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.

 

Champions League: Who Qualified so far?

The Champions League group stage phase is almost over with just one round remaining to be played. Many teams have already secured their qualifications but the fight for the top spot is still ongoing in a few groups, while some teams are still fighting to qualify to the next round or at least the Europa League.

Group A:

Arsenal and PSG have sealed their qualification to the next round with both teams yet to be beaten (they drew each other twice). This leaves the two sides on level at 11 points, meaning the top spot is still up for grabs ahead of the last game. Arsenal visit Basel while PSG have it easier when they host Ludogerts. Ludogorets and Basel are tied in the last two spots with two points (they drew each other twice), both are hoping to grab that third spot.

Group B:

Dynamo Kyiv are out of Europe with only 2 points. However, the race for the top two spots is still wide open between three different teams: Benfica and Napoli lead with 8 points but Besiktas are just one point behind. The two leading teams meet each other in the next round while Besiktas will be looking to secure an away win in Kyiv which will guarantee qualification no matter what happens in the other game.

Group C:

The group is settled. Luis Enrique’s Barcelona have qualified as the group winners while Manchester City secured the second spot, Borussia Moenchengladbach will be heading to the Europa League and Celtic are out as they will finish fourth.

Group D:

Atletico Madrid won all their five games so far putting themselves as group champions ahead of Bayern Munich who will have to settle for the second spot. The race for the third spot is still open, FC Rostov are third at the moment but they mean fourth placed PSV Eindhoven who will try everything possible to grab a win when they play the Russians.

Group E:

Monaco beat Tottenham 2-1 to finish as group leaders leaving Bayern Leverkusen as runners-up. Tottenham are in third but they host fourth placed CSKA Moscow in the next round. A win or a draw is enough for Spurs to go to the Europa League but in case CSKA win, then that would send the Russians through to the Europa League.

Group F:

Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid have qualified to the next round but they will face each other in Spain in the next round to determine who will be the group winner. A draw is enough to keep Dortmund on the top. The race for the Europa League also sees a direct battle between Sporting and Legia Warszawa, The Polish side need a win if they are to grab the third spot.

Group G:

Leicester City may be suffering in the Premier League but they surely impressed in Europe. The English team won their group leaving only one open spot. FC Porto are second with 8 points but FC Koebenhavn are just behind with 6 points. Porto meet Leicester in the next round will the Danish side has an easy game against Brugge who have lost all five games so far.

Group H:

Juventus have qualified but their top spot is yet to be secured. Sevilla are just one point behind Juventus but they face third placed Lyon who needs a convincing win to grab Sevilla’s spot. Dinamo Zagreb are out of Europe with no points at all.

Champions League Matchday 1 Round-up

The first round of the UEFA Champions League group stages was played over the past two days with big teams such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leicester City and Manchester City scoring a whopping 25 goals in-between them and conceding none at all! Real Madrid had to wait till the final minute to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win, Juventus were held to a stalemate by Sevilla and Arsenal and PSG  were pleased to come out of their match with a draw.

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Barcelona and Bayern Munich were competing for the spotlight on Tuesday evening as the Catalans scored seven past Celtic and the Bavarians scored five past FC Rostov. The two, as always, are among the top candidates for the Champions League title but they may seem to find tough competition this year. Champions Real Madrid who scored a total of 15 goals in the past three Champions League opening fixtures had to settle for only two this time around. Cristiano Ronaldo saved Real Madrid from a potential loss by scoring his 550th career goal (366th for Real Madrid) in the 89th minute before Alvaro Morata added a second to gift Madrid the win. City-rivals and last year’s runners-up Atletico also settled for a small win as they beat PSV 1-0 away from home.

Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City was meant to change their fortunes in the Champions League and put them back on top domestically. The Catalan manager had already led his side to four straight victories in the Premier League putting his team two points ahead of rivals Chelsea and three above Manchester United but this is no surprise. However, on the European stage, City scored six goals past Steaua Bucuresti over two legs to qualify to the group stage and today they showed that they are still in form. Sergio Aguero who scored a hat-trick in the first game repeated that last night against Borussia Moenchengladbach as the Cityzens emerged with a 4-0 victory. Guardiola became the first Manchester City manager to win his first ever 7 games at the club, scoring a total of 21 goals and conceding only four. This can be already classified as a big achievement for Manchester City and a big boost for their confidence. Many expected Guardiola to transform his new team but very few thought he would do it this fast. Moreover, City had only won one out of their five Champions League opening games but that is history now.

