All posts by jonnyw1987

ENGLAND v BELGIUM preview

Following Scotland Qualifying for their first major tournament since 1998, England now know that they will face their old rivals at next year’s delayed Euro Championships. Scotland beat Serbia on penalties after Alexander Mitrovic missed the Serb’s final spot-kick to set up an exciting Euro Group Game.

Before then both nations have Nations League business to attend to. England face Belgium away knowing they must win if they are to top their group and repeat the semi-final appearance in 2019. Scotland meanwhile are four points clear at the top of their group with two fixtures remaining meaning promotion to League A is highly likely. England are in the position because of a defeat and draw against Denmark, which under minded their impressive victory against Belgium at Wembley.

Gareth Southgate has announced Jack Grealish will make his first competitive England start after impressing in recent appearances, Grealish is likely to play on the left of a front three and replace Marcus Rashford who withdrew from the squad along with Joe Gomez, and Conor Coady whilst Harry Maguire and Reece James are suspended. This leaves boss Southgate with some tough choices on who lines up in defence. He is likely to stay with a back three with Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, and Michael Keane starting. However, there is a lack of wing-backs available in the squad with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka the only options which may force Southgate to change to a back four. In midfield, I expect to see Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson either as a two or alongside Mason Mount depending on the formation. Harry Kane will return upfront to earn his 50th cap in which he has netted 32 times. Jaden Sancho is the most likely to complete the front three although Phil Foden is an alternative.

Elsewhere there have been mixed fortunes for the Home Nations as Wales are battling with Finland to win Group B4 whilst the Republic Of Ireland are looking to avoid relegation from the same group. The two nations face each other next up before Wales face a group decider against Finland. Northern Ireland lost their Euro play-off final against Slovakia in extra time after equalising late on in the 90 minutes. They are bottom of nations league group B1 and have a huge task to avoid relegation.

WHAT HAS CHANGED AT FOREST

SinceI last wrote about Nottingham Forest quite a lot has changed, not at least their manager, new signings departures, and a new style of play. All of these were done with the right intentions and looked like positive changes at the time, and still yet maybe, but have resulted in a poor start to the season which leaves Forest languishing towards the wrong end of the table.


The managerial change was half expected as Sabri Lamouchi’s positive spell in charge declined dramatically towards the end of last season and even more so with 4 defeats to start the new campaign. Sabri had brought positivity and hope back to Forest Fans and left with a message of thank you from the fans. His replacement’s record in the Championship is second to none and I believe his availability and willingness to take the job contributed to the change. It seems like Chris Hughton must have been in discussions with Forest for a while before the change as it was announced almost immediately after Lamouchi’s departure.


The nature of forest’s signings were along the lines of Hughton type players, by this I mean experienced quality championship players. Anthony Knockaert was the only official signing made by Chris but the likes of Luke Freeman, Harry Arter, and Cyrus Christie fit this mould. Knockaert is in my opinion a top Championship winger whose delivery cannot be beaten at this level and Houghton got the best out of him at Brighton. He also tried to bring in Kamil Grosicki, a player forest have been linked with ever since January, however, after a long wait they discovered last Thursday that the deal was completed marginally past the 5 pm transfer window deadline. When you look at the squad it’s very strong and the strongest I’ve seen at Forest for about 10 years.


So what’s gone wrong?


Firstly there was a massive hangover from the failure of getting into the playoffs when it seemed certain they would. Then came the uncertainty over the manager’s future during the break and then big changes to the playing and coaching staff. I think the squad has changed too much over the summer break, last season was based on a tight-knit group in which Ben Watson, Thiago Silva, and Matt Cash played a big part. Loosing these 3 is a big blow, their replacements of Jack Colback, Luke Freeman, and Cryus Christie have been good, but the team spirit and togetherness takes time. When you add 13 new players to a squad with a good spirit you risk changing the togetherness and getting a squad that is too big and not everyone feels involved. I would have much preferred to have kept as much of the same squad together as possible and adding extra bits of quality. For example, the signings of Cafu and Fouad Bachirou in particular seem unnecessary.


