At the end of May, things looked tough for Cholismo’s side. 7 players departing the RojiBlancos, thing look bleak. But of course, Simeone does what Simeone does. The Argentine manager has recruited warriors for his band of fearless underdogs. Names that include…
Renan Lodi joins from Athlético Paranaense (Yes “Athlético”). A fast and skilful Left-back, the 20-year-old Brazillian joined for 20million euros on a 6 year deal.
Hector Herrera, the 29 year old Mexican international signed from Porto for free for 3 years.
The biggest and most expensive signing, João Félix is officially a Colchonero. The 19-year-old Portuguese wonder kid signed from Benfica for 120milllion euro! Which make him the 4th most expensive signing ever. He signed a 7-year deal.
Another signing from Benfica, Ivan Šaponjić joins Atleti for only 500 thousand euros for 3 years.
The 2nd English player to ever play for Atleti, Kieran Trippier joins Simeone’s side for the next 3 seasons. He cost the Rojiblancos 22million euros.
The latest transfer (as of 18/07/19) is Mario Hermoso, the Spanish defender has joined from Espanyol for only 25 million euros for 5 years. What a signing!
Los Colchonero’s have suffered their second consecutive defeat in a row at the hands of Garitano’s impressive Athletic Club side. Simeone’s side only had 2 shots on target despite having Griezmann, Costa and Morata starting, Angel Correa came in on the 80′ minute but it was all too late.
This result only rubbed the salt into the wounds of every Atleti fans as they went crashing out of the Champions League by Cristiano and his gang on Tuesday.
Jan Oblak made decisive saves during the match as standard, but couldn’t do anything to prevent Iñaki Williams and Kenan Kodro’s goals which both came from defending errors.
This result means more criticism coming Simeone’s way about the spineless football his side were playing in the last two games. You would expect after such a deflating defeat as the one on Tuesday, that something would change for the clash against the Basque side, but it seemed like no words were said, and they had produced another performance that doesn’t show Atlético as a world-class club, but more of a mediocre club if best.
There next door rival Real Madrid seems to be on there way to a full resurrection with the reunion of Zinedine Zidane. And they plan to have a massive part in this summer’s transfer market, with promising Brazillian and Porto defender Éder Militão signing a pre-contract with Los Blancos, which will see him switching the Estádio do Dragão for the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu for 50 million this summer. Simeone’s side will have to be smart, with Full Back Lucas Hernandez priced at a tasty 70million, the money would be useful to upgrade the defence. With Godin, Luis and Juanfran ageing and reportedly leaving this season. It looks like the old gang will be eventually disbanding. Will this mean an end of an era for Atlético de Madrid, for good or worse?
Luis Enrique’s stint in charge of Spain got off to a winning start despite late drama, in which a Danny Welbeck equaliser was ruled out.
Gareth Southgate’s men took an early lead when Marcus Rashford beat David De Gea from close-range following a delightful through ball.
The lead didn’t last long though, as Saul Niguez equalised just two minutes later, with Rodrigo’s volleyed finish later on in the half eventually winning the game for Spain.
The result sees Spain go top of Nations League A4, while England fall into the sole relegation spot.
The first real chance of the game resulted in a goal, and came only 11 minutes in. Jordan Henderson took the ball past three players in the middle, before giving it to Harry Kane. The captain turned and found an onrushing Luke Shaw, who took it forward and slipped a precise ball to Marcus Rashford, with the young forward poking it past his club team-mate David De Gea to give England their first ever goal in The Nations League, and get his fourth for the country.
Spain responded in the best possible fashion; Dani Carvajal met a through ball at pace, gliding past Shaw before finding Rodrigo just outside the box. The former Bolton forward then displayed great vision to cut it back to Saul Niguez, who blasted into the bottom left.
The Spaniards were buoyed on by their two-minute equaliser, with Rodrigo and Isco continually making promising runs into the box, but England’s defence just about held firm. They had a chance of their own in the 25th minute, Kieran Trippier displaying his ever-present set piece threat, but his ball to Kane could only be headed directly towards De Gea from the edge of the box.
Home Team News:
There were two enforced changes for the hosts, as Joe Gomez and Marcus Rashford came in for the injured Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling. Tactically, Luke Shaw has usurped Ashley Young at club-level and was also picked tonight at left wing-back
Subs: Danny Rose for Shaw (53), Eric Dier for Henderson (64), Danny Welbeck for Rashford (90+4)
Un-used subs: Alex McCarthy, Jack Butland, Marcus Bettinelli, James Tarkowski, Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabian Delph, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
England were wasteful again just two minutes after. Dele Alli had acres of space in the centre of the park, and despite three team mates presenting themselves while he was driving forward, the midfielder couldn’t find any of them. It was fair to say that England had been unsettled by Spain’s quick response, and the visitors took advantage of England’s wastefulness in the 32nd minute, Rodrigo giving Spain the lead after flicking Thiago Alcantara’s left sided free kick into the bottom corner.
De Gea, who has been under scrutiny for both club and country lately, showed his world class shot-stopping ability in the 35th minute, Rashford rising highest to a lobbed cross, but seeing his header impressively saved by the Spaniard. England failed to maintain this momentum, and couldn’t always cope with Spain’s passing style of play, Shaw seeing yellow for a poorly timed slide tackle on Carvajal. Their failure to grasp a hold of the game was probably summed up with two minutes left, when Shaw controlled a beautiful cross field pass from John Stones, only to then dribble the ball out of play.
HALF-TIME: England 1 – 2 Spain
Away Team News:
David De Gea, Sergio Ramos, Nacho, Sergio Busquets and Isco kept their places from the penalty shootout defeat to Russia, but the side picked by Luis Enrique still had a very new look feel to it.
Subs: Marco Asensio for Iago Aspas (68), Sergi Roberto for Alcantara (80), Inigo Martinez for Alonso (87)
Un-used subs: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Pau Lopez, Raul Albiol, Cesar Azpilicueta, Jose Gaya, Dani Ceballos, Rodri, Suso, Alvaro Morata.
The start of the second half was hugely disrupted, a whole six minutes and careful attention being shown to Shaw, who suffered a nasty looking head injury in a 50-50 clash with Carvajal. Danny Rose came on in his place for a 24th England appearance.
Spain’s left back then created a decent chance for, Alonso’s out swinging cross finding Bayern midfielder Thiago on the edge of the box, his ambitious sliced effort sailing narrowly over.
After an impressive piece of play on the hour mark, Saul shot from outside the box, but his curling effort fell into the path of Pickford for a routine save. Three minutes later, England finally showed some creativity of their own, although Kane was actually in an offside position when he controlled a delightful lobbed through ball from Trippier.
There was more frustration for the home fans in the 66th minute when Stones was unfairly carded for what was an accurate last-ditch tackle on Rodrigo, although the close-range free kick came to nothing.
The game entered a quiet period with both teams patient on and off the ball. This was broken in the 80th minute by Rashford, who did well to latch onto a short pass and get past Nacho, but he wasn’t so effective when shooting, his effort powerful but into the thigh of De Gea. The follow up from Kane was wide, meaning England had spurned what were arguably their best two chances.
England were slowly improving, and a nice edge-of-the-box ball from Jesse Lingard allowed Rashford to be one-on-one again, but he was flagged offside. England came close again, their ‘love train’ corner routine allowing Maguire a header on goal, but the big centre half wasn’t accurate.
With nine minutes of extra time announced, Spain kept hunting for a comforting third goal, although Sergio Ramos was way off in the 92nd minute with an ambitious volley back across goal, as was Rodrigo, who shot from about 25 yards when he caught Pickford off his line moments later.
England pushed for an equaliser, and thought they had one in the 96th minute. Ramos made a hash of Gomez’s whipping cross, and although De Gea spilled the ball while trying to recover it, the assistant referee claimed he had been failed by Danny Welbeck, denying England a last gasp point.
They didn’t let this phase them though, Trippier unleashing a powerful low cross in the 98th minute, but Roberto was on hand to clear and give Spain the win in their first ever UEFA Nations League game.
FULL-TIME: England 1 – Spain 2
Both teams play again in three days time. England host Switzerland at The King Power, while Spain will aim to win the group by beating Croatia at home.
