Bayern result shows Liverpool focus is on the Premier League

Liverpool Manchester United Bayern Munich Premier League Champions League

It’s been a while since Liverpool had to choose between the Premier League and the Champions League. With the top four the best they could hope for in recent years, the latter took precedence.

For a club with as rich a history in Europe as the Reds, it made sense. A run to the Europa League final in 2016 provided cherished memories for fans that had been starved of anything special for several years.

The run to the Champions League final last season did the same. Thrilling wins over the likes of Manchester City and Roma are still talked about. They were exciting occasions that sit among Liverpool’s best nights in Europe.  Continue reading

Juventus Top Performers – UCL Round of 16 – First Leg

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Juventus could not rise to the occasion against Atletico Madrid, got pushed around and pinned back by the opponents in the second half and now find themselves in a nearly insurmountable hole ahead of the second leg. Here are the best performers from a rough night at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium.

Wojciech Szczesny: two solid saves by the goalkeeper, one on a strike from distance by Thomas and the other on Antoine Griezmann’s wicked free kick from the edge of the box, and a superb one of the Griezmann/Mattia De Sciglio’s lob in the second half, where he just managed to tip the ball on the crossbar. Continue reading

Allegri and Pjanic preview Atletico vs Juventus

Juventus Live wire

Coach Massimiliano Allegri and Miralem Pjanic held late yesterday the usual pre-game presser. The coach begun by announcing that Sami Khedira has not been called up and later the club informed that the midfielder will undergo testing for a atrial arrhythmia that emerged yesterday: “We lose a world-class player and will remain with four available midfielders.”

Paulo Dybala will play tomorrow. It is a game unlucky any others this season, but it is similar to what we already faced in previous years. Champions League has always been a goal for us and whether from the outside they give us more or less chances to win does not concern us. Continue reading

Three Things Lazio Need To Do To Get European Dream On Track

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Following their last-gasp defeat against Genoa, serious doubt was cast over Lazio’s top four hopes. The biancocelesti now find themselves four points behind Milan, and three back of fierce rivals Roma. Factor in a narrow first leg defeat in the Europa League against Sevilla, and you quickly see that Lazio’s Champions League dream is quickly fading. Here are three things Simone Inzaghi must do to get his side back on track in the race for top four.

1) Inzaghi must decide his best eleven, once and for all. 

Over the course of this season, Inzaghi has often tinkered with his starting eleven, leading many to believe he’s not yet aware of what his best lineup is. While injuries have constrained his choices, Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are set to return this week. With 14 games left to the season, Lazio cannot afford another slip-up, especially considering Milan’s red-hot form. Ciro Immobile is undoubtedly the first name on the team-sheet, but who should accompany him up top is not always clear. Joaquin Correa has proven to be dangerous, but typically thrives in a three-pronged attack, which allows him the freedom to drift wide.

When deployed alongside Immobile in a two-striker setup, Correa often leaves the Italian striker isolated as he roams freely. With Luis Alberto returning to the fold against Sevilla this week, Inzaghi would be wise to field a three-man attack with the Spaniard and Correa flanking Immobile. Against Juventus, this tactic worked wonders and if it weren’t for their own wastefulness, the biancocelesti could have put the tie to bed early in the second half.

With Milinkovic-Savic and Lucas Leiva in the midfield, Lazio will have all the solidity they need without compromising offensive firepower. Against Sevilla this week, Inzaghi’s men will need to be at their best if they are to overturn the tie, and could do so with this lineup. Let’s not forget – a Europa League win equals safe passage into next year’s Champions League.

2) Beat the teams below them. 

This one is rather obvious but could prove to be crucial in their hopes for European football. All too often Lazio are guilty of stooping down to the level of their opposition and giving them a chance at beating them. Just recently in their 1-0 win over Empoli, Lazio were wholly unconvincing and gave the Serie A minnows ample opportunities to hurt them. Luckily for them, they were able to nick a goal against the run of play and maintain the pace at the top. The same occurred the week before against Frosinone and will continue to happen if it goes unaddressed.

This season, Inzaghi’s men have dropped points against Serie A’s mid-table sides including the likes of Genoa, Torino, Chievo, and Sassuolo. While on their day all these sides possess quality and enterprise to take on any team in the league, Lazio should be claiming all three points regularly against the provinciali. With the season soon coming to a close, this is a pattern Inzaghi will be looking to rectify immediately.

3) Alter their shot selection and stop being wasteful in front of goal. 

Only Juventus and Napoli take more shots than Lazio in Serie A, as the biancocelesti are currently averaging 17 shots per game. Yet, that doesn’t always translate to goals. Right now, Lazio have the fewest goals scored of any side chasing top four football and would have the fewest goals scored in the entire top half of the table if it weren’t for Walter Mazzarri’s Torino.

At the moment, Lazio are not only being wasteful in front of goal, but they’re also firing low percentage shots. Moving forward, Lazio should prioritize high quality chances over the long-range screamers they seem to be enjoying. Inzaghi’s men would be wise to play that extra pass instead of firing away from outside the eighteen-yard box. With players like Luis Alberto and Correa, they can afford to take on an extra man or take a few extra touches before sliding through a teammate.

