Lloris is Good, but not Great

Hugo Lloris is one of the Premier League’s finest goalkeepers. On many occasions he has kept Tottenham in contention of winning matches, just like versus West Brom recently. His shot-stopping, reactions and control of the penalty area and back line are all exemplary. In terms of Premier League goalkeepers he is only beaten by David de Gea, who is one of the top goalkeepers in the world.

Lloris in action for France. The French captain has appeared 65 times for Les Bleus.

Lloris in action for France. The French captain has appeared 65 times for Les Bleus.

There is one aspect of Lloris’ game that needs drastic improvement if he is to be considered as one of the greats in the pantheon of goalkeeping, and that is his concentration.

Goalkeepers are prone to bad spells every now and then. David de Gea and Joe Hart are two high profile goalkeepers who had turbulent times in their careers. When de Gea arrived from Átletico he struggled under high balls from crosses and corners. Joe Hart was dropped last season after a series of calamities culminating in Fernando Torres’ last minute winner at Stamford Bridge.

It’s one thing for a first-choice ‘keeper to make a mistake. It is critical when a second choice ‘keeper makes a mistake.

In January we saw Michel Vorm put in a mixed performance in the FA Cup that ended with him spilling Jeffrey Schlupp’s tame stoppage time winner in to his own net. Hugo Lloris’ first clanger came under similar circumstances.

Second fiddle to Brad Friedel on his debut season, Hugo Lloris was only playing Europa League games for Tottenham. Lack of match-sharpness may have been an issue but Lloris failed to clear a Kyle Naughton backpass which led to Maribor’s first and only goal. Under some pressure the Frenchman failed to make a substantial clearance which would have definitely stopped the goal.

First choice ‘keeper by November 2013, the shotstopper was beaten by a magnificent Jesus Navas strike after 14 seconds. His failure again to clear a backpass saw the ball fall to Aguero, whom he made a smart recovery save from, only to be beaten by the onrushing Spaniard.

At Stamford Bridge in December Hugo Lloris’ poor goal-kick allowed a chance for Didier Drogba to score for the home side. Crucially, it was the second goal of the game and it put real daylight between the two London clubs.

The most recent mistake was against Liverpool in Anfield on the 10th of February. What could turn out to be a pivotal game in the battle for fourth, the Lilywhites were coming off the back of a massive victory over Arsenal. Tottenham were in contention of getting a result but were behind after 15 minutes when Lazar Markovic won the second ball in Spurs’ half and was allowed advance to the penalty area. He hit a low strike across the goals to Lloris’ left that he got down to quickly to, but let the ball bounce haplessly off his hand and in to the goals behind him. Liverpool went on to win the match 3-2.

Hugo Lloris is a wonderful goalkeeper. He is agile, acrobatic and is the best sweeper ‘keeper other than Neuer. I don’t believe Tottenham could get a better goalie if they scouted the length and breadth of the world, but there is something inside of him that allows him to collapse under the pressure of a big match. If he can work on this aspect of his game, then he can seriously be considered as one of the greatest goalkeepers ever to have played football.

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FIFA World XI according to Jerome

Last Monday we saw Cristiano Ronaldo pick up his third Ballon d’Or and second in a row. A player at the peak of his powers he made the FIFA/FIFPro World XI. The official World XI was picked by over 20,000 professional players – who am I to tell them they are wrong? Nobody, but the team looks more of an elitist team than the best team. Of course being a keen follower of football I have my own correct opinion and made a World XI that I felt would have been a fairer reflection of 2014.

I hope you agree.

FIFA World XI

FIFA/FIFPro World XI 2014

(GK) Manuel Neuer

This isn’t even a contest. Neuer has proved that he is one of the best goalkeepers ever to play football. Coupled with his intelligence and sweeping ability he is the best man to have between the sticks now. He inspired Germany to success in the World Cup with outstanding displays against Algeria and France especially and led Bayern to a Bundesliga and cup double back in May.

(DL) Cesar Azpilicueta

Jose Mourinho famously once said that a team of 11 Azpilicueta’s would win the Champions League. He is definitely not wrong. The Premier League’s most consistent performer he churns out minimum 7/10 performances weekly. Playing most of last season out of position at left back ahead of Ashley Cole he fills his natural right-back role now with Chelsea. Here though, he plays left back.

(DC) Sergio Ramos

He played a starring role in a Madrid side that won the Copa del Rey, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in 2014. Scoring a last minute equalizer for Real versus Átletico in the Champions League final his performance was crucial to their capture of la Decima. A poor World Cup but Ramos had a magnificent year for Real which saw him make the side.

