Guest Blog by Ryan McGinlay (@NewsOfCeltic and @ryanmcginlayy):
Watching my beloved Glasgow Celtic recently has become much more of a chore than it ever has been before. With Rangers out of contention for this season, we are expected to win the Scottish Premiership for the fifth year in a row in a bit of a canter. Yes, the emergence of Aberdeen as a possible title contender has been a wake-up call in a sense but do they really have the resources to compete with us? This brings about the question of whether or not there is a potential for us playing on a bigger stage: The Barclays Premier League.
In my opinion, Celtic would bring about far more positives than negatives in terms of what they would add to the already prestigious line-up of teams in the league such as Chelsea, Arsenal, the two Manchester giants, and of course the emerging teams such as Tottenham and Leicester. Yes, our reputation you could say has been tarnished over the past couple of years with fan trouble in domestic and international competition but in terms of stature I feel that we would be a welcoming fit in the BPL.
If Celtic were to go into the English Premier League in the near future, it would totally revitalise and rejuvenate the Parkhead faithful. It is no secret that our crowds are decreasing year upon year but if we were in an exciting and dynamic league brimming with top talent then this wouldn’t be a problem! No disrespect to teams such as Motherwell and Kilmarnock, but who would punters be more inclined to watch their team come up against: them or European heavyweights like Liverpool or Manchester United? There is no comparison.
The answer is clear for all to see not just in a competitive sense but financially as well. With the new television deal set to come into play next season, English teams will become even more powerful in the transfer market while we’re left languishing on the scraps that the big boys leave us. We find ourselves in the mind-blowing times where teams such as Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford can spend more cash on one player than we can all season. An example of this would be AFC Bournemouth’s recent signing of Arsenal reject Benik Afobe, who was seen as a ‘steal’ at £10 million, while my team is always looking to buy potential rather than forking out the cash for proven talent. There is simply no need to, as we are overwhelming favourites to win the league every year with the squad we have when compared to the other teams. Competition is needed.
It’s a move which I feel that would be definitely supported by our fans and by emerging teams such as Hearts and Aberdeen, who would have a far bigger chance of winning the Scottish league if we were gone. The people who would probably not support this monumental move would be the higher order in charge of the Scottish league as I’m sure they would not want to lose one of their biggest sources of revenue to their arch-rivals down south who are outperforming them on every front. Of course, it would be damaging to the league in a financial sense but in terms of long-term ambitions in sustaining our 128-year history then this move could prove pivotal to that.
In terms of who would be our main rivals in the Premier League, the obvious one would be Chelsea. The Blues are known for being friendly with our arch-rivals Rangers and our fans famously just don’t get on with friends of the other side of Glasgow. Another rivalry would between us and Manchester United, due to the Scottish links such as Denis Law and more famously the main man himself, Sir Alex Ferguson, not to mention former Celt David Moyes and his infamous tenure as the Red Devils’ manager.
Realistically, I think our aim position-wise would be to firstly establish ourselves in the league and possibly look for success in the cup competitions like the FA Cup. From then on we should look up rather than down the table. In order to do this, we would probably need to change our management to one which is experienced at this level. My personal pick would be former Porto, Chelsea and Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas, currently managing Zenit Saint Petersburg. Yes, he got sacked by both Spurs and Chelsea but give him time and he will emulate the huge success he achieved at FC Porto. Other realistic candidates in my view would be Brendan Rodgers and of course David Moyes, who used to play for the Hoops.
All in all, I hope that in time my team will be playing in the English Premier League or that a merge of Scotland and England’s league merge together to create a British league, along with Wales and Ireland. It would maximise profits for both the businessmen and for all clubs rather than restricting the big bucks to teams down south and would make for some great new rivalries, as well as rekindling old ones.
Guest Blog by Adam Stapleford (@asfooty1984):
May 28th 1980 at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, and John Robertson's goal has just won Nottingham Forest their second consecutive European Cup. The 1-0 win over German side Hamburg is Forest's 7th major trophy in just three years. Champions of England, League Cup winners twice, Super Cup winners, Charity Shield winners, and two European Cups. All from a team that was only promoted to England's top flight in 1977. The unbelievable achievements management Brian Clough and Peter Taylor reached will never be forgotten.
Fast-forward to 1992 and Forest are relegated to the second tier of English football, in Brian Clough's last season in management before retirement. The man to step in and replace Clough was one of his own, Frank Clark. Clough had signed Clark back in 1977 from Newcastle United, and the left back played in the first European Cup victory in 1979. Forest immediately bounced back, gaining promotion in Clark's first season. A third place finish in the Premier League the following campaign was a great achievement. The year after that, Forest slipped to the 9th spot, but did enjoy two successful cup runs, reaching the Quarter Finals of both the FA Cup and UEFA Cup, losing to Aston Villa and Bayern Munich respectively. The following season was a struggle. Clark departed in December 1996, leaving club legend Stuart Pearce to take over. Unfortunately Pearce couldn't stop the slide, and once again Forest found themselves in the second tier. Dave Bassett was then handed the reigns, and again Forest bounced back straight away, gaining promotion as champions. But this time, the Reds only managed a year in the top flight. Bassett departed in January 1999, Ron Atkinson was brought in, but his task to keep Forest up failed, and again the Reds found themselves relegated.
