This week, The Boot Room has had the pleasure of interviewing Racing Post and Soccerbase.com writer Mark Langdon. This follows on from our initial meeting, at Coral’s World Cup preview event.
In the following Q&A session, Mark expresses his views on the recent demise of Borussia Dortmund, Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette, his worthy contenders for this season’s Champions League trophy and much more.
We will start with an easy-ish Premier League question to whet your appetite. Firstly, can you see anyone catching Chelsea this season? And, does Jose Mourinho’s side have what it takes to win the Champions League?
I can’t see anyone catching Chelsea. Seven points would be a big advantage even if Manchester City were playing well, but Manuel Pellegrini is having his own problems at the Etihad. City also have the more difficult away fixtures left with trips to Old Trafford, Anfield and White Hart Lane.
As for the Champions League, I think Chelsea are close to becoming flat-track bullies. They’ve only won two matches against teams in the Premier League’s top six this season and while the Blues will always be well prepared under Mourinho I think there are more likely winners on the continent.
Now, we know you love your European football, Mark, but which teams have you most enjoyed watching this season? And, are there any sides across Europe’s top five leagues (England, Spain, Italy, France or Holland) that have taken you by surprise?
I have loved watching Lyon this season, it is quite incredible to see them still two points clear of Paris St-Germain and doing so with so many academy players in there. It’s not all about Alexandre Lacazette but he has been sensational.
In terms of surprises Augsburg fighting for a Champions League spot despite losing a few players last summer, most notable Andre Hahn is testament to the work of manager Markus Weinzierl. Nobody in Europe is doing a better job pound for pound.
We have been amazed by Borussia Dortmund’s demise this season. It’s incredible to see their current league position when you consider how successful they have been in recent years. Just what has gone wrong?
There’s a few things gone wrong in Dortmund. I think they were really unlucky earlier on in the season when their performances deserved so much more and their match statistics are those of a side who should be in the top four. However, they have also defended poorly as a side, the injuries to Reus, Hummels and the rest has not helped and, for once, the signings have flopped. For so long we have become used to Dortmund being the best around at replacing their sold starts but Kagawa, Immobile and Ramos have failed miserably so far.
How much of an impact will Marco Reus’ new contract have on Borussia Dortmund’s season? Based on rumours linking him with a move to England, does it completely rule out a transfer this summer? Or, are Dortmund simply looking to hike up his value?
Now Reus is back to full fitness I expect Dortmund to have a strong finish to the campaign and him signing a new contract is massive for the club. I don’t expect him to leave this summer but maybe in the next 18 months or so – just like when Suarez and Bony signed new deals only to depart. However, Dortmund have now protected themselves.
Bayern Munich look set to win their third successive Bundesliga title this season, but do you find their football slightly boring, or is that just us? How long do you envisage Pep Guardiola staying with the club before he leaves in search of a new challenge?
I definitely don’t find Bayern or Guardiola boring in the slightest. Quite often it is the defensive tactics used against them that leads to matches which can cause slightly dull encounters. However, I enjoy the football and would happily watch Guardiola sides than any others.
Viktor Skripnik has turned Werder Bremen around since replacing Robin Dutt as coach. Just how far can this Bremen side go this season under his guidance? And, why has the club been in such fantastic form – four wins in four – since his arrival?
Werder is a weird one. Not much has changed in terms of personnel, but they have become excellent on set-pieces and Skripnik knows the DNA of the club. However, that usually only takes you so far and they’ll soon drop back again.
We’ve seen you on Twitter speaking regularly about Lyon centre-forward Alexandre Lacazette. For anyone who doesn’t watch French top flight football, just how good is he? Also, do you envisage him making the move to England in the future, and if so, which team would he best suit?
Lacazette is brilliant, Europe’s best striker this season. He can drop in and play as a ten because he has the vision, or go wide and cause damage there while his finishing this season has gone up several levels. He loves Lyon so don’t think he is in a rush to leave, particularly with their new stadium on the horizon.
Are there any Ligue 1 stars for non-viewers to keep an eye-out for; any potential future Premier League arrivals worth noting? We have certainly been spoilt for choice with successful French top flight imports in the past.
All the best young talent is at Lyon at the moment. I like the keeper Lopes, Umtiti is a defender that has everything needed to reach the top; Gonalons and Ferri work well in the midfield diamond and then Fekir and Lacazette up front. Arsenal scout Grimandi was at a game I covered recently Lyon v Metz and there’s a lot of talent to watch.
Will Paris Saint Germain win the Ligue 1 title this year, or will we see another team crowned as winners? How do you think the reigning champions will fare against Chelsea in the Champions League first knock-out round?
Despite what I said about Lyon PSG will still win the title. They have too much quality and I think the game with Chelsea isn’t far off being 50-50. Despite all the problems in Paris with injuries and talk of player power Laurent Blanc can still call upon Silva, Luiz, Verratti, Matuidi, Ibra and Cavani.
Finally, we’re going to ask you to stick your neck on the line. Who will be crowned Champions of Europe this season?
CL winner is a tricky one. The bookmakers rate Bayern, Real Madrid and Barcelona as the first three in the betting which is fair enough but I will go for a couple of outsiders Atletico or Juventus.
Atletico love playing the big boys and have a top coach in Simeone, while Juve are better than many casual observers would believe. They have been behind for just 17 minutes in total in Serie A this season. With Paul Pogba in the side anything is possible.
Thanks again for your time, Mark.