The Heirs to Ronaldo and Messi

After France and Portugal played out a 0-0 draw on Sunday night, a number of French players took to their social media accounts to post about the game. Interestingly, their main purpose didn’t seem to be to reflect on the match itself; instead, it looked as though many of them simply wanted an excuse to post a picture of themselves playing next to Cristiano Ronaldo.

You can hardly blame them. Ronaldo is, without a doubt, part of a duo that will go down as the best footballing couplet in history. The other, of course, is Lionel Messi.

Paul Pogba and Presnel Kimpembe were among those who showcased their pride at sharing the pitch with the Portuguese superstar, but it was the post of another player that has really caught the eyes of football fans around the world – Kylian Mbappe. 

Pictures have been doing the rounds all over the internet ever since, consisting of comparisons between the recent photo of the two and another of them meeting when Ronaldo was tearing La Liga defences apart as Real Madrid player (Mbappe hadn’t burst onto the scene at this point). 

This photo has served to remind us of a depressing and yet intriguing future – one in which Ronaldo and Messi no longer bless the pitch with their genius season after season. 

In this future, there are a new generation of players who will pick up the mantle and become the idols young footballers strive to be. It’s not an enviable task to try and live up to Messi and Ronaldo’s unfathomable heights – in fact, it might not be possible. Ever.

However, someone has to try.

So who is it going to be? Which players have the potential and bravery to reach the heights these giants have?

Kylian Mbappe is certainly one of them himself, and that’s why it’s so fitting that the picture of he and Ronaldo has sparked this debate back into life. The young Frenchman already stands among the elite footballers of the world and he is only 21 years old, so that gives us a clue as to how far his career can go.

A lot of critics have already fallen into the trap of believing Mbappe isn’t as good as he’s made out to be simply because he plays his club football in France. This is ridiculous and if anyone says this to you, you can tell them in good confidence that they possess no worthwhile football knowledge.

The French league may not be the strongest in the world, but that takes nothing away from Mbappe’s ability – especially at this young age. He will leave Paris at some point in his quest to match his idol Ronaldo’s exploits across Europe, but he’s already on the way to proving his worth.

The forward has 53 goals in 52 league games for Paris Saint-Germain, already propelling him to 7th on their list of all time top goalscorers. He scored in a World Cup final where his side lifted football’s greatest prize, and just last season he helped his club reach a Champions League final which, if they’d won, would have handed Mbappe two of the sport’s biggest trophies after barely leaving his teen years. Maybe it’s a good thing that he still has something out there to work for.

There is no question that after Messi and Ronaldo retire, Mbappe will be the one holding the torch for football’s next generation. 

Another youngster who has the ability to match the records laid out by the two superstars is Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland. The Norweigan’s goalscoring exploits are perhaps even more freakish than Mbappe’s, and his finishing is definitely up there with the best in the world. He just doesn’t seem to miss.

He has 17 goals in 18 Bundesliga games for Dortmund and has six in six international caps, so it’s definitely not unfair to define him as the definition of a goal machine. If he can improve even more on top of this current form (remember, he’s only 20 years old) then he’s another with a claim to the throne.

He’s another who will definitely move sooner rather than later, and that will only help his career flourish that much more. Dortmund are, at the end of the day, a selling club and it won’t be long before the big dogs come calling. Not if he maintains this level of performance. 

These two aren’t the only wonderkids who are being described as generational talents, and they certainly won’t be alone in the battle for Ballon D’Or awards in the post-Ronaldo and Messi era. Mason Greenwood is younger still and he’s already shown consistent flashes of genius and wondrous ability in a struggling Manchester United squad. 

Ansu Fati is giving Barcelona fans hope during a turbulent time at the Camp Nou, while Jadon Sancho will certainly have faith in his ability to reach the very top of the game. His link-up play with Haaland in Germany has been particularly good to watch.

It might not be plausible to ever match the standards set by Ronaldo and Messi. It could be nigh on impossible – these players will need to play to the best of their ability for well over a decade to even come close.

There’s one thing that is certain, though, and that’s that these players will give everything they’ve got to emulate their idols. 

Who knows; it might be Mbappe posing with the next generational talent in ten years time. Only time will tell.

Harry Maguire – An £80million Bag of Mistakes

As the dust settles on the worst result of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign at Manchester United so far, Harry Maguire is far from the only problem at the club. 

The manager himself is once again proving that he is not up to the job. Marcus Rashford continues to frustrate with lackluster performances (as do numerous members of the squad) and a lack of options on the bench only profounds these issues. Limited action in the transfer market makes this even worse.

