Posts by Jamie Kemp

Lionel Messi set to pose Max Allegri an unsolvable problem

lionel-messi-01It was just last summer that Luis Enrique and Max Allegri came to be. A couple of months separated their arrivals at Barcelona and Juventus, but they drew familiarity in the immediate questions surrounding their promotions. While the Asturian was scrutinised in his ability to manage a top European club, Allegri was deemed a step down from the departing Antonio Conte; even ridiculed at times. And yet one year on, both men stand on the precipice of an historic treble.

Time has healed the apprehension surrounding the pair, while a triumph for either on Saturday night would take them to once unimaginable heights. Even the most diehard of detractors would have a job on then, though the fashion in which the game is won and lost will perhaps leave the biggest imprint.

With Barcelona heading into the contest as favourites, a dispatch of Juve akin to that of the Bayern and Paris St-Germain games would see the Catalans archived as another of Europe’s greatest ever teams, while Luis Enrique would converge the path of Pep Guardiola’s historic reign some years before. Though the front three of Messi, Neymar and Suárez will hog the billboards for as long as they are together, their coach and his associates are special talents too (as much as it continually appears taboo to say).

The sheer fitness, intensity and hunger displayed by Barcelona this year puts pay to the feelings that the coach doesn’t have a grip on his team. More than that, they are a renewed beast; boasting more tools than possibly ever before. Their transformation in terms of set pieces at the hands of Juan Carlos Unzué, perhaps a leading example of that.

The task for Max Allegri on Saturday night is a different one entirely though. For the Italian, preparing the most meticulous, ingenious game plan ever seen in a European final, could still see his team leave empty handed at this rate. For unlike his opposite number, Allegri can only hope that his team are spared in the German capital. “It’s practically impossible,” the Juventus manager said on Monday.

He was referring to the potential man-marking of Lionel Messi; a decision which he will have soon retracted had he been thinking of it before last weekend’s Copa del Rey final when the Argentine obliterated his Basque opposition. It’s not that Juventus don’t have potential match winners too, it’s just that they’re not Messi.

Juventus stalwart Gianluigi Buffon has since echoed Allegri’s sentiments too. “Messi is an alien that dedicates himself to playing with humans,” the captain said on Tuesday. “The only hope is that this Saturday he will be from earth, like the rest of us.”

It’s pertinent that Juventus’ inspiration, as well as the man who will be his team’s last port of call for stopping the little man, feels that way. But it only serves to reinforce the cyclone that the ‘Old Lady’ could be preparing to enter at 7.45 on Saturday night.

2015 has simply produced a monster in Messi; thanks to a changing of diet, a tinkering in his role, and a new-found measure in his work. He is far removed from the long-haired wild man who came to prominence almost a decade ago. Nowadays, he plays with the aura of realised genius and can kill you from anywhere, seemingly whenever he chooses at the moment.

Last weekend at the Camp Nou, he chose slaloming past four Athletic Bilbao defenders and hammering past Iago Herrerín with a run that began from a static position on the halfway line. Until then, Ernesto Valverde’s team were coping perfectly. After Messi had done, they were never the same.

For the weeks of preparation that both managers and teams will have undergone by the time the ball rolls in Berlin, the end result can be shaped by one man alone. And therein lies the difference for Luis Enrique and Max Allegri.

While both have proved themselves to be excellent organisers and tactically astute operators throughout the tournament, the Catalans hold the pawn. Allegri is capable of matching Luis Enrique stride-for-stride, except the one area; the one where Messi goes.

Television graphics tell you that’s on the right wing, but it’s not. There is no tracking his trail. It spreads like a raging wildfire, before there becomes too many flames to extinguish. If it’s not the man himself putting the ball away, he will supplement the equally insatiable appetite of those around him.

Of course, Messi is not solely responsible for Barcelona standing ninety minutes away from a treble. Nor are his partners in crime, Neymar and Suárez. The longevity and consistency of the team’s success could only have been born of an outstanding collective effort; one that has emanated from Luis Enrique and his associates, and gradually immersed within their ultra-talented squad. But when it comes down to ninety minutes, these are the ones who make the difference. Messi has done so in every Champions League final he’s been fortunate enough to feature.

In the German capital, Juventus will present themselves as the underdogs, though they would be unwise to think heart and desire will bridge the discrepancy in quality. Gifted beyond measure Luis Enrique’s team may be; uncompetitive they are not. Barcelona will not wilt, whatever the Italians throw at them. And that is an asset that can be directly credited to the young manager’s regime.

They will need to call on those qualities one more time this season, where the prize is bigger than ever. If Barcelona get their approach as accurate as they have done for pretty much the entirety of 2015, it is their game to lose. The work has been done, the criticism has evaporated, and the Catalans could not be in a better place on the eve of the final.

One more effort is required from Luis Enrique and his team, and there’s little evidence to suggest it won’t be forthcoming. If it’s business as usual for the Blaugrana in a collective sense, Juventus have problems. If it’s business as usual for Messi too, they have an unsolvable problem.

