Julen Lopetegui wants to usher in a new era at Sevilla

Because of their Europa League successes Sevilla are one of the most successful clubs in Europe over the last decade. But there is a feeling that the club have become more of a cup specialist team and less of a league one, and Julen Lopetegui has come in over the past year to try and change that up.

Of course winning cups is a great thing and Sevilla have achieved so much in the modern game winning 5 trophies in the last decade and, according to the official UEFA rankings they are in 9th place. That’s not bad going at all and yet of course they are not seen in same lights as Real Madrid and Barcelona and not even Atletico Madrid.

The reason is that the club do not win league titles- their last one came n 1946 and they haven’t even finished in the runners-up position since 1957. There is also the case of the other European competition, the Champions League where Sevilla have had no significant history. Even Atletico have made it to finals including two recent ones. This year highlighted Sevilla’s miserable run in the Champions League when they were knocked out at the group stages and in one game lost 4-0 at home against Chelsea.

Lopetegui is doing a steady job with Sevilla and in his first season he was able to get them to 4th place with 70 points and therefore qualify for the Champions League. Overall he has a win rate of 57% which is impressive and has lost 14 games from 73 played.

This season the club are in sixth place and are seven points adrift. They have been up and down as they do not draw many games, just 1 so far. Whilst they need to find stability no one can accuse the club of not being entertaining. The problem currently is that no one is sure what Sevilla version will turn up week by week. On their day they are capable of beating any side in La Liga.

Lopetegui has kept the people he knows close to him and that figurehead is the clubs assistant coach Pablo Sanz who used to be a product of the old Academy at Barcelona. When Lopetegui was the coach of the national side Spain, Sanz was his assistant so they know each other very well. He was also the assistant at Real Madrid at Lopetegui’s short spell at Santiago Bernabeu back in 2018.

The objective for the club is to improve each season in the league, the last season saw the club finish 4th so the objective is to finish 3rd and a possible title challenge with 2-3 years although whether that is realistic or not is another story altogether.

However the club have always had some quality within their ranks and below we look at the best 3 players currently playing for the club this season based on fantasy rankings points.

Bono- Goalkeeper

Bono’s value is 6.5m and he currently has the most points of any Sevilla player with 19 so far. Bono’s job is of course to keep clean sheets and he has done so on 3 occasions so far. He is 5th in the goalkeeper rankings for La Liga overall.

Youssef En-Nesyri- Striker

Youssef En Nesyri has scored 3 goals so far but is yet to assist and has 12 points so far. He has only managed to start six games so has a 50% striker rate which is good and his value is 6.5m.

Sergio Escudero- Defender

Sergio Escudero has helped keep 2 clean sheets he has also scored a goal and his value is 6m and so far he has earned 12 points.

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Inter close gap on Milan but crash out of the Champions League

Inter will now be fully concentrating on trying to win their first Serie A title since 2010 as they were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages.

It was always going to be a difficult group for Inter and in having to square off against Real Madrid, Borrussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk Inter were certainly in the group of death.

In the final group game they had to beat Shakhtar at home and hope that Real Madrid would beat Monchengladbach. Real obliged with their win which they needed themselves anyway but Inter could only draw 0-0, and they were out. To rub salt into the wounds Antonio Conte’s team finished in 4th place. One wonders though if finishing last could be a blessing in disguise, as 3rd would have put the club into the Europa League. With no European football to contend with Inter can focus 100% on the league now.

The Italian media were inevitably scathing of Conte after their European exit and Conte said: “We have to evaluate everything with cool heads, not after an exit like this. There is a great deal of regret and disappointment, but I absolutely do not feel we were lacking determination, focus or aggression. We lacked a goal and throughout the Champions League campaign, we have not been fortunate with referees and the VAR.”

Cagliari 1-3 Inter

The good news is that the disappointment of being knocked out of Europe did not roll over and infect the team in the domestic league which they still hope to win. Inter beat Cagliari 3-1 and that means Conte’s side have won 4 games in a row.

It was a game that Inter dominated from the first whistle to the last but they found themselves trailing 1-0 at half time. The home side had scored from having just one shot on target to Inter’s five, and it looked like it would be a frustrating game for the away side.

