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Transfer betting odds suggest that these stars could be among those putting pen to paper this summer:
Ever since he made his way to Spain with Real Madrid in 2013, former Tottenham winger Gareth Bale has been linked with a return to the Premier League.
Betting tips would suggest that Manchester United are the favourites for his signature in the summer window, but in recent weeks he’s been linked with a return to Spurs.
It looks as if the Welshman’s time in the Spanish capital is up, after being left on the bench for Real Madrid’s huge clashes with PSG in the Champions League round of 16.
Real are reported to be looking to sell Bale in order of raising cash so they can make a world record move for Brazilian superstar Neymar.
If a move to the Premier League was to materialise for Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, it would unquestionably be the biggest transfer of the summer.
Currently in his fourth campaign with the Bundesliga champions, the Polish international is reportedly looking for a new challenge, with Manchester United and Chelsea currently linked.
He has recently hired super-agent Pini Zahavi, fuelling further speculation about his future after Zahavi helped broker the unbelievable Neymar-to-Paris St Germain transfer in the summer.
Lewandowski has won every club honour possible in the Bundesliga, also winning the “kicker Torjägerkanone” on two occasions. This award is given to the league’s top scorer over the course of the season.
In the summer, Arsenal failed in a £90 million move for Monaco’s Thomas Lemar.
Since then, the winger has continued to be linked with a move to the Premier League, most notably Manchester City and Liverpool.
One of the only Monaco stars to remain at the club after their Ligue 1 title triumph, Lemar may finally be granted a huge transfer this summer.
For anybody looking to use a free bet, it would be worth taking a gamble on Lemar moving to the Premier League, with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool currently being installed as favourites, as they seek a replacement for former midfielder, Philippe Coutinho.
Many fans in North London expected Bordeaux’s Malcom to be a regular attender at the Emirates in January.
The Gunners are still heavily linked with a move for the Brazilian winger, along with rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.
At the age of just 21, Malcom has enormous potential, which has sparked interest from European super club, Bayern Munich.
This can put a spanner in the works for a Premier League move this summer due to the enormous appeal of Arsenal.
Real Sociedad right back, Alvaro Odriozola, is making a real name for himself in La Liga.
So much so, that it’s making some of Europe’s biggest sides take notice.
The 22-year-old has been linked with a move to Barcelona, but reportedly Jose Mourinho is interested in bringing him to Manchester United this summer.
United are on the lookout for a long-term replacement for Antonio Valencia and Odriozola could fit the bill.
Arguably European football’s most promising talent, Lazio midfielder, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has been dubbed the ‘new Zinedine Zidane’ by his agent, Mateja Kežman.
Kezman has claimed that there is huge interest from other Premier League sides in his client, with Real Madrid and PSG also keen to clinch the Serbian international.
Milinkovic-Savic is a special talent, and it’s no surprise that he came from the same Genk youth academy as Thibaut Courtois, Christian Benteke and as Premier League odds would suggest, this year’s frontrunner for the PFA Player of the Year award, Kevin De Bruyne.
With rumours going into overdrive, now is the best time to benefit from some of the transfer betting odds being offered by UK bookmakers.
Despite no deals sealed as yet, we imagine some of the biggest clubs will be looking to invest huge sums this summer to prevent any repeat runaway leaders in the next campaign.
As fate would have it, Liverpool were paired with runaway Premier League leaders, and fellow English outfit Manchester City in the 2018 Champions League quarter-finals.
With the majority of Liverpool fans and football fans alike already booking Manchester City’s place in the last four, it is not quite so easy to rule out a side that have been so ruthless in front of goal.
The first and perhaps the most obvious reason for Liverpool fans not to give up hope is their clinical front three.
Whilst Manchester City have drastically improved their defensive play from last season, they are still prone to the odd defensive mishap, and if City’s incompetence does indeed show through in either leg, one would imagine that Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and or Sadio Mané will be on hand to capitalise.
In addition to this, another encouraging statistic is City’s dreadful record at Anfield.
In their last 30 matches played at Liverpool’s historic home, the Citizens have only managed to claim victory on one occasion, drawing nine times and suffering 20 defeats.
In the last match played between the two in Liverpool, the home side were eventual 4-3 winners, after a nervy end to the game, in which both defences looked overwhelmingly unstable.
