Friday, 27 December 2013

UEFA Champions League and Europa League Draws - Reaction and Analysis:

Hello and welcome to my latest blog post, where I have analysis and a reaction to the UEFA Champions League and Europa League draws which took place on Monday morning and afternoon, for the knockout rounds in both European competitions. 

As you can see in the picture above, that is the official draw for the Last 16 of this season's Champions League, but just to recap here are the fixtures which will take place on the 18/19th and 25/26th of February 2014 (depending on what ties are playing on either a Tuesday or Wednesday):

Manchester City vs Barcelona:
An interesting encounter for both teams, Manchester City have the chance to prove their worth in the Champions League, while Barcelona can boast their dominance again after a lacklustre performance last season as they were comprehensively thrashed by the eventual winners Bayern Munich. 

City played relatively well in their respective group this season, despite coming second on goal difference which is a contrast to how they performed the past two seasons - not getting through to the Last 16 on both occassions simply because they were overwhelmed by the talent and fight of the teams they would have expected to beat in their group (for example Ajax, who played them off the pitch at times even though you would have predicted a comfortable City win)

Dominant: City have improved a lot in the last few years, and are favourites for the EPL title. Could they go far in the Champions League aswell? 

Barcelona also played relatively well, finishing top of their group with 13 points out of a possible 18 and capping off their group with a 6-1 thrashing against Celtic on the 11th of December.. 

They will want to go further than they did last season, and for the first time they know that this tie will not be one of the easiest, so they have to be on top form with Messi & co against Pellegrini's moneybags. 

Out: Barcelona will be hoping that the world's best player Messi is back for their tie against City in February.

Olympiacos vs Manchester United:
This tie looks like a mismatch in terms of quality, with Greek champions Olympiacos going up against the defending EPL champions Manchester United.

United have not been extremely strong or convincing in Europe so far this season, partly because of the fact that they are going through a transition period without long-serving manager of 26 years Sir Alex Ferguson, but also because their squad is not strong in depth and they are heavily reliant on van Persie, Rooney and Januzaj for their chance creation. 

As weird as it may seem, Olympiakos have a decent chance of troubling United in the two-legged tie because even though they do not have any world-class players as such, they are hard to break down in defence and have a clinical in-form striker in Konstantinos Mitroglou who could cause some havoc for defender Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans...

Watch out: Mitroglou could be the deciding factor for United as they look to reach the Last 8.

Milan vs Atletico Madrid:
Probably the most open tie in the Last 16, you have two teams who have fallen by the way side in the past few years but still have great players in their respective squads and are performing well in their leagues (Serie A and Liga BBVA respectively) 

Milan back a few years ago had the likes of Pirlo, Kaka in his prime, Thiago Silva, Ibrahimovic and Robinho for example - now they have more money (as they sold their best players) but no world-class player seems to want to join them. 

Lucky for them, they have former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli in their strikeforce aswell as Italian starlet Stephan El Shaarawy and teenager M'Biaye Niang. 

Atletico Madrid on the other hand have produced some of the best players (at the time) in the past 5 years, and could pose a significant threat with the likes of young starlet Koke and proven Brazillian striker Diego Costa in their ranks.

Potential: Manchester United and Milan are among the teams who are interested in young starlet and winger Koke, who is one to watch in the Last 16.
Clinical: Diego Costa is dangerous - he will play a pivotal role for Atletico in the Last 16. 

They sit top of the Liga BBVA table, 3 points above title rivals Barcelona with a game in hand - having impressed so far this season with consistent performances and clinical finishes against the lower sides in the league. 

Bayer Leverkusen vs PSG:
PSG will obviously be the favourites to progress through to the quarter-finals in this tie, simply because of the shear quality and depth in midfield and attacking options in their squad. 

The likes of Ibrahimovic, Cavani, Lucas, Thiago Silva, Verratti, Matuidi and Menez will always strike fear into the opponent - however you can never truly count Leverkusen out. 

A couple of facts for you;

FACT: Ibrahimovic and Cavani have scored 26 goals between them in Ligue 1 so far this season.

