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. 

Published in International Watch

Arsene Wenger has said that if he got suspended by the FA for his comments against match officials in recent weeks, he would attend George Weah’s inauguration.

Wenger signed Weah, who is the president elect of Liberia for AS Monaco in 1988 and they both won the Coupe de France together in 1991 before Weah Joined PSG in 1992.

The embattled manager told reporters at his press conference on Friday that he was invited for the Weah’s inauguration billed for 22 of this month.

"I have been invited by George to come to the day where he will be the President," Wenger, as quoted by BBC.

"I believe I will be busy but if I am suspended (for comments on referees) I will have time to go."

The 68-year-old went further to explain more about Weah and the love the three-time African best has for his country.

"The life of this guy is a real film. It is unbelievable. It can make a fantastic film,” Wenger said.

"I remember when I saw him the first time at Monaco, coming in a bit lost, not knowing anybody, not being rated by anybody as a player and becoming the best player in the world in 1995 and today becoming the president of his country.

"I went with George during the period when there was war in Liberia and I have seen how much he suffered for his country.

"That was the thing which was continuous in his country, the love for his country and for his people.

"Today when I look back I see him crying when war was on in Liberia so it's a happy story.

"I wish he has a happy presidency and I would like to say this guy is an example for everybody who plays football today."

Read also: I WANT TO BE THE NEXT GEORGE WEAH – STEPHEN ODEY

I stand by referee criticisms.

Wenger has been at loggerheads with the FA for comments he made against match officials in recent games.

The Frenchman was left furious last week Sunday after Mike Dean’s decision to give West Brom a late penalty as a cross from Kieran Gibbs struck the arms of Calumn Chambers.

Wenger, who confronted Mike Dean after the game, have up to 18:00GMT on Friday to answer charges of misconduct - for his reactions and comments after the game.

The 68-year-old, who said earlier in the season that the level of officiating in the English League was depleting said he stood by his comment and he’d no regret.

“First of all, yes I’ve been asked. I maintain what I said in the press conference, Wenger said.

 “100 per cent. I have nothing to change in that. Nothing has changed.

 “I’ve been in England for 21 years and I’ve tried to serve this game with honesty, integrity and when I have something to say, I say it. On that front, nothing will change. Never.”

 




 

 

 

Published in International Watch

Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger has revealed that he is looking forward to managing a country at the world cup billed for Qatar in 2022.

The 68-year-old Frenchman, who extended his contract by two more years at Arsenal at the end of last season amidst calls from some set of fans an ex-players to resign his position as the Arsenal coach said that he is considering his career ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

The former AS Monaco of France manager believed Qatar’s financial strength is a major strength for a quality World Cup in 2022.

When asked by Bein Sports if he could be managing a country at the 2022 World Cup, Wenger said, “Maybe, you never know.”

 “I believe on the quality of the stadiums, the quality of the organization and the competition you have no doubt because they have the financial potential to do it well in Qatar.

“Certainly they will have their pride to propose special stadiums, special innovations and on that front I am convinced that they will surprise the world.”

Wenger, who has been at the helm of managerial affairs at Arsenal for 21 years said he’ll be in football till the end of his life.

Wenger added: “Until the end of my life I will be in football. I don’t know as a director or a manager, but one day that will stop. I will stay in football of course.

 

 

Published in International Watch

By now it should be Greenwich Mean Time in a few countries, where the clocks fall back an hour, and shorter days are complimented by longer nights.

For Atletico Madrid, it’s a different time entirely, something of an Eleventh hour, like a last-ditch o’clock, as they bid get back on track- or rather get on track- in Group C of the Champions League group phase. Two goalless draws on Match days one and three, either side of a defeat at home to Chelsea- where they conceded with the last kick of the game- have left the Colcheronos in a state of near-desperation in their quest to make the knockout round.

