Matias Kranevitter: The next Mascherano?

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Name: Matias Kranevitter
Club: River Plate
Date of Birth: 21 May 2022
Position: Defensive midfield

Who is he?

The latest product off River Plate’s talent conveyor, Matias Kranevitter has steadily seen his stock rise over the past 18 months under Marcelo Gallardo and his assured performances in central midfield belie his young age. It is little wonder then that some of Europe’s biggest clubs are keeping a firm eye on the 21-year-old.

Kranevitter heralds from Tucuman in the north of Argentina and it was here, playing in a local tournament at the age of 14 that River Plate scouts spotted him. Moving more than 1000 kilometres to Buenos Aires cannot have been easy for the teenager but Kranevitter gradually progressed through River’s youth ranks.

The pinnacle of this was lifting the under-20 Copa Libertadores in 2012 where he illustrated his maturity in a defensive midfield role often more suited to battle-hardened veterans.

There was a buzz within the club over Kranevitter, following this and so he didn’t have to wait long for his first-team debut at the end of 2012 Torneo Inicial. The following year under Ramon Diaz, chances were hard to comeby with the experienced Leonardo Ponzio and Cristian Ledesma in front of him.

However, Marcelo Gallardo’s arrival saw Kranevitter seize his chance and become a key fixture in the starting eleven. At the start of the Torneo Transicion, River and Kranevitter were irresistible but a metatarsal injury hampered the youngster’s campaign and seriously dented River’s hopes of balancing a title challenge with the Copa Sudamericana.

Since returning from injury, Kranevitter has slotted straight back into River’s midfield and has continued to catch the eye in recent high-profile River matches against Boca Juniors and in the Copa Libertadores. Several European scouts were said to be present and so Kranevitter’s departure would appear to be only a matter of time.


What type of player?

If an example is needed for a classic Argentine number 5 then Kranevitter is it. Buzzing around in front of the back four, the 21-year-old looks to win the ball back quickly and start River attacks.

Harrying the opposition into mistakes, Kranevitter is fast and strong into the tackle but rarely rash leading to a high percentage of turnovers but relatively few fouls. However, this defensive duty is just half the job of a traditional number five and so they must be prepared to carry the ball forward and shift the ball from defence into attack.

Kranevitter does just this and although his passing isn’t extraordinary, it is effective. The ball is swiftly moved forward or given to those looking to break forward and attack and efficient use of the ball in this position is the order.

Is he the quickest player? No. Does he offer a goal threat? No. But that really misses the point of what Kranevitter is tasked with and what he does do incredibly well.

At just 21, he shows the maturity to play the role – his positioning, tackling and passing are excellent and once he develops more physically and mentally it would be no surprise to most who watch Argentine football if Kranevitter was one of world football’s leading defensive midfielders.


What next?

The immediate future with River is obviously to try and lift the Copa Libertadores but whether Los Millonarios are successful in this or not, Kranevitter is Europe bound. The past year has seen interest from Manchester City, Valencia, Napoli and AC Milan to name just a few but perhaps the side most strongly linked is Atletico Madrid.

Atleti manager, Diego Simeone managed River, albeit when Kranevitter would have been in the youth ranks but will be more aware than most of his talents given that he plays alongside Simeone’s son, Giovani.

Already in possession of an Italian passport, meaning there will be no problems with visas and playing for a River side in financial difficulties, Kranevitter poses a very attractive proposition to wealthy European sides.


Written by Peter Coates

Follow Peter on Twitter @golazoargentino

You can check out more of his excellent work on Argentinian football through his website, Golazo Argentino

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English Premier League: 2014/15 Team of the Season

And so, with another Premier League season drawing to a close, it’s time to once again indulge in a debate on who has performed well enough to get into the hypothetical best XI. The PFA’s official team was announced back in April, with Chelsea dominating the list with 6 players, but this one may be slightly different…….


Goalkeeper- David De Gea (Manchester United)

That the sound of his name belted down from the upper echelons of Old Trafford after United’s final home game of the season is testament enough to the regard the ‘keeper who has now become one of their main players.

No longer the slender boy that was bullied by opponents in the air when he first come to England but now confident, dominant and wonderfully agile, he has been a massive component to United’s return to the Champions League.

Saves against Liverpool, Everton and Crystal Palace stand-out in a sensational list of stops by the Spaniard who will leave a huge void behind should he join Real Madrid this summer. Louis Van Gaal may find it as hard to replace him as Sir Alex Ferguson did Peter Schmeichel.


