As ever, this represents our estimation of Gareth Southgate’s thoughts. And we feel like we know him well. Numbers in brackets pertain to this ladder from October…

 

1 (2) Harry Kane
Twelve goals and five assists in eight qualifying games. His goal against Kosovo saw him become the first England player to score in every game of a qualifying campaign and it also took him back to the top of this ladder, mostly because he has never grabbed somebody by the throat in a canteen. Or at least he has never been caught grabbing somebody by the throat in a canteen.

 

2 (1) Raheem Sterling
Oh you daft bugger. There is no defending that. He is still England’s second-best source of goals and best source of running really fast and scaring the sh*t out of full-backs, mind.

 

3 (5) Harry Maguire
The only player to feature in all 720 minutes of European qualifying. And yet he still looks about half a second from dropping a bo**ock and a full second slower than most strikers he faces.

 

4 (4) Jordan Pickford
His place is safer than his hands.

 

5 (6) Marcus Rashford
Three goals in his last three England games as part of a really encouraging return to form. We would be astonished if Rashford is not in every England squad for which he is fit until the end of the next decade at least…

 

6 (3) Jordan Henderson
Two victories in his absence have damaged his cause a little, but it still feels like Henderson + 2 in that central midfield.

 

7 (7) Trent Alexander-Arnold
Remarkably, that’s the first time he has started back-to-back England games. Even more remarkably, ‘he’s yet to produce a performance for his country which doesn’t look like this one did – distracted, inaccurate, lacking in the locked-in intensity which seems as standard at Liverpool’ (and I absolutely agree with Seb Stafford-Bloor).

 

8 (10) Ben Chilwell
Perhaps those three assists against Montenegro – and solid defensive performance against Kosovo – will put an end to Gareth Southgate’s lingering and needless flirtation with Danny Rose. Chilwell is and should remain England’s first-choice left-back.

 

9 (18) Harry Winks
Six England caps, six England wins. And a goal and a man-of-the-match performance against Kosovo. It might well be Henderson, Winks + 1 with Declan Rice hopefully sidelined until he learns some of the basics of defensive midfield play.

 

10 (13) John Stones
‘Needs to play football. Absolutely needs to play football,’ is what I wrote last month. Now back in the Manchester City side and an England recall duly followed. 

 

11 (16) Nick Pope
Confirmation that he is England’s No. 2. And a clean sheet is lovely.

 

12 (17) Joe Gomez
What has become very clear is that Southgate has picked his four centre-halves and Gomez is on that list despite not playing a great deal of Premier League football. Luckily for him, Liverpool have an awful lot of games coming up. He might still be the big man.

 

13 (8) Jadon Sancho
His form has dipped for Borussia Dortmund
and he failed to pad his stats against Montenegro; just one assist from 90 minutes on the wing is not a compelling return from a 7-0 victory. Right now, he has slipped some way behind Rashford.

 

14 (15) Tyrone Mings
And there’s centre-half No. 4, who has (slightly awkwardly) claimed another cap and another clean sheet. He is literally the big man.

 

15 (9) Ross Barkley
It’s telling that he has played more minutes in this qualifying campaign than any other midfielder bar Henderson and yet almost nobody thinks he should start for England. Will he eventually be ejected like a stockier Ryan Bertrand? The initials are a clue.

 

16 (11) Declan Rice
As I wrote last month: ‘He is only 20, so there are caveats, but right now he looks far from good enough to anchor that England midfield. Still, we persuaded him not to be Irish anymore, so his squad place is probably safe for the foreseeable.’ We wanted him to be so much better than Eric Dier; he isn’t.

 

17 (12) Mason Mount
He has played a part in England’s last six games so he is clearly integrated into this England squad. Unfortunately for him, he has started twice and struggled twice. Fortunately, he can do this from the bench…

 

18 (14) Kieran Trippier
Called up but then left on the bench. It could be worse; he could be Kyle Walker.

 

19 (20) Tammy Abraham
His first England goal and confirmation – were it needed – that he is Southgate’s first-choice back-up to Kane.

 

20 (22) Fabian Delph
Even grown men need a comfort blanket. Let it go, people, let it go…

 

21 (19) Danny Rose
Clinging onto a place in the squad but for how long? Until Luke Shaw gets and stays fit, you should think. Right now, Rose is holding off Aaron Cresswell and Matt Targett in the battle to be the left-sided fireguard with the thinner chocolate coating.

