Matteo Guendouzi is keen to make up for lost time at Lazio

Matteo Guendouzi is keen to make up for lost time at Lazio

Matteo Guendouzi’s career has seen a fair amount of ups and downs. His Lazio stint is proving to be the most fruitful spell in a while, and the Frenchman is making the most of it, showing the sort of quality that he always had.


By Kaustubh Pandey


Even in 2024, the reasons for Guendouzi leaving Arsenal remain shrouded in mystery. As part of Mikel Arteta’s project, Guendouzi wasn’t the only player from the previous era who was discarded quickly and fans are usually quick to think of the Frenchman’s fracas with Neal Maupay during Arsenal’s loss to Brighton as a reference point. 

Guendouzi was soon loaned out to Hertha Berlin and was then sold to Marseille after an initial loan stint at the French side. He operated regularly in midfield for two seasons, impressing in all competitions in a box-to-box role in the heart of the park. His performances still weren’t quite getting acclaim globally despite him proving his worth – until now.

Lazio (finally) moved on from the mercurial Sergej Milinković-Savić in the summer and his sale turned heads. For a player who was constantly linked with some European powerhouses, a move to Al Hilal felt like a step down. If anything, it helped Lazio. The Serbian’s contract had only one year remaining on it and the Biancocelesti earned €40 million from a fairly lucrative sale. But the question that the sale posed was how they were going to replace him. After all, Milinković-Savić had been one of the most prolific goal contributors for the club over the last few seasons and his complete skill set helped Maurizio Sarri and Simone Inzaghi.

While numerous names were bandied about in what was another chaotic transfer window for the Roman club, Guendouzi became the midfielder who replaced Milinković-Savić. Daichi Kamada was also signed, but he was roped in amidst the expectation that even Luis Alberto would depart. While Kamada has failed to make any sort of mark, Guendouzi has replaced Milinković-Savić perfectly and has arguably been Lazio’s player of the season so far.

His excellence was on show when Lazio picked up a solid 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Round of 16 of the Champions League in the first leg. The Frenchman played six passes into the final third, won six ground duels and made two successful tackles while also making four recoveries in what was a complete performance. And stats like those are becoming a habit for the 24-year-old, who has been a rare shining light in a frustrating campaign for the Biancocelesti.

While Milinković-Savić was more of an attacking weapon on the right side of the midfield three, Guendouzi has added some defensive steel in the heart of the park while using his extremely useful workrate to do the attacking work. He has only one goal and while that is something Milinković-Savić was an upgrade on, the Frenchman is in the 73rd percentile and 74th percentile, respectively, for possession won inside the final third, and for interceptions in Serie A. 

And he also find himself in the final third a lot, as he is in the 79th percentile for touches in the opposition box, with his expected assists tally also at 75 percent so far in the season. He obviously isn’t the towering presence in midfield or around the box that Milinković-Savić was, but he is a livewire and that brings the added advantage of him often leading the Lazio press from the front whenever they push high up the pitch.

While Sarri has lauded Guendouzi for his pressing abilities and that makes him a sure-shot starter over Kamada, the Italian has also been a fan of the Frenchman’s keen defensive traits. 

He told DAZN earlier in the season: “I remember him being a player of great intensity. He can also give us balance, because he has good defensive qualities too, so he can be extremely useful.”

That is pretty much why the 24-year-old is a valuable asset to the side. While Kamada has failed to settle in and could well leave after a solitary season, young Nicolo Rovella and compatriot Danilo Cataldi have operated fairly usefully in a deep midfield role. But Sarri recently spoke about a rather innate issue with how Luis Alberto operates. He told the press before the game against Bayern:

“Luis Alberto is our most attacking midfielder, he comes deeper to get the ball, he really likes to play the ball. Luis can’t be the attacking midfielder I want, I want an attacking midfielder who attacks spaces.” 

That clearly suggests that Guendouzi is Sarri’s most preferred option for the midfield and he is offering the ex-Chelsea boss exactly what he wants with his profile. He offers them the balance that Milinković-Savić didn’t always provide and Sarri was vocal about that in 2021, as he stated that the duo of Luis Alberto and the now-Al Hilal man can’t play together and they could only operate with them against defensive sides. 

Perhaps, Guendouzi has solved a headache for Sarri with his skillset. While Luis Alberto’s tendency to drop deeper in possession could yet pose problems, there are no issues with the Frenchman at all. 

Discipline wise, things have already gotten better as Guendouzi has picked up one yellow card in the entire season, as he looks to shed his ‘problematic’ tag. He is still only 24 and still has a long way to go to fulfil his potential, despite having already played in four of Europe’s big five leagues. But as things stand, the future looks bright.


(Images from IMAGO)


You can follow every Lazio game on FotMob – with deep stats, xG, and players ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Inter Miami start the 2024 MLS season with a target on their back

Inter Miami start the 2024 MLS season with a target on their back

Inter Miami’s pre-season wasn’t exactly serene. Indeed, Lionel Messi and co. lost to Al-Hilal (who scored four against them) and Al-Nassr (who scored six) in Saudi Arabia. They also failed to beat El Salvador, FC Dallas and Vissel Kobe all while clocking up the air miles travelling from one continent to the next. 


By Graham Ruthven


Victory over a Hong Kong XI should have provided some relief, but it came amid protests from fans after Messi failed to appear. The 36-year-old rested due to injury despite being the main attraction for a sell-out crowd. Ultimately, fans were refunded – following a statement by the Hong Kong government – setting an interesting precedent for a team whose best player will surely have his minutes managed in 2024.

Expectations are high for Inter Miami ahead of the new Major League Soccer season. The South Florida club have arguably assembled the strongest roster in league history with the core of Messi, Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba enough to give Inter Miami a chance in every match they play.

Pre-season, however, has highlighted the pitfalls Inter Miami must avoid to enjoy a successful 2024. For all the elite level talent in the dressing room at DRV PNK Stadium, it wouldn’t take much for this season to tip into farce just as Inter Miami’s friendly matches in various corners of the earth did. 

First and foremost, Inter Miami must keep their veteran stars fit. Messi can only be a difference maker if he is on the pitch and there are concerning signs that injuries are becoming more common for the 36-year-old at this late stage of his career – Messi missed a big chunk of last season’s run-in as Inter Miami chased a playoff spot.

Only once in the last 15 years has Messi failed to make 30 league appearances in a single season, but it seems improbably he will reach that number in MLS in 2024 on the basis of the last 12 months. The 2024 Copa America will also disrupt Inter Miami’s campaign with Messi expected to be on international duty for a prolonged period over the summer. 

Alba and Busquets have also missed matches through injury since arriving in MLS last summer while Suárez has joined Inter Miami with a recent track record of serious injury – the Uruguayan striker nearly left Grêmio six months after signing when it became clear he needed daily pain-killing injections in his knee to play.

The signing of several highly-rated youngsters has given Inter Miami balance within their squad with the likes of Diego Gomez, Tomas Aviles and Benjamin Cremaschi willing to do a lot of the leg work, but they will need their best attackers fit and available to win matches this season. That’s the gamble Inter Miami have made. 

Even if Messi, Suárez, Busquets and Alba can stay fit, Inter Miami must find a way to forge a serious sporting project in the middle of the biggest circus MLS has ever season. Celebrity visitors to DRV PNK Stadium last season included LeBron James, Kim Kardashian and Serena Williams. There will be no shortage of distractions again this season.

In 2023, Inter Miami were able to harness the interest around them and use it to give them momentum as they won the inaugural Leagues Cup and made the US Open Cup final. Their matches were events as Messi produced a series of match-winning performances that frequently made Sports Center. It will take great mental resolve for Inter Miami to stay focused, though.

2024 could be a special season for Inter Miami. If everything comes together for them, they will set an unmatched standard at the top of MLS. They will sweep aside everyone in front of them. Messi will be MVP. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that this could happen. That’s how good Inter Miami’s players are.

