November 24, 2020

Lynq Sports

bet on it

by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)

November 19th, 2020

After my initial roundup earlier this year I want to swing back around and touch on some of the same topics and teams that we talked about before. The first version was a bit more transfer window oriented while this one will be more related to how teams are playing, how performances have been since the last international break, how teams are playing in their international leagues, plus some insight into national sides and their performances. It should be a bit more succinct than last time, but I’ll make no promises.

AC | Ajax | Argentina | Arminia | Arsenal | Villa | Atalanta | Bilbao | Atlético | Barcelona | Bayern | Belgium | Benfica | Braga | Brazil | Burnley | Cádiz | Celta | Celtic | Chelsea | Colombia | Croatia | Palace | CSKA | Dortmund | Dyn. Kyiv | Dyn. Moscow | England | Everton | Feyenoord | Fiorentina | France | Germany | Granada | Hertha | Hungary | Iceland | Inter | Italy | Juventus | Krasnodar | Lazio | Leeds | Leicester | Leipzig | Leverkusen | Lille | Liverpool | Lokomotiv | Lyon | City | United | Marseille | Mexico | Monaco | Gladbach | Napoli | Holland | Porto | Portugal | PSG | PSV | Rangers | Wien | Betis | Madrid | Sociedad | Rennes | Roma | ASSE | Salzburg | Sassuolo | Schalke | Scotland | Shakhtar | Sheffield | S’hampton | Spain | Spartak | Sporting | Spurs | Twente | Union | Uruguay | USA | Villarreal | Vitesse | VVV | Wales | Wolfsburg | Wolves | Zenit

AC Milan

Last time out we discussed Milan’s hot start with Zlatan at the top and a ton of young guys behind him as well as an unbeaten run. That run ended with a 3-3 draw to Roma that admittedly should have been a win, but really halted with a 3-0 loss to Lille in the Europa League. There is a bit of returning to the norm going on here but certainly not enough to eliminate them from any title talks. This team still has yet to lose in Serie A and don’t look like they’re going to be underdogs to any team this season.

Though Ronaldo is back in force, Andrea Belotti is finding his form, and slew of assassins lurk behind them, Zlatan is still in the lead for the Golden Boot by two goals with eight, despite playing just five matches this season. While calling any race right now is obviously premature, he’s more than capable of keeping this up. The players around him aren’t necessarily goal scorers, they creators, and good ones at that. Assuming he stays healthy it shouldn’t surprise anyone if these midfielders and wing backs keep serving him assists on a platter.

At the halfway point of the Europa League Milan are second in their group with six points, the loss to Lille putting the French side ahead. Though I believe Milan will win the group regardless I don’t think coming in second would hinder their abilities to win the competition anyways. It would make their path a bit more difficult but I favor them from any team currently in the competition.

Ajax

Losing your top playmaker is always a difficult thing to deal with and that’s what Ajax is working through right now with youngster Mohamed Kudus sidelined for at least three more months with a meniscus tear. While issues in the league have largely subsided, the Champions League has not been so kind. Through three matches the club is on four points, leading Atalanta by a one goal margin. Their loss to Liverpool was a bit devastating because they deserved a victory and weren’t able to find it, but if they’re able to stay in the competition it’ll be a success.

I spoke about who might be the next players to move on last time around and while some names haven’t changed, there is one new name that could make the grade. Lassina Traoré scored five goals with three assists… in one game… but sometimes all that’s needed to make a move is a flash in the pan. He won’t be breaking any world records for fee but he will garner a ton of attention.

Finally, Davy Klaassen and Dušan Tadić have done great work to keep Ajax afloat while they restock their shelves with young talent. The attacking midfielders have posted a combined 10 goals in the Eredivisie so far and can be attributed for the club holding a share of the lead.

Argentina

The Argentine national team had a tame break, only playing a pair of matches with Peru and Paraguay. The draw with Paraguay was a bit of a shock but the return fixture with Peru was a 2-0 beating that felt much more like normal. No matter what anyone says, the rounds of tournaments in the next two seasons, Euro 2020, the Olympics, and WC 2022 will be the last hurrah for Lionel Messi. If there’s an opportunity to win a major international trophy for the legend it’s now with one of the stronger teams the country has ever fielded. The attack is overwhelming and the defense just needs to be good enough. The next 36 months of international football will cement the legacy of Lionel Messi, be it for better or worse.

Arminia Bielefeld

The Bundesliga is very topheavy and one of the teams going relatively overlooked is the newly promoted Arminia Bielefeld. They’re currently 15th in the league and hemorrhaging points as of late, so my question is whether points earned against them should really count? I mean, first we’re letting a team play for a city that doesn’t exist and now we’re letting them inflate the status of other clubs? It just seems a bit unfair.

Arsenal

Alright, here comes the pain and projection. Arsenal currently sit 11th in the Premier League and while they could be doing worse (looking at you, United), this is nothing to write home about. Arsenal was touted for its defensive reformation, allowing a league best seven goals in eight appearances, but then they lost to Aston Villa 3-0 and have a goal differential of -1. Where do we start?

Well first off I’ll say that the defense does look great for the most part and Gabriel is an absolute star in the making, but there’s no one around him to help. Luiz is hit or miss, Holding has been moderately reliable, but there isn’t another soul who can do a single thing on defense that comes close to what Gabriel is producing right now. Fans are in favor of giving the young William Saliba a chance, but with Mikel Arteta apparently cemented in his ways, it doesn’t look as likely as it ought to. Another defender ought to be in the cards for the window.

Moving forward, the midfield issues might actually be solved. Thomas Partey is the second best player this season behind Gabriel and his stability and presence have made the midfield a strong point. Between Partey’s command, Xhaka’s leadership and defending, and Elneny’s work rate there’s a really reliable rotation that can be played to best suit the matchup. Of course the issue is that there’s absolutely no creativity on this side thanks to a lack of Özil, but sure, maybe something will appear out of thin air.

The real issue with Arsenal this season is that they’re not scoring goals. Aubameyang has been placed out wide, Pépé isn’t getting any Premier League minutes despite being the best creator on the team, and Willian and Lacazette are favored despite being wildly out of form. Arteta is still within the first year of his tenure and it’s okay to hammer process over results, but there’s a lot of talent not being utilized and one has to wonder if the process might do more harm than good for those investments.

A quick note about the Europa League for Arsenal, they’re unbeaten in their three matches and will likely remain that way through the group stages. There have been ghastly hiccups to scare the supporters but ultimately Arsenal is leagues ahead of their competition and will move on without struggle.

Aston Villa

Remember when Everton and Villa were atop the league as unbeatens? Good times. The Villains are still top half of the table with five wins with two losses, but those losses came to Leeds and Southampton. What I take away from those matches is that although Villa can clearly compete with the best sides in England on a regular basis, they’re also going to make every match with the not-so-good teams competitive. Losing two of three matches with the only win being at Arsenal isn’t a poor run of form, it’s who this team is. They’re better than last season but not a team who can make a European spot yet.

There are some objectively bright spots on this side, however. After this international break it’s clear that Villa employs the best English midfielder around in Grealish and he’s playing like it for the club. His value is skyrocketing and if this season is actually a success maybe there’s something to build upon. The addition of Ollie Watkins couldn’t have gone any better as the player is scoring out of his mind. He might slow down but if John McGinn and Grealish can keep their form then so can Watkins.

Atalanta

Europe’s most exciting team still owns the rights to that title, but the goals are being scored on both ends of the pitch now instead of just for the Bergamo side. It seems as though scouts and coaches alike have figured out the system Atalanta are running as well as the vaccine, effectively neutralizing them. Though they’re still a top scoring side in Europe they also have one of the worst defenses you’ll see on a club of their status. Some injuries have caused issues with depth on defense but Gasperini’s men are still being demolished by their opposition.

Wealthier teams are beginning to either neutralize the attack of Atalanta or just outscore them altogether. The question for the club is whether this is something from which they can recover or something that is maybe irreversible. Some tweaks might be able to fine tune this team back to a place of effective offense but I wouldn’t bet on that happening. A rehaul of the tactics may be in order if there’s a desire to stay relevant in Europe.

