Why are Samir Nasri’s moments of magic so few and far between?

In an enthralling second-half Champions League tie, Manchester City winger Samir Nasri was the difference, with the Frenchman showcasing his true ability to score one goal and create another as the Sky Blues qualified for the last-16 of the competition at the expense of Serie A giants AS Roma.

But such moments in a Manchester City shirt have been rare, to say the least. Nasri’s goal against Roma, a fiercely struck effort from outside the area that went in via the post, was amazingly only his first goal of the season. The 27-year-old had played 14 games in all competitions without scoring prior to Wednesday night, and it’s not good enough for a man of his calibre.

The French international has scored just four goals in his last 31 Premier League games, and considering the sensational efforts he’s been seen scoring in the past, many question why Nasri can’t fire in a City shirt.

His volley against Sunderland in last season’s Capital One Cup final is one of his finest moments for the Sky Blues, and he’s playing in a side with a manager who only wants his team to attack, so he should have the freedom to express himself.

Solely based on personal performance, last season was an average campaign for the former Marseilles playmaker, scoring seven goals in 34 games. Considering the defending champions paid more than £24M to procure his signature back in 2011, supporters won’t be feeling they’ve got their money’s worth from Nasri, and it doesn’t appear likely of changing any time soon.

It could be argued that he’s struggled to express himself in a side full of world-class individuals (Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero), while at former sides Arsenal and Marseilles he was seen as the most important player on the pitch, which allowed him to truly excel as the focal point.

Nasri is still creating opportunities for his teammates, however, but rarely is he taking the game by the scruff of its neck and showing his individual brilliance like he did against Roma, Sunderland etc. City hardly struggle when the Frenchman isn’t in the side, but their form has dipped in the past with David Silva and Sergio Aguero available. The Frenchman just doesn’t have that influence on the team, and many would argue that he’s expendable.

With 23 goals scored in 145 games in all competitions for Manchester City, Nasri just isn’t contributing enough to the side on a regular basis, which is a shame given how much ability he does have. In a City shirt, it will always be “what if?” with Nasri.

Could Manchester City win the Champions League?

Champions League gameweek 6 saw another miraculous night for Manchester City, as a depleted Sky Blues side earned an impressive 2-0 victory away to AS Roma – booking their place in the last-16 of the competition at the Italian‘s expense.

The Premier League holders looked down and out following their 2-1 home defeat to CSKA Moscow in early November, but they have dug out some incredible results against Bayern Munich and AS Roma to earn qualification into the next round against all odds.

“We are a strong unit and we believed in it. We’ve got resolve, we’ve got character and we’ve got great players. Add that all together and you have a chance. We’re moving in the right direction. We’ve won six games on the spin now and have really stepped it up,” said Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Manchester City winning away to Roma is an incredible feat, given the fact that Bayern Munich and Juventus are the only sides to have beaten Roma at the Stadio Olimpico since May 2013. This is without Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero in the side too, which shows just how resilient the Sky Blues can be when all seems lost.

With two league titles won in three years, Manchester City’s struggles in the Champions League have led to criticism, as their squad is as expensive as the big-spending clubs, but they fall short of expectations. But now they are into the last-16, they stand an honest chance of making it further.

While expected to be named in a difficult draw due to finishing second in their, City stand a slim chance of being drawn against AS Monaco and FC Porto in the next round, which would certainly make them favourites to reach the quarter-finals and potentially further.

To beat Bayern Munich and AS Roma with so many key players out will certainly give the Sky Blues hope of beating any opponent, and manager Manuel Pellegrini appears to be getting to grips with the competition now, favouring a more pragmatic approach. But City have also hit form at the right time.

Six wins on the bounce in all competitions makes the squad desperate to keep their winning run going regardless of who they face. They are starting to believe in their abilities too, rather than being overawed by the calibre of opposition as they perhaps were in the past, so they won’t be fearful should they receive a tricky last-16 draw.

Few gave Manchester City a chance of beating Bayern Munich and AS Roma to secure their place in the next round, but they are now the fifth favourites to win this season’s Champions League. Can the Sky Blues go all the way in Europe?

