Real Madrid might regret allowing Mariano Diaz to leave… again

As far as underwhelming replacements go, Real Madrid’s signing of Mariano Diaz as their number seven following the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo was right up there with Manchester United handing Michael Owen the same number after the exit of the Portuguese forward nine years previously.

Of course, Mariano was never really meant to replace Ronaldo. He wasn’t even meant to be a first team figure upon his return to the Santiago Bernabeu just one year after leaving for Lyon. The Spaniard was signed to ease Real Madrid’s dependence on Karim Benzema and to provide the Frenchman with some competition for his place.

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There were good reasons to believe Mariano could do this. He’d just enjoyed a highly successful season with Lyon, proving to many that he could handle the pressures of playing first team football. Opportunities, however, were few and far between for Mariano last season, with the striker now reportedly on his way out of Real Madrid again.

Arsenal have been mentioned as potential suitors. A loan to another Spanish Liga club has also been mooted. Either way, it seems likely that Mariano will once again leave Real Madrid by the close of the summer transfer window. Zinedine Zidane, it seems, has made his mind up on the player.

Real Madrid might regret allowing Mariano to leave… again. They might have splurged a lot of money on signing Luka Jovic from Eintracht Frankfurt, they might still have Benzema and now Eden Hazard to provide additional goal threat from the wings, but depth will still be required in the attacking third, especially if players are to leave the Santiago Bernabeu between now and the start of the new season.

Marco Asensio, Isco, Lucas Vazquez and Gareth Bale could all be sold this summer, with Real Madrid keen to get rid of some of their deadwood. This is necessary, but cutting away too much could leave them thin in the attacking ranks. Mariano could be one of the players worth keeping around.

Look at the options Barcelona have across the frontline. They have Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele and Malcom. On top of this, the Catalans are expected to complete deals for both Antoine Griezmann and Neymar this summer, giving them the strongest attack, not just in Spain, but in Europe.

Real Madrid are in the midst of a squad overhaul. Players have already come and gone and there will be more change before the close of the transfer window. Mariano will likely find himself caught up in this, but Real Madrid should consider whether allowing the striker to leave might see them repeat a mistake.

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Laurent Koscielny problem is the last thing Arsenal needed

It is fair to say that Arsenal have not had the most straightforward of summers so far. Defeat by Chelsea in the Europa League final and a failure to finish in the top four in the Premier League last term did not only deny the Gunners Champions League football in 2019/20, but it also further restricted their transfer budget ahead of next season. The fact that Aaron Ramsey’s contract had expired by the time of his official move to Juventus means that the north Londoners were unable to recoup any funds to lessen the blow of losing their star midfielder, while the chances of getting Mesut Ozil’s sizeable wages off the payroll are slim to nil.

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The Big four in the Premier League have been quiet in the transfer market

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The summer transfer window in the Premier League has been open since May 16th and in that time 7 weeks there hasn’t actually been that much activity between the top 4 clubs who finished in those places in the Premier League. The ones where you expect them to break the bank and make massive signings just like they have in the past.

Is FFP to blame? Or is it a case of the teams are simply not finding the right players at the right prices to try and compete? There haven’t been too many eye catching transfers in Europe either although the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool both aiming to dominate football and be the best would have risen an eyebrow to the highly talented Joao Felix signing for Atletico Madrid a few days ago. So the money is there or thereabouts but where is the quality this summer?

Of course the window does not shut yet but in England it has changed. Years ago the window used to close on August 31st even though the league had in all of those cases already started. The window now closes just before the league starts and that has been the new given rule in England. So it will close on August 8th. That is just 31 days away, and that goes very quickly, will we see more big deals go through or is that it?

Champions Manchester City who have spent close to £500m since Pep Guardiola became manager have brought in just two players. Angelino from PSV and their big one Rodri from Atletico Madrid. Angelino cost just over £5m but much is expected of Rodri who cost the club £63m. Give or take City have spent about £75m this summer on players, a lot of money but not nearly as much as City would usually spend.

