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Top 10 sporting events to watch in 2018

Top 10 sporting events to watch in 2018

The festive holidays are one that we all relish but often we find the time off disappears before we know it. In fact, Christmas turkeys, crackers and glorious mulled wine seem a distant fading memory right now.

But as Christmas departs a new year begins and with that fresh optimism is born. (could it really be England’s year?)

With us now already a week into 2018, it’s time to look forward and see what the sporting calendar has in store for us. It promises to be a jam-packed 12 months!

Here are my Top 10 events for the year to come:

  • Winter Olympics & Paralympics, Pyeongchang 9th – 25th February & 9th – 18th March

Any event which includes a sport where four athletes race from the top of a mountain to the bottom as fast as they can is a winner in my book. Of course, Ski – Cross is just one of many exhilarating sports the Winter Olympics has on offer. Even the staunchest traditionist would struggle not to get excited at the prospect of an athlete hurling themselves downhill on what is effectively a dinner tray at up to 80 mph.

  • Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast, Australia 4th – 15th April

After a month of snow-related sports, you might be in need of some sun. So from South Korea, we move our attention to the Gold Coast. The 21st Commonwealth Games and what a fabulous location for them indeed. Will England’s male sprinters stand up and put on another gold winning performance like they did last year at the World Championships in London whilst representing Team GB? Can anyone get near Adam Peaty in the 100m Breaststroke? Heptathlete Katarina Johnson – Thompson competes in her first games and will be aiming for a podium finish.

  • The Masters, Augusta National, Georgia 5th – 8th April

You’ll have to be on your A-Game to make sure you don’t miss out on any sport in an action-packed April. Although the picturesque sight of the 13th at Augusta will be enough to convince you that you really don’t need that seven hours of sleep you had previously promised yourself…

  • FA Cup Final, Wembley 19th May

Always one of the standout weekends in the sporting calendar, the history of the Cup speaks for itself. This year there’s a twist. With the Royal Wedding scheduled for the same date, HRH Prince William will be relieved that his beloved Aston Villa were knocked out in the 3rd round of the competition.

  • FIFA World Cup, Russia 14th June – 15th July

The groups have been drawn, the fixture dates have been released, football’s biggest competition is starting to feel very close. Can Gareth Southgate’s men find the blend between attacking football and winning games that England fans so desperately crave?

  • Wimbledon 2nd – 15th July

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Wimbledon is certainly one of the classiest events in the sporting calendar. An event steeped in rich history and traditions. Homemade strawberries and cream accompanied with a Pimm’s is mandatory of course, but would you want it any other way?

Time will tell if Murray Mount will get to see their namesake at this year’s tournament but in Johanna Konta the Brits have a new fan favourite to get behind.

 

  • Women’s Hockey World Cup, London 21st July – 5th August

Not only is it the first time the women’s World Cup has been hosted in the UK, it’s also expected to be the biggest hockey event ever in the UK. The English team are currently ranked 2nd in the World behind the Netherlands. Can they build on the success from the Commonwealth Games earlier in the year perhaps?

  • T20 Blast Finals Day, Edgbaston 15th September

Three games of cricket sandwiched into one day. Finals Day guarantees to deliver roller-coaster finishes, monster hits, fancy dress and a good old sing along. You won’t be left disappointed.

  •  Ryder Cup, Le Golf National, Paris 28th – 30th September

A sport which is well known for its individual competitiveness, but when Europe take on the USA all bets are off. There is always a twist and a turn during a Ryder Cup weekend. Who can forget the Miracle at Medinah in 2012?

  • ICC Women’s World Twenty20, West Indies 3rd – 24th November

Can they do the double? With the World Cup ODI trophy in the bag from last year, England will be looking to return home from the West Indies with the World Twenty20 trophy too. In the meantime, let’s reminisce about one of the best sporting moments of 2017.

Direction and Identity are top of Everton’s Christmas list

A month has passed since Ronald Koeman was relieved of his duties at Goodison Park, and yet we are still no closer to knowing who will take up the reins as his full-time replacement.

A lot of speculation has been made in the press over two men in particular who have both made storming starts to the season with their respective clubs. But who, if either will be unveiled as the next Everton manager.

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

The men in question? Sean Dyche of Burnley & Marco Silva of Watford.

Two men with contrasting methods and approaches to coaching but both who have proven to be shrewd tacticians and have excelled at getting their teams to perform to the best of their abilities consistently this season.

Make no bones about it, one of Everton’s biggest problems with their pedestrian approach to this campaign is a major lack of identity. Mr Moshiri splashed the cash in the summer almost £150m of it, but for what?

By not adequately replacing hitman Romelu Lukuku and almost bulk buying No.10’s has left the Everton squad looking very thin in certain departments.

