Posts tagged Soccer
2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group E
Pedro Vilela / Getty Images

Pedro Vilela / Getty Images

Group A preview
Group B preview

Group C preview
Group D preview
Group F preview
Group G preview
Group H preview

We now move on to Group E. Again we find similar traits to groups A and C. There is one clear favorite to finish first in Brazil but after them, second place is up for grabs. Mainly between Switzerland and Serbia.

Brazil

There wasn’t a more dominant team in World Cup qualifying than Brazil. They breezed through CONMEBOL qualifying, finishing first with 41 points, 10 ahead of second place Uruguay. Brazil only lost once during qualifying and it was in the opening matchday against Chile. Since then, Brazil has been on fire. They are one of the deepest squads in the tournament and have more than enough talent to be called legitimate title contenders.

It all starts up top for Brazil and as we saw in the last World Cup, everything will be functioning through Neymar. The PSG winger scored 6 goals in qualifying and will be healthy to suit up when they play their first match against Switzerland. He’s not often used on the wings when playing for Brazil but this time around Neymar will get some much-needed help when it comes to the attack up front.

Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus had a breakout year for the Citizens and when you combine it with his 7 goals in qualifying, you can see why he would be the first choice striker. Behind Jesus’s pace and crafty moves, Brazil has two guys up top who can beat defenders one on one and slot it into the back of the net. Roberto Firmino and Willian will also be attacking options as well. Douglas Costa, who had a great season with Juventus in Serie A, should get a look too.

The midfield also has many options for Tite to choose from. Casemiro can sit back in front of the back four and be a destroyer in the same role he has with Real Madrid. Fernandinho can also provide defense solidarity as well as veteran leadership.

In terms of attacking options from the midfield, it’s the Barcelona duo of Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho. For Coutinho, Brazil can play him on the left wing if they want to or even centrally in a CAM role. He is expected to be another playmaker and can certainly score too. Paulinho is an aerial threat along with having a big work rate. He can get up and down the pitch, working sort of as a box to box midfielder at times. At Barcelona, Paulinho was always known for coming in late on attacks to provide another man and scoring threat. Expect him to do the same with Brazil if subbed on.

Defensively, Brazil is decent overall. Allison is expected to be the starting goalie despite his backup Ederson having a brilliant season for Man City. Miranda and Thiago Silva will be there as the center backs while Marcelo will be running up and down the left flank, providing offensive support at times. With Dani Alves not selected to the 23-man roster, Danilo will likely be starting at right back in his place. Only question about the defense are the fullbacks and if being too attack-minded will leave them exposed.

Brazil is clearly head and shoulders the best team in this group. They are certainly one of the top four teams in this tournament and should breeze through Group E.

Switzerland

The Swiss had a much tougher time qualifying for the World Cup. They finished second in Group B, losing on goal difference despite being tied on points with Portugal. If it wasn’t for a 2-0 loss to Portugal on the final matchday, they could have finished first but they had to settle for second place. It took a Ricardo Rodriguez penalty to win a tense two-legged playoff with Northern Ireland to advance to Russia, where they'll bring an interesting squad to this tournament.

On the wings, Switzerland will have two dynamic players in Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo. Both are capable of creating offensive chances on their own and like we saw from Shaqiri in the 2014 WC and the Euro’s, he’s not afraid of cutting inside and blasting a shot into the corner. The real question will be for Embolo, who is getting his first real World Cup action. Only 21 years old, expectations are going to be high for the Schalke forward and it will be interesting to see how much he can produce for this Swiss side. Benfica’s Haris Seferovic and Josip Drmic are solid striking options up top. Seferovic might get the nod due to him leading Switzerland in scoring in qualifying with 4 goals.

In the midfield, Switzerland also have some quality as well with Granit Xhaka being a solid link between the defense and the midfield. Hopefully, for the midfielder, he will be looking to play much better in this World Cup than he did for his club team Arsenal this past season. For the Swiss, Xhaka can string passes all over the field while also coming in as a solid attacking option from time to time. Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili, and Gelson Fernandes are also experienced players in the midfield, but expect the first two to be put in the starting XI in Russia.

Like the midfield, the defense has some World Cup experience and most of the same guys who played in Brazil will be playing in Russia. For the fullback spots, captain Stephan Lichtsteiner showed this past season that even at age 34, he can still contribute offensively and defensively. Ricardo Rodriguez had a lackluster year at AC Milan but still can be a dangerous threat moving forward in attack as well as a solid set-piece taker for his country. John Djourou is expected to be one of the starting center backs and is the third member of this defense to have more than 50 caps to his name (73). Questions will be asked about who will start next to him as manager Vladimir Petkovic has some options to choose from. One name to look for will be Fabian Schar. Yon Sommer is expected to start in goal.

Switzerland will be fighting for second place in this group and it will all come down to their match against Serbia. They have some talent in different areas of the pitch but will rely on the experienced guys to take them to the knockout stages once again.  

Costa Rica

Costa Rica made a shock run to the quarterfinals in the 2014 World Cup and will look to play spoilers again. They finished second in the CONCACAF hex stage with a +6 goal difference. It was a great qualifying run for them, which included two victories over the United States with one of them being a 4-0 beatdown in November 2016. Just like Switzerland, Costa Rica will be bringing a lot of the same squad as well as the same tactics.

In Brazil, we raved about Costa Rica’s defensive structure despite playing a 3-man back line, and they're expected to stick with the same strategy this time around. With players such as Oscar Duarte, Cristian Gamboa, Johnny Acosta, and Giancarlo Gonzalez all coming with them in their 23-man squad, Costa Rica will have options to choose from. Sunderland and former Everton fullback Bryan Oviedo can play at wingback if need be. But playing at the back 3 comes with its risk and given how much Costa Rica will be sitting back in this game, you can expect a lot of teams to be trying to exploit the space given. Especially in the case that one of the three center backs get beaten.

That’s where Keylor Navas comes in. He had a breakout year in Brazil and has played ok at Real Madrid ever since. Navas will be a huge part of Costa Rica’s success and if they want to pull off another upset. But one has to wonder just how many shots he can save against the teams in this group.

