Dybala Winner Spares Juventus’ Blushes Once More

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Following their heavy defeat against Atletico Madrid, Juventus travelled to Bologna in hopes of sparking a reaction; a turnaround of sorts. However, nothing of the sort would take place at the Renato Dall’Ara as the bianconeri, much like it has been the case all season, would eek out a narrow victory, somewhat undeservedly maintaining their historic pace. In fact, Allegri’s side are the first team in Italian history to win 22 of their first 25 league games, and yet, Juventus still look a side devoid of any ideas in the final third.

For the first fifteen minutes, the hosts were by far the better side and were unlucky not to find the back of the net on a couple occasions. A midfield trio of Poli, Pulgar and Soriano had quietly dominated the proceedings for the better portion of the first half. After watching his conventional 4-3-3 crumble against Atletico, Allegri implemented a few notable changes in his setup on Sunday. Federico Bernardeschi started the game as a mezz’ala whereas Joao Cancelo was deployed on the right wing.

While these changes are a step in the right direction, Allegri is yet to find a place for his most creative forward Paulo Dybala. When Dybala is in form, so are Juve. Until now, Dybala’s been an awkward fit alongside Ronaldo and Mandzukic, and has yet to reach his former heights in Allegri’s current setup. Against Bologna, the former Palermo man started from the bench and inevitably came on with just over thirty minutes to play.

It would only take La Joya eight minutes before firing Juventus ahead, and securing the three points. With the win, Juventus maintained their lead at the top over Napoli, yet, in reality, all Dybala’s winner did was add further paper over the cracks in Turin. If the Italian giants want to overcome Atletico Madrid and score three goals in the return leg, they will need to do so with Dybala firing on all cylinders. Whether it means Mandzukic starting on the bench or not remains to be seen, however, one thing’s for certain: On March 12, Allegri needs to get it right.

With Bernardeschi starting to pick up form again and Douglas Costa returning from injury shortly, Allegri could field a highly-offensive and mobile 4-4-2 with Dybala and Ronaldo up top. Rather than experimenting with Cancelo on the wing, the Milan tactician should allow the fullback to play in his natural position, where he gets forward to devastating effect. Unlike in Serie A, Allegri can’t get away with overpowering his opposition in Europe and must demonstrate character with his starting eleven.

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From PSG v Manchester United- who will take advantage in the Champions League knock out round of 16?

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This week sees the beginning of the Champions League knock out stages. And as ever there are some genuinely tasty fixtures to look forward to, so let’s take a look at the teams who can take an advantage from the first leg and try and get one foot into the quarter finals.

Tuesday kicks off with a gigantic match when Manchester United play PSG. When this match was drawn out of the hat in December, United would have been running for cover. Under Jose Mourinho the team had become a shadow of their once great self and it was felt that PSG would be just too strong for them. But if a week is a long time in football then 2 months is a lifetime. Mourinho has since been sacked and Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer has come in and still not lost a game after 2 months in charge.

The Norwegian has worked miracles for the club who have gone from 6th to surpass both Chelsea and Arsenal in the league, and just keep winning games. They are arguably favourites to at least win the first leg on what should be a very atmospheric night in Manchester. Since December PSG have finally lost a game and have also lost Neymar to injury. Edinson Cavani could also be a doubt for the first leg. But surely United can win this game: Prediction Manchester United 2-1 PSG

The other game will take place between Roma and Porto and this is a classic match up of teams who only seem to perform when they are at home. We could see a very attacking game with goals but the pick here will be to see the Serie A team get a narrow win. This game much like the United one will be settled only in the second leg. Prediction: Roma 2-1 Porto

On Wednesday the games continue with Ajax v Real Madrid. Ajax lost at the weekend to stay 2nd in the league but of course their thoughts would have turned to this game sometime ago. Ajax used to be a great side but have dipped heavily in recent years, and yet this side look like getting the famous name of Ajax back to their best- there really has been a big shift. We all know about Real Madrid, 3 times winners of this competition in the past three years- an unbelievable feat, but many think that the clubs time is up now. Ajax can get the advantage in this first leg against a Madrid side who have blown hot and cold this season. Prediction: Ajax 3-2 Real Madrid

The final game of this Champions League week will take place between Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund and the English club will need a good start if they are going to get to the last 8 against the Bundesliga leaders. Tottenham have shown some real resilience but there is a question mark over a team who have failed at Wembley time and again against the best teams in the Premier League. This could be a classic game sure to have a few goals in it. A draw could be on the cards. Prediction: Tottenham 2-2 Borussia Dortmund

Niko Kovac’s job looks safe at Bayern Munich after shaky start

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Niko Kovac looked like he was out of his depth for much of this Bundesliga season with German giants Bayern Munich. But the Croatian seems to have turned things around at the club after Bayern went on a five game winning run before the traditional Christmas break in Germany.

