Luis Suarez finally finding his feet at Barcelona

Barcelona new-boy Luis Suarez has been enjoying a rich vein of form at late with the La Liga title-chasers, most recently scoring one and making two assists in the Catalan giants’ 3-1 win against Granada on Saturday afternoon. He netted a brace against Manchester City in the Champions League too, and is now paying off his £65M transfer fee.

Suarez was somewhat quiet in his first few games for Barcelona, as he had then recovered from a lengthy injury, but is now looking the real deal again.

The Uruguayan international, 28, has made 20 appearances in all competitions for Barcelona this season, scoring 10 goals and making 10 assists. Suarez has created 35 chances and has made 24 successful dribbles. At Liverpool his goalscoring exploits and individual brilliance quickly made him a cult hero with the supporters, and Suarez is slowly winning over the Barcelona fans.

Barca are currently on course for honours too, with the Spaniards into the Copa Del Rey final, currently in the Champions League second round, and second in the La Liga table. A treble is still on the cards with March approaching, so Suarez could hardly wish for a better season. The 28-year-old cited trophy potential as a reason for the move, and given Liverpool won only the Capital One Cup during his three years in Merseyside, his move to Barcelona makes sense.

But many weren’t sure if he could play and fit in with so many world-class players in the team. The likes of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, and Neymar are engrained in the club’s philosophy, which means it can be hard for a new player to come in and make an instant impact. Suarez hasn’t been fazed by the step up in quality, however. He’s relished the chance to play.

The striker’s impact has been telling too, with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar having scored 49 of Barcelona’s 70 league goals this season. They have linked up well in games, and are looking like the most deadly of attacking trios in world football. For £65M, the pressure was on Suarez from the start, and expectation from the supporters will have been high given his exploits in 2013/14, but he’s done well to show his worth.

Barcelona have welcomed him into the club very quickly, and based on recent performances, the 28-year-old could be in line for a long stay in Spain. Suarez is averaging a goal or assist per appearance in all competitions, and has a deal until 2019. He’ll be delighted with his debut campaign so far.

Why Manchester United won’t miss injured Robin van Persie

Manchester United striker Robin van Persie is set to miss an FA Cup reunion with former side Arsenal, with the Dutch international having picked up an ankle injury likely to keep him sidelined for a month. But will the 31-year-old’s absence really be felt by the Red Devils?

Manager Louis van Gaal is said to have a ‘special relationship’ with the former Arsenal man, but his form and performances have left a lot to be desired this season. Surprisingly, he’s managed to score 10 goals in 24 Premier League games, but his performances have still left a lot to be desired. Primarily playing alongside Radamel Falcao in attack this season, Van Persie has looked flat-footed, and uninterested to ever run the channels.

His goals come from staying in central areas, but it means time and again that he has little influence for the majority of the game. In his absence, Manchester United will look to Wayne Rooney to provide the goals, as Falcao has also disappointed. Van Persie has certainly declined with age, and his time with the Red Devils will be up soon enough.

Goals have dried up in recent weeks too, with Van Persie having scored just two goals in his last nine games in all competitions. Given his often below-par performances, if he’s not scoring goals, what is he doing? He struggled under former manager David Moyes last season too, so his gradual decline has been obvious apparent for some time.

Louis van Gaal has managed to get some goals out of the striker, but continues to have to change the system in order to get a performance from him. For the Netherlands national team, the former coach brought out the best in the 31-year-old because he paired him in attack with pace to compliment the two forwards. At United, Van Persie has been playing alongside another forward who takes up similar positions on the pitch. It means less link-up play between the two strikers, which breeds anonymous performances.

Manchester United have an important FA Cup clash to come, and having Rooney in attack will mean a lot more energy than what the Dutchman provides. So do the Red Devils need to look for a long-term replacement? Has Van Persie been pulling his weight? Will Manchester United really miss him for the month he’s out of action for? Wayne Rooney has been desperate to play back in attack after a lengthy spell in midfield, so United have certainly benefited.

