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.

______________________________________________

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

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Where will Juventus star Paul Pogba be next season?

 

Very few players command attention and interest across the globe consistently. We live in a world where Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo take turns in setting the bar higher and higher. This makes other footballers seem mortal, in comparison. But, one player who is keeping up with the best consistently is Paul Pogba. With an array of skills that can put any footballer in his shade, Pogba is making his own mark on the global arena.

 

At 22 years, Pogba is already a special player. The potential was always there and even the confrontations between clubs. When he joined Manchester United from Le Havre, there were accusations that United approached the player illegally. And when he left United to join Juventus in 2012, Sir Alex Ferguson went to the extent of alleging that Pogba had a contract with Juventus ‘a long time ago’. The underlying circumstances may have been different but the pain of losing a talented player was apparent.

Lack of game time was one of the reasons why Pogba left United for Juventus. Even before he kicked a ball for Juventus, everyone knew that the club was successful in grabbing the big prize. Over the last two years, he established himself as the lynchpin of the Juventus midfield. His agent Mino Raiola always maintained that Pogba is on par with the best in the world and is a future Ballon d’Or winner.

 

Torino v Juventus Betting Odds:

Torino win 31/10

Juventus win 10/11

Draw 11/5

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

 

The exploits of this talented playmaker haven’t gone unnoticed. Top European clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and Manchester City monitor his situation continuously and vie for his signature. It has even been suggested that his old club Manchester United is keen to get him back; and price is not a problem for any of these top sides. Pogba could spur any team to the heights of European glory and none of these teams would want to miss out.

 

Where does this leave Juventus? Surely, the club knows what it has and treasures the value of the player on its books. But, it is an open secret that it may not be long before they get a huge offer and Pogba leaves. Everyone remembers what happened with Zinedine Zidane when he was sold at the peak of his prowess by Juventus to Real Madrid.

Pogba may follow the footsteps of his idol and join the current Champions League holders, and the chances of him ending at Madrid will only increase if Zidane becomes the manager of the first team. However bitter rivals Barcelona are not willing to admit defeat and, if reports are to be believed, will offer huge money to Juventus once their transfer ban is over.

 

Whatever comes next, Pogba will continue to grab attention of every club and fan across the globe, and Raiola could be pardoned for continuously singing the praises of his player. The clubs could be forgiven for waiting with bated breath on what could be his next step. But, what is sure is that Pogba will be a global phenomenon for the next few years at least.

There may still be some naysayers who argue that Pogba is not yet at the level of Messi or Ronaldo. Truth be told, he is not at the same level; not yet! He has all the tools to challenge the game’s elite. It is just a matter of time.

 

Betting Instinct tip Juventus to win to nil in the Derby di Torino is 4.01 with Intertops.eu

sridhar_avatar SRIDHAR BHAMIDI is an avid football follower and follows most of the leagues. He is an experienced freelance writer  covering match reviews, reports, transfer news and betting articles. Follow him on Twitter.

 

Real Madrid and Barcelona see form fluctuate ahead of El Clasico

 

Lionel Messi was finished. Barcelona were in crisis. Luis Enrique in trouble. Now, they’re not. Barcelona are the league leaders, they’ve advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Enrique has figured out his best team. So of course, it’s Real Madrid’s turn.

Cristiano Ronaldo is done. Gareth Bale can’t score. Carlo Ancelotti is clueless. Real Madrid are firmly in what constitutes as a crisis these days. Which means that they are second in the league and have also advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. But there is some fire where the smoke is.

 

Barcelona v Real Madrid Betting Odds:

Barcelona win 67/100

Real Madrid win 31/10

Draw 16/5

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

 

Real Madrid are struggling where Barcelona are rising. While Barca were rampant in their destruction of Manchester City, Real came deathly close to being knocked out by a fervent Schalke squad. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Leroy Sané especially tried to squeeze the life out of Los Merengues. This after Real lost 1-0 to a suffocating Athletic Bilbao side. The sky was falling.

Then they beat Levante 2-0 to get back on track, and Gareth Bale, maligned throughout the season, scored a brace. Luka Modric, who the team sorely missed, and whose absence create an imbalance in midfield, returned. Even if Sané broke him down during the Champions League game. Ronaldo may be spending most of his time throwing temper tantrums, but he’s still as dangerous as ever. Form is hardly ever an indication in this game.

 

So that brings us to the present. All signs point to a Barcelona win, even if Real is resurgent. Barcelona have seemingly fixed the issues that had them written off mere months ago. The Neymar-Luis Suarez-Lionel Messi trio are playing breathtaking football. While the former BBC of their rivals are finding goals harder to come by. Mixed in with the rumors that there is discord within their ranks and it’s a sure recipe for disaster.

