Tag Archives: psg

Neymar heads to Paris to step out of Messi’s shadow.

Last year Barcelona slapped a €222 million buyout clause on Neymar. Buyout clauses are usually obscene figures to warn off potential clubs interested in availing of a player’s services. In the case of Neymar, astonishingly Paris Saint-Germain look set to spend exactly that to get the Brazilian superstar.

His reasons are both footballing and quite obviously financial.

Firstly the footballing reasons. While many will see a move from La Liga to France’s Ligue 1 as a step down, one must take into consideration the fact that Neymar will only grow so much when he’s playing in the same side as Leo Messi.

On the north-eastearn coast of Spain, Leo Messi is the frontman. The poster boy for the club, the marketing tool, and the focal point on the pitch. Neymar has always, and would always be in the Argentine’s shadow. Neymar wants to take centre stage. And where better than PSG, where players would have to adapt to his style of play, and not the other way around.

It’s an interesting move too in terms of accolades. The Ballon d’Or would be within grasping distance, but never in the palm of his hands. Messi and his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo are realistically the only two players who have been battling for it for some time. Not now. Neymar gone solo will see the Brazilian step out of Messi’s shadow and lead PSG. Critics, pundits, fans and peers will take notice,

But make no mistake, another motivating factor is money. As is always the case in the beautiful business game.

Neymar will become the best paid player in the world, doubling his salary while in the Paris. PSG’s owners Qatar Sports Investments (QSi) have seemingly an endless stream of cash going straight from the middle east to the French capital. His father who acts as his agent will receive €36 million in commission. He’s earned almost €100 million at Barcelona. As I said, make no mistake – this is clearly another motivating factor.

It will be a loss for Barcelona. The attacking trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar (often called the MSN) formed a front three considered by many as the best in the history of the game. There will be a Neymar-shaped hole if he goes unreplaced, though not catastrophic – Barcelona have over the past decade had a plethora of talent on their bench alone. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho has been frequently mentioned as a possible replacement. And other left-wingers such as Marco Reus or Eden Hazard could easily fit into the Barcelona’s system if Jurgen Klopp doesn’t budge.

Neymar’s move to PSG is all but confirmed at this stage with Barcelona putting out an official statement on the matter. The Parisians have even reportedly arranged an enormous welcoming ceremony on the streets of the French capital. All that’s left is the Brazilian’s signature. It’s up to Neymar now to deliver for his new club as he takes centre stage.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Ibra could be the gift that will keep giving for the English press

As we all know by know, Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on his way out of PSG. This week he was rumoured to be linked with Manchester United. He hasn’t announced where his next club will be, but the talk of him coming to the Premier League after Euro 2016 is carrying more and more weight,

The 34-year-old has won titles with every club he has been with. He has been a sheer success everywhere (though his one season with Barcelona is probably considered otherwise due to his spat with Pep Guardiola, despite winning five trophies during his time in Catalonia).

Clearly a phenomenal player, it’s his character that could make him every reporter’s dream. I’ll just leave this video here to illustrate my point.

Wherever Ibra goes, it won’t be a chilled atmosphere – on or off the pitch.

 

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)

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)

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.
Neymar-Barcelona-1

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)

 

Ones to watch #14: Alen Halilović

I must introduce you to this guy. The son of former Valladolid midfielder and Bosnian international Sejad Halilović is also youngest ever goalscorer in Croatia’s top tier with his current club Dinamo Zgreb, and he is also the youngest debutant for the Croatian national side. Meet 17-year-old wonderkid Alen Halilović.

By the age of 14, Real Madrid spotted young Alen at a youth tournament and tried to immediately sign him. After holding talks with his father, it was his youth club Dinamo that had to fight hard to hold onto him, which they did.

Alen Halilovic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic

 

Within two years he made his senior debut for the club, aged 16 years and 102 days , and in the massive derby game no less – Dinamo Zagreb versus Hajduk Split.

By last year, he was a much-loved regular in the Dinamo senior squad and he became their youngest ever Champions League player when he featured against PSG.

Massive names such as Real Madrid, Man United and Man City were, for some time, at the head of a very lengthy queue to secure the young lad’s signature, but it was the lure of FC Barcelona that proved to be too irresistible for the 17-year-old.

He will move to the Catalan giants in the summer after a €2.2 million fee was agreed and the La Liga club’s recent transfer ban was suspended pending an appeals decision.

