Nabil Fekir: Lyon’s Crown Jewel

One of the greatest legacies that Lionel Messi will leave behind when he slowly fades away from our collective consciousness (you know, outside the usual “he’s the greatest ever”, “he was better than Ronaldo” mambo jumbo) is that he’s spawn off a bunch of copycats. Numerous amounts of players have been labelled in some form “the next Lionel Messi”, too many in fact to list in its entirety but here’s a condensed list:

  • Xherdan Shaqiri
  • Ryan Gauld
  • Bojan Krcic
  • Maxi Romero
  • Alen Halilovic
  • Paulo Dybala
  • Christian Atsu
  • Juan Iturbe

Lionel Messi may be the greatest player football has ever seen, and this is just part of the job we have as people who love this crazy sport. Having to spin our wheels trying to convince ourselves that a quarter of these players would even come close to living up to the label. Mind you, some of these players have turned out to be solid contributors and Dybala could become a great striker by the time the 2018 World Cup rolls around. But he’s no Messi and none of those guys are. (The same thing happened in the NBA in the post Michael Jordan era that eventually became a 12 year infatuation process with trying to take Kobe Bryant seriously as the next Michael Jordan.)

There is a point to all of this; there’s a new “next Messi” and he resides in Lyon playing for Olympique Lyonnais. His name is Nabil Fekir. He ticks all the boxes you want out of a guy being labelled as the next Messi: He’s short, has a low center of gravity, he’s left footed, has the ball on the string, first class acceleration and very good shooting ability.

Here’s the big difference between Fekir and the Messi wannabes I just mentioned: None of them have been as good as Fekir have been at the beginning of their professional careers, especially when taking into account he’s doing this in a major European league known for not being the easiest to create offense. Nabil Fekir has been very impressive and could become a generational talent. Last year was his first season as a every week attacking player, and he responded way better than anyone could’ve imagined.

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His teammate Alexandre Lacazette took more of the headlines last year, and some of that is understandable. Strikers inevitably get more of the headlines, especially in today’s era where age 24 and under strikers aren’t exactly growing on trees, and Lacazette certainly had a very good season. His form from October-January was great and a 27 goal season in his second season as a converted winger-turned-striker is massively impressive (albeit 8 of those goals were from penalties). Fekir played a lot like the Robin to Lacazette’s Batman and when Lacazette was out for 3-4 weeks between late January and late February, Fekir and the rest of Lyon struggled, further cementing the importance that Lacazette had on Lyon. Lacazette wasn’t at his best when he came back from injury and Fekir showed that he was more than capable of steering the ship when the opportunity arrived. His performance versus Montpellier in their 5-1 victory in March was proof of that, including a sublime chip that was Messi-esque:

However things haven’t gone exactly that way this season. Lyon have been… okay. They haven’t been bad, but it hasn’t been the swashbuckling football that made people who didn’t watch Ligue 1 regularly take notice throughout their title challenge. Their performances against Rennes and Guingamp in particular were very lackluster and unimaginative. The Mathieu Valbuena acquisition has been a work in progress (and that might be putting it a little lightly), and the midfield three has been not at their best. Perhaps most importantly, Alexandre Lacazette has looked like a shell of his former self. For now, it’s fair to say that most of that could be due to the injury he suffered in the second half of the season opener versus Lorient.

What’s been impressive for Fekir so far this season is that he’s been great throughout the first four games this season. In particular, his game against Caen was magnificent. Not only did he score a hat-trick, but all the goals were done in an effervescent style that made you hark back to a young Lionel Messi when he had the mop haircut.

Just look at the second goal from Fekir: he essentially ripped out a man’s soul and stomped on it for fun on live TV:

It’s only a four game sample size so there’s still lots of noise so far but good lord, look at the statistical production from Fekir this season:

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Just for a frame of reference, I went and checked Messi’s 2009-10 season and compared the two. That’s as far back as WhoScored will go in terms of Opta data but thankfully Messi is 28 so he was there and about the same age as Fekir. This is Messi’s radar:

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It’s very similar to Messi. Outside the ludicrous amount of throughballs (All hail the Barcelona effect), the production is mirroring what a 22 year old Messi produced at. Mind you, Messi also performed at a similar level the year before and that along with many things made him a freak of nature at 22.

