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Vesper

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Everything posted by Vesper

  1. Kai Havertz

    IF most (or dog forbid, all) of the flowing happen 1. we fuck the Havertz transfer 2. we dot not sign a winger now that the cunt Willian is walking on a free (especially if no Havertz) 3 End up do nothing at GK 4. bollocks up the Rice move 5, buy what I think are shit left backs and/or CB's 6 we continue to have massive systemic injuries (clearly, at that point, we are doing something wrong) Lampard WILL be sacked during the coming season BOOK IT if Havertz ends up at an another EPL club next summer, we are going to be punished for years I already am worried that fuckstick Willian is going to hammer us when we face Arse, as it just seems like the sort of bad, bad karma we seem to have
  2. Chelsea Transfer Pub

    Raphael Varane will come back from Etihad nightmare, but will this Real Madrid? https://theathletic.com/1973562/2020/08/08/raphael-varane-real-madrid-champions-league/ Raphael Varane’s two very uncharacteristic but decisive individual mistakes were the initial headline takeaway as Real Madrid were eliminated from the Champions League at Manchester City on Friday night. Varane was distraught afterwards, and faced up on Spanish TV to take full responsibility for what had happened. “I want to show my face as this defeat is mine,” the France international said. “We had prepared well, but you pay for mistakes at this level, very dearly. I cannot explain the mistakes, it can happen in football, this is a difficult night for me. It has not happened to me very often before. You have to have character to come back even stronger.” Still 27, Varane has had an otherwise excellent season, and already has 19 career trophies, including four Champions Leagues and a World Cup. He will be back to add to that tally over the next few years, we can be pretty sure about that. The big problem for Madrid is that they cannot now make the serious changes elsewhere in their team as they were well beaten by City over the two legs. Los Blancos were deservedly eliminated from the competition at the last-16 stage, just as they were last season when Ajax shocked the then holders by knocking them out at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. And Zidane now is stuck with more or less the same squad again for 2020-21, and maybe even further. Losing both games against City — deservedly so — made it the first time Madrid had been beaten in each leg of a Champions League tie since they lost 1-0 at home and 4-0 away to Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool back in 2009. That disgrace was followed by Florentino Perez returning as Madrid club president, and over 300 million euros spent on Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema the following summer. That was the response expected when Madrid suffered a setback — they would buy their way out of trouble. It did not work immediately, but alongside other very top players like Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos, the base of the team was put into place which would go on to win an unprecedented four Champions Leagues in five seasons from 2014 to 2019. Over that period Madrid were not always the best club team around, but they had so many big stars at the peak of their careers that they almost always found a way to win in the biggest European occasions. That is no longer the case. Madrid a decade ago were clearly world football’s biggest spenders, but a lot has changed since then. Most important was the entrance of billionaire owners elsewhere, such as those who have bankrolled City’s emergence and construction of a team which is now more talented, more motivated and much younger than Madrid’s. That was the case even before the €600 million Bernabeu stadium rebuild and COVID-19 pandemic both seriously affected Madrid’s finances. The current difference between Madrid and City teams was summed up by Kevin De Bruyne completely overshadowing Luka Modric as the most influential midfielder on the pitch at the Etihad. Modric’s frustration saw the almost 35-year-old booked midway through the second half for a tired hack at De Bruyne, after the Belgian had again skipped away from him in the centre of the park. It was quite similar to what happened as Ajax knocked Madrid out of the competition at the same last-16 stage last season — when Frenkie de Jong cheekily eased his way past the Croatian as part of a dominant midfield performance. Asked at Friday’s post-game press conference if Madrid now needed to spend lots of money this summer to strengthen the squad, Zidane preferred to talk up how well his current players had done over the course of 2019-20. “We have to be very proud of the team, of what we did,” Zidane replied. “This has been an excellent season. Today we are not happy, as these players always want to win. But sometimes you lose. We must remain calm, keep our heads up. As 95 per cent of all the players have done, all season, have been spectacular, excellent. And I will stick with that. We must be very happy with what we have done.” It was understandable for Zidane to look to protect his current players, but it was also just not true. Madrid have had plenty of bad moments all the way through 2019-20. They won just three of their eight Champions League games over the campaign, against Galatasaray (twice) and Club Bruges. They exited the Copa del Rey embarrassingly 4-3 at home to Real Sociedad. Their La Liga form before COVID-19 struck was very uneven, and while their 10-game winning streak post-lockdown was impressive in its seriousness and determination, all the chaos at Barcelona was also a big factor in Madrid winning the strangest of Spanish title races. Zidane’s message about his squad on Friday was also strikingly different to what he said when he returned as coach in March 2019. Then he spoke openly about a “second project” and the “changes” that would be made “for sure” the following summer, regularly mentioning publicly players he wanted to bring in such as Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe. Circumstances — and Perez — thwarted that plan for a significant overhaul. Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez remained at the Bernabeu, while neither Pogba nor Mbappe arrived. The one big name who Zidane was given was long-time target Eden Hazard — who has scored just once in the whole season since his €100 million arrival from Chelsea, due to serial ankle problems which will not go away. Whenever asked about his plans for this summer’s transfer window, Perez has been very careful to keep everyone’s expectations under control. “There will not be any big signings,” he said during the La Liga title celebrations in mid-July. “The situation is very bad. It is difficult to ask the players to take salary cuts, and then sign big players.” Asked specifically about Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe, with whom Zidane has already cultivated a very close personal relationship, the construction magnate suggested that this was not the right time, yet, to make that move. “That can wait,” he said. “Real Madrid will return to signing the best players around, when the situation changes, and these things can be taken on.” That fits with the strategy which has been leaking out of Madrid for some time now. Their transfer decision-makers feel that they are very well placed to be Mbappe’s next club, and that they can play a waiting game. The 21-year-old has just two years left on his current contract and has rebuffed attempts by the PSG hierarchy to extend it. If sources around the Bernabeu are to be believed, he is stonewalling any attempts to extend that to make an escape to Madrid next summer as easy (and cheap) as possible. What Zidane thinks of having to go into next season with the same squad, being stuck with Bale and James while having to wait for Mbappe, remains to be seen. After what was his first loss in 13 Champions League ties/finals as a coach, the Frenchman repeatedly dodged questions over his future at the post-game news conference at the Etihad late on Friday night. “We will have to see what we will do. We all need to rest a bit,” was his first response to the question. “We will have to see what we would need to have a great season,” he said when pressed to confirm if he would still be in charge when the new La Liga campaign starts in September. Differences of opinion between the president and coach over how much can be spent on new players do not appear to be resolved. If Perez cannot find the money to improve the individual quality of the squad, can Zidane improve as a tactician to make them play better collectively as a team? Is that a challenge he is keen to take on? Those questions were left hanging in the air as Madrid arrived back in the Spanish capital early on Saturday morning, with the longest season ever having finished earlier than they had expected.
