Mission Impossible: FC Barcelona

We thought we say it all when Leicester City won the league last season but this year seems to be as odd as the previous one. Leicester City sacked their manager Claudio Ranieri, the man who wrote history with the foxes, Arsenal continue with their early exits in the Champions League and Barcelona, well they completed the biggest comeback ever.

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Luis Enrique’s Barcelona seemed to be heading towards a terrible ending, his club trailed Real Madrid in La Liga despite playing two more games than Zinedine Zidane’s side, they lost 4-0 to PSG in the Champions League and things were chaotic at the club. However, the Catalans defied logic. Barca triumphed 6-1 on Wednesday night, with three goals in the final seven minutes, to clinch an astonishing 6-1 victory and a 6-5 aggregate win but prior to that, they had made sure they reclaimed the top spot in La Liga outplaying Real Madrid both defensively and offensively. They scored six past Sporting Gijon, five past Celta Vigo and two past Atletico Madrid but beating PSG by five goals was just impossible to do.

If there’s one thing we learned from Luis Enrique’s team, It’s that there is no such thing as impossible. With all the problems in the world, having the trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar can solve anything when the three are on their day and you bet they were when they hosted PSG.

Barcelona have lost five games so far this season against Deportivo Alaves, Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo, PSG and Manchester City but they have also beaten all five teams with a much better scoreline.

Luis Enrique announced that he is leaving Barcelona at the end of the season but this did not prevent his players from listening to him and doing their best on the field. Maybe they didn’t do it for him, maybe they did it for the club or for themselves. Whatever their reason was, it worked. There is no doubt that Barcelona’s players have faith in themselves and we’ve seen that this team can beat any team in the world but they are still vulnerable. Barcelona stand a chance to win the treble again under Luis Enrique, they have built the momentum, all they need to do now is focus on the football matters and leave the club’s politics out of their heads.

 

Barcelona: Building Momentum

Confusion, disorder and chaos filled the air during the build up to Real Madrid’s trip to Galicia in the weekend but the match against Celta Vigo was never played. The terrible winter weather and Galicia’s geographical location on the Atlantic Ocean meant that winds travelling at a speed of 150 kilometers per hour had dislodged parts of the roof at the Balaidos stadium. Thus, for obvious safety reasons, Celta Vigo’s game with Real Madrid had to be called off.

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Real Madrid who already had one game postponed from earlier this season against Valencia will now have to fit in their busy schedule another tie against Celta. Madrid still have Champions League football to fill their upcoming weeks while Celta Vigo who kicked Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey have to play in the Europa League. The postponement could be a blessing or it could be harmful for Los Blancos who continue to lead the table despite playing two games less than their rivals Barcelona.

On the other hand, Barcelona took advantage of Real Madrid’s inaction and made a statement by registering a 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. Aleix Vidal, who was an outcast in the earlier half of the season, seems to be back in the squad and he was even on the scoresheet. Barcelona are now just one point behind their historical nemesis Real Madrid. They will be hoping that European distraction could make Zinedine Zidane’s team falter in the league, but Los Merengues need to falter in three games for Barcelona to be able to take advantage. Barcelona built up further momentum by securing a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid to make their way to the Copa del Rey final against Deportivo Alaves. Can Barcelona continue their form and avoid dropping points in the league?

It’s highly unlikely but possible. Last season Real Madrid managed to close a big gap with Barcelona only to finish the season just behind. This season, things have been reversed, Barcelona are the ones who have a mountain to climb. The difficulty of the task makes one wonder, should the Catalans put more focus on the Champions League or should they fight on both fronts equally? The Blaugrana will be facing PSG next week and have a high chance of advancing since PSG has been having a tough season in the Ligue 1 and is not known to be a big player on a European level. The football season is nearing its peak and this is the most crucial time of the season. Real Madrid’s postponed game means that the title battle has been reignited at least for the time being.

The Chinese Continue to Impress

Chinese Football took us by storm in 2016 after a series of big name signings including Ramires, Robinho, Gervinho, Paulino, Demba Ba, Fredy Guarin, Jackson Martinez and Alessandro Diamanti. Huge transfer fees and wages were offered but things did not stop there. The Chinese are still as determined as ever to turn their league into one of the world’s best. That’s why they kicked-off 2017 with more big signings.

Brazilian midfielder Oscar became the latest to leave Chelsea for China. A €60 million move to Shanghai SIPG. He joins fellow Brazilian Hulk who joined from Zenit St. Petersburg and former Chelsea and Zenit manager, Andre Villas-Boas. AVB arrived this season in China as a replacement for outgoing Swedish Sven-Goran Eriksson.

