Here’s an expert view on the obvious and already well-known: 93 minutes gone at the Bernabeu, Real Madrid 0-3 Juventus; 3-3 on aggregate. Then Cristiano Ronaldo heads a cross down for Lucas Vazquez, who’s impeded by Mehdi Benatia, and referee Michael Oliver says penalty. In truth, no one really needs a reminder of what really happened, Juve’s veteran goalie Gigi Buffon protesting and then getting sent off for pushing the referee, before he walks off into the dressing, probably his last game in Europe for the Bianconeri.

No one needs a reminder of that event, because none has forgotten, and it’s hard to forget something that the world hasn’t stopped talking about, and that’s the problem. It’s been three days since those events happened at the Bernabeu, three days since Real Madrid pulled off that feat of escapology and rendered all of Juve’s second-leg hard work null. The tie looked dead and buried at the end of the first leg, the result was Juventus 0-3 Real Madrid, but the Old Lady wouldn’t quite give it up, an hour into the second leg they had incredibly restored parity in the tie, and that’s what makes their exit such a bitter pill to swallow. That’s what had Buffon yelling at and shoving Oliver, and accusing him of having ‘a rubbish bin’ for a heart, that’s what made manager Max Allegri get into an argument with Real’s Sergio Ramos in the tunnel. The emotion of the game.

That’s what many have tried to make it look, only raw emotion would make general nice guy Buffon throw such a fit, physical and verbal. But surely it is time for Buffon to sit down and re-collect, time to realise that a controversial decision isn’t always the wrong decision, just like this one proved. The finger-pointing has gone on long enough, the evidence in that is always when the social media bandwagon jumpers get on board. Juventus v Real Madrid has become Buffon v Oliver; a fabulous two-legged tie that’s supposed to be talked about for its intensity, never-say-die relentless and nerve-wracking situations, is now about a veteran Italian shot-stopper and an experienced English, and the latter is getting the villainy treatment.

And things have gone into overdrive in shaming Oliver, the finger-pointing and insults have moved from him and on to his family. When does Buffon realise that his display of raw motion put this all in motion? When does he see fit to tell the world that he realises he went too far? That he was taken in the moment, which can happen to anybody? In this corporate world of public pacifying, where everyone is apologising but no one is actually sorry, such comment from such a revered individual wouldn’t go amiss.

Buffon has had quite the career, some 22 years in utter consistency, where not everything has gone his way but he has always taken them no matter what, so there’s little wrong with feeling sorry for him in this case, another chance- perhaps the last chance- of winning the Champions League extinguished before his eyes. But this is no longer about just Buffon not winning Europe’s most prestigious trophy, this is also now about Michael Oliver being painted as a heartless wretch for having the audacity to do his job. The model professional and model citizen throwing a fit because things didn’t quite go your way in football. Come on, Gigi, you’re bigger than this.

Published in International Watch

The Italian goalkeeper has unleashed some scathing words on the English referee after his side bowed out of the Champions League to Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Gianluigi Buffon is unhappy with Michael Oliver – labelling the Englishman “a bag for a heart."

”Juventus, who lost the first leg at home by 3 goals to nil were on the verge of a remarkable second leg come back at the Santiago Bernabeu but a dying-minute penalty call to Real Madrid for Mehdi Benatia’s foul on Lucas Vazquez dashed hopes of forcing  the game to extra time.

Ronaldo judiciously dispatched the penalty pass Wojciech Szczesny who was charged with stopping the Portuguese – CR7 making the two goals scored by Mario Mandzukic and another one from Blaise Matuidi of no use to Juventus at the end of the game.

Buffon, who was sent off for his reaction after the penalty call said Oliver should "sit in the stands eating crisps" for "ruining a dream".

Buffon was quoted by BBC after the game to have said: "It was a tenth of a penalty.

"I know the referee saw what he saw, but it was certainly a dubious incident. Not clear-cut. And a dubious incident at the 93rd minute when we had a clear penalty denied in the first leg, you cannot award that at this point.

"The team gave its all, but a human being cannot destroy dreams like that at the end of an extraordinary comeback on a dubious situation.

