Juventus are looking to German starlet midfielder Julain Draxler to strengthen their midfield after the departure of the midfield maestro’s in Pirlo and Vidal. Juventus did sign another German International Sami Khedira for free from Real Madrid after his contract came to an end. However, with 2 quality midfielders leaving and Pogba been linked with different clubs, Juventus is in need of a quality midfielder and they are looking to Draxler to fill that gap and give the Italian Champions a much needed balance.
German International had a hard time during the 14-15 season in which he only managed to appear 15 times for Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga due to injuries, out of which only 8 times he started for the German giants. Draxler was sidelined due to thigh injury at the end of the first half of the season, which kept him out for months. Before that he had an Achilles problem that kept him on the sidelines. However, Draxler is a quality not many have doubted for. In his short career, he had reached the heights not many players could have dreamt of. He was the part of the World Cup winning German side, and he is being long tipped as the next big thing in German football.
For Juventus, Draxler will bring something different than Vidal or Pirlo. Assuming that he will be fit enough to reclaim his best form, Draxler is great in the year, and is taller than Vidal which might prove helpful for Juventus. He got the vision to create that final ball, is very good with the long shot and have the strength to hold the ball in the middle. He lacks that aggressive instinct that Vidal had, but that has to do with the fact that he was playing at a more attacking position in Schalke. With Juventus looking to strengthen their central defensive midfield, Draxler will have to develop that skill in the time to come, or Juve can play him in a more attacking position.
With Juventus looking to bolster their midfield, Draxler can prove to be a wild card for them, which can be of great affect in the time to come. Yes, he did had a hard time in the last season and yes, he might not be the best replacement for an experience Vidal around, but at his age and with the talent that he possesses, Juventus can hope that he will be their main stay in the midfield for years to come.
With days passing by, and teams gearing up for the new seasons, a lot of deals have come to a close and some deals are yet to be completed. Here we have a list of 5 players, who will be most instrumental in their team’s progress in the Champions league next season.
1st in the list is Juventus jackpot signing once again, as they signed a World Class player in Sami Khedira for free. Khedira’s contract came to an end at the end of the last season and Juventus convinced him to join the club, where Pirlo have already left the club and there were still rumors that Pogba or Vidal might follow him in the coming days. Khedira’s presence will give a much needed boost to the already strong Juventus midfield, as he will bring in the experience of playing at the Bernabue along with winning the World Cup with Germany last year. His performance for the Los Blancos have been on a slide ever since the departure of Jose Mourinho from Madrid, and Ancelloti’s attacking mindset did not give him room to shine for the whites in the last 2 seasons. This will be his chance to be counted and show the World once again as he will get the chance to play in a more defensive looking Juventus this season, which should give him more breathing space to perform at the highest level.
2nd in the list is English highly rated 20 year old winger Raheem Sterling, who has finally completed his transfer to Manchester City after a long transfer saga. Manchester City bought him for a whopping £49 Million, which made him the most expensive English player ever. His arrival at the Etihad will give a much needed fresh breath of air to the city attack, which haven’t had many inclusions in the last season. His pace will help the blue side of Manchester, along with Aguero upfront that will have the capacity to create trouble for any opposing defense in Europe. Even though he is yet to perform in the Europe’s elite club competition, but his quality will give immense boost to the struggling City side who always had a hard time progressing in the Champions League.
Next in is Manchester United’s new boy Morgan Schnerderlin. Red Devils’ have done a great business this season, especially in the midfield with the arrival of a highly rated French International Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton. Schneiderlin had an amazing time with Southampton where he participated in the revival of the club from the 3rd tier of English football with back to back promotions. His presence in the middle of the park brings calmness to his fellow players, and he has the capacity to hold the ball or win the ball back at a crunch time. With United making a comeback to the Europe’s elite competition after a season’s break, Schneiderlin could prove to be an Ace in the book of Wild Cards of Louis Van Gaal.
Our 4th player in the list is Athletico’s new boy Jackson Martinez, who is featured in our Top 5 signing in the Europe so far due to his performance for his former club FC Porto. He was their go to man when the team needed him and had the presence of the traditional center forward. He is a nightmare for defender’s to deal with his pace, height and strong built and it is fair to say that Diego Simeone finally managed to find the right replacement for Diego Costa. With the arrival of a quick and solid center forward in Jackson Martinez, Simeone and Athletico will be hoping to once again produce the heroics of 2013/14 season, where they went all the way to the final and lost to their City rivals Real Madrid.
The last in the list is another signing from Manchester United, who have left Bayern after spending his whole career there. With Bastian joining United, the red devils will finally have an experience midfielder, who have tasted victory at every level for the club and the country. With him in the side, United can expect to have a warrior in the park, who is ready to give it all to make it tough for the opposition. Louis Van Gaal will hope that Schweinsteiger will use all his experience and help the red – devils to reach the glory that they were known for.
Finally, the Proteas’ un-defeated run of nine years in Testscomes to an end, and it was India who literally forced it to come to an end.
Since the achievement was so massive, it was presumed that there would be words of praise for the young Indian team, who managed to achieve something no one could in nearly a decade, but that was not the case.
The whole discussion was down to the fact that ‘pitches were off sub-standard’ and that the victory looked more like a “snatched” one than an “earned” one.
The discussion increased with the number of matches, and with it increased the anger within the Indian team management as well, where the likes of captain Virat Kohli and team director Ravi Shastri were left fuming after the comments about the pitches.
Ravi Shastri slammed Australian veteran Mathew Hayden and all-rounder Glen Maxwell, who criticised the pitch in the third Test match which ended in less than three days.
“Let them sit in Australia and talk about their pitches,” said Shastri. “Tell them not to waste their time about Indian tracks. Come and play here.”
“When we go overseas, we don’t have any choices. Why would you complain?”
Indian captain Kohli also defended the pitches, and more so defended his team’s success, which is somewhat tainted due to this pitch controversy.
“Why are we not talking about the fact that we are 2-0 up in the series?” said Kohli. “We are criticised about our game and technique when we don’t play well abroad. But when the visitors perform badly, it’s always the wicket.”
Looking at both of the above statements, Shastri and Kohli seem to be missing the point. As an avid cricket follower, we love to see a competition between the bat and ball, but what happened in India is absolutely shambolic to say the least.
When Kohli and the Indian team complain about tracks outside Asia, their records suggest otherwise. In the recent series, a total of nine innings before the start of the fourth Test and only four 50s or plus have been scored from both teams, whereas only three players out of both squads have an average of 30 plus.
On the contrary, looking at India’s last three tours to Australia, South Africa andEngland, they did lose the series comprehensively, but their batting performance was far superior even in those grounds than in the current series at home.
In South Africa in 2013/14, in four innings, Indian batsmen managed to score two centuries and five 50s, and Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Kohli, all had averages over 65.
In the England series of five Tests in 2014, Indian batsmen managed to score two centuries along with 15 half centuries. Later last year, India visited Australia, where in a four-match series, their batsmen managed to score seven 100s and 11 50s.
What those records suggest was that India did manage to play on those pitches, but perhaps their quality was not the same as of their opponents, and that’s why they ended up on the losing side. But in this series, Faf Du Plessis said that after the first day of the third Test, the par score on that pitch in the first innings was not more than 140 – which pretty much sums up the criticism on the playing surface.
Pakistan just won the series against England in the Emirates, and no one made a fuss about the pitches, as everyone expected them to turn. But it was nothing like the India-South Africa series, where if you score a four and even if you are an Indian batsman, you might feel like throwing a party later at night.
What Kohli and the team have to understand is that creating a pitch that favours you is fine, but creating a pitch which practically makes it impossible for the other team to play will be termed as ‘unfair’. Similarly, one is called a dry track, one is called a rank turner, and one is called “a surface full of scattered little stones, and a ball hitting on any of them can either tweak a mile, or might just come straight, or might stay down, or might just go to the fourth slip without anyone touching it”.
I think Kohli and the team took the advertisement “Mushkil hai, maza ayega” (It’s hard, will be fun) to a whole new level.
“For Brazil, a 2nd consecutive exit at the Quarter – Final stage in Copa America proves that this is just not the case with European teams taking lead in the World football, in fact there is a problem on the larger scale that needs to be fixed.”
For any football viewer, Brazil has been always a force in the World Football that was renowned for the kind of attacking football that was attractive to the eye, and remained fruitful in the results as well. Brazil remains a team that has won the World Cup most times (5 times), with Germany and Italy remains second (4 times). However, the last of those 5 World Cup wins came back more than a decade ago in 2002. Since then, Brazil only managed to reach one Semi – Final in 3 World Cups, which was in 2014 which was hosted in their own backyard, where they got a 7-1 thrashing to the newly crowned World Champions, Germany.