Right-Back- Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)

Apart from Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne, nobody comes close to keeping the Serbian out of this side. He has started all of Chelsea’s league games as they have sauntered to the title and, like the rest of Jose Mourinho’s back-line, he has been the embodiment of dogged defensive solidity. Only Joel Ward of Crystal Palace has won more duels than Ivanovic’s 223.

Known for his fearsome aggression and determination at the back, he has also proved an able asset going forward, creating 34 chances and grabbing five assists, as many as Mesut Ozil at Arsenal and Nacer Chadli at Tottenham, a respectable haul for a full-back who doesn’t take set-pieces.


Centre-Back- Jose Fonte (Southampton)

When Liverpool convinced Dejan Lovren to follow Adam Lallana up to Anfield from St Mary’s last summer it turns out the wrong defender was taken to Merseyside. As Southampton underwent an exodus, Fonte signed a new two-year deal, took the mantle left behind by Lovren and inherited Lallana’s captain armband, growing into one of the league’s most assured centre-backs.

Alongside a partner who is new to the league in Toby Alderweireld, the 31 year old Fonte has been a consistent part of a back four that has shipped just 31 goals, a record that is joint-best in the league with Chelsea.

Of the top seven clubs only Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel has contributed more defensive actions than Fonte’s 337 and his number of interceptions, 113, is the highest in the division. The Portuguese is now rumoured to rock up this summer at, yep you’ve guessed it…. Liverpool.


Centre-Back- John Terry (Chelsea)

Set to become only the second ever outfield Premier League winner to play every minute of every game, the superlatives have long since ran out for the standards Terry sets on the field. He has been the steel base on which Chelsea’s fourth title win has been built, now getting by more on intelligence and reading of the game than the full-bloodied committal that characterised his earlier career.

A model of resilience, he has made a mockery of Rafael Benitez’s claims he can now longer play two games in a week and at 34 he is by far the best defender in the league.


Left-Back- Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Signed originally to provide cover at right-back, the Spaniard has proved an invaluable asset to Mourinho at left-back, filling the boots of Ashley Cole while keeping the £16 million Filipe Luis out of the side. Starting 28 times he has been another personification of grit and resolve that Mourinho instils in his team.

He was named as the league’s best defender by Sky pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher while he has not yet made a single error that has led to an opposition chance. He has been typically understated, missing out on the PFA Team of the Year to Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand but Mourinho is a massive fan of his Spanish full-back. It is easy to see why.


Defensive Midfield- Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)

Who else? Matic has been the cornerstone of Chelsea’s title win and seemingly impregnable defensive effort, the outstanding holding midfielder in the league. Nobody has made more clearances or tackles in the entire league than the colossal Serbian who has missed just two of Chelsea’s games this season.

As well as being defensively imperious, the 26 year old who Mourinho braved-face to buy back from Benfica last January is also a gifted distributor of the ball, initiating the Blues’ attacks from deep and only Cesc Fabregas has completed more passes than Matic this term.

He is the very definition of undroppable to Mourinho.


Centre Midfield- Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)

Alexis Sanchez was the Gunners sole representative in the PFA version of the team of the year but Cazorla has been more integral to their excellent form in the second half of the season. Sanchez has more goals to his name but the cultured Spaniard has more assists and is Arsenal’s most consistent mover of the ball.

His form beside Francis Coquelin in the engine room of Arsene Wenger’s midfield since Christmas has been impressive and he has been Arsenal’s Mr versatile, filling in on the left and in a more advanced midfield role.

Full of work, energy and creative guile, he assures Arsenal of a shift wherever he plays.


Right Midfield- Phillipe Coutinho (Liverpool)

The Brazilian’s form has been a rare bright spot for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool this season, scoring five goals and assisting five more while also signing a new long-term contract. The 22 year old has shown signs he can morph into a match-winner for Liverpool and his quick-feet and boundless energy has been too difficult for teams to deal with at times this season.

In the Liverpool squad nobody has completed more dribbles or taken more shots, while only Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling have created more chances. In the absence of Luis Suarez, Coutinho has become Liverpool’s most serious attacking threat, though he still has to become more clinical.

Faced with another crucial summer of recruitment, Rodgers can do worse than build his team around his gifted playmaker.