 

22 (32) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Back-to-back England starts for the first time since March 2018, when he was set to start in England’s World Cup midfield before injury struck. “We’ve a huge belief in him,” said Southgate. “Whether it’s as a midfield player – where he’s excellent with or without the ball, provides a goalscoring threat, works hard for the team and presses well – or a wide player or a forward player, we’ve got huge belief in him.” And that versatility might well be what keeps in this 23 ahead of more vaunted competition.

 

23 (23) Tom Heaton
The old man completes the 23. For now.

 

24 (21) Callum Hudson-Odoi
Reclaimed and then lost his Chelsea place, while his 59 wasteful, hesitant minutes against Kosovo suggested that he might be better getting some more England experience with the Under-21s this season while he searches for his form.

 

25 (24) Callum Wilson
Nobody takes three strikers for a one-striker system. Especially when the third striker on the list has stopped scoring.

 

26 (26) James Maddison
Most chances created by Englishmen this season:
Trent Alexander-Arnold (42)
Jack Grealish (25)
James Maddison (24)
Mason Mount (23)
Raheem Sterling (22)

Sorry James, but we don’t think Gareth likes the cut of your gib. Or the gib of…

 

27 (35) Jack Grealish
Though at least Southgate hinted that Grealish could be the next cab off the attacking midfielder rank. That’s progress.

 

28 (25) Kyle Walker
Sip sliding away. Slip-sliding a-way.

 

29 (31) Fikayo Tomori
They definitely didn’t bring him on for a few minutes to claim him from Nigeria (oh yes they did). But most importantly for this ladder, he was in the squad ahead of the falling Michael Keane.

 

30 (30) Dean Henderson
England’s…No. 4. England’s, England’s No. 4.

 

31 (29) Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Clearly, Southgate is not a fan of a 90s-style full-back.

 

32 (34) Dele Alli
Back in the Tottenham side at least. Shame it’s a really poor Tottenham side.

 

33 (27) Michael Keane
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

34 (28) Jesse Lingard
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

35 (33) Eric Dier
We may never see him in an England shirt again.

 

36 (40) Phil Foden
We will surely see him in a (senior) England shirt soon, but first Pep Guardiola needs to give him more than Carabao Cup football.

 

37 (NE) Aaron Ramsdale
The Bournemouth goalkeeper is making a compelling case for a long-term battle with Henderson.

 

38 (36) Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Love the player, hate the injury.

 

39 (37) Luke Shaw
Love the player, hate the injury. And the body type.

 

40 (42) Dwight McNeil

 

41 (41) Rob Holding
42 (38) Angus Gunn
43 (39) Ryan Sessegnon
44 (43) Max Aarons
45 (NE) John Lundstram
46 (NE) Harvey Barnes
47 (44) Reiss Nelson
48 (45) James Tarkowski
49 (47) James Ward-Prowse
50 (50) Phil Neville

 

Sarah Winterburn

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Liverpool v Man City is meaningless
So it’s knickers in a twist time once again. A big media build up to an, in isolation, insignificant match. Of course each set of fans want to win, and each is a bit giddy because their teams are the current best but still it’s all bollocks really.

Liverpool will be leading no matter want. Irrespective of the result Liverpool will be leading by 3, 6 or 9 points.

City are good enough to overturn even 9 points. Make no mistake this City team will not be daunted by a 9 point gap. Spurred on by it probably.

Whoever wins it’s takes nothing away from the quality of the other team! Both are class and all the superlatives are valid.

Both managers know. This is just one match and that is what they will be focussing their teams on.

That’s said. We all will be taking sides, we will be giddy at the start and we all hope to see an attacking spectacle and goals.

Even though we know it’s meaningless, we set that aside because we love football it’s a great distraction from life’s general bull…
Chris (Mauritius 9 points Baby!)

 

Pancake City
I wrote in recently questioning how City (and Liverpool) can keep their mojo going after three intense-as-only-Guardiola-can-make-them seasons.  Well, last night’s game was a good example of what I was trying to get at.  Eleven super-talented players on the pitch but not a hungry, dynamic team and epitomised perfectly by the first goal, I think.  Great quality but seemingly almost clockwork in its execution.

