Tag Archives: Liverpool

Super Mario regrets Liverpool, but insists the future is bright.

Well, it’s safe to assume that we won’t be seeing Mario Balotelli around Merseyside again. Not unless he joins Everton. The Italian striker was in the news this weekend having scored twice for his new club Nice against the mighty Marseille in a 3-2 win, and also claiming that his stint for Liverpool was “the worst decision of my life”.

The 26-year-old – he’s only twenty-six – scored four goals in 28 appearances in all competitions for the Reds. He scored only the one goal in 20 Serie A games on loan at Milan last season before Jurgen “The Normal One” Klopp deemed him surplus to requirements and Balotelli joined Nice on a free transfer.

balotellinice

“Apart from the fans, who were fantastic, and some players who I got on really well with, I didn’t like the club,” the former Man City striker said. “I had two coaches, with Rodgers and Klopp for a short time, but neither their methods nor their personality left me with a good impression”

I rate Balotelli highly. I think he’s a gifted player. But, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, he appears to have a lack of interest at times. I’ve seen him train a few times and needless to say, he’s wasn’t exactly giving it 100%.

But perhaps Balotelli can turn it around at Nice (I know, I know, we’ve said that before). He’s 26 now. When he was 18 or 19 and promising if difficult player, managers made allowances. Ask Roberto Mancini.

He still regards himself as an elite player. When asked about the Ballon d’Or, he said “I think I could have already won it by now, but by working hard in training I could still win it in the next two or three years.”

The truth is that he’s been nowhere near making the final three, let alone winning it. But he’s right. It’s not too late. Football is a short career and regrets last a lot longer. I wonder is Super Mario finally realising this and will he get down to showing the world what a remarkable player he truly can be.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Jurgen Klopp is just what the doctor ordered at Anfield

One slip and it could have been all so different. But despite nearly winning the Premier League, Brendan Rodgers’ departure from Anfield is not exactly unexpected. Since the club’s near miss in 2014, the Liverpool team we have seen have been somewhat average. And it looks like just the right man is set to head to Anfield to turn things around.

Jürgen Klopp’s reputation as a manager is colossal. As a player, he was a one-club-man with Mainz, who he also went on to managed between 2001 for seven years. In 2008, he was unveiled as Borussia Dortmund manager where he won back-to-back Bundesliga wins in 2011 and 2012, as well as the DFB-Pokal in 2012, the DFL-Supercup in 2008, 2013 and 2014, as well as narrowly missing out on the 2013 Champions League title (to rivals Bayern Munich).

It is widely agreed among pundits and fans that the 48-year-old is just perfect fit to revitalize Liverpool.

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I’d have to agree. The two big names that were floating about for the Anfield job was Carlo Ancelotti and Jürgen Klopp. The German, for me, is by far the better fit. He’s more used to working with limitations. Liverpool, as historic and beloved worldwide as they are, have something of a mediocre squad at the moment. Especially with Steven Gerrard now departed for Stateside and Luis Suarez’s enormous talent has not – possibly cannot – be replaced.

Klopp has the charisma and title-winning pedigree to attract some of the world’s best to Anfield. Liverpool’s record of Champions League qualification in recent years plays a major part as to why the likes of Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan chose other clubs ahead of the Reds (the latter chose Klopp coincidentally). The German would appeal to many players ahead of Rodgers – no disrespect to the man who almost led Liverpool to their first league title since 1989.

Some say Liverpool are a poisoned chalice. And that regardless who the next manager is, unless Liverpool win the Premier League, it will be considered a failure. I disagree. Look at Klopp’s record. As I said earlier, he is used to working with limitations. Not to mention his knack of nurturing of upcoming talent like, for example, Mario Götze – now a World Cup-winning goalscorer.

This is a man, don’t forget, who brought in a little-known player to Dortmund called Robert Lewandowski for €4.5 million from Lech Poznan. He was sublime for Klopp and today, he is considered one of, if not the, most lethal strikers in Europe. Also see Sven Bender, Mats Hummels, Marco Reus etc.

For the average football fan, it will be great to see this man in the Premier League. He is absolute box office. Both he and Mourinho head-to-head should make entertaining television. Think Ferguson v Wenger, only better.

Interesting times ahead  – possibly great times ahead – at Anfield.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

What next for Mario Balotelli?

