Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Champions League Is Back

The Champions League makes its exciting return this week and millions of fans across Europe are dreaming that this could be their side’s year to lift that famous trophy and be the undisputed kings of Europe. Real Madrid have dominated the competition winning the previous 3 Champions Leagues beating Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool last season. They love winning this competition lifting the trophy 13 times and they will fancy their chances of making it 14 come June 2019. However, Real Madrid will no doubt face stiff competition from the other 31 sides participating this season and recording a record 4th straight title is easier said than done.

Barcelona are no doubt angry and envious watching their bitter rivals lift the Champions League year after year. The Catalans were last kings of Europe in 2015 and they want supremacy once again. A rejuvenated Lionel Messi and with the likes of Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho around him, Barcelona will fancy their chances this season after consecutive disappointing at the quarter finals. The red half of Madrid may also have something to say this season after their Europa League triumph last season. Greizmann, Simeone and co would love the chance to snatch Europe’s top title from their city rivals. Atletico have never won the Champions League but have reached 3 finals with their last being in 2016 losing to Real Madrid. Greizmann is missing a Champions League medal from his illustrious trophy cabinet and he will be determined to get his hands on one this season. Valencia make their Champions League return this season and will be hoping to make a statement. Marcelino has an excellent squad and he will be confident Valencia can challenge the rest of Europe and certainly try and reach the latter stages of the competition. There is no doubt Spain has dominated the Champions League in the last few years with 5 consecutive titles heading to Spain.

But could the Champions League title return to English shores in 2019. Chelsea were the last English side in 2012 but Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United will all feel they have a great chance at winning Europe’s top prize. After last season’s dominance, Manchester City’s only blemish on a wonderful campaign was a disappointing Champions League exit to Liverpool and Pep Guardiola will be desperate to bring the Champions League to the blue half of Manchester having not won the Champions League since his time in charge at Barcelona in 2011. Liverpool will also fancy their chances after reaching last season’s final and no doubt there will be a determination to go one better this season and lift the trophy for a 6th time and since the famous Istanbul final of 2005. Klopp has an exciting squad but also plenty of last season’s finalists still at the club and no doubt Liverpool will be there or thereabouts once again this season. Manchester United will also be targeting a long Champions League campaign after a woeful campaign last time out losing in the last 16 to Sevilla. They went out with a whimper and Mourinho will expect better this season as United aim to be kings of Europe for the first time since 2008. Tottenham have never reached the final of Europe’s top competition but have reached the knockout phases of the competition but have been disappointing at this stage. Knocked out by Juventus last season after holding an advantage for much of the tie and no doubt Pochettino will want more this season. Harry Kane will also want to showcase his skills in the big competition after brilliant Premier League campaigns and a brilliant World Cup. The English clubs will fancy their chances and hope to bring the Champions League title back to England.

However, could the famous trophy be heading to Germany this season? Bayer Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke and Hoffenheim are the 4 German clubs aiming to bring Europe’s top competition back to German shores. Bayer Munich are arguably Germany’s best chance of seeing the Champions League return to Germany. The Bavarians last lifted the trophy in 2013 in Jupp Heyneckes’ triple winning season but others including Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and Heyneckes again have failed to bring the Champions League back. No doubt the Bayer Munich hierarchy desperately want the Champions League and Niko Kovac must aim to do that this season. The Bundesliga is generally assured for Bayer Munich but consecutive disappointments in the Champions League are frustrating fans and players alike. But can the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery bring the Champions League back to Bavaria. Borussia Dortmund may also fancy their chances of reaching the latter stages of the competition. A disappointing exit in the group stages last season ultimately summed up a miserable season overall for Dortmund last season. However, they are rejuvenated under Lucien Favre and with the likes of Marco Reus, Axel Witsel and Christian Pulisic in their ranks, you cannot rule out Dortmund. Schalke and Hoffenheim will no doubt cause teams’ problems as they look to showcase their skills on Europe’s top stage. Could the Champions League be heading back to Germany in the very near future? Only time will tell.

