The Arsenal boss has revealed the Manchester City boss once visited him because he wanted to represent Arsenal.

Wenger did not take up Guardiola’s offer and the Spaniard went on to represent Brescia, Roma, Al-Ahli, and Mexican side Dorados before he hung his boots in 2006.

Pep Guardiola represented the Barcelona senior team for 11 years – appearing in 263 games for the Blaugrana, and Wenger who praised the former Spanish international for his understanding of the game said Guardiola once visited him in order to play for the North London side.

Praising Guardiola’s philosophy in an interview with Beinsports, Wenger said: “I have spoken with him on various occasions, one time he came to my house because he wanted to play for Arsenal.

“He has had some exceptional teams and trained them very well.

“I respect what he does because he has a clear vision of the game and positive attitude and philosophy.”

The Frenchman concluded: “Even if he doesn’t win because of it, I respect him for the influence that he has on the game”

In his first season as a manager, Guardiola guided Barcelona to a treble, winning the La Liga, Copa Del Rey and the UEFA Champions League – in winning the latter, he became the youngest coach to win the competition.

Having departed Barcelona in the summer of 2012, he signed for Bundesliga giant Bayern Munich in 2013 – where he won the Bundesliga in all of the three seasons he spent at the club.

And having putting pen to a three-year deal with Man City in 2016, the Spaniard witnessed his first season without a trophy same season.

Guardiola’s Man City stand a chance to win a quadruple this season - as they are 16 points ahead second-place Man u in the league.

The Citizens will also lock horns with Arsenal in the final of the Capital One Cup next week at the Wembley Stadium and are also in contention to win the Emirates FA Cup the UEFA Champions League.

Published in International Watch

In the end it petered out. A game that started so ferociously in Turin and with Tottenham on the verge of early capitulation ended in a rather drawn-out fashion, and with Spurs having delivered another solid statement against an elite European side.

Mauricio Pochettino and his side had already beaten Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in this season’s Champions League, but this was probably a much harder, they were up against a Juventus side that had won 10 games in row, conceded only once in 16 games (none in 2018), and had won 50 of their last 55 home games in all competitions, fortress-like. Spurs knew they had to be wary, but after only two minutes they seemed careless, caught napping from a free-kick, as Miralem Pjanic played in Gonzalo Higuain, whose wonderful shot on the turn sent the home fans into early cacophony. But if 1-0 down after 200 seconds seemed bad, then two down after eight minutes was just as horrible, Ben Davies with a reckless challenge on Federico Bernadeschi, and Higuain’s resulting penalty found the net via the gloves of Hugo Lloris.

Spurs were suddenly in trouble, their impressive form before this game, as well as their group stage performances, seemed long in the memory; but they weren’t about to lie down, as they took charge and put Juve on the back foot, only a wonderful Mehdi Benatia interception prevented Christian Eriksen from playing in Harry Kane. And when Eriksen did find Kane afterwards, the latter’s point-blank headers was beaten away by Gigi Buffon.

Spurs’ attacking forays, mixed with a tinge of desperation, were always likely to leave them vulnerable at the back, and so it proved, although Higuain could only fire a shot just narrowly wide after a Bianconeri break. Spurs had ridden their luck, and would claw themselves back in the game- and the tie- with less than 10 minutes of the first half left; Eriksen caught Giorgio Chiellini in possession, then Dele Alli slipped in Kane, who rounded Buffon and filled an empty net. Now the deficit had been halved, and Spurs had an away goal to boot, but when Serge Aurier recklessly tripped Douglas Costa in the box for a second Juve penalty, all seemed lost. Except it wasn’t. Higuain blasted the kick from 12 yards onto the bar, referee Felix Brych blew his whistle, and half time came.

Pochettino spoke on the need for Spurs to remain calm after the game, and they were calm during, as they had to bide their time in the second period in their search for an equaliser. It came in the 72nd minute, Eriksen’s low free-kick bamboozling Buffon, who didn’t quite get a strong enough hand, and had to watch the ball find its way into the bottom corner. The action seemed to die down after this, Lloris making a couple of saves from Bernadeschi the biggest highlight, and Pochettino made his three changes all inside the final 10 minutes, proof of him being content, at least, with the draw.

The Spurs manager did describe things in the dressing room as a little angry after the game, but Spurs had a mounted a superb fightback here, the first side to score against Juventus in over 21 hours of football, and erased a seemingly unassailable two-goal deficit.

They’ll have undoubted optimism for the second leg in three weeks’ time, not to mention an advantage, however slim.

