Monthly Archives: February 2016

  1. Real Madrid Champions League Focus: A Team Most Likely Headed to the Quarterfinals

    The first week of round of 16 fixtures for the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League delivered mostly small advantages. Wolfsburg edged out Gent 3-2, Paris Saint Germain beat Chelsea 2-1, and Benfica took a 1-0 advantage of Zenit Saint Petersburg. Of those advantages, only Wolfsburg's seems highly unlikely to fall in the second leg of the round. Gent lost at home, which means that Wolfsburg both took the lead in the aggregate and picked up three away goals for their trouble. Chelsea and Zenit, however, both lost in away games, and the Blues even picked up an away goal, meaning that neither football club can be totally counted out of the Champions League tournament at this point.

    Real Madrid, on the other hand, feel like the safest of bets to advance to the quarterfinals. The Vikings beat Italy's AS Roma 2-0 in their first round of 16 leg, and they did it at Roma's Stadio Olimpico. Barring some total collapse in the second leg-scheduled for March 9th at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium-Real Madrid should easily progress to the next round of the competition.

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    Real Madrid: Learning to Play Like a Team


    Just how well Real Madrid have been performing this season probably depends on who you ask. Some would point out the club's high-scoring victories and offensive brilliance as a sign that they are still one of the best soccer squads in the world. Indeed, the Vikings have put on some truly dizzying displays of offensive glory in the past few months, from a 10-2 victory over Villarreal just before Christmas to a 6-0 win against Espanyol

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  2. Can Chelsea Overcome Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League

    After a more than two-month break, the UEFA Champions League has resumed with the first leg of the round of 16. For Chelsea FC, the return to the high-profile tournament was something of a moment of truth. Despite a dismal autumn performance in the English Premier League, the Blues managed to fight their way to the top of their group in the Champions League, winning four of their six games and edging out Dynamo Kyiv, Porto, and Maccabi Tel Aviv for the honor. Sure, Chelsea's group, Group G, was one of the easier ones in the competition, but in a period where any win was a landmark for the football club, qualifying for the round of 16 was nothing short of a miracle.

    Theoretically, winning their group should have given Chelsea an easier draw for the round of 16. Instead, the Blues were drawn against reigning French champs, Paris Saint Germain, who finished second to Real Madrid in Group A. PSG have been borderline unstoppable in the Ligue 1 this season and are widely expected to win a fourth straight title in the division. Chelsea, meanwhile, lost their chances of defending their Premier League title ages ago and are merely fighting to finish somewhere in the top 10.

    The Post-Mourinho Resurgence


    Based on how these two clubs were performing in the fall, Paris Saint Germain have been the safe bet to progress to the quarterfinals ever since the round of 16 draw was announced in December. The interesting wrinkle to that prediction, though, has been the fact that Chelsea have enjoyed something of a resurgence since Jose Mourinho was sacked in December.

    Chelsea's last UCL group stage match-a 2-0 at-home win against Porto-took place on December 9th. Mourinho was sacked shortly thereafter, on December 17th. Mourinho's last game in charge was a

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  3. Atletico Madrid's reliance on Griezmann goals will leave them facing season of disappointment

    By Karl Matchett.

     

    Having led La Liga at the turn of the year and still been in the running to compete for a treble, Atletico Madrid will be disappointed at how the last month has panned out, losing their spot atop the table to Barcelona and exiting the Copa del Rey at the hands of Celta Vigo.

     

    Their latest couple of fixtures have highlighted both the strengths and the weaknesses of this Atleti side: 0-0 in La Liga against Villarreal, and 0-0 against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League.

     

    A near-impenetrable back line, marshalled by Diego Godin and with a last line of protection-Jan Oblak-as good as any side other than Bayern Munich have to offer, Atletico simply don't concede many chances, and have a top-class 'keeper to stop those which do sneak through. At the other end of the pitch though, the story is far from as successful.

     

    Star forward Antoine Griezmann has 19 for the season in all competitions, but hasn't netted against any of the other top five sides in La Liga this term and hasn't found the back of the net in five league games, as well as against PSV. Moved from the centre out to the right flank in the last couple of games, he's still a vital part of the team-but badly needs someone else to step up for him and contribute to the goalscoring when he's not in-form.

     

    Manager Diego Simeone has tried to do that in a number of ways, from rotating the starting striker or partner for Griezmann, to shifting forward Saul from midfield in an attempt to utilise his powerful bursts into the box. Without the pace and creativity of Yannick Carrasco to open spaces in midfield though, Atleti's build-up play can be predictable and direct-easily defended by an organised back four-or

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  4. Roy Hodgson Prepares for Euro 2016

    By Greg Lea.

