Match Review: Leicester City v Liverpool

Screen Shot 2018-09-01 at 14.16.29

Liverpool enter the international break with maximum points from the first four games after a gritty win at the King Power Stadium.

First half goals from Mané and Firmino set the Reds on the trail to a win that may please Jurgen Klopp more than a high scoring thrashing, as it was this sort of fixture that saw his side drop points in the last couple of seasons.

Alisson was at fault as Rachid Ghezzal pulled one back for the home side. The Brazilian conceded his first goal of his Premier League career as he tried to overplay in his own box – Kelechi Iheanacho stole the ball and squared to his Algerian teammate who finished well.

Leicester threatened for the remaining half an hour, but never put Liverpool under too much pressure. Ultimately, Leicester will see this as a game they deserved at least a point from, but Liverpool will leave the stadium delighted with their early season form heading into the first international break.

Talking Points

Liverpool show they can grind out results 

One of the biggest components of a title winning side is the ability to grind out results. The great Manchester United teams under Ferguson did it year after year, Mourinho’s Chelsea often won narrowly, Pep Guardiola’s City often got late winners to romp home to the title last season.

So far, albeit only four games into the season, Liverpool are showing they have that trait. Last week at home to Brighton, Klopp’s side were far from their best, but won narrowly. Today, Liverpool were poor, especially in the second half, but got the victory and maximum points.

This is far from a criticism of Liverpool. I am sure all Liverpool fans would admit they have been poor so far. But they have maximum points, with four wins in four. That is title winning form.

Leicester missed a few chances they would have felt they could’ve done better with, but The Foxes never really looked like equalising, despite being well worth a point.

It is too early to make rash predictions of who will win the league, or at least to change predictions from pre-season, but Liverpool are showing the one trait that has alluded them in the last decade.

Last season, they would’ve dropped points in one of the last two games, but Klopp’s men surged on and got maximum points at a tricky stadium. Hats off.

Maddison the pick of Puel’s Leicester 

“In a midfield full of international talent, he [Maddison] ran the game” – Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports was full of praise for Leicester’s 21-year-old midfielder James Maddison after a brilliant performance today.

Screen Shot 2018-09-01 at 14.42.50

Gareth Southgate announced his England squad this Thursday for the UEFA Nations League fixtures against Spain and Switzerland. Rumours around the country spread that England’s heroic gaffer may have gave a call up to impressive youngsters such as James Maddison or Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund.

Southgate didn’t do this, but James Maddison surely can’t be far off the England squad.

Making his name at Norwich City, the exciting attacking midfielder earned plaudits for his goalscoring haul in the Championship last season, as he was the pick of a poor Canaries bunch.

Since his move to the East Midlands, Maddison has been extremely pleasing. He put in a good performance at Old Trafford in the season opener and was the star of the show for the home side today.

He has the knack all good midfielders have, of ghosting into positions and finding space in between the midfield and defence. There were a couple of times he opted to pass rather than shoot and maybe with a bit of confidence, Maddison would have scored today.

Maddison, who came through the ranks at Coventry, was the main attacking threat for Claude Puel’s side today – the future looks bright for Leicester.

Van Dijk is the best defender in the league (and future Liverpool captain) 

An indicator of a good signing is when no one mentions the price six months down the line. When Liverpool won the long, dramatic race for Virgil Van Dijk in January, many questioned whether £75m was too much for the then Southampton defender.

A few weeks into the new season, that price does not get mentioned.

Screen Shot 2018-09-01 at 14.42.30

Already, Virgil Van Dijk is settling in at Liverpool and proving himself to be one of the best defenders in the world, and potentially the best in the league.

For sure, the Dutch international is the most well rounded of potential candidates: Vertonghen, Laporte, Azpilicueta, etc.

He is adequate on the ball and exceptional off it. When a cross comes into the box, Van Dijk is always the favourite to win the ball, which he did time and time again when Leicester put his side under extreme pressure towards the end.

