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The Round Up, World Football

As football strives to bring us joy and solace in these weird times, as usual, there are many stories and gist aplenty that accompany our beautiful game. Here are some of the latest reviews on recent matches, discussions on player’s performances, and team’s analysis.

La-liga race has tumbled into a fit about everything but football”- claims from the losing side.

Anyone following the madness going on in the La Liga title race (hardly a race anymore tbh) can attest to the fact that, regardless of where your allegiances lie, it has been a chaotic furroray of nonsense.

Plenty noise about poor officiating – and yes, the officiating has been a little treacherous, all the way to the civil war going on in the Barca internals coupled with its abysmal showing in back-to-back-to-back performances, to some disgruntled Madridstas complaining a little too loudly for minutes, to the downright abysmal performances from big signings, including Hazard, Griezmann and dare we even slot in Joao Felix, to the chaos that has been the Blaugrana defence… etcetera etcetera.

And this is not even mentioning the unique situation we find ourselves in – no fans, water breaks, five subs – et al. It’s been so difficult to exclusively focus on the footballing side of this title race. But we just have to try.

So as we dissect the footballing aspects, the facts remain that Madrid has upended the race and are practically running away with the spoils. It’s still anyone’s guess how the La Liga relegation battle will pan out, but up-top, barring any self-sabotaging acts of grandiose proportions, the league is all but Madrid’s.

But how did we get here, what did Barca get wrong, and more to it, how did the Zidane army get things right?

Ferlan Mendy and the glorious awakening of the Madrid defence
When Ferlan waltez into Los Blancos, there were plenty of lingering and long stares from us neutrals. “Will the lad take too kindly to staying on the bench and playing second fiddle to the best LB in the game?”, “How much pressure will he put on Marcelo?” , “What does he bring, that the three-peat side could possibly lack?”. Turns out not only has he all but knocked Marcelo off the pecking order, he has become fans favorite for his absolute stellar performances in attack and more so, in defence.

The rejuvenation of Ramos and Varane simply being Varane, ZIdane seems to have worked out a method to limit the ball the assault the nets of the post minded by Courtois – who has not been a slush himself all season. Much of the progress of Madrid can be attributed to how well they have tightened up their defence towards the tail end of the season, and plenty of praise should definitely go to Mendy and Ramos, amongst others.

Umtiti/Semedo and the glorious fall of the Barcelona defence
While Madrid celebrate an improvement in defence, the same can’t be said of the Blaugrana side. Even as two weeks ago they made it five clean sheets in a row for the first time since never years ago, when it mattered, the Barca defence buckled…as usual. Poor performances against Atletico Madrid, Celta Vigo and Athletic Bilbao practically served the league to Madrid on a platter. And curiously there has been no single culprit to scapegoat(see Umtiti in caps). It has been a joint effort of remarkable ineptitude.

Benzema vs Messi in the tricky matter of overdependence
Barca’s Messi will probably go down as the greatest one team player ever. But in a different context, the Barca team has far become too one-man centric in recent years.

While in Madrid, the team plays to the tunes and strength of Benzema, at Barca, the team plays to their own individual weakness and looks to the strength of Messi to bail them out. Well that hasn’t worked out too well for them.

Griezmann vs Hazard – another tiny battle Madrid won
As far as play-pals go, there is no doubt Messi has had them in plenty. And he loves them too. He enjoyed the company of Pedro, Villa, Eto, and in more recent years, Neymar and Suarez. Haven lost Neymar, and with Suarez’s better years gone, the companionship with Dembele, Coutinho or even Griezmann has been extremely futile.

On the other hand, Benzema seems to enjoy the flourish of skill from his Belgian partner in crime. Even as it seems to be bearing fruits, the coach has even bought into it and has the entire team playing to their rhythm.

As we mark the days to Real Madrid’s all too imminent coronation, neutrals of the game might perhaps see a slip from Madrid, just to see things for down to the wire up to the very last moments of the season. But with Los Blancos looking as formidable as ever, that seems very unlikely.