    There are now just three and half months left before the 15th edition of the European Championship gets under way in France. England's first match takes place on the second day of the tournament, with Roy Hodgson's side facing Russia at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on June 11. With the competition closing in, there are still a number of selection issues for the Three Lions manager to iron out before he settles on a final 23-man squad to take across the Channel.

    In terms of goalkeepers, the choice appears to be pretty straightforward: Joe Hart will be England's No.1 and start between the sticks as long as he is not injured, with Stoke City's Jack Butland and Southampton's Fraser Forster likely to be the Manchester City man's two deputies. West Bromwich Albion's Ben Foster, Burnley's Tom Heaton and John Ruddy of Norwich City are other options, although none are of the standard of the trio that are likely to be called up.

    In defence, Nathaniel Clyne, Chris Smalling, John Stones and Ryan Bertrand all seem like shoe-ins, while the knee injury sustained by Kurt Zouma earlier this month has opened the door for Gary Cahill, who may have struggled to book a spot on the plane had he continued to be limited to a place on the substitutes' bench at Chelsea.

    Phil Jones, if fit, could be selected due to his versatility, while Phil Jagielka will also be hoping to be included. Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers, Leighton Baines and Danny Rose are all options at full-back, so too Luke Shaw if he is able to return to action at Manchester United before the end of the domestic campaign.

    Midfield is perhaps the toughest area to predict, with numerous players battling for a place in Hodgson's group. The emergence of Leicester City's Danny Drinkwater and Tottenham Hotspur duo Eric Dier

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  5. Manuel Pellegrini must succeed in Champions League

    By Karl Matchett.

     

    Improbably, in a weak and unpredictable Premier League where last season's relegation battlers Leicester City are top in February, the chances of Manchester City reclaiming the title have almost gone.

     

    Improbable because their main rivals have floundered, improbable because of the enormous sums of money spent in summer and improbable because of the depth of the squad-yet Manuel Pellegrini has somehow still managed to find himself three places and six points off the summit. It's a monumental failure on his part to guide this squad to first place, quite comfortably in fact, and now that everybody knows he is on his way out of the Etihad door, Pellegrini's chances of leaving as anything other than a failure are rapidly dwindling.

     

    Having also essentially thrown away their chances of a domestic cup double by fielding a weakened side against a rejuvenated Chelsea in the FA Cup, City now have but two routes to silverware left open for them: the Capital One Cup final on Sunday, and the UEFA Champions League.

     

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    Suffice to say, a return of the fourth-choice trophy after a summer outlay of more than £150 million will not warrant too much celebration from the manager if that is all he has to show for the last two years when he leaves in June.

     

    Of itself, the FA Cup team selection was not a bad thing, nor a poor decision by Pellegrini.

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  6. The Frustrating and Enigmatic Felipe Anderson

    By Edward Stratmann.

    Due to the Stadio Olimpico hosting the Six Nations Rugby contest between Italy and England, Lazio's Serie A match with Hellas Verona was pushed forward to the unusual timeslot of 7.45pm on a Thursday night.

    Stefano Pioli's men knew they were in for a real battle against the bottom placed strugglers, however, for the Mastiffs were unbeaten in their last five matches heading into the clash. Ultimately, while Luigi Delneri's side put in a spirited showing, they eventually succumbed to Lazio's quality, losing 5-2.

    One man whose performance deserved special mention was Felipe Anderson. The enigmatic attacker, who's endured a rather turbulent campaign to date, once again showed why he's such a frustrating player for Lazio's fans. On his day, he's unstoppable, but he's had far too many off days this season. But then, to remind us all of his incredible talent, he'll put in a performance like the one against Verona on Thursday. One full of skill, pace, incision and intelligence.

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    From his post on the right wing, the Brazilian wreaked havoc on his direct opponent, inexperienced 19-year-old left-back Mohamed Fares, by using his speed, trickery, frighteningly quick acceleration and razor sharp changes of direction. In a game where he recorded an outstanding four successful dribbles, the two-footed Anderson posed a hugely unpredictable threat that Fares simply couldn't deal with. Midway through the first half, Delneri clearly instructed Bosko Jankovic, Verona's left winger at the time, to track back vigorously and support the young fullback of Algerian descent at all times.

    With almost 51 minutes gone, in an attempt to limit Anderson's influence, Delneri opted to take off Fares and bring on 22-year-old

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  7. Can Leicester City Win the Premier League?

    Leicester City lost a game last weekend, falling 1-2 against Arsenal, but the defeat barely seemed to matter. The Foxes remain the highest ranked team in the Premier League, and as the weeks go on, it's becoming increasingly probable that they will at very least contend for the top-flight title in 2016. Such a victory would be a game-changer for the EPL, not because this has been a great or even particularly good season for English soccer, but because it would further challenge the idea of the Premier League's virtual "class system."