Are Liverpool suffering from Champions League immaturity?

Liverpool’s Champions League dream came to an end on Tuesday night, with the Reds drawing 1-1 at home to FC Basel, which saw the Swiss side into the last-16 of the competition at the expense of Brendan Rodgers’ men.

Following the game, captain Steven Gerrard said his group of players got what they deserved, as they had been below-par all throughout the Champions League group stage.

“I don’t think we deserved better. We have not gone out because of this performance, we weren’t good enough away to Basel and we let in a silly goal away to Ludogorets. You qualify over six games and we have not been good enough,” he said.

Liverpool’s recent performance against Basel was synonymous of their European inferiority all through the campaign, and it appears the Reds are suffering from a tactical immaturity. FC Basel have earned impressive wins against a host of top Premier League sides in the past due to the way they set up to beat the elite clubs on the counter attack.

The perennial Swiss champions have beaten Liverpool, Chelsea (twice), Manchester United, while earning draws against Tottenham in European competition down the years. They looked far more organised than the Merseyside outfit, which was highlighted by their superior amount of chances created despite having considerably less possession.

Basel took little time getting the ball from defence to attack, and the speed of their breaks saw the Liverpool defence opened up on many occasions. This was a side vastly experienced in the Champions League, carrying out their instructions to a T. Liverpool looked like strangers on the pitch, and could barely string a passing move together without it breaking down.

Manager Brendan Rodgers finds himself under intense pressure, as Liverpool were perhaps fortunate to come away with a draw, given how many times Basel were through on goal or one pass away from a clear-cut chance. A free-kick scored late by Gerrard gave the Reds hope in the last few minutes, but they deserved little from the game to be so close to qualifying. Basel could and should have been out of sight long before Liverpool levelled the tie.

It shows how difficult the Champions League now is to navigate out of the groups, with sides operating on small budgets so well-drilled to get a result against a vastly superior opponents. The gulf in class was in contrast to the money Liverpool and Basel have spent in the last 18 months, and Rodgers couldn’t swing the game in his favour despite having a bench worth close to £100M.

Liverpool’s demise shows just how astute managers need to be in the Champions League to get a result against any side. They aren’t the only English side to struggle either, as Manchester City haven’t come close to replicating their league form into the Champions League group stage for the last three seasons, so the Reds can perhaps take some solace as Europe is a learning phase.

Chelsea back to settle the score at Sunderland

With the international break over, Chelsea are now preparing to don their winter kits and head north for their forthcoming match against Sunderland.

The game should, by all accounts, be an effortless victory for Jose Mourinho’s 11, who are top of the table and have yet to lose a game. Sunderland, by comparison, find themselves in 14th place after losing three and drawing in six of their 11 games played so far. In a particularly low moment for the Black Cats, they were beaten 8-0 by Southampton in an away game that saw them score two own goals.

However, though the upcoming match on 29th November should be a walk in the park for the Blues, there will be some bad blood between the teams thanks to an old score that Mourinho has yet to settle.


Last season, just one month before the Premier League tournament came to an end, Chelsea thought they had it easy when they came up against the Black Cats at Stamford Bridge. Prior to the match, Jose Mourinho had had a stunning unbeaten home record during his five years as manager for the team.

However, despite Samuel Eto’o's initial leading goal, Sunderland bounced back and managed to walk away with two goals and three points, ending Mourinho’s winning streak. It is one thing to have your five-year record broken; it is another to have it broken by a non top-flight team.

Sunderland’s then-goal scorer Connor Wickham will be present at the match at the end of the month, though they cannot pin their hopes on their other scorer, Fabio Borini, who is now back to Liverpool after being loaned to the team last year. Without a doubt, Mourinho will be keeping a close eye on Wickham to make sure history does not repeat itself.

Some satisfaction for Mourinho then will be the fact that this time the game is being played away – while Chelsea will not have the chance to change history on their own soil, they will have the opportunity to get their revenge by beating their enemies in their home stadium.

