Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 10 Best Football Teams of 2015

There have been many great football teams in 2015. The following is what I consider the ten best teams of 2015:

10) Australia: Although not heard much about, Australia took the Asian football championship at home this year.
9) Sevilla: Again the south Spaniards took the Europa League title. They are among the best in Spain, although far from contesting the title. In the Champions League they ended trailing behind Manchester City and Juventus, but that means they will be defending their Europa League title in 2016.
8) Bayern Munich: The south Germans continue to be among the best in the world, leading in the Bundesliga and favourites to go all the way in the Champions League.
7) Juventus: They dominated in Italy in the first half of the year, and upset Real Madrid to make it to the Champions League final, where only mighty Barcelona stood on the way. They have been weaker after the great Andrea Pirlo left for the USA, but continue fighting for the Italian title and the Champions League title.
6)  River Plate: The winners of the Copa Libertadores also made it to the final of the Club World Cup, where Barcelona defeated them. That said, they showed that they have some of the best fans in the world!
5) Serbia U-20: The Serbian youths were surprise winners of the 2015 u-20 World Cup in New Zealand, defeating Brazil in the final. It augurs well for the future of Serbian football!
4) Cote d'Ivoire: The Ivorians finally won the Africa Cup of Nations that has been eluding them for many years in a final against Ghana.
3) Chile: Chile hosted a highly competitive Copa America and for the first time ever took the title in a final against their Argentine neighbours.
2) FC Barcelona: The Catalonians have only become better in 2016, winning everything in Spain, the Champions League, and lastly the World Club Cup. They are leading the Spanish league at the end of 2016 with a scoring record of 40 goals, 35 of which have been scored by their attacking trio of Suarez, Neymar and Messi.
1) USA: With a fantastic World Cup in Canada women's football showed that it is fully at the level of Men's football when it comes to national team football (there may be more differences at Club level). The tournament was at least as good as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, culminating in a splendid final between USA and Japan. USA were amazing, winning 5-2, and in particular Carly Lloyd's performance should pass into World Cup History. With this, USA's Women's side is in my view, the best football team of 2015!

Top 10 Best Players of 2015

This is my top 10 list of my favourite players of 2015. While making the list I was increasingly annoyed that these lists are getting too similar as best players play in the best clubs, reinforcing that the impression of players being better and better. The best example of this is undoubtedly the amazing trio of Barcelona, Messi-Suarez-Neymar, who not only are incredible to look at as they take apart defenses, but also make a strong Barcelona side stronger. So I am not going to hide that this list is subjective:

10) Cristiano Ronaldo: Surely an amazing football player; speed, skills, technique. The problem that I do not rate him as highly as other lists may do, is that he in my view continues to be less a team player than he should be. It all circles around him, and when it does in a weaker side, like the Portuguese national team, he does not carry the team on his shoulders. That said, an incredible player.
9) Zlatan Ibrahimovic: a top player and an individualist that also expects the team to play for him. He has been strong in Paris St. Germain, but more so in carrying, almost single-handedly, his native Sweden to the European Championships.
8) David Alaba: Although he was injured part of the year, he continues to amaze as one of the strongest all-round players in the world. He has been used in almost every position in Bayern Munich under Guardiola, playing normally defender, but showing his immense quality. The fact that he captains an Austrian national team that sailed its way to the European Championship.
7) Paul Pogba: He has only grown as a player this year both for Juventus and for the French national team (although automatically qualified for the European Championships, the French have not been overly under pressure).
6) Luka Modric: Although Real Madrid has struggled towards the end of the year, the absence of Luka Modric due to injury showed that they were missing one of their most important players for part of the year. Modric is not also core of the Real Madrid team, but also of the Croatian national team.
5) Thomas Muller: for a long time he has been one of the best, if not the best, in the world. Surely he is one the best all-round players with both creative, defensive and scoring abilities, both on the Bayern Munich side as well as on the German World Champions. Both teams continue to be among the best in the world, with Muller as one of the pillars.
4) Neymar: Has really grown as a footballer in 2015 as part of Barcelona's terrific attacking force, where he has also shown himself as a good team players, notwithstanding his amazing technique. It continues to be very annoying that he has too much temper, as he showed in the Copa America, and also dives and cries too much whenever someone touches him.

