Top La Liga Strikers in 2018/19: Karim Benzema

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Real Madrid had a season to forget after Zinedine Zidane parted ways with the club last summer, only to come back in March. And Cristiano Ronaldo finally waved goodbye and joined Juventus in Serie A. Madrid went on to win nothing this season but one bright spark was French forward Karim Benzema who at 31 scored 21 goals and assisted in 6 other goals. In short he was Madrid’s best player this season.

In the Fantasy football rankings for strikers in La Liga Benzema finished 2nd only to Lionel Messi although still finished a cool 75 points behind the Argentinian. He started 35 games for Madrid and his disciplinary record was superb receiving only 1 yellow card all season. Overall if we take into account all of the major leagues his striker rank would be 8th, and that isn’t bad for a player who would have cost you 10m to be in your team.

What was incredible about Benzema’s total score and finishing 2nd in the La Liga rankings was that he started the season very poorly where he earned just 17 points from his first 11 games. Indeed it seemed that the former Lyon player was overpriced, but it was at that point where his quality came through and his fortunes changed.

His two best games this past season were against Athletic Bilbao when he scored a hat-trick and earned 14 points and his outstanding display against Rayo Valladolid when he scored 2 goals and then assisted in another in Madrid’s 4-1 win. His last game ended in a 2-0 defeat against Real Betis thus earning no points.

But this season was a massive improvement from Benzema, who earned more points than he has in the last 2 seasons combined. In 2016/17 he got 54 points and last season just 40.

And of course Benzema broke a near 60 year record with Madrid this season. In April Benzema scored all of the last 8 goals that Madrid had netted in La Liga breaking a record set by the great Ferenc Puskas in the 1961/62 season when he netted the last 7.

Speculation is rife that Benzema has played his last season for the club after spending 10 years with Los Blancos. Despite his personal successful season Zidane may feel that after 10 years Benzema should call time on his Madrid career and play elsewhere and let’s face it Benzema could still command a big club if he was to leave Madrid. If this is to be his last season with the club he has scored 222 goals from 465 appearances and been incredibly consistent in a period for the club where he won 17 trophies including 4 Champions Leagues.

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Gonzalo Higuain joining Chelsea has fired up Olivier Giroud

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Let’s go back to last summer when France won the World Cup for the second time in their history. It was historic for them and historic for football and it was richly deserved. But one player did not feel convinced that he had played a great tournament, that player was French striker Olivier Giroud.

Despite playing every game Giroud failed to score for the French at the World Cup, and missed some real sitters. At the same time many critics pointed out his unique role in the team deployed by Didier Deschamps which was to play as a false no.9. and bring other players into the game. Since France won the World Cup it is hard to argue with Deschamps tactics and Giroud’s lack of goals.

But still as a forward it was only natural that Giroud would start doubting himself, it was clear that goals had dried up. His stats are still poor for a forward where he has scored just 4 goals from 34 games, but his game has certainly changed for the Blues since the arrival of Gonzalo Higuaín from Juventus.

Higuaín has done what Giroud usually does and brought others into the game, it means less chances for the Argentinian and it is unclear if this was the initial plan, but Giroud has become a beneficiary from the new roles. He has really shined in the Europa League where Chelsea remain one of the favourites to win the competition after reaching the quarter finals. His goal scoring stats in the Europa League have been phenomenal where he has scored 9 goals from 9 games- now that is the perfect way to answer your critics.

Fittingly Giroud is the top goal scorer in the Europa League- who could have seen that coming at the beginning of the competition? But his new found confidence has also seen him scoring for France once more. Since the end of the World Cup he has scored 6 goals in the last 6 internationals including his latest one in a 4-0 win over Iceland.

A striker’s confidence is all about goals, and it is nice to see Giroud get that at Chelsea and see it spread into the national team. His latest batch of goals for France has seen Giroud rise to 3rd place in the all time France national team goal scorers record. If he scores 7 more goals he will overtake Michel Platini.

Higuaín may be feeling the pressure of perhaps not scoring regularly for Chelsea just yet, but he has at least helped Giroud to nurture, grow and get that goal scoring feeling back which is quite unique given how Giroud’s 2018 had finished.

From England to Portugal who will win the first UEFA Nations League?

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We know now who will take part in the very first UEFA Nations League semi finals which will be held next year in Portugal in June.

Even though there have been mixed reactions to the new competition it does seem like the majority of teams are at least taking the games seriously enough and if the group stages didn’t convince some the semi final and final of this competition will and they are sure to be classic and intense matches.

