A look at Barca’s possible UCL opponents

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Lionel Messi issued a clarion call at the very beginning of the season where the Champions League was concerned.

That was the priority for Barcelona. No messing about, a stated aim to take home the trophy once again.

Drawn in the ‘group of death,’ the Blaugrana sailed through it, but now the real business begins.

Barcelona have six possible opponents they could draw in the Round of 16… Continue reading

Bundesliga Fantasy Game Predictions – Round 4

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Criticised for being a one team league, the Bundesliga may well be that but there’s no denying it’s one of the most exciting in Europe. With 34 goals across nine league games, round three had it all.

Looking ahead, here’s three important games to keep an eye on this weekend. Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen remain pointless after three games

After an impressive campaign last season, it’s fair to say that Bayer Leverkusen look as though they’re still in pre-season. For the first time in their Bundesliga history, they’ve lost their opening three league fixtures which sees them rooted to the table.

Granted, they’ve had a tough start to the season with Borussia Monchengladbach, VfL Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich but many of them had predicted Heiko Herrlich’s side to be up there with the reigning champions this season. Continue reading

Ranked: How Bundesliga’s top teams fared in the transfer market

Now that the transfer window is shut, clubs can focus on football on the pitch rather than recruitment off it. There’s been a total of 208 departures (£452m) and 247 arrivals (£441) which makes the Bundesliga one of the most profitable, and most entertaining, leagues when it comes to transfers.

With the Bundesliga season now in full swing, let’s rank the transfers from Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen.

Bayern Munich

Perhaps what is surprising from the Bundesliga champions is their failure to sign a winger despite cries from fans of the club to splash the cash even with the recent contract renewals of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. The experienced duo are not getting any younger and with the departure of Douglas Costa to Juventus on a permanent deal and the recent injury to Kinglsey Coman, Bayern find themselves short in wide areas.

Alphonso Davies will arrive from Vancouver Whitecaps in January and although this is an exciting signing, it’s not someone who’s expected to contribute to straight away. And considering Bayern Munich were linked with the likes of Julian Brandt and Leon Bailey, it’s perhaps a tad disappointing from the reigning champions.

That said, Bayern’s hierarchy did a remarkable job in convincing Leon Goretzka to join the club with Liverpool and Manchester United showing an interest in the Germany international, who joined Bayern Munich from Schalke after an impressive campaign. C.

Borussia Dortmund

Like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund have a new head coach at the helm. Lucien Favre swapped sunny Nice for Dortmund which sees him return to Germany after a two year absence. With the appointment of the Swiss tactician, a revamp of the squad followed.

Andre Schurrle, Sokratis, Gonzalo Castro and Nuri Sahin were all high-profile departures but there’s no doubting that Dortmund have made some brilliant acquisitions. Thomas Delaney arrived from Werder Bremen, adding much needed stamina in midfield while Belgium international Axel Witsel followed. These summer arrivals make BVB midfield one of the most impressive in the Bundesliga with either Mahmoud Dahoud or Mario Gotze complementing the duo.

Abdou Diallo also arrived from Mainz as Sokratis’ replacement. The 22-year-old Frenchman had an outstanding season with Mainz last campaign and early signs suggest he’s worth the €22 million spent on Diallo. And just 48 hours before Friday’s deadline, Borussia Dortmund got the striker they desperately needed in Barcelona striker Paco Alcacer. The Bundesliga club were calling out for a No. 9 which will allow both Marco Reus and Max Philipp to play in their preferred positions.

A remarkable summer window from Borussia Dortmund. A.

Schalke 04

It is always going to be hard to replace players such as Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka but it’s fair to say that Schalke have done so rather well. Suat Serdar, Omar Mascarell both arrived to shore up the midfield before Bayern Munich’s Sebastian Rudy’s arrival later in the window.

Domenico Tedesco and sporting director Christian Heidel also did well to convince central defender Salif Sane, who was statistically in the top five defenders last season, to join the Royal Blues. 20-year-old Hamza Mendyl also adds further youth to Schalke’s defence while the left-back can also add quality going forward.

Finally, Schalke announced the signing of Mark Uth on a free transfer before the transfer window had even opened. The former Hoffenheim striker finished the Bundesliga last season as the highest scoring German in 2017/18 while the 26-year-old will certainly provide a different threat to Guido Burgstaller and Breel Embolo. B.

