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La Liga

Blog by: Souvik

A year after the English sides caught the ire of the Champions League; it was the bowing out of two of the biggest names from the Italian Serie A that made the headlines this time around. Juventus and Napoli formed the two biggest casualties of this year’s competition in the group stages. While Napoli could count themselves unlucky with the results coming out as they did, Juve’s performances in the group left a lot to be desired and was probably the lowest point in Antonio Conte’s tenure at the head of the Old Lady so far.

The Groups of Upset 

GS-Juve

 

Snow and misery poured down at the Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi as Group B claimed the first big casualty of the competition when Juventus were left floored. The defending Serie A champions, coming into the competition as one of its favourites were a poor shadow of themselves; managing to win only one of the 6 games in the group stage. Hail, snow and Wesley Sneider were enough to drill the final nail in the coffin for the bianconeri. However, even before the Dutch midfielder rippled the back of the net amongst ghastly conditions, Juventus had already made its bed. Conte summed it up perfectly in his post-game comment, “The regret is that we let everything go down to the last game”. You can’t say that you were put in a bad position after conjuring up only six points after first five games. Real Madrid on the other hand cruised through the same group with utter ease.

FBL-EUR-C1-NAPOLI-ARSENAL

 

Group F, the group of death in this year’s competition probably brought the biggest drama to the screens. Whilst Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund seeped through the cracks, Napoli was left distraught as the Italians were knocked out despite amassing 12 points in the group stage. Coming into the final game game, Napoli needed to beat Arsenal by 3 clear goals. Whilst an injury torn Dortmund side battled through to a 2-1 victory over a 10 man Marseille side to put their name in the draw for the second round, two second-half strikes from Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon was just too little too late for the azzurri. Thus, Napoli became the first team to finish third with 12 points in a Champions League group and the first to be eliminated with such a tally since 1997.

The group also brought us the first ever French team to be eliminated from the group stages of the competition without having registered a single point in the form of Olympique Marseille who looked a class below their fellow groupies throughout the competition.

So close, yet so far

SL Benfica v Paris Saint-Germain FC - UEFA Champions League

 

The margin between a place in the last 16 of the Champions League and a place in the much maligned Europa League is thin. While a few rejoiced at clinching their place amongst the last 16 of Europe’s elite, some “giants” in their own respect drifted down to the second tire of European competition. Amongst the big names as per say that failed to make the second stage were the pair of Portuguese giants Benfica and Porto.

Benfica fluffed their lines for the second consecutive season, going out from the group stages for the second consecutive season whilst being tied on points. After Neil Lennon’s Celtic the previous year, it was the turn of a Kostas Mitroglu inspired Olympiakos this time around to upset the applecart for the Pourtuguese powerhouse. Group C proved to be too strong for Benfica as a last gameday win over PSG at the Stadium of Light wasn’t enough to see the Eagles through. It was their loss at the hands of the Greeks on Gameday 5 came back to bite them big time. Progress to the second round might now mean that Olympiakos will try and hold on to their prized possessions in the form of Manolas and Mitroglou who have constantly linked with big clubs from the big leagues. PSG meanwhile romped through the group, looking a class apart from the rest.

Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Porto - UEFA Champions League

 

Porto meanwhile crashed out of the group stages after impressing last season. The Dragões were eliminated had their home form to blame for their fortunes in the competition. The losses of Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez were clearly felt in their performances as they failed to record a single win at home in the group stages. That never bodes well for any club, let alone those with aspirations of going through to the second of Europe’s premiere club competition. However a weak group kept their hopes alive till the last game.  Porto however had the unenviable task of eking out a result away to the Spanish powerhouse Atletico Madrid. In the end it proved to be a too big a task as Atletico made short work of the Portuguese, romping home to a 2-0 victory which put out the light for good for the Lisbon outfit. Coming second in the group were Zenit St. Petersburg, who themselves were given a 4-1 hiding by last placed Austria Wien.

