The Manchester derby is always a big occasion, especially since Manchester City were elevated to the level of regular Premier League contenders when Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan – better known as Sheikh Mansour – took over the club in 2008, investing heavily in the first-team squad and club’s infrastructure.

And the battle for Mancunian supremacy between Manchester United and City has provided no shortage of drama in recent years: there was Michael Owens late winner in United’s 4-3 victory in 2009, Wayne Rooney’s stunning bicycle kick to seal a 2-1 win for the Red Devils in 2011, City’s famous 6-1 triumph at Old Trafford later that year, and Marcus Rashford’s strike to grab three points at the Etihad for United last season.

But the upcoming clash between the two sides, at Old Trafford on Saturday (10 September), is the most eagerly anticipated Manchester derby ever.

The intrigue in this match lies in several different narratives. There’s the resumption of José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola’s heated rivalry, the cast of recently purchased stars set to make their derby debut, the fact that the two clubs have made an undefeated start to the season and are the current bookmakers’ favourites to lift the Premier League title in May.

The Mourinho-Guardiola dynamic will dominate most of the pre-match coverage, as two of the world’s finest and most successful coaches pick up where they left off with their mutual disdain.

The bitterness between the two festered during their time on opposite sides of La Liga’s Clásico divide, with Mourinho in charge of Real Madrid and Guardiola at Barcelona, but the seeds of their rivalry can be traced back slightly further.

By the time Mourinho arrived in Madrid in 2010, Guardiola had already spent two years transforming Barça into the best and most attractive side in Europe. But the previous season, the Portuguese had gotten one over on the Blaugrana by knocking them out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage with Internazionale.

Mourinho’s Inter utilised hyper-negative tactics to frustrate Barça’s pass masters, while the manager set about engaging in press-conference and touchline posturing to rile his opposite number.

And when Mourinho arrived in Madrid, he recognised that his side were inferior to Guardiola’s in footballing terms, so he again turned to the dark arts to gain any possible advantage; the media baiting and touchline antics recommenced.

Initially it was Guardiola who came out of top though, as his Barça thumped Mourinho’s Madrid 5-1 in their first Clásico as opposite numbers, with the Catalans claiming that season’s league title as well as the Champions League.

But as time wore on, the bitterness took a visible toll on Guardiola, and the following season, after Madrid romped to the title with a record points and goals haul, he left his position as Barça coach.

The eyes of the world will be watching to see how the two men interact on Saturday, and which of these two brilliant tacticians will outwit the other on the pitch.

Predicted line-upsderby-xi-article

There will also be plenty of interest to see which of the two clubs’ major signings will prove their worth. Zlatan Ibrahimović will be motivated to avenge the defeat he suffered to City in the Champions League with Paris Saint Germain last season, and there will be no more fitting stage upon which Paul Pogba could justify his world record £89 million fee will a stellar performance in midfield.

City new boy Ñolito has impressed since his £16 million move from Celta de Vigo, and he’ll be hoping to make a decisive contribution at Old Trafford. Both sides each signed a 22-year-old centre-back at great expense this summer too; John Stones and Eric Bailly will both want to continue their strong early-season form.

Tactically, this match stands to be a fascinating duel between Guardiola’s free-flowing, positionally fluid, possession-based ideology and Mourinho’s tactically disciplined and physically-imposing counter-attacking style.

Guardiola has introduced his complexed philosophy to great effect so far this season, lining up his side in a 4-3-3 which morphs into a 2-3-5 in possession. The full-backs have been moving into the central midfield zone, with Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva – who both act as central midfielders when City are out of possession – moving into high attacking midfield areas when their team has the ball, and the rejuvenated Raheem Sterling and Ñolito pulling wide while Fernandinho holds the fort.