July 1st 1999. David Platt is appointed Nottingham Forest manager. His task: Promotion. Platt was given money to burn, Forest failed, and after only two years in charge, he left to take charge of the England Under 21's. Academy manager Paul Hart was then promoted into the hot seat, and in his second season in charge had guided Forest to a 6th place finish, and a play-off place, with only three games away from the Premiership again. But the Reds couldn't get passed Sheffield United over two legs in the semi-finals, so another season in Division One awaited. Several key players left during the summer, and after injuries to other major players, Forest was struggling. February of 2004 saw Hart replaced by Joe Kinnear. Forest survived, and then it was Kinnear's turn to get Forest back to the Premier League. Kinnear lasted 11 months, and in January 2005 Gary Megson took over, and once again Forest struggled at the wrong end. This time they couldn't survive, and that year Forest had been relegated to Division Two, the third tier of English Football.
Forest expected an immediate return, but after some poor performances, and heavy defeats, including a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Chester City in the FA Cup, Megson departed. In the summer of 2006, Colin Calderwood was appointed the new manager. In his first season, Forest reached the play-offs, losing to Yeovil Town over two legs, but the following year the Reds gained promotion on the final day of the season. They found the Championship however a struggle, and Calderwood departed in December 2008. Billy Davies, given the job a month later, managed to keep Forest above water, and avoid relegation. That summer Davies restructured his squad and guided Forest to a third place finish, playing some brilliant football along the way, including thumping wins over Leicester City 5-1, QPR 5-0, and a 3-1 away to West Brom being the highlights. But Forest again failed, losing to Blackpool in the play-offs. The following campaign saw Forest again the end of season lottery after a 6th place finish, this time losing out to Swansea City, and in June 2011 Davies lost his job.
Former England manager Steve McClaren was the brought in, but only lasted 4 months, being replaced by Steve Cotterill, who would only be given time to see the season out. In the summer of 2012 the Al-Hasawi family took control of Nottingham Forest, replacing Cotterill with Sean O'Driscoll. The new owners had big plans, and pumped several millions into the club. A virtually new team arrived, and Forest set out to regain their Premier League dream. However after a 4-2 win over Leeds United on Boxing Day in 2012, O'Driscoll was surprisingly sacked, and replaced 24 hours later by Alex McLeish, but the Scot didn't last long either, and after just 7 games left the City Ground. His replacement: an old face, Billy Davies. Forest just missed out on the play-offs that season, but in the summer of 2013, Davies once again began to build a promotion chasing squad. The season started well with Forest winning their first three games, and topping the table. But it didn't last, and in March 2014, following a 5-0 defeat to local rivals Derby County, Davies departed. Forest played out the remainder of the season and the summer of 2014 saw the return of Stuart Pearce as manager which lifted spirits but the Reds legend couldn't find the magic either, and less than a year later, it was his turn to leave the hot seat.
February 1st 2015. Dougie Freedman is appointed Forest manager, finishing the season in 14th place. Forest then started the 2015-2016 season under a transfer embargo, with Freedman working with a one out one in process, and a maximum £10,000 per week wage structure. This season looks like it will fade out, with Forest too far away to challenge for a play-off spot, whilst having given themselves enough breathing space from relegation. The summer will see Forest's embargo lifted, and will give Freedman more freedom to move in the transfer market. Hopefully with long term injured players returning, and new players coming in, the 2016-2017 season may see Forest challenging again, but the glory years that Clough and Taylor brought to this club seems a very long time ago now, and pretty certainly, will never be repeated.
Guest Blog by Ross Eaton (@boxtoboxcb):
Man City's Fluidity in Attack Against Dynamo Kyiv
Scoring the joint most goals in the Premier League this season as well as racking up an average of two goals per game in the Champions League group stage is Manchester City. When a team has such a good goalscoring record, you would imagine they'd be flying in all competitions, however this hasn't been the case. City have a poor defensive record and rely too heavily on their ability to score more goals than the opposition, rather than preventing the opposition scoring. The Citizens have been exciting to watch in the final third and with players such as Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Agüero this doesn't come as a surprise. This article will be taking a look at the fashion in which City attacked against Dynamo Kiev in the the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
Manuel Pellegrini changed the roles certain personnel played in, unexpectedly. Yaya Toure was moved from the number 10 role to a deeper role alongside Fernando in the double-pivot. David Silva took up his preferred 10 position which vacated the right-wing, Fernandinho took this position, perhaps to add more aggression and defensive ability to City's high-press. Raheem Sterling played on the left while Sergio Agüero was striker.
Finding Space in Between the Lines
One player who excels when given, or finding space in between the lines is David Silva. Mistakenly, this is the player Dynamo Kiev gave space to in between the lines.
Kiev's disjointed press led to poor vertical compactness during City's build-up which centre-back Vincent Kompany took full advantage of by breaking Kiev's lines with a penetrating pass to Silva who got himself into intelligent positions where lanes were open. This often meant drifting from the centre into either halfspace, more often the right, but this wasn't too big a problem as it allowed him to dribble into the centre which could drag Kiev players from their position, potentially providing him with an opportunity to slip Aguero through.
