CONFEDERATIONS CUP: DAY 2 PREVIEW (PART 1)

Hostilities at the 10th edition of the Confederations cup resumes with the second round of fixtures in both groups holding on the 21st and 22nd of June. Thus far, the VARs have been the men of the match at almost every game played and we can only hope that the process is improved and faster time for key decisions are achieved as the tournament progresses, here is our preview of what to expect in the  games scheduled to take place today.

Group A:

Russia VS Portugal (4pm):  The Hosts began the tournament in fine form with a comfortable two goal victory over New Zealand and they go into this knowing that a win will all but secure their semi-final place in the tournament. With constant speculation over the choice of Russia as the hosts of the next World Cup, doing well on the pitch will go a long way in bringing some form of assurance and excitement to the home fans. They are up against fellow debutants and European Champions Portugal who despite being tipped as favorites before the start of the competition and parading the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo were unable to get maximum points from their opening fixture as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Mexico courtesy of a late Hector Moreno equalizer. The Portuguese have abundant of talents going forward and Fernando Santos will be keen to unleash some of these on the Russians which may include starting young and exciting forward Andre Silva who changed the pace of the game in the few minutes he featured. For Portugal, even though a win is vital, a draw will not be too bad a result knowing they go into the last game against the weakest side in the group and also considering how they struggled in the group stages before emerging Champions of the Euro nations cup. It should be a thrilling one as the Russians are unbeaten in their last three home meetings against the Portuguese.

Prediction: Russia 1 Portugal 2

Mexico VS New Zealand (7 pm): Coming off the back of a 2-2 draw in their Group A opener against Portugal, Mexico know that anything short of a win in this game for the CONCACAF Champions will put their chance of progression at a risk. The Mexicans proved in the first game that their attacking talents of Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez and Carlos Vela can be a force to reckon with but the major headache for their manager Juan Carlos Osorio will be at the back where they were in disarray for major spells of their game though against a more impressive attacking force. New Zealand are the underdogs and the weakest side going into the competition and the Kiwis deployed a 3-5-2 formation in their opening fixture but still struggled to match the Russians. Mexico is expected to win this game and win by a healthy margin but an upset will be a thing of delight for the neutrals

Prediction: Mexico 3 New Zealand 0

CONFEDERATION CUP 2017: PREVIEW

The 10th edition of the FIFA Confederation Cup 2017 kicks off in Russia this Saturday, the 17th of June. The tournament which was first held in 1992 in Saudi Arabia, then known as the King Fahd Cup is usually designed to serve as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup holding the following year. The aim of the tournament is to help the host nation test facilities and run logistics whilst creating awareness and giving the fans a taste of what to expect when the big tourney begins and 32 nations come to town the following year.

The tournament usually features 8 teams with the 7 top teams across the continents alongside the host nation and this year’s edition sees teams like Russia (Hosts of the 2018 FIFA World Cup), Germany (2014 World Cup Winners), Australia (Asian Cup Winners), Chile (Copa America Winners), Mexico from CONCACAF, New Zealand (Oceania Nations Cup Winners), Portugal as Euro 2016 Winners and Cameroon who are African Champions all vying to be crowned champions of the confederation. The tournament also gives the host nation who didn’t go through any form of qualifiers an opportunity to experience some high level form of competition just before the World cup begins and it is pertinent to know that no team has ever won the Confederation cup and gone ahead to emerge as World Champions the following year.

The tournament which will feature 8 teams in two groups will kick off with the host nation Russia taking on Oceania Champions New Zealand and the games will be hosted across four venues which are a selected few from the twelve venues scheduled to be used during the World Cup. Russia, Chile and Portugal are debutants at this year’s edition.

GROUP A: Russia, New Zealand, Portugal and Mexico

GROUP B: Cameroon, Chile, Australia and Germany.

Brazil are defending Champions of the tournament and have won the competition a record four times including the last three editions but would be missing at this year’s tournament and European Champions Portugal with World footballer of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo leading their lines are favorites alongside Chile and Germany who have suffered some form of slump after their World Cup win to win this year’s edition.

The World Football Governing body, FIFA has introduced new measures with the most pivotal being the three step procedure given to match officials in handling any form of racism chants during matches empowering them with the ability to call for a game to be stopped and abandoned after warnings have been issued, Video Assistant Referees (VAR) will also feature during this tournament. It promises to be an exciting two weeks of football action as the best of the best go up against each other in National colours.

