Why Bayern Munich’s Domination is Bad for German Football

A few weeks have passed since Bayern celebrated it’s title victory in the German championship, the Bundesliga. In case you didn’t know, that win makes it eighth time in a row. An outstanding achievement on one hand, but a disaster for German football in general. Only seven years ago, the Bundesliga and the German National Football Team were on a high and seemed unstoppable. Bayern scooped the Champions League trophy in 2012/2013 singling the beginning of their dominance. One year later and it was the national team who were celebrating with Germany winning the 2014 World Cup. Things could not have looked better for German football which was expected to go on to dominate for years to come both from a club and national perspective. But it never happened and instead the level of German football started to decline.

Domination

Bayern as a team is already hated by most football fans. During my studies in Germany, I was amazed how many people even in the Bavaria region stopped supporting the team. As fan of Bayern, I was mostly shocked and disappointed. However, the more you talk to football fans, the more you understand the reason. Other clubs don’t have that amount of fame, the same amount of money and mostly important the same respect as Bayern. indeed the general feeling is that certain individuals at Bayern including the president of Bayern often don’t not show the same level as respect to other teams as afforded to Bayern. Former President Uli Hoeness regularly threw out phrases like “Bayer (Leverkusen) will not get ahead of Bayern after 100 years” which didn’t help the situation.

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The endless victories of Bayern has led to the reality that the rival clubs have begun to gradually lose interest in competing for the title with the gaps growing every season. even Bayern has stopped talking about what will happen in the Championship instead focusing more on attaining Champions League success. If Josep Guardiola was still trying to make a revolution in Munich in football terms, then Carlo Ancelotti simply exploited what he received. And he still won the league with ease.

What about other clubs

Despite the domination of Bayern, there have been some promising signs that clubs are beginning to believe that things are about to change. In the Bundesliga,  competition from other clubs seems to be higher than before with more teams pushing Bayern in the title race. Nearest rivals Borussia Dortmund are gradually improving and closing the gap season over season whilst also regularly competing in the Champions Leagues. Bayer Leverkusen are also doing very well, improving its domestic form and taking part in more frequently in European cup competitions. Other teams are in the mix as well with RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach offering new threats to Bayerns domestic dominance. Indeed the gap is shrinking with the difference in points between the second club in the Bundesliga and the fifth is only 2 or 3 point on average.

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But the gap is much wider when you look at the Champions League. Bayerns domination of the Bundesliga and ability to buy its best players year over year is perfectly reflected in its regular participation in the Champion League, especially its latter stages. The last German club to win the title was in 2012/2013, and that was Bayern. Dortmund were the runners up in that final and have pushed hard to make the quarter finals on a more frequent basis but in general German clubs don’t feature as much at that stage in the competition as other nations (take English clubs as an example).

German National Team

The real problem however in German football today is that most of the young players breaking into the Bundesliga are foreigners. The training system, which was considered exemplary for almost 10 years has begun to fail. So what broke in the seemingly unstoppable assembly line that trained young players? Firstly, they all understand perfectly well that there is not enough space for everyone in Bayern’s squad. However not everyone wants to go there. Secondly, when the assembly line started working, it encouraged agents to automatically seek better moves for their players either to other leagues or to Bayern.

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The outcome

It’s hard to say what the future holds for German football. German football like most is evolving and change is happening if slowly. There are promising signs with the development of younger talented players like Timo Werner and Kai Havertz but they need to play in a competitive Bundesliga or will  be forced to move abroad in order to experience winning trophies. This would be detrimental to the league and the development of the National team. Bayerns dominance might be exciting for Bayerns fans but unless they can be unseated soon, the damage to German football may take years to repair. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to watch.

Post by Irina Kuzina, Back Of The Net Russia correspondent. Follow her now on Instagram.

The German Machine – A Look at Bayern’s 2019/2020 Season

Bayern Munich are champions of the Bundesliga for the eighth consecutive season and winners of this seasons DFB-Pokal. That lands them another league and cup double which takes them up to 30 league titles and 20 national cups in total in their history making them the most successful German team of all time. The Covid-19 pandemic was a hurdle to overcome as all competitions came to a grinding halt on March 13th but once consultation with the German government took place, the Bundesliga resumed behind closed doors on the 16th May. After the imposed break, Bayern were unstoppable winning all 11 of their remaining league and cup matches clinching the League title in mid June with 2 games to spare. They then added the League cup in early July with a 4-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen. Bayern are also heading into the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 with a healthy 3-0 advantage over Chelsea FC. There is a good case to be made that they can reach the final and possibly end the season as treble winners but the past 12 months have not been as straight forward as their successes may suggest.

BAYERN

The season started with a 2-0 loss to Borussia Dortmund in the DFL Super Cup and their title defence was shaping up to be a hard fought one too. Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach all started the season well and were looking in dangerous form while Bayern were simply not playing their best football; sometimes only narrowly getting by opponents who they should have beaten easily. The criticism landed heavily on the shoulders of their then coach Niko Kovac, as he had Bayern playing in a more defensive style which goes against the DNA of the club. They looked vulnerable at the back and were overly reliant on moments of individual brilliance from their attackers, most especially Robert Lewandowski who routinely spared their blushes with his ingenuity and lethal finishing. They were looking a shadow of their once dominant selves who routinely swept opponents off the park with their dazzling yet efficient and cohesive football.

Although injuries to certain players contributed to the poor run, Kovac’s tenure was becoming divisive as was demonstrated in his undermining of club legend Thomas Müller by relegating him to the bench in favor of the newly loaned but underperforming Phillip Coutinho. After a 5-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt, which was their worst Bundesliga defeat in a decade, it was evident his position was untenable. Following a meeting with the Club President, chairman and sporting director, Kovac’s contract was mutually terminated. As a result of this termination, Kovac’s assistant manager Hans-Dieter Flick was given the role of interim manager. At this point Bayern had won only half of their opening 10 Bundesliga games with 3 draws, 2 losses and were languishing in the 4th position on the table.

Flick and Kovac

“i’ll take it from here” – Flick (left) took over when Kovac (right) departed. (Image from Tumblr)

Flick’s first game was in the Champions League against Greek champions Olympiacos.  He appear to handle the game well with a professional 2-0 win but his true test would come back in the league on matchday 11, a home game against rivals Borussia Dortmund. An emphatic 4-0 mauling of Dortmund followed which moved Bayern above their title rivals. Although back to back defeats against Bayern Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach followed that result,  Flick recorrected course by making a few minor adjustments to the team and never looked back. This earned him the role of permanent manager until the end of the season. What followed was a level of dominance as Flick’s team routinely brushed teams aside with ease. Bayern proceeded to win 25 of their following 26 games, drawing only once and giving Flick a record of 29 wins in 32 matches in all competitions. Bayern scored a record total of 100 goals in the Bundesliga and conceded only 32 goals in their 38 games.

The attacking prowess and defensive solidity shows that of a team that struck a perfect balance between attack and defence. It is no surprise that this coincided with a return to the old guard, both Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller became fixtures in the first team with Boateng marshalling the defence and Muller dovetailing seamlessly with Serge Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski in attack. The trio finished the season in style with Lewandowski leading the league with 34 goals and scoring 54 in total in all competitions. Muller scored 8 and provided a record breaking 21 assists in the league while Gnabry added a further 21 goals and 11 assists to cap off a fine season for Bayern.

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The return of Muller and Boateng coincided with Bayern’s improvements on the field. (image from Tumblr)

This run gave ‘Hansi’ Flick the best start any Bayern boss has ever managed, even better than that of Pep Guardiola’s 2013/2014 team. He also has a point-per-game ratio of 2.71 which surpasses that of Pep’s 2.6 and is slightly ahead of Juup Heynckes’ impressive 2.7 ratio. The manner in which the manager has turned around their fortunes is quite impressive and he is fully deserving of the contract extension given to him which keeps him as head coach until 2023.

A double already won and a treble well within their sights, this team which looked destined to be dethroned has once again found a way to navigate itself back to the summit of German football. All while doing so with a style and efficiency which can only be seen in that of a German Machine.

Post by Ani Chukwuebuka. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram

Where Next for Zlatan?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s spell with the LA Galaxy came to an end earlier this month, bringing an end to an electrifying and controversial time in the “City of Angels” fit for a Hollywood movie. The big Swede certainly has plenty of suitors to choose from and he will be able to choose his next move in the January transfer window. 

A move back to Europe seems the most likely choice for the big striker. A move outside of Europe could also be on the cards. But with the Champions League trophy missing from his cabinet, a move to Europe, one who is in the Champions League would surely be the preferable choice for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Realistically there are only a few teams that could afford him. So let’s break down the leading candidates vying for Ibrahimovic’s signature both in Europe and abroad.

Ibrahimovic has confirmed his departure from Los Angeles but where will he go next? (Image from Tumblr)

Ibrahimovic has confirmed his departure from Los Angeles but where will he go next? (Image from Tumblr)

Italy has long been described by Ibrahimovic as his “second home”. And there is no short supply of former teams that could use his goals. The Rossoneri, aka A.C Milan have been lacking goals this season, they currently sit 14th in the league and have only scored 11 goals in 12 games. They could certainly use the Swede’s natural instincts in front of goal. Krzysztof Piatek’s stock has plummeted rapidly after his breakout season in 2018 for Milan but has failed to repeat his stunning first season. But with the club facing Financial Fair Play penalties, they will need to move some serious money to bring him back “home”. 

Cross city rivals Inter Milan could another former club the Swede could join. Conte is in the market for another forward, and although he would bring goals, his arrival would also mean a tactical shift which seems unlikely to happen. On top of that Ibrahimovic wants to win the Champions League. Come January Inter Milan may have already been eliminated as they sit third behind Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund. Would Zlatan be content with the Europa League with either Inter Milan or AC Milan?

Will Milan be split further by a war for Zlatan? (Image from Tumblr)

Will Milan be split further by a war for Zlatan? (Image from Tumblr)

Another of his former teams in Italy; Juventus have plenty of strikers at their disposable with Dybala, Mandzukic, Higuain all at Maurizio Sarri’s disposable. Adding Zlatan would be overkill in an already stacked attack. Much like Juventus French side Paris Saint Germain are also stacked upfront. With forwards Mauri Icardi and Edison Cavani, as well as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. 

A return back to England could also be on the cards, Manchester United are in desperate need of goals, and Zlatan can provide that. But Ole Gunner Solskjaer and Woodward are unlikely to make rash transfer decisions come January. Plenty of rumours have been flying around that Zlatan could see a return back to Spain. Barcelona seems like an unlikely choice, considering his past relationship, although it was with Pep Guardiola and not Barcelona itself.

Could Ibrahimovic be heading back to hep out Ole? (Image from Tumblr)

Could Ibrahimovic be heading back to hep out Ole? (Image from Tumblr)

There is also the possibility of Zlatan Ibrahimović going back home to Sweden. The scene of his hometown club- Malmo FF, could be a possibility that he has talked of the possibility of. However, it doesn’t appear that Zlatan is looking to end his career just yet even though it is a trophy that is missing from his cabinet. With the latest news of Ibrahimović buying shares in Malmo’s long-time rivals- Hammarby Fotboll, would the fans be willing to welcome him back with open arms?

Germany could be his next destination, having not “conquered” the Bundesliga yet, and Bayern Munich could use a striker to back up the best striker in the world in Lewandowski. But would Zlatan want to play second fiddle? Borussia Dortmund could be another destination in mind but signing the Swede would mean a change in tactics to fit the team around him and Zlatan doesn’t seem like the player who wants to press all game.

Aside from Barcelona, the other big two could prove problematic in Spain. Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid are replenishing their squad, replacing their aging stars, with the likes of Luka Jovic, Rodrygo, Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio all look set to lead the line for the Galacticos. They would be better off investing in their midfield and defence. Atletico Madrid also has plenty in attack, but they lack the necessary cap space to lure Ibrahimovic to Madrid. Manchester City is an unlikely choice because of his relationship with Guardiola. The only trophy missing in his cabinet is the Champions League trophy and Liverpool seem to be the best team to achieve that. But would Klopp risk the culture and atmosphere he’s worked hard to perfect for the Swedish striker?

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Where will Zlatan end up next? Time will tell (Image from Tumblr)

 

If Zlatan Ibrahimovic is looking to expand his horizon, there are other destinations outside of Europe that interest him. Australian side Perth Glory is rumoured to be interested in bringing Zlatan over in a special six-game appearance. Although it will likely not happen, his influence and prestige would certainly bring another level of excitement to a stagnating A-League. Would Zlatan be willing to play at a lower level for a limited amount of games?

The Chinese Super League and the J-League in Japan have become popular destinations for aging stars to retire at but so far, there has been no interest as of yet. Whatever the choice, you can expect it to be unveiled in the grandness we have come to expect from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And the world will be eagerly awaiting his decision.

Post by Kevin Wong. Follow him here on Twitter.

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Sorry, Not Sarri

As his triumphant Chelsea side took in a lap of honour in the half empty Olympic Stadium in Baku, a somber looking Maurizio Sarri stood motionless near the half way line. He watched with his hands behind is back as his players laughed and joked with each other, occasionally stopping to kiss the Europa League trophy they had just won. This was Chelsea’s first trophy under Sarri and indeed the Italian’s first major trophy as a manager so you would be forgiven for thinking that he would be joining in with the squad. But etched on his face was a look of solemn acceptance that despite winning UEFA’s second biggest club competition it wasn’t going to be enough. Sarri could already hear the knives being sharpened 2,864 miles away in London as the Chelsea hierarchy prepared to stab him in the back.

Sarri has cut a frustrated figure of late (Image from Tumblr)

Sarri has cut a frustrated figure of late (Image from Tumblr)

Sarri will likely be sacked, despite the win and of course a 3rd place League finish and a Carabao Cup final appearance. More was expected of Maurizio when he arrived from his native Italy last summer yet given the way that Manchester City and Liverpool have played this year, it’s hard to see how he could have achieved more. Sadly Sarri will never know as he bows out of Stamford Bridge this summer after only one year in charge. He will spend some time reflecting on what has been a rollercoaster year with many ups and downs. Sarri will feel that this was never truly his team and that he wasn’t given the opportunity to enforce the changes he wanted and both are valid points. But the underlining truth about why Sarri never quite worked at Chelsea was that the players, fans and executive team never really warmed to him. Avram Grant had a similar problem and lasted only a short while before being pushed out through a side door. Rumours of clashes between Sarri and the players were rife throughout the season but kept well under wraps so that it remained as only a rumour. The only true sign of dissident was in that Carabao Cup Final when Sarri was overruled on a substitution by the player (Kepa) he was trying to substitute. After that point, there really was no going back for Chelsea’s hierarchy who knew they would be shopping for a new manager in the close season.

The beginning of the end - Kepa's refusal to be substituted during the Carabao Cup final did more damage to Sarri than expected (Image from Tumblr)

The beginning of the end – Kepa’s refusal to be substituted during the Carabao Cup final did more damage to Sarri than he could imagine (Image from Tumblr)

For the fans who reminisce about the better days namely under one Jose Mourinho, there will be calls for Frank Lampard to be brought “home” as their new manager. Lampard has had a fine debut season as a manager of Derby County, remarkably guiding them to the Championship Playoffs Final, where they were within 90 minutes of playing in the Premier League only to fall at the last hurdle. There is no question he knows Chelsea but can he make the step up and manage the club he so loyally served as a player? Managing a team like Chelsea is no easy task under normal circumstances but that task is even harder with the London club about to start its two window FIFA imposed transfer ban. Whoever does take over from Sarri will come in knowing that they will be unable to add new faces to a squad that desperately needs freshening up.

Lampard's return? Will Frank return to the Bridge as manager (image from Tumblr)

Lampard’s return – Will Frank return to the Bridge as manager? (image from Tumblr)

Given the number of players Chelsea currently have out on loan (44 in total), having enough bodies to make up a squad won’t be an issue but putting enough quality on the pitch might be. With star player Eden Hazard almost confirming his departure in the press conference after the Europa League win, Chelsea face starting a new season without an inspirational creative spark. Being unable to replace the Real Madrid bound Hazard could prove to be a bigger headache than figuring out who will be at the helm. They could turn to Callum Hudson Odoi to fill the void left by the Belgian which makes sense given his considerable talent but those are extremely large boots to fill, not only considering Hazards prominence in front of goal but also what his overall game brings to the Chelsea team as a whole. Thats a lot of pressure to place on the shoulders of a 18 year old. More likely Chelsea will turn to American wunderkid Christian Pulisic who has arrived from Borussia Dortmund after signing a contract in January before the transfer ban was imposed.