Left Midfield- Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Becoming Chelsea’s fifth player on this team the Belgian has been the talismanic presence that has elevated Mourinho’s team above the contenders. 14 goals have been scored, including vital winners in games with Manchester United and West Ham, and he has the league-best total for chances created and dribbles completed.

His nimble-footed drives towards the opposition are a nightmare for defenders who have fouled him 110 times, another league-high. The 24 year old was the outstanding candidate for PFA Player of the Year.


Centre Forward- Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)

The PFA’s Young Player of the Year has been one of the season’s best stories. Restricted by manager Mauricio Pochettino to a bit-part cup game role before November, Kane burst onto the Premier League scene with a winner at Aston Villa and has not looked back, hitting 19 more to sit on a total of 20 with one game to go, while in all competitions he has hit 31.

His uncontainable dynamism in-front of goal swept Chelsea and Arsenal away at White Hart Lane while he also did for West Brom, QPR and Leicester with displays of deadly finishing. Strong, fearless and clever on the move in the mould of Alan Shearer, the 21 year old was rewarded for his unexpected rise with an England call-up in March, where he scored on his debut.

Now held up as the example for all young talent to aspire to, and linked with a move to Manchester United, his future promises to be very bright indeed.


Centre Forward- Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Now above Harry Kane in the Premier League scoring charts with 25 and on a personal best for a campaign with 31 despite missing a large portion of the season with injury, it has been a superb return from the Argentine who has been the stand-out player in City’s feeble defence of their title.

Blessed with a freakishly low centre of gravity and a wonderful balance, Aguero can often appear impossible for defenders to stop and he can run riot with ruthless accuracy in-front of goal when he is given the service.

Despite the huge overhaul planned for City’s squad this summer, keep Aguero, get him regularly fit and they will be some way to returning a genuine challenge to wrestle the title back next season.


Written by Adam Gray

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Football Crossword: Serie A Sensations

To celebrate a super season of Italian football, we’ve dedicated this week’s football crossword to Serie A. So if you think you know your Maldinis and your Mancinis, come with us on another puzzle adventure!


Clues Across

7 World-Cup winning Brazilian keeper who had two stints with Parma (8)

8 Mr Lamela, he moved from Roma to Spurs in 2013 (4)

9 Pierluigi Casiraghi’s nickname, for short (4)

10 Speedy Brazilian wing-back who arrived at AC Milan in 1999 (8)

11 Ex-Juventus defender Igor Tudor played international football for them (7)

12 _ Hamsik, Napoli’s Slovakian captain (5)

14 Roberto Donadoni’s already-relegated Serie A side (5)

16 Non-playing position - Fiorentina’s Vincenzo Montella, for example (7)

19 Which Turkish club bought Inter flop Ricardo Quaresma in 2010? (8)

20 Legendary Anfield striker signed by Juventus in the mid-1980s (4)

21 Veteran Cameroon striker who signed for Sampdoria from Everton in January (4)

22 Christian, French international midfielder who played for Sampdoria in the 1990s (8)


Clues Down

1 Inter’s long-serving Argentine captain whose number 4 shirt retired along with him in 2014 (6,7)

2 South _ , they were one-time Lazio defender Mark Fish’s national team (6)

3 Italian club where Roberto Baggio ended his playing career (7)

4 Source of bright light and smoke from the stands (5)

5 Jonathan, French defender previously with Cagliari, Roma, Juventus and Brescia (6)

6 Ghana midfielder at Milan nicknamed “The Bison” (7,6)

13 Iconic Serie A ground officially known as the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza (3,4)

15 Brazilian right-back at Roma who played for Inter between 2006 and 2012 (6)

17 Miralem Pjanic and Kevin Strootman’s club (2,4)

18 After spells at Roma and Milan, Bojan Krkic now plays for which Premier League club? (5)


Answers to this week’s crossword puzzle will pop in a random article within the next few days or so. So be on the look out for ’em!


Created by Aleric Linden

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Barcelona: The Blaugrana weather a storm to emerge as champions, but history now awaits them

Just over 12 months on, Barcelona had delivered payback. Last May Atletico Madrid won the La Liga title at the Nou Camp but this time Barcelona won it at the Vicente Calderon. A dispute over television rights meant it was doubtful the campaign would finish as strike-action loomed, but even that couldn’t stop Barcelona sealing a first part of a possible victory with a 0-1 win.