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Axel Witsel was also another player leaving Zenit for China, he joined newly promoted Tianjin Quanjian who are managed by 2006 world cup winner, Fabio Cannavaro. Cannavaro took over the club in June 2016 after a streak of 7 consecutive competitive matches without a win. The Italian guided them from the 8th spot to the top spot of the China League One within months, guaranteeing their promotion to the 2017 Chinese Super League. Among his players is former Shakhtar Donetsk star, Jadson.

Finally, the biggest transfer so far, for a whopping €84 million, Carlos Tevez. The former Juventus, Manchester United and Manchester City striker left Boca Juniors to join Shanghai Shenhua. He will team-up with Obafemi Martins, Demba Ba, Fredy Guarin and the team’s captain Giovanni Moreno, the team is coached by former Chelsea player Gustavo Poyet. Shanghai Shenhua finished last year’s league in the 4th spot but they will be hoping to do even better with Tevez on their squad.

Out of 16 clubs, only three have Chinese managers but in terms of players, they are limited to only five foreigners per team. The CSL is not the American MLS where out of contract players finish their careers. It is there to pose a serious threat to European football and the Premier League clubs may need to start worrying soon. The Premier League smashed through £1 billion barrier in the transfer window last summer but many agreed that the transfer fees paid for most players were inflated sums. The Chinese are spending Chinese money whereas, the English are spending Arab, Russian, American and all sorts of that. There is no reason to believe that the CSL is ruining football. In fact, it could be the beginning of a new era and maybe it’s about time we start seeing Asian teams rise to the summit of the world. For now, the road is still long even though the gap has been bridged.

Bayern Munich Have The Final Word

Forty-five minutes were enough for Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich to strike three times past RB Leipzig, claim all three points and go top of the Bundesliga table alone. Newly promoted Leipzig had the same number of points as Bayern, 36, coming into this game but the encounter with the German champions brought that to a stop.

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Munich were very aggressive and showed their control of the game’s tempo from early on. There was no room for error as they hoped to be crowned as the Bundesliga winter champions and eliminate any possible threat to their title-defending campaign. This was only Leipzig’s second loss of the season. Three points may not be much of a difference but when the rival is Bayern Munich then perhaps settling for Champions League qualification is not that bad of a goal for a newly promoted team.

Bayern’s dominance of the Bundesliga scene is similar to that of Juventus in Serie A. The two are always the title-favorites even if they are not in form. Rival clubs need to be exceptionally good if they are to stand the slightest chance of posing a real threat and to this moment, Leipzig’s threat has not been a serious one even though they are having their best season ever. Munich’s drop in form is natural. They switched from Pep Guardiola’s system to Carlo Ancelotti’s one and it takes time to adapt from one to the other.

It’s been only seven years since Red Bull acquired the playing license of fifth-tier SV Markranstadt. Since then, their route to the Bundesliga has been filled with controversy but they’re challenging the statusquo and even if they fail in taking Bayern down, they may still hold a real chance in upcoming seasons especially with state-of-the-art training facilities and their power to attract young talented players from around Europe.

Champions League: Now What?

The Group stage phase of the Champions League is over. Six matchdays were more than enough to split the 32 teams into four groups: seeded, unseeded, Europa League goers and eliminated ones. 16 teams remain, 8 group winners will be randomly drawn against 8 runners-up but the rules are no team can face a team they already faced or a team from their same nation.

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Big teams like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, PSG and Manchester City made things complicated for the rest as they finished second in their groups meaning that even though Napoli won their group they are highly likely to face one of those big teams. It is definitely a weird season and weird things are happening. Leicester City who are struggling in the Premier League but managed to win their group on matchday 5 were humiliated in Porto last night after they lost 5-0. English midfielder Danny Drinkwater featured in all six games meaning he played the same number of Champions League game like legend Diego Maradona. Elsewhere Borussia Dortmund’s 2-2 draw with Real Madrid meant that they didn’t only win their group but they also broke the record of goals scored in the group stage, they scored a total of 21 goals in just six games! Real Madrid may have missed out on being at the top of their group and will be disappointed that Dortmund broke their goalscoring record of 20 goals but the fact that they scored at home means that they have scored in the last 33 games they played at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League, yet another record.

Serie A winners decided to rest goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, this was the first time since 2008 the Italian giants play in the Champions League without their captain featuring in the line-up Buffon. Neto started in goal for the Bianconeri but that did not matter, as Dinamo Zagreb exited the tournament with no goals scored and 15 conceded making them the third team in  the competition’s history to go scoreless in the group stage. Tottenham Hotspurs ended up third in their group meaning they will head to the Europa League but this does not mean that they did not dominate. In fact, they are third only to Barcelona and Bayern Munich in terms of possession. They held the ball for 63.6% of the time during their six games.

The group stage has been filled with action and surely the next round will be the same. There are big games waiting to be played in the next round especially with big teams finished second in their group. How will the rest of the season turn out to be? Find out for yourself and book your flight with us to watch the action live in the biggest stadiums!

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