Chelsea may turn to Hudson Odoi to fill the void left by the departing Hazard (Image from Tumblr)

Chelsea may turn to Hudson Odoi to fill the void left by the departing Hazard (Image from Tumblr)

Sarri’s representatives meanwhile have flown in to London for crunch talks at Stamford Bridge with the hopes that they can persuade Chelsea to stick with him for one more season but with former Juventus boss Max Allegri now available, Sarri will not get a stay of execution. It’s a shame that it has not worked out for him. His first four months in charge demonstrated his abilities as a coach with Chelsea operating a fast paced possession based style of attacking football that would be dubbed “Sarriball”.  But as results began to slip and Sarri’s authority began to be questioned, surface cracks began to widen as the Italian battled with his squad and the egos within it. Sarri is by no means a bad manager and will now return to Italy to try again, with rumours suggesting Juventus may be willing to take a punt on Sarriball.

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Super Cup Final 2017 – German Football at its best.

On a overcast afternoon with rain clouds forming overhead, three Bayern Munich fans crossed the short bridge over the Rheinlanddamm that leads towards Signal Iduna Park. Proudly dressed in Bayern strips with scarfs hanging round their necks, the trio walk gingerly towards the ground talking quietly as they look around for fellow Bayern supporters. They do so as they are significantly outnumbere by a factor of ten at least. A sea of yellow awaits them at the end of the bridge, fans of Borussia Dortmund gathering on masses for today’s German Super Cup final. It’s not surprising that the Bayern fans are outnumbered as the game is taking place in Dortmund at Borussia’s ground. The impressive Signal Iduna Park with its bright yellow pylons acting like a beacon in this industrial city drawing in the fans from near and far. Despite being outnumbered and on hostile territory, there is no cause for concern for the Bayern fans as both sets of supporters are looking forward to a good match between two of Germany’s biggest sides.


The Super Cup is the aperitif to the new Bundesliga season which kicks off in earnest in two weeks time. Like the English Community shield, the current league champions (Bayern) face the cup winners (Borussia Dortmund) for the first piece of silverware of the season in this showcase event. The difference between the Super Cup and the Community Shield however is that the managers in German all take this Cup seriously unlike their English based counterparts (Mourinho aside). Perhaps a rebrand of the Community Shield is needed to push life back into that stale trophy. Near the stadium, kids aged between five and fifteeen trained on artificial surfaces dressed all in Dortmund strips with the same ambition to become the next superstar off his already production line. 

Who will be next to pull on the famous yellow jersey?


Dortmunds success at producing these kids is not the exception to the rule but the norm and is a reflection of the changes implemented by the German Federation and the Bundelsiga decades ago. Detailed brilliantly in Ralph Hogenstein’s book ‘Das Reboot’, this is one of the key reasons why German football is flourishing at all levels including the league itself which once again posted record profits for the twelfth year running. The Bundelsiga is living up to the worlds perception of Germany as a country of ruthless efficiency at scale. The Super Cup, which is run by the Bundesliga is its showcase and what a showcase, brilliantly organized like a  well oiled machine highlighting just how good German football is and how far it has come. 


The atmosphere inside the stadium is electric with 81,360 fans eagerly awaiting kickoff. The game itself lived up to the expectation with both sides starting at an elevated pace and soon the goals came. Midfielder Christian Pulisic, Americas next great hope took advantage of some sloppy defending to fire Dortmund into the lead within the first twelve minutes. That lead lasted only half that time with Robert Lewandowski poking the ball home after some good wing work by Kimmach. The goal was met with disbelief by the crowd who suspected that the cross came from an offside position but the Video Action Replay (VAR) which is being rolled out across all Bundelsiga matches this season confirmed that the goal was valid. After the equalizer, both sides dropped their tempo which to be fair was unsustainable over the remaining 70 minutes of the match. Only Ousmane Dembele continued with his energetic runs, repeatedly carving open a disorganized Bayern back line sadly missing the now retire Philip Lahm and demonstrating exactly why Barcelona are looking at him as a potential replacement for Neymar. MSD anyone? 

After the half time interval, Borussia looked the more likely to take control of the match primarily because they were feeding off of the noise and energy coming from the Borussia fans standing as one giant yellow wall behind the Bayern goal in the Signal Iduna’s south stand. Safe standing has been a feature of this stadium for some time now and is the largest of its kind in Europe. It’s a welcome return to the football of old with stadiums across Europe forced to eradicate standing in favour of all seating in the early nineties following a series of tragic fatal accidents. But with clubs like Dortmund leading the way, other clubs including Scottish champions Celtic are trialing safe standing sections with a view to rolling it out further if successful. Despite both side having chances, it was Dortmund who eventually finally found the break through on the counter attack that saw Dembele break at speed again and set up Pierre Aubameyang who curled the ball past Ulreich with the outside of his right boot. It was an exsquiste finish that should have been good enough to win the match but with Bayern as opponents you cannot rest until that final whistle blows. And so it proved with Bayern scrambling home an equalizer with two minutes left to play. Scrappy yes but vital for Bayern as they now had the momentum going into the penalty shootout. From then on it was Bayerns to lose and despite a scare (Kimmach missing his penalty at 2-2), Bayern held their nerve to win the cup much to the disappointment of the home support.

​As the fans exited the stadium either to celebrate or commiserate, the overall consensus was that it was an excellent game that acted as another feather in the growing German cap. With the World Cup in Russia next summer edging closer, a national team fresh off of winning the Confederation Cup at ease with its B side, a booming youth development production line and a league going from strength to strength under the tutelage of the Bundelsiga and German FA, its hard to not see success on the cards once again. German football is on a high, a brand growing in stature globally year over year with no real reason to suggest that will stop any time soon. And if the Super Cup is anything to go by, no one will want it to stop so best to hang on and enjoy the ride.

Can Bayern transform its aging squad and go again?

As Carlo Ancelotti closes in on yet another title he will surely take a deep breath in after what has been a not so easy season. The Bayern boss has seen his side struggle at times to exert its dominance on a league that it has controlled fairly easily over the last six years or so. Bayern’s dominance of the Bundesliga is without question but in recent seasons the gap between them and the chasing pack appears to be shrinking. The proverbial cracks are appearing in Bayern’s armour and that may indicate the need for change sooner rather than later. Old age is catching up with the Barvarian team in more than one sense.

Cause for concern for Ancelotti (Image from Tumblr)

Cause for concern for Ancelotti (Image from Tumblr)

The need for change was highlighted in their 3-2 semi final German Cup defeat this year at the hands of Borussia Dortmund. Despite leading the game 2-1 at half time, Bayern appeared to fade and tire as the game went on as Borussia upped the pace of the game by giving its younger stars who had energy to burn more of the ball. Goals from Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and 19 year old french sensation Ousmane Dembele ultimately settled the game and sent Dortmund through to the final against Frankfurt. This most recent defeat means that Bayern haven’t won a game in five attempts with their last victory being ironically against Dortmund in the league at the beginning of April. Over those five games though Bayern were knocked out by Real Madrid in the Champions League, held twice in the league by Bayer Leverkausen and Mainz and knocked out of the German Cup. With only four games left, Bayern should manage to stumble over the finish line and in doing so lift their five successive Bundesliga title. But Ancelotti will know that Bayern needs refreshing before the start of next season if they are to lift the title again and hold off their main competitors.

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Dembele scores the winner to put Dortmund into the final (Image from Tumblr)

Bayern unlike its rivals in the league are an aging team with more than a handful of key players on the wrong side of 26 (the league average). Indeed two of its most influential players in recent years are set to retire at the end of current season. Captain Philip Lahm (33) and midfield anchor Xavi Alonso (35) will hang up their boots after remarkable careers leaving sizable and notable gaps in the Bayern squad. Added into this, wingers Arjen Robben (33) and Franck Ribery (34) are speeding towards the end of their careers although are still both classified as important members of the squad.

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Players like Robben are nearing the end of their careers (Image from Tumblr)

More worryingly for Bayern is the lack of youth products coming through and breaking into the first team. Arguably other sides like Dortmund and Schalke have better youth development programs that are bearing fruit on a semi regular basis. Just a quick look at either squad will show that at least 20% has come through youth development channels in recent seasons. But for Bayern it’s less than 15% and even those that have broken through have been limited to very few minutes on the field. That’s not to say that Bayern does not have talent coming through its youth ranks, it certainly does (Marco Stefandl, Sinai Kurt, Gianluca Gaudino etc) but it’s simply not at the same rate as some of its main competitors.

Sport News - April 22, 2017

Who will take the places of Lahm and Alonso in the Bayern squad next season? (Image from Tumblr)

Luckily for Bayern they can and have been able to flex their financial muscles over the past few years and have bought some talented younger players like Kingsley Coman (transfer confirmed for end of season after successful loan spell), Renato Sanchez and Joshua Kimmich. All three have featured regularly this season under Ancelotti with Sanches in particular impressing. Its likely that Ancelotti will add to this trio in the summer with the transfer of Niklas Sule already confirmed and rumours surrounding Julian Brandt also gathering weight. The manager and the club are aware of the issue of having an aging squad as is captain Lahm who spoke publicly of his concern at the beginning of this season. The former Germany World Cup winning captain told Sport Bild that it was “important that the club starts to think about this (the aging squad) at an early stage”. He called it a huge task to replace the likes of Robben, Ribery and Alonso in the squad over the next couple of years with Neuer, Rafinha and Vidal also mentioned as concerns for later as they too enter the latter parts of their careers. A huge task indeed but one that Bayern are very capable of doing given their vast resources and current domestic and international pull.

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Julian Weigl – The next great German holding midfielder?

Borussia Dortmund Midfielder Julian Weigl has worked hard this season to become a regular in the Borussia Dortmund starting XI. The 21-Year-old has so far made 37 appearances for BVB and is a valued member of a young and growing Dortmund side. Most recently Weigl was a part of the Germany which beat England 1-0 in Dortmund. Weigl has made 5 senior appearances for the German National team.

Italy v Germany - International Friendly

MILAN, ITALY – NOVEMBER 15: Julian Weigl of Germany runs with the ball during the International Friendly Match between Italy and Germany at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on November 15, 2016 in Milan, iitaly. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

As a defensive minded midfielder Weigl has grown and developed his game throughout his time at Dortmund to become a promising young midfielder. He’s done well competing alongside fellow German Gonzalo Castro who has featured in 8 less games than Weigl in all competitions this season. Weigl’s style of play is signature of many young highly rated midfielders to come from the Bundesliga like Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka and Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich. Weigl is known for his ability to play a pass, win the ball back from a deep midfield position, and has a keen eye for goal from long range.

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The holding man has only 1 goal to his name this season and 0 assists, but taking a deeper look into his stats they’re far from disappointing. With regards to his strengths, Weigl makes an average of 74 passes per game. With a success rate of 90.6%. As a defensive midfielder, breaking up play is important. The young German makes an average of 2.2 tackles per game, also making an average of 2.1 interceptions per game. This may not seem like a lot but compared to his midfield partner Gonzalo Castro who makes on average 1.7 tackles per game and 0.9 interceptions, it shows how Weigl is a useful addition to the midfield particularly alongside the more attacking Castro.

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Weigl stands out as yet another young disciplined German midfielder and if stays fit and in the Dortmund side I’m sure he’ll develop into a key member of the national side and a great player. If he can add a few goals and assists to his game it would add to his many talents but as a defensive minded midfielder this isn’t crucial. He has the makings of another fantastic player developed by Borussia Dortmund.

Post by BOTN guest writer George Didcote (@GeorgeDidcote19)

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Tuchel Preps For Battle Of The Wits As Klopp Returns

Liverpool’s European quest continues tonight as they face Borussia Dortmund in their Europa league quarterfinal first leg clash. The game marks a return to the Signal Iduna Park for former boss Jurgen Klopp, now in charge at Liverpool. For seven years, this stadium deep in the heart of the north Rhine Westphalia was his domain that he ruled with a great deal of purpose and self belief. During those years, Klopp infatuated everyone connected to Dortmund primarily because of the change in fortunes he brought to the club. After several disappointing seasons under Thomas Doll, Klopp’s arrival from Mainz in 2008 signaled the beginning of a trophy filled era that included two Bundesliga titles, one DFB Cup and one Supercup.   He even came close to delivering the coveted champions League trophy only to be pipped by arch rivals Bayern Munich in an exhilarating Wembley final. But now Klopp has moved on to a new challenge – restoring Liverpool to their former glory.

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Klopp returns to Dortmund tonight for the first time since leaving in the summer (Image from Getty)

Dortmund to their credit have moved on as well. The appointment of Thomas Tuchel may have not been the most exciting but it was certainly the right move. Tuchel has transformed Dormund this season who staggered through Klopp’s final season in somewhat of a haze. Only a post Christmas revival stopped it from being a catastrophe and ending Klopp’s time on a low note. Tuchel, like Klopp is part of a new breed of managers that are slowly breaking through. Frank De Boer and Mauricio Pochettino are also good examples. They all possess similar qualities – good understanding and knowledge of the game but thirsty to learn more to the point that any moment away from the pitch is spent absorbing more data or watching countless dvd’s of games. They embrace rather than fight against new advances in the game from the use of analytics to improve performance to new medical techniques introduced to help players recover quickly. Gone are the philosophies that the game should be played in some certain style or formation with more fluent football being favoured and adaptation based on the opponent. But most of all, all of these managers are personable and approachable with a willingness to understand each player for who they are and what they need rather than adopting a cookie cutter approach. The results of this approach speak for themselves with attractive entertaining football often on show and at the helm a manager who is willing to pivot on his decisions if the game is not panning out as planned.

Mauricio Pochettino

Pochettino (above), Klopp and Tuchel are part of a new breed of managers in the game today (image from PA)

The battle tonight between two of the competitions remaining favourites will be entertaining both on and off the pitch. Whilst the players contest for the ball on it, Klopp and Tuchel will embark in a battle of their own – one focused solely on wits and tactical approach. Klopp’s reception at Dortmund will be warm and heartfelt with the crowd not ready to forget what the man did for their club. But come the start of the match, the atmosphere will change with the Dortmund fans knowing that they must act as the twelfth man if they are to get one over their former master. The game itself will be incredible to watch with two equally capable sides dueling it out. Dortmund are in a rich vein of form right now and are unbeaten in their last twenty games, scoring 42 goals in the process. Up front striker has evolved into one of the world’s best strikers and recently pipped Yaya Toure to the African Player of the year trophy much to the Manchester City midfielders disgust. Supporting the Gabon front man is the duo of Marco Reus and Henrikh Mikhitaryan in a three-prong attack that has spearheaded Dortmund’s push for silverware on several fronts. Even at the back Dortmund look more solid than ever before with Tuchel taking extra time in the early part of this season to help Mats Hummel eradicate the mistakes he was making too frequently in previous campaigns.

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be the main threat that Klopp will have to plan for (Image from Getty)

Tuchel will be aware that Liverpool are a very different beast than before under Rodgers and are now starting to click under Klopp. Whilst recent form has been patchy to say the least, there have been signs of rapid improvement in the approach that Liverpool have to games. Klopp, like Tuchel is getting the best out of several players who were underperforming before his arrival. Players like French defender Mamadou Sahko who has found a new lease of life and a greater sense of belief under Klopp’s guidance. The revival of Joe Allen and Adam Lallana has also helped Liverpool whilst work on improving the overall game of the promising Christian Benteke continues. Tonight’s clash is likely to be settled by a single goal if that with the decider coming next week at Anfield. The winner of this quarterfinal clash will proceed to the final where they will in all likeliness face Europa league masters and defending champions Sevilla. For Tuchel and Klopp winning the Europa League will be a huge step forward for both of their clubs and one they will use to build upon for the years ahead.

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Blackburn Hoping To Benefit From Lambert’s European Adventure

Lambert hopes to bring what he has learned to Blackburn (Image from Getty)Being sacked is never easy with many  plunged into depression and unsure what to do next. But for Paul Lambert, who was sacked by Aston Villa in early February following a poor start to the season it was a different story. The former Scotland international took his sacking by the Midlands club in his stride preferring to travel abroad rather than sulk. But this wasn’t a vacation who instead Lambert has used the last nine months to visit various clubs across Europe like Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid to learn about their methods and get some fresh ideas. Lambert’s return to Germany where he had his greatest moment as a player – lifting the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund in 1997 was the logical place to start his education. He has spent time shadowing some of the great managers of the world like Guardiola, Klopp and Benetiz watching and observing how they interacted with their players, how they setup the club and their philosophies towards the game.

During his travels. Lambert spent time shadowing Klopp at Dortmund (Image from Getty)

During his travels. Lambert spent time shadowing Klopp at Dortmund
(Image from Getty)

Now brimming with new ideas, Lambert is ready to use what he has learned in his new job as Blackburn manager. The Scot replaces Gary Bowyer at Ewood Park becoming their sixth manager in five years. Sitting 16th in the Championship, Blackburn have won only three times out of sixteen games this season, drawing eight and losing five and with a tough run of fixtures ahead, the clubs owners felt that a change needed to be made. Lambert took training for the first time yesterday as he surveyed his new team and immediately set about implementing what he had learned. The question on many people’s lips is which Paul Lambert will turn up? At Norwich, Lambert played quick passing attractive football which earned plaudits across the board. However at Villa, that passion for attacking flair was replaced with dull slow-paced football that ultimately led to Lambert’s sacking. Differences in the pressure applied by the two respective boards and the complexity of the leagues they were playing in will have had an affect. The Championship may be Lambert’s most comfortable level as a manager which does not bode well for the future if Blackburn are to gain promotion. But he has to get them there first.