It can’t be put into words just how fun it is to watch Nabil Fekir play football when he’s at the top of his game. He is the best attraction in Ligue 1 (we still love you Zlatan), he’s appointment viewing TV week in and week out. He is one of the most exciting players of his age bracket in Europe and he’s got a chance to be one of the best players to have ever come out of Lyon’s youth academy.

There is nothing this man can’t do. You need him to beat two defenders with his dribbling? No problem. You need him to play as a #10 in behind two strikers? He’s more than happy to oblige. Use him as a point of reference for your offense? Easy as you like. Of course with players with as much talent that Fekir holds, consistency is the big thing. Fekir had some rather pedestrian performances last season in big matches (though he was brilliant against Saint Etienne in April when ASSE were chasing the final CL spot). 2015-16 still has many twists and turns left in which Fekir will have to play a big factor and in certain games be the factor for Lyon, but so far this season he’s been up to the challenge.

The inevitable question with supreme talents who come out of academies like Lyon (and Ligue 1 in general) is when will a rich club come in and seriously sniff around for him? Perhaps that never happens with Fekir and he becomes the best Lyon player of the modern era. We don’t know exactly how high Lyon will climb financially over the next couple of seasons with the new stadium opening in January 2016.

From the looks of it, it looks like they’ll have relatively high financial power as far as Ligue 1 clubs are concerned. They re-signed the majority of their players over the summer and their player transfer spending looks much more different than what it has been over the past four seasons, after the “Spend like drunken sailors to win the Champions League” era didn’t work out:

Net Spend

You’ll never confuse Lyon as being in the same financial bracket as PSG, but they could possibly carve out a niche of being one of the rare Ligue 1 clubs who can afford a €15-20 million transfer or two. And that could be a big thing in trying to keep someone of Fekir’s stature for a relatively long period of time. Of course if Fekir grows into a superduper star at the rate he’s going and the elite European clubs come in with an extravagant offer, even a staunch business man like Jean-Michel Aulas would probably have to relent and sell Fekir to them.

When Aulas compared Nabil Fekir to Lionel Messi last year, I’m sure the general consensus from the French media was “Okay Aulas, we get that you’re excited but let’s calm down here”. Truth be told, there still should be a lot of reservation when it comes to the amount of excitement that Fekir has generated. He is still 22 and hasn’t even played 5000 minutes in Ligue 1 in his career. We’ve seen prospects flame out before in spectacular fashion and they serve as a warning, even if they probably never had the same CV at the same stage of their career that Fekir has.

But you just can’t help but be so excited with what Fekir could become. Liverpool fans and to a certain extent England fans were so thrilled when Raheem Sterling burst onto the scene in 2013-14 (although not so much now), and Fekir has probably been better than Sterling even with Sterling’s longer resume. He is a special prospect and is a symbol for how Lyon has rebuilt their squad primarily through their youth academy. The reservations that come with labeling someone “the next one” is natural, as we’ve been burned so many times before that we shouldn’t be as gullible to pronouncements as we are.

But maybe, just maybe, Nabil Fekir truly is the next Lionel Messi.

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Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez, and the New Transfer Market Ineffeciency

 

during the UEFA Champions Leaguequalifying round play off second leg match between Monaco and Valencia on August 25, 2015 in Monaco, Monaco.

The transfer dust has finally settled, and well, it was an interesting and active window. A certain Manchester club became Voltron and spat in FFP’s face, and the other became much maligned over a deal for an unproven French forward that hasn’t had his twentieth birthday.