  3. The English Football Thread

    How Manchester United plan to use Jadon Sancho https://theathletic.com/1980977/2020/08/08/jadon-sancho-manchester-united-dortmund-woodward/ Having strained forlornly for creativity at various stages in the last 12 months, the burst of fluency that carried Manchester United to a happy conclusion for Champions League qualification has provoked a curious debate regarding plans for summer strengthening. Where, exactly, would Jadon Sancho fit into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team? The question, posed by many observers, is fair in context of the 22 goals scored in six victories and three draws in the final nine Premier League matches after football’s resumption. Mason Greenwood’s emergence as a super-effective threat from the right wing has also clouded earlier clarity that United require enhancement in that position — a priority outlined to intermediaries a number of weeks ago. It is worth saying at this stage that Sancho’s prospective arrival is far from assured. Negotiations with Borussia Dortmund are creeping along through agents, there is a valuation gap, and personal terms remain to be agreed. But Solskjaer has pinpointed the 20-year-old as the ideal piece of recruitment this window, so exploring why feels worthwhile. The basic answer is that a club with aspirations of challenging for the title cannot rely on the same front three for the course of a campaign when one is 18 years old and susceptible to ebbs of form like any young player. Daniel James is the alternative for that role but after a blistering start to his United career, his performances have plateaued to levels that, in all honesty, were to be expected of a player with one previous season of senior football behind him, at Swansea in the Championship. He has good potential and is very useful as a counter-attacking option, especially if he can improve his decision-making in the final third, as is being worked on at Carrington. James has also been asked to play on the opposite flank to where he had his success at Swansea. His goals against Crystal Palace and Southampton last August show a winger who prefers to cut in from the left but that channel belongs to Marcus Rashford now, and such has been his productivity United’s attacking areas have leaned distinctly to the left — 41.45 percent to 34.77 percent, as this graphic relating to the Premier League shows. The dots represent where assists came from, and although 16 are located in the right third compared to nine in the left third (excluding corners), a further 10 in the left half of the middle third compared to five in the right half of the middle third highlight those occasions when Rashford and Anthony Martial have linked up to penetrative effect. The idea, as far as United are concerned, is creating the same level of threat on the right so the overall areas of attack are spread more evenly. As one source close to the club put it, Sancho’s signing would give Solskjaer “total unpredictability” for his forward unit. United see him primarily playing on the right but as illustrated by his Bundesliga heat map, supplied by Wyscout, he is equally adept on the left. Such dexterity opens up the prospect that Sancho, who has 30 goals and 33 assists in 78 games in Germany’s top flight, could not only lift United’s right wing to elite standards but provide various options across the frontline. There is even a thought at Old Trafford, pretty terrifying for opposition defenders, that Sancho, Rashford, Martial and Greenwood could all play in the same side. Greenwood would likely shift central to accommodate Sancho on the right, in what would be a similarly loaded line-up to those which populated United’s treble season, or more recently the 2008-09 campaign of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, and Dimitar Berbatov. Admittedly that foursome may only have been on the pitch at the same time infrequently — to positive effect from half-time of the 5-2 comeback win over Tottenham Hotspur and to lesser success for the last 24 minutes of the 2-0 loss to Barcelona in that season’s Champions League final — but they also opened up opportunities for rotation with no drop-off in quality. With Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes most likely in the middle, it would place a burden on the defence but when the title has been won with 100, 98, and 99 points in the past three seasons the emphasis for United to even think of challenging will be through scoring plenty of goals. “Sancho would be a massive leg up for United to chasing City and Liverpool in terms of firepower,” says an informed source. The prospect of Sancho’s arrival allowing Greenwood to move to a central role would suit the teenager best, according to one of his former coaches. “I still think at the moment we are playing Mason in the wrong place, we should be playing him down the middle, not so much as a target man, but as a forward connecting to the midfield,” says Clayton Blackmore, who worked in United’s academy when Greenwood was first emerging. “It should be a two up front, for me, but people don’t like that. It could be one up front, one behind. Mason needs to be in the middle of the field, really. He can run at people. He showed the other night, one little stepover, he’d lost the defender for a split second to set up a good chance.” The notion of Greenwood in tandem with Martial may seem a throwback to a bygone era but in other ways it would reflect how Pep Guardiola has redefined what is required on a consistent basis. Liverpool, under Jurgen Klopp, have kept pace and overtaken with a side of beautiful synchronicity and this could be United’s own response. It would require Rashford and Sancho to track back on the wings but their statistics in this regard are encouraging. The heat map from earlier gives indication of Sancho’s work in his own half and he has recorded an average of two interceptions and 3.4 recoveries per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga. Rashford’s Premier League heat map (below) demonstrates a similar willingness to do the less glamourous parts of the game and per 90 minutes in the Premier League he has recorded 1.8 interceptions and 2.1 recoveries. Admittedly these fall someway short of Nemanja Matic’s 5.39 interceptions and 10.01 recoveries per 90 minutes in the Premier League but his role is almost exclusively defensive. Undeniably though, offence is the reason for United’s serious interest in Sancho. He is both an excellent carrier of the ball and a player capable of opening up chances through his passing. Per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga, Sancho completes 7.7 dribbles at a 48.6 per cent success rate and averages 3.6 progressive runs (either 10-metre carries in the opposition half or 30-metre carries in a player’s own half.) Rashford, who is an expert in this aspect of the game, averages 6.3 dribbles per 90 minutes in the Premier League at a 44.2 per cent success rate and two progressive runs. Greenwood averages 3.3 dribbles at a 56.1 per cent success and 1.4 progressive runs. James, meanwhile, averages 5.3 dribbles at a 56.9 per cent success rate and 3.5 progressive runs. The Premier League has greater depth of quality than the Bundesliga, of course, so that disparity has to be factored in, but Sancho’s numbers stay steady in the Champions League. Per 90 minutes he has 6.7 dribbles at a 50 per cent success and 3.5 progressive runs. The pitch map below marks where Sancho has started his take-ons or been fouled in the Champions League. Again, it shows his activity across both flanks and in his own half. In 15 appearances in Europe’s elite club competition, Sancho has scored three goals and provided three assists. One of these came against Inter, when playing as a right-sided attacking midfielder, to cap a comeback win from 2-0 down. He moved into a pocket of space outside the area and called for possession from Achraf Hakimi, who played the ball sharply and ran towards the box. Sancho took one touch to control and threaded a weighted pass with his second so Hakimi could finish first time on the run. It was one of three successful through-balls — defined as a pass into the empty spaces behind the defensive line, leaving the attacking player alone against the goalkeeper — Sancho has provided in the Champions League, and is of the same technical quality to Greenwood’s goal against West Ham, or Martial’s against Sheffield United, assisted respectively by sharp passes from Martial and Rashford. It is easy to see how Sancho’s way of thinking would slot in. A similar pass came against Barcelona in the Nou Camp from the left wing, playing in Julian Brandt for a shot that was saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen and, in the Bundesliga, Sancho averages 1.4 through balls per 90 minutes, with a 38.4 per cent accuracy. Those numbers are higher than Rashford, Greenwood and James, while for context Fernandes — the crown prince of lock-picking — averages 3.4 through balls per 90 minutes of Premier League football at a lower success rate of 10.4 per cent. Sancho’s pass map from the Champions League (337 completed from 395 attempts, 295 in the opposition half, 100 in his own half, and 208 in the final third) indicates his willingness to try things and get involved. In the Bundesliga, Sancho averages 81.1 actions per 90 minutes at a 65.8 per cent success rate, a comparable figure to Fernandes, whose busy work rate has seen him average 83.3 actions per 90 minutes in the Premier League at a 59.7 per cent success rate. Sancho has 1.6 shots per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga, with 4.2 touches in the penalty area, and his hybrid style of dribbling, passing and finishing helps explain why Sancho (with 17) is behind only Robert Lewandowski (34) and Timo Werner (28) for goals scored in the Bundesliga in 2019-20 and for assists (16) has only Thomas Muller (21) ahead of him. Germany is different to England of course, but Sancho’s history at City’s academy makes those who want him at United feel he will be “ready-made” for the Premier League. He would specifically appear an exciting fit for Solskjaer’s side. There are more talks between clubs ahead.
  4. Chelsea Transfer Pub

    Gosens: ‘Tactical stuff really is the worst. But with Gasperini you know it works’ https://theathletic.com/1974979/2020/08/08/robin-gosens-atalanta-champions-league-interview-germany/ Bergamo is a city united by its love for football. But when the game returned to one of the towns in Europe worst affected by coronavirus, it proved very divisive. “There were two camps,” Robin Gosens recalls. “Some were saying it’s great that calcio was back, a good distraction, something to take your mind off things. But others, including our ultras, said: ‘How can you play football when scores of people have died here, don’t we have more important things to worry about?’ It got you thinking whether it was right or wrong.” Atalanta’s German wing-back was also troubled by the role the sport might have inadvertently played in spreading the virus in northern Italy and Spain. Some virologists have called Atalanta’s last-16 tie with Valencia in February “a biological bomb” as scores of Bergamo-based fans and Valencia supporters travelled for the game in Milan to fuel the outbreak. “I’m not an expert but it sounds logical,” he says. “I don’t know how my team-mates feel but I’m deeply saddened that we might have been part of something this horrible, even if we’re not personally to blame. You’re at the top of your career, playing in the Champions League, and in the stands, it’s the start of misery…” His voice trails off. ”It’s difficult to get to terms with.” Atalanta’s players were either holed up in their homes with their families, unable to leave the house at all for two months, or cooped up in the team hotel next to the training ground. They felt reasonably safe but as the virus raged all around them in Europe’s epicentre of the disease, the club wasn’t spared. The father of assistant coach Mauro Fumagalli caught the virus. A fit and healthy man in his mid-sixties, he was admitted to a hospital that found itself completely overstretched. “He was put on oxygen supply and couldn’t talk to his family,” Gosens says. “Three weeks later, he was gone. A doctor later told Mauro that they might have been able to save him if he had come in at a different time, but it was total chaos then. Horrific.” Coach Gian Piero Gasperini revealed that he had also contracted the virus but the 62-year-old was lucky to recover quickly. Fortunately, the overall situation in Lombardy has much improved since. “People want to move forward, cautiously,” the 26-year-old says. “Everyone knows it’s not over but there’s real excitement that we’re still in the Champions League. It’s sad that the fans can’t accompany us on this adventure, they would love to be involved. But the mood is much more positive now. Even those who were opposed to football at the beginning have changed their stance. They’re just happy that we brought a bit of joy back into their lives and put a smile on their faces.” A fabulous run of nine wins, three draws and only one defeat, resulting in another sensational top-four finish, can do that for you. “We were lucky that we came back as if we’d never been away, hitting form immediately,” Gosens says, a little modestly. Gasperini’s team has played some of the finest passing football anyone has seen this year. Confidence is high before next week’s meeting with Paris Saint-Germain, too. Gosens noted that PSG coach Thomas Tuchel was careful not to call the Italians “a good draw” or words to such effect. “We’re not considered small fry, people have obviously noticed what we have done. We can take that as a big compliment. We see this trip to Lisbon as a bonus. The cherry on the cake, as we say in German. We go there with no pressure at all. I believe, for PSG, it’s very different. We know that they’re a world-class team, of course. But it won’t be fun for them to play against us. It’s two games to the final. So why not dream?” Why not, indeed. has played a big part in the club’s dream. Atalanta’s left-back was bought as a virtual unknown for €900,000 from Heracles Almelo in 2017 but has been one of the revelations of the campaign, scoring nine goals from open play and providing eight assists in the leagues. Few (nominal) defenders in Europe’s top leagues have done more going forward. Attacking full-backs are a hallmark of Gasperini’s system. Gosens says that the collective movement by the team makes every player look good but his