Or will the famous trophy be heading to Italian shores. Juventus have spent big in their aim of becoming the kings of Europe. The Old Lady have been the bridesmaids and not the brides in the previous two decades losing their last 5 Champions League finals. The Old Lady last won in 1996 and clearly the wait has gone on long enough. Juventus are desperate and smashed their transfer record to bring Cristiano Ronaldo to Turin in the aim of winning the Champions League. Juventus are serious contenders this season and Ronaldo will be a huge asset to them in the competition because it has been his competition the last few years. But could last season’s semi finalists Roma could a few steps better this season and lift the trophy. Roma were magnificent in last season’s competition knocking out Barcelona and losing to Liverpool in the final 4. They have never tasted success in Europe’s top competition and no doubt just being in the competition year in year out is not what the fans want. Could they spring a surprise on the rest of Europe? We shall see. Napoli may also fancy their chances this season. Under serial winner Carlo Ancelotti, the Naples club may fancy their chances of causing a few surprises themselves and progressing through the competition unnoticed. Ancelotti has plenty of quality at disposal with the likes of Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon, Kalidou Koulibaly and Lorenzo Insigne amongst his arsenal of quality. Its been a long 6 years for Inter Milan since their last Champions League campaign. It has been years of poor campaigns and mismanagement on and off the pitch. However, Luciano Spalletti has calmed the frustrated ship and guided Inter to the top 4 last season and a return to Europe’s top table and no doubt they will want to make the most of their opportunity. The likes of Mauro Icardi finally getting their chance to showcase their talents in the biggest European competition around. There are very strong contenders in Italy and no doubt all 4 clubs will feel they have a good chance at potentially winning the competition.

But certainly, PSG will have throw their hypothetical hat into ring. Years of consistent spending have not delivered the title the whole club is desperate for. Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and co have so far failed to bring Europe’s top competition to the French capital. Thomas Tuchel is the next manager tasked with delivering the Champions League. PSG have largely flattered to deceive in the Champions League and frustrating the entire club and the pressure will continue to intensify until they finally win Europe’s top competition. Could 2019 be that year? However, Monaco and Lyon may also fancy their chances at sustaining a Champions League charge. Despite constant player changes season after season, Monaco remain a competitive force and will again fancy they can push in Europe with their best run being back in 2004 when they lost in the final to Mourinho’s Porto team. Jardim has done a wonderful job at Monaco having reached the semi-finals in 2017 losing to Juventus and no doubt they will hoping to reach similar heights this season. Lyon are making their return to the Champions League after regular Europa League campaigns in seasons gone by. Bruno Genesio has plenty of talents in his ranks with the likes of Nabil Fekir and Memphis Depay being vital in how they play and all these on form could cause teams problems. While France seems an unlikely destination for the Champions League in 2019, you cannot rule it out with PSG certainly being the best chance of the famous trophy returning to France for the first time since Marseille’s victory in 1993.

There are other sides in Europe who could possibly surprise a few including Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven and Ajax while Porto and Benfica also will aim to spring a surprise on some of their bigger European rivals. Champions League regulars Shaktar Donetsk usually progress to the last 16 of the competition and course teams plenty of problems and no doubt they will be tough opposition once again this season. Turkish champions Galatasaray also aiming to cause one or two problems and who knows go far in the competition, but this could difficult with many others competing in a similar fashion.

The 2018/19 Champions League will certainly be the most competitive yet with many sides believing they can win the competition but only one will stand tall and take the crown in 2019. Can Real Madrid make it a record 4th title in row or will we have a new champion next year only time will tell but one thing for sure, the Champions League will bring quality goals, brilliant football, moments of controversy and shocks and that’s why we love the Champions League as football fans as its Europe’s best 32 fighting to be the undisputed king of Europe. The Champions League is here and is ready to excite fans across the world as the most prestigious competition returns in all its glory.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Ligue 1: August - 2nd September Review (First 4 league games)

August saw the return of Ligue 1 and with it, excellent football, quality goals, new managers and plenty of controversial moments. As expected PSG are the only side in the league with a perfect record having won their opening 4 games while Guingamp, Bordeaux and Angers make up the bottom 3.

