TOUCHLINEUI: VENGEANCE LIKE PALM DATES AT INDIAN WELLS

By Soladoye Samuel

At the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the first ATP Tour Masters 1000 tournament of the year presented exciting  match-ups availing several players the opportunity to avenge losses they were reeling from. Milos Raonic, Roger Federer as well as Novak Djokovic took the opportunities and got them over with.

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Alexandr Dolgopolov conjured an interesting run to the semis of the 2014 BNP Paribas Open where he recorded notable victories over Milos Raonic and Rafael Nadal. The Round of 32 at this year’s event presented the 24 year old Canadian with an opportunity to avenge last year’s loss to the Ukrainian and he took it. Milos recorded a straight sets win; it ended 7-6(2) 6-4. When asked if the previous clash at Indian Wells was on the back of his mind during the match, Raonic admitted he had put it into consideration just prior to the match. He said;

“Not during the match, but definitely beforehand I put a big emphasis from what I wanted to do differently from last year.”

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Prior to Sunday’s final loss to Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer had only lost a singles tennis match to one man in 2015; Andreas Seppi. The defeat came at Melbourne Park where the Italian was a 4-set winner over the legendary Swiss. After Federer saw off Diego Schwartzman to set up a clash with Seppi, he was quick to point out that the match-up was one he eagerly looked forward to.

“I’m happy to play him again” said Federer. “I was very disappointed with the performance I had in Australia. I am happy I’m happy I’m getting an opportunity to play him right away again.”

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The Swiss Maestro knew he got a shot at redemption. He didn’t pass it over; ran out 6-3 6-4 victor over the Italian in 82 minutes. His comments afterwards reinforces John Ford’s claim that “delay in vengeance delivers a bigger blow.” Quite obvious Federer pretty much would cope better without such blows and the man himself was very pleased with the outcome he so much desired.

“It was good to play him right away again and erase it from memory. This was one of those matches i was very happy it was over.”

Federer made his way to the final without dropping a set and he might have relished the likelihood of getting to avenge his loss to Novak Djokovic in the 2014 final in the Southern California desert. This time around though, against the best and the most consistent player in recent years, his campaign was unsuccessful. The Nole came out on top in three sets after a gruelling tennis battle that lasted well over 120 minutes. The Serb left a sour taste in the mouth of the World No. 2 winning his 4th Indian Wells title and his 21st Masters 1000 crown. Federer’s revenge mission was aborted but in fact, revenge, a dish best served cold, was served out by Djokovic to Federer on the occasion of their 38th clash. Their 37th clash came on the 28th day of February, 2015 in the final at Dubai where Federer conquered the 27 year old in straight sets to clinch his 7th title Dubai Crown. For his confidence and his season, the World No 1 was pleased with the win.

“It’s going to give me confidence, not just for future matches that I play against [Federer], but for Miami and the rest of the season.”  Djokovic said.

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Call it vengeance, revenge, call it redemption, Gary Schmidt thinks it sweet and even though Milos and Roger did not hoist the title, you can be sure that like Djokovic, they at least found oasis in the desert and left with some sweet taste buds. For them, vengeance must definitely taste like the sweet palm dates which Indian Wells of California is known to be blessed with.

 

You can follow the writer on twitter @iamsammieleo,

Soladoye Samuel writes on and analyses tennis.

TOUCHLINEUI: BARCELONA V REAL MADRID EL CLASICO PREVIEW

The matchup between these two eternal rivals has a different look to it what it seemed like at the turn of the year. Real Madrid ended 2014 with a Spanish record of a 22 match winning streak, and were in the musician’s song “on top of the world” beating all comers before them. At the start of the 2015, they were four points ahead of the Barcelona, a side in a midst of an internal crisis. In the game at the Anoeta which the Blaugrana lost; Messi was left on the bench, missed training the following day and of course was linked with a move to Chelsea after following the London side on Instagram. Also, Sporting Director Andoni Zubizarreta was dismissed and Club Legend, Carles Puyol, left his role as assistant Sporting Director. The crisis reached its peak when rumors of dressing room unrest circulated with the focus on the fallout between Messi and Luis Enrique.  A dark cloud at the Nou Camp? You were not far from the truth.

