João Mário: “We are a strong side and we have the quality to win”

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João Mário gave an exclusive interview to Mediaset yesterday in which he previewed this weekend’s Coppa Italia clash against Benevento. The Inter midfielder was also full of praise for the manner in which Luciano Spalletti has welcomed him back into the fold following the uncertainty of last summer’s transfer window. Here is what the Portuguese international had to say: Continue reading

Looking back to how Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as a centre-forward at Real Madrid

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On the 4th January of 2016, a new era began at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Zinedine Zidane was announced as the new manager of Real Madrid on a two-and-a-half-year deal. The departure of Rafa Benitez was simply inevitable, as his short and unconvincing time at the club had to come to an end.

At the time of the announcement, there were a lot of mixed thoughts on the decision made by Los Blancos, with the majority being filled with excitement as the Frenchman aimed to extend his legacy at the club by bringing in success as a manager. However, the rest of the footballing world felt the appointment was a huge risk, with Zidane lacking managerial experience and tactical knowledge.

During his time as the coach of Real Madrid, Zidane went on to one La Liga title, three Champions League trophies and one Spanish Super Cup as well as a number of individual awards. The European dominance along with winning the club’s 33rd league title in 2017 would not have been possible had the coach kept Cristiano Ronaldo on the left flank instead of moving him up top as a lone forward.

Focusing more on Ronaldo, he first started to acknowledge this new role under Benitez, when Karim Benzema was suffering from a few injury issues. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner faced a number of problems whilst playing in this position, with the main one being the side was not built around him, and Benitez’s defensive style of play did not work well with Real Madrid’s free-flowing system.

On the other hand, once Zidane was introduced into the managerial picture, Ronaldo became the perfect number nine in Europe due to his movement on and off the ball and his pure instincts. The best example to show that he adjusted to a new approach and style is the 3-0 victory over rivals Atletico Madrid in November 2016, when his hat-trick summed up his growth as a centre forward.

The 4-4-2 diamond formation got the best out of both strikers in Benzema and Ronaldo, with the former playing as the deep-lying forward who would combine with the midfielders, whilst the latter would remain in the final third of the pitch and come up with the goods for when his side needed him the most. Overall, the improvements became evident as the trophies started to come in.

Ronaldo’s transition from being a dazzling winger to a dominant and ruthless forward became much easier, when Portugal coach Fernando Santos started playing him up front alongside either Ricardo Quaresma or Luis Nani. Playing in the same role as well as a similar formation at both club and international level has allowed the Madeira-born star to adapt and thrive within this new change.

It’s definitely not easy to pick out an international game that proved Portugal were on top of their game and the opposition. Though, the most recent and memorable competitive fixture that comes to mind is the World Cup match between Portugal and Spain, where Ronaldo’s incredible hat-trick allowed his team to pick up a vital point early in the tournament as they went past the group stages.

Throughout the closely-watched game, Portugal were defensively sound and composed to a certain level whilst Ronaldo’s influence on the pitch gave Santos’ men some hope that they would get something out of this match. In the end, the test of patience pulled through as Portugal earned themselves an invaluable point and Ronaldo went on to steal the headlines for the next few days.

Overall, it is fair to say that two to three managers have helped Ronaldo to become the centre-forward he is today. Although he is playing as a left-winger for Juventus at this moment of time, the Italian side will be relying on his individual brilliance in strike as the Serie A and Champions League campaign goes on, especially given that they are aiming to complete the treble this season.

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.

 

 

Caution should be applied as Gareth Southgate’s England reach UEFA Nations League semi finals

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England have had a superb calendar year which has culminated in reaching their second competition semi final in a row, the UEFA Nations League after this summers World Cup. Ironically to do so they had to beat Croatia, the team that they lost to at the World Cup.

The game against Croatia which was held at Wembley Stadium in London was awash with revenge, but it was the away team that took the lead, and with just thirty minutes left it looked like England would yet again lose to the World Cup runners up. But an equaliser followed and Harry Kane got the winner and it’s true that the weight of that World Cup loss was lifted.

The nation is lifted and England will now go to play in the semi finals in Portugal next June- their opponents will not be known until December when the draw is made.

