Sergio Ramos takes swipes at Liverpool manager

The Real Madrid captain has told Jurgen Klopp to take due to a charge of his business, so as to be a top coach.

Sergio Ramos has said Klopp persistence criticisms of him over his challenge on Salah was to distract people from the fact that the Liverpool manager had lost many finals.

Ramos and Klopp turned enemy aftermath of the last Champions League finals, where the Spaniard dislocated Liverpool’s talisman Mohammed Salah’s shoulder.

It later emerged from video replays that the defender also hit goalkeeper Loris Karius with the post.

With the game ending 3-1 in favour of Real Madrid, Klopp, since then, had attacked the defender a couple of times – and at a press conference last week, the German said he would rather be a bad loser than win in Ramos’ fashion.

And ahead of Real Madrid’s UEFA Super Cup clash against Atletico Madrid in Estonia, the defender, at a press conference had some strong words for the former Borussia manager, who had lost six out of seven finals.

“I’m not going to talk any more about this issue, because there was too much coverage already, ”Ramos said. “You can respect the opinions of each person, but I already gave my opinion.”

“But again I did not want to grab (Mohammed Salah’s) arm. In fact, he grabbed me first.

“I think it was something that happened during the game, and I never intended to injure any fellow footballer.”

The Real Madrid captain said further: “Maybe he (Klopp) wants to justify himself after losing the final because it was not the first final he lost.

“He should take care of his own business and leave alone players like us, who have a lot of experience and showed a high level for such a long time. Let’s see if he can say the same as a coach. In fact, I have voted for him (as one of the best coaches).

“I did not take care much his opinions. He was one of the best coaches of the season, and I voted for him. Maybe that will keep him quite a little bit.”

 

Published in International Watch

Premier League 2018/19: Prologue

Friday, 10 August 2018 10:08

 

What is this really? A list of things to look out for ahead of the new season? A list questions to be answered ahead of the new campaign? A load of nonsense by Spotkick to generate attentio… okay, maybe not that last part.

Hence, we called it a prologue, the 2018-19 Premier League trailer; the thing before the real thing begins: 

 

An actual title race this time?

Yeah, yeah, Manchester City, we get it, you steamrolled to the title with all the records broken, whatever. But that also meant in four years, we haven’t had a real title race. Commendations to Spurs for trying to make something of two of the last four seasons, but still, there’s been little doubt over the state of the league winners going into the final two months for the first time since 2014. City look like favourites for the title again, but Liverpool’s summer spending has many tipping as the likeliest side to challenge the champions. The others, though, pose questions and reasons for doubt. Spurs made no action in the window, Manchester United haven’t had the best preparations, to say the least, Chelsea have new management and a lot of room for improvement, and Arsenal approach a season of the unknown. On paper, it looks like there are only two sides vying for the title, but it’s never played on paper is it? Yet it’s probably too much to ask for a six-team title race.

 

The unknown case of the Gunners

It’s gone from expecting the Gunners to implode in mid-February and wondering whom Arsene Wenger would push his irritation at, to a sense of the unknown at the Emirates. Wenger has departed after 22 years, Unai Emery is the new boss in Red North London, areas of weakness have been supposedly bolstered, and there’s the feel that the fans are stepping into the unknown with a touch of optimism. Suddenly, making a stern prediction on the Gunners seems a tough call. We no longer know what lies behind that Hornsey Road curtain.

 

Will Chelsea become- oh God- likeable?

It’s the supposed constant in West London, Chelsea are the formidable ruthless machine, hiring and firing reputable winners one after the other, thriving in their short-termism, and being hated by everybody else, like having an eternal dislike for Channels Television because they had the gusto to interrupt your cartoons with news programmes back when you were a kid. But could that change? For once in the Roman Abramovich era, the Blues have gone against their archetypal mode, appointing a manager who has nothing in terms of trophies, in Maurizio Sarri. Sarri comes with a mode of playing that will take some getting used to, it took a while for his style garnered fruit with Napoli. That means Abramovich seems settled to adopting a style that’ll require patience and practice, so no sign of short-termism, no hiring of a name laden with silverware. Which could equal, a style of play that could be pleasing on the eye, plus the fact that their system will take some getting used to, as the Community Shield proved, which could mean a few unpleasant results in the early days of the campaign, and a few unlucky outcomes may well generate some empathy. They may well be the new Premier League, gulp, .

 

Jose’s dissatisfaction hanging over Red Manchester

The grumpiest man in Manchester, The Guardian called him, United’s manager hasn’t expressed elation over United before the season begins, his claims over the club’s relative transfer inactivity and the unavailability of some of his players, who had the audacity to represent their country at the World Cup. Eyes have already been set at the Portuguese, who approaches his third season at Old Trafford, the period of calamity in his managerial timeline, and his grumpiness hasn’t taken away the limelight. All signs point towards a ticking time-bomb at the Theatre of Dreams, or is it all a smoke-screen to bait into playing United down as outsiders? The opening game of the season may set the tone.

 

2019: The year of the Reds?

Raise your hand if you’ve seen and been annoyed by this before: this could be Liverpool’s season. Before you snort in derision and walk away, look at the signs; mainly the transfer window. Having bolstered their defence with the acquisition of Virgil van Dijk last January, they seem to have plugged that goalkeeping hole with the acquisition of Alisson Becker from Roma, have added some solidity and security in midfield in the arrivals of Fabinho and Naby Keita, and the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri does their attack no harm. With Daniel Sturridge apparently staying and Adam Lallana fit for the start of this campaign, Liverpool finally boast sufficient squad depth to mount a lasting challenge. Don’t fold under pressure, and it really could be their year. (Spoiler alert: It probably won’t)

 

Neil Warnock, his point to prove, and his fiery atmosphere

Two: number of times Neil Warnock has taken a side into the top-flight.

Zero: number of times he’s achieved survival with them.

