Premier League Playback: Looking back at a memorable 2014-15 season

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All week at ProSoccerTalk we are reviewing the dramatic 2014-15 Premier League season. From dishing out awards to looking back at the highs and lows in the 380 games as 20 teams battled it out, we’ll have every angle covered.

[ ARCHIVE: Premier League season review ]

For the full archive of our review content, just hit the link above. Now, it’s time to take a look back at an incredible season as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor files his final PL Playback of the season…

PL LEGENDS BID FAREWELL

As we said goodbye to the 2014-15 Premier League season, we also said goodbye to two legendary players who have epitomized what the PL is all about for almost two decades.

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, take a bow. Both players said farewell in a fitting manner during their final appearance in the PL as Lampard captained Manchester City and scored a stereotypical goal as he timed his run into the box perfectly and side-footed home in a 2-0 win over Southampton. As for Gerrard, well, Liverpool lost 6-1 to Stoke City but Gerrard got the lone goal as he burst through the defense and coolly slotted home.

Class is permanent for these two.

For fans of soccer in the United States, don’t fret. You will get to see Lamps and Stevie G on American soil very soon. Lampard, 36, will play for New York City FC in MLS, while Gerrard, 34, is joining the LA Galaxy.

[ RELATED: Gerrard gets fitting farewell at Anfield ]

In the video below you can get a quick look at the legacy both men leave behind in England’s top-flight. For years they played in central midfielder together for the English national team and although that partnership failed to flourish, as individuals they drove on two English giants as goalscoring midfielders who always popped up when it mattered most.

[ RELATED: Friedel looks back on incredible career ]

Lampard and Gerrard have been inspirational and synonymous with the PL for over 17 years. Now, they take their talents Stateside. Other legends of the PL called it quits at the end of this season too as Didier Drogba and Brad Friedel also ended their playing days in England. Congrats and thanks to those four for some wonderful memories over the years.

CHELSEA WORTHY CHAMPS

Premier League Season Review

READ
Top 10 storylines Read the review, here
Story of managers Read the review, here
Top 10 goals Read the review, here
USMNT focus Read the review, here
2014-15 Grades Read the review, here

“Boring, boring Chelsea!” became the chant of the season from… Chelsea’s fans. Lambasted by the outside world and soccer purists for “parking the bus” in the second half of the season to secure the clubs first PL title since 2010, Jose Mourinho looked on smugly as John Terry lifted the title aloft on the final day of the season and the Portuguese held eight fingers in the air to signify how many trophies he has now won as the boss at Stamford Bridge.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Mourinho, 52, is enjoying his second spell in charge of the west London club and his side showed every facet needed to win the championship in 2014-15. When all was said and done, the Blues lost just three times in 38 games. They finished eight points clear of Man City in second. Chelsea kept the most clean sheets (17) and had the best defense in the PL with 31 goals conceded. They scored the second highest number of goals despite missing Diego Costa for most of the second half of the season. In Cesc Fabregas they had the player with the most assists (18) and Eden Hazard created 101 chances, more than any other player in the PL. Nemanja Matic made the most tackles, 129. Whatever way you want to slice it up, Chelsea were deserved champions as they spent a record 274 days at the top of the table during the 2014-15 season.

Now, the real challenge will be kicking on and fending off Man City, Arsenal and Manchester United next season. Chelsea will likely add a few key signings over the offseason as Mourinho knows it will be tough to defend their crown. The man who has won three titles in five seasons in charge of Chelsea knows exactly what he wants to bring in as he must balance expensive additions with a young core of talented players coming through the ranks at the Bridge. Plus, when you have reigning PL Player of the Season Eden Hazard around, you always have a chance. The “Special One”, as always, will do whatever it takes to win. Fans and other managers may despise his tactics and his persona but as Mourinho said it best…

“I think we are what every team would like to be.” Yep, that would be the Champions of England.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

This season saw plenty of expensive foreign imports bursting onto the scene and some young Englishmen making a name for themselves as new heroes were born across the league.