Elsewhere:

  • Marcelo couldn’t help himself, as he slid towards Zinedine Zidane in the Real Madrid dugout with less than five minutes to play, the left-back whose fall earlier in the game seemed to have alarm bells ringing, health-wise. Those bells were definitely in sync, when, in the 34th minute, Adrien Rabiot got on to a Neymar flick to put Paris Saint-Germain in front. Real did respond before halftime, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a penalty after Toni Kroos had been fouled by Giovani Lo Celso. Ronaldo added his- and Real’s- second with eight minutes left, bundling home after a cross from substitute Marco Asensio, and Asensio was at it again moments after, another cross, another goal, this time from Marcelo as Real ensured they’ll take a 3-1 lead to Paris. As Unai Emery watched on with a grim face, it wasn’t hard to tell that his job is likely to depend on what happens three weeks from now.
  • For the first 28 minutes, Basel proved to be something of a match for Manchester City, then Ilkay Gundogan headed them in front, and for the final 72, it just seemed like torture for the Swiss champions. 0-4 loss at home; they did give a decent account themselves overall, but put it this way: when Taulant Xhaka (brother of Arsenal’s Granit) reached the yellow cards limit after being booked for upending Kevin de Bruyne in the 37th minute, it was clear that that was his last game of this Champions League season.
  • It’s also, barring a Quidditch-like Golden Snitch capture of a second leg, the end of the road for Porto, as they were taken apart on home soil by Liverpool, whose fab three were on song again; Sadio Mane bagging a hatrick, while Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah were just as impressive. At some point, their attacking dominance will stop being news.

Results

Juventus 2-2 Tottenham

Basel 0-4 Manchester City

Real Madrid 3-1 PSG

Porto 0-5 Liverpool

Published in International Watch

SpotkickNG

 

As the most memorable aspect of February rolls around (sit down, Valentine’s Day), spotkick’s trusted pick up their crystal balls and cast their predictions on which teams will remain when 16 gets trimmed to eight in the Champions League:

Ola Fadahunsi 

Man City vs Basel

City have been one of the best sides in Europe this season; the tie with Basel should be a banana peel.

City, duh! 

Juventus vs Tottenham

Spurs made a good statement by topping Madrid in the group stage but Juventus' experience in Europe should see them above the North London side.

Juve to knock out Spurs

Porto vs Liverpool

The oddity here is Liverpool qualifying if history is anything to go by. But I will still stick with the Merseyside Red.

Liverpool for me

Real Madrid vs PSG 

Madrid are going into this tie with little or nothing to lose as many have written them off - thus putting enormous pressure on PSG. I doubt PSG's ability to contain this pressure even with their star-studded side led by Neymar: last year's exit to Barcelona at this stage is a perfect example.

I still think Real will qualify.

Chelsea vs Barcelona

The Blues' strength playing Barca over the years has been how solid they've been at the back but this year’s tie will be different - as Barca's strongest household has been their back line and when you sync that with what Messi and Suarez can offer upfront, Chelsea will bow out in style.

Barcelona to progress

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Consistency has been a problem for the two sides but i think United have more than enough to deal with whatever Sevilla would be throwing at them.

United to go through. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

An even tie. Against all odds, Roma made it pass group stage - topping both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, but if you've been a follower of the UCL for years, you'll know how dangerous Shaktar can be in games like this. As a lover of history, I'll give it to Shakhtar

 

Kunle Ajao

Juventus v Tottenham

Spurs have delivered much better than expected in this season’s competition, after underperforming in the previous campaign. They topped a group that comprised Dortmund and Real Madrid, and their 3-1 win over the latter was mighty impressive. Juve, though, have pedigree in this competition, and have been finalists for two of the last three seasons. They’ve been here and done it before more times than their opponents at this stage. With both sides possessing formidable defences and midfields as well, it might well boil down to which striker, in Harry Kane and Gonzalo Higuain, will have a better day.

Juventus to just about sneak through. 

Basel v Manchester City

There’s no doubt who the overwhelming favourite is for this one, Man City have looked impeccable most times this season. Basel were impressive in qualifying from Group A, beating Manchester United on the way, but have lost Manuel Akanji and Renato Steffen to the Bundesliga. They might spring a surprise, but this looks a hard ask.

Barring a shock, City to go through 

Real Madrid v PSG

The tie of the round, the game that is most likely to determine the future of both managers. For Paris Saint-Germain, it’s finally a chance to prove they can roll with the elite after all the years of spending, especially with last year’s capitulation to Barcelona still in the memory. Real Madrid, meanwhile, have their whole season riding on this.

PSG to make the last eight for me

Porto v Liverpool

This tie seems finely poised, pitting two teams who’ll equally fancy their chances of progress. Liverpool’s front three, despite the departure of Philippe Coutinho, has been one to envy, even if Sadio Mane’s form has dipped recently. Their defence still leaves much to ponder, though, and Porto will look to capitalise on any slackness. But Liverpool’s best form of defending has been attacking, and it has worked so far.

Will be no straightforward task, but Liverpool should progress

Bayern Munich v Besiktas

No prizes for guessing the favourite here, Bayern haven't quite looked the same since Jupp Heynckes took over from Carlo Ancelotti, with only one defeat in all competitions since September. Besiktas do have an experienced, if not ageing, squad which helped finish top of Group G, but that also owed a big part to Cenk Tosun, whose January departure is a big blow.

The odds look overwhelmingly on Bayern Munich

Chelsea v Barcelona

This seems like the most ill-timed meeting of them all, Chelsea’s form having dropped massively, and not helped by Antonio Conte’s constant complaints over transfer dealings. Barcelona have lost just once since that supposedly-crushing Super Cup defeat in August. Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied, but Ernesto Valverde’s side are still favourites in this tie, if not the whole competition.

Barcelona to make progress here.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma

Roma were impressive in finishing top of a group that involved Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. But they haven’t been at their best lately in Serie A, and have slipped well out of the title race. Shakhtar are just as impressive a side, and have previous when it comes to the two teams meeting at this stage, they beat the Giallorossi in the last 16 in 2011.

