Dilemmas Aplenty For Unai Emery

The opening game of the season may not have gone the way Unai Emery intended to, with Arsenal losing 2-0 at home to Manchester City, but the Spaniard has a lot of decisions to make ahead of their next fixture at Chelsea on Saturday.

Arsenal fans know Arsenal under is still a work in progress and it showed on Sunday. There were several teething problems against Man City, such as losing possession while playing the ball from the back, notably relinquishing possession either in midfield or their own half. The Gunners’ found it difficult when trying to play the ball from their own 18 yard box, with goalkeeper Petr Cech mostly at fault, culminating in nearly scoring a calamitous own goal.

Emery has to decide whether to stick with Cech or replace him with Bernd Leno, with the former at times looking ill-assured in his distribution. Leno showed in pre-season against Lazio his ability to distribute the ball effectively and successfully build attacks from deep.

In midfield, it is likely Lucas Torreria will make his full Premier League debut for Arsenal, well deserved after a strong cameo off the bench against Man City. The Uruguayan’s dynamism will be a important asset to have, from the style of his passing range, to his ability to disrupt opposition attacks in the final third. Importantly, he can be the conduit to transition from defence to attack, which at times the midfield struggled to do against Man City.

Matteo Guendouzi will be likely the fall guy but that doesn’t represent a negative reflection on the 19 year old midfielder. Far from it, his fearlessness in going forward is to be commended, which understandably led to errors, but will have learned so much against tough opposition.

The key question facing Emery is does he play Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang together against Chelsea? There is a case for it seeing Aubameyang was badly isolated upfront in the first half against Man City. When Lacazette came off the bench in the second half, deployed upfront with Aubameyang on the wing, the Gunners troubled Man City before they doubled their lead.

Emery could decide to play Aubameyang with Lacazette vs Chelsea, with Mesut Ozil making up part of the front three, pushing Ramsey back into central midfield and relegating Granit Xhaka to the bench. In addition, Emery could decide to play a counterattacking game, utilising the rapid pace of Aubameyang. Should that be the case Arsenal’s defence will have to absorb a lot of pressure, which means working hard off the ball, exactly what Emery has drilled into his players in pre-season.

The fixture computer may not have been kind to Arsenal but Saturday represents an opportunity to show progress on the pitch. It won’t be easy but Saturday’s game at Stamford Bridge should be compelling viewing.

Where does Newcastle’s takeover stand?

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Speak to those who don’t have all the facts, or select a few to believe, and they will say Mike Ashley is doing a great job as owner of Newcastle United. Research and unbiased opion, however, will surmise that this is simply not the case. English football holds itself back in many ways, but fear of ambition is arguably the biggest issue. Bettering yourself is often frowned upon; stagnation is seen as the better option over rising high and falling further. The fact Ashley has made Newcastle “financially viable” after they ran up huge debts in the years prior to his arrival, means he will always has his supporters when criticised fans.

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Euro Fantasy League Podcast – #24 – Jason Pettigrove on La Liga Expectations

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The new season is here! The Euro Fantasy League Podcast kicks off the 2018/19 season by welcoming Jason Pettigrove to the show, who gives his insight on the summer transfer window and talks about how he thinks La Liga will shape up this season. Plus, Dave joins the show late.

You can purchase Jason’s book “Huddy: The Official Biography of Alan Hudson” at this link.

The EuroFantasyLeague Podcast is available on the following platforms:

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Please remember to leave us a rating and review if you enjoy the episode!

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Should EPL refs be under as much scrutiny as the players?

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The 2018/19 season is only one game old but already there have been complaints at the standard of refereeing.

Craig Pawson, who was put in charge of the Wolves vs Everton game, stands accused of not applying the law of common sense after he sent Phil Jagielka off before half time.

The letter of the law was applied by Pawson and in that sense, he made the correct decision and was well within his rights to brandish the red card.

However, there was little intent on the part of the player and, given it was the first game of the new campaign, lenience could’ve been shown for slightly mistimed challenges, as Jagielka’s was.

PGMOL are the governing body in England who oversee the officials in the top flight, but rarely does there appear to be any comeback when a referee or his assistant makes a mistake.