improvement is also down to lots of hard work. He has spent hours watching himself on a laptop next to Gasperini or Fumagalli, who explained how and when he needed to move to get into dangerous areas. “Last year, I would often get into the final third but didn’t have the right timing to get to the ball, I was either too far forward or still behind. I analysed my weaknesses and mistakes, watching a lot of games back. With the help of the coaches, I managed to really improve on that. I also spent a lot of time on the training ground on finishing, with my head, left foot, right foot. I’ve made a big jump. It shows you that doing that little bit more really does pay off.” Putting the extra hours in is a recurring theme in the conversation. Gasperini’s creative brilliance, it turns out, is built on meticulous training sessions that can go on forever. “There is a degree of freedom in attack because the opponents don’t move like the dots on the tactics board. But we also devote entire days to practice certain patterns. Some of the goals we have scored have come from those prepared moves. That’s what a good coach is all about. When you see he knows what he’s talking about, you trust him and his ideas, even if working on them for three hours at a time is horrible. Tactical stuff really is the worst.” He laughs. “But you just know it will come off.” Gosens is aware of the value of hard work, perhaps more than your average footballer. He grew up in the village of Elten, close to the Dutch border, and never truly believed he would make it as professional after a hopeless trial with Borussia Dortmund in his teens. “The standard was far too high me,” he winces. He played for tiny amateur side VfL Rhede in his youth, often turning up to matches after heavy-duty night outs with friends. But once, a scout from Vitesse Arnhem dispatched to watch a different player, happened to see him dominate a game in midfield. He invited him for a trial. Gosens moved across the border, aged 18. Peter Bosz, Vitesse’s coach at the time, called him up to the pros. He then moved to newly-promoted Dordrecht and onwards to Heracles. It’s only this season, however, that he has managed to really come into his own, a veritable late-bloomer in the age of hot-housed prodigies. “It’s hard to explain why it has clicked for me now but one factor is essential: I’ve worked incredibly hard on myself since I got the chance to become a pro,” he says. “It’s because I felt I had to make up for all the things I didn’t learn in an academy. The dream was so big that I promised myself to never stop working and trying to improve myself. I think there’s still unrealised potential. I want to go further, I want more, I will never rest on my laurels. I think that’s what makes me different from some other players. The most beautiful thing you can do is play football for a living, I’m aware of that. Every single day.” Would he give his 15-year-old self advice on how to lead a different, more football-focused life, and perhaps make it more quickly? The surprising answer is no. “I’m incredibly happy that I became a pro this way. I know it’s not the norm these days but I’m honestly not sure I would have made it if I had joined an academy aged 16 or 17. I’m a free spirit, I needed that experience as a youngster, doing lots of stupid things and being completely out of order a few times to become the player and the human being I am today. I’m at peace with myself because I don’t feel that I missed out on my youth. I made all the mistakes I needed to make.” Pre-match beers are no longer viable, he laughs: “They will have to wait until the holidays.” And then, the next step beckons. Gosens is expected to get called up by Germany this autumn, to reach another milestone in his wondrous career. There is also plenty of talk of a €30 million move to a bigger club after Atalanta’s European exploits come to an end. Gosens admits that he’s excited by the prospect of playing in the Bundesliga but he won’t leave simply for the sake of a bigger pay packet. “Money is great. But it’s never been the driving force for me. I need to know what a club and a coach have planned for me, what they want to achieve. Being part of a project is more important than the financial aspect. You only get better as a player and a person if someone believes in you.”
  5. Ten stars to watch in the Champions League (and it’s not the usual suspects) https://theathletic.com/1973321/2020/08/06/champions-league-players-to-watch-bayern-real-psg-juventus-atalanta-atletico-barcelona-leipzig/ The Champions League is back. Eleven games in the space of 17 days will decide the best club team in Europe, but which players could prove pivotal in this hectic winner-takes-all feast of football? Our experts have picked 10 under-the-radar players who could do just that, from a 20-year-old La Masia graduate set to make his European debut to a 32-year-old Argentinian who created 102 chances in Serie A this past season. There are four quarter-final places still to be decided in the next couple of days — Atalanta, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Atletico Madrid are already through — before the competition takes on a single-leg knockout format for the final three rounds next week in Portugal. Last-16 second legs Friday: Juventus (0) v (1) Lyon Friday: Manchester City (2) v (1) Real Madrid Saturday: Bayern Munich (3) v (0) Chelsea Saturday: Barcelona (1) v (1) Napoli Quarter-finals Wednesday (QF4): Atalanta v Paris Saint-Germain Thursday, August 13 (QF2): RB Leipzig v Atletico Madrid Friday, August 14 (QF1): Barcelona/Napoli v Bayern Munich/Chelsea Saturday, August 15 (QF3): Manchester City/Real Madrid v Juventus/Lyon Semi-finals Tuesday, August 18: Winner of QF2 v Winner of QF4 Wednesday, August 19: Winner of QF1 v Winner of QF3 Final: Sunday, August 23 All matches kick off at 8pm GMT Riqui Puig (Barcelona) Taking the playmaking reins in the Barcelona midfield against Napoli will be a young midfielder who has not yet played a minute in continental football. Riqui Puig has long had a big reputation around the Nou Camp, but for quite a while he was more famous for his absence than his presence. Born locally and educated at Barcelona’s famous academy, La Masia, even Puig’s name screams Catalonia. That name made plenty of headlines when Barcelona’s under-19s won the UEFA Youth League two seasons ago. The Barcelona head coach at the time, Ernesto Valverde, was not so impressed, barely giving Puig a look-in. It reached the stage when Puig’s absence from the team was the main complaint from some fans and pundits before Valverde was fired in January. Some began to wonder whether the expectations would be detrimental Puig. Could the longing around the Nou Camp for the “next Xavi” or a “new Iniesta” warp impressions? Given a chance by new coach Quique Setien since the post-lockdown restart, Puig has shown he has the personality and talent to recharge a midfield that has been very low on energy and ideas this season. A very happy Lionel Messi opening his arms for Puig to celebrate a goal the 20-year-old had assisted appeared to confirm his arrival as a key part of the senior set-up. (Photo: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) Meanwhile, Barcelona’s other midfield options have been disappearing. Arthur Melo has decided he no longer owes the club anything after they pushed him out to Juventus, while Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal are suspended for this decider against Napoli. Neither Ivan Rakitic nor Frenkie de Jong have had great seasons but they should join Puig in a midfield three starting together for the very first time. It is far from an ideal situation but Barcelona and Setien are in a desperate situation. Puig has so far dealt very confidently with all he has faced so far. He looks ready for this new stage. Next game: Saturday; last-16 second leg, Napoli (H). 