Why Utd can beat rivals City in battle of Manchester

The first Manchester derby of the season will be on Sunday afternoon, and it features Manchester City in fragile form compared to the resurgent Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal.

The Red Devils are coming off the back of a deserved draw against Premier League leaders Chelsea, which saw them stretch their unbeaten run to four games, while their “noisy neighbours” suffered a 2-0 home defeat to an under-strength Newcastle in the Capital One Cup, a 2-2 draw to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, and a 2-1 defeat to West Ham United in the Premier League.

Due to home advantage, Manchester City are the bookies favourite, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side have only picked up three wins from seven games played at the Etihad this season, keeping just one clean sheet – against Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup third round.

They don’t boast the best home record to United in the league either,  losing five time and drawing once in their past 10 meetings on home soil. Louis Van Gaal’s side also have impetus at the moment. They are becoming harder to beat – losing only in their last eight league games – and are popping up with important late goals, something synonymous under the successful reign of former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

There’s also a real belief they can finally put pressure on the elite sides this season, something they didn’t have under predecessor David Moyes. Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted he and his side were “worried” with their recent form ahead of the Manchester derby on Sunday, and he has injuries in key areas to worry about too.

Yaya Toure and playmaker David Silva are both doubtful for the weekend, which means City could be forced into naming somewhat of a makeshift midfield. Considering the domineering form of Marouane Fellaini for United, coupled with Angel Di Maria’s pace, industry and creativity, City’s midfield could well find themselves out-muscled and out-beaten. Van Gaal packs the central areas with bodies in an attempt to control possession, and given City have found themselves outnumbers in the middle of the park in their two defeats to Newcastle and West Ham, Manchester United could really cause them problems.

United will also be welcoming back captain Wayne Rooney, who never fails to contribute in a Manchester derby, holding the United record for most goals (11). His influence will be telling against a City side down on their luck and confidence. It’s worth noting that the Sky Blues have conceded two goals in each of their last three games in all competitions.

The Sky Blues have no doubt been the better of the two sides in the last 18 months, but is the tide swinging towards United ahead of their Manchester derby on Sunday?

Is Newcastle’s recent form a flash in the pan or have they turned a corner?

Newcastle are currently enjoying a West Ham-esque resurgence, with the North-East side having won their last three games on the bounce in all competitions at home to Leicester City (1-0), away to Tottenham Hotspur (2-1) and most recently, away to last season’s double winners Manchester City (2-0 in the Capital One Cup).

Manager Alan Pardew was quick to credit himself for the turnaround, cheekily reiterating that he “knows what he’s doing”, somewhat jokingly to the supporters.

But the 53-year-old knows he cannot rest on his laurels for long as the Newcastle manager, as things can change very fast. Only earlier this month, supporters were vehemently protesting against him, demanding that the club owner Mike Ashley removes him from the club.

Impressive results in their last three games have considerably risen morale around the team. The players will be believing in themselves and their manager, and the fans will certainly be on side if United continue winning.

After hosting an inconsistent Liverpool side next weekend at St James‘ Park, the Magpies will have four games that could see them picking up points – West Brom (away), Queens Park Rangers (home), West Ham (away) and Burnley (away).

Players such as Gabriel Obertan (3 PL starts, 1 goal, 1 assist) and Papiss Cisse (2 PL starts, 4 goals) have finally come into form, while goals are being spread around the team. Every player is pulling together, and their recent resurgence looks far  more of a team growing in confidence, rather than fortunately picking up results.

Their 1-0 win against Leicester City was as ugly as they come, but in getting the result, it transformed the Newcastle side to fight back in their following game against Tottenham, coming from behind to win at White Hart Lane. Their victory against Manchester City was even more convincing, with the Magpies fully deserving of the win.

But even prior to the upturn in performances, the form of Newcastle hasn’t been as bad as supporters were making out this season, as the Toon Army had only lost three from their first seven – the same amount as Liverpool and Everton at the time. It was a lack of wins that was more publicised, but now they have finally picked up a maximum three points, results should be easier to come by without the anxiety.

Alan Pardew’s side are now just one win away from 8th-placed Manchester United in the table. This month, their form in the Premier League is rivalled only by West Ham United (3 games, 3 wins). Good home form is considered the basis for a successful season, and United have lost only to Manchester City at St James Park so far.

