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Bayern Munich & Liverpool: who needs defeat more?

As the football season draws into its final quarter, many leagues are beginning to present teams who you expect to be champions. Italy’s Serie A sees Juventus 16 points clear with only twelve games left to play while in France, Paris St Germain could go 20 points clear of second placed Lille if they win their game in hand.

This being said, there are also leagues where the conclusion is anyone’s guess – no more so than the Premier League and the German Bundesliga. Current champions Manchester City regained top spot for the first time this year when Liverpool failed to beat Merseyside rivals Everton last weekend, although the gap is only one point so there is still all to play for. In Germany however, it is even closer. Bayern recorded their fourth straight league win to take them level on points with a Borussia Dortmund side who have only accumulated five points from their last four. This would pose the question regarding the impact the Champions League will have on both Liverpool and Bayern’s tense battles in their respective leagues.

Both sides arguably have strengths and weaknesses to suggest whether the Champions League will hinder their chances of winning the league in their country, but would either side be better off with defeat in Munich on Wednesday?

With the tie so evenly poised following the goalless first leg draw at Anfield, the onus is ever so slightly on Bayern, given that they are the home side and only a victory will see them through to the quarter finals- especially if Liverpool were to secure a vital away goal. The history of the two clubs does come into play when considering who wants this more. This is because Bayern have enjoyed much more domestic success than the reds, having won 17 league titles SINCE Liverpool last captured the First Division in 1988. Therefore, Liverpudlians are desperate to reclaim the league in what would be their first ever Premier League title.

The Champions League is supposed to be a competition between the best of the best, meaning the winner is the greatest team in Europe that season. This seems to overshadow a team that wins the league, even if it’s the ‘most competitive league in the world’. Therefore, losing the league to Dortmund could be forgiven with a sixth success amongst Europe’s elite. It’s not so simple for Liverpool, given that they were seven points clear at the start of the year, so missing out on the league would be a disappointment regardless of how they fair in the Champions League.

One thing that may make both of these clubs think twice, though, is the stature of teams that have been knocked out already. Last season’s semi finalists Roma were knocked out along with current triple defendants Real Madrid, meaning there will be a new winner in 2019. Serie A leaders Juventus have a tough task ahead in order to overturn a two goal deficit against Atletico Madrid otherwise they will join French high fliers PSG as one of the main favourite to be eliminated. This may prompt five time champions Bayern and Liverpool to believe that if they go for it, they have a fantastic chance of success.

Squad quality is something that has been spoken of by fans and media consistently in regards to these two clubs. Bayern’s squad has an average age of 27.7 years old, which is the oldest in the Bundesliga. This suggests that Bayern have a wealth of experience amongst players like Manuel Neuer, Arjean Robben and Frank Ribery whilst matching them with young talent like Kingsley Coman, Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich. Liverpool’s issue regarding their squad is their sheer lack of depth when comparing to the likes of Manchester City & Barcelona. Liverpool’s only flaw could be the sides lack of experience, as the German side is more familiar with this situation, whereas Liverpool have only competed in the Champions League in three of the last nine seasons. Mind you, they did reach the final last season…

Liverpool’s squad depth is more likely to have a negative effect on their title challenge, especially when considering the team they are up against in Manchester City and the players they have at their disposal. Bayern definitely have the bottle and experience to win games and they have the potential to go all the way given the amount of times they have been there before. However, as the season comes to a close, their ageing squad (as they have an older average) may begin to feel their energy drain, especially if they are drawn against a younger team.

Despite these pros and cons for both sides, however, it is unlikely either side would truly want to lose, nor would going out necessarily give them the edge in their domestic leagues. If anything, victory in this match could push the winner on to succeed more than they would have had they been on the end of defeat- for winning is only going to motivate you.

Do you feel that either team would benefit from dropping out of the Champions League or do they have the potential to pull off the double?

