Monthly Archives: November 2017

  1. Five key players in Europe's top five leagues this season

    29th November 2017.
    There has been four months of domestic football already played this season, which is a good barometer to understand and analyse Europe's standout players.

    Of course, there will always be Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on the list, but there have also been some superb players the average fan might not know in detail.

    Here are five of Europe's best players, one picked from each of Europe's top five leagues:

          • England Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City, midfielder


    Under Pep Guardiola, the former Chelsea starlet has enjoyed unprecedented success in his career so far. While he has not won the title with the Citizens yet, De Bruyne has played the best football in his career and is consistently placing himself in the world-class bracket each time he steps onto the field.

    The Belgian international has dropped deeper into midfield, rather than take his formative number 10 role, thanks to Roberto Martinez, the Belgian coach, trying this out, which Guardiola then soon emulated at Manchester City.

    By being a mainstay in the heart of City's midfield, De Bruyne is on the ball far more than if he was just playing by either Sergio Agüero or Gabriel Jesus. As seen this season, De Bruyne drives with the ball from deep and either delivers an unbelievable defence-splitting pass, or goes for goal. Both come off for him with regular success.

    While De Bruyne is not the sole player responsible for City's triumphs at the top of the table, as well as in Europe, he is pivotal to everything Guardiola's team do. Everything runs through the Belgian as they look to him for creative ingenuity. He will not register an abnormal amount of assists this season, but he is always an integral part to the attack and the likely player t

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  2. Six PSG Players Who Could Soon be on the Move

    23rd November 2017.
    Paris Saint-Germain's summer of spending sent shockwaves around the European game, as the world transfer record was obliterated to sign Neymar from Barcelona for €222 million, while teenager sensation Kylian Mbappe joined on loan from champions Monaco with a view to a permanent €180 million switch at the end of the season.

    So far, though, it has to be said that it was money well spent for PSG: the Parc des Princes club are storming toward recapturing the Ligue 1 title they lost to Monaco last term, and look like genuine contenders in the Champions League.

    There will, however, have to come a balancing of the books, with player sales almost certainly required if the Parisians are to have any hope of avoiding Financial Fair Play (FFP) sanctions.

    The incomings at PSG this season have pushed several top-quality players out of the side, forcing some who would be sure-fire stars at other clubs to settle for a bit-part role. And it is these players who are likeliest to be sold in the near future, and as such a string of Europe's biggest clubs are waiting in the wings to pick them up.

    Here are six players who could soon be searching for a more prominent role away from PSG.

              • Julian Draxler

        Draxler has been a PSG player for less than a year, having signed for the club from Wolfsburg in January for €36 million, and the Germany international has not disappointed since arriving in the French capital.

        With 12 goals in 39 appearances for the club to date, Draxler's record in France has been excellent, and the former Schalke man's performances have been generally excellent.

        But with just seven Ligue 1 starts so far this season, he has been one of the main victims of Neymar's arrival, with the Brazi
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  3. We already knew he was superhuman, but what can Zlatan Ibrahimovi? bring to Manchester United at 36?

    21st November 2017.
    After just 211 days out of action due to a ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) against Anderlecht, Zlatan Ibrahimovi? graced the field with his presence once again when coming off the bench against Newcastle United to a jubilant Old Trafford crowd.

    When the now-retired Sweden international went to visit surgeon Dr Freddie H Fu in Pittsburgh, America, for tests to assess the damage, he came out and said Ibrahimovi? was one of the most remarkable athletes he has ever laid eyes on. To say he was impressed in what good shape he is in for a then-35 year old was an understatement. He might well be a professional athlete, but the dedication to his craft and to better himself has allowed Ibrahimovi? to play on for so long at the elite end of football.

    Ibrahimovi?: The Stats

    Before his injury, in 46 appearances for the Red Devils, Ibrahimovi? scored 28 and recorded 10 assists. He was pivotal to United's attack and played a pivotal part in securing the UEFA Europa League for Manchester United, which, in turn, gave them Champions League qualification.

    There were frustrations with the Swede, who did, in fairness, waste a lot of golden opportunities, but his stats do not lie and he was the only player in United's squad to score more than 11 goals in all competitions.