The Champions League is something of a struggle for the Italians, losing to Liverpool and drawing with Ajax. There’s still an opportunity for the club to make the knockout stages but with Ajax in form and Liverpool still looking powerful I like the Dutch to make it over this squad.

Athletic Club

It’s tough for me to figure out where to place this club. They’re sitting 14th in La Liga and while I wrote in the first roundup that their losses to shorthanded clubs weren’t acceptable, then seem more revealing than anything at this point. To preview the season I favored them as a top half of the table team but that’s not realistic. I identified the attack as an issue and it hasn’t resolved itself yet. Iñaki Williams is doing well enough but he can’t win matches on his own. There’s enough bad teams in La Liga that Bilbao won’t go down (their defense can be thanked as well), but I really want to see more out of the attack.

Atlético Madrid

Despite sitting third in La Liga I believe that Atléti are the best team in La Liga this year and will win the competition. I liked them last season and even though there’s not Morata or Partey they’ve shown a real chance in the attack and a defense that’s even better than before. And most importantly, it looks sustainable. Suárez and Félix are a match made in heaven, the wingers and wing backs are dominating the flanks. Lucas Torreira is filling the Partey role with an added offensive injection, and José María Giménez is clearly one of the best defenders on the planet. This is a club who can win the league and make a pretty deep run internationally.

On a side note, Jan Oblak is quietly having his best season of his career so far. In seven matches he’s allowed two goals and kept five clean sheets. His save percentage is tremendous and if Atléti are to win the league he’ll be a big reason why.

Barcelona

Last time out we unpacked everything going on with the board and Messi and just, everything. To recap the events since, Bartomeu and his board have resigned and there will be a vote in January to determine the new president. Since it will be in the best interests of the club to mend the relationship with Messi, there may be some big chances made structurally to the club to keep the player.

Speaking of La Pulga Atomica, Messi is having a down season in his terms. He’s yet to create a goal for his teammates this season and though he has three of his own, Ansu Fati has gone down which will help teams focus on the Argentine. Flatly put, this is the worst Barcelona team in some time. That’s not to say they’re bad, but the supporting players, Busquets, Roberto, Alba, Llenglet, etc., aren’t up to snuff. Of course they’re still good, but they’re not great and that’s what Barcelona requires.

In the Champions League Barcelona are doing fine and will probably win their group after Beating Juventus in Turin. This isn’t a team capable of winning the competition though and that will be frustrating regardless for the fans and players alike.

Bayern Munich

Unlike Barcelona, Bayern are humming right along. Back on top of the Bundesliga, Bayern probably won’t relinquish their lead again for the rest of the season. The club were lucky to see Kimmich and Davies have minimal injuries and won’t miss them for the grueling second half. There’s not a lot of change with this team, just great players and great results.

Lewandowski is on pace to smash record for goals this season and with Gnabry, Sané, Koman, Müller, and the wing backs playing the way they are, he may make some history. My only worries are in the defensive half of the pitch. While the team is young and pretty deep, David Alaba’s contract talks have stalled and may be over. Losing the Austrian would be a big hit to the Bavarian team and replacing him would be no easy feat. He’s a steady veteran presence for the team and I don’t like the idea of a Süle-Pavard center back pairing as much as I thought.

Belgium

The Belgians are FIFA’s top team in the world right now and have flirted with that position for quite a few years, dropping in and out at times, but the more people I talk to and listen to, the more I confirm my suspicions that the Belgians aren’t seen as the best team in the world. While their resting position is very high and they dominate friendlies against teams like England and Switzerland, their best isn’t as good as other sides. Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard are world class players and can beat anyone on their own. However, when matching up peak, healthy performance against other countries I would rate maybe five or six teams ahead of them. It’s not a knock on the Belgians, but they’re not the best country in the world.

Benfica

One of the calling cards for Benfica until two weeks ago was their defense. They had allowed three goals in five matches and were scoring uncontrollably. After their matches with Boavista and Braga the club had allowed nine goals in seven matches, losing both games and dropping from the top position in Primeira Liga. Those types of losses can derail a season and though the attack is still working, the defense has issues.

Outside of the defense though everything is just right. The big summer investments are paying off with Gian-Luca Waldschmidt playing very well and the overall level of passing and chance contribution outright stellar. I think this type of production is very replicable throughout a season in the Portuguese top flight and winning the league is still an accomplishable mission.

Internationally, Benfica are level with Rangers in the Europa League and should move on without an issue. They’re not a team who can win the title but they’re more than capable of making noise by knocking out an Arsenal or Spurs for kicks.

Braga

Braga find themselves second in the Primeira Liga after a nice run of form landed them wins over Benfica and other sides. That makes five league wins in five tries for the club and puts them in a fine position moving forward. The midfield is one of the best in the entire league with Medieros, Castro, Musrati, and Galeno dominating matches for their club. They’re not going to win the league but a fight with Benfica and Sporting for a top position isn’t out of the question.

Braga, like Benfica, will probably advance through their Europa League group but won’t have much of a shot at going further or even winning their group. There’s too many talented teams to overcome in the elimination rounds and they’re not going to beat Leicester, so they’re a second place finisher with an early knockout.

Brazil

I don’t want to equate Brazil to Belgium because I believe they’re objectively deeper and more talented than that team, but I also don’t really believe in Brazil without Neymar. The two best starting 11 sides in the world right now are France and Brazil, but the difference between those countries is who comes after them. Without Neymar, without Jesus and Richarlisson, this team is flat. There’s some great defending and goalkeeping and fun flair and skills that makes this team worth watching, but without their absolute best players on the pitch they’re not really dominant. That’s the difference between winning major titles and losing in the quarterfinals or semifinals. I want to see more from the role players.

Burnley

The only reason I want to talk about the Clarets is because of their clear and obvious issues and their swirling around the relegation drain. The club owns the worst attack in the entire Premier League and their defense doesn’t help out much either, so if they get relegated that means they lose Dwight McNeil, yes? McNeil is the building block of Burnley right now and even though he’s likely to be bought within a few years anyways, he’s at least a draw for transfers maybe. If Burnley are relegated McNeil will be bought for likely a reduced price and that won’t be good for the club. This could be their last season in the top flight for a long time.

Cádiz

In the last roundup I expressed confidence that the good form of Cádiz would subside quickly and they would fall back down to the bottom. While that confidence has taken a full broadside of Andalusian grit, we still float and will not be martyred. Cádiz keeps pulling points out of matches they have no business hanging around in and that’s all you need to be good in this version of La Liga. The club are 6th in the league with a -2 goal differential which gives you an idea of how good they actually are, but this could actually work. Staying this high up the table isn’t a possibility but hanging around mid table with more upside than bust potential is realistic. Good for them!

Celta Vigo

In my La Liga preview I predicted that Celta would struggle to replicate their defense fram last season and that playing without Rafinha would make life difficult for the club. I was right. Celta are hovering in 17th place right now just above the drop zone. The defense is abysmal, the attack is really struggling to create for themselves, and if there isn’t a turnaround they will be relegated. Two of the teams below them have simply faced tougher schedules to date and have better goal differentials. It doesn’t have to be a complete 180 but the club does need to improve rapidly.

Celtic

Last time we checked in with Celtic they were about to take part in the Old Firm with a chance to take a commanding lead in the Premiership. Now they’re nine points back of Rangers, winning just two of their past seven matches. Now, they do have two matches in hand, but two wins still puts them a game behind their rivals. The defense has fallen off a bit with Laxalt not up to speed and though the attack is still very good, I don’t see them keeping up with Rangers. Maybe a different outcome in the reverse derby can change things but I don’t see Rangers faltering and I can see Celtic dropping more points along the way.

Despite having a good squad to begin with Celtic were never favored to make it out of their group. Paired with Lille and AC Milan, they were stuck in something of a Group of Death and their poor form in other competitions has carried over, leaving them dead last with only a single point.