Premier League runners up Liverpool have been very quiet buying just one player, Sepp van den Berg from PEC Zwolle for just over £1m and it will be questionable if the player gets games in the league and he may be only used for the league cup. So manager Jurgen Klopp is keeping his chequebook closed but at the same time Liverpool do have a very strong team and he will be happy with what he has.

Chelsea managed 3rd place in the end in the league but unlucky for them they currently have a transfer ban from UEFA. It is something that the club are appealing but with days running out anyway it looks almost certain that the Blues will not be buying or be able to buy any new players this summer.

That leaves us with Tottenham. A team who went the past two transfer windows not buying anyone. Young prospect Jack Clarke has come from Leeds for just £10m but the big purchase has been for Lyon’s Tanguy Ndombele who cost the club in the region of £55m, though that may rise.

All in all the big four clubs who finished in the top four last season have spent a combined £140m on players so far. Even taking into account Chelsea’s transfer ban this is a very low figure when you think of the TV deals that the clubs have been able to broker. We could also be fair and include Arsenal who finished 5th in place of Chelsea who can’t buy players.Yet even if we do this the Gunners have only spent £6m, with one player coming in on a free transfer.

Is the bubble finally bursting in the world’s most expensive league or should we remain more patient as the window closes by each passing day- either way we will find out soon enough.

Wilfired Zaha doesn’t need Arsenal and Arsenal doesn’t need Wilfried Zaha

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It has been a week when Crystal Palace have suffered losing Aaron Wan Bissaka to Manchester United and the Eagles could well lose their forward Wilfried Zaha who is eyeing a move to Arsenal, but are the Gunners really the right club for him, and do Arsenal need him?

As is normal Arsenal will not budge on their valuation of the player and will pay no more than £40m for his services. For  player that has never scored more than 10 goals in any given league campaign they are probably right not to want to pay the 50-60m that Palace are asking for. At the same time Zaha does come with years of Premier League experience and transfers have gone gung-ho. If Arsenal really do want Zaha, surely a club of their stature are not going to break the bank to pay 10m more?

The problem with Arsenal and their tight purse strings has not left the club with Arsene Wenger and this latest situation only highlights the facts that their tight stance on club spending comes from within the board. The difference is that Wenger was happy to go along with it- but is Unai Emery?

And do Arsenal really need Zaha when they have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, an outstanding striker when he decides to play. There is also back up in Alexandre Lacazette, so Zaha’s signing seems a little odd.

As for Zaha, he wants to play for Arsenal obviously a step up in his career but will he really get the games that he wants or will he be the sort of player that plays in the Carabao Cup and makes Premier League appearances from the bench?

 

Is Zaha being a little short sighted to just move a few miles to Arsenal- he will be buoyed by the fact that it worked for Ian Wright who became a club legend for Arsenal, but nobody is expecting Zaha to suddenly score 20 goals a season for the Gunners.

Arsenal’s ambitions have gone down in recent years, has it come to this- signing a 26 year old player who has proven experience but not proven goals? Ask the fans and they would rather want Nicolas Pepe of Lille, the young player that is scoring goals for fun in Ligue 1 and is being highly talked about. But a player of Pepe’s stature would cost upwards of £100m, and Arsenal who are just getting used to spending half of that aren’t going into that ball park figure anytime soon.

Zaha would be better to move on to a different club or even stay at Palace where he would most probably get more games. His game isn’t going to improve significantly enough not at his age, and the whole possible transfer makes very little sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should Arsenal break the bank to sign Wilfried Zaha this summer?

Crystal Palace, it is fair to say, have not been happy with Arsenal’s behaviour in recent days. The Gunners’ offer of £40m for Wilfried Zaha was dismissed out of hand by the Eagles, who consider the bid derisory and have privately accused their London rivals of deliberately trying to unsettle their star man.

