A Good Summer Ahead for the English (Part Three)

Last Saturday saw the European domestic season come to a close with Liverpool collecting their sixth Champions League trophy, officially making them the third-most successful club in the history of the competition (Real Madrid have 13 titles). Even though the game itself was nothing to shout about, the scenes at the final whistle were incredible. All of it was topped off with Liverpool players and fans singing the lyrics that the club is famous for…”You’ll never walk alone.”

One of those moments where as a sport’s fan, you can just sit-back, relax and enjoy the moment.

This final was preceded earlier on in the week by a much-better one between Chelsea and Arsenal. The game ended 4-1 to Chelsea and Eden Hazard put in a man-of-the-match performance in what was potentially his last game for the blues.

Now our attentions can turn to the international side of the English summer and that means the Nation’s League, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup.


Nation’s League (June 5th – 9th)

The inaugural season of the Nation’s League will come to an end this week. The first semi-final will be between the host nation Portugal, and Switzerland on Wednesday. The day after will see the Dutch play England. The two losing teams will compete in the 3rd/4th playoff  while the two winners will be aiming to become the first ever winner. Both of those games will be played on Sunday.

FIFA World Ranking of Finalists:

  1. England 4th
  2. Portugal 7th
  3. Switzerland 8th
  4. Netherlands 16th

Now, anyone who knows about the ranking system, knows it’s not worth the paper it is written on, but in this case, with these four teams, it’s pretty accurate.

Yet, for many people, hosts Portugal will go into the finals as favourite. Not for me, though. Portugal had the easiest of the groups to qualify from, eliminating Poland and Italy. England had to surpass Spain and World Cup finalists Croatia. Switzerland eliminated Belgium and Iceland, while The Netherlands were the unlikely winners of a group containing World Champions France and Germany.

Funnily enough, what started as another money making scheme by yet another governing body in football – UEFA – has turned out to be quite a success. There are no longer that many boring friendly games where the coaches end up substituting the entire team at half-time. However, the demand on the players has grown.

But…they get paid a ton of money, so can’t feel too bad for them.

So who will win?

It’s a bit of a cliche, but any of the four nations could go down in history as the first winners. Switzerland, on their day can be a bit of a banana skin team to play. Portugal have the inform Bernardo Silva (Man City), Impressive youngster, Joao Felix (Benfica), and wait, I’m missing someone…

Oh yes…

The enigmatic, irreplaceable and magnificent Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus).

Ronaldo_in_2018
Any reason to put a picture of Cristiano (Via WikiCommons)

Yes, I like Cristiano a lot.

Traditionally, Portugal play well defensively, and that gives the attacking players a chance to win the game with a piece of brilliance.

In the two most recent games played between Portugal and Switzerland, the home side ended up winning 2-0 on both occasions. in 2016, Switzerland took the victory, while a year later Portugal was triumphant.

Portugal have only lost once in the last 15 games – to Uruguay in the World Cup quarter-final – while Switzerland’s form is not so convincing with four defeats in the last nine games played.

The second semi-final will likely be the more entertaining one between England and The Netherlands. The last three games involving the Dutch has seen 13 goals scored, with England scoring five times in each of the last two games they’ve played.

Obviously we should all expect a goalless draw.

I genuinely think England will not only beat the Dutch, but go on to take the title, as long as they don’t crumble under the pressure as per usual. I have never tipped the English for anything in the past, but under coach Gareth Southgate, there’s a new found confidence, belief and togetherness amongst this group of young players. Something which was visible during World Cup and beyond.


FIFA Women’s World Cup (June 7th – July 7th)

When it comes to the topic of women’s football, there’s never a lack of ridiculous comments about how they’re not as good as the men.

Yes, maybe not as quick or strong, but the quality is there.

The be all and end all is that these ladies can play.

The month long tournament will give the home nation, France, a decent chance of replicating what the men’s team did a year ago in Russia. Historically, the French haven’t done very well in the World Cup (Semi-final once), and it’s unlikely that it will change this time round either, despite them being favourites.

Reigning Champions USA will once again be a force to be reckoned with the likes of Julie Ertz, Ashley Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and the experienced Carli Lloyd, who all won the tournament four years ago. Ertz is one of my favourite players to watch because of her ability to enforce her will on the opposition. She is tough, hard-working and very efficient once she has the ball. With her around, the team works well.