With the young trio of Gomez, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson either side of him, Van Dijk is the leader and seems a shoe in for a future Liverpool captain, as he enters his peak years.

Player Ratings

Leicester: Schmeichel 6; Pereira 6, Maguire 7, Morgan 6, Chilwell 7; Mendy 8, Ndidi 6; Ghezzal 6, Maddison 8 (MOTM), Albrighton 6; Gray 6.

As has been mentioned, James Maddison was the pick of the bunch for Leicester. Another promising performance was that of Nampalys Mendy. The young Frenchman struggled for form in his first year at Leicester, so was loaned to OGC Nice last season. Puel decided Mendy will play a key part of his side this year, and he has looked more than capable of doing so in the early weeks of the season, as he looks assured in the Leicester midfield.

The Foxes certainly missed Jamie Vardy today, as Demarai Gray struggled in an unfamiliar central role. Kelechi Iheanacho came off the bench and linked the play perhaps better than Vardy does, as he dropped deep rather than looking to get in behind. Puel has a couple of handy options in the striker role, and Iheanacho’s performance off the bench will please him.

Screen Shot 2018-09-01 at 14.43.14

Liverpool: Alisson 4; Alexander-Arnold 5, Van Dijk 7, Gomez 7, Robertson 8; Milner 6, Wijnaldum 6, Henderson 6; Salah 6, Firmino 7, Mané 7.5.

It wasn’t a great afternoon for Liverpool by any means. Alisson Becker’s mistake could have costed Liverpool, whilst Trent Alexander-Arnold looked nervous on a few occasions too.

Andy Robertson, however, is developing into one of the best full backs in the division and proving he wasn’t just going through a purple patch of form in Liverpool’s Champions League run. The Scotsman looks solid at the back and offers a good outlet in attack. Robertson will be a key component of Liverpool’s team, should they go all the way this year.

Player of the Month: August

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 23.51.27

The first month of the Premier League season is already over. New players managers are now getting used to their surroundings, the top clubs are already heading towards the top of the table and some big names are beginning to earn their worth.

August was a month of teams getting gritty victories, individual talent setting alight games and some of the stars of last season already making their name heard in the 2018/19 campaign.

But who was the best player on show in August, across the league? Here, I take a look at some of the players who have excelled in the opening month and who deserves a shot at the August ‘Player of the Month’ award:

Sadio Mané

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 23.52.02

Key stats: 3 goals (in 3 apps)  

Egyptian Mo Salah won all the plaudits last season for his unprecedented goal-scoring haul, with Roberto Firmino also earning deserved praise for his role in Liverpool’s Champions League run and attacking displays in the league. This meant that the third of the attacking trio went under the radar.

His name is Sadio Mane. The Senegalese international is as talented as the other two and could be just important for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side going forward if they are to challenge Guardiola’s City for the title.

The decision to swap shirt numbers from 19 to the vacant 10 following Coutinho’s departure was symbolic and reflective of the fact his reputation at Liverpool is growing into a player ready for responsibility and talismanic traits.

Whilst Keita and Milner have been excellent for Liverpool, Mane has been the standout performer in August, delivering encouraging showings against West Ham and Crystal Palace.

If Liverpool are to push all the way for the title, Mane will need to continue his early season form and carry on chipping in with goals to take the burden off Salah and Firmino.

Roberto Pereyra

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 23.52.25

Key stats: 3 goals (in 3 apps)

Tipped as one of the favourites to face the drop, Javi Gracia’s side have been the surprise package of the early weeks of the season. Whilst it is indeed very early days, achieving maximum points in the month of August is not to be understated.

The star of The Hornets success has been Roberto Pereyra. The Argentine was signed by Watford in 2016 for a then record fee but has been blighted by injuries and subsequently failed to hit any consistent form.

Once dubbed the next star of Serie A, Pereyra was poached by Udinese at the age of 18 and his performances earned him a move to Juventus. He managed 52 appearances in his first season at the Old Lady but failed to impress in the following year so was sold to Watford, where his new boss Walter Mazzarri said he would rather Pereyra than Pogba.