Either by suffering relegation or getting discarded halfway, Warnock and the Premier League don’t mix. And after leading Cardiff to their unexpected promotion last term, this may seem like his chance to put things right, so the manager wouldn’t want for motivation ahead of 2018-19. The odds are stacked against the veteran manager and his side, who are favourites to be relegated, which could mean no pressure or so much pressure. Survival may not come, and Warnock may not last long at the helm this term, but expect some feistiness from the Sheffield-born man. His list of spats and finger-pointing is quite something- even Sean Bean can attest to it. Has already made previous with Pep Guardiola and Nuno Esprito Santo last season, surely there’ll be more this time.

 

Battle to be best of the rest

There’s little denying the drawn-out gap between the top six and the rest, like titans watching the gods dining at the pantheon. Last season, Burnley in seventh place were closer to the relegation zone than they were to sixth place, the season before that it was Southampton in eighth that were in that scenario. We’ll always have Leicester’s crazy one-season stand in 2015/16, but the reality is, the top six are quite a cut above the rest. Speaking of Leicester, the Foxes do have a shot at being the best of the rest. Despite the loss of Riyad Mahrez, the summer has been good, highly-rated Championship playmaker James Maddison has joined from Norwich, Ricardo Pereira plugs that hole at right-back, while Jonny Evans is a bargain at 3million. There’s a worry over the future of manager Claude Puel, whom was the subject of fans discontent in the second half of the campaign, and a bad start could the Frenchman be sent packing. Everton also have a right to fancy their chances; a season of amends is likely to be on the cards after last term’s debacle, but they still possess a quality side and finally have their sought-after managerial target in Marco Silva. West Ham shouldn’t be out of the question, problems still lie in East London but the summer has looked promising for the first time in a while. Then there’s the other promoted duo. Wolves and Fulham will probably want to consider themselves as the winners of this transfer window, Wolves managing to lure top-class goalkeeper Rui Patricio to the club, as well as Joao Moutinho, while Fulham snapped up Jean Michel-Seri, once a target of Barcelona’s, as well as World Cup winner Andre Schurrle. Rarely before did newly-promoted sides fancy themselves capable of much more than survival right after coming to the big time.

Published in International Watch

 

Fulham

Last Season: 3rd (Championship play-off winner); Top Scorer: Ryan Sessegnon (15); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Second Round

This is the season of…

Continued progress. Things have changed since Fulham were last in the Premier League: four of the usual top six have changed kit makers, vanishing spray has been introduced, and the transfer window here closes early now. The club have been on a progressive scale since 2016, and after losing out in the play-off semis in 2017, the Cottagers got it right a year after. The aim now is to continue that progress; which means survival in the big-time, for starters.

Who’s in…

Fulham have packed a punch in this transfer window so far, Maxime Le Marchand joining from Nice, as well one-time Barcelona target Jean-Michel Seri. Andre Schurrle has also arrived on loan from Borussia Dortmund, while goalkeeper Fabri joins from Besiktas, and Alfie Mawson has been snapped up from Swansea. Aleksandar Mitrovic’s loan has been made permanent.

Who’s out…

Ryan Fredericks is the biggest departure so far, swapping West London for East (West Ham). David Button has left to join Brighton.

The Gaffer (Slavisa Jokanovic)…

Two and a half years he has at spent Fulham, an eternity by his standards. Has taken them a long way since arriving, the former Watford boss’ stock keeps rising.

Dream season…

The transition from Championship to Premier League is smooth, and Fulham get a shot at finishing seventh before settling for a top-half spot.

Nightmare season…

Jokanovic finally activates his mobile self and leaves. A turbulent season ends with a return to the second-tier.

Key man…

Top scorer with 15 goals from out wide, wanted by the big-name clubs, and even touted by some for a place in England’s World Cup squad, it’s hard to believe Ryan Sessegnon is still a teenager.

Needs to step up…

There’s a reason why Fulham were keen on bringing back Aleksandar Mitrovic on a permanent basis, mostly because the other choice up front, Rui Fonte, has been disappointing so far. The Portuguese stepping up in the Premier League would be welcome, yet unlikely.

Verdict: The squad is still short in a few areas, and Fulham are unlikely to avoid a relegation fight, but survival is very much achievable. 16th

Huddersfield

Last Season: 16th; Top Scorer: Steve Mounie (8); FA Cup: Fifth Round; League Cup: Third Round

This is the season of…

Survival. That was the goal last season, and against all the odds, it was achieved. But the aim will surely be the same again this term. Consolidation is not yet up for discussion, finishing on the right side of that dotted line is the target once more.

Who’s in…

Huddersfield attack last season was so blunt it’s hard to think of where top scorer Steve Mounie got his eight league goals from. The arrival of Adama Diakhaby means David Wagner aims to sharpen that area. Terence Kongolo’s loan move has been made permanent, and the Dutchman becomes their record signing, while Ramadan Sobhi and Ben Hamer have joined from Stoke and Leicester respectively. Erik Durm has been signed from Borussia Dortmund, and Juninho Bacuna joins from Groningen.

Who’s out…

Tom Ince has left one season to join relegated Stoke, Robert Green has departed on a free, while deadwood in the form of Sean Scannell, Jack Payne, and Tareiq Holmes-Dennis has been cleared.

The Gaffer (David Wagner)…

Continues to work his miracle in Yorkshire, after taking them from a Championship relegation battle to a second successive Premier League season in three years. Survive again, and bigger clubs may well come calling.

Dream season…

Survival is much more comfortable than the last time, yet no one takes Wagner away.

Nightmare season…

The miracle gas finally runs out, and Huddersfield become a Championship side by 2019. Not that fans would consider that a nightmare though.

Key man…

Huddersfield reacted quickly in making goalkeeper Jonas Lossl’s loan deal permanent, the Dane will be crucial to their survival hopes again.

Needs to step up…

Would have been Tom Ince if he hadn’t selfishly opted to change clubs. The Terriers attack could do a bit more, though.

Verdict: Survival is very much achievable, but how many more surprise stories can they afford. 19th

Leicester City

Last Season: 9th; Top Scorer: Jamie Vardy (20); FA Cup: Quarter-final; League Cup: Quarter-final

This is the season of…

Anticipation. Whether a fan or a neutral, there’s something about looking forward to Leicester this season. Even despite the loss of Riyad Mahrez, their summer has given their squad significant reinforcements. Seventh place isn’t out of the question, or, if the end of last season is anything to go by, Claude Puel is under pressure, and could get the boot with a bad start. Either way, the Foxes look like one to watch this term.

