Four candidates in the frame to replace Enrique at Barcelona

Four candidates in the frame to replace Enrique at Barcelona

On the evening after Barcelona’s 6-1 hammering of Sporting Gijon came the announcement that many quarters of the Spanish media were expecting to be made from the Catalan club (admittedly closer to the season end) that manager Luis Enrique would be leaving his post at the end of the season.

As unusual as it is to broadcast a decision of this nature after such a resounding victory, it must be said that after the 4-0 first-leg away reverse in the Champions League to PSG and continuous conflicts with the local Spanish press, many felt this announcement would only be a matter of time.

Despite this first-leg battering, Barcelona produced one of the most spectacular comebacks ever seen in European Cup history overturning the four goal deficit to beat PSG 6-1 in Catalonia with three goals scored in the last five minutes of the game in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Away from the CL, the season is far from over for Enrique’s men. Still in the title race (leading Real Madrid by one point who have a game in hand), with a Copa Del Rey final against Alaves to contend, the former Barcelona midfielder has a chance to end his managerial stint with the Catalonians with a treble.

Having pointed to one of the identical personal reasons for his departure as his predecessor Pep Guardiola citing weariness and mental fatigue after three seasons in the role, it is debated as to which personality that will have the stomach and endurance for this pressured managerial position. The following 4 names are being touted as the most likely replacements:

Ernesto Valverde

One of the early favourites for the job. Valverde has been in charge of Athletic Bilbao since 2013 and has since led them to Champions League qualification, a Spanish Super Cup victory over Barcelona and a Copa Del Rey final.

A diplomatic character who has played for Barcelona in his career for two seasons and who will not be afraid to make important squad decisions to reinvigorate an ageing Barcelona team.

In addition to his achievements at Bilbao, his side became known for an intense pressing game, much akin to that of Mauricio Pochettino’s current model at Tottenham Hotpsur. However, his record at the clubs he has coached (particularly Bilbao and Olympiakos) also implies he brings a stout defensive resoluteness to sides.   At Bilbao, a team that had conceded 65 goals in La Liga under previous coach Marcelo Bielsa, let in only 39 under Valverde – going from 12th to 4th in the process.

In Greece, Valverde delivered three titles at Olympiakos over three seasons, with an attacking possession-based philosophy that produced a 68% and 75% win rate in his two spells respectively, signifying the level of dominance Olympiakos enjoyed under Valverde.

A well-rounded, calm and collective individual whose excellent media-relationship skills makes him the typical “Barcelona fit” required to occupy the hot-seat and be the front-facing figure at a club surrounded by such complex internal politics within the hierarchy.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 8/10

Jorge Sampaoli

Since joining Sevilla last summer, Jorge Sampaoli has impressed with the 2016 Europa League Champions, particularly improving their domestic performance in La Liga, so much so that they are competing with La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona in a three-horse title-race (Sevilla currently sit 4 points off leaders Barcelona).

He made his name with the Chilean national team, famously claiming a Copa America title in 2015.

The frenetic, bold and attacking style seen at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan this season has won the hearts of many a football neutral this year and will no doubt result in many Barcelona fans calling for the Argentine to make the move across Spain to take their club forward to future glories.

The Barcelona tradition of appointing managers either from within their internal coaching structure or previous players may work against the possibility of an approach as the Sampaoli fits neither category, having had no previous association with the club in his career to date.

An outspoken and passionate individual, whether or not he will fit the mould of FC Barcelona can only be decided by the boardroom.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 7/10

Ronald Koeman

Having played for the club for over six years between 1989 and 1995 and with an impressive managerial CV, the Dutchman will inevitably be linked with a hot-seat vacancy at the Camp Nou.

Having managed at a host of renowned and esteemed European clubs in his seventeen-year managerial career including PSV, Ajax, Valencia and Benfica, the Dutchman would bring a wealth of experience to Barcelona.

Two successful spells at his first English Premier League club Southampton resulted in a 7th and 6th league table finish, both in campaigns where he had to contend with the sales of many of his star players from the club.

Having signed a three-year deal with Everton last summer, Barcelona would be forced to pay a substantial compensation package to the Merseyside club for Koeman.

Many feel however that it may prove too great a step up at this moment in time; particularly as many in Spain remember his unsuccessful spell at Valencia in a campaign where his side plummeted to 15th in La Liga and had finished bottom of their Champions League by the time the Dutchman was dismissed.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 5/10

Mauricio Pochettino

The current Tottenham Hotspur manager is a dark-horse in the running. Having transformed the North London club into a title-chasing outfit has been no mean feat.

With a strong ideology for an intense, high-pressing attacking style, many would argue that the Argentine would be an excellent fit at Barcelona.

However, repeated failures to progress to advanced rounds in European competitions has cast doubt over the psychological toughness of his side and one may feel this may be a jump too steep too early in Pochettino’s career.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 5/10

 

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Bundesliga round-up

Bundesliga round-up

Bayern boss Hamburg

Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick as Bayern Munich crushed Hamburg 8-0 on Saturday afternoon to celebrate Carlo Ancelotti’s 1,000th competitive outing as a head coach.

The current German Champions put in a domineering performance at the Allianz to ruthlessly dispatch relegation-threatened Hamburg, a week after their off-colour performance against Hertha Berlin in a 1-1 draw.

Robert Lewandowski was Bayern’s saviour in that fixture and he was in an imperious mood on Saturday, notching his hat-trick by the 54th-minute to increase his goal tally for the season to 19, joint-top scorer in the Bundesliga along with Pierre Aubameyang.

Other goal-scorers in Munich’s dismantling of Hamburg were Arturo Vidal who opened the scoring with a powerful drive on 17 minutes, David Alaba, Arjen Robben and a brace from young Kingsley Coman.

Sitting five points clear of 2nd placed RB Leipzig with one hand firmly in the Champions League Quarter-Final (following the thrashing of Arsenal in Munich); Ancelotti’s doubters from pre-Christmas are diminishing by the week.

Leipzig continue remarkable season

RB Leipzig produced a dominant performance to see off Cologne 3-1 at the Red Bull Arena to maintain pressure on leaders Bayern, in a season where they are continuously defying expectations in their first-ever Bundesliga campaign.

Leipzig overpowered and outplayed Cologne from the kick-off and within 5 minutes Emil Forsberg notched his seventh of the season after he was played in from Timo Werner following a weak clearance from Cologne goalkeeper Thomas Kessler.

The trio of Forsberg, Werner and midfielder Naby Keita was proving too hot to handle for Cologne and on 34 minutes Keita’s cross was inadvertently turned into the net by Cologne defender Dominic Maroh to put Leipzig in control of the encounter.

Cologne briefly retained a hope of taking something from the game after Yuya Osako scored a close-range finish in the 53rd minute but shortly after Timo Werner grabbed his 13th of the season to clinch the points for Leipzig who are unbeaten in every game they have scored in the Bundesliga this season.

Dortmund strengthen grip on third

Borussia Dortmund won away from the Westfalenstadion for only the second time since November after beating Freiburg 3-0 at the Schwarzald-Stadion thanks to goals from Papastathopoulos Sokratis and a brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

In his 150th Bundesliga appearance, Sokratis opened the scoring for the visitors on 13 minutes when the Greek defender headed into the net from Marco Reus’ whipped free-kick into the penalty area.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stole the show in the second-half, notching his 18th of the season on 55 minutes after tapping home following some bamboozling midfield trickery from Marco Reus to play the Gabonese forward through.

Aubameyang was again on the scoresheet shortly after, 20 minutes from time to seal the points for Thomas Tuchel’s men, converting a tap-in from Erik Durm’s cross.

After a shaky first-half of the season, Dortmund appear to be finally getting into full stride and are on course for an automatic Champions League spot following this commanding performance in Tuchel’s 100th Bundesliga victory.

Elsewhere in Germany

-Mainz moved up to 10th in the table after an impressive 2-0 away win at Bayer Leverkusen to increase the growing pressure on Roger Schmidt. Defender Stefan Bell opened the scoring with a bullet header in the third minute from Levin Oztunali’s corner before the provider turned scorer with a free-kick that deceived the Leverkusen back-line and found the far corner on 11 minutes. After being torn apart on their home patch by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League midweek game (a tie that is virtually over with the Spanish side boasting 4 away goals), Schmidt’s position is being questioned by many quarters of the German media with his tactics and relationship with his players in doubt.

