MY THOUGHTS ON VAN BASTEN’S PROPOSED CHANGES TO FOOTBALL

So news broke sometime last week that Dutch legend and FIFA Technical Director, Marco Van Basten came up with his 8 point plan to revamp the rules of football which he feels will suit the modern era better and keep the game more attacking and intense, this radical proposal which stems from other sports like Basketball and Ice hockey follows swiftly after Fifa President Gianni Infantino’s obsession about expanding the World cup and pushing for a 48 team World cup (one this writer has objections to) which should start from the 2026 tournament got rubber stamped recently by the ruling council.

Now back to Van Basten’s ideas, a lot of bedlam and criticism from all corners have hit the social media since they got revealed, but before we go any further, here is a quick look at some of his suggestions;

• No offsides, he claims the rules are not clear enough and always lead to discussion.
• The introduction of Sin bins and orange cards, this is comparable to getting fouled out after 5 offences
and the player gets 10mins to cool off in the sin bin.
• No extra time, we go straight to penalties.
• Games split into 4 quarters rather than 2 halves, basketball lovers will understand this.
• Change in how penalties are taken, he wants it to be replaced with an 8 seconds run from 25 meters similar to what we have in Ice hockey and once experimented in the MLS.
• Only captains should be allowed to talk to Referees.
• The number of games played in a single season should not exceed 60 games.

“There is so much time wasting in football. We need new rules to do something against it…..” Van Basten

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Reactions

“We would return to the time of village versus village, and at the time, it ended with players being killed…… the offside rule is a manifestation of collective intelligence. There would be no more collective spirit if the offside rule was removed. The rule is fundamental, if you do not understand that, you do not understand football” – Rennes Manager, Christian Gourcuff

“For me the major one is the offside. I can’t imagine what football would look like, but my first reaction is it’s impossible. Everybody would love to have a rest by the goalkeeper and just tap in the ball”. West Ham Manager, Slaven Bilic

“I think the most important in my opinion is not to change the offside, but to get really important decisions in the game right, and for that we need technology, then we can discuss about offside and about penalties. It is important to look to different sports what we need to change but I don’t think we need to change a lot.” Everton Manager Ronald Koeman

“Some of the proposals are worth discussing, some I don’t see any big interest. The one I find interesting is to suppress offside. Offside is what makes the team good together, it is an intelligent rule as well, it is important to keep that in the game”. Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger

My opinion

Whilst one is inclined to agree with some of the Dutch master’s thoughts, you can’t help but forgive those who thinks his plans to overhaul the rules of the game are that of a man who seemingly wants to kill the game that made him famous.

Having no offside rule in football will completely change the way the game is played or prepared for before getting to the pitch, defenders will lose the joy and discipline of keeping the offside line, attackers will lose the challenge and intelligence of breaking the line created to stop them with amazing unseen runs, midfielders will lose that magic or minute of sublimity that we associate with the likes of Andreas Iniesta, Luka Modric, Cesc Fabregas to cave out that killer through pass that will split even the tightest of defense, technically inferior teams will easily leave a man close to the opposing goal keeper whilst putting 9 at the back, hoping to just clear the ball all the way downfield with no rule to guide them. Remove the offside rule and you have successfully removed the soul of the game, it would be a free fall and fans will no longer be on the edge of their seats when the game is played. I agree the rule does have its controversies and should be subject to clarification, but it will only give rise to a sport other that football if it is taken out of the game.

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The 8 seconds run for penalties is a NO-NO, after playing for 90 minutes, these tired legs are expected to do further time just to try beat the goalkeeper? It was tested during the opening stages of the MLS but was binned after it didn’t quite work out well, a kick from the penalty spot remains a fine plan.

My vote is a stay on 2 halves over 4 quarters. The Sin Bin and Orange cards looks too unpredictable.

Not sure many would lose sleep if extra time is removed, even though there are some games where we have enjoyed that extra 30 minutes more and only captains talking to the Referee is one that gets my full vote, protects the match official more and reduces intimidation.

Like all things is life, football is also subject to constant changes, but there is a reason why the sport is easily the most followed and this has to do with the simplicity of its rules, once we complicate this, we may just have another Cricket or Rugby where you see a player kicking a penalty with his leg yet making runs with the ball in his hands.

Football does not need wholesale radical changes.

Manchester City Assessment: A Handicapped Pep Guardiola, An Endangered Iheanacho and more

“Should Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham win today, he’ll be the first manager to ever do the double over Pep Guardiola in a league season.”

