Jose deserves some respect

The press can be relentless at times. Particularly towards Mourinho. One thing we know for sure about Jose is that he is a very controversial man. You can never predict his next move. He could be lifting the Champions League, berating the media or insulting women. Consequently, he is arguably the most scrutinised man in football. But does he really deserve all the criticism ?

The legend

Manchester United descended into turmoil after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. The magnitude of the job was too much for Louis Van Gaal and David Moyes. United simply had to go big for their next appointment, and who is bigger in the managerial world than The Special One. This man led an average Porto side to the most prestigious honour in club football in Europe: the Champions League. He then took over a Chelsea side who were starved from trophies for 6 years (not including community shields), and transformed them into serial winners.Milan ye In one particular spell, Chelsea won 2 Premier Leagues, 2 League Cups, an Fa Cup and made it to the semi finals of the Champions league twice, in just 3 years. Mourinho’s next assignment was different in many ways, one that would take him to Italy, and he would be given the job of managing a team that was rich in talent- but also rich in egos. Inter Milan. The trophies were incessant. Two Serie A’s, one Coppa Italia and a Champions League in 2 seasons.  Then after a disappointing spell in Madrid, Mourinho returned to Chelsea. Once again an out of form Chelsea side. A Chelsea side yet to win the league since 2010. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next. Mourinho won his 3rd Premier League title in his 2nd season.

The unappreciated success

So United weren’t appointing any man off the street. If anyone was going to set United back on track it had to be Jose. And even his harshest critics have to admit he had a fabulous first two seasons. At the first time of asking he returned them to the Champions League through the Europa League and won the League cup. In 2017/18 the onus was on Jose to improve form in the league, where they exceeded the goal (admittedly, largely down to the heroics of De Gea but they still did it nevertheless). It was not a marginal improvement, but a huge leap from 6th to 2nd, where they were runners up to one of the greatest teams in English history. There are many reasons as to why this “achievement” is so underrated and overlooked. An example of one is the short space of time in which he transformed United. It took Sir Alex Ferguson 5 years of transition to implement his ethos and purchase the players who suite his tactics. JoseA more recent comparison is Unai Emery. Arsenal fans are expecting 2/3 years out of Europe and the title race in exchange for a future underpinned by consistency Champions League and success in the Premier League. What people easily forget is that Mourinho took on a job even more challenging than Emery’s – while the Spaniard’s predecessor’s goast looms on his shoulder, Mourinho carries the burden of Ferguson’s legacy plus the remains of the obliteration that was Van Gaal and David Moyes. Technically speaking, Mourinho is not directly taking over from an autocrat like Emery is with Wenger, but he has faced the same difficulties as LVG and Moyes did little to convince anyone to bend the fabric of the club, that Ferguson molded so perfectly, to their will. So when taking this into account, it is shocking how famous pundits like Gary Neville can recklessly slate Mourinho yet grace Unai Emery with a 2/3 year “transition period” as a result of taking over from a dictator that Wenger was. The bottom line is that Mourinho is only 2 years into his United job. A job that required him to reinvigorate one of the biggest clubs in Europe. To take them out of the past, and put them in the present. He is already half way there. However, this is possibly one of the hardest tasks a manager could ever be assigned to and can not be achieved in 2 years.

The other side of the story

But many will argue that this is only one side of the story. The United extremists that want him sacked criticise his style of football. Some even question his tactical prowess, transfer strategies and man-management. And one could also infer that his solemn, unsatisfied demeanour can sometimes be to the detriment of his players. All of which, are valid interpretations, but none of which can be used as evidence to suggest that Mourinho is not the right man for United.

Its true, he does prefer to play a mundane, defensively rigid, “park the bus” style of football but Mourinho didn’t come to United to show off an attractive style of football. Mourinho has never had a style. He came here for results. To get United back into the Champions League and contesting for the Premier League.

It’s true, he lacks a link between midfield and attack that could be conducive to the fluidity of their counter-attacks. Although, people are forgetting Mourinho did, in fact, ask for another attacker, but was denied one by Ed Woodward. This leads on to the next accusation. The “scattergun” transfer approach is a term that has been associated with United in recent windows, often unfairly reflected onto Mourinho. Prior to 2018 United had done some great business- the signings of Matic, Lukaku and Pogba all helped strengthen weak areas on the pitch. This summer, he pleaded for 2 players, a centre back and an attacking midfielder, yet Woodward ignored his desperate calls. Ed Woodward has been a great servant to United in terms of his commercial duties, but he lacks the shrewd eye of the transfer market that a Director of Football would supply.