With Jurgen Klopp this season mainly playing with a 4-3-3 at Liverpool, but still utilising his well-known ‘gegenpress’, many teams have found them explosive in attack and very difficult to counter.
If Liverpool do indeed press high up the pitch from early on in both legs and try to isolate players known for defensive errors, such as John Stones, Nicolás Otamendi or Danilo, Manchester City could be in for a long two legs.
One aspect of the game however, that will cause Liverpool fans immense concern is not Manchester City’s unmerciful attack, but their own defence.
In the previously mentioned 4-3 thriller at Anfield, two of Liverpool’s four goals came from errors at the back, and it can be argued that Liverpool’s first goal should have been saved.
The concern here arises from the fact that Liverpool were 4-1 up with less than ten minutes to go.
While they were cruising at 4-1, they conceded two goals in seven minutes that were completely avoidable, and were lucky to leave with all three points as talisman Sergio Agüero agonisingly hit the side netting in stoppage time.
Even more alarming for Liverpool fans is the fact that in the reverse fixture at the Etihad, their team looked incredibly unorganized and were convincingly trounced 5-0.
After Kevin De Bruyne sliced Liverpool’s defence open with a precise through pass to allow Agüero to round the keeper and take a 1-0 lead, Liverpool did look threatening on the counter.
However, after they were reduced to ten men following a dangerous head kick from Sadio Mané on opposition goalkeeper Ederson, City could play their own game at will and walked to a comfortable victory.
In fairness to Liverpool, their world record centre – half signing Virgil van Dijk was not yet at the club for the game at the Etihad and was not in the squad at Anfield.
On the other side of this point, however, one may point out that he has yet to have one standout game to justify his 75 million pound price tag and question what he could have done in either of these two games to reinforce Liverpool’s defence.
If Liverpool want to have any chance of advancing, they need Jurgen Klopp to finally prove his doubters wrong and set his team up in a way that City can not break them down.
While that is easier said than done, Klopp has experience on this stage having finished runner-up in this competition during his time in charge of Borussia Dortmund.
Overall, it will be Pep Guardiola’s side many expect to see in the pot for the semi-final draw but, regardless of the result, we should be in for an exciting, end-to-end, and , dare I say, competitive two legs…
16th August 2017. Hectic scenes in the stands at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu as Real Madrid have just defeated Barcelona 2-0 on the night, and convincingly 5-1 on aggregate, to lift the Supercopa de España.
Whilst Real Madrid fans would have taken great pride in seeing their team embarrass their eternal rivals, Barcelona supporters worldwide presumably sat in horror as, coupled with this result, their superstar winger Neymar had recently transferred to Paris Saint-Germain for a world record 222 million euro transfer and new coach, Ernesto Valverde, had virtually no previous experience in charge of a top European heavyweight.
The Spanish born coach, however, who had previously been earmarked by Johan Cruyff as ‘one of the most outstanding and promising coaches in Spanish football’, remained confident in his ability and swiftly made changes.
In the wake of these dire performances, Valverde made two signings, one of which would heavily shape the following season and help stamp his mark on the team.
The 40 million euro release clause was paid to Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande for Brazilian attacking midfielder Paulinho and almost two weeks later, 105 million euro plus add-ons was shipped out to Borussia Dortmund for the transfer of French winger Ousmane Dembélé.
While the former transfer raised a considerable number of eyebrows around the globe, it turned out to be the most influential of not only the two, but of Barcelona’s entire summer spend.
With Deulofeu – bought earlier in the summer and deputising at left-wing following Neymar’s departure – being ridiculed by fans for his performances in the Supercopa and with the team looking lost and directionless in both legs, Valverde decided to implement a change from the traditional Barcelona 4-3-3 formation to a more old-fashioned 4-2-2, much to the chagrin of Barcelona fans with a pro Cruyffism mentality.
The switch from the de facto three-man midfield brought many improvements to a side that, in pre-season, looked incredibly unbalanced.
In the 4-3-3, which Pep Guardiola mastered impeccably, the deep-lying defensive midfielder would, more often than not, sit back and contribute more to the defence, which would be vulnerable when the two full backs overlapped, thus allowing the other two more attacking midfielders a free and creative role in the final third, their link up with the attacking front three seeming almost telepathic.
Valverde came to the realisation after the heavy defeats to Madrid that a switch to a 4-4-2 would add more stability to the team and help shore up the defence, while still maintaining their attacking threat, spearheaded by Luis Suarez at centre-forward, with Lionel Messi playing just off him as a second striker or ‘false nine’.