A UCL night in the Lands of the Red Dragons

An assuaging night Awaits us at the National Stadium in Cardiff, well, not until hostilities replaces it at kick off where the Old Lady looks to outwit the classy Los Blancos from Spain.

Real Madrid are looking to complete a double for the first time since 1958 while Juventus are on the verge of sealing a treble for the first time in their history after winning the Coppa Italia and the Scudetto for a 6th consecutive time.

Juve, the Patsy

Nine times they have made it to the European Cup / Champions League final but won it twice. This says a lot about toothless the Old Lady have been when the grand price is at stake – losing to Real in 1998 even though they were the better side that night, the heartbreak at Old Trafford five years later in hands of AC Milan and two years ago when Messi and Co daubed them in Berlin are fresh highlights to how Juventus seems to suffer from a mental block when it duly matters. Real Madrid are a complete contrast to Juve’s morbid phobia to finals – they have won all the last 5 finals they played in.

That said, Juventus are going to be an extremely hard nut to crack due to a largely dependable basement in the defence. Allegri’s tactics clearly states a ‘if you don’t concede, you always stand a chance’ mantra and his players follow it to the letter.

Real Deal

It’s astonishing what Zinedine Zidane has done with this Madrid team and this is not blandishment, it’s due to how he has managed to get each member know their roles in the team – over 20 players have a thousand or more minutes in the La Liga; a clear indication that there is no fatigue of any kind in the team.

Real Madrid occasionally this season has subtly evolved from that expansive 4 – 3 – 3 to 4 – 4 – 2, arguably because of the injury to Gareth Bale which has made Isco line up in the midfield in proximity to Ronaldo and Benzema.

Team News

Dani Carvajal recently indicated that he’s ‘200% ready’ for the final in Cardiff after recovering from a muscle injury and looks like he will start ahead of Danilo. That can’t be said about Gareth Bale on his return to his native land, the Welshman has recovered from his ankle injury but I want to think Zidane will pick Isco’s nifty footwork and tunnel – visioned passes over Bale’s athleticism

Sami Khedira who looked like he will miss the showdown has recovered in time to face his former employers, which suggests that Cuadrado and Marchisio are going to start from the bench. It also means that Massimilliano Allegri has his first XI intact for the final however, the way he approaches the game is of huge interest. I suspect Allegri is going to field a 3 – 4 – 3 formation to stretch Zidane’s narrow 4-4-2.

Predicted XI

Verdict

On paper, both teams cancel each other out and it’s going to be an impasse for most part of the game but the bench will be pivotal to the outcome. Where Real Madrid can call on Marco Asensio, Alvaro Morata, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Lucas Vasquez when things go ‘moribund’, Juventus have Cuadrado, Marchisio, Lemina and Pjaca. Real Madrid don’t generally have it all in their grasp, they could be defensively inept at times. I go for a 2 – 1 Madrid win.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: REAL MADRID VS JUVENTUS

After playing 12 games, in which they scored 21 goals and conceded 3, winning 9 and only 3 draws, Massimo Allegri’s Juventus befittingly take their place in the finals of the most glamorous club competition, the UEFA Champions league, the old ladies are up against the defending champions, the newly crowned La Liga Champions and the most successful team in the history of the competition with 11 Champions league titles, Real Madrid who are aiming to become the first team in the modern era to defend their title. The Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales is the venue for this epic showdown and due to security concerns; the stadium which is one of the few with a roof will have its roof closed for the game, which is a first in Champions league history.

Unlike Juventus, Real Madrid had a slow start to this years’ competition with three wins and three draws in the group stages but burst to life in the knockout stages scoring 16 goals in 6 games and star forward Cristiano Ronaldo finding form at the most crucial times with hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and City Rivals Athletico Madrid.

