Best Performers of Week 7 (Rest of Europe)

In a weekend where the two best players in the world struggled and their teams had contrasting results leading to Villareal occupying top spot; Bayern continue to dominate in Germany; Marseille falter at home despite a seemingly good home record; Paulo Sousa’s Fiorentina snatched top spot in Italy after taking down Inter Milan at the San Siro. This is my selection for top performers across the other top four leagues in a 4-3-3 formation:

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Carlos Kameni (Malaga)

Kameni made countless saves to deny Madrid three points in the encounter; to claim the man of the match award with a performance for the ages.

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Marcos Angeleri (Malaga)

Had a very good game in central defense, as he and his 10-man team mates held off Madrid for the entire duration of the game.

 

Eric Bailly (Villarreal):

If any team is able to shut Atletico Madrid out completely with their dynamic attacking core; they deserve all the plaudits they get, Bailly was at the heart of all that was good defensively for the Yellow Submarine.

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Matthias Ginter (Borussia Dortmund)

Set up the first goal for Aubameyang and was an attacking outlet for Dortmund all game long.

David Alaba (Bayern)

Superb in attack and defense.

Bruno (Villarreal)

Bruno was intelligent in possession, calm and effective in his distribution and overall play.

Javier Pastore (PSG)

Super in the midfield, creating two goals, having a say in the third, a performance every top midfielder would be proud of

Hatem BEN ARFA - 08.08.2015 - Nice / Monaco - 1er journee de Ligue 1 Photo : Jean Christophe Magnenet / Icon Sport
Hatem Ben Arfa (Nice)

The French man is rolling back the years; as Nice have been on an impressive scoring spree of Ten goals in two matches; capped his outing with two stunning goals.

Robert Lewandoski (Bayern)

He got a brace as he continued in his superb form after scoring five in mid week; to reach the milestone of 100 goals.

SSC Napoli's Argentine striker Gonzalo H

Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli)

Provided an assist for Insigne and scored the winner against Juventus as Napoli continue their steady climb and recovery up the league table.

Pierre Eric Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund) 

Although, he scored twice, his brace couldn’t give Dortmund victory; nevertheless, he had a great game to set a new record of scoring in the first seven games of the season, taking his tally to Nine goals for the season.

Manager of the Week: Javi Gracia (Malaga)

He deserves all the credit as his team shut out Real Madrid successfully despite their numerical disadvantage.

EPL Week Seven Top Performers

On a weekend where 56 goals were scored;it was quite difficult picking the team of the week; so just so you know your favorite player may just be left out; maybe next time. Another major surprise has to do with the fact that this would be the first time in a couple weeks that Riyad Mahrez and Odion Ighalo would not make the final cut; its getting tougher in the EPL.
So, as Manchester City fell to back to back defeats, Arsenal put in a five star performance; Brendan Rodgers turns down the pressure on himself a little lower at Liverpool and Manchester United go top of the league by a point; these are my top performers from the EPL this weekend in a 3-4-3 formation:
Maarten Stekelenburg (Southampton)
After last week’s painful defeat to Manchester United; the Dutch Goalie was at his very best to ensure three points for the Saints against the Swans.
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Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton)
It is always tough settling into a new league; the Dutch man as gradually settled in and capped his solid defensive display with a goal.
Erik Dier (Tottenham Hotspurs)
Even though he plays in a supposed unfamiliar role in defensive midfield; he has shown the composure and continued desire to push Tottenham forward; was impressive as Spurs took the Citizens to the cleaners, contributing a goal as well.
Scot Dann (Crystal Palace)
In the first London derby between Crystal Palace and Watford in the top flight; Scot Dann was steady and resolute as the Eagles held on to a lone goal to seal all three points.
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Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
The little Spaniard was a live wire all through as the Gunners were fantastic in their 5-2 win at the King Power Stadium against the Foxes.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on September 26, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

*** Picture Credit: Getty Images (Ian Walton)
Juan Mata (Manchester United)
In football today; selfless players are few, Juan Mata is one of such. His numbers at United, be it Goals or Assists, he ranks top among the best. He proved this further with a goal and an assist as United triumphed over Sunderland.
Eric Lamela (Tottenham Hotspurs)
He may have struggled to adjust to life in the EPL, but against Manchester City, he ticked, probed, ran the channels and finished off a quick counter attacking move to seal victory for the Spurs.
Robbie Brady (Norwich City)
Alex Neal opted to push him forward to provide width and add to the team’s creativity; it worked a treat. Brady along with Nathan Redmond were a thorn in the flesh for West Ham all game, scoring a goal to cap a great performance.
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Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
A slow start after his role in Chile’s victorious Copa America campaign; but a Hat trick never hurt nobody. Now the Chilean forward can fell all before him as he aims to replicate last season’s form.
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Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
Even though Leicester fell to their first defeat of the season; Jamie Vardy was a constant thorn in Arsenal’s defenses flesh. Full of running, direct and aggressive; Leicester’s top performer, scoring both Leicester goals.
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Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
Two goals for Brendan Rodgers focal point striker; he has helped relieve the pressure on the manager and Liverpool can look ahead to the next two games in all competitions.
Manager of the week: Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham Hotspurs)
Interestingly, Managers that have defeated Manchester City have made our selection for manager of the week. Mauricio Pochettino follows Slaven Bilic in heaping misery on Manuel Pellegrini.

