Mixed Fortunes as Messi spoils Pep’s night in the Champions League

Despite it being a cold Tuesday night in Paris, the recent clash between PSG and Man City provided a brilliant and entertaining game of football. Paris won the game 2-0 against the Premier League champions, Manchester City with Messi officially opening his goal scoring account for his new owners. Manchester City came into the game on the back of a bitter-sweet win against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea. City have been in great form and scored five goals on their last outing in the Champions league so expectations were high going into the game.

The game started slowly with both teams testing the waters with initial tactical movements. About 8 minutes into the game, City let Mbappe free due to an error from Kyle Walker and the momentum of the game changed almost instantly with Mbappe attempting to find Neymar. The Brazilian scuffed his shot but, the ball fell into Gana Gueye. City’s defence managed to close the gap on a shot but Gueye managed to curl the ball beautifully into the top right corner. Ederson was planted to the spot, unable to react quickly enough to the unstoppable shot.    

Despite conceding an early goal, the game was still on as City maintained possession and were threatening PSG’s goal with several good chances. Mahrez and Sterling made attempts to cut inside and take shots, with the best chance falling to Sterling who hit the cross bar. Unfortunately Bernardo Silva could not redirect the rebound into an open net in what was tell tale sign of how the night was going to pan out for the Manchester club.

A minute later, Sterling had another shot blocked but Mahrez was on hand to catch the defence off guard and return the ball to Sterling who was unaware and the ball was eventually cleared by Herrera. This moment was the perfect encapsulation of City’s woes, a lack of an attacking mindset. On a day where De Bruyne had an off night, they did not possess anyone with the eye towards the goal. Had Sterling attempted to take a volley from Mahrez’s ball, the entire game could have been different but that wasnt to be.

In addition to De Bruyne, Grealish had a quiet game, playing out wide while Sterling was deployed more centrally. Grealish’s instincts throughout the game were to put crosses into the box or split the defence to open space but he tendency to pass the final ball rather than cut inside to take the shot himself was problematic for City. More is needed of him to justify the price tag if City are to establish themselves as European elites.

City’s best chances came in the first half but in the second half, Pochettino made several tactical changes that turned tge game in PSG’s favour. The French champions came out strong into the second half and started to close the gaps in their defence. Herrera, who had been lying in a deeper position started moving up the field more and Mbappe timed his runs making fewer offside calls. This all contributed to PSG making more chances as they searched for a second goal. Guardiola removed Grealish for Foden but, PSG at this point were in control of the game.

In the build up to the game, Messi had stated that he was desperate to score for PSG and he didnt have to wait long. City uncharacteristically let slip of the ball and Messi pounced on the chance dribbling the defence out wide before making a diagonal run to the box. He then sent the ball through Mbappe just outside the edge the box, who cleverly laid it back off to Messi who took the shot with the left foot. There was no stopping this goal. Even if City had man marked him tighter, Messi still possesses that natural ability to glide around the pitch and find the space where it doesnt exist. That goal galvanized PSG and perhaps has given them the confidence to go on and challenge for the Champions league title this season.

PSG are far from perfect but, this group stage win could set the cogs in motion for the knockout stages. On the other hand, City need a plan B for tight games, Guardiola needs a striker who can muscle him a victory. Mahrez should not be tracking back for defence, Sterling needs to always be thinking goalward. More importantly, they need Gundogan and Kevin de Bruyne back to their best if they are to turn things around.

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

Who are the Favourites to Win the Premier League?

After a Pandemic that has crippled several clubs financially, many big-name players made unthinkable moves. The Premier League has seen a shift of fortunes in Europe in recent seasons after several years of poor performances in European competitions. With more amassment of talent, this season offers more excitement than ever before. Romelu Lukaku’s return back to London as the prodigal son has transformed Chelsea into genuine title contenders and he has looked dominant on his first few games back. On the other side, Harry Kane’s decision to stay in the capital appears to affected the player but not the club who was interested in buying him, Manchester City . Liverpool got back their captain and their entire squad looks more confident as a result but, the biggest shock has been the return of the Cristiano Ronaldo back to Manchester United after more than a decade.  With the closure of the transfer window, we can have a breakdown of the favourites for the title and the top four.

Clinical – Chelsea lacked a cutting edge last year but not this season with Romelu Lukaku returning

Chelsea

Last season finish: 4th

New Arrivals: Romelu Lukaku, Saul Niguez, Trevor Chalobah

Notable Exits: Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud, Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori

Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel have made significant strides and have now started to taken a transform into a legitimate much to the delight of the board who backed them by investing over  £200 million in signings last year. After a hot pursuit of Erling Haaland fell through due to increased wage demands and agent fees, the board finally decided to sign for bring back their former prodigy, Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian has started the season in great form scoring 4 goals in five games so far. Chelsea possess phenomenal squad depth made up of a mix of young and experienced players. Jorginho has been instrument in the middle clearing build-up plays and stopping momentum with clever foul baiting tactics much like his performance for Italy at the Euros. The game against Liverpool at the beginning of the season showed just how well coached this team is under Tuchel. Despite giving away a penalty and losing a defender, the team managed to secure a draw and still managed to threaten a handful of chances in the second half. Chelsea have also managed to secure the signing of Saul Niguez from Atletico Madrid, a deep lying midfielder to provide cover for Kante who has had his fair share of injuries of late.

Prediction: Presently as constructed, Chelsea are the favourites for the season given their squad depth, tactically soundness and the presence of Lukaku up front. Tuchel’s biggest failure at PSG was his inability to control the ego of the big players but, he has the perfect opportunity of success at Chelsea with a hungry squad and a chance to correct on his mistakes.

In Pep they Trust -Pep has added only Jack Grealish to his squad yet still Man City look menacing.

Manchester City

Last season: 1st

New Arrivals: Jack Grealish

Notable Exits: Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia

The defending champions have improved their squad with the addition of Jack Grealish but, failed to acquire a striker to replace Sergio Aguero who left for greener pastures in Spain. The Harry Kane deal fell through due to extreme demands from Tottenham as did their quiet pursuit of Erling Haaland whilst, Cristiano Ronaldo chose to return to his former home. The Sky Blues have started the season in great fashion with Jesus and Ferran Torres showing they can rise up to the task. Despite losing their first match to Tottenham, Man city went on to thump Norwich and Arsenal 5-0 on consecutive weekends highlighting their overall strength. With several options to choose from and a superior confidence in the squad, Man City should be challenging for honours on all fronts this season. However Guardiola still needs a top striker who can rise up during close games and big games as evidenced from the opening game against Tottenham. Manchester City possess a lot of talent to provide an entertaining season and will likely return for Kane or make a more aggressive approach for Haaland next year as Pep eyes the one piece of silverware that has eluded him so far at Man City – The Champions League trophy.