Key Battle Areas:

Juventus are a team strongly noted for their defensive discipline, whilst Madrid have gathered averaged more than two goals in every game played this season, with the likes of the BBC trio in Benzema, Bale and Cristiano, they pack plenty attacking power and whilst they mostly tend to concede, they more often than not always outscore their opponent , but the deciding area in this game will most likely be the midfield battle, where the trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro will be up against an ever impressive Pjanic, Sami Khedira or Claude Marchisio with the likes of Mario Mandzukic adding an extra body when required. Luka Modric who is one of the finest players in his position today has struck a solid partnership with Toni Kroos whose calmness on the pitch and near perfect set-piece delivery especially with the likes of Sergio Ramos roaming will always be a factor, Casemiro has done the destroyers job very well this season and has totally repaid the trust placed in him by manager Zinedine Zidane. For Juventus, it’s a work-horse system, a midfield system that can crowd you when it needs to with full backs Dani Alves and Sandro forming a straight 5 man midfield or could also transit from defense to attack at a scary pace when it needs to with Pjanic controlling affairs with precise distribution and link-up play. Whoever wins the midfield battle will control the game and this will go a long way in determining the eventual outcome of the match.

The unstoppable attack VS the Immovable defense, BBC VS BBC, Ronaldo is scoring for fun yet again, Benzema is adding the numbers when needed, Bale is likely to be passed fit for this one and with Sergio Ramos history in recent finals, he will fancy yet another goal in Wales but they will be up against the meanest defense in Europe in Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini, the trio backed by the ever impressive Gigi Buffon went for 689 minutes without conceding a goal till Mbappe’s strike in the semis halted the record and they will have to deliver another defensive masterpiece if they really want to win the finals this time. Also noteworthy is the role that the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Argentine whizkid Dybala will play in this as whilst they are more famed for their defensive solidity, they are also a dangerous team going forward.

The last time both teams met in the finals was in 1998 where Real Madrid emerged as winners but Juventus will be keen to avoid a repeat of the 2015 finals where they lost to another Spanish side Barcelona by 3 goals to one. A lot is riding on this game, with Zinedine Zidane seeking to become the first man in history to lead a team to back to back final triumph, and Gigi Buffon hoping to finally lay his hand on the trophy with the big ears after several heartbreaks. The bookmakers are calling this too close to decide, it is likely to be a game where the slightest of errors will decide the victor but it promises to be an explosive and entertaining curtain raiser to what has yet again been a great year for football.

My Prediction; Madrid 2 Juventus 1

 

EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: AJAX VS MANCHESTER UNITED

Come 7.45pm (Nigerian Time), all eyes will be glued to screens as the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden plays host to the finals of Europe’s 2nd elite club cup competition, the Europa League. It promises to be a fascinating night as Dutch side Ajax take on English giants Manchester United with more than being crowned champions at stake, it’s a game that will also gift an automatic slot for the winner into the more lucrative Uefa Champions’ league group stages next season and a Super Cup game against the winner of the Champions League.

Likely Line ups: Manchester United– Romero, Valencia, Blind, Smalling, Darmian, Fellaini, Pogba, Herrera, Mhkitaryan, Lingard, Rashford

AjaxOnana, Veltman, Riedewald, Sanchez, De Ligt, Schone, Ziyech, Klassen, Traore, Younes, Dolberg

Ajax last won this competition in 1992 back when it was known as the Uefa Cup whilst for Manchester United, this is the only trophy missing from their illustrious cabinet. The events of Monday night at the Manchester Arena where over 20 lives were lost will hang like a cloud around this game as UEFA has granted permission for the teams to wear a black armband in respect of the victims but it is expected that the United players will shake off the trauma of the incident and make this a memorable final for their fans and the City.

Today’s game will be the first final in Europe for an Ajax side with an average age of 21 years since the nineties, Ajax go into this fixture having not won in their last six away European games and they are up against a Jose Mourinho’s side who have not lost away from home in their European matches this season and the entire assessment of the manager’s first season at United hinging on the outcome of this game. A win for Manchester United tonight papers the cracks and presents this as a good season with two trophies in the cabinet and a Champion’s league slot secured whilst a defeat will raise questions especially with their unimpressive performance in the League.

KEY MEN: With 23 goals and 8 assists recorded this season, 19 year old Danish Striker Kasper Dolberg is Ajax’s hope for goals and victory on Wednesday night and up against a changed Manchester United defense which will be missing key defender Eric Bailly with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling battling for the chance to pair former Ajax boy Daley Blind, the pacy forward will keep the United back-line busy all game.

