The Unenviable task of Moyes and the Champions League

It’s common knowledge this season; Manchester United are underperforming. Lying 7th in the league table, some 11 points adrift of fourth placed Liverpool, the likeliness of United qualifying for the Champions League, is the same as a child asking his parent if he can open his Christmas present on Christmas eve, chances are it isn’t going to happen. Yet there is still a glimmer of hope, this is Manchester United after all, the club that have defied the odds on a number of occasions over the years.

The recent draw with Fulham was a heartbreaker for all involved with the Red Devils. In a seemingly mis-matched game United struggled to overcome a resilient Fulham side, which had nigh on 11 men behind the ball for the entirety of the match. It was brick wall that even Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney struggled to break down.  Perhaps the tactics were wrong, maybe the team aren’t good enough, or it is just real bad luck. Any of the three could attribute to this. Let’s rewind to November, and United’s make or break home game against the league leaders Arsenal. On the day a 1-0 victory, courtesy of ex-Gunner Robin Van Persie, kept United within five points of the North London club, and with a real chance of clawing back the point difference, yet a week later the opportunity they had made for themselves was very quickly wasted. In a daunting away game to Cardiff, United led up until the 90th minute where, in injury time the Bluebirds were able to grab an equaliser and the game finished 2-2. Now this may well have been that season defining moment for United. For me they have never truly recovered from that moment; yes they had already had poor results before but I honestly feel this took the wind out of their sales.

Since that day in Wales, United’s form has been patchy, with only two wins in 2014 that also include defeats in the FA Cup and Carling Cup. Juan Mata was the only highlight of January, as injuries to strikers RVP and Rooney have really taken their tool on this struggling side. The need for a squad overhaul is obvious; the 07/08 Champions League winners, to an extent, still make up the backbone of this side; Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Nani, Anderson, Giggs, Rooney and Welbeck (he only made the trip to Moscow), were all a part of the side that beat Chelsea; that was six years ago. The reason for stagnation can be attributed to age amongst other issues; Ferdinand and Vidic are now the wrong side of 30, Giggs is now 40 and cannot be expected to continue much longer whilst Nani has never been Mr Consistent and Anderson has had many problems. Only Carrick, Rooney and Evra have been a consistent feature throughout the last two seasons. The issue then is that the players that have begun to age have not been adequately replaced.

For fans that thought Moyes would come in and be an instant success, well then the expectations placed exceed that of sense. Whilst his style is somewhat different  to that of Sir Alex,  Moyes’ continued use of wingers, that is apparently part of the United tradition (ex-Red Gary Neville has mentioned this), circa, Beckham, Giggs, Ronaldo, Kanchelskis, even Lee Sharpe, all famous during the Fergie era, has been met with utter disgust and disappointment. Fair play to the majority who have continued their support to David Moyes, don’t expect United to be rash and dispose of him quite so quickly.

I’m sure there are plenty of questions as too why certain players aren’t playing more regularly, (for the life of me, I still don’t understand Kagawa’s omissions, fair he hasn’t performed every time when given the chance but he is a confidence player and needs regular games. I’m hoping we don’t see another Veron, a truly gifted player who failed to make the grade at OT), or a change in actually shape of the side, it seems like there is no risk being taken. Why not push Rooney alongside RVP or even have Kagawa, Rooney, Mata combo in behind RVP? It would seem Moyes prefers harder working players in attack or defence, something Kagawa and Mata are not, and one of the reasons the latter left Chelsea.

With 12 games left to go United can gain a maximum of 36 points, this would make their final total 78 points, a total that you would think, would guarantee Champions League qualification. With their “harder” games at Old Trafford, City and Liverpool to be exact and a trip to Moyes’ old stomping ground Goodison Park, it is understandable that United fans should at the very least expect a further 27 points, and that is catering for defeats in those more difficult games.

Let’s not forget that they are still very much in the Champions League, and many would expect them to see of the challenge of Greek Champions Olympiakos.

The season for Manchester United is not over yet……. Not by a long way.

David Moyes Manchester United

Ballon d’Or – and the winner is…….. Cristiano Ronaldo.

The prestigious Ballon d’Or awards were held in Zurich last night, as FIFA announced who would be named World Player of the Year.

Following votes from international captain’s, coaches and journalists, the nominess were wittered down to just three. The battle to be the best in the World had begun. Would it be Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery or Lionel Messi?

