Friday, 28 January 2011

Liverpool Agree Suarez Fee: Will He Succeed?

This evening, Liverpool have confirmed they have agreed a fee with Ajax to sign one of, in not the most converted strikers in Europe; Uruguayan international Luis Suarez. The fee is believed to be €26.5 million (that’s £22.8million). He is due for a medical tomorrow, and still needs to agree personal terms before the signing is completed.

So what have Liverpool brought?

Liverpool have spent big, and strengthened their faltering frontline. The lack of form (and injuries) hindering Fernando Torres this season is that which has aided in Liverpool’s struggles this season.

Suarez made his name in Holland, joining FC Groningen from Uruguayan side Nacional in 2006. There he would spend his first season in Europe, and impressed immediately. After just one season with Groningen, he made an £6million transfer to Dutch giants Ajax. His time with the Amsterdam club is where he showed his most impressive form, and clinical goal scoring ability.

His record at the time of leaving the club is an astonishing 81 goals in 108 appearances.

He gained notoriety on the world stage, while influence was his instrumental in Uruguay’s World Cup campaign, where they reached the Semi-Final. He was however sent off in the Quarter-Finals after a deliberate handball in extra time against Ghana.

Suarez is a technically astute individual with a great first touch. He combines his acceleration with flair and tricks to allow him to frighten defences, and trick opponents. His vision, creative ability, passing ability and decisiveness help him unlock defences.

Will he make it? How does he compare to other exports?

When you think of players who have came over from the Eredivise, Suarez fantastic goalscoring record is similar to many who have come before.

Here’s a few who didn’t do so well leaving Holland:

Mateja Kezman

Club: PSV to Chelsea, 2004-2005

Transfer Fee: £5.3 million

Performance: He scored 4 goals in 25 appearances for Chelsea,

Success: He never made it in the Premiership; he went on to have unsuccessful spells in Spain; with Athletico Madrid, Turkey; with Fenerbache, France; with Paris Saint-Germain, and in Russia; with Zenit St. Petersburg. He now plays in relative obscurity in the Hong Kong first division, with a team called South China.

Klass-Jan Huntelaar

Club: Ajax to Real Madrid, 2009

Transfer Fee: €27 million

Performance: He scored 8 times in 20 appearances, and was shipped out after just 6 months

Success: His goalscoring record in Holland before joining Real Madrid was 135 goals in 193 games. He didn’t have the best of time in Madrid, despite scoring goals, he just wasn’t the right sort of player the club wanted. He had a semi-successful spell with AC Milan, before joining Schalke in Germany where he is now playing.

Afonso Alves

Club: Heerenveen to Middlesbrough, 2008-09

Transfer Fee: £12.7 million

Performance: He scored just 10 goals in 42 appearances.

Success: The barrel-chested Brazilian won individual accolades and plaudits for his performances in Holland. During his time at Heerenveen he scored 45 goals in 39 appearances, so Middlesbrough thought they had a steal on their hands. However that wasn’t the case, he only lasted one season, managing 10 goals in 42 appearances, in which Middlesbrough were subsequently relegated and Alves (who was on big wages) was shipped off to Qatar. He is now settled in Qatar and scoring goals for fun.

Players who did do well:

Ruud Van Nistelrooy

Club: PSV to Manchester United, 2001-06

Transfer Fee: £19 million

Performance: 95 goals in 150 appearances, worth every penny

Success: Before joining Manchester United, he hit 62 goals in 67 appearances for PSV, which earned him a move to one of the biggest clubs in the world. He became a Manchester United legend, and was undoubtedly one of the deadliest penalty box strikers to ever grace the Premiership. He won the Premiership title, FA Cup and League Cup during his spell in England. He moved on to Real Madrid in 2005, where he was just as successful, and now plays in Germany with Hamburg. He is still scoring shed loads of goals.

Robin van Persie

Club: Feyenoord to Arsenal, 2004

Transfer Fee: £2.75 million

Performance: An astute purchase by Arsene Wenger, he has scored 54 goals in 143 games.

Success: A career blighted by injury; however the Dutchman’s ability is never in doubt. Unbelievable technique, first touch and accuracy, he is now in his prime, and ready to take Arsenal back to the top.

