Why N’Golo Kante is the Premier League’s Best Player

Since moving to England in the summer of 2015, N’Golo Kante’s 276 tackles lead the league by a comfortable margin. The little French wizard played a key role in Leicester’s shock title run a year ago. This season Kante has been a catalyst of Chelsea’s great form which sees Antonio Conte’s side ten points ahead of their nearest competitor.

It is no coincidence that Kante has been a regular starter on both teams. In addition to his tackling, he excels at reading the game and understanding when to tackle and when to kick-start the counter attack.

Kante is widely considered to be the best tackler in the Premier League

This was extremely vital to Leicester’s style of play last season. As a side that never had much possession and struck quickly and decisively on the counter attack, Kante’s ability to win the ball anywhere on the pitch helped set up Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in their respective breakout seasons. Perhaps under-appreciated last season, the Foxes’ struggles this season show how big of a piece Kante was to their title winning side.

This season, Kante has taken his talents to Stamford Bridge and has been a part of Chelsea’s season of redemption following a tenth place showing last season. Kante’s presence in the midfield has allowed Antonio Conte to run his three back formation, which has taken the Premier League by storm this season. Kante is such a great tackler and defensive mind that Chelsea’s wing backs can go forward and threaten.

Kante has also improved his attacking this season. He has scored important goals for Chelsea against Manchester United and West Ham this season.

Kante is one of the few players capable of making significant contributions anywhere on the pitch.

The impact that Kante has had on the teams he joins is without question. His one title-winning year in Leicester has been sandwiched by two relegation battles for the Foxes. And although he can’t take all of the credit for Chelsea’s resurgence, he has been a major contributor. In a game that is all about winning, the best in England at the moment is the one who brings success with him.

 

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Unclear Futures for Some of the Prem’s Biggest Stars

Since the beginning of the decade, several players have made a name for themselves in the Premier League and have basked in the major dividends that stardom has paid. Players such as Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Philippe Coutinho and Alexis Sanchez are all world-class, but their time at their respective clubs, and in England, may be coming to a close.

Sergio Aguero

The Manchester City talisman and scorer of the most famous goal in Premier League history has seen his role at the club come under threat this season. The Argentine was absent for large portions of December and January in favor of Brazilian starlet Gabriel Jesus. However, Jesus’s injury has seemingly given a new spark to Aguero.

With 22 goals across all competitions, it is easy to see why Aguero is still considered a top striker. While there is no doubt he can still contribute to City, there are still several issues that could force an Aguero exit in the summer.

The first is whether or not Pep Guardiola wants to move on from the 28 year old in favor of youth. Jesus’ potential is so great that he could easily be equally if not more productive than Aguero one day. This is certainly a gamble as Aguero is one of the few experienced players in a youthful attack that includes Jesus, Kelechi Iheanacho, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling among others.

Secondly, it is unknown how Aguero feels about his spot in the starting XI being up for grabs. As he approaches the end of his prime years, a move to another European powerhouse seems likely for Aguero with an eye towards one day returning to play in this native Argentina.

Diego Costa

Diego Costa’s alleged frosty relationship with Antonio Conte could force the striker out this summer.

The Brazilian-born, Spanish-international striker is seemingly constantly at odds with someone. Like Aguero, Costa is one of the premier strikers in England. His 17 goals in the league this season have helped propel Chelsea to a ten point lead at the top of the table. Unlike Aguero, Costa’s problems stem more off the field than on it.

Costa has publicly feuded with teammates before and allegedly has had multiple conflicts with manager Antonio Conte. If these “conflicts” were to get to a point of no return, it would likely be the striker who would move on as Conte has completely turned around Chelsea after last season’s embarrassing performance.

However difficult he may be, Costa is a supreme talent and it is difficult to foresee a scenario where the club let tensions rise to a point where Costa would leave. Now that they have found their footing again, Chelsea would be foolish to let their top scorer leave.

Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho’s immense skill set has caught the eye of Barcelona.

Since Liverpool signed him from Inter in 2013, Philippe Coutinho’s immense promise and potential have been on display at Anfield. The Brazilian is already a top player in England and possesses the skill, pace, and mentality to become a superstar.

