One year since Neymar blew the transfer market wide open

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This time last year the football world was still reeling from the astonishing €222 million capture of Neymar by Paris Saint-Germain.

It was a stunning coup by the French side, taking a player destined to become one of the world’s best from one of the footballing super powers that PSG aspire to be.

Barcelona were dumbstruck and, as a result of that particular deal, have been careful to ensure much higher buyout clauses for their best players. Continue reading

Brazil bow out following defeat to Belgium

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Five-times World Cup champions Brazil bowed out of the World Cup last week after a mediocre campaign was finally brought to an end by Roberto Martinez’s Belgium side in Kazan.

In a crunch match in which Brazil would have to show their mettle and championship-winning credentials if they were to continue into the latter stages of the competition, the side found themselves behind early on when Nacer Chadli’s corner struck Fernandinho’s arm, beating an unsuspecting Alisson.

Brazil had conceded just one goal in their past four games in Russia and their opponents took advantage of the malaise that followed the surprise goal – creating a Continue reading

World Cup Weekly Recap

Brazil v Costa Rica: Group E - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

An action-packed week on the World Cup is the books and the tournament rages on with an uncanny amount of penalties and own goals. The first verdicts are already in: Russia and Uruguay have advanced in the group A after their wins against Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Croatia did the same in the G one.

While La Celeste has been doing it with minimal efforts, the other two teams, along with Belgium have been the most impressive squads so far. The Sbornaya is on an incredible run and is very well-structured. As for the Red Devils, who have more than one foot in the next phase, Romelu Lukaku keeps terrorizing defences, while Eden Hazard netted his first two goals in a World Cup.

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La Liga Team of the Week Match May 38

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An enthralling La Liga season has drawn to a close and many of the division’s stars will now be turning their minds to the upcoming World Cup in Russia. But who made a final in the last round of fixtures to secure a place in the last Team of the Week?

Marc ter Stegen, Barcelona – seven points

A final clean sheet of the campaign rounded off what has been a wonderful season for the German.

With 113 points to his name, ter Stegen will be eyeing a starting berth for his national team come the World Cup. Continue reading

Barcelona unbeaten streak ends in shock loss at Levante

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Our game of the week looks at the blockbuster fixture at Estadi Ciutat de València that saw Levante put an end to Barcelona’s unbeaten streak in an enthralling 5-4 win that will be etched on the minds of both players and fans alike for some time to come.

A much changed Barcelona side came into the tie with a lethargy that suggested they believed this result to be a mere formality.

However, they were given an early shock when Boateng just managed to force a whipped cross into the goal off the underside of the bar to open proceedings in the ninth minute.

The 21-year-old Ghanaian then doubled the lead just after half an hour into the tie when he capitalised on a Continue reading

La Liga Team of Week 37

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Following an exhilarating penultimate round of fixtures in which Barca waved goodbye to the prospect of an unbeaten season, we look at the team of the week to arrive from the fallout of the action. 

Jan Oblak, Atletico Madrid – seven points

The Slovakian goalkeeper has been exceptional between the sticks for Atleti this season, earning plaudits from across the footballing world.

With his side seemingly set to finish in a more than respectable second position, his 22 clean sheets with just 20 goals conceded is a truly excellent record.

José Gayá, Valencia – five points Continue reading

Why Philippe Coutinho Must Start On The Left Or Not Start At All

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Three days after being hauled off at halftime after a nonexistence performance against Real Madrid, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of why Barcelona decided to pay £142million for his services in January.

The Brazilian opened the scoring and put in one of his best performances of the season against Villarreal, en route to a 5-1 win. It’s easy to point to the difference in quality between the opposition, but Villarreal are in 6th place and have won their only matchup with Real Madrid this season. Moreover, on Wednesday’s encounter, Coutinho faced off against one of the best right backs in Europe, Mario Gaspar, and still managed to impress.

