Van Dijk and Alisson the stars of Liverpool’s Champions League success

Van Dijk Alisson Champions League

Madrid has often been where Champions League legends are made, and that proved to be the case for Liverpool. This year’s Champions League final won’t go down as one of the best, indeed in many aspects, it was among the worst, but Liverpool won’t mind one bit.

This side have battled their way back throughout the Champions League this season, and it was no different in the final. The natural rhythm, tempo and desire were lacking from Jurgen Klopp’s side. Instead, they had to battle, scrap and find something much deeper to ensure they were lifting a sixth European crown by the evening’s end. This Liverpool side have transformed under Klopp this year. The swashbuckling, cavalier team of the past has made way for one that has much more about it. Continue reading

Fabinho the key for Liverpool in the Champions League Final

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Of the numerous impressive individual performers across this past season for Liverpool, Fabinho fell under the radar somewhat. The Brazilian earned credit but not to the extent some of his teammates received.

Yet, by the end of the campaign, Fabinho was as important a player as any in the starting line up. Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are the types of players that shone brightly. Fabinho was as important as them but did it in the quiet, efficient manner that separates the best defensive midfielders from the rest. And when Liverpool take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League Final in Madrid on Sunday, it is Fabinho who will play a pivotal role. Continue reading

Neymar could be back for PSG sooner than expected after injury blow

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Just like this time last season Neymar PSG’s Brazilian forward has been ruled out for a chunk of the season when all of the competitions are reaching their business end and reports have suggested that the player will miss the next 10 weeks with a return date pencilled in for the beginning of April.

Neymar has injured his fifth metatarsal and received the injury in PSG’s French Cup win over Strasbourg. This latest injury just highlighted the unfair treatment that Neymar has had to put up with his supposed diving antics and fooling around. Truth is most of the time he is getting chopped down. This time it was because he was showboating, and it feels quite sad that Neymar has been cut down like this especially at a time when his club really need him.

Neymar’s injury shouldn’t affect the team in the league given that they are 13 points clear at the top and have games in hand. Ligue 1 in theory has been wrapped up since before Christmas and it seems that it is just a matter of when and not if PSG win the league title for the 2nd time in a row.

But the focus will be more on the Champions League, a trophy that PSG desperately want to win and keep failing at against the more elite and historic teams when it really matters, it was the major reason that the club brought in coach Thomas Tuchel.

But Neymar will certainly miss the teams first leg against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which is a massive bonus for the Premier League side. The second leg in Paris is on March 6th and that might be the game that PSG are secretly targeting Neymar’s return.

For example if the game is still open by then and PSG need that extra piece of magic Neymar would be key to the side’s chances of progression. However the 2nd leg date is only in five weeks time, so will it really be possible?

Players in the past have been able to recover from such injuries in 4-6 weeks at the very least if they have been able to fully rest properly. Also in Neymar’s advantage is that he hasn’t required surgery on the injury. So in theory he could be back much sooner than expected.

Of course the problem is would he be match fit? The answer is no, and Neymar returning so early could be seen as a desperate move and a last roll of the dice for Tuchel. The correct method to take would be for Neymar to return for the quarter finals in PSG were able to make it past United.

In any sense Neymar’s injury and especially the timing of it is hard luck on Tuchel who will most probably be judged more by the owners on how PSG perform in the Champions League compared to the league.

Can Juventus put Italy on the map once again and challenge for the Champions League?

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There was a time when Italy was the toast of Europe, regulary winning the Champions League and contesting in finals. From the inception of the competition in 1993, Italian teams featured in the final for 6 years in a row. Winning in 1994 with AC Milan and 1996 with Juventus.

In the 2000s despite the emergence and then the dominance of the Spanish La Liga, Italian football was still strong. There was an all Italian one in 2003 when AC Milan beat Juventus on penalties and Milan would go on to make the final in 2005 losing historically to Liverpool after being 3-0 up at half time and then getting their sweet revenge over the same club in 2007.

But it was around this time when Italy was hit by betting scandals that saw Juventus relegated to Serie B, teams banned and their league titles in the mid 2000s wiped out. And then came Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to put the nail in the hammer being in Spain and dominating with their clubs and end of year trophies.

Of course Inter Milan provided a speed bump by winning the Champions League in 2010 in incredible fashion but they remain the last Italian team to win Europe’s most sought after prize. Since then the flag has been solely flown by Juventus who have reached 2 finals in the past three seasons, losing to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Now Juventus equipped with Cristiano Ronaldo who has won the competition an incredible 5 times will have their sights on lifting the trophy next year for the first time in 23 years. It would only be the clubs 3rd title if they did so, not so many considering that Juve remain the biggest team in Italy.

But can they do it? Former goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon who has never won the competition believes that they are one of three teams that will win this season alongside Barcelona and Manchester City. Buffon now plays for PSG in a last bid attempt to win it, the only major trophy missing from his resume.

Juventus have been strong this season and yet lost at home to a beleaguered Manchester United side, although they did beat them at Old Trafford. However if those two games had been a knock out one they would be knocked out now. As for Ronaldo he will be trying to win his 4th title in a row and 6 overall to equal the Real Madrid great Gento.

Juventus will be there and thereabouts and it would be a surprise if they didn’t at least reach the semi finals, and it will be fascinating if the old lady can finally rise to the challenge. They are in the last 16 now and have every chance to go as far as they believe in.

New Season, Same Old Juve

With Cristiano Ronaldo joining Juventus this past summer after back to back Champions League triumphs in Madrid, many thought the bianconeri were about to turn a corner in Europe and finally put their past woes behind them. After all, they just signed Mr. Champions League himself in the form of Ronaldo. After failing at the final hurdle against both Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent years, it was clear Juventus were lacking something, and it was evident it wasn’t a player but more so, a winning mentality in Europe.

While it’s strange in itself to criticize Juventus’ winning mentality, seeing as they’ve won the domestic title seven years running and winning is quite literally in the club’s mantra, the Serie A giants are a completely different team in Europe and approach games with more pragmatism.

Rather than setting out to dominate the opposition from the get like they do in Italy, Juventus are patient and tend to rely on their rearguard to provide the backbone for their success. In the past, this is a strategy that has largely worked but when it comes time to make the final leap, they typically fall painfully short. Just yesterday, it costed the side and they squandered a 1-0 lead to Manchester United and ended up losing in the dying embers of the game. After the game, Ronaldo spoke about this issue.

“We dominated the game and had so many chances. We relaxed and we were punished, in this case we just gifted it to them,” said the Portuguese superstar.

Considering the landscape of the modern game, it cames as no surprise that high-flying offences have been the recipe for success in Europe while defences, on the other hand, are but a bonus. Last season, Liverpool made it all the way to the final with a back four of Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold. While there are some good pieces in that backline – namely the first two – it is hardly world class and just goes to show you that Juventus may be overvaluing caution.

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Liverpool or PSG set to be knocked out of Champions League at the group stage

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Liverpool and PSG were amongst the favourites to win this seasons Champions League but it looks more and more like one of them will not even qualify for the knock out rounds after a topsy turvy group stage.

When the two European giants were announced to be in the same group, there was obvious excitement but most pundits believed they would get through in a group also containing Italians Napoli and Red Star. But some surprise results have left that chance really open ended with just 2 games left to play each for the super clubs.

Liverpool who got to the final last season have already lost 2 of their 4 games. These defeats both came away from home against Napoli and then this week to Red Star in a 2-0 loss. However for now they are still in 2nd place on 6 points.

As for PSG they started their campaign off with a loss away to Liverpool which ended 3-2 and then they drew two times against Napoli but slaughtered Red Star at home, they are, at this moment going into the Europa League with 5 points so far.

Napoli have been the real surprise and the problem for Liverpool and PSG. But Napoli who are in 1st place are not safe yet as they have drawn 3 of their 4 games but they do remain unbeaten. So the key to qualification will be in the next two matchday fixtures.

Napoli will play Red Star at home and given how poor they have been on the road we would expect a win for the Italians. But then they have to play Liverpool away and what would be a packed out and atmospheric Anfield and that could well end in a loss, so Napoli has the chance to finish with 9 points.

Liverpool have a massive crunch test with PSG in Paris on November 28th and it will in effect feel like a knockout game. All eyes will be on this match, let’s be conservative and say this game ends in a draw. It would mean that even if PSG beat Red Star away from home as long as Liverpool win they would go through. The key game seems to be Napoli’s match against Red Star, win that and one of Liverpool or PSG are going to go out. It would be a massive blow for either club.

Arguably one could say the blow is bigger for PSG given the new coach in Thomas Tuchel and the fact they have Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in order to win the competition. By the end of this month we should know which one of these teams will be playing Europa League football next year.

Thomas Tuchel’s version of PSG is set to be the best ever

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When PSG strolled to a 3-0 victory over Nice at the end of September it seemed to go by without much fuss and why should it as everyone expected the champions to win the game. However more fuss and attention should have surrounded this historic result. In beating Patrick Vieira’s team, PSG had just equalled an 82 year old Ligue 1 record by winning their first 8 games of the season.

The record was held by Lille in the 1935/36 season and had stood for that long despite PSG being dominant in France since their takeover from the 2011/12 season onwards. In order to break the record the club from Paris would have to play an old foe in Lyon. Lyon of course dominated French football themselves in the 2000s winning 7 titles in a row and whilst they are a team now playing second fiddle to PSG they still would not have been chosen as the team you had to beat to break an historic record.

A few weeks ago this Lyon side had travelled to Manchester in the Champions League and stunned Manchester City by beating them and they had started to pick up form and points in the domestic league. But the match would be held in Paris where PSG have simply been irresistible.

Ninety minutes later PSG had not only broken the record they had done it in style by beating a genuine league rival 5-0. PSG had just won 9 games in a row thanks to a Neymar goal and a stunning performance by Kylian Mbappe who scored 4 goals in 13 glorious minutes to break another Ligue 1 record.

