Ballon D’Or 2015 Preview

Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar. These are the three names that have been shortlisted for this year’s Ballon D’Or award, all hoping to be crowned World Player of the Year 2015. Ronaldo is the current holder, Messi the favourite, but don’t rule out the samba skills of Neymar.

Beginning with Ronaldo, it is fair to say that the Portuguese superstar has not hit the heights of his sensational year in 2014, as 55 goals and 17 assists for club and country this year is obviously very poor. On a more serious note, he failed to pick up any trophies this year (other than La Liga top scorer) after the Champions League, Copa del Rey, World Clubs Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 2014, and he’s seemed to struggle so far this season (despite 3 goals against Shaktar Donetsk, 4 goals against Malmo and 5 goals against Espanyol). Obviously, he is still Ronaldo, which means not only did he manage 5 goals against Espanyol, but also against Granada at the end of last season, but although he appears to be past his peak, Ronaldo seems to refuse to convert to a more authentic No.9 role where he could become a poacher. So, a good year, but perhaps not a Ballon D’Or winning year.

Moving onto Messi, what else is there to say? The little Argentine played an instrumental role as Luis Enrique’s Barcelona emulated the 2009 team of Pep Guardiola and won the League, Cup and Champions League all in one season, he guided Argentina to the final of the Copa America, and all the way through delighted us with incredible free kicks, solo goals, and assists. Also, even though Messi scored 51 goals despite an 8 week injury in 2015, it isn’t just his scoring that makes him favourite to scoop up the prestigious golden ball for a fifth time. Firstly, he provided 26 assists, with 18 of them coming in the league, meaning he topped the assists chart for La Liga last season. Also, it was his link with team-mates Luis Suarez and Neymar that enthralled the world of football, as it seemed as if the trio had some sort of telepathic link, which allowed them to score goal after goal last season, and they weren’t just average goals, but usually absolutely outstanding ones, and Messi was at the heart of it all. His most notable moments of the year would be his insane solo goal in the Copa Del Rey final and his bamboozling goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final.

The final genius to be shortlisted for the award is the 23 year old Brazilian superstar that is Neymar, and he isn’t just there to make up the numbers. Scoring in the Copa Del Rey final and the Champions League final, the trickster stepped up to the mark whilst the inspirational Messi suffered a cruciate ligament injury in September. With the trio broken up, Neymar and Luis Suarez formed their own mini double act to save Barca, and let Messi make his return with the Azulgranas three points clear at the top of the table. Like Messi, Neymar has produced moments of jaw-dropping magic that have left the world in awe, and his superb year could lead to his crowning.

Finally, looking at the people who have missed out on the final three, names include James, unsung hero Ivan Rakitic, and the brilliant Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan Suarez is the most high profile name left out, as his stunning finishing, superb awareness and overall brilliantness, along with the fact that he won the treble with Barcelona means that, surely he could have been on the shortlist rather than Ronlado or Neymar.

Anyway, put January 11th in your diary – will Ronaldo equal Messi’s four Ballon D’Ors, will Messi get his fifth, or will Neymar be the first person other than Messi or Ronaldo to win it since Kaka in 2007?

Real Madrid v Barcelona Preview

With the latest edition of the world’s greatest game edging ever closer, it’s time to analyse the players on form going into the game, how the two teams have fared recently and which team will come out on top – Real Madrid or Barcelona?

The home team, Madrid, have been in mixed form recently, and since their 0-2 victory over Malmo in September, they have had 4 wins, two draws, and, most recently, a 3-2 defeat against Sevilla, who have also beaten Barcelona this season, despite sitting 10th place in mid-table mediocrity. They sit second in the table behind Barca themselves, but with a win could go top due to the head-to-head rule. Their star player, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, is hitting a slightly rough patch, but, as we all know, form is temporary, but class is permanent, and it will surely be only a matter of time before he starts scoring again, and of course, he and the rest of the Madrid faithful will hope that is Saturday night. Looking at their defence, which has been solid all season, keeper Keylor Navas is lucky to be playing football at all this season, as he would almost certainly be sitting on the bench if the disastrous De Gea hadn’t been so, well, disastrous. But he is playing, and he’s pulled it out of the bag so far this season, and even with the form of Neymar and Suarez in Messi’s absence, it will be a real challenge for Barcelona to get past the Costa Rican international. Also in defence, it is uncertain whether or not centre-back Sergio Ramos will start after picking up a shoulder injury in the process of scoring a stunning acrobatic goal in the defeat by Sevilla a fortnight ago, and it has been suggested that the Spaniard may play on pain-killers.

