Manchester City’s quest for a cup treble continues

Manchester City are through to the fifth round of the FA Cup after an emphatic 4-0 win against Scott Parker’s Fulham. Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and a Gabriel Jesus brace ensured City’s quest for a cup treble continued in a season that could still be an impressive one.

Despite being 16 points behind leaders Liverpool in the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City find themselves in good stead in the FA Cup, Carabao Cup and the Champions League, a trophy that has eluded the blue side of Manchester. Continue reading

Are Bayern Munich focusing more on the Champions League than the Bundesliga?

Bayern Munich and winning the Bundesliga seemingly goes hand in hand but this has been a difficult season for the German champions who have sacked Niko Kovac this season after a slow start.

His replacement has been Hans-Dieter Flick who made an immediate improvement where the club climbed from 4th and are now in 2nd place and from his first 11 games, Flick has won 9 of them. His win rate is an astounding 81%, and that has proven fans and pundits alike in Germany wrong. Indeed when Flick was appointed there was a surprise because he hasn’t managed a club side since Hoffenheim back in 2005.

So what was Flick doing in that 14 year gap? Well he was the assistant for the German national team which of course included winning the World Cup in 2014, so he has hardly been on an extended holiday.

Currently Bayern are four points behind surprise league leaders RB Leipzig and it seems only a matter of time before Bayern eclipse them, or will they?

There have been quite a few stories circulating in the German media that Bayern much like Manchester City in the Premier League want to focus more this season on winning the Champions League. Bayern have not captured Europe’s greatest prize since 2013 and there is a feeling in doing so the club will reestablish themselves as one of Europe’s great teams. That they are is always questionable to an impressionable youth one that now has less and less attention spans. Perhaps they don’t see past Real Madrid and Barcelona and Bayern will want to remind everyone of their status.

The German giants have of course advanced to the knockout stages of the competition and in their two group stage matches put 10 goals past Tottenham who also managed to qualify for the last 16.

Bayern will play Chelsea in the knock out rounds which, of course, will be a repeat of the 2012 final when Chelsea scrapped through on penalties. The league of course will be important for the club but the situation as it stands is that Flick can’t really lose. He has come in to pick up the pieces and a deep run in cups and maintaining 2nd place even if they don’t win the league shouldn’t affect his job this year.

The rallying cry has been led by Philippe Coutinho who said: “We want to do our best, survive the next round and win the Champions League at the end of course. I think we have the quality.”

So if Bayern drop more points in the league which could happen once the Champions League starts up again in a months time, don’t be surprised, there is a focus and it is not on the league title this year.

 

 

Ending Napoli curse could be watershed moment in Lazio’s Champions League chase

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It’s all too easy to get lost in football statistics nowadays.

For followers of Lazio, this has been truer than ever of late. Every match, every win, every goal, seems to set a new historic landmark or shatter some long-standing record.

Among the avalanche of numbers and information that has tumbled from the slipstream of the Roman club’s nine-match winning run in Serie A was an important moment for Simone Inzaghi.

The Lazio coach had never beaten his Juventus counterpart Maurizio Sarri until December’s thrilling 3-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico, only to then go and repeat the feat just two weeks later to win the Supercoppa Italiana in Riyadh.

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Atalanta’s Progress: By the numbers

Last season, Atalanta sent shock-waves throughout Italian football and qualified for the Champions League, finishing ahead of Italy’s traditional giants Inter, Roma, and Milan among others. Along with European football comes the luxury of a pitfall of cash and unique opportunities for growth that Atalanta have taken full advantage of.

Beyond their Champions League cash, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have been extremely proactive on the transfer market, selling their players for incredible profits. Dejan Kulusevki, for example. The Swedish international has only played three times for them in his entire career and was sold for nearly forty-five million euros. Let’s take a deeper look at the numbers.

According to Calcio e Finanza, Atalanta have already cashed forty million euros from the Champions League and could make more depending on their two-legged affair with Valencia. Given recent form, it’s not entirely improbable they progress to the final eight.

While Champions League money is always welcomed, it’s not as sustainable as other sources of revenue for the club. After all, will they qualify for Europe’s elite competition every season? They’re hoping so, but probably not.

