Why Manchester City’s win against Southampton doesn’t tell the full story


Manchester City returned to winning ways this weekend with a 3-1 victory over Southampton, but the result masked a poor performance from the Sky Blues, and manager Manuel Pellegrini will be under no illusions that his side are still struggling of late. Coming off the back of two defeats and a draw from their last three games in all competitions, City weren’t in the best shape to face the Saints and it showed.

The hosts’ opening goal came from a mistake by Southampton’s Maya Yoshida who relinquished possession deep in his own half to City forward Raheem Sterling who squared for Kevin De Bruyne to score from close range. Manchester City’s second goal was a deflected effort from Fabian Delph that completely wrong-footed Maarten Stekelenburg between the sticks.

And after Southampton had halved the deficit through Shane Long, while dominating the second-half, they were hit with a sucker punch from Aleksandar Kolarov who somehow volleyed past four bodies to find the back of the net form an unfavourable angle. Manager Ronald Koeman will be disappointed with the manner of all three goals conceded, but will take the positives of the side’s second-half showing.

“It was a very hard start in the game. If you’re making those kind of mistakes against City you know you lose the game. The first 20 minutes was very poor. We made (City look) strong in the first part of the game because we lost so many balls in our building-up from back. You can’t win if you play at that level. We had a big chance for Dusan Tadic to score and make it 2-2 in the second-half, and these are the key moments to get something out of the game,” said the Saints boss.

Southampton should have found an equaliser before City regained their two-goal advantage with a penalty appeal turned down in the second-half, as well as a missed close range opportunity from Dusan Tadic. In the end, Saints paid the price for errors made in the first-half, but were somewhat unfortunate in the second. They gifted City goals, and failed to take the chances that came their way.

Nevertheless, for Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, he will be relieved to have come away with three points after a troublesome month. He was under no illusions, however, admitting that Southampton had City rattled after the break. He said: “We started very strong, especially in the first 25 minutes. I was very pleased with the team’s reaction. We were a little nervous until the third goal, but I’m happy with the performance and the result.”

Is Marouane Fellaini’s time up with Manchester United?


Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini was an unused substitute in the side’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City, with manager Louis van Gaal instead looking to Memphis Depay for some attacking reinforcement in the stalemate. Fellaini has often been used as an impact substitute due to his aerial presence, but such magic shown last season looks to have worn off in 2015/16, and his time at the club is fast running out.

The Belgian international is around six foot four, and is proficient with the ball in the air. He can chest the ball down dead or win a header for his side. Last season he contributed to a number of goals due to his presence in the area, but has yet to have the same effect, scoring and creating just one goal in 13 appearances for the Red Devils. United are less wasteful on the ball this campaign and are much more patient carving out scoring opportunities.

Fellaini hardly starts for Manchester United, and is expected to be one of the players let go at the nearest available opportunity. When he’s on the pitch, United abandon their possession-based philosophy and look for the midfielder from deep. Hardly attractive football, but it has yielded goals in the past. The problem is that the side are slowly trying to move on without him, but his potential destination is unkown.

He doesn’t really fit manager Louis van Gaal‘s philosophy, nor does he provide little else than an aerial threat in games. Fellaini did enjoy an impressive run of form for a small period last season, but has reverted back to the expendable player he’s largely been during his time at Old Trafford. The Belgian still has three years left on his current deal, so a failure to garner interest could see United stuck with him for some time.

Reports have suggested United have rejected the idea of a new deal for Marouane Fellaini, and his national team manager has called for the player to move on from Old Trafford to boost his chances of being a regular for Belgium again. It would be a major surprise to see the midfielder with the Red Devils past next summer, but there aren’t a lot of suitors lining up to sign him.

Fellaini does have very particular strengths, and is on a lot of money at United who will still want adequate compensation for his services. The Belgian could be an expensive acquisition for another club, but the Red Devils reportedly want him out the door sooner rather than later so they can save some money.

La crisi delle squadre della Capitale

Doveva essere il campionato delle conferme per Roma e Lazio, arrivate rispettivamente seconda e terza nella passata stagione, invece si sta rivelando il campionato delle delusiono. Ieri le due squadre romane hanno toccato il fondo: zeroo punti e zero gol segnati al cospetto di Atalanta ed Empoli che, con tutto il rispetto, non sono proprio il Bayern Monaco o il Barcellona. La crisi del calcio capitolino è sotto gli occhi di tutti e, in un torneo senza padrone, il rammarico di ciò che poteva essere e che invece  con tutta probabilita’ non sarà nemmeno quest’anno è davvero enorme.