For Manchester United, it will be hard to look beyond their own 19 year old talent, Marcus Rashford, the young sensation who burst onto the scene last season has had a mixed season but following injury to leading marksman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford has stepped up to the plate with crucial goals in the quarter final tie with Anderlecht and only goal in the first leg semi final tie at Celta Vigo. His pace and movement will be relied upon and with Paul Pogba and Mhkitaryan providing assists, Rashford should be able to find gaps against a very inexperienced back-line.

Both teams have met on four occasions in the past winning two apiece, Ajax’s Manager Peter Bosz’s will lead his youthful side out on the night after finishing second in the league behind Feyenoord and leading the team to a major European final in less than a year in charge, for Jose Mourinho, who has won the Champions league twice with two different teams and also winning the Europa League (then UEFA Cup) in 2003 with Porto, he has won 11 out of the 13 cup finals in which he has been involved and his winning record is why he was signed by Manchester United, anything short of victory tonight will raise doubts over the abilities of the ‘special one’ especially following his below par performances over the last two years.

It is a game that should see experience up against youth, control against zeal, a mean United defense against a free scoring Ajax side, it promises to be explosive, a lot of predictions have been made including that of the infamous cow who with a 85% record has given the tie to Ajax but I fail to see how Jose will let this slip and I predict a 2-0 victory for Manchester United.

My Europa League Final Preview

The Europe league final comes at a cross road for two of the biggest teams the modern game has ever seen.

For Manchester United, the only reason they have never won the Europa League or the Uefa Cup as it used to be called, is because over the last 20 odd years they have barely competed in the tournament. They are more used to the high echelons of world football and the premier competition, the UEFA Champions League.

For Ajax of Amsterdam, though previous winner of the tournament, they have found themselves more in the abyss as they have become a shadow of what they once were. They themselves a premier club in the Netherlands, they compete mostly in the UEFA Champions League. After all they have won the Dutch Eredivisie title 33 times. In 1995 they won the champions league to much acclaim and introduced us to a new generation of superstars, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Edwin Van Der Sar to name a few.

So the question is how have these two giants found themselves in this position? How have the mighty fallen?

The loss or should we say the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United with a gaping hole the size of a nuclear missile at the heart of the club. In the time Ferguson spent at Manchester United, all 27 years of them, Manchester United qualified for the champions league on 23 of those occasions. Compare that to post Ferguson and Manchester United have only qualified for the Champions League once. In fact 2014/2015 was the first time Manchester United missed out on Europe all together since 1989/1990 season. That might change though depending on how this final goes.

Over in Amsterdam, Ajax have no such managerial colossus. For them its been more of a hibernation period were they have found themselves largely out fought by the other teams across Europe. They still qualify for the Champions League on a regular basis, as a matter of fact, they find themselves in the Europa League having dropped out of the Champions League at the group stage. They still produce enormous talent from their famed academy but just haven’t been able to bring it all together.

So this final brings together two sides desperate to return to former glory both most recently and in the distant past.

Who needs the victory more you might say? And what would victory mean for either side?

For Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, it brings the circle back around and completes United’s trophy cabinet. Mourinho himself is a previous winner of the tournament in his breakout season with FC Porto fourteen years ago. The team on the other needs to get into the Champions League. The Theater of Dreams needs to feel the lure of a champions league night once again. Manchester United run the risk of becoming the new Liverpool.

Liverpool were a dominant force in England and Europe in the 80’s and 90’s. Remember they even won the Champions League in 2005, the miracle of Istanbul. But even with that they have become the nearly team who cannot regain its former glory. Managerial changes and player shuffles have not done the business.

Manchester United started with David Moyes, who as well chronicled was far from the chosen ones the Reds needed him to be, to Louis Van Gaal, the respected Dutchman and ironically AFC Ajax legend. But ultimately results suffered and the special one, as he used to be called was brought in to change all that. If this season is anything to go by then United have a lot to worry about. 6th place finish is just not what they are used to. And with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspurs getting better and better, inspiration on and off the field is needed. That inspiration could well come from a Champions League place which comes with victory in the Europa League Final.

For AFC Ajax on the other hand, things don’t look so dire. AFC Ajax had won the Dutch League title four times in a row, between 2011 – 2014 with Frank De Boer in charge. So worst case scenario they will mostly qualify for the Champions League barring any disaster.

