Best Games of 2019-20: November to January

Here’s the second installment of my choices for the best games of last season. These five games take us through the winter break and on into January. Hope you enjoy them.

November 24th – Sheffield United 3 – Manchester United 3

Chris Wilder’s newly-promoted Sheffield United were 5th in the table and a point ahead of 7th place visitors, Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjær adopted a 3-4-3 in an effort to combat Wilder’s much-discussed overlapping centerbacks, but while Man U had the lion’s share of possession, the Blades dominated the first half on the counterattack and were unfortunate to be only one up at the break off a poacher’s finish from midfielder John Fleck. Solskjær’s team looked much more comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 to start the second half, but Lys Mousset scored against the run of play on a beautifully constructed counter to give Sheffield a 2-goal lead. Solskjær’s faith in youth, however, made the difference as his United side continued to push. With just under 20’ remaining, Brandon Williams scored in only his second start for the club (replacing the suspended Ashley Young). Solskjær immediately brought on Mason Greenwood, and he promptly scored his first league goal off a cross in from Marcus Rashford. When Rashford helped himself to a go-head goal with 10’ remaining, it seemed that Solskjær’s club had completed their comeback. But in the final minute of regulation, Oliver McBurnie, replacing an injured Mousset, brilliantly controlled the ball (VAR judged him not to have used his arm) and put in an equalizer to share the points. Sheffield were still in the European places when the league paused in March, but an indifferent restart saw them finish the season in 9th. Manchester United had two more months of struggle before signing Bruno Fernandes, who would lead them to 3rd place and semifinals in the Europa League and FA Cup. Analysis from The Coaches’ Voice, The Busby Babe (SB Nation).

December 2nd – Cagliari 4 – Sampdoria 3

Rolando Maran’s Cagliari were on an 11-game unbeaten streak that saw them in 4th place, while Sampdoria were 2-3-1 under new manager Claudio Ranieri following a 1-0-6 start. 36 year-old Fabio Quagliarella had a bicycled effort saved and scored a penalty in the first half before assisting a second goal by Gastón Ramírez in the opening 10’ of the second. Radja Nainggolan pulled one back for Cagliari with a remarkable strike from distance, only to see Quagliarella restore Sampdoria’s two-goal lead with a left post volley straight off the restart. But João Pedro scored a pair of goals off crosses in from Luca Pellegrini and Nainggolan to draw Cagliari level with just under 15’ left. The winner would take longer than that, as injury-time substitute Alberto Cerri would head in a late goal to keep Cagliari in 4th. This would prove the high point of Cagliari’s season, who would not win again until after the March hiatus, finishing the season only one spot ahead of 15th-placed Sampdoria. Analysis from Between the Posts.

December 27th – Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 – Manchester City 2

Held over from the other Boxing Day fixtures to Friday night, all eyes were on Manchester City’s visit to Molineux. While City were hoping to regain 2nd place from Leicester City, whom they only trailed by a point, Wolves had already beaten Pep Guardiola’s squad with a late brace from Adama Traoré in the reverse fixture. The action started early this time around: a long ball over the top at 11’ forced Ederson into a confrontation with Diogo Jota outside the box, and the keeper was sent off. Guardiola sacrificed Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling becoming the central striker, but even a man down, City dominated possession. Midway through the first half, VAR (correctly) awarded City a penalty, then spotted an encroachment when Rui Patrício saved Sterling’s first effort. He saved the second as well, but Sterling scored on the rebound to put City ahead. At halftime, Guardiola brought on a third center-back to bolster the defense, and when Sterling scored a counterattacking goal at the start of the second, City looked poised to steal the points. But within 5’, a Sterling turnover led to a blistering shot from Traoré to pull Wolves back within one. City continued to protect their lead until, less than 10’ remaining, Traoré stole the ball from Benjamin Mendy, attempting to play out from the back, and centered it for Raúl Jiménez to equalize. Shortly before the end, Matt Doherty finished the job, driving to the middle and scoring a late winner from the top of the box. Sterling hit the crossbar on an injury time free kick, but couldn’t save a point. This loss effectively ended City’s title hopes, but perhaps had costs for Wolves as well. Two days later, they would lose 1-0 to Liverpool, manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s complaints about the festive fixture scheduling proving justified. Analysis from Holding Midfield, The InnerViewsTotal Football Analysis, Between the Posts.

