Fantasy Football News

Man Utd must improve to reach final

Manchester United must improve on their performance versus FC Copenhagen if they are to reach the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League final.

The Red Devils were narrow 1-0 winners over the Danish outfit courtesy of Bruno Fernandes‘ penalty in extra-time on Monday night.

Although they struck the post twice and had a Mason Greenwood goal overturned by VAR on the stroke of half-time, they were somewhat fortunate not to have fallen behind in the opening 20 minutes.

Anthony Martial had looked the most lively for United and it was the French forward who won the decisive penalty five minutes into extra-time as he was caught from behind by Andreas Bjelland.

Sevilla also left it late in a tie that was expected to be much tougher for the Spanish side than Manchester United’s quarter-final opponents. Lucas Ocampos scoring in the 88th minute in a 1-0 over Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Neither side created much, with Wolves missing a glorious opportunity to take an early lead but for Raul Jimenez’s tame penalty forcing a comfortable save from Bono. Sevilla themselves rarely caused Rui Patricio many problems but for a late cross and flicked header that gave the goalkeeper no chance.

Julen Lopetegui’s side went unbeaten in La Liga following the restart – winning six and drawing five. They kept an impressive seven clean sheets during this run too, which included a 0-0 with Barcelona and a 1-0 win against Valencia.

The former Spain and Real Madrid manager has got goals from down the wings this season – Lucas Ocampos and Munir were the club’s top scorers, each in double figures, with Luuk de Jong playing the central role.

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Neymar must prove himself versus Atalanta

Expectations are on Paris Saint-Germain to at least reach the final of this season’s Champions League following the restart.

The French champions are set to take on Atalanta in their single-legged quarter-final on Wednesday, to setup a semi-final with either Atletico Madrid or RB Leipzig.

Diego Simeone’s side have not been their usual selves this season, though they did go unbeaten in La Liga following the restart, albeit only winning three of their 11 games by more than one goa.

As for RB Leipzig, they face an uphill task to get past the Spaniards in the quarter-finals, let alone PSG or Atalanta, solely because of the sale of Timo Werner to Chelsea following the end of the 2019-20 Bundesilga campaign.

The German hotshot had been responsible for 28 of their 81 league goals this past season and four of their 14 in the Champions League.

PSG’s first task though is to overcome an Atalanta side who themselves went their first 12 games unbeaten following the restart, winning nine, and finishing third to qualify for next season’s competition too.

The Italian side also kept four clean sheets during that run, a marked improvement to the first part of the season, also beating both Lazio and Napoli, and drawing 2-2 with champions Juventus, who relied on two penalties for their equalisers.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s are set to be without star midfielder Josip Ilicic due to depression though, but Paris Saint-Germain themselves don’t have a full bill of health.

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3 things to watch in the Barcelona v Bayern game

It’s arguably the tie of the Champions League quarter finals, and Barcelona v Bayern is the only one which features two former winners of the trophy.

All the other six remaining teams have never had their hands on the cup with the big ears, so in some respects the experience of the two FCB’s benefits them enormously.

However, only one can go through and, on current form at least, the Bavarians will be expected to waltz into the final four. Continue reading

Will PSG progress past Atalanta?

The 2019-20 Champions League quarter-finals take place this week, kicking off with Atalanta against Paris Saint-Germain at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz on Wednesday.

With the remainder of the competition take place in a single-legged, World Cup-style format, the trophy is anyone’s from this stage. And the much-anticipated match between the French champions and entertaining Italians is between two teams who have never won the competition before.

Six of the remaining eight sides have never won the Champions League in its current format or its previous, the European Cup. The only two remaining teams that have, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, meet each other in the quarter-finals on Friday.

The winner of that tie will meet either Manchester City or Lyon in the semi-finals, whilst PSG could meet either Atletico Madrid or RB Leipzig in the semi-final if they get past Atalanta.

Thomas Tuchel’s side head into the match as the bookmakers’ favourites but many see an update on the cards in this one with the form of the Serie A side after the restart – winning nine of their 13 league games to finish third. They held champions Juventus to a 2-2 draw and recorded victories over Lazio and Napoli.