UEFA Champions League - AC Milan v Ajax

 

Another team that would go out of the competition heartbroken was Ajax Amsterdam. The Dutch constantly punched above their weight in Group H and set the cat amongst the pigeon with a victory over eventual group champions Barcelona in the fifth gameday. Going into their last game against Milan needing a win straight up front, Ajax however fell short of the target. A goalless draw was all that the Dutch could manage to take home from the San Siro. This leaves their future forays in Europe confined to the Europa League. Barcelona on the other hand, comfortably passed through the group in spite of losing to Ajax. The Catalans’ depth of talent made their route into the final 16 quite comfortable in spite of Lionel Messi missing a large chunk of the games.  Celtic meanwhile couldn’t pull off any tricks this time arpound as they bowed out of the competition tamely after managing to register a solitary victory over Ajax.

Chelsea might have found their European kryptonite in the form of FC Basel, but there was nothing much else to bother the Blues in these early stages of the competition. Like all Jose Mourinho’s teams, Chelsea remained astute at the back throughout the group stages, conceding a Champion League low 3 goals in the competition. Schalke on the hand got the better of Basel to qualify to the last 16 of the competition, defeating the 10 men Swiss team on the last day of the competition to keep their dreams of furthering Champions League adventures alive. Steaua Bucharest rounded out the group as the minnows of the lot.

The others

Group A failed to live to its billing as Manchester United and Bayer Leverkusen cruised through the group without having to break their stride.  United in Europe has been a different animal altogether when compared to their endeavours in the domestic league. Shakhtar as always  gave some brilliant displays of attacking football and still had a faint chance coming into the last game at Old Trafford. But there was no mercy to be had a t Old Trafford midweek as the Red Devils themselves looked to bring some momentum into their campaign this season after a couple of  hapless displays had seen them drop two games in a row at home in the Premier League. Real Sociedad however was the big disappointment of the lot as they failed to meet the lofty heights that they had set in the previous LaLiga campaign and folded tamely on their return to the competition after a decade.

There were no thrills or spills to be had in Group D as favourites Bayern Munich and a rampaging Manchester City made mincemeat of their competition. Neither Viktoria Plzeň, nor CSKA Moscow could build up any kind of strong challenge to the big powerhouses as their gap in class was well reflected in terms of the points in the table.

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Blog by: Anirudh

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga

In one of the biggest matches on the Spanish football calendar, Real Madrid hosted capital rivals Atletico for what was one of the most keenly contested Clasicos in recent years.

A single goal from Diego Costa grabbed victory for the Colchoneros at the Bernabeu, leaving Atletico jointly at top with Barcelona after seven wins in as many games. Madrid, meanwhile, drop five points behind their two biggest rivals and were a shadow of their usual bombastic selves.

But what will both teams take away from Saturday’s clash? Lessons will have to be learned, more than anything for the team in white.

Bale Needs More Time

Madrid’s record signing, Gareth Bale, finally made his debut in front of the Bernabeu faithful. The Wales international entered in unfamiliar circumstances, trying to rescue the game with the Blanco down, 1-0, at halftime.

Against Atletico, though, Bale looked well off the pace. The trademark bursts of pace were of course present, and the ex-Tottenham star almost won a penalty with one of his surges towards goal. The final ball and connection with teammates was all but missing, however, and he will need to learn fast to start justifying his transfer fee.

Koke and Costa’s Brilliance

The focus for Atletico Madrid throughout the game, and especially after opening the scoring, was to preserve their defence and restrict Real. Even then, their attack looked, by far, the most likely to contribute further to the scoresheet, thanks to the demon duo of Koke and Diego Costa.

The midfielder set up Costa to perfection early on with a neat flick expertly converted for the game’s only goal. After that, they kept harrying Madrid in defence and could both have scored again; Diego Lopez denied Costa one-on-one, while a brilliant Koke shot struck the bar.

Atletico Are Catching Up

Few major derbies are quite as one-sided as that of the Spanish capital. Prior to Saturday, Atletico had not beaten their illustrious neighbours in a Liga clash for no less than 14 years.

Things are changing, however. That agonising 2-1 win in the Copa del Rey final, with goals from Arda Turan and Miranda, removed some of the mystique of the Clasico Madrileno, giving Atletico’s players the chance to approach the fixture as one more match.