Harry Kane

The local lad is good. Real good. Kane, just 21, didn’t start a PL game until November but finished as the second-highest scorer in the league with 21 goals and was named the PL Young Player of the Year as Tottenham Hotspur finished fifth. Kane made, and scored, 79 seconds into his England debut and plenty is expected of the youngster from north London in the coming years. No pressure, H…

Alexis Sanchez

“Alexis Sanchez, baby! Alexis Sanchez, ohhhh!” Sung to the tune of “Don’t you want me baby?” by Human League, Sanchez’s song has been belted out loud and proud by Gooners this season. The Chilean has been a revelation since arriving from Barcelona for $53 million last summer. Sanchez’ pace, power and trickery saw him score 24 times in 51 games in his debut season for Arsenal in the PL as Arsene Wenger’s men finished third. His attacking ability is one thing but Sanchez’ relentless work-rate has turned him into an instant legend with Arsenal’s fans.

Diego Costa

Chelsea’s new goalscoring hero, and a feisty one at that, Costa missed a huge chunk of the second half of the season through suspension and injury. If the Spanish international wouldn’t have got injured, Chelsea could have easily won the PL by a 15-point margin. At 26, his best years are ahead of him and after 20 goals in 26 PL appearances during his debut season, you get the sense that Costa is only just getting started.

Honorable mentions: Jack Grealish, Graziano Pelle, Diafra Sakho, Ryan Mason, Sadio Mane, Eric Dier

 

MAN UNITED: SLOW PROGRESS

The Red Devils recovered well after an incredibly slow start to finish in fourth and qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Louis van Gaal met his minimum requirement in his first season in charge at Old Trafford but boy, did they make hard work of it.

[ RELATED: Final Premier League standings ]

On Nov. 3 United sat in 10th place and had just 13 points from their opening 10 games. A run of six-straight wins in the Spring propelled them into the top four but LVG has a lot of work to do if United are going to challenge for the PL title next season, which is what he expects.

The big money signings of Radamel Falcao, who has returned to Monaco after his loan, and Angel Di Maria didn’t work out this campaign but in the case of Di Maria, he will be expected to take United to the next level next season. The emergence of Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini is promising for LVG but the situation surrounding David De Gea and a possible move to Real Madrid could see the Red Devils lose arguably their most player. Huge investment is needed to kick on again, with Memphis Depay already signed on, but United will likely need a new center back, a top-class central midfielder, a star striker who Wayne Rooney could play in behind and potentially a new world-class goalkeeper. That won’t be cheap but United now have the carrot of the Champions League — as long as they get through the knockout round in August — to dangle at prospective signings.

Slow progress for United, but Van Gaal has them on a steady ascendancy back to where they believe they belong.

MANAGERIAL UNDERDOGS

Ronald Koeman. Garry Monk. Nigel Pearson. Alan Pardew. Those four managers stunned many during the season as Koeman led Saints to seventh and a record points tally after a mass exodus last summer, Monk led Swansea to eighth and a record points tally in his first full season in charge, Pearson kept Leicester City up against all the odds with an incredible late run and Pardew switched Newcastle for Palace midseason and led the struggling Eagles to a top 10 finish.

We talk a lot (and I mean a lot) about the managers of the top five or six PL teams but 2014-15 was without question the year of the managerial underdog.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The most exciting thing about the success of these so-called smaller clubs is that their progress has now become sustainable and if they invest the huge amounts of cash they are getting wisely then they can challenge the top six or even the top four.

Elsewhere, Tim Sherwood saved Aston Villa when they looked dead and buried. Mark Hughes led Stoke to a record points tally and ninth-placed finish, while Tony Pulis performed his annual Harry Houdini impression to save West Bromwich Albion with another midseason turnaround.

TOP GOALS

The studio team looks at the top 10 goals from the PL this season.

Agree? Disagree? Any you think should have made it? Let us know in the comments section below.