There’s a great moment in the 2012 interview between Noel Gallagher and Mario Balotelli when the Italian international promises the former Oasis guitarist his infamous “Why Always Me?” t-shirt. The looks on Gallagher Snr’s face is that of a genuine fan – something we don’t see that often – such is the aura of Balotelli’s genius. He was a much-loved maverick striker with lethal ability and his antics off-the-pitch were just as legendary.

Fast-forward three years and the striker’s days of being the superstar footballer that was a manager’s dream (or nightmare depending on the day in particular). 

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When Balotelli burst onto the scene as an Inter Milan player, he made plenty of manager’s – and indeed fans – take notice. Here was a player with an incredible and unique talent and personality to boot. It was the former that earned him the respect, and the latter that often tested the patience of managers such as José Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli.

When Brendan Rodgers signed the Italian a year ago, he said it was a “calculated risk”. An interesting term when you think about it, but it turns out that Balotelli hasn’t delivered for the Reds. In fact, he hasn’t been the Mario Balotelli that intrigued managers and wowed fans (and vice-versa) in years previous.

Balotelli turns 25 within a fortnight and, not long ago, it was predicted that he should be hitting his peak years around now and playing for one of football’s elite clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Instead, Liverpool have been purchasing attacking players means that the Italian finds himself down the pecking order at both club and, due to poor form, country.

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A move out of Anfield is the logical solution and reports of clubs such as Sampdoria and Bologna are prepared to take the 24-year-old back to Serie A, where he first burst onto the scene at the age of 17.

Perhaps it would be best for Mario to go back there. The two clubs widely reported to be keen on him would be good for him – Sampdoria, who finished last year in 7th place would obviously see Balotelli as the obvious replacement for the outgoing Stefano Okaka – and newly-promoted Bologna, who would benefit hugely from a player of Balotelli’s talent, personality and experience.

But Brendan Rodgers has said that the Italian’s future is entirely up to himself. “He is working hard to get fit and we will see when the season begins,” the Liverpool boss said. Indeed, time will tell. But it would be great to see the Mario Balotelli of old back in the back (and almost unavoidably front) pages.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Champions League matchday 4 review

The previous two nights had some spectacular moment of football, some ridiculous results and some memorable moments and yet another Andrea Pirlo piece of footballing masterclass. Let’s look back at the Champions League matchday four.

Arsenal felt sheer heartache having let a 3-0 advantage slip to draw 3-3 in the Emirates on Tuesday night thanks to Anderlecht‘s Aleksandar Mitrović. The Serbian international headed a last-minute equaliser to keep the Belgian side in the competition when it seemed the Gunners were cruising into the last 16 from Group D.

Borussia Dortmund may have lost their last five matches in the Bundesliga, but they maintained their 100% record in their group to qualify for the last 16 with a 4-1 victory against Galatasaray. Play was temporarily suspended in the Signal Iduna Park following some fireworks being thrown onto the pitch by some Galatasaray fans. The Turkish side are now likely left to battle it out with Anderlecht in Group D for a UEFA Europa League spot.

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Also on Tuesday, Juventus scored twice in as many minutes after the hour mark as they came back from 2-1 down to defeat Olympiacos by 3-2. Andrea Pirlo marked his 100th Champions League appearance with a trademark inch-perfect free-kick before Olympiacos’ Spanish defender Alberto Botia headed in the equaliser. Congolese midfielder Delvin N’Dinga put the Greeks ahead before an own goal from Roberto Gago and a winning goal from Paul Pogba means the two sides are level on six points in Group A.

Manchester City‘s Champions League woes deepened last night as CSKA Moscow‘s Ivorian star Seydou Doumbia struck twice to earn the Russian side a famous victory over their Group E rivals. It was a disastrous night for Manuel Pellegrini’s men who ended the game with nine men and at the bottom of the group – ten points behind leaders Bayern Munich and now with their qualification hopes all but dead. City host Pep Guardiola’s men on matchday five and still looking for their first win of the group.