It was the Catalan’s 18th win in 20 games, a run that stretches back to the 1-0 loss to Real Sociedad when Luis Enrique’s benching of Lionel Messi and the pair’s subsequent falling-out threatened to dismantle Barcelona’s season. “Self-destruction”, “Suicide” and “Points thrown away” were the Spanish newspaper headlines the morning after that January night at the Anoeta as Barca were plunged into meltdown.

Enrique was claimed to be one game away from losing his job, but 4 months later euphoria has taken hold with a with a seventh championship in 11 seasons. During that period they have won 29 and suffered defeat just twice, to Malaga at home and the away leg to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final when the tie had already been won. Manchester City and PSG had already been swept away by the machine but the decimation of Munich and their former manager Pep Guardiola certified it was on a rampage. Now it looks impossible to stop.

They still sat in second after the pivotal fall in Sociedad, but the following day sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta would be sacked and Carles Puyol, the club legend who was serving as his assistant, would follow with a resignation. It would significantly weaken Enrique’s position with a board who had already begun to look at possible replacements.

A transfer ban, Messi courting interest from Chelsea and desperate uncertainty at boardroom level- summer elections were called that week- all added up to an institutional crisis that looked too much for even Barcelona to overcome.

They would respond six days later with a 3-1 win over holding champions Atletico at the Nou Camp with goals from Neymar, Luis Suarez and Messi, the first time the trio had each scored in the same game. Those 3 goals were a splash in the ocean of the 116 they have shared between them this season, but they were up there with the most important. In the face of adversity, Enrique’s Barca had displayed their irrepressible force against a side they could not overcome the year before.

“We’ll take today’s game as a reflection of what we can be — that we can truly be competitive” said Javier Mascherano on the night and in the coming weeks there were signs that the team was beginning to sign up to Enrique’s methods.

Xavi, club captain in the wake of Puyol’s retirement, was instrumental in the compromise between the squad and the manager who had never really seen eye to eye on things since Enrique stepped up from Celta Vigo to succeed Gerardo Martino last summer.

The pressing was more aggressive and the possession was also quicker and more effective, the over-reliance on long, diagonal balls under Martino now eradicated. The signings of Rakitic and Suarez have allowed for a more rabidly energetic pressing style where there is as much running as passing, without losing any of the technical quality that is imprinted into the club. This has been based on a tenfold improvement in fitness as a result of Enrique’s staff focussing on GPS vests fitted to the players in training.

Messi, perhaps buoyed by Josep Maria Bartomeu’s potential exit in the close season during the presidential elections, now looks a different beast from the one that struggled with injuries and doubts over his motivation. With 27 assists in all competitions he is now the chief creator as well as possessing the supernatural eye for goal that continues to smash all sorts of records.

His finely taken winner in the Calderon took him up to 54 in a campaign that saw him moved to a wider role, a shift Enrique deserves great credit for as he looked to accommodate Suarez, with 25 goals since he was allowed to return from his ban in late-October has had a good debut season in Spain, after his £65 million move from Liverpool.

The left-sided Neymar meanwhile has chipped in with 37 as Barca have set up a Champions League final with Juventus in Berlin as well as a Copa Del Rey final with Athletic Bilbao in the comforts of the Nou Camp. Together, they have accounted for 69% of the club’s total goal haul for this season.

The fearsome attacking triumvirate will take the headlines but the turnaround has also been owing to a startling defensive improvement. Only three goals, one to Real Madrid and two away to Sevilla, have been leaked since that defeat to Sociedad and they have shipped just 19 goals in total, 14 goals less than they did last season. Gerard Pique has returned to his best form alongside the ever-brilliant Mascherano while Sergio Busquets patrols the area in-front of them with accustomed intelligence and guile.

Victor Valdes’s exit last summer has also been finely managed, both Claudio Bravo, the favoured league keeper who with 22 clean sheets has kept the most in the division, and Andre Ter-Stegen both proving able deputies whenever called upon in Enrique’s policy of rotating between the sticks.

The experience of the likes of Busquets, together with Pedro, Messi and Dani Alves, and Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the imperious midfield duo who between them have 55 titles to their name since emerging from La Masia, has been vital to helping the new faces of Rakitic, Jeremy Mathieu and Suarez integrate into an environment where the pressure not only to win, but to do it in style, is constantly ramped up to huge levels. That pressure nearly did for them and Enrique back in January but they managed to turn it around when all seemed lost, clinching back the title in the process.