In the process after being as low as 5th this season Bayern have roared back and are just six points behind league leaders Borussia Dortmund. The league does not start again until January 18th.

It has been quite a rollercoaster few months for Kovac with the pressure meter constantly at 10, but the club have responded and it is thought that club directors are more than happy with Bayern’s performances. This is bad news for Arsene Wenger, with the former Arsenal manager having been linked to the club. Jose Mourinho was directly linked also after he was sacked from Manchester United last month.

If anything Kovac has bought himself some time and it seems with Champions League qualification also in his back pocket that he won’t be sacked this season at least.

Kovac has had much to say about the campaign claiming that teams around Bayern have improved and this has been a much tougher season than the last one. Kovac said Bayern’s official website. “I feel we’re the Bayern from the start of the season again, that we’ve restored our ease and confidence – and that the lads are fired up to give it everything and put up a fierce fight against Borussia Dortmund. It was a half year with many facets, very emotional, and certainly not boring. We had many good periods but also had to weather difficult ones. However, taken altogether we’re on a good track, and at the end of the day our conclusion to the six months is positive.”

Kovac continued, “Of course we wished for a good start. We worked very hard for it during pre-season. We dominated the matches. The lads wanted to assert themselves after the arrival of a new coach. The performances in training and in matches were correspondingly strong.”

With Bayern pulling three points clear of 3rd place Borussia Monchengladbach it seems that the league has turned into a two horse race and at least it will be an exciting finish in Germany this season. As for Kovac if Bayern do not win the league his job does look like being in the balance, because 2nd just isn’t good enough for a club like Bayern.

Still after a difficult start at least Kovac has won the first round and is looking good to steer Bayern to silverware this season, against for some, all the odds.

Should Bayern Munich make a move for Arsene Wenger?

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You could be forgiven for having to look at the current standings in the German Bundesliga and take a double look and what you see. Bayern Munich, the great Bayern Munich are not in first place, but their not even 2nd or at a push in third. No try 5th place.

It has been a stunning start to this German league campaign for the Bavarians but not for the right reasons. Under new coach Niko Kovac the side are experiencing one of the most difficult seasons in recent memory. They are 9 points behind league leaders Borussia Dortmund and have only won 50% of their games so far in the league and have not won a game for their past 3 encounters.

Kovac is under serious pressure with many fans and pundits believing that he is a good coach but is simply out of his depth at such a club as Bayern. Kovac got the job mostly through leading Eintract Frankfurt to the DFB Pokal Cup last season. He does have a win rate of 63% this season which would be good for most clubs, but with Bayern you have to be aiming for closer to 70%.

So could Kovac lose his job. To be honest it is surprising he hasn’t already. If he was coach at Real Madrid or Barcelona it would be almost certain that he would have. But Bayern have given him the luxury of some time. And yet surely this form can’t go on too much longer without it costing him his job.

There have been rumours circulating that a one Arsene Wenger could take over at the club. Some media are against it, seeing Wenger as a has been and yesterday’s man, but Bayern do have a tendency to bring in older coaches, like Ottmar Hitzfeld and more recently Jupp Heynckes. Bayern see coaches through years of experience and even Kovac had 9 before joining the club.

Wenger himself has spoken out, not directly about Bayern but by saying that he will return to a managerial position and that his hopes are to do so by the beginning of 2019. He seems very adamant on that which is a surprise, does he know something that we do not? Wenger surely would not coach a team that isn’t a recognised top 4 of 3 club in a major league and would love nothing more than to finish his career on a high with trophies. In that respect Bayern and Wenger could be the perfect match.

