Is This The End For The Special One?

Before the season began, Saturday’s clash between Chelsea and Leicester was seen by many as a meeting of two teams at the polar opposite ends of the league table – one challenging for the title and the other fighting off relegation. Few however would have predicted that the roles of these two clubs would be reversed and that it would be Chelsea not Leicester in the doldrums. For manager Jose Mourinho, who guided Chelsea to the title last year, this new season has been nothing short of a disaster. Nine defeats in sixteen Premier League games is unbelievable and has left Chelsea dangling in unfamiliar territory just about the relegation zone. Talk of a top four finish has started to die down and the first discussions of writing off this season all together now in full swing. For Mourinho, ending the season right now would be the perfect solution – a chance to start a fresh, reset his team and go again. But that is not an option so the self proclaimed Special One carries one but for how long?

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Mourinho walks slowly over to shake the hand of Ranieri after Chelsea lose to Leicester City (Image from Getty)

A meeting of the Chelsea board of directors led by owner Roman Abramovich hardly spells good news for the Portuguese coach.  The outcome of that meeting is yet to be revealed and as we write today, Mourinho remains Chelsea manager. But how long can the club allow the slide to continue? Abramovich has a key decision to make – stick with the manager who has historically brought success to the club or twist by sacking him and appointing another. With the latter, the question would be who? Former boss Carlo Ancelotti is the obvious choice given his availability however its unknown whether the Italian would want the role. He has already stated that he wishes to remain on sabbatical until the end of the season but in addition to that the former Juventus, Real Madrid and AC Milan coach may still hold a grudge against Abramovich for sacking him during his first spell in charge at Chelsea. If Ancelotti is out, Marcelo Bielsa may be an option with the Argentine out of work since dramatically quitting Marseille one game into the new campaign. However Abramovich would have to move quickly as its rumoured that Swansea are gearing up to make Bielsa their new manager following the sacking of Gary Monk last week. The Swans may not have the financial muscle of Chelsea but can offer the 60 year old an easier, less pressure filled platform to test his skills in England than the Stamford Bridge outfit can.

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Will Abramovich reunite with Ancelotti again at Stamford Bridge? (image from PA)

It may be that Abramovich sticks with Mourinho and backs him with the funds he so desperately needs in January’s window to plug the gaping holes in his side. It would need to be a significant investment given the various problems that exist for Mourinho. Low morale and confidence is one thing but players consistently under performing is another with the only solution being to replace them with new players. A quick glance at the league table will tell Mourinho all he needs to know. Four wins, three draws and nine defeats. Eighteen goals scored, twenty six conceded leaves Chelsea in sixteenth place. In front of goal, Chelsea have been timid with Diego Costa the most culpable. The Spanish striker was deadly last season but this year has spent more time complaining and getting into unnecessary fights than hitting the back of the net. Three goals in thirteen highlight how bad he has been and how desperately Mourinho needs to offload him and bring in one or two quality strikers to get them rolling again.

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Diego Costa to go? The Spanish striker prefers picking fights than picking the ball out of the net this season (Image from AFP)

The midfield has struggled too contributing only seven goals to date with Fabregas and Hazard visibly short of form. However even if Chelsea were scoring, at the back they are a mess. Captain John Terry and the usually reliable Ivanovic have been posted missing in several games. Rather than try to improve, Terry has chosen to spend his time criticizing pundits like Robbie Savage for their opinion in a move which must frustrate Mourinho. In the matches they have played Chelsea’s defense has usually started well (only conceding seven goals so far in the first half of games) but have dropped away dramatically in the last fifteen minutes (eight goals conceded to date in games during this spell) resulting in several dropped points. Mourinho has shuffled his pack on various occasions but has failed to get the rub of the green with a handful of players failing to execute on his orders. Results have not been good enough and if he cannot correct this in the league, he may be gone before the new year.

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John Terry has been short of form this year and is taking it out on pundits like Robbie Savage (Image from Action Images via Reuters)

So what can save Mourinho now? Ironically Guardiola can and more importantly his current contract situation. The Bayern Munich boss current deal with the German Champions expires at the end of the season and to date the former Barcelona manager has not indicated a desire to sign an extension. That has caused a frenzy amongst several Premier League teams including Chelsea who would love to appoint the Spaniard as their new manager. If he is to leave Germany, then the English Premier League is his most likely destination as he looks to join an elite list of managers who have won titles in three different European leagues. Manchester City may have the financial clout to entice many a manager but for Guardiola the project is more important than the money. That would mean that Manchester United and Chelsea have a better shot with Guardiola keen to help them build apon previous Champions League wins.  Sacking Mourinho now would leave Chelsea with two options – appoint an interim manager until the end of the season or entice Pep to move now.

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In the wings? Pep Guardiola (Image from AFP)

The latter is unlikely to happen as Pep still wants to lift the Champions League crown with Bayern, something he still has a chance of doing. There appears to be little reason to hire an interim manager until the end of the season when you already have Mourinho in charge unless Chelsea strongly believes that the team is broken under his leadership and relegation is a real possibility. Whilst mathematically possible at this stage if the current form continues, the chances of Chelsea being relegated is slim with the side possessing too much quality to go down. More likely a mid table finish is on the cards unless Mourinho can turn things around in January and go on an unbeaten run. Even that however may not be enough especially if Guardiola is waiting patiently in the wings for his chance at Stamford Bridge.

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Advantage Wenger As Arsenal Snatch The Community Shield

Advantage Wenger as Arsenal lift Community Shield (Image from PA)Jose Mourinho is anything but a good loser. The Chelsea boss reacted in his usual fashion to his side’s 1-0 defeat in the FA Community Shield to Arsenal by insisting that the better team had lost. In the post match interview, Mourinho explained that his side had the greater possession, initiative and looked more likely to score but Arsenal’s organisation and defensive approach eventually won the game. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s 24th minute powerful shot into the top corner was enough to settle the tie and hand Arsenal a mental edge heading into the new Premiership season. It’s the first time in 13 attempts for Wenger who finally gets the victory over Mourinho that he has been pining for. There is no love lost between the two coaches as they continue their ongoing spat which was highlighted by the fact that the pair refused to even acknowledge each other during or after the game, foregoing the old tradition of shaking hands after the ninety minutes is up.

Mourinho’s frustration was clear as his title-winning side failed to spark in the first main test of the new season.  Coming second is nothing for Mourinho who wants to win everything , displayed as he tossed his runner’s up medal into the Arsenal fans section of the crowd at the end of the game. The Special one will play down the defeat as a non-essential competition however it will have raised a few questions about his side’s readiness for the season ahead. In particular Mourinho will be concerned that two of his key midfielders Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas were posted missing for a vast majority of the contest, allowing Arsenal to control the midfield and dictate the pace of the game. But its upfront that Jose will likely lose more sleep. With Diego Costa out injured, Mourinho selected Loic Remy to play as a lone striker – a move that failed spectacularly. Remy, who was acquired from QPR last summer after an impressive stint on loan to Newcastle, was rumoured to be on his way out of the club but Mourinho had a change of heart and has decided to hold on to the French striker with a view to using him as a replacement or rotation player for Costa. However based on yesterday’s performance Mourinho may be second guessing himself with Remy failing to register a single shot on goal in the first forty five minutes.

