Tag Archives: arsenal

Is it time to scrap the away goals rule?

Introduced fifty years ago to encourage away teams to play a more attacking style of football, it is now more likely to cause teams to park the bus and shut up shop. Is it time the away goals rule is scrapped?

In the 2009 Champions League semi-final second leg, the images of Chelsea’s Didier Drogba screaming “it’s a fucking disgrace” down the camera lens to millions of fans following the Blues’ exit on away goals following Barcelona’s Andrés Iniesta’s 93rd minute goal will live long in memory.

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While referee Tom Henning Øvrebø made some woeful decisions in the Catalans’ favour, Chelsea technically didn’t lose. Yet the dreaded away goals meant their exit.

Indeed last night, Arsene Wenger echoed the sheer frustration of the away goals rule following Arsenal’s last 16 exit from the competition. “Every defeat hurts,” said the Frenchman. “But we didn’t lose”.

There are countless other examples of those who have fallen victim to the away goals rule. And, naturally, many have benefitted from it.

The away goals was introduced in 1965 for the right reasons. Playing away in Europe was once a daunting journey pretty much into the unknown.

But times change and the football, with away goals in place, has changed too. Many, Didier Drogba and Arsene Wenger included, believe it is now time to look at it.

 

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 Wenger still the right man for Arsenal?

While some would argue that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has got a “job for life” for what he has achieved for the Gunners since becoming their manager in 1996, there are a significant amount that have taken to social media in recent times to vent their frustration and declare that the Frenchman has done all he can with the North London club.

Perhaps fresh blood is what’s needed at the Emirates. Yes, he won the FA Cup and Community Shield recently. But before that, there was a drought which left many an Arsenal fan asking questions.

But can you simply sack a man like Arsene Wenger? Here’s a man who won Arsenal three Premier League titles and five FA Cups. His Arsenal team in the 2003/04 season went unbeaten in the entire league and became known as “The Invincibles”. Not many managers have a CV like the 65-year-old.

But last night’s 3-3 draw with Anderlecht, having been 3-0 up, left more fans question why he is still in charge? Are things at Arsenal that bad? Some would say no. He’s bringing in massive talent such as Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Some would say, well, yes: Arsenal aren’t capable of competing for the league title anymore. And they probably should be given the talent they have at their disposal.

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But when the day comes when he does leave Arsenal, the Arsene Wenger-shaped-hole in the Emirates dugout will be more than noticeable. And it’ll take a big character to fill it.

 

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)

 

Ones to watch #15: Sergi Samper

Barcelona born-and-bred Sergi Samper Montaña will be 20 years old next January but is one of the most talked about young players in Spain. 

A product of Barcelona’s famous youth academy, known as La Masia, Samper has impressed immensely since joining the academy at the age of six in 2001. He has been making a huge impact in recent times with Barcelona B and has attracted the attention of many managers around Spain and especially one London-based manager in Mr. Arsene Wenger.

Indeed the Arsenal boss wants to make Samper the new Fabregas and, according to the press in Spain, is prepared to meet the club’s €12 million buy out clause for the defensive midfielder. Barça boss Luis Enrique has other plans and fully intends on bringing the player into the senior squad later this season.

Technically gifted and hugely influential around the middle of the park, the player who is so very often called “the new Busquets” is set to make an impact regardless of the jersey he will wear.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Wenger ends drought while Man Utd and Barcelona welcome new gaffers

Ryan Giggs has today confirmed that he has retired from playing at the age of 40. He will begin his new role at Manchester United as assistant manager to Louis van Gaal, who today signed a 3-year-deal with the club.

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Van Gaal was a popular choice among fans with an incredible CV. He had previously managed Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AZ. The current Dutch national team manager will join up with the team after this summer’s World Cup.

“This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions,” said van Gaal. “Together I am sure we will make history.”

Man United weren’t they only big club announcing a new manager today. Barcelona have confirmed that Luis Enrique as the new boss on a 2-year-deal. Enrique, a former Barça and Real Madrid player, will take over from the Argentine coach Tata Martino. The former Spanish international previously managed Barcelona B and Roma. He recently managed Celta Vigo (guiding Celta to an unlikely victory over Madrid just a fortnight ago).

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He arrives at the Catalan club at an interesting time with news of Leo Messi signing a contract extension, the signing of German goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen to replace the outgoing Victor Valdes as well as news of club captain Carles Puyol’s retirement.

Finally, one manager who today must be breathing a sigh of relief is of course Arsene Wenger. The French boss guided his beloved Arsenal side to their first trophy in nine years with the FA Cup win at the weekend. 