What has been frustrating for Reds’ fans is the inconsistency shown by Coutinho and the team as a whole in recent seasons. Coutinho has shown improvements under Jurgen Klopp and it really only seems to be a matter of when and not if he breaks into the top echelon of players in Europe.

Liverpool are not the only side that are aware of Coutinho’s talent. Barcelona have been heavily rumored to be weighing a move for him in the summer. With an aging Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi’s contract negotiations ongoing, Barca see Coutinho as a future catalyst in their side.

While Coutinho has all the tools to become a Barcelona player, he is not there yet. Barcelona will likely realize this and wait until Klopp has worked further with the dynamic play-maker before the seriously pursue him. It wasn’t until a 33 goal season in 2013-14 that Luis Suarez sealed his move from Anfield to the Camp Nou. Coutinho will need to mimic Suarez if he hopes to join his former teammate at the Catalan club.

Alexis Sanchez

As speculation on Arsene Wenger’s future in North London has stolen the headlines, Sanchez has taken a back seat. The Chilean winger is widely rumored to be unsettled at Arsenal and is frustrated by poor results in the league and Europe this season. Regardless of whether Wenger or Mesut Ozil stay at the Emirates past this summer, it seems a foregone conclusion that Sanchez will not be back next season.

23 goals and 12 assists across all competitions show how tremendous Sanchez has been this season. At the turn of the calendar year, there was a strong case to be made that Sanchez had been the best player in Europe to that point in the season. His departure would cripple Arsenal in a manner in which there is very little they could do to make up for it.

Now, as he is expected to miss an extended amount of time with an ankle problem, we will get a good look at Arsenal without Sanchez and how they cope.

If Sanchez does leave, Juventus and PSG have been rumored to be keeping an eye on him. A move to Juventus would make sense as they still have money to spend from the Paul Pogba sale. With a rock solid defense and legendary goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon, the addition of Sanchez on the wing would certainly put Juve among the favorites to win the Champions League next season.

 

 

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Premier League Matchweek 23 Preview and Predictions

A rare midweek slate for the Prem offers some enticing match-ups this week. Headlined by Liverpool hosting Chelsea at Anfield, Arsenal and Manchester City also have tough games.

Something to watch for will be if some managers opt to rest a few starters in preparation for another slate of games this weekend. However teams like Chelsea, with matches against Liverpool and Arsenal are likely to play their full lineup in both matches.

Liverpool vs Chelsea:

Jurgen Klopp’s men have endured a horrible recent run of form. Three consecutive home defeats in the last nine days has seen the Reds exit both domestic cups as well as falling back in the Prem table.

However, Liverpool have a reputation for performing very well against good sides while underperforming against lesser teams. The team has suffered from the absence of dynamic wimger Sadio Mane who was representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations. It doesn’t look like he will be able to start as he missed training due to travel problems.

The good news for Klopp and Co. is that they will have Roberto Firmino, who managed to get a drunken driving court date pushed back 24 hours. At home, Liverpool will not make it easy on the league leaders.

Chelsea sit eight points clear of second at the moment and have recovered nicely since losing at Tottenham a few weeks back. The Blues have arguably their most important two game stretch of the season this week (@ Liverpool, vs Arsenal). If they can manage four points from these games, Conte would be satisfied and it would make it unlikely for Chelsea to fall back.

Leading goalscorer Diego Costa and the talented Eden Hazard will look to have a field day against an underwhelming Liverpool defense. But can Chelsea’s own defense hold against Liverpool’s dynamic and versatile attack?

Liverpool 2 Chelsea 2

 

West Ham United vs Manchester City:

Brazilian starlet Gabriel Jesus is expected to feature against West Ham.

The post-Dimitri Payet era begins at West Ham with a brutal matchup against a desperate Manchester City. Despite Payet causing distractions for much of the past month, West Ham have actually been in a good run of form. Slaven Bilic has guided the Hammers to 10th after flirting with relegation early in the season.

Even sans Payet, West Ham is not short on talent. Michail Antonio can defend while being a threat going forward from the midfield and Andy Carroll is a threat in the air and has been in a good run of form.