Chelsea

It’s pretty clear now that Frank Lampard has no intentions of fielding a side with Antonio Rüdiger no matter if it would make his team better, but that’s not too big of a deal anymore with things firming up on the back line for the blues. Thiago is over his debut gaffe, Zouma is the player he was bought to be, Mendy is a godsend of an upgrade in goal, the young fullbacks are mercurial, and no one is playing poorly or making the team vulnerable. It’s a rare thing to have a defense that just plays reliable football all the time but that’s what Chelsea have unearthed.

Chelsea’s fabled attack is rousing itself to life with Havertz, Werner, and the others beginning to make some waves and score some goals. While those two are scary thoughts, Ziyech is a scary reality and already has a goal and three assists in four appearances. It’s clear that the Moroccan is going to be the chief creator for this team and anything extra that Mount or Pulisic or Havertz can produce is extra. Ziyech is going to be a huge part of this team’s success and makes the lives of Kante and the midfielders easier as well.

The Champions League is going to be an interesting prospect for the Blues again. They’re clearly going to move on to the knockouts with Sevilla, but what then? Chelsea have a cakewalk of a group and when they hit the second level they might match up with a Juventus or Atlético or Real Madrid or PAG. Can they beat those teams or will we see another version of last season against Bayern? I don’t think the beatings will be nearly as bad, but I do think they’ll be beatings. Chelsea can’t win major silverware yet.

Colombia

The supporters of the South American country won’t be thrilled with the international break leaving a sour taste in their mouths. The Colombians were handed two defeats for a combined score of 9-1 from Uruguay and Ecuador, leaving them with a big hill to climb in World Cup qualification. The match with Ecuador saw Colombia hammered 6-1 against a team with 10 men, only earning a penalty late in the first half. The match with Uruguay wasn’t much better with the Colombians losing 3-0. These are bad breaks or weak sides for Colombia, these are full squads getting hammered without response. A team with that much talent can’t play that poorly and if it continues they’ll miss the World Cup and that might mean a whole new regime of coaches and players.

Croatia

The World Cup run was seen as a bit of a fluke by a lot of pundits and that’s a fair thought. Croatia was a good team with good players and very good teamwork that overcame a lot of more talented teams, but they were never good enough to be best in the world. Now it seems as though they’re free falling a bit. Since qualifying for the Euros they’ve only won two matches over Switzerland and Sweden. They’re not capable of beating the Portugals and the Frances and the Italys of the world anymore and the future doesn’t look bright either. Something to keep an eye on.

Crystal Palace

I really only want to bring up Crystal Palace because they just seem doomed to the mid table. Whether it’s with Zaha or Eze or whoever, there doesn’t seem to be any getting ahead for the club. No matter how well they start, no matter how well the international stars produce, there’s just other London clubs, other English clubs, other clubs in general that will always be higher on the totem pole for potential players. It’s like they’re running on a treadmill that constantly adjusts to their pace.

CSKA Moscow

The Russian leaders happen to be one of the big city clubs who aren’t playing in the Champions League this season. A lack of fatigue could be playing a role in that, but we’ll touch on that topic later. CSKA are atop the RPL with 31 points, leading Zenit by a draw. While CSKA winning wouldn’t be a shock to anyone as they’re the second winningest team in the competition’s history, they haven’t won since 2015/16. What’s nice to see about this push is that they’re winning with young players and promising talent that might be able to sustain the team for a long time. Be it Vlašić or Diveev or Kuchaev, this team is building up for a long run and this season might be the start of it.

However, CSKA is suffering the same international fate as many of their compatriots in the RPL as they’re bottom of the bin in their Europa League group. They’re down to The Croation Dinamo side, the 8th place Austrian Wolfsburger, and the 4th place Dutch side Feyenoord. I’m not sure what Russian needs to do in order to up their chances in Europe but it’s a grim outlook for their teams.

Dortmund

Dortmund find themselves third in the Bundesliga after losing the first leg of Der Klassiker at home 3-2 just before the break. Only Bayern and Leipzig are ahead of them but even in a season where opportunities arise with everyone playing well and Bayern losing players to injury, Dortmund just can’t catch up. At this point I’m not sure what it’s going to take to overcome the German holders. Whenever they lose a player another is brought in who is just as good. Dortmund will keep trying but I’m not sure to what avail.

Let’s move on to brighter topics. The big three players are exactly who we expected to this point for the club: Håland… Hummels and Reyna? That’s right, with Jadon Sancho starting slowly, Emre Can injured, and other stars with a combination of those issues, Hummels and Reyna are clear as the best players for the club. Hummels has regained his form as a world class defender and Reyna is the best facilitator on the team. I don’t want to give the impression that I think this is the second best team in the world, but Dortmund might be the second most complete club on the planet. They have star players everywhere, versatility, youth, experience, depth, everything you need to succeed.

In the Champions League Dortmund find themselves atop a bloodbath in Group F. They’re going to make it out one way or another but that top spot isn’t a guarantee. If they’re fielding a healthy team and Sancho is back on his game they’ll be a tough out moving forward, but for now they need to focus on taking things one match at a time and pulling three points whenever possible.

Dynamo Kyiv

A long run of dominance from Shakhtar is at risk of ending at the hands of Kyiv, but is there really that much to worry about for the holders? WhileDynamo is a very talented team, I don’t believe they possess what it takes to keep up with Shakhtar. The defense is arguably better than that of Shakhtar, but every other position favors the holders and a 3-0 to their rivals before the break confirms that. They’re closer than recent years to challenging for a title, but still out of range.

The Champions League hasn’t been kind to the Ukranian capital side either as they’re sitting with just a single point from a draw with Fradi. There was never much hope being paired with Juventus and Barcelona, but this is just kind of sad that they couldn’t even topple the Hungarians.

Dynamo Moscow

Another one of the Russian capital teams is Dynamo Moscow who currently sit fourth in the Russian Premier League. While CSKA and Zenit are the cream of the crop, Dynamo isn’t far behind with one of the best defenses in the country. Dmitri Skopintsev has played wonderfully in goal this season and the contributions of Roman Evgeniev, Daniil Fromin, and Ivan Ordets have made this team formidable. If the attack can find a better level I can see this team making a run at the European spots without any extra competitions in the way.

England

All I’ve learned from England recently is that they’re not good enough to win anything yet. As much as I would love to see the Three Lions turn on the heat and begin to make serious strides in Europe there’s just no shot. They’re not one of the teams who are consistently better then Belgium, proven by their 2-0 loss, they’re not better than France or Spain or Brazil, and they’re not going to be. It’s possible that England catch teams on their off day and beat them on a big stage, but they’re not good enough to win anything yet, and that’s not really their fault, it just is what it is.

Everton

Everton looked like the AC Milan of England this season with their run of form and points taken from the Merseyside Derby, but that has worn off recently with three straight losses to Southampton, Newcastle, and Manchester United. So is it a drop in form or regression? In my opinion it’s both at the same time. Everton aren’t going to consistently lose to Newcastle and Southampton, but they’re also not going to be beating Spurs or United with real consistency. This is a team at the level of Leicester. There’s a lot of injuries right now so things seem worse than they are, but this isn’t a great team.

There are some great pieces here, though. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is probably the striker of the future for both England and Everton and will make both sides much better whenever he plays. He’s a true number nine and that’s not as common as one might think. In addition there’s a whole number of young players and even older players with a lot of run left who can make a difference moving forward. Everton have one of the best futures in the Premier League and I hope that isn’t mortgaged for success right now or profits in the books.

Feyenoord

The Dutch 4th place team at this very moment is Feyenoord and while fourth place is pretty good in a lot of countries it doesn’t get you far in Holland. Feyenoord is currently relying on the marvelous Steven Berghuis to win them matches, the player producing at a clip of seven goals and four assists in eight matches, but they’re not good enough to compete this season. Ajax is always at the top of the list and that only leaves one more European position for the rest of the table. With the worst defense in the top five and a supporting cast that’s not up to snuff, Feyenoord won’t find much success this season.