The Bergamo club reached the knockout stages of the Champions League despite picking up just one point from their first four group stage games, winning 3-0 away to Shakhtar Donetsk in their final game to leapfrog the Ukrainian Premier League side into second spot.

Atalanta then beat Valencia 8-4 in a thrilling Round of 16 tie before the disruption.

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Real Madrid should target Fab Four

The chairman of Real Madrid Florentino Perez has a clear vision of what the team, which after a two-year break managed to return to the top of La Liga, should look like in the future.

The changes in the club are expected to start with the departure of players who are no longer in the plans of manager Zinedine Zidane. Achraf Hakimi has already been sold to Inter, Borja Mayoral is on his way to Lazio, and a similar fate awaits Luka Jović, James Rodriguez, as well as Sergio Reguilón and Dani Ceballos who are currently on loan at Sevilla and Arsenal.

The more interesting part of the story are the players that Perez is determined to bring in the next two years.

The top priority for several years now is striker Kylian Mbappe. The Frenchman has a contract with PSG until the summer of 2022, but Perez will be prepared to break the bank, and it is only a matter of time before the 21-year-old moves to the Santiago Bernabeu. Mbappe himself has stated that if he would leave Paris it will only be to Real.

Mbappe’s goal-scoring talent has no limits and Zidane has made no secret of his admiration for his fellow compatriot, who has an impressive record of 30 goals and 17 assists across all competitions for the French champions this season.

With the potential arrival at Real, he would be given the freedom on the pitch, regardless of whether he would play as a central striker or next to fellow Frenchman Karim Benzema. Given his youth and potential, Mbappe at Real would develop into a player who, along with Messi and Ronaldo, would be mentioned when discussing the best footballer of the world.

Alongside Mbappe in Madrid’s frontline, Perez sees Erling Haaland who became one of the brightest stars in Europe, after his recent displays with Borussia Dortmund. The 21-year-old Norwegian scored 13 goals in 15 matches for the the Black and Yellows when he arrived from Salzburg, where he had scored 17 goals in 16 games. If Real manage to unite Mbappe and Haaland in their frontline, they would create the most dominant attacking duo for the next decade.

In the midfield, besides Modric, Zidane wants Eduardo Camavinga. The Angolan-born player had a great debut season for Rennes, where he played 32 games, attracting the attention of many European clubs.

Probably the first player to be signed this summer though is Monaco’s defender Benoît Badiashile. Real is ready to immediately pay the required 40 million euros to the Monegasques.

If Perez manages to bring these players and unite them with the experienced teammates,  in the next decade Real would be a favourite in all competitions.

Between Barcelona and Turin: Where will Pochettino end up?

Mauricio Pochettino has been without a club since November last year after being sacked by Tottenham, despite five successful seasons with the north London club, where under his leadership, the club was transformed from a decent Premier League team into one of the best in Europe.

It is reported that in recent months the Argentinian manager has turned down offers from many clubs including Monaco and Benfica in the hope to sign a long-term deal with a top level club.

Two of those clubs who are seriously considering manager replacement in the coming month, are Juventus and Barcelona.

Juve Chairman Andrea Agnelli needs to find a replacement for Maurizio Sarri, even though the 61-year-old has lead the Bianconeri to their ninth consecutive title in Seria A. The failure of Juventus to progress in the Champions League, following their defeat to Lyon, coupled with a poor post-lockdown period in Serie A for his side, has accelerated his departure.

Pochettino is one of the main targets on Agnelli’s list despite the fact that the Argentinian has never played nor coached In Italy. He does however have Italian ancestry, and his great Grandfather left Piemonte, the area including Turin, to come to Argentina.

The reported debt of nearly 500 million euros of the Italian champion could be a serious obstacle in achieving Agnelli’s goals, who alternatively could have to turn to his old “friends” Antonio Conte or Massimiliano Allegri.

On the other hand it seems like Barcelona has everything set for signing Pochettino on a long term deal. The current manager Quique Setien failed to deliver the title in La Liga and his stay on Camp Nou will not last much longer even if the Catalans win the UEFA Champions League.