Palace have made it clear that they value their academy product at closer to £80m, and they were further incensed by Arsenal’s proposal to split the fee into five yearly instalments. Roy Hodgson’s side went into the summer pledging not to sell both Zaha and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who joined Manchester United in a £50m deal last week. As things stand, then, a move would appear unlikely.

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Did Pep Guardiola really show Brazil great Ronaldinho the back door at Barcelona?

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A story has emerged which claims that Pep Guardiola sold on both Ronaldinho and Deco at Barcelona because he allegedly thought they were bad influences on the up and coming Lionel Messi, could this be a true story?

Where did the story start? Well it has come from an ex Barcelona and Arsenal player Alexander Hleb who has come out with the claim 13 years after it happened.

Hleb said: “Ronaldinho and Deco came to training drunk that’s why Ronaldinho and Deco were sold in 2008. Because Barcelona were afraid that they would bring down Lionel Messi.”

At that time in the mid to late 2000s both Ronaldinho and Deco were seen as great players of their generation, especially Ronaldinho who was seen as the player who lifted Barcelona up again after their started the decade miserably. Under the brilliant Brazilian Barcelona regained their swagger and confidence and Ronaldinho quickly turned into a legend for the club, winning titles, including the 2006 Champions League and scoring some of the most outrageous goals for the club.

However it has also been claimed that Ronaldinho liked to throw his hair down and like some other Brazilian players before him relax when not playing football. Could it really be that Pep Guardiola could see this and did it really happen?

On one side there is no reason for Hleb to lie and make up a story from 2008, if we consider it to be true then it only emphasises how great Guardiola believed that Messi would be even at 21. The vision was already there from the club that the Argentine player would be with them for over 10 years and everything would have to be built around him, and that is the way it has turned out. Again if true then Guardiola did the right thing, but that is an incredibly brave move to make, less so for Deco who could turn it on sometimes but more so for Ronaldinho who genuinely was a superstar.

But Guardiola knew that Messi was going to be a triple superstar- and sacrifices were needed. It is an interesting story by Hleb given the fact that big name players have left the back door of Barcelona quietly shuffled on in the past- Romario and Rivaldo before Ronaldinho as an example.

One telling fact is that neither Guardiola, Deco or Ronaldinho have come out and spoken in defence of what Hleb has said.

One thing is sure if Guardiola did want to protect Messi then he did a great job of it.

 

Top Premier League Goalkeepers in 2018/19: Jordan Pickford

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England’s number 1 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was able to play some pivotal moments in Everton’s up and down season which saw the Mersey siders finish the season strong after a slow and poor start could have caused an early exit for new manager Marco Silva.

All eyes were on Pickford to see if he could ‘earn’ Everton some valuable points and he ended up keeping 14 clean sheets, 2 better than Hugo Llroris who finished above him in the rankings.

Pickford’s season started out as a nightmare as he saw Everton not only struggle for points but also kept conceding goals and it meant than in his first six games he had yet to earn a point and in fact was on -10 points.

Pickford’s first points of the season didn’t actually come until the end of September, when at Goodison Park, the Toffees were able to beat Fulham 3-0 thus earning Pickford 7 points for his clean sheet.

The Everton keeper’s best period of the season started in mid March and ran through to the beginning of May where from 7 league games he kept 6 clean sheets and Everton found a new belief, finishing the season strong and beating the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. Indeed the club beat United 4-0 and that was seen as one of the biggest surprises of the season and a wake up call for them.

Pickford was also involved in the 0-0 game against Liverpool. This is a match that Everton fans will remember for some time given that it was the last time that Jurgen Klopp’s team dropped points during the season and thus, in theory, Everton stopped Liverpool from winning the league, something that Pickford and the club and fans would be very happy about given the rivalry between the sides.

Pickford wasn’t without criticism this season and that is a given. Simply put because he is England’s number 1 there will always be the spotlight on him. His worst match came against Tottenham just before Christmas where Everton, at home, were thrashed by Mauricio Pochettino’s side 6-2 in an embarrassing game for the Toffees who certainly came unstuck and as a result Pickford earned -10 points. Indeed had Pickford never experienced that game he would have finished 3rd in the rankings.