But City will be without star striker Sergio Agüero on Saturday, after the Argentinian was hit with a retrospective three-match ban for an elbow on West Ham United defender Winston Reid two weeks ago; will Guardiola make the like-for-like change of playing Kelechi Iheanacho as his centre-forward, or will he take the opportunity to use Sterling as false-nine and bring in Fernando to sure up the midfield?

Mourinho’s United set-up is simpler but no less effective. Their 4-2-3-1 formation offers adequate cover of the back four, with a double-pivot of Marouane Fellaini in the more disciplined role, and Pogba afforded a little more freedom to push forward, while enabling a cast of potential match-winners — in the shape of Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Ibrahimović — to occupy the attacking zones. Without the ball, the Red Devils fall back into a basic 4-4-1-1 shape, from which they can either employ a low-, medium-, or high-block press dependent on the opposition.

One change Mourinho may be keen to make, would be to swap Mata for a more dynamic option on the right wing. Mata has performed well so far this season, but if Guardiola intends to push his full-backs into midfield when they have the ball, a direct approach with pace out wide could exploit the space in behind City’s left- and right-backs in the transitional phase.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have been the ideal candidate to fulfill this role, but an injury picked up while on international duty with Armenia means the £26 million signing from Borussia Dortmund faces a race against time to be fit for the derby. Jesse Lingard or Rashford could come in instead. If Mourinho does view this area as a potential weakness of City’s, he may want to consider partnering Pogba with Ander Herrera. The Spaniard does not have the defensive acumen of Morgan Schneiderlin or even Fellaini – so in that respect it would be somewhat of a risk to play him – but his speed of thought and execution would be more conducive to springing counter-attacks than any other United midfielder. Although, Michael Carrick could offer a healthy balance between defensive cover and vertical passing ability.

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 shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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Whenever a superstar footballer is involved in a transfer, the deal is usually a costly one. As football has developed, the market has too, meaning the more money in the game, the higher the value of a player.

Every summer, it seems to keep increasing, and ‘value’ is relative. Perspective is the most important factor when judging a big money move, because while it can appear a club has paid over the odds, with the pace in which the game moves, there is a fear of being left behind if they don’t act.

It is easy to fall into the trap of taking a player’s ability for granted and assuming they will succeed wherever they go, but they are human beings and nobody is perfect. Factors can take effect and sometimes the hype just isn’t matched on the pitch. Here are ten examples of players failing to justify their high-end fees.

1. Gianluigi Lentini – Torino to AC Milan for £13million, 1992.

At the height of their powers in the late 1980s and early 90s, Milan could do no wrong under Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Cappello. At the forefront of Italian football, the Rossoneri were defensively strong with frightening talent up front, and Lentini was fully expected to compliment the likes of Marco van Basten, while adding a wide option, aided by his phenomenal dribbling skills.

While he remained at the San Siro for four years and winning three Serie A titles and the Champions League under, Lentini never quite reached the heights promised by what at the time was a world record transfer fee. A car crash in 1993 overshadowed his career, and he couldn’t fully recover having fractured his skull and damaged his eye socket aged just 24.

2. Mario Gotze – Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich for £32million, 2013.

There are a lot of achievements in his career that Mario Gotze can rightfully be proud of. In 2014, at the age of 22, he scored the winner for Germany in the World Cup final against Argentina. It was a moment that, had it come a few years later, would probably have defined his career.

But people always expect more, and it is easy to forget Gotze’s age. Having shot to fame at Borussia Dortmund, he appeared to sever all ties with them when he joined Bayern, but three tough years, in which he struggled for regular action under Pep Guardiola, stifled his development.

Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival in place of Manchester City-bound Guardiola didn’t stop the prodigal son returning to the Signal Iduna Park with his tail firmly between his legs earlier this summer.

3. Andriy Shevchenko – AC Milan to Chelsea for £30million, 2006.

Still in it’s infancy, Roman Abramovich’s power and success driven reign at Chelsea reached new heights when the Blues lured perhaps the world’s best striker to Stamford Bridge in 2006, reportedly against the wishes of then boss Jose Mourinho.

