Football: What a Week!

In a week where football has shown why it is the number one sport in the world, there are still people who continue to remind us of the violence and corruption that will continue to lurk in the shadows, waiting to emerge its ugly head once more. So what better way to enjoy the good and bad of this fantastic sport by having a quick look at the top events from the week.


He’s Back!

Talking of the ugly side of the game, let’s begin with Sepp Blatter.

Sepp_Blatter_(2009)
Sepp Blatter (Via WikiCommons)

Since being removed from his position as the president, ringleader and king of the fraudsters, Sepp Blatter has been a little less common on publicly circulated media forum and outlets. Clearly not happy, he decided to make himself relevant by coming out and stating that “money is at risk of ruining football!”

Really Sepp?

Blatter went on to add that, “people already pay a lot to get into the football stadium. Prices are getting higher and higher because clubs need more money.”

“When all of this (law case against FIFA) is done, I want to write a book – my memoirs, more or less.” Hope he title’s it, “My Confession by Sepp Blatter!” 

Two things immediately come to mind…

  1. He doesn’t realise that money has ruined football already, hence why the same teams, from the same leagues are always taking the trophies.
  2. Immediately after hearing the comment about ticket prices, does he not realise people will want to know how much a ticket to see a World Cup match is?

The answer to the latter question is $105 for the cheapest seats in a group match, to a whopping $1100 for a ‘Category 1′ ticket at the Final. Same category ticket at this years’ Champions League final is $660 and $140 at the Europa League Final – otherwise there’s no way anyone would go all the way to Azerbaijan, where the final is being held, to watch Arsenal and Chelsea fight for the trophy.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with Blatter that ticket prices are high, but it’s ridiculous to hear him say it knowing full well that the organisation he ran for 17 years charged astronomical figures for games.

Dummkopf!


Give Me Your Kit!

This season has been a bust for many teams that had high hopes and for one team it couldn’t have been worse. Grasshoppers Zurich of Switzerland have officially been relegated from the Swiss top division for the first time in 68 years!

During the final league game, Zurich players consistently made unbelievable errors and were losing 4-0 at F.C. Luzern. The fourth goal seemed to be all that the traveling fans could take. As a whole, they moved pitch-side and threatened to storm the pitch. As a result, the referee had to stop the game, giving the Zurich players a chance to go over and calm their fans down.

Which they manage to do after some of the players partly succumbed to the demands of the fans in order to prevent the situation from escalating.

Unfortunately, those demands were to hand over their shirts and socks, and crawl back to the changing rooms in just their pants.

As you can imagine, the game was abandoned.


How The Hell Did That Not Go In???

Football is all about fine margins. Ultimately, those fine margins have been the decider of what has been an incredible Premier League season.

January 3rd 2019, Man City vs Liverpool. Man City won 2-1 but the talking point was the 11mm that cost Liverpool dearly…

Man City vs Liverpool talking point

Then a similar incident occurred, once again benefiting Manchester City, when they played Burnley…

Title deciding goal

Either one of those go the other way, and Liverpool – came second by one point – would would have become the Champions. Instead they have created history by accumulating the highest ever points total for a team that finished runners up.

Obviously, no one is silly enough to pinpoint one or two moments in an entire season but if we could then surely these two moments would be it.

What a week it has been, and that’s not even considering the comebacks in Europe. More of the same next week please…

Football: Could There Still Be All-English Finals?

Via WikiCommons

It is crunch time in both the Champions League and Europa League, with the second legs of the semi-final fixtures approaching. Most advocates of the English Premier League would have been expectant of an all-English final in the Europa while being hopeful of one in the Champions League.

So far, it isn’t really going to plan.

Last Tuesday saw Tottenham fall to a 1-0 defeat at home to Ajax, and Liverpool lost 3-0 to Barcelona just a day later. Thursday saw both Arsenal and Chelsea put themselves in an advantageous position with decent results against Valencia and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively.

Let’s have a closer look at the four games coming up.

Champions League first!


Liverpool vs Barcelona

Barcelona hold a 3-0 advantage thanks to a goal from Suarez and two from Leo Messi.

Liverpool have a mountain to climb, which is incredible when you consider that they were the better team in the first leg. Not many teams can go to the Camp Nou and outplay the side from Cataluna, but that is exactly what Liverpool did. They had more of the ball and created the better chances. For majority of the game they even stifled the brilliance of Leo Messi. Yet, time and time again, the Argentine genius produced brilliance when it mattered most. Combine that with the amateurish finishing of the Liverpool strikers, and here we are.

