Kalidou Koulibaly further solidified himself as world class vs Liverpool

Koulibaly

Building up to Tuesday night’s pivotal Group C clash at Anfield between Napoli and Liverpool, it was the outspoken attacker Dries Mertens who became the subject of discussion for his comments mocking the size of the iconic ’This is Anfield’ sign above the exit of the tunnel. Unfortunately for the Belgian, who received an earful from the home crowd throughout, the performance left plenty to be desired, as did the Partenopei’s collective effort, in the 1-0 defeat and elimination from the UEFA Champions League.

Despite crashing out of a tournament Carlo Ancelotti has become synonymous with over the years for winning three times, and the curtains closing earlier than initially expected, Kalidou Koulbaly’s first-rate performance lends credence to his status in the game as a world-class central defender. Continue reading

Three Keys for Napoli vs Liverpool

Napoli

Champions League Group C is a tight one between leaders Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain and last year’s runner-up Liverpool entering the final round of play. As things stand, the Partenopei lead PSG by a single point, while holding a three point cushion over the English giants who they will pay a visit tonight at Anfield.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli can qualify for the Round of 16 through one of the following scenarios: 1) win or draw vs Liverpool, 2) lose by a goal, but score at least once (2-1, 3-2) and PSG wins/loses. Continue reading

The Premier League has turned into a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool

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What, where when? Just when we thought a few weeks ago that there were at least four teams capable of winning the Premier League, everything has all of a sudden opened up. After the midweek games which was the 15th round of matches in England two teams have emerged as possible title winners. The first and in top place is champions Manchester City, the second is Liverpool who have yet to win a Premier League title and have not won England’s top division since 1990.

So how did Chelsea and Tottenham suddenly fall away from contention? Maurizio Sarri’s side have won just 1 game in their past four matches and yet up until the 12th game of the season he had an unbeaten side at his disposal. But first they were exposed by Tottenham at Wembley, easily losing 3-1. They bounced back against Fulham in the west London derby only to lose to Wolves, which was seen as a shock result given how poor Wolves have been in the past month.

Chelsea are now 10 points behind City and are clinging onto 4th place only on goal difference to Arsenal. Tottenham in beating Southampton are back in 3rd place after being dislodged in the top 4 over the weekend when they lost to eternal nemesis Arsenal by 4-2. But Spurs have bounced back well. But they are still evidently a few levels below City and Liverpool, they have 33 points and are 8 points behind the league leaders.

All of this means of course that the league has turned into a two horse race before Christmas, although the flurry of fixtures could well shake that up. Manchester City will play Chelsea away next and a win for Pep Guardiola’s side will surely signal the end of Chelsea’s title hopes. Games follow against Everton, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Southampton. It is fair to think that from all of those matches City could expect 13 points which would put them on 54 before the year is out.

As for Liverpool who are the romantics choice of league winners giving how it has been 28 years since they won the league they will have to play Bournemouth, Manchester United, Wolves, Newcastle and Arsenal. The Reds seem to have a tougher run and could end up with 11 points which would put them on 50.

It is possible then that only 4 points will separate the two teams. And you can guess which fixture comes after the new year- that’s right these two teams will meet and it will be Manchester City who will be at home in what could be a big step to deciding the title. Still there are plenty of games to be played before then and like a typical Premier League campaign there will be plenty of twists and turns that is for sure.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was wrong to run on the pitch but should he be punished?

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Liverpool and Everton’s fierce Merseyside derby was going to end 0-0 and then in the 96th minute Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made the error of the season to gift the Reds a goal and they won 1-0. At that point Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager ran onto the pitch and broke FA rules, but should he be punished?

We need to look as always from both views of the argument. What Klopp did was wrong and disrespectful, that there can be no doubt. Liverpool didn’t score a magnificent last minute goal, it all stemmed from an error by Pickford where if he was given the choice another 99 times he would have used his common sense as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe and let the ball go out of play. Klopp celebrating like he did just seemed out of place and wrong.

