AS Roma: A Strong start to the Season, but a Stuttering finish

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October 5 2014, Juventus beat Roma 3-2. This is what Roma manager Rudi Garcia said after the match;

“This game made me realise who will win the Scudetto. We are stronger than Juventus, Because we are stronger, we have to win tomorrow (versus Chievo), because we have to talk about results.”

That was a huge statement to make after just seven matches played, but you could appreciate Rudi Garcia’s confidence, his team won all their matches in Italy prior to that loss to Juve, conceding just the once.  Let’s not forget that they also held the reigning Premier League champions Manchester City to a draw in the Champions League before they travelled up to Turin. Roma were playing some exhilarating football at the time.

Over 5 months on, the gap between Juventus and Roma is an enormous 14 points, meaning that Juventus are strolling towards a fourth consecutive Scudetto.  So, what went wrong?

Before the Christmas break, Roma were just 3 points behind Juventus, so since the turn of the year, Roma have declined significantly. The side have won just three times in the league since January, as well as being eliminated in the Europa League to rivals Fiorentina.  That form meant that Roma have to look behind them with Lazio, Sampdoria, Napoli and Fiorentina all looking to clinch second place. Lazio have won four of their last five games, which puts them just a point behind Roma.

Rudi Garcia’s men have drawn an awful lot this year, 10 draws since the turn of the year. With that many stalemates, you simply can’t brush it off as a one off, there are deeper problem which need rectifying.

There is no balance in the team, the passing has been poor, as well as the finishing. Many of their ‘top’ players who were crucial last year often failed to turn up, which include the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Maicon and Iturbe.

I think there needs to be a sense of realism, Rudi Garcia’s statement about winning the Scudetto may have conveyed false hopes to the fans.  Some could argue that the Roma team is weaker than last season.

The side sold one of the best defenders in the league, Medhi Benatia to Bayern Munich last summer. Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman played a vital role, he made 25 appearances and was a fundamental player last season. Unfortunately, he’s been injured for the majority of this season.

Mattia Destro was their top goal scorer last season with 13 goals to his name. Although not suited to Rudi Garcia’s style of play, he often came up with the goods when the side weren’t playing well. Consequently, the young Italian was sold to Milan in January.

Last year Roma finished second, 17 points behind Juventus. So arguably, the side are weaker – which is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a large gap is still evident.


Written by Serie A Writer

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Italian football: A reflection of the nation’s rich, dramatic history

1982 World Champions

Italy is a beautiful, complicated, passionate country filled with a rich and dramatic history. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the country’s favorite sport of Italian football, or “calcio”, would be steeped in rich history… and drama, as well.


History of Italian Football

In 1898, the Federazione Italiana Giuco Calcio  was started in Turin, Italy. It was created to serve as the governing body for Italian football.

With Mario Vicary at the helm as the first president, the budding organization provided Italian football with the structure it needed to be taken seriously. In fact, according to FIGC.IT, their first championship, the “tri-colored championship”, was won by Genoa in Turin in 1898.

Having won the title for four World Cups in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006, today’s Italian National Football Team – the Azzurri - is the second most successful national team in the world. They are second only to Brazil, who has just one more World Cup trophy under their belt.

They also won the UEFA European Championship in 1968; took first place for the gold medal in the 1936 Olympic football tournament; and was a two-time winner of the Central European International Cup in 1927.


Game of the Century

One of the most notable and hard-fought games in Italian football history is the “Game of the Century” that took place between Italy and West Germany during the semi-finals of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. Played in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in the company of more than 100,000 fans, Italy won that game 4 – 3, after five goals were scored in extra-time. That was the first – and only - time in World Cup history that has happened.

Unfortunately, after such an exciting game, Italy fell to Brazil in the finals of that World Cup competition.


Scandal rocks Italian football

Over the years, Italian football has had its share of scandal. The most recent of which is the news of the betting scandal that broke at the end of June, 2011. Also, in that same month, a match-fixing corruption scandal hit the headlines, overshadowing the 2006 Calciopoli match-fixing case.


Italian National Football Team gets new management

Former Juventus manager Antonio Conte recently replaced Cesare Prandelli as the manager of Italy’s National Football Team, following the team’s disappointing elimination in the first round at the 2014 World Cup competition in Brazil. Another disappointing World Cup campaign for the Azzurri, which doesn’t match up and hold a candle to its glorious and memorable history in the game.

Here’s hoping to better times for Italian football.


Written by Ann Tiller

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The Best Football Cleats for Men and Women

Playing football is all about how you control the ball with your feet while running. There are three elements at play - your feet, the ground, and the ball. To streamline their interaction, the single most important thing that a football player must own is a good pair of cleats.

Choosing the perfect pair of football cleats is difficult and there are several factors to consider. The two most important issues to think about when buying soccer cleats are comfort and the position you play in. Cleats help you to maintain balance and also improve your speed on the field.

Football cleats are different from shoes made for other sports. They are designed without outer soles and mid soles. They are designed to keep the center of gravity of the player low, thereby ensuring stability on the football field while running or stopping suddenly and changing direction.


Football Cleats for Men

This section of the report takes a look at the best men’s football cleats designed for comfort and performance.


Nike Hypervenom Phantom

Priced between $160 and $210, Nike’s Hypervenom Phantom are widely considered among the best football cleats that money can buy. They are designed for agility and are perfect for attacking players, though even defenders find them useful.

The boots mark the introduction of NikeSkin, a new material designed to give players a natural feel along their feet. It is remarkably light and thin enough to feel and control the ball through the material. The upper portion of the cleats have a greater surface area in contact with the ball and NikeSkin allows for better controlled shots.

