Tuesday, February 27, 2018

City's millions sweep Arsenal aside

GUARDIOLA BAGS HIS FIRST SILVERWARE AS ARSENAL STRUGGLE AGAIN

League Cup Final: Manchester City 3:0 Arsenal

Pep Guardiola has finally won a trophy in England, albeit the least prestigious, the League Cup. Yet no-one could begrudge the stunning improvement he has made to Manchester City this season.

League Cup Final: Manchester City 3:0 Arsenal
Etihad Stadium - home of Manchester City

The Blues are playing dynamic and flowing football week-in, week-out, garnished by a panoply of attacking talent, which rightly makes them the runaway leaders of the Premier League.

A bias for attacking has been rewarded, while Jose Mourinho's defence-first, deny-second, attack-third mentality resides in a distant second in the table.

The acid test is of course Europe and the prospect of a Champions League final between City and Guardiola's former kingdom of FC Barcelona is an exceptionally attractive one.

For every winner there is a loser of course and Arsenal did not just lose but took a brow-beating at Wembley. So comprehensive and numbing was their defeat that the fans probably wished they had been knocked out earlier.

The manner in which £35 million signing Shkodran Mustafi allowed Sergio Aguero to break free and open the scoring was truly the stuff of schoolboy football.

Domestic cups have been a tonic in recent seasons for Gunners fans coming to sorry terms with their gradual decline as a big club, last season's surprise F.A. Cup final win over Chelsea being a case in point.

But now Arsenal are out of both the League and F.A. Cup, having surrendered ignominiously away to Nottingham Forest in the latter. And with the North Londoners adrift again in the league, that leaves the gargantuan slog of this season's Europa League as their only hope.

That competition however has a stronger than usual lineup with Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Atheltic Bilbao, Lazio, Lyon and Marseille in the last 16. Oh and Milan, whom Arsenal face next.

Nevertheless, for all the gloom in Highbury, for all the angst that Arsenal cannot put together a run of good results and all the frustration that the club's faceless owners cannot think beyond a manager clearly in decline, Arsene Wenger still has the ability to pull the odd rabbit out of a hat as the recent win over Chelsea showed.

Guardiola is in a sense the new Wenger, the cultured multilingual foreigner bringing novel and exciting ideas to a staid football culture. The irony of Sunday's defeat was that Guardiola was said to have been interested in taking over at Arsenal after coaching Bayern Munich, but Wenger was going nowhere.

Yet make no mistake that the majority of the Blues' meteoric rise from perennial unachievers to potential European champions is still down to its owners' deep wallets.

While the coach is an outstanding one, probably the world's best in fact, the glittering arsenal (no pun) of talent that has jetted in to the Etihad is the main reason for his team's success.

City's squad for the final was collectively worth £777 million in transfer fees, constituting the most valuable in the history of the game.

Yet the most startling pre-match statistic from Wembley is worth repeating and ruminating upon: In 21  months, Guardiola had spent more money than Wenger had spent in 21 years.

If there were ever a reason for enforcing some financial fair-play in football, it is that jaw-dropping, inconvenient truth.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Champions League resumes

The Champions League resumes.
AND IT'S LOOKING LIKE A PREMIER YEAR

It feels a little churlish to have grown up in the 'terrace generation' of the 1970s and then look forward to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, given that I grew up understanding it as a cup for champions alone, as it still says on the tin.

However, in 2018 I was delighted to see the planet's premier club competition spurt into action again after the winter hiatus. January is a dead month in Europe in more ways than one, a turgid, virus-plagued icy slog after the lights of the Christmas period are packed away, the festivity forgotten and the summer is still hidden over the horizon.

Without the joyful injection of meaningful football, life is always a little grey and pallid so anything soccer-related is a welcome fillip right now.

There is no international football to get your teeth stuck into yet and even in a World Cup year, the 'Coupe du monde/Mondiale/Mundial/WM' is a long way off.

Some players changed clubs in the transfer window to get noticed in the run-up to the final squad announcement, but for most international-class players the World Cup is still at the back of their minds right now.

While the domestic leagues are wearily getting back into gear after the Christmas recess (outside of England that is), the domestic cups afford only slim pickings.

In England the biggest story seemed to be that megabucks Manchester City might get some of their stars crocked when playing in such lesser tournaments, more proof that the Champions League and Premier League have sucked the lifeblood out of domestic football.

Across the continent, Champions League money has created several domestic hegemonies but those same dynasties from the minor leagues have been caught in a no-man's-land of dominating at home but failing abysmally in Europe.

Porto's 0-5 and Basel's 0-4 home reverses to English clubs were proof enough of that. Those sort of scorelines should not be happening in the knockout stages but there are big inequalities even among the elite.

While Liverpool's erratic league form and lack of recent Champions League pedigree suggest they are unlikely to lift the trophy, they could equally make the last four and should not be underestimated.

Man City however look ominously good on all fronts. Pep Guardiola's magic powers are not confined to the playing fields of England and his side must be a candidate for the final now.

City have never won the competition before of course which makes talk of them being an unstoppable force a little unfair. In five years' time we might think differently of course. With the relentless buying power of their Emirate owners showing no signs of slowing down, a blue conquest of Europe seems inevitable.

Tottenham's rise is just as exciting and supporters nervously expect a famous night at Wembley in three weeks when they host Juventus, with whom they drew 2-2 in Turin.

Last season's finalists were humbled on their own patch having been so impregnable for so long, although Spurs' double concession in the first ten minutes was a reminder they still have things to learn at this level.

Rather like Monaco last season, Tottenham's exciting crashing of the party could lead to a feeding frenzy of its stars in the summer unless the club pull out all the stops. Dele Ali, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane will soon be weighing up staying part of an exciting project or earning more at one of the two Spanish giants or PSG.

Reports of Real Madrid's death have been exaggerated as they breathed late fire to defeat PSG 3-1 at home, although the second leg will still be a stiff test as the French have an away goal. Neymar, supposedly wishing to move to the Bernabeu, performed a surprisingly boorish audition and was lucky not to have received a second yellow card for an obvious act of simulation.

Chelsea v Barcelona is the pick of next week's ties and it would be a surprise if the Blues and their beleaguered coach can pull off a famous victory over the Spanish league leaders.

A blaugrana win could still mean half the quarter-finalists English, but talk of an all-Premier League final are premature as they could draw each other in the next round.

The two Spanish giants are still in the field and we should never write off Bayern Munich, who have the relatively modest obstacle of Besiktas to overcome.

The bookies currently rate Man City as favourites, closely followed by Bayern, Barcelona and Real.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fifa World Rankings February 2018

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for February 2018 were published on February 15 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. There is little change in the top 20 ranked teams in the world from January.

Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second and Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth. There is no change in the top 17 teams.

The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, France and Chile.

England are 16th, Wales are 20th. Tunisia are the top African team in 23rd place followed by Senegal in 27th.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 36th place; Japan are in 55th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 58th place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup. The South Koreans are in Group F.

The USA are in 24th but failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 31st position equal with The Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland are in 26th position.

1 Germany
2 Brazil
3 Portugal
4 Argentina
5 Belgium
6 Spain
7 Poland
8 Switzerland
9 France
10 Chile
11 Peru
12 Denmark
13 Colombia
14 Italy
15 Croatia
16 England
17 Mexico
18 Iceland
19 Sweden
20 Wales

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings