State of the Game Questions, part 1

While we’re still waiting for the seemingly interminable international break to stop breaking, I figured I’d ask some of the other contributors what they thought about a few issues of the day:

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Sky Sports
  1. What are your thoughts on the CL draw? Any opinions on how the pots shook out, given Napoli’s reaction? Any predictions on the groups?

Ryan: I think nearly all the groups all have at least three of the four teams that you could possibly see advancing. It should make for some interesting football, especially as teams may need to take six out of six from the weakest team in their group to advance (Young Boys in Group H and Club Brugge in Group A are two standouts that may see some big losses to the other teams in their group). I think the pots can be fixed with just a bit of tweaking. For example, Atletico won Europa and that seemed to get them into pot one (I assume, I don’t fully know the rule and if it was changed, but I know United didn’t get a spot in pot one last season). Something like “Champions League finalists are guaranteed pot two” would work for me. Five years is quite a long time in the sport. Even just three years back could work a bit better.

In terms of thoughts, I think Group B is certainly the group of death and could see any of the four advance. A sleeper for the future is Ajax out of Group E for me. I think they were given a very nice draw with AEK not being all that outstanding and I have been unimpressed with Benfica in terms of play. They should advance easily and could make noise as a solid unseeded side. I might even favor them to take a point from Bayern at home. In terms of flame-outs, it may be beating a dead horse, but Manchester United were given a tough hand with Valencia and Juventus and I think they will be in a fight. Other than them, Manchester City should get through but I don’t think they will be able to walk their group as some may be expecting.

Bob: The draw is more interesting than I would have expected.  The first group features Atletico as the likely group winner.  Then Dortmund and Monaco will compete for the second place.  Dortmund did a great job rebuilding adding Diallo, Delaney, Witsel and Alcacar.  They also have a new coach in Favre.  Like Dortmund, who sold off Aubameyang and Dembele in the past couple of years, Monaco has sold Mbappe and others since their Champion’s League run of a couple of years ago.  Dortmund appears to me to have done the better job rebuilding not to mention their own young stars in Pulisic and Sancho. I would expect Atletico and Dortmund to advance.

Group B- Barcelona and Spurs should simply outclass the other two. Inter has a great history, but has yet to prove they are all that competitive currently, and PSV had a run with Beasley and crew but that was years ago.  I could see Barcelona and Spurs cruising easily through the group.

Group C- I also agree that this isn’t as competitive as a group as it is being made out to be. Napoli did not impress in Europe at all last season and I don’t really see that improved of a club.  Liverpool and PSG get a light workout but will only get pushed by each other.

Group D- Schalke has had a very rough start to the season and is still searching for that attacking player to replace Goretzka, but they are a tough team to beat with goaltending, defense, a deep midfield, some speed on counters and finishers in Burgstaller and Uth.  Porto could make it interesting, and I expect those two to advance.

Group E- Bayern and Benfica without much of a challenge from Ajax.

Group F- Man City is the class and most would presume Lyon should take second. On paper with Depay and Fekir, Lyon could be the second most talented team.  But Lyon  is another French team off to a slow start, and Hoffenheim did not make the same mistakes that it made last year when it was still sorting out the Sule and Rudy sale and lacked the quality of depth to simultaneously compete in the league and Europe.  This year they haven’t necessarily found the replacement for Uth’s 15 goals as he moved on to Schalke, but they return enough and added quality of depth to their midfield sufficient to really push Lyon for that second spot.   This group could come down to the final game with Lyon and Hoffenheim battling for second.

Group G- Real Madrid and Roma. Enough said.

Group H– Juve and Man U.  There was a time more than a few years ago when I would have expected Valencia to be a really tough out and possibly bounce one of Juve and Man U, but this isn’t that Valencia team even if no one is quite sure what it is Mourinho is trying to do at Man U.

Dave: So, I don’t follow the breadth of Europe in too much depth. I was a little alarmed with Spurs’ draw. Barca is, well, very good. However, almost everyone sans the RPL champion would be similar in Pot #1. So, meh. PSV has won the Eredivisie three of the last four years, I believe. And while I am not overly concerned about them, it probably would not have been my choice from Pot #3. Inter…ugh. I’ve heard they’ve improved their team this season and the alternative was a team from Athens that had to qualify. I still think Spurs can advance, but back-to-back years with unfortunate draws. Should be interesting.

[My thoughts, of course, are here.]

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2. What do you think about the discussion about abolishing the away goals rule? The arguments against it seem to be rooted in “this is the way it’s always been”/NIMBYism, while the arguments for it seem to acknowledge that the game has moved past the conditions of the mid-60s that once made it necessary. Do you think it’s still needed to compel teams to play attacking football as visitors?

Ryan: I have never been opposed to the away goal rule, but I’m not so attached that I would never want to see it go away. I think it definitely still serves a purpose to give incentive to attacking football away from home, but realistically you could see a team hunt on the counter attack, get an away goal, then sit deep at home as well. I do, however, think that the away goal rule should be washed clean in extra time (i.e., it should start at, in essence, 0-0 in extra time if necessary) because the home team in the second leg is given a massive disadvantage in the rule.

Bob: I think it is a great rule for just the reason that you mention.  Even with rule in place there are still high profile coaches that play very conservatively in the road games, including former Man U manager Alex Ferguson and current Man U man Mourinho.  Taking the away goals rule out would virtually guarantee that at least 1/3 of the teams would simply park the bus on the road. Additionally, it is a fair way to decide who advances, as teams know the rule and know what they have to do to advance.  If they don’t advance, it is typically because they didn’t get any points on the road, so too bad.

Dave: I like the rule. Away Goals has always intrigued me and I think teams that perform on the road should be rewarded. I wish American sports had home-and-homes because things like goal differential and away goals are fun.

[I remain in favor of the away goals rule, as well, since I think it provides a certain level of excitement for what might otherwise be routine losses/wins, based on the result of the first leg. Taking LFC/City as an example, Liverpool won in dominant fashion at Anfield, but knowing how City could score, couldn’t feel entirely comfortable about the second game until Salah scored.]

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UEFA.com

3. Reactions to the UEFA player of the year top 3? (Ronaldo, Modric, and Salah.)

Ryan: I think all three chosen were fair, but I understand the slights that fans of Messi may feel. As a Liverpool fan, I am perhaps a bit less bothered by it, but at the same time Mo Salah’s performances doing brilliantly for club and country, even if going out in the World Cup quickly, were massive and do deserve credit. I also think that Griezmann has a fantastic shout for the award, as well as Mbappe. All in all, I think top three lists will nearly always be subjective and all players involved in discussions are worthy of their own praise. I would like to note the general underrepresentation of defenders and keepers in PotY awards of all sorts.

Bob: Not an award I ever really care about.

Dave: I have actually never really followed this, aside from some headlines. I did like watching Modric last year, though. So, if he gets it: hooray!

[I’m also relatively ambivalent about the award, at least in part for the reason Ryan cites: it doesn’t accurately represent the value of all players on the pitch. I certainly understand the grips from Messi fans, considering his personal output and the two trophies that Barca lifted. I also understand Griezmann’s argument about France winning a World Cup, but if the World Cup was going to be the decider, I’d vote for Mbappe or Varane. Like Dave, I’d be content with Modric as the recipient.]

Part 2, shortly.

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