Time for an Update: Changes I’d love to see in FIFA 22

Time for an Update: Changes I’d love to see in FIFA 22

With much of the last year being spent alone in lockdown, I have found myself putting much more time into FIFA 21 than I usually would, getting through a number of years in my career and even dabbling for a little bit in Ultimate Teams. Having spent so much time playing, there are a number of things that I have picked up on that could make the FIFA experience better. Of course, EA don’t generally care too much about the player experience and just wants to make money off game sales and money being spent in UT, so I doubt many of the things on this list will come to fruition even over the next couple of years, as I will be focusing mainly on gameplay and the manager mode career.


All the licences

Now I know this is going to be a hard one due to FIFA not being the only football game, but having licences missing is a real drawback, especially when you get big name teams like Juventus, Roma and the Italian national team under different names and having generic kits. Coming up against one of these teams really takes out some of the immersion, which is a real shame and even worse for people who are fans of those teams.

More leagues

A couple of seasons into my career mode with Cheltenham Town, I picked up an Italian striker called Sebastiano Esposito, who has gone on to become my star striker. If I were to lose my save and restart career now, he would be unavailable as he has moved to a team in Serie B, which is not included in the game. It seems crazy to me that there is only 1 Italian league and I feel that all the top European leagues need at least their second tier, if not also their third, to allow for players who may be out on loan from big name clubs to lower tiers, while also providing more options for progression in career mode – it’s been great being able to rise up from League 2 to the Premier League as manager of Cheltenham Town.

Further to this, it’s beyond time that the Women’s game was added beyond just the international teams, with the top women’s leagues and competitions being added, so that those who dream of seeing Daniëlle van de Donk score the winner for Arsenal in the Champions League can make it a reality in the game.

Change throw-ins

Watching Ben Tozer and Cheltenham Town this season has reminded me just how dangerous a player with a giant throw-in can be. Unfortunately, if you try to utilise that in-game when you reach the final third of the pitch, you’re lucky to have any players positioning themselves in the middle of the box.

The usual throw-in system could stay as it is, but with a button you can press to change to a throw deep into the box, which will see whoever has the “long throw” or “giant throw” trait prepare to throw in and players to set up in the box similar to a corner, with he throw either using the current corner dynamic of picking the rough area you’re aiming for and how long you hold the power bar deciding if the throw is looped in or more of a bullet, or instead going for a power cone, where you can choose the rough direction, but more powerful throws will be less accurate.

Just this one simple addition to the game will make it feel more realistic and give more importance to the players with long throws.

Make management jobs more realistic

Let’s be honest, there’s a lot about the manager mode that doesn’t feel realistic. and it could be simple changes that help this. For starters, let’s just use my career as manager of Cheltenham Town. I started with them on a £13,000 contract, and despite 3 promotions in 4 years, my contract has remained the same every year. I’m not saying that I should now be theoretically getting Pep Guardiola money, but I think that these contracts could be more realistic and have a range of salaries dependant on the league, success in previous years and the club’s own financial situation.

Similarly, through all 4 seasons, I have received offers from pretty much every national team in the game. It’s hard to imagine that one of the top 10 nations will come asking me to be their manager when I’ve never managed above Championship level. Even more crazy is the thought that these top national teams would allow someone to manage them on a part-time basis while still managing a club team!

Obviously they would be shorter seasons, but I think that the international management role should become a full-time role, with us choosing to focus on international football rather than club football, as is the case in real life. Similarly, to make managerial opportunities more realistic, I would add a new feature – reputation points – which group and down according to how well you perform as a manager, but higher weightings to more prestigious competitions, with each team having a minimum amount of reputation required before they would consider you.

FIFA 21 Career (In Menus)
FIFA 21 Career (In Menus)

Imagine for example my Cheltenham Town manager mode. I have taken them from League 2 to the Premier League, with 3 promotions in 4 seasons and some strong cup runs. A decent first season in the Premier League could lead to a team like Everton – who are pushing for European qualification – to offer me a role, but a poor season with them that saw us close to relegation could then leave my reputation at such a point that only the bottom couple of Premier League teams would offer me a contract, leading to me needing a couple of seasons of success in the Championship or fighting at the bottom of the Premier League in order to become an interest to a mid-ranked international team.