Roma to qualify, just about. 

Sevilla v Manchester United

Sevilla are still searching for that first Champions League quarter-final appearance. They came close in 2008 (losing to Fenerbahce) and last season (eliminated by Leicester), but this looks like the hardest task of all. Jose Mourinho is a master at negotiating ties like this, and only the most courageous would bet against United going through, particularly with this being perhaps their most likely chance of silverware.

Manchester United to progress

 

Shehu Idris

Basel v Manchester City 

Does this actually need a prediction. Better luck next time Basel. A full scale hurricane is coming Basel's way, perhaps they shouldn't even bother showing up for both legs but, in Ed Sheeran's voice, "What do I know?". 

Juventus vs Tottenham

This is like a classic ole battle between an old, experienced and embittered war veteran and a young, greenhorn who's shown that his youthful exuberance can bleed giants to death if allowed. I'm tilting towards the green-necks from North London they should handle the Old Lady pretty easily. 

Porto vs Liverpool

This should be easy for Jürgen Klopp's men, they'll do it on both legs and if by deeds of their typical Liverpool-ism they don't, take this prediction as a tongue-in-cheek bluff. 

Real Madrid vs PSG

We'll plumb this pseudo-big club money sack with over-pampered players who're only there because of the jiggling coins it has in coffer. Real Madrid to progress, yes of course. 

Bayern Munich vs Besiktas

It’s hard for anyone to not see Bayern progressing here 

Chelsea vs Barcelona

Chelsea are but a sorry shadow of their true selves currently, with their coach a 'Noob Saibot' of his usually maniac, football-loving self and against a Barcelona side that haven't lost in the league this season and have Lionel Messi? May God have mercy on them. Barcelona to progress. 

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Sevilla struggled under Eduardo Berrizo, are still struggling under Vincenzo Montella, plus this season has been what they projected it will be. Manchester United will help see to that. United to ease pass them. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

Who are these ones? Me, I'm tired ooo. Anyway, Roma to progress.

 

So, according to we at spotkick.com, the potential quarter finalists are:

Barcelona 

Manchester City 

Manchester United 

Roma

Real Madrid 

Juventus 

Bayern Munich 

Liverpool

Keep in mind, keyword, ‘potential’,  there’s not many things as humbling as seeing a seemingly genius and iron-clad prediction go all kinds of wrong.

 

Feel free to disagree with us in the comments section.

Published in International Watch

With City having over seven first team players ruled out for the 1-1 draw against Burnley last Saturday, Guardiola named only six players on the substitute bench for the game - and that made Garry Neville to refer to the City boss as a ‘joke.’

Though the City U-23 team had a match on Friday night, the former United defender argued that Guardiola should have featured a youth team player on the bench on Saturday.

Neville claimed the academy manager would have felt he was wasting his time at the club.

And at his pre-match conference for the tie against Leicester City, Guardiola said he chose not to name an academy player as his seventh substitute at the Turf Moor because City Under-23 had a game the previous night and he never wanted to upset their plans.

Guardiola said Neville should know about his decision because he was a manager for “a short time”, a reference to Neville’s four months spell at Valencia.

Guardiola said: “This guy {Neville}, the pundit, he has to know my job is serious, it’s not a joke, never is it a joke.

“It’s so serious, and he should know that because he was a manager for a short time.”

Neville has been at the centre of some funny commentaries recently – the 42-year-old last week also said that Karius was at fault as the Liverpool keeper should have done more to save the Wanyama’s strike in Liverpool 2-2 draw at Anfield last Sunday

But what a clap back from Pep! How that lasts is left to be seen.

Published in International Watch

Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez is reportedly hell-bent on not returning with his teammates after Saturday’s game away at Manchester City.

Mahrez was subject of a failed deadline day bid from Man City, and hasn’t appeared for Leicester since, although he returned to training this week, and might travel with the team to the Etihad stadium. A source inside the Foxes camp, however, has revealed that Mahrez plans to not return after the game, but instead stay with the Man City squad from then on.

‘Arriving on the training ground, I saw Riyad rather hastily and suspiciously clearing out his entire belongings at the ground’ the source said. ‘I asked him why he had so much luggage, but he said it was simply for the trip to the Etihad, I wanted to ask for more information but he hurriedly left, humming some Man City chants as he was departing’

Leicester manager Claude Puel has refused to comment on this latest development, even though he hinted that he might have spotted Mahrez with a Leroy Sane mask and blueprints of Sane’s house, as well as excessive information on FC Basel, whom Manchester City play in midweek.

His Leicester teammate Danny Simpson, has also aired some suspicions about Mahrez as well. ‘I might have sneaked a look at his music playlist in training today, they seemed to be filled with goodbye songs, and Riyad was muttering something about how he might miss this place’.

**This news piece is obviously, undoubtedly and equivocally not real, goes without saying

Published in International Watch

10 Memorable UEFA Champions League Last 16 Ties

Thursday, 08 February 2018 17:02

Claps hands Tony Stark style circa ending of Iron Man 3 (Just go with it, okay!), it’s February. Yup, the second month of the year, when we enter crunch time in the football season. When managers who haven’t been sacked announce that they’ll leave at the end of the season, and when UEFA Champions League football returns.

