Biggest Top Four Race in Years

After the recent midweek matches, the top end of the table makes for interesting reading. And I’m not talking about Chelsea and Manchester City. I’m talking about how there is a 5 point gap between 3rd place and 7th. This means that, in theory, in two weeks time, Liverpool, who haven’t been near the top four position-wise all season, could jump from 7th to 3rd. That is how tight things are in the race for the Champions League at the moment. 5 or 6 teams are all vying for a spot in the biggest competition in Europe, and every single team has a chance. No team ever seems to be safe when they have reached the top four this season though, with West Ham being a classic example. Not so long ago this season, the hammers were in the top four and things were looking very cosy, but, within just 2 or 3 defeats, they were down to 8th, 4 points away from 7th place. That shows how if you want to be a top team you’ve got to keep on winning, which is what teams like Arsenal and Manchester United are capable of doing. But that doesn’t mean we should rule out Southampton.

They have shown that when the team is fit and firing at all cylinders, they can beat anyone on their day, but injuries and key players not performing at times this season has lead to them sliding down the table very quickly. But one, credit to them for one getting this far, and two showing that they will only be satisfied with European football, and even 6th place will be a disappointment. But, their midweek draw once again proves that even  the tiniest of slip ups, like missing one good chance (in their midweek game against West Ham) can affect your season massively.

In terms of Manchester United, they are the favourites to come 3rd, and will be tough to beat, so a good run of games could put them in a great position and leave it to the rest of the teams to battle for 4th. But they need to be wary of the other sides, as one or two slip ups could cost them, and Arsenal, Southampton, Tottenham and Liverpool will be ready to pounce.

All 5 teams have their strengths and weaknesses,  and Harry Kane is definitely one of Tottenham Hotspur’s strengths. The 21 year-old is likely to be selected for England the next time the chance comes, and in 2015, has scored as many league goals as Lionel Messi (8), and double as many as Cristiano Ronaldo (4). He has also already in this year won the January player of the month, and won the North London derby with two goals to beat Arsenal.

So, with 13 games left this season, it is still all to play for. But, the question is, who do you think will make the top four?

Match Report #1 Atletico Madrid 4-0 Real Madrid

The headline says it all. Arguably the best team in the world with the Ballon D’or winner and a few world cup winners in their side, Real Madrid, the current European Champions, were incredibly thrashed 4-0 by local rivals Atletico on Saturday. On Cristiano Ronaldo’s return from suspension after his red card against Cordoba, Real were completely dominated by an Atletico side playing as if it was the World Cup final.

Atletico started the stronger, and it was goalkeeper Iker Casillas’s mistake that lead to the opening goal from Tiago. That did the ‘Rojiblancos’ the world of good, and they took that confidence into their stride, as Saul scored an audacious overhead kick to make the score 2-0. After Atletico’s blistering start, Real Madrid began to come into the game by around the half hour mark, but not to register any attemps of note. Down the other end however Atletico Madrid claimed that they should have had a penalty to make it 3-0 before half time as Diego Godin’s volley appeared to strike the arm of Sami Khedira, but the German World Cup winner conned the referee, by dropping down to the ground and pretending it had hit him in the face. In the second half, a rampant side did make it 3-0 after Antoine Greizmann’s goal. This was after two glaring chances were missed by the La Liga Champions to put the game beyond doubt, including a poor header from Tiago, but after all the pressure Real Madrid finally woke up with about ten minutes to go, as Asier Illaramendi’s fearsome strike was tipped over the bar by Moya. But when Cristiano Ronaldo dribbled the ball out of play under little pressure, that summed up Real’s day, and just a minute later, a diving header by Mario Mandzukic sealed an incredible result for Atletico Madrid.

Many people are now wondering how Real will recover from this hammer blow, as star man Ronaldo’s form had already shown signs of dipping, so, this could mean that we could be in for some title race at the end of the season!

Derby Day

On another dramatic and exciting Saturday of English football, two huge derbies took place, both significant in each teams season, and their pride. In the early kick-off, we saw Tottenham turn around a 1-0 deficit to go on and win the match 2-1, thanks largely to their 21 year-old wonderkid Harry Kane. In the later kick-off however, in a tight game at Goodison Park, the score finished at 0-0. Elsewhere at the 3o’clock kick-offs, a late winner from Sadio Mane secured a 1-0 win at QPR, a 1-1 draw between Hull and Manchester City, a 2-1 victory for Chelsea against Aston Villa, a 1-1 draw between Sunderland and Swansea and a win for Crystal Palace over struggling Leicester.

