Wonderwatch #1 Dele Alli

Where will football be in 10 years? It’s hard to guess. Who will be the best players in the world? Also hard to guess, but we”ll have a go. This new series, “Wonderwatch”, will be profiling some of the world’s most exciting up and coming talents who have the potential to achieve great things. One day, a series like this would have been talking about youngsters such as Lionel Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo. But today, we are talking about Breel Embolo, Inaki Williams, Jordan Ibe, Youri Tielemans, the list goes on. The series will assess their short careers so far, their strengths and weaknesses, and whether they can go all the way.

We start with 19 year-old Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli, who is already showing signs of genuine quality. Going back a few years ago to November 2012, Alli made his debut in professional football, coming on as a 64th minute substitute for Jay O’Shea in the FA Cup first round 0-0 draw against Cambridge United. His first touch, a cheeky back-heel, gave us just a glimpse of the skill and confidence that was to come. 11 days later, he made his first start whilst he also scored his first goal in the replay with Cambridge as the Dons triumphed 6-1.

It was the next season though, in the 2013/14 campaign, where he became a regular starter, and after a few injury setbacks at the start of the season, he scored his first senior hat-trick as Mk Dons beat Nottingham County 3-1, and that was to be followed by a stunning 25 yard volley a month later in a 2-1 win over Coventry. That was to be his final goal of a season in which he struck seven times, and helped his side to a 10th place finish in League 1.

The next season saw him put in a string of top class performances as the first choice central midfielder in the side. He started the season well before he played an important role in Mk Dons’ historic 4-0 win over Manchester United in the League Cup, where it was reported that scouts from clubs such as Bayern Munich and Liverpool had come to watch him. He continued his form with a curler from the edge of the box against Crawley, and along with an assist, Alli scored his second ever hat-trick in a 6-1 win over Crewe Alexandra.

His performances in the first half of the season earned him a £5million move to Tottenham Hotspur in the January transfer window, but Alli was loaned back to Mk Dons for the remainder of the season, and they achieved promotion to the Championship as runners up behind Bristol City. Alli was awarded as the Football League’s “Young player of the year” after his impressive season.

His first season in the Premier League has seen him start life as a top flight player extremely well, and he scored his first goal for Tottenham as a substitute with a headed equaliser against Leicester City in a 1-1 draw.

His bright start to the season saw Roy Hodgson call him up to the senior England squad for the Euro 2016 qualifiers against Estonia and Lithuania, after he had represented England at U17 and U18 level previously. He made his debut in against the former as he came on as a late substitute for Ross Barkley, and after he scored in a 3-1 win over Aston Villa on 2nd November, he made his first start for England on 17th November as he scored a 25 yard stunner past his Tottenham team mate Hugo Lloris, via a slight deflection. But he went one better against Crystal Palace two months later as he scored one of the goals of the season. Facing sideways to the goal, he controlled a headed pass from Tom Carroll before demonstrating great awareness and skill to lob the ball over the head of an approaching defender behind him. Alli then swivelled before unleashing an unstoppable volley from, once again, around 25 yards out, that found the bottom corner of a helpless Wayne Hennessey’s net.

It’s goals like that that have prompted people to notice his sheer confidence and willingness to not only try outrageous pieces of skill, but to pull them off as well, and in some style. His ‘no fear’ approach seems just like what England needs, and he could prove a prize asset to Mauricio Pochettino’s improving Spurs side, that is, unless he is inevitably bought for a huge sum by a bigger club.

He is strong, reasonably quick, and, like his childhood hero Steven Gerrard, has an eye for goal from midfield.

People have suggested that there is a dark side to the youngster, but that is often the case with most young players, and at the moment, it just seems more like a fiery and somewhat important part to his game.

There is no doubt that the hype can get to young players, but Alli seems different, as if he doesn’t need this protection that is always talked about when England uncover a promising talent. He seems to be confident enough to not crush under the overwhelming  pressure.

