A Fan’s Letter to the players of Manchester United (The worrisome state of Manchester United).

Dear Manchester United Players;

A lot has been said about the incident of last Tuesday as well as the final out come of the game. Quite frankly United were robbed by a silly decision by a referee who is building quite a notorious reputation for himself across Europe and the world as a whole. However, this really does not justify the implosion that followed 12 minutes after; no doubt a lot of United fans felt really hard done by that decision as it killed the team’s momentum on the night as they had Real Madrid exactly where they wanted them, right on the ropes.

If ever a match gave credence to the importance of a strong mental mind in football and sports in general; the Manchester United v Real Madrid match did just that. Of course a football club of the size of Manchester United would have several Sports Psychologist on its pay roll so the issue of mental toughness should not rear its ugly head; well it did, but i think it was the crowd reaction when the red was given that got to the players on the pitch as well as the enormity of the task that the team was faced with, to keep mighty Real Madrid at bay for 35 odd minutes. This incidence reminds me of those days when a certain individual (name withheld)  used to scream to high heavens on National Radio and Television of the need to have a Sports Psychologist for the football National teams of Nigeria; he made this call all the time Nigeria had a collapse of mental toughness at any competition or match; well need I say more the individual is currently the Sport Psychologist to all the National Football teams of Nigeria, talk about pitching for a job.

Back to United, Its time to wake up from Tuesday’s Nightmare and move on; 12 points clear in the league; still with the quarter final of the FA Cup replay to play; there’s absolutely no reason to start feeling sorry for yourselves. The fans pay big money to come see you, you earn big bucks weekly and need we remind you, the fans are still smarting from losing the league to Manchester City last season when 8 points clear with 5 games to go. If this had happened in Africa where I am; the team would have been given a sound flogging.

How in God’s name do our team; Manchester United go 2 goals up in the first 15 minutes of a cup tie against Chelsea and then go to sleep in the second half only to be rescued from defeated by an inspired Goalie. Guys, wake up; This is Manchester United; even if the team claws back the two goals United still end up winning. Are Wingers now an endangered specie? It has been a time honoured approach by Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex to play with Wingers; even if you look back to the days before Sir Alex; we always had dangerous wide men. So what is the problem with our wide men this season? Nani and Young seem like they’d rather be somewhere else; whilst Valencia seems like someone missing in an Ecuadorian Jungle; the person wearing number 7 for United is definitely an impostor. I am sure of it. We now seem to go with the diamond formation which is supposed to be our back up formation as first choice as the wingers pull terrible after terrible displays.

With yesterday’s events and the eventual draw of a potential clash with Manchester City in the FA Cup semis at Wembley; I can bet it that Mancini will be licking his lips now as he had stated that the out come of United taking on Real Madrid would change the course of the League title challenge and adversely affect United; I hate to say he seems to be about to be correct with his prediction; so snap out of it Lads.

Finally I make bold to say that if some players are not up for it, up for the fight they can be dropped. I know this is a decision that would be easy for Sir Alex to make as he proved with dropping Rooney for the Real Match; but then his performance yesterday left little to be desired (this is not being critical of wazza; but he needs to step up). RVP is also having a bleep considering his high standards; 1 goal in his last 9 matches does not tell nor paint a good picture; go look for those scoring boots pal and lets show you how to celebrate a championship. Its time to wake up to the realities United are faced with now; something tells me that if for any reason Manchester United blow this 12 point lead and City for whatever reason win the title back to back; Sir Alex will consider his position in the summer; because it might just be that the power and influence which he supposedly has over the team may just be weaning.

C’Mon United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Signed

A Concerned United fan.



Adeyemi Adesanya
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Are Barcelona in crisis or plainly complacent?

Never would I have imagined that in the space of one week; I would write two pieces documenting the somewhat surprising and astonishing demise and fall from grace of the best club side in the history of club football. The tag best club side in the history of club football is attributed to Barcelona mainly due to their entertaining style of play and not based on the number of trophies won in the era in question.

In the space of one week; Barcelona have been found out by three teams; two successfully got results (Milan and Real Madrid) with Sevilla running them very close. This brings to the fore the question, are Barcelona in crisis or are they plainly complacent? I will seek to answer this question and point to how Barcelona may have gotten to the position they currently find themselves.

Is the team truly on Auto Run?