What an amazing game of football last night, England crashing out and Croatia into their 1st ever final!It all kicked off when England took the lead with a class Free-kick from Kieran Trippier. In the 30′ minute, Kane could’ve potentially sealed the lead but Danijel Subašić with two amazing saves to keep Croatia in it. But in the 68′ minute, Ivan Perišić gave his country the equaliser after Šime Vrsaljko’s world-class cross met Perišić’s foot on the volley. Shortly after the goal, Perišić could’ve given Croatia the lead but unfortunately, his shot hit the post.During the few minutes of Extra time, England was given a corner, Trippier kicked it in and it met by Stone’s head only to be ruled-out by Vrsaljko’s ‘on the line save’. During the last minutes of the 1st half of extra time, Mario Mandžukić almost scored if it wasn’t for Jordan Pickford save. Mario went down as he collided with Pickford and looked in a bad way but recovered. But it took a change for the worst for England because, in the 109′ minute, Mario Mandžukić scored a brilliant goal to give Croatia the lead which eventually led to England elimination.In the end, Croatia dominated the match with having 22 shot, 2x more than England. They also had an amazing defence record, with only letting England have 2 shot on target (one which was that unpreventable free-kick goal).Ivan Perišić was Man of The Match but that is debatable as it was a team effort that got them to the final. With Vrsaljko’s game-changer cross and ‘on the line’ save and with Mandžukić’s determination eventually got them the ticket to the final.
Croatia will have their most important match in their history as they take on France in the final of the 2018 Russia World Cup. Could they shock the World on Saturday? We will have to wait and see!
On Wednesday, Croatia will face the Three Lions in the Luzhniki Stadium and would hopefully (from an Irish lad’s perspective) stop the Football’s Coming Home chant. Croatia has had a successful World Cup campaign, with star performances from Rakitic and Modric (Vrsaljko hasn’t been too bad either) However, with the Atleti man out of action and Subasic a concern with his leg, Croatia seems like they are out of the race, but they are not, not for one second. England will be their toughest opponents so far and it will be the same for England. Both have players that can threaten to goal.
Mario Mandžukić is football’s underrated player. He is truly a phenomenal player. He has had successful spells at FC Bayern München, Atlético de Madrid and Juventus. The 10ft 9 man can be an aerial threat to England with Maguire and Stones struggling to keep the high ball away from him.
The Barca man has had a fantastic season for both club and country. His partnership with Modric makes for one of football’s deadliest midfield. He is certainly Croatia’s key players. He is a set-piece specialist, with very accurate free-kicks. So hopefully he could step up if England concedes a free-kick.
I don’t care what anyone says about him, he is still one of the best midfielders in the world and if you think differently, you may need your head examined. As I stated earlier he has midfield partnership with his El Clásico Counter-part. As an Atlético Madrid fan, I can’t help but admire him. He is considered as a regista just like the legendary Andrea Pirlo. He is often referred to as the Midfield Maestro and is also noted for his passing range and dribbling skills not to mention his mastery of tactical play and precision. No doubt if Croatia is going win, he will be involved.
Croatia does have a tough match but I think they will see it through, if all the players perform well, I think they have it in the bag.
Earlier this month, Atético Madrid skipper Gabi recently announced his departure which broke the hearts of beloved Atleti fans (including myself) and decided to fly to Al Sadd. Where? Al Sadd in Qatar, the same team the Barça God Xavi went a few seasons ago. After all, the man is 34 and is getting older. He has had a tremendous spell at Los Rojiblancos. He’s won everything there is to win in football with the team. (Well, except the Champions League all thanks to you know who!) He captained Atlético de Madrid to their 1st league title since 1996! But unfortunately, he had never played a senior international match for Spain in his whole career, because of the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Xabi Alonso keeping him at the bottom of the pecking order.
Born into an Atleti mad family in Madrid, it took him a while to get into the beautiful game when he finally decided he joined his local club San Eladio. But soon enough, Atleti came knocking at the door and rumours have another club in Madrid whos name I will not utter had an interest in this young player.
Gabi joined Los Colchoneros youth academy. He was 19 when he played his debut for the B team. At the same time, he was playing for the U20 Spain team and actually were runners-up in the 2003 U20 World Cup, a team that had future Atleti teammates such as Moyá and Juanfran.
Gabi grew tired of the lack of playing time. So he was loaned-out to the newly promoted Getafe CF for the 2004/2005 season, another local club in the Spanish capital. There he scored his 1st La Liga goal against Albacete in a 1-1 draw on November 21. The move had an effect on Gabi and made him a more confident player. After a great season with Getafe in which the finished 13th that season, Gabi returned to his beloved Atleti.
Over the next two seasons, he made 52 LaLiga appearances for Atleti, establishing himself as the midfield enforcer they had previously been lacking. But he wasn’t always a 1st team player. He was good but didn’t any natural skill in his play. In the summer of 2007, he was shipped off to Real Zaragoza for €9 million. Unfortunately, that season Real Zaragoza was relegated. Although he could’ve moved away to another La Liga club. He decided to stay, showing his utmost loyalty which was a wise decision as they were immediately promoted back the following season.
2 season later showed us, Gabi, scoring 11 goals, most he scored in a season in his career. Scoring most notably, in a 3-2 win against, you guessed it, Real Madrid. In 2011, he was signed back to Atleti for €3 million. But as crazy as it sounds Gregorio Manzano, the man who brought Gabi back was sacked 6 months after. So the club brought in another manager. They brought in the man who was about to change Atleti for the better, none other than ‘El Cholo’ Diego Simeone. He gave Gabi the captain role. In 2012, he captained Atleti to Europa League glory, the 1st major title he had won. They also defeated Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup.
The 2013/14 season was a season to remember. After a good first half of the season, Atleti found themselves top of the league. It was looking likely for the Simeone’s underdogs. But there was just one problem, they were facing Barcelona in their final match of the season. A draw would crown them League winners. Atleti found themselves behind at half-time, and the dream appeared to be over in the cruellest way possible. But then Gabi, walked over to take a corner. He swung it in to be met on the head by his vice-captain, Diego Gódin, who scored. The finished the game 1-1. Atleti 1st title since 1996.
However, Champions League Final awaited, and who other but Real Madrid. Just minutes left to win it. None other than Sergio Ramos to headed past Courtois. We lost that match 4-1 in extra time. Atleti had produced one of the finest seasons in the club’s history. Gabi had been a key part of it and was rewarded with a place in the La Liga squad of the season as well as the Champions League squad of the season. Again ironically 2 years later, same competition final, same opponents, same result. We lost on penalties this time. Gabi was named in the Champions League’s squad of the season again. And more recently Gabi scored the last goal in a 3-0 win against Marseille in the Europa League to win his last international trophy along with Fernando Torres.
The time, unfortunately, has come for Gabi to leave his childhood club after 10 years as a Rojiblanco. Although not the greatest footballer ever, he was a hard-working player who was always loyal and fearless. No doubt, he would go down as an Atlei legend.
On Monday, Mexico will take on Brazil in the Samara Arena to determine who will progress to the quarter-finals. If Mexico do go through, they would face either Belgium or Japan in the quarter-finals in Kazan.
Mexico became the fans second team when they shocked us all with a 1-0 win against Germany, a result which eventually knocked the current reigning champions of the group stages for the first time since 1938. An impressive Hirving Lozano gave his side the lead in the 35th minute.
Once again Mexico showed their strength against South Korea in a 2-1 victory. With Vela, the former Real Sociedad player converting a penalty in the 26th minute and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández making it 2-0 in the 66th minute.
However, in the match against Sweden, they seemed lost. Despite have 19 chances on goal, only 3 shots were on target. The players and the fans were relieved to hear the news that South Korea had put 2 behind a woeful Germany.
The Team: Key Players.
For Juan Carlos Osorio’s side to defeat Brazil, he is going to need to put out a strong line-up.
Lozano is considered one of the best young players in the world. After a great season in the Eredivisie with PSV, the 22-year-old helped his side win their 24th title after scoring an impressive 17 in 29 games for the Dutch side. He also has a fantastic international record, scoring 14 goals in his first 7 matches for El Tri. He possesses great power in his right foot and is extremely fast, which makes it ideal for counter attacks.
Chicharito has had a brilliant career, playing for Manchester United to being loaned at Real Madrid. Currently, the 30-year-old recently joined West Ham. The Mexican is considered to be a ‘clinical goalscorer’ and a ‘goal-poacher’ because he scores many close-range goals. He is one of the few players that can impact on Mexico’s World Cup journey. However, the West Ham striker has had a relatively quiet tournament so far, registering just one shot on target across the three group matches.
In January, Vela signed for LAFC from Real Sociedad. There he scored 7 goals in his 12 appearances for the American side. He fits on to the right-hand side of Osorio’s attack. He links up to his teammates well and can beat players off the dribble with ease.