Fiorentina

At the beginning of the season I focused a lot on the sales and movements that Fiorentina made, talking about how they might cripple the team with those moves. I worried that Ribery wouldn’t be enough to keep the attack moving forward and that production wouldn’t be replaced. Seven matches in and those concerns are justified as Viola are 14th in Serie A and secured only eight points to date. The players on this team are way too talented to finish this low but I don’t see any indication of change. Maybe Fiorentina is hitting the reset button and doing just enough to be comfortable. It’s not inspiring but I can’t blame them in these times.

France

I wrote a long series recently about the best players in the world at each position and future stars and things of the like. What I noticed is that there were a whole lot of great French players on those lists and a ridiculous number of them were young. When you’re leaving Aymeric Laporte and Theo Hernández and so many other great players out of the squad and still smoke teams like France does it’s a scary sight for everyone else around. France is the best team in the world still and I believe they have a run of dominance that’s just starting.

Germany

Ugh. Talk about moving from highs to lows. The Germans won the 2014 World Cup, but what many people don’t realize is that it was a Germany we haven’t seen for a long time and one that disappeared quickly after when it pushed out the likes of Özil. Germany have a lot of good footballers but they’re not a good national team by any means. Their 6-0 demolition from Spain highlights that. The problems here run deep and while I don’t think the firing of Joachim Löw will fix anything I also think it might be the right move. You’re probably not going to lure the likes of Klopp away from Liverpool yet or any of the really big names from big clubs, but there needs to be some sort of change before things get really, really bad. And they’re verging on that point.

Granada

Spain’s fifth spot is occupied by Granada, the 7th place finishers from last season and a team I didn’t think would have any issue getting to the European stage again next season. However, while they’re playing decent football it’s not sustainable football. Their goal differential is -2 so far this season, worse than many of the teams below them. Their defense can keep them afloat for so long but at one point Darwin Machís and the offense need to kick in and help win some games to keep the season alive. In the Europa League Granada are playing much better football, benefitting from the bad teams they were drawn with.

Hertha Berlin

Last time I spoke about Hertha I was commending them on their commitment to win and be the best team in Berlin and while that was something they were doing, the four matches since haven’t gone well in that regard. Hertha took only four points from those matches and their rivals Union moved up to the fifth position in the Bundesliga, not great. The investments made in the summer have yet to really pay off and the defense has looked really underequipped, allowing 13 goals and dropping their goal differential to zero. There’s a lot of time left for the club to regroup but it’s not a great start considering their money spent so far.

Hungary

All I really want to say is that it’s great that Hungary is getting back into the world scene. The way they came back to win their match against Iceland and the ridiculous goal from Dominik Szoboszlai to seal the deal was outstanding. They have a superstar in the youngster and a really solid cast around him that should be able to make some waves in the future.

Iceland

It’s a cruel thing to talk about Iceland right after Hungary considering the Hungarians came back to dash the hopes of the island country, but blame the alphabet, not me. Since their wild run in the last Euro tournament the bottom has just fallen out. They’re struggling to beat teams on their level with consistency and it’s tough to watch at times. Hopefully they’re able to regroup with another good generation.

Inter Milan

For a team that I expected to be at the top of Serie A by some distance, 7th place is disappointing so far. So what’s wrong with the storied club? Let’s start with the attack. Inter Milan have two of the best strikers on the planet and that shows with 16 goals to date, but in reality there’s a lot of goals left on the board that they’re not scoring. They’re so stagnant at times against some of the better teams and the creative side of football isn’t expressed in their game. Christian Eriksen and Alexis aren’t producing to the best of their abilities and I don’t think Nico Barella is the player you can rely on to create consistently.

At the same time, Inter is really struggling to stop other teams from creating goals, evidenced by their 11 goals allowed. Last season Škriniar was an issue in the back line in terms of underperformance. This season it’s Škriniar, de Vrij, and Handanović who are all falling under that banner. The defense is being blown away consistently with neither player tackling well and the keeper letting easy stops through.

The issues on the pitch have carried over to the Champions League as well where Inter is last in their division. At this point it’s possible that Inter will make the knockouts but it’s very unlikely. In fact they’re going to struggle to make the Europa League drop and could be knocked out altogether if Shakhtar, Real Madrid, and Gladbach keep their runs going. It’s not a great situation for a team with really high expectations.

Italy

One of the biggest shocks in the footballing world was when Italy was denied a World Cup berth by Sweden a few years ago. Since then there were massive changes in both players personnel and staff and things are much, much better. The new generation have come in for the Italians and they’re beating everyone and keeping up with the teams they need to. I’m really looking forward to seeing how good this team can be and if we’re entering the new Golden Age of Italian football. Be it Belotti, Donnarumma, Tonali, or another young star, this team is going to be in the spotlight for a long time and they’re very, very exciting.

Juventus

Now that Ronaldo is back Juventus is crawling back into the title race for Serie A, but what’s really giving them a chance is the lack of execution from clubs like Lazio, Inter, and Atalanta. While the offense with Kulusevski, Ronaldo, and Morate is good, this team doesn’t have a leader. Ronaldo is always the best player on his teams but we’re going to find out this season if he can actually lead a team or if he’s just a very good player on a very good team.

Outside of the attack, I really like what’s happening with the defense considering they’ve allowed just six goals to this point but I’m not sure if that’s going to keep up. Bonucci and Chiellini are old, Demiral is very young, Danilo is really a full back, and de Ligt is always injured. I obviously love what I’m seeing from them so far but I don’t know if it can keep up, though if the midfield and wingers keep their possession up at this quality the defense won’t need to work as hard.

The Champions League is pretty much a sure thing for Juventus. They’re very likely to finish second in the group since Ronaldo missed the first Barcelona fixture and unless they win the reverse they won’t be first. If this team gets hot there’s not really anyone who can stop them so I expect them to show up big this year in the knockouts.

Krasnodar

If you take a quick peek at the Krasnodar form schedule you’ll see plenty of red on there. The Russian team rose through the ranks of football very quickly and deserved their finish last season, but the extra matches are killing them this season. The Champions League is clearly too much of a load on top of their already busy schedule considering they’ve fallen to 10th in the RPL. They’re allowing a lot of goals and scoring very few. This is a great case for why Russia is having picks taken away from it for European competitions. Krasnodar has just one point in their Champions League group.

Lazio

There’s really one thing I want to talk about with Lazio. Sure, Immobile is struggling early and Sergej is turning things way up, but Lazio is a club I really like and I’m really disappointed in. Football is always filled with self-involved idiots and right now Lazio are exhibit #1. After most of their team testing positive for Covid they told UEFA that they tested themselves and came back negative and decided to play those same players in the Champions League. Those players tested positive again after the match. These idiots are the reason this pandemic hasn’t been quelled yet and people keep dying. It’s embarrassing and Lazio ought to be ashamed, but that’s not possible for the idiot higher ups in the football world. What a joke.

Leeds United

The fun seems to be over for the Leeds who have fallen down to 15th after some losses to Wolves, Leicester, and Palace. It seems as though a combination of things have happened. The first is that Premier League teams have figured them out already and devised plans to take them down a notch. On the other hand, Leeds just started out of a cannon and are slowing down. Bamford, Klich, and Costa are falling back down to earth and that’s okay because the goal of the investments was to stay up this season and I would say that’s a guarantee.

Leicester City

Leicester are back on top of the Premier League, probably somewhat annoyingly to the rest of the clubs, and look unstoppable right now. Jamie Vardy looks to be timeless as he’s leading the Prem in goals yet again with eight in six matches. However, injury issues are causing problems in the defense and that’s not something that this team can afford when the title is up for grabs. I would like to see them go grab another established center back in January to ensure their chances of grabbing the title again. Leicester City is dominating their Europa League group right now and I expect them to clean up and make a deep run in the competition.

RB Leipzig

Who would have thought that the defense of Leipzig would be their best asset this season? While the offense is great and Dani Olmo looks to be a tremendous playmaker in the making, Leipzig have allowed only four goals this season. Those are ridiculous numbers and the center backs are to thank. Willi Orban is having his best season to date and Dayot Upamecano is turning into a truly incredible center back in front of our eyes.

