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)

 

 

 

Phooooah! Was That You?

As I was looking through the BBC, I noticed a smelly article from a top level sporting event. The said match was between Gary Anderson and Wesley Harms during the Grand Slam of Darts.

Gary Anderson & Wesley Harms deny farting accusations at Grand Slam of Darts

Some of the quotes were exceptionally funny. Wesley Harms declaring that it would “take him two days to get rid of the rotten smell” and Gary Anderson swearing on his children’s lives that he didn’t do “it.” His children are still alive, so, guess we have to believe him now.

However, Anderson has admitted to “blowing” the opposition off the stage in the past, and as we know, “once a farter, always a farter.”

Anderson did then go on to add, “It was bad. It was a stink, then he (Harms) started to play better and I thought he must have needed to get some wind out.”

The match took place on Thursday, and ended up finishing 10-2 to Anderson. Unfortunately for him, somebody’s backside took the plaudits.

You’re all probably wondering how far Anderson got in the tournament. Who cares!

Who Next For Real Madrid?

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Photo by Vienna Reyes on Unsplash

As mentioned several days ago, Julen Lopetegui has been relieved of his duties at Real Madrid. So now, the question on every football fan’s lips is: Who will be the next permanent manager?

As it stands, ex-player Santiago Solari has taken the role as caretaker-manager. This basically means, “You are the manager until we find someone who is actually worthy of the position.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Solari has no chance of being named the permanent manager. Historically, many clubs use caretaker-managers to give themselves a chance to make the right appointment, and then end up giving that individual a full-time position, especially if those in power see a rejuvenated team start to perform.

It is also very important to know that a club like Real Madrid prefers to appoint managers who have grown up with, played for, or been involved with the club in the past. They need people at the club who understand the Madrid way, so they can eliminate the need for a honeymoon period. Solari fits the bill in this instance, as he was the manager of Real Madrid Castilla (Real’s reserve team) and, prior to that, was in charge of the youth team at the club. He also played over 130 games for the club between 2000 and 2005.

When you put these aspects together, Santiago Solari is rightfully the bookies’ favourite to be given the permanent manager role, especially if he can get the team playing well. He will be following in the footsteps of Zinedine Zidane, who was promoted to Real Madrid manager whilst being in charge of the reserve team.

Unfortunately for Solari, I don’t think he has the technical nous or knowledge to be successful at the top of the game, meaning that Perez will need to look elsewhere.

That leads us nicely onto the most obvious candidate … Antonio Conte.

Conte is currently available, which makes him a fantastic target. As Real Madrid will not need to pay any compensation to another club for stealing their manager from them. After forking out a fortune to sack Lopetegui, this might be the best option for them. Plus, it’s not like Conte is a terrible manager. He brings with him a fantastic record, winning five trophies in his three years in charge of Juventus (3x Serie A, 2x Supercoppa Italiana), receiving plaudits as Italy manager, and picking up a couple of trophies in England with Chelsea (Premier League and FA Cup). Conte is a winner, and Real Madrid need to find a way to win.

Yet, Perez will be tentative to go knocking on Conte’s door just yet. Last thing anybody at Real Madrid wants is a manager who will happily criticise the board members in front of the media, or sulk at not getting what he wants (both of which were things that Conte was happy to do regularly before getting the boot from Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich).

My Italian isn’t up to scratch, so, I can’t verify what he is saying … but going on his facial expressions, he isn’t being very nice…

Other alternatives may include Roberto Martinez (Belgium’s coach), Joachim Lowe (Germany’s coach), or Jose Mourinho (with Manchester United). Unfortunately, those options wouldn’t be of any use to Real Madrid, as they are all tied up in well-paying jobs elsewhere.

So, it comes down to one of two options, as I see it:

Mauricio Pochettino (left) and Arsene Wenger (right)

Perez’s first choice is likely to be Mauricio Pochettino, who would be an exceptional fit for Real Madrid. Pochettino is a manager who has won plaudits wherever he has gone, despite not having any trophies to his name as a manager. Unfortunately for Perez, he is unlikely to get his wishes right now, and would have to wait until the end of the season before finalising any deal for Pochettino. The added bonus for waiting would be that Pochettino would probably be able to convince star striker Harry Kane to come along with him.

