Thursday, August 28, 2014

Champions League 2014-15: finally some football!

Wow! The World Cup is only a faraway memory of drama and mediocre football when one can look forward to the 2014-2015 Champions League, whose groups were drawn today.

Group A:
  • Atletico Madrid
  • Juventus
  • Olympiakos
  • Malmo
Zlatan's old team of Malmo are a welcome Swedish return to the Champions League after many years. Atletico Madrid will be looking to repeat (or improve) last year's final, while Juventus and Olympiakos could in the end be the winners in this group!

Group B:
  • Real Madrid
  • Basel
  • Liverpool
  • Ludogorets
The surprising Bulgarians, who could easily become the neutral's darlings, face the defending champions, as well as the darlings of many, Liverpool. Basel has before shown that they must never be understimated.

Group C:
  • Benfica
  • Zenit St. Petersburg
  • Bayer Leverkusen
  • Monaco
Benfica and Bayer Leverkusen are two teams that play entertaining football, and are bound to be worth seeing. Zenit St. Petersburg is always a difficult team, while the Monaco fancy boys are not likely to win friends (at least not me).

Group D:
  • Arsenal
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • Galatasaray
  • Anderlecht
One of my favourite groups, with four fantastic teams. Always had a soft spot for Dortmund, while Arsene Wenger's Arsenal continues to be interesting year after year. Galatasaray will always create atmosphere with their fans while Anderlecht... Well, Anderlecht sucks, but I hope to get to watch them!

Group E:
  • Bayern Munich
  • Manchester City
  • CSKA Moscow
  • AS Roma
Manchester City continues to look for success in the Champions League, and this year may be their year. Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola is still an awesome side, but not as awesome as yesteryear. AS Roma should not be underestimated and are a welcome return to the CL, while CSKA Moscow will be quickly forgotten.

Group F:
  • FC Barcelona
  • Paris St. Germain
  • Ajax Amsterdam
  • Apoel Nicosia
Barcelona and Paris are without a doubt favourites in this group, where their clash will be one of the ones to watch in the tournament. Ajax Amsterdam are a nice team, always worth a good match, and Apoel Nicosia have before caused trouble. And I like them because they eliminated Aalborg!

Group G:
  • Chelsea
  • Schalke 04
  • Sporting Lisbon
  • Maribor
Mourinho's Chelsea look like favourites in this group, and Chelsea could get far indeed. Schalke 04 are solid but can be shaken, and the same for Sporting Lisbon, who seems set to fight for second spot with the Germans. Maribor eliminated Celtic, and it is great to have a team from beautiful Slovenia in the Champions League!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Di Maria the saviour?

On the same day that Manchester United got destroyed in the League Cup 4-0 by a team called MK Dons (from the third tier English league) they announced that they have paid 84 Million Euros for the Real Madrid player Angel di Maria.
84 Million is a lot of money, and is in fact the most that an English club has ever paid for a footballer. Considering the fantastic players that have passed through the English league and not least through Manchester United, the amount seems completely out of proportion with who Di Maria is.
Granted, Di Maria is a good player, but he is not the player that can lift Manchester United out of the bad period they are in. Only one man can do that: Louis Van Gaal. The Dutchman has not had a good start, and perhaps Di Maria is part of a long-terms plan in Manchester United. But most of all it seems like a desperate gamble on a player that will have a pressure on him that he will not be able to take.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tottenham-Queens Park Rangers

I have not had much time to watch football, as other things are currently more worrying here in Liberia. Today I did watch my first match for a while, as I tried to forget all other things around me. I had already thought that Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham would be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season.
And this was the first match I watched with them this season, and it was certainly worth it. Tottenham played a great match, with players like Erik Lamela (two assists), Emanuel Adebayor (one goal and one assist), Nacer Chadli (two goals) and Christian Eriksen all playing fantastic. 4-0 was none too small a victory for a team that will grow in confidence with this.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Premier league opening