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 JAMIE KEMPjamie k avatar is a freelance football writer focusing on the Spanish game in particular. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich to see Guardiola turn pragmatist

Pep Guardiola returns to the Camp Nou. There’s little else to be said that will inflate the sense of event. Four ultra-successful years he spent managing his boyhood club, and now he’s back. Back in attempt to silence the Colosseum that he had always dreamed of igniting.

 

He still loves Catalunya and misses it from his Munich base, but his intended legacy requires that Bayern approach this tie with no sentiment whatsoever. With stars in the form of Arjen Robben, David Alaba and Franck Ribery all missing for tomorrow night’s game, a positive result will irrevocably take pride over place. Though he may be renowned as a serial perfectionist, he is a serial winner who will do whatever it takes to progress at this point.

The 44-year-old failed by his own admittance last year. Real Madrid blitzed Bayern in the semi-final, in a game he later describe as the ‘biggest mistake’ of his career. For his German escapade to have been worthwhile to this date, he can’t afford to not leave his mark on the Champions League for a successive season. It’s an almost incomprehensible reality for him. Barcelona must be stopped.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Barcelona 7/4

Real Madrid 2/1

Bayern Munich 5/2

Juventus 15/2

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

On Monday, Sport newspaper headlined ‘Obsesionado con Messi’. It was in reference to Guardiola’s on-going plans to stop the Argentine, which have no doubt occupied his mind ever since Bayern’s ball was pulled out of the hat in Nyon. He has seen Messi trample on teams at this stage of the tournament before, more often than not from the Camp Nou touchline. Guardiola stood slack-jawed like the rest of us when Messi demolished Bayern back in 2009.

Reports from the city suggest that his initial plan to combat him would have been a man-marking job done by David Alaba; a player he considers athletic and intelligent enough to have put the brakes on Messi. With the Austrian unavailable for selection through injury, however, it’s now anyone’s guess as to how they will go about it.

And as much as he knows the damage Messi can cause, he will also know that Barcelona still have the ability to serve him up a taste of his own medicine. Despite the front three of Neymar, Suárez and Messi taking the plaudits in 2015, Luis Enrique’s midfield area in particular have demonstrated a renewed ability to control and alter the tempo of games in their favour. In fact, many have said the current team is the closest model to Guardiola’s that we’ve seen since he left in 2012. “This Barça presses more, defends better and now they have Suárez too,” Javi Martínez said earlier in the week.

 

The Catalans have been in superb form over the past few months. Their preparation could hardly have gone better. They remain in the ascendency in La Liga, their strike trio are undoubtedly the finest in Europe at present, and unlike their rivals, their team doctor might have one of the easiest jobs in the city.

Elsewhere, Bayern may have already wrapped up the Bundesliga title, but they come into the game on the back of two consecutive losses. A defeat in the German Cup semi-final against Borussia Dortmund has been followed by a 2-0 slip against Bayer Leverkusen; a game which ex-midfielder Owen Hargreaves described as ‘the worst you will see [Bayern] play’. It may only be two games, but momentum shouldn’t be taken for granted when the stakes are so high.

 

With the Germans’ injury record, it appears to be advantage Barcelona ahead of tomorrow night. The timing of the meeting is undoubtedly favouring the first leg hosts but they should be wary. Guardiola failed last year and is back again – sharper, hungrier and desperate to right his wrongs. His affinity for Barcelona will not stand in his way of stepping on them. And regardless of that, his legacy demands that he does. But be sure in the fact that Luis Enrique is equally hungry to chop down his friend in the name of building his own.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Barcelona to win the first leg with both teams to score is 2.89 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Atlético have Real Madrid’s number ahead of Champions League revenge mission

 

And so they meet again. Twice in the league, twice in the Copa Del Rey and twice in the Spanish Super Cup. Yet still, arguably the biggest of their meetings this season is still to take place.

Atlético have undeniably man-handled los Blancos this season. Through their six clashes during the current campaign, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have failed to pick up three points on every occasion, losing on a collective aggregate score of 12-4. Some have been utter savageries from ‘Cholo’s’ warriors, some have been close encounters. But few doubt that Atlético thoroughly have Real’s number.

 

 Atlético Madrid v Real Madrid First Leg Betting Odds:

Atlético Madrid win 7/4

Real Madrid win 8/5

Draw 43/20

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Their most recent meeting provided the best evidence of it, as the European champions were beaten well past the brink of embarrassment. “They were better than us in every aspect”, Ancelotti said, after Atlético pulverised his team by four goals to nil. It had been 17 years since los Rojiblancos had beaten Madrid at home, and 38 years since they had scored four or more in a derby on home soil.

The fact that Tuesday night’s clash comes in the Champions League makes it all the more interesting. It’s the competition that captures Real’s imagination like no other; the one which Madridista’s feel is ‘their’ competition. Nobody has won it more, and their hunger for it will never fade. As well as that, it’s the platform in which Real were last victorious over their feisty neighbours.

