All posts by swinter16

Why Manchester City will Win the Premier League in 2017

On February 21, 2017, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City had just completed a fantastic comeback against AS Monaco. They led the game after some superb work by Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, but then trailed after Radamel Falcao and the young Kylian Mbappe finished two superb chances, and battled back to eventually take a 5-3 lead against Monaco. The attack was great; the defense – not so much. Pep came out afterwards and said, ‘”They will attack more and more, and we have to defend better. We are not going to defend that result. We have to score goals. If we don’t score a goal in Monaco, we will be eliminated.” Monaco had three away goals for their efforts in Manchester, and Pep’s defense, which had leaked goals all throughout the campaign in league play as well, was still susceptible and had identified that early on.


Unfortunately, whatever lead City had from the first leg quickly disappeared at the end of the Round of 16, and Pep Guardiola failed to reach the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career. On the other end of things, his side’s performance in the English Premier League was also shaky. Apart from the first six weeks in which they won every game, City was struggling to maintain pace with runaway leaders Chelsea, and runners-up Tottenham. All of a sudden, Pep had found himself in a precarious situation, and one he had not experienced since the spring of 2012, in his last season with FC Barcelona. The prospect of his first trophy-less season had begun to become reality for Pep, and in the May of 2017, it indeed became a reality. City finished the season without any silverware.

Such a season was never part of the plan for City Football Group, nor was it a part of the plan for Pep when he joined. His impeccable track record in Spain and Germany guaranteed success, and thus the failure to attain any significant silverware in 2017 obviously did not sit well with either party. For Pep especially, this season was hard to swallow. The displeasure of the season could be seen as soon as the season ended, and in June, many veteran players made their way out of City. Players who had won the Premiership in 2014 like Pablo Zabaleta, Willy Caballero, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Jesus Navas were all let go. In came Bernardo Silva, Kyle Walker, Ederson, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo. City’s business was quick and efficient, but also expensive. Walker and Mendy both broke the record for the most expensive defender signed, a record previously held by City’s own John Stones. Ederson also broke Gianluigi Buffon’s record transfer for a goalkeeper. However expensive all these moves were, they displayed Pep’s intent.


One year after his arrival at City, Pep now has a squad that he can truly call his own. And as such, Manchester City now have a team that should be among the favorites for winning the Premier League. The main difference is the presence of quality, young fullbacks. Over the course of last season, both Walker and Mendy have grown into players that can stretch the width of the pitch, the way that Pep initially wanted to. Last season, with Kolarov paired with Sagna or Zabaleta, he opted to overload the midfield with these fullbacks. This placed more of an emphasis on the wingers to provide width. But now, having fullbacks that can theoretically do both, the responsibility of the wingers should be more focused on creating alongside the midfield while the fullbacks stretch the play. Danilo also becomes an important addition due to his ability to play on both sides of the pitch. While he is not the best option as a starting left-back, he can provide as a more than competent backup for Mendy and Walker simultaneously.

With younger, fresher fullbacks next to them, Otamendi and Stones should be able to perform much better this upcoming season. City’s defense leaked many goals last season due to the wings being overloaded by opponents. Otamendi was superb at times last season, but also made some careless errors. He had never played on a team that focused on possession as much as Pep Guardiola does. Both in Spain and Portugal, the teams he played on relied on a more classical approach to football. At times, it was end to end, and this became something that Argentina excelled at. As last season wore on, his concentration improved and the errors decreased. In Stones, Pep has a center back with the qualities of a midfielder. As seen in his time at Everton and his first season in Manchester, Stones can distribute the ball in between lines, read plays and initiate attacks. Now, with two fullbacks like Walker and Mendy, his job becomes a lot easier this season. Last season, there a lot of uncertainty existed regarding Stones’ play. He struggled many times to move the ball quickly and read danger. At the age of 22 and at a price tag of nearly £50 million on his head, it was safe to say that the pressure got to him. Now, with a season under his belt and with the guidance of Pep Guardiola, the 2017/18 season will be the season that he can truly start reaching his potential. With Ederson behind them, the center back pairing can excel knowing that they have a pair of solid hands to keep them alive. While Claudio Bravo was theoretically a quality purchase (given that he was an important fixture in a Barcelona squad that won back to back La Liga titles), he appeared shaky in England. The world-class keeper in Spain turned into a flop, and as the season wore on, he lost confidence and was dropped for Willy Caballero. This lack of belief and instability in a goalkeeper rubs off on those in front of him, which happened several times throughout the season.