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Fast-forward and since that loss at Real Sociedad, Lionel Messi and co have tasted defeat just once in their last eighteen games. Messi has been extra-terrestrial since Enrique moved the Argentine to the right. He has also leapfrogged his longtime rival, Cristiano Ronaldo in the goal-scoring chart. However, things have not been so rosy at the Bernabeu; Madrid’s second leg loss to Schalke 04 was their fifth of 2015 in just sixteen games. Los Blancos have also seen their lead overturned after Barca took advantage of their slip up at the San Mames. Cristiano Ronaldo has not found the back of the net from open play in over a month. Also, Gareth Bale’s double against Levante last weekend was the first time the Welshman found the back of the net in eight games. How things change!

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Ahead of the title clash on Sunday, it safe to say that Enrique’s men are in a position of supremacy but the question is – will Barcelona be able to extend their advantage or does Real Madrid have something up their sleeves to fight back with? TouchlineUI will analyse the chances of both sides and leave you guys as the jury to decide whether Barca will go four points clear, move two points behind or maintain their one point advantage.

LEAGUE POSITION

TEAM P W D L GS GA GD PTS POSITION
BARCELONA 27 21 2 4 78 16 +62 65 1st
REAL MADRID 27 21 1 5 77 24 +53 64 2nd

 

The Catalans have the best attack (78 goals) and the best defence (16) in the La Liga.

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FORM

HOME FORM

BARCELONA

P W D L GS GA GD PTS
BARCELONA 13 11 0 2 46 8 +38 33

 

Barcelona has lost at home twice this season in the league against Celta Vigo and just recently against Malaga. Will Real become the third side to inflict a third home defeat on Barcelona? History is not however with the Whites of Madrid as you have to go back to the 2007/08 season to see the last time Barca lost three home games in the League. Also, 77% of its home games this season, Barcelona have scored an average of 2.5 goals and the Blaugrana have netted 14 at the Nou Camp in their last 4 League outings. Imperious right!

Do you know Barcelona has the fifth best home record this season in the La Liga? The team with the best record is Valencia.

AWAY FORM

REAL MADRID

P W D L GS GA GD PTS
REAL MADRID 14 10 0 4 39 16 +23 30

 

Real Madrid has lost two of its last three games on the road and in those defeats, Ronaldo and co failed to find the back of the net.

Do you know Real Madrid have the second best away record in the La Liga? Barca has the best.

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OVERALL FORM

LAST SIX GAMES (ALL COMPETITIONS)

BARCELONA

MANCHESTER CITY 1 V BARCELONA 2

GRANADA 1 V BARCELONA 3

VILLARREAL 1 V BARCELONA 3

BARCELONA 6 V RAYO VALLECANO 1

EIBAR 0 V BARCELONA 2

BARCELONA 1 V MANCHESTER CITY 0

REAL MADRID

SCHALKE 04 0 V REAL MADRID 2

ELCHE 0 V REAL MADRID 2

REAL MADRID 1 V VILLARREAL 1

ATHLETIC BILBAO 1 V REAL MADRID 1

REAL MADRID 3 V SCHALKE 04 4

REAL MADRID 2 V LEVANTE 0

LEAGUE GOAL-SCORERS

BARCELONA GOALS REAL MADRID GOAL SCORERS
LIONEL MESSI 32 CRISTIANO RONALDO 30
NEYMAR 17 KARIM BENZEMA 13
LUIS SUAREZ 7 GARETH BALE 12

 

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ASSISTS

BARCELONA ASSISTS REAL MADRID ASSISTS
LIONEL MESSI 14 CRISTIANO RONALDO 11
LUIS SUAREZ 9 KARIM BENZEMA 8
IVAN RAKITIC 6 ISCO ALARCON 8

 

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TEAM APPROACH

BARCELONA

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Luis Enrique has largely stuck to the Club’s preferred formation which is a 4-3-3 and her Tiki Taka football philosophy of keeping the ball and controlling the game in the opposition’s half. Barca favors a short goal-kick where the Pivot (Busquets, though he’s a doubt) comes to receive the ball short and then redistributes the ball to the advanced midfielders like Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic or Xavi. The midfield operates in a triangle, trying to keep the ball and taking advantage of space. With the forwards dropping back, it creates a problem for the opposition as they follow suit thereby playing a highline and running the risk of being exploited by full-backs or the likes of Neymar or Messi running into space. Barcelona can also attack through the middle and where the middle is congested, the fullbacks, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, provide the needed width. Moving Lionel Messi’s to the right has begun to bear fruits after a difficult start.  The 27 year old is however allowed to move inside and interchange with Luis Suarez.