FACT: Ibrahimovic is one assist off the assist leader, Monaco's young starlet and Colombian attacking midfielder James Rodriguez.

FACT: PSG have conceded the second least amount of goals in Ligue 1, behind 3rd placed Lille (conceded 6) with 11

Inspired form: PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 14 goals in Ligue 1 this season, two more than closest rival and team-mate Edinson Cavani. 
The solid German outfit Leverkusen are currently in 2nd place in the Bundesliga, with 37 points out of a possible 51 in the league.

They will be looking to striker Stefan Kiessling and fast winger Sidney Sam for their attacking force against PSG, whose defence can be tested at the best of times despite a solid back-four which boasts Brazil centre-back Thiago Silva.

FACT: Kiessling and Sam have scored 16 goals between them in the Bundesliga this season, which is half of the team's goals in total. 

Dangerous: Kiebling has already scored 9 goals in the Bundesliga this season, 2 less than the top scorer in the league.
Sam has certainly stepped up to the place to replace forward Andre Schurrle, who left for Chelsea in the summer.
Stats don't lie: Sam is top of the league for his country and club - with 7 goals and 5 assists this season.
Galatasaray vs Chelsea:
At first glance at this tie, you'd expect Chelsea to have an easy fixture and dominate - right? 

Well they might find it slightly harder when they come up against the likes of former striker Didier Drogba who just happens to be the player who scored the winning penalty to win them their first UEFA Champions League trophy in May of last year. 

Chelsea have won two European trophies back-to-back, with the Champions League in 2012 and the Europa League at the end of the last season despite not being on top form in both competitions. 

They will be the favourites against Galatasaray, who narrowly lost to Real Madrid in the Last 16 last season.

Chelsea won the Europa League this year in May, beating Benfica in the final.

Schalke 04 vs Real Madrid:
Looks like a mis-match for the Bundesliga side Schalke, as they host arguably one of the best footballing sides in the world in Real Madrid. 

The German outfit have never had an easy Last 16 tie, and this one will not be an exception as they look to shock the Spanish giants despite their powerful strikeforce of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Schalke have great players of their own such as wonderkid Julian Draxler, striker Klass-Jan Huntelaar, deadline day signing Kevin-Prince Boateng and winger Michel Bastos, but their Champions League form of late has not been particularly impressive - so can they challenge Real for a place in the quarter-finals? Or will Ronaldo & Co destroy the Germans? 

Zenit St. Petersburg vs Borussia Dortmund:

Arsenal vs Bayern Munich:
Again. Arsenal narrowly scraped through their tough group despite having 12 points from 6 games to their name, and who do they get in the Last 16? None other than the defending Champions League winners themselves, Bayern. This would be considered a decent match-up, if only these two sides had not gone head-to-head at the same stage this time last season. 

The result? 
Bayern beat Arsenal 3-1 at The Emirates
Arsenal beat Bayern 2-0 at the Allianz Arena

So... Bayern Munich progressed to the quarter-finals on away goal rule (scoring away from home in the first leg of a European competition doubles the advantage in the second leg)

So.... Arsenal will be desperate to seek revenge against their German opposition. 
Both teams have a lot of respect for each other, similar play-styles and this tie has all the makings of a fascinating spectacle. 

Who will win? Hard to say. 

And here is the full draw of the Last 32 of this season's Europa League (more analysis closer to the ties): 

Note - The 8 teams that came third in their respective Champions League groups are also involved in the Europa League as a result.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Liverpool vs Cardiff - LIVE Analysis + Review:

Interesting: Liverpool hosted Cardiff at Anfield in the early afternoon game today, after news that Suarez signed a new long-term contract with The Reds

Hello everyone and welcome to my latest blog post, where I have LIVE analysis and a review from today's early afternoon match between Liverpool and Cardiff. 

The big news heading into this game was the headlines officially confirmed yesterday afternoon, with Liverpool's talisman and Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez signing a new long-term contract worth a reported £200,000 pounds-a-week on a four-year contract deal - which was a literal early Christmas present for Liverpool fans everywhere. 