For attack, Costa Rica still relies a lot on their captain Bryan Ruiz to be the link which holds this team together. Christian Bolanos will provide support in the middle of the park as well. But questions will be asked about which of their two solid striking options they'll choose from. Joel Campbell showed out at the '14 WC and Marco Urena had the key goal against Uruguay last year to gain their first upset win of the tournament. Both are good options to choose from and it could be possible for Costa Rica to play them both with Campbell on the left wing.

Costa Rica has a tall task getting out of this group, but this isn’t the first time we have doubted Los Ticos. It’s hard to forget that they got out of a group with England, Uruguay, and Italy last time around. If there is a team which knows how to pull off a stunner, it’s this team. They are well drilled defensively and their structure will be tested. Costa Rica is going to have to soak up a bunch of pressure defensively hit gold on the counter and on set pieces as well.

Serbia

Serbia had a good qualifying campaign in Europe, losing only once in UEFA’s group D while beating the likes of Wales, topping the group and earning automatic qualification for Russia. They have a solid squad which will rely on some talent who are coming off remarkable seasons for their clubs.

Up top, Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic expects to start and there is no reason why he shouldn’t. He had a great second half of the season, helping Fulham get promoted to the Premier League in addition to leading the Serbian team in scoring during qualification. Right behind him will likely be Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The 23-year-old midfielder will have all eyes on him as he will be expected to be the main playmaker for his country. He showed capabilities of being a solid box-to-box midfielder in Serie A and at 6’3, he certainly has the physical traits to dominate the midfield. But expect things to be a bit bumpy for him as he hasn’t had that many caps for his country. He will be the future of Serbia and if he has a solid World Cup, this may be the summer where he gets signed by a big club.

Dusan Tadic will also help out in attack after a solid season at Southampton, also scoring 4 goals in qualifying. Adem Ljajic is be a name to look out for as well. Nemanja Matic will be a solid defensive midfield and will help break up opposing attacks. He can sit in front of the back four and provide much-needed cover for them.

On defense, Serbia is going to rely on experience, but it also sees an aging group in its last go-around. There are 4 defenders over the age of 31 on this Serbian team, with captain Alexander Kolarov being the youngest at 32. He and former Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic will be manning the left and right sides of the pitch respectively. Kolarov is still a decent offensive option going forward and has shown his left foot can still produce some rockets. He’ll be Serbia’s go to on free kicks and a set-piece specialist. Ivanovic isn’t any younger and could get exposed on that right-hand side. He may not even offer any threat moving forward but only time will tell with him.

Past them on the flanks, there will be even more questions and it doesn’t help that a lot of their younger players don’t have a lot of experience. Matic will have to do a lot of covering for them but overall as a unit they still work well together. Like I said, this a defense going through it’s last World Cup and they will still be stingy to some degree.

Serbia still has the quality to get past this group but it will come down to if Mitrovic and Milinkovic-Savic can shine like they did this season. Youth isn’t on their side but Serbia do have the experience to go off of. This is a core which has played a lot together and should be a challenge to play for any team in this group.

Prediction

Brazil will run this group and it will be a toss-up between Switzerland and Serbia. Costa Rica could make some noise but there is too much offensive quality for them to keep out. Ultimately, Switzerland will edge out Serbia but it will be a very close match. It will come down to whose playmakers can stand out the most.

Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Costa Rica

Champions League QF second leg preview

After a world wind of first legs in the Champions League quarter finals, all eight teams must quickly get back into the swing of things. Unlike previous rounds, the ties are beginning to be played back to back as the Champions League revs up towards the final in Kiev. Despite some lopsided score lines (3 teams are up 3 goals on aggregate), there are still storylines and themes to discuss. Let’s get started

FC Barcelona vs. Roma (First leg: 4-1 Barcelona)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Although they didn’t look like they were playing their A game, Barcelona still cruised to a 4-1 win over Roma in the first leg at the Nou Camp. It was an interesting strategy from the Italian club in the first leg to go out and press Barcelona, unlike most teams. But the Catalans had two slices of luck fall their way as the two opening goals in the tie were Roma own goals. They were bitter pills to swallow for the away side and things got even worse when Gerard Pique made it 3-0. The scoreline didn’t reflect how the game was being played on the field. Roma were able to generate somes chances throughout the game but only were able to capitalize on one of them, scoring a crucial away goal thanks to Edin Dzeko. Despite being the only player who was consistently in Barcelona’s half, the striker found a chance to pounce and did just that. Even with Barcelona up 3-1, an away from Roma at least made things a little interesting heading to the second leg in Rome. But Luis Suarez put all hope away as he knocked in a 4th for the Catalans before the referee blew the final whistle.

Heading back home for the return leg, Roma will surely have to go out in attacking mode. But they have to be wary of a Barcelona counter attack, especially if Ernesto Valverde plays the likes of Ousmane Dembele on the wing with the usual pairing of Messi and Suarez. Having Sergio Busquets back in the midfield should help normalize the Catalans, who often looking shaky in the midfield without the 29 year old. Valverde made some interesting choices in his starting XI in the first leg so who honestly knows who he is going to put in the midfield or up top on the wing.

Roma will obviously come out and attack to make Barcelona sweat. Also given how Valverde’s tactics ensure Barcelona don’t get exposed, they may be more willing to let the Romans have possession. Valverde’s Barcelona preaches defensive structure than anything else and it likely be on display in the second leg. But that doesn't mean they still can’t get up in attack. Given the form Leo Messi is in, all Barcelona need are a couple of chances on the counter and that’s it.

Prediction: 2 - 1 Barcelona

Liverpool vs. Manchester City (First leg: 3-0 Liverpool)

IMG_8588.JPG

This was one of the bigger shockers in the first legs. Liverpool thrashing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, scoring 3 goals in the first half and never looking back. It was clear Guardiola’s side did not look ready for this game at all. This was also another example of Guardiola’s downfall as he went away from the successful gameplan which has his side basically led his side to run the English Premier League. Putting a midfielder like Kevin De Bruyne on the wing didn’t help Manchester City either as it opened up their midfield to be exposed. However, credit should be given to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side, who took advantage of the opportunities given to them. The likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino had a field day with acres of space to work with. Manchester City opened themselves vulnerable to speedy wingers which is Liverpool’s strength.

We have seen mistakes like this from Guardiola before as he played 3 at the back against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side a couple of years ago in the first leg and it costed him dear. Like in Merseyside, Guardiola’s tactics backfired and it led to the same result he suffered at the hands of his former club, 3-0.