With the usual World Cup hangover and a complicated situation in Monrovia, I have not had much time to dwell into the footballing pre-season. I recently met with a colleague and spent two hours talking about football, which was a wonderful escape from the disease that is otherwise the center of every conversation right now.
And the Premier league opening will help, at least me, in escaping the stress of the current situation.
The last two seasons have been incredible, with more amazing teams setting up to fight for the title:
  • Manchester City: The defending champions have not been looking strong in pre-season, with too many of their players injured or resting after the World Cup. This culminated in a 3-0 Charity Field defeat to Arsenal, and in their opening match against Newcastle they look to be missing many players. That said, Manchester City will likely be contenders for the title again. They have reinforced an already strong defense with Eliaquim Mangala, and as players get fit and into the season, will be moving up the table.
  • Arsenal: Arsenal fans are hungering for success, and the Charity field victory surely gives them hopes for this season. Further hopes are the purchase of Alexis Sanchez, the immensely talented Chilean, who will widen their attacking options. In fact, the challenge for Arsene Wenger will be to construct the optimal formation with a very deep squad. Arsenal are serious, and will be going for the title.
  • Liverpool: The loss of Luis Suarez has opened questions about the striking power of the Reds, in particular for a season where they will want to win the title after last season's "Almost". With the money from Suarez, Liverpool has been buying many players, most notably in Southampton. Rickie Lambert will be core in attack alongside Raheem Sterling, while Dejan Louvren is set to strengthen their defense. With the loss of Suarez, and having to incorporate new players, Liverpool may have less likelihood of being a title contender.
  • Manchester United: There are big hopes for the new coach Louis Van Gaal, who has had so much success everywhere he goes. There have only been two new signing though: Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao and Luke Shaw from Southampton. Players for the future, sure, but not really the signings that would give needed reinforcements for the defense. While all hope that Van Gaal can motivate Wayne Rooney and Robie Van Persie, alongside Juan Mata and Danny Welbeck, the weaknesses will be in the void left by Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Van Gaal and Manchester United will not be fighting for the title this season, but for a Champions League spot, and for building up a new team.
  • Chelsea: One thing is sure about Jose Mourinho's Chelsea: David Luiz' departure for Paris St. Germain made them richer and better. Chelsea is a serious title contender. Mourinho has brought in some strong players to build on what he already has. Felipe Luis has joined from Atletico Madrid, a player who was one of the world's best last season (and Brazil sorely missed in the World Cup), and will be a force alongside Branislav Ivanovic in defense. Cesc Fabregas has also joined the side, and the striking force will be interesting for sure, with Diego Costa and Didier Drogba joining. Costa is a player that may have disappointed with Spain, but his style fits perfectly into what Mourinho wants from a striker. With Drogba, we see the legend return to Chelsea: many will see it as a publicity stunt, but last season Mourinho managed to squeeze some great goals out of Samuel Eto'o. And that is a gift to all football fans.
  • Tottenham: Another new manager with Mauricio Pochettino. He remains a young manager who has never won anything, but he impressed the entire football world with what he did with Southampton last season, playing high pressure football and making a bunch of young promising players flourish.  He will need the same qualities to motivate players who disappointed last season: Erik Lamela, Naser Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Emanuel Adebayor Paulinho and Mousa Dembele (Christian Eriksen was the only non-disappointment). It is certainly a promising side, but Pochettino is also still looking to reinforce it further with perhaps another striker (Jay Rodriguez seems to be in the pipeline). Be sure that Tottenham will be one of the most interesting teams to watch.
  • Everton: Everton finished fifth last season, and coach Jose Martinez has managed to keep on to his squad, most notably Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, who completed his transfer from Chelsea. Both are young players who could have chose any clubs, but the fact that Everton managed to keep them points to the ambition to build up a stronger side that will qualify to the Champions League. Th
  • Stoke: I must admit that I know next to nothing about Stoke. However, one of the great things about the Premier League is that teams that are largely unknown can beat great sides, and that these small teams also have the capacity to buy great players. Bojan, the young Barcelona star that was hailed as one of the greatest a few years ago (at the tender age of 23 he has won two Champions League titles), is set to try to revive his career in Stoke.
Let a great Premier League season begin!