by Zack Lambert
October 10th, 2020
In this piece I’m going through nine different league across Europe and writing about actions in the transfer window, early performances, chances of success this season, and general storylines from 62 different clubs. I expect no person to read all of them, so feel free to pick and choose your favorite clubs from the table of contents below.
AC Milan | Ajax | Arsenal | Saint-Etienne | Aston Villa | Atalanta | Bilbao | Atlético Madrid | Augsburg | Barcelona | Bayern | Benevento | Benfica | Boavista | Cádiz | Celtic | Chelsea | Palace | Dortmund | Everton | Feyenoord | Fiorentina | Frankfurt | Gladbach | Heerenveen | Hertha | Inter | Juventus | Lazio | Leeds | Leicester | Leipzig | Lens | Leverkusen | Lille | Liverpool | Lyon | City | United | Marseille | Monaco | Napoli | Newcastle | PSG | Porto | PSV | Rangers | Vienna | Salzburg | Betis | Real Madrid | Sociedad | Rennes | Roma | Sassuolo | Schalke | Sevilla | Southampton | Sporting | Spurs | Vitesse | Wolves
After nearly a decade without challenging for a title in Serie A, AC Milan look to have their sights set on bursting back into the scene both domestically and internationally. Footballing legend Paolo Maldini is the technical director at his home club and he and the board are making a definitive push to reestablish AC as Milan’s top team. Bringing that nostalgia back to San Siro is easier said than done, but the actions from the team show promise.
Despite Zlatan Ibrahimović being the most notable face on the roster, there’s a massive youth immigration into the first team. Commitments to Theo Hernández, Franck Kessié, Rafael Leão, and Gianluigi Donnarumma combined with more recent investments in Sandro Tonali, Brahim Díaz, and Pierre Kalulu display a dedication to building a future instead of an opportunity.
AC Milan have yet to drop even a single point this season in any competition and are yet to concede in Serie A. While the defense has been invested in heavily, don’t expect these types of shutout runs to continue. The start of the schedule was very kind to the Rossoneri, their opponents being Crotone, Bologna, and Prezia, three of the worst teams in the top flight. The defense will still be the strongest portion of the team, though, and Milan seem to be a contender from first glances.
Ajax are one of the better known clubs outside of the top five leagues, especially for newer football fans, for a number of reasons, mainly their enchanting run in the 2019 Champions League that fell agonizingly short. With the sales of Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech this summer, only tatters of that young, stellar core remain. Ajax have always produced some of the top talent in the world and are used to selling players before their prime, but this marks the end of an era, in a way.
Erik ten Hag will have one of his toughest tasks ahead of him this season in winning the Eredivisie. The reload of young talent has begun with the likes of Antony and Mohammed Kudus, but the sales from the summer leave the Amsterdam side vulnerable. Their scoring numbers are down four matches into the season and the magic seems to be lacking. There’s no “team of destiny” feeling surrounding the squad. It could be a down season for the Dutch holders.
There is still business to be done though, and making a profit is one of the things Ajax does best. So who’s next to go? David Neres seems to be a likely candidate as teams in Europe continue to rate young wingers with potential. Lisandro Martínez and André Onana are also likely to move on as their prime is rapidly approaching. A manageable group stage in the Champions League will be a great chance to showcase their abilities with the world watching. With Martínez and Neres missing out on international opportunities, though, they will need to be excellent with the club to net their deserving price tags.
Arsenal beat the metaphorical buzzer on October 5th for a move to obtain Thomas Partey from the midfield of Atlético Madrid. Partey had been under the watchful eye of Arsenal’s soucting team since 2018 and the move to secure him served two purposes. One of them was to suppress a riot from the fan base who had vocalized their disappointment in the club’s apprehensive approach to the transfer market. The other was to provide depth to a midfield that first team manager Mikel Arteta has reformed.
The Gunners were able to relieve themselves of some payroll with loan deals, but Mesut Özil still sits on the bench, being out of favor with Arteta. The player seems to be a good fit for the system Arteta would like to run with his creative skills, ones that were called for with the Aouar flirtation. The fact that a deal couldn’t be made for the Lyon midfielder leaves the center of the field without a true 10. While Arteta’s 3-4-3 seems to be sufficient for now, the creativity would help the team become more versatile. Using Özil in some fashion seems to be better than letting him waste on the bench, especially when his wages are so crippling and he’s given voice to his intentions to see the contrat out.
The start of the season has been promising for the Gunners as they sit fourth in the league, but their Premier League match against Liverpool shows they’re still not ready for a title run. The north London side still can’t compete with the world’s best, even with an improved defense. Securing the goal has actually been a priority for Arsenal this offseason and the purchase of Gabriel and Thomas reinforce that notion. With clear intentions to pursue Dani Ceballos permanently, William Saliba finally joining after his loan, and Tierney and Bellerín returning to form, Arsenal seem to have one of the brighter futures in the back after toiling for so many seasons.
Saint-Étienne left their fans begging for a bit more after a very quiet transfer window while the team has obvious needs. The sale of Wesley Fofana was the most recent big name to leave the club after Saliba last summer and Malcuit and Maupay two summers prior, but the purchases have not lined up with the sale numbers. Of course football is a business and profitability is what allows a team to function at all, but the side seems capable of competing for European football after a nice start, so why not up the odds? Ligue 1 isn’t exactly a destination but there were certainly possibilities to help the team earn points instead of losing to Rennes and Lens.
So the question for ASSE is how long will this business be sustainable? Dortmund and Ajax are experts at flipping young stars over and over, but this isn’t one of those clubs. Players will move on for free if not sold, of course, but the lack of reinvestment of funds into more senior players who are ready to settle with a club is concerning. The club operates mostly on loans and frees and the last time ASSE spent even €10M on a player was Loïs Diony in 2017, and he plays for Angers now. It’s frustrating to see a board not invest in a team who can be very good, even if to only reduce volatility.
After surviving relegation by the skin of their teeth, Aston Villa are nearly top of the league and would have a chance to be if not for being a match behind. I often liken scrapes with relegation to “finding faith” moments for owners and boards and it seems that Villa were introduced to a higher power because they decided to spend big in the window. €82M was spent in the window on just four players and it’s tough to argue with the results. Three wins from three and a 7-2 thrashing of Liverpool at Villa Park are real results. To make things better, the signings are carrying weight.
Jack Grealish has the best start to the season with three goals and three assists, but it’s arguable that four of the five major additions are just behind him. Emi Martínez saved a penalty to secure a 1-0 victory over Sheffield in his debut while Barkley scored from six shots in his debut against the Reds. Ollie Watkins poured in a hat trick and assist and hit the post against Liverpool and Matt Cash is a true two-way player on the right flank.
While business is booming right now for Villa, we have to look at the whole season. The side are already out of the Carabao which will help keep players fresh, but the depth is really troubling. There’s a lot of quality on the team, even in the reserves, but the squad is thin. The midfield can’t afford an injury and the right wing is really shallow. It’s possible that the team stays fit and healthy for the whole season and make a real impact, but Dean Smith will have to be miraculous to get this team into Europe.
Last season’s most exciting team (I created the award) look to have hopes to replicate their efforts as their start to the season has them top of the league. Sizable wins over Torine, Lazio, and Cagliari show the team are in high gear heading into the first break of the season. Stuck in a Champions League group with Ajax and Liverpool, Atalanta will have to field competitive squads for most of the competition, so that will hurt fitness to some extent. However, it also extends the question of how serious the team is about taking home a title. I wrote in my Serie A preview that 3rd was a reasonable landing spot behind Inter and Juventus, but seeing the team really invest in defense they could actually make a run.
Mattia Caldara and Christian Romero won’t take the team to another level at center back and the depth added to the wing defenders don’t make the team a title favorite, but it shows the board is all in. Those players were loaned in to give the team depth early in the season when so many competitions are occurring at once. If there’s an injury the replacements aren’t going to be inexperienced. Atalanta clearly have the attacking power to win any competition in the world so these moves mean they’re serious about trophies this season. If the defense is any sort of improved (and we’ll find out when they meet Napoli after the break), Atalanta are contenders domestically and on the continent.
I don’t want to talk about the transfer window or even the first few matches of the season, but instead the cause of the club. I often touch on Bilbao’s unique policies whenever I write about them but right now they seem more relevant than usual. Bilbao is located in the Basque portion of Spain. In honor of the Basque people and the history of the region, Bilbao only use players from Euskadi, or players who grew up at clubs in that region. While picking from a base of around 2.1 million people might seem to be a difficult task, Bilbao often finish towards the top of the table, but every few seasons the club flirts with relegation. This seems like one of those seasons.
Losses to a nine-man Cadíz and a ten-man Alaves are unacceptable for this type of Athletic side. While they would likely be well equipped to return to La Liga, Los Leones cannot afford to flirt with that fate. Most players might be faithful to the club but the desire for top flight football like Iñaki Williams, the first black player in the club’s history, could draw them away. The model has been sustainable to this point and the difference in quality between La Liga and Segunda División often saves poor top flight teams. But can Bilbao really afford to risk going down, or will their truly noble cause doom them?
