Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez needs to return to Arsenal or leave the Premier League

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Despite the odd good game for Manchester United it is fair to say that Alexis Sanchez will never be remembered as one of the Old Trafford greats and even though he has only been at the club for one season perhaps it is the right time to quit the club.

United are good, Sanchez is good but for whatever reason the two entities just don’t fit. When Jose Mourinho bought Sanchez from Arsenal last summer it was seen as a fantastic deal. Because Sanchez was far and away Arsenal’s best player of the past few seasons. It seemed almost bizarre in fact that Arsenal would sell to a Premier League rival but sell they did.

Once at United Sanchez just didn’t perform most blamed Mourinho’s tactics and let’s be honest the whole team were not performing. But what has been surprising is that Sanchez has not picked up his form under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite the rest of the squad doing so.

Even Solskjaer has admitted that there isn’t anything they can do with the player- but he will give him time and has commented that the player is a quality one who needs to find himself. The truth is that Sanchez does not seem happy at United and has simply not settled into life up in Manchester- it happens and perhaps the Chilean should not be too harshly judged about it.

Could he return to Arsenal? There were rumours that he wanted to play for Manchester City, but he has become the shadow of the player that everyone knew and it is unlikely now that City manager Guardiola would go for his signature. But at Arsenal as long as Unai Emery wanted him, he would be welcomed back. It was clearly an environment that Sanchez enjoyed and revelled in, but of course everyone needs to be on the same page for that to happen.

Otherwise perhaps the simple solution for Sanchez would be to leave the Premier League- maybe a return to Spain is on the cards? It just might be a culture that suits Sanchez more anyway. Although a return to Barcelona does not seem possible, but Sanchez is still good enough to play for any of the top six sides in La Liga.

Sanchez is a quality player that there is no doubt, but has there been a more unhappier high profile Premier League player of  the past six months?

From Hazard to Dybala and possibly Neymar Real Madrid need to buy big next season

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By their incredible standards Real Madrid have looked their most fragile and normal for the first time in a good decade. It has been a season of transition for the club who came into this season without Ronaldo and with Zinedine Zidane resigning. It has felt a little empty for a side who have won the last 3 Champions League trophies.

Let’s be honest something has felt off about the club, where was the mega signings? Because look around and you will see that Florentino Perez is still around, he who invented the original galacticos and made sure that Madrid kept signing the very best players- sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t- yes we all remember Thomas Gravesen.

This season was clearly a breather- so much had happened in such a short space of time at Madrid then everyone needed it. And yet the club find themselves just 6 points behind league leaders Barcelona, are in the semi finals of the Copa del Rey, have won the World Club Cup and have one foot in the quarter finals of the Champions League- things really are not that bad at the club, are they?

Madrid though will be having a summer of upheaval, there is no secret about that. Coach Santiago Solari is only staying if he is able to win a trophy and the Copa del Rey may not be enough for  a side who are used to winning bigger trophies. But it is the players that the club will be bringing in which is raising the most eyebrows.

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Madrid have been flirting with each other ever since the World Cup ended last summer and Hazard has made no secret of where he would like to play next season. With his current club Chelsea looking like they might hit a meltdown under current coach Maurizio Sarri, Hazard may just be able to find the perfect excuse to leave. He is very much expected to leave what ever happens at Chelsea.

Paulo Dybala is another leading candidate to join Los Blancos, it what would be seen as more of a shock move after his successful career at Juventus, but Dybala the class player that he is should be able to fit into Madrid with few problems.

Then there is the real shock move which could happen this summer- the transfer of Neymar from PSG- could it really happen? Neymar would be gold for Madrid and a big loss for PSG. But what about the Barcelona fans? Last time a big name player switched clubs- Luis Figo from Barcelona to Real Madrid fans started a riot ending with a pigs head on the pitch.

Neymar would be the key for Madrid going forward, although Hazard may see Neymar as a threat as he wants to be the shining light at the club- One thing is for certain, this summer will be an incredibly interesting one at the circus that is Real Madrid.