Who’s in…

Johnny Evans has joined from West Brom, James Maddison has arrived from Norwich, Ricardo Pereira is an upgrade to the right-back slot, and goalkeeper Danny Ward joins from Liverpool. Rachid Ghezzal joins from Monaco.

Who’s out…

The inevitable Mahrez departure has finally happened, with the Algerian joining champions Manchester City.

The gaffer (Claude Puel)…

Like his time at Southampton, the Frenchman continues to divide opinion despite finishing in the top-half. The summer has been promising, so hitting the ground running seems essential.

Dream season…

Repeat of 2015/16. Too much? Okay. Leicester hit the ground running, and bag a top-seven finish, as well as a cup win.

Nightmare season…

Leicester get off to a bad start, Puel gets the sack, and the team underperforms their way through a relegation battle.

Key man…

Even when Mahrez was around, it was hard to look past Jamie Vardy. 20 league goals last season, the turbo-charged forward will have a lot more responsibility on his shoulders this season.

Needs to step up…

He may have had a decent end to last season, but more is still required from Kelechi Iheanacho, particularly after a quiet World Cup with Nigeria. The departure of Mahrez may well mean more league playing time, a potential chance he’ll have to take.

Verdict: The summer has been promising, the Foxes have a squad capable of challenging for a top-seven place. 8th

Liverpool

Last season: 4th; Top Scorer: Mohammed Salah (32); FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Third Round; UEFA Champions League: Runners-up

This is the season of…

Positivity. Last season’s exploits, plus a summer of not losing any key member of the squad, as well as significant additions in key areas that also creates squad depth, means title talk is not abominable at Anfield. They may be feeling this every other year, but Liverpool have every right to feel like this is their year.

Who’s in…

The goalkeeping transfer record has been smashed for Brazilian shot-stopper Alisson Becker (66million), Naby Keita makes his long-awaited switch from Leipzig (47million) and will be joined in midfield by Fabinho, who signs from Monaco, while Xherdan Shaqiri arrives from relegated Stoke (17million). Didn’t Jurgen Klopp once say something not spending colossal amounts of money like the rest?

Who’s out…

No major departure so far, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is at the club but is ruled for the entirety of the new season. Danny Ward has decided against being the fourth-choice goalkeeper, and signs for Leicester, Emre Can has joined Juventus on a free, while Daniel Sturridge has joine… oh wait, he’s still there.

The gaffer (Jurgen Klopp)…

Led the Reds to last season’s thrill that brought them a place in the Champions League final, where they lost to Real Madrid in Kiev. They could only finish fourth in the league though, and the summer investment means he’ll be under pressure to deliver this term.

Dream season…

The summer arrivals do the trick, the league title comes to Anfield for the first time in 29 years.

Nightmare season…

The summer outlay becomes a symbol of pressure, Liverpool fold, and an early exit from the Champions League is matched by the Reds finishing outside the top six.

Key man…

Liverpool were the more threatening side in the Champions League final back in May, until Mohammed Salah got injured. That should explain a lot.

Needs to step up…

There has been talk about Sturridge staying. Should that be the case, the forward knows a season of staying fit and consistent is required.

Verdict: The summer investment doesn’t leave them short on quality, depth or confidence. There’s nothing to suggest they can’t end that title drought. 2nd 

Published in International Watch

The Champions League finalist have agreed a €45m deal in principle with Monaco for Fabinho

The Brazilian is expected to join Liverpool officially on July 1 when the deal will be made official.

Fabinho, who plays as defensive midfielder and can also play from right back is expected to be the direct replacement for Emre Can, who is on the verge of joining Italian Champions Juventus on a free transfer.

Speaking to Liverpoolfc.com, Fabinho said: I am really excited about this move. This is something that I always wanted – this is a giant team. The Infrastructures of the club look exceptional.

“A football club of this size coming after my services, I didn’t have to think that much about coming over.

“I will try to create my own story as this football club. Hopefully, on a personal level, I’m able to win titles with this club. I will try to grow and learn and improve myself and to be part of this football club.”

Fabinho almost joined fellow English rival Manchester United last season, but Monaco stance not to sell any player go after selling some of their key players made the deal fell through

Speaking on the acquisition of the Brazilian, Jurgen Klopp said the 24-year-old’s ability to play various positions on the field was too good to ignore.

“We have signed fantastic player, but someone who is an equally fantastic person,” Klopp said.

He added, “… He has the ability and the character to play at the highest level in a number of positions. He can play ‘6, 8 and 2’. This is cool.”

Fabinho in his five years stint with Monaco appeared 225 times – scoring 29 goals for the French club.   

Published in International Watch

 

School’s over, Lads!

Okay, in truth school has been over for quite a while now, it was a case of the couple that were bound to settle scores that school time didn’t quite help deal with (FA Cup final), and those representing the school in external competitions (Champions League final). Then again, here’s the awkward question; why bother with the effects of cups if this is a Premier League report? Well, there’s a reason why the academic system is so flawed. We delivered the mid-term report at the turn of the year, so we get full-term with the season having reached its end. So, who’s going to Mommy with anticipation of a bad summer, who has ‘can do better’ all over them, and who’s the top-class student we didn’t want to see leave.

Arsenal

An unquestionable disappointment, especially since the turn of the year, as the Gunners fell completely fell out of the top four equation as the season wore on. Much (dis)credit lies with their away form, they didn’t get any away point in 2018 until the final day. Attention turned to the Europa League once domestic issues seemed a bridge too far, but their dream ended in the last four. Alexis Sanchez finally left in January, trading places with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also arrived in winter. Oh and Arsene Wenger has stepped down, so there’s that.

Would they have taken this in January: Surely not. They weren’t in the top four at the turn of the year, but were still very much in the mix. Another year without Champions is definitely disappointing.

Top performer: Nacho Monreal earned his call-up to Spain’s World Cup squad, having looked like the only Gunner interested in playing for the whole season. Aubameyang also showed signs of more to come with 10 league goals since arrival at the start of the calendar year.