There is another reality, however, in which Inter Miami flame out. In which every gamble they made backfires and Messi is left standing in the burning wreckage. Pre-season doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it will for Inter Miami if the last month has been a warning ahead of a challenging 2024 campaign. 


(Cover image from IMAGO)


You can follow every MLS game live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
The BIG FotMob 2024 MLS Preview: Western Conference

The BIG FotMob 2024 MLS Preview: Western Conference

With the 2024 season about to get underway, we thought we’d take you through a team-by-team look at how things are shaping up.


By James Nalton


Austin FC

Who?

Austin only began play in 2021 but already feel like a well-established MLS team. 

It helps that they are the only major league sports team in the city, and draw plenty of support and coverage as a result. It also helps that the club has one of the best aesthetics in MLS, including one of the coolest logos.

Having finished second in the Western Conference in 2022, Austin dropped off last year and didn’t qualify for the playoffs, so will be looking to recover in 2024 to show 2022 wasn’t a flash in the pan.

Familiar names?

Forward Gyasi Zardes has 68 caps for the United States, while Sebastian Driussi is one of the more well-known players within the league having scored 22 goals in that successful 2022 season.

Young star

The 19-year-old midfielder Owen Wolff is the son of Austin’s coach, Josh Wolff, and saw regular game time in 2023. He’ll get similar in 2024 and should continue to improve.

New signing

Colombian winger Jáder Obrian was acquired via the re-entry draft this year following three seasons with FC Dallas.

Austin FC sporting director, Rodolfo Borell, formerly of Manchester City and Liverpool, described Obrian as “a dynamic threat in the wide areas” and he could help the team get more from Driussi this year.

Colorado Rapids

Who?

One of numerous founding MLS members who will be looking to show that the original members can still make a mark on this league.

Colorado have declined rapidly since finishing top of the Western Conference in 2021, to the point where they finished bottom of the conference last year.

A new head coach in Chris Armas and some eye-catching off-season signings suggest they mean business in 2024, or at least intend to.

Familiar names?

Former Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen is back in MLS where he will be looking to reclaim his status as the United States best goalkeeper.

A lack of games for City saw his development stall, and he and the Rapids will hope regular playing time helps him recover form in 2024.

Young star

Cole Bassett remains one of the young players to watch in MLS at 22, but teenage striker Darren Yapi will be hoping for a breakout year.

New signing

Djordje Mihailovic was one of the outstanding players in the league during his time with the Montreal Impact.

The creative attacking midfielder is now back in MLS after a stint in the Netherlands and is considered a coup for the Rapids.

FC Dallas

Who?

FC Dallas are a team known for producing American talent, many of whom have gone on to star for the national team. The likes of  Weston McKennie, Chris Richards, Reggie Cannon, and Ricardo Pepi are all FC Dallas alumni.

Another MLS original, Dallas won the US Open Cup in 1997 under their original name, Dallas Burn, and have since gone on to win the cup again in 2016 and a Supporters’ Shield in the same year to complete a league and cup double.

They are always there or thereabouts when it comes to qualifying for the postseason, but are yet to win an MLS Cup.

Familiar names?

Jesus Ferreira was part of the United States’ World Cup squad in 2022 and the 23-year-old is another of the club’s talented homegrown players.

Young star

Bernard Kamungo, 22, emerged as not just a promising young star, but as potentially one of the league’s best players and should build on that in 2024. Meanwhile, 20-year-old American winger/wing-back Dante Sealy is an exciting prospect and will be hoping for more minutes this season.

New signing

Petar Musa arrives from Benfica as a new club-record signing for Dallas and provides a focal point for the attack which should benefit Ferreria.

If all of this goes to plan, it could turn out to be one of the best signings of the off-season.

Houston Dynamo

Who?

The current US Open Cup holders finished third in the Western Conference last season and made it as far as the conference finals in the playoffs.

The team that plays in the heart of Houston will be looking to build on a solid and successful first season under head coach Ben Olsen.

Familiar names?

In 2023 Hector Herrera emerged as the key player the club expected him to be and was a key part of their achievements in 2023.

With over 100 caps for the Mexico national team, the 33-year-old is one of the biggest names in MLS.

Young star

With Hector Herrera likely to miss the beginning of the season through injury, it could be time for 18-year-old Brooklyn Raines to step up in MLS.

Like one of his idols, Darlington Nagbe, Raines is Liberia-born but US-raised and has already appeared for the US at youth level.

New signing

The team appear to have opted to build on what they have rather than make moves in the transfer market.

Sebastián Ferreira returns from a loan in Brazil with Vasco da Gama, and fits the cliche of “like a new signing.” He could yet turn out to be a good one.

LA Galaxy

Who?

Formerly the Galacticos of MLS, and perhaps still the most recognisable name in the league, the Galaxy are looking to recover some quality and consistency having only qualified for the playoffs twice in the last seven years.

The team from Carson, California, remains the most decorated in league history with five MLS Cup titles and four Supporters’ Shields (the equivalent to league titles), but their last was now almost ten years ago—an MLS Cup in 2014.

Familiar names?

Riqui Puig, formerly of Barcelona, is arguably the most talented midfielder in the league and could be the one to steer LA Galaxy back to greatness with the right supporting cast. 

Young star

The Galaxy paid a fee in multiple millions for 20-year-old Argentine left-back Julian Aude in 2023 and will be expecting improvement from him in 2024.

Aude is one of a young duo on the left side of the Galaxy defence, along with centre-back Jalen Neal.

New signing

There has been a lot of buzz on the West Coast around the club’s acquisition of Gabriel Pec from Vasco da Gama.

The 23-year-old brings good work right off the ball and directness with it, and should be an upgrade on departing compatriot Douglas Costa.

Los Angeles FC

Who?

The newer of the two current LA teams, LAFC began to play in MLS in 2018 and have gone on to regularly be one of the best-performing sides in the league.

They have already won the Supporters’ Shield twice, in 2019 and 2022, and combined the latter with an MLS Cup win.

On top of this, they finished runner-up in the Concacaf Champions League in 2020 and 2023, and runner-up in the MLS Cup final last season.

It is a franchise built for success, but it is not as easy to predict that success heading into 2024 which could be a transition year. 

There is great potential in the LAFC ranks, though, and if that is realised early, they could be difficult to stop.

Familiar names?

The team saw Giorgio Chiellini and Carlos Vela depart at the end of last season but added Hugo Lloris between the posts for 2024.

Young star

This is a squad full of young players with great potential and two of them are expected to fight for the right-wing position this season. Uruguayan 21-year-old Cristian Olivera will likely start the season there, but look out for 18-year-old Venezuelan David Martínez.

New signing

As is often the case with LAFC, new signings and young stars go hand in hand, and 20-year-old striker Tomás Ángel is another example.

Tomás is the son of former Aston Villa and New York Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Ángel who also played in LA for the Galaxy and the now defunct Chivas USA.

Tomás could start games sooner rather than later, combining with inside left forward Denis Bouanga who is the star of the show for LAFC.

Minnesota United

Who?

They are the team that is set to hire Manchester United coach, Eric Ramsay, as their new head coach, and were previously managed by former Everton player Adrian Heath.

2023 was the first time they failed to qualify for the playoffs since their first two seasons in MLS in 2017 and 2018.

Their Argentine playmaker Emanuel Reynoso is one of the best in the league. If he and Teemu Pukki can combine they could return to the playoff picture.

Familiar names?

Speaking of Pukki, the Finnish forward formerly of Norwich City in the Championship and Premier League is a star player in MLS and one of the league’s highest-paid players.

Young star

South Korean forward Sang-bin Jeong is the only player under 21 with reasonable playing time last season, and they will expect more from him this year as he turns 22 in April.

