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A Christmas Wish for Every Top European Club

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterDecember 23, 2019

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Pep Guardiola the head coach / manager of Manchester City prays during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Manchester City at Vitality Stadium on February 13, 2017 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

What if the manager of each of Europe's top clubs could make one Christmas wish, guaranteed to come true? What would they want?

Well, B/R Football has donned its Santa hat, read the letters the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Zinedine Zidane and more have sent to the North Pole and reveals them here.

The requests range from new players to a bit of mental fortitude, or perhaps it's as simple as some injury luck or just some goals.

To define Europe's top teams, we've taken the top 12 teams from the Champions League outright winners odds, according to Oddschecker


Atletico Madrid

Goals

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 10: Diego Costa of Atletico de Madrid reacts during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and RCD Espanyol at Wanda Metropolitano on November 10, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

As is often the case, the "goals against" column looks very healthy from Atletico Madrid's perspective. With just 11 conceded, their record is the best in La Liga.

It's at the other end of the pitch where they're having problems, though; just 20 scored is only good for the 12th-best record in the division—and that's after a couple of two-goal "splurges" in the last week lifted them out of the bottom five.

They've never been the most prolific outfit under Diego Simeone, but it's rarely been this dry up top. An injury to Joao Felix is a factor, and Diego Costa is starting to look human too. And while Alvaro Morata has ferreted his way to seven goals, no one else has more than two.

It's no disaster, but it is alarming and needs fixing. Atleti will come up short against the very best if more contributions aren't made from others.

              

Barcelona

For Griezmann to fit in

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 18: Antoine Griezmann of FC Barcelona  during the La Liga Santander  match between FC Barcelona v Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on December 18, 2019 in Barcelona Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

One of the more perplexing storylines of the 2019-20 season has been the erosion of Antoine Griezmann—both as a player and a personality.

He joined Barcelona for €120 million last summer, creating huge expectations, but he's only come to life a couple of times. The off-ish performances far outweigh the good ones.

A settling-in period is to be expected, but it's gone on too long. It's clearly affecting him, his shoulders sloped at times and his usual chirpy rhetoric in the media completely flatlining. In November, he said he "doesn't know how to dribble" (which isn't really true; he's just not as good at it as Lionel Messi or Ousmane Dembele).

Barca have other problems too, such as their dysfunctional midfield, but that feels like an issue attached to Ernesto Valverde, and one he's not able to fix.

But what he can do is create a clearer plan for how Griezmann should function in this side, allowing him to thrive and coaxing that cheeky grin back on to his face—a sure sign he's playing well.

           

Bayern Munich

A recognisable defensive line

MUNICH, GERMANY - DECEMBER 21: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Javi Martinez of FC Bayern Muenchen on the Ground during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and VfL Wolfsburg at Allianz Arena on December 21, 2019 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/Gett
TF-Images/Getty Images

December brought a fun game: Every Bayern Munich matchday, check the lineup announcement an hour before kick-off and see if you can piece together a defensive line. 

It peaked on the final matchday of the hinrunde, where it could be argued none of the four defenders Hansi Flick fielded were in their "natural positions." It didn't cost them—a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg followed—but it has against Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach previously.

Flick isn't fielding these selections for fun. A series of crippling of injuries have led Bayern to this point; Niklas Sule's ACL tear means he's lost for the campaign, while Lucas Hernandez's ankle ligament damage is troubling. That's forced David Alaba inside from the left, Javi Martinez back from the middle and Jerome Boateng in from the cold.

The defensive lines being wheeled out right now may keep Bayern in contention for the Bundesliga, but they will be ripped apart by top opposition in the Champions League.

Lucas' return will help—not just because he's excellent, but also because it may lead to the end of Bayern's defensive selection bingo that is undoubtedly hurting them at times.

             

Borussia Dortmund

Some semblance of consistency

DORTMUND, GERMANY - DECEMBER 17: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Mats Hummels of Dortmund on the ground during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig at Signal Iduna Park on December 17, 2019 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Image
TF-Images/Getty Images

Your week-to-week opinion of Dortmund can change drastically. They go from the sublime to the terrible, from winning 5-0 to being torn to shreds, from scoring magical goals to conceding howlers. A Dortmund game really is anyone's guess.

In a way, that's simply in keeping with the Bundesliga as a whole in 2019-20. It's a league where, at one point, the top seven were all separated by just a handful of points, and RB Leipzig lead the pack at Christmas. It's been chaos.