Dirk Kuyt

Club: Feyenoord to Liverpool, 2006

Transfer Fee: £10 million

Performance: 40 goals in 160 appearances

Success: Kuyt came to England, as a deadly striker, with a record in Holland of 152 goals in 261 games. When he joined Liverpool, he was converted into a right midfielder by then manager Rafael Benitez, and has become a cult figure with the Anfield faithful.

So can Suarez follow suit? In a word, yes. He is a battler, with a huge passion for football, but more importantly he has the ability which makes him more adaptable to the Premiership.

Where will he fit it?

This is what all Liverpool fans will want to know; is he a replacement for Torres? Or will he play alongside the Spaniard? I believe Torres will stay at Liverpool, until the summer at least.

Recently Liverpool has found themselves performing a lot better with Kenny Dalglish’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

The current formation see’s Cristian Poulsen sitting in the holding midfield role, while Lucas adds the ball winning option, and he also operates more defensively. This means Lucas and Poulsen protect Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel at centre back, which allows for the full backs to push on, high up the pitch.

Gerrard is subsequently given more freedom, and plays the attacking midfield role supporting Torres wherever possible, while Kuyt offers width on the right. Suarez will slot onto the left wing role, as an advanced forward, taking the place of Maxi Rodriguez.

Liverpool fans will be buoyed by this signing, and it’s another bonus for the Premiership to have another class talent play on these shores. He should kick start Liverpool’s Premier League campaign, and allow them to finally move on from a terrible 2009.

How do you think Suarez will fare? Leave your comment below

Real Talk Football

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Who Should Be Manchester United's New Number One?

After much speculation this season, Manchester United’s Dutch international goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar has confirmed he will retire at the end of this season, aged 40 years old.

He is arguably Manchester United’s best goalkeeper of the last decade, and their best and most reliable player to wear the number one shirt since the legendary Peter Schmeichel.

Van der Sar has made over 175 appearances for United, since joining from Fulham in 2005. He had previous spells at Juventus (which lasted two years, and was deemed unsuccessful, despite making 66 appearances for the Turin based club), and the place where he started it all; Ajax. His time with the Dutch club was the place where Van der Sar made his name in Europe, as he was part of the famous 1991-92 UEFA Cup and 1994-95 Champions League winning side, and he made over 200 appearances during his nine years at the club.

His time at Manchester United was undoubtedly the most successful spell in his career. Despite joining at the age of 34, he established himself as the number one goalkeeper at the club, and forged his name as one of the top three goalkeepers in the Premiership over the past five years.

Manchester United manager explained stated his admiration for the Dutchman, stating:

"Fantastic – a magnificent person, professional goalkeeper, an absolute marvellous career he’s had, He’s an example to anyone who wants to become a goalkeeper."

"Edwin sails through life without any changes in it, he never changes, (and) he has a consistent nature. He’s unflappable. "He’s calm, he doesn’t look to search for press for himself, he’s happy with what he’s achieved in life and he’s not searching for anything, he’s such a good man."

During his time at Manchester United, he won three back to back Premiership titles (2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09), a League Cup (2006), three FA Community Shield’s (2007, 2008, 2009), a UEFA Champions League (2007/08) and the FIFA Club World Cup (2008).

Individual accolades he achieved at Manchester United included being named ‘Best European Goalkeeper’ in 2009, the ‘Barclays Golden Gloves’ in 2009, as well as being named in the PFA Team of the Year on numerous occasions.

As we are mid way through the 2010/11 Premiership season, Manchester United are still in three competitions, so Van der Sar still has the opportunity to add to his medal haul.

Goalkeeping History: Replacements for Peter Schmeichel

Now with such a key player leaving at the end of the season, Sir Alex Ferguson needs to make sure he gets in the right replacement. Rivals Arsenal struggled to replace Jens Lehmann when he left the club and it took Ferguson six years to select Van der Sar as the perfect replacement for Schmeichel at Old Trafford.

During that time he signed a few good goalkeepers, who just struggled to deal with the weight of expectation, but he has signed some really average individuals.

Raimond van der Gouw 1996 – 2002

This Dutchman was second fiddle to Schmeichel for three years, and never really got his chance in the first team ever when Schmeichel left. He played a few big Champions League games, but only managed to make 37 appearances.

Mark Bosnich 1989-1992/1999-2001

He spent two spells at Manchester United, but made his name in the Premiership at Aston Villa (where he spent 7 years). His spell at Manchester United was the beginning of the end for him. He failed to gain a first team place, and struggled to prove his value to the time.

