All posts by euanburns18

Are Real Madrid now La Liga favourites?

Due to Liverpool’s Premier League dominance this season, many fans have cast an eye over European football in the search of a title race. It looked like a fantastic one was forming in Germany, with Bayern Munich stumbling through the campaign and all of Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach showing impressive form.

Unfortunately, the appointment of Hansi Flick by the Bavarians turned out to be a stroke of genius, as they put together an incredible run only losing twice in the Bundesliga between 9th November and the end of season. The 1-0 win over Dortmund after the season’s restart all-but-killed the title race with six games to go.

Serie A was also shaping up very nicely, with Inter Milan and Lazio giving Maurizio Sarri’s ailing Juventus side a run for their money. Juve have since improved slightly but that tile race is very much still on. It’s Juve’s to lose, however, as they’re now four points ahead of Lazio with 10 games to go and eight points ahead of Inter.

The closest major title race now appears to be in La Liga. Unfortunately, it’s only a two-horse race and it’s between two of the biggest teams in the world. In a similar style to Bayern, Real Madrid started the season horrendously but now appear to have found some impressive form.

They sit two points ahead of Barcelona having played the same amount of games. Los Blancos have won their last five La Liga fixtures and put themselves in a great position to win their first title since 2016/17. It would also serve to keep Barcelona at arms-length in the fight to have the most La Liga titles in the history. If Zinedine Zidane’s men can deliver the title this season, they’ll have 34 titles in comparison to Barcelona’s 26.

In terms of the run-in, Barcelona have a very tough couple of games coming up. They’re home to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night and then have an away trip to sixth place Villarreal. After that, however, the fixture list looks more desirable. They have the derby vs bottom-side Espanyol at the Camp Nou, followed by a trip to 14th place Real Valladolid. Next up is a home game vs Osasuna who sit in 11th and they round off the campaign away at 16th placed Alaves.

Real probably have the toughest fixture list out the two sides but not by a clear margin. They have three games that could be very difficult. The first is at home to fifth placed Getafe. That game is followed by a trip to San Mames to play Athletic Bilbao. A more appealing home match against Alaves is followed by the visit of Villarreal to the Santiago Bernabeu. They finish the season away at Leganes.

Barcelona have made a stuttering restart to the season, with draws against Sevilla and Celta Vigo allowing Real to claim top spot. Quique Setien’s inability to get the best out of Antione Griezmann is starting to cause fractions at the club. As well as this, the recent swap deal involving Arthur and Miralem Pjanic now means that one of Barca’s key midfielders is likely disgruntled at being forced out the club that he had no initial interest in leaving.

Beyond this title race, Barca seem to be a club in turmoil. Their recent transfer dealings have been questionable to say the least. Their wage bill is full of wasted talent that it will be hard to offload in a Covid-19 effected transfer market. Lionel Messi seems to look more unhappy game by game and the majority of the first choice eleven are heading well into their mid-30’s. It’s this ageing squad factor that makes the Arthur and Pjanic swap deal even more unusual. Arthur is 23, and Pjanic is 29.

Less and less players seem to be graduating from La Masia to any great effect in the first team, with Ansu Fati the current exception. Just in the past few days it’s been announced that promising academy full backs, Marc Cucurella and Marc Jurado, will be leaving the club.

Real Madrid seem to be riding the crest of a Karim Benzema’s inspired wave right now. The French forward has come into his own as the club’s main man since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. The return of Marcos Asensio from a lengthy injury spell has given them a new attacking option, and the youthful Vinicius Junior is starting to fulfill his considerable potential.

If Barcelona were to deliver a third successive title to Catalonia, there’s a very real chance that it would merely paper over some very big cracks at the club. Setien hasn’t settled in as expected, and the squad is in need of a major overhaul.

A title for Real on the other hand may be the springboard for another era of dominance. While their squad still has some players the wrong side of 30, it looks in better shape than their fierce rivals.

AC Milan 2-0 AS Roma: Giallorossi fade to defeat at the San Siro

AS Roma’s Champion’s League hopes took a huge hit as they lost 2-0 to an impressive AC Milan side.

Roma were the better team during the first half but both sides only produced one clear chance each. The second half, however, was one-way traffic with Milan looking by far the better side.

They eventually got their breakthrough in the 75th minute through Ante Rebic, and Hakan Calhanoglu doubled the Rossoneri’s lead in the 90th minute from the spot.

