PSG’s thrashing exposes Bayern Munich’s problems

The reigning Bundesliga champions were utterly thrashed by the big-spending PSG at the Parc des Princes. Bayern failed to cope with the Parisians’ pace on the break and paid for it dearly as Dani Alves, Cavani and Neymar all got on the scoresheet to demolish the Bavarians 3-0.

It was a fairly surprising – given Bayern has a number of talented players in their ranks – and telling result.

The game sent a message of intent from PSG and their quest to conquer Europe- even if it costed them almost €500 million. But the game also exposed Bayern’s flaws and Ancelotti’s, sometimes, questionable personnel selection.

Bayern showed that without Neuer in goal their defensive mistakes must be kept to a minimum because their second string goalkeeper, Ulreich is nowhere near the class of his countryman, which he has displayed on numerous occasions. At the weekend he cost his team two points with a huge blunder against Wolfsburg and against PSG he wasn’t much more convincing. He probably could have and should have done better on the first two PSG goals, although his defence did little to help him on the first.

Ulreich isn’t alone to blame though. The men tasked with protecting him failed to do their jobs against the Parisians and were often run ragged. They were sluggish and frankly unsure how to deal with the pace of PSG’s front three. The full backs had especially a torrid time trying to contain Neymar, Mbappé and the overlapping defenders, Alves and Kurzawa.

Alaba was especially made to look incredibly foolish by Mbappé, who easily dribbled past the Austrian and from a tight angle took a shot on goal, which Ulreich managed to save but Martínez wasn’t quick enough to get the ball away and Neymar was perfectly positioned to poke the ball home for the Parisians’ third of the night.

While the score was a tad bit surprising, the most shocking thing on the night was Ancelotti’s decision not to start the trio Hummels, Robben and Ribéry but rather opted to pair up the very slow Martínez with the young and inexperienced Süle, while choosing to start James- who had a very quiet game- alongside Lewandowksi and Müller.

Hummels is Bayern’s and Germany’s best defender and he has experience at this level. He would have been a better partner for Martínez in front of Ulreich. On the other hand, Robben and Ribéry are great and experienced players, though ageing. However, they would have been a better selection than James and Tolisso to start in Paris. Not to take anything away from both players but James struggled to get into Real Madrid’s starting 11, which is why he ended up on loan at Bayern and while Tolisso is talented this is new for him- his move to Bayern is a massive jump in quality and expectations from that of Lyon.

Ancelotti’s decision to substitute both James and Tolisso at the start of the second half was a good idea, as both players were quiet in the first half but his choice to send in Rudy and Coman, while his team was chasing the game, was equally as risky as his decision to start with James and Tolisso instead of Ribéry and Robben.

Ancelotti isn’t all to blame though, because he has limited options in his squad and the club’s back office did little to reinforce the squad to be more competitive for this season. The team has started to age and they have lost quality players like Lahm and Xabi Alonso to retirement and didn’t replace both adequately. They’ve also sent the brilliant Douglas Costa on loan to Juventus and new signing Gnabry on loan to Hoffenheim; both players are thriving in their new environment.

Lewandowksi himself has seen the problem with the club’s transfer policy and has publicly lambasted them for it; quite understandable from an ambitious player. Club officials (Rummenigge and Hoeneß) have since rebuked Lewa’s complaints and continue to say they will not participate in paying the current market’s egregious prices and as such are only seeking to pay what they believe is a fair price; but they should ask Arsène Wenger how that is working out for him and Arsenal.

By rejecting the current market’s inflated prices, the club is then left with the option of continually plundering and weakening their Bundesliga opponents, which has in part contributed to their dominance in the league- they’re now gunning for their sixth straight league title- and it isn’t at all surprising that they’ve been unable to compete on the continental stage since Jupp Heynckes’ treble winning season.

The market is absolute garbage and we can all agree on that but that’s where we are right now and in order to be competitive they have to consider spending more. No one is suggesting the pay €200 million for a player but surely €41.5 million- the club’s record transfer fee paid- can’t be their absolute ceiling. Even Wenger is starting to recognise that there is no way around the market and rumour has it he is considering a €98 million bid for Monaco’s Lemar in the next window.