Fans however still remember Pochettino’s statement that he would rather work on any farm in Argentina than coach Barcelona, because of his 10 years playing for their city rival Espanyol where he also begun his coaching career.

Despite what has been said, it is not a secret that Pochettino is really close to Barcelona star Leo Messi, and was reportedly trying to bring him to Tottenham in 2017 when his fellow countryman was considering leaving La Liga. Three years later it seems like it is the perfect time for the two Argentinians to finally work together.

Pochettino’s football style perfectly fits Barcelona whose mix of experience and youth would be great ingredients for success. The 48-year-old manager has shown that he is able to do great things even with less talented squads and given the fact that the Catalans have plenty of it, the collaboration between the two parties seems like the real recipe for winning big.

Barcelona considers Trincao as their future star

Losing the La Liga title to Real Madrid is almost always a clear sign that changes are needed in Barcelona. And while this seasons’ wounds heel, the building process for next year has already started, and one for optimism is the arrival of Francisco Trincao, whose debut for the team is eagerly awaited by the Catalan fans.

Barcelona’s management recognized the great potential of the Portuguese and signed him in January paying Braga €31 million for him. Although the young right-winger has not played a single minute for the team from Camp Nou, the Catalans have already received an offer of double that from a top English club, which they immediately rejected.

The plans and ambitions that Barcelona have with Trincao are best illustrated by the fact that he was signed to a five-year deal that includes a buyout clause set at an incredible €500 million.

It is believed that the 21-year-old footballer is already ready to take part in some matches next season, on the right-wing position next to Messi. Trincao is very quick with an amazing skillset, great at one-on-ones and has the vision and talent to adapt to Barcelona’s passing game.

One of his greatest assets at Barça will be his versatility and the fact that he can play in multiple positions across the frontline. He showed his scoring abilities in his last season in Braga recording nine goals including one in the Europa League. With his 6’1’’ frame the youngster will be big physical presence in Barcelona’s front line.

Trincao knows he is joining a team which has a history of winning trophies and that he would face the highest expectations.

“When I signed for Barça, I was speechless. It’s a proud moment and an important step for me. Now people pay more attention to me, both on and off the field but I am not worried, I do the same, I work to be better every day”, says Trincao.

The Portuguese youngster, who is considered by his compatriots as the new Ronaldo, started his career in his native town Viana do Castelo, in Vianense FC. After a short stint in Porto he moved to Braga in 2011 where his made his debut in the Portuguese Primeira Liga in December 2018 as a 19-year old. Last season with Braga he won the Portuguese cup, Taca da liga.

He was a key member of the Portugal team which won the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in 2018 beating Italy 4–3 after extra-time, scoring one of the goals. He won the Golden Boot in that tournament along with teammate Jota, with 5 goals. At the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland, Trincao played all three games for Portugal and scored the only goal of the opening win against South Korea, though his side did not advance from the group.

Sevilla need a new goalscorer to take the next step

There were doubts over Sevilla’s decision to hire Julen Lopetegui as their new head coach last summer. After all, this was a guy whose last two jobs in the game had ended in humiliation, sacked as Spain boss on the eve of the 2018 World Cup before being sacked as Real Madrid manager just a few months after that.

Lopetegui has done a lot to restore his reputation since pitching up at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan just over a year ago, though. Sevilla finished the 2019/20 La Liga season in fourth and are still in the Europa League, with the Andalusians set to take on Wolves in next week’s quarter finals.

A number of players have thrived under the stewardship of Lopetegui. Ever Banega has enjoyed an exceptional final season at Sevilla, while Diego Carlos has earned himself a reputation as one of the best central defenders in the Spanish game right now, drawing attention from a number of Premier League clubs.

Sergio Reguilon is another who has flourished at Sevilla this season, on loan from Real Madrid, but for all that Lopetegui has taken Sevilla in the right direction, aided by the return of sporting director Monchi to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, there remains one area where they must strengthen to progress further.

Lucas Ocampos was Sevilla’s top league scorer for the 2019/20 season with 14 strikes. Beyond that, Luuk de Jong was the club’s top marksman with only six goals. Contrast this to the 18 La Liga goals Wissam Ben Yedder scored as Sevilla’s number nine last season and the lack of cutting edge in the final third becomes clear.