Looking at Barcelona, where else is there to start than with the scintillating form of Neymar and Luis Suarez, who have scored 26 goals between them this season, with 13 goals each. The Azulgranas come into the game off the back of 3 wins in their last 4 games, and last week, a confident 3-0 victory over Villarreal saw a Luis Suarez penalty along with two goals from Neymar, the second being an outrageous piece of skill from the Brazilian.

So, Barcelona are on form, Real slightly shaky, but as they say – the form book goes out of the window on derby day – and this isn’t any old derby.

La Liga: The annual two horse race is bigger than ever

As the Premier League season looks all done and dusted with Chelsea almost certainly going to win the title under Mourinho once again, in La Liga, it is definitely not the case. It may be another ‘two horse race’ as they call it between Barcelona and Real Madrid, but after each team taking turns to take the throne and be the dominant force in Spain, (apart from last year when Atletico won it) this year it is looking closer than ever, and after the recent change of hands after Barcelona’s triumph in El Clasico, the situation currently stands that Barcelona are two points clear of the ‘Galactico’s’, but, fear not Madrid fans, as Barca still have to face Atletico Madrid and local rivals Espanyol, and it may well mean that Barcelona cannot afford to drop any points for the rest of the season, that is, as long as Real don’t drop any either.

Not only are Barcelona and Real Madrid seemingly closer than ever, but their two star players are also both hitting top form this year, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, despite winning the Ballon D’Or, seemed to dip in form after receiving the award, but that all changed when he scored five goals in Real’s clash with Granada in which Madrid won the game a staggering 9-1. As for Messi, he has also been scoring plenty of hat-tricks himself in 2015, and both players seem to be in the form of their lives, only further increasing the battle between the two arguably best clubs in Europe and the world.

With six games to go, it is set to be a huge climax to the season, and I can only give one piece of advice: don’t put any bets on it!

The Race for Jurgen Klopp

With not long to go in the Premier League now as we pass mid April, the race is hotting up for the charismatic manager of Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp. As it looks certain that the likes of Jose Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal will stay at their clubs for the 2015/16 season, there are strong chances that Manuel Pellegrini could well be sacked and there could be the slightest, slightest chance that Arsene Wenger may finally chose to retire as Arsenal boss, and after strong showings last season from their clubs, safety isn’t wrapped up for Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rogers. Therefore, all four sides will be closely keeping an eye on the German.

Klopp started out his career as a manager in 2001, taking charge of FSV Mainz 05 up until 2008. During his 7 year reign he lead them into the Bundesliga for the first time, and even guided them to qualification for the 2005-2006 UEFA Cup. Unfortunately, the following season  they were relegated from the Bundesliga, and after failing to gain promotion after that Klopp resigned as head coach.

Shortly after in May 2008 he was approached by Borussia Dortmund and signed a two year contract with a club. He got underway in style by defeating rivals Bayern Munich to clinch the Supercup, and after last seasons disappointment under Thomas Doll in which they finished 13th, Klopp improved their position by 7 places, leading them to finish 6th. There was also steady improvement the next season as they finished 5th before successive league titles transformed the club in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. In 2012-2013, Dortmund had begun well known around the world  and their fan base was increasing, and despite only managing to finish second behind Bayern Munich, a fantastic run to the Champions League final including to victories against Real Madrid saw them come agonisingly close to just their second ever European Cup title, (after their win against Juventus in 1997) as they lost 2-1 to Bayern again after Arjen Robben’s late winner. The next season was not quite as thrilling as the finished second in the Bundesliga again and despite winning the second leg 2-0, crashed out in the quarter finals of the Champions League to Real Madrid in a 2-3 aggregate defeat. This season however has been a lot, lot worse, as after 29 games, they sit just 8th and went out to  Juventus in the round of 16 of the Champions League, and after this poor year, on  the 15th April, Klopp announced that he will be leaving Dortmund at the end of this season.

After much speculation it seems as if he may be going to the Premier League and Manchester City are currently the favourites to land the crazy manager, but expect this one to go right down to the wire; and the question is, where will Jurgen Klopp be next season?

Winter Woes

The proposed 2022 Winter World Cup in Qatar is set to destroy the European leagues, especially the English Premier League. When awarding the tournament to Qatar, FIFA, who many people have suggested are full of corruption and bribery, clearly didn’t think about the consequences of 22 men running non-stop for 90 minutes in searing heat, and fans with only a couple of bottles of water trying to walk around the area. The idea they came up with was to stage the tournament in the Winter, when it will not be as hot, but this would cause huge disruption to all European leagues, especially the Premier League with the special ‘Winter Schedule’.