In Valverde’s 4-4-2, the midfield is the most important position. The duo most frequently found in the centre of the four is Busquets and Paulinho, with Iniesta and Rakitic occupying the outside left and right respectively.
Whilst Rakitic does primarily stick to his outside right position, linking up with offensive right-sided full back Sergi Roberto and also with Lionel Messi when he drifts over to his natural right-wing position, it is the left side where play is more important and influential.
Due to Iniesta’s preferred position being central midfield, he likes to drift inside from the left. This, along with Neymar’s exit, frees up the space for Jordi Alba to make surging runs forward from left back.
This sequence has been of great beneficence to Barcelona all season and has also brought out the best in Alba as he has contributed to three goals and nine assists so far this season, with most of his assists going to Lionel Messi.
In the centre, Busquets, as he did in a 4-3-3, drops back to help out the defence. This, in turn, allows Samuel Umtiti – the left-sided centre half – to drift ever so slightly across to the left, to cover for Alba when he bursts forward. As for Paulinho, he acts as the box-to-box midfielder.
His role is to occasionally track back in defence, especially when the opposition counter attack, and also to make late, surging runs from deep in to the opposition box to get on the end of a cross coming in from either flank. This has shown in Barcelona’s play this season as he has contributed to eight goals so far this season from midfield.
Whilst this Barcelona is not as fluid or as fast in their attack as previous teams – such as Guardiola’s or Enrique’s respective iterations – the switch to a 4-4-2 is being considered as a success.
Having lost only once in all competitions since the Supercopa – the loss in question a 0-1 defeat to Espanyol in the Copa Del Rey, although Barcelona would turn the tie around in the return leg, winning 2-0 – and being eight points clear and unbeaten in the Spanish league with only eleven matches remaining, the future for Barcelona under Valverde is looking overwhelmingly positive.
“There is no time to be sad. This is football. This is not the end of the world.” In the grand scheme of things, José Mourinho’s assertion after the dismal defeat at home to Sevilla was a perfectly valid one, but there is no denying that the loss is one of the worst, and most damaging, suffered since the Portuguese joined Manchester United almost two years ago.
It wasn’t just the defeat itself – which denied the ‘Red Devils’ only their second Champions League quarter-final appearance in the post-Alex Ferguson era – that will have frustrated United supporters but the manner in which it came to fruition.
Many understandably criticised Mourinho for his tactical approach to the first-leg tie at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, where his side purposefully sat back and played for a goalless draw, but it can be argued that the result was a perfectly adequate one for a team boasting such an impressive home record.
Prior to Tuesday’s defeat, only Manchester City – on two separate occasions – had managed to come to Old Trafford and leave victorious since Southampton did so in January 2016. It was an excellent run that had once again made the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ a formidable fortress both domestically and in Europe, where United were unbeaten in over five years. (The opposition manager that day? Mourinho.)
United would have been understandably confident heading into the Sevilla tie. Chelsea and Liverpool had both left empty-handed in the two preceding games, and those were the only two occasions in six league outings that they had conceded goals in front of their own fans.
Sevilla, on the other hand, had lost heavily away from home against CSKA Moscow in the group stage and conceded five times in two meetings with Liverpool. A team that had struggled for consistency in the first half of the season under Eduardo Berizzo were still looking fragile with Vincenzo Montella in charge.
United would have to be clever and quickly hit their opponents when opportunities presented themselves, but they undeniably had the upper hand at the start of the night. Which is what makes Mourinho’s approach all the more baffling.
Despite their struggles this season, Sevilla are far from being a bad team, and, as eventually proved to be the case, they offer plenty of threat in attack when given space to operate in. But they are a side that United should have comfortably beaten, and the way to do so seemed obvious to everybody but Mourinho.
The lack of urgency showed by United, coupled with the inclusion of Marouane Fellaini alongside Nemanja Matić at the base of midfield, was painful to watch, as time and time again they played into Sevilla’s hands with slow, directionless passing.
Fellaini – who, ironically, enjoyed one of United’s best chances on goal before making way for Paul Pogba – was often caught out of position, gifting Sevilla far too much space in the centre of the pitch.