The first big chance came after 20 minutes, when Eden Dzeko flashed a header wide from six yards out. It was exactly the sort of chance the Romanisti have become accustomed to seeing him bury.

Milan’s best chance fell to Calhanoglu after 38 minutes. Samu Castillejo floated a cross in but the Turkish international headed over the bar at the far post.

Milan finally took the lead with 15 minutes to go through Rebic. A scissor kick from Frank Kessie was saved by Mirante. Rebic hit the rebound but it struck Mirante and bounced off the post straight back to the Croatian, who then lashed it into the roof of the net at the second time of asking.

The goal was no more than Milan deserved, having penned Roma into their own half for most of the second half. Roma struggled to create any clear chances in the second half, but Milan looked slick and energetic.

Roma’s attempts to salvage something from the game were dashed when Chris Smalling tripped Theo Hernandez in the box. It was unfortunate for Smalling, who had been very solid once again at the back for Roma. It was that sort of lapse in concentration that resulted in him losing his place in the Manchester United side last season.

Calhanoglu decisively dispatched the penalty into the top left corner and gave Milan some breathing space for the five minutes of added time. Roma failed to threaten a comeback in stoppage time.

The result means that Paolo Fonseca’s Roma may well have blown their chance of securing Champion’s League football for next season. They’re now six points behind Atalanta in fourth, who have played a game less. Their game in hand is away at Udinese on Sunday evening.

For Milan, the result means they’ve clawed themselves to 42 points, level with Napoli who occupy sixth position. Napoli are at home to SPAL on Sunday evening however, so Milan may find themselves three points behind again.

It’s SPAL who Milan face next. They’ll be travelling to Emilia-Romagna for that game on the 1st July. Roma will look to bounce back a day later at the Stadio Olympico, where they host Udinese.

La Liga Match Day 30 Preview: Tough Fixtures for the Top Two and a Relegation Six Pointer

La Liga’s blistering return to our screens continues over the coming weekend, with Barcelona and Real Madrid both facing tough away tests. There’s also a huge game at the foot of the table.

Table toppers Barcelona will be looking to strengthen their grip on the title but face a difficult trip to Andalucía to face Sevilla on Friday night. The Catalans secured a comfortable 2-0 victory over Leganes last time out, which took them up to 64 points but Real Madrid are not far behind. There’s just a two point gap between the teams following Real’s impressive 3-0 home win over Valencia on Thursday night.

Since the restart Sevilla have comfortably dispatched city rivals Real Betis 2-0 and laboured to a 1-1 draw with Levante. Despite that draw, however, they still sit in third place and are on track for Champions League football. The situation is still very tight behind them though, with just five points separating them in third and Villareal in seventh place.

Real’s difficult away game meanwhile comes at Real Sociedad, who, just like Sevilla are embroiled in the hunt for Champion’s League football. Their entertaining brand of football coming up against the superstars of Real Madrid should make for a fascinating encounter. Despite such a difficult start to the campaign Real know they’re in with a great chance of snatching the title back from Barcelona. With nine games to go however, they can’t afford any slip ups.

Two other teams involved in the race for Champion’s League football are Atletico Madrid and Getafe. They both have very winnable looking home fixtures this weekend. Diego Simeone’s side host 14th placed Real Vallodolid, who look like they’ve almost amassed enough points to avoid a relegation battle this season.

Atleti currently, however, are the lowest scorers of the top eight sides with just 37 goals. This lack of potency in attack means that home games against stubborn mid-table sides can become very frustrating for Diego Simeone’s men. This means an early goal could be vital. They found their shooting boots last time out by beating Osasuna 5-0 away from home. Getafe’s presentable fixture meanwhile is against 16th placed Eibar, who are only three points above the drop zone.

There’s a proper relegation six-pointer on Friday, as 18th placed Mallorca host bottom side Leganes. Mallorca currently have 25 points, while Leganes sit on 23. There’s a risk for Leganes that they could soon see themselves cut a drift, but a win on Friday would breathe new life into their campaign.

Here is the full fixture list:

Friday 19th June:

Granada vs Villareal 18:30 BST

Mallorca vs Leganes 18:30 BST

Sevilla vs Barcelona 21:00 BST

Saturday 20th June:

RCD Espanyol vs Levante 13:00 BST

Athletic Bilbao vs Real Betis 16:00 BST

Getafe vs Eibar 18:30 BST

Atletico Madrid vs Real Valladolid 21:00 BST

Sunday 21st June:

Celta Vigo vs Deportivo Alaves 13:00 BST

Valencia vs Osasuna 18:30 BST

Real Sociedad vs Real Madrid 21:00 BST

Napoli Reach Coppa Italia Final as Mertens Breaks Goal Scoring Record

Dries Mertens became Napoli’s all-time top scorer to ensure his side progressed to the Copa Italia Final at the expense of Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan.

