Rare Lazio comeback produces more questions than answers ahead of trip to Celtic

IMG_1556

The contrast was startling.

After a drab, eventless first half in a must-win Europa League fixture against Rennes on Thursday, Simone Inzaghi turned to his bench early in the second.

He made a double substitution, bringing on rested star men Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the hope of injecting some life into his team’s performance.

The strategy didn’t get off to the best of starts when the hosts almost immediately conceded the opening goal, but it soon paid off as Alberto set up Milinkovic-Savic for the opener before the Serbian’s cross found the head of Ciro Immobile to complete the comeback. Continue reading

So much for ‘Year Zero’: Like a moody teenager, presumptuous Lazio refuse to learn lessons

IMG_1556

Old habits die hard. But what if they refuse to die at all?

That, sadly, appears to be the reality facing Lazio after a week in which a familiar trait reared its ugly head twice in the space of five days.

In mirror-image matches, Lazio took the lead away to technically inferior sides, SPAL in Serie A and Cluj in the Europa League, before whimpering to a pair of 2-1 defeats.

Technically inferior they may be, but those teams taught Simone Inzaghi’s men a lesson in the importance of desire and character.

But what’s the point in even attending lessons if you’re not going to learn? Continue reading

Top La Liga Strikers in 2018/19: Wissam Ben Yedder

ben.yedder.siviglia.esulta.2016.2017.750x450(1)

Wissam Ben Yedder has just finished his 3rd season with Sevilla and it was his personal best yet as he helped the team to finish in the top six and qualify for the Europa League next season.

There were improvements in all of Ben Yedder’s game this past season and at 28 his best years could still be ahead of him.

Before this season Ben Yedder had never scored more than 11 goals in La Liga but he managed 18 and on top of that he assisted in another 9 goals, meaning that he contributed to 27 of Sevilla’s league goals. Overall Ben Yedder earned 91 points finishing just 2 points behind Barcelona’s Luis Suarez.

Ben Yedder started the season very slowly earning zero points from his first two games. And then against Levante where Sevilla were away from home, everything changed. The match finished 6-2 to Sevilla and Ben Yedder was the man of the match as he scored a hat-trick and assisted in another goal, with bonus points he earned 16 points in one game.

Another match that should be highlighted came in March when Sevilla now at home beat Real Sociedad 5-2. It was another hat-trick that earned Ben Yedder 14 points and so in those two games alone, even though they were months apart he was able to acquire 30 points.

Ben Yedder’s most consistent period during the season was in December and over the Christmas and New Year period where the striker scored points in five consecutive games totalling 15 points. And his worse single game of the season came against both Celta Vigo and Real Valladolid where he earned -1 point as he was booked in both games. Indeed while some players worst points is -3 or -5 points or more, to have the lowest points at -1 is actually decent and it only happened twice during the season when his points dipped into the minus category. This is due in part to the fact that he wasn’t sent off this season and was booked only 3 times.

In the last 4 games of the season, 3 of them ended with zero points which was disappointing. But the forward made up for it a little in Sevilla’s last game of the season which ended in a 2-0 win at home to Athletic Bilbao and Ben Yedder scored and made an assist in that game.

This season Ben Yedder would have cost you 7m to have in your team but he has just had his best season for Sevilla. In his debut one he earned 54 points, last season that was just 39 and now a massive 91 points, so his fee may rise for next term.

Think you know Spanish football? Play https://liga-fantasy.com now!

 

 

 

Five points to take away from a season of triumph and torment at Lazio

ciro (1)

Lazio’s campaign of highs and lows concluded with the latter on Sunday when Simone Inzaghi’s side lost 3-1 at Torino to finish the Serie A campaign in eighth place.

It was the Roman club’s worst league finish in three years and topped off a season of startling inconsistency.

The joy of a 3-0 win over Roma and an impressive 1-0 victory away to Inter was in stark contrast to lifeless performances that resulted in damaging defeats to the likes of Genoa, SPAL and above all the unforgivable 2-1 loss at home to already-relegated Chievo over Easter weekend.