-Werder Bremen’s 2-1 victory over Wolfsburg on Friday night courtesy of a Serge Gnabry double in the first-half has spelt the end to Valerien Ismael’s short spell in charge of Wolfsburg who sit just two points above the relegation zone. Ismael lasted 15 Bundesliga games in the job having initially only been appointed on an interim basis on the 17th October following Dieter Hecking’s (the now Monchengladbach coach) sacking.

Hammers exit the latest unhappy saga in a turbulent career for the talented Payet

Hammers exit the latest unhappy saga in a turbulent career for the talented Payet

West Ham’s sale of Dimitri Payet to Marseille for the figure of £25m was confirmed by the East London club on January the 29th. The 29-year-old’s legacy status with the West Ham United fans has transformed from messiah to pariah in the past two months at the club in a period where they needed him most. Payet has delivered a series of poor performances and his body language has shown nothing short of complete disinterest. However, this is not the first time in Dimitri Payet’s career that he has displayed an unprofessional attitude to force a move away from a club at the time.

After a remarkable first season in the Premier League where he was named the Premier League’s Player of the Year at the London Football Awards as well as claiming West Ham’s annual Hammer of the Year trophy, Payet signed a 5-year contract extension in February 2016 that increased his wages to £125,000 a week. Not only did West Ham heavily reward the player for his outstanding first season impact in the Premier League, they put him onto a global stage in one of the world’s top league’s and in doing so earned him a national team recall from France manager Didier Deschamps.

West Ham fans revered him. How sour it turned this campaign.

This season has seen Payet show glimpses of his clear world-class talent with exceptional goals against Middlesbrough and Liverpool but for the most part fail to match the playing standards of his first season at the club. When Slaven Bilic confirmed to the press on January the 12th that the player did not want to play for the club any longer and had gone on strike, all knew there would be no going back.

At the tender age of 16-years-old, Dimitri Payet from the small French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, had his first major opportunity in mainland France to break into professional football at Le Havre spurned after four tumultuous years where his difficult character was criticised by senior coaching figures at the club as well being accused of a lack of motivation. Payet was thereafter forced to return to the island of Reunion in 2003 and subsequently joined AS Excelsior.

On 18 May 2010, Payet who was then playing for Saint-Etienne, was involved in a notable physical altercation with teammate and captain Blaise Matuidi during the team’s 1–0 defeat to Toulouse. Payet was on the receiving end of scathing criticism from teammate Yohan Benalouane for displaying a lack of aggression at the time and was then confronted by Matuidi. Both quickly went face-to-face with the Payet delivering a blow to Matuidi’s head before the two were separated by referee and teammates. Payet was subsequently substituted and fined by the club’s president.

The following year, after impressive form for Saint Etienne and English interest from Chelsea and Liverpool, Payet sought for a move to Paris Saint-Germain in the wake of a reported bid from the Parisian club in January 2011 (pre-PSG’s Qatari ownership). Saint-Etienne rejected all interest only for Payet to consequently refuse to turn up for training and was demoted to the reserves.

Turning 30 years of age in March, Dimitri Payet is in danger of seeing a career so full of unquestionable world-class flair fail to reach the heights (domestically) that his talent warrants. He has left the Premier League; one of the world’s finest leagues to return to Ligue 1; a division where he has grafted and plied his trade in for the majority of his career, largely out of the limelight. Links with leading global clubs such as the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea will die down; his chances of maintaining a first x11 spot with the French national team could also arguably be affected in the long-term, with younger pacier options coming through the French ranks playing at bigger European clubs. This is not an individual who has been dealt a hard hand by the footballing world; his career path has been predominantly determined by his mental attitude throughout; a symptomatic issue surrounding the modern-day footballer in recent years.

Chelsea’s Challengers

Chelsea’s Challengers

Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night confirmed that the Premier League race is very much still on going into the New Year. Antonio Conte’s side have recently found a level of consistency and momentum to win an extraordinary and record-equalling 13 straight league games in a run where a formation of 3-4-3 appeared to be tailor-made for Chelsea’s side.