There was a sense that European football is taking a distant lead against their North American giants, and that’s why Brazil and Argentina is facing a hard time in the World Cup Tournaments. Argentina in the recently concluded World Cup and in this Copa America Tournament, have managed to prove that argument wrong by reaching a World Cup final and now are one victory away from clinching their first major International Trophy in more than 2 decades when they will face Chile in the Copa America final on Sunday, 4th July. For Brazil, a 2nd consecutive exit at the Quarter – Final stage in Copa America proves that this is just not the case with European teams taking lead in the World football, in fact there is a problem on the larger scale that needs to be fixed.
In 2011, Brazil was ranked 11th in FIFA ranking, which was the first time in nearly 2 decades. Brazil’s performance in the recent times were alarmingly poor, and as we say that there is theory to everything, Brazil’s poor performance in the recent time has a theory as well. So what has really gone wrong? The Answer is pretty much a lot.
To begin with, Brazil has some serious issues in their defense, the one they need to sought out sooner than later. For quite a long time, Brazil used to get away with their average defensive line with their brilliance in attacking display, but with attacking quality diminishing in the recent years, it’s taking a toll on Brazil’s defense which was never their forte to begin with. Brazil lack in the quality Goal keeping department, and that problem does not seem to be solving out any time soon. Julio Cesar was the man between the sticks till the World Cup 2014, but at the age of nearly 36, he is surely past his best and there is no one to match his quality, and his quality was by no mean equal to any World Class Goal Keeper like Lloris, Nuer or De Gea.
After the Goal Keeping crisis, another problem Brazil face is the lack of discipline in their defensive line. PSG’s Thiago Silva, who people rank among the best defenders in the World, does his best nearly every time around, but he lack support from the other end. David Luiz, who signed for PSG for a whopping €50 Million last year from Chelsea, is too attacking minded for a center back, and is always willing to leave his place to join the attack up front. He is brilliant when he is part of the attacking unit, but leaves players unmarked while defending.
What makes this problem severe for Brazil is that he is not the only one like that in the Brazil’s normal defensive line, as the likes of Marcelo and Dani Alves (even though Dani Alves is pretty decent while defending and had a brilliant Copa America) also have this attacking mentality, which leave their defense open too often. What worsen this problem is the fact that replacement for these defenders are not great either. One replacement for Luiz can be Dante, who plays for German Champion Bayern Munich, have more than once shown that he lack the pace to compete at the top level.
Inter’s new boy Miranda is a good replacement, but he is at the wrong side of his age and is also losing his pace and won’t be able to replace Luiz come the next International tournament around. Marcelo’s ideal replacement is a Chelsea left back Felipe Luiz, but he is also at the wrong side of his age, and is not so good while attacking from the wing. Madrid’s new boy Danilo provide a good and long term replacement for Dani Alves, but Brazil has a lot of work to do in their back four.
Another problem for Brazil is the lack of Leader in the middle of the park. Likes of Paulinho, Fernandinho, and Luiz Gustavo could not establish themselves as the man who dictate the game from the middle, like Aturo Vidal do for Chile. Their performance remained below par for the National side, and they gave away the ball a little too cheaply in the middle, which then even further emphasize the loopholes in their defensive line.
In the attacking department, Brazil in the recent times have been too dependent on Neymar, which every now and then proves to be a burden too much for an individual to carry. Neymar’s performances for Brazil is been astonishing to say the least, but Brazil’s too much dependence on him proved costly in the recent World Cup Semi Final, where Neymar had to miss because of a serious injury and then in the Copa America, where he had to fly home after being banned for 4 matches after receiving a red card in the match against Colombia. The likes of Chelsea’s Willian, Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho & Zenit’s Hulk could not replicate their club performances for the National side, and Brazil found wanting in their attacking department in Neymar’s absence.
Too conclude it all, Brazil seems to lose its way a little in the recent past, and could not able to adapt to the change of style in football in the recent years, where teams have earned success by playing possession football and by having a rock solid defense. Their method of going all-out attack does not seem to pay dividend any more, and it’s about time to change the direction a little.
It seems like it’s about time for Brazil Football Confederation to get back to the drawing board as their recent slump in the Copa America and World Cup should be an eye opener for them. It also seems like this Brazil team lack the character that they were known for. This current generation seems to lack self – belief that the previous lot of players had from mid-90’s to early 2000’s, where they won 2 World Cup and came runner up in 3 World Cups between 1994 till 2002. Some may argue that maybe it’s a little too late to change their attitude or mentality for now, but it’s never too late to start building up for the future. BFC now has a job in their hand, to take steps that might not be pleasing to the eye, but steps that will ensure that Brazil will come back on the very top once again in the near future.
“United’s chances of coming out of this deal as a real success is depending on how United will take care of him, as he had some injury issues, especially with his knee in the last few seasons.”
As reports are coming in that Schweinsteiger have finally signed up for the Red – Devils, it is arguably the biggest transfer saga that has come to an end. United manager Louis Van Gaal was keen on the German Midfielder for quite a while, and have finally able to snap up the World Cup winning midfielder. Here we will look in detail as to, who have come out of this deal as a real winner; i.e. Manchester United, Bayern Munich or Bastian Schweinsteiger.
For Manchester United, the deal is a more like a “long shot”, but a long shot they would be more than willing to play. With Schweinsteiger arrival, United have made a marquee signing to begin with. The signing will bring the kind of quality that United lacked after the departure of three real leaders in Vidic, Evra and Ferdinand.
The likes of Fellaini and Herrera is already there, but they lack that leadership quality and found wanting when asked to play in front of the defensive line. With Schweinsteiger, United will finally have a leader in the park, who can dictate the game on his own terms and on his own pace. United’s chances of coming out of this deal as a real success is depending on how United will take care of him, as he had some injury issues, especially with his knee in the last few seasons. With no winter breaks, and a tougher schedule than Bundesliga, United medical staff will have a hard task to keep him fit to take the best out of him in important matches during the campaign next season.
For Bayern Munich, a deal worth of £14 Million plus is a bonus for a player, who, according to them have already past his best and is nearly 31 years old. Bayern able to cash in on a player, who just had 15 starts last season, and haven’t had more than 30 league games for the club in a season since 2011.
With Lahm getting better in a midfield role, and with Guardiola preferring Alonso over Schweinsteiger, this seems more like a win – win situation for the German champions, who will use this cash to strengthen their squad in the coming days. However, we believe that Bayern will not be the real winner as they will miss the experience of Schweinsteiger in the coming season, and his presence in the dressing room which could prove costly for the German Champions.
For Bastian Schweinsteiger, this is a tough decision to start with. He is leaving a club for which he played for all his life, for nearly 15 years, where he have won everything and is an iconic figure. He will have to start all over again at Manchester United, and a new challenge will surely excite him. Keeping in mind that he was not getting enough football under Guardiola, we believe that it’s Schweinsteiger who is the real winner in this deal, as this move will suits him in an attempt to gear up for the Euro next year, where he will lead Germany as a Captain.
At the age of nearly 31, Schweinsteiger will have stiff challenge to show his class once again, but in a different league, in different weather conditions & in a more competitive league. He has nearly won it all with Bayern and Germany, and Manchester United will be hoping that he will use all of his experience and will win this challenge as well.
As the summer transfer window begins to hot up, the future of several high profile players plying their trade in the Bundesliga is up in the air.
We take a look at ten players who could be making possible moves away from the EPL, including Mario Balotelli, Lukas Podolski and Roberto Soldado.
The highly rated Liverpool and English winger refused to sign contract extension with Liverpool last season, and had expressed his desire to leave the club to play in the Champions League. With Manchester City’s striker Sergio Aguero insist that he is happy at Etihad, Madrid will move their focus to Sterling as to whom they openly showed their admiration at different times and will try to snap him to increase their attacking options.
Another Liverpool player, Fabio Borini seems to be on his way out of the Anfield, after his agent admits that Borini feels like a “Caged Tiger”. Borini, who was the star man for Sunderland as they avoided relegation in 2013/14 season, had a disappointing season with the reds, where he just managed to start 12 games for the reds throughout the whole season, in which he scored 1 goal and provided 1 assists.
Arsenal is finally looking to bring in a World Class Goal Keeper in Peter Cech from rivals Chelsea. Cech’s future has been in question since the return of Thibaut Courtois from Athletico Madrid loan spell. Cech only managed to start 7 times for Chelsea last season, which he openly accepted was frustrating for him throughout the campaign. His arrival will pave way for David Ospina, as he looked all set to sign for Turkish side Fernerbahce.
Liverpool and English right back Glen Johnson is going to be a free agent in the coming days after his contract will finish at the end of this month. Johnson, who had more than 150 league appearances for the Red’s in 6 seasons at the club will be a prize asset for any team who is willing to strengthen their defense this season for a minimal cost.