It’s true, he does radiate negativity and frustration. This is Mourinho though. He has portrayed himself like this throughout his entire career.  The difference is when he is winning, he is praised for his crafty mind games. Yet when he is losing, people claim his demeanour is having a negative effect on his players. Besides, Mourinho’s every move is observed and scrutinised by millions around the world, which must be unimaginably stressful. He can’t possibly stroll about care free with a big smile on his face.

It is true, he does make it publicly known that he is unsatisfied with certain players. From my point of view, though, this is not a negative asset of Mourinho’s. If i were Victor Lindelof, for example, and my manager was constantly telling the press that he needs a replacement for me, i would be busting every limb, gut and vein in my body to prove him wrong. This is reflected in 1 man in particular, Luke Shaw. Last year, Mourinho told the press that Shaw was overweight and questioned him as a professional. Some went as far to say he bullied the young English man. He is now back in the team and looking as sharp as ever.

The present

There is no point, though, hiding the dreadful month that Man Utd have had. There is also no point hiding the vital mistakes Jose has made as i am trying to be as fair as possible. While many clubs were optimistic about the new season and rearing to go, United were dreading it. A “pointless” pre-season as Jose described it, where United were without many key players due to the World Cup. To rub salt in the wounds they failed to sign a centre back. However, instead of looking on the positive side of things- Luke Shaw was back and 6 of his players had reached at least the semi finals of the World Cup- Jose voiced his many frustrations that included their disappointing pre-season and how unprepared they are. The first mistake.Martial Question marks were then raised about his relationship with Woodward when he said “I want 2 but i may only get 1, i may not even get 1”. Disagreements and tension between people high up in a club are never positive signs for a club aiming for the title. Although it wasn’t his fault they didn’t sign a centre back, he could have taken some of the blame to shield his colleagues, an archetypal Wenger move in the early days at The Emirates. The second mistake. Mourinho then berated Martial for not coming back to help his team on the US tour after he celebrated the birth of his 1st child. In a season where Martial hoped to prove a point, Mourinho insulted him by leaving him out of the starting line up for the inaugural match. Three key mistakes. A loss against Brighton where, to be fair to Mourinho, it was his players who were to blame in a woeful display, and now people are calling for his head ahead of the game tomorrow against Spurs. Mourinho does make mistakes, but people can easily forget that the manager is not winning and losing matches- it is the players. Whether it is the added pressure from the media, or 3rd season syndrome or whatever that is causing Mourinho to make these unprecedented irrational mistakes, we shall never know. Everybody makes mistakes though, if Jose didn’t, he would be inhumane. If people just stick with him, though, then he and United will bounce back- i am sure of it.

 

Summary

In short,  Mourinho and United have had a discouraging start to the season. Surely though, these mistakes don’t outweigh what he has done for United in such a short space of time. The majority of the condemnation he receives is undeserved. Yes, his tactics, player management and general demeanour are very unique and surprising at times, but they have worked in the past, and will keep working if people just get off his back. As i say, Jose has won everything, and he is the only man who can conjure up a way to revive the  days of Sir Alex Ferguson.

 

 

Positive start but past fragilities continue to cause trouble

The calibre of player brought in to Forest this summer signalled the start of a new era, and a win and three draws leaves us unbeaten in our first four games. A feat not achieved since 2014. Yet underwhelmed feelings linger around the City Ground. Perhaps, unluckily exacerbated by the blistering form of promotion rivals Leeds and Middlesborough. A lethargic start against Bristol, a lack of ruthlessness at home to the Baggies and an unmitigated absence of desire in the first half against a promising Wigan side meant that the Reds dropped 6 points, feebly. But lets not forget, 13 signings were made this summer, most of which had never experienced the robust, relentless game that English football proposes. While the spine of our rivals teams remain intact, ours has been altered significantly. It will take time for the players to gel, to leGuedioraarn each others qualities and their idiosyncrasies. A popular excuse, but a valid one.

Regardless of this, what has concerned Forest fans most is seeing a completely different team commit all the old crimes. Starting with defending set pieces. 4 out of the 5 goals conceded so far this season have been from set pieces (including League cup tie with Bury). At times the 6’6 Pantilimon has failed to command his area properly and we continue to erratically rotate between zonal and man marking. Karanka must find a way to eradicate this as when we faced one dimensional sides like Cardiff last season it became very problematic. Secondly, is the manner in which we start matches. With the exception of the West Brom game, we have come out the blocks in poor fashion, whether it be a lapses of concentration, or simply a lack of energy and hunger. However, when the whistle blows for the second half, we have looked a different team.