Arsène-Wenger-FA-Cup-parade

Wenger is now expected to sign a new contract with the club worth a whopping £24 million. There may be still celebrations around the Emirates stadium after the cup win, but Wenger was heavily criticised by fans over the past couple of years. Is he still the man to lead Arsenal forward? Some fans wouldn’t think so.

Regardless, I’m sure Wenger is going to enjoy facing van Gaal’s Man United and possibly Luis Enrique’s new look Barcelona next season

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

What we learned from the Keane/Vieira doc

Did anyone catch the Keane/Vieira documentary during the week? My one-year-old didn’t wake and let me enjoy ITV4’s brilliant Keane and Vieira: Best of Enemies shown last Tuesday night.

It would be fair to say that Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira never really saw eye-to-eye when they met on the pitch. Off it, as this documentary shows, the two stars still will fight their corner when speaking of past conflicts at Old Trafford or Highbury. But there is an enormous respect between the two men. Though it wasn’t always that way. They are, in my view, very similar people.

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The first thing that stood out when watching it is the pure bitterness Roy Keane has for former manager Sir Alex Ferguson (I can’t even imagine the Corkman using the “Sir” prefix when mentioning his former boss). At one point when the two were asked who was the best manager they’d ever played under, Vieira unsurprisingly said Arsene Wenger. Keane, regardless if he truly believes it himself or not, gave a more interesting answer:

Keane: “Without a doubt, Brian Clough”

Interviewer: “Not Sir Alex?”

Keane: “You asked me the question, I answered you!”

Yikes! It didn’t stop there. When asked to use one word to describe the former United gaffer, Ireland’s current no. 2 said “ruthless”. He also described the horrendous timing of the end of his tenure at Manchester United: no club lined up and being injured having put his body on the line for United. But he did say that Sir Alex thanked him for his eleven-and-a-half years at the club before adding “I had to remind him I’d been there for twelve-and-a-half”. No Christmas card for Fergie this year then, Roy?

With 21 red cards between them, the pair recall memories of when the atmosphere of a Manchester United v Arsenal fixture was incredibly hostile, which famously nearly blew up in the tunnel at Highbury back in February 2005. “You were picking on the weakest link!” Keane says of Vieira’s needling of Gary Neville. I wonder how Neville felt watching that.

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The two former-pros picked the best players they had ever played with for their respective clubs and then make a dream-team XI from players between the two sides. Friendly banter, if a little firm. Keane seems saddened to leave Ruud van Nistelrooy out while Vieira absolutely insisted that Robert Pires would be a far better addition than David Beckham on the right side of midfield. They settle with twelve men in the end: Peter Schmeichel, Lauren, Tony Adams, Jaap Stam, Ashley Cole/Denis Irwin (undecided with their left-back choice), Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and Eric Cantona.

In all, it was a fascinating documentary. And one I was surprised a character like Roy Keane would even agree to do. But it reminded us of the passion, the hostility, the ugly and the sheer brilliance between the two enemies on the pitch. “There is not the same kind of excitement,” Vieira says about today’s Arsenal and Man United meetings. “They are almost too nice to each other,” responds Keane. “There is almost too much respect for each other.”

What did you think? Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and let us know.

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)

 

 

Deulofeu: future superstar and current heartbreaker for Arsenal fans

Back in 2003, when a nine-year-old boy named Gerard Deulofeu turned up at the FC Barcelona offices, an hour south from his tiny village of Riudarenes, he arrived as a kid with great promise. Like many in Barça’s youth academy, known as La Masia, the club were taking on a great talent. As the years passed, Deulofeu was constantly making a name for himself more and more and in 2011, he was called up the Barcelona’s B team.

Usually the Catalan sports press are Barça-mad, with very little written about their B side. However, like Messi and Pedro before him, Deulofeu’s name would be creeping into the likes of newspaper Sport frequently. “Who is this kid? Is he any good?”. The answer was an unmistakable yes!

As well as playing as a striker, Deulofeu caused opposition serious damage when fielded as a right-winger. Plenty could see the similarities between himself and World Cup winner and former-Barça B star Pedro (or Pedrito – little Pedro – as he was known in those days.)

Having played with Spain’s youth teams since 2009, Deulofeu was drafted into the squad for the under-19’s European Championship in July 2012. A competition they won. And guess who got player of the tournament? Correct!

Of course, that wasn’t his first honour. He won the same tournament the year before again with the under-19’s ( including scoring against Ireland in a 5-0 thrashing en route to the final).

Having made two senior appearances for Barcelona, his 2012-13 was incredible for the reserve side and many had predicted him to progress into Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s side permanently. However, with the purchase of Brazilian superstar Neymar as well as more established youth players in the senior side such as Isaac Cuenca and the hugely talented Cristian Tello, it was decided that, rather than just selling him and cashing in, a loan-move would be best for Deulofeu.

