Nainggolan’s return a timely boost for Inter ahead of trip to Bologna


While the vast majority of Inter fans are refusing to press the panic button, despite their team’s inauspicious start to the new season, it is impossible to deny that tomorrow night’s match against Bologna is absolutely vital with regard to their ambition of dethroning Juventus from the top of Serie A. Luciano Spalletti clearly has the club’s backing, as shown by the fact that he recently signed a new contract binding him to the Nerazzurri until the summer of 2021. However, any more slip-ups will undoubtedly see his position put under a degree of threat. Like it or not, that is the nature of modern football. Continue reading

Did politics play its part when Modric beat Ronaldo to UEFA player of the year?


Congratulations to Real Madrid and Croatian player Luka Modric who won the UEFA player of the year, an award now in its 8th year. Modric beat off competition from Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo and Liverpool’s Mohamed Saleh who were also shortlisted for the annual prize which took place in Monaco in between the Champions League draw.

Modric can now add this player award to the one he achieved at this summers World Cup in Russia where he was named player of the tournament despite Croatia finishing up as runners-up.

The UEFA player of the year is based on how a player has played in every competition of last season for club and also country, based on trophies Modric of course helped Real Madrid to a 3rd straight Champions League and also was the star of the show in Croatia reaching an unlikely World Cup final. In truth UEFA have awarded a player that the public knew was one of the best in the world several years ago. However it is still wonderful for a player that has had to battle hard to get to where he is now, and is finally being recognised as a world class player as he reaches the twilight of his career.

Having said the above what about Ronaldo, the all conquering Portuguese star that seemingly goes from strength to strength? Was he not fitting of the award once the short list had been named? Ronaldo has previously won the UEFA award a record 3 times and he was tipped as the favourite to collect his fourth trophy. But collect it he couldn’t even if he had won, because, well, Ronaldo did not turn up to the gala event. In doing so one wonders if politics played its part and UEFA wanted their winning player to be present at the awards rather than from a video stream.

When Modric was announced as the winner, Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes said “The game is played inside the four lines and that’s where Cristiano Ronaldo has won. He has scored 15 goals, carrying Real Madrid on his back and winning the Champions League once again.” It is hard to argue with Mendes even if he is going to be predictably biased in his opinion. Ronaldo did score so many goals in the Champions League that he was top scorer last season.

Alas UEFA will claim that Modric had the better World Cup with national team performances being considered. However if that is the case then why was Liverpool’s Saleh short listed when his national team Egypt exited the World Cup at the group stage, despite his superb season for Liverpool on a personal level? We could go one step further and wonder why France’s Kylian Mbappe did not win the award. The forward won a domestic treble with PSG followed by winning the World Cup and scoring in the final.

Quite simply there doesn’t seem to be much consistency in these awards votes. It will be interesting to see if Modric can go one better and win the FIFA World Player of the Year in December, a trophy that has only been won by Ronaldo and Lionel Messi since 2008. If consistency persists Modric should win, if the old guard keeps its way then Ronaldo will get the last laugh. However again it would be a shame if Mbappe even if he is only 19 years old does not get a look in.


Why Aubameyang cannot thrive in Arsenal’s current system


After last season’s woes, Arsenal were set to be reborn in Unai Emery’s image with club legend Arsene Wenger leaving the side he led for 22 years after much furor from the team’s fans amid poor performances throughout the course of the campaign.

The former PSG tactician was heralded as Arsenal’s saviour with fans and pundits alike backing him to return the Gunners to the Champions League this term either through winning the Europa League or clinching a top four spot, but at the moment things aren’t looking good for Arsenal regarding the latter as they’ve failed to truly impress three games into the 2018/19 season.

Defensively, Arsenal have been below par with their back four seemingly incapable of maintaining a solid shape whilst trying to withstand a high press, the team’s attack has also been one-dimensional with the Gunners almost always opting to attack from the flanks and throw in a cross, or a cut back.

Their dependence on flank-attacks to find the back of the net this season has, and could continue to limit Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goalscoring opportunities given he’s shown no signs of thriving under Emery’s current set-up.