Now returning back to the Etihad for the second leg, Manchester City have a mountain to climb. But as long as Guardiola realizes his mistakes and runs with City’s normal lineup. Expect the Citizens to control a lot of the possession and generate a ton of chances. Get a goal early and it’s game on. It’s no secret that Liverpool’s defense has been suspect this whole season and don’t expect things to change over night.

But with all the controlling Manchester City will do in this game, they do play into Liverpool’s game plan of counter attacking and pressing. Klopp’s side is fine without the ball and if Manchester City slip up one moment, they could be picking the ball out of their own net in the next.

This second leg will be so hard to predict given how powerful City have shown to be but also at the fact of Liverpool being up 3-0. I say Manchester City will make this an interesting tie but Liverpool strike back with an away goal and it proves to be vital for them.

Prediction: 2-1 Manchester City

Real Madrid vs. Juventus (First leg: 3-0 Real Madrid)

AP

AP

Usually you hate to say ties are finished after the first leg but this one might as well be all but over.

It was a horror show for Juventus during the first leg in Turin. Despite controlling a lot of the action, the reigning Italian champions were bamboozled by Real Madrid and were witnesses to the one man wrecking crew of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo had his way with Juventus the whole night and took advantage of two horrible defending mistakes by Juve centre backs for both of his goals. First, Barzagli failed to mark him in the box and Ronaldo pounced to poke home a cross for Real’s first away goal. Then a mistake by Chiellini spraked a crazy sequence with forced Gigi Buffon to make a sprawling save on Lucas Vazquez. Then the ball came to Dani Carvajal who crossed it into the middle of the penalty area. Ronaldo then went up and performed a bicycle kick to a tee. The ball landed in the corner of the Juventus net and it was the one which buried the spirits of the Old Lady. Marcelo added a third to add salt to the wound and then a red card by Paulo Dybala all be sealed Juventus’s fate.

Unless Juventus can go out and attack without fear, they won’t have a chance in this second leg. Problem is that it’s against their DNA to senselessly attack. But their backs are against the wall and they need 4 goals to advance. Time for Allegri to put Juve’s tactics on all out attack. But it will leave them more vulnerable at the back and with a hungry Ronaldo ready to pounce.

Prediction: 1-1

Bayern Munich vs. Sevilla (First leg: 2-1 Bayern Munich)

This was closest first leg out of all the ties and it was also the wackiest. Like Barcelona, Bayern Munich came out of the gate looking out of sorts and it costed them. Sevilla pounced on Bayern’s weariness with a goal and sprung the tie into life. But Bayern quickly responded as an own goal from Jesus Navas came about as a result of great build up play by the Bavarians. They then picked up a second goal in the second half thanks to Thiago. It left Bayern with two away goals but the early goal does Sevilla some hope.

As bad as Bayern have been away from home, they have been dominant in the Allianz Arena. That place is a fortress and very few teams come away from there the victors in a two way tie. The good news for Sevilla is the past three teams which have been successful at Allianz Arena have been Spanish teams. Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid all had good performances to defeat Bayern in their own labyrinth and advance. Problem is that Sevilla isn’t like those other teams.

They also won’t have the luxury of walking into a two legged tie with the scoreline 0-0 like they had against Manchester United. But Sevilla have shown some resilience and won’t quit, it just likely won’t be enough. Bayern aren’t about to sit back and let Sevilla back into this tie, they will go for the jugular immediately and then open the flood gates. Or we could be in store for another La Liga team knocking out Bayern.

Prediction: 3-0 Bayern Munich

A Zlatan special lifts LA Galaxy in first El Trafico
AP

AP

AP

AP

What a goal. You could have said that several times during the first ever El Trafico between LA Galaxy and LAFC, an incredible match between the two clubs that Galaxy fans will remember for years.

At first the match appeared to be the Carlos Vela show. The Mexican was incredible, scoring the first two goals of the match, including one of the best goals of the young MLS season. Vela was also coming off the friendlies and his most impressive performance for Mexico, assuring himself a spot in the starting XI if he did not have one already. The Dos Santos brothers will be taking notes to what their friend and Mexican teammate is doing in the MLS, and to secure their place for El Tri in Russia, they will have to show the brilliance Vela was able to vs. Galaxy.

For LAFC, this match demonstrated the weaknesses the club has and mistakes they will have to learn from. Blowing a 3-1 lead should be unacceptable at any level, and LAFC demonstrated its lack of experience of being able to hold on to a lead. Vela was one to say the club did have plenty to improve in post-game commentary, and he was not wrong. Bob Bradley will have to take a look at LAFC’s defense, as well as other members of the team, and determine what cause this game to go sideways for his club.

Now to the man who performs so well under the spotlight, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The man can not have asked for a better debut. His game held up to his personality as he was able pull Galaxy from behind to beat their LA counterpart. His first strike from 40 yards out will go down as one of the best of the season, and one those in attendance will never forget. Zlatan capitalized on goalkeeper mistakes, and his determination and abilities were both on display on Saturday. LA Galaxy were missing the Dos Santos brothers, and they will soon be on the pitch as Zlatan also grows his role with the MLS club.

Zlatan in Los Angeles and in the MLS will be one of the most delightful follows this season. At practice, in interview, or on the pitch, Zlatan is must watch television, and if Saturday was not enough to convince you, I am not sure what will.

Questions that face Mexico ahead of its next two matches
Pedro Pardo/AFP

Pedro Pardo/AFP

National teams preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup will get a chance to see where their respective squads stand Thursday. A few tournament favorites will face-off against in the coming days as Germany and Brazil do next Tuesday March 27.

Those players who might be left off their national team's final 23 will be able to demonstrate why they deserve one of the spots to Russia. One of those teams is Mexico. El Tri is looking to advance past the round of 16, something that it has not done since they hosted the tournament in 1986. Juan Carlos Osorio has a few players who want to note why they deserve to be one of the 23 players who should be on the final roster, and others who believe they should be a starter for the team.

We will examine here what are some of the areas to keep a focus on when El Tri plays Iceland Friday, March 23 at 7:30 PM (PT) and Croatia, Tuesday, March 27 at 7:00 PM (PT).

