Cup-Final-Weekend

Reschedule everything that you have planned for this weekend as we have five domestic cup finals to look forward to. England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are all giving us a very good reason to settle down in front of the TV and enjoy some fantastic games.

FA Cup Final – Crystal Palace v Manchester United

Let’s make our first stop at Wembley, in London for the FA Cup Final, the world’s oldest football cup. The match is a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup Final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United. United won the Cup 1-0 after a replay.

Manchester United have won the FA Cup on eleven previous occasions and they are only one win away from equaling Arsenal’s record. United last played in the final in 2007, where they lost 1-0 after extra time to Chelsea. Their last victory in the competition was in 2004, a 3-0 win against Milwall at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. This is Louis van Gaal’s final chance to get his hand on some silverware after a much maligned campaign. It’s also worth mentioning that the only trophy that United have won since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure as manager, is the 2013 Community Shield.

Crystal Palace have only reached the FA Cup final once. This is in the aforementioned final which they lost after a replay. Palace have never won any major trophies and therefore the FA Cup presents an opportunity for their players to go down in the club’s history. It will also give the Londoners a route into Europe for the first time in their history.

Coup de France Final – Marseille v PSG

Our next stop takes us to the French capital and Saint-Denis where bitter rivals PSG and Marseille clash in the Coup de France. The two sides last met in the final in 2006 where the Parisians ran out 2-1 winners.

This will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last game for PSG and he will be aiming to lift one final trophy as the curtain comes down on his trophy laden career in the French capital. The Swede will looking to fire Laurent Blanc’s side to a second straight domestic treble which would send PSG level with Marseille as 10 time winners of the Coup de France.

Marseille haven’t won this competition for 27 years and this game presents the perfect opportunity for them to salvage their season. The club finished in 13th place, their lowest league position since 2000/01, and a win against their bitter rivals would put this disappointment behind them.

DFB-Pokal Final – Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund

We now cross the border into Germany and head to Berlin for the DFB-Pokal Final, where heavyweights Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund clash. There is huge motivation for both sides, not least because of the rivalry that has existed between them in recent years. Between them, Bayern and Dortmund have won the last six Bundesliga titles and the DFB-Pokal in three of the last four seasons. On many of those occasions they have gone head-to-head for the silverware.

This will also be Pep Guardiola’s final game in charge of the Bavarians before his move to Manchester City. Guardiola has guided Bayern to DFB-Pokal glory before and that was at the expense to Dortmund in 2014 when they won the domestic dobule. The Spaniard will be hoping to win one final piece of silverware and also Bayern’s 18th DFB-Pokal.

Dortmund will be hoping for a case of third time lucky as they lost both the 2014 and 2015 finals. This season they have been reinvigorated under Thomas Tuchel and in contrast to the two previous seasons, have pushed Bayern in the title race to the final two games of the season. They are now once again a domestic threat to Bayern and will be hoping to win their fourth DFB-Pokal title.

Coppa Italia Final – AC Milan v Juventus

We now travel south to the Italian peninsula and to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for the 68th Coppa Italia Final, between Milan and Juventus. Whilst Juventus will be chasing a domestic double, Milan will be looking to salvage some pride after a disappointing season.

Milan have not won any silverware since the 2011 Supercoppa Italiana following their Serie A title in 2010-11, under the guidance of Massimiliano Allegri (who incidentally is now the manager of Juventus). Since then Milan have been in transition whilst Juventus have gone from strength-to-strength.

After winning their fifth consecutive Serie A title, Juventus are now aiming to win back-to-back doubles and their 11th Coppa Italia. The Bianconeri won last season’s Coppa Italia, which ended a 20 year wait since they last won the tournament. If they win it once again, they will join Inter (2005-2006 and 2010-2011) and Roma (2007-2008) as the only teams to win back-to-back cups in the 21st century.

Copa del Rey Final – Barcelona v Sevilla

Last but not least, we head to Spain and to the Vicente Calderón in Madrid for the Copa del Rey Final, where Sevilla face reigning champions, Barcelona. The last time these two teams met in a final, was the 2015 European Super Cup, which Barcelona won 5-4 after extra time.

Barcelona have previously played in 37 Copa del Rey finals, winning on a record 27 occasions. They are currently the reigning champions, having defeated Athletic Club in 2015. As well as looking to win back-to-back cups, they are also aiming to claim another domestic double after winning the league for the sixth time in eight years.

Sevilla are entering the game after winning the Europa League for the third successive year. This will be their seventh final, with their most recent appearance being in 2010, when they defeated Atlético Madrid 2-0. Sevilla have the chance to win both the Copa del Rey and Europa League double for the second time in their history, having achieved this feat in 2006/07.

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Crystal-Palace-Misfiring-Strikers

It is often an excessively simplistic argument that does not fully take into account the many nuances of football, but it is difficult to disagree with the contention that, had Jamie Vardy been playing for Crystal Palace rather than Leicester City in the pair’s clash on Saturday afternoon, the outcome would have been different.

It was Leicester who emerged victorious in the encounter at the King Power Stadium, with England international Vardy scoring the only goal to become the eighth player to find the back of the net in seven successive Premier League matches. In a game of few chances, Vardy’s clinical edge ensured the Foxes took the points in a meeting between two of the top flight’s surprise packages this term.