Can Liverpool actually turn this tie around?

No!

I don’t see how it will be possible for them to keep a clean sheet against Barcelona.

Barcelona historically don’t travel well to England, and as destinations go, Liverpool’s Anfield stadium is not the nicest of places to visit. Expect Liverpool to come flying out the traps and if they can grab an early goal, anything could happen. The injuries to Salah, and Firmino have not helped the situation. Barcelona by no means are clear yet, but a goal will be more than enough. Expect an exciting game, full of drama and a lot of diving from both Suarez and Busquets. Whatever way you look at it, Liverpool have shown they are the better team, but Leo Messi, as he has done many times, will end up being the difference.

Images Via WikiCommons

Verdict: Liverpool 2 Barcelona 2 (Barcelona go through 5-2 on aggregate)


Ajax vs Tottenham 

Early goal from Danny van de Beek has the Dutch side 1-0 up. 

Tottenham’s manager, Mauricio Pochettino, came out after the game and admitted that he got it tactically wrong, and who am I to disagree. Spurs got overrun in midfield and never really competed. Expect a completely different game to take place in Holland.

Firstly, Spurs will definitely have one, possibly two of their star players back for the second leg. Heung-Min Son will definitely play and should be relatively fresh after being sent off just before half-time during the league game against Bournemouth. Also, Spurs’ captain and talisman, Harry Kane, may be fit enough to come off the bench for an important cameo in the last 15 minutes. If anything, Kane’s presence will provide the boost that the London side may need.

Ajax, on the other hand, have already surpassed expectation. They have been great for the neutral, knocking out Juventus and Real Madrid along the way thanks to some clinical finishing. They will go into the second leg as favourites, and if Spurs overcommit going forward, then the Dutch team will pick them off, just like they did the previous teams. So far Ajax hasn’t experienced a nervous final half-hour in any of the previous ties against Real Madrid or Juventus, so it will be interesting to see if they would be able to keep their discipline if they need to go searching for a goal with the game winding down.

This is definitely a game worth watching, as it will be full of attacking intent from both sides, and technically both teams can afford to concede a goal without the need to alter their game plans. The main advantage for Spurs is that a win at Ajax’s Amsterdam Arena will be good enough to take the game to extra-time at least, which makes it much easier. Unfortunately, an away win hasn’t been very common for Tottenham this year, who have won once in the five games they’ve had in Europe, which was a 1-0 win at Dortmund, in the round of 16. In that game, Dortmund absolutely battered Spurs!

Verdict: Ajax 3 Tottenham 2 (Ajax go through 4-2 on aggregate)


What about the Europa?

Valencia vs Arsenal

Arsenal currently hold a two-goal advantage thanks to a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium in London. 

Defensively, Arsenal have been a completely different animal in Europe. In the last round, they were able to navigate past a Napoli side who were considered one of the favourites to win the competition. So, against a weaker Valencia team, you would expect them to have no major problems, especially when considering the two-goal advantage they have.

Valencia have shown themselves a worthy semi-finalist by getting rid of fellow Spanish team Villarreal in the last round. In the first game, they showed a lot of class and not for the first time in this article, they are a team who are ruing the chances that they missed.

As with every game in recent weeks, Arsenal’s defensive performance will determine the team that goes through. In Mustafi, Arsenal have a defender who leaves me scratching my head in disbelief.

As a youngster, I always heard my coaches tell the defenders;

“Don’t dive in.”

“Hold him up”

“Follow the runner”

“Play it simple”

All things which Mustafi doesn’t seem  capable of doing. He is by far the worst defender I have ever seen in the Premier League. Yet, he keeps getting picked. Just incredible. Going forward, Arsenal have a lot of quality, but it’s no surprise that they are much more prolific in home games and go a little missing on away days.

Valencia’s home form this season hasn’t been anything to shout home about either, but when you consider their recent form, the Spanish side have been much better. Making Valencia the more likely team to make it through, especially if Mustafi “plays.”

Verdict: Valencia 3 Arsenal 1, 4-1 after extra-time (Valencia to go through 5-4 on aggregate)


Chelsea vs Frankfurt

The tie is nicely balanced after a 1-1 draw in Germany.