I remember listening to a Sports Radio station a couple of weeks ago with the topic being if Barcelona really need a manager/coach to run the affairs of the team. To my greatest surprise a number of callers to the show were quite naive, claiming that they could manager team and be successful (I am sure if Jordi Roura had this notion previously it must have changed in the last one week); that the team did not need a coach as they were currently running in auto run/pilot. I beg to differ on this because in the first instance it is the manager that instills the playing style, philosophy and pattern on the team. It is expected that in situations where the original game plan may not be working he’s to vary, adjust and make changes; shout out instructions that would swing the balance of the match in their favour. A manager’s presence and influence is quite invaluable, little wonder that since Manchester United lost the title in the very last minutes of last season; 70 year old Sir Alex Ferguson hugs onto the technical area to assert his authority and presence on the squad.

Are Barca being Complacent?

If  you ask me, frankly i think Barcelona are somewhat complacent especially with the illness of Tito Villanova. I would have expected that an interim appointment would have been made due to his continued illness, but due to the fact that the team is currently 12 points clear at the top of the La Liga table forgetting that tougher games would come their way in the cup competitions as we approach the climax of the season. The appreciable lead in La Liga has given room for the board to be somewhat comfortable whilst bothering on complacency. Sincerely speaking Jordi Roura clearly seems to be out of his depth especially in the last three games; he doesn’t even seem to possess any real control or authority on the sidelines. The Barcelona board should have taken a bold step to either have appointed Eusebio Sacristan (who manages the B team who are currently 5th in the Second Division) or brought back Luis Enrique who had managed the B team previously and even got them to finish in the promotion places; that way you would have some kind of presence in the dug out and not the presence of a DVD compiler or scout (with all due respect Jordi).

Can we consider this a crisis?

No, it cannot be considered a crisis yet; however; if Barcelona lose to Real Madrid on Saturday in La Liga and get knocked out of the Champions League by Milan next week; then we can call it a proper crisis and press the panic button.

Do Barcelona need to re-evolve/ reevaluate?

Barcelona have always been known to play great football; so when Pep Guardiola took over the reins; he decided to make some adjustments and add his imprint to an already well oiled machine. Under the guidance of Pep; Barcelona took the art of pressing to a whole knew level, whereby they suffocated the opposition anytime they were without the ball; pressing high up the pitch and causing the opposition to make mistakes in possession. We will all agree that this takes a huge amount of stamina to accomplish and fitness is very paramount in the implementation of this strategy. In his first two years, he had two different types of strikers Etoo and Ibrahimovic; but that not withstanding this were born goalscorers; however in his pursuit for perfection and total domination; Barcelona became somewhat addicted to the notion of having a team comprising mainly or only midfielders as it had been spoken about by many tacticians that a time will come that a team will seek to control a game so much it will comprise of midfielders only; the great Arrigo Saachi was one of such tactical minds that saw into the future and Pep decided to embrace it (Also read Jonathan Wilson’s book; inverting the pyramid). Hence the use of the false Nine attacking system and the deployment of the likes of Masherano and Busquets to centre back positions; he even toyed with playing a back three at some point all in the hope of attaining perfection.

Under Tito Villanova; some adjustments have been made but most of the ideals have been kept; however Barcelona do not press as much as they used to; i suppose Villanova decided to fine tune this approach; as I wrote earlier it is very tasking and draining; just ask Bielsa’s Athletico Bilbao who played quite similarly and went almost all the way on three fronts making the finals of the Europa League and Copa Del Rey last season only to burn out in the final; just take a look at where they are on the table thus far. Instead of pressing so much; Tito decided to somewhat limit the energy utilized by the team by blocking the spaces
especially as they play in between the lines anyway forming triangles around the opponent with or with out the ball. Teams used to press Barcelona to try to counter their style; however the two last defeats have shown that pressing high may not be the answer but pressing in midfield, snuffing out the spaces and isolating Messi and Iniesta making them drop deep into midfield in search of the ball so much so that Pedro; the only player capable of running behind the defense comes central to try to make diagonal runs only to be fully isolated.

It is time for a reevaluation of the Barcelona Model, they require multiple options and for the love of me I wonder why David Villa and Christian Tello; do not get as much of a look in as they deserve; especially David Villa who can provide that little difference and different option and approach. Its time to rethink the strategy; back to the drawing board for the Catalans.

John Toschak’s words

If you had the privilege to view yesterday’s game via Sky’s coverage; it was quite nice listening to the comments of the ex Real Madrid manager. He made certain comments that actually hit the nail on the head on why Pep made the decision to leave Barcelona; stating the likelihood of complacency and indiscipline setting into the team’s Psychology.