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However with most sides, led by Chelsea, beginning to beat the Blaugrana by playing a low block of two lines, Enrique has tweaked the style and made Barca a little more direct this term. While keeping the ball is still very much the focus, Barca can go direct and even counter attack. The Blaugrana do this by closing in on the opposition like a swarm of bees and then retrieving the ball and making the space left count. Easy on the eye? It requires a lot of telepathic understanding.

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Barca’s approach makes it extremely difficult to stop them from creating chances and at the same time helps them to see out a lead.

REAL MADRID

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Under Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid has played with either the 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation. With the 4-4-2, Ballon d’or Winner, Cristiano Ronaldo plays inside tucked next to Karim Benzema while the third of the BBC, Gareth Bale plays as a winger. In the midfield, Isco plays on the left and helps offensively as well as defensively especially when Marcelo bombs forward. Modric and German World Cup Winner, Toni Kroos, play in the central midfield. Modric helps to give the White that needed balance and fluidity in the final third though he tracks back too and Kroos, playing the “Alonso” role, helps to switch play from one wing to another and also launch a counter attack with his long rangedpasses. The German has 7 assists to his name in the Spanish top flight. He also has a 92.3% pass completion rate which is the second best in that regard and also averages a healthy 2.5 tackles per game.  However with a 4-3-3 formation, the BBC forms a three thronged attack though Ronaldo tends to drift in. The space left behind the Portuguese is filled in by Isco Alarcon or James Rodriguez which makes it look like a 4-4-2.

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Furthermore, Madrid can either out-possess or play on the counter. That depends on the opposition. In the first meeting between the Spanish giants, Real went on the counter and attacked space and the third goal had an element of a counter attack in it. Against Barca on Sunday, expect Carlo to go with a counter-attack set-up again and hit Barca on the break using Bale and Ronaldo as the focal points. Real Madrid is also a side that is extremely strong in the air. They are adept at scoring from set plays. The table below shows how strong the Madrid boys are in the air and why the Blancos should be fancied in the air:

AERIAL DUELS WON

PLAYER AERIAL DUELS WON
SERGIO RAMOS 3.4
PEPE 3.1
R.VARANE 2.8
CRISTIANO RONALDO 1.5
GARETH BALE 1.2

 

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SELECTION

BARCELONA

GOALKEEPER

Marc Andre Ter Stegen should make way for Claudio Bravo despite the former’s penalty heroics in Barca’s win over Manchester City. Bravo has been the Number One in the League and you fancy him to get the nod over the young German.

DEFENCE

Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba should start in the fullback positions. Enrique must however decide who would partner Pique in central defence. The decision would of course be influenced by whether Sergio Busquets who faces a race against time gets to feature. Should the Spaniard miss out, Javier Mascherano will play the anchor role which leaves a straight fight between Marc Bartra and Jeremy Mathieu for the other centre back position. The Spaniard should get the nod as he’s been brilliant in his few starts for the Blaugrana. He also heads the charts for Barca in the aerial duels with a 2.1 average while Mathieu has won just 1.6 of his aerial duels.

MIDFIELD

Barring any unforeseen events, Andres Iniesta will start as he will be key to whatever chances the Catalans have of dominating this fixture. His telepathic understanding with Messi makes his starting position non-negotiable. There will also be an anchor which could be Mascherano or Sergio Busquets who is battling with an ankle injury. Mascherano might not possess the ball-playing qualities of Sergio but there’s hardly anyone better than him in the defensive midfield role. Ivan Rakitic, Xavi and Rafinha will battle it out for the last place in midfield.  The Croat should get the nod as he’s been brilliant of late and he’s coming to this fixture on the back of a superb goal against City. Xavi, though experienced, struggles against sides that employ an aggressive pressing style and Rafinha though promising is still too raw for these kinds of games.

FORWARDS

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. You’ve got a better three to start for the Blaugrana?

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Do you know Lionel Messi has scored 21 El Clasico goals which is a record for Clasico goals scored? The 4 time World Player of the Year has also scored exactly half of Barcelona’s last 16 goals against Real Madrid

REAL MADRID

GOALKEEPER

Iker Casillas should start over Keylor Navas despite the former’s dramatic nosedive in form.

DEFENCE

Sergio Ramos is back so he should start in the central defence alongside Pepe with Varane set to make way. Carvajal and Marcelo should take the full back positions.

MIDFIELD

The structure of the middle of the park will depend on whether Carlo goes with a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3.  A 4-4-2 will have Gareth Bale-Toni Kroos-Luka Modric and Isco Alarcon while a 4-3-3 will have Luka Modric-Toni Kroos and Isco Alarcon as the midfield trio. The German should be refreshed after being rested in the win over Levante and Modric is back from injury. It remains to be seen whether Luka can maintain the intensity needed for this blockbuster over 90 minutes.

