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

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

 

Napoli tie will be test of Arsenal’s Europa League credentials

Last season, it was Atletico Madrid. Arsenal were paired with the Spanish giants in the semi finals of the Europa League. Diego Simeone’s side were the first real test that the Gunners had faced in the competition and they stumbled, failing to make the final and secure a place in the following season’s Champions League. That might have been the moment Arsene Wenger was truly pushed out the exit door.

This season, with Wenger gone and Unai Emery at the helm, the litmus test has come a little earlier in the Europa League. Napoli will travel to North London this week to take on Arsenal with a place in the competition’s final four on the line. It’s arguably the toughest draw that the Gunners could have been handed.

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“We are being consistent a lot at the moment,” Emery explained ahead of the quarter final clash against the Italians. “This match is a big-level match, and the level we want to play. It’s a very big test for us in this competition. We want to play the best teams and Napoli now is one of the best teams, with the best players and also a very experienced coach.”

Indeed, Napoli are a quality side. In a more favourable Champions League group, they would have qualified for the top tier competition’s last 16. Even still, they managed to beat Liverpool, drawing against Paris Saint-Germain home and away. Napoli are an elite level side even if they are not competing at the elite level.

Under Maurizio Sarri, Napoli were the epitome of dynamic, exciting, forward-thinking football. Those qualities have been blunted somewhat since the exit of Sarri to Chelsea last summer, but Carlo Ancelotti has picked up where he left off, maintaining Napoli as a force both domestically and in Europe.

Arsenal will fancy their chances against Napoli. There’s a case to be made that the Gunners are the favourites to win this season’s Europa League. Atletico Madrid were, and still are, a better side than the Italian visitors to the Emirates Stadium this week.

But what happens over the two legs will provide an indication as to whether Arsenal are ready to win the Europa League, pulling up a seat at next season’s top table in the Champions League. Napoli, just like Atletico Madrid last season, are the litmus test for Arsenal in this competition.

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Maurizio Sarri doesn’t deserve the criticism he has faced at Chelsea

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With Chelsea’s impending two window transfer ban it might be an idea that the club get behind Maurizio Sarri and start properly backing him. It has felt unfair that the Italian has endured so much criticism this season, and it hasn’t just been from the board but also some of the players and even the fans.

Some fans are calling for his head which just seems bizarre when we look at the plain facts. The club are still in with a chance of a top 4 finish, they reached the Carabao Cup final and they are in the quarter finals of the Europa League. How has this been a bad season?

Granted a league title was shot away months ago, but did anyone expect Chelsea to challenge for a title this season? And yes there have been disappointing defeats and they have lost 7 games this season. But take out Liverpool and the least amount of games lost is Manchester City with 4 defeats, so only 3 more is not a disaster. Plus shouldn’t we remember that the Blues started the season off so strongly, going the first three months without a defeat?

Of course fans will see backwards steps- the 6-0 loss to Manchester City just underlined who is the boss right now, but again let’s remind ourselves of Chelsea’s 2-0 win over the same side at Stamford Bridge earlier this season. Had that result happened now Sarri would be praised. Plus in the Carabao Cup where they had just lost 6-0 to City they faced them again, with everyone expecting another cricket score it didn’t happen. The match finished 0-0, Chelsea were accused of being boring, when in reality they had quickly learned from their mistakes. In the end perhaps it didn’t matter as they lost in the most cruellest ways to penalties.

Sarri has also been accused of not being able to deploy his players in the right positions and making some odd selection choices. One of these is the outstanding emerging talent of Callum Hudson-Odoi. Sarri has not been picking the 18 year old as regularly as fans would have liked. But at the same time Sarri is being careful with the prodigy and at the end of the day is still giving him a run in the Europa League, so he is gaining experience.

With the transfer window ban and the possibility that key player Eden Hazard will leave at the end of the season maybe Chelsea need to back Sarri more. Isn’t this is a case of not appreciating what you have, after all Chelsea have made that mistake countless times before.