Perhaps now settled in to his surroundings in England, Pereyra is starting to win plaudits. Gracia deploys him as a left attacking midfielder in a 4-2-2-2 formation and it is starting to pay dividends.

His performance against Brighton especially was noteworthy as the Argentine used his excellent positional sense and on the ball abilities to glide into the Brighton box and score two goals.

Lucas Moura

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 23.53.36

Key stats: 3 goals (in 3 apps)

After a stagnant spell at PSG, it took Lucas Moura half a year to settle in at Tottenham.

Yet, on Monday night, Lucas Moura showed more than glimpses of the teenage sensation he was when he burst on to the scene at Sao Paulo as a 19 year old, when he nearly moved to Manchester United in 2012.

Lucas’ career looked to be spiraling away quickly in Paris, so he made the gutsy decision to leave the club he dreamed of making it at to join Spurs, coached by one of Europe’s most coveted coaches: Mauricio Pochettino.

In the second game against Fulham, Pochettino decided to play Moura as a second striker, playing off Harry Kane.

So far, that educated gamble is paying off, with the Brazilian netting three goals in two, including a brace at Old Trafford.

His new role gives a new dimension to Spurs’ play and takes some of the goalscoring burden off Harry Kane, allowing Spurs to have the chance to launch a real bid for the title as they now have more power on the counter attack.

Benjamin Mendy

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 23.52.55

Key stats: 3 assists, 1 clean sheet, 25 crosses, 7 tackles (in 3 apps) 

It may well be the most overused phrase of the season thus far, but Benjamin Mendy really does feel like a new signing for Manchester City. The Frenchman spent most of his debut season in England watching from the stands or recovery rooms following his knee injury in September.

Whilst Fabian Delph provided ample cover at left back, City lacked a direct threat going forward, often meaning Leroy Sané was City’s only attacker on the left flank. Mendy has come in and changed that massively.

The man who was signed from Monaco for causing City problems in their Champions League exit in 2017 has been a weapon for City going forward thus far this season, used in slightly different roles each week.

In the league opener against Arsenal, Mendy played an inverted full back role, discussed in our Talking Tactics feature on that fixture. He helped out in the midfield in a tricky away game, whilst often marauding forward to create chances himself. He setup the goal for Bernardo Silva’s eventual winner, as well as assist Raheem Sterling’s opener.

Against Huddersfield, Mendy played in a wing back role. He excelled in this position and was City’s main source of attacking prowess down the left as he peppered Ben Hamer’s goal with crosses, a couple of which leading to goals.

Mendy has added a new dimension to City’s game and has been a bright star in Guardiola’s side.

Jorginho

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 23.53.15

Key stats: 92.01% pass completion, 1 goal (in 3 apps)

 Jorginho was signed from Napoli along with manager Maurizio Sarri so unsurprisingly he looks at home in this Chelsea team, probably grasping Sarri’s concepts the easiest thus far.

After a shaky afternoon in the Community Shield, the Brazil-born Italian international has looked comfortable alongside Ngolo Kante in midfield. He adds a new dynamism to Chelsea’s midfield that has been lacking for a few seasons and is an astute passer.

In the game against Newcastle last weekend he registered a stat that would prove why Guardiola was so interested in his services: Jorginho completed 158 passes – 25 more than the whole Newcastle team. This stat summarizes Jorginho’s style: he is a dictator that will pull the strings in the midfield, just what Chelsea have missed.

Maurizio Sarri was willing to risk a friendship with Pep Guardiola to sign Jorginho from Napoli and his decision is showing to be well educated, with the midfield maestro starting his career at the Bridge with flying colours.

Notable mentions go to:

Naby Keita, Richarlison, Marcos Alonso, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Aymeric Laporte

Don’t agree? Let me know who you would pick instead.

Match Review: Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 22.56.37Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham heaped more misery on Manchester United and Jose Mourinho by inflicting a second successive defeat on the home side, with a 3-0 victory thanks to goals from Harry Kane and Lucas Moura.