But then again trophies are the name of the game. People love to associate with winners. Fans love a winning culture. And nothing comes bigger and better than the Champions League or in this case the Europa League. It might be a 2nd tier tournament but trust me many teams would love to get their hands on the trophy.

The tactical aspect of the match is not of utmost importance. Both teams would be eager to win by any means necessary. What is more important, is the need to be back in the big picture. To be reckoned with and adored on the European stage. Say what you want about Sevilla in the Spanish La Liga but they are three times (consecutive) champions of the Europa League and they got some respect on the continent.

Certainly both teams know what is at stake and need no reminder. What remains for us the fans, is to watch and see which team gets their hands on the trophy. Either team would be deserved winner no doubt.

One Game, Many things Hinged – (My UEL Final Preview)

José Mourinho certainly must have had  his heart in his mouth for a while until Celta striker John Guidetti decided to fluff his line on his own terms when they faced United in the 2nd leg Semi Final earlier this month. Now in Stockholm to face a tricky customer in Ajax, United’s biggest game since the post – Fergie era conjuring all parameters – At least 70 million pounds is all for grabs if the red side of Manchester gets a win ( 50 million from making the group stage of the Champions League and over 20 million from kit sponsors, Adidas) but you can say that this means more than just the oof to Mou and jugbang; The bragging rights and prestige of playing in 2017 / 2018 Champions League matters most. The Special one himself personally risks a contract extension and pay rise if he doesn’t manage victory at the Friends Arena on Wednesday.

Dainty Ajax

Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Amsterdam Arena, Louis Van Gaal, De Boer Brothers, George Finidi – The Dutch Club has gotten a deep rooted stead in tradition as far as European Football is involved with a masterful romanticism of flirting and nurturing child prodigies into world class footballers, fast forward 2017, they still haven’t derailed from it – only last week fielding the youngest team in the Eredivisie when they beat Willem II away 1 – 3.

The Pauciloquent Ajax Coach Peter Bosz has managed to keep a group of jeunsee doree footballers play the total football with no nuance at all building his team around midfielder and captain Davy Classen, striker Kasper Dolberg who at just 19 is marked to be a star.

Although you could sense that a lack of experience for most of these teenagers might be baneful with the knowledge that most haven’t played games with such enormous magnitude – salify the fact that most players of very young age tend to go through peaks and troughs which was evident in the semi final against Lyon where they led the tie 4 – 1 and almost completely bottled it in France losing 1 – 3. Very friable defensively. Bosz will definitely hope for the peak on Wednesday

Team news

Manchester United looks really knackered and have a handful of players missing from the final through injuries and suspensions. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw are all long term casualties while Eric Bailly is suspended after receiving a beef witted red against Celta Vigo. Can’t say enough about how Jose Mourinho has whined about the Fixture congestion.

Ajax in contrast look as fresh as a daisy who has had 10 days to rest prior to the showdown. Bosz has a completely gradely squad except for suspended Nick Viergever who will be replaced by either Daley Sinkgraven or Jairo Riedewald with the former only just recovering from a knee injury he had since April and only just returned last week.

Predicted XI

Prediction

Game will be far from being a spectacle but you can back Mourinho to get the result even if it might be homespun.

Ajax 0 – 1 Manchester United

FIVE THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND ACROSS THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL

The ‘bread and butter’ of league football that has kept our weekends alive and our eyes glued to the TV screens providing sensational entertainment reaches its climax as major leagues across Europe enters its final stretch this weekend. For most of these leagues like The Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, the winners have already been sorted but the La Liga is going down the wire whilst Juventus can add the Serie A title to the Coppa Italia they won midweek with a game to spare. Here are five things to expect from the weekend action across the league with the NPFL also making a return.

The NPFL returns: After an extended break that saw all outstanding matches settled, the NPFL resumes this weekend but this time only on the pitches and not on our screens, the LMC are yet to sort out the issue of live broadcasting of games (this has to be resolved sooner rather than later) but the league still has to go on. League leaders Plateau United will be hoping to continue their strong hold at the top of the table away at Katsina United. 2nd on the log MFM could go top at the end of the day as they host 5th place Akwa United whilst defending champions Rangers of Enugu who are witnessing some rejuvenation welcome Gombe United. It is a reversal of the last round of fixtures from the last day of the first half of the league, here is the full list of Match-day 20 games;