Should have done better: Petr Cech finally reached the milestone of 200 clean sheets, but didn’t do much to inspire confidence this season, so has been handed the No.1 shirt. Hector Bellerin blew hot and cold, so has been handed the No.2 shirt. Granit Xhaka still looks less than assured, Sead Kolasinac faded after a bright start, Shkodran Mustafi also didn’t inspire much confidence in defence… actually there’s too many of them, why did we start naming individually?

In the dugout: Wenger finally stepped down after 22 years, to commemorative plaques, standing ovations, and emotional banners. After long speculation linking the Gunners with Thomas Tuchel, Carlo Ancelotti and Max Allegri, Unai Emery is the new manager at the Emirates.

Grade: D

 

Bournemouth

It was the same outcome for the Cherries, start badly, don’t panic, pick up form, in February, survive comfortably. A 12th-placed finish is more than satisfactory for Eddie Howe’s side, dangerous question would the fans start to expect more?

Would they have taken this in January: Their season may have petered out a bit in the end, but given they were firmly lodged in the relegation fight at the turn of the year, then YES.

Top performer: Nathan Ake proved to be a quality signing as expected, Lewis Cook played into England’s World Cup standby list, while Josh King’s contributions to the side are more than just his eight goals.

Should have done better: Asmir Begovic should have been an upgrade on Artur Boruc in goal, but surprisingly performed below expectations. Same can be said of Jermain Defoe at the other end, and then there’s Jordan Ibe.

In the dugout: To Bournemouth’s pleasure, there’s little chatter on the Howe-is-bound-to-leave-eventually board.

Grade: B-

 

Brighton

An undisputable success of a first ever Premier League season. 15th place doesn’t quite highlight how impressive their campaign was, Chris Hughton knitting a side greater than the sum of its parts, not that the parts were any bad. Memorable wins at home over Manchester United and Arsenal were icings on a very delightful cake.

Would they have taken this in January: Absolutely. Survival was always the aim, and it was achieved with room to spare.

Top performers: All of them. Fine, you want names? Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy’s partnership was more than impressive, as were Dale Stephens and Davy Propper. Jose Izquierdo and Glenn Murray were also notable performers, but none comes close to Pascal Gross. Brighton’s German creator-in-chief only cost 3million last summer, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t attract offers in this window.

Should have done better: Errr… in January we went for Anthony Knockaert, so let’s go with that again. Don’t ask. We said the academic system is flawed.

In the dugout: Chris Hughton is definitely not going anywhere.

Grade: B

 

Burnley

Burnley are ranked as the seventh-best team in England; that’s just about the only way to put their phenomenal season. Much was made about how they’d struggle due to the previous season’s away form, but they amassed more points on the road in 2017/18 than they’d previously done overall. They have European football waiting. Again, phenomenal.

Would they have taken this in January: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Yes. They occupied this spot at the start of the year, but wouldn’t have even minded 17th then, let alone 10 places higher.

Top performers: Everyone. From promoted-to-starting-line-up James Tarkowski at the back, Jack Cork in the middle, Jeff Hendrick behind any of the lone forward, Johann Gudmundsson out wide, and any of the regular forwards- Sam Vokes, Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood- it’s been brilliant all round.

Should have done better: The signings weren’t quite good, mostly because they couldn’t quite crack into a settled side. Charlie Taylor, Georges Kevin Nkoudou, and Nakhi Wells stand out in that particular area.

In the dugout: Sean Dyche will surely stay put, with European football on the horizon.

Grade: A+

 

Chelsea

Tumultuous season all-in-all, manager discontent, supposed squad unrest, finishing outside the Champions League spots. Typical title defence campaign for the Blues, as they had to settle for fifth place. FA Cup final seems more of a blow softener than season saviour, and Antonio Conte looks like he’s headed for the door marked ‘Do One’.

Would they have taken this in January: Absolutely not. There were more than signs of discontent at the club at the turn of the year, but dropping out of the top four is nigh-on unacceptable.

Top performers: Ngolo Kante remains ever-reliable, as Cesar Azpilicueta remains ever-consistent, while Eden Hazard is still the go-to man. Antonio Rudiger had a strong finish to his debut season at the club, while Andreas Christensen’s campaign may have stumbled to the finish line, but the Dane still made significant progress.

Should have done better: Alvaro Morata began life at Stamford Bridge like the ideal replacement for Diego Costa, but ended it with evidence as to why the Chelsea’s number nine shirt might be hexed. Tiemoue Bakayoko didn’t cover himself in glory for much of the campaign, neither did Pedro, or Victor Moses. The less said about Ross Barkley the better.

In the dugout: Literally everyone is waiting for Antonio Conte to be sacked soon.

Grade: D

 

Crystal Palace

It’s no longer news that they began the season with seven straight losses, during which they scored zero goals, then chairman Steve Parish, weeks after preaching about the long-term planning that would come with manager Frank de Boer’s philosophy, sacked the Dutchman in September. In came Roy Hodgson, who didn’t just steady the ship, but eventually sailed it to mid-table.

Would they have taken this in January: Definitely. Things didn’t look as grim in December, as they did two months before, but mere survival was always going to be met with elation. A place off the top half exceeded expectations, even at the start of the season.

Top performer: The likes of Scott Dann, Patrick Van Aanholt and James Tomkins deserve honorary mentions, while loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek played his way to England’s World Cup plane, but there’s no iota of doubt that the brunt of plaudits should go the way of Wilfred Zaha. First stat is nine goals and seven assists from the Ivoirian, the second is the fact that Palace lost all 10 league games they played without him, including those first seven.

Should have done better: None of the men between the sticks merited much praise, hence the acquisition of Vicente Guaita from Getafe. A stat of two league goals is nowhere near good enough from Christian Benteke.

In the dugout: Hodgson stays on, even at 70.

Grade: B-

 

Everton

All the optimism that came with the summer had evaporated by winter, and it didn’t return during spring, if anything it got worse. From the surveys, the booing of players and manager Sam Allardyce, the latter of whom seemed to not notice the fans’ distaste, the Toffees’ season was one long, tedious, journey.

