Football: What an Absolute Came-farce!

Sport is full of success, disappointment, victory and togetherness, but none of that was shown by the Cameroon team on their way out of the Women’s FIFA World Cup. Even after the final whistle, their ridiculous antics were carried into the press conference by head coach Alain Djeumfa.

Key Events: (Minute of game)

  • Yvonne Leuko clearly slaps Nikita Parris on the face, but only shown a yellow card.  (4′)
  • Augustine Ejangue clearly passes the ball back to the keeper, who picks it up, resulting in an indirect free-kick. (12′)
  • The following two minutes see the Cameroon players argue about the decision, and England player Toni Duggan is spat at by Ejangue. Eventually Steph Houghton scores for England from the indirect free-kick. (14′)
  • Just as half-time approaches England’s Ellen White scores a goal, which is disallowed for offside. Once checked via VAR, the goal is given. (45′)
  • Cameroon players refuse to continue as they believe they have been cheated, and the situation isn’t being helped by their coach. (45′)
  • Cameroon start the second-half well and score immediately. The goal is rightly chalked-off for offside, after viewing it on VAR. (49′)
  • The Cameroon players are devastated, and Ajara Nchout (the scorer of the goal) needs consoling by both her teammates and coach after being in tears. (49′)
  • Alex Greenwood scores after a well worked corner kick. (58′)
  • Penalty not given to England after a VAR check. (78′)
  • After a late and dangerous tackle, Alexandra Takounda is given a yellow card after a VAR check. (90’+9′)

Have a look at the amazing behaviour for yourself;

Were Cameroon right to be upset?

Absolutely no!

Leuko, Ejangue and Takounda should all have been sent off.

The England goal that was given, and the disallowed Cameroon goal were both correct decisions.

England should have been given a penalty.

Worst of all, after the game the Cameroon coach Alain Djeumfa came out and talked about the injustice that his team was subjected to, adding that he was proud of the passion his team showed in defeat.

What a load of rubbish!

Mr. Djeumfa clearly needs to get back to doing his coaching badges, and maybe start with the rules of the game as he doesn’t know them. I can understand the showing of blind support for your team, but when all the dust settles, I hope the Cameroon team as a whole, feel embarrassed by their behaviour and get fined accordingly for effectively sulking like a bunch of toddlers.

What about England?

A magnificent display by the Lionesses. The way they handled themselves throughout the game and during the press conferences were exemplary.

The only positive to be taken from a game that, for the lack of a better word, was a complete farce. So much so that former USA goalkeeper, Hope Solo, was trying to make excuses for the Cameroon team in what could only be described as a salvage act.

Unfortunately for England coach, Phil Neville, his team now have a nervous wait to see if Steph Houghton will recover from the brutal tackle against Cameroon in time to face Norway in the quarter-finals.

For Cameroon, it should back to the rule book. Hopefully they get through the whole thing without calling it quits.

 

 

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).

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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 Two)

Yesterday was the release of the first of a three part blog about the magnificent summer that awaits English sport’s fans. If you missed it then don’t worry, it’s never too late to read it. A Good Summer Ahead for the English! (Part One)

So today marks the start of another huge tournament with the first match played between favourites England and perennial “chokers” South Africa.

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ICC Cricket World Cup Trophy (Via WikiCommons)

 

Cricket World Cup 2019 (May 30th – July 14th)

The blue ribbon event of the cricketing world is upon us again. Originally contested by eight nations in 1975, this year’s event will witness the top ten cricketing nations fighting it out to be crowned world champions. All of the partaking nations will play each other in a round robin tournament, with the top four going on to contest the semifinals. The cricket fest will come to an end on July 14th at the Mecca of cricket, Lord’s Cricket Ground, London.

The nations in order of world ranking:

  1. ENGLAND
  2. India
  3. South Africa
  4. New Zealand
  5. Australia
  6. Pakistan
  7. Bangladesh
  8. West Indies
  9. Sri Lanka
  10. Afghanistan

The main pavilion (left), and the media centre at the home of cricket. (Via WikiCommons)

Do England deserve to be the favourite?

England are easily the best ODI (one day international) team in the world. A combination of aggressive batting, and above average bowling has helped the creators of the sport become the best at it. Since the last World Cup in 2015, England have won around 70% of all ODI’s played. A feat that no other nation can surpass. In the meantime, they have also accumulated four of the largest run totals with the relentless stroke making abilities of their top order batsmen. In the likes of Jason Roy, and Johnny Bairstow, England has the most destructive opening partnership in world cricket. Follow that up with Jos Buttler, a man on a mission to demolish every bowler’s self-confidence. Buttler scores big and scores fast, an important asset when it comes to limited overs cricket. In fact, only on five occasions has a nation scored over 400 runs in an innings since the last World Cup. South Africa once and England four times (Usually a score over 300 is deemed good, depending on the conditions).

Jos_Buttler_2017
Jos Buttler (Via WikiCommons)

However, that same aggression when batting can lead to a massive collapse on the wrong day, which is where the bowlers need to step up. Something that they are more than capable of doing with the likes of Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali, Tom Curran, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and the recent addition to the squad of Joffrey Archer. The latter has made a name for himself in recent years as a specialist of the short-game (T20/ODI).

With all this firepower, a smart leader is necessary. Enter Eoin Morgan. Ironically, Morgan is Irish-born, but captains the three-lions after switching allegiances in 2009. He is one of only two players to score a century – 100 runs in an innings – for two different nations. The other being Ed Joyce, who went from England to Ireland. Eoin Morgan is labelled as a “finisher” thanks to his hitting ability towards the end of a game, and that nickname may get put to the test on many occasions during this tournament.

Who are the other possible champions?