Ochoa has impressed many during this World Cup campaign, although letting 4 goals in during the group stages should not weigh down on his abilities. Ochoa is one of the most underrated goalkeepers in this tournament. However, he will turn 33 on the 13th of July, so this may be his last chance.
During this World Cup campaign,
-Mexico has scored 3 goals and conceded 4
-This will be the 41st meeting between Brazil and Mexico.
-Brazil won with 23 wins.
-Mexico has won 10 matches between the South American side
-7 games ended in a draw.
-Mexico is the team with the most games played at the World Cup without ever winning the tournament (56 games).
Germany played host to the first major European league returning to our screens albeit under very different circumstances. The Bundesliga has been back for a few weeks and we will now see leagues such as the Premier League and La Liga follow suit and resume. The latter kicks off again with the Seville derby on Thursday night; Betis will travel to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in what is one of Spain’s main football attractions.
Samu Chukwueze- Villarreal
Former Arsenal star Santi Cazorla has been the headline man for Villarreal this season but their midfield is strong all-round really. The likes of Moi Gomez and Zambo-Anguissa have impressed but winger Samu Chukwueze has stood out to me. Chukwueze operates off of the right predominantly and he is one to get the fans out of their seats, or, in this case; sofas. At 21, the Nigerian has played nearly 1,500 minutes from which he has contributed to four goals. He is a good passer of the ball and he has the confidence to take players on, on the dribble- he averages 1.7 dribbles per 90 for el Submarino Amarillo. Javier Calleja played over 100 games for the club and now, as of January last year, he has been at the helm of Villarreal- although he’s been involved in some respect since 2012 on and off. His side can retain their spot in Europe with a strong conclusion to the season and a purple patch for Chukwueze could easily see them through.
Iago Aspas- Celta
Not many players embody their respective club in La Liga since the turn of the century more so than Iago Aspas at Celta Vigo. He didn’t light it up at Liverpool but the Spaniard has been pivotal to Celta fighting off relegation in recent years. His injury last season put his side’s status in the topflight under immense pressure but he came back and fired the goals in to keep them up. His tears on the bench in his first game back after he had scored a late equaliser and then winner was an iconic image and this season, he has again been at the fore for Oscar Garcia’s men. They again find themselves in a precarious position with just a single point separating them from the relegation zone currently. Eleven games will be played when La Liga returns and Aspas has so far netted nine times and contributed two assists, this being 50% of the sides goals. Even at 32, Aspas will have to be on form again to keep Celta up and they need to be planning for life after his retirement.
Sergio Reguilon- Sevilla
Real Madrid loanee Achraf Hakimi has been killing it in Germany over the last eighteen months for Dortmund, so much so that another of their fullbacks has gone under the radar. Spaniard Sergio Reguilon has been a key asset for Sevilla in what has been a sensational season that has them in third currently. Julen Lopetegui struggled as Los Blancos manager but he’s had a good impact thus far in his new venture with Reguilon certainly being a benefactor of that. Pablo Sarabia was arguably their standout player last season so his move to PSG left a hole but they’ve still bounced back well- En Nesyri up top, the left back and Lucas Ocampos are amongst the new arrivals that are thriving this season. 2.1 tackles and 1.1 interceptions combined with 1.6 key passes and 1.7 dribbles per 90 represents how strong Reguilon has been down Sevilla’s left side, so much so that he could challenge Ferland Mendy for the role as Marcelo’s successor at the Bernabeu.
Sergio Canales- Betis
From one Sergio to another, but staying in Seville- on the green side is Rubi’s Betis (and Sergio Canales in particular) who are a very exciting side to watch. Lo Celso left for Spurs and the Argentine was a key cog in Betis’ attacking system but his replacement was one of the best signings of recent years; Nabil Fekir from Lyon for less than twenty million euros. The Frenchman was subject to bids from Liverpool and he looked set to be joining the Reds but a failed medical halted the move’s progress. He has excelled in Betis’ midfield along with another great talent in Sergio Canales. Rubi is blessed with a lot of electric playmakers, along with the aforementioned is the experienced talisman Joaquin, young Mexican Diego Lainez and loanees from Barcelona and Villarreal respectively, Carles Alena and Alfonso Pedraza. I’ve sang Alena and Fekir’s praises to death in recent years, so much so that it would seem Canales is overlooked but the 29 year old has featured in all but one league game this season, in which he has contributed to eight goals. His vision and slaloming on the ball is impeccable and a joy to watch, yet the results haven’t really matched the praise with Betis currently down in twelfth. Might they miss out on European football for next year?
Chimy Avila- Osasuna
Osasuna have been a side in limbo, they’ve been up and down in between the first and second tier of Spanish football but they are currently in eleventh and well away from the relegation zone. One player that has been at the fore of their relative success this time around in the Primera division is Argentinian Chimy Ailva. The attacking dynamo has bagged nine times as well as two assists in just over 1,500 minutes which is a superb return for a side heavily tipped to face the drop yet again. His 3.5 shots per 90 represent just how vital he is to Jagoba Arrasate’s side- without his attacking output, who knows where Osasuna would be in the La Liga table right now.
Alexander Isak- Real Sociedad
Sevilla and Osasuna aren’t the only two sides exceeding expectations in the Spanish top flight with Real Sociedad thriving thanks to their elite frontline. Adnan Januzaj might be a bit of a joke to Premier League fans but he has been a key cog in Alguacil’s system, along with wonderkid Martin Odegaard, Mikel Oyarzabal and Swedish striker Alexander Isak. Despite being just twenty, he has had no issue finding the back of the net this season and he is one of the many young stars whose stock rose astronomically thanks to a stint at Dortmund. He impressed for Dortmund’s second team, so much so that he put himself out there and got a loan move to Eredivisie. His electric form for Willem II earned him a permanent move to La Liga and Anoeta in particular, plus there is still a very long way to go before he reaches his ceiling. Seven goals isn’t a monumental output but coming from only 1,000 minutes and at 1.3 shots per 90, his clinical finishing is there for all to see.
Enis Bardhi- Levante
In the city of Valencia, the side occupying the Mestalla have long been the dominant force but Levante are still a regular fixture alongside their rivals in La Liga. Paco Lopez’s side are, like many sides of that ilk in Spain, seemingly always involved in thrilling games with goals flying in at both ends. Aside from maybe Goran Pandev, Macedonia don’t really produce mainstays in Europe’s top leagues but Enis Bardhi has been a regular in Levante’s midfield for a few years now. Someone like Jose Luis Morales who has spent a large chunk of his career at El Ciutat de Valencia embodies what the club stands for and while they may not be a regular feature in the transfer window; their squad is an extremely loyal one that performs. Bardhi operates traditionally as a number ten under Lopez but he can play out of pretty much every position in the centre of midfield and his playmaking abilities are underrated by his two assists thus far this season.
Jose Bordalas’ Getafe side are often criticised whether it be by their Europa League opponents or that of the league, but they get results even if the football isn’t pretty. They are fifth and only behind Real Sociedad on goal difference with their astute tactical outlook being a key element of their success- Getafe’s defence is their standout feature. None more so than Togolese centre half Djene Dakonam (known as Djene) who, even at 5’10 is a dominant figure at the heart of that backline. So many times we’ve heard managers make comments against Bordalas and co but it was Barcelona star Frenkie De Jong who had something to say most recently. He claimed it ‘bothers him’ to watch Getafe play, to which Bordalas replied ‘I don’t want my goalkeeper to give 69 passes’ and the Dutchman’s harsh words came off the back of when they faced Ajax in the Europa League round of 32, the team that De Jong left for the Camp Nou. Djene is a hard-hitting workhorse who commands the defence well, in the Europa league he averaged 1.2 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per 90- not a player that many attackers will want to come toe-to-toe with.
This season has been complicated with Atletico Madrid who had to deal with the departure of several of their bests players such as Godin and Griezmann. Lots of draws later, we can wonder if they are going to make it through their toughest match of the year: playing Liverpool in Anfield in 3 days.
Say that Diego Simeone’s team has done a good season yet is a lie. Atletico struggles a lot this season, mostly due to the team that needs to be rebuilt. Matchdays have passed and with it the understanding of the players on the pitch. Strikers tend to anticipate better the moves of Koke or Thomas Partey who bring them the ball quickly and with efficiency. But this is just the case. Indeed, up until January Simeone was trying new things. Saul became a left back for a few games, when Lodi could not overcome his side. Thomas Lemar had several starts but was fond useless in the classic 4-4-2 of the Argentinian coach. Joao Felix had to adapt to the famous defensive style of Atletico, which took a lot of time.