Despite Silva and Aguero linking up nicely when the Spaniard found space in between the lines, not everything was so positive and well worked. Due to Fernandinho not being a natural right-winger, he didn't have the attacking intelligence a natural forward would have. This meant he struggled at times to make intelligent runs forward which Silva would be able to find when he had the space. Due to this, Silva was often forced to play down the left to either Sterling or Clichy, who made forward runs more frequently. After a while though, this became predictable and Dynamo made sure to track all of Sterling and Clichy's forward runs, as this could significantly limit the influence of Silva when on the ball in Zone 14 (regarding Zone 14: http://leochanperformanceanalysis.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/what-is-zone-14-in-football.html?m=1). Due to the right side being relatively ineffective in attack and Kiev suffocating their left side in the final third, this forced Silva to play more horizontal and backward passes than he would've liked to.
Interchanging and Flexibility
With the tactically innovative and flexible Pep Guardiola planning to join the club next season, we can expect City to be extremely fluid in attack. However, we are not being made to wait as current boss Manuel Pellegrini seems happy to watch his forwards move fluidly into almost whichever area they see as the best in their current situation.
One player who largely influenced the movement of the players around him was David Silva. Silva's drifting movements into the halfspaces and sometimes even wings opened up lots of space for his teammates on central positions. When Silva moved into a wing or halfspace, the winger from that side would usually move infield and push up alongside Aguero to attack the box, if the winger decided to remain on the wing to create a 3v2, this meant there was space for Yaya to make runs from deep into the 10 space, an area he is so dangerous in.
'This shows Silva moving wide to attempt to create an overload, as well as opening the 10 space for Yaya Toure to move into from deep'
The movement of the winger moving infield not only got themselves in a dangerous position but also opened more space for Silva and an overlapping full-back to overload the wing. Silva was very useful in these situations, where City overloaded a wing/halfspace, as his good decision making and precise passing made life a nightmare for Dynamo's full-back and eventually wingers, who were forced to track back and support their respective full-backs. This limited the attacking threat of Dynamo on the counter-attack as Yarmolenko wasn't able to move into an attacking position quickly enough in the transition from defending deep.
Fernandinho Moves Intelligently in New Role
Making the switch from playing as a standard 6 to playing as a right-winger isn't one many players have done, even less so successfully. Fernandinho though, made the switch against Dynamo Kyiv and played a very good game. Although he was put into the role primarily to aid City without the ball, adding some much needed aggression and intelligence to their high-pressing, Fernandinho actually did very well when on the ball.
Rather than attempt to beat his opponent with a skilful dribble or even with raw pace, Fernandinho played cleverly and made lots of simple horizontal passes and movements, to create space and opportunities for more creative players in the team.
One simple movement with the ball from the Brazilian was to receive the ball very wide, which dragged the full-back near the touchline away from the centre and then to accelerate quickly infield when the full-back was still on the back foot. This made up for his lack of pace as by moving at the correct moment he could get past him as it would be almost impossible for the full-back to make a change of direction so quickly. As Fernandinho dribbled inside towards the halfspace, the full-back was forced to chase his shadow, which opened a lot of space on the wing. This was perfect for an overlapping Bacary Sagna if the ball got moved out to him. The way the ball was moved out to him was simple, yet very effective. Fernandinho would play a short horizontal pass to Silva or Toure who would then attempt to play a first-time diagonal pass in between the centre-back and full-back, into the space opened up by Fernandinho on the wing. This provided Sagna with plenty of time and space to cross or cut the back back in or around the box.
All in all it was a much improved Manchester City performance who were very good in both phases of the game, attack and defence. Despite Man City creating quite a few of their chances through high-pressing, they were very good with the ball and used it more effectively than we've seen them previously. The one-two between the #10 and full-back we've seen lots by City this seen wasn't seen so much against Dynamo Kyiv, however, Fernandinho's movements inside which created space for Sagna made this unnecessary. The fluidity of City's movement caused Dynamo serious problems throughout, and even forced them into a 30th minute tactical substitution to prevent City finding so much space when attacking.
Guest Blog by Max Colantoni (@MColantoni10)
LA Galaxy 0, Santos Laguna 0
Wednesday, February 24, 2016 – 7:00 p.m. PT
2015-16 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League Quarters – First Leg
StubHub Center – Carson, California
The LA Galaxy earned a hard-fought result on Wednesday night at the StubHub Center, playing Liga MX side Santos Laguna to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the teams' CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series.
Jelle Van Damme nearly had an amazing start in his first game for the Galaxy, as his header off a corner kick in the first minute forced an astonishing save from Santos goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin. Ashley Cole, also making his Galaxy debut, did well working with the four man back line. Robbie Rodgers was a non-factor, demonstrating a few very frustrating mistakes. As for A.J. De La Garza he seemed to already be in mid-season form. Steven Gerrard displayed a classic “European Style” of play with magisterial one touch passes throughout the 0-0 draw.
As for the attack corps of the Galaxy, much was left to be desired. There weren’t many opportunities for Robbie Keane as he lacked support from his wingers Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes. In the 80th minute, substitute Javier Orozco nearly put Santos ahead, but his header flew just wide of the far post. Teammate Jesus Molina, attempting to follow up on the ball, accidentally slammed into the post and needed attention from Santos' medical staff before continuing.