The press have put down England’s opponents. Croatia have been called wannabe’s whilst there was plenty of jibes at Germany after they were relegated from League A. The question though is does any of this really matter? After all Croatia did knock England out of the World Cup and did reach the final. Germany won the World Cup in 2014, and although they have had a rough 12 months will bounce back. Some respect needs to be afforded to these teams.

Imagine if England go on to win the Nations Cup, it would be the first real trophy England would have won since winning the World Cup in 1966- no we are not going to count the Le Tournai tournament in 1998 where the winning captain Alan Shearer had a face like thunder. If England win, the country may just go into hyperbole. But hold your horses, this isn’t the European Championships and it isn’t the World Cup, it is just a glorified competition borne from UEFA that just adds more football to an over inflated season.

In some ways you can’t blame coach Gareth Southgate and the players- they play too win, and there is a trophy and prestige to be won. You beat who is in front of you and now there is an extra final to be played, so of course you are going to take it seriously. But should pundits and fans? Does there not come a time where we can separate the competitions that matter? If we fixate over every small competition are we all just settling for second best? So if England do win it, congratulations, but hopefully there won’t be an everlasting love in, after all it is a competition that just feels like batched glorified friendlies with points.

Southgate is a good coach, a good listener and has a real chemistry with his players. This squad wants to play for him, and let’s not be churlish here, England does have a very good team, good enough to win Euro 2020? Right now that would be in balance, but in 2 years time with progress made and no hitches, England have every chance. Don’t fall for second best has to be the mindset here. Play these games, win them and move on to what really matters.

 

Ciro Immobile’s critics are wrong – it’s time for Italy to embrace the King of Lazio

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Ciro Immobile is Italy’s best striker. This is an opinion, but were you to water down the essential responsibility of a forward to scoring goals, it becomes a fact.

Finding the net is something the 28-year-old has done with stunning regularity since joining Lazio in the summer of 2016. In just over two years in Rome, he has notched 76 goals in 104 appearances, including a 41-goal haul last season that saw him crowned as joint-top scorer in both Serie A and the Europa League.

His incredible strike rate has shown no signs of slowing down this season, with Immobile having already scored eight league goals, one less than leading scorer Krzysztof Piatek and the same number as a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.

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Andre Gomes fills the Arteta void for Everton

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Seven years after Mikel Arteta left Everton for Arsenal they may have finally found his replacement. Andre Gomes has filled a hole that the Blues have been looking to fill for the best part of a decade.

Dubbed the best little Spaniard we know by an adoring Goodison Park faithful, Arteta was an undisputed star during his time on Merseyside. Ask anyone to rank the club’s best ever signings and he is always towards the top of the list.

Fleet of foot with an eye for a pass and a goal, he finished the 2006-07 campaign with nine goals in 35 league games, no club in the Premier League has ever spent £2 million better. Man of the match awards were a regular occurrence as far as Arteta was concerned. Continue reading

Will the UEFA Nations League survive in the long run?

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There has, of course, been no domestic football around Europe in the top leagues now for the past 9 days and that will stretch to two weeks because the UEFA Nations League has taken over the football calendar, but is the new competition really good for football in general, and will it be able to survive?

On the face of it the Nations League seems like a great idea, instead of meaningless friendlies which were always about box office receipts why not have international teams play each other and it means something? And that’s what the Nations League is in a nutshell, come next June one nation will be holding aloft a trophy.

However with UEFA there is always a catch, and this one is that only the best teams can win the trophy. Rankings are in place which means the likes of Scotland or Sweden can’t actually win the tournament. They are in different leagues and the best they can do is be promoted from said league and try to work their way up to league A in order to have a chance to win.

But is the Nations League that important and relevant? In general international teams are putting out strong squads but Portugal have still rested Cristiano Ronaldo, something that would never happen if a major tournament was taking place. And let’s not forget the introduction of the Nations League hasn’t killed the friendly game which is still taking place.

Qualification for major tournaments has now been pushed back, so instead of matches to qualify for Euro 2020 taking place in September those games do now not start until next March. It seems that the Nations League is simply adding another unwanted competition to the list of games and players are looking all the more fatigued for it.

And what of the winners of the competition? If for example England were to win it, but what it matter? It would be their first trophy since winning the World Cup in 1966, but it isn’t the World Cup and it isn’t the European Championships. In short it feels like the Intertoto Cup of the International arena.