Injuries did not help either. Gimenez, Koke, Diego Costa, Joao Felix, Savic, Trippier, Lodi… Years fly by but keep on repeat themselves. It is not the first time the Madrid club has to face injuries that stop us in their struggle to the top. Add to this a total absence of goals and more draws than anything and you get the 2019-2020 Atletico team. Morata was the only striker to score the only goal against the opponent team up until February. Right now, it is hard for him to impose himself on the pitch. Correa has taken the lead and saved the Colchoneros more than once. Thomas Partey improved a lot too during this season. One may even say that he is the best player out of the team.
All these elements led them to be considered as the underdogs in the Champions League especially because they were going to play against Liverpool. Last year European Champions and the team who did not lose a single game in Premier League for more than a year. Moreover, Liverpool is a very offensive team with quality strikers: Mané, Salah, Firmino… But also with perfect defense players such as Van Dijk, Trent Arnold or Robertson. However… On 18th of February, Atletico caused problems to the English team and won the game. They have the upper hand on next match but… It is going to be complicated.
A very awaited match which could put the underdogs under the spotlight
Since their defeat in Madrid, Liverpool has lost their invincibility. Watford beat them 3-0, Chelsea 2-0. This changed the gaze people have on the Reds. They are more fragile than they used to be. And as if loosing was not enough for Liverpool’s confidence, the absence of their goalie, Alisson Becker is not a gift either. The goalkeeper is suffering from an injury that occurs during a training session… But maybe Adrian will shine through this 16 round of qualifications on the European stage.
For Atletico, their win against the Reds has been uplifting. They did a great game beating Villarreal 3-1 but drew against Espanyol and Sevilla. Results are not to be taken with a pinch of salt. In fact, Atletico plays its best football for three weeks now. The yesterday game against FC Sevilla was the occasion for them to show what they were capable of. They are not only the overly defending team everyone pretends. They attacked well and provided a lot of chances in front of the goal. Koke and Joao Felix made it clear: they find themselves well and will try to reproduce their good relationship in Anfield.
Everybody knows that playing in Liverpool is difficult. The public is exceptional and it is certain that the Reds will be cheered on for the entire match. However, Atletico is willing to get through these stages and will surely cause troubles to their opponent. If they succeed to score one goal and defend as they know how to do, it is likely they win. With a Joao Felix in shape, thing the Madrid team did not have in February, everything is possible.
As the year 2020 is starting, it is the time to have a look at the path the different La Liga teams have taken. Valencia CF seems to have managed to get good results even though internal problems occured within the Catalan club . A rise that could lead them to a properous place on the European stage.
Ending at the 8th place before the winter break could have been predicted. This year, the Spanish league is very competitive and all teams struggle to get points. It is not rare to see changes in the leaderboard every week. However, it is still hard for away teams to win at Mestalla. The last match opposing Valencia CF to Real Madrid was a perfect illustration of that, with Benzema scoring in extra time. One could argue that Valencia could have stayed in the top 4 before the winter break but truth is that some major changes were made inside the structure of the club, making it hard for players to keep a « perfect » half of season.
The coach Marcelino was sacked in September only three matches after the beginning of the season. However, as a matter of fact, his departure was not about bad results but a tantrum thrown by the new president of the club : Peter Lim. This decision has shook the entire staff and the players to the point where some of them expressed their disagreement on social media.
“Who ever made this decision did not just walk over you, they have dragged the whole team and support down with them, something I will say loud and clear: it’s not fair » used to write Ezequiel Garay on his instagram account. Dani Parejo and José Gaya decided to show their support for Marcelino as well. But in the end the Catalan club hired Alberto Celades who did a great job with the team.
The bright progression on the European Stage
Valencia CF was drown in group H of the UEFA Champions League this year. Competing with big clubs such as Chelsea and Ajax, the Spanish team has evolved in what was considered the « most difficult » group in the European 32 round of qualifications. After a defeat in Amsterdam, a draw in Lille and London the team qualified with effort at the first place of their group stage, making a triumphal return in the competition. This breakthrough almost foreshadows a good future in 2020 for the club which could possibly go far in the Champions League.
On another side, Valencia CF has had some difficulty in the Spanish League. 28 points are not enough to stay in top 4 though the trimestrial outcome is not that bad compared to other teams. The strength of Valencia is their efficiency in front of the goal and their capacity to counter attack. The transfer of Maxi Gomez was a benediction for the team since he scored 6 goals alongside his teammate Dani Parejo. The presence of the Captain is also significant since he managed to help his team by scoring and giving proper directions on the field.
A radiant future?
With a good amount of players on and off the pitch Valencia has serious chances to make an amazing second half of season. Young players coming from the academy are well incorporated into the team such as Ferran Torres who is shining in offensive transitions. The 4-4-2 system implemented by Celades seems to suit the team, nevertheless, some progress are to be made in defense since Valencia struggles to stop their opponent when a player goes through their penalty area. Moreover, Valencia has to face a new issue: dealing with injuries. Indeed, Vallejo, Cillessen, Guedes, Gomez and Gameiro are still recovering. It is for sure that these absences will influence the results of the team, especially during the Spanish Super Cup which will take place in Saudi Arabia next week.
Leicester City’s remarkable form has been one of the standout stories of the football season thus far.
Sitting in 2nd place, Leicester City are in a favourable position to break the stronghold of the league’s ‘Big Six’: Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Since the 2015-16 season, these same teams have occupied the league’s top six positions, creating a feeling that The Premier League is monopolised, and while entertaining, certainly not as competitive as it could be.
But has the division always had the same big guns? What other teams have enjoyed spells in the league’s upper echelons, since it was rebranded from ‘Division One’ in 1992?
I had a brief look at the top four finishers in each of the 27 instalments of The Premier League, and analysed a few points.
The Most Premier League Titles
As most would expect, Manchester United still lead the way in Premier League titles won, despite their recent struggles. Their 13 titles account for just under half of the total Premiership winners. Although you can expect that number to fall further, with their last title coming in the 2012-13 season.
Younger fans may be surprised to see Blackburn Rovers propping up the figures, but their solitary success in 1994-1995 saw them be the first team other than United to win the title.
Liverpool are also a surprising omission from the list of Premier League winners, although they are strongly tipped to pick up a first title this season, already holding an eight-point lead over 2nd placed Leicester.
The Premier League’s Nearly-Men
A slightly bigger party than the champions category, nine teams have finished second in The Premier League, with four of those (Aston Villa, Tottenham, Blackburn and Newcastle) never going the step further.
Again a show of their remarkable consistency during The Premier League era, Manchester United and Arsenal can count 12 second-placed finishes between them.
With Arsenal currently struggling, a return anytime soon to the top two seems unlikely. The North London outfit, mainly in jest, are more often associated with another placement in the table…
It’s true: Arsenal finish 4th a lot
However, Liverpool are in the same boat. The two clubs account for over half of The Premier League’s 4th-placed finishes.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, with 4th place guaranteeing some form of European football in every Premiership season minus 1992-1993. Although, you can be sure Arsenal and Liverpool fans would happily trade those 4th placed finishes for trophies.
Everton make their only appearance in this article thanks to their remarkable 2004-05 season.
The Big Six’s Historical Dominance
Of the 108 1st-4th placed finishes that have been achieved in 27 Premier League seasons, a staggering 91 have belonged to Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham or Arsenal.
Although we all love The Premier League for it’s ‘Anyone can beat anyone’ style of unpredictability, predicting who will finish where at the upper echelons of the table, has always been, well, easy.
Only fourteen teams have ever finished in the top four of The Premier League, which isn’t a lot.
The full table detailing top four finishes is below.
Top four finishes
What do you think? Did anything in the article surprise you?
Who do you think will make up this season’s top four?
A pint-size yet potent player in his pomp, read on to learn the story behind one of West Ham’s most beloved cult heroes.
The former striker, who is now a pundit for Sky Sports, also counts the likes of Everton, Leicester, Norwich, Barnet and Selangor among the clubs he played for.
But it all began in East London, thanks to John Lyall, the man who Cottee credits with being the reason he has everything he does.
‘Without Lyall, there was no Tony Cottee. He gave me my debut, and continued to show faith in me, which I’ll forever be grateful for. And he did so with a great piece of management.