Chelsea will be willing to offload their winger Mohammad Salah, who had a great latter half of the season at Fiorentina, where he was on loan till the end of the season. Chelsea will be looking to offload him to generate funds for Falcao, who is about to arrive at Stamford Bridge. For Basel star had 13 starts for the blue’s, where he scored 2 goals for them. Rumors are that Inter Milan will go head to head with Ac Milan, as both rivals will try to land him to San Siro this season.
German World Cup Winning striker Lukas Podolski might see his way out of the Emirates stadium as the Gunners look for a clear out to make room for another striker this summer. Podolski had a hard time and failed to become a permanent in the starting XI and was sent on loan to Inter last season, where he scored only a single goal in 17 appearances for them. Turkish Champion’s Galatasaray is interested in the striker and would look to seal the deal in the coming future.
Turkish Champion’s Galatasaray is linked with a Spurs flop Soldado, who couldn’t establish himself at White Hart Lane. Soldado moved from Valencia in 2013 for a hefty price tag of £26 from the Bale generated money, which was a club record fee. Soldado, who only managed to score 7 goals in 51 league appearances for the club, and only managed to score 1 in 24 appearances last season seems to be a certainty to leave the club after the emergence of Harry Kane as the real striking force in the squad.
Chelsea’s Kakuta will be another player who will not be featuring in EPL this season. Kakuta signed for Seville after spending 6 seasons on loan at 6 different clubs that include Fulham, Bolton Wanderers, Dijon, Vitesse, Lazio & Rayo Vallecano from 2010 – 2015. Kakuta made only 6 appearances for the blue’s in his time at the Stamford Bridge, and couldn’t a single goal for the reigning Champions.
John Obi Mikel
Chelsea’s outcast John Obi Mikel is set for exit from the Stamford Bridge, after news emerges that Chelsea is lining up a bid for Belgium and Zenit Midfielder Axel Witsel. Mikel joined Chelsea in 2007 and managed to appear more than 200 times for blue, and scored a single in his career at Stamford Bridge.
Italian International Mario Balotelli seems to be on his way out of Anfield after a horrid first season with the club, where he only managed to score a single goal for his side in 16 appearances throughout the season. Balotelli will be hoping that a move away from Anfield will help him regain his form. Rumors are that the former AC Milan man is moving back to Seria A, as few sides are interested in the services of the Italian Striker.
On the eve of the third day of the last Test match between Pakistan and England, all focus was shifted from a gripping match to a headline which was least expected. Malik, who just made his comeback to the Test side in this very series, after a gap of five years, announced his immediate retirement from the longest format of the game.
Malik, who was originally not included in the squad, made his way in after Bilal Asif was reported for his action while playing against Zimbabwe. He was given a go in the playing eleven after Azhar Ali was ruled out of the first Test due to a foot injury.
In cricket, it is always about taking the opportunity when it arrives and Malik knew it was his time to perform. He played a mammoth innings of 245 in the first Test on a dead Abu Dhabi pitch. His innings gained more significance as he was batting at one-down, which was never his preferable position in Tests, and he was playing the longest format of the game after a break of five long years.
For Malik, it was more about grinding it out in tough soaring conditions than his technique which made thing work for him on his Test return.
After witnessing such a phenomenal comeback to the side, no one would have thought that a man who just expressed his desire to play in all three format, would retire so soon. Yet, his decision makes so much more sense.
The famous phrase ‘all’s well that ends well’ suits the game of cricket as well. Malik, who averages in the early 30’s and has more than 30 wickets to his name, called it quits at the age of just 33. It looks even more bizarre when you see a 41-year-old leading the same side and is yet to make any official announcement to hang his boots.
However, the decision speaks volumes about Malik’s matureness as a professional which he must have learned by playing in different leagues all over the world. He had the opportunity to share dressing rooms with several modern day greats, which surely would have helped him understand that it’s better to leave when people are asking you ‘why now’ than at a time when the question becomes ‘when will you’?
Many greats such as Ricky Ponting and Shivnarayan Chanderpaul, to name a few, could have had a better ending if they left at the right time. The likes of Inzamamul Haq and Muhammad Yousuf in Pakistan fall into that category. They did not retire when the time was right and their good work was somewhat compromised since they failed to receive the farewell they deserved.
Malik raised his bar as a true professional and a team man when he wrote in his blog after retirement that he left the team to make room for youngsters. He also left a silent message for other seniors. His, more than just graceful, exit from the five-day format, even after having such a mediocre career by any standards, sets an example for the likes of Younus Khan. The veteran, even after having a below par ODI career, is adamant to play in the 50-over team at the age of 37, most probably at the expense of a deserving youngster.
The Sialkot Stallions’ captain also set an example for the likes of Saeed Ajmal who has failed to settle with his new bowling action and there is no great hope that he will make it to the national side any time soon.
Malik’s early departure sets an example for everyone that leaving at the right time for the greater good of the team can help you earn respect even with such an average career.
Real Madrid, after having a serious debacle last season where they finished the season empty handed after winning La Decima the season before, is looking to strengthen their squad this season. Madrid has long been an admirer of David De Gea from the days when he used to play for cross-town rivals Athletico Madrid, but couldn’t convince him to come to Bernabeu back in 2011. However, this time around, De Gea seems to be more convinced about a move to the Los Blancos side, and there’s no doubt there is a need to strengthen their defensive line with a more assured man between the sticks.
Casillas, a world class goal-keeper, probably the best of his generation and his record speaks for himself. However, he has had a hard time for Real Madrid and Spain in the recent times, and had to face the anger and disappointment of the Bernabeu faithful last season. He had a mediocre World Cup and was one of the prime reasons for the La Roja’s early exit from Brazil. His form throughout the season raised eyebrows of many, and led to questions as to why Navas was not being started more often, a proposition Ancelotti, at the time was not willing to accept. Mistakes such as a first goal against Atletico at the Vicente Calderon in the league match, that opened the gates for the worst defeat for Madrid against their noisy neighbours in the league, made Madrid pay a heavy price in the end as Madrid lost the league even though they were four points clear at the top after Christmas break.
De Gea, on the contrary, had one of the best, if not, the best season for the Red Devils in 14/15, where he was among the best goalkeeper’s throughout the season along with Chelsea’s Courtois and spurs Hugo Lloris. De Gea seemed the only assured block in a defense of uncertainty for United throughout the season. He was quick on the feet, and had the ability to stay big in one-on-one situations. He is the one prime reason as to why United were able to qualify for the Champions League, as he earned them some precious points.
Looking into exclusive stats from SportsMatrix, De Gea had 30.8% good saves compared to 19.4% of Casillas throughout the league in 14/15, and also had nearly double of spectacular saves of 15% compared to 7.8% of Casillas during the same time, which exactly proves why Madrid is after this young Spaniard and is willing to let go their living legend.
Another important factor that is influencing Madrid’s decision to go for the United number one is his young age, and at the age of 24 and given the amount of talent he possesses, he will surely stay on at the Bernabeu for a while to come.
De Gea is all set to leave Manchester United for the Spanish giants if media reports are to be believed, as the deal is seems to be coming to closure in the next few days. However, the real question is where does Casillas go on from here? Casillas, who is still only 34 despite the fact that he seems to have been around for an eternity. The World Cup winner will be looking to switch to a side where he will get a first team role, and either Arsenal or Tottenham could be possibly the destination for the Spanish legend.
Indeed, it now seems Arsenal is in for Chelsea’s Peter Cech as they are looking to end their goalkeeping woes should keep their eye on Casillas situation in case they won’t be able to land the Czech international. Spurs on the other hand, seems to have resigned to the fact that their star man Lloris will leave the club for Manchester United in order to get Champions League football, and they would love to get the experienced Spaniard to take over the charge between the sticks.
Casillas’ leadership quality along with his experience as a keeper where he has spent all of his life at a club of the size of Madrid is bound to help any side in need of a goalkeeper. For Casillas, a change of club might help him to regain the lost form and become the keeper he once was, which will be a great spectacle to watch out for.
Azeem Siddiqui identifies six midfielder who could be on their way to the Premier League next season…
Top class midfielders are in high demand. Look no further than the clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and other teams consider to be part of Europe’s elite who have been linked with playmakers in the transfer mill.
Things are no different in England with a lot of Premier League clubs are looking to strengthen their squad this season, especially in the midfield department to boost their chance of success not only on the domestic stage, but to break their hoodoos in Europe’s elite competitions.
And with that, PF90 has have identified six midfielders, who might be featured in the Premier League season 2015/16.
The French midfielder, who is tipped to leave Turin this season, is a target of Barcelona & many other European giants, and few English clubs are quite interested in this young high rated midfielder. Manchester City, who had a trophy less last season, are emerging one of the favorite to land the young French man, with reports emerging that City are preparing a £86 Million offer for him to land him in Manchester and create a dream combination of Toure and Pogba in the center of the park.