Different Shirt, same story - Falcao  desperate to find form  (Image from Getty)

Different Shirt, same story – Falcao desperate to find form
(Image from Getty)

Remy was quickly replaced at half time by Radamel Falcao with the Colombian hitman desperate to prove that he can still be a success in England. Falcao’s move to Chelsea is a strange one given his poor spell on loan to Manchester United last season but Mourinho believes that he can get the best out of him. Based on yesterday’s performance, Mourinho has a lot of work to do. Sporting a new shorter haircut, Falcao looked lively and offered slightly more than Remy had in the first half creating a couple of chances. But he still looks like he is lacking in confidence and a yard short of the required sharpness needed to be back at his best. Falcao’s biggest problem last season was his lack of on field time with Van Gaal preferring to bring him off the bench more often that not. That doesn’t look to be any different at Chelsea especially when Costa returns to full fitness. However Falcao may have just edged in front of Remy based on yesterday’s performance.

For Arsene Wenger, it’s the perfect start to the new season as he looks to build a squad capable of challenging Mourinho’s side for the title. The addition of Peter Cech, ironically from Chelsea is the same as adding 6 more points to their season tally with the Czech goalkeeper likely to be more reliable than Arsenal’s other options between the sticks. However Arsenal still lack depth especially upfront with Wenger eyeing the transfer market with interest. With money to spend, the arrival of a support or main striker should happen but given Wenger’s previous transfer history, that move will not go through until the very last moments before the window slams shut. He will start the season as is with games against West Ham, Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Newcastle all to come before the window closes giving his current strike options enough time to prove their worth. The win over Chelsea will mean that Arsenal will start the season on a high with dreams of lifting the Premiership title come May next year. But Mourinho will not give up the title without a fight, after all in his own words there are no prizes for losers.

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Tough Challenges Ahead For British Teams Left In Europe

Tough draw for UK teams in Europe (Image from UEFA)This year’s draw for the knockout stages of both the Champions League and Europa league have not been kind to the remaining British sides taking part. In the Champions League, Manchester City faces a familiar foe in Barcelona in the last 16. The pair were drawn against each other last season with the Catalan giants coming out on top, winning 4-1 on aggregate. The task of slaying Luis Enrique’s side will be any easier this year as City reeling from the loss of inform striker Sergio Aguero struggle to find the correct gear both domestically and in Europe. One glimmer of hope is that Barcelona of late have been struggling in La Liga dropping seven points in their last seven games. Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Getafe left Barcelona four points off of leaders Real Madrid and allowed defending champions Atletico Madrid in third to close the gap to three points. However in Europe, Barcelona have been in good form, losing only once (a narrow 3-2 defeat to PSG) since being knocked out of last year’s tournament by Atletico.

Man City meet Barcelona again in the last 16  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Man City meet Barcelona again in the last 16
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

On route to dispatching Barcelona, Atletico knocked out Chelsea who were going through a transformation phase under returning manager, Jose Mourinho. Having successfully rebuilt his side and rediscovered the balls that he felt they lacked last year, Chelsea look like a far more capable side than last season. Currently topping the Premiership with new striker Diego Costa firing on all cylinders, Mourinho’s side will be looking to advance to the quarter finals when the tournament restarts in February. Standing in their way are PSG, with Brazilian defender David Luiz coming up against his former employers. Seen as unreliable in Mourinho’s eyes, Luiz was sold for £50 million during the summer and will be keen to prove his former boss wrong by stopping Chelsea in their tracks.

Former Chelsea defender David Luiz, now with PSG is out to prove a point  (Image from Getty)

Former Chelsea defender David Luiz, now with PSG is out to prove a point
(Image from Getty)

Meanwhile across London, Arsenal’s chances of progressing in the Champions League were given a boost by drawing French side Monaco. The club from the tiny principality has been out of sorts this season despite the wealth of riches at their disposal. Having strangely allowed star striker Falcao to leave for Manchester United on a season long loan, Monaco have struggled to score goals with 33 year old Dimitar Berbatov their only real goal scoring threat so far with five goals. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will not fear a trip to Monaco and a ground he knows all too well having coached there in the past. The Frenchman spent seven seasons in the south of France in the late eighties before eventually winding up at Arsenal after a short stint in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight. With Alexis Sanchez on form and Theo Walcott returning from injury in the next few weeks, Arsenal should have enough firepower to progress.

Berbatov is Monaco's top goal scorer on five  (Image from REUTERS/Robert Pratta)

Berbatov is Monaco’s top goal scorer on five
(Image from REUTERS/Robert Pratta)

In the Europa League, Celtic were hoping for an easier passage into the next round but instead got one of the worst draws possible in the shape of inform Inter Milan. Still unbeaten under new boss Roberto Mancini, the Italians will be formidable opponents for Ronny Delia’s team and it will take a special atmosphere inside Celtic Park to rattle them. Also up against Italian opposition are Tottenham who drew Fiorentina with Micah Richards in their ranks. The Manchester City player is spending the season on loan at the Serie A club but has only made a few select appearances so may have to make do with a spot on the bench. Spurs haven’t started the season as well as they would have hoped but will likely strengthen in the January transfer window in advance of the Fiorentina clash.

Homeward bound - Richards could feature against Spurs  (Image from EPA)

Homeward bound – Richards could feature against Spurs
(Image from EPA)

Liverpool are another team looking to strengthen in January after a very disappointing start to the new campaign. Out of the Champions League, Brendan Rodgers side now face Turkish side Besiktas sparking memories of the stunning 8-0 victory that they managed the last time the two sides met. The Europa League may be the only way for Liverpool to secure a Champions League place for next season so beating the current Super Lig leaders may be essential for Rodgers keeping his job. Across the city, Everton face Young Boys with manager Roberto Martinez confident of his side progressing having escaped out of a difficult group containing Lille, Wolfsburg and Krasnodar. However the Swiss side is unlikely to roll over easily and will prove a tricky test for Everton as they too look to cement their place in the last 16.

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Eto’o Looking To Avoid Football Wilderness With One Final Payday

Samuel Eto'o is still looking for a new team (Image from PA)

After failing to spark with Chelsea and coming under attack from his own manager for being too old, it was hardly surprising that Samuel Eto’o exited Stamford Bridge in the summer. Since then a variety if clubs have chased the Cameroon striker in an attempt to sign him. A move back to Italy looked the more likely option until Ajax came calling and negotiations began around a move to Holland. However in a bizarre twist, Eto’o has turned down the chance to play for Frank De Boers team and instead is holding out for a move back to England with either Liverpool or Everton. Both Merseyside clubs have expressed interest in the past but Eto’os wage demands are proving to be a major stumbling block.

