Udinese have been one of the cleverest clubs in the transfer market this century, buying players for cheap from low profile leagues and selling them on for big bucks.  The likes of  Oliver Bierhoff, Alexis Sanchez, Samir Handanovic, Kwadwo Asamoah, Gokhan Inler and Mehdi Benatia among others have used the Stadio Friuli as a springboard to bigger and better things and in Jakub Jankto the Zebrette might have unearthed another diamond.

The Czech midfielder was signed from Slavia Praha in 2014 without having appeared for Slavia’s first team, showing the intelligence of Udinese’s acclaimed scouting department. Having impressed on loan to Ascoli in Serie B last season, Jantko was recalled in the summer and has been a revelation for the Bianconeri Friuliani.

Playing in central midfield in Luigi Delneri’s 4-3-3, Jantko has scored 5 goals and registered 4 assists in 17 starts. This form has earned Jankto a national team call up for the Czech’s recent games against Lithuania and San Marino and he marked his debut with a goal.

Jankto is blessed with a hammer of a left foot and uses his pace to drive forward and support attacks. This form has caught the attention of Arsenal who are said to be readying a £10m move in the summer. Along with his compatriot Patrick Schick, Jantko has shown that after a few barren years the Czech National Team are once again ready to become a force in Europe.


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Last season was the seventh time in a row that the champions failed to successfully defend their title and it was 5000/1 shot Leicester City that became the sixth different winner of the premier league. Due to this the 2016/2017 Premier League season is arguably going to be the most exciting and debated about season ever. Here we look at the teams that have started well and their subsequent title chances:

Manchester City:

Maximum points after six games, plus 13 goal difference and off to a flyer in the Champions league. Terrifying statistics for the rest of the league and just what the blue half of Manchester wanted and were expecting after the appointment of Pep Guardiola as manager. His predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini, started in similar fashion and even won the Premier League in his first season in charge and City’s second in three years but two lacklustre attempts since then cost him his job and City needed someone to spark life into their team. Who better to do this than Guardiola and he has done just that, it took barely three minutes for a rejuvenated Raheem Sterling to be felled by Van Aanholt and Aguero to score the subsequent penalty. A nail biting finish in this game eventually saw City come out on top but the fashion in which they despatched Stoke, West Ham, Bournemouth and Swansea was like watching Barcelona do the same thing in La Liga. They never looked like losing the Manchester derby, a game that was widely tipped to be a title decider, and ultimately exposed the weaknesses in their rivals’ squad as much as displaying their own strengths. Guardiola seems to have found the right formula on the training ground and intelligent signings such as Nolito, Gundogan and Stones have added to an already top class squad. Players such as Sterling, Silva and Kolarov appear to be loving life under Pep and have regained their confidence and are almost like new signings in themselves!

Verdict: Strong favourites

Tottenham Hotspur:

The manner in which Spurs faded away from the title race and ultimately let bitter rivals Arsenal take second place last season was quite worrying and cast doubts over Pochettino’s ability to take Spurs to the top. Sir Alex Ferguson’s endorsement of Pochettino was glowing and he rated him as one of the best managers in Europe and a future title winner and their start to the current season suggests that this might be accurate. Unbeaten after six games and only three goals conceded points to Tottenham being strong contenders. Vincent Janssen has been brought in to provide much needed cover for Harry Kane and the squad as a whole seems settled and is full of young, fresh, hungry players learning their roles together. Their style of play has become synonymous with attacking full backs providing a threat from the wide areas and Kyle Walker is fast becoming one of the best attacking full backs in Europe. If Spurs and Pochettino can work out how to juggle Champions league football and the busy domestic season they look like one of the teams that can challenge City and if it doesn’t happen this year they are only going to get stronger.