Looking at the North-London derby between Spurs and Arsenal, after Ozil had opened the scoring with a nice finish for his third goal in three games, 21 year-old Harry Kane kept up his fine record in front of goal this season with two great goals, further encouraging his possible selection for England. Roy Hodgson was of course in the crowd to see, and he would have been very impressed with Kane’s second goal in particular, a stunning header to beat David Ospina at the far post. His fighting spirit and technical ability to score goals, the English youngster is starting to become a Robin Van Persie style penalty box predator.

In yesterday’s other games, there was a bit of hope for Aston Villa, with there first goal in 10 hours and 59 minutes surprisingly came against the mighty Chelsea of all teams. Other moments of note would be Jermain Defoe’s second goal since returning to the Premier League, and Sadio Mane’s cool finish in the 93rd minute to seal a hard fought win for Southampton over QPR at Loftus Road.

”He’s entitled to go down”

It may seem that we are reaching an era in which top football pundits and commentators seem to not entirely understand the laws of the game, and with diving a huge issue that is cropping up at the moment, the important people in the game are just speaking absolute nonsense.

One of the phrases which is used often is ”He’s entitled to go down,” which clearly can never be as you should go down when you cannot stay on your feet, not because a defender brushed your foot and you feel you are ‘entitled’ to go crashing down to the ground as if you’ve been shot.

Putting it this way, in a pub, trying to impress your mates, if you get slightly clipped on the heel, you most certainly are not going to jump to the ground rolling around in agony, so why do it on a football pitch? Contact certainly does not mean that you have a right to dive to the ground, as otherwise football would be a non-contact sport, but everyone knows it’s okay to have a bit of argey bargey every now and then, and what ever happened to the shoulder to shoulder rule?

Overall, diving needs to stop, but also, pundits need to sort themselves out and  learn the laws of the game that they are supposed to be experts at.

Messi v Ronaldo Rivalry #1

When the topic of conversation ‘Who is the best player in the world?’ crops up, thoughts immediately turn to the sensational football brains of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Although both different, no one can argue that the pair are two footballers who will go down in the history of the game. Many people have many views, and this is a rivalry that has got pundits trying to make an impossible decision. Week in week out they don’t fail to produce outstanding pieces of football which no one else in the world could come close to. But the question is, who is better, Messi or Ronaldo?

First of all, let’s start with something that just cannot be ignored – goals. Both are expected to score at least once in every game they play in, and why not? They both average over a goal a game and take to the pitch every game expecting to score. But looking deep into statistics, somehow, one has the better record than the other. Despite the fact that Ronaldo has scored more career goals than Messi, he is two years and a half older than Leo, and his goals to game ratio isn’t quite as outstanding. In Cr7’s career, he has played 594 matches, scoring 407 goals, but in Messi’s career, he has played 479 matches and scored 388 goals, giving Messi a better goals to game ratio than C-Ron.

Moving on to style of play, you can’t fault either of them. Messi is known for his 100 mph dribbles and beating five players before delicately chipping the goalkeeper, whereas Ronaldo is known for beastly runs before unleashing unstoppable 30 yard screamers into the top corner. They are very different in their style, but they cannot be separated on how good their style is, as both of them are out of this world.

Looking at extra attributes other than goals and style, both of the two superstars have their very own trademarks, which complete them as a player. For Ronaldo, this trademark is his unique way of striking a football to get it to go up and down so quickly and to move in all different directions whilst in the air to give the goalkeeper no chance. He either uses this when gaining an extra half a yard on his man on the edge of the box, or from a free-kick. In terms of Messi, he has two trademark specialities that makes him into the world-class bracket. First of all, it is his ability to run almost as fast with the ball as without it, keeping it perfectly in control the whole way. That is an ability that can change any game and is almost impossible to stop. Also, he is well known for his classy lobs over the goalkeeper. He has scored many of these, where just as the keeper rushes out he cleverly scoops it over his head and into the back of the net. He best portrayed this finishing technique in a Champions League round of 16 match against Bayer Leverkusen, where two of his FIVE goals on the night were chipped over a helpless Bernd Leno.

Finally, to give one the advantage over the other may seem impossible and somewhat unfair on the extremely talented footballer who is only the second best player of his generation, but I have made my decision. Based on the fact that the magician that is Lionel Messi scores more goals and chips in with more for his team mates, I would have to say that Leo just edges this one for me. Of course there will be times when Cristiano is in better form than Messi, but currently looking back at each of their careers, Lionel Messi is the best player in the world.