How Man City’s path to Champions League glory could look

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Manchester City play the second leg of their 2019-20 Champions League Round of 16 tie against Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on Friday night.

The English Premier League side lead 2-1 from the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium all the way back in February, thanks to late goals from Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne.

City dominated the game and victory was the least they deserved. However, Real Madrid have been a whole new beast since the restart. Zinedine Zidane’s side won their first 10 La Liga matches after the restart to wrap up the Spanish La Liga title for only the second time since 2012. During this run, Zidane’s side conceded just four goals, scoring 19. They will need to score at least twice at the Etihad Stadium.

Many pundits and fans alike still expect Manchester City to progress from this tie and into the quarter-finals from where the remainder of the tournament will be completed in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon.

Provided City progress, their quarter-final will be against either Lyon or Juventus on Saturday 15 August. The second leg of that Round of 16 tie takes place the same tie as Manchester City-Real Madrid, with the French side leading 1-0 from the first leg.

However, tomorrow’s match will be only Lyon’s second competitive outing since the French Ligue 1 was suspended all the way back in March. They were beaten in the French League Cup final on penalties by Paris Saint-Germain a week ago. Whereas Maurizio Sarri’s side have just completed the 2019-20 Serie A campaign, winning their ninth consecutive title.

Notable results for the Italian giants since the restart including a 4-2 defeat at AC Milan in which they were 2-0 up, and a 2-2 draw versus Atalanta in which they fought back twice courtesy of a penalty each time. Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t hit his usual heights this season, relying on a large number of penalties to make his goal tally look impressive.

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Man City could have a very different look next season

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Manchester City have made a statement of intent at the start of August with the signings of Nathan Ake and Ferran Torres as the 2019-20 Premier League runners-up look to regain their title next season.

Pep Guardiola’s side finished 18 points behind runaway champions Liverpool, with the title race all but over weeks before the coronavirus disruption back in March.

The Citizens have already landed centre-back Nathan Ake in a £40 million deal from relegated Bournemouth, and exciting right winger Ferran Torres from Valencia.

City have been linked to a number of other players too and are expected to do a lot more business before the start of the new season in September.

A new left-back is expected to arrive between now and then with Benjamin Mendy injured for the majority of the past two seasons and winger Oleksandr Zinchenko having to fill in on several occasions.

Nathan Ake may not be the only central defender that arrives at the Etihad this summer either. City are strongly being linked with Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly even after signing the former Chelsea youngster.

Ake himself is a signing City supporters will have wanted 12 months ago after they declined to find a replacement for the departing Vincent Kompany last summer. Both John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi failed to impress the manager this past season and both could be moved on as a result. Veteran midfielder Fernandinho has often been chosen to partner Aymeric Laporte over the past 12 months.

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Newcastle takeover collapses and the fans are now demanding why

Yet another Newcastle takeover has collapsed, but this one feels different. Usually when a takeover doesn’t work out the Magpies fans moan about it on forums, grunt and move on.

Knowing that they are stuck with current owner Mike Ashley yet again (as is widely known Newcastle fans have very little love for Ashley throughout the years). But after the latest takeover bid ended and the Saudi consortium pulled out fans have gone that one step further. They organised a petition and have now got an impressive 75,000 signatures wanting to know the ins and outs as to why their club wasn’t sold this summer.

The Newcastle trust of fans have sent pleas to the FA about why such a deal that looked like it was going through for the past 17 weeks has collapsed. They have even sent a letter to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

It’s refreshing to see fans want some clarification. One wonders what has happened behind the scenes. The Saudi takeover was always going to be open to investigation by the FA. This is a normal process to see if the new owners are proper and fit and not investing money illegally. No one but the FA at this stage know why the deal has collapsed, so the petition is a step in the right direction. What is also interesting is that Newcastle’s former player and a much respected one from the 1990s Rob Lee has also got involved adding his weight to proceedings.

Current owner Mike Ashley has faced years of verbal abuse over his running of the club, from the managers that he has brought in, not spending enough money for the size of the club and even at one point changing the name of the infamous ground from St.James’ Park to the Sports Direct Arena. Sports Direct is his company outside of football.The name change at least didn’t last.

It has been reported that Ashley who has usually been very stubborn about selling the club really wants out this time. He has even been in touch with the consortium since the collapse and is hopeful that a deal could be revived. This would make sense given that the club are up for sale for around £300m.

One person who may have been quietly happy about a non sale is current manager Steve Bruce. Bruce has done well in his debut season in the dug out, and the fear for him would be new owners, new manager, especially as the owners were going to bring a lot of money to the table.

