Daniel James is determined to respond to a difficult time for Manchester United by improving Wales’ Euro 2020 qualification hopes.
United have made their worst start to a top-flight campaign for 30 years after picking up only nine points from their opening eight games.
Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Newcastle – who started the day only one place off the bottom of the table – left Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side just two points above the relegation zone.
“It’s important in football to react when things aren’t going so well,” said James, who has been United’s standout performer with three goals since his £15million summer move from Swansea.
“It’s alright when things are going good, but it’s important to deal with things when they are bad.
“It was the same when I was at Swansea and things weren’t going so well. I’ve always dealt with it exactly the same.
“I’ve had a good start personally (at United) and I’m enjoying my football. It’s about taking that into playing for Wales as well.”
James has had a meteoric rise from Swansea bit-part player to United first-team regular in the last 12 months.
The 21-year-old scored the winner on his first Wales start in March – against Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualifying opponents Slovakia – and there is expectation on him now to deliver both at club and international level.
But James says he can handle the huge pressure that comes with being in the United spotlight as well as a fully-fledged international.
“If you’d said a year ago what was going to happen to me I’d have said ‘Don’t be silly’,” James added ahead of the Group E qualifier in Trnava.
“It is massive progress in the space of a year being a Man United regular and playing for Wales.
“But things happen so quickly in football you have to be ready for anything. That goes when things go badly as well.
“A year ago I wasn’t really playing for Swansea and everything just happened so quickly.
“It is just a case of how you grasp that. Everyone who speaks to me just says be yourself and don’t let anything trouble you.
“I think having established myself at Man United so quickly has helped me. There is going to be pressure going into these games this week, but I’m used to that now.
“European football (with United) is similar to playing away in these countries. When you are expected to win the group then going away to any team – Slovakia, Azerbaijan, whoever – with different atmospheres, pitches and cultures, then it is really difficult.”
James recalls being on a family holiday in Spain when Wales made their way to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in France under Chris Coleman.
Wales – who trail group leaders Croatia by four points with a game in hand – are a much-changed squad three years on, and James is part of an exciting and youthful group who have been given opportunities by manager Ryan Giggs.
“I remember watching it (Euro 2016) in Marbella and it was amazing to get to so far,” James said.
“The expectation now is to get back to the Euros. That’s what we want to do and it would be amazing for me and the rest of the young players to experience that.
“All the youngsters are grasping our roles – Harry Wilson, Ethan Ampadu – and there is a younger generation coming through. It is just a case of whether we can go on and qualify now.
“We’ve got two massive games this week – Slovakia away and Croatia at home – but the gaffer says we are capable of doing anything as a team. If we can go to Slovakia and win that would be a big statement.”
Throughout the annals of history, football has been adorned with global treasures, and for this game, diamonds are its best friend.
But which jewels have dazzled brightest? And what carat of quality do they fall into?
We’re ranking the best players of all time and placing them into four separate tiers from one-four.
Naturally, there are big names missing and there will predictably be some contention around the placements as arguments can be made for each.
Yet we’ve given it a go and here’s our Tiered Rankings of the best retired strikers of all time.
The reality created the myth. Pele’s name to any football fan, of any generation means ‘goals’ and ‘GOAT’.
It doesn’t matter whether they were around when he danced across the pitch or not, Pele remains an iconic No10.
Over time, his story has blurred into myth, yet it is fuelled by his unprecedented ability and triumph.
In a period when televisions flickered in black and white, Pele permeated the screen with performances of pure verve and vibrancy during the 1960s and ’70s.
With his club side Santos and national team, the Brazilian would score an impregnable 1,281 goals during a 22-year career. The numbers are astonishing, creating the myth. The reality was equally as absurd, too.
Indeed, Pele scored in all four corners of the goal, and reached all four corners of the globe.
This during a period when global communication was slow, but like the best features of his game, Pele travelled fast.
The kid-king would become ‘O Rei’, announcing himself by lighting up the 1958 World Cup with a quarter-final winner, a hat-trick in the semis and two in the final. The teenager was no bigger than the Jules Rimet when lifted aloft by his team-mates with the same joyous ease as the trophy.
