Monthly Archives: August 2017

  1. Marco Asensio: The Shining Present and Future of Real Madrid

    30th August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
    For the second summer in a row, Real Madrid have not made a superstar signing. The club whose modern history is defined by their success on the field and their spending power off it, routinely breaking transfer records for "Galáctico" purchases, have, for the most part, decided to stick rather than twist.

    They have, after all, just won the Champions League for the second year in a row, becoming the first team to defend the title since AC Milan of the early 1990s, so it's hardly as though sweeping changes are required. Manager Zinédine Zidane can already count upon the services of four-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luka Modri? and Toni Kroos, to name but a few of Los Blancos' foremost luminaries.

    It is also true that, were it not for the almighty spending power of Paris Saint-German, Madrid could well have been welcoming a new Galáctico this summer in the shape of Monaco teenager Kylian Mbappé. The Frenchman, a boyhood Madrid fan who counts Ronaldo as his idol, has instead elected to join the Ligue 1 giants, whose financial package offered to the player and the selling club has reportedly blown all competition out of the water.

    But you won't hear too many fans bemoaning the lack of big-money signings inside the Bernabéu right now. They are all far too busy trying to contain their excitement about a young forward already amid their ranks who is on the cusp of superstardom. Who needs Mbappé when you've got Marco Asensio?

    The Spanish winger, signed for just €4 million from Mallorca three years ago, has been regarded as a prospect of some note for several seasons now, and impressed while on loan with Espanyol in 2015/16. Upon his return to the Bernabéu last summer, the youngster's path to first-team action was blocked by the establis

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  2. New Saint Etienne Manager Oscar Garcia Is Proving to be a Great Choice

    29th August 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
    With three wins from his first four matches to start his reign as manager of Saint-Etienne, Oscar Garcia's appointment is certainly proving an inspiring one.

    While it'll take some time for the man who's wedded to the ideals of Johan Cruyff, that he was introduced to during his playing days at FC Barcelona and subsequently honed as a B team coach at the famous club, to implement his methodology at Les Verts, there's been plenty to admire about his fast start.

    Consisting of a nice blend of exciting youngsters, experienced veterans and players in their prime, Garcia has so far done a solid job of transmitting his managerial nous into his interesting squad. Using the skillsets of his players to good effect, his attacking and midfield operators have emerged as real highlights. Featuring the pace of the likes of Jonathan Bamba and Lois Diony, the ingenuity of Romain Hamouma and Bryan Dabo, plus the crisp distribution of midfielder, Ole Selnaes, these men have been very important in executing Garcia's plans.

    Playing in what's ostensibly been a 4-3-3 that takes on varying forms including a 2-3-5 during their build up passages, Garcia has unsurprisingly instructed his troops to pass out from the back whenever possible. The Norwegian midfielder, Selnaes, has been instrumental towards this, for his clever movement to find space between the opposition's attacking and midfield lines has seen him able to receive possession and use his accomplished passing qualities to dictate the game.

    Ably supported by more advanced central midfielders, Dabo and Assane Diousse, who like to buzz around and perform subtle rotations with their wingers, plus the high positioning of talented full backs, Ronael Pierre-Gabriel and Saidy Janko, Selnaes is regularly afforded many options to utilise. The

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  3. Roma Capture Aleksandar Kolarov - Could it be the bargain of the season?

    25th August 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
    When Aleksandar Kolarov ended his successful seven year association with Manchester City, where he won two Premier League titles, two league cups and an FA Cup, to join AS Roma, his decision was met with disgust by the Lazio fans who labelled their former star a traitor and a worm.

    Upon deciding to join Roma, he must have known the Lazio supporters that used to cheer him on wouldn't be happy, but instead of calming the situation, his comments on the move only added fuel to the fire. "I cannot, and do not want to, deny my past. But now I am with Roma and just as I gave 100 per cent when I was at Lazio I will now give 100 per cent and more for Roma," he proclaimed.

    "Lazio was a good experience for me, but from today they are my rivals on the pitch. My aim is always to win. I will give 100 per cent to win every game and try and win some trophies."