How did we get here though? United, while maybe taking a pass at two La Liga players that could have helped their side, honestly had a good window. Matteo Darmian was a terrific find for £12 million and Memphis for £25 million was highway robbery. Sure, Memphis is a little bit of a project coming from the Eredivisie and needs to work on being less of an individualist, but the talent is there – much more talent than the price tag would suggest. They also found a way to get Morgan Schniederlin from Southampton for less than thirty million and grabbed Bastian Schwiensteiger for less than ten, and while these wouldn’t be classified as bargains they’re still fair fees and will serve as big boosts in the deeper half of the club’s midfield. This trickled down from the summer of 2014, which saw the highly-criticized Ángel Di María fee, but also Daley Blind who’s been phenomenal for the price.

However, people seem to not want to forget that United passed on Otamendi and Pedro and seemingly overpaid for Anthony Martial. While the Otamendi situation is mysterious, the Pedro one is not. With Juan Mata and Memphis and the renaissance version of Ashley Young in the fold, Pedro would have best served United as a center forward. While his ability to operate in space and finish seems suited for that position, it’s still completely untested waters, especially for a 5’5″ winger that’s a little light in the strength department. Regardless of class, United were forced to consider him and Rooney (also not a striker) playing off each other in some manner to be one striker in total.

Until Monaco were vanquished from the Champions League.

Then United trained on the wide-forward turned striker Martial. The only issue? The price. Monaco had no real reason to sell Martial. They look poised to finish second or third in France and collect Champions League money again and their backup options are Guido Carrillo and Lacina Traoré. After letting Berbatov go without a sound, the team was set up for Martial to show his talent. Barring any horrifying injury or team implosion, he was going to be the star and command a huge fee next summer.

Many look at the transfer market as some kind of auction house. X amount of money should get you player Y, and Z amount of money will net you player A. However, that’s not the case. United needed to give Monaco incentive to sell.

Losing Martial means Monaco run the risk of losing Champions League money/Europa glory, and the Principality club had no reason to believe he would be any less touted of a prospect next summer. Furthermore, the striker market was more barren than the driest of deserts. Martial was United’s only option with Jeremy “War and” Peace removing Saido Berahino from the market and QPR holding Charlie Austin hostage.

Now, could United have worked out a striker buy well in advance? Sure. Luciano Vietto went for £15 million in the beginning of summer without much noise. The 21-year-old Argentine had an excellent season at under-the-radar Villarreal. However, Vietto isn’t similar to Martial stylistically in that he’s a bit slender and weak as well, and didn’t have UK work permits. Paulo Dybala was also an option, but he completed his move to Juventus so early in the window it seems unfeasible to think United could have worked out Dybala and Memphis before the season ended. Harry Kane was never available it seemed. Salomon Rondon was an unknown. The remainder of the barrel were old uninspiring options like Falcao (who surely wouldn’t have come back), Chicharito, Balotelli, Jovetić or Džeko.

So it was Martial, or Rooney and the ghost of strikers past. Monaco knew it, United knew it, Chelsea knew it when they were inquiring at the price of €50 million. Because of that, United were in many eyes fleeced on the price. However, Martial is extremely talented, isn’t a retread or recycled striker, and provides the strength, pace, and finishing prowess that United desire. His current résumé doesn’t inspire, but he could be is the force United crave.

Because of that, his fee was regarded as shockingly high. What point that does bring up is where teams are finding the bargains. Whether it be a fallout with the club, a yearning for broader horizons, or the selling club being more than okay selling for a good price, the new market inefficiency is players who are available to sell.

Consider the Swansea attack featuring André Ayew and Bafétimbi Gomis. Gomis is a highly uninspiring striker that needs plenty of quality play behind him to get going, but he left Ligue 1 outfit Lyon for free. (Funnily enough, Lyon’s inability to offload Gomis is how Martial ended up at Monaco.) However, the point stands that Gomis has been a solid poacher for Swansea this season. Ayew came from financial black-hole Marseille and also was a free transfer. He’s been of the highest quality since he came and has shown the gap between Ligue 1 and the EPL based on talent last season may not have been as wide as the public opinion. Also, Ayew is only 25. The concept of a player of his caliber being free at his age is remarkable, but again Marseille were in much more need to offload Ayew and his wages than Monaco ever would have been with Martial.

