroud and Theo Walcott instead to suit the opponent or situation, Wenger would have no shortage of options.

Welbeck is; unfortunately, likely to be out half the season, and that makes signing someone like Lacazette even more important. He too can mirror the high-energy game that Sanchez employs and make Arsenal’s pressing game that little bit more dangerous.

With doubts surrounding the futures of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal need an injection of fresh blood. Targeting Vardy made sense, but Lacazette offers a better option for both the future and the present. The North London outfir will have to move quickly though, as interest in the Lyon forward is high.  ESPNFC reported back in May that West Ham had a bid for the forward rejected and the same source presented rival club Spurs’ supposed interest in the Frenchman.

Arsene Wenger has made steps, slowly but surely, to fill the holes necessary to get his squad to the level required to win the Premier League. Petr Cech, the essential top-level goalkeeper, was required last summer and Granit Xhaka is soon to join up with the squad to control the midfield. A defender and a forward are still required. The longer Wenger waits to pull the trigger on a deal like this could come back to haunt the Gunners.

Lacazette is reminiscent of many of Wenger’s forwards during his best seasons at the club. His versatility, finishing and overall play would be beneficial for key players and the entire team. He may not fit the bill of a superstar just yet, but he is a top striker and one who can certainly help the club to win the Premier League title.

Why Manuel Pellegrini to AC Milan Wouldn’t Be As Good as it Seems | The Boot Room

Why Manuel Pellegrini to AC Milan Wouldn’t Be As Good As It Seems | The Boot Room

My piece for the Boot Room on Pellegrini’s rumoured move to AC Milan

The transfer rumour mill is in full effect this summer, and that includes news about various managers.

Manuel Pellegrini is one of a few big-name managers being mentioned this summer following his departure from Manchester City at the end of last season. In one of the more intriguing managerial rumours of the summer, the Mirror reports that the former City boss is a target for AC Milan.

The Italian club has been in transition for the last few summers, and part of that is down to a lack of managerial stability. Sinisa Mihajlovic was hired last summer in a move that was expected to end that trend but he was sacked near the end of the season. Christian Brocchi, then the youth team manager and a former Milan player, took over but has failed to convince as well. Milan hasn’t had a long-term A-list manager since the days of Carlo Ancelotti. Current Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri followed Ancelotti’s reign with for four partially successful seasons, but he did not have the reputation then that he does now.

Milan has disappointed since Allegri’s departure in 2014. Three of the four managers to take charge, Brocchi and Milan legends Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi, were first-timers. Mihajlovic was far too pragmatic for president Silvio Berlusconi’s taste. None of these men at the helm provided the requisite results or performances to last long at the San Siro. That is where Pellegrini comes in.

Berlusconi knows Milan would be getting a manager with a vast amount of European experience and a generally good track record, should Pellegrini join. The Chilean also managed at Villarreal, Malaga and Real Madrid before his stint at The Etihad. Pellegrini’s teams have always played in the fluid manner Bersculoni prefers and have been successful doing so too.

There might not be too much silverware to show for his efforts, but Pellegrini won the Premier League at the first time of asking and challenged the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid while at Villarreal. The former Malaga manager is also used to constant pressure that inevitably comes while in charge of a big club. His tenure at both Real Madrid and Manchester City made sure of that. Milan fans would certainly have cause to be optimistic upon hearing Pellegrini being linked to their historic club.

Milan has finished in eighth, tenth and seventh in the last three seasons, with a revolving door of players accompanying the managerial carousel. The Rossoneri are heading into a third straight campaign without European football with one big question still to be answered. According to ESPN FC, Berlusconi started new negotiations concerning the sale of the club to Chinese investors. That article states the sale would need to be done by 15th June for normal service,;meaning transfer activity and coaching changes etc, to occur. The sale has been delayed due to Berlusconi’s recent health issues and that further hinders the club’s chances of improving as needed on and of the pitch.

Should everything be resolved; new ownership or not, it is unlikely to be all smooth sailing with Pellegrini in charge. The Chilean manager would be facing arguably his biggest rebuilding task and likely with little help. A new ownership group would need time to make any decisions in the transfer market though that may arguably be better than Berlusconi and his right-hand man, Adriano Galliani, staying on to continue their underwhelming work of the last few seasons.

Manuel Pellegrini himself has been rather hit and miss in the market when provided with money to spend. The arrivals of Santi Cazorla, Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne during his stints at Malaga, Real Madrid and Manchester City were effectively neutralized by the signings of Kaka, Raul Albiol, Wilfried Bony and Eliaquim Mangala, among others. It is fair to say that at Real Madrid in particular, some of the decisions may not have been Pellegrini’s and rather worryingly, he would face a similar situation should he join Milan.

The drop-off in talent would also be a big task for a manager who is in the same category as Carlo Ancelotti at this stage of his career – more caretaker than builder. One could argue that the talent Pellegrini had at Villarreal and Malaga was better than this current Milan crop and more balanced as well. Questions about his lack of tactical adroitness defensively came up during the latter part of his City reign and will surely pop up again in Serie A. He would have a young defence to work with and a midfield that lacks the inventiveness he would prefer. The shining light would be the solid Carlos Bacca spearheading the attack.