It is becoming a familiar theme for Palace, who have scored just once from open play in the Premier League since the 2-1 win at Chelsea in late August. While the Eagles’ defensive record has been better than expected – aside from his costly mistake against Leicester, Brede Hangeland has been terrific alongside the superb Scott Dann in the heart of the backline in recent weeks – they have looked a little blunt going forward, failing to translate their creativity and guile into goals.

Palace’s style of play is based around out-and-out wingers who generally look to beat their full-back down the outside, with Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako taking turns to fill the two slots in Alan Pardew’s XI.

Such an approach works best when there is a focal point at the top of the pitch to hold up the ball, bring the wide men into play and get on the end of crosses from the flanks. While his finishing was often pretty poor – just two goals in 29 appearances for the club – Cameron Jerome performed this function well in 2013/14, providing a much-needed physical presence up front.

Glenn Murray was the line-leader last season, but Palace sold the former Brighton and Hove Albion striker to Bournemouth on transfer deadline day. Murray’s strength and aerial ability made him an ideal centre-forward for this Palace side, with the man who netted 30 times in the Londoners’ promotion-winning campaign of 2012/13 also a competent finisher from inside the penalty area.

Murray’s sale and the injury to Connor Wickham, who has been out since the aforementioned win over Chelsea, have robbed Palace of the type of striker they rely on. Dwight Gayle and Frazier Campbell have both been used up top since but not really convinced, while trials with Bolasie and Sako as the lone frontman have simply demonstrated that neither has the understanding of the role to be a long-term solution.

The lack of goals is a problem that Pardew must solve if Palace are to improve on last season’s top-half finish. Zaha and Bolasie are excellent wingers on their day but remain extremely erratic when it comes to shooting; while Yohan Cabaye has proved reliable from the penalty spot and Sako has shown he has a dangerous left foot, there is simply not enough of a scoring threat elsewhere in the team for Palace to get by without a striker capable of finding the back of the net at least 10 times a season.

It is to be hoped that a fully-fit Wickham will prove to be that man. Even though the ex-Sunderland striker has not exactly been prolific in his career to date, his skillset at least matches the requirements for the role within Palace’s system. He may not be Jamie Vardy, but the 22-year-old could be the player to bring out the best in his team-mates and ensure Palace do not suffer from a failure to put the ball between the posts often enough.

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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Yannick-Bolasie

The nature of social media and 24-hour rolling sports news channels makes it hard to distinguish between genuine and fabricated transfer rumours.

One such story in this summer’s window related to the Crystal Palace winger Yannick Bolasie, who was reportedly attracting interest from Tottenham Hotspur. It remains unclear whether or not Spurs were genuinely trailing the DR Congo international, but no bid was ever made and when Bolasie took to the field at White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon, he did so wearing the red-and-blue stripes of Palace.

Bolasie has massively exceeded expectations since the Eagles were promoted to the Premier League in 2013. The 26-year-old – who was born in Lyon, raised in London and now represents the country of his parents’ birth – has had an interesting career so far: after spending a year with Rushden and Diamonds at youth level, Bolasie moved to Malta to play for Floriana for a season, before being signed by Plymouth Argyle and, in 2011, moving to Bristol City.

Bolasie was one of four players – another, centre-back Damien Delaney, has also excelled against the odds in the top flight – signed by Palace in the final week of the summer window in 2012. He was excellent for much of the campaign as the south Londoners qualified for and subsequently won the play-offs under Ian Holloway, his speed and trickery leaving numerous Championship full-backs with twisted blood.

Many felt that Bolasie was simply too raw and erratic to succeed in the Premier League, but he has emphatically proven such doubters wrong with his displays in the two years subsequently. Nevertheless, it is probably a positive thing for Bolasie that his proposed move to Tottenham did not materialise.

For all his undoubted qualities, the winger lacks the consistency and end product to be a top-class Premier League player. At White Hart Lane, Bolasie would have been under increased pressure and scrutiny, and it is likely that his weaknesses would have been shown up and criticised to a greater extent: his return of seven goals and 10 assists in 68 Premier League appearances, for example, would have had to significantly improve had he joined Tottenham for upwards of £15 million.

Moreover, Bolasie’s own game is perfectly suited to the tactics Palace employ under Alan Pardew. The former Newcastle boss has encouraged the Eagles to become more bold and daring under his stewardship, allowing his players to take more risks with the ball as they seek to outscore the opposition.

Bolasie, with his direct running and skilful wing play, is the embodiment of Palace’s thrilling, counter-attacking style. Given that he is most effective with plenty of space in front of him, it is likely that he would not have been as good a fit at Tottenham, where Mauricio Pochettino’s side regularly dominate possession and look to win back the ball as close to the opposition’s goal as possible.

None of which is to dismiss Bolasie’s qualities or underestimate the impact he is capable of making once more in 2015/16. There are, however, countless examples of players failing to replicate the success they enjoyed at one club upon moving to another, and it is likely that Bolasie’s career will benefit from remaining at Palace, where he is virtually guaranteed a starting spot, suits the team’s style of play and is adored by the club’s fans.

Tottenham may never have been interested in the 26-year-old, and perhaps that was for the best for all parties concerned.

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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