New signing

Swedish defender Victor Eriksson joins as an option at centre-back and could be a starter, but not much has happened in the offseason. Even the signing of Ramsay as head coach was very last minute.

Portland Timbers

Who?

One of the oldest and most established names in American soccer, a team called the Timbers has been around since the days of NASL in the 1970s.

The team also has USL titles to its name, and since joining MLS in 2011 has twice finished top of the Western Conference and won the MLS Cup in 2015.

Familiar names?

The Timbers hired Phil Neville to be their head coach ahead of the 2024 season. He’ll be looking to prove a point after leaving Inter Miami.

Young star

Colombian 21-year-old Juan Mosquera started 27 games in the league last season and looks set to be a key player at right back once again.

New signing

In Maxime Crépeau, Portland are getting one of the better goalkeepers in the league. 

Crepeau made way for Hugo Lloris at LAFC but could be the better performer of the two in 2024.

Real Salt Lake

Who?

An interesting team with interesting players from an interesting part of the world.

RSL won the MLS Cup back in 2009 and have only failed to reach the playoffs in the three seasons since.

Could 2024 be the year they get the best from their young squad and win something under Pablo Mastroeni?

Familiar names?

Not really, though Braian Ojeda played a handful of games for Nottingham Forest and former Everton and Sunderland left-back Bryan Oviedo is an option at left back. 

But who needs familiar names when you have…

Young star

Conveniently dubbed the new Diego Luna due to arriving at the club from USL, as Luna did, Fidel Barajas is only 17 but already a highly-rated winger.

Luna, though, is the real player to watch for this season with a year of regular games under his belt from 2023. The 20-year-old should have a future with the United States national team if they can find a place for his unique talent.

New signing

Matt Crooks (who might also count as a familiar name for anyone who watches Championship and League One football in England) arrived on the back of three seasons with Middlesbrough and could be one of those low-key but very effective signings.

San Jose Earthquakes

Who?

Another historic name in US soccer, the Earthquakes were one of the founding teams in MLS, under the name San Jose Clash, having previously competed in NASL.

As with many of the older clubs in American soccer, there has been some turbulence throughout their history, including a two-year hiatus in 2006 and 2007.

Not too long ago they were one of the most exciting teams in the league for neutrals to watch, but they now seem to be aiming for some more solidity in an attempt to bring a better chance of success.

Familiar names?

Carlos Akapo recently starred at right-back for the Equatorial Guinea side that made the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Young star

Niko Tsakiris enjoyed a run of games in the side towards the end of last season, and the 18-year-old will be pushing for starts in midfield in the new season.

New signing

Amahl Pellegrino was prolific in the last two seasons for Bodø/Glimt, topping the scoring charts in Norway’s top tier in 2022 and 2023.

Imagine if the 33-year-old can do the same in MLS. The Earthquakes would become a real force.

Seattle Sounders

Who?

One of the most decorated teams in MLS who, since joining the league in 2009, have won four Open Cups, two MLS Cups, and a Supporters’ Shield.

On top of this, the Sounders won the 2022 Concacaf Champions League, becoming the first MLS team to do so in its current format, and competed in the 2022 Club World Cup on the back of that win.

They didn’t manage to qualify for the 2024 version of Concacaf’s continental competition, though, so their focus will be mostly on MLS where they will be strong contenders to top the Western Conference.

Familiar names?

Forward Jordan Morris has over 50 caps for the United States and made a fleeting appearance in Wales with Swansea before picking up a serious injury that ended his loan spell there.

He’s a hard-working forward who will always be aiming for double figures in the goals column.

Young star

Obed Vargas played his first MLS game for the Sounders back in 2021, aged 15. 

His involvement has increased since, and though not a regular starter he should still get plenty of game time in 2024 and be one to watch.

New signing

The club signed 23-year-old Argentine Pedro de la Vega from Lanús in the offseason for $7.5 million, so it’s safe to say they expect him to become a key player.

Though he’ll wear No. 10, he’s more likely to start from the wing.

Sporting Kansas City

Who?

The club that spans two states, Sporting KC represent the city that spreads from Missouri into Kansas and has been part of the league since the first season in 1996.

Back then it was known by the much more exciting name, Kansas City Wiz, before becoming the Wizards a year later, and then Sporting ahead of the 2011 season.

Sporting KC have regularly topped the Western Conference throughout their history, most recently in 2020, but last season they only just scraped into the playoffs.

Familiar names?

Former Derby County and Dundee United winger Johnny Russell is a key player in this team and also its captain.

Young star

Sporting KC have two young right-backs in their roster, and the youngest of the two, 20-year-old Kayden Pierre, will be fighting to share minutes with 22-year-old Jake Davis this season.

New signing

Having spent a season on loan with Sporting KC’s reserve team in MLS Next Pro, Hunduran forward Alenis Vargas has signed a permanent deal with Sporting KC for 2024.

The 20-year-old joined from the brilliantly named Costa Rican side, Futbol Consultants Desamparados, and adds current depth and future potential across the team’s attack.

St. Louis City

Who?

The revelation of 2023 who topped the Western Conference standing in their debut season in MLS.

St. Louis took the league by storm with its pressing style under South African head coach Bradley Carnell.

Many are predicting a slump in 2023, but St. Louis will be looking to defy the odds once again in 2024.

Familiar names?

Eduard Löwen played several seasons in the German Bundesliga for various clubs and is a key player in midfield for this St. Louis team.

Young star

The club has loaned out young prospects Isak Jensen and Miguel Perez, but their first homegrown signing Caden Glover is still with the first-team squad and could provide cover in the striker position this season.

New signing

Nikolas Dyhr will likely go straight in as the club’s starting left-back. The 22-year-old arrived from the successful Danish club FC Midtjylland.

He’s joined by Norwegian right-back Tomas Totland who could also go straight into the team.

Vancouver Whitecaps

Who?

The current best team in Canada—official!

The Whitecaps finished highest of MLS’s three Canadian teams in 2023 and also won the Canadian Championship—a tournament similar to the US Open Cup that is open to Canadian teams across the country’s leagues, including the Canadian Premier League.

Sadly, the Whitecaps have already been eliminated from the Concacaf Champions Cup (formerly Champions League) this season, but this means they have a clear shot at MLS and improving on last season’s 6th-place finish in the West, which they are more than capable of doing.

The team has great togetherness under Italian head coach Vanni Sartini

Familiar names?

Once a wonderkid at Dundee United, after several years with Sporting CP and loan moves around Portugal, Ryan Gauld has found a home in Canada. 

The attacking midfielder is a key player for this team and captained it on numerous occasions last season.

Young star

Ecuadorian attacking midfielder Pedro Vite has been with the Whitecaps since 2021, so despite being just 21 years old, he has experience and grounding in MLS.

The team will be hoping this leads to more end product this season, and if it arrives he will be up with the best young players in the league.

New signing

Damir Kreilach arrives having spent six seasons with Real Salt Lake, bringing the kind of mentality Sartini looks for in a player.

Another leader on the field who also has the potential to contribute to goals.


(Images from IMAGO or MLS Club Media)


You can follow every MLS game live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
The BIG FotMob 2024 MLS Preview: Eastern Conference

The BIG FotMob 2024 MLS Preview: Eastern Conference

With the 2024 season about to get underway, we thought we’d take you through a team-by-team look at how things are shaping up.


By James Nalton


Atlanta United

Who?

A 2017 expansion team that won the MLS Cup just a year later. One of their stars of that successful season, Miguel Almirón, moved to the Premier League, joining Newcastle United.

They’ve struggled to reach those heights since but unlike some of the other contenders in the Eastern Conference have no continental football in 2024 so can focus on the league and could challenge again.

Familiar names?

Brad Guzan, the 39-year-old former Aston Villa and Middlesbrough goalkeeper who has 64 caps for the United States.