Putting pen to paper: Suarez was pictured at the Liverpool base yesterday signing a new contract.

Also, Cardiff manager Malky Mackay was heavily under pressure to perform, with newspaper reports across England and Wales suggesting he could be sacked straight after the match unless his side beat Liverpool. 

Unfair expectations? Malky Mackay is under increasing pressure to succeed at Cardiff, with a weak squad depth

So, this was a fascinating game for the neutral, but also an interesting but tense match for both sets of fans;
Liverpool went into this match knowing a win could mean they move to the top of the table at Christmas, with Arsenal playing against Chelsea on Monday night (if results go their way) 

The game:

From the start, Liverpool pressed high up the pitch and put pressure on the visitors - with Suarez (who else?) breaking the deadlock in the 25th minute with a half-volley which flew into the bottom corner of the net after some good build-up play outside the box by midfielders Jordan Henderson and Phillipe Coutinho. 

Well-struck: Suarez breaks the deadlock with a half-volley finish after 25 minutes. 
18th in the league: Suarez celebrates opening the scoring for Liverpool with his team-mates.

Liverpool were looking dangerous on the counter attack every time they had the ball in Cardiff's half of the pitch - simply because they were dominating possession and had pace on the counter attack which was too much for Medel and Gunnarsson to handle at times. 

It got from bad to worse for Cardiff soon after in the 42nd minute, with Suarez unselfishly squaring the ball to team-mate and young English forward Raheem Sterling who slotted the ball past goalkeeper Marshall who could only stare at the ball as it slide past him. A goal and an assist before half-time for Suarez, couldn't get any better, right? Wrong. 

Two easy: Sterling slots past the helpless goalkeeper to make it 2-0 to Liverpool.

Clinical: Sterling celebrates his 3rd goal in 4 games for Liverpool
Suarez completed his brace on the stroke of half-time with a beautifully struck curling finish which beat the keeper into the corner of the net to make it 3-0 and comfortable for The Reds, who went into the break knowing they had a safe cushion but understood they could have been 5 or 6 goals ahead if they had taken their chances in-front of goal. 

The second-half was an improved performance from Cardiff, with manager Malky Mackay obviously speaking to his team at half-time about their defensive shape and attacking force - because both were pretty much non-existent for the most part. 

They looked more organized in defence and held the ball for longer periods in midfield, with substitutions playing a part in their success at passing the ball more fluidly. 

Suarez and co found it harder to break down the Cardiff defence, and had to either pass the ball around until they found space, or look for defence-splitting through balls to test the goalkeeper. 

Cardiff even got a goal for their efforts in the 58th minute, thanks to midfielder Jordon Mutch who took advantage of some sloppy Liverpool defending in the box to poke past Mignolet and make it 3-1. 

The game eventually ended 3-1, with Liverpool moving up to the top of the league, one point ahead of 2nd placed Arsenal who play on Monday night. 

Cardiff played much better and were more compact in midfield in the second half, if they started the game the same way then Suarez would not have destroyed their defence as easily - he can create his own chances but is not good if many players are closing him down constantly. 

My Man Of The Match:

Luis Suarez (obviously)
What can I say? 2 goals and an assist for the Uruguayan striker, breaking records and facts galore for the Liverpool talisman. What a way to celebrate a new contract, huh?

FACT: Luis Suarez has now scored 19 goals in the EPL alone this season, which is 6 more than his closest Golden Boot rival - Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero. 

RECORD: Suarez has now become the first player in the EPL to score 10 goals in a single month.

2 good: Suarez celebrates completing his brace against Cardiff, and wins my MOTM.
He worked hard throughout the game, could have easily had a hat-trick but unselfishly played through his team-mates on several occasions to no avail. He will be key to Liverpool's title challenge - they look like a different team without him. 

But surely if he keeps up this dominant and destructive form, it will be hard to keep hold of him? This will be interesting to see how this plays out..

Thank you for reading as always, I hope you enjoyed this blog post as much as I did writing it - I appreciate all of your daily views and I will have more football content over this holiday period.

