Author Archives: mirsinho

N’Golo Kante: The Missing Piece in the Real Madrid Puzzle

​When N’Golo Kánte signed for Leicester City in 2015, he lifted the Premier League title nine months later. The following season, when the Frenchman moved to Chelsea, he again would have to wait only nine months before lifting the title for a second time. 

Coincidence? Absolutely not. This is just the the galvanising effect that a player of Kánte’s irresistible talent has on a team. 

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When he first arrived in England four years ago, the 28-year-old made his name as the archetypal ball-winning midfielder. Possessing the best midfield engine in the league, mythical stories emerged about Kánte’s superhuman stamina. 

Before he purchased his now iconic white Mini Cooper, the midfielder was convinced that it was feasible for him to run into training every day – before ​Leicester suggested that probably wasn’t the best idea.

His manager that season: Claudio Ranieri, even speculated in an interview with the ​Telegraph that: “One day, I’m going to see [him] cross the ball, and then finish the cross with a header [himself]. He’s unbelievable.”


As amusing and in many ways accurate as these tales were, the reduction of Kánte to an unglamorous, workhorse of a footballer was a perception that he had found difficult to shake – until recently. 

However, even in his inaugural Premier League campaign there were signs that the future France international was capable of so much more than winning the ball back…over…and over…and over again.

Though his midfield partner Danny Drinkwater earned the majority of plaudits for his sweeping long balls to Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, Kánte’s passing was also impressive. When he won the ball back – on average about nine times a game – there was no panicking. 

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He was composed and confident, capable of moving the ball on quickly to one of his teammates or even driving the ball forward of his own accord. It is often forgotten that Kánte registered four assists during his first Premier League season. Only the high tempo of the Foxes tactical style fooled people into thinking that he did not want the ball. 

Though there were early signs that Kánte would blossom into a star, the Frenchman’s development into one of the best players in the world would predominantly take place at Stamford Bridge. 

Under the tutelage of Antonio Conte and then Maurizio Sarri, the 28-year-old would morph into the ‘complete midfielder’, in the words of now manager, Frank Lampard. 

Patrick Barclay,N'Golo Kante

Initially deployed in a typical defensive-midfield berth under Conte, the team’s shift to a 3-4-2-1 formation after a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal revealed just how flexible and talented Kánte really was. His accomplished performances as the Blues’ linchpin in midfield earned the smiling midfielder the PFA Player of the Year award – an accolade that he should had received the season before. 

Under Sarri, Kanté’s role shifted again. Operating as the shuttling right-sided player in ​Chelsea’s midfield diamond, allowed him to develop the attacking side of his game. For the first time ever he got goals – scoring four – whilst also registering the same number of assists in the league. 

The constant evolution of Kánte’s role and responsibilities throughout his career demonstrate a number of things. One, he’s an agreeable personality, happy to fit into the team wherever he’s required. Two, he’s an incredible player, possessing the attributes required to make this sort of positional flexibility possible. Three, ​Real M​adrid need to sign him – now. 


So what makes him so perfect for Los Blancos? 

Well a lot of that comes down to the managerial style of Zinedine Zidane. 

Unlike Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Mauricio Pochettino who all posses coherent footballing philosophies, Zidane is a different kettle of fish. The Real boss has no fixed way of playing, focusing instead on building the best squad of players possible and keeping them all happy and able to express themselves.

Although his treatment of Gareth Bale this summer may suggest otherwise, there’s no denying that Zidane is an incredible man manager who would relish the chance of welcoming a personality like Kánte into his tight-knit dressing room. 

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Tactically speaking, the midfielder would also be a popular choice for Zizou. Zidane is infamous for changing formations frequently and in this regard Kánte positional flexibility would prove invaluable. 

The Frenchman offers a level of adaptability that current Los Blancos anchor man Casemiro is sorely lacking. There’s not denying that the Brazilian does what he does very well. He breaks up play aggressively and quickly lays it off to someone more creative, but he’s nowhere near as technically gifted or mobile as the mesmerising Kánte. 

Casemiro’s lack of mobility is likely to be cruelly exposed this season, especially in the Champions League – particularly is he continues to be partnered with the equally lumbering if remarkably talented pair: Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. 

The signing of Kánte provides almost a cheat code to get around these problems. 