Leicester City record a 3-0 win in their first Champions League game in their first ever Champions League campaign. Riyad Mahrez will be glad to have scored a brace and he will be hoping to carry that form into the Premier League to put his team back on the track. On the other hand, the two London teams, Arsenal and Tottenham failed to impress even though Arsenal managed to earn a 1-1 draw against French champions PSG in Paris. Their arch-rivals Tottenham lost at Wembley against Ligue 1 leaders Monaco. Things don’t look very bright for Spurs at the moment but all is possible in the remaining five fixtures. The French teams are showing the change is finally coming to France and PSG perhaps is no longer the best team out there. The third French team in the competition, Lyon is on top of group H after an easy 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb. Could this be the year Monaco outshine PSG and win the League?

Elsewhere, Mario Götze scored his first goal for Borussia Dortmund in 1250 days. His return to the club helped the team record their biggest ever away victory in the Champions League, 6-0 over Legia. Finally, it seemed ironic that Juventus failed to score a single goal against Sevilla despite signing players such as Benatia, Pjanic and Higuain to help them in Europe. Whereas, Napoli who had lost Higuain were able to win thanks to his replacement Arkadiusz Milik who scored a brace in a 2-1 away victory against Dynamo Kyev.

This season promises to be an exceptional one, filled with big surprises and big achievements. It is really early to predict any potential winner or any potential flop but it is certain that the quality of the top teams has definitely improved compared to the previous seasons as we see the big competing for Europe’s most prestigious title.

 

Transfer Madness: €1.4 billion on 42 players

“We can’t afford to outgun competitors that have far more money. We have to be very careful, very selective.” Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s chief executive, knows well that his club have not been as active as they should have been in the summer transfer window. However, the fact that huge inflated sums are being paid for players left and right helps us understand the logic behind Arsenal’s transfer policy.

Money is being spent everywhere and in any possible way, Arsenal were said to be following Riyad Mahrez and Alexandre Lacazette but as things stand, both players seem to be staying at their respective clubs and even keeping such players is a costly activity. Lyon offered Lacazette the biggest contract in the club’s history to convince him to stay.

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Many believe that Arsenal need to spend if they are to win the Premier League or at least remain in the top four. Nevertheless, recent history has told us otherwise, Manchester Untied spent big in the past two seasons and got little in return whereas Leicester City built a considerably cheap squad and managed to win the Premier League title. Football is no longer about the team that spends the most. Nevertheless, spending money helps a lot.  Arsenal’s current squad cannot win the Premier League, the Gunners need two more players to be able to compete throughout the whole season. Wenger has taken his sweet time in considering the options at hand but he has to make a move quickly before the end of the window, or else he will end up paying inflated prices just like his opponents.

Opponents Chelsea spent €76m on only two players and now are trying to sell players before they can add anyone to their team. While Antonio Conte’s preseason preparation shows positive signs, the Blues have wasted all their transfer money on only two players. There is no doubt that more players are needed if the London-based club is to win the Premier League this season. Their former star, Romelu Lukaku is a big target but would they spend over €70m on the striker that they once sold for much less? The two London clubs seem to be slightly behind their two rivals from Manchester. Both City and United spent big this summer as they are trying to dominate English football. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were the first two additions, and then big players followed on both sides. The pressure to perform is big on the two and that could turn against them.

The new Premier League TV deal has turned the tide. Following a few years of losing stars such as Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, now the Premier League teams are attracting them. Manchester United were set out on regaining their lost status as the Premier League’s best clubs and paying a record fee for a player they let go for free was no hindrance. Manchester City have won the Premier League on two occasions recently but their aim is to become a dominant European force, something they have failed to do ever since their takeover by the Abu Dhabi-based group. On the other hand, the spending hasn’t been restricted to the Premier League. Gonzalo Higuain, Hulk and Andre Gomes are three of the four most expensive transfers this summer and they moved to teams playing in Serie A, Chinese Super League and La Liga respectively. Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSG, Borussia Dortmund and even Schalke 04 have spent big this summer. All in all, the 42 most expensive transfers of this summer have cost football clubs almost €1.4 billion!

Spending power is not directly proportional to football success. However, it will be interesting to see how this season will end up after huge amounts were spent. Perhaps, some learn from the story of Leicester City while others aim to do it the Real Madrid and Manchester City way. Below is the complete list of the most expensive 42 players in this transfer window so far and more are yet to come, who do you think is worth his transfer fee and who is not?