1-1 after the first leg Dermot Corrigan Papu Gomez (Atalanta) It’s a joy to watch Papu Gomez, not only for his bravura but the intelligence he applies to his game. His revelation about using the referee as a reference point — “the ref is always in space” — is ingenious and the way the Argentinian varies his play, starting out wide or drifting between the lines then maybe coming deep and taking the ball from his centre-backs makes it so difficult for Atalanta’s opponents to know who has the job of picking him up. Papu created 102 chances in a team that scored 98 league goals this season, making Atalanta the most prolific side in Serie A since 1952. He has made it into double figures for assists in each of the last four years. No one in Europe’s top five leagues can match him for that level of creative consistency over the same timeframe. True, the diminutive 32-year-old does not strike many people as obvious captain material. But he is a technical and emotional leader rolled into one. Atalanta’s spirit is infused by the man known as Papu. The team plays with his infectious “allegria” (joy) and you can’t help but smile when they take the field. That quality is more important than ever given the pain and suffering their hometown of Bergamo experienced throughout the pandemic. Papu was made an honorary citizen of the city last December and speaks for everyone at the club when he says Atalanta want to give its people a lift after so much trauma. As the only Italian team already through to the quarter-finals, three games are all that separate Papu and his team-mates from an achievement that would even make Leicester City’s Premier League title pale by comparison. Next game: Wednesday; quarter-final, Paris Saint-Germain David Alaba (Bayern Munich) There is no such thing as a low-key player in this Bayern line-up. But out of all their stellar performances this season, David Alaba’s transformation from marauding left-back to playmaking centre-back has perhaps not received quite the attention it deserves. The 28-year-old was initially drafted into the heart of the defence as a makeshift solution, covering for the absences of Lucas Hernandez and Niklas Sule. It’s a role he first played with much aplomb in Pep Guardiola’s last season in charge (2015-16) but four years down the line, the Austria international has gone to another level. He has essentially been flawless for the entire campaign, their most important progressor of the ball — thanks to supreme passing skills honed in his midfielder past — and also one of the side’s leaders. Reporters covering Bayern’s games after the Bundesliga restart were surprised to hear Alaba, unassuming to the point of being shy off the pitch, shouting out an incessant stream of instructions and motivational cries to team-mates. It’s this willingness to take responsibility that has Bayern worried he might leave this summer, as negotiations over a contract extension beyond 2021 have been at an impasse for a while. Executive chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge might have worded his description of Alaba as “the black Beckenbauer” a little ungracefully, but the underlying sentiment is true enough. Twelve years after joining the club as a 16-year-old, his game mixes elegance on the ball with a sense of imperial authority the Kaiser himself would have been proud of. If Alaba goes on to win Bayern a second Champions League in a second position, his status as “a future all-time best in the club’s history”, in the words of Guardiola, is guaranteed. Next game: Saturday; last-16 second leg, Chelsea (H). Bayern lead 3-0 after the first leg Raphael Honigstein Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig) RB Leipzig made it clear just how much they believed in the potential of Christopher Nkunku when they handed him a five-year contract last summer. The former Paris Saint-Germain academy product, 22, perfectly fits the club’s philosophy of buying high-talent, high-growth players early in their careers, but even sporting director Markus Krosche might have been surprised by how quickly the Frenchman took to the Bundesliga. He scored five goals and provided 15 assists in the league, from five different positions on the pitch. “Christopher can play as a box-to-box midfielder, No 10, winger, striker,” Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann said. Along with those four positions, Nkunku has also been deployed as a highly-effective foil for the now-departed Timo Werner in a second-striker berth. There’s little the fast and guileful Paris-born universalist can’t do well, which can sometimes be a problem for a player of his ilk. Nkunku is almost too versatile for his own good, offering up a variety of options but no necessity to find him a defined role. There’s a temptation to treat him as a human pick-and-mix shop, providing instant gratification in countless ways. His fine performances have been a little overlooked as a result. Now Werner is at Chelsea and so no longer his first point of reference next or directly ahead of him, Nkunku should benefit from more opportunities to let his creative juices run. Nagelsmann has hinted he will be one of the players entrusted to break down Atletico Madrid’s defensive walls as Leipzig attempt to blend intricate combination play in small spaces with defensive rigour out of possession. Next game: Thursday, August 13; quarter-final, Atletico Madrid Raphael Honigstein Marco Asensio (Real Madrid) Few players enjoyed the return to football after lockdown as much as Marco Asensio. His first touch following La Liga’s resumption in mid-June was to guide a Ferland Mendy cross into the net against Valencia. Just 12 minutes later, his clever pass set up Karim Benzema for the final goal in a 3-0 victory. It was not a bad contribution, given it was his first appearance in any game for just over a year after an ACL injury in a pre-season friendly against Arsenal last July. Coach Zinedine Zidane eased him back into action carefully, but Asensio made his case for more minutes quickly. He scored again against Alaves and again on the final day of season at Leganes after the title had been secured. He looks fully recovered from his knee injury, delighted to be playing again, and very eager to make up for lost time. The contrast with lethargic contributions from more senior colleagues Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez has been huge. Asensio should really now be ahead of even last year’s galactico signing Eden Hazard for a place in attack alongside Benzema in their ‘qualifier’ away to Manchester City. His ability to take a chance could be crucial, given Real Madrid need to score at least twice at the Etihad to progress, while his energy