    Joining in a deal worth €5 million, the Serbian international represents a smart piece of business for the Giallorossi and brings oodles of high level experience, tremendous quality and much needed leadership, which should all prove especially vital for Roma's Champions League ventures this term.

    Kolarov wasted little time demonstrating his class in Roma's season opening win by scoring a sublime, Ronaldinho-esque free kick to secure all three points over a dangerous Atalanta side who, heading into the match, hadn't lost at home in 2017 and defeated Roma twice last crusade. Although this was the undoubted highlight of his performance, his man of the match display offered many more reasons for excitement.

    Starting in his familiar left back slot, the 31-year-old was particularly influential in the Wolves' offensive phases. With Eusebio Di Francesco instructing his side to funnel the majority of their attacks down the left, they attacked this area 4

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  4. Seven Youngsters Set For Breakout Seasons Across Europe

    23rd August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
    With the 2017/18 season now under way in the major European leagues, all eyes are focussed on the stars of the previous campaign, many of whom have switched clubs for huge fees, to see whether they can maintain the form shown last term.

    Kylian Mbappe was undoubtedly the youngster who made the biggest impact in 2016/17, breaking into the Monaco first team to star domestically and in the Champions League, helping the Monegasque side earn a first Ligue 1 title since 2000, when the prodigious forward was only 18 months old.

    But the new season also presents a chance for new stars to emerge, young hopefuls primed to take the next step in their development and establish themselves as genuine stars of the game.

    Here are seven young players from across Europe set for breakout campaigns this season.

    Adam Ounas Napoli

    Before his move to Napoli this summer in a deal which could reach up to €12million depending on conditional add-ons, Ounas was already a semi-regular feature at senior, top-division level with Bordeaux in Ligue 1.

    The 20-year-old had shown glimpses of his immense promise with the French side, making 27 starts over the last two seasons. Operating predominantly on the wing, his close control, dribbling and intelligent use of the ball marked him out as one of Ligue 1's brightest prospects.

    But the move to Italy looks like being a catalyst in inspiring a developmental leap within the France under-20 international. Out of his comfort zone and embracing the challenge of breaking into Maurizio Sarri's attack-minded, talent-rich line-up, Ounas if his pre-season form is anything to go by  is ready to shine in Serie A.

    Nathaniel Chalobah Watford

    In just two games for Watford, Chalobah has already accumulated more Pr

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  5. Max Gradel Joins Toulouse On Season Long Loan Deal

    21st August 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
    The future of Max Gradel has been a topic of much contention this summer, with conflicting reports regarding where he'll be plying his trade this season whirring relentlessly.

    Having not started a single Premier League game last season for Bournemouth, the injury troubled Ivory Coast international unsurprisingly attracted the interest of the likes of Toulouse and Sunderland. Eddie Howe, the Cherries manager, however, insisted the explosive winger was still very much a part of his plans for the 2017/2018 campaign, especially after his strong work in preseason. "His attitude has been so good that we would be very reluctant to lose him. He has had a good pre-season so far, he has trained very well and is an important part of our squad," Howe explained.

    "This preseason, he has shown he is back to his best. He has been really sharp and really impressive. He always has a smile on his face and he is very passionate about the game, about Bournemouth, and I have a lot of time for him."

    The rumours about his departure persisted, though, as newly relegated Sunderland rose up and became the front runner for his signature. But despite the Black Cats having an agreement with the speedster, Gradel eventually opted to return to Ligue 1 and join Toulouse on an initial loan deal, with his desire for regular first team football a key motivating factor ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

    "I understand the French league and coming back here was not a difficult decision," Gradel revealed to BBC Sport. "There was no problems or whatsoever with Bournemouth, but the chance to play regular football was too good an opportunity to turn down.

    "Even though it's tough when you are not getting regular football, but I always enjoyed support from everyone connected to the club.