Manager profiles

Not all managers are the same. We’ve seen for years how Pep Guardiola favours a possession-heavy game, José Mourinho favours a solid defence over a stunning attack, while Eddie Howe provides a more attacking game. Currently in the game, the manager is basically just a unique character you see in some cutscenes, with the team already being set to their usual formation and tactics. But what if the tactics were changed to rely on the manager?

Imagine if each manager came with 3 or 4 preferred formations (which could account for differing personnel between teams) and their own unique tactical set-up. This will lead into my next point, but imagine then if we had Burnley go from Sean Dyche as manager to Pep Guardiola, and you would see the team go from a super-organised defence-first team to a possession-first team. This could be taken even further in career mode with certain managers having certain player types they prefer, for example players with high technical and short passing skills for Guardiola, while a manager who favours route 1 football would be more likely to be in the hunt for a tall and physical striker like Diego Costa than a small but agile striker like Sergio Agüero, while some managers will be more willing to use the Academy and some will prefer to bring in veterans.

Add more of a story to career mode

This would be something relatively simple to do, and would actually be a great culmination of some of the earlier points.

In my career mode, Manchester United are currently 9ᵗʰ in the league with just a handful of matches left, well below the position they should be with the quality of players in their squad, and yet Ole Gunnar Solskjær is still the manager. The only manager who currently moves around is you, despite many players having played for 3 or 4 clubs in the 4 and a half seasons that I’ve played. It doesn’t feel natural.

But how easy would it be for even the managers of all the other teams to have a meter tracking their own safety at a team – and thereby getting sacked if they drop below a certain level – as well as their own reputation meter to see what jobs would be available for them. Let’s take the example above from my career: United’s troubles would lead to Solskjær’s sacking. If our reputation was high enough, we could be offered the role, with our offered salary being affected by a base range for a Premier League team, United’s finances and prestige, and my own reputation meter. If I turned down the offer, or my reputation wasn’t high enough, the AI would pick a manager with suitable reputation from another less/equally prestigious team – let’s assume Sean Dyche has earned enough reputation – and they take over the role, while some managers could spend some time unattached and older managers could choose to retire like players do.

This could then be taken even further by having some players who retire also go into management roles – generally with less prestigious teams initially. We see it all the time in real life, how great would it be to see a player like Jordan Henderson or James Milner become a manager after retiring from playing and working their way to become Liverpool manager later in their career. This could also utilise Ultimate Team having likenesses of retired players to have players who have previously retired (including some who have gone on to become pundits) also appear.

With the men’s and women’s game and international football all combined in one large story, how great would it be to see Steph Houghton finish her playing career, become a manager of a League 2 team, lead them to the Championship before being picked up by a team in the WSL, where a couple of years of strong performances sees her earn a role as a Premier League manager and after a few years there, take over the lead the England Women’s national team to World Cup glory.

Further to this, take out the option to include a financial takeover and just have these happen as random events, with between 4 and 10 happening around the footballing world each season. We saw how the influx of money changed Manchester City, imagine if an AI League 2 team suddenly had a huge financial influx that allowed them to bring in top players and earn back-to back promotions, while you do the same on a shoestring budget, creating a great rivalry over the years.

This could also tie in to the increased story potential, but it seems really odd to me that I have led Cheltenham Town to the Premier League… and yet we still play in a stadium with a capacity below 10,000. Though it does not fall under the manager’s remit, it would make sense to be able to upgrade stadiums as teams move up through the leagues, with the option also available if a team goes on a rapid rise – like in my career mode – to build a new stadium tat is more fitting for where a team finds itself. In order to do this though, teams need to be regularly reaching capacity, which brings me to my final point in this category…

fifa 21 town park

How great would it be to see dynamic crowds?! If we stick to my aforementioned career, my success with Cheltenham Town would surely be leading to capacity crowds week in week out, but Manchester United’s poor season would probably see empty seats in the crowd. Further than this, imagine if Cheltenham took a 0-3 lead over United by the hour mark, how great would it be to see a shot of some United fans leaving early, with shots of the crowd showing more empty seats as the match progresses. Such small touches, and yet it makes everything feel and look more realistic.

