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: 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 …

I Can’t Stop Doing 30-Day Challenges!

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Third month of the challenge activated!

Just over a month ago, I talked about my 30-day challenge and how it was going to make me look and feel amazing. For anyone who missed that article, well, here it is: A Better Body, 30 Days at a Time.

As you can imagine, the second month wasn’t as easy. I had decided to up the workload and put in dietary requirements. Yes, it’s just one fruit, but I can never seem to find fruit  anywhere. (Obviously, “anywhere” seems to never be the grocery store. I never seem to have the same difficulties when searching for a chicken wrap. Isn’t that weird …)

So let’s get the basics out of the way:

Yes, I am doing another month.
Yes, it will be even more difficult.
No, the last month wasn’t easy.

You see, the problem with December was that it was going to coincide with Christmas, New Year, a pre-planned trip with Alexandra, my partner, to Harbin, and the below-freezing temperatures that Beijing’s winter had to offer. Despite this “adversity,” I managed to complete the month. It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. The last week was a ball-ache to say the least.

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Last day of the 4th week…

Everything was going very well up until the fourth week. Saturday 29th December 2018, it was -8 degrees Celsius (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit). I was too afraid to scroll down and look at the “Feels like” section. I had run a total of 0 km and was looking at the possibility of endless mocking from a somewhat smug Alexandra, as she had wrapped up her daily challenge earlier on in the day.

The next part I am not proud of, but I will admit that I started bargaining with Alex.

She was having none of it. (See, this is true adversity.)

Holding back the tears, I put on some running attire and hit the streets.

Now, before you start celebrating my success. I have something else to admit. Although I had done my entire day’s workout on the 29th, I had missed a couple of days prior to that. So on the 31st of December, I found myself with five times my normal day’s workout to do.

I know, I know, you can’t make up missed workouts and blah blah blah, but in my defence … shut up.

So, there I was, in my hotel room on the final day of 2018, with a long list of exercises that I needed to do. It took me a while to say the least. However, it was the wake-up call I needed going into the third month.

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Another 30-day challenge completed

Firstly, I reduced the workout, just incase I had any catch-up days. We don’t want a repeat of New Year’s Eve, now do we? Secondly, I increased the run to 10 km per week. I also need to do yoga three times a week, which I have been loving so far. For anyone interested, you should youtube “Yoga With Adriene” or click here. The most difficult aspect of this month will be the “no bread” rule.

For me, bread is like an addiction. I have been brought up eating bread with everything. It’s the one thing that would always be on the dining table. It was only later on in life that I realised bread likes to camp out on the lower level of your belly, making me look big and cuddly.

I hate looking big and cuddly.

As you can imagine, there are some exceptions to the bread rule for this month. Why? Well, simply because I don’t want to die from going cold turkey, or even worse, end up at cafes sucking up the breadcrumbs left from a prior guest’s half-eaten muffin. The fear is real, people!

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So far, so good.

I can happily say that everything is going very well. Then again, this time last month, I was feeling the same. Hopefully by the end of the month I will feel as in control as I do now.

Ha! I just made myself giggle with that line!