Increased boot area is the result of a new lacing system, where the lace sits higher on the front of the cleat. It is designed using ACC technology which gives the wearer maximum ball control under diverse weather conditions. The configuration of studs is designed for agility and allows for quick and sudden changes in direction.

Nike Hypervenom Phantom football cleats provide good traction while swerving and prevent slipping and sliding. The football boots are extremely comfortable and the only serious complaint against the model is its lack of durability.


Adidas F50 adiZero

The adiZero is a model of football cleats designed for speed and is exclusively made for attacking players. It is not suited for defenders or goalkeepers. These cleats are the most secure football cleats for men. Priced from $165 to $240, the boots are extremely lightweight, even with the introduction of toe padding.

Breaking-in time is practically zero as the shoes are flexible and comfortable right out of the box. A new stud arrangement called SpeedTraxion provides maximum acceleration and precision during sudden swerves and direction changes. The studs are perfectly distributed and there is no pressure on the wearer’s foot.

The upper portions of these cleats are made of a hybrid skin called DribbleTex which is great for dribbling, but not good for striking. The boots fit snugly and are suitable for all football players except those looking for a wider fit.

The only drawback is a slight lack of comfort when worn over long periods.


Nike Mercurial Vapor IX

Nike Mercurial Vapor IX are the most comfortable boots with practically no breaking-in period required. Priced between $149 and $195 on, they are suitable for players in any position but work best for attackers.

The upper part is dimpled, and this greatly improves dribbling and adds speed to strikes. The boot is extremely flexible and allows for free movement. The blade design on the sole-plate is soft to prevent injury to other players. The boots themselves are the lightest that Nike has released and are designed for sudden and explosive bursts of speed.

Due to the thin nature of material used, the cleats have a shorter life-span but those who want a better feel and control of the ball are usually willing to accept this short-coming.


Football Cleats for Women

There are also many excellent models of football cleats for women, and in this section we’ll look at the most popular models.


Adidas Women’s Predator Instinct FG

These football cleats from Adidas are the most comfortable model available. They are ideal for defenders and central players, and are priced around $85 on Amazon.  Though they are heavy, the Adidas Predator Instinct FG allows smooth movement. The gel pad improves ball control while passing.

The rubber in the upper portion has a zig-zag design which offers great flexibility and extra traction on the ball. The new sole plate gives a player better control over fast movements. These cleats are highly resistant to stress and are waterproof.

They are for people with medium fit and are not suitable for those who want a wider fit and more space.


Nike Magista Opus iD

Nike Magista Opus iD football cleats are designed to protect women feet while offering great comfort during the game. This elegant footware is ideal for central and defensive players.

The cleats are comfortable and light, being padded nicely for protection. The upper part is meshed for flexibility and has a layer of KangaLite for added durability. Shoes are coated by NikeSkin for waterproofing.

These cleats are not good for striking and can be a bad choice for attacking players. The sole plate is very well balanced and pressure on the player’s foot is minimal.

Some wearers find that the boots are a little stiff compared to other shoes. Otherwise the Nike Magista Opus is perfect if you are looking for a simple and clean option without too many features. Prices start at $240.


Puma Evospeed

Puma Evospeed football cleats are designed for women who love speed on the football field. They are great for wing players and attackers. Despite being speed boots, they are well padded and feel comfortable during play. The sole plate is perfect for the intricacies of changing direction and altering speed.

Studs are arranged to provide acceleration in a very short time. The upper portion is not very flexible and has a layer of small projections to improve ball control while dribbling and striking.

The everfit cage is a nice touch as it greatly increases durability without compromising much on flexibility. The fit is good, but people with wide feet may have to buy a larger size.

The primary drawback is stiffness of both the upper part and the sole which takes some time to break in these cleats. The price is reasonable, starting at $25 going up to $45.


Written by Elena Williams

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Russia: World Cup was a disappointment, but it can only get better

Well, that was a disappointment. And that’s putting it lightly. Russia bowed out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil without a victory to their name, and it’s a tournament that all Russian fans want to forget immediately. Pedestrian football with a toothless approach doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, and so it proved with Fabio Capello’s men yet again failing to get out of the group stage of a major tournament.

But just where is it going wrong? Russia’s the biggest country in the world, and theoretically the country should be amongst the best every single time. But it just isn’t working out like that. The Russians have followed up their Euro 2012 fiasco with a terribly poor performance in Brazil, and while before the tournament I already knew this was far from a great Russian side, everything was a lot worse than I could have imagined.

Russian footballers are known around the world for playing incisive, counterattacking football, but that was simply non-existent. Russia managed to score only twice, and you could count the amount of meaningful chances that the team created throughout the tournament on one hand.

Just think about how England played four years ago in South Africa though. Yes, you got it, they played almost exactly as to how Russia played this time around. It’s not hard to figure out who was the manager of both sides. Fabio Capello may hold a superb record at club level, but history shows that successful club managers often have a hard time of it at international level.

In a combined seven World Cup matches the Italian has won just a miserly single match (1-0 for England against Slovenia in 2010), and it’s easy to see that he’s not comfortable at this level. And how he got it wrong with Russia. Not starting talented attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev was simply a crime, and pursuing with calamitous goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev proved to be a very costly mistake.

Capello’s tactics of playing slowly while keeping the opponents are arm’s length at times looked to be effective, but Russia does not have the quality in their squad to be able to hold off teams for the full 90 minutes.