On many occasions, the man in the middle is simply handed another appointment the following week.

An appropriate amount of scrutiny on the level of performance is certainly lacking, and at this moment it doesn’t look like it will change.

Moreover, in an age when communication is key, the Premier League will still not allow their officials to stand before the match cameras and explain their decisions.

The onset of VAR in football will obviously help to some degree, but in the meantime, referees should be held accountable.

If a manager makes a mistake, he’s called to task straight after the game. Players too by and large.

So how is it that the officials can hide behind a continued wall of silence?

Whether or not that changes any time soon, and let’s be honest, that’s unlikely, surely it’s in everyone’s interest that if a mistake is made, the referee concerned is either demoted for a week or another suitable punishment applied.

At the elite level of any sport, it’s simply preposterous to rely on amateur performers in the middle.

They’re full-time ‘professionals’ in name only because not a week goes by without at least one English Premier League referee making a mistake.

If an official knows he has one or maybe even two others breathing down his neck ready to take his place, it sharpens the mind, and with so much money at stake in the top flight now, it’s inconceivable that the brand is risking its good name by not employing best practice in all areas – one of which is the standard of refereeing staff.

Pawson will believe he made the right decision on opening day, and history will tell him he’s right, but seasoned watchers of the game will again be throwing their arms up in disbelief.

Handed another game for week two, it hammers home the point that PGMOL’s standard bearers are almost bulletproof. Yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper and all that.

It’s something that needs to change quickly if the Premier League and PGMOL themselves want to be seen as progressive organisations, rather than a ‘jobs for the boys’ collective.

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Sarri era begins for Chelsea with win over Huddersfield

SarriChelsea began their 2018/19 Premier League campaign with a victory over Huddersfield on Saturday. Goals from N’Golo Kanté, Jorginho and Pedro saw the Blues win 3-0. It was Maurizio Sarri’s first match in charge, but at the beginning it was hardly “Sarriball.”

Chelsea were able to go into Huddersfield and get a comfortable result, which is all that matters on the first match day. They were missing key players like Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovačić from the starting eleven. In addition to this, the squad has only been working under Sarri for less than a month, so an adjustment period will be needed. Continue reading

Matt Ritchie shows why he is so crucial to Newcastle

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Defeat for Newcastle United was expected on Saturday, especially once Mauricio Pochettino picked his strongest possible Tottenham Hotspur team at St James’ Park. The hope and, in some quarters, expectation was that Spurs would be weakened by the lack of traning time for their World Cup stars. Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen all returned on Monday, but they started and the latter pair both scored, securing a 2-1 win for the North Londoners.

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What are the expectations for Spurs this season?

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The transfer window is officially closed, and the English clubs are now going to have to make due with their current squads until January at the very least.

I would have looked at doing a transfer window piece for Tottenham Hotspur. However, after them becoming the first side in the Premier League for over a decade to not buy a single player in the summer transfer window I don’t suppose there would be too much to write about.

So, the transfer window aside, what can we expect from the North-London club this season?

Firstly, the new stadium should certainly be an interesting factor in Tottenham’s season. After developing such a strong home record, Spurs were forced to play their entire season at Wembley stadium last season which wasn’t without its issues. Perhaps now, with that behind them and the presence of an actual home stadium we could see Spurs return to enjoying their home comforts as much as they once did!

For all the talk of potential signings, one thing that cannot go unnoticed is that there were no high-profile outgoings either. The likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli never looked to leave at any stage during the transfer window. However, it was widely believed that we would see the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Dembele and Danny Rose all leave the club during the summer window. Without a shadow of a doubt, losing the three of them without any incomings would have been a complete utter disaster. Spurs are certainly in a far stronger position having kept them then they would have been had they let them go.

It is quite difficult to predict how Spurs will perform this season, a real title challenge may seem out of their reach however the reality is the same could be said for many of the other big-six members too.

The truth is, with the lack of spending and the sides around them strengthening (Liverpool for example…) a top-four finish is certainly an attainable respectable target for Spurs. It would be unfair to expect Pochettino and his men to bridge the mammoth gap between themselves and Manchester City without having strengthened in the entire window.