The teams will play the second leg next Tuesday in Torreon to determine which team will advance to the semi-final round in the CCL.
Substitutes not used: Brian Rowe, Oscar Sorto, Dave Romney, Baggio Husidic, Mike Magee, Alan Gordon.
SHOTS: 11; SHOTS ON GOAL: 3; CORNERS: 7; OFFSIDES: 0; SAVES: 5
Santos Laguna: Agustin Marchesin; Javier Abella, Jesus Molina, Diego Gonzalez, Luis Angel Mendoza (Diego de Buen 90’+3), Bryan Rabello (Ulises Davila 87’), Nestor Calderon, Nestor Araujo, Jorge Villafana, Martin Bravo (Javier Orozco 69’), Carlos Izquierdoz
Substitutes not used: Kristian Alvarez, Adrian Aldrete, Julio Gonzalez, Jorge Sanchez.
SHOTS: 9; SHOTS ON GOAL: 5; CORNERS: 5; OFFSIDES: 0; SAVES: 3
Referee: Armando Castro (Honduras)
Referee’s Assistants: Christian Ramirez, Walter Lopez (Honduras)
4th Official: Melvin Matamoros (Honduras)
Guest Blog by Max Colantoni (@MColantoni10)
After a disappointing first-round departure from the playoffs in 2015, the Los Angeles Galaxy aims to get back into championship form for the upcoming year. 2015 was a roller coaster ride for Los Angeles; their record in home matches was good for second best in the MLS (12-2-3.) On the flip side, The Galaxy were a league worst at 2-9-6 away from the StubHub Center.
On the heels of a dazzling season from the 2014 MLS MVP Robbie Keane, many questions still remain surrounding the team’s other strikers. Giovani dos Santos arrived from Villarreal in August to provide another quality option for Galaxy boss Bruce Arena. Gyasi Zardes once again showed signs of brilliance with nine goals and five assists across all competitions. Zardes’ goal production took a dip after the arrival of Giovani dos Santos after Arena used him mainly on the right flank. Dos Santos scored four goals and finished with seven assists across all competitions in thirteen games with the Galaxy. Dos Santos and Keane look to lead the attack for the Galaxy once again in 2016. Last year, Bruce Arena also saw flashes of promise from some of his young talent, players like Ignacio Maganto, Bradford Jamieson IV, Raul Mendiola, and Jose Villarreal, all of whom scored at least once in 2015. Alan Gordon also shined last season with 11 goals throughout the year, remaining Arena’s first choice as an attacking substitution. Free agent, Mike Magee, returns to Los Angeles after playing two years in Chicago, making 51 appearances and scoring 22 goals from 2013-2015. He looks to provide depth and another goal scoring threat for Arenas. Twenty-two-year-old, Ghanaian Emmanuel Boateng, also joined the attack corps in January as a free agent, having spent the last two years in Sweden with Helsingborg’s IF. Arenas hopes he can find goal scoring chances, off the bench, providing a fiery boost in attack. Although Boateng tallied only four goals in 37 appearances from 2013-2015 with Helsingborg, he looks to learn some good technique from veterans Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos this season.
When the LA Galaxy’s midfield was at full strength, they were one of best groups in Major League Soccer. But because of countless injuries and international call-ups, Galaxy head coach, Bruce Arena, had to mix up his midfield for a majority of the season. The Galaxy found a bit of success after the arrival of English midfielders Steven Gerrard and Sebastian Lletget. With Gerrard in the center alongside Juninho, as well as Lletget and Gyasi Zardes manning the wings, the Galaxy midfield helped the team to a league best 6-1-0 record in August. After only scoring once in 2014, Juninho rediscovered his scoring ways with four goals and eight assists across all competitions, all while playing in a team high of 37 games. On December 24, 2015 Juninho transferred to Tijuana and will play in Liga Mexicana in 2016. This is obviously a big blow to the midfield and undoubtedly spurred the signing of Dutch midfielder, Nigel De Jong, from A.C. Milan. De Jong will step into a central midfield role and use his veteran leadership skills to motivate his younger Galaxy teammates. Another veteran, free agent midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, joins the Galaxy after two seasons with Chicago and looks to play the central defending midfield role this season. Expectations will be high for the Galaxy’s midfield for the 2016 season. Steven Gerrard and Sebastian Lletget will have a full pre-season with the club, and will surely be expected to produce much more than they did in their first season. Starting the season together should only help the team’s newcomers gel and hopefully allow the Galaxy to create the same form they enjoyed in 2014.