Myself (17) and Alan Dickens, 18, were in our room at The Epping Posthouse on New Years Eve 1982. It was the first time we had been invited to travel with the first team, but to us, we were just thinking about how we should have been out enjoying the night, like most other teenagers.
I was ten asked the next day, 90 minutes before the game, if I fancied playing. Of course I did.
John’s approach was the right one, I would’ve spent the whole night before worrying about my debut had I known it was coming.
I started the game, and as they say, the rest is history.’
Indeed, the debutant netted a true poacher’s goal (Video below) in a 3-0 win against Spurs. As a West Ham supporting youth player, there aren’t many better ways you can burst onto the scene. It was no fluke, as six league appearances and four goals followed that season.
By the summer of 1985, the Plaistow-born striker had already netted 48 times for The Hammers, but was worried about his place, having seen the club’s signing of Frank McAvennie. ‘The papers said he could play centre-forward’.
A chat over a cup of tea at Lyall’s house in Toot Hill put Cottee at ease, with the Scot planning to play Frank in a midfield role behind first-choice strikers Cottee and Paul Goddard.
‘He stayed true to his word, but on the opening day, Paul dislocated his shoulder, so Frank was pushed up front. He scored two the game after that, and off he went scoring lots more’. Cottee didn’t too bad either, scoring 20 goals across the league season as ‘The Boys of ‘86’ placed third in the First Division – still West Ham’s best ever top-flight finish.
‘We were all over the place in pre-season. We had only signed two players, and although they turned out to be great, the low attendance of 14,000 for our first game showed the fans weren’t overly expectant. As players we weren’t expecting much either, there was really no indication of what was to come.’
Cottee speaks of still being ‘good friends’ with the likes of Phil Parkes, Alan Devonshire, Mark Ward and Tony Gale, his team mates from that time. ‘Mad as a hatter’ McAvennie lives in Scotland, but sees Cottee whenever he is in England.
‘We were all completely different off the field, but it worked, we had a great rapport and still do. It’s harder for the lower clubs to repeat what we did in 1986. The top of the league is so monopolised, so as an ex-player and passionate fan, all I can do is harp back to the good times. It really was an incredible season.’
Two seasons and 43 Cottee goals later, West Ham hadn’t kicked on, and their prized asset left the club for £2.2 million. Everton were the buyers, for what was briefly a record British transfer fee, ‘That bought a lot of pressure of which I felt under. You don’t start playing football to be known, to be famous worldwide, but out of love for the game.
Particularly scoring goals, which was the biggest thrill of my career. So, when I joined Everton, I was just excited at joining up with some incredible players; the increased media and corporate presence was nor a problem or a perk for me. All I wanted was to keep my head down, play football, enjoy myself, score goals and do what was right for the team.’
A hat-trick on his debut lead high expectations to follow Cottee throughout his time on Merseyside. He consistently delivered (Scoring 15, 15, 11, 9, 13 and 19 in all competitions from the 1998-’99 season to the 1993-’94 season), but Everton faltered, with their highest league finish in this period being sixth. The only thing to shout about was a run to the FA Cup final in 1989. But even then, that ended in every Evertonian’s nightmare, defeat to Liverpool.
Things gradually got worse for Everton, who at 15:20PM on the 7th of May 1994, were 2-0 down and 70 minutes away from relegation. ‘We lost too many on the spin, too many games against teams around us, ruining our good start to the season. It came down to the final day,’ recalls Cottee, ‘we had to win, there were still four or five other clubs still involved in the relegation fight.
It was a very difficult situation; all we could do was keep our heads down and focus. We got one back just before half-time, but I don’t remember there being anything particularly inspiring about the team-talk.’
Under-pressure manager Mike Walker watched on in delight as goals from Barry Horne and Graham Stuart gave his team the result they needed to stay up. The drama sparked pitch invasions, and a ‘few bottles of champagne in the changing room… not something that should have been celebrated’, bemoans Cottee.
‘The club should have been glad to stay up of course, but it wasn’t one for champagne, we should never have been there in the first place. It was a huge eye-opener for the club. I look back on that day, and I realise what incredible drama it was. It was probably the most exciting end to a relegation fight in that era. I am pleased to never have been relegated in my career.’
He is honest about his Everton career, ‘It was the right decision to join them at the time, and I had six great years, but my frustration is easy to sum up. They won the league in 1987, I joined in ‘88. I then left in 1994, having not won a thing, and they win the FA Cup in 1995. Everton were the right club, at the wrong time. Sometimes you just have to put your hands up, accept that it’s fate, just life.’
There was only really one place Cottee could go upon leaving Everton, and it’s fair to say he walked back in on a completely different West Ham to the one he departed six years earlier.
‘It was a changing room full of characters, Harry Redknapp was being very experimental in the transfer market. We had Dani, the pretty boy who I believe ended up being a TV star, Paulo Future, Slaven Bilic, a Rolls Royce of a centre-half, and Marc Rieper.’
He remembers one particularly ‘strong’ youth player, ‘My young apprentice, Rio Ferdinand. He’d put my kit out and clean my boots. There was also a young lad just starting out who was my substitute in one of my final West Ham games, a talented boy called Frank Lampard. It was obvious both would turn out to be future stars.
There was a good mixture, the club had talented youngsters, but also experienced and more established players like Julian Dicks, Don Hutchison, John Moncur and me. For me, it was a good two years, in which I was grateful to go back to a club I loved. Redknapp was a fantastic manager and I had great fun with the team, in the days where you could enjoy yourself a bit more as players.’
Via Selangor in Malaysia, with whom he won the domestic cup, ‘Stumpy’ signed for his third English club, Leicester, in 1997. A team on the up, they won the Worthington (Now Carabao) Cup in 2000, a moment Cottee describes as his ‘the icing on the cake as a professional athlete’.
It was a first piece of English silverware for the player, who had lost four finals before that.
You’d be forgiven for thinking he was a desperately unlucky footballer.
For example, West Ham’s place in the UEFA Cup, following their third placed league finish in 1986, was void. UEFA had voted for the ban on English clubs in European competitions (That was in place in wake of the Heysel disaster) to continue for a second season.
A footballer in his prime, the PFA’s ‘Young Player of the Year’, had been denied the chance to impress on the biggest club stage of them all.
‘It was a great frustration. We worked as individuals and as a team to get into European competition, which the club hadn’t had for five years, but the ban meant we couldn’t play in The UEFA Cup. We had no reward, but there were no thoughts at the time about leaving. Why would I want to leave my hometown club, who I loved playing for and who had just finished 3rd in the top division?’.
But eventually leaving the club is something he somewhat regrets, despite enjoying his stints at Everton and Leicester, among others. ‘You can ask me, as a former player in 2019 if I regret leaving West Ham and not staying there my whole career. Of course I do.
I am back to being a fan now, a West Ham boy, and I would love to sit here now and say that I spent my whole career with them, scoring hundreds of goals and never going anywhere else.
But it’s not an issue. Life is all about decisions, both footballing and personal. I look at decisions in the way that it is all about that time, that present.’
The present just wasn’t kind to Cottee back then. He never really got to experience an international career as glorious as his club one. Englishmen will no doubt think of the quarter-final against Argentina when they reminisce on the 1986 Mexico World Cup, or perhaps the strike partnership between Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley. It’s incredible how much depth there was after those two.
The likes of Chris Waddle and John Barnes had to settle for roles off the bench, and even then, there was still Kerry Dixon and Mark Hateley to contend with.
‘It was a very strong selection of strikers, jumping into the top four was a challenge, although I definitely cracked the top ten.
Bobby Robson restructured some things following the 1986 World Cup, and it allowed me to be involved until 1989. I flew around the world playing for my country, and won seven caps, which I was very proud of.
You could ask a modern football fan today to name six English strikers with real international pedigree, and it’s hard. Back in my day, the game had less of an international, cosmopolitan feel, so there was a larger pool of recognised English talent.
Also, international games saw four or five subs at most, and that was it. I do think it is easier to get a cap nowadays, but I don’t begrudge that at all, I still had a great time in International Football.’
A man with ‘Football in his genes’, Cottee was very committed to his causes, but also balancing them. His wife being pregnant with twin boys and his daughter being happy at school, meant Cottee drove two hours and back every day from his home in Chigwell, Essex to train and play at Leicester.
‘People forget the human side of footballers, they don’t look at a player’s wife and what she is happy with, or their young children having friends at school.’
Adding to his struggles was Martin O’Neil, manager of The Foxes at the time, ‘His philosophy was that if he made it difficult for players to get into the team, they’d try harder. Once I did get back into the team, he kept me very happy and my goalscoring form kept up. He is a great manager; he instilled a great team spirit.’
