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

 

Henry Onyekuru to Arsenal: The Pros and Cons

The rumors have been flying for quite some days now but it eventually took flesh when according to Sky Sources, Arsenal have agreed a 6.8 million Pounds deal with Belgian club KAS Eupen for kid sensation Henry Onyekuru with personal terms yet to be reached. The 19 year old who is a product of the Aspire foundation recently made his ‘debut’ for the Super Eagles in a ‘practice’ game against Corsica and is in the squad to play Togo. Onyekuru’s invite to the Super Eagles is very refreshing especially as the duo of Iheanacho and Iwobi who led the forward lines in our last qualifiers have since suffered familiar fates and lost their places in their teams, hence the need for someone who is actually getting game time and scoring goals which the 19 year old fully fits the bill, Onyekuru is fast, has good movements and finishes quite well with 20 goals in the Jupiler league.

At first look, the deal to Arsenal sounds juicy especially as it sees a Nigerian player yet again featuring for a top side in Europe and will provide more opportunities to be seen and monitored by his Nigerian fans who are largely followers of the English league, but critically, is this the deal that the lad needs at this point especially with interest from the likes of Celtic, Club Brugges and Anderlecht? Arsenal recently gave their manager Arsene Wenger a new two year deal after a turbulent season and many are of the opinion that this may well be his final two years in charge of the gunners. The team despite winning 3 FA cup finals in the last four years are without a Premier League trophy in 13 years and miss out on the Champions league for the first time under the French man, the Wenger Out campaign hit its highest levels this season and it is rumored that the board have mandated the Manager to be more ruthless in his transfer dealings and in a season where Manchester City have already signed Bernado Silva, agreed a fee for Benfica goalkeeper Ederson and are strongly linked to the likes of Kyle Walker, in a window where United are being linked with names like Griezmann, Aubameyang, Perisic, is Henry Onyekuru the type of signing that will bring excitement to the Arsenal Fans? Will Arsene be patient enough with the young talent who clearly still has a lot to learn amidst pressure?

The demands of expectation at the Emirates will be at its peak this season, will Henry be able to thrive under that atmosphere where he will be expected to deliver week in, week out. Is he exactly a step up when compared to Giroud or Danny Welbeck, this is a major leap for the young lad and whilst many may be quick to point to how Arsene Wenger helped Kanu Nwankwo blossom, albeit under different circumstances, the times have changed, the Gunners have succinctly gone beyond their ‘building the young’ policy and have splashed the cash in recent years, instant success is required and how much of a chance will Henry be given to find his feet when the next year could actually be key to his development and staking his place in the Eagles as major competitions draw near. Much is left to be seen of this deal, will Henry Onyekuru end up as another Ahmed Musa or a Brown Ideye, only time will tell.

A Hung-over Champions Performance: My Thoughts on the FA Cup Final

Let me be the first to admit that Punditry is such a hard job when we all get it wrong; we are supposed to be experts and quite a number of people depend on our expert analysis to determine their mood going into a big game and in some circumstances place a stake on the game with the hope of making a quick buck or two.

Credit to Arsenal, Arsene Wenger and the fans who believed in their team before and during the match; not you, you know yourselves. Forget about the controversy of the first goal; it was a supremely fantastic Arsenal performance, the Gunners could have been up by four goals at halftime  with their exhilarating play of pace, quick movement and possession. Here are my thoughts from a great Arsenal FA Cup victory:

Chelsea seemed Hung-Over

Antonio Conte would take the blame for this lethargic Chelsea performance; it obviously looked like they had over celebrated their league win just seven days earlier. This takes me back to 1994 and 1999; when Manchester United were chasing a double and a Treble; I remember the words of Sir Alex; to the team and the Fans on the final day of the season; calming down the celebrations, ensuring it didn’t go over board as the team still had bigger fish to fry in the coming days. This Chelsea team didn’t look that; the whole John Terry send forth and general atmosphere at Stamford Bridge on final day; they had a party and seemed to celebrate all week; probably waving off the threat Arsenal were capable of been. The only other time Chelsea were probably this poor was on their trip to Old Trafford; they had no answer for Arsenal’s running on and off the ball, it was an electric performance from the Gunners.