Lambert feels the pain at Villa (Image from AFP)

Lambert feels the pain at Villa
(Image from AFP)

Signing new players may be a problem as Blackburn are currently banned from doing so after failing to comply with the financial fair play rules. It would also appear that the Venky’s, the clubs often absent Indian owners are hardly in a hurry to rectify the situation. They are working towards a resolution in time for the January transfer window but it may be next summer before they can have the ban lifted. That means that Lambert may have to operate with the squad he has which in Championship terms needs strengthening to give them a chance at promotion this season. One player who will be key to Lambert’s revival is fellow Scot Jordan Rhodes. The 25-year-old is a natural-born goalscorer whose record in front of goal is remarkable. For the past six campaigns for Blackburn and Huddersfield, Rhodes has scored over 20 goals a season. This year Rhodes is almost half way there already with eight goals in twelve matches.

Getting the most out of Jordan Rhodes is crucial to Lambert's success (Image from PA)

Getting the most out of Jordan Rhodes is crucial to Lambert’s success (Image from PA)

For Blackburn to be successful under Lambert, he needs to keep Rhodes scoring which may not be easy to do if Lambert switches to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Rhodes has struggled in this formation in the past as the lone striker, often criticized for his lack of effort off the ball. Lambert faces a tough choice between changing the formation of his side to suit the skill set of Rhodes or working with his preferred setup and helping Rhodes to adapt to it. This is where Lambert could be at an advantage if he is able to apply what he has learned on the continent. Both Klopp and Guardiola have a preference towards similar formation setups and both have managed to coach their prized striker into producing results. If Lambert can encourage Rhodes to alter his style of play but not in such a way to affect his goalscoring exploits then he may have a shot of getting exactly what he needs to be a success at Blackburn.

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Hello Jurgen? Liverpool Close In on Klopp After Rodgers Departure

On a wall on route to the Anfield tunnel is a plaque almost as famous as the club it represents. Leaving the Liverpool changing room, the players walk down a flight of stairs directly underneath the plaque which instantly became a symbol of the club on the day it was hung there. Reading “This is Anfield – Liverpool Football Club”, it has become a ritual for Liverpool players and fans of the club to touch it as they walk down those few steps. As Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers was one of those who has touched that plaque more than once but in recent months it has been a different set of writing on the wall that has had Rodgers worried. He knew that he was in danger of being sacked and probably believed he had more time but after a dismal start to this season, Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Everton would turn out to be his last in charge of Liverpool.

Liverpool's search for a new manager is one as Rodgers is sacked (Image from Getty)

Liverpool’s search for a new manager is one as Rodgers is sacked (Image from Getty)

In the end the result at Goodison mattered little as the club’s owners had already made up their minds. Rodgers was informed shortly after the match by managing director, Ian Ayre. Whilst expected, the news will still have hurt as Rodgers strongly believed that he had what it took to turn Liverpool around. But for Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s principle owners enough was enough and a change needed to be made. They had grown tired of Rodgers excuses of why despite repeatedly spending vast amounts in the transfer market, he had little to show for it. In three years, Rodgers has delivered nothing – no cups, no European success and certainly no title. The latter is what FSG wanted the most having already tasted success on several occasions with their baseball team, Boston Red Sox. But in the footballing world, their sizable investment under Rodgers failed to bear any fruits. One season of nearly clinching the title does not quite count and for Rodgers the writing was starting to be etched on the wall as early as last Christmas.

Liverpool co owner John Henry lost patience with Rodgers and has acted (Image from Getty)

Liverpool co owner John Henry lost patience with Rodgers and has acted
(Image from Getty)

Whilst former AC Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has been linked heavily with the job along with current Ajax boss Frank De Boer, there is only one man who Liverpool should be turning to in their time of need. Jurgen Klopp is that man and if the FSG has any sense they will appoint him quickly. This is the perfect time for a change with the international break now upon us, it will give Klopp longer than usual to settle in and start to formulate the clubs revival. The former Borussia Dortmund boss has been out of work since this summer after calling time on his spell with the former Bundesliga champions. At his exit press conference, emotions were running high with a Dortmund board inconsolable about losing their prodigal son. It was Klopp’s decision to leave, stating that he could no longer offer them everything he had. Dortmund’s loss could well be Liverpool’s gain as they close in on their preferred candidate.

Hard not to like him - Jurgen Klopp (Image from Getty)

Hard not to like him – Jurgen Klopp
(Image from Getty)

But why Klopp? Critics will argue that the appointment of a more highly experienced manager like Ancelotti would make more sense, and give greater stability to the club than they had under Rodgers. Ancelotti has been there and done that during a glittering 20 year managerial career and any club would be fortunate to have him. But Liverpool are looking for something different, someone with charisma and charm that can be a driving force on the pitch as much as off it. Klopp fits what they need. Anyone who has ever met the guy has loved him and fallen head over heals for his smooth talking German charm. His inviting smile and friendly demure make him seem highly approachable, almost to the point that you could believe that he would be quite happy to have a pint with you and talk for hours about the beautiful game. But underneath all of this is a superb footballing brain, one that sees beyond what is in front of it and is already planning the next five moves. There are only a few coaches like this in the game today – Guardiola and Mourinho being the best examples so for Liverpool to secure one would be a massive coup.

Klopp touches the Anfield sign last year (Image from Getty)

Klopp touches the Anfield sign last year
(Image from Getty)

Whilst he may not have the years of managerial experience across multiple countries as Ancelotti has, Klopp has shown in the teams he has managed that he can build teams not only for now but for the future. He focuses heavily on youth players both through transfers and promotion from the youth team and building a squad capable of challenging for years to come. This is exactly what Liverpool needs at this junction, a manager who will take average players and make them into great ones and build a side that can challenge on all fronts going forward. Klopp has been open in his admiration for the club in the past speaking about its rich history and unfilled potential. He might be just what Liverpool need now as they look to reclaim the glory years of yesteryear. Time will tell if the German can do just that and give the fans another piece of history to hold on to.

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Six Degrees of Managerial Separation

Disappointment for Ancelotti after he is sacked by Real (Image from Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)After two years in charge of one of the biggest clubs in the world, Carlo Ancelotti has been sacked by Real Madrid. Despite winning the clubs 10th European title last season, Ancelotti has failed to deliver La Liga on two occasions, something that Real president Florentino Perez has deemed as unacceptable.  During a press conference on Monday, Perez announced Ancelotti’s departure with immediate effect stating that they need a manager who can take them to the next level. That man looks likely to be Rafa Benitez with the former Liverpool and Valencia manager due to leave Napoli after Sunday’s final Serie A game against Lazio. Benitez has an established pedigree in La Liga having won it twice during his spell as Valencia boss and has shown that he can win trophies regardless of what team he manages. The appointment will not be universally welcomed with several players and fan groups disappointed with Ancelotti’s sacking.  They see the removal of Ancelotti as a mistake as the Italian still had a lot to offer to the club.  Real’s loss could however be Derby gain as they hunt for their new manager. However the East Midlands club is not interested in Ancelotti, but instead his faithful assistant at Real Madrid, Paul Clement.

Wanted man - Paul Clement  (Image from Getty)

Wanted man – Paul Clement
(Image from Getty)

Clement is not a name that was widely known three years ago when he was hired by Ancelotti to be part of his backroom staff at Paris Saint Germain. Having worked with the Englishman at Chelsea, the Italian has forged a strong bond with Clement and has entrusted him with key roles at both PSG and Real Madrid which has helped pull Clement into the media spotlight. The Derby job is available after the Rams fired Steve McLaren as their manager after a dismal end to the season. It looked a certainty that Derby would gain promotion back to the Premiership after a seven year absence with the club sitting top of the Championship at the end of February. However in the last 13 games of the season, Derby only won twice sliding down the table and out of the promotion places. Many believed that McLaren head had been turned by persistent rumours about interest from Newcastle for his services. McLarens failure to come out publically when the rumours first started and commit himself to Derby long term has ultimately led to his downfall.  McLaren was sacked by the Derby board after the final game of the season, yet another defeat this time to Reading.

What next for McLaren after he leaves Derby?  (Image from Getty)

What next for McLaren after he leaves Derby?
(Image from Getty)

After McLaren rejected Mike Ashley’s SOS call last month when Newcastle were in real danger of relegation, the owner has now decided to look elsewhere leaving McLaren in managerial limbo.  It will be a bitter blow for McLaren who saw his stock on the rise again after difficult spells at Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest. Newcastle has been linked with several managers and head coaches over the past six months since Alan Pardew left for Crystal Palace. With the bumbling John Carver due to leave the club, Newcastle are exploring their options with Ajax’s Frank De Boer, Lyon’s Remi Garde and Lekhwiya’s Michael Laudrup as the front runners. However the availability of Roberto Di Matteo, who quit Schalke today will throw a spanner in the works for Newcastle’s hiring committee with the Italian’s reputation and past success in the Premiership perhaps making him a safer option.

Di Matteo lead Chelsea to Champions League success  (Image from AFP)

Di Matteo lead Chelsea to Champions League success
(Image from AFP)

Di Matteo’s seven and a half month spell in Germany did not quite go as planned. Picking up where Jens Keller left off, Di Matteo inherited one of the Bundesliga’s brightest squads with the talented young trio of Julian Draxler, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka leading the way. Despite a promising start which saw Schalke climb up the table into third, results have not gone Di Matteo’s way in recent weeks with the club sliding back down the table and away from the Champions League places. This summer was meant to be a transitional period for the club with Di Matteo looking to strengthen his side with several new faces. However a disagreement over the forward vision of the club between Di Matteo and the clubs sporting director, Horst Heldt has led to the former Chelsea and West Brom boss handing in his resignation. The relationship between the two has not been great over his time at Schalke with rumours persisting that Di Matteo was never the first choice. He is said to have landed the Schalke job back in October 2014 after the club had an approach for the out of work Thomas Tuchel turned down by the 41 year old. Tuchel, who left Mainz in April 2014 decided against joining Schalke at that stage in the season, instead deciding to hold out until the new season to see what other options presented themselves. That approach has worked wonderfully for Tuchel as he has now been appointed as Jürgen Klopp’s successor at Borussia Dortmund.

The super suave Klopp is eyeing his next move  (Image from PA)

The super suave Klopp is eyeing his next move
(Image from PA)

Liverpool has not had the best of seasons, failing to emulate the success they found last year when they finished second in the Premiership. Manager Brendan Rodgers has faced a lot of criticism in recent months with several pundits claiming that Liverpool have gone backwards this season with Rodgers being one of the key reasons. The club’s owner, Fenway Sports Group have to dated backed their under fire boss but with several high profile managers available this summer, Rodgers position is anything but safe. Top of that list is the charismatic Klopp who is available after a seven year spell in charge of Dortmund. One of the most highly rated coaches in the game today; Klopp is in high demand but will be looking for a club that can offer him regular champion’s league football. Despite finishing 6th this season, Liverpool has the squad and the potential to offer this to him unlike other English sides like Newcastle, West Ham or Brentford with the latter already  making an audacious approach to land the German. Brentford, who sacked their manager Mark Warbutton despite finishing in the Championship playoff spots, made the approach early last week only to be turned down. The ambitious club has not been deterred and news that another top coach has been released from his contract was greeted with enthusiasm by The Bees.  Whether or not Ancelotti will trade the Bernabeau for Griffin Park is yet to be seen.

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Bayern’s Treble Dream Dashed By Penalty Shoot Out Heartache

Having sealed the Bundesliga title at the weekend, Bayern approached last night’s German Cup semi final clash with Borussia Dortmund with the treble dream very much alive. But by the end of a pulsating match, manager Pep Guardiola was left wondering what had gone wrong as Jurgen Klopp’s side dumped Bayern out of the cup and marched to the final.  Bayern looked good for the win after former Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski beat the offside trap to score Bayern’s opener in the 29th minute, albeit at the second attempt. The German champions came close on several occasions to adding a second goal but the heroics of Dortmund goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak and the woodwork kept the score to 1-0 and the tie wide open. So when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang popped up at the back post to knock in Henrikh Mikhitaryan’s cross goal pass, it was game on for Dortmund with the momentum swinging wildly back in their favour. Both teams had chances to seal the victory in normal and extra time but in the end the match was to be decided by penalties.

With Manuel Neuer in goal, Bayern should have been favourites but the wet condition of the pitch aided Dortmund with both Philip Lahm and Xavi Alonso slipping in their run up to their penalties. Both players missed their attempts handing Dortmund the advantage. With their players converting for a 2-0 lead, up steps another former Dortmund player Mario Gotze who scored the late winner for Germany in the World Cup in the summer. Gotze was a fan favourite during his time at Signal Iduna Park but there is no love lost now between the player and the Dortmund fans after he joined Bayern two summers ago. It’s no surprise then when a large cheer erupted from the Borussia Dortmund fans when Gotze was denied by a fine save by Langerak putting Dortmund within inches of final. In the end Manuel Neuer’s penalty which rattled off the cross bar settled the tie and Dortmund progressed to the final.

For Klopp who is set to leave Dortmund at the end of the season after seven thrilling years at the club, it could be the perfect send off. A final appearance with the chance of one last piece of silverware for the club and fans who he has treasured so dearly for so long. The final will take place on the 30th May and will be against either Wolfsburg or this seasons surprise outfit in the cup, Arminia Bielefeld. The north Rhine-Westphalia club which plays in the third tier of German football have shocked many in the country with a stunning run that has seen them beat Hertha BSC, Werder Bremen and Borussia Monchengladbach on route to tonight’s semi final clash. They lie within 90 minutes of their debut appearance in the DFB Pokal final and a dream clash with Borussia Dortmund. Standing in their way however is one of Germany’s best teams this season Wolfsburg who are on course to finish second behind Bayern in the Bundesliga table. Under the guidance of Dieter Hecking, Wolfsburg have improved season over season building an impressive side along the way.  He has employed an exciting brand of attacking football with former Chelsea players Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle playing key roles. The pair, along with the lethal Bas Dost upfront and ever improving Max Arnold in midfield have propelled Wolfsburg up the table and turned the team into genuine title contenders once again. Having dispatches Heidenheim, RB Leipzig and Frieburg on route, their run to the semi finals has been fairly easy. Going into the match with Bielefeld they are strong favourites to progress and given their current form could upset Klopp’s farewell party with a much deserved win.

Manuel Junglas scores for Bielfeld against Borussia Monchengladbach (Image from PA)

Manuel Junglas scores for Bielefeld against Borussia Monchengladbach (Image from PA)

Bayern meanwhile will turn their attention to the Champions League semi final clash with Barcelona. Its a return to the Nou Camp for Guardiola; the place where he made his name and it will not be an easy game but for the mastermind Pep he will no doubt have several plans up his sleeve in order to leave victorious. Stopping the man who gave him much of that success, Lionel Messi will be the main problem so Guardiola may deploy the evergreen Philip Lahm in a new role to nullify the threat posed by the Argentine. Barcelona manager Luis Enrique is already turning up the heat on his long time friend Guardiola by suggesting that its not the best draw for Bayern who will face a tough task if they are to beat Barcelona. Enrique’s mind games will not have an effect on Guardiola, nor will his teams subsequent departure from the German Cup. The treble dram may be dead for this season but for Guardiola there is still a lot more to win, most notably the Champions League.

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Klopp Bombshell Puts European Clubs On Alert

After a difficult season, Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp is set to leave the club. The two time German manager of the year has watched his side struggle in matches in the Bundesliga that they really should be winning. Now after turning their season around and pulling Dortmund away from potential relegation, Jurgen Klopp has announced that enough is enough and that he intends on leaving the former German champions at the end of the season. His decision has shocked many only a year after committing himself to the club following rumours that Barcelona and Arsenal were interested in his services. However a year is a long time in football and for Klopp who has gone through his worst season as Dortmund manager in his seven years in charge, he now feels that he has taken the club as far as he can and that it deserves to be coached by someone who can give 100% to the club.

Klopp announces his decision to quit Dortmund at the end of the season (Image from Bongarts/Getty)

Klopp announces his decision to quit Dortmund at the end of the season (Image from Bongarts/Getty)

Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference and sitting next to Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and Sporting Director Michael Zorc who he has rumoured to have a strained relationship with, Klopp spoke with emotion yet authority as he told the gathered press why he was quitting. Klopp explained that his decision was not based on this seasons results or fatigue stating he feels 100% fine but instead that he was no longer the perfect coach for the club. He quickly shot down rumours that he had already engaged in discussions with other clubs and stopped short of saying which league he would like to manage in next but did confirm that he will not be taking a sabbatical from the game like Pep Guardiola did after leaving Barcelona and instead wants to get back into management straight away after leaving Dortmund.

