UCL Knockout Round 2nd Leg Day 1: Lessons Learnt.

The more you watch the beautiful game; the more you are thrilled with the actions, occurrences and activities. Football is an ever unfolding sport; has its highs and lows; never stands still, records are created and broken; feats are achieved and the unthinkable happens. They say Lightening never strikes at the spot twice; but the beautiful sport of football always finds a way to disprove all forms of logic; whether the philosophers like it or not.

The last two nights have just been explosive in the absence of a better word or adjective; teams have arrived from a first leg deficit that seemed insurmountable; another set knew all was lost and just needed to show up to ensure the formalities are duly concluded and finally two hung in the balance with a potential for banana peels; here are the lessons learnt from Tuesday and Wednesday’s action in the most prestigious Club  competition on planet Earth.

Arsenal are well; still Arsenal

Lets first make a comparison of Arsenal and Bayern Munich’s Line up; will any Arsenal player make it into Bavarian’s starting eleven? Maybe only Sanchez and Koscielny can squeeze themselves into that eleven; if you flip the script; almost all of Bayern’s eleven would start in the Arsenal team bar; Rafinha who started for the absent Phillip Lahm. So the first thing we need to consider is that Arsenal are just not good enough to play at this level and it is critical that something has to change for such a big and well supported team to be taken seriously either domestically and on continent.

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The two games clearly illustrate how pivotal Laurent Koscielny is to the Arsenal set up; in the first leg he limped off injured with the game at 1-1; next thing you knew Arsenal collapsed. Fast forward to the second leg at the Emirates; same thing happened; the French defender gets sent off and immediately it was curtains for the Gunners. How does such a big club implode just at the absence of one player? Does this happen to other top clubs? I make bold to say no; Arsenal were piss poor in both legs and it was very painful to watch even for neutrals.

Winning whilst playing badly

Some three odd weeks ago; a team from Naples visited the Champions League trophy Capital with a view of dismantling the established order. Maurizio Sarri’s team have built a reputation of been potentially the best attacking side in Europe at the moment and it didn’t take long for Napoli to justify this notion with a quick, early goal to stun the Bernabeu into silence; but as we all know Real Madrid are a different animal these days. Unlike in times past; this Madrid team under Zidane have found a way to winning matches without playing well. They buckled down to find three goals to hand them a two goal margin to take to the second leg at the San Paolo; all these done without Cristano Ronaldo on the score sheet.

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In the second leg; more like the same script as it ended with the same scoreline; Real went behind to an in form Dries Mertens goal and it all seemed Sarri was on the verge of doing the unthinkable, knock out the most successful team in the competition’s history. 1-0 at the break; game there for the taking; both teams hit the post in the first half; but Napoli were the better side with more chances created and missed; two set pieces later in the second half and it was curtains; the shoulders dropped instantly; the San Paolo stunned to silence. Real Madrid hadn’t played well; Napoli made life difficult for them on the ball; but Zidane’s side found a way; took the few chances created as Morata wrapped things up with a neat finish; its back to the drawing board for Sarri and Napoli; they have the ingredients of a team that can win things; Diawara looks a shrewd acquisition, add a combative midfielder and a much more mobile Center back to compliment Koulibaly; they could be on their way.

 If at first you don’t succeed; try, try and try again

Pierre Eric Aubameyang missed a tone of chances to last three games in the first leg away to Benfica at the Estadio da Luz; it was quite horrible to watch as he missed chance after chance after chance; so bad that he even missed a penalty. The question you would ask is what else did Dortmund have to do to get an away goal after such a dominant performance. As they always say it only takes one chance to make the difference; Benfica did exactly that to take a one goal lead to Signal Iduna Park; a slim advantage, it was all they had that they could build on to potentially cause an upset in Germany.