Luckily for the Belgian, poor decision-making by Luis Muriel and Franco Vázquez denied Sevilla the chance to take advantage of his sloppy defensive play, but the warning signs were there.
Fellaini was caught up the pitch as he attempted to attack, but both he and his team-mates lacked the speed and aggression needed to trouble a Sevilla back line that were rarely tested.
Clément Lenglet impressed when dealing with Romelu Lukaku – who, arguably, was one of the only United players showing any sort of fight – but the home side’s approach play was too laboured to cause many problems for a team that had conceded ten goals in four games prior to Tuesday’s contest.
In wider areas, they failed to fully utilise the pace of Marcus Rashford, who wasn’t brought into play quickly enough when possession turned over, whilst Alexis Sánchez continued his worryingly poor start to life in Manchester with another meek display.
Much criticism has been levelled at Mourinho for his reactive approach to big games, but, as was the case against Chelsea and Liverpool recently and at home to Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the season, the Portuguese is often able to achieve the required results with defensively solid, organisationally astute performances.
It’s what has made him one of the 21st century’s finest managers, but it’s also what risks undoing all of his achievements.
Against Sevilla, Mourinho remained wedded to pragmatism when all of the signs pointed towards a different approach. The space left available by the Spanish side whenever they committed bodies forward wasn’t utilised by United, who remained far too rigid when in possession.
On only four occasions over 180 minutes were they able to test goalkeeper Sergio Rico, and only once – when they went 2-0 down – did they show any sort of fight and urgency inside the final third of the pitch. By then, though, it was too late.
Football is all about results, and as long as their team are performing at their best, supporters can have few complaints about the approaches used.
But Mourinho’s inability to break from defensive pragmatism, even when such an approach is unwarranted, is a worrying development that could seriously damage United’s end to the season.
As adolescents we are often told by our by elders how fragile life can be and that every second should be lived to the fullest, for we may never know when it can all end.
These elders emboldened by their sense of wisdom knew the true value of life and as Calcio continue to mourn the loss of Fiorentina Captain Davide Astori at the age of 31, those aforementioned words could not be truer.
Italy as a country can be viewed through the prism of divisional politics that separate the poorer South from the richer North but as always in times of hardship, Italy manages to cling onto unity. A powerful tool of unity in the country is through football – capable of uniting people from the different social strata and affiliations in Italian society.
This was evidently highlighted when Juventus arrived for Astori’s funeral in Florence, and were given a raucous applause by the Fiorentina faithful who had always deemed the Bianconeri as their most despised rival.
It was a moment to behold given how football in the country is fiercely tribal: where old-fashioned values such as loyalty count for something.
Meanwhile, the Old Lady for their part led by example. Fresh from dumping Tottenham Hotspur out of the Champions League, in a game where it seemed the Italian Champions were playing more for their departed friend and Italian pride than a quarter-final spot; managed to shake off fatigue and attend the funeral.
Emotions ran deep and international audiences would have seen Giorgio Chiellini a few seconds away from bursting into tears in a post-interview after their Champions League tie in North London. The tears would come soon enough in the weekend in Serie A with Gianluigi Buffon sobbing as the soulful song of Lucio Dalla’s ‘Le Rondini’ was played, in the one minute of silence that was held before Juventus played Udinese.
On the other hand in AC Milan versus Genoa, Leonardo Bonucci and Mattia Perin were visibly emotional as they fought hard to keep a lid on their emotions with tears welling up in memory of their close friend. The Stadio Artemio Franchi, however, was the epicentre of emotions.
The stadium was engulfed by a purple hue as fans gave their departed captain one last hurrah. As the clock hit 13 minutes the ball was put out of play and fans, coaching staff and players alike began clapping.
Clouds soon darkened and rain began to fell, with Fiorentina midfielder Milan Badelj suggesting his good old friend was at work one last time, crystallising how much Astori as a person had touched the lives of countless people whom he met.
Italian football and its people for all their flaws can never be faulted for displaying solidarity in times of crisis. Maybe this is what has kept the nation afloat in times of turmoil, as thousands cramp into Florence to witness a person who has become an integral part of their social fabric.
Serie A as a still has giant strides to make in footballing and commercial terms. However it can also be argued it is the lack of commercial elements that has made such solidarity a mainstay in Italy, while proving football is more than a game in its purest form.
