Juan Mata continues to shine under the radar for Manchester United

juan mata

Manchester United playmaker Juan Mata scored one goal and brilliantly assisted another against German Bundesliga side Vfl Wolfsburg in the Champions League on Wednesday night to help lead his side to victory. And despite having scored and created eight goals in 10 games in all competitions this season, does Mata get the praise he deserves?

The 27-year-old scored nine goals and made four assists in the Premier League last season, but was more singled out for his performances in the second-half of Louis van Gaal’s debut season. Now, Juan Mata seems at the peak of his powers, and is scoring or creating a goal in nearly every game for Manchester United without getting the credit warranted.

Against Wolfsburg, Mata levelled the game by scoring from the spot, but his fantastic backheel assist for Chris Smalling really got the supporters applauding. The Spanish international has been outstanding this season, creating more chances in the Premier League than the likes of David Silva and Cesc Fabregas, and was singled out for praise by Sky Sports pundit Matt Le Tissier.

“I thought Juan Mata was excellent all night. He looked a threat coming in from that right-hand side onto his stronger left foot and creating chances. He was probably the difference. It was his brilliant flick that created the second goal for Chris Smalling. It was a fantastic bit of skill,” he said.

Mata set Manchester United back around £37M from Chelsea, and took his time to win the supporters over. But one look to his goals and assists shows just how consistent he’s been throughout his time at Old Trafford. Despite a fine showing against Wolfsburg, his manager Louis van Gaal refused to lavish too much praise on the Spaniard, but he’s stolen the headlines after playing a major role in both goals.

At Chelsea, Mata was scoring double figures in the Premier League, while assisting over 10 goals too. He was achieving such a tally on a consistent basis, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him in scoring form for Manchester United, but his impressive antics go under the radar compared to others. When compared to the Premier League’s best playmakers this season, Mata certainly belongs high up in the rankings. The former Valencia has been outstanding of late, and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s paying off the large transfer fee, and is a pivotal part of the Manchester United squad under Van Gaal.

Khedira return a welcome boost for Juventus


A report by La Stampa on Monday highlighted that in eight matches this season, Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri had used eight different starting line-ups.

The tinkering has been used as an explanation as to why the Bianconeri are struggling, with only one win in six Serie A matches. The continual changes were partly down to transfers during the period when the season starts and the window remains open. But a big cause has been injuries. Allegri has been hindered by absentees throughout the season, including key players such as Claudio Marchisio, Giorgio Chiellini and Alvaro Morata.

Victory at Manchester City on Matchday 1 looked to spark a turnaround and was followed by three points away to Genoa. But in drawing with Frosinone and losing at Napoli, the pressure is back on the faltering Turin giants.

The medical staff has another player in their care, with Stefano Sturaro a late absentee from the squad to face Sevilla. He joins Marchisio, Mario Mandzukic, Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner on the sidelines.

The Swiss defender’s absence has been caused by breathing problems that saw him substituted against Frosinone. The issue was then exacerbated by Martin Caceres. The Uruguayan was involved in a car accident early on Tuesday morning when over the blood alcohol limit. It was the second time in a year he has crashed his car and the club took a dim view. Caceres has been fined and suspended indefinitely. It led Allegri to tell reporters the only confusion surrounding his tactical set-up is “due to the fact I need a right-back and I don’t have one.”

But there’s a welcome return for the Old Lady tonight. Sami Khedira went down with a thigh problem in pre-season, so is yet to make his competitive debut. And Allegri is counting on his German signing. “He’s a player of international level. I don’t know how long he can play, but he will certainly feature.”

He’s set to anchor a five-man midfield against the Spaniards, who also enjoyed a Matchday 1 triumph versus Borussia Monchengladbach. A win over Sevilla will put Juventus in command of Group D.

Khedira’s return is what Allegri hopes is the first of many, as Juve aim to clear the infirmary. Doing that will allow the Coach to move forward with his best team.  Maybe then we will see a Bianconeri side akin to the one which dazzled last season.

Is Cristiano Ronaldo’s greediness harming Real Madrid’s chances this season?