The time when, as ITV commentator Clive Tydesley said, ‘the Champions League becomes the European Cup again’, as the knockout football takes centre stage. And there have been some rather tasty ties in the first knockout round over the years, so, with one eye on next week’s resumption, here’s 10 of the classic match-ups in this round:

Porto v Manchester United (2004)

Rather fitting that we begin with the tie in which Tydesley gives his ‘European cup’ quote, as Manchester United, having toped their group with little fuss, met in the last 16, a Porto team that narrowly escaped the group phase, and their up and coming manager Jose Mourinho (the good old days then) had a chance to pit his wits against the mighty Red Devils and Sir Alex Ferguson.

It was no gain saying United were favourites, and midway through the first period Quinton Fortune would give them the lead. But two goals from Fortune’s fellow South African Benni McCarthy, one in the first period, and the other in the second, meant Porto would take a 2-1 lead to Old Trafford in a fortnight, a game where United would be without captain Roy Keane, who was sent off at the Dragao, much to Fergie’s incandescence.

United were still favourites to go through nevertheless, and in the first half of the second leg, Paul Scholes would give them the lead, and the midfielder was unlucky to see the offside wrongly deny him a second. It stayed at 1-0 for most of the game, United as it stood would go through on away goals, until the last minute, when Dmitry Alenichev was fouled just outside the United box. McCarthy’s free-kick was pushed away by Tim Howard, but Costinha was on hand to turn home the equaliser, sparking Mourinho’s famous touchline run at Old Trafford. Porto would go on to win the tournament, and some 14 years later, Mourinho is now the home manager at the Theatre of Dreams.

Chelsea v Barcelona (2005)

Well, Mourinho again. Clive Tydesley again. After his European triumph (or triumphs) with Porto, Jose left for Chelsea, where he got tagged the ‘Special One’. The Blues were top of the Premiership and flying, while Barcelona were also ahead of the rest in La Liga when both sides clashed at the Camp Nou in the first leg. Chelsea took the lead through a Juliano Belletti own goal, an advantage they would take to halftime. But things took a big swing in the second period, when Didier Drogba was sent off for his lunge on Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes. The hosts pressed home their numerical advantage, as two goals in five from Maxi Lopez and Samuel Eto’o meant they would go into the second leg ahead.

But the Blaugrana would be caught unawares and left shell-shocked after 19 minutes of the return leg, as Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff all got on the score sheet to give Chelsea a three-goal lead on the night (4-2 on aggregate). Barcelona were left reeling, and in need of a lifeline, which they got after Paulo Ferreira’s handball in the Chelsea box enabled Ronaldinho to score a penalty, one which Petr Cech came close to saving. But Cech could do nothing about what happened just before halftime, as an outrageous Ronaldinho toe-poke from the edge of the box put the scoreline at 3-2, and Barcelona ahead on away goals. Chances would fly at both ends in the second half, Eto’o guilty of missing one, while Joe Cole also fluffed his lines for Chelsea. But the Blues would get back in the aggregate lead with 12 minutes left, John Terry heading home Lampard’s corner to put them within touching distance of the last eight. Barcelona sought another reply, but found none, and for the first time since the competition was renamed, no Spanish side would be in the quarter finals. For Chelsea, it was delight, as Mourinho joined the players’ celebrations after the final whistle, as Clive Tydesley declared that who could stop the Blues from European glory. The answer came in semi-finals, in the form of a familiar face in Liverpool.

Werder Bremen v Juventus (2006)

Werder Bremen had made history in the group stages, as they became the first side to lose their first three games and still qualify for the knockout phase, and in this round of 16 tie they struck first, Christian Schulz giving them the lead at home Juventus. But the Old Lady turned things around, and goals from Pavel Nedved and David Trezeguet had them leading with eight minutes left. Bremen, though, showed the resolve they demonstrated in their group, and late strikes from Tim Borowski and Johan Micoud gave them a first leg advantage.

That advantage was doubled 13 minutes into the second leg, Micoud again the scorer, as Bremen started to dream of the last eight. Trezeguet grabbed an equaliser in the 65th minute, but Fabio Capello’s side needed one more to go through. It didn’t seem forthcoming, Juve seemed stuck and on the verge of elimination, until Bremen’s goalie Tim Wiese caught a corner in the 88th minute, and his histrionic roll led to the ball slipping out of his hands and into the path of a grateful Emerson, who rolled the ball into an unguarded net, and rolled the Bianconeri into the next round, much to Wiese’s horror.

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich (2007)

It was the resumption of the international rivalry between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, as they were pitted together for the fourth time in seven years. Real had triumphed in two of the previous three, and were in mood to lay off here, Raul giving Los Blancos the lead after just 10 minutes. That lasted only 13 minutes, however, as Lucio’s header pulled Bayern Munich level, but Real would take a 3-1 lead into halftime, Raul adding his second before Ruud van Nistelrooy got on the score sheet himself. Bayern looked in real trouble in the tie, but gave themselves a huge lifeline with two minutes left, Mark van Bommel’s shot handing the Bavarians two away goals in a one-goal loss.

And they took advantage quite literally as the second leg begun, an error from Roberto Carlos led to Roy Makaay scoring the fastest ever Champions League goal, and Real were chasing the game from the off. Bayern added another not long after the hour mark, Lucio repeating his first leg trick to give Los Blancos a mountain to climb. Van Nistelrooy would pull one back from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute, but they would have a goal disallowed after, Sergio Ramos the guilty party, as they bowed out of the competition at this stage for the third year running.