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FORWARDS

Straightforward- A 4-4-2 Formation will have 30 year old Ronaldo play in a supporting striker’s role behind next Karim Benzema while a 4-3-3 will have the BBC trinity start; Benzema-Bale-Ronaldo.

 

WHAT EACH SIDE WILL DO

BARCELONA

ATTACK THE WINGS

Barcelona, under Enrique, has been employed attacking through the wide areas which does not only create width but also stretches the opposition defence. Against Real, with Carvajal and Marcelo having the propensity to bomb forward, there is always a chance of Barca exploiting the flanks. Furthermore, the fact Ronaldo and Gareth Bale fail to track back means Barca can double up on the flanks, stretch the defence and tire out the midfield.

CONGEST THE TONI KROOS AREA

Summer signing Toni Kroos has had to readapt to more defensive duty in his stint at the Bernabeu and he has done that in brilliant fashion. With Luka Modric back alongside the German and Isco, Real look like the better side in the middle of the park. However Barca would want to exploit the defensive weaknesses of the Madrid trio in midfield. The likes of Suarez, Messi and Neymar will at one point come infield or drop back to congest the defensive midfield zone, make quick turns and win fouls off the German (who is a booking away from incurring a suspension). The big target will be to congest the area and then exploit the flanks where the likes of Alves and Alba will run into. Madrid will hope the likes of Bale and Ronaldo will be more alert defensively tomorrow.

REAL MADRID

COUNTER-ATTACK

This is one of those games you do not expect Real to dominate possession. It will be utterly stupid to attempt to do so. I expect Carlo to set up a counter-attack approach with lightning pace on the counter attack the plan. Real will draw Barca into their territory, get them unawares and them launch a counter-punch of theirs. It will not however be smart to start pressing from the start as Barca are so good at the getting the ball out from the back. Get them into the “comfort zone” with their fullbacks already high up the pitch, then press, get the ball and a swift attack. You’ll also see a lot of fastballs from the defence into space. With the likes of Alba and Alves playing high up when Barca have the ball, Real will exploit whatever spaces they leave and stretch Pique and co.

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MAKE THE SET-PIECES COUNT

If there is one area where Real comfortably beats Barca, then it’s got to be at the dead-ball situations. The likes of Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are good at winning the ball in the air. Though Barca has improved at defending set pieces, defeats at Parc de Princes and even the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu still show it’s very much the Achilles Heel of Enrique’s men. Expect Real to make the most of dead-ball situations.

AERIAL DUELS WON

REAL MADRID AERIAL DUELS WON BARCELONA AERIAL DUELS WON
Sergio Ramos 3.4 Marc Bartra 2.5
Pepe 3.1 Gerard Pique 1.9
R.Varane 2.8 Jeremy Mathieu 1.6
Cristiano Ronaldo 1.5 Sergio Busquets 1.5
Gareth Bale 1.2 Sergi Roberto 1.4

OTHER MATCH FACTS

  • Real have won the last two Clasicos and could make it three in a row for the first time since 1978.
  • Barcelona have however not lost at home to their rivals while topping the league since 1929/30
  • Messi has scored 17 League goals in 2015 more than Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema combined who have 5 apiece.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo has scored eight goals in his last seven trips to Barcelona.
  • Barcelona has won 9 of their last 10 League games.

 

CONCLUSION

This game has the making of a shootout. A win for Barca and La Liga will be theirs to lose while a win for Real will put them right back in the mix of things. Barca will start as favorites given that Real have stuttered of late. Also Carlo has just one league win over Barca or Atletico in seven meetings and losing the other five. Barca is also in fine fettle winning 18 of their last 19 games so expect them to be the more confident side. History is also not on Real side as they have done the double over Barca just once in the last 30 years. For Real, good thing Ramos and Modric are back but lack of fitness could rear up its head in the latter stages of this game. If there’s a game where the BBC have to get back firing on all cylinders, it has to be this game.

All said and done, it’s a derby and form hardly matters but if we are to place a bet on a likely winner, then it has to be Barca.

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PREDICTION

Barcelona 3 V Real Madrid 1

*Stats Per www.whoscored.com and www.soccerstats.com

TOUCHLINEUI: PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE REPORT CARD

It’s been another disappointing campaign for Premier League sides in Europe’s top tier club competition as none of the 4 representatives made it to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League. The “unfortunate” feat makes it the second time in three years that the “richest league” in the World will not have a team in the last eight. Chelsea and Arsenal were dumped by French nouveau-riche sides, Paris Saint Germain and AS Monaco; League Champions Manchester City ousted by Catalan Giants, Barcelona; while the most successful English side in Europe, Liverpool failed to make it out of a relatively easy Group after a five year hiatus.