La Roma e’ partita per vincere lo Scudetto a seguito di una mirata campagna acquisti che ha portato nella sponda giallorossa della Capitale giocatori del calibro di Dzeko e Salah. Tuttavia, dopo un inizio promettente, culminato con il successo casalingo contro gli arcirivali della Juventus, la squadra di Garcia si e’ persa per strada ottenendo la miseria di 4 punti nelle ultime 4 partite. Un cammino di marcia decisamente non idoneo per chi vuole competere per il titolo. A questo si aggiunge la figuraccia europea rimediata con il Barcellona, che ha asfaltato i giallorossi per 6-0.  Nel banco degli imputati in questo momento no dei giallorossi e’ finito il tecnico francese Rudi Garcia, accusato di non aver saputo dare un gioco alla squadra che dipende eccessivamente dalle giocate dei singoli, in primis Pianjc e Salah (ora ai box per un infortunio).  Per cercare di riprendere la rotta, la societa’ ha mandato la squadra in ritiro, ma l’ambiente resta incandescente.

Se Atene piange, Sparta non ride. Anzi, i biancocelesti con l’Empoli sono incappati nella quarta sconfitta in 5 gare, dove hanno totalizzato un solo punto. In tutto, i biancocelesti hanno perso 7 della 14 gare complessive disputate in campionato, una simile cammino negativo non accadeva in casa biancoceleste dalla stagione 1984/1985, quando poi la Lazio finì mestamente in Serie B. Le sconfitte a catena hanno fatto precipitare i biancocelesti al 10° posto con soli 19 punti in classifica, a -11 dal primo posto e a -9 dalla terza piazza.  In questo caso, e’  la societa’ ad essere finita nel banco degli imputati: i tifosi rimproverano al presidente Lotito un’eccessiva parsimonia (eufemismo) nel corso della campagna acquisti che per ora si sta dimonstando lacunosa. In particolare, manca un difensore centrale di spessore, specie considereando il fatto che De Vrij rimarra’ fuori per tutta la stagione.

Per Roma e Lazio e’ arrivato il momento di cambiare marcia. Altrimenti, questa rischia di essere l’ennesima stagione fallimentare.

Barcelona’s Neymar makes the final three-man Ballon d’Or shortlist


Barcelona forward Neymar was named in the final three for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award following a fantastic year with the Catalans that saw him win the treble (La Liga, Champions League, Copa Del Rey) under manager Luis Enrique. The Brazilian international, 23, has picked up where he left off, and has been in blistering form for Barca.

Neymar leads the scoring charts with 14 goals in 12 games in the Spanish La Liga, and is one of the most in-form players in Europe. His selection is more than deserved, and not to make up the numbers. The argument for the former Santos man to collect the crown is valid, but he has stiff competition in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) and teammate Lionel Messi (Barcelona).

It’s the first time Neymar has made the final shortlist, but certainly won’t be his last given his rise at such a young age. When Messi as injured for Barcelona, he stepped up to the plate and was scoring a goal a game for the large part. He’s dazzled supporters with his tricky and brilliant vision, and looks a perfect fit at the Nou Camp. While not the best start after his move from Santos, the young forward has since become a key player.

He paid tribute to his strike-partners Messi and Luis Suarez for their role in the trio netting 122 goals in all competitions last season, but also believes he deserves to make the final. The Brazilian said: “I think I do deserve to be (among the finalists) for what I’m doing. I would be happy if the trident (Neymar, Messi and Suarez) was among the three. Thanks to the history we are making and because of what we have conquered, all three should be there.”

Neymar’s selection is more than deserving, but there was a case for Suarez to edge in front of Ronaldo given his individual exploits in the Champions League. The vote should be incredibly close this time round, and Neymar stands a chance of making the top-two. His form this season certainly pits him above Messi and Ronaldo, and his goals in 2015/16 see him leading the way in the Spanish La Liga.

The winner will be announced in mid-January, but Neymar could well be a debutant winner based on what he’s shown supporters so far in 2015. For club and country he continues to improve, and it wouldn’t be such a surprise to see him swoop the gong early next year.


Will ‘BibGate’ Spell the End of Diego Costa’s Time at Chelsea?


It was a petulant gesture, rather than a statement of war, but Diego Costa’s childish ‘tossing of the bib’ in Chelsea’s 0-0 stalemate with Spurs on Sunday is testament to how far the mighty striker has fallen.

The Spaniard had been dropped to the bench by Jose Mourinho after a fallow period in front of goal, with Eden Hazard preferred up front in a false nine role.

And after being asked to warm up by Mourinho during the second half of the clash, Costa was a little miffed when Ruben Loftus-Cheek was brought on instead of him and reacted angrily by throwing his bright orange bib over his shoulder and in the general direction of Mourinho.

At this point of the season in 2014/15 Costa had already netted eleven times during Chelsea’s blistering start to the campaign, however this time around the 27-year-old has found the net just four times – three in the Premier League – as the Blues’ poor start to the term continues.