Five points clear (1st with 49 points) of second-placed Liverpool, Chelsea are no doubt a rejuvenated side this season, with a manager who has succeeded in rediscovering the players thirst for glory at the club, crucially of those world-class individuals who were so out-of-form and criticised in Eden Hazard and Diego Costa under previous management. They are one of only two clubs not to have a single injury currently affecting the first-team squad and after failing to qualify for European football in last year’s treacherous campaign, they are benefitting so greatly from the lack of Cup distractions.

However, Tottenham’s dominance and superiority in the London Derby on the 4th January highlighted not only that Chelsea are by no means infallible, there are weaknesses in the team (lack of free-scoring, susceptible full-backs and possibly centre-backs too) but also that there are five other hungry teams in the hunt who boast too much quality to be ruled out of the race at this early stage; the sides are listed as follows:

Liverpool: 2nd with 44 points- Arguably one of the most impressive free-scoring sides in the league. Jurgen  Klopp’s side play with a high-intensity expansive freedom, averaging almost 2.5 goals per game.  Goals can come from any of their midfielders, wingers or forwards. The likes of Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are enjoying the form of their careers. Jurgen Klopp’s tactical astuteness was revealed in the recent 1-0 victory at home to Man City where their usual open free-flowing style was sacrificed to absorb City possession in an impressive defensive performance; a trait they will be obliged to repeat in forthcoming big games this season.

Squad depth and injuries could well be the biggest potential hurdle to Liverpool’s title challenge as their most gifted player in Philippe Coutinho has been out injured since November (is nearing a first-team return). Their other major worry is the constant uncertainty between goalkeepers Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet; the majority of Liverpool’s fellow challengers have a world-class goalkeeper they can call upon. What Klopp would do to have this luxury.

Chances of overhauling Chelsea: 7/10

Tottenham: 3rd with 42 points- Not only have Tottenham just resoundingly beaten leaders and London rivals Chelsea,  they are in scintillating form; having won their least five games consecutively, blowing away both Southampton and Watford with 4-1 away wins. They boast one of the best goalkeepers and centre-backs respectively in Hugo Lloris and Toby Alderweireld, combined with the most attacking, buccaneering full-backs in the Premier League in Danny Rose and Kyle Walker. Dele Alli’s exuberance and ability is shining through after a poor European Championships and quiet start to the domestic season and Harry Kane’s goals and leadership show no signs of relenting. Tottenham look a side hungry for honours to illustrate their remarkable tutelage and progression under manager Mauricio Pochettino since his arrival in 2014.

Whether Tottenham can banish the memories of last year’s capitulation at Stamford Bridge, is another matter. They are due to restart their Europa League campaign again in February in the knockout-rounds and they do lack the experience and arguably squad-depth that other contenders can boast, but the ability and talent is there in abundance.

Chances of overhauling Chelsea: 8/10

Man City: 4th with 42 points- Despite boasting some of the world’s top talents and a manager who has claimed a title in six of his seven seasons in club management, defensive problems have been rife this season; resulting in City trailing leaders Chelsea by seven points, a shortfall that was not predicted by most upon Pep Guardiola’s arrival to the club. John Stones is still learning the game, Claudio Bravo has proved vulnerable, Vincent Kompany is frequently injured and Pablo Zabaleta and Alexsandar Kolarov are inconsistent at best. There is also a worrying discipline problem at the club, receiving seven red cards this season in all competitions; more than any other Premier League team.

However, on their day Man City are a formidable force and with their world-class trio of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, City pose a creative attacking outlet that can unlock the sternest of defences at any point in a game. City fans will look back to the 2013/14 season (when City overtook Liverpool on gameweek 37 to clinch the title after winning their final five games of the season) for title-marching inspiration. In their recent 5-0 win in the F.A Cup 3rd tie at the London Stadium, City displayed a cutting edge and an exhibition of ruthlessness that will give them momentum going forward.

Chances of overhauling Chelsea: 7/10

Arsenal: 5th with 41 points– The side that typically divide so many an opinion. Arsenal have endured an inconsistent campaign thus far that has offered many similarities to every previous season for the past ten years. Capable of a mesmerising creative style and devastating counter attacking-play on their day (displayed best in their 3-0 demolition of Chelsea in September), but suffer from that soft underbelly, the lack of a commanding centre back (despite Shkodran Mustafi’s impressive arrival last summer) and a rousing leader.