All in all, the next one week would be very crucial in Barcelona’s season and the out come may point to the fact that it is very naive to discount the effect and influence of a manager/coach to a team. I just read this evening, Andreas Iniesta’s comments on the fact that the team currently miss the influence of Tito Villanova on the side line; however, the need for a turn around maintenance of the Barcelona engine cannot be over emphasized.

Adeyemi Adesanya
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As we await the return of the Prodigal son (Review and Preview of the UCL Knock out round)

The biggest club competition, the UEFA Champions League returned with its usual intrigues; but more importantly superb display of football artistry was showcased. UEFA has through its desire to expand it television revenue have succeeded in enlarging our appetite by extending the second leg from the first leg by 3 weeks as against 2 weeks; this ensures that football fans like you and I are able to absorb the action on our TV screens to the fullest.

With the second set of games approaching; I will review the first set of games especially the Real Madrid v Manchester United match up and then preview the remaining fixtures in the first knockout round of the UCL.
Real Madrid V Manchester United
A lot had been made about Cristano Ronaldo facing his former club and mentor; it did leave up to expectation as both teams had contrasting approaches to the game. United had at some point shown their hand at how they would approach the match particularly with the Spurs game at White Hart Lane. United sat quite deep and decided to use the pace that surprise inclusion Danny Welbeck possessed; Rooney on the other hand seemed quite confused at what his exact role was; station on the right at some point to help out Rafael and later occupying a deep play making role to release United on the break. Manchester United had the better chances and should have left the Bernabeu with an away win to take to the March 5th second leg at Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid seemed to run out of ideas in my opinion as they found it difficult to break a resilient United Midfield and defense which restricted them to shots from outside the box and of course they had an inspired David De Gea to contend with. In summary, Ronaldo will continue to be a major concern as he looks forward to his return to Old Trafford; the game will be a lot more open and Real are sure to attack as they’d be more open spaces to run into. This tie would go to the last minute and is pretty difficult to call; but I kinda expect United to complete the job at Old Trafford.
Valencia V PSG
PSG take a 2-1 advantage to the Parc D’ Prince in 3 weeks time, but it could have been more with the Parisians dominating the first 60minutes with Lucas Moura looking very lively in his Champions League debut ; he’s combination with Lavezzi and Pastore was a joy to watch on the night, however; PSG let Valencia back into the tie via some sloppy play and Zlatan’s Red Card which gives this tie a completely different dimension as he will miss the return leg in Paris and this does give Valencia a chance back into the tie. PSG have grown in leaps and bounds as the season as progressed and with the inclusion of Lucas Moura and David Beckham to their Squad they now possess some extra options to their weaponry. I expect PSG to complete the job in Paris quite comfortably.
Celtic V Juventus

From the introduction of the line up, it was clear that Celtic had clearly shot themselves in the foot; particularly the inclusion of Efe Ambrose in the starting line up; absolutely suicidal by Neil Lennon. Obviously Ambrose must have been suffering from Jet lag as the errors he made were so glaring and quite unfortunate. This is not to take anything away from the brilliant Italian job executed by Juventus and Antonio Conte; they were very well organised, got an early goal, then sat back and let Celtic come at them all through they came and caught them on the break to finish easily with two additional goals; Catenaccio was reborn with that performance, now the old lady can look forward to the next round with consummate ease.
Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund
I reckon its about time the Ukraine and Russian Football federation made some adjustments to their league calendar putting into consideration the European Campaigns of some of their top clubs to give them any chance of making it past the Quarter Final rounds. This is because by the time the knock out rounds of Europe’s elite competitions come around teams in this region are on break whilst the league season in main stream Europe is in full swing, this is a big disadvantage for them. 
To the game itself; Shakhtar obviously missed the artistry of Willian who they had sold to Anzhi in the January window, but showed that they could still cope with out him and rumped into a quick lead despite not having any serious football for over a month or so. Dortmund on the other hand were reeling from their home humiliation by Hamburg at the weekend, needed to bounce back which they did by nicking a late equaliser from Mats Hummels. Shakhtar have it all to do when they visit the Signal Park for the second leg as Dortmund have to be clear favorites to progress now.
 Preview of the remaining games