Their performances and results haven’t been convincing domestically either, as their latest result, a 1-1 draw at home to Villarreal, left them eight points behind the top in La Liga, even if manager Diego Simeone is convinced things will take a positive turn soon. ‘If we keep on this path, things will improve for sure, I always prefer to see the positive side’, said the Argentine gaffer.

The positive for Atleti, in terms of this group, is that the top two in Chelsea and Roma meet in the Italian capital, and whatever the outcome, it’s unlikely to do them much harm should they beat Azeri club Qarabag. Another plus is the fact that Atletico have only failed to win seven of their last 24 home games in this competition, while Qarabag were hit for six in their last away outing, at Chelsea. And after this game lies another straight home game on Matchday five against Roma.

But a win here is absolutely imperative if they’re keep up with the top two, or the start of GMT could begin their departure from the elites.

Elsewhere:

  • It was quite a game of two halves a fortnight ago, when Manchester City triumphed over Napoli at the Etihad. The Citizens bossed proceedings in the opening 45, but couldn’t score more than two (yes, for City that’s a negative), and Napoli grew into the encounter in the second period, but could only halve the deficit. The good news for Maurizio Sarri’s side is that they- to an extent- found a way to limit City’s attacking prowess. The bad news is, they need as much points as they need sturdiness, else they risk falling further behind in Group F.
  • It looks like a case of dotting the Is and crossing the Ts for Manchester United in Group A, as they are a win away from qualification, with Benfica coming to Old Trafford. The Portuguese side have lost every game so far, and require an unlikely win here to have any chance of being in contention to still be in the competition come February.
  • In Group G, it’s top against bottom, but not many would have expected that when the draw was made. Senol Gunes and Besiktas are within touching distance of a place in the knockout round, and will clinch that spot with a win on Wednesday. Should things pan out that way, however, it would leave their opponents Monaco’s own hopes in smithereens, the principality club haven’t quite replicated their European form of last season.

Fixtures

Group A: Manchester United v Benfica; Basel v CSKA Moscow

Group B: Celtic v Bayern Munich; PSG v Anderlecht

Group C: Atletico Madrid v Qarabag; Roma v Chelsea

Group D: Sporting CP v Juventus; Olympiacos v Barcelona

Group E: Liverpool v Maribor; Sevilla v Spartak Moscow

Group F: Napoli v Manchester City; Shakhtar Donetsk v Feyenoord

Group G: Porto v RB Leipzig; Besiktas v Monaco

Group H: Tottenham v Real Madrid; Dortmund v APOEL

 

Published in International Watch

Coutinho Set for £160m Barca Move

Wednesday, 30 August 2017 00:37

Liverpool Ready to Let go of Star Man

Liverpool are set to grant Countinho's wish of joining Barcelona after the club has told him they will accept a bid of £160m for him to leave the club.

Coutinho, who hasn't played any part in Liverpool's campaign so far this season due to a reported back injury has been training with fellow Brazilian team mates in Porto Alegre ahead of their upcoming World Cup qualifying matches against Ecuador and Colombia.

Coutinho, was reported to have informed Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp about his intent of wanting to leave the club for Barcelona but  Klopp Klopp made it known to him that the decision lies with the club owners.

As reported by Yahoo, the owners of Liverpool, Fenway Sports Group have told the former Inter Milan player of their willingness to grant his  demands to leave the club for Barcelona.

Liverpool are now demanding for £160m from Barcelona, a fee that will go above the £105m Barcelona paid for Ousmane Dembele to prize Coutinho away from the club.