The conclusion was that Pickford finished 5th and 19th overall for goalkeepers in Europe. He finished with a points total of 53, this is his best of his career so far and he will be looking to impress next season with England manager Gareth Southgate watching on as Euro 2020 gears up.

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From Real Madrid to PSG- Are major European clubs ignoring the special one Jose Mourinho?

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Jose Mourinho has been out of a job since being sacked as Manchester United manager back in December and while he is adamant that he will be back coaching soon, it doesn’t seem that way at all. One could, with all validity wonder if the same European super clubs have had enough of the special one?

One huge telling point was when Mourinho was linked with a return back to Real Madrid. And it almost made sense given how poor the club had been under Santiago Solari. True Solari could not be wholly blamed for Madrid’s chaotic season but his name simply did not scream ‘big enough’ for the club. Madrid were not getting the desired results and Mourinho was out of a job.

There was talk and then a feeling that Florentino Perez the Real Madrid president would go back to Mourinho. It’s true that his style the first time around did not seem to fit the club, but with Mourinho comes trophies- there have always been trophies before the inevitable meltdown. But this time Madrid passed and before you could say French football legend- Zinedine Zidane was back at the same club he had walked out on the summer before. Mourinho had been ignored.

There was talk he could go back to Portugal and coach Porto where the glory all started. But Mourinho himself dismissed this idea. Then there was the Bayern Munich link but despite Novak Kovac’s up and down season in his debut one for the club, Bayern did win the league and he doesn’t look like he will be going anywhere.

The links continued- how about PSG? The job would surely have been the perfect fit for Mourinho who would have had a bottomless pit of money to buy whoever he wants. But PSG turned round and gave current coach Thomas Tuchel a new 3 year deal.

Once Juventus had parted ways with Massimo Allegri this seemed to open up the door for Mourinho to seamlessly join the biggest and best club in Italy where he would be reunited with Cristiano Ronaldo. But Juventus appointed Maurizio Sarri instead.

So now we arrive at a point where all of the vacancies at the big clubs have long but gone. It just makes that question even more intriguing- where will Mourinho go next?

That club could be Newcastle United, a club that never would have been linked with Mourinho even six months ago. The change is that the Magpies might be taken over and a cash injection that much to rival PSG could be on the cards, with the club seeing a major overhaul.

All of this could sound ideal for Mourinho apart from the fact that even when clubs get taken over and are thrown pots of money at them it takes time to adapt and become used to winning league titles- it did for Manchester City. For Chelsea it was quicker, but then again by that point Arsenal were fading in the mid 2000s and Chelsea’s only legit rival was Manchester United.

Now the Premier League is incredibly hard to win and next season it should be a two way tussle between Manchester City and Liverpool. As for Mourinho if he does join Newcastle, will he be around to see the club reap the benefits, before his 3rd season syndrome kicks in?

Football is a party and for now it feels like Mourinho does not have an invitation.

Why UEFA should build a super stadium for major events

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It’s been a busy and interesting last few days for UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin who called English clubs ‘mad’ because Chelsea and Arsenal had complained that the Europa League final was in Azerbaijan and Ceferin had many good points to his argument. At the same time it is estimated that only 10,000 fans of both clubs witnessed the game live and one wonders if UEFA needs to change the format of the final?

Ceferin himself admitted that future Champions League finals need to be played at only 4 or 5 rotating venues around Europe, but is happy for the Europa League final to be played anywhere that has a capacity of more than 50,000.

For Europe’s premier prize it is thought that a stadium like Atletico Madrid’s Wanda was in fact too small at 67,000. And Ceferin rightly pointed out that more tickets would have been sold had the final been at Wembley Stadium for example. There is also the Bernabeu in Madrid and Nou Camp and if Ceferin gets his way we should expect these stadiums to be on the short list for future Champions League finals.