The toffees historically have been a club that has used its fullbacks well, with the crossing threat of Leighton Baines and the acceleration of Seamus Coleman as key figures.

The gamble to sign Wayne Rooney & Gylfi Sigurdsson hasn’t worked so far. Koeman hoped that they could dovetail off each other, instead, they have clashed, with both wanting to lead and dictate the tempo of games.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

Someone needs to decide what direction the club is going to go from here before relegation becomes a real prospect.

Let’s take a deeper look at the two men who have been made the bookies’ favourites.

Marco Silva

If Messrs Kenwright & Moshiri want a quick fix, Silva is your man. He has breathed new life into Watford. After a lacklustre season under Walter Mazzarri, Watford fans are now having the time of their life, what a contrast of emotions.

In a matter of months, Silva has taken a team who narrowly avoided relegation to arguably the most improved side in the league. He’s re-installed fight and passion to an uninspiring Watford and made smart signings like the impressive Richarlison and Will Hughes.

They play expansive football, it’s fast, dynamic and end-to-end action. It’s been all positive for Watford fans this season bar the 6-0 home defeat at the hands of Manchester City.

Watford FC Formation. Image courtesy of Fantasy Premier League

It’s clear to see that Silva is an ambitious man who has big plans for his future, so the opportunity to take over at Everton, a club with a glorious history, a fantastic fan base and an owner who backs his manager must be incredibly appealing. Only time will tell if he leaves the Hornets, but Watford fans must know that his time at Vicarage Road is numbered, as his stock continues to rise with each victory.

So far in his short managerial career at Watford, Silva has favoured flooding the midfield with a solid back three in defence which can allow the more creative players such as the aforementioned Richarlison to wreak havoc on the opposition. A big difference to Watford this season compared to last is the intensity which Marco Silva has installed, they are also getting many more touches on the ball.

Jose Holebas was the only Watford player to break into the Premier League top 50 for touches during last season’s campaign, and he came 40th in the list. This season Abdoulaye Doucoure is taking Watford to new levels, sitting 11th in the same listing.

 

Sean Dyche 

Man of the moment Dyche has certainly proved his doubters wrong. After a superb start to his coaching career with Watford and ensuring their best-placed finish in 4 years, Dyche found himself fall foul of Watford’s ‘manager a season’ approach.

Watford’s loss led to Burnley’s gain. It’s been refreshing to see a manager be given considerable time to set in place his philosophy and tactics and see them come to fruition. Even more impressive is that Burnley stuck with him even after relegation from the Premier League after 1 season, what a decision that has turned out to be.

Burnley currently sit 7th in the league on the same amount of points as Arsenal, quite the turn around from Championship football only a few years ago.

As much as Burnley fans like to dream, Everton would be a major step up for Dyche. He would bring with him a stability that Everton crave, but without the attacking gusto and intensity that Silva would install.

He’s made his Burnley sides hard to beat and often praised for their herculean effort in terms of distance covered in games. Although sometimes it’s fair to say style has been sacrificed for the result, something Everton supporters would relish to see now from their beloved Toffees.

Do the Everton board go down the pathway towards attacking flair or welcome the stability that Sean Dyche will undoubtedly bring with him.

If it was my decision I’d go for Silva, but make sure he signs a very long-term contract because it won’t be long until Europe’s elite will come calling for Marco.

 

Could Social Media Save English Cricket?

For cricket fans the world over, 2005 evokes every superlative in the cliché book. The Greatest Ashes Series of all time, the series to end all series, theatre on an unparalleled scale in the history of cricket.

What a load of nonsense. The 2005 Ashes is the worst thing that ever happened to cricket. It’s the year that cursed a generation.

Ever since that fateful summer, my relationship with the gentleman’s game has been tumultuous, confused and epitomised by endless frustration. Simply, it was too much too soon. As an 11 year old I watched in awe as everyone I knew (yes, even the year 6 cool kids) experienced a sort of religious cricket awakening. Suddenly everyone was talking about the Ashes, everyone wanted to play cricket all day.

But in a sickening twist of fate, what followed that euphoric summer was a gaping chasm and the haunting realisation that everything would simply never be that perfect again.

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A Natwest T20 Blast match between Hampshire and Glamorgan. Image courtesy of Warren Duffy on flickr

Cricket promptly disappeared from terrestrial TV to Sky, depriving the generation that followed mine of the ease of access to the sport that so captured the imagination that summer.

And now here we are, seemingly scratching around from week-to-week in search of a way to save the terribly British game of cricket, right here in Britain.