The importance of remaining unbeaten, though, can not be reiterated enough. Forest have displayed an impressive resilience, a refusal to be beaten. When you arrive at the DW or Ashton Gate and the run of play is against you, it is the sign of an astute team to nick a point. Come the end of the season, these points here and there start to add up, and you find yourself moving up the table after reasonably under-par performances. So overall, although it wasn’t the scintillating start many fans expected, it has given us a solid platform to improve upon. Onto the player ratings.

Player ratings

Costel Pantilimon: 7, Made some important saves with his huge stature, but could organise set pieces better. Will be pushed for No.1 place with Luke Steele.

Ben Osborn: 6, Has often been a nuisance down the left wing, but final ball needs to improve and defensive positioning could be better. Hopefully, this will improve with experience at left back.

Danny Fox: 8, So far proving he isn’t a half season wonder. His distribution has been phenomenal, yet has lapses in concentration every now and again.

Tobias Figueiredo: 6, A quiet player, often a good asset for a defender. He hasn’t really found his form of last season yet though.

Michael Dawson: 6, Sidelined for 3 of the 4 matches due to injury and general old age, but his leadership will be invaluable as the season goes on. Will probably start when fit ahead of Tobias.

Adlene Guedioura: 9, The 32 year old has been Forest’s best player so far. His range of passing and ability to pick the right pass has been exceptional. Scored a great goal against West Brom and nearly topped it off with a wonder strike had it not been for a magnificent save by Sam Johnstone. Looks in much better shape too, and has been a warrior in the middle of the park, unleashing the other side of his game.

Jack Colback: 7, Been solid mostly. Does a lot of work that goes unnoticed, but has also given a few free kicks away in dangerous areas.

Joao Carvalho: 6, As expected he has found the physicality of the Championship tough to cope with, but he has shown flashes of the talent he has. It will take time for him to settle in, but he has a huge potential.

Gil Dias: 8, The robust, fleet-footed winger seemed a perfect match for the championship, and has made a great start to his loan spell at the City Ground. What the fans admire most, though, is his superb work rate. Although, the exhausting fixture schedule seemed to take it’s toll against Reading where he played his 3rd game in 7 days for the reds.Dias

Joe Lolley: 6, Much like Dias, Lolley loves to track back and consistently puts a shift in for the team. An altruist. Squanders too many chances though. He needs to urgently work on his finishing if he wants to keep his place ahead of Goncalves.

Matty Cash: 8, Starting only 1 of the first 4 league games, it is not the start Cash would have hoped for. Yet the extra competition for places appears to be having a positive effect on him, scoring 2 goals in 2 games (1 in league, 1 in cup). He could have gone into his shell when the new signings arrived, but no, he looks like a man with a point to prove.

Daryl Murphy: 7, Murphy turned 35 in March. His appearances will be elusive this season, as a result. But when he plays, he brings a huge ariel threat and frees up the creative players around him. A goal and an all round solid performance against Bristol showed that he can still compete for a place in the first 11.

Lewis Grabban: 5, Not the ideal start for Grabban having not scored in 3 appearances. The missed penalty against Wigan will not help his confidence either. Karanka must keep faith in him, because as the season goes on, his teammates will have developed a chemistry with him and they will have learned which runs he likes to make. If he stays fit, he will be the ’20 goal’ striker that forest have craved for years.

Hilal Soudani: 8, The Algerian brute is quickly becoming a favourite among the Forest fans. Two goals in two appearances for Soudani has rescued his side a much needed 4 points. Perhaps, his strength and power will be more effective as a late substitution.

 

 

 

2018/19 will be a breathtaking season of football in England

Fasten your seatbelts…

Premier league

The World Cup fizzles to an end and it feels like a betrayal to return to gritty, gruelling club football. Football fans, greedy for more, expect an equally exciting season. Yet, it often tends to be somewhat of a damp squib. However, this year will be different.

At the bottom of the table, you have Cardiff as favourites to go down. Sorry Warnock, but long balls and all out defence don’t get you far at this level. The other promoted teams, Fulham and Wolves, arguably, have the potential to contend for a top 10 finish. Esperíto Santo’s team are brimming with Portugese talent and flair. You have Moutinho and Patricio who are Euro winners and Ruben Neves has frightening potential. Likewise with Fulham, who’s squad contains copious amounts of quality for a side just emerging from the championship. Sessegnon and Cairney will be hungry to make their mark and Mitrovic is a proven goal scorer: he bagged 12 goals last season and also netted at the World Cup. What’s more, The bargain signing of Seri from Nice for €30 million will tighten up the midfield an allow the front 3 to express themselves.