Watzke, Klopp and Zorc in better times  (image from PA)

Watzke, Klopp and Zorc in better times
(image from PA)

This news will be welcomed by several clubs across Europe who will now have to fight it out for his services. Heavily linked to both top jobs in Spain last summer, he could be tempted move to either if the opportunity existed. However it is unlikely that they will given that Luis Enrique has finally found a winning formula at Barcelona and Ancelotti is highly regarded at Real Madrid. That opens the door to a handful of English clubs with Manchester City leading the pack. The Ethiad club has grown tired of current manager Manuel Pellegrini’s failure to build on the successes of last year and with the club out of Europe and struggling in the league; his job is far from secure. Whether Klopp wants that sort of challenge is unknown with a huge rebuilding job needed, starting with a dismantling of the current aging squad. He would be given a sizable war chest to acquire new faces and the flexibility to mould a new team around his style of playing. But with a large amount of investment comes high expectations from the clubs owners who will expect success both at home and abroad; pressure that the three previous coaches at City experienced. All three fell on their swords early into their agreed tenures which may not appeal to Klopp. He was given time at Dortmund to craft the team in his vision and it’s questionable whether City will allow him the same amount of time and buy into his long term approach.

Start again? - City's aging squad  (Image from Getty)

Start again? – City’s aging squad (Image from Getty)

If he doesn’t end up at City, a job at the Emirates may become available if the Arsenal board decides that it’s finally time for Arsene Wenger to vacate his chair. Klopp has been spotted at a few Arsenal games over the past few years fueling speculation about a gentleman’s agreement struck between himself and Wenger. If Arsene is to leave, he will want to help pick his successor, someone who will carry on his approach of developing youth players and turning them into world stars. Klopp fits that mould perfectly and with expectations on immediate success lower at the Emirates than at somewhere like City, it could be a perfect fit for the talented coach. There are other Premiership clubs in the market for a new manager like Newcastle and West Ham but neither is likely to appeal to Klopp. Liverpool however may spark his interest but it’s widely believed that despite a disappointing campaign this season, Brendan Rodgers has done enough in his time in charge to convince the Liverpool board to retain his services. Klopp could try his hand in Italy or France too but at present England looks to be his most likely destination. One thing that is for sure is that the Premiership would benefit hugely from the arrival of one of the world’s best managers regardless of which team he joins.

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Is Chelsea’s bid For Japanese Star Purely Commercial?

Yoshinori Muto is wanted by Chelsea but for what purpose? (Image from Getty)Chelsea has reportedly place a bid to sign Japanese striker Yoshinori Muto. The FC Tokyo front man is wanted by the Stamford Bridge side who are willing to part with £4million to secure his services. Questions however are being asked about the intent of this deal which comes only a few months after Chelsea secured a £200million sponsorship with Yokahama Rubber Company. The Japanese company has agreed a 5 year deal to become Chelsea’s official shirt sponsor in a move that will help bolster the clubs coffers. Whilst there is no visible link between Yokahama Rubber and Muto’s club FC Tokoyo, many are wondering if his transfer or the transfer of a Japanese player to Chelsea was included as a condition of the deal.

Manager Jose Mourinho has admitted that commercial agreements do come into consideration when purchasing players however he pulled short of stating that this bid for Muto fell into that category. Mourinho did state that he will never buy a player who isn’t up to Chelsea’s standard regardless of any commercial arrangement in place.  Muto is an up and coming talent and at 22 has his best years ahead of him. But he is unlikely to be a first team regular at Chelsea and could be immediately loaned out to Dutch side Vitesse so the move is somewhat baffling. Muto is hardly setting Japanese football alight although his is one of the better players in a poor FC Tokyo team. Perhaps Chelsea scouts were instructed to identify the best young player they could and that player was Muto.

Buying players to tap into lucrative foreign markets is not new in football with several clubs using this as an option to increase merchandise revenues. Manchester United’s signing of Japanese star Shinji Kagawa was seen as a clever move by the Old Trafford club to engage and grow its Japanese and Asian fan base. Kagawa is one of the most recognized players in the region and has legions of dedicated fans that follow his every move. Unfortunately his stay in England was short lived as he failed to secure a regular first team spot. He was eventually sold back to German side Borussia Dortmund, the same club that United purchased him from. Arguably Kagawa wasted two valuable years sitting on the bench at Old Trafford and has struggled to regain fitness and form since returning to Germany. His fans however have stayed loyal and now sport Dortmund jerseys on their backs once more.

Shinji Kagawa spent alot of time on the United bench  (Image from Getty)

Shinji Kagawa spent alot of time on the United bench
(Image from Getty)

It does raise a question about whether buying a player for a commercial purpose only is ethically fair? If we consider that players have become commodities to business focused clubs in recent years then buying to increase revenue streams make sense.  However with a players working career limited to less than 20 years (if they avoid injuries) is it fair to ask a player to give up two or three years of that just so the club can benefit from their commercial brand? Players should be bought in order to strengthen the clubs chances of success on the pitch and for no other reason but as modern day football evolves into a business like model, the opportunity to use players for multiple purposes is far more appealing. Already players are being contractually told that they must partake in chosen club activities that benefit sponsors including promotional tours, interviews and appearances. This usually is limited to 5-10% of their time in order to maintain their focus on their primary role of playing. However if the signing of players for commercial purposes rather than playing purposes becomes more common, will we see a dramatic shift in the players daily responsibilities? Will they effectively become promotional tools for the clubs and play more on a sporadic basis to maintain their image and connection to the club?  Will sponsors soon dictate to clubs which player they want them to buy? Let’s hope not, for the players and footballs sake.

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Dortmund Drama Deepens As Klopps Team Hit Rock Bottom

There comes a point where you realize that you are fighting a losing battle and accepting defeat is the best course of action. Form bewildered Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp that point must be fast approaching. The former German manager of the year has watched helplessly on the sidelines as his side slide down the Bundesliga into the relegation zone. But now his side have hit rock bottom with a loss to FC Augsburg which left them sitting at the foot of the Bundesliga table. The loss marks Dortmund’s 11th defeat this season in a campaign that has only notched them 4 wins and 16 points so far. The pressure is starting to mount on Klopp with many now questioning if it’s time for him to give up and leave. The fans, who have seen a variety of highs and lows over the past decade have every right to be annoyed but have so far remained loyal as always. That was until Wednesdays defeat when the frustration of yet another loss finally spilled over. Protests broke out shortly after the final whistle with fans shouting their disgust at the team. Captain Mats Hummel and vice captain Roman Weidenfeller approached the fans to offer an apology and listen to their concerns. Later Hummels defended the fans reaction by saying that they had ever right to be upset and that the performances of the team so far have been unacceptable.

Hummel chats to the fans following the defeat (Image from BT Images)

Hummels chats to the fans following the defeat (Image from BT Images)

The list of what has gone wrong at Dortmund this season is a lengthy one but in truth it comes down to three factors – injuries to key players, failing to replace Lewandowski and lack of confidence throughout the squad. Klopp has had to content with these problems and more as he attempts to rectify the issues and stop the rot. Injuries to key players like Mats Hummel, Marco Reus, Nuri Sahin, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrik Mikhitaryan over the course of the season so far has certainly hindered progress with Klopp forced into tweaking his starting eleven on more than a few occasions. But the problems stem back to the summer and Dortmunds failure to effectively replace Polish strike Robert Lewandowski. The hitman spent four glory filled years at Dortmund winning two Bundesliga titles and reaching a Champions League final before leaving on a free to arch rivals Bayern Munich. With cash to spend, Klopp and Dortmund entered the transfer market and replaced the giant Pole with not one but two new strikers – Colombian Adrian Ramos and Italian Ciro Immobile.  Also coming in was Shinji Kagawa who returned to club after a torrid spell in England with Manchester United. In all the three new faces should have provided enough firepower and goals to make up for the loss of Lewandowski. But in truth all three have failed to reach their potential.  Between the two strikers, only 5 goals have been scored in the league, hardly the return that Klopp was looking for given the clubs $28.4million outlay for the pair.  Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has had more luck infront of goal but still his return of five leagues goals to date is hardly anything to write home about. The same can be said for Kagawa, an $8million acquisition who has also had trouble finding the goal, netting only once in fourteen appearances but more importantly his setup play has been poor leading many to believe that he has returned to the club as damaged goods.

Immobile and Ramos have failed to settle in at Dortmund  (Image from Getty)

Immobile and Ramos have failed to settle in at Dortmund
(Image from Getty)

With the strikers in poor form and the defence looking suspect in the absence of Hummels, the team’s confidence has depleted to levels that will be hard to recover from. As the defeats mount up, the players look more and more disillusioned unable to fathom what is happening. Lower confidence levels lead to poor concentration which results in silly but costly mistakes throughout the team.  How else can the fans explain the performances that they have been witnessing? Errors like Matthias Ginter’s toe poke own goal in the defeat to Mainz or his bad back pass header to Roman Weidenfeller in the loss to Frankfurt are just two examples but to single out the young defender as the main culprit would be unfair. In truth no one is performing well and all have been responsible for mistakes in the games so far. Confidence is rock bottom  but it’s up to the manager to do something about that.

Klopp's job is under threat after another defeat  (Image from Getty)

Klopp’s job is under threat after another defeat
(Image from Getty)

 

Klopp has tried on several occasions to rally his troops and has seen glimmers of a recovery especially in some of the Dortmund performances in Europe. But time is running out, with the club rumoured to be contemplating a switch in the next few weeks. The end of February has been identified as the end of the line for Klopp to turn the clubs fortunes around. If he can’t Dortmund will appoint a new manager who can and they should have enough time to rescue the club from relegation. Klopp knows that all of his hard work and success at the club will be undone if he is sacked or resigns leaving them in this precarious position so is reluctant to give up. However in this situation that looks bleaker by the day, it may be time for Klopp to face the music and do whats best for Dortmund by walking away.

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Arsenal Distraction Could Spell The End For Klopp At Dortmund

Rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga table after thirteen matches, Borussia Dortmund find themselves in unfamiliar territory. It’s a dramatic fall from grace for the 2011 and 2012 champions who under Jurgen Klopp have once again become a dominant force in European football. But after a disastrous start, questions are now being asked about Klopp and whether the Dortmund board has to do the unthinkable and call to an end his spell in charge. Klopp has refused to walk away from Dortmund, citing that he can turn things around and propel Die Schwarzgelben back up the table. With only nine points separating Dortmund and fifth place Borussia Monchengladbach, mathematically it is possible however given Dortmund’s recent league form; the challenge looks far more daunting.

Klopp consoles his players after another defeat (Image from Getty)

Klopp consoles his players after another defeat
(Image from Getty)

Klopp’s men slipped to yet another defeat this past weekend, this time at Eintracht Frankfurt. Despite having a majority of the possession and 17 attempts on goal, Dortmund crashed to a 2-0 defeat condemning them to their eighth defeat of the season. Scoring goals has been a major problem with Klopp blamed for failing to adequately replace Polish striker Robert Lewandowski who departed in the summer for Bayern Munich.  His three replacements – Italian Ciro Immobile, Adrian Ramos and Pierre Aubameyang have scored only eight goals between them in the first thirteen matches with the entire midfield only chipping in a further four during the same time frame.  Whilst putting the ball in the net at one end has been a problem, picking it out of their own net appears to be a bigger one. Dortmund have shipped twenty one goals so far and have yet to record a clean sheet this season. Klopp has stuck by goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller despite some dubious displays, much like he has stuck by several other underperforming players in recent weeks. Dortmund’s once solid defence looks unmistakably leaky at present with youngster Matthias Ginter in particular looking off the pace. The talented youngster who was part of Germany’s World Cup winning squad this past summer, is one of the brightest prospects in German football however in recent games has looked nervous and error prone. An injury to Mats Hummel has forced new signing Ginter into action but the youngster appears to be struggling under the pressure of life in Signal Iduna Park. Klopp to be fair still remains composed on the sidelines, pondering what to do next to rectify this drop in form but some are now wondering if he will get the chance.

Shot Shy - Ramos and Immobile have struggled to find their footing since joining Dortmund (Image from PA)

Shot Shy – Ramos and Immobile have struggled to find their footing since joining Dortmund
(Image from PA)

Before Klopp was hired, Dortmund were struggling in the Bundesliga with the fans becoming disenchanted after five dreadful campaigns. After Thomas Doll was sacked, Mainz coach Jurgen Klopp was selected in a move that would transform the club back into one of Europe’s elite. Along with a plethora of youngsters coming through the youth system, Klopp started to rebuild the squad, buying good young players and turning them into world class footballers. Eventually his hard work started to pay off with titles and trophies coming back into the Dortmund trophy room. He made his position at the club irreplaceable for as long as he wanted to stay at Dortmund, the club would be happy to let him remain there. However after six successful years, rumours started to surface about potential moves to Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool, all of which came to nothing in the end after Klopp reiterated his desire to stay. But recently Klopp has added weight to that argument that perhaps in the not so distant future he would move to another club, with the Premiership his preferred destination due primarily to his ability to speak English. Since then unconfirmed reports of an agreement struck between Arsenal and Klopp for the German to take over from Arsene Wenger have fuelled the fire that Klopp’s time in Germany may be up. If it is true, Klopp will quit his role at Borussia in the summer and join Arsenal as Arsene Wenger moves upstairs to take on a board position.  This distraction has not helped Dortmund’s season to date with several newspapers claiming the mood in the Dortmund camp has dramatically shifted. Once seen as irreplaceable, Klopp’s position is gradually migrating towards untenable.

Next Arsenal manager? Klopp talks with Wenger at the Emirates (Image from Arsenal FC/AFP)

Next Arsenal manager? Klopp talks with Wenger at the Emirates
(Image from Arsenal FC/AFP)

If the poor league form continues into January, Dortmund’s board may just decide to pull the rip cord on Klopp’s time in charge sooner than the summer in order to protect their future as a Bundesliga team. Klopp will know that he needs to put any talk of a move away from Dortmund onto the backburner so that he can refocus his team towards the task in hand.  Over the next few weeks before the winter mid season break, Borussia have the chance to claw back some points with winnable games over Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen and Hertha. Even a tricky match against this season surprise outfit Wolfsburg offers Dortmund the chance of leaving that match with some points. If Klopp can rally his troops to four victories in a row before Christmas then perhaps he will be safe in his role. If he can’t, he may have to face up to life out of football for a while, that is until the summer when he will surely join up with his new team Arsenal.

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Five World Cup Stars Looking To Move Up In The World

Memphis Depay set up and score a goal in Holland's 3-2 win over Australia (Image from Getty)

With the first week of the World Cup now completed and the tournament now entering the second round of the group stage, fans across the globe have now had a chance to see their teams in action. After some spectacular matches including Holland’s 5-1 hammering of Spain, Costa Rica’s surprise 3-1 victory over Uruguay and a dominant 4-0 victory for Germany over Portugal, several players have stood out already leading to the much anticipated transfer speculation. There is no better platform for a player to showcase what he has to offer than the World Cup and a good performance can often lead to a high value transfer. Clubs too want their players to be successful as it drives up the value of them, potentially leading to an evaluated fee after the tournament has ended. Whilst several players will move as a result of this year’s World Cup, we now look at five surprise packages who after some good displays already could have earned themselves a dream move.

Wonder save by Ochoa to deny Neymar  (Image from AFP)

Wonder save by Ochoa to deny Neymar
(Image from AFP)

Matt Besler – Sporting Kansas City

For the first 45 minutes of the USA vs. Ghana match until an injury stopped him, Matt Besler was one of the best players on the park. The Sporting Kansas City defender was instrumental in organizing the US defense and stopping Ghana from posing a real threat. Besler’s rise to international status comes on the back of his growing reputation in the MLS. A permanent fixture for Kansas, Besler has now established himself as US head coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s preferred option at centre back too. He will be praying that Besler is fit to face Portugal on Sunday knowing that any positive result may help their chances of progression. Having spent his entire career in the MLS, it may be time for the 27 year old Besler to depart for pastures new with England or Holland likely destination. Besler previously turned down trials with English clubs Portsmouth, QPR and Birmingham but if he continues to perform he may have a tougher challenge of turning down some of the bigger clubs across Europe.