As a result, Atalanta have enacted a model wherein they sell their top-performing young players to Italy’s big clubs after breakout seasons. Kulusevski to Juve, Gagliardini to Inter, Cristante and Mancini to Roma, Conti and Kessie to Milan, and the list goes on. In this sense, they maximize their profits. While certain cases will have them thinking they moved on their players a season too early, that’s always better than feeling they sold a player a season too late.

Just ask Torino’s Urbano Cairo. After Andrea Belotti’s breakout season, Torino reportedly got offers ranging between 50 to 75 million euros for their hitman. Cairo played hard-ball, kept Belotti and has since missed out on a unique rebuilding opportunity by turning down those offers. Today, Belotti won’t fetch anywhere near the previously reported price-tags. Atalanta, on the other hand, have a knack for selling players at the right time. In fact, their track record speaks for itself.  Most of their departed players, bar a few, have struggled to recreate their past form at their new clubs.

According to Transfermarkt’s numbers, the Bergamo-based club are set to cash in a further 110 million euros this season, in addition to Musa Barrow’s reported sale of 20M. That’s 130M on players that have either already been replaced or have never featured regularly for them.

With their squad lacking a few additions to take the next step, it will be interesting to see what Atalanta does with that money. Will they abandon their current philosophy and go for more-experienced players in hopes of making the leap alongside Italy’s elite or will they continue with their own model that has worked wonders for them?

If last transfer window was anything to go by, it will arguably be a mix of both, with a particular focus on experienced players. See: Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi. As another transfer window beckons, Atalanta’s activity will be worth monitoring. They have the money and a vision: but can they deliver on it?

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Are Manchester City Looking Good for the Champions League?

Manchester City have been the kings of English football for the last few seasons. They have gone from mediocrity to one of the most wealthy and successful clubs in the English Premier League in just a decade.

After returning to top flight football in 2002, following a few years in the lower echelons of English football, they were bought by Sheikh Mansour in 2008 for £210 million. They quickly began to acquire top talent and won their first ever Premier League title in the 2011/12 season. This was then followed by titles in 2013/14, 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Despite this success and becoming the first team to score 100 points (during the 2017/18 season), City’s owners are not content with just success in English football. They also want the team to become the “kings of European football”, meaning they are desperate to win the UEFA Champions League.

This persistent desire was confirmed by manager Pep Guardiola as he described success in England, but not in Europe, as “hitting a ceiling”. It’s easy to see why—four Premier League titles (one with 100 points) and a domestic treble are a pretty definitive demonstration that you have not only reached the top of English football but have also rewritten the history books with multiple records.

However, the story is completely different in Europe as City have not won European silverware since they won the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup way back in 1969/70. This is made worse by the fact the Blues have regularly qualified for the Champions League (in fact every year) for the last nine seasons but have not made it beyond the semi-final.

Looking Strong in 2019/20?

While the team has not officially confirmed it, City seem to have spent this year focusing on trying to win the Champions League. They sit third in the Premier League table, 14 points behind Liverpool, having lost 5 games already at the season’s halfway point.

Meanwhile, City have performed better in Europe. Of the 6 matches in Group C for the Champions League, City didn’t lose a single game, winning four and getting two draws against Shakhtar Donetsk and Atalanta. In doing so, they scored twice as many points as their second-place rivals.

Only 3 teams in the entire competition scored more points than City. After a strong performance in the group stages, they are through to the Round of 16, where they will face Real Madrid. The game will be quite evenly-matched, with oddsmakers giving similar odds, although SkyBet currently has Real Madrid slightly ahead at 7/4, as compared to City’s 6/4.

Format Going Against Them?

Although the title is not guaranteed, after several victories in late December, football pundits began to predict that Liverpool were going to win the Premier League this season. City are far behind. Unless Liverpool collapse, then the title will end up at Anfield while City are left to focus on the domestic cups and the Champions League.

However, in the Champions League, success rides on performance in just a handful of games. Victory in the round of 16 counts for nothing if you get knocked out in the quarter finals. Therefore, City’s chances of victory rely on both external (who the opponents are, referee decisions, eetc) and internal (their own performance) factors. In a league, a loss against a better side can be offset with several wins against other teams. In a knockout tournament, being drawn against a difficult side reduces yours odds of victory.

Therefore, the draw against Real Madrid could go against them and put their dreams of being the kings of Europe on hold for another year. If they’re able to overcome the odds and put in a stellar performance across both legs, then there is a chance that they could make it all the way.