Bayern Munich Flag

Bayern make a mockery of ‘the allure of underdoggery” with yet another Bundesliga trophy

Apparently, there is such a thing as “the allure of underdoggery” in the sports fanworld. It’s when a neutral plugs into a football game and tends to have a bias for the weaker side hoping they will triumph over the better, stronger, and more talented opposition. (See the entire script of Karate Kid for reference).

Sadly, it doth usually ends in tears. It did again as Bayern blew the whole of Germany away and raced to their 8th Bundesliga championship in 8 years. Whew!

It wasn’t just that Bayern emerged champions yet again, it was that, even at some point in the season when Bayern was on a rough patch and it seemed like this was the year an underdog would reign supreme, there was still a sort of reckless nonchalant confidence with which Bayern just staggered back to the top of the pile – apparently where they belong.

But looking into this season, in isolation from their previous years of otherworldly domestic success, what was it that made Bayern Munich stand out in this 2019/2020 Bundesliga campaign?

Solid sporting direction and management
Bayern’s success in recent and distant years can never be tagged as fortuitous; it’s as planned as anything. The intentional placement and removal of coaches, the positive influence the team-board members (who, funny how are fans themselves, thanks to the German 50+1 ownership model), and the overall focus in terms of sporting direction is to be alluded when you evaluate how excellently the team performs and how brilliant their signings have been for many years now.

Brilliant player purchases and loans
Few European teams can boast of the astuteness of Bayern Munich with a cheque-book. In an era where players are going for kings’ ransoms, only to deliver mediocre performances, it cannot be overemphasized how remarkably insightful Bayern has been with spending.

If one takes a peek at their buys and loans in the last few years, it has been a rich blend of experience and youth with the likes of Ivan Perisic and Philipe Coutinho merging with Alphonso Davies and Leon Goretzka…amongst others.

Immense squad depth and quality
Perhaps chief of the reasons why, but not to eclipse the others: the Bayern team itself is as strong as they come.

Bayern boasts a roaster of the finest talents in Europe, and even losing the brilliant partnership of Robben and Ribery in recent times has done almost nothing to invalidate that claim.

A Lewandowski and Muller led attack, doing the business in front a midfield that boasts Thiago, Kimmich, Javi Martinez, Corentin Tolisso and a ton of other exceptional midfielders all plying their trade on the pitch knowing full on well that they have one of the best net-minders in the game – Manuel Neuer – that is a team to dread indeed. And they have been dreadful in vanquishing their oppositions.

Individual brilliance-cum-team effort
Unlike other teams like Barcelona who look to individual brilliance as their major way to change proceedings on match-day, Bayern Munich had everyone pulling their respective weights to the collective good of the club.

This is not to say that there haven’t been stand-out performances, as Lewandoski and Muller practically set the pace for Germany and in fact Europe with their ridiculous goal and assist tally, respectively.

Other factors perhaps played a part in the team’s success, as it is often touted that the Bavarians have the favorable ear of German officials or that the opposition is pretty much trifle in Germany, but the truth is that such excuses only serve to push the sad agenda for underdoggery. In actual fact, Bayern Munich has put in the work for their success and they deserve all the accolades that have come their way.

Pep Guardiola Getty Images

Manchester city 4 – 0 Liverpool: Guardiola sends clear warning ahead of next season

As far as messages go, nothing could have better said “you’re in for a tough one next season, Liverpool” than hammering the already crowned champions 4-0 just after honoring them with a guard of honor. It’s perhaps easy to fixate on the narrative that it was nothing more than a friendly for Liverpool, but that would be a convenient lie.

Klopp knowingly fielded his strongest possible side and even though he might not have given them the most inspiring ‘go get em’ pep talk pre-game (pun intended on the ‘pep’), he obviously didn’t tell them to roll over and be spanked 4 – 0 by their only equal in the league.