I can’t quite put my finger on it but City look, not quite drab, but flat.  Players giving the ball away cheaply and the likes of HRH King Kev making some very poor passes.  Basic errors that were, largely, unforced.  I don’t know, they seem not to be as focussed as we have come to expect and I do wonder if the effort of achieving 198 points (and the consequent silverware that went with it) over the last two seasons isn’t taking its toll?  Pep put out a far stronger team than I expected (I thought for sure that he would have rested Fernandinho and Sterling for example) and yet still they couldn’t quite get the job done.

I’m also worried that Pep, in pre and post-match interviews, has been making repeated references to ‘our problems’ or ‘the problems we have’ by which he means injuries.  I stand to be corrected but I don’t recall him doing that before.  Sunday’s game was always going to be a challenge and, personally, I expect it to be a super-cagey affair but who knows?  Maybe the importance of the occasion will galvanise the players into upping their game.

I do hope so because we a clearly missing some zip or zest.  Either way I expect to be watching that game from behind the back of the sofa.
Mark (Sorry Clownio.  But when Kyle Walker makes more saves in goal than you did, it’s time to say goodbye).  MCFC

 

Enjoying our time in the sun
Chris, Croydon. I’ve lived through the highs of supporting Liverpool as a youngster and also the rollercoaster ups and downs since hitting teenhood into the present day. I take nothing for granted and am regularly bricking it whenever we play – particularly recently. Mentality monsters we might be, but having supported Liverpool for so long, it’s ingrained into me that something could and might easily go wrong at some point.

I am enjoying our moment in the sun for as long as possible, and with the possible exception of Man Utd (sorry!), the only times I want teams to lose is a) when they play us and b) if they are in direct competition with us.

So no chips here pal. I’m not sure there’s a direct correlation between being a tw*t and being a Liverpool fan. But there probably is a correlation between a traditionally big and successful club in the mire providing an easy platform for rival fans to have a poke and a laugh. Suggest you make new friends/acquaintances.

Cheers,
Somerset Dave

 

Pancake CityI felt like I needed to write in to defend Mason Mount (I think/hope you’ll get a few of these off of Chelsea fans?) after Ed asked what he provided to this team.

In your own mail, you listed 3 things he can do to the 2 things you believe he’s weak at.  Doesn’t that tell you something?  He has very intelligent link up with his fellow attackers and his drive and energy are crucial to how we play.  It is more than enough for us right now and, don’t forget, he is only 20 years old, the fact he we are having a debate as to whether he is a starter for this Chelsea team is a huge testament to him!

“Drive and energy” are kind of intangibles but if you want some cold, hard facts then he averages nearly 3 shots and 2 key passes (15th in the league by the way) a game.  He is vital to one of our styles and is flourishing under Frank.  Should he be playing every week?  No, arguably nobody should, but anyway our midfield is drenched in quality and he can easily be rotated to maintain sharpness and fitness.
BlueLuke – CFC

 

No mind games, just football
I believe the comment about Mane diving from Guardiola was out of character of him. Especially with regards to liverpool I believe there is a mutual respect and even gentleman’s agreement between the manager and players to keep the talking on the pitch. It seems Guariola’s quick reversal and compliments of Mane and Liverpool since that proves this and is a refreshing change to previous rivalries.  I forone really enjoy this rivalry without the Mourinho, Wenger, Ferguson mind games of yesteryear.  Have we ever had this combined rivalry and respect before?
David (have a feeling a comfortable win for City) Morris

 

Football music
I wholeheartedly agree with Mikey CFC on the music Real Madrid play every time they score a goal. It annoys the shit out of me.
It goes something like this for those of you lucky enough never to have heard it:
‘Ohh laay, oh laaay, oh laaaay, oh laaaaaay, oh oh laaaay, oh laaay, oh oh laay’.
I feel sorry for Cristiano Ronaldo who had to put up with that din 451 times, and hundreds of other times when he’s team mates scored a goal. Just celebrate and get on with it.

There is no competition, it’s hands down the worst.
Kireca

 

In response to Mikey, Cfc’s question about bad goal celebration music I remember when Rangers player Bob Malcolm scored what was a very rare goal for him at Ibrox it was met by the Spongebob Squarepants theme song being blared over the sound system.

As far as I could tell it wasn’t a nickname and was never referenced anywhere before or after. It was just that his name was Bob.
Duncan, Bradford

 

Hi,

Just writing in response to Mikey’s understandable mail re goal music.