Aged 29 he joined Chelsea from Manchester United, and his career spiralled out of control. One of the best goalkeepers to play in the Premiership, his career faltered and he picked up a drug problem and failed to ever play at the highest level again.

Massimo Taibi 1999 - 2000

A legend in English football... But for all the wrong reasons! He was seen as direct replacement for Peter Schmeichel, and played just four times.

He was known for this shocking blunder in a match against Southampton, as well as playing in a 5-0 defeat to Chelsea. He cost Ferguson £4.5 million, and was shipped back to Italy after just one season.

Fabien Barthez 2000 – 2004

A very good goalkeeper, the eccentric Frenchman established himself in Ligue 1 in France, before crossing the waters and testing himself at Manchester United. He cost Ferguson just under £8million, and he made 92 appearances in four years.

The reason for his demise, which included being sent to Marseille on a season long loan, was his tendency to make big errors in key matches, while his attitude sometimes angered Sir Alex Ferguson. He left for Marseille in 2004.

Andy Goram 2001

Scottish goalkeeping legend joined Manchester United aged 36 years old. He was seen as a short term option, he only played 2 games. It was seen as a waste of time, and pointless acquisition.

Roy Carroll 2001 – 2005

The Northern Irishman made his name in the lower divisions, before moving to Manchester United for a fee of £2.5million. He was seen as another understudy, and couldn’t force his way to the undisputed number one. He managed to make 49 appearances in four years, but is another player who will be remembered for a massive blunder. Think Pedro Mendes, 2005, a shot from the halfway line, the goal that never was. He left for West Ham in 2005 on a free transfer.

Ricardo 2002 - 2005

Another waste of money, a £1.5million signing, the Spaniard only made one appearance in three years.

Tim Howard 2003 – 2007

Howard, a United States international, wasn’t a bad signing or a bad player, but he just struggled to deal with the weight of expectations put on him at Old Trafford. After all the above stated names, he just became another Manchester United flop, making vital errors in many key matches. He fought with Roy Carroll for the number one shirt, but never succeeded in claiming the role. Eventually Ferguson signed Edwin van der Sar, and Howard would play second fiddle from then on. He was subsequently loaned out to Everton, who went on to sign him permanently in 2007.

Possible replacements for Edwin van der Sar

With the vast amount of time, and money spent on players during these six years period, Sir Alex Ferguson knows it cannot take that long this time around. Competition is too vast at the top of the Premier League, and on the continent for Manchester United to fall behind.

Here’s a look at the number of names being linked to the number one shirt:

David de Gea – Athletico Madrid – 20 years old – 7/11/1990

A player featured on this blog before, he was thrown in at the deep end at his club, making his professional debut aged 19. He is still the number one goalie, keeping the former regular first choice Sergio Asenjo on the bench.

He has played down a link to Manchester United insisting he is happy in Spain, and isn’t ready to make the move abroad just yet. He has been likened to Iker Casillas, and for our look at him from earlier in the season, click here.

He may not see himself as ready to make the move, but if Manchester United come calling, it’s very difficult to turn it down. If Manchester United attempt to sign a keeper now, they may spend big, as the will expect him to be there for the long run, so de Gea could miss out on his only opportunity.

Manuel Neuer – Schalke 04 – 24 years old – 27/03/1986

A name that has been linked with all the big clubs in Europe, he was the German number one at the 2010 World Cup, and impressed on the World’s grandest stage. He plays in the Bundesliga with Schalke 04, and has made over 140 appearances since making his professional debut as an 18 year old.

He is an excellent shot-stopper, with great agility and distribution. He commands his box very well and can be pretty much described as typical solid German goalkeeper.

Maarten Stekelenburg – Ajax – 28 years old – 22/09/1982

Another quality Ajax goalkeeper, he could be influenced by Van der Sar and take his opportunity to move to England. The new Holland number one was instrumental in helping his side reach the World Cup final. He has been at Ajax for 10 years, making over 160 appearances since becoming first choice in 2005.

Stekelenburg is another great shot stopper, but his best attribute are his excellent reflexes. He commands his area very well, and is a well rounded top international quality goalkeeper.

Igor Akinfeev – CSKA Moscow – 24 years old – 8/04/1986

The young Russian is just 24 years old, but he is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe and has a vast amount of experience at such a young age. He started his career at CSKA Moscow aged just 17 years old, and has since played almost 200 matches. He is the club captain, first choice for Russia, and has 46 international caps.

