Sevilla: The Newest Dark Horse in La Liga

Sevilla started 2017 with a 3-0 loss against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey: A result that would surprise very few. After all, Real Madrid are used to scoring goals against other Spanish teams. However, when one look at Sevilla’s current form and their season, the result stands out. The Andalusian side had only lost three times in the past 17 games, two of which were against Juventus and Barcelona. Jorge Sampaoli’s team immediately bounced back with a 4-0 in La Liga over Real Sociedad followed by a 3-3 draw with Real Madrid in the second leg of the Copa del Rey and finally defeating Los Blancos 2-1 last week.

Sevilla FC v Real Madrid CF - La Liga

 

Sevilla closed the gap to just one point with the current league leaders. Despite Real Madrid playing one game less than Sevilla, it is extremely surprising to see a new competitor in the title race. In the past few seasons, we had been used to seeing Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid lead a three horse race but this season, Jorge Sampaoli is having his say even though his chances of winning the league are still low. The only time Sevilla came close to winning the title was in 2006-2007. They arrived in the final game with just two points less than both Real Madrid and Barcelona and they eventually lost the title.

Los Rojiblancos are not getting carried away though. Sevilla’s president Jose Castro Carmona has downplayed his side’s chances: ‘We are very satisfied but we have to keep our feet on the ground. We are realists, we do not give up on anything but our goal is to qualify to the Champions League.’

The five-time Europa League winners brought an end to Real Madrid’s 40-game unbeaten run and both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid managers Luis Enrique and Diego Simeone are fully aware that Sevilla is a real competitor in the title race. Sevilla finished second in their Champions League group, meaning they can no longer count on Europa League success for silverware this year. Perhaps this serves as a motivation for Sampaoli’s team and a chance for him to prove that Sevilla can be a real competitor domestically just like Atletico Madrid have been in the past few years.

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Manchester United – Liverpool: An All Red Rivalry

Following a series of bad season, England’s top two teams are back to being competitive this season. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool find themselves in the second spot just five points behind Chelsea in the Premier League table. On the other hand, Manchester United are unbeaten in the last 15 games in all competitions, boasting a nine-game winning streak. However, they are still sixth in the table behind all of their rivals.

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United’s position in the league table matters little at the moment. The team is enjoying its best form in years and the upcoming game against Liverpool at Old Trafford may be a season-decider. Jose Mourinho spent a £150 million on transfers last summer and he’s determined to bring United back into the top four in his first season. It seems that Jose Mourinho’s plan is finally coming together at United and Jurgen Klopp has plenty to fear.

In terms of names, United’s team is definitely better on paper and highly likely to grab a win in front of its home crowd. Nevertheless, Klopp cannot afford to drop any points at this stage. Tottenham and Manchester City are just two points behind the Reds and Arsenal is not that far behind. The rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool is bigger than any other in England and if Liverpool are to maintain their top four spot, then they need to put a stop to Jose Mourinho’s momentum.

Earlier this season the reverse game ended in a boring 0-0 tie. Jose Mourinho’s side resorted to an extremely cautious tactic in hopes of stopping high-flying Liverpool. Three months later, a lot has changed. Both teams have been playing well and both have a lot to win and a lot to lose. We have all the reasons to believe this will be an exciting game and much different to the one before. A draw is probably as bad as a loss for any team but a win could be season as a good omen ahead of 2017.

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.

Juve Meets Roma: Serie A’s Turning Point

Whatever your plans are for this weekend, you should definitely free yourself on Saturday evening and make room for Serie A’s biggest game of the season, Juventus vs. Roma. The Italian league leaders and Serie A champions will be facing their only rival; they could either settle it now or make the league more interesting to watch.

Juventus have been dominating the Serie A scene for quite some time now. Roma and Napoli’s attempts at changing that have failed miserably in recent years. Juve have simply been on another level, unrivalled and unmatched. Today, many of Serie A’s teams will be watching and cheering for Roma in hopes of a change. A change that can give teams like Napoli, Inter, Milan and even Lazio hope in winning future Scudetti. This Saturday it won’t be just Roma against Juve. It will be much more than that.

Francesco Totti and Gianluigi Buffon continue to lead the two sides, it might be the last time those two legends meet in case both were fielded. Buffon has won many scudetti but Totti will be hoping to win his second before he bows out. Another rivalry presents itself in the midfield Miralem Pjanic vs. Radja nainggolan. The two established a great partnership and friendship while at Roma but Pjanic’s move to Turin has changed everything and the best friends are suddenly rivals. Radja is still bitter about it, he feels abandoned.

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What could we expect from the game? Plenty of action, more tactics and less goals. Juventus, as one would imagine, boast the best defense in Serie A (14 goals conceded). Roma, are not too far behind though (16 goals conceded). The Giallorossi go into this game with the confidence after keeping back-to-back clean sheets in big games against Lazio and Milan. They are much more solid since Antonio Rüdiger’s return from an ACL tear: with him back in the team, Roma have allowed just five goals in seven games. Without him, it’s 11 goals in nine games.

On the other hand, Roma’s attack (36 goals scored) is slightly better than that of Juventus (35 goals scored). In fact, Roma haven’t scored this many goals at this point of a season since 1934. Last season’s flop Edin Dzeko has scored 12 goals so far while last season’s Capocannoniere Gonzalo Higuain, Juventus’ €90 million Serie A record-breaking signing from Napoli has scored nine. Dzeko scored in Roma’s win against Juve last season, he has all the reasons to believe in his abilities this weekend especially considering his current form.

The Bianconeri remain favorites, after all, winning five Scudetti in a row has killed the hopes of other teams. However, Juventus are not invincible, they have lost three games already. The task for Roma will be a near impossible one, Juve have only lost 3 Serie A games in 5 years at the J Stadium and have won all their last 24 games at the stadium. This is the biggest game of the weekend in Europe. Juve remain the team to beat and Roma are yet to prove otherwise.