A similar situation is Raheem Sterling and both Eden Hazard and Alexis Sánchez. Many were quick to point out that Sánchez only went for £35 million, while Hazard arrived from Lille for £32 million. Some thought of this as a Premier League and English premium with Raheem, but the fact is Liverpool will never need to sell like Lille has to. Similarly, Sánchez is a player that Barcelona saw no use for. Similar to Mesut Özil and Real Madrid, or even Petr Čech and Chelsea. There’s a reason Arsenal saw those players come to the Emirates but couldn’t land Karim Benzema.

Sami Khedira is a man made of glass but is also a similar case, in that he was unwanted at Real. Gonzalo Castro could be a bargain for Dortmund at €11 million.

Bayern Munich even needed to shell out €30 million for Douglas Costa – a move now being lauded as the bargain of the summer. When Costa’s move was announced, most opinions stated that he was a huge risk at that price. Plucking a player out of the Ukraine who didn’t inspire for the seleção was risky, and no one could see why he could be Franck Ribéry’s replacement. After all, this is the same club that signed Robert Lewandowski for free even when Real wanted to pay top dollar.

The fact is transfers aren’t auction houses. Not even close. They’re about as unique as snowflakes or fingerprints. Player X went for the fee Y based on a cavalcade of reasons. Vietto is a bargain for £15 million, but Villarreal knew that English clubs would be wary of work permit issues. Martial for £36 million (at least) is an overpay, but did United really want to go into the season watching Rooney fail to get in behind the defense again, and again, and again? Monaco needed to be compensated for the risk they take on for playing Carrillo and Traoré up top this season. United needed to give them a reason to sell, not the other way around. And there’s no plane of existence where Sterling and Pedro should be your number one striker option. Louis van Gaal isn’t dumb enough to mismanage that.

Should United have tried to work out a new striker option well before the deadline? Yes. That doesn’t erase the amount of good business they’ve done this summer. van Gaal has removed a ton of the hang-on players from the Sir Alex era that David Moyes didn’t have it in him to sell. Robin van Persie is well washed up, Jonny Evans never really panned out, Nani was a guy whose writing had been on the wall for awhile (though he should be in Italy or France rather than Turkey) and there were many others that hadn’t been United quality for some time. It’s a process, but that process is one that takes time and it’s brighter with Darmian, Martial, Memphis and Schneiderlin than it ever was with Chicharito, RVP, and Nani.

In a few years Martial may be the biggest transfer bust since Andy Carroll, or he could be the best player to wear the nine-kit for United in quite some time. We don’t know. But the issue that needs to be addressed is his transfer is different than Pedro’s, or Sterling’s, or anyone else in world football’s. And there’s a need to bring in the full brush of context before we start comparing them. Apples aren’t oranges, and Martial being sold by Monaco is a completely distinct set of circumstances than any other transfer out there.

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The Anthony Martial Saga and Another Detour in the Monaco Project

The Principality has been an awfully busy place this summer, but no deal Monaco have made is bigger than this one. At the time of this writing, Anthony Martial looks like he’ll be the most expensive French teenager in the history of football as he closes in on a move to Manchester United. There are conflicting reports about the number in question: the British media is reporting that the deal is worth around €49 million while the French media is reporting it’s more like €80 million.

Holy. Shit. These are exorbitant numbers for many players, but even more so for a 19-year-old who just completed his first “real” season in Ligue 1 (real as in he played more than 1000 minutes in the league). The price tag is a reflection of multiple things at work:

  1. United were desperate for a striker and Louis van Gaal and Ed Woodward waited until the end of the window to find one;
  2. The market for decently-profiled strikers as a whole today is very scarce (just look at the holding pattern Napoli have had with Higuaín over the last two years);
  3. Monaco are well positioned enough financially to demand these types of fees despite missing out on the Champions League;
  4. Martial’s ceiling is the next Thierry Henry. I typically am not a fan of every French winger-turned-striker earning a comparison to Henry, but Martial in fairness could be that good. He’s certainly further along in his development than fellow Henry protégé Alexandre Lacazette was at age 19.