Great reflexes, excellent in one on ones, good anticipation and distribution are just some of the highlights of his array of talents. He really is a top top goalkeeper, who if my club forked out a large sum for, I would be more than satisfied.

Replacements from within

Sir Alex Ferguson may believe he could use one of the current second choice goalkeepers at the club, if the funds are not available to spend in the summer. Some Manchester United fans will probably not be too best please with this; however the faith will have to be kept in manager’s decision.

Tomasz Kuszczak – 28 years old – 20/03/1982

The former West Brom goalkeeper is experienced at watching the Premier League from the bench, but not very experienced in playing in it. He has been a back up goalkeeper for both West Brom and Manchester United since coming to England in 2004. He has made 26 appearances in five years at the club, and seems as if he doesn’t get his chance now, he never will.

Anders Lindegaard – 26 years old – 12/04/1984

Signed this month from Danish side Aalesund, he has been scouted as a player with an abundance of potential. Not too much beyond that is known about Lindegaard beyond that, but he is:

Lindegaard is also very strong as a shot-stopper. He is able to call upon excellent reflexes to protect his goal from shots inside the box. He can also use his big frame to make up ground and get across goal, especially from long-range efforts on target.”

He has made 4 international appearances for Denmark, and if he impresses Ferguson sufficiently enough, he could possibly be the replacement he has had in mind all along.

Whoever Sir Alex does decide to select, i'm sure he has remembered the trouble he had in the late 90's/00's trying to replace such an important area of the first team. Whoever takes the number one shirt, will have big boots to fill, and that is a testiment to how good Edwin van der Sar truely is.

So that’s my take on the current goalkeeping situation at Manchester United. What do you think of the article? Who do you think Manchester United should sign as a replacement? Leave your comment below.

Real Talk Football

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Dimitar Berbatov: Finally Comes Good

The Bulgarian striker joined Manchester United after a summer of speculation and tabloid rumours regarding his desire to move to a the Red Devils, claiming it would be his “Dream Move”. Berbatov, then aged 27 years old, cost Manchester United £30.75 million, signing a four year deal.

Since this move, the jury has definitely been out on the striker. There is no doubt he is an exceptionally gifted player, with sublime technique and ability, but questions regarding his attitude, commitment and enthusiasm is something which has surrounded him his whole career at Old Trafford.

Undoubtedly he dreamed of playing for Manchester United; evidently clear in him forcing the move from Tottenham. However it seems the £30million price tag is something which had hindered his performances in the red shirt. That is up until now.

I remember I went to an FA Cup game between Fulham and Tottenham in 2007, and I remember Berbatov coming on with 20 minutes to go. Spurs were 2-0 up, and Berbatov, who had been rested for this game, came on and I was so impressed at how good of a player he really is.

Two minutes after he came on as a substitute from Mido (yes, Mido) he scored the first of his two goals he got on that afternoon. It was a relatively simple goal, scoring after hitting the post with his original effort, collecting the rebound and slotting it home. His second goal was what really displayed his audacity and brilliance of the Bulgarian. A flicked through ball from Robbie Keane, played into Berbatov who beat the offside trap, and he then lofted the ball over the Fulham goalkeeper.

The desire and hunger expressed from Berbatov in order to score these two goals, while the game was already won, is that which has been rekindle this season, after two and a half tricky seasons at Manchester United.

So what has made him become such a force this year?

When he joined Manchester United, he came with this huge price tag, which sometimes can psychologically affect player. We have seen this with players and big transfer fees before, as it adds another level of expectation on top of an individual who already plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world, and whose main impact will ultimately be defined by how many goals he scores.

Also when Berbatov joined United, he was already in a squad consisting of many world class attackers, let alone individuals. They already had Cristiano Ronaldo, who during his spell at Manchester United would be crowned European and World Player of the Year. There was also Carlos Tevez, who had built up a cult following for extraordinary workrate and ability. Also of course at the club is Manchester United’s “golden boy” Wayne Rooney, who scored 72 goals in 138 games since Berbatov signed for the club. So there were plenty of other players taking the limelight, when Berbatov struggled to make an impact.

The reason I feel Berbatov has been flourishing this season, is because he has become the vocal point of the Manchester United attack. Last season, it was Rooney, but injuries and off the field the problems, have stalled Man United’s number 10’s progress, Berbatov has taken on the responsibility of finding the back of the net.