Bayern is certainly struggling and has failed to achieve any semblance of consistency under Ancelotti this season but he isn’t solely to blame and players and club officials alike should equally shoulder the criticism.

Rumour has it Hoffenheim’s Nagelsmann will be the club’s next coach but the question is, will Ancelotti finish out the season at Bayern?

 

Has Real Madrid done enough in the summer transfer window?

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Team celebrating their European Super Cup win against Manchester United

After an extraordinary season and having etched their names into the annals of history, Real Madrid looked a magnificent team that never really needed any additional [big name] signings given their strength in depth. However, based on the wants of players, there were always going to be adjustments. Some of which could either propel the team to the brink of invincibility or see them unravel after a near perfect 2016/17 season.

The team’s goal is to maintain stability and bolster the squad, where necessary. Selling too many [important] players would be a disruptive path to continued stability, which raises a number of questions: how has the club performed in the transfer window so far? Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little? Are they making reasonable moves?

Before answering those questions, we should ask ourselves: what were Los Blancos’ weaknesses despite a glorious double — winning the Champions League and La Liga, an accomplishment not experienced by the whites for more than 50 years — and making history by becoming the first team to win the continental title back-to-back since the era of the Champions League?

The first answer that comes to mind, is the need for bolstering the defence. Real Madrid would have actually lost quite a few games without the likes of Navas, who was in especially fine form towards the end of the season and their incredible players in attack, who just enjoyed outscoring their opponents in games.

Then there was the problem of keeping everyone happy, including those who played a fringe role — James, Coentrão, Danilo, Nacho, Kovacic, Mariano and Casilla — and those who wanted to be more than just a regular substitute — Isco, Morata, Vazquez and Asensio. Zidane was clearly an excellent motivator and had for the most part convinced the majority of players of their importance to the team, even when they didn’t play as regularly as they’d have liked. He even managed to persuade Ronaldo that he needed to be fresh for the final lap of the season and to achieve that he had to accept that he wouldn’t be able to every game.

That was last season and while he succeeded, some players were not going to be convinced for the upcoming season and wanted to seek opportunities outside of Real Madrid.

Los Blancos has since sold Danilo (ca. €30M), Morata (€65.6M plus add-ons) and Mariano (ca. €8M) to Manchester City, Chelsea and Lyon, respectively. James has been sent to Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal, Coentrão was loaned to Sporting Lisbon for a season and Pepe wasn’t offered a new deal, thereby making him a free agent.

Fairly good business, as Coentrão was injury-prone; James, though brilliant, apparently had a poor attitude in training  — if the rumours are to be believed — and he obviously wasn’t a favourite of Zidane’s; Danilo never quite unlocked his full potential at Real — partly down to Carvajal’s constant brilliance —, and was especially prone to mistakes in defence. Pepe was an ageing defender, who at some point had to be replaced, granted Real could’ve done a better job of “phasing” him out; Mariano showed flashes of his brilliance when he was given the opportunity to play and if he can fine tune his talent at Lyon, Real will certainly activate his buy-back clause; then there is Morata, a special case. Incredibly talented player, who in his own right had to move on if he wanted to become more than a super sub, as there was no chance of him breaking into the starting line-up as long as the BBC was still active in Madrid. And at 24, it was now or never and he chose now.

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L-R: Ceballos, Mayoral, Asensio, Vallejo, Llorente and Raúl.

Has the club sufficiently replaced the players gone?

Returning to the club is centre back Vallejo, who spent a year on loan at Frankfurt and was a main stay in the starting 11 for the Bundesliga club. The 20-year-old had a solid loan spell at the Eagles and helped his team to the German Cup final. He has extremely good concentration on the park, rarely loses the ball and is a tidy passer. He does need to work on his aggressiveness when trying to win the ball back and his aerial duel —he had a meagre 1.2 tackles per game according to WhoScored and he won on average 2.2 aerial battles per game last season in the Bundesliga. He does have promise and under the tutelage of both Ramos and Varane and with experience overtime he could develop into a defensive super star. His signing is an overall useful and reliable one both for the present and future.

Grade: B+.