For the visitors, three points are paramount if City want to get back on track as they battle for a top four spot. Guardiola and Co. thrashed West Ham 5-0 here a few weeks ago in a cup tie and will look to build on that performance. West Ham’s struggles defending on the wing means that young wingers such as Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and the new kid in town Gabriel Jesus could be in for big games.

West Ham 1 Manchester City 2

 

Arsenal vs Watford

Arsene Wenger is suspended for the Gunners’ match against Watford following his altercation with an assistant official vs Burnley

The second place Gunners will be doing a bit of scoreboard watching on Tuesday as a home victory and a Chelsea loss at Anfield would move Arsenal to within five points of the leaders. Such a result would reignite the title race for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger will have to watch the match from the stands as he is suspended from the touchline for his antics during last week’s match against Burnley.

The Gunners will be expected to win as they have arguably the league’s best player the season in Alexis Sanchez (20 goals and 7 assists in all competitions). Combine that with Mesut Ozil, who just oozes class and it isn’t hard to see why the Gunners are expected to win this match.

Watford have been miserable recently, but possess the players and they ability to play ninety tough minutes against anyone. Troy Deeney is Mr. Watford and the captain enters the match coming off a good performance against Watford. If Deeney finds the net and Etienne Capoue can navigate the midfield easily, Arsenal will have a game on their hands.

Arsenal 2 Watford 1

 

Other Matchups:

Manchester United 3 Hull City 0: Hull’s miserable defense will be exploited by Zlatan, Pogba and Co.

Sunderland 0 Tottenham 2: Sunderland have not improved in January window while Tottenham remain in good form. Dele Alli to score.

Bournemouth 3 Crystal Palace 2: Youth trumps experience as Eddie Howe’s Cherries edge out Sam Allardyce’s Palace in an exciting one.

Burnley 1 Leicester City 1: Burnley are really good at home but Leicester have to turn it around at some point.

Middlesborough 0 West Brom 1: Low scoring affair predicted here as ‘Borough park the bus. Im thinking ninth-place West Brom eek it out.

Swansea 1 Southampton 1: The Saints are the better side but home field and improvements under a new manager earn Swansea a point.

Stoke City 1 Everton 1: Another big game as two of the best sides outside of the top six duke it out. Everton to steal a draw late.

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Weekend Preview and Predictions: Matchweek 22

Another weekend of important matches is nearly upon us in the Premier League. This slate of games has potential to shake up the table quite a bit. The marquee matchup of the weekend is between a red hot Tottenham Hotspur side and desperate Pep Guardiola-led Manchester City. Manchester United faces a test to stay relevant. Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all face manageable games, which they must take advantage of.

 

Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur

Man City Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has been heavily criticized in recent days. He will need to be stellar in between the sticks on Sunday against Tottenham.

The difference in current form between the two sides could not be larger. Tottenham are winners of seven straight in the league dating back to last month. They are also enjoying second spot in the table on goal differential over Liverpool. As for City, they have lost two of their last three including an embarrassing performance last weekend at Everton. City’s slim title hopes and fading Champions League aspirations are on the line this weekend.

The key player in this match will be City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Bravo was brought in from Barcelona to replaced the out of favor Joe Hart. His play has been heavily scrutinized as he owns the worst save percentage in the league this year. Tottenham is playing too well to not get their chances, but can Bravo make enough saves to keep City in it? Man City’s attack has also stalled recently and must get back on track. Although it won’t be easy against league-best defense. Can City break through? Maybe, but it won’t be enough for three points at home.

Manchester City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1

 

 

Stoke City vs Manchester United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will look to get on the score sheet against Stoke City.

 

The Red Devils travel to Stoke this weekend in what is always a tricky match to get three points from. Stoke have long prided themselves on tripping up title contenders late in the season and derailing their hopes. If Mourinho wants to keep any chance of a title this year, United must get three points from this match.

One thing to watch for will be who controls the aerial game. This match features the top two aerial sides in the Prem according to WhoScored.com. It is not hard to see why, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Stoke’s 6’7 striker Peter Crouch featuring in the game. In the end, it will come down to what it always has this season for United, finishing chances. Mourinho’s men will dominate possession, but can they score enough?

Stoke City 1 Manchester United 2

 

 

 

Chelsea vs Hull City

 

Chelsea will reportedly welcome back star striker Diego Costa to the lineup.