The Attacking Wings

Who will be starting alongside Chicharito in Russia? That is what has been on Manager Osorio’s mind as the tournament inches closer. Several players have proven to be preferred players for the manager, such as Carlos Vela. The player’s recent move to MLS had to leave Osorio wondering where Vela’s mind was, but his play continues to be of quality as Vela demonstrated in his two matches with LAFC. Vela will want to let Osorio know why he should be the first choice on the wing ahead of Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, Hirving Lozano, his close friend Giovani Dos Santos, and several of the other Mexican wing players.

Giovani Dos Santos’ injury is bad luck for the player as he has quickly losing faith with fans and has likely lost his starting role for El Tri. On Gio’s behalf, however, Osorio has utilized Dos Santos in positions that do not best suit him. He has played him below the three attacking players. When Giovani has clearly not strived in that role Tecatito has also had trouble as he has missed opportunities with the national team due to personal reasons, and he has also not been given much appearances for his club as well. With Lozano continuing to score for PSV, he has gained the support of fans and will see minutes in Russia, either off the bench or as a starter.

Chicharito will likely maintain his starting position as Raul Jimenez has struggled to play with Benefica, and his experience is valued by Osorio. However, Jimenez has had bright moments with El Tri, so Hernandez should not be feeling too comfortable with the talent the Mexican squad has on the bench.

Other areas to look for in the attack are players like Rodolfo Pizarro and Marco Fabian to show why they should not be cut from the final roster. Pizarro is one of the brightest players in Liga MX, and Fabian was out for a substantial amount of time with both club and the national team due to injury. They will likely both get minutes in the following matches.

Who is El Tri’s Defensive Mid?

Francois Nel/Getty

Francois Nel/Getty

The Mexican team has several players they have given minutes to for this position. Jesus Molina was the last player given the responsibility to play as the holding midfielder. Molina did play well in against Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, he did not get to play together with Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera, who will likely be the two other midfielders in the 4-3-3 formation Juan Carlos Osorio utilizes with Mexico. Jonathan Dos Santos is another player who Osorio used in several key moments for El Tri, and his play with El Tri has not been disappointing. Jonathan is a player who passes the ball quickly, but I am not sure if he would be best utilized at defensive mid for Mexico. The younger Dos Santos will also not be able to showcase his abilities to Osorio as he picked up a hamstring injury on Friday for Galaxy. Oswaldo Alanis has been called to replace Jonathan for the next two matches.

The national team has also played Diego Reyes at the position with bad results, and Edson Alvarez has also been given time there as well. Osorio will have to make his mind if he chooses to continue rotating players or decides to choose from one of the options he has.

Other midfielders who will want to earn a spot for the team will be Jurgen Damm, Omar Govea, and Jonathan Gonzalez to name a few. Damm and Javier Aquino were two other players who will miss the first game due to injury, but will be able to play in Mexico’s second friendly. Osorio will have to be creative rotating minutes to all the players for him to get a chance to see who will give El Tri the best chance in Russia.

Who starts next to Hector Moreno?

Hector Moreno is one of Mexico’s best defenders in the history of the national team and El Tri still continues its search for a player for him to partner with. Osorio has used Hugo Ayala in the previous two matches and he displayed patience and how he is also a threat in the air, scoring the winning goal against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nestor Araujo, Diego Reyes, and Edson Alvarez are also options who have received much playing time and are options for the manager. Mexico has also deployed a three central defenders with Carlos Salcedo, Hector Moreno, and Hugo Ayala, while having Miguel Layun and Jesus Gallardo fly along the wings.

Osorio is known for his rotation changes, but as the World Cup begins to get closer, pressure will be on the manager from fans, the media, and perhaps the federation, to learn who has earned their spot in the XI for El Tri.

LAFC opens up '18 MLS campaign with franchise's first win

10 minutes is what was needed for the Los Angeles Football Club to score its first league goal in its inaugural season. The Bob Bradley-managed team hit the post only after three minutes, and Diego Rossi, who turns 20 years-old the day after his first MLS match, sent a cross into the box to another youth player in Latif Blessing, who headed the ball onto the post. Rossi immediately showed his class with a superb finish from an assist from arguably the club’s best player, Carlos Vela.

The Los Angeles club did show its lack of experience with plenty of lost balls and players struggling with a sense of direction when a teammate had the ball. After Rossi’s goal put Los Angeles up after, Seattle played like the more established club, putting pressure and coming close to tying a few minutes after L.A. took the lead.

Seattle was missing several of its key players, including the joint top goal-scored for the United States Men’s National Team, Clint Dempsey. With the vast number of opportunities that Seattle was able to create, Los Angeles was lucky to hold on to its 1-0 lead at the half and the score of the match never changed. The Sounders finished with seven shots on target to LAFC’s one shot.The second half was posed with little threat from Los Angeles, but they were able to hold on to defeat the Sounders on the road. For this Los Angeles team to succeed, the defense will have to clean up several of their mistakes and the midfield was a clutter, showing their lack of experience together. The bright spots for L.A. is the chemistry between Rossi and Vela, and they will have to have moments of brilliance for the team to flourish.

LAFC is lucky to have secured a win, however they did so against one of the finalist of the 2017 MLS Cup on the road and these early points will be remembered when the season winds down. They will have to wait a few more weeks for their home opener and the unveiling of their stadium to home fans, but this will allow Bob Bradley to make the adjustments this club will need. Los Angeles will now go on to face Real Salt Lake next, and we will see how the expansion club responds.

Champions League takeaways
Reuters

Reuters

We are officially halfway through the Champions League Round of 16 ties and there are a lot of storylines to take away from the chaos. There were blowouts (Man City, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich) and there were some interesting matches (Juve-Spurs, Barca-Chelsea). With the second legs happening next week, the Champions League is beginning to heat up as soccer heads towards one of the best stretches of the season. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest storylines to take away from the eight matches over the course of two weeks.

 

Juve was too conservative and Tottenham made them pay

Alessandro Di Marco/AP Photo

Alessandro Di Marco/AP Photo

Aside from the masterful Spurs performance in the second half, the main takeaway from this game was Juventus losing the plot after starting off the match brilliantly. After the first 10 minutes it seemed like it this tie was already over thanks to a brace by Gonzalo Higuain. It was two mistakes by Spurs and two goals struck in the back of their net. But then Max Allegri decided to have his team sit back and absorb pressure for the rest of the 80 minutes. While it was something Juventus has done in the past, the tactic massively backfired. Even with the threat of the counterattack, Juventus failed to generate any serious chances for the rest of the game. They not only saw their lead get split in half twenty minutes later but they saw Spurs get a crucial away goal thanks to the brilliance of Christian Eriksen. A lot of the problems was Juventus allowed Spurs time on the ball and let the likes of Eriksen and Dembele boss in the midfield. They took advantage of a slower Sami Khedira in the middle and tested the Juventus backline for the entire match.