Verdict: Perhaps too soon but strong contenders


No title since the ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/04 and a missed opportunity last season in coming second place are two major factors in the fans becoming restless with their team’s fortunes. The pressure is always on Arsene Wenger to succeed and has undoubtedly done so at Arsenal despite having to seemingly rebuild the team every three or four years. This club philosophy at Arsenal has seen them move to a new stadium and become one of the top teams in Europe but the fans demand titles and this season might be the time for Wenger and Arsenal. Contrary to previous seasons Arsenal have kept their key players and look like building up some real momentum with a team full of international talent. There was no shame in the defeat to Liverpool and the draw with champions Leicester seemed to be the final wakeup call that allowed Arsenal to find top gear this season. The fitness of key players such as Sanchez, Ozil and Cazorla is going to be important for their title chances but in Arsene Wenger they have the most experienced manager in this league and could that prove crucial?

Verdict: Always the bridesmaids but will inevitably be contenders


Jurgen Klopp was the perfect fit for Liverpool and has improved everything about them in the 12 months he’s had in charge. Impressive cup runs in the EFL cup and Europa league, resulting in two finals, ultimately provided quite the distraction from league performances last season and an eighth place finish has seen previous managers lose their jobs but the obvious positive reaction from the Anfield faithful and rejuvenated performances on the pitch were enough for Klopp to earn a full season in charge. He and Liverpool have faith and confidence to once again bring success to the red half of Merseyside and their opening performances have proved that this may be tenable. The pressing approach, of which Klopp is a huge advocate, is proving very successful for Liverpool. The flowing interplay and team defense mentality of Mane, Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana is a wonder to behold and with Henderson anchoring everything from deep it seems Liverpool have got the wind in their sails and if they cut out results such as the one against Burnley they could quite conceivably mount a serious title challenge this season.

Verdict: They continue to go from strength to strength, don’t count them out.

Manchester United:

A world record signing, one of the world’s greatest managers at the helm and the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic are just three of the reasons why United fans are more hopeful of their chances this season than the previous three since the retirement of club legend Sir Alex Ferguson after winning his thirteenth title in 2013. Jose Mourinho’s almost untouchable ‘aura of invincibility’ took a bit of a beating last season and he as well as some United players have got a point to prove. Mourinho has got a tough job finding the right players to work in the right systems for United this season after inheriting a somewhat disjointed team and this has been apparent already in the Manchester derby and defeat to Watford however an instant impact from Zlatan and glimpses of world class football in their other games leads us to believe it will not be long before we see United back near the top of the table. The manner in which they despatched champions Leicester was particularly impressive and this was with club captain Wayne Rooney watching from the bench, a typically headstrong decision from Mourinho but if it ultimately proves to be the right one he will once more be heralded a genius.

Verdict: Might just fall short of the ‘noisy neighbours’ again but will do everything to push them to the wire.


Last season was the worst defence of a premier league title ever and the reasons for this could be debated for weeks and still not be fully understood. The manager lost his professionalism, the star players never turned up and ultimately it will be a season that Chelsea want to forget. Antonio Conte is the latest high profile name in the hotseat of the Abramovich project, and nobody could deny that he has the credentials to be a success. A mixed start to the season began with fine victories against West Ham, Watford and Burnley, Hazard and Costa were back to their best and Chelsea were purring but subsequent losses to title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal might arguably have cost them the title already. It is still early in the season however and the quality in the Chelsea squad is abundant, they will not have European football to distract them and once they fully adapt to the new system Conte has installed they are more than capable of going on a title winning run of form.

Verdict: Might just be a season to return to normal after last term’s debacle but must be dark horses.

About the author – Liam Bailes

Liam has been a football fanatic since the early 1990s and continues to be delighted by the sport today. He follows the 5 big European leagues as well as the npower championship and major cup competitions both domestically and internationally. He is an FA level 2 coach and loves to be involved with football at every opportunity.


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In the wake of recent  rumours regarding Granit Xhaka and his potential move to Arsenal, as well as the leaked photos picturing him in an Arsenal kit at the Emirates stadium, we have decided to take a closer look at the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder whose recent rise to prominence has been nothing short of incredible.

Granit Xhaka started his professional career in Basel, as he debuted at the tender age of 17, playing in a central midfield position. The youngster quickly impressed and soon enough a plethora of elite clubs lined up their interest as they looked to sign him on a cut-price deal. However, the intelligent youngster opted to join the lesser known Borussia Monchengladbach, where he would be guaranteed playing time and a friendly, German-speaking atmosphere.