Milan v Barcelona

Milan are all of a sudden resurgent, remember earlier in the season when Milan were in the bottom half of the table and in all sorts of trouble, but in El Sharawy they have a player who at the early part of the season decided to carry the team on its back and claim victory from almost hopeless situation. Currently, the Milan side is a different proposition from the early part of the season and confidence is very high; credit to Maximo Allegri as he has been able to find the ideal playing pattern for the team, coupled with the January signing of Mario Ballotelli (unfortunately he is cup tied for the champions league). Milan definitely have it all to do as Barcelona are a team in form and more or less have the La Liga title in the bag; i expect Milan to employ some unorthodox antics to sway the first leg as they have done before; they could for instance manipulate the pitch as they did against Arsenal at last season’s first knock out round. It would not be that straight forward for Barcelona but the weapons they possess would be too much for this Milan team.
Arsenal v Bayern Munich
The whole world would be wondering how exactly the Gunners will bounce back from their elimination from the FA Cup especially with the Bavarians being the next visitors to the Emirates. Bayern have won the last six games and look very comfortable at the top of the Bundesliga table with only one loss in 22 games and a very frugal 7 goals conceded thus far. Bayern have the best attack and defense in Germany and have different varying weapons in their Arsenal that will hurt the Gunners from all over the pitch. Outside the La Liga top two; Bayern have to be considered as the third favorites, more so they would still be kicking themselves for letting home advantage slip during last season’s final.
As we all know, stranger things have happened in world football and the Gunners may just turn the tide around and deliver an A+ performance against the Bavarians. It would be tough as it’s still a mystery how Arsenal would cope with the wingers of Bayern as their full backs have had a tough season; moreover Arsenal do not have any match winners in their squad unlike Bayern who have this in abundance all over their squad.
FC Porto V Malaga
 Porto have shown that there’s life after Hulk and are undefeated along with Benfica in the Portuguese League conceding only 9 goals in 19 games thus far with 47 goals scored; quite impressive stats; but they come against a Malaga side that have more or less over achieved thus far this season and really play with the attitude of having absolutely nothing to lose. No one would have thought, Malaga would qualify top of a group that had mighty AC Milan especially due to the fact that they had to sell their best players from last season; Santi Carzola and Salomon Rincon coupled with the financial problems they were going through and inability to pay the salaries of their players. This has been a season of discovery for Malaga and Pellegrini has shown that he still has a lot to offer despite his dismissal from Real Madrid three season ago and also the impending UEFA Financial ban hanging over their head. This would probably be the best game of the round, why? Both teams will play without any inhibitions and would be quite an open attractive game; I am particularly looking forward to this game and strongly believe Malaga might just progress from this tie because they still hold the unknown quantity tag despite the progress they have made this season; Porto’s domestic success may just be their Achilles heel especially as they have won their last 6 matches; it would be the battle of the creative midfielders Isco v Moutinho.
Galatasaray v Schalke O4

Galatasaray have kind of showed their hand to the whole of Europe of their strong desire to be a force in this year’s Champions League with the signing of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. If all the defenders had thought they’d seen or heard the last of the menacing Ivorien Striker, they thought wrong has he announced himself back to main stream Europe with a goal and assist in his debut for Galatasary. Schalke on the other hand lost Lewis Holtby to Tottenham in the January window and already he is showing what a player he is in the English Premiership, so definitely Schalke will miss him. Both teams have an identical record in their last 6 games with 3 wins for Galatasaray and two for Schalke in the same period. Gala’s reinforcements definitely give them the edge as the quality they have signed obviously make them a much better team from the one we say during the group stage, based on the strength of this I will lean towards Galatasaray to progress.
We’ve got some fantastic games on the cards once again and i hope this time i won’t have egg on my face with all these my predictions.
Let the games continue. 
Adeyemi Adesanya
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Will the events of Week 1 point us in the right direction (Ligue 1 Preview)

I can not remember ever having to write anything about the French Championnat, maybe on my European round up at some point last season, even then I made a wrong prediction on the destination of the league title in the romance nation. Now, i find myself intrigued with the happenings in Ligue 1, Ligue 1 is becoming very interesting; the league contest last season went to the wire with Montpellier finally winning their first ever French League title.
The transfer spending of Oil Rich Paris Saint Germain and their emergence as a financial free spending power house on the European transfer scene will definitely increase interest in the French league. We take a look at the season as a whole, bearing in mind the first set of games already have been won,lost and drawn. We take a look at the usual suspects as well as the likely also rans, the relegation candidates and the players set to light up the French Championnat.

The Title Contenders

Montpellier against all odds ended last season as Champions of France for the first time in their history, they played some good football along the way whilst building their title challenge on a strong defensive base conceeding the least goals in Ligue 1 last season (only Toulouse conceded the same amount of goals 34). They may have lost their top scorer, Oliver Giroud to Arsenal

Will Home advantage matter?

The biggest club competition gets to its final stage and for all pundits around the world who were looking forward to an all Spanish Final, with another episode of the El Classico predicted for May 19th; unfortunately the two teams in today’s final deserve to be in this final and both have every right to believe they can win it.

