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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Player Profile - Paul Pogba

If you have somehow managed to get to 2018 without hearing the name of Paul Pogba, we’d be quite impressed in a way. The big Frenchman is among the finest midfielders in the world game; a unique blend of grace, style, personality and raw power. Whether he’s nutmegging a fellow midfielder or lashing an unstoppable drive from distance, the fiery midfielder has earned his right to be among the global pantheon of midfield stars.

At 24, he’s maturing into the next midfield legend at Manchester United. Following an acrimonious exit from the club due to a lack of playing time under Alex Ferguson, Pogba made his way over to Italy with Juventus. In Turin, he established himself as a global star and quickly became an icon for a club perpetually in the midst of winning titles.

In four years in Turin, he clocked up over 150 appearances and won several medals, including four Serie A crowns as the Old Lady became one of the most dominant sides in the European game. While his then-world record move back to Manchester United is yet to truly catch fire, a League Cup and UEFA Europa League is a fine start to his return to Manchester.

Seemingly set with the aim of finishing off what he left behind the first time, the 2013 Golden Boy has all the talent and aptitude to make it at the top of the game. His unique blend of power, precision, persistence and personality makes him the kind of player that is so easy on the eye.

While his critics might say he is yet to score enough goals or truly blossom into a world-record worthy player, there’s much to admire about Paul Pogba. For years to come, he’ll be remembered as a genuine Premier League great.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Player Profile - Leroy Sane

For many, Leroy Sane is the perfect representation of the Premier League star midfielder. An eloquent blend of power, speed, technique and invention, Sane is among the finest players in the dvision despite only being aged 22. The Essen-born star started his career at FC Schalke, before a quick jaunt to Bayer Leverkusen seen him return to Gelsenkirchen. This time, he stuck around and in two seasons became a player Schalke fans will remember for a long time to come.

From an impudent goal against Borussia Dortmund to a stunning performing against Real Madrid in the Champions League, Sane is a player of notable repute for one so young. Already a regular German international, the 6ft wide man has quickly established himself as a player who can make even the best full-backs full on their backside.

His electric turn of pace, incisive shooting and unbelievable passing accuracy for a winger makes him a true stand-out in the industry. When he made his move to Manchester City in 2016, some doubted if he was ready for the step-up to become a key man under Josep Guardiola.

Quickly, though, he settled in tote way of life in England and immediately established himself as one of the most electric talents in his age group in any division. He’s also been a player who had to overcome some odd challenges; for example, his first season at City was ruined due to a nose issue that made it hard for him to breathe. 
 
Corrective surgery has helped him be the stand-out player of the 2017-18 player in his age group. Just behind the likes of Salah for week-in, week-out impact, he’s quickly become one of the most satisfying players to watch as he turns seasoned international defenders into shadows of their former selves.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

USA v Mexico - 12th September


When it comes to finding that extra verve as a national side, few games can be more worthwhile from an educational standpoint than playing Brasil. While the USA came out the other side as 2-0 losers, they will have likely learned a fair amount. Will it be enough to help them come up against the old rival in Mexico, and produce a performance worth remembering?

USA News

The game against Brasil will have left an impact on the USA players, not least from a defensive organization standpoint. While Mexico are clearly not as good, they have a similar attacking penchant and could easily cause some problems for a USA defence that looks and feels like it needs more of a refresh.

We expect Timothy Weah to get a start in this one, as he’s impressed in most of his games so far in the national team.

Mexico News

Meanwhile, El Tri come into this one knowing they need to find some form – and fast. Routed 4-1 against Uruguay on Saturday night at home, they need a result here to try and get the fans back onside. The Mexico project feels a little stunted at present, and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with playing a side less powerful on the break.

Uruguay are the perfect antithesis to how Mexico play; the States aren’t quite so effective in transition. For Mexico to win, though, they’ll need to maintain a solidity at the back they often find quite challenging.