(DC) Diego Godín

He turned out 51 times for Átletico last season in what would become a historic year for them. Scoring on the final day in the Nou Camp which sealed La Liga capped off a near perfect season for him on a personal level. A resolute and mature defender he is also good for a handful of goals a season. Bringing his fine performances in to the World Cup and the first half of the 2014/15 season he was one of the first names on the list.

(DR) Phillip Lahm

Lahm marked his final performance in a Germany jersey by winning the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Moved to a central defensive role in the past few seasons here he occupies his original right back role. Enjoying successes with Neuer, Kroos and Müller at Bayern last season he has been playing at the very top level with the last few years. A great leader and organiser he will go down as one of Germany’s finest ever players.

(MC) Koké

Jorge Resurrección or ‘Koké’ as he known as announced himself to world last year. A central midfielder he demonstrates fantastic awareness with or without possession and his ability to link up play in the final third sees him as a real threat to opposition defences. A crucial player in the Átletico side he was dubbed “the new Xavi” by Xavi himself. Part of the ill-fated Spanish World Cup squad last year the 23 year-old made 2014 his own by inspiring Átleti to La Liga and a Champions League Final appearance.

(MC) Toni Kroos

A perfect partner for Koké Kroos is a complete midlfielder. He can play as a centre mid, attacking mid or defensive midfielder. What sets him apart is his ability to pick a pass. Playing in this side as a deep-lying playmaker Kroos regularly shows that you don’t have to run through a defence to take it apart. Winning a remarkable amount of trophies last year Kroos won the Bundesliga, World Cup and Club World Cup, to name a few. Moving to Los Blancos over the Summer he has hit the ground running and pulls the strings week in week out at the best club team in football at the moment.

(AML) Cristiano Ronaldo

What. A. Player. Rightfully picking up his third successive Ballon d’Or on Monday his poor World Cup was the only negative next to an otherwise perfect 2014. He broke more records last year than I can count on my fingers and toes. The first player on any team sheet he will be seen as one of the most talented players to ever kick a ball.

(AMR) Thomas Müller

I almost forgot about Müller when I made this team and I think that sentiment says a lot about him. He is not a flair player and he is not a remarkably stand out player. What you will get are socks rolled down around his ankles and a work rate any manager would kill for. He does the basics perfectly and goes above and beyond what his teammates and coaching staff ask of him. For club and country he won the same trophies that Lahm and Neuer won in 2014. Bringing his form through the Summer to this campaign he has notched up 11 goals and nine assists in 22 matches.

(SS) Lionel Messi

Playing just behind the striker in a shadow striker role is where Messi excels. Deploying him in a 4-3-3 formation as the focal point of the attack would be a suitable alternative but I think this formation works equally as well. Becoming Barcelona’s all time top scorer, La Liga’s all time top scorer and the top scorer in the Champions League aged 27 I think 2014 wasn’t too bad for Messi. He aslo won four man of the match awards and scooped the player for the tournament at the World Cup too. Not bad, eh?

(ST) Sergio Agüero

Luis Suarez missed too much time to be considered and Diego Costa missed this by a hair. Kun Agüero inspired Manchester City to a League and Cup double last season and was unfortunate not to win the World Cup. Finishing the 2013/14 Premier League season as the most prolific striker to ever play in the league (averaging a goal ever 115 minutes) Agüero hasn’t let a few injuries interrupt his form. One of a couple of truly world-class players playing in England he demonstrated his explosive speed and clinical finishing in a famous Champions League hat-trick versus Bayern Munich at the Etihad. No striker is better than him on his day, and it’s his day every day.

You can view the full team sheet here:

http://lineupbuilder.com/350×500/?p=11&a=1&t=&c=dc0000&1=GK_Neuer__388_174&2=DL_Azpilicueta__295_64&3=DC_Ramos__315_138&4=DC_God%EDn__315_211&5=DR_Lahm__295_286&6=MC_Kok%E9__201_134&7=MC_Kroos__213_214&8=AL_Ronaldo__129_57&9=FC_Messi__112_163&10=AR_M%FCller__133_282&11=FC_Ag%FCero%20__67_189&c2=ffffff&c3=ffffff&output=embed

Personally I don’t think that the official team of the year was a fair reflection on 2014. Interestingly, six of the players I chose featured in the World Cup Final in Brazil. Also six players I chose featured on the official team of the year. The team comprises of four Germans, three Spanish, two Argentines, a Uruguayan and a Portuguese.