He started his professional career as a 17 year old at Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia, he made his first debut aged 18 where he went on to spend two seasons at the club, where he made a name for himself scoring 26 goals in 49 appearances. The only blight on this spell at the club was that he was unbelievably kidnapped by members of the Bulgarian Mafia, who attempted to force him into signing for FC Levski Kjustendil.

The ordeal was resolved, and Berbatov moved abroad to German high fliers Bayern Leverkusen, where he truly made his mark as one of the most promising and technically gifted individuals in Europe. During his time at Leverkusen, he scored 69 times in 154 appearances, and played in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.

Berbatov’s prowess and ability, earned him a £10.9million move to Tottenham, and an opportunity to play in the Premiership. During his time at Spurs, he became a fans favourite, and was instrumental in Spurs challenge for Champions League football. He scored 27 times in 70 appearances for Tottenham, before making his “Dream Move” to Manchester United.

With two average seasons at Manchester United, where he has produced few moments of brilliance, the pressure and expectation has been lifted off the Bulgarian. Manchester United fans I have spoken to, agree that they don’t expect 20 goals from Berbatov, but seem content with the odd overhead kick here and there.

These lowered expectations have boosted his confidence, and giving him a greater sense of freedom. Twinned with Manchester United’s tactics which allow Berbatov and Rooney to switch between who plays the second striker, and a main striker, has allowed him to hit the ground running this season.

The numbers don’t lie, and his improvement this season is evident for all to see. Before this season he scored just 21 goals in 64 appearances, while this campaign he has hit 19 goals in 19 games. The sort of return you’d expect from a striker with his ability. He scored five goals in one game in Blackburn, and scored three hat-tricks this season, against Liverpool, Blackburn (as part of the five) and against Birmingham City.

The jury is still out on whether Berbatov can keep up this consistency, and whether is a match winner, as this season he hasn’t scored against any of the top 6 teams. However this season will be defining for him.

He is the leading goal scorer in the Premiership this season, and has taken Manchester United to the summit of the table, and has become one of the most vital players, and now appreciated players at Old Trafford, and will be vital in Man United’s challenge for three trophies.

Real Talk Football

Thursday, 13 January 2011

A look around Europe

In January last year we took a quick glance around, to find out who was in the running for league titles, and who were the players who had been stealing the limelight and putting in the class performances.

England - Premiership

The Premiership has been as exciting as ever, but with the gulf in class between the teams becoming shorter, no teams are dominating, or is any team serious putting any daylight between the top spot and the chasing pack. It really has become a case of “anyone can beat anyone”.

Who’s in the title hunt?

Manchester United sits atop of the Premier League, with rivals Man City and Arsenal collectively just 4 points apart. Tottenham, Chelsea and Sunderland are in the chasing pack, mainly in the hunt for Champions League places.

Chelsea has been in shocking form this season, but a team who has such a strong first 11 cannot be discounted. They may not be in the hunt right now, but they could definitely make a late charge, if they kick on from January.

Relegation candidates

From 20th to 12th place in the league, the nine teams are only separated by 5 points. West Ham currently sit bottom, while Wigan, Aston Villa, Wolves, West Brom, Birmingham, Fulham, Liverpool and Everton are all possibilities for relegation. Some have more quality then others, but let’s clear: No one is too big to go down.

Star performers

Samir Nasri – the 23 year old has been sensational this season for the Gunners. He has carried the creative and goal scoring mantle since Cesc Fabregas has had injury problems, and picked up 13 goals in 26 appearances this season.

Gareth Bale – The Welshman has been performing really well and constantly over the past 12 months, and has shown at the highest level that he can be one of the World’s be left midfielders. He is just 21 years old, and needs to continue this form and progression.

Spain - La Liga

Who’s in the title hunt?

La Liga has been interesting this season. Yes Barca and Real are the only two teams battling for the title, but some of the football they have been playing has been sensational. Barcelona is dismantling teams, breaking records left, right and centre, while Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta still continue to shine. Real Madrid on the other hand, is still clinging on to the Barca coat-tails.

Villarrael are playing some sensational football, but unfortunately, they are 13 points behind the league leaders. Not that they have been performing poor, it’s just that Barca and Real are that dominant. So it seems its now only between Villarrael, Valencia and Espanyol for the final two Champions League spots.