N'Golo Kante

As his potential new teammate Eden Hazard once said in an interview with the Independent: “I think sometimes when I’m on the pitch I see him twice. One on the left, one on the right. I think I’m playing with twins!”

Two players for the price of one?! How could Real Madrid refuse? 

Quite simply, N’Golo Kánte is the best midfielder in the world and if Zinedine Zidane seriously wants to see Real Madrid conquer the world again, he has to make adding him to the squad his biggest priority.  


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All 20 Premier League Teams & Their NFL Counterparts

The NFL and the Premier League. Football and Football. The pigskin-throwing-one and the Sondico-booting one. This is a long-standing relationship. A ‘Special Relationship’, that has, away from the field, at least in recent, err, turbulent times, become fractured.

So, let’s go ahead and build some bridges with the good ol’ US of A by comparing all 20 of our football teams with theirs. Diplomacy, baybee. It’s my calling.

David James Prepares For Trip To Miami

To help with my diplomatic push, I’ve enlisted the help of David James, avowed Miami Dolphins fan, apparently, and asked him to look as juiced as Barry Bonds circa 2004. Thankfully, he obliged. With DJ by my side, nothing can go wrong.

Anyway, just FYI, some picks will be based on years of similar history, others will be grounded in the roots of the present and some will just be downright whimsical. Let’s go eat some W’s.


AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth v Sheffield United - Premier League

NFL Equivalent: Los Angeles Chargers

Tiny stadium sort of by the beach? Sponsored by Healthcare or Health insurance companies?

You’ve got yourself either the Vitality or Dignity Health Sports Park, and you’ve got yourself the Cherries and the Chargers.


Arsenal

Josh Morgan,Jay Cutler,Alshon Jeffery

NFL Equivalent: Chicago Bears

Two good, if tortured in recent times, teams with one glaring, gaudy, garish, gaping, great fat whole. 

For Arsenal, it’s the defence, obviously, in particular Shkodran ‘I Must Dive In Anywhere on the Field Regardless of the Consequences’ Mustafi. For the Bears, it’s quarterback Mitch ‘Mr Biscuit’ Trubisky. Imagine being both a designated leader of men and nicknamed Mr Biscuit.

It’s a death wish.


Aston Villa

A general view of the Seattle Skyline

NFL Equivalent: Seattle Seahawks

I’ll admit, there’s very little sporting evidence to support this, save for perhaps the scrapping similarities of Jack Grealish and Russel ‘Hustle and Bustle’ Wilson.

It’s more of a vibe thing. Both Birmingham and Seattle are a bit rainy, and both have historically good tv shows – in ‘Peaky Blinders’ and ‘Frasier’ – to perk their citizens up. You know, that kind of vibe.


Brighton

Glenn Murray

NFL Equivalent: Arizona Cardinals

Both of these teams have placed their faith in high-potential, untested, high-risk prospects, and they are Graham Potter (Geography teacher-looking tactician) and Kyler Murray (22-year-old QB stud who had his pick of both professional football and baseball in college). 

So yeah, they’re exactly the same. I mean, Brighton’s most potent attacker is called Murray, FFS (editor’s note: it’s actually Shane Duffy, the greatest footballer of all time).


Burnley

Ashley Barnes

NFL Equivalent: Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore and Burnley. Maryland and Lancashire. ‘The Wire’ and, err, a Sarah Lancashire show?

Anyway, there’s more than just location that puts these two peas in a pod. Both have their league’s greatest attacking entertainer, the most overbearing offensive overlord thus far this season.

That would be Lamar Jackson and Ashley Barnes, obviously. 


Chelsea

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Eric Mills (89)

NFL Equivalent: Pittsburgh Steelers

Two of the most successful teams of their lands losing their greatest (or two) players in the off-season, countering those losses with youthful hope and then starting off the season with drastic drubbings from rivals. 

See Chelsea. See the Steelers.


Crystal Palace

Roy Hodgson

NFL Equivalent: Oakland Raiders

Wide players who don’t/didn’t want to be there and old coaches. That’s it, that’s the tweet.


Everton

Deshaun Watson,Xavier Su'a-Filo,Chris Clark

NFL Equivalent: Houston Texans

Outshone by their doted on local rivals, these two sides perennially promise a lot, and then perennially a) come seventh or b) lose in the wild card round.