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Just like every “decent” educational institution will provide its students with a grade scorecard after the session, TouchlineUI rates the four eliminated English Premier League sides and give them a grade afterwards.

  • ARSENAL (Lost 3-3 on aggregate to AS Monaco on the away goal rule)

SEASON EXPECTATION

Arsenal finished fourth in the league and had to navigate their way to the group via playoff against Turkish giants, Besiktas. Arsenal will see off Bilic’s side and advance to the Group Stage for the 17th year running. The Gunners were certainly not favorites for the “Big Ears” but most people felt with a bit of luck, a decent group and the additions of Sanchez, Welbeck, Debuchy and later Paulista coupled with the likes of Ozil, Giroud and co, Wenger’s could at least make it to the latter stages of the competition.

Arsenal was drawn in Group D which with only 2013 Finalists, Borussia Dortmund, expected to pose any threat. Galatasaray and Belgian side, Anderlecht will complete the Group. As expected the Gunners advanced albeit as runners-up.  This scenario left most Arsenal fans scratching their heads ahead of the knockout draw in Nyon with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munchen all potential opponents. Porto and Monaco were the teams every Arsenal fan hoped for. Arsenal was eventually paired up against the Principality side, Monaco, and it seemed the knockout stage hoodoo would eventually be overcome. A return to the Stade Louis II was on the cards for Arsene Wenger and the Gunners started to dream; a first quarter final appearance in five years beckoned.

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Unfortunately for the Gunners, Leonardo Jardim’s men had other ideas, came to London and put on what I would describe as a “perfect counter-attacking” display at the Emirates. Arsenal were poor defensively and profligate up front and the meanest defence in the Champions League capitalized and got their goals from Kondogbia, Berbatov and Yannick with Oxlade’s goal a mere consolation. Advantage Monaco, nightmare for the Gunners. Arsenal will restore some pride and win the second leg 2-0 in France. The Gunners in a friend’s words “played with strength and character”.

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Although Giroud and Ramsey’s goals set up a grandstand finish, they however would prove not to be enough, as usual, as Monaco resisted Arsenal’s attempt at a spirited comeback. For a fifth year running, the Gunners were knocked out at the last 16. This elimination has a semblance to the one against A.C. Milan where they lost 4-0 at San Siro and won the return leg 3-0 and also against Bayern Munchen in the 12/13 season, lost 3-1 at home only to win at the Allianz Arena 2-0. Looks like Arsenal saves their best for the last. Unfortunately for the Gunners, knockouts in the Champions League are decided over two legs and not one (the second leg in Arsenal’s case) .The exits in the hands of Barcelona, A.C. Milan and Bayern Munchen though disappointing, it is doubtful if any will leave a more bitter taste in Wenger’s side as this one. A huge chance missed!

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High Point of the Champions League Campaign: Winning 2-0 at home to Borussia Dortmund on Matchday Five was impressive as Wenger’s men proved they could mix with the big boys that night.

LOW POINT(s): Blowing a 3 goal lead against Anderlecht to eventually draw 3-3 and suffering elimination in the hands of a Monaco side making her appearance at this stage for the first time in a decade has to be the low point.

GRADE: E

  • CHELSEA (LOST 3-3 ON AGGREGATE TO PARIS SAINT GERMAIN)

SEASON EXPECTATION

If there was any English side you would have fancied to make it to the latter stages of this year’s competition, it would have most likely been Chelsea. The Blues reached the last four in the previous season and prior to this year’s elimination had failed to reach the last eight three times in the last ten years.  Also, in Jose Mourinho, the London side has one of best Managers around. With the additions of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, it looked like the missing pieces of the jigsaw had been found and Abramovich’s army could embark on another fairytale European campaign. There was nothing in the Group performance to suggest otherwise. Chelsea won Group G quite comfortably, finishing as tournament’s top scorers in the Group with 17. The 2012 winners were drawn against French Ligue 1 Champions, PSG, though most anticipated a tough clash, a couple still expected Mourinho’s tactical prowess to power Chelsea to the next round.