Would fans be satisfied with a top-four finish? Well it’s hard to say, some fans I’ve spoken to have vented frustration at the lack of spending, claiming it demonstrates a simple lack of ambition from Levy who they believe simply is more focused on business side of things rather than the football side. The reality is, a top-four finish would certainly be enough for it to be considered a positive season for Spurs.

So how does a decent season become a good one? The answer is simple, win a trophy. Pochettino has often dismissed cup competitions in the past with him claiming Spurs were interested in the “bigger prizes.” The reality is, Spurs don’t seem to be very close to the bigger prizes at the moment and just like it is the case for any other member of the top-six, every single trophy counts.

Spurs have gone far too long without a major trophy. 1 League Cup in the past decade simply isn’t good enough. My local side Birmingham City from the Championship have the same record. Although the Premier League title itself may seem out of reach for Tottenham, the FA-Cup and the League Cup certainly isn’t! Spurs managed to reach the Semi-Finals of the FA-Cup last season, indicating a change of approach to cup competitions from their Argentinian coach.

This is something that must continue this season, Spurs fans will probably forgive the lack of Premier League trophy come May. However, they certainly would want to be within a shout of one of the cup competitions to end their major trophy drought.

Top four and a trophy is certainly achievable for Spurs this season and would certainly represent a good season and a season with progress. Throw in a good run in the Champions League, something which this Spurs side are more than capable of doing then you really do have a good season in the making for the North-Londoners.

Do I believe Spurs can achieve these targets? Absolutely. And to be clear, this isn’t to suggest they can’t go a step further and challenge for the bigger prizes that Pochettino has spoken about in the past. These targets are simply the most realistic ones for Pochettino’s men, in a league where even the newly promoted clubs are spending over £200 Million between them, the need for spending has only increased. With Spurs effectively standing still this summer it would be unfair to expect them to challenge for the title. Stadium costs may be one of the reasons behind the lack of spending, meaning preserving their Champions League status and the revenue that comes with it may have even further importance this season.

One thing is for sure with Spurs, expect entertainment from this wonderful young side and their Argentinian manager.

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Axel Witsel can be a star for Borussia Dortmund

As Borussia Dortmund prepare for the 2018/19 Bundesliga campaign, it’s been known for some time that the 2012 champions have been short of experience in midfield for some time. With Nuri Şahin looking set to leave the Westfalenstadion outfit and Gonzalo Castro already gone, it will be up to summer arrival Axel Witsel to fill the void.

The Belgium international has a unique skillset that he’s yet to showcase in one of Europe’s top five leagues. Ten years of his professional career has been spent at Standard Liège, Benfica and Zenit St. Petersburg and following a move to Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian, it’s time for Witsel to showcase his ability’s in the Bundesliga after just one year in China.

At 29, Witsel arrives at Borussia Dortmund for €20 million, a relatively small fee for someone of his calibre in today’s market. With almost a century of caps for Belgium and a third-placed finish at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the central midfielder adds a wealth of experience to Borussia Dortmund’s midfield. Whether Witsel will start alongside fellow summer arrival Thomas Delaney remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a midfield double-pivot that could prove key for die Schwarzgelben this campaign, with potentially Mario Götze just head.

Borussia Dortmund’s signing of Witsel is fruitful and a genius move by sporting director Michael Zorc and it’s one that could potentially see BVB challenge Bayern Munich for the league title this campaign. The Bundesliga club also did well to sign the 29-year-old ahead of some of Europe’s biggest clubs after it became apparent that his advisor, Paul Stefani, advised against a move to Manchester United, where he’d be just another player, with Serie A club Napoli also interested.

“I did not have to think twice, because for me Borussia Dortmund is one of the best clubs on the continent. Honestly, I can not wait to run aground in front of 81,000 people. I talked with Michy Batshuayi about Borussia Dortmund. He told me: If I have a choice, I should go to Dortmund and don’t hesitate long,” said Witsel.