If they do beat Real Madrid in March, then their opponents in the quarter-finals will also be decided by a draw, meaning it is not yet possible to predict whom they will be against or how far they will go in Europe. This means they could face teams like Tottenham or RB Leipzig—teams they would stand a greater chance of beating. However, it also means they could face Juventus, PSG, Liverpool, or Bayern Munich- a much tougher opposition.

Overall, Manchester City do still stand a good chance of being crowned kings of Europe in 2020, but a lot will be riding on the two games against Real Madrid. The pressure will be on for both matches, and Pep Guardiola will need to make sure his men don’t crack.

Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp’s success is eating away at Pep Guardiola

Think of who has been the best manager of the decade in Europe and you will probably say Pep Guardiola. And you wouldn’t be wrong. The Spaniard has led Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City to success and has won 22 trophies this decade alone. He is undeniably the best manager football has had this decade, and yet there is something missing from his time at Manchester City just like there was at Bayern Munich.

That something of course is the Champions League- it is a trophy that Guardiola sees as validation that his team are the strongest and yet it is a trophy that he hasn’t won since 2011 with Barcelona.

Just before Guardiola came to manage Bayern Munich they were the European champions but he couldn’t replicate that and with Manchester City is has been much the same, only being able to reach a semi-final and mostly otherwise failing in the knock out rounds. City have simply never came close to winning the competition. There are reports that Guardiola could quit the club this summer but they remain just that but it does seem possible that he could leave the club by 2021, he simply doesn’t stay around for long periods and by then he would have been at City for five years.

It is total irony when you think about it that Manchester City are champions of England. Because it is the one thing that Liverpool may just have traded City as they won the Champions League last season beating Tottenham in the final who knocked out City in one of the classic games of European football in the modern era.

Guardiola was well under the assumption that his presence in England would take precedence when he joined up with City and that the club would rule all. He wasn’t silly enough to think it would just happen of course, but with his winning mentality, work rate and the budget that the club have he would have been forgiven for thinking this City project would have been Barcelona mark 2. And yet in the four seasons that he has taken charge of City (by the end of this one) he would have won 2 league titles. This by all means is still a great record but one senses for a man who once won 6 trophies in a single season with Barcelona he would have expected more success at City.

As it is he looks over his shoulder and there is a massive rival, an historic English team who have resurfaced and it is not the expected one, Manchester United but Liverpool who under Jurgen Klopp have looked simply unbeatable. Klopp’s Liverpool have put City and Guardiola to the sword many times most infamously in the semi final of the 2018 Champions League where Liverpool scored close to a cricket score.

Of course the irony is that City were the last team in the Premier League to beat Liverpool which happened one year ago and led City to an incredible league title win finishing on 98 points to Liverpool’s 97. And more irony is that it is how much Guardiola has raised the bar which has encouraged Klopp to follow suit with Liverpool and raise it even further.

It is Klopp who has that Champions League medal that Guardiola wants so much with his debutante City side and it is Klopp who raised it up again leading his Liverpool side to the World Club Cup, another trophy Guardiola hasn’t seen since 2011.

So both managers are holding trophies the other one wants, but it’s not even as simple as that when you look at the current league table and see that Klopp and Liverpool are going to wrap up the league title. Currently having a 10 point gap over Leicester in 2nd but having 2 games in hand, that could be 16. The league looks Liverpool’s to lose and the Reds are certainly marching on.

Liverpool are claiming to be the number 1 team in England and Europe and there doesn’t seem like there is much Guardiola can do about it, except of course to win the Champions League this season, that is.

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Champions League round of 16 draw: Analysis of all the ties

Napoli vs Barcelona

Barcelona have not reached the final of the Champions League since their most recent triumph in 2015, and second-leg collapses against Roma and Liverpool in the last couple of seasons mean the pressure is on the Catalan giants to deliver in 2019/20.

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Juventus Top Perfomers – UCL Round 5 vs Atletico Madrid

Juventus reached their first objective of the season by securing the top spot in their Champions League group with a one-nil victory over Atletico Madrid that was accompanied by one of the best team’s showings in a while.