An injury list that does not seem to relent, poor away form, the imminent Champions League knockout ties to nemesis Bayern Munich and the enduring worries regarding the expiring contracts of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil does not favour their prospects of assembling enough impetus to challenge leaders Chelsea.

Chances of overhauling Chelsea: 6/10

Man United: 6th with 39 points-A team boasting an array of superstar footballers and ego’s  for any global club to envy. A fairly inconsistent first three months of the season consisted of a very disjointed looking United team, with various new signings and certainly their manager taking time to settle. Many dropped points this season have in fact come at Old Trafford in games they have completely dominated but have struggled to break down resolute, stubborn defences.  The demanding Thursday-Sunday schedule will recommence in February as they return to action in the Europa League.

However, it must be said that after seven straight wins (in all competitions), United are rightly in buoyant mood as they are experiencing a consistent run of form that will build significant momentum for a title charge if they can maintain their current run; despite being 10 points off leaders Chelsea at this halfway stage. United also have strength in depth, having the luxury of being able to call on the likes of Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial from the bench when chasing a game. Furthermore, there is certainly no shortage of winners or experienced heads in the squad, with eight of the current squad holding Premier League titles to their career honours history.

Chances of overhauling Chelsea: 7/10

 

Saul strike lifts recent gloom around the Vincente Calderon

Saul strike lifts recent gloom around the Vincente Calderon

After a winless run of three games for Diego Simeone’s men, a second-half strike from Saul Niguez ensured Atletico Madrid returned to winning ways with a 1-0 win at home to Las Palmas, but why do doubts remain over the Atleti side this year?

It has been an extraordinary year Los Colchoneros who despite finishing 2016 in 6th place (one point behind Villareal in 4th), reached the Champions League Final in May only to be beaten on penalties by their Madrid neighbours and have comfortably secured qualification to the last-32 in this year’s European campaign, qualifying as group winners.

However, Atletico’s form has been inconsistent at best this year and many pundits are already ruling Simeone’s side out of the title race; an honour they famously won in 2014 and have narrowly missed out on in the two campaigns since.

They have lost three of their last seven fixtures and looked particularly poor in their 3-0 defeat to Villareal at the El Madrigal on the 12th December, in a game that was compounded by goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s shoulder injury that could see the Slovenian stopper ruled out for up to four months.

A trademark that has been clearly missing is what has been so well instilled into them in recent seasons by Simeone in their energetic high pressing game; off-the-ball instructions to smother and stifle opponents high up the pitch, allowing the Atleti midfielders to win possession when the opponent is vulnerable deep in their own half.  Recent performances have been lethargic with no real intensity in the midfield or in attacking situations.

A particular concern may be that of the recent goal-drought suffered by French striker Antoine Griezmann who is without a goal since the 2nd October, his worst in his La Liga playing career. The striker, who was confirmed as third for the 2016 Ballon d’Or had notched 6 goals for the season before this period.

Simeone will look to the upcoming winter break in La Liga as a crucial point in their season as his side will look to revive their domestic form, but particularly to rediscover their freshness and high-octane pressing tactic that wears down opponents so effectively.

Despite stuttering results for Atleti domestically thus far this season, no faults or lack of confidence have been evident in their 2016/17 Champions League form, having beaten Bayern Munich to top their group table with relative ease. As last year’s beaten finalists, they may well fancy the competition as their best chance of silverware this season, in possibly Simeone’s last in the Spanish capital.

Despite them only being nine points behind La Liga leaders and city rivals Real Madrid, a title charge in the New Year will surely be too much to expect from Atleti in both sides’ current form, particularly with Simeone’s burgeoning desire to lift the Champions League as a manager in his career. However, if they can build on scrappy results like the 1-0 result at home to Las Palmas, keep developing the club’s young rising stars (Angel Correa, Yannick Carrasco & Jose Jiménez) and make sensible signings to improve the first x11, confidence will build and 2017 could be Atletico Madrid’s year.

