Friday, 25 January 2019

Villarreal: The Yellow Submarine Are Sinking

It has been a largely disappointing, underwhelming season for Villarreal following last season’s terrific 5th place finish. The Yellow Submarine are desperately struggling this season to collect any victories following a pre-season of optimism and belief that this could be their year to gate crash the Champions League places. However, their situation right now is a major concern as they lie 19th in the La Liga table, 3 points adrift of safety and that simply isn’t good enough for a club like Villarreal with the excellent footballers and brilliant fans the club. Their form is abysmal with the club winless in their last 7 La Liga matches, and they have sunk down the table with two different managers this season.

A season that could off brought plenty of promise has turned into a disaster and things must improve fast if they are indeed to escape the relegation battle. After just 3 league wins in 15 matches and 15 months in charge, the club sacked their former B side manager Javi Calleja who had ignited their previous season after Fran Escriba’s ill fated spell in charge. Calleja brought excitement and flare which has been non-existent this season. Calleja just couldn’t get them going and so far, his replacement Luis Garcia Plaza isn’t getting much of a tune either. Garcia Plaza is winless in his 5 league games drawing 4 and losing just once and that was at home against Getafe. Villarreal have won just twice at home this season and that is a major concern for a stadium that was once a fortress and very difficult for teams to play. However, the Ceramica has lost its rigid, strong presence and teams are finding easy ways to walk away with points and its no surprise the Villarreal faithful are restless. But we have seen Villarreal can perform and when on their game they can prove unstoppable and certainly their thunderous away win at Ath Bilbao back in September emphasises that. But Villarreal’s players just cannot find their consistency and confidence to go out and win football matches. Their overall form in recent months is woeful with just 1 league win in 13 matches and things are not working at the club on the pitch.

Possible factors in their demise this season is certainly to do with a lack of goals as Villarreal just cannot score on a consistent basis despite having the likes of Gerard Moreno, Karl Toko-Ekambi and Carlos Bacca in their forward line. The trio between them have scored just 11 league goals between them and that simply isn’t good enough for three quality strikers. While their midfielders have struggled for goals with only Santi Cazorla and Pablo Fornals notching goals in the league thus far and certainly their midfield has lacked a spark all campaign despite the return and best efforts of Villarreal hero Santi Cazorla. Cazorla has really attempted to galvanise his teammates but they just cannot find the confidence to go out on the pitch and secure a win. Confidence and form are at rock bottom and this is certainly another major problem for them this season. Their transfer business has also been largely disappointing this season except for Santi Cazorla. Gerard Moreno returned to the club for a hefty £20Million in the summer but has struggled for goals, chances, form and confidence while fellow big money striker Karl Toko-Ekambi has struggled further having moved for almost £18Million. While defensive signings Ramiro Funes Mori and Miguel Layun have also flattered to deceive. However, despite their poor recruitment this season, their academy has shined this season with youngsters making the step up. These include the likes of Alfonso Pedraza, but it is winger Samuel Chukwueze that has certainly caught the eye with the pacey, creative, talented young winger has certainly made an impression in the side this season and does have plenty of admirers across Europe. The 19-year-old brings raw pace and talent to a side lacking in pace and creativity on their flanks and across his 18 appearances in all competitions this season, Chukwueze has scored 5 goals and assisted just the one but has created plenty of chances for his teammates. The winger has been a bright spark in season where the light has very much been off for Villarreal and while he cannot do everything, he is certainly someone the fans can look up to and be the inspiration to gain that illusive win to ignite their season.

Luis Garcia Plaza knows improvement is needed and fast with all of Villarreal’s squad underperforming this season. The regulars Sergio Asenjo, Mario Gaspar, Juame Costa, Manu Trigueros, Pablo Formals and many more have been short of confidence and despite spirited efforts from some players to galvanise the team, Villarreal are desperately short on all the elements of winning a football match. A winless run that stretches back to the end of November, a Copa del Ray exit to Getafe and a narrow pass into the knockout stages of the Europa League has not pleased the Villarreal fans and while Garcia Plaza is new in the role having only been in charge of the Villarreal B side over a decade ago, he will be fully aware of the task ahead and Villarreal must at least survive relegation and the old cliché in football ‘Your never to big to be relegated’ rings loud and true across the Ceramica and no doubt the fans are majorly concerned with their teams precarious position in the table. However, due to the unpredictability and tightness of La Liga, back to back wins could have Villarreal on the cusp of the top half. But wins are proving very allusive for the Yellow Submarine.