This story clearly isn’t over. But with just over a month until the new Premier League season starts fans and Ashley will want a conclusion.

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After his first season with Manchester United is Harry Maguire really worth £80m?

There was heaps of pressure put on England international Harry Maguire when he joined Manchester United at the beginning of last season for £80m. For one that figure broke the world transfer record for a defender. For two you could have been forgiven for thinking that the star defenders over Europe were looking at the transfer and thinking Harry who?

Of course Maguire by the transfer had put in some brilliant performances for both Leicester City and England where he had broken into the national team. But Maguire had not been seen in Europe due to not playing in either the Champions League or Europa League, so the transfer seemed like a scratch your head moment.

However those in the Premier League knew of Maguire’s strengths, and sometimes it’s not the overall quality that you have that counts in the league but the experience you have. Imagine for example taking a world class defender from Serie A and pitting them in the Premier League- they may get to grips with the pace of the league after a while, but already having that experience you hit the ground running. This is what United were buying and then of course there is always going to be a premium price when your new signing is an England international.

One of the other negative points about breaking transfer records was that Maguire hadn’t justified his price tag, no matter if he had put in some reliable and solid games with club and country. How does one justify spending £80m on a player who has won zero trophies? The problem lies in the fact that the player has no winning experience, still age is on his side. At 27 and in his position he could well have 10 years at the top of the game where he will be hoping to become a legend at Old Trafford.

How has his debut season fared then with the red devils? Maguire started decent enough but did make a few errors as the winter months kicked in. However at the turn of the year he really started to find his rhythm on the pitch and formed an excellent partnership with Victor Lindelof.

Do you have Maguire in your fantasy team? If so you will be interested to note that he came out on top of all the defenders in the side gaining 52 points. He only scored 1 league goal this season but that isn’t so important, it’s not his job to bang in the goals, though he would have liked to have created some and he didn’t. However he did help the club to 13 clean sheets when he played.

Ultimately then after a shaky start Maguire looks to have had a solid season with the club and that isn’t easy with such a step up to a club like United and what it means. He has helped them into a 3rd place finish and that will mean Champions League football for next season which should further enhance his reputation.

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Aston Villa try to fend off Man Utd’s interest in Grealish

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish has been strongly linked with a move to Manchester United all season, with the record champions of England expected to make an offer this summer.

The 24-year-old has been with the West Midlands club since he was six years old and played both an influential role in their promotion back to the Premier League in 2019 and then scored the goal against West Ham United that kept Aston Villa’s top flight status on the final day of the season last month.

Their 1-1 draw away to West Ham United meant Bournemouth were relegated by one point, whilst Villa had collected eight points from their final four games to pull off a great escape.

Grealish has the talent to boss games in the middle of the park and also be a goalscoring threat when deployed down the left wing, as Dean Smith did on several occasions this past season.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would likely see the leader as a central midfielder to partner up with Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes next season, should they be successful in making a move for him this summer.

Grealish scored eight goals on top of his six assists in 36 Premier League appearances this past season, whilst also winning the most free kicks in the division, breaking up the opposition’s possession and adding an energy to Dean Smith’s midfield that proved to be just enough to keep his side up.

There’s no doubt playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world and in next season’s Champions League would be a great attraction for the midfielder.

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Why Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane are England’s best strikers in a generation

Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy has finished the Premier League season as top goalscorer notching 23 goals. This is the first time that Vardy has earned the reward despite constantly banging in goals for the Foxes for a good few seasons now. Not even when Leicester won the league in 2016 was he able to finish on top of the pile. The man who stopped him was Harry Kane for Tottenham who claimed 25 goals that season.

Vardy’s success story is still extraordinary given that a decade ago he was playing non league football and rose through the ranks to not only play for Leicester but win the league with them, score plenty of goals and play in the Champions League- Hollywood would be hard pressed to have come up with that success story.

Vardy is 33 and still has a good few seasons left in him. He is a goal scoring machine that there is little doubt and he has scored 61 goals in the league for Leicester in his last 106 games. He just has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and can read the game so well. It’s true that some fans and pundits will never see him as world class because despite winning the league he isn’t playing for one of the top 4 clubs, but yet again he has proven his worth to Leicester this season. There is little doubt that when Vardy decides to leave the club, he will go as a legend.

This season Harry Kane blew hot and cold but the cold spells were mostly due to him picking up injuries. Still Kane who is England’s number 1 striker for the international team presently was able to score 18 goals he also assisted in a further 2, and all of this was achieved by playing 29 games, that’s an impressive return by all accounts.

Kane simply didn’t have enough games under him to be top scorer this season, but it is something that he has achieved on 2 previous occasions in 2016 and 2017 where he netted a combined 54 goals.