The kid who is hailed “as the next Luka Modric” has quite the future ahead of him. Especially now at one of the world’s biggest clubs.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League quarter-finals preview.

It’s April already and now we are down to just eight teams in Europe’s premier club competition. We’ll immediately turn our attention to tonight’s massive game at Old Trafford.

It’s difficult to remember the last time Manchester United hosted a game with so much pressure on the players and, especially, the manager.  David Moyes’ tactics will be put to the test at the highest level tonight and the players themselves must be up for it.United face German powerhouse club Bayern Munich led by one of the most decorared and sought-after managers in world football, Pep Guardiola.

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“The media and public opinion is that Manchester are not in good shape and that we’re going through to the semis,” said star player Arjen Robben. “But I don’t like that at all.”

The Bavarians, of course, are not often accused of underestimating opponents. If they were, they would not have wrapped up another Bundesliga title – this one without losing a game and also in record time.

Over two legs, it wouldn’t be exactly miraculous for United to make it through. They’re still Manchester United, despite their league form. But my gut feeling is that Guardiola’s men will be simply too strong for them.

Barcelona will tonight host fellow La Liga side Atlético Madrid. The two sides met in January and played out a goalless draw. They’ll meet next month also in the final game of the season in Spain. Tonight, one can’t help but feel, will be more tense.

Atlético go into the fixture after conceding four goals in the competition, fewer than any other quarter-finalist. But with star striker Diego Costa doubtful for the game in the Camp Nou, they’ll need to score goals to topple the mighty Barça.

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The Catalans last week suffered the news of Victor Valdes’ injury means he will likely miss the rest of the season (and his Barça career seems to have come to an end too). Eccentric substitute Pinto, who is now 38, will be faced with the task of keeping out La Liga leaders Atleti.

Barcelona will need the winning spirit they brought to the recent Clásico in Madrid. Without it, Atlético could be too powerful this time. But Barça have geniuses like Messi and Iniesta. It’ll be tight – but over two legs I reckon Barcelona will squeeze through to the semis.

PSG will tomorrow host the other English side in the competition, Chelsea, at the Parc des Princes. It will be a heated fixture with José “(Still) The Special One” Mourinho will be urging his men to bounce back after his team’s surprise defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend.

“Are PSG a good team? Yes. Do they possess some of the best players in the world? Yes again,” Jose said, cautious of the Parisians. “We are at a stage of the competition where the big teams can win but also lose. There aren’t any more weak sides at this stage. There are some who are better than others, but anything can happen.”

Zlatan-Ibrahimovic-PSG

Paris St-Germain have built an incredibly strong team, led by the undeniably brilliant Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede has scored 41 goals in his last 36 appearances for both club and country. But there’s other names Chelsea will have to be wary of such as Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi or Lucas Moura all possess the skills to give The Special One a real Parisian nightmare.

Usually, I think Chelsea would run through this stage of the competition with relative ease. But PSG are increibly tough opponents and, if I’m honest, I can see Laurent Blanc’s men causing damage to get through to the semi-finals.

Finally, Real Madrid go into the quarter-finals for a fourth successive season with the difficult task of taking on Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund. They meet tomorrow in the Bernebéu.

Klopp will have worries with suspensions as both Sven Bender and Sebastian Kehl are both a booking away from a ban while star striker Robert Lewandowski is suspended for tomorrow’s fixture.

borussia dortmund 4

Madrid go into the tie booming with confidence after they are one of two teams – along with city rivals Atlético Madrid – still unbeaten and are tournament top scorers with 29 goals. Madrid have even scored in a record 33 UEFA Champions League games in a row.

But they cannot underestimate the Germans. Die Schwarzgelben may not be enjoying a season quite like FC Bayern, but currently 2nd in the Bundesliga, they’ve scored 62 goals this season. Players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jakub Błaszczykowski will be out to cause serious problems.

Overall, I think Real Madrid will be too strong and will clinch the result to get through to the last four.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League matchday 6 preview

The final bunch of group fixtures are among us. Some teams have already qualified. Some will be battling for second place. Some could finish third and enter the Europa League. Some, like Celtic, will already be destined to finish last and subsequently eliminated from all European competitions.

Yes, it’s bad news for Neil Lennon’s men. They travel to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona – a club they’ve met in this competition plenty of times over the years. While the Catalans will be looking to guarantee their place at Group H‘s top spot, Celtic have nothing to lose and will be trying to boost their confidence with a difficult win. The only Scottish side to win at the Camp Nou were Dundee United in the ’86/87 UEFA Cup quarter-finals against a Terry Venables-led Barça side.

