Virgil Van Dijk becoming the world’s best defender

Virgil Van Dijk Liverpool

Few central defenders keep Robert Lewandowski completely quiet. There’s even fewer who do it in the manner in which Virgil van Dijk did on Wednesday.

Rio Ferdinand may think otherwise, but the evidence has become compelling, Van Dijk is the best central defender in world football. The giant Dutchman is yet to put a foot wrong since arriving at Anfield for a world-record fee.

Plenty raised their eyebrows when Liverpool paid £75 million for his services, questioning whether he was actually good enough to warrant such a fee. The doubts were raised as a result of his nondescript performances for Southampton in the months leading up to the move. Continue reading

Bayern result shows Liverpool focus is on the Premier League

Liverpool Manchester United Bayern Munich Premier League Champions League

It’s been a while since Liverpool had to choose between the Premier League and the Champions League. With the top four the best they could hope for in recent years, the latter took precedence.

For a club with as rich a history in Europe as the Reds, it made sense. A run to the Europa League final in 2016 provided cherished memories for fans that had been starved of anything special for several years.

The run to the Champions League final last season did the same. Thrilling wins over the likes of Manchester City and Roma are still talked about. They were exciting occasions that sit among Liverpool’s best nights in Europe.  Continue reading

Defensive crisis drags down Liverpool title challenge

jurgen-klopp-liverpool-southampton_3368627

As 2018 came to an end, Liverpool would have been very happy indeed. Champions League heartbreak aside they had enjoyed a very good year. Having matched Manchester City toe to toe across 2018 they entered 2019 top of the Premier League table and four points ahead of the champions.

Adding Virgil Van Dijk in the January transfer window and Alisson Becker in the summer had transformed the once weak Reds backline into a formidable outfit. 12 of their 21 games before the turn of the year had seen them keep clean sheets. They had conceded just ten goals in that period, the best in the league. Manchester City were their closest competitors with a tally of 17 conceded.

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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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EPL Best XI – Mo Salah stars again

Roberto Firmino Mo Salah

The third weekend of the 2018-19 Premier League season saw Liverpool, Chelsea and Watford continue their winning starts to the new campaign, while Manchester City were held to a 1-1 draw by newly promoted Wolves. But which players stood out to make the EPL Best XI of the Weekend?

GK: Alisson, Liverpool – seven points
With three clean sheets from three matches, Alisson couldn’t have had a better start to life as Liverpool goalkeeper. The Brazilian picked up seven points this weekend, taking his tally for the season to a very impressive 21 points.

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How Ambitious are Roma this Season?

Roma have not really positioned themselves as a threat on the domestic front. However, victory against Torino over the weekend and their famous run to the semi-final of the Champions League last season, should remind them of their ability and provide some optimism as the season ages.

Prior to the commencement of the league, AS Roma Coach Francesco Eusebio stated that “This year I want to stay above the Milanese clubs, even though I know that Inter have had a very strong transfer market, we can be stronger than last season. We have no limits as to how well we could do and we will do our talking on the pitch. We will fight to go as far as we can possibly go.” It’s fair to say comments like this, inherently limits the aspirations of the club and the ambitions of the players.

However the sale of the Brazilian goalkeeper Alison Becker to Liverpool and midfield dynamo Radja Niangolan to Inter Milan suggest AS Roma are still in the business of wheeling out their most refined stars to the big sharks in Serie A and Europe for large sums to balance the books. It was so with Mo Salah last season. Perhaps Eusebio was looking at things from a realistic point of view. That they lack the financial muscle and confidence to leap over Napoli not alone topple Juventus at the top. That they’re not yet at the level of the some of the European heavyweights.

Despite losing the aforementioned, the Rome club look quite a different proposition this season. They’ve added to their creative options by signing Javier Pastora from PGS and Justin Kluivert from Ajax Amsterdam whiles the arrival of French World Cup winner Steven Nzonzi from Sevilla to fill the void left by the Nainggolan will win more admiration for transfer director Monchi as a great business. Nzonzi may not possess the warrior like character of the Belgian, but his calm imposing presence when in possession can ensure AS Roma do not easily concede play in midfield.

The Gialorossi should be confident in a midfield trio of Kevin Strootman, Steven Nzonzi and Javier Pastore to compete against any team in Serie A.

After losing out to Barcelona on the chase for Brazilian forward Malcom, Roma will once again rely heavily on their most dependable striker Edin Dzeko to provide goals this season. The Bosnian continued his knack for scoring spectacular goal over the weekend when he finished off a superb cross from Justin Kluivert with an exquisite left foot volley. Dzeko’s hold up play and the ability to strike with both feet is second to none in Serie A and it’s no surprise the club is offering him a raise to €5 million per season and an extra year of contract. The 32 year Old’s contract currently expires in June 2020.

Edin Dzeko celebrate one of his spectacular goals

Edin Dzeko celebrate one of his spectacular goals

Last year, we saw glimpses of what young Turkish right winger Cengiz Ünder could do in attack, but a lot is still expected from him if Roma will are going to be lethal up front. Stephan El Sharaawy

could be very important to what they do in attack as he can operate on both wings. There are many who still believe the young Pharaoh has only scratched a surface of his potential hence the need for more playing time to really bring out the best in him.

AS Roma’s Achilles heel could be in defense especially the man between the sticks. The fear is that, Robin Olsen, may not provide the reflexes that Allison provided last season. Coupled with that, the back four has a tendency to switch off so there must be evidence of improvement at the back. It is also a well-known fact that Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus are notoriously inconsistent.

There were times last season when AS Roma appeared too cagey, especially in games against the top teams. It was only when Eusebio men showed a sense of believing and took the game to their opponents that earned them victory. Their 4-2 win over Napoli at the San Paolo was testament of what this team is capable of.