Also returning to the club is Marcos Llorente, who had an impressive loan spell at Deportivo Alavés. Llorente comes from footballing royalty — his great uncle is Real Madrid legend Paco Gento and his father is Paco Llorente Gento, a Madrid legend in his own right. Young Llorente seems to be following in their footsteps, as he was a constant in the starting line-up at Alavés and helped lead his club to the Spanish Cup final. He was able to exhibit his quality, while gaining experience with the Basque side. He doesn’t have any explicit weaknesses, has excellent tackling abilities and is great at breaking up the opponents’ play. Per WhoScored he had an average of 3.8 tackles per game, better than Sergio Ramos’ season average.  He’s also a neat passer —he had an average pass quota of 87%  last season. Llorente is without a doubt a rising star and is only 22. He will have the chance to hone his skills under the guidance of players like Ramos, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Varane, et al. His return has bolstered los Blancos’ already strong midfield and provides necessary cover for Casemiro.

Grade: A

Borja Mayoral, is one of Madrid’s most promising forwards and has already been compared to club legend Raúl. He had a torrid time on loan at Wolfsburg last season, not because of his lack of quality but rather the perpetual chaos that broke out at the club and the problems that ensued —the club changed coaches several times. However, Zidane has always been a fan of him and the 20-year-old looks set to replace Morata in the squad, even taking over the Chelsea man’s old squad number. His lack of playing time at the Wolves meant he hardly played a role for Spain at the U21 European Championship this summer and made a solitary appearance as a substitute. Considering the scarcity in playing time and inadequate experience, his presence in los Blancos’ squad doesn’t seem all too encouraging but he at least deserves a chance and he’s excelled at the youth level, which may translate into success for him in the first team.

Grade: C+

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Theo on his pre-season debut against Manchester United

With Coentrão gone, Marcelo needed a deputy. The club needed a player who isn’t prone to injury and capable of stepping up to the plate when called upon. Theo Hernández is exactly that player and at just 19 he could develop into a long-term fixture at Real Madrid, especially under the tutelage of the brilliant Brazilian. Theo, like Marcelo, loves to dribble and can deliver lethal crosses into the box. He also has a wicked left foot and can punish teams from dead ball situations— not that he’ll have a chance to put it to use often, if ever, but it is nice to know he has it in his arsenal. And in a team as fluid as Madrid, his runs down the left could see him start cutting into the box more and punishing the net with that left foot of his. Excellent signing.

Grade: A

Replacing James and bringing in ample cover for Kroos and/or Modric was crucial for the club this season. As we saw last season, los Blancos had trouble at times filling the boots of both the German and Croatian. That’s where Spanish football’s newest prodigy comes in. Dani Ceballos, with his nimble feet and stunning dribbles, enjoys breaking ankles and leaving players dead in his wake. The young Spaniard had an outstanding U21 European Championship and was named player of the tournament. He holds the ball well, can deliver scrumptious passes, tends to get fouled a lot because of his sensational dribbling and gets involved defensively with strong tackling. He does however, need to work on his finishing. It must be frustrating for a player with his skill and talent, who can’t finish off one of his menacing runs. He is nevertheless a massive talent and a player capable of filling the boots of Modric and/or Kroos, when they’re injured or when they choose to move on. One for the future.

Grade: A

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L-R: Luca Zidane, Borja Mayoral, Achraf Hakimi and Marcos Llorente

Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little?

The club has done some good business so far, with the exception of not filling the spot left open by Danilo’s departure and the apparent faith placed in the inexperienced Mayoral.

The open right back position may well be filled by either Álvaro Tejero or Achraf Hakimi, both talented young players, who’ve both been impressive for the youth team and were standouts during the club’s pre-season tour. However, like Mayoral, they could either turn out to be brilliant players, who can handle the weight of wearing the white shirt or they could all crack under the pressure.

Placing confidence in these youngsters is a bold move from Zidane but their performances in pre-season show they may well be ready for the demands that come with the badge.

The fact los Blancos has been able to keep their core team together and replace fringe players sufficiently, they seem set to continue their success. Additionally, all the signings made so far means the club has also made an effort to build for the future —the average age of the squad is 25.6 years.

They’ve thus far performed shrewdly in the market and don’t necessarily need another signing but if they do bring in one, say…Mbappé, it’d be fine. But signing the French man seems to really be a stretch, especially since Monaco wants €180M for the player and he is demanding a net salary of €12M/year.

Overall Grade: A-