Is goal-shy Diego Costa starting to feel the pressure?

Chelsea’s Diego Costa has enjoyed a fine debut season since his move from Atletico Madrid in the summer, but the Brazilian-born Spanish international has gone off the boil in the last few weeks. His last goal came in the middle of January, which means he’s set to be without a league goal for over a month.

Its’ the first time this season that Costa has failed to score each month, but what does it mean? Is he feeling pressure of a long Premier League campaign? Is he starting to become distracted from the headlines about his playing style? Or is his form starting to dip?

The 26-year-old was reported to have injury problems all through the season that limited game time, but he has since overcome them to play an important role in their title and Champions League aspirations.

But things have gone a little stale in recent weeks, and Costa has been putting in below-par performances by his standards. He has, however, bagged 17 goals in 20 Premier League games for Chelsea, so he’s certainly paid back his £32M transfer fee. But at a time where manager Jose Mourinho is going to need him the most, the striker is currently off the boil.

Chelsea face Tottenham Hotspur in the Capital One Cup final on Sunday, and the Blues are already without influential combative midfielder Nemanja Matic. They can’t have an out-of-form Costa spearheading the attack, as many people are backing Tottenham to repeat their victory over the Premier League leaders from New Year’s.

Costa’s mini slump could perhaps be attributed to the games played. He’s featured in all but one of Chelsea’s Champions League outings this season, while playing in 20 of 26 league games. The 26-year-old will be in need for a timely rest, but he’s forced to continue in attack at a time where the games will come thick and fast, and in abundance.

Teams are all fighting to achieve their own objectives, and are becoming wise to Costa’s strengths and weaknesses on the pitch, so it’s perhaps not too surprising he’s gone quiet. It’s certainly been overdue this season, given how quickly he adapted to the Premier League. So is this dip in for anything to worry about for the former Atletico man? He’s been afforded an extended rest ahead of the Capital One Cup final this weekend, so could that see him get his scoring boots back?

More European disappointment for the English sides

The Premier League’s European struggles continued with Tottenham and Liverpool suffering exits in the Europa League. Arsenal suffered a humiliating defeat at home to AS Monaco, so their chances of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League are slim. Manchester City lost their first leg clash against Barcelona, while Chelsea were fortunate to come away with a draw in their first leg game. Everton were the only team to seal their place in the last-16 if the Europa League, and is caps what has been a miserable week for the English representatives in the European competitions.

The English Premier League is said to be the most competitive due to how any sides seem to take points off each other at the top of the table over the course of a season, but the Champions League and Europa League seems to always cause the sides to stumble up. A lot of the time it isn’t even to elite opposition. Liverpool would consider themselves a much strong outfit than Besiktas, but over two legs the Turkish club have seen past them, albeit via penalties. Tottenham had a tougher draw against Fiorentina, but the Italian Serie A side are fifth in their domestic league, so are they not just an Italian equivalent?

Why does England continue to fall short against the European sides in Europe? The Premier League has a good record of having a representative in the latter stages down the years, but the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, and Arsenal have continued to fall short in recent years, despite fighting for the domestic title through the course of a season. And the aforementioned have been outfoxed by much lesser teams on paper, and all three sides have had very experienced and successful managers in charge too.

With Arsenal and Manchester City having a tough task to win on the road against Monaco (3-1 agg) and Barcelona (2-1) at the very minimum to stand a chance of going through, their Champions League dream looks over for another season. And with Liverpool and Tottenham out of the competition, it means Chelsea (Champions League) and Everton (Europa League) could be the last two Premier League sides in Europe this season. For a league with so much money, and so much talent at the top level, it’s certainly a big disappointment to see lesser sides going further than the best team in the English top flight.

Would premature Champions League exit see Arsene Wenger call time with Arsenal?