Those were some of the words with which the commentators welcomed me as I started to watch the clash at the Etihad Stadium. It was a game of 2nd vs 5th, with both teams looking to get one over the other.

It was a great game of football. There were several goal attempts and it was end-to-end stuff; the football fan’s ultimate dream come true. There were no goals in the first half but the game ended in a 2-2 draw.

In this article, I’ll be looking at some of the talking points from the game.

1. Pep Hasn’t Lost His Mojo Yet… He’s Just Handicapped

I’ll admit it: While comparing the form of both teams going into this game, I just had that ‘pity’ feeling for the Citizens and their gaffer. The 4-0 <a href=”http://www.halftimeng.com/it-was-crazy-out-there-for-pep-at-everton-but-crazy-just-got-started/”>drubbing</a> at Everton still rang a bell and I half-heartedly expected them to be run over by a rampant Tottenham side.

But the first half display of Pep’s men proved me completely wrong! Their performance in the first 45 was one reminiscent of that glorious UEFA Champions League match against Barcelona at the Etihad last year.

The Manchester City players pressed Spurs so hard. They did a lot of running, closed down on their opponents quickly and had a handful of opportunities come their way in the process. Harry Kane’s first touch of the ball in the game came in the 20th minute. That’s how good Guardiola’s men were. But, how did the game end in a 2-2 draw if they played this well?

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While a case can be made for Mother Luck not being on Pep’s side on the day, it was more of not having the ‘right tools’ at his disposal. The tactics he set out to use worked fine. Rose and Walker were busied by Sterling and Sane. Aguero did well with charging at the Tottenham back line, but these names weren’t good enough to carry out the Philosopher’s tacts.

As usual, in a bid to protect his players, Pep came out to say that maybe he was <a href=”http://www.halftimeng.com/manchester-city-pep-guardiola-says-i-might-not-be-good-enough/”>not good enough</a> for his current team. But the opposite is obvious: Those 30-year-olds are gradually sucking life out of Pep Guardiola and the legend that used to be once fearsome.

Their tired legs can’t seem to keep up with  the Spaniard’s style of play and it’s majorly because of them Pep’s merely been hanging on in this league (waiting for the season to end so the exodus can begin, I guess).
<U>2. Jesus! Iheanacho is an Endangered Specie</U>

Pep must have deemed it fit to give his latest Brazilian, a shot towards the end of the game, in a bid to slowly introduce him to the almighty Premier League and Gabriel Jesus did not disappoint, scoring a goal (which was eventually ruled offside) and showing glimpses of greatness.

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Things must have gone according to plan for all but what about Iheanacho? The medical team may have blamed Kelechi Iheanacho’s exclusion from the squad on some sort of mysterious injury. They would have advised that Gabriel Jesus be included in his stead, since he’s fit but what if that wasn’t the real reason Iheanacho was left out?

What if Kelechi was fit enough but was overlooked, <U>just this one time</U>, to see how good Gabriel really is? And now that the Brazilian has shown what stuff he’s made of, what next for Man. City’s golden youngster? A summer move? A loan move? Who knows?

kelechi

What’s certain is this: Gabriel Jesus is a football genius (no exaggeration). He had 10 minutes to show off and he did just that. Putting one and two together, his presence at City is a threat to Iheanacho’s existence. Sounds harsh but, that’s the truth.
<U>3. The Players</U>

None currently knows the City players like Pep and his back-room staff. He probably watches the team train everyday. He knows where who fits in best. That’s why he’s the coach.

As a writer, I can only write about these players as touching their performances on Matchdays. And boy, do I have a lot to write about after the Spurs game.

Bravo
Bravo
would have been a great place to start. But it turns out that everybody knows he was a Brave (Grave) Mistake made by Guardiola. Otamendi is a shining light at the end of Pep’s darkened defense tunnel. Zabaleta should just retire already. Yaya can be transformed into a Viera.


Silva
needs to take a trip to City’s sister team in New York and join them. De Bruyne needs to bring back the good ol’ days. Aguero will help the team a lot if he can reduce his selfishness. Sterling? His work rate is beautiful, but he needs to work on his career as a footballer, rather than as an actor. He also needs to work on his finishing and dribbling skills. Sane has loads of potential up his sleeves. Clichy needs a youngster who he can start grooming to replace him.

Chelsea seem a long way off now but at least, Pep can still push for a Champions League spot. Or better still, forfeit European football for at least a year and concentrate on building a team that can play the Philosopher’s way.