Thomas Tuchel has made the perfect start in charge of PSG winning his opening 4 league games. Tuchel’s side have been very dominant so far beating Caen, Guingamp, Angers and Nimes. Tuchel has also unlocked Neymar with the Brazilian starting the season brilliantly notching 4 goals in the opening month of the season. PSG are expected to dominate and certainly Tuchel has bigger fish to fry in September with the Champions League getting under way. It has also been a terrific start to the season for Dijon and Toulouse. Olivier Dall’Oglio will be delighted with their start to the season with Dijon winning their opening 3 games against Montpellier, Nantes and Nice however, they ended the month with defeat against Caen but overall Dall’Oglio will be delighted and will want that momentum to continue going into September. Toulouse have also started excellently since they were smashed 4-0 Marseille on the opening weekend. Alain Casanova’s side have picked winning 3 straight league games including the derby with Bordeaux. It has been an excellent opening month for Toulouse’s new manager and he will want that good momentum to continue in September with their next being against Monaco.

The two promoted sides have certainly made an impression in the opening month with Nimes and Reims both collecting 6 points from their opening 4 games and they lie in mid-table. Reims impressed winning their opening 2 games including a win against Lyon while Nimes have also shown signs they are here to stay winning their opening 2 including a brilliant win over Marseille. However, both sides have lost their last 2 games and will be hopeful of re-capturing their early season form in September. Nimes kick off September with a trip to Bordeaux while Reims go to Nantes.
Despite their difficult financial issues, it has been a fantastic start to the season for Lille. Christophe Galtier’s side sit in 4th with 7 points from their opening 4 games including victories over Rennes and Guingamp as well as an excellent away draw against Monaco. Lille are battling Financial Fair Play, but credit must go to Galtier who has built a team on a small budget and let big players like Ibrahim Amadou, Vincent Enyeama, Yassine Benzia and Yves Bissouma leave the club. It is one of their new signings Jonathan Bamba who has caught the eye. The young winner left St Etienne in the summer and joined Lille on a free and has been a breath of fresh air notching 3 goals in 4 matches and has delighted the Lille fans with his performances. Both he and his club will want to carry their momentum in September especially with the derby against Amiens coming up.

Marseille, Rennes and Montpellier have also made strong starts notching 7 points from their opening 4 games leaving them in 5th, 6th and 7th respectively. Rudi Garcia’s Marseille have been inconsistent in their performances so far dominating Toulouse on the opening weekend before a very poor defeat against Nimes. But they ended the month with a dramatic late win in the derby with Monaco and no doubt Garcia will be delighted with his side’s spirit to fight back to win the game and he will want Marseille’s Champions League push to continue in September when the season really gets underway. Sabri Lamouchi’s Rennes have also started well, and he will be confident his side can continue their good form going into September. Rennes have won both home games this season without conceding and Lamouchi will be satisfied. He will also be pleased with a solid draw at Stade Velodrome against Marseille. Lamouchi will also be confident Hatem Ben Arfa will be a key player after he signed until the end of the season. Montpellier are on a 3-match unbeaten run since their opening day defeat to Dijon. Michel Der Zakarian’s side have won both away games and struggled at game losing and drawing to St Etienne. Der Zakarian will want their home form to improve in September when they face Strasbourg.