"Clearly you cannot have a heart in your chest, but a bag of rubbish. On top of that, if you don't have the character to walk on a pitch like this in a stadium like this, you can sit in the stands with your wife, your kids, having your drink and eating crisps.

"You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could've told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating.

"If you can't handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your crisps.”

While the Old Ladies captain was left lamenting after the match, his coach Massimiliano Allegri has charged the legendary goalkeeper and other members of the team to move on from all that transpired at the Bernabeu.

"Games like these are great moments against the biggest clubs in the world. We want to be the best.

"Sometimes things go for you, and other times they don't. We need to get over this hard moment and move forwards," Allegri said.

 

 

Published in International Watch

It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder if you even know the game at all, yet it leaves you speechless and remembering why you fell in love with it in the first place. Surely something of this sort, even by football’s ludicrous track record, wasn’t plausible. Just over a year ago, Barcelona had pulled off the seemingly impossible, coming back from a 4-0 first leg loss, thanks to three goals in the dying embers of the game, but that looked like a one-time thing, and when, this year, Luis Suarez was strolling off in celebration for the Catalans, his first Champions League goal since that astonishing comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, in the first leg to cap off a 4-1 win, they seemed uncatchable. It meant Roma had to score three times without reply, surely that wouldn’t happen.

Even when they got off to the perfect start, when Edin Dzeko got in behind Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique to put the ball past Marc-Andre Ter-Stegen and put Roma in front on the night after six minutes, even then it surely wouldn’t happen. But the Giallorossi wouldn’t be deterred by the stature of their opponents, nor the scale of the mountainous task that lay ahead. Even if we lost the first leg, we were confident with the way we had played and it showed tonight’, said skipper Daniele De Rossi. And you couldn’t argue with that statement, on evidence of the performance, Roma pushed Barcelona back, made them create very little, and were rather unlucky to only have had one goal to their name at halftime, Patrick Schick sent a header wide, while Dzeko’s was tipped over by Ter-Stegen.

The second period took the same form as the first, Roma on the front foot, with Barcelona creating next to nothing. But the visitors have been in positions like this more than once this season, where it looks like they’re almost incapable of fashioning out any opportunity, but then spring up with something out of nothing, and perhaps that was why there was little cause for alarm, on both the part of the players, fans and the manager, they have weathered many a storm this season, and not long ago, they pulled a rabbit out of the hat with two late goals in a league game against Sevilla.

But their patience became anxiety midway through the second half, when Pique brought down Dzeko in the box, and was booked for his trouble. Up stepped De Rossi, who had the misfortune of opening the scoring for Barcelona via an own goal in the first leg, and he made no mistake at the right end. Now it was 2-0 on the night, 3-4 on aggregate, Roma needed just one more. Dare they believe? Could they pull this off? On came Cengiz Under in place off Schick, as they sensed memorable night. And with nine minutes left, the moment came. From a corner, Kostas Manolas, another who had an own goal to his name in the first leg, peeled off to the near post, and his header found the bottom corner.

Cue disbelief, from Manolas’ face, to the rest of his teammates, down to his manager Eusebio Di Francesco, and the fans, both sets of them. Now Barcelona had to do something, astonishingly, they hadn’t done all day; attack. On they poured forward, but there would be no saving grace, not from Lionel Messi, who always found them a way to get them out of jail. Not from Luis Suarez, who was frustrated. Not from Pique, who came forward from defence. Nor from Ousmane Dembele, who was thrown on in a fit bearing semblance to desperation.

Barcelona had managed to escape from the claws of defeat on a number of occasions this season, but there would be no feat of escapology here. They had wriggled past Real Madrid, Chelsea, Juventus and Atletico Madrid this season without losing. It would be against Roma that they faltered, that they threw a Hail Mary but there would be no catch. Who writes these scripts?