Mourinho’s side were on the receiving end of an embarrassing defeat at Brighton last weekend and although the performance against Spurs was much improved, United saw no dividends, as a clinical Spurs side exposed the weaknesses of the hosts.

In the first half, it was United on top. Romelu Lukaku missed a clear cut chance when Danny Rose sold Lloris short with a backpass and that was one of many chances United had in a half that they should have took the lead. Despite this, Spurs had a penalty turned down for an obvious foul by Phil Jones.

Spurs scored two goals in quick succession via a Harry Kane header and Lucas Moura, before the latter netted again with a brilliant goal on the counter attack.

Talking Points

Spurs are the real deal 

It’s that time of the year again. We are not even a month into the season and fans are starting to re-think their pre-season predictions that Spurs won’t have enough to challenge for the title. Just like last season and the season before that, those fans are starting to think: “Wait a minute, Spurs are the real deal!”

By now, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It would seem that reports of the demise of a good old title race are greatly exaggerated. Whilst Man City may be too good for the opposition, Spurs have now joined Chelsea and Liverpool (and Watford) in maintaining their 100 percent start to the season.

Pre match, Harry Kane said to be considered as real title contenders, Spurs must win at places like Old Trafford. The World Cup golden boot winner has his wish.

A lot of the talk going into the season for Spurs was whether they had enough goals beyond talisman Kane, or whether there was a potent threat on the counter charge, as well as criticising Spurs’ transfer window, which saw zero new faces.

Whilst not signing a player may still come back to bite them, Lucas Moura is looking like a new signing.

Joining in January from PSG, the Brazilian had a tough start to life in North London, but in the first weeks of the new season, he is looking worth the money. He was the man of the match tonight and gave Spurs a dimension that we have not seen before. He was good in possession, made clever runs off Harry Kane in the central role but more importantly he scored two goals.

If Lucas and Spurs can carry on this form, Spurs will be right up there in May. They now have a settled squad with young but experienced players that are entering the better part of their career. Lucas will take some of the burden off Harry Kane, which will allow Pochettino’s men to thrive.

Alderweireld shows United exactly what they are crying out for 

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 23.00.46

As has been highlighted previously, United’s issues run deeper than on the pitch. Part of that argument was the inadequacy in past transfer windows. One main target for United this summer was Spurs’ Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld, who Woodward refused to pay big money for, citing his age.

The Spurs defender, who started consecutive league games for the first time since November, was a wall at the back for Spurs.

The impact of Lucas feeling like a new signing has been noted, but keeping Alderweireld at the club is a deal is as important to Spurs as any reinforcement would have been.

As he was against Fulham last week, Alderweireld was dominant at the heart of the Spurs defence, snuffing out United attacks and using the ball brilliantly. His reading of the game was excellent and after a nervy start for the away side, Alderweireld was the best player on the pitch, alongside Lucas Moura.

It is no surprise Jose Mourinho wanted a defender so much, as he had to sit through another painful defensive performance. Last weekend, Eric Bailly put in a laughable performance at the AMEX. This week, it was both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, who both had calamitous evenings, not to mention Ander Herrera, who started as an auxiliary centre-half ahead of Victor Lindelof who came on and looked no better.

Alderweireld and Vertonghen both look sharp and the defensive duo that has been blighted by injuries for the best part of 18 months look to be back to their best. As for United, defensive issues could cost them a lot of points this season.

Time to go, Jose? 

After three games, it would be rash to call for any managers head. It would be an overreaction of epic proportions to say Jose and United are completely out of the running this season.

But… if any inferences are to be made, they are to be extremely negative ones.

“Goals are an incredible vitamin and goals conceded are an overdose of fatigue”

The words of Mourinho after the whistle were, as ever, confusing yet interesting. He obviously believes his side deserved much more than the scoreline suggests. Evidently, Mourinho feels sorry for himself and his ‘United’ dressing room that he swore by and emphasised in the post match interview with Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves.