Winning in La Liga for the first time since 1999, and in the Bernabeu no less, is another great step forward for the Red and White.

Simeone Is A Perfect Fit

Argentine tactician Diego Simeone may not produce teams as tantalising to watch as his compatriots Gerardo Martino or Marcelo Bielsa. But the current Atletico Madrid coach brings an organisation and tenacity to his sides which makes them very difficult to beat indeed.

Despite only enjoying a miserly 37 percent of possession on Saturday, per Goal.com, Atletico matched their rivals throughout the match and were formidable on the counter, having, by far, the best chances over the 90 minutes.

The dark-suited, taciturn former Madrid player marched solemnly to the dressing room, while his players celebrated history in the making, but his contribution was just as vital.

Benzema Unsuccessful Upfront

The sale of Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli opened the door for Karim Benzema to claim his spot as undisputed No. 9 in the Madrid side. But that piece of business, similar to the deal that took Mesut Ozil to Arsenal, is starting to look rather ill-advised from the Spanish club’s point of view.

While Higuain’s three goals in the opening six matches have helped Napoli to the top of the Serie A standings, the Frenchman has floundered. His non-appearance midweek against Elche was pardoned by Cristiano Ronaldo’s pair, but not even the Portuguese star could hide his teammate’s deficiencies in front of the net.

Out of form and without a goal in five Liga matches, Benzema’s place as centre-forward is starting to look very precarious indeed.

Madrid Need To Improve

Along with Atletico, Barcelona fans would have been left very satisfied indeed with Saturday’s result. After just seven games, the 100 percent record of the Catalan club leaves Madrid five points adrift, and the nightmare of a repetition of the 2012/13 season looks a distinct possibility.

Playing without a recognised playmaker and being painfully disorganised up front, Madrid need to pull themselves together and fast. In just three weeks’ time, a visit to Camp Nou and Barca looms. And if results continue to follow the form book up to then, a defeat and the prospect of falling eight points behind would represent a massive hurdle to overcome.

Blog by: Sanchit

Atletico Madrid: All set to challenge for the La Liga

Atletico Madrid: All set to challenge for the La Liga

With six wins in as many games, one would like to hope that the horses prancing to challenge for this season’s La Liga have a red and white outfit on board.

Los Rojiblancos – as it is famously called for its red and white stripes jersey, Atletico Madrid seems to be a side capable of breaking the monotony that has been set in the Spanish league, where although 20 teams manage to get on the league table, only two teams are seen challenging for the ultimate glory.

La Liga is termed as one of the most ‘boring’ leagues in the world (and rightly so, unless you are a Barcelona or a Real Madrid supporter) as every year the ball rolls in the same old courts – FC Barcelona and Real Madrid FC, two European giants who hardly find any competition in their own Spanish league.

“Where money does the talking” – I can imagine a La Liga follower coming up with this proverb. The teams of the financial might of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, (in the same order) enjoy the luxury of spending big when they require infusing fresh blood in their squads with the best player available in the market, albeit availability is not the right word when we are talking about the money these clubs can spend to lure someone they want.

The recent epitome of these riches is the record breaking transfer fee paid by Real Madrid to bag in Gareth Bale from Tottenham, who was unavailable as per Andres Villas Boas, Spurs’s manager, until one fine morning when he heard of an offer worth some GBP 85.3 million to let go off the Welsh winger.

Surely, President Florentino Perez did not have to say more, as for him, ‘money did all the talking’.

There is a huge gap in the wealth of these two biggies and the rest of the teams in the league who are suffering from a financial crunch.

Prior to the 2012-13 Copa del Rey final, Diego Simeone, the Atletico Madrid manager, pointed out the difference between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid is ‘not the substance, style, history, tradition, ideology or design but the 400 million Euros in budget’.

A three-horse race

Since the advent of the Spanish season 2004-05, the La Liga trophies have added glitter either to the trophy cabinet at Nou Camp or Santiago Bernabeu, leaving other 18 clubs entering the fray, every year, holding onto their horses to lift that elusive La-Liga trophy.

