Crucial Summer Ahead for Juventus

After wrapping up their eighth consecutive Scudetto following their 2-1 win over Fiorentina, Juventus will now focus their efforts on addressing the issues plaguing their roster. While the bianconeri added two trophies to their haul this season, they failed in Europe losing to a superior Ajax side over the two ties, and were sent packing in the Coppa Italia against Atalanta. Both defeats spoke volumes of this Juventus side and demonstrated just how fragile the Italian champions are when pressed. Here are three fundamental questions they must answer come summertime if they are to achieve European glory.

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1) Massimiliano Allegri: In or out? 

Since their collapse in Cardiff, Juventus have not been the same, and look a side devoid of an identity. This season much of the same problems persisted. The bianconeri strolled to the Scudetto, barely challenging themselves in the process as their competitors consistently shot themselves in the foot. Frankly, most Serie A tacticians would have won the title with this roster.

What’s more frustrating for Juve is that Allegri has completely failed at instilling a consistent style of play, and largely depends on individual brilliance to see him through. And when all else fails, the Italian champions typically bombard the box with crosses, and hope for Mandzukic or Ronaldo to come through. When opposing sides pressed the bianconeri high, and played without fear, by contrast, Juventus struggled to put three passes together.

When the board meets with Allegri to discuss the past season, they should replay the Ajax and Atalanta games. In both instances, Juventus cowered deep in fear, while the bolder team was rewarded for their self-confidence. If Juve are to win the Champions League, they need a fearless leader, and one thing’s for certain: Allegri is not that. It’s the end of the Allegri era, as we know it.

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2) Project Fix The Defence. 

Since Antonio Conte brought back Juve from consecutive seventh place finishes, the bianconeri’s defence was always their foundation and backbone for success. With Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini, Juventus possessed arguably the strongest backline in the world, and kept opponents at bay with ease.

However, with Barzagli nearing retirement and Bonucci looking like a shadow of his former self since his controversial return, Juventus’ defence has been a weak point for the side and has held the team back. Factor in Alex Sandro’s continued struggles, and it’s clear to see: Without Chiellini, Juventus are a mess at the back.

Considering Daniele Rugani’s stagnation, and Bonucci’s regular lapses in concentration, it’s time Juventus revamp their defence. First of all, they shouldn’t hesitate to sell Rugani and Alex Sandro as soon as a good offer arrives. The former has been a disaster when called upon, and shirks at the first sight of a physical battle. Alex Sandro, by contrast, has lost most of his pace, and offers close to nothing in the final third.

With Cristian Romero already on his way from Genoa, and Leonardo Spinazzola improving with every week, the state of Juventus’ defence remains decent. However, they will need at least two reinforcements: a centre-back and a left back.

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3) Project Fix the Midfield.

Much like the defence, Juventus’ midfield is in complete disarray, and lacks a true leader. Since dismantling their midfield in 2015 by selling Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba, the bianconeri are yet to bolster the midfield sufficiently. At the moment, only Miralem Pjanic and potentially Emre Can are worthy starters, while the others are solid bench options at best.

Even Pjanic and Can, who on their day are world beaters, struggle to impose themselves, and aren’t meant to lead the midfield as seen through the Ajax clashes. Despite Aaron Ramsey’s arrival, Juventus are still lacking one profile in their midfield. A ball-winner capable of maintaining possession. What they would do for a prime Claudio Marchisio again? But Juventus could settle for Lyon’s Tanguy N’Dombele.

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Man Utd 2-1 West Ham: Another unconvincing win at Old Trafford

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With fixtures against the likes of Chelsea, Everton and Manchester City coming up over the next couple of weeks, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United had to win their next fixture, being against West Ham at home, a side that have won four league games away from home this season.

As Liverpool take on fourth-place Chelsea in the Sunday afternoon fixture whilst Arsenal face a tricky away day at Watford on Monday evening, it was crucial for the Red Devils to win whilst put in a dominant display on both sides of the pitch, something they haven’t done in quite a long time at Old Trafford.

United were all over the shop, with no defensive composure whilst lacking the required balance in midfield and inconsistent play up in attack. On the other hand, Manuel Pellegrini’s men were causing havoc from start till end, through the likes of Arthur Masuaku, Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio.