MID WEEK FOOTBALL ROUND-UP

It has been a week where we have seen it all and some more, from Pogba’s newest hair style to maybe celebrate his twitter emoji (that didn’t end well), to Pep’s posture on the bench which has blown into a viral meme, Sevilla finally stopping Madrid and Juventus suffering a rare defeat in the Serie A, it has been a weekend where football came, saw and conquered across the continents. Here is a round-up of the major talking points from the round leather world over the week.
AFCON is here: The African Cup of Nations kicked off in Gabon over the weekend with the hosts playing out a 1-1 draw with Guinea Bissau, the first round of matches which saw just 12 goals scored in 16 games ended on Tuesday and whilst tournament favorites like Algeria and Ivory Coast and the returning Egypt all failed to secure wins in their opening fixtures, Ghana and Senegal have set the tone for others to follow. It has been a tournament where the big boys have turned up with Pierre Aubameyang, Mahrez and Sadio Mane, the top three players in the continent all finding the back of the net in Week 1, but it has also been a tournament that has lacked quality and labored to excite the fans, there have been drab games and the fans have not really turned up at the stadiums due to a bit of political influence. The Afcon last night also witnessed Egyptian Goalkeeper El-Hadary become the oldest player to feature at the Nations cup at 44, one can only hope that this is due to the teams being tentative and not wanting to lose their opening ties and the excitement will kick off properly with the commencement of Week 2 fixtures.

Diego Costa celebrates after scoring his first goal for Chelsea in a friendly v Olimpija Ljubljana.
DieGO?: The Spaniard has been in the news all week following his omission from the Chelsea team that earned a convincing win over Leicester City, whilst the team claims he is injured and he has since been training alone this week, speculations are rife that China calleth and with the amount of numbers mentioned, the big striker is supposedly hearing the voice of the Lord without the help of prophet Eli. It is even claimed that a move is already in place but Chelsea are willing to do business at the end of the season rather than in January.
It looked like all was going well for him at the club, scoring goals for fun and earning the trust of the manager Antonio Conte, hence when the rumors first broke, many chose not to believe but events that have unfolded afterwards shows that the Chinese league may yet be capturing another superstar following the likes of Tevez, Oscar and Mikel Obi. Did you hear the news where Yaya Toure claimed he turned down a big money move to China? Is he on cheap drugs?

Pep at everton
On this Pep being a fraud talk; Now this is a topic that deserves an entire article on its own, but I choose to avoid that temptation as the issue has already been over flogged following his teams’ heavy defeat, his heaviest as a manager in the hands of Everton on Sunday. Contrary to what many believe, I am actually a huge fan of Guardiola and I am of the opinion that he is arguably the best manager in the world, what he achieved at Barcelona and to an extent at Bayern Munich didn’t happen by chance or luck, but I am also of the opinion that where Pep is rightly praised for his weird tactics when it works, his formation adventures and results, he should be rightly criticized when he ‘fails’ or seem to be getting it wrong. Many have slated the Manchester City squad as being too old, with players who cannot carry out Pep’s ideas, blah, blah, forgetting that Pep didn’t get the job whilst the season was on. He had been rumored to be City’s next manager for at least 2 seasons now, he was announced whilst the last season was even still ongoing and every football fan had noticed that when Vincent Kompany’s injury woes began, City had a defensive problem, why didn’t Pep put this on the list of things he needed to fix immediately? Oh, I forgot, just like tackles, he doesn’t defend. Then he made weird signings, Bravo, not because of his actual goalkeeping skills (of which he is quite decent but not exactly that better off than what he had already), but because he can pass the ball from the back, a young John Stones who despite his prospects is still largely un-established got signed also because he was the ‘modern day defender’ who could play the ball out from the back, then he added Nolito and Sane to the team who have struggled with the pace of the league with Ilkay Gundogan who is now injured for the remainder of the season being the only one who has covered himself in any form of glory. Lets imagine for a moment if the 5 signed players who are like half your starting team jelled and with the likes of David Silva, Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho all playing at their best like we had at the start of the season, will this discussion even arise? Pep Guardiola has come under some heavy criticism, rightly and wrongly so but he must understand that when a claim is laid on being the best manager in the world, standards are high and every game counts, clearly he is no fraud but he doesn’t need the best and most expensive legs to get City chasing for the title, even league leaders Chelsea do not have the best squad in the league and I wonder what will be said if somehow this City team despite the amount spent in the window finishes outside the top four this season.