Would they have taken this in January: Given that they spent most of the first half of the campaign battling to keep their heads above water, they would be more satisfied with eighth place. The issue was more of how they played their way to that position.

Top performer: Idrissa Gueye remains reliable in midfield, Jordan Pickford did little wrong in goal, while seven goals is not bad for Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Should have done better: Everyone else? Fans let Morgan Schneiderlin know what they thought of his performances, same for Ashley Williams. The summer signings barely impressed.

In the dugout: Big Sam has been binned, and Marco Silva appears the favourite to succeed him.

Grade: D

 

Huddersfield

Picture the celebrations at Stamford Bridge after a point for the Terriers secured them survival, and you might just understand its gravity or how much of a surreal journey this is. Some fans are shaking their head in disbelief over promotion in 2017, let alone this.

Would they have taken this in January: You bet.

Top performer: Just like promotion, it was an enormous team effort from the Yorkshire club, so let’s credit manager David Wagner then.

Should have done better: Tom Ince, perhaps. But crediting their success as a team effort means he gets little stick.

In the dugout: There are rumours linking Wagner with Leicester City. Picture the Huddersfield fans covering their hears and humming when they hear such.

Grade: A

 

Leicester City

Ninth place for a team like Leicester should be considered a success, yet there’s still ounces of discontent at the club. From the poor run of form to end the season, the complaints over manager Claude Puel’s training methods, the ripple effect of their 2016 success still has a giant shadow around the King Power.

Would they have taken this in January: Probably, given their second-highest finish in the Premier League era. The fact that seventh place, and Europe, looked to be for the taking means there’s a tinge of disappointment.

Top performer: Jamie Vardy bagged 20 league goals this season, with minimum fuss. Harry Maguire earned a spot in England’s squad to Russia. But the team just doesn’t look the same without Wilfred Ndidi.

Should have done better: Riyad Mahrez continues to go one way and the other, surely it’s time to let him go, Kasper Schmeichel regressed a bit, yet not as much as Wes Morgan. Kelechi Iheanacho ended the season in fine form, but didn’t get a league goal until March.

In the dugout: Rumours of the Foxes dismissing Puel are rife. Call Pellegrino?

Grade: C

 

Liverpool

A more than commendable season for the Reds, a top four finish turned out to be achieved with some comfort, while they thrilled in Europe, emerging as the Champions League's top scorers, before losing the final to Real Madrid in Kiev. Some errors from goalkeeper Loris Karius in the Ukrainian capital aside, not really much to complain about.

Would they have taken this in January: Absolutely. Top four and getting the knockout phase of the Champions League was the aim, and it was surpassed in truth.

Top performer: Roberto Firmino still bubbles under, Sadio Mane still has the tendency to be inconsistent, but still did little wrong, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was unlucky to get injured and ruled out of the World Cup after such a terrific season, while Andy Robertson is already a fan favourite. But none come close to Mohammed Salah, the man who swept all the awards this season. His 32 league goals is a 38-game record, his 44 in all competitions for Liverpool equals Ian Rush's.

Should have done better: Suddenly this section is hard. Karius improved immensely this term, but isn't without question, and he'll hope to recover from his Kiev gaffes. Joel Matip will consider this season one of utter regression, other than that, no real blemish.

In the dugout: Jurgen Klopp will surely remain, and will hope this entertaining side adds a trophy to their name.

Grade: B+

Published in International Watch

'Madrid play well, they beat you. They play average, they beat you. They play badly, they beat you'. Those were the words of ESPN's Sid Lowe when asked to give a prediction on the Champions League final, between Real Madrid and Liverpool, highlighting Real Madrid’s ability to win in Europe even when little is going well.

The Champions League releases special powers, midfielder Toni Kroos had said, and it had looked it, these powers drove them past Juventus in the last eight, and Bayern Munich in the semis, both by the skin of their teeth. Since 2013, Los Blancos have only been knocked out from the Champions League once, against Juve in 2015 (which was even at the hands of their own boy Alvaro Morata).

Liverpool were no slouches themselves, were no strangers to upsetting the ones with more European pedigree (yes, Istanbul), and, thanks in huge part to Mohammed Salah, were the top scorers in this season's competition.

Real weren't far behind, so the expectation ahead of the game was chaos, anarchy, borderline bedlam of a football match.

But when has football ever followed the script? The first half was lacking in real attacking verve, Liverpool had most of the ball early on but didn't quite test Keylor Navas- bar a shot from Trent Alexander-Arnold- while Real seemed a bit too sloppy in possession.

So the talking point from the opening half was Salah leaving the pitch in tears, having hurt his shoulder following a challenge from Sergio Ramos, while Dani Carvajal followed suit with a knee problem, just like he exited in 2016. In terms of playing, Karim Benzema had the ball in the net, but the flag denied him; goalless at the break. 

Six minutes into the second half, and three after Isco hit the bar for Real, the opening goal arrived. From Lars Ricken, Dejan Savicevic, Real manager Zinedine Zidane himself, Mario Mandzukic last year, the showpiece game of Europe's most prestigious club competition has seen some grand finishes; here it would see its most fortuitous.

Kroos' overhit pass was too much for Benzema, easy catch for Loris Karius, but Karius decided on rolling the ball out immediately, Benzema stuck out a leg, the ball rolled into the net, and just like the semi-final second leg, the Frenchman's opportunism had given Real an advantage.

But that would last just six minutes. From a James Milner corner, Virgil van Dijk went up, and Sadio Mane went in, stabbing home from close range. Parity restored, and Jurgen Klopp went berserk.

The German had lost five successive finals prior to this game, so imagine his relief and joy at his side's leveller. Then imagine his disappointment in the 64th minute, yet you'd have forgiven him if he had applauded.

Two minutes earlier Gareth Bale, had replaced Isco, and then, from Marcelo's cross, etched himself alongside Mandzukic and his manager in the hall of jaw-dropping Champions League final overhead kicks.

Zidane touched his head in astonishment, like the last eight, when something similar was done by Cristiano Ronaldo, who smiled as he looked up, while Bale and Marcelo went berserk.