Just three years earlier, the Ukrainian hitman had scored the winning penalty in the Champions League final for Milan against Juventus, before missing a similarly huge one at the same stage against Liverpool two years after that.

Overall, he netted 127 goals in 208 Serie A games during seven years at the San Siro, but could score just nine in 48 in two Premier League seasons before returning to the Rossoneri for a failed loan spell.

4. Fernando Torres – Liverpool to Chelsea for £50million, 2011.

In a similar story to Shevchenko, Chelsea swooped for Fernando Torres on deadline day in January 2011, after the Spaniard had lit up Anfield in three and a half years at Liverpool.

His record of 20 league goals in 110 games is not deserving of a £50million player, and he never really hit the form of his days as a Red, but Torres did have some great moments with Chelsea.

En route to winning the Champions League in his first full season, he scored the clinching goal in the semi final against Barcelona.

He’ll be fondly remembered in West London despite his struggles, but fans will be disappointed they never saw the best of him.

5. Radamel Falcao – Atletico Madrid to Monaco for £50million, 2013.

Nicknamed ‘El Tigre’ and probably the man who took Torres’ mantle as the hottest striker on the planet while with Atletico Madrid, Radamel Falcao had his pick of the world’s elite when he departed, having won back to back Europa League titles, first with FC Porto and then Los Rojiblancos, in 2011 and 2012.

But that summer, he surprised the world by choosing to sign for newly-rich Monaco. While his early goal record in the Principality was as prolific as ever, following a record of 52 goals in 68 La Liga games for Atleti, but a serious knee injury a few months later has haunted him since.

Loan moves to Manchester United and Chelsea promised much, but he was never the same player. Now 30, he is back at Monaco looking for anything close to his best form.

6. Denilson – Sao Paulo to Real Betis for £21.5million, 1998.

To break the world transfer record at the age of 18, talent must be unquestionable, and that was the case with former Brazil midfielder Denilson when he joined Real Betis in 1998.

What did raise doubts, however, were his temperament and desire to fulfil his otherworldly potential. Although he earned 60 caps for his country and stayed at Betis for seven years, a move to one of Europe’s truly elite clubs never came, and he ended his career in 2010 having jumped aimlessly from continent to continent.

7. Gaizka Mendieta – Valencia to Lazio for £30million, 2001.

Two successive Champions League final defeats at the beginning of the century had not taken anything away from Gaizka Mendieta, who was the most sought after player around in the summer of 2001.

At the time, Lazio were a huge draw, having won Serie A a year earlier, and they struck a deal to bring Mendieta to Rome. But after making 230 league appearances at the Mestalla, he only racked up 20 in three years at the Stadio Olympico, while also taking loan spells at Barcelona and Middlesbrough at that time.

8. Robinho – Real Madrid to Manchester City for £32.5million, 2008.

Throughout the summer of 2008, Robinho was a target for Chelsea and so desperately wanted to leave the Santiago Bernabeu and Real Madrid.

As is becoming more and more typical, the saga rolled on all summer but the Blues couldn’t clinch a deal. On the final day of the summer transfer window, Manchester City were taken over by Sheikh Mansour, and with money to burn stole in to sign the 24-year-old.

But Robinho himself didn’t know who he had signed for when asked for his thoughts on international duty, claiming he thought he’d joined Chelsea after all.

That really set the tone. Brilliant in places but only netting twice away from home in his debut season, he was shipped on loan to Santos after 18 months before being sold to AC Milan.

9. Juan Sebastian Veron – Lazio to Manchester United for £28million, 2001.

While the Red Devils have entered the market for established superstars more since Sir Alex Ferguson, the capture of Veron was arguably the last true showing of their financial muscle in comparison to others.

Another of the most wanted in the world, Veron arrived with a huge reputation as an Argentina international. Technique and composure on the ball were no problem but the pace and physicality of the English game was too much for him. He was sold to Chelsea in the early Abramovich days for £15million.