Arsenal were humiliated by a well-drilled, much better organised, and ultimately superior AS Monaco side at the Emirates on Wednesday night, with the French Ligue 1 outfit winning 3-1 in the first leg of the Champions League second round. The result now means Arsenal have to score three goals at a ground defensively resolute this season for the Gunners to stand a chance of reaching the quarter-final. It’s very unlikely they will make it past the second round once again as a result.

For manager Arsene Wenger, his worst nightmare was realised. It’s been five years since they last made it past the second round of the Champions League, and to lose at home in what was supposed to be a favourable tie could well be what tips the long-serving manager over the edge. Supporters have been patient during the trophy drought, and continuous premature exits in Europe, but there was a sense of confidence that they could finally make a run in the competition.

Arsenal being knocked out by Monaco in the second round would be one the biggest Champions League shocks in recent years, and one that the fans would not let Wenger forget in a hurry. His tenure was once judged on his success, but now about his consistency achieving lesser goals. The Gunners look out of Europe for another season, and Wenger may well consider his time with the club in the summer as a result.

But his own admission, Arsenal were expected to be challenging on all four fronts. Their title hopes were ruled out very early into the season, Southampton knocked them out of the Capital One Cup at the Emirates, so they have just the FA Cup that’s their best chance of winning a trophy. Is it really enough to appease the supporters? The club will be hurting after the Monaco defeat, and it’s after such losses that things are put into perspective.

Arsenal are on course to finish top-four of the Premier League, but the Londoners have taken a step back from last season with the team and with results. Wenger’s contract runs until 2017, but supporters will be demanding drastic action be taken after a catastrophic result. There’s little proof the club are going forward despite having financial restraints loosened in the last couple of years, so is that down to Wenger? Has he exhausted his time at the Emirates? Will the potential Champions League exit spell the end of his tenure with Arsenal?

Why Manchester City can beat Barcelona in the Champions League tonight

It’s déjà vu for Manchester City, as the Premier League holders come up against Barcelona in the Champions League second round for the second time in as many seasons. The Sky Blues lost both legs against the Catalan giants in 2013/14, but tonight’s meeting promises to see a different outcome.

Manager Manuel Pellegrini has matured a lot this season. No longer is he setting up his sides too open and attacking in the big European games, and it’s led to City’s progression into the second round, as well being favoured by many to see past Barcelona over two legs. They beat AS Roma and Bayern Munich in their last two group outings to book their place in the next round in dramatic fashion.

There’s finally some balance in the team that means City can still play free-flowing football, but also have the bodies in the midfield to help nullify Barcelona‘s threat.  Is it any coincidence their only two Champions League group game victorious this season have come when scrapping the two strikers tactic?

When facing a side that boast high-levels of possession, playing two strikers is redundant. The battle in the middle of the park should always be priority, and Pellegrini finally sees that. Man City’s chances of winning have also been boosted by the absence of Yaya Toure oddly enough.

The Ivorian is a handful in attack, but he’s too immobile defensively against the fast-paced passing style Barcelona adopt. City cannot carry any player in the side against the world’s best, and Toure cannot operate successfully as a holding midfielder against the best ball retainers.

So in his absence, the likes of James Milner (if fit) and Fernando could be brought in, two players who offer much more industry and urgency to their place to nullify first, provide creative flair later. Losing the ball in the middle of the park against Barcelona can often prove fatal, but the aforementioned duo could be key to ensure in doesn’t happen. They certainly played their part in the wins over Roma & Bayern.
There’s then the matter of Barcelona’s vulnerability. Paris Saint-Germain beat them in France in the group stages, and Malaga, Real Madrid, Getafe and Real Sociedad have all taken points off Barca when the Catalan giants are the travelling side. They will be wary of Man City’s threat at the Etihad. The Sky Blues have won 5, drawn 5, and lost 3 of their 13 Champions League games played at home, so they’re certainly hard to beat in front of their own fans.

Will it see them winning against Barcelona tonight?

Everton looking for Europa League to boost Premier League form

Romelu Lukaku returned to form as Everton smashed through Young Boys in Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 first leg, the resumption of Thursday night football doing wonders for the struggling Premier League side. The hope at Goodison Park now is that the momentum carries over to the league, where a run of good results is desperately needed.