If world rankings are anything to go by then Germany – world ranking: 2 – have a chance. You see, the Germans have always performed well. They have reached the final three times; winning twice. In Dzsenifer Marozsan, they will have a player with the ability to dominate games and provide the kind of momentum that the forwards can live off.

Can England add to the summer of success?

This is definitely the most unlikely chance the English have of celebrating a full-sweep. England, ranked 3rd in the world, have some greatly talented players. Fran Kirby is the most dangerous Lioness. She will be supported by Tony Duggan, Karen Carney and Jill Scott in attack, with Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton providing the experience defence.

Unfortunately for England, the last few warm-up games prior to the tournament have not really filled their fans with confidence. Unless they start to turn it around, the chances of them getting past the quarter finals will be a hard task.

So there you have it, an English summer is definitely upon us, starting with the Europa League last week, and ending with the Cricket World Cup final on July 14th. By that date, I expect many trophies to be coming home.

Not just football…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Summer Ahead for the English! (Part One)

With Aston Villa securing their way back into the Premier League on Sunday, the domestic season in England came to an end. As a result, all eyes can turn to the Summer ahead for English sports’ fans, starting with the Europa League on Wednesday evening and Ending with the Cricket World Cup on July 14th at Lord’s, London, England. English teams are guaranteed success in two of the five major events, while favourites in two of the remaining three competitions, but is a clean sweep actually possible. What better place to start than…Azerbaijan!

Europa League: Arsenal vs Chelsea (May 29th)

These two Goliaths of English football are going to make the almost 6,000 mile round trip to Baku, Azerbaijan. Something that is all the more ridiculous as the teams are separated by a not so lengthy 10 miles. For the fans who want to go support their team, they will need to pay between £450 – £800 for flights alone and that’s only if they are lucky enough to be able to score a ticket. You see the money grabbing, greedy so and so’s at UEFA have decided that both Arsenal and Chelsea are to be given 6,000 tickets each – guess that’s one ticket for each mile they are having to travel – even though the Olympic Stadium in Baku has a capacity exceeding 69000.

Eden Hazard looking for a fairy tail ending (Via WikiCommons)

Unfair but expected by UEFA, especially as they know that the tickets will be swooped up by the local Bill Gates, Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck and any other rich dude who wants to witness high quality football. Both teams will be near full-strength apart from Arsenal who will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who will miss the final due to safety concerns. Current affairs between Armenia and Azerbaijan has left the Armenian footballer no alternative than to pull out of this important match.

On the night, there will be many players looking to make headlines. Chelsea’s Hazard will be one of those stars. The Belgian is likely to be on his way to Real Madrid next year, and wants to leave with a win. While Arsenal strikers Aubameyang and Lacazette will be hoping to fire Arsenal to their first ever European trophy at the third attempt. Arsenal’s previous defeats came in 2000 against Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup (previous name for the Europa League) and Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League Final.


Champions League: Liverpool vs Tottenham (June 1st)

Prior to the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals, Barcelona and Ajax held the advantage, yet neither of those two clubs made it to the final on Saturday. Liverpool demolished Barcelona 4-0 while Tottenham secured a final berth with a hat-trick completing goal from Lucas Moura in the dying moments of the game.

Liverpool will definitely go into the game the favourites and rightly so. They have the stronger squad, better balance, superior form and have beaten Spurs in both the games that the two teams played against each other this season. If Liverpool play anything like they did against Barcelona, then there’s nothing Tottenham could do about it.

Tottenham on the other hand are likely to be rejuvenated by the return of their captain, Harry Kane. This will likely pose a problem for Mauricio Pochettino as he will have to drop someone from the starting line-up to make way for Kane. Do you drop Lucas Moura who scored a hat-trick against Ajax, Heung-Min Son who is arguably their best player this year, Dele Alli who can be incredible on his day.

800px-Wanda-Metropolitano
Wanda Metropolitana, Madrid (Via WikiCommons)

The Wanda Metropolitana in Madrid will definitely witness a great game of football and a fantastic advert for the English game. Thanks to UEFA, at least the teams will be well-represented in the stands with both sides allocated just over 16,000 tickets each. How generous of them…

So there you have it, the two events where the English are going to be taking home the spoils. Part two of three will look at the Cricket World Cup, while the final section will concentrate on the Nation’s League and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France… Unless UEFA prevent me from doing so…

Misunderstanding My A*#e

“Kepaze”

Surprisingly, the first word that came into my mind was the Turkish word for “shameful,” and/or “scandalous”. This word has the perfect letters and meaning to describe the actions of Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

(Ironically, Kepa’s surname is very similar to the Turkish word Ariza, meaning “defect”.)

