Tag Archives: real madrid

Real Madrid sign an unproven 16-year-old Brazilian for €46 million.

Spanish giants Real Madrid have made headlines this week for forking out a staggering €46 million for 16-year-old promising player Vinícius Júnior. The Brazilian has just one senior appearance for Flamengo, making his professional debut a mere 11 days ago.

“The player will remain at his current club until July 2019,” the La Liga champions said in a statement. “Although he will be able to play for Real Madrid before then if both clubs agree to it.”

It raises eyebrows, I must say. It seems clubs like Real Madrid are keen to find the next teenage superstar or a phenomenon like Leo Messi, and they are willing to part with massive sums of money on promising players.

That said, it could go either way. He could go on to be a giant of the game, or he could go on to be a flop. But there will be considerable pressure on Vinicius. Vasts amount of money on a 16-year-old kid won’t go unnoticed by the fans, media and even team-mates. And when the time comes, and he pulls on the Madrid jersey, he will be expected to deliver the goods.

Other Brazilian players arrived in Europe amid huge hype and ultimately failed to live up to expectation. Alexandre Pato and Robinho are just two players in recent years who, after moving to Europe, were under pressure to deliver constant performances that a Balon d’Or winning player would. Ultimately neither came close.

But football is a funny game. Anything can happen and this kid could be a superstar.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League Final review: Glory for Real Madrid.

Pundits, fans and even players expected a fiesty affair for the 2016 Champions League final. And indeed whenever Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid face each other, it usually is.

The man who broke Atléti hearts two years ago in Lisbon, Sergio Ramos, opened the scoring on 14 minutes. Toni Kroos swung in a free-kick from out on the left side, which Gareth Bale flicked on. The Real Madrid defender, who was in a slightly offside position, got a touch to put the ball past Jan Oblak from close range.

Ramos joins an elite group of players that have scored in two Champions League finals. The others include Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Samuel Eto’o and Raul.

Atléti would often play the long ball from the midfield area up towards Torres or Griezmann, but nothing really troubled the Real Madrid back four.

Los Rojiblancos struggled to close down Real as they normally would. The passing appeared to be just too quick for Diego Simeone’s men. With Atléti losing possession and looking somewhat uninspired, they didn’t seem to have any luck on their side.

For the last several minutes of the first half, Atléti seemed to have more possession, which didn’t bother Real too much. Diego Simeone looked on from the sidelines in the first half appearing to be more frustrated than his usual animated self.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Atlético Madrid did win a penalty in the first minute of the second half following Pepe’s challenge on Fernando Torres who, up to that point, was fairly anonymous in the match. Antoine Griezmann stepped up and slammed the ball down the middle and off the crossbar.

The first twenty minutes of the second half was all Atlético. They seemed hungry and their positioning was far better, but they weren’t efficient enough with their accuracy and passing and no shots to goal truly bothered Real ‘keeper Keylor Navas.

Real Madrid had the chance to double their lead on 69 minutes following Luka Modric’s sublime ball to Karim Benzema out on the right side played the Frenchman on, but Oblak was flawless in preventing Los Blancos in claiming their second goal.

Then a stroke of luck.

Atléti brought it back level on 78 minutes with a goal from half-time substitute Yannick Carrasco. A nice cross from Juanfran into Real’s six yard box, was met by the Belgian who buried it from close range. Real’s defence seemed to be asleep and Navas had no chance. Simeone’s men deserved the goal for their performance in the second half.

With the score at 1-1 at 90 minutes, the game was forced into extra time. Real, by then, has used all three of their substitutes. Atlético had only used the one.

The first period of extra time was mostly dominated by Atlético, but Real had their fair share of chances. The tired legs on players from both sides became more obvious. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, the latter had, in my opinion, been Los Blancos’ most creative player on the pitch, looked exceptionally tired going into the second 15 minutes.

Real Madrid were probably more dominant in the second period, but ultimately nothing came of it. And then we had the dreaded penalties. It was a game of nerves from here. Jan Oblak and Keylor Navas both have great reputations for saving penalties. Drama in Milan. Primera or Unidecima?