 

Lille and Lyon to fight it out for 2nd place in Ligue 1 as PSG go clear

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The Ligue 1 title is heading back to PSG, that is a certainty as the club have shot into a 10 point lead at the top. Not only that but the current French champions have 2 games in hand of 2nd place. This league is done and dusted and there is nothing to see here, well almost nothing.

Not many pundits and fans would have expected Lille who have been threatened with relegation in recent years to be in 2nd place, but that is where they are. Yes the league has gone but 2nd place means qualifying directly to the Champions League which would be a fantastic achievement for the club.

Lille have been nothing short of spectacular this season in France. Their consistency has been champion material it’s just unfortunate for them that PSG have been able to build such a strong team at the same time.

Lille have won 15 games this season from 24 and at home they have lost just one game all season. The good news for the club is that there is only one other realistic team that can catch them and that is Lyon. The other good news is that Lyon lost 1-0 to Nice last weekend which means that Lille has opened up a 6 point gap to 3rd place. Could playing in the Champions League really be a reality for the club next season?

Ligue 1 really has become a little boring this season with PSG running away with the title and that is why so much focus has gone on to 2nd and 3rd place. After all it is Lyon who are usually the team right up there and being France’s next best team. Not so this season and it is the common man and fan that would love to see Lille pip Lyon to that 2nd place- for Lille it would feel like they have won the league, make no mistake in that.

And Lille have some great players too- most notably Nicolas Pepe, who has scored some great and important goals this season and he is tipped to make a big name in Europe and World football as his career progresses. He is certainly checking all of the right boxes for Lille.

For Lille to finish 2nd it could all come down to May 4th, that is when they will play a potentially massive game against Lyon which could decide both clubs fate this season. The catch for Lille is that Lyon will be at home.

This little battle has become the most interesting in Ligue 1 this season.

Real Madrid fans are wrong to turn on Gareth Bale

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If any player deserves myth status at Real Madrid currently than you could do no more wrong in suggesting that accolade should go to Gareth Bale. But it seems that every time Bale makes an error it is this the fans are remembering him for and not his greatness as a player.

Let’s be blunt, Bale has become the best ever British import- he has joined Real Madrid, competed in a side with Cristiano Ronaldo, scored countless goals- most of them important ones and most of them awe inspiring and has won so many trophies that it is easy to lose count of them all. But for some reason that doesn’t matter diddly to Madrid fans.

Madrid’s fans have always been very hard to please. Especially if you are a player of flair- even Ronaldo has been booed at the club before, and if he can be then anyone can. But these are fans that probably wish the likes of Roy Keane had played for the club. The harder you are the more loyal you are etc etc.

It’s not that the fans do not like Bale, and any of them would have to admit he has been one of the best foreign players the club have had in their last 25 years, but they won’t let things lie down. So when Bale missed a sitter against Atletico Madrid that was brought to the forefront so much so that Spanish daily reported on it, is Bale in crisis at Madrid moment? What was bizarre is that Bale scored in that game and Madrid won 3-1, which has consequently brought them  back into the league.

But this is Madrid fans in a nutshell, they did the same to another British player-who scored important goals and won 2 Champions Leagues, Steve McManaman. Now the ex Liverpool player is welcomed back at the Bernabeu with open arms and you get the feeling that once Bale leaves the club and the years go on and retirement comes, Bale will be seen as a very important figure at the club. Surely that was cemented last summer when he came off the bench in the Champions League final and scored an incredible bicycle kick against Liverpool- and let’s be honest it was his involvement in the game that ended up winning Real Madrid their 3rd consecutive Champions League title.

Madrid fans will never change- but they need to show Bale a little bit more respect- after all he is the best player they have at the moment.

Can Napoli threaten Juventus in Serie A this season?

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Juventus are in their usual spot of 1st place in Serie A as they go after an incredible 8th Scudetto in a row, no other team has won Serie A since Milan did so in 2011 and it has been a decade of utter dominance by the Old Lady.