There has also been a change in the style of play to get used to, Lamouchi stated he wanted to add more creativity and attacking options to the side which he did by bringing in Freeman and Lyle Taylor. But to achieve this a less compact defensive was attempted and this ultimately failed and cost him his job.Hughton is adopting a similar approach with the team playing much higher up the pitch and trying to control possession more than last season. This is ultimately the style of play fans want to see however it will take time to change and perhaps a more pragmatic approach is needed to get results on the board to build confidence.

Jack Wilshere: What Next?

Once regarded as one of England hottest prospects Jack Wilshere’s fall from grace has been a dramatic one. In one of the most interesting developments of Transfer Deadline Day he left West Ham. But it was with a bitter taste as Wilshere claimed on Twitter that he is fit and available for selection and he can ‘still play at very top’  but not being considered.

When at Arsenal he was billed as the next Cesc Fabregas , An extremely talented player, Wilshere made 197 first-team appearances for Arsenal and was part of the 2014 and 2015 FA Cup-winning sides. He has 34 England caps, the last of which came in the 2-1 defeat by Iceland in the 2016 European Championship last 16.

But injury after injury have ruined his career since then and now it seems the West Ham management don’t see him as worth an opportunity. But can he still cut it in the Premier League, who knows but i’d like to think so. A team at the lower end of the league that need something to survive – Fulham for example should consider him. The Daily Express even claim that Arsenal fans want him to re-sign for their side

A move to the Championship may be more realistic with former club Bournemouth being linked with a move along with Scottish Premiership leaders Rangers. Wherever he ends up it will be one to keep an eye on to see if he can rekindle any of his talent in what remains of his career.

Forest looking stronger with transfers

Nottingham Forest have been strengthening following their disastrous final day collapse at the end of the 2019-20 season. They have made 5 summer signings so far and I will assess why and how they will make them stronger and aid their push for promotion.

The first signing was a return of a familiar face in that of Jack Colback. Colback enjoyed 2 successful loan spells with the reds in 2018-19 where he made over 50 appearances and now returns on a permanent contract. Such was the success of his previous spells forest tried to bring him back last summer but were put off by wage demands. The midfielder brings plenty of experience with him having made over 200 appearances in the North East regularly featuring in the Premier League. He will add depth to the defensive midfield options beyond Ben Watson and Samba Sow who are liable to missing matches.

Next to arrive was the signing of defender Tyler Blackett. The 26-year-old moves to The City Ground on a permanent contract having left Reading at the end of last season. Blackett started his career in the youth ranks at Manchester United, making 12 first-team appearances for The Red Devils, and gained experience on loan at Blackpool, Birmingham and Celtic. He will provide needed competition for the left back and centre back positions.

Then came the striker Forest have been looking for, Lyle Taylor. The experienced frontman moves to The City Ground having left Charlton Athletic at the end of last season. Taylor scored 11 times for Charlton last season, a rate of a goal every other game for The Addicks in the Championship, to finish as their joint-top scorer. Forest fans have been crying out for another proven striker to take the burden off Lewis Grabban and give the manager the option of rotating his striker position. Taylor was the obvious choice as he was available on a free transfer and brings excellent scoring rate, a prolific 34-goal season with Concord Rangers earned him a move to Bournemouth in 2010. After a move to AFC Wimbledon in 2015, Taylor settled and regularly found the back of the net, helping The Dons to promotion from League Two and to cement their spot in League One prior to firing Charlton to promotion from the third tier in 2018-19 with 25 goals. Forest would have beaten of plenty of competition for his signature.

Next through the door was the permanent signing of midfielder Fouad Bachirou. e Comoros international moves to The City Ground from Swedish top-flight side Malmo. Bachirou started his career at Paris Saint-Germain before moving to Scottish side Greenock Morton, making over 140 appearances ahead of joining Swedish side Ostersunds. During his time with Graham Potter’s side, he lifted the Swedish Cup in 2016-17, and was a runner-up in the following campaign, before switching to Malmo in 2018. The midfielder has extensive experience of both the Champions League and the Europa League during his time in Sweden, helping Ostersunds reach the Europa League round of 32 in 2017, while reaching the same stage of the competition with Malmo in the past two seasons. He will like Colback provide a defensive midfield option.