After yet another alarmingly poor showing from the club captain against Tottenham, however, surely even his most devoted fans will be running out of excuses for the Englishman. United have now conceded 11 goals in their first three Premier League games, and that partly stems from issues at centre back. 

So what is it that makes Maguire so painful to watch at the moment? For starters, there is his positioning. I’ve lost count of the number of occasions over recent weeks where Maguire, either due to a lack of pace or sheer laziness, has failed to block crosses he should have. 

All too often when an opposing team is counter attacking, Maguire looks lackadaisical when getting into position. He has a bad habit of not checking his shoulder for runners off the ball, and therefore doesn’t know where to position himself to stop balls entering the box. This often leads to criticism of Victor Lindelof when he loses his man, but he needs a lot more protection from his partner. 

Maguire has to sharpen up in these situations. He doesn’t get much stick for this side of his game in the media because it doesn’t, strictly speaking, go down as an error. However, surely Solskjaer has to force him to work on these situations. 

Maguire’s silly mistakes are also becoming something of a regular occurrence. Today’s defeat to Tottenham showcased a number of them; most people know that his attempted headed backpass leading to Spurs’ opener would have been scolded at U14s boys club football, never mind at Old Trafford. 

The England defender also failed to stand in front of Harry Kane’s quick free kick which led to Heung-Min Son’s first goal, and again failed to block the cross which led to his second later in the game. In short, Maguire could have done better for at least three of Spurs’ six goals today. 

He has to cut these errors out of his game. David De Gea rightly received stick from fans and the media last season for these high profile errors, and Maguire should shoulder the same responsibility. He simply has to be more solid if United are to improve at the back. 

Maguire has also shown himself to be extremely unreliable at taking chances from set pieces. Over the past year or so, Maguire has been presented with a vast number of opportunities from corners and free kicks and yet has only taken a handful. For a man of his size and with his heading ability, he simply has to do more.

Set pieces give teams opportunities to grind out victories in games where they perhaps haven’t played to the best of their ability. Virgil van Dijk has a knack for scoring big goals from corners in games where Liverpool are struggling; Maguire doesn’t offer that and United are often made to pay. Maguire should be his side’s main threat in these situations, but offers very little. 

It’s also a worry that he appears to be undroppable. He played every single minute of United’s Premier League campaign last season and has done so again this year. It’s also telling that Solskjaer didn’t even drop him for the side’s Carabao Cup opener against Luton – despite switching up the rest of the starting eleven.

Perhaps this is because of his price tag, but at the moment it looks as though Maguire could do with a spell out of the side. It’s hard to tell if his poor form is down to jaded legs, but perhaps some time out of the spotlight could do him some good. 

Manchester United fans will be nervous about the fact that Maguire appears to be getting worse. His poor run of form shows no sign of slowing up any time soon, but he’ll need to arrest this slide at some point if he wants to help United climb back up the Premier League table.

Motherwell must keep Campbell this year

Young players breaking into the first team is no new phenomenon at Motherwell. Allan Campbell is simply the latest in a long line of success stories, having broken into the squad as a teenager and firmly establishing himself as a key player.

Now, however, he is being linked with a move to Aberdeen or Hibernian. This is natural and Motherwell will be used to it, but they should be doing everything in their power to keep the young Scot until at least the end of the season.

Having just sold star player David Turnbull to Celtic for a club-record fee, the balance in Motherwell’s midfield has been restored. They have looked much better with Liam Polworth back in the squad, but Campbell is the real heartbeat in the side. Not only is he incredibly industrious, constantly haggling opposition players and breaking up attacks, but he’s also developed a very desirable trait in popping up with important goals himself. 

If you take Campbell out of that Motherwell team, a severe drop in quality is likely. He will, of course, leave at some point; that’s part and parcel of the game for clubs like the Steelmen. Just weeks after Turnbull departed, however, it would leave Motherwell short in the midfield department with very little time to find a replacement. Liam Donnelly is already out for an extended spell through injury, so any sale would only deplete the squad more. 

The main miss, however, would be Campbell’s quality. He has been a regular in the Scotland U21 squad over the past few years and it surely won’t be long before he gets a call-up to the senior side (typically, this will be more likely to happen if he moves to a bigger team). He adds a whole different dimension to Motherwell’s play and brings a variety of qualities to the table. 

Hanging onto Campbell for another season will bolster Motherwell’s chances of boosting his market price as well. If the club can battle to another top six finish and Campbell continues this rich vein of form, then teams will have to pay more to secure his services. This means Motherwell would have more to spend on players who can replace the youngster properly. 