Ballon d'Or nominees

 

Lionel Messi has won the past four awards, and the last person to win before that was Ronaldo, way back in 2008, when he led Manchester United the the League and European double.

With Ribery the driving force behind Bayern’s stunning year, he was also in line to win the Ballon d’Or, he would have been the first Frenchmen to win it since Zinedine Zidane in 1998. But first a look at the winners of the other awards that were presented last night.

The legend that is Pele won the first ever Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur, which honours players of yesterday year that were not able to win the award due to it only being available to European players back when they played.

The Women’s FIFA Player of the Year was German Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, becoming the first Goalkeeper to win the award.

The FIFAPro team of the year was as followed

Manuel Neuer, Dani Alves, Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva, Phillip Lahm, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Franck Ribery, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi.

Whilst the Coach award of the year was fought out between ex-Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes, the retired Sir Alex Ferguson and current Borussia Dortmund. In an award that was surely relatively straight forward, Jupp Heynckes was named as the best for the year, as he led Bayern Munich to the treble, the first of its kind for German sides.

Which leads us to the main prize. From one of the greatest to another, Pele would be the man to deliver the announcement on who would be crowned the best in the world 2013. That player is indeed the man from Madeira, Cristiano Ronaldo. Following on from years of watching the little Argentinean claim the prize, Ronaldo finally got his hands on the Gold Sphere. A mammoth 69 goals in 59 appearances helped him to win the award.

A tearful Ronaldo made his speech thanking his wife, son and teammates for helping him to achieve all he had in the past 12 months. Perhaps they were tears of joy, or maybe tears of relief, one thing that is certain was his determination to win over even his fiercest critics to reclaim a prize he first won back in 2008. He showed four years worth of tears in that one moment.

He now joins an elite list of players to have won multiple Ballon d’Or awards.

So as he embarks on a World Cup year and another 12 months with Real Madrid, he can look back on 2013 as his year. Viva Ronaldo indeed.

The World Cup Draw

The draw for next Summer’s show piece tournament is upon us.

So there it is, the World Cup draw. Feel free to comment below

We will be updating live right from this page.

Group A

Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Group B

Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia,

Group C

Columbia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Group D

Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Group E

Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Group F

Argentina, Bosnia, Iran, Nigeria

Group G

Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

Group H

Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

Legends ready to make the draw for the WC 2014, Geoff Hurst, Mario Kempes, Fabio Cannavaro, Lothar Matthaus, Zinedine Zidane, Fernando Hierro, Cafu and Alcides Ghiggia.

It, finally looks like we are about to get started. Just showing the watching audience the make up of the pots.

Zidane has been welcomed to the stage, as has Cafu

We get a little natter from Pele

Ronaldo is now on stage

As is Bebeto and Marta

As happens at the majority of draws, there is plenty of music and speaking before we get down to the actual business

 

Brazil Host Cities

Dominic Hanley’s #Team2013

With 2014 so nearly upon us, I have been tasked with saying who I think deserves to be recognised as the best team of the calender year. Following the unbelievable year Bayern Munich had, there is no less than six players that have made my #Team2013. Obviously everyone has different opinions, and it has been extremely tough to chose just 11 players.

So here it is….. playing in a 4-1-3-2 formation

Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer 1. Neuer

Germany and Bayern’s undisputed number one. There was never really going to be anyone else that could warrant the number one spot. Names such as Buffon and Casillas will jump forward, though Casillas has hardly been a feature with Real Madrid this year. David De Dea has been ever improved, whilst Thibaut Courtois and Roman Weidenfeller also deserve a mention.  But Neuer gets the nod, purely because Bayern won everything that was placed in front of them, and conceded little in doing so. Put simply, he is the best in the world right now.

Right Back – Phillip Lahm 2. Lahm

More recently seen playing a holding role for the Bavarian giants, but normally used as a full back or wing back, Phillip Lahm has been outstanding this past year, as he has been the majority of his career. Perhaps the best full back in the World currently, he will be hoping he can captain Germany to World Cup glory this coming summer.

Notable mentions – Dani Alves, Lukasz Piszczek

Centre Back – Thiago Silva  3. T.Silva

An absoulte rock for club and country, Thiago Silva is rightly considered one of the best centre backs in the World. Winning the French Ligue 1 with Paris St Germain, which was their first league title since 1994, and winning the Confederations Cup with Brazil in the summer, topped a great year.

Centre Back – Dante 4. Dante

Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach to help stabilise a shabby defence, as has often been said in football, it is important to build from the back and to have a strong spine for the team. Dante has been an important part of the team that won everything last year, and has deservedly been called into the Brazilian squad. Whilst he may already be 30, he has matured into a great centre back.