It was better than the display on the south coast last Sunday, but a 3-0 loss at Old Trafford is unacceptable.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 22.57.48

Next up for Mourinho’s men is Burnley, Watford and Wolves. Anything less than nine points will see even more questions asked of United, in fixtures they should win but on the same token, games that are far from easy.

Should United not turn this dreadful start round, the vultures will start to circle faster and the Portuguese coach could be heading for an early door in his third season in Manchester.

Player Ratings

United: De Gea 4; Herrera 4; Smalling 2, Jones 2; Valencia 6, Matic 5, Fred 6, Shaw 7; Lingard 7.5, Pogba 3; Lukaku 5.

The back three were terrible from start to finish. Jones could have and was lucky not to give away a penalty in the first half for a clumsy challenge, lost his man on Kane’s corner and was lucky that he wasn’t punished from other set pieces. Smalling was at fault for at least one of Lucas’ strikes, and Herrera looked out of place in the back three, despite looking good on the ball.

If any positives are to be drawn on an individual level it is the performance of Jesse Lingard, who was United’s best player, especially in the first half. Off the back of a good World Cup, Lingard was a constant source of energy, starting attacks and linking play well. A couple of times he played the simple ball rather than shooting or passing forward, which he must improve.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 22.58.51

Spurs: Lloris 7.5; Trippier 7, Alderweireld 9, Vertonghen 7, Rose 6; Dier 7, Dembele 6; Eriksen 8, Alli 6; Kane 8, Lucas Moura 9 (MOTM).

Lucas Moura has put his name forward for August’s player of the month in the Premier League with another great performance. The two goals were well taken, especially his second, which came from a run down the middle through the defence. Lucas adds a new dimension to Spurs’ attack, which must be pleasing for Pochettino.

Harry Kane, who isn’t fully fit, looks to be adding more to his game each week. Today brought a goal and assist for Spurs’ main man, as he dropped deep more often to support the buildup, something Pochettino has clearly been working on. After the international break, Kane will be fully fit, which is surely a scary thought for defenders.

Match Review: Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester City

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 17.13.11.png

Wolverhampton Wanderers gained a hard fought point at home to champions Manchester City in the early Saturday kick off with a 1-1 draw.

Willy Boly scored the opening goal in the game early in the second half by directing Joao Moutinho’s cross beyond Ederson, despite replays showed he used his hand.

The opening goal seemed to give City a kick, who performed better since going behind. Not long after Wolves scored, City pulled one back through a Aymeric Laporte header, his first goal for the club.

Despite City not being at their best and Wolves being brilliant, Pep Guardiola’s side will be disheartened not to come away with three points, after hitting the woodwork three times in the match and forcing Patricio into some top saves.

Talking Points

The implementation of Video Assistant Referee

Last night, Bayern Munich were denied a goal via VAR in the Bundesliga curtain raiser. In Serie A last season, we saw VAR work effectively. La Liga and Ligue Un also have implemented VAR for the upcoming season.

Notice a pattern? Me too. Out of the so called ‘top five leagues’, the self-proclaimed ‘best league in the world’ does not have VAR. In fact, a two-thirds majority of Premier League clubs voted against VAR for the 18/19 season.

The truth of the matter is that the Premier League is outdated and quite frankly needs to move with the times.

Today, with VAR, Wolves’ opener would not have stood and Manchester City may have won a penalty, making the game very different.

This is not the first time referees have been questioned this season and it certainly will not be the last.

Yes, the technology has its faults. There is no mathematical formula on how to decide what is or is not a penalty. As we saw in the World Cup, the argument “well it takes the drama away” is false. If anything, it added to the drama.

In order to have fair games, it is a necessity and if the Premier League is to move with the times, it must implement VAR from next season.

Benjamin Mendy’s suspect defending

Last week, many around the country hailed Benjamin Mendy as the best left back in the world. Going forward, they are not wrong – his overlapping runs and crosses are devastating and this was on full show against Huddersfield.