Let’s look at the results in full:

(Group C)
Zenit 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP) – Stadium: Stadion Petrovski, St Petersburg (RUS)
(Group C)
Benfica 1-0 Monaco
Referee: David Fernández Borbalán (ESP) – Stadium: Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon (POR)
(Group D)
Arsenal 3-3 Anderlecht
Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA) – Stadium: Arsenal Stadium, London (ENG)
(Group D)
B.Dortmund 4-1 Galatasaray
Referee: Pavel Královec (CZE) – Stadium: BVB Stadion Dortmund, Dortmund (GER)
(Group A)
Malmö 0-2 Atlético Madrid
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (ENG) – Stadium: Malmö New Stadium, Malmo (SWE)
(Group A)
Juventus 3-2 Olympiacos
Referee: Martin Atkinson (ENG) – Stadium: Juventus Stadium, Turin (ITA)
(Group B)
FC Basel 4-0 Ludogorets
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (FRA) – Stadium: St. Jakob-Park, Basel (SUI)
(Group B)
Real Madrid 1-0 Liverpool
Referee: Viktor Kassai (HUN) – Stadium: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)
(Group E)
Man. City 1-2 CSKA Moscow
Referee: Tasos Sidiropoulos (GRE) – Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester (ENG)
(Group E)
Bayern Munich 2-0 Roma
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR) – Stadium: Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)
(Group F)
PSG 1-0 APOEL
Referee: Olegário Benquerença (POR) – Stadium: Parc des Princes, Paris (FRA)
(Group F)
Ajax 0-2 Barcelona
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam (NED)
(Group G)
Sporting 4-2 Schalke
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (ITA) – Stadium: José Alvalade, Lisbon (POR)
(Group G)
Maribor 1-1 Chelsea
Referee: Daniele Orsato (ITA) – Stadium: Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor (SVN)
(Group H)
Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 BATE
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER) – Stadium: Arena Lviv, Lviv (UKR)
(Group H)
Athletic Bilbao 0-2 FC Porto
Referee: Felix Brych (GER) – Stadium: Estadio de San Mamés, Bilbao (ESP)

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Is the end is nearing for Liverpool’s Balotelli?

When Mario Balotelli joined Liverpool last August from AC Milan, I read one memorable line in a newspaper to describe the deal. It said “when Balotelli joins a club there is celebrations. But there is bigger celebrations when he leaves”. Think about that for a minute.

I was in Milan last month and some Rossoneri fans told me that they certainly won’t miss Mario around the San Siro, (they had recently signed forwards Jeremy Menez and Fernando Torres), but they still love him. It’s safe to say that Brendan Rodgers knew what he was getting himself into when he signed the Italian international. But did he really think it could go so poorly so quickly?

Balotelli is a brilliant footballer. I’m just going to say that because it is a fact. He’s incredibly agile, full of pace, he has incredible strength and his technical ability is phenomenal. But it’s very frustrating for managers, team-mates and fans because he doesn’t always use these attributes to the best of his ability. And, at best, he’s currently giving 50% in the Liverpool shirt.
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When’s he on form, he is brilliant. When he is not on form, he is somewhat thoughtless, unprofessional and immature. This is a player who José Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli all gave up on. Brendan Rodgers’ biggest achievement this season could be getting through to the Italian and turning him around. That’s if he doesn’t ship him out of Anfield in January.

The thing is for Balotelli is that if he doesn’t start scoring or performing well, it’s highly likely that he will be sent elsewhere. Previously when managers signed him, they knew he was trouble, but he gets goals and results. He’s not doing either for Liverpool. There may not be a great deal of interested parties willing to take the chance Brendan Rodgers too in August.

For Liverpool’s sake, he needs to drill it into Balotelli to use his brain and his feet. Otherwise it will mark the end of another turbulent chapter in the life of Mario Balotelli.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19n1g_fZujA

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter @robsmithireland

Champions League matchday two preview

Matchday two is upon us and there lies some tasty fixtures over the next two evenings.

The early fixture today is Bayern Munich travel to the Russian capital to face CSKA Moscow. The bookies will say that it’s a routine win for Pep Guardiola’s men, but anything is possible in Moscow – as many clubs found out before.

Barcelona will face a number of former players at PSG including Maxwell, Thiago Motta, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and even coach Laurent Blanc. The French side will be looking for their first win of the group following their 1-1 draw with Ajax on matchday one.

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José “still the special one” Mourinho is back in Portugal as his Chelsea boys take on Sporting Lisbon, whose long unbeaten European home record is put to the test by the Blues who have won their last six games against Portugese teams.

Man City will be looking to bounce back from their loss against Bayern Munich on matchday one, when they host an AS Roma side with a notoriously poor record on English soil. The Giallorossi opened their group stage campaign with a 5-1 win against CSKA Moscow.