Another reason for the great defensive record is actually the midfield four that Leipzig are using. Haidara, Angeliño, Olmo, and Emil Forsburg are turning out great performance after great performance and their ability to control the ball and keep possession in the attacking half makes them a great team and very deserving of their second place position in the Bundesliga.

Leipzig are currently second in their Champions League group but aren’t safe at all. They’ve won twice including over PSG, but the French giant looms large behind them regardless. The Germans will need at least six more points to ensure their safety in a very difficult group.

Leverkusen

It’s really nice to see a player break out and have the month or two of their lives on the pitch and that’s what we’re seeing with Lucas Alario. The Argentine has scored seven times in five matches and is dominating in front of goal, but listen to me. It’s unsustainable. Don’t bank on the club staying in fourth and don’t bank on Alario keeping this up, because he can’t. It’s unfortunate that I’m a downer here, but I just want everyone to stay realistic.

Another nice thing to see is that even though Havertz and Volland moved on the team is doing well. Whether it’s unsustainable or not there’s a version of this club that can thrive without those players who were so key last season and that’s a big deal for their future, allowing them to spend on legitimate talent who will help keep this process sustainable. If Leverkusen are lucky Leon Bailey will break out this season and a real snowball effect will begin.

Leverkusen are in a group that’s in a situation like Leipzig is in, just in the Europa League. The club are second in a 6-6-3-3 point structure, but they don’t need to worry about being chased down. I would be a bit surprised if they didn’t come away with the top spot but they’ll move on to the knockouts nevertheless.

Lille

Even though Lille are top of the Ligue 1 table with PSG as an exception, they’re still underperforming. There’s so many players on for this club that should be excelling in Ligue 1 but are struggling to get their footing. It was a fair excuse that they hadn’t played for months earlier this season but it isn’t okay anymore. The only guys who are playing well offensively are Jon Bamba and Burak Yilmaz while the defense is only touting Ben André and Sven Botman. Despite their good position there’s so much more to come from this club and I hope we see it soon.

Liverpool

One of the biggest issues around the footballing world right now is with the center back situation surrounding Liverpool. Not unlike Barcelona’s striker issues earlier this calendar year, Liverpool cannot keep anyone at the position healthy, a big issue when you only own three first team players at the position. So far van Dijk is out until April and Gomez is out for the season. Fabinho is hampered for the time being and Joël Matip is coming off an injury of his own. Tack on knocks to both Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold and you have quite the mash unit. The Reds will likely purchase another top level center back in the coming window, but will the damage be done by that point?

I only briefly touched on Diogo Jota in my first roundup but his performance since warrants more elaboration. In my notes I simply wrote, “Jota or Goata” which should give you an idea of where I am mentally. The 23 year old was a star for Wolves and a huge reason they were promoted, but seven goals in his appearances so far was not what Liverpool expected and that production has made him undroppable to the point where Liverpool has moved to a 4-2-4 to accommodate him. That team changing their system for him already is all the compliment he needs.

Even with Jota at the helm, though, this is going to be a tough season to win a title. Covid issues aside, Liverpool are going to struggle with their issues in the back. The attack will still win them games regularly and score plenty of goals but Alisson will be vulnerable without his two best center backs. The Reds will probably get into a rock fight with Leicester and City for the title again but I don’t think they’re repeat champions.

In the Champions League, though, things are going well for the Reds. Liverpool have won all three of their matches to date (even though the Ajax tie was a bit flukey) and will take the top spot easily. Again, it’s going to be tough for Liverpool to win any silverware this season with this congested schedule and injury issues.

Lokomotiv Moscow

You probably only really know Lokomotiv as the club that’s playing alongside Atlético and Bayern in the Champions League right now and that’s fine, but domestically the traditional giants are struggling. They’re 8th in the RPL and haven’t won a match in all competitions since October 17th. There’s a decent chance that the club advances to the Europa League from the CL, but if they’re taking such a big hit from these extra games is it really that great for them? The difference of this team with and without Aleksy Miranchuk is tangible and not in a good way. Like Krasnodar, this is another showcase as to why Russia is losing international positions.

Lyon

Olympique Lyon are currently 5th in the Ligue 1 table behind four reasonable teams and a quick glance at their stats explains why they’re seated there. The forward play has been exceptional for the club with the combination of Memphis Depay, Karl Toko Ekambi, and Tinotenda Kadawere combining for 12 goals and three assists. The issue comes when one realizes that Lyon only have two other goals. Yes, relying on three players for scoring can be sustainable, but is it something that Lyon are able to do? Is 5th place their ceiling without more help from the midfield or wing backs? It could very well be and getting some help in the transfer window if getting back into Europe is a desire for the club.

The other topic I would like to touch on briefly is Houssem Aouar. The player is well known thanks to his Arsenal links and deserves the notoriety, but not playing very well this season. He does have three goal contributions but past those he’s far from exceptional. If there’s a season for the player to be poor, it isn’t this one and Lyon need him to regain his form quickly.

Manchester City

The prospects of Manchester City’s defense after the purchase of Rúben Dias were tantalizing in my eyes and so far it’s just what was expected. Dias and Laporte have taken to each other immediately and the effects on the defensive efforts are visible. The pairing is so stable in the back and their efforts combined with the central defense in midfield actually make this team more balanced than they ever were in their title seasons.

The attack is still good, but not as good. Kevin de Bruyne is still out of his mind and everyone else is playing pretty good football, but the revolving door of injuries at striker and emergence of Ferran Torres makes choosing the right side very difficult. Torres, the ex-Valencia man, is playing stellar football right now and could end up as one of the best summer signings of the window. If he keeps scoring Pep may actually consider a 4-1-4-1 to accommodate him like Liverpool have done with Jota.

So what are their league and Champions League chances? In England I see this as their race to lose. Sure, they’re in 10th place right now but that’s only six points off the Leicester lead and there’s ground to be made up with their next four matches coming against Spurs, Burnley, Fulham, and United. In the Champions League I do enjoy the jokes about the quarterfinals for City, but I don’t think they’ll apply this season. The Citizens are really stable on the back line and can score on anyone. Unless they draw Bayern early in the competition I believe they’re going on a very deep run and have a legitimate shot at winning. I would put them as second place betting favorites behind the Germans.

Manchester United

There’s a lot to unpack here so I’ll just start with some of the more obvious ones. What the hell is going on with Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire? Maguire has lived up to his fridge moniker this season and Martial has more red cards than shots on target. Those are two players who United were expecting to bank on and be the assets they didn’t need to worry about. But now the club actually ought to think about making purchases in January. That’s how bad they are. Whether it’s poor form or a real decline, I can’t say, but either way it’s embarrassing and United can’t afford for it to continue.

The midfield has been fairly stable but I still have some questions. First, when is Paul Pogba leaving? The player is still world class and contributes a lot to United but he clearly hates it there. Whether it’s to a different English club or a continental team is yet to be seen but based on his actions I can’t imagine he stays for too much longer. Donny van de Beek is another talking point centrally. Despite being purchased for a hefty fee the Dutchman has yet to break into the starting side with only seven appearances as a substitute. I wrote that he wasn’t a good fit for the United system and it looks like that’s apparent now as he’s only used to change formation and mindset late in matches. That’s not a great look for the Red Devils.

Now, when is this team going to play consistent football? They beat Paris and murder Leipzig before losing to İstanbul and Arsenal at Old Trafford. Their inability to string together performances is something that we’ve seen cripple other clubs time and time again around Europe and you have to wonder if United are on that path. They’re 14th in the Premier League and sit in a very unfavorable position in the Champions League despite leading the group. Is it time for “Ole Out” to become a thing?

Marseille

So Andre Villas-Boas, what… where do we really even begin with him? He’s clearly a good coach and understands what good football looks like. He’s not afraid to shoulder the blame and he’s certainly not bashful about taking credit, but this guy is a mad man. Constantly swearing out of nowhere, yelling at media members on Zoon, it’s almost like he’s got Tourette’s. He’s a lot of fun but sometimes you have to wonder if he’s alright.

