Weekly Thoughts From Around Europe

Celtic, Untouchables for the 2nd season in a row?

The first Glasgow derby of the new season took place at Ibrox on Saturday and in terms of what we can gauge for the new season, it’s clear that not only will Celtic canter to another SPFL title, there’s also a real possibility for Celtic to go unbeaten once again in the domestic season. Rangers entered the game missing 4 defenders, two of whom would have been sure starters; Bruno Alves and Lee Wallace, meaning they had to line up against a full strength Celtic side with untested Ross McRorie at centre back and Lee Hodson at left back. Although they both acquitted themselves admirably in the circumstances, the chasm of quality between the two sides was apparent for all to see.

Although the game was a stalemate at half time, it was clear from the first half that the attacking quality within Celtic’s ranks would likely prove too much for their rivals after the interval, and so it proved as goals from Tom Rogic and Leigh Griffiths gave the league leaders a thoroughly deserved win. Although Celtic’s rear guard was tested all too sparingly throughout the match, Craig Gordon did have to make a crucial save at 1-0 to keep Rangers from levelling, albeit undeservedly.

Though Rangers do look like they have improved upon last season with the arrival of Graham Dorrans, Ryan Jack and Bruno Alves, it’s clear that Celtic just have too much quality within their ranks and a second season unbeaten is certainly not out with the realms of possibility. For Rangers, a battle for 2nd place with Aberdeen, Hibernian and Hearts will surely be the litmus test for Pedro Caixinha.

 

Mourinho’s 2nd season delight

Manchester United have started the season in exhilarating fashion, winning 5 and drawing 1 of their first 6 games and boasting a goal difference of +15 after a series of fast, attacking displays. After 4 years in the doldrums since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure and a style of play under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal at odds with the traditions of the club, Jose Mourinho has seemingly shaped a squad which has the ability to not only win, but win with the style that the higher-ups at Old Trafford require. The recruitment in the summer was smart – Romelu Lukaku providing the instincts in front of goal to convert the multitude of chances that the team was creating (and missing) last season, Matic as the barrier between defence and midfield who allows Pogba to effect the play further forward and the shrewd re-signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic who will give the club a boost when he returns to the squad after Christmas.

Though there has been much to admire about United in the first 6 games from an attacking standpoint, the biggest warning to the rest of the league came perhaps at St Mary’s on Saturday. Any team managed by Jose Mourinho are under no illusion that hard work and a willingness to put team over individual is paramount, therefore it was heartening to see Juan Mata, Mkhitaryan and Rashford unselfishly sacrificing some of their attacking instincts to track back and work so tirelessly in midfield to stop the supply lines to the Southampton forwards. A 1-0 win was the reward for the work put in by the United side and that balance between obvious attacking impetus and a dogged determination to stop the other side from playing, coupled with Mourinho’s seeming knack to win the league title in his second season, could very well see the trophy back at Old Trafford in May.

 

Peter Bosz – getting it right at Dortmund?

I’ll admit to being a little sceptical at the summer appointment of Peter Bosz, taking over from Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund in the summer. Though Bosz’s Ajax team had done exceptionally well to make the Europa League Final (before being tactically outclassed by Jose Mourinho) their form in the league and their style of play always struck me as tactically naive – adopting an EXTREMELY strong press and sending waves of players upfield which constantly left the defence out at sea, seemed to me to be tactics that would not translate to a stronger league than the Dutch Eredivisie. There may be a healthy slice of humble pie being eaten by myself though as Dortmund beat Gladbach 6-1 at the weekend to go 2 points clear of Hoffenheim in second and 3 clear of Bayern who were held at home by Wolfsburg.

Dortmund were 3-0 up by half-time as wave after wave of attack overwhelmed a Gladbach team who are notoriously hard to beat. Though that attacking mentality did leave Dortmund short at the back on a few occasions, notably a chance that Thorgan Hazard would like to have back, it was as routine a win for Bosz’s men as they are ever likely to have. Sterner tests are still to come and it remains to be seen if this ‘gung-ho’ mentality will play well against the strength of Bayern, but for now; Bosz deserves to bask in the credit he is being given.

 

Weekly Thoughts From Around Europe