10. Kaka – AC Milan to Real Madrid for £58million, 2009.

Some players earn the right to break the world transfer record, and Kaka was certainly one of them. Still riding the wave from his Ballon d’Or win in 2007, having inspired Milan to the Champions League that year, he became a new Galactico in Madrid president Florentino Perez’s second spell at the helm.

He promised much, obviously, but injuries and a lack of the big personality desired to succeed in the Spanish capital, and he eventually returned to Milan before joining Orlando City in MLS via a loan spell at Sao Paulo.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo, Squawka and the Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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Players from all around the world have played in the Premier League since it’s inception in 1992.  Mexico has, like many others, provided a fair few players most notably Giovanni dos Santos, Javier Hernández and Carlos Vela. However, none of them managed to really establish themselves bar Javier Hernández and even then it was as a impact substitute.

The latest Mexican heading to the Premier League is Pachuca’s 20-year-old attacker, Hirving Rodrigo Lozano, who has already developed a big reputation in his homeland. He first came to prominence in the 2015 U20’s CONCACAF Championship where he won the Golden Boot with five goals and five assists as Mexico went on to win the tournament. This success came off the back of his breakout season for Pachuca.

Since making his debut in 2014, he has gone on to make 91 appearances and scored 21 goals. Last season he helped Pachuca to the Mexican league title (Clausura) and his form earned him his first senior call-up for the national team in February. Since then he has made seven appearances for Mexcio, four of which were during the Copa América Centenario.

Regarded as one of Mexico’s brightest talents, Lozano can play in a number of attacking positions. Even though he is right footed, he predominantly plays on the left where he tends to drift in and cut back onto his favored side to shoot or pass. However, such is his quality, he is equally adept playing centrally for his club when required and last season he appeared eight times on the right. He is rapid, a yard quicker than most players and his trickery is reminiscent of a young Neymar in his Santos days. His ability to create chances gets fans out of their seats as he sets off on an exciting run (which often results in a goalscoring chance).

Pachuca’s vice-president Andres Fassi has recently announced that negotiations are ongoing with Manchester United. Lozano’s father-in-law has stated that the player will join the English giants after the Olympics. Manchester United fans will be hoping that he follows in the footsteps of Anthony Martial and makes an immediate impact in the Premier League.


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In France, prior to PSG’s 4 consecutive league titles and after OL’s 7-years domination, there were some different teams competing for and winning the Ligue 1 title: Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille and the outsiders Montpellier who won their first title (it was reminiscent of Leicester winning the Premier League this year!).

Those teams have not been able to remain at the top. One of these teams, Bordeaux, who were managed by Laurent Blanc at the time and who had some outstanding players such as Chamakh and Gourcouff, have not reached the Champions League since.

In an attempt to get back to the top, Bordeaux have acquired some good players such as Gouffran, Chantome and Saivet. However it is fair to say that none of them are a leader on or off the field.

The latest generation of French footballers are now demonstrating that there is a bright future ahead. Much of this can be attributed to the continued quality of many of the Ligue 1 teams academies. All over Europe,  young French footballers are seen as potential future champions, especially by Premier League clubs.

Manchester United are one of the clubs who have taken a keen interest in acquiring young French talent such as Pogba and Martial. More recently, they have seen what they are looking for in Adam Ounas.

This 20 year old prospect has developed into a natural playmaker, but due his technical abilities he can also play as a winger (and personally I think he’s better on the flanks). He’s quick, possesses good dribbling, long range shooting and passing abilities. The confidence he displays when dribbling is reminiscent of a young Eden Hazard.

His weaknesses, as with almost all the youngsters, is his mental attitude. He is a bit undisciplined: this denotes fantasy, but in modern football following coaches’ schemes is primary.

His former manager Sagnol said about him: “He has a lot of freshness; he has no ulterior motive. Technically he has developed well. In the lower teams, there were question marks over his commitment, but with us he is perfect. If he wants to progress and go further, he has to keep that state of mind.”