But that doesn't excuse Dortmund's erraticism. There was serious talk of manager Lucien Favre being given the sack in November as a result of their up-and-down nature, per the Daily Mail, as the club bosses understandably feel this Bundesliga title is there for the taking and that they have the squad to manage it, if only they could perform consistently well.

A recent switch to a 3-4-3 shape—away from the usual 4-2-3-1—brought an initial upturn in form, but it fell apart late on against Hoffenheim in the final game of 2019. It's one step forward, one step back, same as usual.

What Favre does over the winter break will define his club's season and his own future at it.

               

Chelsea

Buy Nathan Ake

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 07: Nathan Ake of AFC Bournemouth during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Liverpool FC at Vitality Stadium on December 7, 2019 in Bournemouth, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Image
James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

January is a big test for Chelsea and Frank Lampard

They've done so well to infuse young players into the XI and continue to win over the first half of the season. Now they must resist the temptation to go mad in the transfer window, though smart additionsones that don't harm the development of othersare always welcome.

It's arguable only one position needs urgently addressing, and funnily enough Chelsea have a ready-made solution staring them in the face. It would fall in line with the new philosophy ushered in by Lampard too.

Left-centre-back. Nathan Ake. £40 million. Get it done.

B/R's Dean Jones reported Chelsea inserted a buy-back clause into Ake's deal when they sold him to Bournemouth in 2017, meaning this transfer would go extremely smoothly if they wish to pull the trigger.

And they should. While Chelsea aren't struggling for numbers at centre-back, they are struggling to find the right balance of personnel. The majority of their options aren't comfortable on the left side, and Antonio Rudiger's continued misfortune with injuries makes consistency even harder to find.

Ake has blossomed into a fine defender on the south coast; good on the ball, good positionally, with excellent emergency instincts in the box. That he can play left-back too is also a boon.

This one's so simple that it's unforgivable to mess up.

              

Juventus

Ronaldo to reawaken

Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo scores a header during the Italian Serie A football match Sampdoria vs Juventus on December 18, 2019 at the Luigi-Ferraris stadium in Genoa. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP vi
MARCO BERTORELLO/Getty Images

Was Cristiano Ronaldo's out-of-this-world hang-time header against Sampdoria the start of the Portuguese's annual waking-up process?

Maurizio Sarri will certainly hope so, as he knows the key to their Champions League quests starts and ends with the 34-year-old's capacity to dominate the big stage.

Ronaldo said in October that, if it were up to him, he'd only play in important games, such as Champions League ties for Juventus and national team games for Portugal, per the Daily Mail. It confirmed what many believed: The first half of the season is largely irrelevant to him.

It explains the (comparatively) slow starts he's made to the last three seasons, and gives Juventus fans hope he'll improve dramatically at the beginning of 2020, right on cue for their Champions League assault.

            

Liverpool

No more injuries

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - DECEMBER 10: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) head coach Juergen Klopp of FC Liverpool looks on during the UEFA Champions League group E match between RB Salzburg and Liverpool FC at Red Bull Arena on December 10, 2019 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo b
TF-Images/Getty Images

Liverpool won a Champions League and accrued 97 points last season with a reasonably skeletal squad. Jurgen Klopp entrusted a smaller group of players than most to do the bulk of his work, and he got a little lucky along the way that no crippling injuries were sustained.

The German then decided to go again this term with literally the same group of players (though Takumi Minamino has been signed for January), rolling the dice on injury luck once more. 

But this time around they haven't been quite so lucky. Joel Matip has been out for a while, Fabinho too, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was on crutches after the FIFA Club World Cup final.

No team rides injuries easily, but Liverpool feel especially vulnerable to them in comparison to some of the other top sides. Contrast their depth against Manchester City's or Real Madrid's and you can start to see why.

If the Reds steer clear of any more long-term injuries, they'll likely win the Premier League and have a good shot at retaining the Champions League. Klopp knows that and has made his wish accordingly.

                 

Manchester City

Kalidou Koulibaly

NAPLES, ITALY - DECEMBER 01: Kalidou Koulibaly of SSC Napoli during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Bologna FC at Stadio San Paolo on December 01, 2019 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)
Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Aymeric Laporte's injury has divulged in specific detail how vulnerable the rest of the Manchester City defence is. Without him they've looked shell-shocked by almost every attack on their goal.

He'll be back by the end of January, per the Daily Mail, but City should still be spurred into action in the winter market. Laporte's injury has made clear how important he is, but it's also shown how unreliable the other options are.