He would go on to lift the World Cup another two times, score a mountain more goals and in the process climb his way to the top of football.
Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich, the defender who marked Pele in the 1970 final, described him best when he said: “I told myself before the game, he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else. But I was wrong.”
ALFREDO DI STEFANO
Before Pele, there was Di Stefano. Had it not been for war, Di Stefano’s esteem would be held higher in regard given he was denied the opportunity to play in a World Cup.
But if justification is required for the Argentine’s genius, then consider the fact he could have played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona – at the same time.
Yes, the Spanish FA made the startling suggestion he should feature for the two rivals, alternating after each season over four years, following a complicated and fraught deal to take him from Colombian club side, Millonarios. Andy West’s detailed piece for the BBC sheds more light on this.
But in the end, Di Stefano signed for Real and would go on to become their greatest ever player. If football possesses its own language then Di Stefano was fluent in many dialects.
He was every desirable attacking trait splintered into one Blonde Arrow. A warrior on the pitch, fast and strong, a brutally clinical finisher who could create with supreme vision and defend as well.
The undoubted star of Real’s first five outstanding consecutive European Cups, in a side containing legends in their own right – Paco Gento, Ferenc Puskas, Jose Santamaria and Canario – he remarkably scored in each final.
A defining performance arrived during the 7-3 demolition of Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, his hat-trick powered a triumph which is still considered the competition’s defining team performance.
A two-time Ballon d’Or winner and fourth-placed finisher in France Football’s voting for Football Player of the 20th Century, Di Stefano is a legend, no doubt about it.
Mention the name Ronaldo and there is often some confusion as to which icon is the topic of conversation – the Portuguese or the Brazilian. Follow it up with the ‘Original Ronaldo’ and it is immediately clear.
Every man, woman and child would likely trace back their football affection to Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima. A modern-day great, Il Fenomeno was a scarcely believable talent. Every football fan has those dreams once in their life.
The one in which the ball is at their feet in the Bernabeu, San Siro or any one of the grand football cathedrals, where defenders are collapsed from the dazzling feet and freakish power before adding a finish of unerring precision.
To the collective mortals this was an hallucination, pure fantasy, but for Ronaldo, it was reality, the norm. Think of a heavyweight boxer with the lightning fast speed and footwork of a lightweight, and that is Ronaldo.
He was a force of nature, a blip in the Matrix, but with a career masked by misfortune.
Indeed, there are two tags which prefaced Ronaldo – The Original… and Prime…
Injury ravaged Ronaldo’s career, his knees buckled under the weight of expectation. It means we are left comparing the prime Ronaldo, a smaller snapshot of a player so genetically blessed, but with a body so cursed as well.
His knees struggled to contain his explosive power output, deterioration had to be monitored before two excruciating injuries with Inter. By the age of 23, Ronaldo had twice broken the world-record transfer with moves to Barcelona and Inter, but he was never the same after rupturing his knee for the latter.
He remained a technical phenom, but lost his trademark explosion. Still, Ronaldo is a World Cup, Confederations Cup, Copa America and La Liga winner.
He was chosen as the best player in the world three times, in 1996, 1997 plus 2002, and he changed what it meant to be a No9. His watermarks are dripped onto current superstars.
Few players, even in today’s game, harnessed their predatory instincts effectively as Gerd Muller did in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The German’s familiarity with the six-yard box was like that of his own bedroom because it’s practically where he lived throughout his goal-laden career. It wasn’t always tidy either, but instead of waking up and sniffing breakfast, it was goals, and no No9 of that era possessed his nose for the net.
After all these years, Muller remains the game’s greatest poacher with his remarkable haul of 582 goals in 669 appearances reflective of his talent for scoring.
The modern Bayern Munich was built on his exponential exploits. Alongside Franz Beckenbauer, and then later Sepp Maier, Muller fired Bayern from the second-division in 1965 to domination at home and abroad.
Indeed, four DFB-Pokal triumphs, four Bundesliga titles (three consecutively from 1972-74), a first European honour in 1967 with the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and, of course, a hat-trick of European Cups from 1974 to 1976, were all attained during this dream-team era.