Besler (5) stops Ghana in their tracks  (Image from Getty)

Besler (5) stops Ghana in their tracks
(Image from Getty)

Guillermo Ochoa – Free agent

“Simply Stunning” was how one broadcaster described Guillermo Ochoa’s performance against host Brazil and it’s hard to argue. The Mexican goalkeeper produced a heroic display that prevented Neymar and friends from stealing all three points. Mexico put in a shift against Brazil and deserved their point, if not more but would not have managed it without Ochoa making three tremendous saves during the game. One in particular, a Gordon Banks esque save, when Ochoa got down low to spoon away a Neymar header that was destined to be a goal, will live in the memory of Mexican fans for years to come. He followed up with a stunning point blank save from Thiago Silva and a late save from a left foot drive by that man again, Neymar. After the game, Ochoa’s image was shown on fan Instagram accounts and Tumblr pages depicted as Superman and even received a marriage proposal from Mexican singer Thulia based solely on his performance. A free agent after leaving French side AC Ajaccio, Ochoa is now being linked heavily with Liverpool and Arsenal, both of whom need a safe pair of hands for next season. But the two English clubs are unlikely to be Ochoa’s only option with various French, Italian and Spanish clubs now in the hunt for the Mexican Superman.

Ochoa has been made into Superman on social media  (Image from Instagram)

Ochoa has been made into Superman on social media
(Image from Instagram)

Dries Mertens – Napoli

His impact in the 2-1 turnaround victory for Belgium over Algeria was clear to see. Coming off the bench, Mertens added pace to what had been a lackluster Belgian side in the first half. The Napoli star has had an impressive season in Italy last season and has already attracted a few admirers but his performance and winning goal against Algeria will only add more clubs to that list. Napoli will be unwilling to sell given his contribution (1 goal for every three games) last year but may be forced to part with him given a substantial offer from Spain or England. The dynamic winger, who’s career goal tally is impressive to say the least, is likely to start Belgium’s next match against Russia in place of Nacer Chadli and will be looking to add to his World Cup goal tally. Luis Enrique is thought to be a fan of his as is Arsene Wenger so Mertens may have a decision to make come the end of Belgium’s World Cup journey.

Mertens celebrates after scoring the winner against Algeria  (Image from PA)

Mertens celebrates after scoring the winner against Algeria
(Image from PA)

Ricardo Rodriguez – Wolfsburg

Rodriquez made history against Ecuador by becoming the first player to assist two goals in a single World Cup match for Switzerland since 1966. The left back, who currently plays for Wolfsburg in Germany put in a stellar performance and is credited as one of the players who helped Switzerland turn around a 1-0 deficeit after Ecuador took the lead. The 21 year old has only been in the Swiss national setup for less than three years but has quickly established himself under Ottmar Hitzfeld as the team’s most reliable defender. Comfortable in attack as his is in defending, Rodriguez is one of Switzerland’s several Immigrant players. Born in Zurich to a Spanish father and Chilean mother, Ricardo could have played for either of these World Cup teams but chose the country of his birth much to Switzerland’s relief. A constant in the Wolfsburg team, Rodriguez’s performances for club and country, especially at this World Cup will likely lead to a transfer away from the Wolves to a bigger club, with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund two favourites already for his signature.

Rodriguez set up two goals for Switzerland as they pegged back Ecuador  (Image from ALAIN GROSCLAUDE/AFP/Getty Images)

Rodriguez set up two goals for Switzerland as they pegged back Ecuador
(Image from ALAIN GROSCLAUDE/AFP/Getty Images)

Memphis Depay – PSV

Sometimes a substitute appearance is all you need to impress and for Memphis Delay, that appearance happened during Wednesday’s game against Australia. The PSV youngster came on as a second half substitute and made a valuable contribution by setting up Holland’s equalizer and then scoring his first ever international goal – a 30 yard screamer that won the game. A fairly new addition to the full national side, having played at all levels for Holland from Under 15’s and upwards, Depay became the youngest Dutchman to score at a World Cup with his strike against Australia.  The 20 year old winger has been one of the revelations in the Dutch league this past couple of seasons and is destined for greater things., with PSV unlikely to hold on to one of their prized assets for much longer. Fans of Football manager will know that Depay often joins Barcelona in the game but fiction may become reality soon given Luis Enrique’s interest in the player. However he will face competition from Depay’s current boss at international level, Louis Van Gaal who is interested in taking the player to Manchester United as he starts his revolution there at the end of the tournament.

Depay's strike impressed the watching Van Gaal  (Image from Getty)

Depay’s strike impressed the watching Van Gaal
(Image from Getty)

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Dortmund Kickstarts Revolution with Two New Signings

Klopp is spearheading a new revolution at Dortmund (Image from Getty)This summer’s departure of Polish striker Robert Lewandowski marks a change for the better for Borussia Dortmund. The prolific striker is set to join arch rivals and reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich on a free transfer. It’s the second time in recent history that Borussia Dortmund has been raided by Bayern Munich for one of its star players. Two seasons ago, the German champions came knocking and subsequently took Mario Gotze back to Bavaria with them for a fee of €37 million. Having played the role of principle striker for Dortmund for the last four years, Lewandowski leaving may not be a bad thing. Manager Jürgen Klopp is keen to evolve his team following the disappointment of losing the title last year to Bayern and the still lingering pain of Champions League defeat to the same club the year before.

Lewandowski is set to join Bayern Munich this summer  (Image from PA)

Lewandowski is set to join Bayern Munich this summer
(Image from PA)

Lewandowski’s departure should leave a gaping hole up front for Dortmund but Klopp has acted quickly to plug the gap so to speak with two impressive new signings that allow him to try new formations and evolve the club for its next set of challenges. First to arrive was Hertha Berlin striker Adrian Ramos for a fee of €9 million. The Colombian ace has been in fine form this past season in the Bundesliga scoring 16 times and landing a spot in the Colombia team for the World Cup. The muscular 28 year old will act as a target man, similar to Lewandowski but will also offer good options on the ground and in the air for Dortmund’s attacks. His arrival was confirmed in April with the player signing a pre contract that starts 1st July. Now Klopp’s has added a second striker with the signing of Italian international forward Ciro Immobile. The former Torino striker is currently with the Italian national team as they prepare for the world cup but will official join Dortmund on July 1st for a fee in the region of €19 million.

First arrival - Adrian Ramos  (Image from Getty)

First arrival – Adrian Ramos
(Image from Getty)

It is a meteoric rise for the 24 year old who finished this season as Serie A’s top goalscorer with 22 goals. Having emerged from the Juventus youth system, Immobile struggled to make an impact, with the Turin giants eventually sending him out on loan firstly to Siena and then to Grosseto with little success. It was his third loan period in 2011 to Pescara that really kick started Immobile’s rise with the then 21 year old bagging 28 goals in 37 appearances for the club. Half way through the season, Genoa paid Juventus €4 million for 50% of the player’s rights with the agreement that Immobile would join them that summer. He did so but failed to spark with Juventus eventually buying back the 50% for a lesser fee of €2.75 million before they quickly sold the same 50% to city rivals Torino for the same fee. The move would prove to be massively beneficial to all concerned with Immobile forging a clever partnership with Alessio Cerci which helped Torino to a 7th place finish in Serie A this season. That prompted Klopp and Dortmund to splash out on Immobile which gave both Torino and Juventus a healthy return on their initial investments.

Immobile in action for Torino  (Image from AFP)

Immobile in action for Torino
(Image from AFP)

Replacing Lewandowski will not be an easy challenge but the arrival of Ramos and Immobile should soften the blow. Both are evolving into full internationals and are likely to impress at the World Cup with their respective countries. At 28, Ramos is seen as a strategic investment, brought in to do a job for the next few seasons as the evolution of the club happens. But the signing of 24 year old Immobile is an indication of a new (yet old) direction that Klopp wants to take Dortmund in, refocusing on one of their key principles – to focus on and develop youth. It has been a guiding light for Dortmund in recent years that has become dim thanks to chasing trophies on various fronts. But now Klopp wants to reignite that flame with a new generation of Dortmund players. The arrival of Immobile and Milos Jojic, a December capture from Partizan Belgrade, herald the beginning of the new dawn for Die Schwarzgelben. More new faces are expected over the coming months with Klopp preparing his team for the challenges ahead.

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Bale Shines As Barcelona Consider Transformational Summer

Bale celebrates scoring his wondergoal (Iamge from Getty)With Cristiano Ronaldo injured, the spotlight was turned to Lionel Messi to take centre stage and shine during yesterday’s Copa Del Rey final between Messi’s Barcelona and Real Madrid. Little did Messi know that the spotlight would be snatched away from him so superbly by a flying Welshman in the form of Gareth Bale. The former Tottenham winger stole the show with a stunning performance and a wonder goal in the last few minutes of the game, handing Madrid the cup. Picking up the ball just inside his own half, Bale knocked the ball past Marc Barta and the chase was on. Despite Barta manhandling and pushing him off the pitch into the technical area, the sheer pace of Bale was all it took to ensure he regained the ball. Driving into the box, the Barcelona team could only watch in agony as he composed himself and drilled the ball past Jose Manuel Pinto for one of the best goals of his career. The entire move only took 7.2 seconds but confirmed Bale as one of the world’s best players.

Bale's wonder goal  (Image from DailyMail)

Bale’s wonder goal
(Image from DailyMail)

For Barcelona, it’s another bitter blow in what looks likely to turn out to be a disappointing season. Out of the Champions League to Atletico Madrid and trailing in the league to the same team, the Copa Del Rey offered manager Gerardo Martino the opportunity to show that appointing him wasn’t a mistake. But as Bale broke down the left wing on the 84th minute, heading at full pace towards goal, Martino must have known that his time was up as head coach. This summer will be one of transformation for Barca, with a likely overhaul of the playing and coaching staff. Not an easy thing to do given the recent FIFA imposed transfer ban but Barcelona need to evolve and shake off what has been a miserable season. Martino stated after the defeat to Real Madrid that his job is safe; a foolish statement given Barcelona’s past history of success and hunger to continue to build on this. Martino will exit with Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp or Athletic Bilbao’s Ernesto Valverde appointed in his place. Both men offer something different and will appeal to Barcelona’s two guiding principle themes – excitement and stability. Klopp has transformed Dortmund from Bundesliga underachievers to Champions League finalist, building a fast paced, high pressing team in the process. He has achieved a lot but with Pep Guardiola now working his magic on Bayern, the time for Klopp to test his skills in a different league may have come. His willingness to move will alert Premiership clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United who themselves need a fresh start, but the draw of Barcelona and the potential to win the Champions League will make the decision to move to Spain an easy one.

New Challenge for Klopp?  (Image from PA)

New Challenge for Klopp?
(Image from PA)

That is if the Barcelona board goes for Klopp as some suggest that they are leaning more towards former player Ernesto Valverde who could offer a return to stability for the club. The Bilbabo manager has impressed this season, guiding his team to 4th place in the league despite limited transfer funds. Valverde has bought wisely but also relied heavily on youth players coming through the ranks with Erik Moran, Iker Muniain and Aymeric Laporte playing pivotal roles for his team this season. His ability to operate under these conditions and utilize the youth system will appeal to Barcelona who find themselves unable to expand the squad through traditional transfers for the next two windows. As a former Barcelona player and a seasoned La Liga manager, he already has a deep understanding of the club and what role it plays in the league, something that Martino has struggled with since his arrival.

Stability may be key which is what Valverde offers (Image from getty)

Stability may be key which is what Valverde offers (Image from getty)

Both men are strong options but they will face the same issues unless Barcelona can overturn their transfer ban. They will enter the Nou Camp knowing that they are picking up an aging squad, with low morale and too many stars playing either below par or out of position. Getting the best out of Neymar and Messi, similar to how Carlo Ancelotti is doing with Bale and Ronaldo at Real, will be key as well as replacing fundamental members of the first team squad who are departing at the end of the season. Carlos Puyol and Victor Valdes will leave gaping holes at the back whilst rumours about Xavi’s potential exit still exist. The trio will be hard to replace, even harder with the ban still in place. Looking toward the clubs famed La Masia academy for replacements may be the only option with Sergi Gomez, Adrian Ortola and Denis Suarez promoted to first team duties quicker than expected. It will be a difficult summer for Barcelona, transition is never easy but it’s a necessity after a disastrous season for the Catalan club.

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Someone Ask For A Miracle?

Miracles do happen (Image from GETTY)Miracles are few and far between but it appears as though everyone in football is desperate to get one. From Cardiff’s Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer to Dortmund Jurgen Klopp to Sunderland’s Gus Poyet, they have all been hoping and praying for some divine intervention in the form of a much needed miracle. This season has already seen a few dispensed with Crystal Palace receiving the biggest one in the form of Tony Pulis, who has turned around the club and has them climbing further and further away from relegation zone each passing week. Palace were supposedly dead and buried when Pulis took over in November, rooted to the bottom of the Premiership with only two wins to their name. But with some luck and hard graft, Pulis pulled Palace up by the neck and has won 9 out of 21 matches in charge helping them to 14th place in the league, showing that miracles do happen.

Palace have turned around their season thanks to Pulis  (Image from PA)

Palace have turned around their season thanks to Pulis
(Image from PA)

Meanwhile in Germany, Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund needs more than a miracle tonight if they are to proceed to the next round of the Champions League. 3-0 down from the first leg against a rampant Real Madrid, Klopp knows his only hope of progressing is to turn to Bayern Munich bound striker Robert Lewandowski to produce another miracle of his own, similar to the one he performed last year at this time when he notched all four goals ironically against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi final game. Only a repeat of that and a clean sheet will help Klopp and Dortmund out of their current predicament. Klopp is in good spirits but realistic at the same time. Miracles never happen when you talk about them beforehand said Klopp in regards to a question from reporters yesterday about Dortmund’s chances. Regardless he will be hoping that after the game, he can speak about witnessing one more.

Same Again please  (Image from AFP)

Same Again please
(Image from AFP)

Back in England in the battle to beat the drop, Premiership duo Sunderland and Cardiff know that whilst it’s still mathematically possible to survive, the challenge will be one of their toughest yet. Both managers have spoken recently about needing a miracle to prevent relegation from happening but with three teams going down, neither is likely to have their prayers answered. After Monday night’s 5-1 defeat to Tottenham, Sunderland need all the help they can get as they sit bottom of the Premiership. Manager Gus Poyet spoke about how his team lacks the quality during periods of the game to finish off chances that could make the difference but insisted there was no place to hide and that Sunderland needs to step up. When quizzed about what his team needs in the last seven games, given that they are 7 points adrift, Poyet politely said “a miracle”. Honesty from a coach who has restored some pride back into Sunderland after its disastrous start to the season under Paolo Di Canio.

Calling for a Miracle - Gus Poyet  (Image from Getty)

Calling for a Miracle – Gus Poyet
(Image from Getty)

Fellow strugglers Cardiff also need a miracle to survive with head coach Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer admitting that his team lacked self belief against Crystal Palace on Saturday. The Eagles ran out 3-0 winners, meaning Cardiff have only won 3 times in the last 15 matches. With 5 games left, Solskjaer remains upbeat but the odds are stacked firmly against his team especially given that they have tough games against Newcastle, Stoke and Chelsea still to come. It has been a tough season for Cardiff with managerial changes, on and off field drama as well as some agonizing last minute defeats but survival is still realistic, if they can win their remaining games and other results go their way. For Sunderland and Cardiff, the news that Chris Hughton has been sacked at 17th place Norwich and replaced until the end of the season by an untried manager will come as welcomed news. Poyet or Solskjaer will not like to see their fellow manager lose his job but if it gives both clubs the glimmer of hope that they could survive at the expense of Norwich, they will take it. After all miracles come in all shapes and forms.

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Are Bayern Ready To Dominate European Football?

Bayern sealed the title with seven games left (Image from AFP)Bayern Munich have sealed the Bundesliga title with seven games to go after another commanding season, dropping just four points. It’s the quickest title to have been claimed in Europe and they are still on course for the DFB Pokal and are the favourites to retain their title as the Champions of Europe. With this in mind, is this the strongest team Europe has ever seen or are their other teams who can claim that they too have had their moments of domination.

Lyon:

They are no longer a stern power in Ligue 1 but Lyon were the undisputed favourites not so long ago. From 2002 to 2008, Lyon recorded seven successive league titles. Admittedly the first few titles were closely contested but in 2006 the club captured the title with a 15 point margin and the following season increased that to 17. Much of their success through the noughties was due to the array of stars they had at their disposal. Karim Benzema, Florent Malouda, Michael Essien, Jeremy Toulalan and Juninho combined during these years, making ‘The Boys’ the only real power in France. Their winning streak came to an end in 2009 when Bordeaux claimed their first title in 10 years. Now Olympic Lyonnais are fifth, hoping to challenge for a Champions League spot whilst Paris St Germain look to retain their title.