The Toffees have recorded only two league wins in their last 10 attempts, beating Queens Park Rangers at home in mid-December and Crystal Palace away in late January. In that time they’ve also gone out of the FA Cup in an epic replay at West Ham and, having been eliminated at the first attempt from the Capital One Cup, by Swansea City way back in September, the Europa League appears the only way to salvage a disappointing season.

Mid-table mediocrity after brushing against the relegation zone is not what was expected from Roberto Martinez’s second year in charge. Yet should the former Wigan Athletic manager deliver Everton’s first silverware since 1995, all would largely be forgiven. William Hill offers the best options to bet on football and on the evidence from Switzerland, Everton look genuine contenders to be celebrating come the Europa League final, in Warsaw on May 27.

The Merseyside club’s European record has been better than their domestic results throughout the season. Why that’s the case is hard to pin down, particularly as the group in which they were drawn, with Wolfsburg, Krasnodar and Lille, was generally agreed to be one of the more difficult in the competition. Young Boys also have a sterling record at home in Europe, so it’s not as if Everton have had an easy ride. 11 points from a possible 18 were taken in Group H while Everton’s only defeat came in the dead rubber final round of matches. If anything, they made it look easy.

It’s quite a contrast to a Premier League run that included four straight defeats over Christmas and New Year, extended to a run of six winless games with draws against Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion. The Europa League break between group stage and knockout rounds didn’t herald an upturn in Everton’s league form so perhaps the tournament’s return can jolt Everton back into life. Evertonians may accept a bottom-half finish in return for lifting a trophy at the end of the season, but it would be an uncomfortable road getting there.


Should Louis van Gaal be sacked if Manchester United fail to finish top-four?

Manchester United lost 2-1 away to Swansea City this weekend, which meant the Welsh club did the double over the Red Devils in the Premier League, after beating Louis Van Gaal’s side earlier on in the campaign. Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham could go above United on game week 27 depending on results, which would be catastrophic for the top-four hopefuls in their pursuit for the Champions League.

The race for top-four is very close, with only three points between four teams all chasing one place in the table. There’s only four points between 3rd and 7th into the business end to the season, so one win can change the outlook considerably. Arsenal were the big winners this weekend, as they slow started to pull away, but there’s plenty of games to go. United’s away form, however, is the sole reason for their current struggles. The Lancashire outfit have won only three league games from 13 played on the road.

Manchester United have had pressure on them to overcome last season’s debacle and finish in the top-four, or face losing a lot of their highest earners. Players such as Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao were brought in on big money to fire the side into the prestigious European competition, but they have been underwhelming so far. Manager Louis Van Gaal has also come under criticism for the club showcasing a pedestrian and disappointing style of player.

There were big expectations on Manchester United straight from the off this season after the club spent well over £150M on new players. Argentine playmaker Angel Di Maria set them back £65M alone from Spanish La Liga side Real Madrid, English left-back Luke Shaw was £33M from Premier League compatriots Southampton, Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera cost £32M from La Liga’s Athletic Bilbao, Argentine defender Marcos Rojo was £17M from Portuguese top-flight side Sporting Lisbon, combative and versatile Dutch midfielder Daley Blind was £15M from Dutch Eredivisie champions Ajax, and Colombian striker Radamel Falcao cost £6M in loan fees from French Ligue 1 giants AS Monaco.

With former Manchester United manager David Moyes having been sacked before the end of the season for poor performance, spending considerable less than that of his successor, surely Van Gaal’s future at the club directly relies on him delivering a top-four place? The successful Dutch coach has been given lucrative resources to bring European football back to Old Trafford, so failure just cannot do. The club are set to spend big in the summer again, but they’ll struggle to attract the names on their shortlist if they can’t offer Champions League football. As things stand, they aren’t quite looking like a side capable of doing so.

Should Van Gaal be sacked if they miss out?