Liverpool had to score again to avoid defeat; Mane hit the post, but that was all they could muster.  And when Bale's rather speculative effort from way out was fumbled in by Karius, Real’s treble was sealed. Bale has been under constant speculation over his future at the club, here only a tackle from Alexander-Arnold prevented him from scoring a hatrick. Ronaldo himself couldn't quite find the net on this occasion, he came close late on, denied by a fan running onto the pitch.

Little matter. Milorad Maziç blew his whistle, Liverpool sunk to their knees in despair, Real knelt in jubilation again. Their insatiable Champions League appetite just can't be beaten.

 

Published in International Watch

There’s always much anticipation over the final day of each season when the fixture lists are released; the potential for last-day drama and season-changing results has always been one to look forward to. However, there is rarely anything to look forward to on the final days of recent Premier League seasons, just a case of dotting the I’s, crossing the T’s, the expected goodbyes and those who already on the beach.

Despite the early discomfort, Liverpool were always going to beat Middlesbrough on the final day of last season to seal fourth; Hull were always unlikely to beat Manchester United and survive in 2015; Manchester City were not going to have problems against West Ham to win the title in 2014; while only the foolhardy, in the guise of brave, would have gone for Arsenal not to beat Newcastle a year earlier. So, it’s not completely out of touch to say there’s been no real final day drama since Sergio Aguero swung his right foot in the 94th minute against Queens Park Rangers in 2012; that these days the final days of the season are like those meetings where you tap your foot in a fit of impatient boredom, while looking at your watch and waiting it all to end, with a message of ‘see you later’.

Following the midweek’s drama, scrappy goals and dogged defending, there is next-to-nothing to play for in the final round of matches for the Premier League season. Mathematically, there’s still a top four race, with Liverpool only two points ahead of Chelsea. But the Reds would have to lose to nothing-to-play-for Brighton for them to be leapfrogged, and in truth, the Blues are the likelier of both sides to lose, as they travel to Newcastle, where they haven’t won in seven years.

There’s also mathematical room for drama at the bottom end of the table, involving Southampton and Swansea City. But after the Saints’ narrow win in South Wales on Tuesday, Mark Hughes; side are three points above the 17th-placed Swans, with a superior. That means there has to be a 10-goal swing, Southampton would have to lose heavily at home to Manchester City, while, perhaps even more unlikely, Swansea would have to at least score against Stoke.

The definitely-wont-happen scenarios means the final day is set to be for goodbyes. None bigger than Arsene Wenger, who will manage Arsenal for the last time at Huddersfield, after 22 years. For the hosts, it might not be as headline-grabbing as Wenger’s, but they’ll say goodbye to midfielder Dean Whitehead, who’s retiring, and it’s bound to be a party mood, with the Terriers already safe from the relegation trapdoor. Yaya Toure made his 316th, and final, home appearance for Manchester City on Wednesday, and is another player that’ll be waved goodbye this weekend; while Everton’s trip to West Ham might well be Wayne Rooney’s last in the Premier League.

Wenger is unlikely to be the only managerial final act this weekend; Watford may well part ways with Javi Gracia, this might be Antonio Conte’s final league outing as Chelsea boss, Claude Puel is likely to bid Leicester farewell after their match at Spurs, while Everton fans will be hoping that West Ham game is Sam Allardyce’s last. There’ll also be collective goodbyes, with Stoke and West Brom, as well as Swansea (surely), bidding the top-flight goodbye for at least a year.

The expected absence of drama means the farewells will be the talking points of this final weekend, but who knows, maybe a surprise might come our way. Perhaps Brighton snatch an early lead at Anfield to make things interesting; maybe Swansea get wind that Man City are 11-1 up at Southampton with little time left. But the likelihood is that we’d all sit in a lack of anticipation, tapping our feet and looking at the time, until we bid the Prem. another unglamorous exit.

Fixtures

Burnley v Bournemouth

Crystal Palace v West Brom

Newcastle v Chelsea

Manchester United v Watford

Liverpool v Brighton

Huddersfield v Arsenal

Southampton v Manchester City

Swansea v Stoke

Tottenham v Leicester

West Ham v Everton

Published in International Watch

The end of the season: such a routine time, where the expected play themselves out: some teams reveal kits for the new season (yes, you, Everton), Manager XYZ says he’s leaving club XYZ at the close of the campaign, a tearful farewell follows the departure of a long-serving cult hero at a club, and Real Madrid win the Champions League (just typical).

Oh, right, and also, supposed writers run out of gas and opt to take a look at those Premier League players who might well switch clubs at the end of the season (or June 30 in Football-Managerish). It’s the ti…errr.. like I said, out of gas. So, straight to it then. Who are those players you could just about bet on to switch clubs after the season is read its last rites?

Arsenal

It’s likely there’ll be a raft of changes at the Emirates come the end of the season, the biggest one being the departure of Arsene Wenger. After 22 years, the French gaffer will call time on his Arsenal tenure at the end of the campaign, and it’s not unlikely that some players will also depart. Jack Wilshere’s contract runs out at the end of the season, as does the recuperating Santi Cazorla (although there’s an option of a one-year extension for him), while there are rumours linking Hector Bellerin with a move away. And with a new manager coming in, there’s expected to be a squad shake-up. No rest for the Arsenal revolving door in the summer, then.

Bournemouth

With first team opportunities hard to come by lately, Artur Boruc might well move on at the end of his contract in the summer. Harry Arter remains linked with the exit door, the rumours putting West Ham in front of the queue. Marc Pugh and Rhoys Wiggins are also out of contract at the end of the season.

Brighton

There’s always a worry for the Seagulls that bigger guns might come calling for Pascal Gross, who has been involved in 44% of the team’s goals in the Premier League this season. Liam Rosenior and Steve Sidwell will have no contracts once the season ends, and are likely to be moved on. Same might go for Niki Maenpaa and Uwe Hunemeier.

Burnley

There’s the big Burnley conundrum in terms of who’ll be in goal next season. Tom Heaton is arguably the best English goalkeeper in the league, but having been side-lined for most of this season, his deputy in Nick Pope hasn’t done too badly, even managing to force his way into World Cup contention. Both are good for number one spots at club level, and come next term, it’s likely one would move in search of it. Stephen Ward and Dean Marney are out of contract soon, while Scott Arfield has already agreed to join Rangers (no, not the one in Enugu).