Relations between Costa and Mourinho appeared to sour during Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the Champions League last week, although the manager suggested in a subsequent press conference that the pair had healed their rift with ‘kisses and cuddles’.

But Mourinho is no stranger to making big and often bold decisions as far as his team selection is concerned, and at times this season one or more of John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic, Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic and Hazard have all been subjected to a period in the dugout. The Belgian has subsequently come back into the team and delivered a couple of fantastic performances, so no doubt this was Mourinho’s intention with Costa.

“For me his behaviour is normal. A top player on the bench will not be happy,” Mourinho said when asked about Costa’s act of petulance. “If he wants to hurt me it would not be with a bib. I have a good relationship with him.”

“Diego is privileged to have been kept in the team for all these matches and today we thought our best strategy was to play with this. I am happy with my decision and the players.”

What this all means for the Spanish international’s future at the club is unknown. The transfer window opens in a matter of weeks, and with Mourinho likely to dispose of some of his under-performing stars to make way for an injection of new blood, now might be a wise time for Cost to get his head down, toe the line and score some goals.

Blazing a Trail: Which Other Lower League Stars Could Follow in Vardy’s Footsteps?


Less than a decade ago, Jamie Vardy was playing in the ninth tier of English football and was being paid £30 a week. Today, he is a £30 million rated star that has just broken the record for scoring the most goals in consecutive games in the Premier League.

Incredibly, Vardy’s story is not a one off. Joe Hart was signed by Manchester City from Shrewsbury Town, Chris Smalling made the step up from fifth tier Maidstone United to join Fulham, while Andre Gray is banging the goals in at Burnley despite playing in the sixth tier of English football as recently as 2010.

And in 2009, Charlie Austin – now a full England international – was playing in the Wessex Premier Division, whom it would take eight consecutive title wins to be playing top flight football.

So which other lower league players look set to follow in Vardy’s footsteps?

Brady Hickey

Most of the players on the list above – Vardy included – are strikers, and it is perhaps easier for them to catch the eye of top level scouts as their goalscoring exploits become widely known.

The same can be said for Barwell FC’s Brady Hickey; although his net-busting antics have come from a deeper midfield role – a sure sign that a young player has bags of quality.

Hickey’s manager at Barwell, Jimmy Ginnelly, told the Daily Mail: “He’s sort of a non-league version of Frank Lampard. He always seems to arrive in the box in the right place from midfield.

“He has scored 10 in 20 odd games for us this season and he hasn’t even started all of those because he is only 18. He has a natural goalscoring knack from midfield, like Lampard, and is a pleasure to work with.

“There are between 15 and 20 clubs watching him.”

Having just turned 19 and operating in the seventh tier of English football, Hickey has recently enjoyed a trial at Vardy’s club Leicester City, where he spent several days training with the Premier League high flyers. If he can keep his feet on the ground, then the footballing world could be his oyster.

Tom Meechan

Tom Meechan will have watched the goals flying in from Vardy, Austin, Gray et al and think that he has an opportunity to emulate these fine scorers in and around the top flight in English football.

Goalscoring is a natural ability, being able to finish chances is something that cannot be taught. And, as we’ve seen with the likes of Vardy and Austin, being able to put the ball in the net is a skill that travels. Simply put, somebody who has a knack for scoring goals is worth their weight in goal.

Meechan signed for sixth tier St Neots after bagging 53 goals in a single season for his former club. And with 16 goals already this term, the 24-year-old clearly knows where the net is.

Luke Berry

What is most impressive about Luke Berry is that he has already made more than 150 first team appearances; and he has only just turned 23.

That is a measure of the maturity that this young midfielder possesses, and after cutting his teeth at Cambridge United he attempted to step into the professional ranks with Barnsley.

That move didn’t quite pan out and he is back at Cambridge now, but if he continues to improve his game while learning his craft at a lower level then he will surely move up English football’s pyramid in due course.

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Could a struggling Real Madrid come unstuck to Eibar on Sunday?

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale look dejected after the first goal of Sevilla team during their soccer match in Seville

Coming off the back of two league defeats, Real Madrid travel to the Ipurua Municipal Stadium to face Eibar in the Spanish La Liga this weekend, and will be very wary of their in-form opposition. Los Blancos are coming off the back of consecutive defeats in the league, as well having little recovery time from their midweek Champions League win in Ukraine, and they lock horns with an Eibar side who will make life incredibly difficult on Sunday.

Rafael Benitez’s men are third in the table after 12 games, but followed up a 3-2 defeat to Sevilla with a 4-0 defeat against fierce rivals Barcelona, and their defence shipped a further three goals in a 4-3 win against Shakhtar on Wednesday night. Real’s poor defensive record could be exploited by Eibar’s Borja Baston (six goals in eight league starts), as well as their impressive home form that has seen them lose just once this season.