Prediction: 2nd Place

All Smiles – With Van Dijk back at the heart of the defence, Liverpool look more settled this year and happier after a troublesome campaign last year.

Liverpool

Last season: 3rd

New Arrivals: Ibrahima Konate

Notable Exits: Xherdan Shaqiri, Georginio Wijnaldum

Liverpool had a very quiet transfer window making only on real signing, bringing in centre back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig most likely to avoid the issues of last season. A central midfielder was also under consideration following the departure of Wijnaldum to PSG but the emergance of Harvey Elliot perhaps gave Klopp food for thought. After a season of misfortune last year losing van Dijk and Gomez to injury and a lack of cohesion in their front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane, Liverpool somehow made it into the top four due to Leicester’s late slip up. This season however is different with Virgil van Dijk back and in great form looking like he was never injured. Firmino still looks off but, Salah and Mane are looking clinical with Jota adding an extra dimension. With cover in the back for van Dijk, Liverpool will bank on their forwards to carry them to a trophy. Their midfield however does looks old and slow and they need an aggressive attacking midfielder to press higher up the field if they are to properly challenge for the title.

Prediction: 4th place edging past Tottenham and well clear of West Ham at 6

The King Returns – Can Ronaldo inspire a new look Manchester United side to glory at home and abroad?

Manchester United

Last season: 2nd

New Arrivals: Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Varane, Jadon Sancho

Notable Exits: Daniel James

What a transformational window United have had this season! First they captured the young talented Jadon Sancho whom they have vetted extensively over the past year. They then added a proven winner in Raphael Varane from Madrid for only 50 million Euros which should ensure that the defensive is much tighter than last year. And then to top it all they got Cristiano Ronaldo. The former United man comes back a more experienced player than the one who left a decade ago. Despite the wear and tear, Ronaldo is still a genuine threat and a clinical finisher whose years in Juventus have created another threat in his game to shot creation. If not for the poor finishing in Turin, Ronaldo would have more assists to his name last season. Ole Gunnar Solskaer knows has a genuine title contender in this squad in Ronaldo and must use him wisely. United’s faith in Ole is beginning to pay off and they now have a squad with enough quality to attract even more top talents. Ole will require time to figure out his best squad including how to play the impression Edison Cavani, who let go of the number 7 shirt to Cristiano, with the returning Portuguese icon. Gary Neville has already said that this United squad may not win the league but will be challengers especially now with Ronaldo on board. They will set their sights on the European trophy with a veteran squad but, a trophy at the end of the season is a must for Ole after splashing cash on proven winners.

Prediction: 3rd Place

As Tottenham are in rebuild phase with a new coach and with no significant arrivals, they do not possess the squad depth of the Top 4 mentioned above to play throughout the season. Leicester and West Ham will provide tough competition as well as probably one other surprise team but this season will all be about the above four teams and that race for the title.

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

Italy Wraps Up Euro 2020 with Dramatic Penalty Win over England

After a gruelling yet eventful tournament, Italy have once again established themselves as elites in Europe. After several agonizing years exiting tournaments in early stages or indeed missing out all together (despite harbouring a lot of talent), Italy’s place at Europe’s top table had been in question coming into Euro 2020. Viewed as a team in transition, they were never truly expected to do anything of note at this tournament. But maybe they should have been. On an unbeaten run dating back to 2018 entering Euro 2020, they were clearly the most consistent and balanced team in European international football. That run was extended as Italy brush past their group and knockout round opponents to extend their unbeaten run to 34 games and etch their name once more on the Henri Delaunay Cup for the second time in their history.

Road to redemption after World Cup misfortune

Roberto Mancini has swiftly changed the fortunes in his three-year tenure with the Azzurri after the Gian Piero Ventura experiment failed miserably. From missing out on the World Cup in 2018, he has taken it upon himself to experiment with younger inexperienced talents like Spinazzola, Chiesa, Berardi, Barella, Pessina to name a few with phenomenal results. After a dominant display at the previous World Cup, France were considered as favourites running up to the Euros followed by Spain, Germany and England. As mentioned before, Italy’s name did not pop up as the critics felt this team’s mettle had not yet been tested at the highest level.

Even after breezing through the group stages, Italy were still being questioned after an unsteady display against Austria in the Round of 16. The next two games would define their class over the rest of the contestants with a composed display against Belgium providing no space for Kevin de Bruyne to make any drives and a gritty performance to hold out over a Spanish side that outclassed them in the first half of regular time. They certainly made it to the Finals from a tougher bracket having gone through Spain and Belgium to face an enthusiastic England team in front of a hostile home crowd.

Like Father, like son – Following in his fathers footsteps, Federico Chiesa had a superb tournament for Italy, contributing with valuable goals when his team needed them.

It’s Coming Home

Due to Covid regulations, UEFA downsized the locations of the matches to few key arenas and the final and semi-finals were all decided to be played on English soil in Wembley due to UK’s swift vaccination schemes and loosening of restriction for fans presence at the stadiums. This meant England had an advantage and higher motivation to play for the trophy on home soil. England boast a very talented squad which has only improved after their semi-final run in Russia three years ago.  Now a more experienced squad was ready to fight for the coveted trophy with fans chanting “It’s Coming Home” before the tournament commenced. England proceed with an unsteady display in the group stages but, outclassed Germany tactically in the round of 16 breaking ghosts of the tournament’s past. England then cruised past Ukraine and made it to the finals through some luck to get past Denmark in extra time (England played better in extra time and were clearly threatening although it was not a penalty). With a solid defence in Maguire and Stones protected well by Rice and Philips, an ever confident Sterling linking well with Harry Kane upfront and impacts subs who could change the flow of the game in Sancho, Rashford and Grealish, England had a case to put up a strong fight against Italy.     

A final game deadlocked till the last kick

The game started with a bang with England making their mark with a goal from Luke Shaw on the heels of a beautiful counter-attack.  1-0 down, Italy now had to fight for their way back in to make a case for the trophy. Italy played a curious game holding possession and playing short passes trying to find gaps for a breakthrough but, the English defence was steadfast and held strongly and tried to create chances with breakaways but, could not find the final ball. Raheem Sterling was making runs but had a tough night with Chiellini, Barella and Di Lorenzo breaking down any potential threats. Harry Kane was also neutralized and outmuscled with three players on him whenever he had the ball in possession. At the other end, Insigne tested the waters but, could only take weak shots from outside the box. England looked confident and composed and played out the first half with the lead.