Galatasaray travel to North London to face Arsenal tomorrow. The Gunners’ 2-0 loss at Borussia Dortmund on matchday one was their first defeat in fifteen matches in all competitions.

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Italian giants Juventus travel to the Spanish capital where they will face Atlético MadridBeaten at Olympiacos on matchday one, Diego Simeone will be looking for more out of his men on Wednesday night at the Vicente Calderón.

Liverpool travel to the Switzerland to take on FC Basel. The latter will be eager to bounce back from their 5-1 opening loss at Real Madrid, while Liverpool’s unconvincing 2-1 win over Ludogorets on matchday one will be fresh in the memory of Brendan Rodgers. 

 

The fixtures in full:

 

30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group E)
CSKA Moskva
17.00
FC Bayern
Referee: William Collum (SCO) – Stadium: Arena Khimki, Khimki (RUS)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group F)
PSG
19.45
FC Barcelona
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (ITA) – Stadium: Parc des Princes, Paris (FRA)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group F)
APOEL
19.45
Ajax
Referee: Milorad Mažić (SRB) – Stadium: GSP Stadium, Nicosia (CYP)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group G)
Sporting
19.45
Chelsea
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP) – Stadium: José Alvalade, Lisbon (POR)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group G)
Schalke
19.45
Maribor
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP) – Stadium: Stadion Gelsenkirchen, Gelsenkirchen (GER)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group H)
Shakhtar Donetsk
19.45
FC Porto
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR) – Stadium: Arena Lviv, Lviv (UKR)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group H)
BATE
19.45
Athletic Bilbao
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (FRA) – Stadium: Borisov Arena, Borisov (BLR)
30 September 2014 – Group stage (Group E)
Man. City
19.45
Roma
Referee: Björn Kuipers (NED) – Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester (ENG)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group C)
Zenit
17.00
AS Monaco
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (ENG) – Stadium: Stadion Petrovski, St Petersburg (RUS)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group C)
Leverkusen
19.45
Benfica
Referee: Martin Atkinson (ENG) – Stadium: BayArena, Leverkusen (GER)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group D)
Arsenal
19.45
Galatasaray
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (ITA) – Stadium: Arsenal Stadium, London (ENG)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group D)
Anderlecht
19.45
Bor Dortmund
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (ITA) – Stadium: Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Brussels (BEL)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group A)
Malmö
19.45
Olympiacos
Referee: Sergei Karasev (RUS) – Stadium: Malmö New Stadium, Malmo (SWE)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group A)
Atlético
19.45
Juventus
Referee: Felix Brych (GER) – Stadium: Estadio Vicente Calderón, Madrid (ESP)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group B)
Basel
19.45
Liverpool
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (SWE) – Stadium: St. Jakob-Park, Basel (SUI)
1 October 2014 – Group stage (Group B)
Ludogorets
19.45
Real Madrid
Referee: Craig Thomson (SCO) – Stadium: Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski, Sofia (BUL)

 

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Has there been longer penalty shootouts than last night’s epic one?

The answer, dear readers, is yes.

While last night’s shootout between Liverpool and Middlesbrough was indeed certainly epic (I don’t think I have ever seen 14-13 written on a scoreboard before), it wasn’t quite the longest. Indeed there were 27 of 30 penalty kicks converted in Anfield last night, but the 2008 Greek cup final was an astonishing one.

The final had no shortage of goals in 120 minutes as AEK Athens were held to a 4-4 against rivals Olympiacos (with two goals from Rotherham United striker Matt Derbyshire). It was indeed Olympiacos who won the cup on penalties by a score of 15-14 on penalties.

But wait. That wasn’t even the longest.

The 2005 Namibian cup final witnessed KK Palace play Civics where after 90 minutes the game finished with a 2-2 draw. No extra time was played, but the ensuing penalty shoot-out was incredibly epic as both teams took 24 penalties, for a grand total of 48 penalties taken. KK Palace ultimately won the shootout with a 17-16 win and lifted the cup. The penalty shoot-out is now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Champions League preview

Normal service resumes as the Champions League is tonight upon us once more. Clear your schedule for the next two evenings and take in sixteen fixtures that should keep us all glued to our television sets. Let’s have a look at all of the fixtures in detail for matchday one:

Runners-up last season, Atlético Madrid embark on the new campaign as they travel to Piraeus to face Olympiacos. The Greek side will be a tough test for Diego Simeone’s men at the Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis as Olympiacos last season won 16 out of 17 matches at home in the league last season.