I'll speak to you all later, here are my social networking platforms:

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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Manchester City vs Arsenal - LIVE Commentary:

Facts galore: One of the biggest games of the season kicks off today, City vs Arsenal.
Hello and welcome to my latest blog post, where I have a LIVE Commentary of the early afternoon kick-off from the Ethiad Stadium - where title chasers Manchester City host league leaders Arsenal. 

Both sides had contrasting performances during midweek, with the hosts coming back from 2-0 to beat Champions League winners Bayern Munich 3-2 on Tuesday night to confirm their place in the Last 16 of the European competition. 

Meanwhile the visitors Arsenal were lucky to qualify after a 2-0 loss in Naples, against Napoli who did not qualify on goal difference as Dortmund won late on against Marseille. 

Team Line-ups:

Manchester City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Silva, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Nasri, Negredo, Aguero. 

Subs: Hart, Lescott, Milner, Dzeko, Kolarov, Garcia, Navas. 

A strong City side, with clinical strike partnership Negredo and Aguero starting up-front.
English goalkeeper Joe Hart moves back to the bench having played well against Bayern on Tuesday night, while Kompany starts in the centre of defence. 

FACT: Aguero and Negredo have scored a combined total of 18 goals in the EPL this season so far, one of the most prolific in the league. 

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Wilshere, Walcott, Ozil, Ramsey, Giroud.

Subs: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Arteta, Cazorla, Gnabry, Bendtner.  

In-form Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey returns to start for The Gunners, after being rested during midweek's 2-0 loss to Napoli away from home. 

Theo Walcott starts his first game for Arsenal in over 2 months after minor abdominal surgery, while Arteta and Cazorla drop to the bench after a few lacklustre performances of late. 

12:43 - This game will be a good test for the both sides, especially Arsenal who would do well to prove their doubters wrong to even win a point away from home against City today. They lost against a well-oiled Napoli team on Wednesday night, but to be fair they were holding out for qualification not for a win. 

City can close the gap at the top to just 3 points with a win at home today, but you would expect it to be a test for the title chasers. 

0: The referee blows his whistle to start the game at The Ethiad.

4: City have started the game brightly, pressing the visitors high up the pitch with attacking football and pressurising Mertesacker and Koscielny at the back. Two corners already for the hosts, with Nasri's delivery inviting headers but not on target. 

8: Arsenal starting to settle slightly, pushing City back into their own half and winning a corner as Negredo helps out at the back to head out the danger. 

13: GOAL!! Manchester City lead after all the pressure, with the corner being finished with no hesitation from Aguero who volleys the ball perfectly into the top corner of the net past Szczesny who could only dive and watch helplessly. 

Clinical: Aguero has now scored 12 goals in the EPL this season, after his opener.
23: 10 minutes have past since Aguero's opener, and the game has opened up with end-to-end play from both sides. Silva almost found Aguero with a precise through ball which split the Arsenal defence, while Sagna is continously springing balls into the box for Giroud and Mertesacker to head onto. Interesting.

26: Negredo tries to use quick footwork and skill to get past Monreal on the flank, before finding Yaya Toure lurking just outside the box waiting for a chance to shoot.

The ball falls to the Ivorian powerhouse, who hits the ball first time with a half-volley which flies over Szczesny and the bar for a goal-kick. 
Disappointing effort, he should be testing the goalkeeper from that distance. 

29: Walcott with an inviting ball from a free-kick from 25 yards out, with Pantilimon punching the ball out straight to Ozil, who controls the ball well but the danger is smashed clear by Yaya Toure into the centre circle.

31: GOAL!!!! Theo Walcott equalises for Arsenal with a suspected deflected strike off defender Martin Demichelis which trickled past Pantilimon who could only stand and watch the ball fall into the net as he was rooted to the spot. 

Back with a bang: Walcott celebrates his equaliser to put Arsenal back on level terms.
35: Arsenal press on the counter attack again with Wilshere and Sagna bursting forward after a great ball through by Silva finds Negredo but his curling strike narrowly moves past the post. 

39: GOAL!!! City back in-front after a lovely move is clinically finished off by Negredo who slides in at the near post to tap past Szczesny into the net. 2-1, with an assist from Zabaleta on the side. 