EPL's Eleven of the Best (Week Six)

If you had handed over the EPL title to Manchester City with only Five matches played; well think again; Slaven Bilic’s West Ham are on a mission to bring the house down when ever they visit any of the top teams. Chelsea have returned to wining ways as Arsenal need to find warriors that battle both physically and with their brains; Manchester United on the other hand showed that there are forty five ways to pass the ball en route to scoring a goal. These are my top performers from the English Premiership from the past weekend in a 4-3-3 formation:

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Adrian (West Ham)

A string of world class saves to bring Manchester City’s 11 game winning streak to an end.

Simon Francis (Bournemouth)

Another solid full back performance as the newly promoted side got their first home win of the season.

Erik Peters (Stoke City)

Even though Stoke lost a two goal lead; Peters was solid, efficient and resilient.

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Winston Reid (West Ham) 

The West Ham defender ended the weekend with the most clearances of any defender in the EPL this past weekend; a big catalyst at ensuring West Ham left the Etihad with Maximum points.

Russell Martin (Norwich City)

Just oversaw the birth of his baby and missed the Captain’s meeting before the game; but was still in the frame of mind to ensure that Norwich ended its miserable losing record against Liverpool at Anfield with a deserved draw.

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Son Heung-Min (Tottenham Hotspurs)

Young, Energetic, full of running with a keen eye for goal; the Korean was a worthy match winner for Spurs; that’s three goals in two games now.

Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)

Is there a week he hasn’t made it on to this list? A goal and an assist in another comeback; enough said.

Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

Fluid, positive, creative; ticked all through in his home debut and capped it with a goal in City’s first losing performance of the season.

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Odion Ighalo (Watford)

Four goals in six matches is not a bad return for a striker in a newly promoted side; capped a solid St. James performance with a brace and earns back to back inclusion in my team of the week.

Graziano Pelle (Southampton)

Two headed goals of real quality to take his tally to six goals in ten matches this season; a lot will depend on him been prolific for Southampton to have a season close to the last one.

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Anthony Martial (Manchester United)

Last week, he made our worthy of mention list; he breaks into the team’s reckoning with a stunning performance capped by a well take brace at St. Mary’s. The Boy has a chance to be something special at Old Trafford.

Manager of Week: Slaven Bilic (West Ham)

Three away matches; three victories and it wasn’t against small teams; it was the big guns of Arsenal, Liverpool and table topping Manchester City; talk about having an immediate effect.

Its another Mourinho v Wenger Weekend

With the Champions League and Europa league returning in mid week; we were treated to a mixture of European Football cultures and as it is customary with the weekend; we return to the bread and butter of the respective domestic league games. This weekend is particularly interesting as two of the currently most successful managers in the English game go head to head and as we have become accustomed to; there is always controversy around the corner; be it a refusal to exchange pleasantries or a shove on the touch; whatever it is we are in for a thrill.

Our preview trip will lead us to France, Italy and Germany as well as England as earlier stated; I expect events in the major leagues to unfold as follows:

Marseille v Lyon

A potentially volatile encounter is expected at the Velodrome in Michel’s first taste of the Olimpico; these two teams were in the hunt for the title last season until their respective challenges fell apart at different times in the course of the season. Michel has had a hot and cold start to life in charge of OM with his two best performances coming at home, so he would be expecting the same reaction and performance from his side.

Hubert Fournier

Hubert Fournier has major injury and form issues affecting his side; Gonalons and Fekir are out; Lacazette cannot seem to find his scoring boots; still goalless this season; to make matters worst he blew a great chance to put his name on the board in the Champions League. Lyon continue to suffer from a lack of creativity especially with the absence of Nabir Fekir; however returning former Marseille player; Mathieu Valbuena may just be the catalyst to drive Lyon forward to get a victory.

Michel Marseille

Under Michel, Marseille have played some excellent attacking football; but defensively they still leave a lot to be desired; this is where Lyon may just hurt them. Form and recent record obviously favours Lyon; but Marseille look quite impeccable at home. Lyon have only lost once in their last twelve matches against Marseille; with a solid away record of one loss in their last six away matches in Ligue 1. These are pointers as to why Lyon can be a clog in the wheel for Michel’s improving Marseille side; although the last meeting between both sides ended goalless.