AVB may not be alright but you can tell his team is doing well. They’re fourth in Ligue 1 with 18 points but the attack is really struggling outside of Thauvin and Sanson. Caleta-Car and Balderi are scoring but do you really want to rely on goals from your U-25 center backs? I feel like there’s better options and it’s up to AVB to extract those solutions instead of live with things as they are. He won’t make Europe again with this goal scoring record and considering their zero points and zero goals in three matches, they might not want to go back again.

Mexico

The Mexican National team haven’t played many matches this season and have won four of five including a victory over Holland in early October. I’m not putting much mind into that friendly, but I have to wonder if this is as good of a Mexico team as we can get? That’s not to say Mexico isn’t a good side, but while so many other countries have this feeling of untapped potential, Mexico feels topped out. Jiménez, Corona, PIzzaro, and Lozano are all wonderful players but the midfield and defense lack serious potential. Right now they’re the best team in North America but will they be able to keep up with this new American generation? I don’t think so.

Monaco

Even though the small nation has a few flat losses to the likes of Brest, Lyon, and Rennes this season, I only have praise for the club right now. Ligue 1 has a clear upper echelon every season and this year Monaco is a part of it, sitting in 6th with 17 points. By all means it’s a good season now, but you have to ask if it can be great? The roster is very deep, almost unnecessarily at this point, and balance is really good. Great scoring, good defenders, a nice mix of experience and youth, it’s all there. It’s a wonderfully composed team, now we get to find out if they can perform the symphony.

Mönchengladbach

A team that’s close to my heart is beginning to gain the recognition they deserve internationally thanks to their Champions League performance this year and the great players on their roster. Despite being 7th in Germany at the moment and owning a defense that’s really bad right now, they’re getting results when they’re needed. Lars Stindl and Jonas Hofmann are carrying the team in the league while the slew of young stars straighten things out.

Breel Embolo, Nico Elvedi, Florian Neuhaus, and Laszlo Benes are the headline names of the young players who are underperforming to date and if we only include the Bundesliga we can throw Marcus Thuram on that list as well. Gladbach isn’t good enough to win big titles but if their great young core plays well they’re able to at least challenge for them. What they’re, and especially Marcus Thuram, doing in the Champions League is real and they ought to be feared; the understanding of how to string these wins together and extend good runs will come at some point and make them great, but right now they must live game to game.

With Thuram playing such great football right now on the international scene for club and country I can’t imagine he won’t start drawing bids. Though he is very important to Gladbach he’ll want bigger challenges soon and Gladbach will have to sell him. For now, though, they’ll live with the second most goals in the Champions League with his help.

Napoli

The Naples club that underperformed so much last season currently sits third in Serie A with a very significant 14 points. Why so significant, you ask? Remember the controversy with the Juventus match and Napoli not showing up because they were being responsible with Covid and all? That was punished by the Italian FA with a 3-0 loss for Napoli. Take that match (it still is being contested) and you have a club three points out of AC Milan with the best goal differential in Italy and a game in hand, aka the title favorites.

So who does Napoli have to thank for this type of position that they’re in? Well, everyone who’s playing. There was a lot of junk to work through from last season with missing the Champions League and the response from this club has simply been to win matches. The attack is going wild with Chucky Lozano and Victor Osimhen starting to click and Politano and Mertens forming into real playmakers. Strakosha is a stud in between the sticks and the defense is playing out of their minds. The most important thing is that no group is producing at a rate they cannot sustain for the entire season and that’s what really gives hope to the club.

At this point I have to consider them a lock for the top of the table. The only two clubs I’m comfortable doing that with are Napoli and AC Milan and even Milan might drop off a bit. These results are deserved and will continue through the season.

The Netherlands

The injuries that the Dutch National Team have sustained recently might cripple any other country, but the depth that the small nation has at its employ is impressive. Even with their best defenders out they’re holding other good countries without goals or battling back from losing positions. Yes, the times of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie are gone, but this new side can be just as good if not better.

Porto

Portugal’s 4th place team are currently favored to advance in their Champions League group thanks to solid wins over Olympiacos and OM, but sitting in 4th place at this point in time doesn’t bode well for the club. Despite owning the second best attack in the country, Porto and Familicão are the only teams in the top half of the table with ten or more goals allowed. While Oliveira and Corona and all the strong attacking players can keep the team moving forward with goals and creation, they need to stop people too. This club is far too talented to miss out on European football. If there aren’t adjustments made with some help purchased in central defense then Porto will be very underwhelmed at the end of the season.

Portugal

Obviously the reigning Euro champions are a very good team considering they were able to topple France without Ronaldo and they’ve been playing great in the recent international breaks, taking down Sweden and France and Croatia, but in the matches I’ve seen they don’t look stellar. They don’t seem like THAT team anymore. They’re really good, but not as good as they ought to be. I believe they need another creative boost. Of course you can’t recruit players to the national team, but another playmaker so that Ronaldo and Félix aren’t relied upon 100% of the time would be very good and probably keep them at the high level of excellence they warrant.

Paris Saint-Germain

Last time we talked PSG were reeling from injuries to their forwards and a terrifying open to the season that included a pair of losses. Since then they brought back Neymar and Mbappé, lost to Manchester United and RB Leipzig inexplicably, lost Neymar again, and dominated the league. In more bite size chunks, Neymar’s injuries are becoming problematic. When he’s fit he’s great but when he’s out it’s so noticeable. He can’t control it but PSG need him on the pitch more or else their accomplishments are capped.

Most of the team is back healthy, though, and that’s what’s bringing them to the point they are now. The Champions League is hanging in the void right now and the French need to win every match remaining to secure advancement, but the league is already under wraps. I would go as far as saying PSG have already won it and can enter cruise control now.

PSV Eindhoven

Despite sitting two points back of first place in third behind Ajax and Vitesse in the Eredivisie, I’m actually very happy with PSV right now. Be it Mario Götze, Ibrahim Sangaré, Philipp Max, Donyell Malen, or any of the other players on the pitch, this club is on the right trajectory. They’re winning matches over teams they need to beat and even though they’re not beating the clubs currently above them they’re young enough to be optimistic about their future. I think they’re good enough to finish in a top two spot but I’m more excited about what’s in store.

Rangers

I elaborated about the situation atop the Scottish Premiership with Celtic earlier, but if you didn’t see that, Rangers are damn good. The Glasgow club beat Celtic in the Old Firm and have since begun to run away with the league, currently up nine points. Their three goals allowed in 14 matches is genuinely perplexing and James Tavernier is making a serious case for an England call up with eight goals and six assists from right back. The whole team is great and Celtic will need some real luck to win the league.

The club are trending in the opposite direction of Celtic in the Europa League where Rangers are currently atop their group. The rematch with Benfica will be a wonderful spectacle and must watch television, but their chances of moving on are 100%.

Rapid Wien

The Austrian capital team must be happy with their current performances in the Bundesliga, currently in second place behind Salzburg. Normally RB would be running away with the title but Vienna are back only two points after drawing in the anticipated showing. If nothing else this proves that the gap is closing. The ability to roll together wins over the other sides while having enough in the tank to battle with the Red Bulls is a big accomplishment. The reverse fixture with Salzburg should decide who wins the league. 

Real Betis

Real Betis didn’t finish very high last season and as a result don’t have much to look after this season apart from their own league play. A good scenario, right? Well sometimes it might be, but not in this scenario. Betis find themselves in 7th place behind Cádiz and a few other clubs that they really ought to be ahead of. 7th might not be that bad, but the way Betis is playing indicates that 7th might be a high point of their season.

With players like Canales, Moreno, Fekir, Carvalho, and so on, there’s not a talent issue. We know that this team is good enough to win matches. That being the case, why does this club have the worst defensive record in La Liga with 17 goals allowed so far? Again, there’s nothing else to focus on so exhaustion and distraction aren’t excuses either. They can beat most of the teams in the league with regularity, but let me list their last five matches against teams in the top half of the table: 3-0 loss to Getafe, 2-0 win over Valencia, 3-0 loss to Sociedad, 2-0 loss to Atlético, 5-2 loss to Barcelona. Yes, that’s a tough stretch of matches, but at least put up a fight. This is a team who are good enough to make Europe and should be winning matches regularly.

