Barcelona’s presidential candidates have a week to stake their claims

It seems a lifetime ago that Josep Maria Bartomeu finally saw sense and resigned from the Barcelona presidency.

He was due to leave this July of course, but a well-timed vote of no confidence eventually saw his power dissipate to such an extent that he had nowhere left to go other than out of the back door.

Since then, he has been conspicuous by his absence from all forms of media. Continue reading

Italian Football Predictions – Round 24

Spezia-Parma: after two great wins, the Aquilotti weirdly came a cropper versus Fiorentina, certainly not an insurmountable opponent, so they will have to return to form here. The Ducali have shown some improvements in the past two matches, where they put up a fight and lost narrowly to Verona and suffered a comeback versus Udinese. It is a pivotal clash in the relegation zone, which might slow things down: 1-1.

Bologna-Lazio: the Felsinei have taken home points in the last three matches, defeating Parma and sharing the spoils with Benevento and Sassuolo and they are quite unpredictable in any given round. The Biancocelesti quickly bounced back from the loss versus Inter by nipping Sampdoria, but it remains to be seen whether the drubbing by Bayern will have lasting effects: 1-2. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 24

Atalanta: Berat Djimsiti is suspended. Duvan Zapata picked up a contracture versus Real Madrid and will probably miss this one.

Benevento: Kamil Glik was red-carded last week. Gaetano Letizia is expected back after some time off due to a thigh strain, while Riccardo Improta is recovering from one of his own but he is not totally out yet. Iago Falque announced that he is going to miss some time. Bryan Dabo is questionable:

Bologna: Aaron Hickey was sent off in the past match. Mitchell Dijks will return after missing one due to muscle fatigue. Gary Medel (calf) and Paolo Faragò (thigh) will miss another one. Takehiro Tomiyasu (calf) and Andri Baldursson will both be on the mend for two-to-three weeks with recent strains.  Continue reading

Milan lacklustre yet again as they just about advance from two-legged tie vs. Red Star

Milan just about clinched their spot in the last 16 of the Europa League this evening, advancing from their tie against Red Star Belgrade on away goals. After 2-2 in Serbia, the Rossoneri were hoping for a convincing win with a half-decent XI, but that ended up not being the case for them. 

It started well as Franck Kessie converted a penalty after just nine minutes, but from there on Stefano Pioli’s men struggle to assert themselves in the game. Despite the early goal, Red Star showed great mentality as they kept plugging on and eventually got paid for the efforts.  Continue reading

Serie A Probable Lineups – Round 24

SPEZIA-PARMA

Spezia (4-3-3): Provedel; Vignali, Erlic, Ismajli, Bastoni; Estevez, Ricci, Maggiore; Gyasi, Agudelo, Saponara.

Potential lineup changes: Terzi for Ismajli, Sena for Estevez, Nzola for Agudelo.

Likely bench options: Nzola, Piccoli, Sena.

Probable: Nzola (ankle), Terzi (thigh), Farias (thigh).

Ruled Out: Marchizza (head), Mattiello (thigh), Pobega.

Continue reading

One foot in Europa League quarter finals but a step back in Serie A for Roma

Roma are almost in the quarter finals of the Europa League after they beat Braga of Portugal 2-0. The return leg is tonight in Italy and it is widely expected that the Giallorossi will have few problems in reaching the last 8 after their dominant display in the 1st leg.

The Europa League win was a game of a goal in the early stages and a goal at the end. Within 5 minutes of the start Leonardo Spinnazola had set up Edin Dzeko with a beautiful pass that caught out the Braga defence and Dzeko made no mistakes to put Roma in front. Dzeko has struggled to hold down a place this season and had fallen out with coach Paulo Fonseca so this goal felt like redemption for him.

Roma could have been 3 goals up within the hour if they had had some luck. A penalty appeal was rejected by a VAR review and then a goal was wiped off due to offside after another VAR review. But Roma knew that if they had a chance going into the 2nd leg against a quality side like Braga they would need to try and grab that second.

The goal finally came with just four minutes remaining but there would still be some controversy and tense moments to have it confirmed. Good work from Jordan Veretout set up Borja Mayoral to slot in an easy chance but VAR called it back for yet another possible offside. After some tense minutes the goal was given and Roma deservedly won the game 2-0. In the end Braga managed just 1 shot on target which was simply not good enough.

So the Europa League game was the good news, but the bad news was that Roma’s league title challenge could be over. The club could only draw 0-0 away to Benevento. The Giallorossi created numerous chances and again were denied a stoppage time penalty by VAR. They deserved the win this time but could only get a point. The end scenes were also chaotic as Benevento coach Filipo Inzaghi was sent off.

Roma are in 4th place with Atalanta and Lazio only one point behind them for a Champions League place. The Giallorossi have also slipped 9 points behind league leaders Inter and have Milan and Juventus in front of them. The league title isn’t quite over for them but realistically it now looks a distant hope and the focus has to be on finishing in a top 4 place.

What do the bookmakers think?

Let’s look at the two competitions that Roma are still in with a chance of winning which of course is Serie A and the Europa League. This is what the bookmakers think of Roma’s chances of winning either competition.

Serie A : 45/1

Europa League: 14/1

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 24 – Late Games

CROTONE-CAGLIARI

Crotone: as expected the Juventus clash proved to be too hard for them to overcome, even though Junior Messias got few shots off and Adam Ounas tried to get something going with his mazing runs. The duo will lead the way again here in a much easier fixture. Messias has bagged seven goals thus far, while Ounas scored on his second appearance with the Squali and will be facing his former team, which did not trust him too much. Samuel Di Carmine has quickly unseated Simy but has not really shined thus far. The coach initially tweaked his system in the past game, but the changes were not that profound. Salvatore Molina returned from a lengthy absence and he was dynamic early in the season (one goal, four assists). Milos Vulic has not made the stat-sheet but he has been very busy over the last couple of matches and could be due. Left-back Arkadiusz Reca (one goal, three helpers) has been one of their most consistent players. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 24 – Early Matches

SPEZIA-PARMA

Spezia: they laid a big and weird egg versus Fiorentina, probably because they were praised too much following the great win against Milan. After a longer wait than expected, this should be indeed the game where M’Bala Nzola returns from his ankle injury. Kevin Agudelo has been a nuisance for opposing defenders as a false-nine, but he has not scored, while the Frenchman has been a star with nine goals in 13 appearances and so he is on the radar even if he is used only off the bench. Emmanuel Gyasi (two goals, four assists) has been serviceable so far, and so have been Diego Farias (three goals) and Riccardo Saponara, although the latter has yet to pick up bonus points. Tommaso Pobega must be dealing with an injury because he has not played in some time: his back-ups Nahuel Estevez and Leo Sena are not on the same level offensively, while Giulio Maggiore is more interesting and recently hit the net. Simone Bastoni (one goal, four assists) is back from suspension and he has been a force down the left flank. Continue reading

Lautaro Martinez the hero as Inter beat rivals Milan to go 4 points clear at the top of Serie A

What a moment this is for Inter who were already on top of Serie A before they played their city rivals Milan in the derby. But after a fantastic and dominating 3-0 victory over the Rossonieri they are now 4 points clear at the top and the clear favourites to win their first Scudetto in 11 years.

Lautaro Martinez who has perhaps played second fiddle but also teamed up so well with his strike partner Romelu Lukaku was brilliant. The 23 year old Argentinian rose to the huge occasion in style and scored the opening two goals. Martinez now has 13 goals this season.

Milan’s form has been in trouble for the last few weeks where they haven’t looked as dominant as they were before and the writing looked on the wall at San Siro as Inter took the lead after just 5 minutes. Lukaku lobbed the ball well and his clever pass found the head of Martinez who made no mistakes to put Inter in front.

There were good chances  for both clubs in the first half and apart from the goal one could say that this was an equal half. Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not have agreed with that though and the Swede did have a couple of good chances to grab a goal back for the designated home side.

If Milan thought they were in the game because the half time score was only 1-0 then a poor 10 minute spell in the second sealed the clubs fate. It was Martinez again just before the hour mark. He received a ball from Ivan Perisic and Martinez at close range was in the right place at the right time to double Inter’s lead.

At this point Milan were still in shock when Lukaku, Inter’s top goalscorer, made it 3-0 after a mazy run. Lukaku who has called this season his best yet as a footballer was absolutely delighted. If Inter were going to beat Milan and confirm their greatest you get the feeling that Lukaku wanted to score in that game.

Much was said of course about the teams last meeting when Lukaku and Ibrahimovic clashed. Thankfully there would be no repeat of that but Lukaku did his speaking on the pitch and he will be very satisfied with that.

In fairness Milan didn’t play too bad and created many chances in the second half but those two quick goals killed off the game for them. Their title chances aren’t over yet of course and it will only take a slip up from Inter to let them back in. Juventus will also have a chance to win their 10th league title as they watch from the wings. It is sure to be an exciting finish this season, but for now with 15 games left to play Inter has taken control of the league.

Inter coach Antonio Conte was full of praise for his team and very proud after the game. He said: “My players deserve the praise it was a well-prepared game they were the absolute protagonists on the pitch. It was a nice game, it was a derby with a lot of pressure because both teams are up there in the table. I’m happy because we prepared the game well. We were good to make the most of the opportunities against a strong team.”

Inter will play Genoa next and although they will be the favourites to win the game, that is the type of fixture that could be a banana skin. What is sure about this season is that it is looking like it will be one of the best in years with 3 teams able to challenge for the title.

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Why this seasons Champions League has been tarnished

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected the world like something we could never have imagined and of course this means that football has suffered as a result too. Players being tested twice a week and no fans at grounds for almost a year bar in very rare instances it has been an odd time for the game we all love.

The biggest European competitions have been affected too, especially the Champions League. And this season the most elite club competition of them all feels like it has been tarnished, and simply feels very unfair.

Let’s explain.

The games affected have all involved English teams, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. Some EU countries have said that persons from England cannot travel to Germany and Spain because of the new variant, which means in effect that the football clubs cannot travel to these countries to play their first legs.

This in itself is a real head scratcher given that players and coaches are tested twice a week and they will be the only personnel entering the countries. We are not talking about fans being present, so one has to wonder where the problem lies? Of course the other side of the argument would be, why would football players be given special access and not members of the public?

So for English clubs playing in Europe their first leg matches were directed to Budapest, Hungary. But this is wholly unfair on the likes of Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach. It is unfair because the 2nd legs will all take place in England at the respective clubs grounds. What happens in that instant is the most elite competition loses its integrity and gamesmanship- and no sport should be losing either of those.

Of course there will be arguments against and that at the end of the day it is not the clubs fault that England are allowing German and Spanish nationals into the country and it isn’t like this in the opposite direction. But it is unfair on the clubs.

Some will say that Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City will give up their home advantage anyway because the 12th man- the fans- will not be allowed to attend the games. But hang on one second. What about the extra travel time for the away sides having to arrange drives to the airport and planes, hotels etc. What about the familiarity of the home teams ground, players have a connection to that even without the fans. When Atletico visit Chelsea they are not in Madrid anymore.

It is odd to think that UEFA have not stepped in. If English based players cannot play in Germany and Spain then there is nothing wrong with playing in Budapest as a neutral venue. But why not also have the 2nd legs take place in the country too. Why change and have one team have an advantage by playing in their backyard so to speak, even if the advantage is decreased by a lack of fans, there is still some there.

Fans of the clubs will care little of course, and probably won’t see the argument either. But surely if you’re in love with the game and value fairness within it, this way of playing this seasons Champions League could feel like the soul just got ripped out of it.

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