City’s midfield never really had any problems last season. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva continued the stellar performances that they displayed in Manuel Pellegrini’s final season. They were fluid together, and under Pep, they managed to tear through any defense in front of them. De Bruyne managed to score five times and recorded 18 assists. Silva also provided a much-needed control for the team throughout the season, and scored four times and got seven assists. Both players are world-class. While Silva is getting a little older (turning 32 later this season), his quality will be vital for City in 2018. De Bruyne is arguably the best attacking midfielder in the game at the moment. His rise has been spectacular and he will only continue in this trajectory. İlkay Gündoğan is another name that will be important for City. When he joined from Borussia Dortmund, he had a fantastic start. He controlled play much like we saw Xavi do for Pep’s Barcelona side. He made deep runs to help set up and score goals, and his experience in Europe was vital. His injury setback, though, had a deep impact on City’s squad. Yaya Toure had to come in and fill the role, which he did spectacularly last season. Nonetheless, the team lost an important midfield figure. This season, if he stays fit alongside Toure, Gündoğan can provide a calmness in the midfield, while helping to create and help take the load off of De Bruyne and Silva. Toure will most likely be playing his last season at City. After a turbulent start to the season with some personal issues between himself and the manager, Toure apologized and took control of a midfield that needed his experience. He should be able to do the same this season but with a more stable back line behind him, and his responsibility will be more focused on maintaining control – something he’s always excelled at.

City’s attack has always been fluid, even when they struggled last season. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling both grew into their roles last season. They started out a little timid, but as the season wore on, they stretched play like Guardiola wanted them to, and finished off several chances. However, most likely due to their age (Sane is 21 and Sterling is 22), they were largely inconsistent throughout the season. The understanding of what Pep wanted from them was a little lost, as was the case for the whole team. In preseason play early this season, both looked in sync with the rest of the team. For the upcoming season, both will have a better knowledge of what is expected of them, and with more consistent performances, their roles will help City lift the title. Sergio Agüero once again provides Pep with a world class finisher. While he also struggled with inconsistency, his performances have always helped the team. His ability to finish is unparalleled in the Premier League. His chemistry with the young Gabriel Jesus is also growing. Jesus only had a half season to acclimate to the Premier League, but when he had the chance, he took to England like fish in water. He was once again promising in preseason, and with Agüero by his side. He should continue to grow and eventually become a world-class striker himself.

Bernardo Silva.jpg

The one decision that Pep has made this summer that probably will most likely help him out the most is the addition of Bernardo Silva. Silva provides City with depth on the wings and in the middle. Silva was an important cog in Monaco’s system last season that took them to the Champions League semifinals. He can function both as a ball carrier and as a creator, being able to play through the center of the wing. He can almost play as a younger, less talented version of Messi for Pep. His versatility across both the forward line and the midfield can help Pep experiment with a false-nine system like in Barcelona, or the 4-1-4-1 he used in Munich. In both of these systems, Pep can replicate the great success that he had in Germany and Spain, and gives him the tactical variation that he greatly needed last season. The failures of Guardiola last season were attributed to him underestimating the Premier League. However, it seems as though this time last season, Pep overestimated the squad he had available. There were too many aging players who did not fit his plan, but he overlooked it and ultimately paid for it. This summer though, he maneuvered efficiently, cutting out the deadwood and making purchases that helped him implement his preferred playing style. And in doing so, the Premier League might see one of the most stacked teams assembled in recent history, and one that should go on and win the league title, and perhaps more this coming season, and in the future.

Farewell, Neymar: Analyzing his Departure from Barcelona

On February 14, 2017, FC Barcelona left the city of Paris with their tails tucked between their legs, after a 4-0 drubbing. Utterly humiliated by the capital team, Paris Saint Germain, Barça left France with their season in tatters. They lagged behind the leaders of La Liga and the team’s biggest rival, Real Madrid, and were now facing elimination in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2007/08 season. There was little hope for the returning leg. No team in the history of the competition had ever recovered from a 4-0 loss. Critics from across the world analyzed the game, and gave their take on the comeback: impossible, was the verdict.

A core group of fans believed. They rallied behind their beloved players, and ‘Remuntada’, Catalan for comeback, became the word for hope. And somewhere along the way, the players began to believe as well: especially one Neymar Jr. He posted a quote on Instagram and Twitter, stating: “As long as there is a 1 percent chance, we will have 99% belief”. And so, with the words spoken from their beloved number 11, Barça fans believed. Then came the day, March 8th 2017. Camp Nou was filled to the brim, and the teams lined up. Barcelona needed five goals to win, and six goals if PSG scored; both very difficult tasks.  Yet, after an early goal by Luis Suarez, an own goal by Layvin Kurzawa and a penalty easily tucked away by Lionel Messi, Barça seemed to be heading towards the impossible. A goal by Edinson Cavani knocked their progress, and with PSG having one goal back, Barca now needed six goals to win on aggregate. 30 minutes remained still, but three goals seemed unlikely. As time ran out, so did hope. That was until the young Brazilian, Neymar, stepped up. With three minutes of regular time remaining, the left winger produced an outstanding goal from a dangerous free kick. He then stepped up for a penalty in the 90th minute to draw Barça level. Finally, with stoppage time running out, Neymar provided a sublime pass for Sergi Roberto, to score the sixth goal of the game. And just like that, the Remuntada was complete. The impossible was done and Camp Nou erupted. The players celebrated in awe, while PSG were stunned; baffled at how they had surrendered a four-goal lead. And while Lionel Messi was usually the first name to sing praises for, tonight, a different man had stepped up in the time of need for Barcelona. The man whom Barça fans had put their faith in since he had arrived, and christened the heir of Messi. It was Neymar, who had led the team to this comeback. He was now their very own.


