Tag Archives: UCL

Premier League teams attempt to rise on Matchday 2 of Champions League

As the second matchday of the UEFA Champions League commences later today, Tottenham and Manchester City begin their quests of making it to knockout rounds after having successful tournament results last year. Reigning Champions League winners Liverpool and former winners Chelsea are set to play on Wednesday – aiming to get back in the standings after devastating losses to Napoli and Valencia respectively.

Tottenham, fresh off a Champions League campaign in which they finished as the runner-up, started this edition of the tournament with a 2-2 draw against Olympiacos. Scoring two early goals from Harry Kane’s penalty in the 26th minute, followed by a Lucas Moura goal in the 30th minute – goals from Daniel Podence in the 44th minute and Mathieu Valbuena in the 54th minute were enough to seal a draw at Karaiskakis Stadium. Tottenham will host German giants Bayern Munich at 8 p.m. GMT for its fifth-ever meeting against the club. Bayern are coming off a 3-0 victory over Crvena Zvezda after goals from Kingsley Coman, Robert Lewandowski, and Thomas Müller took all three points at The Allianz Arena.

Manchester City had a huge victory 3-0 over Shakhtar Donetsk at The Metalist, with Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gündogan, and Gabriel Jesus providing the necessary goals. They will face off against Dinamo Zagreb at Etihad Stadium at 8 p.m. GMT. The Croatian side defeated Atalanta 4-0 on Matchday 1 after Mislav Orsic’s hat trick at Stadion Maksimir. This will be the first-ever matchup between the two clubs – who do you think will end up in top spot?

Liverpool, fresh off of their recent Champions League winning campaign, started their campaign off with a dud as they lost 2-0 to Napoli. Late goals from Dries Mertens in the 82th minute and Fernando Llorente in injury time, helped the Italian team embarass the holders. Now, Liverpool will have to get back on track as they host Red Bull Salzburg at 8 p.m. GMT. The Austrian side had a 6-2 victory against Genk on the first matchday, led by a hat trick from Norwegian teen sensation Erling Braut Haaland at Red Bull Arena. The matchup between tonight’s game will be the first-ever matchup between the two clubs.

Chelsea, the champions of last year’s edition of the Europa League beating London compatriot Arsenal, did not get off to a great start in the Champions League as new coach/former club legend Frank Lampard and The Blues suffered a 1-0 loss at the feet of Rodrigo at Stamford Bridge. Considered the favorites of the group before the start of the tournament, Chelsea will have to get back in gear as they head to Stade Pierre Mauroy to battle Lille OSC at 8 p.m. GMT. Lille suffered a 3-0 defeat in their last game against Ajax due to goals from Quincy Promes, Edson Álvarez, and Nicolás Tagliafico at Johan Crujiff ArenA. The two clubs will face off against each other for the first time.

With the Champions League still in the beginning stages, time will tell if England will have back-to-back winners in the tournament for the first time since Liverpool and Aston Villa won the 1981 and 1982 editions.

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FIFA awards Klopp and Alisson; van Dijk and Alisson part of Best XI

On Monday at the Teatro all Scala in Milan, Italy, The Best FIFA Football Awards ™ were hosted. It was a particularly huge night for Champions League winners Liverpool as they had two major award winners for The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper (Alisson) and The Best FIFA Men’s Coach (Jürgen Klopp). Although Virgil van Dijk did not win the award for The Best FIFA Men’s Player, he and Alisson were a part of FIFA FIFPro Men’s World11.

Klopp, after consistently losing in the finals of major competitions such as the Champions League final twice (2012-13 and 2017-18) and the UEFA Europa League Final (2015-2016), he finally was able to get over the hump and win his first major European trophy. Klopp’s journey to glory came with a few bumps in road, having to overcome a massive deficit against FC Barcelona to win 4-3 on aggregate in the semi-final. It ended in glory as Klopp and Liverpool were able to defeat Premier League foe Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in Madrid to clinch their first Champions League trophy since the 2004-2005 season. Klopp had received 48 percent of the vote, edging out fellow Premier League managers Pep Guardiola of Manchester City (38 percent) and Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham Hotspur (27 percent) for the top award.

Alisson was able to land the award for The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper after becoming a world-class player for Liverpool in their Champions League triumph and for Brazil in their victory at CONMEBOL Copa América, having been named the Best Goalkeeper and to the Team of Tournament as well. He was able to beat out FC Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen and fellow Brazil compatriot Ederson of Manchester City to win the award as the best goalie in the world.

Virgil van Dijk, although not able to win the award for The Best FIFA Men’s Player after FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi received 46 percent of the votes, was able to finish second in the race with 38 percent of the votes, just above Cristiano Ronaldo’s 36 percent. The center back had an incredible 2019 as he helped lead a Liverpool defense in their Champions League journey while also playing a key role for the Netherlands during the UEFA Nations League, making it to the finals before ultimately losing to host Portugal.