Part of the reason for this was the 3-5-2 shape that City employed in that fixture. Laporte’s cover on the left of a three man defence allowed Mendy to play as an auxiliary winger.

In a four, that is not the case.

Whilst Mendy looks like he will create a goal every time he attacks, it looks like he will concede one every time a winger runs at him.

Despite making a couple of vital tackles, interceptions and clearances today, the World Cup winner looked slightly suspect when Costa and later Traore ran at him.

This could leave Pep with a dilemma, especially in away games where his defenders will be put under pressure at any given opportunity.

Fabian Delph is a consistent, quiet, conservative option, should Pep have these thoughts.

Guardiola will have to weigh up his options, just as he does with other parts of his meticulous structure. When criticized for his ‘playing out from the back’ in his early days in England, the coach inspired by Cruyff admitted that it may cost them a few goals per season, but in the grand scheme of things, it will lead to them scoring more goals overall, so in the balance of proportions it will work well.

This is the same argument he may have with Mendy and Delph. Whilst Mendy may cost City a goal or two along the way, he will create more.

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 18.31.34

Nuno Espirito Santo’s system is extremely complimentary

Ten years ago, we started to see a shift away from the standard 4-4-2 to a more compact 4-2-3-1. Most teams adopted some sort of 4-2-3-1, with many things becoming predictable.

With more foreign managers moving to the Premier League, we have seen many new formations, including 3-4-3 or 3-5-2, made popular in this league by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea.

Wolves play a 3-4-3 system: a solid back three of capable central defenders, two wingbacks and defensively minded yet comfortable on the ball midfielders, with a traditional front three, who often cut inside and act as wide forwards.

This system seems to bring the best out of every player on the pitch for Wolves, whilst striking the perfect balance between defensive solidarity and attacking prowess, making it a fluid shape.

Player Ratings

Wolves: Patricio 8; Bennett 6, Coady 7, Boly 9 (MOTM); Doherty 6, Neves 8, Moutinho 6, Jonny 7; Jota 7, Jimenez 6, Costa 7.

Rui Patricio’s first half save from the Sterling dipping effort is quite literally a save that wins you points – the sort you look back on at the end of the season. Despite some suspect distribution, Wolves’ #11 goalkeeper looked assured and made some top saves to deny the likes of Jesus and Aguero.

Willy Boly put in one of the best defensive performances you may see all season. He was commanding in the air, timed his tackles to perfection and used his tactical knowledge to cleverly intercept balls as Aguero looked sharp in the first half. The French defender scored the important first goal for the home side, despite using his hand.

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 18.29.42

City: Ederson 6; Walker 5, Kompany 4.5, Laporte 8, Mendy 6; Fernandinho 7, Gundogan 5, D. Silva 7; Sterling 6, Aguero 7, B. Silva 5.

Aymeric Laporte is looking a great signing for City. Every attack started via the Basque defender and he looked solid in the duels as well. His first goal for City may be an important one, as City could’ve easily lost this game against a stubborn Wolves defence.

The same cannot be said of his partner Vincent Kompany, who looked nervous for a man of his experience. The early yellow card may not have helped, as the Belgian pulled out of a few tackles that saw Wolves players skip past him.

Match Preview: Wolves v Manchester City

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 19.28.27

Wolverhampton Wanderers host the champions Manchester City in the early kick off on Saturday in what proves to be a blockbuster affair at Molyneux.

For the home side, it has been a start that is below the par many outsiders expected of Wolves, but is very early days and some players have shone already.

Manchester City head into the game in the form they finished last season, on the back of dismantling Huddersfield Town at the Etihad last Sunday.

I take a look at both sides, as well as some of the key factors that may impact the way this affair will swing on Saturday.

When? Saturday 12:30pm

Where? Molineux

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Last League Meeting: Wolves 0-2 Man City (April 2012)

Odds: H 12/1; A 2/7; D 6/1.

Team News

Club record signing Adama Traore impressed off the bench last weekend and is expected to make his first start, which will frighten the young City defence.

Wing back Matt Doherty is fit despite being forced off with an injury in the loss to Leicester.