I think the vast majority of people would say that goal music is completely unnecessary. I can’t see how it enhances the moment – if you need to hear rhythmic chords when your team bangs one in the onion bag to get excited then football is not really the sport for you (try WWE).

The one caveat to this is the introduction of VAR which makes me think that there would be a level of entertainment from having the ‘Countdown’ theme tune played when a decision is pending (if only their decisions took just 30 seconds !)

Regards,
Sparky LFC

 

What should Messi do?
In the article you linked in Mediawatch today on ESPN, Graham Hunter asks the reader to put themselves in Messi’s shoes and imagine what you’d do with your future and whether you’d stay at Barcelona.

To me, the answer is “I’d donate some or my salary back to the club conditionally, so that they could sign the players I want to be competitive and win the trophies I want to win.”

This isn’t something I’d suggest about almost any other player in the world – despite the fact that they could all afford it. The thing is, most players’ wages and influence don’t hamstring their clubs and limit their ability to afford reinforcements to such an extent, AND most players aren’t making so much money from endorsements that they could literally afford to play for their club for free, with no material impact to them or their family. Adidas pays Messi a fortune, and Messi gets other endorsements too.

I don’t judge Messi for not doing so, and he probably has doubts about how effectively the club would use that money, but the salary he gets from Barcelona is outsized and probably doesn’t leave enough for the club to invest sufficiently to attract the calibre of reinforcements he himself wants.
Oliver Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland

 

Top ten prolific scorers
I was fortunate enough to have the pleasure of watching Aguero (and his Argentina colleagues) in every single 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup Canada match they played. He (and they) were absolutely dominant, and now I’ve had the misfortune of seeing him score 173 goals for Manchester City. I really don’t like that he’s still this bloody good 12 years on.
Dickon – LFC – Ottawa

 

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Winners

Manchester City
Another 3-0 win in Kharkiv, but this was a far more important victory than a year ago. City did not play with any great style, or at least only did so in short bursts, but what mattered is that they showed their teeth.

People like it when City lose and, back home, the defeat to Norwich is still a punchline. The schadenfreude has evidently tweaked Pep Guardiola, too, and he was irritated enough to call back to the media’s heckling of him during his first season. A little strange; it has been more than three years.

But that just underlines how important this was. To get off to a good start in the Champions League, of course, because that’s always useful, but also to change the conversation. With that in mind, this was precisely the right moment for City to effortlessly dominate a side on their own pitch and remind everyone of their power.

And what a terrific performance from Fernandinho. Yes, Guardiola can afford to be a bit experimental with his centre-backs, but don’t underestimate the challenge of occupying an unfamiliar position at this level of the game.

 

Valencia
Our early winners. despite the chaos.

 

Erling Haaland
How much fun was that to watch? Haaland had scored three hat-tricks in the Austrian Bundesliga already this season, but for most of us this was a first glimpse. He’s a spectacle, in the true, ‘who the f**k is that?’ sense? By all accounts he possesses a slightly alternative personality away from the game (Google the story about the Champions League anthem) and he seems very off-beat in front of the press. On the pitch, though, he plays like a PG monster from a child’s nightmare.

He shouldn’t be able to move like that. Does that make sense? He’s too big, he’s too square and he has that ever-so-slightly crouched posture when runs which makes it looks like he’s swimming. So: a vast body with disproportionate limbs and a big, friendly looking face. If he was chasing you, you’d definitely run away.

Soon, he’ll take up residence in the gossip columns. He’ll be seized by the have-a-go analysts and lavished by the kind of hyperbole that will make it impossible for him to surprise us ever again. For now, though, he’s just a big, goofy teenager doing amazing things at the summit of the game.

And he also looks like he could eat Roy Keane for breakfast, which his dad probably doesn’t hate.

 

Jesse Marsch
The only shame of Haaland’s hat-trick was that it overshadowed his manager’s own accomplishment. On Tuesday night, Jesse Marsch became the first American to coach a team in the Champions League. By half-time, after a staggering 45 minutes and with a 5-1 lead, he knew he was about to become the first American to win in the Champions League too.

It’s quite a story. Five years ago, Marsch was coaching at Princeton University, and even then just as an assistant. He did spend three years in charge of the New York Red Bulls and, obviously, has benefited from the club’s network and pathways, but this has still been jet-powered rise. And a challenge, too. When he was appointed by Salzburg, the home fans hung a banner behind one of the goals in protest. A couple of months later, his team have won their first seven league games of the season, a division record, and currently boast a goal-difference of +28.