For those who watched that series, there were so many moments that were unforgettable:

Freddie Flintoff and that incendiary double-wicket over, Kevin Pietersen’s blonde Mohawk, Ian Bell waking drenched in sweat as Shane Warne haunted his nightmares, Simon Jones swinging the ball like it were Mark Ramprakash’s hips, Michael Clarke shouldering arms and having his off stump obliterated, Simon Katich shouldering arms and having his off stump obliterated, the King of Spain, Harmison’s slower ball, Woodworm bats – I’m not sure a single member of my colt team didn’t buy a Woodworm bat in 2005– that summer could not conceivably have been better.

image courtesy of intocricket on flickr

I don’t know what’s better, Freddie Flintoff’s smoulder, or that majestic Woodworm bat. image courtesy of intocricket on flickr

English Cricket has failed to replicate this ever since, and while the move away from Free-to-Air Television has doubtless stifled its exposure, it has been a broader failure to evolve how it speaks to younger audiences that has quickened the sport’s demise.

The Big Bash League has shown the positive impact that television coverage can have on the game – viewing figures and attendances have simultaneously soared in Australia – but there is a tendency to pin all the blame on TV and overlook other shortcomings. This is particularly pertinent with under 16’s in 2017 – they simply don’t consume news and information from the TV screen in the way we did a decade ago.

Cricket doesn’t hold the global appeal of football, and doesn’t have a massively popular and engaging console series like FIFA or Football Manager to fall back on, so it needs to find more innovative ways to engage fans.

You tube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become the nerve centre which drives the news and sporting agenda for young people. If ever there was a time in which TV could be circumnavigated, it is in this age of social media. Other sports dominate these channels – Youtube has even made stars of vloggers who upload videos of them playing FIFA.

It’s incredible to think, but people playing football games in their bedroom pull in hundreds of thousands of viewers every day while many cricket counties struggle to fill out their grounds. Football is omnipresent, people know everything about it, and they are constantly consuming more information about it.

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The Indian Premier League and Big Bash in Australia have made cricket modern and accessible. image courtesy of BubbleOnFire on flickr.

Conversely, cricket is conspicuous by its absence. There is a pervasive, largely unchallenged notion that cricket is a dry, boring sport, something that few would have asserted a decade ago. Has the game become more boring? On the contrary, the perfection of the T20 format has created the perfect bite-size entry point for new fans.

But what has changed is the way we talk about cricket. At its best, cricket ebbs and flows, it provides tension, shock and theatre. But large swathes of the British public seem to have forgotten this. We need to communicate with a modern audience in a language they understand to fight these misconceptions.

Social media is awash with influencers who are interested in sport, not just You tubers and Instagrammers, but what about musicians too? Actors? Young people are constantly engaging with content from these figures and are being influenced by what they see.

Greg James is just one example of the kind of ambassador the sport needs. He’s a fantastic advocate for the game and has landed himself a role presenting on BT Sport. More assets of a similar profile could have a tangible impact on exposing the game.

Why not get influencers involved with England’s players, filming themselves in the nets with Jason Roy or Jos Buttler learning the game? Going along to a match with Greg James? People are so disengaged from cricket in this country that there is a unique opportunity to educate people and rebrand the sport in the process. Cricket is tongue-in-cheek and accessible, it’s a game that lends itself to oddities and humour.

Cricket needs more advocates in the media like Greg James, but preferably with sleeves on. image courtesy of Ric Sumner on flickr

Cricket needs more advocates in the media like Greg James, but preferably with sleeves on. image courtesy of Ric Sumner on flickr

The Big Bash and Indian Premier League are proof that cricket holds mass appeal. I genuinely believe that if we get people watching and playing the game, some will not be able to help but fall in love with it.

The raw materials are there to make cricket a resounding success in England. A formidably talented generation of players are coming into their prime, including the fiery Ben Stokes – heir apparent to Flintoff, and the extraordinarily explosive Jos Buttler, renowned for swatting the ball dismissively out of the ground. The Women’s game in the UK is professional, and has made huge leaps in recent years.

The tools are there to catapult cricket back to the levels of 2005. Social media is just one avenue to achieve this, but one that can make a palpable difference if treated seriously and harnessed effectively by the powers running cricket.

 

Will the Relentless Commercialisation of Sport Continue?

The monetisation of sport in the UK is hitting heights in 2016 that were scarcely conceivable just a few years ago.

Football has been revolutionised by the astronomical money that the Premier League TV deals have brought in. Cricket could be next, following a vote by English cricket counties that paves the way to the creation of an eight-team T20 Franchise competition that would be far more geared towards generating revenue.

The statistics are eye-watering. The summer transfer window outlay for Premier League clubs was an astounding £1.165 billion – breaking all previous records. The TV deal in place for the Premier League is worth an astonishing £10.4 billion. Manchester United recently recorded revenue of £515.3 million for 2016 – up from £395.2 million in 2015.