My Verdict: There will be goals in this one; I expect Marseille to win this.

Napoli v Lazio

Napoli have found it tough going under the management of Maurizio Sarri in Serie A, but looked quite impressive in the Europa League. The adjustments obviously will take time as Sarri aims to give the club some defensive and tactical discipline which were some of the criticisms leveled against Rafa Benitez.

Sarri

Lazio on the other hand have had a much more decent start to the season with six points from a possible nine; the Biancoceleste unfortunately struggled in the Europa League against last season’s finalist Dnipro by conceding a late equalizer.

Napoli continue to possess the home comfort as they have been traditionally strong at the San Paolo and that doesn’t look like changing as Napoli will be buoyed by their comfortable victory in the Europa League to mask their less than impressive start to the Serie A campaign. Napoli have only lost once at home in their last eleven matches.

My Verdict: Napoli to carry over their Europa League form with a victory

Borussia Dortmund v Bayer Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen are a tactically interesting side this season with their 4-2-2-2 formation; which I worry about as it is quite narrow once the full backs are restricted from joining up to make the progression into midfield and then the attack; providing width.

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Thomas Tuchel has transformed this Dortmund side and instilled confidence in the side with some great team spirit and ethic. The team’s pressing style is quite intense and with the Europa League commitments; balancing the squad right and keeping things fresh is paramount for Dortmund to be taken seriously in all quarters as contenders

Borussia Dortmund have won their last six matches in the Bundesliga, dating back to last season; so far Tuchel has Dortmund on a 100% record; this record would be under threat with Leverkusen looking to bounce back from back to back losses.

My Verdict: Dortmund to make it six wins out of six.

Chelsea v Arsenal

How do I start on this one? Simple its getting ugly; both managers love to hate each other and always use any given opportunity to take shorts at each other. Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho are major plots in the English League season, call it what you like bickering, mind games; these guys hostile relationship helps the juice flow via the press and the players.

With only one victory over Jose Mourinho in all competitions; there is no better time for Arsene Wenger to stick it to arch enemy; even though Jose will point out the victory was in a less then competitive game, the Community Shield. The Champions have struggled of late with talk of unrest in their camp emanating from the issues surrounding the back room medical staff; but the win in the Champions League all be it against Maccabi Tel Aviv would have gone a long way in reviving confidence levels at Stamford Bridge.

461779377  Football Hull City v Chelsea

Chelsea under Jose Mourinho are usually strong at home but lately have struggled; Arsene Wenger would aim to get is team rocking to get his first victory at Stamford Bridge against Jose, the Arsenal have won in west London a number of times and they need to grab this with both hands; Chelsea are still quite vulnerable.

I expect Arsene Wenger to be on the ascendancy from the get go; probably go with Walcott and Giroud from the get go as we all know Jose would employ a pragmatic approach; looking to pick Arsenal off on the break with the likes of Hazard, Ramirez and Oscar. Putting pressure on a struggling Chelsea back line that has conceded 12 goals already this season seems the most logical approach; once the Gunners can get comfortable, take the lead and control the game; I believe they can see it out. Arsenal have a good away record with seven wins from their last eight away games in the Premier League and you can see that confidence been away from the Emirates grow.

My Verdict: Arsenal may just have enough to do it, but a draw wont be a surprise.

 

UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE GROUP STAGE PREVIEW

The Europa League returns after Sevilla’s thrilling run to winning back to back titles and as usual you expect the English clubs to complain about the wicked fixture congestion and the long trips; but I must say it is important for the English team to take the competition serious as their big teams continue to struggle in the Champions League. A good run in the Europa League would aid the coefficients of the English Premier League; with that all said, here’s a preview of each of the Groups.

GROUP A– Ajax, Celtic, Fernerbahce, Molde

This is arguably the toughest and biggest group if reputation and prestige in the European competition is anything to go by. It features Ajax and Celtic, two former European champions who probably will be unhappy with having to play in the champions league’s ‘ugly sister’ and will be doing everything possible to progress as much as possible in order to find some solace or compensation.

Fenerbahce is also another club in the group with a rich history and have enjoyed good runs in Europe. The last team, Molde are 2014 Norwegian champions and they will also fancy their chance in a much bigger stage with hopes of being great ambassadors of their league. All of these adds credence to the fact that this might the toughest group of all. Every game counts and a slip might be the undoing of any of the clubs. Be that as it may, Ajax and Celtic are expected to do the needful by securing victories at home and avoiding defeats on the road.