Given the pressure, each penalty from both sides went in with seemingly great ease. The Atléti’s fourth penalty from Juanfran hit the post. The who else but Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and won the Champions League for Real Madrid. Unidecima it is.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great players don’t always make great managers.

As full time rang out in the Volkswagen Arena, Zinedine Zidane walked into the tunnel knowing that he has to lead his Real Madrid side back from a two goal deficit against a Wolfsburg side that they were supposed to be favourites against.

Things haven’t been going to well for Zizou. Along with the Champions League loss, the derby defeat to Atléti is a big no-no for the former World Cup winner’s coaching CV for the Real Madrid faithful. While Zidane likely won’t be sacked immediately, a swift exit from the Champions League, and Florentino Perez may not stick with the Frenchman after the season’s end.

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But other high profile players have also had a go of management. Some have done enormously well at both sides of the beautiful game – think Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, Fabio Capello, Diego Simeone or Giovanni Trapattoni. But some less so.

One of the greatest players of all time Diego Maradona. A genius on the ball, his managerial record hasn’t set the world on fire. The Argentine, with one-time team mate Carlos Fren, led Mandiyú of Corrientes (1994) and Racing Club (1995) in management, but with little success. Years later, el Diego became manager of the national team for two controversy-filled years, before deciding to take up the role of boss of Dubai-based club Al Wasl in the UAE Pro-League. He was sacked after a year.

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Bobby Charlton is one of the greatest Englishmen to ever play. They’ve recently named a stand after him at Old Trafford. When Charlton became the manager of Preston North End in 1973, he signed his former United and England team-mate Nobby Stiles as player-coach. His first season ended in relegation.

Arguably the greatest Bulgarian to ever kick a ball is the great Hristo Stoichkov. His management skills left a lot to be desired, having once claimed that he “doesn’t believe in tactics”. The former Barcelona star failed to guide Bulgaria to the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 followed by a disastrous short stint at Celta Vigo which saw the club relegated.

Let’s hope Zizou doesn’t end up in that kind of a bracket.

 

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)

Barcelona will face La Liga expulsion if Catalonia breaks away from Spain

The president of the Spanish FA (LFP), Javier Tebas, has said this week that Barcelona would not be allowed to play in La Liga should Catalonia break away from Spain. Tensions are mounting in the region over the possibility of an independence referendum next month.

If Barça were to leave La Liga, it would severely damage the reputation and image of the league from a sporting perspective – not to mention bring an end to the tense rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid, known as El Clásico.

While El Clásico is always, in terms of tension, history and passion, on-par with Buenos Aires’ Superclásico (Boca v River) or Rome’s Derby della Capitale (Roma v Lazio), it’s certainly the most-watched rivalry as well as the fact that fewer high-profile fixtures would have such an enormous display of talent on the pitch than Spain’s “big two”.

“I can’t imagine the LFP without Barça,” Tebas said. “In the same way as I can’t imagine Catalonia without Spain, I can’t see La Liga without Barça. Also if it did happen what would you call the league: the Spanish League or the Iberian League?”

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Former Barcelona club president Joan Laporta, who was president from 2003 to 2010, wanted Barça to be at the very forefront of Catalan nationalist politics. The present board however, led by Josep Maria Bartomeu, are much less committal.

However, star-players Gerard Piqué and Xavi are among the Barça players who have voiced their support of the referendum following a rally last month in Barcelona in favour of the vote, which, according to police, was attended by almost 2 million people.

Spain’s constitutional court, merely a fortnight ago, halted the referendum just two days after it was formally called. Francesc Homs, the Catalan government spokesman, insisted that the Catalan government would find a way to allow the vote to go forward. “We won’t just stand there with our arms crossed as if the game is over.”

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

So Roy Keane is releasing a new autobiography

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane‘s autobiography, titled “The Second Half”, will be released later this week and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is not without a few interesting revelations.

One incident that sticks out is a bust-up between the Corkman and goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel in Hong Kong while on a pre-season tour in 1998. “There was drink involved,” Keane writes. 

“There’d been a little bit of tension between us over the years, for football reasons. Peter would come out shouting at players, and I felt sometimes he was playing up to the crowd: ‘Look at me!’ “He said: ‘I’ve had enough of you, It’s time we sorted this out.’ So I said ‘Okay’ and we had a fight. It felt like 10 minutes.”

