Elite Premier League teams are struggling in the Champions League

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We are often told that the Premier League is the best in Europe if not the World and yet the Champions League has been a good measure of failure for the very best Premier League teams not just so far this season but for a good few years now.

The last time that an English team won the competition was Chelsea back in 2012 when they beat Bayern Munich and before that we have to go back to 2008 when Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties in an all Premier League final. Apart from Liverpool’s run to the final this year no team has reached the showpiece event since Chelsea won it.

This season the Champions League has kicked off with a massive wake up call for the teams that have qualified. Take Premier League champions Manchester City, vying for their first ever European Cup, they lost their opening game at home to Ligue 1 side Lyon. In their next game they found themselves 1-0 down to Hoffenheim within a minute of the game starting, although clawed their way back to stake a 2-1 win, but they had to work very hard for the result. Had City drawn or lost that game they could have been looking at an early exit from a competition where they have been tipped as the favourites to win just a few weeks ago.

Manchester United have had all sorts of problems in the Premier League but last season they racked up 82 points to finish 2nd. In the Champions League they won easily against Young Boys but suffered a 0-0 draw at the hands of Valencia in their next game. Had this match taken place in Spain this result would have been acceptable- but it didn’t and that is 2 clear points dropped for Jose Mourinho’s team. Add to the fact that they still have to play Juventus twice and United may not qualify for the next round, their chances are certainly in the air at the moment.

Liverpool looked impressive in their 3-2 win over PSG at Anfield, though they were leading that game at one point 2-0. But when they travelled to Italy to play Napoli they lost 1-0. True Napoli’s goal came in the final exchanges where the game looked like it was heading for a 0-0 result but Liverpool did not have a shot on target the whole game and it looks clear whilst Liverpool may reign supreme at home they could well struggle away in Europe. Given that they still have to travel to Paris to play PSG this loss could come back and haunt the Reds.

And then there is Tottenham who pound for pound have been one of the best teams in England of the past 18 months. But when it really matters the club seem to come up short time and again and their latest loss to Barcelona which ended 4-2 could be the nail in the coffin to their Champions League hopes this season. They are already 6 points behind both Barcelona and Inter Milan and their best shot now looks like trying to qualify for the Europa League.

All in all the best teams in the Premier League have struggled in Europe, unable to adapt to a plan B and finding out that defending on the continent is much more superior to the Premier League. On this evidence it doesn’t seem likely that a club from England will be winning the competition this year which would stretch the winless run to 7 editions. That would be the longest ever that a club from the Premier League has gone without winning it. The current record is 6 editions from the inaugural start of the Champions League up to 1998, with Manchester United infamously winning it in 1999.

For all the money being pumped into the league it isn’t guaranteeing success on the highest level.

Kai Havertz, Thilo Kehrer and Nico Schulz deserving of Germany call-ups

It was a summer to forget for Germany and their national team. Failure to advance from their World Cup group which included Mexico, South Korea and Sweden, Joachim Löw’s managerial skills came into question following sub-par performances.

Unlike four years ago, there was a sense of uncertainty around this Germany squad once the squads had been announced. Löw once again put faith in his old guards, such as Sami Khedira, Thomas Müller and Mario Gomez while the likes of Leroy Sané were left at home, a decision that angered fans. Continue reading

Hoffenheim Take Huge Risk with Appointment of Rookie Manager

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German outfit Hoffenheim have today taken one of the biggest calculated risks in their history: appointing a 28-year-old as manager.

Julian Nagelsmann will become the youngest manager in Bundesliga history after stepping up from youth team coach to replace Huub Stevens, who has had to resign due to ill health.

It is rumoured that Nagelsmann was pencilled in to take over the reins in the summer; however he has now been plunged into a relegation battle due to Stevens’ demise.

The youngster has signed a three-year contract, and so the Hoffenheim board have implied that even relegation this term will not be the end of Nagelsmann’s reign.

The beleaguered side are seven points shy of safety in the Bundesliga, and five adrift of Werder Bremen in the play-off place. And with a trip to Bremen upcoming on Saturday, Nagelsmann will need to hit the ground running with his new charges.

Young Blood

Of course, plenty of youthful gaffers have ploughed a similar path to Nagelsmann as a professional football manager.

Andre Villas-Boas had earned his UEFA coaching badges by the age of 19, and had been appointed manager of the British Virgin Islands by the age of 21. He joined Jose Mourinho as part of Porto’s coaching staff a few years later, before taking over at Academica in 2009 at the ripe old age of 31.

He took the Portuguese side from the bottom of the league (they hadn’t even won a game when Villas-Boas took over) to a safe mid-table spot, and they even progressed to the semi-finals of the League Cup. His former employer Porto took notice and handed him the hot seat in the summer of 2010.

A chronic knee injury ended Brendan Rodgers’ playing career, but that didn’t stop him from making the leap into management: he took over as Reading’s youth team boss in his mid-twenties, before taking on the big task as Chelsea youth team boss at the age of 31. The rest is history as far as the Irishman is concerned.