Swedish champions Malmo travel to Turin to face Italian giants Juventus. It will be a tough test for Malmo who go into the fixture with some injury concerns while Juve’s Carlos Tevez will be out to prove a point. The Argentine has gone 14 matches without a goal in the competition since scoring in Man United’s 2-2 draw with FC Porto in April 2009.
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Liverpool are back in the Champions League after a five year absence. The Premier League runners-up welcome Ludogorets to Anfield – the first meeting between the Reds and a Bulgarian team since the 2005/06 campaign. Emre Can and Lazar Marković are both suspended for Liverpool on matchday one while Ludogorets are without goalkeepers Vladislav Stoyanov and Ivan Čvorović through suspension and injury respectively. 

Four months after they conquered ‘La Décima’ in Lisbon, Real Madrid will begin their title defence against FC Basel. The Swiss side travel to the Spanish capital with new coach Paulo Sousa, who has won six of his first eight Super League games. Los Blancos can boast some of the biggest names in world football, as well as new additions in James Rodriguez, Tony Kroos and Chicharito – all ready for tonight’s fixture.
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Monaco are back in Europe after an eight year absence as they tonight host Bayer Leverkusen. The Ligue 1 side replaced coach Claudio Ranieri with Leonardo Jardim in the summer and lost star players such as James Rodriguez, Eric Abidal and Falcao without getting any substantial replacements. Leverkusen are in fine form having won five out of five this season before last Friday’s 3-3 draw with Werder Bremen.

Zenit St Petersburg travel to Lisbon as they face Benfica in their opening match of the campaign. The Russian side have a good record against Portugese teams in the past 12 months having beaten FC Paços and FC Porto in the qualifying games and group stages respectively.
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It’s new coach Cesare Prandelli’s first Champions League match tonight since taking charge of Galatasaray as they face Anderlecht in Istanbul. The Belgian side will be seeking to get their first win on Turkish soil in their history while Galatasaray will be more than aware that they have not won any of their last four opening-night fixtures.

No strangers to one another, Borussia Dortmund welcome Arsenal in their opening fixture. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to reverse the home defeat they suffered to the Gunners 12 months ago while Arsene Wenger will be without defender Mathieu Debuchy, but will be keeping a close eye on star-signing Alexis Sanchez, who has scored in each of his last three appearances, to cause considerable damage to the Germans.

Ashley Cole is set to play in the Champions League for a third club as Roma tonight face CSKA Moscow in the Stadio Olimpico. The Italian side are without star players Daniele de Rossi and Kevin Strootman while the Russians are beaming with confidence coming off the back of four consecutive wins – their best since 2002.
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Yet again Man City and Bayern Munich meet in the group stages – the third time in four years – but it still makes for a tasty fixture. The last time managers Pep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini met as coaches was during El Clásico in 2009/10 Spanish season. City are tonight without Pablo Zabaleta but can take comfort in the recent form of both Stevan Jovetić and Sergio Agüero.  

The only Irishman in the Champions League Cillian Sheridan and his APOEL team-mates travel to the Camp Nou to try topple giants Barcelona despite having never won away from home in the competition as Luis Enrique makes his European coaching debut with the Catalans.
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Zlatan Ibrahimović returns to face his former club Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena with his Paris Saint-Germain team-mates. The Parisians are six games unbeaten in 2014/15 yet have won just one of their last seven away games. Ajax however started their season with two league wins before a 3-1 home defeat to PSV Eindhoven on 24 August cost them their first defeat in 25 league matches dating back to last November.

Chelsea welcome Schalke to Stamford Bridge once more having last faced the Germans a year ago. The Blues, and new star signing Diego Costa, are both in flying form have won four out of four in the Premier League this season while Schalke have failed to win any of their first four competitive games of a new season for the first time since 1968.
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Slovenian side Maribor, regarded as minnows in the competition, play host to Sporting Lisbon for their first group stage campaign for 15 years. Sporting, under new coach Marco Silva, are in the group stage for the first time since 2008/09 but, as Maribor will be aware of, they have lost their last two opening-day fixtures in the competition.