Ifeanyi-ubah
The controversial NPFL: The Nigerian Professional Football League which is put together by the League Management Company (LMC) also kicked off over the weekend with the big opener between Kano Pillars and the Billionaires club, FC Ifeanyi Ubah and barely had the league started when we witnessed our first controversy with Ifeanyi Ubah players abandoning the game under instructions. The LMC have since reacted, fines and bans have been meted out and promises of the incident not happening again, one can only hope that indeed we see less ugly incidents over-shadowing the beautiful football that is actually being exhibited across various grounds in which we saw the likes of MFM, 3SC, Enyimba making early statements whilst Champions Enugu Rangers and new boys with free wi-fi Remo Stars suffering home defeats. The league continues midweek with juicy encounters as Sunshine hosts 3SC in the western derby and FC Ifeanyi Ubah hosting MFM in a repeat of the final game of the last season which saw the Lagos side escape relegation.

Zidane_in_Poznan
Madrid finally gets beaten: it was fun whilst it lasted, 40 games and they looked unstoppable but like every good thing, it had to come to an end someday and Sevilla were worthy of being the ice breakers. After almost ruining it during the 2nd leg Copa Del Rey tie where Madrid managed to claw a draw from the jaws of defeat, Jorge Sampaoli’s men had to do it the hard way this time coming back from a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty to win 2 goals to one with a late Jovetic strike. Sevilla now sit one point behind the Madrid giants but having played a game more and whilst for Zinedine Zidane’s side, this is just a stumble as he will be anxious to shake this off immediately and get the team rolling on another run as they seek to win the La Liga title for the first time in 5 years.

It Was Crazy Out There for Pep at Everton, but Crazy Just Got Started!

The 15th of January 2017 turned out to be one day Pep Guardiola will never forget (or at least, not forget in a hurry). The Spaniard would usually be in charge of the team scoring all the goals on the matchday, hugging a larger chunk of the ball possession and not conceding much (none at all, on the best of days), but last Sunday was a different day at the office.
In a “strange game,” Everton went on rampage, smashed four unreplied goals past Manchester City, and put on a dominant display. Pep’s men were blow away and looked out of sorts for the most part of the game. It was a crazy day for Pep but, looking into the crystal ball, could things get even crazier over time?

pep

Let’s start (that’s you and I), with what went wrong on the day and try to see whether things will get better or worse for the Citizens and their manager.

Pep Guardiola lined up a formation that had all the right players in the right spots, save one: Pablo Zabaleta. In a weird, not-un-Pep-like move, the Philosopher chose to play the Argentine in City’s midfield, alongside Yaya Toure. It was a move that would end up imploding in Pep’s face. Funny enough, Guardiola let this implosion last a long while, before calling time on it and making a substitution. I could go on and on but you probably already know how things ended.

Image result for Yaya and Zabaleta

Both oldies (Yaya and Zabaleta) were well handled by Barry and eventual man of the match, 18-year old Tom Davies, whose youthfulness proved to be a huge difference for Everton in the midfield. Zabaleta’s inclusion in the squad made Man. City look like they were playing with a man short. It was the classic case of the square peg and the round hole; he just didn’t fit in, spending the whole time playing like an Everton player in a Manchester City jersey. Can’t blame him can we? Okay, maybe we can (a little), but, how about the man who chose to play a full-back in the middle of the park?

If it was one of those “Philosophic Experiments” or a move forced by the absence of the usual suspects (the Brazilians), it’s hard to tell. But the obvious was: Pep opted for a full-back in midfield while overlooking a certain midfielder, Fabian Delph, who was on the bench on the day. Delph ain’t no magician and as such, his inclusion wouldn’t have stopped City from getting beat. But then again, Zabaleta’s presence apparently made things worse for Manchester City.

Image result for Fabian Delph

No one will ever know what was going through Guardiola’s mind while he was selecting which soldier to start his battle against Everton with. No one will probably care now (maybe not those soccer aficionados though, those ones who like to talk football for hours on end). City lost 4-0 at the Goodison Park. It was Pep’s heaviest league defeat ever. But, it’s all news now, water under the bridge.

FBL-EUR-C1-BAYERN MUNICH-TRAINING

What’s news now is what the future holds for the Manchester City gaffer. Of course, he’s not at risk of losing his job. It also doesn’t seem like he’ll be leaving anytime soon as the Pep legacy has not been implemented yet.  What’s news now is, how will Pep and his boys cope with their most immediate fixtures which features names like Tottenham Hotspurs and their Manchester cousins, amongst others?