“This is important to me” said Rakitic, reflecting on his first league medal after an impressive first season at the club since switching from Sevilla. “I don’t know about the others” said the Croatian. One would guess that the whole squad, and also the manager most notably, would also find it massively important considering where this team has come from.

Now they have to go a little further, for a treble, to follow Guardiola’s class of 2009 into the history books.


Written by Adam Gray

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Iago Falque: Former Barca prodigy finally living up to his potential

Started his career with the Real Madrid academy in 2001 and then moved across to Barcelona’s youth set-up for seven years, big things were expected from the Spaniard. Iago’s natural position is on the flanks, he is a tricky, dynamic winger who is very comfortable on the ball.

Now at the age of 25, Falque has already represented several clubs across Europe.

He moved to Juventus from Barcelona, signing a four-year contract. He was immediately loaned to Serie A side A.S. Bari, where he played for the club’s youth team, before returning to Juve’s academy in January 2010. The Italian giants then sent him back to Spain, on loan to Villareal B, where he had an impressive campaign – scoring eleven goals in thirty-six appearances, but Villarreal decided not to make a permanent offer.

Premier League side Tottenham took a chance on Iago, originally on a season long-loan and then on a permanent deal. But again the former Barcelona man was on the move, he had loan spells at Southampton, as well as Spanish clubs Almeria and Rayo Vallecano.  Struggling to settle down is an underestimate.

Last summer Genoa purchased the winger for approximately €5m.

Now approaching the end of the season, it’s fair to say Falque is having the best season to date – scoring thirteen in all competitions and seven in his last eight games. He has helped his side challenge for a Europa league position as Genoa sit fifth in the standings – having won four from five games.

That form has seen him linked with big moves this month, including the likes of Inter Milan, Valencia and Villarreal.

But Falque is set to stay with Genoa - according to his agent.

“Iago is very well with the city and with the fans. And with the club, as well as with a coach who make the most of him thanks to the continuity and freedom that has given him in the field. Inter, Milan , Valencia, Villarreal? Right now they are just and only rumours. He is quiet and just wants to finish the most of this wonderful season. After the season ends, any club interested should call Genoa and talk about it with the president. He is still in Genoa, we’ll see what happens. If Genoa will listen to offers we will evaluate, otherwise we will respect his contract.”

Loan after loan, I began to think that it would never happen for the young Spaniard, questioning his credentials.  At Genoa he has found his feet and finally feels at home, playing under a manager – Gian Piero Gasperini - who has faith in him.  Perhaps it’s the fact he is playing in a pressure free environment.

Along with the Genoa fans, I’m enjoying Falque’s break out season and happy he is starting to live up to that early potential, long may it continue.


Written by Serie A Writer

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HEADS UP: Below are the answers to last week’s La Liga-themed crossword. Hope you guys enjoyed it. 

Football Tip: How to Avoid Being a Sports Widow

When you dread seeing the leaves fall from the trees because it signals the start of football season, or cringe when the first crocus pops its head out of the soils because it means baseball is just around the corner, you may be a sports widow.

Sports widows are women who feel that their life and their needs take a backseat to their husband’s interest in sporting events. Rather than mourning the loss of your husband’s company during the sports season, why not join him in his interest and share some special together time?


If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

While you’ve probably found ways to entertain yourself while your husband watched sports in the past, you may not have considered joining him in his enthusiasm.  Even if you find sports mind-numbingly boring, there are ways to focus on other aspects of the festivities and draw your own enjoyment from the event.

This year, inform your husband that rather than complaining about his obsession with sports, you’d like to join him in his love of the game. Just stand back when you make your announcement in case he passes out from shock.


Dress the Part

Before the start of the season, go shopping. Buy yourself some new duds to wear while you watch the game. Team-oriented apparel is mandatory to put you in the proper frame of mind.  If you’ve never worn a t-shirt with your team’s name emblazoned on it, you may be surprised how doing so can raise your enthusiasm level.

Check out the official team sites for apparel, or visit your local big box store. Grab a baseball cap and situate it atop a jaunty ponytail, or buy an oversized football jersey and wear it with a sexy pair of leggings or tights.


Block Out Your Schedule

In order to be able to enjoy game day, you may need to plan ahead. Clear your schedule, and ensure that there’s nothing else tugging at your attention while you settle in for quality time with your family. It’s hard to immerse yourself in the moment when the sink is full of dishes, you have laundry to do or you can’t quit thinking about how you need to balance your checkbook.