 

Paul Pogba €110m (Juventus to Manchester United)

Gonzalo Higuain €90m (Napoli to Juventus)

Hulk €55.8m (Zenit to Shanghai SIPG)

Andre Gomes  €50m (Valencia to Barcelona)

John Stones €49m (Everton to Manchester City)

Granit Xhaka €45m (Borussia Moenchengladbach to Arsenal)

Leroy Sane €43.7m (Schalke 04 to Manchester City)

Michy Batshuayi €40m (Marseille to Chelsea)

Eric Bailly €38 (Villarreal to Manchester United)

Mats Hummels €38 (Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich)

N’Golo Kante  €36m (Leicester City to Chelsea)

Sadio Mane €36m (Southampton to Liverpool)

Renato Sanches €35m (Benfica to Bayern Munich)

Arkadiusz Milik €35m (Ajax to Napoli)

Kevin Gameiro €32m (Sevilla to Atletico Madrid)

Gabriel Jesus €32m (Palmeiras to Manchester City)

Miralem Pjanic €32m (Roma to Juventus)

Alvaro Morata €30m (Juventus to Real Madrid)

Andre Schurrle  €30m (Wolfsburg to Borussia Dortmund)

Henrikh Mkhitaryan €30m (Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United)

Ilkay Gundogan €28 (Borussia Dortmund to Manchester City)

Georginio Wijnaldum  €27.5m (Newcastle to Liverpool)

Mario Gotze  €26m (Bayern Munich to Borussia Dortmund)

Grzegorz Krychowiak €26m (Sevilla to PSG)

Breel Embolo €25m (Basel to Schalke 04)

Jese €25m (Real Madrid to PSG)

Samuel Umtiti  €25m (Lyon to Barcelona)

Nicolas Gaitan €25m (Benfica to Atletico Madrid)

Andre Ayew €24m (Swansea City to West Ham United)

Marko Pjaca  €23m (Dinamo Zagreb to Juventus)

Vincent Janssen  €22m (AZ Alkmaar to Tottenham Hotspurs)

Antonio Candreva €22m (Lazio to Inter)

Kevin Volland €20 (Hoffenheim to Bayer Leverkusen)

Ahmed Musa  €18.75m (CSKA Moscow to Leicester City)

Lucas Digne  €16.5m (PSG to Barcelona)

Nolito €16.5m (Celta Vigo to Manchester City)

Sime Vrsajlko €16m (Sassuolo to Atletico Madrid)

Nampalys Mendy €15.5m (Nice to Leicester City)

Graziano Pelle €15.2m (Southampton to Shandong Luneng)

Ashley Williams €14m (Swansea City to Everton)

Victor Wanyama €13.5m (Southampton to Tottenham Hotspurs)

Raphael Guerreiro €12m (Lorient to Borussia Dortmund)

PSG: The Season Starts Now

PSG thrashed Troyes 9-0 in the weekend to seal the Ligue 1 title in March. Besides the fact that it was the biggest away win in the history of Ligue 1. The Parisians wrapped up the French league title on March 13, with the previous best April 15. In fact, even on a European level, they wrapped up the league with eight games to play compared to Pep Guardiola’s historic win with Bayern Munich seven games before the end. As a bonus, Zlatan Ibrahimovic reached 102 goals in only 115 games but he looks set to leave by the end of the season. Now that PSG are the French champions, their true season begins. Will they go after the Champions League title?

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PSG have now won 28 domestic title, on par with Marseille but that is no longer a major achievement. The club is expected to become one of the world’s best and failure in Europe will not help their cause at all. Their most important victory came just one week before, when they defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to proceed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. It was PSG’s first win in England and it reflects how the power balance has shifted and continues to shift with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea missing out on Champions League football next season.

Their win at Stamford Bridge wasn’t a fluke. They dominated possession and played quite well. Zlatan was the star of the show just like he was in the game against Troyes but his time is running up and with his contract running out in the summer, he may want to win the Champions League to cement himself as a legend in Paris. PSG will be hoping to play one of Benfica, Wolfsburg, Manchester City or even Atletico Madrid. The only real threats to them are going to be Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid. In case they evade them in the upcoming round then anything is possible in the semi-finals and it could be their first chance at making it to the final.

The luck of the draw could very much determine the fate of any team and their road to the final. Zlatan is in his final season at the club and this is his last chance at winning the Champions League. He has nothing else to focus on at the moment but do they have what it takes to eliminate Bayern Munich or Barcelona?