Real Madrid relinquished their top spot in the Spanish La Liga table this weekend after being held to a goalless draw against Malaga. Los Blancos had 31 shots without scoring on Saturday evening, and forward Cristiano Ronaldo was culpable for 45%of them. The Portuguese international registered just two shots on target from 14 at the Santiago Bernabeu, and better decision-making from him could have led to Real carving a better scoring opportunity. He’s failed to score in four of five league games, and needs to be more of a team player to help them earn positive results.

Season after season, Ronaldo has become more and more single-minded in his pursuit for goals. The 30-year-old has averaged more than eight shots per game in the league this campaign, but only 10% of them are going in. It’s a very low conversion record, and one that suggests Ronaldo should be more mindful of his teammates before taking pot shots from difficult angles. Of his 49 shots taken in La Liga, more than a third of his efforts have been from outside the box – none of which have been scored.

The former Manchester United man is the most wasteful in the side based on his conversion rate, but does deliver high-scoring tallies when he’s in form. His manager Rafael Benitez has asked his talisman to think more of the team in the final third, rather than continue firing aimless shots from distance, but the Portuguese forward still calls the shots. While undoubtedly one of the games’ greatest ever players, Ronaldo doesn’t please everyone.

Ex-Real striker Gonzalo Higuain revealed he left the side as a result of Ronaldo’s ego, and such over-reliance on the experienced goalscorer hasn’t worked in the title race down the years. The best team tops the table over a long period of games, not the best set of individuals.  Ronaldo scores more goals than any other player in Europe’s top leagues, but when he’s quiet in the big games he can be a negative influence.

Never too bothered about losing possession, Ronaldo’s penchant for pounding the opposition goal with shots is something he needs to reign in for the sake of the team. He’s failed to score in four of Real’s five league games this season, which is a lot of chances going to waste. It’s certainly true his teammates need to step up when he’s having a quiet game, but if Ronaldo is missing the target with so many shots, instead of looking for a teammate in a better position, it’s Real who suffer at the end.

Is this the making of the real Lazio?


Finishing a superb third last term, Lazio had hopes of continuing that upward momentum into the new campaign. They stumbled at the first – and important – hurdle, failing to topple Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League playoff

Thumped 4-0 at Chievo days later, doubts surfaced. What had happened to the team which charged into the top three in 2014-15?

They weren’t helped by injuries. Playing in Europe and then backing up domestically with the likes of Lucas Biglia and Miroslav Klose missing took its toll. Just as in Verona, the capital club travelled to Naples on the back of a European excursion, the Europa League draw against last season’s finalists Dnipro. This time they were hammered for five.

That drew protests from irate supporters, but overcoming history has helped Lazio recover from those poor results. Perhaps it was the training retreat away from the negativity which did the squad a world of good. Whatever the catalyst, the midweek win over Genoa snapped an eight-match losing streak against the Grifoni.

Felipe Anderson was on target in the 2-0 success, a particularly important goal given his lack of playing time this season. It was a peach of a strike curled into the top corner in his first start of the campaign. Coach Stefano Pioli hoped it was a goal to give the Brazilian “belief in his own capabilities.”

Maybe the win had the same effect on the team.

Pioli accepted the Biancocelesti faced a “difficult moment” ahead of meeting Verona on Sunday. They had not won at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi since 1991. Going a goal down by the interval made the task even tougher. One point in Ukraine was all the Romans had to show from four previous away games in all competitions.

The comeback started through the returning Biglia, who netted from the penalty spot just past the hour mark. It was completed by Marco Parolo’s free kick four minutes from time, helping cure those away game blues. The Coach felt his side was unlucky to fall behind, but saw signs of improvement. “We’re recovering and we’re on the right track.”

They have two chances to carry the momentum forward ahead of the international break. Lazio host French outfit Saint-Etienne on Thursday, then Frosinone on Sunday. They’ve won four from four at the Stadio Olimpico and adding to that will show they are some way to evoking last season’s heights.

Chi sarà l’erede di Gianluigi Buffon?


Gianluigi Buffon ha raggiunto il traguardo record delle 150 presenze in Nazionale, ma dato che si  avvia a compiere il 38esimo anno di età non è lesa maestà iniziare ad interrogarsi su cui sarà il suo erede. I portieri, da sempre punto di forza della scuola italiana, sono infatti diventati una specie in via d’estinzione.