Any team hoping that the good times were going to fizzle out for Juve were greatly let down when they signed Cristiano Ronaldo for 100m euros last summer. Together with an already world class squad Ronaldo has helped them back to the top of the league and is currently the leading goal scorer in his debut season in Italy. Everything is like a dream for Juventus at this moment, and then there is Napoli…..

The team from Naples have not won the league since 1990 when a certain Diego Maradona helped them to the title with his greatness and goals. Those days are long gone, but Napoli of the last 10 years have been a very impressive team. Take for example that they have finished runner up to Juventus in the 2010s on 3 different occasions and have at times really tried to push the Turin club. The problem is that Napoli keep losing the title and are being seen as the pretenders each season.

This one looks like ending the same, but Napoli yet again in 2nd place have not given up hope. Currently they have 52 points and are 11 points behind. They have messed up in recent weeks as they drew against both AC Milan and Fiorentina, but is there a way back for the side?

One way could be that Juventus get tied up in the Champions League. They have only won the competition twice in their history in 1985 and 1996, and have been a runner up 2 times from the last 4 competitions. It is the one trophy they are looking for this season and let’s face it it is the reason they signed Ronaldo in the first place, a player that has just won 3 of what they want in a row. Now could be the time.

So from Napoli’s perspective if Juventus get caught up in the competition inevitably they will focus on it, and should start dropping points. Well that is the theory. Let’s remind ourselves that this Juventus team are still unbeaten and it would take Napoli to win every game remaining of this season to have a chance for the title, that’s winning 15 games in a row.

It isn’t going to happen this season, Napoli have dropped the ball so to speak on too many occasions. But next season could be a real possibility and would also mark 30 years since they last won it.

Wolves have been nothing short of spectacular in the Premier League this season

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Such is the gulf between teams in the Premier League now that it has been referred in the past to a three leagues in one. First you have the elite six teams who always seem to sprint away from the middle pack and create their very own league. From about 13th place to 20th you have the bottom clubs and even if you are near the top half there is every chance of getting sucked down to the bottom three.

And then there is a very important pack, the middle one which ranges from 7th-12th. These are the teams that are well capable of upsetting the teams at the top end and in effect influencing the league. These teams have been managed well, through budgets and players brought in and genuinely have quality managers. Put it this way if you are a manager of one of these clubs and you have an off season and get sacked, your next job will still be in the Premier League, you simply became an established member of the world’s most hyperbole and yet utterly fascinating league.

The only thing that honestly separates the teams is budgets. The top six might be able to spend £100m and upwards, these teams it’s more realistic to strike around the 50-60m mark.

With all of that said here comes the unofficial Premier League ‘real’ leaders, who will reside in 7th- they are the so called best of the rest and that accolade as we roar through February and into the home straight in the league goes to Wolverhampton Wanderers, or simply known as Wolves.

Under Nino Espirito Santos Wolves have been a revelation this season. They started the season brightly becoming a real force to be reckoned with. First they stopped Everton in their tracks with a 2-2 draw at Molineux and they improved on their home form by also forcing champions Manchester City into a 1-1 draw.

They took a point away to Manchester United and before you knew it Santos was picking up manager of the month. All was good before Wolves hit a slump, and it seemed that the club had simply gone through a honeymoon period with their new coach.

But their strength in character really showed and they have been back on form for the past few months. They have lost just 2 games in their past seven and have climbed deservedly so to 7th place, playing attack minded football and making games very difficult for their opponents.

Now they find themselves in 7th and 11 points from 6th and Chelsea who have hit a wall. Could Santos’ team rally on and even threaten that place? Watford are the only team at this moment who are near to the club and these two teams have really been able to punch above their weight this season.

However Wolves remain the leader of the pack and don’t look like they will be tamed anytime soon.

 

Nuno Espirito Santo

Is a top 4 Premier League finish worth more than a cup trophy?

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How football has changed when certain managers and one of them being Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino admitted recently that finishing in a top 4 place was more important than trophies, but is that true? And why has this developed?