However with 13 minutes left and a surprise result on the cards Inter’s pressure finally paid off. Nicolo Barella made it 1-1 with a fine effort from the edge of the area. Seven minutes later Inter were in the lead and now Barella had turned provider after his cross found the head of Danilo D’Ambrosio who had been on the pitch for just 60 seconds.

Romelu Lukaku wrapped the encounter up with a fine run from his own half as Cagliari were caught out throwing too many men forward in search of an equaliser. Lukaku had no one to challenge and was able to run the length of the half and tap in easy. It was Lukaku’s 9th goal of the season.

Inter are 2nd and because Milan could only draw 2-2 at home to Parma it means that the gap has been shortened to just 3 points. Milan will be away to Genoa in midweek and Inter will be at home to Napoli in a crunch game since Napoli are right behind them and just a point off. Indeed the difference between 2nd to 5th is just two points so a lot can change in midweek and then next weekend as we head into the Christmas break.

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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

Inter make it 3 wins in a row but thoughts turn to Champions League

Three league wins in a row has put Inter in 2nd place on 21 points and they are 5 points behind city rivals Milan.

Inter’s latest win came at home against Bologna when they won 3-1. Romelu Lukaku who is in the best form of his career opened the scoring but the plaudits wouldn’t go to him, neither would they go to the delightful talents of Lautaro Martinez. No there was a new hero for a new weekend and that belonged to Achraf Hakimi. The 22 year old scored 2 goals to confirm a great win for Antonio Conte’s side.

Lukaku scored his 8th goal of the league season and he saved his blushes at the same time. A cross was met by the swinging leg of the Belgian and the would be goal could have been a great one but Lukaku scuffed the shot, but got the luck of a second chance and made no mistake to put Inter 1-0 up,

Inter were soon 2-0 up and cruising after a delightful pass right through the middle by Marcelo Brozovic found Hakimi who still had a quite a bit to do on the edge of the area and made no mistakes in firing home, it was a beautifully worked goal between two players who made it look rather simple.

The first half ended 2-0 but in the second Bologna gave Inter food for thought by pulling a goal back through Emanuel Vignato. It was plain and simple bad defending which led to the goal and it could have been converted a couple of times in mad cap defending and the ball rebounding until it fell to Vignato who was never going to make any mistakes from such short range out. All of a sudden with twenty minutes remaining it was game on.

However just three minutes later Hakimi scored a superb solo goal running from just inside Bologna’s half, he had quite a bit of space and only needed to fend off one player but he kept running and had his shot which flew into the net. That killed the game off and any faint hope that Bologna had.

Antonio Conte was happy with his side who had 9 shots on target and are a point clear of Juventus, he said: “The lads are beginning to learn, if we don’t keep maximum concentration, we run risks and concede avoidable goals. Unlike other countries, in Italy we play a very tactical football. We therefore alternate periods of high press with waiting and then being aggressive on the ball.”

There was also praise for Hakimi, the man of the match. “This lad is 20 years old and had just two seasons at Dortmund, where they play a much less tactical style of football. Haki is working hard, he has realised the difference between playing in Italy and Germany, where the opponents don’t study you as much, where they don’t identify your characteristics as precisely. I think he is in the right team and with the right coach to become one of the best in the world in his role. It will require a lot of work, but I’m very happy, because this type of performance will boost his confidence, whereas errors in the past might’ve dented his self-belief. He needs a balance, it’s going to be a process.”

Inter will be the favourites to win their next league game when they take on Cagliari away from home. Milan will play Parma at San Siro.

Inter need a win for them and Real Madrid

Even though Inter are in 4th place in their Champions League group, they can still incredibly qualify for the knock out stages but they will need to beat Shakhtar Donetsk. They are at home and many people will feel they have no excuses not to get the job done. At the same time Real Madrid who have not been on form will need to beat Borussia Monchengladbach for Inter to have a chance to qualify. The good news is that Real cannot relax and will need a win to make certain of progression, so it is all up for grabs.

Best Inter players in the fantasy rankings

The player that scored the most points over the weekend was of course Achraf Hakimi. It would have been more but the defender was also booked. He has 18 points overall and is the third best ranked player. Romelu Lukaku leads the rankings with a total of 35 points and is followed by Martinez with 20.

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Serie A Top Perfomers – UCL Road Game vs Barcelona

Juventus pulled off the upset and exacted revenge on a shell-shocked Barcelona, snatching the first spot in their Champions League group thanks to their best performance of the season.