It has been a disappointing start for bitter rivals Lyon and St Etienne both locked on 6 points in the top half. While they are unbeaten in their opening 4 games, St Etienne have certainly not set the world alight with just one win against Guingamp. 3 draws have followed including back to back goalless draws and Jean Louis Gasset needs his team to start firing if they are going to challenge for European places, but they face a tricky game against PSG next. In contrast, Lyon are showing major inconsistencies with a win and a defeat both home and away. So far when conceding first Lyon have failed to comeback and even score. But when they have scored first this season, they have won and kept a clean sheet. Genesio’s side were poor against Nice and they must bounce back starting against Caen. Like Lyon, it has been a disappointing start for last seasons’ runners-up Monaco with Leonardo Jardim sitting in 13th place with just 4 points from their opening 4 games. Jardim has once again lost key players to arguably bigger clubs and he must replace them which is always extremely difficult. His new look team are struggling to gel. They are winless in 3 including 2 straight defeats to Bordeaux and Marseille. Jardim has done a sensational job but it could be his toughest season to date in charge of the principality side.

It has been a difficult start to the season for Guingamp and Antoine Kombouare. Guingamp are the only side without a point so far having lost all 4 of their league games so far. However, despite their poor start, Kombouare will be confident things will improve and his future is certainly secure having signed a new deal during August. He will be disappointed with their start but he will believe September will be the month where their season begins but they face a tricky trip to Marseille in their next league game. It has also been a disappointing start for Bordeaux with the club sitting 19th and Gus Poyet resign after the sale of Gaetan Laborde to Montpellier. Things have been tough on the pitch too with 3 defeats from 4 but they did secure a place in the group stages of the Europa League. Francois Kamano has been their star on the pitch so far notching all 3 of Bordeaux goals including 2 in the win over Monaco but their league form has been flat overall. However, despite their disappointing start, there are plenty of reasons to be positive as the club has new owners following a successful takeover and a new manager in Ricardo Gomes who joins from Brazilian football. The fans will hope September is where Bordeaux’s season ignites. Gomes is relatively unknown and must start well to install the belief in the fans. His first game will be against Nimes before a trip to the Czech Republic in the Europa League. The final side making up the bottom 3 is Angers with 3 points in their opening 4 games. Angers lost their opening 3 games but a win over Lille to finish the month will no doubt have eased the pressure on Stephane Moulin from the fans and board. Angers are a small club and no doubt survival is the target each season but a slow start to a season can cost teams and they have started slowly but Moulin will hop the win over Lille takes them forward nicely going into September.

Nice, Nantes and Caen all appointed new managers in the summer and all 3 clubs lie in the bottom half after the opening month of the season. It has been a tough start for Patrick Vieira at Nice with the club sitting in 17th with just 4 points. Nice sold Jean Michael Seri, Alassane Plea and Maxime Le Marchand and these players were vital to the club and so far, their presence has been missed with Myzaine Maolida not making the best impression so far as Nice’s new striker while Nice have struggled defensively. They have also struggled at home losing both matches without scoring including a shock 4-0 defeat to Dijon. However, since then Nice have gone 2 games unbeaten and finished the month well with a win over Lyon. Miguel Cardoso has also struggled at Nantes so far also collecting 4 points from his opening 4 games. However, like Nice, Nantes head into September on the back of a win over Strasbourg. Cardoso has got a very good tune out of Emiliano Sala with the Argentine notching 3 goals in 4 games including the vital winner against Strasbourg. Fabian Mercadal has made the best start out of these 3 new managers with Caen sitting in 12th with 5 points from their opening 4 and only one defeat against PSG. They are also unbeaten in 3 since their opening weekend defeat. Mercadal will be satisfied overall but knows Caen must continue to improve. Last seasons’ new sides Amiens and Strasbourg both have collected 4 points from their opening 4 games and both at times have showed elements of second season syndrome. They both magnificently survived last season, and both go into this with the same intention of staying in the league once again. Moussa Konate was excellent for Amiens last season and has started this campaign in good form notching 3 goals in the opening month and he will be crucial to their season once again. Amiens have the perfect game in a derby against Lille to kick off September and they will be confident of beating their rivals once again.

September will no doubt bring more excellent football and quality goals and the odd moment of controversy. There are some tasty games to come in September including Amiens vs Lille, Rennes vs PSG, Lyon vs Marseille, Bordeaux vs Lille, St Etienne vs Monaco, Nice vs PSG and Lille vs Marseille. So, expect plenty of good football and excellent goals as September gets underway and we could also begin to see where each teams’ seasons could end up going.