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The first leg at the Parc des Princes will leave the tie delicately poised ahead of the second leg with Chelsea seen as marginal favorites to go through. Everything appeared to be going according to the script until the “blue babies” lost it; Zlatan Ibrahimovic got sent off and Chelsea appeared rattled all of a sudden. Maybe it was a problem making the numerical advantage count or simply trying to hang on. The Blues will eventually lose the lead twice, very much unlike Mourinho’s side and to make matters worse, conceded the two goals from set pieces. Fair credit to the Parisiens for not throwing in the towel after the sending off, but it has to be said that Chelsea was poor: the defence ragged, the midfield far from creative and Diego Costa  is more remembered for his running battle with Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marquinhos than for any meaningful contribution with the ball.  Why Chelsea with a man up blew the lead is not totally a surprise as the Blues have failed to hold on to the lead 11 times this season. Against PSG, over the two legs, Chelsea blew the lead three times.

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HIGH POINT: Winning at the Veltins Arena 5-0 is certainly a high point in a short European adventure

LOW POINT: Suffering elimination in the hands of Paris Saint Germain. What else should it be?

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GRADE: F

  • LIVERPOOL (GROUP STAGE)

SEASON EXPECTATION

After a five year absence, it may seem a little unfair to have expected Liverpool to take Europe by storm. This season was supposed to be a learning curve. However, when you are paired with the likes of tricky but beatable Basel and an unknown Ludogorets, a team with the European pedigree as the Reds is expected to qualify. Real Madrid was expected to top the pile with the Brendan Rodger’s side expected to follow suit. Well, they did qualify, albeit for Europe’s second tier competition after finishing third and winning just one of their group games; a last gasp win home win over Bulgarian side Ludogorets. In the Europa League, they crashed out in the hands of Turkish side Besiktas.

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HIGH POINT(s): It’s a tough one picking a high point in campaign that had just one victory and three defeats. If we are to pick then it must be the fact Anfield finally got to host the likes of Real Madrid in European Games. Fair enough.

LOW POINT(s): Failing to get that home win over Basel which would have ensured qualification to the next round despite Steven Gerrard’s “Olympiakos” like heroics.

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GRADE: E

MANCHESTER CITY (LOST 1-3 TO BARCELONA ON AGGREGATE)

After breaking the group-stage curse and advancing to the knockout stage last term, this year was seen as the year where the Citizens will start to mix with the big boys and establish a foothold in Europe. To test if Pellegrini’s side was ready, they had German Champions, Bayern Munchen; Serie A side, A.S. Roma and Russian Giants, CSKA Moscow as Group E Opponents. Four games into the group and the Eastland side was bottom of the log with just two points. A big performance was needed in their last two games against Bayern and A.S Roma to stand any chance of progressing out of the group.  They’ll do just and come out of a difficult group with two big wins; a 3-2 home against 10 men Bayern Munchen and an impressive away win to A.S Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. City was through and now it looked like Pellegrini’s men could finally rub shoulders with Europe’s top guns.

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Manchester City was paired against Barcelona and with the Catalan giants not in top form at the time of the draw, most pundits and football fans fancied a potential upset. Fast-Forward and two months later, ahead of the first leg, it was the Blaugrana who was in a much better form compared to the Sky Blues. The first leg at the Etihad ended 2-1 in favor of Barcelona, which should have been 3 had Lionel Messi converted his penalty late on in the game.  City Boss Pellegrini committed a tactical blunder by sticking to his preferred 4-4-2 formation. Why go with a formation that leaves gaps in the midfield against a side that dominates almost all of her matches through the middle. Also the failure of David Silva and Samir Nasri to track back and curtail marauding fullbacks in Alves and Jordi Alba also raised questions as to why the Chilean stuck to his guns. Does he even read the opponent’s style of play?

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Despite Pellegrini insistence that City had a chance of going through, the second leg followed the same pattern and a superb goal from Rakitic was enough to eliminate the last side from the Queens Country. Despite Aguero missing his spot kick, which could have set up a grandstand finish, it’s fair to say the 1-0 second leg defeat flattered the Citizens. If not for the heroics of Joe Hart, Barcelona would and should have been out of sight. Should Manchester City fail to retain the Premier League, they could as well find themselves in Pot 3 for next season’s Champions League Draw should they qualify. One step forward and two step backwards for Manchester City.

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HIGH POINT(s): Two successive wins over Bayern Munchen and A.S Roma on Matchday five and six definitely rank up there in Manchester City’s campaign.

LOW POINT(s): Blowing a 2 goal lead in Russia to draw 2-2 and crashing out to Barcelona last night.