The job on Ancelotti’s hands then is to get his troops on the same page as quickly as possible. This is still the same team that won La Decima a season ago. It’s still the same cast of men who ran out 3-1 winners against Barcelona earlier this season. Even if some of the players have fallen victim to the injury gods, the quality of the group is no less.

 

Barcelona are still fragile in defense and they are still beatable. Even in the game against Manchester City, the English had many chances to claw back into the tie. Chances that you would expect a squad of Real’s calibre to finish. Hope is abundant still. If not for any other reason than for the fact that Los Blancos are immensely talented.

From Barcelona’s point of view, all that needs to be done is to continue down the same path. Messi is in irrepressible form. Unplayable and creative. He’s in the same type of beast-mode that earned him 89 goals in 2012, except now he has more weapons. Not only his improved passing but his cast.

 

Neymar spends as much time scoring as he does embarrassing defenders. Luis Suarez has found his place within the team. Ivan Rakitic is much more suited to Barcelona’s current style than Cesc Fabregas, and he’s much more physical as well. Javier Mascherano is a steel curtain of a man and Gerard Pique has found his brain again.

If they play as they’ve been playing the latter part of the season, things look bright. But if Barcelona take their opponents for granted; if they miss the same chances presented to them against City, Real will punish them. El Clasico is an entity in itself and any mistake or hesitation can easily cost either team.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Barcelona to win and both teams to score is 2.34 with Intertops.eu

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him 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.

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.

Can Athletic Bilbao Cast A Shadow On Barcelona’s New Dawn?

Spanish international Iker Muniain could cause real problems for a new-look Barcelona

Spanish international Iker Muniain could cause real problems for a new-look Barcelona

Anyone who has seen Spike Lee’s film 25th Hour will see parallels between Ed Norton’s last day before incarceration and Barcelona’s summer activity.

As of now the Catalan giants are essentially in transfer prison, unable to make any deals until 2016 due to breaches of FIFA regulations, and so has ended a frantic few months of getting all their affairs in order. Their first call of business was finding temporary homes for their fringe players, similar to Norton seeking shelter for his beloved pet pooch.

“Porto, can you take care of Tello for us? He’s well trained but look out for him weeing on the carpet”

Then came the headline-makers.

 

A raft of big-name departures and arrivals have given Barcelona an unfamiliar feeling of flux following a philosophy that was famously founded on a slow, stable build to invincibility and this upheaval is extended beyond the pitch with a change of president and a new coach in the form of club legend Luis Enrique.

Puyol, their lion, has retired from the pride and the selling of Fabregas and Sanchez surprised but their replacements have been astute and ruthlessly attained in Vermaelen, Rakitic, and the man employed to add some fight and bite to the tiki-taka, Suarez. Rampaging full-back Douglas, the experienced Mathieu, and two new keepers competing for the number one jersey completes an expensive hoard to see them through their transfer purgatory and it’s reasonable to assume it will be some time before we witness the same settled side appearing each week.

 

Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao Betting Odds:

Barcelona win 3/10

Athletic win 7/1

Draw 9/2

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

 

Enrique hasn’t been assisted in this regard by injuries, individual bans, and stars still shaking off the World Cup and the opening weeks have seen some La Masia schooled wonderkids breaking through and announcing their potential. One such teenage talent Sandro Ramirez crucially broke the deadlock at Villarreal to make it consecutive opening wins in their 2014/15 campaign and these kids are going to be invaluable to light up the Camp Nou until some sense of order is restored.

And what order is could ultimately be when Neymar fully recovers from his broken vertebra and Suarez sucks up his bite punishment to complete an attacking trio akin to a ten year olds on Football Manager. The third in that otherworldly triumvirate is of course Lionel Messi and the multiple Ballon D’Or winning genius wasted no time in ripping apart Elche on day one to banish any doubts of a Brazil hangover.

These have been turbulent, extraordinary times even by Barca standards and so it is vital they amass as many points as possible amidst the chaos. Once the dust settles you feel they will be unstoppable.

