Tag Archives: Lionel Messi

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.

Best FIFA Football awards 2019 winners

What is it?

The FIFA football awards were originally introduced in 1991 to go along side the French publication, French Football’s Ballon D’Or prize. 

The difference between the two is the organisations in charge; The Ballon D’Or was set up in 1956.

 However, both awards were combined in 2010 to create the FIFA Ballon D’Or for six years before FIFA President, Gianni Infantino reverted it back to the original separate award system in 2018.

Lionel Messi wins best player for a sixth time

Lionel Messi was voted the best men’s player at the awards in Milan.  The Barcelona man was voted ahead of fellow finalists, Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk as well as Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 32-year-old Argentine helped Barcelona win La Liga and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League, scoring 54 goals in 58 games for club and country, and provide 20 assists in the 2018/19 campaign.

I think that Van Dijk should have got the award because of the impact he has made to Liverpool’s defence, particularly last season, while Messi had an impressive season; Van Dijk ultimately played a critical part in Liverpool winning their sixth Champions League trophy as well as the dramatic improvement that he has made to the reds’ defence in the league.  His former manager at Celtic, Neil Lennon, also shares this viewpoint.

FIFA however have not crowned a defender as it’s player of the year since Fabio Cannavaro won it in 2006 after the Italian led Italy to World Cup glory.

Megan Rapinoe awarded the women’s player prize

American superstar Megan Rapinoe led her country to a second consecutive World Cup win scoring crucial goals against Spain in the last 16, France in the Quarter-finals and the World Cup final itself during their victory over the Netherlands.

Rapinoe won the award with 46 per cent of the vote, just ahead of World Cup 2019 Silver Boot winner Alex Morgan, 42 per cent and Lyon treble winner and England international Lucy Bronze, 29 per cent.

Jurgen Klopp named coach of the year ahead of Pep Guardiola

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp was announced as coach of the year after guiding his team to a Champions League win in Madrid against Tottenham Hotspur. Other notable highlights included the comeback in the Champions League Semi-finals against Barcelona, 4-3 on aggregate.

The German coach also lost only once in the Premier League during the 2018/19 season and achieved a 97 point tally, falling just one point short of eventual winners Manchester City.

The other finalists included domestic treble winner (Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup), Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola.

Tottenham Hotspur coach, Maurico Pochettino was also nominated having led the London side to their first ever Champions League Final.

I think you can make a strong argument for both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola when it comes to winning coach of the year.

Pep Guardiola for me should have got it ahead of Klopp on this occasion, purely for leading his team to the first ever domestic treble, or perhaps they could have even been joint winners?

World Cup winning coach Jill Ellis named best women’s coach

Probably the least surprising award winner, Jill Ellis helped America win another World Cup in France this year.  This was following on from her 2015 success in Canada.

In the seven tournament matches her side scored 26 goals, including a record 13-0 win over Thailand and conceded just three times.

Ellis finishes her reign as American coach next month and currently is the only coach to lift the Women’s World Cup twice.

The other finalists were England coach Phil Neville, who helped the Three Lions to a fourth place finish at the World Cup as well as a first ever SheBelievesCup win back in March 2019.

Sarina Wiegman, the Dutch coach, was also nominated having got her country to their first ever World Cup Final.

Alisson Becker and Sari Van Veenendaal named the best male and female goalkeeper

Brazilian and Liverpool Goalkeeper, Alisson Becker was announced as the best goalkeeper and this was certainly justified after keeping a record high 21 clean sheets in the league. Alisson was also able to help his club side to Champions League glory, keeping five clean sheets including four in the knockout stages.

The runners-up were Manchester City’s Ederson, who kept 20 clean sheets during the last campaign and Barcelona’s Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.

Sari Van Veenendaal, the Dutch number one keeper, meanwhile was awarded the women’s goalkeeper award.  Van Veenendaal helped her team to their first ever World Cup final, keeping three clean sheets in the process.  She was also part of the Arsenal side who won the Women Super League title.

Sweden’s Hedvig Lindahl, who played an integral part in her side finishing third at the World Cup, was the runner-up.

Eighteen-year-old Daniel Zsori wins the Puskas award for best goal

Daniel Zsori was awarded the best goal prize by scoring a stunning bicycle kick in stoppage time in what proved to be the winner for his club side Debrecen against rivals Ferencvaros in February 2019.

Incredibly Zsori was making his first senior appearance for the club.

Silvia Grecco chosen as FIFA fan winner

Silvia Grecco was given this award because she was seen with her son, 11-year-old Nickollas, who is blind and mildly autistic, describing and commentating on a Palmeiras football game for him against rivals Corinthians.

The footage of this went viral all over Brazil and the mother later explained that she had been doing this for a few years.  Grecco won the award with roughly 58 per cent of the vote.

Fifa Fifpro Men’s Team of the Year

Goalkeeper – Alisson (Liverpool/Brazil)

Defenders – Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax and Juventus/Netherlands), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid/Spain), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool/Netherlands), Marcelo (Real Madrid/Brazil).

Midfielders – Luka Modric (Real Madrid/Croatia), Frenkie de Jong (Ajax and Barcelona/Netherlands), Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Real Madrid/Belgium)

Forwards – Kylian Mbappe (Paris St-Germain/France), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus/Portugal), Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina)

Fifa Fifpro Women’s Team of the Year

Goalkeeper – Sari van Veenendaal (Arsenal/Netherlands)

Defenders – Lucy Bronze (Olympique Lyonnais/England), Wendie Renard (Olympique Lyonnais/France), Nilla Fischer (Linkopings FC/Sweden), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals FC/USA)

Midfielders – Amandine Henry (Olympique Lyonnais/France), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars/USA), Marta (Orlando Pride/Brazil), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit/USA),

Forwards – Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC/USA) and Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride/USA)

Were some of these inclusions justified?

Certainly there were a few surprising inclusions such as Real Madrid player’s Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and even Luka Modric.

Sergio Ramos in particular as he admitted after the first leg of the last 16 ties against Ajax that he picked up a deliberate yellow card to rule himself out of the return leg, that Real Madrid ultimately lost.

Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe was impressive in Ligue 1 and domestic competitions in France but he did not make much of an impression on the Champions League stage last season.

I would have chosen Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte who played a crucial role in their treble winning campaign ahead of Sergio Ramos. Laporte helped his side keep 23 clean sheets out of 48 games.

Liverpool’s Andy Robertson at left back instead of Marcelo, again due to his influential displays in their Champions League and Premier League campaigns. Last season Robertson was responsible for 13 assists from his position at left back.

Christian Eriksen also I think gets in ahead of Luka Modric as he played an important role in Tottenham Hotspur getting to their first ever final. Eriksen was responsible for eight goals and 12 assists from 35 appearances during the London clubs previous campaign.

Finally I would bring in Mohamed Salah instead of Kylian Mbappe, purely because of the importance of the goals that he scored and the impact that he made in crucial moments of the campaign contributing 22 goals and 11 assists in all competitions.

Unlucky absentees?

Both Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Liverpool’s Sadio Mane were unlucky to just miss out as well having both had superb seasons with their respective clubs. Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son and Ajax’s Dustin Tadic were also outstanding.

Do any 24/7 readers have views on the award winners and who would you choose in your team of 2018/19?