Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Fiorentina: Struggling to get back to their best

Its been a difficult year for the Viola with struggles both on and off the pitch. Fiorentina have struggled in Serie A for the past year or so and their start to the season has followed trend with the Viola notching just one point in their opening three league games. It has been a turbulent year with several changes and a tragedy affecting the football club and the city of Florence.

Fiorentina had a largely disappointing 2018/19 campaign in more ways than one with the Viola finishing in 16th place with just 41 points from their 38 league games. The Viola notched just 8 league wins last season and for a side expected to challenge for at least the Europa League places, that is simply not good enough. Fiorentina also struggled on their travels winning just three league games with their overall away record showing 8 defeats. The Viola have been desperately poor on the road and in Florence, things haven't been much better. 5 league wins amassed at home last season and that is very disappointing for a team who are vital to the city of Florence.

Stability has also proved an issue at Fiorentina with the club going through two managers last season. Stefano Pioli was dismissed midway through last season after an inconsistent run of form and so far his replacement Vincenzo Montella has struggled to get Fiorentina ticking. Montella is under pressure but determined to get Fiorentina firing on all cylinders and to be fair to him, Fiorentina have faced Napoli and Juventus in their opening three league games so its understandable their season has yet to ignite but they must quickly find a winning formula otherwise a relegation battle could become all too real for one of Italy's biggest football clubs. On the other hand, another aspect of their struggle last season was the tragic death of their captain Davide Astori who died in his sleep ahead of a game with Genoa last season. A tragedy which rocked the club and Serie A as a whole and his tremendous leadership skills and attitude has been sorely missed at Fiorentina but the club is determined to move on but they have struggled since especially in terms of tightening their defence.  

Fiorentina's transfer business has also come into question with the club making several changes to their squad as well as some surprise decisions on who stays and who leaves the club. The Viola have brought in 13 new signings this summer in a determined bid to improve on their disappointing campaign last time out. But, with a whole host of new signings comes a period of struggle where the team takes time to gel meaning results aren't necessarily the best and certainly that is the case with Fiorentina at the moment. Their biggest acquisition is Franck Ribery who arrives after a trophy-laden spell at Bayern Munich and the fans are extremely excited to see the veteran Frenchman cause some waves in Serie A. Others to arrive include Pol Lirola and Erick Pulgar who have been excellent during their time at Sassuolo and Bologna while experienced Serie A regulars Martin Caceres, Milan Badelj and Kevin-Prince Boateng have also arrived in Florence. Boateng brings flair to their attack and will always score a goal but he isn't the more prolific striker so there cause for concern especially when Fiorentina decided to let last seasons' top scorer Giovanni Simeone leave the club. A decision questioned by the fans with the striker impressing in his first season at the club. Fiorentina has also completed an interesting swap deal with Inter Milan with Dalbert arriving in Florence and Cristian Biraghi heading to Milan. Dalbert has struggled in Italy following his tremendous spell with Nice in France and he will be aiming to seize his opportunity and make an impression in Serie A. Biraghi is considered a bright talent so it will be a loss to Fiorentina but Montella will no doubt believe in the players at his disposal.

Fiorentina desperately need to get their season started after another busy summer and their new look squad needs to quickly gel and start getting results on the board. The Viola's struggles of last season have trickled into this and the pressure is mounting on Vincenzo Montella. The Viola need to click and certainly they need to get the best out of star man Federico Chiesa who is a gamechanger and exciting player who can win matches for the Viola. Chiesa is in high demand but has struggled to capture his best form. Of course time is on their side, but results have to drastically improve otherwise it really could be a season of struggle for a side expected to gatecrash the European places.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Bolton Wanderers' Season Starts Now

If you were to speak to any fan of Bolton Wanderers, you would be forgiven for not understanding their excitement, relief, and joy. The club has had a terrible few years in all honesty with failed takeovers, relegations and a points deduction. However, there is firmly light shining at the end of the tunnel with Bolton finally out the darkness following the completed takeover of the football club from Football Ventures. The club was on the cusp of liquidation but the protracted takeover of the club finally happened and now with a new manager and new team to watch, there is plenty of reasons for Bolton fans to be optimistic in times ahead even if this season does end in relegation to League 2.

Prior to the belated Football Ventures takeover, the club was in absolute turmoil. Players during their Championship relegation season had not been paid for several months and even protested by not playing to get their concerns over to unpopular owner Ken Anderson. Staff at the club also felt the pinch of no wages and the club was desperately sinking into deep financial trouble. There were plenty of excuses and finger-pointing as to why Bolton almost went bust. Ken Anderson failed to look after Bolton efficiently and ultimately gave up caring about Bolton and solely focusing on himself. Laurence Bassini's failed takeover could have spelled more concern with the former Watford owner failing to show proof of funds on several occasions and even took the club to court, wasting even more time in Bolton's hunt for new owners. A blessing in disguise that chancer Laurence Bassini didn't get the club after he constantly delayed Bolton's takeover, but still the shutters were coming down. The EFL also took a heavy amount of criticism for their lack of involvement in protecting the football club and have already faced backlash after expelling Bolton's Lancashire neighbours Bury from the football league, To lose another club would off been even more disastrous for a committee under severe pressure for letting football clubs get into that kind of a mess. But all the aggravation and blame can stop now the club is safe but plenty of lessons would certainly have been learned.  Football Ventures' interest was known in May but their protracted takeover took over three months to complete because of issues on both sides and it took a statement from the joint administrators to get the takeover complete but had the takeover not been done, Bolton Wanderers would have ceased to exist. The fans of Bolton have been to hell and back in 2019 but despite their difficult situation in League 1 continue to support their club and I am sure are very relived their football club fights for another day.

