Tag Archives: italy

Totti’s 24 year career draws to a close.

Quite simply one of the greatest Italian players of all time, Francesco Totti is set to play his last game of football when Roma face Genoa at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on Sunday 28th May.

As his stunning 24-year career draws to a close, the 40-year old had spent his entire career with the Giallorossi, where he won a Serie A title, two Coppa Italia titles, and two Supercoppa Italiana titles. With his national team, he won a little-known trophy called the World Cup in 2006.

He won a plethora of individual awards throughout his career including a record eleven Oscar del calcio awards from the Italian Footballers’ Association, which consists of five Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year awards, two Serie A Footballer of the Year awards, two Serie A Goal of the Year awards, one Serie A Goalscorer of the Year award and one Serie A Young Footballer of the Year award.

He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or five times between 2000 and 2007. In November 2014, he extended his record as the oldest goalscorer in UEFA Champions League history, aged 38 years and 59 days.

The word legend is thrown about football all too often and, in some cases, is definitely warranted. With Francesco Totti’s departure from the pitch, it’s more than warranted.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Five talking points from Ireland v Italy.

Yesterday, I found myself asking “Did that really happen last night?”. The dust has settled now, and I can reflect a bit better as to what happened in Lille on Wednesday night.

When Wes Hoolahan missed a gifted one-on-one with Italian goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, I gave up hope. Thankfully the players didn’t. The lads played out of their skin with immense belief, energy and commitment. To be honest, the 1-0 scoreline flatters that Italian team, which admittedly was somewhat weakened – it should have been a lot more. That goal on 85 minutes from Robbie Brady will however be forever etched in the memory of the supporters and players alike.

The performance was uplifting. Liam Brady said on RTÉ that it was “like Jack Charlton football”. Which, as you know, in Irish football terms, is as big a compliment as you’ll get. Now when we face the host nation France in Lyon on Sunday, we can have a bit more belief in ourselves.

A few things I’ve noticed during Wednesday’s game:

  • Seamus Coleman, captain of Ireland, is born. The Donegal man is, in my view, the natural heir to the armband once Robbie calls it a day. He’s physical, vocal and skillful.
  • Darren Randolph is good. But he can be great. He’s West Ham’s number two goalkeeper. A good tournament here, and he will be the Hammers’ – or someone else’s – number one.
  • If we play like that on Sunday, we’ll beat France. The self-belief and courage was astounding. I’d not seen that from an Irish team in years. France will be interesting opponents, and I would have had taken them over the likes of Wales or Iceland.
  • James McClean should always start for Ireland. I’ve always thought that. He was a beast on Wednesday. Bossing the Italians from the very start. He’s young and his work rate and determination is superb.

And one negative point:

  • Aiden McGeady is getting worse as time goes on. It’s getting to the point where he’s becoming a liability almost. If he’s going through a bad spell, it’s lasting years. Frustratingly inconsistent and both club and international level. I wouldn’t put him on the pitch for the rest of the tournament.

But we have Sunday to look forward to. And we all will. We’ve never reached this far in the European Championships before. So we can enjoy it. Our belief at the moment is sky high. Come Sunday, I’d be confident of out-singing the French fans in the stands. If Martin and Roy do things right again, I’d be confident we can outplay the French team on the pitch.

The next round of matches are:

25 June 2016
Switzerland   v  Poland
Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne

25 June 2016
Wales  v  Northern Ireland
Parc des Princes, Paris

25 June 2016
Croatia  v  Portugal
Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens

26 June 2016
France  v  Republic of Ireland
Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon

26 June 2016
Germany  v  Slovakia
Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Villeneuve-d’Ascq

26 June 2016
Hungary  v  Belgium
Stadium Municipal, Toulouse

27 June 2016
Italy  v  Spain
Stade de France, Saint-Denis

27 June 2016
England  v  Iceland
Allianz Riviera, Nice


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)



Is everybody in? Euro 2016 is about to begin.

It’s refreshing that The Boys In Green are in another major tournament – even if this one is an expanded edition of the Euros that we scraped in to via the play-offs. That doesn’t matter now. We are in. We are here. And we are good to go.

These are the events where memories are made and history is written. Yes, our last time in this competition was forgettable, but you’re looking at a new look Ireland team. A new feel about it.

The Trapattoni era had some good moments, but it was too short on confidence (and other complaints). Do you think that an Ireland team during that period could take on the world champions Germany and beat them?

Definitely not!

Under Martin O’Neill it’s certainly different. The former Celtic boss’ fearlessness is what I admire most. And having Roy Keane as his number 2 is no bad thing. Even if he did want to kill some of the lads after a defeat to Belarus in Cork.