GRADE: D

TABLE SHOWING THE ENGLISH CLUBS THAT REACHED THE QUARTER-FINALS SINCE 2004

YEAR TEAM(S)
2004 CHELSEA AND ARSENAL
2005 CHELSEA AND LIVERPOOL
2006 ARSENAL
2007 CHELSEA, MANCHESTER UNITED AND LIVERPOOL
2008 CHELSEA, ARSENAL, MANCHESTER UNITED AND LIVERPOOL
2009 CHELSEA, ARSENAL, MANCHESTER UNITED AND LIVERPOOL
2010 ARSENAL AND MANCHESTER UNITED
2011 CHELSEA, TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR AND MANCHESTER UNITED
2012 CHELSEA
2013 NONE
2014 CHELSEA AND MANCHESTER UNITED
2015 NONE

 

ANY HOPE FOR ENGLISH CLUBS?

CURRENT UEFA COEFFICIENT RANKING (CLUBS)

  • REAL MADRID
  • BARCELONA
  • BAYERN MUNCHEN
  • CHELSEA
  • ATLETICO MADRID
  • BENFICA
  • SCHALKE 04
  • ARSENAL
  • PORTO
  • MANCHESTER UNITED
  • PARIS SAINT GERMAIN
  • BORUSSIA DORTMUND
  • VALENCIA
  • ZENIT ST PETERSBURG
  • BAYER LEVERKUSEN
  • MANCHESTER CITY

While it’s not too late to correct what has happened, the immediate future does not offer much hope. UEFA has changed their seeding policy for next season. The new policy is that domestic champions of England, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Russia will automatically be top seeds alongside the winners of the Competition. This means that should the season end today Chelsea, Barcelona, Lyon, Benfica, Juventus, Bayern Munchen, Zenit St Petersburg and Real Madrid(as champions league winners) will be in Pot 1 while Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Porto, Manchester United, Paris Saint Germain, Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Manchester City will be second seeds.

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With City eliminated and hopes of retaining the Premier League looking unlikely, the Abu Dhabi-owned side is vulnerable to being dropped into Pot 3. Should Schalke 04, currently fifth in Germany’s top flight, finish in the top four; Manchester City will drop into the third Pot except they retain the Premier League. Should that happen, City runs the risk of ending up in quite a tough group. With City still showing stage fright in Europe, you wouldn’t fancy them progressing.

As for Arsenal, they are currently ranked 10th and except they win the Premier League, then the Gunners can hope for the likes of Lyon, Zenit or Benfica (assuming the season ends today).

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Manchester United’s absence this year means they drop into Pot 2 and they can expect the likes of Barca, Real or Bayern Munchen. With United still looking like a vehicle with so many missing parts, getting out of the group will represent an achievement in its own right.

As for Liverpool, should they finish in the top four, they can be assured of one thing- A TOUGH DRAW. That is because the Reds are currently 40th in the Coefficient Ranking.

CONCLUSION

Despite the recent 5.1 Billion T.V deal, success in Europe is still very much far from certain. Maybe a winter break will help but something had better be done quickly before the English top flight loses a slot.  The thought of Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Man United, Liverpool and Spurs fighting for four spots is tough enough let alone three.

Over to the Top Four!

TOUCHLINEUI: THE 3-4-3 FORMATION

INRODUCTION

The formation has been used by many clubs till date. It was popularized by the 1970 Ajax side. The option of 3 defenders is quite popular in Italy with many teams opting for the 3-4-3 or the 3-5-2 formations. Many clubs have adopted the 3-4-3 in recent times, making unique tweaks in order to accommodate the playing strengths of their teams. It is worthy of note that it was not until Roberto Martinez changed to a 3-4-3, at Wigan, that he was able to end a 9-game losing streak. Also, Liverpool was able to arrest its poor start to the season by switching to a 3-4-3 formation.

 

 

 

 

 

We at TouchlineUI have analyzed how this formation works, what makes it successful and what its weaknesses are, bringing it for your reading pleasure.

DEFENCE

The formation employs a 3-man defence that has 3 centre backs. While in possession, the left and right central defenders move into wide positions in order to create space and receive the ball. When out of possession however, the centre backs play tight and narrow, making the defence compact. This makes the defence particularly strong against central opposition attacks but vulnerable to attacks from the flanks. This formation especially at the back requires high level of communication and understanding.

MIDFIELD

The midfield comprises 2 wingbacks and 2 central midfielders. The formation allows the midfield to line up in quite a number of ways, depending on how the team plays. The midfield is very important to how the 3-4-3 operates because the midfielders are expected to provide cover for the defence and support the attack as well.