The club’s top scorer during that time? Muller. No Bayern player scored more than ‘Der Bomber’ in every season from 1964/65 to 1977/78. In seven of those seasons, no player bettered him in the Bundesliga and his single-season mark of 40 goals during the 1971/72 campaign still stands. Muller also held the record for goals scored in a calendar year until Lionel Messi, some 40 years later, surpassed his 85 strikes for Munich and West Germany in 1972.
That year coincided with European Championship success before the pinnacle of a World Cup two years later.
Muller’s winner against the Netherlands in the final was the loudest example of his striking personality; the undetected movement, sumptuous first touch and precision finish.
Simplicity was never more beautiful.
If England is indeed football’s birthplace, then one strand of its evolution is distinctly Hungarian. In 1953 a Hungary team led by Puskas opened the eyes of English football by making them bleed with embarrassment.
The Hungarians systematically dismantled England 6-3 to become the first foreign team to win at Wembley in a defeat which crumpled English hubris and changed their thinking forever.
Puskas was chief tormentor. Physically he was built like a bowling ball, but picture an ice skater navigating pins on a glossed alley, and that was closer to what Puskas produced.
His left foot was lethal, but it contrasted the manner in which sashayed past players. The ‘Marvellous Magyars’ captain was all skill and grace before there was such a thing.
The game was blood and thunder, but on that day in November, Puskas showed fluid movement and precision would rule.
One goal immortalised him. For Hungary’s third, the great Billy Wright slid in to challenge, but the ball vanished and he practically left the pitch as Puskas dragged it back, shifted the ball out of his feet and slammed home with his left foot.
The beauty of the goal lies in its originality. Puskas was ahead of his era and his left foot had the ability to warp time such was the ferocity of his strikes.
He scored spectacularly and often, accruing a ratio of 84 goals in 85 games for his country.
At club level, Puskas was his century’s most prolific scorer, registering 511 goals in 533 top-flight appearances for Budapest Honved and Real Madrid.
With Real, his partnership with De Stefano is enshrined in the rich history of the club. Puskas won five straight Spanish titles and a European Cup triumph which is hallmarked by his absurd four-goal haul against Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 showpiece.
He was an icon, before icons were even a thing.
Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer is preserved by a statue outside the Emirates Stadium, which is a little ironic considering Henry’s career was framed by his electric movement.
Henry was so good, and his impact so great during his eight-year stay with the Gunners, that English football welcomed French phrases into its vernacular to describe him.
Henry’s brand of pace, technique and vision possessed a certain je ne sais quoi. When the Frenchman produced his signature finish – that left-wing glide, his body opened wide and a right-foot slide into the far corner – we all hailed his va va voom.
Under Arsene Wenger, Henry changed and developed into a Premier League great, shifting the image of the No9 from a bouncer to a dancer.
Considered a winger for much of his career, Wenger reapplied Henry’s elegant traits in a central role, turning a one-dimensional wideman into a two-pronged frontman.
Henry wasn’t initially a prolific goalscorer, evidenced by a poor debut season at Juventus fresh after winning the 1998 World Cup with France, but when Wenger deployed him through the middle, he could score goals, take players on and find the killer ball.
He was the centrepiece of Arsenal’s majestic wrestle with Manchester United, winning two Premier League titles and three FA Cups.
And he was also the league’s top scorer four times, hitting the vaunted 30-goal mark during Arsenal’s invincible season.
His shock move to Barcelona wasn’t as gratifying, but it was trophy-laden helping one of the modern great teams win six trophies in one campaign in 2008/09.
Given how decorated his club career was, it’s easy to forget his success for Les Bleus. He was their top scorer en route to World Cup glory in 1998 and earned man-of-the-match plaudits in the European Championship final victory over Italy two years later.
Unfortunately, his prime did not align with the quality around him at international level, but he remains their record scorer with 51 strikes and is undoubtedly one of their finest players.
MARCO VAN BASTEN
Football can elicit the entire spectrum of emotions, but with Marco van Basten, there was only ever one when he was on the pitch – happiness.