Get your work done ahead of time and free yourself to really watch the game with your attention on it.


Learn the Rules of the Game

While you don’t have to be an aficionado, you may want to gain a rudimentary understanding of the rules of the game. Visit a website, or pick up a book that breaks the game down into simple, understandable terms.

Better yet, ask your husband to explain the finer points of the action to you as the game goes along when he doesn’t mind.


Enjoy the Extras

Even if you find that you really can’t immerse yourself in the sports action, you can still enjoy a special day with your family and friends. Focus your attention on creating special dishes for the game. Make a cheese ball, spicy bean dip, a football-shaped meatloaf or any other recipe you choose for everyone to enjoy while the game is on. Women’s magazines and recipe websites abound with game-time treats.

Decorate the room where you’ll watch the game. Blow up balloons, and hang streamers in the team colors to surprise your family. They’ll be thrilled at your show of team spirit.

Even when sports aren’t your favorite activity, it’s still possible to turn any athletic event into valued family time, rather than isolating yourself from the action. Once you put forth the effort, you may be surprised at the results and actually find yourself looking forward to game day.


Written by Amie Taylor

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Football Tips: Total Conditioning for the Star Athlete

Most kids would love to be the star athlete, but being a star athlete is not as simple as being a good player.  You must have the proper conditioning to be a star athlete but proper conditioning for sports doesn’t begin at practice.

Total conditioning that includes physical conditioning, nutrition and mental health maintenance is necessary year round in order to maintain superb athletic performance.


Proper Physical Conditioning

Being in peak physical condition has a lot to do with practice and with repetitive strength and conditioning. Being able to practice your sport regularly will help you build the strength you need to be successful in that sport.  Running, jumping and weight training are also factors in proper training for serious athletes.  Proper conditioning ensures you are able to maintain your peak level throughout the game.

Proper conditioning does not begin during the season but in the off-season. To be in peak condition when the season begins, you should exercise regularly, eat right and practice your moves during the off season.

Not conditioning during the off-season could result in your body taking on excess weight and you not having enough stamina when the season begins.


Proper Nutrition

Eating right is one of the most important factors in conditioning your body. Without proper nutrition, your body won’t perform to maximum capacity.  Eating fruits and vegetables is integral to having high energy levels, while eating foods that are high in calcium is important to having strong bones.

Eating properly with the schedule that busy families have today is next to impossible. Vitamins or supplements that help provide nutrients that a young athlete may lack in their diet are vital to overall health. Some vitamins help fight off the common cold and other vitamins can help you maintain strong bones.

To find the correct supplement, you should always follow the recommendations of your doctor.


Mental Health

Being mentally healthy is important for every athlete.  An athlete who is not in top mental condition can cause serious problems for themselves or their team during sporting events.  Poor mental health can cause aggressive outbursts and improper sportsmanship. Great athletes develop and practice ways of maintaining good mental health in order to be in a confident state of mind throughout the game.

The trials of everyday life and the stress of competitive sports can sometimes lead to frustration.  To combat stress, you must utilize ways of boosting your mental health in a positive way.  Certain music can help lift your mood without you physically having to do anything.

Yoga and meditation are also ways that some athletes report being able to calm down and maintain their focus in tough situations.  As a young athlete, you should never forget that having fun and enjoying life should also be part of the equation.

Being in peak performance shape is important for every serious athlete. Without the proper total conditioning, an athlete may never achieve their ideal performance level.

Healthy nutrition, proper physical conditioning and good mental health all shape how an athlete performs on the field.


Written by T. Hall

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Petr Cech: Chelsea’s reluctant loss of their veteran keeper could be Arsenal’s doubtful gain

Arsene Wenger chose to get himself in a war of words with Garry Monk after he saw his Arsenal side lose to Swansea on Monday, but the Frenchman would have been better placed to focus on how his team conceded the game’s only goal instead of how the Welsh side achieved their win. It would surely not have been lost on Wenger that goalkeeper David Ospina was at fault for Bafetembi Gomis’ header creeping over the line as the Sky punditry team singled out for criticism the Colombian who remains no closer to solving Arsenal’s goalkeeping problem.

The future of Wojciech Szczesny, who hasn’t started a league game since New Year’s Day, is uncertain and although Ospina has been a significant factor behind Arsenal’s resurgence in the second half of the season, last summer’s £3 million acquisition from Nice is short of the reliable, dominant and experienced goalkeeper Arsenal require if they are to once again genuinely compete for the Premier League title.