A move to Bundesliga football suits Witsel’s style of play and it’s a move that will no doubt benefit Borussia Dortmund. Whether Lucien Favre opts for a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3, Witsel can play multiple roles in this BVB team. A structed style of football may see the Belgian sit just in front of the defence, allowing Delaney and Götze freedom ahead of him, or perhaps the former will sit as the anchor in Dortmund’s midfield which will see Witsel sit further forward, arguably his preferred role.

In Favre’s system as opposed to Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez, Witsel may have to be more disciplined but he’ll still be given the freedom to press the opposition players, which is something Favre likes his players to do in a systematic approach. During the International Champions Cup, we’ve seen Borussia Dortmund sit high up the pitch with Abdou Diallo composing attacks from the back and so we could even see Witsel further up the pitch than many would have expected.

Wherever he plays, there’s no doubting that Borussia Dortmund have got themselves a bargain at €20 million and signing a four-year deal, it appears that Witsel will be in Dortmund for the long haul. He’s already been training at their pre-season training camp in Bad Ragaz and we could well see the 29-year-old start in their opening fixture against RB Leipzig on Sunday 26, who are themselves entering the season under a new head coach, Ralf Rangnick.

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Arsenal 0-2 Man City: Cold Reality For Arsenal

One can not feel but a sense of surrealism at not seeing Arsene Wenger lead Arsenal into the new season. For 22 years the Frenchman managed the Gunners, but in recent years lethargy and apathy seeped into the club, impacting their performances and leading to Wenger’s departure. In comes Unai Emery, with many intrigued to see how Spaniard fares, especially with his first league game against the league champions Manchester City. A stern test it would prove as the Gunners were well beaten 2-0 as reality kicked at the Emirates.

As such there was a lot of notes to take from the game.

Wings And A Prayer

Ainsley Maitland-Niles had a chastening 35 minutes at left back. At times he was swarmed by Riyad Mahrez and the overlapping Kyle Walker from full back. To his credit, Maitland Niles toiled manfully against the twin threat, but at times was given little protection. Hector Bellerin on the right was also tested by the dangerous Raheem Sterling who scored the opener thanks to Arsenal’s players allowing him to cut inside and shoot.

Arsenal may have ceded the wings to try and stop City go through the middle, where so many teams have been ripped apart, but it made little difference as they stamped their authority in the first half. The league champions absorbed Arsenal’s positive start in the second half and killed the game by doubling their lead: Bernando Silva finishing off a lovely team move from their own half. Once again the wings were Arsenal’s downfall, as Mendy simply picked out Silva from the left wing.

Same Old Jitters

The Gunners looked jittery at times but they didn’t help themselves. At times they were trying to play from the back, which led City to press relentlessly, causing frustrated groans from restless fans when Arsenal lost possession. The sound of ironic cheers when Petr Cech decided to kick long instead of playing a short pass spoke volumes. Cech nearly scored a calamitous own goal when pressed but his scuffed pass went narrowly wide. It’s imperative for Arsenal to cut out the self inflicted errors that hurt them so egregiously over the last few seasons.

Guendouzi’s Baptism Of Fire

Six weeks ago Matteo Guendouzi was preparing for pre-season at Lorient. It’s been a whirlwind journey for the midfielder, as Arsenal signed him for £8m and impressed many with his performances in pre-season. A starting spot against Man City was just reward and he certainly didn’t look out of place. It was a mixed day for the youngster, being caught in possession at times, as well as making a error that nearly led to Aguero scoring if not for Cech’s save.

But Guendouzi showed glimpses of why he was signed, his hunger to drive forward, his passing range and desire to retain possession. From Arsenal’s players he had the most touches and drew the most fouls. Undoubtley a promising talent at just 19.

Arsenal Still A Work In Progress

It was a chastening experience for Unai Emery but there were some positives to take. When Arsenal are able to transition effectively from defence to attack they do look a potent threat – notably the first 15 minutes of the second half. Lacazette was dangerous when he came off the bench before Man City doubled their lead.

Arsenal are at the start of a journey under Emery and there will be painful days. Things don’t get any easier, as the Gunners play Chelsea on Saturday at Stamford Bridge. Lucas Torreria will likely start: the Uruguayan’s cameo showed he can bring steel as well as an outstanding array of passes from midfield. Furthermore, Torreria should provide ample protection for Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, whose lack of pace is a cause of concern.