More commentary options

I should begin this with an admission: When I play the game, I have it muted and just listen to podcasts. The reason? We have just 1 pair of commentators, so once you have played a few games, it gets boring. While I’m sure that it would involve some time and cost, it would be great to have 3 or 4 commentary pairs, each with a fair degree of unique dialogue. Whether you have these pairs in a rotation, or just randomly selected for each match, that little bit of variety just adds to the whole experience.

Expand the youth development

Youth development took a great step forward in FIFA 21, but it could be taken even further. To properly grow a young prospect once they are promoted from the Academy, they need regular gametime. But imagine that you have a young centre midfield who has the potential to become one of the best players in the game, but is currently a mid-50s overall, while you play with 2 centre mids and already have 3 with overalls in the mid-high 60s. You can’t really justify playing him with any regularity, and a loan probably won’t see him get many more starts either.

But what clubs would do in real life, is have him train with the seniors and play with the u20s. Though we wouldn’t need u20 games to be playable, selecting as much as you can of an u20 matchday squad from youth players in your senior team and also the youth academy (which could be renamed your senior academy), while any empty spots would be hypothetically filled by other members of the academy who are younger and less ready for promotion tot he senior team. Then at the start of each season, the game could create 1 or 2 of these players who would have filled the blank spots and have them be “promoted” to the senior academy, while we can also use the current scouting system to find kids for the senior academy.

Regular selection in these u20s games would allow the players to keep progressing and growing better than if they were an unused substitute, while also making them available if you did want to play them in the occasional senior fixture to test how they are developing.

Scouting changes

While I do appreciate the way scouting is at the moment, I have thought of a way that this could be improved. At the moment, the focus of the scouting is fully on attributes, with just a quick mention of their form. I feel that the specific attributes should actually be something that only the best scouts can get. I would suggest Scout Judgement decide what you are able to view in the following way:

1 Star – Already know player’s age, height, weight, position(s), preferred foot, market value, release clause & current wage. Scout to learn player’s OVR and stats (eg appearances, starts, goals, assists, yellow cards, red cards, clean sheets – for current season, previous season, career)

2 Stars and above – Already know player’s age, height, weight, position(s), preferred foot, market value, release clause, current wage, OVR and stats.

2 Stars – Scout to learn work rates, weak foot, skill moves

3 Stars – Scout to learn work rates weak foot, skill moves, physical attributes

4 Stars – Scout to learn work rates weak foot, skill moves, physical attributes, skill attributes

5 Stars – Scout to learn work rates weak foot, skill moves, physical attributes, skill attributes, mental attributes

In doing so, you are getting a real benefit to what information a scout can get you. Even the worst scout would be able to get a player’s overall and stats, so you can get an idea of how well they are doing, but it would take the best scouts for you to see accurately if a player fits your style.

Improved loan system

Usually if you are loaning a player out, it will be a youth player who you want to develop by sending to a team where they can play more regular. However, there is currently little way to validate this.

Taking the loan system deeper could see you coming to an agreement as to how often the player plays, with monthly updates from the club as to how the player is doing to ensure they remain within the terms of the agreement, and allowing us to see how our loaned out player is developing. 

What do you think about these suggestions? Is there anything you would add?

Thanks for reading. Until next time…

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari

Welcome to Sport on the Silver Screen. In this series, I will be looking back over sports movies that I have recently watched/re-watched and giving my thoughts on them. Getting into the Schmoedown and starting to follow a number of the personalities from the show has given me a much greater appreciation of movies and seen me starting to watch more.

Being a fan of both movies and sports, I have taken the chance to start highlighting the sheer volume of sports movies out there. For each movie I will be giving some details about the movie and then a quick review, including a section giving a sports fan’s perspective of the action’s realism.

This series has been heavily influenced by Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai of Action Industries, and as such I will be borrowing a couple of sections that they used in their old show Action Movie Anatomy: Fist-pump moment and favourite line. Be aware, there will be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.