So we’re here. On Monday night, we take on Sweden in the Stade de France (which I will miss because I will be on a plane from Buenos Aires to London – argh!). To say that this game is crucial is quite the understatement. Three points to begin with is vital. Because the remaining games won’t get any easier.

Saturday 18th, we face Belgium in the wine-rich city of Bordeaux. Marc Wilmots’ men have to be one of the favourites to win the competition in my opinion. They boast a plethora of talent and names such as Hazard, Benteke, Carrasco, Du Bruyne to name but a few can cause serious issues. But with the right style and the belief, anything is possible. (As the Germans found out.)

Then our final group game is against Italy on Wednesday 22nd in the city of Lille. You probably remember that we met the Italians in the last European Championships in Poznan. A game we were beaten fairly by 2-0. This time it’s a little different. The Azzurri have quite an ageing team with names such as De Rossi, Motta, Chiellini, Buffon and Barzagli. Could we catch the Italians at a good time? I believe so. But I want Robbie Keane and the lads to have the same belief.

I’m not saying we are going to win the tournament or anything. But as Leicester City showed us – anything is actually possible.


Join our Euro 2016 fantasy football here.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

What next for Mario Balotelli?

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


Is the end is nearing for Liverpool’s Balotelli?

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

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

Balotelli is a brilliant footballer. I’m just going to say that because it is a fact. He’s incredibly agile, full of pace, he has incredible strength and his technical ability is phenomenal. But it’s very frustrating for managers, team-mates and fans because he doesn’t always use these attributes to the best of his ability. And, at best, he’s currently giving 50% in the Liverpool shirt.

When’s he on form, he is brilliant. When he is not on form, he is somewhat thoughtless, unprofessional and immature. This is a player who José Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli all gave up on. Brendan Rodgers’ biggest achievement this season could be getting through to the Italian and turning him around. That’s if he doesn’t ship him out of Anfield in January.

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

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


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter @robsmithireland

World Cup heroes #6: Rossi

The 1982 World Cup will be mostly remembered for two things: that celebration from former Republic of Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli, and the brilliance of goalscoring machine Paolo Rossi.

Rossi, whose fitness appeared to be very sub-standard in the opening two games, found his second wind by scoring six goals in Italy’s final three matches – including the final itself against West Germany. He even scored a hat-trick against a Socrates-led Brazil side famously dubbed “the greatest Brazilian team never to win the World Cup”. Paolo Rossi single-handedly left them for dead.

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Four players to keep your eye on in 2014

Happy new year, dear readers. There’s some wonderful young talent out there. Vast amounts of talent seem to be pouring out of clubs’ academies left, right and centre. But here are four that I feel you should definitely keep your eye on over the coming months.

1. Marco Rojas (Stuttgart & New Zealand)
At just 22, Rojas had already been making a name for himself in Australia by winning both the Johnny Warren Medal (for player of the season) and Young Footballer of the Year at the end of the 2012/13 season. As his contract expired last April, there was no shortage of takers for the New Zealander of Chilean descent. The winger set his sights on Europe and it was German outfit Stuttgart who snapped up Rojas.

2. Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan & Italy)
A convincing full back that has worn the red and black of AC Milan at various youth levels right up to the senior squad, De Sciglio has spent more than half of his life with the Rossoneri. His versatility has earned him a call-up to the Italian national side in recent times and the 21-year old will be looking to be added to Cesare Prandelli’s squad in the summer’s World Cup. Keep your eye on him – we may well have another Maldini on our hands.

3. Adam Maher (PSV Eindhoven & The Netherlands)
Don’t let the surname fool you – this brilliant midfielder isn’t eligible for Martin O’Neill’s green army. Which is a shame, believe me. Though I am unsure of the actual origin of the Moroccan-born Dutch international’s surname, I am very sure of his talent. Maher is an extremely clever midfielder and is like a young Roy Keane – minus the Cork accent (yet with an Irish name). In 2012, the 21-year old won the Dutch Football Talent of The Year Awards – previous winners include Van Persie, Kluivert, Seedorf, Sneijder, Robben and Bergkamp.