Luke Shaw opened the scoring for England with the fastest ever goal in Euro’s history and his first International goal for his country

Both sides made no changes come the second half of regular time. Italy played some long balls into the box but, they did not possess the specific talents to land the ball so Mancini introduced two changes to his side with the introduction of Cristante replacing Barella and Berardi to replace Immobile who was quite all game. Italy now wanted to get the ball in the box instead of playing short passes to breakthrough and after a few decent plays (Chiesa was a beast on one-on-one challenges) got their equalizer through Bonucci who scrapped a goal after the initial ball into the box was tipped over Maguire. England’s biggest error was that they gave possession to Italy for long period of the game and could not get the ball from Jorginho or Veratti. Italy took momentum and created more chances with notable attempts from Berardi and Chiesa. Southgate made two changes to change the flow of the game and get back into gear with the introduction of Henderson for Rice and Saka for Trippier. But, taking back possession after spending long period of the game defending proved to be difficult with only some set piece action the game looked primed for extra time.

Extra time proceeded slowly with neither side unable to threaten for goal, Italy brought on their final substitutes Bernardeschi for Bellotti and Locatelli for Verrati to replace a tiring starting line-up and England brought on Grealish for Mount.  But neither side could find the space to create a scoring opportunity and game was set for penalties and managers were ready. With only 2 minutes of extra-time left, the England managers last two substitutes were questionable not for the players brought in but, for the player removed. Jordan Henderson who was a second half substitute was taken off for Rashford and Sancho replaced Walker. Italy won the coin toss and start the penalty shootout

Southgate’s decision to put Sancho and Rashford into the game with 2 minutes to go before penalties backfired with both players missing from the spot

The first penalty was Italy’s and they scored through Berardi; Kane then replied with a calm penalty. Bellotti stepped up for the second penalty having scored his penalty with Spain but, was saved by Pickford and England then scored their second through Maguire. Bonucci stepped up for the third penalty for italy and confidently executed the ball. Marcus Rashford then had a chance to give England the momentum. The Manchester United frontman has taken many penalties for his club and was brought on for his penalty record. But he scuffed his shot hitting the post.  Italy could now take advantage. Federico Bernardeschi stepped up and stowed away boldly down the middle. Jadon Sancho then stepped up for the fourth which was saved by Donnarumma. With all seemingly lost for England as Jorginho, Italy’s penalty expert who won it against Spain stepping up, Pickford made yet another save to give England a lifeline. The last kick for England is taken by the 19-year-old Bukayo Saka who has never taken a penalty at Senior level. He took the long walk down to face Italy’s big man in Donnarumma standing tall at 6 foot 5 inches. He runs up to his kick but, it is saved and Italy take the win. The win garnering smiles across the world and celebrations across the nation. Mancini’s men will be glorified in history books for their courage and persistence.

Team of the Tournament:

With the tournament completed, we can look at the best players across all contestants who displayed their talents at this month-long battle.     

Goalkeeper:

Gianluigi Donnarumma:

The “Player of the tournament” award winner deservedly was influential in Italy’s winning run. The new PSG big man kept clean sheets in all three group stage games and was influential in the penalty shootouts against Spain and England.

Defenders:

Leonardo Spinnazola:

Spinnazola was one of the best players for Italy who provided a dynamic change of play for Italy. Similar to the left back of past (Fabio Grosso whose heroics in semi-final and finals of world cup 2006 will be forever remembered), he frequently ran down the lane and found his teammates. He was crucial in providing the assist against Austria to break the deadlock and was influential through the tournament, had it not been for his injury in the semi-finals, he would have made a strong case for “Player of the Tournament” award.

Leonardo Bonucci:

Bonucci was a confident and calm figure at the back clearing balls timely and formed a great partnership with Juventus teammate Chiellini. Bonucci also acted as the lynchpin to find his wings and strikers with long passes from the back providing another means of distribution. He was also the man to find the equalizer for Italy to get back into game in the Finals.

Bonucci’s goal brought Italy level and shifted the momentum to the Azzuri

Aymeric Laporte:

Laporte decision to play for Spain after having represented France youth levels came as a surprise as many expected the Manchester City man to play for France alongside Rafa Varane. But the centre back chose to represent Spain and was picked for the tournament squad. After a brief adjustment period in the group stages, he stepped up and took charge of the defence and formed a great backline alongside Pau Torres and Erik Garcia alongside veterans Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordan Alba.  He was beneficial in Spain’s build-up from defence, he was crucial to break Croatia’s momentum after swinging to extra time and made the block on Italy’s break but, could not help the rebound falling to Chiesa who scored the goal. Many will argue Chiellini should have deserved this spot and there would be no debates but, Chiellini was exposed in some areas of the game especially in the game against Spain. Laporte brings a different element to Spain on top of being a leader in the defence somewhat akin to Bonucci.

Kyle Walker:

There were few players who were as composed and as consistent as Kyle Walker at this tournament. Solid at the back and making blindingly fast and creative runs on attack, his awareness to pick out passes were also beneficial for England.

Midfielders:

Jorginho:

The Chelsea man has found a new lease to life under Tuchel after struggling to find playing time under Lampard guiding Chelsea to the Champions league trophy alongside Kante. He came into the tournament with superior confidence and was influential in providing flexibility to the Italian side linking the defence to the attack making interceptions alongside partner in crime Veratti. He also scored the beautiful penalty to end Spain’s run in the Semi-final.

Pedri:

Luis Enrique’s choice to start 18-year-old was a shock but, what we witnessed was the rise of a superstar talent. The “Young Player of the Tournament” winner played a very composed game with a 95% pass completion percentage. Barcelona have unearthed yet another gem who may form the core for the team for years to come. 

Pedri lit up the tournament with his Barca game and in doing so earned himself the Best youth player of Euro 2020 award

Paul Pogba: 

The claims that Pogba plays better for his nation than for his club have been looming for some time. Although, I don’t see much merit it is an undeniable that his performance in this tournament has been anything but spectacular. There may be many names that could have easily put in this spot but, Pogba has been sensational for France. Even in the loss to Switzerland, he was the most influential threat on the field. Had it not been for the poor finishing of Mbappe and Coman’s lack of a final touch, France would have gone through to the Last 8. Nevertheless, Pogba’s silky smooth finish in the loss to the Swiss was a sight for sore eyes and Manchester United should do their best to retain his talents at Old Trafford.