Young star

Argentine World Cup winner Thiago Almada, 22, is constantly linked with a move away from the club and is one of the best players in the league. 19-year-old Caleb Wiley is already a regular on the left flank.

New signing

Stian Gregersen should slot into the back four in place of Miles Robinson who left to join FC Cincinnati.

Charlotte FC

Who?

One of the newest teams in the league having joined in 2022.

They are now coached by former Aston Villa and Norwich manager Dean Smith as they look to improve on last season when they made the wildcard round of the playoffs but lost to New York Red Bulls.

Familiar names?

Last year they signed former Burnley midfielder Ashley Westwood, and another former Burnley player, Scott Arfield, is among their ranks.

Young star

22-year-old Frenchman Adilson Malanda is a regular at centre-back, while 20-year-old Nikola Petković will be looking to get games in midfield this season.

New signing

Charlotte acquired towering Frenchman Djibril Diani who will be a big presence in their midfield this season and can also play centre-back if required.

Chicago Fire

Who?

The Fire joined the league in 1998 and enjoyed some early success winning the MLS Cup and Open Cup double in their first year.

They also have a Supporters’ Shield title to their name but have not qualified for the playoffs now for the past five seasons, regularly finishing near the bottom of the table in the East. 

Familiar names?

Xherdan Shaqiri has not quite lived up to expectations since joining from Lyon in 2022, but the former Liverpool and Bayern man could have more support this season and find some form.

Young star

Chris Brady replaced Gabriel Slonina in goal for the Fire after his fellow young American left to join Chelsea. 

In his performances so far, Brady, 19, has hinted he has similar potential to his predecessor.

New signing

The Fire broke their club transfer record by bringing in Hugo Cuypers from Belgian side Gent.

The 27-year-old striker scored 27 goals in 39 games in Belgium in the 2022/23 season, and Chicago fans will be hoping that kind of return is replicated in MLS.

FC Cincinnati

Who?

Defending Supporters’ Shield winners who were the best team in the league last season.

They also boast the league’s current best player and 2023 MVP award winner, Luciano “Lucho” Acosta.

Cincinnati, coached by Pat Noonan, are hoping to build on last season’s success and add an MLS Cup to their name in 2024.

Familiar names?

The diminutive Acosta is the most recognised player, having spent several years in MLS with DC United and now Cincinnati.

Assistant coach Dominic Kinnear is an experienced coach known throughout the country, and won several titles as head coach of Houston Dynamo. 

Young star

20-year-old Guatemalan forward Arquimides Ordóñez will be hoping for more game time with the first team in 2024 having scored nine goals in 11 games for the reserves last year.

New signing

Cincy secured something of a coup when they acquired 26-year-old American defender Miles Robinson on a free transfer.

The former Atlanta centre-back was tipped to move to Europe but makes a big move within the league to add some extra narrative in the East.

Columbus Crew

Who?

A storied team whose very existence was under threat not too long ago, but the club was saved by a collective supporter movement and new ownership in 2018.

The Crew were one of the most exciting attacking teams in the league last season, scoring 67 goals in 34 regular season games.

Their head coach, Wilfried Nancy, has an interesting, bold style of play that transcends the league, and all of this came together at the right moment to help them win the MLS Cup last season. 

Familiar names?

MVP in the 2023 MLS Cup final was Cucho Hernández, who played in the Premier League with Watford. 

Young star

At 22, Aidan Morris is an age group above many of the other young players mentioned but is still improving and impressed last season.

Taha Habroune is the younger player in the squad, but remains to be seen how many minutes the 18-year-old gets. 

New signing

Colombian wide player Marino Hinestroza joins as part of a low-key pre-season transfer window for the Crew, and could operate at left wing-back in Nancy’s 3-4-3.

D.C. United

Who?

D.C. United are one of the most successful clubs in the history of American soccer, not that you’d know it to watch them recently.

Former player Wayne Rooney recently had a go at dragging them off the bottom of the table – where they had finished in 2022 – and back into the playoffs for the first time in four years, but they didn’t quite make it.

In 2023 they were at least no longer the worst team in MLS, so there is something to build on for their new head coach, Troy Lesesne.

Familiar names?

Christian Benteke is one of the club’s designated players and is relied on to get the goals. He scored 14 last season—a decent return and something else for United to build upon.

Young star

22-year-old Theodore Ku-DiPietro emerged as a potential star of the team after being given game time by Rooney, while 21-year-old Gabriel Pirani will also have a regular role to play in attacking midfield areas.

New signing

Finnish midfielder Matti Peltola filled the club’s final designated player spot in the off-season, but at 21 is himself one of the younger players in the team.

Inter Miami CF

Who?

David Beckham’s franchise which entered the league in a cut-price deal thanks to a clause in Beckham’s old MLS contract from his playing days with LA Galaxy.

They have been in the league since 2020 but are yet to make an impact on it. 

That is expected to change with the arrival of Lionel Messi and other high-profile players who begin their first full season in MLS this year.

Familiar names?

Messi is reasonably well known! Then add Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba, as well as former Newcastle right-back DeAndre Yedlin.

Young star

There could be plenty of game time for 20-year-old midfielders David Ruíz and Diego Gómez after former captain, Gregore, departed just before the start of the season to make sure Miami’s star-studded squad remained within MLS salary cap rules.

Federico Redondo, set to join the club from Argentinos Juniors, is a highly rated 21-year-old midfielder of whom big things are expected.

New signing

Inter Miami’s squad looks unbalanced, favouring the attack, so there will be a lot of pressure on new arrival at centre-back, Nicolás Freire, to shore things up at the other end.

CF Montréal

Who?

The most recent Canadian club to join the league did so back in 2012 under the much more imaginative name, Montreal Impact. The original Impact de Montréal FC go back to 1992, so there is some history beyond MLS.

In the present day, they have experienced mixed results, finishing as high as third in the overall table in 2022 under Wilfried Nancy. After the French coach departed to Columbus they lost a lot of key players and dropped down to 20th last year—10th in the conference—missing out on the playoffs.

They are now hoping for a return to 2022 form under new coach Laurent Courtois who arrived in the opposite direction to Nancy, from Columbus Crew.

Familiar names?

Former Tottenham midfielder Victor Wanyama captains the side.

Young star

A few to choose from, with 22-year-old Ghanaian forward Kwadwo Opoku likely to be the youngest player getting the most minutes, but Nathan-Dylan Saliba just turned 20 and could play semi-regularly in midfield. 

New signing

Their move for former Atlanta United and Inter Miami forward Josef Martínez caught a few people by surprise, and many doubt he can recapture the goalscoring form of his Atlanta days. He’ll be out to prove that wrong, though might have to do so from the bench initially.

Nashville SC

Who?

Brightly coloured rock ‘n’ rollers from the Music City who played their first season in the league in 2020.

Their home stadium, Geodis Park, is also one of the best soccer-specific stadiums in the country. Their current position is that of a defensively solid team, but one that struggles to score. 

They conceded the joint-fewest goals in MLS in 2023 along with Seattle, but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.

Familiar names?

German attacking midfielder / forward Hany Mukhtar is one of the league’s standout players, and his partner in attack Sam Surridge made 20 appearances in the Premier League in 2022/23 for Nottingham Forest. They will be looking to combine to add more goals in 2024.

Young star

Nashville are not a team that look ready to give minutes to plenty of young players, but they did sign 22-year-old forward Woobens Pacius from Canadian Premier League side Forge FC in the off-season.

Teenagers Adem Sipić and Isaiah Jones were signed to homegrown deals so could be worth looking out for.

New signing

The likely starter of a handful of new signings is winger Tyler Boyd who joined following a spell with LA Galaxy. 

New England Revolution

Who?

An original member of MLS who won the Supporters’ Shield in 2021 but await an elusive MLS Cup having finished runner-up on five occasions.

