Messi ready for second decade of dominance

434 games for Barcelona. 361 goals. 95 caps for Argentina. 44 goals. Six La Liga titles, two Copas del Rey, three Champions Leagues, two Club World Cups, an Olympic gold and a World Cup runners-up medal. Eight different world player of the year awards and countless other individual prizes. Not bad for 10 years’ work. Lionel Messi has a decent haul from his first decade and the next one is about to get underway.

Messi marked 10 years since his Barca debut this week. It was 16 October 2004 that he came on as a second half substitute against Espanyol, replacing Deco. Big things were expected of the little forward but no one could have predicted what followed.

Last season saw Messi questioned for perhaps the first time in his career. He spent more time injured than he had before and questions were asked over his commitment, with the World Cup on the horizon. If that was Messi playing at less than 100%, it barely showed, statistically at least. Messi was the second-highest rated forward in Spain, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, EuroFantasyLeague stats confirm.

Barca host Eibar on Saturday and Messi is set to overtake Telmo Zarra as the leading scorer in Primera history. Messi has 249 goals in the league and a brace would tie Zarra’s 60-year record, set largely for Athletic Bilbao. If he doesn’t surpass Zarra this weekend then the chances are he’ll do it a week later – against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu, no less.

Debate has raged in Spain over whether or not Messi should be celebrated at the Bernabeu if he breaks the record before or during the Clasico. Ronaldinho was once applauded by the Madrid faithful and if Messi gets the same treatment after once more confirming his place in the record books, it will rank alongside any of the more tangible accolades he has claimed.

Martinez’s attacking football won’t save him in a results business

When Roberto Martinez was hired by Everton to replace David Moyes, there were genuine concerns from the Goodison Park faithful. The Spaniard’s Wigan Athletic side had been an entertaining one to watch but fallen out of the Premier League in a haze of bad defending and sloppy goals. The fear was that Moyes’ trademark obduracy would be replaced by pretty attacking football and a porous backline.

Martinez’s first season suggested those worries were misguided. Everton conceded only 39 goals in 38 games, the third-fewest, behind champions Manchester City and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, in the top flight. It was one fewer than Moyes’ final season in charge and with 11 more goals scored, the Toffees appeared in good shape.

The first seven games of the new season have brought those concerns back to the surface. No team has conceded more than Everton’s 16, not even bottom of the league Queens Park Rangers. Everton have kept one clean sheet – in their only win, over West Brom – and are fourth-bottom, outside of the relegation zone by two points. Everton are one bad set of results from dropping to the foot of the league.

Bad luck, injuries and individual errors have combined to blow apart Everton’s back four. Sylvain Distin, one of the highest-rated defenders in last year’s EuroFantasyLeague, has spent time out injured, amid internet rumours of a fall-out with the manager. Martinez has denied there was a bust-up but regardless, Distin has looked short of his best and was understandably dropped for John Stones – also now injured.

Tim Howard, the third-best scoring goalkeeper in EFL last year, had a nightmare of a game against Crystal Palace, giving away a penalty and making another error that directly led to a goal. Martinez can’t legislate for occasions such as the often-reliable United States international making mistake after mistake. Howard, while far from perfect, has been a reliable presence for almost decade.

But the manager ultimately carries responsibility for his team’s flaws. Martinez’s commitment to attacking football is admirable and has gone down well on the blue half of Merseyside. He is well-liked and respected – but that won’t protect him for long if Everton continue to plumb the depths, looking more like relegated Wigan with each passing game.

Van Persie and Toure join list of Fantasy Football underachievers

Whilst Euro Fantasy League players who selected Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer will be happy that their heavy investment of fantasy football funds has paid dividends, there are a number of players who came with a big price-tag, but have yet to being points to users.

Stefan Kießling 

Coming in at 12.5m, the former Germany international has brought in only 30 points this season from his seven appearances for Bayer Leverkusen. Kiessling also, despite netting 15 league goals last term, has only found the goal once this term.

Alexis Sanchez

Following his big money move from Barcelona to Arsenal, it’s not worked out quite as the Chilean would have hoped. His return of 45 points from five appearances is a poor return for the player that costs users £12.5m. The attacker has struggled to find his ideal position in Wengers side, and got 0 points from the last two clashes against Tottenham and Chelsea.