Dilly Ding Dilly Gone

What now for Fulham? Claudio Ranieri has become the second managerial dismissal of the season at Craven Cottage after only three months in charge, following the departure of his predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic in November. The Italian did seem to give the players a lift however the game against fellow strugglers Southampton yesterday seemed to be a make or break for his job. Had they won, they would have been four points off the Saints who sit 17th, one place above the drop zone. Therefore the term ‘six pointer’ really did prove costly for Ranieri as his side were defeated 2-0 at St Mary’s, meaning the former Premier League champion leaves a side now sitting ten points from safety with only ten games remaining. 

Fulham’s Fatality

Out of ten games remaining for Fulham, Craven Cottage is still yet to welcome title challengers Liverpool and Manchester City as well as hosting a London derby this weekend against Chelsea, a team they haven’t beaten since 2006. Given the way they have performed this season, it would be somewhat special if they were to come out with anything from these fixtures, meaning they realistically have seven games from which they must get as many points from as they can. To make matters worse, only three of these seven games are at home and maximum points from these matches would not save them even now – but Fulham have not won away from home all season.

Parker’s chance?

Scott Parker does seem to be favoured by Chairman Shahid Khan for the near future. Included in a statement regarding Ranieri’s dismissal, Khan said “If Scott can answer that challenge, and our players respond to the opportunity, perhaps victories will follow in the months ahead”. 

Given the position Fulham are in and the matches they have left Parker does seem like a sensible choice. Despite only having managerial experience with Tottenham Hotspur’s U18’s, the former midfielder has worked Fulham’s as first team coach all season meaning he knows the players better than anyone. Therefore his relationship with the players may just be the thing that the Fulham faithful can believe will give his players some momentum to at least go down fighting. 

Save Our Season

Bringing in a new manager at this stage is potentially more risky than sticking with Parker, given the limited time they would have to influence the players with their own strategy and style of play. 

Sam Allardyce is probably the most successful SOS manager, having transformed his past teams, guiding the likes of West Ham, Sunderland and Everton to safety. However, ‘Big Sam’ is unlikely to take a job where Fulham are so deep in trouble with so little time to save them.  In reality any permanent manager is going to have to be up for rebuilding this side in the Championship. 

Carlos Carvalhal is another name that has been suggested, either this season or in the summer given his history in both leagues. Although brief, Carvalhal almost saved Swansea having taken charge with the Swans bottom of the league on Boxing Day 2017. This suggests he could have an impact now but given Shahid Khan’s words about Parker’s role, it does seem the ex England international is going to be given the opportunity for the time being. Carvalhal does have experience in the championship with Sheffield Wednesday and so it could be a good chance for him in in the summer, if Parker does not rejuvenate the atmosphere around the club in the next few months.

Great Escape or Condemned to relegation?

The Ranieri revival came to no avail and Fulham chairman Shahid Khan seems to be backing Scott Parker rather than rushing into a permanent replacement. Does this suggest Khan believes the caretaker boss can guide them to an incredible escape? Conversely maybe he has accepted his sides fate, now focusing on the future with the aim to return to the top flight immediately next season with a permanent appointment in the summer… One thing is for sure, they are going to need more than a Danny Murphy winner like in 2008 to keep them up.

Off Hops David, who’ll be next of ‘kin’? : 3 most likely Bradford Managers

Following David Hopkin’s resignation from his managerial position Bradford City, The Bantams must search for their third head coach of the season – and they must do so quickly.  

With only 12 games remaining Bradford find themselves second from bottom in Sky Bet League One, three points off Shrewsbury and Oxford who sit in 19th and 20th respectively. City’s goal difference of -17 would arguably make them four points from escaping the relegation zone as the teams above them have a significantly better goal difference. It won’t be easy, whoever they sign, for it is unlikely that those above them will fail to pick up an extra few points before the end of the season too.

Hopkins is the second Bradford boss this season, following the sacking of Michael Collins in September, however Hopkins left at his own accord believing he could not do more than he has to keep the side up. The 48-year-old impressively won four out of five league games in December, earning him the Manager of the Month Award however this was not enough to prevent the recent events, with Saturdays 3-2 defeat at fellow strugglers Walsall, seemed to be the final straw for the Scotsman after only 175 days in the job.

