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 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.

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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…

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…

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…

 

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)

 

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).

Mohamed_Salah_2017
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.

Sergio-aguero-manchester-city-man-united_1jck7w5dllp0e19ltd3wyn3mby
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!