The Old Firm – A Derby Like No Other

Saturday lunchtime in Glasgow’s west end, an eagerly anticipated, highly-charged football match is about to take place…Rangers vs Celtic!

This is box office, one of the fiercest rivalries across Europe and occasions like these are to be enjoyed despite any blood and thunder talking points that may arise.

Brendan Rodgers’ Hoops dominated last season as Rangers finished a staggering 39 points behind their rivals who could only manage third place in the Premiership. Even this early stage of the new season, a victory for Glasgow’s green and white would propel them to an 8 point advantage over their nearest and dearest.

Rangers will be keen for revenge after suffering double 5-1 league defeats and domestic cup semi-final disappointments last season.

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As always with games like this there are some key battles to be contested…

Ryan Jack vs Scott Brown will see a recent Ibrox recruit come up against the tried and tested Celtic Skipper. Brown is an underrated player and can run the game from start to finish with his unique “in your face” style. Jack will have to be at the very top of his game just to compete. No matter how the games pans out, this does have the makings of a battle.

Leigh Griffiths vs Alfredo Morelos will not be in direct competition until it comes to the scoresheets. Both have shown already this season that they know exactly where the net is. First goals in games like this often set the tone and prove crucial. Back one of these two men to provide their sides with the advantage as they test opposition defences for the remainder of the match. Morelos can score goals but his hold up play and movement also look exceptional. Griffiths has become Scotland’s talisman in recent months and with Moussa Dembele back to full fitness, he has even more reason make his mark in the big games.

Pedro Caixnha vs Brendan Rodgers whilst a contest, for us isn’t a close one. Rodgers has taken Celtic to a whole new level and his counterpart thinks his club are on a whole new level. His baffling comments about having “the best squad in Scotland” and that young substitute (Ross McCrorie) from the recent game with Partick Thistle will go onto be “one of the best centre halves in history” show that he is out of his depth at a club the size of Rangers.

Expect fireworks all over the park if recent games are anything to go by, with these 3 battles only playing a supporting role in the spectacle that is the Old Firm derby. Goals, noise and red cards are generally guaranteed and this season’s 1st meeting is likely be no different.  Who or what will create the talking point? Who will be the new El Hadji Diouf or fly into the hardest tackle causing a mass brawl? Scotland’s top and often controversial whistler Craig Thompson will have to earn his money covering the Ibrox turf.

The days of Rangers 9 in a row domination are long in the past and their fans can only dream of seeing players of the calibre of Gascoigne, Laudrup, Albertz and Van Bronckhorst pull on those blue jerseys again. They need to quickly come to terms that they are very much in the shadow of the record chasing “invincibles” that they share a city with.

56 games unbeaten and what chance is there of this astonishing run being ended this coming weekend? Slim to none in our opinion, whilst Rangers have improved with their foreign imports unfortunately for them…Celtic are arguably an even stronger side than they were last year!

Lee-Griffiths

The TV audience will be primed and ready as the game is beamed around the world – hopefully providing a further boost for the Scottish game after a recent international resurgence.

Perhaps unsurprisingly both sides have been kept apart in Thursday evening’s Betfred Cup Semi Final draw and so a potential Hampden Final is on the horizon in just a few weeks’ time. Until then we’ll have to make do with the impending high noon showdown.

Celtic vs Rangers 5-1 score image sourced from; www.thescotsman.com
Leigh Griffiths image sourced from; www.thedailyrecord.co.uk

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A Super Sunday… Finally!

We spend all Summer waiting for that 1st competitive game and longing for those Sunday’s that provide quality football viewing.

Finally this weekend, after having to endure some the painful watches of Huddersfiled v Newcastle and Burnley v Palace we finally have a Sunday worthy of its Sky given “Super” title. The TV cameras will be placed at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea v Arsenal and Old Trafford for Man Utd v Everton with each game, in our opinion having potentially damning outcomes for some.

We’ll start with the 13:30 kick off, a London Derby, the Champions vs a club divided. Chelsea take on Arsenal in a week that has seen one club return to the Champions League and another taste life without. Arsenal couldn’t have wished for a tougher fixture at this time. After an opening day blip Conte’s men have reminded us all why they cannot be counted out of defending their title.