For City, Claudio Bravo is set to miss the best part of the season with an Achilles tendon injury suffered in training this week. In response, City have recalled teenage goalkeeper Arojarnet Muric from a loan spell at unofficial sister club NAC Breda.

David Silva is set for his first 90 minutes of the season after completing an hour in an impressive performance against Huddersfield last weekend.

Wolves Predicted XI: Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny; Traore, Jimenez, Jota.

City Predicted XI: Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Laporte, Mendy; Fernandinho, Gundogan, D. Silva; B.Silva, Aguero, Sterling.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 19.25.40

Molineux awaits in expectance

It has been a far from easy start to life back in the Premier League for Wolves, but their attractive brand of football has caught the eye of many neutrals.

Nuno Espirito Santo will stick to his principles, and not be one to change his ways and sit back just because one of the big boys are in town.

He said this week: “We do not know how to play another way. We will not change because we want to build something”.

If that is so, this could be an exciting tie. With City playing their possession based game high in the Wolves half, they may be susceptible to the counter attack, especially if Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker play as high up as they have done so far this season.

With this being the first big team to visit Molineux since their promotion, the crowd will be up and the roar when they enter the City half will be deafening.

Ruben Neves is a player that has been courted by Pep Guardiola and City as a potential replacement for the ageing Fernandinho. The Portuguese midfielder has enjoyed a positive start to life in the Premier League after an eye catching season in the Championship. Will he use this game as an audition to Pep Guardiola and managers of other clubs?

What cards will Guardiola play from his stacked deck?

In the 6-1 victory over Huddersfield, Guardiola’s bench included the likes of Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sané and Phil Foden – and that is not to mention the fact their star man, Kevin De Bruyne, is sidelined for a few months with a knee injury.

To say City have an embarrassment of riches is an understatement, but this creates a selection headache for Pep Guardiola. The Catalan coach, as we have seen in the Amazon Prime ‘All or Nothing’ documentary, will be sat in a room on his laptop plotting how he can beat Wolves.

But, what weapon does he choose to use? Does he have to be wary of the counter attack? Does he risk starting the attacking Mendy and risk leaving the space in behind? Will he opt for the tricky, finesse players in Mahrez and Bernardo, or opt for pace and power in Sterling and Sané? Does he opt for a 3 or 4 at the back?

These are all questions that will be mulling around Pep Guardiola’s head. Whether he opts for the conservative approach, or whether he unleashes his stars, is unknown, making it almost impossible to predict his lineups.

Predictions 

I think this will be City’s toughest game of the season, thus far.

Arsenal invited City on to them, Huddersfield just weren’t at the races, whilst Wolves may go toe to toe with City and try and win the tie, just like they nearly did at the Etihad in the Carabao Cup last season.

Despite this, City should have enough to win, but I think it will be tight. I’ve gone for a City win, with Wolves taking the lead in the first half. Aguero and David Silva to score.

Wolves 1-2 City.

 

Opinion: Manchester United’s worries lie deeper than what we see on the pitch

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 16.17.08

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United were on the receiving end of a damning defeat in their first away trip of the season as Brighton gained a deserved win in front of a joyous crowd at the AMEX Stadium last Sunday.

As could be expected, the inquest into the manner of the defeat started in no time after the final whistle, with a lot of fingers pointed at the players and in particular the manager: Jose Mourinho.

Another man to take the brunt of the blame was executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who is the man at the forefront of Manchester United’s transfer exploits. Woodward, who took the role in 2013, has been vastly criticized this summer for failing to sign a central defender, an evident weak link which Brighton exploited brilliantly at the weekend.

However, the worries lie deeper than Woodward not agreeing to put his hand in his pocket and pay over the odds for Toby Alderweireld of Spurs or England and Leicester’s surprise sensation Harry Maguire.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson left the helm, £700million has been spent by three managers and United, the team that once was feared by every other, have never realistically looked close to a league title.