He is yet to face a big test so far in his career, and providing he stays fit, he has a great chance of being selected for the Euro’s this summer.

And will that be where Dele Alli proves what an extraordinary talent he is? We’ll have to wait and see…

Round up #4 A true spectacle!

One of the most unpredictable and exciting weekends of Premier League football so far this season had pretty much everything. Debut goals, late drama, stunning strikes, and a celebration which resulted in the glasses of Jurgen Klopp breaking, along with the hearts of Norwich City.

Starting with that crazy game at Anfield, Liverpool opened the scoring in the 18th minute through Roberto Firmino, before Dieumerci Mbokani’s clever backheel put Norwich level just before the half hour mark. Then it was time for Steven Naismith to fire in a great finish from a difficult angle to mark his Canaries debut with a goal, and 9 minutes into the second half, Norwich went 3-1 up through a penalty by Wes Hoolahan. But this is where the game got crazy. In an unbelievable 20 minute spell, well taken goals from Jordan Henderson and James Milner either side of a fantasic team goal finished off neatly by Firmino for his second of game put Liverpool 3-4 up, but only for Sebastian Bassong to hit a pile-driving volley from the edge of the area to get what looked like the crucial equaliser in the 92nd minute. But, Liverpool kept going, and eventually, in 95th minute, Adam Lallana’s goal won a dramatic match at Carrow Road. Both of the late goals followed by somewhat over the top celebrations appeared very similar to the celebrations of last week in Everton’s 3-3 draw with Chelsea, but this time, the manager of the team that scored the even later goal unfortunately saw his glasses snap, a comical moment in a somewhat comical game.

Moving onto a game that, despite contrasting massively in terms of entertainment value, still had late drama, as Manchester United failed to build on last week’s derby win over Liverpool. In a game of few highlights, Charlie Austin marked his Southampton debut with a trademark header to win the game for his new side. Southampton have now won their last 3 games and sit eighth in the table, whereas United’s champions league hopes are looking increasingly unlikely now. Does something need to change?

The game at Selhurst Park saw high flying Tottenham turn around a 1-0 deficit after a Jan Vertonghen own goal put struggling Palace ahead. Mauricio Pochettino’s side had to wait until the 63rd minute to get an equaliser through a Harry Kane header, before a moment of true class saw Dele Alli put Spurs in front. Standing sideways to goal, Alli controlled a headed pass and cushioned the ball towards his chest. With his back to the defender, he flicked it over Joe Ledley’s head before swivelling and hitting the ball first time on the volley from twenty yards out past Wayne Hennessey into the bottom corner, for one of the best goals of the season. Nacer Chadli sealed the win late in stoppage time with a superb curling effort, and that sealed another important win for Tottenham.

Jamie Vardy ended a seven game drought with a brilliant goal as Leicester made light work of a Stoke side that you would have expected to give the Premier League leaders a real game at the King Power stadium. Danny Drinkwater’s deflected volley gave the foxes the lead with three minutes to go before half time, and Leicester built on that lead as Drinkwater’s inch-perfect pass found Jamie Vardy, whose delightful first touch took the ball around a helpless Jack Butland before he slotted the ball home into the empty net. Late on, an outrageous piece of skill by Riyad Mahrez bamboozled Stoke’s Phillip Wollschied before his scuffed shot fell on a plate for Leonardo Ulloa to tap in and secure a comfortable win for Leicester.

The Stadium of light saw Patrick Van Aanholt score for the fourth game in a row on Saturday, and despite the first two of that run being chalked off as own goals by the dubious goals panel, but, nevertheless, his goal, late in the first half, earned Sunderland a point after Benik Afobe scored his second goal for Bournemouth since his recent move from Wolves. This was a vital point for a Sunderland team who are still under huge pressure, sitting 19th in the table and 4 points way from safety, whereas Bournemouth, without being anywhere near safety, sit in a relatively comfortable position at 16th.