Indeed, de Jong simply hasn’t done enough since making the move to Sevilla last summer. The Netherlands international played the majority of the season as Lopetegui’s first choice centre forward, but Sevilla must look to find a more reliable goalscorer in this summer’s transfer window.

There is no doubting the progress Sevilla have made under Lopetegui, but there’s only so far they can go while being so toothless in front of goal. Ocampos provides goal threat, but the Argentine needs help. He cannot shoulder the goalscoring burden on his own. De Jong has had his chance and hasn’t been of the necessary standard. Now it’s time for Sevilla to find the true replacement for Ben Yedder.

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Juve hope Pirlo move isn’t reminiscent of Ferrara stint

It didn’t take Juventus very long. Within hours of sacking Maurizio Sarri in the aftermath of their Champions League Round of 16 exit to Lyon, the club announced Andrea Pirlo as their new coach.

The announcement duly sent the footballing ecosystem into a flurry of bewildered questions, with the main one of course being: “Wasn’t Pirlo just confirmed as coach of the Juve U-23s?”

Indeed he was, on July 30th the club announced that Pirlo had returned to the club where he’d played for four years to coach the U-23 side, replacing Fabio Pecchia. Nine days later, he was sitting in the big chair. Talk about a fast-track promotion.

Club director of sport Fabio Paratici believes Pirlo is a ‘predestinato’ – bound for greatness – due to his remarkable gifts as a player. Many have used the examples of Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane as once legendary players who transferred their skills from the pitch to the dugout.

However as has been pointed out, Guardiola coached Barcelona’s B side for a season in 2007-08, and Zidane underwent an apprenticeship with Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid, in addition to coaching their Castilla side for two years. Pirlo, by contrast, has bypassed all of this on the way to the black and white throne.

It’s a risky move from a club that for most of its history takes very few gambles when it comes to managerial appointments. In fact the last time they hired a practical novice was in the summer of 2009, when they hired Ciro Ferrara at the expense of Antonio Conte.

Ferrara, a Juve legend, had little experience aside from a brief period as part of Marcello Lippi’s backroom staff at the victorious 2006 World Cup. Ferrara had only gained his coaching licence a year before being appointed by the incompetent sporting director Alessio Secco, who hoped Ferrara would be their Guardiola.

After years of playing a mechanical 4-4-2 system under the likes of Fabio Capello, Didier Deschamps and Claudio Ranieri, Ferrara promised change. A switch to a 4-3-1-2 was in order he announced, due to the €25m signing of Brazilian No.10 Diego from Werder Bremen, and Juve would be more adventurous, more modern.

Seven months later he was sacked. A positive start soon gave way to disastrous results and supporter malaise, as it was fairly evident that Ferrara was out of his depth, and replaced by Alberto Zaccheroni at the end of January. In defence of Ferrara, he was handed a mediocre hodgepodge of a squad that consisted of ageing veterans and poorly-advised signings that were ill suited to the style he intended to play. Diego wasn’t long following Ferrara out of the exit door either, sold in the summer of 2010 as Juve appointed Gigi Delneri as coach and a return to 4-4-2.

Like Ferrara, Pirlo faces similar structural squad issues. Four continuous summer transfer windows of poorly-made decisions has now left a bloated, unbalanced squad filled with players on big contracts that they won’t get elsewhere. In the wake of the Champions League KO, Paratici has faced mounting scrutiny, who many feel has been a failure in the sporting director role since replacing Beppe Marotta in the autumn of 2018.

In the early years of their decade of dominance, midfield was arguably Juve’s strongest area of the pitch (with Pirlo himself being a key component), to such an extent that a player like Claudio Marchisio would often find himself relegated to the bench. Since 2015, Marotta and then Paratici essentially neglected the region, selling first Arturo Vidal and later Paul Pogba, whilst trying to plug gaps with ‘free’ signings such as Emre Can, Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot. It’s now reduced what was once a midfield of power, strength, guile and grace into one chronically short on quality.