Campbell leaving Lanarkshire is inevitable, but Motherwell will be much better off if they can hang on to him this year – both financially and on the pitch.

The Premier League is back- Opening Week Review

After a period of time that didn’t quite equate to the usual summer’s wait, the new English Premier League season began over the weekend. There were a variety of new signings on show, as well as a number of new-look squads being put to the test for the first time. So who impressed? Which sides disappointed the most? And were there any signs as to who will struggle over the coming season?

Best team performance- Everton

This would probably be the choice for the majority of football fans, and it’s not hard to see why. Everton have completely revamped their midfield during the transfer window and they looked like a completely new side, outclassing Tottenham from start to finish. Spurs managed to fashion a few chances, but overall Everton looked very comfortable. 

The pull of working under Carlo Ancelotti has acted like a magnet for a number of signings, and this has worked in Everton’s favour. It won’t be one bit of a surprise if, by the end of the season, they are challenging with the likes of Wolves and Leciester to break into the top six – and that’s exactly where a club like Everton belongs. 

The Toffees finally look like they’re back on the right track, and their new-look midfield three proved to be the catalyst for that on Sunday. Allan’s man of the match performance, coupled with some brilliance on the ball from ex-Real Madrid man James Rodriguez, propelled them to an excellent three points to kick-start their campaign. 

Worst team performance- Tottenham

We can hail Everton all we want, but that doesn’t give Tottenham a ‘get out of jail free card’. The simple fact is that they were absolutely dreadful, and if I were to use one word to sum up their performance it would be “lethargic”. This doesn’t come as a shock, either; it’s been clear to see for over a year that their players don’t look up to it. 

Now, I’ve always hated criticising Jose Mourinho; he is probably my favourite manager of all time, but even I need to admit now that he looks outdated. His Spurs team don’t look as though they’re going anywhere, but at least in the past he would look like challenging for a trophy or two. Right now, that is certainly not the case. With this team’s mentality, and his old-fashioned tactics, it looks like things are going to get worse at Spurs before they get better. They need to find a way to fix the shortcomings seen in their opening-day defeat, and fast. 

Best player performance- Conor Coady

Wolves, as has come to be the norm, looked very solid against Sheffield United. Not only did they score from a set piece against a side who only conceded six from such scenarios last season, they also went to a very tough away ground and brought the three points home with them. The star man in that performance, for me, was defender Conor Coady. 

Shortly after an England call-up, he once again showed his ability with a commanding performance at the back. Against a very direct Sheffield United side, he dealt with everything that was thrown his way and made some vital clearances when his team were under pressure. If he continues this vein of form, Wolves will be a force to be reckoned with. 

Worst player performance- Kai Havertz

Now, don’t get me wrong- Kai Havertz was not individually the worst player over the opening weekend of the Premier League. However, with the hype surrounding his transfer and the fact that Frank Lampard handed him an immediate starting place, it can safely be said that we should have expected a little more from the young German. 

Aside from his shocking pass straight out of play that has already become a meme, Havertz was very quiet. He didn’t really produce anything of note, and his average position map highlighted the fact that he wasn’t able to make an impact higher up the pitch- his was deeper than N’Golo Kante’s. We can afford to give him the benefit of the doubt at this stage; he is a young player, after all, and he’ll get time to adapt to the Premier League. Hopefully, however, his next few showings are more riveting that his opening one.

Why are referees so scared to give penalties?

The performance of referee Felix Brych throughout Manchester United’s 2-1 Europa League loss to Sevilla raised plenty of eyebrows. Some decisions were genuinely laughable, and it’s hard to believe that an official who is ranked so highly across Europe could get so many simple decisions wrong in such a short period of time. 

The major talking point came when what seemed to be a clear foul on Bruno Fernandes wasn’t given as a penalty. United’s poor finishing, coupled with managerial failures on the night by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, were enough to warrant defeat. However, United had already went ahead early on through a penalty that was (correctly) given. So why wasn’t the second claim given? It would definitely have changed the game, but there are explanations that are clear to see. 

“It would have been a soft penalty!”

A lot of people are already countering United fans’ with the commonly used phrase: “It would have been a soft penalty!” I have always despised this notion – there is no such thing as a soft penalty, and it’s either a foul or it isn’t. Referees can make wrong decisions, but if a foul occurs it should be penalised. It doesn’t matter how soft it is.

If the foul on Fernandes had occurred anywhere else on the pitch, it would have been given as a foul. So why do defenders get away with the same offence just because it takes place in their own box? I have no doubt in my mind that the referee felt that because he had already given United one penalty already, it would be unfair to give them another. This is a ludicrous mentality, and denied United another attempt from the spot. 