The final 3 o’clock game was nothing to get excited about in a game that finished 0-0, but, like Sunderland, it was an important point for Aston Villa against West Brom at the Hawthorns, especially as Aston Villa are still 8 points from safety at the foot of the table. As for the Baggies, they sit 14th below Chelsea, and are probably the highest place team with a threat of relegation.

Saturday’s football concluded with a thrilling match in the late kick off at Upton Park, where West Ham met Manchester City. West Ham ran out shock 1-2 winners in the reverse fixture this season, and they got off to the perfect start when Enner Valencia put them ahead after just 53 seconds. But, City bounced back well in the 9th minute as Sergio Aguero converted his penalty that he had won, but that was only before Valencia capatalised on poor defending to score his second goal of the game to put the Hammers back in front after 55 minutes. City showed courage to come back from behind again as Aguero scored again, this time with a brilliant finish, but you could argue that they rely too much on their talented Argentinian who is unreliable as he is often injured, but at second in the table, they are still among the favourites for the Premier League crown.

Sunday’s action began at the Emirates where Diego Costa’s goal gave Chelsea the double over Arsenal this season, but it wasn’t without controversy, as Per Mertesacker’s red card was highly debatable, as there appeared to be no contact at all with regard to his last man challenge on Costa, and despite the fact that he did still clearly make it difficult for Costa to go on and then score, it was definitely a dive by the Chelsea striker.

The weekend’s final game saw goals from Andre Ayew and Gylfi Sigurdsson either side of a Jack Cork own goal gave Swansea an important 3 points over a defensively struggling Everton side. Everton, despite their entertainment value and attacking qualities now sit 12th in the table, whilst Swansea are still under pressure despite being 15th.

And all just when we thought this Premier League season couldn’t get any better!

The new world beaters #2 Neymar

When you look to the future of football, you look to James Rodriguez, Antoine Griezmann, Kevin De Bruyne, but, most of all, you look to Neymar. Outrageous talent and skill have lead to comparisons with Pele and team-mate Lionel Messi, but Neymar is Neymar. He is a unique player. And most of all, a very, very good player, who has the potential to get even better.

Born on 5th February 1992, the Brazilian starlet lived in a family where money was tight, but he was closely bonded with his loved ones, and they made the most of what little cash they had, for example lighting candles when there was no electricity. He also had to make the most of what little space he had to play football, but as he said in his autobiography, “Improvising is essential in football. I learned this early in life.”

The young future star would set up the furniture in his grandfather’s house and go dribbling around the obstacles, honing his technique. He would be the commentator, narrating his imaginary games that he played with his cousins and sister, Rafaela.

On March 7th 2009 he made his debut for Santos as a sixteen year old against Oeste, and he only had to wait a week longer to get his first goal in a 3-0 victory over Mogi Mirim.

It was never debated that he had talent, but there were questions over his attitude, with a tendency to stray adrift from the law. Many people said that he was an overhyped star being payed too much money with too much pressure on him to deliver. Many even said that a move to Europe would be a bad idea. But how wrong could they be.

Before his eventual move to Barcelona in 2013, he scored five goals in an 8-1 win over Guaraniin the Brazilian cup, he scored a goal in the second leg of the final of the Libertadores Cup as Santos beat Penarol, he scored on his international debut for Brazil against USA, he scored four goals over two legs of the state championship final as Santos won 7-2, he won a silver medal at the Olympics, and he scored a hat-trick for Brazil against China. All before his 21st birthday. And there was much more to come.

Despite a trophyless first season with Barcelona in which he should glimpses of his talent, he performed well in Brazil’s home World Cup in 2014, scoring 4 goals, before finishing the tournament early due to injury.

The Brazilian had performed well despite the huge pressure surrounding him at such a young age, and he kicked on from that the next season, forming a formidable trio with team mates Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as Barcelona won an historic treble, with Neymar scoring in the Copa Del Rey final and the Champions League final.

That was the season where Neymar showed the world just how good he is, and along with his blistering start to 2015/16, he finished third in the Ballon D’Or, which is something to be proud of when you’ve finished behind Ronaldo and Messi.