If they are to qualify for Champions League football, they’re going to need to start scoring more – starting with their clashes against Sevilla and Udinese. Fewer shots of higher quality will yield better results than shots from just about anywhere – a lesson Inzaghi’s men must learn sooner rather than later.

Do you have what it takes to challenge the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? If you’re up to challenging the best then play www.seriea-fantasy.com now!

Bonucci and Chiellini talk to Spanish newspapers

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Both centre-backs spoke to Spanish newspapers today, Leonardo Bonucci to AS and Giorgio Chiellini to Marca. Here are the highlights and the new stuff revealed in the interviews, starting with Bonucci: “Being able to stay with my family was one of the reasons why I decided to return to Juventus, I did not see my son Lorenzo very often last year, now he is happier. Unfortunately, he still cheers for Torino: he wavered after the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, but he has enrolled in their youth academy. Matteo’s five-month sickness in 2016 was very tough, but it made me realize that I can live without football, but not without my family. Everything is fine now fortunately.” Continue reading

Allegri Opting For Caution Against Atletico Madrid

Juventus Training Session

With their crucial Round of 16 clash approaching, it appears Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri will go for pragmatism when the bianconeri take on Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. Rather than sticking with his three-pronged attack, the former Milan tactician has reportedly been tinkering with Joao Cancelo at right midfield and Mattia De Sciglio at right back in a 4-4-2 – leaving Paulo Dybala on the bench in the process.

Allegri has opted for caution in the past, and has often used this defensive 4-4-2 in away clashes in the Champions League. With Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira occupying the two central midfield positions, Blaise Matuidi typically shifts wide on the left, blocking the opposition’s right flank.

Up top, the tactician is reportedly going to field Mario Mandzukic alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. While a 4-4-2 would essentially mirror Atletico’s formation and would go a long way in nullifying their offensive firepower, this setup has backfired for Allegri in the past before. Against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, the Italian manager went for a similar formation, with Dani Alves occupying the right wing.

His pragmatism worked initially against the Spanish giants, however, as soon as Zinedine Zidane made some tactical tweaks at half-time, his 4-4-2 and by consequence, Juventus’ European dream, soon fell apart. The bianconeri found themselves consistently on the back foot, and had nothing to show for in the final third.

On Wednesday, Allegri cannot afford a similar performance and must find a way to achieve defensive solidity without sitting too deep and playing too safe. An away goal at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium could go a long way in this tight affair and might prove to be the difference over two legs.  While having players like Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi come off the bench against tired legs could sway the tie, one of them needs to start against Los Colchoneros. 

Considering Mandzukic’s flexibility and ability to play on the left both in the offensive and defensive phases, Allegri should field Dybala alongside Ronaldo. The Argentine has played his best football when deployed in a partnership and has recently developed a blossoming relationship with the Portuguese superstar. Coming off an impressive performance and a thunderbolt of a goal against Frosinone, now would be a good time to provide La Joya continuity. Against a defensively staunch Atletico Madrid side, Juventus will need all the creativity they can get to break their deep block.

With Ronaldo attracting much of the centre-backs’ attention, Dybala will have the license to roam between the lines and could carve out space for himself – either to fire strikes or find a teammate in space. As Ronaldo and Dybala wreck havoc centrally, Mandzukic will have ample opportunities to let his presence be known in the eighteen-yard box going up against Santiago Arias.

As it stands now, Allegri’s reported setup will stifle his side in the final third and will inevitably isolate Ronaldo and Mandzukic – forcing Juve to go wide to Cancelo. Considering Godin’s aerial presence and Jan Oblak’s command of his box, filtering in crosses from the wing – a common Allegri tactic – will fail miserably. With the clash approaching, time will tell if Allegri’s caution will be repaid or whether another European disaster is on the horizon for Juventus.

Do you have what it takes to challenge the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? If you’re up to challenging the best then play www.seriea-fantasy.com now!

Real Madrid fans are wrong to turn on Gareth Bale

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If any player deserves myth status at Real Madrid currently than you could do no more wrong in suggesting that accolade should go to Gareth Bale. But it seems that every time Bale makes an error it is this the fans are remembering him for and not his greatness as a player.

Let’s be blunt, Bale has become the best ever British import- he has joined Real Madrid, competed in a side with Cristiano Ronaldo, scored countless goals- most of them important ones and most of them awe inspiring and has won so many trophies that it is easy to lose count of them all. But for some reason that doesn’t matter diddly to Madrid fans.

Madrid’s fans have always been very hard to please. Especially if you are a player of flair- even Ronaldo has been booed at the club before, and if he can be then anyone can. But these are fans that probably wish the likes of Roy Keane had played for the club. The harder you are the more loyal you are etc etc.