It’s easy to say in hindsight that this was a bad move but even during the game you see this was a bad move. Especially when he had some playmakers on the pitch such as Douglas Costa, who had a brilliant match, and Higuain. Juventus came out firing and grabbed a strong hold on the tie but then decided to absorb the pressure like a bubble. It blew up in their faces and now they have to go to Wembley and try to beat a red hot Spurs team.

Barcelona show lingering problems

AP

AP

In the first leg of the game of Barcelona vs. Chelsea, the team from London were the better side. They played a near perfect match with Antonio Conte getting the tactics and game plan for this his side to succeed down to a tee. However they made one key error and it led to how it usually does against Leo Messi and Barcelona, with the opposing team picking the ball out of the back of their own net. Other than the blunder it was a near perfect game from Chelsea and they showed how to bottle this Barcelona attack. Messi and company were scraping for space all night and other than the goal, had no real shots on target. At least none which caused any panic from the Blues.

Part of this is the great coaching from Conte and on the flip side, it’s on Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde. He played a more conservative side and probably could have gone with a more attacking side which focused on the wings. By playing his normal squad in Champions League, Valverde set Barca up to be vulnerable down the wings. By giving Chelsea space down the channels, Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses had great games and were rock solid defensively.

This sets up for an interesting second leg and one which Barcelona should still be favored in. But given how more conservative Valverde’s Barcelona is compared to different teams in years past, things could get hairy if Chelsea grab one at the Nou Camp.

Mistake by Mourinho and Manchester United

Reuters

Reuters

While Antonio Conte thrived, his Premier League counterpart Jose Mourinho did not. Against La Liga side Sevilla, Manchester United got out shot 25-6 and 8-1 with shots on target. 25 to 6. If not for some amazing reaction saves by David De Gea and Sevilla somehow forgetting how to finish in front of goal, this could have been an ugly result for United.

Some of it goes towards the players with most of the attackers failing to look like threats all night but part of it should also reflect back on Mourinho. Manchester United didn’t come out all aggressive looking for the key away goal to shift the tie their way. They could have gotten one goal quickly and take the air out of the stadium. But instead they decided to sit back and let the game come to them and boy did Sevilla take it to them. They were hoping to just absorb pressure and get a goal while staying compact defensively in their own half. The plan did work in that they didn’t give up any goals but Mourinho’s side didn’t generate anything offensively. This was more on Sevilla not scoring than Manchester United defending.

Zidane made the right moves

Reuters

Reuters

Real Madrid have been horrible in La Liga and the Copa Del Rey but to their credit, they do shine in the Champions League. In a must-win match, Zidane played his cards right and rode his stars to victory. They took advantage of the inexperience of Lo Celso for the first goal and the bad substitutions by Unai Emery for the second and third. For every bad sub Emery made, Zidane made a good one. He brought on the energy boost winger Marco Asensio in exchange for Isco and Lucas Vazquez for Casemiro. They were offensive minded mood and a risk given the scoreline at the time was only 1-1. But Asensio specifically provided the boost Real Madrid needed and next thing you know, Los Blancos were up 3-1 and look to be cruising to a spot in the quarterfinals.

Champions League round of 16 preview

Last week’s Champions League fixtures proved to be what was expected. The big matchups lived up to their billing and the two English squads who were expected to smash their opposition on the road dominated. Now we move on to the next set of 8 teams who are set to do battle in the Champions League. Again we have two English squads in this week but this time they play two La Liga teams who have had great success in Europe in recent seasons. We also see Bayern Munich welcome the winners of Group G, and a very underrated tie taking place in Ukraine. Let’s dive into the matchups.

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FC Barcelona vs. Chelsea

This will be the most star powered matchup of the week and it will be between two clubs who have a rich recent history in European competitions. It’s Chelsea vs. FC Barcelona. The last two times these two met in the knockout rounds, the winner has gone on to win the Champions League. We have seen moments like Andres Iniesta’s last second goal at the Bridge in 2009 and Fernando Torres circling around Victor Valdes to give Chelsea a shock win at the Nou Camp in 2012. Anytime these two teams meet, there is drama involved.

However, unlike most times, both teams are walking in on two different planets in terms of form. Chelsea are trying to find their form as Antonio Conte searches for answers and Barcelona are rolling. One problem for Valverde’s men is he played his main squad in a 2-0 victory over Eibar. Although he did sub off Iniesta, there are still questions about resting certain players before a big match away from the Nou Camp.

In terms of offense for both teams, the spotlight will be on Chelsea’s offense, which has struggled to produce goals against quality competition. Other than Eden Hazard and maybe Marcos Alonso, the Chelsea attack has really struggled. Alvaro Morata has been off form and with Michy Batshuayi off to Borussia Dortmund, there aren’t a lot of options coming off the bench. We already know Barcelona’s offense is going to create chances and control possession so these attacks from Chelsea will have to come from the counterattack. They will certainly need more than just Hazard to break a Barcelona defense which has been great and a goalie in Marc Andre Ter Stegen who is having a career season so far.

Prediction: This is a tough game for Chelsea and given the problems they have had with Conte on the offense, there could not be a worse game to walk into. Also, will this be the first time Messi scores against Chelsea? So many questions to be answered. In all honesty, Chelsea will likely bunker down and give Barcelona majority of the chances. It will be a standstill until Barcelona break through and then a second late goal seals off the tie. 2-0 Barcelona

FC Bayern vs. Besiktas

It’s been another typical year for Bayern Munich. First in the Bundesliga and in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Again they have another favorable draw on paper as they welcome Turkish club Besiktas to the Allianz Arena.

However they have to be wary of Besiktas, who are coming in on a seven game unbeaten streak. They last played on Friday and drew Konyaspor 1-1 in Super Lig play, where they are 4th. Besiktas still have a lot of tournaments to play for as they are only 5 points off the top spot in their domestic tournament and are in the semi-final of the Turkish Cup. That’s three tournaments they have to take account for. There is a chance they can steal an away goal in Bayern but like Chelsea, they will be playing a lot of defense and have to take advantage of counters/set pieces. Besiktas attack took a hit after selling Cenk Tosun to Everton but they can still catch Bayern off guard.