The only other possibility for Real could be to hire Arsene Wenger. Wenger has been out of work, by choice, since he resigned as Arsenal’s manager at the end of last season, after 22 years in charge. This opportunity with Real Madrid may be the one that brings Wenger back into management, as it’s a club that has the right tools for him to be successful.

It is important to know that Real Madrid do have time to make the right decision for them, as neither Mauricio Pochettino or Arsene Wenger are likely to be signing a contract anytime soon. Pochettino will not leave halfway through a season; he has clarified that on many an occasion. As for Wenger, he is only likely to join a top team from a top league, and that list is not very expansive. Especially if you rule out that he would unlikely go to Arsenal’s rival team, and all the other major teams are pretty happy with their managers, as it stands.

What will happen then?

For me, one of the following two possibilities will materialise, but it all depends on how Solari gets the team playing.

Option No. 1: Hire Solari until the end of the season and then approach Pochettino. He will very likely take the job. This option would be perfect, knowing that Wenger could be a very likely back-up.

Option No. 2: Approach Wenger now, knowing that he will definitely want a long-term contract. As a result, approaching Pochettino would be out of the question come the end of the season.

Whatever way you look at it, there will be a quality manager at the helm next year. Teams like Real Madrid don’t stay in a slump for too long.

NBA: Will It Be The Warriors Again?

After 120+ days, we have finally tipped off with the start of the 2018/19 NBA season. The pre-season was one of activity to say the least, and many questions were being asked. Most important of those was answered by the L.A. Lakers, who ended up securing the signature of “The King”, LeBron James. Despite the media frenzy surrounding his departure from where he referred to as home, there were other major moves that have resulted in a potentially exciting NBA season ahead of us. A season that won’t be easy to predict for a change.

Ramiro Pianarosa Lakers
Lakers, looking to return to winning ways.  (Photo by Ramiro Pianarosa via Unsplash.com)

Major Movers and Potential Impact

As previously mentioned, LeBron has moved from “The Land” to “La La Land.” He has been followed there by a bunch of experienced players, like: the feisty Rajon Rondo (who already got himself into trouble for punching Chris Paul); Lance Stephenson; and Javale McGee. All very good players. Add the incredible youngsters they already possess amongst their ranks, and you have a franchise that is not only going to make the playoffs, but could even go all the way.

The second major move was that of Kawhi Leonard. He made sure everyone knew he no longer wanted to play for the San Antonio Spurs. This news got the attention of all the general managers. After all, Leonard is one the best two-way players in the league. Not convinced? Well, the fact that the Toronto Raptors traded the face of their franchise, DeMar DeRozan, for him, tells you everything you need to know. This signature is a bit of a risky one, though, to say the least. Toward the end of the last season, his attitude was more reminiscent of that of an adolescent teenager. Combine that with the question mark of an injury he is still recovering from, and you have a very shaky foundation beneath your feet. Having said that, a fully fit Leonard, with the right attitude, is unquestionably better than DeRozan.

Other major movers: DeAndre Jordan (Clippers to Mavericks); Carmelo Anthony (Thunder to Rockets); Trevor Ariza; Ryan Anderson (Rockets to Suns); and DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans to Warriors).

Will it be the Warriors again?

For some people, this is easy to answer:

“Absolutely!”

“No doubt!”

And it’s very hard to disagree with them. After all, they are a great team. The best I have ever seen, and maybe the best ever. My home in Beijing has more weaknesses than the roster they had last year. (Unfortunately, that’s not even a joke. Ah, a new crack’s appearing on the wall …)

Yikes.

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Kevin Durant (foreground) and Steph Curry (background) during a pre-game warm up.  (Via Wikicommons)

I do believe, though, that the Warriors’ domination is nearing its end. It should have ended last year, but injuries to key opposition players aided the Warriors on their way to a third title in four years. This year, they are unlikely to go down without a fight, likely because of the addition of DeMarcus Cousins. That improves their starting line-up, as long as Cousins can adapt. By adapt, I mean, understand that Draymond Green tells you what to do, Steph Curry controls the ball and Kevin Durant gets the ball when he wants it. I’m not sure if Cousins will be very happy with that. Losing McGee (who’s now with the Lakers) is a huge blow, as he brought a ton of energy and scoring off the bench. It is the lack of bench scoring that will be Warriors’ downfall come the playoffs.