When they met in the final in Lisbon last summer, Real captured ‘La Decima’ to devastating effect. Atlético had been on the brink of a fairytale league-and-cup double, until Sergio Ramos’ 93rd minute header took the game to extra-time. The blow proved to be too strong for Simeone’s team, who eventually fell to a crippling 4-1 defeat.

If Ancelotti’s men are going to end their miserable streak against their rivals, it seems like the Champions League will be the most likely platform in which they can do so. It’s a competition in which they can bear confidence, knowing their prestige and recent success in, as well as the fact they have the opportunity to win back-to-back titles for the first time since the 1950’s.

And in terms of the spectacle of Tuesday night itself, the stars have aligned as we edge nearer to show time. It’s expected that both coaches will be able to field full-strength eleven’s for the first leg, with the likes of Diego Godín, Mario Mandžukić, Gareth Bale, Pepe, James Rodríguez and Luka Modrić all timing their returns from injuries nicely.

So, on the verge of their most pivotal clash of the season, the question becomes: How long can Diego Simeone prolong this dominance over Real? His opposition have been buoyed dramatically in recent games by the return of James Rodríguez, while Cristiano Ronaldo has hit fine form ahead of the derby. If ‘El Cholo’ can manage it again, it might just be his team’s most impressive triumph of the lot.

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Juventus vs. AS Monaco

Elsewhere on Tuesday night, Max Allegri’s flying Juventus (11/25 to win the first leg with Intertops.eu) welcome Monaco (15/2) to Turin for their own Champions League quarter-final meeting. The Italians breezed past Borussia Dortmund en route to this stage, and look to boast Serie A’s most promising European threat for some time.

Many had doubted Juve’s credentials following the managerial switch from Antonio Conte to Allegri, but the veteran boss has done remarkably well since taking the reigns at the club. Speaking in midweek, Carlos Tevez praised the impact of his manager, and insisted that they can match anyone in Europe. “We are a more relaxed team now thanks to the calmness of Allegri,” he said, “I think now instead what we have is a team. We are very difficult to beat, much like Atlético Madrid a year ago.”

In their French opponents, Monaco sprung the shock of the previous round when they dumped out Arsenal. Not many had tipped Leonardo Jardim’s side to make it to the quarter-final stage, but now they are here, their lack of pressure could be a dangerous weapon that Juve will need to be mindful of.

They also lay claim to having the best defence in Ligue 1 under the Portuguese boss this season, and might well have the credentials to frustrate the Italians at the Juventus Stadium tomorrow night.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Atlético Madrid and Juventus to both win their first legs is 3.96 with Intertops.eu

 

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Villarreal and Sevilla set to resume their La Liga battle in Europe

 

The first thing to say with regards to this match-up is that the other 14 teams in the competition should be pretty damn pleased. Both Sevilla and Villarreal have the credentials to go all the way in this tournament, and one of them is going home after this tie. The second thing to say is, the Europa League’s Round of 16 has provided its audience a game of tremendous value at this stage of the tournament.

 

Villarreal v Sevilla Betting Odds:

Villarreal win Evens

Sevilla win 53/20

Draw 47/20

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

When they met in October at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, a 93rd minute penalty from Carlos Bacca completed a painfully late turnaround for Sevilla, who had gone 1-0 down with just ten minutes of the game to play. It was an encounter that entirely summed up the ultra-competitive relationship between these two sides, who are currently separated by a single point in La Liga’s race for Europe.

Things have changed since their last meeting though. Sevilla’s 2-1 win over Villarreal took them to second in the league after nine games, while their not-so-clinical opponents lurched closer to mid-table. Over the turn of the year however, the Yellow Submarine have hit their stride devastatingly. And with one man in particular giving them an edge nobody had foreseen.

 

If you’ve not heard of him yet, Luciano Vietto is the 21-year-old terrorising every defence in Spain. Not even the top three have been able to escape his demolition so far, in which he has chipped in with a staggering 19 goals in his first season outside of Argentina. He has already slammed one home in front of Sevilla’s infamous north stand this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him have the same effect on Thursday night.

Stopping Vietto doesn’t mean stopping Villarreal by any means though. Marcelino has got his team functioning tremendously well; the Argentine just so happens to be exceptionally well-versed in contributing and benefiting from the team’s production. The loss of captain (and talisman) Bruno Soriano in mid-February has perhaps demonstrated best how the system prevails over all at Villarreal, who have barely skipped a beat since drafting in Tomás Pina at the heart of midfield.

 

It’s just as well that they have kept the show rolling too. Sevilla haven’t lost a game on home soil this season, which is a record that no other team in Spain can lay claim to. The reigning Europa League champions have not always thrilled in Unai Emery’s second season, but there is no doubting their tenacity and stubbornness. Managing the two-legged affair with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the previous round is nothing to be sniffed at, and only serves to reinforce their credibility in this competition.