Whilst it is fair to question many of Paratici’s dealings since taking charge, Marotta isn’t free of criticism. The €90m signing of a-then 28-year-old Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli made little sense in 2016, and makes even less now. Juventus have spent the better part of two years trying to offload the striker, however his €7.5m per season wages have deterred many suitors, a noose around the club’s neck.

The sacking of Sarri won’t magically solve all of Juve’s problems. A major rejuvenation is necessary, a purge of all the costly mistakes of the last several summers. Can Paratici, given the current climate, be relied upon to shift unwanted players? It remains to be seen if he will even remain at the club, given the latest rumours surrounding his future.

Ferrara struggled to make sense of the Juve side he inherited, club President Andrea Agnelli will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself with Pirlo.

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Manchester United: Three FC Copenhagen players to look out for ahead of the UEL Quarter-final

As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United take on FC Copenhagen in the Quarter-final of the Europa League on Monday evening, majority of neutral football fans as well as the Manchester United supporters will want to know more information about Stale Sobakken’s rising side.

In their recent victory over Istanbul Basaksehir, the 13th time Danish Superliga champions were proving to be effective on and off the ball, as they went on to score three goals, create three big chances and complete six shots on target, despite allowing the opposition to dominate possession.

There is a former Manchester United player that plays for the opposition team in Guillermo Varela, who was given his Premier League and Europa League debut under Louis Van Gaal. Unfortunately for the right-back, he did not show the potential on both sides of the pitch to be a long-term player at Old Trafford. Due to this, he was sent out on loan to Real Madrid Castilla and Eintracht Frankfurt for the next two seasons, before retuning permanently to Penarol, his boyhood club back in Uruguay.

Now, with no further ado, here are the three Copenhagen players for United to look out for…

Jonas Wind – Centre forward

After producing the goods in the last round of the Europa League knockout stages, scoring a powerful header from a cross perfectly made by Varela and a well-taken goal from the penalty spot, Jonas Wind is now being regarded as one of the best up and coming talents in Danish football. The 21-year-old had a bright start to the 2019/2020 league campaign, notching five goals and two assists in six appearances, but his season unfortunately came to an end as he suffered a severe knee injury.

However, given the situation of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the return of Europa League football after being on hold for a few months, Wind has been able to return back to full fitness and is now guiding Copenhagen into the advanced areas of the competition like never before. With his athleticism, link-up play and final third instincts standing out, United’s centre-backs and Nemanja Matic will have to remain at full focus from start to end, as Wind will make any small chance count.

Pep Biel – Right winger

With Luke Shaw currently on the sidelines, the whole expectations are on the shoulders of young Brandon Williams, who is yet to show that he has the potential and natural ability to prove to Solskjaer he can make the left-back position his very own. On that note, Pep Biel may have an interesting match ahead of himself, if his team-mates can get him on the ball on the counter-attack, as Williams can easily get caught high up the pitch and he does not have the pace to always get back.

The main duo in attack tend to be Jonas Wind and Rasmus Falk, but given that the pair were performing at a high level recently and are analysed well by the United’s analysis department by now, it would mean that Biel has the important opportunity to step up and show his qualities for Stale Sobakken’s side. The Spaniard became the club’s most expensive signing last summer, and the Copenhagen supporters will be hoping that he can make their Monday night complete with a victory.

Zeca – Centre midfield

As the main battle between both sides will be in the middle of the pitch, Copenhagen’s captain, Zeca, will be looking to guide his team through his leadership as well as his ability to have the team ticking from defence to attack and also, making the relevant and required interceptions and tackles. The 31-year-old ended the Danish Superliga 2019/20 season as the club’s Player of the Year, with the Lisbon-born Greek international being regarded as a fans favourite and a well-respected individual.

Zeca will be expected to defend more than recycle the ball and attack on Monday evening, as Manchester United will be the ones to dominate possession, and they are quite consistent at keeping the ball in the opposition area for majority of the game. Not only that, Zeca and his partner in midfield, Robert Mudrazija, have a massive task ahead of themselves, as they will have to bring their A game in order to nullify a midfield that contains both Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.