It’s certainly shocking to see this happen so quickly with Monaco and Man United, but English interest in Martial is hardly a new thing. Tottenham sniffed around Martial and that turned into Monaco handing Martial a renewal (Spurs gonna Spur). There were faint rumors about Chelsea preparing a bid for Martial as well but that never amounted to anything. To see how quickly this happened is pretty amazing and once again demonstrates how hilariously insane the transfer window is.

Again, I hate the idea of comparing every winger who’s converted into a striker to Thierry Henry, because it’s pretty lazy analysis and it does a disservice to how good Henry was. But Martial is that exciting a prospect. He possesses an impressive athletic build for a 19-year-old and he can play any position in the attacking midfield if necessary.  He had a solid season last year at age 18-19 in a notoriously slower-paced, defensive league in Ligue 1:

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For large stretches of last season, Monaco were bad as an attacking team. It was a mishmash of old and young talent failing to find a competent game plan in attack. By around February, they started to settle as a counter attacking side that leveraged the pace and directness of Martial and Yannick Ferrera Carrasco with the clever movements of Bernardo Silva. Monaco finished the season ranking tied for fifth in shots coming on the counter and tied for third in goals scored in those situations. The fact that Martial produced at the rate he did given the circumstances is impressive.

Man United have a lot of money all the money. Between the money they get for their commercial brand, their kit deal with Adidas, the EPL TV money and the fact they’re fricking Manchester United, they decided that it’s a chance worth taking to pay a lot of money for a potential generational talent. And if Martial fails? His struggles wouldn’t cripple the club.

More than anything, Martial will give United the type of dynamism in attack that they’ve sorely missed. A combination of him and Memphis, with the likes of Ander Herrera and Juan Mata feeding them on the counter could return United to some semblance of the Sir Alex Ferguson days of the mid-late 2000’s. Yes, this is still contingent on LVG loosening the strings on the club’s attack, but perhaps he’s just been waiting for a striker to do it with.

There’s also the fact that United have needed a striker who can get in behind an opponent’s backline since Robin Van Persie’s heyday, and Martial could certainly do that in abundance. Wayne Rooney has fluctuated between “very good” and “great” over his career, but he’s at a point where he just no longer has the athletic ability to get in behind a defense on a consistent basis. Yes, some of that is due to the constrictive nature of van Gaal’s system, but it’s also that Rooney has been playing professional football since 2002. He’s old in football years. There’s no shame in him having a slowly-reduced role but maintaining a solid standard of play.

Of course there’s the chance that Martial is a flop and turns out to be one of the worst signings in United’s history. Whatever the final number is on Martial, it’s a staggering amount of money for a guy who has had one solid season as a professional. United with this deal give off the appearance that they rushed to find another striker besides Rooney. It’s also a gamble that his potential will make that point more or less moot.

Where this leaves Monaco is anyone’s guess. From the sales of Aymen Abdennour and Layvin Kurzawa combined with Martial, Monaco could accumulate somewhere in the region of €135 million on those three alone. It’s insane. Yes, there are real arguments to be made that Monaco should’ve kept Kurzawa, let alone sell him to PSG. On a pure monetary note, however, it’s incredible business from Monaco. Martial cost €5 million in the summer of 2013 because Lyon couldn’t keep him, as they failed to offload their higher paid talents. Kurzawa came from the youth academy. Abdennour was a loan deal from Toulouse that eventually became a permanent deal.

The problem Monaco now face this season is while it’s great that they have this money generated from the transfers of those players, the team as currently constructed is very flawed and Monaco need to be in the Champions League next season to keep this new “buy young wingers and sell them for big profits” project going. Guido Carrillo and Lacina Traoré are the options at striker right now, and that’s pretty poor unless Carrillo becomes something. Ricardo Carvalho and Andrea Raggi are a combined 1000 years old. Fabio Coentrão and Elderson Echiéjilé are a significant downgrade from Kurzawa and a midfield trio needs to be sorted out.