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This time around it was an Aubameyang whose goal scoring instincts were spot on; finishing with a hat-trick to prove doubters wrong. It was a solid and commanding performance from the home side as they went on rampage; playing an interesting 5-3-2 formation with Durm and Schmelzer  providing the width and Pulisic playing up top along side Aubameyang.

Impossible is Nothing

I believe this is an Adidas slogan; but a Nike kitted team just pulled a full grown rabbit out of a hat in unbelievable fashion. In Paris on Valentine’s day; Barcelona seemed dead and buried, but it took International Women’s day for the Catalan’s to stage a rebirth of epic proportions. It was not a vintage, clinical, electric Barcelona performance as the Parisians made it difficult for that to happen; but it was a performance that demonstrated Luis Enrique’s full imprint on this team and how well he has varied the way this team plays; this I always give him credit for; Barcelona are so direct; its unbelievable.

There wasn’t any goal that had genius written all over it; bar probably the Neymar free kick. This were goals you would probably see on a wet windy night at Stoke’s Bet 365 stadium. Enrique showed that he learnt certain lessons from the first leg; going with a back three was the first sign to enable Barcelona pass through PSG’s rather effective press from the first leg. I felt it was a little strange having Messi in the Hole considering how torrid a time he had every time he touched  the ball. Playing him in the hole enabled  Barcelona to have to advanced, wide midfield outlets to pass the ball to in Rafinha and Neymar as they sort to nullify the high pressing PSG style.  PSG pressed with three players all through; so Andre Ter Stegen provided himself as an alternative with Neymar and Rafinha dropping into Center Circle by-line to receive the ball as the Catalans sort to build from the back.

Now what was strange to me was PSG’s reluctance to stay true to the ethos of what was extremely successful in the first leg and that was use of the ball; every time they used the ball well and played in intricate, patient triangles they created chances; however, for most of the game they were very sloppy with the ball; Veratti and Rabiot would have to hold their hands up here to take responsibility. The non inclusion of Di Maria was a huge surprise, it however seemed part of the game plan as he came on to good effect for PSG to score and he troubled Barcelona every time he had the ball. Game management was poor from PSG; they conceded three goals in the last six minutes of the match; Barcelona had no right to get back into the game the moment the Parisians scored that priceless away goal.

Unai Emery must be kicking himself; he will have nightmares of this game for weeks; it is instances like this that show he still has a bit to go in been considered a top notch manager. All his substitutions looked well thought out; Aurier coming on was to ensure they double teamed Neymar as his influence grew in the game; Krychowiak’s was meaningless as his height and presence didn’t stop them conceding from a ball into the box; Poor, Poor PSG.

Luis Enrique has done a fine job with this Barcelona side in his three years in charge; yes his transfer business generally has not been stellar, you cannot take away his input and imprint on this Barcelona side and it is ludicrous to say he doesn’t affect nor effect anything in this team.

Halftimeng Premier League Muppets of Week 27

Huerolho Gomes has always been a goalie prone to errors and this has greatly affected his career wherever he has played; on Saturday it happened again costing his side Watford in their Seven goal thriller against Southampton at Vicarage Road.

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Gomes is not alone in this past weekend’s mistakes Bureau; so he won’t be alone for company in my selection this week. However, the biggest Muppet prize is reserved for none other than Alexis Sanchez. I believe strongly that there’s no smoke without fire; Sanchez been confined to the bench in one of the biggest games of the season for his club speaks volumes of how things are going on behind the scenes. Whatever; it may be; it looks very likely that the relationship between Player, Coach and Club is headed in the direction of disengagement with no truce in sight, forget what Arsene Wenger says.

Here’s my selection for Muppets of the week in a 3-5-2 formation:

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Halftimeng Premier League Team of Week 27

Its that time on a Tuesday Morning where we get to release or top performers for the past weekend. As you may also know we have another selection that picks the bad performances over the same period as well. Interestingly; we have had a number of instances where a player makes the Muppets of the week selection in one week; by the next he puts up a brilliant performance to make our Top players selection; is it safe to say Premier League players are paying attention?