Bayer Leverkusen’s £13 million Bernd Leno has been linked with a move to north London but reports involving Chelsea’s Petr Cech appear to be the more prevalent. On Friday Wenger avoided questions about a possible move for Cech, but it would surely make sense to attempt to lure away the 32 year old who finds himself playing second fiddle to Thibaut Courtois and whose agent has said is free to talk to other clubs.

With one year left on his current contract at Stamford Bridge, Cech would be available for a reduced price and would bring with him the expertise that won him four league titles as well as a Europa League and Champions League with Chelsea. He is Chelsea’s record clean sheet holder with 220 over 11 years with the club in which he has appeared in the PFA team of the year twice.

Taken from Rennes for £7 million in 2004, Cech is arguably one of the best signings of the Roman Abramovich era and he was a key feature of the Blues’ first two league wins under Mourinho, setting a new Premier League record of 1,025 minutes without being breached in 2005, only to see it bettered by Manchester United’s Edwin Van Der Sar four years later.

However age has caught up with the Czech stopper and having been displaced by the excellent Courtois, nine years his junior, together with his contract ticking down, it seems as if his days at Stamford Bridge are numbered. Cech, a fine servant throughout his career at both club and country level, such professionalism and loyalty continuously epitomised by the distinguishable helmet he wears to tell the story of the skull fracture he took four months to recover from in 2006, is undoubtedly able, and perhaps deserves, to again play first-team football for a club competing for major honours.

Inter Milan and Roma have been among the clubs rumoured to be eyeing the goalkeeper as his agent Viktor Kolar touts interest but Chelsea will take issue with Kolar’s motives given how much he is still revered by Jose Mourinho.

“I don’t know that it’s absolutely true what the agent is saying. Maybe it is, but the player has a contract with Chelsea and Chelsea will have a very important say in the decision,” said the Portuguese coach who has entrusted Cech to 15 appearances this season, including every game in the run to their League Cup triumph.

“I want my best players. Petr is one of my best players” he said on Friday, though Mourinho is wise enough to be aware that he has two of Europe’s top 10 goalkeepers on his books and it is unviable to deny one of them first-team opportunities. It is testament to Mourinho’s much lauded man-management skills that he has kept both of them happy for this long.

Cech’s invaluable nous will be an undisputedly huge boost to an Arsenal backline that has seen Per Metersacker and Laurent Koscielny forge a solid partnership but it can be questioned whether Chelsea would relinquish such a prized possession to a league rival. Czech media outlet Radio Praha have said Arsenal are willing to pay up to £10 million for the goalkeeper but it is easy to picture Mourinho’s determination to direct Cech’s future, if it is not at Stamford Bridge, anywhere but across the capital.

Mourinho has said he expects Cech to still be with his club next season but such optimism is clearly wearing thin. A mooted £2 million move for Rob Green, one of the few bright spots in QPR’s abysmal campaign, suggests he is looking for cover to Courtois whilst reluctantly bracing himself for Cech’s exit.

Where he goes to next is unclear, but Arsenal could definitely do with him.


Written by Adam Gray

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Ahmed Hassan Koka: Rio Ave’s Egyptian goal-getter primed to hit the big time

Only close followers of Portuguese football are acquainted with him for now, but Egyptian striker Ahmed Hassan Mahgoub, known in Portugal by his middle name, has a decent shot at becoming a household name in the game in the coming years.

The tall Rio Ave marksman showed goal-scoring ability from the moment he was thrust into the first team when still a teenager, and has steadily improved over three seasons. Hassan’s goals go some way to explaining how one of Portugal’s more modest top-flight clubs has over-achieved throughout that period.

A wonderfully polished finisher, the Cairo-born centre-forward is a throwback to another era in that he is a striker who confines his whole game to the space in and around the attacking penalty area.

Hassan is neither fast nor particularly mobile, but his adeptness at losing his marker, ghosting into scoring positions and applying the lethal touch when the opportunity presents itself are qualities that will almost certainly lead to his signing for one of Portugal’s major clubs this summer.


Highly sought-after

Sporting have long been attempting to lure him to the Alvalade, but according to reports it is Lisbon rivals Benfica who have made the decisive move and Hassan is expected to check in for pre-season training ahead of 2015/16 as a Benfica player.