The fact is, Sevilla are very well suited to competing over two legs. With the immovable duo of Grzegorz Krychowiak and Vicente Iborra doing their work in front of the back four, it takes a skilled outfit to break down the team’s defensive core. At the same time, the energy of Vitolo and Aleix Vidal on the wings can be a devastating weapon, as Gladbach found out rather harshly last month.

 

The Europa League can be scoffed at by some, but it’s a platform which Sevilla have come to associate with massively in recent years. “It’s a competition we love,” Unai Emery said after the Gladbach victory. He speaks for the fans when he says that too, and their voices will be heard in Castellón on Thursday evening.

For Villarreal however, this is a mammoth-sized opportunity. Marcelino’s team selections over the last month have said so themselves. Significantly rested elevens have graced the league just recently, with this exact game in mind. Knocking out a team of Sevilla’s pedigree would be symbolic, and a real incentive to go on and think about winning their first honour since 2004. But first, some real groundwork is going to have to be laid at their El Madrigal home.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Villarreal to win the first leg and both teams to score is 5/2 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Barcelona and Atléti hope to continue Spanish dominance of Champions League

 

Ahead of the weekend, Barcelona had won eleven consecutive games in all competitions, and Luis Enrique was on the verge of breaking Pep Guardiola’s best winning streak in his time at the club. Meanwhile, Premier League champions Manchester City had won just once in their last six games, including two comprehensive losses on the way.

However by the time weekend was over, the landscape for their Champions League meeting had taken a rather surprising turn. The Catalans were beaten 1-0 at home by Málaga on Saturday, in what was one of the Blaugrana’s worst performances of the season. Over in Manchester just an hour or so later, Manuel Pellegrini’s team obliterated Newcastle United by five goals, while it could easily have been more.

 

Manchester City v Barcelona Betting Odds:

Manchester City win 9/4

Barcelona win 11/10

Draw 9/5

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

These two teams faced each other in the same round last year, meaning their impending reunion has been met with considerably less enthusiasm than last time. Barcelona won 4-1 on aggregate on that occasion, which came as a surprise to few. And considering the form of both sides coming into the weekend, a similar outcome wouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone.

Luis Enrique’s time in the Barça dugout has been interesting to say the least so far. At times, the magnitude of the job has looked daunting for him. On occasions, almost as if the role was feeling like a chore. But from faltering against the likes of Getafe and Real Sociedad over the turn of the year, Barça had begun to carve the figure of a team capable of winning honours through January and February. The Camp Nou had even begun to sing Luis Enrique’s name on match days – an often-clear sign that things are certainly going well.

The Málaga defeat has drawn flashbacks to a duller time in his tenure, however – a time when the machine was not working as it should. Knowing the furor that can quickly envelope a team with such a spotlight, one loss can rapidly turn into much more. “The losses hurt and it takes effort to get over them. We have a spectacular challenge ahead of us in three days,” said Enrique on Saturday evening.

A flicker of doubt has begun to ember again, and it’s Barça’s job to ensure it doesn’t become a fire. They have more than enough to do so. Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez may very well be the best front three in world football, and not just on paper.

But for Manchester City, it’s their job to add fuel to that Barça ember tomorrow night. If the Catalans’ reaction is half-hearted, Manuel Pellegrini’s side may have enough to ignite it on home soil.

_______

2010 was the last time, and only time, Atlético Madrid (3/2 to win the first leg with AllYouBet.ag) and Bayer Leverkusen (37/20) have met in their history. They faced each other twice in the Europa League group stages that year, playing out 1-1 draws on both occasions. The Germans topped Group B in the competition, while the team from the Spanish capital missed out on qualification behind Greek side Aris Saloniki. Atlético compounded a Europa League exit with a 7th place league finish in the 2010/11 campaign. Over in the Bundesliga, Leverkusen finished 2nd above Bayern Munich.

Cut to present day and the Diego Simeone-led Atlético are a different beast entirely. Only Real Madrid could halt them in Europe last season, and even then, they were less than a minute away from Champions League glory. At this stage last year, they swept past AC Milan by five goals to one on their route to the quarter-final. Leverkusen were hammered 6-1 by Paris St-Germain.

The Germans have quite arguably been handed the most daunting draw of all. Not the most dangerous, but quite certainly the toughest. Getting a result at the BayArena is near imperative for Leverkusen, considering Atlético haven’t lost a Champions League game at home since Simeone arrived. And unfortunately for Schmidt’s side, November was the last time they won at home in any competition.

Many had seen the losses of Thibaut Courtois, Filipe Luis and Diego Costa as the beginning of Atlético’s downfall: the end of their flutter at the helm of European football. But Diego Simeone and co have kept the show rolling at the Calderón, with new stars being impressively embedded. The strike duo of Mario Mandžukić and Antoine Griezmann has been a resounding success so far – with the latter bringing immeasurable ability to the capital, as well as a new-found hunger and work rate. 14 goals in his last 14 games means the diminutive Frenchman is indeed the man to watch in this tie.