Regardless of whatever story anyone tries to sell to you about the Merseyside boys being high on alcohol or low on concentration for the game, it was a performance that left the entire team with egg on their faces. It was a poor performance and nothing to be proud of. End of.

But more to the message. It was not just the outcome of the game in itself that sold the vexation of Pep and the City boys, it was the attitude of the Manchester side. In retrospect, it was hardly even Pep’s strongest possible side. They were missing David Silva in midfield, neither Mahrez nor Bernado started on the right, Aguero was (and still is) out injured, Sane was in faraway Germany completing his move to Bayern and a certain Eric Garcia was manning RCB for City. Perhaps on another night, Liverpool would have run this particular City side over, but that night, it was City who played like they had something to prove…and oh how well they proved it.

Are there handwritings on the wall for any impending doom or collapse from Liverpool next season? Definitely not. The performance didn’t flatter Liverpool, no doubt but no-one can possibly make any real deductions from this lone slump, when they have had the rest of the league in their wake all season long. The main takeaway from the performance was City.

Thumping Liverpool, in this fashion, right after they just secured the league was a clear warning as to how next season will pan out. It was Guardiola’s way of saying he intends to get his house in order (and it needs some ordering) and reclaim the EPL trophy come next season.

The message is clear: Rally your troops, Klopp, you’re in for a much tougher race next season.

Manchester United 5-2 Bournemouth: Something strange is brewing at Old Trafford

It’s anyone’s guess what the morale at Carrington had been over the last few months: pre-lockdown, but you can bet top dollar that ever since football returned, the Manchester United training ground has been ecstatic with great energy. Things couldn’t possibly be better for the red devils.

The nonchalance with which they swatted away Bournemouth off the playing turf on Saturday, although haven taken an early goal was reminiscent of the United of old. Even as it was a game glossy with positive talking points, one would be remiss not to make mention of a few lapses here and there that slightly punctuated the United performance.

Hardly do you find a game that typifies everything a club enjoys and suffers like this United performance. It was all on display: the good, the bad, and the things that could be improved upon. That said, what were the interesting talking points and what are our eclectic views on this performance from Manchester United:

Bruno-Pogba-Matic is a criminally perfect combination
It’s difficult to make a braggadocious statement such as that which is to follow, but it needs to be said because it is simply the truth: the United starting midfield combo is up there with the best, if not the absolute best in Europe at the moment. QED.

It was there in the rhythm with which they played, the swagger, the aplomb with which the passes flew into dangerous spaces. It was the intelligent touches, movement, and passes. It was the awareness, it was the foresight, it was the wit and creativity. And it was all on display in this incredibly outstanding performance by the currently unplayable midfield combination of Manchester United.

Mason “What in the freaking heck!!!!” Greenwood
Let’s even forget about the ridiculous numbers the lad has stat-padded for himself already(and they are ridiculous, have yourself a look), simply just consider him on the pitch and you will be absolutely mesmerized as to what it is this boy is capable of.

Interestingly enough it even exceeds what he does, it is also about what he represents. Greenwood is a breath of fresh air. He is what top European teams crave for – a young unknown player who stems from the academy with no baggage and nothing to prove and simply takes the league by storm.

How ironic it is, that only earlier this week, rumors of Jaden Sancho having agreed personal terms with United were flying about. But with Mason Greenwood’s ever-improving performances on a weekly basis, one begins to wonder “aren’t there better places such money proposed to be used in Sancho’s purchase could be better invested in for united?” Answer: Yes there are. The defence.

Something is amiss with the United defence
Perhaps it’s a personnel problem that a singular signing can amend as was the case for Liverpool, or it’s a managerial problem that can be addressed by a change in personnel or tactics, as is the case of the current Real Madrid side…whatever it is, some changes must be effected in that United defence if they are to vie for any laurels in the coming campaigns.