The youngest manager currently plying his trade in the Premier League is Eddie Howe, who took over the management of Bournemouth at the age of 29. After three consecutive promotions and earning the title of ‘Manager of the Decade’ at the Football League Awards in 2015, Howe is very much a manager on the up.

But even his achievements at such a fledgling age are put in the shade by old big ‘ead himself, Brian Clough.

At the age of 30, Clough was appointed manager of Hartlepool, and from here the most extraordinary journey began. Just two years later he took over at Second Division Derby County, and then three seasons after that the Rams were champions of England. The Clough magic clearly began at a young age.

His managerial CV is up there with the very best, with two First Division titles (the equivalent of the Premier League today), two FA Cups, four League Cups and two European Cups (yesteryear’s Champions League), it’s obvious that age was no barrier to sound management. Let’s hope for Hoffenheim’s sake history repeats itself.

Liverpool make Roberto Firmino their marquee signing of the summer

Liverpool won the race to sign heavily-coveted Hoffenheim forward Roberto Firmino for £29M this summer, with the Brazilian international opting for Merseyside over Manchester United. He’s the Reds fifth signing of the summer – Danny Ings, Adam Bogdan, Joe Gomez and James Milner – and is the club’s second-most expensive signing.

Firmino isn’t too well-known outside of the German Bundesliga, but he boasts an impressive record with a struggling Hoffenheim side that could hold him in good stead with a strong side like Liverpool. The Merseysiders have been desperate to bolster their attack, with Daniel Sturridge’s injury problems, and Raheem Sterling’s potential move to Manchester City likely to see Liverpool short for goals again.

As a result, manager Brendan Rodgers has laid his cards on the table, making the 23-year-old the club’s marquee arrival. Despite having been so active early in the summer transfer window, Firmino could be the biggest deal the club make ahead of the new season. While expensive, the young forward is talented, and has a good eye for a goal. He will link up with fellow Brazilians Lucas Leiva and Philippe Coutinho, so he should settle in fast.

Scoring and assisting 17 goals in 33 games in a mid-table Bundesliga side. He created 68 chances, and made 139 successful dribbles for the German outfit too. Firmino certainly has the quality to make a difference, and could be a wise investment should Sterling exit Anfield this summer.

Supporters have been crying out for Rodgers to fix their defensive problems, with the Reds having conceded 98 goals in the last two Premier League seasons. However, a lack of goals was also an issue that needed sorting from 2014/15, with Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini scoring only a handful of goals between them in Sturridge’s absence.

Liverpool couldn’t cope without Luis Suarez and Sturridge missing from their attack, evident from just seven goals by makeshift centre-forward Sterling. Departing captain Steven Gerrard was the side’s top scorer in the English top-flight, but still didn’t hit double figures for league goals last season.

Firmino’s rise to prominence sees him shining in this summer’s Copa America, and Liverpool will be hoping he enjoys as prolific debut campaign at Anfield to save Rodgers’ job, and help the side push for a top-four finish. The Reds perhaps paid over the odds for the forward, given the European talent available for a similar asking price, but Firmino could be the difference next season in an already highly-creative midfield.

What can supporters expect from Manchester United-target Roberto Firmino?

Manchester United were dealt a boost in their pursuit for Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino, with the Brazilian’s agent Roger Wittmann revealing he will be leaving for the Premier League this summer, saying: “All I can say is that he’s moving to England.” The Red Devils are the only side from England so heavily linked, so a deal is expected to go through in the coming weeks. So what can supporters expect to see if he makes the switch to Old Trafford?

The highly-rated star is versatile, capable of playing on either flank, as well as through the middle. He’s enjoyed a standout campaign in the German Bundesliga, scoring and creating 17 goals in 33 games, and is now ready to make the step up from a side fighting for survival in the division.

Firmino, 23 boasts a skill set similar to Barcelona’s Neymar, making 139 successful dribbles. Despite his individual brilliance, he sets up more opportunities for teammates than he takes on himself too, creating 68 chances. And he’s highly industrious, making 88 tackles and 37 interceptions. Such youthful exuberance can often see him go too foul – making 73 fouls – but Manchester United Louis van Gaal has identified a player with real potential.

He’s come of age considerably in the last two seasons, scoring 23 goals and making 21 assists in 66 league games played. Hoffenheim are resigned to losing him as a result, but want to be fairly compensated too. This season has seen Firmino represent the Brazilian national team, and he’s taken his chance to shine with both hands, scoring three goals in six appearances.

Supporters will be able to get a good look at him in this summer’s Copa America with Brazil, but it also means any deal to join the Red Devils may have to wait until the tournament is over. He won’t want to be distracted with talks about his future, which means United may have to wait a couple of weeks before anything is completed.

Van Gaal has recruited players in his team that are versatile and interchangeable, which is exactly why Firmino was on the club’s shortlist. In-form goalscoring industrious forwards are hard to find, and £20M for the 23-year-old is a good deal based on what has been seen of Firmino so far. He will entertain the crowd with his wide array of skills, and will hope to make a name for himself by firing the team to glory next season.