So who are the potential candidates to take Bradford through the remainder of the season?

  1. Simon Grayson

For as long as he is out of a job, Simon Grayson will always be on the Bradford City shortlist. The Yorkshire man has had an illustrious managerial career where he has earned promotion with all but one of the clubs he has bossed. The club he failed to have success with were Sunderland, but sympathy has been given to any manager who worked at The Stadium of Light due to the crisis the club was going through during the last three years where they experienced consecutive relegations. Grayson has openly said that due to the situation behind the scenes ‘no one could have done better’ and he claims he would have saved them if given more time. This provides two reasons why Grayson could accept an offer; firstly that he is brave enough to join a club on the fall and try to steady the ship, but it also gives him the opportunity to follow through on his word that he could hack a relegation battle. Grayson does already have a history at Valley Parade, having played very briefly in 2002. More recently though, Bradford were the last team he managed, taking over from Stuart McCall at a similar time to now in 2018 but left at the end of his short term contract three months later, despite being offered an extended deal. This proves that the owners liked his impact on the club and see a potential in his assets. The only question is would Simon Grayson want be up for the challenge?

2. Hannes Wolf

The former Stuttgart manager is another name that has been hot on the lips of those related to the football club over the past year or so. At one point before Grayson was put in temporary charge in February 2018, Wolf was odds on favourite to succeed Stuart McCall, with the club then in sixth place. At 36, the German has much to offer and already has success under his belt in his homeland. Wolf brought smiles quickly back to the faces of humiliated fans as his Stuttgart side immediately returned to the Germany’s top flight in 2017 by winning the 2.Bundesliga after relegated for the first time in 41 years the season before under a number of his predecessors. Hannes was out of work having parted company with the club after a rocky start in the first division, but was appointed as head coach of Hamburg in October where they sit top of the 2.Bundesliga. Wolf has a great opportunity to win a second promotion in his career and the fact that he is only three months into his job makes it harder to see him at Bradford this season at least. However, he has been highly linked with the job on several occasions due to City’s owner’s connection with Stuttgart and so he will no doubt be on their speed dial! 

This could be seen as a risk for a young manager though, given the position Bradford find themselves in the league and so staying at Hamburg would be the easier option. However, even if Wolf does not come into question with the owners right now, don’t rule him out once the season is up. 

3.Martin Drury

With only 12 games left, a new manager coming into a squad he is not used to and has had no time to gel with could be fatal for Bradford City’s survival hopes. Therefore if there is a chance someone with some insight could take the reigns, even just for the time being, it could be what saves a Bradford side that are expected to do so much more. Martin Drury would be ideal in this scenario because he has been assistant manager at the club since the start of the season. Furthermore, Drury had a very brief stint managing Bradford Park Avenue meaning in recent years he has never been too far from the team. This previous managerial role doesn’t count for nothing either. Drury will have his own methods from his own albeit brief experience, alongside what he will have learnt as Michael Collin’s and David Hopkin’s second man. Drury will also already have a relationship with the players and will be the first man that will see what the previous managers were doing wrong behind the scenes. Therefore, a caretaker role seems a given for the 32-year-old and even if it is a big step in his early career in management, any kind of resurgence from the squad could land him a more long term job. The appointment of Drury also gives the owners a nice and simple way out of jail if they want to find themselves a more experienced manager, as they will then have until the summer to appoint someone full time if they believe Drury is not the man to take them further. This also links with another contender as their previous main target  Hannes Wolf may be more likely to consider his options in the summer when his first season with Hamburg has concluded. Remember, the German seems quite good at getting an underperforming side promoted to where they belong.

Other candidates include the likes of Gary Bowyer, Paul Hurst and Ian Holloway however betting company’s have put the odds pretty high for the likes of these appointments suggesting that at this stage it is anyone’s guess as to who will become Bradford’s boss in order to get them out of the bottom four.