The first thing we need to know is that the draw has not been made yet for the semi finals- this happens in December. We do of course know who will have the chance to pick up the very first Nations League trophy and below we will look at each teams chances.

England

What a year it has been for Gareth Southgate and England, reaching their 2nd semi final of a competition after their World Cup exploits in Russia this summer. England have had to beat Croatia who knocked them out of the World Cup in the last four and Spain away from home to get here, so there has been no lucky games for the three lions. Southgate has believed in youth and has shown hands on managerial one to one expertise which has run through this team. England want to play to win and have their best team in a generation. This could be England’s first chance of silverware since winning the World Cup in 1966.

Portugal

Portugal will be the favourites to win the competition- mostly because of two things; they are at home and they have Cristiano Ronaldo- although after what should be a taxing an thrilling season for Ronaldo, his debut one in Serie A with Juventus they will be hoping that their man is fit enough and ready for the occasion. The last time Portugal hosted a tournament at home they lost in the final to Greece. Although they have more than made up with that in recent times winning Euro 2016.

Switzerland

Switzerland will be seen as the rank outsiders to win this, although their 5-2 demolition of Belgium, a side that dazzled at the World Cup should have raised some eyebrows. They are here on merit and always put in a solid display making them a hard side to beat. Switzerland have never won a major trophy, and will be 100% motivated to do so.

Netherlands

It’s fair to say that since reaching and then losing in the 2010 World Cup final, the Netherlands have been very poor, failing to qualify for the last World Cup and going through many coaches and a transition of sorts. It’s also fair to say that they played poorly in their final Nations League group game against Germany and yet claimed a 2-2 draw which saw them beat France on goal difference to be here. Perhaps the Germany draw was a real turning point for the nation, and they could be a genuine danger to any side come next June.

 

 

PSG fans will again be banned from Marseille clash in a sad day for football

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Next week Marseille will play PSG in what could arguably be the game of the season so far in Ligue 1. However the atmosphere of the game will be dampened somewhat because all PSG fans will be banned from the Stade Velodrome.

Local police have confirmed that no PSG fans will be allowed into the stadium because other events in and around the city will have the police force stretched. On the face of it that statement makes sense, but for a few seasons now fans have been banned. Whilst PSG fans cannot visit Marseille, it is the same situation in Paris where Marseille fans are also banned.

Police will know in advance that some violence is very much possible between a minority set of fans, which of course is the real reason that away fans will be banned from next weekend’s fixture. What isn’t being thought out or clarified is a way to change the hooliganism in France.

For a great example could you expect to see Arsenal fans banned from visiting Old Trafford, or Chelsea fans banned from visiting Manchester City? In the 1970s and 80s in England this wouldn’t have been a surprise to see, although even then this rule was rarely put into place, but this is 2018 and France a nation that has won this years World Cup seem decades behind when it comes to the organisation of fans for the big football matches. Hooliganism is almost non existent in the Premier League and in France it is getting better, but sadly and most evidently it is still there.

This will be the 3rd season where PSG fans have been banned from travelling to Marseille for the match. Whilst on a human form something needs to change, the reputation of some fans will also damage TV viewing and marketing. Just look to Serie A for evidence, a league that was light years ahead in the 1990s has fallen greatly due to hooligans, in club fighting, match fixing and ultra fans, it can all be linked and this latest news is no good for Ligue 1.

Something needs to change from the top and fans need to be educated enough not to cross the line. For now it is evident beyond recognition that even if there is a beer festival in Marseille and some other events the real nature of the ban is stop the violence, it seems sadly that the local police had no other choice.

 

 

 

Thierry Henry is facing his biggest challenge ever in football with Monaco

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As a player Thierry Henry only encountered success, and won trophies in all of the clubs he has played for. Indeed in Henry’s 19 year career as a football player he picked up 15 trophies and won the World Cup and European Championship with France. Henry’s incredible career has provided stints at Arsenal, Barcelona, New York Red Bulls and he started his career at Monaco, so the Frenchman really has come full circle, now being coach at Monaco.

The only problem is that Monaco are not at their strongest after years of seeing their best players being sold for millions of euros. Former manager Leonardo Jardim was given his marching orders to make way for Henry and yet this past weekend Monaco continued their trend of losing. This time it happened away against Strasbourg when he saw his team outbattled and out thought in a 2-1 loss. The final score only glossed over events as the home side were leading 2-0 until Monaco were awarded a last minute penalty.

Henry has a massive challenge on his hands because it’s quite evident that Monaco have sold off so much quality that there isn’t much left. Yes Radamel Falcao is a decent forward, but this isn’t 2011 when he was a great centre forward. His move from Ligue 1 to the Premier League was ill fated and he has never been the same player since.