Liverpool are hopeful of securing the services of Arsenal's target, Thomas Lemar of Monaco to replace Coutinho after submitting a £70m bid for the France International on Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

With the English Premier League and French Ligue 1 already underway; and the La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A set to kick off this weekend, here’s 10 European teams worth looking out for in the 2017/18 season:

10. Valencia

After two successive seasons of hugely underperforming, it would be hard for Valencia fans not to carry feelings of doom and gloom around them, the once third-biggest team in Spain have spent the last couple of campaigns trying to keep their heads above water. In that time, they’ve had five managers, from the novice in Gary Neville to the highly experienced veteran in Cesare Prandelli, it’s all been a sorry mess. The appointment of Marcelino- who led Villarreal from Spain’s second tier and back to European contention- could change the face of things at the Mestalla; although their squad is still lacking in key areas following the return of a bunch of loanees and other departures. It’ll be interesting to see how Los Che fare under yet another new gaffer.

9. RB Leipzig

The team from old East Germany finished in second place in the Bundesliga last term despite just gaining promotion, much to the ire of fans of virtually every other German first division team (as a result of their corporate ownership), and they were granted a place in the Champions League following initial blockage from UEFA. They’ve fended off interest in their key players in Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita, and with the addition of the likes of Jean-Kevin Augustin and Bruma, they aim to keep irking Bundesliga fans and give Bayern some chasing at the top, while making a name for themselves in Europe as well.

8. Olympique Marseille

Les Olympiens were languishing in the bottom half last October, after three previously unimpressive campaigns, and were in danger of becoming talk of the past when they appointed Rudi Garcia. Their improvement has been steady, to say the very least, as they climbed to fifth place and sealed a place in the Europa League. Garcia acted smartly in the market last January, with the arrivals of Dimitri Payet- now club captain- Morgan Sanson and Patrice Evra going some way to aid their progress. This summer has seen the likes of Luiz Gustavo, Adil Rami and Valerie Germain join the club, while Steve Mandanda has returned following a not-so fruitful time at Crystal Palace, and they’ve already begun their Ligue 1 campaign with two wins out of two, conceding no goals in the progress. Champions League qualification is the aim, although a title challenge may not be completely out of the question; the manager did it with less fancied Lille in 2011 anyway.

7. Newcastle United

The Magpies spent just one season in the Championship before bouncing back to England’s top tier under prestigious manager Rafael Benitez, although the build-up to their Premier League season has been anything but smooth. Benitez has already voiced his displeasure at the lack of new signings at the club, while owner Mike Ashley has publicly stepped out to state that he can’t quite provide the necessary funds the gaffer feels the club needs. This could end in varying ways, Benitez picks up some handy bargains before the window and inspires the team towards an unexpected European push, or Rafa resigns and throws the team into another state of turmoil, and the Toon spend the entire trying to avoid falling through the relegation trapdoor. Either way, it’s unlikely to be dull in Tyneside; it hardly ever is.

6. Inter Milan

After the chaos of a 2016/17 campaign for Inter, where Frank de Boer lasted 85 days and Stefano Pioli was denied the opportunity to resign before being sacked, the Nerazzurri will be hoping the new season brings much better fortunes. One reason for optimism is the managerial appointment of Luciano Spalletti, who had a record-breaking campaign with Roma last term, and has gone some way to clear the deadwood in overseeing the departures of the likes of Jonathan Biabiany and Rodrigo Palacio. The arrival of the of Matias Vecino, Borja Valero and Dalbert Henrique among others and the club’s persistence on holding on to Ivan Perisic despite interest from Manchester United bodes well for the new season, and with four teams from Italy now guaranteed a Champions League spot, there is motivation aplenty for the three-time European champions.

5. TSG Hoffenheim

After narrowly avoiding relegation in the 2015/16 campaign, Hoffenheim defied the odds last term in the Bundesliga to finish fourth in Julian Nagelsmann’s first full season. Repeating that feat will be no easy ask though, the loss of key players in the shape of Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Sule- both to Bayern Munich- is likely to be difficult to cope with, especially Sule in defence. 30-year old Nagelsmann has done well to put this Sinsheim club in the spotlight, how they handle the pressure that’ll come with it remains to be seen.