Relegation candidates

Real Zaragoza use to have a batch of some of the best football talent in Europe, think players such as Diego and Gabriel Miltio, Ricardo Oliviera, Roberto Ayala and Pablo Aimar but still managed to underachieve unbelievably and get relegated two seasons ago. With promotion last year, the now sees themselves in the current bottom three with fellow promoted side Sporting Gijon as well as Almeria. Levante, Malaga and Osasuna are the other side’s who could slip through the trap door.

Star performers

Lionel Messi – Aren’t you guys sick of hearing me speak about this guy? The Best player in the World continues to progress, and smash teams into the ground, scaring the life out of defenders and goalkeepers. His stats this season? Played 15, scored 18 with 12 assists. Not much more to say.

Cristiano Ronaldo – the World’s two best players, are going head to head once again this season, with Ronaldo more than capable of holding his own. The £80million man has been worth every single penny, and this season, whether it is left foot, right foot, with his head or from a set piece, CR7 hits the back of the net. His stats this season? Player 18, score 22 with 6 assists. Not much more to add!

Italy - Serie A

Who’s in the title hunt?

The Italian top flight redeemed some excitement with AS Roma pushing Inter Milan all the way to the wire last season. This season, Inter have struggled terribly (similar to Chelsea) and failed to mount any sort of challenge (injuries didn’t do a lot to help the cause). However they have sacked Rafa Benitez, hired Leanardo, but cannot be consider title contenders as they sit in 7th place, 11 points behind the league leaders.

AC Milan sit 4 points clear at the top, while Napoli, Lazio and Roma make up the chasing pack. Cavani has been a revelation at Napoli, Zarate continues to be spectacular for Lazio and Borriello has been a great signing for Roma. These players are leading the charge for their respective club.

Palermo and Juventus are the other real contenders, but will probably be more focused on Champions League qualification.

Relegation candidates

Bari, Brescia and Lecce currently occupy the bottom three spots, however similarly to the Premiership, the teams from 10th place onwards to the relegation zone, are only separated by 5 points.

Big names such as Parma, Genoa and Fiorentina all find themselves in the bottom half of the table, amongst these 10 teams.

Star performers

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – He had a season away from Serie A, although he was panned by critics, he still collected four trophies during his time at the Camp Nou, and returned to Italy where he is in his comfort zone. He has regained the form which saw him receive the plaudits while playing at Inter Milan, and with his performances this season, he is returning to his status as one of the best strikers in the world. He has played 17 games, scoring 10 goals, with 8 assists.

Edinson Cavani – This is one of my favourite players in Serie A, and he has taken the mantle as one of the most promising strikers in the World. The 24 year old has been instrumental in Napoli’s challenge for the title this year, scoring 13 goals in 19 games, with 3 assists. The Uruguayan is on loan from Palermo, but its evident Napoli will do all they can in order to keep the striker at the end of the season.

Germany - Bundesliga

Who’s in the title hunt?

The Bundesliga has been a story of two teams this season. Defending champions Bayern Munich have been horrible (a trend with all the top teams domestically around Europe) and they now sit a massive 14 points behind the league leaders, the league leaders being Borussia Dortmund. Yes the Yellow and Black side that were so impressive in the 90’s are finally back at the top where they belong. They have had a brilliant season so far with the defensive combination of Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer the cornerstone helping the team only concede 10 goals in 17 games.

Dortmund sit 10 points clear of nearest challengers Mainz and Bayern Leverkusen, so it’s pretty much there title to lose.

Relegation candidates

Monchengladbach is struggling at the bottom of the league, while more surprisingly Stuttgart sit just two points above them, and in serious danger of relegation. Koln, St. Pauli, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg (minus Eden Dzeko) make up the other relegation candidates.

Star performers

Borussia Dortmund – They are run away league leaders, with a host of players playing above expectations and surpassing their expectation. The defensive three I mentioned earlier have been superb, Nuri Sahin and Mario Gotze in midfield as well as forwards Lucas Barrios and Shinji Kagawa.

France - Ligue 1

Who’s in the title hunt?

Another tightly contested league, with no one team clearly dominating, with the top 6 only just separated by 3 points. Lille currently sit top, with PSG, Rennes, Lyon, Marseille and Saint-Etienne making up the chasing pack.

