Arsene Wenger’s Promise Ringing True About Success with Spending

Arsenal sealed their second consecutive FA Cup with an emphatic 4-0 victory against Aston Villa at Wembley at the end of May, that has brushed aside taunts about their previous trophy drought. The Londoners had previously gone nine years without winning any silverware, but have now retained the FA Cup with ease over the Midlands outfit, and manager Arsene Wenger’s promise of success is starting to ring true.

The long-serving French coach has always maintained the club’s pursuit of trophies in the future would factor on how much money they spent on transfers, and given their activity in the last two summers, Wenger has been proven right. Former Real Madrid playmaker and World Cup winner (Germany) Mesut Ozil was signed for a club-record £42.5M in the summer of 2013/14, and led the club to their first FA Cup since 2005, while Arsenal enjoyed a place at the summit of the Premier League for the majority of the season.

Alexis Sanchez, then of Barcelona, was the next high-profile acquisition, joining the club in the summer of 2014/15. The Chilean also enjoyed a trophy-winning debut season at the Emirates, and helped the side overcome their demons, beating Manchester City at the Emirates, beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, and boasting title-worthy form in 2015. In addition to a European trophy, the Premier League title is the missing piece to prove of Arsenal’s resurgence.

Wenger recently claimed the side wouldn’t overspend in the summer, hinting that his current crop of players are good enough for the Londoners to achieve their goals in 2015/16, saying: “We would not get involved (in high-profile transfers this summer) for financial reasons.” However, the experienced manager still backs his side to deliver in the league, even though his title rivals will be considerably strengthening.

“I am not against spending money, I have shown that recently. Mentally, we are stronger. We have seen that since January. We have made progress on the mental side and on mastering our games and on being less naive and better balanced and knowing what to do. It is intelligence. We have to show we want to (win the league). But the other teams – how good will Chelsea be? Who will they buy? Man City, Liverpool will buy. Tottenham will buy. I don’t know how good these teams will be.”

Supporters are delighted to be finally enough winning trophies again, and now the Gunners have their sights set on the league.

Can Rafael Benitez Turn Real Madrid’s Fortunes Around?

Real Madrid are close to appointing Rafael Benitez as their new manager for the 2015/16 season, with the Spanish coach viewed as the man who can finally turn Los Blancos into title-winners. For too long, the high-spending side have underachieved in La Liga, winning just one league crown in their last seven seasons. They have had some stellar management in that time, but their failure domestically is something that desperately needs to be addressed.

Former boss Carlo Ancelotti won the Champions League and Copa Del Rey in his time in charge of the club, but lost his job the following season after enduring a season without a major trophy. Their failure in the league in both seasons was also said to be a key factor in the decision to let him go, and now the club hierarchy are turning to a former Real associate to end their way for league dominance.

A highly tactical coach who will pay close attention to the weaknesses of the opposing side, Benitez’s appointment does make sense when looking at Real’s flaws over the course of the last campaign. The news is taking many by surprise given the nature of the task at hand, but the Napoli manager does have exactly what the club need to finally overcome their woes in the division.

He will ensure Real are tactically sound, and won’t allow the side to have gaping holes in the side to exploit. The Spanish giants have an attack to rival any team in the world, but they remain suspect defensively. In their backline, three of their four regularly playing defenders are more known for their exploits going forward, than how well they nullify the threat of the opposition, which highlights exactly the job Benitez needs to do in order to turn Real into a defensively-sound team, rather than an all-out attacking force.

Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo complimenting Karim Benzema in the attack, with the creativity of Luka Modric in the midfield, promises that Real will always break down sides and score goals. The team was highly unbalanced, however, and had trouble keeping the goals out at the other end, which meant they were force to attack teams until the death just to avoid conceding more.

Rafael Benitez has experience with big egos, and he fits his players in a system, rather than let the player dictate what system he has to play. It’s such stubbornness that could be what Real needed to finally end Barcelona’s stronghold on the La Liga title.

So can Benitez turn the club around?

Olympique Lyonnais to pip Paris Saint-Germain to next season’s French Ligue 1 title?