Confidence is at its highest for almost a year. The players have dug deep for their manager to get results, and there seems to be no reason why they cannot build on it, especially with a favourable run of games to come. The entire squad are pulling together in the right direction, which could well soon see Newcastle back into the top-half of the table.

Luis Suarez and three other notable omissions who deserved a Ballon d’Or nomination

The FIFA Ballon d’Or nominations are out, and unsurprisingly Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid & Portugal) and Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina) head the 23-man shortlist.

There were a number of shock omissions, however, with Luis Suarez (Barcelona & Uruguay) the biggest name to have been left out of the nominations. According to the EuroFantasyLeague (EFL), he scored 31 league goals for former side Liverpool last season, and would have made you 740 points. But who else was deserving of recognition?

Carlos Tevez (Juventus & Argentina) must have been close in the reckoning, and will be mightily disappointed to have missed out on a nomination off the back of one of his best ever seasons. As reported in EFL, the 30-year-old striker scored 19 league goals, while leading his side to their third consecutive Serie A title. He would have earned you 440 points for the campaign.

The former Manchester City man joined the Old Lady in June 2013, and was the third-highest Serie A goalscorer en route to helping Juve to the league title. He averaged a goal or assist every 100 minutes last season, and has forced his way back into the Argentina national team recently too.

Koke (Atletico Madrid & Spain) won the La Liga title last season, with the midfielder being arguably one of the best playmakers in the world. The 22-year-old scored six goals and made 13 assists for Atletico en route to their league crown, which earned him a regular spot in the Spain national team for this summer’s World Cup. As reported in EFL, Koke earned 410 points in 2013/14.

Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid & Uruguay) is one of many defenders who never really received much recognition for a standout campaign, but the 28-year-old was at the heart of Atletico’s successful title-winning season.

He helped the side to 18 clean sheets in the 34 games he played in, while scoring the decisive equaliser to win the title on the final day. He also scored in the Champions League final as Atletico finished runners-up in Europe, and would have earned you 355 points.

Ballon d’Or nominations are often filled by players who have added to their trophy cabinet during the previous campaign, so for only two Atletico Madrid players to have the made the 23-man shortlist – both of whom now play for Chelsea – is very surprising.

Bale and Muller hitting last year’s levels, while Toure and Gerrard struggle

They say it’s very difficult to win the league, but even harder to retain it. And so likewise, the sign of a great player should be not only to top the player performance statistics, but to be there year after year.

Looking at the Eurofantasyleague tallies for midfielders last season, we can see the best performers across Europe last term, and see what impact they have made so far in 2014/15.

The leading points scorer last year was Manchester City’s Ivory Coast international Yaya Toure – he helped himself to an incredible 630 points as the Citizens picked up the Premier League trophy, netting 20 goals and contributing 15 assists. Whilst the numbers cannot possibly be matched so early in the season, the fact that Toure, who endured personal problems in the Summer, is far from a leader in the EFL stats currently where he is currently on the edge of the top 200 midfielders in Europe.

Not all top players have failed to meet their high standards. From the Spanish La Liga, Gareth Bale was second in the top midfielder table last year, and currently sits in sixth. In Germany, Thomas Muller was fifth after a season of domestic success with Bayern Munich, and such is the tall German’s consistency, fifth is where he stands at present too.

And for some it can be age that catches up with a player. Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard finished eighth in the EFL midfielder standings, helping the Merseysiders to an unexpected title challenge. However this season, and potentially without his key passes being converted by Luis Suarez, the now ex-England international sits outside the top 120 midfielders in Europe based on EFL stats.

It is still early in the season, and players still have plenty of games left in order to increase their points levels, but with only one or two usual suspects falling short, top players like the pre-mentioned, plus Mario Gotze, James Rodriguez and Cesc Fabregas, will continue to top the tables probably for many seasons to come.

Rabona trick to kick-start Lamela Tottenham career

Erik Lamela may have struggled to make an impression in his first season at White Hart Lane, but if he wanted to announce himself to the Premier League this term, a 20 yard ‘Rabona’ would certainly do the trick.

While few Spurs fans really felt Lamela a flop in his first year, the several injury problems he endured from Christmas onwards meant that any chance he did have to cement himself in the first team were severely reduced.

But a Summer free of injury, and without World Cup duties with Argentina, seems to have helped towards a physically and mentally refreshed approach, and performances not hampered by a £30m price-tag.