The much sought after second place is between Ajax and AC Milan. They meet at the San Siro tomorrow night and it’ll be tight. Ajax came close to beating Milan in Amsterdam on matchday 2. Stefano Denswil’s 90th minute lead was met with Mario Balotelli equalising penalty in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

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FC Porto visit Group G winners Atlético Madrid needing a dramatic change of fortune if they are to avoid an early exit from the competition. The Spaniards have been running away with the group thus far while Zenit St. Petersburg visit Austria Wien seeking a victory to guarantee qualification for the knockout stage for only the second time. In the previous fixture, Luciano Spalletti’s men could only manage a 0-0 draw at home against the Austrians.

Rafa Benitez’s Napoli and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal meet with both qualifying places still to be decided in Group F. Separated by just three points, they are both firmly in the qualifying equation as the group reaches its conclusion, although Borussia Dortmund‘s fixture at Marseille will also be closely followed by supporters in Naples. In the reverse fixtures back in October, Dortmund thrashed the French side by 3-0 while a Mesut Ozil-inspired Arsenal side comfortably beat Napoli by 2-0.

FC Basel and Schalke meet in Gelsenkirchen with Group E‘s second place on the line, while the Swiss side are looking to overtake Chelsea who are currently in first place. Jose “The Special One” Mourinho’s men host Steaua Bucharest and will be seeking a repeat of their 3-0 win in the reverse fixture to ensure they progress as Group E winners. Should Chelsea lose they will finish second while a draw would leave them top so long as FC Basel fail to beat Schalke.

Bayern Munich are looking to seal their first place position in Group D when they host a Man City side who need a massive win in Bavaria to leapfrog the reigning champions though both teams are already through. With this in mind, the third spot is up for grabs and Viktoria Plzeň host Russian opposition for the first time in CSKA Moscow and both will be seeking for a Europa League spot. The Czech side are still to earn a single point and a big win against CSKA would be needed.

Pep Guardiola conducts first training session at Bayern Munich - video

Benfica take on Group C winners Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon knowing their qualification is out of their hands. The Portuguese side are currently in third place, level with Olympiacos on seven points, but behind on goal difference. The Greeks will go through if they defeat bottom side Anderlecht at home. Benfica must better whatever result Olympiacos manage in Athens to qualify. Back in October, PSG bettered Benfica by 3-0 while Olimpiacos achieved the same scoreline against Anderlecht.

A draw is all Juventus need to earn the second place in Group B. They travel to Istanbul to face Roberto Mancini’s Galatasaray and while only a win will allow the home team to overtake their opponents, a draw would be enough for the Italian side. Meanwhile Real Madrid have assured themselves of finishing as group winners and will now be looking to complete their fixtures with a flourish at eliminated FC Copenhagen. The Danish side are in last place but can qualify for the Europa League with victory. Though a draw would also secure third place should Galatasaray lose at home to Juve.

Finally, Man United will be looking to seal first place in Group A when they host a Shakhtar Donetsk side needing a victory to guarantee they will join their opponents in the last sixteen. While Bayer Leverkusen will be looking to spoil it for the Ukrainians if possible, they travel to face Real Sociedad. The Spaniards have only earned one point in the competition and victory for Man United and Leverkusen will ensure their progression at the cost of Shakhtar.

 

What are your predictions? Tell Rob Smith on Twitter: (@robsmithireland)

 

 

Champions League gameweek 3 round-up

Gameweek 3 of the Champions League is over – let’s look back at the last two days of football action:

On Tuesday Arsène Wenger celebrated his 64th birthday. However I’m sure there was little celebrating taking place for the Frenchman following his Arsenal side’s 2-1 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s 82nd minute winner. Arsenal, Dortmund and Rafa Bentiez’s Napoli, who themselves beat Marseille 2-1, are all on 6 points in Group F.

AC Milan kept Barcelona frustrated in the San Siro on Tuesday. Robinho’s opening goal following a beautiful one-two with Kaka was met with an equaliser from Leo Messi 14 minutes later. Also in Group H, Celtic beat Ajax 2-1 in Glasgow. The goals either side of half-time from James Forrest and Beram Kayal and Celtic lie in 3rd, with Barcelona leading and Milan in 2nd place.