Australia:

Most final appearances (7), most wins (5) and the reigning champions. Australia have won four of the last five tournaments and have long been a force in all formats of the game. However,  in recent years, this cricketing nation has been hit with major issues. Most recently, Steve Smith, who captained the Aussies in all forms of the game, and vice-captain David Warner, both received lengthy suspensions for ball-tampering. This is basically the equivalent of when Tom Brady may or may not have reduced the air in the football’s being used when playing for the New England Patriots.

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David Warner (Via WikiCommons)

Both Warner and Smith have served their suspensions and are back in the squad, which could prove a huge factor as they both come into the tournament on the back of some great individual performances. I expect Warner to be one of the leading run scorers in the tournament, and Smith to aid current captain Aaron Finch in making the right decisions.

India:

The only country to snatch a World Cup from the Aussies when they won on home soil eight years ago. The chances of another success seems unlikely. However, any team with Virat Kohli in their ranks, has a chance. He is a messiah in the world of cricket. He is Ronaldo and Messi combined when it comes to hitting a ball with a bat. Backed up by the enigmatic MS Dhoni, India always have a chance. Unfortunately for Indian fans, this team are definitely much better in the kind of conditions expected in the sub-continent. England and Wales don’t really fit that bill. Nonetheless, you can never count them out.

Pepsi IPL 2015 - M37 CSK v RCB
Virat Kohli (left) and MS Dhoni facing off for their franchises during the 2015 IPL season. (Via WikiCommons)

New Zealand:

Now this is a fantastic team, built with a great foundation and the ability to destroy opposition batting line-ups. Every other nation is definitely better at batting than bowling. Same can’t be said about the Kiwis. New Zealand have named six specialist bowlers. Four of those are world class, two are good. Their opening bowlers Trent Boult – who I think will be the top wicket-taker in the tournament – and Tim Southee have on many occasions ripped through the batting line-up of the opposition.

Trent_Boult_bowling_3
Trent Boult (Via WikiCommons)

Don’t get me wrong, they have decent batsman who can score big, too. The likes of captain Kane Williamson, opener Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor and Colin Munro can all go big, but relying on them to consistently score heavy is not a smart move.

Other players to watch (Not included in the aforementioned nations):

Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn (South Africa): The pair have been the linchpin for the Proteas bowling attack. Two stars for a team that lacks the quality of previous generations.

Chris Gayle (West Indies): The phrase “fetch that” is perfect for this man. Chris Gayle has one of the heaviest bats in the game, and when he swings his wood, balls go flying.

Rashid Khan (Afghanistan): Watching Rashid Khan bowl is a joy. He is a spin bowler with the ability to spin the ball both ways, and that makes for some exciting viewing. I am a huge fan!

Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh): Tamim has had to change his batting in recent years as his team relies on him to bat deep into the innings. Yet, he is still an exciting batsman who likes to smash the bowlers around.

On their day, any one of the teams could go a long way and essentially win the tournament. No matter what happens, an exciting five weeks awaits; full of runs, wickets and drama, as long as the British summer allows for it.

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 …

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)

 

 

 

Title Decider?

We are only half-way through the season, yet the game tonight between Man City and Liverpool has the ring of a title decider.

A win for the Reds (Liverpool) will put them nine points clear of a very inconsistent Tottenham, and ten ahead of Man City, who are the only serious challengers. I realise that there are still 17 games after this one, with a total of 51 points to play for, but that will not be enough for the chasing pack to pass a formidable Liverpool side (that have only failed to obtain six of the 60 available points possible so far).

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Mohamed Salah

More importantly, Liverpool are playing with freedom, and a swagger that no other team seems to have this year. In Salah, Mane, and Firmino, they have goals. Defensively, they are stronger, and there is a lot of force and doggedness in midfield. Shame about the lack of quality on the bench.

Will a win secure the title with half the season to go?

Short answer: Yes, I believe so!

Looking ahead to Liverpool’s fixtures, they play both Chelsea and Tottenham at home, which is a great advantage. The only tough-looking away fixture is to Old Trafford – to face a rejuvenated Manchester United – on February 24th (a trip that Manchester City also have to make on March 16th).

So, if Liverpool win, the title is theirs.

Can Manchester City stop Liverpool?

Manchester City will be defiant going into the game, despite being on a bit of a bad run of late. Three defeats in the last five league games has put them in a bit of a precarious situation in terms of the title, yet they can go into the game knowing that they dominated Liverpool at Anfield. On that day, surprisingly the game ended goalless. The recent lack of points for Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola shouldn’t surprise anyone. Even at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it was well-known that if you could get past the initial pressure exerted by Pep’s teams, you had a chance to catch the defence short-handed – something that Chelsea, Palace and especially Wolves have done.

Liverpool are a cut above all three of those teams, and have the ability to demolish what feels like an ageing Manchester City side. Fernandinho doesn’t seem to be able to recover as quickly. David Silva is missing more games than usual. De Bruyne isn’t quite fully fit yet, and Aguero isn’t his usual prolific self.

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No time like the present, Sergio!

Recent history isn’t looking favourably on Man City’s chances either. Liverpool beat their rivals three times during the last campaign, and have only lost twice in their last 11 meetings.

What will happen?

Whatever way you look at it, this is a huge game in the title race. Both Man City and Liverpool are gunning for the trophy, and if Liverpool win, they will all but secure it in my eyes. And yet, I see Man City showing up and closing the gap to the top with a convincing 3-1 win. Eventually, Man City will be able to grind down Liverpool as the season progresses. The expected cries from Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool’s coach) will be about how his players are tired, especially if they progress to the latter stages of other competitions. That’s the reason they weren’t able to secure the title.

Or …

Liverpool win tonight.

They then go on to lift the title …

… And I look like a fool!