As for the Bavarian giants, they are still rolling. They haven’t lost in the Bundesliga this calendar year and are nearly 20 points ahead of second place Borussia Dortmund. Behind the likes of James Rodriguez and Robert Lewandowski, Bayern’s attack is thriving and will give the Besiktas defense a lot to handle. You get the feeling the more and more Bayern put pressure, eventually a goal will leak in and the dam will break.

Prediction: Besiktas have a chance to pull off a major upset and are riding in on a hot streak. But they are running into a machine in Bayern Munich. But to the Turkish club’s credit, they might manage a decent result for themselves. 3-1 Bayern Munich

Manchester United vs. Sevilla

It’s another English vs. Spanish matchup as Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United face off against Sevilla. Ironically it’s a matchup in the Champions League between two clubs who have won the last four Europa League titles.

For the Spanish side, this will be their second year in a row playing an English side. It didn’t go well the last time as they were knocked out by Leicester City as the Foxes got a goal in the return leg to seal the victory. This time, they are facing a much tougher opponent in Manchester United. Sevilla have shown resilience in the Champions League this year. They came back from a 3-0 deficit against Liverpool in the group stage and it was a big boost for them, especially against a formidable side. Sevilla has experienced success in Europe before. It wasn’t long ago where they won the Europa League three times in a row.

Man U is coming off a victory in the FA Cup over Huddersfield thanks to a Romelu Lukaku brace. It sort of took away the stinger they took from Newcastle United in league play when they lost 1-0 in St. James Park. The big question will be if Paul Pogba will play. If he can’t go against Sevilla, it would leave a huge hole in midfield for Man U. Pogba does so much for them as a box to box midfielder and his absence will show for the Red Devils.

Prediction: This is a tough game to predict but Manchester United are the better squad so you have to give them the edge. 2-1 Manchester United

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma

This is the one matchup I’m looking forward to other than Barcelona-Chelsea. Yes, I’m talking about Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk. It’s a matchup of two teams who both could easily advance. It’s one of the most fair draws in the tournament.

Roma are coming into this matchup on a three-game winning streak with a 2-0 win over Udinese in their latest matchup. Thanks to goals from Under and Perroti, they were able to gain a valuable three points as they chase a top four finish in Italy. With Edin Dzeko up top, he is Roma’s target man and their main source of scoring. There’s always a chance Radja Nainggolan blasts a rocket from way outside the box too. His right foot is dynamite.

Like their counterparts, Shakhtar are coming in on a victory again. It was a 5-0 victory for the leaders in the Ukrainian league. However, they are facing some pressure in league play with Dynamo Kyiv only 3 points behind them in second place. One big thing to look for will be the attack of Shakhtar. They boast the likes of Marlos, Bernard, Taison, and Ferreyra who are all dangerous in attack. All four play up top and will give Roma’s defense problems. Especially Bernard, whose small stature might may lead some to think he isn’t a tough player but he is. With the likes of Marlos on the other wing and Ferreyra up top, Bernard could have the chance to dice up the Roma defense.

Prediction: Both teams are hard to figure out as they both rely on skill players to initiate attack. This will be a tie where the pace will be back and forth and both defenses will be tested. I’m honestly so excited for this tie. I’m leaning Shakhtar but Roma has a chance to make this interesting. This is going to be fun. 2-2 draw

Manchester City's midfield maestros
Manchester City

Manchester City

Although it’s only February, the Premier League title race is all but over. Just take a look at the standings: while seven points separate second place and fifth place, a whopping 13 points is the gap between table leaders Manchester City and second place Manchester United. City are running away with the league and it’s not even close. They are clearly the best team in England and have established themselves as a Champions League contender. Pep Guardiola’s side is one of the top three in Europe, if not the best, and are the cream of the crop in terms of quality.

City bolsters a team which is absolutely trashing their opponents, registering a goal difference of 55 thus far in league play, 22 higher than Manchester United. Although they aren’t so ruthlessly killing off their opponents like they did in the opening stages of the Premier League, City are still running like a well oiled machine. 

Now there are a lot of different parts to this seemingly unstoppable City train. One major part has been Guardiola and his tactics. Another part has been the fullbacks and their ability to push up the pitch and overload opposing defenses. It’s also the growth of players like John Stones and the arrival of Emerson. But an even bigger, if not the biggest part of Manchester City’s success has been their midfield.

The trio of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Fernandinho have been spectacular this season and have been the cog which puts everything together for the Citizens. All three of them have been world class this season and each of them has a unique role within the team. Each player brings their own strengths and does what they are needed to. Each play a unique part in the dazzling display of City football.

Out of the trio, Fernandinho is the least attacking minded and is the one who is usually sitting back in front of the back line. He’s a destroyer and is responsible with helping in breaking up opposing counter attacks. Fernandinho proves another resistance to goal in the rare times City opponents gain possession. Although they have played well at the back, the City defense is prone to silly mistakes and Fernandinho is the one who helps clean it up. Fernandinho’s average tackles per game tally of 1.9 is one of the highest totals on this City team. Actually, if you only factor in City players who have played most of the season (25 games or more), his average is the top spot on the team. He’s been the perfect player to stay in front of the backline of Manchester City while also offering some offensive support when needed to.

After coming back to the Premier League, Kevin De Bruyne has showed that Chelsea made a huge mistake by selling him off. He’s been one of the best midfielders in all of Europe, forget just England. KDB has been on fire this season, registering 7 goals and 11 assists in just 26 appearances. If Manchester City’s deadly attack could be compared to a basketball team, De Bruyne would be the do-it-all small forward. Registering a pass success percentage of 83.4%, De Bruyne has shown the precision to pick out teammates in key areas along with being the link between the defense and offense. When Manchester City are in attack, he has been the man in control and dictates where the play flows. He’s also shown to be Manchester City’s set piece specialist, delivering some delicious crosses off set piece plays. In the past two years Kevin De Bruyne has taken the leap from young starlet to a top five player in the world. He’s been the catalyst to City’s attack while also being able to track back on defense. Showing defensive capabilities alongside players like Fernandinho and Silva are very important as KDB is able to give a little bit of everything in all parts of the field. He isn’t a prototypical box to box midfielder and that’s perfectly fine. In Guardiola’s system he doesn’t need to be. Kevin De Bruyne has been Manchester City’s best player this season and it’s not even close.