 

The Blues have built a seven point lead for themselves already in their first year under the guidance of Antonio Conte. They managed to win last week despite the absence of Diego Costa and the drama surrounding his situation. Costa will reportedly be back on the pitch at Stamford Bridge this weekend against Hull City. The Blues will be heavy favorites to continue to build on their impressive point total.

Unfortunately for Hull, a David and Goliath story doesn’t seem to be in the cards this weekend. The Tigers have only taken four points away from home all season and Chelsea have taken 29 of a possible 33 at Stamford Bridge. Look for Chelsea’s attacking trident of Costa, Eden Hazard, and Willian/Pedro to feast on one of the worst defenses in the league. Unless Conte’s men show up horribly under-prepared, I would expect no problems for the hosts here.

Chelsea 4 Hull City 0

 

Other Matches: 

Arsenal 2 Burnley 0: Burnley is worst in the league away from home, and Arsenal don’t seem in the mood to drop points at the Emirates.

Liverpool 4 Swansea 1: League-worst Swans are badly undermanned defensively to deal with Liverpool’s attack.

Middlesborough 0 West Ham 0: Two stingy, conservative defenses play to a stale mate with no Dimitri Payet to guide the Hammers.

Bournemouth 1 Watford 1: Interesting match up, thinking Watford sneaks one in here to salvage an away point.

Crystal Palace 1 Everton 2: Everton look good were very impressive last week, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them lay an egg here.

West Brom 1 Sunderland 0: West Brom are very sound defensively and aren’t in eighth for no reason.

Southampton 1 Leicester 1: Maybe a bit optimistic for Foxes to get an away point sans Mahrez and Slimani.

 

Weekend Preview & Predictions: Matchweek 21

As we round into January, the chances to make up for past mistakes become fewer and far between. It seems that this is where the eventual champion makes a move every year. This weekend could potentially show a shake up in the table.

Manchester United vs Liverpool:

Paul Pogba (right) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be two of Man United’s most important players Sunday vs Liverpool

A truly classic rivalry between two of the most storied clubs in England. Man U-Liverpool entertains every time these two sides meet. This weekend, the stakes are much higher in a virtually must-win game for Mourinho’s men. United, winner of ten consecutive in all competitions, at least need a point to have any chance of catching Chelsea.

One way they can possibly snag all three is off set pieces and crosses. With players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, as well as Chris Smalling coming up on corners, United will have an advantage in the air. Expect Manchester United to create plenty of opportunities in this game. The real question is whether they will be able to capitalize on those.

For Liverpool, they sit in second, so their situation is not as dire as United’s. However a win and a Chelsea loss would move the Reds within two points. Liverpool will be missing dynamic winger Sadio Mane, who is participating in the Africa Cup of Nations. Exciting Brazilians Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho will look to make up for some of what Liverpool will miss from Mane. Firmino and Coutinho will look to make Man United sorely miss their own Africa Cup of Nations participant. The Red Devils will be without Eric Bailly’s patience and athleticism at the back.

Manchester United 2  Liverpool 2

 

Leicester City vs Chelsea:

N’Golo Kante makes his return to the King Power Stadium on Saturday

Chelsea still maintain a solid grip on the league at this point in the season. The Blues will look to further distance themselves from the pack with a win against reigning champions Leicester. The Foxes have been underwhelming this season, but still remain dangerous at home.

This match got much more interesting Friday, when reports that Chelsea star striker Diego Costa had been dropped from the starting lineup. Costa and manager Antonio Conte had an apparent argument in training and Costa hasn’t trained in three days. This puts an interesting strain on Chelsea from a tactical standpoint. Young Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi is Costa’s backup. Conte could play Eden Hazard as a False 9 and Willian and Pedro as wingers. Chelsea are still favorites, but it will be interesting to see how this in addition to coming off a 2-0 defeat to Spurs affects them.

Leicester will also be missing a key piece in Riyad Mahrez. The Foxes’ most creative player is representing Algeria at the Africa Cup of Nations along with striker Islam Slimani. They do have the benefit of playing at the King Power, which they play significantly better at. Leicester could potentially cause Chelsea problems with their lightning quick counter attacks finished by Jamie Vardy. This match also marks the return of N’Golo Kante to the King Power, where he won the title last season with Leicester.