The Atléti transfer window was marked by three major moves: Yannick Carrasco, Luis Suárez, and Lucas Torreira. While The latter was a deadline day addition, the first two have been able to make an impact for the team already. Suárez replaces Morata and potentially Cavani (more on him later) and netted two goals and an assist in his debut. The business done for the players has been profitable with Carrasco being the only purchase, but the team don’t seem to be much different.
By that I mean that they’re still frustratingly timid on the attack, even with such intense and talented forwards. Sure, they opened their season 6-1 at home against Granada, but the next two matches were 0-0 draws with newly promoted Huesca and Villarreal. The defending is and always has been great. There’s players who are more valuable than their appraisals at the back. But why isn’t the attack producing? All the stars were in for those two matches. No goals. Say what you like about the older players and the style of football that Simeone employs, but Lemar, Llorente, Félix, and Correa are on the squad to score goals. To beat Real there have to be goals and the team must take three points off smaller clubs.
It’s possible that Simeone is being stale. It’s very difficult for managers to find sustained success at one club for so long because clubs around them begin to adjust and know how to beat them over time. I’m absolutely not advocating for his sacking, but it may be time to adjust a bit. Maybe Partey moving on will force some style changes or something of the like. I hate to beat the drum over and over but those matches against promoted sides have to be won. Atléti cannot beat Real, Barcelona, even Sevilla without those points.
Augsburg sit second in the Bundesliga, yes Germany’s top flight Bundesliga, after three matches and a shock win over Dortmund. This transfer window’s dealings have paid off to this point for the Fuggerstädter as Felix Udoukhai and Caliguiri are the highest rated players on the team. But the question, as will be for many of the teams on this list, is if this for real? The answer in this case is both yes and no. Augsburg’s win over Dortmund wasn’t a fluke; sure, Sancho and Håland didn’t play their best football, but Augsburg did and it was a convincing victory. At the same time Augsburg is going to mystify us with draws to Wolfsburg and losses to teams who are even worse than that. The team are certainly one who will provide a sense of uncertainty when going into matches and opponents will struggle to match up with their 4-2-2-2. It’s not an oversimplification to just call the team fun.
Well there’s certainly a lot to unpack here. Let’s start at the top. Not Messi, but actually the top. The board and Josep Bartomeu. It’s not a hotly contested point when you offer up the opinion that Barcelona has been grossly mismanaged in recent seasons. The club just announced €488M in debt, and that half billion is after nearly that much will be paid to the team for earnings and loans, and posted €97M in losses due to the pandemic. Bartomeu refused to resign after thousands of signatures were gathered calling for it, but there is a new presidential vote in March of next season which could be the opportunity Barcelona needs to reset.
Moving down, Ronald Koeman is the new manager of the first team and he’s made an immediate impact. Just not the right impact. His actions made the best player in the world push to leave the club nearly immediately and a few others were able to make their own exits a possibility. Let me make one overwhelming thought of mine abundantly clear. Barcelona has mismanaged their manager situation for years and the 8-2 thrashing was not the fault of Quique Setien. Ronald Koeman is in his own right to come in and make a scene because he’s a club legend, but acting in a way that makes some of the best players in the world want to leave doesn’t seem very advisable. He’s done fine to this point but we’ll see how long that lasts.
Barcelona didn’t exactly move away from their usual spending on players despite their debt, but they did dial it back a bit. The infamous Arthur swap earned them Miralem Pjanić and another move that upset the squad, but the Triñcao and Dest moves seem like ones that could help improve the team and make them younger. However, the firesale this summer didn’t net them anything close to what it should have. Suárez left on a free, as did Vidal and Rafinha, and Rakitić, Cucurella, and Todibo netted just €13.5M combined. Plainly, that’s terrible for the team. I can’t blame a single player for being upset.
Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho are both high profile transfers who haven’t worked for the Blaugrana and it was clear the club were attempting to sell them, but no deals could be made. It’s not likely that Dembélé is used with regularity this season but Coutinho has been very good so far this season. While it’s likely that Countinho grows on Koeman as he continues to produce in the 10 role, Dembélé’s time with Barcelona could end this January.
Finally, we have to speculate how Barcelona will shake out this season. I think the first three matches of the season will be indicative of the team’s season. They beat Villarreal and Celta handily, but drew to Sevilla. Barcelona will still beat lower teams easily but are going to have a much more difficult time with better teams like Sevilla and the Madrids. The emergence of Coutinho as a prolific playmaker will make life a lot easier and lessen the load on Messi which will help fend off Atlético and Sevilla for the 2nd place spot. I see the Catalan side finishing either second or third, especially with Atléti’s current form.
Bayern’s business this transfer window will almost certainly be overlooked thanks to their loss of Thiago, but I don’t think they could have done much better. Moving on from Alcantara was the correct move because there’s a logjam in the midfield with Kimmich, Goretzka, Tolisso, Martínez, and now Marc Roca. Plus, David Alaba is out of a contract at the end of this season and resigning the Austrian needs to be a top priority for the club. Bayern were also able to secure depth in all the right places. Bouna Sarr provides cover for an injury prone Benjamin Pavard while Tanguy Nianzou will be a safety net for the center backs. A deadline day transfer to reunite with Douglas Costa will give Gnabry a break on the right wing while the Choupo-Moting purchase will let Lewandowski take a break for a change.
The 4-1 battering at the hands of Hoffenheim is something that often causes commotion at Bayern and raises red flags about the coach, but Hansi Flick seems to be completely secure for the time being. Most top teams have a couple of occasions where they’re blasted by a team much worse than them, so this isn’t cause for concern. The flaws on this team aren’t exploitable and they’ve already bounced back by beating Hertha.
Bayern have dominated the German scene for nine years and after winning the Bundesliga and Champions League last season it doesn’t seem like they’re going to lose the grasp anytime soon. Their stars are timeless wonders and the youth players keep getting better and better. The Bavarians are probably the most talented team in the world and their future is brighter than any other side on the planet. They have seemingly unlimited funds and any German player would love to join their ranks. As much as I love a competitive league, Bayern seem prepared to reign supreme for another decade.
7th in Serie A sit the surprising Benevento side who were champions of Serie B last season. While they were certainly the most equipped of the promoted sides to compete this season, the Stregoni were not expected to be anything of a contender this season. And really, they aren’t Their success to this point, two wins and a loss, is not unearned; the team showed the ability to focus on both ends of the pitch with a 3-2 win over Sampdoria and a 1-0 win over Bologna. However they’re likely candidates to drop off. A 5-2 drubbing at the hands of Inter showed a side we’ll see more often. The club have done enough to convince me they’re capable of staying in the top flight but they’re far from finishing above Juve and Roma.
Benfica’s run of championships from 2014-2017 has been reduced to a bar fight with Porto for the title, but are the Lisbon side clear favorites after a summer of big spending? They were very worldly in their purchasing, buying players from England, Brazil, Germany, and Spain, but the numbers they put up and the quality it represented was immense. Heavy improvement to the attack and serious depth at center back have me answer my earlier question with a resounding yes.
The attacking players, Éverton, Darwin Núñez, and Gian-Luca Waldschmidt have combined for three goals and five assists so far and Jan Vertonghen and Nicolás Otamendi have provided valuable minutes in the defense which just lost Rúben Dias. After taking three wins from three in dominant fashion I have to declare them as clear title favorites.
If it seems odd that Boavista makes this list, then good, it should, but they’ve piqued my interest with a few signings. The Porto side have made a resounding effort to bring in players and they’ve done just that. The team bought or loaned 17 different players this window and 14 of them were 25 years of younger. While a youth movement isn’t a bad idea, especially one that includes Angel Gomes, Reggie Cannon, and other players who could bring eyes and dollars, it doesn’t always magically fall into place.
Gomes has been fabulous to this point but the team are 14th in the league and sit with two points in three matches and a massacre from their derby with FC Porto. If the team are sent down it could be disastrous. Staying up will obviously be better for development, so hopefully the youngsters can sort things out on the pitch.
The newly promoted Spanish team which I struggled to find information on earlier this year has shocked Huesca and Bilbao with wins. The Bilbao win came with a nine man squad for most of the game. Cádiz find themselves ninth in the league above teams like Atléti and Valladolid five matches into their season, but the team won’t enjoy the top half of the table for too long. The fun part of the early season is that these teams can cause a frenzy with a couple of wins, but the lack of attacking power from the Andalusian side will limit their long term success. The defense looks decent enough for the team to survive relegation with some luck, but let’s enjoy the shakeup before it’s gone.
A deadline day move for Diego Laxalt will help solidify the quality on the back line of Celtic, a line that was already reinforced by Shane Duffy who’s showing signs of being a star. Laxalt is a world class footballer with experience on the highest levels, so filling a position of need on a loan will be a win-win for both parties.
The defense growing in power makes Celtic an especially frightening side as the Glasgow team have the best attack in the Premiership. With Odsonne Edouard looking like the next big French prospect and Swiss forward Albian Ajeti punching above his weight, Celtic are at 25 goals in nine matches. They sit just a point behind their rivals Rangers and with a game in hand and the next match being the Derby, Celtic could take a commanding lead in the league.