The Money Man - Samuel Eto'o  (Image from Getty)

The Money Man – Samuel Eto’o
(Image from Getty)

Now Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has appeared to have switched his focus from Eto’o to Mario Balotelli with the fiery Italians agent arriving today for  contractual negotiations. Balotelli seems set on the move after posting on Twitter yesterday that it was his last day at Milan effectively confirming his transfer to Liverpool. All being well, the 24-year-old could be unveiled as a Liverpool player as early as Friday. The transfer is likely to split opinion amongst the Liverpool fans, some of which will be happy with signing a player of the calibre of Balotelli, a man clearly able to fill the boots of the departed Luis Suarez. The other half however will be concerned about the potential for a repeat of his off field behaviour seen during his last stay in England with Manchester City. The self-confessed bad boy had various run ins with then City boss Roberto Mancini, with the final straw coming during a training ground bust up with the manager. Balotelli was shipped out of England and back to Italy with Milan fairly quickly after that event. A return to the Premiership should give the Italian striker a chance of redemption with the leagues most improved team from last season.

Liverpool Bound? Mario Balotelli  (Image from Getty)

Liverpool Bound? Mario Balotelli
(Image from Getty)

If Balotelli’s transfer does go through then Liverpool will likely give up on any move for Eto’o leaving neighbours Everton as the only remaining club that has expressed interest. However since enquiring about Eto’os desire to move to Everton, the Toffees have completed the signing of Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea for a club record £28m. Manager Roberto Martinez made his move for the powerful front man after Lukaku impressed during a loan spell at Everton last season. Deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea following the signing of Spanish striker Diego Costa, Lukaku jumped at the chance to get regular first team football so is unlikely to be happy if Everton were to bring in Eto’o. Whether Everton need  the Cameroon skipper is another valid question with a wealth of options upfront for Martinez to choose from. Besides Lukaku, Everton has Scotland international Steven Naismith, Belgian Kevin Miralles and Ivorian Arouna Koné whilst the emergence of youngster Chris Long during pre season has given the Spaniard more food for thought. Other clubs have been rumoured to be interested such as West Ham, West Brom and Sunderland but none of these could realistically afford his wage demands without fracturing their existing wage structures. Eto’o is still a fantastic striker and could offer a lot to a club but too many years living on ludicrous wages may have reduced his options somewhat. It may be that his Premiership dream is now dead and that he needs to look elsewhere to continue his career, finding a club that is willing to pay above and beyond for a 33-year-old front man with nothing to prove.

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Real Madrid To Rebuild Los Galacticos With Summer Move For Falcao

Falcao looks set to move to Real Madrid (Image from Getty)

It’s been nearly ten years since the breakup of Los Galacticos, Real Madrid’s star studded team but now President Florentino Perez wants to rebuild it with a haul of impressive summer signings. The current Champions League winners already boast the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas but Perez now has his sights firmly set on Colombian power striker, Radamel Falcao. Discussions between Falcao’s current club Monaco and Real Madrid have already begun according to reports surfacing from Spanish paper AS last weekend. It is believed that a fee for the player has been agreed with Falcao due to meet with Madrid officials soon to discuss personal terms. The Colombian striker missed out on this year’s World Cup after failing to recover from a cruciate ligament injury sustained in January but has been in Brazil at each of his country’s games cheering them on.

Rebuilding Los Galacticos?  (Image from Real Madrid)

Rebuilding Los Galacticos?
(Image from Real Madrid)

The move to Madrid may surprise a few people especially in Monaco as it is only been a year since his €60 million transfer to the French club from Atletico Madrid. But the truth is that Falcao has failed to settle in the tiny principality and has been eyeing a move since late December. Falcao’s next move was anticipated to be towards England with Chelsea and Manchester City both keen on the 28 year old but the pull of a return to Madrid, albeit with the white half of the city, is proving too strong for Falcao to ignore. How exactly his old club, Atletico will react to the news of their former star player joining their biggest rivals will go down is hard to say. Falcao, like Torres before him, achieved hero status at Los Rojiblancos during his time there, so for the fans of the new La Liga Champions the move would be seen as a slap in the face. Atletico will likely join the race and try to persuade Falcao to return to them instead but will be unable to compete against the financial muscle of Real.

Suarez Scored Twice To Knock England Out Of The World Cup  (Image from Getty)

Suarez Scored Twice To Knock England Out Of The World Cup
(Image from Getty)

What the move means for current Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is unknown with the French striker still in contract negotiations heading into the World Cup. He could be allowed to leave with the English Premiership his most likely destination although several other clubs, including Monaco may attempt to sign him. Benzema’s stay at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium hasn’t been smooth sailing all the way but under new coach Carlo Ancelotti, Benzema has found consistency and has been in good form. He helped Real Madrid win its 10th European title in May with a 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions league Final. This good form has continued into the World Cup with the front man already picking up three goals in the group stages. The race for his signature will heat up if he is shown the door at Real Madrid. Doubts too about what this means for a supposed summer transfer move for Liverpool and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez. The man who put England to the sword during Uruguay’s 2-1 victory has been vocal in saying that he is happy at Liverpool but several sources are now reporting that he has told close friends and colleagues about his desire to move to Spain, to either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Real appeared to be the favourite but the move for Falcao may put Barcelona in the driving seat unless Ancelotti believes he can make space in his team for both Falcao and Suarez. If he can, Madrid’s front line of Falcao, Suarez, Bale and Ronaldo will be one of the most terrifying in the game. But Barcelona are unlikely to let this happen with Suarez elevated to No.1 target in new manager Luis Enrique’s plans. Either way, La Liga looks to benefit this summer if these transfers go through.

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End Of An Era as Ineffective Spain Crashes Out

Sergio Ramos cna barely watch as Spain crash out (Image from Getty)

This was meant to be their fairytale send off, a chance for a group of genuine legends in the game to make history once more by becoming the first team to win four major international tournaments in a row. But instead Spain looked their age and crashed out of the World Cup thanks to a spirited and lively Chile. The beautiful passing game that has characterized Spain’s playing style was officially posted missing against Chile. Tiki Taka was replaced by misplaced and misjudged passes from an uncharacteristic Spanish team as Del Bosque’s team became only the second team (behind Australia) to be eliminated. It’s the end of an era, one in which Spain dominated the international game and entertained the masses with some of the slickest and most effective football we have ever seen.