Attackers:

Raheem Sterling:

Sterling was at his best for England at this tournament. He made several marauding runs down the lane and often nestled past several defenders to create chances for England. His pace and aggressive mentality were very crucial for England making it to the finals. He did everything possible to get England to the finals, this should give Pep Guardiola plenty to consider with the transfer window looming and Manchester City’s interest in Harry Kane. 

Sterling had a solid tournament for England contributing vital goals throughout but his dive in the Semi’s marred it for many

Federico Chiesa:

My favourite player of the tournament, the Juventus loanee was a huge figure for Italy. His one-on-one drives were massive and he could not be stopped, he created several chances for himself and was a huge threat down the lane. The defenders had to always keep an eye on him as his dribbling was a constant threat and when the game against England was at a standstill and Ciro Immobile looked hazy, he made several drives without relying on Italy’s short pass strategy to create space for himself to take a shot. He had two shots on target and the spark behind Italy’s Equalizer. Italy’s offense dwindled when he was subbed in the Final. Chiesa in my opinion has a case for the “Best player of the Tournament” and anyone who watched him play with not argue on this point.

Patrik Schick:

This should not come as a shock entry as the Czech Republic and Leverkusen big man has been phenomenal throughout the tournament carrying the small nation to the quarterfinals. He also scored quite possibly the goal of the tournament against Scotland. Cool and composed, he made waves and turned heads across the tournament.

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to Back Of The Net

Nail biting Round of 16 stuns Euros which now goes down to Final 8.

The knockouts of the Euro 2020 have started in full swing with exhilarating games and several significant upsets. After four days of knockout games, the bracket for the quarter finals has taken shape with several notable nations bowing out after tough competitions. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of the games and our predictions for the quarterfinals.

Day 1: A poor showing and a nail-biting thriller

Denmark vs Wales: 4 – 0

Key players: Gareth Bale (Wales); Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark)

The Danes dismantled an unorganized and unprepared Welsh side with ease in this game. The Euro 2016 semi-finalists who narrowly clinched the runner up spot of group A, went down a goal in the first half and were thoroughly outclassed by an inspired Danish side who have played heroically since losing star player Christian Eriksen in their very first game of the tournament. Welsh frustrations were only highlighted by the stoppage time red card to Harry Wilson, which looked soft to be fair. The Danes go through to the next round thanks to an inspirational performance and a newly confident forward in Kasper Dolberg who bagged a brace in this game.

Italy vs Austria: 2 – 1

Key Players: Lorenzo Insigne (Italy), L. Spinazzola, David Alaba (Austria)

Italy came into the tournament not having lost in 15 games in a row and cleared the group without any loss. Considered a darkhorse, they faced a very organized Austrian side led by Real Madrid new boy David Alaba. Italy was tested throughout the game which was goalless for 90 minutes. They then scored two goals in the first half of extra time, once again involved on the goal was the AS Roma man, Spinazzola. The left back has taken the Euros by a storm with his speed and deep penetrating runs. Austrian side put up a great fight until the end having scoring a last-minute goal and creating chaos for the last 8 mins of extra time but, the Italians held on to progress to the next round. If there were any cause for concern for the Italian side, it would be the poor showing of Domenico Berardi who despite some significant key defensive contributions failed to convert key chances to close the game.

Day 2: Passion and Pride

Netherlands vs Czech Republic: 0 – 2

Key Players: Patrik Schick (Czech Republic), Memphis Depay (Netherlands), Gini Wijnaldum (Netherlands)

The Dutch took an early exit after a poor showing against the surprise outfit of the Czech Republic. After losing their defensive leader Matthijs de Ligt early on (sent off for a deliberate handball), the Dutch lost all composure and fell under the pressure from a passionate and organized Czech performance. Patrik Schick was once again the man in the limelight who created the pressure for De Ligt’s send off and scored a fine goal to cap off a brilliant performance.  Now the only question that remains is how far can these underdogs go at the Euros.

Belgium vs Portugal: 0 – 1

Key Players: Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Belgium go through to the Quarter finals after a decent showing against Portugal. Portugal took a very conservative approach against a star-studded Belgium side, attempting to restrict any gaps. Both sides were very composed throughout the game, with Belgium capitalizing on an early chance with a goal towards the end of the first half. Kevin de Bruyne played his usual game and was constant threat throughout the game often suffering heavy tackles from Portugal’s frustrated defensive line. Belgium manager Roberto Martinez was quick to remove Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard after the early goal and held on to win the game as they prepare to face tougher competition on their expected road to the Final.

Day 3: Two classic games of passionate football that will be remember for years to come

Spain – Croatia: 5 – 3 (AET)

Key Players: Alvaro Morata (Spain), Luka Modric (Croatia) 

Spain came into the knockouts with two questionable performances and a final day 5-0 victory over Slovakia. Many questions were raised against Alvaro Morata’s form and Luis Enrique’s tactics at the Euros. Morata did not score in the win over Slovakia but showed signs of improvement from his first two performances. Spain started the game poorly with keeper Unai Simon missing a straightforward back pass from Pedro that ended up in the back of their own net.  But they quickly took control of the game and went up 3-1 shortly after. They looked all set to advance before Luka Modric who took control of the game in the last 15 minutes and Croatia scored twice to levelled the game in stoppage time with notable contributions from Atalanta man, Mario Pasalic. It looked like the momentum was completely on Croatia’s hands in extra time but, the fatigue of the game finally caught up to Croatian side. But the Spaniards were more clinical in extra time and put the game well beyond reach with two well taken goals to advance to the quarter finals. Heartbreak for Croatia but all in all it was an entertaining game for the fans and neutrals.

Take home: Spain showed grit to come back in extra time, they capitalized on the chances and closed down the game. Morata and Ferran Torres look confident but, defensive issues still persist.