Watching him in action was pure joy and if smiles were a currency in football, Van Basten would be the game’s richest man.
While there’s a feeling of what could have been – his career was brutally cut short by injury at the peak of his powers aged 28 – what we had was magnificent.
Were the surgeries on his ravaged ankle not so cruel, and this list so cut-throat, Van Basten would occupy a far higher position.
But regardless, he is one of the most beloved centre-forwards in history.
He had absolutely everything. When we talk about complete strikers in the modern day, they all pale in comparison to the Dutchman. For a player so tall, Van Basten was balletic. He could contort and twist his body like gymnast, prise open space as if mathematical genius and score goals closer to art than sport.
If Holland’s Total Football is the model for all to follow, then Van Basten is one of its greatest exponents. Fitting then that for his Ajax debut he replaced Johan Cruyff.
During his first season for the Amsterdammers in 1982-83, Van Basten scored nine times in 20 games. The four subsequent seasons saw him lead the league in goals and in 1985-86, all of Europe as well. The Swan of Utrecht left for AC Milan the following year, but not before capturing the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup through his match-winning strike.
The swan became the saint in Milan. He collected three Ballons d’Or, two Capocannoniere titles, one Fifa World Player award and 16 more trophies as a collective with the Rossoneri. For club and country, The Flying Dutchman scored many goals and many great goals – maybe even the greatest ever against the Soviet Union to claim Euro 1988 glory, a tournament where he was the leading scorer.
When Van Basten retired in 1993, there was another emotion he drew from us one of sadness. Yet we were so lucky to have had what came before.
Eusebio da Silva Ferreira – the Portuguese Black Pearl unearthed from dust tracks of Mozambique.
Africa’s first great and finest ever export, Eusebio left for Benfica and a country he would earn 64 international caps for and the recognition as one of the game’s premier forwards.
From 1961-75, Eusebio carved out his own legend during a time when football’s other great portraits like Pele, Johan Cruyff, George Best and Bobby Charlton were being hung up.
The squared-jawed striker ran circles around defenders, using his blaring speed and powerful shot to score 727 times in 715 Benfica appearances.
He won seven Portuguese titles, 11 trophies in total domestically, and was the country’s leading scorer for four straight season from 1964-68. His nine goals at the 1966 World Cup secured the Golden Boot and a third-placed finish for Portugal.
But for all the gargantuan numbers, there are two games which hallmarked his greatness.
The second, and perhaps his finest, was at that World Cup when four of his goals arrived in a remarkable comeback against North Korea in the quarter-final. Portugal went 3-0 down, but minutes after Yang Sung-Kook’s goal, Eusebio ghosted into the box and poked home into the top corner.
His penalty just before half-time found the same left spot of the net and brought the score to 3-2. After the break, he tore the Koreans apart, completing his hat-trick by latching onto a through ball and unleashing another precise strike into the corner.
His fourth, earned after he was brought down, added the varnish to his masterpiece. Of course, England would go on to win the semi-final, but by this point Eusebio had already tasted immense glory thanks to his other iconic performance. In 1962, he helped bring the European Cup to Estadio da Luz, a stadium where he is immortalised in statue form.
He scored a penalty to put Benfica ahead against the great Real Madrid after the break – a side graced by their two legends spoken of above, Di Stefano and Puskas – and his stunning free-kick sealed a 5-3 victory.
Eusebio idolised Di Stefano, but on that night, it was the Argentine in awe as he asked to swap shirts at full-time. Greatness recognise greatness.
To win an individual game a talented XI is required. But to win trophies, a deep squad is imperative.
For the established elite, their objective is clear: compete and win titles, all of them. The strength of a starting side is forever scrutinised and debated, we’ve all come across the ‘how xxx will line-up in 2019/20’ headlines.
Yet it’s actually beneath the first-choice selections where trophies are won.
To best gauge a barometer for which clubs are capable of securing domestic and/or European success, it’s accurate to examine the quality options at their disposal from the substitutes bench.
So, it got us thinking, which side has the best bench from Europe’s top-five leagues?