Two decent results against Belgium and Algeria seemed to be in the team’s grasp, but a lack of energy and discipline cost them dear. But I just cannot understand Capello’s decision making. Yes, Alan Dzagoev has been in pretty ropey form, but for the national team he always finds his best game. Alexey Ionov, a pacy winger from Dynamo Moscow, could have injected some energy into the team, and young midfielder Pavel Mogilevets should have been given the opportunity to replace the influential Roman Shirokov who was ruled out before the tournament started due to injury.

The manager can’t be the only who’s blamed however. Had it not been for Igor Akinfeev’s shocking mistakes against South Korea and Algeria, the team almost certainly would have advanced to the last 16. I’ve never been a fan of his, but he showed just why he’s stayed with CSKA Moscow rather than moving abroad, and you can bet no one will be after his services now.

Star striker Alexander Kokorin, despite his superb headed goal against Algeria, didn’t turn up to the party, and the team seriously failed to click. Russians historically suffer from severe homesickness and their Brazilian adventure has only added ammunition to that theory, and while that may simply be a physiological problem, no one has the solution as yet.

It’s a good thing then, that the next World Cup is taking place in Russia itself. But just who’s going to play? Russia has a serious youth problem. There are virtually no young players coming through the system, and it’s a situation that is only getting more and more critical.

Of this current Russian squad only a handful of players will still be playing by the time 2018 is upon is, and just maybe the next World Cup will come too soon for the Russians. Four years is a shorter amount of time than it seems, and Russia have very little time to turn around what is a very deep rooted problem.

Russia isn’t the only big name to be heading home though. Being in the company of Spain, Bosnia, Italy and Portugal is fantastic, until you realise that the only thing that all these nations have in common is that they’re all on a flight home. Many have said already that the fact that every single member of the Russian squad plays at home contributed to their downfall, but that’s something which I don’t overly agree with.

Take a look at that fantastic Russian squad at Euro 2008, just about everyone played in Russia as well! The reason behind the failure is a lot deeper than what it seems at face value.

Fabio Capello’s contract runs all the way through to 2018, and I can’t help but think that was yet another mistake. Russia need someone young and fresh with ambitious ideas, because this nation has the potential to be one of the best. It’s going to be hard work, but the country does have the capabilities to genuinely mix it with the best.

One thing’s for certain, it can only get better.


Written by Shaun Nicolaides

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Ghana in Brazil: Review of Go Go Black Stars…GOAL! Anthem by Wiyaala

Wiyaala did not just amaze Africa with her fierce ball winning and tackling abilities during her time at the Upper West Girls team, she is now back dazzling the world with her singing prowess.

‘The Young lioness of Africa’ from Wa, otherwise known as Wiyaala, blends the use of tribal drums, big stadium choruses, three Ghanaian languages and English.

The tribal drums can be clearly heard as the song starts. It creates an ambience of excitement as Wiyaala readies herself and her crowd for the excitement that is to come. Wa must have learnt this from K’Naan whose song ‘Waving Flag’ was used as a 2010 World Cup club banger. Wa doesn’t disappoint as the words “GO, GO, GO” start a beautiful exploration of music.

Her use of the words “It’s time to show the world again what we’ve got’’ doesn’t just relate to Ghananians alone, the whole of Africa is immersed into this strong sentiment drawing to Ghana’s heroics at the 2010 World Cup. Still in a mourning or healing stage after the Gyan penalty miss?, the hope it offers an escape route in the shape of music.

Whether in your car stereo, the stadium speakers or your home theatre- this song will get you rocking as you wait for the World Cup.

At 1.18 minutes - for a preview track - it’s a little brief especially for those who would love to interact more with Wiyaala’s voice and message, for a pre-match chant though: Wave your flag, press play and enjoy as the players exchange pleasantries before kick-off.

Below is the preview track of Wiyaala’s World Cup anthem for Ghana’s national team:


About Wiyaala (taken from the song’s press release): Wiyaala, “The Young Lioness of Africa,” is an Afro-Pop sing-er/songwriter, artist, actress, and ambassador of African culture from Funsi, Upper West Ghana. Noella Wiyaala (full name) infuses the giant pop sounds of David Foster with the modern funk and flair of Janelle Monae.

She won two Golden Moments awards at the 2011 edition of “Stars of the Future,” and later became a winner of Vodafone Icons Mixed Edition. Wiyaala is also known for standing up for women’s rights, having a very distinctive androgynous image herself.


Review written by John Aggrey, whom you can follow on Twitter @Superjohna07.

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Borussia Monchengladbach: Sky is the limit for the inspired Foals

Lucien Favre couldn’t hide his emotions after the final whistle in the last match of the Hinrunde against Wolfsburg, throwing his bottle before storming out of the dugout immediately in utter frustration.

Despite the late equalizer from the visitors that denied the Foals all three points at home for the first time this season, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s manager witnessed his side leapfrogging potential title contenders Borussia Dortmund to climb up to third in the standings - their best finish in the first half of the season in three decades.

The discontent from Favre goes to show how this season’s exuberant ‘Gladbach side set the bar high after a mediocre last campaign, which ended in the side missing out on European qualification.



When the Swiss tactician joined the club in 2011 following the sacking of Michael Frontzeck, ‘Gladbach were everyone’s favorite to get relegated at the end of the season, with their abysmal home form and worst defensive record in the league being the main reasons for their downfall.

On his debut, ‘Gladbach secured their first home win of the season with an inspired performance to beat the then Champions League semi-finalist, FC Schalke 04.