Lyon dominated French football thanks in part to Benzema and Juninho  (Image from Getty)

Lyon dominated French football thanks in part to Benzema and Juninho
(Image from Getty)

Arsenal:

A lot has been said about the Gunners’ lack of trophies over the past nine years but the North Londoners are the only team in England to have gone a whole season unbeaten. In 2003, Chelsea were taken over by Roman Abramovich and bolstered their squad with an £100 million investment. Manchester United had just lost David Beckham to Real Madrid but brought in some firepower of their own in the form of the Dutch striker, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Arsenal only made one addition, bringing in Jens Lehmann in goal as they kept their squad very much the same. In the cup competitions, Arsenal struggled, getting knocked out in the quarter finals of the Champions League and the semi-finals of the FA Cup. However, in the league, Wenger’s men would go on to be known as the ‘Invincibles’. After 38 games, Arsenal recorded 26 wins and 12 draws picking up a total of 90 points which was the joint highest league total, as they took the title by 11 points. Unlike now, Arsenal got stronger as the season wore on, with players such as Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira leading Arsene’s armada to victory.

Henry, Bergkamp and Pires inspired Arsenal to the title  (Image from PA)

Henry, Bergkamp and Pires inspired Arsenal to the title
(Image from PA)

Barcelona:

Since Pep Guardiola’s revolution at the Nou Camp, Barcelona have become the biggest power in world football. The Spaniard took over the Catalan club in 2008 after coaching the B team for a year. After flogging off the dead wood, in particularly Deco, Ronaldinho and Eto’o, Pep went on to bring in some fresh young talent which included the likes of Dani Alves and Pique at the start as he built from the back. Later he would go on to add Mascherano, Adriano and Sanchez in the following season as he created a team that suddenly became unstoppable. During his spell there, he won three La Liga’s, two Copa Del Rey’s, two Champions League’s, one UEFA Super cup and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 and 2011. It’s the most impressive managerial stint seen in the modern game and this made Pep the hottest property on the managerial market. The tactics he enforced made Barcelona incredibly hard to beat. Plenty of possession and the exerting pressure off the ball combined with plenty of stamina made the Spanish giants unbearable to play against and some of this style still remains with the team now.

Guardiola built Barcelona into the most feared team in the world  (Image from Getty)

Guardiola built Barcelona into the most feared team in the world
(Image from Getty)

Bayern Munich:

Pep has been at the Allianz for just over a year and has already won a league title and looks on course to complete the treble for the second consecutive year for Bayern. His style of play has taken shape in Germany and under his leadership, the team has yet to lose in the league. At the back, the team have Manuel Neuer between the sticks a long with Dante and Boateng in front. In front of them there is a vast selection of German options including Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Muller and Gotze. There most influential players are situated on the wings with Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery controlling the flanks – the best partnership of wingers in the world, arguably ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. They have already started planning for the future with Robert Lewandowski making his arrival from Borussia Dortmund in the summer.

The man again - Guardiola leads Bayern's latest charge  (Image from Getty)

The man again – Guardiola leads Bayern’s latest charge
(Image from Getty)

It’s hard to determine which team would be considered the most dangerous of sides. Some clubs can control their league standings for years but aren’t spectacular where as some have the most outstanding season but are unable to maintain this following on to this. Bayern look to have this like Barcelona have but the German side were already in control before Pep’s arrival after winning the treble with Jupp Heynckes. Germany and Spain’s youth system has allowed both Munich and Barca to establish a firm grounding which will allow them to stay at the top for years to come and with both clubs continuing to collect great amounts of revenue, there’s no telling when this will end.

Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Three Chase FIFA Goal Of The Year, But What About These Contenders?

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere scores the first goal against Norwich City in the Premier League (Image from Getty)On January 13th 2014, FIFA will host the FIFA Ballon D’Or for 2013. As part of the award ceremony, FIFA will hand out The FIFA Puskas award, named after the former Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskás, for the best goal of 2013. In the running are three players:  Barcelona and Brazil sensation Neymar, PSG and Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimović and Benfica and Serbia midfielder Nemanja Matic. All three scored spectacular goals that can be watched on FIFA.com but voting has already closed, with the winner already decided. The favourite is Ibrahimović, whose amazing overhead kick against England stunned the football world earlier this year. Fans of Neymar will have flocked onto FIFA’s site to vote but potentially the best goals of the three from a technical prospective was Matic’s strike against Porto. All eyes will be on Zurich in January to find out!

Ibrahimovic wonder goal against Engalnd (Image from Sports News)

Ibrahimovic wonder goal against Engalnd (Image from Sports News)

There were many other great goals this year so here’s a look back at some other contenders for 2013 best goal:

Gareth Bale:

Bale had a remarkable season last year and single handily took Spurs within touching distance of fourth spot and this goal was a vital one as they nicked three points fromWest Ham at Upton Park in the 89th minute.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PWeGBgMGAk

Robin van Persie:

Manchester United reclaimed the Premier League in May and van Persie was the big marquee signing needed to claim the top spot. He was firing on all cylinders and scored this screamer against Aston Villa as they got the win they needed to secure the title and he ended up scoring a first half hat trick.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlz_P-tZj_w

Van Persie strike Aston Villa should be a contender  (Image from PA)

Van Persie strike Aston Villa should be a contender
(Image from PA)

Matt Lowton:

Aston Villa had a very gloomy season last year but they turned it around in the New Year as their young defence began to find their feet and one of them in particular found his shooting boots too as he hammered home this incredible volley to secure a vital local derby win against Stoke.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXkuB5oKmlk

Cristiano Ronaldo:

Cristiano Ronaldo has become renowned for his swerving goals and here is another which demonstrates the animalistic nature of his shots. The strike is wild and the Celta Vigo keeper had no idea what to do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iexHKWaPuac

Ronaldo gets ready to hit his free kick vs Celta  (Image from Getty)

Ronaldo gets ready to hit his free kick vs Celta
(Image from Getty)

Robert Lewandowski:

Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich turned Germany into Europe’s super power for football beating the two big Spanish sides to make an all-German final at Wembley in the Champions League. In the semi-finals, Robert Lewandowski scored four past Real Madrid in his side’s home leg as they took a dominating lead to the Bernebau. His third goal was the pick of the bunch as he used quick footwork to beat two defenders and smash the ball past the keeper.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spN9qlYuSTA

Zlatan Ibrahimović:

Ibrahimović is fighting with Falcao for the title of the most lethal striker on the planet at the moment and he has scored a ridiculous amount of great goals this year however this one is something special. This comes from PSG’s 5-0 demolition over Anderlecht in the Champions League a couple of months ago where he scored a hat trick. With the ball bouncing about 35 yards out, Zlatan decides to just go for it and the end result was spectacular.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXt0Rg8hGOk

Pajtim Kasami:

In a game featuring Fulham and Crystal Palace, many thought there would be little glamour but this game featured two screamers including this one from Kasami. Running down the left hand side chasing a long ball, he takes down on the chest and fires it into the far corner. Unbelievable!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GTaZEtAkH0

Pajtim Kasami goal vs Palace   (Image by Andy Hooper)

Pajtim Kasami goal vs Palace
(Image by Andy Hooper)

Jack Wilshere:

Arguably the best team goal of the season so far, Wilshere finishes off a vintage Arsenal move involving three players, six one touch passes and a stunning finish. All without the ball touching the ground! The Norwich players and fans were left stunned. Be sure to look out for it later this season.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYSeSbBEl7s

To see the three FIFA Puskas Award contenders, click here: http://www.fifa.com/ballondor/puskasaward/index.html

Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Can Benetiz Inspire Napoli To Serie A Glory?

Golden Era - Maradona (Image from Footballitalia)It’s been a long time since Napoli was classified as Serie A title contenders. Not since Maradona pulled on the light blue jersey has the Napoli faithful believed it has a shot at glory. But now, under the guidance of Spanish coach Rafa Benetiz, Napoli is starting to look like a genuine threat to Juventus crown. A mile away from the financial troubled club of the late nineties, Napoli now have significant muscle behind them and are making a strong play for the title this season with some bold moves in the transfer market.

Benetiz wants to bring success back to Napoli  (Image from ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP/Getty Images)

Benetiz wants to bring success back to Napoli
(Image from ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP/Getty Images)

After arriving from Chelsea during the summer, Benetiz wasted little time strengthening the existing squad he had with several key arrivals joining the club. One of his first moves was to secure Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina on loan from Liverpool as replacement for the departing Morgan De Sanctis. The two worked closely during Benetiz’s time in charge at Anfield and the move made a lot of sense to both parties, with Napoli short of options between the sticks and Reina now backup at Liverpool to new signing Simon Mignolet. To support Reina, Benetiz also drafted in accomplished centre half Raul Albiol from Real Madrid to tighten a somewhat suspect defense. Albiol is one of three players to arrive at Napoli during the summer with winger Jose Maria Callejon and Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain also making the move. Higuain was seen as something of a coup for the club, who fought of Premiership interest from Arsenal and Chelsea to sign the powerful striker. At a cost of £32.5million, the 25 year old is not a cheap buy but with cash in the bank from the sale of Edinson Cavani to PSG for just under £57million, Higuain could prove to be one of the buys of the season. Having hit four goals in his first six appearances for the club, the fans now have a new hero that they can shout about from the terraces.

Higuian and Reina will play crucial roles if Napoli are to be Italian champions  (Image from AP)

Higuian and Reina will play crucial roles if Napoli are to be Italian champions
(Image from AP)

With the new pieces added to his puzzle, Benetiz now has a squad that look like title challengers on paper but whether they can pull together a run to the title has yet to be seen. The atmosphere around the ground is extremely positive with reports from the training ground suggesting that the new players have gelled into the squad quickly and with little disruption. On the pitch, results in the league have been impressive with well fought victories over AC Milan, Bologna and Chievo catapulting Napoli into third place in the league, just a few points behind earlier leaders Roma and Inter. A fine performance in the Champions league against Borussia Dortmund has also put them in the driver’s seat in their group however some tough matches lie ahead with trips to Arsenal and Marseille still to come. The focus however will be on league success after coming so close last year. Owner Aurelio De Laurentiis wants nothing more than to secure the Serie A title and get back a return for his investment.

Napoli celebrate win over Dortmund  (Image from Getty)

Napoli celebrate win over Dortmund
(Image from Getty)

Questions will be asked if the squad has enough depth to contend on multiple fronts both domestically and in Europe. Wednesday’s draw against bottom placed Sassuolo is a game that Napoli should be winning comfortably if they are to challenge for honours but highlights a problem in mindset. With the exception of AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund, Benetiz’s side has yet to be tested, that was until Wednesday. Going into the match, Napoli underestimated their opponents, who after gaining promotion for the first time in their history last year, sat pointless at the bottom of the league. Despite taking a fifteen minute lead, Napoli appeared to take their foot of the gas and paid the penalty as they allowed Simone Zaza to nip in and score an equalizer. Most teams in this position would step it up but Napoli looked as though their minds were elsewhere, presumably confident that they would find another goal. Against a resilient Sassoulo defence who needed to get their first point of the campaign, it never came and Napoli dropped two valuable points, much to the frustration of Benetiz. With the toughest month of the campaign to come at the end of March/ beginning of April when the face Juventus, Parma, Lazio , Udinese and Inter in a row, securing points against lower teams early on in the campaign could be the difference between winning the title and missing out. Benetiz is a winner, having guided an underdog Liverpool side to the Champions League and a disheartened Chelsea to the Europa League, but can he work his miracles again and help Napoli back to title winning ways.

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Fourth Official Farce Cost Dortmund Vital Points Against Napoli

Klopp argues with the fourth Official, ending in a red card for the coach (Image from AP)Last year’s Champions League runners up can be forgiven for wanting to kick off this year’s campaign with a win. After losing the 2013 trophy narrowly to arch rivals Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund traveled to Italy to face Napoli in their first group F match.  Dortmund, under the careful management of Jürgen Klopp have been in impressive form in the Bundesliga so far, winning all of their first four matches. Placed in a tough Champions’ League group with Marseille, Arsenal and Napoli, Klopp knew that three points against the Azzurri would lay the foundations for the path back to the final and potential redemption. As always his preparation was meticulous and with almost a full squad to choose from, Klopp was confident that all the bases had been covered to provide his team with the best chance of securing three points. But one decisive factor stood between his team and the win and it was one he couldn’t have factored in – the fourth official, Venâncio Manuel Raposo Batista Tomé.

Subotic tries desperately to re-enter the play  (Image from Getty)

Subotic tries desperately to re-enter the play
(Image from Getty)

It was early in the first half with the score at 0-0 when a clash of heads between Dortmund centre half Neven Subotic and Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuaín left Subotic with a gash to his left eye. Instructed by the referee to leave the field to receive treatment, Subotic duly obliged. The Dortmund medical team stitched him up and applied tape to stop the bleeding before trying to send the player back on. That is when Tome intervened. Rather than letting the player re-enter the match during a break in the play, the Portuguese official held on to Subotic as he looked for the referee to wave him on. With Napoli on the attack and a hole in the centre of defence where Subotic should have been, Dortmund were frantically trying to get the player back on. He was eventually waved on and proceeded to run at full speed towards the box and get back into position as Napoli left back Camilo Zúñiga picked up the ball on the left flank just outside the box. Zunga then delivered an in swinging cross towards the penalty spot to the waiting Higuaín, who hit a firm header past Roman Weidenfeller to put Napoli a goal ahead. This incensed the normally calm Jürgen Klopp as it was Subotic that was meant to be marking Huguain in the box. Out of position and on the back foot after running from the side lines, Subotic could not get enough spring in his jump to head the cross clear and prevent Napoli from scoring.

Dismissed - Klopp sent to the stands (Image from Getty)

Dismissed – Klopp sent to the stands (Image from Getty)

Klopp, frustrated at the role played by Tome in the delaying of Subotic’s re-entry decided to take out his anger on the fourth official, earning him a red card in the process. Things went from bad to worse as goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller inexplicably handled outside the box to earn himself a red card just before half time. With Mats Hummel already having left the field moments earlier due to injury, Dortmund’s defence lay in tatters. Despite regrouping at half time, Dortmund were unable to get back into the match with Lorenzo Insigne eventually finishing them off with a spectacular free kick with twenty minutes to go.  Dortmund did pull one back through a wicked deflection from Zunga in the last few minutes but Napoli held on for a valuable three points.

Goalscorers Insigne and Higuain celebrate Napoli's second goal  (Image from AFP)

Goalscorers Insigne and Higuain celebrate Napoli’s second goal
(Image from AFP)

To say Dortmund’s downfall was caused purely by the fourth official would be wrong as credit needs to be given to a resilient and exciting Napoli side, marshalled by former Liverpool and Chelsea manager Rafa Benetiz. Since the Spaniard took over in the summer, he has built an impressive team with the arrival of Pepe Reina in goal, Raul Albidol at centre half and striker Gonzalo Higuaín adding weight to an already strong team spine. But Tome’s decision to prevent Subotic from returning to the field at that moment may have been a deciding factor in the end result. With Subotic on the field to clear the ball, Klopp still in the dugout and Weidenfeller less incentivized to come for every ball, Dortmund may have been more of a challenge for Napoli. Klopp will now serve a touch ban, due to be handed down by UEFA shortly which will rule him out of a forthcoming Champions League match. Klopp should be back well before November and will be looking towards the return match in Germany with Napoli as his chance to carry out his revenge. From Klopp’s sake and Dortmund’s, they will be secretly hoping that Tome is not on hand that night officiating the match.

To see Gonzalo Higuaín’s goal, click here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpRMnPCGKKo

To see Lorenzo Insigne’s free kick, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DY-qaDKORLw

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Addo Drafted In To Rescue Hamburg

The Boss - Addo in Charge (Image from Getty)The departure of Thorsten Fink from his role as manager of Hamburg hardly came as a surprise after recent results; however his replacement, former Ghana international Otto Addo might be.  The 38 year old has been promoted from the Under 19’s team to work alongside reserve team coach Rodolfo Cardoso on an interim basis. It is a bold move by the troubled German club who have faltered in recent years under Fink’s leadership. Many will be surprised that Fink lasted past the summer, given some of the results he oversaw last year including the humiliating 9-2 defeat to eventual champions Bayern Munich. This blog called out his inefficiencies shortly after that game including his lack of creative thinking around selection or tactical nous, which looks like it has now caught up with him. Now Addo must pick up the pieces of the jigsaw left by Fink and try to build a resemblance of the Hamburg teams of past.

Gone - Fink's time as Hamburg boss is up  (Image from PA)

Gone – Fink’s time as Hamburg boss is up
(Image from PA)

Addo is no stranger to the club having finished his playing career with them back in 2008. The German born Ghanaian international midfielder played his entire career in Germany for a host of clubs including Hannover, Borussia Dortmund, Mainz and Hamburg. During his career, Addo gained a reputation as a tough tackling yet skillful midfielder, with his finest moment coming in 2002 when he helped Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga Championship. He had the potential to grow to greatness but injuries, in particular a reoccurring right knee problem, would ultimately hold the player back. During his spell with Dortmund, Addo tore his cruciate ligaments for the first time, something he would do unfortunately another two times. The injury would limit him to only 16 appearances for his adopted Ghana and eventually end his playing career.