Add six more goals and three Champions League to that growing CV.

 

Mats Hummels
What a performance. That Barcelona forward line obviously isn’t what it was, but Hummels was outstanding in that goalless draw and clearly the game’s best player.

Which might be of interest to Jogi Loew, who forcefully retired Hummels from international duty at the age of just 30. You suspect that it wasn’t an entirely sporting decision, because Hummels is no wallflower, but it doesn’t look like a particularly smart one, either – particularly given how poorly Germany defended in that recent lost to Holland.

It’s not just that Hummels remains an excellent player, it’s that he comprises the balance of attributes that Loew seems to need at the centre of his defence. On this evidence, none of those abilities are on the wane yet.

 

Adrian
Just for his save, because if he never makes another appearance in the Champions League, which he probably won’t, then that’s quite a memory to take away.

It was fortuitous, because when a cross is hung up to the back post like that, there’s only so much a goalkeeper can do. The coaching instruction is presumably for him to just put himself in position to hopefully be hit by the ball – the Schmeichel starfish technique, for instance, which was actually a very passive position.

But this wasn’t just that; Adrian wasn’t just hit by the ball. Dries Merten’s technique was perfect; it was a really well-struck shot and, no matter how many times you watch, it still seems unlikely that – 1) Adrian will be able to hang in the air long enough to make the save and 2) have the necessary finger strength to gain proper purchase on the ball.

Let’s not rank it. Who cares how it measures against other excellent saves? This was just brilliant, brilliant goalkeeping.

 

Losers

Tottenham
Back to where they were, then, because everything that was good about Spurs at the weekend dissipated during the flight to Greece. They played with no pace, no accuracy or control and, most concerningly, without any authority over the game even after finding themselves two goals ahead.

That’s one of the anomalies about Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino. No matter how long this group stays together and what they experience, they never seem to acquire the ability to properly protect leads. Sometimes that can be excused on account of the opposition or scenario. More often, though, it can be traced back to inexplicable errors which, really, have no justification.

As they didn’t on Wednesday, when Christian Eriksen’s cheap turnover and Jan Vertonghen’s rash challenge allowed Mathieu Valbuena to equalise from the penalty spot.

Just calling it ‘Spursy’ is irritating, because it implies that the players have no responsibility and that, ultimately, the club’s flawed DNA can always just be used as an excuse. It’s not a curse, it’s just rubbish defending and Tottenham are guilty of it far too often.

“It’s not about tactics or quality players but the level of fight. You need to match the opponent in aggressivity, excitement, motivation. That is the first demand – you need to work. It’s not only the responsibility of one person; it’s everyone’s responsibility.”

Mauricio Pochettino is correct in his diagnosis, but so what? Five years in and his team are still kicking themselves in the balls on a semi-regular basis. This is why they haven’t won anything. It’s not the absence of some elusive fortitude, it’s because – for all their very real, very substantial improvements – they remain a fundamentally sloppy football team, prone to wavering concentration and poor decisions. They can still be brilliant to watch and their fans rightly love them for that, but how precise are they? How much detail lies behind Pochettino’s approach?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions, it’s genuinely difficult to know the answers.

Let’s not lose sight of a bigger picture: it wasn’t important that Tottenham won in Greece, it was just essential that they didn’t lose. But that not withstanding, this was still a dreadful performance which will have to be their worst of the campaign if they’re to do anything of note in the Champions League this season.

 

Christian Eriksen
And that’s why nobody bought him. He’s regularly (and correctly) identified as the side’s most important component, but he still takes far too many games off to be worth the kind of fee that Daniel Levy was asking for.

It’s not intentional, Eriksen is far from lazy, he just doesn’t possess the mental appetite for the game that very best players all share. He doesn’t have the slightly sociopathic quality that instructs that sort of drive and that’s probably why, unfortunately, he’s prone to making the same mistakes so often.

Think back to the Champions League quarter-final last season and the pass he gave away in the build up to Raheem Sterling’s disallowed goal. How does a player not learn from that kind of mistake? How is that, four months later, he can find himself in a similar situation, leave the ball hopelessly unprotected, and then fail to react properly when it’s stolen from him?

 

Liverpool
No, it shouldn’t have been a penalty but, yes, Liverpool still deserved to lose.

More here on a sloppy first night which has made a simple group much harder than it should have been.