Chelsea Midfield off the pace

I kept asking myself were is all this space coming from; it was like a huge gaping hole after an earthquake. Chelsea’s midfield was completely off the pace; that all that running, movement, quickness of the pacing, use of space; just gave N’golo Kante and Nemanja Matic just too much to keep up with. I felt Conte could have responded with a change earlier than he did; especially as Pedro and Hazard were having an off day.

Arsenal got behind the Chelsea in the wide areas, using the pace of Bellerin and Chamberlain in transitioning from defense to attack like a hot knife through butter. The Introduction of Fabregas for Matic; could have brought some much needed calm in the midfield with the Blues seizing possession and some energy and industry could have helped with the introduction of Willian for Pedro; both substitutions could have been done at Half time as Arsenal were having a field day controlling the midfield in the first half, but stepped off the gas in the second half for a counter attacking approach; it would have been a great reaction to the onslaught at the time.

Sanchez’s Goal shouldn’t have stood

I am not a referee; but i have watched the game long enough to know when a player is interfering with play; i am not even mentioning the hand ball leading to goal. Now, lets consider this; ball gets flicked into the box; Aaron Ramsey is in an offside position; doesn’t realize it; makes a move for the ball, turns to get the ball to take a shot a Courtois; but gets either a shout from Sanchez; who made a run from outside the box or just immediately realizes he was in an offside position earlier and shouldn’t touch or make a move for the ball; we have to realize that at this time Courtois is coming to terms with facing an Aaron Ramsey strike on goal only to see him move over for Sanchez to take a swipe at the ball. For me, Ramsey was offside every day of the week including Sundays and public holidays; goal shouldn’t have stood.

Mertesacker Holding Defense; No Problem.

Imagine the hysteria during the week; when it was apparent Arsenal would have to call on their semi retired club Captain to fill the defensive hole left open by injuries to Gabriel, Mustafi and Koscielny’s  suspension. It gave Arsenal absolutely no chance against a rampaging Chelsea forward line full of running and enthusiasm; little did we know that as the saying goes ”there’s no substitute for experience”.

What a performance by Per Mertesacker; a gem of a composed defensive performance; commanding, resolute and quite encouraging. Young Rob Holding would have learnt a ton from partnering with the veteran last night; the German showed all forms of leadership, exhibiting control, didn’t misplace a pass; calm in possession and in his tackling. Permit me to say this; we have had the Gerrard Final; this was the Mertesacker Final (I understand Martin Keown said the same thing too).

Eden Hazard: Not quite there yet

There’s been a lot of debate on how good Eden Hazard is and how he ranks or compares with the likes of Messi, Cristano, Neymar and Saurez. I have maintained that he still has a bit to go to be mentioned in the same category as the aforementioned individuals. For one his numbers have to take a huge nudge up; especially considering the amount of influence he has in the Chelsea team.

Lets make a quick comparison and look at the numbers; this season Hazard has scored 16 goals and 5 assists, probably his best goals return for Chelsea; if you take a look across the pond to the four guys I mentioned:

Lionel Messi – 37 goals; 9 assists

Luis Saurez – 29 goals; 13 assists

Cristano Ronaldo – 25 goals; 6 assists

Neymar Jnr – 13 goals; 11 assists

For a player that has that much influence and is integral to Chelsea’s play and success; he needs to up the ante; been involved in a total of 21 goals all season is probably not good enough in been ranked among the best in the world.

Also; if i were to take into consideration the effect two of these players had in their team’s cup final triumph as against Hazard’s performance in Chelsea’s disappointing Cup demise; it reflects on my entire analysis of how much Hazard can be mentioned in the conversation of best players in the world.

