Are Man City a one man team?

Manchester City are indebted to striker Sergio Aguero for rescuing them from the brink of Champions League elimination against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night. The Argentinean international, 26, scored a hat-trick as the Sky Blues ran out 3-2 winners against 10-man Bayern at the Etihad. City were 2-1 down and likely to be out of the European competition until a late brace turned the game on its head.

In the post-match interviews, manager Manuel Pellegrini and club captain Vincent Kompany both labelled Aguero as a “special player” in the team who can dig them out of a hole, but should a starting eleven that has cost more than £190M be so heavily reliant on one man?

After the match, Pellegrini was quoted as saying: “I have always said that Sergio is one of the best players in the world. He played very well against Bayern Munich,” while Kompany said: “If you want to succeed at anything you need to a special player in a special form. Sergio is our special player and when he is in that form he makes things achievable.”

Aguero scored three goals from just three shots taken against the Bundesliga leaders, which has now seen Manchester City go from the brink of elimination to favourites for second-placed qualification. They need a result against AS Roma in Italy, all the while hoping Bayern Munich don’t lose their clash at home to CSKA Moscow.

But is it a worry that their future in Europe has come down to one man’s heroics once again? This season, the former Atletico Madrid striker has 12 league goals in as many games, and five in five in the Champions League. Manchester City haven’t lost when he’s scored in either competition this season, and Aguero’s influence in attack has been telling – with the 26-year-old having scored 12 of Manchester City’s last 19 goals in the league and Europe.

Manuel Pellegrini has relied so heavily on the long-serving striker, with City’s second-highest scoring being nine goals adrift, and the club-captain is fully aware how much they need Aguero right now. City have endured a poor defence of the Premier League this season, and had picked up just two points from four Champions League group games prior to their Bayern win.

With players such as Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Steven Jovetic and James Milner – who averaged £20M each for City – why is it only Aguero delivering on a regular basis?

This is a Manchester City team who have won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup, one Capital One Cup and one Community Shield in the last three years.

It’s no coincidence Aguero was the man who scored the title-winning goal back in 2012 to end a 44-year wait for league honours, but is it right for City to be more dependant on him than ever?

Is Pochettino right to demand Europa League rest?

Tottenham Hotspurs manager Mauricio Pochettino believes having midweek Europa League games is having an adverse effect on their weekend form in the Premier League.

When the European fixtures come round, the Londoners play on a Thursday and then have to play again on Sunday. It’s even more of an issue for away games given the anti-social hours they are often travelling to and from different countries, which leads to the side having little time to recover for their Sunday game.

Spurs face Partizan Belgrade tonight, and will be forced to go into training the day after a game, with Friday and Saturday the only days they have for preparation for their Sunday clash against Everton.

“Yes, maybe it is a good idea to play Monday if you play Thursday. Why not? One day more is good for the players to recover. One day extra is very good for the players to recover because maybe you play in Turkey, Serbia or Greece and you arrive 4am. It changes your sleep and after it is Friday, you need to train, then Saturday, then Sunday you play at one o’clock. It is very difficult for the players, said Pochettino.

Last season, Tottenham could not perform in the Premier League after playing in the Europa League in midweek. After qualifying, the Londoners played a total of 10 games in the competition, but lost five and drew one in six of the games played after a European clash. This season, Spurs have played four games in Europe, and have lost three of the four games played after a group game already.

It’s not a new argument about the Europa League, and while many point to sides in Europe needing big enough squads, constant tinkering of players and formations will also lead to inconsistent results. Being in European competition shouldn’t be viewed as a punishment, but for sides having small squads, it’s a real headache as to how they will go about coping with the fixture pile up.

The Europa League doesn’t have the best reputation due to the larger amount of sides in the competition, let alone the pitfalls of playing Thursday/Sunday in each game week. Tottenham have continued to struggle with performing after a European clash, and Pochettino certainly has a point when arguing his case for an extra day‘s rest. A lot of managers will rest key players in the competition as a result of having an eye on domestic duties, which degrades the Europa League even further, so should they change the fixtures from Sunday to Monday after a European clash on Thursday?

Would it be fair to sack Brendan Rodgers?

A lot is being said about Liverpool this season after their disappointing start in the Premier League. Manager Brendan Rodgers finds himself under a lot of pressure as the Reds have completely crumbled. On the weekend, Crystal Palace deservedly beat them 3-1 at Selhurst Park, which was the Reds’ third consecutive league defeat.