As a whole, the hosts were able to get the two goals through Paul Pogba, who managed to score from the penalty spot in each halves of the game. Meanwhile, the visitors levelled up in the first couple of minutes in the second half, where Anderson’s goal came through United’s defensive mistakes.

Here are the three main factors we learnt from United’s latest league game…

United’s defensive problems continue to increase week by week

Looking at the teams currently in the top four spots and then seeing United lingering around in either fifth or sixth place, it has to be considered that the goals conceded and goal difference will play a huge part in who ends up playing in the Champions League next season. At the moment, United unsurprisingly have the worst, conceding on 44 occasions in 33 Premier League games.

Throughout the campaign, the side have had constant problems defensively, where both Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have failed to identify the solution as well as find out the best backline to place on a regular basis. And if it wasn’t for David De Gea’s brilliant saves, Manchester United would have conceded the same amount of goals as Brighton and West Ham by now.

West Ham were unlucky to leave Manchester without a draw or a win

The West Ham players along with Manuel Pellegrini will have felt hard done by once the final whistle had arrived, given that Felipe Anderson’s goal in the early minutes of the game was harshly ruled out for offside, whilst United were given two penalties to pick up the three much needed points. Luckily enough, the Hammers are not in a relegation battle, or they would have definitely complained about the decisions made by the referee and the linesman’s to the FA (Football Association) straightaway.

Despite conceding two goals, the visitors played well for majority of the game, where they were dominating possession and were playing with flair through the middle as well as down the flanks. When you come to Old Trafford and attempt 18 shots with four of them being on target, which was the same as what the hosts had managed, you can definitely leave with your heads held high even if no points were picked up.

Fred and Paul Pogba together dragged the side to the crucial three points  

For sure, there were not many positives at all to take from the game, but the chemistry and understanding that Fred and Paul Pogba have started to gain between one another is allowing the midfield to dictate and dominate the match to another level. With both players having the ability to drop deep when required and the intelligence to command for the ball regularly, United’s midfield looks more energetic and as a possession-based team when the duo are working their magic.

The renaissance of Fred has been more than helpful to all parties, where he had some concerning issues at adjusting life to the Premier League and showing his quality on and off the ball, but he is now doing enough to prove why he deserves to play as a regular starter. As Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic look to be out for another two to three weeks with an injury, it may give the Brazilian international the perfect amount of time to show what he is capable of to his critics and to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer himself.

Paul Pogba move to Real Madrid unlikely

Paul Pogba

Real Madrid are a club who constantly generate headlines and fill newspaper inches with the seemingly never-ending transfer speculation surrounding the club. That is now more intense than ever with widespread reports that the club will be undergoing an overhaul of their playing squad this summer following on from a trophyless season.

Deals have already been tied up for FC Porto defender Eder Militao and Santos forward Rodrygo Goes, while there have been widespread reports that there is ‘near total agreement’ for Chelsea forward Eden Hazard. But the ongoing links, mainly emanating from the Spanish and French press, that Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba is also on his way to Madrid appear somewhat fanciful. Continue reading

Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL action

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Starting on Friday night, the English Premier League has a full schedule of games over this coming weekend.

Here are our predicted lineups for those EPL fixtures so have a read in preparation for another EPL fantasy football round.

Leicester City v Newcastle United

Leicester XI: Schmeichel, Pereira, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell, Tielemans, Ndidi, Maddison, Gray, Vardy, Barnes

Newcastle XI: Dubravka, Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie, Perez, Hayden, Ki, Almiron, Rondon Continue reading

EPL Weekend Picks – Week 34

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This weekend’s Premier League will see the season continuing to take shape as, with just a few games to go, there is still a wide open title race and only one relegation spot left to fill. Liverpool leapfrogged Man City back into top spot last weekend, but the Citizens have a game in hand – just how much of a say will Chelsea and Crystal Palace have on Sunday against the top two? Palace host City while Chelsea travel to Liverpool and so there could well be more twists and turns in this title race yet. Towards the bottom of the table, already-relegated Huddersfield and Fulham both have tricky fixtures, with the Terriers at Tottenham while Fulham host Everton. Let’s take on a 4-3-3 here and see which players will fancy their chances.

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How Barcelona will beat Man Utd

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They might be favourites to win the tie over two legs, but there’s no way that Barcelona will be taking Manchester United lightly, particularly at Old Trafford.