Players will come back to an extremely busy fixture list very tired, and some of the best players in the world could miss key fixtures for their sides. It would be utter mayhem and there would be no time to prepare, meaning that we would not be seeing great quality, and as world cups only come around once every four years, players won’t be able to take full advantage of their life dream.

Also it would change tradition, and as well as this, people have suggested that the final could be played two days before Christmas. Now, for the fans watching at home, that would be great. it would be the perfect Christmas treat. But for the players however, not so great. They would struggle to get back to their families in time and, especially for the losing side, it could ruin their annual festivities.

Overall, FIFA clearly need to sort themselves out, and start thinking about the problems that it would cause for the rest of the footballing world.

Match Report #3 Barcelona 5-0 Levante

On Sunday afternoon Barcelona entertained Levante at the Camp Nou, and thrashed them 5-0, as a certain Lionel Messi bagged his 5th hat-trick of another great season.

It didn’t take long for Barca to open the scoring, when in the 17th minute, Lionel Messi’s in swinging cross found Neymar, who scuffed the finish high into the air, but, as they say, when your luck’s in, your luck’s in, and Neymar’s weird attempt looped over a helpless Diego Marino in the Levante goal.

Then, in the 39th minute, Barca proved that they are most dangerous in the ten minute spell before half time, when Marc Bartra pounced on a mistake before sliding a neat ball through to Lionel Messi who slotted his chance into the far corner with his right foot. This goal came just after Messi was denied what would have been a fabulous goal as he was ruled to have been offside, when later replays suggested that he was in fact well onside.

In the second half Barcelona began to turn up the heat, and some good work from Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez set up Messi for another goal with his right foot, tapping in a volley for Barca’s third.

And it didn’t take long for the sensational Messi to complete his 5th hat-trick of the season, as he calmly slotted home his penalty. This came after Messi had openly said he gets nervous over penalties. The last penalty he took was against Elche in an emphatic 0-6 win, and he did score, however he opted out of taking one against Villarreal, leaving Neymar on penalty duty. Unfortunately, Neymar couldn’t convert against the club he had scored from the spot against last season, which meant Messi had to take his chance against the team that he had missed against earlier in the season, in another 5-0 win, but this time he did score, putting the game beyond doubt and taking the scoreline to 4-0.

Later on, Luis Enrique chose to replace Neymar with what looked like a somewhat frustrated Luis Suarez, who had been put on the bench behind Pedro in the starting line up. Suarez then took his only real opportunity of his 20 minute cameo, and showed everyone why he should have been playing from the start, with an incredible bicycle kick. As Adriano’s great first touch took him to the by-line following a great diagonal pass from Javier Mascherano, he wipped in the cross towards the hungry striker, and just when it looked like it had been pulled back too far behind him, Suarez demonstrated his incredible athletic abilities to score a wonderful goal and complete the match.

 

Match Report #2 West Ham 4-0 West Brom

Another game to demonstrate the magic of the FA Cup, another shock 4-0 win in the world of football. Two goals from an in-form Brown Ideye and further strikes from James Morrison and Saido Berahino took a poor West Ham side apart. Ideye, who came within inches of leaving the Baggies in the final hours of deadline day, has now scored 4 goals in 6 games, and is looking like he could transform West Brom’s season.

The first goal started with a superb cross-field pass by Craig Gardner to pick out Craig Dawson, allowing him to beat Aaron Cresswell and get down the wing to feed Brown Ideye for a simple finish to make it 1-0 to West Brom.

And from there on, things only got worse for the Hammers as Craig Gardner’s excellent effort from 30-yards rattled the crossbar, and just three minutes later, a sublime long-range finish from James Morrison took the Baggies’ lead to 2-0.

Later in the second half on 57 minutes, Brown Ideye pounced after some poor defending by West Ham to head in his second and put the game beyond doubt.

After this, the frustration began to mount, and it finally told as Morgan Amalfitano, (who had only been on the pitch for 10 minutes) saw red as he kicked out at Chris Brunt before slapping him in the face.

Then, with 18 minutes left to play, Saido Berahino completed the rout as he smashed home a neat near post finish past West Ham ‘keeper Adrian.

West Ham will hope to put this game beyond them as they travel to North London to play Spurs on Sunday, whilst West Brom will carry their good form into their match at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland on Saturday.

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?

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.