Real Madrid

Part of me feels bad for Real Madrid because despite winning La Liga last season they’ve rarely been a healthy team with a chance to evaluate what they actually are. When Benzema is healthy Hazard goes down, now when Hazard is healthy, Ramos and Varane go down. Real Madrid, like Betis, are also underperforming this season. The defense isn’t nearly as good as years past with Varane and Casemiro playing below their usual levels. The attack is much more reserved and misses any sort of explosiveness. Be it tactics or personnel, it’s not good.

In the Champions League things are especially dire. After an early exit with Manchester City last season the Spanish were looking forward to a deep run. Now making the Europa League isn’t even a guarantee. With their main players in the central defense out and the attack looking lackluster I’m not sure they’ll be able to hold off Inter and Shakhtar to continue in Europe, and I don’t actually see that as a bad thing.

I don’t see a concrete plan set here. There’s not very many great players on this roster who won’t be looking to either move on or retire in the next few seasons and that’s an issue. There’s no good youth outside of Mendy, Militão, and the wingers, and Zidane isn’t making moves to get more. Maybe another early exit in Europe is enough to get the club to focus on the future instead of right now, because I think their problems are much larger than that of Barcelona.

Real Sociedad

If you say you predicted this you’re flatly a liar. Sociedad are atop the league after nine games and while Atlético are only three points down with two matches in hand, Sociedad are clear and really good. They’ve allowed only four goals this season to 20 scored. Remiro is just unconscious in goal. The defense is clearly playing well and the attack led by apparently prime David Silva is firing on all cylinders. There’s so many underrated players on this team and even though it took grabbing the country by the scruff of the neck, they’re getting recognition now.

The players on this team, Oyarzabal, Remiro, Januszaj, Silva, Le Normand, Merino, Portu, Isak, these are great footballers who aren’t overperforming, they’re just playing in harmony. Even though they’re third in their Europa League group there’s still an opportunity to advance, plus getting more time to focus on the league wouldn’t be a bad thing. We’re going to see a lot more of this team in the future so get used to the crest.

Rennes

If the French aren’t careful, they’re going to earn the same penalty that Russia did in terms of contraction around the UEFA club competitions. While Rennes is comfortably in third place in Ligue 1, they’re only on a single point the the Champions League  with little hope of doing anything significant, fittingly dueling with a Russian club for third place. Their play in Ligue 1 is offensive oriented, but it has lasting effects on defense, too. The center backs are vital in scoring goals with eight of the clubs’ 18 coming from central defenders. That’s not sustainable and it’s the reason the team has allowed 14 goals on the season. There needs to be a balance or they’ll continue to be embarrassed on the world stage.

Roma

One of Italy’s most storied clubs is back on the prowl with a pair of summer securities leading the way. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jordan Veretout have helped Roma climb to 4th place in the league by scoring and assisting on a combined 12 goals so far. The central defense could bear to improve as 11 goals in those matches is a lot to keep up with for a season, but with the midfield and attack looking strong there’s a lot less to worry about for now.

The real questions we would like the answer to are whether they have a chance at silverware. The easy answer is no, and it’s probably the right one this season. There’s a lot of very good teams in the Europa League this year and it just doesn’t look likely there. Italy in general looks to be in one of the best top-to-bottom forms it’s seen in a while and that bodes very poorly for the Romans. This season will be about pushing the bar higher and seeing where the biggest improvements are needed for summer. This is the right direction.

Saint-Etienne

Few teams in Europe have produced as good of talent as ASSE have in recent seasons. They’re constantly producing stars to help them stick around in the top half and reinvest that money in a smart way. However, that young star isn’t here this season and six straight competitive losses make that evident. They’re 15th in Ligue 1 and just played a cupcake friendly in efforts to refamiliarize themselves with winning football matches. They’re trending the wrong way and with a couple of decent sides under them they have to be careful not to be relegated.

RB Salzburg

The Leipzig feeder club in Austria is doing well in the league again, as predicted, but they’re not blowing the competition away like usual. Sure, they’re winning the matches they need to, but Vienna LASK are apparently fed up with losing to the heavily funded Salzburg side and are making moves to compete again. All Salzburg can do is work to improve their side, but the point is that the gulf isn’t nearly as wide as before.

Also, Dominik Szoboszlai is a monster. That’s all.

Sassuolo

I was moderately dismissive of Sassuolo in the first roundup of the season touching mainly on how their run was unsustainable considering the bad teams they were playing, and for the most part that still stands, their only quality win coming over Napoli. However they still have yet to win a match and are proving their quality with the likes of Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo. The attack is still keeping pace with Atalanta right now and the defense is putting out strong performances. I’m withholding judgement on their odds of finishing in a European position until they play better competition, but with nothing else to focus on the league is an accomplishable target to compete in.

Schalke 04

I pondered the thought of Schalke being able to beat any team in the Bundesliga this season and decided it wasn’t going to happen. While it probably will eventually, it hasn’t happened yet. They’re 17th in the league with three draws and were lucky to get those. I hear other people say they have a chance of staying up and supposing Arminia Bielefeld (suspicious) keeps playing this poorly Schalke might have a chance, but I don’t like the odds.

Scotland

I just want to take this chance to say that I’m thrilled Scotland has a chance to play in a major tournament. A country with such a rich history and fans who have struggled for so long to find hope deserve this opportunity. It was moving watching the team celebrate and seeing the responses from supporters. They’re a country that deserves it for a number of reasons and I’m glad to see them back.

Shakhtar Donetsk

A quick look at the UPL standings might have you thinking that Dynamo Kyiv is the best team out of Ukraine and for that I would slap you in the back of the head. You’re wrong. Shakhtar is just a single point behind the capital team and have yet to lose a match. Shakhtar just beat Kyiv 3-0 in an absolute thrashing and have a win over Real Madrid and draw with Inter at San Siro on the resume this season. I genuinely think that Shakhtar is tired of only winning the league and are pouring all of their energy into winning internationally. Also, don’t forget that this is a displaced club whose home city of Donetsk is in the middle of an armed conflict. That takes a toll on the club personnel and makes their long run in Lviv even more impressive.

Sheffield United

I have a few clubs and countries on this list for their absolute free falls this year and unfortunately Sheffield is one of them. Their only point this season came in a draw to Fulham and I really don’t think they’re capable of hitting 10 points this season. Things are just falling apart and there isn’t a player good enough to stabilize things. It’ll be an ugly and long season.

Southampton

First off, a hearty congratulations to the Saints who finished their first ever day on top of the Premier League a couple of weeks ago! It’s been well deserved for a side who have become better internally and with smart decision making. They’re winning a ton of games, scoring a ton of goals, and making good overall strides towards the big clubs. So is there a chance of finishing in the top six? Yes. There’s absolutely a chance, but it’s not very good. Arsenal and Manchester United won’t stay down for long and teams like Wolves and Everton are probably still better than the Saints, but this is certainly a top half finish for the club and I bet they do beat out one of the Top 6 groups this year.

Spain

It’s a good time to get hot! The 6-0 stomping of Germany was not without its losses as Sergio Ramos tore a hamstring, but with only a couple more international spells before the Euros and Olympics, this is going to be a big moment in the history of the country. This is a really strong team with playmakers, good defending, good wingers, and everything in between. This is the right formula to correct the mistakes made in World Cup 2018 and I’m excited to see how it plays out.

Spartak Moscow

All I want to note about Spartak is that they’re in position to make a run at the RPL title this season and get back into the European scene. The likes of Jordan Larsson, Ayrton Lucas, Alexander Sobolev, and Ezequiel Ponce are all young and very talented and the club is taking points from important matches with Krasnodar, Zenit, and the other Moscow sides. Also, Victor Moses is there! How fun!

Sporting

In my first roundup I explained that I didn’t think Sporting were a real challenger to Benfica this season and that while there was a chance at Europe next season there wasn’t a chance at the title. Three weeks later and Sporting are on top of the Portuguese top flight by four points with the best attack and defense in the country. Pote is probably the next record player for some club as he’s on seven goals at age 22 and the build up with Santos and Feddal and other midfielders has looked exceptional. If Benfica keep stumbling on this downward trend then the otherwise unobligated capital team will have no issue taking over the top position.