Chelsea

It’s not Chelsea if there’s no forthcoming change for a new season once an old one is coming to a close, and this term looks to be no different.  Antonio Conte looks as likely to stay at Stamford Bridge next season as pigs are to fly, Chelsea are reportedly in talks with other managers already, and this- coupled with the fact that Champions League football for the next campaign is unlikely, means changes to the playing staff as well. David Luiz has spent most of this season- injury or otherwise- out of the team, Danny Drinkwater’s time at the club looks to be coming to an end, and it remains to be seen whether Tiemoue Bakayoko would get another season to get into shape, while backup goalkeepers Willy Caballero and Eduardo are out of contract in the summer. The big question is whether Eden Hazard would stick around for a second season with European elite football in three years. One thing’s for certain, though: there’ll be lots of loanees, as always.

Crystal Palace

Palace’s problematic position for the past couple of years has been in goal, with the men between the sticks having rarely convinced. All three are about to be out of contract, though, as Julian Speroni, Wayne Hennessey and Diego Cavalieri are bound to be free agents by the end of the season (although Vicente Guaita is due to join from Getafe). There’s also bound to be a hairy transfer window for the Eagles, with Wilfred Zaha likely to be subject of speculation, while there’s uncertainty surrounding Christian Benteke- even if he has said he intends to stay. Joel Ward, James McArthur, Bakary Sako, Lee Chung-Yong, Damien Delaney, Yohan Cabaye and Martin Kelly are also out of contract soon (I know right, too long).

Everton

There’s bound to be another busy summer for the Toffees, not least in terms of the exit door, likely starting with manager Sam Allardyce himself. The likes of Sandro Ramirez, Davy Klaassen and Cuco Martina are likely to be moved on after just a season, while fans would pay to drive Ashley Williams away. Joel Robles becomes a free agent once the season ends.

Huddersfield

Errr…. Not much to talk about here. Dean Whitehead and Rob Green are soon to become free agents, but (not to sound mean) who’d really miss them? Aaron Mooy might attract clubs in the summer. 

Leicester

Goalkeeper Ben Hamer runs out of contract at the end of the season, as does Robert Huth, who’s been out of the side this season thanks to a combination of injury and Harry Maguire. Riyad Mahrez has reportedly revoked his transfer request, but his case is still tagged under ‘remains to be seen’. Currently out on loan players Leo Ulloa, Islam Slimani, and long-serving Andy King are likely to also move on. As is customary at the time of the season, Claude Puel is reportedly likely to be dismissed.

Liverpool

The big transfer issue for Liverpool, since Philippe Coutinho said bye, has been Emre Can, who runs out of contract in the summer. The injured German is under Juventus’ radar, and there have been reports of a deal being signed with the Italian club. The right-back position looks rather clogged, and one of Nathaniel Clyne, Joe Gomez, and Trent Alexander-Arnold might well move on, something Daniel Sturridge would also be considering. James Milner and Alberto Moreno can also leave on a free at the end.

Manchester City

Who’d wanna leave? Okay, Yaya Toure has confirmed his departure at the end of the season, while loanee Eliaquim Mangala’s contract runs out. Joe Hart would also return from his temporary stint at West Ham, but surely be on the way out again.

Manchester United

Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw. The young left-back has been subject of some finger-pointing by manager Jose Mourinho, and there wouldn’t be a shortage of clubs coming in for English defender, who’s departure from Old Trafford seems inevitable. Michael Carrick retires at the end of the season, Anthony Martial remains linked with the exit door, while Marouane Fellaini’s contract issue remains unresolved. Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind are also bound to leave. Have I mentioned Luke Shaw?

Newcastle

Most of the Magpies’ squad is still comprised of their Championship side, even if some of them don’t appear on the pitch. Much depends on whether or not players arrive, although the likes of fringe players in Jesus Gamez, Curtis Good and Massadio Haidara, as well as loanee Tim Krul, are all out of contract at the season’s close.

Southampton

The future of a few players, and perhaps the manager, depends on whether the Saints can avoid the drop (which is likely), while Sofiane Boufal is likely to move after his exile by Mark Hughes. Jeremy Pied and Stuart Taylor are soon to no longer have contracts.

Stoke City

With relegation having been confirmed, clear-outs are not unlikely. Xherdan Shaqiri is unlikely to follow the club to the Championship, same goes for Joe Allen (picture Brendan Rodgers in Glasgow with open arms). Glenn Johnson, Jakob Haugaard, Stephen Ireland and Charlie Adam all run out of contracts soon, but dropping them a tier might make the team reconsider.

Swansea City

Another side whose players’ futures might hinge on whether or not they go down, although Alfie Mawson is likely to have a busy summer no matter what. The likes of Martin Olsson and especially Lukasz Fabianski are bound to move on should relegation be the case, while Ki Sung-Yeung is out of contract and has been linked with AC Milan, while long-serving veterans Leon Britton and Angel Rangel are also soon to be free agents.

Tottenham

It’s the stuff of mini-battles at Tottenham, with the likes of Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld seemingly on the losing side of off-the-pitch tussles with manager Mauricio Pochettino. Both have a fair amount of suitors, and both are likely to be moved on. There are also rumours of Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama leaving, while Fernando Llorente might consider the exit door considering the (lack of) playing he has had. Backup goalie Michel Vorm is soon to be out of contract.

Watford

It’s not Watford if you don’t expect change at the end of the season. Manager Javi Gracia only arrived in January (on an 18-month contract), yet there are more than a few suggestions that he might be shown the door once the season reaches its close, especially with their usual end-of-season form. Any potential managerial change is always likely to lead to changes in the playing staff as well, so expect departures as well as arrivals- some Hornets fans might bite your hand off for the opportunity to drive away the inconsistent Etienne Capoue. Miguel Britos is out of contract at the end of the campaign.