Now, looking back, it’s only fair that we say he made the right decision, since his progress over the last four years at Borussia has been simply outstanding. It’s no wonder elite clubs are once again courting Xhaka ahead of another summer transfer window.

However, Arsenal fans who have been begging their club to sign a defensive midfielder ahead of the next season will be disappointed to hear that Xhaka is not your typical defensive midfielder. It is, nevertheless, worth noting that although Xhaka has generally played in a more central midfield position, his main attributes are primarily defensive—after all, he is well-known for his combative style of play and tackling prowess.

Granit Xhaka Is The Perfect Arsenal Midfielder

Aggression can sometimes get the better of him and he has consequently had several disciplinary problems during his stay with Die Fohlenelf, but even that might prove to be a positive trait if Arsenal is truly considering to sign him. It is common knowledge that the English Premier League referees usually allow more aggressive plays in comparison with their European counterparts and if we take into account the fact that Arsene Wenger’s teams have often been accused of lackluster performances in the past, they might be looking for a player who can bring in a fresh burst of energy.

Nonetheless, it was probably Xhaka’s composure in possession and his keen eye for final-third passes that caught the attention of Arsenal in the first place. Although he might not have the assists to prove it—he has only registered two this year—Xhaka boasts impressive passing stats, regularly attempting and completing more passes (around 85 percent) than most of his Bundesliga compatriots.

Still, the Swiss midfielder might not walk into the Arsenal lineup as easily as he would like, despite his hefty rumored price tag (reportedly more than €35m). Arsenal boast riches of talent in the midfield area even without the out-going Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta, which means that Xhaka will face stiff competition from Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla.

In the end, we simply have to conclude that Xhaka and Arsenal seem like a match made in heaven; but, as always, we will have to wait and see whether everything goes according to the plan for both the player and the club.

About the author – Dusan Lucic

Dusan has been writing sports-related articles for 5 years and has a keen interest in the Premier League, Bundesliga and Serbian SuperLiga. He has previously written for Bleacher Report, Arena Sport, Sportal and the News Hub. He is currently studying Serbian language and literature at the University of Belgrade.


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The first player to emerge from Egypt this millennium and make his mark on Europe was Ahmed Hossam Hussein Abdelhamid, better known as Mido. He is probably the most famous Egyptian export of the noughties. He played his trade in the Pro League, Eredivisie, Ligue 1, La Liga, Serie A and the Premier League.

Despite playing in some of Europe’s top leagues and for an array of glittering clubs, including Ajax, Marseille, Roma and Tottenham Hotspur, the talented striker never reached his full potential due to a combination of injuries and clashes with both players and managers. He retired at the age of 30 after being released by Barnsley.

Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Elneny are the new of wave of Egyptians. They are both making their mark on the European stage for Roma and Arsenal respectively. However, they were both scouted and signed by Basel who are ahead of competition in the Egyptian market. The Swiss side have already confirmed the signing of Zamalek right-back Omar Gaber and are also wanting to sign his teammate, Mostafa Fathi.

The Swiss giants have watched the Zamalek prodigy, Mostafa Fathi, numerous times this season, and a club delegate was in the stands on Thursday to watch the Egyptian international against Petrojet. During the January transfer window both Inter and Empoli showed interest in the winger but no concrete offer materialised.

The 22-year-old came under the spotlight after his outstanding performances helped the Cairo giants win the domestic double last season. The left-footed winger, who plays as in inverted winger on the right flank, scored the winning goal on his debut against legendary keeper Essam El Hadry.  Not only did this help to establish himself as a fan favorite, but it also earned him the nickname of El Safel (The Immoral) because of the way he humiliates defenders and keepers with his skill on a regular basis.

Fathi’s Nigerian teammate, Moruf Yusyf, has said that he’s more dangerous than Roma’s Mohamed Salah. His former manager, Mido, has also praised the talented winger, saying that he’s one of the most talented players he has ever seen. This praise is justified. Fathi floats past defenders with his blistering pace and he’s left many defenders trailing in his wake. He has quick feet and outstanding agility. Playing as an inverted winger he cuts inside on a regular basis causing all sorts of problems for the defence. Due to having the ability to shoot with both feet, he is a constant threat to keepers.