Fenerbahce v Sevilla (2008)

It was uncharted territory for Fenerbahce in 2008, as Sari Kanaryalar, under Brazilian manager Zico, negotiated a group involving Inter Milan, PSV and CSKA Moscow for a berth in the last 16. The Turks had been making an impression in the competition, and against Sevilla, backed by a raucous Sukru Sarakoglu crowd, took a 17th-minute lead through Mateja Kezman. Sevilla had also been impressive themselves, beating Arsenal to top spot in Group H, and levelled just six minutes after through Edu Dracena’s own goal. Fenerbahce went again and retook the lead, Diego Lugano’s thumping header just before the hour mark sending the home crowd to cacophony once again, but once again Sevilla wouldn’t lie down, and Julien Escude dragged them level again, 10 minutes after Lugano’s moment. The hosts, though, ensured they would finish with a first leg advantage, as substitute Semih Senturk grabbed a winner three minutes from time.

The second leg was just as action-packed, and less than 10 minutes had been played when Sevilla scored twice, a brilliant Dani Alves free-kick and a Seydou Keita thunderbolt put them on course for the last eight, then Frederic Kanoute added a third for the hosts, after Deivid pulled one back for Fenerbahce. But Fenerbahce and Deivid weren’t about to throw in the towel, and the Brazilian scored his and his side’s second with 10 minutes left, to force extra-time.

No goals came in the extra half-hour of football, which meant the tie would be decided by penalties. The first kicks of both sides- Kanoute and Wederson- were successful, but next weren’t, as Escude and Edu both missed. Ivica Dragutinovic and Mehmet Aurelio both scored to make it 2-2 in the shootout with three played each, but Sevilla’s next takers would fail, as Enzo Maresca and Alves were both denied by Volkan Demirel, either side of Kezman scoring, to send the Turks into their first ever Champions League quarter-final.

Real Madrid v Liverpool (2009)

Real Madrid had lost in four successive last 16 ties coming into this, they hadn’t had the best season so far, already dismissing Bernd Schuster and hired Juande Ramos, and for some reason, signed Julien Faubert on loan from West Ham (old, but still shockingly gold). Liverpool, meanwhile, had reached at least the semis in three of the last four seasons, and were locked in a title race in the Premier League. The Reds took a deserved 1-0 win in the first leg, thanks to a late header from Yossi Benayoun, and were in the driving as Real came to Anfield for the return.

Back in Merseyside, Liverpool went guns blazing, and by halftime they were two up (three on aggregate), Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard (from the penalty spot) putting them within touching distance of the next round. Gerrard added another with a lovely side-foot finish just a minute after the break, before Andrea Dossena put the gloss on the win. 4-0 on the night, 5-0 on aggregate, yet it was proof of how much more it could have been to recognise that Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas had a very good game.

Milan v Barcelona (2013)

When the draw for this tie was made, it looked a no-brainer, Milan had been less than impressive all season, and had the deficiency of Zenit St. Petersburg to thank for making it this far, while Barcelona had lost just twice all season before this first leg. But the Rossoneri produced a performance worthy of the tales of Catenaccio, defending superbly and took the lead just after halftime through Kevin Prince Boateng, and that lead was doubled late on by Sulley Muntari to give Milan a first leg advantage.

Barcelona knew they had a job on their hands in the second leg, no team had ever lost a first leg by two goals without scoring and qualified. But they got off to the perfect start at the Camp Nou, thanks to none other Lionel Messi, and the deficit was halved after four minutes. Barcelona rode their luck towards the end of the half, as M’baye Niang broke free one-on-one with Victor Valdes, only to hit the post, and right away, straight down the other end, Messi added a second, and the scores were level on aggregate with three-quarters of the tie played. Barcelona began the second period as they did the first, and David Villa made it 3-0 on the night, and 3-2 on aggregate, before Jordi Alba added a fourth in stoppage time to seal the tie. History was made, and a precedent was sent for some four years later.

Sevilla v Leicester (2017)

Leicester had defied football logic to win the Premier League in 2016, and transferred their fairy-tale powers to Europe, to advance to the first knockout phase of this competition last season. Opponents Sevilla were seeking a first quarter-final appearance and dominated the first leg, Pablo Sarabia and Joaquin Correa scoring to put them in control. But the Rojilblancos had missed a penalty much earlier in the game, and late on Jamie Vardy pulled one back for Leicester, an away goal to take back to the King Power.

By the second leg three weeks after, Leicester were lining up with a new manager, Claudio Ranieri had been sacked after the first leg loss, and was replaced by assistant Craig Shakespeare. The Foxes had won their first two domestic games under the new manager, and took the lead here through skipper Wes Morgan. Leicester were now level in the tie, and ahead on away goals, but they would take an outright lead in the second half, through Marc Albrighton. Sevilla, despite being reduced to 10 men after Samir Nasri saw red, had a chance to level on aggregate after Franco Vazquez was fouled in the box by Kasper Schmeichel, but, like the first leg, the penalty was spurned, Steven Nzonzi the guilty party this time, his week effort saved by Schmeichel, and Leicester held on for a heroic win, and a place in the Champions League quarter finals, less than 10 years playing in the English Third Division.