They simply have too much character, passion, talent and energy to fall away without a fight.

Frustration builds for Mourinho as his impact fails to improve results

Frustration builds for Mourinho as his impact fails to improve results

Leighton Baines’ 89th minute penalty for Everton consigned Manchester United to their poorest domestic start to a season after 14 games in 26 years.

The result was in fact United’s third 1-1 draw in a row (after Arsenal & West Ham respectively), in a game Jose Mourinho will rue his side’s lack of a cutting edge to put games of this nature to bed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had put United ahead on 42 minutes to score his sixth goal in five games with a sublimely placed chip over the rash Maarten Stekelenburg, hitting both bar and post before crossing the line. The Dutch goalkeeper had made the instinctive and ultimately naive decision to rush out to the Swedish striker in an attempt to block any audacious effort from the uniquely unpredictable Ibrahimiovic.

Prior to this, a noteworthy early moment in the encounter ensued on 15 minutes when Marcus Rojo dived in wildly two-footed on Idrissa Gueye and could easily have been shown an immediate red.  Subsequently, referee Michael Oliver brandished the Argentine defender with just a yellow and United exploited their let-off as they took charge and dictated the majority of the first-half proceedings.

The second-half was a much tighter affair in which Everton began to offer far more of an attacking threat. Idrissa Gueye, Emner Valencia and Kevin Mirallas all forced David De Gea into action whilst at the other end Ander Herrera crashed a shot into the frame of the goal.

However, it was to be an ex-Everton talisman who was to decide the fate of the game after only being introduced on 85 minutes. Marouane Fellaini was the oncoming substitute who on his 100th appearance for the club was brought on to help United see the game out. Instead, his first noteworthy action was to commit a clumsy foul on Idrissa Gueye in the penalty box to throw away a vital three points that could well have kick-started United’s season.

Mourinho replaced Louis Van Gaal in the summer no doubt looking to re-establish his reputation as one of the world’s top managers after a damaging and sorry end to his association with his beloved Chelsea football club.  There can be no denying his recent record makes for worrying reading. He has won only nine of his past 30 Premier League games for both clubs – a 30% win ratio; making an average of 1.2 points per game. Compare that to his first spell at Chelsea between June 2004 and September 2007 and you notice an alarming difference- 136 wins in his first 196 games in the Barclays Premier League; averaging an extraordinary 2.29 points per game. To compare to other recent United managers who have experienced significant press and fan negativity at the club, Jose’s 21 points after 14 games at United is in fact worse than under David Moyes (22 points) and Louis van Gaal (25).

However, there are numerous other factors to bear in mind when you analyse United‘s poor domestic performance thus far this season. The club have suffered a remarkable fall from grace in the past three years under the contrasting and unstable guidance of David Moyes (2013/14) and Louis Van Gaal (2014/2016). Van Gaal’s regime was vilified by the majority of fans (particularly last season) with a brand of football played that was labelled as “risk averse” by sections of the media and “dull” by the majority of the Old Trafford faithful. Immediate transformation into the exhilarating, rampant and dominant United seen throughout the majority of the 90’s and 00’s under Ferguson was always going to be unrealistic.

It is believed that Mourinho will get time from the boardroom to further exert his influence on the side, and will again be fully backed in the upcoming transfer window. A major tactical issue has been the unbalanced and disordered style of play as the players re-adapt to a more direct style of play under Mourinho after two years of the possession-based philosophy of Van Gaal. For the past two seasons, Van Gaal’s influence on the team was to favour a slow build-up of possession with horizontal passes dictating proceedings in a bid to wear down opponents.

Mourinho’s beliefs are quite frankly the antithesis of the previous regime. Bombing full-backs overlapping winger’s with dynamic vertical passes are the primary style changes this season that have been welcomed by the club’s faithful, seen as the first’s significant steps to restoring the “beautiful football” tag at the Theatre of Dreams.

Combine this adaptation with the £150m spent in the summer transfer window and the three major new attacking talents (Ibrahimovic, Pogba & Mkhitaryan) still settling into life in Manchester and you understand why the boardroom recognise this is a side in transition that requires squad balance and managerial stability.