Playing at the Camp Nou for the second leg may seem to afford the Catalans an advantage of sorts, but Ernesto Valverde and his team will want to make that a formality.

In order to do so, they’ll need to take the game to the Red Devils and quieten the expected 75,000 crowd.

But just how are they going to manage it?

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Paul Pogba is wrapped up in such an enigma even he doesn’t know what club he wants to play for

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Rewind four months ago, it is the beginning of December and Paul Pogba, a moody Paul Pogba arrives for training at Manchester United. He doesn’t want to be at the club, not because he doesn’t like the club or like playing in the Premier League but because. well, let’s say he’s not on best friends terms with the manager Jose Mourinho. There have been coded tweets about it, face gestures and Sky Sports once caught some tension in United’s training session between Pogba and Mourinho. There is a constant grey cloud over the club and Pogba wants out.

Pogba has friends in Europe, many friends who are influential and such is his CV which includes playing for Juventus and winning a World Cup with France last summer that his options are wide open. A few months ago there are hints that he will leave United for Barcelona, Lionel Messi seems interested and Barcelona is a million miles away in terms of happiness for Pogba than United with Mourinho in charge. The flirtation seems genuine. But like a professional that he is Pogba will sit it out, maybe something will change.

Just before Christmas it did, and whilst this may sound cruel, Pogba and United’s players got an early Christmas gift when Mourinho was sacked. It may not have been what they wanted- we won’t know until they decide to write their inevitable autobiographies- but it was most certainly what the players needed.

When it was announced that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer former legend with the club would take over, there was relief around the dressing room. The Norwegian may not be the right man for the club, but he was the perfect man for the club right now, right bang in this situation. Since December he has proven that he is the right man for the club and for the next 3 years as he signed a deserved full time contract. He has worn a smile that could have warmed Christian Bale after a press interview and it is no coincidence that Pogba has looked back to his French international best.

Even when Pogba has played bad, he’s played well for Solskjaer. Even when Pogba saw red or threw a strop, Solskjaer has defended him. The manager has more knowledge of human psychology in one finger nail than Mourinho has in a lifetime and it has worked wonders. Plus of course United do have very good players, they just needed motivation and needed to be told that the best form of attack is to attack.

And yet Pogba remains coy on his future. There are reports linking him to Zidane’s Real Madrid, we say Zidane now because it is clear since his return to Madrid the club have turned a corner and will mean to do serious business in the summer. Pogba could fit an attacking midfield role at the Bernabeu perfectly for the club. You get the feeling if a firm offer came in Pogba would say thanks very much and leave. Of course maybe the pinnacle of his football would be at United who are now set on a course to relive some of the glory days of the past.

But maybe Pogba doesn’t entirely know what Pogba wants. What he shouldn’t do like many have before him is join the worlds best team thinking that trophies will naturally come.

When you think like that the joker card of football will ultimately play its hand.

 

Five players that Zinedine Zidane will want to buy in the summer for Real Madrid

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With Zinedine Zidane back at Real Madrid his hands will be tied for the next two months with the transfer window shut and there will be players in the squad that will be playing for their futures. A clear out will happen at the club as Zidane will try and return Madrid back to the pinnacle of European football and win another Champions League and try to topple Barcelona’s dominance in the Spanish La Liga.

So who will be on Zidane’s wish list? It has been reported that he could have up to 500m euros to spend, that is of course hear say, but at the end of the day we all know that Madrid President Florentino Perez has been holding out and that the club will be spending big money this summer.

We name five players below that should be topping his list.

Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe is the best centre forward in Europe, once we consider his rate of goals and his age. Still only 20 the French international and World Cup winner is having another superb season for PSG and is simply a devastating goal machine. He is the genuine article and would fit into Madrid no problem. The problem is that he cost PSG around £150m, and so could cost Madrid over £200m.

Neymar

Sticking with PSG, Neymar’s name has been mentioned on more than one occasion. The world’s most expensive player at £197m may be available on a loan deal to buy given that for the second consecutive season he has picked up a long term injury. The sticking point is that he is an ex Barcelona player, which could provide some tensions- Madrid would surely love this to rile up their enemies though.

Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba is a new link but it does make sense. Zidane would have watched the French national team last summer and saw just how potentially great Pogba is. His surging runs were fantastic and he could imagine that at Madrid. If Pogba is happy he plays great football. Again a transfer would easily topple the £100m mark.

Sadio Mane

Mane has arguably been Liverpool’s best player this season. He has stepped up this season when at times Mohamed Salah has gone quiet and has scored 17 goals so far. Don’t be fooled into thinking he would come cheap. Liverpool do not sell their players cheap- just look at Phillipe Coutinho for that. Mane would provide that bit of quality when all guns aren’t firing.

Eden Hazard

Last but not least there is Eden Hazard who has been linked to Madrid for over a year. It would actually feel like a shock if this deal was to fall through- but it could given that Zidane is back at the club. If he’s not an admirer then Hazard won’t be coming. Still the Chelsea player could add a lot of pace and depth to the team and would be a great buy for them, and Chelsea could do with the transfer fee.

 

Pogba on his way to becoming a Fantasy Legend?

When Paul Pogba re-joined Manchester United from Juventus for £89.3 million at the start of the 2016-17 season, Premier League fantasy players were excited about the point potential of the midfield powerhouse. His addition at Old Trafford also influenced a number of bettors to stake on United winning the league with the influential midfielder controlling the center of the park.

The Frenchman had been a commanding force in Serie A but, in his first two seasons at Old Trafford, Pogba was a serious let-down. In that time, the World Cup winner only notched eleven goals, and his fantasy returns were abysmal. But now that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken over from Jose Mourinho as the Red Devils manager, Pogba is reborn. In fact, the 25-year-old is well on the way to becoming a fantasy legend and a bettor’s dream.

There is no denying that Pogba is now an essential player for any fantasy manager hoping to finish the season in one of the higher rank tiers. On the official Fantasy Premier League page, the United man is in 43 percent of teams, and only Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah can be found in more teams at 50.4 percent. Ever since Solskjaer took over as caretaker manager at Old Trafford, it has been clear that Pogba was restrained under the stewardship of Mourinho. The former United striker appears to have given his star player free reign to do as he pleases, and Pogba is relishing the opportunity. In fact, staking on the Frenchman to score in any game at the moment looks like a sensible bet. 

United’s transformation under Solskjaer has been epitomised by the rise of Pogba. They began way outside the top four before the Norwegian came in, but now a Champions League qualifying place next season is theirs to lose. All the latest betting sites are favouring Solskjaer’s charges to hold out for a top-four finish, but staking on that eventuality with a free bet is the best way to avert risk with Arsenal and Chelsea breathing down United’s neck. Sites like MoPlay are offering £30 in free bets to new players, for example. At this rate, it wouldn’t be totally out of the question to put an early bet on United winning the league next year as well.

Since Solskjaer took over as manager of the thirteen-time Premier League winners, Pogba has scored eight goals and registered six assists in nine top-flight games. These are hugely impressive returns, especially for a player who can be signed for a mere 8.4 million in the game. Pogba not only represents an indispensable asset for every midfield, but he is also a major contender for the captaincy every week. The skilful ball player can add goals from open play but is also the designated penalty taker. This means he has the potential to explode and rake in tons of points on a weekly basis. Pogba is now easily the best value for money player in the game and is tussling with the likes of Salah to end the season with the highest number of points.

If Pogba can continue this output, his price will skyrocket in the 2019-20 season. He is proving to be one of the best, if not the best, player to own in Fantasy Premier League, and is on his way to making a name for himself as a point scoring legend. This is exactly what fantasy managers and bettors had hoped for from the United academy product when he returned to his old stomping ground.

 

EPL Weekend Picks – Week 30

tielemansThis weekend’s Premier League action has one or two tasty fixtures coming at a great time, with arguably the match of the round closing out the weekend’s proceedings when Arsenal take on Manchester United at the Emirates in Sunday’s 4.30pm kickoff. Conversely, getting things underway with the Saturday lunchtime kickoff will be Crystal Palace hosting rivals Brighton at Selhurst Park. With the exception of Man City taking on Watford on Saturday and Chelsea hosting Wolves on Sunday, just about every other game sees a top-half side taking on a bottom-half side, and so there could be one or two surprises in store for fans attending a game in England’s top-flight this weekend.

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