Lo dicono i numeri:  nella stagione 1995/1996 i portieri italiani erano titolari in tutte le 18 squadre partecipanti al campionato di serie A; vent’anni dopo, lo scenario  si è rivoluzionato, con soli 10 portieri italiani su venti che giocano negli undici iniziali.

Il secondo portiere in Nazionale lo fa Sirigu, che però gioca all’estero al PSG e quest’anno è scivolato indietro nelle gerarchie di Blanc  che gli ha preferito il tedesco Kevin Trapp.  L’erede in pole position per il dopo Buffon, sembra dunque essere Mattia Perin, che vanta già 79 presenze in Serie A, a dispetto dei suoi 22 anni appena compiuti. Merito del Genoa che ha puntato su di lui sul dopo Frey.

Si parla benissimo anche di Nicola Leali, classe ’93 ,cresciuto nel mantovano e poi nel vivaio del Brescia. Dal 2012 la Juventus gli concede esperienza in attesa di riportarlo a Vinovo: Lanciano, Spezia e da quest’anno a Frosinone in A, trampolino verso il ritorno a casa. Di un anno più vecchio,  Marco Sportiello, portiere cresciuto nelle giovanile dell’Atalanta e tre le note più positive per la Dea nella scorsa stagione.

Tra queste giovani speranze e Buffon, il nulla o quasi. Gli unici che giocano titolari sono Federico Marchetti della Lazio, in passato nel giro della Nazionale, ma troppo spesso penalizzato da frequenti infortuni,  Daniele Padelli del Torino, Andrea Consigli del Sassuolo, Andrea Mirante del Bologna e Stefano Sorrentino del Palermo.

Troppo poco per una scuola che fino a poco tempo fa sfornava talenti a ripetizione.

Manchester United’s title odds slashed after going top of the table this weekend

man utd sunderland

Manchester United are now third-favourites with the bookmakers to win this season’s Premier League title, with Saturday’s win against Sunderland putting them top of the table for the first time since former long-serving manager Sir Alex Ferguson left the club. It’s been  a long and difficult journey for the Red Devils since the Scottish coach resigned for his post, but Dutch successor Louis van Gaal looks to be steering the side in the right direction in his second season.

United are top of the pack after seven games this season, currently just one point above their fierce rivals Manchester City. Coming off the back of three consecutive league wins, while boasting the best defensive record early on, the signs certainly look good for the supporters. No Premier League side have won more games (5) than Van Gaal’s men so far, and suffering just one defeat in the division is real progression from last season.

2014/15 saw Manchester United lose two of their opening seven Premier League games, dropping points in four of them. After ten games, the Red Devils had lost three times and drawn four, but they have been far more consistent now. They face stiff competition to maintain their lead at the summit, with Arsenal and Man City hot on their heels, so there’s still plenty of work for United to do. However, their improvement from last season until now is clear to see. Van Gaal cannot rest on his laurels, however, as United have a very difficult run of games to come.

Arsenal (away), Everton (away) and Manchester City (home) are their next three opponents in the Premier League, and three sides who could all come away with positive results. After their tricky October games are through, United and the supporters will have more of a gauge on their title hopes with how they fare in the matches. Last season saw them take six points from the fixtures, and Van Gaal would certainly settle for a repeat this time round.

One factor that could infringe upon their hopes of winning the league crown is their Champions League campaign. Playing midweek matches in Europe in between league outings makes it difficult for the manager to rotate the side enough to guarantee positive results in all competitions with only days between the games. Manchester United dropped points in both league games after a midweek Champions League qualifier, and it’s something that could prove costly in the title race come May.

Defending champions Juventus lose again in the Italian Serie A


Juventus’ poor start to the new season continue with a 2-1 defeat away to Napoli this weekend, further piling the pressure on manager Massimiliano Allegri. Currently 13th in the table after six games, the Old Lady could see themselves 13 points adrift of league leaders Inter Milan should the latter win their game in hand on Sunday. This time last season, Juventus were sitting pretty in first place with a 100% record, but they have won just once in the Serie A in 2015/16.

