Style and football: Are things finally looking up for MK Dons under Paul Tisdale?

Paul Tisdale
Photo: MK Citzen

Lets start from the beginning

The appointment of Paul Tisdale at MK Dons on the 6th of June 2018 surprised some but maybe not MK Dons fans as whispers of his imminent arrival was hot on the lips of many fans who attend Stadium MK. Tisdale hadnt agreed new terms with Exeter City with whom he was the longest serving manager in English football after Arsene Wenger had left Arsenal.

Exeter City

Having led Exeter for the last 12 years Tisdale, for the majority, had an excellent relationship with the board and fans but cracks had started to appear with fans becoming increasingly anxious at his refusal to change his style of play. This came to a head in April away at Stevenage last season in a 3-1 loss. Fans were clearly disgruntled and chants of ‘Tisdale out’ rang across the Lamex Stadium despite Exeter sitting in fourth place in League 2. Steve Perryman, then director of football at Exeter, bizarrely started his own chant of ‘Theres only one Paul Tisdale’ which probably didn’t help matters at all.

Fast forward to May 2018 and the aformentioned whispers were gathering pace. Darren Ferguson, Simon Grayson and then caretaker manager Keith Millen were names being mentioned in regards to the vacancy left by the unfortunate but inevitable sacking of the very likeable Dan Micciche.

Yeh get on with it, whats changed?

Im getting there, stay with me.

Having spent time at Stadium MK around the first team it was clear to me that all wasnt well but the players clearly knew what was required but moral was ok considering but the legacy from the sackings of firstly Robbie Neilson then Dan Micchie to the brief stint of Keith Millen the players were asked to play in different styles with different tactics and do different things in training and all in a relatively short space of time with Micchie given from January to April to implement his ideas in an already pressurised situation with MK in a relagation fight and seemingly very little light at the end of the tunnel.

Players and fans were together for the most part with the latter doing their upmost to stay with the team in what was looking back, inevitable relagation.

After the Rochdale game last season Micciche had said he wanted 6 wins plus 4 more points to stay up.

Micciche’s wishes in numbers

Needless to say it didnt happen and Dons were relgated and big changes were needed. No matter what calculations i tried i couldnt get MK higher than 22nd.

Example of one calculation

Enter stage left a smartly dressed man born in Malta.

Tisdale and a new era

“Tisdale is renowned for ensuring his teams play short and tidy football” – Sky Sports top ten League managers 2008

Tactically Paul Tisdale is one of, if not the best at League 2 level in regards to his teams playing style and game management.

Tisdale’s Exeter sides in more recent seasons have played attractive, crowd pleasing football now results have varied with the highlight being a League 2 play off final last season albeit being well beaten by an excellent Marc McNulty inspired Coventry City side.

Tisdale seemed to prefer a 4-3-3 shape whilst at Exeter but his thinking seems to have changed somewhat at MK Dons starting in pre season with variations on a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 as shown below in a pre season friendly against Oxford United

MK Dons 4-4-1-1 vs Oxford United

This clearly shows Tisdale’s ability to adapt to the players at his disposal and rightly so he is the manager after all.

A summer of much needed new faces

The signings of Jordan Moore-Taylor at centre back and the welcome return of Joe Walsh alongside him have added strength to a defence that leaked 69 league goals last season.

But more importantly the addition of England Under 20 midfielder Jordan Houghton a confident passer and mature midfielder has been excellent business, MK Dons missed a ball playing midfielder like Houghton last year who could control the pace of a game, a much needed quality missing since the days of Darren Potter some might say. With the aid of a long awaited return from injury of Alex Gilbey the Dons midfield is finally looking much more solid.

Ryan Harley, Lawson D’Ath, Ryan Watson, Mitch Hancox, and Robbie Simpson all came to Stadium MK all in relative quick succession it must be said and this points to Tisdale getting his house in order early so as to get plenty of time with the players and getting them into a system he believes they will be at their best in, being tactically flexible is a fantastic quality to have as a coach as well as being able to stick to a playing style of course.

The appointments of Matt Oakley, Danny Butterfield and Tisdale’s DOF at Exeter Steve Perryman to the backroom staff is equally as important.

Starting the campaign well

Opening game vs Oldham (A)
First home game vs Bury

My pass maps above show the passing networks by MK Dons in the first two games and its clear to see how much more compact the team are this year. With the two wins one away at Oldham and the second at home to Bury setting up in a 4-2-3-1 away at Oldham and a 3-4-2-1 (both are variations on Tisdale’s favoured 4-3-3) against Bury the flexibility of the team not only reflects on the manager but also the fact the players have brought in to what he wants them to do something which was badly missing last season.

Of course every manager wants to start a season well and as i said to people associated with the club building a winning mentality is key especially after last year and Tisdale seems to have done that so far with the Dons sitting in 3rd position in League 2 with 2 wins and and two draws after 4 games and with 6 different goal scorers already the signs are looking good.

I sense there’s a but coming

I have watch every game under Tisdale this year (apart from one pre season game in Spain) mostly on Wyscout due mainly to moving house and its clear things have changed for the better but im sure most Dons fans will agree that striking options are not at a premium with Chuks Aneke’s (top scorer last year with 9 league goals) future in doubt and Kieron Agard’s issues in hesitating when chances come his way this still needs to be sorted come January if no loan deals can be arranged before then with Robbie Simpson the only real option apart from the younger players Dylan Asonganyi, Sam Nombe and the pacey Brandon Thomas-Asante of course.

I have gone on way to long and i hope its been interesting and i will revisit how things have progressed later on in the season.

Thanks for reading!

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

What can we expect from Aston Villa this season: Tactical preview 18-19

With the EFL Championship season nearly upon us I thought I would take a look at what Steve Bruce may have in his mind, formation and tactics wise, going into the season opener away at Hull City on Monday.

Starting with a diamond shape and some quick fire notes on some of the players, I wanted to see how some of these Aston Villa players could affect the structure and tactics of the starting eleven.

Preseason and the Jack Grealish conundrum

4-4-2 (Diamond)

4-4-2 (diamond)
Aston Villa in a 4-4-2 diamond formation

At the time of writing Aston Villa fans are still unsure whether Jack Grealish will be staying especially with the news Spurs are looking to make a bid for Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook. Jack Grealish has been heavily involved in pre season and has looked sharp and raring to go but whether that will be at Villa Park remains to be seen.

The Scottish Cafu

Alan Hutton, especially at left back, would still be a safer option over Taylor as I believe his contribution in the playoff semi final games against Middlesbrough alone showed exactly the qualities and toughness needed in the Championship. A new contract shows the faith Bruce has in the Scotsman and his aggression and tough tackling and the balance he brings to the back four seems to work. But with the news Joe Bryan of Bristol City maybe a transfer target this could be even better attacking wise.

Two up top

Now is the time I feel to play two up front. Jonathan Kodija struggles when being a lone front man as does Scott Hogan and the two would work well together with Jonathan Kodija preferring to drop deeper and Scott Hogan loving the timed runs in behind. I would hope for a 20-25 goal haul between these two at least especially with Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah supplying good service.

Last year, although getting to the playoffs, going forward wasn’t much of a problem but in key games the finishing let Villa down with games at Derby County, Millwall and Middlesbrough all getting away from Villa with them failing to score a goal in two of those games all toward the business end of the season and in all three games they played with a sole central striker in Lewis Grabban.

Back to the diamond shape above and in my opinion this is Jack Grealish’s most suited role. His dribbling ability in these areas means in attacking phases he can play between the lines but also be able to do his defensive work as well.

This shape can also be easily tweaked slightly to make the flat 4-4-2 with Jack on the left hand side of midfield but this is not ideal of course.

To Thor or not to Thor?

Birkir Bjarnason, affectionately know as Thor to some fans,  has possibly shown enough in pre season to be in the starting eleven ahead of Mile Jedinak and Glenn Whelan although either of the three have the defensive ability but can be limiting forward thinking wise but overall Birkir Bjarnason is the more mobile of the three. The only issue with this set up is that it could leave Ahmed El Mohamady and Alan Hutton exposed at full back but there should be enough defensive know how in this 11 to cope with that.

Hit the road Jack

It is clear Jack Grealish is the most vital cog in the Aston Villa’s  mechanism and is somewhat of a talisman but can Villa still function without him? The simple answer is of course is that they will have to and there are alternatives.

Aston Villa in a flat 4-4-2 formation
Aston Villa attacking shape in the 4-4-2

4-4-2 (flat)

This flat 4-4-2, omitting Jack Grealish in the starting eleven, could well be a good option for Villa should he leave the club.

The full backs can still get forward knowing Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury are able to cover the respective defensive third areas on either flank should there be a turnover in possession by the opposition. The former still has the role of backing up the left hand side with the pace of Andre Green who often opts to dart inside the opposition midfield and defensive line.

Jonathan Kodija, as mentioned before, likes to drop deeper to receive the ball which means runs from Albert Adomah and Andre Green can be found by balls laid off to Conor Hourihane or Henri Lansbury.

The favored shape of last season, the 4-1-4-1

Within this system Aston Villa found there niche and it brought them relative success given that when Steve Bruce switched to this shape in early November the charge for the playoffs really began and his team picked up momentum bar a few stumbling blocks.

Glenn Whelan was usually deployed as the holding midfielder along with Mile Jedinak on occasion and it worked well.

Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury will have more freedom to go forward meaning Aston Villa will have a type of front five but with added pace in Andre Green instead of the more reserved earlier crosser and West Ham loanee Robert Snodgrass.

Full backs will still have a license to support Green and Albert Adomah down the flanks and overall this is a more solid, albeit defensively, formation.

One issue is that Aston Villa would have that lone front man but this time it will be a more mobile center forward in Jonathan Kodija who does have the ability to hold the ball up and has pace unlike Lewis Grabban who was on loan from Bournemouth last season.

Aston Villa in the popular 4-1-4-1 shape from last season
Aston Villa in an attacking shape in a 4-1-4-1 shape


The typical 4-2-3-1 was only employed on a handful of occasions last season by Steve Bruce possibly due to Robert Snodgrass and his defensive limitations in covering his full back but this shouldn’t be a problem in Andre Green who being young and hungry has the energy to do what Snodgrass wouldn’t always do.

Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane again will be allowed to support Jonathan Kodija or Scott Hogan whichever would be selected as either in this shape could do the job given that they would be guaranteed support from the attacking central midfield position which could be filled by  Henri Lansbury or better still, but whisper it, Jack Grealish.

Service and support would be plentiful to the striker from Andre Green and Albert Adomah both not only having  pace and crossing ability but also both can play on either flank for differing deliveries in to the box. When attacking, the pair can afford to be much more direct and cut in field more to open up shooting opportunities for themselves.

Two of Conor Hourihane, Birkir Bjarnason, Glenn Whelan and Mile Jedinak will be deployed in the two holding midfield positions and if the mixture of the two is right and the double pivot (one defensively minded) is used in the attacking phase this shape could prove fruitful.


Aston Villa in a 4-2-3-1 shape
Aston Villa in the 4-2-3-1 shape with wide and direct attacking options

4-3-3? probably not

This brings me on to the shape Steve Bruce favored against Dynamo Dresden in the last pre season game and one I haven’t covered yet, the 4-3-3 (apart from the awful 3-5-2, Bruce doesn’t yet have three center backs in his squad). For this I have used some positional data to show the average positions taken up by Aston Villa players during the game.

In the first image we have the first half which was the majority of the game where the eleven on the pitch stayed the same and in the following two images show some positions after some of the changes but throughout the game the same 4-3-3 shape remained. Bruce didn’t play this shape bar on two occasions last year so it was refreshing to see this happen.



I know, it’s a pre season game and I could have picked from a few but I chose the Dynamo Dresden game because of the shape Aston Villa set up in and although it being obvious from these graphics Aston Villa took advantage of Dynamo Dresden’s weaker left hand side the numbers were better pass wise than we have seen last year especially from Glenn Whelan who made 64 passes in the game (he made an average of 43 per game last year) this meant Whelan was much more of an outlet. Jack Grealish received 16 passes off Whelan and Hutton 14 so could this mean Steve Bruce sees Whelan as the first choice CDM? Has he got the energy that Bjarnason possesses? Only time will tell.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Squad ages in the EFL Championship: Age and experience or youth and exuberance?

SkyBetEFLIt is an age old question (no pun intended), is age and experience a necessary part when building a squad of players ahead of a busy and hectic season? Or could a squad built up mainly of younger players do the job? Or possibly a mixture of both? The latter would be the more common one would of thought.

This is never more true of importance when playing in the Sky Bet Championship with the league having a reputation of being one of the toughest leagues not only to get promoted from but being tough in general with a 46 game season of Saturday-Tuesday/Wednesday-Saturday flow of games plus cup competitions a squad is stretched to its limit.

Most coaches and managers will usually prefer a mixture of youth and experience in this league but looking at the graphic below we can see the average age of an EFL Championship squad doesn’t vary greatly. The league average across all teams is 26.4 years of age from the youngest in Brentford with an average age of 24.1 with Ipswich Town closest to them with an average age of 24.2 and QPR (24.6) and newly promoted Wigan (25) not far behind those two.

Squad Ages EFL
Average Squad ages for all teams in the EFL Championship 2018-19 season

Tony Pulis is well known to rely on experienced older players in his teams and at Middlesbrough his method is no different with them having the oldest squad average age in the league at 28.4. Now although at 28 you aren’t classed as old of course but this is a fairly high average in a squad that needs to be able to play a big number of games over the course of the season.

If then the older more experienced players get injured and Pulis has to rely more on the younger players then this could affect Middlesbroughs’ final league position.

Give the youngsters a go!

A cry heard on social media and from various fanzines is that younger players should be given a chance to impress the manager instead of the same old players a manager usually relies on so can we make an argument for finishing higher in the league based on the age of the squad at your disposal?

Out of the teams listed in the graphic above (we are looking at this seasons teams not last seasons), Middlesbrough were the second highest ranking team finishing 5th in the league and reaching the play offs. But they were beaten in the play off semi final by Aston Villa who have an average age of 27. 9 very close to the average age of Middlesbrough.

To sum up, the two oldest squads in the Championship finished in the highest positions not including the three promoted sides Wolves, Fulham and Cardiff.

Experience is vital

Below is a graphic showing, sorry proving, that experience is not only vital but a necessity in not only what experience obviously brings on and off the pitch but also busting a myth that older players would struggle with a vast amount of games and for this i will use Aston Villa as an example.

AVFC squad Matriz
Aston Villa squad ages and minutes played in the 17-18 season

We can see here that the oldest players played the most amount of minutes in Aston Villa’s march to the playoffs with 7 out of the top ten oldest players in their squad playing 2000 plus minutes, okay its not a huge amount across some of them but the oldest being former Chelsea legend John Terry at 37 years old playing 3081 minutes which equates to roughly 35 games an excellent return given he missed a good portion of games through injury and would surely have played more games.

Glenn Whelan (34), Robert Snodgrass (30), Mile Jedinak (33), Albert Adomah (30), and Bournemouth loanee’ Lewis Grabban all played a significant role and a decent amount of minutes in Aston Villa’s season and although 30 is still no age i reiterate that a 46 game season is along haul.

Aren’t you going to mention how younger squads get on then?

So there is still a very good case to have a squad in the Championship that is pretty much spot on or just above the league average of 26.4 years of age which translates by last seasons finishing positions as a play off spot at least using Middlesbrough and Aston Villa as examples.

An argument for this is that Brentford who have the youngest squad in the league finished 9th last year with second youngest Ipswich finishing 12th so that is a gap of 4 places between Brentford and Boro’s final position of 5th.

Therefore could we say that the difference of 4.3 years of average age group in your squad is worth a place for every year your squad is older?  possibly due to the experience you may have added to your squad?

Swings and roundabouts of course as there are many other factors to think about within a football team but it is something to think about when recruiting players in transfer windows as it seems having a higher percentage of top level, experienced players in your squad would pay off more as in a 60/40 split perhaps especially in the EFL Championship.

Gareth Cooper

All graphics compiled by GC Analytics

Alfonso Davies- A boy not yet a wonder kid

“I used to play as Bayern on FIFA, i never thought i would play for them!”- Alfonso DaviesA Davies bayern

Bayern Munich’s acquisition of a 17 year old would probably normally go unnoticed in the world of football but the signing of the Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies caught the attention of a lot of people within the footballing community, mine included.

Davies rise from fleeing a refugee camp in Ghana to signing for one of Europe’s top teams is nothing short of what every young footballers dreams are made of so i thought i would take a look at how and where it all began for the now Canadian international.

A significant move

Alfonso Davies’ Liberian parents Debeah and Victoria had fled their homeland after the breakout of the second civil war to hit the country since 1999 and had settled in Budubaram a refugee camp in the Gamoa east district in Ghana.

This was to be the birthplace of Alphonso Boyle Davies on the 2nd of November 2000 and after living in the camp for a little over 4 and a half years Debeah decided to move his young family (he openly admits mainly for the benefit of Alphonso) to Windsor, Ontario and then a year later to Edmonton some 780 miles east of Vancouver a move which would prove to be significant later on in Alphonso’s life.

It was here in Edmonton that Davies enrolled on to a free football program for impoverished young people and then progress to playing for a local team called the Edmonton Strikers of which would come a friendship that would prove invaluable to Davies. Davies first met Nick Househ when Davies joined the team he coached and for 8 years and through playing football, attending school Davies led a typical young boys life all the while being helped and guided along the way by Househ.

Househ’s influence and friendship to not only Alphonso ,but also his family, would become the pillar of what would follow. Whilst Debeah and Victoria worked Househ would drive the young Alphonso Davies to and from training, they would hang out together and talk like friends and Househ was clearly a big influence on him with Davies saying ‘he treated me like his son’.

In February 2016 Alphonso Davies joined the Whitecaps FC residency and was also invited and went on the Vancouver Whitecaps pre-season tour in 2016 and later on that year Davies officially signed a contract with Whitecaps FC 2, who play their game in the USL, making him the youngest player ever to be signed by a club in the league (he was 15). He scored two goals in eleven games.

The boys a bit special isn’t he?

It was clear that Davies could have the ability to achieve great things even at such a young age. His direct running with the ball, his close control, calmness in front of goal and excellent delivery was shining through already. He was just too good to not have in the first team so into the MLS he went with the Vancouver Whitecaps after being named on the official roster for 2016 and at the same time signing a short term contract albeit with options for further more years.

He is still only 16.

Davies made his MLS debut on July 16th becoming the second youngest player to appear in the MLS with only Freddy Adu ahead of him. A first goal came against Ottawa Fury in a first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League tie scoring in injury time to earn his side a knockout berth in the next round. There were murmerings at clubs around Europe but nothing more.

The time had come for Davies to see how he would fare in the Canadian international set up and after passing a citizenship test meaning he could now be eligible to play for Canada Davies played for the Under 17’s then the Under 20’s and in March 2017  Davies was named Male Player of the Year for his performances with the senior Canadian national team including scoring twice in a 4-2 win over French Guyana making him again the youngest scorer in Gold Cup history achieving all this whilst still only being 16 years of age.

A computer game becomes a reality

As it turned out clubs in Europe had heard of Davies with Liverpool, Manchester United and AC Milan all cited as having an interest in the pacy wide man playing in Canada. That being said his future employers in Germany were seemingly unaware of him at this point however true this is we may never know of course. Then out of the blue a UK based source close to  Bayern put them onto Davies and so the wheels began to turn.

Fast forward to 2018 and Bayern had come to the table with a very lucrative but pleasant offer on the table but with no agent up until now Davies decided to turn to the one man he could trust in football matters Nick Househ. Trouble was Househ wasn’t a registered agent and had zero experience in negotiating player contracts but not to be put off Househ registered with the Canadian FA and proceeded to represent his first and only client Alphonso Davies.

Both Davies and Househ have since said that Bayern were by far the most professional club they had spoken to with the current Bundesliga champions applying no pressure to Davies. Firstly he would not be going to Germany immediately instead Davies would stay in Vancouver until January 2019 to allow him and his family time to digest the move and the speed it came about. Secondly he would not be sent out on loan when he eventually arrives in Munich and would be assured of first team minutes and thirdly and more importantly Davies family would be looked after in every regard although the specifics of this are understandably unclear at this time.

The final deal in itself is a contract that runs until 2023 with a base fee of $13.5 million USD (£10.2 million) with performance related bonuses that could reach as high as $22 million USD (£16.7 million), this is a record for the MLS. Not huge figures in terms of transfer fees these day but remember Alphonso Davies won’t be 18 until November.

I personally cannot wait to see how Alphonso Davies gets on at Bayern and with them having an excellent record with younger players he should excel there.

Gareth Cooper

Arsenal v Chelsea, FA Cup Final 2017

One mananger has taken the Premier league by storm the other has had a rather ‘alternative’ season. 

Antonio Conte and his Chelsea team have been pretty much faultless all season beating pretty much everyone who comes before them, winning the league and now on the brink of the double should they beat Arsene Wenger and his, some may say, underachieving Arsenal side at Wembley today.

Wenger has had a tough time in recent months with sections of the Emirates faithful playing judge, jury and executioner with multiple banners and protests being in situe at matches toward the latter part of the season and not to mention the rants by supporters on Arsenal Fan TV. But Wenger still stands firm and is expected to sign a 2 year deal despite others thinking he should do the reverse and let a more pragmatic possibly younger coach take the reigns.

This of course doesnt matter today in all honestly as the FA Cup stands alone in respect of if Arsenal beat there fellow Londoners it may appease some Gunners fans (possibly) but with Europa League football next year things long term may not be so rosy for the Frenchman.

Conte, the charismatic and passionate Italian has charmed his way into the hearts of the Shed End at Chelsea and with just cause. They never looked like blowing their lead even with a youthful and energetic Spurs side hanging onto their coat tails. 

So to todays game and one would assume their is alot riding for both sides. Conte will still have his team pumped without a doubt and Wenger will see a win today as a message to state he can still lead his team in big games.

Key battles

Laurent Koscielny banned after his moment of madness against Everton last week and he will be a miss especially against the robustness and willing runner in Diego Costa. Per Mertesacker may come in for him as Gabriel is also out injured again against Everton. Aaron Ramsey has fine FA Cup pedigree in goalscoring terms and should play in place of Coquelin. Mesut Ozil needs a performance today having been a tad lacklustre in recent games and the PFA player of the year N’golo Kante will be tasked with disrupting the flow of the German aswell as Alexis Sanchez.

For Chelsea Cesc Fabregas should play against his old side in place of Nemanja Matic with no other changes to the regular starting 11 for Antonio Conte. At the back, David Luiz will be keen to keep Olivier Giroud quiet.

Wing backs v Full backs

The key battle i believe will be on the flanks. Wenger’s recent change to play a 3-4-2-1  had its issues early on but it has come good and will have to be at its strongest today against the attacking nouse of the 3-4-3 that Conte has brought to Chelsea. Can Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding halt the charge if Victor Moses and Pedro? Mirrored on the other flank against Mustafi and Bellerin is Eden Hazard and Marcus Alonso. Of course Arsenal will be a threat going the other way so the reverse applies but either way this is where the game will be won and lost with the Chelsea front 3 stretching and moving that Arsenal back 3/5 around, Hazard in particular is hard to track cutting in and popping up in between the lines so Xhaka and Ramsey will need to be aware. Wenger will also be cautious that Bellerin and Monreal may be overran by the double threat down their respective flanks with Chelsea playing Alonso and Moses high up the pitch with Pedro and Hazard. Will Arsenal look for a high line to counter the threat of the passing range of Fabregas over the top for Costa? Dont doubt that Arsenal will be a threat with Sanchez, Ozil and with Giroud at set pieces.
Gareth Cooper


Ajax v Manchester United 24/5/17, Stockholm

Jose Mourinho and his players will be facing an in form and confident Ajax side who in the first leg of their semi final blew away Lyon with a 4-1 home win. That first leg was immensely impressive from a side with an average age of 21 and although they nearly came unstuck  in the second leg the boys from Amsterdam went through into their first final since the glory days of Patrick Kluivert. Can the son of a Dutch legend repeat his fathers efforts in a European competition?Justin will be certainly be hoping so in Stockholm this evening. Looking at my graphic above i hadnt accounted for Viergever being suspended with Riedewald probably moving to left back for Ajax.  Having won just 3 of the last 6 games the season didnt end greatly for the Dutchmen but this is a massive game for the youn men and form shouldnt play a part.

Much has been said about Mourinho resting key players ahead of the Final but i still believe Carrick will be left out of the 11 with the fit again Juan Mata taking his place of course i may be wrong but i woukd rather fight fire with fire as Ajax can come at you fast and they move the ball extremely well and with pace and can well be out of sight should you let them with Kasper Dolberg will be a menace as will Chelsea man Betrand Traorè and midgield maestro Klaassen. Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic United have looked like they lack leadership and tonight they will need one. Pogba, Herrera and Valencia amongst others come into the starting 11 after being rested at the weekend. 

Essentially it is men against boys but if Ajax can get the first goal i think they will go on to victory.

My prediction: 2-1

Gareth Cooper


Has Guardiola’s constant tinkering ruined City’s season?

Formation Played Won Drawn Lost Conceded Scored Win %

4-2-3-1       12 8 1 3 11 24 66%

4-1-4-1 7 3 4 0 6 13 42%

4-3-3 6 6 0 0 4 15 100%

3-4-2-1 2 0 1 1 4 2 0%

3-4-3 1 0 1 0 1 1 0%

3-4-3 (Diamond) 1 0 1 0 4 2 0%

4-1-2-1-2 1 0 0 1 4 0 0%

After last night’s defeat to Chelsea and my constant frustration at not being able to predict Pep’s starting eleven for Manchester City I thought I would take a deeper look at if his constant messing around with his team selection and formations has hampered his sides title charge and what could be the solution.

The table above shows the basic win percentages of these team shapes in the Premier League this season. In more recent games Pep has tried to persevere with the 4-1-4-1 shape with Yaya Toure in the holding role in front of a back four of Clichy, Stones, Otamendi and Sagna/Zabaleta but even this has been infrequent and with a win percentage of 42% should he of stuck with it a bit more?.

The bottom four in that table can be discounted as these seem to be more of an experimental time in his tenure but injuries could be a factor in these set ups. Guardiola does like to play with 3 at the back if he and when he can with usually Stones, Otamendi and Kolarov/Zabaleta with wing backs Clichy and Sagna operating on the flanks but also moving in to the centre of midfield so that the back three can spread out to not only receive the ball from the goalkeeper but to make the pitch as wide as possible to make the opposition attackers have to work harder.

4-3-3 clearly worked with a 100% win percentage albeit only for six games with the best, and last of them coming in a 0-2 win away against Sunderland on the 5 March. Although facing a weaker opposition in Sinderland City were in total control and with Toure sitting Fernandinho covering aswell, Silva and the other front three were able to attack with gusto. This game did coincide with Kevin De Bruyne being injured so again maybe him being absent dictated team shape?

The main success from a formation point of view has been the 4-2-3-1 without a doubt in my opinion. The loss to Chelsea last night doesn’t contradict this in anyway. The selection of Delph instead of Toure was baffling to say the least with the Ivorian clearly better at a holding role that Delph and the call in the second half for him to come on never happened and if he had come on I think City would have snatched a point with his passing and driving forward attitude. Jesus Navas is not a wing back and although his performance last night was better against Arsenal at the weekend he was poor and clearly Bacary Sagna is the better choice but come the summer both he and Clichy may find themselves surplus to requirements.

In summary Guardiola hasn’t helped himself with his selections and I for one am disappointed that it has gone this way as I truly believe had he found the ideal shape and players for his team, just as Antonio Conte has at Chelsea, City really would have been a force to be reckoned with.

Gareth Cooper



EPL relegation potential finish

We all know that Sunderland will probably see the EFL Championships rough edginess before any one else that is probably a given in there current plight but what about the other potential relegation candidates?

All of the teams in the graphic above have had pretty poor seasons of some degree even the Champions Leicester City have only picked up of late after Ranieri’s departure. Paul Clement and Marco Silva have come in late at Swansea and Hull respectively and Slavan Bilic isnt having the best of times at West Ham. The home form of Burnley has kept them in the league albeit Sean Dyche is still doing a marvellous job year after year. The saviour that is Sam Alladyce has come in and sorted out the Palace defence and with a win at Champions elect Chelsea on saturday they are confident and should be, of avoiding the drop. Middlesborough should be worried.

Sunderland, Swansea and Boro all have to playsone top 6 sides in there remaining games as do Hull but they have a bit of an easier run in than the aformentiond three.

Whatever the outcome, by my calculations going by points per game, the teams run ins, goals per game and expected points total come the end of the season, i believe it is the men who play on Humberside at the KCOM stadium who will survive the drop. But anything can happen and with Hull playing at Chelsea on the final day two major finishes could be decided.
Gareth Cooper


Does Pep change City’s starting 11 too much?

Once again last night Guardiola named a starting eleven that was not the same as the previous game, or the one before that or the one before that or well you get the picture. Of course its his perogative after all he’s in charge they are his players and he is the one who picks a team to win games.

The problem is is that whilst they may win most games the ones they dont seem to coincide with a change in personnel and team shape. For instance yesterday night in the Stade Louis || Guardiola went with a) Kolarov at centre back when clearly he is incapable of performing in this role b) Toure dropped to the bench in favour of Fernandinho being more defensive minded. The latter being understandable to an extent the former just bizarre given Otamendi is fit and is a centre back unlike left back Kolarov.

City played in the 4-1-4-1 that has served them well of late and indeed it proved in the first leg with City winning 5-3 at the Etihad. But Toure played as the one infront of the back four and was exceptional in the role as he mostly always is. Fernandinho played at right back partly due to injuries but partly because Pep just does things like that. 

In no way can i say these are bad choices, what do i know compared to one of the greatest managers ever? However the inconsistencies of team selection must play a part in City losing games as they are not sure on a Thursday after training who is playing and where on the Saturday. Why would Otamendi be left out in favour of Kolarov? Why would Toure be left out in favour of Fernandinho? These players must wonder at times why? I play well so why am i in and out of a relatively successful team? It must be frustrating for the players but maybe they have all bought into Pep’s way of doing things i dont know but I would like to see a bit of consistency in that Mn City team others name starting elevens fairly regular even the top sides in Europe so why does Pep feel the need to chop and change match to match? Pep has never named the same starting eleven or shape for more than 3 games in a row strange for a team looking to win major trophies dont you think? 

This, for me, has been there downfall in not beating Chelsea to the title unless the team from West London totally implode of course. Players like consistency and yes of course the opposition, injuries and suspensions all dictate the starting eleven but no consistency has been shown at all from Pep is this the reason? 

Gareth Cooper


Monaco v Manchester City, 7:45pm, Stade Louis ||

Manchester City go to the principality of Monaco tonight to face a free scoring Monaco side but having won the first leg 5-3 Pep Guardiola’s men arent half bad infront if goal themselves. 

Its fair to say the first leg was nothing but pure entertainment with goals flying in. With City averaging 2 goals a game and Monaco 2.5 we should see more of the same tonight.

City have no new injury concerns. Guardiola will probably decide if Toure or Fernandinho plays in the holding role if he goes with his preferred 4-1-4-1 or if a 4-2-3-1 then both will play with possibly Kevin De Bruyne dropping to the bench.

Kamil Glik is suspended so Jemerdon should come in for him in the centre of the Monaco defence. Radamel Falcao has a hip issue but maybe risked.

Combined ExG – 2.51