Based in Foxboro, Massachusetts, they share a stadium with New England Patriots of the NFL which will be used for the World Cup in 2026.

Former MLS Cup winner with Portland and Columbus, Caleb Porter, is their new head coach for 2024.

Familiar names?

Former Aston Villa player Carles Gil is among the best playmakers in the league and remains a key player for the Revolution.

Young star

Midfielder Noel Buck is one of MLS’s standout young players across all teams. The 18-year-old is eligible for England and the United States, and is wanted by both such is his talent.

New signing

Having lost Matt Turner and Djordje Petrovic to the Premier League in recent years, New England will hope Henrich Ravas becomes the latest in a line of top goalkeepers at the club.

New York City

Who?

The New York team that plays at baseball stadiums, but is set to move into a Queens-based soccer-specific stadium in 2027.

They are part of the Manchester City-led City Football Group, won the MLS Cup in 2021, and are currently coached by former Man City Women’s head coach Nick Cushing.

Having failed to make the playoffs last season, they have assembled an exciting-looking team ahead of 2024.

Familiar names?

New signing Hannes Wolf has played in the Austrian and German Bundesligas while midfielder James Sands had a spell with Rangers. No marquee names these days, though.

Young star

There are several, but perhaps the one with the most potential is 18-year-old Serbian forward Jovan Mijatović who joined ahead of the new season and is highly rated by City Football Group as a whole.

20-year-old SuperDraft pick Malachi Jones has also looked promising in pre-season and the forward could be a surprise part of the team this year.

New signing

Having already mentioned a few, this is an excuse to mention another young star, Agustin Ojeda. The 19-year-old looks like an exciting, direct winger, who could give the goal-shy NYCFC some much-needed go-forward.

New York Red Bulls

Who?

The New York team that plays in New Jersey (which isn’t a bad thing).

Formerly known as the MetroStars, they were taken over by Red Bull in 2006 and won the Supporters’ Shield three times since, in 2013, 2015, and 2018. But like New England Revolution, an MLS Cup continues to evade them.

They have a new coach for 2024 in Sandro Schwarz.

Familiar names?

Lewis Morgan moved to Inter Miami from Celtic in 2020 and emerged as one of the league’s best players in a poor team. 

Having joined the Red Bulls in 2022, he’s hoping for a return from injury and a return to form in 2024.

Young star

Another team with several promising players, but 21-year-old left-back John Tolkin is the most established and could attract interest from Europe if his good form continues in 2024.

Also look out for Serge Ngoma, Dennis Gjengaar, and Daniel Edelman.

New signing

The team used their Red Bull connections to sign Emil Forsberg from RB Leipzig, and he has already been named captain for 2024.

Orlando City

Who?

Joined the league with New York City in 2015 and have been one of the best additions to the conference.

Under head coach Óscar Pareja they finished second in the overall standings last year—their highest ever—and were the only team anywhere near FC Cincinnati by the end of the season.

The question now is, can they keep it up or even build on last season?

Familiar names?

Colombian forward Luis Muriel, who has experience in Serie A and La Liga, arrived as one of the team’s designated players for 2024.

Young star

Defensive midfielder César Araújo is now 22, so is just over the cusp of young star status, but 19-year-old left-sided centre-back Thomas Williams is promising and will hope for some minutes this season as a rotation option with one of the best defenders in the league, Robin Jansson.

New signing

Uruguayan attacking midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro moves to Florida after eight seasons on the west coast with Seattle Sounders, during which he became one of the club’s and the league’s standout players.

He’s 34 now, but could still play a key role in important moments for Orlando.

Philadelphia Union

Who?

One of the most consistent teams in the league in recent years, who are good at getting the most from their academy and shrewd scouting network.

It’s all knitted together by head coach Jim Curtin, who has been in the role since 2014.

They were MLS Cuo finalists in 2022 and won the Supporters’ Shield in 2020.

Familiar names?

Not necessarily for anyone unfamiliar with MLS, but for anyone who does watch the league they will know most of the Union starting lineup given how consistent it is.

Jamaican goalkeeper Andre Blake is one of the best in his position in the region.

Young star

It’s easy to forget that Union midfielder Jack McGlynn is only 20 years old, given how well he’s slotted into the team.

He’s a talented playmaker and set-piece specialist who is already an important part of the starting XI.

New signing

Nothing that made too many headlines, but they have added 19-year-old Danish midfielder Sanders Ngabo to give some depth and potential in the centre of the park.

Toronto FC

Who?

Became the first Canadian team in MLS when they joined the league in 2007.

Won the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield in 2017, but finished bottom of the overall standings in 2023 despite some big-name signings.

They have appointed former Canada national team coach John Herdman in an attempt to improve togetherness and see an upturn in fortunes in 2024

Familiar names?

Lorenzo Insigne is the second highest-paid player in the league after Messi but has not yet lived up to expectations. The same could be said of Federico Bernardeschi.

Young star

Canadian youth international Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty has spent time training with Arsenal and Liverpool in the past as part of his development.

The 19-year-old is still yet to have a breakout season, so will be hoping this is it.

New signing

Honduras international Deybi Flores has provided midfield depth. The main job for Toronto lies not in the transfer market, but in turning this existing group of stars and young potential into an effective team unit.


(Images from IMAGO or MLS Club Media)


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Posted by Bill Biss
Declan Rice: How the summer’s best signing is powering Arsenal’s title challenge

Declan Rice: How the summer’s best signing is powering Arsenal’s title challenge

It’s encouraging from an England standpoint that the three blockbuster transfers in the summer are proving to be pivotal for their respective teams. There were hefty price tags and much anticipation on the shoulders of Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane and Declan Rice. 

All three have surpassed expectations and you couldn’t envisage Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Arsenal without them. 


By Dharnish Iqbal


A tug of war ensued between Man City and Arsenal for the signature of Rice, the former West Ham midfielder, as he eventually landed at Arsenal when the Gunners hit the £100m mark. 

The biggest compliment you could perhaps give Rice is that nobody is talking about that price tag now, as he has exploded since his arrival. The adjustment to signing for one of the elite teams in the Premier League from a club of lesser means is always huge. 

Look at the time it took for Jack Grealish to come to the fore at Man City. Kalvin Phillips could never find minutes after his move and has only recently looked for a move elsewhere in a bid to retain his England place – ironically, in Rice’s old position at West Ham. 

Rice has swiftly taken like a duck to water to the Gunners adjusted tactics. They didn’t sustain attacks like this last season, the football was more explosive. 

They still spring to life in attack but they pass teams to death, waiting for the right moment to strike and Rice is essential to this. Arteta summed it up perfectly after the win over Manchester United – “He was very dominant, in those big games, you need that – a player that grabs the game and understands when to add speed, when to break it down and when to control the game.”

He’s been the instant impact signing that marshals the midfield and grabs games by the scruff of the neck. A modern-day Patrick Vieira. The control of a game rests on Rice’s shoulders, the player responsible for setting the tempo. Taking the sting out of games when needed and calmly receiving from defence to pick out a pass.  

He’s played predominantly in a midfield two in-possession this season next to an inverted full-back, but you wonder what the setup would be if Jurrien Timber or Thomas Partey were fit. 

His stats showcase how involved he is in Arsenal’s build-up with 64 successful passes and 91% pass accuracy per 90. Whilst also averaging 83 touches per game, puts him in the top 90% for these three categories. 

The amount of big game performances and stand-out moments he has produced stick out. Vital last-minute winners at Luton and Manchester United. Arsenal didn’t sign him for his ability to chip in with goals from midfield but he’s in the 78% percentile for players in his position in terms of scoring.

A commanding, assured midfield performance at home to City making vital interceptions, challenges, and blocks to ignite the home crowd.

As well as being the controller when Arsenal have the ball he can break play up when opponents attack, averaging 1.43 interceptions per game. 