Olympique Lyonnais fell short in the French Ligue 1 title race this season, with a dip in form between February and April coinciding with eventual winners Paris Saint-Germain enjoying an eight-game winning streak that swung the pendulum their way. But Lyon won’t be too disheartened with the way their season panned out, as next season they will be in the Champions League group stages for the first time in three years, which could ensure they hold onto their standout performers this summer.

Premier League giants Arsenal are reportedly keen on a number of players from the squad, and are looking to make their interest official very soon, potentially in the form of a bid. Lyon know without adding any trophies to the cabinet, it’s a near impossible task to convince their stars to turn down moves to the top European sides, but how close they came to winning the title this season could see many giving it one more year before considering their future.

Striker Alexandre Lacazette is the most coveted star in the team, and the one play Lyon are most desperate to keep. The 24-year-old scored 27 goals in 33 league games this season, and has been linked with near every elite European side this summer as a result. He’s expressed little desire to leave, however, and the club are confident he will stay for at least another term, which could see many replicate his actions.

Lyon were unbeaten against every side in the top-four of the French Ligue 1, which showcases how strong they are compared to the rest of the field. Paris Saint-Germain had to settle for a share of the spoils in both home and away games against The Kids, and 2015/16 could see the Parisians stronghold on the domestic league finally broken.

PSG have a host of ageing players in the team, whose eventual exits could well have an adverse affect on the fortunes of the club. Zlatan Ibrahimovic turns 34 later this year, while teammates Thiago Silva, Maxwell, Thiago Motta, Ezequiel Lavezzi are all 40 and over. Lyon are certainly going in the right direction, and if they can keep their bet talents at the club this summer, while shoring up any positions they are somewhat weak in, next season’s title could be theirs. They certainly have all the makings for a side capable of going all the way providing they start strongly, as they dropped 13 points in their opening eight games this campaign.

Olympique Lyonnais to pip Paris Saint-Germain to next season’s French Ligue 1 title?

Can Valencia challenge for the Spanish La Liga title next season?

Valencia finished fourth in the Spanish La Liga this season, booking their place in the Champions League in the first time in two years, while amassing their second highest points tally of their entire modern history (77). It’s largely gone unnoticed what a good campaign Los Che have enjoyed, taking four points from both meetings against the likes of Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal and Sevilla. It’s an impressive achievement, and could set them up for a big campaign in 2015/16.

Their return to the Champions League could be a distraction, but Valencia are looking to strengthen this summer to ensure they have the squad capable of challenging on all fronts. They certainly have a fantastic platform to build on, boasting the second-least amount of league defeats (5), best defensive record at home, and having undergone a 10-match unbeaten run between February and April. Manager Nuno enjoyed a dream debut season with the club, and will be looking to take the club to the next level.

They need to retain their top talents in the side, and they can continue their gradual progression in the table next season. The likes of Nicolas Otamendi, Daniel Parejo, Pablo Piatti and Paco Alcacer in particular are key to ensuring of a strong league campaign in 2015/16, and fending off any interest will be pivotal to their future title chances.

Valencia will need a favour favourites Barcelona and Real Madrid to slip up perhaps more than usual over the course of a season, but the Los Che must do their job too and turn their 11 draws into wins to challenge the upper echelons. There are many positives to 2014/15 that the Spaniards can look to enhance for the following campaign, where the aim will be to challenge for their first title since 2004.

In those 11 years, the closest Valencia have come was their third place finish in 2005/06 where they were 13 points adrift of eventual winners Barcelona at the end of the season. This campaign, Los Che finished 17 points off title-winners Barca, and are looking to bridge the gap. Atletico Madrid’s shock title triumph in 2013/14 start in a similar way, with Diego Simeone’s men slowly climbing the table and hovering on the cusp of the top two for a season or two.

Valencia have enjoyed one of the best seasons of their history, regarding their points tally and a selection of impressive statistics, but can they challenge for the La Liga title in 2015/16?