As a top flight team who have regularly been compared to Arsenal amongst other recent silverware winners, Chelsea should have no trouble regaining their reputation as they take on Sunderland the second time round. This time, it’s personal, and there’s a lot more at stake – their undefeated record so far this season.


Are Man Utd back?

Being third in the table, coming off the back of five consecutive Premier League victories, winning games despite performing poorly over the 90 minutes, and scoring late winning goals certainly gives reason to believe the old Manchester United are back this season.

The Red Devils won 2-1 away to Southampton on Monday night, but were heavily criticised for a woeful showing at St Mary’s. Saints were by far the more dominant side over the course of the game, creating far more chances and enjoying far more of the ball in the attacking third than that of their opponents, but they left without a point to show for their troubles.

Such a game was synonymous of United down the years, and something that continues to happen in recent weeks. Against Arsenal, the Red Devils rode their luck after enduring a first-half battering, but managed to win 2-1 at the Emirates last month to the fury and disbelief of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

While Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal was happy with the result on Monday night, he admitted how fortunate his players were to have come away with a victory, saying: “It is fantastic, but I had hoped we would have done that with a better performance. We were the lucky team. Tonight there were too many of our players who were not good.”

One thing Van Gaal can’t be disappointed with is United’s knack for scoring important late goals. Against Chelsea back in October, it was Robin Van Persie who struck in the last minute of injury time to earn United a point, and in the win against Arsenal, Wayne Rooney sealed victory with just minutes of normal time remaining in the second-half.

Such determination, resilience, and belief is what has been at the heart of Manchester United’s bright start to the campaign. Top-four was the aim, and they are currently delivering. Performances are being heavily scrutinised against, but they are picking up consecutive wins. The United boss can point to the growing injury list as a reason for the lack of consistency in performances, but he’s cobbling together a side each game week to get a result, and it’s working against all odds.

In Manchester United’s title-winning campaign of 2012/13, the Red Devils were frequently criticised for poor showings, but they still managed to earn all three points from the majority of games that led them to win the league at a canter. There are certainly some similarities to Van Gaal’s debut season so far, with United only boasting a small selection of dominating and deserved league victories, while the rest have been gritty, unattractive, and at times inferior.

Such a tactic of winning certainly worked well for them in the past. Are Manchester United back to their old self this season?

Could Mourinho pay the price for lack of midfield depth?

Chelsea suffered their first defeat in all competitions, with Newcastle United beating them 2-0 at St James’ Park on the weekend. The Blues were without holding midfielder Nemanja Matic – who was suspended for the clash after picking up five bookings in the campaign – and it showed with their defensive performance.

“No problem. It is a big player for us who isn’t playing but we trust other people and we forget Matic. He has a little bit of a holiday, a free weekend which he deserves very, very much, and he comes back stronger. It’s no problem,” said Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho prior to the game.

But it was a problem. Newcastle took advantage of the Serbian’s absence, with Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel struggling to replicate the level of performances shown by his superior.  Their unbeaten run came to an end on the weekend as a result, but it raises questions about the true depth of Chelsea’s side.

The Blues have the strongest overall starting XI in the Premier League, and a side good enough to rival the top European clubs too, but they have little in the way of adequate cover in key positions that could become an issue.

In the midfield, John Obi Mikel and Ramires are the only options to replace Cesc Fabregas or Nemanja Matic, and Ramires features from the wing more than any other position, so Mourinho is threadbare in an important role.

Considering Manchester City’s Frank Lampard is shining while on loan from New York City (13 games, 5 goals), Mourinho could well be regretting his decision to let him leave in the summer. Cesc Fabregas (15 games, 11 assists, 1 goal) has been an outstanding playmaker for the Blues this season, but in his absence, there’s nobody coming close to replacing him from the Chelsea side.

When every player is fully fit, there’s little doubt this Chelsea team would finish at the summit come May, but should they lose their key men in the midfield, of whom they have no adequate replacement for,  their season could unravel.

Mourinho has been lauded for his shrewd actions in the transfer market, but while he opted for great amounts of quality, he forgot about quantity. Matic only missed the Newcastle game through suspension, but injuries can happen throughout the course of a season which the club cannot legislate for.