Sliding in: Alvaro Negredo slides in at the far post to give City the lead again.

Deadly from close range: Negredo celebrates regaining City's lead with Zabaleta, who got the assist.
Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny is on the floor in a heap looking in some serious discomfort after the goal, replays show he slide in to try and stop Negredo from scoring, got up after and fell back down because he felt something in his knee. Looks serious, and the physio and stretcher are on the pitch now.

41: Koscielny is being stretchered off the pitch, with former captain Thomas Vermaelen getting ready to replace him in the centre of defence. 

42: Arsenal SUB:
Laurent Koscielny (injury) OFF

Thomas Vermaelen ON

45: The fourth official puts his electronic board up with 4 minutes of stoppage time to be added on at the end of the first-half, after Koscielny's injury. It looks serious but nothing is broken, he could be out for a few months though. 

45+1: City keep the pressure with good link-up play between Negredo, Silva and Aguero, while a City corner is almost converted again just like the first goal but the effort is pulled wide. 

45+3: Negredo has an inviting ball into the box, the ball is too high for Szczesny who has to parry away and Toure falls over as Arsenal clear.

45+4: The referee blows the whistle to end the first-half of action at The Ethiad, where City lead Arsenal by 2 goals to 1. The Gunners have not played badly, giving their hosts something to think about defensively with the counter attacking football of Ozil, Walcott and Sagna - but City's strikeforce is too strong to defend against. 

13:50 - Second half is about to begin... the teams are back out onto the pitch to resume the game. 

48: City striker and talisman Sergio Aguero limps off the pitch uncomfortably after having pulled a muscle in his hamstring after passing the ball to Silva on the flank - the physio are assessing him and the injury looks too painful to let him continue without a risk of aggravating the injury. 

Precautionary measure: Aguero limped off just after half-time with a muscle strain.
49: City SUB:
Sergio Aguero (injury) OFF
Jesus Navas ON

50: GOAL! City have made it 3-1! Fernandinho picks up the ball from 20 yards after a sloppy passing mistake in a dangerous position, and his curling effort beats Szczesny into the bottom corner of the net.

Curling strike: Fernandinho makes it 3-1 to City, pouncing on a mistake in the 50th minute. 

Unstoppable: Fernandinho's curling finish beats Szczesny's dive into the bottom corner of the net


Saturday, 7 December 2013

EPL Match Reviews - featuring United + Chelsea both losing:

Hello and welcome to my latest blog post, where I have match reviews from all of today's EPL games being played: 7 in total. League leaders Arsenal host tough test Everton on Sunday afternoon, which gave the title chasers the chance to close the gap at the top of the table and put some pressure on The Gunners, who have shown some impressive early form while their title rivals have been inconsistent and not playing at the top of their game as of yet. 

Impressive: League leaders Arsenal are in inspired form so far this season.
In-form: French striker Olivier Giroud has been key for Arsenal in-front of goal.

Midfield maestro: Record transfer signing Mesut Ozil has impressed for his new club so far
Welsh wonder: Aaron Ramsey (centre) has also been influential for Arsenal this season.
Having said that, we are only 14 games into the EPL season and there are still 24 to play so anything can happen based on consistency and overall performances. 

Today's EPL matches:

Manchester United 0 Newcastle United 1
Yes, you read that right. After a shock 1-0 loss on Wednesday night against Everton, the defending champions Manchester United suffered their second consecutive home loss for the first time since 2002. 

Late finisher: Everton left-back Bryan Oviedo scored the only goal of the game as manager David Moyes lost against his former side.

Moving up: Everton moved up to 5th place with that 1-0 win during midweek.
French midfielder Yohan Cabaye was the only goalscorer of the game, with a deflected strike which beat De Gea and flew into the bottom corner of the net on the hour mark, and even though a desperate push for an equaliser by the hosts was valiant, Newcastle held on for a historical victory. 

Respect: United players hold a minute's applause for former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died aged 95 on Thursday night.