Thriller at the Bernabeu

'...as Real Madrid close the book on Juventus once more'. Events at the Santiago Bernabeu would render that first leg headline from this writer on this tie rather daft. Juve had a three-goal deficit to overturn, Gazzetta Della Sport's headline before the game was 'Mission Impossible', with the 'possible' in the second part of the second word highlighted, while Marca ran 1429 simulations, with 1405 seeing Real progress. The odd 24 looked on, when by halftime they were two to the good, Mario Mandzukic with two headers. It became three-nil to the Bianconeri on the night, and three-all on aggregate, when Keylor Navas spilled Douglas Costa's cross, and Blaise Matuidi was on hand to poke it in. Then with the game on a knife edge, and extra time seemingly on the cards, Cristiano Ronaldo laid on a header towards Lucas Vazquez. A challenge from Mehdi Benatia later, Real had a penalty, Gigi Buffon was sent off for a push on the ref, and some five minutes were exhausted in an ensuing kerfuffle. Not that it mattered to Ronaldo, who buried the resulting spot kick with aplomb. For the eighth season in row, Los Blancos will be in a Champions League semi, while as Buffon walked off late on, one had to wonder: was that his Zinedine Zidane circa 2006 moment?

Elsewhere

  • For a moment it seemed plausible, Fernandinho pounced on Virgil van Dijk’s loose ball, then the ball fell to Gabriel Jesus via the boot of Raheem Sterling, and Manchester City were a goal up inside two minutes. One third of the way to the comeback, and for the entire first half, they had Liverpool pinned in their own half, Bernardo Silva hit the post, Leroy Sane was denied by the linesman’s flag, Pep Guardiola was sent to the stands, but it would be only 1-0 on the night at halftime. And there was always the worry for City over Liverpool’s potent attack, and their rather meek defence, and when Ederson’s parry from Sadio Mane’s feet fell to Mohammed Salah, the game was up. A lob over Nicolas Otamendi, and into the top corner, and City’s task became too Herculean. Liverpool still had enough time to rub salt on City wounds, Roberto Firmino pouncing on yet another Otamendi error this week. 5-1 on aggregate, Liverpool coasted through to the last four, and on the evidence of this quarter-final- and the season at large- no one would be keen to face them.

Results

Roma 3 (4)-(4) 0 Barcelona

Roma progress on away goals

Manchester City 1 (1)-(5) 2 Liverpool

Bayern Munich 0 (2)-(1) 1 Sevilla

Real Madrid 1 (4)-(3) 3 Juventus

Published in International Watch

Pardon if the eulogy seems a bit like drooling. 65 minutes gone, Ronaldo moves to the corner at the left end of the Juventus stadium, raises his hands in a gesture that could well say ‘crown me king’ and the entire stadium obliges, with applause rendering from all ends of it. He had just put Real Madrid two up at the home of Juve, the home of the side who rarely knows what it feels like to lose at home (once in 73 games before this), let alone lose so convincingly.

It was Ronaldo who bagged a double in Real’s 4-1 humbling of this same side in last season’s final, the campaign when he began his evolution towards being a pure goal-getting centre-forward, and he’s showing little signs of letting up in that department. Between kick-off and the time Ronaldo added that second goal, aside from substitute Lucas Vazquez, he had touched the ball the least of all players, yet no one would be ready to point out such stat on a man who had 36 goals in 35 games in all competitions prior to this game, and two minutes into it, 37 in 36.

Isco found space on the left, and his low cross was poked home by the Portuguese skipper (thanks in no small part to Karim Benzema, it should be said), the 10th successive UEFA Champions League game that he had scored in, and Los Blancos had the perfect start. It wasn’t just that they had found the net early in Turin, it was that they bossed the opening minutes in Turin, pressing the home side and denying them any room, moving the ball around with authority, and, but for the crossbar, would have gone two up through Toni Kroos.

Juventus knew they had to react and get on the front foot, and after a while, they did manage to, pushing Real back, causing a threat with their quick one-two passes around the edge of the area and the movement of their full-backs, and they did come mighty close when Keylor Navas had to react quickly to deny Gonzalo Higuain. By halftime, it was 1-0, Sergio Ramos had denied Andrea Barzagli what seemed like a certain equaliser, Higuain had made a few runs in behind to create openings, and Paulo Dybala had been booked for simulation.