Bayer Leverkusen

Unhappy with playing time, Bayer Leverkusen said goodbye to highly-talented Benjamin Henrichs who joined AS Monaco for €20m. The Bundesliga club have adequate cover with the arrival of Hertha BSC right-back Mitchell Weiser who is much better defensively. Like Uth, it was also announced before transfer window opened that Vasco da Gama forward Paulinho would join the club for €18m. At just 18, the Brazilian adds pace to Leverkusen’s frontline while early signs show that Paulinho is yet another impressive South American import for the Bundesliga side.

One of the Bundesliga’s best goalkeepers last season, Lukas Hradecky, joined the club from Eintracht Frankfurt on a free transfer following the departure of Bernd Leno to Arsenal, while the loan signing of Isaac Kiese Thelin adds depth up top following the resignation of Stefan Kiessling.

Despite lack of arrivals, it has been a good summer for Leverkusen who have also renewed the contracts of Julian Brandt and Leon Bailey. B.

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Schalke must build on last season’s success

Just one year ago, Domenico Tedesco is a name that only a small minority had heard of. Now, he’s one of the most respected coaches in German football having guided Schalke to a runners-up place to Bayern Munich in his first year, bringing Champions League football back to the VELTINS-Arena where it’s been absent since the 2014/15 season and so the praise that the 32-year-old Italian has received has certainly been merited. Continue reading

Naldo’s exceptional season crucial to Schalke’s success

Naldo

At the ripe old age of 35, it’s been remarkable to observe what a magnificent season the well travelled Naldo is having for high flying Schalke.

Indeed, the man who’s incredibly three years younger than his masterful manager, Domenico Tedesco, has been superb at the heart of defence, with his leadership and calming influence proving vital in his team’s wonderful campaign so far.

Currently sitting second in the Bundesliga, Schalke have only conceded 30 goals in their 27 matches, a number that is the second best in the division, and Naldo, who’s played in every league game, has been instrumental towards this. Continue reading

Joel Matip: The Liverpool Lowdown

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The next brick of Jurgen Klopp’s rebuild of Liverpool has been put in place with the signing of giant defender Joel Matip on a free transfer.

The 24-year-old, who currently plies his trade for Schalke in the Bundesliga, will make the switch to Anfield in the summer when his current deal runs out.

And the German manager was delighted to secure the signature of the Cameroon international. “I’m very happy,” Klopp said. ”Everybody who knows him would have been interested.”

“He was an easy choice. I know in England it is really difficult to sign a player without paying a transfer fee, but I thought it cannot be a reason not to take him only because you cannot put a number behind his name.

“If you asked in Germany what other clubs would have paid for him had he still been under contract, you can just pick a number.”

So what can Liverpool fans expect from their new man?

The End

As one door opens another often closes, and that is certainly the case with Liverpool’s central defensive department. It is likely that one or more of Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Diego Lovren will depart – most probably the latter two – as Klopp looks to get the personnel in place that can take the club forward.

Neither man has set the world alight at Anfield, and the Reds faithful won’t be overly concerned if they were to leave in the summer.

Physicality

There won’t be any concerns that Matip is up to the hustle and bustle of life in the Premier League. Standing 6ft 4in tall, he will be up for the aerial scrap but is fast enough and mobile enough to keep pace with the more fleet of foot too.

And having made nearly 250 career appearances for Schalke at the relatively young age of 24, it is clear that this is a player who doesn’t suffer with injuries.

Distribution

It’s a charge often levelled at messrs Skrtel, Sakho and Lovren: they simply don’t have the ability on the ball to be the launchpad for their team’s attacks.

Matip started his career as a midfielder, and so is clearly comfortable in possession, and bizarrely for a centre half he has already contributed three assists to Schalke’s cause this term.

“He plays very good passes – he can do short passes and long crosses,” Sky Sports’ German analyst Thorben Hoffmann said. “That will be good for the play from defence to midfield or direct to the striker.”

Set Piece Security

It will come as no surprise to learnt that a guy who stands 6ft 4in tall offers certain qualities at set pieces, but it is clear from his career to date that Matip will be able to improve Liverpool’s defending of crosses into the box.