Moving now could be a huge risk: he hasn’t even played a full season in France and he has to develop physically. Those aspects suggest that a better choice for him would be to stay at Bordeaux for at least one more season. The rumours of a transfer to Manchester United could destabilize his approach to the upcoming new season, so he needs a hand from his coach to lower his head and work to fulfill his potential and become a champion.

About the author – Marco Santanche

Marco was born in Rome and supports Inter because of Luis Nazario Da Lima Ronaldo. He is a Brazilian Citizen because of his father’s roots. He played futsal for several years, even in the FIGC (Italian FA) as a winger, playmaker and striker. He is now studying for a degree in finance.


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So the axe has finally fallen on Louis Van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United. The veteran Dutch tactician has cut a disgruntled and cantankerous figure in recent months, as he put up a defiant front against the growing reports suggesting his job was in jeopardy.

Van Gaal can point the finger of blame at the English press, who he claims have “already sacked me for six months”. He might blame the expectations of United’s fans, as he asserts it is unreasonable of them to think their team should be top-four certainties, let alone title challengers.

But ultimately, Van Gaal has fallen short of his primary objectives; last weekend’s FA Cup win – United’s first majory trophy of the post-Ferguson era – will allow him to leave with a measure of success, but failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League, coupled with the drab playing style he has produced, has seen to it that van Gaal will be ushered into early retirement.

And it would appear that the worst kept secret in football over the last six months is finally out: José Mourinho will be Manchester United manager next season.

Mourinho certainly doesn’t come without his fair share of caveats, but the 53-year-old former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss is a born winner who will back himself to bring the glory days back to old Trafford; there’ll be no complaints about expectations being too high from the outspoken Portuguese.

The squad that Van Gaal will bequeath to his former assistant is one of reasonable quality, but there are several players whose confidence seems to have taken a hit over the past season or two. Mourinho will have to assess which players he feels still have something to offer, and which members of the squad need to be moved on.

The likes of Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin have all had disappointing campaigns, but Mourinho will recognise that each can be restored to a level where they can be important cogs in the machine he is looking to build.

Juan Mata will be nervous to discover whether he has a future under Mourinho, after the Portuguese determined that Mata lacked the tactical discipline to fit in at Chelsea, despite the fact that the Spaniard was voted the club’s player of the year two seasons running.

Although he hasn’t pulled up any trees in his time with United, Mata has been a solid performer with a respectable goals and assists output (10 goals and eight assists from 52 appearances this season). Mourinho will have more pressing squad management issues to resolve before deciding what to do with Mata, so the former Valencia player may yet be given time to prove his worth.

There are three players in particular, however, that Mourinho should be looking to ship out of Old Trafford if he is to re-shape the current United squad.

England defender Phil Jones joined the Red Devils from Blackburn Rovers in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. Hailed as a future England captain, the versatile player’s Old Trafford career has been hampered by injury. Jones has averaged fewer than 20 Premier League appearances across his five seasons as a United player, and when he has played, he has often been shifted around between full-back, centre-back and central-midfield.

Jones, now 24, has suffered as a consequence of his position-shifting and, five years on, it is hard to point to any area of his game which has markedly improved since his £16.5m move from Blackburn.

Despite only having 13 appearances to his name all season, and having been out of the first-team picture since an injury in January, Jones was named among United’s substitutes for the FA cup final ahead of more deserving candidates such as youngsters Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Mourinho should now call time on Jones’s United career in favour of utilising some on the promising young defenders beginning to emerge.

Marouane Fellaini has produced some commendable performances during United’s triumphant cup run. But the Belgian falls some way short of the technical ability expected of a standout United midfielder. For all his physicality and aerial prowess – which in itself is somewhat overstated – he lacks the quality of passing and touch needed in a top-class player. His propensity to violently swing his elbows around has cost United of late, after retrospective punishment saw the former Everton player suspended for the final three league matches of the season. With reported interest from Roma and AC Milan, Mourinho should look to cash-in on David Moyes’s first signing as United boss.