Make no mistake there are plenty of other managers who feel the same way about the top 4. The top four at least in England has become important because it is a gateway of course to play in the Champions League. Of course it is in fact the top 3 who automatically qualify for the Champions League. The team who finish 4th have to play in a special play off in order to get into the competition proper. But English teams have always achieved that.

It does seem rather odd though that some teams would prefer a top 4 place and not an FA Cup or League Cup win. For the bigger teams still winning domestic cups is important and let’s not forget that 90% of wins in the FA Cup over the past 25 years have come from the very best teams in England- Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. Sure the teams and players want to jump higher but winning is winning and keeps players in a good mental state.

Other teams who usually finish mid table have been guilty of not playing their strongest sides in the hopes of, what? Rare has it been to see one of these teams finish in a top 4 place. Leicester of course did it in 2016 when they won the league and Everton did it a decade ago, but it still remains a rare feat.

But has football come to when certain teams are not 100% into the domestic cup competitions? It’s not as if there is 10 different trophies up for grabs each season. There are 4, and for the teams outside the top six there is just realistically 2 each season- these teams should be and need to be going for victory all of the time.

Instead teams seem to be saving themselves for a top 4 place and the irony cannot be lost on anyone, because they are trying to qualify simply to be in another cup competition.

Arsenal did it for years, albeit they did win a few FA Cups in Arsene Wenger’s last years but it feels as though the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea might seem happy to act that way too. Surely this is short changing the fans who really do want that day out at Wembley and to experience and win a cup final.

Alas like most things in life it comes down to money, and the Champions League has plenty of it, and of course exposure and TV rights will play its part. But the big clubs have the big budgets and good squads and really should be going for everything once the season kicks off. Making choices and putting all of your eggs in one basket rarely works out.

Pep Guardiola is changing the Premier League for the better

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Pep Guardiola is arguably the best manager in world football and yet he still has his critics but one thing is very sure he is the best man manager out there.

It’s true of course that everywhere Guardiola has been he has had money to spend, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City- although one could argue that at Barcelona he just inherited an insanely fantastic squad of players who ended up being hailed as perhaps the greatest club team of all time, and tika taka as we know it was born.

It would be a mistake just to think that Guardiola throws money at the problem, because as Real Madrid proved throughout the 2000s when they went through their first phase of galactico mania, money doesn’t always buy the best balanced team.

But with Guardiola there is a huge difference. First he identifies the problem areas and then asks for the money, yes he has been lucky to have that privilege but then he knows despite the talents of the incoming player that they will still need proper coaching. Guardiola will never do a Jose Mourinho and have a total meltdown at at football club, it isn’t in his nature and it isn’t in his nature to have a major public falling out with a player.

Guardiola remains a winner and wants to win all trophies his team are entered into. It is why Manchester City currently lead the Premier League, even though Liverpool have arguably been the best side this season and have lost just 1 game. Him and his teams never give up, relentless is a good word to use.

After City beat Chelsea 6-0, Guardiola was most likely beaming inside but he wasn’t letting the press know it. If you had not known the score you could have thought that City had perhaps scrapped to a 1-0 or 2-1 win. This is in his DNA his mentality because a win is just a win. It was also telling to see that Guardiola admitted that his City side are not on the same level as Barcelona when he coached them. For arguments sake he could have said yes, but he refused to say so. Instead he stuck to the truth that City haven’t even won the Champions League yet.

And onto that City are now the favourites to win their first ever European Cup, and yes they have come a long way.

Arsene Wenger has been celebrated in the Premier League as a foreign coach who came in and changed how players saw their fitness and changed diets which spread from Arsenal right through the league. If Wenger was the founder of that in the modern age then Guardiola is the torch bearer. His qualities and professionalism seem to know no boundaries. You can tell when you look into his eyes that he is thinking about City and football 24/7. That is what City bought into when they decided to make Guardiola boss, and now the club are reaping those awards.

Are Barcelona hitting poor form at the wrong time?