In the Moyes and Van Gaal era, excuses were made. When Jose Mourinho put pen to paper on a deal, it was supposed to be different. In January of this year, Mourinho signed a new deal, just days after announcing the signing of Alexis Sanchez.

The timing of that new deal seemed bizarre at the time, but even more so now. Noisy neighbours Manchester City finished a whopping, maybe even embarrassing, nineteen points ahead of the once powerhouse of English football.

Something somewhere had to change. Investments had to be made to close the gap on City, but they just didn’t come. Fred is a wise signing but aside from that, it was a disastrous window for United and Mourinho.

So where does the fault lie? Is it with Mourinho for failing to get his ideas across? Should the players take the blame for not carrying out the managers orders? Is Ed Woodward out of his depth?

One possibility is that the whole model of managerial supremacy is flawed in modern football.

If you are a fan of football in the wider sense, you may have seen the Amazon Prime documentary extraordinaire titled ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’. You don’t have to know much about the game to acknowledge quite quickly that United’s neighbours are a better run club, top to bottom.

In the scenes that showed the transfer of Aymeric Laporte being completed, Pep Guardiola does not feature, apart from to greet the player at his unveiling.

This is one area that the two Manchester clubs differ, or more so how Manchester United differ from many of the European elite clubs. The model of The Red Devilshas been that the manager is the forefront of ins and outs at Old Trafford.

In 1945, Matt Busby was granted complete control over the footballing activities of the club. In the biography of one of United’s most iconic men, the biographer wrote:

Most managers were foreman draughtsmen, seeing their players once or twice a week. Busby was the first to establish indisputably that he and not the directors were in control of all team affairs, at a time when directors were all-powerful and to stand up to them was unprecedented

Sir Matt Busby was the first United manager to assert said dominance and control, but not the last. Sir Alex Ferguson also had the role of bringing the whole thing together, and evidently it worked. Under Ferguson, United broke all sorts of records, winning league after league in the process.

But, since Ferguson, the strategy has been completely wrong. At first the idea was simple: find the next Ferguson. Quite literally, United did their best to imitate Ferguson, by signing up fellow Scotsman David Moyes. He failed, as did Louis Van Gaal, and now Jose Mourinho looks no better.

So, is it time for a re-think? To go back on a strategy or model that has served well for over half a century? Would a director of football like we see with Txiki Begiristain at Manchester City be beneficial?

Jose Mourinho would think so, saying after United’s opening day victory over Leicester: “I think football is changing and managers should be called head coaches”.

Whilst Jose Mourinho, Ed Woodward and the players should rightly shoulder the blame for the embarrassing performance on the south coast last weekend, the questions should be asked of the structure of the football club.

The Brighton defeat brought out and showed the problems to the football world, but in truth the cracks were starting to show all summer off the pitch.

A sporting director would bring stability and off the pitch leadership that United have lacked in abundance in the post-Ferguson era.

The search will be rigorous, but if Woodward gets it right, the burden on himself and Mourinho will be decreased, and the club can start to move in the right direction again.

Roma’s Monchi is a name that has been rumored many times – the gritty negotiator and talent spotter, once of Sevilla, could be exactly what United need to put behind them the players and managers that have flopped since being brought in post-Ferguson.

It is early days in the league and it is far from disastrous from United, but with a sporting director at the helm, things could have been a lot different as Mourinho’s men look to close the gap on their bitter rivals, Manchester City.

The role of the sporting director may involve setting a new identity, a new ‘United way’: the general approach the club will take with signings.

Manchester City’s approach is to sign young talents with the right mindset, often not buying from the ‘top of the market’ as in the best in their position, but younger prospects who they see a plan to make them the best in their position.

The direction of Manchester United as a club has been flawed in the years following Ferguson’s departure. On the pitch it has been drab, boring at times to watch, but the problems lie much deeper than that, with inadequacies off the pitch leading to failures in the transfer market.

Appointing a sporting director will be the first step to putting this right, as United look to close the gap on their rivals and reinstall a ‘United identity’ which will bring them back to the helm of English football.