Lamela, 22, has only played 17 league games in his Spurs career, only 11 starts, and eight of those have been this season. Having been in the plans of Andre Villas-Boas pre-injury, while regaining fitness, interim manager Tim Sherwood favoured alternatives.

The Argentine may well be key to how Tottenham’s season will progress – will he be able to continue his improvement and produce the form that saw him net 15 in 33 league appearances for Roma in his last season in Serie A, and the form that enabled him to force himself back into the Argentina squad. Or will he retreat to the player that started off last season at Spurs, and too often went missing for large periods. Mauricio Pochettino will be hoping to get the most from his countryman, and for Lamela to help his side to a top four finish.

Real Madrid versus Barcelona: A Battle of Strategies & Superstars

messi-ronaldo 2

Messi versus Ronaldo…  Benzema versus Neymar… Rodriguez versus Suarez… Wow! This Saturday will give us a matchup of superstars. Forget all the other matches. This is the one to watch and cherish.

Why is this match so important? Because, for one thing, it will surely reward us with a number of beautiful goals. That’s to be expected. But it’s really the chess moves that both clubs are going to have to make to win that will be most intriguing. Neither manager wants to lose this game and neither wants to be criticized for starting the wrong players.

Barca, on the one hand, has to take into account the addition of Luis Suarez who, after a 4 months suspension for practicing his biting technique, will make his debut tomorrow. Will he be a starter? Surely, yes. But what happens if he doesn’t mesh immediately with Messi and Neymar? Will he be benched? If Barca loses, will he be blamed or will Luis Enrique for starting him or for benching him too early or for playing him too many minutes? If Lionel Messi underperforms, will he blamed for folding in front of his nemesis, Cristiano Ronaldo, who is playing second to none this season?

Real Madrid, on the other hand, will have to deal with the loss of Gareth Bale but will otherwise have all of the remaining pieces intact. But how will they counteract the addition of Suarez? If he plays well and manages to spread the field with Neymar and Messi, how will Carlo Ancelotti react? If Barca scores quickly, will Real be deflated?

In the end, this is a matchup between some of the world’s best players with great talents but also between managers with even greater egos.

So, who will you choose to pick up for the match? Ronaldo leads the pack with 340 points but costs 23.5m. Messi costs the same but has earned only 200 points so far. However, he may want to prove himself. Of course, you can pick up both but will need to manage the rest of your team to stay under your 100m budget. Benzema earned 50 of his 85 points in the past two matches. Neymar has been on fire of late after a slow start to the season. He has 175 total points. James Rodriguez has been consistent, gaining points in his last 5 matches for a total of 105. He is also a good value at 9.5m. Of course, you could risk starting Suarez. Don’t forget to make your player transfers (adds/drops) before the match starts on October 25th at 16:00 UTC.

Is Mario Balotelli already bound for Liverpool exit?

Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli has been in the headlines again this week, thanks in part to swapping shirts at half-time, and also for arguably the much more important issue of disappearing match after match.

In fact since his highly publicised £16m move from AC Milan to Anfield, Balotelli is yet to break his duck domestically, from six appearances – his only goal coming late on against Ludogorets in the Champions League.

But his poor form is not new to Mario – including a poor end to the season in Northern Italy, and a disastrous World Cup outing for the striker in Brazil, Balotelli has only scored two goals in his last 20 games in all competitions – Strike partner Daniel Sturridge has eight, while Balotelli’s replacement in the Azzurri set-up, Graziano Pelle, has 15 in 20 matches.

In short, it’s easy to see why he has been dropped from the national team (without going into arguments with senior members of the squad, and the Coach), and why there is already talk of an Anfield exit, most likely in the Summer.

While goalscoring has been non-existent for Balo, just as frustrating for manager Brendan Rodgers will be the lack of teamwork and passing – teammate Raheem Sterling is noticeably frustrated in recent games, and has been seen complaining to his attacking partner. Adam Lallana also was visibly frustrated with the Italian’s exploits against QPR (where he had seven shots). As Michael Owen tweeted, “Most worrying thing is his teammates’ body language towards him… Once you lose their respect it’s a big struggle.”