Perhaps the main difference between the two performances was not in the quality of the opposition or the weight of the occasion: Coutinho has delivered time and time again in heavyweight Premier League clashes that boast the same vigor and importance of El Clásico. Perhaps the difference is in his position: while he started on the right wing against Real Madrid, he operated as a left winger against Villarreal.

Coutinho’s best position has always been a puzzle that nobody has quite yet solved. The Rio De Janeiro native rose to fame under Brendan Rodgers’ title-chasing diamond 4-4-2 as a left-sided interior. Under Jürgen Klopp, he operated as a left winger, cutting in from the wing and dazzling the Kop with pinpoint long shots. This season, he often found himself as a left-sided central midfielder, supplying the high-flying triumvirate of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané. Since arriving at Barcelona in January, Ernesto Valverde has fielded him in a variety of positions, including on the right. Taking note of Tite’s success in playing him on the right wing next to Gabriel Jesus and Neymar Jr., Valverde has started Coutinho on the right in several high-stakes matches, from El Clásico to the Copa Del Rey Final. While the Brazilian has impressed on the right, keeping him on the right instead of his more natural, left-sided position would not only be a waste of his abilities, but a waste of the £142million shelled out for him as well.

Against Madrid, Coutinho was isolated and hesitant to use his preferred left foot. Against Villarreal, Coutinho proved just why he is viewed as both the long-term and short-term replacement to Andrés Iniesta, who, like him, experimented at left wing, despite playing the majority of his prime as a left-sided midfielder.

It was clear from the start how comfortable he was on the other side of the pitch. Midway through the seventh minute, he attempts to run through the channel between Álvaro and Gaspar, but seeing as though Samu Castillejo blocked Lucas Digne’s passing lane, he retreats for the short pass option. At first, it seems he’s about to play a one-two with Digne, but instead, he swivels past two Submarino Amarillo players, just another glimpse of the Brazilian’s nonchalant press-resistance.

At the tenth minute, just as Ousmane Dembélé is blazing past several naive yellow shirts, Coutinho realizes there’s the opportunity for a through ball or a shot. He changes tempo at the edge of the 18-yard-box, turning his light jog into a full-fledged sprint, and hammers home the rebound for Ousmane’s deflected shot.

At the sixteenth minute, he notices Rodri Hernandez shuttling over to press him just as he is about to receive the ball. The Brazilian quickly side-steps him and squares it to Iniesta, who threads the needle for Digne, who squares it for Paulinho, who scores the second.

Between his performance on Sunday and his performance on Wednesday, it was night and day. While it may be tempting to experiment, between Ousmane Dembélé and a lesser known Argentine bloke, Barcelona aren’t exactly desperate for options on the right-hand side. Instead, they must focus on shoe-horning Coutinho in Iniesta’s role–the left-sided playmaker. It will take patience, it will take time, and it will take an outright position change, but as the Catalans prepare for a summer move for Antoine Griezmann and a summer exit of Andrés Iniesta, there is nobody better to link midfield and attack, and usher in the new era at Barça, than Philippe Coutinho.

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Barcelona secure emphatic league title in Game of the Week

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Our La Liga game of the week saw a Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona run out 4-2 winners at the Estadio Riazor as they overcame a robust Deportivo La Coruna side to claim a 25th title.

With Barcelona knowing that victory would be enough to reclaim the highest domestic honour from bitter rivals Real Madrid, the visitors came into the tie focused solely on the goal of sealing a title that has been months in the making.

And it appeared that the game was set to go according to the script early on, when Philippe Coutinho met a Dembele pass first time to swing the ball inside the far post on six minutes – netting his 11th goal across the Premier League and La Liga in 2017/18.

The visitors then doubled their lead a little over half an hour later when Messi  took down a looped Luis Suarez ball before driving it past Deportivo keeper Martinez.

However, if Barcelona had expected that they might walk to the title then they were gravely mistaken.