In certain games this season like Brighton at home, or the two Liverpool fixtures, out of possession Arsenal have fiercely pressed teams high up the pitch and not allowed them to breathe. Rice has been excellent in pushing up and tracking an attacking midfielder so when he receives the ball, Rice’s anticipation means he is just behind them not allowing the opposition to move.

Arsenal can create opportunities by patiently building up and waiting for space to appear or cause turnovers by pinning teams back.

Maybe Rice was always this good at West Ham and we are now just paying more attention because he’s at the forefront of a team battling for major honours. The Hammers fans seemed to think so, as they first booed the Englishman at the London Stadium then applauded him off as his strike capped off a 6-0 win. 

He hasn’t merely adapted to Arsenal, he has thrived and become the new driving force of the club. Granit Xhaka’s influential presence hasn’t been missed as Rice has taken up the mantle. 

There may be question marks as to why so much was spent on replacing Aaron Ramsey with David Raya and Kai Havertz’s mould-breaking, expensive wage packet. To the point where Arsenal had to tread carefully in the January transfer window for FFP’s sake as they weighed up making a move for a striker. 

No one, however, will be questioning their successful pursuit of Rice. As Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips have secured loan moves to try get themselves in contention for a place at the Euros, the discussion will be about who pairs Rice rather than whether anyone replaces him in England’s midfield.

For both club and country this season is cementing Rice as one of the world’s top midfielders. 


(Images from IMAGO)


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Posted by Bill Biss
How Crystal Palace might line up under Oliver Glasner – and the players who suit his system best

How Crystal Palace might line up under Oliver Glasner – and the players who suit his system best

It’s fairly unusual for clubs to make managerial changes hours before a pretty critical game, but that’s how matters played out at Crystal Palace at the start of the week: Roy Hodgson resigning, out of hospital but out of time to improve the team as well, and Oliver Glasner in as his replacement – right before the Eagles kicked off against Everton.


By Karl Matchett


The eventual 1-1 draw kept the South London side two places and five points above the relegation zone, but also made it one win in five in the Premier League and leaving the watching-on Glasner wondering how to build a side capable of far more consistency than they have shown this season.

Palace fans will be wondering whether, to do that, the incoming Austrian boss will set the team up in the same way he did at Eintracht Frankfurt last season – and on the evidence of Monday night at Goodison Park, that’s going to be exactly the case. The big positive is that there are Palace players who fit the profile of what he looks for, and who might work well in his preferred 3-4-2-1 formation.

There’s naturally a choice of English goalkeepers, Sam Johnstone and Dean Henderson, and no definitive answer to who Glasner will prefer, with the former currently in place. Ahead of him, the first changes will be seen in defence.

Under Hodgson, Palace were a regular back four side, but Glasner will immediately change this to a three-man system. The best central pillar will be Joachim Andersen, who is arguably better aerially than the options Glasner had at his club in the Bundesliga – while either side will be the interesting tactical wrinkles. Evan Ndicka to the left and Almamy Touré to the right of centre were effectively full-backs playing narrow, comfortable on the ball, able to dribble into the channels and very much part of the build-up. Marc Guehi might be Palace’s best footballer in the defensive ranks and can definitely hold his own striding forward in possession, but even so, it’ll be a slightly new facet of his game we get to see in terms of working the channel combining with the wing-back, if he’s asked to do similarly once he returns from injury.

Image – The Frankfurt team that won the Europa League final, on penalties, in 2022.

In the meantime, Chris Richards might find favour in that role, being capable of playing both in midfield and defence and having the technical traits to do either one well. Less certain might be the future of Joel Ward, a Palace stalwart and Hodgson favourite, but neither as creative nor as mobile as Glasner has wanted his left and right side defenders to be in the past.

At wing-back, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see longer-term changes from the incoming manager, but for the remainder of this year we’ll surely see both Jeffrey Schlupp and Tyrick Mitchell get game time down the left, both able to run all game long and the former a decent crosser from deep. They are both some way technically off Eintracht’s star from that role though in 2021/22 under Glasner: Filip Kostić wasn’t rapid, but a strong player who had a killer delivery from anywhere down the left flank and the work rate his manager desired.

Centrally, Glasner’s double pivot did alter according to opponents, but could be characterised as either a mobile passer through the thirds (Djibril Sow) and a defensive midfielder (Sebastian Rode) or sometimes the latter and a tenacious extra ball-winner (Junior Dina Ebimbe). For Palace, right now that’s Will Hughes, Cheick Doucouré and Jefferson Lerma respectively, with the middle player long-term injured.

Ahead of them, almost in a box midfield at times, would be two narrow attacking midfielders and one striker, rather than two more common wide forwards supporting a No. 9.

With everyone fit, Eintracht used Mario Götze as one schemer and Daichi Kamada as the other, behind Randal Kolo Muani. That gave them a speedy, strong outlet up top who could finish on the run, with one clever passer behind plus – in Kamada – a non-stop energetic creator who would also get in the box plenty and yet had the tactical ability to drop back into midfield, with the Japanese even starting in the double pivot at times.

For Kamada, see Eberechi Eze, a near-perfect fit – when, indeed, he is fit. Michael Olise will naturally be Palace’s joker in the pack, though it wouldn’t be outrageous to see him given a run at wing-back at times, just to add speed and individuality out wide in deeper areas, which Palace have lacked under Hodgson.

That leaves a tough call for a starting No. 9 who matches Muani’s traits, but Franca will have to get an opportunity at some stage and Odsonne Édouard should also see more chances to shine in a faster-moving outfit than Palace have been this year.

There’s plenty to work with for Glasner, even if the pieces don’t all quite fit perfectly straight away.


(Image from IMAGO)


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Posted by Bill Biss
Ryan Gauld has long been overlooked by Scotland but remains vital to Vancouver Whitecaps

Ryan Gauld has long been overlooked by Scotland but remains vital to Vancouver Whitecaps

No Vancouver Whitecaps player registered more goals and assists in Major League Soccer last season than Ryan Gauld. It was a similar story in 2022, but 2023 was so impressive some pushed the Scottish playmaker as a potential MVP candidate. Lucho Acosta ended up winning that award, but Gauld has been Vancouver MVP from the moment he arrived two-and-a-half years ago.


By Graham Ruthven


So much of the Caps’ attacking play flows through Gauld. He is their attacking dynamo and the difference-maker around which Vancouver have built around. It was therefore unsurprising that the Canadian club have signed Gauld to a new four-year contract extension as a Designated Player before the start of the 2024 season.

Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini dubbed Gauld a “working class” DP due to his work rate. Indeed, Gauld doesn’t leave the leg work to others – he understands his role in the wider team structure. The Scot plays his part in the Vancouver press and is willing to help out wherever he is needed, proving his worth in several different positions.

Nicknamed ‘Mini Messi’ as a teenager, a lot was expected of Gauld from a very young age. He made his breakthrough at Dundee United and quickly earned a reputation as one of the most exciting youth prospects anywhere in Europe. A transfer to Sporting CP – who put a €60m release clause in his contract – followed.

The next phase of Gauld’s career saw him stall somewhat. He struggled for regular game time in Lisbon, but stayed in Portugal as he went out on loan to several different clubs in the country. It was at Farense where Gauld finally started to realise the potential he’d shown as a teenager, scoring nine times in his final Primeira Liga season before joining Vancouver. 

British Columbia has been a good fit for Gauld, as a person as much as a player. He is known to spend his spare time hiking and surfing. He has built a life for himself in Vancouver where he lives with his fiancé. This has been the ideal environment for Gauld to make himself himself a Whitecaps icon. 

Despite his eye-catching – and consistent – form at club level, Gauld has yet to receive international recognition. The 28-year-old has represented Scotland at youth level, but has never made an appearance for the senior team. He has only ever been called up once – 10 years ago – despite his name being frequently mentioned as an option.