Eibar are 6th in the league this season, and have ground out results on a regular basis week after week. Los Armeros have a good defensive record, and never fail to score in front of their own supporters. Atletico Madrid are they only side to have shut them out at the Ipurua Municipal Stadium, and only Barcelona have beaten them on the road. Boasting eight points from their last four games at home against a Real side having lost back-to-back will give them great confidence of pulling off what would be their biggest win of the season.

Benitez was recently given a vote of confidence by club president Florentino Perez, but could still find himself under immense pressure if Real don’t return to winning ways this weekend. Recent form between the two sides suggests it won’t be a foregone conclusion, but the prospect of Real losing three on the bounce in the league is something that hasn’t happened for seven years.

Midfielder Isco has been recently critical of the side’s form, saying: “It’s not normal what’s happening. We have to work to prevent this, and we’ll correct the mistakes. We had to get the win and try to learn from the mistakes. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again because that can take its toll. We don’t like losing, but what we need to do is turn the page and keep improving. We’re in November, and the season is decided at the end.”

Could Real suffer a third consecutive league defeat to a Eibar?

Di Natale medita l’addio al calcio

Un amore lungo 11 anni che potrebbe brevemente giungere al termine. Antonio Di Natale è stanco e potrebbe rescindere il contratto con l’Udinese anzitempo, il prossimo 20 dicembre dopo la partita di campionato contro il Torino. per intraprendere la carriera dirigenziale. Un fulmine a ciel sereno per il club di Pozzo, abituato da sempre a pulire i panni sporchi in casa. Se così fosse , per l’attaccante, che ha realizzato la bellezza di 208 goal in 433 presenze in Serie A, rischia di svanire il sogno di raggiungere nella classifica dei marcatori di sempre del massimo campionato due mostri sacri come Giuseppe Meazza e José Altafini, davanti a lui con 216 marcature, e quello di giocare nel nuovo stadio Friuli che sarà inaugurato il prossimo 17 gennaio per la gara contro la Juventus.

Di Natale in conferenza stampa si è nascosto: “Il presidente sa tutto, iopenso a giocare. Ho sempre cercato di lavorare nel silenzio e dare il massimo. Ho un grande rapporto col mister, andiamo spesso a cena insieme, ma non paga mai. Sono un grandissimo tifoso dell’Udinese. Voglio solo andare a Verona e vincere insieme”. “Amo più io l’Udinese di tanti altri – ha proseguito -. Mai detto certe parole su Aguirre. E’ un giovane che ha bisogno di giocare. Sono qui per dire che non ho nessun problema col tecnico”.

Secondo le indiscrezioni, infatti, il numero 10 dell’Udinese non avrebbe dei buoni rapporti con l’allenatore Colantuono, che spesso lo ha relegato in panchina preferendogli la coppia Thereau – Zapata. Tuttavia, lo stesso tecnico dei friulano ha voluto smentire questa notizia in conferenza stampa: questa stagione ha giocato 7 partite da titolare e in 4 è subentrato. Non capisco il pandemonio creato dai giornali”. “Solo un folle si metterebbe in competizione con Totò da allenatore dell’Udinese – ha aggiunto il tecnico -. Anche negli anni passati si è parlato di ritiro. Se lui continua io sono l’uomo più felice del mondo”. “Totò ha un rapporto speciale con il Presidente ed io non posso entrare nel merito di quello che si dicono tra loro – ha continuato Colantuono -. Di Natale per noi è una risorsa, non è mai stato un problema”.

I tifosi sono furiosi con la società e con i loro messaggi sui social provano a far cambiare idea al proprio beniamino: “Non mollare”, “Spero che continui”, “Se ci lasci andiamo in Serie B”, quelli più frequenti. Ora dovrà però muoversi il club: l’impressione è infatti quella che soltanto una presa di posizione netta dell’Udinese possa far recedere Totò dall’intenzione di appendere le scarpette al chiodo. Per il bene dell’Udinese e di tutto il calcio, l’augurio è che il giocatore ci ripensi

Derby da Madeira: Nacional vence Marítimo

Nac3-1MarO Marítimo continua a reclamar o “título” de maior clube madeirense, mas verifica-se que cada vez mais o Nacional tem argumentos para discutir esse estatuto. Não só os alvi-negros têm conquistado melhores posições classificativas e atingido mais vezes as provas europeias, como também se têm superiorizado no confronto directo com os rivais. Desta feita o Nacional venceu mais um derby madeirense disputado em casa, onde os comandados por Manuel Machado já não concedem derrotas ao rival desde a longínqua época de 2007/2008. Continue reading