Game on in the battle for the gloves at Lazio as Pepe Reina provides rare challenge to Thomas Strakosha

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Lazio’s priority in the summer transfer window was clear: to strengthen the overall depth of the squad. 

With the additions of Andreas Pereira, Vedat Muriqi, Mohamed Fares, Gonzalo Escalante, Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro and Wesley Hoedt, coach Simone Inzaghi was handed new options across the park.

But few expected that the signing to make arguably the biggest impact of all come December would be Pepe Reina.

The veteran’s arrival was low key, as you might expect for a 38-year-old reserve goalkeeper. Continue reading

Luis Alberto’s barren run offers Andreas Pereira chance to make his mark at Lazio

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It’s time to address the elephant in the room: something isn’t quite right with Luis Alberto this season.

After Ciro Immobile, the Spaniard has been the most influential player for Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio in recent years.

His output has been phenomenal since he was moved into a central role in 2017/18 following a difficult debut season on the wing.

Since then, he’s scored 26 goals and provided 42 assists in 136 games for the Roman club, ranking him among European football’s most efficient creative midfielders in that period. Continue reading

Improving Inzaghi proves a point as Lazio rotate their way to eight-game unbeaten run

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If anyone deserves a bit of festive cheer, it’s Simone Inzaghi.

It’s remarkable that the Biancocelesti boss has any of those luscious locks left on his head and hasn’t torn them out in frustration by now, because even by the standards of this most unpredictable and disrupted of seasons, he’s had a rough ride.

The 44-year-old came in for some criticism when Serie A returned after lockdown last season, as his side slipped from one point off top to fourth place.

He struggled to effectively rotate his squad and manage the energy levels of his key players as Lazio’s form nosedived.

Continue reading

Introducing Lazio’s unlikely Champions League hero: Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro

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When Lazio’s third goal hit the net against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night to cap a superb return to the Champions League, the fans’ elation was mixed with surprise.

Who would have possibly predicted that the decisive goal of the Biancocelesti’s first group stage match in 13 years would be scored by Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro?

The midfielder himself appeared as stunned as anyone by how events unfolded.

“When I signed for Lazio I didn’t think that I would play straight away, I’d like to thank the coach for this,” he said after the game.

He wasn’t the only one. Akpa Akpro’s arrival from Serie B side Salernitana over the summer fell under the radar, with most fan and media attention understandably being directed towards €20m man Vedat Muriqi, a botched move for David Silva and the failure to upgrade the defence. Continue reading

Dortmund could be perfect for Reinier Jesus’ development

If Reinier Jesus is in any doubt about the value of a loan move to Borussia Dortmund from Real Madrid, the Brazilian playmaker need only look at the success Achraf Hakimi had at the Westfalenstadion. Indeed, the Moroccan was a sensation in the Bundesliga, earning himself a reputation as one of the game’s best young full backs.

What was somewhat surprising was that Real Madrid made the decision to sell Hakimi to Inter after the end of his two-year Dortmund loan. Zinedine Zidane decided he had no need for the Moroccan despite Dani Carvajal’s injury troubles of the last few years, but nonetheless there is no doubting that two years in Germany was hugely beneficial to Hakimi.

Now, it seems likely that Reinier will be making a similar move, with the Brazilian reportedly close to signing for Dortmund on loan. Discussions are still continuing over whether the loan will be for one season or for two, as was the case with Hakimi, but it seems highly likely that the 18-year-old will be in black and yellow for the start of the 2020/21 campaign.

Dortmund could use a player like Reinier. Lucien Favre has a number of top tier attacking talents, with Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho giving them one of the most potent frontlines in European football, but he doesn’t have a central playmaker in the mould of the Brazilian.

Of course, Mario Gotze was capable of playing this role, but left Dortmund at the end of the 2019/20 season. Marco Reus is also someone who can operate through the centre of the pitch, but the German international has suffered dreadfully with injuries over the years. It’s entirely possible, and maybe even likely, he could leave the club at the end of his contract next summer.

Reinier would be joining a club with a proven track record of taking young players and turning them into fully-fledged superstars. Whether or not Real Madrid have a long term plan for the Brazilian, this looks to be the best move for the January signing’s future. He will play in Germany. He will play in one of the best leagues in Europe and also in the Champions League for a team that likes to attack and gives opportunities to young players. This would be ideal for Reinier’s development.

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Could Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland be the next Lionel Messi?

The talk around Erling Haaland has been so electric if as to ignite fire around just how good he is, and his recent transfer to German team Borussia Dortmund has only added to his lure.

Haaland was at it again at the weekend as he scored two goals in Dortmund’s 5-0 win over Union Berlin. Haaland has already scored 7 goals in just 3 league games for the Bundesliga side and has started in the best possible way.

His pace and vision have been exciting and pundits have praised him. In his last 25 games including playing in Austria last season he has scored 35 goals and one has to be reminded that he only 19. In that respect he looks just as exciting and thrilling as he French international Kylian Mbappe.