Whilst it’s easy to dismiss Arsenal’s poor start as ‘unlucky’ due to the fact that they faced Manchester City and Chelsea respectively in their first two games of the season, they lacked real invention against both sides which was symptomatic of their lack of variety in their attacking patterns.

More often than not, Hector Bellerin would run down the right flank to cut the ball back or whip in a cross, on the left flank, you’d often find Nacho Monreal doing the same thing. Arsenal’s reliance on that sort of play doesn’t give Aubameyang an opportunity to utilise his speed and get in behind with the 29-year-old having to position him self for a tap-in or a lay-off like any other Arsenal player waiting in the box.

Unai Emery’s men managed to get their first three points of the season last time out against West Ham in a game where, yet again, Aubameyang failed to get his name on the scoresheet due in large part to the teams modus oprandi going forward.

Back when he played for Dortmund, Aubameyang was the joyful recipient of a variety of through balls through the middle which enabled him to utilise his blistering pace – a range of crosses; both early and late, which allowed him to make tremendous use of his height – he was also able receive the ball with his back to goal and utilise his superb dribbling skills to turn away from his markers and get a shot on goal – a stark contrast to his time at Arsenal thus far.

As things stand Aubameyang is not a great option to have as a striker in your fantasy team simply because he cannot get a decent amount of clear cut chances per game in Arsenal’s current system.

Arsenal would need to consistently play through all areas of the pitch for Aubameyang to start firing on all cylinders.

Unai Emery may make use a different approach in Arsenal’s upcoming tie against Cardiff in a bid to find their way past what is sure to be a sturdy defensive set-up. Neil Warnock’s men are likely to sit deep and hit Arsenal on the counter should they get an opportunity to do so, hence, a victory against them will require Arsenal to be creative in the final third.

There’s a lot of pressure on Arsenal to get their second win of the season due to the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City already widening the gap between them and the rest of the league, but should Aubameyang start bagging goals on a consistent basis, the Gunners will be able to climb up the table.

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Issa Diop to kick on after Carabao Cup goal

Many people thought of Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup second round tie against AFC Wimbledon as a bit of a nothing game. However, it could be a match which has significance in Issa Diop’s West Ham career. The 21-year-old centre back, signed from Toulouse for a short-lived club record fee of £25 million had struggled before this match and looked in need of a pick up.

Following that summer transfer, he didn’t get on the pitch against Liverpool or AFC Bournemouth. He then made his debut for the club against Arsenal, putting in a relatively shaky performance which saw him score a calamitous own goal in the 3-1 loss.

On the back of that defeat, when his side conceded after just two minutes against AFC Wimbledon –as Joe Pigott got away from Diop’s centre back Angelo Ogbonna to head home- he must have had a sinking feeling. However, it was the Frenchman who got West Ham back in the game. In the 63rd minute Felipe Anderson played the ball to him. Diop took a touch out of his feet, confident strode up to the ball and smashed it into the bottom corner from outside the box.

The smile on his face following the strike told a story of its own. He put his hands together to form a triangle (his trademark celebration) and the Frenchman’s face lit up with glee as he was mobbed by his team mates. To get his side back into the game with a moment which highlighted his technical ability will have been a big confidence boost for the centre back.

Strikes from Ogbonna and Chicharito secured the win for the Hammers, but it was Diop’s performance which stood out – even without the goal. His stats from the match show just how dominant he was: 100% tackles won, 92% pass completion, seven aerial duels won and six clearances completed. It may have been against League One opposition, but this was a defensive master class.

Now, with this performance under his belt he has the perfect opportunity to kick on in West Ham’s claret and blue. Diop has already impressed during his career, captaining Toulouse and representing his country at Under 21 level. The Premier League may be a step up from this, but he has certainly got the quality to face off with the best in the league, with the confidence from that strike likely to help bring that out of him.

If selected by Manuel Pellegrini, which is likely, his next test will be against Wolverhampton Wanderers. While the Midlands side and their Portuguese contingent have only managed two points so far, they are still a dangerous outfit. However, with Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United to follow, it is important the Hammers pick up some points in this match. Facing off against the likes of Raul Jimenez and dealing with Ruben Neves’ deliveries, West Ham’s centre backs are going to be vital if the team are to be victorious.

