A new mini-feature on the site for the new season is the introduction of the manager Power Rankings, where every month we list out the Top 5 tacticians from across Europe’s top leagues. October’s Power Rankings features five managers who’ve played key roles as the table begins to take shape.
5. RAFAEL BENITEZ // REAL MADRID
Having raised eyebrows after his appointment, Rafael Benitez has defied critics after 3 months into the job, finding his side joint-top of La Liga and yet to lose a game in all competitions.
October didn’t kick off in the best fashion for Rafa Benitez. While a 1-1 draw against their fierce city rivals away from home isn’t the worst, the aftermath of the result saw widespread criticism for the Spaniard. Karim Benzema had given the away side the lead, following which Real sat back and invited pressure only to see themselves concede 7 minutes from time, with the French goal-scorer himself withdrawn early.
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Real’s other league games have all been comfortable victories with the side scoring three goals in each of those fixtures. What supporters have most been pleased about is the opportunities given to the likes of Jese Rodriguez and Lucas Vazquez, with the duo rewarding the faith with stellar performances. Levante, Celta Vigo and most recently Las Palmas fell victim to the Benitez’ men. The victory over in-form Celta was the most difficult to achieve, with Benitez himself admitting the result could have gone any way, given the side he was forced to put out. The victory over Las Palmas also saw Real concede at home for the first time this season, coincidentally it was also the first time Keylor Navas was not in goal for Los Blancos.
The only European tie of the month saw the 10 time European Cup winners away in Paris to a boisterous PSG side. The 0-0 didn’t feature the best Real performance, nor was it the worst result. Both sides had their moments but pragmatic Benitez was content with walking away with a point.
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Formation used: Benitez approached every game with the tried and tested 4-3-3 variation, but was cautious (and clever) in the Paris game, playing a simpler 4-4-2 formation with defensive solidity in mind. An approach that got the result it desired.
Key player: Keeping his work-rate up in the defensive phase while more than contributing up front, Marcelo has been going through an impressive spell this month. The left-back has two goals and 1 assist to his name; figures you don’t expect a left-back to provide but are more than welcoming of it.
4. LAURENT BLANC // PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
With speculation always rife about his future at the hint of a drop in form, and growing expectations both domestically and in Europe, Laurent Blanc must be commended for the success he’s achieved thus far and continues to do so.
Having started October with Le Classique, Laurent Blanc would have been well aware of how important a month it was going to turn out to be. Having gone a goal down to current Talent Radar Forward Rankings leader, Michy Bathshuayi in the 30th minute, the home side pulled two back before half-time via a Zlatan Ibrahimovic brace before holding on to the 2-1 victory.
The next few league victories were expected ones for the defending champions. Another brace from Ibrahimovic helped the side to a 2-0 win over Bastia, before he went on to score another in the following games against Saint Etienne, a comfortable 4-1 victory. That particular game also saw Marco Verratti concede an unfortunate and comical own goal. Angel Di Maria scored his 3rd league goal of the season (4th overall) in the most recent win over Stade Rennais, already equaling his scoring record at Manchester United, to cap off PSG’s month.
Again, it was the 0-0 stalemate against Real Madrid that caught people’s attention. The French side have now been considered a big side for a couple of seasons, but many expect a stronger push in Europe to truly be considered a giant of the game. A tag that is long overdue given the number of stars signed and the financial muscle flexed to do so.
Formation used: 4-3-3 has been the relied formation for Blanc, as Ibrahimovic reaps the benefits of being the lone man upfront, flanked by Di Maria and a likely frustrated out-of-position Edinson Cavani. A defensive midfield cover allows two box-to-box midfielders to function on either side.
Key player: The man of the month for the Parisian club has undoubtedly been Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scoring five in October including the second penalty against Marseille that saw him surpass Pauleta as the club’s all-time top scorer and in record time.
3. MAURIZIO SARRI // NAPOLI
Sarri’s start to the season was categorised with criticism from the club’s biggest legend, Diego Maradona. The 56-year-old who spent much of his career in the lower divisions of Italian football, succeeding in top-flight with Empoli, has now done well to prove his doubters wrong.
Their performances in October has propelled them to the status of the genuine title contender after a fairly long sabbatical. The Naples club currently find themselves in 3rd place, and could go to the top of Serie A with a win in their game in hand, after a successful month.
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Over a period of 6 games, the side managed to capture 18 points having conceded just 2 goals (scoring an impressive 15 along the way). Their most memorable victory came away to AC Milan at the San Siro. One of Sarri’s new signings, Allan, opened the scoring in 13 minutes. Lorenzo Insigne doubled it three minutes into the second half, doubling his tally moments later before Rodrigo Ely’s nightmare start to the season was compounded as he scored an own goal to seal the result at a 4-0 victory for the away side.