The game in Germany will leave Chelsea the happier of the two teams. Even though Chelsea had the better of the game, Frankfurt definitely created the better chances and should have won. That lack of clinical finishing being a problem for another of the teams represented in this article.

Chelsea will be very confident going into game knowing that they have not lost a single game in this year’s Europa League (W:11, D:2) and furthermore, only lost twice at home all season, to Leicester City in the Premier League and to Manchester United in the English Football League Cup. Not looking good for Frankfurt.

Frankfurt will be heavily reliant on  Luka Jovic to repeat what he did in the first-leg and score at Stamford Bridge. The Serbian currently lies second in the scoring charts with nine goals to his name. Only player ahead of him will be visible on the night. Olivier Giroud is top with 10 goals. If Jovic has a poor game, Kostic and Rebic may offer alternative goal scorers on the night.

Frankfurt will definitely need to come out and play with confidence, but Chelsea are just too strong for them. Expect Chelsea to be very dominant from the off, and take a good lead into half-time, similar to the way that they did against Slavia Prague in the previous round.  But this time, I expect them to be a lot better equipped defensively, and make far fewer errors on the night.

Verdict: Chelsea 3 Frankfurt 1 (Chelsea go through 4-2 on aggregate)

My phone alarm is already set for 3am. Don’t tell my partner, though …

Health & Fitness: “Fast” Way to Better Health

Here we go again…

For many Muslims, the month of Ramadan brings them closer to a peaceful afterlife, while for others, a chance to become healthier, challenge themselves or simply be able to relate, on some level, to the millions around the world that suffer from hunger and thirst on a daily basis.

As a person who grew up with Islamic traditions and practices, the month of Ramadan is something I am familiar with. Even though a child is expected to begin fasting at the age of 14, I began abstaining from food and drink at the “grown-up” age of eight. Apart from a few years during my early 20’s, I have fasted every year. My failure to partake was due to health reasons which no longer affect me. I had a condition known as being overly handsome, whereas now I am the perfect level. Thank you for everyone’s concern, though.

All joking aside, this month is a great opportunity for people to flush out all of the rubbish that infects their insides and start fresh with a health-kick. I remember fasting as a kid, and still playing football. I wasn’t able to play longer than 45 minutes as water is prohibited. When my mum saw that I was unwilling to stop running after a ball of air, she insisted that I ring the Imam at the mosque that I attended as a child.

The conversation was short, sweet and went something like this;

“Is it ok to skip a fast day and make it up at the end of the month because I play football on Saturdays?”

“Yes, but for each day you miss, you need to do three extra days”

“THREE extra???”

Guess as the saying goes, “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

So, I decided to do the crime.

As you can imagine, my performance levels were affected greatly.

The problem is that skipping one day of the fast alone will prevent the occurrence of any serious injury, but won’t allow you to perform at the peak of your abilities. Which is why many sporting stars have to change their training schedules, choices of meals and sleeping habits. This month long challenge affect everyone, unless you’re 48 year-old American triathlete Khadijah Diggs who dropped down to do sprint triathlons (consisting of a half-mile swim, a 12-mile bike race, and 3.1-mile run) instead of the full triathlons she would normally do. Incredibly, in 2016, she ended up winning a super sprint event while fasting.

 

Are you thinking of partaking for the first time?

Nowadays, many trainers and health and fitness authorities talk about intermittent fasting as a great method for weight loss, but like any other diet-like process, it is useless by itself. On the scales, you will definitely weigh less, simply because of the water weight that you will lose but your body is unlikely to look any different.

During the fast, it is important to eat healthy, which I am going to say, even though it goes without saying.  When fasting there are two important times of the day known as Sahur/Sehr, which is during the early hours at which you have to stop all food and drink consumption. The other time being Iftar, when you can start stuffing your face again (which no one actually does).

Recommended foods for Sahur/Sehr:

  • Slow digesting foods such as wholegrain cereals and starches. (Oatmeal etc)
  • Slow digesting fruits, such as, apples, peaches, pears, citrus and bananas.
  • Smoothies are great for people with no appetite

Recommended foods for Iftar;

  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • Starchy foods like rice and potatoes
  • Lean proteins
  • Dates and fruit juices help provide the glucose you were denied all day

As a note, it is better to avoid all coffee, heavy sauces, sweets and chocolate, fried food etc…

Not easy…

As well as the fast, you should do some exercise per day, which is to be done one hour after breaking fast, as your body needs time to digest the food you have eaten and turn it to energy. Energy which is vital for your body not to hate you.