A fruitful partnership with Emile Heskey, ‘a youngster full of energy’ emerged. Heskey’s strike partner, ‘a senior and ageing pro, who didn’t want to run around as much’, still believes there is room for two up-front. This is despite the game slowly moving away from the classic formation.
‘People talk about playing with a lone striker. The attacking midfielders and wingers involved in such a team aren’t pure strikers, so it’s heaping a lot of pressure on the lone man to do his thing.
Football is all about tactics, but you need to get the best out of your players. I look at Javier Hernandez, he was crying out for someone to play alongside him when he was at West Ham, to give him help. Like me, he is a smaller player, and that often means some help is needed, someone to play alongside you and take the burden off you.
I don’t see a Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Gary Lineker or Jimmy Greaves coming through the current crop of youngsters. Out-and-out goal scorers are disappearing, and that is a great shame. The art of goal scoring is the hardest thing to do on a pitch according to most players. For me, it was an art I seemed to excel at more than the others.’
In terms of strike partners, Cottee had a fair few in the 2000-2001 season. Championship side Norwich signed him in September, and got three goals in eight games from the 35-year-old. A stint as player-manager then began at League Two’s Barnet in November, where a 7-0 debut win was the peak, the reign ending just four months later.
It’s a gig he isn’t keen to get back into.
‘I decided from a very early stage not to go into it fully. I always thought that I’d love to give it a go, learn my trade, and then fulfil my dream of managing West Ham. When I got the Barnet job, I thought it was happy days. Do well, wait for the opportunities, progress upwards, then maybe I could just end up there one day.
Going to Barnet under that role was the wrong choice for me. It’s easy to say now, but I should’ve been a number two at first, learning from someone above me. I haven’t done my coaching badges either, but I’m not really interested in them now.
Never say never, if David Sullivan (The West Ham chairman) was to ring me in ten minutes and tell me I had the job, I wouldn’t tell him no. It is a dream job, but of course it isn’t going to happen. I can’t see myself managing any professional club nowadays.
The money isn’t huge at lower levels, and there is no stability, you can be fired after two months of poor form. You’re out the door and jobless.
Look at Pep Guardiola, or Eddie Howe, both are fantastic and in their 40s, whereas I am 54 with one brief management period. Football has always been a young man’s game, whether you’re managing or playing. I think my days as a manager are sadly long over.’
Cottee’s career took another unexpected turn that season, the West Ham fan and club legend signing for arch-rivals Millwall.
‘With my personal cap on, I never sign for Millwall. But I was wearing my working man’s cap, and Millwall in League One seemed like a quirk to me. Playing in all four divisions was a weird record for the CV, but I was coming to the end of my career so saw it as a plus.
Being honest, they had also offered me the most money. In my time, everyone played for the love of the game. They also earned good money, but no where near enough to retire and never stress about work again.
It was an interesting experience to be honest. The fans were alright with me, they knew I was West Ham at heart but there were no issues. I only made two substitute appearances, suffering with a lack of fitness, some niggling injuries and a stomach strain.
Really, I shouldn’t have gone there, but I did, and it’s something that can’t be changed, and overall did no harm. It was funny though, running down the touch line in a Millwall kit, and some of the fans shouting “West Ham c***” and the like.
It was never going to last and yeah, I probably regret going there, but at the time you just have to make those decisions, personal and professional.’
Cottee admits he lost his touch that season, ‘I was knackered. My body was screaming at me that I couldn’t run around anymore. Ideally, I would have finished after the League Cup win with Leicester, but I was influenced by a lot of ex-professionals. They all say to play as long as you can, and I do agree, I would tell older professionals the same. I just didn’t want to do another preseason.
So it seemed obvious what to do. I called a press conference at Upton Park on July the 11th 2001, my 36th birthday. In front of a few friends and journalists, I just said it there and then: I am retiring, I’ve loved it but I’ve had enough.
When you retire, emotionally it is difficult to not have football. It was a big part of my life, scoring goals, winning games, and suddenly it wasn’t there anymore.’
A true West Ham man, his twin sons, Matt and Bill, also support the club. ‘In fairness, they only have 50% of the footballing genes from me each. My main priority was ensuring they stayed West Ham fans, once it was clear neither would be a pro. They can’t desert history, my great grandad was at the 1923 FA Cup final, my great uncle a founding member of the supporters club. It runs in our blood.’
His income was football, and now football is his life. ‘I don’t think people realise, but I am as big a fan as anyone. However, I am a fan who became a player. That’s a big difference to just being a fan. When it comes to playing for West Ham, there was no way about it, I was just a footballer.
During a wonderful era at that, there was something special about that time. We sometimes worked hard, always enjoyed ourselves. There was no extra pressure from social media, radio shows or sports gossip. The publicity nowadays means footballers have to be a bit more robotic, but not me, I played in the good old days.’
Forever looking on the bright side, Cottee often reflects on the longevity of his career, and his work since. A dedicated approach to his craft saw him play over 700 games.
‘I signed as an apprentice in 1981, and had what was a great 20 years.
After that, I was fortunate to have made my way into the TV world, and Sky have been fantastic.
But nothing will ever beat the thrill of scoring a goal.’
So much so is that thrill, Cottee admits he wouldn’t swap it for more trophies or England caps, ‘Every player has ambitions to go down in history and be a part of something special, but I wouldn’t want to have taken away too many of my goals in order to achieve that. I’m extremely proud of my record.’
Without even being asked, Cottee throws himself into one final assessment, all while beaming a grin as wide as his face, ‘You can always look back and have slight regrets, but I don’t think there is too much I would have changed.
If I had to make one, I would choose to have spent my whole career at West Ham. I’d be sitting here now, most likely at second in terms of all-time appearances, and I’d probably be second, not fifth, in the scoring charts.
It’s a shame you can’t change history, as I would love to. But as you go through life, you make decisions, enjoy the experiences that come with them, and be proud of what you’ve done. That is exactly how I feel, I have had a great life and a great career.’
Silverware was a rare occurrence, despite such a glittering individual career. Fourteen minutes of European Football was all he experienced, despite playing a vital role in one of West Ham’s most successful teams.
But Antony Richard Cottee never lost sight of the most important thing.
I woke up on the Sunday morning, the first weekend in 3 weeks when I wouldn’t be travelling into Croydon and to Selhurst Park to watch the Eagles play. I was leaving at 12 and travelling to North London, more specifically The Emirates Stadium, to watch my team face Arsenal.
Leaving at 12 for a game that didn’t kick off until half past four, God I love away days. So I headed to the train station, boarded the train and sat for a long hour and a half until I finally arrived at London Victoria, where I would be meeting my friend who was coming to the match with me.
Finally we travel to the Emirates, just one train from Victoria to Finsbury Park and a short walk to the stadium. Get in half an hour before kickoff, time to buy some burgers and have a drink before the game starts.
Kick off. I barely even blinked and we were 2-0 down. Within 10 minutes, both of the Arsenal centre halves had scored, both from corners. The next 80 minutes were looking bleak, different scoreline suggestions between four and nine – nil were suggested around me, but the fans (at least the Palace fans) stayed in good voice, going through our repertoire of songs which now included “is this a library?” and “you’re just a sh*t Tottenham Hotspur”.
32 minutes in, Wilfried Zaha tumbles in the box, referee blows his whistle, but its relief in the Arsenal end rather than Palace. The referee pulls out his yellow card almost instantly to book Wilf. Hold on a second. Any Palace fan will tell you, Wilfried Zaha does not dive (despite the hugely unfair reputation). VAR was called into action and shows that Wilf was CLEARLY fouled by Callum Chambers. Milivojevic, as usual, makes no mistake from the spot and all of a sudden Palace are back in the game. You could almost feel the nerves of the home fans in the away end. What seemed like quiet from them before just became a whole lot quieter.
The rest of the first half was uneventful but the travelling Eagles fans made their presence known, as we dominated the atmosphere at the Emirates. Once the second half had begun, the feeling was one of excitement among Palace fans, but for Arsenal it was tense. A few Palace attacks to start the half must have had the nerves shaking. Then, the ball falls to Jordan Ayew. Limbs. Pandemonium. Ecstasy, elation, relief, any word you could possibly think to describe the feeling of drawing level when being two goals down. I jumped simultaneously with the rest of the travelling fans, hugging people I’d never even met, almost falling over the chairs in front of me, screaming at the very top of my lungs, I’m pretty sure someone just volleyed my shin but who cares its 2-2 at the Emirates!