Whether or not Basel follow up their initial interest in him, it’s only a matter of time before there’s another Egyptian making headlines in Europe.


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To varying degrees, each of the clubs from last season’s Premier League top four have experienced a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Champions Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have all fallen short of pre-season expectations, which means we can expect change this summer. Managerial changes have already been confirmed for Chelsea and City, with the appointments of Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola respectively. And many fans of Arsenal and United are hoping for a similar overhaul at their own clubs.

With the influx of cash generated by the new Premier League TV deal, coupled with the scorn of this season’s underachievement, we can also expect major surgery to each club’s playing staff, with no expense spared.

Champions Chelsea have fallen furthest, recovering from early season relegation form – which saw José Mourinho given his walking papers in December – just enough to clamber up to mid-table under veteran Dutch coach Guus Hiddink. Billionaire owner Roman Abramovic will not be taking his club’s failure to qualify for European competition lightly, and will likely arm his incoming Italian coach with a hefty budget to overhaul the squad.

Despite the change of manager, the Blues are being linked with a pair of familiar faces in Everton duo John Stones and Romelu Lukaku. England defender Stones was subject of Chelsea’s affection last summer under Mourinho, with Everton rejecting their £40m bid. It now seems that, despite the absence of Mourinho, Stones is still very much a wanted man at Stamford Bridge. And Lukaku, of course, will be no stranger to Chelsea fans as he previously played for the club following a £16.5m move from Anderlecht as a teenager in 2011. The big Belgian never got a fair chance in the Chelsea first-team and was shipped out on loan before being sold to Everton for £28m two seasons ago. If widespread reports are to be believed, the hard-nosed Conte wants to give Lukaku another shot, and is willing to pay £60m to do so.

With a striker and a centre-back identified as targets, that would give the impression that Diego Costa and out-of-contract captain John Terry may be surplus to requirements. Both players have plenty still to offer but with Costa’s ability to attract controversy and Terry’s advancing years, Conte may feel that the time is right to refresh things.

It is also thought that Conte will want midfield re-enforcements, and that he’ll look to the familiar surroundings of Serie A for answers. Roma pair Radja Nainggolan and Miralem Pjanic are believed to be high on his wish list.

Manchester City were runners-up, and many people’s tip to regain the Premier League trophy following a £130m investment in squad improvements. But, despite a one-year contract extension for manager Manuel Pellegrini, the former Malaga boss appeared a lame duck amid speculation that Pep Guardiola was to usurp his position next season — speculation that has since been confirmed.

City’s squad is not in an obvious state of disrepair. And aside from central defence, where almost £70m has been spent on Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi in the last two seasons, with little return – City’s is a squad that would require only a minor tweaking to get them firing again.

But Guardiola will want to shape City in his image. Despite an abundance of athletic, technically proficient midfielders, Guardiola will want to fill the centre of the park with master-passers, capable of executing his brand of attacking artistry.

For that, it seems he has earmarked Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gündogan. The 25-year-old German playmaker possesses the requisite skill on the ball and passing acumen to bring Guardiola’s City vision to life.

In addition to Gündogan, Guardiola is also likely to want a ball-playing centre-back, and a midfield pivot in the mould of his former Barcelona charge Sergio Busquets. It is believed that a tug-of-war for John Stones may ensue between City and Chelsea, although City are also known admirers of Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte, and retain their interest despite the young Frenchman breaking his ankle on international duty recently.

With Busquets not for sale, and Guardiola claiming he will not raid the Bayern team he is leaving behind, the search for an ideal pivot may prove tricky. Another Dortmund player, 20-year-old Julian Weigl, would be an ideal fit with the way he has conducted the BVB orchestra from deep this season. But Weigl is relatively inexperienced, this being his first season of top-flight football, and Dortmund will be reticent to sanction the sale of a second key midfielder in one summer.

In terms of league position, it looks like Arsenal will finish exactly where they were least season: fourth. But this season will be remembered as a huge opportunity missed for the Gunners. With the rest of the top four tripping over their shoelaces for most of the campaign, this was Arsenal’s big chance to step up and claim their first title in 12 years. But alas, despite sitting top in January, the Premier League trophy seems beyond their grasp as we approach the final stages of the season.