Leicester City

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NFL Equivalent: Philadelphia Eagles

Two teams who realised an unlikely, unprecedented and wondrous dream in the last few years, and haven’t stopped talking about it since. 

And yet, despite their against-the-odds triumphs, it hasn’t blunted their fighting spirit on the field, as they remain dark horse contenders to this day.


Liverpool

Jan,Game

NFL Equivalent: New England Patriots

Hold your horses, Reds. Let’s be clear, you are not the New England Patriots of the Premier League this century. You have not dominated the league for nigh-on 20 years – far, far from it. 

What you have, though, is an irrepressibly irritating fanbase, an ‘It Means More’ mentality and yeah, fine, some recent successes. That is what you share with the Patriots. To be honest, you’re far more Red Soxes than you are Patriots (John Henry, Fenway etc), but it’s not my fault the MLB isn’t marketable enough for an article like this, so Brady and Belichick it is.


Manchester City

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

NFL Equivalent: Los Angeles Rams

A difficult one, I won’t lie. There’s no real comparison point for Man City in the NFL, considering the counter-culturally socialist policies of the league. Their recent domination may be more in tune with the Patriots, but the models with which the two have achieved their success couldn’t be more disparate.

So, yeah, the Rams. The new lads on the block, ready to take Los Angeles by, err, tepid applause. To be fair, in Sean McVay, they do have the Pep Guardiola of the forthcoming generation, so it’s not all forced. May their coaching trees be tall and wide for the rest of eternity.


Manchester United 


NFL Equivalent: Dallas Cowboys

*Inserts spiderman meme* Christ, these two are identical twins. The bonafide team of their country, with historical success coming out of their ears, they’ve been thwarted in recent times by a geriatric board and insufficient coaching.

Oh, and for context, the above player is Jason Witten who, after a year of dour punditry following his retirement, has returned to the team for this season. Yes, it’s exactly like if Paul Scholes cowed to United fans’ pleas and returned to the side.


Newcastle United

Steve Bruce

NFL Equivalent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ageing coaches called ‘Bruce’ coming into ‘resurrect’ the team? A history of woulda, shoulda, coulda? Players who’ve been given chances they don’t deserve (Jonjo Shelvey and Jameis Winston)? Less than desirable owners (Mike Ashley and, yeah, the Glazers)?

That sounds about right. 


Norwich City

Teemu Pukki

NFL Equivalent: Green Bay Packers

Forget glory, forget trophies, this is about two arguably more important things. 

Firstly, kits – who doesn’t love a bit of yellow and green, AMIRITE?

Secondly, to paraphrase the great(?) Swae Lee, I can confirm that Teemu Pukki and Aaron Rodgers are in fact the same thing.


Sheffield United

David James Prepares For Trip To Miami

NFL Equivalent: Miami Dolphins

These two are tactical innovators. One deploys centre backs in attack, because why the hell not, and the other, well, the other is intentionally sh*te. Intentionally sh*te, that is, in order to get better players. That’s how it works over the pond.

Yeah, that’s right, Double David James. You know you love it.


Southampton 

Jimmy Graham

NFL Equivalent: New Orleans Saints

It’s Saints Corner! Oh When the Saints! I mean, sure, if you were going off history, relevance, greatness and all that, Ralph Hassenhuttl and co. would be closer to the ignominy of, I don’t know, the Detroit Lions. 

But here. Have Drew Brees and the food behemoth of New Orleans, lads. Just a little something from me to you. Enjoy.


Tottenham Hotspur

Harry Kane

NFL Equivalent: Minnesota Vikings

Tortured bottlers. Next?


Watford

Manchester City v Watford - Premier League

NFL Equivalent: Atlanta Falcons

The Hornets (via a Moose, for some reason) and the Falcons. They both fly, right? But also, terrible – albeit contrasting – losses in a recent final that they clearly haven’t got over etc etc.


West Ham United

Chad Pennington

NFL Equivalent: New York Jets

Something something bad team something something periphery something big city. Claim to have a storied history and a defined ‘way’. In reality, they’re just consistently lost/last. 

To be fair, at least the Jets have actually won a league title.


Wolves

Molineux Stadium

NFL Equivalent: Cleveland Browns

Deprived of success throughout their history and befit with an ugly, orangey colour scheme, these two sides are reinventing themselves, looking to upend their previous reputation and forge a new path.