Escape act Southampton have been dreadfully unlucky in recent seasons, their renowned academy having produced an array of talent in such a short space of time, only to have them poached by the heavyweights . Vestergaard, the new signing, impressed in Germany but he isn’t half the player Van Dijk was. The Saints will miss the Dutchman’s leadership and physical presence, but there is lots to be positive about. Elyounoussi is a pragmatic replacement for Tadic, his dribbling will cause problems for defenders, and Austin is a machine if he stays fit. Then you have Brighton, who did just what they were expected to do last season. Survive. To repeat this ,however, they must eradicate their horrendous away form. Easier said than done. What also caught the shrewd eye of Chris Hughton was The Seagull’s lack of squad depth. In an attempt to fix this they made 8 new signings, the highlight of which being Iranian left winger Jahanbakhsh. Finally, you have the Terriers, certain to finish rock bottom last season, but, resilient as ever, they hung on. With the competition this season though, 28 goals is inadequate to keep out the drop zone. What do they do? Brake their transfer record on a defender, and then sign another 4 defenders. Along with Cardiff, many anticipate a return to the Championship for Huddersfield, with the odds at Bet 365 at 11/10. The third place remains open. Burnley’s demanding Europa League campaign could drag them down into an unwanted battle, and a volatile relationship between fans, manager and the board at Newcastle may be dangerous. It will be a fascinating spectacle, teams pushed right to the wire, but i think Cardiff, Huddersfield and Brighton will return to the Championship.

Manchester City swept the floor in a record breaking 2017/18 season, significantly raising the bar. It somewhat changed English football permanently. A stark reminder of how when talent is nurtured properly, only then do you create World class. The way Guardiola seduces his players, the way that he has a lust for constant improvement in a quest for perfection, his ever calm demeanour and his obsession in being meticulous eludes to Man City dominating once again. His approach is reminiscent of his idol’s , Marcelo Bielsa. Their 2-0 community shield victory against Chelsea punctuated their blueprint. Although, it will not be as straightforward this year, the quality of the other competitors has risen. Even Guardiola admitted “it would be impossible to match what happened last year”.

170m spent this summer shows Liverpool’s ambitions. A new creative midfielder ? Naby Keita joins from RB Leipzig. A new Goalkeeper ? Alisson joins from Roma. These are highly pragmatic deals. The exact antithesis of the erratic “scattergun” transfer approach at Manchester United. Exemplary of the “Klopp Way”. Simple, but with intensity and integrity. A run to the Champions league final highlighted their potential, and the extra touch of quality brought in this summer will send shivers down the spines of their rivals.

There have been positives and negatives about this summer for Manchester United. Unfortunately, mainly negatives. 6 players advanced to the semi finals or higher in the World Cup. A marker of the potential in this United team. Yet Jose Mourinho, who has the tendency to be the master of his own downfall, continues to moan and groan. He realises, peeved, that £50m signing Fred and £19m signing Diego Dalot is not ample if they hope to close the 19 point gap between Man City. The lack of players on his USA pre season tour seemed to further aggrieve him. Is he really the special one ? If so, he needs to find a way to unite this disjointed Manchester United team.

Championship.

The, undisputed, toughest league in the world is, surprisingly, the English second tier. The laborious 46 game season and the intense physicality of the matches means there is no respite. Yet the competition is just getting fiercer and fiercer.

Everyone who follows this blog knows about the revival at Nottingham Forest under Karanka so we won’t talk about Forest. A slow start, though, and the pressure is on for Karanka. Take a short trip down the A52 and you get to Derby, the bitter rivals, who like to think that this season is also the start of a new era for the Rams. Ex-Chelsea legend Frank Lampard will be eager to get of to a strong start into a supposed managerial career at Pride Park. Although the question remains as to whether his ambitious style of football is slightly far fetched for this Derby side. Curtis Davies and Richard Keogh were caught out multiple times against Reading when trying to play out from the back. After all, they aren’t John Terry and William Gallas. And David Nugent is no Didier Drogba. Derby have suffered in recent years, coming ever so close to making it out. If Frank Lampard can finally be the one to get the Rams over the line, then perhaps a managerial career does, in fact, await him.

“He’s the best coach in the world”.