For the immediate present, Mourinho must focus on rectifying his side’s reoccurring downfall in the short-term and that is his side’s failure to finish games off from winning positions.

 

Champions League Week 5 Preview

Champions League Week 5 Preview

With two games remaining, all is to play for in groups A-H as a place in the last 16-knockout stage awaits those who finish in the top-two of their respective group tables. The qualification prize money amounting to as much as €5,500,000 may prove a significant cash prize to those clubs playing outside of Europe’s glamour leagues. For some high-flying outfits, qualification has already been secured; however the final placing outcome will very much affect the direction of the last-16 with the group-winners facing the runners-up from corresponding groups in a two-legged knockout tie.

Group A

Arsenal vs Paris Saint Germain-19.45 (Wed) – Both sides have already comfortably qualified for the knockout stages, with Arsenal topping the group on goal difference. The corresponding fixture in September resulted in a 1-1 draw thanks to Alexis Sanchez salvaging a 77th minute equaliser in a match the Gunners were largely outperformed in. Both sides sit in 3rd place in their own domestic leagues. However, PSG are the side currently facing the more negative press in a campaign that has seen new manager Unai Emery come under-fire for supposedly attempting to change PSG’s style of play too quickly and radically, from Laurent Blanc’s previous title-winning regime.

Ludogorets Razgrad vs FC Basel-19.45 (Wed)- Both clubs have endured emphatic losses to Arsenal & PSG and are subsequently sitting joint bottom with one point each (that point coming in the 1-1 corresponding draw from the fixture in Switzerland). The Bulgarian side currently occupy the 3rd place spot; sufficient for Europa League qualification, having scored two more goals than their Swiss counterparts. All to play for in Bulgaria on Tuesday night as both sides look to continue their European adventure outside of the Champions League.

Group B-

Besiktas vs Benfica –17.45 (Wed)- It’s 2nd vs 3rd on Wednesday evening at the Vodafone Arena in Istanbul. Only a point separates the two sides after four games in one of the tightest and most exciting groups of the competition.  Talisca, a player who was actually loaned out from Benfica to Besiktas, scored a last-gasp free-kick to rescue a point for the Turkish side in the corresponding game in Lisbon on the 13th September. Benfica were quarter-finalists last year whilst Besiktas have not progressed beyond the group stages since 1987.

Napoli vs Dynamo Kiev- 19.45 (Wed) – It’s 1st vs 4th at the Stadio San Paolo as Napoli still require a point to qualify and a win to ensure qualification as group winners. The Italians won 2-1 in September in Kiev thanks to a Arkadiusz Milik brace. Coach Maurizio Sauri will have to get used to playing without Milik for the majority of the season as the Polish striker has sustained a ruptured cruciate ligament. By contrast, Dynamo Kiev have experienced a miserable European campaign thus far, sitting on 1 solitary point and virtually require a miracle to even obtain 3rd place.

Group C-

Borussia Monchengladbach vs Man City- 19.45 (Wed)- Pep Guardiola’s men head to Borussia-Park looking for a repeat performance of their 4-0 victory in the corresponding game at the Etihad as they look to secure their qualification place into the next round. Conversely, Monchengladbach can go level with City if they win and take the qualification race to the last game on the 6th December where they play at the Nou Camp; whilst City host Celtic. Guardiola may have to be without captain Vincent Kompany in Germany, who picked up a concussion-related injury in their win at Crystal Palace on the weekend.

Celtic vs Barcelona-19.45 (Wed)- Brendan Rodgers’ side sit bottom of the qualification group on 2 points  but will still be in with a chance of qualification with if they can pull off the unlikely victory over Barcelona. The Hoops will be praying the Catalonians will again be without Lionel Messi who missed their goalless draw against Malaga at the weekend. Celtic famously beat Barcelona 2-1 at Celtic Park in 2012 with goals through Victor Wanyama and substitute Tony Watt.

Group D

FC Rostov vs Bayern Munich-17.00-(Wed)- FC Rostov sit bottom of the group on one point but level with PSV Eindhoven so will still have Europa League qualification in their sights. Bayern have already secured qualification as they sit 8 points above Eindhoven, but still trail leaders Atletico by three points. The 2013 Champions League holders Munich beat Rostov 5-0 in the corresponding fixture at the Allianz Arena.