Decisions like this happen every week for every team. Fouls that would given anywhere else on the pitch aren’t punished due simply to a shared opinion that it would be ‘soft’. If a foul takes place, penalise it and stop letting defenders get away with murder. Some of them might then learn how to actually defend and wouldn’t rely on nudges off the ball to protect their goalkeeper. 

VAR is incompetent 

It’s no secret that the use of VAR is absolutely abysmal and this decision laid it bare to see yet again. According to the commentating report, they looked at this foul once and immediately relayed to the referee that there was no infringement. We have been forced to wait much longer for other obvious decisions to be made, so why was this check over so quickly? And why did they get it wrong?

For me, it quite simply highlights the fact that the level of officiating in Europe is very poor right now. It’s incredibly difficult to understand how a group of professionally trained referees can watch that event on a video screen and still come to the conclusion (within around five seconds) that there was no offence. It is genuinely mind boggling. 

Referees are genuinely scared to give penalties

The fear referees have of giving too many penalties also plays a major role in these poor decisions. They have been coerced into believing that giving too many fouls in the box is a mark of a whistle-happy referee, but this couldn’t be further than the truth. Again, I’ll reiterate an earlier point; it’s either a foul or it’s not. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘soft’ or not. 

This leads to many fouls in the box going unpunished, and it’s led to a generation of defenders who struggle if they can’t slyly foul an opposing player. Why do you think games among Europe’s elite clubs (Bayern Munich against Barcelona a few nights ago, for instance) are being defined by poor defending? When it comes to defending properly, with timing, tackling and positioning, teams are getting worse and worse. They rely too heavily on ‘soft’ fouls that referees will not punish. 

I realise this article started out a bit Manchester United-orientated again, but that’s just because the most recent example took place in their game last night. I’d also like to point out that there is nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned shoulder barge, and that I’m a fan of these. However, last nights foul wasn’t far off borderline assault and should have been duly punished.

What do Manchester United need for next season?

The English Premier League season drew to a close yesterday, and it was a strange campaign in more ways than one. An extended pause due to lockdown contributed heavily to this, but it was also unusual in footballing terms. I discussed the drop in quality throughout the division earlier this year, and the final league standings back up my point. 

Sub-standard Manchester United and Chelsea sides were able to clinch Champions League football on the final day of the season, and they have to be among the poorest sides to finish 3rd and 4th in recent times. United were incredibly average until their late season revival, and Chelsea’s inconsistencies were highlighted throughout the season through a number of costly defeats. 

At the end of the day, however, both sides did achieve their goal of finishing in the top four, and they can begin planning for their assaults on both Europe’s showpiece tournament and next season’s Premier League. So what do Manchester United need to compete at the highest level again? 

Get the Sancho deal wrapped up

Manchester United’s interest in Jadon Sancho has been common knowledge for a long time now, and the likelihood of the deal going ahead seemed to hinge of United qualifying for Europe. Now that they’ve done that, an announcement looks imminent. This will be a very important signing for United for a number of reasons. 

For starters, it will send a signal of intent around the Premier League. This is one of the best young footballers in the world, and if he chooses to move to Old Trafford it will prove that United are preparing for a return to the top of the game. The buzz amongst the fan base will be palpable, and it will put them in good stead for next season. 

It will also help in footballing terms. For me, Marcus Rashford has not been good enough recently. His goal tally is certainly very credible, but his level of performance has been way below what United need from him. There are too many silly flicks, too many wayward passes and too many missed chances. Mason Greenwood’s decision making and quality is already ahead of Rashford’s, and if Sancho comes into the team it should be in place of United’s joint top scorer. 

This leaves a very good option on the bench in Rashford and strengthens United in an attacking sense. Rashford will still start a high number of games and it allows United to rotate their front three without a significant drop in quality. 

Improve options in midfield

It’s no secret that if United take Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes out their team, they play a lot worse. Scott McTominay and Fred are good defensive players but struggle when United need to play on the front foot. United need to sign a better calibre of attacking centre midfielders. 

Jack Grealish is the obvious option. He is very good on the ball and will help to break down teams that sit behind the ball- he’s proven his quality of chance creation at Aston Villa this season. He’d also be very good to bring off the bench, winning fouls when United need to get up the park. His ability to keep the ball is also needed in United’s team, especially in tough games where they are in danger of conceding. He would be an ideal signing. 

Buy another centre back

Both of United’s centre backs have shown potential. They’ve both had very good spells, but they’ve also had poor spells. Personally I prefer Lindelof as a player, with Maguire making infuriating errors in recent weeks. However, I understand Maguire is probably more likely to improve in the future. Whatever happens, United do need to sign another centre back. 