Questions will be asked about Del Bosque's tactical decisions  (Image from EMPics Sport)

Questions will be asked about Del Bosque’s tactical decisions
(Image from EMPics Sport)

Now the inquest will begin as to why Spain has made an early exit. Strange tactical decisions made by Vicente Del Bosque heading into the game will be questions. Deciding to drop Barcelona duo Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez from the starting lineup that was shocked by Holland in the first game was unusual, but more so was to keep faith in Diego Costa upfront. The Chelsea bound striker has looked less like the formidable front man that he has become at Atletico and more like a lost boy, unsure of exactly what he is supposed to be doing. Ineffective against Holland and dithering in the first half against Chile, Costa was replaced on both occasions by Fernando Torres, who himself hasn’t had the best few years for club or country. Tactical adjustments made in the two games will also be under the microscope as Del Bosque failed to make full use of the talent at his disposal. Two games played and still no game time for David Villa and Juan Mata. The latter has had a difficult season at Manchester United but possess the vision and talent to pull any team out of a death slide. But the shun of Villa is the one that makes the least sense. The 32 year old had a fantastic season with La Liga winner Atletico, partnering Costa up front so many anticipated that Del Bosque may deploy the duo together for Spain as well. It would have made perfect sense given that Costa operates better as part of a strike force rather than as a lone striker. But Del Bosque resisted and Spain suffered. Trailing 2-0 to Chile at half time, Villa would have appeared to have been the obvious choice with Spain switching to a 4-4-2 formation but again Del Bosque resisted. Preventing Spain’s all time record goal scorer from coming onto the pitch, not even for 20 minutes was criminal by Del Bosque and cost Spain their chance of retaining the World Cup.

The backlash on Casillas from the media has been unwarranted given what he has done for Spain over the past 10 years  (Image from Getty)

The backlash on Casillas from the media has been unwarranted given what he has done for Spain over the past 10 years
(Image from Getty)

The international careers of Fernando Torres, David Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi Alonso and Iker Casillas are surely over given their disastrous exit. Questions too about Del Bosque, who despite signing a two year extension before the tournament started will be under the spotlight after Spain became the first ever defending champions to lose their first two games. Despite Spain’s glorious history under his reign, which included 1 World Cup and 1 European Championship, the humiliation of exiting this early from a tournament they were one of the favourites to win may result in his exit. Spain need a fresh start, a rethink of their formation and style of play and Del Bosque may believe he isn’t the right man to do that. Chile to be fair were superb. Fast, innovative, creative and effective to the end, Chile has shown the world that they are to be feared in this competition. Hammering Australia was expected but the way that they played against the current world champions with confidence from the start was breathtaking. They now face Holland to see who tops the group and it will be difficult for anyone to call that one. But for Spain, they must pull themselves together for a meaningless game against Australia, competing for only pride before boarding a plane home. It’s not the exit that this legendary team neither wanted nor expected but ultimately it’s the one they deserved for the way that they played in their first two games. Spain will recover, regroup and as a new revamped team take on the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a renewed passion as if they have to prove something. For true football fans however, Spain have nothing to prove, for they will always be the team that show the world through tiki taka exactly how the game should be played and how to win with style.

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Sleepless Nights Ahead For World Cup Managers Sweating Over Striker Fitness

Webo injures his shoulder in the match (Image from (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

Several World Cup managers are having sleepless nights worrying if their star striker will be fit and ready to go come kick off of the World Cup. The head coaches of Spain, Uruguay, Colombia, Cameroon and Germany all have major concerns about their preferred striker being fit enough to not only start but in some cases play in the tournament. With the FIFA squad selection deadline rapidly approaching, fitness and physios across all five nations are working tirelessly to heal their broken frontmen.

 

Will Del Bosque risk selecting Costa?  (Image from Getty)

Will Del Bosque risk selecting Costa?
(Image from Getty)

The biggest concern of them all is around Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, who picked up a knee injury in Liverpool’s final game of the season against Newcastle and that later required surgery. Whilst the surgery has been deemed a success, pictures of Suarez being wheeled out of the hospital looking tired and frustrated are sending worrying signals back to Uruguay’s head coach Óscar Tabárez. Suarez is expected to recover in time but if rushed the injury could return, which would likely rule him out of the entire tournament and the start of the next Premiership season. Tabarez can fall back on the reliable trio of Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani and Abel Hernandez but having a fully fit Suarez at his disposal would be preferred. The 27 year old had an incredible comeback season for Liverpool scoring 31 goals and winning the Player of the Year award only 12 months after his career looked to be over following a biting incident that lead to a 10 match ban. Suarez is now back home in Montevideo resting with Tabarez hoping he recovers in time for Uruguay’s second group match, a crunch game against England.

Suarez required knee surgery and is now a doubt for the World Cup  (Image from Getty)

Suarez required knee surgery and is now a doubt for the World Cup
(Image from Getty)

Whilst Tabarez is aiming for the group stage, Colombian head coach José Pékerman will give his star striker, Radamel Falcao until the knock out stages to recover fully from a ruptured cruciate ligament he sustained in January. The Monaco hit man is a fundamental part of Colombia’s plans and many people in that country have been praying hard for his recovery. They will have been delighted therefore to see Falcao take part in a light training session yesterday as he ramps up his recovery. Similar to Uruguay, Pekerman has a wealth of riches up front including Porto’s Jackson Martinez, Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca and Robert Lewandoski’s replacement next season at Borussia Dortmund, Adrian Ramos so will be reluctant to rush Falcao back and risk injuring him again. With one of the easiest groups in the World Cup, Pekerman may rely on his other options to help Colombia qualify and only draft in Falcao if they are in desperate need of a goal.

Back in Training - Falcao  (Image from AFP)

Back in Training – Falcao
(Image from AFP)

The same can be said for Spain’s Diego Costa who aggravated his hamstring injury again during last Saturdays’ Champions League final. The Atletico striker last only 9 minutes before limping off and now runs the risk of missing the World Cup all together as doctors have advised him that he needs at least two weeks rest. With only 18 days left until Spain kicks off its defence, Costa faces an anxious wait to see if he will be fit and indeed If Spain head coach Vicente Del Bosque selects him. The Brazilian born striker has been in great form this season, inspiring Atletico to its first La Liga title in 18 years but it could have come at a cost. Del Bosque has other options including Fernando Torres, David Villa and Alvaro Negredo but having Costa fit and for selection would offer a different tactical option, something that appeals to a master tactical tinker like Del Bosque.

Diego Costa limps off during the Champions League Final  (Image from PA)

Diego Costa limps off during the Champions League Final
(Image from PA)

Joachim Low on the other hand prefers to stick with the same formation, rarely deviating from it. But a large part of his plans revolve around the fitness of Lazio striker and German icon Miroslav Klose. The 131 time capped striker who has played in three world cups already and is looking to add a fourth, is struggling for fitness and faces a race to be ready for Germany’s opening group game against Portugal on the 16th June. With Mario Gomez ruled out due to injury, Klose is the only experienced striker in Low’s team so having him ready is a must if Germany is to have a shot at winning the tournament.