FC Porto begin their 19th group stage campaign determined to put last year’s poor home results in the Champions League behind them and make ammends as they seek an opening-night win against BATE Borisov in what will be the Portugese side’s 200th European Cup fixture. BATE are no strangers to competition, but rarely make any impact and have lost their last three European away games.

Finally, tomorrow is Athletic Bilbao‘s first appearance in the Champions League group stage since 1998/99  as they face Shakhtar Donetsk in their brand new stadium at San Mamés. Despite political unrest in the Donestk region and forced to play their home games some 1,200 km away in Lviv, Shakhtar’s form is very good having won eight out of eight in all competitions in 2014/15, scoring 18 and conceding just once in the process.
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The fixture list in full:

16 September 2014
(Group A)
Olympiacos
19.45
Atlético
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, Piraeus (GRE)
(Group A)
Juventus
19.45
Malmö
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (POL) – Stadium: Juventus Stadium, Turin (ITA)
(Group B)
Liverpool
19.45
Ludogorets
Referee: Matej Jug (SVN) – Stadium: Anfield, Liverpool (ENG)
(Group B)
Real Madrid
19.45
Basel
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN) – Stadium: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)
(Group C)
Monaco
19.45
Leverkusen
(Group C)
Benfica
19.45
Zenit
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR) – Stadium: Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon (POR)
(Group D)
Galatasaray
19.45
Anderlecht
Referee: István Vad (HUN) – Stadium: Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi, Istanbul (TUR)
(Group D)
Dortmund
19.45
Arsenal
Referee: Olegário Benquerença (POR) – Stadium: BVB Stadion Dortmund, Dortmund (GER)
17 September 2014
(Group E)
Roma
19.45
CSKA Moskva
Referee: David Fernández Borbalán (ESP) – Stadium: Stadio Olimpico, Rome (ITA)
(Group E)
Bayern
19.45
Man. City
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP) – Stadium: Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)
(Group F)
Barcelona
19.45
APOEL
Referee: Deniz Aytekin (GER) – Stadium: Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)
(Group F)
Ajax
19.45
Paris
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER) – Stadium: Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam (NED)
(Group G)
Chelsea
19.45
Schalke
Referee: Ivan Bebek (CRO) – Stadium: Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)
(Group G)
Maribor
19.45
Sporting
Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA) – Stadium: Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor (SVN)
(Group H)
Porto
19.45
BATE
Referee: Bas Nijhuis (NED) – Stadium: Estádio do Dragão, Porto (POR)
(Group H)
Athletic
19.45
Shakhtar Donetsk
Referee: Tasos Sidiropoulos (GRE) – Stadium: Estadio de San Mamés, Bilbao (ESP)

The next blog will be coming to you directly from Italy, as I head to Milan to see what a big game in the San Siro is like as AC Milan take on Juventus – historically two of Serie A’s and Europe’s most famous and successful teams.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

One Night In Istanbul to hit the big screen

Liverpool FC have this week via their official You Tube channel released the trailer for One Night In Istanbul. The movie is based on Nicky Allt’s hugely popular play of the same name.

It follows four Liverpool fans on a trip to watch the Reds play AC Milan in the memorable and unpredictable 2005 Champions League Final in the Turkish capital.

Though it looks like only Liverpool fans would really enjoy it, it still appears to be some decent viewing. Check out the trailer below.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Champions League draw produces some tasty ties

The draw for the group stages of the Champions League took place yesterday afternoon.

Liverpool will be making their return to the competition with a glamour tie against current holders Real Madrid and will also face Swiss side FC Basel as well Ludogorets following their fairytale entry to the competition for the first time.

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Arsenal have no easy task as they face Borussia Dortmund, Turkish side Galatasaray and Belgian champions Anderlecht.

Man City will face the task of trying to topple Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side. Manuel Pellegrini’s men also face CSKA Moscow which is never an easy tie and finally Roma, featuring Ashley Cole & co., will complete a difficult group for City.

Cillian Sheridan, currently the only Irish player competing in the competition, and his APOEL side have been dealt an incredibly tough group featuring Barcelona, PSG and Ajax. It’s big news as Zlatan will return the Camp Nou, but Sheridan will try to give the Parisians, Catalans and Amsterdammers a run for their money.

But for neutrals, Group C has some tasty fixtures, as Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco all battle it out. There is not one easy tie for any club in that group and it’s one that I’ll be personally be keeping an close eye on.