In Group G, Zenit St Petersburg overcome 10-man FC Porto for their first group win while Atlético Madrid‘s Diego Costa grabbed a double in the Spanish side’s 3-0 win over Austria Vienna. Los Rojiblancos lead the group on maximum points with Zenit and Porto behind on 4 and 3 points respectively.

Fernando Torres scored twice to help secure Chelsea a 3-0 victory over Schalke 04 Meanwhile in Bucharest, Leandro Tatu’s late strike earned Steaua a draw against Swiss side FC Basel and their first point in Group E. Chelsea still lead the group on on goal difference ahead of Schalke with Basel in 3rd place on 4 points.

On Wednesday, two Sergio Aguero goals earned Man City against CSKA Moscow but the Russians were unlucky to have a goal ruled out ten minutes from time. Replays suggest the goal should’ve been allowed. Also in Group D, Bayern Munich predictably won 3 points following their 5-0 win against group minnows Viktoria Plzeň.

Zlatan Ibrahomovic was in fine form scoring four of the goals in PSG‘s 5-0 win against Anderlecht in the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. The French side still top Group C, with Olimpiacos and Benfica in 2nd and 3rd respectively as the two sides drew 1-1 in the Estádio da Luz.

A 2nd minute Iñigo Martínez own-goal was enough for David Moyes’ Man United side to get their much needed 3 points over Real Sociedad who themselves are yet to get off the mark. United lead Group A on 7 points with Bayer Leverkusen lurking behind on 6 pointss. The Germans thrashed Shakhtar Donetsk 4-0 in the BayArena.

Finally, Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in Wednesday evening’s tastiest fixture – Real Madrid v Juventus. The Spanish outfit beat Antonio Conte’s men 2-1 in a tight contest at the Bernebeu. In the other game in Group B, Galatasaray beat FC Copenhagen by 3-1 with first-half goals from Wesley Sneijder, Didier Drogba and Felipe Melo. The Turks lie in 2nd place on four points with Real in first on maximum points. Juve are placed in 3rd spot disappointingly on just 2 points.

Gameweek 4 is in a fortnight as these sides all meet again. The likes of Juve and Arsenal will be seeking revenge.

 

What games/players stuck out the most for you? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

What next for Iker Casillas?

Iker Casillas is, in my estimation, one of the world’s finest goalkeepers. Not only is he club captain of his beloved Real Madrid, but he is also the captain of the Spanish national team. Yes it was he who lifted the World Cup! And the European Championship trophy. Twice!
But now the 32 year old shot stopper is having a hard time as Madrid’s new manager Carlo Ancelotti, like José Mourinho before him for much of last season, left him on the bench during Madrid’s first game of the season.

Of course there’s not many goalkeepers as good as Iker if you ask me. Manuel Neuer, Victor Valdes, Samir Handanovič, Gianluigi Buffon and Hugo Lloris may all be world-class – but I still think Iker is just that bit better. However Mourinho, and now Ancelotti, think different as they seem to prefer Diego Lopez to stand between the posts for Real Madrid. It looks like the boy from Móstoles, just outside the Spanish capital, may have to leave the club where he has spent his entire footballing career.

But where could he go?

Well it’s no secret that Arsenal have a nice chunk of cash in the bank and Arsene Wenger himself admitted that he needs to strengthen the squad. Iker Casillas would be a hugely welcomed addition to Arsenal Football Club – and indeed to English football. I’m sure other Premier League teams, such as Manchester City, will be keeping an eye on this situation.

Paris St. Germain and their wads of Qatari cash could be another potential move for him. While they have the brilliant Italian ‘keeper Salvatore Sirigu, they could easily afford Casillas. And he could fit into a star-studded PSG side that currently boasts the likes of Ibrahimovic, Cavani and Thiago Silva.

There’s plenty for Iker Casillas to think about. On reputation alone, he could get into 99% of clubs out there. But there’s a lot to be said about leaving a club like Real Madrid. Especially when you’re club and country captain and a huge fans’ favourite. That club has been his life, but as a born winner, he’s not destined to be warming the subs bench.

 

Do you think Casillas will stay at Madrid? Or leave? Will Carlo Ancelotti play him this season? Or is he better off elsewhere?  Let Rob Smith know via Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Neymar goes to Europe, Rafa goes to Italy, Monaco go on a massive spending spree

While every sports journalist in the world was reporting on Bayern Munich’s impressive Champions League final victory against Borussia Dortmund, some of Spain’s press decided that such a victory wasn’t worthy of a mention. Instead, they went with the Neymar story.