Addo tackles Czech star Pavel Nedved during World Cup 2006  (Image from Getty)

Addo tackles Czech star Pavel Nedved during World Cup 2006
(Image from Getty)

But now Addo faces up to a new challenge, revitalizing the failing Hamburg brand and rescuing their season. Currently down in 15th place, with only four points after five games, Addo and Cardoso know that they will have to act fast to avoid putting Hamburg in an dangerous position. With a talented playing squad including dynamic Dutch midfielder and club captain Rafael Van Der Vaart, German internationalist Rene Adler and Marcell Jansen plus Czech star Petr Jiráček, the squad has enough about it to get themselves out of the whole they are in.  One area of concern for the management duo will be upfront, with the current four strikers only scoring one goal between them in the last five (Jacques Zoua’s strike in the 4-0 win over relegation favourites Eintracht Braunschweiger). With the transfer window now shut, Cardoso and Addo may turn to their roots and promote a younger striker who is hungry to prove himself. Macedonia front man Valjmir Nafiu has already been brought into the first team but has yet to make his competitive debut whilst the likes of George Kelbel, Manuel Farrona-Pulido and Felix Brugmann wait in the wings. They may also choose to promote Danish sensation Christian Norgaard from the youth teams to add freshness to a somewhat stale midfield. Van Der Vaart has been the stand out so far with three goals in his past five games but he cannot do it alone, despite what Fink believed. Addo and Cardoso need to reignite the midfield and get the supply going again to the front men.

Key to Hamburg's success - Van Der Vaart  (Image from JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

Key to Hamburg’s success – Van Der Vaart
(Image from JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

If Addo and Cardoso can turn Hamburg’s season around, they may stand a chance of winning the job fulltime, giving them both their first true taste of management at the highest level. Addo knows that Hamburg should be further up the league than where they are now so will be keen to help them climb even if it’s just for a short period of time.

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April Round up – Goals, Gaffs and Guardiola

A Newcastle fan punches a horse (Image from Getty)May is the one of the most exciting months in domestic football. As the season draws to close, fans are poised on the edge of their seats waiting to see if their team is successful in winning the league, avoiding the drop or lifting the cup. For the first time since their famous win in 1997, Borussia Dortmund are looking forward to the Champions League final at Wembley on the 25th May, where they will face either Barcelona or fierce rivals Bayern Munich. The odds are firmly stacked against the Spanish side who trail 4-0 from the first leg but miracles do happen. Back in the Premiership, the fight for the title is over with Manchester United beating Manchester City to the post and picking up their 20th title, an english record. All eyes are now focused on the bottom of the table to see who will join QPR and Reading in the Championship next year. Newcastle, Wigan, Aston Villa and Sunderland are in a vicious dog fight with all four clubs desperate to avoid the drop.

On the Move - Mario Gotze  (Image from Reuters)

Champions League Final bound – Mario Gotze
(Image from Reuters)

Last month we took at look at two of those teams – Sunderland and Newcastle, focusing on two key stories, Sunderland’s appointment of controversal manager Paolo Di Canio and Newcastle’s recent slump which has left them dangling in the bottom half of the table. Di Canio got off to a flyer with unexpected wins against Everton and Newcastle before being cruelly brought back to earth with a bump by a rampant Aston Villa. Newcastle, who lost the Tyne Wear derby 3-0 have had a bad month, both on the pitch and off it. On the pitch, they crashed out of a winnable Europa League after defeat against Benfica then saw their domestic form slump as well picking up only 5 points out of a possible 15 during April. Off the pitch, the Tyne Wear derby was marred by the return of the english hooligan with Newcastle fans rioting after the match and one fan even punching a police horse. They were not alone in a month to forget for English football followers as fans of Millwall, Stoke, Bradford and Portsmouth all contributed to tarnishing the beautiful game’s reputation.

New Sunderland Boss Di Canio  (Image from Getty)

New Sunderland Boss Di Canio
(Image from Getty)

Also leading the charge in setting a bad example was Liverpool’s Luis Suarez who was banned for 10 games following an incident against Chelsea where he appeared to bite the arm of Branislav Ivanovic. The striker was slammed by his manager and the club for his actions before dramatically performing a U-turn and defending his actions, insisting it wasn’t worth a ten match ban. Very strange indeed. It could have been a lot worse for Liverpool, just look at AEK Athens who are now having to fight for survival without influential young midfielder Giorgos Katidis, now serving a ban for performing a nazi salute as a celebration. The incident which happened in March has not help AEK’s plight as they desperately tried to avoid the drop. However Sunday’s defeat in the final game, and a three-point deduction handed down for fan violence has resulted in AEK being relegated and dropping out of the Greek Super League for the first time in their history.

Suarez sinks his teeth in  (Image from SkySports)

Suarez sinks his teeth in
(Image from SkySports)

As AEK dismiss their manager following relegation, other teams across Europe are gearing up to follow suit. In a piece we called the six degrees of managerial separation, we predicted a chain of events that would start with Real Madrid and exiting manager Jose Mourinho and end back at Real with their new potential coach. See if you agree with us on our predictions. One manager who has already been confirmed is Bayern Munich’s new head coach, Pep Guardiola who has already started his revolution by signing Borussia Dortmund winger Mario Gotze. The player arrives for a record german transfer fee and kicks off what is sure to be a transformational time for the Bavarian club. Another club preparing for a transformational season is Cardiff City who led by Scot Malky Mackay celebrated last month with promotion to the Premiership. Cardiff will want to avoid the same fate as many promoted teams who find the move to difficult and end up back in the Championship after only a year. We looked at what Cardiff need to do to avoid the drop in their first season in England’s top division.

Going in the right direction - Cardiff win promotion  (Image from BBC)

Going in the right direction – Cardiff win promotion
(Image from BBC)

Also making the news last month was the never aging story of Nigerian footballer Taribo West, who Serbian officials are now pursuing over allegations that he lied about his age to gain a contract with Partizan Belgrade. It would appear that he is not the only player to have done this with other players from the same region reported to have done this. Two players who don’t need to do this just yet are Esbjerg’s Youssef Toutouh and Utrecht’s Mike van der Hoorn who made the news in April but for different reasons. Toutouh took the plaudits in April with a stunning effort against high-flying Randers whilst Van Der Hoorn felt the heat due to a clumsy error in Utrechts 6-0 defeat at the hands of AZ Alkmaar. Both players have exciting careers ahead of them so we are sure this won’t be the last time we hear from them. Also featured a crazy Bulgarian coach ripping up a referees cards, a goal from a goalkeeper, Bebeto’s resignation from the CBF and a look at Hamburg’s tactical woes in what proved to be a busy month. May is likely to throw up more interesting stories so please keep checking the blog and enjoy!

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Guardiola Grabs Gotze As His Revolution Picks Up The Pace

Bayern Bound - Gotze (Image from MIS Sweden Germany )Jupp Heynckes might still be in the hot seat but the Pep Guardiola revolution at Bayern Munich has already started with the Spanish coach making his first move in the transfer market by splashing out a new record German fee for Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Gotze. The pacey winger has been a revelation for his team over the past three seasons after Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp promoted him from the club’s youth setup but will join Bayern when the current season ends. Bayern have agreed to pay a record breaking £31.5m to sign the Germany international in a move which formally kicks off a new era at the club following the appointment of their first ever Spanish coach.

On the Move - Mario Gotze  (Image from Reuters)

On the Move – Mario Gotze
(Image from Reuters)

Gotze joins the club at a time of transition with Guardiola likely to adjust the team to his liking. Suspected departures include the aging trio of Daniel Van Buyten, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Claudio Pizzarro and the second string pairing of Luiz Gustavo and Rafinha in favour of some fresh young blood, in a similar mold of Gotze. Bayer Leverkusen may be bracing themselves for a double bid from Guardiola for Andre Schürrle and Lars Bender whilst Borussia might not have seen the last of them as they circle back for prolific striker Robert Lewandowski and defender Mats Hummel. Similarly the form of Freiburg defender Oliver Sorg, Eintracht Frankfurt duo defender Sebastian Jung and midfielder Sebastien Rode as well as Bochum’s rising star Leon Goretzka will not have gone unnoticed to the Spaniard who will look to bring in exciting German talent into his already impressive squad. Guardiola will also look to other shores to strengthen with likely candidates being the controversial biter Luis Suarez, Barcelona’s Thiago and Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote whilst also looking to promote exciting youngsters from the youth setup into his first team.

Rising Star - Leon Goretzka  (Image from Getty)

Rising Star – Leon Goretzka
(Image from Getty)

But Gotze is and will be the glamour signing and what a signing they have made. Comfortable on both wing and possessing breathtaking speed and close control, Gotze is one of the most exciting young players in the game today. Over three seasons, the twenty year old has scored twenty two goals from wide positions and created countless more on route to back to back domestic league titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Seen as one of the best products of the Borussia youth setup for decades, Gotze is now one of the first names on Klopp’s team sheet and a fully fledged member of Joachim Low’s national squad too. The news of Gotze’s decision to leave and Bayern’s purchase (having activated a release clause in his contract) has upset the talented Klopp but the Dortmund boss holds no animosity towards his star player, despite his somewhat sarcastic response to the media when questioned over the transfer:

Gotze was the player Guardiola wished to sign. So if it’s anyone’s fault it’s mine. I cannot make myself 15cm smaller and learn Spanish. Gotze wants to work with this extraordinary coach that is Guardiola. I cannot preach football of quick transitions and now start playing Tiki Taka. Mario knows he owes a lot to the club, but I know he gave a lot back as well”

Not Happy - Klopp (Image from PA)

Not Happy – Klopp (Image from PA)

Klopp knows he has lost one of his best players to the clubs biggest rivals which will hurt for some time but he will start the rebuilding process in earnest as he looks to re-strength his squad ahead of the new season and a new title challenge. He will also be looking forward to testing his skills against one of the best coaches in the world in Guardiola. Munich will be stronger than this season and Dortmund know they will need to be up to the task if they are to peg them back. Munich have been in dazzling form this season, losing only once to Bayer Leverkusen (an 87th minute strike by Sidney Sam ruined their chances of an unbeaten season) and conceding only 14 goals. Guardiola could not have dreamed for a better time to take charge of a new club, especially one that is flying so high this year.

Let the Games Begin - Guardiola makes his first move  (Image form Getty)

Let the Games Begin – Guardiola makes his first move
(Image form Getty)

As Heynckes prepares to vacate his position, the legacy that he leaves to Guardiola may well include a Champions league title after a convincing 4-0 victory at home to Pep’s old team, Barcelona in the first leg of the semi finals of that competition put them in a commanding place. But that will matter little to Guardiola, who has won the same event twice as a coach already and is looking more towards the future of the club and its next metamorphism. No transition can start without the initial spark and it appears as though Gotze is that spark. Guardiola’s Bayern revolution is firmly underway, even before he arrives in Germany. The fans will demand success and Guardiola will want to deliver it, that is with the help of his new Messi, Mario Gotze.

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Six Degrees Of Managerial Seperation As We Gear Up For A Summer Of Moves

Six Dregrees of Managerial Seperation (Image from Sunsetplayhouse.com)All aboard the managerial merry go round once more as speculation of this summer’s biggest moves reaches fever pitch. Josep Guardiola was the first coach to nail his flag to the mast and declare where he will be taking up this summer. The new Bayern Munich coach ended months of rumours and Chelsea whispers by signing on with the Bundesliga Champions in November of last year. The Spanish coach is unlikely to be the only high profile coach to switch jobs this summer in what is gearing up to be an intensive few months of change. It starts and ends with Madrid, with their high profile coach Jose Mourinho starting the ball rolling in what looks to be six degrees of managerial separation.

Chelsea Bound - Jose Mourinho  (Image from Getty)

Chelsea Bound – Jose Mourinho
(Image from Getty)

Mourinho to Chelsea

It’s no secret that Benetiz is leaving Chelsea in the summer and an even bigger secret that Mourinho is on his way back. Talk of other coaches like Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp and Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, strategically placed so that when the former Portuguese coach makes his entrance at Stamford Bridge, it is as dramatic as possible. Jose the great, the special one is back at the bridge which calls an end to Benetiz time, much to the delight of a large section of the home support. Whilst Mourinho hasn’t taken the formal step to announce his return, he has been publically saying his goodbyes in Spain. Roma looks to have gotten his man, after the two made up following their very public spat which lead to Mourinho leaving England in 2007. PSG could throw a spanner in the works by offering Mourinho a more lucrative offer but whilst it would be appealing to the Portuguese maestro who wants to win the league in as many countries as possible, he has unfinished business at Chelsea that will draw him back. He wants to deliver the Champions League title which he promised Abramovich several years ago and despite the Russian billionaire getting his hands on the trophy last year thanks to Roberto Di Matteo, another one courteously of Mourinho would be welcomed.

Benetiz would be welcomed back at Liverpool  (Image from Getty)

Benetiz would be welcomed back at Liverpool
(Image from Getty)

Benetiz to Liverpool

Benetiz deserves more praise for what he has done at Chelsea than he is given. Sitting third in the league, hot on the heels of a faltering Manchester City, and in the semi finals of a very winnable Europa League competition, Benetiz has done well under harsh conditions. With the home fans breathing down his neck with distain due to his previous history with Liverpool, Benetiz has kept his composure and managed to steer a wayward Chelsea ship towards port. Additionally he has done what most Chelsea bosses have failed to do, by reigniting the fire of Fernando Torres. Still half the player he was at Liverpool, Torres is at least now firing in the goals with 17 goals in all competitions, much to the delight of his biggest fan, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Benetiz will step aside in the summer for the returning Mourinho but he may not go that far with a trip up the M4 and back to Anfield on the cards. A legend in the north with Liverpool fans, due to delivering the Champions League trophy against all odds in 2004, Benetiz return to the red side of the city would be much welcomed. After a poor season under Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool fans just want to get back to winning ways and competing for the major honours once more, which is exactly what Benetiz can give them.

Rodgers return to Swansea?  (Image from Getty)

Rodgers return to Swansea?
(Image from Getty)

Rodgers to Swansea

Rodgers to be fair hasn’t done a bad job at Liverpool, but unfortunately his idea of time versus the clubs owners is likely to be different. Rodgers would love to have five to ten years to restructure the club and breed a new batch of talented youngsters much in the way that Arsenal have but investors won’t hang around to see this. The Fenway Group which has the controlling stake in Liverpool, need quick results and trophies to boot as success brings new money and expansion opportunities for the club. Rodgers has brought through some youngsters this year as part of his plan but his poor tactical calls and inability to bring in silverware will see the coach depart in favour of a manager who knows every blade of grass at Anfield and is a crowd favourite. It comes hardly as a surprise given that Rodgers wasn’t Liverpool’s first choice (Roberto Martinez holds that honour) but will be bitter sweet for the Northern Irishman. After picking himself back up, he is likely to look for an opportunity in the same division to prove he is not a failure and that chance may come in the form of an old friend, especially if Laudrup departs Swansea for a bigger club. Rodgers would relish the chance to restart where he left off a year or so ago, even if it’s seen as a backward step in his career.

Rising Star - Michael Laudrup  (Image from Getty)

Rising Star – Michael Laudrup
(Image from Getty)

Laudrup to Man City

Laudrup’s stock has risen considerably after an impressive debut season in the Premiership with Swansea. The former Danish international led the unfancied welsh outfit to their first major trophy in their 101 year history with victory in the League Cup and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by England’s top four. City, much frustrated with the lack of silverware this season, look to have lost patience with Roberto Mancini, despite the Italian coach thinking otherwise. If he is to go, City have options of who they can turn to including Ajax’s Frank De Boer and Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini but the smart money would be on a somewhat surprise move for Laudrup. Working on a limited budget, Laudrup has built an impressive team and bought wisely which to big spending City, who have repeatedly paid over the odds for players in the past, may be appealing. His style of attacking football and ability to mix up the formation of his team with little disruption would also interest city’s owners who have watched in wonder as Mancini tinkered badly and lost vital games and ground this year. They could face a fight with Madrid, who could turn to their former player as Mourinho’s replacement but Laudrup is likely to want to remain in the UK after two spells as a manager in Spain.

Not a successful season for Mancini  (Image from Reuters)

Not a successful season for Mancini
(Image from Reuters)

Roberto Mancini to PSG

Mancini knows that this season was not good enough and probably knows that he will not be coaching Manchester City next year if he is truthful. So where next for the pragmatic Italian? Heading back to Italy is an option and with former clubs Sampdoria and Lazio a likely destination, especially after somewhat disappointing seasons. But having already won Serie A with Inter and with both clubs unlikely to be challenging next year for honours, Mancini looks destined to go to another league. That league may be just across the water in France to take on another multimillion dollar rebuilding operation in PSG. Despite a quarter final appearances in the Champions League and the French title on its way, it’s not been a great year for current coach Carlo Ancelotti. The former Chelsea boss has watched in horror as his team of superstars crashed out of two domestic cup competitions this year, most recently to lowly Evian in the Coupe de France. Whilst these cups meant little to the owners, it was expected that PSG would storm to the domestic treble this year which has not happened. Rumours of a rift between Ancelotti and Technical Director Leonardo have risen recently although the club vehemently denies it. If the rumours are true, PSG are unlikely to favour anyone but the Brazilian who is seen as the focal point of the PSG forward movement. Ancelotti is smart enough to know when to leave than to fight a battle he will never win.