The Coppa Italia triumph gave the campaign a huge lift, raising spirits and securing Europa League qualification for next season. Continue reading

Arsenal destroyed in Europa League final by Chelsea and Eden Hazard

skynews-chelsea-europa-league_4681740(1)

Usually same country finals can be incredibly close affairs. Look at when AC Milan and Juventus battled for 120 minutes in the 2003 Champions League final and still the game ended 0-0 and needed to go to penalties. Chelsea and Manchester United in the 2008 final ended 1-1 and Bayern Munich squeezed past Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 final. Close and tense, and for the first half this Europa League final was just that, until Chelsea moved up a gear.

In the end this wasn’t a beating that Arsenal took but a total battering, and this was against a Chelsea side who aren’t even at their strongest if we compare the team from a few seasons ago. But the natural reserve and quality in the team was simply too much for the Gunners to handle.

Once the second half got under way there was only one team in it and it was evident that Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri had got the desired affect in the dressing room at half time. Chelsea came charging out of the blocks and were 1-0 up within five minutes of the re start. It came from Olivier Giroud the ex Arsenal player and it was a simply stunning goal, a header from 20 yards out that caught out Petr Cech in goal. The goals followed which included a brace from Eden Hazard far and away Chelsea’s best player of the decade if not the Premier League’s. This will have surely been his last game for the Blues before his expected move to Real Madrid in the summer.

Ex Arsenal player Martin Keown seemed to sum it all up by saying Chelsea have Hazard and Arsenal have Mesut Ozil, and it was hard to argue with him. Ozil’s time at Arsenal will not be remembered and for whatever reason the playmaker has been a huge failure at the club only showing slight glimpses of what he is capable of. He has cut a frustrated figure at Arsenal for years now and surely enough is enough and he will not be back in an Arsenal shirt- if anything both parties need a change.

This match simply showed the gulf between the two clubs even if their league finish was close in the end. When it all really mattered Arsenal simply didn’t have it. And yet in Alex Iwobi’s consolation goal they probably got the best one of the night.

Petr Cech played his final professional game and how ironic it was against the team that made his career. He will now join Chelsea as a goalkeeping coach for next season. It is also ironic that even though Arsenal conceded 4 goals that Cech actually had a decent game and he kept the score more respectable because it could have been 7 or 8 in the end. Every time Chelsea went forward in the 2nd half it looked like they were going to score.

Sarri has been proven right and it will be interesting to see if he will stay with the club or leave and join up with Juventus? There must be a huge temptation to go to Juventus given that Chelsea could be banned from buying any players this summer and their play maker Hazard is leaving, why should Sarri stay?

His opposite number Unai Emery cut a sad figure. It felt as if he couldn’t believe that he wasn’t going to win a 4th Europa League trophy after his successes with Sevilla earlier in the decade. At times he looked bitter and angry and perhaps the realisation of the job at his hands has been laid bare.

Emery has had a decent season in some ways. Reaching a European final in his debut year was very good. But at the same time his appointment was all about moving on from Arsene Wenger, which hasn’t happened and now Arsenal will have to play in the Europa League next season as well. His real judgment needs to be delayed until next season and it will be interesting to see who he sells and who he brings in the summer, it is a big season for Emery, who knows he won’t be afforded the time that Wenger had.

As for Chelsea a huge congratulations to them for winning the London final. That is the clubs 3rd European trophy in 8 seasons and even though they have had their up and down moments they have had a strong few years in England and in Europe.

Arsenal’s season hinges on Europa League, but this was always going to be a long-term job for Emery

A top-four finish was within touching distance. After a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United in their 31st game of the Premier League season, Arsenal moved above Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United and into third place in the table. They may have only had a two-point lead over the Red Devils in fifth, but Unai Emery’s side had by far the easiest run-in of the four teams competing for the two remaining Champions League spots behind Manchester City and Liverpool. A return to Europe’s foremost club competition looked high likely.

Continue reading

It’s an all English affair in the Champions League and Europa League

ls(1)

Even after the first leg of the Champions League semi finals were done and dusted it seemed like a distant dream that we would see an all English Premier League final, the first since 2008 and only the second one.