Soon their defensive record joined the ranks of the top teams in the league, boosted by Favre’s decision to name youngster Marc-André ter Stegen as his number one in between the posts, and via the relegation playoff Gladbach saw-off promotion hopefuls VFL Bochum to secure their status in the Bundesliga in one of the memorable survival stories in recent seasons.

Fast forward to three years after the struggle to avoid relegation, they are now competing in the top level having their eyes set on a European berth much thanks to the unbeaten home record.

Favre did guide ‘Gladbach to a Champions League participation in his sophomore year at the club, but what followed was an exit from the preliminary round of the elite European tournament. The departure of star players; Marco Reus (Dortmund), Dante (Bayern) and Roman Neustädter (Schalke); to the top three teams resulted in a somehow transition period for the club after their fairytale season raised expectation high.

The new signings in replacement for the trio takes time to adjust to the German football, with highly-rated midfielder Granit Xhaka spent much of his debut season in the substitute bench for disciplinary reasons, while Luuk de Jong and Álvaro Domínguez couldn’t quite able to made ‘Gladbach faithful forget about the dynamic play of Marco Reus and ever-reliable Dante’s service.

At the end of the season, ‘Gladbach had to settle for an eighth place finish as they witnessed surprise packages Freiburg and freshly-promoted Eintracht Frankfurt sides making it into the top six, whereas their Europa League adventure couldn’t go further than the last-32 following a defeat by Italian Serie A club, Lazio.

This season, Favre’s troop take the high road to success with a remarkable first half of a season resulted in them finishing the year above their namesake, Borussia Dortmund, with Champions League football on their sight.

Here are some reasons behind the scintillating first half of the season from Borussia Mönchengladbach.


Making Borussia-Park a fortress

Only closest rivals VFL Wolfsburg were able to take points off Mönchengladbach’s ground this season and they were even trailing the match until the final five minutes, in which substitute Bas Dost snatched the points to keep the distance between the sides to three points going into the Winterpause.

They scored twenty-five goals in nine home matches, which is the league best, and only conceded seven in return, only one more than league-leaders Bayern Munich.

In the process, the Rhine-Westphalia side beat the likes of Schalke and Dortmund, as Borussia-Park becomes the toughest place to play against for visitors. They hold more than sixty percent of the possession over the ninety minutes in matches against Freiburg and Nuremberg, which further cemented their dominance when they play in front of their supporters.

They started the season with four consecutive away defeats, including falling short in a heavy tasks to visit top dogs Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, but once they recorded their first win against Hamburg courtesy of a brace from Max Kruse, they extended their unbeaten run to four matches in their travels, eight overall, ahead of the start of the second of the season.


The mesmerizing quartet upfront

The summer acquisition of Max Kruse from Freiburg and Brazilian Raffael, who had a wealth of experience in German football thanks to his stint at Hertha and Schalke before rejoining Lucien Favre for the third time in his career, couldn’t have come at the right time for ‘Gladbach. Alongside long-serving Patrick Herrmann and Juan Arango, the duo played a pivotal role in delivering the goods in the final third of the pitch.

Kruse - who was just plying his trade in Bundesliga 2. with St.Pauli a couple of seasons ago - finds his name in contention for the strikers who’ll represent the national team in this summer’s World Cup following an immediate impact he’s making in his new territory, in addition to last season’s heroic performance for the minnows, Freiburg.

Raffael rejuvenated his carrier with possibly his best performance to date, as he tops the chart of goal scorers in the team with nine goals, including a belter against Schalke. But his game is more than scoring goals, as his work rate, versatility and involvement in possession football provides multiple options for the ‘Gladbach frontline.

Herrmann didn’t quite start the season in high note, but he quickly finds his feet to contribute to the remarkable Hinrunde for the club. Specially, he produced man of the match performances against Nuremberg and Stuttgart, which might attract national team coach Joachim Löw to consider calling the service of the youngster to his squad this summer.

Venezuelan master-class Juan Arango completes the fearsome quartet, as he continued to impress in, maybe, his last season with the club. The 33-years-old free-kick specialist contract will expire at the end of the season, and ‘Gladbach are yet to offer him a contract extension, despite the fact that he keeps scoring the finest goals in the league.

Overall, Lucien Favre started all seventeen league matches this season so far with the same four players in the attacking department.


Consistent lineup

Those four players are not the only ones who are yet to miss a game this season, as Lucien Favre remains faithful in his formation and player selection, since the first day of the campaign. Luckily for the rigid manager, they didn’t have to deal with any serious injury problems - unlike fellow league teams, most notably Borussia Dortmund.

Skipper Filip Daems finds it hard to get playing time once he returned to fitness after a brief spell in the sidelines, thanks to a top-class performances from Swedish Oscar Wendt, who has excelled in his attacking play of his game - scoring three goals from left-back position.

Defensive rock Álvaro Domínguez, who started the season in the most bizarre way by being penalized for handball twice in a space of a minute against Bayern, is yet to feature since he was forced to depart against Dortmund due to an injury.

However, debutant Julian Korb has stepped up to the task flawlessly in fullback position with Tony Jantschke - another candidate who might go to Brazil for the World Cup, even though he is yet to play for the national team - filling in for the Spaniard in the center of defense.

Other than that, the remaining players stayed unchanged for the course of the season which left some players to languish in the substitute bench waiting for their rare playing times. Thankfully that list doesn’t include a certain name - Granit Xhaka.

The Swiss international finally performed to high expectations partnering with Leverkusen-loanee Christoph Kramer in the middle of the pitch to great effect.


A Stalwart to Depart the Foals this Summer?