Left Back – David Alaba 5. Alaba

Whether sitting back defending or marauding down the left wing, David Alaba, definitely deserves inclusion for his part in Bayern’s all triumphant year. After missing out on the final the year before because of suspension, Alaba came back even stronger the year after and made the left back position his own. Still only 21, Alaba has a long career ahead of him and you would be hard pressed to find someone that believes he isn’t destined for a successful one.

Notable mentions – Leighton Baines

DM/CM – Bastian Schweinsteiger 6. Schweinsteiger

A deep lying playmaker is perhaps the best way to describe “Schweini”. He began his career as a winger before moving into his current central role. With is ability to pick out his wingers and strikers, his work rate and general technical ability, Schweini is a fans favourite at Bayern. Whilst injury may have derailed the end of this year for him, expect him to be back to his consummate best come the new year.

Notable mentions- Sergio Busquets, Michael Carrick, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal

RAM – Franck Ribery 8.Ribery

Another Bayern star gains inclusion in to the #Team2013. This time it is French winger Franck Ribery, perhaps Bayern’s best player over the past year. Never too far from controversy, Ribery is an explosive winger, who has perhaps just had his best ever season. Arjen Robben could well argue for inclusion, but Ribery tips it for me. In a season where everything went right for the man, Ribery has delighted all at the Allainz Arena and was a major force in helping Bayern, win three major trophies, plus a fourth one in the form of the UEFA Super Cup.

Notable mentions – Arjen Robben, Marco Reus

LAM – Cristiano Ronaldo 9. CR7

No shock here, Ronaldo takes up the opposite flank to Ribery. What more is there to say about the man? He continues to astound, easily the best player in the world in 2013, surpassing Messi, if Ronaldo wins the Ballon d’Or this year he fully deserves it. As a player he has everything, speed, power, technical ability, pace and that is to name a few of his strengths. Expect more from the best next year.

Notable mentions – Gareth Bale, Thomas Muller

CAM – Lionel Messi 10. Messi

Well he has to be in here, doesn’t he? A team of the year without Messi, is merely unthinkable, so of course here is the little Argentinia, taking his place alongside Ronaldo and Ribery. Another great year, where only injury has curtailed the end. Another La Liga title to add to his ever expanding trophy cabinet, yet one would feel he will not be winning the Ballon d’Or this year. Still he warrants a place on my list.

Notable mentions – Juan Mata, Mesut Ozil

ST – Robin Van Persie 11. RVP

Now, there are perhaps eight or nine strikers that could warrant a place on this list, but I have chosen Robin Van Persie as one of my two strikers. My reason for this is the way he adapted to life at Manchester United in a heartbeat and was the catalyst for the club to win it’s 20th title. He played in every league game last season, where he scored 26 goals, finishing the season as top scorer. He is an important fixture in the United side and his recent injury has seen the club fail to win in the last three.

ST – Zlatan Ibrahimovic9. Ibrahimovic

A man of many talents, Ibrahimovic’s 2013, has been of high class. Winning yet another league title in his already illustrious career, Ibrahimovic led Paris St Germain to the Ligue 1 title and to within touching distant of the Champions League semi-finals. Unfortunately the year will end on a bit of a low note, for Zlatan, as Sweden failed to reach the World Cup, following an aggregate loss to CR7’s Portugal. He can still look back on a great year though.

Notable mentions – Falcao, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani

So there you have it. My team of 2013. No doubt plenty of you may well disagree, well please comment below with your thoughts.

Thanks for reading

What’s the Mata with Mourinho and De Bruyne?

The news that currently surround Chelsea and Mourinho is the continued absence of Belgium young-gun Kevin De Bruyne, with the question being asked, why his sudden omission from the first team.

De Bruyne had a great season, personally, on-loan at Werder Bremen scoring 10 goals over the course of the Bundesliga season. Upon his return to Stamford Bridge, many thought he would be farmed out on loan for yet another another season. Considering Chelsea brought in Andre Schurrle, and already had on their books, Oscar, Mata, Hazard, Victor Moses and Marko Marin (albeit he went on loan to Sevilla).