It’s common knowledge that Chelsea are making an effort to win the Premier League with their high profile spending in the summer, but early in the season things aren’t looking too bright. Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, and Edouard Mendy were all bought, and Thiago Silva and Malang Sarr were brought in for free. The hundreds of millions of Euros spent, though, have resulted in a seventh place start with a definitive loss to Liverpool and a draw with a miserable West Brom side.
One can point to a number of issues in the team. Kepa has been dreadful and it’s possible that he’ll never don the kit competitively again. The central defending has seen better days and the pricey attack has failed to appear in some of the biggest moments of the season. All valid and understandable reasons. However, Chelsea’s issue that has been coming to light more often lately is on the sideline.
Frank Lampard led the team to another Champions League berth last season, but no silverware and a mauling in the Champions League shows an early issue with finding results. He’s overloaded with expectations and decisions to make, but he knew what the risks associated with running one of the highest profile teams in the world. He’s struggled to find the right combination and formation in the attack and his defending choices are thin, none are performing well. But those are issues that a manager at Chelsea will face, and the excuse of having too much talent to perform is a poor excuse. Don’t be surprised if sacking rumors begin to float around if the poor form continues.
Let’s move to a lighter and more exciting topic in the play of the men on the pitch. The attack is a mess that needs to be sorted, but the talent is undeniable. Both Werner and Havertz have yet to score in the Premier League (many opposing fans relished Havertz finding his level against Barnsley). While Havertz is struggling with the adjustments, Werner is making an impact. He’s drawn penalties and regularly makes an impact on the left wing. The best footballers on the team have been both wing backs, James and Chilwell. James is producing goal contributions at a good rate and looks ready to take over the position while a small sample size of Chilwell saw a seamless transition from Leicester.
The other German on the team, Antonio Rüdiger, seems ready to find a new challenge and while the club were searching for a partner, the center half will stay for another half season at least. The player fell out of Lampard’s favor last season and hasn’t debuted this season, Zouma, Thiago, and Christensen taking most of the minutes. I don’t see Zouma making an impact this season and hope he can make a move to find regular minutes.
Palace fans had a good reason to cheer at the start of the season with the London team taking six points from their first two matches including a win at Old Trafford. The Eagles were grounded quickly, though, with two losses to Everton and Chelsea following quickly. We’ve seen the highs and lows of the team already this season and it’s tough to discern what’s actually happening with the team. One positive is that Wilf Zaha is back in form with three goals including a stunner to seal the United match. The player was held to four goals and five assists last season and Roy Hodgson will be glad to have that Zaha back in form.
Another player who could be a difference maker this season is new winger Eberechi Eze. The QPR player hasn’t performed well to this point but if his adjustment to the top flight comes soon then the attack will be able to compete with most defenses. The player has incredible skill that simply needs to be unlocked. I also appreciate the moves for Nathan Ferguson and Michy Batshuayi to make the team deeper in roles of need.
So now we come to the big question, which side of this is real? It’s something of a cop out but Palace will give both types of performances on a regular basis this season. Wilf Zaha is skilled enough to beat teams on his own, displayed against United, but when he isn’t producing the team fall apart. The defending isn’t good enough to stop the murderous front lines of England’s best no matter how good Vicente Guaita plays. Hodgson is a great manager and his team is offensively capable, but with Leicester and Everton looking like world beaters this season I don’t like the chances of making Europe. Palace will settle in the middle of the pack, maybe slipping into 9th or 8th, and they’ll be pleased with the result.
Becoming a profitable feeder club is one of the better gigs in the world, especially in a league where another team consistently has hundreds of millions to spend and attract some of the top players on the planet. Most of these teams are fun to watch because you get to see the next generation in action. Dortmund checks those boxes, but something seemed to be awry this window. Namely, the lack of selling and influx of buying. Dortmund have sold over €100 million in players every season since 2015/16, but this summer only saw €5.5 million leave the squad. The team is adamant to get their price on Sancho and their other young stars so they’re more than happy to keep the talent until they’re met.
But when this team doesn’t sell it means they’re keeping some of the best and most desired talent in the world. Bayern aren’t exactly vulnerable this season but if there’s any time that Dortmund can make a move it’s this season. Julian Favre likely won’t have a full season with a squad this talented again and they’re really capable of pushing their rivals. We know what Sancho and Håland are capable of, but Gio Reyna and Jude Bellingham look like permanent fixtures in the team already. They’ll struggle at times of course, Reyna looks like he could be one of the best players on the team and Belligham’s progression is startling.
Reinier was the only player brought into the team relatively near the deadline and though he may not make the biggest impact in a loaded attacking group, he’s a big get for depth.The permanent move for Can and the addition of Thomas Meunier will also be very impactful. Can has the ability to control the midfield and provide stability for a very young team. Meunier can provide that same ability at right back and he’s an instant upgrade at the position; as a free it couldn’t have been a better deal.
The last thing I want to talk about are the plans for Håland and Sancho. Clearly both are in high demand and they’ll be ready to join some of the biggest clubs in the world sooner rather than later. However, in this pandemic world many teams are struggling to find funds. Sancho was famously ready to move to United this summer but the club couldn’t find the fund to make the deal happen despite a huge need on the left wing. Håland is still new at the club and will at least see out the season, but many pundits believe that a move to Real Madrid is in the future. Madrid also did nearly no buying this summer. Dortmund won’t complain about keeping these players, but as contracts begin to run down, so do prices. Neither player is spending their career in west Germany, so after another showcasing season, the club might actually be ready to sell.
One of the biggest surprises of the season has been the other Liverpool side, Everton. The team took summer as an opportunity to reshape their squad, especially the midfield, and they’ve looked like the most dominant team in the world to this point. The Toffees spent around 75 million euro on players this summer and added James on a free. So far every addition with minutes has looked like a steal. James is on three goals and two assists, helping Dominic Calvert-Lewin find his top form. Allan is dominant at defensive midfielder and his work as a pivot is incredible. Abdoulaye Doucouré is enabling James to play freely. Really, unbelievable work in the window from Ancelotti and his team.
There is an issue though, and that’s Jordan Pickford. England’s top stopper has struggled mightily this season and the issues are recurring. He’s making poor decisions and getting beat on shots that should be stopped. Two errors against Fleetwood and another to Brighton have all resulted in goals. Luckily none have occurred in close matches but the player just seems lost at points. He’s clearly a talented player but Everton were smart to loan Robin Olsen in case things don’t resolve themselves soon.
So are Everton good enough to win the league? Well, yes. They’re in possession of the most potent striker in football right now, the midfield is dominating football, and were it not for poor production in goal, the defending would be close to top in the league as well. Adding Ben Godfrey and hopefully better form from Pickford will make this team really, really difficult to overcome.
The Netherlands’ best team to date has been Feyenoord and while things are early, their dominance is notable. The team as a whole hasn’t produced the way a championship caliber team might, but Steven Berghuis has decided to put the team on his back and carry them with six goals in four matches. While his unreal form is unsustainable, it may be enough to motivate the team to play at a higher level, holding them over during the transition. Dick Advocaat took over the team last season and while he doesn’t have the talent to compete with teams like Ajax and PSV on paper, a sweet start could help gain and keep momentum while the others compete abroad as well.
Fiorentina aren’t exactly a sterling pillar of dominance in Italy’s top flight. They’ve won two titles in their history, 1956 and 1969, but they’ve struggled to break into the top of the competition having last earned a top three spot in 1999. This season doesn’t seem to be much different, but could it have been? Fiorentina did a lot of business in the window and a good portion of it was selling. Italian football was hit hard by the coronavirus so the sales are understandable, but the team essentially moved on from players who could have helped the team rise in the country’s standings, selling to teams who are competitors.
The board resigning to the fact that they’re not a top team with those players is the only reasonable answer here. Federico Chiesa was loaned to Juventus for a fee after starting the season as one of Fiorentina’s best players. Jordan Veretout and Giovanni Simeone were both sold on; despite the loans made to replace them, their production won’t be replaced by those players.
My main concern for the team is the age of the attack. Franck Ribéry has been exceptional in one striker position, but he’s 37 years old. José Callejón was loaned to replace Chiesa, but that’s replacing a 22 year old rising star with a 33 year old who’s unfamiliar with the club. The strikers are young and I love the loan for Patrick Cutone, but what should we be realistically expecting from this team? They’re off to a slow start and it’s fair to assume Ribéry isn’t going to score every other game, right? I’m not necessarily worried about relegation, but I am worried about the future of the club. Chiesa isn’t a career Fiorentina player and many of the other top younger players will also move on. I hope the sales won’t cripple the team moving forward.
I just want to start this segment off by telling everyone that Frankfurt has a 30 man squad moving into the season and only seven are forwards and goalkeepers. That’s a bit wild. Moving on though, the team are currently 3rd in the table and they’re likely kicking themselves for not being top considering they opened the season with a draw to Arminia. Part of this hot start is attributable to André Silva who was bought from AC Milan this summer. In three matches he’s scored twice with an assist and has been one of three players to carry the offense to this point, the other two being Bas Dost and Daichi Kamada.
Frankfurt’s defense has looked good so far this season, not allowing over a goal in any competitive matches, but I don’t think it’s sustainable. The team employs a 3-4-1-2 and no matter how you play it there’s going to be a weak link at center back. Martin Hinteregger and Evan N’Dicka are quality footballers, but behind them is a massive lack of quality depth. N’Dicka is out right now so the replacements are David Abraham, the 34 year old captain, and Makoto Hasebe, a 36 year old defensive midfielder. Even with the sterling Kevin Trapp in goal there will be more goals to come.
