Liverpool and Chelsea are shot down in Champions League openers

The Champions League is back and the premier competition in European football wasn’t without its surprises.

First Liverpool, and the current European champions were beaten 2-0 by Italians Napoli, signalling a poor start from Jurgen Klopp’s team in their title defence. The biggest worry for Klopp will be that his side always looked second best and credit to Napoli who played brillantly and made the unstoppable looking Reds side look very normal in this competition.

Still write Liverpool off at your peril, everyone knows how strong they are at Anfield and with the likes of Red Bull Salzburg and Genk in their group they should be more than fine. However notice needs to be given to Salzburg who smashed Genk 6-2. They had scored five of those goals in the first half. Also Napoli do not travel historically well and so this group is still obtainable for Liverpool.

The more disappointing result of the night for English teams would have been Chelsea, who at Stamford Bridge, lost 1-0 to Valencia. In years gone by this type of fixture would have been won a canter for the Blues, and problems still persist with the club with Frank Lampard in charge. They are playing some good football of course but not getting the results desired.

Chelsea could face an uphill struggle now with the likes of Ajax and Lille also in their group. Ajax who so impressed last season beat Lille 3-0 even though they have lost the core of what made them a great side, it is clear that their objectives will be to at least get to the knockout rounds.

Barcelona drew against Borussia Dortmund with the final score ending 0-0, but Barca will be more than happy with that at a very difficult ground. This is multiplied when we consider that ter Stegen saved a penalty from Dortmund and that Lionel Messi finally returned this season. The Argentine came off the bench in the 2nd half and Barcelona will be very happy about this development with La Liga looming at the weekend.

Inter Milan were very lucky to draw 1-1 with Slavia Prague. A last minute injury time goal by Nicolo Barella sealed a point at San Siro, a defeat would have been a big shock for the Italians.

Whilst it is just the first games of the competition there is a feeling that this edition could be wide open. Could a non big traditional team win it? The last one to do so was arguably Porto in 2004, still one has to remember that they one of the biggest teams in Portugal and had won the competition before in 1987. Another club that won it and shocked was Borussia Dortmund back in 1997. Maybe 2020 could see a change from the usual teams getting to the final and winning it?

Why UEFA should build a super stadium for major events

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It’s been a busy and interesting last few days for UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin who called English clubs ‘mad’ because Chelsea and Arsenal had complained that the Europa League final was in Azerbaijan and Ceferin had many good points to his argument. At the same time it is estimated that only 10,000 fans of both clubs witnessed the game live and one wonders if UEFA needs to change the format of the final?

Ceferin himself admitted that future Champions League finals need to be played at only 4 or 5 rotating venues around Europe, but is happy for the Europa League final to be played anywhere that has a capacity of more than 50,000.

For Europe’s premier prize it is thought that a stadium like Atletico Madrid’s Wanda was in fact too small at 67,000. And Ceferin rightly pointed out that more tickets would have been sold had the final been at Wembley Stadium for example. There is also the Bernabeu in Madrid and Nou Camp and if Ceferin gets his way we should expect these stadiums to be on the short list for future Champions League finals.

But here’s the thing- why don’t UEFA build their own purpose stadium, perhaps in Switzerland? A stadium that is simply the largest in the world- we’re talking between 150,000-200,000 capacity. It would be quite a job but it would also be possible in this day and age and with the technology we have.

One could see Ceferin’s frustration when he admitted that 980,000 fans had applied for a Champions League ticket. This was the tickets released on general sale. With so many applying less than 3% ended up being successful. In other words the chances for general football fans to witness a Champions League final is almost non-existent. Why not cut in those odds and sell more tickets?

Of course countries love to host the final but having it always in Switzerland makes sense if we have such a mega stadium. Switzerland is basically like the middle ground of Europe and easily accessible for fans. Over time the stadium would get a legendary reputation as the stadium that every professional footballer would want to play in.

As for getting costs back, other events such as concerts could take place there, Swiss expos, conventions, perhaps even the Europa League final and maybe the semi-finals of the Champions League too. UEFA could have shops and a UEFA museum attached to the stadium with exclusive hotels to boot. What UEFA would be doing is in affect stamping their name on the heart of football by creating a super stadium for super final games.

In the current climate the finals are evidently not working and genuine fans of clubs are being left out in the cold. Time for a mega stadium to happen.

 

Fabinho the key for Liverpool in the Champions League Final

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Of the numerous impressive individual performers across this past season for Liverpool, Fabinho fell under the radar somewhat. The Brazilian earned credit but not to the extent some of his teammates received.