They fell behind inside two minutes when Christian Eriksen’s corner evaded everyone and went in. Napoli’s Belgian international, however, made it 1-1 just before half-time.

That goal means Gennaro Gattuso’s team will be the ones to face Juventus in the final in Rome next Wednesday.

Inter made a blistering start to the game taking the lead in the first two minutes, which levelled the tie. An Eriksen corner went all the way through a disjointed looking Napoli defence and nestled in the bottom corner.

Antonio Candreva then had a brilliant chance to put Inter ahead in the tie. He bared down on the right side of goal and had three options in the box to pull the ball back to, however, he chose to shoot instead.  Candreva’s shot was saved and it subsequently went out for a corner, which was eventually gathered by Napoli’s goalkeeper David Ospina.

Ospina then unleashed a remarkable throw to Insigne inside the Inter half, who drove into the box and pulled the ball back to Mertens who calmly slotted home. That goal makes Mertens Napoli’s all-time top scorer with 122 goals, overtaking former club captain, Marek Hamsik’s tally.

Conte’s Inter knew that one goal would see them progress on the away goals rule but in a second half that lacked many clear cut openings, their best chance fell to Eriksen.  The former Spurs midfielder latched onto a cross from the left but could only fire his low shot at Ospina.

A series of good crosses came in from the left-hand side, but the lacklustre Romelu Lukaku failed to steer any of his headers past Ospina. Fellow former Manchester United man Alexis Sanchez came on and looked lively, flashing a shot wide late in the game.

Ultimately, the seven times winners of the Coppa Italia ran out of steam and Napoli were able to see the game out with relative ease.

Juventus Reach the Coppa Italia Final Despite Ronaldo Penalty Miss

Italian football returned as an underwhelming Juventus side edged into the Coppa Italia final with a 0-0 draw against an AC Milan side who played with 10 men for 75 minutes.

The aggregate score was 1-1, but the away goal that Juve picked up at the San Siro before the extended break due to Covid 19 was enough to see them through. The most notable acts of the game were a missed penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo and a red card for Ante Rebic.

Juve made a very high tempo start to the game, with Douglas Costa flashing a shot just wide of the post in the first minute. Bedlam, however, unfolded 15 minutes later.  Juve were given a penalty following a VAR check for a very soft handball by right back Andrea Conti. Ronaldo stepped up and drilled the penalty into the base of the left-hand post.

Only six seconds later, however, Rebic was sent off after he lunged with his studs showing at head height, and Danilo was very lucky to get away unscathed. Referee Daniele Orsato initially brandished a yellow card, but immediately changed his mind and gave the Croatian his marching orders. The challenge was reminiscent of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic kung-fu-style finish. The Swede missed this fixture through injury.

That meant Milan had to score without reply to reach the final in Rome. The stage looked set for the Bianconeri, who have won the Coppa Italia 13 times, to flex their muscles and put Milan to the sword. Instead, they looked extremely passive, and failed to create many clear-cut chances at all.

Milan were very impressive considering their numerical disadvantage. They defended resolutely, with Simon Kjaer standing out at centre back as a key performer. They lacked the cutting edge going forward though. There was a host of long-range shots, giving the impression that the forwards were trying to win corners via deflections. It was from a corner that the Rossoneri came closest to snatching victory. Kjaer flashed a header just wide of the near post after 78 minutes, and his facial expression suggested he should have scored.

Another impressive performer for Milan was Franck Kessie, who was very busy in the midfield and kept Miralem Pjanic out the game completely. Interestingly, Pjanic was moved out to the right of the midfield three, with Rodrigo Bentancur taking his place in the middle. This may be significant considering how often the Bosnian midfielder is being linked with a move away from Turin.

One major disappointment for Milan is that the winners of the Coppa Italia achieves a place in the group stage of next season’s Europa League. While they are in 7th position in Serie A, European qualification is certainly not guaranteed for Stefano Pioli’s men.

Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus will play either Napoli or Inter Milan in the final, which takes place on the 17th June. The second leg of that tie takes place on Saturday at 20:00 BST. Napoli took a valuable 1-0 win at the San Siro in the first leg and will be looking to seal the deal at the San Paolo.