Manchester City v Monaco (2017)

There weren’t many ties as anticipated as this one when the draw was made back in December 2016, as it pitted Manchester City, a side with a manager that prides on attacking football, against Monaco, a youthful storming through the French first division and had amassed 100 goals by February 2017.  It was City who made the early inroads in the tie, and took the lead through Raheem Sterling, but goals from Radamel Falcao and teenage forward Kylian Mbappe ensured Monaco would go into the break in the lead. Falcao missed a penalty at the start of the second half, but made amends with an impudent chip, not long after Sergio Aguero had pulled City level. Aguero would restore parity once more with a well-taken volley, before goals from John Stones and Leroy Sane gave City a 5-3 first leg win.

Prior to the second leg, city manager Pep Guardiola had emphasised Monaco’s attacking prowess, and therefore the need for his side to score at Stade Louis II, and so named an attacking line-up. It didn’t quite work out for the visitors though, and by the half-hour they were deservedly two down, Mbappe and Fabinho with the goals that put Monaco ahead in the tie. City improved in the second half, and with 20 minutes left, Sane pounced on Danijel Subasic’s save from Sterling to make 2-1 to Monaco on the night, but 6-5 to City on aggregate. City were back in the driving seat, but Monaco weren’t done yet, and from Thomas Lemar’s free-kick, Tiemoue Bakayoko got in front of Aleksandar Kolarov to guide in the header. There would be no more goals, as Monaco went through on away goals after a 6-6 aggregate scoreline, on their way to an impressive semi-final achievement.

PSG v Barcelona (2017)

Of course. Perhaps the greatest ever Champions League last 16 tie, one that’s still fresh in the mind, and will live long in the memory. Both sides had been having under-par campaigns, and were on course to relinquish their domestic titles, but PSG were in a more questionable state, and Barcelona were still regarded as favourites for the European title. On the evidence of the first leg though, it was nothing like that, Le Parisiens had a night to remember on Valentine’s, outplaying, outthinking and outmuscling Barcelona, by halftime goals from Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler had them 2-0 up. They would add two more after the break, Di Maria getting his second, and Edinson Cavani wrapping things up. Surely the tie was over.

There was still a second leg to be played, but Barcelona had a lot of ground to make up, and no team had ever erased a four-goal first leg deficit. But they got off to a flyer, Luis Suarez pouncing on some uncertainty from PSG goalie Kevin Trapp to put Barca ahead on the night, and by halftime they were halfway to the comeback, Layvin Kurzawa’s own goal making it 2-0 on the night. Luis Enrique’s side began the second half as they did the first, and following a Thomas Meunier ‘foul’ on Neymar (yes, this column is still bitter and thinks it wasn’t one), Lionel Messi stepped up to make it 4-3 on aggregate. Barcelona had the wind in their sails, but things would take a different shape soon after, as Cavani made it 3-1 on the night, 5-3 on aggregate, and had Barca needing three more goals. The home crowd were deflated, and only some profligacy from Di Maria and Cavani prevented PSG adding more goals, the tie seemed over. But in the 88th minute, Neymar curled home a free-kick, then Luis Suarez was supposedly fouled by Marquinhos (again, still bitter), and Neymar converted the penalty in stoppage time. Now it was 5-5 on aggregate, but PSG were ahead on away goals, until the last minute, when Neymar’s cross into the box was turned home by Sergi Roberto, sparking mayhem across the pitch, the dugout, stands, commentary boxes and broadcast studios as well. Barcelona had done the impossible and erased a four-goal deficit. It was the kind of turnaround that makes one think their names were already written on the title for 2017, not to be knocked out in the next round by Juventus, although it was the latter that happened. 

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The former Manchester United and England striker has described Ruud Van Nistelrooy as the best finisher he had seen in the Premier League and chose Argentine international, Carlos Tevez as his favourite strike partner.

Wayne Rooney played with Van Nistelrooy for two seasons (2004 – 2006) with the former Netherland international recording 95 Premier League goals in 150 appearances – he also played alongside his ‘favourite’ from 2007-2009 with the two {Rooney and Tevez} sharing over 40 goals between each other in the League from 2007-2009.

Rooney alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Rooney alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy

 

Rooney with Carlos Tevez
Rooney with Carlos Tevez

 

Speaking on Monday Night Football, Rooney, who was not short of quality strikers In his 13-year stints at Old Trafford – as he played alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha, Dimitri Berbatov, Robin Van Persie to mention a few, described Ruud Van Nistel Rooy as the best finisher he had seen in the Premier League and said Carlos Tevez was his favourite strike-partner.

“We suited each other’s {himself and Tevez} games.

“We worked off each other. It must have been horrible for defenders to have faced us, because we were just in their faces.

“When he signed, there was talk we wouldn’t have been able to play together, but we hit it off,” Rooney, who adds that Nistelrooy is the best finisher he has seen in the EPL said on MNF.

“Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the best finisher I have seen in the Premier League. Even if we won by four or five goals, he would just sit there on his own, gutted. He was fantastic.

The United great also picked the overhead kick against rival Manchester City at Old Trafford as the best goal of his career.