Doubtless, the Everton game was just another league game. Thank goodness, it wasn’t a cup game. The relay race is still on! But,

– Have Manchester City just taken a huge blow psychologically?

– Tottenham is up next. Some key names are still missing from the squad. Will it be another blow out, this time in front of their home fans?

– With a depleted team, is this the perfect time to try something new, seeing as his current players can’t play what he wants?

– Has the pain in the neck (Claudio Bravo) overstayed his welcome (a starting place) seeing as there’s a ”good-enough” replacement in Willy Caballero?

Oh how it’d have been lovely to have those answers quickly. But we can’t. Only time can tell, which is dangerous too as time is running out just as City falls even further from a top four spot.

I agree, it’s been a crazy Premier League season. But things are just about to get crazier for one club, Manchester City.

 

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter <a href=”http://twitter.com/rotdav”>@rotdav</a>

Halftimeng Premier League Muppets of Week 21

Just like in the old days, when Old Westerns were the order of the day on our Television screens; you had the all time Classic; ”The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”; well there’s no way we will have a Premier League weekend or match day where some players won’t drive you crazy to the extent that you feel  sick to your stomach or you almost throw the remote at the TV.

Manchester City are the inaugural Muppet Team of the week with that atrocious performance at Goodison Park; really the least that’s said about the Citizens the better as the showings say it all.

What about Paul Pogba? Well Sunday’s showing has to be one of his worst I have seen him play in a United shirt and I strongly think that the whole Emoji and pitch panel campaign may have had a negative effect on him. P.S. He needs to keep his Hair as it was before this Liverpool game.

Here’s my Muppets selection for Week 21 in a 4-3-3 formation:

 

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Halftimeng Premier League Team of Week 21

Another weekend of Premier League and Manchester is the center of focus and attention again; this is not to take the shine off the four star or three star performances from London based clubs. Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea were immaculate in their matches; scoring plenty of goals to add to their dominance, however we have to save special praise for Merseyside.

In the Super Sunday Headline of Manchester vs  Merseyside; the Reds and the Toffees ensured that bragging rights for the North West remain with them. Can someone please tell Pep that Zabaleta is not in any way related or remotely as good as Philip Lahm? Stop playing a full back in midfield; Please!!!!!!! Save yourself from this madness Pep.

With all said and done; here is my selection for the best performers in the Premier League in a 4-3-3 formation:

 

 

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Manchester United v Liverpool (Five Potential Tactical Talking Points)

Manchester United versus Liverpool is arguably the most intense rivalry in English football. On Sunday, 15th of January 2017, these two teams will battle it out again. Klopp’s side currently sit second on the league table, just five points behind early favourites Chelsea. Jose’s men on the other hand are coming into this game after winning their last nine games in all competitions. As at the time these two met earlier in the season Manchester United were happy to leave with a point, because the team was unsettled, still adapting and lacked confidence. This is no longer the case; Jose’s men are looking very confident and they do a very good job at imposing themselves on games.

carr v neville

Manchester United has started to take full control of matches especially when playing at Old Trafford. It is reasonable to assume that no other team in the premier league controls a game the way United does. Liverpool on the other hand will miss Sadio Mane to a very great extent and his ability to find a way through any defensive setup. Liverpool’s defense has never been convincing, Manchester United’s attack has showed so much potential even when the team struggled to win matches. Jose, the team, and the supporters want to make a real statement. They want to send out a warning to every club out there, every manager out there, and to the entire premier league community that Manchester United is back where it belongs. It will be an intense battle between both sides with my outlook on the match focused on Five potential tactical talking points:

Liverpool’s Pressing Game

Jurgen Klopp has always set up his sides to press opponents all over the pack with great intensity; however we have seen Liverpool withdrawn this approach in some games for a more cautious but fast paced approached that has instead made teams a lot bolder to stick it to Liverpool; case in question was the game away to Bournemouth; where after an impressive and commanding start at the Vitality Stadium; a withdrawn Liverpool were confronted by a dose of their own medicine. Bournemouth pressed with great efficiency and precision that unsettled the entire Liverpool back line to uncharacteristic mistakes. Liverpool’s approach going into the game against United would depend largely on a few high points from the first game at Anfield; where the Reds dominated for large periods but lacked the necessary penetration due to United’s organization and consistent closing down.

Klopp’s Reds struggle against team that stick it to them; once a team is able to dish out the same dose of medicine to the Reds. Liverpool find it hard to break down teams who adopt a similar approach, centered at pressing and ensuring that spaces between the lines are well cut off with a robust midfield approach.