The major positive credited to Van Gaal during his United reign has been his commitment to playing young players from the club’s academy. Marcus Rashford and Jessie Lingard have thrived since being given their first-team debut by the former Ajax manager. But any credit van Gaal earnt for blooding youngsters has been undermined by his readiness to drop some of them as soon as a more senior player becomes available.

The case in point here is how Marcos Rojo was preferred to either Borthwick-Jackson or Fosu-Mensah at left-back. The Argentinian has been a fixture since his return from mid-season injury, despite some utterly horrific performances. Mourinho will surely have witnessed Rojo’s abject form and can have only concluded that the former Spartak Moscow player is surplus to requirements.

In terms on incomings, it would appear that Mourinho has already identified several potential signings. Star names such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, James Rodríguez and Raphaël Varane have all been mentioned in speculative newspaper articles.

Mourinho will have highlighted the need for a new centre-back, a creative midfielder, right-winger and striker. And with United ready to back him in the transfer window to the tune of £200 million, the former Porto boss will undoubtedly be sifting through agent Jorge Mendes’s list of clients and contacts as though it were his own personal shopping catalogue.

For United fans, with the arrival of a new manager, and a potential cast of incoming players, the off-season stands to provide more entertainment than they’ve seen on the pitch for some time.

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 shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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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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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 and you can find him on twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB.


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After an embarrassing result, rumours of further discontent are going to come out once more.

In the aftermath of Real Madrid’s humiliating home capitulation against arch rivals Barcelona, a distinctly off-colour Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly confronted Los Blancos president Florentino Perez and demanded Rafael Benitez be removed as head coach, or he would walk.

An event of such magnitude is unlikely to have happened, and if anything of the sort did take place, then a swift apology from Ronaldo’s representatives and blame laid firmly at a “heat of the moment thing” will have diffused any hostilities.

However, something is not right in the Spanish capital, and when there is unrest between one of the most powerful figureheads in world football, and arguably the game’s most global superstar, something has to give.

Ronaldo is not one of Perez’s signings, and in the weird and wonderful world of Spanish footballing politics, such a fact still holds resonance despite Ronaldo’s achievements, and makes a summer exit more likely.

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has stated his desire to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford, and build the next United era around their former talisman, but competition is fierce, despite the astronomical asking price.

Paris Saint-Germain represent a major player in such a move. They have made no secret of their wish to bring Ronaldo to the city of love, and certainly have the funds to facilitate the transfer.

They will outbid anything United are willing to pay, and can make Ronaldo mega-rich, but the affection Ronaldo has for his former employer may sway his decision.

All of this is could be deemed irrelevant, though. At the end of the day, two people will most likely decide where Ronaldo will be plying his trade next season.

Jorge Mendes, who we know from the coverage the Ronaldo film gave him, has Ronaldo’s trust, 100%. He is one of, if not the most powerful figure in world football, and he has the ultimate cunning disposition to be able to persuade Ronaldo to do what he says.

The only man who can stop Mendes is Perez, and as previously stated, the Real president wouldn’t object to bringing in a substantial fee for a man he has never regarded as one of his own.

The exasperation was written all over Ronaldo’s face as he trudged off after being taught a footballing lesson by Barcelona on Saturday night.

Quite frankly, Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are streets ahead of Ronaldo at the moment, and their telepathic relationship is only going to get stronger and more fluid – a frightening thought for any opposition.

If you take away Ronaldo’s five goal haul against Espanyol in September, the Portugal captain has netted just three times in 11 league games – astonishing when you consider his consistency throughout a prolific career.

It is not for want of trying. He averages an incredible 6.7 shots per game in La Liga, almost two more than anyone else, and when you consider he is down the goalscoring charts in fourth, that is a poor conversion rate.