and enthusiasm fit well with the demands Zidane places on all his stars. At 24 years old, Asensio is ready to make consistent, decisive contributions for Real Madrid and Spain. He has not lacked for career highlights so far (including the last goal in the 4-1 Champions League final victory over Juventus three years ago). Still, his career has not yet reached the heights that many predicted. The unique circumstances of this season’s competition, and the timing of his return, give him a chance to crack on again. Next game: Friday; last-16 second leg, Manchester City (A). City lead 2-1 after the first leg Dermot Corrigan Renan Lodi (Atletico Madrid) Renan Lodi’s debut for Atletico Madrid last August did not go exactly to plan — the 21-year-old’s enthusiasm spilt over into rashness with two needless yellow cards within 60 seconds just before half-time at home to Getafe. The Brazilian left-back later revealed he was struggling to settle in the Spanish capital, and had told his girlfriend to pack her things as they were heading straight back home. However, a chat with head coach Diego Simeone settled him down, and his next game brought an assist and a man of the match performance as helped Atletico rally from 2-0 down to beat Eibar, 3-2. There have been a few more hitches along the way, and Simeone regularly substituted him through the autumn when it seemed opponents were targeting his side of the pitch. Generally, though, Lodi has been an outstanding success thanks to his hard running, technical gifts and excellent crossing. Much like his predecessor at left-back, compatriot Filipe Luis, Lodi has become one of the most important creative outlets in the Atletico team. Alongside his friend and former Athletico Paranaense team-mate Bruno Guimaraes of Lyon (more on him shortly), Lodi looks set to be an important member of the Brazil set-up in the coming years. Lingering doubts about his defending were put to bed when he confidently overcame Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold in the last-16 victories over Liverpool. Only three players now have more outfield minutes than him for Atletico this season, with Lodi easily outperforming England’s Kieran Trippier on the opposite flank of their new-look back four. Along with fellow summer 2019 arrivals Marcos Llorente and Joao Felix, Lodi’s emergence is one reason why Atletico fans are confident before their quarter-final against RB Leipzig. His marauding runs forward will be a key part of Simeone’s plan for that game and Atletico’s hopes over the coming seasons. Next game: Thursday, August 13; quarter-final, RB Leipzig Dermot Corrigan Bruno Guimaraes (Lyon) Watch Lyon midfielder Bruno Guimaraes for 90 minutes against Juventus tomorrow and there is a good chance your eyes will deceive you. If he performs as he did in the first leg, back in March, he will dominate to such a degree you will assume you’re watching a proven star with 50 Champions League games under his belt — someone who has already been to football finishing school and graduated with honours. But Guimaraes is just getting started. That game against Juventus was his debut at this level, and only his second for Lyon after joining from Brazil’s Athletico Paranaense in January. His performance would have been impressive in any context but for a complete European football novice it was nothing short of remarkable. The 22-year-old could be forgiven for wondering how far that initial momentum might have taken him — he received his first senior Brazil call-up in March, after just four appearances for Lyon — but there is little reason to expect a drop-off. In possession, Guimaraes is a driving force. He is a calm passer of the ball, but also a brave one: he wants to hurt the opposition, either with a drilled through ball or one of his trademark switches to the flank. He reads the tempo of the game well, managing its internal rhythms. “He’s a fantastic footballer,” Lyon coach Rudi Garcia said after the derby win over Saint-Etienne that followed the Juventus first leg. “Everything flows better when he is playing.” He is combative, too, happy to press and strong enough to manage the physical stuff. “Complete” is probably the word to describe his game. Juninho Pernambucano, Lyon’s sporting director, was surely blowing smoke when he told Guimaraes he would make him the best central midfielder in the world but the idea doesn’t actually look so far-fetched. The only problem for the Ligue 1 club will be holding onto him. With no Champions League football next season and Barcelona already rumoured to be circling, they will fear Guimaraes’ second European game will also turn out to be his Lyon swansong. Next game: Friday; last-16 second leg, Juventus (A). Lyon lead 1-0 after the first leg Jack Lang Mauro Icardi (Paris Saint-Germain) When Mauro Icardi joined Paris Saint-Germain, it was my personal belief he would get close to scoring 40 goals a season if granted regular game time. The Argentinian is one of those strikers who can go 90 minutes with barely a touch of the ball yet still come away with the man of the match award. He only needs half a chance to finish up with a hat-trick. Opportunities weren’t always plentiful at Inter Milan, yet Icardi still won the Capocannoniere crown twice and outscored all of the club’s modern greats. Ronaldo, Christian Vieri, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Adriano, Diego Milito. Take your pick. The prospect of him joining a team as talent-loaded and attacking as PSG in his prime whetted the appetite more than dinner at l’Arpege. And Icardi hasn’t disappointed. In 2020, he has averaged a goal every 22 touches. His goal involvement per 90 minutes ratio is 0.99 and, in the two seasons he has played in this competition, he has scored nine times in 12 appearances. Appreciation for Icardi as hometown Rosario’s own version of Pippo Inzaghi would perhaps be greater had he been playing for a Champions League regular rather than Inter earlier in his career. Instead, tabloids and gossip columns focused on the box-office nature of his relationship with his wife and agent, Wanda Nara. Icardi is famous in Italy for showing up when it mattered most, as his record in Inter’s big games attests. He is exactly the kind of striker a team with PSG’s reputation are crying out for in this competition. Optimism continues to grow around Kylian Mbappe’s recovery from the nasty ankle injury he picked up in the Coupe de France final just under a fortnight ago, but there’s no need to rush him back with a sniper such as Icardi in Thomas Tuchel’s arsenal. Next game: Wednesday; quarter-final, Atalanta James Horncastle Dries Mertens (Napoli) The most likeable player on this list — after Papu Gomez. It feels wrong to refer to Dries Mertens as Belgian when he has become an adopted Neapolitan over his seven years with Napoli. “Ciro”, as he is known in the Bay Area, cemented his status as the greatest player since Diego Maradona to pull on powder blue when he became the club’s all-time top scorer in June. The 33-year-old then helped Napoli lift the Coppa Italia, signing a lucrative new contract shortly before kick-off to stay for another two seasons. The significance of that decision cannot be overstated. Edinson Cavani left for Paris Saint-Germain and Gonzalo Higuain accepted an offer to