Leicester City’s perfect start to the season has been as surprising as it’s been impressive.
Going into the new campaign, the Foxes were tipped to struggle. They ended the 2019/2020 in diablocial form and a lack of transfer activity had pundits and supporters alike fearing the worst.
However, during September Leicester have looked absolutely sensational. They opened proceedings with back-to-back wins over West Brom and Burnley before putting Manchester City to the sword 5-2.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of players caught the eye during this superb run of form – but who has been the best of the best? 90min collated our player ratings from the Foxes three games so far to find out…
Appearances: 3 September Average Rating: 8/10
Watching Harvey Barnes this month has been every bit frustrating and exhilarating in equal measure. After an underwhelming end to last season, the 22-year-old has flown out of the traps with a point to prove in September.
Filled with youthful exuberance and fearlessness, Barnes is a truly joyful player. If he could sort out his finishing, he’d be one of the most devastating wide men in the Premier League.
Nowhere was this lack of end product more evident than during his side’s season curtain-raiser against West Brom. Barnes tormented the Baggies defence all game long, but (somehow) did not manage to register a goal or an assist.
That changed the following weekend with Barnes putting in a man-of-the-match performance when Burnley travelled to the King Power Stadium. The future England international (?) scored and laid on an assist to help defeat Sean Dyche’s Clarets.
Barnes was also impressive against Manchester City. His pace provided a vital counter-attacking threat and he also pinned back the Cityzen’s full-backs well.
Appearances: 3 September Average Rating: 8/10
Timothy Castagne – or as 90min christened him, Timmy Chestnuts – has enjoyed a perfect start to life as a Fox.
Signed from Atalanta in the summer, the Belgian was touted as the heir to Ben Chilwell but has proved to be anything but; he can defend for starters…
Seriously though, Castagne has been excellent in September, providing Leicester with much-needed thrust down the right-hand side, as well as plenty of purposeful attacking.
He made his debut at the Hawthorns and opened the scoring with a well-timed, looping header. Against Burnley he was impressive once again, not putting a foot wrong at the back and driving forward with aplomb.
His fine start to the season continued at the Etihad Stadium. Castagne provided the assist for one of Jamie Vardy’s three goals and had the beating of Benjamin Mendy all evening.
Appearances: 3 September Average Rating: 8.33
Jamie Vardy. Then. Now. Forever.
Vardy once again showed he is one of the most lethal strikers in world football in the month of September. We have to start with that City game, where the Skittles vodka enthusiast scored a fine hat-trick despite touching the ball just 21 times.
Okay, two of the goals may have been penalties but guess who won both spot kicks? That’s right, Vardy.
As well as this timeless Premier League display, Vardy was also impressive in Leicester’s other two fixtures. He scored two more penalties against West Brom and his work rate was exemplary when Burnley came to town.
Last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner has kicked off proceedings magnificently, showing signs that he may become the first player to retain the award since Harry Kane.
Newly promoted Leeds United are keen to continue their summer of spending with a move for Leicester winger Demarai Gray.
The 24-year-old has been told he can leave King Power Stadium this summer, and a suitable bid is likely to be accepted as he has just a year remaining on his contract.
Gray has not yet featured in Leicester’s Premier League campaign, which has begun with three consecutive victories; one of which was a resounding – and surprising – 5-2 mauling of Manchester City on their own patch, headlined by yet another Jamie Vardy hat-trick.
It could be destination Elland Road for Gray, with MailOnline Sport reporting that the Championship winners may look to bring the England Under-21 international to Yorkshire.
Further details are sketchy to say the least, but Gray’s arrival would certainly increase competition for places in the wide areas. Jack Harrison and Helder Costa have started the season in good touch, but a long campaign that will require rotation means regular action would probably be afforded to the Leicester winger by manager Marcelo Bielsa.
Gray’s fall from grace has coincided with the arrival of Cengiz Under on a season-long loan deal, as well as the continued emergence of Harvey Barnes. Add Ayoze Perez, James Maddison and Marc Albrighton into the mix, and it’s easy to understand why his playing time has been limited.
During his Foxes career, Gray has made 132 appearances in the Premier League. But a meagre return of ten goals and nine assists in that time point to a disappointing end product, something that Brendan Rodgers would appear to be unable to look past.
Asked recently about his future, Rodgers admitted, “He is now 24 and it’ll be whether he wants to continue in the role he’s played here or whether he sees himself going out and becoming a starter.
“It’ll be up to him. He’s in his last year and he hasn’t signed another deal but, for me, I will always respect Demarai and what his wishes are.”
Barclays FA Women’s Super League matches could be broadcast live on Sky Sports as of the 2021/22 season, marking another potentially significant leap forward for the women’s game.