Important: French midfielder Yohan Cabaye celebrates his strike against United.
I know what you are thinking, it was a fluke right? Well not exactly. It is fair to say that United were not exactly on top form, especially without English talisman Wayne Rooney in the starting line-up, but you cannot blame the squad selection for a poor performance. Newcastle bounced back from a 3-0 loss during midweek against Swansea City to shock the champions, with a dogged performance for 90 minutes. 

Poor performance: United walk back to the centre circle after conceding to Cabaye's effort
They were very physical in midfield, and made sure the hosts had very little of the ball thanks to midfield powerhouses Cheick Tiote and Moussa Sissoko. The defenders performed well under pressure aswell, especially in the last 20 minutes when United began to realise the game was slipping from their grasp.

Full-backs Davide Santon and Mathieu Debuchy were clever on the flanks, helping to track back and also going forward very quickly on the counter attack which made it hard for Januzaj and Valencia to find space to pass to van Persie and Welbeck. 

Centre-back and captain Fabricio Coloccini was forced into making some brave headers from corners and crosses whipped into the box by Evra, who was unlucky to be denied by a goal-line clearance courtesy of Anita in the second half. van Persie had a goal flagged for offside as United were desperate for a goal back, and even though United had chances to score, they did not deserve to win the game. 

Youngster Adnan Januzaj was by far the bright spark for United in an otherwise lacklustre performance at home, working hard to win the ball back and find space to pass the ball to a team-mate. He made a few darting runs into space throughout, but no-one found him and Newcastle closed down space very well to make it harder.

So Newcastle beat United at Old Trafford for the first time in over 40 years, is it now a crisis? Can everyone start the hashtag #MoyesOut?

Disgruntled: United fans looked glum as they watched their team lose at home - again
United are not on top form, that's an understatement but the fact is the squad is not strong enough to warrant a place in the top four based on current form, hence why it is imperative they spend good money on good players in the January transfer window. You cannot simply blame the manager, he is simply trying to work with the team and current crop of players he has. 

Give him time, wait a couple of months before you pass judgement. 

Newcastle move into 6th place with those vital 3 points, while United stay stuck in 9th place, mid-table. If Newcastle continue with the kind of performance they showed today, they could be in contention for a spot in the Europa League next season. Who knows? 

Crystal Palace 2 Cardiff City 0
The "Tony Pulis effect" has definitely had some impact on Palace's season, surely? 6 points from 2 games, almost the same amount of points from 11 matches so far this season. 

All EPL clubs agreed to give a minute's applause to respect the life of Nelson Mandela.
Goals from strikers Cameron Jerome and Marouane Chamakh either side of half-time gave the hosts a comfortable 2-0 win against fellow newly-promoted Cardiff.

Opener: Jerome broke the deadlock for the hosts with a header against his former side

Jubilation: The Palace players celebrate Jerome's opener after just 6 minutes. 
Guess who's back: Chamakh celebrates his second goal in less than 4 days to make it 2-0.

That win moves Palace into 18th place, just a point below 16th placed Cardiff. The relegation battle will be tight this season.

Liverpool 4 West Ham United 1
The Reds were high on morale after their 5-1 thrashing of Norwich City at Anfield on Wednesday night, with talisman striker Luis Suarez scoring 4 of his side's 5 goals in an amazing solo performance. 

Stunning volley: Suarez stole the show against Norwich with 4 goals during midweek.

Number two: Suarez scored a header for his second of the night against Norwich.

Three for me: Suarez completed his hat-trick with a curling finish. 

Consistent free-kick taker: Suarez scores yet another free-kick to score his 4th of the night
Don't forget me: Sterling also scored in Liverpool's comfortable 5-1 rout on Wednesday
There we go: Sterling is congratulated with a big hug from fellow strike partner Suarez

Best in the EPL? Suarez is heavily-tipped to win the Golden Boot this year, and is regarded as one of the best strikers in the EPL.

Stoke City 3 Chelsea 2

Southampton 1 Manchester City 1
The Saints kept up their solid start of the season form with a well-earned point against title challengers Manchester City, who play against the league leaders next weekend.

West Bromwich Albion 0 Norwich City 2

Sunderland 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2