N’Dicka is expected to make a return after the international break so things should at least be more stable in the central defense, but will he be enough for Frankfurt to make a real run at a Champions League spot this season? Let’s assume that Dortmund and Bayern have two positions locked down. Gladbach looks very unsteady to start the season but they’re a consistent threat. Leverkusen are stagnant without Havertz and Freiburg are off to a slow start. I see a three team race between a very impressive Leipzig, Frankfurt, and Hoffenheim this season. If this attack is real, which I think it is, and the defense can minimize damages I believe there’s a good chance that Frankfurt will be playing midweek international football.
Gladbach finished in a Champions League position last season and led the Bundesliga for a respectable portion of the early season. Their recent sales of players like Hazard, Cuisance, and Vestergaard prove their capabilities of growing players, but a quiet window could spell regression for the team.They started poorly in the league, thrashed by Dortmund and drawing with Union, their only win over Köln. Scoring has been an issue early on for the team and the special youth they employ haven’t shown up how they’re expected to. The attack will probably regress back to a more normal place, but another top four finish shouldn’t be expected.
Speaking of that youth, Marcus Thuram, Denis Zakaria, and Nico Elvedi seem like they can’t be very long for this club. They’re all growing at a rapid rate (though it isn’t too obvious from this season’s start) and their talents will be desired by some bigger clubs. Elvedi is most likely to stay considering the lack of Swiss defenders outside of the country, but Frenchman Thuram and Swiss Zakaria are going to be desired. I expect both to move within two seasons. The reproduction of solid youth players hasn’t been an issue in recent seasons, but it’s going to be tough to sustain.
We’re moving back to the Eredivisie with SC Heerenveen who are soaring to start the season. Sitting in third place behind Feyenoord and PSV (all at 10 points), are the club actually capable of pushing for a championship this season? Of course they can, but they’re not going to be able to get it done despite their start. I really love the work they’ve done in the transfer window by loaning young players with upside from larger clubs; it shows the team are serious about success. While they’re not winning the league this season, we should expect them to maybe ruin other’s chances.They were lucky to win and draw their last two matches, but chaos seems to follow the team around. A late season win over a contender might be just enough to sink a season and inspire hope for De Superfriezen.
While most teams make this list for an active window or first segment success, Hertha are making it mostly for a commitment from management to win. Granted, that commitment came in the form of an active window, but that’s neither here nor there. Well, it might be here. Anyways, after finishing a single place above rivals Union, Hertha have made improvements to every area of the field and are going to be a clearly better team for it. I don’t see this just as regular business, but rather as a signal that Hertha wants to be the best team in Berlin and bring Germany’s capital back into the international scene.
The team currently sit 13th in the Bundesliga after losses to Frankfurt and Bayern (both forgivable), but their additions will help alleviate that pain. Alex Schwolow in goal hasn’t been great to this point but will improve when the competition isn’t as strenuous. The center back depth and upgrade at right back that Omar Alderete and Deyovaisio Zeefuik, respectively, bring to the team are invaluable in fortifying the defense. Matteo Guendouzi is a huge get in the midfield and Jhon Córdoba has already made an impact with goals. While there’s no chance at silverware this season the advances the club are making to get objectively better is inspiring.
Inter are one of my favorite football teams to write about for a number of reasons, but I have some genuine questions for this team that are about potentially consequential parts of the team. My first question revolves around the future of the goalkeeping position. Looking at this roster you see eight players valued at €50 million or more. The highest rated goalkeeper on the team is Ionan Radu, valued at €8 million and coming off a loan spell with Parma. While Samir Handanović still has value, he’s 36 years old and allowed six goals in three matches including three to a weakened Fiorentina and two to Benevento. Radu could be the future at just 23 years old but he’s still the third option behind 34 year old Daniele Padelli. While Radu and promising youngster Filip Stanković seem like potential candidates, I would love to see Inter go all in with a big splurge on a world class stopper.
Moving on to the actual defending, there are so many quality players on the back line, center backs specifically, that it doesn’t make sense that the team can allow so many goals. Škriniar, de Vrij, and Bastone are all wonderful options at the back of the 3-4-1-2 but with Škriniar and Bastone out with Covid-19, the lack of depth is glaring. I also have a concern with the lack of depth on the left side. Aleksandar Kolarov and Ashley Young are the only players who have played as dedicated left backs or left midfielders. Right now Ivan Perišić is playing as a wing back opposite of Achraf Hakimi and it’s not really working. He doesn have an assist but I find the lack of depth in the defense to be particularly troubling.
I hadn’t initially planned on talking about the front of the formation but it’s nearly inevitable at this point. Roberto Gagliardini is quickly becoming one of the best defensive midfielders in the world and his dominance has driven Inter forward this season. Lukaku and Martínez seem to be the best striker pairing in the world and Hakimi and Barella are stellar options in the midfield. This attack is capable of scoring on and beating anyone in the world so the defending has to carry its own weight.
So after that roster breakdown, are Inter capable of toppling Juventus and should they be favored to do so? I’ve made my thoughts clear in terms of the first question; I believe that Inter are extremely capable of winning the league and I believe they’re talented enough to do just that. Should they be favored? That’s a bit of a tougher question. Juventus are up next so we can get deeper into them in a moment, but I would say that the two should be about dead even. Ronaldo is capable of dragging any team over the finish line which is always a threat but I believe Inter have the better roster overall.
Ahh, the Old Lady. Juventus are still Juventis, even after all of the wild occurrences this season so Serie A should still be fearful. Their start to the season has been just the slightest bit sloppy, drawing with Roma after an Adrian Rabiot red card resulted in a 2-2 draw. The 3-0 Sampdoria result was Juventus as its best, though. New coach Andrea Pirlo coaches a very complex form of football and despite not having a tremendous amount of time to shape his squad, it’s all been working out.
Weston McKinnie was believed by some to have been a signing for marketing, but he’s actually playing a huge role in the team so far and doing it well. The attacking prong of Ronaldo, Kulusevski, and Ramsey seem to be working beautifully in tandem. The 3-4-1-2 is flexing well and despite the card issues, Rabiot is excelling in his role. The wing backs are getting up and down the field successfully and Juventus aren’t struggling to find opportunities. This remade team is very capable.
I don’t think the window could have gone much better for the Turin side. McKennie is turning out to be a huge success and the Arthur deal, even though he hasn’t played much yet, is just a great business move. The other two signings that came more recently, Fede Chiesa and Álvaro Morata, are going to be very valuable in this system. Chiesa is a right winger who will provide cover for Cuadrado and Danilo on the right flank. Morata will be vital alongside Ronaldo when Kulusevski is off or needs a break. They’re very basic concepts that don’t need explaining but going and getting the right players for the system is easier to draft than actually execute so we must commend Juventus for committing to a stylistic plan.
Lazio seemed to be the team that were going to push Juventus for the title last season, but the untimely pandemic took every gust of wind from their sails and threw it back into their face. Lazio struggled to keep the 4th place spot at the end of the season. This season we’ve already seen so much that the team has to offer in every portion of the spectrum. Against Cagliari they displayed their resolve and depth in a 2-0 win. The team was exposed by Atalanta, gashed for a 4-1 loss. When tempers flared against Inter and Immobile was shown red there was little the Romans could muster to make a difference and made little headway for the final 20 minutes of the match. If this Lazio team is the same we saw at the end of last season then they will not make Champions League. If they’re able to summon the side that we saw in the first half of the season then I would fear them to be title contenders again.
The most impactful of this season’s additions to the squad were Angel Gomes and Vedat Muriqi. Gomes is going to instill some creativity to the attack which will help the likes of Immobile and Muriqi focus on scoring instead of producing their own chances as well. While this system has worked well, have we seen the ceiling from a Simone Inzaghi team? I don’t think that Lazio could be better than they were in the first half of last season, but I don’t think that’s a repeatable performance, especially for a full season. What we’ve seen so far, wild volatility, beating the teams they ought to and struggling to breathe against teams who are simply better is what we should expect. Lazio are not going to win the league and they’re going to struggle to make the top four this season. The absence of talent is just too crippling.
I don’t believe anyone doubted Leeds’ ability to stay up this season, but the performances that Marcelo Bielsa has conducted this season are whiplash-inducing. A 4-3 opener against Liverpool followed by another 4-3 with Fulham, a loss followed by a win, were wildly entertaining matches. Suddenly the team changed pace, likely due to the competition, beating Sheffield 1-0 and drawing 1-1 with City. The type of football that Leeds are playing has been affectionately coined as “kamikaze football” and it’s not inaccurate. Leeds often throw everything they have at the opposing goal and if they have to come flailing back on defense, sometimes literally, to try mitigating goals, then so be it.
Bielsa is obviously very particular in playing this way, but will it last in the top flight? I imagine that the two more recent performances have to be what we’ll see more of this season. Teams will eventually be able to figure out they can drop eight players, recover the ball and spring a counter if Leeds continue to do this so there’s going to be a stylistic regression. But I do love what they’ve done so far.