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“I woke up the next morning. I kind of vaguely remembered the fight. My hand was really sore and one of my fingers was bent backwards. The manager had a go at us as we were getting on the bus, and people were going on about a fight in the hotel the night before. It started coming back to me – the fight between me and Peter. Anyway, Peter had grabbed me, I’d head-butted him – we’d been fighting for ages.”

Former United striker Andy Cole wrote about this incident in 2011 and the article is worth visiting again.

Unsurprisingly Keane has no great love for former boss Sir Alex Ferguson. Keane famously left Man United in 2005 after some harsh words for his team-mates during an interview with MUTV which left Fergie furious. Keane explains in the new book that a fierce falling out on a pre-season training camp on the Algarve proved the final straw.

“He was just on my right shoulder; how I didn’t fucking hit him again – I was thinking, ‘The villa in Portugal, not treating me well in training – and he just used the word “loyalty” to me,’” said Keane about then-assistant manager Carlos Queiroz.

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“I said, ‘Don’t you fucking talk to me about loyalty, Carlos. You left this club after 12 months a few years ago for the Real Madrid job. Don’t you dare question my loyalty. I had opportunities to go to Juventus and Bayern Munich.’ And while we’re at it we spoke about training downstairs. And were just on about mixing things up in training a bit.”

Keane went on to reveal that Ferguson soon stepped in, saying: “‘That’s enough. I’ve had enough of all this’,” which prompted the midfielder to round on his manager, replying: “You as well gaffer. We need fucking more from you. We need a bit more, gaffer. We’re slipping behind other teams.”

The Corkman also revealed that he had warned Sir Alex Ferguson against taking on the racehorse owner John Magnier and JP McManus in the Rock Of Gibraltar dispute that backfired on Manchester United and ultimately led to the Glazer family’s takeover.

Following his spectacular departure from United, Keane also revealed that he had the opportunity to join Spanish giants Real Madrid only to turn it down. 

keanomadrid

“I should have appreciated Real’s offer more. It was the most attractive challenge in front of me but I didn’t accept it,” Keane writes. “In hindsight, I should have said to myself: ‘Go, go to Spain, live there for a year and a half, learn the language, learn the culture” 

“I took a negative approach. The weather and the training might have given me another lease of life, another two years of playing. As much as anything else, it was fear that decided me – fear of the unknown.”

As for the infamous Alf-Inge Håland incident, Keano simply said “there are things I regret in my life and he is not one of them”. Gulp. 

The Second Half by Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle is out on Thursday.

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.
Carlos-Tevez-Juventus

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)

 

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.

Brendan-Rodgers-Liverpool -v-Manchester-City

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

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Di Maria is the real deal for United

Real Madrid’s loss is Manchester United’s gain: Louis van Gaal’s side have confirmed the signing of Angel di Maria this evening from the Spanish giants for a British record fee of £59.7 million.

With Carlo Ancelotti letting go of arguably one of his most crucial players of last season says a lot about the side, but it could easily prove to be a massive boost to van Gaal who is coming off the back of a loss and a draw in his opening fixtures.

There won’t be an Angel di Maria-shaped-hole in the Real Madrid side though – James Rodriguez, arguably one of the best young talents to emerge from South America since Lionel Messi, is already filling the gap which di Maria leaves in Ancelotti’s side. But will van Gaal use the 26-year-old efficiently enough to get the best out of him?

https://twitter.com/GaryLineker/status/504335976375021569

The Dutchman has said that di Maria “is a tremendously fast and incisive left-footed player who puts fear into the most accomplished defence. His dribbling skills and his ability to take on and beat opponents are a joy to watch.”

The Argentine, who scored the first ever goal in the new Aviva Stadium just a little over four years ago, is set to make his debut on Saturday against Burnley as United seek to earn their first three points of the season.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Alfredo di Stéfano R.I.P.

Football today lost of the true greats in the history of the game following the news of the death of Alfredo di Stéfano, aged 88. The former player and manager, nicknamed “Saeta rubia” (“blond arrow”), is very often listed as one of the greats alongside names such as Pelé, Maradona and Cruyff. 