Miroslav Klose is struggling with fitness  (Image from AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Miroslav Klose is struggling with fitness
(Image from AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Cameroon also needs their experienced striker to recover quickly from an injury sustained in a warm up match. Pierre Webo suffered a shoulder injury scoring a spectacular bicycle kick goal against Macedonia which is now causing the Fenerbache front man some major troubles. He left the match in a sling but is hopeful that he will still make the squad if he can rest it for the next ten days. With Cameroon placed in a tough group with hosts Brazil, Croatia and Mexico, head coach Volker Finke will need a fully fit squad to get out of the group stages. Webo plays an important part of his plans alongside Samuel Eto’o so the Cameroon physio’s are working overtime to fix his shoulder in preparation for the World Cup.

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Simeone Loses His Head as Ancelotti is Confirmed As One Of The Greatest

One of the Greatest - Cralo Ancelotti (Image from Getty)As far as great managers go, Carlo Ancelotti is without doubt one of the finest managers to have ever graced football. Having just guided Real Madrid to their 10th European Cup on Saturday (4 of which under the new Champions League format), Ancelotti adds yet another trophy to his haul. The Italian coach steered his all star team to a famous 4-1 victory over neighbours Atletico Madrid in a thrilling final. Despite being seconds away from defeat before Sergio Ramos dramatic 93rd minutes bullet header leveled the game, Ancelotti remained calm, encourage his team forward in his usual composed way. Whilst his opposite number Diego Simeone was losing his head, Ancelotti remained calm and masterminded a comeback that will now live in Champions League folklore. Tactical changes made on the hour mark switched the balance of the game back in Real’s favour and gave them a renewed energy and focus. Sending on Marcelo and Isco for Fábio Coentrão and Sami Khedira changed the way Real were set up, giving Gareth Bale and more importantly Angel Di Maria more freedom to attack. It was Di Maria’s lofty cross into the box in the dying minutes of the game that led to Real winning the decisive corner from which Ramos would score. And it was Di Maria’s dazzling run and shot deep into extra time that would help Real Madrid take the lead for the first time, thanks to a Gareth Bale header. With the momentum now with the Los Blancos, Atletico crumbled and let Real score twice more through substitute Marcelo and a penalty from Ronaldo.

Bale scores in injury time to give Real the lead  (Image from Getty)

Bale scores in injury time to give Real the lead
(Image from Getty)

It was only as the third goal went in that Ancelotti started to celebrate, throwing his arms into the air before being embraced by assistant Zinedine Zidane. The realization on Ancelotti’s face that he had joined Bob Paisley as one of only two managers ever to lift three European Cups was evident. The only difference between the two men is how they did it. Paisley managed the feat with Liverpool during their glory days in the late 70’s/early 80’s whereas Ancelotti has managed it with two clubs, picking up two titles as AC Milan boss and the third on Saturday as Real Madrid boss. This trophy is added to the various others won by Ancelotti included league titles in England, Italy and France as well as several domestic and European cups like the Intertoto Cup won with Juventus and the UEFA Super cup and FIFA Club World Cups won with Milan.

Bob Paisley won the European Cup three times with Liverpool  (Image from PA)

Bob Paisley won the European Cup three times with Liverpool
(Image from PA)

Whilst trophies demonstrate success for a manager, it’s the day to day work and changes they make to their team and the way that they play that makes a manager great. Going into the match on Saturday, Ancelotti was well aware of the threat that Diego Simeone’s men presented and key players like Diego Costa, Diego Godin and David Villa offered. Despite a half fit Costa, who lasted only 9 minutes before limping off, Atletico were ready for Real and clung to the dream of winning their first ever Champions League trophy to cap a sensational year in which they had regained the La Liga title after an 18 year hiatus. Ancelotti knew that the game would be decided by the match ups in players but without the superb Xavi Alonso, who was suspended for the match, the Italian had a hole in the middle of the park that he needed to fill. Ancelotti turned to Sami Khedira and placed his faith in the German international, despite Khedira having spent the better part of this season out injured. In the first half Khedira poured his heart into the game, covering acres of grass as he nullified the threat from the Atletico midfield. As he tired, he was replaced by Spanish international Isco who added more pace to the game, often running at the now tired and weary Atletico midfield. The introduction of Marcelo and later in the game Morata for Benzema acted like an injection of energy, which was exactly what Real needed to eventually break down a stubborn Atletico defence.

3rd Title for Ancelotti  (Image from Getty)

3rd Title for Ancelotti
(Image from Getty)

In the end, Real and Ancelotti triumphed, much to the distain of Diego Simeone who lost his cool and was eventually sent off. The passionate Argentine could learn a thing or two from his opposite number, who remained as calm and collected as ever even as history was being made. Ancelotti will now focus on building his team back up to challenge for the La Liga crown next season, and in doing so will be hoping to add yet another trophy to his already glittering collection.

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Atletico La Liga Victory Parade On Hold Due To Travel Issues

Atletico celebrate their first title in 18 years (Image from AP)Imagine waiting a long time for something and then not being able to do it due to bad planning. Well that’s exactly what Atletico Madrid are going through right now. The new la Liga champions, who secured their first title in 18 years, are being forced to wait until the start of next season to get their hands on the trophy because Spanish football president Angel Maria Vilar was travelling. Some would say its bad timing given the significance of Sunday’s title decider. But others may feel that it’s a deliberate snub by a man who is rumoured to have grown up as a Real Madrid fan. In any case, it is a black mark against the 64 year old who has been Spanish President since 1988. After one of the most exciting La Liga seasons in the past 20 years, for Vilar not be present at a match of this significance to Spanish football is baffling. Why Vilar did not cancel his travel plans to ensure he would be at the Nou Camp to present the winner with the trophy is unknown. At best he should have appointed someone else to the role to ensure that the season ended on a high. Now trophyless, Atletico are unable to do a well deserved victory parade.

Vilar was on hand last season to present the trophy to Barcelona  (Image from AFP)

Vilar was on hand last season to present the trophy to Barcelona
(Image from AFP)

Not that Diego Simeone will mind as he now switches his focus to this Saturday’s Champions League final against city rivals Real. Injuries to star striker Diego Costa and Turkish midfielder Arda Turan are legitimate concerns for Simone as they look to win their first ever Champions League trophy and end the season with a famous double. Real too have injury worries with Cristiano Ronaldo struggling to shake off a thigh strain. However with Gareth Bale on form and Karin Benzema firing on all cylinders again, Real Madrid are a formidable force with or without Ronaldo. Atletico will know that they need to be at full strength if they are to repeat their win from last year’s Copa del Rey final and will need Costa and Turan fit to do so. Costa limped off after 14 minutes against Barcelona with a tweak of his hamstring that has been troubling him for a few months now. Turan followed seven minutes later after landing heavily and awkwardly on his back following a strong challenge by Cesc Fabregas. The Turkish midfielder is so often the creator of opportunities for Atletico so his absence will be a bitter blow. His chances of making Saturday’s showcase in Lisbon is rated as slim however Costa is more likely to recover and be ready to face Real.