4. Abel Hernandez (Palermo & Uruguay)
23-year old Hernandez isn’t afraid of a bit of competition. A gifted striker, he competes with Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez for a place in Uruguay’s starting XI. That said, with his eleven caps for La Celeste, he has scored seven goals. A nice ratio I’m sure you’ll agree. His club form is also spot on. This season for Palermo so far, he has played 17 games with 11 goals. It’s no wonder the likes of PSG, Liverpool, Arsenal, Galatasaray and Inter Milan have been keeping their eye on this lad.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

World Cup finals draw: tough test for England while the Boateng brothers will meet again

Some interesting fixtures await us the draw for next summer’s World Cup sees hosts Brazil take on Croatia in the opening game with Mexico and Cameroon making up the rest of Group A while a repeat of the 2010 final is in store as Spain face the Netherlands for Group B’s opener.

England will face Italy in their opening game in the Amazon city of Manaus on Saturday, 14 June. Also in their group is Uruguay – fronted by the deadly duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani – as well as Costa Rica who will feature the most talked about player of the week: Bryan Oviedo.

The Boateng brothers, Kevin-Prince and Jerome, will meet again as Germany will take on Ghana in Fortaleza on 21 June in Group G, having also drawn Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and USA. Speaking of the USA, coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who previously managed Germany, will his former assistant and current-manager Joachim Low.

The groups in full:

Group A

Group B

Group C
Ivory Coast

Group D
Costa Rica

Group ESwitzerland

Group F

Group G

Group H
South Korea


What did you make of the draw? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Football's greatest rivalries: AC Milan v Inter Milan

The Milan derby, known locally as the derby della Madonnina, is one that every fan of the game shouldn’t miss. Along with the Rome and Genoa derbies, it is one of – if not the – biggest games in Italian football and easily one of the most recognizable fixtures in world football: AC Milan versus Inter Milan.

Unlike many fierce rivalries, it is not uncommon for players to play for both sides, often transferring directly between the two clubs. Massive names such as Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Seedorf, Pirlo, Vieira, Crespo, Balotelli and Davids, to name but a few, have all worn both Milanese colours at one time or another.

In terms of records, the red and black half of the city dominates. Historically, Milan have won more ties in all competitions since the first encounter in 1908. And it’s also Milan that boast a bigger trophy cabinet and a larger fan-base in not only the city, but also throughout Italy.

The games themselves are as intense as any rivalry. With the AC Milan faithful taking up the San Siro’s curva sud, usually with giant banners and flares, and likewise on the curva nord with Inter’s fans doing the same thing. The stadium is a sea of both red and black, as well as blue and black. The games usually are full of drama and tension. Flares, whistles and chants all around the San Siro. It’s usually one of those great, passionate nights of pure football.


Fan of Inter of AC? Or have you been to the derby della Madonnina as a neutral? Share your stories with Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


Euro 2012 quarter finals preview

Well there go the group stages already. Superstars such as Wesley Sneijder, Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Paul Green all crashed out of the tournament. And then there were eight:

Czech Republic v Portugal. 21st June. National Stadium, Warsaw.
The Czechs surprisingly topped Group A, despite being thrashed by Russia – who themselves were knocked out of the competition – on the opening day. Petr Jiráček and Václav Pilař have both been on fine form for the Czechs but they face an equally impressive Portugal side led by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who is a difficult opponent even on his off-days. A fairly even contest but I feel the Portugese might pip it.
Prediciton: Portugal win.

Germany v Greece. 22nd June. PGE Arena, Gdańsk.
On paper, this one has Germany to win written all over it. However, due to the memories of eight years ago in Lisbon, I refuse to write off Greece just yet. They did after all beat a mighty Russia side in their last fixture. That said, I think in Gdańsk on Friday, Joachim Löw’s men will be too strong for the Greeks. I think the likes of Mesut Ozil, Mario Gomez and Bastian Schweinsteiger will be too strong for them.
Prediciton: Germany win.

Spain v France. 23rd June. Donbass Arena, Donetsk. 
A repeat fixture of the Euro 2000 quarter final tie between the two sides. That day in Bruges (a town Colin Farrell doesn’t rate), France beat Spain 2-1. However the two teams have evolved and Spain’s tiki-taka style football is proving to be too strong. But Laurent Blanc is an extremely clever coach and will be using his knowledge to try break Spain’s few weak points. I feel this one will go the distance, possibly into extra time.
Prediciton: Spain win.

England v Italy. 24th June. Olympic Stadium, Kiev. 
A huge fixture. The pick of the bunch, in my opinion. The return of Wayne Rooney already proved to be lethal for England in the last fixture, he’ll be even more hungry on Sunday in Kiev – I think that will be the difference. That said, one would be foolish to write off the Italians. Andrea Pirlo is amongst the best in the competition, not to mention world-class goalie Gianluigi Buffon as well as the Azzurri spoiled for choice with strikers. If Rooney wasn’t available, I’d go for an Italy win – but he’ll in Hodgson’s plans.
Prediction: England win.