But while KDB might be their best player, David Silva is their most important midfielder and one on the pitch. If De Bruyne is small forward, Silva is the flashy point guard who is able to shift into the lane while also finding his teammates for easy scores. A wizard with a dynamite left foot, Silva is still going strong at age 32 and although his work rate isn’t exactly what it used to be, he’s still a huge offensive threat. He’s had an ok season in terms of stats, scoring 5 goals and dishing out 8 assists but his influence on this team is as important as ever. If KDB is the link between offense and defense, Silva is the architect to a lot of soul crushing City goals. His on the dot passing and ability to split defenses with timely runs has helped Manchester City take an even bigger leap offensively. He’s been able to find wingers like Sane and Sterling, who are converting more, for easier goals than years past. It’s been great to watch for anyone who loves attacking football. Silva’s health might not be on his side but when he’s in the City XI, they are exponentially better.

After a first year where he had to sort everything out, Pep Guardiola has got this City team working as one and under his control. He’s got everything figured out and City are rolling everyone in sight. A lot of it has been due to his midfield trio and the work they are able to put it. If all three are able to stay healthy, City go from really good to great and it could mean a lot as they progress further into the Champions League.

Napoli’s quest for Serie A glory
VI Images RealTime Images   

VI Images RealTime Images

 

Like the Bundesliga, and to a degree La Liga, Serie A has been a league which has been run by dominance of one particular club: Juventus. Juve have dominated the league for a good part of the past decade as they have won the Scudetto for six years running and have enjoyed premier success in the Champions League as well. This past decade has also seen the dramatic drop in form by both Inter and AC Milan. The two former European giants aren’t the same clubs they were back in the 2000’s or the years before that.

Combine the drop from both along with the rise of Juventus after the infamous Calciopoli scandal and you have seen a league run by the Bianconeri. But this season seems different. There seems to be a tide turning in Italian football and the waves are being caused by a club in Naples.

Expectations for Napoli winning Serie A weren’t even being discussed much less being a possibility. Even with Napoli’s quality attackers up top, they were still feeling the effects of losing a player like Gonzalo Higuain. The effects were ramified given he left for Juventus and the feeling was Italian soccer was in for another repeat year. Especially after seeing a season where Juventus won the Italian double for a second year in a row (Serie A and Coppa Italia) and finished runners up in the Champions League, losing in the final to Real Madrid. But this season has seen the official re-birth of Partenopei, one which many didn’t see coming.

Napoli have gotten off to a fantastic start in terms of the Serie A title race. They are currently at 54 points after 21 matches, winning 17 and losing just 1. Ironically, the lone loss came against Juventus on December 1st with Higuain scoring the winning goal. Napoli have seemed to have gotten past the key defeat as they have suffered only one loss in all competitions since then, which was a loss to Atalanta in the Coppa Italia quarter-final.

Headlined by the trio of Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon, and Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli have a speedy attack force which has seen them score 45 goals in league play this season, third highest in Serie A. Mertens has been the main leader for Napoli’s offense, scoring 13 goals for them in all competitions. Callejon and Insigne have been solid complimentary options, scoring 6 and 5 goals respectively. All three players have the pace to catch defenders off guard on the counter and the creativity to create goal scoring chances out of nothing. Behind this trio of players and a steady midfield, Napoli are able to quickly flip defensive possessions into offensive. Using Insigne and Callejon as do-it-all wingers, Napoli are able to funnel the ball to them after winning it back and it’s off to the races. With a flurry of through balls or over top balls behind the opposing centre backs or to the wings, Napoli have formed a very fun attacking side.

But what’s been even more important to Napoli’s title contending has been their defense. They have only given up 13 goals in Serie A this season which is the lowest amount conceded by any team in Italy. They have gotten massive production from their centrebacks in Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly. Pepe Reina has still maintained his reign as one of the more underrated keepers in all of Europe. This rock solid defense has also complimented their counter attacking style as they haven’t kept a solid amount of possession this season but just enough to do damage. Napoli want to make games a version of controlled chaos. They want it to be pacy and frantic, but to their style.

It’s even more impressive considering Albiol and Reina are both 35 and 32 respectively. With Mertens being 30 as well it’s clear Napoli have some veteran leaders in the clubhouse to help guide the team. But it also doesn’t mean there aren’t some youngsters helping out. Insigne, Koulibaly, Piotr Zielinski, and Elseid Hysaj are all under the age of 27. It’s a good mix of veteran leadership and some youth.

The only blemish on their season has been their Champions League campaign, which saw them exit in the group stage. Although they were in a very tough group with the likes of Manchester City and Shaktar Donetsk, advancing wasn’t guaranteed but something they expected. Now with them in the Europa League, they have a tough challenge in a tie against RB Leipzig. Like Napoli, the German club are pacy and love to press. It will be a matchup of equals and who knows which team will win.

Napoli also have to keep fending off Juventus, who are still at their throats in the Serie A table. Juventus have been matching Napoli stride for stride and are coming for their 7th straight title. Juve currently sit one point behind first place and any slip up by Napoli can cost them.  They have some key matchups coming up  against Inter, Roma, and the big matchup against Juve on April 22nd in their way if they want to raise the Scudetto.

It’s been a while since Napoli have won Serie A. 26 years in fact. It’s a club with some rich history and have had legends like Maradona play for them. This isn’t like times where Napoli have relied on a star talisman to lead them to wins like they did with Edison Cavani and Higuain as of late. It’s a team filled with no superstars and one which could finish off Juve’s streak in Serie A. They are a grind it out team but have been fun to watch as well. They are looking like a team of destiny and could bring the Scudetto back to Naples.

The current state of Arsenal football
Getty Images

Getty Images

A wise person once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Insanity is the perfect word to describe what Arsenal has been since the Invincibles team won the Premier League in 2004 without a single defeat. Arsenal has not won the league since, and has also suffered some of the most embarrassing defeats the Champions League has ever seen. For the amount of money Arsenal spends and for the status of being a top club, not winning the league in 14 years is unacceptable. Yet for reasons unknown, Arsene Wenger is still not out.