We look at this epic encounter,but unlikely final; looking to pick out the key battles and where the game may be won or lost.

The Line Ups


CHELSEA


Both teams will be missing very important players via suspensions; for me I think Chelsea are the worst hit, missing captain John Terry, Ramires (Chelsea’s player of the season in my opinion), Meireles and Ivanovic. Just checked whoscored.com and twitter, the story is that Bertrand (is Di Matteo looking to double team Bayern’s wingers?) will start a gamble as far as i am concerned; the blues will line up in their customary 4-3-3 formation as follows; Cech, Bosingwa, Cole, Luiz, Cahill, Lampard, Mikel, Essien, Mata, Kalou and Drogba.

BAYERN MUNICH


Bayern have their own suspension problems as well with the dynamic and energetic Alaba missing, as well as Gustavo and Badstuber; Bayern will be weak defensively, but with that home crowd roaring them on, it may be a double edge sword. I expect Bayern to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation as follows; Neuer, Lahm, Contento, Boateng, Tymoshchuk, Kross, Schweinsteiger, Mueller, Robben, Ribery, Gomez.

Key Battles

Chelsea have shown that defensively they can operate as a unit especially with reference to their 180minutes of the great wall of china performance, my only worry is the partnership between David Luiz and Gary Cahill and how they will cope with Bayern’s forward dynamic play will be quite interesting especially with in form Mario Gomez leading the line. It will be a battle of the big men up front; who will take advantage of the following key battles will come out victorious.

Bayern’s wide men v Chelsea’s Full Backs

Bayern’s inverted wingers present Chelsea with a somewhat different specie of wide men; Ribery and Robben will run at you all day, inside and outside these guys will give Bosingwa and Cole a thing or two to think about. What’s interesting is the fact that as Bayern’s wingers get suck in, full backs like Lahm and Contento (Alaba) will present a 2 v 1 situation everytime Bayern come forward as well as providing additional width for the team. Bayern’s attacking play is quite dependent on how well the full backs and wingers work together.

Mikel v Mueller

A lot will depend on how well Mikel Obi picks the late runs into the box of Thomas Mueller; this is also a very important element of Bayern’s game plan. Mueller will look to run into any space provided by Gomez pulling Chelsea’s center backs with his runs and movement in the box. Mikel’s concentration has to be spot on as he will be expected to provide cover for the Chelsea Back four.

Drogba v Bayern’s Center Backs

Didier Drogba (the Elephant of Abidjan) is such a freak of nature, his strength and guile is second to none in the world of Football. Drogba is quite unplayable, he gives 110percent at all times; a lot will depend on how well Bayern’s center backs cope against the power play of Drogba. The Bavarians will have an unusual pairing in defense with the suspension of Badstuber; but i have always felt this is Bayern’s weak point. Drogba has demonstrated time and time again that he is at home with playing alone up front, as his performances against some of Europe’s top defenses.

Gomez v David Luiz

The big question on the night will be if the kid with the PlayStation 3 pad will still be grounded by his parents and allow David Luiz have a decent game. Mario Gomez has 11 goals in the UCL this season, his tally is only bettered by a certain Lionel Messi; his movement and timing of his run sets him apart as one of the inform strikers in the world. David Luiz is singled out in the Chelsea defense because of his desire to move forward with the ball at almost every invitation, this Gomez will be looking to exploit as Bayern are a strong counter attacking team.

Does Home advantage really matter?

Bayern play the final at their magnificent Allianz Arena; at home. Will they be nervous? Will they be comfortable? Will it add to the pressure? Well Bayern are very strong at home and will be filled with confidence and go for it from the blast of the whistle. Chelsea on the other hand i kinda expect to sit back and look to catch Bayern on the break. Will the occasion get the better of the Bavarians? Well, they’ve got to be massive favorites playing at home.

Conclusion

Both teams have been here before, but Bayern have not been in a situation like this of playing the final on their own ground. Losing the league and cup to young energetic Dortmund, is enough reason for Bayern to motivate themselves for this challenge. Chelsea have the small matter of needing to qualify for the UCL next season and the only way is to win tonight. As far as i am concerned; its been a successful season for Chelsea especially with the change of management, winning the F.A Cup and getting to the UCL final.

Verdict

Something tells me it will be tighter than will think, but the home team look good enough to win it, but for Chelsea to win their first UCL Title, all their players must be leaders tonight and no silly nonsense (remember the Drogba slap on Vidic in 2008).