Although the incredible expectation will probably never ease up for Neymar, he seems to have got used to the pressure, as he showed with his goals in the finals last season, and as long as he stays mature and on the right track, there is a bright future ahead of him.

But it is maturity that has sometimes not been there back home with Santos or with the national team, whereas he has always kept his head since he’s been at Barcelona. He demonstrated this when, after he was fine all season with Barca, he lost his head at the Copa America with Brazil and was sent off.

If he can show the same level of maturity that he does with Barcelona with the national team, there is no reason why Neymar won’t go on to become one of the all time greats.

The end of the Galacticos

Year after year, Real Madrid never fail to look for the next big thing, splash the cash, and continue to build a team of superstars. However, we could be witnessing the climax of this era, and the fact that Real, along with fellow Madrid club Atletico, have both been handed transfer bans, it is looking increasingly likely that we could be seeing the death of the “Galacticos”. But that would only be the straw that broke the camel’s back…

Florentino Perez (president of Real)  wants Real Madrid to be an icon. He wants the biggest names. He wants the next big thing. Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, James, to name a few. But although the “Galacticos” approach can be successful to a certain degree, it is neither sustainable nor easy to convert into a complete starting 11. As Rafa Benitez found this season.

The 4-0 crushing at the hands of Barcelona summed up just how badly the idea can work. Rafa took the job because it was the Real Madrid job, who wouldn’t? But if you’re a manager with a certain philosophy being forced to play players who don’t necessarily fit the system purely because of their huge price tag, it is unlikely to work, hence the crushing defeat. How was Benitez meant to play a team “the Benitez way” when he must start Isco, Ronaldo, Bale, James, Benzema, Kroos, Modric and more? It’s a recipe for disaster. But, on the other hand, not playing them would make them a waste of money. And, in most cases with Real, a lot of money. Benitez had no choice but to start their £30 million right back Danilo because they paid so much for him. But what if Benitez’s preferred, and more successful system, involved a right back who played differently to Danilo’s style, but didn’t cost as much money, for example?

Managers need to have control over transfers in order to play the way they want to. You can’t chuck the most sought after wingers in a team with a system that plays wing-backs instead. Instead of buying wingers, you buy wing-backs,  don’t you? If only poor old Florentino could understand.

Real went trophy-less last season without Angel Di Maria. The season before, they won the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League with Di Maria, and the Argentinian was arguably Real’s best player that season. But instead of keeping one of the most important players in the team, Perez saw how much worldwide attention James Rodriguez was getting after his world cup performances. So, he bought James for a hefty price tag, leaving the squad with too many attacking players. Goodbye Di Maria. It seemed as if, despite his extraordinary talent, because Di Maria wasn’t a 21 year old recent £60 million signing, he was useless, and therefore surplus to requirements.

Now this season things are continuing to be going downhill, but with club legend Zinedine Zidane at the helm, you can’t help but wonder if he will be given more freedom in the transfer market. Another reason for the end of the “Galacticos” is the transfer ban of course, but that is only temporary. The most significant reason though, must inevitably be that Perez must finally realise that it just doesn’t work. Of course you can forgive him for keeping up with the idea as he watches his side destruct teams like Rayo Vallecano 10-2, or beat Malmo 8-0, because that’s what world class players do for you. But looking at last season, looking at the current league table, and looking at the fact that Rafa Benitez had to be sacked so early on in his rein, surely even Florentino must give it up.

Round up #3 Rooney wins the derby!

Whilst Leicester miss the chance to go top, a Wayne Rooney goal wins the derby for Manchester United in another entertaining weekend of Premier League football (not that Liverpool vs Manchester United was entertaining at all). Apart from the disappointing derby, there was drama, great goals, and as usual, the inevitable goal from Patrick Van Aanholt, one of the Premier League’s hottest goalscorers around at the moment. (Yes, the Sunderland full back has scored three goals in his last three games now).