THAT SINKING FEELING

Ah, amid the euphoria of celebrating and analyzing another superb season in the PL, there has to be some losers. Relegation for Queens Park Rangers, Burnley and then Hull City (on the final day) means fans of those clubs will have a summer of soul-searching as their clubs prepare for life in the rough and tumble of the Championship.

Let’s take a look at why the three aforementioned teams had that sinking feeling at the end of the season:

QPR

Harry Redknapp left the R’s languishing in the relegation zone in February as QPR hadn’t gained a single point away from home at that point. Chris Ramsey was thrown in at the deep end and although the R’s rallied in March and April, their Achilles heel sent them down: shocking defending. QPR conceded 73 goals, the most in the PL, and had far too many veterans on huge wages who, quite simply, couldn’t care less if the west London side went down. Ramsey is now in charge for the next three-years. After Tony Fernandes and his board chucked hundreds of millions at veteran players, expect a philosophical change at Loftus Road as youngsters will get the chance to shine.

Burnley

Sean Dyche’s men put up a brave fight but after hardly spending any cash after promotion from the Championship, relegation was always inevitable. Sure, the Clarets are on a sound financial footing but not investing in more quality really hurt them. They hung in so many games but scoring goals became a real issue in the second half of the season. Danny Ings was their top scorer with 11 and he will leave on a free transfer this summer. Burnley could well be back in 2016-17 as continuity is the key word at Turf Moor for the tiny Lancashire club.

Hull

On the final day of the season Hull needed to beat Manchester United and hope that Newcastle slipped up at home to West Ham. That didn’t happen as the Tigers’ meager tally of 33 goals from 38 games was their downfall. Steve Bruce will now look to bring Hull back up, just as he did three seasons ago, but a lot of their players will look to move on as the wage bill has to be decreased rapidly at the KC Stadium. Injuries to forwards Nikica Jelavic, Abel Hernandez and Dame N’Doye were costly but when it came down to it, Hull deserved to go down.

LEICESTER’S GREAT ESCAPE

Talking of the teams who succumbed to relegation, Leicester came back from what looked like an unassailable position to win seven of their final nine matches and stun everyone to stay in the Premier League. Their manager Nigel Pearson had some strange episodes along the way as he called a journalist an “ostrich”, grabbed Crystal Palace’s James McArthur around the throat during a game and blurted out expletives at his own fans. Yeah, that’s the pressure of a relegation battle.

[ RELATED: Premier League stats ]

But Leicester’s form in the final nine games was remarkable. They had won just four of their previous 29 matches but when you have experienced professionals like Esteban Cambiasso pulling the strings and a hungry forward like Jamie Vardy running at opposition defenses, you have a chance. Leicester’s luck changed at the tail end of the season and they pulled of one of the greatest “Great Escapes” the PL has ever seen.

EURO STRUGGLES

The less said about this the better for PL teams, but it has to be addressed. Three of the PL’s four teams in the UCL made it into the knockout stages, Liverpool did not, but only Chelsea made it to the quarterfinals and they lost to Paris Saint-Germain in extra time.

In the Europa League both Tottenham and Liverpool crashed out at the last 32 stage, while Everton were beaten in the last 16 after breezing through the group stages.

With eight of the PL’s 20 teams involved in either the UCL or Europa League next season, a much needed improvement is needed to keep England’s UEFA coefficient high and safeguard the fourth UCL spot for the PL in the foreseeable future. After dominating European club competitions for quite some time, 2014-15 was a year to forget for English clubs on the continent.

THE JURY’S STILL OUT IN MERSEYSIDE

Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers is under severe pressure at Liverpool after a disappointing season which saw the Reds exit the Champions League at the group stage and finish six in the PL. Rodgers blew the $128 million Liverpool received for Suarez last summer on the likes of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli and Alberto Moreno. All of the aforementioned players under-performed as the Reds are once again out of the UCL and now without their legendary captain Steven Gerrard to keep digging them out of troublesome situations. Add into the mix Raheem Sterling’s contract situation — the 20-year-old winger is refusing to sign a new contract at Liverpool with two years still left on his current deal — and you have a real mess for Rodgers to try and sort out. The Fenway Sports Group are backing Rodgers to turn things around next season but make no mistake about it, after three years in the job and no trophies to show for his efforts, all of a sudden Rodgers has gone from the messiah to a mess. What a difference 12 months makes in soccer…