As things stand, most WSL games are freely accessible via the FA Player app, with a handful of fixtures shown live on BBC and BT Sport platforms. But both broadcasters have always been given the rights for free and have only covered their own costs, rather than paying for the privilege.
But with the FA increasingly trying to monetise the WSL, which will in turn bring greater revenue to clubs and allow for further development in terms of better contracts, bigger signings and higher standards of coaching and facilities, TV rights are being sold for the first time.
In the last 12 months, international broadcast deals have already been agreed with TV networks covering Mexico and Central America and Scandinavia.
NBC also recently secured the rights to show 50 WSL games in the United States this season, with American interest in the English league piquing because thanks to USWNT stars Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Alex Morgan all signing deals with WSL clubs.
As of next season, the FA has made all its women’s club and international football available for sale and the Daily Telegraph has reported that Sky have outbid other UK broadcasters for most packages.
While Sky declined to make any comment to the newspaper, it is said that the media giant see potential for the women’s game to now grow rapidly thanks to the influx of big-name signings.
The FA have developed a new strategy to increase revenue in the women’s game, aided by Women’s Sports Group, a right management firm co-founded by David Kogan, the co-founder of a company that has previously overseen in excess of £20bn of sports rights sales.
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Premier League clubs are on course for a predicted 2020/21 transfer deficit of £698m by the end of the summer transfer window, which could account for as much as 99% of the overall transfer deficit across all of Europe’s top five leagues.
While clubs in La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 have sought to balance the books this summer amid the enormous financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has severely limited incomes all over the continent, Premier League spending remains aggressive.
A report commissioned by Football Index and conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) predicts that, collectively, Europe’s top five leagues will finish the summer with a transfer deficit – which is their transfer outlay minus any transfer fees received – of £701m.
But an astonishing £698m of this will be from the Premier League alone.
It is expected that the overall spend in Europe for this summer’s window will be 46% lower than last year – £2.7bn compared to £4.97bn. The predicted transfer deficit of £701m will be far lower than the £1.2bn transfer deficit of 12 months ago, but because of more cautious business in Spain, Italy, Germany and France, rather than curtailed Premier League spending.
But the Premier League’s predicted £698m transfer deficit this year is actually expected to go up, from £627m last summer. In stark contrasts, La Liga’s transfer deficit for this window is predicted to be £60m, while it will be £26m in the Bundesliga. Serie A and Ligue are on course to bring in more money than they have spent this summer, with surpluses of £23m and £65m respectively.
Premier League spending on transfers has been the highest in Europe for 17 consecutive years since 2003. England’s top flight is the largest source of income to the other four leagues and specifically for Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1, it is a greater source of income than the others combined.
The explosion in transfer fees has come largely since 2011 when Premier League began to see substantial increases in broadcasting revenue. Prior to that era of greater television income, the transfer deficit across all of Europe’s top five leagues between 2000 and 2010 averaged £455m.
It is also apparent that Premier League clubs typically sell players much cheaper than they buy them, compared to the other four leagues, with teams in Ligue 1 actually making a significant collective transfer profit for the 2019/20 season.
Last season in Ligue 1, the value of players sold compared to the value of players bought was a profitable 110%, compared to 78% in La Liga, 73% in Serie A, 71% in the Bundesliga and just 52% in the Premier League.
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It’s only been back on our screens and in our lives for two weeks, but Serie A is already proving to be the best league in the world yet again!
What’s that? The Premier League broke its record for the highest number of goals in a weekend? Well, while you were watching Southampton bore Burnley into submission in a 1-0 snorefest on Saturday evening, scrapping like two drunk blokes fighting over the remains of a floored kebab, Serie A was rocking to the beat of its own drum.
Inter were just putting the finishing touches on an incredible two minute double-salvo to beat Fiorentina 4-3 at San Siro, while the rest of Italy was gearing up for the colossal meeting between AS Roma and Juventus on Sunday night.
Who’s the loser now, huh?
The Italian top flight may only be two weeks old (and just one week, in some cases), but we have already learned plenty about the intentions and expectations for each of Italy’s top sides. So, where to start? With the champions, of course.
Juventus 3-0 Sampdoria Roma 2-2 Juventus
Assessment: It all looked far too easy after 90 minutes, didn’t it? All of Juventus’ problems had vanished under their stylish and sexy new coach Andrea Pirlo, who had got the team ticking, humming and purring in a 3-0 demolition of Sampdoria. The dilemmas in attack had disappeared, the leaky defensive pipes had been fixed, and it was sunshine and lollipops in Turin.
Seven days later, and that serenity seemed an even more distant memory. The midfield was full of holes, poor passes and a worrying lack of urgency in the 2-2 draw with Roma, while the backline was breached on countless occasions. Juve only mustered one shot in the first half – a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty. The second half was better, and the response to going a man down was admirable (although I Giallorossi should have put the game to bed long before Ronaldo’s second strike).