It seems that everyone is a winner in the world of football. Manchester United have the spending power to splash however much they want on whoever they want. Paul Pogba was signed for an incredible £89m – a world record. Pogba’s own £290,000-a-week wages make him the highest paid player in the Premier League. Even his agent, the erratic Mino Raiola, pocketed £20m from the Pogba deal alone.

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

The money set to change hands in cricket is dwarfed by the Premier League, with each country promised a measly £1.5 million a head in TV money – though it’s incredible to think that so much money seems a pittance. Yet consider the model that the English Cricket Board is looking to replicate – that of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and you realise the potential it has.

Cricket is the national sport of India, franchises are owned by celebrities, stadia fill out week-on-week and the biggest and best players are paid very handsomely for their participation. For this reason, it is nigh on impossible for the UK to emulate the IPL from a popularity perspective, or indeed for the money it generates.

The 2016 edition of the IPL was valued at over $4bn – a 19% jump from the previous year. Indeed, according to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the 2015 edition of the IPL contributed $182m to the GDP of the Indian economy. This is all the more remarkable given that the IPL runs for just seven weeks.

The money available for players in endorsements is also spectacular – Indian legend MS Dhoni pulled in $23m from endorsements alone in 2016 – taking his overall yearly earnings to just shy of $30m.

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

If the English version of the Indian Premier League can generate anywhere near the level of interest that the IPL does (a tough task given that cricket is comparatively low down the pecking order in this country) the financial rewards for players are unprecedented. It’ll be tough, but if they get it right, sponsors will flock and with serious financial clout it could really take off.

What this all means is that there is now more riding on sport than ever before. Sport has been elevated from an entertainment and a past time to a full blown and very serious business enterprise.

Brands, marketers, influencers – everyone is going to continue to want a bigger slice of the Premier League pie and other sports are following suit.

Cricket will be particularly fascinating to observe, as the very format of the game is being changed to accommodate fans and create a more marketable brand. T20 is all about excitement and implementing a franchise system will also offer far more lucrative and enticing advertising, sponsorship and marketing opportunities. There is even talk of looking to use a major venue like the Olympic Stadium to host a match – imagine if it came off – making a success of such an event could have a seismic effect on the sport and catapult it back into the mainstream.olympic-stadium

And yet the flip side of this is the risk that is now attached to sporting ventures. There is so much money being poured into sport that a wrong slip can lead to disaster, we have seen examples of football clubs (think Leeds and Portsmouth) succumb to mismanagement of their finances. With more money changing hands than ever before, it is worth wondering considering how long it may be until such a situation arises again.

Reputations also matter more than ever before. With so much money invested in clubs and players, brands and sponsors want to know that their investment is getting the respect and return they feel it deserves. The margin for error is miniscule and the potential ramifications of any mistake are substantial.

There is more at stake for sporting brands than ever before, but what this brings is opportunity. Manchester United are evidence of how a brand alone can now pull in extraordinary revenue, regardless of on-pitch achievements. Whether it is sustainable or not in the longer term, it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

She-FA: Why you should now invest in women’s football

As you’ve probably heard, FIFA is in a bit of a state. However, amid the corruption and scandals, there has been one gem of positive news to emerge in the past few days, women teams will be included in FIFA 16!

This autumn, gamers will be able to play as 12 international female teams. This is just the beginning too with a wide collection of player’s stats being collated as we speak. Domestic leagues are not far away.

Soon gamers will be able to play as Ellen White and Steph Houghton.

Soon gamers will be able to play as Ellen White and Steph Houghton.

The first question on many people’s lips is why has this taken so long? One simple answer would be to suggest the gross institutionalised misogynism at FIFA and other national governing bodies.  This would be fairly accurate, considering FIFA’s soon to be dethroned president Sepp Blatter has suggested women’s football would be more popular if they wore shorter skirts.

Even in the UK, it’s not been too long since Andy Gray’s dismissal for making offside jokes at the expense of a female official. At first glance, it would be easy to suggest the sport will only succeed once the sport is taken seriously and this isn’t untrue. The first step is to give women every opportunity that the male version has and that’s where the problem has arisen.

The sport at present fails to draw the crowds of men’s matches. This results in a lack of sponsorship, TV rights and funding. Without the funding, the majority of female footballers can only ever become semi-pro and thus cannot reach their potential. In perspective, most conference teams (5th Division) are fully professional. Without this funding, awareness of the sport cannot be raised and therefore women will continue to struggle to balance a full-time job with their footballing career.