Yet, by the end of the campaign, Fabinho was as important a player as any in the starting line up. Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are the types of players that shone brightly. Fabinho was as important as them but did it in the quiet, efficient manner that separates the best defensive midfielders from the rest. And when Liverpool take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League Final in Madrid on Sunday, it is Fabinho who will play a pivotal role. Continue reading

From PSG v Manchester United- who will take advantage in the Champions League knock out round of 16?

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This week sees the beginning of the Champions League knock out stages. And as ever there are some genuinely tasty fixtures to look forward to, so let’s take a look at the teams who can take an advantage from the first leg and try and get one foot into the quarter finals.

Tuesday kicks off with a gigantic match when Manchester United play PSG. When this match was drawn out of the hat in December, United would have been running for cover. Under Jose Mourinho the team had become a shadow of their once great self and it was felt that PSG would be just too strong for them. But if a week is a long time in football then 2 months is a lifetime. Mourinho has since been sacked and Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer has come in and still not lost a game after 2 months in charge.

The Norwegian has worked miracles for the club who have gone from 6th to surpass both Chelsea and Arsenal in the league, and just keep winning games. They are arguably favourites to at least win the first leg on what should be a very atmospheric night in Manchester. Since December PSG have finally lost a game and have also lost Neymar to injury. Edinson Cavani could also be a doubt for the first leg. But surely United can win this game: Prediction Manchester United 2-1 PSG

The other game will take place between Roma and Porto and this is a classic match up of teams who only seem to perform when they are at home. We could see a very attacking game with goals but the pick here will be to see the Serie A team get a narrow win. This game much like the United one will be settled only in the second leg. Prediction: Roma 2-1 Porto

On Wednesday the games continue with Ajax v Real Madrid. Ajax lost at the weekend to stay 2nd in the league but of course their thoughts would have turned to this game sometime ago. Ajax used to be a great side but have dipped heavily in recent years, and yet this side look like getting the famous name of Ajax back to their best- there really has been a big shift. We all know about Real Madrid, 3 times winners of this competition in the past three years- an unbelievable feat, but many think that the clubs time is up now. Ajax can get the advantage in this first leg against a Madrid side who have blown hot and cold this season. Prediction: Ajax 3-2 Real Madrid

The final game of this Champions League week will take place between Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund and the English club will need a good start if they are going to get to the last 8 against the Bundesliga leaders. Tottenham have shown some real resilience but there is a question mark over a team who have failed at Wembley time and again against the best teams in the Premier League. This could be a classic game sure to have a few goals in it. A draw could be on the cards. Prediction: Tottenham 2-2 Borussia Dortmund

How can Barcelona’s Lionel Messi only be the 5th best player in the world?

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The awards season can usually give us surprise leanings and results, although at least for the past decade the winner’s have usually been right. But 2018 can be seen as an exception. Lucas Modric swept all before him in 2018, not trophy wise with his club and country but on a personal level trophy wise, but did he truly deserve accolade after accolade? Then there was the quite bizarre announcement at the Ballon d’Or awards that Lionel Messi wouldn’t win, ok this was half expected given that Messi had not won other awards, but then they went one step further and gave him 5th place, really, 5th place.

First let’s analyse why Modric should never have won the trophy. To do this we first must point out that Modric is a superb player who had a great year. This included being a part of the Real Madrid team that won the Champions League for a 3rd time in a row. And then being a part of the Croatia team that got to a World Cup final. Those are fantastic achievements. But at the same time it also disregards Real Madrid’s domestic season, fought over 38 hard games and 9 months, where they lost the title once again to Barcelona. Indeed Madrid didn’t even finish 2nd and trailed Barcelona by a whopping 17 points. But in a World Cup year- why should that matter?

If the awards were to be influenced by a World Cup why didn’t Antoine Griezmann win the trophy? A player who was influential in the World Cup knock out goals, dominant and confident in midfield and scoring important goals and winning the World Cup. Was Europe on the awards minds? Well be mindful that Griezmann won the Europa League and then when his side Atletico met Real in the Super Cup clash, Atletico won that too.

It may sound controversial but Modric sweeping the awards was set in stone after the World Cup final where FIFA gave the sympathy award of best player at the tournament to Modric, who had just lost the World Cup. Had Croatia won it, Griezmann would have won best player- do we need evidence? Go back to 2014 when Lionel Messi won the best player award when his Argentina side had lost the final to Germany. The look on Messi’s face said it all.

Now to Messi himself and how could he have come 5th in the world? On his day he is a better player than the four that finished above him. But what else could have been the reason? Over Modric there might be a case given that Modric won the Champions League and got to a World Cup final. Although Messi can claim to have won the league and cup, so a domestic double and let’s not forget at his age of 31 he just averaged his best ever games to goals ratio.