A positive performance and result against Wolves, following the Wimbledon match, should lead to Diop’s false start being forgotten about by many. West Ham have a supremely talented player on their hands in the form of Issa Diop, now is the moment he will kick on and show it.


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Mariano is a clever signing for Real Madrid

Under Zinedine Zidane, a route between the young ranks and the first team was established at Real Madrid. It was a path followed by the likes of Marco Asensio, Jesus Vallejo, Marcos Llorente and Lucas Vazquez, but not Mariano Diaz, who was sold in the summer of 2017.

Now, the striker is back at the Santiago Bernabeu, returning to the Spanish capital after a year at Lyon, where he impressed, scoring 18 goals in 37 games. Real Madrid were desperate for a striker before the close of the summer transfer window and they have got one in the form of a familiar face.


Some will argue that Mariano’s return is an illustration of Real Madrid’s wastefulness. Mariano was always a good squad player for them and arguably should have been kept last summer. The wisdom in allowing both Mariano and Alvaro Morata to leave in the same window was questionable, at best.

But at least Real Madrid have now corrected their initial mistake. Mariano will provide competition in attack for the likes of Karim Benzema and even Gareth Bale. The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid a little light in the attacking positions, but now they have Mariano, along with Borja Mayoral, to at least ease the burden on Benzema in particular.

Benzema struggled at times last season, scoring just five goals in La Liga all season long. The Frenchman might even have left Real Madrid had Ronaldo not beat him to departing the club, with the club’s notoriously tough-to-please support making a habit of whistling and jeering the 30-year-old.

From Mariano’s perspective, there might be a chance for him to establish himself as a first team figure. This Real Madrid team are in the midst of a transition following the exit of Ronaldo and Zidane at the end of last season. Right the way through the squad, there are youngsters looking to break into the first team over the coming campaign and Mariano is one such name on that list.

On the basis of his performances over the first few games of the new season, Benzema has been revitalised by his break over the summer. The sale of Ronaldo to Juventus has given him more freedom across the frontline. He no longer has to make way for the Portuguese forward. Real Madrid’s formation is now built around Benzema.

Mariano was close to joining Sevilla, with Lyon accepting a bid for the striker before Real Madrid came in with their own offer. But Julen Lopetegui made a personal play to sign Mariano. “Julen called me and told me he would be happy if I came back,” Mariano explained. “A great part of it was when he told me was counting on me.”

Signed as a back-up option, don’t be surprised if Mariano ends up playing an important role at Real Madrid this season. The young striker has proved his doubters, which included Real Madrid wrong at every turn.

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Serie A big spenders finding it tough in 2018-19


After two weeks of action in Serie A, the table is already taking on a familiar look, with Juventus and Napoli sitting in first and second place respectively.

However there is a surprise that the sides that were expected to chase them this season, have started the season poorly, despite major summer transfer investments.

Roma, Lazio and Inter finished third to fifth in 2017-18, however the only one of them to win a game so far this season is Roma – thanks to a last minute goal away at Torino from Edin Dzeko, to seal a 1-0 victory.

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Serie A must continue purchase of World Class players to enhance image

Seven years ago, one French Club, Paris Saint Germain invaded Serie A and plundered the league’s top stars from its top teams. Jérémy Ménez, Javier Pastore, Thiago Motta, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Verratti, Thiago Sliva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Later, Marquinhos and Edison Cavani joined the fray. PSG’s incursion was propelled by current owners, Qatar Sports Investments, spearheaded by Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

It wasn’t just the ability of the oil rich investors to price away the best talents from other clubs as was the case with Neymar last season, but it exposed how vulnerable and financially weak clubs in Italy were at that particular period. Let’s look at it from this perspective, the strength of a league is predicated on the strength of its clubs. Thus, Serie A became weak in the eyes of its opposing leagues.