So while the media have been heavily reporting on De Bruyne’s lack of action for Chelsea,and his supposed bust-up with the special one, the whole issue of Juan Mata not playing has quietly gone away. Mata may well have found favour with Mourinho after his last few appearances and will now hopefully find the form that made him one of the top performers in the Premier League last year. This may well be a reason for a lack of game time for De Bruyne of late. Whilst reports would have you believe he has been training away from the first team, De Bruyne has moved to disparage those reports and say that actually he is not bothered by things and will just keep working hard to get back into the first team.

Surely though there is only so much time he can be content with being a squad player considering it is a World Cup year and Belgium have just qualified for Brazil. It may well come to the point where De Bruyne pushes for a loan move in January, but we will have to wait and see on that one.

Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Mourinho hasn't included De Bruyne in his squad for sometime

Mourinho hasn’t included De Bruyne in his squad for sometime

 

 

Bring back the Cup Winners Cup

European club football could do with a major overhaul.

Over inflated and uninteresting to watch, the Europa League needs a change. The Champions League as good as it is, can at times been relatively predictable and is full of “non-champions” battling it out to be Europe’s best. It has also help the bigger clubs get better, and the smaller nations and smaller clubs become far detached for the super heavyweights of the European game.

The Cup Winners Cup trophy

The Cup Winners Cup trophy

What UEFA need to do, is have a complete re-shuffle when it comes to continental club football. The need to make the Europa League ‘relevant’ again should be top of UEFA’s agenda. Using the final season of the Cup Winners Cup as an example, the weeks football was set out in the following way. the UEFA Cup was a Tuesday night, Champions League on a Wednesday and Cup Winners Cup on a Thursday. So not majorly different to the set up of current.

The Champions League consisted of 24 teams back then, (teams finishing in second in England, Spain, Italy and Germany were allowed entry to the qualification stages), as they had just expanded from the previous season. Each group winner qualified whilst, the two best runners up also went through to the quarter finals. It did not warrant two game days a week.

European Cup trophy

European Cup trophy

 

So just imagine if it were to revert to a format of old, reducing the amount of qualifiers from each nation to just one, and then all teams finishing in second play would enter the UEFA Cup. The Cup winners of each country would enter the re-formed Cup Winners Cup.

 

Now, the UEFA Cup and CWC would both be straight knockout, as they were before. The Champions League would still consist of a group stage and would then enter knockout rounds. Had this format been in play this year, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Marseille, Napoli and Benfica, (Borussia Dortmund, would be granted entry, due to Bayern winning both the Bundesliga and as holders of the Champions League, get automatic qualification), all of whom, finished second in their respective leagues would have been playing in the UEFA Cup on a Tuesday night. Already, the UEFA Cup looks a better proposition than it currently is. The reformation of the CWC would give much more meaning to tournaments like the FA Cup and the Copa Del Rey. As has been seen in England, finishing in 4th place is now a bigger achievement that winning the FA Cup.

UEFA Cup trophy

UEFA Cup trophy

Talk of a 64 team Champions League, where up to seven teams could qualify from the Premier League is utter ludicrous. How then could they possibly call it a “Champions League”?

The change could also have a positive effect on the UEFA Super Cup. When the CWC was around, the winners of that would face the Champions League winners. Well, why not have the CWC play the UEFA Cup winners in a playoff to see who would progress to the Super Cup Final to face the winners of the Champions League?

UEFA Super Cup trophy

UEFA Super Cup trophy

Whilst the likeliness of the Cup Winners Cup returning is extremely bleak, it would re-invigorate European football and would bring back meaning to qualifying for the Champions League by actually being “Champions”.

The talk of Januzaj for England has hints of desperation.

Two goals, that’s all it has taken. Adnan Januzaj is a world class player…… well the English media would have you think that anyway. Hodgson declared on BBC’s Match of the Day that the English National side are looking at ways of making Januzaj a English player. The thought of England naturalising a foreign talent is unthinkable?

According to certain agreements of the Home Nations, residency naturalisation is not allowed. As for Januzaj, he has been thrown into all the back pages of the newspapers after his match winning performance Sunday, and because of the clarification that England want him.

Januzaj has been on numerous occasions been called up to his country of birth national sides, only for him to decline. He can actually represent four or five different nations. Those nations are Belgium (Place of Birth), Albania (Parents nationality), Kosovo (Parents nationality), Turkey (Grandparents) and Serbia. According to reports, however, Januzaj has stated he wants to play for Albania.

The talk of naturalising Januzaj, will again lead us to the argument that young English players are not being given the chance.