As January ends and February begins, Villarreal have some huge matches coming their way including their next league game which is the derby with south coast rivals Valencia at the Mestalla. A must win for Villarreal and a derby victory could be exactly what they need to ignite their season and steer away from danger. Following the derby, they have fixtures against fellow strugglers Espanyol and Valladolid which again is must win before they enter a difficult period with two Europa League games against Sporting Lisbon sandwiched in between games against Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. A crucial month dawns on Villarreal and they must find a win sooner rather than later otherwise the possibility of playing their football in the Segunda Division next season is increasing and big club like Villarreal should be pushing the top 4 not fighting relegation but that is where they find themselves and the Yellow Submarine must stem the tide before they are swept out of La Liga.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Monaco: A Crisis Football Club With Massive Problems

It has been an unbelievably disappointing season struggle for Monaco in Ligue 1. The Principality side who have either been Champions or runners-up in the last three seasons are very much staring at relegation to Ligue 2 if things don’t improve and fast. A season that began with some much promise has failed to materialise and problems have been seen both on and off the pitch at Monaco. They currently find themselves in 19th place three points adrift of safety after a dreadful first half of the season and so far, the second half of the campaign has shown no signs of getting any better.

Leonardo Jardim was dismissed in October after 3 match losing streak and a winless run of 8 which stretched back to the opening day success over Nantes. The man who guided Monaco to the league title back in 2017 dispensed with Monaco in the relegation zone. Jardim spent over £100 million on new players having lost the likes of Thomas Lemar in the summer transfer window. However, recruitment overall has been largely poor since the departure of many Monaco title winners like Kylian Mbappe, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Bernardo Silva, Fabinho and Joao Moutinho. Monaco have made over £300 million in transfers since their title success, but the money has not be invested well enough. This season’s recruits have flatter to deceive for much of the season. The likes of Benjamin Henrichs, Nacer Chadli, Antonio Barreca, Jean Aholou and Samuel Grandsir have all largely disappointed and struggled to settle at the club with their confidence low and form nowhere to be seen. Their most expensive recruit this window the £27 million Aleksandar Golovin has also been very disappointing with injuries and a lack of form causing concern around the whole football club. The players simply haven’t been good enough this season and Monaco are staring at possible relegation if things don’t improve.

After sacking Leonardo Jardim in October, the club went down the sentimental route for the new manager and appointed novice and Monaco legend Thierry Henry as the man to lead them out of trouble. The world cup winning Frenchman has very little experience only working as an assistant manager with the Belgian national side and throwing a novice into this kind of situation is always difficult. Henry has won just two league games since replacing Jardim and overall Henry has collected just 9 points in his 12 league games in charge and that is simply not good enough. They are winless in their last 5 games stretching back to the start of December. Henry is desperate for a change in fortunes and desperately needs a win. Henry has managed to add new faces during the transfer window thus far adding experienced campaigners both on and off the pitch like Brazilian defender Naldo and French midfielder William Vainquer.  Henry has added experienced coach Frank Passi to his backroom team over the last few weeks and will be looking to him as well as his other assistant Kwame Ampadu to get them out of trouble. Passi arrives with plenty of experience having manged the likes of Lille and Marseille in his career and Henry will be hoping he is the man to help them out of danger. However, it is the addition of Henry’s former teammate Cesc Fabregas that has caught the eye with the world cup winning midfielder arriving from Chelsea for an undisclosed fee. Fabregas has already made an impact playing superbly on his debut in the derby draw with Marseille. Henry will be looking at him to guide Monaco’s young team through this extremely difficult patch, but this situation is all new to Fabregas having been used to competing for trophies.

However, Fabregas cannot fix everything, and Monaco have serious problems on the pitch both going forward and defending at the back. Monaco have scored just 19 league goals this season with Radamel Falcao and Youri Tielemans chipping in 13 of those goals which is 75% of their goals. Only rock bottom Guingamp, fellow strugglers Dijon and mid-table sides Reims and Nice have scored fewer than Henry’s team and they must find a way to score more goals whether that is playing a more attack minded team or formation, but goals are one thing they are majorly short off. Meanwhile, things are no better at the back with Monaco conceding 36 league goals and only rock bottom Guingamp have conceded more. Henry just cannot stop the flow of goals against his side and certainly the addition of Naldo will be key in stopping the flow, but overall Monaco haven’t had a stable back 4 all season with the likes of Kamil Glik and Djibril Sidibe struggling through injuries and poor form while youngsters Benoit Badiashile and Julien Serrano have been thrown into a tough situation for any teenagers starting their careers. Conceding goals is a major problem for Monaco and Henry just cannot stop the flow or keep his cool with decisions going against him in recent matches including VAR not working in their most recent defeat to Strasbourg which cost them a chance of penalty to level the scores. Luck isn’t with them, but Henry cannot rely on decisions for him to win football matches as they were given the chance of 3 points against Nice playing the entire second half against 10 men but failed to seize the initiative and could only draw with Vieira’s team. However, their biggest problem this season is their home form with not a single victory registered at the Stade Louis II this season and nobody can really pinpoint the issue. Is it because Monaco are easy to play against? Or is it as soon as they concede Monaco cave in? Nobody’s entirely sure what the problem is but Monaco have collected just 4 points at home all season and that is a damning statistic for any Monaco fan, Thierry Henry and the Monaco board. Henry is feeling the heat from all areas and certainly he was gamble when he was appointed but there is naivety from both sides with Henry seemingly accepting the job because of his sentiment towards Monaco while the club itself have taken a gamble on a novice in football management.