“The Champions League is always special. Now we begin the challenging part – it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a game we’ve been waiting for for weeks,” said Atlético goalkeeper Miguel Ángel Moyá over the weekend. Last year’s finalists are back to accomplish what they couldn’t last year, and Leverkusen are in their way.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Atlético Madrid to take a 1-0 lead back to the Spanish capital is 6/1 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Carlo Ancelotti’s World Champions primed for tricky Mestalla trip

Jesé scored the winner for Real Madrid in last season's corresponding fixture

Jesé scored the winner for Real Madrid in last season’s corresponding fixture

As is customary in Spain, the winter break allowed a brief cooling-off period for all twenty La Liga teams. But it’s now back to full throttle for a select few. While fellow top four clubs Atlético Madrid and Barcelona resume with games against bottom half clubs in the form of Levante and Real Sociedad respectively, the resumption of play in the Primera División looks a little less comfortable for Valencia and Real Madrid.

Valencia v Real Madrid Betting Odds:

Valencia win 17/4

Real Madrid win 53/100

Draw 16/5

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

The pair are set to clash at Mestalla on Sunday evening, in what looks sure to represent matchday 17’s tastiest fixture. Carlo Ancelotti’s side haven’t faced a top four team on the road this season in La Liga – and with their 22 game winning streak on the line once more, victory at one of the toughest grounds in Spain would send another devastating statement of intent for Los Blancos. On the other hand, a Valencia team who have dwindled a little in recent months need no better motivation than a victory over the untouchables from the capital as they prepare for a renewed Champions League push in 2015.

Many have been scanning Madrid’s upcoming schedule for games that could prove a little more problematic for the European Champions, and there aren’t many that rival this one. Although Valencia’s early season form hasn’t been quite been as well maintained through the winter months, their exploits on Mestalla soil very much have. Despite taking a relatively disappointing 12 points from a possible 24 since the beginning of November, their home form remains impressive. Visits from Barcelona, Athletic Club and champions Atlético Madrid among others have seen their defence surrender just 4 goals in 8 games, while a 3-1 win over the latter in October shows exactly what they are capable of on their day.

Another factor likely to be putting fire in the bellies of those associated with Valencia, is the contrasting nature of their winter break. By the time the game comes around, the home side will have had 18 days of rest and preparation time ahead of the game – about as good a time as any to welcome the European Champions if you’re Nuno Espírito Santo. And if the Valencia boss wasn’t already satisfied with the favourable circumstances of the schedule, he’ll have enjoyed receiving the news that Real Madrid had some air miles to clock up during that time. Their opponents arrived in Morocco on December 14th for the Club World Cup, with games against Cruz Azul on the 16th and in the final against San Lorenzo on the 20th. From there, they had time for a short breather, before then setting off for Dubai on the 29th for a friendly against AC Milan. A game which Ancelotti later referred to as little more than a nuisance when he assured their surprise 4-2 loss “didn’t hurt at all”.

Of course, Los Blancos’ fate isn’t already sealed for their Mestalla trip. Madrid’s winter break wasn’t all a nuisance by any means. They picked up their fourth trophy of 2014 with their Club World Cup triumph over San Lorenzo, which officially (but rather unofficially) makes them the best team in the world right now. The defeat against Milan will have been forgotten by the time they boarded the plane, in what represented more of a ‘fatigue-preserving’ fixture, rather than a ‘competitive’ one. As far as Ancelotti was concerned, his team’s winter break objectives were signed and sealed back in Morocco. The Italian will assumedly remain as happy as a manager could be, and a friendly defeat matters little to him. When the lights are on and it’s time to compete, his team have decimated nearly all that have stood in their way. But taking on a well-rested (to say the least) Valencia, who have spent over two weeks transfixed on the task in hand, is a fresh challenge that should be well considered. A game far removed from the environment in which they took on Milan in Dubai – one in which even Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid team were humbled. If anyone is going to halt the European Champions in the league, few look to have a better chance than Valencia on home turf.

Spotting chinks in the armour will have become a leading pastime for La Liga bosses up and down the country in recent months, and Real Madrid’s opposition have had a generous amount of time to achieve that. An 18-day break is a lifetime in the midst of a league campaign, and assuming Nuno Espírito Santo has fine-tooth combed his preparation during that time, his team are in line for the next shot at the king. A shot that, even with the best intentions and the best preparation, might produce a few gulps on the Mestalla terraces come kick-off time.

Betting Instinct tip – Valencia to avoid defeat is 2.33 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Messi and Suárez face tough trip to Mestalla to take on Valencia

Luis Suárez will look to push on after opening his account for Barcelona in Cyprus

Luis Suárez will look to push on after opening his account for Barcelona in Cyprus

It was a case of opposing fortunes for two of La Liga’s finest in Jornada 12. After watching Luis Enrique’s Barcelona steamroll Sevilla by five goals to one on Saturday night, in what was arguably their most convincing performance of the season to date, Nuno Espírito Santo’s Valencia succumbed to a stinging 2-1 derby defeat at Levante.