Alisson and van Dijk were also able to make the FIFA FIFPro Men’s World11, recognizing the best 11 players in their respective positions during 2019. They made the list along with Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax/Juventus), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Frenkie de Jong (Ajax/FC Barcelona), Eden Hazard (Chelsea/Real Madrid), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), and Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona).

This year was successful for Liverpool as not only were they recognized as a great team by winning the Champions League but received individual awards thanks to those who played a pivotal role in a season their fans will never forget.

Is Zidane What Real Need?

Just over a year ago, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid were claiming their fourth Champions League in five years, and their third in a row. A far cry from the side that crumbled against PSG on Wednesday evening.

They managed to hold off a Liverpool side yet to reach the heights of last season, helped by two calamitous errors from Loris Karius.

This Real Madrid side that ruled Europe was packed with individual brilliance, from back to front. Yet, particularly in the last couple of years, it has felt as though this is a side lacking in the collective.

There was no particular style of football you could really label Los Blancos with aside from that of being a pure winning machine, which some may very fairly argue is the most impressive and important style of all. 

While their individual brilliance saw them through Champions League nights, it generally failed to sustain Real properly throughout a league campaign. Throughout their five year period of continental dominance, Los Blancos only won La Liga once. 

On the flip side, you have Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. A superb collective that can dominate over a season in the league, where a one off bad result can be bounced back from. But the chaotic nature of the Champions League knockout stages does not allow for such things. It’s hard to deny that there is a strong element of luck in pretty much all knockout competitions. 

At times, it has felt like fortune favoured Real. Spirited and deserving opposition performances were put to the sword with moments of fortune and brilliance. Overhead kicks have seemingly been a particular feature of Real’s recent dominance in the Champions League. 

And who could deny the wondrous ability of their players. A front three of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric creating in midfield anchored by Casemiro.

Even in defence, Real Madrid had more excellent attackers. Marcelo and Dani Carvajal probably spent most of their time in the opposition half, and Sergio Ramos’s goal threat from set pieces is admirable.

But this attacking brilliance felt like a problem lying in wait – a lack of coherence and defensive stability. Casemiro was thrown in at the base of midfield, but at times it appeared to be more like Pritt Stick trying to hold an aeroplanes wings on. 

There was a fragility covered up by superstar moments. Real’s midfield and attack had little defensive nous aside from their Brazilian anchorman. And Marcelo’s frequent raids forward left so much space in defence, not helped by Ramos’s instinctive drive to attack the ball. 

It’s miraculous that these weaknesses were never really exploited. It felt inevitable that they would be, and that the time would soon come to shift on Los Blancos’s brilliant but ageing stars. 

Now we skip ahead past their disaster of 2018/19, with Ronaldo’s departure and the chaos of Julen Lopetegui, to the present day back with Zidane. 

There has been some forward shift. Eden Hazard has taken up the number seven shirt, and Vinicius Junior emerged into the first team last season – a child of the 2000s. 

But in defence, there are still issues. Ramos is a conundrum – there is no denying his incredible and combative defensive ability, particularly in one on one duels. But he is reckless, often darting from his position and leaving space in behind him.

However, Real Madrid seem to struggle to cope without him. He was missing last night against PSG as Los Blancos fell to a 3-0 defeat. That was thanks to a two match suspension he picked up for deliberately getting a yellow card in the first leg of Real’s last 16 tie against Ajax. We all know how that second leg went. 

Nacho Monreal also being suspended won’t have helped Zidane and Real, but their failings in Ramos’s absence shows their reliance on individuals – be it through their ability or character. 

Ramos is far from the perfect defender, but he is an aggressive leader and Los Blancos seem to struggle without him. They also, of course, have struggled since Ronaldo’s departure. Not only have they lost his show-stopping moments on the pitch, but also the leading character of the Real Madrid blockbuster. 

Marcelo, for all his frankly laughable defensive lapses, also seems to be a missed presence when he is not in the side. Even when he hits crosses woefully behind their intended recipient, they get finished off via overhead kicks. Some of those sparking moments seem to be fading.

And perhaps this shows what the strength of Zidane was and is. Somehow fashioning this unwieldy band of superstars into a single minded and driven unit, capable pulling off spectacular moments to win big matches – matches they arguably sometimes did not deserve to win. 

But now there is a rebuild going on. The superstars from that team are dispersing, waxing and waning. Zidane has an entirely different task on his hand to when he first took up the Real Madrid job. Old structures will have to be knocked down for new ones to be built, and Zidane may not have the right managerial talents to do so.