Four months later, and only a Copa Del Rey trophy in hand after a tough season, the love story between Neymar and Barcelona has grown somewhat cold. Over the last two weeks, a lot of speculation has been made over a possible transfer for Neymar to PSG. On the morning of July 18, Brazilian journalist Marcelo Bechler made what seemed to be an outlandish claim (at the time). He stated that reports from Paris and close friends of Neymar had revealed that the Parisian club would pay the astronomical release clause in Neymar’s contract, and sign the player. While many dismissed the rumor because the fee being mentioned was very large (£196 million or 222 million euros), the value of this transaction would shatter the current world record fee paid for Paul Pogba last summer by Manchester United (which was 100 million euros and incredible in its own right). But, within the last two weeks, several developments and events have turned this potential transfer into a likely possibility.

Within the next few days, Paris Saint Germain should have the world’s greatest talent within their ranks, and Barcelona will be 222 million euros richer. But, the real question arises as to why Neymar would leave Barcelona. He would be leaving a team in which he’s settled, playing with arguably the best player in the world in Lionel Messi, and part of a core group of players poised to compete for every trophy every season. Last year, Kevin Durant was ridiculed for joining the Warriors: a team that his own Oklahoma City side had relinquished a 3-1 lead to in the Western Conference Finals. Many criticized his attitude, and while the decision betrayed the team that had given him so much, it made sense on a sporting level. By the end of the 2016/17 season, Durant was the NBA Finals’ MVP, and had a ring to his name. In Neymar’s case, it seems he’s taking the opposite path. He’s poised to join a team that he himself embarrassed, and a team that does not seem to be able to consistently compete against other European Giants.

download (1).jpg

Prior to joining Barcelona in 2013, Neymar was the biggest sensation and young talent in the world. He was touted as the next best, hailed by legends like Pele, and clubs all around Europe were chasing his signature. When Barça won that signature, he came to the club ready to learn and work in tandem with Messi. He said all of the right things, and after a somewhat rocky start, was firing on all cylinders. He was instrumental in the treble that Barça won in 2015, scoring 23 times in the league, and 10 times in the Champions League, with most of those goals coming in the knockout stages, and one in the final. He then got a chance to carry the team in the fall of 2015 when Messi was injured for a couple of months. Neymar lifted the team at that time with his best performance coming in the Santiago Bernabeu, where Barcelona demolished Real Madrid on their own turf. He would play a big part in helping his team win a second domestic double. And even in a less-than-stellar season for Barça, Neymar produced moments of magic, such as in the ‘Remuntada’. Yet, it feels as though Neymar desires something more. All of the greatest athletes have egos. And to be the best, they must believe in their own abilities. While Neymar has played the role of a sidekick very well, he finds himself at a crossroads. His ambition remains to be the best, and win the Balon d’Or, something he believes he cannot do with Messi in his team.

download (2).jpg

Yet, joining PSG does seem slightly inadvisable. While he will be joining up with several fellow countrymen such as Dani Alves, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos, Neymar would also be joining a team that still seems to struggle to perform at the highest level: on the international stage. His signing would definitely provide the team with a lift in morale. After all, Paris would be securing the world’s best after Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and would also be weakening a tough opponent in the process. Neymar could also become Paris’s own version of these two players, and becoming a legend is something that he has always desired. But, beneath the surface, it feels as though this decision is one made in haste. Staying at Barça would instead be a more positive move for the young Brazilian. Yes, Lionel Messi is and will be top dog, but the Argentine star has never shied away from letting Neymar have the spotlight. Instead of showing fear of being in the shadow of his teammate, Neymar should use the genius of “La Pulga” to his advantage.  Luis Suarez benefited from the help of Lionel Messi, scoring 40 times in La Liga, as Barça stormed their way to the league title. Eventually, Neymar would take over, as Messi is now 30 years old. While Messi will continue to play for years, time will take a toll, and his influence will wane slightly. And by then, Neymar will be able to take over the team.


Neymar’s move, in the end, comes at great risk and great reward for all parties. Neymar will move to a team that he can make his own and take to the next level. Paris will have one of the best current players, and the best player of the future. Barcelona, while losing an important cog in their system, will have an influx in funds to fix what many consider to be a broken midfield – so long as they don’t blow it all on a Neymar replacement like Mbappe or Griezmann. As for Neymar, he may want to reconsider his options. His move to PSG may or may not work out. He could become a Messi-like figure for Paris. However,  he may also end up like his own idol, Robinho, who after joining Real Madrid, never had the same success as he had in Brazil and played for several clubs across Europe without achieving anything. Neymar has truly made a huge decision in moving, but let’s just hope that it helps him be at his best, for he is the face of football.