Last season, Atletico Madrid emerged as a ray of hope for the Liga followers who could see a third contender for the La Liga trophy in the Madrid club. They augured quite well till match day 26 as they held on to that second position over and above the city rivals, Real Madrid.

The third horse in the Spanish league showed signs of its arrival last season itself but losing crucial points in the later stage of the league cost them their position, finally ending up at the third spot.

Pundits would still not call them the third horse in the La Liga because they lost all their La Liga face offs against Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and finished 24 points off the ultimate champions, Barcelona.

What made Atletico a bright prospect for the 2013-14 season, was when Gabi lifted the Copa del Rey trophy last season after his side trounced Real Madrid in the finals at Santiago Bernabeu.

However, life is not beautiful all the time and Atletico fans felt a grave setback when they had to lose their star striker Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco after the stellar 2012-13 season. Simeone had built his entire side around the Columbian, who ended up scoring 52 goals in 68 appearances in his 2-year stint in the Madrid side.

Once Falcao left, a void was felt in the Madrid side even when it had players of the caliber of Arda Turan, Thibaut Courtios (on loan from Chelsea), Joao Miranda and Gabi, and the ray of hope that was illuminated last season seemed fading off.

David Villa: Filling in Falcao's void

David Villa: Filling in Falcao’s void

To fill the void, Simeone landed a Spanish striker this time for an absolute bargain – someone who was the joint top scorer in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and who has plied his trade in arguably the best team in the world. Atletico Madrid shelled out just 2.1 million Euros for David Villa – Spain’s all time top goal scorer.

Villa sought this as an opportunity to play at his favorite centre forward position and get regular playing time on the field. which he was denied at Barcelona.

Atletico Madrid have earned all the 21 points on offer so far by showing the same high-spirited nature of football with Diego Costa and David Villa taking the charge of the attack in the absence of Falcao. Diego Costa has already scored 8 goals in his 7 La Liga outings, sitting on the top scorers’ list along with Leo Messi.

Courtios has always performed well. The best Liga goal keeper in 2012-13 has carried the tag of one of the best young shot stoppers in the world with ease till now, having 3 clean sheets already in 10 games in all competitions.

The midfield looks pretty sorted in the likes of Mario Suarez and captain Gabi. The Turkish winger, Arda Turan, has continued his brilliant form from last season. Strong defence and fast play has always characterized the style of play adopted by the Argentine manager. However, the problem will arise when the crucial players will be sidelined with injuries as the bench strength lacks the required fire-power.

All said and done, Atletico Madrid is certainly going to become ‘frogs in the bucket’ for Real and Barca as both the teams do not look as invincible as they did a few years back.

Barca’s inability in adding the much needed defender to its team line-up this season again, is going to expose its abysmal defense which was ripped apart by Bayern Munich and Real Madrid last season. The fast attacking style of play of Los Rojiblancos is also capable of exposing their defense once again.

Real Madrid, under the new manager, has entered a few new players in the squad which at the first instance seemed to be a fatal team line up with one of the most ferocious pairing up front of Ronaldo and Bale but the Galacticos have failed to clicked so far, losing out to Atletico last night at Santiago Bernabeu, their first La Liga loss to the city rivals since 1999.

Atletico, now, have beaten Real Madrid after 13 years in a La Liga encounter and gave Barcelona a run for their money in the Spanish Super Cup. The stage is set for Atletico Madrid to show the world that La-Liga is no longer a two horse race. The men in red and white need to keep this momentum going, ensuring that they do not lose crucial points in the later stages of the league.

Blog by: Srihari

Madrid Atletico

Atletico Madrid stole a win from Real Madrid

Atlético Madrid condemned Madrid to their first league defeat at the Bernabéu in 34 games thanks to a Diego Costa goal. Gareth Bale’s home debut was spoilt by Atlético’s win. Let us look at the five major talking points from the game.

Have Atlético finally gotten rid of their mental block?

When Atlético Madrid finally defeated Real Madrid at the Bernabéu last year in the Copa del Rey final last year, it was the first time, they had done so in 25 attempts. During the past decade or so, there were numerous occasions when it looked like Atlético were on a good run of form, but they would come into the derby and freeze completely.