Take it from me, your body will hate you.

Whatever your religion, ethnicity, cultural background or profession, the month of Ramadan will be spiritually, physically and mentally rewarding as long as you respect yourself and treat your body like a temple. At least this way you can feel healthier before you ultimately corrupt yourself and return to the days of using your body as a trash can, unless you realise that this whole fasting malarkey isn’t so bad after all…

Final Push For Glory!

With the end of the football season nearing, many fans all around the world are weeping at the prospect of a summer without anything to watch. Something that I have worried about on many occasions. For the fans of some teams, namely Juventus and Paris St. Germain, there’s nothing left to play for as they’ve wrapped up a successful domestic league campaign with many games to spare. However, there is still a lot at stake for many teams around Europe.

Everybody keeps up to date with the Premier League, so there’s no need for me to go into too much detail about that, but what about other domestic leagues?

Here’s a look at some of the most exciting finishes that all football fans should keep an eye on!

First Stop…Turkey!

I know many people will see this as a subjective suggestion, but I insist you hear me out first.

With four games left, there are three teams in with a chance of winning the title.

Screenshot 2019-05-03 at 21.04.59
Via WikiCommons

Istanbul Basaksehir (IBB) are aiming to win their 1st title, which would make them the 6th team to win the Turkish Super Lig since its creation in 1959. Turkish F.A, is one of quite a associations around the world that uses head-to-head results as the first tie-breaker if teams are tied on points (usually to avoid match-fixing), which makes the final few games even more interesting as Galatasaray will play both IBB and Besiktas. Besiktas have also got to face Trabzonspor, who are statistically the fourth best club in Turkey, and a difficult team to play away from home because their fans are absolutely “mental!”

To be honest, this league should have been over by now, but a poor run by Basaksehir (one win in the last five games) has allowed both Galatasaray and Besiktas with a chance to win a very unlikely title. If the title run-in isn’t exciting enough, then add to that an incredible relegation battle that Fenerbahce are involved in.

Screenshot 2019-05-03 at 21.05.26
Via WikiCommons

With Fenerbahce due to play both Akhisar Belediyespor (who have made it to the Turkish Cup Final), and Erzurumspor, they have to be on their game to avoid an embarrassing relegation.

The oldest professional team for now?

At the start of the season, I always predict my potential title winners, put on a season bet and watch it all unfold. At the start of the League Two season, I was stuck between Lincoln City and Notts County. Do I go for Lincoln City, the team from the city I studied at, or with the oldest professional team, Notts County, who have been a recognised club since 1862. I went with the latter!

As my partner put it, I couldn’t have really done much worse. Notts County are lying in 23rd place and needing a win in the final game of the season away at Swindon who are 14th and have nothing left to play for. Any other result and Notts County’s professional status will no longer be. If County win, then all heads will turn to see what Macclesfield Town (22nd) have done at home to Cambridge United (21st). If Macclesfield get a draw then Notts County will be relegated, simply because of their “superior” goal difference.

This could be a long and devastating day for Notts County. Lincoln City on the other hand have already won League Two. Like my partner said, couldn’t have done much worse with my prediction.

Going Dutch.

Two games to go. Two teams tied on 80 points. Champions League semi-finalists Ajax are looking certain to beat rivals PSV Eindhoven on goal difference. A free scoring Ajax team have netted 111 goals while conceding only 31 times. Even though PSV have conceded 7 goals less, they have “only” scored 95 goals. This league should be fun to watch just for the sheer attacking excellence. It will be a nail-biting finish whichever team you are supporting.

Finally… Spain.

I realise Spain is one of the top leagues, so many fans would keep a close eye on the league, but usually because they want to see who out of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid would win the title. Yet this year, the battle for the final Champions League spot (4th) is an exciting one. The current position is held by Getafe.

No need to check the league, it really is!

Getafe have never finished higher than 6th, which was a final position achieved last year. What’s more impressive is that they have both Sevilla and Valencia following them in 5th and 6th respectively.

Screenshot 2019-05-03 at 20.34.30

Similar to Turkey, in Spain the first tie-breaker is based on head-to-head performances and Getafe have the better of Sevilla, but Valencia are more superior than both of the teams directly above them. Combining that with the easier schedule that faces them, makes Valencia favourite to finish 4th.

If Getafe can somehow manage to keep hold of their current position, then it will be a historic occasion for both the club and the league itself.