 

Chelsea
There isn’t much point in doing game-by-game analysis of Frank Lampard, because we know he’s still learning and we knew that these kind of games would be a feature of this season. No, the defeat to Valencia wasn’t good, but it didn’t feature any new concerns or present problems with Chelsea that hadn’t already been diagnosed.

One thing though: get those set-pieces sorted. Rodrigo scored from one and Kevin Gameiro might have scored from another. Liverpool aren’t Tony Pulis’s Stoke City,

  

Antonio Conte in Europe
Conte can’t really do European football. Last time we saw him, his Chelsea side were being dumped out of the Champions League by Barcelona at the Round of 16 stage in 2017. True, he was likely preoccupied by that redundancy-baiting sulk at the time, but his Serie A-dominating Juventus side were hardly a European power either, exiting meekly to Bayern Munich in 2013 and, more embarrassingly, in the group stage a year later.

Stranger still, Juventus went all the way to the final the very next year, in Max Allegri’s first season in charge.

So there’s a something here and, as a result, familiarity in seeing Conte’s Inter, who are currently top of Serie A, being outplayed by Slavia Prague. They salvaged a late point through a fortunate deflection, but that flattered a horribly disconnected performance which Slavia didn’t quite have the composure to punish properly.

Conte’s football could never be described as exhilarating. Actually, its greatest virtue is its repetitive nature and percussive attrition, but it’s concerning just how loose Inter were and how far away from his ideals they seem to be. It’s early in his reign, that’s only to fair, but they really were hopeless.

 

Mason Mount
The last time Francis Coquelin played at Stamford Bridge he left humiliated, having been rag-dolled by Eden Hazard. On his return, he was evidently determined to leave more of an impression.

And he did. Whether there was any malice in his first half follow-through on Mason Mount is debatable – almost certainly there wasn’t – but the effect will be that one of the stories of the season will now be placed on pause. At the time of writing it’s not clear how serious the ankle injury is (although a scan has precluded ligament damage), but it was bad enough to see Mount leave the field and, presumably, will cost him a place in the team which faces Liverpool at the weekend.

Urgh. He’s one of the reasons to watch the Premier League at the moment and who wasn’t intrigued by Mount’s first steps in European football?

 

VAR
The sentiment behind Clear & Obvious is right, because nobody wants endless interference or to see tiny parts of the game being refereed. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what makes VAR such a difficult sell. The problem with this ‘high bar’ is that incidents are occurring which should be reversed – the Callejon penalty, Marc-Andre ter Stegen leaving his line – but which invariably aren’t because of that determination not to interfere.

The more that happens, whatever the intention may be, the more antagonistic it will ultimately become.

 

Lyon
The draw with Zenit now makes it eight Champions League games without a win. Stranger still, the last time they did win in the competition was against Manchester City at the Etihad.

Lyon are obviously no longer the club that won eight straight Ligue 1 titles at the beginning of the Millennium. The nature of French football has changed and their place in the domestic and continental hierarchy has been permanently altered. But this is still a team capable of doing more than they are.

Dembele, Depay, Aouar and Tousart may not be Juninho, Benzema and Govou, but it’s not as if they’re without talent.

 

Real Madrid
Big clubs have suffered at Parc des Princes during the group stage before, but this defeat felt more instructive. Not least because it was inflicted by a Paris Saint-Germain side without Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and without the customary reliance on individual power.

They just looked like the better team and, given what PSG represent in the modern game, that’s absolutely damning. But still very fair, because Real are in a terrible muddle and this felt like an accurate portrayal of what they are.

And what is that? A head coach with a very tenuous relationship with a few of his key players. A midfield which now looks tired and imbalanced and improperly weighted with attacking players. And a forward line which, last night at least, was propped up a by a player who the club tried to sell to the Chinese Super League over the summer.

When Zinedine Zidane first resigned, he made an excellent decision. He had his European Cups and a reputation which, because of that success, was very difficult to argue with. What he identified, most likely, was that the squad he’d been managing was reaching the end of its lifespan and that whomever was in charge over the next few years would have to suffer through transition.

And, unfortunately, although turning Florentino Perez down must be difficult, Zidane has stumbled his way back into the situation he did so well to extricate himself from. Remember that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer jumps out of a car which is heading off the edge of a cliff but somehow, inadvertently, rolls back in? Yeah, that.

 

Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter.

 

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