Off to Real for Ancelotti?  (Image from PA)

Off to Real for Ancelotti?
(Image from PA)

Carlo Ancelotti to Real Madrid

Ancelotti’s reputation as a winner (titles in Italy, England and now France) make him a compelling option for many clubs. But for one in particular, Ancelotti’s managerial style could be seen as a refreshing change to their last coach. Madrid would welcome Ancelotti with open arms and embrace his low key style, which will be in harsh contrast to the style of the exiting Mourinho. Ancelotti would welcome the challenge as well of adding the Spanish title to his resume and at a time when Barcelona look considerably shaky, it may be the perfect time for the 53 year old coach. Only an ailing father back home in Italy would potentially block the deal from happening but if Madrid owner Florentino Pérez sees Ancelotti as the coach he wants, we are sure a Real owned private jet will be made available at all times if the Italian needs to head home quickly.

Whilst the above is not an exact science and requires only one owner to offer a curveball into the mix to throw the whole thing off, it’s a calculated risk that the coaches involved will be moving on to new clubs starting at the end of May. Other coaches like David Moyes (rumored to be off to Schalke), Neil Lennon (to Everton as Moyes replacement) and potentially Barcelona looking for a new manager with Tito Vilanova rumoured to be stepping down again as he continues his fight against cancer, it could be one of the busiest summers for managerial moves in recent history. Over to you Jose to get the ball rolling.

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Fink’s Tactical Tweaks Sends Hamburg Plummeting

Fink's tactics may be costing Hamburg points (Image from Getty)Saturday’s stunning collapse by Hamburg to a rampant Bayern Munich has highlighted to the world what most in Germany have been watching for some time. One of the most recognised names in Germany and European football, Hamburg has fallen on darker days recently and has been unable to compete with the likes of Dortmund, Leverkusen and Bayern in recent seasons as they raced to the Bundesliga title. As the only team to have features in all 49 Bundesliga seasons and having won the competition three times in its history, the Hamburg fans have been praying since 1983 for a return to the top spot but to no avail. The 9-2 scoreline four days ago to an under strength Bayern side, who rested key players like David Alaba, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery, Mario Gomez and Mario Mandzukic ahead of last nights Champions League tie with Juventus, was embarrassing to say the least for this once great club.

Pizarro hit four against Hamburg on Saturday (Image from PA)

Pizarro hit four against Hamburg on Saturday (Image from PA)

Currently sitting ninth in the league, Hamburg are heading in the wrong direction after only one win and one draw in their last five. Defensively they are all over the place having conceded sixteen goals in the same period, nine of which came against title contenders Munich but another five against mid table club Hannover 96. Hamburg’s problems seem to stem from an inability to come out of the blocks running, often losing early goals which destroys the teams momentum and puts them immediately on the back foot. Going in 5-0 down to Munich and 3-1 down to Hannover at half time, coach Thorsten Fink seemed unable to stop the rot as Hamburg again collapsed in both games in the second half conceding more goals. It has been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the club so far with important wins against Borussia Dortmund (twice) and Schalke early on in the season undermined by poor performances and defeats against lower opposition like Augsburg and Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Augsburg frustrate Hamburg and secure the win (Image from Getty)

Augsburg frustrate Hamburg and secure the win
(Image from Getty)

Some of the blame for these games has been aimed at the reluctance of senior players like Rafael Van der Vaar, Marcell Jansen and Heiko Westermann to step up and take control of the match. Van der Vaart in particular, who returned to the club this summer after spells with Real Madrid and Tottenham, was brought in specifically to provide the spark and creativity needed to drive the team forward but so far has failed to do so. Off field problems with his wife may have attributed to this drop in form but as an experienced Dutch internationalist who has played at the highest level, off field dramas should not be a factor. But others blame Fink for deploying the wrong tactics in games and ultimately sending his side out to fail. It was no surprise that Fink chose to close down Bayern’s wide players who he saw as their main threat and directed his team to team mark them when in possession. However by doing so, he graciously opened up a massive gap in the centre of the park that Munich exploited to its fullest. Having gone 2-0 down within 19 minutes, Fink could have chosen then to change his approach but continued with his plan, only to see another three goals hit the back of the Hamburg net before the half time whistle. In the second half, changes were made but by that point the game was lost and despite hitting two in return, Hamburg shipped another four before the final whistle.

Van der Vaart resigns for Hamburg (Image from PA)

Van der Vaart resigns for Hamburg
(Image from PA)

Fink believes his team are in transition mode and has dismissed openly their chances of ever qualifying for the UEFA cup or the Champions League much to the fans annoyance.  Having taken over in October 2011, Fink has yet to win over the fans and sits currently with a 33% win ratio during his time at the club. Hamburg have the players needed to stay clear of the relegation zone but poor tactics and inexperienced management may cause them to end up there. If Fink cannot correct Hamburg’s slide, it may draw an end to Hamburg’s record as the longest-serving team in the Bundesliga.

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Eintracht Frankfurt’s Dream May Be About To Become Reality

With Bayern Munich the run away leaders at the half way point in this years Bundesliga campaign, all focus is now on the chasing pack. Current Bundesliga champions, Borussia Dortmund lie in second place, fifteen points behind Munich with Bayer Leverkusen in third just a point behind them. Hot on their tails is this years surprise package, Eintracht Frankfurt who are looking to continue their impressive start to the season by holding on to fourth spot and sealing a champions league berth. Frankfurt, one of the Bundesliga’s founding members, only gained promotion back into the league after being relegated at the end of the  2010–11 season which makes this years form more surprising. Tipped by many to struggle in the first year back, Frankfurt have picked up an impressive 37 points in 21 games including 11 wins, matching the start that Leverkusen and Dortmund have had also. What makes their achievement even more impressive is that they have managed to do so with a skeleton thin squad and limited cash for transfers.

Surprise Package Eintracht Frankfurt (Image from Getty)

Surprise package Eintracht Frankfurt (Image from Getty)

Led by former German midfielder, Armin Veh, Frankfurt have benefitted from some strong home performances at the Commerzbank-Arena, losing only once at home this season to FSV Mainz 05. Veh, who has a vast wealth of experience in the Bundesliga after managing Borussia Monchengladbach, Hamburger SV, VfL Wolfsburg and VfB Stuttgart during his career, took over at Frankfurt shortly after they were relegated. Having built a team from scratch, Veh steered the team towards automatic promotion last year and is on course for another successful year this season as well. As the coach responsible for Stuttgart 2007 Bundesliga triumph, he knows a thing or two about how to handle the division and has instilled a confidence in his team which has helped in their surprise rise.

Inspirational coach Armin Veh (Image from PA)

Inspirational coach Armin Veh (Image from PA)

Preferring to play with a high back line and throwing men forward, Frankfurt have received a lot of praise for their maturity and attacking style this year, even against some of the leagues bigger teams. When faced with an away tie against Bayern Munich, most teams will revert to an ultra defensive style to try to limit the damage as much as possible. They will often sit back and absorb the pressure without really testing Neuer in the Munich goal. But not Frankfurt who attacked from the start and pushed Munich all the way, even after they went one goal behind. Despite going on to lose the game 2-0, Bayern midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger praised Frankfurt’s performance after the game saying “this is by far the best Eintracht we have faced in many years”.

Bayern Munich take the lead against Frankfurt (Image from Goal.com)

Bayern Munich take the lead against Frankfurt
(Image from Goal.com)

One of the stand out players in the Munich match was veteran midfielder and Frankfurt legend Alexander Meier. Meier played a key role in last years promotional campaign, scoring 17 goals in the process, and his form has continued into this one. Already on 12 goals he is Frankfurt’s leading goal scorer but its his general play that has attracted attention from others. He controls the Frankfurt midfield, alongside the impressive youngster Sebastian Rode who is also having a great season, and creates chances for others. But Meier is the first to note that this years success, and most of last years too was a team effort with everyone having to step up to achieve the results they have. Right back Sebastian Jung is a player who is maturing season after season. The 20 year has been in fine form this year and was recently rewarded with a call up to the German National squad, making him the first Frankfurt player to do so in more than a decade. Similarly the form of Japanese midfielder Takashi Inui has been a surprise to many and has resulted in an increased interest in the playmaker. Picked up from Bochum this summer in a € 1.2 million move, Inui has hit 5 goals and has become a fan favourite due to his quick shots and dizzy dribbling skills. Often the player who dictates the pace of the game alongside Meier, Inui has looked at home in Frankfurt, operating either as an attacking midfielder just behind central striker, Canadian Olivier Occéan or as a pacey winger.

In Good Form - Rode and Meier (Image from Goal.com)

In Good Form – Rode and Meier
(Image from Goal.com)

Frankfurt will have to keep their key players fit and healthy in the next few months if they are to maintain their currently lofty position. Motivation to succeed will not be an issue for them as Veh has spent the last two years implanting self belief into his players and giving them all the motivation they need to go on and replicate some of the great Frankfurt teams of the past. But Veh doesn’t like the comparisons and strongly believes that the past should remain in the past and that his team need to be realistic about what they can do now rather than what could be. In an interview with German paper Bild, Veh spoke with elegance about his team and their future chances, despite limited budgets:

“We can’t always go on about the things we can’t do. It’s better to look at the example set by Freiburg and Mainz, who have done so much with little money. We should allow ourselves to dream”.

Veh knows how to get the best out of his team and is proving it once again this season. If Frankfurt can maintain this form until the end of the season, then the next chapter of this amazing story may feature them competing in the Champions League. At the moment that is the dream but for this squad of players, their motivation and determination to succeed may just make that dream come true.

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Will The Champions League Trophy Be Returning To England?

Can anyone for England emulate Chelsea's 2011 success? (Image from PA)All the English sides have made it through to the knock out stages of the Champions League after two previous seasons of fallouts. The question many are now asking is could England have its fourth winner of the new era this season? Collectively, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have only lost five times in the Champions League where as last year there were nine defeats with City and Chelsea crashing out. It is redemption time for Manchester City who have finally made it to the last 16 for the first time under their wealthy owners.

Will an English side be lifting this come May?  (Image from UEFA)

Will an English side be lifting this come May?
(Image from UEFA)

City were drawn with a relatively easily group with the exception being current holders, Bayern Munich. They secured their place into the next round after the fourth game and were close to topping the group in the final game at the Allianz Stadium against the Germans but it seems math was never Pellegrini’s strong suit.

 “It was important to be first in the group but not the most important – it was difficult to score two goals.” – Manuel Pellegrini

The Chilean said this after his side’s 3-2 win where if the game had finished 4-2, City would have gone through as the group winners. Nevertheless, the Blues have been clinical disposing of the other opponents in their group and all of their strikers have looked hot on the European stage. Finishing second in the group will be a hindrance but if they are to win the tournament they will have to play the big sides at some point anyway.

We need how many goals to win the group? Two right?  (Image from Getty)

We need how many goals to win the group? Two right?
(Image from Getty)

Arsenal meanwhile were given a deathly group including Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Marseille. After their home defeat on the opening day in the Premiership, everybody thought they would be wiped out immediately. But the Gunners bounced back in the league and have been one of the most effective sides in Europe as well, benefitting from having arguably the strongest midfield in the group. Despite the lost to Napoli in the final game and Dortmund’s last minute goal in France against Marseille sent them through as group winners, Wenger will be pleased by his team’s performances. They recorded a brilliant away wins against Dortmund and Marseille whilst doing enough at home against Napoli and Marseille to progress.  Jack Wilshire and Aaron Ramsey have shone during the group stages and if the Londoners continue to march on through the tournament, they could raise some eyebrows amongst the top clubs in Europe.

Arsenal have been impressive this season  (Image from Getty)

Arsenal have been impressive this season
(Image from Getty)

It’s been a rough transition for David Moyes into the hot seat at Old Trafford but he has secured the Red Devils a spot into the next round. He certainly deserves some credit here. The ex-Everton manager watched his team top the group on Tuesday after they won 1-0 at home to Shaktar Donetsk thanks to a goal from Phil Jones. Like many years, United were handed a fairly comfortable group with Bayern Leverkusen and Real Sociedad being the other two opponents and they went unbeaten in their six games winning four of them to give them a total of 14 points. This will hand them a favourable draw but many would argue without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie being available for each game, the side won’t have the strength to get much further than the quarter finals.

Phiil Jones strike against Shakhtar Donetsk was enough to help United qualify  (Image from Getty)

Phiil Jones strike against Shakhtar Donetsk was enough to help United qualify
(Image from Getty)

For Chelsea fans it was a bumpy road to the knock out stages despite the fact they topped the group. The Blues experienced defeats to Basel (twice) during their campaign and have looked far from their best. Despite the abundance of quality they have in their squad, the team are leaking goals all over the place as no one is taking command at the back. Their backline is filled with high profile names like Terry, Cole and Luiz, but for some reason the team are failing to keep clean sheets. Out of all competitions they have only managed to keep ten clean sheets out of a possible 24 matches, conceding 20 goals during the same time. The once solid Chelsea defence is starting to show its age.  This is quite concerningfor Chelsea fans but Mourinho’s men are far from disarray. Just remember how shaky things looked in 2011 during the AVB to Di Matteo transition. The quality is there so if Mourinho can plug the hole at the back and get his front line scoring again, Chelsea could go far this year as they look to add to their 2011 Champions League title.

Blog By Richard Waterhouse

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The Race For Wembley Starts Now

Champions League TrophyWhen the European Cup changed over to The Champions League in 1992, it  was initially a straight knockout competition open only to the champion club of each. But since then, the tournament has evolved and is now Europe’s premiere club event with 76 teams contesting initially at the start for 32 places within the group stages. The teams are made up of champions of the individual countries across Europe and in some select larger leagues like England, Italy and Spain, the teams finishing in 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The tournament, which runs from July to May, with the group stages usually beginning in September, has become a huge money earner for UEFA as brands and TV stations fight for exclusive branding and broadcast rights. This new-found cash has allowed UEFA to increase the prize money to €10,500,000 for the winner and smaller amounts to the rest of the 31 teams who manage to reach the group stages. By doing this, UEFA has made the tournament a must for some clubs as they view the potential cash injection as a way to grow their club and further their dominance of their respective domestic leagues.

Who will follow in Chelsea's footsteps this year?

Who will follow in Chelsea’s footsteps this year?

In the past 20 years, there have been hundreds of memorable moments and games including Manchester United’s last-minute win against Bayern Munich in 1999, when the Reds scored twice in injury time to snatch the title away from the already celebrating germans. Or the Liverpool turn around of 2005 when trailing 3-0 to AC Milan at half time, manager Rafa Benetiz managed to rally his troops for the second half, and then watched as Liverpool, led by captain Stevie Gerrard fought back to 3-3 and then eventually won the game on a penalty shoot out. Or the fairytale story of Ajax in 1995 who won the tournament with home-grown talent and a team whose average age was only 23, proving once again that Alan Hansen’s famous quote of ” You can’t win anything with kids” is wildly off the mark. We could continue to talk about other amazing moments like Zidane’s volley in the 2002 final, Porto’s surprise win in 2004 under the guidance of then coach Jose Mourinho or the Lionel Messi show when he put 5 goals past Bayer Leverkusen in 2011 but we could go on forever.

Zidane's  volley from the edge of the area against Bayer Leverkusen

Zidane’s volley from the edge of the area against Bayer Leverkusen

This year’s draw for the last 16 has highlighted how exciting the tournament can be with some mouth-watering games. There is a return to Old Trafford for Cristiano Ronaldo as Real Madrid visit Manchester United, 3 times winners AC Milan entertain a fragile Barcelona side who will be hoping that manager Titi Vilanova has returned by the time the first leg rolls around in February. Scottish champions Celtic entertain Antonio Conte’s Juventus, praying for a repeat of the 2001 home leg game between the two clubs which ended in a thrilling 4-3 victory for Celtic. And Arsene Wenger will be secretly hoping he is still in a job come February so that he can lead his Arsenal team out against german runners-up Bayern Munich.

Celtic players celebrate scoring in the 4-3 win over Juventus

Celtic players celebrate scoring in the 4-3 win over Juventus

Added in to this Galatasaray v FC Schalke, Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund, Valencia v Paris St Germain and FC Porto v Malaga, it all adds up to a fascinating last 16 of the tournament. At this stage it is hard to predict who will triumph at Wembley Stadium next May. Early favourites are the two Spanish giants – Barcelona and Real Madrid but if history is anything to go by, this tournament is impossible to call.

To watch some great Champions League Group Stage moments from this year, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lb88HF67PgE

To watch some great Champions League goals, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdCmGfL4aZc