Pellegrini certainly wouldn’t flop at Milan if given the chance, but would find the task harder than expected given all the variables. The other big question that arose at the end of his City reign surrounded his motivational abilities. The Citizens’ performances during the two Champions League semi-finals spoke of a squad no longer listening to the manager though the situation was quite unique. Milan’s hierarchy would be wise to be wary about tasking Pellegrini with galvanizing a chopped and changed squad that has failed to live up to the very shirt they represented in the last few seasons.

As rumours go, Pellegrini to AC Milan is one that gets eyebrows raising. Anyone harbouring thoughts of a quick return to glory should be cautious as Pellegrini is by no means a sure thing.

Why there’s more than just football to this summer’s international tournaments

Why there’s more than just football to this summer’s international tournaments

My Piece for The Boot Room on the off-the-pitch importance of these summer tournaments. The Copa, Euro 2016 and Olympics. Hopefully some good football throughout.

Football fans will have no shortage of quality football to watch this summer with three tournaments on the way.

The Copa America Centenario kicks us off on June 3rd, followed by Euro 2016 on June 10 and the Olympics on August 3rd. Much like the World Cup two years ago, many of the world’s best players will be on display even though they won’t all face each other. The first two tournaments will likely draw more attention despite an overlap, as the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez face off in the Copa while Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Robert Lewandowski battle it out in Europe. The Olympics is mainly a tournament for U-23 players but Neymar’s appearance for Brazil highlights the possibility of a few well-known senior players mixing it with a number of talented youngsters.

With the talent on display, and hopefully a high level of football, these tournaments are sure to draw plenty of attention, something that doesn’t always seem to be the case with international football.

The seemingly continuous qualification process for these tournaments aren’t met with favorable reviews by fans. The main reason being the propensity to break up club football seasons at what is always the worst possible time. When the summer comes around the fans bemoan the end of the club season even if there is at least one tournament on the way. The World Cup, for obvious reasons, is never met with such disdain but the various confederation tournaments seem to receive varying levels of interest at the best of times.

There are a good number of reasons to watch the tournaments this summer, though.

This celebratory Copa America was close to being cancelled when FIFA’s scandal was at its zenith. At least, as ESPN FC reported, that possibility was put forward by one CONMEBOL executive last summer. The Guardian also took a closer look at how former CONCACAF President, Jeffrey Webb, played a part in setting up the tournament. All the problems were ironed out it seems, and here we are with the tournament about to get underway. The Copa provides a chance for CONMEBOL and CONCACAF to focus on football as restructuring and reform begins. It also highlights the ease with which the US can put on a major tournament at short notice, something that might help when a final decision is made on Qatar 2022.

The sporting side of things is no less interesting. We will wait to see how  hosts, the USA, and CONCACAF in general perform. Chile will get a chance to add a second trophy in quick succession with their much-vaunted generation of players. Most of all, we may, surprisingly, be looking at the best chance for the world’s best footballer to win his one piece of senior international silverware. Lionel Messi will lead an Argentina side that are strong favourites. It is likely Chile will represent South America in next year’s Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup in Russia seems a tall task for a side where age will be a factor for key players.

Meanwhile, Euro 2016 may not have faced threat of cancellation but, as the Guardian reports, the possibility of playing behind closed doors surfaced before being ruled out.

As a nation, the French will be hoping that their host team featuring the likes of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann can help relieve some of the stress as the 1998 World Cup winners did. That they will be facing the defending European champions, Spain, and the defending World Cup winners, Germany, makes for an interesting watch on the pitch. The inclusion and appearance of smaller nations like Iceland and Albania in an expanded tournament provides further intrigue. Like his rival Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo may also be facing his best chance to win an international trophy. If both fail in their attempts before their careers end the Argentinian can at least point to a FIFA U-20 World Cup and Olympic gold medal.

The latter achievement is something one of his club teammates will be looking to match as Neymar headlines the last tournament we’ll see this summer, the 2016 Olympics.

The Olympics is a tournament for U-23 players and the Brazilian’s participation adds plenty of excitement. He won’t be the only senior player likely to join any of the participating teams but it is important for a few reasons. Brazil will be hosting the Olympics and will look to the football team to provide one of their signature moments in the tournament. The organization of the tournament has come under much criticism not least because of the fear of athletes, fans or officials may encounter the Zika virus. A win for the football team will bring some joy to the Brazilians above all this and, more importantly, help erase the memories of the humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. Brazil have never won the tournament and doing so would further enhance their reputation in the world game.

On the Women’s side, the women’s teams will be hoping to build on the high level of interest from the 2015 World Cup. The US Women’s team stands out in this regard as they will want to follow-up their World Cup victory and repeat as Olympic champions. Another title would add further strength to their fight for equal pay, as the team filed a claim against US Soccer earlier this year according to ESPN W.

The chance for a summer filled with good football is one reason these tournaments are worth the watch. The underlying social and sporting aspects make it even more worth the while. Club football may take up the majority of a fan’s year but, as these summer tournaments show, international football matters just as much if not more.