Kevin De Bruyne
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Former Chelsea outcast, De Bruyne had a fantastic season with VFB Wolfsburg. With highest assists in the Bundesliga last season, De Bruyne was among the top midfield sensation throughout Europe. Manchester City once again is in for this midfield maestro, as they look to revamp their squad and challenge for the premier league glory next season.
Dortmund and Germany midfielder, Ikay Gundogan is another top quality midfielder that Premier League sides are looking to land this season. Another Manchester club, this time Manchester United who is emerging as favorites to seal this deal in the near future.
The Brazillian from Hoffenheim 1899, is also looking set for a move to England, after his agent confirm the news that he will be playing in the Premier League next season. Firmino had an impressive season with Hoffenheim, where he netted 7 times and provides 10 assists and was one of the star performers for the club.
Madrid outcast Asier Illaramendi, who seems to be on his way out of the Bernabue, is looking set for a move to the Premier League, most probably to Anfield. Illaramendi moved to the Spanish Capital in 2013 with high hopes after Madrid paid a heavy price for his services, but is yet to develop as the first team player. Madrid hierarchy is resigned to a fact that they might have to let the young Spaniard go, in order to increase funds for one or two marquee signings this season.
The PSG outcast and a former Magpie man Yohan Cabaye, is set to leave Paris to find first team football. With his former boss Alan Pardew looking to strengthen Palace squad this season, Cabaye will be happy to join him at Selhurst Park and work under the man who brought the best out of him in the past.
Newcastle United is being often termed as a big club, mainly because of its geographical location and because of the ground size and facilities that it has over the years. That was one of the prime reasons that led to Newcastle’s immediate revival in the Premier League, after being relegated in 2009 to the Football league Championship. Newcastle has a strong fan based, and their fans are highly connected with the club and show up every week in, week out to support the men in white and black.
Ever since their promotion back to the Premier League, the Magpies have remained relatively far away from the relegation zone, until the horrid run they had after Alan Pardew resigned back in January 2015. His resignation left Newcastle’s un-favorite owner Mike Ashely to make a tricky call, and he decided to gamble with the Assistant manager John Carver till the end of the season, with seemingly safe league position and a potential mid table finish.
However, that gamble backfired and the Toons had to win the last match against West Ham to secure their run in the Premier league next season. John Carver managed to win only 3 of his 20 matches in charge that led to his dismissal as the Magpie boss. From the position of securing a position in the top half, under Carver, Newcastle became a serious potential candidate of going down, which put pressure on the owner Mike Ashley to take re-invest this season to make sure they won’t have to go through relegation battle again.
Former Derby boss Steve McClaren was tipped favorite to replace Pardew when he left the post in January 2015, and he finally was instated as the manager of the Toon Army after signing a three year contract with the Magpies last week. However, his arrival seems to be a marriage of convenience more than anything else, and the club supporter’s aren’t really optimistic about it.
The reason we called it a marriage of convenience for both is the fact that both, i.e. Newcastle and McClaren get something out of it, at the same time. For Newcastle, it’s a good deal as they finally got a manager who had experience of working at the top class level and that too in different countries. Had it been Derby who got promoted, Newcastle would have made a big deal out of his arrival, which they unfortunately couldn’t. Newcastle finally found a man who has an experience working abroad as well as working at home, even though all of that was not extremely successful. For McClaren, it’s his chance to salvage some pride after his horrid show with England, where England couldn’t qualify for the European Championship in 2008, which was the 1st time in 14 years.
But all of this won’t be easy, as both Newcastle and McClaren had a poor run at the back end of the last season, and it won’t be a piece of cake to turn it all around. Newcastle’s poor end to their season emphasize the importance of re-investment in their squad. They have some major reshuffling to do, and McClaren accepted that as well when he talked to the media in which he stated that “it is the right time to re-invest in the squad”.
Ideally, the Magpie’s need 4 -5 quality players in this squad, and with finances of £39 Million in the bank, it shouldn’t be that much of a problem. Newcastle would want to strengthen their attacking power with the addition of 1 or 2 quality strikers. Even though they have the likes of Cisse, who is always scoring goals, but had injury problems over the couple of last seasons. Reports suggest that the Toon Army is monitoring the situation of QPR’s highly rated striker Charlie Austin and West Brom sensation from the last season Saido Berahino.
Newcastle would want to seal the deals as soon as possible to avoid frustration later on, as they have already missed out on former Marseille striker Andre Ayew, who joined Swansea on a free transfer. Another addition they need is in the defense department, where they need to find 2 solid center backs, to replace Collocini and Ryan Williaon, both of whom who surely seems to past their best as they struggled in the later part of the season, where they failed to keep up with the pace of attack, and also left people unmarked in the 30 yard circle. If Magpie’s are to play their traditional 4-2-3-1 formation, they might also need to find a left footed player, ideally who can play on the right wing as Ben Arfa used to do in the past.
Their midfield looked solid, with Sissoko and Colback, as well as their man between the sticks in Krul, who proved time and again that he is a top quality Goalkeeper. Daryl Janmaat who came in as a replacement for Arsenal bound Debuchy, had a decent season, but had a below par end to his campaign and he will surely want to improve this season around. Up front, Cabella is a quality player and Newcastle will be hoping that this season he will improve drastically, and will feel more settled at the club. Ayoze Perez, who was undoubtedly the finding of the last season, can play upfront or on the left wing with his pace, and Newcastle will be looking for the same or improved performance with a bit more consistency this season.
McClaren will not have an easy job in his first season, as he will look to win over the hearts of the Newcastle supporters, sooner than later. Ideally, McClaren and Newcastle will be looking for a top half finish in the league, and a better showing at the cup or ideally challenging for the Cup title, as this season will be all about making a statement.
For Newcastle as a club, a season like that would make a statement for the rest of the Clubs in the league that they are looking at a bigger piece of cake than what they are already getting. For Owner Mike Ashley, using available funds to sign quality players will make a statement to the club’s supporters, that he means business with Newcastle and that he wants to bring the glory days back to the Magpie’s. But it’s McClaren, who want to make a big statement by setting his eye on success at a club of the size of Newcastle, which will give him the belief that he once had, for being one of the most intelligent footballing brain in the country. If McClaren & CO. will be able to achieve the targets, it will surely going to be the base that the Toon’s will hope to build their future on in the season’s to come.
The brief Zimbabwe tour came to an end a couple of days ago, with Pakistan emerging as thevictors. It wasn’t a clean cut victory since Pakistan won four out five matches and the one match we lost was under extremely controversial circumstances. Having said that, Pakistan has managed to perform commendably against Zimbabwe this year. This particular tour highlighted five aspects about our cricket team.
Imad Wasim – The most wanted in the team
The first and foremost aspect that needs to be mentioned in this list is the emergence of Imad, more so after the ban on Muhammad Hafeez’s bowling action, which left the Pakistan cricket team in a fix for a while. Imad’s emergence as a composed and collected player is a positive sign for Pakistan, as he brings forth the much needed calmness during tough times.
He displayed this calmness in the previous T20 series against Sri Lanka, where he tookPakistan over the line with a brilliant batting performance, even though he continuously lost partners at the other end of the batting crease. Imad is more than just an effective left arm bowler, a commendable fielder, and an excellent reader of the situation; he also knows how to get the job done.
In the first T20 and in the first ODI during the Zimbabwe tour, he showed us his skills with the bat, whereas throughout the series, he showed his skills with the ball. He will soon become an irreplaceable asset in the shorter format of the game.
Muhammad Hafeez – Struggling under pressure?
For our dear professor in his mid-30s, time seems to be running out and pressure is continuously mounting on him to deliver with the bat. There used to be a time when Sikandar Bakht used to say Hafeez is irreplaceable because he brings the required balance which was lacking at that time and no matter how poorly he performs with the bat, he won’t be dropped.
However, things have taken a turn now, and his role is being filled by Imad and to some extent by Shoaib Malik. His batting is coming under scrutiny due to the likes of Haris Sohail and Sohaib Maqsood, who are eagerly waiting in the wings to get a chance to show off their performances. For him to stay on the team, his performance graph needs to improve vastly. The upcoming series against England in the UAE will prove to be a real test of his batting quality and ability.
Shoaib Malik – The new Mr dependable
Five hundred runs in 12 matches with an average of mid 90s and two Man Of The Series awards since his comeback to the national team, Malik is becoming the new Mr dependable for the men in green.
It’s been more than a happy and successful comeback for the 33-year-old veteran who seems hungrier, calmer, more focused, and eager to give his best in terms of performance. However, his performance will be keenly scrutinised in the upcoming series against England, where Captain Azhar Ali and Coach Waqar Younis will rightfully be pinning their hopes on him for standing up to the challenges and playing a pivotal role in helping Pakistan cruise towards victory.
Imad, Bilal Asif, Anwar Ali, and Aamer Yameen – Our future seems bright thanks to them
Not long ago, our nation was quite wary about our team’s future in the T20 format, as Pakistan was short of all-rounder’s, especially after the ban on Hafeez’s bowling action, which left the Pakistani team with no adequate all-rounder at that particular time.