Whether this player will be a starter or a way of getting the best out of Lindelof and Maguire is still to be seen. However, they do need to strengthen this area. Eric Bailly is too injury-prone, and even when he does play I’m not sure he’s up to the job. United’s defensive record improved significantly last season, but another defender could improve them even more. 

Sort out the goalkeeper issues

On his day, David De Gea is among the best goalkeepers in the world. The problem is that he hasn’t had his day in a long time, and even United’s fanbase seems to have run out of patience. With his high wages, however, it will be very difficult to offload him or justify dropping him from the starting eleven. 

Dean Henderson is a good option when his loan spell ends, but I don’t think United will go for that option just yet. I can see them giving De Gea at least another season between the sticks, but they’ll need to find a way to get his confidence back up quickly if they want to challenge for trophies next season.

Why are commentators and pundits so poor these days?

We all love a good moan at the TV whenever we’ve sat down to watch the football. Our resentment isn’t just aimed at players, either; in fact, depending on our mood and how our teams are doing, almost anyone could find themselves in the firing line. Not even members of the media are exempt, but a lot of the time it’s not just mere frustration that makes us take out our anger on them. In fact, football fans are slowly starting to realise that a lot of pundits and commentators simply aren’t up to the job they are paid to do. 

Why is this, though? Why is it that the standards of pundits is decreasing drastically? I believe it’s because too many past players are being allowed a shot at the job ahead of better qualified candidates. 

We all know that being an ex-professional footballer usually guarantees you a route back into the game after retirement, and this is regularly seen when ex players are appointed as managers with no previous experience in the hot seat. The same is happening with commentary jobs.

Look at Steve McManaman, Jermaine Jenas and Martin Keown acting as co-commentators for BT Sport. All are ex-footballers, and yet it is clear to see that they are absolutely clueless when it comes to talk knowledgeably about the game. McManaman was ridiculed upon the return of the Bundesliga for talking about ‘form’ when there hadn’t been a game in months. 

Jenas is another who seems to pick random words from the air around him and blindly pieces them together to form what he believes is an expert-sounding sentence. During Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Norwich a few days ago, he claimed United should have started with a full-strength squad. Surely he has the common sense to realise that wouldn’t have been sensible with so many games squeezed into in a short period after emerging from lockdown?

Keown is the worst of a dreadfully bad bunch. He often sounds as though he’s dosed off during a game when he comes back to life with an abomination of a statement that sounds as though it’s come from a dodgy Twitter account. I remember one example from a Manchester United game over a year ago; United had been passing the ball around for passing’s sake for around about three straight minutes, making no inroads towards goal whatsoever. They finally mustered a woeful shot well wide of the target, and Keown felt it was wise to say that “they just can’t keep the ball”. It’s embarrassing stuff, and yet he gets away with it. 

The same goes for the Sky Sports team. The commentators here are significantly better, and overall their pundits are pretty good (Gary Neville is one of the very best). Their ‘Soccer Saturday’ team, however, leave a lot to be desired. 

Paul Merson is particularly woeful. He used to be the main writer for the weekly ‘Premier League Predictions’, which are released the day before each significant matchday. Now, we all remember the times where Stoke City were a horrible opponent to play at their own ground;  they built up a reputation based on that. However, they were relegated in the 2017/18 season after winning just seven games all season. 

Despite it being clear that Stoke were an extremely poor side this season (results included a 7-2 loss to Manchester City), Merson continued to back them every time they played at home. “Stoke just don’t lose at home,” he would say. “I just can’t see Stoke losing this one at home,” he would repeat week after week. Well, they did lose quite a lot- hence their relegation. 

Maybe these ridiculous statements led to Charlie Nicholas replacing him as chief writer for the weekly predictions. However, he doesn’t offer much more. In the days before the first Premier League game back after lockdown (Aston Villa vs Sheffield United), he was pondering whether a lack of fans would impact Villa’s chances. 

His exact words were; “Will no fans be a burden to them? I don’t think it will. I love the atmosphere at Villa, but their away record was better than their home record”.

Not only is the grammar here poor, but it’s a ridiculously false statement. Before this game took place, Villa had won 17 of their 25 points at home. They’d won just eight points away from home all season, and yet Charlie Nicholas, a Sky Sports pundit, gets away with saying their away record was better?

It’s a dreadful advert for journalism, and the media in general, to give these inadequate pundits and commentators such a huge platform to underperform. It’s not simply the fact that we as football fans can disagree with them- that’s what football is all about. It’s the fact that they are either getting simple facts dreadfully wrong, or are saying things that make absolutely no sense. 