“Marcelo Bielsa was an inspiration to me”. This is how Guardiola and Pochettino responded when asked about the Argentinian. These two coaches, now managing at the highest level, learned everything from Bielsa. A true football genius. For example, he used to indulge into 40 football magazines every week and his idea of comfort is going for 2am runs while listening to tapes of different formations and their uses. “El Loco” is how his colleagues described him. One of his first decisions when given the Leeds job was to order his players pick rubbish up for 3 hours. The equivalent of how much a ticket is to go and watch one of their matches. Although his well known idiosyncratic 3-3-3-1 formation was unused against Stoke, Leeds looked a completely different side when they dismantled promotion favourited Stoke City. Most football fans would love to see Leeds and Bielsa back in the Premier League.

One of the most difficult tasks in football is returning to the top tier at the first time of asking. This is the challenge that awaits Stoke, West Brom and Swansea. Although, out of the 3, the Potters look in best shape as, unprecedentedly, they have an even stronger squad than the year before. So far Gary Rowett has done some quiet but pragmatic transfer business. World Cup star Etebo will hope to strengthen up and provide energy to an ageing midfield while Everton-flop Ashley Williams will also be hungry to prove a point and his leadership qualities will be vital in the quest for promotion. Stoke do, however, carry the burden of promotion favourites.

With the importance of money in football these days, losing the most expensive match in football is bound to scar a club. Villa will look to rectify their errors though in another season under Steve Bruce. Although their squad remains unchanged while their rivals have improved and ,consequently, many wrote them off. But a convincing 3-1 win against Hull showed that they mean business.

A £50m investment on a new team last summer means that Middlesbrough will be scratching their heads as to why they are still in the Championship. Yet, despite the losses of key players with Traore leaving for Wolves and Ben Gibson departing for Burnley, Boro got of to an incredible start, battering a strong Sheffield United side.

Of course, there will always be a dark horse, a team that nobody expects to succeed, succeeding. Last season this was Cardiff, some deemed them to go down, but instead they went up. Preston North End have a knack for overachieving on limited resources, which is exactly the situation they are in this season. For a few seasons now they have been lurking in and around the playoffs and Ryan Ledson, the 20 year old from Oxford impressed in pre season. They then got off the mark with a 1-0 victory over QPR.

Both the Premier League and Championship 2018/19 season will be an exciting adventure, a clash of egos, a clash of world class players and a clash of pure skill in general. Fine margins have become finer. I recommend you follow it every step of the way.

World cup review

Russia 2018

Nobody could have predicted how the World Cup in Russia panned out. From the welcoming residents and searing temperatures, to Croatia’s emphatic run to the final, it was the blatant antithesis of anything anyone expected. Here are the three things that stood out in Russia:

Peruvians stealing the show 

If anything was unjust at Russia 2018, it was Peru’s early exit at the group stage. The South Americans were exceptional in all 3 of their matches with Carillo’s scintillating pace and power causing nightmares for defenders. However, it was a dreadful penalty from Cristian Cueva and a classy counter attack from the Danes that put Peru in a precarious position going into their 2nd match against France. A win for Les Bleus, and the Russians could finally take their ear muPerpoo.jpgffs off now that the cacophonous roar from the crazy Peru fans had passed. Once again Peru put up a valiant effort with Farfan hitting the woodwork and Guerrero impressing again, but the talent of the French was just too much. Finally, the hard work paid off as Peru sealed a 2-0 victory against the Auzzies, helped by a thunderous volley from Andre Carillo. To the joy of some and the dismay of others, the incessant songs of the Peru fans remained in Russia even up until the final. They knew that although their team hadn’t progressed far, they may never see them play as well ever again.

Modric for Ballon D’or

Surely a Golden Ball award isn’t enough for Modric. What more can he do to be likened to the Ronaldo’s, the Messi’s, the Iniesta’s, the Zidane”s? How many times have we seen great players crumble this tournament? Messi with Argentina, Neymar with Brazil, and, arguably, Ronaldo with Portugal. This was Croatia’s golden generation – their last chance to prove something to the world. Modric, though, was unperturbed by the pressure that was mounting on him and his team and he remained composed and ,instead, used it as momentum. With Rakitic largely on the periphery, Modric produced some outstanding performances , particularly against Argentina and Nigeria, to help his team to the final – where he impressed once again. Yes, there was talent around him, with Perisic and Mandzukic, but non contributed more than the captain. He was the enforcer, picking unforeseeable passes in and behind the defence and, when called for,  used his dexterity and effective bits of skill and trickery to make it out of tight areas. However, most importantly, he portrayed immense mental resilience. After missing a penalty against Denmark in the second half, many would been intimidated when stepping up for the second time in the penalty shootout, but he stroked it coolly past Kasper Schmiechel to keep his country in the shootout. It must be said, it  wasn’t the most difficult path to the final, but Croatia were the joint third least populated country at Russia 2018 which is what makes this achievement so incredible. Although they did not emerge victorious in the final in Moscow, they were certainly moral winners. After 4 champions leagues, a league title and a run to the World Cup final, a Ballon D’or is due.