The Midfield 3 v 3

Injuries permitting; Liverpool should line up with Can, Henderson and Wijnaldum in midfield against a United trio of Pogba, Herrera and Carrick; the battle here is integral to the overall outcome of the game. United seem to be the ones who have had greater joy from its midfield three; Carrick providing the screen, Herrera doing the dirty work and Pogba with a free role; the trio are playing with greater comfort and freedom; built great understanding whilst it is has a proper balance of youth and experience.

pogba-scores

Liverpool’s Trio have struggled with injuries and loss of form of late; this has affected Liverpool’s general play. For the first time since February 2016; the Reds have failed  to score in successive matches; very unlike Liverpool. The Creativity in midfield has somewhat been stifled and tentative; a lot will depend on the work of Wijnaldum and his ability to make those late runs into the box. Which ever midfield trio comes out tops wins the game

The Defensive Set Up

In the First game at Anfield; United set up playing very deep with two banks of four; I expect this to change a little, although Liverpool’s defeat to Southampton may give Jose Mourinho ideas to remain cautious and seek to catch Liverpool on the break as the Liverpool back line have struggled against pacey teams of late.

I expect Liverpool to press United up top with a high line expected to squeeze the life out of United’s fluid midfield trio; this reduces the spaces available for them to express themselves and take control of the game; this they will expect to put United’s defense under immense pressure; its a game of very fine margins.

The Carrick Question

Micheal Carrick continues to demonstrate that Old wine gets better with Age; for many his role in the Manchester United Squad would be bit part and not as integral as it is today. The former West Ham trainee has shown maturity in adjusting to changes within the team and adapted to them with grace.

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Since is full inclusion into the Manchester United midfield; the Red Devils have been undefeated, more penetrative and have played some really imaginative football. A number of United fans expected the now departed Morgan Schneiderlin to fill this role; but Carrick’s superior interpretation, screening of the back four and consistent forward thinking has set him apart and made him invaluable.

The rest from first team action in the EFL Cup would have done him a whole world of good; I expect another commanding performance from him on Sunday.

The False 9 vs The Number 9

It goes without saying that Liverpool especially in the big games have been more comfortable deploying a False 9 up front as against having a proper Number 9; this is more or less as a result of the injuries to the strikers on their roaster as well as a supposed lack of confidence in them by Jurgen Klopp. The Reds have used more of a front trio of Firmino, Mane and Coutinho with Lallana able to deputize for any of the front three who has had a bad day.

Zlatan header

Daniel Sturridge and Divork Origi have not covered themselves in much glory leading the line for Liverpool if you compare them with the man leading United’s attack in Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has scored 13 goals in the Premier League and boast of the most shots on goal in the Premier League. You could argue that Liverpool’s game is more based on the overall team collective and not built around one individual; hence you get more squad members chipping in with goals.

 

**Images courtesy getty images, Liverpool echo, goal.com

Redemption vs Opportunity (My NPFL Preview)

Some say it is the fastest growing League in the Africa; another school of thought is of the opinion that very little growth exist in the League. Whatever side of the divide you may belong to; there have been a few oohhs and aaahs; but truth be told our league is growing, yes it not  perfect and would have its elements of controversy here and there; but if Enugu Rangers ending their over 30 year wait for a league title is anything to go by; we may be in for another explosive season.

A number of coaches have made the switch to other clubs in unprecedented numbers; probably the most in recent history and I do think this is where the League title will be won and lost this season. A few of the young upcoming coaches are grabbing opportunities to handle some of the more established clubs; potentially these established clubs have decided to somewhat follow the Rangers model by giving a chance to a ”young and upcoming” Imama Amapakabo;whilst some have gone for more established names; although I see these names as those seeking redemption; looking for a new lease of life with their coaching pedigree taking a bashing.

So there we have it Redemption meets Opportunity; who cracks, who gets fired first, who will go all the way? My outlook is purely based on what each manager offers focusing on the key battlers; the transfer business they have done and chronicling what their title and continental qualification chances are.

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Kadiri Ikhana & Kano Pillars

This is a marriage similar to the union between Jose Mourinho and Chelsea on his second coming to the Premier League ; a marriage of convenience of some sorts. Since Ikhana’s last title with Enyimba two seasons ago; he showed up at Ibadan to take over the sleep giants that 3SC have become; but many observers, myself included felt it was a disaster waiting to happen as the Oluyole Warriors lacked the financial muscle to back Ikhana’s rescue mission.