Verdict

We can see this being a Mexico win, but with a lot of effort needed to get there. The USA have shown they can be stodgy and hard to break down, but it’s hard to see them making the most of the Mexican gaps in defence due to their paucity up front. If Mexico can shake off the pain of the Uruguay game, they could definitely come out the other side here with a positive result.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Player Profile - Hugo Lloris

For many, Nice-born French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is among the best in the world. While a touch wild and erratic at times, the 94-cap France keeper has been a hugely consistent presence across his career. From his early days with hometown club OGC Nice to making the move to Lyon in 2008, he’s been building a career that many keepers would struggle to rival.

At Lyon, he was a key part in achieving continued success at the club, albeit arriving at the tail end of the clubs success in the French domestic scene. His performances for France and in the UEFA Champions League, where he reached the semi-finals with Lyon, soon seen him reach a stage where he’d outgrown Ligue I.

Surprisingly, it was Tottenham Hotspur of London that managed to capture his signature. Despite major links with European giants at the time such as Barcelona and Milan, he made the move to London and, for six years, has been one of the most consistent keepers in the Premier League.

Among his numerous strengths is his outstanding agility. He’s a fantastic keeper; very good at making unstoppable shots look routine. While he might be a little weak at dealing with crosses and perhaps finds himself in unfortunate outfield positions due to his rash nature, Lloris is a tremendous keeper.

He’s often found coming off his line, and is a major proponent of the ‘sweeper keeper’ which has become so prominent in the modern game. His ability to deal with everything from close-in shots to handling long range piledrivers that seemed destined for the nut makes Lloris one of European football’ elite keepers.

While some might say his rashness holds him back from reaching the true elite, he’s a keeper that will be fondly remembered by each club he’s played for.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Player Profile: Virgil van Dijk

Were it possible to go back to 2015, when Virgil van Dijk left Glasgow Celtic for Southampton, every club in Europe would admit their mistake. The defender, seen as ‘too good for Scotland, not good enough for the top’ made a move to Southampton for around £11m. After two years in Glasgow where he looked like he’d outgrown the league on debut, he made the move to England and continued his development.

However, van Dijk was earmarked for major success as early as his youth days with FC Groningen. There, he made a huge impression and moved to Glasgow after the regular Dutch giants turned their nose up at him.

Assured on the ball and built with absolute confidence, van Dijk brings an air of calm that many modern defenders. Exceptional in the air, strong, quick and capable of handling any forward, the Dutchman has rightfully been elevated to a worldwide status. Despite having just 16 caps for a mediocre Holland side at 26 years of age, it would be fair to say that the Breda-born star was overlooked by both Dutch clubs and the Oranje for too long.

Now an established defender for Liverpool, following a protracted and chaotic move that could be worth £75m, van Dijk has become a major part of the future at Anfield. With such a massive pricetag, he’ll be expected to live up to heightened expectations – however, an inner zeal and self-belief that’s hard to break could see him easily achieve his aims.

The 6’4” defender is a regular goal scorer, and has often been one of the most impressive players in his position ever since he arrived in the UK with Celtic. Snobbery aside, some clubs might wish they’d paid the relative pittance that Southampton paid for the Dutch international! 
 
Were it possible to go back to 2015, when Virgil van Dijk left Glasgow Celtic for Southampton, every club in Europe would admit their mistake. The defender, seen as ‘too good for Scotland, not good enough for the top’ made a move to Southampton for around £11m. After two years in Glasgow where he looked like he’d outgrown the league on debut, he made the move to England and continued his development.

However, van Dijk was earmarked for major success as early as his youth days with FC Groningen. There, he made a huge impression and moved to Glasgow after the regular Dutch giants turned their nose up at him.

Assured on the ball and built with absolute confidence, van Dijk brings an air of calm that many modern defenders. Exceptional in the air, strong, quick and capable of handling any forward, the Dutchman has rightfully been elevated to a worldwide status. Despite having just 16 caps for a mediocre Holland side at 26 years of age, it would be fair to say that the Breda-born star was overlooked by both Dutch clubs and the Oranje for too long.

Now an established defender for Liverpool, following a protracted and chaotic move that could be worth £75m, van Dijk has become a major part of the future at Anfield. With such a massive pricetag, he’ll be expected to live up to heightened expectations – however, an inner zeal and self-belief that’s hard to break could see him easily achieve his aims.