    "So my decision

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  6. Manchester City Begin 2017/18 Premier League Campaign in Impressive Style

    18th August 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
    Having prepared for the new Premier League campaign brilliantly by enjoying great success in the transfer market and in terms of their preseason results, Manchester City importantly got off to a winning start in their league opener, comfortably brushing aside newly promoted Brighton and Hove Albion, 2-0.

    Controlling the game comfortably throughout on their way to amassing 768 passes and 78% of the possession, Pep Guardiola was largely happy with his team's performance against the deep sitting, defensively well organised Seagulls. He made a particular point of highlighting his team's tremendous work rate, saying: "We run a lot. People say we are a big team but we run like a League One or a Conference team. You don't see one player on my team that doesn't run. That is when I am proud.

    "It is all I demand of my players and when you see Sergio and Gabriel run backwards and Kevin and David, that is the first step to creating something.

    "Last season we did run a lot and we did many good things but we weren't good in the boxes. Today our box was perfect and in the opponents box we scored two goals but we created more. Hopefully in the future we can be more accurate in those terms."

    Despite going on to insist City could've moved the ball quicker and with more conviction on occasion, there was definitely plenty to admire for Pep about his outfit's body of work, especially in an attacking sense.

    Within Guardiola's positional play system, he organised his side into what was ostensibly a 3-1-4-2 formation, instructing his side to occupy ideal positions to manipulate Brighton's defensive structure to create decisive openings for City's technically gifted attackers.

    Vital to their offensive excursions was the dynamic attacking midfield duo of David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne, who occupied

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  7. Jean Michaël Seri: The Midfield Creator Interesting Liverpool and Barcelona

    16th August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
    In a summer that's seen the transfer market reach giddier heights of inflation than previously imagined possible with Neymar's switch to Paris Saint-Germain doubling the world transfer record and talk of €200 million bids for Kylian Mbappé ­ it's puzzling that a player of Jean Michaël Seri's quality, said to have a measly €40 million release clause, has not been snapped up.

    The Ivory Coast midfielder shot to the attention of the wider European football-viewing public with his stellar displays for Nice last season, pulling the strings in midfield and guiding the Côte d'Azur club to a third-place Ligue 1 finish.

    Having initially attracted interest from Barcelona, Roma and Arsenal, Seri is now being linked with a potential move to Liverpool as the Reds eye up an alternative to Naby Keïta. But the fact that no potential suitor has yet stumped up the asking price for the 26-year-old playmaker remains baffling, with inferior players switching clubs for higher fees.

    Of all the clubs rumoured to be monitoring his progress at the Allianz Riviera, Barcelona would be Seri's dream move. Speaking to Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo earlier this summer, the diminutive midfielder said: "If Barça comes to sign you, you can't say no. No way.

    "I have supported Barça since I was a child, when I was still in my native country, in Ivory Coast. I was always a big culé [Barcelona fan] and those who know me know it well. Then, when I moved to Portugal, I had the chance to follow their games closely."

    Seri is perfect for Barcelona, too. Especially in an era when Andrés Iniesta's powers are fading and the Catalan giants' once-dominant midfield has lost its customary poise, creativity and guile.

    With his impeccable close control, sharp vision and spatial awareness, Seri is ready-made for a possession-based system, where rapid circulation of the ball is the order of the day. His technical ma

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  8. Optimism despite lack of signings for Liverpool FC's 2017/18 campaign

    14th August 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
    At the completion of the 2016/2017 Premier League crusade, where Liverpool finished a credible fourth and secured their chance to qualify for next season's Champions League, their fans were expecting plenty of spending to bolster the squad.

    Although the Reds have bought in dynamic Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah from AS Roma for a sizeable €42 million, former Hull City fullback Andrew Robertson for €9 million and ex Chelsea starlet Dominic Solanke on a free transfer, many have still been left scratching their heads at the lack of strengthening.

    The defence was considered an area that could do with improvement, and Southampton's elegant centre-back, Virgil van Dijk, looked like he was the man do just that. But unfortunately Liverpool were forced to pull out of the race to sign the Dutchman due to the Saints reporting Liverpool to the league for tapping up the player.

    Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool's intriguing manager, doesn't see his backline as too much of a conundrum, though, stressing he's only going to bring someone in if the player and the deal fits. "Look out there and tell me five that would make us stronger. Five. Then you win a prize. It's difficult how it is," he said.

    "We have four. I don't think we need more. In the moment I'm fine. We are open until Aug. 31. We cannot force these things and we would never get a centre back just because. We have the need, we have some, but you don't take any. It doesn't work. I don't see it [the defence] as a concern."

    At least the rejuvenation of Spanish flyer, Alberto Moreno, has been something to cheer about in preseason, with the fullback's displays being hugely impressive. He's gone from being ostensibly surplus to requirements to most likely now first choice, something Klopp highlighted as to why sometimes it's better to work with what you have.

    The fact Philippe Coutinho has

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  9. Can Radamel Falcao Lead Monaco to a Second Ligue 1 Title

    10th August 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
    Radamel Falcao marked his 50th Ligue 1 appearance in fine style by putting in a lively shift throughout AS Monaco's league opening 3-2 win vs. Toulouse. Moreover, his wonderfully taken headed goal impressively saw him notch up his 33rd strike in his 40 starts and 10 substitute appearances in France too, a figure that's especially admirable due to his battles with injury.

    Having now scored 22 goals in the last 30 matches for the Monegasques, the 31-year-old is certainly showing no signs of slowing down. From the outset, the Colombian hitman was a persistent nuisance to the Toulouse backline, and his direct opponent, Christopher Julien, in particular, bore the brunt of his fine exertions.

    Starting with his thoughtful movement, Falcao used his aptitude in this regard to find space in between the Toulouse midfield and defensive line, where he then used his strength and technical skills to hold up the ball and find a teammate with his crisp passing. He'd impressively use nifty double movements and feints to lose his marker momentarily to guarantee himself enough space to work in too.

    The way he dovetailed his movement so effectively with his brilliant strike partner, Kylian Mbappe, ensured Toulouse were never able to settle into a rhythm of nullifying their threat. If one dropped deep, one would remain high and sit on the shoulder of the last defender, thus giving Monaco's midfielders a short and a long option, while also seeing Monaco widen the gap in between the lines.

    In addition, well executed lateral switches were also performed by the pair to manipulate Pascal Dupraz's defensive unit, in a match where their purposeful variations proved vital.

    The former FC Porto, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea forward was duly supported by the infield ventures of Monaco's

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  10. Napoli Resist the Urge to Splurge During the 2017 Summer Transfer Period

    9th August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
    It's been a quiet summer for Napoli. While those around them in the Serie A landscape have undergone major upheavals, the Partenopei have largely stood still, and that could prove to be their best move.

    AC Milan, following the completion of a takeover by new Chinese owners, have spent an eye-watering amount of money to tool up coach Vincenzo Montella ahead of the new season, with the express aim being a return to something approaching their former glories as soon as possible.

    Champions Juventus have lost star defender Leonardo Bonucci to Milan, no less while spending big to boost Massimiliano Allegri's attacking options with the additions of Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa, with Mattia De Sciglio arriving from the Rossoneri to fill the Dani Alves-shaped void at J Stadium.

    Roma, last season's runners-up in the race for the Scudetto, have been active in the transfer market too, as new sporting director, Monchi, looks to impress his unique, value-sensing stamp on the squad. Out have gone Mohamed Salah and Antonio Rüdiger, moving to the Premier League with Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, and midfielder Leandro Paredes has signed for Zenit Saint Petersburg. In their stead come Rick Karsdorp, Héctor Moreno, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Cenzig Ünder and Maxime Gonalons among others.

    Inter Milan, Sampdoria and Lazio have done some reshuffling of their own, but Napoli, content with their lot, have made just one major addition. Adam Ounas, signed from Bordeaux for around €10million and already greatly impressing in his new surroundings, looks to be an astute purchase for the San Paolo club and one which won't upset the natural balance that coach Maurizio Sarri has dedicated the last two years to cultivating.

    Ounas is a 20-year-old French winger who has bags of potential ­ a sound investment in the future for

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