England have a long way to go before they are 4th best team in the world

England finished 4th at Russia 2018. Although they were simply not the 4th best team in the tournament. An unprecedented comfortable side of the draw, with none of the big teams, brought us to the semi-finals. We were expected to qualify, expected to defeat Sweden and Colombia and Croatia deserved to beat us. What was so special about England’s performances ? It is simply outrageous that people were suggesting an open -top bus parade. The cheeky boypositives we can take from Russia, however, was that when push comes to shove, we proved we can get the job done. This simple asset has been lacking from previous England sides. For example, losing to Iceland at the Euros and failing to get 3 points against Algeria in 2010 which proved to be fatal. So credit to Gareth Southgate, for helping his players feel like adults and athletes which is essential when facing the smaller nations. Although even he can improve. Some of his substitutions were questionable: when Eric Dier was brought on against Colombia it interrupted the midfield flow where chemistry needed to be at its strongest heading into the final moments. Maybe, he also failed to utilise the pace of Jamie Vardy. Another thing Southgate’s men must improve on heading into Euro 2020 is creativity and unpredictability. Perhaps, playing through the middle more instead of either down the channels or over to the top would encourage the Alli and Lingard to express themselves more. Too many times we saw Henderson launch the Ball over the top for Sterling when Alli and Lingered were open.

Germany will not be remembered as champions of 2014, but losers of  2018

After calamitous effort to retain their title in Russia, the world finally had the license to ridicule ands mock the Germans. Complacent, lethargic and disjointed are three words that sum up their world cup. After a shock defeat to Mexico, and a magnificent free kick from Toni Kroos against Sweden, the Germans had a chance to salvage something in their penultimate match against South Korea. The rest is history. The ethos of German football are to be efficient in defence and distribution, and then ruthless in front of goal. It is not Calypso football, playing to impress, it is playing to win. The German parents admit that “we don’t get our children to start sport so they can enjoy it, merely so they can win”. So why, when the stakes were so high, did the South Korea match defy all the core values of not just German football, but German sport as a whole? In the absence of the leadership qualities of Philip Lahm, Boateng and Hummels were tentative and unfocused throughout the tournament. Even the reliable Neuer suffered the worst tournament in his career,and, Bild( a german newspaper) deemed it not just the worst defensive performance by a German team, but “the biggest disgrace in German World Cup history”. Germany as a country put their pride and joy on the ‘Nationalelf’. While other countries use their leagues for commercial reasons, the Bundesliga is used to mould players ready for the international stage. The DFB is one of the most envied football associations in the world. This is why ,although the majority of the squad endured the 2014 success, this team will be remembered as the failures.

Is it finally our year?

Strong pre-season

Pre-season and ,in particularly, the Bournemouth encounter proved 3 things. Firstly, that one should never be dubious towards the wise, savvy dePRE SEASON BITCHES---cisions of Aitor Karanka (the signings of Joao Carvalho and Diogo Gonçalves). Secondly, that Karanka has created the perfect blend of experience (Watson,Grabban), leadership (Dawson), budding youth (Yates,Cash) and foreign players who are desperately trying to establish themselves in the English game. “A breath of fresh air” is how Jack Colback described it. Finally, and most importantly, it has vindicated that the fans are excited too, after the count reached 20,000 season tickets purchased and a 14,000 attendance to a mere pre-season match. More than our opponents today, Bournemouth, get at a regular home game in the Premier League.

Stand out performers

Gil Dias – Two magnificent solo goals against Malaga and Bournemouth has surely earned Dias a place in the starting 11 for Bristol. Defenders couldn’t cope with his dribbling and speed of thought.

Adeline Guedioura- Guedioura provided a complete performance against Bournemouth. We know he has the flair and trickery but today he showed “the dirty side of his game”, making some crunching challenges with his endless energy. While the chances of  him starting are slim, he has the quality to come off the bench and cause havoc this season.