GROUP B– Liverpool, Rubin Kazan, Bordeaux, Sion

Liverpool are, without a doubt, the biggest name in the group but they won’t be having it easy. The Europa league is a difficult competition to play partly because of the quality of oppositions but majorly because of the long travels.

Grouped with Rubin Kazan, Bordeaux and Sion ensures that Liverpool will travel a total of 6,642 miles which can be dodgy given the fact that other duties, prominently the league duty, will call.

In terms of play, none of the teams has been hugely convincing as Brendan Rodgers is yet to find a balance in his team after another summer of huge spending. Similarly, things are not going as planned for Rubin Kazan in Russia as they are enduring a slow start on the heels of a disappointing season where they finished fifth. Bordeaux and Sion relatively look solid but life in Europe has its own complexities and dynamics.

The test for every team will be the long trip to Russia to play Rubin Kazan and whoever picks most points there might just be smiling to the next stage.

GROUP C– Borussia Dortmund, PAOK, Krasnodar, Qabala

The club a lot of other teams will want to avoid right now is definitely Borussia Dortmund given their new found form under Thomas Tuchel and the manner in which they qualified, scoring 22 goals in four games. More so, they are currently sitting on top of the Bundesliga table with four victories from four games.

PAOK, Krasnodar and Qabala who are the other teams in the group may have to give up the first position and focus on escorting Dortmund in second place unless of course something extraordinary happens which isn’t impossible in the round leather game.

Thomas Tuchel should however brace up for the long travels to Greece, Russia and Azerbaijan. These trips only look good for tourists, not football clubs.

GROUP K– Schalke 04, APOEL Nicosia, Sparta Prague, Asteras Tripolis

German club Schalke 04 have what appears to be an easy group on paper given their quality as opposed to the oppositions they have in APOEL, Sparta Prague and Asteras Tripolis.

If they can combine league commitment and the trips well, they should be able to shut the door on defeat both at home and on the road.

GROUP L– Athletic Bilbao, AZ Alkamaar, Augsburg, Partizan Belgrade

Athletic Bilbao will slug it out with AZ Alkamaar, Augsburg and Partizan to secure qualification into the next stage.

The draw seem to have favored the Spanish side but they need to be wary especially when they face German club, Augsburg who are known to bruise the ego of seeming bigger clubs.

Group D– Napoli, Club Brugge, Legia Warsaw, Midtjylland

Group D promises to be a group of unpredictability as the four teams are best at being inconsistent, but Napoli are top seeds for a reason. On the basis of playing personnel, no team comes close. However, the Italians have endured a mix start to the season and will hope to have a better start on the continent. In Gonzalo Higuain, Dries Merteens, Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamsik, Napoli can count on creativity and goals while the return of Pepe Reina gives better hope than last season in the goalkeeping section.

For Club Brugge, the exploits of last season were a welcome sight for Belgian teams in Europe but their loss to Manchester United in the final qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League clearly shows there might be much to be desired this season. Expectedly, Legia Warsaw and Midtjylland are the underdogs in this group but an opening day win for either of these sides could make the fight for a second place finish exciting. Napoli, should finish first.

Group E– Villarreal, Viktoria Plzen, Rapid Vienna, Dinamo Minsk

With all due respect, let’s focus on who finishes second between Plzen and Vienna. Credit to Dinamo Minsk for getting to the group stage but this is where it ends for them. Villarreal should top this group with some comfort.

Few seasons ago, Viktoria Plzen stunned Europe when they defeated Bayern Munich in the champions league. The team from Belarus will be hoping for a Cinderella run this time around in the Europa League but a decent Rapid Vienna side stands in their way. The six pointer between the sides will be the defining factor in who progresses.

Villarreal are clearly favourites and can have a go in this year’s competition. Summer signing, Roberto Soldado is looking like his old self; scoring and making trouble for defenders. No excuse will be tolerated for failure to qualify from this group.

Group F–  Marseille, Braga, Slovan Liberec, Groningen

The sale of key players such as Florient Thauvin, Dmitri Payet, Andre Ayew and Gianni Imbula coupled with the exit of Marcelo Bielsa at Marseille has seen the French side suffer an indifferent start to this season’s Ligue 1 campaign. Not only did they lose so much by selling, the money recouped wasn’t invested into the squad, a major reason why Bielsa left after the opening weekend. Marseille are clearly a troubled side but teams in this group, give them hope.

Braga and Liberec are no super powers while Groningen is a mid table Eredivisie side. However, there’s some measure of quality in the Dutch side.

There are no clear favourites here and it will be interesting to see if Liberec and Groningen can capitalize on this and topple their more illustrious group mates.