Rooney with the overhead kick goal that condemned City to a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 2011
Rooney with the overhead kick goal that condemned City to a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 2011

 

“The size of the game, City were going for the league it was one of the worst games I have played to be fair.

“The ball takes a bit of deflection, I have realised I was a bit of a space and tried it, and normally I might miss that, but caught it perfectly. It was surreal after I scored.

“In the dressing room after the game, all the staff were in shock. To be honest, I am sick of it.

“The amount of people who come up to me and talk about it. Still it is rightly the best,” Rooney submitted.

The England and Manchester United ended his 13-year-old association with Manchester United after he was allowed to join boyhood club Everton in the summer for free.

He has registered 10 goals in 20 appearances in the league this season but was good only for the substitute in Everton’s 5-1 loss in the hands of Arsenal last Saturday.

 

 

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Picking a Serie A slot in 2017 has been Benevento’s greatest achievement since being founded in 1929, but Bacary Sagna has loled the football World – claiming he joined the struggling Italian side because of the club’s history.

The former Manchester City and Arsenal defender has been without a club since being released by Manchester City in the summer of 2017.

And after several attempts to find a new club had failed, the 34-year-old full back opted to head for Italy with a team with the fewest points in Europe’s top five leagues this season.

Benevento are languishing at the bottom of the Serie A with seven massive points to their name – and have avoid being defeated in just three games of their 22 games this season.

Taking charity to another level, Sagna touched the tripartite beings of football lovers when he claimed he opted at signing a deal to the end of the season with an option of an additional year for the ordained relegated Benevento because of the club's history.

On joining Benevento, Sagna said: “Going to Benevento is not a move I am making for financial reasons…. My career for the past decade has been at the very top level, what Benevento offers me is the opportunity to represent the underdog and to play for a club whose story is such a beautiful one.”

He added, “In an era when football has become more of a business at many clubs than actual sport, Benevento represents the heart and soul of what a football club should be about.

“Passion, heart, hope, joy, love and a philosophy that is aligned to that of my own way of thinking in life….”

Still early though, but Sagna already has our Man of the Year Award

 

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Emmanuel Adebayor has once slated his manager, Wenger comparing him to a ‘teacher’ but claims Jose Mourinho, who he worked under for six months at Real Madrid in 2011 is one of the honest managers in the world.

In recent years, the striker has not concealed his hatred for Arsenal, which he represented from 2006 to 2009 – claiming Tomas Rosicky, one of his former teammates at the club, was a fragile player in an interview last year.

The striker referred to himself in the interview as the strongest member of the Arsenal squad during his time at the club.

The Togolese international in a separate interview, said Mourinho was the best manager he played under.

Speaking about his two managers (Mourinho and Wenger), Adebayor said the former was an honest man whilst branding the latter a teacher.

“He (Mourinho) is one of the most honest managers I have met in my career which is crazy because most of the managers are all kind of fake life,” Adebayor, as quoted by Marca.

“Mourinho is a manager that wants to win trophy no matter what it takes, even if he has to park the bus, the train or a plane he just wants to win and will do everything it takes to win.

“He will not sleep. He will work 24 hours to win one game and Arsenne (Wenger) just loves to bring kids in and then become big players. He is like a teacher.

Adebayor led the five players who jumped ship from Arsenal to Manchester City with the likes of Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy also leaving Arsenal for Man City later on.

The striker revealed that Wenger forced him out of the club and said he had mixed feelings over his support for Arsenal.

“I had a meeting with Arseane in his office when he told me I had to leave because he doesn’t see my future in Arsenal,” Adebayor explained.

“I was like ‘I’m going to stay.’ ‘He was like: no, there is not even a fight organised.

“We are not going to organise any fight for you. You move out or you stay here and don’t play any games’. So I didn’t have any other choice than to join Manchester City, who I was very happy to join.

“And the next day when I joined City I saw him doing a press conference in London saying that I wanted to leave because the money was big and everything and since that day that is where the hate for Arsenal came from.”

On the hate for Arsenal, the striker added: “Not the fans because the fans are the first English fans to sing my name. Even today when I watch them play I want them to win at the same time I want them to lose because the anger is too much.

“I played for the club for three years and half years. They bought me for three or four million they sold me for 27 million and still call me names. They are still telling me I left for money.

“You bought me for three million I still have five years of contract and you let me go for 20 million more and you are telling me I am the one leaving for money and abusing me.

“You can insult me no problem, but telling me my father washes elephants?”

“I’m not taking that so it was to show them that the person you are insulting still has something in his locker.

The 33-year-old currently plies his trade in Turkey with current SuperLig leaders Istanbul Basaksehir, and has registered nine goals in 19 outings this season.

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So in the end, Valar Morghulis, as they say in High Valyrian, all men must die, and Manchester City were reminded of what fatalism in a domestic game feels like, after 284 days. And in some ways, it was fitting, that a City team renowned for their ability to blow teams away would see their unbeaten run come to an end in a thrilling attacking contest at Anfield, against a Liverpool also with a reputation for scattergun forward play.

‘The whole world was watching it and if somebody didn’t like football until now then probably they would say, ‘that’s why you watch it all the time’, said Jurgen Klopp, and he more than had a point. At the final whistle former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish was applauding in near-incredulity, almost like he hadn’t quite witnessed such a spectacle before.