Relegation candidates

Promoted side Arles-Avignon are 11 points adrift, and seem already gone, while fellow promoted side Caen along with RC Lens make up the other teams in the relegation zone. AS Monaco and Valenciennes are the other two teams hovering just about the drop zone.

Star performers

Steve Mandana – the Olympique Marseille goalkeeper, and club captain, is vastly fulfilling his potential, and at 25 years old, having a great season in Ligue 1. He has kept 7 clean sheets this season, and his side have the third best defensive record in Ligue 1.

Nene – the Brazilian has been an inspired signing for Paris Saint-Germain since joining from AS Monaco. He has been top class in the clubs Europa League campaign, and domestically he has hit 13 goals in 18 appearances.

Moussa Sow – the 24 year old Senegalese striker has finally begun to show his ability, and reach the potential he was touted as possessing while playing at Rennes. Now with league leaders Lille, he has scored 14 times in 18 league games.

Netherlands - Eredivsie

Who’s in the title hunt?

Defending champions FC Twente are still in the title hunt, but sit second behind free scoring PSV. The league leaders have blitzed 53 goals in 19 games, and only conceding 19 goals. FC Groningen and AFC Ajax are the only other teams really in with a shout at the title.

Relegation candidates

Willem II has only 4 points, from 19 games and is cast iron candidates. VVV-Venlo is 8 points away from safety, and seems likely to join the Willem II in the Eereste Divisie, while Excelsior, Excelsior and Vitesse are the others who could slip into danger.

Star performers

Ola Toivonen – the 24 year old Swedish striker was linked with a move to Liverpool in the summer, but the deal never surfaced. He has notched up 11 goals this season.

Balazs Dzsudzsak – another PSV player who has been on fire this season, and has been instrumental in PSV’s return to the top, chipping in with 10 goals.

Björn Vleminckx – the Belgian forward is at the top Dutch scoring charts, and he plays for mid table side N.E.C. He has contributed 13 of his side’s 31 goals scored this season.

So that’s Real Talk Football’s half season look around Europe, let us know what you think about all the teams underperforming in their domestic leagues, as well as some of the stand out individuals.

All tables from, and are all correct as of 12pm 13/01/2011

Edin Dzeko: Welcome to the Premiership

Manchester City last week completed the singing of 24 year old Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko from German side Vfl Wolfsburg. City boss Roberto Mancini finally managed to prise one of the most sought after strikers in Europe’s away from the Bundesliga, and he has already expressed his desire to test himself at the highest level.

Wolfsburg’s struggles have been well documented this season, with the English public receiving a greater insight due to the current manager Steve McClaren in charge, who himself was named the “Wally with the Brolly” after his ill-fated spell as England boss. It seems that the time was right for the German club to cash in on their prize asset, despite the club sitting in a lowly 13th place, with the Bosnian contributing 10 league goals so far. The fee is believed to be around £27million, while no replacement has been signed so far, but McClaren expects other players at the club to "take on responsiblity" and get the team goals.

Dzeko comes to the Premiership, as a two times, and reigning Bosnian player of the year. He was the top goal scorer in the Bundesliga last with 22 goals. He leaves Wolfsburg with a record of 66 goals in 111 appearances, and one thing is for certain, this man is a goal scorer, there is no doubt

Man City boss Roberto Mancini has already discussed, and highlighted the importance of the signing, stating that:

"I am very happy the club bought Dzeko," Italian Mancini stated. "I think he'll be a very important player for the future of this club.

"We wanted him in the summer because we knew he was the perfect player for us. He is different from the other players we have. Now we have a good mix. I hope he can score a lot of goals like in Germany.”
While Dzeko has already attempted to stir up the rivalry with local neighbours by stating:

"Most of the people from Manchester are Manchester City fans.”

If I’m honest, I don’t think the Manchester United’s fan base will worry too much, as one look at the table shows that the “Red Devils” are still the force to be reckoned with in the Premier League, as they sit atop of the table, but Dzeko will certainly play his part in influence whose top come May.

Welcome to the Premiership Eden, let’s see if you perform more like Ruud van Nistlerooy, rather than other big money strikers, who didn’t pay off such as Andriy Shevchenko.

Click here to see some of his best strikes

Real Talk Football

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Manchester City’s Infighting Could K.O Title Chances

Manchester City have shown they have the capability to challenge for the Premiership title and while its evidently clear they have the squad to achieve, will infighting and overinflated ego’s hinder their chances?