Sticking with a quota of seven players per bench with a forecasted XI, we’ve slated and rated the options for 10 big teams.
All statistics gathered from transfermarkt.com
LIVERPOOL | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.07bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Alisson Becker; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson; Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Naby Keita; Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane
BENCH: Adrian, Joe Gomez, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi
MISSING OUT: Nathaniel Clyne, Rhian Brewster, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana
Liverpool’s approach to the transfer window was like a quick grocery shop. When only milk and eggs are required, there’s really no need to flush money down the drain on a gold-plated toilet.
Indeed, Jurgen Klopp’s squad was good enough for the Champions League trophy and a 97-point haul last term, and so not much changed.
The German instead opted to further enhance his squad on the training ground, and looking at the strength of his bench, it’s a fair approach.
Goalkeeper Adrian was acquired on a free transfer and the 32-year-old is proving to be stylistically more suitable than the frozen-footed Simon Mignolet.
In front of him, Joe Gomez formed an outstanding partnership with Virgil van Dijk last season, but when injured, Joel Matip emerged in his place and has been exemplary, seeing a very capable centre-back relegated to the bench.
There’s experience and leadership through the eyes and mouths of James Milner and Jordan Henderson, the former bringing versatility across numerous positions.
If in need of attacking impetus there’s the leg drive of Xherdan Shaqiri, the bowling-ball qualities of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the precision finishing of Divock Origi.
It’s a great mix for Klopp to lean on, albeit missing some superstar quality, yet it is certainly an above-average bench selection.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 27.5
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 261
BENCH RATING = 7/10
MANCHESTER CITY | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.26bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Ederson; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy; Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva; Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane
BENCH: Claudio Bravo, Nicolas Otamendi, Joao Cancelo, Ilkay Gundogan, David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus
MISSING OUT: Fernandinho, Phil Foden, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Angelino
Jose Mourinho was dead serious when he prophesied a top-four finish for Manchester City’s ‘B Team’ and his analysis carries a lot of merit.
To most managers the idea of two elite options at every position is fanciful thinking, but for Pep Guardiola it’s a necessity.
The intensity of the Catalan’s playing style coupled with the club’s thirst to not just compete but win on all fronts, demands a deep squad.
The result is a bench which is chief among the very best in Europe. Claudio Bravo is a deeply experienced goalkeeper and a perfect understudy to Ederson.
Elsewhere, Nicolas Otamendi, despite his advancing years, remains a respected centre-back and is actually featuring heavily already this season.
Full-backs to Guardiola are like designer bags to women, he can’t seem to have enough of them and possessing the technical qualities of Joao Cancelo is quite frankly absurd.
If Guardiola wants to exert more midfield control there’s only the league’s best short-passer in David Silva and the cerebral intelligence of Ilkay Gundogan.
If City need goals? Well, there’s the magic of Riyad Mahrez, a star in literally any other side, and Brazil’s starting No9 Gabriel Jesus. What more could be asked for?
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 29
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 451
BENCH RATING = 10/10
TOTTENHAM | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €985.5m
STRONGEST XI 4-2-3-1: Hugo Lloris; Serge Aurier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose; Tanguy Ndombele, Harry Winks; Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min; Harry Kane
BENCH: Paulo Gazzaniga, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, Giovani Lo Celso, Moussa Sissoko, Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela
MISSING OUT: Victor Wanyama, Ryan Sessegnon, Kyle Walker-Peters, Juan Foyth, Ben Davies
Sound the alarm because there’s been a break-in at Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino used his loquaciousness in the media to verbally tie up chairman Daniel Levy and crowbar open the money vault.
After two desolate transfer windows, the Champions League finalists added to their squad over the summer and they went big, not just signing bodies, but quality players.
The slick No10 Giovani Lo Celso is an excellent addition to provide competition to Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele’s two-way ability was much needed at the base of their midfield and means one of last-season’s most impressive performers is dropped to the bench in Moussa Sissoko.
In terms of defensive reinforcements, Davinson Sanchez is developing into one of the finest young centre-halves with his athleticism melded to mental refinement.