We shall begin the round up at Villa Park, where Leicester missed the chance to regain top spot (not that they knew it at the time). A beautiful lob from Jamie Vardy was just saved by Mark Bunn, but despite his best efforts, the goalkeeper could not keep out the follow up from Shinji Okazaki. Leicester then had the chance to solidify their lead from the spot following a controversial handball decision given against Villa’s Aly Cissokho, but Riyad Marez, who missed his last penalty, saw his tame effort saved by Bunn. Then in the second half Aston Villa striker Rudy Gestede’s deflected effort drew the league’s bottom team level, and that’s how it finished.

In the 3 o’clock kick offs, Southampton became the league’s only team to win their last two games as they defeated a lack-lustre West Brom side 3-0. James Ward-Prowse opened the scoring early on with a brilliant free-kick before the England U21 international then made it 2-0 with a penalty. In the second half, substitute Dusan Tadic finished from a tight angle to seal the points for Ronald Koeman’s side, who now face Manchester United and Arsenal in their next two games.

Also in the 3 o’clock kick offs, Manchester City cruised past a Crystal Palace team who have found themselves in some rare poor form in what has been a generally good season for Alan Pardew’s team. Fabian Delph’s long ranger opened the scoring after 21 minutes before two goals from Sergio Aguero either side of half time effectively ended the contest, but not before Aguero had time to set up David Silva late on for City’s fourth. City will now be hoping to put together a good run of form and really show their quality, because they undoubtedly have the best squad in the league, and they would be under-achieving if they were not to get there hands on their third title in five years.

The weekend’s biggest shock came at St. James’ Park as Newcastle, off the back of a 3-3 draw with Manchester United in midweek, saw off an in-form West Ham side who were beginning to look like real top four contenders. Early goals from Ayoze Perez and Georginio Wijnaldum, before a goal from Nikica Jelavic meant that Newcastle won 2-1, and, before Swansea’s Monday night win over Watford, moved out of the relegation zone. A promising debut from Jonjo Shelvey was capped by a sixty yard pass to Daryl Janmaat in the move for Wijnaldum’s goal.

Meanwhile, the most dramatic match was at Stamford Bridge as a late John Terry goal earned Chelsea a point at the hands of Roberto Martinez’s Everton. Despite being a six goal thriller, we had to wait until the 50th minute for the game’s opening goal, which went in Everton’s favour in the form of a John Terry own goal. Kevin Mirallas then doubled their lead with a sweet strike just six minutes later, but a quick-fire Chelsea double through goals from Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas brought them level. Everton thought they had won it when Ramiro Funes Mori’s far post flick put them ahead in the 90th minute, but in the 98th minutes, John Terry scored at the right end with a cheeky flick to score one of the latest goals the Premier League has seen for years. Terry appeared to be offside though, prompting Everton manager Roberto Martinez to say, “Maybe refs need a bit of help. But to have a player two yards off in the box is unacceptable.” In closer inspection Terry was offside, but the Spaniard’s comments seem very harsh on the officials, and Martinez seems to be continuing the trend of criticizing officials that managers not only in Britain, but across the world seem to be doing right now, and have for some time. In this case, it was difficult for both the linesman and the referee to see whether the decisive pass to Terry came off a Everton or Chelsea head in the huge melee.

Down on the south coast, Bournemouth breezed past relegation rivals Norwich by three goals to nil as Benik Afobe scored his first Cherries goal following his move from Championship side Wolves. Dan Gosling opened the scoring in the 10th minute before Charlie Daniels, who put in a particularly impressive performance, made it two with a calm finish from the spot. Afobe then scored with 15 minutes to go to complete a confident win for Eddie Howe’s side.

In Saturday’s early kick off,  Tottenham came from behind to comfortably see off Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland, after Patrick Van Aanholt, not known for his goalscoring qualities, scored for the third game in a row to put the Black Cats in front. However, the joy only lasted for a couple of minutes  as Christian Eriksen levelled the scores. In the second half goals from Moussa Dembele, another from Eriksen and a penalty from Harry Kane secured a 4-1 win for Tottenham, who now sit fourth in the table. As for Sunderland, they are still 19th, and may have to pull off another great escape in order to stay in English football’s top division.