The large scale exodus suffered in the summer has been a factor in their downfall in the division, and it’s something that could be costing them in their pursuit for silverware. Juventus are coming off the back of four consecutive title wins, but their monopoly in the Serie A looks to be coming to an end. Goals have been a worry, with the Old Lady averaging just one a game in the league, while Juve have kept only one clean sheet at the other end, as well as suffering three defeats and two draws.

Home form has been the side’s biggest problem, however, with the Italian giants winless in their own backyard. Two points from a possible nine at the Juventus Stadium is some distance away from their past campaigns of being unbeaten at home. Despite such a setback, Allegri isn’t giving up hope of his side winning the Serie A title this season, saying: “It’s a difficult time but the championship is long, now we must play the game like champions. Juve will come back to fight for the top spot, although it will be tough.”

It would take a real turnaround in form for Juventus to win the title this season given their large deficit on Inter, but the table-toppers have to drop points in the league soon enough. When they do, the Old Lady must respond by claiming maximum points in their respective game, something they have done only once in 2015/16. They drew against relegation-threatened Frosinone in the league before the Napoli defeat, and a growing injury crisis in the squad does little to help matters.

After the Napoli game, Allegri added: “Tonight, I can’t reproach the lads for what they did on the pitch. I don’t know if we will manage but we have to try and see if we can do it, and when everyone is back I will have the opportunity to put out players with more experience. We have to work and get some points. Sometimes football is brutal, a corner can change a result after 34 shots on goal. And today we conceded two goals after we lost the ball.”

The excuses will have to stop soon, as Juventus will have an unassailable target to catch if they can’t start winning games in the Serie A this season.

Manchester United’s Anthony Martial enjoying bright start to life at Old Trafford

martial anthony

Manchester United striker Anthony Martial has hit the ground running in his debut season at Old Trafford, with the £36M man enjoying a prolific start to life as the Red Devils‘ number nine. Martial, 19, has quickly confounded his critics with ice-cool composure in front of goal, and has now made lofty expectations for himself as a result.

The football’s most expensive teenager was under pressure from the outset after his pricey move to England, but he’s been surprising teammates and critics alike with how easily he seems to have settled. Compared to former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry due to his excessive pace, ruthless slide-rule finishing technique and playing style, Martial looks the real deal at 19.

Formerly of French Ligue 1 side AS Monaco, Martial has represented his country twice at senior level, and has become United’s top scorer for the season after just four appearances in all competitions. The teenager has scored four goals in only 225 minutes of football for the Red Devils, and has quickly become a first-choice in the attack as a result.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal initially touted Anthony Martial as one for the future, suggesting that the next manager at the helm will benefit more from the striker than he would, but his £26M man looks ready from the off, to the delight of the Dutch coach.

“It is a little bit of luck. But of course the main thing is his quality. As a player, he has to do it and he has to cope with the pressure. What we have seen until now, he can do it. His personality is that he is an open guy, he is listening, he is watching, he is focusing on the matches. For a manager, he is a very coachable player – that is also why I bought him,” said Van Gaal.

“He is still living in a hotel so he is in the first phase of his adaptation. That is also important because that shall have an influence also. Now he is only living in a hotel, coming to the training session and eating with the players, train and prepare for matches. The big step is when he settles himself in a new environment.”

Despite the burden a large price tag can place on a young player, Anthony Martial seems to be taking it in stride at Manchester United, and could well find himself a PFA Young Player of the Year nominee if he can continue his fine form.

¿Qué te pasa, mi Sevilla?


El equipo de Nervión no carbura este año. Un mal arranque liguero le ha situado como farollillo rojo después de 4 jornadas. Aunque los peores augurios nunca habrían imaginado algo así, aún es pronto para sacar conclusiones pero no se puede ignorar que las primeras sirenas de alarma ya recorren el Sánchez Pijzuán. Por tanto, antes que se agrave la situación, el equipo de Emery debe replantearse los porqués de este mal inicio de temporada.