In Vardy winning the top goalscorer award this season he became the first Englishman to do so since Kane. And here is a fact, the only Englishmen to finish top of the goalscoring charts in the past 19 years are Vardy and Kane. Not even Wayne Rooney was able to achieve that. Still in his hey day he had to complete with world class players such as Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Still it is something to be celebrated especially for Vardy, who sometimes takes unfair criticism. It’s not another official piece of silverware for his club, but it is another personal badge of honour for the player.

Did you have either Kane or Vardy in your fantasy team this season? If not you might want to consider them in a months time when the Premier League kicks off the 2020/21 season. The official date is September 12th and you can check out the stats and all you need to know at the link below.

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Is Aubameyang bigger than Arsenal as the Gunners beat Chelsea in FA Cup final?

All of a sudden Arsenal seem back. After a poor season which saw Unai Emery sacked before Christmas and former player Mikel Arteta brought into the dug out it seemed like Arsenal would be waiting a long time for any type of silverware. However they have ended the season by winning the FA Cup against the odds.

Arsenal came from a goal down to beat Chelsea 2-1 to lift their 14th FA Cup which is a record. Indeed Arsenal have won 4 cups in the last decade and their name is becoming part of the cup itself- just go ahead and put red and white ribbons on permanently why don’t you?

A burning desire and their name to be scripted onto the cup seemed to come when they upset Manchester City at the semi-final stage. Arteta had changed up the system and even David Luiz was playing with confidence. This was the first glimpse that under Arteta Arsenal could end up being a force to be reckoned with.

In the final it was going to be incredibly difficult given that the last time Arsenal had faced Chelsea in a cup final was in the 2019 Europa League showpiece where Chelsea simply outplayed the Gunners as the game went on and ended up running out 4-1 winners. Sure Eden Hazard who is now at Real Madrid orchestrated the win but still that game surely had to be playing on some of the minds of the players?

Maybe then it was to no surprise that Chelsea took a 5th minute lead through Christian Pulisic who has been outstanding this season for the Blues. With 56 points earned this season the American international was the 3rd best player for Frank Lampard’s team.

Chelsea started brightly but couldn’t find a 2nd and there was just that feeling creeping in that they were not putting this game to bed. With under 30 minutes played Arsenal were awarded a stone wall penalty and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who else? stepped up to take and convert it and the game was back on.

Whilst the 2nd half had it’s lull periods Arsenal were looking more and more of a threat, how much difference from their second half performance in the Europa League. Chelsea hoped for extra time but the Gunners could sense blood and Aubameyang got his brace and the match winner with just 3 minutes left to play.

True Chelsea will feel that Mateo Kovacic’s sending off was harsh, though he was already on a yellow card. It’s unfortunate though that VAR perhaps isn’t used in the big decisions like this, because on this occasion the referee looked to have got it wrong. It’s also worth pointing out that Kovacic has racked up 8 yellow cards this season from just 14 starts in the league.

This cup win feels like a turning point for Arsenal though because finishing 8th in the league represents their worst season in a generation. Arteta has said the win was his most important of his career, now he will be hoping that his statement won’t hold true in a decades time.

The last word has to go to Aubameyang. He has scored 22 league goals this season and assisted in a further 3, meaning that he has contributed to almost 50% of Arsenal’s league goals. He has been phenomenal, the one truly world class player in the side that can change a defeat into a draw and a draw into a win.

Aubameyang stands above as the lead man in this Gunners side and the club will be hoping that he will sign a new contract and stay with the club. They most likely have little chance of that happening if Barcelona or Real Madrid come knocking but given how teams have had to step back somewhat following the pandemic maybe that call won’t happen and maybe Aubameyang will realise that at Arsenal he is the king of the hill, at another club that might not to be the case.

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Kevin De Bruyne finishes season at the top

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Manchester City ended the season on a high with a cruising 5-0 thumping of relegated Norwich City at the Etihad Stadium.

Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring, whilst Kevin De Bruyne scored a goal at the end of each half, either side of goals from Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez against the hapless Canaries.

The brace saw the Belgian star end the campaign with 13 goals and 20 assists, collecting the most fantasy points among English Premier League players.

De Bruyne was back to his best this past season after missing half of 2018-19 through injury. His first on Sunday was a sumptuous 20-yard strike across goal into the top corner of Tim Krul’s goal. He had earlier been heavily involved in the buildup to Jesus’ opener.

The midfielder’s second goal of the game, Manchester City’s final of their Premier League campaign, was a first time effort in off the post after Mahrez’s blocked effort fell kindly into KDB’s path.