Despite all this, Monaco through four games this season have been one of the best teams in Ligue 1 in terms of creating chances. They rank third in expected goals for, third in danger shots for and first in big chances created. Monaco also rank dead last in both expected goals conceded and danger zone shots conceded while ranking tied for 17th in big chances conceded. Monaco could return to being a purely defensive and drab side that hammer out 1-0 wins, but that might not even be attainable. The combination of the attacking midfielders they have stocked up combined with the losses of Abdennour and Geoffrey Kondogbia make it really tough. Perhaps they simply remain the counterattacking side we say from February through May last season but with a dodgier defense.

This is one of the crazier deals in recent memory for all the things involved. It’s a huge gamble by Manchester United but one that could pay huge dividends for the club if Martial fulfills his potential. Martial is an exciting prospect who, at his current stage of development, helps United right away. Monaco’s project has take another detour with the sales they’ve made this summer, and what’s left is a talented but incomplete side that’ll find it harder to finish in the top three in 2015-16.

Gotta love Deadline Day!

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Mark Hughes and the Culture Change at Stoke City

On Sunday at Carrow Road, Xherdan Shaqiri made his Stoke debut in a 1-1 draw against Norwich. Shaqiri provided an assist on a free kick, completed 34 passes and looked solid on his debut. However, what he did on his debut is ultimately irrelevant.

What is relevant is that Stoke City had a 23-year-old who has played for two former European champions and scored a hat trick at the World Cup starting for them.

Shaqiri is the best and most prominent example of what can be described as a culture change at Stoke City under Mark Hughes. (It can also be described as the Potters reaping the benefits of the new TV deal, but let’s stick with this.) In stark comparison to his predecessor, Tony Pulis, Stoke is now a team appealing to watch for the neutral. Under Hughes, Stoke has attracted talent that would have had no interest in joining the Potters if Pulis was still there.

Let’s not be unfair to Pulis, though. While Pulis’ long balls and brutal physicality might not have been fun to watch, it did ensure Stoke never flirted with relegation once in in his five seasons there. His Stoke teams finished 12th, 11th, 13th, 14th and 13th during his tenure, with the Potters averaging 45 points over those five seasons.

Pulis’ success made sacking him an unpopular decision with Stoke supporters given what he had done for the club. This displeasure was accentuated by the fact that Mark Hughes was his replacement.

Stoke signed Hughes as he was recovering what can best be described as a dumpster fire stint at QPR. He made it 12 games into the 2012-13 season before getting sacked, having failed to win any of those games. Hughes spent the 2012 summer transfer window adding an odd collection of talent for a QPR team that escaped relegation on the last day the prior year. Ji-Sung Park, Julio Cesar and Jose Bosingwa headlined QPR’s signings. That would have been brilliant in 2009.

Freed from Tony Fernandes’ clutches, however, Hughes made sure his first window with Stoke would not be littered with mercenaries who were past their prime; he made sure his first window would include players Pulis would never think to buy.

First, he purchased Erik Pieters, a 25-year-old left back from PSV. The Dutchman had 93 Eredivisie appearances with PSV, along with 26 appearances in the Europa League for good measure. Then, Marko Arnautovic joined Pieters in the move to the Britannia. The 24-year-old Austrian had 72 games in the Bundesliga before joining Stoke.

But perhaps the most interesting transfer in during the summer 2013 window was Marc Muniesa. A free transfer for a 21-year-old centerback by itself is hardly notable. However, when that free transfer is a La Masia product? Muniesa at the time looked like he’d take the longest to contribute to Stoke, but the fact that a player from Barcelona decided to join Stoke was a huge statement for what Hughes wanted to with Stoke.

Just as notable for Hughes as the three players he brought in were two stalwarts of the Pulis era he bid farewell to: Rory Delap and Dean Whitehead. The two midfielders combined for 266 appearances under Pulis in the Premier League. Ryan Shotton and Mamady Sidibe also left the club, two more players often used by Pulis.

Hughes’ changes were a success in his first season. Stoke scored 11 more goals than in their last season with Pulis and finished 9th, improving four places from Pulis’ 13th place finish the prior season.