Shot-stopper Marc-André ter Stegen revealed he is not going to extend his contract at the club further than the current one - which will run out at the end of next season - following interest from Spanish giant FC Barcelona, and he’s getting even better with experience to become one of the up-and-coming goalkeepers of his generation.

The Foals are in chase of finding a successor for the current German International, as they’re not expected to keep ter Stegen after this summer in order to not lose such a player for free a season later.

That might happen eventually to most of their star players, as it was the case with the club record transfer of Marco Reus to Dortmund, but the current success of Mönchengladbach is more about team effort.

It’s hard to pick the standout player from the current squad, like we pointed Marco Reus out a couple of seasons ago, as the club looks very stable and healthy in every department, which might even get better with the money pouring from Champions League participation next season.

But, first, they have to stay on their feet and not get carried away for the second half of the season, which will resume by the visit of none other than Bayern Munich to Borussia-Park this coming Friday.


Written by Eskender Tamrat

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Premier League 2013/14: So far, so very, very entertaining

Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion - Barclays Premier League

The Premier League has always boasted its competitiveness compared to Europe’s other top leagues, although in reality it was only two, sometimes three teams that were really in the title race. So far this season, that has changed quite dramatically.

Here we are in January and the top 6 places are changing on a weekly basis and it’s nigh on impossible at this point to predict in which order the top 7 will be, come the end of the season.

For the most part, Arsenal have set the pace thus far. The sensational capture and influence of Mesut Ozil, coupled with the excellent form of Aaron Ramsey have helped re-establish what looked very unlikely on opening day, Arsenal as genuine title contenders.

On paper, their squad still looks thin, but on the pitch they’ve contended with a long list of injuries, negotiated the Champions League ‘group of death’ and remained consistent. If Arsene Wenger can find a suitable forward and defender in the January transfer window, then the Gunners could end their long trophy drought with a Premier League crown.

Pre-season title favourites Manchester City and Chelsea have both stuttered at times, but are now ominously gathering pace. City’s away form earlier in the campaign was threatening to derail their title challenge, but with that having improved and being so imperious and scoring goals for fun at the Etihad, they are now many people’s pick to be champions.

Fernandinho has slotted in beautifully next to Yaya Toure and Negredo looks an excellent acquisition, alongside the sublime Sergio Aguero seamlessly. Indeed, they have the best squad and arguably the best team that is gelling so well under the guidance of Manuel Pellegrini that, it could well be their title to lose.

Before the start of the season, I felt Chelsea were slight favourites to be champions with the quality and experience in the squad and the Premier League know-how of Jose Mourinho; however, they looked surprisingly fragile at the back and have often lacked fluidity in attack, but are still within touching distance of top spot.

Oscar often made a difference for the Blues early season and Eden Hazard has picked up his form of late, something that has been vital given that their strikers have barely found the back of the net and their best player, Juan Mata, is bizarrely spending most of his season watching from the bench. Mourinho may lack class with some of his post-match interviews, as he deflects attention away from his team, but he has a knack of winning trophies and Chelsea are certainly in the hunt for the title.

Liverpool are in with real chance of getting back into the Champions League this season, aided by the goals of the magnificent Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan was the best player in the league last season, but the stupidity of biting Ivanovic and his reputation probably prevented him being recognised as such. This year, not only has hebeen almost unplayable at times, but he’s also cleaned up his act and been a huge part in Liverpool’s often scintillating attacking play.

Daniel Sturridge has also weighed in with goals, Jordan Henderson has been outstanding and Raheem Sterling is looking a much more mature player. With the experience and quality of Steven Gerrard and the creativity of Coutinho, Liverpool have continued their progression throughout the calendar year of 2013 to put themselves into contention.

Merseyside rivals Everton have been a revelation under arguably the manager of the year so far, Roberto Martinez. The Toffees had a squad primarily set up to be functional, hardworking and difficult to beat. Martinez has taken the handbrake off, allowing players to express themselves more and introduced a more patient build up to their play. Seamus Coleman being played as an attacking right-back has been a masterstroke, as has having the faith and confidence to play Ross Barkley in the key attacking midfield role.

Loan signings Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku have been pivotal in a very impressive season, but the lack of depth to the squad does raise the question whether or not Everton will be able to maintain their top 4 challenge to the business end of the season.

After a sticky start, Newcastle have got going pretty well, influenced by the talented Yohan Cabaye and the goalscoring prowess of Loic Remy. The lack of Europa League football has no doubt helped them and although a European place looks beyond them this season, the Magpies are set for a satisfactory campaign.

Southampton’s start was fantastic, a win and clean sheet away at Anfield was just one of many eye catching performances that lead to Adan Lallana and Jay Rodriguez rightfully gaining international recognition with England. Luke Shaw is continuing to enhance his growing reputation and Dejan Lovren has been stellar at the centre of solid defence that combined with a good passing style, has seen Manager Mauricio Pochettino’s list of admirers grow. The behind the scenes unrest however, does threaten their stability.

After selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for £85m, Tottenham spent over £100m on a promising centre-back, 2 central midfielders, 3 attacking midfielders and a striker, but bizarrely ignored their glaring weakness at left-back. Last season I felt that Spurs tactics were essentially to give the ball to Bale and hope he did something, meaning Andre Villas Boas would have to be more imaginative and expressive with his impressive looking squad this term.

Instead, they lacked a fluidity often suffered by teams trying to integrate too many new players at once and with the below par performances came a lack of confidence leading to the 6-0 hammering away to Man City and the 5-0 thrashing at home to Liverpool which ultimately cost Villas Boas his job. His replacement, Tim Sherwood, may not have the tactical prowess of Europe’s top managers, but he has employed a much more attacking style that has Tottenham back in top 4 contention.