The result left them 18 points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea after just 12 games, while having lost the same amount of games as they did during the entirely of last season. It’s not surprising odds for Rodgers to be sacked are being slashed currently, but is it fair?

Last season, the Merseyside outfit surprised everybody by finishing just two points of Premier League winners Manchester City, and leading the table between March and April. Liverpool went on an incredible 11-match winning streak to have the title in their hands with three games to go. Brendan Rodgers’ men had 80 points from 35 games, and three more wins against Chelsea (home), Crystal Palace (away) and Newcastle (home) would have sealed the crown for the Reds, but they blew it losing to Chelsea and drawing to Palace.

Despite the failure, Rodgers took a lot of credit from supporters for their blistering attacking style at Anfield, taking the lead in the majority of home games in the first-half, and scoring over 100 goals in 38 games in the process. Champions League football returned to Anfield, which was always the objective before a ball was even kicked, but now expectations skyrocketed after last season.

Fast-forward six months and now a host of supporters want him out. The defensive problem is something that hasn’t been fixed, despite Rodgers spending money on a centre-back, left-back, and right-back in the summer. He certainly can’t be accused of ignoring the clear problems of his side, considering Liverpool shipped 50 goals in the Premier League last season, but their fast decline has fans wondering if 2013/14 was to be their best hopes of winning the league.

It’s incredible harsh for supporters to turn so quickly on a manager who has gone closer than many of his predecessors. Prior to Brendan Rodgers’ arrival at Liverpool, the Merseyside club hadn’t finished in the top-two of the Premier League for five years. After their runners-up medal in 2008/09, Liverpool posted finishes of 7th, 6th, 8th, and 7th. Their second-place in 2013/14 is made all the more incredible considering the stiff competition they faced from strong Chelsea & Arsenal sides.

It took 38 games for people to credit Rodgers for turning Liverpool around and make them a Champions League team again. Is it right to consider him a failed manager just 12 games later?

How can Rodgers go from hero to zero in six months? Are the supporters expecting too much too soon from a side that have only registered one top-four finish in the last five years? Does Rodgers deserve more faith?

Is Louis Van Gaal to blame for Man Utd injury crisis?

While there’s uncertainty surrounding the extent of Manchester United midfielder Daley Blind’s recent knee injury, the Red Devils now have 12 first-team players currently out of action, but is manager Louis Van Gaal to blame?

Highly-experienced fitness coach Raymond Verheijen, who has previously worked for the Netherlands‘, South Korean and Russian national teams, La Liga giants Barcelona, Russian league leaders Zenit Petersburg, Premier League leaders Chelsea and defending champions Manchester City, was critical of the new United boss back in August, suggesting his methods would cause injuries to arise at the club.

“What LVG proves is that top coaches are not perfect. Even the world’s best have deficiencies. Planning & periodisation is not his strongest point: double sessions & muscle injuries,” he said via his Twitter account.

Raymond Verheijen blamed the successful coach for the injuries in the Netherlands national team during this summer’s World Cup, adding that Van Gaal has continued to make the same mistakes.

“During the World Cup preparation the Dutch players had to do frequent double sessions, so not surprisingly the muscle injuries accumulated. At Man United, in the first few weeks, LVG has applied the same approach and, as expected, with the same result.”

Manchester United’s recent injury list

David De Gea (finger), Luke Shaw (hamstring), Jonny Evans (ankle/foot), Phil Jones (calf/shin), Marcos Rojo (shoulder), Rafael da Silva (groin/pelvis), Daley Blind (knee), Michael Carrick (groin/pelvis), Ashley Young (groin/pelvis), Angel Di Maria (foot/ankle), Radamel Falcao (calf/shin).

With Verheijen pre-empting muscle injuries occurring for Manchester United through the course of this season from a manager he deemed as notoriously inept at fitness training, does Van Gaal need coaching in the field of player conditioning? The sole objective for the Red Devils this season was to get back into the top-four of the Premier League, but the high amount of injuries have led to United to struggle for consistency. In their last league game against Crystal Palace – of which they won 1-0 – midfield Daley Blind, young little-known defender Paddy McNair, and winger Antonio Valencia made up three places in the backline.

The majority of layouts are expected to return to training before the New Year, but there are a host of important clashes coming thick and fast that will certainly take their toll on any players not 100% fit. United have eight games in five-and-a-half weeks to come before New Year creeps in.