Building off the strength of his 9th place finish, Hughes continued to add the type of players that Pulis would never dream of. He added Mame Diouf. Diouf had prior Premier League experience, but scored an underwhelming 4 goals in 31 appearances between Manchester United and Blackburn in his first time stint in England. However, his prior performance didn’t concern Hughes, since Diouf had scored 25 goals in 56 Bundesliga appearances for Hannover 96. Hughes also took a gamble on a Barcelona player who had failed to live up to the hype around him: Bojan Krkic. After being a chaotic few years playing for Barcelona, AC Milan, Roma and Ajax, Mark Hughes offered Bojan a steady home.

The addition of Bojan and Diouf helped make a positive impact on Stoke. They still finished 9th, but did so with with four more points than the prior year, their goal differential improved by ten and an additional three more goals scored.

Stoke is currently 16th in the very early Premier League table this year. However, with the crop of players Mark Hughes has added the past three transfer windows, they could have a chance at making a run for the Europa League.

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REPORT: Kevin de Bruyne to Join Manchester City

(ESPNFC)

(ESPNFC)

It looks like this is finally happening. Bild, one of the more reliable papers in Europe, is reporting this afternoon that Wolfsburg midfielder Kevin de Bruyne will, at long last, return to the Premier League as a member of Manchester City.

The 24-year-old Belgian has agreed terms on a massive six-year deal that will pay him €20 million per season, according to Bild. It was never really in doubt that de Bruyne would agree terms once City ramped up their interest; the former Chelsea man was eager to return to England after 18 months at Volkswagen Arena, especially in light of his former manager’s recent words. The sticking point lately appeared to be exactly how much Wolfsburg could extract from City.

Seems as if we know now. Bild say that de Bruyne will cost an initial €80 million, with that fee rising to €88 million. That makes de Bruyne the fourth-most expensive player in history, and City will also smash the British transfer record to land him.

This signing makes City the favorites to win a third Premier League crown in five years. City have spent €45 million or higher on three players this summer – with the biggest sale coming in the form of Valencia making Álvaro Negredo’s loan move permanent (which was a foregone conclusion last summer anyway). A midfield trio of de Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling will be the envy of England, to say the least.

Wolfsburg are selling a great player, but they stand to make a €63 million profit after purchasing de Bruyne for about €25 million in January 2014. Not bad. However, Wolfsburg won’t have much time to reinvest this money before the close of the window, and the heart of the team has been removed with the Champions League looming. It will be very interesting to see who steps up and how the system changes with de Bruyne on his way back to England.

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Regression To The Mean

In what is becoming the most repetitive narrative in the BPL, it seems that Arsenal are looking at another season of what-ifs. I know, it’s early, we’re only three weeks in, but it really looks like this year, we’re gonna get the same old Arsenal.

I’d love to be wrong, honestly. I’d love for Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger to vary it up a little, if only because making the same old jokes at the Gunners’ expense is getting boring.

Take yesterday, for example. Prior to their showdown with Liverpool, Real Madrid forward and rumored Arsenal target (it really should be reversed) Karim Benzema posted on Instagram that he was NOT going to Arsenal, decrying the “clowns” who continued to link him with the Emirates in the process. It was, quite frankly, a move that surprised no one. (Well, maybe some Twitter in-the-knows.)

So, the guy that Arsenal was going to sign all of a sudden wasn’t coming, again to the surprise of absolutely no one. What was surprising, and is seriously downright dumb in my opinion, is that Arsenal never even put in one bid for the forward. Not even one.

Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board never even gave Florentino Perez a reason to consider selling Benzema. Sure, there was Twitter talk of bids and reports that Karim wanted to come, but that was just talk. In the words of Benzy, the people who spun those rumors were clowns.

But, no matter, there was a game to play, and Arsenal do have a French forward of their own. Benzema is overrated, anyway.

In the lead up to the game, it was reported that Arsenal’s two starting centerbacks, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, were missing through injury and illness, and that Gabriel Paulista and Calum Chambers were going to start. The number of minutes those two have played together prior to yesterday is the same as the number of official bids Arsenal submitted for Benzema (zero).