Yaya Toure 

The player of last season who appeared to go from end to end at will, seems to have disappeared. The Man City midfielder has struggled to find form this year, and at a price of £12.5m, a return of just 25 points from his six Premier League appearances is disappointing.

Robin Van Persie

Possibly a surprise name on the list but the Dutchman has made six Premier League starts under Louis Van Gaal, netting twice, and making no assists. Whilst two goals is not a disaster, users will have spent £12m for a man who has maybe not made the most of his position in a free-scoring United side that has netted 11 in the last four games.

Raheem Sterling, England’s next star

Much of the post International football window break in England has been regarding Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling, who when asked by Manager Roy Hodgson, admitted to being tired, and as such, was rested for the uninspiring 1-0 away victory against Estonia. But being played every week by Liverpool, and a firm starter for England, do the stats back up Sterling as the next Three Lions star?

The short answer appears to be yes – in the Euro Fantasy League stats, Sterling emerges as the top ranked England midfielder, on 85 points from the season so far, only trailing Angel Di Maria, Nacer Chadli and Cesc Fabregas. And it doesn’t appear to be short term either. Last season, where Sterling spent some time out of the Reds set-up, he still managed to secure his place as 4th best England midfielder, behind only Steven Gerrard, Adam Lallana, and Adam Johnson – three players he has leapfrogged considerably this term.

As a result, it would appear one or both of Brendan Rodgers and Roy Hodgson is looking to protect Sterling, at least in terms of his international appearances. Rodgers has been criticised for suggesting the winger needs a break, having played him for 120 minutes in the League Cup against Middlesbrough only last month, but in any case, clashes with San Marino and Estonia were never going to trouble England.

Sterling, as the stats above prove, will be key to England’s performances against the better sides in France 2016, and for Liverpool in the rest of the season, and the need to have England’s top midfielder will need to be balanced with a requirement to not burn him out, as has been suggested occurred with Michael Owen to name one.

All eyes will be on Rodgers in coming weeks as Liverpool face QPR, Real Madrid, Hull City, Swansea City, and Newcastle United, games that with the obvious exception of Madrid, could be ideal matches to rest England’s next top midfield star.

England look to Captain Rooney to help youngsters

Wayne Rooney is now the most experienced player in Roy Hodgson’s England squad, a young veteran at the age of 28. The Manchester United forward has the opportunity to use whatever know-how gathered from more than a decade of international football in a pivotal Euro 2016 qualifier against Estonia.

Rooney’s 98 England caps are almost double the amount held by the second-highest capped player in the squad, James Milner, with 51. Milner though has rarely been anything more than a back-up player for a succession of national team bosses, a reliable hand who can do a job in a number of positions. Rooney is unquestionably the main man, captain of club and country, and it’s on his shoulders that the Three Lions’ qualification campaign lies.

The likes of Danny Welbeck and, when fit, Daniel Sturridge, will offer some support but have fewer than 50 caps and 20 goals between them. They’re relative novices to the rigours of a qualification campaign. Rooney’s first was for Euro 2004, and though he’s only five years older than Welbeck and three older than Sturridge, he has a lifetime’s more experience.

Group E was supposed to be fought out between England and Switzerland. The Swiss have though lost both of their first two games and it’s England and Lithuania who lead the way. Estonia – and Slovenia – lead the chasing pack with three points from two games. A win for England in Tallinn would deliver a heavy blow to any Estonian hopes of making the early running a three-horse race.

Switzerland should get back in it against San Marino, while the outcome of Slovenia’s trip to Lithuania will determine if England are out on their own – assuming they beat Estonia – or still neck-and-neck. England have to do their bit and make it nine points from a possible nine and Rooney – as he chases down Sir Bobby Charlton’s England scoring record – has to lead from the front.

Can Casillas justify his Spain first-team spot?

Iker Casillas may have won almost every trophy there is to win in football but it’s becoming increasingly clear there’s one thing he should lose – his place as Spain’s first-choice goalkeeper. The Real Madrid captain had a poor World Cup and his international form was little better as La Roja were beaten by Slovakia in Euro 2016 qualifying.

Casillas made one stunning save with the game goalless and, minutes later, wasted it by failing to stop Juraj Kucka’s long-range free-kick. The Genoa midfielder struck the ball well and there was some movement through the air – but not enough to deceive Casillas to the extent it did. He dived past the ball, then threw a hand towards it, in vain, as the shot found the net and put Slovakia on the way to a famous win.