The Blues have moved swiftly to replace the sulking Costa with a deadly Alvaro Morata and with Hazard coming back to fitness they are back to last season’s title winning best. Kante has picked up where he left off and despite some negative transfer window comments, we believe that Chelsea have bought well and are an ever improving team under Conte.

Head up to North London and you’ll find an Arsenal in more disarray than ever, “Wenger in” has beaten “Wenger out” for at least the next 2 seasons and the Emirates takeover of Koln fans midweek shows just how uninterested their fans are. This could be the Gunners 3rd defeat at a stadium where they have lost the last 5 games, conceding 15 and scoring just 2.

Wenger needs to start with Lacazette and put some faith in his major Summer purchase. The rest of the side will remain as it has been for the last few seasons…the same! Arsenal are capable of a performance on their day, but for us that will not be Sunday and a victory over Bournemouth merely papered over the cracks for a week after defeats by Liverpool and Stoke.

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Up in the North West at 16:00, big spending Everton need a performance at the Theatre of Dreams after back-to-back 3-0 defeats to Spurs at Atalanta. The results nor performances will sit well with a board who have backed Ronald Koeman like no other Goodison boss before him. One key area they lack is up top having cashed in on Romelu Lukaku.  Whilst he may miss the occasional chance, the big Belgian is on fire for his new club. Don’t bet against a comfortable Man Utd victory with Lukaku bagging a couple against a Toffees side who are still gelling, but make no mistake they need to gel quickly to avoid an unthinkable mid to lower table finish with 10’s of millions spent.

Jose is having his 2nd season syndrome come to prominence again and you start to feel that Man Utd are becoming a force once again. Koeman’s 2nd season syndrome could end before May 2018 if he cannot find a winning formula with his purchases. A £45m purchase of Gylfi Sigurdsson will not fly under any football fans’ radar, build the team around the Icelandic international and show some signs of improvement or start flirting with European clubs before the P45 is delivered.

On a separate note…The Old Trafford return of Rooney will obviously be poignant. Love or loathe him, he deserves a rousing reception from the Stretford End for all that he did for them over the years.

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After Man City’s most recent demolition of a PL side, it’s over to their main title contenders to turn in equally impressive results.

Let’s hope that this particular “Super Sunday” can live up to our expectations, Happy viewing!

Morata and Lacazette image sourced from; www.skysports.com
Lukaku and Rooney image sourced from; www.skysports.com

Sunderland AFC

Finally down and out, The 2016/17 season has proved one step too far for Sunderland AFC. Having flirted with relegation for the previous four seasons they have finally succumbed to the dreaded drop.

The parachute payments will pale into insignificance once the fixtures are released in a few weeks’ time for the season ahead. The additional 8 games a season, more midweek fixtures and trips to Burton Albion and Bristol City will hit home hard at The Stadium of Light.

Ever since owner Ellis Short arrived in the North East in 2008 it’s been bad decision after bad decision. 7 permanent managers have come and gone with Short currently on his 9th in David Moyes, someone whom he has made no secret of his admiration for… Moyes has finally been the man to oversee a long overdue relegation.

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Calamitous spells in charge from the likes of Ricky Sbragia and Paulo Di Canio have not aided the former Man Utd Manager’s cause but this was not the right job for him to step into, he was defeated and downbeat from the off. In fact in the near 10 years in which the club has been under American ownership, the highest win % of any of the gaffers has been a miserable 35.2% under Martin O’Neill, The Irishman lost equally as many games as he won.

So what now for The Mackems?

Just have a look at their squad, terrible and without serious overhaul they could be destined for League One sooner than a Premier League return.

We’ll start with the seemingly obvious, Defoe will go (on a free!! Who’s idea was it to insert that clause into his contract?!) and Pickford will surely look to add to a rapidly increasing reputation with a move to a club in the top flight.

The Rest?

A dressing room full of failed potential and players long past their sell by dates. Jack Rodwell, Darren Gibson, Joleon Lescott, Victor Anichebe, Steven Pienaar, John O’Shea and Seb Larsson are all part of one of the most poorly assembled squads in recent Premier League history.