Sarri’s men followed up the victory with an impressive 2-1 win over high-flying Fiorentina, league leaders at the time. Two impressive victories over Legia Warsaw (2-0) and FC Midtjylland (4-1) sees them atop their Europa League group with a 100% record. Their position makes Maradona’s comments all the more absurd, as Sarri is yet to lose a game since conceding 6 minutes from time away to Sassuolo on the opening day.
Formation used: Sarri has stuck with his 4-3-3 formation throughout the season but has done well to rotate the individuals used in the front three with good effect. Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon have been the most common main-stays on either side of Higuain but the likes of Manolo Gabbiadini have come in to take the lone role up-front, scoring a brace against Midtjylland.
Key Player: Gonzalo Higuain has once again shown why he is one of Europe’s best strikers, netting 5 goals in 4 starts in October. The Argentine has had fair criticism thrown his way for his inconsistency, but when in form he does closely resemble a sought after top striker.
2. ARSENE WENGER // ARSENAL
The lack of transfer activity, questionable start to the season and shocking results in Europe saw Wenger draw the wrath of the punishing English media and fans alike. But a month of football later, all is well in North London as the Gunners are widely considered genuine title contenders.
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Having to recover from a loss at home to Olympiakos, Arsenal stepped up to the occasion with a stellar response against Manchester United. An incredible opening few minutes saw the home side strike thrice, to compound Van Gaal’s woes and ease their own. Another 3-0 success away to Watford was impressive in it’s own right given the newly promoted side’s performances this season. But what followed next was arguably Wenger’s biggest win of the season, and one that was largely unexpected.
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The Gunners altered their game to suit the opposition and walked away with three points against the mighty Bayern Munich. On the back foot for much of the game, Wenger’s men were required to put in a more mature showing and take the chances that fell their way. Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil struck to give the Londoners their first Champions League win of the season. With Everton proving to be a tough side to crack this season, the 2-1 victory over them officially reinstated Arsenal as genuine contenders for the title. A shock Capital One Cup exit to Sheffield Wenesday was quickly forgotten by the 3-0 win at the Liberty Stadium against Swansea.
Formation used: Wenger has deployed the 4-2-3-1 formation this past month, with the key roles being played by Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla deep in midfield, allowing the three attacking midfielders to function effectively. Wenger has also done well in rotating the striker’s position between Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. While neither stand out as genuinely world-class, both have put in worthy performances thus far.
Key Player: Over the five games that he has played in October, Mesut Ozil has been involved directly in 8 goals. The German is finally not only showing his true ability, but putting in those performances consistently. An event that was rather rare in his first two season in London.
1. ANDRÉ SCHUBERT // BORUSSIA MÖNCHENGLADBACH
When Lucien Favre stepped down from his post as Gladbach boss, the supporters feared the worst given the success the Swiss boss had achieved. The side were bottom at the time having lost all their games. Just over a month later, Borussia are now three points off 3rd place and an automatic Champions League spot.
Andre Schubert was appointed as Favre’s replacement on an interim basis; it raised eyebrows as the 44-year-old had no prior Bundesliga experience and was now required to save a sides’ falling chances in the Champions League as well.
Schubert’s side started October after their first loss late in September under the new boss, a late goal conceded to Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. But the side picked themselves up with a 2-0 victory at home to Wolfsburg, a side on the other end of the league table. Eintracht Frankfurt were completely hammered in the next fixture, both Raffael and Andre Hahn grabbing braces.
Schubert’s men then had two back-t0-back fixtures home and away against an impressive Schalke side in the Bundesliga and the DFB Pokal. Die Fohlen emerged victorious in both games, winning the Bundesliga tie 3-1 at home, and following that up with a 2-0 win at the Veltins Arena in the cup. It was a result that truly catapulted Gladbach high up in the table, and convinced viewers Schubert’s success wasn’t just down to a change in management but genuinely good managerial work. Hertha Berlin were the next victims, succumbing to a 4-1 loss at home with Raffael among the scorers (his 5th of the season).
Formation used: Schubert hasn’t largely changed the tactical approach, deploying a defensive 4-4-2 formation. Both Granit Xhaka and teenager Mahmoud Dahoud have been stand-out performers, as the interim boss has succeeded in getting the most out of his players.
Key Player: With five goals scored and twenty-one chances created this season, Raffael continues to be Gladbach’s standout player. Four of those goals came in October, making him the side’s top scorer. Special mention to the aforementioned Dahoud and Xhaka as well.
Written by Sami Faizullah
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