It’s worth to note that, during those trial moments, Juventus were putting in place the right structures, both administratively and infrastructure (The Allianz Stadium). They managed to sign the likes of Carlos Tevez from Manchester City, Arturo Vidal from Bayer Leverkusen, got Andrea Pirlo on a Bossman and a world class potential in Paul Pobga. The results are six scudetti on the bounce and two Champions League finals in the last five years. They continue to attract some of the best talents in Douglas Costa, Blaise Matuidi and Emre Can.

This season,the backdrop to Juventus campaign is the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. Portuguese Captain is a symbol of perseverance, whiles his great achievements and showy personality drags the media to his orbit. A report this year from D’Marie Analytics, a social media research firm estimates that a post by Ronaldo across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter is worth a cumulative $728,973.35, making him both the most valuable soccer player and athlete overall.

And of course, commercially, there are all sorts of financial spin offs when you sign Cristiano Ronaldo, from merchandise to image rights.

According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Ronaldo’s debut match against Chievo attracted 2,330,234 unique viewers, with an audience share of 11.9 percent. That’s a 68 percent increase in viewers on Juve’s first match of last season, when they faced Cagliari at home. It is also the fourth-highest total since the Italian branch of Sky launched, surpassed only by the Derby d’Italia in 2013 and 2016, and Roma-Juventus in August 2015. Another Broadcast giant ESPN signed a multi-year deal to broadcast Serie A in the United States It’s difficult to quantify how much of this attention is contributed by the competitiveness of the league after Napoli gave Juventus a hard fought for the scudetto last season.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s entrance has brought the sheen that Serie A needs.

It is however important for the other top teams Inter Milan, Napoli, AC Milan and AS Roma to leverage on the current attraction to lure elite players to their abode.

The two San Siro outfits, AC Milan and Inter are beginning to recover their financial muscle after the change of ownerships from Italian families to foreign Investors, as well as Roma. Things are beginning to look up for AC Milan under the current owners Elliot Hudge Fund Management who have brought back Leonardo in the position of Sporting director, alongside Paolo Maldini as sporting strategy and development director.

AC Milan’s transfer activities have not triggered the kind of excitement that greeted the appointment of their former heroes. Paolo Maldini’s name seems to have overshadowed their purchases in the summer and rightly so because names likes, Tiémoué Bakayoko, Alen Halilovic, Samu Castillejo and Diego Laxalt do not generate euphoria. But the Rossoneri take consolation in the signature of Gonzalo Higuain and Mattia Caldara.

Inter Milan managed to sign Radja Nainggolan from AS Roma and Kwadwo Asamoah from Inter whiles keeping Ivan Peresic and their priciest asset, Captain Maruo Icardi. The reports about Luka Modric wanting to join the Nerazzurri drew a lot of enthusiasm around the club and showed further proof of the kind of players that Serie A are missing. Though the player decided otherwise, it was a sign of ambition on the part of the Nerazzurri.

Despite the acquisition of Javier Pastori and Steven Nzonzi by AS Roma this summer, the Giallorossi have lost world class goalkeeper Alison Becker to Liverpool and Kevin Strootman to Marseille. Whiles Mauricio Sarri and Jorginho have joined Chelsea from Napoli. Last year, three players from Serie A mounted the FIFPro World XI podium. Two of them, Dani Alves and Gialuigi Buffon are currently PSG players. Cristiano Ronaldo may be on the podium in the next FIFA Mens Best Player Award Event but it will be based on his performance at Real Madrid.

Serie A need a continue purchase of world class players to continue enjoying the attention it’s currently attracting.

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Real Madrid are hopeful that Mariano can follow in the footsteps of Alvaro Morata


The very instant news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid was about to become a reality, Madridistas were already compiling their shopping lists for a potential replacement before the words ‘communicado official’ could even be tweeted.

Finding someone to adequately fill the boots of arguably the greatest player in the club’s history would be a tall order, yet the names thought to be in play this summer provided a faint glimmer of hope. Players such as Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Harry Kane, Mauro Icardi and Robert Lewandowski were just some of the most frequently mentioned, as securing the services of at least one was seen not only as a possibility, but a downright certainty.