The Manager?

There are already chants of “Moyes out” from the stands and with an ever diminishing reputation you have to wonder what is going through the Scotsman’s mind as he enters the summer break. He has Championship experience but that was a long time ago, the league has since changed and Sunderland will hardly be favourites for the division with the likes of Aston Villa, Hull and Fulham looking a lot better placed for promotion.

The Boardroom?

You only have to look at recent seasons and you’ll see that there will be very little in terms of funds made available. The Black Cats generally spend what they recoup but with years of the insane Premier League money behind them it’s hard to fathom just where the £100’s Millions are going year on year, or is it?

Sunderland are reported to have the 14th highest wage bill in EUROPE! What?!? One thing is for sure and that is that they have very little in terms of saleable assets to provide funds to buy the relevant personnel that will understand the rough and tumble of championship football.

The side from Wearside need a complete club overhaul to have any chance of returning to the Premier League anytime in the near future. In their current state you have to envisage a mid-table Championship season is the best they can hope for.

We all know the North East of England is a hot bed for football, the fans are extremely passionate with generally very little return from their heroes on the pitch. Big rivals Newcastle have been able to bounce straight back but unless Rafa’s boys implode once more and find themselves in a relegation battle, we wouldn’t expect to have any fierce local derbies in the coming seasons Sunderland fans.

They deserve better than what they’ve recently had to endure.

Sunderland-fans

David Moyes image sourced from; www.skysports.com
Sunderland fans image sourced from; www.chroniclelive.co.uk

Stuart Armstrong – A Promising Future

In recent times some of the best talent in the Scottish Premiership has made their way south… Mainly to Southampton it has to be said.

We’ve seen Fraser Forster, Virgil Van Dijk, Steven Davis and Victor Wanyama all arrive on the south coast from opposite sides of the Old Firm divide.

Add in Steven Naismith (Everton), Andy Robertson (Hull), Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth), Gary Hooper (Norwich) and Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace) you’d have a strong argument to suggest that contrary to belief, there is a wealth of talent north of the border.

Well there is a man who has the potential to top them all and go on to become a stand out player for a top club in the English Premier League , that man is Celtic’s Stuart Armstrong.

Signed from SPL rivals Dundee United January 2015 the all-action midfielder has gone on to become one of Brendan Rodgers’ key men in their push for an unprecedented unbeaten domestic treble.

With 13 goals so far this term it is only team mate Moussa Dembele that can possibly beat him to any of Player of the Year accolades shortly to be handed out.

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Perhaps surprisingly it was only last month in which Armstrong made his international debut. Unsurprisingly he was the best player on the park by a mile. He covered every blade of Hampden turf on a “do or die” night for Scotland. He carried a nation and was rightly awarded MOM for his endeavours.

The sublime and composed pass so late in the game that gave Chris Martin the opportunity to keep The Tartan Army’s faint Russia 2018 hopes alive typified the season that the Celt is having.

Celtic’s £2.5M outlay looks a steal and they are certain to make a huge profit should they decide the time is right to cash in. Having only just turned 25, Armstrong is still a couple of seasons away from his peak but he has all the attributes to make it to the very top.

The scouts must be watching and reporting back to their respective managers to ready that chequebook.

Check out this video on Youtube; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dodHHHTTAaU 

Stuart Armstrong image sourced from; www.celticnewsnow.com

 

 

FIFA FIFPro World11 2016

December has arrived and that can mean only one thing, yep it’s time to crack open those advent calendars!

In other news, it’s also the month where the FIFA shortlist for the “team of the year” is released. In case you missed it, the full list is below:-

GK’s

Claudio Bravo, Gianluigi Buffon, David De Gea, Keylor Navas and Manuel Neur.

DEF’s

David Alaba, Jordi Alba, Serge Aurier, Hector Bellerin, Jerome Boateng, Leonardo Bonnucci, Daniel Carvajal, Giorgio Chellini, Dani Alves, David Luiz, Diego Godin, Mats Hummels, Philipp Lahm, Marcelo, Javier Mascherano, Pepe, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva and Raphael Varane.