Planning ahead in the transfer market is key to success on Soccer Manager.

So where can Arsenal improve in order to make a real challenge next season? They finally sorted the goalkeeper position last summer by recruiting Petr Cech from Chelsea, but Wenger’s failure to sign a single outfield player until Mohamed Elneny came in in January, has cost Arsenal dearly.

They need a striker capable of 30 goals. Olivier Giroud is a solid centre-forward, and will always score his fair share, but his is not the sort of world-class option Arsenal can pin their hopes on. They were strongly linked with moves for Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín last summer, both of which, at the time, seemed fanciful. But following a season of off-field controversy, maybe Real Madrid would be more willing to listen to offers for their French striker this time around. And Higuaín has had a phenomenal season with Napoli, netting 30 Serie A goals, but after three seasons in Naples, maybe the Argentinian would be open to change this summer.

Arsenal also need a reliable centre-back to partner Laurent Koscielny. Per Mertesacker, though vastly experienced, can be exposed by strikers with pace, and Gabriel Paulista is a decent back-up option. Perhaps someone along the lines of Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk would represent a good option. Having had a year to acclimatise to the Premier League, the former Celtic player could add an assuredness to the Arsenal backline.

Manchester United currently sit fifth in the table, having finished fourth last season. The top four is not beyond their reach, but those already occupying the Champions League-qualifying spaces look reluctant to budge.

Whether Dutch manager Louis van Gaal is allowed to see out the final year of his contract, or whether the myriad rumours are to be believed and José Mourinho will be in charge next season, remains to be seen. But either way, United could use some squad improvements.

Despite spending £250m on incomings over the past two years, United’s squad still has holes. Daley Blind has coped admirably as a make-shift centre-back, but the former Ajax player is much better suited to a left-back or midfield role. Like Chelsea and City, United are thought to be weighing up an offer for John Stones, with the idea being that he could form a lasting partnership for club and country with Chris Smalling.

One of United’s foremost priorities this summer will be to hold on to David de Gea. The Spanish goalkeeper has developed into arguably the world’s best in his position over the last three years, and the Red Devils will have to fend off interest from Real Madrid.

A player strongly linked with a move to Old Trafford, with many European press outlets claiming a deal is already in place, is Benfica’s Renato Sanches. The 18-year-old box-to-box midfielder broke into the first-team at the Estádio da Luz earlier this season and has been a fixture ever since. Though still very raw – his short passing game needs refinement – the young Portuguese possesses the kind of energy and drive that has been lacking from United’s midfield for several years.

Whether or not United feel the need to sign a striker this summer depends how much they are willing to rely on 18-year-old Marcus Rashford next season. Rashford has been outstanding since bursting onto the scene in United’s Europa League triumph over Midtjylland in February, but it may be wise to bring in an experienced head to take some of the pressure off the still-developing Englishman. Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be the perfect solution. The 34-year-old Swede is out of contract at the end of the season and has already hinted that his future may lie in the Premier League. The main caveat being that the PSG striker does not see eye-to-eye with van Gaal, so a switch to Old Trafford would likely have to be preceded by Mourinho being appointed manager.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona strip with ‘Romario 10’ printed in the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.  Ryan’s musing on European football can be found here  www.theeurofootballblog.wordpress.com and you can find him on twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB.


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Impressive Europa League performances have made Andrija Zivkovic, the Serbian Messi as they call him, one of the hottest properties in European football this season.

It never is easy to be compared with one of the greatest football players alive, and we have often seen those name tags being nothing more than mere marketing tricks.

However, such is not the case with the Serbian starlet Andrija Zivkovic.

The 19-year-old Partizan winger has caught the attention of a great number of Europe’s top clubs over the past few months due to his stellar performances for Serbia and for his club in the UEFA Europa League.

Nine goals in just 12 games for Partizan this season, five of which came in the European competition and the latest one at AZ Alkmaar on Thursday have alerted the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan among others, who would love to see the young player in their ranks.