Talking of Mbappe Dortmund have been drawn to play PSG in the Champions League and the two players will come together in what should be a mouthwatering 2 legged affair. Normally Haaland would have been cup tied coming to Dortmund in January but UEFA changed the winter transfer rules last summer allowing a further three players to be eligible to be included in a Champions League squad.

Everyone is in agreement that Haaland could be the future star of football and that means he is going to be compared to the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. In fact with these two greats getting older the next generation needs to come along and Haaland alongside Mbappe are looking like the players to do just that.

The Norwegian national side will also be excited and if they beat Serbia in the qualifiers they could face a play off game to qualify for Euro 2020. Could it be that one day Haaland leads out Norway into a major tournament final just like Ronaldo did for Portugal? Who knows.

The first objective for Haaland will be the Bundesliga title. Bayern Munich have returned to the top displacing RB Leipzig and they have 42 points. Leipzig have 41 and Dortmund are very close behind on 39. Dortmund have been in superb form and have won their last 3 games in a row scoring an incredible 15 goals in those three games. Bayern’s biggest threat looks like being their old rival Dortmund who they beat of course in the 2013 Champions League final. Could Haaland be the final key in Dortmund’s quest for a first league title since 2012, Bayern are going for their 8th in a row.

Haaland has been so impressive already that if he scored 2 more goals he will already be joint 4th in the top goalscorers this season. The brilliant veteran Robert Lewandowski holds first again with 22. All eyes will be on German football now, well at least it would have peaked the interest of some football fans who will want to follow Haaland’s progress.

 

 

Were Bayern Munich justified in sacking Kovac?

With the dust settling and the anger and frustrations dissipated somewhat the question remains were Bayern Munich justified in sacking Niko Kovac?

Kovac was sacked at the beginning of the month after Bayern lost 5-1 at Eintract Frankfurt. This is a result that Bayern were simply not used too and it was a terrible one, but was there too much knee jerk reaction to it? After all even in defeat Bayern were just 4 points from the top of the league.

Partly the problem seems to have been the clubs position at the time which took them down to 4th. Fourth place and Bayern have a bad relationship the two simply do not go hand in hand. Let’s face it Bayern have not really trusted Kovac either. Had an experienced coach been in charge of the club that position would have been looked on back and forth to the manager, Bayern would have swallowed some pride and got on with it. In sacking Kovac who has little experience the decision would have been a much easier one.

When Kovac was sacked Bayern had won 50% of their games and lost 2 matches. The damning fact for the club was that they had won 18 points from a possible 30, continue that trend and the club would be lucky to qualify for the Champions League.

Since Kovac was sacked Bayern have won 2 games in the Champions League and Bundesliga under Hans-Dieter Flick. The most impressive was beating rivals Borussia Dortmund 4-0. That could well tell us that Kovac had lost the dressing room, if so then Bayern had little choice but to sack him.

The problem though is what were Bayern expecting when they recruited him? And it seemed from the beginning that the moment Kovac had put pen to paper and signed his contract it was the moment that Bayern woke up and thought what have we done?

Kovac’s first season did look like it would turn into a nightmare but he got fully into his job and turned it around and Bayern won the league and the cup double and he became the first person in Germany to win the double as a player and then as a coach. His win rate of 69% was also excellent.

And yet here we are and Kovac is out at Bayern after such a glorious time. All in all Kovac’s sacking seems like a very harsh decision, but at the very top of the game that is how it is now. His full time replacement may not even be needed until next summer as Flick is doing such a fine job. As for Kovac he needs to chin up because he has a bright future ahead of him.

 

Liverpool and Chelsea are shot down in Champions League openers

The Champions League is back and the premier competition in European football wasn’t without its surprises.

First Liverpool, and the current European champions were beaten 2-0 by Italians Napoli, signalling a poor start from Jurgen Klopp’s team in their title defence. The biggest worry for Klopp will be that his side always looked second best and credit to Napoli who played brillantly and made the unstoppable looking Reds side look very normal in this competition.

Still write Liverpool off at your peril, everyone knows how strong they are at Anfield and with the likes of Red Bull Salzburg and Genk in their group they should be more than fine. However notice needs to be given to Salzburg who smashed Genk 6-2. They had scored five of those goals in the first half. Also Napoli do not travel historically well and so this group is still obtainable for Liverpool.

The more disappointing result of the night for English teams would have been Chelsea, who at Stamford Bridge, lost 1-0 to Valencia. In years gone by this type of fixture would have been won a canter for the Blues, and problems still persist with the club with Frank Lampard in charge. They are playing some good football of course but not getting the results desired.

Chelsea could face an uphill struggle now with the likes of Ajax and Lille also in their group. Ajax who so impressed last season beat Lille 3-0 even though they have lost the core of what made them a great side, it is clear that their objectives will be to at least get to the knockout rounds.