    Since the English Premier League began with the 1992/93 football season, the division has crowned 23 champions. The 2015/16 campaign will mark the 24th Premier League winner. However, despite the fact that this league has now persisted for nearly a quarter of a century, the number of different soccer clubs to actually hoist the trophy remains a very small figure. Indeed, 23 seasons in, only five different teams have won the Premier League, and four of them have clinched the title more than once.

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    The Premier League's Middle-Class Problem


    Those statistics make it clear why the Premier League is often thought of as a division of upper-class clubs and middle-class clubs, with the "lower-class teams" alternating between the top-flight division and the Football League Championship depending on the season.

    Take a look at the numbers, and it's easy to spot the ruling class: Manchester United, with 13 Premier League titles; Chelsea, with four; Arsenal, with three; and Manchester City, with two. The only other soccer club to ever win the EPL title was the Blackburn Rovers, who clinched the title in 1995, but who have been relegated numerous times

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  8. Juventus Back on Top after the Biggest Game of the Serie A Season

    Will the Valentine's Day match-up between Juventus and Napoli go down as the most influential game of the 2015/16 Serie A season? That possibility certainly seems like a strong one following Juve's down-to-the-wire 1-0 victory. The victory puts the Zebras back at the top of the 2015/16 Serie A, and could prove to be the game that ultimately wins the football club a fifth straight title in the Italian top-flight. Or, it could just be the beginning of a highly competitive and ultra-exciting battle between two teams that are currently at the top of their game. Only time will tell.

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    Juve's Remarkable Comeback


    Even if Juventus haven't clinched the Serie A title just yet-and they haven't, as they are still only one point ahead of Napoli in the league standings-you have to marvel at how the soccer team has surged to make a comeback this season.

    After a splendid 2014/15 season, the Zebras lost some key players over the summer, including stars like Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal, and three-time Serie A Player of the Year winner Andrea Pirlo. Unsurprisingly, those losses left Juventus in a struggle to build up some good momentum at the start of the 2015/16 campaign. The football club lost their first two games, and six matches into the season, they had won just one Serie A match.

    Fast-forward to mid-February and Juventus are enjoying one of the all-time great winning streaks in Italian soccer. With their win against Napoli last weekend, the Zebras have won their last 15 Serie A games. Their last domestic league loss came on October 28th,

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  9. Borussia Dortmund must renew key contracts or face renewing the team

    By Karl Matchett.

     

    German Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund put themselves in a strong position in the UEFA Europa League last 32 with a 2-0 first leg win over FC Porto on Thursday, keeping Thomas Tuchel's side in with a shout of double cup success for the season.

     

    While the latter stages of the Europa League are still some way off, BVB are already in the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal and are just six points off top spot in the Bundesliga itself, with a home game still to play against leaders Bayern Munich. While the domestic league title might prove to be beyond them if Bayern don't slip up elsewhere, there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic about the team's chances of landing silverware in the two cup competitions, given how well key players are performing and the consistency being shown in results in general.

     

    That overall consistency will be severely tested in the months ahead though, not just over the rest of the season with some tough fixtures, but also into summer and beyond with a number of important faces needing to renew their contracts-or be sold and replaced.

     

    Presenting the defence

     

    Since the days of Jurgen Klopp's successful team, the back four in place for Dortmund has been widely known and appreciated for the innate talents they bring: Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek at full-back, with Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic centrally. The latter has been ousted by Greek international

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  10. Charles Dias Looks to Cause Problems for Real Madrid

    By Ameen Rabbani.

    Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid travel to Malaga this weekend in what should be the toughest domestic fixture to date for the Frenchman since he took over from Rafa Benitez. Not just because his men endured an energy-sapping Champions League encounter with Roma in midweek or because of the hostile reception that awaits them at La Rosaleda but also because the opponents are in a sensational run of form that has seen them surge up the table in remarkable fashion.

    When Malaga last played Los Blancos they escaped from the Bernabeu with a 0-0 draw on matchday six despite playing the last 20 minutes with 10 men. Holding on for that long against Cristiano Ronaldo and co, who by the end registered more than 30 shots, was an indication of the spirit and discipline of Javi Gracia's young outfit.

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    Yet they still came off the pitch harbouring some concern as they hadn't scored in that game or the previous five breaking Xerez's record from 2009/10 for the longest run without scoring in a new season. Even though this was a display of great character and a lesson in the ability to hold shape to frustrate a rival, it was difficult to look ahead with optimism. After six games, Malaga were 19th with three points and a big zero in the 'goals for' column. They were early contenders for the drop without anyone looking capable of delivering a knock-out punch in the final third.

    What's happened since

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