Juve’s start to the second half was much more comfortable then they did the first, the home fans were founding their voice, and when Ramos got booked for a foul on Dybala, ruling out of the second leg, the crowd started believing they could get past Real, especially when the resulting free-kick was deflected just past Navas’ goal. Then came the 65th minute.

From a long ball forward, some miscommunication between Gigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini, almost unheard of, gave Ronaldo a semblance of a chance; he pulled back to Vazquez, whose shot was saved by Buffon and the danger seemed to have been averted. Except it wasn’t; Daniel Carvajal dinked a cross, and Ronaldo tried an overhead kick, which he brilliantly pulled off, and then came the moments that signified that act of genius. From the crowd applauding, to his manager Zinedine Zidane marvelling at the sight of what he just witnessed, but perhaps the most striking was the ball itself. As it found its way into the bottom corner, with a helpless Buffon watching, the ball decided against bouncing, didn’t even move as it hit the net, it just stayed in that bottom corner, almost like it had been decreed by Ronaldo to stay put. As legendary Real Madrid goal scorers Raul and Emilio Butragueno looked on, they’d be forgiven if they were discussing the man who’s broken all the records they set.

Not that the game was over, though. There was still time for Dybala to be sent off for a reckless high-boot challenge, still time for Marcelo to add a third, created by Ronaldo of course, time for Mateo Kovacic to also rattle Buffon’s bar, and time for Ronaldo to miss two chances as he searched for a hatrick. As the clock ticked down Juve poured forward in search of a glimmer of hope, but like in Cardiff, it was both academic and non-forthcoming.

The deed was done, and Ronaldo had left his mark. Doesn’t he always.

Elsewhere

  • Jurgen Klopp couldn’t even channel his usually hyper-active self, as there was probably a bit of disbelief in his eyes. It’s not uncommon that Liverpool would race into a 3-0 lead after 31 minutes at Anfield, particularly with their front three; that they were doing it against Manchester City, top of the Premier League by a landslide, and probably the best team in Europe right now was something else. Mohammed Salah was among the scorers, as usual, and Reds fans will hope his injury that saw him get taken off isn’t lasting one, although he did return to the bench later. More importantly, Liverpool have a foot and a half into their first Champions League semi-final for 10 years.
  • And as for Bayern Munich and Barcelona, why bother to score when the opposition can just do it for you?

Results

Juventus 0-3 Real Madrid

Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City

Sevilla 1-2 Bayern Munich

Barcelona 4-1 Roma

Published in International Watch

The Brazilian who has been a mainstay at the Blancos first team for over ten years has picked teammate Luka Modric as his captain in a team that consists the best eleven players he has ever played with.

Marcelo joined Real Madrid in 2007, a season before Zidane retired from football but he requested to include his coach, who he never had opportunity to play with at the club in his best eleven.

The most notable omission is Iker Casillas, who shared the same dressing room with the Brazilian in Real Madrid for over seven years, as Marcelo gave fellow country mate Julio Cesar the nod over the former Real Madrid No. 1

While he found it difficult to pick his best eleven, Marcelo was firm about captaincy choice - as he pointed out Modric as his favourite for that position.

Marcelo’s xi: Julio Cesar; Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Sergio Ramos, Roberto Carlos; Casemiro, Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil, Zinedine Zidane; Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar.

The former Fluminense player is expected to line up at the Allianz Stadium for Real Madrid in the first leg of the Blancos Champions League tie later today.

 

Published in International Watch

And so they meet again. By the end of the second week of April, Real Madrid and Juventus would have met seven times in the past five years, such is the pedigree between this sides in this competition. 14 meetings in 22 years between both sides, trophies have been decided, and prestigious managers and players previously turned up for both teams, quite an illustrious past.

More importantly, by the end of the second week of April, one of Real Madrid or Juventus would be out of the Champions League, would be left stewing and ousted from a competition that has come to define them, and watch as the other sets off to be 180 minutes away from the final. 10 months on from that show-piece in Cardiff, when Real ruthlessly outclassed Juve to a 4-1 win, both sides jostle for a slot in the last four. ‘The Cardiff match was a very important lesson to grow and improve’ said Juve manager Max Allegri. ‘We could have managed the ball better in the second half and we have to be faster and deal with it in a more serene way’.