Group G– Dnipro, SS Lazio, St. Etienne, Rosenberg

Arguably one of the toughest groups in this season’s Europa League. The first three sides have almost the same chances of progressing to the next stage while Rosenberg stand no chance.

Last season’s finalists, Dnipro have kept a bulk of the side that made it all the way and will more than fancy their chances. Lazio are an interesting side but the season hasn’t started well. The capital side’s defensive frailties, mostly characterized by a seemingly lack of pace were exposed in the 4-0 loss to Chievo on match day two in the Serie A.

These two have been tipped to qualify from the group, but St. Etienne might just upset the apple cart. Having punched above their weight in the French Ligue 1 last season, St. Etienne will look to continue the steady rise by having a good European season. Surely, Group G will be an exciting one!

Group H– Sporting Lisbon, Besiktas, Lokomotiv Moscow, Skenderban

Skenderban’s campaign looks over before it has even started. This is a straight fight between the other three.

Sporting are in the Europa League and not champions league for a reason. Profligacy.

One of Portugal’s finest club sides in history, Sporting will need to improve upfront if they’re to qualify from this difficult group. Besiktas and Lokomotiv are no strangers to the continent and have experience within their ranks. It’s difficult to predict who will finish first or second and neutral fans should just sit back and enjoy these sides who could have been playing on Tuesday and Wednesday nights rather than Thursdays.

Group I– Basel, Fiorentina, Lech Poznan, Belenenses

I was surprised to see Belenenses pick up one of the available European tickets in Portugal last season and are the greenest horns in this group. Their inexperience and the others superior quality might see them remain bottom at the end of proceedings.

Basel and Fiorentina are more experienced at this level and boast better quality when compared to Lech Poznan and that will eventually count. The fight in this group will be for first place. For Fiorentina, the return of Guiseppe Rossi will bolster the attack after the loss of last season’s loanee wonder Mohammed Salah. Basel continue to remain the best team in Switzerland and in recent years have always progressed to the knock out stages. This time around, the team will be aiming higher and if they get their acts right, they are well capable of lasting the distance.

Group J– Tottenham Hotspurs, Anderlecht, AS Monaco, Qarabag

Tottenham have been perennial underachievers in this competition and while Daniel Levy wants to play with the big boys in the champions league, his team have proven to be good enough for only the Europa League.

AS Monaco have once again suffered another summer of selling their star players. Juan Carrasco, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Abdennour and Anthony Martial have all left for bigger clubs and more money. But unlike their French rivals, Marseille, Monaco have reinvested. The duo of Stephan El-Sharaawy and Fabio Contreao have been brought in to add quality and add to the cutting edge they enjoyed last season.

Over there in Belgium, Anderlecht provided one of the best comebacks in European football against Arsenal. Trailing by 3-0, the Belgians rallied back to level things up with about 11 minutes left. Anderlecht are not expected to win the competition but they might just find themselves in the knockout rounds if either Monaco or Tottenham falter.

Four Notable Champions League Talking Points

EUROPE – Its back.

The prestigious and most glamorous club competition on the planet is back and with it returns the excitement of midweek fixtures as well as the best of the best squaring off against each other.

More than any other season, the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League comes at a critical point most especially as regards predicaments of some of the biggest clubs in the world. AC Milan and Inter Milan would not compete in Europe for the first time in nearly 60 years, last seasons finalist Juventus are struggling, Chelsea are struggling and a new look Manchester United make a return to the grandest stage of all.

Here are some of the key factors going into this seasons edition whose final would be held at the historic San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy.

Manuel-Pellegrini-EPA

THE TIME IS NOW FOR THE NOISY NEIGHBOURS.

For the first time in a long time or at least since they debuted in the competition a few seasons ago, Manchester City finally look like this could be their year to go far in Europe. Over the last three seasons they have struggled with the step up in class and big occasion the Champions League seems to provide. Also they have never had the luck of the draws, often facing heavyweights such as Barcelona or Paris St Germain. At key moments their mental strength has come into question and they have failed. This season however they have sprinted out the block with the kind of ferocity associated with the legendary Real Madrid team of the 50s and 60s. They top the Premier League table in England, have scored 11 goals and conceded none. More importantly though they have massively strengthened their squad with record signing Kevin De Bruyne and English star Raheem Sterling. Of the lot Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero would be key. If the supporting cast can play their roles effectively, then this might just be their season. They wouldn’t win the title of course but going far would do the club a world of good and return the English teams to the summit of Europe. They kick off against last seasons finalist Juventus of Italy.

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CAN THE RED HALF OF MANCHESTER MAKE A GRAND RETURN.