Everton snapped him up.

After his wonderful goal for Everton against Arsenal at the Emirates, the 19-year old will become the talk of Monday morning’s back pages. As Stuart Clark of this parish commented on Twitter: “We’re seeing the emergence of a world class player”. Indeed. It’s very hard not to agree. Sunday evening’s performance was merely the tip of the iceberg for what this kid can be capable of.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League matchday 5 preview

We’ll start with Group H and the big one here is that Celtic entertain AC Milan. Needless to say, it is a massive game for the Bhoys. A must-win game and a victory against the Rossoneri could see Neil Lennon’s lads move up into second place. This of course depends on the goings on in Amsterdam where Ajax take on the might of group leaders Barcelona.

Atlético Madrid are having an incredible season. With just one loss in La Liga this year, and a 100% record in Group G of their current Champions League campaign, they travel to Russia to face Zenit St Petersburg full of confidence. Meanwhile FC Porto, a point behind the second place, host Austria Wien in the Estádio do Dragão.

Arsene Wenger is looking to secure his Arsenal side a place in the last 16 with a game to spare should they claim three points tonight in their tie against Marseille at the Emirates. While the French side have yet to get a single point, The Gunners are on top of Group F by goal difference ahead of Napoli. The Italians face last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park.

“The pressure is on Basel,” said Chelsea gaffer José “The Special One” Mourinho. He’s not wrong – the Swiss side lie in 3rd place in Group E and just a point behind Schalke. Basel coach Murat Yakin is keen for his side to deliver a victory against group leaders Chelsea and set up a last-day showdown with the Germans. Schalke travel to Bucharest to face FC Steaua.

Man United can claim their spot in the final 16 with a win tomorrow against Bayer Leverkusen. David Moyes’ men ran out 4-2 winners of the same fixture at Old Trafford in September. But former-Liverpool captain Sami Hyppia, now manager of Leverkusen, could take a huge step towards the next round if they defeat the Red Devils. Also in Group A, Shakhtar Donetsk host Real Sociedad. The Ukrainians have their eye on the group’s runners up spot as they are just two points behind the Germans while Sociedad have only claimed a single point in the campaign so far.

Man-of-the-moment Cristiano Ronaldo is doubtful for tomorrow’s clash between Real Madrid and Galatasaray. With Madrid leading Group B six points ahead the Turkish side, Real boss Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to risk the Portuguese star. Juventus, currently bottom of the group, face FC Copenhagen who are a point ahead of the Italians. Antonio Conte’s men, yet to win a game in this year’s Champions League, drew 1-1 in the previous fixture in Denmark.

All PSG need is a draw to guarantee their spot in the competition’s final 16. The French outfit face 2nd placed Olympiacos at the Parc des Princes. A victory for Zlatan & co. would be news welcomed by Benfica as they need a win against Anderlecht tomorrow to keep them in with a shout for the runners-up spot in Group C and a place in the next round.

Finally, Bayern Munich travel to the Russian capital to face CSKA Moscow as their place in the final 16 has already been guaranteed. Pep Guardiola’s mean have yet to lose this season since their German SuperCup defeat to rivals Borussia Dortmund back in the summer. Also already guaranteed their place in the next round, Man City host Czech side FC Viktoria Plzeň. Manuel Pellegrini’s men go into the fixture on the back of a 6-0 thrashing of Tottenham last weekend.

 

Predictions? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check the blog out on Facebook.

 

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)

 

The greatest transfers that didn't happen

Zinedine Zidane. Bordeaux to Blackburn Rovers.
“Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?” was chairman’s Jack Walker’s reason for not bringing Zizou to Ewood Park in 1996. Then-boss Kenny Dalglish had agreed a superb deal in principle to sign the Frenchman, along with Christophe Dugarry. But much to his disappointment, the board refused to sanction his request. Not as disappointed as many Blackburn fans felt as they saw Zidane’s career, talent and trophy cabinet blossom with Juventus and Real Madrid over the years. Oh, what could have been…

Diego Maradona. Argentinos Juniors to Sheffield United.
Yes. Maradona. Sheffield United. It nearly happened. In 1978, Harry Haslam had struck a deal to bring El Diego to Bramall Lane for £600,000. But after being told by the board that there were not enough funds to complete the deal, he turned to fellow Argentine Alex Sabella as his replacement from River Plate. Maradona went on to become the greatest player on earth with Barcelona and Napoli (not to mention becoming a World Cup winning captain), while Sabella soon left the Blades for Leeds United.