A return to Kano Pillars provides Ikhana a chance at redeeming his name and legacy within the Nigerian domestic football landscape and potentially returning Kano Pillars to the pinnacle of Nigerian football; been on of the coaches responsible for Kano Pillar’s rejuvenation as title contenders over eight years or so.

Pillars as always have done some really good business in the transfer; but just like last season where they made probably the loudest noise in the market along with Enyimba the season fell flat and I strongly feel this will be the case again this season.

My Verdict: Kano Pillars to finish in top four

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Okey Emordi & Abia Warriors

Abia Warriors collapse last season could be strongly linked with the off and on transfer saga of Chisom Chikara which went on uncontrolled for quite a while before the deal was finalized; You could see the life been sucked out of Kennedy Boboye as he tried to steady the ship. In comes the Old timer; Okey Emordi, a seasoned campaigner with his main claim to fame been at Enyimba; but there’s a conclusion and general consensus the former African Champion may be past his time and the game may have left him behind.

Okey Emordi’s last two coaching jobs at Kano Pillars and COD United left very little to be desired and they both ended in him been kicked out. Now does this suggest that Emordi has lost his touch? Well Abia Warriors provides him a new chance at redemption.

My Verdict: Mid Table finish

Manu Garba & Gombe United

Gombe United won’t be the first newly promoted side to discard the manager that got them promotion to the elite league for a more exposed or experienced campaigner. In Manu Garba; you can be sure of one thing; good, attractive football as displayed by his teams at youth level; leading them to U-17 and U-20 titles globally and on the continent respectively.

Gombe United provides a completely different challenge and proposition; that Manu himself has been credited with certain comments on the quality of the squad at his disposal. However,because of the way the NPFL is structured; Gombe United are likely to survive and maintain their NPFL Status strictly based on their home form.

My Verdict: Relegation battle in store.

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Baba Ganaru & Wikki Tourist

Wikki Tourist for long periods last season stayed in touch with the top of the table especially with a solid home record and  decent away record. Under Abdu Maikaba last season; Wikki Tourist were probably the most tactically astute and composed sides especially away from home. I was quite impressed with the way they handled themselves away from home and of course they had the goals of Godwin Obaje to keep propelling them.

Baba Ganuru takes charge at Wikki after a poor season at Kano Pillars; where a lot was expected of him, especially considering the amount of pace added to the squad; Pillars were just not at the races and could’t regain their title. Ganaru has huge shoes to fill considering the fantastic job done by Maikaba last season; Bature Yaro is a really good signing from Nasarawa United which I expect to have a major impact on Wikki seeking to better last season’s performance.

My Verdict: Just outside the top four

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Abdu Maikaba & Akwa United

After the performance of Wikki Tourist last season; Abdu Maikaba could not hide from all the expected attention coming his way as Big Spending; Akwa United came calling after a disappointing campaign where they had series of managerial upheavals. Akwa United provides Maikaba a great opportunity to carve a niche for himself considering the financial strength of Akwa United.

Ifeanyi Ifeanyi from MFM FC is a good signing, but they will miss Fortune Omoniwari who has moved to Champions, Rangers.

My Verdict: Just outside the Top Four as well

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Gbenga Ogunbote & Enyimba

Gbenga Ogunbote has to be one of the most underrated coaches in the Nigeria domestic game and I was extremely elated at him getting the Enyimba job. As much as the Enyimba job along with the Kano Pillars is the poisoned chalice of the league; it demonstrated Ogunbote’s confidence and desire to get one of the toughest jobs in the land.

At Enyimba, the job description is simple win the league; its that straight forward; if you don’t you get fired; although on some instances a Federation Cup win has been enough to keep a coach on the job, but the priority every season is the league title. Ogunbote has the tools to get the job done and achieve great things at the People’s Elephant; the players are available, quality and quantity of the squad is largely unmatched by any other team in the League.

Gbenga Ogunbote is renowned for the rescue jobs at Sharks and Shooting Stars; his move to Giwa FC ended on the basis of the owners battles with the NFF and of course taking Sunshine Stars to the Semi Final of the CAF Champions League showed his ability and resolve to compete with the best both locally and internationally.

Enyimba’s signings under Ogunbote haven’t inspired many especially how top heavy the People’s Elephant are; the capture of Ismaila Gata and Ibrahim Mustapha from Ifeanyi Uba and El-Kanemi respectively worries me with the number of forwards already on the Enyimba roaster; as well as the loss of Chinedu Udoji to Kano Pillars takes away a huge influence and character from dressing room.