The 6’4” defender is a regular goal scorer, and has often been one of the most impressive players in his position ever since he arrived in the UK with Celtic. Snobbery aside, some clubs might wish they’d paid the relative pittance that Southampton paid for the Dutch international!

Thursday, 5 July 2018

World Cup: Brazil vs Belgium

This tie is one of the most interesting of the FIFA World Cup so far: the old guard versus the new pretender. Seen as among the top European sides for the last six or seven years, it’s time for Belgium to make good on their wonderful collection of talent. Can they?


Brazil News
Brazil come into this one after a relatively easy 2-0 win over Mexico in the First Knockout Round. They played quite well, but Mexico looked overly daunted to begin with. For Brazil, we’re expecting to see 2-goal Roberto Firmino come in up-top. He was fantastic for Liverpool at club level, and the form-less Gabriel Jesus needs a rest.

Despite the fact that Casemiro joins Douglas Costa, Paulinho and Danilo as likely missing members, Brazil can come into the tie knowing they have more or less everything at their disposal to win.


Belgium News
The Red Devils are more or less free from any concerns. While Vincent Kompany might miss out again due to fitness and a lack of rest from the last game, we could see Belgium line up with Dedryck Boyata at the back.

Up top, we can expect Romelu Lukaku to continue, with Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard sitting just off him. Axel Witsel and Kevin de Bruyne will run the middle of the pitch, with Nacer Chadli and Thomas Meunier offering pace on the flanks.

It’s a very interesting Belgium side, which should pose threats to the attack-happy full-backs of the Brazil side.


Verdict

Brazil to win but not by much. Tournament experience is something that both sides have a fair amount of, but Brazil just feel like they have a bit more to themselves compared to Belgium. While we expect an excellent match-up, we think Brazil will come out on top come the end.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

World Cup: Germany v Sweden

After a shock but completely deserved loss to Mexico in their opener, Germany need to make up for lost time. Against a stocky and tough Sweden side, that’s going to be very interesting to watch.

There’s a lot riding on this game; can Die Mannschaft sort it out?


Germany News
After Herving Lozano gave them such a tough game in the opener, Germany are in the mood to impress. Their defence looked disjointed and their two centre-halves, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, looked very slow. If they are going to deal with Sweden, they cannot have that same lack of organization.

While Sweden might lack the pace of Mexico, they are nowhere near as open. Germany will need the likes of Mesut Ozil to step forward and deliver a top quality performance. With just one assist at tournaments for Germany, though, that might seem less likely than it first sounds.


Sweden News

Sweden come into this flying with confidence. They dealt with South Korea at arms’ length, and should have little if any issues being able to stay compact here. Sweden lack craft and pace, but they are solid, hard to break down and score their goals at key times.



Expect them to sit in deep and make it hard for Germany to get any kind of flow going. If they can do that, they should be able to stop Germany making too much headway: captain Andreas Granqvist will need to put in a performance for the ages, though.


Verdict
The idea of Germany going two FIFA World Cup games without a win is just ludicrous to a certain generation. We recommend that you get used to the idea, though: Germany might just struggle to break down a Sweden side who know the value of defensive solidity.


Monday, 11 June 2018

World Cup: Russia vs Saudi Arabia

As far as opening games of the FIFA World Cup goes, Russia against Saudi Arabia might be low-key. However, if you were to look over the history of the tournament, the games which we often expect to be dull are sometimes the best!

With Russia bringing arguably the worst national side in their history against what some consider to be the best Saudi Arabia has ever had, this game should be quite interesting. Consider that Russia have among the oldest defences in the tournament while the Saudi Arabians are equipped with rapid pace on the break; what does this mean for the hosts?


Russia News
For Russia, the entire tournament feels like it belongs to the Miranchuk brothers and Fedor Smolov. The Krasnodar forward has been one of the best players in the domestic scene for some time, and could be looking to use the World Cup to get a bit move

The Russians need him to fire, though, as they have little to no creativity outside of him and the defence is a mess. With 12 in 32 for his nation, Smolov is the now-or-never star that could help Russia achieve some semblance of success from the World Cup.