Although it’s early stages, the FIFA inclusion has the potential to be one of the best things to happen to the women’s football. People have downplayed how significant the addition is, which is a mistake. At present, FIFA is one of biggest sport franchises on the planet, shifting 2.6 million copies in the UK last year alone. These gamers are ready-made football fans, no conversion from another sport needed. All they need is a push the right direction. With the introduction of just a few teams, each team will gain a colossal boost in awareness from the regular gamers. Once they find favourite players amongst the teams (and they will), the demand for television rights and match tickets are certain to rocket. The time is now to invest.

The sport has already gone a long way in the past few years. Since their impressive Olympic performances the women’s team, led by Manchester City’s captain Steph Houghton, the sport has never been more popular. With additional exposure, the brand of women’s football is set to increase phenomenally, with the potential to grow even more when the domestic leagues are introduced.

Is there still magic in the FA Cup?

 

Image Courtesy of IcyBloke, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of IcyBloke, flickr.com

We’ve all heard of ‘the magic of the FA Cup’ – memorable games such as Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ beating Liverpool 1-0 in the 88 Cup Final or Wrexham dumping Arsenal out in the Third Round with a 2-0 victory back in 1992 come to mind. But is the magic still there?

So far, after this year’s tournament. you’d have to say ‘yes’. We’re heading into the Quarter Final stage with just Manchester United left to play a fifth round tie against Preston North End. If United make it through to the next stage, they will be looking to continue their run, hopefully taking them on to a nineteenth final. But, given the way the Cup has gone this year, that could be a big ‘IF’.

We’ve seen League One’s Bradford City claim a 4-2 victory over Chelsea in the fourth round of the FA Cup and this weekend they were at it again with a stunning two goal victory over Sunderland to take them through to the Quarter Final stage. Championship side Blackburn Rovers will join them after coming back from 1-0 down in the first ten minutes to knock Stoke City out with a 4-1 victory that has left the Stoke fans, like most of us, in complete shock.

 

All eyes will be on the FA Cup Quarter Final draw this evening to see what potential upsets could be in store for the next round. It’s fair to assume that most teams will be wanting to avoid playing Bradford City. Given their recent Cup form away at Stamford Bridge and home against Sunderland, Bradford City don’t seem to fear anyone in the Cup. Blackburn will also be looking to setup a potential upset against one of the bigger sides left in the draw.

That being said, Arsenal have just avoided a massive banana skin by fending off Middlesbrough with a 2-0 victory, and Liverpool have seen a revival in their fortunes, with the return of Daniel Sturridge. The Liverpool striker linked up well with Jordan Henderson on Saturday to net the team’s first goal in their 2-1 come-back against Crystal Palace. It’s also worth remembering that the reds have made it to the final the last four times they have made it to this stage in the FA Cup: in 2012, 2006, 2001 and 1996. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s the matter of Manchester United vs Preston North End…

So, can Simon Grayson’s Preston North End spark that bit of FA Cup magic and deliver a giant killing and a huge blow to Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United with victory tonight? We’ll just have to wait and see.

An Intriguing Champions League Draw For English Teams

 

The draw for the Champions League first knockout round was made on Monday morning and with it brought mixed fortunes for the English clubs left in the competition: Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Image Courtesy of patoborrego, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of patoborrego, flickr.com

PSG vs Chelsea
As a Chelsea fan, I’m relatively happy with the draw. For the second successive year (albeit a round earlier), Chelsea meet French champions PSG. Chelsea’s reward for winning the group means that they travel to Paris for the first leg, with the return leg three weeks later at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea have a far stronger squad this season and, without sounding too confident, I can’t see them making the same mistakes as they did last season when they lost the first leg 3-1 in Paris. The first leg will be a tighter affair this time around and I think that a score draw will be enough for Chelsea to then win the tie at Stamford Bridge in front of their own fans. It will be a close game whatever happens but I think Chelsea will have what it takes to secure their place in the quarter-final.

The way Chelsea have performed this season, both in Europe and in the Premier League, has, at times, been breathtaking. Jose Mourinho has once again instilled a swagger of confidence and belief amongst the players and the team look relentless in their pursuit of glory. That being said, a great team can’t be judged on half a season and only time will tell if this Mourinho team can be considered one of the greatest. Despite everything that the Portuguese manager has achieved in the game there is one thing missing from his decorated CV, Champions League glory with Chelsea.

If Chelsea are to go on and win the Champions League this season, they will have to navigate their way past the French Champions PSG and summer signings Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa could prove the difference. Costa’s battle against former Chelsea defender David Luiz will be intriguing and although PSG have the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani in their ranks, both have failed to impress on previous visits to Stamford Bridge.

Image Courtesy of Christian Del Aguila, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Christian Del Aguila, flickr.com

Verdict: I’m predicting a tight game but Chelsea’s Champions League experience will prevail and the tie will be won in the second leg at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea sealing their place in the Quarter Finals.