join Juventus, Napoli’s biggest rivals. But Mertens has stayed and that means the world in a football-mad city that has all the magical realism of a great Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. The sight of Naples born-and-bred Lorenzo Insigne wincing and hobbling off late in their final Serie A game of the season last Saturday means yet more responsibility falls on Mertens’ shoulders as they head to Barcelona. Napoli do have options. For instance, they can use the silky Arkadiusz Milik through the middle and restore Mertens to the position he occupied on the left before he reinvented himself as a centre-forward capable of scoring more than 100 goals in next to no time at all. (Photo: Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images) His record in the Champions League this season explains the offers Inter Milan and Chelsea tabled in the hope they might be able to tempt him away from his bougainvillea-draped seafront balcony in Posillipo. Mertens scored the winner against Liverpool at the San Paolo and put his team in front at Anfield, as he did in the first leg of their last-16 tie with Barcelona. The Catalans got back into the game and nabbed an away goal only after Mertens had to go off with an injury early in the second half. Napoli have established a reputation as cup specialists under new coach Gennaro Gattuso, so expect to see Mertens wagging his tongue in celebration of another goal dedicated to the club’s barista and kitman, the mythical Tommaso Starace. Next game: Saturday; last-16 second leg, Barcelona (A). 1-1 after the first leg James Horncastle Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus) Matthijs de Ligt wasn’t even born the last time Juventus won the Champions League. Watertight defending is more vital than ever to the Old Lady if she is to end that long drought in Lisbon over the next couple of weeks. But first, she has to get to Portugal, with Juventus needing to overcome a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Lyon in Turin tomorrow night. Pavel Nedved said his club could have no complaints when the draw was made in July. Their French opponents are expected to be rusty after playing one competitive game in the past five months, but Juventus aren’t scoring freely and haven’t been able to shut out teams as they did in the past. Nevertheless, summer buy De Ligt has come on leaps and bounds in 2020 and now looks the most comfortable defender in Maurizio Sarri’s system. Since swapping sides with Leonardo Bonucci, the 20-year-old seems more at ease and has stood out with a series of commanding performances. Taking questions in English in flash interviews before unexpectedly switching to Italian demonstrates how much his communication skills have also improved over the last year. Giorgio Chiellini’s knee injury a year ago has deprived Juventus of their charismatic captain practically all season and meant De Ligt was thrown in at the deep end, with Sarri having to rush his integration into the team and Italian football in general. After a baptism of fire on his debut against Napoli and a few run-ins with Italy’s strict interpretation of the handball rule, De Ligt has backed up what he showed in captaining Ajax to within seconds of last year’s Champions League final. He is also the youngest defender to score four goals in Europe’s top five leagues this season, including a shot from outside the box away to Udinese only a couple of weeks ago. De Ligt’s status as the best centre-back of the next generation remains unchallenged. Next game: Friday; last-16 second leg, Lyon (H). Lyon lead 1-0 after the first leg
  6. Super Frank Thread

    The numbers that show how Chelsea struggle in possession https://theathletic.com/1951315/2020/08/06/chelsea-analytics-possession-lampard/ Chelsea will play Champions League football again next season and have already made impressive progress in their quest to reinforce Frank Lampard’s team in the transfer market. Now able to call upon one of Europe’s most prolific goalscorers in Timo Werner, one of Europe’s most talented creators in Hakim Ziyech and potentially also one of Europe’s most coveted young stars in Kai Havertz, a lack of firepower should no longer be an issue. But one of the most significant issues for Lampard to address, linked to but distinct from their inconsistent attack, springs directly from Chelsea’s identity as a high possession team. Is there such a thing as having too much of the ball? Pep Guardiola probably wouldn’t say so, and the very best teams almost always have more possession than their opponents. Chelsea enjoyed more than 50 per cent of the ball in 35 of their 38 Premier League matches this season – the same number as Liverpool and Manchester City. Chelsea have also fared reasonably well in these games, averaging 1.71 points and 1.77 goals scored. Both numbers rank fourth in the division, behind only Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester City. It’s reasonable to predict that, at the very least, their goals scored average will grow with Werner, Ziyech and, potentially, Havertz available to Lampard next season. The less encouraging figure is Chelsea’s average of 1.34 goals conceded in games where they had the majority of possession; the only team in the top half of the Premier League table who fare worse are Burnley who, on the evidence of this admittedly small sample size, should never want the ball. When you isolate the 21 Premier League matches in which Chelsea registered more than 60 per cent possession, their averages for points gained and goals scored both dip – though both remain in the upper bracket of the division, if a tier below Liverpool and Manchester City. Once again, however, it’s the average number of goals conceded that stands out for the wrong reasons. Analysing the five Premier League matches in which Chelsea had more than 70 per cent of possession, the relative vulnerability of Lampard’s team with the ball becomes even more striking. Their averages for points gained and goals scored dip further away from the lofty standards set by Liverpool and Manchester City, while their goals conceded average surges up to 1.8. Five games is a dangerously small sample size from which to draw firm conclusions, of course. When you dig a little deeper into those matches – wins over Newcastle United at home and Aston Villa away, losses on the road to West Ham United and Sheffield United and a draw in Bournemouth – the expected goals values suggest Lampard’s team were slightly unlucky; on average, they created better quality scoring chances than they gave up, if only just. But the overall picture painted is clear: unlike the very best possession teams such as Manchester City and Liverpool, who are consistently successful in picking apart deep-lying defences and rarely give opponents any quality opportunities to hurt them on the counter, Chelsea can be too easily stifled by a low block and too frequently carved open when they lose the ball. In those recent defeats by West Ham and Sheffield United, the numbers back up the notion that Lampard’s team pretty much got what they deserved. Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder can take credit for helping to force one of Chelsea’s worst attacking performances of the season. Tammy Abraham was responsible for 0.72 of the team’s paltry overall expected goals (xG) rating of 1.2 at Bramall Lane on July 11, from five shot attempts. Four of those were classed by Opta as having been taken under heavy pressure, with at least two Sheffield United defenders between him and Dean Henderson’s goal. Abraham broadly performed in line with expectations with the shots he took under heavy pressure this season, scoring seven goals against an xG rating of 7.7. His final tally of 15 goals from his first Premier League campaign as Chelsea’s leading striker is a respectable return, particularly in light of the fact that injuries hampered his progress and Olivier Giroud limited his minutes over the final month. But there is a clear need for additional goal threats against stubborn opponents such as Sheffield United, and this is where Werner’s presence could be most valuable next season. He is smaller and more nimble than both Abraham and Giroud, with excellent instincts for getting into scoring positions in transition and in more crowded penalty areas. He also became a more complete player at RB Leipzig this season under Julian Nagelsmann, dropping deeper to link play and carry the ball himself. It’s reasonable to argue that improving Chelsea’s attack will automatically strengthen their defence; the more frequently they can break the deadlock against teams who choose to defend deep, the more opportunities they will get to counter-attack themselves in situations where the scoreline dictates their opponents will have to take more risks. But that only works up to a point, and it’s difficult to imagine that simply scoring more goals will bring Chelsea’s defence up to the level of Liverpool or Manchester City in games where they dominate possession. Tweaks to Lampard’s high-risk, high-reward tactical structure will also be required, together with changes to the personnel at the heart of the team’s transition problems. Lampard has already shown a willingness to explore different potential solutions on the tactical front, switching to a wing-back system for some of their biggest games at the tail-end of the season and putting N’Golo Kante in the deep-lying midfield role traditionally occupied by Jorginho, whose defensive limitations were crudely highlighted by his feeble attempt to stop Andy Robertson in the lead up to Liverpool’s fifth goal at Anfield earlier this month. He also wants to bring in a more assertive centre-back and a left-back to upgrade from Emerson Palmieri and Marcos Alonso, whose 89th-minute failure to run back in pursuit of matchwinner Andriy Yarmolenko cost Chelsea a point away at West Ham. Even more pressingly, Lampard is pushing to sign a goalkeeper more capable of bailing out those in front of him than Kepa Arrizabalaga has proven in two seasons at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s headline recruits so far will surely make them more dangerous in possession — but if Lampard wants them to compete with the very best again, he also needs to make his team less vulnerable with the ball.
  7. Super Frank Thread

    I cannot make that call without seeing our transfer moves
  8. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    manager of the Scotland national team
  9. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    this team makes my head spin we have the world's most complicated situation due to chaos and uncertainty on every level stadium (and owner still in legal purgatory over status to come into the UK and thus hesitant to invest in physical plant structure) thsi crushes us long-term revenue wise compare to other big 15, or so global clubs, especially if they all sort out their stadiums issues (the ones who have them) £500m plus worth of dregs that are all SO hard to move (or if not outright dregs players who need to go go go) crazy amount of youth, that in itself comes with huge upsides AND downsides a now 2nd year (as of the final whistle blow tonight) year manager who seems a genius at some things, and clueless at others (subs, tactics on occasion (either he is brilliant or is bizarre), defence, and set pieces CRAZY GK situ due to Kepa collapse and his tying up £140m en toto atm Kante as weight around our necks most of the time due to injury after injury and not fitting into a proper role due to our tactical schemes, plus he is ageing and haemorrhaging value quickly Willian ass-fucking us by not taking the (more, MORE than generous 2 year deal) thus forcing us to probably have to spend at winger thsi window crazy bad systemic injury plague killing us HUGE lack of leaders on the pitch probably some other things too, lolol
  10. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    no error on the on the first goal??? LOLOLOL AC completely , COMPLETELY switched off and let the world's best striker just jog straight on though on the 2nd goal Kova was fouled (blatantly) by Muller on the build-up, and no call
  11. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    a fit, pre-injury form Rudiger is the best CB we have atm damning indictment but ZERO chance Zouma and Ac or Tomori are better than a pre injury Rudiger some people bring in previous hate for him from the German end (or that is at least what I see) I never had much issue with him until thsi season, when he came back, I liked him as a player, and I loved his attitude before that he was fine (not as a leading WC CB, but a more than adequate partner of such a player)
  12. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    the Gilmour game where we dominated and beat the dippers
  13. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    Rio has been SO pro Chels, talking us up for weeks (months?) makes me wonder if we are talking to him he makes me feel better about us at times than Lamps does, lololol
  14. Kai Havertz

    the huge thing we need is for Roman to take advantage of the extension and change his mind on the new stadium ASAP the lure of playing in close to best football-only stadium on the planet (surely top 5) would be strong as hell
  15. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    and it would cock-block Klopp HARD
  16. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    I always liked him, he never was a true hater, even though he was Manure lad for ages
  17. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    Thiago at victimpool is worrisome
  18. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    how can so many players be SO clueless on BASIC defensive play
  19. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    watching Rio (one of the best at breakdowns) go through our goals allowed makes me want to toss my lappie out the window
  20. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    Emerson makes Zappacosta look like peak Cafu
  21. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    the truly FUCKED up thing is that by choking and losing the group to Valencia we cost ourselves a fair shot at being only a win versus an Mbappe-less PSG away from a semifinal versus Atleti or RB Leipzig
  22. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    but the games were played!! you don't need to have a huge ceremony to give the bloody trophy, world football is FUCKED up so so disheartening
  23. Bayern Munich - Chelsea

    yes, he was our best player