Partizan wunderkind has been voted Europa League player of the week earlier in the competition, following his impressive display in the 3-1 win over Augsburg in the UEFA Europa League group stage Matchday 2, thus once again announcing himself to the footballing world.

This boy has made a steady progress since he was 17 years old, but the 2015 has actually been the year of his true making.

Leading his Under 20 teammates at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, Andrija Zivkovic was the key man in Veljko Paunovic’s team which were crowned the world champions in the summer. He scored two goals, added four assists and played every minute on his team’s route to the title.

Leader on the pitch, Zivkovic missed out on the most valuable player award despite being the most outstanding performer in the final game against Brazil as well.

Undeterred in his rise to prominence, Zivkovic went from strength to strength as a Partizan regular, keeping his feet firmly on the ground. Humble and modest despite the hype surrounding him, Zivkovic wants to remain in Belgrade and help his team overcome the domestic struggles.

Andrija Zivkovic possesses great pace and stamina. Highly explosive player, he is one person with the ball and different one without it.

His off-ball movement rarely goes out of his position and tactical routine, but with ball at his feet Zivkovic uses his phenomenal dribbling ability to beat the defenders with his cut-ins, strong shot and precise final pass for his teammates.

Unpredictable with his finish, Andrija Zivkovic has a lot to offer as you never quite know what his next move will be.

The uncertainty and unpredictability, however, go far beyond his footballing qualities.

Coming through Partizan youth ranks and the renowned football academy, Andrija Zivkovic is the youngest player to make a senior appearance for the Serbian national team, but also the youngest Partizan captain ever.

He signed his first professional contract in 2013, having agreed on a three-year deal. His contract expires at the end of the season, but both Partizan and Zivkovic seem willing to sign a new deal. However, with certain issues and problems regarding his contract it will be interesting to see if Partizan will be able to hold on to him past January.

In a move that has been described as controversial, the former Partizan management structure had sold the majority of Zivkovic’s contract (75%) to Pini Zahavi’s investment fund for €1.25 million only a year ago.

Current structure headed by the chairman Zoran Popovic is actively looking for a legal solution to the problem, attempting to retrieve the part of Zivkovic’s contract with the mission to prevent Pini Zahavi from taking the player to his club Apollon Limasol before selling him further on to the interested parties.

Andrija could be forced to go to a club that is not of his own liking due to the legal complications which still remain unresolved and which prevent his current club from making any decision with an ownership claim of only 25% in his deal.

Such is the poor destiny of Serbian clubs, who are often forced to sell players in order to keep their books in the green.

Partizan and another bright Serbian pearl Andrija Zivkovic are, unfortunately, not an exception.

About the author – Miloš Markovic

Sports journalist from Serbia, Editor in Cheif at Sportske.net and contributor to FutbolgradLive. Worked with Inforstrada and FIFA covering Serbia’s international games during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

twitter: @milosemarkovicu


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Russian fans celebrated when the Sbornaya (as Russia’s national team is often called) managed, with a 2-0 win over tiny Montenegro, to qualify for the European Championships that will take place in France next summer.

In truth, however, Russia’s match against Montenegro will not be remembered as a football classic;  Russia was simply a pragmatic team that carved out a needed win against a poor opponent. Russia’s attacking tandem, made up of Dinamo Moscow’s Aleksandr Kokorin and Zenit Saint Petersburg Artyom Dzyuba, seemed lost at times as they received little creative support from midfield.

Despite scoring the second goal from a penalty, Kokorin’s performance was mediocre at best, as he still struggles at times to define his true position on the field. Kokorin has shown promise throughout his career, but in truth the Dinamo Moscow striker, referred to by some avant garde spectators as a false nine, has not quite lived up to early expectations since making his scoring debut at age 17.

It was thought that his big breakthrough would come after the 2013/14 season when he managed to score 10 goals in 22 appearances in the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL). He failed to duplicate that form in the following season, however, when he managed only 8 goals in 27 games. This year, Kokorin is off to a mixed start having scored only 2 goals in 6 matches for Dinamo Moscow.

To be fair, Dinamo Moscow are a club in transition because financial problems caused by the rouble crisis and bad management forced the club to sell several players in the off season.