Everton

Talking of a difference in 12 months… Liverpool’s crosstown rivals Everton had a season to forget at Goodison Park. Roberto Martinez’s side finished in 11th and although a run into the last 16 of the Europa League excited the crowd it probably had an adverse impact on their league play. Martinez, 41, is one of the brightest managers around. After guiding Everton to fifth last season that was clear to see. Romelu Lukaku suffering injuries and Ross Barkley struggling for form undoubtedly hit the Toffees hard but the lack of evolution in Martinez’s tactics has been questioned. This season Everton became predictable and failed to cause new problems for teams who adjusted to the way they prevailed most weeks during the 2013-14 campaign. Martinez’s position isn’t as precarious as Rodgers’ but a bad start to next season could see the Spaniard in a bit of trouble.

GRIT EVADES CITY IN TITLE RACE

On January 1 Manchester City and Chelsea were level at the top of the PL standings with identical goal differences.

The second half of the season was set up perfectly for a two-horse title race and then, just like that, City crumbled.

Key players Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure were either injured or suffered huge losses of form and as City suffered a debilitating run of four-straight away defeats in March and April in the PL, the pressure began to mount on Pellegrini. Similar to Rodgers and Martinez, the jury is still out on Pellegrini and it would not be surprising if he is axed from the hot seat at the Etihad Stadium this summer.

[ RELATED: What did it go wrong for Man City? ]

That said, Pellegrini should stay. In two seasons at City he has won the League Cup and the PL title, been knocked out of the UCL by Barcelona two years on the spin and finished second this season. Questions will be asked about the arrival of Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala last summer but if Pellegrini can wheel and deal this offseason and is given the chance to bring in two to three key players then City could become the favorites to lift the PL title next year. They were the top scorers in the PL with 83 goals this season. They are not far off becoming champions but with the average age of their squad the highest in the PL, some housekeeping is long overdue as we should expect plenty of players going in and out of the door this summer.

Despite Joe Hart winning the golden glove with a league-high 14 assists, City’s defensive core crumbled when it mattered most. If they can get their defensive solidity back, key players return to top form and new additions settle in right away, the Citizens will put 2014-15 behind them and become the team to beat next season.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Solskjaer warns “could have been one of those nights” for Manchester United

Manchester United Solskjaer
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was clearly relieved after his dominant but wasteful Manchester United finally beat goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson and Copenhagen in extra time of their Europa League quarterfinal in Cologne.

“I think it was just one of those nights,” he said after the win. “I think we deserved to win, that’s clear, but they made it very hard for us.”

Johnsson made 13 saves as United out-attempted the minusM-1000 underdogs from Denmark by a 26-9 margin. The Red Devils blocked several Copenhagen chances in tight, making the Danes’ total of zero shots on target a bit deceiving.

[ RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Copenhagen ]

“Their keeper was unbelievable and we hit the post a few times,” Solskjaer said. “It could have been one of those nights that you end up with a shootout. We had to block, defend well and they made it hard for us.”

But United was clearly the better team on the day, as expected. Juan Mata entered late in the game and was an influential sub in extra time.

He says the Red Devils were a bit beat up on a hot night in Germany.

“The team is quite tired physically,” Mata said. “At this stage of this season it is important to win games like today and we go through. We stay in Germany for quite some time and hopefully we can win.

“Both teams got a little tired and there were more spaces and more chances. They played some good football and credit to them. We could have scored more goals in extra time but we are through.”

United will meet either Sevilla or Wolves in a dynamite semifinal in one week.

Manchester United breaks through Copenhagen in extra time

Manchester United - Copenhagen
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Manchester United – Copenhagen: The Europa League’s biggest underdogs of the quarterfinals took the tournament favorites to extra time before succumbing 1-0 in Cologne.