It’s not that the fans do not like Bale, and any of them would have to admit he has been one of the best foreign players the club have had in their last 25 years, but they won’t let things lie down. So when Bale missed a sitter against Atletico Madrid that was brought to the forefront so much so that Spanish daily reported on it, is Bale in crisis at Madrid moment? What was bizarre is that Bale scored in that game and Madrid won 3-1, which has consequently brought them  back into the league.

But this is Madrid fans in a nutshell, they did the same to another British player-who scored important goals and won 2 Champions Leagues, Steve McManaman. Now the ex Liverpool player is welcomed back at the Bernabeu with open arms and you get the feeling that once Bale leaves the club and the years go on and retirement comes, Bale will be seen as a very important figure at the club. Surely that was cemented last summer when he came off the bench in the Champions League final and scored an incredible bicycle kick against Liverpool- and let’s be honest it was his involvement in the game that ended up winning Real Madrid their 3rd consecutive Champions League title.

Madrid fans will never change- but they need to show Bale a little bit more respect- after all he is the best player they have at the moment.

Is a top 4 Premier League finish worth more than a cup trophy?

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How football has changed when certain managers and one of them being Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino admitted recently that finishing in a top 4 place was more important than trophies, but is that true? And why has this developed?

Make no mistake there are plenty of other managers who feel the same way about the top 4. The top four at least in England has become important because it is a gateway of course to play in the Champions League. Of course it is in fact the top 3 who automatically qualify for the Champions League. The team who finish 4th have to play in a special play off in order to get into the competition proper. But English teams have always achieved that.

It does seem rather odd though that some teams would prefer a top 4 place and not an FA Cup or League Cup win. For the bigger teams still winning domestic cups is important and let’s not forget that 90% of wins in the FA Cup over the past 25 years have come from the very best teams in England- Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. Sure the teams and players want to jump higher but winning is winning and keeps players in a good mental state.

Other teams who usually finish mid table have been guilty of not playing their strongest sides in the hopes of, what? Rare has it been to see one of these teams finish in a top 4 place. Leicester of course did it in 2016 when they won the league and Everton did it a decade ago, but it still remains a rare feat.

But has football come to when certain teams are not 100% into the domestic cup competitions? It’s not as if there is 10 different trophies up for grabs each season. There are 4, and for the teams outside the top six there is just realistically 2 each season- these teams should be and need to be going for victory all of the time.

Instead teams seem to be saving themselves for a top 4 place and the irony cannot be lost on anyone, because they are trying to qualify simply to be in another cup competition.

Arsenal did it for years, albeit they did win a few FA Cups in Arsene Wenger’s last years but it feels as though the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea might seem happy to act that way too. Surely this is short changing the fans who really do want that day out at Wembley and to experience and win a cup final.

Alas like most things in life it comes down to money, and the Champions League has plenty of it, and of course exposure and TV rights will play its part. But the big clubs have the big budgets and good squads and really should be going for everything once the season kicks off. Making choices and putting all of your eggs in one basket rarely works out.

Pep Guardiola is changing the Premier League for the better

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Pep Guardiola is arguably the best manager in world football and yet he still has his critics but one thing is very sure he is the best man manager out there.

It’s true of course that everywhere Guardiola has been he has had money to spend, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City- although one could argue that at Barcelona he just inherited an insanely fantastic squad of players who ended up being hailed as perhaps the greatest club team of all time, and tika taka as we know it was born.

It would be a mistake just to think that Guardiola throws money at the problem, because as Real Madrid proved throughout the 2000s when they went through their first phase of galactico mania, money doesn’t always buy the best balanced team.

But with Guardiola there is a huge difference. First he identifies the problem areas and then asks for the money, yes he has been lucky to have that privilege but then he knows despite the talents of the incoming player that they will still need proper coaching. Guardiola will never do a Jose Mourinho and have a total meltdown at at football club, it isn’t in his nature and it isn’t in his nature to have a major public falling out with a player.

Guardiola remains a winner and wants to win all trophies his team are entered into. It is why Manchester City currently lead the Premier League, even though Liverpool have arguably been the best side this season and have lost just 1 game. Him and his teams never give up, relentless is a good word to use.

After City beat Chelsea 6-0, Guardiola was most likely beaming inside but he wasn’t letting the press know it. If you had not known the score you could have thought that City had perhaps scrapped to a 1-0 or 2-1 win. This is in his DNA his mentality because a win is just a win. It was also telling to see that Guardiola admitted that his City side are not on the same level as Barcelona when he coached them. For arguments sake he could have said yes, but he refused to say so. Instead he stuck to the truth that City haven’t even won the Champions League yet.

And onto that City are now the favourites to win their first ever European Cup, and yes they have come a long way.

Arsene Wenger has been celebrated in the Premier League as a foreign coach who came in and changed how players saw their fitness and changed diets which spread from Arsenal right through the league. If Wenger was the founder of that in the modern age then Guardiola is the torch bearer. His qualities and professionalism seem to know no boundaries. You can tell when you look into his eyes that he is thinking about City and football 24/7. That is what City bought into when they decided to make Guardiola boss, and now the club are reaping those awards.