Defensively, in 2015, the Galaxy showed their true weaknesses. Countless mistakes and miscommunications made coach Bruce Arenas shake up his defensive formations. This, along with lack of discipline, led to one of the worst defensive displays in recent memory for the Galaxy. Omar Gonzalez and Dan Gargan once again led the defensive corps. Brazilian defender Leonardo was by far the Galaxy’s most consistent defender. Leonardo showed his stout ability to take on offenders in one-on-one situations. He was named the Galaxy’s defensive player of the year and looks to continue his good form in 2016. Veteran Englishman, Ashley Cole, joins the Galaxy defending corps after transferring from AS Roma over the winter and gives the Galaxy a veteran defenseman with plenty of European and international experience. He is tasked to fill the shoes of Omar Gonzalez who is on his way to Pachuca. Another Belgium international joins the Galaxy in Jelle Van Damme. Van Damme, another veteran, looks to provide another defensive option for Arenas this year. He has played the last five seasons with Standard Liege making 205 appearances with the squad in that span. Left back Robbie Rogers showed that his 2014 campaign was no accident as he had another strong season in 2015. Despite being a defender for less than a year, Rogers led all left backs in MLS with 75 interceptions. But his finest moment came on June 25th when he scored his first goal for the Galaxy during the club’s Pride Night. Concentration lapses weren’t the only issue for the Galaxy’s defense, as the club also suffered from a bunch of injuries. No defender was more struck by the injury bug than right back A.J. DeLaGarza. A foot injury sidelined the defender in the preseason, causing him to miss out on his usual starting role in the club’s first three matches. This wasn’t DeLaGarza’s only injury, however, as the defender also dealt with a groin injury that eventually required surgery at season’s end. Although DeLaGarza recovered to make 28 appearances across all competitions, the versatile defender was unable to regain the form that he enjoyed a year ago.
Now, about the messes in between the posts - the goalkeepers. No position drew more scrutiny in 2015 for the LA Galaxy than goalkeeper, the year can simply be defined by two distinct moments. First, was the mid-year loss of Jaime Penedo, who cited family reasons for his departure. Penedo never signed with another team and expressed regret when asked about the situation months later. Los Angeles turned to a familiar face as they brought back Jamaican international goalkeeper, Donovan Ricketts, from Orlando City. Ricketts played well in his 14 appearances, but his air-headed mistakes in the playoffs ultimately led to The Galaxy’s demise. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena has not stated that the club will dismiss Ricketts, but with the 38-year-old goalkeeper out of contract, it doesn’t look promising for the Jamaican’s future. With Ricketts expected to move on, Arena must find himself a new starting goalkeeper. Multiple media reports have said that the Galaxy could bring back Penedo, but that doesn’t look likely with the additions of Dan Kennedy and Clement Diop. Kennedy only made 16 appearances with Dallas last year and will probably mentor up-and-coming Diop, who was signed from Galaxy II. In the 2015 season, Diop won the USL Western Conference and reached the USL Championship final with LA Galaxy II. On December 16 2015, LA Galaxy announced they had signed Diop to a first team contract for the forthcoming MLS season.
In 2016 the new look Galaxy have their sights set on another MLS Cup win. After the departures of Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, and Juninho, the squad needs to be able to gel together again. Often times when teams take on new players, there is a lack of much needed chemistry on the pitch. Coach Bruce Arena said in an interview with SI.com: “Clubs have a lot of autonomy. They really do. You get to choose your own players. If you want to get Designated Players, you can. I’m sure the collective bargaining will give a little bit more freedom as well. But I think the notion that the league runs teams and tells you how you can spend and who’s on your team and who’s not is not accurate. However, at a local level you should have more freedom and responsibility in developing your roster. There’s still room to improve there.”
Our projected starting eleven shows a flurry of talented new and familiar faces. With Keane, dos Santos, and Zardes leading the attack. De Jong, Gerrard, and Lletget in the midfield. Robbie Rodgers playing a defensive minded midfielder, with Leonardo, Cole, and De La Garza holding up the defensive corps. As of today, Veteran Dan Kennedy would most likely start in goal for Los Angeles.
Guest Blog by Joseph Genova (@ASRomaNow)
2005 – Luciano Spalletti takes the helm of Roma after a rather disappointing season consisting of four different coaches. You can just imagine the chaos in Rome especially with the high demands of the fans and everyone around the world. Spalletti came in and had a bitter first half of the season but ended up in fourth place and landed a place in the Coppa Italia final in 2006. Now is it the most impressive achievement? No, of course it isn’t; but during the bald-headed wonders tenure, he succeeded in defended a Coppa Italia title and managed to bring a crumbling Roma to the Champions League quarterfinal. September 1st, 2009 marked the day Spalletti decided it was time to hang up the whistle with Il Lupi and try his luck abroad.
Fast forward to the present day. January 13th, 2016. Frenchman Rudi Garcia began to falter with a well-rounded Roma and was deemed expendable, cue the trumpets, introducing former AS Roma coach, Luciano Spalletti. Everybody became excited instantly; an Italian coach? Spalletti? TROPHIES?! So far Spalletti hasn’t really got the best out of his team, drawing his first game against a weak Hellas Verona, losing to the powerhouse Juventus and beating Frosinone 3-1. The loss to Juve was excusable simply because he only had 10 days to get his theories across, which isn’t an easy task. Captain Francesco Totti even lent a hand by speaking to individuals over dinner (which he probably didn’t pay for) about his favorite coach’s theories.
Presently this season won’t be able to be resurrected, a Champions League spot is what Roma should be aiming for simply cause they’re only four points away and it’s tight at the top. Looking into the future with coach Spalletti, from an overall fan of the beautiful game, the future looks bright. Spalletti is a brilliant coach with a magnificent attacking mentality; his coveted 4-2-3-1 is nothing short of brilliance. From the dazzling passes to the intricacy of the off the ball movement, Spalletti knows what he’s doing and what has to be done to prosper especially in the future. We can already see Bosnian hit man Edin Dzeko moving with a bit more confidence, Radja Nainggolan exploring his inner attacker. Spalletti will mold the team to his ideal image. We saw him use a 3-4-1-2 against Juventus, with the Giallorossi’s mobility in the centre back position I’m rather surprised it wasn’t experimented before. Under this new reign you can already see Roma’s mercato looking slightly improved, acquiring the likes of Stephan El Shaarawy, who is young, Italian and has potential.