Big spending in the window was capped with a purchase of Raphina from Rennes and it could be the perfect finishing touch. Massive upgrades at center back while providing a swath of attacking options gives Bielsa the personnel choices to adjust to every opponent perfectly, making exact changes that give Leeds the edge. The wild attacking works most of the time but if Leeds can find a perfect middle ground of sustainable football then they’ll be collecting heads all season.
Very few clubs have been as consistent Leicester have over the past few seasons, not necessarily in their results in the table, but in their management style. Leicester are a feeder club. Riyad Mahrez, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell can attest to that. But feeder clubs aren’t always so volatile in the standings and very few are able to actually win a league like Leicester did. The Foxes hit their large sale quota this window with the Chilwell sale to Chelsea, but they bought just as much as they sold.
Wesley Fofana and Timothy Castagne were brought in from ASSE and Atalanta, respectively. While Fofana has yet to make an impact and will likely be introduced slowly, Castagne has hit the ground running. His goal and two assists are magnificent production from a right back in four matches and he’s fitting perfectly into Rodgers system. Fofana was brought in for depth and the future. Jonny Evans is getting old and Leicester will be in need of another center half to play with Söyüncü and Fofana seems to be that player. ASSE have produced very good center backs in the past and Arsenal’s William Saliba and Fofana seem to be next in line.
The other signing I was very high on was that of Cengiz Ünder. The right winger has yet to find a club where he fits but playing alongside Ayoze Pérez on the right wing should help him find stability, and playing alongside a countryman in Söyüncü can’t hurt either.
My main concern about Leicester is how bipolar their performances are. One match they’re beating City 5-2 and the next they’re shutout 3-0 by West Ham. With Ricardo Pereira out this team isn’t truly whole and Wilfred Ndidi has been forced to play center back because of the team’s lack of depth there. That’s excuse enough to blame the defense for now, but the attack has been very reliant on penalties as well and while they might not have changed the outcomes of most of their games, the attitude around the club might be much different were those not gifted. Ndidi brought a stability to the midfield with his tackling and on-ball presence that Mendy doesn’t quite have and James Maddison isn’t starting matches yet this season. Once those two get back to position I expect Leicester to really mount their offensive on the league.
Leipzig took the money from the Timo Werner sale and instantly reinvested it into improving the team again. Hee-Chan Hwang and Alexander Sørloth were the big purchases of the summer and will reinforce the striker position behind Youssef Poulsen. Two of the more impactful moves, though, are the loan and re-loan of Justin Kluivert and Angeliño. Both players are focal on the left side and in the 3-4-2-1 of Leipzig, will play a deep wing back position that often gets high up the field. Angeliño served in this role last season and though Kluivert is new to the system, he’ll be the choice for when the team needs to be pressing higher.
You won’t have to search very long to find Leipzig on the Bundesliga table as they’re currently top with seven points in three matches. Leipzig drew with Leverkusen in their second match but huge wins over Mainz and Schalke will have fans expecting something big this season.
Leipzig are capable of putting up a ton of points this season but will be behind Dortmund and Bayern in the minds of many, rightfully so. With the quality shown by those two teams early on I don’t see much of a chance that Leipzig can hold out on top for the entire season. The team is super young and with a rebuilt attack of also very young players, I don’t see a top two finish. I’m very confident that the team will make Champions League football again, but this team is built for the future and any current success is just a step in the right direction.
Every team in Ligue 1 have played six matches so far this season, and the team above Paris, the team above both Olympique sides, the team above Monaco and ASSE… is Lens. Six matches is a fair sample size and with a convincing win over an admittedly weak PSG side and a win over ASSE, Lens are for real. For real as in competing for the league? No, I expect Paris to win by at least two goals in the reverse fixture, but I won’t be surprised if Lens can make a splash and finish high in the table. Sensible transfers and risk-free loans have stacked this team in all the right places.
Lens brought in 12 new players this season and the most expensive get was Seko Fofana for €8.5 million euros. Both players who are powering the attack forward, Ignatius Ganago and Gaël Kakuta, were cheap gets and nearly every midfielder and defender brought in has made positive marks. The defending is a real asset and Lens are able to control the ball for a respectable amount of matches and actually seem in control as opposed to just passing the ball around without effect. 13 of 18 points is not a fluke here and I fully expect Lens to beat a few prestigious clubs for desired positions at the top of the table.
Kai Havertz dominated the transfer window as Chelsea bought the player from Leverkusen for the highest fee of 2020. The Kevin Volland sale was a bit overlooked considering Havertz’s number, but the striker was a staple for the team last season. Patrik Schick was bought as a replacement after a successful loan spell with Leipzig last season and while he has scored already this season, the team are not where they expected to be after three matches.
Leverkusen sit 14th in the Bundesliga after draws with Wolfsburg, Leipzig, and Stuttgart, certainly not an ideal start. Those matches have produced two goals from the team, but I’m not going to panic quite yet. Schick, Paulinho, and Moussa Diaby are all injured, severely weakening the left side of the attack. Leverkusen will be better at full strength but I don’t see them competing for a European spot this season. There’s too many talented teams and teams making rapid improvements for Leverkusen to earn a spot. Their creativity is hampered with the loss of Havertz and the general inexperience of the attack will be exploited by veteran sides all season.
We’ve talked about the third place team in Ligue 1 in Lens, but now we’re moving up the chart to the second place team, Lille, who are defaulted to that place from the second tiebreaker which I vehemently oppose, goals scored. Were the world to reward great defense instead of offense, Lille would be the top team in France after allowing only two goals in six matches this season. Lille have shut out Reims, Metz, Nantes, and Strasbourg this season and only OM and first place Rennes have scored.
The defense assembled is a back four on paper but it almost never plays that way. When in possession of the football Lille play with a back three including center backs José Fonte and Sven Botman as well as either Boubakary Samaré or Benjamin André, depending on scenario. Botman was recently bought from Ajax and has been an absolute anchor in the back while Fonte and André have been very strong in their own roles (the midfielder not in the back line is used as a pivot for the attack and first line of central defense). When out of possession, Lille use that same combination of three central defenders with the full backs dropping for support on the flanks. The play has been unbelievably great at the back so far and I hate that performances like this go unrecognized.
There is one transfer that hasn’t quite worked out so far for Les Dogues and that’s been Jonathan David in the attacking midfield. The Canadian was bought from Gent but his talents have not been realized so far this season. He’s playing at the head of a 4-4-2 as a false nine charged with creating, but the young player is struggling to adjust to the new level of football. He’s likely to get better with some more playing time and if his blossoming can harmonize with this humming defense then Lille will be able to stay at the top of the table for the whole season.
The other topic I have with Lille is their sales this window. The club are second in the league and much more convincing that top side Rennes even while selling two of their best players to top clubs for huge fees. Victor Osimehn and Gabriel were sold to Napoli and Arsenal respectively for a combined €96 million euros. The team is committed to developing young players and being able to be massively profitable in the market while staying competitive is a huge deal for a club like Lille.
The strength of Liverpool these past few seasons has not been the three-headed monster of Mané, Firmino, and Salah, but the back line that has been so impregnable. van Dijk is probably the best defender in the world and Joe Gomez is certainly in the upper echelon. As far as modern full backs go, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are two of the best we’ve ever seen. But this season the defense has been an issue. They were able to shut down a crippled Chelsea and Arsenal had limited chances in their game, but Leeds put four in on opening day while Villa shocked the world with a 7-2 victory.
The issue with the back line isn’t that the starters aren’t of a high quality, it’s that they’re held to such an excellent standard from both the fans and the club. Liverpool’s only quality option at backup is Joël Matip and with him injured van Dijk and Gomez are the only options. There’s no depth and certainly no competition and that can make a team complacent and stagnate their growth and production. I’m very surprised another decent replacement wasn’t bought considering Sepp van den Berg isn’t ready for PL minutes.
The other flaw in Liverpool’s team is at goalkeeper. Alisson is one of the three best keepers in the world on his day but he’s injury prone, a big issue for a keeper. Liverpool have an unfortunate history of backup goalkeeper errors and that hasn’t stopped with Adrian in goal this season. He made another error leading to a goal and was obviously abysmal against Villa. Caoimhín Kelleher is third in line but he’s still young and might not be an upgrade from the current replacement. When Alisson is healthy there’s never an issue, but that’s not a given thing anymore.
Let’s talk about what this team is good at now. Buying players. There were three purchases in this window and they were all well advised. Konstantinos Tsimitas was bought to back up Robertson, which was a need. The more impactful signings were Thiago coming from Bayern and Diogo Jota from Wolves. Thiago was the steal of the summer at just €22 million and Jota is the Mané/Firmino replacement. Both players have already shown they fit into the system and make this team even scarier than they already were. It looks like the Liverpool Derby could be decisive fixtures in this season’s title race.
We’ll get the bad things out of the way right now so let’s talk about the form of OL. Six matches into the season the club are 14th in the league with only a single win over Dijon. Four draws and a loss later they find themselves in a pretty poor position a month and a half into the season. The attack isn’t functioning and while the defense is playing well, it’s not winning games for the team. So what is the issue? So far this season it’s come down to just one player: Houssem Aouar.