Bruno Fernandes highlighted his Man of the Match performance by converting an Anthony Martial-won penalty in the 95th minute for Manchester United, the only way past Copenhagen’s terrific goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

But Fernandes gave United a scare, needing care for his hamstring at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Johnsson made 13 saves, seven from inside the box, to keep Copenhagen within a sucker punch of eliminating the Red Devils over 90 minutes.

Manchester United heads to Dusseldorf for an Aug. 17 semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s tilt between Wolves and Sevilla.


Three things we learned

1. Copenhagen plays prime tournament soccer: The heaviest underdogs in the quarterfinals, Copenhagen executed a traditional 4-4-2 in a less-traditional low block for much of the match. The low block wasn’t the surprise, but instead of two banks of five, the rows of four with two men hassling up front challenged United for time and helped spring a number of dangerous counters. The Danes opened up in extra time after going behind, but taking it to extra time was more than many expected out of them.

2. VAR denies the Red Devils: A rout would’ve been on if this match was staged a year ago without VAR, as the assistant referee twice allowed United goals to go to video. Harry Maguire was offside before assisting the first would-be Red Devils goal, while Mason Greenwood was off before ripping a rocket off the far post and into the goal.

3. Bruno is a beast: Fernandes was everywhere, cueing up his teammates for chances when he wasn’t smashing them off the frame in a bid to win it himself. The Portuguese playmaker registered three key passes, put three of his five shots on target, and won the majority of his duels on top of scoring the game’s lone goal (SofaScore). Now United must hope his late leg injury was just a product of 120 minutes and nothing major.

Man of the Match

Fernandes, and yes we had him here before he smashed his penalty home. Fernandes is now the Europa League’s leading scorer with seven goals between Sporting Lisbon and United.


Manchester United – Copenhagen recap

United has plenty of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Copenhagen provided legitimate danger that Eric Bailly managed in his own six.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked a cross with his face and needed treatment, looking quite dazed before returning to the game.

Another Copenhagen chance was blocked in the six by Bailly (again), who proved a wise choice over Victor Lindelof.

VAR had a look at an early United goal and rightly chalked Harry Maguire offside in the build-up. And it took Mason Greenwood’s hammer off the far post off the board for offside early in stoppage time.

Copenhagen was in it at the break. Would United pay?

[ MORE: Lukaku leads Inter past Bayer Leverkusen ]

The early stages of the second half remained with the Red Devils, Copenhagen parking all its men behind the ball at times.

Rashford flubbed a chance to shoot or pass to Paul Pogba when Bruno Fernandes spotted him at the back post just after the hour mark.

Fernandes tried his luck from distance in the 63rd, ripping a shot off the far post.

Ex-Everton man Bryan Oviedo nearly put Copenhagen ahead in the 66th only to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bailly clog his shooting lane after Rasmus Falk dazzled to get into the box.

Karl-Johan Johnsson made a flying save on Anthony Martial to force an 84th-minute corner that came to nothing for United.

Johnsson denied Martial again in-tight at the start of stoppage time, but the high was short-lived as the Frenchman was dropped in the box moments later.

Fernandes stepped to the spot and used a stuttering run-up before blasting his penalty home.

Martial nearly had it 2-0 after the restart when he dribbled through the Copenhagen 18 but took it himself instead of laying off to Juan Mata in what would’ve been a fairly straight-forward chance for the Spaniard.

Johnsson denied Fernandes at the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time, United unfortunate to not score on the ensuing corner when Mata’s shot was blocked to Lindelof, who fired off the outside of the post.

Lindelof made a fine intervention to block a close-range equalizer bid in the 116th.

Inter Milan rides early goals past Bayer Leverkusen

Inter Milan - Bayer Leverkusen
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While Manchester United and Copenhagen played chess across the country, Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen were staging double jumps all over a checkerboard in Dusseldorf.

Romelu Lukaku and Nicolo Barella scored twice in six first-half minutes before Kai Havertz answered in the 24th to account for all the goals in Inter’s 2-1 defeat of Bayer.