Having said that Monaco do not look poor enough to be relegated, so it is strange to see that the club are in 19th place and 24 points behind leaders PSG but those are the facts. Henry has his biggest challenge in football to turn it around and it will be fascinating to see if he can do it. One could, with all validity wonder why Jardim was sacked in favour of Henry who has no coaching experience apart from his assistant spell with the Belgium national team, but no club coaching experience. Can Henry based on the fact he is returning to his first club do a better job than Jardim?

It probably doesn’t matter in the long run for him, as Monaco will simply be a stepping stone to getting a job either at PSG, which is the only other club that can keep him in France or maybe moving to Serie A or the Premier League. Though it should be noted both leagues are poor for representing black managers.

Monaco’s next games are against Club Brugge in the Champions League- ironically it’s back to Belgium for Henry in a must win game. After that they will play Dijon in what will be Henry’s first home game as manager, one he will be expected to win.

What is next for Arsene Wenger and why has no club come in for him?

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This summer has been a huge one for Arsene Wenger, that culminated in one of the biggest changes of his career- leaving his beloved Arsenal after 22 years. The French coaching legend has been busy since departing, visiting his good friend George Weah in Africa and attending many different football matches. However questions remain as to what Wenger will do next.

Wenger has been linked to various jobs, most have been outside of the major clubs though and the feeling is that he won’t end up with one of the European heavyweights. This is probably more of a reflection on his last 10 years with Arsenal, where he was only able to achieve 3 FA Cup wins and no league titles.

In the summer it seemed that he was favoured to manage in China. Wenger of course has already coached in Asia when he managed in the Japanese J League. But many coaches have chosen China for a lucrative final pay deal that has seen the likes of Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson sign up to go out there.

Or there is the option to coach an MLS team in America. Whilst the salary would be much lower than what Wenger is expected of the football would be more competitive and could serve him up with just the right challenge to keep him motivated.

One idea that does fit is to become the national coach of his country. No one can deny how brilliant France have been over the last 2 years, winning this summers World Cup and finishing as runners up at Euro 2016. The problem he has there is that France have the very capable Didier Deschamps in charge who has obviously done a fantastic job with the side. The only way that could change would be if France have a poor Euro 2020, and even if that happens the French job is still 2 years away, something that Wenger surely couldn’t wait that long to acquire.

There has for many years been a link to both PSG and Barcelona. PSG makes sense in the fact they are of course French and have dominated Ligue 1 football this decade. The team and Wenger were the perfect fit at the beginning of this decade, but at the end,well it isn’t not so sure. Again PSG like France look in a very good position and it seems that current coach Thomas Tuchel is going nowhere fast.

As far as Barcelona are concerned, surely this would be the dream final job for Wenger- a team who empathise with Wenger’s football philosophy to attack. Current coach Ernesto Valverde is under some pressure even though the club are the champions in Spain. The problem is that they have not performed well enough in the Champions League in recent seasons.

Another question must be posed which is, clubs are hardly lining up for Wenger’s signature and it could well be that at 68 the very big European heavyweights will feel that Wenger has had his time.

The link again goes back this week to PSG where Wenger could become a technical advisor with the club, or as some people would put it, the man upstairs. Let’s hope that Wenger does not take this route to end his glorious footballing career on because it would rather feel that the great man is going out with a whimper rather than a bang of which he is surely most deserving.

Will Thierry Henry’s choice to coach Monaco end in tears?

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French football legend Thierry Henry has finally taken the step into first grade management and signed on to become Monaco’s new coach on a three year contract.

On the face of it Henry’s decision makes perfect sense. He is a former player of the club, Monaco have been a solid outfit for the past four seasons, winning the league in 2017 and they have a billionaire Russian owner in Dmitry Rybolovleva. Plus let’s not pretend that living in Monaco for Henry will have its advantages with one being that his salary will be tax free.

As assistant coach to Roberto Martinez with Belgium, Henry has learned the ropes and saw the national team go all the way to the semi finals of this summers World Cup. Recently Eden Hazard, the man of the moment spoke very highly of Henry’s coaching abilities and he should on the face of it do a solid job with Monaco.

But one can’t help but feel that Henry will really be up against it. Look at previous coach Leonardo Jardim who was sacked on Thursday after spending almost six seasons with the club. Jardim had done a great job and Monaco began to be successful under him, culminating in deep Champions League runs and then stunning PSG who have dominated Ligue 1 since 2012 to win the league in 2017. Monaco at times have had the perfect team, scoring many goals and being wickedly decisive in defence.