Overall, there were positives and negatives to take from both matches. Pirlo clearly knows how to get them playing some lovely football, but he must settle on a consistent starting lineup and get up to speed quickly with this management malarkey.
Way too premature prediction: Plenty of lessons left to learn, but not much time to do it in. Title is at risk.
Inter 4-3 Fiorentina
Assessment: Only 90 minutes of action to base our snap-judgement of Inter on, and it was far from straight-forward viewing in their mental 4-3 victory over Fiorentina on Saturday evening. Staring down the barrel of a 3-2 defeat, I Nerazzurri scored two in the final three minutes to snatch the points.
What we learned, was just how much depth Antonio Conte has at his disposal this year. Achraf Hakimi, Alexis Sanchez, Stefano Sensi, Radja Nainggolan and Arturo Vidal all stepped off the bench to help turn the result around in the dying minutes, offering the Italian coach a quintet of stars who would walk into most other starting XI’s.
Way too premature prediction: Inter’s main downfall last year (according to Conte) was their lack of options off the bench, and that deficiency ultimately cost them the title. No excuses this time round, then.
Torino 2-4 Atalanta
Assessment: New season, same old Atalanta. La Dea were never really involved in the title race last season, although they could have been, had results not dropped off post lockdown. We were all wondering how they would recover following the heart-breaking, last-gasp Champions League loss to Paris Saint-Germain in August, and well, it’s business as usual.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s men turned on the style against Torino, scoring four, (a couple of crackers, too) with the front three clicking like they’d never been away on their jollies at all. Luis Muriel stepped in to replace the absent Josip Ilicic, and his wonderful performance was just like putting on an old pair of slippers. All is well in the world of calcio in Bergamo.
Way too premature prediction: Title challenge inbound.
Cagliari 0-2 Lazio
Assessment: As far as comfortable curtain raisers go, Lazio made pretty easy work of Cagliari. They took the lead on four minutes, controlled the game throughout, and then struck the final blow with 15 minutes to play. Le Aquile will be pleased to see Ciro Immobile start the season with a goal, and alongside three points and a clean sheet, there’s no reason to be downbeat in Rome.
However, the lack of squad players was an issue last year, and it has yet to be addressed this time round. Very few new additions have been made in the summer transfer window, and it’s difficult to see the Eagles breaking into an ever-improving top three.
Way too premature prediction: In danger of going backwards without reinforcements.
Hellas Verona 0-0 Roma(3-0 victory awarded to Verona post-match) Roma 2-2 Juventus
Assessment: There is absolute chaos at Roma right now. The new owners have walked into a minefield, starting with the club having no sporting director, and acting SD Guido Fienga suspended for breaking social distancing rules. I Giallorossi then made a clerical error prior to the Verona stalemate, forgetting to register and then fielding Amadou Diawara. This led to Roma being handed a 3-0 defeat for their stupidity (and rule breaking), rounding off a terrible start to the campaign.
The 2-2 draw with Juve was a significant step forward, but Paulo Fonseca’s men should have won, particularly when their visitors went down to ten men. They didn’t. The Portuguese coach managed the game terribly, and the win slipped through their fingers. Tough times in the capital… things can only get better.
Way too premature prediction: The staggering floor-kebab scrappers of Serie A’s big boys.
Milan 2-0 Bologna Crotone 0-2 Milan
Assessment: It all feels far too normal to be Milan, doesn’t it? Two games, two wins, two clean sheets and four goals scored. All in two days work. Stefano Pioli has assembled a group of young, hungry and talented footballers, all desperate to pull on the Rossoneri jersey.
There were concerns that Milan would struggle to win without Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their side, but after he contracted coronavirus and missed the Crotone victory, those fears were quickly put to bed. Whisper it quietly, but the sleeping giants may be about to awaken from their deep slumber.
Way too premature prediction: You can’t win anything with kids…but a little sneak into the top four? These dark horses just might.
Parma 0-2 Napoli Napoli 6-0 Genoa
Assessment: The final day of the week is nowadays known as ‘Sunday Funday’ among the cool kids, and that could never be more accurate than when Napoli are in town. Gennaro Gattuso has rarely been synonymous with goals and entertainment, but this Partenopei side are breaking the mould.
Napoli spent huge money on new striker Victor Osimhen in the summer, and he has looked incredibly dangerous when handed the opportunity. Last season’s flop Hirving Lozano is also ready to carry the torch dropped by the departed Jose Callejon, and he was a man possessed in their opening two victories. The 6-0 drubbing was a statement of intent – Gattuso means business.
Way too premature prediction: Title-winning forward line, but only a top-six midfield and defence. Still gonna be fun, anyway.