 

Arsenal v Monaco
Arsenal, for once, will be very happy with their draw for the Champions League knockout stages. They will play against a Monaco side that only scored 4 goals in six games to qualify. For that reason, Arsenal must be confident of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 2008. Arsene Wenger will return to his former club and, on paper, you could argue that finishing second in the group has given Arsenal an easier draw than London rivals Chelsea, who finished first. In recent weeks Arsene Wenger’s future at the club has been called into question but by avoiding the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Wenger will have a chance to silence his critics.

There is a long way to go of course but Arsenal will be confident of reaching the Quarterfinals and then, who knows far they can go? With the first leg at the Emirates stadium, it will be important for Arsenal to start well and they will be looking to take at least a two-goal lead with them to France, to help protect them in the second leg. Arsenal have real quality going forward this season and Alexis Sanchez will relish the opportunity to play against an ageing Monaco defence.

Verdict: If Arsenal can reproduce anything like the performance they did against Galatasaray in Matchday Six against Monaco then there will only be one outcome in this tie. Arsenal will comfortably progress to the next round.

 

Image Courtesy of Wonker, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Wonker, flickr.com

Man City vs Barcelona
It’s a case of deja vu for Manchester City fans, as they prepare for another Champions League meeting with Barcelona. Last time Barcelona won 2-0 at the Etihad, and then 2-1 in the Nou Camp. However, with another years’ experience under their belts, can Manchester City make it through to the Quarter Finals for the first time?

There is something about Man City and the Champions League, which conjures up the feeling that it’s just not meant to be. For 10 years I had the same feeling – Chelsea came so close to winning the Champions League but always seemed to fall at the final hurdle. But then, when they did finally win it, it was in the most dramatic of circumstances.

I’m not saying that Manchester City are going to win the Champions League this season or even beat Barcelona but the manner in which they beat Bayern Munich and Roma to make it this far in the first place must give them hope that, even when the odds are stacked against them, they can beat the best teams in Europe. Whether Manchester City prevail and knockout Messi, Suarez, Neymar and co will depend to a great extent on the fitness of Sergio Aguero. The Argentine striker is currently out with a knee injury and is expected to be fit with time to spare before the two games against Barcelona, but without him, City lack that cutting edge. The likes of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and David Silva, all playing at the top of their games give City hope but I just can’t see them beating Barcelona in the Nou Camp where the second leg will be played.

Verdict: Manchester City will be buoyed by the way they beat Bayern Munich and Roma to qualify for the knockout stages. But Barcelona have a wealth of attacking talent, arguably the best front three in the world and whilst it will be closer than last year’s tie, Barcelona will be Manchester City’s Champions League nemesis once again.

Image Courtesy of Football DirectNews, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Football DirectNews, flickr.com

Road to Rio….Youngsters given chance to shine as Hodgson names England World Cup squad

 

Image Courtesy of godin2017, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of godin2017, flickr.com

After months of speculating, players supposedly putting their hands up for selection and every football fan on Twitter turning in to a broadsheet journalist (myself included), England’s World Cup squad has finally been announced.

For all the permutations discussed in the build-up, the actual announcement proved slightly anticlimactic, much like the Premier League denouement. With injuries ruling out the likes of Theo Walcott, Kyle Walker and Jay Rodriguez, the final England squad virtually picked itself. There was to be no hint ‘bolter’ this time around but it’s fair to say Roy Hodgson has taken a leap of faith in selecting players who have impressed domestically, yet have little experience on the international stage.

The main talking point will be that of the selection of Luke Shaw and the subsequent retirement of Ashley Cole….a bold move from Hodgson and one that he admitted “was one of the toughest he has had to make.” As an England footballer, it is difficult to find fault with Cole. 107 caps, including three World Cups, only tell half the story of a man who has to go down as the country’s best ever in his position.

 

Image Courtesy of Kody Platter, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Kody Platter, flickr.com

What a shame that we seem to be inundated with high-class left-backs when the rest of the defence looks a touch shaky. While the backline was rarely tested in qualification, there were signs in the home friendlies against Chile and Germany (and even Scotland) that there are weaknesses to be exploited.

If the defence creates an air of negativity and gloom then the midfield provides the antidote. Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are three supremely talented and confident young men who can all expect game time out in Brazil. It is Adam Lallana, though, who I am most excited about. He is highly regarded by Hodgson and is a player who has gone from a wildcard to make the squad, to almost a guaranteed component in England’s opening game against Italy on June 11th. Given his form for Southampton and his three appearances for his country, he deserves nothing less.

 

In attack, the only real issue was whether Hodgson thought Andy Carroll had done enough since his comeback from injury to force his way into the England squad. Alas, Rickie Lambert has got the nod instead, with Carroll subjected to the standby list.