The Arsenal target was pursued heavily for months this summer to no avail, but the team might be wishing they had sold him now. Not because they don’t need his services, but because his services have been below average for the player. He was sent off in the loss to Montpellier and has only a single goal contribution in six matches. It even seems like the team is ready to negotiate and expected to sell the player considering they bought Lucas Paqueta from AC. If Aouar’s form doesn’t improve then Arsenal and others could look elsewhere next window.
The other player I want to talk about is Memphis Depay. Depay seemed to be a target for Barcelona and other big clubs for a good reason; the player is a goal machine. But can he work elsewhere? He struggled mightily at Manchester United and was algorithmically matched to Lyon, one of the few clubs that were compatible for him. He’s thrived in eastern France but that doesn’t mean his goal tear would continue elsewhere. I would think long about moving on from Les Gones were I Depay.
City have fallen far from the form they found winning the league twice in a row, but they’re still one of the more potent sides in the world and a good transfer window addressed many of the issues in the side. The biggest issue the team had was at center back. Aymeric Laporte is a great center back but his injury risk combined with the unreliability of John Stones forced City to spend in the window. Nathan Aké and Rúben Dias were swiped for a combined €133.3 million. Aké has a pair of appearances and despite a goal, has not shown well. Dias will make his debut in the return and likely start next to Laporte while Aké is used as a backup. Stones is probable to leave the club soon and 19 year old Eric García seems like a candidate to be brought back to Spain. Good job reinforcing the biggest need.
The other issue for Manchester City has improbably been the offense, particularly the striker position. Sergio Agüero and Jesus are injured with unknown return dates which leaves 17 year old Liam Delap as the next true striker. Raheem Sterling has moved to CF but that leaves the left wing vacant with no other player truly capable of that role. There’s three right wingers including the newly added Ferran Torres, but depth is becoming a problem for what was once the world’s best attack.
Those depth issues have Manchester City stuck in 14th in the Premier League after three matches. The Citizens opened the season with a 3-1 over Wolves but have followed it up with a 5-2 drubbing from Leicester and a big draw with Leeds. The only time City have looked like themselves has been against Wolves with a full team. The jerry-rigging of the offense has the team out of sorts and it doesn’t seem like Pep has an answer for it. I doubt City have the capabilities to earn the title back if the striker injuries linger.
The other Manchester club which happens to be one of the biggest international sporting brands is also off to a poor start this season with a pair of losses and single, lonely win. The win was a 3-2 even over Brighton where United needed a 100th minute penalty to overcome the Gulls. The two losses were a 3-1 opener to Palace where Zaha took exception to the Red Devils and a 6-1 pounding from Spurs where Harry Maguire wouldn’t have been able to justify an €8.7 million fee, not to mention the €87 million figure he commanded. This poor start has a lot to do with the defense but the attack has been just aspoor, just not in a glaring manner.
Bruno Fernanades has two goals this season, but both are penalties that he didn’t earn and he’s only created a single goal. Rashford has a single goal, so the rest of the players I list will have zero contributions to goal so far this season. Pogba, Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Greenwood, James, Martial, Ighalo, Maguire. That’s really, really poor. Is it coincidence that United have hundreds of millions of pounds worth of players not performing this season? No. It’s the fault of one man.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær. The club legend is lost at the helm and doesn’t have a plan. Well, his plan was to buy expensive players and hope they were good, but even that isn’t turning out quite right. Jadon Sancho could help this team get better, but he isn’t here. The players that are here are the players he has to work with and so far it hasn’t been working. If you’re unable to beat Crystal Palace with over €800 million in players, I’m not sure you’re worthy of coaching at Old Trafford.
The new signings for the Red Devils are interesting. The main suspects are Edinson Cavani, Alex Telles, Donny van de Beek, and Ahmad Diallo. Diallo and Cavani are meant to aid the attack; Cavani has the wherewithal to provide scoring and compete with Anthony Martial while Diallo is the apparent plan without Jadon Sancho. Both will bring quality but neither will turn the season around. Donny van de Beek joined to provide depth and stability with Pogba and McTominay in the midfield. He’s a very good presence on the ball but has yet to break into the lineup. Finally there’s Alex Telles. The Portuguese is likely to make the biggest impact on the left flank and should be able to overtake Luke Shaw for the starting job. Neither player will solve the issues that United have but they could provide a temporary distraction.
OM, like their Lyonese counterparts, are struggling early in the season. Whether it’s the fault of the offense or the defense is up to debate. The team has just a single loss on the season, better than many of their nine counterparts above them in the table, but they’ve drawn three matches to date. Their inability, especially recently, to beat teams and produce goals in general has potentially lost them six points. Evidently, the board felt the issue was on offense due to their transfers late in the window.
Michaël Cuisance was loaned from Bayern and Luis Henrique was purchased out of Brazil and OM likely have an eye on turning both into long term projects. Cuisance will probably start somewhere in the forward banks of the 4-3-3, but Henrique will be introduced in places that are advantageous to his development. However, Cuisance is highly rated as a prospect and should be able to provide some much needed creativity and inject the offense with some life.
The other issue that OM have is not with anything football related, but rather with what one of their players shouted at Neymar. In the OM-PSG match tempers flared in the added time, particularly between Neymar and Álvaro González, a defender OM made permanent this summer. The two were shouting at each other and Neymar struck González in the back of the head, both earning red. However, after the match it was revealed that González had called Neymar a monkey. This isn’t something new to soccer and it’s gone overlooked for far too long. Two separate incidents have happened to the same team in the United States recently and apparently it will take someone like Neymar being abused for the problem to not be buried within hours.
The question is how does OM move on from this point? It was painfully evident that the offense was actually committed, so do they cut the player? Will a suspension suffice and we all forget about it? How do the black and brown players in OM feel about it and what is that like if González is allowed to stay in the locker room after so blatantly displaying his prejudices? I don’t have good answers, but I can’t imagine that the players in his own dressing room feel very good about their teammates’ feelings.
Racism, no matter how often we say it doesn’t, has always had a place in football, and not a small place either. Players have been racially abused for decades and nothing has come from it. Isn’t it time to move on from overlooking these disgusting acts? Clubs have started moving in the right direction by banning fans for life and engaging with tolerance groups. There is not a single person worth less than another and the fact that we’re only just coming to that conclusion as a species is terrifying. Football players are some of the most accessible and seen people on this planet. It’s time that we all do better.
Monaco shocked the world four seasons ago by topping PSG and winning the French title. They haven’t come very close since (they were second the season after winning but by over four games), even struggling to keep from being relegated. This season they’re sixth with three wins and a draw. The team is decent, but with the purchases they made in the window it seems like Monaco are ready to get back into continental competition. Kevin Volland is a very adept scorer and should help Ben Yedder get a rest. Axel Diaisi and Caio Henrique will give a ton of depth to the defense and the loaning of Florentino gives the team a low-risk, high-reward player who can contribute in a big way if he has a good season.
So are Monaco gunning for another title? This season is probably not a realistic season to win a trophy but these purchases aren’t wreckless additions. Everyone brought in is good but has the potential to be a dominant footballer in the future. I believe the board of the team wants to get back into the top of France and compete consistently. These are the first steps in getting to that point. Football is fun when Monaco is good so let’s all hope they can start competing with Paris again!
Gli Azzurri have just two matches under their belt this season but things have started very well in those matches. Handy wins over Parma and Genoa mean the team are one of three teams left without dropping a point and will have some instilled confidence when returning from the international break. The team weren’t too active in bringing players into the club this window, but a slew of sales funded the team’s new gem: Victor Osimhen.
The young Nigerian striker has taken over the peak of the team’s 4-2-3-1 and in two appearances he’s been impressive. It’s too early to make conclusions about anything or anyone but the versatility of this roster, able to change formations in the middle of a game and adjust players from role to role. I also have questions about another African player, Kalidou Koulibaly, and his future. The defender is one of the best in the world and he’s highly desired, but injuries and poor form kept the player from being sold. The club won’t feel pressure to sell the player because his contract expires in 2023, but they’ll be open if the right number comes up in discussions.
I don’t believe Napoli are contenders this season. I really love the squad and believe they’re capable of doing serious damage in the league but they’re injury prone and very inconsistent. Right now Zielinski and Insigne are hampered, but it’s always someone. If the team can somehow put together a season of health and moderate consistency they’ll be back in the Champions League. They’re too talented not to be.
Newcastle made a serious effort to bring in players to elevate their squad this season and on paper the transfers look great. Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser were snatched up from Bournemouth, Jeff Hendrick came over from Burnley, and Jamal Lewis was plucked from Norwich. Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson, instantly, are looking great. Wilson is on four goals an assist and Hendrick has one of each while controlling the right wing, a great value for a free player. Jamal Lewis is struggling to produce but the 22 year old will have plenty of time to acclimate. He needs to stop earning yellows, though, and putting the team at risk. As for Fraser, he’s been a substitute so far but provides solid backup to Allan Saint-Maximin on the left. A successful start to the season suggests that business has been good for Steve Bruce’s side.