And yet he celebrated not to rub Pickford’s nose in it but for three things: 1) a last minute winner, 2) a win in a derby game, 3) Liverpool still keeping in touch with Manchester City. Had the game as expected ended 0-0 Liverpool would have found themselves 4 points adrift to Pep Guardiola’s team.

Klopp is a lovable figure and unless you were an Everton fan let’s face it the sight of him running onto the pitch like a fan and then embracing goalkeeper Alisson was funny. But still Klopp seemed to lose control of himself. This was an important game true, but it wasn’t a cup final or a game that decided the league.

Marco Silva, the Everton manager was clearly not happy with what had happened and the fires have been stoked more with Klopp claiming that he apologised to Silva. Yet Silva has denied this, so the plot thickens.

As for Klopp, the FA will inevitably open up a case against the German, again should he be punished? The answer needs to come in two parts because Klopp is facing a fine and touchline ban. One should presume that romanticism still exists in football despite the money poured into it which has bridged a gap between the players and fans. In that way Klopp should not be punished with a touchline ban and put his team at a slight if psychological disadvantage for their next Premier League game.

But Klopp should be fined, nothing too serious, but he has to pay for breaking the rules as anyone else would do too. And it might make sense for him to apologise for the second or in Silva’s case the first time again to Everton.

Klopp can improve Liverpool by giving Firmino a new role

The final score made it look as though Liverpool had comfortably beaten Watford last weekend at Vicarage Road, but in fact the game could easily have swung the other way on another strangely stilted, nervy day for Jurgen Klopp’s side. The transition from blood-and-thunder counter-pressing football to a more cautious possession approach has not been an easy one, and indeed Watford were comfortable for long periods on Saturday.

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Confidence abound as Everton take on Liverpool

 

Robert Cutts from Bristol, England, UK, The Kop, Anfield, Logos and manager cut-outs added by Sean Lunt, CC BY 2.0

Robert Cutts from Bristol, England, UK, The Kop, Anfield, Logos and manager cut-outs added by Sean Lunt, CC BY 2.0

It’s a rare occurrence that Everton head to Anfield to take on Liverpool full of confidence and belief. History has taught them that is a foolish notion.

In the 52 Premier League games they’ve played at Anfield as they’ve managed nine wins. The last of those came 19 years ago. In their last five league visits, they’ve managed two draws and three defeats. Twice in the last four years, they’ve suffered 4-0 defeats there.

Travelling across Stanley Park has become a regular pilgrimage of misery. Even last year, when Sam Allardyce’s side earned a point, there was little joy to be had. Fans had to endure 90 minutes of watching their side defend deep and scrap for an undeserved point. Wayne Rooney’s penalty offered a moment to celebrate but in reality, there was little to enjoy. Continue reading

Can PSG go the whole season in Ligue 1 unbeaten?

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More or less PSG have been absolutely dominant in the French Ligue 1 since 2012 and their massive takeover which has seen the club win 6 out of the last 7 titles in France. Millions have been spent on some of the greatest players to have graced the game in recent years. The likes of Zlatan Ibramhimovic, Neymar, Edinson Cavani and a new starlet in Kylian Mbappe have passed through their doors.

However it is this season that just feels different under new coach Thomas Tuchel. The reason is evident when you glance at the league tables. Yes it is no surprise to see PSG in 1st position, but they have played 14 games so far and won 14. It’s like a PlayStation game that went very wrong in a kind of excellent way. 42 points means that their nearest challengers Lyon are 15 points behind and the league in effect looks over before December.

We should also be reminded that their nearest rival Lyon were soundly beaten 5-0 last month by the Parisians. They are just that good that no team in France seems to be able to touch them. And yet of course in previous seasons it felt the same way until they would lose a surprise game away from home. This past weekend that almost happened. Not so much that the team would lose but even drop their 100% win rate. The team was Toulouse and with an important Champions League game coming up against Liverpool, both Mbappe and Neymar did not play and PSG edged to a 1-0 nervous victory.

PSG certainly have it within them to not only go unbeaten the whole season but to win every game, it would be a massive achievement even if some critics would point and suggest that the French league is not strong. Well tell that to Premier League champions Manchester City who in 2 games against Lyon both home and away failed to beat the team and conceded 4 goals along the way.