Leicester City 1 Chelsea 1

 

Everton vs Manchester City

Kevin De Bruyne will look to exploit an undermanned Everton midfield.

As we approach this critical stretch of the season, very few have as much on the line as Pep Guardiola. Guardiola’s debut season in Manchester has had its bumps. City are only seven points back and games like this can be crucial. Everton aren’t quite top tier quality, but they can certainly surprise at Goodison Park.

Expect league leaders in possession, Man City to do exactly that. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne should run free as Everton will miss Idrissa Gueye. Gueye, the leader in tackles this season, is also playing in Africa. Sergio Aguero’s prospects look good for a goal this weekend. If City control the pace and limit counter attacks, they should cruise by the Toffees.

For Ronald Koeman’s men, they must make the most of every opportunity. When you play against a team that likes to control the game, your chances are going to be limited. Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley will need to be in top form if Everton are to keep up with the visitors.

Everton 1 Manchester City 3

 

Other Matches:

Swansea 0 Arsenal 1: I sense a late winner from Olivier Giroud saving the day for the Gunners.

Spurs 2 West Brom 0: Dele Alli’s form as of late has been stunning and playing at home will be too much for West Brom.

Burnley 0 Southampton 1: Burnley’s Tom Heaton is a quality goalkeeper. But I think one slips through for the Saints.

Hull 0 Bournemouth 3: Eddie Howe is one of the world’s best young managers. Bournemouth power by weak Hull.

Sunderland 0 Stoke 2: Sunderland are not focused with all these transfer rumors surrounding them.

Watford 1 M’Borough 0: Watford continue successful season, Deeney and Co. break through vs stingy Borough defense.

West Ham 1 Palace 3: The Payet rumors cannot be good for morale. Zaha and Puncheon always make Palace dynamic.

 

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One Signing Each Premier League Contender Should Make in January

 

We are just past the halfway point in this Premier League season. As it stands, six teams are within ten points of the top. January is the final chance for these sides to polish their team as the final dash for the title is in sight.

Chelsea: Tiemoue Bakayoko, Monaco

Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko could help stabilize Chelsea’s midfield.

The Blues have been tearing through the league this season. New manager Antonio Conte has instilled his 3-4-3 formation into the side and Chelsea has rocketed to the top of the league. The brilliant play of summer signing N’Golo Kante has been a large reason behind Chelsea’s turnaround season. The ability to win the ball in the midfield has allowed the Blues to feed their very talented attacking players. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have each enjoyed bounce-back seasons.

If a side is going to run the 3-4-3 effectively, they need excellent defensive midfield play to make up for the one less defender at the back. While Kante and Nemanja Matic have done well thus far, Chelsea is still thin at the position. Bakayoko is just 22 years old and is enjoying a breakout season for Monaco. His dribbling ability through the middle would allow Hazard and Willian to play more wide. From there they can whip in crosses to Costa, one of the best in the air in all of England. Bakayoko’s youth is enticing as Matic is 28 and has been inconsistent at times this season. Although his playing time could be limited initially, Bakayoko will undoubtedly be a big part of the future at Stamford Bridge if Conte is able to acquire his services.

Liverpool: Quincy Promes, Spartak Moscow

Liverpool target Quincy Promes has helped Spartak Moscow to the top of the Russian Premier League

In Jurgen Klopp’s second season at Anfield, Liverpool have arisen as serious title contenders at this point in the season. Their plethora of attacking players, including Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino have been very efficient in the attacking third.

However, Klopp will be without Mane for a large part of the next month. The Senegal international will be participating in the Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament comes at a critical time in Liverpool’s season with matches against Manchester United and Chelsea on there horizon. Promes has had a great season at Spartak. He has netted six goals and also has six assists in the Russian Premier League as Spartak have surprised by leading at this point in the season. It may be tough to coax Promes from Spartak, but Klopp should try. Promes will give Liverpool some width while Mane is away. He can play opposite Mane, which will benefit the Reds when Mane returns from international duty.