Whoever took over as Man Utd manager after Alex Ferguson was always picking up a poisoned chalice, so to speak. They would inevitably either fail to live up to expectation or have success attributed to taking over an already successful team. I, amongst many others, was surprised at David Moyes selection as Ferguson’s successor.

Moyes built a good reputation at Everton, but his teams were very functional and his record was built mostly on finding bargains and over-achieving. Taking over at a club with money to spend and a higher expectation of success is a different challenge; one which only time will tell if Moyes is up to.

Last season, the under-performance of Man City and the goals of Robin Van Persie, particularly up until the festive period, probably masked the deficiencies in the Man Utd squad. Deficiencies that without Ferguson at the helm and big changes to the coaching staff, have become all too prevalent this season.

One positive this season though has been the marked improvement in goalkeeper David De Gea and with players like Van Persie and Rooney in the team, Utd have to be fancied for a top 4 spot. Their real difficulty will come in replacing an ageing defence, especially if there is no Champions League football for a club carrying heavy debts and huge expectations.

Before the start of the season, I fancied Chelsea to just win the title ahead of City. Although City look the team to beat, I have a feeling Chelsea may still edge them out in May.

Whilst the top 2 will probably be what many expected back in the summer, the tightness of the top 7 has been a pleasant surprise in what has been an entertaining season so far.


Written by Andy Wales

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Arsenal: The Season So Far

The Arsenal have done remarkably well. They have even done far better than what most critics would have anticipated. The loss at The Emirates to Aston Villa followed by the introduction of German’s maestro, Mesut Özil, seems to be the catalyst of this unbeaten streak in the Premier League.

An ambitious Borrusia Dortmund may have caused a hitch in their Champions League quest but the Gunners showed resilience in their 10-man match against a fiery Crystal Palace emerging victorious with a 2-0 win. Having lost Mikel Arteta due to a quite questionable red card against former gunner, Marouane Chamakh, they showed brilliancy in forcing a win in the absence of their skipper.

Wenger’s men might have won the battle at Selhurst Park but the war still rages on. Their next matches are all fire and brimstone. Come Tuesday, they will have to square it off with Chelsea in a Capital One Cup tie. Chelsea who are among the chasing pack in the league currently won their Sunday fixture 2-1 against Manchester City with both of their goals being capitalized on defensive errors and orchestrated by one mercurial Fernando Torres.

The game against Crystal Palace took its toll on Wenger’s boys as anchorman Mathieu Flamini was forced out of the game in the early minutes with a hamstring injury confirmed to put him out of action for three weeks. The Frenchman was the core of the defensive midfield in that Arsenal centre and his injury couldn’t have come at the possibly worst time ever.

It will be interesting to see who Arsene Wenger will field. Will he put out his famous young blood team or will he risk playing the senior boys knowing quite well the possibility of more injuries. Or would he mix both of them?

The Capital One Cup is perhaps what I would term as the ‘easiest cup’ to win and would patch up the lack of silverware in the trophy cabinet. After battling it out with The Blues this midweek, they will face Liverpool on a weekend fixture this Saturday. Surely it doesn’t rain, but pours. The match has been scheduled to be one mouth-watering clash and with both of them at par on the league standings, it promises to be a classic.

Pundits cannot wait to see how the tiki-taka-Barcelona-esque midfield of Arsenal would pair against a formidable and feisty strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. Three very crucial points will be up for grabs but deep down we all know this match is about bragging rights and unquenched egos. A draw will certainly be a boring affair as bucket loads of goals are expected out of that game.

Just when you thought the fun was over, Arsenal have a Champions League return leg to Bundesliga’s side, Borrusia Dortmund on 6th Wednesday, November. It gets even more interesting as the immediate next fixture is a date with current EPL champions, Manchester United at Old Trafford on the 10th November.

Critics have argued that with tough fixtures is the only way to gauge Arsenal’s capability, resilience and ambition. Wenger was quoted saying that this was the season his team would fight off with The Red Devils and the rest to the trophy at the end of June. Football enthusiasts all over said that they were yet to face bigger opposition. Well, the match against The Kop will be one of the many tests to see if they can hold on till the end of the league.

Come December, Arsenal’s depth squad will be put to test as fixtures come in thick and fast due to the season’s festivities. Will injuries pile up as it has been in the rest of the other season, or will Wenger be uncanny and pull a rabbit out of a hat with a strategy. The thought of January and its transfer window is one Wenger has his mind on.

When asked whether he would add more steel to his squad, he brushed the issue aside and claimed that his main focus at the moment was seeing his team flourish and keep being the top predator in that food chain. It’s quite clear that with the likes of Özil in the mix, he will still have to invest in a couple of players to compensate the injured ones (which inevitably will happen).

As for now, The Gunners are cruising, thwarting everyone who stands in their way but with a winning streak, come great responsibility; maintaining it. Will they hold on and fight off other big guns or will they crumble?


Written by David Mwandawiro

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Manchester City: The Ups and Downs of a dismal campaign

A season full of mystery, confusion and what might have been surrounded Manchester City’s 2012/13 campaign. Reigning champions City, had to come back even stronger after their infamous title win in 2012.

Preparation for the season could not have been much worse. A list of Roberto Mancini’s targets in hand, then Director of Football Brian Marwood failed to get any of Mancini’s most wanted. A list that included Italian international Daniele De Rossi, Brazilian defender Thiago Silva, wonderkid Eden Hazard and Dutch striker Robin Van Persie, would certainly have made a huge difference to City’s campaign.