Today I will be looking at a more recent movie: Ford v Ferrari

ss ford v ferrari le mans '66

Key facts

Directed by James Mangold

Music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders

Released in 2019

Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, Caitriona Balfe

Synopsis: Henry Ford II tasks former racing driver Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his team, including racing engineer and driver Ken Miles (Bale), with creating a Ford racing car capable of ending Ferrari’s dominance at the annual 25 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.

Review

I remember when this movie was first coming out hearing rave reviews from people who saw it, but had no time to go see it in cinemas. Luckily, getting access to my friend’s Sky Go for a week to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League gave me a chance to catch up on a couple of other films that I’d missed, so this was top of the list. Safe to say that it didn’t disappoint!

I was a massive fan of Mangold’s Logan and the way it made a superhero movie feel so grounded and real. Well Mangold did it again, and though that should be obvious from the fact that it is a biographical sports drama, he – and everyone involved – did a fantastic job of making me feel like I was actually watching something from the 60s in how realistic it all looked. He also did a fantastic job of keeping the film grounded and full of heart rather than just action, by regularly coming back to scenes between Ken Miles and his wife or son. Much like Warrior, it is these moments of heart that can so easily be left out of a sports movie, but in fact take the film to another much more emotional level as we get even more invested in the character by seeing their family life and how that is being impacted. Most notable for me was a pair of scenes between Bale and Noah Jupe (playing Miles’ son, Peter), one talking about being kind to the car and feeling it, and another following a map Peter has made of the Le Mans circuit and using it to talk through the perfect lap.

Of course, these scenes add great feeling, but it is only possible due to the quality of acting, which is top class across the board. Jupe is brilliant for a young actor, while Matt Damon puts in another strong performance as Shelby, with moments of weakness, but also moments where he is fully in control and in his element. Josh Lucas is incredible as Leo Beebe, playing a perfect sh*tweasel character as the main antagonist in a personal sense (Ferrari racers obviously being the overall antagonists). But the best performance by a mile is Christian Bale as Ken Miles. We get moments of elation, anger, joy, sadness and focus from Bale, and he is deep in this role, such that I never for a moment felt that there was any overlap between this performance and any of his other roles that I had seen. having seen this, I’m shocked that he missed out on a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars.

Would I recommend it? Definitely! This is not just an out-and-out sports movie, but a drama with heart and humour, while the idea of racing is easy enough for people to understand even if they do not know the details of the sport. If you have seen Rush and enjoyed it, then this is definitely worth finding a couple of hours to watch.

Sports perspective

So I’ll keep this short and sweet as I’ll be completely honest and admit that motor racing is not my forté, and that if I am usually watching the sport, then it will be Formula 1, rather than endurance racing. Add to that the way that motor racing has changed so much from the 60s to now, and this is certainly something outside of my wider knowledge.

Obviously the big point here is that the narrative focuses mainly on the one Ford that Miles is driving and just a handful of Ferraris, when in actuality there were much larger numbers in the race. We also keep the focus mainly on Miles in the car, when these endurance races have teams of 2 drivers due to their length – we do see shots making this clear, but the action itself sticks to when Miles is in the car. (MAJOR SPOILER WARNING) As a result, the finale of the race is framed somewhat as a defeat as Miles is cheated out of first place, whereas in the wider scope of things it was still a win for Ford.

I also feel that some of Shelby’s shenanigans with the neighbouring Ferrari pit crew were tough to believe actually happened, but they added some fun moments to the race, while also adding tot he feeling of Shelby and co. having to overcome a more experienced and prepared opposition.

Useless trivia

Though I have gone with the title of Ford v Ferrari, as this is what I most commonly heard it called due to listening to shows and podcasts by Americans – such as the Schmoedown Entertainment Network and Action Industries – the movie was actually titled Le Mans ’66 in the UK and some other European countries. Personally, I think that the Ford v Ferrari title is better and more fitting as though Le Mans 66 was the climax of the film and the end of Ferrari’s dominance, the film does in fact cover a couple of years and at the heart of it is about the work that Shelby, Miles and co. put in to create a car that could beat Ferrari and went on to do so for a number of years.