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What is it with visiting Goalkeepers and Old Trafford; United have drawn seven of fourteen games played at the Theatre of Dreams with the visiting goalie been at the center of all the heroics put up by the visiting teams. Arthur Boruc and Martin Olsson make the elevation from Muppets last week to top performers this week.

Who would have thought that West Bromwich Albion would lose at home to Crystal Palace; considering how strong the Baggies are at home; is this a sign that ”Big Sam” is turning things around at Crystal Palace.

What can we say about Harry Kane; prolific, dangerous, lethal and at the top of his game; many had thought Spurs would suffer for their over-dependence on him; he has however managed things quite well and tops the Goal scorers chat.

Here’s my Premier League Team of Week 27 in a 3-4-3 formation:

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** Pictures courtesy : Przegląd Sportowy

Halftimeng LA LIGA TEAM OF WEEK 26

After 26 rounds of games, Barcelona are on top of the pile with 60 points – a point ahead of rivals Real Madrid who have a game in hand. Soceidad, pushing really hard for a spot in Europe did a fine job beating Real Betis at the Villamarin 3 – 2 moving them  just a point off the Champions League spot

The Belly of the La Liga table looks the most surprising – Paper Tiger, Valencia, like a dying duck are 13th on the log with a meagre 29 points while newcomers Alaves are 2 points off the top 10.

Bottom three of Granada, Gijon and Osasuna all lost to Leganes, Deportivo and Las Palmas respectively.

Here’s my Team of the week selection from La Liga in a  4-2-4 formation:

Goalkeeper

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Gorka Iraizoz  – Atletico Bilbao

Am particularly relieved to see him get monkeys of his back and put in a workmanlike performance against Malaga after he has been largely dismal in the past three weeks notably against APOEL Nicosia in the Europa League. Even at the twilight age of 35, Iraizoz still had the acrobatics of a teenager keeping Charles and Ignacio Camacho strikes out with very cogent saves.

Defenders

Diego Rico –  Leganes

Looked ridiculous when Leganes spent €1 million to get a left back from CD Burgos back in August 2016 but it’s clearly looking like a comme il faut buy. Still only 24, Leganes got themselves a defender who clearly might not be as talented as Marcelo or Felipe Luis but this boy is a hard worker.

His positional play against Granada was impeccable, combining well with Szymanowski along the byline. Manage to get 7 crosses into the opposition’s box – highest by any defender in the La Liga last weekend.

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Samuel Umtiti – Barcelona

Cameroonian-Born French Defender has received some stick recently which I think is unjust. He’s just been made a patsy to save face for senior players like Piqué.

His performance against Celta Vigo was what he needed, and it will improve his confidence greatly. Marshalled things well, never went extravagant, did the simple things effectively. Iago Aspas will want to forget playing against him.

Given his only 23, with over 150 games under his belt in France before moving to Spain, I think he’s got it.

Alejandro Arribas – Deportivo La Coruna

Not the quickest but he’s ability and knowledge of reading the game and snuffing out danger is tremendous.

Left Sevilla two seasons back after a lack of game time where he won the Europa League. He has been a stalwart for Deportivo and he proved that against Gijon keeping Carmona quiet for largely most part of the game.

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Šime Vrsaljko – Atlético Madrid

Atletico Coach Diego Simeone opting for speed and vigor rather than Juanfran’s know-how and experience against Valencia. It paid off and handsomely too.

With both right backs having 34 appearances between them this season (17 a piece) it difficult to ascertain which he prefers but Vrsaljko has made a statement of intent with his solid performances that he’s ready to keep Juanfran on the bench. His telepathy with Saul Niguez was magnifical.

Midfield

Gabi – Atlético Madrid

Another classy performance from the Skipper after only last week saved Fernando Torres from the grasp of death.

Am I the only one who still does not understand why he never played for the Spanish Senior Team. Not one cap? Really? His level of persistence and enthusiasm at 33 is extremely good.