January 12th – Paris Saint-Germain 3 – AS Monaco 3

Monaco’s first game under former Spain manager Roberto Moreno (replacing Leonardo Jardim following early season struggles) proved the first real test of Thomas Tuchel’s newly developed 4-4-2 formation (sometimes described as a 4-2-2-2 or 4-2-4) to accommodate PSG’s “Fantastic Four” of Neymar, Kylian Mbabbé, Mauro Icardi, and Ángel Di María. Within 2’, Neymar had scored with a ball over the top from Marco Verratti; but by 15’ Monaco had taken the lead, Wissam Ben Yedder scoring the go-ahead goal after Gelson Martins had finished off an earlier chance he had created for the equalizer. Monaco continued to threaten throughout, but Neymar created an own goal before the half hour mark with a deflected shot, then scored a penalty won by Mbappé shortly before the break to put PSG ahead. Aleksandr Golovin nearly equalized in injury time, hitting the post to cap off a relentless first half. Moreno waited until after the hour mark before making a change, bringing in Islam Slimani to partner with Ben Yedder up top. He was quickly rewarded, as an offside Slimani was played on by Marquinhos’s failed interception of the penetrating pass and scored a 70’ equalizer. Mbappé had an injury-time chance for PSG, played in by Neymar, but shot over. Critics heralded the end of the Fantastic Four, but PSG beat Monaco 4-1 three days later (a rescheduled fixture) using the same system. Analysis from The Guardian, Total Football Analysis.

January 18th – Augsburg 3 – Borussia Dortmund 5

After a difficult start to the season under new coach Martin Schmidt, Augsburg had begun to turn things around in late November, going on a 4-1-1 run prior to the winter break. Dortmund had the lion’s share of possession, but it was Augsburg who scored first, Florian Niederlechner on a first-half counter-attack and Marco Richter hitting from 28 yards out straight off the restart. Julian Brandt promptly pulled one back only to have Niederlechner replicate his opener to restore Augsburg’s two-goal lead. Immediately, Lucien Favre introduced Erling Håland, acquired over the break from Red Bull Salzburg, and shifted from 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1. Within 3’, Jadon Sancho played Håland into the box to score with his first touch as a Bundesliga player. Sancho then scored the equalizer off a ball over the top, and 10’ later a similar ball gave Håland a second, assisted by an unselfish Thorgan Hazard. Another 10’ saw Håland, played in by Marco Reus, complete his Bundesliga debut hat-trick to finish off the game. Håland would go on to score 16 goals in 18 appearances for Dortmund, confirming his status as the most exciting young player in world football. Analysis from Football Bloody HellTotal Football Analysis.

Honorable Mention

11/5 Chelsea 4 – Ajax 4 (Champions League). A crazy game, with poor refereeing contributing more than it should have, as Chelsea came back from 4-1 down in what proved a critical group stage encounter.

12/17 Borussia Dortmund 3 – RB Leipzig 3. Dortmund gave up a two-goal lead against the league leaders.

12/22 Osasuna 3 – Real Sociedad 4. Osasuna nearly came back from 3-nil down–and a red card.

1/9 Barcelona 2 – Atlético Madrid 3 (Supercopa de España). The game that cost Ernesto Valverde his job, as Barcelona failed to reach the final of Spain’s revised, four-team mid-season “tournament.”

1/18 Nantes 3 – Olympique Lyonnais 4 (Coupe de France). Lyon’s win was highlighted by a remarkable performance by youngster Rayan Cherki.

1/28 Angers SCO 4 – Stade Rennais 5 (Coupe de France). Not to be outdone, Rennes produced an even more thrilling cup win, including a 3-goal extra-time.

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