Where does the blame lie for Manchester United injury troubles? Is it just down to bad luck? Or are Louis Van Gaal’s methods to blame?

Will Chelsea slip-up this season under Mourinho?

Manchester City midfielder Fernando is still adamant that the defending champions can catch Premier League leaders Chelsea this season, despite being eight points off Jose Mourinho’s side after just 11 games.

“The English league is very competitive. Chelsea is the team that is best placed, but we know that all teams within the league fluctuate greatly. We did not start well, we had some difficulties, but we know Chelsea will also go through these difficulties and then we have to work to stay as close as possible,” he said.

With Chelsea having won nine league games – beating the likes of Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool already – while picking up points away to Manchester City and Manchester United, the Blues have looked unbeatable this campaign. It’s worth noting that Jose Mourinho has a past record of achieving near-invincibility with his former clubs that Fernando is perhaps forgetting.

The Portuguese coach has a history of his side’s completely dominating a season under his tenure to a near perfect level. His second campaign with the Portuguese Liga outfit saw Porto winning the first title in four years, while boasting the highest every points tally recorded in the division (86). Mourinho promised he would deliver the title in his second campaign with Porto, and had them losing only twice over a 34-game season, spending an incredible eight months at the top.

But the 51-year-old didn’t stop there. Chelsea was his next challenge, and in his first season he led the Blues to their first top-flight title in half a century. Chelsea ended the campaign with a record 95 points, conceding the least amount of goals ever recorded (15), while losing just one game in 38 matches. In addition to going six months without being overtaken at the summit, they kept an incredible 25 clean sheets, which isn’t likely to be beaten in the Premier League.

After another successful spell with Serie A side Inter Milan in the middle, who won two league titles during his time in Italy, Mourinho made the move to La Liga giants Real Madrid, winning the title in his second season with aplomb, which was their first league crown in four years. Real finished the season with a record 100 points from 38 games, losing just two games. They spent a total of 31 game weeks at the top of the table, going the last five months of the season without being dethroned.

History has shown Mourinho teams don’t often choke and throw away league titles, winning seven league crowns in nine full consecutive seasons with four different sides, so will they be winning the 2014/15 Premier League title at a canter, a decade after his record-breaking season with Chelsea in his first stint?

Will Manchester United regret selling Danny Welbeck?

With Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck having bagged a double in a man-of-the-match performance for England against Slovenia in their fourth Euro 2016 qualifier, were Manchester United right to let him go this summer?

The 23-year-old has taken his England tally to 13 goals in 31 games after his impressive showing against Slovenia. It caps what has been a good start to the season for club and country for Welbeck, with the former United academy player having scored five goals in 12 games in all competitions for Arsenal.

His deadline day sale to the Gunners came as a surprise given the promise he’d shown in his many years at Manchester United, but manager Louis Van Gaal revealed his inferior goal tally – compared to that of United’s other strikers Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao – was the reason for his sale.

His seemingly large £16M transfer fee was questioned too when compared to Daniel Sturridge’s £12M move to Liverpool in January 2013, but performances would always speak for themselves when Welbeck put on an Arsenal shirt.

The England and Arsenal striker offers a different attacking threat to the Gunners’ first-choice Olivier Giroud, as he boasts more pace than the majority of Premier League stars, while possession great movement off the ball to drag opposition defenders out of position. Welbeck’s versatility also sees him drifting into wide areas to collect the ball, which opens up space for teammates to fill.

His great link-up play also means Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger could well see a strike partnership develop when Olivier Giroud is back into the first-team. Such qualities were on did play against Slovenia, with Welbeck, teammate Jack Wilshere, and Wayne Rooney enjoying some quick exchanges in attack.

Being only 23 years old would also mean he has many more years still to develop, and a 10+ year career still ahead of him. Welbeck has made more than 30 caps for England, and 190 appearances at club level in all competitions.

Manchester United supporters were divided after the sale of Welbeck, as the young striker had certainly shown more than enough promise to believe he could be a mainstay with the Red Devils, while many felt he wasn’t good enough to be a United calibre player.

This season, the 23-year-old has already bagged a Champions League hat-trick for his new side, and has relished being the focal point of their attack. For England, he continues to perform and ripple the back of the net, boasting an impressive 1 goal every 2.4 games at international level.