En Europa las cosas marchan bien: a pesar de que perdieron la final de la Supercopa, dejaron buen sabor de boca porque supieron plantarle cara al todopoderoso Barça y le remontaron 3 goles de diferencia. La Champions de momento es de color de rosa, es líder del grupo de la muerte tras golear en un buen partido al Borussia MG. Teniendo en cuenta estos datos: ¿por qué los resultados y el rendimiento en el campeonato ligero no son parejos?

2 puntos de 12 posibles suponen un balance muy pobre para un equipo que aspira a todo, que disputa la Champions y que cuenta con una de las mejores plantillas de Europa. Si a esto le sumamos imprecisión en el juego y un esfuerzo bastante criticado por la afición, queda claro que Unai tiene que cambiar muchas cosas.

La delantera solo ha anotado dos tantos. Llorente tiene destellos de gol como los que deslumbraron en el viejo San Mamés, pero todavía le falta adaptarse al 100% al equipo. Gameiro era el sucesor natural de Bacca, pero no termina de carburar, y si no lo hace pronto quedará relegado al banquillo de Unai. Immobile arranca como uno de los fiascos más sonados y la falta de minutos no le ayuda.

En las líneas defensivas, la plaga de lesiones está haciendo mella. Las bajas de jugadores que se perfilaban titulares, como Rami, Pareja o Carriço, suponen muchos quebraderos de cabeza para el entrenador, a la que encima se le añade la del guardameta Beto. Y las incorporaciones de este verano, como Ferreira o Konoplyanka por el momento siembran más dudas que ilusión.

Quizá el bajón tras una campaña llena de tantos éxitos como la anterior tengan parte de culpa, pero está claro que la falta de motivación hace estragos en el equipo. Hay banquillo y el Sevilla tiene calidad para volver arriba, aún le queda margen, pero debe ponerse las pilas desde el próximo partido o pronto comenzará a rebajar sus objetivos para esta Liga. Puede que la clave no pase por una revolución en la alineación titular, sino por mero un discurso alentador del propio Emery que devuelva la ilusión por el juego al Sevilla, a ese equipo que ostenta las dos últimas Europa League. Al fin y al cabo, todo está en la cabeza.

Midweek stumbles make for must-win encounter


Europe seemed the spark to ignite Juventus and Napoli. After summer changes revamped the look of both, stuttering starts had increased pressure. Especially for new Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri, with media speculation already signalling his time in Naples could be short lived. Even club legend Diego Maradona voiced concerns.

With both winless through the opening three rounds, the start of European competition appeared ill-timed. Juventus travelled to Manchester to face a City side brimming with confidence. A superb Champions League comeback win showed what had been missing. Two days later Napoli brushed aside Club Brugge in the Europa League.

Those results seemed to do the trick. Juve backed it up by triumphing at Genoa, while Napoli made it successive 5-0 wins as they disposed of Lazio.

But as quickly as momentum was generated, two unlikely sources halted the charge. The Bianconeri welcomed Frosinone to Turin on Wednesday, with Napoli away to Carpi. Leonardo Blanchard’s injury-time equaliser denied Juve, while the Partenopei could not find a way past the Biancorossi.

Thanks to the efforts of the two promoted clubs, Saturday’s meeting at Stadio San Paolo takes on added significance.

Both teams are sitting in the bottom half, Napoli on six points and one ahead of the Bianconeri. For Napoli, the visit of Juventus is always a big occasion. The most eagerly anticipated fixture on the calendar. If the supporters want a win against any other side, it’s against Juve. But neither can afford to drop more points. With Inter three clear at the top of the table – already nine points above Napoli – the stakes are raised.

For a long time the trip south was a dreaded one for Juve. A 3-1 win in January was their first since 2000. They may have ended the hoodoo, but travel without a number of sidelined players. Injuries have robbed Massimiliano Allegri of continuity and it has resulted in some disjointed performances.

Sarri, backed by President Aurelio De Laurentiis in the face of recent criticism, does not have such selection issues. Following 10 goals in two home matches and with the backing of what is sure to be boisterous home support, they will be hopeful of adding to Juve’s pain.

The midweek results make for a fascinating encounter. Can the Bianconeri overcome injury problems to silence Naples again, or will the home side show their devastating best in front of goal?