European football

The hangover

This season has been an unprecedented season for so many different reasons. As previously discussed in my blog post, which can be found here; https://ayyazmalik.com/2021/01/09/a-season-like-no-other/. This season has been an unusual one to put it mildly. In the English Premier League, there has been some normality that’s returned as Manchester City seem odds on to win their third title in four seasons.

Across Europe, Real Madrid/Barcelona neither of them are leading Laliga, it’s Atletico Madrid who seem to be running away it, but a surprise 2-0 home loss to Levante, means that the gap has closed at the top to just three points, but Diego Simeone’s side do have a game in hand.

In Germany although usual league leaders Bayern Munich are still top, ever since they returned for a successful and triumphant Club World Cup, The Bavarians have conceded 31 goals already this term, one less than they did in the entire 2019-2020 season. Their 2-1 defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt means that the Bundesliga is more competitive this year.

With the example of Bayern, the Champions League winners have been far from flawless. In France last year’s Champions League beaten finalists PSG, have been suffering from indifferent from and they too aren’t have thing their own way in Ligue 1 as they trail league leaders Lille by four points. This is the same that could be said about Italian champions Juventus.

Juve, who have had a strangle hold on the Scudetto for a past best part of a decade, trail league leaders Inter by a massive 11 points, it must be noted that The Old lady have two games in hand over The Nerazzurri in Serie A. Regardless of this fact, even Juventus haven’t had things their own way.

This bug, shall we call it has travelled to Scotland too. Celtic who were looking to complete the ’10 in a row’, have been thwarted by a resurgent Rangers who are just seven points away from a first trophy in the Steven Gerrard reign. Covid, has affected us all and here’s to thinking that May can’t come quick enough.

But there’s some good things to have come out football being the way that is due to Covid, it’s not as boring and predictable as what it has been across Europe. That is a good thing, here’s to hoping that next season will be something similar, but I am not holding my breath.

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How they’re not laughing now

He has been as something as a cult hero. Nicolas Bendtner, or Lord Bendtner, Emile Heskey and Jess Lingard the ‘youngster’ has also been in flack. With the first two players, they’re known by the football world and football twitter as subject of mockery. Meme’s would be dedicated to these two and also sarcastically putting them in the same bracket as the two greatest players of this generation (Ronaldo and Messi). Heskey has never claimed to be a world beater, but our Nicholas? Well …. To say he was full of himself that’s an understatement. 

He is the Chuck Norris of football, well that’s if you ask him. The actual Chuck Norris of the beautiful game is Zlatan and no dares to challenge him on that or anything else really, Zlatan has backed his words with actions and in this current season has taken his game to new heights. That’s enough about Ibra, we will maybe talk about him another time. I want to talk about the youngster that is Lingard, he is like Heskey and Bendtner, where their reputations have got the better of them. Lingard, the Warrington born midfielder has been living off past glories. 

Under David Moyes when the Scott had his Ill fated spell in the Old Trafford hotseat, Jesse Lingard was involved in the squad for pre season that season.  In the 2014-2015 season, Lingard made his Manchester United debut under Louis Van Gaal. That goal he scored in the FA Cup final, yeah the one where he did the Ryan Giggs celebration, that one. Someone should have told our Jesse, that no one rocks that celebration like Mr Giggs can. Even when Mourinhp came to town, if Jose’s past reputation is anything go by, the end would have been nigh for the Warrington Messi. 

To his credit Jesse and his flute impression making self, excelled in an advanced role as almost a number 10. Diego Lingard? Jesse Maradonna? Those comparisons which also included Lingardinho turned to be premature as Jesse Lingard’s decline started. Off-field issues some which were very unfortunate lead to this footballing cult hero almost turn into a cult villain. The FA Cup game against Derby County became the tip of the iceberg for some fans as aggressive chants welcomed the former England midfielder upon his arrival at Pride Park. 

With no goals or assists, it’s fair to say he wasn’t make many if any fantasy football teams. A public verbal unleashing of fury by the normally apparently charming Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a reality check for the 28-year old Lingard. The goal dorugh ended on the last day of the season with a tap in goal against Leicester, which would help The Red Devils secure Champions League football for this season. That goal would have been a new day a new dawn? Sadly not as this season Jess Lingard was on the periphery. 

Talks of loan move to Nice, would have been nice, but that didn’t materialise. Sheffield United were apparently looking to make their move, but West Ham made the decisive move. With two goals on debut and three goals in four games, Jesse Lingard is maybe the Undertaker of football? (rising from the footballing dead). Only time will tell, those who didn’t put Jess in their fantasy football team, it not too late!

O how they laughed, because just maybe this youngster as he referred to, is coming on age.

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Klopp the unstoppable Jurgen-aught?

He came to English shores as something as a phenomenon. Touted for Manchester United, amongst other jobs and even earmarked by Sir Alex himself.

So when Jurgen Klopp agreed to come to Liverpool manager after he came out of a sabbatical, The Merseyside club celebrated this monumental coup of getting one of club footballs hottest managers.