Have I made the worst call in the history of football? I love getting feedback so let me know in the comments below.

Football’s Most Promising Defenders

It’s back.

This time defenders who I believe have the quality and ambition to make 2015 their own. Once again players who are performing at a consistently high level and are under the age of 23. The Players’ Football Association (PFA) Young Player of the Year award can be given to anybody under 23, so that seems a reasonable age limit for these defenders (who can be from anywhere).

Ricardo Rodriguez (22) VFL Wolfsburg

Depending on your interests he is the best left back in football or the best kept secret in football. At the age of 22 he has 27 international caps and has transformed in to one of the Bundesliga’s most consistent performers.

Ricardo Rodriguez

Rodriguez has already netted 6 times this campaign.

Signed from FC Zurich in January 2012 for a meagre fee of €7.5 million he has blazed a trail in Germany. According to OptaJoe during the 2013/14 season he played a hand in 14 goals – more than any other defender in Europe. A move to a bigger European club was on the cards with a host of top clubs interested in the young defender but he has recently put pen to paper on a new contract that will see him – in theory – at the club until 2019. Will he still be at Wolfsburg if a bigger team makes an aggressive move for him? Unlikely

Aymeric Laporte (20) Athletic Bilbao

Born on May 27 1994 he is five months and two days older than me. That puts what he has already done in to perspective. A commanding centre-back the Frenchman, wait what? Yes he is only the second ever French player to play for Bilbao after Bixente Lizarazu. That statement alone sets the standard for what this player is all about.

He can cover left-back if needed but where he really shines is in the centre. Monitored by almost every European club worth their salt, Laporte is attracting huge attention. He was at the heart of Athletic Bilbao reaching the Champions League for the first time in 18 seasons. What makes him a rare commodity is that there are really only a handful of truly world class centre backs – defenders who are as comfortable on the ball as they are chasing it – and Laporte has it all. Contracted until 2016 he will go for nothing less than his €27.5 million buyout clause.

Éder Alvarez Balanta (21) River Plate

South America has never really been renowned for defenders. Colombian born Balanta bucks this trend. Playing for Argentinean giants River Plate he has been lauded as the top defending talent coming out of South America. This was further complimented by his inclusion in the Colombian World Cup squad.

Standing half an inch shy of 6 foot the player is intensely physical, but possesses the agility and speed of a man half his height. Primarily left-footed he has shown that he is comfortable on his right as well. In a particularly memorable Copa Sudamerica match he put in a man of the match performance that also included a cheeky nutmeg in the opposition’s half. This particular match also shows one of his defining traits; his ability to read a game. His ability to read the game is world class but he also manages to combine this with playing out of defence and moving the ball quickly up the pitch. He never represented Colombia at underage level due to injury after injury which is the only negative next to his name.

Hugely talented he is set for a move away from River Plate. River Plate Vice-president Matias Patanian said:

“If the amount of money that the newspaper mentions is true and we receive an offer like that, then River could sit down and start negotiations as it would be close to the amount the club expects for transferring Balanta.”

Terence Kongolo (20) Feyenoord

How much more talent will come out of Belgium? A seemingly limitless amount of talent is being harnessed in the Eredivisie and Terence Kongolo is at the forefront. The Swiss born centre back represents Netherlands and featured in the World Cup squad that travelled to Brazil. Coming through the Feyenoord academy – voted best in Holland for the last 5 years – he is following in the footsteps of Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij.

Kongolo has turned out 25 times for Feyenoord in all competitions this season.

Kongolo has turned out 25 times for Feyenoord in all competitions this season.

There is no doubt in my mind that he will surpass both these players in a few years. What sets Kongolo apart is his bravery and his mindset that every ball is his to win. During the 2013/14 season he was booked only twice in almost 2,000 minutes of play. Starting originally as a left-back his lack of pace has seen him move to centre-back. This move has seen a rise in the fortunes of Feyenoord and they have lost only one of the last 10 matches he played in – a 4-3 away defeat to PSV. Only Sven van Beek has made more appearances in the Eredivisie this season for Feyenoord. Great things await this Dutch destroyer.

Tin Jedvaj (19) Bayer Leverkusen (on loan from AS Roma)

The Croatian right back is the youngest player on the list. Originally signed from Roma on a two-year loan deal the youngster has gone from strength to strength. Displacing Giulio Donati and Roberto Hilbert at full back he has gone from back up defender to first team regular and has played in every position across the back four this season.