Times are tough for Monaco and things must drastically improve starting this weekend with a crucial clash against Dijon the side directly above them and surely it is neither side dare not lose. Monaco have been better on the road this season and must seize the chance of improving their away form and beat a relegation rival. Victory could take them out of the relegation zone and psychologically that could be a massive boost for a football club in real crisis. Henry may also assess a lack of goals in the transfer window with another striker desperately needed to add some firepower to a blunt attack. A defeat to Dijon could be critical for Monaco and they cannot afford to lose that game otherwise relegation will be smacking the Monaco door down. A crucial six pointer is on the horizon for Monaco and Henry and this is arguably their biggest game of the season with a victory as necessity for Henry’s Monaco.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Notts County: A Fall From Grace

It has been a disastrous season for England’s oldest football club Notts County who face the real prospect of playing out the football league for the first time in their history. The Magpies are in real danger and struggling for to score goals as well as keep them out. In addition to those problems, County are already on their third manager of the season with former Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley currently tasked with ensuring safety in the football league which is a complete contrast to 12 months ago when County were battling for promotion with League 2’s elite.

Last season ultimately ended in disappointment for Notts County and then County manager Kevin Nolan with his side missing out on promotion having been in the automatic places for much of the season but ended up losing to eventual play-off winners Coventry in the semi-finals. Kevin Nolan vowed to rebuild the squad in the number which was capable for automatic promotion this time around. Nolan added plenty of quality players including Kristian Dennis, Kane Hemmings, Nathan Thomas and Enzio Boldewijn. However, all have struggled to settle at the club with all four players struggling to recapture their best form at this level. Both Dennis and Hemmings have proven goalscoring records at the level, but the pair have notched just 10 between them thus far with 7 of those going to the former Oxford United striker Hemmings. Kristian Dennis scored 21 goals in a relegated Chesterfield side last season but has struggled for goals, confidence and game time with the managers constantly chopping and changing the team. Meanwhile, wide man Enzio Boldewijn has majorly struggled since his £750,000 move from league rivals Crawley. The Dutch winger impressed at Crawley but has flattered to deceive at County thus far with just 3 league goals have reached double figures in a poor Crawley side last season. County’s big spending spree has backfired, and chairman Alan Hardy knows this isn’t good enough.

Kevin Nolan was gone by end of August after a winless start and 4 straight defeats with just a point notched in their opening 5 games. Nolan was replaced by then Crawley manager Harry Kewell who lasted a mere 72 days in the role before Alan Hardy sacked him in November. Kewell oversaw 3 of County’s 4 wins which did come in a three-match winning streak. Kewell collected just 15 points in his 15 games in charge leaving County languishing at the wrong end of the table. Hardy’s decisions this season have alienated fans and caused unrest breaking down the relationship between owner and fans. Despite Hardy’s best efforts to get the crowds into Meadow Lane with ticket incentives, the 15,000 fans packed into Meadow Lane have been left disappointed and angered with the performances and the effort of the players. Crowds have come especially in crucial matches against relegation rivals but defeats to Cheltenham and Macclesfield have angered, upset and alienated fans.
Neal Ardley is the third manager this season to revive a dismal season but its just 1 win in his 8 league games in charge with their only success being in Ardley’s first home game against Tranmere but its 5 defeats in their last 6 since that win back in mid-December. Ardley has so far failed to sort the major issue for Notts County which is their defence. Their defensive record is abysmal with County conceding 57 goals in 28 league games and that is a major concern with an average of 2 goals conceded per game. Despite having experienced campaigners like Elliott Ward, Dan Jones, Richard Duff, Shaun Brisley to a new few, County just cannot stop conceding goals no matter who’s in charge of the team. Ardley built AFC Wimbledon on a strong defence and will be desperate to create that structure at County sooner rather than later. However, he also faces issues with County’s attack as they’ve scored just 29 goals which is the 4th worst in the league with only Macclesfield, Port Vale and Cambridge fairing worse in front of goal. Despite having a luxury forward line at this level which includes Hemmings, Dennis and Jon Stead, County struggle to find the net on a regular basis. Ardley has plenty of work to do but he needs a win from somewhere and fast to really ignite their survival charge.

County head into their next league game against fellow struggles Yeovil 6 points adrift of their opponents who are directly above the relegation zone. Macclesfield have had a bounce but Sol Campbell but Ardley has yet to have that affect on a talented squad which is majorly underperforming. The reality of dropping out the football league is beginning to hit the County fans but of course there is still a long way to go this season but time waits for nobody and England’s oldest football league club needs to get their act in gear otherwise they will be slipping away into the embers of non-league football and the spark will well and truly have gone out on one of the world’s oldest and most famous football clubs.