Coming during a week where De Gea was under fire for his poor showings in recent games, perhaps allowing Stanislas to beat him to his near post – and in such strange fashion, it must be mentioned – wasn’t the best way for the Spanish goalie to re-establish faith in the mind of his detractors. But if we are to point fingers, we might as well call out Maguire for that ‘sleep-off’ that afforded the chance for Stanislas, and we must also give stick to Eric Bailly for the sheer absentmindedness to conceded a penalty that put Bournemouth back in the contest in the early moments of the second half.

It was altogether a performance to remember for the red devils, and one can tell that her fans are giddy with excitement for the finer things to come from this side that is alive with promise and potential.

Wolves 0 – 2 Arsenal: Meritocracy is the new system of government at the Emirates

Here is a funny bit of news: Arsenal has won 4 in their last 4 games. Chuckle*

Arteta is with the reins holding together a team that is hell-bent on going into self-destruct mode and imploding/exploding in the face of all her fans and all those who share any interest in the club whatsoever. How? Arsenal is on the brink of not qualifying for any European competition if care is not taken. That is how.
Arteta is trying very badly to ‘take said care’.

The line-up against Wolves was as flagrant a display of the new system of meritocratic government in Arsenal as anything you’d ever see. You could tell the players that were in the starting line-up made the team because they earned it. How can you tell? Because there were more popular figures on the bench who might have started in other circumstances. But seeing as those popular figures have shown time and time against their desire to sink the team into relegation if permitted, the onus lay on Arteta to stir the team toward the right direction, and as it appears, he is going about it the right way.

The defence line of Luiz, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Tierney, and Cedric Soares might not sound like the prettiest defensive line out there, but guess what? It worked. It worked against Wolves – a side that knocked Manchester city senseless home and away this season – and it worked well too.
You could glaringly see the gunners’ players fighting for their shirt, giving their all, putting in the work…and as a person with neutral stakes in Arsenal, but a football aficionado nonetheless, it was frankly an impressive thing to behold.

What are the interesting spot-rivalries going on in the Arsenal side that has caused the team to improve her performance over the last couple of games?

Nketiah vs Lacazette
It seems all too likely that Lacazette might not be in Mikel Arteta’s plans in the nearest future, but that has not impacted the French International’s ability to lace his boots and come alive when he has been afforded the opportunity.

In actual fact, hardly any blame can go to Arteta for choosing to side-line the Frenchman and go for the inexperienced home-grown talent – Nketiah. But what is interesting to note is how the new role Lacazette has taken of second fiddle has caused him to be much sharper with the few cameos he has had when coming on, as epitomized by his brilliant ‘strikers-finish’ of a goal to seal the win for the side against Wolves.

Cedric Soares vs Hector Bellerin
Perhaps not a thing yet, to non-keen observers that is. But it seems rather obvious that Arteta is out to make Bellerin earn that starting shirt at RWB if he wants it. And, given this performance by Cedric against Wolves, it might take a little doing for Bellerin to get back into the starting line-up.

Bukayo Saka vs Nicolas Pepe vs Joe Willock
This particular rivalry annoys the Arsenal fanbase more than it excites them because the said Nicolas Pepe when purchased was looked up to as the one to lead the team to greater heights, but has turned out to be a colossal disappointment. So much so that he now practically scrapes for minutes and is being sat by an 18-year old who only made it into the team to cover up for a gap in the LB role, and who is now outperforming the Ivorian by the way.

The delicious slice of the ball that gave Arsenal the lead in the first half came off the boot of Saka, and one could tell that with the agility and talent the lad has shown in recent weeks, Pepe and Willock have a lot to prove if they want to have a shout for that slot at RW or whatever role it is that Saka seems to be filling at the moment.

The treatment of Ozil and Guendouzi is the template that we are to assume Mikel Arteta is employing in handling the players in his roster at Arsenal: Get with the program or get sat! Easy as you like.

The tone has been set for an exciting run of games in our top European leagues as the domestic seasons wind up. With some teams fighting for top spots, others for Champions League places, and some even to stay afloat, we will be here running commentary on the proceedings and bringing all the excitement to you. Stay tuned!

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