3) Robert Lewandovski: The Polish striker has been amazing this season. Who can forget his five goals against Wolfburg? But not only that, he has scored goals in the Bundesliga and Champions League for Bayern Munich, as well as for Poland, leading them to the European Championships.
2) Lionel Messi: Undoubtedly the Argentine continues to be amazing despite a period of injury where the Barcelona side did great anyway. That said, he continues to be unable to shine as brightly on the Argentine national team that only made it to the final of the Copa America, and has started World Cup qualifiers with terible results.
1) Ivan Rakitic: Rakitic is more often than not overseen on a team with Messi, Neymar and Suarez. But among these superstars anyone should be able to see that Rakitic is the one putting up the hard all-round work that keeps the team glued together. He is perhaps the best example of a modern all round player in 2015, both on Barcelona and on the Croatian national team.

Not an easy list! Other players I considered for the list: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Aguero, Manuel Neuer, Alexis Sanchez, Claudio Bravo, Arjen Robben, Diego Godin, Arturo Vidal, Angel DiMaria, Tibaut Courtois, Carly Lloyd and Luis Suarez.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The real champions of the world

There was nothing unexpected in Barcelona destroying River Plate 0-3, with little effort, in the final of the Club World Championship in Japan. This is really the most irrelevant tournament in the world, since European dominance is so massive: there is not a single team in the Champions League that would not be better than the rest of the world teams.
That said, there is something where River Plate has nothing to envy any European club: their fans were absolutely amazing. Even down 0-3 they kept singing and supporting their side. This is something arrogant Barcelona fans (or arrogant fans from most clubs in Europe) would never do. The River Plate fans retain that heart and passion that is the reason for football being what it is, and today at the final, they showed that they do not need to win a title to be world champions!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mourinho out

It was bound to happen. Jose Mourinho may be one of the most winning coaches in the world, but without results in an ambitious club, he cannot stay on. In fact, the surprise is perhaps how long he managed to stay on with poor results pouring in since the start of the season. But of course, he did give Chelsea the title, so the surprise is not so much that Mourinho is fired, but WHY everything seems to have gone so wrong for Chelsea this season!
Notwithstanding that the manager is ultimately responsible, it has been surprising to see a team that won the championship with a strong defense and committed and talented players, play entirely different: players that were incredible last season seem rather tired and weak, while the defense is sailing around against teams that barely got a chance last season.
This seems to go beyond Jose Mourinho's talents (and despite anyone saying differently, his CV speaks for itself), and may be a much deeper symptom of something at Chelsea. Mr. Mourinho, with his close history with the club, seemed to be the man to solve it, but it now seems difficult to see who.
Guus Hiddink...? I would want to see it before I believe it. And even more interesting will be to see where Mr. Mourinho himself will end up now!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Champions League 2015-16 Play-offs

Some were disappointed, some were as expected, some were surprises, but in the end, we had an exciting first round of this season's Champions League, with the following play-off matches to go:
  • Bayern Munich-Juventus
Last seasons's finalists of Juventus are not as strong this season, and will surely have their hands full against a Bayern Munich side that will only accept winning the whole thing as an acceptable outcome.
  • FC Barcelona-Arsenal
Arsenal just made it through by an excellent 0-3 victory away to Olympiakos. On a good day, Arsenal can beat (almost) anyone, but a Barcelona that is looking awesome in attack is probably too big a mouthful.
  • Atletico Madrid-PSV Eindhoven
 Ateltico Madrid is joining the big 2 of Spanish football as another side set on the final. In their way will be a talented PSV Eindhoven side that contributed to Manchester United's early exit.
  • Manchester City-Dynamo Kiev
As many other English side, Manchester City has not been convincing in the Champions League, although they sometimes show their outstanding potential. They will have to play well to beat a Dynamo Kiev side that is strong at home.
  • Chelsea-Paris St. Germain
If there is a right time to defeat Chelsea it must be now, as the English champions are looking very weak. In the meantime, the Parisians have looked strong, although not sure they are ready yet to win the whole thing.
  • Zenit St. Petersburg-Benfica
Watch out for Zenit! As nobody watched they were awesome winners of their group, and are surely looking for even better results! Benfica also looked strong although they were edged out in the end by Atletico Madrid, but will also be looking for a good result.
  • Wolfburg-Gent
Two of the surprises will face one another. Wolfburg edged out ahead of Manchester United alongside PSV Eindhoven, and are surely a strong and talented side that will look for more. Gent on the other hand never expected to be where they are, and will play without pressure, as this is already a big success for the Belgian side.
  • Real Madrid-Roma
Any hope Roma will have of beating Real Madrid must come from the fact that the Spaniards have not looked strong as of late. That said, Real Madrid were awesome in the group stages and are strongly focused on another Champions League title.