How could you miss out…

I realise many people will be reading this article and feel disappointed that I didn’t list the German title race or the battle for the Premier League, but for me, both of those are wrapped up. Man City could secure the title this week, as Liverpool face a difficult away trip to Newcastle, and in Germany, Bayern will very unlikely loosen their grip on the title. They will have as firm a grip as I will have on the remote, which I am sure will not please my partner…

 

World Earth Day – Green Sports

A few weeks back, my partner Alexandra decided to log a few important dates on to our shared calendar, and the first one popped up yesterday. World Earth Day. Immediately, she then decided to come up with a way for me to link it to sports. It didn’t take her long.

“Hey, I wonder if any sports do anything to help the environment!”

To which I replied, “I bet they do.”

It is actually very impressive how many sporting organisations are actively trying to reduce waste within their day-to-day runnings. Interestingly they all seem to be located in America. Many teams utilise solar panels or some form of renewable energy for daily operations. Recycling and composting systems are available at practically all the major stadiums.

Le_Lincoln_Financial_Field
Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles (Via WikiCommons)

According to CBS news, the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL) are one of the most active teams. Their Lincoln Financial Field accommodates 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines that have been generating since 2015. The Eagles are currently in the midst of a “Go Green” campaign (Launched in 2003) that has seen them reduce water and electrical use, among many other improvements they have made. The most incredible fact is that they have increased their recycling rate by 209%.

Wherever you look, you will see improvements. Many of the American stadiums use rainwater to clear their stadiums, and are making conscious decisions to improve. The Seattle Mariners (MLB) installed a scoreboard in 2010 that uses 90% less electricity when compared to the previous one.

What about the rest of the world?

There is a lot of catching up to do, and it shouldn’t be too difficult if the right people put their minds to it. Take the footballing world for example. UEFA has a financial fair play rule which is in place to stop clubs from spending beyond their means, yet there isn’t such a push when it comes to the environment. Biggest issue right now is that aesthetics is more important than the planet for most teams. I’m not silly enough to think that English football stadiums should have solar panels, as we don’t enjoy enough sunshine, but a few wind turbines would be a huge positive, even though they look “ugly.”

Furthermore, match-day programmes could be digitalised or printed on recycled paper, and the governing authorities could financially reward the teams that help the environment. After all, money is what it all comes down to for most of the owners!

As much as there are potential steps that could be taken in some sports, others are just plain awful for the environment. Near the top of the list is one of the most pleasurable yet infuriating sports I have ever played; Golf! All around the globe, golf courses require approximately 4 billion gallons of water per day! I don’t think that’s being used on any course that I’ve ever played at if truth be told.

There’s also the small matter of the amount of times players and teams need to travel via planes, which add to the pollution levels.

golf water
Wasting Water (Via WikiCommons)

 

Whatever way you look at it, the sporting industry as a collective could do a lot more than what it is doing right now, apart from in The States. I will be one of the first to admit that whenever I think of American sports, I always sigh and go on a rant about how they refer to the winners of their domestic league as “World Champions.” However, when it comes down to being eco-friendly, World Champions they definitely are.

 

Europa League – Quarter Finals

Screenshot 2019-04-18 at 23.13.30
Via WikiCommons

Well, what an amazing couple of nights in Europe’s premier competition, the Champions League! As surprising as the semi-final lineup is for some, it’s not for me. After all I managed to somehow predict every result correctly. Usually at this point, most would accept the plaudits and not test their luck. I, on the other hand, am willing to risk it all just a mere day later.

First though, for anyone who missed my Champions League article, can feel free to check it out: Champions League – Quarter Finals

So onto today then!

The UEFA Europa League has been Europe’s second-tier competition since 1971, but has only been known by its current name since the rebranding in 2009. In the 48 years since its creation, this annual competition has changed a lot, both in name and format.

As a football fan, it is a competition I hold dearly because of Galatasaray’s success in 2000. Since 2009, UEFA (Governing body of football in Europe) has tried to make the competition more appealing to the elite teams who feel as though it’s beneath them, which seems to be working when you look at the recent winners list. Holders Atletico Madrid have won three times (2010, 2012 and 2018), which is a feat equalled by Sevilla (2014, 2015, 2016). While  Porto (2011), Chelsea (2013),  and Manchester United (2017) have taken home the trophy on one occasion. All because the winner of the Europa League is guaranteed a place in the Champions League for the following season. Something that is difficult to achieve via the league, especially if you are from England or Spain.