Sevilla see past Dnipro to seal a record fourth Europa League crown

Spanish La Liga side Sevilla retained their Europa League crown on Wednesday night, beating Ukrainian outfit Dnipro 3-2 in the final at the National Stadium, Warsaw. It’s the fourth in their history, setting a new record, and sees them book a place in the Champions League for next season as reward, courtesy of a Carlos Bacca brace.

Dnipro stunned the holders by taking an early lead. Nikola Kalinic, who has been the side’s top scorer in all competition this season opened the scoring just seven minutes into the game. The former Blackburn striker headed home from a cross into the middle to send shockwaves in the Sevilla camp.

The Ukrainians were stoic defensively, and weren’t allowing their Spanish counterparts any room to work a clear-cut opening. However, their resilience was eventually broken close to the half-hour mark in the game. Grzegorz Krychowiak worked a move with Carlos Bacca, before rifling his effort home to level the tie in the first-half.

Bacca went from provider to goalscorer just minutes later, putting Sevilla into the lead for the first time in the night. The prolific Colombian rounded the goalkeeper and finished into an empty net, with ex-Arsenal man Jose Antonio Reyes claiming the assist with a through ball matching Bacca’s run.

But Dnipro weren’t to be denied that easily. They have surprised everyone making it this far in the competition, and they managed to find an equaliser on the cusp of half-time through Ruslan Rotan. The long-serving veteran midfielder buried a free-kick in the 44th minute to ensure both sides went into the break level.

Midway through the second-half, however, the fairytale was ended for Dnipro, as Sevilla took the lead once more. Bacca bagged his second of the final, this time finishing into the bottom corner after being picked out with another through ball. He even came close to scoring a hat-trick, but was held to a match-winning double instead, as Sevilla sealed consecutive Europa League crowns.

The club have now won the competition four times in the last nine years (2005/06, 2006/07, 2013/14, 2014/15), and are in next season’s Champions League as per the new ruling for the winners of the competition.

For manager Unai Emery is caps off an incredible season of consistency, as Sevilla pulled off the same 5th-placed finish and Europa League win in his first full season (2013/14). He’s a man who could find himself linked with some stellar clubs in the summer following his side’s impressive European campaign, and Spain’s dominance in Europe’s top competitions this season goes some way to restoring the country’s former glory.

Could Robin van Persie make the move to the Italian Serie A this summer?

Manchester United striker Robin van Persie is standing at the precipice in his time at Old Trafford, with his contract up at the end of next season, and there being no deal on the table this summer. He’s been linked with a number of sides in the Italian Serie A, which is a division that favour ageing strikers given the slower pace of the game, so could the Dutchman make the move ahead of the new campaign?

Van Persie has had a disappointing 2015, scoring only two league goals this year for the Red Devils. He was also relinquished of his penalty-taking duties by manager Louis van Gaal after missing a spot-kick in the 1-0 defeat against West Bromwich Albion earlier this month, and admitted in January that his future is in the air, saying: “It is not up to me. For the moment I am staying here for 18 months. That is it really. I can’t look into the future. I don’t know what is going to happen after that. We shall have to wait and see.”

Italian Serie A champions Juventus are one of a few sides interested in the Dutchman, as the division is perfectly suited for technical players lacking on the physical side. They have former United striker Carlos Tevez as their main man in attack, who is the same age as Van Persie, and has enjoyed the best season of his playing career, so a move to Italy certainly isn’t the end for Van Persie if he did sign.

Injuries have blighted his time at the club ever since he fired United to their last Premier League title in 2012/13, and given he turns 32 in August, his time could well be up. The club would rather cash in on him, and use his sale to fund another striker coming in to boost their title challenge in 2015/16, rather than keep a misfiring forward for another term and lose him for nothing.

Manchester United are expected to spend big this summer, and have already bolstered their attack with prolific Dutch forward Memphis Depay, who can play anywhere along the front line. They have an ageing set of strikers on the books, and are sure to bring in at least one man who can score them 20+ in the league. Van Persie has put in one too many disappointing overall performances in games to convincie his manager that he’s worth keeping, so will the Dutchman make the move to the Italian Serie A this summer?