Sweating over Costa and Turan  (Image from Getty)

Sweating over Costa and Turan
(Image from Getty)

Celebrations have been cut short by Simeone who needs his players to remain focused and ready for the challenge ahead. One final effort to round off a dream season for Atletico. Victory parade or not, Atletico will be prepared to face Real Madrid and its star studded lineup. Angel Maria Vilar is expected to be in the crowd presumably cheering on both sides but the responsibility of handing out the trophy will fall to UEFA president Michel Platini who is unlikely to miss such a momentous occasion. If Atletico do win the match, then Simeone and his players may just get the victory parade that they deserve.

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European Squad Announcements Shock Few – Part 1

Torres in the Spain squad for now (Image from Getty)England kicked off their preparations for the World Cup this week with the announcement of Roy Hodgson’s 23 man squad and 7 standbys. Hodgson has learned from the mistakes of previous bosses by naming a squad that blends youthful energy with experience. The inclusion of Luke Shaw and Ross Barkley is unsurprising given that both players have had sensational seasons. Shaw got the nod ahead of the experienced Ashley Cole who misses out and is now set to retire from international football. Also missing out is Toronto’s Jermaine Defoe who is reduced to the standby list with Rickie Lambert picking up the fourth striker position. Lambert to be fair has been in great form for Southampton who shocked many with their 8th place finish in the EPL. It is believed that Hodgson went for Lambert over Defoe as the latter was too similar in style to the other strikers in the squad – Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge. With Wayne Rooney the starting striker, Hodgson preferred to take Lambert over Andy Carroll as the powerful Alan Shearer type striking option. It will be the first time in history that Southampton will have three players in an England World Cup squad with Adam Lallana joining Lambert and Shaw in the squad. The midfielder, who is rumoured to be a Liverpool target will offer Hodgson an additional attacking threat, and may even get the starting spot over Chelsea’s Frank Lampard.

Lambert has earned his spot for Brazil  (Image from Getty)

Lambert has earned his spot for Brazil
(Image from Getty)

Belgium manager Marc Wilmots surprised few with his squad selection with only two names standing out. Manchester United youngster Adnan Januzaj has finally decided to pledge his loyalty to Belgium despite several other options on the table and has been rewarded in kind with a place in the 23 man Belgium squad heading to Brazil. In too is 19 year old Lille striker Divock Origi, who gains his place in the squad thanks in part to the injury to Christian Benteke who has been ruled out of the tournament with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Surprisingly though there is no place for Thorgen Hazard who has been in blistering form this season and recently won Belgian League player of the year. However he will have to settle for a place in the standby list unless an injury to a fellow midfielder grants him his chance. Thorgen will be praying that chance is not at the expense of his older brother, Eden Hazard as they look to be the first Belgian brothers to play together in the World Cup since the Mpenza brothers in 1998.

Stepping out of the shadows of Eden - Thorgen Hazard  (Image from PA)

Stepping out of the shadows of Eden – Thorgen Hazard
(Image from PA)

Fellow Group H contenders Russia left out two noticeable names when their manager Fabio Capello announced his 30 man provisional squad. The exclusion of Andrey Arshavin from the list suggests that the former Arsenal man’s international career is now over and there are doubts too about former Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko too after his omission. But it’s the inclusion of Reading’s Pavel Pogrebnyak that has most people talking. So far he has never featured in a Russia team under Capello but it appears now has a shot of becoming an option from the bench for the former England coach. Capello still has to cull his squad down to 23 so Pogrebnyak is right not to celebrate just yet but he is one step closer than Arshavin or Pavlyuchenko.

Arshavin's international career looks to be over  (Image from Getty)

Arshavin’s international career looks to be over
(Image from Getty)

Two players who will also be disappointed not to be going to Brazil are Manchester City duo Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy after they were left out of France’s World Cup plans. Didier Deschamps believes that the pair didn’t show enough this season to warrant a place in his team which has a strong EPL bias with nine players selected who are plying their trade in England. Nasri failed to comment on the inclusion unlike his girlfriend who took to twitter to blast the French team and their manager in a vile outburst. Also missing out are uncapped wonder kid Kurt Zouma as well as Lyon trio of Yoann Gourcuff, Bafetimbi Gomis and Alexandre Lacazette although the latter striker is on the standby list. Group E opponents Switzerland have also named their squad with little to no surprises in Ottmar Hitzfeld’s selection. The team that was unbeaten in qualifying had been ravished by injuries of late but with the return of influential winger Xherdan Shaqiri and goalkeeper Diego Benaglio plus the positive signs of the recuperation of Tranquillo Barnetta, Switzerland should be at full strength going into their first game against Ecuador.

Tweet Revenge from Anara Atanes  (Image from Twitter)

Tweet Revenge from Anara Atanes
(Image from Twitter)

For Spain’s opponents in Group B, a weak Spanish squad is something they were praying for but unfortunately will not experience after head coach Vicente Del Bosque named his provisional squad. The current World and European Champions are looking to make history by completing a unique quadruple by lifting the trophy in Brazil and have named a squad full of talent and experience to do so. The inclusion of Iker Casillas was not unexpected despite featuring only on a few occasions this season for Real Madrid but the man who displaced him Diego Lopez does miss out. Also in the squad is Fernando Torres after yet another disappointing season at Chelsea. His soon to be replacement Diego Costa on the other hand has had a breathtaking season with Atletico Madrid and books his spot on the plane back to his country of birth, Brazil. Del Bosque still needs to axe seven players from the team before he confirms his final selection so Torres spot may not be as secure as others but given his past endeavours for Spain, it would be foolish of Del Bosque not to take him. The news that Thiago needs knee surgery so will miss the tournament is a blow for Spain but with a wealth of riches in midfield, the current champions should be able to cope without him.

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From Workhorse To Thoroughbred – Simeone’s Transformational Season For Atletico

Simeone is transforming Atletico into contenders (Image from Getty)In the Chinese Zodiac, 2014 is the year of the Horse, a powerful creature that symbolizes energetic enthusiasm and the tireless pursuit of goals. In the chase for La Liga this season, the Horse symbolizes Atletico Madrid perfectly and their pursuit of their first title in nearly 20 years. Madrid has demonstrated time and time again their work horse like mentality, carving out results often with critics skeptical of how long it can last. Against all odds, Atletico sit at the top of La Liga in a straight race to the finish, closely pursued by the leagues two thoroughbreds, Barcelona and city rivals, Real. The message from Diego Simeone to his Atletico Madrid team is clear – win your remaining games and the title is theirs. It will take a colossal effort to do so but if they can pull it off, 2014 will no longer be the year of the Horse. Instead it will be the year of the Diego’s.