Bolton began this season with a 12 point deduction but with their entire playing squad of last season departing the club, Bolton have been forced to play their academy players and to their credit have battled hard and done the club extremely proud despite only managing to notch 1 point from their 5 league games. Ronan Darcy, Liam Edwards, Yoan Zouma, Harry Brockbank to new a few have done the club proud in hugely challenging circumstances and fair play to the club for protecting them by postponing a league game with Doncaster even though, the EFL will most likely punish them for that act of protection. The situation at the club became too much for Phil Parkinson who quit as Bolton manager when the takeover still wasn't complete. He had done a brilliant job in his time at Bolton in very challenging circumstances and he most certainly can hold his head high. Jimmy Phillips came in as caretaker while the takeover was being finalised and like Parkinson, tried as best he could to get the footballing side of the team going. Phillips will now return to his role as academy manager with a new management team now in place at Bolton.

The optimism is high at Bolton following the appointment of the experienced Keith Hill and David Flitcroft. Hill is back in the dugout for the first time since his sacking from Rochdale back in March. Hill knows League 1 extremely well and knows this will be his biggest job in club management. Flitcroft reunites with Keith Hill having been his assistant at Barnsley. Flitcroft has been successful as a number 1 but joins as Hill's assistant following his departure from Mansfield in May. It has been a busy first 10 days at the club for the new management team with 9 new signings arriving on transfer deadline day and they took charge of their first match which was a draw with Bradford City in the EFL trophy. Hill and Flitcroft will form a connection with the fans due to their long standing love of Bolton Wanderers with both hailing from the area and being fans of the club. Sentiment seems to be creeping into the modern game more often with many clubs in the English Leagues under managers who are supporters of the club. It can be successful as Sheffield United and Aston Villa have found out with Chris Wilder and Dean Smith leading their clubs to the Premier League so while Keith Hill knows League 1 survival will be tough, if he pulls it off, hands down would be the greatest achievement in his career and certainly would top the promotions stated above.

Keith Hill has spent most of his time at Bolton so far putting a team together with Bolton only having Remi Matthews, Ben Alnwick, Luke Murphy, Jason Lowe, Harry Brockbank, and James Weir as senior players at the club. Hill wanted to bring in experienced players to help the younger players at the club and Hill has promised to keep the younger players involved because of their brilliant contribution so far. 9 new faces have arrived since Hill took over. Daryl Murphy and Liam Bridcutt have arrived from Nottingham Forest, two players with bags full of experience and determined to help Bolton wherever they can. Bridcutt brings an assured steel to the midfield while Daryl Murphy knows how to find the net and he will be vital to Bolton's chances of staying in the league. Jack Hobbs and Will Buckley have returned to the club after initially leaving at the end of last season. Both are delighted to be back and are determined to help ignite Bolton's season. Hobbs will be aiming to steady a shaky defence which as conceded 10 goals in their last two league games. Buckley brings much-needed creativity to a side that has struggled for goals. Hill has clearly made the defence a priority because along with Hobbs, Josh Emmanuel, Joe Bunney, and Jake Wright have all joined the Trotters. Emmanuel will slot in at right-back having struggled to make the cut at Ipswich certainly since Mick McCarthy left the club. Jake Wright arrives with plenty of experience at this level but needs to form a good partnership with Hobbs in the heart of the defence. Bunney will complete the defence once fit and knows what Keith Hill expects having worked with him at Rochdale. Ali Crawford and Thibuad Verlinden arrive as new midfield options and will certainly add some much needed creativity, flair and an eye for goal. It is going to be tough to get an instant spark with so many new faces and it is going to take time but there is plenty of belief around the club, that the great escape could yet happen.