Will Julian Draxler leave Schalke 04 after their disappointing Bundesliga campaign?

German Bundesliga side Schalke 04 ended the domestic campaign in ignominious fashion, missing out on Champions League football, and scraping the last Europa League place in the table. For a side that have consistently finished in the top-four for the last three seasons, 2014/15 has been a real disappointment, and saw manager Roberto Di Matteo resign at the end of the campaign. He may not be the only high-profile exit either, with Schalke boasting a young German talent who will want Champions League football next season – Julian Draxler.

The tricky winger, 21, missed a large portion of the campaign, and his absence was telling as Schalke considerably faltered as the season unfolded. He made just eight league starts, scoring and assisting three goals for his troubles, and has little motivation to remain at the Veltins-Arena past the summer. His asking price was sky high a couple of years ago, but the Blues have little power now given their plight. Draxler has made no public indication to leave, and Schalke are his boyhood club (with a 14-year association), but with the likes of Arsenal showing an interest, his exit seems inevitable.

He’s in a key period in his career where the next long-term contract he signs could take him up to his peak age, so he will want to be enjoying his best football from next season onwards. The goals have dried up in the last two years, but any interested suitors would be making an investment. His injury has slowed down his season, but Draxler has shown real moments of quality on the grand stage in Europe.

Some glistening Champions League performances will stick in the mind of the scouts eyeing him up, and under the right guidance he could really shine. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has a long-standing reputation of his work with young players, building a squad full of former youth stars he developed. Draxler would have German teammates to lean on initially too, with World Cup winners Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil regular first-teamers.

But Arsenal aren’t the only team interested in such a talented player, so they are sure to have stiff competition as the season comes to a close in Europe. He still won’t be cheap either, as Schalke will try to take advantage of all the interest, but a move could be on the cards, more than it would have ever been a year or two ago.

Will Julian Draxler leave Schalke 04 this summer?

Manchester City’s impressive end-of-season form going unnoticed by the masses

Manchester City signed off the 2014/15 Premier League season with a 2-0 win against surprise-package Southampton at the Etihad, which saw them finish the season on a six-game winning streak, a record in the top-five leagues bettered only by French champions Paris Saint-Germain (9). It could well keep manager Manuel Pellegrini safe form the sack, as the Chilean coach was on the brink weeks ago following a terrible run of results.

The Sky Blues finished second in the table, maintaining an impressive top-two finish for the fourth consecutive season. During their end-of-season winning run, they defeated West Ham United, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Queens Park Rangers, Swansea City and Southampton – scoring 18 goals, and conceding just four. It left them with a respectable 79 points for the campaign, as well as being the league’s top scorers by some distance (83).

All the talk in recent weeks has been on a mass overhaul needed at the Etihad stadium this summer, but their form shows that the players have the potential to be the best, as they were in 2011/12 & 2013/14. Perhaps the squad lacks some depth and as a result suffered from fatigue this season, or maybe it is all due to complacency. Pellegrini has always maintained his belief in his players, and wants to rally the squad to win back the league crown in 2015/16.

“I never have any doubt. We know that we must improve as a team. It is a club that wants to grow every year and improve every year. I don’t need a special meeting (with chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak), but when you finish the season you must analyse what you did, see what were our mistakes and where we must improve. It was very important to finish the season in front of our fans by winning the game,” he said.

Manchester City may not be losing all players earlier reported as certainties to leave this summer, but the Sky Blues are sure to add to their side which should see them gain in strength, and in a better position to fight for the Premier League title. Between the end of December and the middle of April, Manchester City dropped points in nine of their 14 games, forcing them to relenquish the title. They finished the campaign eight points off champions Chelsea, however, they ended the season strongly to show the potential of the squad.

City’s form has been brilliant in recent weeks, and could save the manager’s job, so do they deserve some credit?

Former La Liga champions Deportivo avoid relegation on final day

Deportivo La Coruna earned a 2-2 draw against La Liga champions Barcelona to secure their survival on the final day of the domestic season. The Blue and Whites were 2-0 down to Barcelona, but pulled off a miraculous comeback that has kept them in the division against all odds. While supporters and players rejoiced after securing survival, the contrast in yearly objectives over the last decade is staggering.