Also pure was Astori who was a role model for those wanting to make it in the game. His ever-present smile and leadership will be missed. More importantly he injected hope into people around the world that have lost faith in football’s ability to unite people and not divide them especially when in pursuit for commercial profit.
And for that we must thank him. Grazie Capitano. Ciao Davide.
Firstly, obviously you can’t have .5 of a goal. The term is merely used to distinguish whether the bet is three or more goals, or two or fewer.
And secondly, it can be Over/Under 1.5 or any other number – it’s just that three is deemed to be the average number of goals per game and so the respective odds for either side of 2.5 tend to be the closest to even-money or, if you like, a 50-50 call.
So, which Premier League matches this weekend do we see as being potential goalfests in which the net will bulge three or more times?
Although, on the face of it, this would not be an obvious candidate, recent history indicates that Newcastle United v Southampton is a good-value selection to include in our treble.
For whatever reason, since Southampton were promoted to the Premier League in 2012, the goals have flowed whenever these clubs have met.
In seven of the nine league matches between them since then at either St James’ Park or St Mary’s Stadium, over 2.5 goals have been scored.
And you can even go further by saying that in six of those nine, there have been over 3.5 goals – that bet in itself can be backed as a single at odds of nearly 4/1 this weekend!
Of course, over 2.5 goals between Newcastle and Southampton is something of an ‘against the grain’ bet this time because the Magpies are the joint lowest scorers at home in the Premier League this season, and that may be why you can get odds of 7/5 for the ‘overs’ in this match.
But, as mentioned above, there just seems to be something in the air that generates goals when these clubs from either end of England go head-to-head.
Having that selection in our treble means we can go for a couple of banker bets to flesh it out and still get rewarding odds, so we will go for Arsenal v Watford on Sunday at 8/15.
Over 2.5 goals have been scored in all of the last 10 league and cup meetings between these clubs and the Gunners could do with cheering up their long-suffering fans by recording an emphatic home win.
Finally, even though Stoke City are now more solid defensively under manager Paul Lambert, it is hard to see how they will stop champions-elect Manchester City from scoring a few more goals against them on Monday – the Potters shipped seven at the Etihad Stadium in October.
A tenner on this treble would return over £56. Good luck!
If Juventus’ strike force is on song, they are in with a great chance, but there are fitness issues as Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic have all suffered injuries of late, so Spurs should fancy their chances of capitalising.
In total, 12 of their league matches have featured four goals or more and they are currently the sixth highest scoring team in the league.
On the flip side, only two teams have let in more goals that Setien’s men, perhaps explaining why they are sat plum in the middle of La Liga in tenth place.
A growing group of admirers
Before taking the reins in Andalusia, the Cantabrian technician gained plenty of admirers by the way he revitalised Las Palmas, leading them to an 11th-place finish playing some scintillating football along the way.
He also led the Canary Islanders to their first top-flight win on the Spanish mainland since 2001 during his short spell at the club.
Their second season ended in a slump but by that time it was known that he was leaving.
During his six years at Lugo, he also gained a reputation for deploying a brand of football that was easy on the eye, and was in charge of the Galician side when they played out a 6-6 draw with Numancia.
He led the team, sometimes referred to as ‘Lugopool’ back to the second tier of Spanish football for only the second time in their history and kept them there despite the club being stung with huge admin charges, as league rules demanded they converted to SAD status.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Los Beticos have become a favourite team with football punters looking to back high goal counts in matches – although their reputation has caused prices to shorten little.
For example, on March 1, 2018 football betting site Betway was offering 7/5 that their home match against Real Sociedad would produce more than 3-5 goals.
The right-hand man
Since becoming a top-flight coach, Setien has kept the same man by his side.
His assistant, Eder Sarabia, is the son of former Athletic Bilbao legend Manu Sarabia, who just happened to be playing at Logrones at the same time as Setien in the late 1980s.
The two have been close friends ever since and, and as well as teaming up with his son in the dugout, Setien is also represented by Manu’s daughter, Oihane, off the field.
Eder never quite had his father’s talent and spent most of his playing career in the third division of Spanish football with Arenas de Getxo and Leio.
As a result, he focused his attention on coaching, first in Bilbao and later at Villarreal where he impressed in charge of the C and B teams.
He also enjoyed a spell coaching at one of Real Madrid’s academies in the Dominican Republic.
20th May 2017, Rhein Energie Stadion. Koln are hosting Mainz in front of a sold-out crowd, anxiously awaiting their sides final game of the Bundesliga campaign.