When the January transfer window opens, the Blues boss could well consider bringing some midfield options just in case the unthinkable does happen. He’s been lucky so far that their pair have been ever-present in all competitions, but will Mourinho pay the price for gambling with a small squad?

Will Nigel Pearson be the first Premier League sacking of the season?

Leicester City are having a torrid time of late. The Foxes are bottom of the Premier League table after 14 games, and manager Nigel Pearson has landed himself in hot water after an altercation with a supporter. They recently lost a relegation six-pointer against fellow strugglers Queens Park Rangers at the end of November, which saw them drop to the foot of the table, and their subsequent defeat to Liverpool has many tipping them for the drop.

City are winless in their last nine Premier League games, losing seven and drawing two. They have failed to score in six of their nine outings, and have the second-worst defence in the division. While expected to struggle after their promotion from the Championship, the Midlands club broke their transfer record this summer so the overseers were certainly expecting more of a fight to stay in the division.

When things aren’t going for you on the pitch, the last thing a manager wants to do is alienate themselves from the supporters, and the recent incident between Pearson and the unhappy fan threatens to boil over into something serious. The City boss was quoted as saying: “’I replied to one idiot in the stands and if he doesn’t like what he sees, then don’t bother coming.”

The club’s supporters’ trust have demanded an apology from Pearson, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that odds on him to be the next manager sacked have been slashed overnight. Leicester City have a very ambitious owner in Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who wants the club to become an elite Premier League side chasing for a European place in the future.

“It will take a huge amount of money, possibly (£180m), to get (into Europe). That doesn’t put us off. I am asking for three years, and we’ll be there. We won’t take the huge leap to challenge the league’s top five clubs immediately. I think we need to establish our foothold in the league first and then we think about our next step,” he said back in May following promotion to the top flight.

The Foxes chairman certainly won’t want to see the club at the bottom of the table, and if the relationship continues to sour between Nigel Pearson and the supporters, coupled with poor results on the pitch, he will have little choice but to part company. So could the 51-year-old find himself as the first Premier League manager sacked this season?

Should Steven Gerrard consider a move abroad?

With Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard delaying his decision to signing a new deal that manager Brendan Rodgers said was on the table for him, should the 34-year-old seriously consider moving abroad?

When asked about his future with the Merseyside club, Gerrard said: “I’ll decide when I’m ready. There’s nothing to say on the contract at the moment. When there is, the fans have known me long enough, I’ll come out and say what I need to say.”

While in the eve of his playing career, the former England international has made it clear that he wants to play on for at least another season. He has an impressive CV that could have been so much better had he left Liverpool in the past, but his unwavering loyalty to stay at Anfield has led to positives and negatives.

Last season, he captained the Reds to second in the Premier League table. Fast-forward seven months, and Liverpool find themselves on the brink of a premature elimination in the Champions League, as well as being 16 points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea after just 14 games.

A player of Gerrard’s calibre shouldn’t be settling for a top-four finish, so will be he looking to interested sides abroad as a potential destination to end his career? The long-serving Liverpool midfielder will certainly be looking at the likes of Andrea Pirlo, 35, who has continued to win league titles with Juventus despite his advancing age, playing in a position Gerrard has adopted under Brendan Rodgers in the last 18 months.

The Italian Serie A is viewed as a much slower division than the English Premier League, which would suit the Whiston-born player perfectly, as the emphasis is on passing rather than pace and industry. It’s a similar case in the Spanish La Liga, with clubs favouring ball retention in a lower tempo. And despite his form being below par for Liverpool this season, there would be a host of interested clubs that would come in for Gerrard should he turn down a contract extension.

His deal is up this summer, and given how far away Liverpool look from a trophy, the lure of playing for a top side in Italy or Spain at the eve of his career could tempt him away.

In a recent interview, Steven Gerrard admitted he would likely look back on his career with regret for turning down moves to Europe’s elite in the past, but there’s still time. The Englishman has been a brilliant servant for the club, and surely wouldn’t begrudge him a move to a top foreign outfit.