10 years ago, Deportivo were competing in the Champions League, and did the league double over Real Madrid. Times have changed considerably, with two top-flight relegations suffered (2010/11 & 2012/13), and points tallies all below their usual 60-point marker. Prior to the more current dark days, Deportivo were competitors in the division, regularly finishing strong in the top-half of the table, and performing well in European competitions.

Deportivo even won La Liga title in 1999/2000, and were runners-up the following season, which also saw them make it to the Champions League quarter-finals – navigating their way past Juventus (Italian Serie A), Paris Saint-Germain (French Ligue 1), AC Milan (Italian Serie A), and Galatasaray (Turkish Super Lig). Victories in the league against Barcelona and Real Madrid were not uncommon given the talented squad they had at their disposal, but they are light years away from those heady heights.

In recent years, survival has been a trophy in itself, and finishing level on points with Eibar, who suffered relegation, is a situation supporters must be distraught to be in. Deportivo will be remembered by many supporters as the surprise package side who dispatched of such heavyweights as Bayern Munich (German Bundesliga), Manchester United (English Premier League) and AC Milan (Italian Serie A) in the European competition in 2003, and their reputation was greatly enhanced as a result.

Past glories will serve them no good now. Survival has been accomplished, but there is little guarantee as to whether Deportivo can survive again next season. Goals were incredibly hard to come by over the course of the campaign, with their top scorer Lucas Perez managing just 6 goals. Few stood out in the Deportivo side, and manager Victor Sanchez pulled off a miracle keeping them afloat after being given just a month in his new job to secure their top-flight status.

Sanchez was in the side that won the 1999/2000 title, and is now managing them during a delicate period. There are not many top sides who have suffered such a high-profile fall from grace as the White and Blues, but for now they can enjoy their survival.

Stage set for Rafael Benitez’s sensational return to Liverpool?

Liverpool ended the 2014/15 Premier League season in disappointing fashion, losing 6-1 to Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Given their woeful end to the campaign and their poor form in the last few weeks, all this could prove costly for manager Brendan Rodgers, who in his post-match comments hinted that his future was uncertain at Anfield.

Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is among the favourites to replace him, as the Spaniard is a free agent this summer, but Benitez is now strongly linked with a Real Madrid job. Supporters were chanting Benitez’s name in the final match, providing clear indication of how they feel towards the current incumbent. Jurgen Klopp left Borussia Dortmund after the German domestic season came to a close, and Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti is set to be shown the door after a trophyless campaign, so there are a host of coaches that could come in for Rodgers.

He appears resigned go his own fate too, saying in the post-match interview: “(I‘ve got to apologise) to the supporters because it was nowhere near good enough There’s a lot of reflecting to do. Yes, absolutely (there‘s pressure building on me). I’ve always said if the owners want me to go, then I go. I still feel I’ve got a lot to offer. A lot has happened this year which has made the job difficult, but I totally understand (if they relieve me of my duties).”

Almost a plea of mercy from the Liverpool boss, but it is likely to fall on deaf ears after a season of underachievement. The Merseysiders enjoyed a run of 10 wins and two draws between December and March, but the club’s form prior to and following this successful stretch is likely to go against Rodgers when Liverpool’s hierarchy decides his future. They finished 6th in the table, 22 points worse off than their tally of last season, with their highest position throughout the campaign being only 5th.

The Reds hardly threatened to finish in a Champions League spot, and their poor results against the sides close to them in the standings was a real disappointment. From the club’s view, it is highly unlikely they will ever have such respected managers all available in one summer, so it does appear as though Rodgers will not survive the chop. Benitez is certainly one sentimental option, but he is likely headed to Madrid.

Liverpool are desperate to be a Champions League side once again and both Ancelotti and Klopp have the experience to settle down and improve the fortunes of the side, in particular with the resources available to them. With Ancelotti being aggressively pursued by Milan, will Klopp be the next manager at Anfield or will Benitez make a shock return?