Next up is Cristiano Ronaldo, again a Champions League winner. But Messi has that double and a personal better season over him and both did not do well at the World Cup. Griezmann and Mbappe follow next and they did have a better season than Messi trophy wise with World Cup, Europa League, French League and domestic cups between them and yet they only finished 3rd and 4th.

The awards season used to give the best out to the best players. This year that trend has shifted mostly because new blood was wanted after Messi and Ronaldo dominated for a decade, but although Modric is a very special player, Griezmann or Mbappe should have won the award and Messi certainly shouldn’t have been out of the top 3.

From Real Madrid to Manchester City who will win the Champions League?

The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League, Europe’s premier competition has been made this week and this has given us a clearer view of the teams who should be advancing further into the competition and aiming to be crowned the first champions not to be Real Madrid since 2015. Below we will take a look at the match ups.

Schalke v Manchester City

Let’s be honest Schalke will be the clear underdogs to advance to the last 8 in this match up. They finished 2nd to Porto in their group and were beating by them 3-1 in their only defeat of the group stages. They will need a positive result at home with the 2nd leg being away. Manchester City started slow in the groups and couldn’t beat Lyon in two attempts but everything is clicking for the Premier League champions who finished 1st in their group.

Prediction: Manchester City to win.

Atletico Madrid v Juventus

Juventus one of the early Champions League favourites have been handed a very difficult tie in the last 16. Atletico will be a very tough opponent and Juventus will have to have the luck not to have key players out. Expect a low scoring and physical game. Winning the Champions League has become the old lady’s priority though and they should just have enough to get through this huge test.

Prediction: Juventus to win.

Manchester United v PSG

Everyone has been quick to write off Manchester United but that was when Jose Mourinho was in charge. Since his sacking the team will have a fresh perspective and will be relaxed for this game. At their best United can give PSG a good game. Still if Neymar and Kylian Mbappe can keep up their good form, PSG will be expected to get through these games which could see many goals scored, in two exciting matches.

Prediction: PSG to win.

Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund

Tottenham have not performed as well as they would like in the Champions League compared to the Premier League. These games will be of two different stories, where Spurs can win their home game. But the atmosphere in Germany is set to be too much and too rich for this team, and Dortmund who have been brilliant, resilient and strong this season will be very difficult to beat.

Prediction: Borussia Dortmund to win

Lyon v Barcelona

You never quite know what to expect from Lyon and if they were to win this first leg nobody should be too surprised. But Barcelona have too much quality for the French team, who are not even at their best like a decade ago. Barcelona can score many goals in these two matches which will be open and attacking, and Barca will use their home advantage in the 2nd leg to drive their point home.

Prediction: Barcelona to win

Roma v Porto

This is a really even tie where both teams will fancy their chances of progression. Porto will remain the favourites as they have become very difficult to beat at home, but do not look the best on the road. In a very close game we expect Porto to just make it through.

Prediction: Porto to win

Ajax v Real Madrid

Could there be a shock on the cards? Will Real Madrid exit the Champions League for the first time in 3 years without winning it. We think there could be a shock here. Ajax have their best team since they last won the competition in 1995 and it should be noted that they didn’t lose a game in their group, even though they had to play Bayern Munich. We usually get some shocks in the competition and this could be one. Real Madrid have been very average since the departures of both Zinedine Zidane as coach and the great Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus.

Prediction: Ajax to win

Liverpool v Bayern Munich

Had this game taken place two years ago we could say Bayern Munich all the way, but Liverpool have the tools to win this game. They are incredibly difficult to beat at home and this side can also score goals away in the very big games when it really matters. Plus they have a German Jurgen Klopp as manager who knows Bayern inside out. Bayern have been poor for their standards in the Bundesliga this season, and this will be a very difficult game for them.

Prediction: Liverpool to win

 

 

 

Can Juventus put Italy on the map once again and challenge for the Champions League?

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There was a time when Italy was the toast of Europe, regulary winning the Champions League and contesting in finals. From the inception of the competition in 1993, Italian teams featured in the final for 6 years in a row. Winning in 1994 with AC Milan and 1996 with Juventus.

In the 2000s despite the emergence and then the dominance of the Spanish La Liga, Italian football was still strong. There was an all Italian one in 2003 when AC Milan beat Juventus on penalties and Milan would go on to make the final in 2005 losing historically to Liverpool after being 3-0 up at half time and then getting their sweet revenge over the same club in 2007.

But it was around this time when Italy was hit by betting scandals that saw Juventus relegated to Serie B, teams banned and their league titles in the mid 2000s wiped out. And then came Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to put the nail in the hammer being in Spain and dominating with their clubs and end of year trophies.