Di Stefano, twice a Ballon d’or winner, will be remembered for his sheer brilliance on the pitch as well as his performances which helped his beloved Real Madrid win five consecutive European Cup trophies.

Arguably the greatest player in Real Madrid’s history, his memory won’t be forgotten by the footballing world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyTfcoMPDXg

Here was the reaction on Twitter:

Rest in peace, Señor.

 

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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.

 

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Atléti become heavyweights under Simeone’s genius

You have to hand it to Diego Simeone. He has truly turned Atlético Madrid around since being unveiled as manager in December 2011. Aside from earning his first two European trophies within eight months of his appointment (the Europa League in May 2012, and the UEFA Super Cup beating Chelsea in August 2012), he has transformed Atléti from being almost mid-table obscurity to La Liga and European heavyweights.

The Champions League trophy is to return to Madrid this year. But under the guidance of David Beckham’s former nemesis, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the trophy ended up in the red, white and blue side of the Spanish capital. Rivals from across town Real are looking for European glory for a 10th time, and judging by their performance against Bayern in the semi-final, they won’t exactly be pushovers.

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It was reported this week that Atléti’s wage bill was just €66 million. Given what the club are achieving, with an eye on the La Liga and Champions League double, it is remarkable – especially when you compare it to QPR’s €95 million wage bill for their 2012-13 season in which they were relegated from the Premier League. They could have purchased one Gareth Bale for that!

Currently top of La Liga, Simeone’s inspiration makes Atléti, who are currently on 88 points with Barcelona trailing behind them on 84 points, the absolute favourites to bring the club their first La Liga title since 1996 (which Simeone won as a player with the club). If he achieves that and beats city rivals Real in the Champions League final, well, let’s just say he’ll never have to buy a bottle of Mahou around the Arganzuela district of Madrid again.

 

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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.”

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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.

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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)

In the name of the father…

“Leave him alone, this is all he needs. His name is hard to carry,” said France manager Didier Deschamps this week when asked about footballing legend Zinedine Zidane’s son, Real Madrid youth footballer and France under-19’s Enzo Fernandez. “Zizou lived his life, had his career. Enzo will have his own.”

Of course living up to your father’s name can be no easy task for a young footballer. Especially if your father is something of a legend. There will always be comparisons.

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“There are two types of football players,” former Barcelona and Manchester United player Jordi Cruyff once said. “The legends and the mortals. My father is a legend and I am a mortal”. Indeed, when your father is Johann Cruyff, one of the game’s finest in history, it can come with extraordinary pressure.

Jordi spent much of his youth career at Ajax and then Barcelona before working his way into the senior side – then managed by his father. His performances earned him a switch to Man United for a £1.4 million fee in 1996, becoming a regular in the side before injury caused him problems and he slipped out of favour with Fergie.

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But Cruyff played for Barcelona, Manchester United and Holland – he even scored for his country during Euro ’96. By any player’s standards, that’s pretty damn good. His performances didn’t live up to the name Cruyff in footballing world  (he even put his first name ‘Jordi’ on the back of jerseys instead of ‘Cruyff’ in a bid to stop the constant comparisons). In reality, Jordi Cruyff, despite his obscure later career turning out for clubs in Ukraine and Malta, was a fine player. But Jordi was a mere mortal in a business where his father was a legend.

But plenty of players do emulate their famous fathers.

Cesare Maldini was an AC Milan legend. He played for the Rossoneri for twelve years and represented Italy in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups. His son Paolo, who was also a defender, ignored the pressures that came with the surname and became possibly a bigger legend. I’m sure Cesare’s grandson, Daniel, who is currently in AC Milan’s youth teams, won’t be feeling any pressure then.

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But will the Maldinis become the new Forláns? You know the name, right? Sure they are just a family from Montevideo. But they led Uruguay to Copa America titles across three generations – Diego Forlán, his father, Pablo Forlán, and his grandfather, Juan Carlos Corazo.

So Enzo Fernandez may have chosen his mother’s name. But he’ll forever be linked with the name Zidane. And with that comes extraordinary pressure. But as the Maldinis and Forláns will tell you: that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

 

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