With Arsenal currently sitting at 6th place in the premier league table, they are choosing to sell their players instead of sack Wenger. With the Alexis Sanchez transfer to Manchester United official, he becomes the second player that Arsenal has sold this season to a team ahead of them in the standings. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the first when the Gunners sold him to Liverpool. Other players that have been sold this season include Francis Coquelin to Valencia and Theo Walcott to Everton.

Arsenal did however receive Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the swap for Sanchez, but he is not the talent Sanchez was and it feels like Arsenal is blowing it up and trying to rebuild. However the only way they will be able to truly rebuild is by getting rid of their out of touch Gaffer.

The players never seem to play for Wenger and he is constantly putting his players in formations to fail. It’s been hard being an Arsenal supporter watching the team get demolished in the Champions League whenever they play the likes of Bayern or Barcelona, as well as watching them lose repeatedly to the other top 6 teams in the premier league.

Winning the FA Cups is the only reason Wenger is still there. Yet, no fan should feel happy about winning over an FA Cup for a top club. Winning that trophy is like winning your division in the NBA.

Arsenal is on pace to miss the Champions League for the second straight season, and unless they are able to get Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the future looks disastrous. We’ve seen this story before, Arsenal has the money to spend yet Stan Kroenke/Wenger stand pat and expect things to change without doing a damn thing.

Here’s to hoping that this will not be the same ol' song and dance.

Timo Werner quickly rising through the world football ranks
Jan Kuppert/SVEN SIMON

Jan Kuppert/SVEN SIMON

A lot can change in five years. Just ask German club RB Leipzig. The once small club were sitting in 3. Liga, the third division of German soccer, just half a decade ago. Flash forward now and Leipzig are now sitting in second place of the Bundesliga table, 13 points off leaders Bayern Munich. It’s been an astonishing rise for a side who essentially came out of nowhere and now has made a name for themselves in European soccer.

Despite being promoted just last season, Leipzig rattled off 13 games without a loss and took everyone by surprise. It was the beginning of a campaign which saw them finish second in the Bundesliga, ahead of the likes of Borussia Dortmund, and qualify for the Champions League group stage. We aren’t even talking about Leipzig barely squeaking into the UCL via a play-off round, they finished second and comfortably made the UCL.

There have been a lot of players who are credited with the success of Leipzig. Players such as Naby Keita have grabbed the headlines and have even used it to get moves to bigger clubs. Yet there is one player who seems to fly under the radar when it comes to being recognized all across Europe. It’s Leipzig’s star striker Timo Werner.

He wasn’t there through rising years which resulted in Leipzig getting promoted back in 2016. Yet he is a key reason why they have not only stayed up in the Bundesliga, but thrived. He arrived from VFB Stuggart in the summer of 2016 and instantly made an impact in his first season with the club, scoring a whopping 21 goals in 28 games along with 5 assists. He hasn’t slowed down this season either, scoring 13 goals in 21 games for the club. His 9 goals in the Bundesliga have accounted for 30% of RB Leipzig’s total goals this season, a percentage which is tied for sixth highest in the league. Werner has also shined in European competition as well, scoring 3 goals in the Champions League.

Werner is almost the ideal striker for RB Leipzig. He has the speed to burn teams on the counter attack and uses it to get behind center backs and cause havoc.

It also works especially well for a team like RB Leipzig who love to press and attack like hounds when they don’t have the ball. Having a striker who can chase all around the pitch and effectively really helps. Even though he is young, Werner knows when and where exactly to press and help flip the ball back to players like Keita and Emil Forsberg, playing short little passes to spring counters to life. Then he’s off to the races. With his pace, one misstep or lapse in concentration when facing Werner might be the difference between stopping a counter and picking the ball out of your own net.

Werner does a lot of his work inside the penalty area and it’s usually because he’s fed the ball by one of his midfielders. He averages 2.1 shots per game inside the penalty area (excluding the six yard box), which is 3rd highest in the Bundesliga for strikers with more than 10 appearances in the league. He’s proven to be deadly inside that area, despite getting little aerial service.

When it comes to crossing the ball, Leipzig aren’t the best team in that department. In fact, they aren’t even in the top half of the Bundesliga when it comes to crossing the ball. They are one of the worst. Averaging only 3.4 accurate crosses per game, RB Leipzig sit second to last in the Bundesliga in that given category. It seems to justify why Werner has scored only 1 headed goal this season. It also makes it even more impressive he’s bagging a solid amount of goals despite defenders knowing he’s not getting any service through the air. That’s one route to goal eliminated and allows defenders to pack in and not worry so much about overlapping runs from wingers or fullbacks. Yet Werner still causes trouble and much credit goes to his speed and awareness along with his finishing prowess. He can beat defenders to spots on the pitch and if you give him an inch, he’ll take a mile. 

However, his good start to European success doesn’t mean Werner’s the perfect players. He still struggles with situational awareness and constantly gets caught offsides, killing counters and momentum for Leipzig. Werner has the offsides flag raised on him about 1.4 times per game, which is an average which leads the Bundesliga. Obviously the aerial presence needs a lot of work but given his situation at Leipzig and how they operate offensively, he can afford to hold off on it.

After the star performance he had last season along with the start to the season he had, it’s clear Werner is the striker of the future for not only Leipzig, but for the German National Team as well.

With Miroslav Klose retiring, there is a chance for a young striker to rise through the ranks and join the most powerful team in the world. Werner has even gotten off to a flying start under Joachim Low and his coaching staff, scoring at a great rate along with winning the Confederations Cup in Russia last summer. It’s looking more and more like Werner is the heir to Klose’s throne. Don’t be surprised if you see him playing in Russia during the 2018 World Cup. Given his poaching ability and speed, Werner adds a new dimension to this German team and makes them even more dangerous than they were prior. Adding Werner up top along with the other world class attackers surely makes Germany one of the favorites to lift the trophy in Russia.

Like RB Leipzig’s home stadium in Red Bull Arena, Timo Werner has been one of the main ingredients that has sparked this climb. Despite being only 21, Werner has shown that he is the real deal and a threat any time he is on the pitch. Showing out for both his club and country, Werner is firmly one of the top young players in not only Europe, but world football itself. Nobody knows how long he will continue to be at RB Leipzig cause it’s only a matter of time before the big clubs begin to hunker down and bid for him. So while you still have time, jump on the Timo Werner bandwagon.