Such profligacy can only be adding to his anxiety. The Bernabeu have remarkably never really warmed to him at the best of times, the reception he is getting now as he strops around the pitch is hostile to say the least.

Both Manchester and Paris give Ronaldo what he wants – to be the main man.  The almost cringeworthy self-adulation in the film was no act – Ronaldo really does have that high opinion of himself, and is that determined to be the best player, rather than a member of the best team.

Time for change. Every king’s reign has to come to an end, and abdication when still at the peak of one’s powers would be the most fitting end.

About the Author – Pete Hall

Freelance football writer working predominantly for Sky Sports. Also regularly write for Bleacher Report, Eurosport, FourFourTwo and numerous others.

Twitter: @PeteHall86


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Adnan Januzaj’s loan move from Manchester United to Borussia Dortmund during the summer transfer window was one of the biggest surprises on the transfer market. Manchester United fans in particular felt that Januzaj was ready to contribute to Manchester United’s first team, but United’s manager, the Dutchman Louis van Gaal believed that Januzaj would benefit from gaining valuable first team experience first in the German Bundesliga.

In April 2014 the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport named Januzaj the best youngster in Europe, and Dortmund’s Neven Suboti? stated that he was surprised that Dortmund was able to land him. Furthermore, after their first game together—a friendly against St. Pauli—Suboti? stated to Germany’s Kicker Magazine that he had never seen a player with a better shot.

Januzaj, despite high expectations and praise from teammates, has failed to gain a position in Borussia Dortmund’s starting line-up. Januzaj has so far only managed 219 minutes in the Europa League, 144 minutes in the Bundesliga, and 28 minutes in the German Cup, overall he managed only two assists—one in the Bundesliga against Darmstadt, and one in the Europa League against Azerbaijan’s Qäbälä—which has led to a mediocre average score of 6.71.

On November 9 the German Internet platform reported that Januzaj’s lack of playing time at Dortmund has caused concern at Manchester United’s front office, and that Louis van Gaal may bring the winger back to England during the winter transfer market. Van Gaal has stated several times in the past that he wanted more speed on the wings, and that Januzaj could be a solution to that problem.

Also Januzaj appears to be unhappy with the amount of game time he has received from Dortmund’s manager Thomas Tuchel, likely due to the fact that the winger is also trying to make the Belgium squad for next summer’s European Championship in France.

Dortmund’s sporting director Michael Zorc, however, has since refuted all rumours that Januzaj could leave Dortmund in the winter. Zorc told the Kicker Magazine on Thursday that, “there is no debate on this at the moment”, and according to Zorc, Januzaj has been the victim of the fact that “the other offensive players are doing a fantastic job at the moment.”

The other offensive players would be Pierre-Emerik Aubameyang, Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Shinji Kagawa, and recently Gonzalo Castro. The quintet has been largely responsible for Dortmund’s offensive power in the Bundesliga in which the club has scored 35 goals in 12 matches, resulting in 29 points in the league five points behind league leaders Bayern Munich—Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke recently suggested that with this production rate Borussia would be the league leader in any of the other top divisions in Europe.

Januzaj has, however, also struggled at Dortmund’s training, as reports from Dortmund suggested that he arrived in Dortmund with fitness levels far below those required by the average Bundesliga player. Januzaj had to get used to the intensive training, and the up-tempo pressing game of the Bundesliga, but Zorc stated on Thursday that Januzaj’s fitness level has made progress.

Still it is remarkable that a player of Januzaj’s calibre would arrive at Dortmund without the necessary fitness to compete at the highest level, despite the fact that he had fully participated at Manchester United’s pre-season preparations. Furthermore, this is the second time that Dortmund has had to deal with a player arriving from Manchester without the necessary fitness to compete in the Bundesliga, as Shinji Kagawa only managed 60 minutes in his first Bundesliga game back from United in the summer of 2014, and had to be substituted after showing signs of exhaustion.