Result:  Bayern to win 2-1 (hopefully i’d be right this time)

The El-Clasico (Collectivism v Individualism)

I just read Micheal Cox’s preview (Zonal Marking) of tonight’s El Clasico and i just thought to lend my humble opinion to such a fascinating encounter, that the world has grown to love more and more with each passing installment. Only one other club rivarly even comes close to the Real v Barca rivalry; Boca Juniors and River Plate and their clash is also a clasico; the Super Clasico.

In this period of absolute Barcelona domination, i cannot remember a Clasico in the last 3 years that Barca would be approaching as the underdogs; 3 points or technically 6 points behind on Real Madrid at this point in time in the season and with obvious distractions of the World Club Cup to come, Barca won’t like their current positions. However, reverse is the case for Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho hardly loses when the initiative is in his hands; Real look rampant, playing expansive counter attacking football. Now the difference between both teams are, Barcelona are fantastic in a team sense and the style of play expresses collectivity; Real on the other hand possess a collection of individuals that would blow any team away.

The game is quite an impressive and tantalizing prospect especially for the neutrals as a lot of fans from both teams would be biting their nails from the intensity of the action. This match would be won and lost as follows;

Which Pepe would turn up?

Depending on how Jose approaches the game, it is imperative to point out how important the Portuguese Center Back would be to Real. Would we have the strong commanding defender we know Pepe to be or would he be played in defensive midfield to pick up Messi and let the occasion get to head by getting into needless battles on the pitch and eventually get sent off. Whatever position Pepe plays he’ll be crucial, note that Ricardo Carvalho is injured, that may just swing Jose’s decision.

Will Real Defend?


A lot has been said about how Real Madrid will approach the game, because looking closely at the table; the Madrid team do not need to win this and a draw may just be enough for them, but then what’s to say Jose won’t go for the opportunity to stick one in to his big rivals, going by the the great football Real Madrid have played so far this season.

Will Barca dare go 3-4-3/3-3-1-3?


Pep Guardiola has shown this season with the squad he has that there are various combinations and variations to their play and set up. He’s played without defenders in one game employing midfielders across his back line. He’s even toyed with Cesc Fabregas as a false 9 so far this season, the variations seem endless; however, Pep won’t dare go with 3 at the back, because Real would just have a field day; Ronaldo and Di Maria on either flank would have an absolute field day. Pep/Barcelona really need to improve on their scouting and get a proper center half to compliment the injury prone pair of Pique and Puyol; a pair i understand have only had 3 starts together so far this year; a back four is expected.

How will both teams line up?


I think both teams will line up in a 4-3-3; as always Barcelona will press all over the pitch,but i do not think Real will press high up the pitch; they’d want to play to their major strength, Pace and their expansive counter attacking weapon. The personnel will be the problem, absolutely difficult to predict what’s going on in the head’s of both managers; but i’ll try.

Real Madrid : Casillas, Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Xabi Alonso, Khedira, Lass, Ronaldo, Di Maria, Benzema.
Real will set up with 3 combative midfielders with Xabi the deeper of the three, in order to orchestrate play when Real have the ball; Real won’t defend,but won’t press high up the pitch; expect Real to set up in a 4-1-4-1 when without the ball; Ronaldo to act as the lone man in this case, to get Real on their way on a counter attack.

Barcelona:  Valdes, Alves,Abidal, Pique, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Messi, Fabregas, Villa.
Barcelona will line up as usual, however the interesting element will be figuring out if Messi will play as a false 9 or Fabregas will occupy that position or Iniesta will be pushed forward to join the front 3. I think Messi will play wide on the right to utilize the gaps that Marcelo will leave behind and combine with Alves to good effect,but then Alves also needs to watch his back. Villa may just play central or Cesc may take the False 9 position,if Iniesta is not pushed forward.

Who needs the result more?


Barcelona need the result more, a draw would be just great for Real,but don’t expect them to play for it; it would be feisty, flowing, attractive and enjoyable. I just hope we won’t have an anti climax, Real have the resources to play great football against Barcelona, so Mourinho should give us a spectacle and not go into a shell from the first minute with instructions to commit grave bodily harm on the rather small in stature Barca players. Let’s be having it boys.

Prediction


A score draw is on the cards.

Manchester United, What’s the Problem?

We are in the month of December, a month of giving , a period to share, a time to merry and cheer; hence is it safe to say Manchester United have got the Christmas spirit and are in a very charitable mood.
I watched in horror as the mighty Manchester United were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage by lowly Basel; this has only happened twice previously that United would not make the knock out round; of primary importance is the fact that a certain Portuguese team was involved in the most recent Group Stage upheaval of Manchester United, note to Mitchel Platini please do not group United with Benfica, to United fans if it happens again, approach with grave caution.