Ronaldinho. Gremio to St. Mirren.
The Brazilian genius was, back in 2001, plying his trade with Gremio and fancied a short loan stint in Europe before making his way to Paris St-Germian, as that deal had already been done. Somehow, and for some reason we will probably never know, he chose to play for Scottish club St. Mirren but, unfortunately due to some passport problems, the deal was scuppered at the very last minute and ‘Dinho never got to taste SPL football. A shame. How it could have been all different.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Malmo to Arsenal.
In 2000, Arsene Wenger invited the Swede to a trial for the Gunners. Unfortunately for the French boss, Ibrahimovic, with his infamous ego, reportedly said “Zlatan doesn’t do trials”. Ibrahimovic went on to sign for Ajax before becoming a serial title winner in Italy and Spain while Wenger today shrugs off what could have been, saying “‘He was just 16. I asked him to have a little training session with the first team and he simply didn’t want to do it”. Fair enough. Ibra however (pictured below), would later haunt the North London club a few times later in his career

Roy Keane. Nottingham forest to Blackburn Rovers.
Another one for King Kenny that got away. believed he had completed a deal to sign the Forest midfielder in the summer of 1993. Seemingly, Dalglish tried to tie up the deal late on a Friday afternoon, but was forced to wait until the Monday to complete the paperwork. By then, though, Fergie had rung up his future United captain and changed his mind while Rovers had to sit back and watch the Corkman collect just about every honour in the game as Man United dominated the 90’s.

Paul Gascoigne. Newcastle United to Manchester United.
Gazza, a PFA Young Player of The Year, initially agreed on a move to Old Trafford, but at the 11th hour he went back on his word and joined Tottenham for a then British transfer record of £2.3m. Sir Alex Ferguson, to this day, still recalls the Geordie genius as the player he wish he’d signed more than anyone else.

 
What other football transfers nearly happened? Get Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Don't criticise Robbie – lots of footballers tell porky pies

Many people have criticised Robbie Keane‘s comments every time he signs for a new club, stating he has completed a lifelong dream, by joining boyhood clubs Inter Milan, LA Galaxy, Spurs, Celtic, Liverpool etc. (actually the latter club might be the closest to the truth). But Robbie shouldn’t be given too much stick. Most footballers, and indeed managers, will say any old baloney to get on the fans’ good side.

Just this week, Italian giants AC Milan and Inter Milan completed a deal that witnessed Antonio Cassano join the blue & black half of Milan with Giampaolo Pazzini going the other way. But it was Cassano’s comments that had many questioning his passion for his new club.

"It's good to be here at my boyhood club...erm...where am I?"

It’s summer 2010 and Cassano is making a big money move from Sampdoria to AC Milan. The world’s press are gathered to hear the striker proudly say “This is the final move for me. There is nothing beyond Milan. I have it all now, make no mistake about that, and I will never betray those who have believed in me. Milan is the ultimate. Above Milan there is only the sky.” to much applause. Two years later upon joining Inter, he says “Finally I’m at the team I always supported”. Hmmm.

Footballers will be kissing the crest one day, leave the club, then give you a two-fingered salute when they score against you the next. Just ask Arsenal fans when mentioning Emmanuel Adebayor.

But there’s plenty more just like them in football.

 

Who else has raised eyebrows for their new club? Hit me up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

RVP wanting out is a disaster for Arsenal

Just a few short weeks after Robin Van Persie won the Professional Football Association’s fans’ player of the year for 2011-12, he dealt Arsenal a major, major blow: refusing to extend his contract at the Gunners that expires next summer. Oh dear. This looks like a move away from the Emirates for the prolific Dutch striker. Not another captain to leave within two years for Arsene Wenger? Sadly, it’s looking that way.

Of course the big teams are monitoring this situation – Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan. But none more so than Manchester City. According reports, they are the likely destination for RVP. Former Arsenal team mate Kolo Touré had even said this week “At City we have great players and the club does what it wants in transfers. But for me, if Robin comes it’s great because I know what he can do”.

This would be a disaster for Arsenal – and especially for Arsene Wenger. There would be a sizeable RVP-shaped hole in Arsenal’s forwards despite the arrivals of strikers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Van Persie was an incredible presence to have in the Arsenal team and was almost single-handedly the difference between the Gunners 3rd place finish last season and being completely outside the top four.

So it seems that Arsenal may sell the 28-year-old rather than lose him on a free transfer in 12 months’ time. The club’s statement added that they are planning for “next season with Arsenal’s best interests in mind”. But who could possibly take his place as the lethal finisher at the Emirates. They would need to bring in a real heavyweight like Mario Gómez, Gonzalo Higuaín or Fernando Llorente to fill that void – but that’s not Wenger’s style. Interesting times ahead at the Emirates stadium. Watch this space…