Fist-pump moment

The finale of the race at Daytona gets my vote here. With Miles (unknowingly) needing to win the race in order to get a spot for Le Mans, Beebe has supplied his rival with a far superior pit crew to give them an advantage over him, whilst also giving both cars the order not to push the cars over 6,000 RPM, which would give Miles an advantage due to how closely he had been involved in the design of the car. Seeing Miles will fall just short, Shelby walks out to the side of the track and shows Miles a sign: 7000+ GO LIKE HELL. With this instruction, Miles opens up and goes on a tear to take the lead on the final lap and win the race.

This scene has everything, fantastic racing action, Shelby’s trust in Miles and willingness to stick the proverbial middle finger up at Beebe, who has no way of stopping him, and a grandstand finish with Miles getting the crucial win against the odds.

Favourite line

There were a few that I considered here, including a speech by Shelby about 7,000 RMP which is said at the start of the movie and repeated again towards the end, while “This is about the place where the uninitiated soil themselves” was a humorous moment, but I instead found myself picking this moment from Henry Ford II after the failure of Le Mans ’65 as Shelby convinces him that he needs control of the team rather than being overruled by suits like Beebe.

“This isn’t the first time Ford Motors has gone to war in Europe. We know how to do more than push paper. And there is one man running this company. You report to him. You understand me? Go ahead, Carroll, go to war.”

At a time where many of the male characters would have served during WWII, its a completely understandable sentiment in such a big rivalry between Ford and Ferrari for Henry Ford to liken Le Mans to a battlefield, while we often see in war movies how incapable officers cause the problems, much like Beebe and the other suits are for Shelby.

What did you think of this movie? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!

The Kids Are Alright…

The Kids Are Alright…

If you are a regular reader of my articles about English rugby, then you will know that I am firmly of the stance that Eddie Jones should have left his role as head coach of the England national team years ago, and that England should have done as France have this World Cup cycle – immediately turned towards youth and the players who will be pushing for a spot at the RWC2023, so that they have 4 years of international experience – both individually and as a team – by the time the World Cup comes around.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at picking an alternative England XV made entirely of players who are aged 25 or under by the end of this season, as this highlights the players who would be coming around to their prime around 2023 – 2028 window and potentially cover both of those World Cups. Having made this decision, I also then chose to leave out anyone in this category who has been a regular in the England 23s in recent seasons, to show the incredible depth available out there – even more so when you look at some of the players (like Sam Simmonds) who just missed out on this squad due to their age, but would arguably still have the potential to play a key role in an ideal England squad.

rugby england crest shirt red

1) Alex Seville: I will admit that during the last year, the way competitions have been ran despite the impact of COVID has significantly reduced the amount of club rugby that I have been watching, leading to limited options in some positions. But one young lad who has been standing out has been Gloucester’s Alex Seville. The loosehead has been in and around the Gloucester senior team for a few seasons now and has been reaping the benefits this season, showing his quality in the scrum and carrying with strength.

2) Will Capon: Harry Thacker’s extended time out has allowed Will Capon a chance to show what he can do for Bristol and has highlighted another great talent at the hooker position. Capable of not just keeping up with Bristol’s expansive attacking, but also being able to seamlessly fit into it, Capon also has the strength to look after himself in contact and jump above some more experienced options to claim the number 2 jersey in my XV.

3) Marcus Street: Will Stuart is in the age bracket to get picked here, but is excluded as a regular in the England 23, so Marcus Street gets the nod here. Exeter have an abundance of quality at tighthead prop with Tomas Francis and Harry Williams, so Street will be learning from some of the best, and will surely be hoping to get more regular appearances in the near future.

4) Nick Isiekwe: One of the players who chose to be loaned to another Premiership club whilst Saracens were relegated to the Championship, the regular top flight rugby will surely be helping Isiekwe, even if his playing time is split between the second row and back row. The youngster does have a few caps to his name but has not been picked for since 2018 and will surely be hoping that his play with Northampton gets him back in contention in the near future.

5) Joel Kpoku: From the man who (temporarily) left Sarries to a man who should have left, Joel Kpoku found his opportunities limited at Saracens with their raft of international locks, and would have surely benefited from either a permanent or a loan move away when the club were relegated in order to give themselves the chance of regular Premiership rugby at a key point in their development. Kpoku is just the latest in the train of talented young locks coming through the Saracens ranks, following Itoje and Isiekwe, and it’s surely just a matter of time until he follows them into the senior England XV.