So, let’s take a look at the quarter final games that will be played tonight across Europe.

Napoli (Ita) vs Arsenal (Eng)

Arsenal will be heading to Italy with a two-goal advantage thanks to Aaron Ramsey and an own-goal.

This match is going to be very intriguing, because you have a team like Arsenal who ideally could defend solidly, try to nick a goal at the other end of the field and waltz into the next round. Yet, anybody who understands football knows that Arsenal never make it look as simple as it sounds. Plus, Napoli isn’t some joke team that has no chance. However, drawing a blank in England, in the first leg, is a huge negative against them.

In the end, it will come down to whether or not Arsenal can get the away goal because they are likely to need it. Napoli are a dangerous team at home. They are yet to lose at the atmospheric San Paolo Stadium in Naples, only conceding two goals in five European games – one goal each against Paris St. Germain and Red Star Belgrade. More impressively, earlier on in the season, Napoli kept a clean sheet against Liverpool in a Champions League game which they absolutely dominated.

Impressive, right? However, there is one important factor that needs considering. This is the first time that Napoli are going into a game trailing. Knowing that if Arsenal score a goal at any stage of the game, then they will need FOUR.

Verdict: Napoli 3 Arsenal 1 (Arsenal go through on away goals)

Eintracht Frankfurt (Ger) vs Benfica (Por)

Benfica won the first game 4-2 thanks to a hat-trick from their 19-year-old sensation, Joao Felix.

This has the potential to be a repeat of the first-leg with plenty of goals and drama thanks to Frankfurt’s resilience in Portugal. Despite playing with 10-men for 70+ minutes, they managed to score twice and keep the tie alive.

The biggest problem facing the German team is that they are playing a team that is absolutely lethal in front of goal! Benfica has scored four goals in each of their last three games, and only two months ago won 10-0, yes 10-0, in a Portugal Primeira Liga match against Nacional.

Yet, I have a sneaky suspicion that Frankfurt are going to be the ones laughing come the final whistle, as long as they can keep all 11 men on the field.

Verdict: Eintracht Frankfurt 4 Benfica 1 (Frankfurt go through 6-5 on aggregate)

Chelsea (Eng) vs Slavia Prague (Cze)

Chelsea lead one-nil thanks to a late goal from Marcos Alonso.

This tie, despite being the closest on score, should be the easiest one to predict. Chelsea are better than Slavia Prague in every area of the field but we could have said the same about Prague’s previous two opponents, Genk and Sevilla.

Chelsea will need an early goal to calm the nerves and I expect them to get it through the irreplaceable Eden Hazard. That will give them the confidence to go and get a few more goals and put the tie to bed.

Verdict: Chelsea 3 Slavia Prague 0 (Chelsea win 4-0 on aggregate)

Valencia (Spa) vs Villarreal (Spa)

Valencia hold a somewhat lucky 3-1 advantage after scoring two goals in the 90th minute of the first-leg.

This all-Spanish affair features a couple of teams that are searching for a way back to their glory days. Both Valencia and Villarreal regularly featured in the latter stages of the Champions League, with the prior making it to the final on a couple of occasions. If truth be told, neither have convinced that they will be back competing at the highest level anytime soon.

This is not a game for the neutral, as I expect Valencia to systematically foul the Villarreal players on every occasion in order to stop their flow. There will be plenty of yellow cards, and even a sending off in the game. After all, if the home team can stop Villarreal from scoring three or more goals, then they are guaranteed to progress. There is some hope though for Villarreal – a.k.a. The Yellow Submarine – who have managed to score at least one goal in 13 of the last 15 games they’ve played. In three of those games they hit the back of the net three times, and on one occasion played out a 4-4 draw against…Barcelona!

Verdict: Valencia 1 Villarreal 1 (Valencia to kick their way into the next round. 4-2 on aggregate)

 

 

 

Champions League – Quarter Finals

250px-Logo_UEFA_Champions_League
Via WikiCommons

 

Sport is full of unpredictability, which seems like an understatement on a day when the Golden State Warriors squandered a 31-point lead, at the Oracle Arena (home court) against the eighth seed, L.A. Clippers. Yet, this may be the week of sporting upsets with four closely fought Champions League Quarter Finals about to take place over Tuesday and Wednesday across Europe.

Here’s a look at the four games, and where it may be won and lost.