MID’s

Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Andres Iniesta, N’Golo Kante, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil, Dimitri Payet, Paul Pogba, Ivan Rakitic, David Silva, Marco Veratti and Arturo Vidal.

FOR’s

Sergio Aguero, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, Antoine Griezmann, Gonzalo Higuain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi, Thomas Muller, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, Luis Suarez and Jamie Vardy.

The list virtually appears to have been decided with eyes closed as most would have selected the named 55 players with a few minor tweaks. Our massive congratulations however go to Jamie Vardy, who (we hope doesn’t mind us saying that he) looks quite out of place in this company. His 2015/16 performance fully merits his place.

The FIFPro World11 is decided by the players, for the players. It collates the votes from roughly 25,000 professional players in 75 countries. Each vote contains 1 goalkeeper, 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards.

That’s right, even this award has moved away from footy’s traditional 4-4-2 to reflect the modern-day game, it won’t be long before we have a “holding midfielder” of the year award…you heard it here first!

The final team will be announced in Zurich on 9th January 2017 so we thought we’d cast our votes early and name our best 11:-

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Now obviously this is purely opinion but leaving Lionel Messi out of any selected XI requires some logic and our reasoning is pretty simple. The Argentine superstar is forever receiving accolades but he fell short where it mattered over the last few months, mainly when it came to his country. We chose Gareth Bale in his place thanks to his Champions League win and the superb leadership of Wales in the Euro’s.

One thing is for certain, is that whoever the chosen side is – that they all have been deserving in their own individual right and it’s fair to say that the ultimate combined XI would take some beating!

Image created by using Lineup11 app.

Wayne Rooney – Time for Fan Reflection

Poor old Wayne Rooney, he appears to be taking the brunt of everyone’s frustrations and anger at the moment:-

  • Man Utd’s stuttering start to the season = Wayne Rooney
  • Paul Pogba’s poor form = Wayne Rooney
  • England failing at the Euros = Wayne Rooney
  • Current England failings = Wayne Rooney
  • Global Warming = Wayne Rooney

Obviously we kid with the last one but we’re sure “Wazza” wouldn’t be surprised to be questioned about it in an upcoming press conference if they needed someone to blame.

The fact of the matter is simple…Wayne Rooney is currently out of form and quite rightly has been taken out of the starting 11 by responsible managers for club and country. This is something which can and does happen to most players throughout their careers, but most other footballers do not have the numbers to back up their careers like the England captain.

Just have a look at his record:-

Club Season Apps Goals
Everton 2002 – 03 37 8
  2003 – 04 40 9
Man Utd 2004 – 05 43 17
  2005 – 06 48 19
  2006 -07 55 23
  2007 – 08 43 18
  2008 – 09 49 20
  2009 – 10 44 34
  2010 – 11 40 16
  2011 – 12 43 34
  2012 – 13 37 16
  2013 – 14 40 19
  2014 – 15 37 14
  2015 – 16 41 15
England 2003 – Present 118 53
Total 715 315

14 trophies lifted and multiple “Player of the Year” awards to also add to his medal collection.

Rooney doesn’t complete the team sheet at Old Trafford or Wembley, the Manager does. Not just one manager either. A total of 11 of managers (4 at club level, with Moyes x 2 and 7 at International) have been quick enough to write his name down and hand it to the officials on hundreds of occasions. Rooney goes out on the pitch as instructed to, just as he has sat on the bench in recent weeks like the model pro he has matured into.

He is about to turn 31 but he has plenty left to offer both on and off the pitch, yes there is work to do on his part. A young man who has been in the spotlight ever since bending a beauty past David Seaman way back in 2002 deserves to be cut a bit of slack.

A man who has won everything at club level as well as becoming  England’s most capped outfield player and top goal-scorer, Wayne Rooney is a player that England and Man Utd fans may never see again in their lifetimes.

It’s time to support the man who you have depended on for so many years, acknowledging just how good he has been along the way.

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Wayne Rooney image sourced from; www.dailyexpress.co.uk