Lukaku has scored in nine-straight UEL matches, a new record.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Inter now waits for an Aug. 16 semifinal in Cologne, where it will meet the winner of Tuesday’s match between Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk

Bayer now must settle for the Europa League again via its fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga.

The three goals in the nine minutes were highlighted by Lukaku doing his best “Harry Kane versus Leicester City” falling down finish.

Nicola Barella put Inter ahead after a quarter-hour when he made the most of a loose ball outside the 18.

A Manchester United connection saw Inter ahead by two when Ashley Young found Romelu Lukaku and the Belgian striker maintained his composure while being dragged to the ground, beating Lukas Hradecky with a low shot.

Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland’s interplay near the box ended with the transfer rumor mainstay slipping a shot home to bring Bayer back within one.

Lukaku had penalty decisions taken off the board by VAR in each half.

Who’s next for Manchester United if Sancho stays at Dortmund?

Chiesa to Manchester United
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The transfer rumor mill is usually buzzing this time of year, but it’s nearly a cacophony following Michael Zorc’s announcement that Jadon Sancho will be staying at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Reports say Manchester United is not quitting on the idea of Sancho at Old Trafford, but here are some other targets if the Red Devils have to look away from the English phenom.

Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina

Linked with United for some time including a Monday nod from Football-Italia, Chiesa’s approximately $80 million price tag is high but half of what Dortmund is asking for Sancho.

The versatile playmaker has often been linked with Juventus, though Fiorentina is loathe to do business with The Old Lady unless absolutely necessary after big sales of Roberto Baggio and Federico Bernardeschi to Juve in the past.

The 22-year-old already has 17 Italian caps and scored 10 goals with six assists for La Viola this season in Serie A play, career bests in both.

Douglas Costa, Juventus

This one could become even more feasible if Juve latched onto Chiesa.

Juve desperately needs to get younger and Costa doesn’t figure to fit into the plans of Andrea Pirlo, a month away from his 30th birthday.

Costa works better on the right side and would be a worker bee looking to set up Rashford and Martial or cut back for Bruno Fernandes. He boasts double-digit assist seasons in the Bundesliga (Bayern), Serie A (Juve), and Ukraine (Shakhtar Donetsk).

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 19: Douglas Costa (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Raul Jimenez, Wolves

This one still feels like a long shot of long shots given the players’ age and status at Wolves, but the El Tri star has been linked with United in the past.

Jimenez doesn’t solve the wing issue presented by Sancho staying at BVB, and you’d fancy the Red Devils to go after one of Wolves’ wingers before Jimenez.

But Solskjaer enjoys Marcus Rashford at left wing and could use Anthony Martial at right wing a bit more often than center forward. Throw in Mason Greenwood and the boss would have a lot of permutations to use around Bruno Fernandes in a front three or four.

Ivan Perisic, Inter Milan

Mentioned as part of a swap deal for Alexis Sanchez, that’s less on the cards after the Chilean accepted a Man United payoff to move to Inter for free.

The 31-year-old favors the left wing and Inter would be happy to offload him after Bayern declined its option to buy the loanee who managed seven goals and 10 assists in just over 1600 minutes.

That’s pretty good output for a part-time player who kept some tread on the tires.

Perisic to Manchester United
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JULY 15: Ivan Perisic of Croatia (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

James Rodriguez, Real Madrid

If you’re sensing a thread amongst most of these players, it’s no surprise considering United has a wage scale to meet the needs of many wantaways.

Real desperately wants to get something for Colombian star James, who at 29 played less than 800 minutes for La Liga’s champions this season.

His two-year loan stint at Bayern also saw him as a part-time player, but like Perisic a productive one. James scored 15 times with 20 assists over two seasons with the Bavarians.

Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich

This would cost a lot of dough.

The 24-year-old has been a part of nine-straight league winners between Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and Bayern.

Okay that’s cheating a bit considering his Ligue 1 crowns came off a handful of appearances over two seasons at the Parc des Princes.

But the left and right winger might be on for a change of scenery with Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane set to dominate the preferential places at Bayern.