In the end, Marwood went out and bought alternatives. Javi Garcia was signed from Benfica, after De Rossi decided he wanted to stay at Roma. Garcia, 26, had a torrid season at Eastlands. He mustered only 17 Premier League appearances all season and he made only ONE remarkable performance during that time (Arsenal (A)). Garcia was also shown up in a league too fast for his own game. Where Garcia thrived was when he had space and time on the ball. He very rarely got that in the Premier League, and so failed to deliver.

Maicon was signed to add experience to the defence, but was moved on to Italian side Roma after an injury hit season. Scott Sinclair has failed to make any impact in the team whatsoever, probably because once he started training with City, Mancini realised Marwood had bought a player simply not good enough for a team of City’s calibre.

Matija Nastasic was an exception of course. A revelation at the heart of the Manchester City defence, the 19 year old Serbian showed maturity beyond his years, and ousted England international Joleon Lescott from the City team, a player who had earned many plaudits for his solidity at the back throughout Manchester City’s title winning campaign.

Nevertheless, City started the season with pretty much the same side as the season before. They started at Villa Park, in the the Community Shield v Chelsea. They swept aside their opponents in irresistable fashion and won 3-2, whilst playing Stefan Savic in the centre of defence in a 3-5-2 formation that caused much controversy later on in the season.

Jack Rodwell was signed after the defeat of Chelsea, and whenever he played was extremely good in sky blue. Unfortunately, those appearances were few and far between as Rodwell carried his injury form from Merseyside to Manchester.

City started the season shakily. A win at home to promoted Southampton should have been a straightforward task for the Champions, but Southampton used pressing tactics to thwart City, and City struggled to respond. Southampton temporarily held a 2-1 lead at the Etihad, until late strikes from Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri gave Manchester City an undeserved victory.

A draw at Liverpool and a routine 3-1 victory against the eventually relegated QPR followed, whilst City bizarrely sold fans favourite Nigel De Jong to AC Milan and also winger Adam Johnson before the close of the transfer window.

September started with another two average performances. The expected yearly draw at the Britannia before a dismal 1-1 draw against Arsenal, where the visitors largely dominated. Wedged in between was the 3-2 defeat by Real Madrid, where up until the 87th minute, City were leading, before an unlikely comeback from the Spanish side, crushed City hearts. Mancini’s team was beginning to look like a side lacking the will, motivation or spirit needed to win the League, one factor that caused Mancini’s demise at the end of the season.

An unlikely hero in Edin Dzeko started to emerge, when he sealed comeback victory’s away at West Brom and Fulham in successive away games before unleashing his touch at home, where he netted the 87th minute winner in a vital tie v Tottenham Hotspur. One of City’s better performances of the season came at home to Sunderland, where Aleksandr Kolarov and James Milner ran the show for the blues.

What City had this season compared to the previous campaign, was that teams treated their game against City as some sort of Cup Final. If you could beat the Champions, it could be one of the biggest results of your year, and could give those sides a platform to build on. The lack of spirit and fight amongst the squad gave opposition teams openings and City lost 6 times throughout the 12/13 season, once more than they did the previous year.

City were being humiliated in the Champions League. At home to Dortmund, City were lucky to even get a result when Dortmund completely dominated the blues for the best part of 89 minutes, until a Mario Balotelli penalty rescued a point. Away to Ajax, City’s defensive problems were brought to light as a young Ajax side took City to pieces and won 3-1. Coming out of that game was the players’ rift with manager Roberto Mancini. Mancini had changed tactics to 3-5-2, but the players did not seem to want to implement it, and it caused confusion amongst the side. They were again almost humiliated by Ajax at home two early strikes gave Ajax a 2-0 lead, until City brought it back to 2-2.

These were both games City should have won, and Ajax did not pick up another point throughout the rest of their Champions League campaign. A combative draw against Real Madrid followed before an utterly disgraceful performance away to Dortmund’s “B” side knocked City out of Europe’s top competition in the Group Stage for the second season running.

After City’s Champions League exit, their main focus was to be the Premier League. Top at the start of December, a deject draw at home to Everton gave Manchester United the top spot heading into the Manchester Derby at the Etihad. A late Robin Van Persie winner gave City’s arch-rivals victory, but had the commitment and desire to the cause had been the level of Pablo Zabaleta’s throughout the City side, then the result may have been different. Nevertheless, United created a 5 point margin at the top of the Premier League, a margin that escalated to 11 points by the end of the season.

In the second half of the season, City did not learn from their mistakes. Once the departure of Mario Balotelli was confirmed, it was expected that City would become a better side, one that was without the distraction of the Italian maverick.

However, in the three consequent games after Balotelli’s departure, City did not win once. A humiliating defeat away to Southampton, brought with it extremely odd howlers from Joe Hart and Gareth Barry. This would be the last straw for the owners of the club. After the defeat to Southampton, Mansour reportedly told his City boardroom to look for a replacement for the next campaign. From February onwards, Mancini was a dead man walking.

Despite their failings in the league, City had forged an impressive cup run. Wins over Watford, Stoke, Leeds and Barnsley brought City back to Wembley. They were to face Chelsea in the semi-final of the FA Cup and for probably just the fifth time that season, City turned on the style. City impressively swept away Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley, only six days after a committed and hard earned performance at Old Trafford earned City the same result.

What was to happen six weeks later was a disaster.

City were undeservedly being given the chance to win some silverware after their pathetic showings in the Premier League and the Champions League.

City fans were filled with hope, that despite all the troubles of the season, they could win something.

They believed they weren’t typical City anymore.

How wrong they were.