Manchester United last season fired David Moyes and brought in Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal for the same reason. The UEFA Champions League. Moyes didn’t finish in the to 4 and was fired, Van Gaal came in and was charged to do exactly that. He accomplished the feat and question quickly turn to the 3 time Champions chances. Louis Van Gaal has said he doesn’t know if they can compete and quite we do not know either. The Dutchman has sold more players than he has bought and this season with Captain Wayne Rooney injured, only teenager Anthony Martial remains as a striking option. Many argue he is a winger and ofcourse Marounne Fellaini has been deployed in that position recently. To win the Champions League you need a deep squad and United just don’t have that. Yes the defence might be better, conceding only three goals all season but with the season still early fatigue has yet to set in. lots of questions would be asked of the team but an easy group draw make it a whole lot easier. In the knouckout rounds, anything can happen. They kick off against Dutch Champions PSV.

461779377  Football Hull City v Chelsea

MOURINHO!! MOURINHO!!

Jose Mourinho finds himself in a position he hasn’t been in his decade plus long career, facing questions regarding his competence. Last season, Chelsea dazzled their way to the League title toping the table for virtually the whole season, scoring beautiful goals along the way. This season is different, fourth bottom having lost three games already this season, concern is at fever pitch. Rows with players and staff have not helped and Mourinho is left digging into the depths of his experience to wiggle his way out of this. No doubt about his pedigree but at times like this key decisions need to be made. Rumours are the players have lost trust in him and that the board soon would. There is no better way to respond than a dominant run in the champions league. Chelsea won the competition in 2013 and would want a repeat feat.

Rafael-Benitez

THE SPANISH DUO.

Spain have five competitors in this seasons group stage. Barcelona and Real Madrid are joint favourites to win the trophy this season. They have won the last two editions between them. Ronaldo and Messi like the past seven seasons would go head to head once again. Juventus prevented an el classico final four months ago but all roads lead to Milan for both sides. New manager for Real, depleted squad for Barca, both teams have obstacles to surmount. Neymar and Gareth Bale both also play huge roles for their teams and their influence cannot be underestimated. Ronaldo is poised to break Raul’s all time goal scoring record for Real and there is the little known story of the quest to be the champions league’s top scorer. He and Messi are neck and neck at the top. The role both their managers would also play is crucial, Rafael Benitez and Luis Enrique. Enrique weathered a storm last season to go on the lift the trophy and Benitez must find a balance between his three superstar forwards in Ronaldo, Bale and James Rodriguez. The weekend victory over Espanyol put to rest many of those fears.

FBL-EUR-C1-BAYERN MUNICH-TRAINING

In conclusion other team vying for the trophy include Bayern Munich, who would look to get over their semi final heartache last season. The likes of Roma, Arsenal, Athletico Madrid, Dortmund and Wolfsburg would also look to play their roles.

It is still early stages in the competition but this is where it all kicks off and come 2016 in Milan, all 32 teams would no doubt want to grace the showpiece finale.

EPL Team of Week 5

Another set of solid performances for us to droll over after this weekend’s set of games in the Premier League. From the Manchester teams unleashing their prodigious talents from their bench to Leicester City’s remarkable comeback from two goals down to the Steven Naismith show against the Champions Chelsea.

This is my best eleven performers from the past weekend in a 3-4-3 formation:

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Jack Butland (Stoke City)

For most of the match at the Emirates; it seemed like it was the entire Arsenal team against the young English Goalie. It could have been a lot more than two goals but for his heroics in goal pulling save after save.

Richie De Laet (Leicester City)

The former Manchester United and Stoke City defender put in a solid performance as the Foxes came back from to goals down in the Midlands derby, he chipped in with a goals as well,

Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspurs)

Justified his new five year contract with a resolute performance as Tottenham got its first win of the season.

Daley Blind (Manchester United)

Much has been said about the defensive problems at Manchester United, but truth be told Daley Blind and Chris Smalling have struck quite a good understanding. Another solid defensive performance against one of the League’s top Strikers; capped with a stunning goal.

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Victor Wanyama (Southampton)

The Kenyan has obviously put his contract issues behind him with his performance at the Hawthorns.

Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)

Stand in Captain and leading by example; the Spaniard has become a catalyst for all that’s good at the Arsenal.

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)

Zaha ran the City defense ragged all afternoon, the youngster is an important component of the Crystal Palace we see today.

Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)

Norwich won the battle of the newly promoted sides and Wes Hoolahan was the star at Carrow Road.

Steven Naismith (Everton)

Fourteen Minutes on the clock, he comes in for Muhammed Besic, altering Everton’s tactical set up; but with his industry and willingness to make timely runs into the box and taking a chance; he scored the perfect hat trick as the Toffees put Chelsea to the sword.

Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)

Currently the League’s best player, to think he was signed for under 500,000 Euros continues to be a mystery. He is proving a bargain for the ages with his consistently impeccable performances.

 

 

ighalo

Odion  Ighalo (Watford)

As another young Nigerian grabbed all the headlines; Odion Ighalo was ensuring that his goal guaranteed Watford, their first win of the season.

Manager of the week:

Roberto Martinez (Everton)

What a way to stick it to Jose Mourinho and Chelsea after their persistent approach to sign and unsettle John Stones; it was a superb and complete performance by his side.

 

Worthy of mention: Anthony Martial for a stunning solo debut goal for Manchester United and Kelechi Ihenancho for snatching victory for Manchester City, when a draw seemed more of a likely outcome against Crystal Palace.

Its all about rivalries this weekend.

I believe my reservation about the international football breaks is out there and well documented, do not get me wrong; I like International Football as it concerns the National teams; but I would only pay attention when its the World Cup, the Euros or the AFCON; for me that’s when the whole concept of international football makes sense. So since I have gotten that out of my system; I am surely looking forward to the action and excitement football promises to offer this weekend. On the cards are rivalries that transcend generations from Moscow to Milan to Manchester and a final stop in Madrid; what a way to welcome club football back to our screens after a week off answering the call to serve God and Country.

Here’s my preview of all the big games to keep up glued to our televisions sets:

CSKA Moscow v Zenit St Petersburg

Zenit have had a less than impressive start to the campaign and have found themselves trailing by as much as six points to their closest rivals. Andreas Villas Boas has just received six match touch line ban as if its not bad enough; they take a trip to Moscow as CSKA have been in imperial form with seven straight wins in the league.

Andre Villas-Boas

CSKA may have struggled in their last match before the International break with FC Kuban running them ragged; but for a late equalizer that ensured their perfect start to the season. AVB needs a performance and he needs a big one here especially with the Champions League distractions around the corner; more so this is the first game with indications of how the Russian season would pan out as a whole as CSKA have to be considered as Zenit’s closest rivals.

My Verdict: CSKA to compound AVB and Zenit’s misery

Inter Milan v AC Milan

Talk about a city derby that for the first time in ages; both teams have underwhelming obligations as against seasons past when bought Milan teams would be running the rue both domestically and on the European stage. Both teams are a number of shades behind Juventus right now and teams like Roma, Lazio and Napoli are now ahead of them in the pecking order. This constitutes a season of rediscovery for both Milan clubs as they have both made considerable investments in the transfer market. Both Managers are seeking to build the team in their respective image, instilling their philosophy on the sleeping giants of Italian football; a return to Europe and a proper title charge is a minimum requirement for both clubs.

Mancini orders

To the game proper; Inter have been the better of both sides as they have started the season on a sound note with back to back victories; whilst AC Milan have one win from two games. This is not to say either of the clubs have put on a good show as it is evident that they are a work in progress; there is no better way to demonstrate the progress that has been made other than putting on a good show in the derby.

sinisa

Inter interestingly have a recent solid record in their home leg of the derby having gone undefeated in ten game of their last eleven home derby fixtures; but AC Milan are undefeated in their last five derby encounters against Inter in all competitions. From a tactical stand point; Mancini’s Inter look the more settled with with their approach which is backed with the signings made leaning towards implementing a 4-3-3 formation. I worry about Milan as for me they continue to suffer from the tactical wishes of the owner as they tend to line up in Silvio’s preferred 4-3-1-2 formation as the search continues for the next big Trequartista which continues to elude manager after manager. You can expect Inter to be full of running especially down the channels with Jovetic, who looks a different player and the introduction of the Croat; Perisic. Controlling the tempo in midfield would be key as AC Milan would have the superior numbers in there, so the Rossoneri would look to control possession.

My Verdict: Inter to win by the odd goal

Atletico Madrid v Barcelona 

I boldly said on a popular Football preview show (Game Time) I am a contributor to that Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid will win the league this season and I was laughed at. This is a team that has addressed all the issues in their squad, replaced departed players accordingly and refreshed adequately. For my prediction to come through; this is the sort of game that Los Colchoneros” need to be winning.