Also, in the summer, Dinamo was also forced to sell several high profile players: the French offensive midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, who was sold to Oympique Lyon for €5 million; the French defensive midfielder William Vainqueur, who was sold to AS Roma for €3 million; the Hungarian winger Balázs Dzsudzsák, who was sold to Bursarspor for €1.6 million; and the Dutch-Brazilian defender Douglas, who was sold to Trabzonspor for €1.5 million. At the same time, the German striker Kevin Kuranyi, and the Russian internationals Vladimir Granat, and Fedor Smolov left on free transfers, because Dinamo could not afford to renew their contracts.

Despite earning €11.1 million on player transfers in the offseason, Dinamo continues to be in financial trouble, and as a result, has already agreed on the transfer of the Russian right winger Aleksey Ionov—for an undisclosed sum—to Spartak Moscow for the winter transfer window.

Meanwhile Kokorin has persevered in his struggle to truly define his game, and as Dinamo’s financial uncertainty continues, the young attacking player has to make a decision regarding his own playing future. Despite having failed to achieve a major breakthrough as of yet, Kokorin is still considered a bright talent in Russian football. As his form has stagnated, his market value—according to Transfermarkt.de—has dropped from €18 million in 2014 to €10 million at present .

Yet, there is still a market for Kokorin as Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, has taken an interest in him. But Arsenal is not alone; Zenit Saint Petersburg—fuelled by Gazprom’s riches—is also seriously looking at the player, and despite the Premier League’s new television deal, Zenit Saint Petersburg may actually outbid Arsenal.

Because new regulations in the RFPL forces clubs to field at least five players who are eligible to play for the Russian national team, Zenit might be willing to pay whatever is necessary to secure the services of Kokorin—also Russian football players are categorized as artists and pay almost no taxes. Wenger, on the other hand, is known for his careful financial approach, and therefore may not offer Kokorin the same financial rewards as Zenit—Wenger, however, has the ability to bring players to the next level, and might finally turn Kokorin into Russia’s brightest star. Hence, Kokorin has to make a decision: will he take Gazprom’s money, and live the easy life in the RFPL, or will he take a chance and try to prove himself in one of Europe’s toughest leagues?

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at Futbolgrad.com.

twitter: @homosovieticus


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As the final whistle sounds at the Emirates 10 blue shirts streak across the immaculate pitch to a hoard of fans jumping in sync. Olympiakos have just felled English giants Arsenal on their home turf, a David vs. Goliath triumph. On the same night Chelsea were slayed in the Dragon Stadium by FC Porto and a man who is so good they named him twice. Andre Andre scored both goals for Porto as José Mourinho’s nightmare continued. Huge Premier League clubs are being torn down by their smaller European cousins on a fortnightly basis in the Champions League, as their hugely assembled squads are put to shame.

Imagine the Premier League swaggering into a room; adorned in the best clothes, shoes and the most expensive watch only to be shown up by their Marks and Spencer suit wearing cousin. Arsenal, Chelsea and the rest of the Premier League spent over £1bn this summer on players from across Europe in a bid to bring success to the shores of England. For all their TV money, overseas pre-season tournaments and bit kit launches it seems that English football has forgotten how to build a winning team.

So many of the English teams that were successful in the past were built on solid foundations, the treble winning Manchester United team had the same core for many years – Keane, Stam, Schmeichel. Chelsea’s Champions League winning squad also had fine skeleton of Cech, Terry, Lampard, Drogba. In only three years, English teams have switched away from structure to short-term success. Arsenal are as good a example as any when talking about structure, it is almost as if they are too structured up front, but have none in defence. Despite their insistence on dominating possession, they look tentative when trying to launch an attack – as if they have to follow a set passing pattern. But all the more concerning is their anxiousness. As soon as Olympiakos went one goal ahead it was almost as if Arsenal had a panic attack, trying to force play from unrealistic areas of the pitch with a series of unnecessary mistakes.

One trend that is constant throughout the English teams is their lack of assertiveness in Europe, their drive to score as many as possible. The Premier League is end-to-end, something where the lack of structure in every team does lead to good ‘entertainment’, and most teams are more than capable of posing a threat offensively. However, as soon as a Premier League side enters a European competition their distinct lack of style rears it’s ugly head. Standardised formations lead to English teams playing the same way regardless of squad members, meaning that opposition teams can steam attacks and break down with little effort. The approach is blinkered, out-dated and down right ignorant.