    Ibrahimovi? is your typical leader. While he might not be the captain of Manchester United, when on the pitch, there are plenty who look towards him for guidance and inspiration. He has seen it all through his two decades in the sport and, outwardly, feels no pressure; no game is too big for him.

    Mourinho's Job to Balance Egos

    So now that he is back and raring to go, it will be interesting to see how José Mourinho manages the egos of both Romelu Lukaku and the former Paris Saint-Germain striker. At 36, Ibrahimovi? is still trying the impossible. His first contribution when coming on in the latter stages of the Newcastle g

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  4. England has some of the most promising youngsters in the game for Gareth Southgate to utilise

    17th November 2017.
    With the World Cup just around the corner, there is a lot of excitement and hype bubbling on the surface of fans. It is not in full swing yet, given we are in November, but it is noticeable.

    Like with any tournament England are enrolled in, there are expectations of the Three Lions to perform, and each time they seem to fail worse than the previous. The England fans are certainly at ends with England's senior team, especially under Roy Hodgson when England crashed out of the European Championships to Iceland, but Gareth Southgate might well start to change the reputation - slowly, but surely.

    England Management

    For England football, nothing appears to be a quick fix. England fans thought they hit the jackpot when a truly passionate manager in Sam Allardyce came along - only to find out the former Crystal Palace manager was sacked over a video which portrays Big Sam giving advice on how to circumvent the rules of third party ownership.

    After Big Sam's sacking, along came Southgate, who used to manage the England U21s. It seemed a very easy appointment to make at the time, but it now appears the FA Board made the right decision in hiring him.

    What has been ever so promising is the former players' use of young players. In just this past international break, the likes of Tammy Abraham, Joe Gomez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were brought into the first-team for England's game against Brazil (which ended 0-0).

    Success of England Youth Teams

    It seems England's future is bright, whether they want to admit it or not - with the hope of expectations not exponentially rising.

    Over the past year, England have enjoyed great success at youth level.

      • U17 Euros: Final

      • U17 World Cup: Winners

      • U18-20 Toulon Tournament: Winners
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  5. Italy's next generation of star will help overcome World Cup disappointment

    15th November 2017.
    Italy's 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden in their World Cup qualification play-off has sparked a maelstrom of emotion within the Italian football community, with an outpouring of sadness, disappointment and anger greeting the final whistle at the end of the goalless second leg at the San Siro.

    The defeat means the Azzurri fail to qualify for a World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years, denying legendary goalkeeper and 2006 World Cup winner Gianluigi Buffon the dream career bookend of bowing out at next summer's tournament in Russia, while fellow veterans Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini have also confirmed their subsequent international retirements.

    Many observers are calling for a root-and-branch review of the Italian football system, feeling that systemic issues are at the heart of Italy's recent failures, and deeming the current pool of Azzurri players inferior to past generations.

    But, in truth, as much as anything, Italy's qualification flop was a result of poor selection and coaching from Gian Piero Ventura, who was unable to find a tactical system that maximised the gifts of Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne, his two most talented players, and ignored Brazil-born Italian international playmaker Jorginho for the bulk of the qualifying campaign.

    An astute coaching appointment and a plan to build around Verratti and Insigne could see the Azzurri back on track, while there is a crop of gifted young players deserving of a more prominent role with the national team, waiting in the wings to step up in the place of the recent retirees.

    Gianluigi Donnarumma

    The natural heir to namesake Buffon, Milan goalkeeper Donnarumma is already among the world's best in his position despite still being only 18 years old.

    The Rossoneri custodian has been a regular at senior club level since he was 16, and is destined for greatness

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  6. Serie A is at long last rejuvenated - we have a proper title race on our hands now

    10th November 2017.
    Over the course of the last six years, Serie A's title race has been something of a formality. Juventus, under Antonio Conte and now Massimiliano Allegri, have cruised to the Scudetto year after year without any serious competition. However, in the famous words of Bob Dylan, for the times, they are a-changin'.

    Competition in 2017/18 Serie A

    We are finally immersed in the wonderful spectacle that is a competitive Italian league. After 12 games - AS Roma and Lazio have only played 11 - Napoli sit at the summit, one point ahead of reigning champions Juventus and two in front of Luciano Spalletti's Inter.