It is by no means the end for Balotelli, but he is seemingly drinking at the last-chance saloon, and his inability to make him indispensable at any top club could soon see him move down a level, possibly to a club where scrutiny will be reduced, something that might suit him. One thing we have learned in recent years however, is never to make predictions about Mario Balotelli.

Man City stumped by Champions League failures

Manchester City this week continued their poor form in the Champions League, leading to further questions over just what the reason could be behind their difference in performance in the Premier League, compared to in Europe.

Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with CSKA Moscow saw Pellegrini’s men take a comfortable two goal lead, and look in total control. But the Russian’s came back into the game and managed to equalise in injury time at the end of the game. The failure to see off games when they get the opportunity is nothing new to City, and the latest draw comes on the back of what is now years of under-achieving.

Almost inexplicably, the Citizens have now gone five Champions League matches without victory – two of those clashes were last season against Barcelona (defeats both home and away), while a loss to Bayern this year in the opening group match, and a home draw with Roma, were not results that befit Champions League trophy contenders.

The bad form goes further back even – at home – so long a fortress in the Premier League, Man City have won only two games from the last eight, winning only against CSKA Moscow and Victoria Plzen.

But what could be the reason behind such poor form in Europe, on a consistent basis, and their title challenge domestically each year? Players like Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany compete successfully at international level, and have experience in Europe’s top competition – It would be hard to see them being a weak link if they moved to Bayern or Real Madrid, yet together, it is not working for City.

Whatever the reason for their Champions League no-shows, it’s do or die time again in Group E – Man City are in third place, two points behind Roma, but with the Giallorossi taking a thumping at home to Bayern on Tuesday, City will need to get three points over CSKA, and then get an important win at the Olimpico in Rome.


Pelle and Koeman helping Southampton to European dream

As Southampton announced the sales of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Ricky Lambert, amongst others, pundits and fans alike feared for the future of the Saints in the Premier League – but under new Coach Ronald Koeman, and with some new names on the roster, the south coast side are looking like surprise challengers for European football this term.

One of those names that has been brought in was 29 year old Italian Graziano Pelle. Signed from Feyenoord for 8m Euros, the striker’s career only sparked in 2012, on loan at the Dutch club from Parma, where he netted 27 goals in 29 appearances.

That form won him a 2.1m Euro move to the Eredivisie, where he scored 23 league goals in 28 last term, before his move to the Premier League.  His six goals so far this season for the Saints has now earned him a call-up to the Italian national team, where he was on the scoresheet on his debut versus San Marino this month.

Other noticeable changes since Mauricio Pochettino’s time, has seen Dusan Tadic come in and impress, while Tony Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand have reinforced the defence, and Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin have come to further prominence.

Such astute transfer market dealings have taken Southampton to being dark horses for relegation, to European challengers, thanks to 16 points from their first eight games, a tally that leaves them in third position, comfortably above Liverpool and Arsenal.

Whether the likes of Pelle and Tadic can inspire such success for the rest of the season remains to be seen, but a mixture of good management in the transfer market, tactical management fro Koeman, and quality of the new players, gives them more than a fighting chance of European football at St. Mary’s next year.


Berahino gives Hodgson new option for Euro 2016

Saido Berahino continued his blistering start to the season with another goal at home to Manchester United, his sixth in eight games so far this term for West Brom.

In fact, the England Under-21 international has now helped himself to the position of best English striker this year in the Euro Fantasy League statistics, a fact that shows the nature of his rise as a force in the past year. His 120 points also suggests he could be considered by Roy Hodgson, ahead of the other potential national team strikers, who have not reached his heights yet this year.

In all competitions the WBA man has now netted seven goals in nine matches, taking into account his Under-21 scoring, but his recent form also suggests he is in top form, scoring in each of his last three league matches, including versus Liverpool and Manchester United.

With Berahino topping the English striker table (and behind only Diego Costa, Sergio Aguero and Graziano Pelle), he is ahead of Wayne Rooney in second place, with the England skipper registering half the points of the West Brom forward, 60. Fraizer Campbell of Crystal Palace is third with 50 points, while ex-England man Peter Crouch and new Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck are next, on 45 points each.

The stats do tend to speak for themselves, and Roy Hodgson will find it hard to ignore Berahino if he continues to impress in coming weeks. The Burundi-born forward is fast becoming a name to strongly consider for France 2016, and the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck will need to impress as much on the pitch in the intervening year and a half.