If i must give my honest opinion, i must say watching United recently has being quite torturous, the football has not been great, its been slow, no verve, no pace, players seem to be off peak and quite colourless. You then ask, what could be the reason or root cause for this apparent decline; bearing in mind that this is the same team that played with reckless abandon in the early months of the season, although  a lot of pundits pointed out that this new approach may just possess more harm than good for United as it left it unusually exposed at the back, based on this I will try to highlight areas or events where things went wrong or took a turn in the wrong direction.

The Arsenal and Chelsea humbling


Fresh off a great Community Shield comeback, United had discovered a new approach going forward, a buzz like never before; United were playing with unimaginable pace that if i dare to say had never been seen before, this got people thinking particularly within the United fold that they just may have achieved a means of closing the gap on Barcelona. Then came the visit of Arsenal and Chelsea to Old Trafford and the buzz reached even higher points, not that United were alien to dishing out a beating to any team, but these games were quite humiliating for their supposed close rivals, but then cracks were been noticed in the United Armour at this time going by the number of chances created by both sides on their visit to OT, especially in the Chelsea game where the defense was cut open a number of times. Remember the Torres miss? United were very vulnerable and it was only a matter of time; this was definitely a double edged sword.

Annihilation by City 

Forget about the Johnny Evans (United worst player this season) Red, City were rampant, they played with such poise,verve, passion, panache that was always associated with many United sides of time past. It was terrible to watch even from a neutral perspective. United were colourless, clueless and completely immature. Yes, the side is young, Yes, United are built on an attacking philosophy; but then it is well known that defenses win leagues. For crying out loud, some seasons back United kept clean sheets for 14 straight games;  United have built rock solid teams at the back in times past; there was no excuse for this degeneration as up until the 90th minute it was 3-1, before an almighty collapse at the back,not because they were pushing forward,but due to a total collapse in concentration and an idea of what was deemed important.

With Youth comes Naivety


Not to sound like Alan Hanson here, but the absence of experience within United’s back line are also root causes of this apparent reduction in standards. Take a trip down memory lane and recount those young United teams from the Busby Babes to Fergies Fledglings, it was always built on an experienced back line, what this achieves is the elimination of school boy type errors or David Luiz type PS3 control pad capitulations, you have a steady base from either Stepney or Schmeichel shouting their lungs out, arranging, organising the defense. Do you see De Gea or Lindergaard doing that?

Why Rotate?


Without giving any credit to Newcastle,because they are on a free fall any moment now, but what i admire about them is their consistency in selection, this may be born out of an apparent lack of squad depth, lack of money to strengthen etc, but i can assure you a nucleus of 13-14 players featuring week in week out, will improve team chemistry, bonding and a drive from others outside the fold to fight for inclusion in the team; instead of knowing that you may not have to do much and be sure that somewhere along the line the manager would pick you. Sir Alex has always rotated, infact he held an eviable record of never naming the same side for many years, but then the changes weren’t more than two and the Goalie was always constant, now you have two goalies who may have different philosophies on how they want their back four to shape up in front of them, there’s an apparent lack of Chemistry in this regard.

Will United miss Vidic?

Yes, if Evans is the only logical replacement, Rio has lost a few yards; Jones is too adventurous, Smalling has a calm head on his shoulders.

January Sales anyone?

With Vidic out for the season (based on unconfirmed reports); where? how? what areas can United strengthen? If you’d ask me January is never a good month to sign on new players; no advantage of a pre season, no one wants to sell and if they do; they want you to pay over the odds, remember Torres to Chelsea? Forlan to United?

If at all Sir Alex decides to go into the market, i think the following should be top on his radar; two full backs (Right back and Left Back); we all know Evra needs time off and Smalling is not a right back (makes you wonder why O’Shea was sold), a centre back and a holding midfielder, a proper one at that.

My Shopping list would include;
Daniel De Rossi
Giorgio Chellini (Definitely like for like replacement for Vidic, been playing at left back this season for Juve though. Plus Juve haven’t had any euro commitments; hence wont be cup tied)
Marcel Schmelzer (Should give Evra something to think about)

Just because this is January, i believe this 3 would be just fine to give United the push it needs.

The Europa League (a good omen)


I personally think playing in the Europa League is a positive for United, not because they can win it, but because it avails the club the opportunity to show the world its next line of prodigies from its Carrington conveyor belt (Pogba, Morrison and Keane). Also, the first team can use the time off to concentrate on shutting up their noisy neighbours, with little or no distractions.