Eden Hazard was one of Chelsea’s poor performers in last night’s FA Cup final; he couldn’t galvanize the team and was largely anonymous; he needs to turn up in games of this nature in a more consistent manner to finally warrant or merit been considered one of the world’s elite players.

 

 

 

 

 

**Pictures courtesy SIPA/REX Shutterstock; Associated Press

The Search for the Brighter Footballer Continues

The connection between Education and Sports has been a long standing one  that over time many of the Sports Superstars we have come to know and love have grown into prominence from their participation in schools sports.

School Sports continues to be a veritable means of guaranteeing a stable and steady convey belt of Sports men and women for the nation at large. Like it or not Football remains the number one sport in Nigeria; it is played at every street corner; on different surfaces across the nation. To this end; a nation that is serious about the development of Football and Sports in general cannot neglect or turn a blind eye to schools sports.

Today we have various competitions geared at harnessing the immense potential and talent pool Nigeria possesses from the Secondary Schools to the University; but not many focus on spotting these kids from as an early age as Primary School students like the Fab 5 Football Challenge. The competition is in its Fifth year of existence and its Fourth edition with over 2000 pupils as participants over the years and 200 public primary schools across Lagos State.

The FAB 5 Football Challenge is organised by Pet-Bamok Limited with the support of the Lagos State Sports Commission; Blaugrana Sports International, Lagos Internal Revenue Service (LIRS), Rite Foods, Bigi  and Indomie Noodles. The Competition’s stand out performers over the years have benefited from the Scholarship and Mentoring schemes. This year’s competition screened schools from the state’s five educational districts. 16 schools will participate in the final tournament that will see the winners receive prizes including opportunities for the best outstanding players to be enrolled into the FC Barcelona Soccer School in Lagos. Past Winners of the Fab 5 Football Challenge include; St Stephen Primary School, Lagos Island in 2012; LA Primary School, Surulere in 2014 and Opebi Primary School, Ikeja in 2015.

Despite the success of the competition; it still needs a major boost from Corporate Nigeria in terms of support and sponsorship especially financially as the gains attached with backing such a project are not quantifiable. This affords us the opportunity to spot these talents early and nurture them for the future;  their progress can easily be monitored from the Fab 5 Football Challenge to the Lagos State Principal’s Cup to the NUGA Games/ NCAA Tournaments or respectable academies across Europe and who knows one day a Super Eagles International.

The Competition is slated for Friday 26th of May; 2017 at the Campus Mini Stadium, Lagos Island to coincide with the Children’s day celebration.

The Stockholm Ambush: My Thoughts on the Europa League Final

Firstly, I must say was there a scarcity of confetti in Stockholm that the Manchester United celebrations got none to celebrate such an historic feat. I must say Kudos to the young, energetic and aggressive Ajax side who stood tall all through Ninety Minutes in trying to emulate other successful all conquering Ajax sides of many years past.

In most previews of this Europa League Finals; it was tagged a match pitting experience vs youth; well if memory serves me right the two times this has happened this season; experience has found a way to shine through; case in question Monaco’s two legged affair against the Old Lady of Turin. A careful analysis of the events on the pitch of the Friend’s Arena in Stockholm for me seemed more of like Manchester United laid an ambush for Ajax; you can play you free flowing, passing football, but you wouldn’t get a clear sight of goal all game.

Manchester United have now conveniently snuck  into the group stage of next season’s Champions League; more or less nullifying the old adage that says ”never put all your eggs in one basket”. Here are my thoughts generally on the Final match as a whole:

United avoided Pressing

You can say what you want about Jose Mourinho; positive or negative, the man knows how to win and drill a side to get a result from a one off game. Like it or not; defending remains an integral part of the game and it goes hand in hand with attacking. United knew that they didn’t have the legs to press this young Ajax team up top nor the energy to chase them all over the pitch; so whenever Ajax chose to build from the back, Mourinho’s side dropped into their half into two banks of four; more or less daring them to play through the well organized wall or is it a bus this days. At every instance; United ensured they had opportunities to double team Ajax’s better ball playing individuals; whilst nullifying the space to pass through them. It was quite frustrating as it restricted Ajax to just three shots on target with non troubling Romero in the United Goal.