Ireland at the Euros: Matchday 3 v. Italy

There you have it: the third and final loss. A 2-0 defeat to Italy, means themselves and leaders Spain are fired into the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 with ourselves and Croatia crashing out. Realistically, many didn’t expect us to get out of the group. But for the Boys In Green to come home without a single point is disappointing to say the least.

Eighteen years ago to the day, Ray Houghton scored the goal in Giants Stadium that gave Ireland a famous 1-0 win against Italy in the World Cup. Sadly, history was not to repeat itself thanks to goals from AC Milan striker Antonio Cassano and Man City mentalist Mario Balotelli.

The positive to take from last night’s defeat is that the Irish team performed far better than in the previous two games. But it still wasn’t enough. Is Trap to blame? Some people are certainly pointing the finger at the Italian gaffer. Yes, some of his decisions need to be questioned.

But let’s look to the future. In our friendly in Belgrade against Serbia in August, I hope Trap makes some changes to the squad of players. Wes Hoolahan, Ciaran Clark and Anthony Stokes should get drafted in more regularly. I’m not alone in thinking that. And (even though I was previously against his inclusion) the return of Stephen Ireland would strengthen our midfield. Would a change in our regular 4-4-2 formation also be the worst thing in the world? Let’s forget our Euro blues, keep our heads up and cheer on our lads when our World Cup campaign kicks off on September 7th away to Kazakhstan. Come on you boys in green.

Italy  2–0  Republic of Ireland Municipal Stadium, Poznań
Attendance: 38,794
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (Turkey)
Cassano Goal 35′
Balotelli Goal 90′



ITA-IRL 2012-06-18.svg


Showtime for the Boys In Green.

Don’t read too much into Monday night’s friendly in Budapest. For a start, the result isn’t relevant. Secondly, the Irish team that faced Hungary will be the same team that will face Croatia on Sunday – they weren’t going all out risking injuries. Ireland may have been waiting 76 years for a win in Budapest, but we are now 14 games unbeaten – perfect for going into the Euros.

Despite some concerns that Il Trap is working the players a little hard, reports from the Irish camp is that confidence is booming – especially from the Italian gaffer.

Our first opponent, Croatia, faced the Boys In Green last August in the Aviva. That night, Ireland were lucky to not be beaten with the game finishing 0-0. It will be a tough test, no doubt about it. The Croatians will be looking for points from us as we will from them. Crucial.

Trap: Not going to Poland for a holiday.

Then we face current World and European champions Spain. On their best day are unbeatable, unplayable and simply too good. On their bad days (a very rare thing since 2008), they are beatable. But only by the big guns like Argentina, Brazil etc. Realistically if Ireland get a draw in this fixture, consider it a success. But historically, we have a good record against the big nations, don’t we?

Finally on Monday 18th, we face Italy in Poznan. The recent scandals in Italy may have caused some unrest within the camp. May have. But Il Trap has a good record against his home nation – still to be defeated by the Azzurri. A considerably weakened Ireland side even beat a full-strength Italy in Liege twelve months ago. Another win is very possible.

So the time is upon us: our first major tournament in a decade. Il Trap has been mentioning to the squad about Greece’s 2004 success. He surely doesn’t expect us to go out and win it, does he? He certainly will give it a go. Trap is a born winner. We’re not going to “do a Greece” and actually win the thing…? Are we? One can dream. But the 73 year old boss will actually try and do.

End of the season madness…

And that was the season that was. Nine months of chaos, shocks, egomania and unpredicitability – and that was just Mario Balotelli! Yes, the 2011-2012 season turned out to be a memorable one. Not just in England – but elsewhere too.

Well, I’m sure most of you witnessed the good, the bad and the downright ugly (not looking at anyone in particular, Joey Barton!) at the Etihad stadium as Manchester City won the Premier League in the most dramatic fashion in the history of the English game. Yes, even more so than 1989. It was like a Hollywood movie. Even Paul Merson nearly went into cardiac arrest live on Sky Sports News. Unforgettable – especially if you’re from the blue half of Manchester.

In Italy, Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi played their last games for Juventus and AC Milan respectively. Both players scored in the final day of the season (Inzaghi, incredibly, was ONside), but it was Juve that were already crowned champions of Serie A after an unbeaten season. It was an incredible season in Italy with players such as Fabrizio Miccoli, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andrea Pirlo and Edinson Cavani playing our of their skin all season. Don’t be surprised if Cavani, the Uruguayan at Napoli, is being eyed up by Roberto Mancini or Roman Abramovich as we speak.