Win, and European football would be guaranteed for the first time since 1992. Tensions would have been rather calmer had they not blown a 2-0 first half lead the week before away at the BayArena to Bayer Leverkusen only to draw 2-2.
There was a five-way battle for three Europa League spots so any more slips ups would most likely be punished.
You would have thought if anybody was going to win the game for Koln, it would be Anthony Modeste, 25 league goals to his name which accounted over half of their goals after 33 games was quite some record for a striker who could be classed as a journeyman.
Only four other players had scored more than once throughout the whole season but it was German international Jonas Hector, and Japanese striker Yuya Osako who notched Koln’s goals as they easily brushed Mainz aside by two goals to nil to secure fifth place in the Bundesliga and direct passage into the Europa League group stages.
Cue pitch invasion…
The Billy Goats were already planning out their potential European adventures before a bombshell dropped not long after the season finale.
Player of the Season Modeste was suddenly all set for a big money move to China which eventually went through for a fee of around 35 million euros.
Koln spent half of that Jhon Cordoba from Mainz but with Artjoms Rudnevs also retiring, they looked feeble at the top end of the pitch going into the new campaign.
A 97th minute consolation from defender Frederik Sorensen in a 3-1 home defeat to Hamburg was the only goal they mustered in the first six games as they had just a single point to their name.
From matchday three they were bottom and have remained there all the way up until now. The elation and excellent season last year is now long forgotten as Koln look all but set for a drop into the second tier.
It took them 17 matches to eventually win a Bundesliga game, at home to Wolfsburg, which suddenly started a chain reaction of victories.
hey then won at home to Gladbach and away to Hamburg before drawing with Augsburg. But successive defeats to Dortmund and Frankfurt halted that momentum.
They currently sit eight points from safety with just nine games to go. Impossible, surely?
Their disastrous European campaign has summed their season up too. Drawn with Arsenal, Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov, they would have definitely fancied their chances of going through.
Jhon Cordoba scored from the halfway line inside nine minutes at the Emirates but they went on to lose 3-1, and then lost at home to Red Star before also losing in Belarus, both 1-0, to leave themselves all but eliminated by October.
Wins over BATE and Arsenal back-to-back meant a win in Belgrade would see them through but Slavoljub Srnic’s goal sent Red Star into the last 32 at Koln’s expense.
Fifth to eighteenth in the space of months is quite some fall from grace, but it seems to be a recurring theme within the Bundesliga, a team has a brilliant season, often lose their key man, then find themselves embroiled in a relegation battle.
Last season, Wolfsburg had to beat Eintracht Braunschweig in a two-legged relegation playoff just to retain their Bundesliga status little more than 12 months since they were playing at the Bernabeu in a Champions League quarter-final.
They lost Kevin de Bruyne to Manchester City after finishing second in 201415, then the following season finished eighth, outside the European places still with a massive bulk of the squad that came runners-up, before finishing sixteenth and escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth.
They are heading straight back into the same direction this season, level on points with Mainz who currently occupy that infamous relegation playoff spot.
Since reaching consecutive UEFA Cup semi finals in 2009 and 2010, Hamburg have endured and absolutely rotten spell, it is scarcely believable how they are still in the top flight.
The relegation playoff has been their trusted friend over the last five years, bailing them out numerous times when they were seemingly on the brink.
Luca Waldschmidt’s goal in the 88th minute to beat Wolfsburg on the final day in 2016 has summed this period up, struggle all season and then rescue it right at the death.
Still the only Bundesliga ever-presents, they may not be able to claim that honour much longer, them and Koln are cut adrift at the bottom and even by Hamburg’s standards, this seems like too much of a tall order.
Relegation may not be the worst thing though, nothing has changed each year they have narrowly survived, so a major revamp and overhaul may do them some good for when they inevitably do return to the top flight, barring any 1860 Munich-esque horror show.
Stuttgart were league champions in 2007, fast forward ten years and you would have found them playing in the second tier.
Werder, who came second to Stuttgart that season, also went on to be UEFA Cup runners-up in 2009, but since have only finished in the top half of the Bundesliga once.
Players like Miroslav Klose, Mesut Ozil, Marko Arnautovic and Marko Marin leaving the club without being sufficiently replaced have cause years of underachievement from which they are struggling to recover from.