If television companies like Sky and BT are going to continue hiring ex-footballers as pundits and commentators, they have to do better than this. There is, of course, a mix of good and bad across the board, but there shouldn’t be a mix at all. Quality pundits should be leading the way, and yet we’re left struggling to concentrate on games because of absurd statements buzzing around our ears. 

Make it better, guys. Or just hire me instead.

Lockdown could actually benefit Scottish football

Football won’t be the same when play resumes. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc in all areas of life, and it’s been a particularly strange time for football fans. Leagues grinded to a halt all around the world and even when play does resume, there will be no fans – perhaps the most important ingredient to professional football. Problems are bound to arise.

This will be particularly evident in Scotland, where clubs lack the financial power found in other nations, and it’s likely that the game will suffer in the short term. The vast majority of media coverage regarding these effects has already reported on potential negative outcomes, but is there light to be found at the end of the tunnel? Could the lockdown actually benefit the Scottish game in the long run? I believe it could.

Why? Because of the increased opportunities for young Scottish players.  

Scottish football clubs will take a while to recover from the financial impacts brought on by lockdown. This means they’ll be unlikely to splash out on big signings for the foreseeable future, but this could be a good thing. While fans will bemoan the lack of action of the transfer market, it will open up opportunities for more young Scottish players to break through to first team level.

Smaller Scottish sides already rely heavily on their youth academies, with Motherwell and Hamilton among those setting the benchmark over the past few years. However, with new signings on the decline and first team players leaving for pastures new, there will be an even greater emphasis on giving these players extended runs in the first team. While there may be a slight decline in overall playing standards for a short while, it will certainly benefit the Scottish game in the long run.

With more players from youth sides being given opportunities to impress, there is a greater chance that we will discover previously unearthed gems. With competition so high at professional clubs, it can be challenging for players like this to forge a pathway to the top of the game. A lot of them slip through the unforgiving fingers of professional football and we are left forever asking as to what could have been.

In the coming season in particular, these chances will be at a premium for young prodigies. They may never get a better chance to showcase their abilities on the big stage, and if they are motivated then there’s no reason why they can’t establish themselves.

It’s no secret that the Scotland national team has struggled over the past two decades, failing to qualify for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. At the moment, Scotland have more than enough when it comes to midfielders and full backs; players such as Andy Robertson, John McGinn, Scott McTominay and Callum McGregor form a good core for a competitive side.

On the other hand, Scotland are severely lacking when it comes to centre backs and strikers. The only current Scotland striker who can be classed as regularly prolific is Leigh Griffiths, but his physical and mental problems have reduced his playing time recently. I think we all know, as well, that we won’t get anywhere with defending epitomised by the likes of Grant Hanley.

In short, Scotland are in desperate need of a new generation of defenders and forwards. That’s the difference between an average side and a good one, and who’s to say that the chances given to young players in the coming seasons won’t provide us with the answer? It may be a slow burner, but it could definitely help in the long run.

If Scotland really do want to start qualifying for major tournaments on a regular basis, they need to sort out their defensive and goalscoring issues. By increasing game time for youngsters in the coming seasons, we might come across a ready-made solution.

Lockdown will cause a lot of problems for Scottish football, particularly in financial terms. It will take a while for normality to resume. In the meantime, however, we can take a step back and look at the bigger picture. By giving more chances to young players in the next season or two, teams may unearth the next big player that can propel our national team back into the big time. It will be a steady process and it may not seem immediately obvious. With the right club and the right mentor, however, it could be our saving grace. Lockdown hasn’t been fun for anyone, but in ten years’ time we may look back and thank it for handing us our next generational talent on a silver platter.

Why did Bayern beat Dortmund so easily?

There has been somewhat of a David and Goliath story unfolding in Germany over the past seven years, but this one has a bit of a twist. In this version, where Bayern Munich have picked up seven consecutive Bundesliga titles with relative ease, Goliath is the character emerging victorious.

Borussia Dortmund have long been the neutral’s favourite. Ever since Jurgen Klopp led the club to league titles in 2011 and 2012, as well as a Champions League final in 2013, football fans from all over the world have made clear their admiration for the team’s style of play. Perhaps tellingly, however, it was Bayern who won that 2013 final.

While Dortmund, for the most part, receive more outside support in the battle for the Bundesliga title (they are the David in this story), they haven’t been able to use that to their advantage. These shortcomings were summed up in yesterdays 1-0 home defeat to their rivals, where they were outclassed in more ways than one – but why did this happen?