It looked as if every time both of them played, irrespective of the formbook, Atlético would present Real Madrid with three points. There was some sort of mental block, which prevented them from going that one step further and beating their cross-city rivals. And it looks like last year’s victory, changed all of that. It gave them belief and a renewed sense of hope. It was what Atlético had been waiting for and coming into this game on a run of amazing form, they managed to continue that with a well-deserved victory.

Diego Costa is proving to be the perfect replacement for Falcao

Few would have believed that the Spanish would have been crying out loud for a Brazilian player to gain Spanish citizenship with as much anticipation. But, such has been the form of Diego Costa that, when he finally gained his Spanish citizenship recently, it was met with so much fanfare all around the country. The 24-year-old Brazilian striker, who hadn’t scored more than 10 league goals before this campaign, already has eight in just seven games.

The Brazilian is currently the most lethal striker in Spain, ahead of even the likes of Messi and Ronaldo. And whilst Messi has taken 34 shots for his eight goals and Ronaldo has taken 60 shots for his six, Diego Costa has only taken 21 shots, showing that not only is he deadly, but is effective as well. And whilst his physical demeanor and petulance hasn’t brought him too many fans, as long as he is banging in the goals, his manager wouldn’t mind it, one bit.

Ancelotti still finding his feet at Real

In a league, where even draws are almost as demoralizing as defeats, Ancelotti first loss as Madrid manager means that they are already five points adrift of Barcelona and Atlético, who lead the league with seven wins out of seven. Already this season, Real looked vulnerable at the back, and although they have the likes of Isco, Ronaldo and Bale up front, they still look like a side trying to find the right balance between defense and attack.

Whilst Ancelotti was primarily brought in for his European pedigree, being so far adrift just a few weeks into the season wouldn’t do his chances of staying any favors. Ancelotti must quickly identify his best formation and fit in the galaxy of attackers into one cohesive unit. Whilst that may certainly take time, defeat in the derby means that, time is certainly not on Ancelotti’s side.

Can Atlético finally break the top two stranglehold?

The 1-0 defeat of Real Madrid means that Atlético Madrid have gotten off to their best ever start in the 77 year history of La Liga. Los Rojiblancos have started the season on fire and after winning their opening four games whilst conceding five goals, they have managed to their next three without conceding a single goal. In Koke and Diego Costa, they have the men who are leading the assist and goal scoring charts, with 6 assists and 8 goals respectively.

And whilst they don’t have the ball all the time, their lightning quick counter attacks and their ability to clinically finish off any chances they create, means that they are a threat to any side in the league. With Gabi and Tiago holding fort in the center of midfield, they have certainly established a platform for all their attacks and with Koke and Turan on the wings with Costa and Villa up front, they are a match for any side.

The blossoming Isco and Ronaldo partnership

Whilst it didn’t work out against Los Rojiblancos on Saturday, Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo are certainly showing all the signs of becoming a deadly duo. The pair, between them have scored 10 out of the 14 goals scored by Real in the league this year. Whilst the finishing was pretty poor in the game against Atlético, there were times, when it looked as if the pair of them, could score as many goals as their hearts desired.

Their growing partnership perhaps explains why Los Blancos let Özil go to Arsenal, when he was their most creative player in the previous four seasons. With Ronaldo providing the finishing touch, the pair between them are capable of both creating opportunities with force and finesse. Their understanding is reminiscent of players who have played together all their lives and Ancelotti will be hoping that this partnership clicks and helps Real Madrid claim at least a single trophy this year.

Blog by: Shayne
The summer transfer window closed earlier this month, putting an end to frantic transfer-related activities from clubs. However, there is another transfer window in January and clubs will no doubt look to strengthen in certain areas if they feel the need to.

It’s a common thing nowadays for up-and-coming superstars to be chased by a variety of clubs, and there is most certainly no shortage of young and potentially world-class players that are currently plying their trade in various leagues.