However, three points in the final game and Kevin De Bruyne’s exceptional performance throughout the season weren’t enough to help City retain their Premier League title as Liverpool ran away with the championship, finishing an incredible 18 points above Pep Guardiola’s runners-up.

Kevin De Bruyne ended the fantasy Premier League season with 206 points – 14 ahead of runner-up Trent Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool had five of the top seven players in the final standings, whilst the next City player on the list was Riyad Mahrez down in 12th.

Manchester City will be back in action on Friday 7 August for the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Real Madrid. The Premier League side were 2-1 winners in the first leg in the Spanish capital back in February.

Real Madrid were resurgent following the restart, winning their first 10 games to clinch the 2019-20 La Liga title before drawing their season finale with nothing at stake. Zinedine Zidane’s side conceded just four goals during that 10-game winning streak. However, they were facing the likes of Eibar, Mallorca and Espanyol… not Manchester City.

Kevin De Bruyne and teammates certainly have the beating of this Real Madrid side, as they showed in the first leg. Manchester City created numerous chances before finally scoring twice in the final quarter-of-an-hour.

Despite Real Madrid’s recent impressive defensive record, it’s nothing for City to fear. They themselves scored 21 goals in their final five Premier League matches, winning each of them.

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Arsenal vs Chelsea: FA Cup final preview

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Arsenal and Chelsea will contest the 2019-20 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Both London teams defied the odds in beating Manchester City and Manchester United in the semi-finals to setup an all-London affair in the final.

Chelsea wrapped up a Champions League finish on Sunday by beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 at Stamford Bridge to finish fourth. This proved to be a rather impressive debut season for Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge considering the transfer embargo the club was under.

If the former Derby County manager and Chelsea playing legend can take home a piece of silverware on Sunday it will go a long way to proving the doubters wrong after he was appointed last summer.

To reach the final, Chelsea had been on top of Manchester United in the last round prior to Olivier Giroud‘s opener in the 11th minute of first-half stoppage time. The Blues doubled their lead immediately after the restart when David de Gea spilled Mason Mount’s long-range effort into his own net. They went on to win 3-1 in the end.

Meanwhile, the Gunners were 2-0 winners over City with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring 20 minutes into the game and 20 minutes from the end, despite Mikel Arteta’s side only seeing 30% of the possession.

The Spaniard has been in charge of the North London club even shorter than this weekend’s opponent as he was only appointed back in December following the dismissal of Unai Emery.

Arsenal had initially made a shaky start once the season resumed before beating Wolves 2-0 and Liverpool 2-1 prior to their impressive FA Cup performance.

They will be looking to win a record 13th FA Cup on Sunday, though the bookmakers have Chelsea as the narrow favourites.

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Moyes gets midfielder Tomas Soucek on permanent deal

After spending six months playing for West Ham on loan from Slavia Prague, Tomas Soucek has completed a four-year, £19m deal with the Hammers.

After arriving from his native Czech Republic, the 25-year-old defensive midfielder played 13 games for West Ham, scoring three goals, one of them in the win against Watford, three matches before the end of the season, when the David Moyes’ team secured their Premier League status for another year.

The two time Czech Player of the Year won the trust of the Moyes with both his defensive and attacking qualities, a strong physical presence and an eye for goal. Although the loan was Soucek’s first experience outside his home country, he was quick to adapt to English football and made a big impact in east London.

His versatility and enthusiasm was crucial after the Premier league restarted, when West Ham were on the cusp of relegation with only 27 points, the same as Watford and Bournemouth who are now Championship-bound. Since then Soucek has showed his full potential while also gaining interest from numerous of teams around Europe.

David Moyes expects the Czech to be one of the biggest assets for the Hammers in the upcoming season. With his 6ft 4in frame and energetic box-to-box game, Soucek provides something for Moyes that others in his squad lack, and team may well be adjusted to suit his skillset.

“I’m delighted that Tomas has signed his permanent contract to secure his long-term future at the Club. When I came in, we talked about needing another midfield player, to help Declan Rice and Mark Noble, and I think he’s been a really good fit for us. He’s a terrific lad with very good physical capabilities. He has scored some really important goals for us, against Chelsea, Newcastle and Watford. We’re glad he’s going to be a West Ham player for a good period to come”, said Moyes.

Soucek started his football dream as a six-year-old in a small club in his native Havlíckuv Brod. The club that is currently playing in the Czech Republics’ fourth division recognised his talent and potential. before letting him move on to the most successful Czech team, Slavia Prague. The owners of Havlíckuv Brod also put a clause in the contract demanding a percentage of any future transfer of Soucek from Slavia. Six years later, they will collect £1.4m on the back of this transfer.