Once United saw they had been able to force Ajax to play the way they wanted it was easy to leave Marcus Rashford  up top; to try to curtail the freedom and confidence Davinson Sanchez was growing into; as a ”ball playing center back”; the Red Devils were more comfortable with him trying to orchestrate things from the back as against the likes of Schone and Klaassen.

Chris Smalling: dropping down the pecking order

Over the course of the weekend and the week leading to the Europa League Final; many United fans prayed for Chris Smalling not to be included in the starting eleven; surprise, surprise; come match day he is listed to pair Daley Blind in Central Defense; when most believed Phil Jones will get the nod ahead of him. What was most shocking was that without Wayne Rooney and Micheal Carrick in the starting Line up; Smalling automatically  takes over the captain’s arm band; but for some strange reason; Antonio Valencia captained United to glory on the night. Is this a signal that Smalling as fallen down the pecking order? Is this Jose’s way of telling him, he isn’t that reliable anymore and cannot be trusted? Whatever, it may have been; Chris Smalling did put up a solid performance on the night; probably is best performance all season.

In Traore, Younes and Sanchez; I see the next Superstars

Yes; Bertrand Traore is a Chelsea player and after such a successful loan spell at Ajax; I am sure Antonio Conte would have been monitoring his progress; hoping to see how he may be able to add that extra to a title winning Chelsea side. Although, if he is to fit into Conte’s side; he will have to brush up on his tactical discipline; this is what makes the likes of Willian and Pedro; important in the Chelsea core. This is not to take anything away from his undoubted talent, but its simply stating there’s still work to be done.

Davinson Sanchez is a quick, strong and physical defender, raw on the edges with a lot of brushing up and refinement needed to make him the next big defensive superstar. He needs to stay at Ajax to develop his game; no need rushing out to some of Europe’s elite, who would not afford you the time to learn and refine your game; he can be massive over the next 2-3 years if he stays at Ajax.

Amin Younes  reminded me of former Ajax winger; Marc Overmars, with his pace and trickery; but his decision making needs to improve greatly if he would like to reach the heights of the former diminutive Dutch winger.

Marouane Fellaini: My Man of the Match

See as I am typing this I am having to check myself to be sure that I am actually doing this; but you have got to say that had to be his best performance ever in a Manchester United shirt; he was totally unplayable, Ajax couldn’t handle him.

I remember saying it this morning in the studio that this is the kind of game Mourinho would start Fellaini; social media went wild seeing him in the starting line up ahead of Micheal Carrick.

I never knew this day would come; I am sure my Late Dad would be turning in his grave now; but it has, Marouane Fellaini, Please take a bow.

Jose is still Special After all

Forget what the psychic cow predicted or what the nerds at whoscored.com said; love him or hate him; the man knows how to win. It has been a tough eighteen months or so for Jose Mourinho; from the unfortunate debacle and alleged mutiny at Chelsea; to his damaged reputation as an unyielding task master. His me/us against the world mentality always puts him and his team in the line of fire; issues with players fitness and commitment have largely swung in his favour in the long run and he has the trophies to show for it.

It is hard to pin-point where he ranks among the greats in world club football; but it has to be very high; Four European trophies with three different clubs must put him close to the top; series of league titles and cups; must gradually have him hitching towards the greats.

What’s past is past; a new chapter and potential legacy may just be upon us; Jose can kick on from this and build his own legacy along side Busby and Ferguson; its a long road ahead and it would be hard to bet against Jose not leaving a huge mark in the United trophy cabinet when his tenure ends.

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.