Matthijs De Ligt: he was bound to be the pick anyway because he always sticks out a little bit more than his partner in crime Leonardo Bonucci and then cemented it with an outstanding block on Joaquin Correa, who had slipped past the back-line, shooting the gap in a hurry and simply bum-rushing the opponent. The defence gave up just one clear-cut chance, although Alvaro Morata was likely offside on that incredible whiff, even when the Colchoneros switched to a ludicrously offensive lineup, confirming that it tends to perform better when under pressure. Wojciech Szczesny is oozing confidence these days and did not have to do too much, while the duo of fullbacks for the evening, Danilo and Mattia De Sciglio, did not mess anything up but rarely bothered attacking, so the standard ‘compitino’. Continue reading

Have we all underestimated Joel Matip’s quality?

Three goals to the good and cruising, Liverpool had very little to worry about especially with Virgil Van Dijk, the supposed best centre back of his generation, on the pitch. Within 21 minutes, though, the Anfield side had been pegged back to 3-3 by Red Bull Salzburg. Van Dijk had been at fault for at least one of the three goals conceded.

This, of course, was something of a freak event. Van Dijk is indeed the best defender in the European game right now. That he would have such a dismal second half performance against a team a side of Liverpool’s calibre should have seen off with ease was utterly unpredictable.

It raised questions of whether Van Dijk’s usual centre back partner, who was missing through injury for this match, had been underestimated all this time. Joel Matip has been the Dutchman’s partner for the best part of a year, but alongside Joe Gomez Liverpool looked much more vulnerable in defence.

Matip has long been viewed as the lesser of Liverpool’s two centre backs. In fact, some have even identified the German as a weak link in Jurgen Klopp’s team, a component to be exposed. Many have argued that the Anfield side should go back into the transfer window to sign a better, more accomplished replacement.

It’s true that Matip doesn’t always cut the most composed figure at the back for the Reds. His languid, gangly isn’t the most natural of fits for Klopp’s otherwise stylish side. However, it would seem that he has forged an understanding with Van Dijk at the back that gives the Reds their steadiest basis.

Gomez has a higher ceiling than Matip. Indeed, the young England international will most likely surpass the German at one point or another. But with Liverpool currently embarking on their most significant league season in a generation, Klopp doesn’t have time for much experimentation and Matip is his second best central defender.

Much has been made of the way Van Dijk has steadied the Liverpool defence and those around him since his arrival from Southampton 18 months ago. But on the basis of what happened on Wednesday night in the Champions League, Matip has a similar sort of calming effect on his team and on Van Dijk. Their partnership has become a mutually beneficial one and the Reds need the German back from injury as soon as possible.

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Why Real Madrid are getting better every week under Zinedine Zidane

For Real Madrid there will be enquiries into why their Champions League campaign has not started off on the front foot, but in the league everything seems to be taking shape, with coach Zinedine Zidane perhaps in the midst of his most difficult and testing season.

Last night Real could only draw with Belgian side Club Brugges at the Santiago Bernabeu which led to the inevitable boos, though in truth the match, which finished 2-2, would have felt like a small victory after the home side found themselves 2-0 down.

That match followed their first game in the group stages where they were easily beaten by PSG in Paris by 3-0. The defeat in Paris was probably overblown- a lot of very good teams are going to lose their this season, true the result wasn’t good but it wasn’t catastrophic either. What followed felt much more important.

So it was back to La Liga where Madrid had been making heavy weather of their results, to be fair eternal rivals Barcelona were too. But the fixture list did not look good for Zidane’s men. Following the PSG defeat they would have to play early front runners Sevilla away from home and also stay on the road to play the derby against Atletico Madrid, a side genuinely after the La Liga title this season.

Many thought that down south in Spain, Madrid would falter and yet they didn’t-they won and kept a clean sheet to boot. The final score reflected the closeness of the game with a 1-0 result, but that was still 3 massive points for Los Blancos.

The next match was set up as two genuine rivals for the league went head to head in Madrid, and that match ended 0-0 with the majority of the game being a midfield battle which became quite fascinating to watch. Eden Hazard in particular was given praise for getting physically stuck into the match. Hazard has arguably struggled this season for the club despite coming back from injury, but he should improve over time.

The draw at Atletico has suddenly put Madrid on top of the standings, albeit on goal difference and a top squeeze down to 5th place but still amongst all the criticism’s and the bla bla bla, Madrid under Zidane are top of the league and that is all that matters.

There will, of course, be more twists and turns and Madrid do not look like the polished finished article just yet. But with Gareth Bale to come back from injury and some emerging talent in the form of Rodrygo et all there is a lot of hope for Madrid. They need to steady that Champions League ship though.

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