I don’t like to start with issues when talking about genuinely good clubs but I must with Paris. PSG have a goalkeeping problem in my eyes. Keylor Navas is the main man right now and Sergio Rico was bought in the window but man, why don’t the team have a star in net? I understand that there are only so many great keepers in the world but Paris have the funds to get one of them? They’re a team who score a lot of goals so maybe there’s less incentive to spend big in the back but it’s always nice to have sure gloves in the back. Navas and Rico are good options and maybe Rico can become world class in the next few seasons but were I PSG, I might identify that as a weakness.
The transfers that PSG made in this window were not only sensible, but they were fiscally responsible for a large club. The deal to make Mauro Icardi permanent was worth €50 million, but the solidification of the front line and center forward position in general is a huge deal for Paris. A front line of Neymar, Mbappé, and Icardi is ridiculous and Moise Kean was loaned from Everton to provide high-potential backup after losing Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. Great moves for the attack.
Staying in the attack but moving to the midfield we have a free Rafinha from Barcelona. While he’s far from a starter getting experienced depth from a big club is an extremely valuable thing, especially for free. Moving to the defensive side of the ball we come to Danilo Pereira who is on loan in the defensive midfield. There’s a few players ahead of him as well but again, experience and solid form will help the club’s depth in a position that keeps growing in importance. Alessandro Florenzi was loaned from Roma and will compete with Colin Dagba for minutes, both mentoring and nurturing the player along the way.
Please see the Olympique Marseille section for my thoughts on the Neymar racial incident.
Portugal sides are always great at producing talent who move to big clubs. There’s a huge line of players who grew up at Portuguese clubs and became world class footballers, especially from clubs like Benfica, Sporting, and Porto. This season Porto made a bunch of sales, as is usual for the team, but I’m wondering if they can still compete? Five players who were fairly important to the club last season were sold on and with them left a good bit of production. The team did bring in many players on loan to bring back production but loans are always chancey. Making a profit is important for these clubs but early looks show that the team are well behind their rivals Benfica.
PSV were active in the transfer window this summer in efforts that apparently state the club is ready to retake the crown of the Eredivisie. Philipp Max and Ibrahim Sangaré were the big purchases of the summer and a slew of loans from big clubs came in to reinforce the already talented ranks of the Eindhoven club. Max has already made an impact on the right flank and made himself one of the best passers on the team, adding a goal, assist, and MOTM award. Sangaré is yet to make his debut for the club but has the means to make a big impact in the defensive midfield.
I’ve also been very impressed by the balance of the PSV attack. Donyell Malen and Noni Madueke are unstoppable to this point this season at the top of the 4-4-2, combining for four goals and three assists. The youngsters will be the next big young stars to come out of this club. The attacking midfielders and wingers of this team are creative and are meant to play a specific role molded for their talents. The quality of depth is high for a relatively smaller club and that versatility, talent, depth, and flexibility in the attack will help them make a very convincing run to win the league this season.
10 matches into their Premiership season Rangers are soaring high, playing great football on both sides of the pitch. Alfredo Morelos and the attack of the team got deep reinforcements as the team brought in three players to make the depth undeniable and give formational flexibility. The team are low on right forward players but it’s possible that they cut that issue out altogether and make a formation change to hide that “weakness”, but with 25 goals scored and only three allowed, it isn’t worth changing anything. Celtic have won the league title nine seasons in a row and Rangers aren’t keen on their rivals catching up to their title record. A team from Glasgow will be winning the Scottish title this season and their derbies, even without fans, will be football that cannot be missed.
Since the next team on this list were purchased and rebranded, Rapid have struggled to gain footing, even while being the most successful and storied club in Austrian football history. Rapid are off to a good start this season, winning three out of four matches and drawing the other one. They still find themselves sitting behind their dreaded rivals though. Aims to retake the league after not winning a title since 2008 seem to be on, but will they be fruitful? The best way for us to tell will of course be the matches between RB and Vienna, but based on the sheer power RB are putting out I would say no. Rapid are well on their way to building a winning project but overtaking such a heavily funded club will be no easy task.
Ahh, the dreaded Austrian champions. Since being taken over and rebranded by Red Bull Salzburg have been next to invincible. The system’s Austrian branch, connected with RB Leipzig, is coached by American Jesse Marsch and possesses overwhelming talent. Every season they sell players on to Leipzig or other clubs and always seem to have players behind them to keep reloading, but are they running short on talent? Dominik Szoboszlai is the next player to move for a big fee but there aren’t many monster players left. There’s plenty who could end up moving for 15+ million euros, and some are sure to pop for bigger numbers, but the team is selling so young that it’s getting ridiculously tough to find and develop good talent quickly.
Betis are off to a nice start and sit in 2nd position behind Real Madrid after five matches. However, the positioning is a bit deceiving as the team have just nine points from thos matches, wins over Deportivo, Valladolid, and Valencia, but many other clubs have only played four or even three matches to this point. The club were somewhat active in the transfer window, but didn’t spend a dime on permanent transfers. These actions, or maybe inactions, leave a few questions lingering in my mind to be answered.
The first question is whether this is all planned by Manuel Pellegrini or if the team just have a decent start to the season. Of course every manager goes into a match with a winning game plan, but it’s often in tatters not long after the opening whistle. Pellegrini has actually been very impressive this season. I had some questions about the defending, and while there were some issues against Madrid and big problems against Getafe, they’ve been exceptional otherwise. I actually felt the team outplayed Madrid and could have taken all the points from that game.
The other question I had was pertaining to the window. The only permanent players Betis brought in were Martín Montoya and Víctor Ruiz, both defenders, as well as Claudio Bravo. The rest of the players were younger players from Barcelona with no path to playing time. I initially felt the team was being a bit cheap but a bit more investigation shows they’re just being smart. This is a squad that is flush with talent in the midfield and defense so while I might have liked to see another attacker join the ranks, the team is in a good position. Bringing in big signings can complicate things so if you’re sure you feel the squad is where it needs to be, why mess that up? I think Betis can challenge for a European spot this season.
Had I told you a year ago that in the next summer window, Real Madrid would not have brought a single player in, bought, loaned, or otherwise, would you Believe me? I likely wouldn’t have believed it myself, but here we are. The pandemic has many Spanish clubs shedding expenses and the biggest of all are generally players. 15 players were moved from the books this season, not all permanently, but the shedding of salaries leaves the Real Madrid team lean. So far this season the team are at 10 points out of 12, but could they be better?
The title holders are on six goals in four matches which is fine if you’re winning, but they’re lacking creativity in the midfield. Isco and Ødegaard have struggled in the creator’s role so far this season and despite absolute quality passing, there aren’t many goals being created. Thoughts immediately go to James who was sold to Everton for free and has three goals and two assists already this season. The goal creation is likely to go up at some point as the team grows healthier, especially from the fullbacks and wings, but it’s a real concern at this point in time.
What I have liked from Madrid this season is how they’re committed to incorporating the youth into the season. It would have been easy to just ride things out with the players who have always been in, but a commitment to youth is refreshing. Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo are getting as much time as possible, honing their craft on the wings and starting to produce to an impactful degree. Ødegaard getting real minutes as a 10 and Valverde getting consistent minutes in that talented midfield are going to accelerate their growth. While I would like to see Militāo play a bit more at center back, Álvaro Odriozola has been getting a lot of minutes at right back with Carvajal injured. Even Luka Jović has begun to play a bit more. I love that Madrid are beginning to get younger and it makes the team a lot more versatile and will give depth as those players keep developing.
Sociedad are in a boat that is a lot like the one that Betis are in. The club are high up in the table after their 5th match, more than many teams in the league, and spent very little in the window. Real have looked very good so far this season, especially on defense. They held Real Madrid to a goalless draw and despite selling Diego Llorente, have only let two goals through on the season. While the defense has been impressive, though, I really enjoy the work that the midfield has done so far.
The team plays four wide in the midfield and the players they employ there have been nothing short of exceptional so far, controlling the game and creating opportunities for each other. Mikel Merino, one of the central players, has been the best on the team to date with a goal and two assists. Mikel Oyarzabal has also been very effective with a goal and assist on the left wing. The right side of the midfield has been less effective, but no less interesting.
David Silva and Portu compose the right side and while Silva hasn’t contributed to goal, he’s been an incredible facilitator of play and keeps Sociedad in line. Portu has a pair of goals and while his play could be a bit better, he’s working very well for the side. I don’t expect Sociedad to finish in a European place but if their play is sustainable then they’ll be in the mix.
Usually at this point in the season PSG are already beginning to run away with the league, but a sputtering start has one of the best attacks in France at the top of the table. Rennes have given a whole bunch of young players opportunities and they couldn’t have done better at this point in the season. Rennes have 14 goals through six matches and while their seven goals allowed is a bit troubling, they already have an answer to that issue.
Juventus were looking to offload Daniele Rugiani for the season and with the player’s refusal to go to England becoming public, Rennes swooped in for the loan an instant upgrade at center back. The Italian should walk into the team and be able to make an instant impact with a ton of minutes. While the defending will get better, the attack is already great. Edouard Camavinga and Serhou Guirassy have led the charge at goal with players all over the pitch contributing to scoring. The aggression and talent this team has combined with young players with room to improve would have me legitimately nervous were I in PSG or another French contender.