The 33-year-old wasn’t at fault for Miroslav Stoch’s winning goal, having no chance from a lightning break and perfect cross that the winger headed home. And the rest of his performance was decent enough – neither spectacularly bad nor spectacularly good. But this is a Spain team that has struggled for goals, with first Fernando Torres and now Diego Costa leading the line.

Torres was a shell of his former self, eroded perhaps by injuries, and finally put out to pasture after the World Cup. Costa’s Spain form, meanwhile, has been far short of his club form, although his display in Slovakia was probably his best for Spain. He didn’t score, though, and until the goals start to flow, each mistake by Casillas is one more Spain have to make back. A more reliable goalkeeper would help both ends of the pitch.

If Vicente Del Bosque was short on options in goal then his loyalty to Casillas would at least be understandable. But the squad to play Slovakia and Luxembourg – on Sunday – also contains David De Gea, Casillas’ new understudy after Victor Valdes’ injury. De Gea has become one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers and, 10 years Casillas’ junior, could be Spain’s goalkeeper for a long time to come. His time should be now.

Cristiano Ronaldo Cannot Stop Scoring for Real Madrid!

Scoring goals on a regular basis is a rare feat that only the most gifted players in world football can achieve. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are on another planet when compared to everyone else, such is their unerring ability to find the back of the net and break goal-scoring records at will.

Both will go down as two of the best players in football history, but the latter has started the 2014/2015 season on fire. Despite failing to lead from the front in the 2014 World Cup as Portugal crashed out in the group stages, Ronaldo has more than made up for the disappointment by smashing in 13 goals in just 6 La Liga games, making him one of the most sought after picks in any European fantasy football league. Checking Coral for the latest sports odds would indicate that Ronaldo is not only favourite to retain his Ballon d’Or crown, but also the most likely to score the first goal and odds-on to score at any time in Real Madrid’s upcoming La Liga fixture at Levante.

Hat-tricks and scoring records

Recording 39 goals in the calendar year represents a wonderful achievement for one of the most gifted footballers in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo has worked assiduously on every aspect of his game and overall physical condition to develop into one of the world’s best players who can not only create chances at will through sublime skill and speed, but also score goals at an unerring rate from open play and set pieces.

Only Jonathan Soriano has scored more goals in 2014 than Ronaldo, but the Portuguese star has struck goals with a superb return of 7 goals in just 2 La Liga games. A hat-trick at Deportivo in Real Madrid’s 8-2 victory was followed 4 days later by a 4 goal haul against Elche to record his 25th hat-trick – 21 coming in La Liga – for the club. It has made his goal-scoring record even more remarkable, with Ronaldo hitting 186 goals in just 169 games in Real Madrid colours.

At this rate, it will not be long before Ronaldo reaches 200 goals and equals the great Alfredo Di Stefano’s club record of 26 hat-tricks. Last weekend, Ronaldo tied La Liga record of 22 hat-tricks after scoring another treble against Athletic Bilbao.

Will Ronaldo ever return to Manchester United?

Although his move to Spain transformed Ronaldo into one of the best players in the world, he has made no secret of his admiration for former club Manchester United and suggested that he may be willing to return in the future. Being Real’s Madrid jewel in the crowd amidst a host of ‘Galactico’ stars would suggest that Carlo Ancelotti and Florentino Perez will do everything in their power to keep Ronaldo at the Bernabau, but he may have the ultimate say on his own future.

Returning to Old Trafford would provide a much-needed boost for Manchester United fans and Louis Van Gaal, as their poor start to the season reflects that there is much work ahead before they can be considered serious challengers for the Premier League title.

Diego Costa aims to replicate Chelsea form for Spain

The upcoming round of international fixtures give Chelsea striker Diego Costa the opportunity to turn his Premier League form into goals for Spain, with England’s leading scorer yet to break his duck for the 2012 European Championship winners.

Costa has made a barnstorming start to life at Stamford Bridge – his nine goals in seven games make him the Premier League’s top scorer and come on the back of a prolific few years at Atletico Madrid. After 64 goals in 135 games for the Spanish champions, Costa is on the road to replicating the same for the Blues and it could end in consecutive league winners’ medals.