Barcelona vs Manchester United

Barcelona lead 1-0 after winning in Manchester, thanks to an own goal from Luke Shaw. 

Manchester United are returning to the scene of their most memorable triumph in the Champions League (They beat Bayern Munich of Germany in the final of the 1998-99 competition thanks to two late goals from Teddy Sheringham, and current head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer). The English club will feel confident having knocked out Paris St. Germain in the last round despite losing the first leg in Manchester. However, even the most fanatic United fan could admit that they were a little fortunate in victory.

Similarly, Barcelona haven’t looked all that comfortable despite their 5-1 win against Lyon in the last round. What was once considered to be the best midfield in Europe is starting to show more and more cracks. They are more reliant on their talisman Lionel Messi – 13 goals in his last nine appearances against English sides in the Champions League – who hasn’t really had the support of his teammates. The only player who has played at a high level this year apart from the Argentine, is the Spanish defender Gerard Pique. Long gone are the days when teams would fear the Barcelona midfield. Yes, they can still play keep ball, but they don’t have the same penetration as they once had.

I realise that most people will have ruled out United in this game, and I can understand why, but this Barcelona side can be beaten as long as Solskjaer’s team don’t lose their cool. Barcelona will likely try to use the 90,000+ fans packed into their famous Nou Camp stadium to put pressure on the match officials, and before you know it, Sergio Busquets (Barcelona Midfielder) will start throwing himself all over the ground in his usual heinous way. If the English club can avoid frustration, then they may just be able to upset the odds again, as unlikely as it may be.

Verdict: Barcelona 3 – Manchester United 2 (Barcelona go through 4-2 on aggregate)

Juventus vs Ajax

First leg was a 1-1 draw in Holland. 

Ajax are proving to be the dark horses of the competition this year. They dumped reigning champions Real Madrid out of the tournament with an amazing display of clinical finishing in the previous round. A similar display would have put them clear against Italian champions Juventus in this round. The side from Amsterdam were absolutely fantastic in the first game, but ended up missing chance after chance against a lacklustre Juventus before falling behind to a goal from none other than Cristiano Ronaldo.

These two teams are the complete antithesis of one another, which makes for an interesting match. Juventus have the experienced players, who have proven themselves to be amongst the world’s elite. On the other hand, Ajax will supply the youthful exuberance and in Frenkie De Jong, a player who is seen as the next big player to come out of the Ajax factory.

Verdict: Juventus 1 – Ajax 3 (Ajax go through 4-2 on aggregate)

Porto vs Liverpool

Liverpool lead the tie 2-0 thanks to goals from Naby Keita and Roberto Firminho).

I expect the second-leg in Lisbon to be end-to-end. Both teams definitely favour an attacking style of football, so expect plenty of goals. Although Porto possess some excellent players, well three of them to be precise (Jesus Corona, Octavia and Moussa Marega), they are no match for Liverpool.

Porto, in the last round against Roma, notched up a total of 23 shots (11 on target and 12 off), but ended up needing extra time to make it through. All throughout this year’s competition, they have tried to suffocate teams with their relentless attacking display at home, but Liverpool will be licking their lips at the prospect of seeing the huge spaces that will be left for the likes of Mane, Salah and Firminho to exploit. I expect the tie to be all but over by half-time with Porto coming out to salvage some pride in the second-half.

Verdict: Porto 2 – Liverpool 4 (Liverpool win 6-2 on aggregate)

Manchester City vs Tottenham

Tottenham surprised everyone by winning the first leg 1-0. 

Man City came into the tie as the favourite but were completely outworked in the first leg by a Tottenham side that didn’t stop forcing their will on the opposition throughout the entire 90 minutes. Yet, they only take a slender one-goal advantage into the second-leg which will be played in front of a packed Etihad Stadium. Tottenham will be without captain and top scorer Harry Kane, meaning that the likeable Heung-Min Son will prove the biggest threat to the home side.

Manchester City will definitely come into the game the more nervous out of the two teams as they attempt to achieve a historic quadruple by winning the English Premier League, League Cup, F.A. Cup and Champions League. The omens are not in favour of Pep Guardiola’s team, though. Man City have been eliminated by English clubs on all three occasions and have never managed to over-turn a first-leg defeat.

This is definitely going to be nail-biting tie in which the lack of an away goal for Manchester City will prove costly.

Verdict: Manchester City 2 – Tottenham 1 (Tottenham go through on the away goals rule)