It was quite alarming for all the cricket experts as well, since all-rounders were Pakistan’s forte in the T20 format. However, over the past recent months, with the arrival of Imad, Anwer, Bilal, and Amir these fears and doubts have been brushed aside and we have been able to breathe that sigh of relief we needed so badly.
Given that the mentioned players are not world class by any means, but there is a spark within them and we can hope to refine and polish them into something the team is looking for. They can bowl, at least two of them can bat extremely well, and most of them are excellent fielders, which is enough for us to believe that our future in the shorter format is brighter and more secure than we actually thought it would be a few months back.
Mohammad Rizwan’s welcome addition and Asad Shafiq’s lost cause in the ODIs
Lastly, a comparison of two players with contrasting careers in the T20 format is a must.Mohammad Rizwan is gradually becoming the main stay towards the lower middle order of the team, in ODIs as well T20s, due to the obvious reason that he has shown his worth with every chance given to him by the team management.
His innings in the first ODI match of the series, when Pakistan was five down for some 120 odd runs, was an absolute master class to watch, and is another example of why he is what Pakistan wants and needs instead of Umar Akmal or Maqsood. His energy on the field is above par, and during this short span of time, he is being called the Jhonty Rhodes of Pakistan.
On the other hand, we have Asad Shafiq, who fails to deliver nearly every time he is given a chance As many things as they may be to admire in him at Test level, his performance in the ODI format is below par. Till now, he has played 58 ODIs over the past five years, in which he has scored 1318 runs at a below par average of 25.34 and with nine 50s to his credit.
He was given a chance yet again to perform in two out of three ODIs, even though he did manage a decent 38 in the last ODI, unfortunately he crumbled amidst a tense situation in the second ODI, chasing a wide ball outside the off stump. His continued failure raises a question as to when our selectors will realise Shafiq is not suitable for this format.
Keeping in mind our young and skilled squad, as well as Pakistan’s recent performances against Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, it’s safe to say we have a more than fair chance at winning the series against England.
When Real Madrid signed Gareth Bale from Spurs, there were expectations that he along with Ronaldo and Benzema would prove to be that goal scoring threat that Madrid lacked. First season was all of that, where the arrival of Bale brought that potency to the Los Blancos attack that was missing for the past two decades. He brought that pace, that energy, that hunger for goal which was lacking in the Madrid attacking mix, and that was one of the reasons as to why Madrid managed to win the much awaited La Decima and a Copa Del Rey in his first season. Astonishingly, all of that was achieved without Bale having a pre-season with the Los Blancos due to injury problems.
When all of us thought that Bale would be more than just the success he proved in his first season come the second season, he could not live up to te hype. He had to face criticism from the Bernabeu faithful that one never deserves, but all of that was not unjustified. His stats over all throughout wasn’t the worst bit; it was his performance in the big matches that made sections of the fans and pundits turn against him.
However, during the same spell, his performance while playing for his national team Wales was at another level. OCTA stats suggest in detail that Bale’s performance were contrasting while playing for Madrid and Wales. Before last night’s match, Bale had an impressive 0.62 Goals per game while playing for Wales, which is nearly 50% better than what he produced for Madrid (0.42 Goals per game). His shots per game is nearly double while playing for the national team (4.87 shots per game) than that of Madrid (2.47). His dribbles are more than double when he is on national duty (4.25 per games), compared to while representing Los Blancos (1.98). The most interesting stat from OCTA was his passes per game, which actually decreased to 21.3 when he is representing Wales, which is nearly 5 passes short of when he plays for Real Madrid (26.1) per match. This last stat pretty much sums it up for why Bale is having a hard time adjusting at the Bernabeu.
Considering the fact that he passes the ball less for Wales suggests that he takes the responsibility, which is in complete contrast to what Real Madrid wanted of him throughout the last season. With Wales, his team mates pass him the ball, and hope that he will create a chance and finish it himself, but with Madrid it seems that Bale’s role is more of an assisting hand to get Ronaldo mostly on the scoring sheet. He was being jeered by the Bernabeu crowd last season and accused him of not passing the ball to Ronaldo. That gesture seemingly affected Bale’s confidence all together, and in the matches afterwards, Bale was always looking to find a pass rather than taking the responsibility of finishing the job for which he was picked for. He seemed restricted and confused throughout the later part of the last season, which led to a below average season for Los Blancos.
All of those stats reveal that his performance declined significantly while playing for the all whites, which is rather surreal to believe considering the difference in quality two teams possess. As we look into the finer details, one thing that stands out is that Bale doesn’t get treated the same manner at Real Madrid, as he is being treated in the Wales dressing room, and that makes sense too. In Wales dressing room, he is the most highly accomplished player, playing in probably the biggest club in the world where he has won the Champions League & is being tipped to be the long term replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo. But in Wales, he is their Cristiano Ronaldo already, he is their go to man, a role which he evidently seems to enjoy & he proved it last night again with a match winning performance against the star studded No. 2 ranked team in Belgium, and have virtually sealed Wales’s birth in the next year European Championship.
Another reason as to why Bale’s performance dipped in the last season was because of the noticeable absence of his former Spur’s mate Luka Modric, who was out for a good part of the season due to multiple injuries. Modric seems to be the one man out of all the Real Madrid players who understands what Bale is, given their time together at Spurs, and what quality he brings to this team, and that’s why Bale’s performance seems to rise to another level when Modric is playing. This is evident with the fact that Bale’s goals per game record when Modric was around in the 15 matches that they started together was 0.53, which is nearly double to when Modric didn’t start for Madrid (0.29 goals per game)
To conclude, one must admit that Gareth Bale is the sole reason as to why Wales are just inches away from reaching their first major tournament after more than five decades. His performance for Wales throughout these Euro Qualifiers once again re-emphasizes the fact that he belongs to the best in the business. Rafa Benitez, the newly appointed manager of Real Madrid was there last night as Bale outshone the likes of Hazard and others stars to take Wales home, and he would have been impressed by the Welshman performance last night. However, the real question is to see is if Benitez will be able to transform the Gareth Bale of Real Madrid into the same Gareth Bale of Wales, because if he would be able to achieve that, than Madrid are looking for a much brighter season ahead.
We have been taught since childhood, or at least I have been taught regularly, that two wrongs do not make a right. I believe the real message behind that age-old adage is to make a child understand that each problem needs to be dealt with separately. One cannot pile one ‘wrong’ over ‘another’ in the hopes of concocting a ‘right’. As a grown up and someone who is in their mid-20s, I understand that, but unfortunately, our 68-year-old noisy neighbour cannot.
Firstly, I do not categorise myself as an anti-Indian. I am merely critical of the Indian government policies which are unfair on the most part. Once again, after recent tensions at the border, and an attack on a village near the Indian border on Indian soil, the Indian government presented another lame excuse on the premise that terrorism and cricket together cannot exist together.
This particular argument is weird, not only because of the manner in which it is presented but also because of the entity which is presenting it. For a country that takes pride in calling itself the biggest democracy in the world, such actions where you ignore your present and avoid your past are more than just disappointing.
For a sports lover, nothing is better than watching a clash between two arch rivals going head to head in a home-and-away clash. However, the Indian government made sure that they would find a way to interlink politics and sports, which is highly disappointing. If that is to be the case, where a government is going turn a sport into a matter of war, then I believe that Pakistan’s government should step in, instead of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and say that cricket and terrorism cannot go forward together, as Pakistan has a far more genuine reason to use that statement.
Unless and until India stops its activism on the Line of Control (Loc), there won’t be any cricket. I believe that it’s about time that we as a nation should say it once for all and that we won’t play the game on your terms.
As far as I can understand, one thing that allowed the situation to deteriorate to this level is our apologetic posture, which never gave us the same power as the diplomats. We, as a nation, have always displayed an apologetic posture in terms of diplomacy and that has never really paid any dividend. India has always played on their front foot and has never allowed Pakistan any leverage, which we shouldn’t expect them to do anyway.
I find it funny that our accomplished and experienced Chairman of PCB, Shahryar Khan, had been very hopeful of the series materialising, even after repeated refusals from the other side. I find it even funnier that an experienced and well-informed Najam Sethi was even more adamant about the series taking place as per the plan. The other side was clear about the series not taking place. Where was his famous ‘chirya’ then? Since the two aforementioned gentlemen have exhibited loyalty to the state, I will not bash them and will only assume that naivety led them to believe in the commitments of their counterpart across the border.
I am convinced that all of this overhyped optimism is driven by the theory that playing against India is a way to attain economic success. Such an assumption may be correct, but the truth is that an arrangement with India keeps us on our guard at all times and that is problematic. Exhibiting enthusiasm in the field of cricket is great, but it should not come at the cost of our national integrity. I wish to ask our diplomats, government, and PCB officials why we cannot stand up and speak for what is right, especially when our hands are far cleaner than the ones on the other side of the border?