Look, we have all have moments in our lives when we haven’t wanted to do something our boss wanted us to do, but like most people, we end up doing it, because that’s what grown-ups do. Yet, football players seem to think that normal rules don’t apply for them.

What happened?

For the people living under a rock, or who have no interest in sport, the basics are that, during the Carabao League Cup Final on Sunday between Chelsea and Manchester City, the Chelsea goalkeeper, in an act of defiance, refused to come off the pitch in the face of head coach Maurizio Sarri’s clear annoyance. Roughly 82,000 fans packed into Wembley Stadium, and the millions watching on television, caught a glimpse of what can only be seen as disrespect.

With extra time coming to a close, and penalties beckoning, Maurizio Sarri and his team wanted to make a tactical substitution by bringing on Willy Caballero. This was clearly a pre-determined decision, and one that could definitely be vindicated when considering Caballero’s excellent reputation as a specialist at saving penalties. The only problem was that Kepa clearly didn’t get the memo, or more likely, didn’t care about the memo.

(Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

Maurizio Sarri was overcome with rage, and who could blame him? He was shown great disrespect in front of millions.

(Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

Sarri wasn’t sure what to do, and he ended up having to give in. This was yet another example of a player’s defiance paying off, and Sarri was not happy about it, to say the least. (The faces of the players on the Chelsea bench say it all.)

Screenshot 2019-02-26 at 13.27.09

(Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

As soon as the final whistle went, it was clear which team was feeling more like a collective. Kepa wouldn’t even look at Sarri, and Sarri was out for blood. Most importantly, Caballero had to be consoled by the team coaches.

The Outcome and Aftermath

Screenshot 2019-02-26 at 14.09.57
Man City win the first of a possible FOUR trophies (Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

Man City went on to win 4-3 on penalties. Kepa saved one penalty, but made a huge mess of another, which he should have saved from Sergio Aguero. But the talking point was clear, and the  press were waiting for Sarri with questions about his goalkeeper’s refusal to come off.

Sarri, as expected, came out and faced a bombardment of questions about the incident. He said that Kepa was right to want to stay on, but wrong to conduct himself in the way he did.

Sarri went on to say that it was a substitution based on injury, because he thought Kepa was injured, and he wanted a fully-fit keeper in goal for the penalties. Apparently, Kepa wasn’t injured and hence refused to come off.

Sounds plausible.

Yet, before the penalties, even after the doctor’s words, both Sarri and Caballero were very upset. Caballero was having to be consoled by team coaches, while Sarri was being held back by Anthony Rudiger.

It was clearly a tactical substitution.

Still not convinced?

There is footage before the penalties of Kepa studying information on a phone. I guess he got a very important message from his mother about something. Or, more likely, he was being given the information that Caballero would have memorised and trained for throughout the week leading up to the game.

Screenshot 2019-02-26 at 17.36.07
Just some revision, maybe… (Via The Ultimate Chelsea Fan TV on YouTube)

After the loss, Sarri reportedly went back to the changing room and sat there by himself for a good amount of time before going to receive his runners-up medal.

What happens next?

Coming into the game, Sarri was under huge pressure. He made changes, and his team played fantastically. But that refusal has over-shadowed the entire performance. In professional football, when your number comes up, you go off and that’s it. What kind of message does this send to the rest of the footballing world?

The Chelsea board have some huge decisions to make regarding Sarri and Kepa Arrizabalaga. They seem to have sided with Maurizio Sarri at first glance, and rightly so. Kepa – Chelsea’s record signing at £71.6m –  has been fined a week’s wages (a reported £195,000), which will be donated to the Chelsea Foundation. An amount that is, truthfully, just a drop-in-the-ocean for the Spanish goalkeeper. But this will not be the end of this debacle, and many people will be interested to see who starts in goal in the next few games.

Next up for Chelsea is a big game against local rivals Tottenham in the league on Wednesday evening (Feb. 27). Tottenham are currently in third, while Sarri’s team – including Kepa, I guess – are in a battle for fourth (the final Champions League spot) with Arsenal and Manchester United. A defeat could signal the end for Sarri, especially after the incident on Sunday.

I guess if Maurizio was to depart, not everybody would be Sarri to see the back of him.