Sunshine Stars VS Lobi Stars

Shooting Stars VS FC Ifeanyi Ubah

ABS F.C VS El-Kanemi Warriors

Rivers United FC VS Nasarawa United

MFM VS Akwa United

Remo Stars VS Enyimba

Enugu Rangers VS Gombe United

Wikki Tourists FC VS Abia Warriors

Katsina United VS Plateau United

Kano Pillars VS Niger Tornadoes

Madrid on the verge: Just a point separates Zinedine Zidane’s team from clinching a first league title in 5 years, Real Madrid are away at Malaga with Barcelona hosting Eibar. The Los Blancos secured a 4-1 victory over Celta Vigo midweek placing them firmly on top of the table with 3 points ahead of Barcelona and needing just a point from their final game of the season to clinch the league. Apparently in a game that promises many twists, a prominent one has been noises especially from the Barcelona supporters that Malaga who really have nothing to play are supposedly not going to be putting up much of a fight due to a clause in midfielder Isco’s contract when he was signed for Madrid which will see Malaga getting up-to 1 Million Euros in variables if the midfielder helped Madrid win a league title in his first five seasons. Even without this twist, Madrid have done enough to deservedly win the league having won the most games, lost the fewest number of games and second only in goals total to Barcelona and with the run in hitting top form yet again, goals are bound to rain in this one. Atletico Madrid who have secured third place host Athletic Bilbao whilst Villarreal are way at Valencia.

Photo finish for the Top Four in England: Tottenham Hotspurs routed Leicester City on Thursday night to rubber stamp their 2nd place finish on the table, putting gloss on what has been a fine season for the London side, Harry Kane grabbed four goals to put some gap at the race for the golden boot with 26 goals, but all eyes this weekend will be at the Emirates where Sanchez on 23 goals leads the gunners against Lukaku’s Everton with the Belgian on 24 goals, the game however has an higher stake as the gunners hope they can somehow still secure a top four finish at the end of this weekend’s round of fixtures. The matter is however out of their hands as Liverpool who are ahead of the gunners by a point are home to West Ham, Jurgen Klopp’s men have struggled at Anfield recently with the last being a goalless draw with Southampton but should do enough to get past the finish line. For Manchester City, a draw away at Watford is enough to secure Pep Guardiola’s men their place in the Champions League next year and paper what has generally been a disappointing season for the team. I expect the three teams to all secure the much needed victories with Arsenal losing out at the end of the day and settling for the Europa League.

Juventus to clinch the Serie A at home?: This is the penultimate weekend to the end of the Serie A but defending Champions, Coppa Italia winners and Champions League finalist Juventus could clinch their sixth consecutive Scudetto and the second title of their treble hunt with a win over visiting Crotone, Max Allegri’s side have one job and they will be looking at getting this job done in time to focus on the Champions league final with Real Madrid, win and you are Champions but the job may not be as easy as it looks as they are up against an inform Crotone who have picked up 17 points from their last seven games and are a point behind Empoli in 18th position as they struggle to avoid the drop. Roma and Napoli who have secured their automatic places in next year’s Champions league are up against Chievo Verona and Fiorentina respectively with Lazio hosting Inter the other key fixture this weekend in Italy.

Another Hamburger escape? Is this the season that Hamburg SV finally gets relegated from the Bundesliga? The team which since the creation of the league in 1963, have never tasted football outside the top division having survived three playoffs in their last three seasons may finally have their luck run out when they play Wolfsburg who are a position ahead and also fighting relegation. With one game to go, Hamburg lie 16th on the log, two points from safety but are without a win from their last five games,  if you consider that they are finding scoring goals difficult to come by and have recently lost to Darmstadt and Augsburg, then this may just be fourth time unlucky. Another battle in the Bundesliga is that of the final automatic Champions league position as Borussia Dortmund who lies third are tied on points with fourth place Hoffenheim, both teams are at home this weekend as Dortmund host 8th place Werder Bremen (who have done really well this season) with 14th place Augsburg visiting Hoffenheim. Bayer Leverkusen who can yet be dragged in the relegation battle following a run of uninspiring performances are away at Hertha Berlin.