Bayern are simply better at winning

This point may sound a bit simplistic, but it probably best explains why Bayern have been able to retain their trophy for such an extended period of time. Put simply, they have the know-how when it comes to winning big matches. This game was billed as the biggest of the season, but while the majority of us willed Dortmund on for the sake of an extended title race, they never looked like emerging as victors. Bayern were able to control the game by keeping things simple, largely down to the players they have at their disposal. Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski are all serial winners and they showed that yesterday.

The player that impressed me the most with his attitude, however, was Joshua Kimmich. His reaction at the full time whistle summed it up; his roars of celebration were audible above everyone else’s despite his slight frame. He already has that winning mentality needed if you want to succeed at a club like Bayern, and the Dortmund players yesterday didn’t look like they had the will to push for all three points (or even one). It was fitting that Kimmich got the winning goal.

Dortmund did not penetrate Bayern frequently enough

On the footballing side of things, Dortmund didn’t offer enough either. They did start brightly, having an Erling Haaland effort cleared off the line in the opening phases of the game. After that, however, they rarely threatened. Far too much of their play was in front of the Bayern back four; even when there did appear to be opportunities for defence-splitting passes, Dortmund seemed content to turn back and start again. Such a possession-retaining approach can be commendable, but there has to be an end product. Dortmund didn’t provide that.

Dortmund’s full backs, who have been two of their star players over the past few weeks and over the season, struggled as well. They were never going to get as much space against Bayern as they do against weaker sides, but they failed to adapt their game. There were plenty of opportunities to whip crosses into Haaland to at least put the Bayern defence under a bit of pressure, but again they were happy to go backwards. A more aggressive form of attacking was required.

There is a gulf in quality that Dortmund cannot overcome

There is obviously a big gap between Dortmund and Bayern in terms of sheer footballing ability, hence the David and Goliath comparison. However, whereas David was able to spring surprises with a number of unsuspected tricks, Dortmund have succumbed to the power of Germany’s Goliath. It is very difficult to imagine, for instance, Manuel Neuer making the same error that counterpart Roman Burki did to hand Bayern the only goal of the game.

Lewandowski cracked the post from distance, but Haaland’s best chances came in the opening seconds and on the occasion he was denied from close range by Jerome Boateng (albeit by the defender’s arm, which should have been a stone-wall penalty). Alphonso Davies was one of the stand out performers at full back for Bayern, while Dortmund’s wide defenders struggled to make much of an impact. It’s these big players that are required to win games of this magnitude, and unfortunately Dortmund don’t have enough of them.

What does the future hold?

Dortmund’s squad is, of course, still young. They still have a lot to learn, and given time they could mould themselves into a very strong side. The chances of that happening, however, are slim. Dortmund are a selling club and are unlikely to be given the chance to keep these players around for a prolonged period of time. Jadon Sancho looks likely to leave at some point in the next year, and it’s probable that Haaland will move on to further his career as well.

If Dortmund really want to challenge for the Bundesliga title, they need to stop relying entirely on a young squad that will inevitably be broken up after a few years. This approach makes them enjoyable to watch, but prevents them becoming serial winners. Bayern, on the other hand, possess a combination of hungry young players and experienced veterans who can get them over the line in tough games. It is a template that Dortmund should look at copying if they want David to emerge victorious once again.

Stirling League Win Review- how did we do it?

With all football grinding to a halt as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, there haven’t been too many other things to talk about. Bearing that in mind, I’m going to do something a little different today and have a look back over my football side’s (Stirling University 3s) league win this season. We finished the season with 25 points from a possible 30, with a combination of quality coaching and good football making us an exciting watch. So how did we do it?

0-0 away vs Strathclyde 2s

We’d been playing in a Saturday league prior to our BUCS campaign getting underway and we hadn’t started too well; from what I remember, we gave away around five penalties in our first six games and didn’t keep a single clean sheet. As this was my first year taking part in university football, I wasn’t too sure what to expect when we were to go up against another side full of students.

However, in a game against the team who would go on to be our closest title rivals, we put in a pretty solid performance. It was a rainy game and we had the better of the first half, with our opposition controlling the second period a bit more. We had to grind for a while and I think a draw was a fair result in the end, so a point on the board and a first clean sheet were very welcome.

1-0 win at home vs Glasgow 3s

Another solid performance gave us hope that we could string together a decent run of form. Our opposition weren’t particularly strong and they didn’t really create too much, with our defence snuffing out any opportunities that did present themselves. However, we didn’t offer too much ourselves and our main chance in the first half came in the form of a penalty- which we missed.

We managed to find a winner in the second half courtesy of a very good finish from one of our central midfielders, a nice curling effort from just outside the penalty area. We were able to see out the game and pick up our first three points of the season.