Saudi Arabia News
For Saudi Arabia, the main player they have to look for is Al-Nasser forward Mohammad Al-Sahlawi. He scored a whopping 16 goals in qualifying, and comes into this tournament with some very good form.
However, the main issue with Al-Sahlawi is his big game drop-offs. He scored seven goals in two games against East Timor, but only one in the ‘big’ games in a loss to Australia. Hes not scored in friendlies against decent opposition including Peru, Greece, Belgium and Germany; if he cant fire, the lack of other forward options will tell.




Verdict
It’s hard to call, but we think Russia will get the win here. While we might suggest the Saudi’s are a better side, they lack big game experience. Russia, while losing, has played a host of top sides recently and could benefit from that. We’re calling a Russia win, but not by much at all. If they fail to beat Saudi Arabia, expect them to lose all three games.


Thursday, 17 May 2018

Player Profile: Antonio Rudiger

Depending on who you ask, Antonio Rudiger is either a top-class defender or an utterly liability at the back. A very impressive defender, his unique physicality and defensive rigour and ensures he’s often a player who can be seen playing with his heart on his sleeve. While defensive mistakes and losses of concentration occur more than they should, at 24 there’s ample time for him to improve and find a greater consistency in his game.

Starting out at Borussia Dortmund, he failed to make the breakthrough there and soon moved on to VfB Stuttgart. At Stuttgart, he quickly broke into the first-team and in 4 years completed close to 100 appearances. Before long, his fantastic form seen him pick up attention from abroad and in 2015 he left Stuttart for a move to Rome. At Roma, he quickly became an important part of their squad ad played over 60 games in a two-year stay in the Italian capital.

While he suffered at times from defensive lapses in Italy, and left a sour taste on his time with the Giallorossi following a sending off in a 3-1 home defeat to Lazio in the Derby della Capitale, he was a very impressive defender for much of his time.

His move to Chelsea came in 2017, when the German defender made his move over to London for around €40m. The signing was seen as the beginning of a Chelsea rebirth, with Rudiger impressing early on into his Chelsea career with some assured performances.

With an impressive debut campaign close to an end, Rudiger could easily set the standard for the rest of his career in the next coupe seasons. A hugely powerful defender with excellent pace and tackling capability, extra concentration and experience could see him evolve into a top-class defender,

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Crystal Palace v Brighton - 14th April

For this oddest of derbies, we reckon we’ll see some pretty impressive football break out. Crystal Palace are in desperate need of a result, and what better time to start than here at home against Brighton and Hove Albion?

Home News

Palace come into this one with a big injury list. Joel Ward, Christian Benteke and Jeffrey Schlupp will likely all miss out. so, too, will Alexander Sorloth, Jason Puncheon and Bakary Sako. Scott Dann, too, will be out.
This leaves Roy Hodgson with some rather challenging decisions to make. The loss of so many players and their propensity to concede late, vital goals will leave him worried. With such little depth left due to injury, can they get a positive result here at home to their major rivals in Brighton?

Away News

The away side’ only real concern is the loss of Davy Pröpper, after his red card last weekend. Other than that, they are more or less full-strength. Steve Sidwell is also out, but has not taken part in the season so far. However, they do Anthony Knockaert back after a challenging period of time out the side following a straight red against Everton.

In the middle of the pitch, we’ll likely see Pascal Groß come into the side in the middle alongside Beram Kayal. Up front, they’ll be reliant on the goals of ex-Eagle Glenn Murray to get the job done. Meanwhile the form of the likes of José Izquierdo in 2018 has been a mild disappointment, Brighton are in a good place, especially at the back. 
 
Verdict

We reckon this will be a win for the away side. This is a big derby, but that weird propensity to concede key late goals won’t go away for the Eagles. As such, the Seagulls should get out of here with something.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Arsenal vs Southampton

After a fantastic 4-1 win at home to CSKA Moscow in the Europa League, Arsenal are finally looking alive again. Two wins in a row makes up for a three match losing streak, and hosting a Saints side bereft of confidence cold help further extend that. 
 