Neymar, who was amongst one of my first ones to watch on this blog, has long been the target of Europe’s biggest clubs. On Saturday, the 21-year-old Santos striker confirmed that he decided to join Barcelona, stating that playing alongside Leo Messi was a major factor in this decision (rivals Real Madrid were reportedly extremely close to landing the Brazilian’s signature).

But some aren’t convinced if Neymar will be a success at Barça. “Messi and Neymar?” asked former player and coach Johann Cruyff. “Two captains on one boat doesn’t work”.

He has a point. Messi is, after all, the focal point of Barcelona. With Neymar there will be two. As Zlatan Ibrahimovic may tell you, it won’t always work. I would agree.

Which reminds me – it wasn’t long ago when the Italian press said that Rafael Benítez isn’t suited to the Serie A style of play, referring to his short-but-colourful tenure at Inter Milan.

Yesterday the president of Napoli, Aurelio de Laurentiis, confirmed that the Spaniard as the new boss of the club, hailing him as “a great man with international experience. A leader”. His first job may be to try hold on to the in-demand striker Edinson Cavani.

Finally, it appears that AS Monaco will be the Chelsea of Ligue 1. That’s right, a Russian billionaire, Dmitry Rybolovlev, is pouring his cash – Abramovich style – into the club. The newly promoted team having already recruited the highly-rated Porto pair Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez for a combined fee of around €70 million.

Now the club are set to land Colombian superstar Radamel Falcao for a fee of €60 million.

Monaco’s assistant coach, Jean Petit, is reported to have told Radio RCN last weekend: “Yes, we are expecting Falcao and four or five other players of his quality”.

“Monaco need a player like Falcao because he can help us a lot and because he can attract other top players, and that’s the best way of confirming our project is big and interesting.”

If PSG are Ligue 1’s answer to Man City, then Monaco are definitely Chelsea. But with possibly even bigger ambitions. The Parisians should be aware: there’s some new heavyweights in town – and they are not afraid to spend big.

 

What do you think of Neymar’s move to Barcelona? How about Rafa at Napoli? Will he “do a Chelsea”? Or “do an Inter”? And what about Monaco’s big spending? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo)

It's "adios Chelsea" from Benitez, and "farewell football" from Beckham

A significant amount of Chelsea fans stood against the appointment of Rafa Benítez as interim manager last November. The Spaniard, who managed Liverpool from 2004 until 2010, once criticised the club under José Mourinho some years before while managing the reds. Many Chelsea fans let everyone know – Rafa especially – that they did not want his sort around Stamford Bridge.

The banners unveiled at Chelsea’s games – often colourful in language – let Benítez know that, despite being in a temporary position, he shouldn’t be in that position. But he kept his head down and his dignity, focussing on the job ahead. As the months passed, he turned many of the boos into cheers and fast-forward to last Wednesday’s Europa League final, and he provided Chelsea with their 11th major trophy in ten years under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.

Benítez, who won the Manager of the Month award last month, leaves Stamford Bridge with a Europa League winner’s medal and his head held up high. The fact that he has succeeded in the face of such acrimony and hostility has earned him a lot of respect – including from a large portion of the “Rafa out” brigade.

As Benítez says his goodbyes to the Blues, one David Beckham will say his goodbyes to the game itself. The former England captain will step down at the age of 38, after the season with current club, PSG, has come to a close. His final game will be for newly crowned Ligue 1 champions PSG against Lorient (not Leyton Orient as remarkably many had thought) on May 26th.

“It’s a good way to go out. It’s every athlete’s dream, every footballer’s dream – to go out on the top. On top form, or winning a trophy,” the former Real Madrid, Man United and LA Galaxy star said. “It doesn’t happen that often. I’ve been lucky.”

Beckham’s 21-year career also witnessed him win numerous trophies such as six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, the Champions League, one La Liga and Supercopa de España winner’s medals alongside the Galacticos, as well as two MLS cups. A complete success both on and off the pitch, I wish him well with his future. He may not be the last Beckham to go all the way in football.

 

What do you think of Rafa Benítez’s tenure at Chelsea, and what is your fondest memory of David Beckham? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo). Have a nice weekend, folks.

So what's next for Becks?

After five years, David Beckham‘s stint with US soccer has come to a close with the Englishman playing his final game last weekend for his LA Galaxy side in the MLS Cup final against Houston Dynamo. His time stateside hasn’t been a failure. He still clearly has the ability to play at the top level and win trophies. His two loan spells with AC Milan were successful too. But whether Beckham succeeded in that task of changing the face of US football is up for debate.