 

 

 

 

Image Courtesy of Kemal1998, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Kemal1998, flickr.com

Much attention will, of course, be paid to Wayne Rooney, who has another opportunity to show the world what he is truly capable of. A lack of match fitness and suspension has blighted his international tournament career ever since he burst on the world stage at Euro 2004. The news that he plans to take a physiotherapist on holiday with him will be well-received by just about every Englishman, as we look to him and the ever-maturing Daniel Sturridge to supply the necessary firepower for Roy’s boys.

 

 

 

 

 

Image Courtesy of Ryu Voelkel, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Ryu Voelkel, flickr.com

All in all, this is certainly an exciting England squad, one which suggests that Hodgson has one eye on the future. Yes, there is a lack of experience but also a lack of tournament heartbreak and fear which can bear fruit. If you look at the German side of 2010 (that 4-1 humbling still hurts), there were few household names, yet a plethora of talent which had progressed from the under-21 side together. Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Thomas Muller all left South Africa with reputations enhanced and better players for the experience. One hopes the shackles are taken off our youngsters and they are allowed to express themselves as they have done domestically all season. I’ll end this blog with the words that are sure to be bellowed from living rooms and pubs up and down the country this summer…COME ON ENGLAND!

 

 

 

Squad in full:
Goalkeepers:
Joe Hart
Fraser Forster,
Ben Foster
Defenders:
Leighton Baines
Gary Cahill
Phil Jagielka
Glen Johnson
Phil Jones
Luke Shaw
Chris Smalling
Midfielders:
Ross Barkley
Jordan Henderon
Steven Gerrard (Capt)
Adam Lallana
Frank Lampard
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Raheem Sterling
Jack Wilshere
Strikers:
Rickie Lambert
Wayne Rooney
Daniel Sturridge
Danny Welbeck

Chelsea vs PSG- Can Mourinho mastermind Chelsea’s Champions League comeback ahead of PSG clash?

 

Excitement is building ahead of tonight’s Champions League second leg tie between Chelsea and PSG. On paper, it’s a mouth-watering match, as Chelsea look to overturn a two-goal deficit and advance to the semi-finals.

Image Courtesy of ahli webao, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of ahli webao, flickr.com

Not many people place Chelsea as favourites going into the game but there is something about Champions League knockout games at Stamford Bridge which, as a Chelsea fan, gives me hope that we can progress to the semi-finals.

Against Barcelona, in 2005 Chelsea overturned a two-goal deficit. Against Liverpool, in 2008 the tie ebbed and flowed across the two legs and eventually, Chelsea won. And against Napoli in 2012, Chelsea found themselves in the same situation, losing 3-1 after the first leg and still progressed on to win the trophy. What the experience of those games gives Chelsea fans more than anything is the belief that we can go and do the same again tonight.

Just six days ago in the Parc des Princes, individual errors gifted PSG two goals and the third goal deep into injury time made tonight’s task that little bit harder. Despite conceding three goals (more than we had conceded in our previous seven Champions League matches), PSG created very little in the first leg and for long periods of the game, we looked comfortable.

So how are Chelsea going to win the game tonight?
The atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge will be electric before kick- off. We need to take belief from the recent victories at home over Arsenal, Tottenham and Galatasaray; results which, should we repeat tonight, would be enough to see us advance to the semi-finals.

 

Image Courtesy of Todd, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Todd, flickr.com

Chelsea’s defensive solidarity and togetherness, which was uncharacteristically lacking in the first leg in Paris, will be key if they are to stop PSG scoring tonight. Boosted by the news that talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be missing through injury, if Chelsea can keep another clean sheet and nullify the threat posed by Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, then they have half a chance.

In midfield Chelsea will miss the energy and enthusiasm of Ramires who is suspended and the ineligible Nemanja Matic. But in club stalwart Frank Lampard and David Luiz Chelsea have more than enough experience to cause PSG problems. Out wide Mourniho had the luxury of resting Hazard and Oscar at the weekend and Chelsea will look to both players, along with Willian, to make the difference tonight.

It’s upfront though that will go a long way to deciding Chelsea’s fate and much will depend on the fitness of Samuel Eto’o who missed the first leg with a hamstring injury. He has been Chelsea’s most prolific striker this season with all 11 of his goals coming at Stamford Bridge. Is playing him a gamble? Yes. But on a night when risks need to be taken, this could be another master stroke from Mourinho come the end of full time if he plays and scores the winning goal.

On the other hand, if he isn’t fit then Mourniho is likely to hand a start to under fire striker Fernando Torres ahead of Andre Schurle, who started in the first leg, and the relatively inexperienced Demba Ba. Despite not scoring a goal in the league since January, Torres’ record in the Champions league this season has been much better – three goals in three games. (If only his overall record for Chelsea followed a similar pattern, then he might be challenging Cristiano Ronaldo for the European golden boot).