5 THINGS TO EXPECT THIS WEEKEND IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE

The Premier league is gradually coming to an end and whilst the league title and Champions League places are being won at one end of the table, fans of teams like Sunderland and Middlesbrough have to deal with anguish, tears and regrets following their relegation to the lower league. But just before we will be left with boring weekends with nothing but the Confederation Cup and World Cup qualifiers to stand in gap, here are 5 things to expect from the weekend’s action in The Premier League.

The Relegation Battle continues: The relegation dogfight resumes this weekend and although two teams have already been relegated, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, but with two games left, one of three teams remain in danger of being relegated, Hull City who suffered a rare home defeat last week to Sunderland are occupying the final relegation spot with 34 points are away on Sunday to Crystal Palace who despite a glorious winning run weeks ago have lost their last three games and lie 16th on the log, with just four points above the relegation zone needing at least a draw to secure their place in the league. Hull are yet to win away from home under Marco Silva and Sam Allardyce sure knows how to get the required result to beat the drop, I expect Palace to get something out of this tie, even if not a win. Paul Clement’s Swansea secured a moral boosting win over Everton last week to move out of the relegation zone for the first time in five weeks and a victory away at already relegated Sunderland will ensure that the Welsh side stay another season in the Premier League. With Sigurdsson, Llorente and Ki putting in the shift, they should be able to get one over David Moyes men.

Chelsea may be crowned Champions today: Friday night games used to be a rarity in the Premier League but tonight features two matches, league leaders Chelsea are away at the Hawthorns where they face a lackluster West Brom, Tony Pulis men have switched off since hitting the forty point mark and have only secured two points from 18 since their win over Arsenal in March. Following Tottenham’s defeat to West Ham, the Blues took full opportunity routing Middlesbrough and confirming their relegation to the lower decision and now Antonio Conte’s men have an opportunity to end whatever is left of the title race before Spurs kick another ball. For Tony Pulis, it is really weird at how he has failed to hit the 50 point mark with the various teams he has coached despite been able to organize his team in the early half of the season, the players look uninspired and their minds already on holiday and with the efficiency Chelsea have shown in getting the job done this season and Conte barking orders down the touchline not giving room for his players to down tools, there is only one result possible here and it is a Chelsea win and a second title in three season for the Londoners. The other Friday night game sees Everton host Watford.

 

Liverpool on the edge?: Surely Jurgen Klopp’s men can’t afford to let this slip, another goalless draw at home to Southampton last time around making it three home games at Anfield without a win and four games this season against the Saints without a goal threw panic in the air once again at Liverpool. They are up against West Ham who created something of an upset with their win over Tottenham Hotspurs last weekend with Manuel Lanzini getting the solitary strike. West Ham are safe on 42 points and really have nothing to play for, though a chance to finish in the top half of the table and get extra revenue will be a motivation alongside getting a win in their final home game of the season. For Liverpool however, they cannot afford to drop points again, Manchester City lie a point below them having played a game less, same as Arsenal who are four points behind but with a game less. Liverpool are without star forwards Sadio Mane and Divok Origi but with Firminho, Coutinho and Sturridge, there is enough firepower to down the hammers but which Liverpool side will turn up? The one that has played some expansive and thrilling football at some point this season or the one that has struggled with disappointing results on occasions, there is little margin for error and if Klopp wants to make any success out of his first full season at Liverpool, he has to get a result and ensure that his team doesn’t lose this with two games to go.

Top Four battle for Manchester City and Arsenal: Back to back victories against Manchester United and Southampton have revived the hopes of a top four finish for Arsenal fans, top four has always been a guarantee under Arsene Wenger so a late surge has calmed the #WengerOut banners at least for now. Whilst a top four finish is not totally in their hands anymore, 9 points from their final 3 games is what the fans demand. They are up against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium come Saturday evening, and just like Chelsea, a switch to a back three seems to be working for Arsene’s men but on a ground where they have not won since 2010, this is another encounter where the full strength of the gunners will have to be on display and anything short of a win may just be goodbye to their Champions League hunt.

For Manchester City, a 5-0 mauling of Crystal Palace sets the perfect tone for the visit of outgoing Champions Leicester City, last time both sides met in the league at this ground, Riyadh Mahrez led his side to a stunning victory as they made their way to winning the league title. This season has however seen a twist of fortunes for both side, but following Ranieri’s sack, Leicester City have been rejuvenated under Craig Shakespeare and have moved from flirting close to the relegation zone to the top half of the table, sitting 9th on the log. Leicester will look at soaking up pressure and capitalizing on the pace of Jamie Vardy, with Wilfred Ndidi expected to play a crucial role in the midfield battle with Yaya Toure, David Silva was menacing against Palace and his trickery will be required again as a win for Manchester City all but confirms a top four finish this season.