Home News
For the Gunners, the potential injury to the in-form Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a big concern. Despite finding some form of recovery in the last few games, confidence is fragile at Arsenal and even something as simple as an injury could derail them for the season.
However, for now, they’ll be OK. They’ve got enough positive performers including the rapidly in-form Aubameyang, to feel comfortable of getting out of this one with three points. However, Alexandre Lacazette might feel disappointed to likely be benched following a brace in Europe. For Arsenal though, this game offers yet another chance to just to add another small dollop of self-belief back into their game. 
 
Away News
The away side are in real disarray, meanwhile. Back-to-back losses and draws means the club is in a real mire, with relegation almost looking guaranteed on recent performances. However, the sheer lack of quality in the side is another major issue.
Too many key players have left, and despite having no injuries of note the squad feels brutally lacking in depth. The likes of Mario Lemina and Oriol Romeu tend to play games almost alone, and a trip to the Emirates will offer little respite. 
 
Verdict
We just cannot see anything for Southampton in this game. Mark Hughes has a real struggle on his hands to keep them up. The lack of form of previous key performers such as Charlie Austin, Steven Davis, Nathan Redmond, Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand is simply too much of a drop-off for them to be able to handle. A likely Arsenal victory awaits.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

England's World Cup Prospects

As the Russia 2018 World Cup approaches, Gareth Southgate's England are in decent form and look ready for the challenge ahead. Do we allow ourselves to enter 'dare to dream' territory, with ideas that 'this is the one' and that we can sail through each round if only we show determination and have the right approach to play, rightly lifting the World Cup at the end of it? Or perhaps do we instead think that our time in the tournament will be 'same old, same old' as we struggle to beat bog standard competition and limp out of the competition in typically unimpressive fashion? I'd say that this time the jury is out, but expectations aren't exactly sky high.

We have disappointed on one occasion too many really and so if we make it through the group stage we enter firm 'anything is a bonus' territory. At time of writing we're level pegging with impressive Belgium to win the group, at 6/5. Those odds are probably about right, most of them are presented on some online betting sites for the 2018 World Cup. Where are do appear to be something is a dead cert is in our chances of emerging from the group (top two). As suspect as England can be when the going gets tough, it's hard to see how Tunisia and Panama can provide meaningful competition for us. Therefore the 1/7 to qualify likely isn't a particularly bad bet all things considered, even at those odds. We have some top class players and youth throughout the team, so they'll likely still have some spark even though the World Cup is awkwardly placed at the end of a tough Premier League season. Jack Wilshere is injury free, Marcus Rashford has bundles of talent. Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy. This is a team with big names and big talent to match.


Elsewhere in the competition, unsurprisingly both Germany and Brazil are odds-on to win their groups. They're both in top form and at number one and two in the world FIFA football ranking respectively (compared to England's lowly position 16), it's hard to argue that they'll have any trouble going far in the 2018 Russia World Cup. In a future update I'll be sure to comment on the quarter finals and beyond. For now, let's just hope that England make it to that point in the first place! If the team and fans dare to go to Russia of course!

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Player Profile: Jan Vertonghen

For many, Jan Vertonghen might just be among the very best defensive players in the world. With close to 100 caps for his nation, Belgium, and a very impressive club career, Vertonghen has enjoyed a career already that many would die for. Now in his prime at 30, too, there’s nothing to say that his influence won’t continue to grow as a player. He’s been a key part of very successful Ajax, Tottenham and Belgium teams now. His authority also plays a key role, alongside his consistent threat from the back.

In his career, he’s been a regular threat for the opposition for a defender. Growing up in Saint-Niklaas, he made a move to Ajax as a youngster and became one of the many players to come though their youth academy with great success. Alongside the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Thomas Vermaelan, the trio came through at Ajax and helped to form the backbone of many successful seasons for the Dutch giants.