This question needs to be asked within our borders as well. When the Indian media can bash Pakistan and hold it responsible for any unfortunate event that happens to take place, then why does our media lack the necessary teeth to counter India’s offensive, despite being called Pakistan’s ‘teesri quwat’ (third force)?
Hearing allegation after allegation and seeing nearly every cricket series between the two neighbours undergo a war of sorts, one wonders why our sports ministry, the PCB, and government officials are so slow to react on the diplomatic and media front? Why are there are no counter allegations from our side?
Even if for the sake of argument, we accept that Pakistan is the cause of terrorism in India, that we support non-state actors and hence no cricket is possible, our diplomats, PCB officials and sports ministry should be able to put forth the assurance that we definitely are not the cause of terrorism.
Be it the admission of India’s current National Security Advisor (NSA) Mr Ajit Daval in a seminar where he confessed how India is involved in a proxy war in Pakistan which left thousands of Pakistanis dead, or be it the current tension on the LoC, Pakistani officials have an extremely strong argument, which is, if we ever had to play cricket against each other based on political matters, Pakistan would never want to play against India.
One thing that we need to learn from this is that we should not be tempted by the amount of money we can generate with a cricket series against India. Nothing comes at the cost ofnational integrity. It’s about time we inform them that we are not playing against them until they sort themselves out.
Enough is enough.
As for the PCB and the Pakistan cricket team, we should all sit around the table for the World T20 which is going to be held in India and chalk up a master winning plan for our team. That will be our chance to shine on the global stage. Winning against India on Indian soil will send the right message to everyone, regardless of the games being played; Pakistan will come out on top.
Let’s go there boys and win it all, win it for the men in green. Let’s win it for the brave men who protect us on our borders.
If you try to bring us down, we will rise,
If you try to break us down, we will shine,
Because we turn the tides around and do the impossible,
For a team who is full of stars, Manuel Pellegrini’s man failed to deliver in every competition from the Premier League to Champions League, and from FA Cup to Capital One Cup. After winning a double in his first season as a Premier League manager, and after becoming the 1st Chilean manager to win the Premier League, his tactics were proven a complete failure as City failed to achieve anything significant throughout the campaign.
A club which is arguably one of the richest football clubs in England and Europe, their supporters would hope to have a campaign that is improved upon from the previous season, or at least proportionate to what it was the last season, but it was anything but that. City failed to defend their Premier League and Capital one Cup title, and were knocked out again by Barcelona in the Champions League. In the FA Cup, City were knocked out once again by the League one side, this time Middlesbrough, which eventually sealed their faith as a side that ended their campaign empty handed.
Unlike other teams, who had a hard time competing with Chelsea at a top because they could not get enough points against the other top sides in the league, City did pretty decent against them. City won 4, drew 3, and lost 3 in 10 matches against other top 5 sides in the league, which is pretty decent. However, their form against the lower rank teams were not up to the mark, which cost them heavily at the end of the season.
Results such as shocking defeat against Stoke at home, surprising defeats at the hands of West Ham and relegated Burnley in the league, and against Middlesbrough in FA Cup made City pay a heavy price at the end of the campaign. Against Burnley, a side who was the 1st team to get relegated during the campaign, City managed to get just 1 point out of the possible 6.
Africa Cup of Nations, which came between January and February, proved to be the typical obstacle for a team sliding down, as their main player Yaya Toure, along with the new signing Bony, was on duty for their national side, and City felt their absence at that time. Especially the absence of Toure, who is City’s main force in the middle for quite some time now, his absence made City lose key battles in the middle of the park, which eventually led to losing important points in the end. During his absence, City lost to Arsenal at Etihad, drew Chelsea and relegated Hull and went out of the FA Cup after losing to Middlesbrough at home.
Individually, Aguero, Silva and Toure stood out for City, even though Toure had a below par finish to his season. Aguero netted impressive 25 goals in the season along with 8 assists, which saw him won the Golden shoe award this year, ahead of Chelsea’s Costa and Spurs new sensation Harry Kane. Silva scored 12 goals with 7 assists and Toure scored 10 goals for the noisy neighbours. Few other players had a good season for city, such as the likes of Milner, Frank Lampard, and goalkeeper Hart who had more than just a decent season for them.
Some players had a pretty miserable season and would be looking to have a better show next time around. Likes of Demichelis and Malaga had a season to forget, along with Captain Kompany, who made a comeback after an injury and could not able to regain his prime form. His performance along with the 2 other center backs were not up to mark, as City could not able to keep clean sheets against lower ranked teams.
In all, City’s season was not a one to remember, as they finished 2nd, 8 points behind leader Chelsea. Pellegrini, who was tipped to be sacked after a dismal performance in the season, have been given another chance to prove his worth and take City back to the Premier League top. He is got his work cut out thought, as he looks to strengthen his squad in this season transfer market, by keeping stars players that he have along with one or two marquee signing that will help him to challenge for the title next season.
Arsenal has won and retained the FA Cup last weekend, with a 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa. However, theird season overall cannot be termed as the real success, as they failed to challenge for the title once again. The arrival of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welback proved to be a success overall, but holding midfielder crisis was clear to see as Arsenal could not capture the signature of Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton, which proved to be a missing link through the season.
Arsenal began the season with high hopes of finally challenging for the title with the arrival of Sanchez from Barcelona, and Welbeck from Manchester United. The season started with an important match against Everton at Goodison Park, where Arsenal came back in the last 10 minutes with goals from Ramsey and Girourd after going 2-0 down with Coleman and Naismith scoring for Everton. Next week, Arsenal managed to get 2-2 draw against the previous Champions, City at Emirates as well.
Arsenal had a mixture of results at home and away, where they lost a couple of pretty winnable matches on paper. They lost to Swansea in week 35 at Emirates 1-0, which proved to be the turning point for them not being able to finish at the 2nd place, ahead of former champions City. They drew 2-2 against a relegated Hull side at the Emirates, which was another surprising result. They lost to Stokes at Britannia Stadium 3-2, where they conceded all three goals before the half time.
Arsenal’s form against the other top sides in the table was not up to the mark, which proved to be of immense importance for them not being able to challenge for the title. Gunner’s managed to earn only 11 points out of possible 30 in 10 matches against the other top 5 sides. Gunners just managed to win 2 games, drew 3 and lost 5 against the top 5 opponents, which shows again why they fell short of crossing the line. Gunner’s best performance of the league came against the defending Champions City on their own ground, where they thrashed them 2-0 in an impressive display of fast, attacking football.
Arsenal’s inability to keep on producing their best football was maybe due to the fact that there were some serious injuries, which left their thin squad exposed at a crucial time in the season. Injuries to some of the 1st team players like Giroud, Ozil, Debuchy and Wilshere left gaps in the Arsenal team, whom they couldn’t fill with the equal or more like equal replacements.
Arsenal’s best performer of the season was undoubtedly Alex Sanchez, the man they signed from Barcelona in the summer last year. He netted 16 goals, and provided 8 assists, and earn some very valuable points in the league for them. It was his attitude, his drive for the goals that set him apart from the rest of the squad, and that’s why he was the go to man for Arsenal during most part of the campaign. Apart from Sanchez, few other players stood out, more noticeably Santi Cazorla, Oliver Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck, all had more than a decent season, where they put their hands up time and again for the Gunners, and made sure that Arsenal will once again qualify for the Champions league.
Arsenal’s biggest disappointment throughout the season was Jack Wilshere, who again had fitness problems and could not deliver the goods on the pitch with just 2 goals in 14 appearances for the Gunners. Another player who was a disappointment throughout the season was Oxlade Chamberlain, who managed to score a single goal and manage to give a single assist in 17 appearances for the Gunners.
In all, Arsenal with the kind of Squad they have, with the kind of stability they have at the club level, they were supposed to challenge for the Title, but it was not like that. They had a poor outing in Capital Cup, and were knocked out from the round of 16 once again in the Champions League to Monaco, which highlighted the fact that winning FA Cup is just not enough for Arsene Wenger’s side. Things look good for now as they won their 2nd FA Cup in 2 years, but it’s the league title Challenge and better showing in the Champions league is what fans are demanding for.
In lieu of the upcoming UEFA Champions League final, Azeem Siddiqui previews five things to watch for in Saturday’s showpiece.
With kick-off of the Champions league final a blink of an eye away, teams and fans are gearing up for what promises to be a special night for football. With a lot at stake in the final as both teams are looking to secure an unprecedented treble this season, we have a list of five things to watch out for on Saturday, at Berlin, when Spanish Champions Barcelona will go head on with Italian Champions Juventus.