Eric Dier’s versatility is helpful even if he is fairly limited. There’s no recognised understudy for Kane which is a concern given his injury record, but there is creation and goals through the dynamic South American duo Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela.
Spurs look well equipped to oscillate between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3, but the fact they failed to sign Paulo Dybala perhaps points to the obvious area of weakness.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 26
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 198
BENCH RATING = 7/10
BARCELONA | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.18bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets, Arthur; Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann
BENCH: Neto, Samuel Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Ivan Rakitic, Carles Perez, Ousmane Dembele, Ansu Fati
MISSING OUT: Arturo Vidal, Carles Alena, Jean-Clair Todibo, Junior Firpo, Moussa Wague
The degradation of La Masia meant the graduates feeding through to the first team was on the wane, until the sudden emergence of Ansu Fati that is.
The 16-year-old has been an absolute revelation and his gripping ability to knot up full-backs only years removed from being taught tie up his boot laces is remarkable.
Fati provides youthful exuberance on the left wing and a fellow academy graduate is there to help on the right in Carles Perez who can also function as chief support to Luis Suarez.
Barca, though, spent big to win big and the capture of Antoine Griezmann relegated a maddening talent in Ousmane Dembele to the bench.
Ivan Rakitic is massively underrated and his presence adds tons of control to the midfield while Sergi Roberto fits that mold but can also fill in at full-back.
And finally who can forget Samuel Umtiti who up until a debilitating knee injury was one of the world’s finest centre-backs.
Indeed, on paper at least, Ernesto Valverde has one of the best benches around but then as we’ve seen so far in 2019/20 it seems no amount of back-ups can cover for the absence of Lionel Messi.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 24.5
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 164
BENCH RATING = 8/10
REAL MADRID | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.19bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Thibaut Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Ferland Mendy; Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Luka Modric; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard
BENCH: Alphonse Areola, Eder Militao, Marcelo, Federico Valverde, James Rodriguez, Vinicius Junior, Luka Jovic
MISSING OUT: Nacho, Alvaro Odriozola, Mariano Diaz, Lucas Vazquez, Isco, Marco Asensio, Brahim Diaz, Rodrygo
Only Real Madrid could spend €300 million and still look short in key areas. The first point to address is in midfield where Zinedine Zidane is an injury away from disaster.
The tired trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos is supported by only Federico Valverde, a super talented and energy-bomb of a midfielder but one still quite uncut by Madrid standards.
James Rodriguez wasn’t even supposed to be at the club but makes the bench and is an awkward fit in a midfield three, though, the Colombian does inject plenty of dynamism and sharp passing if given creative license.
It’s a better outlook in attack with Vinicius Junior genuine competition to another man not supposed to be here in Gareth Bale.
The Brazilian was an absolute livewire last season, a shining talent piercing through defences and the Bernabeu gloom.
Luka Jovic gives Zidane an option to go two up top and is one of the most promising young strikers in Europe.
Defensively there are concerns, is new signing Eder Militao better than what they already have? Probably not. Marcelo while defensively negligible is a good attacking option, however, there’s a distinct lack of balance and star quality in Real’s support crew.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 23.8
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 165
BENCH RATING = 6/10
ATLETICO MADRID | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €872.5m
STRONGEST XI 4-3-1-2: Jan Oblak; Kieran Trippier, Stefan Savic, Jose Gimenez, Renan Lodi; Koke, Thomas Partey, Saul; Thomas Lemar; Joao Felix, Alvaro Morata
BENCH: Antonio Adan, Felipe, Santiago Arias, Marcos Llorente, Hector Herrera, Vitolo, Diego Costa
MISSING OUT: Mario Hermoso, Ivan Saponjic, Angel Correa, Rodrigo Riquelme
Atletico Madrid had arguably the toughest job of all the clubs examined after their squad was gutted. As much as six players were ripped out of Diego Simeone’s first XI and it wasn’t just that bodies left, but also their soul.
Essentially, Atleti’s identity was being taken away and so it’s led to a shift in thought from Simeone.
The Argentine has pivoted away from his rigid 4-4-2 and into a 4-3-1-2 shape which dictates the necessity for midfield options from the bench.