Are Chelsea starting to crack?

10-man Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw at home to newly-promoted Burnley on Saturday afternoon, with the Blues left criticising crucial decision as a reason for the dropping points to the Clarets. Their normally composed midfielder Nemanja Matic was sent off following a bad reaction to a bad tackle, and the result has since seen current holders and primary challengers Manchester City cut the gap to Jose Mourinho’s side just five points.

There are still 12 games and 36 points to play for, but Jose Mourinho’s men are struggling for momentum. It comes at a time where Chelsea have also been recently knocked out of the FA Cup at the hands of Bradford City, while enduring a one-sided clash against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League – that ended as a 1-1 draw. Since the New Year, Chelsea have played 12 in all competitions, winning just six.

The Blues are reaching the conclusion to their fate in the Premier League, Capital One Cup and Champions League, but it seems they are starting to crumble. Their draw against Burnley was the second time at home they’ve dropped points in their last three games at Stamford Bridge. The manager continues to be prickly with the media, continuously hinting towards Chelsea being picked out by match officials more than other clubs, and it seems his players have been distracted.

Defender Gary Cahill has been short of form in recent weeks, which has left his manager with a conundrum in playing the young Kurt Zouma. Chelsea have a crucial period of games to come, and they can ill afford for a crumble at this time of the season, but it does appear many of their players are letting the situation get to them.

Chelsea are sitting at the Premier League summit with 60 points from 26 games played. They have won 18, drawn 6, lost 2. Manchester City are second in the table, with 16 wins, 7 draws and 3 defeats. This time last season, the Blues were only three points worse off, so they are proving to be consistent in the division.

Nevertheless, Chelsea remain on course to win the title. Their manager Jose Mourinho has a brilliant track record of past success with his former clubs Porto, Chelsea (first stint), Inter Milan, and even Real Madrid that suggests they should go all the way in the title-race. But it looks they will make life hard for themselves in the coming weeks. Are the Blues starting to crack?

Why did Liverpool sign Mario Balotelli?

Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli once again made the headlines for a late winning goal, this time in the first leg of the Europa League last-32 against Besiktas, but the Italian international was also singled out for criticism as the winning goal came from a penalty that he was no authorise to take.

Balotelli came on as a substitute against the Turkish outfit, and appeared to relinquish Jordan Henderson of the penalty-taking responsibility. The two players, along with teammate Daniel Sturridge, were seen arguing over the decision, but the Italian eventually tucked away his spot kick to earn the Reds victory.

Working as a pundit, injured midfielder and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said Balotelli had broken the rules taking the penalty off Henderson, despite a collection of players trying to play down the incident after the final whistle. But once again, it’s another incident of the striker putting personal accomplishment before the team, which calls into question why Liverpool ever brought him in.

To be a successful striker at Anfield, manager Brendan Rodgers requires his frontmen to press the opponents high up the pitch, so high levels of industry and stamina are a given. But when in possession, it’s imperative to utilise every player in the side, and to make selfless off the ball runs, with the aim to drag an opposing defender out of position.

Balotelli, however, doesn’t fit this bill in the slightest. He doesn’t even boast a good scoring record in the Premier League, and he’s notoriously a difficult player to manage. In his short time in Merseyside, the Italian has already given Rodgers a number of headaches that has seen him punished in-house, but there were surely so many better options than Balotelli in the summer.

With just one Premier League goal scored in 13 games for Liverpool, Balotelli is offering the club nothing but a headache. He’s making the headlines for negative reasons rather than good, and considering the Reds turned down the chance to sign Loic Remy from Queens Park Rangers in the summer, the decision to sign Balotelli instead looks somewhat foolish.

With a meagre total of three goals from 17 games played this season, the 24-year-old striker has offered nothing positive to the Liverpool side since signing. He’s behind Daniel Sturridge in the pecking order, and is already showcasing behaviour that will shorten his stay at Anfield.

Why did Liverpool sign Mario Balotelli in the summer?