Valencia v Barcelona Betting Odds:

Valencia win 17/4

Barcelona win 57/100

Draw 3/1

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Valencia’s red hot start to the season has suffered a few hiccups in recent weeks, which surely won’t be remedied too much by the arrival of Barcelona. Losses to La Liga strugglers Deportivo (a) and Levante (a) over the last month have raised questions about their prowess for a fourth place finish, after many were already pencilling them in for it at the start of October.

But despite that, while they returned to training after the weekend round of games, buoyed by the return of Paco Alcácer and an injury-free squad (at last), playing head tennis in their shorts under the still-relatively-warm East Coast sunshine, Barcelona were busy with European responsibilities out in Nicosia. First strike to Valencia then, eh?

Not quite so fast.

For this Barcelona team has recovered a lot of ground in a short space of time, following Luis Enrique’s first ‘mini crisis’ in the Barcelona dugout. To quickly recap — a convincing loss in October’s Clásico was quickly followed by a home loss at the hands of Celta Vigo (the first since Camp Nou was built). The dogged 2-1 win at Almería after that was hardly ‘champion material’ either (to put it kindly).

But two wins in two games since escaping their ‘rut’ is not as routine as it sounds. When Gianluca Rocchi blew his whistle for the last time in Nicosia on Tuesday night, it marked the end of what has been an extraordinary few days in the life of Lionel Messi (even by his reality-defying standards). Two matches, six goals, two long-standing records met. Sorry, obliterated.

In a week where the topic of commitment to his future at Barcelona resurfaced again, Messi put forward a resounding response in the only way he knows. Against Sevilla, one goal was needed to match Telmo Zarra’s 59-year-old La Liga record of 259 goals. Messi took three for his troubles. A couple of days later in Nicosia, again, one goal was needed to match Raúl González’s Champions League record of 71 goals. He snatched another three. Club Captain Xavi Hernández spoke with simple, yet precise conviction, when he recapped it by declaring: “If Leo is happy, then Barcelona is happy.” And that he certainly is.

As well as putting the icing on Messi’s cake of football domination in Cyprus, there were plenty of other positives to take from the game for Luis Enrique and his staff. Another four goals were added to the five notched at the expense of Sevilla, Luis Suárez got off the mark for the club, Jeremy Mathieu and Neymar were completely rested, and the tempo of the game was about as favourable as Barcelona could have wished for, despite Enrique pulling out Alba, Rakitić and Suárez in the second half, just to be safe. So, stroll in the Mestalla park then?

Hold.

A ‘stroll in the Mestalla park’ doesn’t exist. Valencia might have floundered a couple of times away from home, but that doesn’t apply in more familiar surroundings. Through 6 league games at home; they have won 5, drawn 1, scored 15 goals and conceded 3. Even the champions Atlético Madrid have been rolled over by Nuno Espírito Santo’s team, and you can count on one hand how many times that’s happened to Diego Simeone’s army in recent times.

Despite finding an alluring rhythm to their play at home so far, things have changed from last season off the field too. An 8th place finish last season was their worst since the 2007/08 campaign, as they missed out on qualifying for Europe for the first time in a good while. It was one to forget for the club; losing more games than they won, and conceding more goals than they scored.

But the summer brought renewed optimism on the East Coast of Spain. With Singapore billionaire Peter Lim now in the door, the cobwebs of Mestalla have been blasted off to devastating effect thus far. Attendances are back up, the songs are more frequent, louder. Fans now wait outside the ground in their thousands to welcome the team coach, as if every game is a cup final. Flares, songs, drums, raw passion. Good news for everyone but the opposition. To put it simply  — facing Valencia on their own turf is an entirely different proposal to welcoming them to your place.

In regards to team news ahead of Barcelona’s arrival, Valencia will be absolutely delighted to see their captain Dani Parejo back up to speed. The 25-year-old has been the heartbeat of the team so far, while his absence over the last few weeks has had a noticeable effect. Especially in the 2-1 defeat at Levante, where his team found themselves struggling 1-0 down after 70 minutes, only for Parejo to come on and immediately strike his team back into the game. As well as the skipper, joint top scorer Paco Alcácer also resumed training this week after a hamstring injury – another man who has been so influential to Valencia’s fortunes so far, especially at home.

Barcelona may have found their most satisfying patch of form in recent weeks, as well as being the proprietors of a red hot, record-breaking maniac — but make no mistake — they are coming into the Lion’s Den on Sunday night. Lion’s that are hungry from a painful derby defeat, in a Den where even the spirit of Atlético Madrid was pulverised.

Betting Instinct tip – Valencia to win or draw is 2.27 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Spanish/European Football Writer for Inside La Liga, uMAXITFootball and a host of others. He  is  also an FA Licensed Football Coach with a passion for youth development. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Struggling PSG get ready to welcome high-flying Barcelona

A win this week could help relieve some of the pressure on PSG coach Laurent Blanc

A win this week could help relieve some of the pressure on PSG coach Laurent Blanc

Champions League football is back in our lives this week – with the blockbuster fixture of round 2 taking place at the Parc des Princes. French champions PSG welcome Barcelona to the capital; in the clash everyone has been keeping an eye out for in Group F.

