Real Madrid

This weeks Champions League preview

It seemed like it took a lifetime, but last week Champions League football returned after a roughly two month absence. Last week, we were treated to some good games. Sevilla were outscored by Borussia Dortmund who won 3-2 on the night and Barcelona were humbled by PSG 4-1. 

In the other set of matches Portuguese champions Porto comfortably beat Juventus 2-1. Although the scoreline may seem flattering to the Italians, make no mistake about Juve were well beaten. In the last game of the round of 16 fixtures saw six-time winners Liverpool comfortably beat Manchester United conquerors 2-0 in Hungary, the adopted home of the German side due to Covid19 travel restrictions. 

As for this week’s round of matches, tonight’s matches see defending champions Bayern Munich travel to last year’s Serie A surprise package Lazio. This tie on the face of it, seems to have a safe Bayern progression written all over it, but The Bavarians have been far from convincing this term and even more since they returned from the Club World Cup. 

Having said that however, I expect the German giants to progress in this one 4-2 on aggregate. Ciro Immobile, will be a handful for the Rome side, but it’s the Lewandowski factor that will be the key for Bayern Munich.

 In the other game this evening, high flying Atletico who lead LaLiga by three points with a game in hand, host Chelsea.

Los Colchaneros who were in the same group as Bayern, have transformed into a brilliant attacking side.

Players like Louis Suarez, Joao Felix and Marcos Llorente of all people have been crucial for the the Spanish side.

Chelsea who recently appointed new manager Thomas Tuchel, have marginally improved since the German took over.

With talent such as Havertz and Ziyech at their disposal, The Blues will be no pushovers, but I can’t see past Atletico Madrid. My prediction for an aggregate score line or Atletico 3-1 Chelsea.

In tomorrow’s matches sees Manchester City come up against Borussia Monchengladbach. The Blues who have badly under achieved in this tournament, have been defensively brilliant this year with Stones and Diaz being key.

This tie seems City’s to lose, my prediction Man City 3-0 Borussia M. I am sure Marcus Thurman and co will be looking to do better than that over two legs.

The final game of the Champions League week sees Real Madrid and Atalanta go head to head.

Real as we know are the most successful team in the history of the tournament with 13 Champions League titles.

Atalanta on the other hand are relative new comers of the tournament and were dumped out last year in agonising fashion in the quarter-finals against PSG.

This year, the Italian side have been a shadow of that side who became everyone’s second team.

Papu Gomez, the captain of that side has left for Sevilla. Atalanta do still have Louis Demirel, Illicic and the bustling figure of Zupata too. They won’t be pushovers for sure.

Having said that, I still do fancy Real in this one. It won’t be an easy game, but this won’t be the nightmare game that Ajax was for Los Blancos. My prediction on aggregate Atalanta 1-4 Real Madrid.

So they were my predictions, but what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

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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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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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What Did We Learn From Liverpool’s Performance Tonight?

Brendan Rodgers would no doubt be impressed by Liverpool's determined  performance despite this defeat

Brendan Rodgers would no doubt be impressed by Liverpool’s determined performance despite this defeat

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers made a real ‘statement’ in tonights match against Real Madrid. The Liverpool manager made several high profile changes, as Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrrard were all left on the bench. It might make one ask the question why did these players travel to the Spanish capital if they weren’t going to start.

Emre Can, Lucas Leiva, Kolo Toure, Lazar Markovic and Fabio Borini all started for the Reds at the Bernabeu in a match that people such as myself felt that Liverpool needed something from. A dissapointing performance in Switzerland against Basle which ended in a 2-0 defeat hasn’t helped Liverpool’s campaign.

The 18 time English champions went into this champions league game on the back of a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle. The last meeting between the two sides last month saw Liverpool suffer a ‘mauling’ to Real Madrid,the defending champions won 3-0 at Anfield.

Karim Bemzema scored twice that with ‘goal machine’ Christiano Ronaldo grabbing the other. Ronaldo came into this match one goal short of equalling former Real Madrid striker Raul’s record of 71 champions league goals – but suprsingly the Portuguese captain had a quiet night for his standards.

That was mainly down to the brilliant perforamnces of Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel on the night. If I was to be harsh I would say that Kolo Toure was a little bit at fault for the only goal of the game that was scored by Karim Benzema.

Lazar Markovic another player who impressed on one occasion in the first half wasn’t quite ‘in sync’ with his colleague Javi Manquillo which ultimately allowed Real left-back to deliver a wicked ball in, Karim Benzema was left in space in the box – and all the Frenchmen needed to do was make some form of connection to the cross, which he duly did to score what proved to be the winner on the night.

That goal was harsh on Liverpool, the Reds battled hard – Fabio Borini really did work his socks off upfront. The main plus points for me were that Liverpool had a ‘nice shape’ about them defensively. Time and time again Real with their vast array of attacking talent, struggled to really threaten Liverpool’s back line. That was down to Liverpool’s well organised defence, the Reds defended in numbers, and when Real did attack they stuggled at times due to Liverpool’s defence.

Martin Skrtel who was captain for the night did make the occoasional error – but Simon Mignolet the (Liverpool goal keeper) made some magnificent saves, the one from James Rodriguez early on being the pick for me.

So many times this season Dejan Lovren has looked incompetent and error prone – but the performance of Kolo Toure alongside Martin Skrtel for me was good enough to make Brendan Rodgers say that this is his defensive partnership for Saturdays game against Chelsea at least.

Although Liverpool did lose this game, Brendan Rodgers can be very pleased with this performance. Players such as Fabio Borini and Kolo Toure in my opinon have really staked their claims to play in the Saturday lunchtime game against Chelsea.

Liverpool’s problems have been in attack and in defence, the Reds haven’t scored in their last 3 games and are conceeding too many goals. The performance tonight reminded me of the Liverpool performances of last season, their pressing was excellent and Borini was one of the main examples of that – that’s possibly why the Italian got the nod ahead of his countryman Mario Balotelli.

Livepool had no Sterling and Gerrard tonight,who were both missed tonight – but their are good signs after tonights performance, that’s coming from a Manchester United fan!