4-1 win away vs Aberdeen 2s

A long trip up to Aberdeen brought our first resounding win of the season. We hadn’t scored too many goals before this, so it was nice to send out a message to the league telling them our strikers were a force to be reckoned with. I remember my legs feeling a bit heavy during this game after a busy opening to the season, and this contributed to them pulling a goal back when we were 3-0 up.

It didn’t matter too much, however, as we were already pretty comfortable. We cut through their defence with ease using quick switches of play and scored some nice goals, which contributed to a fun drive home later on. Seven points from nine represented a very good start.

3-0 win away vs Herriot Watt 2s

Next up was a trip to Edinburgh to face Heriot Watt 2s, where my younger brother is undergoing an apprenticeship; I invited him to come to watch and he wasn’t disappointed. Again, we played some fast flowing football (we were particularly effective when counter attacking) and scored plenty to bolster our goal difference.

Our performance levels dropped in the closing stages of the game and again some good defending was required to keep a clean sheet, but again we couldn’t complain after the fast start we had made and the result kept us in the hunt for the title.

1-0 win at home vs Robert Gordon 2s

This was, without a doubt, our worst performance in the BUCS season so far. We opted to start with a different formation in the hope that we could rip this team to shreds- they were rooted to the bottom of the table at this point. It backfired, however, and we had to change shape pretty quickly. It had a lasting effect, however, and a combination of poor performances led to a below par showing.

We still managed to get the job done though, with a late goal and a red card for the opposition helping us greatly. This meant that after half of our league fixtures being fulfilled, we were joint top of the table with Strathclyde and the only points either of us had dropped were to each other.

5-0 win at home vs Aberdeen

It was Aberdeen’s turn to visit us next, and they probably wished they hadn’t. In a game where we showed all of our attacking capabilities, they never had a chance to get going and we were ruthless when creating and taking chances.

Me and my fellow defenders were very rarely troubled and were able to pass out from the back effectively, leading to some nice passing moves further up the pitch as well. After another win, things were really heating up at the top of the table.

2-1 win at home vs Strathclyde 2s

You guessed it- our next game was against our main title rivals, Strathclyde. Unfortunately, I had an exam at the same time and so was unable to play (perhaps fortunately, as I’d injured myself on a night out a few days before). If there had been one game this season I didn’t want to miss it would have been this one, but that’s the way it worked out.

From what I’ve been told, it was a very good game and one typical of a title decider. We were 2-0 up after some well worked goals and despite giving one back in the second half, a makeshift defence was able to see out the game and claim a vital three points.

3-1 win at home vs Heriot Watt

The main thing I remember from this game is the weather- it was absolutely dreadful. The pitch was in dire condition and I feel sorry for the three of my friends who braved the conditions to come and watch from the sidelines.

For the first time this season, we went behind in a BUCS game after a good glancing header from one of the Heriot Watt strikers. This seemed to spark us into action, and we responded quickly. After going ahead just before half time, we put the game to bed after the break and quickly headed for a hot shower. We would have taken three points no matter the level of performance prior to the game given the weather, and that’s what we got.

4-0 win away vs Robert Gordon

We knew that the league wasn’t won yet, but what we did know was that a minimum of 4 points from our final two games would guarantee us the title. Another trip up to Aberdeen brought us our first three, and it was our latest ruthless performance that earned it. Barring a heated yellow card challenge from myself in the first half, it was a very composed performance. Our tactics were spot on and we never looked like letting them into the game.

After the game, however, we found out that Strathclyde had dropped points to Glasgow and we had therefore won the league with a game to spare. Wild celebrations, and a fun night out in Aberdeen, ensued.

3-2 loss away vs Glasgow

It’s just as well we won up at Robert Gordon, because our last game of the season was diabolical. It’s a shame this was the case, as it was the last BUCS game for a number of boys who are leaving university at the end of the year. It would have been nice for them to go out with a win.

We played extremely poorly, there’s no denying that. We didn’t look up for it until Glasgow scored, and despite equalising twice we didn’t look like we were going to win the game. A last minute winner brought an end to our ‘invincible’ dreams, and some poorly chosen words aimed at the referee earned me a red card after the full time whistle.

Promotion confirmed

Overall, however, this was an extremely successful season. Expectations were not high going into the campaign and we emerged with 25 points and, therefore, promotion to a higher league. A number of good performances, both as individuals and as a team, made this possible, and our coach’s tactics were usually spot on as well (apart from an infamous 3-4-3 setup in our first game against Robert Gordon). Sorry Bryan.