Year of the Horse but will it be the Year of Diego? (Image from PA)

Year of the Horse but will it be the Year of Diego? (Image from PA)

Atletico’s title run has been a lesson in teamwork, with the entire squad pulling as one in a single direction. But three men have stood head and shoulders above the rest in this endeavor, elevating Atletico Madrid to new heights that they have not experienced in decades. They are the three Diego’s – defender Diego Godin, star striker Diego Costa and last but by no means least manager Diego Simeone. This trio, supported all the way by a pedigree cast such as David Villa, Gabri, Juanfran, Koke and Thibaut Courtios , have symbolized Atletico’s determination and self belief that they can break the Barcelona/Real stranglehold on La Liga and be crowned champions at the end of May. At 28 years old, Uruguayan Diego Godin has spent most of his career in Spain, with three seasons at Villarreal before transferring to Atletico before the start of the 2010/2011 season. Slowly over the next four years, he has toned and perfected his game, becoming a mainstay in the Atletico side and an ever reliable member of the first team squad. His solid performances at the back this season against Barcelona in November and Real Sociedad in February have helped Atletico to hold on to the best goals against total (21) in the league to date. Realizing his importance, Simeone was quick in offering Godin a new long term contract last year, in an effort to ward off the advances of interested teams.

Rock Solid - Diego Godin  (Image from PA)

Rock Solid – Diego Godin
(Image from PA)

One player Simeone will struggle to hold on to at the end of this season is Diego Costa. The Brazilian born Spanish striker has been in blistering form this season notching 24 goals in the league from 29 appearances. His partnership with David Villa has proven to be the catalyst behind Atletico’s push but has attracted the eye of a host of top European clubs. Like Radamel Falcao before him, Costa is likely to depart at the end of the season as part of a bumper transfer but he will be hoping to do so as a La Liga winner. Costa owes a lot to Simeone who put faith in him to fill the void left by Falcao, who departed for Monaco during the summer. Falcao was a legend at the club, scoring 70 goals in 91 games, helping them to lift the Europa League and Super cup trophies as well as the Copa Del Rey during his time. Atletico pocketed €60 million from the sale giving Simeone several options in his search to replace him, but instead he placed his faith in Costa, who has rewarded him in kind with a season full of goals and stunning performances. A strong ox like striker, Costa is a nightmare for opposition defenses. Good with both feet and powerful in the air, Costa drives at defenders like a steam train making him one of the games most feared strikers. If Atletico are to win La Liga, they will need Costa to continue his goal scoring exploits and so far he is do so.

Falcao who? Diego Costa has help Atletico move on after Falcao left  (Image from Getty)

Falcao who? Diego Costa has help Atletico move on after Falcao left
(Image from Getty)

Atletico are performing like a team, with Costa and Godin at the heart but they would not be in this position if it wasn’t for manager Diego Simeone. The Argentinean coach has been nothing short of inspirational since his return to the club in 2011. He has turned Atletico around and made them into a force again in the league. Remarkably he has done so with very little investment in new playing staff, preferring instead to work with and craft the existing squad into a team of winners. The belief that was starved under previous regimes is now back and in abundance, built on the successes in Europe and the Copa Del Rey victory over Real Madrid last season. Before Simeone’s arrival, Atletico struggled and toiled against teams like Getafe, Real Betis and Valencia but this season they are winning those games with ease and emphatically in some cases. Atletico fear no one, not even Barcelona or Real who in the past have been too strong for Los Rojiblancos to cope with.

Atletico's triumph at last years Copa del Rey has given them new belief  (Image from afp)

Atletico’s triumph at last years Copa del Rey has given them new belief
(Image from afp)

Winning La Liga would be the pinnacle of Simeone’s managerial career and would be the final piece in what has been an ever changing puzzle at Atletico. In doing so, Simeone will be in high demand himself, with offers coming from both domestic and international teams but the draw of Madrid should keep Simeone in the Spanish capital. Atletico is deeply entrenched in Simeone’s heart as he is now in theirs. Delivering the La Liga title is his goal and like a workhorse, he is continuing to pursue that dream with vigour and determination. Reaching his goal will mark the transition of Atletico from a work horse to a thoroughbred and in doing so will change the race in La Liga long term from a two horse to a three horse race. Simeone and Atletico know what they need to do, they need to win their remaining games including their final match of the season, away to Barcelona. Not an easy ask but if there is something that Simeone is always up for is a challenge.

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Last Minute Shopping In The January Window

Mata in, but who's next (Image from Getty)It’s the last few days of the January transfer window and several clubs still have much to do. Many face the likely situation of overpaying for players simply out of desperation as clubs and managers look to safe guard their futures. Historically the last three days of the window are its busiest which given the activity up until now indicates that we are in for quite a ride. Already Manchester United and Chelsea have flexed their respective financial muscles with players arriving for considerable sums. David Moyers has had a torrid time in his first season in charge at Old Trafford but he is looking to change his fortunes by investing heavily this month. Already in the door is Spanish winger Juan Mata for a record 37million. The former Chelsea player fell out of favour under Jose Mourinho despite being the clubs player of the year two years running. His departure to United was with a heavy heart but done to protect his position within Spain’s world cup squad. Mata adds creativity to a United squad that has been so far starved of it and living off if the scraps created by youngster Adnan Januzaj its unlikely that Mata will be the only arrival with targets across Europe identified. Any of Leighton Baines, Luke Shaw, Diego Costa, Toni Kroos and Marco Reus could arrive at Old Trafford before Friday’s deadline. All however will come at a hefty cost but with United in peril, the club needs to spend big to avoid slipping further down the table.

United Bound - Luke Shaw  (Image from Getty)

United Bound – Luke Shaw
(Image from Getty)

Chelsea have been quick to reinvest the money raised from Mata’s sale bringing in to new midfielders, Benfica’s Nemanja Matic for a cool £21m and Basel’s Mohamed Salah for £11m. Chelsea remain net positive this window as they have let Michael Essien join AC Milan whilst Belgian outcast Kevin De Bruyne has joined Wolfsburg for £16.7m. Mourinho knows that he needs to strengthen at the back with Luke Shaw and St Etienne powerhouse Kurt Zouma both rumoured to be high on his list. Their arrival could be the final nail in the coffin for long serving duo John Terry and Ashley Cole, who have both been unimpressive since Mourinho returned to the Bridge. Despite Samuel Eto’o finding his shooting boots in recent games, Mourinho is also on the lookout for a striker with Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa in his scopes. Both front men would give Chelsea the powerful striker that they desperately need, with Fernando Torres likely to be used in part exchange for any deal that would take place.