 

Mourinho thrives on being the underdog and, in my view, Chelsea are actually under less pressure going into the game than they would have been had they been leading. PSG might have a two goal advantage but Chelsea have nothing to lose and can play with freedom.

Image Courtesy of In Mou We Trust, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of In Mou We Trust, flickr.com

People often forget the simple mathematics of football; something echoed by Mourinho in his pre match press conference….“If we score a minimum of two goals we go through; it’s basic mathematics”

Indeed it’s easier to set up a team to win rather than to set up a team not to lose because it’s not natural to play like this. Mourinho tried the latter in the first leg and failed to get a positive result and so tonight I think we will see a different Chelsea; a Chelsea with belief, a Chelsea with no fear.

Mourinho believes, the players believe and most importantly the fans believe.

Verdict: Chelsea 2-0 PSG.

Chelsea vs PSG- Can Mourinho mastermind Chelsea's Champions League comeback ahead of PSG clash?

 

Excitement is building ahead of tonight’s Champions League second leg tie between Chelsea and PSG. On paper it’s a mouth-watering match, as Chelsea look to overturn a two goal deficit and advance to the semi-finals.

Image Courtesy of ahli webao, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of ahli webao, flickr.com

Not many people place Chelsea as favourites going into the game but there is something about Champions League knockout games at Stamford Bridge which, as a Chelsea fan, gives me hope that we can progress to the semi-finals.

Against Barcelona in 2005 Chelsea overturned a two goal deficit. Against Liverpool in 2008 the tie ebbed and flowed across the two legs and eventually Chelsea won. And against Napoli in 2012 Chelsea found themselves in the same situation, losing 3-1 after the first leg and still progressed on to win the trophy. What the experience of those games gives Chelsea fans more than anything is the belief that we can go and do the same again tonight.

Just six days ago in the Parc de Princes, individual errors gifted PSG two goals and the third goal deep into injury time made tonight’s task that little bit harder. Despite conceding three goals (more than we had conceded in our previous seven Champions League matches), PSG created very little in the first leg and for long periods of the game we looked comfortable.

So how are Chelsea going to win the game tonight?
The atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge will be electric before kick- off. We need to take belief from the recent victories at home over Arsenal, Tottenham and Galatasaray; results which, should we repeat tonight, would be enough to see us advance to the semi-finals.

 

Image Courtesy of Todd, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Todd, flickr.com

Chelsea’s defensive solidarity and togetherness, which was uncharacteristically lacking in the first leg in Paris, will be key if they are to stop PSG scoring tonight. Boosted by the news that talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be missing through injury, if Chelsea can keep another clean sheet and nullify the threat posed by Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, then they have half a chance.

In midfield Chelsea will miss the energy and enthusiasm of Ramires who is suspended and the ineligible Nemanja Matic. But in club stalwart Frank Lampard and David Luiz Chelsea have more than enough experience to cause PSG problems. Out wide Mourniho had the luxury of resting Hazard and Oscar at the weekend and Chelsea will look to both players, along with Willian, to make the difference tonight.

It’s upfront though that will go a long way to deciding Chelsea’s fate and much will depend on the fitness of Samuel Eto’o who missed the first leg with a hamstring injury. He has been Chelsea’s most prolific striker this season with all 11 of his goals coming at Stamford Bridge. Is playing him a gamble? Yes. But on a night when risks need to be taken, this could be another master stroke from Mourinho come the end of full time if he plays and scores the winning goal.

On the other hand, if he isn’t fit then Mourniho is likely to hand a start to under fire striker Fernando Torres ahead of Andre Schurle, who started in the first leg, and the relatively inexperienced Demba Ba. Despite not scoring a goal in the league since January, Torres’ record in the Champions league this season has been much better – three goals in three games. (If only his overall record for Chelsea followed a similar pattern, then he might be challenging Cristiano Ronaldo for the European golden boot).

 

Mourinho thrives on being the underdog and, in my view, Chelsea are actually under less pressure going into the game than they would have been had they been leading. PSG might have a two goal advantage but Chelsea have nothing to lose and can play with freedom.

Image Courtesy of In Mou We Trust, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of In Mou We Trust, flickr.com

People often forget the simple mathematics of football; something echoed by Mourinho in his pre match press conference….“If we score a minimum of two goals we go through; it’s basic mathematics”

Indeed it’s easier to set up a team to win rather than to set up a team not to lose because it’s not natural to play like this. Mourinho tried the latter in the first leg and failed to get a positive result and so tonight I think we will see a different Chelsea; a Chelsea with belief, a Chelsea with no fear.

Mourinho believes, the players believe and most importantly the fans believe.

Verdict: Chelsea 2-0 PSG.