Perhaps the best solution would have been for the Nations League to never have materialised and still have a greater number of friendlies reduced, because international matches and becoming like adverts between a major movie. It is becoming harder and harder to get engrossed with the major leagues, every time the drama reaches fever pitch, the Nations League and friendlies kick which has the ability to bring us all down.

It would be no surprise, if in 10 or 15 years time the Nations League is something consigned to history, many other minor international cup competitions have fallen on their own sword and the introduction of the event seems like a money grab.

Andre Silva and Sevilla show why they are a match made in heaven

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Within La Liga, the likes of Iago Aspas, Karim Benzema and Luis Suarez are deemed as the main centre-forwards for their respective clubs. These individuals have proven themselves for a numbers of years in Spain and are constantly a threat in the final third of the pitch. However, a young Portuguese striker has entered the scene and has caught the attention of many football supporters.

Andre Silva, who is currently on loan from AC Milan, has found his goal-scoring mentality once again and is enjoying his time so far at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Pablo Machin has placed a lot of faith into the youngster and spoke highly of the player following his arrival to the club, and the centre-forward has gone on to paying the head coach back by notching seven goals in eight league games.

In fact, the way he leads the line for his side is unique in its own way, with his incredible hunger for goals along with his movement on and off the ball to the type of finishing he has in his locker. Still only 22-years-old, he has a whole career ahead of himself and he can patiently make the perfect decision of which competitive league in league he will want to play in for the rest of his profession.

Looking quickly back at his time in Serie A, he was brought to San Siro in the summer of 2017 for a huge figure of €38 million, as a large number of AC Milan fans were expecting him to complete the side’s attack and to increase their chances of finishing in the Champions League spots. Though, it did not work out as planned as his abilities and strengths simply did not suit Gennaro Gattuso’s system.

Now, Silva and Sevilla are doing more than enough to get the best out of each other whilst aiming to silently challenge for the league title and the Europe League. Although it is easier said than done, Machin will need to make sure he utilises the squad in a way that they can compete in all the competitions they take part in and that none of the key players pick and issues or injury problems.

Since making his senior debut for his country in 2016, the people of Portugal straightaway felt that they have finally found a centre-forward that is perfect for the manager and the team. Scoring a hat-trick in his second appearance against Faroe Islands was the ideal way for him to enter the spotlight as he came up with a fine performance whilst showing his ability to score different types of goals.

On top of that, he has been impressive at international level, where he once scored four goals in a match against Hungary in the group stages of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in 2014. Also, at the moment he is notched 13 goals in 28 games for the national team, clearly showing that he has been an instant hit for Fernando Santos’ team and is providing serious competition in attack.

Going back to Sevilla and their expectations in La Liga, they could be aiming for a title challenge as the likes of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid have been purely unconvincing so far this season. If Machin’s men can remain consistent and effective on both sides of the pitch, then it is more than possible that this campaign in Spain could go down as one of the best seasons of all time.

Overall, it would be a huge piece of business completed by Sevilla if they sign Andre Silva on a permanent basis next summer, given that he has already earned the faith of Pablo Machin, and that the majority of Sevilla fans are enjoying the brilliance he has brought to Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

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Golden Boot Latest: Kane in pole position

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With the World Cup now all but done and dusted and in the history books, time to take a look at how things are standing in this year’s Golden Boot race. The Golden Boot is, of course, awarded to the player who has scored the most goals in the tournament proper, and has historically been won by some legendary players in football. Brazilian Ronaldo won it in 2002, for example, while the last English player to do so was Gary Lineker in 1986. This time around another Englishman is in the running – and no prizes for guessing which one! Harry Kane had a wonderful start to the campaign, and has netted six goals on England’s path to the semi-finals where they would eventually bow out to a superior Croatia side.

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World Cup Preview

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After the first break of the tournament, the World Cup is ready to proceed with what promise to be four great days of football. The round of 16 will kick off later today with two of the most interesting match-ups on paper: France-Argentina and Uruguay-Spain.

Les Bleus have won two out of three matches in the group stage, but they have been rather uninspiring so far, squeaking by Australia and Peru and drawing with Denmark. The Albiceleste is the poster child of not playing up to their talent: they showed great character in the thriller against Nigeria, but their manoeuvre is still way too discombobulated. Both teams need to improve to go far, but they have an excellent launching pad early because eliminating a contender always gives you a big boost. Continue reading