Last year, the likes of the Rockets, the Thunder, and the Jazz, amongst others, were able to compete with their starters, giving the impression that the Warriors were in trouble. Let’s say Durant, Curry and Thompson (Klay) go to the bench. The game is tied. Your coach thinks, “Right, better give my guys a rest, too.” Then, the next time you’re back in the game, you’re facing a 10+ point deficit. Last year, this scenario was happening again and again, against every different team.

This is not likely to be the case this year. Don’t get me wrong, the Warriors are still the team to beat. However, they are more likely to be beaten for a change. The Lakers have beaten the Warriors in a competitive-looking pre-season friendly, and they haven’t looked very convincing. Then again, the Warriors never stress themselves until the playoffs. After all, they will be regarded the team to beat, even if they are the lowest-ranked outfit in the playoffs.

Who can stop them?

James Harden
James Harden doing what he does best.  (Via Wikicommons)

Houston Rockets should have won last year, and despite losing two key defensive players, Ariza and Anderson, they are still full of talent. The biggest worry for them is that they have a very injury-prone Chris Paul, aka CP3. CP3 seems to solidify his importance to a franchise by making sure he misses some key playoff games through injury every year. His absence always results in defeats. The Rockets are led by the reigning MVP, James Harden, the most lethal scorer in the league. They have also signed some very good players to bulk up their bench. Defensively, the Rockets will be much weaker, and will probably concede a century in most games, which is a huge X towards their chances. Having said that, any team that keeps them below 115 points will have done well.

The likes of the aforementioned Lakers, as well as the Nuggets and Jazz, will provide some worthy opposition to the Warriors in the Western Conference. All three have a balanced squad. These sides are sharing the ball and making sure that the points get spread around, whereas previous contenders, such as the Spurs and Trailblazers, are expected to fall away drastically as the season progresses.

From the East, expect the Boston Celtics to do very well. Last year, they were being touted as potential title winners. They had just signed two superstars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, only to witness Hayward break his leg at the start of the season. Think of this season as, “Take Two.”

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Gordon Hayward looking to make up for a lost season. (Via Wikicommons)

The Raptors will need Kawhi to perform, and the Philadelphia 76ers will need the likes of Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons to stop thinking they are amazing, and actually show that they are.

Whatever happens, it will be an intriguing season with a lot of possibilities. My prediction: The Western Finals will see the Rockets and Warriors face off for a second year running. The Eastern Finals will be between the Celtics and Raptors. The Rockets will eventually beat the Celtics in the NBA finals, and put an end to Golden State’s domination.

Oh wait …

Did you guys hear that?

Yep. CP3 just twisted his ankle at the thought of winning a title.

Welcome To My Page!

Hi!

My name is Mehmet. Also known as Galafan (Galatasaray Fan) and now The Sports Gent.

It’s always important to introduce one’s self, as any gentleman would, whether a gentleman of nobility, or one that is self-proclaimed by force. (Or perhaps all other potential names were taken or vetoed by my partner …)

Oh well!

So, firstly, you’re probably wondering who this “Manfriend” character is. That’s me! Yes, I realise I am “The Sports Gent” as well. You see, I have been a guest writer on my partner’s blog, and she asked me to come up with a name and material as it would “help improve (my) writing,” which is vital for me as I want to write a novel in the future. … Keep to the point, Manfriend Gent, or whatever the hell your name was, or is, or …

Erm, where was I??

So, yeah, those posts were my entries on her blog, and I didn’t want to alter them.

BTW, she is an excellent writer (much better than I am), and she has plenty of humorous stories that will definitely tickle some of you. Please do check them out. (No, she didn’t make me do this.)

After months of guest blogging, I have decided to set up my own site and try to “Educate, Elaborate and Evaluate” on or about different sports from all around the world. As an avid fan of all sports, it was only a matter of time before I forced my ideas onto wider society. But first, I want to infiltrate the blogging world.

That’s enough chatter from me. I’m sure there’s some sort of match or competition I should be watching right now!

See you soon.