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?

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel Sturridge shows his worth to Liverpool

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It’s four years since Daniel Sturridge was lighting up the Premier League. Playing alongside Luis Suarez in the 2013/14 campaign the striker was nothing short of superb. He ended that campaign with 24 goals to his name as Liverpool came within touching distance of a Premier League title.

The intervening years have not been kind on Sturridge. He has managed to top ten goals in just one season since then. Injuries have consistently taken their toll. At Anfield, he is no longer first choice, the continuing excellence of Roberto Firmino and the partnership he has built with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane pushing Sturridge into a backup role. For most, he does not have a future at the club. Last season’s goalless loan spell with West Bromwich Albion felt like the beginning of the end of his time on Merseyside. Continue reading

Which team has the most pressure to win the Champions League?

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The 27th edition of the UEFA Champions League kicks off today and thoughts will turn inevitably to who will win tonight and tomorrow and who will get out of the group stages or face demotion to the Europa League. But which teams are realistically under the most pressure to win it?

Most clubs who enter the competition know that just by securing qualification from the group stages is a win in itself, but then there are the European superpowers who are expected to hold the trophy aloft come next May. Of course only one team can do that.

Below we have picked five teams who are under the most intense pressure to win the Champions League this season. Real Madrid, the current holders have been omitted given that they have won the trophy for the past 3 seasons. Whilst they might be expected to win again or at least get to the latter stages they are not under pressure to go the whole way.

Juventus

Arguably ‘the old lady’ are under the biggest pressure to win Europe’s biggest club cup. No other team has got to as many finals and lost, 5 at the last count. They managed to get to 2 finals out of the last four losing to Barcelona in 2015 and then imploding against Real Madrid in 2017. That latest defeat meant that legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is still waiting on the one major trophy that eludes him and he has gone on to pastures new in a move to PSG since then. Juventus have not won the Champions League since 1996. This season they bought Ronaldo for 100m euros to enable them to become the new champions, a player that denied them this chance on a few occasions is now on their side, will it make the difference?

Manchester City

The team have spent over a billion pounds since their new owners took over 7 years ago and it has brought them many trophies domestically. But they have time and again failed in Europe. Now Pep Guardiola is in the driving seat, himself spending close to £500m. City were superb in the Premier League last season and yet lost to Liverpool in both legs of their Champions League quarter final. Bookmakers believe this is the year for City, who may just relax a little in the league to put everything into this season to become European champions for the first time in their history. With the money spent the team are under pressure to turn that into success.

PSG

PSG have been far and away the best side in France since 2012, no other team has won the 3 domestic trophies on offer since 2016. They are a complete powerhouse and look at their strongest this season with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani completing a quite awesome front three. But each season in the Champions League has been left with frustration. Most times they have been in commanding positions but have ‘bottled it’ according to most fans against the old guard. With a new coach in tow in the form of Thomas Tuchel, PSG will be hoping that this is their season to reach European glory. Only one previous French side has won the competition which was Marseille back in 1993.

Barcelona

The Spanish giants have won the competition on four occasions and the last time was in 2015, so in some ways they shouldn’t be under too much pressure to add a 5th title. And yet they have been so good in the past decade that the pressure is put on themselves to do better and better. It doesn’t help that their rivals Real Madrid have just won it 3 times in a row and that Lionel Messi touted as one of the greats has gone three seasons without the trophy. There is pressure at least on them to perform better in the knock out rounds as in the last few attempts they have gone out with a whimper rather than a bang.

Atletico Madrid

With Diego Simeone in charge Atletico have really gotten under the skin of both Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga. They have knocked out Barcelona in the Champions League too and recently won the UEFA Super Cup over Real, beating them 4-2. However when it comes down to winning the big trophy they keep ending up being second best. They have lost two recent finals to Real Madrid and that must be frustrating. Atletico are not under huge pressure to win this year’s edition but if they get to another final they really will be and they have Antoine Griezmann in their side who is now becoming a serial winner. He will want to have this competition on his resume and soon.

Liverpool enter a defining period

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Five games into the season is too early to pinpoint as a defining period for most teams. For Liverpool the opposite is true. By the time the eighth of October comes around it will be easy to make a decision on how this season will go at Anfield.

So far, things could not have gone better for Jurgen Klopp and his men. Comfortable wins over West Ham, Crystal Palace and Brighton were a positive start as it was. A win over Leicester City, in which they had to scrap for the points improved, only improved the mood. Even Alisson’s mistake, that glorious error to hand Leicester a goal, could not spoil things.  Continue reading

Are Spanish giants Barcelona losing their identity?

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It’s easy to say that nothing is fundamentally wrong when you are the champions of your country and this past weekend you just scored 8 goals against an opponent, but Barcelona one of the greatest teams in the history of football are losing their identity as a club.

That identity is wrapped around their academy known as La Masia and the cold harsh facts that the Catalan club have not produced a player from within that has gone on to the first team in 10 years.

Currently there are just five players that make up the entire Barcelona A squad that came from the academy, they are; Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Roberto, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique. At the beginning of the year that figure was six but Andres Iniesta has since moved on to pastures new playing in the Chinese league.

So why are Barcelona not producing more players from the academy level? One theory is written within the clubs recent successes. So good has it been that top European clubs have no longer wanted to raid the A team but go after the youth before they make the step up to play at the hallowed turf that is Nou Camp. So teams are coming in for the young players, tempting them with more wages and better contracts. To counter this Barcelona at the start of this year increased youth team wages by a whopping 160%. It remains to be seen if this will have a lasting effect.

But that is just one opinion, the other could be that the club are failing in their academy system because they have indeed lost their identity and have just become another big spending European heavyweight. And of course there is evidence to back this up. In the last 4 seasons despite selling players such as Neymar for almost £200m they still spent almost £700m. Now if you are spending that type of money why would you even look at players that are in the academy?

Sergio Busquets remains the last home grown player that Barcelona have developed at the academy and he made his debut 10 years ago, and youth players continue to be lured by other clubs because they see a lack of opportunity.

A worrying trend has seen quality players leave the club, no matter how big Barcelona are they are wising up to the fact that they are not wanted. Take Sergio Gomez who was voted the 2nd best player at the U17 World Cup last year, he now plays for Borussia Dortmund. And then there is Pablo Moreno who scored 200 goals in five years at the academy, where is he now? Playing for Juventus.

Whilst splashing out millions of euros on todays superstars is a problem, the root seems to stem from the managerial side of things. The last two coaches of Barcelona Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde did not come from the academy and so do not have a connection to it. Plus La Masia is in effect no more, the players now train elsewhere so a special relationship has stopped, and in today’s football world it wouldn’t be a surprise if it never came back.