El Shaarawy fits into Spalletti’s system simply because of his versatility, you can put him in as a trequartista or as a wide man and he has both the flair and the energy that Spalletti demands from his players. The Giallorossi brought in the Italo-Egyptian because of the recent departure of Ivorian stud Gervais Yao Kouassi also known has Gervinho. Once the Garcia’s departure came to fruition the Ivorian felt his time was also up and wanted a transfer. Earlier this week Roma also signed another defenseman, 28-year-old Bosnian Ervin Zukanovic, who previously played for Sampdoria. He is also versatile as well; can play both left back and center back, which isn’t an easy thing. Roma also snatched up winger Diego Perotti from Genoa on the last day of the winter transfer market.
For Romanisti, my recommendation is to look forward to the future with this man, you’ll have your beautiful soccer again, less injuries, more energy in attack and different tactics for certain opponents unlike Rudi Garcia.
Guest Blog written by Real Oviedo shareholder James Howson (Twitter: @James_V_Howson)
Who have the best fans in the world? This is a question that seems to be an age-old debate with many clubs claiming they have the best fans. Some may suggest Borussia Dortmund who have regular attendances of about 80,000 at nearly every game, others may suggest Leeds United who averaged attendances over 20,000 even when in England’s 3nd division. I’m sure you have your own clubs you may inject into this conversation but how many of you have suggested Real Oviedo?
The recently promoted Spanish club currently in the Segunda Division, the country’s 2nd tier league under the famous La Liga where clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona compete in. How I know about this club’s fantastic fan base is because I am a shareholder like over 30,000 other people spanning over 190 countries worldwide in the club but with that said we’ll get to that later.
Real Oviedo have come back from the dead twice thanks to their fans. Firstly, in 2003 they were forced down to the Tercera Division (3rd tier) due to financial mismanagement. The Tercera is a division split into 17 groups, made up of 20 teams – a world where you can forget about media interest, replica shirts and television coverage, where many matches are played on pitches comparable to those in parks and where average gates occasionally reach the low thousands but generally number hundreds. And yet a Real Oviedo match attracted a crowd of over 25,000 blue-shirted, flag-waving fans in the Estadio Carlos Tartiere stadium that recently played host to the Spanish National Team. Although the then mayor tried to kill off Real Oviedo by withholding funding to the team and instead giving it to local club Astur, renaming the club Real Oviedo Astur, it back fired thanks to the Real Oviedo fans. Real Oviedo fans fought back taking to the streets in mass demonstrations. They boycotted council-run fiestas. T-shirts declaring, “I didn’t abandon Oviedo in the Third Division” sold in the thousands. Oviedo bring-and-buy sales sprung up at the stadium, fans selling old shirts, scarves and memorabilia, with all the proceeds going to the club. With Real fans buying over 12,000 season tickets within months, especially in this league, the council had to relent to such support.
Sadly though, in 2006 Alberto González took a controlling share in the club. He paid €200,000 for a team bus that was too big to park in most of the grounds where Oviedo played. He did not pay social security or tax to the Inland Revenue, then he disappeared. He is wanted on two counts of fraud with an international warrant taken out for his arrest, and is believed to be in Cuba or Panamá.
So in 2012 with €1.9 million needed immediately to avoid a winding-up order, €2.5 million to make it to the end of the season and €4 million to secure the club's medium-term future the new five-man club board came up with a new idea. Sell small individual shares worldwide at €10.75 per share. Not only would it serve to raise the cash the club desperately needed, but it would also dilute the missing owner González's stake in the club.
The world responded to this fine club, former players Santi Cazorla, Michu, Mata and Adrián were fundamental in not only buying shares but also giving the campaign international attention, helping spread the word and encourage many others to do so too. As momentum built, in just two weeks €1.93 million worth of shares were bought by more than 20,000 people in more than 60 countries. Incredibly small shareholders alone had rescued the club in the short term; long-term viability was secured too.
Meanwhile at the same time as all that was going on, journalists Paco González and Marcos López hatched a plan via a local radio show. They called the son-in-law of the richest man in the world Mexican Carlos Slim, and joked that he should come and save the club. López kept up the pressure forming links between Slim with Oviedo's president, Toni Fidalgo, and skillfully saw through negotiations. On the final day of the share issue Carlos Slim bought €2 million worth of shares; further investment is anticipated although the fans own the majority stake still. With that said why wouldn’t Carlos Slim want to be a shareholder? You become part of a family, part of a community where events are organized even in England to celebrate being part of something special, if you were to visit the town you would be welcomed with open arms with the current hashtag “proud of you” proving a very popular expression to describe everything that is going on right.