France: Switzerland: 3 – 3 (AET) [4-5 Pens]

Key Players: Paul Pogba (France), Kylian Mbappe (France), Granit Xhaka (Switzerland), Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)

The Euro 2016 finalists and 2018 World Cup winners were heavy favourites to win the tournament and looked likely to dispatch the Swiss and advance. With the recall of exiled striker Karim Benzema, France was meant to be an even better team. After an indifferent showing in the group stage, France still managed to clear as top seed of a very tough group. Flashes of brilliance were seen but, poor form of Mbappe and Benzema and lack of chemistry were signs of concern. Karim Benzema came alive in the last group stage draw against Portugal but, the dominance exhibited in previous tournaments was not apparent.  The game again the Swiss exhibited parallels with the earlier game between Spain and Croatia. France went down a goal due to poor positioning in the box and Swiss capitalized on the chance. France abandoned the back three by subbing out Clement Lenglet for Kingsley Coman and moved Rabiot and Pavard to the full backs. But things only got worse when Swiss were awarded a penalty in box. A huge save by the French captain Hugo Lloris led to change of winds followed by a genius first touch by Karim Benzema for a French equalizer. Then, France immediately took the momentum away and scored another goal. Paul Pogba introduced further damage with a worldie from outside the box.

The Swiss made changes to bring on some much needed energy and try to break France’s momentum. France failed to capitalize on several breakaway passes from Pogba and the Swiss pulled one back through another header from Haris Seferovic. A brilliant pass from Swiss captain Granit Xhaka setup the equalizing goal for Gavranovic to force the game into extra time. France then lost their Joker who shifted the momentum after Coman and Benzema exited due to injuries. The Swiss held on through extra time with a composed performance from Xhaka who broke several key passes. The game was settled in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout, the first four penalties were beautifully executed by both teams. The final penalty for the Swiss was taken by veteran Mehmedi who stepped up with a blank expression. He took his time and executed his kick to perfection. The last kick fell onto a superstar Mbappe who had an abysmal tournament, missed several key chances and clearly lacked the confidence but, this could have been his turning point in the tournament. But the penalty was saved by Sommer who waited a few seconds to get the all clear from the referee and celebrated a well-deserved Swiss victory.

Take home: A scar in Mbappe’s career but, a valuable lesson for the 22-year-old. Pogba and Kante both shined in the game with the former creating several key chances. France still possesses a world of talent with the World Cup just around the corner.

Day 4: Redemption and Rejoice

England vs Germany: 0 – 2

England and Germany both possess very young, talented squads with immense potential for years to come. After the initial loss to France, Germany showed a strong performance against Portugal but, drew with a “never say die” Hungary side. Similarly, England also played with the line-ups but, could not bring the best out their talisman Kane.  The two sides faced on in a slow and tactical approach in the first half. A stealthy finish by Sterling gave England the lead late in the second half but, Germany could not capitalize on the mistake by Sterling with Thomas Muller’s shot moving ever so wide of the goal post. Jack Grealish’s introduction opened up the goal for Harry Kane to score for England and they would hold on to a 2-0 lead. Germany’s attacks were unimaginative at this point only sending long balls to the box in hopes of a half chance at goal. England held on to finish a historic win in over 50 years against the former world champions.

Take Home: Grealish may the key to unlocking Kane for England. Germany can rejoice the successful tenure of Joachim Low and look forward to new mastermind in Flick. The German team has plenty of potential and Hansi-Flick with his success at Bayern and his understanding of the next generation may be the key to create another dynasty.

Sweden vs Ukraine: 1 – 2 (AET)

Key Players: Emil Forsberg (Sweden); Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine)

Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine created history with a gritty performance and survived a dogged Swedish performance. Sweden missing talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who committed to return to national side for the tournament only to get injured) were still an emboldened team who put forward a strong group stage performance. A war of attrition between two sides who scored early first half goals was at a standstill and looking to be heading into penalties till Ukraine found some reserve energy to put the game to bed.

Predictions for the Quarter-Finals:

Belgium vs Italy:

Considered by many as the match that may provide the winner of the Euros, Belgium and Italy have shown some great football. Belgium will need their talisman Kevin de Bruyne, who took a knock in the Portugal game, in good form if they are to have any chance of winning against Italy. We saw Belgium completely lose their creativity after de Bruyne left the game against Portugal as did Man City in the Champions League final. They will need his dribbles to break through Jorginho and Verratti. Italy on the other hand have looked strong throughout this tournament but, needed extra time to put the game to bed against Austria. A tough game to call but a heavy tackle on de Bruyne might be all it takes to edge this for Italy.

Prediction: 1 – 2 (Italy Win)

Switzerland vs Spain:

Switzerland made headlines with a huge upset knocking out favourites France. Spain played a similar game but, managed to pull through in extra time against Croatia. Morata looks motivated and will be the key to help Spain go thorough to the semis.

Prediction: 0 – 2 (Spain Win)

England vs Ukraine:

England played a good game but, are still trying to figure out their best line-up to support Kane. Sterling has been phenomenal in this tournament and Mason Mount may feature in the next game after his stint in quarantine. Ukraine have done well to get as far as they have but will face a tough test in England who are desperate to get to the final this time around.

Prediction: 2 – 0 (England win)

Czech Republic vs Denmark:

After losing their first two games, the Danes bounced back valiantly with win over Russia and demolished Wales in the round of 16 with Kasper Dolberg rising up to the occasion at the perfect time. The Czechs have also shown resilience restricting the Dutch to a few chances and capitalizing on a mistake. They also have a star in Patrik Schick. This game a bit difficult to predict as Denmark possess a wealth of talent and a world class goal stopper in Kasper Schmeichel but, one cannot rule out the Czechs who are also playing with superior confidence.

Prediction: 1 – 0 (Czech win)

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

Will Hans-Dieter Flick mastermind for the next evolution of the German National team?

July 2021 marks the end of era in history of the German National team with the charismatic manager, Joachim Löw taking his last bow for ‘die mannschaft’ after the Euro 2020. Löw took over as manager after the 2006 World Cup and transformed the team fortunes leading them to World Cup victory in Brazil in 2014. His 15-year tenure revolutionized Germany’s identity as a nation and a leader in global football.  

The 1990 World Cup signified a turning point in its history. A mere few months after West Germany’s win at that tournament, they reunified with their Eastern counterpart forming the now known unified Germany. Instead of building on that success, Germany struggled to find its footing on the international scene. They did managed to win the 1996 European Championships in England but with an aging squad. There were also promising signs at the 2006 World Cup as well which was on home turf. Despite a semi-final exit, they showed the world a fun summer World Cup (breaking the typical stern-faced German stereotypes) and bright young talents (Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger) got to shine on the big stage.

Exit stage right – Low is set to depart from the German National job after Euro 2020

The German footballing authority looked to build on this momentum with a new manager (Löw) with fresh ideologies to foster the young and hungry talents that the country bore. The emergence of Pep Guardiola and the Tiki-Taka footballing philosophy along with Spain’s dominance at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 only strengthened the notion that change was needed. International success usually comes on the heel of domestic success at club level. But German football clubs at the time were struggling to compete with clubs in the more opulent European leagues.