Tottenham Hotspur VS Manchester United: By the time, this game kicks off on Sunday, it is almost certain that Chelsea will have secured the title and Spurs will have nothing to play for as even defeats in two of their last three games will not see them fall below the second position on the log, the young side have given it their all yet again this season but have fallen short at crucial moments. White Hart Lane sees its final home game with Spurs moving to Wembley stadium next season as work continues on their new ground and no bigger way to draw the curtains on what has been an eventful campaign than against Manchester United, the Red Devils on Thursday night secured their place in the Europa league final with a hard fought victory over Celta Vigo and with a thin squad due to injuries and suspension, Jose Mourinho is expected to ring a lot of changes to his starting XI, Manchester United are yet to record an away goal against any of the top four side, the last being a drab goalless draw at neighbors City. It is a game where nothing much outside pride and a proper farewell is at stake, Spurs will however want this more and I expect them to get something from this tie.

 

El Clasico Preview

It is that time of the year again; when the biggest rivalry in club football takes center stage; the El Clasico attracts viewership from all over the world with Billions of people glued to their sits to see to of the most successful teams in the world that parade the best players in the world go head to head. The past week has been one of mixed fortunes for both sides; Real Madrid advanced to another Semi Final of the Champions League while Barcelona got shut out in two legs by Juventus.

With Barcelona three Points adrift of Real Madrid who have a game in hand we take a look at how crucial this game could be for both teams.

Confidence – a tale of different levels

Barcelona might have had a win in between their unfortunately sandwiched square up with Juventus over two legs; that labored 3 – 2 win over Soceidad but it’s glaring enough to observe that the players are not on the wavelength their fans expect. Front trio of Messi, Suárez and Neymar have incongruously turned up for most part of the season, defensively porous and lacking some tactical depth.

Without been mirthful, Barcelona’s Achilles heel this term has been their defensive frailties even an outgoing Luis Enrique looks uncertain at finding a solution to it. Piqué looks here nor there, Umtiti is still an apprentice, Jordi Alba not getting a proper look in, Sergio Roberto even a right back.

Belly of the team is another blot entirely on the team. Rakitic and Andrés Iniesta haven’t played with same energy and guile we are all used to – especially if Sergio Busquets is unavailable.

Unlike Catalonia, it’s a more solid and stable environment in the Los Merengue’s Camp in Madrid. This Real Madrid team looks very gallant not overly in terms of quality but owing to a galvanized concinnity that Zizou has imbibed in it. Every player knows their role and stance in the team as we saw when Isco gave a particularly impressive performance against Gijon which forced Zidane’s hands to start him against Bayern which they won after extra time 6 – 3 on aggregate. While Lionel Messi has struggled in big games this season, Cristiano Ronaldo scored five against Bayern over two legs – you can say who is clearly up for the Clasico

Gaffer’s Stake

The stinging difference between Zidane and Lucho is that the former has been assured of his job whatever happens this season why latter has chosen to err on the safe side and can’t handle the pressure the Nou Camp job entails – a summer exit beckons.

Zidane has managed to use every player to their maximum potential and has tried to inculcate a steely part to his game with the emergence and fantastic play of Brazilian Casemiro conjoined with the recruitment of players from the youth ranks – likes of Marco Asensio joining the mix

Lucho can’t boast of that, he recruited badly, it’s almost a paradox. Paco Alcacer, Arda Turan and Denis Suarez have been either a waste of resources or time. Only Alex Vidal could hold his head high after a shaky start to his Barca career but has been cut short due to a broken leg. Tussling between formations 4 – 3 – 3 and 3 – 4 – 3 is another problem, the latter seems to cage their attacks because it gives the MSN limited space to operate.

With La Masia looking like it has lost its mojo; they obviously need to buy big and smart too in the summer.

In it’s entirety, I expect an explosive game, El Clasico is always a personable fixture to watch. Madrid Left back tagged it as ‘a game the world wants to watch’. That’s the brevity of it but for the first time in a month of Sundays, not many will fancy Barcelona on this one.