First meeting in 12 years
Barcelona will face Juventus al for the first time in 12 years when these two clubs will go head to head in the Champions League final. Last time these two clubs met was in the quarter-final of the Champions League back in 2002/03 season, where the Italian side came on top over the two legs with a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou, that saw them edge pass the Spanish side 2-1 on aggregate. Barcelona and Juventus have previously met nine times in this competition, with Juventus leading the head-to-head with 4 wins, 3 defeats and 2 draws. With both clubs looking to seal the treble, Saturday’s final is surely going to be a spectacle to behold.
Another Messi master-class?
Juventus goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, who is a legend on his own, so aptly put when he mused: “Messi is an alien, who plays with humans”. Messi is in sublime form this season in which he already netted 58 times in all competitions. Whenever Barcelona are found wanting more, Messi often stands up to deliver the goods. He single-handedly destroyed German champions Bayern Munich in the first-leg of the semi–final of the Champions League this season, and soon after scored most probably the goal of the year in the Copa Del Rey final against Athletico Bilbao. While Buffon’s claims clearly show a mark of respect, Allegri’s men will have to come up with the best performances in their careers to stop a player like Messi in his prime.
The emergence of Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba, probably the highest rated young central midfielder in Europe, will be playing the biggest match of his career. He is being heavily tipped to leave Turin and join other elite European clubs after this season, including Barcelona, which means this could be his last match for the black and white. His performances are right up there with the best in the business, but to be called a great, you have to stand up in the matches like this. So it’s time for Pogba to shine, and there is no better time to deliver in on the pitch, on the biggest stage of all.
Fitting finale for the two football legends
Two of the best midfielder’s the world has ever seen, are going to play in their final Champions league match, and more fittingly that too is the Champions League final, where both teams are going all in for the treble. Pirlo and Xavi, both have been former world champions, and Champions League champions in their career, and with Xavi having already announced his departure from the Camp Nou, Pirlo, too, is about to follow his footprints and looks like to leave Turin for MLS side New York City FC after Saturday’s final, which means it will be a fitting end to the illustrious career of two of the game’s greatest midfielders.
Suarez vs Evra…
One of the most awaited battles to watch out for in Berlin on Saturday will be when Patrice Evra will have a chance to go up against Suarez, who does not have a fond memories of playing against him in the past. Suarez was involved with the racial abuse incident with Patrice Evra in 2011, in which Suarez was found guilty and was fined with £40,000, culminating in an eight-match suspension. The controversy did not end there as in the following meeting between Liverpool and Manchester United, Suarez refused to shake hands with Evra, which again led to more controversy.
So it remains to be seen how to two will react in each other’s presence. One thing’s for sure, it will probably be a tad awkward…
Not long ago, Pakistan, a sport loving nation who looked towards cricket as a uniting force, was down and dejected when they were thrashed by none other than Bangladesh, the team for whom we always took pride in playing an instrumental part in allowing them to become a Test-playing nation.
It was heartbreaking really. I never thought such a day would come, but it did. During that time, many thought that a touring Zimbabwe would also be a difficult side to beat, and that the chances of Pakistan playing in the Champion’s Trophy would definitely slip out of our hands, because the only way we would qualify for the league would be by beating Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, and that even on their home ground.
But you can’t just write Pakistan off, not yet. We came out from nowhere during the Sri Lankan tour, and apart from the last five-match ODI series in Sri Lanka, Pakistan dominated each and every single aspect of the ODI series.
Even in the second ODI, where Pakistan was beaten narrowly by two wickets, it was the individual brilliance of Kusal Perera that snatched the game completely away from us by scoring 60 odd runs on 20 odd deliveries. Even then, we fought back, and at one stage, we even had a slight advantage when Sri Lanka was down to 156 for five. But we could not stop them since Perera came in and delivered his blitzing innings.
Our victory may cover up all the problems our team has, but the question remains, what has transformed Pakistan from a demotivated and disgruntled unit into a unit that is unwilling to accept defeat?
For me, apart from the fielding and better batting performance, the real answer is the balance in the team.
Pakistan under Misbahul Haq’s captaincy always looked like a team short of a batsman or two, and with Shahid Afridi coming in at number seven, we were constantly playing with six batsmen, which put extra pressure on the bowling unit, resulting in total chaos in the ODI format.
After the 2011 World Cup, for the first time as far as I can recall, we have six bowlers and a pretty decent batting line -up until number eight and that is due to the fact that the selectors finally turned their attention to young Anwar Ali and, as Ramiz Raja said, a “veteran” Shoaib Malik. I feel they are the two unsung heroes important for the revival of the Pakistani cricket team in the ODI format.
Anwar, the man from Karachi, along with Mohammad Rizwan, is a breath of fresh air in the Pakistan team’s fielding department and it’s probably the best since a long time. Anwar probably took two of the best catches in the series and was also a part of the brilliant solo run-out effort in the follow up. He also bowled deathly overs in the fourth ODI and has been instrumental in saving crucial runs for the Pakistani team.
As a bowler, Anwar’s role was a difficult one, which he completed with utmost honesty and hard work, producing some great results. For a bowler new at international cricket and for someone who does not possess an extremely great set of skills, finishing the series as the joint second highest wicket-taker along with Mohammad Hafeez with an economy rate of under six runs while bowling at the start is a great achievement.
His batting in the second ODI with Rizwan once again assured the management, as well as the player’s sitting in the dressing room, that we finally don’t have to worry about our batting order thinning out towards the end as he is more than a decent batsmen coming in at number eight.
For the veteran Malik, it’s been a more than happy comeback. For once, he is being reinstated into a team where his batting order is what it should have been all these years. Under Misbah’s captaincy, Malik played 22 innings, out of which 15 he batted at number six and number seven.
Malik was never the big hitter you needed at the end of an innings, instead he was the player who can provide you with the platform to finish big. Fortunately, under Azhar Ali’s captaincy, Malik was given a settled role, a role that he seems to like. Batting at number five, Malik is seen flourishing as the man who links the upper order to the lower order in order provide that bit of stability in the batting department.
His calmness on the pitch was instrumental for Pakistan in the first ODI victory chase, where he guided the team, first with Hafeez and then with Rizwan. Another reason for his success is the amount of confidence young Azhar showed in his bowling, which eases the pressure on his batting as well.
Under Misbah, Malik hardly ever got the chance to bowl, which meant that he had to play as a batsman only, and that too at a position that never synchronised with the kind of player he is. To understand how a batting position can affect a player’s utility, one would have to understand that Virat Kohli won’t have the same kind of effect while batting at number seven as compared to what he produces batting at number three. Similarly, MS Dhoni might not be the same Dhoni batting at number three, as compared to batting on number seven.
As far as his bowling is concerned in the series, even though Malik did not pick up a wicket, he was one of the most economical bowlers for Pakistan in the series, where he bowled five overs a match and was not easy to get away with in terms of scoring runs. His fielding has always been a plus point and that too helped Pakistan in their fielding department.
All in all, Pakistan finally has a balance in their ODI team, a balance they’ve desperately been looking for. The Champions Trophy qualification is not over and done with yet, but it is up for grabs as Pakistan now holds the initiative, come the September 30th deadline.
Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed have gone back to their basic ODI format that Pakistan always had, where we never depended on a specialist to take us forward. It was always two or three all-rounders that set us apart from the rest of cricketing world, the one’s that remain unnoticed, yet contribute to the teams’ success.
Even though Hafeez cannot bowl for a year due to the ban, but in Anwar and Malik, Pakistan now has two all-rounders who can bat, bowl and are brilliant fielders, which sets Pakistan off on their rightful journey towards a glorious future in ODI cricket.
After falling out with players which threatened to prematurely end his Barcelona career, Luis Enrique has turned it around in style, and has the chance to emulate Guardiola with a treble in his debut season. Azeem Siddiqui explores the resurgence…
With just a few days from potentially clinching an unprecedented treble in his first season as a manager, many would think that Luis Enrique had it all too easy coaching the world’s best team, the world’s best player and because of that, in the first season, he is achieving such a great success. But that was not the case, and Lucho had a hard time settling in.
To begin with, Enrique tried to change the Barcelona style of play from being under the influence of tiki -taka football, to a more direct approach. At first, Barcelona seemed a little hesitant to adapt to the style they had replicated for years, and the absence of Suarez made it harder given that they lacked his proactive runs into space. Results were not exactly going their way either, and with Madrid enjoying, in retrospect, their best form of the season in the initial, which saw them sit four points clear, pressure were mounting on Enrique. Messi admitted to the press that he does not know where he will play in the next season and rumors emerged from the Catalonia that Enrique might be shown a door in the mid-season. However, Barcelona hierarchy backed Enrique for the rest of the season at least, and with Suarez completing the jigsaw puzzle, things started to look brighter than they ever were.