So will Manchester United regret letting him go?

Can Jack Wilshere evolve into a mainstay deep-lying playmaker?

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere put in another impressive performance in an England shirt against Scotland on Tuesday night, with the 22-year-old grabbing his first assist for the Three Lions. Wilshere played a beautiful lofted ball into the onrushing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who deftly headed the pass into the back of the net to give England the lead.

Wilshere has come under a lot of criticism in the past for not contribution with goals and assists, but his performances for England in a new position seem to be getting the best from him. Only Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner made more touches in the England team against Scotland than Jack Wilshere, who also made the most interceptions (3) and dribbles (2) too.

The 22-year-old clearly is relishing being a first-team player under Roy Hodgson, and is finally starting to show some end product to his game. In the Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia, Wilshere once again came away with some of the plaudits for a fine performance at the base of the midfield for England.

Despite being a player of short stature, Wilshere is very physical, and never afraid to throw his weight around. He shields the ball very well, is very confident and composed when in possession, and always wants the ball in dangerous areas to harm the opposition. But England manager Roy Hodgson has looked to play him in a deeper position, solely to take advantage of his wide range of passing.

The England playmaker is the best passer of the ball in the England team now, and also offers combative attributes on the pitch, reading the game well to make important interceptions, while never being afraid to make a tackle.

Wilshere has been around for a while, but his best form over a run of games is something few have seen in a long time. This season, his influence will be maximised in the Arsenal side, with holding-midfielders Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini struggling for form.

The youngster can do the dirty work in the engine room, can play long balls out of trouble pinpoint to any player, and now has an end product to his game. Hodgson will be licking his lips at the prospect of Jack Wilshere by the time Euro 2016 comes around, and from what he has seen when utilising the young playmaker in a deep-lying role, the Arsenal academy graduate has the potential to be a successful mainstay.

Why Roy Hodgson would be wrong to underestimate Scotland with weakened XI

Ahead of England’s international friendly against Scotland on Tuesday, manager Roy Hodgson revealed he would be making changes from the side which recently earned a 3-1 win against Slovenia in their fourth Euro 2016 qualifier.

The 67-year-old has sent first-choice ‘keeper Joe Hart (Manchester City) home, meaning Fraser Forster (Southampton) is expected to start between the sticks ahead of Ben Foster (West Brom), while the likes of Saido Berahino (West Brom) and Ross Barkley (Everton) could both be in line to start. Hodgson is set to make more changes to the starting eleven, but is adamant he’s more than respecting the opposition.

“We will take the game very seriously. Please don’t get the impression that I don’t take the game seriously and don’t have a lot of respect for it because I do,” he said. “I am going to need some experienced players on the field (too). I can’t just make wholesale changes because we want to go up there and give a performance.”

England last played Scotland in a friendly back in August 2013, with the Three Lions earned bragging rights at Wembley in front of over 80,000 supporters. Despite the win, Roy Hodgson’s side were given a  scare, with Scotland twice taking the lead in the game through James Morrison (West Brom) and Kenny Miller (Rangers). Theo Walcott (Arsenal) and Danny Welbeck (Arsenal) respectively cancelled out their efforts, before Rickie Lambert (Liverpool) came off the bench to net the winner.

This time round, however, promises to be a completely new challenge for England. Scotland are full of confidence given their impressive form in the Euro 2016 qualifiers – wins against Georgia and the Republic of Ireland, while drawing against Poland. Under manager Gordon Strachan, there’s a new-found belief with the Scots, and coupled with home advantage on Tuesday – with the tie being played at Celtic Park – could well see England struggle.

Scotland are boasting a strong squad, and Strachan isn’t likely to rest any of his big names for the clash. There is more than pride on the line for the Blues ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, and every player in the squad, along with the supporters, will be fired up from kick-off until full time. They were typically spirited in their last Euro 2016 qualifier against rivals Republic of Ireland, and there will be no let up on Tuesday.

England’s consistent knack of starting slow in games could well go against them, as it did against Scotland last year, and most recently against Slovenia. It’s worth noting the Three Lions haven’t scored a first-half goal in any of their four away internationals (excluding neutral stadiums) played this year. So can Roy Hodgson really afford to ring the changes against Scotland?