Asked to comment on a prospective move to the Estádio da Luz, veteran coach Manuel José, who managed Hassan as a youth player when in charge of Al Ahly, has few doubts he can make a big impact at the Portuguese champions elect.

“His characteristics as a player are much better suited to a big team that play near the opposition box than a smaller team. He’s improved greatly. He’s not the fastest but in the area he knows how to position himself very well and he’s a clinical finisher. He doesn’t just take a swing at the ball, he looks to use his technique to apply the finish,” said José.

“I’m convinced he has the scoring qualities to make it at Benfica. He played under me when he was just 18 in some friendly games in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and what impressed me most was the ease and calmness with which he aimed to score. Whether it was with his head or his foot he wouldn’t just whack the ball, he’d look to place it skilfully into the net. He recognises that in the box what you need is intelligence and technique - not force.”

One of Hassan’s most famous goals was an angled rocket shot angled into the top corner against Sporting this season (see below at 2:50), but the spectacular strike was the exception that proves the rule.

As Manuel José pointed out, Hassan’s ability to almost caress the ball into the net is evident in the following compilation of some of his best moments at Rio Ave:


‘Big club’ player

Every year the Big Three in the Primeira Liga (Benfica, Porto and Sporting) pluck the outstanding performers from Portugal’s smaller clubs. Most of them struggle to make an impact. José believes Hassan will buck that particular trend and make a smooth transition.

 “Some players are big players for a small club, but when they go to a big club they turn into a small player. Hassan won’t have this problem. I don’t think he’ll wilt under the pressure of playing for Benfica. He played for a huge club in Egypt, Al Ahly, who have 60 million supporters – curiously it’s another team that plays in red and has an Eagle as its crest.

“He’s used to the pressure that goes with playing for a massive club. Compare that to [Benfica striker] Derley this season. Derley came from a small 2nd division club in Brazil, he was a beast for Marítimo, but at Benfica he completely vanished.”

Hassan’s build and style have been compared to Benfica legend Oscar Cardozo, the club’s all-time highest foreign scorer. Hassan will be hoping he can soar to similar heights with the Eagle on his chest.


Written by Tom Kundert

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Football Crossword: La Liga Unleashed

To celebrate the climax to another fantastic season of Spanish football, we’ve dedicated this week’s football crossword to La Liga. So if you think you know your Vallecanos and your Villareals, come with us on another puzzle adventure!


Clues Across

6 Basque team relegated in 2003 having finished 7th the season before (6)

7 The _ Submarine, Villareal’s colourful nickname! (6)

9 _ Calderon, Atletico Madrid’s home (7)

10 Surname of Real Sociedad’s Scottish manager (5)

11 The _ , nickname of the English club who signed Alberto Moreno from Sevilla last summer (4)

12 The Ivorian who left Barcelona for Manchester City in 2010 (5)

16 _ Vigo, La Liga’s Sky Blues (5)

17 Mr Toshack, he managed Real Sociedad three times and Real Madrid twice (4)

21 _ del Horno, former La Liga defender (5)

22 Dutchman who guided Barcelona to successive league titles in 1998 and 1999 (3,4)

23 Which Raul is Espanyol’s all-time top scorer? (6)

24 Gonzalo Higuain left Real Madrid to play in this league in 2013 (5,1)


Clues Down

1 Espanyol’s Ecuadorian striker, Felipe (7)

2 Brazilian-born Spain international who spent 11 seasons at Villareal until 2013 (5)

3 It was La Liga legend Michael Laudrup’s national team (7)

4 See 19 down

5 Nationality of ex-Valencia defender, Philippe Senderos (5)

6 & 13 down Spanish forward on loan at Valencia from Man City (6,7)

8 Relegation strugglers who play at the Riazor (9)

13 See 6 down

14 Brazilian who fired in 30 league goals in his debut season for Barcelona in 1993-1994 (7)

15 French striker once of Real Madrid dubbed ‘Le Sulk’ (6)

18 Leeds and Ireland left-back who joined Levante in 2004 (5)

19 & 4 down Mr Hasselbaink, a prolific striker for Atletico during his sole season there in 1999–2000 (5,5)

20 Italians who did a swap deal with Barcelona in 2009 involving Ibrahimovic and Eto’o (5)


Answers to this week’s crossword puzzle will pop in a random article within the next few days or so. So be on the look out for ’em!


Created by Aleric Linden

Check out more of his work at Puzzle-House through his website

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