Tottenham: Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha would bring creativity on the wing to White Hart Lane

Once again, Mauricio Pochettino has put Spurs squarely in the title conversation. Tottenham sit third in the table at the turn of the calendar year. Young players have stepped up this season, including 20-year-old midfielder Dele Alli. Spurs are fighting off Real Madrid for his services.

However, Spurs could use an outside threat to compliment their plethora of middle attacking players. Alli, Harry Kane, and Christian Eriksen have combined to score 25 goals in the league this season. All of those players are under the age of 25. 24-year-old Zaha could add to this “young core” that Pochettino has built at White Hart Lane. Zaha, who plays on the left wing at Crystal Palace, would compliment Kane, Eriksen, and Alli in the middle. Zaha is extremely skilled with the ball at his feet and has a tremendous ability to get crosses in from tough angles. Erik Lamela has been underwhelming again this season and Zaha could fill the void for Spurs.

Manchester City: Holger Badstuber, Bayern Munich

Holger Badstuber’s experience at the back could prove invaluable for Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola’s highly anticipated first year at the Etihad has been up and down. A victory against Barcelona in the Champions League showed City’s potential under Pep. However, they have been very inconsistent at times domestically. Their inconsistency, especially at the back, is the primary reason why they find themselves seven points adrift at this juncture.

Man City payed quite a bit to sign promising young English center back John Stones from Everton over the summer. Stones, while very talented and promising, is still raw. There has been more than one occasion where he has looked lost this season. Captain Vincent Kompany’s injury woes have continued and it is difficult to rely on him for an extended period of time. Eliaquim Mangala consistently underperforms when given a chance in the starting XI. Badstuber is very experienced at just 27 years of age. He has 119 caps for Bayern and 31 for the German National Team. While a permanent deal is unlikely, Pep could explore a six-month loan deal for Badstuber. This would give City added security and depth at the center back for the remainder of the season while Stones continues to develop.

 

 

 

Arsenal: Ricardo Pereira, Porto (on loan at Nice)

Ricardo Pereira is a perfect solution to Arsenal’s right-back injury crisis.

Arsene Wenger is notorious for not making moves in the January transfer window, even when his team could really use them. Fifth place Arsenal have been by no means bad this season, but there is always room for improvement at the Emirates.

Promising young right back Hector Bellerin will be out for an extended period of time with an injury and his predecessor Mathieu Debuchy is rumored to be at odds with Wenger and on his way out of North London. This leaves the underwhelming Carl Jenkinson as the only right back on the Gunners’ roster. Ricardo, who is on loan at Ligue 1 leaders Nice from Porto has exploded this season. His 7.6 match rating on WhoScored.com has him placed in their Ligue XI team of the season. He provides sound defending and security at the back. Pereira is also a threat going forward, with a goal and three assists this season. He could be a perfect solution in the interim while Bellerin is injured. And his ability going forward could see him utilized as a wing-back or midfielder when the Spaniard returns.

Manchester United: Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann would be an expensive, but worthwhile signing for Manchester United.

After a disastrous start to the season, Jose Mourinho has begun to right the ship at Old Trafford. Despite being ten points back of Chelsea, things are looking up at Old Trafford. Manchester United have played well throughout the season, but have failed to convert the many chances they create. 31 goals in the League is significantly less than the other five “contenders”.

Griezmann is widely considered one of the best players in the world and would not come cheap. However is precision in the final third is exactly what United need. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a pure striker who doesn’t create, and while Paul Pogba is one of the most creative midfielders in the world, he is limited going forward to do the teams reliance on him from a defensive standpoint. Griezmann would fit right into Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 as an attacking midfielder. He played this role brilliantly for France in this summer’s European Championships where he scored a tournament-high six goals. It also doesn’t hurt that Griezmann is close friends with fellow Frenchman Pogba. The two could do lots of damage if they play together under Mourinho.

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European Championship Recap

Superlatives of Euro 2016

 

At the close, there are questions answered as well as questions asked. There are winners and losers, overachievers and underachievers, overrated and underrated teams, players that showed up for their country and those who didn’t. Let’s get right into it:

Individual Winners

Gareth Bale (Wales). Leads his country to their first ever semifinal appearance and, if not for an Aaron Ramsey suspension, might’ve made it to the final to face France.