Sunday’s football didn’t quite live up to expectation, as before Jack Butland and Petr Cech produced stand out performances in Stoke vs Arsenal, a Wayne Rooney goal won the derby for United. That leaves Klopp’s Liverpool 9th and Manchester United fifth, and after the early optimism, the German is yet to make his mark on this Liverpool side.

In the Monday night football an Ashley Williams header secured a vital win for Swansea that keeps them out of the relegation zone, whilst Watford’s good form is seemingly drying up, with Deeney and Ighalo lacking service in the last few games.

Another entertaining weekend of football, but we are still left wondering if anybody does want to win the title. Will it be Arsenal, Leicester of Manchester City? All we can be sure of is that an exciting climax to the season awaits.


Weekend Preview

Can Man. City start to gain momentum? Can Arsenal set themselves apart from the rest? Will Leicester keep up the pressure? Who will win, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool or Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United? It’s set to be an intriguing weekend of Premier League football!

Tottenham and Sunderland play in the early kick off, with Tottenham coming into the game off the back of a late defeat to Leicester. Despite that, Mauricio Pochettino’s side have been in good form and sit 4th in the table. Performances from Harry Kane and Dele Alli have been important in their rise up the table, and if they can bounce back straight away with 3 points it could be very handy. But, in their way will be a Sunderland team high on confidence after their vital 2-4 win over fellow strugglers Swansea in midweek, and striker Jermain Defoe, who scored a hat-trick in that game, will be hoping to keep us his good form with a goal against his former club.

Meanwhile, Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth host Alex Neill’s Norwich, and Bournemouth, who have lost their way in recent weeks, could start Lewis Grabban, who rejoined the club he was at last season, and if he were to play, his first game for his new (old) club would be against the  club that he has just left, Norwich! Norwich’s form has been more up and down lately, with wins against Manchester United, Aston Villa and Southampton along with defeats to Manchester City, Tottenham and Stoke, but whatever happens, it is set to be a hugely important game between two of last season’s promoted sides.

One of the most interesting ties will take place at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea take on Everton. Both drew in midweek, but Everton’s draw would have been more satisfactory as they picked up a point after the 0-0 draw with Manchester City, whilst Chelsea were denied 3 points by West Brom. In form striker Romelu Lukaku will be hoping to continue his form, and Chelsea will be hoping to keep up their unbeaten run under interim manager Guus Hiddink.

Crystal Palace will hardly be going into the weekend with great confidence, as they became only the second team to lose to Aston Villa in the league this season, (the last being Bournemouth’s 0-1 defeat on the opening day,) and now they travel to Manchester City. As for City themselves, Sergio Aguero will be keen to build on goals against Watford and Norwich, and as a result keep the pressure up on Arsenal and Leicester.

Newcastle will come into their game against West Ham with a new hope, after their 3-3 draw with Manchester United in midweek, and new signings Jonjo Shelvey and Henri Saivet could start along with Emmanuel Riviere and Rolando Aarons, who are both back from injury. Looking at West Ham, Dimitri Payet made a huge impact in his first game back from injury against Bournemouth, with a sumptuous free kick, a classy assist and an all round dazzling display helped the Hammers to a 1-3 win.

Southampton host West Brom at St Mary’s, and after their important 2-0 win against Watford on Wednesday the Saints will be hoping to build on that result with 3 more points. New Saints signing Charlie Austin will be watching on as an in form Shane Long faces his former club, whilst Rickie Lambert of the Baggies will be facing his former club also. The match finished 0-0 the last time these two sides met at the Hawthorns earlier this season.