As reported last month, Holland’s Eredivisie was wide open as there was four points between the top six teams by mid-April. But it was Ajax who claimed the title. Their second consecutive title – both under manager Frank De Boer. But it’s not all settled at the bottom end of the table. The brilliantly named VVV-Venlo currently find themselves in the relegation play-offs, facing Helmond Sport this week.

Like Ajax, Borussia Dortmund find themselves with their second consecutive Bundesliga title win just ahead of Champions League finalists Bayern Munich. Jürgen Klopp’s side must have been quite worried having lost the Bundesliga player of the year last year, Nuri Şahin, to Real Madrid. But luckily, thanks to the brilliance of players such as wonderkid Mario Götze, Die Borussen marched on for another title. Note: – keep your eye on Götze playing for Germany in this summer’s Euros.

So that was 2011-2012. What about next season? Will King Kenny still be at Anfield? Will Tito Vilanova flop as new Barcelona coach? Who will shine in Euro 2012, prompting massive money transfers? Will Mario Balotelli still be going to take-aways at 1am in Manchester city centre? Which ageing stars will seek a final big payday in the MLS? And will Joey Barton calm down?

Still – we got the Champions League final on Saturday coming. Gulp! See my preview later on in the week. In the meantime, hit me up on Twitter with your thoughts (@robsmithireland)

Is today THE day for Man City?

Ten years ago Man City were playing in the second tier of English football, constantly taunted by their rivals Manchester United. Today, the blue half of Manchester can tell the red half to zip it, as victory against Q.P.R. will ensure their first Premier League trophy – their first top flight trophy since 1968.

Of course, QPR will not be merely sitting back with nothing to play for – their entire season for next year completely depends on the result at the Etihad stadium this afternoon. They are two points outside the relegation zone and will be looking for a victory to absolutely guarantee a place in the 2012-13 Premier League. Oh no, it certainly shan’t be an easy ride for City today. Of course, City needn’t worry about the result – so long as Sunderland do them a favour by beating Man United. It’s all to play for in England today.

City won't fall at this stage of the season...will they?

Elsewhere in Europe, Juventus have already been crowned champions of Italy, juat ahead of AC Milan (breaking Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s eight consecutive league titles with 5 different clubs). Hopefully we can see The Old Lady do more damage in next season’s Champions League than what’s been seen in the past few years.
Finally in Spain, Real Madrid have won La Liga, pipping Barcelona to the post. It is Los Blancos’ record 32nd La Liga title and yet another trophy in the ever-expanding cabinet of The Special One. No Pep Guardiola for Barça next season though as he’ll be replaced by Tito Vilanova – and he knows The Special One very, very well.

What’s your predictions on today’s games in England? Will City clinch it? Or will United come back? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Nevermind the Premier League – here's the Eredivisie

Man City‘s season certainly looks over. After the sky blues’ weekend defeat to Arsenal, their hopes of shutting the red half of Manchester up don’t look good – even though Roberto Mancini, in all fairness to him, still refuses to give up. But it would take an enormously spectacular slip-up from Man United to throw it all away now. Those who have a keen eye on the English league will be focussed on who may get a Champions League spot (Newcastle United or Tottenham will be battling this out with Arsenal for that 3rd spot). But in other leagues, things are slightly more tense for the top prize.

In Italy’s Serie A, title holders AC Milan are just holding onto first place ahead of rivals Juventus with just two points in the difference. But Juve have a game in hand. That game in hand is against Lazio – who themselves will be fighting to remain in their current 3rd place. There’s six league games left in Italy. Will Milan be crowned champions once more? Or will Juve add yet another Serie A title to their trophy cabinet? Or will it be someone else? It’s certainly going to go the distance anyway.

A month or so ago, you wouldn’t have been crazy to back Real Madrid to become La Liga champions in Spain. Eleven points clear at one stage, José Mourinho’s men had to simply not slip up.  Three draws in Madrid’s last five games alone witnessed rivals Barcelona sneak up behind them rapidly. As of right now there is one point in it – yet Madrid have a game in hand. In ten days time, both teams face each other in the Camp Nou. That night could decide the title. A draw will mount the tension even more. The dual between Pep Guardiola and The Special One is at it’s tightest.

Finally, football fans should keep one eye on Holland’s Eredivisie. There is only four points between the top six teams. Imagine if that happened in the Premier League? Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord, AZ, FC Twente and Heerenveen are all in it. With six games left, I for one will be watching how this one plays out. In Dutch football, anything can happen sometimes. Literally anything…

Ajax & PSV: just two of six clubs looking for Holland's big prize