My Verdict: Top Four Finish

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Imama Amapakabo & Enugu Rangers

Champions Rangers go into the new season hoping to retain their title and I really cannot put it past them; with quality signings such as Fortune Omoniwari and Daniel Etor added to an already quality squad; only worry for me is their ability to hold on to their Stars from last season with the January transfer window still open.

Imama has a great opportunity to write himself into Nigerian football folklore by retaining the title and taking a shot at the CAF Champions League. Imama is a very intelligent coach and he knows how to pace his team for the challenges at hand; his attention to certain unusual details sets him apart from other coaches in the league.

My Verdict: Rangers to finish second

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Stanley Eguma & Rivers United

Stanley Eguma is a seasoned campaigner in the league; his is not a case of redemption; it is more of  his ability to seize the opportunity handed him by the support from the State Government and also his ability to build on last season’s narrow title loss to Rangers.

Generally speaking, Rivers United have done some of the best business in this off season and had probably the best pre season preparations; their financial resources and might pits them as clear favorites this year. The Port Harcourt based should focus squarely on the league this season and avoid the distraction participating on the continent.

This is Eguma’s chance to set himself apart from other coaches that have handled other Rivers State based team and emulate Dolphin’s title winning sides of 2004 and 2011.

My Verdict: Rivers United to be crowned champions

Relegation Candidates:

MFM FC: Struggled with their general form in the second half the season; lost a major component of their midfield, should go down.

ABS FC: Didn’t make any moves to inspires confidence

Katsina United: Same as ABS FC

Plateau United: Unless Kennedy Boboye finds a solution to his teams second stanza slumber; they will go down.

 

***Photos Courtesy: Sports.naij.com; dailytrust.com; goal.com and pulse.ng

RB LEIPZIG AND THE MAN BEHIND THE MAGIC

It is no longer  news that RB Leipzig  sit comfortably  in second position  on the  German Bundesliga table  with  36 points  from 16 games and 3 points  behind league leaders, Bayern Munich. This  newly promoted club  with  relatively unknown  players  such as Tino Werner (their top scorer with 9 goals), Baby Keita, Emil  Forsberg, just  to mention a few, have  blown  us away  with  their  superlative performances but very  little is known  among  football  fans  about the man behind  the  orchestra, Ralph Hasenhuttl.

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Ralph Hasenhuttl began  his managerial  career  at SpVgg Unterhaching,where  he started out as a youth  coach, before  becoming  an assistant manager and  manager in which  he finished  with Unterhaching in sixth and fourth place respectively in Liga 3. In 2011,Hasenhuttl moved to third division side,VFR Aalen;saving  them from  relegation  and earning them promotion  to the Bundesliga 2 via a second  place finish the  following season.

From  there, he moved  to FC Ingolstadt 04 where  he took  them from the  bottom  of Bundesliga 2 to  a tenth place finish.The next  season, he led Ingolstadt to  the  Bundesliga via winning the  Bundesliga 2. In  his first  season in the Bundesliga, he led Ingolstadt  to an eleventh place finish before choosing not  to extend his  contract. Now at Leipzig, Hasenhuttl has become  an amazing  magician putting together a wonderful  team.

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Hasenhuttl has taken  the Bundesliga  by the storm through  his style  of play which  involves a lot of high pressing, intensity and patience in attack  and  defense. For example, Leipzig go into every game with one notion, “make  life miserable for the  opponents”. This they do by pressing the  opposing  center backs with their forward players,who have  no other choice than to turn the ball over to their full backs;the suffocation shifts to  their positions with Leipzig’s full backs eliminating the opposition forwards from  receiving the ball.Therefore, the opposition defense line have no option  than to put the  ball into  row Z; hence, Hasenhuttl uses the  magic rectangle (4-2-2-2 formation) to devastating effect.

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Hasenhuttl shares a lot of similarities  with  Jurgen Klopp not only in football  philosophy  but in persona as well; his ability to motivate  players is visible  from the touch line. One of the  greatest  attributes of Hasenhuttl is his ambition; as proven  by his managerial track record  and it is no  surprise that there  are strong reports(which he  confirmed )linking  him to Arsenal. He always dreams of bigger things as evidenced in his  public declaration of wanting to  play in the  UEFA  Champions  League  and his dream will be  fulfilled  at the end of the season either by Leipzig or Arsenal (should  Wenger  refuse to renew his contract ).
In conclusion, only  the future will determine if we have  seen the  rise of the god among  managers, a man of men (in terms of managers) or  just  a decent manager.