Ligue 1 is not the strongest league in Europe of course but it is far from weak, all it is missing is some wealthy owners to give PSG a run for their money (pardon the pun).

PSG’s real tests will come as the season progresses. How will they react if they are knocked out of a cup competition, especially the Champions League? The league is theirs that is basically assured now, but it is a question of how long they can continue their dominance this season which is most fascinating. Europe will be looking on in anticipation that is for sure.

EPL Weekend Picks – Round 14

Dele Alli

The 14th week of the 2018-19 Premier League season sees Liverpool host Everton, while Tottenham make the short trip across north London to face Arsenal. Let’s take a look at 11 players who you should consider for your EPL Fantasy team this weekend…

GK – Jordan Pickford (Everton)
We’re going to look specifically at players who have gone under the radar in EPL Fantasy this season, starting with Jordan Pickford. Everton’s 7.00m-rated No.1 has picked up 15 points in 2018-19 — only five goalkeepers have a better record.

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Does Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp avoid pressure on job due to media love in?

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Jurgen Klopp is probably one of the most friendliest and down to Earth managers in the game today. If we think of the German, manager of Liverpool our thoughts are immediate: His smile, laughter and his set of perfect teeth. He is a dedicated football man who wants nothing more than to win trophies- but after 3 seasons at Liverpool he has failed in that department. Why is it then that Klopp for the most part has avoided any pressure on his job despite spending hundreds of millions on players?

A certain Jose Mourinho at Liverpool must feel dumbfounded at times at the pressure on him, which is pretty much constant despite winning 2 major trophies with Manchester United since he joined the club in 2015. The Red Devils also put in a solid season last, no trophies but finishing 2nd to perhaps the greatest side ever to grace the Premier League in Manchester City. As others have pointed out most other seasons and United would have been champions with the points that had been amassed.

What gives then? Why do certain managers feel the wrath of pressure when failing when others don’t when doing the same thing? Think of Mourinho like we just have with Klopp, what comes into your mind? Mourinho comes across as glum, downtrodden, he hardly breaks a smile even when his team wins and he is critical of players through the press. And this seems to be one of the redeeming answers, Klopp doesn’t get the back pages attacking him because the media love him.

And the media are in love with him because in almost every press conference he is smiling and happy go lucky. At times it seems like the real Liverpool manager is waiting in the wings whilst Klopp kicks off the show with a comedy routine. He is infectious and a real charmer. Think of when he was caught smoking a year or so back by a paparazzi photographer. The news was forgotten within 24 hours, now imagine that was Mourinho or Pep Guardiola, or the new Arsenal boss Unai Emery- that photo and story would run for years. England loves Klopp and Klopp loves England, and that is all very well.

However surely Klopp’s time at Liverpool will be remembered for reaching cup finals and losing. A Champions League last season and a Europa League defeat a few seasons back are evidence. It is incredible with the way Liverpool have invested and played how they have nothing to show for it apart from some memorable games and goals.

One hopes that Klopp stays around in the Premier League, football needs more of him- but at the same time isn’t it time to start passing judgment on how his record as a coach will stand at Liverpool?

Who will strike first for Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembélé?

Promised by many as the next big thing, Ousmane Dembélé appears to be at a crossroads in his career at the tender age of 21 years old.

Signed by Barcelona for an eye-watering £105 million from Borussia Dortmund last summer, the France international has been a visitor rather than a difference maker for the Spanish giants. Dembélé has failed to make a lasting impact so far and his off-field distractions, such as gaming, has landed him in trouble on more than one occasion with the leaders of Barça.

There is no denying that Dembélé is a generational talent, with his quick feet, dizzying runs and raw ability, but unless he hones it with discipline and improves his work ethic, there is a possibility that Barcelona might cut ties with him so early on in his career. Reports are already coming out suggesting the La Liga giants are considering allowing the Frenchman to leave as early as January.