6) Zach Mercer: And so we reach the back row, and this is where things get crazy, as England have a plethora of young talent to cover the back row. Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Ben Earl and Jack Willis were all ruled out due to their regularity in the England 23, while Sam Simmonds aged out, and yet I still struggled to narrow it down to a trio. Ted Hill should consider himself very unlucky to miss out here as I moved Zach Mercer from his regular 8 shirt to number 6 – for reasons you will see soon enough. It is an absolute travesty that Mercer has not been given a fair shot in the England squad as he has been Bath’s best number 8 for years, but has unfortunately decided that enough is enough and agreed a move to France for next season. Expect him to follow in the footsteps of Steffon Armitage and Nick Abendanon by winning European Rugby Player of the Year in the coming seasons.

7) Lewis Ludlam: Will Evans and Ben Curry are unfortunate to be left out here, but Lewis Ludlam has proved himself previously in the England jersey – making the World Cup squad in 2019 – and has shown a carrying ability to go with his quality at the breakdown.

8) Alex Dombrandt: Keep an eye on Rusiate Tuima, who is currently working his way through the depth chart at Exeter, but here and now, it’s Alex Dombrandt of harlequins who gets the nod here. He carries with such incredible power -hence moving Mercer to 6 to take advantage of Dombrandt off the back of a scrum, while he also has the pace to exploit a gap in the defensive line and the awareness and handling skills to keep an attack going after making the initial break. On top of this, he is also another serious threat at the breakdown for the opposition to deal with.

9) Harry Randall: I’m still not over the fact that Gloucester had Harry Randall on their books but either couldn’t keep hold of him or decided he wasn’t worth holding onto. Randall is a player I have enjoyed since his days at Hartpury College. By no means the most physical player on the pitch, he makes up for that with his wits and talent, quickly becoming a regular in the Bristol XV.

10) Joe Simmonds: Allow me a moment of bias by mentioning George Barton, who is finally seizing on his opportunity at Gloucester and showing his quality to hopefully secure the job as Adam Hastings’ back-up next season. He’s probably a bolter for RWC2023 or more likely a player to come into the squad soon after the tournament ready for 2028, but there are plenty of other options who should have replaced George Ford in the 23 years ago and arguably had the chance to prove themselves at international level. While Marcus Smith certainly deserves his shot, I believe that Joe Simmonds is the best option as he has been developed so well at Exeter, slowly taking over from Gareth Steenson as the leader of the back line.

11) Ollie Thorley: Thorley has been on the fringes of the England squad for a while now but not been able to regularly win a place in the 23. It’s a pity, as he has a great blend of pace and power that will cause defences no end of issues as they try to figure out if he will try to run around them or through them.

12) Piers O’Conor: Though he’s not been able to hammer down a weekly spot in the England 23, Ollie Lawrence has been enough of a regular that I chose to make my job harder by leaving him out. Luckily, Bristol’s O’Conor fell just within the age range so gets the nod here. A utility back who has played for England XV in an uncapped match, O’Conor has a great range of skills that would make him indispensable in any team.

13) Paolo Odogwu: You’ve got to feel for Odogwu, who has been a revolution for Wasps sine his move in from the wing. Such was his form, he was called into the England training squad for the Six Nations and kept with the team each week, only to find himself leapfrogged by Joe Marchant by the end of the tournament without ever making the 23. He has an incredible talent, with pace to burn and strong legs to keep driving in contact. The danger for England right now is that while he remains uncapped, he could choose to switch allegiance to Italy, who would certainly benefit from having him on board.

14) Joe Cokanasiga: A major knee injury has kept the Bath winger quiet over the last year, while he has also been dealing with issues relating to his father’s visa. However, if he can get back on track next year, it won’t take him much to remind us of the quality that saw him called up to the England squad with good pace and great physicality and handling to go with it, giving England something different on the wing.