One thing that was incredibly prominent on that night at the Emirates is Arsenal’s inability to get in behind a defence. The ball is shifted from side to side, through the same two players – Cazorla and Ramsey – in the most predictable fashion. There are no risks taken. On the other hand, Olympiakos streamed forward whenever possible using width and pace to get in behind Arsenal’s full-backs.

Up in Manchester, things are starting to change. Especially in the sky blue of Manchester City, who have taken their inept performances in the Champions League and domestic competition to adapt this year. A switch from the traditional 4-4-2 has been replaced by a flexible 4-2-3-1 system, that now means that their creativity can come from the middle. Unsurprisingly, the influence of David Silva has been massive in the infancy of this season and City have been in fine form. Their dynamism outwide is something that football audiences have not seen from England in a long time. Similarly, Manchester United have revamped their squad, but have remained in a 4-3-3 formation with Juan Mata playing the role of advanced playmaker. Their ability to hold possession and stretch teams in with the pace of Memphis, Martial and Young is something that Chelsea and Arsenal in particular are lacking.

Until the Premier League sides learn to adapt to European football and change their ignorant stance that they can be successful purely by spending the most money, then they will continue to fail in Europe. More emphasis needs to be put on team structure, and building of a team that has cohesion from front to back which suits squad members, rather than crow-barring players into unnatural positions.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks


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10 seasons ago, Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona won the Champions League at the Stade de France in Paris, beginning a cycle of dominance for the Catalans that would see them reach the last four of Europe’s principal continental club competition in every year but two since and lift further titles in 2008 and 2011.

Their opponents in that 2006 final were Arsenal, whose subsequent record in Europe does not make for such positive reading. Indeed, although Arsene Wenger has maintained his excellent achievement of reaching the knockout stage of the Champions League in each campaign since 2003/04, Arsenal have only ever participated in two semi-finals on since the Frenchman took charge of the north Londoners 19 years ago on Wednesday.

There have certainly been mitigating circumstances, with the relocation from Highbury to Emirates Stadium understandably leading to a diversion of resources away from the playing squad. It is unrealistic, too, to expect Arsenal to compete year after year with Barcelona, who are among the continent’s superclubs and have the muscle and might to sign almost any player they want. Arsenal were also rather unfortunate in that final in 2006, when they led until the 76th minute despite Jens Lehmann’s early sending-off.

In the last few seasons, however, Arsenal have not done themselves any favours in the Champions League.

Last term, they were defeated in the round of 16 by a relatively ordinary Monaco side after a disastrous 3-1 loss at the Emirates in the first leg of the tie.

In 2012/13 and 2013/14, meanwhile, Arsenal finished second in their group and were then knocked out by Bayern Munich over two legs in the knockout round. While the Gunners were somewhat unlucky to be handed tough draws, it was a situation they could have avoided in the group stage.

Wenger’s relationship with Champions League is thus paradoxical: arguably his greatest accomplishment in the last decade is consistently finishing in the top four in the Premier League and qualifying for Europe’s foremost tournament, yet his lack of success on the continental stage – Wenger has never won a European trophy – is what prevents him from joining the list of the very best managers of all-time.

For all of his undoubted qualities, doubts remain about whether Wenger has the ability or willingness to adapt his tactics according to the opposition or to make in-game changes that can turn a match on its head. Arsenal’s poor big-game record in the Premier League in recent years is further evidence that something is lacking when the Gunners take on the very best opponents.

An avoidable 2-1 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb two weeks ago means that Arsenal go into Tuesday’s clash with Olympiakos under pressure: with back-to-back games against Bayern to follow, it is feasible that Wenger’s side could still be without a win after four matches were they to drop more points about the Greek champions.

The Champions League is becoming harder to win than ever before for clubs outside the elite of Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid. It is difficult to see Arsenal overcoming that trio to get their hands on a first ever European Cup this year, with Wenger’s lack of continental success looking likely to continue.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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