A spectacle which, in truth, didn’t take long to get going. Eight minutes and 33 seconds were on the clock when Reds goalie Loris Karius sent a clearance up field, two aerial contests after, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain weaved into space untouched and his well-struck shot rolled past Ederson and into the bottom corner. In Liverpool’s first league game since Philippe Coutinho left for Barcelona, the man who was likely to be on the bench had the Brazilian been around was sliding on his knees at the Kop end. ‘It’s so nice to see how much he adapted’, said Klopp afterwards of the summer signing from Arsenal. ‘He is on good way and enjoys it.’

It was only nine minutes, and City were also going to get into the game at some point, but Liverpool were the better side for the most of the half, and when Kevin de Bruyne’s weak shot midway through was held by Karius, it was the first shot the German had to face. The next one, though, he would have been disappointed with, as with five minutes of the half left, Kyle Walker’s diagonal ball was controlled by Leroy Sane, as Joe Gomez miscalculated, and the winger’s effort beat Karius at his near-post.

As half time was reached, you wouldn’t begrudge the Liverpool fans wondering why Klopp had resorted to playing Karius ahead of Simon Mignolet for this game. But Karius hasn’t lost any of his 10 games this term, and a few after heaving a sigh of relief that Nicolas Otamendi’s header could only hit his bar, he watched as Georginio Wijnaldum robbed De Bruyne of possession in the middle and freed Oxlade-Chamberlain, the latter playing in Roberto Firmino, whose strength was too much John Stones, and finish too immaculate to not be admired, as Liverpool regained their lead on the hour mark.

The noise from Firmino’s goal had barely died down when Sadio Mane hit the post, following a Fernandinho stray pass. Seconds later, Mane was in again, this time Otamendi the sloppy City man, and this time the finish was emphatic, Liverpool were 3-1 up, from the man whose red card threw this reverse fixture in September into so much debate, and Anfield was a cacophony of noise. ‘It was outstanding from the first second, from the minute of applause…’ said Klopp of the atmosphere. ‘…if the atmosphere would not have been good in a game like that then something would have been really wrong.’

And the game was going to get even better for the Reds, as Salah’s pass for Mane was cleared by Ederson and back to the Egyptian, who wasn’t one to miss, even if it was from almost 40 yards out. The home crowd and visiting manager Pep Guardiola were both in disbelief, although of different sorts, the hitherto invincible City were being shredded, but the drama was far from over. It all seemed like nothing more than a consolation when substitute Bernardo Silva, who replaced the ever-booed Raheem Sterling, rammed one into the net to make it 4-2 with six minutes left, but when Ilkay Gundogan poked another back for City at the beginning of stoppage time, there were more than a few worries from the Anfield faithful, they had seen this a few times after all.

Suddenly City sensed an escape route, they could still leave here with their unbeaten run incredibly intact. And there were hearts in mouth in the last minute, when Sergio Aguero rippled the net with a header, but it was the wrong side of it, and the flag was up for offside anyway, and the 15th successive game in which City have failed to win at Anfield seemed perhaps the most significant, for the first time in 30 league games, 35 domestic outings, Guardiola and his men tasted defeat.

Ultimately, the result is likely to matter little in terms of the league table, the gap can only be cut to as low as 12 points, and City still look champions in waiting. But here, they were brought back down to earth, and reminded that they are mortal after all.

Cherries shot in the arm is a shot in the foot for Gunners

On the same day where City’s defeat meant the pure record of the Arsenal of old (2003/04, as if everyone didn’t know that) would remain, the current Arsenal continue their, stutter as they threw away a lead at Bournemouth, conceding twice in some 250 seconds to lose to the Cherries, the first goal of which didn’t put Hector Bellerin, scorer of Arsenal’s solitary strike, Shkodran Mustafi or ‘keeper Petr Cech in any good light. That Arsenal are eight points behind the top four, and out of the FA Cup in the same week, and with only seven away wins since the start of 2017 is one thing. That Bournemouth didn’t even have to raise their game to beat them was another.

Elsewhere:

  • At the 20 futile attempts, West Brom finally won a game, as the Baggies grabbed three much-need points against Brighton. Alan Pardew’s men are still bottom bar one, but that overdue victory might set the tone for something more.
  • In the week where two English cup games saw the presence of the Video Assistant Referees, a big case was made for it in the league, as Southampton were denied a priceless victory by the hand of Abdoulaye Doucoure. Mauricio Pellegrino still remains in 17th place with his side, and still under significant pressure.
  • Another game for Everton, another with no shot on target. For the second league game in a row, they haven’t tested the opposition, and they’ve lost four games on the bounce now, Sam Allardyce needs some respite. But that’s not to take away any gloss from opponents Spurs, who were in swashbuckling mode at Wembley. For all the talk of the stadium being a drawback, they’ve only lost once here all season.
  • Doomed in November, suddenly looking closer to the top half, albeit without being clear of the drop, Crystal Palace and West Ham have made quite the upward movements since they changed managers (not with each other of course, that’d be weird).

Results

Huddersfield 1-4 West Ham

West Brom 2-0 Brighton

Crystal Palace 1-0 Burnley

Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City

Newcastle 1-1 Swansea

Tottenham 4-0 Everton

Chelsea 0-0 Leicester

Watford 2-2 Southampton

Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal

Monday Night Football: Manchester United v Stoke

Published in International Watch

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