Can United bounce back?

Defiantly, Yes. Sir Alex Ferguson’s strong points has been his re-engineering and regeneration, he will see this as a challenge and would be eager to bounce back real quick. Truth be told though, the squad is not good enough, but a lot has to be done about the injuries. Remember Hargreaves comments?

The squad needs to wake up and i can assure you a number of hair dryers and tea cups would be flying if they don’t get their act together ASAP.
 

Levante UD (The Rise………..has the bubble burst?)

                   
At the time i decided to write on the Cinderella exploits of Levante UD ((Llevant Unió Esportiva), a small rather unknown team from Valencia who have continually lived in the shadows of their more illustrious neighbours,Valencia; the club was undefeated in nine, had defeated perennial contenders Real Madrid and was on the verge of been the first team in four years to win eight straight games in La Liga. Unfortunately, the bubble seems to have gone burst as Osasuna had other plans and have gone ahead to end Levante’s great run at the top of La Liga, however, the story still needs to be told especially in a league like the Primera Liga where all the excitement is left to the recognised duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Is it safe to say that the wheel(s) have fallen off the Levante chariot or like Cinderella they are just missing one shoe; some salient areas of the Levante composition will be looked at to reflect if they are a flash in the pan or the real deal?

The Foundation

Levante’s foundation has always been based on that of a struggle, although formed before Valencia, it has remained in the shadows of its neighbours; its struggles have been to remain relevant, remain in the upper regions of the Spanish game. 

The team is built from the back with its journey man captain, Sergio Martinez Ballesteros, built like a professional wrestler which serves as a deceptive ploy; but his performances this season have been completely different from what he is known for. Ballesteros is known to be a hard tackling defender that consistently gets on the wrong side of referees; however this season a new found maturity has been added to his game especially with his partnership with Nano which has reaped dividends; if you take a look at their entire back line it’s a back line of journey men; from Javi Venta to Juan Fran it consist of experienced old timers who had been at the top of the game in times past.

Managed by Juan Ignacio Martínez, a hustler in my estimation; he’s built his reputation from the lower regions of the Spanish game, but finally finds himself in the big time. He’s succeeded in blending experienced old timers and journey men on an extremely low budget and getting the best out of them. He has creatively built the team to its strengths, experience, a strong defensive based and a solid counter attacking 4-5-1 formation (which evolves to a 4-4-2 formation when attacking and in possession). He has done a good job replacing Getafe’s Luis Garcia.

Prudent Spending

Juan Ignacio Martinez or JIM as he is fondly called, has prudently built the team on a transfer budget of EUR210,000.00 which to some teams is what a player earns, he’s brought in the likes of Arouna Kone from Sevilla, Xavi Torres from Malaga  and Wellington Silva from Arsenal all on loan. Arouna Kone for me is the success story; he seems to have the hunger for the game once again, he has currently scored more goals this season that he has in the last 4 seasons; he may well be on the plane to Gabon and Equitorial Guinea with the Ivory Coast for the African Nations cup.

Jim also has experienced heads like Asier Del Horno signed on a free after his contract was terminated at Valencia, also signed on a free Aranda and Nabil El- Zhar; these bits and pieces have all played a part in Levante’s Cinderella story. 

Are Levante, the Mainz of this season?

Yes they are, a great start; a breath of fresh air to an otherwise stereotyped league. A lot will depend on how they respond to their defeat to Osasuna, last season’s 14th placed finish is surmountable this season, but I strongly worry about the age of the back 4; with a combined age of 138 years. I worry if they’d stay fit and also be able to keep it together and not tire before December comes along. The story would be really worth telling if Levante are able to qualify for the Europa League, I make bold to say it is possible on current form, but stranger things have happened.

La Liga needs Levante to succeed

As earlier stated La Liga is a stereotyped league, the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona, to many does not help the league, but the emergence of Levante would do La Liga a lot of good. Levante have already defeated Real Madrid this season, which came to many as a surprise, but to some it was great to have such a result as it brought up arguments to support the notion that La Liga is still a competitive league; but truth be told the gulf in class is evident for all to see.

However, the whole league needs Levante to be a success story, to get attention  away from the disparity in the revenue sharing that has been a major controversy  the league has had to deal with, success for Levante will set La Liga on a different course. By Success, I mean at least Europa League qualification, no way will Levante win La Liga nor finish in the Champions League places.

Next week, Levante have the derby against Valencia at home, there’s no better way to get back on course than against your more illustrious neighbours and also to demonstrate to the entire league that they are no flash in the pan.