 

Barcelona do and don’t need Ousmane Dembele

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So the story goes like this, Ousmane Dembele Barcelona’s 100m euro signing missed training. He had a stomach bug and needed to rest at home. The problem just like any other normal job is that Dembele did not call his employers to tell them of his absence immediately and with everyone wondering where he was he finally phoned a reported 90 minutes later. Further more when Barcelona sent their doctor over to Dembele’s house he had dramatically recovered from his bug- Dembele had not only been found out he had also shown his grave immaturity.

Dembele who is just 21 has been criticised this season after his big money move from Borussia Dortmund last year. A move that only came about because Antoine Griezmann rejected Barca’s advances and stayed with Atletico Madrid. The criticism of Dembele on the pitch does seem harsh. One has to be reminded that he is only 21, and has had injuries that have stopped him from having frequent games. He has scored some goals- not enough for a forward but his goals have either been important ones or spectacular ones. And anyway it is clear that Dembele won’t be a 25 goal a man goal scorer, he’s a luxury player that will put in more assists than goals.

The finger has been pointed at Dembele because of the money involved in his transfer fee from Dortmund to Barcelona, which was indeed insane. Dembele at that point considering the market value should have been half of what Barcelona paid to the Bundesliga club. But they believed, he was worth it and went ahead.

Dembele on the pitch despite the critics is doing a calm and calculated job, he’s certainly not the finished product but neither was Lionel Messi at 21. If he is given the time in 2-3 years Dembele could be a solid regular in this side. But that’s if he is still at the Catalan giants.

Respect goes a long way at any huge club, because there are millions of kids not in Dembele’s position who would give everything to be there and who would not have missed training without a valid excuse. It’s a real shame this new state of affairs and it has been reported that Dembele has now been given an ultimatum by the club- any more mishaps and he will be sold.

And Barcelona would do that just, the problem of course is that they will lose a lot of  money on the player who actually has a buyout clause of 400 million euros. That would of course be waived and the reality is that Barcelona would be hard pressed to get 50m for him, a massive loss of around 55m in just 18 months.

Hopefully Dembele can see the error of his ways. For now Barcelona are ready to forgive him and put it down to the stress of being at a high profile club for a 21 year old. The media pressure on Dembele can’t be easy, granted. One hopes that he realises the unique position he is in, if he doesn’t then he deserves to be discarded no matter how good he is on the pitch.

Marco Reus talks Jadon Sancho and Borussia Dortmund’s season

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Borussia Dortmund forward Marco Reus has praised the development of 18-year-old Jadon Sancho and 20-year-old Jacob Bruun Larsen as the Bundesliga leaders look to keep their lead ahead of Saturday’s visit of Augsburg.

Reus spoke to Bundesliga.com following Borussia Dortmund’s 3-0 win against Ligue 1 outfit AS Monaco in the Champions League on Wednesday night after a slow start. Continue reading

Jadon Sancho: The Englishman topping the assists chart

It appears every weekend we’re talking about Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho but there’s a reason for it. The Englishman once again grabbed the headlines in BVB’s 4-2 win against Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday evening after Lucien Favre’s side fought back from two goals down. Just 70 seconds after his introduction in the second-half, Sancho assisted Marco Reus for the important equaliser before Paco Alcacer added two late goals to win it for Dortmund. Continue reading

Bundesliga Fantasy Game Predictions – Round 6

Following the Englisch Woche, the Bundesliga is back underway with some thrilling fixtures.

Hertha Berlin vs Bayern Munich

After a 1-1 draw against Bavaria rivals FC Augsburg, Bayern Munich will want to rectify their mistakes after dropping points for the first time this season. They welcome Hertha Berlin to the Allianz Arena on Friday night with the capital club themselves enjoying their start to the Bundesliga campaign. Three years of steadying the ship, Pal Dardai’s Hertha are finally up in the top half of the table while challenging for European football could be a real possibility this campaign after beating the likes of Schalke and Borussia Monchengladbach. Continue reading

Bundesliga Fantasy Game Predictions – Round 4

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Criticised for being a one team league, the Bundesliga may well be that but there’s no denying it’s one of the most exciting in Europe. With 34 goals across nine league games, round three had it all.

Looking ahead, here’s three important games to keep an eye on this weekend. Continue reading