Naturalisation of players is nothing new in the world game however. Cacau of Brazil, is a German international, and Deco also from Brazil, played for Portugal. Former Arsenal and current Shakhtar striker Eduardo, changed his nationality to Croatian, whilst Diego Costa is in the middle of switching allegiances with Brazil to Spain. Whilst it is highly unlikely that we will see Januzaj in an England shirt, its a question that does pop up now and again. Rememeber the talk of Arteta and Carlo Cudicini becoming naturalised Englishmen, both never happened, amid a fierce backlash from the English public.

Are we at the stage now, where we have to look at naturalising players to make sure we can compete with the World’s best?

Should the English national side readily naturalise players?

We want to hear your thoughts on the subject, so leave your comments below.

Januzaj impressed against Sunderland

Januzaj impressed against Sunderland

FIFA to investigate a winter World Cup

So it is official Sepp Blatter and FIFA have once again moved the goalposts to suit themselves. The decision on whether the World Cup will now be taken after the 2014 World Cup. If decision is to move the tournament to the winter, cue absolute havoc with the European Leagues, the transfer window, The FIFA Club World Cup, Champions League, Europa League, need I name many more?

Why Qatar were awarded the World Cup in the first place is beyond most football fans. They haven’t even qualified for a past tournament. It was clear from day one that the heat was going to be an issue. They had trouble with USA’94 with the unbelievable heat in Dallas when it reached 45C (113F). UEFA President Michel Platini points out that nobody criticised the decision then, yet, one would expect the mistake not to happen twice.

Qatar have also been accused of mistreating migrant workers, meaning FIFA President Sepp Blatter will visit the country

Whilst we still have nine years left to go until the tournament, (yes nine long years, where we will never hear an end to matter), so anything can happen in between now and then.

Ready for a winter World Cup?

Ready for a winter World Cup?

The Champions League nears final stages tonight…. The AFC Champions League that is.

Whilst the majority of the World will most likely be engrossed in UEFA Champions League action, it would be amiss of us not to mention that today is actually the second leg of the AFC Champions League semi finals.

With all four clubs of different nationality, it is in stark contrast to the UCL semi’s off last season. Guangzhou Evergrande of China and  FC Seoul of South Korea enter their ties with leads of 4-1 and 2-0 respectively. Kasiwha Reysol of Japan have a daunting task of overhauling a three goal deficit, whilst Esteghlal will need to score at least twice to get back into the game.

Three out of the previous four winners have been South Korean and FC Seoul will be hoping to make it four in five. The last Japanese side to win the tournament was a Yasuhito Endo inspired Gamba Osaka in 2008, and Reysol will be hoping to emulate that side, being 4-1 down though, it looks increasingly unlikely.

Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande are bidding to be the first Chinese winners since Liaoning in 1989/90, when it was in its old format, the Asian Club Championship. Tehran were the last of the Iranian sides to win the continental competition, again in the old format. Esteghlal last won the competition in 1990/91.

The 2nd leg’s should be enthralling matches and we shall report on who makes it to the finals.

The AFC Champions League also takes place today

The AFC Champions League also takes place today

 

Shinji Kagawa is the answer to Manchester United’s creativity problems

Alan Hansen claims Manchester United have lacked creativity at the start of this season. It’s hard to disagree. But as many other pundits and media outlets have cried out for the need of a creative midfield player, Manchester United have one at their disposal; Shinji Kagawa.

Frustrating is perhaps the best word to describe his time at Old Trafford. After a very successful spell with then German Champions Borussia Dortmund, Kagawa came to United, at the same time Eden Hazard joined Chelsea. Plenty of comparisons were made. Both finished the season with silverware, yet Hazard clearly out performed Kagawa. For those that had watched Kagawa in the Bundesliga and the time he spent with Cerezo Osaka in the J.League, it was obvious that English football had not seen the best he has to offer.

Of vital importance for the Blue Samurai (Japan’s National Side), Kagawa should be the creative hub that United are clearly crying out for. Injury hasn’t helped his cause at United and by the start to this season, neither has the change of management. Kagawa’s game time this season has been rather limited. Yet to complete 90 minutes or start a Premier League, Moyes seems rather unsure on how best to use the Japanese playmaker.

Kagawa is obviously disappointed and let the media know that it is out of his hands when it comes to team selection. All he can do is work hard on the training pitch and hope that he is rewarded with more competitive game time. Only time will tell, but for anyone claiming United need to sign a quality creative midfielder, believe me when I say they already have one.

Kagawa celebrates scoring for United

Kagawa celebrates scoring for United