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Even before the new Spanish league started Barcelona were installed as favourites. The bookmakers were not silly and realised that too much had changed at Real Madrid for them to compete this season, no Zidane and no Ronaldo meant transition and then Julen Lopetegui was sacked and the best Madrid could muster was Santiago Solari to steer the ship until the end of the season. Madrid looked doomed and Barcelona looked set on to win yet another league title.

And so the title played out that way, at one point just a few months back, Barcelona had gone 10 points clear of Real Madrid, and then February happened.

With 23 games played and 15 more still to go Barcelona are in 1st place but the gap is not just 6 points. Real Madrid have swallowed 40% of that gap up after going their last 5 games in a row unbeaten and winning all of those matches. Of course it’s not as if Barcelona have started to lose games because they haven’t. They have lost just 2 all season. But they have drawn their last two, which in the league can really affect your standing.

First there was the 2-2 draw at home to Valencia and that was followed up by a disappointing 0-0 result away to Athletic Bilbao, where the team including Lionel Messi gave a listless display. That same weekend Real Madrid had just beaten rivals Atletico Madrid in their classic derby by 3-1 which has made all the difference to the league standings. And of course it has been 3 games in total without a win for Barca who also drew 1-1 in their Copa del Rey match with Real Madrid.

The league then is all to play for, even Atletico have a chance as they are just a point behind Real. After that there is no chance for the others. But can Barcelona hold their nerve in what was supposed to be a write off season for Real, who now has a second wind?

Well let’s be honest and say that Barcelona are still in the driving seat. They have the most points, have scored the most goals and have conceded just 23 all season. They are still the team to beat but not many people thought that it would end up being this hard, and they have made heavy weather of it somewhat.

Next weekend they will play 15th place Valladolid at Nou Camp and will be massive favourites to beat a team who have won just 3 games on the road all season and won none of their last four matches away from home. Meanwhile Real Madrid will be trying to keep up the chase when they take on Girona at home, both will be expected to win and one could well think that this league could go down to the last couple of matches. Watch this space.

Can Gattuso make fallen Serie A giants AC Milan a force once again?

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There seems to be a buzz around the San Siro of late and that is due largely to AC Milan’s out going coach Gennaro Gattuso. Gattuso was always one to stuck on the field and that attitude hasn’t changed a bit as he intends to be outspoken outside of it. But you can only be that self confident and get away with it if you start producing results on the pitch and that is what Gattuso intends to do.

The past few years have been hard on AC Milan who were so used to dominating world football in the 80s and 90s and even in their declining years and the declining years of Serie A which gave up the great footballing names for La Liga in Spain, Milan were a force to be reckoned with. Witness their 2 Champions League titles in 2003 and 2007 as evidence of that.

But soon after the club were having to play in the Europa League and they haven’t won Serie A since 2011. Indeed apart from the Supercoppa Italiano in 2016, the clubs last major trophy was that Serie A title in 2011.

It is difficult to think that Milan who have won the European Cup (Champions League) on 7 different occasions are also rans in the competition now. They don’t even qualify for Europe’s premier competition and yet are one of the most successful teams to have ever competed in it. This is where Gattuso steps in and he wants to change the clubs losing mentality of the past few years and bring with it a new golden generation of players.

Gattuso is seen as a club legend having joined them in 1999 and stayed until 2012 making well over 300 appearances. He also has a lot of respect from the fans since after retiring he made his way up the managerial ranks, first as coach of the other 19 side and then took charge in winter of 2017 after the sacking of Vincenzo Montella.

His current win rate of 47% needs to be improved but he has still won 32 of the 67 games he has been in charge of and has impressed the Milan board so much that his contract has been extended until 2021. Gattuso could well be a success story at Milan, in short he is one of them which goes a long way.

This season Milan will not win the league and they are actually a whopping 24 points behind leaders Juventus. At the same time the club are in 4th place, which would be good enough to qualify for the play offs of the Champions League. But there are 3 clubs chasing them. Their next target is to overtake Inter, their fierce rivals in the league who have a 4 point advantage over them. Do that and Gattuso makes his statement to the club and fans that his team are going places. Next season could get very interesting for the old veterans of football.