 

So it probably doesn’t help that week three sees them host an Athletic Bilbao side still buzzing from their Champions League qualification after an impressive play-off mauling of Napoli. Los Leones will be relishing their first group stage fixture for sixteen years when they face Shakhtar Donetsk three days hence – in their stunning new stadium to boot – but it is inconceivable they will weaken their admittedly slim chances of success here by ‘resting’ Iker Muniain and co. Quite the opposite: Ernesto Valverde’s men will be confident of taking advantage of any glitches in the new Barcelona matrix and in Aritz Aduriz they have a striker in the form of his life who will lead the line superbly and intelligently use any scraps of possession that comes his way. Though now 33, Aduriz has just this week been offered a contract extension and is enjoying nationwide calls to add to his single international cap.

Another key figure who makes an impossible result at least imaginable is Beñat Etxebarria whose combination of craft and graft in the middle is so indispensable for Bilbao. A fine season from the schemer and the sale of Herrera this summer becomes a distant memory for the Basque public. Blessed with guile and the ability to pick out a catalogue of passes it is Beñat’s willingness to run himself into the ground for the cause that makes him so priceless in a daunting fixture such as this.

 

Granted the visitors haven’t won in Catalonia since November 2001 but let’s not forget it was Athletic who derailed Barca’s express train last year with a 1-0 victory at the San Mames to end a fourteen game unbeaten run. They will be prepared for the possession stats to be heavily against them. They will be ready for Messi to mesmerise. But they will be undoubtedly up for the upset.

Should that occur then the optimism of Barcelona’s new dawn will see its first shadow cast.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Athletic to avoid defeat at Camp Nou is 3.26 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him 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.

Will Atletico Madrid be the new Bayer Leverkusen?

Will Atletico Madrid get the draw they need at Camp Nou?

Can Atletico Madrid get the draw they need at Camp Nou?

Liverpool v Arsenal. Lewis Hamilton v Felipe Massa. Scott Pilgrim v Gideon. There’s nothing like a great winner-takes-all battle.

 

This weekend Atlético Madrid travel to Camp Nou to face Barcelona, knowing that their destiny is in their hands over the coming weeks. Less than 10-days from now they could be La Liga and European champions against all the odds. Alternatively they could be trophiless and poised to lose their most prized asset Diego Costa.

As Diego Simeone’s Rojiblancos prepare for the double-header against Barça and Real Madrid, parallels can be drawn with Klaus Toppmöller’s famous Bayer Leverkusen side of the 2001-02 season. At this stage in the campaign they were still on course for a potential treble – top of the Bundesliga and with domestic and European finals around the corner – but they lost it all.

 

Barcelona v Atlético Madrid Betting Odds:

Barcelona win – 1.79

Atlético win – 4.10

Draw – 3.50

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The last decade and a half in German football has not quite been dominated by Bayern Munich, but when the Bavarian club have been at there best it has been tough for anyone to stop them. The likes of Stuttgart and Werder Bremen saw off an under-par Bayern during the 2000s, but only two sides have come close to stopping the 24-time champions: Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund and Toppmöller’s Leverkusen.

Captained by Germany international Carsten Ramelow, Leverkusen would have five players in the Nationalmannschaft the World Cup and a further six (Yıldıray Baştürk, Frankie Hejduk, Lúcio, Diego Placente, Jurica Vranješ and Boris Živković) also involved in Japan and South Korea over the summer. Atlético are likely to have just one fewer going to Brazil this year, if you include on-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

 

With four games remaining the title looked sewn up – a penalty from goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt set up a 2-0 win over local rivals 1. FC Köln, leaving them four points clear of second-placed Dortmund, and the following week the gap would extend to five. Two years prior an own goal from midfielder Michael Ballack in the final game had cost Leverkusen the title, but surely it couldn’t slip again, especially with Bayern out of the picture.

However a dramatic collapse, highlighted by defeats at home to Werder Bremen and away in Nürnberg, meant Dortmund could even afford to lose a game en route to stealing the title from Toppmöller’s men via a nervy final-day win. However all was not lost for the runners-up – they still had finals coming up in the DFB-Pokal and Champions League.

First came the domestic cup and a 4-2 defeat to Schalke, with a first-half goal from young striker Dimitar Berbatov being cancelled out by Jorg Böhme on the stroke of half-time before three second-half strikes ended the contest. However if Leverkusen were partly responsible for their own domestic failings, defeat on the European stage was hardly their fault. A majestic volley from Zinedine Zidane clinched a 2-1 victory for Real, handing the Spanish side their ninth European Cup, and they will continue to chase that elusive Decima this month against Atlético.

 

 

Like Leverkusen in 2002, if Simeone’s side are unable to clinch the title they will only have themselves to blame. They have been top since late March but have recently begun to slip with defeat to Levante and a draw at home to Málaga. A point will be enough to help them stumble over the line, but failure to do so may well impact upon the following weekend’s encounter with Real Madrid in Lisbon.