The facts are that Dembélé has only featured in 16 appearances this season, scoring seven times and assisting on two occasions. While his overall game has been largely disappointing, he does continue to help Barça come up with late finishes that saves games – just as his most recent goal salvaged a point against Atlético Madrid.

In truth, the move to Spain with Barcelona in particular was possibly too soon in his career. He made the right decision to leave France for Dortmund, where he was excelling, but it was too short of a period for Barça to launch that type of money at him. Of course, no player is going to reject a move to one of the biggest clubs in the world, but it was always going to be a risk given how raw he was and still is.

If the reports are to be believed and Barcelona are truly open to either loaning him out or selling on a permanent transfer, Dembélé will not be short of suitors. The most obvious destination would be England, but which Premier League club will strike first?

England

The Premier League has a number of clubs who can not only afford the fee should Barça be inclined to sell permanently, but also his wages, which are considerable to say the least.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and even Arsenal would all make room to sign the France international, which puts Dembélé in a very strong position indeed.

Pep Guardiola’s City have a whole host of mercurial talents on their books and it is slightly difficult to understand where Dembélé would fit into his side; however, that has not stopped the Spanish manager before when recruiting and if Dembélé is available, the Citizens are likely to be joining the queue. It goes without saying that they are in a position to cover any proposed deal financially.

The Red Devils have been crying out for a right winger for multiple years and so this could be a blessing in disguise. With Dembélé’s nationality being French, he would settle well into the first-team with the likes of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba by his side, along with other French-speaking players in the dressing room.

Man United find themselves off the pace so far this season and Dembélé could well provide the spark needed to reinvigorate their season and qualify for the Champions League next year. It will be a hard sell convincing him to join over other clubs who can offer immediate success, but as seen with Alexis Sánchez, money sure does go a long way to helping make a decision.

Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea would be open to the idea of the Frenchman coming to Stamford Bridge, but only if they manage to sell Willian. It was no secret that Barcelona were willing to sign the Brazilian last summer before they opted for Bordeaux’s Malcom, and so a swap deal might be on the cards if Ernesto Valverde’s team are still open to that idea.

Liverpool will probably be the most difficult sell for Dembélé due to their front three already being at an elite level with no glaring gaps. Mohamed Salah plays on the right, so there is little to no chance of the former Rennes player leapfrogging the Egyptian, while Sadio Mané is on the left and Roberto Firmino through the middle as a false nine. The Reds would possibly sell the idea as a first substitute, but for the type of money being talked about, it’s likely they’ll look elsewhere as they did with Xherdan Shaqiri.

Arsenal are the other frontrunner in landing Dembélé due to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s close relationship with the France international. Friendship does not always materialise in transfers, but there is no chance that Unai Emery would not be interested in signing him to bolster the right-hand side of Arsenal’s forward line.

Arsenal’s Director of Football, Raúl Sanllehí, used to be one of the leading members on Barcelona’s board a few years ago, and so can use that relationship to harness any potential deal for Dembélé.

Italy

While England seems the obvious choice given the money involved, Italy might not be so abstract given Juventus’ new, £88 million signing in Cristiano Ronaldo.

While the Bianconeri are unlikely to be interested given their wealth of talent within their stable, but a team like Inter might well be. A loan deal is the only feasible nature of this given Financial Fair Play is burdening the Milanese club, but if Barça prefer to only send Dembélé out for a year, then Inter might well be the perfect destination.

Napoli and Milan will be interested, but with club president Auerlio di Laurentiis favouring Edinson Cavani as their wage buster and Zlatan Ibrahimović returning to the latter, both remain unlikely destinations.

Germany

The only realistic option for Dembélé is Bayern Munich given the lack of funds elsewhere in the division. While Niko Kovac is struggling this season and a player of Dembélé’s quality could help him magnificently, Karl-Heinz Ruminegge has never been one to splash an absolute fortune on players and with a manager whose position is uncertain, it’s unlikely that tune will change.

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In conclusion, they most likely outcome is that Dembélé will come to the Premier League, should he be given the green light, with Manchester United and Arsenal leading the way to land him. With his technical ability and direct approach, the French star will be an asset to either team and should add real quality where it has been lacking.