A repeat of the 3-2 thriller at the King Power stadium earlier this season sees Aston Villa host Leicester at Villa Park. The reverse fixture saw Villa go 0-2 up through brilliant goals from Jack Grealish and Carles Gil before goals from Danny Drinkwater, Jamie Vardy and Nathan Dyer turned the game on its head. This time Vardy will be hoping to get his first goal since the 2-1 victory against Chelsea, whilst Villa will be in a much happier mood after just their second win of the season against Crystal Palace in midweek, although there is still a lot of work to be done for the Premier League’s bottom side.

Sunday will see English football’s most famous fixture as Liverpool welcome Manchester United to Anfield, before league leaders Arsenal travel to the Britannia to face Stoke.

The Monday night game will be huge for Swansea after their disappointing 2-4 defeat against Sunderland, and they face Watford, who also lost in midweek. Swansea sit just 1 point outside of the relegation zone and a win today would be crucial.

Who will be top of the table at the end of the week? Who will be in the relegation zone? We’ll have to wait and see.

The FIFA Team of the Year 2015

So, Lionel Messi has won his fifth career Ballon D’Or and the little Argentinian takes a starring role in this year’s FIFA team of the year. Featuring 8 La Liga players, a Bundesliga player, a Serie A player and a Ligue 1 player, it isn’t hard to tell that the Premier League wasn’t quite as successful as some hoped in 2015.

Manuel Neuer: Not quite as successful as his outstanding 2014, but Manuel Neuer is still the best goalkeeper I the world, and despite missing a penalty in the German Cup semi final shoot out defeat to Borussia Dortmund  and crashing out of the Champions League (also in the semi-finals) to Barcelona, “The Wall”, as he is otherwise known, was vital in helping Bayern to a third successive Bundesliga title.

Dani Alves: The Barcelona full back continued to demonstrate just why he plays for such a decorated club as Barcelona, his attacking qualities were second to none in 2015 as he was part of Luis Enrique’s treble winning side. Despite not being known for his defensive qualities, there is no disputing that Alves was an important figure for Barcelona last year.

Sergio Ramos: Solid in defence and also proving a threat going forward, Ramos was a somewhat good point of a Real Madrid team that failed to build on their success in 2014. The Spaniard thrived under former coach Rafa Benitez in Real’s brilliant start to the season (from a defensive point of view).

Thiago Silva: After the disappointment of the 2014 World Cup, the Brazil and PSG captain lead his side to a domestic double of Ligue and the Cuope de France. The centre back also scored his side’s vital goal in the 2 leg defeat of Chelsea in the Champions League, before being knocked out by eventual winners Barcelona.

Marcelo: An attacking threat who is similar to fellow Brazilian Dani Alves, Marcelo was a slightly controversial pick for the team of the year as he failed to win any trophies, but has started this season in good form.

Paul Pogba: Paul Pogba could be the real deal. He possesses all the qualities needed to be one of the greats, and starred in a Juventus side that aswell as winning Serie A and the Coppa Italia, also reached the Champions League final, only to fall to Barcelona. With unbeatable strength, the ability to prove an attacking threat whilst also being solid in defense, and a superb long shot talent, Paul Pogba can build on an incredible 2015.

Luka Modric: Luka Modric finally looks at home with Real Madrid after being called “La Liga’s worst signing the season he joined the Spanish giants. The 30 year old has played well with German Toni Kroos after the departure of Xabi Alonso, and is looking like the old Modric that we used to see at Tottenham Hotspur.

Andres Iniesta: Winning his second treble with Barcelona last season, the 2010 World Cup winner demonstrated just why he is so good in one of the biggest games of the year – in Barca’s 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid. A superb goal accompanied by an all round sensational classic Iniesta performance meant that he could once again prove that he is one of the best in the world.

Neymar: The Brazilian enjoyed an outstanding 2015, and after an okay start to his Barcelona career, Neymar kicked on and showed just why Barcelona paid so much money for him. With the goals and assists flowing, he was essential to Barca’s outstanding trident of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Moments of utter jaw-dropping skill like his goal against Villareal, aswell as a goal in the Copa Del Rey final and the Champions League final saw Neymar have his greatest year yet, and it looks like there’s is much more to come.