Under Enrique’s time at the Catalans, he did somethings tactically, that proved to be a master stroke for the Blaugrana. First of all, he bought a centre back in Mathieu to solve the height issue in defence. Barcelona always seemed too vulnerable on the set pieces and corners because they only had Pique to counter it. Now they have Mathieu as well. The height of Mathieu brought another plus in the team, with Barcelona becoming more of a threat on set pieces.
Defensively, Barcelona looked more solid throughout the season, with Rakitic being the supporting playing with the back four, and with Dani Alves and Alba not going forward together to attack from the wings, which use to leave the back line open for counter -attacks.
Enrique also made sure that Barcelona wouldn’t play the kind of football that they used to play before, that is, knocking the ball around with little effect. He made sure that his midfielders, usually Rakitic, Busquets and Iniesta, would play it directly to the front three, who would take it on from there with their skills, pace and hunger for goals.
The trio of Messi, Neymar and Suarez have scored 120 goals altogether, surpassing the best ever goal record by a trio in a season (118), which was set up by Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuain in 2011-2012 season.
Enrique also made sure that Messi, who has been playing as centre-forward for the last couple of seasons, would reach to his maximum potential by playing on the right, and cutting back into the centre to control the attacking play. Not only does Messi now score plenty of goals, he also provides key passes to Neymar & Suarez, who make runs through the wings and made it hard for the oppositions to come to terms with it. Rakitic, who had a fantastic first season till now, also joins the attack from defence, which makes it tougher for the opposition.
All of this leads us to believe that Barcelona, under Luis Enrique has succeeded like not many of us would have thought he would be able in the first season in charge. He took Barcelona to another level and the Catalan’s look more of a threat than they ever were.
However, rumours persist that Luis Enrique might still leave the Catalan’s at the end of the season, with Messi and him not see each other eye to eye. No matter what happens with Luis Enrique, he has proven to be an astute appointemtn this season and he will surely go down as part of a a successful chapter in the history of Barcelona.
With half of the season to go, and just 17 points earned, things looked too shady for the West Brom fans. However, they turned their eyes to a magician, in Tony Pulis, who once again showed the world that he knows the art of keeping the team in the league, pretty much from every position.
West Brom started the season knowing fully that they will have to fight to stay in the league, and after half of the season, things looked more uncertain than the beginning of the season. As most of the pundits were looking at West Brom as the serious contender to go down, the West Brom board turned to Tony Pulis, to save their team from relegation, and he did not disappoint them.
Tony Pulis, after being appointed as the West Brom manager, managed to win 7 and drawn 5 out of the 18 he managed in the premier league this season, which saw West Brom comfortably avoiding relegation in the end. Pulis managed to earn 27 out of a potential 54 points, which saw them finishing 13th, with 9 points clear of the relegation zone.
High points of the season for West Brom was beating Chelsea, the newly crowned champions at home by a margin of 3-0. Even though an argument can be made about Chelsea’s intensity in the game because nothing was at stake, still the result was a refreshing one for the Brom supporters. Another high point of the season was defeating Manchester United in a 1-0 intense match at Old Trafford, which was their back to back wins in the league after waiting for more than 3 decades to beat red devils on their home ground.
Saido Berahino proved to be the star man for the men in white and black, as he netted impressive 14 goals in the season, which saw him now being linked with the rumours of leaving the club in the near future. His performance under Pulis also improved drastically, as he was the Target man throughout the 2nd part of the season. Irish midfielder Chris Brunt proved to be another star of the season, after providing 10 assists and scoring 2 goals throughout the season.
Few players couldn’t live up to the expectations, but the biggest disappoint was Brown Ideye. The former Dynamo Kiev star striker came for a record club fee of £10 Million, but could not produce the kind of result that was expected of him, with just 4 goals and 2 assists in 24 appearances for the club, which is by no means an impressive stat for a striker. Pulis and fans would expect him to produce better results on the field in the next season as they look to have a much easier season than 14/15 campaign.
West Brom looks like an outfit which is settle to stay in the league for some time in the future, with Pulis, who is the master of keeping his team in the league, will try to impose his authority by making West Brom more discipline and more physically strong as an outfit. West Brom will look to have an easier campaign with a mid – table finish, that would give them the much needed stability at the club level.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is the governing body that controls this country’s cricket system. We often ponder on the reasons behind our cricket performances being unpredictable, but we don’t acknowledge the fact that the same kind of character possesses our cricket board as well. An example would be PCB naming Azhar Ali as thenew ODI Captainafter Misbahul Haq’s retirement.
The astounding part of being impulsive is that Pakistani cricket gets defined by their mistakes if the team fails, and encase they succeed, they are then labelled as geniuses. When the World Cup fever was over, the procedure of “rebuilding process” of the team started for the 2019 World Cup. Out of all the possible candidates that one can think of, PCB found a candidate for captaincy who couldn’t even make the final 15 of the World Cup, or was not even in logical debate for a place in the final 15, as we had similar kind of players in the squad, such as Misbah and Younus Khan.
PCB outthought all of us once again, and it was a gamble that seemed a little odd to start with. I wanted to ask PCB how they always manage to surprise us, but then I realised that this is what Pakistani cricket consists of – surprise, unpredictability, uncertainty and complete gamble. Many may think it’s a case of one defensive captain replacing another defensive captain, or some could see this as a youngster being given a chance to prove himself.
However, I thought otherwise.
It may result in being a burden for the youngster as he is yet to make an impact in a particular format. Moreover, he has to not only lead an inexperienced side, but also cement his place in a struggling team which is full of youngsters who don’t get to play at home and players who are making a comeback after injuries and after remodelling their actions.
In the Bangladesh series, Pakistan got white washed in the ODI series and slumped down to their lowest ever ranking in ODI Cricket. However it was not Azhar’s fault. Our selectors did not take the series seriously and we had to pay the price for their judgement. We sent bowlers who were lacking due to their injuries or a ban on their bowling action in a middle order that did not have any experienced players on the international level either. Moreover, we had a coaching staff that kept making blunders. However, Azhar, the batsman, stood out and is proving all of us wrong with every inning as we were quite sceptical about his delivery as an ODI batsman.
At the time of Azhar’s inclusion, one thing was certain – that he will make scores as he usually does. Nevertheless, those who watch Pakistani cricket closely were concerned about the strike rate at which he will score. Earlier in his career, we had a short sample size of him scoring at a strike rate of 64, which was lower than the strike rates of all the Pakistani batsmen – their strike rate was incomparable with the rest of the world. We were all holding our breaths and praying that he doesn’t become another player like Misbah, who would feel the burden of captaincy and won’t be able to break the shackles and express himself while batting.
Luckily, our fears did not become the reality we expected and Azhar proved us wrong.
First of all, he opted to open the innings and that was the best place for him to bat for all the logical reasons. He proved to be innovative and ready to take the bowling face on. Most importantly, he was looking to take singles and was striving to keep the strike rotating, much opposite to his presider, Misbah. The evidence of his performance appraisal is apparent through statistics that verifies increase in his strike rate from 64 in the first 14 ODIs to 75 after 19 ODIs, plus his consistency was never an issue.
Having said that, Azhar’s captaincy is not as perfect compared to his batting in the first five ODIs. Errors such as having no slips for Yasir Shah in the first and second ODI against Zimbabwe until the wicket fell because of a poor shot. Removing Muhammad Sami after just four overs in the first ODI, when he seemed to be in good rhythm and not using Haris Sohail as a bowler at all, were also bad decisions.
Nonetheless, Azhar can’t be blamed for that, it’s again PCB’s fault that Azhar doesn’t seem to have the ability to contemplate proactively thus would react to a situation in an impulse manner. PCB commonly seems short sighted and therefore they didn’t have any idea on who should replace Misbah once he retires. They appoint a bloke who has never captained a department or state side from where he played. Furthermore, the PCB didn’t ask the department or the state side to give him the captaincy role in order to groom him to become a leader in the future.
This leads us to an unfortunate situation where not only our youth, who we inaugurate in our national team and who learn about various things which they should have learned at the grass root level, but now even our captain will have to go through the same route. He will need to learn the art of captaincy while leading the team in the international arena.
I fear that the Pakistan team may have to pay a heavy price for this.
As a Pakistani cricket fan, I hope and wish that Azhar proves us wrong each and every time he is out leading Pakistan, which he has but only as a batsman. His captaincy, however, is what we are waiting for. He should know that the trust and hope of the nation, which consists of countless cricket fans, relies on him.
However, this should not stop him from being fancy, street smart or clever on the field. In fact, it should encourage him to do things that the status quo may not dictate but merely focus on the requirement of the situation.
For the Pakistani cricket fans, it’s about time we give our freshly elected captain some time to prove himself; we may not have to pay the price that we are dreading so much. Either way, it’s time to support the men in green, with Azhar in charge for the spot in Champions Trophy 2017. Fingers crossed, we wait to watch the young Azhar “the batsman” transform into the innovative Azhar “the captain”.