At his disposal is a player their city rivals could sorely use right now in Marcos Llorente, and although he’s struggled so far, the 24-year-old is a smooth operator.
There’s experience and security in the technically sound Mexican Hector Herrera, plus stability at centre-back with the aerial prowess of fellow summer recruit Felipe.
In attack there’s the dogged Diego Costa who is capable of tearing everything up, but he doesn’t have great goalscoring record since returning to Madrid.
Vitolo is playing some of his best football in an Atletico shirt, though, and the winger is always pretty good from the bench.
However, what’s largely absent from the substitutes is in ingenuity, someone who can provide that spark. There’s trademark Atletico security, but not a lot of goals or goal creation if they’re struggling to make inroads going forward.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 28.7
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 91
BENCH RATING = 5.5/10
BORUSSIA DORTMUND | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €633.8m
STRONGEST XI 4-2-3-1: Roman Burki; Achraf Hakimi, Manuel Akanji, Mats Hummels, Nico Schulz; Axel Witsel, Julian Brandt; Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard; Paco Alcacer
BENCH: Marwin Hitz, Lukasz Piszczek, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Thomas Delaney, Julian Weigl, Jacob Bruun Larsen, Mario Gotze
MISSING OUT: Mahmoud Dahoud, Marcel Schmelzer, Raphael Guerreiro, Leonardo Balerdi
Another club to shrewdly invest over the summer was Borussia Dortmund. After pushing Bayern Munich so close in the Bundesliga last term, the Black and Yellow have uncharacteristically claimed that it’s a title or failure this season.
With the team at Lucien Favre’s disposal it’s easy to see why. There are some concerns on the bench which contrasts to the glittering talent of the first XI.
Virtually all their new signings went straight into the starting team because they were positions Dortmund looked short last season, meaning their bench hasn’t necessarily improved all that much.
Take the defence for example. Mats Hummels returns to the club and that means Dan-Axel Zagadou is right where he should be considering how raw he is.
Lukasz Piszczek is now 34 but despite his physical decline, the full-back’s experienced head is an asset for Favre.
That’s very much the tone of Dortmund’s bench, experience offsetting the youth of their strongest XI.
Thomas Delaney and Mario Gotze fit that bill, the Danish midfielder bringing steel to the base of midfield while the German forward’s diminished pace is made up for by his technical ability to thrive as a false nine.
It’s hard to believe the intelligent leader Julian Weigl is just 24 but he brings versatility to play at centre-back and in midfield. Dortmund are ultimately short up front and an error-prone Zagadou is a worry as a centre-back replacement.
Overall, the bench just feels glass half empty as opposed to half full.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 26.5
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 176
BENCH RATING = 6/10
BAYERN MUNICH | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €866.65m
STRONGEST XI 4-2-3-1: Manuel Neuer; Benjamin Pavard, Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez, David Alaba; Thiago Alcantara, Joshua Kimmich; Serge Gnabry, Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Perisic; Robert Lewandowski
BENCH: Sven Ulreich, Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman, Leon Goretzka, Thomas Muller
MISSING OUT: Fiete Arp, Mickael Cuisance, Alphonso Davies
For a long time last summer, Bayern’s bench would have picked itself because in comparison to the rest of Europe’s elite, the Bavarians possessed one of the smallest squads.
Late arrivals in Ivan Perisic and Philippe Coutinho have helped bloat the numbers and with those two creative talents heading straight for the first team, it means boss Niko Kovac has some enticing options to turn to now.
Thomas Muller’s name immediately springs out and his competition with Coutinho fundamentally makes Bayern a stronger outfit.
The German’s pedigree and flexibility in attacking positions, plus the fact he won’t want to sit on the bench in the first place, gives Kovac a very strong alternative.
It’s a similar thread with Kingsley Coman with the immensely talented winger battling it out with Serge Gnabry and Perisic for a spot on Bayern’s wing. No doubt all three will be rotated but each one adds a different dimension to the attack.
In midfield, Leon Goretzka remains one of Germany’s most talented middle men and physical specimen, even if injuries have hampered his development so far.
