Monthly Archives: March 2016

  1. Premier League Highs for West Ham United

    31st March 2016. By Greg Lea.
    When it became clear towards the end of last season that West Ham United would dismiss manager Sam Allardyce ahead of the 2015/16 campaign, many warned that the decision could come back to haunt them.

    Although supporters never really saw eye to eye with the current Sunderland boss, whose style of football was generally not to their taste, they could not deny that he was a steady hand and a virtual guarantee of Premier League survival. With the Olympic Stadium becoming West Ham's home from 2016/17 onwards, parting company with Allardyce was interpreted by some as an unnecessary risk to West Ham's status as a top flight outfit.

    Such concerns were legitimate at the time, but the Hammers' accomplishments since then show that replacing Allardyce with Slaven Bilic was a terrific move. Under the guidance of the club's popular former player, West Ham are one win away from the FA Cup semi-finals the replay of their last eight tie with

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  2. Didier Deschamps can win Euro 2016 for France even without Karim Benzema

    30th March 2016. By Karl Matchett.
    France produced another goal-laden performance as they beat Russia 4-2 on Tuesday, once again showcasing their admirable attacking prowess and great depth in options.


    For manager Didier Deschamps, it was another indication that his side are genuine potential winners of the UEFA European Championships this summer on home soil-even if key striker Karim Benzema remains unavailable, currently suspended from the national team due to ongoing investigations into a sex tape scandal involving national team mate Mathieu Valbuena.


    The options for Deschamps are hugely varied, both in age and experience and in roles performed in the front line. A typical lineup under Deschamps sees France play a 4-3-3, pairing mobile forwards with a physical approach from deeper in midfield,

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  3. Can Sunderland Dodge Relegation?

    Sunderland AFC are currently participating in their ninth consecutive Premier League season. However, judging by the football club's recent performances, there isn't going to be a 10th. Indeed, with time running out in the 2015/16 campaign, the Black Cats' odds of dodging the relegation bullet this season are getting longer and longer.

    Manager Sam Allardyce is fully aware of his team's tenuous position, too. According to a Guardian article published on March 4th, Allardyce believes that Sunderland essentially have a one in three chance of avoiding relegation to the Football League Championship at the end of the season. The other two soccer clubs chasing for the same one-in-three odds are Norwich City and Newcastle United. Presumably, two of these clubs will occupy the 18th and 19th place positions while the other will be able to breathe a sigh of relief at 17th place.


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  4. Europa League Quarter final Yields Interesting Narratives

    28th March 2016.
    Could Sevilla be on a crash course for a third consecutive title in the UEFA Europa League? Will Jurgen Klopp be able to coach a victory out of Liverpool as his new team faces his former club? These are just two of the fascinating narratives that are at play as the Europa League barrels into the quarterfinal round.

    This year's UEL round of 16 was a bloodbath for many of the tournament's most promising performers. Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United both fell out of contention, putting a huge dent in the chances of a Premier League team winning some European silverware this year. Lazio, following a nine-game undefeated run in this tournament, lost big in their second-leg match against Sparta Prague. That defeat, coupled with an early Champions League loss for Juventus, means that no Serie A squads are still active in either UEFA tournament. And Valencia, after a remarkable 10-0 aggregate against Rapid Wien in the round of 16, lost in extra time to Athletic

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  5. Lorient's young sensation Didier Ndong

    27th March 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
    After impressing for Tunisian club CS Sfaxien, who were managed by former legend of the iconic 1970s Dutch Total Football side, Ruud Krol, when he first joined in 2012, it didn't take long before Didier Ndong had a number of Ligue 1 clubs chasing his signature.

    Come the January transfer window of 2015, courtesy of his excellent midfield displays, Bastia and Saint Etienne expressed their interest, but it would be Lorient who won the race for the Gabonese international. Les Merlus had a clear advantage from the outset, however, for Gabon teammate and former Lorient captain, Bruno Ecuele Manga, had encouraged his countryman to join. As it proved, this was vital in stacking the deck in their favour, with Ndong officially sealing his move on January 3, 2015.