It’s no coincidences that football club with problems behind the scenes, just cannot perform on the pitch and subsequently underachieve. It’s pretty much fact. In recent years, there are numerous examples of infighting, while the damage done can be disastrous.

Newcastle United were relegated from the Premier League in 2009 after a turbulent season whereby the club had managerial issues, hiring three managers in one season, and the conflicts among the board spelled the end for their 16 stay in the English top flight.

Even this season, infighting has done significant damage to clubs performances. The Aston Villa situation immediately comes to mind, whereby then manager Martin O’Neill resigned before the first league game of the season due to owner Randy Lerner accepting a £26million bid for star player James Milner, and basically selling him against the managers will.

Villa who were a top 6 club, with serious aspirations of ascertaining Champions League qualification, are now struggling to maintain the standards they set for themselves over the past four years. They currently sit 17th in the league, and ramblings between Gerard Houllier and the likes of John Carew, Gabby Agbonlahor , Stephen Ireland and Richard Dunne have hindered the teams progress this season, they are now relegation battlers.

At the other end of the spectrum, is Roberto Mancini, who despite all he has had to deal with this season, still has a serious chance of Manchester City collecting the Premier League title for the first time in history, which would make them only the 5th different club to do it since its inception in 1992.

There have been rumours of unrest in the camp ever since Mancini took over in 2009, but no such unrest has become such public as the numerous displays this season.

Earlier this season, the first signs of trouble came a cropper, when summer signings James Milner and Yaya Toure clashed at half time during a 3-0 defeat at home to Arsenal. The manager and the players played down the rift, claiming “
heat of the moment” and “frustration”.

A week later, another clash between team mates occurred during a 2-1 defeat to Wolves, where defender Vincent Kompany and striker Emmanuel Adebayor were seen furiously arguing with each other. This was again, played down by the players citing an attempt to “
get a reaction out of each other”.

The next sign of trouble came at half time again, this time in a 2-1 win against Newcastle, where Mancini had a war of words with star striker Carlos Tevez in the changing room. This would be the beginning of a frosty relationship between the pair, with Tevez showing public display of anger towards Mancini in a 1-0 win against Bolton.

The reason for this bust up? Tevez was substituted with a few minutes left of the game, and he was deemed to be unhappy at a pre-recorded interview being shown in the stadium of Tevez “
singing Mancini’s praises”.

One week after is incident, Tevez handed in a transfer request, which was subsequently dismissed by the club, and Tevez supposedly withdrew the transfer request two weeks later.

Whilst this saga was continuing, there were more problems popping up left, right and centre for Mancini. £23million striker Mario Balotelli had a training ground fight with team mate Jerome Boateng. The two clashed in training and were seen attempting to choke it other! Again this was deemed a “minor flare-up” and an isolated incident. Balotelli has since stated his desire to return to Italy, as he is “home-sick”, but this of course has been rejected by Manchester City.

The latest and probably most absurd incident came just yesterday, when striker Emmanuel Adebayor (again) had a training ground fight with vice captain Kolo Toure. This may not come as much of a surprise, especially to Arsenal fans, who knew the two were very disruptive influences in the dressing room at the Emirates and subsequently shipped out of North London.

It was rumoured that when Kolo Toure came out in the press explaining that certain players need to "
pull thier weight" for Man City to exceed, was aimed at the Togolese striker.

What is with these guys and training ground fights?

Toure fouled Adebayor, they scuffled, with Kolo ending up getting Adebayor in a headlock. They were subsequently separated, and today they have attempted to downplay the significance of the fight claiming it wasn’t a major incident.

Now for Mancini, the aim is damaged limitation. He has an abundance of riches, undoubted quality in every area of the team, and a team consisting of proven winners in each of these areas; such as Kolo Toure in defence, Yaya Toure and David Silva in midfield, and up front with Carlos Tevez.

City are also expected to complete the £27million signing of Bosnian striker Eden Dzeko, paving the way for Adebayor to make his exit (Real Madrid and Juventus are rumoured, while Malaga seems a more likely destination).

Now if the individuals at Man City can keep their temperament and ego’s under wrapped then there could possibly be the strongest contenders for the title, however as the numerous incidents highlighted and displayed this season, keeping the team spirit and unity needed in order to win the title would be something short of a miracle.

Only time will tell, but we know we are in for a sensational title race.

Real Talk Football