But Costa’s goals haven’t carried over to the international arena. His four caps for Spain have seen the 26-year-old fail to net during what’s been a difficult time for La Roja. Costa debuted under Vicente Del Bosque shortly before the World Cup following his controversial decision to switch allegiance from his homeland, Brazil, to his adopted country and was booed upon returning to Brazil over the summer.

By the end of Spain’s involvement in the tournament it was the holders’ implosion – not Costa’s nationality or lack of goals – that was under focus. It was clear to see in his two World Cup appearances that Spain hadn’t worked out how best to play to his strengths – perhaps because a pre-tournament injury limited his involvement in training – but Chelsea have shown the benefit of building the team around Costa.

As Del Bosque oversees a new generation the chance to make Costa the spearhead is there. Spain have the luxury of mirroring his blossoming relationship with Cesc Fabregas, the Premier League’s leading creator, and supplementing that with contributions from David Silva, Pedro Rodriguez and Andres Iniesta, all in the Spain squad for qualification games against Slovakia and Luxembourg. If it clicks for Costa and co, we could be looking at the Euro 2016 winners in waiting.

Balotelli and Flamini among Europe’s fantasy football underperformers

Whilst we hand out praise on a regular basis on Eurofantasyleague, the season so far does have its own casualties of form, players who come with a big reputation or price-tag, and have not produced the goods this term. Here are some of the biggest under performers:

Mario Balotelli

Following a £16m move from AC Milan to Liverpool, Balotelli was expected to at least help contribute towards the replacement of Barcelona-bound Luis Suarez. However, the Italian has minus five points from the season, with his main contribution to the fantasy league being a yellow card. Recently dropped by Brendan Rodgers, the ex-Manchester City striker will need to improve if he is to break back into the first team. Check Balotelli’s stats here:

Bojan Krkic

With Stoke announcing the 1.8m Euro move in the Summer, many thought Mark Hughes had found a bargain in the ex Barcelona and Roma striker. With a reputation as a promising youngster, he was expected to realise some of that potential in the English Premier League. However, his stats so far show four appearances, no goals, and minus 10 points, meaning he currently ranks among the 10 worst active attackers in Europe.

Sylvain Distin

A stalwart in the Everton defence for a number of years, the French centre-back has had a nightmare start (currently on minus 45 points), and was dropped for the last two games. This follows a horrific record of conceding 13 goals in the 4 matches Distin had played in so far this term.

Mathieu Flamini

Brought in with the job of being the top class defensive midfielder Arsenal so clearly need, the ex Milan player has struggled. Playing more than three quarters of the game in all but two Premier League matches so far, he is first choice yet has brought Wenger’s side minus 10 points! Flamini has failed to help Arsenal’s cause and his position on the pitch seems to be one that the Gunners may have to address in the January transfer window.

Focus on Fabregas as Chelsea take on Arsenal

The build-up for Arsenal’s visit to Premier League leaders Chelsea has been dominated by two players – former Gunner Cesc Fabregas facing his old club and the fitness of Diego Costa. But it’s a game that will be decided as much by the performances of John Terry and Per Mertesacker, the respective rocks in each defence.

Terry is a long-standing lynchpin at Stamford Bridge. The 33-year-old has spent almost his entire career with Chelsea – a brief loan at Nottingham Forest aside – and across his 600 games, has rarely been anything less than a fan’s favourite. Last season was one of Terry’s best, Chelsea conceding only 27 league goals, with the captain picking up 340 points, making him one of Europe’s 10 best defenders.

Mertesacker hasn’t always enjoyed hero status among the Gunners’ faithful. He was more of a figure of fun when he first arrived in 2011, a distinct lack of pace and discomfort on the ball leading to some shaky performances. But the Germany international has grown into the club to the point he is arguably Arsene Wenger’s first choice centre-back, as well as the subject of a memorable – if foul-mouthed – song from the Emirates Stadium stands.

Last season’s trip to Stamford Bridge was a harrowing one for Arsenal, going down to 10 men and losing 6-0. That in part explains why Mertesacker claimed only 245 EFL points despite keeping as many clean sheets – 16 – as Terry. Which side keeps a clean sheet on Sunday will determine where the points go as the Premier League table takes shape and with defences built around the commanding Terry and Mertesacker, the chances of either side routing the other are slim indeed.