Let’s take a quick look at 5 players that will almost certainly be chased by some of the bigger clubs during January:

1) Jackson Martinez

FBL-POR-LIGA-PORTO-ESTORIL

The Colombian striker has been an absolute revelation for Porto, a club that seems to have a knack for discovering top-level talent from absolutely nowhere (Hulk, Falcao et al).

He was linked to Chelsea and Napoli during the summer transfer window, but a move never materialised. The big striker won’t come cheap although given that strikers like Falcao and Edinson Cavani are no longer on the market, Martinez would be an excellent signing.

He is an instinctive finisher and also a physical presence upfront. He would definitely be on the wishlist of several clubs that would want to bolster their attacking options.

2) Gianelli Imbula

FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-TOULOUSE-MARSEILLE

The defensive midfielder is very highly rated in France and some have even compared him to former Arsenal and France midfield general Patrick Viera.

He is an extremely powerful player and is a presence in midfield. Despite that, he is an excellent player technically and has all the qualities of a top-class defensive midfielder.

The 20-year-old is still raw and will not feature in any big clubs’ immediate first-team plans should he sign for a big club (he might be loaned out), but he is definitely one to watch for the future and it wouldn’t be surprising if clubs entered into a bidding war to secure his signature.

3) Julian Draxler

FC Schalke 04 v VfB Stuttgart  - Bundesliga

The young German was linked to a few Premier League clubs during the summer including Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. He chose to stay with Schalke for now, but one wouldn’t be too surprised to see him move in January.

Technically able and extremely pacy, Draxler has an excellent reading of the game and an excellent final ball as well as the ability to shoot from distance. He has already been capped for Germnay, quite an achievement given the talent they possess. The 20-year-old won’t come cheap, but he would most certainly be a quality addition to any side.

4) Iker Muniain

AC Sparta Praha v Athletic Club - UEFA Europa League

The young Spanish winger has been dubbed the “Spanish Messi” due to his creative style of play. Muniain was linked to Manchester United and Arsenal during the summer, but the rumours died down.

Given the sheer talent he possesses he would be a good signing, although Bilbao wouldn’t part with their wonder-kid (who is a graduate of Athletic’s Youth Academy) so easily. The winger’s form was slightly mixed last season but there’s no doubting his talent. Should he express a desire to leave Athletic, many clubs would be interested in securing his signature.

5) Stephan El Sharaawy

AC Milan v Torino FC - Serie A

The Italian forward has already drawn comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He is extremely quick and likes dribbling around players and possesses a good passing range along with an eye for goal.

Milan wouldn’t necessarily want to sell him but as the old adage goes, everybody has a price. The versatile forward was linked to Manchester City on deadline day this year, but other clubs were also supposedly interested in acquiring him. He is definitely one to watch for the future and any club would be lucky to secure his services.

Blog by: Aditya

FBL-EUR-C1-BARCELONA-TRAINING

Neymar: Impact neutralised?

If you are a player who has cost his club £58 million, or thereabouts to make no difference, you would definitely want to make an immediate impact. And that is exactly what Barça new-boy Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, or Neymar in short, would want to do.

It’s been a month and 11 days since the start of the new season in Spain, and sufficient time has elapsed to pass judgement on the new signing.

Right from the outset, the question on everyone’s lips was, “How would Messi and Neymar play together?” And this is an important question, since much of what would make this a good signing depends on how the new “wonder-boy” gels with the established talisman.

Ever since his rise to the top, Barcelona’s play has revolved around Messi. He has been the conduit for their play, and also the provider of the end-product more often than not. Neymar’s introduction into the equation makes it much more interesting.

After all, it is not the first time that a new player of high repute has joined Barcelona with Messi already playing. Remember a certain Zlatan Ibrahimović?

When Ibra moved to Barcelona in the summer of 2009, the world watched with baited breath as to what the combination of Zlatan and Messi would bring; after all, these are two world-class players, who are capable of turning a match onto its head by themselves.

Logic dictated that a team with both these players should be unstoppable. Alas, football rarely follows any laws except the arbitrary ones that it defines. A combination that promised so much at the outset ended in open-acrimony, as Zlatan left the club after just two seasons, one of which he spent on loan at AC Milan, the club he eventually joined.