 

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona Betting Odds:

PSG win 23/10

Barcelona win 11/10

Draw 23/10

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Neither team got off to the most impressive start in their first group game, despite the Catalans getting off the mark with a win in their first game. They struggled to break down a resolute APOEL defence at the Camp Nou, scraping an uncharacteristic 1-0 win through a set piece header from Gerard Piqué. If PSG are to take confidence from anything Barcelona have done this season, it will unfortunately have to be that. Luis Enrique’s team are top of La Liga after six games, having yet to be beaten, and staggeringly, yet to concede a goal (in any competition). Their 100% start in the league came to an end away at Málaga last week in a 0-0 draw, but they got back on track in style at the weekend – bludgeoning Granada by six clear goals at home. The early days of Luis Enrique’s tenure have drawn parallels to that of Pep Guardiola – in his undying commitment to promoting youth players, while not being afraid to leave bigger names out of his first eleven.

The 44-year old has introduced the likes of Munir, Sandro and Sergi Samper into his squad this season – with the former two already scoring goals and contributing to their success. Samper made his debut in their game against APOEL, earning widespread credit for such a mature performance. After his debut, Enrique said: “Samper? Congratulations to him. He showed personality. He will be another great discovery for the club. He’ll help us this season”. Despite all three players being just 19, and surrounded by an array of the world’s best players, the confidence Enrique has shown in them so far, has been nothing short of admirable – especially in a summer where the club spent a lot of money on external transfers.

 

For Laurent Blanc’s side, it wasn’t the best start in Europe, as far as results go. They drew 1-1 in Amsterdam against Ajax, but were fortunate not to succumb to a late rally by the home side. Lasse Schöne leveled the game in the 74th minute after a first half Edinson Cavani goal, but that man Schöne nearly won it for them late on – hitting the bar with a late free kick.

Things haven’t been too great for them in Ligue 1 so far either. Through eight league games, Les Parisiens have incredibly drawn five times – with a good chunk of the games being uneventful, low-scoring draws. After the latest of those disappointing draws, at the hands of Toulouse on Sunday, Laurent Blanc told local media: “We’ve had a difficult start to the season. We’ve got the same team and the same coach as last season but we’re not winning matches as easily. At the moment, we’re not better than the others.”

 

The 48-year old Frenchman has been under intensifying pressure in his role at PSG. After picking up their first away win of the season at Caen the week before, another lackluster draw against Toulouse has the doubts growing once again, and not at a great time either, as they prepare to welcome high-flying Barcelona to Paris. His future may be in serious doubt if his team fails to put up a fight against Catalonian opposition – but at the same time, his team also have the perfect opportunity to bounce back and eradicate the sloppiness of recent weeks. A win over the La Liga leaders would be as timely a win as possible for Blanc, but their performance must be watertight if they are to overcome this Barcelona side – a team still licking their lips after the demolition of Granada on Saturday afternoon.

While Luis Enrique has a near full-strength squad on his hands for the trip to Paris, Blanc is still sweating on the fitness of star man Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swedish striker has been missing in recent weeks with a heel problem, while the PSG boss has insisted that “the medical team will do everything they can to have him ready”. For a team who has drawn six games so far already this season, Blanc will be praying that the mercurial Swede can be fit in time to take on this Barcelona side – one who have yet to concede a goal. The 32-year old will surely be as desperate to play against his former side Barcelona – a place that ended up being one of the least pleasurable flutters of his career. While Ibrahimović still holds hope of featuring, Blanc will be certainly without his captain Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who are both recovering from injuries. For Luis Enrique, he will be without Rafinha, Masip, Douglas and Vermaelen – four players who have yet to feature a great deal this season.

 

When the teams clash  on Tuesday night in Paris, the stage will be set for one team to right their wrongs, and another set to continue doing what they’ve been doing all along. A win for Laurent Blanc would earn himself some much needed job security, while a win for Luis Enrique would simply be another notch on the bedpost, but an impressive one at that. PSG must start fast against this Barcelona side, or dance with the devil of letting the Catalans get into their often-devastating rhythm.

 

Betting Instinct tip Draw at half-time/Barcelona at full-time is 15/4 with AllYouBet.ag

 

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Spanish/European Football Writer for Inside La Liga, uMAXITFootball and a host of others. He  is  also an FA Licensed Football Coach with a passion for youth development. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

Introducing this season’s class of homegrown Barcelona stars

Who will be the next La Masia graduate to break into the Barcelona first team?

Who will be the next La Masia graduate to break into the Barcelona first team? (source: FCBarcelona.com)

With the exception of Alen Halilović, a recent signing from Dinamo Zagreb, all of the players pictured above have been at Barcelona since they were at least 14 years old. Heck, some of them have spent most of their lives there. Sergi Samper has been a Barcelona player since he was just 6 – a footballing education that to the general football fan, is almost unfathomable.