The draw in full:

Group A
Atlético Madrid, Juventus, Olympiacos, Malmo

Group B
Real Madrid, FC Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets

Group C
Benfica, Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, AS Monaco

Group D
Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht

Group E
FC Bayern Munich, Man City, CSKA Moscow, AS Roma

Group F
C FBarcelona, PSG, Ajax, Apoel Nicosia

Group G
Chelsea, Schalke 04, Sporting, Maribor

Group H
FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE

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Could Rodgers get the best out of Balotelli?

The big transfer news this week, as most of you will be well aware of at this stage, is that the ever-eccentic Mario Balotelli is soon to become a Liverpool player. This was greeted with much delight from the red half of Merseyside. And understandably so. But the general feeling is that Mario’s behaviour may disrupt the harmony that Brendan Rodgers has kept at Anfield during his tenure there.

Of course it’s now three weeks that have passed since the Liverpool boss said “categorically” that he would not be signing the Italian striker. But, as ever, nothing in football is impossible.

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People took to social media to question if Rodgers could “get Balotelli to sort his head out”. Let’s be honest, nobody can change Super Mario’s personality. He doesn’t do the whole respect-for-authority thing. But maybe Rodgers can use him more efficiently than some previous managers.

Balotelli, when at his best, can be world-class. He is one of the best penalty takers I’ve seen in some time and has fierce ability. He is incredibly competitive – similar to that of Luis Suarez – but the Uruguayan had a never-give-up attitude. The Italian international tends to drift in and out of games if decisions seem to go against him.

There’s good and bad with purchasing Mario Balotelli: the bad is his attitude, professionalism and his eccentric behaviour off the pitch which attracts much press attention (see the video below about him discussing it with Noel Gallagher). The good is, as I said before, he can be world-class. It will be up to Brendan Rodgers and Mario himself to bring that out week in, week out.

One thing that’s guaranteed is that his time at Merseyside, good or bad, will not be dull.

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Suarez four month ban the final straw for Liverpool?

Bad news for both Uruguay and Liverpool as FIFA have banned Uruguay’s Luis Suarez from all “football-related activities” for four months for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, ruling the star player out for the rest of the World Cup as well as the start of the domestic season.

It if of course the third time Suarez has bitten an opponent. Once is too many.

 

Social media understandably exploded following the incident on Tuesday. People were calling for a lifetime ban, others were calling for an international ban. Suarez, who had the support of all the Liverpool players, staff and indeed fans following previous incidents, will now miss nine Premier League matches and three crucial Champions League games.

Liverpool can feel hard done by. Essentially they are suffering for his actions while on international duty. But ultimately it is Suarez let the club and himself down.

So what are Liverpool’s options?

They can stand by him and keep one of the world’s greatest players. Or cash in on what some might see as something of a liability as well as a genius.

Suarez has a market value of around €80 million. But he is so often the difference between winning and losing for Liverpool and played an enormous role in the club’s impressive winning streak towards the end of last season.

According to Sky Sports’ Guillem Balague that both Real Madrid and Barcelona, as of this morning, knowing a punishment was imminent, still want the Uruguayan striker.

Luis Suarez

Liverpool would obviously need a replacement for Suarez. So a cash-plus-player deal would be tempting for Brendan Rodgers with Barcelona rumoured to be willing to offer €45 million plus Chilean star Alexis Sanchez.

Whatever the outcome, Suarez is still a supremely talented player. But he needs to take a look in the mirror and ask himself why he does these things.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

Hang on…are Liverpool actually going to WIN the Premier League?

The full time whistle at Anfield yesterday sparked scenes of sheer celebration and emotion from everyone wearing red after Liverpool beat Man City 3-2 in a thrilling game.

It also sparked many fans who had, in weeks prior, written off Liverpool’s chances of their possible 19th top-flight league trophy, claiming that Chelsea and Man City were far too superior, to ask themselves “are Liverpool actually going to go ahead and WIN the Premier League?”

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At the start of the season nobody had predicted it. Not the fans, and probably not even Brendan Rodgers deep down. But here we are – mid-April and Liverpool are within touching distance of the Premier League trophy.

“There are still four big games,” said captain Steven Gerrard who appeared somewhat emotional at the full-time whistle. “People say that was the biggest one but I disagree, the biggest one is Norwich. Nothing is ours yet.”