FIFA’s latest conspiracy allegations shatter remaining trust people had for the governing body

With FIFA lawyer Michael Garcia having publicly issued a statement from his lengthy written report, criticising the governing body for fabricating the results of his two-year inquiry into corruption relating to the 2018 World Cup bid – won by Russia, and the 2022 World Cup bid – won by Qatar – have FIFA officially lost everyone’s trust?

“It has undermined the whole process. It’s now pretty ugly for Fifa if the person who did the inquiry says the judge hasn’t properly reflected his inquiry. That’s pretty serious for Fifa. It now seems the interpretation of the Garcia report is not a fair one, according to Garcia himself,” said English Football Association Greg Dyke.

FIFA released a statement after a two-year investigation into the 2018 & 2022 World Cup bidding process, which cleared Russia and Qatar respectively of any wrongdoing. But Garcia was quick to suggest his findings had been fabricated, hinted towards a cover-up.

When Qatar were surprisingly named 2022 World Cup hosts, despite being top of the list for highest risk to host the tournament due to weather conditions, questions were asked how the voters came to such a decision. Considering England only received two out of 22 votes – despite having the resources to host a tournament at any time – many felt there was underhand tactics on display.

A vast amount of over-the-hill footballers reside in Qatar & Russia to get paid lucrative sums of money in a weaker league, which in turn brings more attention to the football structure as a result. The financial gain of playing in both countries is what they are perhaps best known for among the football enthusiasts, and the authorities looking to bid for the 2018 & 2022 World Cup certainly weren’t collectively short on resources to curry favour.

Immediately after Qatar were surprisingly awarded the hosting privileges of the 2022 World Cup, there was a rising debate on whether it will need to be a winter World Cup due to the impossible playing climate. Such drawbacks made Qatar at the most risk of hosting a tournament, but they still drew more votes than the likes of England and the US, which is why many aren’t convinced the bidding process was above board.

Hans-Joachim Eckert turned Garcia’s 430 page report into a 43 page summary, of which Garcia has claimed has numerous fallacies about the findings he produced.

But FIFA have lost the trust of most now, as not only have members recently left their post amid bribery allegations, but the cover-up allegations – which certainly have credence after Garcia’s statement – suggest the highest ranking members of the governing body are all involved and therefore will never get to the bottom of the situation. There’s simply nobody for people to trust within the organisation.

Michael Garcia has a 430 page report of his genuine findings of the corruption inquiry that leading football influences want made public, but if it’s at FIFA’s digression it’s likely to be kept quiet, especially if it possesses damning material that could bring the governing body into disrepute.

Have Manchester City peaked?

Manchester City are having a woeful start to the campaign on all fronts. Manuel Pellegrini’s defending champions find themselves eight points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea, they recently suffered a 4th round elimination to Newcastle in their defence of the Capital One Cup, and they are winless in four Champions League games this season.

Pellegrini unsurprisingly finds himself under pressure, and supporters want answers for why they have started the season so disappointingly. The answer is very simple; Manchester City have peaked. They have hit the ceiling, and their gradual decline is right in front of spectators’ eyes.

The Sky Blues have the highest average age in the Premier League (28.9), and one of the oldest outfield players in Frank Lampard (36). City have 15 players at the average peak age (28) or older in their squad, six of whom are above 30. While they may have won the Premier League title and Capital One Cup last season, it’s clear the players haven’t been able to motivate themselves for a title defence, repeating the same mistakes a season after winning the 2011/12 league crown.

Standout players from 2013/14 such as Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and Edin Dzeko have looked a shadow this season, and unsurprisingly they have hit their peak age. City have also dropped the same amount of points at the Etihad stadium from 11 games this season (5) as they did during the entirely of 2013/14.

Even at the start of the season, a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in the Community Shield was a sign of things to come from Pellegrini’s men, and it could take a large rebuilding process to have the side genuinely challenging for honours again.

Manchester City don’t have a side for the future, they have a team for the present. They’ve delivered too, winning two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and one Capital One Cup and one Community Shield in the last three years, but that could be where the trophy haul ends until changes are made to replace the ageing out-of-form players for hungry younger talents.

It’s commonly said that winning your second title is much more difficult than your first, due to the difficulty in maintaining high levels of motivation and desire to the players. Manchester City have certainly looked complacent at times this season, playing almost as if they are bulletproof, and resting on their past laurels.

After being on cloud nine in the summer following a league and cup double, Manchester City have been sent crashing back down the earth this season. Have they peaked?