Atletico Madrid vs PSV Eindhoven- 19.45-(Wed)-Diego Simeone’s side host Eindhoven having already qualified, looking to top Group D over Bayern Munich. Atletico have been experiencing somewhat of a downturn in form domestically in Spain as they currently sit 9 points adrift of La Liga leaders and city rivals Real Madrid. For Philip Cocu’s Eindhoven who have taken 1 point from 4 games, Champions League qualification is now beyond them. The Dutch side will be looking for a 3rd place finish to guarantee Europa football in the New Year.

Group E

CSKA Moscow vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen-17.00 (Tues) – The CSKA Arena will host a key tie in one of the competitions tightest and most unpredictable of groups. CSKA currently sit bottom with 2 points but with a win can go to within a point of their German rivals and will be in contention for a knockout birth in the final group stage match. The Russian side have not qualified beyond the Group Stages since 2012. Roger Schmidt’s side have impressed many thus far in this competition, no more so than in their disciplined 1-0 victory over Tottenham at Wembley in the last fixture. A win in Moscow could potentially put the Germans at the top of the group table, within touching distance of qualification.

Monaco vs Tottenham-19.45 (Tues) – All to play for at the Stade Louis II as Monaco will qualify with a win over Tottenham.  Spurs have struggled to reach the playing standards of their domestic form so far in this competition, losing both of their home games at Wembley in front of 85,000 sell-out crowds. A win for the North London side in the south of France will see them go within a point of Monaco and have a great chance of qualification in the final group fixture (another home tie at Wembley where they host CSKA).

Group F

Borussia Dortmund vs Legia Warsaw-19.45 (Tues) – Top versus bottom at the Westfalenstadion as already-qualified Dortmund look to win the group where they currently sit two points above second-placed Real Madrid. Legia Warsaw have taken a solitary point from their four games played in a campaign that will be more remembered for their shocking crowd disturbances, particularly in the corresponding tie at home to Dortmund, where the Germans embarrassed their Polish counterparts 6-0.

Sporting Lisbon vs Real Madrid- 19.45 (Tues)- Cristiano Ronaldo returns to his old club after his dominant, hat-trick hero performance in the Madrid derby on Saturday night which Real emerged from victorious by 3 goals to 0. Ronaldo scored a free-kick in the corresponding game at the Bernabeu in September. Sporting sit in third place, 5 points behind Madrid; looking a nigh on impossible task to overcome the world-class excellence of La Liga table-toppers Real in the group. However, stranger things have happened in this competition.

Group G

FC Copenhagen vs Porto-19.45 (Tues) – Porto face the tricky task of an away game at the Parken Stadium with an opportunity to secure qualification to the last-16 stage with a victory. However, this may be easier said than done as the youthful Portuguese side will be up against a club who are no pushovers in Europe, always strong at home in Denmark and with plenty of motivation in this fixture as a win for Stale Solbakken’s men will see them overtake Porto into second. This fixture could go either way.

Leicester City vs Club Brugge- 19.45 (Tues) – Claudio Ranieri’s men have already qualified to the last -16 and another win for the Foxes will see the go through as group-winners. This competition has been somewhat of a welcome escape for Leicester thus far as the Champions of England have been experiencing a turbulent domestic campaign. Club Brugge sit bottom of the table with 0 points, with virtually nothing to play for as they are five points off third place.

Group H

Dinamo Zagreb vs Lyon- 19.45 (Tues)- Lyon travel to Croatia needing two wins from their last two group stage fixtures to have a chance of qualifying to the last-16. They sit 4 points below Juventus in second and 4 points above Dinamo who like Club Brugge have not yet accumulated a single point and have proved to be the whipping boys of the tournament. Lyon won 3-0 in this fixture back in September at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais.

Sevilla vs Juventus- 19.45 (Tues)- Group H has been largely dominated by these two sides who drew 0-0 in Turin in the corresponding fixture. The Europa League holders can progress tonight with a victory over the Italians. Massimiliano Allegri’s men will qualify with a victory themselves but will also open the group up to Lyon if they win in Spain and Lyon win their remaining two fixtures.