    Just behind the top three is Lazio, 28, and Roma, 27, with a game-in-hand to catch up the three teams ahead of them on 30, 31 and 32 points.

    Milan were supposed to be in the mix, but problems with Vincenzo Montella's selection policy and the overhaul of the squad has prohibited them kicking on and competing for a Champions League place.

    There is now a sense of a rejuvenation in Serie A, something we have not seen in many, many years. It is a sheer delight to watch Italian football each week because of the unpredictability that is going to occur.

    European Football at its Best

    For this is the same reason why the Premier League is, arguably, the most enjoyed league in the world.

    Like the English Premier League, Serie A is not the best competition in terms of quality. That has to be Spain's La Liga. But not every spectator tunes in to be utterly wowed by the world-class dominance of Juventus - hence why Italian football went out of fashion through the Bianconeri's six-year dominance.

    However, what the average fan does enjoy, is competitiveness. And finally Serie A has a show every match day that promises great, attacking football with a great sense of ambition

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  7. Samuel Umtiti: Barcelona's unassuming star becoming La Liga's best defender

    8th November 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
    Barcelona's transfer dealings over the last couple of years have left a lot to be desired, with overspending on under-qualified new arrivals, the unfortunate and unexpected enforced sale of superstar Neymar, and an apparent lack of joined-up thinking within the club's hierarchy regarding player acquisitions.

    But, despite a series of transfer market missteps, there is one recent Barcelona signing that can only be regarded as a stellar piece of business.

    He didn't arrive to any great fanfare and, aside from Ligue 1 aficionados, many would have had to resort to a Google search to find out exactly what Barça were getting for their €25 million outlay, but, since his arrival in the summer of 2016, French centre-back Samuel Umtiti has become the bedrock of the Camp Nou backline.

    "He passed all the filters," Barcelona sporting director Robert Fernández said upon signing the 23-year-old defender from Lyon. "He has a maturity out of the norm."

    For the uninitiated, there was a glimpse of Umtiti's vast qualities offered by his performances with France at the 2016 European Championship, with his move to the Catalan giants confirmed while the competition was already under way. Uncapped ahead of the tournament, the Cameroon-born star only made Didier Deschamps' 23-man squad when then-Barcelona defender Jérémy Mathieu was forced to withdraw with an injury.

    Adil Rami's suspension meant Umtiti was thrust into the fray for his international debut in the quarter-final against Iceland, playing all 90 minutes of the home nation's 5-2 win. Immediately the new man looked at home, confidently sweeping up alongside Laurent Koscielny and exhibiting his remarkable range and accuracy of passing.

    He went on to feature in the semi-final victory over Germany and the disappointing defat at

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  8. Nabil Fekir: Back from Injury and Playing the Best Football of His Career

    1st November 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
    The loss of Alexandre Lacazette, Corentin Tolisso and Maxim Gonalons stripped Lyon of three of their most important players this summer. The former left for Arsenal after the Gunners broke their club transfer record to temp OL into parting with their prized asset, and it was a similar story with Tolisso's move to German champions Bayern Munich, while Gonalons, who had captained the French side, joined Roma for just €5 million.

    In a matter of weeks, Lyon had lost their most prolific and reliable marksman, their energetic and technically gifted young midfield dynamo, and their leader and lynchpin in the middle of the park.

    They reinvested much of the roughly €100 million recouped from the sales, with, among others, Dominican international striker Mariano Diaz coming in from Real Madrid and versatile forward Bertrand arriving from Chelsea after impressing on loan with Ajax last season.

    It would have been reasonable to expect Lyon to struggle somewhat this term, allowing for a bedding-in period for their new signings and an adjustment to life without three of the stars that any recent success had been built upon. But, after 11 rounds of fixtures, Bruno Génésio's men sit third in Ligue 1, in touch with champions Monaco and leader Paris Saint-Germain, and it's largely thanks to the superlative form of one man: Nabil Fekir.

    Had fortune favoured the 24-year-old France international, he would likely have departed Parc OL some time ago, his star having first risen during the 2014/15 season in which he netted 15 goals and proved the perfect foil to Lacazette in attack as either a second striker or right winger cutting inside onto his stronger left foot.

    At the end of that campaign, rumours began to circulate that a big-money move was on the cards for the then-22-year-old attacker, who had

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