Scotland are well-stocked for midfield options with John McGinn, Scott McTominay, Lewis Ferguson, Ryan Christie and Billy Gilmour all in good form at the moment. Steve Clarke has also built a squad that operates more like a club team than an international one – not many opportunities are afforded for outsiders to force their way in.

And yet Gauld’s skill set would give Scotland a different dimension. He is a diminutive creator and someone who would offer invention and goal threat on the ball. Clarke has surely considered opening the door for Gauld at some point. “It’s one of the main goals for any player, to play for their national side,” admitted the playmaker. 

Gauld feels so comfortable in Canada that he has openly pondered the possibility of playing for his adopted homeland. The experiences of Jason Cummings, the Scottish-born forward who played for Australia at the 2022 World Cup, and David Wotherspoon, another Scottish-born player who played for Canada in Qatar, have surely given Gauld food for thought.

For the time being, though, Gauld is focused on pushing the Whitecaps forward. Having fallen in the first round of the play-offs in two of the last three seasons, the aim is to make an even deeper post-season run in 2024. Forwards Damir Kreilach and Fafa Picault have been signed to help achieve this and take some of the attacking load off Gauld.

Now in his peak years at 28, Gauld’s career didn’t pan out in the way many envisaged when he first appeared on the radar. And yet the Scottish playmaker is exactly where he wants to be. After two-and-a-half successful seasons in MLS, there’s good reason to believe 2014 will be another exceptional year for the “working class DP.”


(Cover image from IMAGO)


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Posted by Bill Biss
Analysis: Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal in three-way Women’s Super League title race

Analysis: Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal in three-way Women’s Super League title race

The English WSL title race was blown open this weekend. Manchester City moved level on points with leaders Chelsea, while Arsenal closed the gap behind them to three points to give us a three-way title race as we approach the home stretch of the season.


By Neel Shelat


With a crucial hard-fought win at Kingsmeadow last weekend, Manchester City erased Chelsea’s advantage at the top of the WSL table both in terms of points as well as goal difference. Behind them, Arsenal scored a big win over Manchester United in front of a league-record crowd at the Emirates Stadium to stay in contention for top honours at the end of the season, leaving us with a very tasty-looking top three going into the international break.

Although Chelsea have won the last four league titles, the WSL tends to deliver a close title race. They have been pushed hard by Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United respectively in the last three seasons, but this time, they have multiple challengers to contend with.

Naturally, all three teams will back themselves to get the job done in the last eight games of the season, so let us assess each of their chances individually.

Chelsea

The defending champions appeared to be the favourites for most of the first half of what will be Emma Hayes’ last season at the club, but they suffered a big setback in the winter. Star striker Sam Kerr was ruled out for the rest of the campaign with an ACL injury, leaving the Blues without the woman who was their top scorer in each of the last two seasons.

They did sign Colombian international Mayra Ramírez towards the end of the transfer window, but their attack has spluttered at times in recent weeks. They needed a couple of contentious penalty calls to beat Everton in late January, only just scored a late winner against Championship side Crystal Palace in their last FA Cup tie, and then got shut out against Manchester City.

A part of the problem, perhaps, is the Blues’ lack of consistent goal threat beyond Lauren James. The young English forward has been fantastic this season with 12 goals to her name, but she has not created much as a consequence.

Young Agnes Beever-Jones might have five goals to her name, but none of them have been game-state-changing strikes. Chelsea will hope to see her step up and deliver more meaningfully in crunch situations, but the primary onus of leading the attack will obviously fall on Ramírez.

The Blues have the highest possession average in the league, the most touches in the opposition box and by far the most big chances created, so what they are experiencing right now should only be a minor blip rather than a long-term concern.

Defensively, Chelsea are pretty good but not quite at their best. They can be susceptible to counter-attacks or even build-up attacks at times, but a record of six clean sheets in 14 league matches is not to be sniffed at.

Emma Hayes’ side are still in control of their own destiny but have some tough tests coming up in the form of two derbies against their major London rivals as well as a final day trip to face Manchester United. The Blues will also have to balance their Champions League, FA Cup, and League Cup campaigns alongside their title charge, so the depth of their squad is sure to be tested in the second half of the season.

Manchester City

After missing out on continental football altogether at the end of last season, many wondered if Gareth Taylor was the right person to continue leading the team forward. Back-to-back league defeats in November did not strengthen his case at all, but since then, the team seemingly flicked a switch and found a whole new level. They are currently on an 11-match winning streak in all competitions, so momentum certainly is on their side in this title race.

Their recent success has been built on an incredibly solid defensive record. The aforementioned winning run includes seven clean sheets, including each of their last five matches. Unlike Chelsea, they do not tend to decimate teams, but have consistently managed to grind out results.

With just eight goals conceded all season, City have by far the best defensive record in the league. While their great teamwork in defending from the front to the back deserve credit, 19-year-old goalkeeper Khiara Keating has been a real difference-maker. In what is her first season with regular senior action, she has established herself as the best shot-stopper in England.

Despite her best efforts, though, the young Englishwoman cannot claim to be the key player in this Manchester City side. That title has to go to Khadija Shaw, who is arguably the most important player to her team in the entire league. Her qualities as a complete centre-forward make her a central hub that gets City’s attack going in every way imaginable.

With a league-high 14 goals and 3 assists to her name, our ratings model considers Shaw the best player by far in the WSL this season. As long as they keep her fit and firing up front and keep things tight at the back, Manchester City will be a real force to reckon with in this title race.

Arsenal

In a way, Arsenal are lucky to still be in the hunt as the top two have held each other up in their meetings. No team who have lost more than two WSL matches have ever gone on to lift the title, but the Gunners had already suffered three league defeats before the turn of the year.

Indeed, Jonas Eidevall’s side have not looked fully refined at either end of the pitch. They do have a good cohort of diverse attacking profiles, who can link-up well and threaten by both creating and scoring, but lack a prolific goal-getter like Lauren James or Khadija Shaw.

Out of possession, the Gunners have been the best pressers in the WSL with the most high turnovers to their name, but they have frustratingly struggled to keep shut-outs. Just three clean sheets in the season so far places them level with Everton and Aston Villa in that respect, so they really need to shore things up at the back if they are to stay in the hunt for the title in April and May.


(Images from IMAGO)


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Posted by Bill Biss
When fit, is Pep Guardiola right to overlook Jack Grealish?

When fit, is Pep Guardiola right to overlook Jack Grealish?

When you mention Jack Grealish to anyone with a passing interest in football, the usual platitudes will be trotted out. ‘Big calves,’ ‘pretty boy,’ ‘a maverick,’ ’bit of a jack the lad.’

None of those fairly disparaging comments pay heed to just how dedicated a footballer he is, and why him making it to the very top of the English game would come as no surprise to those around him.


By Jason Pettigrove


It’s easy to forget just how influential he was whilst at Aston Villa, and why Pep Guardiola was tempted to spend £100m of Man City’s money to take him to the Etihad Stadium.

Grealish signed for the Citizens on August 5, 2021, and less than two years later could lay claim to being one of the Treble winners.

Not some bit part player either, but one for whom Guardiola depended in that special season that seems to come around once in a blue moon – no pun intended.

That Sir Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering Man United side were the last team to do the treble of FA Cup, Premier League, and Champions League way back in 1999, tells you just how difficult it is to do, even if the layman would now contend that ‘football is boring and the same clubs always win.’

That’s not true of course, though it’s the perception of many.

Perhaps it’s the relentless nature of the Pep Guardiola juggernaut once it gets going. His Barcelona and Bayern sides before City all had it in them to go on epic winning runs which almost always resulted in a trophy.

At City, the Catalan might well have the best players at his disposal, but he still has to mould them into a team, which isn’t always easy.

In any event, it’s up to the opposition to work out ways and means to beat Guardiola and his men at their own game. After all, it’s just 11 vs 11 right?