Bundesliga: August- 2nd September (First 2 league games)

The Bundesliga returned in very late August and only 2 matchdays have taken place so far this season but already there has been some excellent goals, good football and surprise results. Niko Kovac has made the perfect start in charge of Bayer Munich having won his opening 2 games of the season against Stuttgart and Hoffenheim scoring 3 goals in both matches. Usual suspects Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller have started well both notching 2 goals in 2 games and no doubt Kovac will be delighted with their opening to the new season.

The only other two sides posing perfect records are Wolfsburg and Hertha Berlin. It has been a brilliant start to the season for the Wolves after consecutive seasons of struggle. The Wolves look a much stronger side this season and his highlighted by beating their competition for European places in Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen. Bruno Labbadia will be delighted with their opening 2 games and he will want that momentum to continue in September starting against Hertha Berlin. Speaking of Hertha Berlin, they also hold a perfect record after victories over Schalke and Nuremberg. Per Derdai will be delighted with their opening month of the season after a disappointing campaign last time out.
There are a cluster of sides with 4 points from their opening 2 games including Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach, Augsburg, Werder Bremen and Mainz. It has been a solid start for Lucien Favre in charge of Dortmund. He will be pleased with their opening day comeback over Leipzig before a flat goalless draw away at Hannover. Favre will want to get back to winning ways and emphasise that Dortmund can challenge Bayern this season starting against Eintracht Frankfurt. Dieter Hecking will also be relatively satisfied with Gladbach’s start to the season after a disappointing campaign last time out. A draw with Augsburg followed an excellent opening day win over Bayer Leverkusen. Regular slow starters Bremen have started brilliantly this season after consecutive seasons of slow starts and managerial changes, but Bremen have started the season in a business-like fashion. Eintracht Frankfurt and Hoffenheim along with the sides above have registered a win this season. While Hannover remain unbeaten after two draws against Bremen and Dortmund.

However, the rest of the Bundesliga are yet to register a win, and this includes Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Freiburg and both promoted sides Nuremberg and Fortuna Dusseldorf. Leverkusen, Freiburg, Schalke and Stuttgart are the sides rooted to the foot with 2 defeats out of 2. Both Schalke and Leverkusen have started slowly under young managers Domenico Tedesco and Heiko Herrlich. Both managers are entering their second season in charge and a disappointing start has followed and both will want September to kick start their seasons. Schalke go to Monchengladbach while Leverkusen are off to the Allianz Arena to face Bayer Munich. Regular strugglers Freiburg have started poorly once again suffering 2 defeats and the pressure is starting to mount on long serving boss Christian Streich after a disappointing campaign last time out. Freiburg are tipped to struggle and Streich quickly needs a win to kick start their season starting against Stuttgart. Speaking of Stuttgart, it’s been a slow start for them after a wonderful 7th place last season. Tayfun Korkut did a remarkable job in the second half of last season and at times Stuttgart looked unstoppable. However, they have struggled to reach those heights so far, but they will fancy their chances of kick starting their season against Freiburg. Goals have alluded both Stuttgart and Freiburg with neither side yet to break their goal duct so far this season and it could be a significant game for both clubs and could give an indication as to where their season ends up heading. Newly promoted Fortuna Dusseldorf and Nuremberg have struggled to make an impression so far on the Bundesliga, but both have 1 point so far. Both will target September as a chance to register their first win of the season.

It is very early in the Bundesliga to see where clubs’ seasons are going with only 2 games played so far but by the end of September we should see some indications as to how the season is going to play out. September will bring more quality football and goals. There are some tasty games to come in September including Bayer Munich vs Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Monchengladbach vs Schalke, Hoffenheim vs Borussia Dortmund, Schalke vs Bayer Munich, Hoffenheim vs Leipzig and Dortmund vs Bayer Leverkusen. September brings some excellent games and no doubt will bring the entertainment the Bundesliga is renowned for.