4. FC Barcelona

Finishing in second place while taking the La Liga title race to the final day was surprising in more ways than one; there was disbelief as to how they managed to surrender the title despite not losing to any of last season’s top seven, and there was also astonishment as to how they even managed to keep up a title challenge in spite of some underwhelming displays. With Luis Enrique replaced in the managerial hot-seat by Ernesto Valverde and, more recently, Neymar- one third of the ‘MSN’ attacking trio- joining Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record fee, there will be more than a few keen eyes on how Barcelona get on this campaign. The woeful two-legged display in the Spanish Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid hasn’t helped matters. No pressure then; just a lot of it.

3. AS Monaco

After last season’s impressive displays, but home and abroad, where they won the domestic league and reached the Champions League semis, Monaco were always likely to lose a few of their key players. Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy have joined Manchester City, midfield pivot Tiemoue Bakayoko has headed for Premier League champions Chelsea, while speculation over wonderkid Kylian Mbappe just can’t go away and there’s still a lack of squad depth in the side. The re-emergence of Marseille, the big spending of PSG, and the continuous threats of the OGC Nice and Olympique Lyon might be a cause for worry on the domestic front, but winning their first two games in Ligue 1, scoring seven goals en route, shows they’ll not give up their title without a fight.

2. Everton

After finishing in seventh spot in the Premier League last term, the Toffees have spent heavily in this window, with key arrivals in all areas of the side, a club-record signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson and the return of prodigal son Wayne Rooney. Ronald Koeman is still on the prowl for a striker, following the departure of 25-goal forward Romelu Lukaku. There’s likely to be more than a few teething problems in the side and their 1-0 win against Stoke in the first weekend of the season showed that, but they look intent and ready to give the top four battle in England a real go.

1. AC Milan

Arguably the team to watch this season, the Rossoneri are back in Europe- albeit the Europa League- after a three-year hiatus, and they’ve been noticeably active in the market. The acquisition of Ricardo Rodriguez and Andre Silva among others is one thing, signing Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus is a massive statement of intent from Vincenzo Montella’s men. The title isn’t completely out of the question; a top four finish is the minimum aim. The seven-time European champions may well be on the way to recovering lost glories. 

Published in International Watch

Madrid Fans: Bale, CR7 Can Leave for Mbappe

Wednesday, 16 August 2017 01:00

Madrid Fans: Bale, CR7 Can leave for Mbappe

Real Madrid fans have revealed they would like to see any of Bale, Benzema or Ronaldo leave the club in order to have 19-year old Monaco forward Kylian Mbappe at the club according to a poll conducted by as.com

The teenage forward has been heavily linked to Real Madrid, Man City, and PSG. Last week, French paper L’Equipe revealed that Real Madrid manager had spoken with the forward who scored 27 goals across all competitions last season on phone to convince him to join the European Champions.

This report was followed by revelations that Madrid President, Florentino Perez had met with the player’s close family and one of the issue discussed is the Madrid’s readiness to ditch out one of the BBC to afford Mbappe a plenty of playing time.

 So, as.com put the question to the fans: which of the BBC would you rather left if the Monaco forward was to be brought in and should that decision actually be made?

The first part of as.com survey- which of the BBC should go resulted in Bale taking a large percentage of the votes, followed by Ronaldo. Bale had 42.63% of the fans (10,375 votes) Cristiano Ronaldo was chosen next with 24.65% of the total, Benzema came third, with 12.25%.

 20.46% of the votes casted was against the idea, insisting none of the BBC should leave the club for Mbappe.

Based on the largest group of fans mooting for the former Tottenham forward to leave, the question was then posed: would it be a good idea to sell Bale and sign Mbappe?

Some 68,078 voters piled in their view, and of that, 75% of the fans (51058.5 votes) thought it was indeed a right move for Florentino Perez to make.

The welsh forward hasn’t been doing himself a lot of favor to prove the fans wrong over this with series of underwhelming performance of late. Will Bale pull up a surprise on us? Till then - But now, things are not tilting towards that direction for him 

 

Published in International Watch