His former international teammates Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Micah Richards have all signed for clubs abroad, and have recommended many follow the trend. He may have a love affair with Liverpool, but if Steven Gerrard wants to end his career with trophy success, he may need to consider the unthinkable and leave for a foreign club.

Fellaini flourishing under Louis Van Gaal

Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini recently got on the scoresheet to help seal a 2-1 win against Stoke City at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, and his goal has capped what a fantastic two months it has been for the former Red Devils flop.

Signed from Everton by ex-manager David Moyes for an eye watering £28M in 2013, big things were expected of the Belgian. He failed to deliver in his debut campaign, overwhelmed by the pressure to perform on such a large scale, and many thought he would be sold for a cut price as a result.

But new manager Louis Van Gaal surprisingly kept faith in the 27-year-old the following campaign, and he’s now been vindicated in his decision to stick with Fellaini, who has featured more than the likes of Darren Fletcher, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in the midfield to highlight his importance while the aforementioned were out of action.

Against Stoke City, he enjoyed another standout performance in the middle of the park, commanding in stature and very industrious. No United player made more tackles than the Belgian (5), who also made the second-most passes in the midfield. But it wasn’t just defensively where he shone. Fellaini also had three shots, two on target, one goal.

His confidence is sky high after being afforded a run of games in a style that allows him to play to his strengths for the entire 90 minutes. Only Chris Smalling made more touches (102) against the Potters than Fellaini (96), which is a stark contrast to how he performed in his debut campaign.

The 27-year-old was reticent receiving the ball in dangerous areas, but now he’s believing in his own ability and is starting to show why Moyes was so keen to pay nearly £30M for his services.

This season for United, Fellaini has made a total of nine Premier League appearances, scoring two goals, making 25 tackles, winning 36 aerial duels, while boasting an 88.1% pass completion. He’s realising his potential which is coinciding with an upturn in form for the Lancashire clubs too.

David Moyes didn’t appear to know where best to play Fellaini in his debut season, despite him coming off the back of an incredible scoring campaign as an attacking-midfielder who netted 11 goals, made 5 assists, and created 40 chances in 2012/13. Manchester United are now finally seeing his true quality, and against all odds, Fellaini is fast becoming a key component to the midfield.

Why Aston Villa will be kings at Christmas

Eight games without a win in the Premier League, two of their best players likely to leave at the end of their contracts in the summer (Ron Vlaar & Fabian Delph), and assistant manager Roy Keane recently resigning from his post gives little for Aston Villa to shout about currently.

But the Villans supporters should be confident of an upturn in form as the Christmas period has been kind to them when looking at their winter opponents – Crystal Palace (away), Leicester City (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Swansea City (away), Sunderland (home), Crystal Palace (home) and Leicester City (away) as seven of their next eight league games between December and the middle of January.

Coupled with the return of striker Christian Benteke, who has served his suspension after getting sent off in the 2-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur last month, Ron Vlaar (calf), Philippe Senderos (calf) and Fabian Delph (shoulder), who are also expected to return in the coming weeks from respective injuries, Aston Villa have a lot to shout about.

After ending their run of straight league defeats, the Midlands outfit have drawn three games on the bounce to West Ham United, Southampton and Burnley. Performances have been a considerable improvement, but poor finishing has been to blame for them not turning the draws into wins.

As a result, Christian Benteke’s return could well be crucial for their run of somewhat favourable fixtures in the winter period to finally climb up the table. His influence should never be understated. Let alone scoring 19 league goals in his debut season and 10 goals in an injury-hit second campaign, Villa have a win percentage of 30%, compared to the 12% win ratio in Benteke’s absence over the previous two seasons.

“In my own opinion, when he’s on his game I think he’s one of the best in Europe, let alone in Britain. I’ve seen some brilliant strikers in my time and, when that guy’s on his game, he’s certainly up there. So that’s a massive boost to us. He’s a top player and if he keeps progressing the way he’s going then we’ll see where his career goes,” said Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert.

Aston Villa will be getting back their best squad back during their run of fixtures which will see confidence rise game after game. The Claret and Blues have also been performing well of late too, so they will be confident of ending their eight-game wait for a win. But could they now push on and climb up the table?