Not including Halilović, all of these players are products of La Masia (Barcelona’s famed academy). They have all been with the club through their formative years, progressing through the ranks on a yearly basis. The majority of them are current Barça B players, however some of them have been catapulted to the first team fold from Juvenil A (Barça’ under-19 team). No matter where they’ve come from, Luis Enrique has deemed them good enough to feature with the first team during this year’s pre-season.

In this article, I take a closer look at some of the more impressive performers from Barcelona’s pre-season and discuss what the future holds for these Canteranos.

 

La Liga Outright Betting Odds:

Real Madrid -125

Barcelona +110

Atletico Madrid +1200

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

#3 Adama Traoré – Winger

Like Sergi Samper, Adama has been at La Masia since a very young age (8 years old). After competing on the International stage with Spain, the country of birth, he recently switched his allegiances to Mali. It might not feel like a blow for them right now, but it could well do in 3 or 4 years time. The wide man is a cocktail of frightening pace, power and directness. When you add a Barcelona footballing education to those attributes, the results could be devastating. Adama has been a fixture in the B side since 2013 and actually got a taste of first team action last year, coming on as a late substitute in games against Granada and Ajax in the Champions League. At the moment, it doesn’t count for much though.

During pre-season Adama often got 45 minutes to show what he could do. There were signs of a superstar ready to break out during the Nice game – one driving run from his own half all the way to the opposition penalty area sticks out. But there were also moments where he looked very raw. The biggest thing for Adama at the moment, is finding a place where he can feature regularly at a high level. I have absolutely no doubt that he is a star in the making, but the final part of the sentence is key – “in the making”. Experience at the top level is the final ingredient needed for Adama. It is the only thing he needs to become the player that many hope he can be.

#2 Sergi Samper – Centre Midfield

 Now, I’ve put Samper down as #2 in this list, but that’s purely based on this pre-season. In terms of overall prospects at La Masia, he is without a doubt the finest, for me. An elegant midfielder who performs way beyond his years, he is quite evidently the future of Barça’s midfield.

Samper has made 40 appearances for the B team, and increasingly one of the first names on the team sheet. He is a deep-lying playmaker who prides himself on his ball distribution and control of the midfield area, something he’s very well esteemed in. When you’ve played for Barcelona since you were 6 years old, those attributes tend to come fairly naturally.

In the game against Nice a few weeks ago, Barça struggled in the first half. Changes were made at half time and on came Samper in the pivot, to form a midfield trio with Xavi and Rakitić. The 19-year old fitted in seamlessly, it looked like he had 100 Primera games under his belt. Along with his more experienced midfielders, he helped Barça regain control of the midfield to plant the foundations of what was a much better 2nd half performance.

I’m unsure whether Samper will be included in the first team fold this season, although I think he’s absolutely good enough. The landscape for him will become a lot clearer over the next year, with his elder Sergi Roberto not really establishing himself in the first team despite 3/4 years of inclusion. At this point, I feel it’s only a matter of time before Samper surpasses him.

#1 Munir El Haddadi – Striker

And finally, the Spanish striker with the Moroccan name… Munir rose to fame last year after he guided Barça to a UEFA Youth League title win in Switzerland. He scored 11 goals in 10 games during the tournament, catching the attention of teams all over Europe.

After displaying such form, he was promoted to the B team last season where he went on to score 4 goals in 11 games in his debut season. An almost 1 in 2 ratio for a first year graduate is impressive, but Munir’s game isn’t totally reliant on scoring goals, unlike his previous records would have you believe. A clever forward who finishes just as well as he makes intelligent off-ball runs, his style for an eventual first team call-up is just what Luis Enrique will be looking for.

His debut season for Barça B was a fruitful one. Featuring regularly throughout pre-season, he has continually got better as the appearances have racked up. His most recent performance against Helsinki was the game-changer. He scored two goals and provided a clever assist in a brilliant 45-minute cameo. He had been making the right runs and doing all the right things throughout pre-season, but the game in Finland was when it all came together. Munir possesses a wide range of attributes that you would want in a modern-day striker. Maybe not blessed with the finest physical assets, but his mind works twice as fast as you could ever run.

Of all the prospects, I think a first team calls are most forthcoming for Munir and Samper. They are quite comfortably the most technically gifted pair from this year’s class, and I have no doubt that both of them could give a good account of themselves in the Primera if they were to be promoted right now. I don’t think their call-ups will come just yet, but I’ll be looking to both of them to really establish themselves towards the end of the season/start of next season.

 

Betting Instinct tip Barcelona to win their opener against Elche by two or more goals is -303 with Intertops.eu

 

Unfamiliar with American odds? Avoid confusion with our calculation guide.

 

JAMIE KEMPjamie k avatar is a Spanish/European Football Writer for Inside La Liga, uMAXITFootball and a host of others. He  is also an FA Licensed Football Coach with a passion for youth development. Follow Jamie on Twitter.