The latest signing was the arrival of Luke Freeman on a season-long loan from Sheffield United with an option for a permanent transfer. Freeman, an experienced forward/midfielder who has played over 150 times in the Sky Bet Championship, came through the ranks at Arsenal’s academy and after a couple of loan spells in Leagues One and Two he went on to sign for Bristol City. The 28-year-old featured regularly for The Robins and was instrumental in Lee Johnson’s side gaining promotion to the Championship in 2015, as he played over 100 times in three seasons at Ashton Gate before he joined Queens Park Rangers in 2017. Two successful seasons at Loftus Road followed as Freeman’s impressive midfield performances saw him crowned Rangers’ 2018-19 Player of the Season and earn a move to the newly promoted Premier League Blades. Freeman brings a lot of quality in both creating and scoring goals along with versatility. He could play as a left sided forward or an attacking midfielder. The second option brings me nicely to possible departures from the city grounds as 2 play the role.

Tiago Silva has been linked with a move to Olympiacos, owned by Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis. Silva was a regular in the midfield last season and is a popular figure and one I hope remains at the city ground. Another Portuguese playmaker Joao Carvalho provides much debate amongst Forest fans since his £13 million record breaking signing in 2018. He had a positive start to his Forest career under Aitor Karanka but since then a change in tactics, injury problems and a lack of confidence has hindered him greatly. There is a 50/50 split between fans who think he should be in the team regularly and those who think he should be moved on.

Finally we come to the biggest story of the Forest’s Transfer Window – The future of player of the season Matty Cash. He has attracted interest from premier league sides Sheffield United and Burnley but it Aston Villa who appear to be the closest to signing him. Cash is a product of Forest’s academy a hugely popular figure with the fans, especially since he was switched from right midfield to right back at the start of last season. His performances have been outstanding, a vital part in Forest’s attack and defence. Many attacks develop between him and Joe Lolley on the right side which would be a massive miss if he departs.

The only confirmed departure so far has been Tyler Walker who joined Coventry on a permanent transfer. Further arrivals and departures could be on the cards as rumours are Benfica youngster David Tavares, Birmingham Striker Lukas Jutkiewicz and Newcastle winger Jacob Murphy are on Forest’s radar.

European finals preview

Whilst many of us were hoping and maybe expecting a premier league representative in one if not both European Finals they’re sill matches to look forward to and relish. Both Manchester clubs suffered disappointing exists when many people had them down as favourites. City in particular should have had enough to beat Lyon but other thinking tactics from Pep was their downfall.

Bayern Munich’s relentless march through this season’s Champions League continued as they brushed aside Lyon to book an 11th appearance in the final of the competition and a showdown with Paris St-Germain. The German champions have barely had a glove laid on them in Europe this season, with this their 10th straight Champions League win – equalling the record for winning streaks in the competition set by Real Madrid in 2015 and Bayern themselves in 2013 – as part of a 28-game unbeaten run stretching back to December.

Bayern ended their run of having lost the previous four Champions League semi-finals in which they had appeared. It also keeps them on course for a treble of trophies in Hansi Flick’s stellar debut campaign as coach.

Sunday’s final promises to be a thriller, pitting arguably the best side in world football against one of the planet’s finest forward lines.

The stunning 8-2 demolition of Barcelona in the last eight – which had pundits and fans alike purring and sent the Spanish club seemingly into meltdown, Robert Lewandowski, who has 55 goal in 46 games this season and becomes only the second player to score 15 or more Champions League goals in a single campaign after Cristiano Ronaldo (who has managed it on three occasions).

Bayern’s impressive stats:

  • They are on the longest unbeaten run across Europe’s top five league’s (P29 W28 D1 L0), scoring 97 goals during this run (3.4 per game) and winning each of their past 20.
  • They are only the fourth team in Champions League history to surpass 40 goals in a single campaign. Only Barcelona in 1999-2000 have netted more in a single campaign in the competition (45) than Bayern’s 42 this season.
  • They already have two trophies this season, scoring 100 goals to claim their 30th Bundesliga title before also claiming the German Cup.