Just two minutes after Messi had put Barcelona two goals ahead, Lucas Perez then halved the deficit when he rounded off a counter attack to score his sixth goal of the season and put himself on 29 points.

Emre Colak then put the hosts level, capitalising on some slack Barcelona defending to put his side level on the 64 minute mark and earn himself a place in our team of the week.

This proved to be the wake-up call that Barcelona had needed, with the league leaders having been guilty of coasting after the break.

Despite their renewed vigour, it wasn’t until the 82nd minute that Barcelona finally made the break-through – Leo Messi again the creator in chief as he turned several Deportivo defenders before stroking home after an audacious one-two with Luis Suarez in the box.

Suarez then set up Messi for a third time just three minutes later, as his team mate ensured he would be taking home the match ball to add to his La Liga winner’s medal.

The hat-trick goal caused scenes of delirium among the Barcelona players and topped off a scintillating solo performance from the Argentine who now has 154 points and 32 goals for the campaign.

The Catalan side must now host arch rivals Real Madrid as they keep their collective thoughts on the prospect of finishing the campaign with an unbeaten run in tact – something that would in itself be a tremendous accolade to the successes of their campaign.

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Coutinho exit will finally be felt by Liverpool following Oxlade-Chamberlain injury

At the time, the exit of Philippe Coutinho was deemed to be something of a disaster for Liverpool. It came at the worst time of the season, midway through the campaign, just as the Reds were starting to find their groove. But as things turned, the sale of Coutinho to Barcelona did little to halt Liverpool’s momentum. If anything, it added to what Jurgen Klopp’s side were building.

Coutinho was never the most natural fit for Klopp’s side. Of course, the Brazilian playmaker’s natural talent meant that he couldn’t be omitted. Klopp had to find a place for him, but at times that actually slowed down the attacking play of the Reds. With a frontline of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, Liverpool quickly became the quintessential Klopp outfit.

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The loss of Coutinho to Barcelona was also mitigated by the form of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The England international took some time to find his feet at Anfield following his move from Arsenal in the summer, but the exit of Coutinho acted as a catalyst. Oxlade-Chamberlain became Liverpool’s driving force through the middle of the pitch.

He has found his best form in the Champions League, illustrated perfectly by his performances in both legs of the quarter final against Manchester City. Against the best midfield unit in English football, Oxlade-Chamberlain was dominant. His energy and high pressing game was crucial to securing a semi final passage for the Reds.

This is why his season-ending injury is such a blow to Liverpool as they attempt to make their first Champions League final in over a decade. Without Oxlade-Chamberlain, the true impact of the departure of Coutinho might finally be felt. Klopp will have to find some midfield creativity from somewhere, otherwise his attacking line could be starved of a supply line.

Against Roma, with the scoreline at 5-2, this might not be so much of an issue. While an away goal would surely be enough to send Liverpool into the final, Klopp’s side will be largely focused on keeping the opposition out, but should the Reds make it to Kiev later this month, that’s where their lack of drive and presence through the midfield could be brutally exposed.

Both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have strong midfield units, particularly in the latter instance. Without either Coutinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool could be outplayed by the duo of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, not to mention Marco Asensio and Mateo Kovacic too.

There’s a sense that Liverpool are currently playing as more than the sum of their parts and much credit must go to Klopp for that. On paper, Manchester City should have knocked out the Reds in the quarter finals, but they were overrun by a rampant Liverpool. Klopp has instilled a certain spirit in his side, but that spirit was largely embodied by the energy of Oxlade-Chamberlain. They will miss him and this week’s game at Roma might be the first indication of that.

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La Liga Team of the Week

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In the week that Barcelona won the title, it is of little surprise that Messi hs found a place in our team of the week – but who joins the Argentine?

Norberto Neto, Valencia – seven points

His 32nd start of the campaign was complemented by a 10th clean sheet, to, as Valencia battled out a frustrating 0-0 with Eibar.

The Bats seem set to secure European football however, with Neto playing a valuable role in their campaign. Continue reading