So, the clubs in german pivoted towards a new approach focused on developing home grown players and investing in young and upcoming managers with new ideas for long term success. The move would turn out to be a watershed moment in german football. Case in point, Jurgen Klöpp who brought success to Borussia Dortmund through recruitment and development of young players by educating them on a new chic of counter pressing style of football labelled Gegenpressing. This put Dortmund back on to the big stage again after breaking the Bundesliga dominance held by Bayern Munich with successive domestic titles.

Jurgen Klopp is one of several managers who benefited from a change in mindset in german football

This period of time in the Bundesliga also clubs spend more on international talent recruitment. It coincided with Germany as a country opening its borders more to immigrants in the hope of creating a new national identity and providing an economic stimulus. Some of the then “unknown gems” to shine in the German league at this time included Shinji Kagawa, Heung-Min Son and Roberto Firmino to name a few. Dortmund also produced several young talented german players who would go on to make up the core of the German national team that won the World Cup in 2014. Even now, the approach is being replicated with several german clubs entrusting younger managers who can relate and understand the new generation of players like Thomas Tüchel and Julian Nagelsmann.

This thinking will likely also be applied to the selection of the new German national manager once Low departs. The German national team managerial job is a highly coveted position with a long line of history and pride so finding willing applicants should not be an issue. However selecting the right manager who can work with a new crop of exciting german players is the priority. Last year, four of the top five managers in European football were German coaches (Jurgen Klopp, Hans-Dieter Flick, Thomas Tüchel and Julian Nagelsmann); all of whom got their respective starts in management at a young age. Of them, Bayern Munich’s Hans-Dieter Flick seems to be the best fit for the national job. He was Joachim Löw’s assistant from 2006-2014 with the German National team before getting the nod for managerial career to begin in the Bundesliga on an interim basis taking over from Niko Kovac at Bayern. After getting the managerial job on full time basis, he guided the Bundesliga champions to a continental treble including the Champions League which he won against the Thomas Tuchel led Paris Saint Germain.

Flick waves goodbye to Bayern and hello to the German National managers job

Flick recently expressed his interest in taking over as the next manager of the national team after announcing his own desire to leave Bayern. After a long internal political struggle, Bayern Munich relinquished any chances to change Flick’s mind and hired Julian Nagelsmann from RB Leipzig for the 2021-2022 season. After successfully leading 1899 Hoffenheim to their first Champions League qualification, he then led RB Leipzig to their first Champions league semi-final spot in 2020. Despite his young age (he’s still only 33), Nagelsmann was touted by several big names in Europe to lead their club.  Bayern Munich moved quickly to secure their man and signed Nagelsmann for a hefty sum (€25 million) in order to break his contract with RB Leipzig in a move of utter dominance.

The German FA can now make a move for Flick, their first choice to take over after the Euro 2020. And rightly so. Flick mastermind the reemergence of Bayern Munich as a dominant player in Europe after a disastrous spell under Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac. Part of his masterplan was to pinpoint the key players in the squad who he could work closely with to change the tide. The resurgence of Thomas Müller behind the striker and Joshua Kimmich’s deep runs from central midfield provided a new dynamic flow to Bayern Munich’s football. Given his relationship with Bayern Munich squad who make up the core of German national team and the vast number of talented players playing across Europe, come the summer 2021 and beyond it is hard to see Germany going anywhere but forward.  

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

What now for Euro 2020 as pandemic tightens its grip on Europe

As the months whittle down towards the start of arguably the biggest football tournament of this summer, Euro 2020, tournament plans remains unclear. With less than 100 days to go until kick off, the tournaments organizers, UEFA are scrambling together a feasible plan, with the help of several national governments, to host the cross-country tournament. The usually single or duo hosted event takes an unusual turn this time around with the games spread out over 12 different countries as a way of marking the 60th edition of the tournament and also to reduce the costs associated with hosting. That decision, made nine years ago has come back to haunt UEFA who now face a logistical nightmare during a never ending horrific global pandemic.

Having been postponed a year from its original start date in June 2020, it is almost certain that the tournament will happen this summer. With the resumption of most of the sporting leagues across Europe, UEFA have clarified that the tournament will take place this summer between June 11 – July 11, 2021 and it will be played in multiple cities spread across Europe.

Euros are set to be hosted across 12 host cities namely:

  • Amsterdam (Netherlands)
  • Baku (Azerbaijan)
  • Bilbao (Spain)
  • Bucharest (Romania)
  • Budapest (Hungary)
  • Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • Dublin (Republic of Ireland)
  • Glasgow (Scotland)
  • London (England)
  • Munich (Germany)
  • Rome (Italy)
  • Saint Petersburg (Russia)

One of the key questions however is whether fans will be able to attend the games or not. With many of the sporting leagues playing with a very small faction of fans or behind closed doors, it’s likely that UEFA will permit some fans to be in the stadiums when the matches begin but to what level or capacity has still to be determined.

That caution is due to the continued pandemic that still has a tight strangle hold on most of Europe. The leagues have managed to operating successfully due to everyday testing and strict safety protocols to be followed by staff and players alike. But for an international tournament held in numerous cities and countries with high infection numbers, planning for the tournament has taken on a whole new level of complexity.

Current holders Portugal with the trophy in 2016.

With varying degrees of virus infection rates and restrictions, UEFA has had to coordinate with 12 different governments to organize this tournament. Whilst the vaccines are offering hope, the current progress of the vaccinations in the European Union in the first quarter of 2021 is still below the expected estimation primarily due to vaccine producers (AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech) in EU prioritizing export of vaccines under the COVAX initiative. The EU top officials are rallying to curb exports to prioritize the vaccination of the European citizens to stem the tide of the disease.

Over the last two weeks France, Italy, Germany, Poland and Netherlands have seen yet another increase in the Covid-19 cases. This was followed by tightening of the restrictions in these countries which included essential travel and mandatory negative test reports for cross-country travel. UEFA are trying their utmost to include fans in the stadiums at least to fill 50% of the stadium but, they may downsize the venues prioritizing the cities with lower infection rates. The worst-case scenario could mean the games are played behind closed doors, something that would not please UEFA who had grander plans for celebrating the tournaments 60th anniversary.