Tottenham Hotspur

The question that every Spurs fan wants answered this season is if there’s a real chance at the league this season. The answer is yes, but not in a Southampton way. This is a real chance. Right now I think the top pairing of attacking players in the world is Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller. After that it’s Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. Son is on eight goals and two assists while Kane is going mad with seven goals and eight assists, both in just eight matches. While those rates will slow the winning will not. With Liverpool injured, the other top teams starting slowly, and Leicester as the front runners, there’s a real chance for Spurs to bring the title home and get out from under the trophy jokes.

Otherwise, the transfers are looking great. Bale is clearly happy to be back in North London (or at least away from Zidane), Reguilón and Doherty are fitting in perfectly as fullbacks, and Højbjerg is dominating the central midfield. Hotspur are top of their Europa League group right now and should be seen as favorites to advance.

Twente

One of Holland’s best clubs is Twente in Enschede and while they’re fifth in the Eredivisie at the moment they’re far from out of the race. Their 20 goals are second best to only Ajax and if you take away the Ajax/VVV match then you’ve got a really interesting competition for the best attack in the Netherlands. Vaclav Cerny and Danilo are the right wing/striker combo for Twente. Cerny is 23 and Danilo is 21 and they’ve put together 12 goals and eight assists so far this season. Those are wild numbers that can help get this team up into the Europa League. The money from the sales will help propel the team forward and make the league better. I love to see it.

Union Berlin

One thing that I really like to see that one might have concluded based on the myriad of teams I’ve talked about is a smaller side overperforming. Union is in the spotlight right now in 5th place in the Bundesliga and soaking up attention as they’re rarely this high in the table, even this early in the season. As football gets younger and younger, Union have old heads, the likes of Christopher Trimmel and Max Kruse, to thank for the solid production.

Since it is older players who are making the big strides I tend to believe a bit more that this can keep up, but when we look at things realistically we can probably agree that Union will fall again. There’s probably four or five teams that I believe are genuinely better than them and I still believe Hertha is the better Berlin side. I really like the makings of this club though and they shouldn’t be discounted.

Uruguay

We’re all familiar with the makeup of Uruguay and their dominance in world football, yes? They’ve dashed the hopes of numerous rising countries and left them broken with Suárez, Cavani, Godin, and other major names leading the way. But with the end of that generation coming soon, is this summer the last chance for a big push for a while? Sure, there’s promise in players like Giménez and Valverde and maybe even Bentancur, but who is there past them? Is the next best player Lucas Toreirra? Again, countries cannot recruit of course, but I feel like there needs to be more talent if Uruguay wants to keep their status as a world power.

United States of America

It’s been a long time since I was genuinely excited about the Men’s National Team here in the United States, but their win over Panama got me to that point. Their first match back since February against Wales was a goalless draw, but the Panama match was a 6-2 win that was just fun. Let’s start with the young guys. Gio Reyna and a few others made their debut for the country. Gioacchini scored a hat trick and Reyna hit a beautiful free kick in. The future of the country is on display and though they’re probably not ready to compete for anything major yet, we’re gearing up for something special in the future.

The midfield of McKennie, Musah, and Adams is legitimate. Those three could dominate the world stage for the better part of 10 years if improvements are made. The States needs to make sure Musah gets cap locked with the country as he’s still being courted elsewhere, but this call up makes me believe he’ll stay. The trio of young fullbacks in Dest, Konrad, and Reggie Cannon are wildly promising and should be very good on the flanks in coming years.

The real positions of need are a solid number 9 who can score at will (a player like Olivier Giroud is what I envision) and really good center backs. John Brooks is good and Chris Richards is promising but you can still see that Matt Miazga and Tim Ream aren’t going to cut it on the world stage. They’re fine as backups but we need great center backs.

The States won’t be winning anything major soon just because they’re so young. There’s a lot of good players but they’re not going to take down the established superpowers yet, but getting these players experience at the senior level now and putting them on the pitch together helps a lot. Football is an impatient sport and I understand why, but there needs to be goals set. Setting our sites to compete for the 2021 Gold Cup, the 2024 Copa America, and the 2026 World Cup are responsible expectations and ones that are possible to live up to. The future is bright.

Villarreal

The swirling madness around the top of Italy and England leaves a second place Villarreal team relatively unnoticed for the most part. It’s easy to understand why they’re going mostly unnoticed when you factor in their small goal differential, but wins are wins and Villarreal is winning. But is this something they can keep up? When you dig into the stats a bit you realize that the club is underperforming actually. Despite good forward play by Moreno and Alcácer there aren’t many others contributing in sizable bits.

To compound that, the defense isn’t very good. The center backs aren’t at the top of their game and Asenjo in goal has looked subpar. My initial thought was that this is just poor form but the more I think about it the more I realize that this might just be who they are. The personnel is where it ought to be at this stage, they just need to produce performances akin to what they’re doing in the Europa League where they’re at nine points from nine in dominant fashion.

Vitesse

Vitesse are sitting second in the Eredivisie behind a very good Ajax team and though second is a good place to be generally, it’s somewhat futile with the Dutch holders above you. Vitesse are making their living with offense with three different players on four goals already. The defense looks strong enough to make a run at second, but there’s no catching Ajax. I suppose the only way Vitesse win the league is if Ajax makes the Champions League knockouts and devotes their energy to that competition but I don’t see that as a possibility.

VVV-Venlo

You just can’t be losing like that. That’s all I really have, but you all can’t go out and lose by a baker’s dozen. Come on, man.

Wales

Just a quick touch on Wales to say they look really good right now. They’ve picked up some quality wins against Finland, Ireland, and Bulgaria recently and have a team good enough to move up in the Nations League. Gareth Bale and Chris Gunter have a very solid generation to hand the keys to when they’re done with international football and should feel secure in them. Be it Dave Brooks, Ethan Ampadu, Neco Williams, or Dan James, there’s a decent future here that can make something more of themselves.

Wolfsburg

At this point in the league the questions must be ringing out around Wolfsburg, Germany, and Europe alike: Can Wolfsburg go Invincible? While it’s a ridiculous question the fact of the matter is that they haven’t lost a match yet and that stands for something. The attack is one of the worst in the Bundesliga with Wout Weghorst as the only player with multiple goals and that needs to improve for a chance to get to Europe, but the defending could be best in the country. The center backs haven’t set a foot wrong this season and Belgian keeper Koen Casteels is making a lovely season so far. If this attack improves this team is a top four threat.

Wolverhampton

Wolves are currently ninth in the Premier League, ahead of both Manchester clubs and Arsenal, after stabilizing from their tumultuous first few weeks. One thing you’ll immediately notice is that a team who were so good at scoring last season are negative in point differential with just eight goals to date. Raul is doing his part in the attack but the wingers and midfielders are struggling to produce. Adama isn’t having his best season and with his playing time reduced, he doesn’t want a new contract.

The bright spots for the club, though, are Nelson Semedo and a strong flock of youngsters moving into the team. Semedo has taken up his right midfield position quickly and makes for a migraine-inducing combination of speed and skill on the right with Adama. Youngsters like Pedro Neto, Rayan Aït-Nouri, and Fábio Silva moving in and taking minutes will help this team’s longevity through the season and keep them fresh for bigger matches at the end of the season.

Zenit Saint Petersburg

Some clubs in smaller leagues are able to operate with a lead for an entire season and play in other competitions and do relatively well in everything despite players who are just dead at the end of the season. How do they do it? Sheer talent. That’s how Zenit is competing in the RPL, it’s how Ajax is winning the Eredivisie, and it’s how Salzburg is winning in the Austrian Bundesliga. Santos, Dzyuba, Lovren, Azmoun, Erokhin, Barrios, they’re all just more talented than the teams they line up against and even if they’re only at 60%, that’s better than the opposition’s 90%. I assume Zenit will get better this season and take over the lead from CSKA sometime around Christmas.