More Palace chants ringing from the stands. The rest of the game tense as ever. This was Arsenal, we’re only Crystal Palace, surely they’ll come back? In the 88th minute of the game, Arsenal were awarded another corner. Every Palace fan must have thought the same thing. ‘It’s going to happen, isn’t it.’ Sokratis fires home from the corner for his second goal of the game. All of a sudden the energy is drained out of me. A mixture of anger and disappointment brews inside of me as Sokratis does a knee slide in the centre circle before being swamped by his teammates. All I could hear were the cheers of the 50,000 Arsenal fans surrounding the away end and a chorus of “WHO ARE YA” erupting from nearby.
All of a sudden, we’re given hope. A new lease of life. The stadium announcement echoes around the stadium: “VAR CHECK IN PROGRESS.” This had happened once already. VAR had already saved us with the penalty call, so surely not again? Another announcement: “VAR DECISION: NO GOAL” displayed on the big screen as the referee carried the ball back to the goal mouth; Palace free kick. More elation, more relief – so much relief. We celebrated like it was our goal – as if we’d scored the winner.
The final whistle blows and after staying 10 minutes to applaud the heroes of the pitch it was time to leave. That three hour trip back to Eastbourne wasn’t looking so bad now. The trains were full of eerily quiet Arsenal fans, which of course I loved. I finally made it back to the flat, just in time to stick the telly on and watch the Match of the Day coverage of our game. Then watch the highlights again on YouTube while gloating to my Arsenal supporting friends. What a day.
(All pictures/videos shown in the article are either from @CPFC on Twitter or taken myself.)
Tottenham’s tough start to the season continues after a frustrating draw to bottom of the league Watford.
Both sides going into the game were pessimistic in expectation of this encounter with Spurs only winning one of their last 5 games, including a 7-2 thumping to Bayern Munich in the Champions league. However just 6 minutes into the game Watford scored just their 5th goal of the game, after excellent build up coming from Craig Cathcart switching the play to Janmaat on the right of a back 5, who drilled in a cross to oncoming Doucoure who had the run on the Tottenham defence.
Watford looked comfortable going into the break despite Tottenham dominating the possession yet could be left frustrated after VARs refusal to overturn Vertonghens challenge on Deulofeu which looked to be a definite penalty.
After the break Son went close after he drove into the box which led to his thumping shot being tipped onto the bar by an outstretched Foster. Watford had looked surprisingly strong defensively and were looking for their second clean sheet in a row under Sanchez Flores as they managed to limit the number of chances Tottenham could create.
However the spotlight on VAR was not yet over after a miscommunication in the Watford box saw Dele pounce on Fosters flap, and fire into an open net. On review it looked as if the goal might be overturned as replays showed Dele control the ball on the premier league badge of his shirt, causing debate on whether it should have been chalked off. The team in Stockley Park told referee Chris Kavnagah that it should stand, although the main screen at new £1 billion stadium told the crowd it was no goal, before amending the error.
Despite the focus on VAR, this game added further pressure to a struggling Pochetinho side which have previously relied on their creativity to break down teams often looked lost and out of ideas in breaking down Watford’s defensive line, only managing 2 shots on Watford’s goal.
The hornets should be optimistic despite a deflating last equaliser that prevented them getting their first 3 points of the season, as they go into a favourable run of fixtures starting with Bournemouth at Vicarage Road next weekend.
Last year was a tough season for Celta Vigo as, if it weren’t for some late Iago Aspas heroics, they would probably have been relegated. Their transfer dealings this window have been very interesting making this coming season an intriguing one, how will they fare?
A rough patch of results after Christmas saw Celta plunge down towards the depths of the table, all the while; Aspas was sidelined with a knee injury that saw him miss nine games. In this bleak spell, the lowest of the lows involved a 4-2 loss away at Vallecano and a 4-1 defeat at Balaidos at the hands of the hit and miss Levante. In an eleven game spell from the turn of the year to late March they managed just one win, but the turning point came on the 30th of March. Just a couple of days prior, Aspas came back from his injury and then in that game against Villarreal, a late brace from the club legend marked his return and that of Celta to winning ways.
The biggest outgoing of the window has seen young forward Maxi Gomez join Valencia. The Uruguayan had West Ham snapping at his heels but a La Liga move suited the club better, especially as this deal saw Santi Mina go back the other way. Spanish striker Mina scored seven and assisted five for Marcelino last year in his 1,800 league minutes whilst Gomez contributed to 18 goals in a weaker side so it would seem that Valencia have got the better end of this deal. Winger Emre Mor has always been labelled a bit of a troublemaker and he only collate a few hundred minutes last season due to the presence of the likes of Southampton loanee Sofiane Boufal and the pacey Dane Pione Sisto. The 22 year old has now been loaned out to Galatasary, a side from his home nation Turkey. A couple of the other sales have been ageing defender Roncaglia to newly promoted Osasuna and midfielder Mathias Jensen joining Thomas Frank’s Brentford in the Championship.
On the other side of it, it seems to be a story of returns as their two standout acquisitions has seen two familiar faces brought into Balaidos. Santi Mina graduated through Celta’s academy to then go on and play 50 times for the first team and score nine times. Next he spent four years at Valencia, in doing so making over 100 appearances and here he is, back at the club. The other returning figure spent an unfortunate year on loan at Arsenal last season where he only made four appearances and Barcelona have now sold him for a rumoured sixteen million euros. This is, of course; Denis Suarez. The 25 year old midfielder joins potentially, as a replacement, and an upgrade on the departing Jensen. Other introductions include a young pair of centre backs from Genk and Valencia (on loan); Joseph Aidoo and Jorge Saenz respectively.
Fran Escriba’s side open their 19/20 campaign with a very tough test as they host a new look Real Madrid side on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how Zidane lines his side up and whether we’ll see their new boys such as Eden Hazard, Ferland Mendy and Luka Jovic. The following weekend they are again at Balaidos with Valencia visiting the west coast which is an intriguing ordeal as Maxi Gomez and Santi Mina have swapped between the two clubs. In terms of fixtures to keep an eye out for, their rivals Deportivo La Coruna are still in the second division so the Galician Derby won’t be occurring this year but they will have back to back trips to the Camp Nou and Villarreal’s Estadio de la Ceramica.
Aspas is now 32 so Celta fans will be hoping that they are less reliant on him in comparison to last season but the sale of Maxi Gomez isn’t promising for that. Whilst Santi Mina is a proven La Liga goalscorer, it remains to be seen if he is as much of a prize asset as Gomez. Sisto and Brais Mendes will have to step up their attacking output if Celta are to finish in a more inspiring league position, but either way- this season comes with a lot of promise.
Crystal Palace Football Club went through a very turbulent summer. A hectic, and ultimately underwhelming transfer window matched with a dreadful pre-season really set panic into motion among supporters, and undoubtedly within the club too. I’ll try to keep this ‘PG’, although those of you who follow me on Twitter (@CPFC_Cal) will have seen my heated instant reaction. It was, indeed, a very stressful summer.
Crystal Palace had just finished the season in 12th position, with their highest ever points total (49). Ending the season with an emphatic 5-3 win over Bournemouth sent fans into the summer full of optimism and pride, if we could build on the squad we already have and replicate our late season form, surely we could be making a push for Europa League? European Football at the Palace, yes please!
So off went the squad on their holidays, and off went Wilfried Zaha, Chiekhou Kouyate, and Jordan Ayew to Egypt to compete in the African Cup of Nations. Despite not starting their first two games, Zaha shone for the Côte D’Ivoire, scoring a couple of important goals to send them to the quarter-finals. Kouyate captained Senegal to the final and was a real presence at the back in the main spine of the team. Ayew scored the goal of the tournament in what was an underwhelming showing from the Ghanaian Black Stars. These impressive performances gave fans hope, as well as players confidence, and set pre season in motion with a lot of positivity around the club.
Pre Season Nightmare
Pre-Season began in Swizerland for The Eagles as we took on FC Luzern. The game ended in a draw, and Palace ultimately won on penalties. But, be fair to the team, it’s the start of pre season, who really cares?
Next up came Young Boys. A really poor showing from Palace saw them beaten 2-0 with ease as Young Boys claimed the Uhren Cup. We were far from our best, looked tired and lacklustre, but, again, it’s pre season, who cares?