Barcelona drew against Borussia Dortmund with the final score ending 0-0, but Barca will be more than happy with that at a very difficult ground. This is multiplied when we consider that ter Stegen saved a penalty from Dortmund and that Lionel Messi finally returned this season. The Argentine came off the bench in the 2nd half and Barcelona will be very happy about this development with La Liga looming at the weekend.

Inter Milan were very lucky to draw 1-1 with Slavia Prague. A last minute injury time goal by Nicolo Barella sealed a point at San Siro, a defeat would have been a big shock for the Italians.

Whilst it is just the first games of the competition there is a feeling that this edition could be wide open. Could a non big traditional team win it? The last one to do so was arguably Porto in 2004, still one has to remember that they one of the biggest teams in Portugal and had won the competition before in 1987. Another club that won it and shocked was Borussia Dortmund back in 1997. Maybe 2020 could see a change from the usual teams getting to the final and winning it?

Liverpool should hijack Dortmund’s Thorgan Hazard deal

There’s just something about the name, it seems. In a summer set to be defined, in transfer market terms, by Eden Hazard and his expected move to Real Madrid from Chelsea, the Belgian isn’t the only member of his family to be on the move. Indeed, Eden’s younger brother Thorgan Hazard is also the subject of much speculation.

The 26-year-old admitted last week that he has agreed personal terms on a move to Borussia Dortmund, meaning the two clubs must now come to a financial agreement to make the deal official. That last step might be the most difficult one, though. Borussia Monchengladbach won’t be keen to sell their best player to one of their biggest rivals.

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Liverpool should make the most of this opportunity to hijack Dortmund’s deal for Hazard. The Belgian international might not be good enough to command a starting place in Jurgen Klopp’s team, but he would give the Reds the sort of depth they need.

Assuming Liverpool don’t lose one of either Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah, Hazard would be a substitute at Anfield. But he would be more than that. Under Klopp, the Reds have made great progress over the past few years, particularly over the last two seasons. But they cannot afford to be complacent.

Manchester City will spend again this summer and so Liverpool must keep up. City already hold an advantage in the myriad of attacking options they boast. When Raheem Sterling is injured or is in need of a rest, they have Leroy Sane to step in. When David Silva is out, they have Bernardo Silva. And Riyad Mahrez.

Some competition for the likes of Roberto Firmino, Mane and Salah would be healthy, would help keep them sharp. If Liverpool are to miss out on the Premier League title this season, as looks likely at this moment, their development won’t yet be complete. They mustn’t rest in their progression.

With Klopp at the helm, Liverpool have acted boldly, spending money where it needed to be spent. When they needed a centre back, they signed Virgil Van Dijk. When they needed a goalkeeper, they signed Alisson Becker. Next season, they must broaden their attacking options and Hazard would fit the bill. His move to Dortmund hasn’t been rubber-stamped yet. There is still an opportunity for the Reds there.

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Sleeping giant Bayern Munich are planning for dominance next season

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The season in Germany is of course not over but it has been an awkward one for the giants of the country Bayern Munich.

Usually dominant in the Bundesliga Bayern simply haven’t had it all their own way this season and have had to play second fiddle to Borussia Dortmund for most of it. True as they go into this weekend Bayern are on top, but that’s only on goal difference. Either Dortmund or Bayern will win the league this season and that looks like it will go right down to the wire.

Bayern’s Champions League exit at the hands of Liverpool underlined that the team needs refreshing. Stars such as Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, loyal servants are too old and they will need to be moved on in the summer. Nico Kovac the young Croatian manager has been under intense pressure this season with even Arsene Wenger linked to the job. Truth is Kovac has inherited an aging team who at times haven’t always been hungry for success.

The good news for Bayern is that club President Uli Hoeness has promised that the club will spend big in the summer, and he’s not lying. Indeed Bayern have already splashed the cash with the confirmation of Lucas Hernandez for an incredible £68m. Hernandez will join from Atletico Madrid in July and be ready for next season.

It does appear that Hoeness who has been famous in the past for tightening  the clubs purse strings is putting his mouth where the money is and delivering on his promise and Bayern fans will be excited to hear what he had to say. Hoeness recently said: “If only you knew (the names) we have lined up for next season. We can’t make announcements right now. Everyone here would go mad and we still have goals to reach in the current campaign. We’ve saved. We’re well prepared for the summer. Our director of sport (Hasan Salihamidzic) has it all under control.”

Exciting times look to be around the corner for Bayern who have not won the Champions League since 2013, and since the rebranding took place in 1993 have only won the competition twice despite appearing in numerous finals. But also the current domestic season has not been good enough even if they win it, because just being able to win it is very un Bayern like. Think, for example, PSG winning Ligue 1 on the last day of the season.

Bayern mean business and it will be interesting if they will be able to attract the players they want. With Real Madrid reportedly having a huge spending package this summer it could turn into quite a transfer tussle between the two teams this summer- whoever is selling will benefit.