You feel as if Bayern Munich are the only team safe from relegation each season. In Jurgen Klopp’s last season at Dortmund, they were flirting with relegation midway through the season before eventually dragging themselves up the table.
Last season, Schalke, Gladbach and Leverkusen all had terrible campaigns and were also looking over their shoulders up until the final few games of the season.
Fifteen years ago it would have seemed unfathomable that teams like Hamburg and Werder would struggle so much and to see 1860 Munich in the fourth tier.
On the contrary though, teams like Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig have come from nowhere to be Champions League chasing sides in a short amount of time.
It can work both ways, and bubbles can certainly burst quickly in Germany, I just wouldn’t bank on Bayern making any away trips to Magdeburg or Heidenheim for a league game anytime soon…
Last week, Mauricio Pochettino suggested Napoli play the most beautiful football in Europe. Pep Guardiola said likewise a couple of months ago as Manchester City prepared for their Champions League clashes with the Partenopei.
The great Arrigo Sacchi is also a big fan of the Neapolitans and their coach Maurizio Sarri. “Sarri is a hero. He makes the most of what he has got,” said the man who managed AC Milan to European dominance in the late 1980s.
His team aren’t very powerful physically or experienced, but they move beautifully as a unit. His team play better football than the Napoli sides which won the titles.
High praise indeed. But for a club, a city and a manager chasing a first Serie A title since 1990, it will count for very little if Napoli fall short.
Pep’s kind words made people sit up and pay attention before Christmas – but doubtless Sarri and co would have preferred not to lose both games to the English club. And what consolation would Sacchi’s words offer if Napoli fail to emulate the feats of the Maradona inspired title winners of 28 years ago?
Courage and concentration, and not just lovely football, are what Napoli need if they are prevent Juventus from claiming an unprecedented seventh Serie A title in a row. We know they can play, but do they have the nerve?
Up until Saturday night, there had been plenty this season to suggest they do. After all, Napoli had come into their meeting with fifth placed Roma having won their last ten Serie A fixtures. Indeed, they hadn’t lost since the first week of December – a 1-0 home defeat to champions Juventus.
They followed up what had been a disappointing display that night with a goalless draw with Fiorentina. But then came the ten game winning streak, blowing away any notion that the wheels had fallen off their title bid.
Indeed, through that run, they had managed to keep Juventus at bay. Strikingly, they did so four weekends in a row when the Old Lady appeared to have the psychological advantage of playing first. But each time Juventus won, Sarri’s men responded in kind.
That pattern looked like it would be repeated on Saturday evening when Lorenzo Insigne put Napoli into an early lead at the Stadio San Paolo, with the league leaders having seen Juventus eke out a narrow 1-0 win away to third placed Lazio an hour earlier. But it was not to be.
Roma, perhaps inspired by the defeat of their neighbours at the Olympic Stadium, shook off their recent poor form, nullifying Sarri’s charges expertly and boosting their own hopes of Champions League qualification.
The 4-2 victory was well deserved. Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma simply didn’t allow Napoli play their normal game, setting their defensive line about half way between the 18-yard box and the half way line and working diligently and intelligently in midfield to block the home side’s desired vertical passing lanes.
With little room in midfield and little space in behind, Napoli just couldn’t find their rhythm.
Moreover, they struggled to cope with Roma’s physicality. And as the home side’s efforts became increasingly desperate, Roma’s size and aerial prowess became increasingly influential as they swatted away Napoli’s crosses and attempts to find a way over the top.
“His team aren’t very powerful physically or experienced,” said Sacchi – apocryphal words given Saturday night’s events.
So what now? Much depends on how Napoli respond. They lead Juventus, who recorded their own tenth win on the trot just as Napoli’s ten game winning run came to an end, by a single point. But will the weekend’s results have damaged them mentally?
The champions, whose game last weekend with Atalanta had been postponed, now have a game in hand. And they are in ominous form – conceding just once in the last their last 13 Serie A games.
They’ve trailed Napoli by a single point since mid-December, waiting for a slip. And now it has come.
Will Saturday night’s results prove decisive? Those who want to see Juve’s dominance over Serie A broken and for Sarri’s men be the ones to do it must hope not. But Juventus have the squad depth, the quality, the experience and perhaps most importantly the winning mentality – and that knowledge may weigh heavily on Sarri’s men in the run in.
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