It’s no question that that loss in the Welsh capital has served as a bit of a lesson for the Old Lady, whose drop off in that game was so obvious and costly. Now it’s about maintaining focus and concentration, a trait that has served them so well in the past. ‘We have to be focused, concentrated and committed because every player on the field in great’ Allegri added. ‘We really need to be in the match psychologically as well’.

And psychologically, what would the game do for Juve? Giorgio Chiellini has said the focus is not on revenge, while goalkeeper and captain Gigi Buffon has talked about how facing Real ‘again doesn’t fill us with joy’. He may have pointed that he was referring to the quality in the side, as well that of the likes of other quarter-finalists in Manchester City and Bayern Munich among others, but you can be forgiven for thinking whether his mind was cast back to the past once again. And the past is always going to be reflected in a game of such teams, whose paths have been crossed often. Aside from that final last season, they met a round earlier in 2015, when Alvaro Morata, sold to Juve by Real, ousted his boyhood club.

They have had group stage meetings as well- Real won one and drew the other in 2013, while Juve did the double over them five years before- but their stories have been in the knockout stages, the extra-time win by Juventus in 2005, where Ronaldo (the other one) got sent off for Real and Marcelo Zalayeta grabbed the winner, Juve’s progress to the final at the hands of Los Blancos two years before, with Buffon saving a Luis Figo penalty, Predrag Mijatovic grabbing the winner for Real in the final in Amsterdam in 1998, and Juve knocking the Spaniards out on their way to glory in 1996. Not that either side seems to be placing too much thought to previous events.

Buffon has talked about how he doesn’t reflect on the previous meetings, while Zinedine Zidane, Real’s manager, who played for both sides, believes it’s ‘a completely different situation’ from last year. It might well be true, but the need from both sides is barely any different. Neither is the reality that one of them will fall at the end.

 

Fixtures

Juventus v Real Madrid

Liverpool v Manchester City

Barcelona v Roma

Sevilla v Bayern Munich

Published in International Watch

10 Potential Managerial Changes Next Season

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 15:07

This be the final quarter of the season, mateys; where leagues are won, cups are taken, relegations are suffered, and end of season awards are doled out. But not many things say the end of a season like when a manager leaves his post, either having earlier stated that he would leave when the season ends, or having made the sudden, but inevitable departure, or having been courted by bigger fish.

So what are the potential managerial changes that are foreseeable once the final whistle of the season goes? We have a look at 10…

Paris Saint-Germain

Without a shred of a doubt, it’s the first potential managerial change that many people are foreseeing, and not without reason. After last season’s early UEFA Champions League exit at the hands, alongside only second place in the domestic league, PSG went big in the market, shattering the world transfer record (for Neymar) and the second-world-transfer-record-in-form-of-a-loan (Kylian Mbappe), only to suffer another early exit. They may be coasting to the Ligue 1 title, but after Laurent Blanc was sacked following three consecutive league titles, one league crown and insipid European exits won’t cut it for Unai Emery, especially considering he was hired because of his continental previous with Sevilla. It’s hard to fashion a way to see the Spaniard remaining as manager next season, not least because his contract expires at the end of this campaign, and the French club already contacting Antonio Conte’s representatives. Which brings us nicely to….

Chelsea

It’s little gain pointing out the mood of Conte at Stamford Bridge this term, the Italian has gone from title-winning mastermind to sulky maverick in less than 12 months. Chelsea are currently lingering outside the top four, have won three league games from nine in 2018, and have their fate well out of their own hands, and Conte has spent time questioning the Blues hierarchy on several occasions, from not getting his players, to the board not fully committing to him. All the elements of an inevitable divorce.