But the real question is now what next for ol’ Goldenballs (yes…it was a cheap gag, but I had to do it). The former England captain did state that he was looking for “one more challenge” at this late stage of his career. Could he be talking about the English Premier League? Well, ‘Arry Redknapp is rumoured to want Becks at Loftus Road and into his QPR side. Could he perform at the Premier League’s extremely high standards almost a decade after leaving it for a galactico-filled Madrid team.

Beckham has also been linked with a move to Australia’s A-League as well as the attractive tax-free principality of Monaco and their famous Ligue 2 side. Like Los Angeles, they are fantastic locations and I don’t know how either could be seen a challenge for Beckham’s footballing career at this point in his career? Perhaps PSG, who have been chasing Beckham for some time now, would be a good club to join. It would be more ideal given how eager the Parisian side are for Becks as well as a reunion with Carlo Ancelotti. (Plus – the location would keep Posh quite entertained too)

Wherever Beckham goes to see out his career, I hope it’s the right choice for him. I’d personally love to see him play Champions League football again. Good luck to you, Goldenballs, erm, I mean David.

Zlatan's overhead-kick? It's not even the best goal HE has ever scored!

I’m sure you have all by now seen Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s outrageously brilliant overhead-kick goal against England on Wednesday night. There is no doubt that few would have the ability never mind the audacity to try such a shot. But it’s not the best goal of all time – as some people, like Piers Morgan, have claimed. In fact, and I’m sure many will agree, it’s not even the best goal HE has ever scored.

On 22nd August 2004, Ibra produced a goal for his then-team Ajax vs NAC that would make the hairs on Johann Cruyff’s neck stand up – and it in fact it did. This, I believe, is Zlatan’s greatest ever career goal however.
[jwplayer mediaid=”2610″]

Some of the world’s greatest ever goals include Maradona‘s moment of genius against England in the 1986 World Cup.  Not the “hand of God” – the other one. Or who can forget Leo Messi‘s incredibly similar, yet faster, goal against Getafe in 2007. Zinedine Zidane‘s extraordinary volley in the 2001 Champions League final is easily the competition’s finest. It’s a long list and an even longer debate could be had.
One thing is for sure, Ireland’s defenders are going to have their work cut out when we travel to the Friends Arena in Stockholm next March. Ibrahimovic, like him or loathe him, is on fire.

What do you think is the greatest goal ever scored? Hit Rob Smith up on Twitter (@robsmithireland).

 

Another transfer window, another month of chaos, rumours and big money!

It’s that time again. The transfer window is open. Naturally, the last day of the window (Jan 30th) is always the busiest, but between then and now, we may see some interesting movement throughout the sport.

First off, keep your eye on Paris Saint-Germain (who’s city and club have been recently profiled on this blog). With their Qatari millions backing them, the club’s owners are hungry to make the Parisians what Real Madrid were in the early 2000’s. They’ve already tried to acquire the services of one David Beckham, who recently turned them down in favour of staying put in LA. But PSG have also rumoured to have been eyeing up Mario Balotelli (as have AC Milan) and Alexandre Pato. One thing’s for sure, they will not be quiet in this window.

Speaking of Real Madrid, their defender Raul Albiol is now a target for Manchester City having missed out on the brilliant Daniel De Rossi, who signed a contract extension at Roma. While rivals Man United are linked with CSKA Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev, known as the Russian Leo Messi, himself linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

TH back at the Arsenal. Good or bad?

Elsewhere, Arsenal are linked with Sunderland’s Kieran Richardson and Lyon’s Aly Cissokho having already, all-but-officially, snapped up legend Thierry Henry on a two-month loan from the New York Red Bulls. I have reservations about TH14’s move back to London. It might provide a feel good factor for staff, certain players and fans, but I’d be surprised if the Henry of circa 2003/4 will return to the Emirates. We shall see – only time will tell.

Finally, Brazilian magician Neymar, currently playing with Santos, could leave his club in the window. Club president Luis Ribeiro has admitted he is unable to afford the rising star’s salary. Neymar is a long-time target for Barcelona and AC Milan. Barça might have the upper hand however as they need a replacement for David Villa and AC Milan are expected to land Carlos “I don’t want to play” Tevez, who himself isn’t exactly on peanuts.

Come back to me on Wednesday 1st February for a complete round-up of the major transfers over the next four weeks. Also, keep an eye on my twitter for the big movers as they happen.