Antoine Greizmann (France). Despite France losing in the Final, Antoine was the best player of the whole tournament, even if the coach didn’t put him in the starting eleven. He proved to us why he is so valued at Atletico Madrid.

Eder (Portugal). Had an awful year at the club level and came on as a substitute in the final to be the lone striker for a Portugal team hanging on for a penalty shootout, and scores the game winning goal in extra time to give Portugal its first major title. He won it for Portugal, he’s a winner.

Antonio Conte (Italy). The coach taught the soccer world a lesson in why no one should ever ignore the Italians. Even though they lost to Germany in penalties, Italy never looked out of it throughout the tournament.

Individual Disappointments

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden). Known as the “Super Swede” and probably the greatest Swede to ever play soccer, went goalless in the 3 games Sweden played in group play in which they didn’t make it out of the group. This tournament would be his last with the national team as he focuses the last years of his career at the club level with his new club Manchester United.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal). Going into the tournament as the best player, he had a rough tournament by his standards (3 goals and 1 assist in 7 games). This tournament made me question whether or not 31 year old Ronaldo was showing signs of being on the decline and for that reason alone was disappointing.

Wayne Rooney (England). I could pick many English players, but I have to go with the captain as the most disappointing; chosen to lead this young and talented group into a new era of English football. Well, he did just that. Rooney lead England to rock bottom after losing to Iceland in humiliating fashion.

Thomas Muller (Germany). Another Euro gone, another Euro where Muller has gone without a goal, which is crazy considering the rate at which he scores in World Cups.

Overachieving Teams

Iceland. Everyone loves an underdog and Iceland was definitely an underdog at the beginning of the tournament. They made it all the way to the final 8, putting the English FA in disarray, before losing to the hosts. They were fun to watch.

Wales. On the back of Gareth Bale was how this team was going to have a chance to advance… or maybe not entirely the case. While Bale was the leader, Wales played like a team and shocked the world by making it to the semifinal after upsetting tournament dark horse or favorite (depending who you ask), and “golden generation”, Belgium.

Underachiever

Belgium. Disappointing only begins to describe how this tournament went for Belgium. This team had so much talent even without injured captain and defender Vincent Kompany, it was surprising that the team, even though they made it to the round of eight, was not meshing well under coach Wilmots.

Most Overrated

England. So much talent, so much promise, and so much… nothing. England was easily one of the more talented teams in the competition, but they didn’t have any mental toughness to come with that talent. They lacked a will to win and it showed when tournament sweethearts Iceland sent them home at the beginning of the knockout rounds.

Most Underrated

Croatia. If not for the hard-to-watch style that Portugal played with and the late extra time goal from Quaresma in the round of 16, Croatia was my pick to get to the final to face either Germany or France. This team played very well and did not like being taken lightly as Spain found out when they lost the group to Croatia in the final game of group play. The team worked well, communicated, and proved to be very formidable, especially in the midfield.

Champion’s Summary

The European Championship is held every 4 years. This year, it was hosted by France. And this year, it introduced a new 24 team format, which allowed for the best of four teams that placed 3rd in their group to advance to the knockout rounds in the tournament. One of the teams that made it to the knockout round was Portugal, the eventual champions. Portugal had drawn in all 3 of their group play games, culminating in 3 points. Under the previous rules, Portugal would not have even made the knockout rounds. They played a boring style of soccer; interrupting the flow of play by fouling, hopefully not too dangerous to earn a card, and dare the opposing team to break them down. They didn’t want any sort of counter attack to unload on them and put pressure on defenders like Pepe to be perfect on the closeout. Portugal did not look like the champions of Europe, yet they are. They failed to win any of their matches in under 90 min until the semifinal against Wales. These Euros are comparable to when Greece won in 2004; they just looked like they shouldn’t have been champions, but they raised the trophy after the final whistle. I am not downplaying Portugal’s run, but I will say the quality teams were on the other side of the bracket (Germany, France, Italy, etc.) so they did have a kind run having to not face Belgium. But they won. They beat the host nation. With the Euros now over, Portugal as champion, France in heartbreak, myself and soccer fans worldwide can now look seriously at the transfer rumor mill.