Diego Costa on his way to the Bridge  (Image from AFP)

Diego Costa on his way to the Bridge
(Image from AFP)

Across the city, Arsene Wenger is holding his cards very close to his chest. Despite being heavily linked with Schalke wonder kid Julian Draxler and Lyon star Yoann Gourcuff, Wenger has resisted temptation to go public with his admiration, insisting that he is happy with his current squad and any arrivals would be a bonus. One player he has gone public about however is Newcastle’s French maestro Yohan Cabaye. The midfielder has been in stunning form for the Geordies this season, and Pardew is keen to keep the player at the club at least until the summer. He has a tight grip round Cabaye but could be forced to let go if a suitable bid is made to Mike Ashley. The controversial owner is a businessman through and through and holds no sentimentality to the players at his club always insisting that everyone has their price. Cabaye’s would be around £25m, although an offer in the region of £21m may be enough to tempt Newcastle. A replacement has already been identified in Remy Cabella whilst Lyon’s Clement Grenier also presents an option. Pardew has his own shopping list and is actively chasing Borussia Monchengladbach striker Luuk De Jong as he tries to strength his front line. The move should be pushed through and financed by the sale of misfiring front man Papa Cisse to either Besiktas or Russian side Rubin Kazan. Another front man arriving ahead of schedule is Bafétimbi Gomis who has been on Newcastle’s radar for some time. The move was likely to go through this summer when Gomis became a free transfer but with Inter Milan now in the hunt, Pardew may have to move quickly to avoid missing out.

Early arrival - Bafétimbi Gomis  (Image from PA)

Early arrival – Bafétimbi Gomis
(Image from PA)

One club not holding back is Cardiff under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Moves for Fabio and Wilfred Zaha have been secured whilst a swap deal will see Kenwyne Jones move from Stoke with Peter Odemwingie going in the other direction. West Ham are also desperate to strength with Leeds Ross McCormick top of their list. AC Milan duo Marco Borriello and Antonio Nocerino have already landed at Upton Park but Big Sam needs to bring in more bodies at the back if he is to steer the club away from the relegation zone. With less than a week left, there is still plenty of time for deals to happen. With Everton, Southampton and Tottenham quiet so far in the window, expect fireworks when they make their late charge to nab the players they need for the remainder of the season.

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England Hold Their Breath As The World Cup Draw Nears

Getting ready for the draw (Image from FIFA)With the World Cup draw happening tomorrow, nerves in the England camp are at an all time high.  England’s fate will be decided at 5pm (GMT) in Bahia, Brazil so in advance BOTN explores what could be England’s worst group.  Using the existing pools (England are in pot 4) and based on the various rules and regulations attached to the draw itself, here is the “Group of Death” for England. It features Spain from Pot 1, Chile from Pot 2 and Mexico form Pot 3 with England filling the final place from Pot 4.

Current World Cup holders, Spain  (Image from Getty)

Current World Cup holders, Spain
(Image from Getty)

The current World and European champions are amongst those in pot one that could pose a real threat to England’s chances. In fact all eight teams, with the possible exception of Switzerland will be a serious threat to England’s qualification hopes. Spain have talent in abundance and are incredibly hard to break down due to their intense passing game. Xavi and Iniesta are likely to dominate the play with Fabergas and Mata as support options. At the back, they have a solid backline with centre back pairing Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos causing problems for opposition strikers, roaming just in front of Casillas, Reina or Valdes in goal. Upfront Spain’s rich talent pool continues with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Fernando Llorente and  Roberto Soldado to name a few offering options. Adding to this mix is newly converted Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa who has been in blistering form so far this season. The Brazilian born striker, who recently pledged his allegiance to Spain instead of his homeland, has forged a successful partnership with David Villa for Atletico. This surely gives Spanish head coach Vicente del Bosque food for thought on whether he should unleash the pair for Spain during next summer’s tournament.

Diego Costa and David Villa  (Image from AFP Getty Images)

Diego Costa and David Villa
(Image from AFP Getty Images)

Chile tested England in their last trip to Wembley just under a month ago as Alexis Sanchez backed up his talking off the pitch with a sublime performance. The Barcelona striker made a sly remark about England’s pathway system for future footballers stating how it was too easy for youngsters to join academies and automatically play for a club in the future. In Chile the academy system is nowhere near as advanced as it is in England but appears to be producing the goods. At Wembley they convincingly beat England 2-0, throwing Roy Hodgson’s plans into disarray. Although England chose to field an altered side for the match allowing them to test some new faces, it was a huge win for the South American’s who have shown with the emergence of star players like Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Felipe Gutiérrez and Gary Medal that they are a future force in world football.  Pot 3 may be considered to be the weakest pot but within them lies the stinging tail of Mexico who could relinquish all hope for England. With a squad made up of established stars and Olympic winning youthful exuberance, Mexico are considered to be one of the tournaments dark horses. Despite taking a rocky path in qualifying, Mexico’s strength is their desire to succeed which makes them a dangerous opponent.  Upfront, Mexico can call upon Manchester United’s  Javier Hernandez, Valencia’s Giovani Dos Santos or Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta to score the goals needed to progress.  In midfield, head coach Miguel Herrera mixes experience in the form of Andres Guardado (who is one game off his century for his country) with up and coming stars like Porto’s Héctor Herrera with some success. He could also spring a few surprises with his final squad selection if Erick Torres or Marco Fabian make the cut. Both players are good examples of the rich talent that Mexico is producing and that England needs to be aware of if they draw them in the World Cup.  

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England  (Image from PA)

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England
(Image from PA)

In the World Cup, there is no such thing as an easy team as England have found out in the past. There are various other teams who pose a threat to England’s chances of progression, most noticeably host’s Brazil, a Messi inspired Argentina and arch rivals, Germany. But some of the dark horses could also cause problems such as the Ivory Coast or Ecuador. Ivory Coast has plenty of talent including Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, Roma’s Gervinho and CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia. They will be no pushovers, nor will Ecuador who are an improving side and will be a lot tougher than the last time England played them in 2006. Antonio Valencia and Vitesse’s Renato Ibarra are two talented wingers with lots of pace to burn plus with Felipe Caicedo up front, Ecuador could be a real threat. The country is still hurting from the death of legend Christian Benetiz so will be approaching the World Cup with a desire to do well for his memory. The USA are also amongst the group of teams who could be a potential danger as England found out in 2010 in South Africa. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has spent the past few years experimenting with different players but now has established a nucleus of talent like Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley that he is building his team around. Added into this the emergence of Brek Shea, Terrance Boyd and Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore, Klinsmann has a strong group that is ready and prepared for the World Cup next year.

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw  (Image from Getty)

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw
(Image from Getty)

Hodgson and England will be hoping to avoid such a nightmare by drawing a generous group such as Switzerland, Algeria and Iran. Based on previous draws, England has had luck on their side but can it hold for Brazil? Interestingly one team in pot 4 will be moved into pot 2 just before the draw starts. This is to allow for 4 groups of eight and a somewhat easier drawing process. That said, it is still quite confusing as FIFA will not allow a group to have more than two European teams in it so adjustments will need to be made, ruling out the three European teams in Pot 1 being pulled.  If England were chosen for Pot 2, it could play in their favour or perhaps not. Either way, Hodgson is unlikely to get any sleep tonight as he worries about who his team will face next summer.

Blog by Richard Waterhouse

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