His tactful approach to his gameplay and helping younger wards like Koke flourish makes him a maverick.

Casemiro – Real Madrid

For me  the best thing that ever happened to the defensive midfield position of Los Merengues since Makelele left. Not saying he’s better – don’t get it in the wrong box.

Since he became a regular last season, he has given Real Madrid a good stead of solidity and stability. Against Eibar, he played with a body language that says ‘Modrić and Kroos, go do the the damage while I stop any attack coming through’. He did not disappoint.

Forward

Antoine Griezmann – Atlético Madrid

Good Speed, Intelligent runner, Bodacious awareness, it is very difficult to pin a lassitude to the Frenchman’s game not when only recently has formed a delicious partnership with countryman Kevin Gameiro.

Should have easily had a hat trick but eventually got a brace from well threaded passes from Koke and Thomas Partey. Winning the La Liga looks a tall order but they look to have their Champions League spot back on track.

Lionel Messi – Barcelona

Against PSG, 3 weeks ago, he looked disinterested, unperturbed and nugatory. Since that Black Valentine Day in Paris, Messi has scored 6 goals in 4 games including a brace in the 5 – 0 win at the Nou Camp on Saturday

One quirky move and you are left for dead – Celta Vigo defenders will tell you that for free. I always say there is no tactics to keeping him quiet when he’s in full throttle.

Now there is a palpable atmosphere in Catalonia that they can cancel a 4 goal deficit and qualify against PSG to defy odds.

Karim Benzema – Real Madrid

He has struggled for form and injuries has also had a fair share. Just 7 League goals this season is poor in relation to his prolific standards but getting a brace against Eibar will surely pump up his confidence.

Madrid needs all the fire power they need to push for the League title and Champions League.

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Jese Rodriguez – Las Palmas

Las Palmas smacking 5 past Osasuna was always going to happen but Jese Rodriguez scoring a brace was slightly surprising plus he had a superb game. Graduated from the Madrid Youth ranks with huge prospects but things haven’t really worked out for him even when he moved to PSG only to be loaned out to the Canary Islands club. I really hope this helps kick start his career.

**Pictures coutesy UEFA.com; mundodepotivo.com; pulse.ng; getty images and dailymail.co.uk

PREMIER LEAGUE: FIVE BIG GAMES + WHAT TO EXPECT THIS WEEKEND

The Premier League continues this weekend and we are in those critical moments with little margin for errors and places are been decided on the table, whilst Chelsea seem to be running away with the title, the battle for Champions league positions is fierce as only 5 points separate the 2nd placed Tottenham Hotspurs from 6th place Manchester United who have a game in hand, at the bottom, nothing is assured yet as a win for bottom placed Sunderland can see them move out of the relegation zone, this is the business end of the league and the action promises to come at a premium especially with the mouth watering clash between Liverpool and Arsenal, here is a preview of the weekend games;

1. It is Liverpool VS Arsenal

Following Monday nights’ defeat to struggling Leicester City, Jurgen Klopp has it all to do if his team is to stand any chance of a top four finish this season. Liverpool are 5th on the log, a point above Manchester United who have a game in hand and depending on results hours earlier, they could find themselves in 6th position by the time the game kick off. Arsenal are the visitors to Anfield, another team trying to salvage whatever is left of its season, the gunners are as good as out of the Champions league and manager Arsene Wenger is under pressure to deliver yet again what is seen as success in the eyes of the board, a top 4 finish. Liverpool are a side who like to press high and are exciting going forward, the gunners on their day have also shown to be one of the finest sides to watch attacking wise but where both sides have suffered all season is deficiencies at the back, they can’t defend to save their lives and whilst this is good for neutrals as it promises goals, it is suicide for fans of both sides. Liverpool is largely inconsistent but has always found a way to rattle the top teams including winning at the Emirates in the first leg of this tie; they will however be without influential captain Jordan Henderson who is out injured, while Arsenal will have the services of Captain Laurent Koscielny after the injury scare at Bayern.
Prediction: Score Draw

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2. Manchester United to finally take their chance?