However the reality is that the Russian owner has an agenda of scouring Europe to buy potential and then selling on to the highest bidder. The list really is endless, the talent that has left Monaco in recent seasons including Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva and of course Kylian Mbappe. Sure the sales have brought in over £500m to the club, but the owner is already a billionaire so the agenda, at least on the face of it seems a little warped.

What has happened as a result is that Monaco are not competing anymore and when Henry arrives at Stade Louis II he will do so with his team in 18th place and 20 points behind PSG. Monaco have won just 1 game this season which was on the opening day of the campaign away to Nantes. No wins at home and a winless run for 2 months does not bode well.

However the good news is that the appointment of Henry will indeed rally the players to start to pick up points and play better. The worry is how long will this last? A few weeks, a few months? Surely Henry has discussed the selling of players too and one wonders if he has assurances that the bulk of quality at the club will not be sold. History says they will and so Henry’s move to Monaco may not be the dream one that everyone is expecting. For sure the next few months will be very interesting indeed for the former Arsenal great.

Paul Pogba is the mouthpiece for majority of the Manchester United players

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Another weekend has arrived where Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United have been dominated and outplayed by a mid-table opposition. This time around, it was away to West Ham, a side that have had a poor start to the season and were totally in control of the match from start till end.

During the match, Mourinho made the decision of taking off both Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba in the 71st minute whilst bringing on Fred and Juan Mata. It seemed like a bizarre move from the manager to take off two individuals who were trying to impact the game whilst the others could not.

The substitutions did not lead the team to a potential comeback and nor did it improve the side’s style of play or urgency of pressing down the opponents and moving the ball quicker. However, the decision of taking Pogba off had more meaning to it than many would think, as it silently implied to the player and to the rest of the squad that Mourinho has the power to do whatever he wants.

Mourinho and Pogba have been at each other’s throats since the middle of last season, possibly around the time when the latter was subbed off by the former during the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. At the time, the choice of taking off the central midfielder was more than ideal, but not a lot of the Manchester United supporters had predicted that it would start a war between the two.

Looking at the pair, they have actually been bad as each other, from flirting with a potential move to other European clubs to showing lack of consistency and serious development since moving to Old Trafford in 2016. The saying which states that no player is bigger than the club is certainly true, but the manager has to also remember that he only manages the players and not the club as a whole.

The important question now is, who do the board and Ed Woodward have faith in more between Mourinho and Pogba. One is one of the most successful managers in the world who is on the decline and has failed to adapt to the modern style of football, whilst the other is one of the best central midfielders in Europe but is not consistent enough within a team that does not have a system.

Overall, the Frenchman does not always speak for himself, and it would not be a surprise to see him being used as the main mouthpiece for the rest of the squad. Given that the manager has had issues with the likes of Martial, Andreas Pereira and Eric Bailly, Pogba speaking openly about the club’s football style and how it needs to improve could show that Mourinho has lost the dressing room.

With how the team have been doing so far in the calendar year, the questions of which way the club is heading under Mourinho was bound to be asked, and it just happened to be indirectly from Pogba. The board have invested a vast amount of money into the squad as a whole, yet there has been no clear improvement to the side’s style of play for them to go on to becoming true title contenders.

Pogba’s leadership quality and individual brilliance is constantly doubted, on the other hand, a large number of people are forgetting the pivotal role he played for France that led them to winning the World Cup. Although Didier Deschamps’ style was pragmatic, he still had a straightforward system that allowed all of his players to play at a comfortable level, even the main man Paul Pogba himself.

In the end, it is totally up to the board and Ed Woodward on how long they will allow the dire performances and results to continue under the 55-year-old Portuguese International. Personally, having experienced the David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal era, the decision to sack Jose Mourinho may only come once the club are out of the Champions League or are making a huge financial loss.

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France beat Netherlands to maintain momentum after World Cup title

mbappeFrance began life at home after winning their second World Cup with a hard-earned win over the Netherlands, who failed to qualify for this summer’s tournament. It seemed fitting that the first goalscorer was none other than PSG forward Kylian Mbappe, who won the “Best Young Player” award in Russia. His work rate wearing the blue of his national team is every bit as impressive as it is in the Parisian home kit, and he timed his run perfectly to get onto the end of Blaise Matuidi‘s lovely pass across the face of goal, tapping France ahead after 13 minutes. Didier Deschamps’ men were ahead until the second half, when Besiktas’ Ryan Babel brought the Dutch level. It wasn’t long until Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud restored the lead and ultimately won it for France.

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