A sharp whit, a charming personality, a whiter than white smile but a steely determination about him, made Jurgen the man Liverpool fans have come to love and adore.

Ever since he became Liverpool boss in 2015, 53-year old Klopp has only seen nothing but success at Anfield.
A Europa League final loss to Sevilla, which there’s no shame in as that tournament should almost be renamed the Sevilla League as they have such a stranglehold of that tournament.

Despite this setback, there were signs that Liverpool were improving. With back to back Champions League finals in 2018 and 2019, the latter of which they won their sixth in their history.

The Reds would enjoy a trophy-laden period thereafter. The club World Cup, the Super Cup and most satisfying of all for Liverpool fans, the Premier League all made their way into Anfield’s already bulging cabinet.

Nineteen League champions Liverpool were at the top of the world (literally) at this stage. There was one challenge left for manager Jurgen Klopp, who has enjoyed nothing but success since.
How to see through the transition of a great team? This has been a dilemma for many great sides, Manchester United and Barcelona come to mind.

Liverpool are in this same situation too arguably. After the unprecedented success in recent seasons, both star Firmino and Mane look to be in decline.

Injuries too have depleted Liverpool and the supporting cast too look to not be Oscar-winning worthy.
No Virgil Van Dijk, no Joe Gomez or Diogo Jotta too, that’s some serious talent in the treatment room.
One can’t argue it’s been a disappointing season this season. What people shouldn’t do is write Liverpool off.

The Reds have a tricky task when it comes to it to evolve this team. Now this team isn’t at the end of its cycle, but this great Liverpool team can’t last forever.

Jurgen Klopp has pretty much turned everything into gold that he’s touched so be he’s been in Merseyside.
This season has been unfortunate with the number of injuries that they have suffered. No matter how great the team, injuries come back to bite, just ask Pep at Man City.

At the time of writing, Liverpool are fifth. With the quality of the squad that they have, to qualify for Champions League football next season shouldn’t be an issue.

When (hopefully sooner rather than later) they get their star player Van Dijk back. When he does come back and the other injured players too, I want to raise the issue again of evolving this Liverpool team. Tottenham although they didn’t win a trophy, managed to turn into a consistent side.

But what they didn’t do is not evolve at the right time. As a result Tottenham who were consistently qualifying for the Champions League places, are no way near as a result. Liverpool are very well run and I have no doubt that they won’t make this mistake that Spurs did.

On that, as the saying goes Auf Wiedersehen Pet!

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The woes of Madrid explained

When you think of the two words Real and Madrid, whether you’re a football fan or not, you tend to to think of a footballing powerhouse and with good reason too. They’re the most successful team in Europe (13 Champions League wins).

Let’s not forget the 34 La Liga title wins in the history that they have won, meaning they’re the most successful team in Spain and the more than respectable 19 Copa Del Rey trophies too. As impressive as that trophy cabinet is, I paint a rather worrying tale.

Yes, they won the league title last year, and yes they’re second, but they’re seven points behind their neighbours and arch-rivals Atletico Madrid , but Diego Simeone’s side have two games in hand. Defeats to Levante at home (2-1) and a shock loss in the Copa Del Rey to Alcoyano too (2-1 after extra time) are signs of worrying times at the Bernabeu.

Alcoyano, are a third tier team and in that game despite manager Zinedine Zidane resting players, there were still full internationals on the pitch, which made this defeat against the Spanish minnows the more embarrassing.

So what’s the reason for this slump in form? Well, we must understand this isn’t a slump this season, this decline has been happening over the past few months. The main reason for this seems to be that Real manager Zidane, is struggling to replace several ageing stars.

Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and Marcelo have been great players but Los Blancos have been too reliant on these players. As great as these players are, age waits for no one, and in the case of this quintet this is also the case.

To be fair to the Madrid board, Ferland Mendy has come in as a replacement for Marcelo and has performed well, but players like Militao have had limited playing time in central defence. Zizou’s preferred central defensive partnership tends to be Ramos and Rafael Varane.

As good as Madrid captain Ramos has been, there’s an over reliance on him, so much so that Real look half the side without him. Other signings such as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, hasn’t been a good one, which is the same as Luka Jovic.

It can be argued, and I still argue, if Real would have given him more game time, then the young Serb would have come good. Real Madrid can’t rely on Benzema forever for goals and Jovic is a goal scorer. Yes it’s early days, but the former Eintracht man has returned to his former club on loan and has grabbed three goals in three games, which I feel proves my point.

So what’s the solution? It seems like an easy one, but Real really need to go back to basics and look to recruit from within. Their academy had been baring fruits, especially when players like Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio were coming out of the production line.

From the defensive side of things, two players have been produced from the Real academy in recent times, Dani Carvajal and Nacho being those two players. These are just two further examples that Real Madrid have the players that are good enough to come through the ranks and into the first team. The Spanish giants don’t have the financial clout as they once did, especially with the cost for the revamp of the stadium to consider too and the revelations of the extent of the debts that they’re in (approx €900 million)

Sometimes, things have to get worse to get better, this example I feel applies too, but Real will be coming back stronger, they always do.

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