And boy did it show. Chambers and Gabriel were abysmal in the first half, and a combination of poor Liverpool finishing and brilliant Cech saves (and the crossbar) was the only reason Arsenal weren’t down two within ten minutes. That they had a legit goal disallowed against the run of play would be so tragic if it wasn’t so Arsenal.

Gradually, Arsenal exerted control over the match and were even the better side in the second half. Unfortunately, they were once again undone by the finishing of their striker, Olivier Giroud, who really is the best backup Arsenal never had. Again, this would be so cruel if it wasn’t so Arsenal.

The game ended in a scoreless draw, starting frantically and full of excitement before descending into an ocean of meh.

This would be so disappointing if it wasn’t so Arsenal.

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I’m All In On The Bundesliga

When I became a soccer fan I remember having to hunt down grainy, laggy streams to watch my beloved Arsenal. For the past three seasons NBC Sports has held the Premier League rights and made it easy to watch HD quality football for the American audience.

I didn’t watch many other leagues because I had had a taste of the good life and didn’t want to go back to streams. I would usually watch the top teams in the Champions League and other big matches such as El Clasico.

However, I kept hearing all the rage about the Bundesliga and how it was the most entertaining league worldwide. It was difficult to watch because Gol had held the TV rights, but that all changed when FOX Sports blessed us by acquiring the TV rights for the Bundesliga this season.

My exposure to the German league consisted of watching Bayern and Dortmund in the Champions League and a half dozen times throughout the season, but now for just $99 you can get Fox Soccer 2 GO and have access to every single match as well as all Champions League matches.

I was able to begin my Bundesliga fandom on Friday, Aug. 14 as Bayern kicked off the season by demolishing HSV, 5-0. New boy Douglas Costa shined for Bayern, showing why he will probably be Munich’s next star winger. Although HSV are a pick to be relegated this season, this match was still brilliant to watch. If Bayern stay healthy this season (a big if) they will be worth the weekly viewing. 

On Saturday I signed up for a 7-day trial from FS2Go. As I began watching Dortmund vs. Borussia Monchengladbach it took only about 15 minutes to realize I wasn’t going to cancel my trial.  This match was the equivalent of Ray Velcoro snorting an eight ball of coke and chugging down a bottle of Jose Cuervo.  It was non-stop attacking football that was beautiful to behold. 

Last season was strange for BVB fans.  Just two seasons prior they had competed in the Champions League final, while in 2014-15 they were in the relegation zone for half the year. It looks like under new manager Thomas Tuchel the old BVB is back and better than ever. The Dortmund counter attack is brilliant to behold and might rival Barcelona as the most exciting in the world. This new system under Tuchel was a joy to watch and the squad absolutely bossed Monchengladbach off the pitch in a 4-0 win.

I also watched Bayer Leverkusen triumph over Hoffenheim, 2-1 and saw Wolfsburg edge Frankfurt the next day by the same scoreline.  From the four matches I was able to catch this first weekend it was much different from my typical Premier League viewing experience.

Teams simply aren’t afraid to attack and they won’t sit back and park the bus.  This league is thrilling and filled with high octane, end to end play.  I am fully invested in the Bundesliga and I cannot wait to watch it on a weekly basis this season. I suspect I will end up watching this league more than the Premier League with its accessibility on FS2Go and the fact match replays are readily available. 

For now I’ll pray to the old gods and the new that Wolfsburg are able to stop Manchester City from stealing star midfielder and reigning Bundesliga player of the year, Kevin De Bruyne. (This seems unlikely with rumors emerging from England that De Bruyne had agreed personal terms with City.)  The former Chelsea outcast recorded 10 goals and 21 assists last season as he pushed the team to new heights.  If they can ward off City and keep the Belgian in Germany the league only becomes that more fun to watch.

There is a high probability that Bayern will retain the league title this year, but that doesn’t mean this league isn’t a must-watch on a weekly basis.  So make your way over to Fox Sports and get a taste of the beautiful, free flowing Bundesliga.

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