    Even though he initially struggled to adapt to life in Brittany and needed time to familiarise himself with Lorient's preferred 4-4-2 formation, he's now become a mainstay of

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  6. The Problem at Newcastle United

    26th March 2016
    For the second season in a row, Newcastle United are staring down the barrel of a gun. As the weeks remaining in the Premier League campaign dwindle, the Magpies' chances of escaping relegation are looking ever slimmer. Can Newcastle repeat their narrative from last season and leap out of the lower echelons of the table at the exact right moment? Or will the Magpies end up playing in the Football League Championship for the first time since 2010?

    A New Manager

    Needless to say, Newcastle United officials are hoping for the former outcome. On March 11th, they even sacked their manager, sending Steve McClaren packing after just nine months in charge. He was rapidly replaced by Rafael Benitez, the only coach in history to have won titles in the UEFA Cup (Europa League), the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup.

    Yet, despite the impressive pedigree that

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  7. England's best attack without Rooney

    25th March 2016. By Karl Matchett.
    Captain, record goalscorer, centurion of the national team for caps earned and an absolute guaranteed passenger on England's plane to Euro 2016-but Wayne Rooney continues to divide opinion over whether he really is part of the nation's best XI any more.

    Roy Hodgson will have to do without his skipper over the upcoming friendly games, but with fixtures against Germany and Netherlands providing a good test of the team's current progress and how well they might expect to do at the European Championships, the boss has to use this opportunity to find a system which works in attack with the other options at his disposal. Not only that, if he does come across a combination which works particularly well, he must be prepared to take that into the Euros, even if it means leaving Rooney on the bench.

    The forwards involved for the double-header include some interesting potential pairings.

    A big problem with discussing who could

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  8. PFA Player of the Year 2016 Contenders

    By Greg Lea.
    In an ideal world, the vote for the PFA Player of the Year would not take place until after the denouement of the season, when the full fixture list has been fulfilled and the team honours handed out. The current arrangement means ballots have probably already been completed, however: in recent years, players have had to submit their votes by mid-March, when there is usually around a quarter of the campaign remaining.

    Given that the voting is likely to have already taken place, then, here are the likely contenders for the 2015/16 PFA Player of the Year crown:

    Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

    With 16 strikes and 11 assists to his name, Mahrez has been directly involved in more goals than anyone else in the Premier League. The Algeria international is Leicester's primary creative force, with his direct dribbling, fine footwork and much-improved end product causing problems for almost every defender he has

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  9. Vicente del Bosque must take opportunity to test new faces in Spain squad

    23rd March 2016. By Karl Matchett.
    It wasn't as varied or filled with new faces as might have been hoped, but the Spain squad called up by Vicente del Bosque last week did at least take notice of some of the clamouring for certain players to be involved.

    Athletic Club striker Aritz Aduriz was plumped for after months of petitioning from the Spanish media to have him included and he, along with one or two others, must now be handed significant game time during the international break to allow himself to prove he has something to offer for Euro 2016.

    Spain face Italy on Thursday and Romania on Sunday in a double-header which is del Bosque's last chance to take a look at players in-season. The next time a squad is announced, it will be the larger pre-tournament squad, which will have a few friendlies to play out as the boss trims his squad to the

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  10. A Preview of the Champions League

    22nd March 2016
    On March 18th, the UEFA officially announced the draw for the Champions League quarterfinal round. For the most part, the matchups for the next round of Europe's most prestigious soccer tournament look to have clear favorites. However, as we saw from the semifinals-where Bayern Munich of all teams had to win their second leg match in extra time-there is no such thing as a sure thing in this ultra-competitive tournament.

    The lineup for the quarterfinals shows beyond a doubt that the La Liga is the strongest league in European football right now. The Spanish top-flight accounts for three of the eight quarterfinal spots, with FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid all earning spots. Two Bundesliga teams are also in the mix (Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg), while England, France, and Portugal grabbed one slot apiece (for Manchester City, Paris

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