Ryan Yates- An impressive loan spell at Notts County wasn’t enough for Karanka. He was preparing to loan Yates out for the second time, until the 20 year old displayed his premature composure and developing leadership abilities in a solid performance vs scunthorpe. He has been deemed by many as the future of Forest. As a result, Karanka  chose to keep the midfielder at the reds for 2018/19 to see if he can cope against a higher quality opposition.

Diego Gonçalves- The former Benfica man truly showed his frightening potential today. His nifty dribbling and pace caused huge problems for the Bournemouth defenders, yet what really stood out was his spot on decision making and distribution in the final third. Forest have been lacking a player like Gonçalves for a long time.

Aitor Karanka-  Karanka has a clear blueprint for Forest this season. Be proactive rather than reactive. The high press and high intensity football we saw today is similar to the way Jurgen Klopp organises Liverpool. He has perfected the balance of youth and experience, creating an ideal dressing room atmosphere.

Where we belong

20 years out of the Premier League and finally we have a squad and manager that are capable of returning the Garibaldi to where it belongs. There are no faults, no obvious areas in the squad where they could stumble upon. Everything, from the remarkable depth, the strong pre-season performances, the competition for places, to the kind gestures like making pre-seasons games free for season ticket holders thus igniting the passion and commitment of the Forest supporters, it all points to one conclusion. Promotion.

 

Is it really coming home?

England are still naive and my predictions for the Sweden match..

Tuesday night proved many things about this England team under Southgate. Firstly, that we can use some of the dark arts. For example, when Henderson’s theatrics gave Barillos a yellow card ( although it should have been a red), and when Harry Kane got into a position that would ensure he would earn a penalty. One could even protest that Kyle Walker’s position is in jeopardy after another inadequate performance. However, what the Colombia match really proved was how naive we are after having the victory torn away from us in the dying moments by a man who has already scored twice this tournament in similar fashion. Southgate is envied for his “leave no stone unturned” attitude so surely must have done his homework on

MinaColombia’s set pieces and the 6’4 centre back, but he pealed off Maguire like a greasy onion and powered a header into the ground which looped over Trippier. In all fairness, England had defended well up to this point, making sure that the likes of Quintero and Falcao remained quiet. Although, we lacked ideas in attack and it ended up as a tedious 90 minutes. That was until the Colombia goal, which proved to be a sucker punch to Southgate’s men as it clearly unsettled them. Come extra time, the Colombians were the only team who looked dangerous and it seemed that we were drowning in the noise and excitement of the Colombia fans. Beforehand we had comfortably been the better team, but we lost momentum and we could have been punished, had we faced a more clinical opposition. The best teams do not lose their nerves in the decisive moments, and, more importantly, when their backs are against the wall they manage to find a way to pull through. For example, take the France vs Uruguay match. The Uruguayans were all over France like a rash and it took a clever stutter from Griezmann and bang. They were back on top. England need to learn from this when they face trickier opposition as they progress further into the tournament. So, is it really coming home?

On to the Sweden match. Since the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden look a changed team. It has brought a fresh sense of unity to the team and they are prepared to fight for each other now the limelight isn’t just on one man. Although it must be said, they could certainly have useRashfordd his finishing against Switzerland. They had copious amounts of chances and only managed to find the net with one, which ended up as the decisive one. Although many chances were created they were not creative. Sweden play a compact 4-4-2 formation and play very one dimensionally, they often lump the ball upfield to Toivonen and Berg and play from there. Their only player might pose a threat to the English defence is Emil Forsberg, but he has disappointed so far this tournament. Sweden’s greatest asset,though, is their superb work-rate and ability to keep clean sheets. They have only conceded 1 goal in 2018 and have kept 5 clean sheets in their past 6 matches. At the heart of their defence is experienced Andreas Granqvist who also poses a threat at set pieces. With Victor Lindelof partnering him, it is a slow defence so Ashford and Sterling could be key. Heading into the world cup as the 24th ranked team, nobody has expected them to make it this far. So, as Emil Forsberg said “all the pressure is on England”. My prediction?. A mundane 1-0 win with Rashford to clinch it injury time.