Time for the third game, having returned to England our U23s, including new 3rd choice ‘keeper Steven Henderson, and forgotten man Jairo Riedewald, took on Barnet in a match which was expected to be relatively easy but still a test for the kids. The Eagles Academy boys raced to a 2-0 lead, finally a positive pre season fixture, at least the kids are dong well! Full time. Palace lose 6-2. Great start for the new ‘keeper. Tensions start to rise amongst Palace fans, but it’s only the kids in pre season, it doesn’t matter too much, right?
Now it’s another first team fixture. Quite looking forward to this one. Forrest away, it’s a championship side so they’ll be competitive but still expecting a win from us. Palace show that the issues underlying last season’s relative success remain, and leave The City Ground having lost 1-0 and really struggled in front of goal.
A trip to Bristol now, as Palace First Team take on Bristol City. FINALLY PALACE WIN. FIVE. NIL. WE’RE GOING TO MILAN NEXT YEAR BOYS AND MAX MEYER IS THE GERMAN MESSI. Maybe a bit of an overreaction, but a long-awaited Palace win sets positive minds in place, we’re finally taking our chances and playing some really attractive football at the same time.
Lastly, but certainly not least, the Hertha Berlin game. We welcomed the German club to Selhurst Park to round off our pre season at home, and hopes were high. One week to go until the season really starts, so we should be playing towards our highest level. Alas, we lose. 0-4 in fact. Cue widespread panic across Palace Twitter, we’re going down.
In all seriousness, it was a terrible pre season for the South London club and lots of people were, and still are, extremely worried about the coming season, leading to what is quite a toxic atmosphere surrounding the club.
The transfer window started looking very positive. We knew what we needed, a striker and a backup winger, preferably depth in other areas like left back, but everyone who knows Palace knows we like to do our business late, so not much was expected early on. The loss of Aaron Wan-Bissaka was upsetting, but expected, and £50 million gained for an academy graduate is a very positive return on a player who, ultimately, was unknown 2 years ago.
Palace were being linked to the likes of Timothy Castagne, Max Aarons, Ollie Watkins, Fedor Chalov, Michy Batshuayi, Duvan Zapata, Kenny Lala, Jean-Kevin Augustin, the list could really go on forever. It really did look like some positive business would be done in this window and the club may finally have been filling the long term problem positions, however it took until well into the transfer window to make our first signing, and tension again was beginning to mount on the back of Steve Parish and our American owners, as well as the Director of Football, Dougie Freedman.
The first signing came late and it was rather underwhelming. The signing of Steven Henderson on a free transfer as a third choice goalkeeper. *Yawn*. Next came Jordan Ayew, decent deal for only £2.5m but was here last season so it’s no improvement. After this came more silence from Palace in terms of the transfer market, before we announced the signing of Champions League winner Gary Cahill on a free transfer, another decent piece of business from Palace but is he really what we need? Well according to Roy, yes.
August 7th comes round, the day before deadline day, and we still haven’t improved the most pressing issues in our squad. Palace had rejected multiple offers from Arsenal and Everton for star man Wilfried Zaha, but it seemed to all have gone cold. Sky Sports ‘reporter’ Kaveh Solhekol had been stirring up rumours all window (none of which turned out to be true but we’ll get to that later) and was now being widely tormented by Palace fans. Everything seemed fine until his recent piece of news broke through. Wilf Zaha, the Palace favourite, idol, legend etc. had handed in a transfer request. It really felt like the whole world had come crashing down behind us, how could he do this? It would leave us no time to bring in a replacement. Fans were rightfully hacked off at the news, Twitter was bombarded with stressed, hateful, and whether it was correct or not, quite a lot of abuse. A few positives came that evening, however, as Palace announced the signings of Victor Camarasa and James McCarthy to bolster the midfield. The fans were also hopeful going into Deadline Day as Sky Sports reporter, and Palace favourite, Michael Bridge delivered the news that we should be making as many as 4 signings the following day.
Deadline Day. I had woken up at 8am, with dreams of Ismaila Sarr, Fedor Chalov, and Kyle Walker-Peters filling my head, and rushed to my sofa to follow Sky Sports’ extensive coverage of the day. It was bound to be exciting and busy for Palace, as we had multiple options and targets being worked on with the hope of new arrivals by 5pm. As the day progressed, worry increased as there was no solid links or promise towards any player, or even towards the seemingly inevitable departure of Wilfried Zaha. 3.30pm, with an hour and a half to go of the window, Sky Sports confirm that, while Zaha will be staying, Palace were to make no more business in the window. Everyone was fuming, perfectly understandably. We hadn’t improved the ONLY TWO POSITIONS THAT NEED TO BE IMPROVED DESPERATELY. We now go into the season with only Joel Ward at right back, only Patrick van Aanholt at left back, and misfiring Benteke backed up by sick note Connor Wickham as his backup in striker. It’s an absolute disgrace that we didn’t sort out the only two positions that have been genuine problems for a while now, but we’ve got 9 midfielders and 5 goalkeepers registered. Even the news of Zaha staying can’t make up for the awful window.
A Surprisingly Positive View
Right, lets get to positives, it seems like we all need a bit of this right now. We’ve got what is largely the same squad we had last season, if not an improvement on it. Wan-Bissaka’s departure is sure to be felt but realistically he’s only a right back, it’s not going to break the functioning of the team. Michy Batshuayi will also be a miss at Selhurst Park as, for those 5 months, we finally had a goalscorer. However, the addition of Victor Camarasa is extremely interesting. A creative and physical presence in the side is what Roy has been looking for since the departure of Ruben Loftus-Cheek in 2018, and it’s finally here. Add to this the addition of the ‘throw yourself in front of everything’ type midfielder in James McCarthy and you’ll see we’ve gone a long way to recreating our incredibly dominant midfield from Roy’s first season at the club.
Also, Wilfried Zaha is still here. He may not want to be, and it hurts to write that sentence, but he is. He’s still a special player and will continue to change games like he always has done for us. I genuinely believe as long as he is here there’s no way we’re going down.
Thirdly, the Holmesdale Fanatics are behind the goal and are now backed by an enormous ‘singing section’ which will take the atmosphere to levels it’s never seen before. Our atmosphere has always been amazing and always been a massive part of the club, so for us to ramp it up again this season it’s sure to be an enjoyable experience at games no matter the result on the pitch.
End of Season Award Predictions
Player of the Season: Max Meyer
I’ve chosen Max Meyer to be my player of the season. We’ve already seen how good he is on the ball, and in pre season he’s shown real brilliance and looks like reaching that potential he was tipped for from a young age. I feel he’ll have a real impact this season and shine brighter than any other.
Young Player of the Season: Tyrick Mitchell
With our lack of depth in the full back positions and the inconsistent form of Patrick van Aanholt, Tyrick Mitchell could be called on more often than we think. An impressive pre season cameo against Luzern suggests he could be the next gem to arrive off the Palace Academy press.
Top Goalscorer: Luka Milivojevic
Luka has scored 10+ goals for two seasons in a row for us now, most of which have been penalties. Now, with the introduction of VAR, penalties will be even more likely to be given as shown with the trials in the FA Cup and the Womens World Cup. Add to this the ridiculous knack of winning penalties Wilf Zaha has and it could be a frankly insane scoring season for the Palace skipper.
Breakthrough Star: Max Meyer/Tyrick Mitchell
As outlined in previous points, I can really see both of these having big seasons ahead of them, and I’m sure they will impress.
Top Assists: Andros Townsend
A fantastic crosser of the ball and a brilliant creative influence down the right hand side, I can see Starman having a fantastic season in terms of goal contributions, especially if we start crossing the ball to Benteke more as we have at times in pre season.
Predicted Finish: 13th
Another very stable mid table finish for The Eagles. I don’t agree with the largely held opinion that we will be seriously threatened by relegation, but I also can’t seeing us have much of a breakthrough season in terms of a top 10 push. Roy is an impeccable manager with a very good squad at his disposal, so I’m sure it’ll be another decent season in South London. However, if we start the season as badly as usual, we could end up in somewhat of a scrap come Christmas. Perhaps it will be another emotional, stressful, turbulent season for us, but hey ho, we can’t bloody wait for it to begin.
Atleti played Numancia in their 1st pre-season match before the league starts. The new kids on the block were anticipated to start, especially 120million Joao Felix. However just 28 minutes into the match, the Ex-Benfica star was subbed off for Correa. He was seen exhausted, limping and holding his hip. The vigorous training of Oscar Ortega may have caught upon him. Nothing is known of the seriousness of the injury, seems like just a knock.