Of course Inter Milan provided a speed bump by winning the Champions League in 2010 in incredible fashion but they remain the last Italian team to win Europe’s most sought after prize. Since then the flag has been solely flown by Juventus who have reached 2 finals in the past three seasons, losing to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Now Juventus equipped with Cristiano Ronaldo who has won the competition an incredible 5 times will have their sights on lifting the trophy next year for the first time in 23 years. It would only be the clubs 3rd title if they did so, not so many considering that Juve remain the biggest team in Italy.

But can they do it? Former goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon who has never won the competition believes that they are one of three teams that will win this season alongside Barcelona and Manchester City. Buffon now plays for PSG in a last bid attempt to win it, the only major trophy missing from his resume.

Juventus have been strong this season and yet lost at home to a beleaguered Manchester United side, although they did beat them at Old Trafford. However if those two games had been a knock out one they would be knocked out now. As for Ronaldo he will be trying to win his 4th title in a row and 6 overall to equal the Real Madrid great Gento.

Juventus will be there and thereabouts and it would be a surprise if they didn’t at least reach the semi finals, and it will be fascinating if the old lady can finally rise to the challenge. They are in the last 16 now and have every chance to go as far as they believe in.

New Season, Same Old Juve

With Cristiano Ronaldo joining Juventus this past summer after back to back Champions League triumphs in Madrid, many thought the bianconeri were about to turn a corner in Europe and finally put their past woes behind them. After all, they just signed Mr. Champions League himself in the form of Ronaldo. After failing at the final hurdle against both Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent years, it was clear Juventus were lacking something, and it was evident it wasn’t a player but more so, a winning mentality in Europe.

While it’s strange in itself to criticize Juventus’ winning mentality, seeing as they’ve won the domestic title seven years running and winning is quite literally in the club’s mantra, the Serie A giants are a completely different team in Europe and approach games with more pragmatism.

Rather than setting out to dominate the opposition from the get like they do in Italy, Juventus are patient and tend to rely on their rearguard to provide the backbone for their success. In the past, this is a strategy that has largely worked but when it comes time to make the final leap, they typically fall painfully short. Just yesterday, it costed the side and they squandered a 1-0 lead to Manchester United and ended up losing in the dying embers of the game. After the game, Ronaldo spoke about this issue.

“We dominated the game and had so many chances. We relaxed and we were punished, in this case we just gifted it to them,” said the Portuguese superstar.

Considering the landscape of the modern game, it cames as no surprise that high-flying offences have been the recipe for success in Europe while defences, on the other hand, are but a bonus. Last season, Liverpool made it all the way to the final with a back four of Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold. While there are some good pieces in that backline – namely the first two – it is hardly world class and just goes to show you that Juventus may be overvaluing caution.

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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.

Why Ronaldo should not have been sent off for Juventus in Champions League

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Ronaldo’s Champions League debut with Juventus literally ended in tears when, with the game locked at 0-0, the Portuguese star was sent off after a coming together with Valencia’s Jeison Murillo. Juventus with 10 men for an hour went onto win the game 2-0, but did Ronaldo deserve to be sent off?

That answer is an emphatic no. Quite clearly Ronaldo is coming in from the left and challenging for the ball, there is a slight touch on Murillo who goes tumbling to the ground in order to break the Juventus attack. Ronaldo frustrated with what looked like a big tumble from minimal contact placed his entire hand on the top of Murillo’s head, some say he tore at his hair which is impossible as Murillo has a crew cut. Ronaldo’s placing of his hand on the player’s head was to say get up and stop play acting. It did the trick Murillo jumped up and looked ready for a fight.

At that Ronaldo backed away and accepted that Valencia would now have a free kick. Only the referee wanted to check with his assistant first. When he did he brandished one of the harshest red cards you’re ever likely to see and Ronaldo was sent off. It was a bizarre decision and one wonders if the assistant at first glance thought that he had seen more than meets the eye in a split second? The decision really raises the case of using VAR in all matches after its success at this summer’s World Cup. At worst you could give both players a yellow get them to shake hands and get on with the match, but a red seemed out of the question.

Ronaldo will definitely miss the next Champions League match which will be against Young Boys, with all due respect this will be not be a massive miss for him. Although if UEFA side with the officials Ronaldo could get a 2 game suspension which would mean missing an emotional return to Old Trafford when his team take on Manchester United.

There is of course the other side to this story and that was Ronaldo once again making the decision all about him. So instead of accepting what was admittingly an awful decision, he fell to the ground, laid on it and then started to weep. This went on for several minutes until he finally went to the dugout and then continued to weep in the presence of Max Allegri, the Juventus manager. Expect jokes and memes to appear in the next few days. Still bottom line is that decision, which was one of the worst footballing ones in recent memory.