Gianluigi Buffon: everybody needs to do their part to keep a clean sheet at Camp Nou and any defender could have been deserving of the nod. Leonardo Bonucci almost put the nail in the coffin late and was quietly impressive, while Danilo and Matthijs De Ligt were extremely aggressive in the duels, also far away from their own box, which often set the tone. But the shout-out goes to the ageless wonder, who was given a maybe final spotlight by coach and answered the bell whenever he was called into action, in particular on the numerous sharp attempts by Lionel Messi. 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

Unai Emery helping to give Villarreal a second wave of excellency in La Liga

Many sing about the fairy tale of New York around Christmas but Villarreal are the fairy tale of Spanish football. Let’s face it how many football fans had heard of the club before their fantastic run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2006? Whatever the figure halve it down to how many fans knew of the club back in 1998. That year Villarreal made their debut in La Liga.

It really is an amazing story, and true we’ve seen it before where clubs from a second division get promoted and do well enough to finish in the top 5 for example and qualify for Europe. But Villarreal went that step further and though they have been relegated on a few occasions since 1998 they keep coming back, have attracted quality players and coaches and are doing rather well this season.

This summer Unai Emery former coach of PSG and Arsenal signed a three year contract with the club known as ‘The Yellow Submarines’, and he already has a 53% win rate. The most stunning fact is that Villarreal have lost just once this season and are in 3rd place with 20 points, three in front of Real Madrid and six in front of Barcelona and four from the top.

No one is expecting Villarreal to be a realistic challenger for the title this season, though at the present time La Liga is well open to invitations, but if the club can finish in a European position Emery would have done his job and brought the club full circle.

It is incredible to think that the club have risen from a population of just 50,000 and their achievements have been quite incredible. Not only reaching the 2006 Champions League semi-final, but they also reached the semi-finals of the Europa League on three occasions and finished as runners up in La Liga back in 2008. They finished just 8 points shy of Real Madrid the champions but 10 points in front of Barcelona, that Barcelona team who were just getting ready to become one of the best clubs sides we have ever witnessed.

The recruitment at Villarreal has been impressive and apart from a few seasons when they club didn’t perform at all well these past 22 years have been incredible for the club. Much of that is down to club president Fernando Roig.

Roig took the gamble to buy Villarreal back in 1997 and it has been his clear investment and strategy that has brought the clubs most successful era to fruition in the past two decades. Back in 2017 Roig had this to say about the club. “The fans can complain that we haven’t won a trophy, but I’d like to assure them that really, the best thing for Villarreal is ensuring that the club remains in the top flight that’s our own Cup tournament in a way. For this club, the most important triumph is playing in the top division every year and playing in Europe every now and again. Villarreal is economically stable and in a few years’ time, our youth academy will be a source of new talent for the team.

Villarreal have had stand out players of the past including Juan Roman Riquelme, Robert Pires, Giuseppi Rossi and Diego Forlan to name a few. The current squad are doing well too.

Gerard Moreno currently has 57 goals and is just 26 shy of becoming the clubs all time leading goalscorer. At 28 he has the time to do it as long as he stays fit and doesn’t leave beforehand. This season alone Moreno has scored six goals and has the most fantasy points of any Villarreal player with 25 so far.

Just behind him is his striker partner Paco Alcacer who would cost you just 3m and has earned 24 points this season. He has been involved in seven goals so far and has scored 5.

Manuel Trigueros and Daniel Parejo have bolstered the midfield and in defence Mario Gaspar has stood out, he has 14 points so far and has helped to keep 3 clean sheets.

Once again the future looks bright for Villarreal, and this season in particular could be very memorable indeed if they can keep up their good form under Emery. Right now nobody can be thinking that their yellow submarine is going to sink this season.

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Juventus Top Performers – UCL – home game vs Dynamo Kyiv

In a glorified friendly with Dynamo Kyiv, Juventus survived the usual midgame lull and cruised their way to a three-nil victory, which however does not put them any closer to the first spot as Barcelona were successful as well versus Ferencvarosi.