The two names on the shortlist are Nathan Ake and Kalidou Koulibaly, according to B/R's Dean Jones. The former would be fine, but the latter would be sensational—and for the first time in years, it looks possible to coax him out of Napoli.

The Italian side have endured something of a crisis season; they sit eighth in the table, have fired their manager, and the owner is attempting to fine his players hefty sums for underperformance, per the Daily Mail.

It's an unhappy place, players seemingly want out, and the owner is seemingly fine with a revamp. It'll still take a lot to land him, but Koulibaly—one of the best centre-backs in the world—is a player who can change the face of City's defence without Laporte, then create perhaps the best central duo on the planet with him.

             

Paris Saint-Germain

Some (Champions League) nerve

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 21: Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint Germain  during the French League 1  match between Paris Saint Germain v Amiens SC at the Parc des Princes on December 21, 2019 in Paris France (Photo by Angelo Blankespoor/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

If it's crossed your mind that something feels a little different about Paris Saint-Germain this season, you're not the only one. They seem a sensibly built team, no longer quite so top-heavy or negligent in areas outside of the forward line.

Their goal is to win the Champions League, and talent-wise they're in the mix. What they'll need in order to achieve this, though, is something they've lacked in past years: some nerve.

From the Barcelona collapse to the...Manchester United collapse, things have spiralled in every conceivable way for PSG in the knockout stages. Pre-Christmas and post-Christmas PSG are completely different propositions, for some reason.

So for Christmas, manager Thomas Tuchel's wish list will consist of one simple thing: For his players to play to their potential in the Champions League knockout rounds and for nothing to go inexplicably wrong for once. 

           

RB Leipzig

Erling Haaland

Salzburg's Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haland warms up prior to the UEFA Champions League Group E football match Napoli vs Salzburg on November 5, 2019 at the San Paolo stadium in Naples. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP) (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP v
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/Getty Images

It'd be somewhat anticlimactic, but imagine for a second that Red Bull Salzburg's Erling Haaland shuns the interests of Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United and more to sign for sister club RB Leipzig.

Their chances of sealing a Bundesliga title and/or making a serious run in the Champions League would be greatly enhanced.

B/R's Dean Jones reported a cross-RB deal is possible, with the player keen to take a stepping-stone move before thrusting himself into the pressure-ridden world of the Premier League.

That Haaland could conceivably be the club's Christmas wish tells you just how good a shape they're in. The Norwegian's additional firepower could move the needle for them just enough to achieve something special.

         

Real Madrid

90-minute performances

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 22: coach Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid  during the La Liga Santander  match between Real Madrid v Athletic de Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu on December 22, 2019 in Madrid Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Ima
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

The strides Real Madrid have taken over the last month or two have been remarkable. Earlier this year (and at the beginning of this season), they looked a confused, damaged side, but Zinedine Zidane has slowly remoulded them into a team capable of winning consistently.

Many of the players whose form dipped severely last season—Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Dani Carvajal, Luka Modric...the list is a long one—have perked up, while fresher faces such as Federico Valverde have proved invaluable in rebalancing the side.

But while things are undeniably better—take a look at top spot in the Liga table as proof—there's still a way to go. There are still lapses and lulls in performances, still mistakes being made, and there are times when the eternal Karim Benzema is bailing them out.

Zidane will have been happy to see his side tick along and steadily improve through the first half of the season, but now there's a double-header with Manchester City on the calendar after Christmas, he'll need them to step it up another level. 

Iron out those periods in games when they surrender control, where they verge on being their early 2019 selves, and complete the transformation.

            

Tottenham Hotspur

More long-term solutions to short-term problems

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15: Christian Eriksen of Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur at Molineux on December 15, 2019 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Baylis -
James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Spurs' poor start to the season can be attributed to myriad reasons, but one of the chief factors was the level of uncertainty plaguing many parts of the squad.

They entered the campaign with doubts over several positions and question marks hanging over several players, most of them key names.

Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen all had just a year left on their deals, while the summer business felt half-finished: Why didn't the club sign a pair of new full-backs they can entrust for the next five years?

Jose Mourinho's short-term impact has largely been strong, and he's convinced Alderweireld to put pen to paper. Now more solutions must follow: Sell or tie up Eriksen, reconcile contractually with Vertonghen, and sign at least one full-back in January (right side the priority).

Achieve this and it will mean Spurs are not only on the right track but actually on a track at all.

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