A look at Ibra’s time at Barça reveals a hint of what went wrong. Zlatan’s main reason for becoming disenchanted with life at the Camp Nou seems to be that his Barça teammates seemed to have eyes only for Messi. One feels that Zlatan’s infamous ego and narcissistic personality could not handle the perceived gap in value existing between the two players. He left on bitter terms, and has openly maintained a less-than-friendly disposition towards the then Barça manager Pep Guardiola.

FC Barcelona v Ajax Amsterdam - UEFA Champions League

Neymar will need to establish himself the hard way

In the current state of affairs, such a scenario seems inconceivable, given the fact that Neymar does not seem to have an ego to match that of Ibra. Neymar himself has come out to state that Messi is the hub of Barça, and that he, Neymar, would want to learn from from Messi.

Neymar has been largely used as a substitute thus far, and Barça’s quality that they can more than afford to do this. In his start against Rayo Vallecano, he was largely influential and the best player on the night. He was also one of the few shining lights for Barça against Málaga, in a match in which they struggled to break down an obstinate Málaga and had to survive a few second-half scares. On Neymar’s regular absence from the starting line-up, Barcelona manager Tata Martino had this to say:

“The press judge how he has adapted by asking whether he has scored goals or not, but he does a fantastic job in creating chances and recovering the ball.”

“He has adapted very quickly and I’m very happy with what he has done so far.”

“Don’t forget that he had a long summer with the Confederations Cup, his hectic transfer to the club and the long trips he has had to make which have prevented him from training properly. We are very satisfied with everything he has offered us.”

Martino has also been quoted as saying “toughen up” to Neymar. His simple message has been directed at Neymar’s slender frame, which leaves much to be desired on the physical front. But, another more illustrious personality has warned Barcelona not to turn Neymar “into bodybuilder”. On Neymar, Maradona had this to say:

“Neymar delights me. He is a player that should be noted.”

“He knows what to do with himself and that he does not need to be a bodybuilder. I hope they (Barcelona) don’t do that with him. He just has to play football.”

Neymar would have wanted to make more of an impact at Barcelona by now, but Martino’s tactics have also contributed to damping his impact on the team. Martino’s tactics have been criticised by sections of the fans, and a feeling of alarm passed among the supporters as Barcelona had a lower share of possession against minnows Rayo Vallecano.

Playing out on the left for the Spanish champions, Neymar has found that he doesn’t have the same freedom of operation that he enjoyed at both Santos and Brazil. He has also not seen as much of the ball as he would’ve liked. Where at Santos and Brazil he was the centre of play, even when he played out wide, he has seen one facet of his play suppressed, namely that of the playmaker.

It remains to be seen if Neymar’s signing blossoms into a success as Barcelona hope, or if we see another failed “golden combination’. Still, these are early days.

Blog by: Shreyas
A month into the football season, strategies have been laid down, battles have been fought on the pitch, and a bunch of surprising results have already grabbed the headlines. Some of the new signings such as Mesut Ozil have done fantastically well for their clubs, while others are yet to come to terms with the rigours of a new club. With truckloads of money being shipped around in transfer fees, a signing is no joke, and with that in mind, let’s look at the top five most unnecessary signings of the transfer window and how they have fared.

5. Edinson Cavani – Napoli to PSG

Edinson Cavani

For a hefty transfer fee of around €64 million, Edinson Cavani’s signing was definitely one of the most expensive ones this summer. Having grabbed eyeballs consistently with his performances for the Uruguayan national side and at club level with Napoli, Cavani has been reaching greater heights every passing season. While he has continued to find the back of the net, as one would expect, there are bigger headaches around his positioning on the pitch at PSG.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the established star of the club, and said to be closed to the idea of playing as anything other than the central attacker; a position Cavani also thrives in. A simple switch to 4 – 4 – 2 might seem the easy solution, but the fact that players like Ezequiel Lavezzi will be discomforted also needs to be taken into account. This means that Cavani is currently playing as a wide attacker, a role he doesn’t quite enjoy as much. A welcome, but unnecessary addition to the squad indeed.