If Guardiola perhaps has one fault it is that his quest for footballing perfection knows no bounds. He is famously forensic in the manner in which he works, and whilst that has served him well to this point, it’s still a largely unachievable aim.

What that way of working does achieve, however, is keeping every player in the squad on their toes and fighting for their places. Every single week.

When you consider the calibre of his playing staff, that’s man management at its finest. One can’t help but doff one’s cap in Pep’s direction.

Although the smallest drop off in percentage terms for a particular action wouldn’t necessarily trouble most managers, for Pep it’s a cardinal sin. Moreover, he has both the ability and the nous to be able to interchange players at will.

Jack Grealish is only just learning that.

Though he’s spent time out of the City side before now, it’s not felt like it does at this stage. Since the end of the 2022/23 campaign, he’s only played the full 90 minutes in nine games across all competitions this season, discounting the Club World Cup.

When you consider some of those games have been against Everton, Luton, Young Boys (x2) and Sheffield United, you can see a pattern emerging, with respect.

Do the stats support Pep Guardiola in this particular situation though? 

In the 703 minutes that he’s played so far in 2023/24, less than eight full matches in total, Grealish has managed only three goals and one assist. Five shots on target is a pretty appalling return from the 28-year-old too.

His passing accuracy of 86.1% is still reasonable enough, and 60 touches in the opposition box indicates a player that likes to get in amongst it rather than hideaway and wait for the ball to come to him.

Being dispossessed on 18 occasions will surely count against him, but 29 ball recoveries goes some way to neutralising that statistic.

When all is said and done, has Pep Guardiola made the right choices by bringing in Jérémy Doku and Phil Foden in his stead?

At 21 years of age Doku has markedly less experience than his contemporary, but has been played for over 200 minutes more (975 in total). Injuries can and do play a part but there’s little doubt he has been preferred to Grealish in many games this season.

He only has two goals to his name but has assisted on five occasions already, and his passing accuracy of 84.1% is only just shy of Grealish.

Although he has been dispossessed 20 times, his 53 ball recoveries is much better than the England international, as is his 135 touches in the opposition box – more than double his number 10.

Phil Foden has played significantly more minutes than the aforementioned pair (1,863), so one might expect his figures to reflect that.

Indeed, eight goals and seven assists with an 88.6% passing accuracy is a fine return.

Being dispossessed 26 times is surprisingly the worst of the trio, but 86 ball recoveries is by far the best. His 121 touches in the opposition box isn’t as good as you might expect for the amount of time he’s had on the pitch, but still would get him the nod over Grealish.

In summary, depending on what formation Pep Guardiola wishes to play, Jack Grealish can’t really have too many complaints.

He needs to get back to his pre-treble form if he wants to play a bigger role in the team – his most recent injury notwithstanding.


(Images from IMAGO)


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Posted by Bill Biss
Marcus Thuram: The versitile bargain buy driving Inter forward on all fronts

Marcus Thuram: The versitile bargain buy driving Inter forward on all fronts

In an age of huge transfer fees, Serie A giants Inter Milan continue to rely on loan signings and canny transfers to push their ambition when it comes to winning trophies due to reported financial issues. With the Nerazzurri now looking to add Porto striker Mehdi Taremi and Napoli midfielder Piotr Zieliński to their ranks on free deals in time for next season, we take a look at how their latest such acquisition, winger Marcus Thuram, has done since moving to San Siro last July.


By Nathan Evans


Since a young child, Marcus Thuram has been in the spotlight. That was partly due to his footballing ability at a young age, but mostly because of his famous World Cup winning father, Lillian Thuram, who many recognise as one of the greatest modern-day defenders.

Unlike his dad though, Marcus has always been a more attacking player, operating mostly on the left wing but throughout his career, the French international has adapted his playing style to become more of an out-and-out striker in recent seasons. Part of Sochuax’s academy to begin with, spells with the club’s first team and then Guingamp, where he impressed, then saw him move across the border to Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany for a reported fee of €12 million. 

It was with Gladbach where Thuram began to make his name on a wider scale. Across 134 competitive appearances for the Foals, the now 26-year-old netted 44 goals and recorded 29 assists. But with the German outfit beginning to struggle, Thuram decided to let his contract run out and in July 2023, Inter Milan were the team who managed to grab his signature, fighting off a plethora of interested clubs across Europe’s top five leagues (including rivals AC Milan). 

Gladbach’s loss has been Inter’s massive gain ever since his free transfer move, as Thuram has hit the ground running at San Siro and has been a key part of Simone Inzaghi’s squad, who look set for Serie A glory this campaign. 

In terms of direct output, last Saturday’s clash against Salernitana, a match in which Inter comfortably won 4-0, saw Thuram net his tenth goal of the Serie A campaign. His assured finish not only opened the scoring as his side took another significant step towards recapturing the Scudetto, but that strike also leaves him as the competition’s fourth top scorer behind only strike partner Lautaro Martínez (20), Juve’s Dušan Vlahović (13) and Milan’s Olivier Giroud (12). On top of that, he’s also delivered seven assists in the league so far, the third-most in the Italian top-flight as he looks to announce himself as one of Europe’s top all-round forwards before this campaign ends.

As mentioned before, despite starting out as a winger in his fledgling career, Thuram’s overall footballing intelligence has aided his move into a more central striker role with Inter. His movement both on and off the ball, perhaps due to his previous experience out wide sets him apart in Serie A, as his ability to roam causes defender’s headaches throughout matches and helps to give both himself, and his strike partner more room to thrive on the pitch. It also means that the 26-year-old is comfortable both playing with the ball into his feet or with making darting runs in behind the defence when appropriate. That’s especially brought the best out of Martínez, with the Argentina excelling this season with his level of finishing and as recently as early February he spoke to the press about his teammate saying; “Thuram is an incredible striker, he is so complete and works really hard, even in training. We are very happy to have him in the squad, he is an important player for our club.”

Couple that impactful movement and all-round tenacity to want to effect play whenever possible, with his fantastic control of the ball and the fact that he stands at around 6″3′, and it’s easy to see why the former Gladbach star is thriving at his new club. 

We should also highlight the huge improvement in Thuram’s overall finishing. His return of 44 strikes in 134 appearances at his former club was impressive, but his quality and range of finishing has come on leaps and bounds during his short time with the Nerazzurri. Granted, all ten of his league goals have still come from inside the penalty area this term, but with seven coming courtesy of his right foot, two with his left and one with his head, he remains a constant threat for the Serie A champions by having the ability to bury his chances in a number of different ways. 

Arguably, his best goal to date came on his Milan derby back in September as it showcased exactly what he’s about overall. Sprinting through the middle of the pitch on the counter-attack, Thuram was pushed wide by the pass before he sized up his defender, shifted the ball to his right, then smashed a shot right into the far top corner beyond the hapless goalkeeper. 

But it must be highlighted that there’s plenty of other areas where Thuram has thrived so far at Inter. He isn’t averse at chipping in defensively, something which has delighted manager Inzaghi. In fact, of all strikers in Serie A this term, he ranks in the top 10% for most duels won (115) and ball recoveries made (43), whilst his large and powerful frame has also seen him win 47 aerial battles – an aspect of his game which has helped him to flourish both offensively and defensively in that regard. There’s also his impressive dribbling output this campaign, completing 26 successful take-ons with a success rate of 72.2%, one of the stronger figures in the competition and something that has helped him win three penalties to date, as well as help his side to relieve defensive pressure by progressing up the field in possession. 

Simply put, alongside his stunning attacking output in terms of goals and assists this campaign, it’s his insatiable hard-working approach that has helped Marcus Thuram endear himself to the Inter faithful so quickly, yet his success in Milan so far also begs the question as to why more high-profile European clubs didn’t try their hardest to sign the French international last summer. 


(Images from IMAGO)


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Posted by Bill Biss