West Brom

With relegation now sealed, there’s going to be changes at the Hawthorns, beginning with the managerial post. Ben Foster has declared his intention to stay even in the Championship, but clubs are surely going to come for defender Johnny Evans; Salomon Rondon has done his reputation little harm, and will lure admirers, while the likes of Nacer Chadli and Jay Rodriguez might remain in the top-flight with someone else. Chris Brunt might stick around, but his contract is currently due to expire at the season’s end, same goes for Gareth Barry, James Morrison, Gareth McAuley, Claudio Yacob and Boaz Myhill.

West Ham

If the fans had their way, the changes would begin from the boardroom. They might well settle for the departure of manager David Moyes, whose short-term contract runs out at the end of the season. Same applies for James Collins and Patrice Evra, the latter of whom is unlikely to get any renewal. Expect Robert Snodgrass to depart almost as soon as he returns from his loan at Aston Villa.

Published in International Watch

It was quite the spectacle at Anfield on Tuesday night, as Liverpool broke into a five-goal lead in the semi-final first leg, but had to make do with a 5-2 win after conceding two late goals against Roma. But the Italian side's defending was less than impressive and Roy Keane, in typical Roy Keane fashion, hasn't held back his thoughts. 

'They gave up after about an hour and downed tools', said the former Manchester United captain. If I played like some of their defenders did I would consider retiring from football. We can slag Roma off but Liverpool had to take advantage of that'.

Speaking to ITV, Keane believes Roma will improve in the return leg at home, but says Liverpool 'could have scored ten'.

Roma host the Reds in the return leg in Rome, needing three goals to win, the same margin before that miraculous comeback against Barcelona, but Keano doesn't see a way back for the Giallorossi.

Not like you could blame him, no one did against Barca either.

Published in International Watch

Stoppage time. Loris Karius holds on to the ball. Ragnar Klavan waits to come on for Roberto Firmino, as an edgy Anfield crowd now tries to roar the team over the finish line. The clock is ticking, and the home side are nervously looking at it, willing it to move. But… hang on. Liverpool are 5-2 up! In stoppage time!!

That seems like the new in these days, when among the things that occupy a brown box with a sticker labelled ‘fragile’, a three-goal lead is now one of them. Roma overturned that sort of deficit against Barcelona in the previous round, where Liverpool faced a second-leg scare against Manchester City with such position of advantage, and Juventus recovered from such a dead and buried position at Real Madrid only to eventually go out. Even in the Europa League, CSKA Moscow gave Arsenal something to worry about before succumbing, while Red Bull Salzburg were 5-2 down on aggregate in the second half of the second leg of their triumph over Lazio. Yes, three-goal advantages are no longer safe, just ask Liverpool themselves.

It was a shaky start to proceedings at Anfield on Tuesday night, and in more ways than one. Assistant referee Stefan Lupp’s flag was haywire, preventing him from properly flagging Firmino for offside, and had to be amended twice; on the pitch Liverpool were a tad uncomfortable, Roma were suffocating the spaces, and unfazed by the famous Anfield atmosphere, Kevin Strootman firing a shot that was easy for Karius, who then had to look in relief as his uncertain touch pushed Aleksandar Kolarov’s effort onto the bar.

But the Reds would always find their stride, they didn’t have the best 10 minutes here in the previous round against Man City, and yet blew them away, and it started to look similar after the first 20 minutes against the Italians, Sadio Mane spurning two chances as the home crowd got on song. One man who doesn’t spurn chances these days, though, is Mohammed Salah, the mercurial Egyptian Liverpool signed from Rome. There were expectations that he wouldn’t celebrate his goal on the night, that’s how certain everyone was that he would find the net, and 10 minutes before the break he did find it, via the crossbar, from his left foot, in the most brilliant of ways. He held his hands up in a mooted celebration, and that gesture would repeat itself on the cusp of halftime, as the PFA Player of the Year got in behind the Roma defence, and cheekily lobbed one over Alisson for his 43rd goal of an extraordinary season.

At 2-0, Roma were still very much in with a shout, but on the pitch they could barely whisper. They might have suffered a 4-1 loss at Barcelona, but that performance still had positives in it. Here, following that opening 20 minutes, they were abject, could barely string passes today, and kept up their ineffectual high line; so when Mane added a third for Liverpool in the 56th minute, they could hardly complain. Five minutes after that Firmino added a fourth, seven minutes after that Firmino added a fifth, from a corner which Roma could have handed to them gift-wrapped and with a Christmas card. That summed up the Giallorossi’s night, and that was the tie.

Or so we thought. With nine minutes left, Edin Dzeko chested down Radja Nainggolan’s pass, and became the first opposition player to score at Anfield in the knockout phase of this season’s Champions League.  5-1; academic? Not if the reaction of the away fans, the away players, and their manager was anything to go by. Suddenly they believed; even at being so far behind, they believed. And that belief doubled when James Milner handled in the Liverpool box, and Diego Perotti slotted home the resulting penalty. 5-2.

Then Anfield got edgy. Then Jurgen Klopp sent on Klavan, with the look of tense discomfort palpable in his face. Roma pushed and pushed. A third goal might even seem like a winner. But it never came. Liverpool held on for a 5-2 win, which is just about the most bewildering place to use the term ‘held on’. Now Roma need exactly what they needed against Barcelona. There’s no guarantee that they would get it this time, no guarantee that Liverpool would look so attackingly forlorn in Rome as Barca did. But it’s remarkable that even after such a dominant day for Liverpool, in the performance and the score-line, somehow, this argument is far from settled.

Elsewhere

  • Toni Kroos said the Champions League releases ‘special powers’ for Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane said he’s like a guiding for this team in Europe, and on evidence of this, who would argue. Even after they spent so much time on the back foot, even after they came under such pressure at the Allianz Arena, you could tell that they wouldn’t budge, that they would always have their way. This time, there was even no need for Cristiano Ronaldo to be on the scoresheet. Just like last season, Bayern Munich find themselves in the same position of bother after the first leg against Los Blancos.
  • In a competition graced over time by the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Clarence Seedorf, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Ryan Giggs, Lionel Messi, even Ronaldo and Zidane, who’d have thought the record for most assists in a single season would be held by James Milner?

Results

Liverpool 5-2 Roma

Bayern Munich 1-2 Real Madrid

Published in International Watch

Page 1 of 5