Barcelona on the other hand, look a different team from the treble conquering side of last season; they are considerable weakened, the squad depth is thinner as the transfer ban took its toll on them; worst of all they are having to contend with early season injuries and suspensions; so you would have some players playing in unusual positions.

gerard pique

Barcelona will still be without Gerard Pique do to his suspension and Dani Alves is out injured, Atletico Madrid can capitalize on this as the Catalans would field a make shift back line of  Sergio Roberto,Jordi Alba, Thomas Vermaelen and Javier Mascherano. Can the strike force of Jackson Martinez and Antoine Griezmann exploit the defensive weakness of the Catalans? A lot would depend on how combative and resolute Atletico Madrid’s midfield can be against Barcelona trio of Iniesta, Rakitic and Busquets. Atletico can cause Barcelona a lot of trouble in the wide areas and i have been very pleased with development and performances of Oliver Torres; its about time the young man got his time in the squad.

jackson Martinez

Barcelona currently have the better record in this encounter with four straight wins in encounters against the Madrid side; but you can never ignore their solid home record; where they are undefeated in their last 36 of 38 matches; although Barcelona got a lone goal victory at the Vincente Calderon last season. Both teams have kept back to back clean sheets so far as their defenses have stood firm  and have been impregnable so far this season.

My Verdict: Tough to call, but i expect an Atletico win

Manchester United v Liverpool

Where do I start? Without a shadow of a doubt this is the biggest rivalry in English football and it only falls behind Spain’s El Classico and Argentina’s Super Classico in terms of global ratings and appeal. Two of the most successful clubs in English football history go head to head in what renowned pundit Deji Tinubu has termed the battle of the confused managers. Brendan Rodgers and Louis Van Gaal have armed a number of their critics with material to attack them consistently with their team’s less an impressive and inspiring performances.

gaal rodgers

News broke Friday night that Manchester United Captain; Wayne Rooney is doubtful for the clash, he may not have scored many goals in recent years against the reds of merseyside, but his influence can not be discounted. Liverpool always go into the game with their major creative forces in Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho who have been responsible for the most assist and chances created for the Merseysiders.

You can expect as always a tough, cagey encounter and may be a red card or two; this fixture has accounted for more dismissals in English football than any other clash asides the Merseyside derby. Manchester United would look to control possession, but I suspect United may have an air of predictability if Maroune Fellaini starts upfront in the absence of Wayne Rooney. Liverpool on the other would have hoped to play more on the counter; however the departure of Raheem Sterling has taken a lot of pace from this team and with Christian Benteke in the side; Liverpool may aim to go toe to toe with the Red Devils, this may work has United have struggles against teams that seek to take the initiative thus far this season.

De gea save

If you are looking for a game that would end in a draw, its not this one. Honours have been even only once in the last 23 matches between both sides. United did the double last season over Liverpool which was a response to the Anfield reds doing a double over United in the doldrums of the Moyes era. So in light of their respective defeats before the international break, both teams need this win; United would look the more inspired with David De Gea signing a new long term contract after all the Real Madrid Brouhaha.

My Verdict: Manchester United to make it three wins out of three for LVG in this huge clash

TOBI PETERS TEAM OF THE WEEK [REST OF EUROPE]

Another weekend; a host of surprises and a number of clubs laying down the marker; in France it was PSG dominating and extending their strong hold in the weekend’s big game by breaking their 8 game win less streak at the Stade Louis 11. Rafa Benitez’s Real Madrid got into their groove with a dose of inspiration from a Carlo Ancelotti line up. Carlos Karmeni was an immovable obstacle for Barca to penetrate that it took a perennially injured Thomas Vermaelen to rescue all the three points for the Catalans and of course Germany remains Germany; where Bayern continue to hold forth.
Here’s my team of the week from the rest of Europe in a 4-3-3 formation:
310815-Europe
Carlos Karmeni [Malaga] = GK: He made saves to deny Barcelona several times and was unfortunate to concede via VERMAELEN

Roberto Rosales [Malaga] = RB: He handled Neymar effectively and supported the attack when the need arose

Thomas Vermaelen [BARCELONA] = CB: After a lengthy absence due to injury, Vermaelen performed excellently defensively and crowned his glorious night be netting the winner against Malaga

Raul Albentosa [Malaga] = CB: He came on for Wellington in the first half and had a great game against Barcelona

David Alaba [Bayern Munich]  =LB: He was excellent defensively and supported the attack beautifully

Valter Birsa [Chievo] = CM: A goal and two assist as Chievo destroyed Lazio.

Gabi [Atletico Madrid] = CM: He was a shield and solid rock protecting his defense effectively; capped it with a goal.

James Rodriguez [Real Madrid] = AM: He was on fire on Saturday scoring two beautiful goals and setting up one for Bale: he was at the centre of everything Madrid did offensively

 Gareth Bale [Real Madrid] = LFW: Bale was excellent on the night scoring twice and creating one for Benzema

Thomas Muller [Bayer Munich] = FW: With two goals to his name, Muller has continued to deliver for Bayern this season

Nabir Fekir [Lyon] = RFW: Nabir is stepping up and taking responsibility to be the driving force of this developing Lyon side.

Rolando Maran [Chievo] – Manager: Absolutely solid team performance to get a resounding victory against Lazio.