Alex Sandro: a vintage performance on offense for the Brazilian fullback, who attacked at will and came up with a quality assist for Federico Chiesa thanks to a soft and well-placed cross. He has seen limited playing time so far because of a major thigh injury, so it will be interesting to see what role the new regime has in store for him. Second-best in the back was Wojciech Szczesny since he had a monster save to avoid the equalizer in the first half, furiously shooting the gap on a wide-open opponent. Ordinary business for Leonardo Bonucci and Merih Demiral, who played slightly out of position but held his own, while Matthijs De Ligt was not as on point as in other circumstances and all in all was not required to do too much. Continue reading

Inter move to 2nd in Serie A but Champions League dreams hanging by a thread

Forget Juventus, well forget them for now anyway because all of a sudden it feels like a decade ago, before Cristiano Ronaldo flexed his brilliance in Turin, before the run of 9 titles in a row, Milan and Inter are 1st and 2nd in Serie A and both clubs will want to be more than just pacesetters.

The Old Lady aren’t far behind of course just 1 point separates them from Inter but for Antonio Conte’s team the weekend result was a good one, a 3-0 victory away to Sassuolo.

Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring in just the 4th minute and it is funny what confidence can do for a player. It has been no secret that Sanchez has been struggling for a few seasons now, but it was nice to see the Chilean international score last weekend and he scored again. Lautaro Martinez’s initial effort was stopped by the goalkeeper but the ball came back to the striker and instead of going for goal again used his maturity to square the ball to the waiting Sanchez who had an easy chance.

Ten minutes later it seemed that the game was slipping from the home side’s grasp even before it had really begun when a dangerous cross was pinballed into the five yard area and Vlad Chiriches scored an own goal which was unfortunate for him.

Even though it was 2-0 to Inter early on Sassuolo did not to their credit lie down and had a few good chances themselves, indeed each club recorded 3 shots on target in the first 45 minutes and Sassuolo dominated possession but couldn’t get the break through.

In the end it took until the hour mark to see a third goal and more importantly for Inter it was for them. It was to be by far the best goal of the match scored by Roberto Gagliardini. The midfielder received the ball on the right hand side edge of the box and with the ball slightly in the air toe poked it delightfully, for the sheer beauty of it this goal should be considered one of the best of the season.

There was a chance near the end to make it 4-0 which would have gone down as one of the extraordinary goals with two different Inter players volleying the ball to each other before Sanchez volleyed it towards goal- but alas it wasn’t to be. But this win was another important statement for the club that they could be league contenders.

Inter are in 2nd and are 5 points behind city rivals Milan who beat Fiorentina 2-0. Inter have won 11 points from their last 15 available and have lost just once so far this season.

Antonio Conte said after the Sassuolo game that despite the 3-0 victory this wasn’t a great performance. “We always try to give our best, at times it works better than others, sometimes the results aren’t as positive but we always give 100 per cent. It’s our best result of the season, but other performances have been far better. The result tends to affect judgement of performances. If we are talking about furore and determination, then perhaps it was the best, but if we’re discussing quality of football, then that’s a different matter. The ideal is to combine those two elements.”

Inter beat Borussia Monchengladbach to give hope for Champions League survival

Group B is tighter than tight and only 3 points separates 1st from 4th. Inter are currently last with 5 points but saved themselves from a group exit when they beat Borussia Monchengladbach 3-2 in Germany. It was an absolutely fantastic result given that the Bundesliga team are top of the group and it was their first defeat of the group stages.

Matteo Darmain opened the scoring for Conte’s side but the hero of the night was Romelu Lukaku who scored a brace to win the game 3-2. Lukaku had made his comeback in the league game but came on as a late substitute but it was in this match where Lukaku underlined just what an important player he is for the club.

There is only one more game to be played in the group stages and Inter must beat Shakhtar Donetsk. The good news is that Conte’s team will, at least, be at home. When Inter played Shakhtar away from home earlier in the group games the match finished 0-0. However Inter will also need Real Madrid to beat Borussia Monchengladbach in their final game, and Real will need to go for the win to assure qualification anyway. Madrid will be at home for that game.

Spotlight on Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku is the one player that just keeps scoring the goals and rescuing Inter and he did so yet again in the Champions League. Inter will be hoping that the Belgian international will be able to perform at 100% when they take on Shakhtar in a crucial final game of the group stages.

Italian media have been praising Lukaku this week and the player himself has admitted that his time at Inter so far has been the best of his career- in short he is enjoying his football and it is really showing on the pitch. Lukaku has scored seven goals in just 8 league matches this season and overall has netted 45 goals in just 63 games.

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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