So what does the future hold for Real Oviedo with such support worldwide? Well as it currently stands 21 games into the season, they stand 3rd in the Segunda Division, just 3 points off joint leaders Alaves and Cordoba. If they are promoted they will return to La Liga, where they spent 13 consecutive years before their last season there in 2001. They would get to share the pitch with some of the finest football players in the world including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. The hope and belief is with backing from the shareholders and the fantastic fans anything is possible!!!
By: Aiden Durgerian
Many are questioning the depth and consistency of Arsenal Football Club this season as they hunt for their first Premier League title in over ten years. While the Gunners lead the race into the new year, one can't help but look back just a few seasons, 2013-2014, when, despite the promising first half of the season, Arsene Wenger and his team stuttered to the finish line, ending in a very familiar fourth place. Back to back FA Cups victories have definitely eased the mounting pressure on the manager, but the fans will no doubt be squirming in their seats to be named domestic league champions.
Having played twenty league games so far this season, Arsenal sit three points above their closest legitimate rivals, Manchester City (Leicester City are currently two points off the top, but will likely trail off in the second half of the season). City will definitely look for cover for Mangala and Otamendi with their seemingly endless transfer budget and their results will be more consistent in the second half of the season. More of a reason for Arsenal to do the same. Wenger revealed a deal for 23-year-old defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny should be wrapped up in two to three days (possibly available for the trip to Anfield this Wendesday). Wenger will search for a center forward who would provide real competition and cover with Giroud for that number nine position. The lack of rotation in the squad contributes to injuries and lethargic performances such as the four nil drubbing at Southampton, drawing at Norwich and most recently, home to Newcastle, despite the unconvincing 1-0 win. Bulking up the squad would definitely lift the pressure off the players.
Arsenal's star player this season is without a doubt Mesut Özil, notching 16 assists and three goals, meaning he's has directly contributed to 19 goals in 19 Premier League appearances. That's already two more assists than his past two seasons combined. The Premier league record for assists in a single season is 20, set by Arsenal legend Thierry Henry in their famous invincible 2002-2003 season. Özil is just 5 assists away from breaking the record with 18 games to go. While many will claim that Özil is carrying the Arsenal team, consistent performers such as 10 million pound summer signing Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal, and Laurent Koscielny have all done their part to increase the solidarity of the defense. Arsenal currently have the third best defense in the league, conceding 18 goals, only to be bettered by Tottenham and Manchester United. The most successful manager in English history, with 13 top flight titles, Sir Alex Ferguson, once said "Attack wins you games, defense wins you titles." Petr Cech would surely agree with this, as he looks to extend his all time Premier League clean sheet record, which he broke at home to Bournemouth in late 2015. Arsenal fans will also be boosted by the news that last seasons player of the year, Alexis Sanchez, should return for their trip to Stoke City on the 17th of January. Whether or not he stays fit for the remainder of the season will play a huge part of Arsenal's season, as his desire on the pitch is infectious and rubs off on his teammates.
In a season where television deals have increased the financial power of all Premier League teams, the league has never been so competitive. With Chelsea off to a hilariously poor start, United boring the socks off everyone under Louis Van Gaal, and City showing defensive instability without their captain, Vincent Kompany, Arsenal haven't had a better chance in over a decade of lifting the ever so coveted Premier League title.
Predicted top 4:
1. Arsenal FC
2. Manchester City
3. Tottenham Hotspurs
4. Manchester United
NY Cosmos are NASL Champions For the Second Time in Three Years as Marcos Senna & Raúl End Their Careers
Guest Blog by Stanislao Pugliese (@StanPugliese65):
The atmosphere at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium was electric as we filed in for the championship final between the NY Cosmos and the Ottawa Fury. I had just walked across Hempstead Turnpike from an earlier game in which the Hofstra Men’s soccer team defeated the University of Delaware 2-0 for the Colonial Athletic Association championship (goals from Nino Alfonso and Joseph Holland; another clean sheet for GK Patrick Pray.) The Borough Boys were in full voice, confident that the evening would turn their way.
Before the opening whistle, there was a moment of silence for the terrorist attacks in Paris. After the Canadian and American anthems, the capacity crowd of 10,166 (a record for a postseason NASL modern-era game) settled in, expecting victory and a championship.
All eyes were on retiring Spanish greats Marcos Senna and Raúl. They had announced that this would be their final game in long and distinguished careers. Instead, the hero of the evening turned out to be Argentinian striker GastónCellerino, with a hat trick that gave the Cosmos their seventh championship, their second in three years.
Cellerino opened the scoring in the eighth minute and the Cosmos seemed in control of the match. Ottawa only occasionally threatened Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer. But the Cosmos couldn’t easily find a second goal to seal the victory. The first half ended 1-0. The Canadians’ fate seemed sealed in the 68th minute when Fury player Mason Trafford was issues a straight red for a nasty two-footed stomp on Sebastián Guenzatti. But, as often happens in these situations, the Cosmos let their guard down for a moment and Fury striker Tom Heinemann broke through and scored an equalizer that stunned the crowd into silence. But the Cosmos responded in fine fashion. Just two minutes later Walter Restrepo, who had caused problems for Ottawa all night, lofted a perfect cross over Fury goalkeeper Romuald Peiser that found Cellerino for a tap in. Raúl sprung Cellerino for a breakaway in the 85th minute to seal the victory, even though Heinemann made everyone nervous with another goal well into stoppage time.