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

Inside Chelsea’s youth development – turning talent into profit one player at a time

In medieval times, children are educated/skilled as apprentices in certain crafts to one day produce skilled craftsmen. But an apprenticeship is only the first step. Once an apprenticeship is completed, the individual leaves on a journey for some years to hone their skills as master-in-training in hopes of one day becoming a master. Individuals in this phase of training and life experience came to be known as “journeymen”.

In modern football, we see journeymen in young academy graduates who have not received the nod for first team football, taking loan opportunities in lower leagues or international leagues to gain playing time and experience. The loan system was seen to be beneficial to both the club and the player with the central idea of player development. The concept was welcomed by fans and association alike to train more elite talent for both club and country. But, in the recent decade, we have seen a change in the ethos of the loan system with clubs abusing and monetizing from the system.

Fans and analysts alike will point to Chelsea F.C. and their system of “youth development” as the chief contributor to this change but, they would not be completely right. Yes, it is true Chelsea found success through buying players, they have a notorious loaning system and more recently were fined and handed a transfer ban for their youth recruitment strategies. Although, today they are not only club who adopt such a system, they have certainly paved the way for such practices. 

Roman-Era

Chelsea was taken over by Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich in 2003 which brought forth riches and a new identity to the club. In the upcoming years, Chelsea who were formerly, a mid table club were now among the elites of the premier league with superstar players recruited through transfers winning multiple league and cup titles. But, this model of splurging cash was never a long-term solution of success with the introduction of Financial Fair Play rules (FFP) in 2009. But, with the globalization of football and more revenue incoming from TV deals and sponsorships, success is expected spontaneously and in perpetuity. So, for years the club remained on the edge of creating financial controversy. So, they established reformation of their academy and dedicated a team of scouts, coaches and medical staff to take care of the recruits.

Talent Farming

The first generation of graduates from the academy provided several promising recruits like Ryan Bertrand, Gael Kakuta, Josh McEacharan and Patrick Van Aanholt. But these recruits were unable to break into a first team filled with talented cast the likes of Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. Between 2007-2011, Chelsea sacked 4 managers in hopes to compete with Manchester United who themselves lost Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. This meant the young graduates could not convince the new managers, whose priorities were always immediate success.

With the academy recruits unable to convince the manager and with the current squad playing past their prime, Chelsea saw more opportunity and increased their scouting methods and started to pickup talent from abroad with potential to develop and in turn also create a more global identity to the club. Now came the next set of youths: Lucas Piazon, Kevin De Bruyne, Oriol Romeu, Patrick Bamford, Romelu Lukaku, Thorgan Hazard, Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake, Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen, Victor Moses, Christian Atsu etc. each showing potential to breakout. 

With the new generation of talent, Chelsea streamlined their “development” process to generate a path for these talents to first team. The club established a separate division to handle player development which included, a director, a set of coaches and medical staff. The process starts with buying players for a low fee, followed by initial assessment after which a player may be placed in the reserves or on the loan list. If a player is on the loan list, they are initially sent to a soft testing grounds (weak leagues with low expectations) to get some playing time. Chelsea have sent players to Vitesse Arnhem (a club owned by Roman Abramovich’s Friend), a city with a population of about 100,000. The loans are mostly for a year but, can sometimes be cancelled midway if a player is unable to adapt to the league. The financial deals are worked out such that a part or most of the players salary is covered. The coaches or director will personally visit the players at the loaned clubs and assess their development. Based on the assessment they may decide to allow the player to finish the loan deal or cancel it and move them elsewhere to suit their development needs.  

At the end of the year, the team analyses the data and decide to take one of three routes: Retain the player, Sell the player (if the market demand was present) or move them to a more challenging testing spot for further development. This started an eternal cycle of loan moves for young players who report to cobham facility at the start of the year and move on to the next loan immediately.

Monetization

Success in life sometimes comes down to luck. Clubs may not always come across a player like Messi or Ronaldo immediately. Sometimes, talent is seen immediately, sometimes it only shows up later in life or in the eyes of another. Case in point, Chelsea have sold some talented players from their academy when they do no feel this player can reach a certain potential. So, they sold them after a few years of recruitment when their market value is at its peak as they cannot guarantee playing time with the club.

Some examples include, Romelu Lukaku, Thorgan Hazard, Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, Ryan Bertrand to name a few who were unable to convince the manager for regular football or who were not satisfied with the club’s communication. The club made dividends on their initial investment of these players when their market value and demand was high (in most cases selling them to the clubs where they were loaned).

Success stories

When all is said and done, this system has been in place since 2012. At one point, the club sent as many as 40 players on loan. So, what is the verdict? Was this system truly developed for “player development” or simply a money mongering strategy. What is there to show to the fans, analysts and association that their system is meant for youth development and not a monetization project.  

Andreas Christensen: The lanky danish Centre-back joined Chelsea at the end of André Villas-Boas tenure in 2012 with high expectations. After making his debut under Jose Mourinho in 2013, he spent two successive loan spells at Borussia Mönchengladbach. Chelsea immediately saw his value and integrated into the first team in 2015 as the touted heir to John Terry.

Thibaut Courtois: Similar to Christensen, the Belgium prodigy arrived at Stamford bridge in 2011 and was immediately sent on a three-year loan to Atletico Madrid where he won the Europa league, La-Liga (breaking a Spanish deadlock held by Barcelona/Real Madrid) and made it to the Champions league final in 2014. Chelsea immediately integrated the heir apparent to Petr Cech as the starting goalkeeper in 2014.

Kurt Zouma: The French Centre-back was signed from Saint-Etienne in 2014 but, remained on loan for a year at the former club. After making his Chelsea debut in 2015, he was sparsely involved in first team action. After successive loan spells at Stoke City and Everton, he is lauded as the future of the Chelsea’s backline alongside Christensen.

Kurt Zouma is one of several players to be bought by the club and developed into first team players (Image from Tumblr)

Mason Mount: The Englishman rose through Chelsea’s youth academy in 2017, spent two successive loan spells at farm club, Vitesse Arnhem and Derby county, where he played under Frank Lampard. When incoming manger Frank Lampard took the helm at Chelsea in 2019, he immediately integrated the young prodigy into the team. Then 20-year-old was an instant success and remains a key figure in the team till date despite the exit of the golden boy manager.

Undecided: Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Reece James. Chelsea’s transfer ban in 2019 along with the departure of superstar Eden Hazard meant the club were suddenly left vulnerable in the premier league. Incoming manager Frank Lampard was faced with a daunting task and decided to take a leap in faith with the many talent young reserves in his squad. With the exception of Loftus Cheek who departed for Fulham, the above-mentioned players featured heavily in Lampard’s squad rotation and feature in Thomas Tuchels now.