Yes, their youthful naivety and shallow squad depth can still show up now and again, but the only way is up. Probably.


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Callum Hudson-Odoi & Reece James Close to Signing New Chelsea Contracts

Exclusive: Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James are close to signing new contracts with Chelsea – with both set to play an integral part in head coach Frank Lampard’s first team plans this season.

The pair have been sidelined with injury problems over the first few weeks of the campaign, but are expected to pen fresh terms with the Blues ahead of their respective returns to action.

Callum Hudson-Odoi

90min understands the teenagers will are likely to sign before the end of the month. The news on Hudson-Odoi is a particularly big boost for Chelsea given his current deal expires at the end of the season – and previous attempts to tie the player down had failed amid interest from Bayern Munich.

He made waves with a number of scintillating performances under Maurizio Sarri last term, with many Chelsea fans unhappy with their former manager’s reluctance to include the England international in his regular starting eleven in league games. Sarri’s hesitance to select the player also forced Hudson-Odoi to consider other options prior to Lampard’s appointment.

The 18-year-old has been out injured since April, when he was substituted with a ruptured Achilles during a 2-2 draw with Burnley. He is close to a return to the first team and is expected to feature for the club’s Under-23s, alongside James, on Friday night. The weekend’s trip to Wolves will come too soon for the player, but his return is expected this month.

The pair will benefit from Lampard’s long term plan, which has already seen the inclusions of number of young players in the first team during the early part of the season. Mason Mount in particular has impressed, while Tammy Abraham has scored four goals in four Premier League outings. Hudson-Odoi is expected to feature prominently upon his return.

Similar can be said for James. Lampard is ready to throw James into the first team in the coming weeks following his performances at Wigan last season, and potentially because of the patchy form of Cesar Azpilicueta – who has filled the role of right back in the early weeks.

James earned rave reviews at the DW Stadium as he scored three goals and managed three assists, helping the Latics stave off relegation by finishing 18th in the Championship.

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Assessing How 7 Clubs Fared After Their Star Performer Left

​Lionel Messi’s magnificent career with Barcelona could be coming to an end after club president Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is free to leave this summer.

Across 16 seasons with La Blaugrana, the Argentine marvel has won ten La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and a hat-trick of Club World Cups, among other honours.

He’s hit 603 goals in that time and become an irreplaceable part of the side, who have struggled in his absence recently.

Lionel Messi

Messi has discussed his love for the Catalans and insists ​he wants to stay, but that won’t stop rumours of a sensational exit at the close of the current campaign. Should he go, ​Barça will surely suffer.

To give an idea of how big a blow him leaving would be, here’s a look at seven other major departures and an assessment of how each club got on without their talismanic leaders.


Liverpool & Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard

​Liverpool finished sixth in Steven Gerrard’s final year at Anfield, the Reds sitting just two points above ​Southampton.

Since the all-action midfielder left, Jurgen Klopp has overseen runs to two consecutive ​Champions League finals, his men winning the second with a comfortable 2-0 triumph over ​Tottenham.

Considering Gerrard was the glue keeping Liverpool together during the last few years of his career with the club, they’ve done incredibly well without him. 

When he went to Major League Soccer in 2015, no one would have believed they could collect 97 points in a single campaign just a few seasons down the line.

How They Fared: 9/10


Roma & Francesco Totti

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On 786 occasions, Francesco Totti pulled on a Roma shirt. On 786 occasions, the forward gave blood, sweat and tears for I Giallorossi’s cause.

He’s been out of the picture for a couple of campaigns now and will no doubt be pleased to see his old teammates still sparkling on the European stage.

They failed to qualify for the Champions League for this term, but in his first year of retirement they pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in the competition’s history. 

Their spectacular quarter final defeat of Barcelona in 2018 will live long in the memory of all football fans, not just those of Roma.

How They Fared: 7/10


Tottenham & Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale – who may as well have been the entire Tottenham team during the 2012/13 season – was sold to ​Real Madrid for a world-record fee of £86m in 2013 and the club wasted nearly all of it on sub-par signings. Things were decidedly bleak at White Hart Lane.

Then they made the perfect purchase, but this time it wasn’t a player. Mauricio Pochettino was lured to the capital from Southampton and the coach has overseen a mini revolution with the Lilywhites.