For Manchester United, this is another golden chance to put pressure on the top four sides or even break into the top four temporarily and manager Jose Mourinho will be hoping the gods of luck do not ‘conspire’ against him this time and Bournemouth Goalkeeper Arthur Boruc does not turn to Superman like witnessed in the past. The mood in the Red devils camp is high following the EFL Cup win, Jose Mourinho’s first piece of silverware at the club, players are back from injury with Mhkitaryan, Luke Shaw and Phil Jones all in training during the week, Zlatan looking unstoppable, United are in splendid form going into this and against arguably the worst side in the league since the start of the year, Bournemouth who haven’t secured a win thus far in 2017, anything short of three points in this game will be a disaster for the home side.
Prediction: Manchester United 3 Bournemouth 1

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3. Are we witnessing the Leicester City of old?

Following the sack of title winning manager Claudio Ranieri just before their game against Liverpool, many were expecting a thumping as the team had looked lackluster for majority of the season, however that was not to be as caretaker manger Craig Shakespeare oversaw a big win over the Anfield giants. The performance was reminiscence of the Leicester City of old, long balls to Jamie Vardy who ran all night like a player reborn and was rewarded with two good goals and a Danny Drinkwater belter capping up a fine win for the outgoing Champions. The question however is, was the performance a fluke? Was Liverpool that bad on the night especially as they played the high line with a slow Lucas at the back or has things taken a new turn for the foxes. Saturday afternoon will go a long way in answering those questions as Marco Silva’s Hull City come visiting. Hull have shown signs of improvement under their new manager though a draw in their last home tie didn’t exactly go down well with him, this is almost like a relegation 6 pointer and if Hull wins, they go on same points with Leicester but if the foxes get maximum points, they can at least heave a sigh of relief from being dragged into the relegation battle and creating an unwelcome record of getting relegated the season after winning the big trophy.
Prediction: Leicester City 2 Hull City 1

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4. Super ‘Mini’ Sunday at White Hart Lane

Harry Kane is the man on fire, 17 league goals, 3 hat-tricks in his last 9 games shows a player high on confidence, he is the man to lead Tottenham’s continued pursuit of league leaders Chelsea alongside the likes of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. Spurs have shown varying colors all through the season but have maintained a certain level of consistency thus far in the league, only two wins in their last 5 games but they may welcome the return of key defender Toby Alderweireld to their starting line-up.
For Everton, they are one of the inform teams in the league, unbeaten in their last 9 games and also have star striker Romelu Lukaku jointly tied on the goal-scorer chart with his Spurs counterpart, they are now just five points off Liverpool and gunning for an European place. This promises to be one interesting game especially with the midfield battle of Wanyama and Dembele up against Gueye and Schneiderlein.
Prediction: Spurs slim win

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5. Monday Night special in London

It is the battle of the London teams. Chelsea were imperious weeks back but have shown a few blips in recent games with two draws in-between their last 3 wins, at this point in the season, Conte’s men only need to maintain the pace they have set, winning even on grounds many expected them to struggle irrespective of the beauty of their play. For Slaven Bilic’s side, this is their best run in the league this season, sitting in 9th position and one defeat from their last six games. It is a game that could always lead to an upset but I won’t be too surprised if Chelsea leaves the new London stadium with maximum points.
Prediction: Draw

Other fixtures:

Stoke VS Middlesbrough: Stoke to win

Swansea VS Burnley: The Swans have been good at home, they should nick this

Watford VS Southampton: The Saints despite the talent in the squad and running Manchester United ragged in the EFL Cup have been frustrating in the league, but with Gabbiadini in form, they should get something from this.