4. Fernandinho – Shakhtar Donetsk to Manchester City

Fernandinho (R) of Manchester City

Having played a decent role in Shakhtar’s domestic as well as continental campaign last season, there would always be takers for Fernandinho when rumours spread that he was unhappy in Ukraine. Little would the player himself have expected to be the subject of a whopping £30 million swoop from Manchester City.

The Citizens, who boast the likes of Yaya Toure and Javi Garcia in their holding midfield department, in addition to many others who can be used as a makeshift, were perhaps one of the clubs which least require his services.

To his good fortune however, Fernandinho has been getting regular playing time, unlike poor Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair last season. The fact that he can perform Toure’s holding role means that the Ivory Coast star can push forward more often and bully the opposition. The threat, therefore, is to other attacking midfielders’ place in the line-up, rather than either of these players.

An unnecessary signing who has been cleverly adapted into the set-up by Manuel Pellegrini.

3. Willian – Anzhi Makhachkala to Chelsea

Chelsea’s Willian

The second Brazilian midfielder on this list, Willian had his bags all packed and ready for London club Tottenham Hotspur before seeing his loyalty suddenly purchased by cross-town rivals, Chelsea. For a player who had just moved to Anzhi in the previous transfer window for about €35 million, the Russian club roughly broke even upon sale.

The amusement value of hijacking a Tottenham deal seems to have been deemed worth that amount of money by Roman Abramovich, as Willian has made only a couple of appearances thus far, neither of them in the Premier League. In a rigid line-up where Juan Mata is struggling to find a place, it seems quite unlikely that Willian will shine through and conquer.

One hopes for him that he does, but until then, an extravagant addition to the squad.

2. Thiago Alcantara – Barcelona to Bayern Munich

Thiago Alcantara

For someone who voiced his desire for more time on the pitch to prove his ability, Thiago Alcantara made a perfectly silly decision of moving from the crowded midfield at Barcelona to the Allianz Arena already bursting with world-class midfielders. While he may seem a reasonable expenditure at €25 million, Bayern perhaps knew perfectly well that he would be surplus to requirements even before signing him.

Whether he fooled himself into believing that the presence of Pep Guardiola meant that he would get regular playing time ahead of the likes of Thomas Muller, Mario Götze, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Toni Kroos, or even Arjen Robben/Franck Ribery, one cannot tell.

But the fact that he is much less likely to get on the pitch for the reigning European champions than for his former club, or suitors Manchester United, must have now become clear to him.

Two substitute appearances and an outing in the German Super Cup are certainly insufficient to satiate his appetite, aren’t they?

1. Gareth Bale – Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid

Gareth Bale

In the same time as Cristiano Ronaldo has made 7 appearances, scored 9 goals and grabbed 2 assists, Real Madrid’s marquee signing Gareth Bale has made a grand total of 2 appearances (1 as a substitute) and has scored 1 goal; a tap-in inside the penalty area. If those numbers by themselves aren’t sufficient to convince you why Real Madrid never should have made the Welshman the costliest signing in history, let’s take a look at the fallout of the move.

Mesut Özil , one of the best ‘trequartistas’ in the world, simply chose to move to Arsenal, where he feels happier and is contributing majorly to the team’s attacks. Carlo Ancelotti, who reportedly told Florentino Perez that Bale was an unnecessary target, has refused to bow down to pressure, and continues with what he thinks is his best line-up, devoid of Bale.

Bale himself, favoring the same position that Ronaldo does, can now only dream of winning multiple player-of-the-year awards as he did last season with Tottenham Hotspur. Angel Di Maria sees his position under no real threat, thanks to playing on the opposite flank as favoured by the Welshman. Isco has shone through bright on his entry to the big stage, blocking the possibility of Bale playing there either.

Just a brief summary is provided above to describe in brief the ridiculousness of Bale’s move to the Spanish capital. Perhaps intended simply to be Madrid’s reply to Barca’s signing of Neymar, this is a move which has seen only one club emerge as winners – Arsenal.