Eusebio Di Francesco showed last season that he can map up a strategy to upstage some of Europe’s big guns at the Olympico, so a lot of Roma fans await what plan he has in his tactical tray this season.  Despite their fêted victory over Barcelona and securing Champions League qualification, few believe the former AS Roma midfielder is the right man to lead them.

For AS Roma to upset the current order in Serie A, it’s important for Eusebio to build a winning culture by instilling believe in his players to have confidence in themselves. The Gialorossi can use last season performances as a springboard to kick on this season.

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Beating Crystal Palace showed Liverpool’s title credentials

Van Dijk

It was almost fateful that Liverpool would show their title credentials in the place where their last run for the Premier League title came crashing down.

Selhurst Park holds bad memories for the Reds. It is the place where Brendan Rodgers’ team collapsed in such epic fashion to hand the title to Manchester City. Later dubbed Crystanbul it marked the beginning of the end for Rodgers and the need for drastic change at the club.

In giving up a three-goal lead, his side showed all the reasons why they were not worthy of being champions that season. They entertained but lacked the ability to control games or deal with pressure. Time and time again that year they had shown these failings, sometimes escaping but sometimes not. This was a painful example of the latter. Continue reading

EPL Weekend Picks – Round 3

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Time now to look ahead at this weekend’s Premier League action, and see which players will be worth keeping a keen eye on. Some of these players will be included based on their fine form so far this season, while others maybe have an opportunity to get their season going after perhaps a stuttering start. We will be playing a 4-4-2 this week.

Goalkeeper – Alisson Becker (Liverpool)
The former world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Alisson  is now the only custodian yet to concede a goal this season. He has a solid defence in front of him, but the visit of Brighton – who beat Man Utd last weekend – will be another testing fixture.

Defender – Steve Cook (Bournemouth)
Former Brighton defender Cook has impressed so far this season, with the Cherries having only conceded one goal in their opening two games. Everton are this weekend’s guests, and so fans will be after a real confidence-boosting performance.

Defender - Cédric Soares (Southampton)
Soares  has had a dodgy time of things last weekend against Everton, being booked as Saints conceded two. This weekend sees Leicester arrive at St. Mary’s, and while that is a tough game it is one Mark Hughes’ men must look towards to get something. 

Defender – Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)
The Spaniard’s improved valuation of 8.5m (over last season’s 2.5m) means he will likely not be picked by as many fantasy league managers this term, but having earned five points from each of Chelsea’s first two games he seems in fine fettle.

Defender - José Holebas (Watford)
Holebas’ season started with a bang as he provided both assits in the Hornet’s 2-0 win over Brighton, but he was almost anonymous in their 3-1 win at Burnley a week later. They welcome Crystal Palace to Vicarage Road this weekend.

Midfielder – Roberto Pereyra (Watford)
The second Watford player in a row, Pereyra’s story is much like that of team-mate Holebas. 10 points on the opening weekend had people waxing lyrical, but a quiet game against Burnley dampened things. He too will want something from the Palace game.

Midfielder – Paul Pogba (Man Utd)
The Frenchman will be after a good performance and result when United take on Tottenham at Old Trafford on Monday night. Pogba was vocal about his disappointment with the Red Devils’ performance against Brighton, and should lead by example here.

Midfielder – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Arsenal)
Arsenal midfielder Mkhitaryan  will want to be the engine to get the Gunners moving this season after defeat in their opening two games. Those two were horrific first fixtures admittedly, but Unai Emery will want the likes of the Armenian to produce the goods.

Midfielder - Rúben Neves (Wolves)
Neves was vital in Wolves’ opening day draw with Everton, but failed to do anything of note when they were beaten at Leicester a week later. Wolves welcome champions Man City to Molineux this weekend, giving the Portuguese star a chance to shine.

Attacker – Sergio Aguero (Man City)
The Argentinian striker hit a hattrick in the Citizens’ 6-1 win over Huddersfield last weekend, and all eyes will be on whether Aguero can replicate that clinical finishing at Wolves.

Attacker - Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Kane finally ended his August hoodoo with his goal against Fulham last weekend, and may well feel the match at Old Trafford against Man Utd on Monday evening could be the perfect platform to really get up and running this season.

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Everton plan bumper contract for Pickford amid Chelsea talk

pickford2Everton are said to be preparing a bumper new contract for former Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, as they seek to fend off interest from Chelsea for the 24-year-old. Pickford enjoyed a wonderful World Cup for England at this summer’s tournament in Russia, and so inevitable links away from Merseyside have arisen for one of the nation’s newest treasures. The Stamford Bridge outfit are looking around for candidates to potentially replace Real Madrid-bound Thibaut Courtois, and Pickford is high on the list of targets on new manager Maurizio Sarri’s radar. The Toffees, then, have had to compile a large pay rise in the hopes of keeping Pickford between the sticks rather than have to seek a replacement.

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Best Goalkeeper of the Week – Alisson Becker (Brazil)

becker

With the group stages of the Russia 2018 World Cup now firmly in the history books and the round of 16 having begun in earnest, let’s take a look at which goalkeeper has been the best over the past few days. There have been some notable performances of course – Jordan Pickford‘s outing for England against Belgium brought some harsh criticism despite the fact that Belgium’s goal, scored by former Sunderland team-mate Adnan Januzaj, was a belter. Otherwise the Everton stopper had a solid game as usual. Kasper Schmeichel had a great game for Denmark even though the former European champions crashed out at the hands of Croatia, and Hyun-Woo Cho deserves credit as South Korea kept a clean sheet against world champions Germany to send them home.

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