He’s dominant in the air and regularly nets five or six goals a season – a huge bonus from your defensive linchpin.

Will Julian Draxler leave Schalke 04 after their disappointing Bundesliga campaign?

German Bundesliga side Schalke 04 ended the domestic campaign in ignominious fashion, missing out on Champions League football, and scraping the last Europa League place in the table. For a side that have consistently finished in the top-four for the last three seasons, 2014/15 has been a real disappointment, and saw manager Roberto Di Matteo resign at the end of the campaign. He may not be the only high-profile exit either, with Schalke boasting a young German talent who will want Champions League football next season – Julian Draxler.

The tricky winger, 21, missed a large portion of the campaign, and his absence was telling as Schalke considerably faltered as the season unfolded. He made just eight league starts, scoring and assisting three goals for his troubles, and has little motivation to remain at the Veltins-Arena past the summer. His asking price was sky high a couple of years ago, but the Blues have little power now given their plight. Draxler has made no public indication to leave, and Schalke are his boyhood club (with a 14-year association), but with the likes of Arsenal showing an interest, his exit seems inevitable.

He’s in a key period in his career where the next long-term contract he signs could take him up to his peak age, so he will want to be enjoying his best football from next season onwards. The goals have dried up in the last two years, but any interested suitors would be making an investment. His injury has slowed down his season, but Draxler has shown real moments of quality on the grand stage in Europe.

Some glistening Champions League performances will stick in the mind of the scouts eyeing him up, and under the right guidance he could really shine. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has a long-standing reputation of his work with young players, building a squad full of former youth stars he developed. Draxler would have German teammates to lean on initially too, with World Cup winners Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil regular first-teamers.

But Arsenal aren’t the only team interested in such a talented player, so they are sure to have stiff competition as the season comes to a close in Europe. He still won’t be cheap either, as Schalke will try to take advantage of all the interest, but a move could be on the cards, more than it would have ever been a year or two ago.

Will Julian Draxler leave Schalke 04 this summer?

Roberto Di Matteo re-gaining his stripes for future Premier League return

Schalke’s Roberto Di Matteo is enjoying a good return to management in the German Bundesliga, and is going some way to resurrecting his reputation for an eventual return to the Premier League. He joined the Blues in October 2014, and has since turned things around with the top-four chasers.

After his sacking from Chelsea in November 2012, the Swiss coach mulled over a number of offers in the Premier League, before finally deciding on a position that met his demands almost a year later. There were many clubs interested in the former Chelsea player, but Di Matteo remained patient for his ideal opportunity.

Considering the 44-year-old won the Champions League with Chelsea during his short-lived spell as Stamford Bridge, he wanted another taste of Europe with the next club he joined. The Premier League top-four are tough jobs to get, as clubs always want a manager with a lengthy CV and history of multiple trophy wins. Di Matteo, while having won a major trophy, was still somewhat unproven at the top leave due to his short time with the Londoners.

The Swiss coach has earned his stripes in management, however, spending time with MK Dons, earning promotion to the Premier League with West Bromwich Albion, and having assistant manager at Chelsea before getting the job on a fulltime basis, so he been active enough for the last seven years.

But when the chance to succeed Jens Keller at Schlake opened up, Di Matteo couldn’t resist. The Germans, while struggling with form at the time, were a team regularly in the Champions League every season. They boasted talented individuals, such as Julian Draxler and Klass Jan Huntelaar, and were in a false position in the league table given the resources and players at their disposal. Di Matteo certainly felt any manager worth their salt could turn the club around.

He’s doing exactly that now, picking up eight wins and two draws from the 14 league games played since his appointment, as well as getting the German club to the second round of the Champions League – where they will face holders Real Madrid. In the league, Schalke are currently fourth in the table after 21 games, seven places higher than when he initially took charge. But England will be calling for his return.

Di Matteo has an affinity with English football from his time spent with Chelsea, and as a manager he’s enjoyed some great moments of success for a young boss in the country too. For Premier League clubs taking notice, the 44-year-old has certainly gone some way to proving his time with Chelsea wasn’t mere fluke, and that his achievements in the game were more than deserved.

If he can deliver a top-four finish with Schalke as expected, he will be inundated with offers from England, so could we see a return of Di Matteo?