This versatility coupled with extreme energy has shown Jedvaj to be a handful for opponents when he attacks as well as his resoluteness while defending. An own goal against Hertha Berlin saw his positioning come in to question but he scored the equaliser in a game they went on to win 4-2. He also scored and assisted in a 3-3 draw with Bremen. His idol he says is PSG’s Thiago Silva and Jedvaj certainly has a flair for central positions – a move later on in his career could be to centre-back. Brimming with potential Leverkusen have shown fantastic foresight by getting him on a two-year loan deal and first refusal on any offers if Roma ever wish to sell the Croat.

Honorable mentions:

Eliaquim Mangala (23) Manchester City

Mangala deservedly earned a big money move to Manchester during the summer. Despite playing excellently for Porto he hasn’t found what made him tick at City yet and never looks entirely comfortable. Out of position and failing to spot danger at City has seen him miss out.

Marquinhos (20) Paris Saint Germain

A fine defender 2014 will be remember for his wonderful goal-saving tackle against Barcelona in the Champions League. This was the highlight of an otherwise safe season. Hopefully he can kick on this year but limited first team matches could hamper his progress.

Raphaël Varane (21) Real Madrid

Varane could have easily made this list. A mainstay in the Champions League his appearances in other competitions haven’t been so plentiful. Missing out on the 2013 Golden Boy award to Paul Pogba, Varane has fulfilled most of the potential that a bit-part player can fulfill. A move away from the Bernabeau or a starting place on the team is the next move for the defender.

Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments below what you think or who I may have missed out on.

Should Messi leave Barcelona?

I love Messi.

How often have we seen him jink his way past a couple of helpless defenders, ride another tackle and effortlessly stroke the ball in to the goal? As a player I believe he’s on a different level to Ronaldo.

Well, until the start of last season I would have said that.

His 2013/14 campaign was a success by most means, but by Lionel Messi standards it was a quiet season. A major stumbling block that disrupted his season were the injuries he suffered. He missed two months from November to January, his third injury of the season. Despite ending up with 28 goals in La Liga he was not able to fire Barcelona to the title, or claim the Golden Boot. Many people thought he was saving himself for the World Cup.

Fast forward to the World Cup and a Messi inspired Argentina progress from a mediocre group. In a competition where they reached the final he claimed four man of the match awards and was named the player of the tournament.  Throughout the competition he seemed subdued but still managed to put in top quality performances. He didn’t have the mesmerising effect he did at Barcelona in seasons past but, crucially, appeared like a vision at the important moments to score for Argentina.

Now, In January, Messi is linked with Chelsea. Why does this story refuse to disappear and why does the move make sense?

One of the most revered managers in world football managed Barcelona in a four year period where the Catalan club won fourteen major honours. Pep Guardiola gave an interview in March 2014 where he said:

“I found it more and more difficult to motivate myself and to motivate the team. That is when you know it is time to walk away.”

Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or three times under the former Spanish midfielder. Messi has won only one since, which came in the immediate season after Guardiola’s departure.

What makes Pep Guardiola’s admission that motivating both himself and the team was becoming difficult is that his departure begins the slow decline of Lionel Messi. Granted Barcelona did have a magnificent season in 2012/13. They accumulated 100 points in La Liga with Messi scoring 60 and assisting 16 goals in all competitions that season,  but numerous changes at the helm and several injuries have hampered this phenomenon.

This makes me think that a move to Chelsea does make sense. In the four years that Barcelona won all round them the club was stable. The manager was a constant, the players at the peak of their powers all came through the famed La Masia academy with him and the club was not in turmoil.

Since 2012 when everything was rosy the club have had 3 managers, the club have been embroiled in a scandal over the actual signing fee of Brazilian golden boy Neymar from Santos  and now the club have a transfer embargo lasting until 2016 which resulted in the sacking of Andoni Zubizarreta and further resignation of icon Carlos Puyol.

This suggests that off the field matters may be affecting Messi. He needs the consistency that only Chelsea can offer him. Of all the suitors for one of the greatest players of all time Chelsea is really the only viable option. Manchester City and PSG have both gone over the FIFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) limit and a major re-balancing of the books would need to take place to afford such a deal. Furthermore, Jose Mourinho is the best manager in the world and if anybody can get the Argentinean firing on all cylinders again it’s him.

Maybe a change of scenery would do Messi good? People who were close to him once are coming out of the woodwork with many theories of why he should go, why he should stay and where his unhappiness is coming from. Truthfully, we don’t know explicitly that he is unhappy and if this indeed is all just press speculation. Either way this story will rage on for time to come until the magician does decide to stay at his spiritual home or make a disappearing act and quit Barcelona.