Indeed, nothing is Liverpool’s yet. But Brendan Rodgers’ men have four games left: Norwich City away, a massive test against Chelsea at home, Crystal Palace away and finally Newcastle at Anfield on May 11th. None of those games are easy.

Brendan-Rodgers-Liverpool -v-Manchester-City

Everyone is a pundit and I had people speaking to me mere days ago writing off Liverpool’s chances. But the truth is that the Reds have won their previous ten fixtures in a row. If they win the next four, they are guaranteed the title.

Are they going to actually win the title? My honest opinion: I believe they have the quality and the nerve to hold on to first place.

 

How do you think Liverpool will fare? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The times at Old Trafford are definitely a-changing

Time is most definitely not running out for David Moyes at Manchester United, the Scotsman himself will admit. He is insistent that he is under no pressure from the club, despite the poor performances, results and, most recently, the 3-0 hammering against bitter rivals Liverpool.

Had United failed to beat Olympiacos during the week, and exit the Champions League, there no doubt that there would have been fierce pressure on the Man United hierarchy to consider a solution to United’s woes – meaning a possible termination of David Moyes’ position.

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But Moyes’ side did overcome the Greek side thanks to a Robin van Persie hat-trick and Man United are into the competition’s last eight. He may be enduring a terrible domestic season, but the European dream is still alive.

But is that enough for Man United fans and, more importantly, the club itself?

Some would argue that it is. They would argue that the Scot needs time and it is a very fair argument. Moyes inherited a club that has, in the past twenty years alone, amassed an incredible amount of silverware. He would surely need time to put his own stamp on the squad – especially as he has the vocal backing of his predecessor, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Some however would argue that David Moyes is simply the wrong man for the job. Machester United seem to be a shadow of their former selves. Big name signings such as Fellaini and Juan Mata seem almost anonymous on the pitch when in the red jersey.

It’s an interesting time at Old Trafford – albeit a frustrating one for both club and fans. Especially as they look on at bitter rivals Liverpool aiming for the driving seat. The times, as somebody once sang, are a-changing.

 

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A quick word about football with…The Mighty Stef

The blog recently caught up with Stefan Murphy, leader of Dublin’s own The Mighty Stef. We had a quick chat about his fondness for Roy Keane, hatred for John Terry and why he is going to be a supporter of Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Hello, Stef. What was the first match you ever went to?

My Da played football right up into his 40’s. One of my earliest memories is going to see him play for Glenmore Celtic, his team in the late 70s early-80’s. I’ve probably have been to about 500 A.U.L. or Leinster Senior games by the age of ten which is also when I first went to the UK to see an English League fixture. It was Man Utd v Coventry and United were still managed by Ron Atkinson at the time. After the game we got to meet Paul McGrath. I can’t even remember the result.

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The mighty father: St Francis’ John Murphy in action against Bohemians in the 1990 FAI Cup semi-final

Which players do you admire most – past and present?

I’m a Liverpool fan since the age of about seven. Kenny Dalglish and John Aldridge were big childhood heroes. I also loved Jan Molby for his passing ability. Marco Tardelli for his celebration in the World Cup final in 1982. I have always been a major fan of Roy Keane. I seen him score against one of my Dad’s old teams, St Francis’, and he was 17 and playing for Cobh Ramblers at the time, just before he went to Nottingham Forest. I saw him make his debut for Ireland just a year later and simply admired him ever since. I find it hard to revere the players of the modern era in the same way but great to see Luis Suarez in a red shirt causing all sorts of trouble.

Which team or player you dislike the most?

Easy: Chelsea. John Terry.

You’ve toured a fair bit. Ever caught a game in strange town when on tour?

Sadly not. Ive tried many times, especially in Germany but its never worked out. I have made pilgrimages to Dortmund’s stadium and St. Pauli’s in Hamburg too but not on a match day. I have made a pact with a German promoter named Harald Haas that I would support Borussia Mönchengladbach as my German team of choice.

Finally, if you had to choose – a Mighty Stef album going to number one or Ireland winning a major tournament?

Nothing would mean more to me than Ireland winning the World Cup. If RTE could use one of our tunes as the closing montage to the coverage of said World Cup, that would make up for the disappointment of never getting to don the green shirt.

The Mighty Stef play Whelans on Friday 31st January. Tickets are €12.

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