The Others

No system is perfect. More often than not, there are times when someone can get overlooked due to injuries, error in judgment or worst of all human greed. We will look at a few cases (not all) where Chelsea’s system failed the players and jeopardized their careers.

Tomas Kalas & Lucas Piazon: The Czech centre-Back and Brazilian winger arrived in London in 2010 and 2011 respectively during the dawn of Chelsea’s “youth development” stratagem. They both spent their initial testing grounds loans at Vitesse Arnhem followed by loans in Germany and in the English Championship. In total, they spent 7 loan spells each with Piazon making one start for Chelsea and Kalas played 2 games. Kalas’s Chelsea career may only be remembered for his debut at Anfield against Liverpool in 2014 where Steven Gerrard let the league title “slip” away whilst Piazon has no such privilege. Their market value was highest during their loan spell at Fulham F.C. in 2016-2017 and 2017- 2018 campaign where their stays overlapped and they found success helping the club promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2017-2018 campaign narrowly missing out promotion the previous year. When they reported to the Chelsea at the end of their loan spell in 2018, they were expecting an offer from Fulham to start their careers but, they received no information from the club. In a recent interview with a Czech chat show on his role at Chelsea, Kalas said “I am a player for training sessions. If they need a cone, they put me there instead”. After another loan spell, Kalas was eventually sold to Bristol City for a profit whilst, Piazon was let go in summer 2021. 

Why were these two talented young players career’s derailed by Chelsea’s system. Was it matter of oversight? Surely, it is not something as simple as that. We may never know the answer at least that was Piazon’s opinion in a recent interview with Sky-sports.

FIFA Loan Rule Amendment

FIFA has also taken notice to the change in the trend of player loan system and decided to act on curb such practices. According to the new rules, starting from the upcoming season (2021-2022), clubs are allowed only 8 transfers in and eight transfers out per season (and not more than three transfers between clubs) with the number set to reduce to 6 players from the 2022-2023 season.

Why has FIFA decided to act now?

Whilst, managers and analysts alike scorned Chelsea’s model of “player development”, the system was not violating any rules. Other Clubs now started to adopt this system, the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, RB Leipzig, Atlanta, Juventus, Inter Milan, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers adopted a similar model. Manchester City and RB Leipzig also setup a feeder clubs in Girona F.C. (City own 47% shares in Girona) and RB Salzburg respectively. The model was working and Clubs now had a way to avoid FFP rules and also fill the Home-grown player quota. But the situation got out of control as now clubs were sending an average of 30 players on loans. Although, in my opinion the nail in the coffin for FIFA’s involvement may have been the transfer of high-profile players like Kylian Mbappe and Alvaro Morata who initially moved on loan to their future clubs with the transfer fee following the next fiscal season thus, satisfying FFP rules.

At the end of the day, football is a business and clubs and fans seek success which cannot come without drastic measures in certain cases. Luck plays a large part in a world filled with several talented players. FIFA exists to maintain the integrity of the game and enact policies to support the players.

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

Do Fans still feel close with their club?

The 21st of February, 2021 marked the anniversary of the first reported cases of Covid-19 in each country across Europe which initiated an excruciating period of lockdown and social distancing. This news came as an especially hard pill to swallow for football fans because it meant an immediate halt on all professional sporting activities; no more fans at stadiums, likely no Euro 2020 and Liverpool fans couldn’t rejoice their long awaited and dominant premier league trophy win. With no clear directive on the timeline of containment of this global pandemic, sporting authorities were starting to bleed cash. Smaller clubs were on the verge of bankruptcy while, larger clubs had to make adjustment to the salaries. Even Barcelona FC had to make promises to players to pay their salaries at later date with some interest during this stagnant revenue period.

Messi and co agreed to a 70% pay cut durning the pandemic but not without conditions attached

After months of deliberation, football authorities started to come up with the best solutions to bring back sporting activities despite the turbulent conditions. Bundesliga was the first league to be back up and running, the Deutsche Fußball liga (DFL) governing body set up the idea of a bubble with daily testing of players and staff along with clear mandates to be followed during the season. This framework worked out very well, the season was restarted albeit some hiccups on the way due to human error.

Some clubs across Europe also started experimented allowing fans into the stadium last season. The Bundesliga allowed 20% of stadium capacity in cities like Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Bremen but, due to varied infection rates Munich and Berlin were not granted such privileges. Meanwhile in France and Italy, about 1000 fans were allowed during game day but, the lawmakers and the big leagues are still not certain the fans may completely return this season before the vaccine rollout (2020-2021).

Fans in Germany watch a Bundesliga match

Considering all these factors, another big question remains: How do the fans feel about this new epoch in football? It certainly can’t be fun watching your favorite clubs and players on the telly all the time, I mean you can’t even watch the game in a sports bar with your friends given the restrictions. The ambience at the stadium with the ever-passionate banner groups behind the goalposts banging the instruments, the ultras occupying the east and west stands singing songs and shouting those occasional insults and the global fans who come from far and wide to catch a glimpse of their stars makes every game that much more exciting.

Every season, the fans are also eager to look forward to the new additions that will improve their clubs. The top 5 leagues in Europe invested a total of £3 billion in the summer 2020 despite the drop in revenue, in comparison the previous transfer window saw £5.25 billion in investment. Fans are always critical of their club’s decision making, making their feelings known during games and most of the times the clubs listen to them as the fans are the significant make up of the club (as well as media).

Case in point, Chelsea Fans who were excited for the 2020-2021 season after their club invest upwards of £200 million in young talent with immense potential. The team which barely survived the top four finish last season under the tutelage of a Chelsea legend now had the look of a dynasty. After a phenomenal start to the season followed a string of bad losses and Chelsea fired their golden boy manager, Frank Lampard. This was a decision which can have repercussions on the minds of the fans about a club who refuse to give time to their manager, who are known for their revolving managerial door, who have now fired yet another manager (and a club legend no less).

Although, the owner of Chelsea FC, Roman Abramovich, personally wrote a letter to the fans about the difficult decision to sack Lampard. London is home to many great football clubs. This decision in the current climate can create unease in the psychology of the fans and their outlook towards the club. Along with the fact that Manchester United’s decision to give Ole Gunnar Solskjær time to turn things around for the club despite the early exit from the champions league, a decision which is now bearing fruit could influence the fans.

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN