Juventus Top Performers – Champions League home game vs Barcelona

Juventus were handed the first loss of the season, at home no less, by a depleted Barcelona team that never really needed to get into second gear to create problems and whose laundry list of absences was very exploitable, but the Old Lady paid the price for a collective off-day of their most creative players.

Leonardo Bonucci: he bit the bullet coming off a small injury that in other times would have cost him some matches and he was surprisingly decent as started off with an incredible slide to block a shot and then thwarted some insidious actions simpluy with masterful positioning. Continue reading

A win in Genoa and draw in Ukraine keep Inter on the right path after hectic week

What a week it has been for Inter. First the derby defeat which put the club into a reality check after the pre-season hype and then they jumped back on the winning trail to beat Genoa away from home 2-0.

The victory in Genoa was a professional and solid win for Inter who had to fight hard for every ball and no one was that surprised to see the score locked in at 0-0 at half time. Star striker Lautaro Martinez was denied and was then shown the yellow card and it just seemed like it could be one of those days for Antonio Conte’s men.

However on the 64th minute Nicolo Barella teed up Romelu Lukaku who made no mistake to open the scoring and score his 5th goal of the season. The game was wrapped up 12 minutes later when Danilo D’Ambrosio scored his first goal in a month for the club which sealed the win. At 2-0 the game was over and Genoa gave up the chase.

It was 3 points that Inter really deserved and in truth they dominated the game having 6 shots on target in total. It said everything about Genoa who are now in 15th position with just one win this season that they didn’t even have a shot on target. With those stats had Inter dropped 2 points at the weekend they would have regretted it.

Whilst Milan remain top of the league they dropped 2 points as they were held at home in a thrilling 3-3 draw against Roma. Inter are now in 4th place and are just 3 points behind Milan.

On Tuesday Inter played their 2nd game of the Champions League and drew 0-0 against Shakhtar Donetsk. This match followed their opening game where they also drew 2-2 that time against Borussia Monchengladbach and the next fixture in their group is against the mighty Real Madrid. With two draws so far this leaves Inter in 3rd place with 2 points and they are a further 2 points adrift of current group leaders Shakhtar.

Coach Antonio Conte was disappointed with the draw saying: “I think we have to be disappointed in the final result because we played well and created many chances. We played with the right intensity, with the right commitment, as a big team. We dominated and we were not lucky. We had some chances to score, we played a very good game in both phases. Don’t forget Shakhtar have important technical qualities, we are sorry because we would deserve to win the game. We are on the right way, the mentality is a good one.”

Inter have a busy time coming up which includes a home game with Parma then they play Real Madrid away a few days later on November 3rd and then they are away to Atalanta. There are no easy games in that pick.

Top 3 best performing players in the fantasy rankings

1. Romelu Lukaku 19pts

2. Lautaro Martinez 11pts

3. Danilo D’Ambrosio 10pts

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Man Utd: Three Leipzig players to look out for ahead of the Champions League fixture at Old Trafford

After beating Paris Saint-Germain comfortably in the first game of the Champions League group stage last week, Manchester United will now host Leipzig at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. Despite the side’s inconsistencies in the Premier League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men and their style of play is more suited in Europe, especially with how they’ve setup recently within a 3-4-1-2 system.

With the Bundesliga side travelling to Manchester without the likes of Amadaou Haidara, Konrad Laimer, Lukas Klostermann and Nordi Mukiele, Julian Nagelsmann will be looking to show off his tactical flexibility and versatility, something that he is being well known for at a young age. Due to the 33-year-old’s intelligence and adaptation, the team are yet to suffer a defeat so far this season.

Leipzig’s project is one of the most exciting things in Europe, where many football supporters are expecting them to reach the levels of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. This can potentially happen, especially with the important assistance of Dietrich Mateschitz, who is an Austrian billionaire businessman and is the co-founder and 49% owner of the energy drink company Red Bull.

With no further ado, here are the three key Leipzig players to look out for tomorrow…

Dayot Upamecano – Centre back

Majority of Manchester United fans will already be aware of centre-back, Dayot Upamecano, who was constantly linked with a move to England in recent months by the English and German media. The French international is regarded as a key individual within the Leipzig backline, having become a regular starter for the side in recent years and is now seen as one of the best defenders in Germany.

With his strength, ability to read the game and burst of pace, the 22-year-old has the skillset and the potential to go onto become one of the best centre-backs in Europe. On Wednesday evening, he will be put to a huge test, facing the likes of Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, who have proven to be deadly on the counter through their movement, positioning and dribbling.

Dani Olmo – Attacking midfielder 

Since joining Leipzig in January 2020, Dani Olmo has been able to take his abilities and performances up a notch under Julian Nagelsmann, who has been carefully developing and improving the player week by week. Whether he is utilised in the number ten role or as an inside forward, Olmo is able to make an impact through his one-on-one dribbling as well as his intelligence to work in tight areas.

Olmo has surprised a number of people with his finishing and his shooting from long distance, as he has a tendency to use the inside of his right foot to achieve the right power and placement of the ball. Not only that, the midfielder links up effectively with the lone forward along with the wide players, allowing him to be seen as an unpredictable and difficult player to read by the opposition.

Yussuf Poulsen – Centre forward

Although he is no longer playing up front with Timo Werner, who had left Leipzig for Chelsea in the summer, Yussuf Poulsen is relishing the lone forward role in the 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-2-1 system. So far this season, he has completed two goals and one assist in four league appearances and will be looking to open his account in Europe shortly, as he will be up against both Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.

The Danish international is commonly known for his ability to win aerial duels as well as be a huge nuisance in the penalty box, as long as the crosses are placed correctly in the dangerous areas by the likes of Angelino, Christopher Nkunku and Dani Olmo. If the creativity and service is there for Poulsen to latch onto, then there should be no doubts in him causing a number of problems to Manchester United’s backline, as they have been under the scrutiny for poor defending and organisation.

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

Inter shot down by Ibrahimovic in Milan derby, concentration now on the Champions League

The Derby della Madonnina was won by AC Milan who beat Inter 2-1 in a pulsating game of football. Both sides are being tipped to challenge Juventus this season for the Serie A title so this derby had much more spice about it than it has had in the past few seasons.

But it was a derby that felt like it was over just after it had started. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was slightly touched in the box and seemed to go down far too easy for Milan to be awarded a penalty in the 12th minute which he stuck away with no problem. And then after a superb counter attack Milan were 2-0 up just four minutes later and Zlatan again was there from a couple of yards out to prod home in what was an easy goal for him to score.

But twelve minutes later Ivan Perisic crossed the ball for Romelu Lukaku who actually looked surprise by the poor defending of the Milan back four and seemed to take his time in easily tapping in from close range just as Ibrahimovic had done moments before. With 3 goals scored and not even half an hour played this looked like it could be a rare derby game with lots of goals, and yet there would be no more.

Inter did remain a threat and late on they thought they should have had a penalty but VAR concluded and was right that in the build up Inter were offside.

All in all and compared to other derby games this was an enjoyable one, in part because in the 2nd half Inter had to come forward and they ended up with 4 shots on target to Milan’s six. Milan are now top of the league with 12 points and Inter are in sixth place and are 5 points behind. It was Inter’s first defeat of the season and they have now gone their last two matches without a win.

Inter coach Antonio Conte had this to say after the game: “I think we played very well and created many situations to score goals, in some cases we are unlucky, and it’s disappointing because the lads certainly put the effort in and believed they could win. We were distracted and made errors on their two goals, still had the chances to equalise, but Milan won and so we congratulate them. Every match we seem to create many, many scoring opportunities, so need to be more cool-headed and clinical in front of goal. At the same time, I cannot complain about their attitude, as we tried everything to at least get the equaliser.”

Inter prepare to meet Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League

The Champions League has returned and Inter will kick off their campaign at home against German outfit Borussia Monchengladbach. Inter will be the favourites to secure all three points when the two teams clash. The big news for Inter is that Christian Eriksen and Alexis Sanchez should be able to return for the club and both are set to start the game.

Romelu Lukaku- the best player of Inter so far in the fantasy rankings

Romelu Lukaku took over Lautaro Martinez as the best player for Inter in the fantasy rankings. Lukaku now has 15 points and collected a further four points at the weekend as he scored what turned out to be Inter’s consolation goal. The Belgian international much like last season is on fire and may be worth adding to your team. You can check out Lukaku’s full stats right here.

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Juventus Top Performers – Champions League road game vs Dynamo Kyiv

Juventus finally tuned up the defensive phase in the trip to Ukraine and seemed in control for the majority of the contest in its Champions League debut, kicking off the group stage in positive fashion.

Leonardo Bonucci: the back-line lost Giorgio Chiellini in the first twenty minutes but held up with ease for the most part, a nice change of pace compared to a suspect start of the season on that front. They were surely helped by the remissive attitude, which attacked convicingly only for few minutes in the second half. Bonucci and Merih Demiral were neck-and-neck in terms of performance, the Italian stalwart was just a little more noticeable and precise. Danilo improved compared to the last match, but also had some awful clearances. Wojciech Szczesny was never challenged too seriously.  Continue reading

Manchester United 2020-21 season preview

With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer going into his second full season as the manager of Manchester United, the pressure will be on him to deliver another top four finish whilst aiming for success in the domestic cup competitions. Given that rivals Liverpool and Manchester City are levels ahead of the rest of the teams in the Premier League, it is impossible for the Red Devils to mount a title challenge with the current squad, unless they decide to go all out in the remainder of the summer window.

The previous campaign resulted in the side finishing in third place as well as reaching the FA Cup semi-final, Carabao Cup semi-final and the Europa League semi-final. However, looking at the present and current circumstance, it is highly unlikely for Manchester United to surpass the progress they have made last season, as they have only signed one player so far this summer window whilst the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Wolves have been quite proactive and positive off the pitch.

It is now time to look at what the 2020-21 season has in store for Manchester United…

The new addition – linked players

Unlike the previous summer transfer window, the signings completed by both Manchester United and Solskjaer have not been appealing at all, which has resulted in a lot of discontent and frustration between the United fanbase. The team are in need of two to three players to upgrade the starting line-up as well another two players for the bench, in order for them to compete for the league title.

The Red Devils have so far brought the one signing in Donny Van de Beek, who has come from Eredivisie side Ajax, for a fee of around £35million to £40million. With a couple of weeks remaining until the transfer window comes to an end, Solskjaer will be hoping that the United board, especially Ed Woodward, are more than capable of delivering two more players for him.

The two players are looking likely to be Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Real Madrid’s Sergio Reguilon, who have actually been linked with a move to Old Trafford throughout the summer. Thiago Alcantara has been linked with the club too, but it does not seem like the club will buy two midfielders in one window.

Focusing further on Van de Beek, he is the ideal backup player to have for both Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, as Solskjaer will need to rotate and keep the squad fit in between the league fixtures, the Champions League matches as well as the domestic cup competitions. On the other hand, the Dutch midfielder may be expected to be a regular starter, with the reports rising around the club that Solskjaer will be looking into ways of playing a midfield three of Bruno, Pogba and Van de Beek.

Key player

By now, it should be no secret that Manchester United’s key player happens to be Bruno Fernandes. Since the Portuguese international moved to Old Trafford in January, he has single-handedly transformed the side’s mentality and style of play, which has helped all parties in many ways.

In 14 Premier League appearances, the 26-year-old playmaker went on to produce eight goals and seven assists, resulting in the side to make a monumental comeback into the top four position and finish in 3rd place. Without Bruno Fernandes and his much needed contributions, it can comfortably be said that the team would have finished outside of the top four, around fifth place and seventh place.

Who should be sold?

At this moment of time, the ideal individuals that should be sold are the likes of Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones, three centre-backs that are not in the long-term plans of the club and the manager. Not only that, but they would be seen as players that are far down the pecking order, with the main defenders actually being Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe.

Manchester United’s strongest XI

With the current squad members, here is Manchester United’s strongest XI for the new season –

David de Gea; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw; Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial.

Premier League prediction

When looking at how strong Liverpool and Manchester City currently are, as well as how Chelsea have incredibly backed Frank Lampard so far this summer window, the best that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United can aim for is a top-four finish. Although, the critics expect the Red Devils to be aiming for trophies every season, which they should be doing so, performing consistently and at a higher level in the Premier League is more crucial, as the side have not finished in the top four in back-to-back seasons since the last two campaigns under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Premier League – 4th place

Champions League prediction

United’s current squad would suit them better in the Champions League rather than in the Premier League, where they can overcome the opposition over one game or two legs instead of the 19 English teams they will have to face home and away. With the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Greenwood Martial, Rashford and Pogba available for Solskjaer, it should not be a problem for both the club and manager to succeed the group stages and reach the Quarter-finals of the European competition.

Champions League – Quarter final

Does football need fans inside stadiums?

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought up many questions, indeed more questions than answers as the world tries to adapt to life with the pandemic. It is sadly a pandemic they may dissipate somewhat but could well never go away. Everything seems to have changed and that of course has affected the world of football.

There are no fans allowed in the major European leagues. So much has changed so fast because of the spread of the virus. Let’s go back to the summer when UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin was adamant that fans would be attending the Champions League final. He could not visualise that no fans would be able to witness the match live, even though domestic football had already been told that fans could not attend games. The Champions League final without fans, it was simply unthinkable. Even the knock out games seemed a stretch. The best teams, the best players, the sponsors, the spectacle all this going on, but no crowd atmosphere, surely the death of football was around the corner?

True the death of football is going over the top, but surely the game was going to miss something? And yet has it? One of the first major leagues to kick off again in Europe was the Bundesliga, did no fans really effect the outcomes of the games? True home wins dipped from 46% to 18% but that was only in the first few weeks. After that Bayern Munich played some incredible attacking football just like they would have with fans, and won the league in incredible style.

And the other leagues started up and the teams did what they do, they played. There were many incidents off the ball, yellow cards, sending offs, attacks, corners and goals. Perhaps the first few games were slow to start with especially in the Premier League when most of the early games goals were coming in the 2nd half of play. But still, the players just got on with it. There was no atmosphere in the stands but that didn’t stop the intensity on the pitch.

In the Champions League the quality of football was the same as a season with fans.There was the beauty in how Bayern played such incredible attacking football against Barcelona. The fans did not influence a game that ended with Bayern scoring 8 goals. There was also the thrills, PSG made it to the final, (their first one) but the French champions were going out at the quarter final stage after they were trailing Atalanta 1-0 on the 90th minute. They then did an infamous Manchester United comeback from the 1999 final and found not one but two goals in injury time to break Italian hearts.

One could see this in reverse of course. Look at West Ham in the Premier League, who looked like a different team with no fans especially at home. It felt as though the shackles and pressure from the fans was all too bearing on David Moyes side who before the season was paused in March looked like one of the favourite clubs to be relegated. But without the added pressure of critical fans, they played good football and easily stayed up. Of course no one at the club has admitted that it could be a key reason, but it is worth thinking about.

With television companies providing noise crowd and the cameras clearly angled at a certain position, as an armchair fan the fans at the games simply were not missed. And even though this wasn’t an experiment and was indeed needed, the result one has to wonder, is that perhaps fans are not needed to enhance a game of football.

At the same time revenue is of course lost, though for the most elite teams the bulk of the money comes through television. The lower league clubs would obviously fold and dissolve without the fans and of course especially for the smaller teams there is a sense of community when supporting your local team. In that case and even in the case of a fan attending a Manchester City game or Real Madrid one, it comes down to watching a live match, like a live concert, it is socially entertaining, and the game can be a fun way of relaxing and having a story to tell.

Still that doesn’t take away from what we have witnessed over the past few months, sure the biggest games ignite a special atmosphere, who could imagine Liverpool’s Kop stand empty during a classic European night of football? It simply isn’t the same. At the same time the players are professional and perhaps we have learned that when it comes down to winning games, fans make little to no difference, if in attendance or watching from home.

 

PSG’s new maturity fires them to their first ever Champions League final

It’s finally happened after 8 years of trying PSG have reached their first ever Champions League final after they beat RB Leipzig 3-0.

PSG were beginning to be known as the team who kept bottling it when it really mattered. Over the years the French champions had been dumped out of the competition by the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, two teams that they want to aspire to be like. There was the infamous Barcelona defeat where they were 4-1 up from the 1st leg and still got knocked out.

But the dream has been set in stone now. The team have had to beat Borussia Dortmund, Atalanta and RB Leipzig to reach the final and some cynical eyes will look at that and say that they haven’t really been tested. And yet with the changing shift of European football they have.

Dortmund remained a threat in the German Bunsdesliga to Bayern Munich for much of the season, it was only Bayern’s superb form since the restart that gave Dortmund little chance in the end.

Atalanta have had their best season in a generation, even at one time making a challenge for Serie A. They didn’t quite have enough in the tanks but the club have been very good now for the past 2 seasons and their attacking force at times this season has been superb. The Italians also took the lead over PSG before a stunning last minute comeback by the Ligue 1 side.

Finally RB Leipzig have really grown into a quality side and their future looks bright. Never to be taken lightly although their semi final game with PSG just looked like it came too early for them, they were caught out and then add to that the quality within the PSG team and it was lights out. Sadly for Leipzig it was a game to forget and it ended up passing them by.

But there is a new found maturity for this PSG side who have often been called out for being too individualistic. Yes the quality of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe is there to be seen- but at the end of the day these players have not exactly dominated the knockout games of their Champions League encounters. Instead others have risen up like Marquinhos and Angel Di Maria who is arguably the most consistent signing that PSG have ever made.

Win or lose in the final this has to be seen as a building block for the club for bigger things. It is interesting that it took Chelsea about 8 years to win the competition after they were taken over and injected with money. For Manchester City they seem to be behind schedule in that respect.

Have PSG arrived at their destination? We will know soon enough when the Champions League final takes place on August 23rd.

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Barcelona in crisis but may turn to the comfort zone of Ronald Koeman

A season with no trophies topped off with losing 8-2 against Bayern Munich has made the 2019/20 season Barcelona’s worst in a generation. They also saw their rivals Real Madrid race to another La Liga title too. It’s been a bad 12 months for the club.

For now, somehow Quique Setien remains the coach of Barcelona. Many expected him to be sacked when it was was clear that Barca had conceded the league, but the board stuck with the former Real Betis coach. Then following the 8-2 loss to Bayern on Friday evening surely that was it? And yet 72 hours later he is still there. But surely the time is ticking.

Barcelona need change and the front runner to get the new job is Ronald Koeman, but is he the right choice? Koeman was of course a legend with the club in the early to mid 1990s winning lots of trophies and in that sense he would be welcomed by the hardcore fans.

As a coach though Koeman has been hit and miss, winning some titles with Ajax and although he has coached clubs like Benfica, Valencia and PSV that was over a decade ago. He has also recently failed at clubs like Southampton and Everton in the Premier League. However his reputation has been seen as better in the last 2 years as he took over the role of the Netherlands where he led the nation to the UEFA Nations League final. He also has a win rate of 55% and the nation who have struggled in recent years are enjoying an upturn.

With Euro 2021 to look forward to it and a World Cup in Qatar in 2022 it may seem doubtful that Koeman would want to give that up to coach a Barcelona side who look like they are heading for decline. Perhaps it depends on how much transfer budget they will have but at the same time everyone knows they will have to sell a lot of deadwood players like Ousmane Dembele and Phillipe Coutinho.

But Koeman seems like a comfort zone choice for Barcelona and one wonders if by not progressing with forward thoughts that the club could stay stale. Look around Europe and one can see that German coaches are dominating the game from Jurgen Klopp to Hans Flick. If they are unavailable why not go for a coach like Julian Nagelsmann at RB Lepizig? At just 33 Nagelsmann has become the youngest coach ever to have a team in the Champions League semi-finals, and his future looks bright.

A risk perhaps for Barcelona, but seems like an option rather than bringing in the beleaguered Koeman whose reputation may dry off quicker than a damp suit in Dubai.

Another manager who has been linked to Barcelona is the very likeable Mauricio Pochettino. Indeed it seemed that the ex Tottenham manager was close to signing a deal a few days ago. Now word has it that Barca have cooled their interest, or have they? Pochettino’s infamous words on the eve of the 2019 Champions League final that winning trophies isn’t important could haunt him for the rest of his career. That simply isn’t an option at clubs like Barca.

One thing is for sure if Real Madrid are not in crisis then Barcelona must be, and it really does seem to be going south very quick for the Catalan giants. A decision on who will be their new coach will surely be taken this week.

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