Hopes were raised given that Tottenham and Liverpool had been separated in the draw but still the favourites to get through were Barcelona and Ajax, after all Barcelona had just made light work of Manchester United and were on form and Ajax had their best team in over 20 years.

When the first legs finished form looked good. Ajax had gone to London and beat Tottenham 1-0 and Barcelona had beaten Liverpool 3-0 in Spain. Those matches both looked over, and then football went crazy or to put it a better way, it just went berserk. Belief took hold, first from Liverpool who scored 4 goals as Barcelona played like their B team and Jurgen Klopp’s team won 4-0 and went through.

However Tottenham’s comeback was even greater, because they didn’t score first in Holland and indeed went a further 2 goals behind. Now Tottenham needed 3 with 35 minutes left and Lucas Moura scored a hat-trick, I mean let’s face it we won’t see the likes of this again, not from 2 different teams in the same season at that very crucial stage.

So Tottenham will play Liverpool in the final which will be the 6th time teams have played each other from the same country. The bad news for Tottenham is that on every occasion the favourites have won. At the same time maybe just maybe Tottenham’s name is on the cup this year. Historically it would be more significant if they won it given that it would be their first time. For Liverpool they have not won it since 2005 and since becoming the Champions League the club have appeared in 3 finals, this will be their 4th.

As for the Europa League final Chelsea will play Arsenal. Arsenal have not won in Europe for 25 years so this would be quite an anniversary for them. As for Chelsea they have had an excellent standard in Europe this decade winning the Champions League in 2012 and then the Europa League in 2013. And they will probably start as slight favourites, although never underestimate Unai Emery who has already won the Europa League with Sevilla 3 times in a row.

What do these final appearances say for the Premier League? After all no team had won from England in the Champions League since 2012 and the competition has only been won by a Premier League side four times- 2 for Manchester United and one apiece for Liverpool and Chelsea.

It says of course that the standard has improved and that this season whatever happens won’t be a blip with such utter domination in both finals. English and Premier League football looks like it is back on the map after being away for almost a decade.

FIFA are correct to uphold decision to ban Chelsea for two transfer windows and Sarri should be happy with the outcome

Sarri1204abcde(1)

Chelsea have been told by FIFA that they will indeed serve a two window transfer ban which was imposed on them earlier in the season for breaching signing of youngsters and that means the club will not be able to sign any new players until the summer of 2020.

Chelsea will appeal to the courts of attribution but could be likely to lose. Whilst Chelsea should be punished, one cannot get away from the fact that UEFA are not promoting the game in the right direction. Unless one truly hates the club does anyone associated with football want to tie two hands behind a clubs back? Chelsea could win the Europa League enter the Champions League and not be able to buy any new players. Basically killing their chances of winning the competition before they have even started.

On top of that Chelsea have the problem of Eden Hazard their star player who looks like he will be leaving the club in the summer to join Real Madrid. This was further highlighted when the star player was seen nodding his head in a no fashion when fans asked him to stay at the club last week.

Surely the situation is a harsh one for the club who, yes, should receive a ban this summer but not extended to two windows. Ideally why not fine the club £500,000 and give back to hospitals or put back into the grassroots of the game. After all the ban won’t hurt as much as not being out of a little pocket for the club.

Of course the good news if the club are to be banned for purchasing players is that Maurizio Sarri’s job will be safe. It was oddly under threat a few months ago, even though he has steered Chelsea to a Europa League final, a Carabao Cup final and a top 4 place ensuring Champions League football either way next season, that’s not too bad for your debut season surely?

Still who will want to join the club now knowing you can’t buy any players for over a year? That would be like playing Monopoly and going round the board several times until your rivals all have the properties they want. In that sense Sarri suddenly holds all of the cards and with a strong link to Roma, Sarri may just think enough is enough and walk in the summer if he is not being respected at the club.

For now Chelsea are doing well, but the future hardly looks bright.

 

UEFA must ensure Champions League & Europa finals have genuine fans attending

tix(1)

UEFA will be under pressure to act ‘for the good of the game’ after it emerged that around only 20% of fans will be attending the Champions League final and Europa League final. It is a shocking statistic and a damning fact about the two prestigious finals.