West Brom VS Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis’s team is one of the best set up squad in the league, Palace are stuck in the relegation zone despite picking their first win in three games. West Brom to win.

Sunderland VS Manchester City: Aguero has found his scoring boot, Sterling is in fine form, only one winner definitely come Sunday evening.

Who takes the Catalan Hot-seat?

Surprised? No I wasn’t; I saw it coming just like i saw it in Pep’s eyes prior to his sabatical. The criticisms after the PSG game were immense; enough to make a grown man cry; but like they say this is Football, anything can happen (I can’t believe I just quoted on particular DJ like that). In reality; football and its fans can be quite ruthless especially as the saying goes ” you are only as good as your last game”; for a man that won a treble and double in this first two seasons; I think it was a little extreme to criticize him as he was. Well the search for a new manager begins now at the Nou Camp and we at Halftimeng.com are always willing to help; here are 5 Possible Replacements for Luis Enrique as the search for a new manager next Summer begins.

Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino

Although, the Spurs manager has made the it clear severally that he’s got no intentions whatsoever of leaving London – he has been very good taking them from a mediocre side to one who competed for the Premier League last season. His intensive howbeit onerous type of play would be highly welcomed at the Camp Nou. Pochettino’s lack of silverware as a manager won’t be a cause of worry too. Barcelona have made many a managers trophy winners in time past.

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman

Ronald Koeman

The Dutchman has had a decent managerial career since his first stint with Vitesse in 2000. His reputation has been enhanced since his move to the the Premier League, helping Southampton push above their weight; now at Everton. Been an Ex Barcelona player, Dutch and knowing the inner workings of the Nou Camp could be a massive influence or a penchant reasoning to hand him the job.

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Jorge Sampaoli

This fearless charismatic tattooed to bucking Bronco of a manager looks to fit the bill so far in his first managerial job in Europe with Sevilla having previously coached in South America ranging from Sporting Cristal in Peru to Emelec in Ecuador and Notably Chilean National Team where he won the Copa America. Sometimes, homespun, his high pressing tactics which got him compared to Marcelo Bielsa could see him grab the job at Barcelona. Snapping him off the hands of Sevilla, will be Barcelona’s biggest coup.

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Unai Emery

Might sound like a long shot (Currently with PSG on a two-year deal) but it is also nowhere near impossible if the price is right and having a chance to manage an elite team like Barcelona. Unai Emery, a very detailed and diligent gaffer. Having had experience in oodles coaching Los Che and Sevilla in the La Liga ultimately winning a treble of Europa League trophies with the later,he’s a winner and Barca need a winner.

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Arsene Wenger

Another long shot but again, in Modern Football, anything can happen.
Monsieur looks to be under fire like never before this season and for once his position as the manager of Arsenal looks very crotchety. Barcelona could be a sort of leeway for the under-performing Frenchman, has a chance again to win trophies at the highest level and also get the best players because Barcelona won’t allow him Penny-pinch; his bread is buttered on both sides. Can the Professor be motivated for such a Big Challenge?

Rohr; Where are our Stars?

The development or growth of any National team(s); cannot be fully achieved or actualized without the enlistment or involvement of all and sundry. So I was greeted with a huge shock when I received as it has become customary a Press release from the Media Director of the NFF; Mr. Demola Olajire; the list of invitees to the Super Eagles for the forthcoming friendlies against Senegal and Burkina Faso in London and it had only one NPFL player in the entire list.

Now my problem with that is that it is fast becoming a pattern to invite only Ikechukwu Ezenwa to the National Camp under the guise of inviting an NPFL player. Ezenwa is not even the best Goalie in the League as we speak; he won’t even sit on the bench on match days; serves as training material, coupled with the fact that he even needs to put an object in goal to face/save penalties as the case may be. Where are the stars of our League?