Change is never as easy or seamless but Arsenal fans will hope there is light at the end of the tunnel.

DFL Supercup Preview: Eintracht Frankfurt vs Bayern Munich

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Niko Kovac’s first chance to win a trophy at new club Bayern Munich will be against his former side Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFL Supercup on Sunday. It’s the Bundesliga champions vs DFB Pokal winners in the curtain raiser for Germany’s 2018/19 football season and it’s a fixture that is expected to be as exciting as their last: the Pokal final. The previous meeting between the two sides resulted in a 3-1 victory for Eintracht which was masterminded by Kovac, with the Croat now in the opposite dugout at Commerzbank Arena, in charge of Bayern.

Sunday will be just the second-time Eintracht Frankfurt has featured in the curtain raiser, their last coming in a 2-0 defeat to Werder Bremen in 1988. Meanwhile, the ever-dominant Bayern Munich have participated in seven of the last eight DFL Supercup’s, although they’ve lifted just four with their most recent being last season.

We’ve seen mixed results from Bayern Munich in pre-season during their International Champions Cup fixtures and for the 2018 DFL Supercup, the Bavarians will have to do it without Arturo Vidal who has departed Munich for Barcelona. Although, there could be starts for Bayern’s two new signings, Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry, the latter returning from his Hoffenheim loan spell.

Like Bayern Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt are undergoing a transitional season. Kovac’s spell at Eintracht couldn’t have gone better but now at Bayern, it will be up Adi Hutter, former BSC Young Boys head coach, to carry on the good work by his predecessor.

Eintracht Frankfurt have lost a key player in Kevin-Prince Boateng, who has joined Sassuolo but arguably their biggest signing this summer is the contract extension of Croatia international and World Cup Finalist Ante Rebic, who had been close to joining Manchester United. The forward scored a brace in his last meeting with Bayern Munich, helping Eintracht lift the Pokal while a fine month in Russia has resulted in the 24-year-old penning a new contract that will see him remain at the Bundesliga club until 2022.

New signings Felix Wiedwald, Goncalo Paciencia, Nicolai Müller and Chico Geraldes could well start on Sunday for Eintracht Frankfurt and while there’s no doubting the 2018/19 campaign will be a tough one for the Super Eagles, certainly more difficult than the previous, there’s no reason as to why they can’t push Bayern Munich for 90 minutes on Sunday.

Early signs in the Bayern side suggest that Kovac doesn’t quite know his best formation while they’re going to have play the Eintracht without James Rodriguez, who has yet to return to full fitness after missing the England game at the World Cup.

One positive for Bayern Munich is that star striker Robert Lewandowski will remain at the club despite immense speculation that he would leave for one of Manchester United or Real Madrid this summer. The Poland international looked increasingly frustrated towards the end of the 2017/18 Bundesliga campaign while the 29-year-old criticised his teammates the prior season after accusing them of not helping Lewandowski finish top scorer, instead finishing behind then Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

“It’s true Robert and I had a chat. Robert knows what I think about him and how I rate him. The whole club knows the qualities he possesses. He is one of the best three strikers in the world. There’s no way we’d let him leave. That’s why I told him. Robert accepted that, and I’m really happy about it,” Kovac told Sport Bild.

Like the Community Shield, winning the DFL Supercup isn’t the biggest of deals. Of course, both teams still want to win silverware at the end of the day but it’s more about signifying the start of the football campaign in Germany. Eintracht Frankfurt vs Bayern Munich will provide fans with exciting football given both Hutter and Kovac like their teams to press high up the pitch while defensively neither have look solid. This fixture should certainly provide viewers with top class entertainment.

Probable line-ups

Eintracht Frankfurt: Wiedwald – Abraham (c), Hasebe, Salcedo – Da Costa, Torro, Fernandes, Willems – Fabian, Gacinovic – Haller

Bayern Munich: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Hummels, Süle, Alaba – Martinez, Thiago – Robben, Müller, Ribery – Lewandowski

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