The Europa League final will take place in Baku at the Olympic Stadium which boasts a capacity of 68,000. The all English final will be between Chelsea and Arsenal which is sure to a memorable game of football and yet here is the damning fact. Arsenal have only been allocated 6,000 tickets for their fans, Chelsea for some reason is even lower at 5,800. That equates to less than 20% of capacity.

UEFA and its partners and sponsors will be taking a percentage of tickets, this can amount to anything between 5,000-10,000 nobody knows quite sure how many. That is just a fact of the major finals that sponsors will be getting tickets and is part of modern football business. But where then are the other 38,000 tickets? Well they will go on general sale to anyone in the world that enters a lottery type ticket allocation.

While it should be applauded that neutral football fans around the world will get to see a final showpiece or at least given that chance, that it should be 55% of them is disconcerting. Whatever happened to genuine fans watching their own teams, especially in a football final? Does UEFA want the final devoid of all atmosphere is that the main goal here?

The same applies to the Champions League final although more tickets have been allocated. The final will take place at Atletico Madrid’s home ground of Wanda Metropolitan which holds like Baku around 68,000. Liverpool and Tottenham have been given 16,000 tickets each, about 5,000 will go to UEFA and the rest just over 30,000 goes to general fans again.

It mean of course that long standing season ticket holders of both clubs simply won’t be able to go. The final which takes place on June 1st, is arguably Tottenham’s biggest match in their history. They have never reached a European Cup final, and it will be a massive occasion for the club. But loyal fans will have to watch the game elsewhere.

A proper figure of 25,000 tickets each should be made available for fans of the respective clubs. If UEFA cannot guarantee this, then why play matches in smaller grounds? Perhaps the final needs to be played in stadiums boasting 80,000 capacities or more? What is so frustrating is that the solution seems an easy one. The current state of ticketing is painfully wrong, playing host to touts as well as fans being charged excessively, ripped off or worse still ending up in the area designated for rival fans.

 

Chelsea’s top 4 finish is likely over but hope remains for Europa League glory

HAD

If Chelsea do indeed end the Premier League season outside of the top 4 then they went out of the battle with a whimper after a 2-2 draw against Burnley at Stamford Bridge.

It was a game that the Blues fought hard for in the first half as they went behind in the early exchanges and by the 25th minute mark the game had already had 4 goals, echoing the excitement of the recent Champions League fixture between Manchester City and Tottenham. But while both of those teams should finish top 4- City is guaranteed of course, Chelsea look like they have blown that chance.

Chelsea are level with Tottenham on points which is all well and good but Tottenham have a spare game which they will play tonight, at home against the bottom club Huddersfield, in what should be an inevitable, comfortable win. There is also the case of Arsenal making that top 4 charge and it looks like both Chelsea and Manchester United will be the teams to miss out on Champions League football next season.

A win was expected against Sean Dyche’s Burnley and perhaps this match where Chelsea are playing a bottom half team at home summarised the clubs season in that they have stayed within their comfort zone and only looked like the team that coach Maurizio Sarri has a vision for when playing in the Europa League.

The Europa League has clearly become a priority for the club and they have been brilliant in a very tough competition. Beating Slavia Prague and scoring 5 goals past them in both legs was superb given how Prague had knocked out Europa League specialists Sevilla in the previous round.

Winning the competition is one major trophy and it is also a gateway into the Champions League even if the club do finish 5th or 6th, so there is all to play for. Chelsea will meet Germans Eintract Frankfurt, who are superb at home but wasteful away and the Blues will be favourites to advance to the final where they would meet either Valencia or a mouth watering clash against fellow Premier League team and Londoners Arsenal. Perhaps the neutral wants the all English final but football has never been that easy to predict.

As for the league, one wonders if the egos of the club have the fight left in them. Chelsea’s next match is away to Manchester United in another potentially explosive game as both will be rolling the dice, perhaps for the final time to reach a top 4 spot. In between their Europa League semi-final they will play Watford at home and round up the season with an away match against Leicester.

It’s very conceivable that Chelsea won’t win another game this season and it is very clear that all of their eggs are in the Europa League basket.