 

Overs and Unders

There is one game left of the group stage so here are my overachieving and underachieving nations so far in Russia. Starting with the overachieving:

3.Russia

Going into the World cup as the lowest ranked nation, Russia’s 5-0 thrashing against the Saudi Arabians was on nobody’s predictor sheet. It was an uncharacteristic complete performance by the hosts, who prior to this game hadn’t won in seven matches. Denis Cheryshev stole the headlines with his delightful double but the notoriously old defence, with an average age of 31.4 years, managed to extinguish the feeble Saudi Arabia attacks. Putin watched on, contented. They then went on and proved that it wasn’t a one match wonder by securing their place in the round of 16 with a professional performance. They  knew the Egyptians were rattled after the Uruguay game so they started fast and fiery, applying heaps of pressure on the Egyptians so they couldn’t regain their confidence. Their hard work paid off when Ahmed Fathi scored an own goal in the 47th minute. By the 62nd minute Russia had successfully sealed their place in the round of 16, after a touch of class from Artem Dzyuba.

2.Japan

Group H used to be all about 3 teams. Until Japan arrived and stunned the group favourites, Colombia, 2-1 and  sent a shockwave throughout the group. However this was no fluke victory as they had 62% possession,

Japan bruh more shots on target and had the brightest chances. Honda distributed well while Kagawa provided the calmness to get the job done. It has been a long time since we have seen a Japan team with an abundance of flair. Tails up, they headed into the Senegal game fearless. A silky finish from Inui helped the Japanese to a deserved 2-2 draw. If they fail to qualify now, they can go home with their heads held high, knowing that they have done their country proud.

1. Mexico

When Hirving Lozano scored in the 35th minute against Germany, a minor tremor was recorded in Mexico City. This is what it means to them. After failing to exceed the round of 16 for the past 6 tournaments, the Mexican fans knew at that very moment that this talented Mexico team have the ability to go further than ever before. Germany were complacant, unfocused and failed to capitalise on their chances.

The Aztecs have produced an array of talent over the years with the likes of Marquez and Hernandez, but the star of this Mexican side is Hector Herrera. The Porto captain showed true leadership skills,  his work rate and determination subdued Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, and his distribution was second to none. Another striking factor about this Mexico side is their lethal counter attacks. Matts Humels and Jerome Boating, two of the most renowned centre backs in world football, were a liability and Mexico made short work of them on the attack. They maintained their momentum by beating South Korea and have almost secured their place in the round of 16. (Note: I haven’t included England as i am too afraid of getting my hopes up and then being let down)

Underperforming nations

3. Egypt

Having not qualified for the past 6 world cups- you may wonder how it would even be possible for Egypt to “underperform’ at this world cup. However, after a scintillating season for Mo Salah at Liverpool and Elneny’s breakthrough at Arsenal- many prEgypt v Uruguay: Group A - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russiaedicted that the Pharaohs would qualify from a dire group with only Uruguay clearly exceeding them on paper. How wrong they were. As a result of his shoulder injury, Salah could only sit and watch forlornly as his country were unfairly subjected to a 89th minute goal from Gimenez of Uruguay. With the steam blown out of them but Salah back in the team, there were mixed emotions going into the Russia match. Although a poor performance let the in-form hosts dismantle them and just like that their dreams were crushed.

2. Poland

In an open, contestable group H, it was a case of which team could grasp it by the scruff of its neck and dominate. When Japan stunned Colombia by nicking a 2-1 victory, it added extra importance to the Senegal vs Poland game as whoever won would likely qualify. Galvanised after failing to qualify in Brazil, and  Lewandoski looking to make his mark in national football, it was a shock to see Poland’s lack of desire and concentration against the Senegalese Robert Lewandoski failed to make a mark and a woeful misjudgement by Szczesny and Krychowiak sealed the victory for the Senegalians and put Poland in a precarious position for the Colombia match. On came a furious Colombia, ardent to prove that the Japan match was an anomaly and regain their powerful status. Poland were, once again, unable to match their oppositions’ hunger and drive as they were torn apart and embarrassed by the impressive Colombians. Cuadrado’s final goal put the cherry on the icing on the cake for a nightmarish return to the World Cup for Poland.

1. Argentina

Hand over head gesturing pain, Lionel Messi was finally crumbling under the heavy  burden of his country’s impossible expectations. 90 minutes gone. 3-0 to Croatia. A long road back for Argentina..

After a lack of ruthlessness and indecisiveness all round in the Iceland match, Jorge Sampaoli’s men headed into the game unsure on formation and tactics. Their anxieties were exposed by a talented Croatian side with Modric and Rakatic starring especially.

MessiYou would not expect to see such naivity from the 2014 finalists, but they must learn that you can never go into a World Cup game without a credible plan. If they fail to qualify now, which is mostly likely, to say it would be a disappointing end to a talented nation would be a huge understatement. A disgrace to the nation fits better. Also, a disgrace to the icon- Maradona , who watched on despondantly and ended Thursday in tears.