A moment in recognition of the masterful work of two artists on the field: Senna and Raúl: While Cellerino earned well-deserved accolades for his hat trick, knowledgeablefans will no doubt remember the extraordinary contributions of the two Spanish players. Senna has been a stabilizing force in midfield since joining the club in the summer of 2013, stopping potential attacking plays, calmly bringing balls down from the air with aplomb and an exquisite first touch, and starting the offense from the Cosmos’s half. He also scored the winning goal in Soccer Bowl 2013. Raúl’s vision of the field and ability to think three plays ahead sparked the Cosmos offense all season. His curving, outside-of-the-right-foot pass to Cellerino in the 85th minute was a marvel to behold. Such artistry and creativity being all-too-rare in football these days.
After the game, USSF president Sunil Gulati was introduced to more boos than applause for his perceived animosity against the Cosmos. NASL president Bill Peterson presented medals and the trophy. The ceremonyhad a touching and poignant moment as Ottawa goalkeeper Peiser (from Phalsbourg, France) and a teammate accepted their runners-up medals carrying large posters of the peace symbol with the Eiffel Tower—an act of solidarity with victims in Paris. The gesture was greeted with sympathetic applause from the crowd.
The Cosmos joyously danced at midfield, joined by their families (many young children), coach Gio Savarese and--in a welcome move—The 5 Points and the most dedicated Cosmos fans. Amid fireworks and confetti blasted into the clear night air with just a sliver of a crescent moon, the Cosmos and their fans could bask in another successful season.
Written by Mohamed Mosaad (@MohamedMosaad_)
For the first time in three years the Egyptian derby between Al-Ahly and Zamalek was played with the presence of fans in an epic Super Cup match that showed the quality of Egyptian football. Due to the Port Said stadium riot in 2012, where 74 fans died and more than 1,000 got injured as they tried to escape from the local Al-Masry team fans who invaded the pitch, the Ministry of Interior Security in Egypt banned the fans from attending any domestic matches, including the Egyptian National team’s. This led to the decline of the Egyptian National Team, which did not qualify for the last three African Cup of Nations or the 2014 World Cup.
The Egyptian Super Cup was hosted at the Hazza Bin Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi, allowing fans to experience the taste of the 86 years old derby. The UAE is known to have a huge population of Egyptian immigrants who work and live there; therefore, the Egyptian Football Federation decided to exploit this opportunity to allow the fans to attend the match and increase the derby’s popularity throughout the Middle East after it collapsed. The derbies are always refereed by international referees, due to the usual complaints that Egyptian referees are biased to one of the teams; thus, the match was refereed by the Spanish referee Carlos Carballo.
The match started with cautious attempts from both sides as the game mainly stayed in the midfield. Things got tough for the White Knights as Ali Gabr, one of the best defenders in the Egyptian league, got injured and was replaced by the Burkinabe (from Burkina Faso; do I keep this or no? No) Mohammed Koffi. Ex-Porto and current Zamalek coach Jesualdo Ferriera’s gameplan was to put pressure on Al-Ahly defenders along with using Egypt’s shinning star Mahmoud Kahraba’s individual skills to score an early goal. Ferreira’s plan was accomplished as Omar Gaber managed to take advantage of Al-Ahly defenders mistake and score the first goal of the night. The goal gave confidence to the Zamalek players who controlled the first half with only one attempt made by Gabon’s Malick Evouna, whose shot was deflected away by Egypt’s number one goalkeeper, Ahmed El-Shennawi. Zamalek almost scored their second of the game when Ahmed Fathi tackled Kahraba in the box and a penalty was called by the Spanish referee; however, Kahraba ‘s poor shot was saved by Al-Ahly ‘s keeper Sherief Ekramy. The first half was almost ending until Zamalek’s Hamada Tolba tackled Al-Ahly’s Ramadan Sobhy in the box with another penalty called by the referee. This gave the Red Devils the chance to tie the game and it was done by Abdullah Al-Said, stepping up and sending El-Shennawi the wrong way and ending the first half with a tie to both sides.
The second half started with a fast pace from both teams, especially from Al-Ahly who gained confidence before the break. Five minutes later, Al-Ahly were awarded another penalty after Koffi’s horrific tackle on Walid Soliman. Abdullah Al-Said again sent El-Shennawi the wrong way, giving the Red Devils the lead and flipping the table on Zamalek. The game continued with both managers making changes in the game. Al-Ahly’s substitute Moemen Zakaria scored Al-Ahly’s third after the ball deflected from Ramadan Sobhy’s shot. After securing the win, Al-Ahly’s interim coach Abdel-Shafy ordered the players to defend and play on the counter attacks.
The game was going to be abandoned after Ramadan Sobhy stood on the ball (as a sign of disrespect for the Zamalek players), which led to a huge fight between the players and the referee leaving the pitch. However, 10 minutes later, the referee came back and the match was resumed.
With a long stoppage time, Zamalek tried to decrease the difference and managed to score by Kahraba’s chip over Ekramy. Nevertheless, this didn’t affect the game as Al-Ahly secured their win in the derby for the 60th time and winning their 9th Super Cup.
(Zamalek won the Egyptian Premier League and The Egyptian Cup, Al-Ahly was the runner-up in both competitions)