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The Nigerian Professional Football League is enjoying so much goodwill today from every corner of the globe; fans are gradually returning to the stadium; Social Media is playing a huge role in not only pushing the agenda locally, but internationally. Are there any match days; the NPFLLive hashtag doesn’t trend on Twitter. The world has started taking notice that we are building something special; just look at the level of response Sikiru Olatubosun’s strike last Friday at the Agege Stadium has gotten the World over; it was on Fox Soccer, L’Equipe and nominated for Goal of the Week on CNN alongside goals for renowned international stars like Radja Nainggolan and as at the last time I checked had gotten 85% of the votes. Who are we deceiving here? How can we release a list for two friendlies in London for March and we do not have at least 5 NPFL players on the list; It is impossible.

The NFF, Its Technical committee and the Gernot Rohr should cut the cow dung and be real with us; if you do not require or will not use the NPFL players leave them out completely; focus on your so called foreign based players who either are sited on the bench or in the crowd; but when time comes for the CHAN tournament; just write to CAF to pull out because there is no point at all to consider them for that if they can not make the main Super Eagles Team.

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For the full national team to be successful it has to embrace the products of the Local league; past happenings have shown this clearly. Lets go back a little into history; our triumphs on the international stage have been when we have ensured we have a good mix of local and foreign based players. South Africa 2013; Late Stephen Keshi took the likes of Sunday Mba, Chigozie Agbim, Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe etc with at least two making the starting line up; en route to that same tournament; Keshi had a center back pairing of Oboabona and Egwuekwe which got us qualification. When Westerhof took over in 1989; he saw the potential in having a mix of home based and foreign players; that period from 1989 to 1994 remains our most successful period as a national team and in the production of individual players.

Lets move away from the past and look at the present; a careful review of the statistics proves that some of  the invitees could have been left out to develop their game at club level considering someone like Issac Success had just returned from injury and had also dropped lower in the pecking order at Watford. Success has scored one goal in his twelve appearances for  Watford; Moses Simon, Three in Twenty-Two appearances for  Gent so far this season; Has Victor Osimhen even made a start for the main Wolfsburg Team? Who is Noah Joel Bazee? Well he plays for Hannover ’96 and has scored a goal in his ten appearances playing as an Attacking midfielder.

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Now; Gernot Rohr saw some NPFL games over the last few weeks; I believe members of the Technical Committee watch these games weekly or Bi-Weekly; can they comfortably tell me that Stephen Odey of MFM FC cannot be called up to replace Issac Success? Odey has scored six goals in ten matches so far; top scorer in the NPFL along side Victor Mboama (Remo Stars) and Mathias Samuel (El-Kanemi); these are better goal returns than any of those mentioned above. Note that I did not add Ahmed Musa’s poor run of two goals in eighteen games for Leicester City so far; because he is vice captain. Why do we keep calling up Tyronne Ebuehi; a player who turned down a call up some months back; when we have Elisha Golbe of table topping Plateau United; who interestingly for a defender has scored three goals all from free-kicks (we know how poor the Super Eagles are with Free Kicks).

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Our NPFL Players need to be embraced; given a sense of belonging; shown that hard-work and dedication pays; it is only when we give them the exposure they desire and require our game at both local and international level can develop to the levels we desire. It is time to stop the undermining of our NPFL players; give them the respect they deserve; one consistent call up of Ezenwa is an affront on the hardworking NPFL Player who turns out week in week out; some are owed salaries, travel via our treacherous road network to give their best every week in different centers across the country; the least we can do is to make call ups to the National Team open to all and sundry with equal opportunities available to all; whether local or foreign based.

 

*** Pictures Coutesy Plateauunited.com; soccernet.com.ng, twitter.com, footballlive.ng, connectnigeria.com

Leicester 3 – Liverpool 1: So, Who Got Claudio Ranieri Sacked?

You’re probably wondering why I chose to ask an ‘already answered question.’ You’re probably saying this to yourself too, “The management decided it had had enough of the Italian’s poor run of form and decided to show him the exit.”
Yes, you’re right. Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, that 58-year old Thai dude that owns Leicester City decided it was time for Ranieri to go. He, as the chairman of the club, had waited patiently, for things to become better, for the good times to return again.