Real Madrid

W…W...Wa…Wait!! Before you aim the stones and bring out the clubs, hear ye out. Zinedine Zidane’s success at Real Madrid so far is as much of a mean feat as it is a secret, but there’s no question Los Blancos have floundered this season. They were out of the title race as early as December, they’ve suffered more defeats than the whole of last season already and were bundled out of the Spanish Cup in their own backyard. It’s hard to ignore their resurgence since the start of the year, though, the goals have started to come in (yes, Cristiano Ronaldo) and they made light work of PSG in the Champions League last 16, but it’s in Europe where their only hope lies, and a quarter-final exit at the hands of Juventus might well spell the end for Zizou.

Bayern Munich

Another almost sure-fire change ahead of next season. Bayern have been transformed since Jupp Heynckes returned in September, and are at most two wins away from a sixth successive Bundesliga title, as well as going well in Europe. But despite the smiles on the pitch, and the appeals from chairman Karl Heinz-Rummenigge, Heynckes, 72, still remains intent on stepping down. There have been rumours of Thomas Tuchel (who is by no means done here), as well as Julian Nagelsmann, as potential replacements.

Arsenal

Call it bold, or foolhardy if you like; and perhaps it is. After all, many have had the gusto to predict the time by which Arsene Wenger would have left the Emirates, and all of them have been proved wrong. But the pressure seems unyielding and the discontent louder as each game of the season grows by, and you sense that should the Gunners lift the Europa League, Le Professeur might just finally walk off into the sunset. There have been endless rumours of Italians Max Allegri and Carlo Ancelotti as potential dugout replacements, while Thomas Tuchel’s name has come up in recent days. This might well be Wenger’s final hurrah. Just don’t bet on it yet, though.

Everton

It’s been a season of complete discomfort at the Blue end of Merseyside, despite the wave of optimism that swept it in the summer. After spending big at the start of the season, Everton were primed for a charge against the top six, even with the loss of Romelu Lukaku, while FourFourTwo even talked about them probably being among one of the potential outside challengers for the title. So, surely the fans wouldn’t have expected the Toffees to be spending most of its time trying to stave off relegation trouble, after a torrid start to the season saw Ronald Koeman sacked and Sam Allardyce replacing the Dutchman. Big Sam has just about guaranteed safety already, but there’s little for appreciation or optimism under his stewardship so far, Everton have had at least four games this season where they haven’t managed a shot on target, the performances have been laboured, and they’ve only won once away from Goodison since December. The fans have made no secret of their discontent, surely a side that was the sixth biggest spender in Europe in the summer and winter windows combined ought to play with ambition when away to Watford and West Brom, at the very least. Stranger things than Big Sam staying on next season have happened, but it’s hard to see Big Sam staying on next season.

Borussia Dortmund

Another side where the ship has steadied but the comfort isn’t quite there. Since the sacking of Peter Bosz, Peter Stoger has come in and kept things together nicely at Dortmund, Die Schwarzgelben haven’t lost in the league under his stewardship and are in a Champions League place. But there have been complaints over the football ever since the former Koln arrived, Dortmund have become harder to beat but hard to watch, and they did get beaten, in the Europa League at the hands of Red Bull Salzburg. Stoger’s exploits will have no doubt interested other sides, and done his stock no harm. Perhaps Dortmund would be glad to have someone take him off their hands.

Olympique Lyon

Exciting. That’s been the word associated with Olympique Lyonnais this campaign, the youthful exuberance of a youthful and exuberant side has been pleasing on the eye. But no doubt there would be bumps in the road, as there have been this season, recently as well. After a late win over PSG in February, Lyon were eight points behind the capital side, and seemed like outsiders for a title race. But the form nosedived after that, no wins in their next five domestic games. They were compensating for their drop in the league with a steady run in the Europa League, but at the last 16 stage they were bundled out by CSKA Moscow, denied a home final in the process, and that seemed like the boiling point. First, Benjamin Marcal didn’t take too well being substituted in that defeat at home to CSKA, a discontent he didn’t hide from coach Bruno Genesio. A verbal confrontation immediately followed, and Marcal has been exiled from the team ever since. Then there was chairman Jean Michel-Aulas denying reports that Genesio had offered his resignation before the Marseille game. A win in that encounter has kept them in the hunt for Champions League next season, and pushed the unease inside the club aside for the moment, but it’s not hard to sense that all is far from well at Lyon. Rumours of Claudio Ranieri being touted as a replacement are of little help to the issue.