Spurs are now searching for a fifth top four finish in a row. We may take it for granted in present day, but that is a fantastic achievement for the team. All that’s left is a new trophy for the cabinet!

How They Fared: 6/10


Chelsea & John Terry

John Terry

​Chelsea have hardly been catastrophic following the departure of stalwart centre back John Terry. Nevertheless, there have been some clear leadership issues at Stamford Bridge.

Maurizio Sarri left at the first available opportunity after wrestling for power with his own squad, with Kepa Arrizabalaga one of numerous players guilty of mutinous behaviour during the Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester City.

Had their legendary skipper been around, you can bet his teammates would have stayed in line.

How They Fared: 5/10


Real Madrid & Cristiano Ronaldo

TOPSHOT-FBL-EUR-C1-JUVENTUS-REAL MADRID

To best understand the effect Cristiano Ronaldo had at Real Madrid, cast your eyes over these alarming statistics.

Los Blancos recorded a goal difference of +17 in ​La Liga last term. When the Portuguese superstar was around, they averaged +54.

We all know how potent a threat Ronaldo was in Madrid. Still, that difference is ludicrous and shows just how far they’ve fallen since he switched to ​Juventus.

How They Fared: 3/10


Manchester United & Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson

The fans are at their wit’s end, many of the players seem wholly disinterested, the manager is walking on ice and the board are a bunch of clowns. What on earth is going on at ​Manchester United?!

​Sir Alex Ferguson forged arguably the greatest team the world has ever seen. Then he did it again. And then he did it again. However, his creation has since turned to ruins.

How They Fared: 2/10


Napoli & Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona was a messiah at Stadio San Paolo. Without their saviour, ​Napoli went up in flames.

His final four seasons in southern Italy saw I Partenopei deliver two Scudetti, a UEFA Cup, a Coppa Italia and an Italian Super Cup to their adoring fans. How those supporters would be punished in the decades that followed.

Having battled with various addictions during his playing career, Maradona left the city in disgrace after he tested positive for cocaine following a match with Bari in 1991.

The success dried up. Challenging for trophies soon became a distant memory, with Napoli relegated to Serie B in 1998. Instability and corruption were rife, financial problems crippled the side, all hope seemed lost.

They’re back at the top these days, below only Juventus in Italy, but it was a long, painful journey from their own personal hell.

How They Fared: 0/10


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Chelsea Youngster Billy Gilmour Signs New Four-Year Deal With Club

Chelsea youngster Billy Gilmour has signed a new four-year deal with the club, keeping him at Stamford Bridge until June 2023. 

After impressing in a couple of pre-season performances in Dublin, Gilmour was handed his senior debut by Frank Lampard in the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United in the Premier League.

And now, as revealed by an official statement on the club’s website, the 18-year-old has put pen to paper on a new four-year deal in west London. 

The club wrote: “Billy Gilmour has signed a new four-year contract at ​Chelsea following his senior debut in the Premier League last month.

And, speaking upon the announcement, the Scotland Under-21 International admitted: “It’s really exciting for me and my family to sign this four-year deal with the club.

“Frank has come in and everyone is buzzing, training is really good and there’s a high standard to everything we do. There are exciting times ahead and hopefully I can work hard to get more opportunities as well.

“It was amazing to make my debut and for the gaffer to show his trust in me in a tight game. A draw wasn’t the result we wanted but he showed his faith in me and I thank him for that. Now I need to make sure it wasn’t just a one-off and keep showing him I’ve got a lot more to give.

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“When I first signed, I was having a meeting with Jody Morris [then Under-18s manager] in the Academy and Frank actually interrupted to speak to Jody. I think he was agreeing to meet him later that day for dinner.

“It was surreal when Jody asked him to come in and speak to me – I was a bit starstruck just sitting there and seeing Frank Lampard walk in the room and start talking to me!”

Of course, though he has now had his taste of senior football, Gilmour remains a fulcrum of the Blues’ development squad, and speaking on his role within that set up, he declared: “I was one of the younger players in the team last season but this year I want to make sure I’m one of the senior figures in the dressing room, make sure my standards are high and I’m pushing the team in the right way. 

“We’ve got a good enough team and we’ve started really well so I don’t see why we can’t push on and challenge for the league. Individually, I want to make sure I’m involved with the senior team as much as I can be and try to push for more appearances.”

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