But here’s the thing- why don’t UEFA build their own purpose stadium, perhaps in Switzerland? A stadium that is simply the largest in the world- we’re talking between 150,000-200,000 capacity. It would be quite a job but it would also be possible in this day and age and with the technology we have.

One could see Ceferin’s frustration when he admitted that 980,000 fans had applied for a Champions League ticket. This was the tickets released on general sale. With so many applying less than 3% ended up being successful. In other words the chances for general football fans to witness a Champions League final is almost non-existent. Why not cut in those odds and sell more tickets?

Of course countries love to host the final but having it always in Switzerland makes sense if we have such a mega stadium. Switzerland is basically like the middle ground of Europe and easily accessible for fans. Over time the stadium would get a legendary reputation as the stadium that every professional footballer would want to play in.

As for getting costs back, other events such as concerts could take place there, Swiss expos, conventions, perhaps even the Europa League final and maybe the semi-finals of the Champions League too. UEFA could have shops and a UEFA museum attached to the stadium with exclusive hotels to boot. What UEFA would be doing is in affect stamping their name on the heart of football by creating a super stadium for super final games.

In the current climate the finals are evidently not working and genuine fans of clubs are being left out in the cold. Time for a mega stadium to happen.

 

Empoli Trio Set for Big Moves

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Despite being relegated to Serie B in heart-breaking fashion, Empoli’s roster contained many up and coming talents. Following their relegation many Serie A side are looking to claim their best players on the cheap.

Just last week, Napoli signed Giovanni Di Lorenzo – who had his best season yet, scoring five goals and registering three assists – while Empoli’s underrated midfield trio has since been dismantled.

Today, it was reported that Juventus signed Hamed Traore for 12 million euros and will loan him out immediately to Sassuolo. Fiorentina reportedly signed him in the January transfer window, but forgot to deposit his contract with the league. Juventus took full advantage of their mistake, and snapped up the midfielder immediately.

The 19-year-old had a phenomenal season under Aurelio Andreazzoli, and established himself as one of the league’s most enticing midfield prospects. Equally capable of defending as he is attacking, Traore looks to be a complete midfielder, and will undoubtedly make the move to Juventus in the near future if he keeps developing.

At Sassuolo, Traore finds himself in an ideal situation and will play under yet another progressive manager in Roberto De Zerbi. As a result, expect Traore to continue his progression next season.

Outside of Traore, Rade Krunic also made the move to one of Italy’s elite. Milan signed the Bosnian midfielder for 8 million euros, and will reunite with his former manager Marco Giampaolo. While Krunic isn’t exactly the big-money move Milan fans wanted in the midfield, he will offer some much needed depth and creativity to the side. Capable of playing as a mezz’ala or behind the striker, if need be, Krunic will get plenty of minutes to prove himself.

In his 33 appearances this season, the midfielder scored five goals – two of which were wonder-strikes against Sassuolo and SPAL. Other than his ability to find the back of the net, the former Empoli midfielder registered seven assists, highlighting his directness and ability to pick a defence apart at will. At just 25 years old, and given he’s already familiar with Giampaolo, expect Krunic to only improve from here, and make the most of his move to Milan.

Ismael Bennacer, on the other hand, is still at the club for the time being, but it’s only a matter of time before the midfielder leaves. Currently, Genoa are favourites for his signature, however, it’s important to note that Arsenal hold the right to match any accepted offer. In the past, a number of English and French clubs have been linked with the Algerian midfielder, therefore don’t rule out foreign interference yet.

Playing at the base of the midfield, Bennacer dictated tempo at will for Empoli. His five assists are but one indicator of his immense talent, and range of passing. While signing with Genoa would represent a lateral move, it’s only a matter of time before the 21-year-old makes the leap to a big club. In addition, reuniting with Andreazzoli, would give him a sense of familiarity he’ll need to keep developing.

With Krunic and Traore already gone, it hasn’t taken long for Empoli to cash in on their talents. As the summer transfer window rolls on, expect the Tuscan-based outfit to continue profiting on their scouting exploits.

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