West Ham

It’s fair to say that move to the London Stadium hasn’t quite had the desired effect that it was supposed to. After that impressive seventh place finish in 2015/16, better things were expected as the club moved away from the Boleyn Ground. Or perhaps following the impressive campaign of 2015/16, expectations became rather unrealistically high. Nevertheless, much was expected after the Hammers moved to the future, the seemingly next level, but little has been delivered. An underwhelming season last time out and a bad start to this one saw the axe swing on Slaven Bilic, and David Moyes was brought in as a replacement, despite the sneers from the fans. Moyes did start well, rejuvenating a previously forlorn Marko Arnautovic, but form has tailed off. Three defeats in three, with 11 goals conceded, are hardly any cause for optimism, and though most of the fans’ distaste has been spat at the direction of the owners, it’s not hard to foresee another managerial change at the East End.

West Brom

Duh!

Okay fine: Three league wins all season, one win since Alan Pardew replaced Tony Pulis in December, those aren’t the kind of stats West Brom were expecting this campaign. It’s been one mishap to another for the Baggies, from the sacking of the club directors to the oh-so-famous taxi-gate incident involving four of their players. It’s no wild guess to say that a lack of options is what’s keeping Pardew in the job; relegation is just about a certainty now. Pards surely won’t be around after.

Published in International Watch

Ian wright fears Madrid may sign Mohamed Salah if the Egyptian attacker maintains his incredible form for Liverpool

Mohamed Salah has registered 36 goals in all competitions this season - with his four goals against Watford last weekend drawing him praises from various football icons.

Ian Wright, who said he was taken aback by Salah's remarkable form submitted that Madrid would be looking towards the direction of the former Roma man.

The Arsenal great said on Skysports debate: "Anybody scoring goals the way he is, coming into the premier league, the toughest league i would say in the world, and taking it by storm the way he has, you are going to court that kind of attention."

"He has done it magnificently .... He's done it surprisingly. Surprisingly to me, i didn't think he's going to have that kind of impact.

The 54-year old English man explained further, "When you've that impact, you're going to court attention.

"With what we've seen and with what Real Madrid have seen, if he does press on, they {Real Madrid} might get him in the end.

Salah joined Liverpool in the summer for a fee worth around 39m, and aside scoring 36 goals for Liverpool, he also assisted 10 goals in all competitions this season. 

 

Published in International Watch

Mario Balotelli has said money didn’t make PSG a good team and likened the French giant to Guingamp, who are 13th in the Ligue 1

Balotelli’s Nice, lost 2-1 to the runaway Ligue 1 leader – as goals from the duo of Angel Di Maria and Dani Alves cancelled out Allan Saint-Maximin’s 17th minute opener.

Ahead of the game {Nice – PSG on Sunday afternoon}, the outspoken Italian divulged that he had only watched PSG’s round 16 Champions League tie with Real Madrid – saying “I don’t care about PSG.”

The 27-year-old, who said that though it was painful to see a French side crashed out so early from the Champions League, submitted that Madrid were more efficient than PSG across the two legs.

"Money doesn't make a team, it makes it possible to buy good players,” not a team, Balotelli, as quoted by Marca.

"PSG are like Guingamp, a team in Ligue 1.

"I don't care about PSG, it's a big team, of course, because they have great players, but Lyon or Marseille do too.”

He added: "To be honest, I've only seen PSG against Real Madrid. They deserved to lose, Madrid played better and were more efficient.

"It's a shame to see a team like PSG eliminated so early from the Champions League, but Real Madrid deserved it, they were better.”

Balotelli has found the back of the net 14 times in as many games this season, and has been mooted for a move to a bigger club next summer.

Published in International Watch

And amidst the fog and mist, it was gone. Paris Saint-Germain’s assault at another Champions League season has suffered another premature exit. Like the previous campaigns,  the exit was early, signalled the French big-spenders as still behind the European elite, and casts the future of their manager right into question. But unlike most of the past seasons, this was less of a valiant effort, and more like a tame surrender.