Corentin Tolisso is another with undeniable talent but again injuries have been an issue, but when available is a deeply intelligent box-to-box type player.
Javi Martinez brings a lot of experience, and even though he was largely expected to leave in the summer, so too does Jerome Boateng.
It’s at the back, particularly in the full-back slots Bayern look really short of options and that for sure is the major downfall of their bench.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 27.8
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 252
BENCH RATING = 7/10
JUVENTUS | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €864m
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Wojciech Szczesny; Danilo, Matthijs de Ligt, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Aaron Ramsey, Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Gonzalo Higuain, Cristiano Ronaldo
BENCH: Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Mattia De Sciglio, Adrien Rabiot, Rodrigo Bentancur, Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala
MISSING OUT: Mattia Perin, Daniele Rugani, Merih Demiral, Emre Can, Mario Mandzukic, Federico Bernardeschi, Sami Khedira, Marko Pjaca
Juve’s squad is absolutely insane. Now, there’s two schools of thought with the Italians; A) Having so many good footballers can never be a bad thing and B) Having so many good footballers is a bad thing.
Look at the names available and it’s hard to see how Juve don’t win everything available to them, but then consider these players on a human level and problems can emerge.
Take for example leaving Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic out of their Champions League squad completely and it’s easy to see how discontent could fester.
However, examining purely the options Maurizio Sarri has and there is a bit of everything. Leonardo Bonucci has shown signs of decline but is still a premier centre-back and brings leadership to the table, as is the case with Gigi Buffon.
Full-back Mattia De Sciglio could make a strong case to be in the starting XI were it not for his injury past, but the real A-List talent is further forward.
Put the diva-like antics to one side and Adrien Rabiot is a supremely gifted option to bring into the fold. Rodrigo Bentancur is a perfect Sarri player, an excellent ball winner with bags of energy.
As Juan Cuadrado has shown already, the Colombian can still produce show-stopping moments.
Then there’s Paulo Dybala, the man with a lot to prove this season and the talent to back it up. The Argentine should be nowhere near the bench but given his struggles to acclimate with Cristiano Ronaldo, he finds himself there.
Whenever the Portuguese is not around, no doubt he’ll show why he’s one of the most talented forwards in Europe.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 28.7
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 445
BENCH RATING = 10/10
PSG | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.06bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Keylor Navas; Thomas Meunier, Thiago Silva, Abdou Diallo, Juan Bernat; Marco Verratti, Marquinhos, Idrissa Gueye; Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, Neymar
BENCH: Sergio Rico, Presnel Kimpembe, Thilo Kehrer, Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria, Pablo Sarabia, Mauro Icardi
MISSING OUT: Leandro Paredes, Layvin Kurzawa, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Julian Draxler, Colin Dagba, Adil Aouchiche
PSG’s strongest XI is among the very best in world football so by extension the bench was always going to be pretty strong as well.
Even names left out entirely would raise eyebrows with Julian Draxler a big omission, but then the amount of attackers available to Thomas Tuchel – granted when all fit – is ridiculous.
Angel Di Maria continues to show why his left-foot is one of the most technically sound around and although he can be ragged within games, he produces big moments.
The Argentine is a very useful weapon to bring into the fold against tired defences which have been exhausted by Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. He’s also excellent on set-pieces.
His compatriot Mauro Icardi seems like an odd signing simply because PSG don’t need him, but now they have him, the striker is an apex predator and one of the most efficient No9s around. He can certainly be counted on to poach a goal from the bench.
Pablo Sarabia scored 23 goals and provided 17 assists for Sevilla last season and so that type of quality waiting in the wings is a pure luxury as well.
But there is some much-needed midfield reinforcement and bite through Ander Herrera while in defence Presnel Kimpembe may be a still-developing centre-back but is a good option to have.
There’s more youth through the athleticism of Thilo Kehrer who can play right-back, in the middle and as a DM.
The only real downside to Tuchel’s bench is more genuine options in midfield considering how important that area is to PSG’s structured style of play.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 27.2
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 119
BENCH RATING = 8/10