Then, the weeks rolled along and nothing happened. Nobody was signed. Florentino Perez’s briefcase of cash rumored to be somewhere around the entire GDP of Malta remained unopened. Defcon five had been initiated by supporters convinced of Madrid’s impending doom. After all, could you really trust a Gareth Bale to stay healthy, or a Karim Benzema: scorer of 16 La Liga goals combined over the past two seasons, to pick up the slack in front of net?

Much to dismay of Madridistas, most of the aforementioned targets failed to become available. This left Madrid with two options: overpay for a player of similar profile to the ones already on the squad, or use a measured approach this window and instead bring back a familiar face to provide depth. Los Blancos ultimately chose the latter, ripping Mariano Diaz from the dead, lifeless fingers of Sevilla.

Having risen through their youth ranks, Mariano showed off his ability for the Real Madrid first team in the 2016-17 season; scoring five goals in 14 appearances. Behind the likes of Benzema and Alvaro Morata, chances appeared to be limited so Mariano opted to join Lyon last July and enjoyed a stellar campaign in Ligue 1, netting 18 times in 34 outings.

As part of their agreement with the French club, Real Madrid retained not only 35 percent of Mariano’s playing rights, but they also included a clause that gave them the right to re-sign the player if they matched any future bid for his services. As a result, the €30 million fee Lyon agreed with Sevilla saw the European champions only have to pay €20m to fortify their depth behind Benzema.

It was a shrewd piece of business by Florentino Perez. Not only is Mariano a bargain in this type of market; he will also require little time to adapt having already spent so much time here. Furthermore, returning to Madrid has always been a goal of the forward, evidenced by comments Mariano made last November.

“I have a five-year contract with Lyon but going back to Madrid would be incredible, even if I decided it was best to leave the club in the summer,” he said. It was the correct decision by Madrid to let me go: for me, for them, for Lyon. But it is true that it would be a dream for me to return in the future.”

Now, the players dream will come true and Madrid are hopeful that Mariano’s return could mirror that of one-time Merengue, Alvaro Morata. Similarly brought through the Castilla youth ranks, Morata would feature sporadically for the first team from 2010-2014. Fed up with his lack of opportunities, Madrid granted his wish and sold him to Juventus for €20m, while still possessing a buy-back option in the future. Morata saw ample game time in Turin, allowing him to build the the type of confidence that was instrumental for him to score 27 goals over two seasons.

Madrid were naturally impressed by his progression, so much so, that they exercised their buy-back option for a reasonable fee of €30 million. Coming back as a player re-born, Morata would have a stellar campaign as Benzema’s primary backup; scoring 20 goals in all comps as Madrid captured the league title and the Champions League. Still, Morata was not pleased at the prospect of going into another campaign stuck behind the shadow of the Frenchman.

Consequently, he made his feelings known to Perez and all parties agreed that a change would be best. Madrid would eventually find a willing partner in Chelsea, agreeing to a whopping transfer fee of €67m for the Spaniard. Combining that with the other business conducted with Juve, Perez had essentially made €57m on a striker who was never realistically going to be a full-time starter for his club, while also getting the best season of his career out of him.

To this point, Mariano’s journey appears to be trending the exact same way Morata’s did. With a full season spent at Lyon, he was able to develop integral parts of his game not only physically, but mentally as well. This bodes nicely for a Madrid side that lacks the profile of a striker who is ruthless in front of goal. Given the hallowed number 7 shirt will only enhance expectations of the forward, but if a Galactico is brought in next summer and Mariano has a career season, all will be forgotten.

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Gattuso’s honest approach key for Milan moving forward

Even though the Rossoneri lost their first match of the season in a disastrous manner, there is still every reason to believe in Gennaro Gattuso and his project with the squad. 

Since his arrival, the signings that were made last summer have stepped up significantly in terms of their performances, as well as the whole squad. This, along with a good tactical awareness, led to Milan collecting 39 points in the second half of last season, with only Napoli and Juventus grabbing more.  Continue reading

Ranked: Top 10 Premier League summer signings based on August form

The new Premier League season might only be three weeks old but there are plenty of summer recruits that have already had a huge impact on the division. Ahead of match day four and the end of the first month of the 2018/19 campaign, we rank the 10 best signings of the summer transfer window, based solely on performances in August.

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