It took Kagawa a full season to compete at the Bundesliga level, but unlike Kagawa, Januzaj is only supposed to stay at Dortmund for the remainder of the season before returning to Manchester. Hence, the Belgium winger will have to put in extra hours both on the pitch and in the gym to compete in a league known for its up-tempo, high pressing style.

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

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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This Saturday’s issue of the ‘i’ newspaper had a feature entitled ‘Mata shines in the Van Gaal revolution’ in recognition of the integral part that the Spaniard plays in Manchester. Two years ago Mata became Manchester United’s club record transfer when he flew into Carrington in a helicopter with a £37 million pound tag around his neck. Before that, Mata had transferred from a Valencia team that gained so many plaudits with talents like David Silva and David Villa, to Chelsea as the Premier Leagues infatuation with the ‘Number Ten’ really started to hit the heights of sheer romanticism.

The past decade has seen a massive shift in the way that Premier League teams operate on the pitch, and this has been largely influenced by the continental game. Gone are the days of orthodox 4-4-2 formations that relied largely in athleticism and brute strength – think about the Manchester United team that won the treble in 1999 with Roy Keane at the helm – they have been ousted by the 4-2-3-1. As mentioned the 4-2-3-1’s origins are from the continent and relies on movement, dynamism and precision passing to create overloads and passing triangles across the pitch. But most importantly the formations effectiveness rests largely on the shoulders of the individual who plays behind the striker.

This position is largely known as the ‘Number 10’ and is home to some of the world’s most revered players, those who immediately draw the eye with their intellect on the pitch, fantastic movement and passing range. This individual controls the game from his advanced position and Mata is one of the best at it as this season shows. His ability to control the game fits perfectly with the Van Gaal system of football, one that relies so heavily on possession. Manchester United struggled massively after the departure of Alex Ferguson, they had a squad that was bereft of creative players and midfield that was slow and one-dimensional. The arrival of Mata was meant to steady the sinking ship under David Moyes, but the Scotsman pushed his main creative hub out on to the right hand side and as such the ship eventually sunk for the man who finds himself in San Sebastian.

United’s number 8 is the prime example of how a playmaker should operate; using movement to cycle possession and create gaps. The position can be wholly underrated, and when a playmaker is left out of the team it is almost as if a team lacks any creativity going forward. Mata is the ultimate ‘connector’ providing creative flair to any team he plays in, which invariably makes those teams all the more threatening. After being used out wide he is now at the centre of the pitch, and Mata is much more beneficial to his team as a result. His goal scoring return further demonstrates that he should play a more central role, with 9 goals last term was the best since his 12 for Chelsea during his debut season.

Since then Chelsea themselves has really struggled without a naturalised Number 10, their success has largely come from wider areas of the pitch after the departure of Mata. Whilst Oscar is an extremely talented footballer, the question that is raised is whether he can replicate the delicate, intelligent play that a Number 10 can bring. The same question was posed to Shinji Kagawa who ultimately failed to live up to his sparkling reputation in Dortmund when playing down the middle for Manchester United. The position is an incredibly difficult one to master, hence why the players who play there are held in such high esteem – almost as if they are fantasy characters. When thinking of the likes of Zidane, Riquelme, Ronaldinho the football fan always becomes misty eyed, emotional and a large smile will appear on their faces because they are capable of magic on the football pitch.

There should be no doubt that when Juan Mata retires that he should bring those same emotions to the ordinary football fan because he is capable of the same things. Imagine Mata in a wizards hat casting a spell over the ball as he tricks his way past the opposition midfielder before picking out a wonderful through pass for the striker. Equally as effective floating in from the right hand channel as well, his intelligence is exactly what is needed to succeed at the highest level. In the modern game, every team craves a player who can create something out of nothing and Manchester United fans should feel incredibly happy that one of those players is in one of their shirts.

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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