So Rennes are in Group E in the Champions League this season and despite not being a top seed, they’re in a really nice position to make an impact. The group fills out with Chelsea, Sevilla, and Krasnodar. Krasnodar has no chance at making it through but both Chelsea and Sevilla have been a bit unstable this season. Assuming Rennes can catch either on an off day and pick up points I wouldn’t be surprised to see this French team move on. Their attack is potent and it’s real. They have a lot of young talent who understand each other so taking down a big club like their group opponents is something they’re very capable of.
The need to restock the coffers for big moves in the future at some of the larger clubs, especially in England, paid off well for Roma who made a bunch of purchases in the window. Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were both made permanent while Pedro was brought on for free from Chelsea. Jordan Veretout and Gianluca Mancini were bought from fellow clubs in Italy and three more younger stars were loaned from around Italy and Spain. Roma made definitive upgrades at a lot of positions but I’m still not convinced it’s enough to break back into Europe.
A 0-0 draw was unfortunately turned into a 3-0 loss against Verona after an administrative error led to an ineligible player taking the field in the game, but that draw wouldn’t do too much for the morale of the clubs. A 2-2 draw to a shorthanded Juventus which came back to draw followed the opener and the 1-0 win over Udinese brought the first full three points, but it wasn’t very convincing. The attack, despite purchases, has problems.Jordan Veretout has been special so far with a pair of goals but the attacking trio at the top of the formation have accomplished little this season. The defending will probably struggle with big clubs but they have to be really solid to keep up with the attack. Roma has the ability to pour shots on goal and we’ve seen them do it before, they just need to find some sort of consistency instead of relying on individual skill.
After a summer of bigger sales from the Emilia-Romagna club, moving on from over €50 million in players this summer, Sassuolo decided not to replace those same players with the same quality but rather with cheaper players who might better fit the system. So far only two of those players, Vlad Chiriches and Gregorie Defrel, have made impacts in the starting lineup. Defrel is playing as something of a creative second striker while Chiriches has stepped right into a starting role. Kaan Ayhan has been a regular substitute and Maxime López will start getting regular time after the break. So a note to anyone building a club, you don’t need to make big splashes to improve the team!
The other big question is of course about their standing in the league. Sassuolo are currently third with seven points, behind Atalanta and AC. No further investigation might trick one into thinking they’re very good this season, but their quality of opponent might make you think twice. Sassuolo drew with Cagliari and beat Spezia and Crotone, both to a tune of 4-1.Things will probably stay pretty nice aesthetically for Sassuolo in the table for a couple more months, but no way can this team make Europe this season. Italy has a ton of really good teams, most better than Sassuolo, and Sass won’t be able to keep up. They’re a very consistent team who will win when they’re supposed to and force bigger clubs to play the full 90 minutes, but they’re not a top team in Serie A.
This is almost a bit of a sad topic to discuss. Schalke are bottom of the Bundesliga table with three losses from three and a -14 goal differential. Just a few seasons ago Schalke was challenging for a Bundesliga title and now the club almost looks ready to be sent down. Most of their good players have been sent on loan and very few replacements were brought in for any sort of fee. The lack of spending and number of youth players called up to the first team makes me think that management has accepted defeat. And it may be time. Schalke have struggled for a while now (the title chase was a bit of an anomaly) and the Bundesliga’s talent gap is one of the biggest in any league. Going down, rebuilding and restructuring, and coming back with a new approach seems like the plan for the Gelsenkirchen club.
Sevilla are three matches into their La Liga season and so far things are looking good. They’ve taken seven points from those matches and the defending looks really impressive at the moment. The central defending installed with Jules Koundé and Diego Carlos has been untouchable, I just wonder if the replacements, Karim Rekik and Joris Gagnon, will be of high enough quality in the event of an injury.
At the other end of the pitch I have my concerns as well, though they’re a bit more justified than the defense’s. The attack has a lot of new shiny pieces with Suso, Óscar Rodríguez, Oussama Idrissi, and Ivan Rakitić, but they’re only on five goals in those three matches. To be fair, Sevilla beat Cádiz easily, took three points from Levante in a defensive masterpiece, and drew with Barcelona. That’s a really good start to the season in my eyes, even if the clubs aren’t scoring very well yet. The goals will come once these players are more accustomed with each other.
So will Julen Lopetegui need to have a perfect season as the coach for Sevilla to be a top team this season? The answer is no, because there are teams who are not nearly as good as initial checks found them to be. Outside of the big three I don’t feel like any team in Spain has the talent to beat out Sevilla, and I’ve made it clear that I believe Sevilla can take one of the top sides out too. So no, Lopetegui will have some breathing room which is exactly what a manager needs. He has so much talent at his fingertips and he simply needs to guide them in the right direction.
After dropping their first two matches of the season Southampton has rebounded for a pair of wins over Burnley and West Brom, matches that provided stability over anything else. So far this season the Cherries have displayed an impressive defense outside of the Spurs match and it could be a calling card down the road, not something expected from a team with Danny Ings. One thing I’ve been disappointed with so far has been the lack of playing time for two of the bigger summer purchases, Mohammed Salisu and Ibrahima Diallo. Now, I just praised the defense and both are defensive players, so it makes some sense not to change things right now, but I would love to see both players at least see the pitch to begin adjusting to the Premier League. Southampton can afford it.
So what is this Southampton team going to look like going down the stretch? They’re currently sitting in 11th and I can’t imagine them rising too much higher than that this season. They simply don’t have the skill to consistently beat teams like Wolves and Everton, not to mention the top teams in the country. I don’t think they’re a team who can make a single digit place and have them maxed out at 10th. Also, Theo Walcott is joining his boyhood club after long spells away from the club and we should all be happy to see him return, both parties with open arms.
I won’t get too carried away by saying Sporting are off to a hot start just because of a pair of wins over Paços and Portimonense, but they’ve looked good to date. My question about the team is whether they are Benfica’s biggest threat this season? It’s really an asinine question for me to ask two matches into the season, but I don’t think they are. Despite scoring four goals to none allowed, Santa Clara has done something similar and sit above them in the table. Also, Porto have a much better offense and despite a lot of sales I still see them ahead of Sporting. Can the Lisbon side surprise and challenge for the title? Sure, but I won’t believe it until I see it.
An opening loss to Everton had many Spurs (and rival) fans on high alert, but their recovery since has calmed those flare ups immeasurably. Since that match the team have drawn one and won twice, both absolute smashings of Southampton and Manchester United. Spurs have the depth where you might think they’re scoring from all over the pitch, but you’d be wrong. So far in the season Heung-Min Son has six goals and three assists while Harry Kane has, you guessed it, three goals and six assists. The pairing has always been good but their connection recently has been telepathic. If they stay anywhere close to this level everyone who plays them will have serious issues.
Moving on to what the future could look like, Spurs bought or loaned some seriously big names in the window and look prepared to fight for a trophy. Sergio Reguilón should be a starter at left back while club hero Gareth Bale is back to grace the right wing once again. Carlos Vinícius has also been brought in to provide depth at striker, an issue Spurs won’t want to relive after last season. But there’s one player that seems like he won’t be a part of the future who is still at the club.
Dele Alli has played sparingly this season despite Mourinho’s apparent taking to him last season. The playmaker seems like he could be a perfect fit to control matches for the Spurs, but Mourinho has since flip-flopped on his earlier decision. Alli is often not even being selected for competitions with smaller clubs like in the Europa League which is a real red flag, one akin to Özil’s at Arsenal. Mourinho believes that Alli is not giving enough effort on the pitch and gives the minutes to a harder worker. Alli was shopped to big clubs around Europe but there were no takers. The seems headed to a disgraceful end at some point.
A loss to Ajax is the only blemish on the schedule of Vitesse so far this season, but I’m not impressed, even with the other three wins. The victories are over teams who have no business coming close to the Arnhem team, so until they beat a bigger side I will not be convinced of their quality. One reason for that was the army of players brought in on loan. The strategy seems to be for Vitesse to bring in a bunch of young players who could be stars in the future and hope they pop while at the club. Sure, that can work if you get lucky enough for some of these players to actually be good and their talent to be recognized at the club, but how likely is that? It’s a risky play and I have no confidence in Vitesse’s ability to rise above the Europa play-off spots in the Eredivisie this season.
After an impressive season in their 2019/20 campaign, Wolves looked likely to actually move up in the table and rejoin the European processions at the end of this season, but that seems to be no certainty after four matches. The team might seem hot and cold, winning a match, losing two, winning again, but that’s not the case. The team has not been in form and are flatly bad right now. Both wins are unconvincing events over Sheffield and Fulham while the losses were terrible looks against Manchester City and, unexplainably, West Ham. The quality of defending is very poor in the new 3-4-3 that Nuno’s side is fielding and the selling of Diogo Jota has left something, I’m still not sure what, missing.
However, there are new additions that England’s Portuguese national team has made which ought to help bring things back towards an acceptable product. Nelson Semedo was pried off Barcelona and should help provide support on the right and free up Adama to just go wild. Also, Fábio Silva was bought from Porto as an investment for the future. Silva could see some playing time if the formation is shaken up a bit but don’t expect to see too much out of the player unless you only watch the final ten minutes of matches. Wolves are still a good team and I think they’re still capable of a top ten position but they absolutely have to tighten up if it’s to become a possibility.