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But things grew worse. His beloved Foxes were being to lap from relegation waters, just nine months after dazing the whole world. Uncle V’s patience ran out and he kicked ‘The Tinkerman’s’ butt outta the pack of Foxes.

That’s the story we all heard. But, just as things don’t just happen (sorry to bust your bubble if just the opposite has been a long-held belief of yours), the sacking of a manager doesn’t just happen overnight (except you’re lucky enough to become a manager of teams like Palermo et al).

If you’ve been a football fan long enough, you’ll know how much it takes (depending on the club) for a manager to get sacked.

Some clubs stay trophy-less “4” years but still stick with their manager. Some clubs are not patient enough to endure a trophy-less season. No trophies, out you go!

King Ranieri

Ranieri’s sack was one that came with mixed feelings. The sack of the current Best Coach of the Year created a divide in the football world.

“Whatever happened to patience and sticking with the one that created for you, a miracle that would have been unimaginable for years?,” some asked.

The other divide spoke about being able to make tough decisions and letting things go when they stopped working well for you.

While all these arguments went on, we got an amazing farewell letter from the ‘Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong’ crooner. There was also news about a ‘dream’ that ‘died.’

Fast-forward a few days later, Liverpool are guests at the King Power Stadium, now home of a relegation-waters-swimming English champ. Vardy scores two, Drinkwater scores one and the Foxes trump the Reds by a 3-1 scoreline.

Before I continue, let’s take a trip down memory lane. Don’t worry, it’s a short one.

The 2015/2016 was a tumultuous one for Chelsea. The season before had seen them being crowned as champions of England. And boy did they dominate the then English Premier League.

But the new season had something different for the Blues. By the end of August, 2015, they were placed 13th on the log table, winning just 1 of their first four league games.

By September, they had slid down two spots into 15th position. They maintained that position by the end of October and by the end of November, they had managed to climb up to 14th.

On the 17th December, after the loss against Leicester City (which was their 9th Premier League loss of the season, out of the sixteen league games played at the time), the defending champions were just one point clear of the relegation.

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That same day, after the loss, manager José Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea. Chelsea, in their first game after Jose’s sack, and for the first time in four months, went on to score three goals in the Premier League.

A lot went on and on about how the Chelsea players had refused to play for the Portuguese at the time. The players were hugely blamed for Mourinho’s exit. It was alleged that these players single-handedly pushed out ‘The Only One.’

Now, no one can confirm this. It’s an issue for the gods. No one will probably know till Jesus returns. But a lot was confirmed when Mou returned to the Stamford Bridge last year  with a certain Man. Utd side.

He witnessed first hand, the devastating effect of a certain crop of players who played (and celebrated goals scored) like it was a final game, a game in a league that wasn’t even 18 games old yet.

The stories vary. Some say the Chelsea players took the chance to vent their anger on Mourinho. Some say the players wanted the Red Devils to feel the full force of the heat of the Stamford Bridge. Different stories.

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At the time, did the Chelsea players connive to have José sent packing with their ‘constant terrible display’? Did they ‘intentionally’ play badly at the time, to express their dissatisfaction to the manager at the time?

I know I promised a very short trip. I do not intend to kick up dust from memories past but…

Isn’t it weird how Leicester City managed to score for the first time in the year, after such a long goal-drought under Ranieri? Why did it take them this long to ‘turn up’? Did Claudio Ranieri have to leave for these players to start performing well?

Sounds like the Claudio-Ranieri-Leicester break up is a repeat of the Mourinho-Chelsea break up and the questions asked then are now being asked, albeit with a different name in the mix: So, who got Claudio Ranieri sacked?

I would tell you if I knew. But I don’t. If you do, please let me know in the comments section below. I’ll love to hear from you! 😉