Paris St-Germain are through to their first Champions League final, One of Europe’s biggest spenders, but also one of the continent’s most high-profile underachievers, finally seized their opportunity.

In the three seasons prior to this one they exited in the last 16, and before that they went out in the quarter-finals four years in a row – results that ultimately cost managers Laurent Blanc and Unai Emery their jobs.

Thomas Tuchel, though, has found a way to break the glass ceiling, leading the side from the French capital to their first major European final since the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1997, a year before Mbappe was born.

You cannot begrudge them it either on the basis of Tuesday’s Semi Final performance, which was calm, confident and incisive.

PSG’S Front three is their biggest asset; Neymar’s brilliant assist took him to 23 goal involvements in 19 appearances for PSG (14 goals & nine assists) in the Champions League and while he and Mbappe’s finishing was rusty, they were still able to regularly fashion chances for themselves and others. When you add Di Maria, who got his 88th and 89th assists in all competitions since he joined the club in August 2015 – (only Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has more in Europe’s top five leagues in that time) He also now has nine goal involvements in the competition this season, surpassing the tally he managed in helping Real Madrid lift the trophy in 2013-14. You have a front three who will fancy their chances of scoring against Bayern who despite their dominant performances give the opponent opportunities. When this trio have started together this season, PSG have lost just one of 12 games. With them fully fit and firing, they will be a match for anyone.

PSG Stat’s

  • This was PSG’s 110th game in the European Cup/Champions League – the most played by a side before reaching their first final, overtaking Arsenal’s record of 90 between 1971-2006.
  • PSG will be the fifth different French side to appear in a European Cup/Champions League final and the first since Monaco in 2003-04. Only Italy, Germany (6 each) and England (8) have had more different clubs appear in the final of the competition.
  • German sides have been eliminated in the semi-finals of the Champions League on each of the past five occasions they have reached this stage of the competition (Bayern four times between 2014-2018 and RB Leipzig tonight), since both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund made the final in 2012-13.
  • No side has ever scored in more consecutive matches in major Uefa competitions than PSG’s current run of 34 (level with Real Madrid between 2011-2014 in the Champions League). The last side to stop the Parisians scoring were Manchester City back in a 1-0 win in April 2016.
  • PSG’s Angel di Maria is unbeaten in all 17 Champions League matches he has scored in (W15 D2 L0 – 21 goals in total) – only Mohamed Salah (18), Gonzalo Higuain (21) and Patrick Kluivert (25) have scored in more games without defeat in the competition’s history.

Europa League Final

Inter Milan will face Sevilla in final on Friday, Romelu Lukaku extended his Europa League scoring run to 10 matches as Inter set up Friday showdown with Sevilla. He  scored twice as Inter Milan thrashed Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0. Lukaku is the first player in UEFA Cup/Europa League history to score in 10 consecutive matches via a run stretching back to November 2014 with Everton. Lukaku and Martinez are the first duo to score 20+ goals each in a single season for Inter Milan since Adriano and Obafemi Martins in the 2004-05 campaign.

Inter Milan boss Antonio Conte:

“I am very happy to say we feel very satisfied because our fans see Inter Milan reaching, firstly, a semi-final and now a final of the Europa League after ten years. Of course, we are really looking forward to provide some satisfaction to all of them, but we also know we are facing an opposition with great experience.They have won this tournament five times already, so we will have to prepare ourselves in the same way we have done against Shakthar.I have a great satisfaction to see how the team are giving everything they got with plenty of eagerness and resolution. I am satisfied also because the players do really believe in what we are doing, in what we are proposing. I think we play a very brave game.”

Sevilla feel like they own this competition with a remarkable record, they won three in a row from 2014 to 2016. This showed in the win against manchester united as despite being second best they kept their belief and confidence to snatch the victory. Against Wolves also they kept going in what was even game to get another late winner.