One has to wonder if, under current coach Thomas Tuchel, PSG have their best team since their takeover and indeed they are proving wholeheartedly to have the best team ever in Ligue 1 history.

The club have 27 points after just 9 games and their nearest challenger is Lille who are 8 points behind on 19. The only team to stop PSG’s title runs have been Monaco who won in 2017 and they are already 21 points behind. PSG are scoring almost 4 goals a game and at home they have scored 19 times from just 5 games and conceded just 2. The team are on fire and have a belief in breaking records and winning the league in record time.

Of course the wider view will be that their season will be judged on how well they do in the Champions League. They were unfairly criticised when they lost to Liverpool 3-2 in their opening game of the competition. Many teams will lose at a packed out and atmospheric Anfield- what will count more for Tuchel will be how his side react when they play Liverpool in Paris. And PSG were clearly not at their best that night and yet came back from 2-0 down and could have drawn the game. The team remains a real danger to any side in Europe.

However they have historically made too many errors and a bad lack of judgement in the competition against the better teams. But if PSG can play like this then they have every chance of going very far in this seasons edition of the competition.

Liverpool need the boom vs Manchester City

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Jurgen Klopp is the kind of football manager who is full of quotes. If he was seeking outside help to lift Liverpool following defeat to Napoli on Tuesday, the following Rocky quote would have been fitting.

“It ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”

Liverpool weren’t hit particularly hard in Naples. A 1-0 defeat to Carlo Ancelotti’s side was not the worst thing in the world. After all, they are tied on 3 points with Paris Saint Germain and with every chance of getting out of the group of death. The loss will have hit hard, though.

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Elite Premier League teams are struggling in the Champions League

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We are often told that the Premier League is the best in Europe if not the World and yet the Champions League has been a good measure of failure for the very best Premier League teams not just so far this season but for a good few years now.

The last time that an English team won the competition was Chelsea back in 2012 when they beat Bayern Munich and before that we have to go back to 2008 when Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties in an all Premier League final. Apart from Liverpool’s run to the final this year no team has reached the showpiece event since Chelsea won it.

This season the Champions League has kicked off with a massive wake up call for the teams that have qualified. Take Premier League champions Manchester City, vying for their first ever European Cup, they lost their opening game at home to Ligue 1 side Lyon. In their next game they found themselves 1-0 down to Hoffenheim within a minute of the game starting, although clawed their way back to stake a 2-1 win, but they had to work very hard for the result. Had City drawn or lost that game they could have been looking at an early exit from a competition where they have been tipped as the favourites to win just a few weeks ago.

Manchester United have had all sorts of problems in the Premier League but last season they racked up 82 points to finish 2nd. In the Champions League they won easily against Young Boys but suffered a 0-0 draw at the hands of Valencia in their next game. Had this match taken place in Spain this result would have been acceptable- but it didn’t and that is 2 clear points dropped for Jose Mourinho’s team. Add to the fact that they still have to play Juventus twice and United may not qualify for the next round, their chances are certainly in the air at the moment.

Liverpool looked impressive in their 3-2 win over PSG at Anfield, though they were leading that game at one point 2-0. But when they travelled to Italy to play Napoli they lost 1-0. True Napoli’s goal came in the final exchanges where the game looked like it was heading for a 0-0 result but Liverpool did not have a shot on target the whole game and it looks clear whilst Liverpool may reign supreme at home they could well struggle away in Europe. Given that they still have to travel to Paris to play PSG this loss could come back and haunt the Reds.

And then there is Tottenham who pound for pound have been one of the best teams in England of the past 18 months. But when it really matters the club seem to come up short time and again and their latest loss to Barcelona which ended 4-2 could be the nail in the coffin to their Champions League hopes this season. They are already 6 points behind both Barcelona and Inter Milan and their best shot now looks like trying to qualify for the Europa League.

All in all the best teams in the Premier League have struggled in Europe, unable to adapt to a plan B and finding out that defending on the continent is much more superior to the Premier League. On this evidence it doesn’t seem likely that a club from England will be winning the competition this year which would stretch the winless run to 7 editions. That would be the longest ever that a club from the Premier League has gone without winning it. The current record is 6 editions from the inaugural start of the Champions League up to 1998, with Manchester United infamously winning it in 1999.

For all the money being pumped into the league it isn’t guaranteeing success on the highest level.

Is Adrien Rabiot the real thing?

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960Hardly a couple of weeks have passed since the summer transfer window slammed shut with the world-record transfer of Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to Chelsea hailed as the pick of the signings. Surprisingly, the footballing world is abuzz with concrete news reports linking the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Barcelona and Juventus with a possible move for a PSG-based player. However, what makes it all the more interesting is the fact that these reports do not involve high-profile players like Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Marco Verrati for once. The player being referred to is none other than French midfielder Adrien Rabiot who only has a year left on his existing club contract.

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