City turned up to Wembley in a poor run of form after their victory over Chelsea six weeks earlier. Wins at home to Wigan and West Brom were awful performances, whilst the draw away to Swansea was even worse. City also lost to Tottenham during this time, when a 10 minute lapse of concentration gave Welsh wizard Gareth Bale license to play, and he inspired a 10 minute goal-fest from Spurs to win 3-1 over the Champions at White Hart Lane. Manchester United sealed their title win a day later, and City had failed to keep their trophy away from the red half of Manchester.

Despite their poor run of form, the football world still expected City to beat Wigan Athletic at Wembley. Wigan were struggling and currently featured in the Premier League’s relegation zone. They were unable to forge the yearly run of form to get themselves out of trouble, a trademark of Wigan’s since Roberto Martinez became their manager in 2009. Football fans around the world expected it to be a walk in the park for expensively assembled Manchester City. Yet what happened was City’s season in a nutshell.

No commitment, no drive, no passion.

As Wigan players fought for every ball, City players did not. Wigan were on top of City for the majority of the game. Even City’s player of the year, Pablo Zabaleta, the winner purely because he showed the qualities that his teammates had not, did not seem up for the game, and eventually was given his marching orders.

Inevitably, Wigan scored a late winner through substitute Ben Watson, and City’s dreams for silverware were over.

City were humiliated, embarrassed and a mess, three words that could have described City many times throughout the 2012/13 campaign.

Not content with the level of embarrassment, City sacked Roberto Mancini in undesirable fashion. They then lost 3-2 at home to Norwich on the final day.

City have been a laughing stock at many times throughout their history. The first side to be Champions and be relegated. The first side to score the most goals in one season AND concede the most. A side who lost 8-1 to a mediocre Middlesbrough side, managed by Gareth Southgate. And a side, when drawing 2-2 with Liverpool at home on the final day of the 95/96 season, told the team to try and maintain the result despite needing a win to stay up.

City will come back stronger next year and will always come out fighting. Despite their mess-ups, City have always found a way to fight back. Look to the 98/99 Play off final, or Aguero’s last minute winner to seal the title.

There’s no doubt about it, City will be back.


Written by Henry Francis

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AC Milan: A Jekyll and Hyde campaign

It’s been a real Jekyll and Hyde season for AC Milan this year. Although Milan managed to narrowly clinch a Champions League qualifying berth, it was anything but straightforward.

The Rossoneri only registered three wins in their first 10 Serie A games of the season, including a derby loss to Internazionale to further add insult to injury. An equally poor Champions League run during the group stage exacerbated this; Milan only recorded two wins in edging qualification to the knockout phase of the competition.

The one saving grace Milan possessed during these tumultuous times was Stephan El Shaarawy. Before the start of the season, Milan had released many of their most experienced players like Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi.

Moreover, Milan had sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint Germain. All these departures augured a difficult season, which came to pass. However, none would have expected the 20-year-old El Shaarawy take such an important role in keeping the team afloat.

In effect, El Shaarawy had a very impressive Serie A season, scoring 16 goals. Although most of those goals came in the first half of the season, they all proved crucial in allowing Milan to finish third at the end of the season.

Of course it wasn’t all down to El Shaarawy. When the goals dried up for the young Italian, Adriano Galliani brought in reinforcement in the shape of Mario Balotelli. The want-away striker arrived in the January transfer window from Manchester City for about €20 million. Balotelli made a blistering start to his Milan career, and topped it off with 12 goals in his 13 league appearances. Indeed Balotelli’s arrival proved to be that X-factor that allowed Milan to clinch third place ahead of Fiorentina in the last game of the season.

Because Balotelli had already featured in Europe for Manchester City, he was cup-tied for the Champions League. His offensive presence could have possibly made a difference for the Rossoneri in their knockout round clash against Barcelona. After an unexpected win at the San Siro and Mbaye Niang’s effort that came crashing against the upright, Milan saw their 2-0 first-leg lead undone as the Blaugrana routed the Italians 4-0.

Throughout this whole season of up’s and down’s, Massimiliano Allegri was the main target of much of the criticism directed at Milan too. Club owner, Silvio Berlusconi, was not shy about publically criticizing his coach, either. In short, the style of play was not to the taste of Berlusconi, who cringed at Allegri’s conservative and overly cautious tactics.

His supporters accepted the fact that Allegri was doing the best of very limited resources, whilst his detractors berated his provincial – referring to a small-club mentality – approach. In the end however, Allegri managed to seal the much-coveted Champions League qualifying spot.

It really has been a difficult season, for both Milan and their fans. Allegri managed to survive until the end of the season and indeed up until today despite the inconsistent results. El Shaarawy was key in the first half of the season in giving Milan a puncher’s chance to finish with a bang.

Balotelli’s arrival during the winter delivered that bang as Milan was, statistically, one of the best teams of the second half of the season in terms of points won. Overall, Milan was the fifth best Serie A offense (67 goals scored) and the third best defense (39 goals conceded).

It is difficult to consider Milan’s season a real success, or a complete failure either. They struggled mightily and in fact only managed one win – against Juventus – against the teams that finished in the top four and Internazionale throughout the season. There is definitely an argument to be made about the loss of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva before the start of the season. But apart from Juventus and Roma, Milan’s squad should have been expected to compete with all other the teams over a 38-game season.

On the other hand, after a terrible start that had the Rossoneri anchored to the bottom half of the table, we must praise them for their impressive climb up the table. In the end, it is probably best that Milan consider this season a wash and suspend judgment until the season to come.


Written by Ogo Sylla

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