Bolton's season essentially starts now. The opening month of the season has been and gone for the club and September is very much where their season needs lift off. A new manager and team are in place and it is a tricky trip to Rotherham for Keith Hill in his first league game in charge. Hill has had time to emphasise his tactics and philosophies with Bolton having not played in the most recent set of league fixtures. The players have had more time to get to know each other meaning connections and understanding have slowly been formed. Despite the difficult challenge ahead, there are plenty of Bolton fans who are excited and optimistic for the rest of the season and beyond even if they end up in League 2 next season. The season starts right now for the Trotters who are hoping to spring a few surprises and hopefully begin trotting towards their closest rivals at the foot of the table.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Monaco: A Fallen Giant Desperate To Rise Again

A Giant of European football has fallen and is struggling to get back on its feet. Yes, Monaco’s va va voom has turned into a damp squib in recent seasons with the club slowing falling from heights it once peaked at. The decline at Monaco has quickly descended and there is real worry across the Principality that things are only going to get worse. Times have been tough with their title success of 2017 seeming a very distant memory. Since that sensational win, the club has severely fallen down the Ligue 1 table and narrowly escaped the grips of Ligue 2 finishing a dismal 17th last season. This season has started similarly to how their last campaign ended with the Principality side collecting just 2 points from their opening 4 league games and the pressure is mounting on Leonardo Jardim, the players and the Monaco hierarchy with the fans majorly unhappy. There are several issues at Monaco and things are looking grim for a proud football club which represents the people of Monaco.

The problems have been apparent since their sensational title win of 2017. Their squad was littered with talent, pace, quality and strong togetherness but the core of that team was ripped apart with the owners choosing to take the money which stock was high. The selling club ethos has made a return to Monaco in the last two years which shouldn’t happen to a team expected to compete amongst Europe’s elite. But clearly, Monaco have the ability to make it rain having made over £500 million on players with the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Benjamin Mendy, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and Youri Tielemans waving au revoir for significant money. Monaco’s attempts to replace them have flattered to deceive with many disappointing and struggling to make the desired impact. Their transfer activity of the club has revolved around quantity over quality in recent seasons and this has led to poor results, managerial changes and fan unrest. Monaco have signed over 30 players since their 2017 title success and over half of the players have either been sold or loaned out within their first year at the club and that is hugely unsustainable. Monaco’s transfer strategy needs a serious reboot with the club slowly shutting down and settling for survival in Ligue 1. The club has made some positive waves in the recent window acquiring Wissam Ben Yedder from Sevilla who could be a game changing signing for Les Monégasques. They’ve also looked to get the fans back to the Stade Louis II by bringing back Tiemoue Bakayoko following a disappointing spell at Chelsea. Bakayoko is back to revive his career and he will be hoping to help Monaco revive as a football club.

Monaco’s issues run skin deep in the club with majority owner Dmitry Rybolovlev having to reaffirm his commitment on several occasions with rumours of him selling his shares in 2018 as well as fan unrest when Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez were sold in 2014. Rybolovlev has always shown he cares for the club and he was just as a proud as the fans in 2017 but there always seems to be a new controversy brought to his door and that brings unwanted publicity for a famous football club who of course have royal connections. The rumours of a sale died down and his transfer business this summer would suggest he remains fully committed to the club. However, for reasons not known, some of Monaco’s hierarchy have left the club in recent months and years including Michael Emenalo who was Monaco’s technical director until he resigned just before this season started. Emenalo had so much success at Chelsea but failed to bring his spark to Monaco and ultimately the lack of ignition saw him pay the price for Monaco’s disastrous 2018/19 season. He was part of the team making several poor decisions including dismissing Leonardo Jardim, hiring Thierry Henry and sacking Henry. Total chaos engulfed the club last season and stability will be top of the priority list this season.

Issues off the football pitch are one thing but, things on it have been just as bad. The Principality club won just 4 games at the Stade Louis II last season and overall amassed a pathetic 18 points from their 19 home games which is desperately poor. To put that into perspective, only relegated Caen and Guingamp had poorer home records. Their home form is showing no signs of improvement this campaign notching a solitary one point in their opening 2 league games. Leonardo Jardim must cure Monaco’s severe case of homesickness in the next few months otherwise another season of struggle will become all too real. Another major issue is their leaky backline which Henry and Jardim couldn’t fix. Monaco conceded 57 league goals last season with only Nimes, Dijon and Caen conceding more. Several defenders have walked in and out of the club in recent transfer windows, so it is no wonder they are leaking goals like it’s out of fashion. This season would suggest the leak is getting worse with Monaco conceding 10 goals in their opening 4 league games. Winning football matches won’t be a reality unless their leaky defence is fixed in the coming weeks. Monaco are screaming out for a settled, consistent team which has been lacking for several months. Jardim needs to find a winning formula and it may mean experimenting with his squad until it clicks together. Winning football matches ignites the flame and can change the atmosphere of a whole football but right now, Monaco is toxic and the cloud over the football isn’t going to lift anytime soon. There is no denying Jardim is an icon of Monaco for his work at the club, but another season of struggle could tarnish his legend status. He put Monaco back on the map and he will believe he is man to pinpoint and fix the problems surrounding the fallen giant.

It has been a very difficult couple of years for Monaco and their decline has been an extremely sad and sorry state for European football fans. A club rich in history and tradition has descended down a slippery slope with no signs of the brakes being put on. Confidence, moral and belief is low, and they desperately need a pick me up to unite the fans and the team. Finding a winning formula would be a terrific start to halting the fall and allowing the giant to rise again.