As with Leverkusen, there is danger of this Atlético side being dismantled after the season ends. They had already lost Falcao last summer but Diego Costa and David Villa have proved more than capable of filling the Colombian’s shoes. Whether they will be able to start again if Costa completes a mooted move to Chelsea this summer is the question on everyone’s lips.

Both Ballack and Zé Roberto moved to Bayern after the 2002 World Cup, while the next couple of years also saw talismanic striker Ulf Kirsten hang up his boots and Lúcio and Živković also depart. Similarly, Atléti may well lose out-of-contract midfielders Diego and Tiago this summer in addition to Costa.

 

While this is unlikely to be the end of the road for the individual members of the squad, 2014 could be Atlético Madrid’s last chance to break up the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have the ability, but can they pull out the performances when it really matters?

 

Betting Instinct tip – Diego Costa to sign off with the first goal in what could be his last La Liga appearance is 5.00 with GR88.com

 

GR88.com will refund selected losing pre-match bets in La Liga if the game in question ends goalless. Full terms and conditions can be found at http://www.gr88.com/promotions.

 

tv TOM VICTOR (editor) is the editor and co-founder of Betting Instinct. He has written for a variety of    sports sites in the past, including JustFootball, Footy Matters and BeNeFoot. You can follow him  on Twitter or Google+.

Barca or Real to claim the Copa del Rey in tonight’s El Clásico?

A Lionel Messi hat-trick inspired a 4-3 Barcelona win in the last El Clásico, can the Argentine do the same tonight?

A Lionel Messi hat-trick inspired a 4-3 Barcelona win in the last El Clásico, can the Argentine do the same tonight?

The 2014 Copa del Rey tournament comes to a close this evening at Valencia’s Estadio de Mestella where Barcelona and Real Madrid will re-enact their 2011 Copa del Rey Final at this venue that saw a tight game with Real snatching victory in extra time to claim a 1-0 win. Last year saw Real beaten on home soil by city rivals Atlético Madrid and with Diego Simone’s men beaten 5-0 aggregate in the Semi Finals, they’ll be desperate to finish off what they started last season.

However, it is not the capital city side that are favoured to take victory in this evening’s final despite a crushing win over Atlético, who eliminated Barcelona from the Champions League over two legs recently, thanks to them missing talismanic attacker Cristiano Ronaldo through knee and hamstring issues. Will they upset the odds to win tonight without the Portuguese striker?

Copa del Rey Final Betting Odds:

Barcelona – 2.28

Draw – 3.40

Real – 2.58

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Although Barcelona are favoured to beat Real Madrid this evening, are they really deserving of this favourites tag just because their opponents are missing their most important player for the match? The bookmakers clearly think so, but with away losses at Atlético Madrid and Granada in their last two games seeing them out of the Champions League and slip four points off the top of the La Primera Liga table are they now passed it? The last five games have seen Barca score more than a single goal in just one match and they are without a goal in two games before tonight. With Messi, Sanchez, Neymar, Iniesta, Xavi and the rest they still have more than enough to win any match, but with them not doing it regularly enough will they be defeated tonight and see them end the season with no silverware?

Real are not going to be as potent without CR7 in their ranks this evening, but he has not played a part in any of the sides last three matches and they have managed to score eight goals in this time. They defeated both Real Sociedad and Almeria 4-0 while also losing 2-0 to Borussia Dortmund in their second leg of the Champions League Quarter Finals. The Portuguese attacker was missed in Europe, but will the other star players in the side step up and put in the extra work. Players like Benzema, di Maria and Bale have been hit and miss at times this season, but they will just as desperate as Barcelona to win this trophy tonight in Valencia.

With the possibility of both sides matching each other in both the performing well or performing badly stakes tonight, how they have played in recent El Clásico matches could be the key to working out the winner tonight. The last six meetings between these teams have seen two wins apiece and two draws, with Barcelona winning the last two games between them, including taking a 4-3 win at the Bernabeu less than a month ago.

If the sides are equal in consistency and El Clásico performances, what could possibly separate the teams tonight? For me, Real have the better manager in Carlo Ancelotti and, while Barcelona have a perfectly good ‘A’ game if Ancelotti can outthink Martino, which he had done in March until Sergio Ramos’ red card, then this match is wide open for a Real Madrid victory. This is where my money is going on this evening’s Copa del Rey Final.

Back Real Madrid to beat Barcelona in this El Clásico and win the Copa del Rey Final @ 2.58 with GR88.com.

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.