15) Josh Hodge: Max Malins fell out of the running by becoming a regular for England during the Six Nations, and while an on-form George Furbank has a big draw and both Freddie Steward and Tom de Glanville have impressed of late, I have instead gone for Josh Hodge. Another Exeter player who may not be getting as many minutes as they would at some other teams, Hodge is learning off a top-quality 15in Stuart Hogg and has many of the same attributes, with quality handling skills and the ability to beat players with just his pace and footwork, while also having a monster kick to pin the opposition back.

rugby england crest shirt black

Premier League 2020/21: March

Premier League 2020/21: March

With the FA Cup and international football taking up much of March, we only had a few rounds of Premier League action, but that doesn’t mean nothing of note happened. Manchester City’s unbeaten run came to an end at the Etihad with a 0-2 loss to Manchester United, Fulham picked up a crucial victory against Liverpool, Arsenal came back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 a West Ham and Sheffield United moved on from Chris Wilder with relegation looking likely, only to lose their next match 5-0.

Despite the loss to United, City remain in a commanding position and likely to win the title, with United and Leicester having opened up a small gap between them and 4ᵗʰ-placed Chelsea, with just 5 points separating them and 8ᵗʰ-placed Everton in the fight for European qualification. At the bottom end of the table, Sheffield United and West Brom may as well begin preparing for life in the Championship, while Fulham are keeping themselves in the hunt for safety, currently just 2 points behind Newcastle, who do have a game in hand.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Harry Kane (Tottenham) & Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 17 goals; Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 16 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 13 assists; Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) – 11 assists; Bruno Fernandes & Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – 10 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 16 clean sheets; Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) & Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 14 clean sheets


End of an era

The first story I will be looking at is actually something that has happened in recent weeks during the Premier League break, with the announcement that Sergio Agüero will be leaving Manchester City at the end of the season. The Argentine has been one of the best strikers of his generation, but after an injury-hit start to the campaign, he has featured infrequently in the starting XI, as Pep Guardiola has often preferred Gabriel Jesus up front, or a formation with a false 9, taking advantage of their midfield options and the goal-scoring form of İlkay Gündoğan this season.

After being such a key part of the squad for so long, it is a shame to see his City career coming to such an end. Along with Vincent Kompany and David Silva, Agüero ushered in a new era of success for Manchester City, so to see him getting such infrequent minutes is heart-breaking as a fan of football and just shows how cut-throat a business football is now.

Of course, the one thing Agüero hasn’t won at City has been the Champions League, but they are looking strong this season and are still in the hunt. Could Agüero still get the fairy tale ending to his Manchester City career by scoring the winner in the final?

Bale balling

It’s surely taken longer than Spurs would have hoped, but in the last couple of months, Gareth Bale has finally become an integral part of the squad following his loan move from Real Madrid.

After putting together some impressive performances in the cup, Bale has made his way into the starting XI in the league and has become such a key part of the attack, playing a vital part in their sole goal against Fulham and scoring a brace against Crystal Palace.

When on form, Bale is a fantastic player, but injuries and falling down the pecking order at the Bernabéu have left him not always reaching his potential, and for so long it looked like his return to Spurs would be a bust. But recent months will have given the team hope and it will be interesting to see if Spurs try to make the loan permanent. If he can carry on like this until the end of the season, letting him return to Spain would be a big loss for the team.

G-real problems

Aston Villa have struggled as of late, and it’s no surprise that these struggles have coincided with the loss of Jack Grealish to injury. While they have still had some attacking quality, Grealish has the talent to unlock defences and change games in Villa’s favour.

At 25 years old and now in and now pushing for a spot in the England XI, it’s hard to imagine that Grealish will be at the club much longer, as clubs pushing for titles and European qualification on the regular will want a player like this, who will also benefit for regular football in Europe when it comes to winning a place in the national team. I’ll be shocked if Villa don’t receive some hard-to-ignore offers this summer.

As a result, these recent weeks without Grealish could prove beneficial. They have shown that they are still a functional team, and it won’t take much to get them secure in the league and competitive around the middle of the table.


Team of the Month

Leicester City

With just 3 rounds of games, it’s certainly harder to pick out one team, but Leicester got my vote here. They have had a torrid time with injuries, but have pushed through to a draw and 2 wins during March. So many teams would come unstuck with their injury list – just look at Villa without Grealish – so to still be pushing into the top 3 is a great achievement.