Last season’s incredible exit at the hands of Barcelona at this stage, as jaw-dropping and eye-widening as it was, still witnessed a fair amount of fight from Le Parisiens, their first leg win was an indication of how good they could now be. This term, however, against Real Madrid, it was a bit of a let-down. French paper L’Equipe’s headline on Wednesday morning translated as ‘All that, for that?’. For all the money spent, the transfer records shattered, the acquisition of arguably a Ballon D’Or winner in the waiting, and the world’s most sought-after teenager, the thrashing of Bayern Munich in September, this was the best they could produce? 

For the most part of the first leg, PSG were the better side, but a rather bizarre substitution midway through the second half seemingly cost them, leaving them with a 3-1 deficit to overturn in Paris. There were messages to the crowd, and messages from the crowd ahead of the return fixture, PSG were going to be without their star man in Neymar, but they still had a top quality side, Angel Di Maria was Neymar’s replacement, Giovani Lo Celso was dropped for Thiago Motta, and skipper Thiago Silva came back into the side for Presnel Kimpembe, all changes from the first leg.

They did try to put Real in the back foot in the first period, but the best they could muster was a few good-looking Di Maria crosses that were dealt with by Raphael Varane. Unai Emery and his side were perhaps lucky not to have conceded in the opening 35 minutes, Alphonse Areola denying Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema on separate occasions, even if at the other end Keylor Navas was called upon to foil Kylian Mbappe and Di Maria.

Goalless it finished in the first half, PSG still needed two, and demonstrated their urgency early in the second half, when Thiago Silva appealed to the fans to ease on the flares, which caused referee Felix Brych to abruptly halt proceedings. PSG knew the work they had to do up front, but if they had forgotten that there was also work to do at the back, they were reminded when Cristiano Ronaldo flashed a header wide. It wasn’t a warning they seemed to take note of, though, as when Dani Alves played them into trouble in the 57th minute, Marco Asensio found Lucas Vazquez. A cross, a Ronaldo header and a knee slide followed, the Portuguese captain’s 12th Champions League goal of the season had broken the deadlock.

Now PSG needed three goals to just about force extra time, but they were making little inroads, and only the post prevented Asensio from putting them further behind. Still, for a side with such quality and having scored 104 goals this season, three might not such a hard ask, if only Marco Verratti didn’t go and get himself sent off for dissent, which was exactly what he did.

Now Mission Impossible looked like Mission as Good as Dead, but they would pull a goal back, Edinson Cavani deflecting home after Casemiro had deflected Javier Pastore’s header. Now it was only two more that was needed, on came Julian Draxler, but to little effect.

With 11 minutes left, Vazquez crossed into the box, Adrien Rabiot made a poor clearance, Casemiro’s follow up shot hit Marquinhos, wrong footed Areola, and bounced in. Real Madrid were through; with some ease. Los Blancos showed themselves to be at the kind of level that PSG strive to be. As Emery shook hands with opposite number Zinedine Zidane, he surely feared his time at the French Capital has been numbered.

Elsewhere:

  • 1-0 up on the night, 3-2 on aggregate, with the opposition needing to score twice and you well in control. Then suddenly, it all went South for Spurs, quickly too. First Stephane Lichtsteiner found the head of Sami Khedira, whose header was turned home by Gonzalo Higuain. Then Higuain turned provider, as Paulo Dybala raced past the Spurs defence and finished past Hugo Lloris with aplomb. All that was left for Juve to defend a lead, a job they do so well, as one they did here. Tottenham have claimed scalps over Dortmund and Real Madrid this season, but this is where their European journey ends.
  • It was a case of salvaging some pride for Basel, and that they did, as after fallen behind to Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus opener, goals from Mohamed Elyounoussi and Michael Lang secured a 2-1 win. A well-reshuffled City side suffered their first loss at home this season, not that it mattered much in context, but is still likely to bring some dressing room ire from Pep.

Results:

PSG 1(2)-(5)2 Real Madrid 

Manchester City 1(5)-(2)2 Basel

Tottenham 1(3)-(4)2 Juventus 

Liverpool 0(5)-(0)0 Porto

Published in International Watch

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