Cristiano Ronaldo: Yet again brilliant, but maybe this time not quite brilliant enough. 5 goal hauls against Granada and Espanyol respectively reminded us of his sheer talent, but 2015 could be the start of Ronaldo’s decline. Obviously records were still broken and goals were scored at a freakishly high rate, but Cr7 failed to live up to the expectations that were set after his brilliant 2014.

Lionel Messi: Not only did he get the most assists in La Liga last season, Lionel Messi still scored goal after goal, and not only were they brilliant, but they came just when Barca needed him most. For example, his outrageous skill to discard Jerome Boateng followed by his audacious chip on Manuel Neuer in the Champions League final, or his incredible solo goal in the Copa Del Rey final, or even his neat finish that secured the title for Barca against Atletico Madrid. Messi also helped Argentina reach the Copa America final before losing on penalties to Chile, and his telepathic understanding with team-mates Neymar and Suarez was at times truly unstoppable.

Who missed out?: Jordi Alba, Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez.

Manchester United v Liverpool Rivalry #2

On the 17th January this month, English football’s most famous fixture will take centre stage at Anfield once again, and although the two most successful teams in the history of the English game might not be the forces they once were, the Manchester United v Liverpool derby has never lost it’s sensational thrill.

Although being located fairly close to each other, this game is so much bigger than a local derby. A rivalry built on success, it takes precedence over the respective derbies against Manchester City and Everton, and that takes some doing as there’s much more than three points at steak in those games.

As Ander Herrera said before United’s meeting with local rivals Man City earlier this season “This game is huge, but I know that for the fans, the game against Liverpool is bigger”.

In 1977, the two sides renewed rivalries in the FA Cup final, with title winners and European Cup finalists Liverpool going in as favourites, but, as we all know in the FA Cup, anything can happen, and it was Manchester United who prevailed 2-1 winners. Stuart Pearson put them ahead with a powerful near post finish, but that was cancelled out by Jimmy Case who showed terrific skill, agility and finishing as he made the score 1-1. The winning goal came due to a huge slice of luck as Lou Macari’s shot was deflected in by his own team-mate, Jimmy Greenhoff.

11 years later, United the underdogs again, clawed their way back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 after a last gasp equaliser from Gordon Strachan rescued an important point for the Red Devils. United skipper Bryan Robson had opened the scoring early on as he rounded off a well worked move, before Liverpool turned things around either side of the break, starting with a superb team goal scored by Peter Beardsley followed by goals from Gary Gillespie and Steve McMahon, the latter being a stunning strike from almost 30 yards out. But, United rallied in the form of a deflected Bryan Robson strike before Strachan finished with composure for the late equaliser.

More recently in 2009, the two sides were the two best teams in the English game, and despite an early penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo, goals from Fernando Torres and Andrea Dossena aswell as a Steven Gerrard penalty and a Fabio Aurelio free-kick turned the game on it’s head as Liverpool completed a shock 1-4 win at Old Trafford.

Two seasons later, despite a brace from Steven Gerrard, Dimitar Berbatov stole the headlines with a stunning hat-trick. His first was a clever header, before a sensational over-head kick was followed by another good header.

The most recent meeting was also a classic, as all eyes were on Manchester United’s new signing, Anthony Martial, the world’s most expensive teenager, costing around £36m. The Frenchman started on the bench, and watched his new side take a two nil lead after a well worked Daley Blind goal and a terrific penalty from Ander Herrera. Then Liverpool’s Cristian Benteke gave them a life-line with a superb over-head kick to make the score 2-1. Step up Anthony Martial. Just minutes into his debut, the 19 year- old waltzed around the Liverpool defence before slotting the ball into the far corner, displaying great skill and composure in the process.

No doubt in the calibre of Real Madrid vs Barcelona and Boca Juniors vs River Plate, Liverpool vs Manchester United rarely disappoints.