His main breakthrough with Ajax came in 2009, when he soon became a regular in the first-team after John Hietinga made his move to Atletico Madrid. While he suffered from injury at first, he soon recovered from his persistent injury issues and developed into the star he is today.

In 2012, he made his move to Tottenham Hotspur, after several seasons as one of the most impressive players in the Dutch Eredivisie. A uniquely talented defender, he rejected moves to the Milan, Newcastle and Arsenal to make the transfer to Tottenham. While his goal scoring prowess may have dried up in recent seasons, he’s retained the defensive prowess and solidity that has ensured he’s one of the most respected defender in the European game.

Without doubt, he’s among the best defenders of his generation.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Player Profile: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

As one of the fastest players ever to take to the field, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – or ‘Auba’ – is the definition of the modern striker. While his critics might say he’s nowhere near as involved in team play as he could be, to be one of the highest goal scorers in Bundesliga and Borussia Dortmund history in under five years is a hugely impressive feat.

The new Arsenal signing will make his way to the Emirates at the prime of his career. As the 2015 African Player of the Year, and a 2017 DFP Pokal champion with Dortmund, the 56-times Gabon international arrives ready to take on the Premier League at the peak of his powers. However, the path to stardom for Auba is nowhere near as straightforward as some would assume.

Indeed, after many moves around at youth level he soon found his place in Milan, when he signed for the Diavolo in 2007. Howeve, he never broke through into the first team and, after several loan spells at Lille, Monaco and Saint-Etienne, he made his move permanent in 2011. A key player at Saint-Etienne, he quickly became a player of repute within Ligue 1 and, by 2013, he was the second top scorer in the league. With 19 strikes, he finished only behind Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimović. 

At this stage, he made a move to Borussia Dortmund, signing a five-year deal with the club. Scoring a hat-trick on debut, he quickly established himself as among the best players in the clubs’ recent history. While it took him 4 years to eventually lift a trophy, the DFB-Pokal, he leaves as the highest-scoring African player in German football history.

141 goals in 213 games is one of the most impressive hit rates in Europe, and has established his legend at Dortmund, despite a negative end to his time in Germany. Now an Arsenal player, he looks set to continue his hot streak for the Gunners.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

February Relegation Odds


What a difference less than two months makes. Bottom of the table in December Crystal Palace have continued the good run of play they'd already started and have propelled themsleves out of the relegation zone. They're now 10-1 to be relegated. Let's not get too excited for them though, as the bottom of the table is so bunched up that there's a long way to go yet to ensure a place in next year's premier league. Swansea and West Ham have also done their level best to get out of the danger zone, making a completely different bottom three to that of December's table. It's certainly looking especially perilous for West Brom (4/6 to be relegated) and Hudderfield (4/7) right now.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Mauro Icardi


Known for his tempestuous attitude and wild off the pitch mind-set as much as his incredible coolness in front of goal, Mauro Icardi looks set to go down in the history of Internazionale of Italy. Signing from the club after a breakout season with Sampdoria, where he scored a brace against then-champions Juventus to begin a mad rush for his signature, he made his move to the Nerrazzurri in 2013.

Since 2011, the Argentine international has become one of the most lethal forwards in the game. Despite the madness that surrounds his personal life, Icardi has quickly become one of the most notable forwards in the game. His coolness in front of goal is in stark contrast to the racy lifestyle he leads off the pitch.

At Inter, he’s become a regular goal scorer and has stayed loyal to the club during a fallow period for a club of such size. With an incredible 96 goals from 170 games, he’s quickly established himself among the pantheon of the top strikers to have worn the Inter shirt.

While he’s had fall-outs along the way with the clubs Ultras, the Argentina international has always worked hard to repay the faith shown in him. The scorer of a hat-trick in the Derby del Madonnina, too, he’s a player who shows a love for the big games and is a master of getting the right result for his side.

Despite playing in Inter sides that barely can match his ability, Icardi has stuck around with the promise of taking Inter back to the top. Despite regular criticism of his personality and his lifestyle, Icardi has shown time and time again that his attitude on the pitch is something that can never be doubted, cementing his place as one of 2018's most lethal forwards.