 

 

 

 

 

In midfield, the wingbacks provide the much needed width. They need to possess huge amount of stamina to attack and defend; also, ability to beat their man is essential as they operate as wingers at times.

 

 

 

 

The 2 central midfielders must have the ability to attack, defend and distribute the ball with ease. As such, one of the central 2 serves as a pivot while the other plays as a box-to-box midfielder. The midfield could play flat or in a diamond shape- the flat shape helps to cover any available space in the middle but often leaves the attacking midfield position free, thereby isolating the striker; the diamond allows for a central attacking midfielder [CAM], who supports the striker, but this leaves too much space in the middle which could be exploited.

ATTACK

The 3 pronged attack is a terror to defences for many reasons. First, it allows the attack to press more when out of possession. Second, when in possession, the 3-man attack could choose to spread out to stretch the opposition or be compact in the along the center which puts pressure on the central defenders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the 3-4-3 to be effective, the wide attackers must possess dribbling abilities to beat the fullbacks, draw out central defenders, thereby creating space for the lone striker (who generally plays a target-man).

CONTEMPORARY USE

Although the 3-4-3 is quite old, modern tweaks by managers have made it more exciting and potent. Many teams have employed it with modifications in recent times, including Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Liverpool. Using the Liverpool 3-4-3 system as a case study, with particular reference to Liverpool’s recent 2-1 victory over Manchester City, we examine the inner workings of this dynamic formation.

Since its application in December 2014, Liverpool has not lost a single match in the league save the match in which it was first experimented against Manchester United. The Reds are unbeaten in their last 12 League games, easily EPL’s most in-form side while in all competitions, Rodgers’ men have lost just two (Chelsea and Besiktas) of their last 21 since the tweak in formation.

HOW IT WORKS

It suffices to state that the formation plays perfectly to the strengths of individual players like Moreno, Henderson, Coutinho, Lallana to mention a few.

MIDFIELD

Liverpool employs a flat midfield that includes 2 central midfielders and 2 wingbacks. The partnership between Allen/Gerrard and Henderson has thrived in recent times with Allen/Gerrard serving as the pivot giving room for Henderson to play as the box-to-box midfielder. The midfielders are tireless, hardworking and adept at distributing the ball.

While in possession, the wingbacks rampage forward to provide width which stretches the opposition and gives the 3 attackers (who are centrally located) room to exploit.

ATTACKERS

Rodgers made a unique tweak to the 3-4-3 formation by employing Coutinho and Lallana as central attacking midfielders rather than wingers. What this does is to put pressure on the opposition’s central midfielders and defenders. With Coutinho’s and Lallana’s ability to move the ball, create space, shoot and play killer passes, combined with Sterling’s pace, trickery and movement off the ball, scoring is quite easy.

Coutinho and Lallana occasionally drift to the flanks to create width and support the wingbacks.

PERFORMANCE AGAINST MANCHESTER CITY

The positioning of Coutinho and Lallana made the difference. Their ability, including Sterling, to run and turn with the ball at frightening pace proved too much against City’s muscular but slow defence. Yaya and co were not just comfortable with Coutinho and Lallana playing behind them and Henderson running in before them. Also, Kompany and Mangala were forced out of position by the movements of the attacking 3; this led to Henderson’s goal.

 

 

 

 

 

City’s goal came in against the run of play but it again exposes the weaknesses inherent in the 3-4-3 which is its vulnerability to flank attacks. But to exploit this weakness calls for a lot of patience and tactical know-how.

 

 

 

 

 

Pellegrini’s decision to opt for a 4-4-2 proved fatal for the full backs that could not provide the needed assistance in the middle as they were pre-occupied with the wingbacks.The failure of Nasri and Silva to track back also proved detrimental. When indeed he changed to a 4-5-1, with Milner’s introduction, it was too late as the Citizens were bereft of one thing Liverpool had – confidence. Coutinho’s winning goal showed they had it in abundance.

The 3-4-3 Formation!

TOUCHLINEUI: VOLKSWAGEN REVOLUTION? YES! BUT BEWARE OF THE BAVARIAN HIGH VOLTAGE

Step aside Borussia Dortmund- VFL Wolfsburg is the new darling in German Football. This is good news especially when you consider the absolute monarchy that operates in Germany’s top tier Division. The Wolves may be eight points behind Bayern Munchen in the league but there is no denying the fact that the Wolf pack led by Dieter Hecking boasts of a really strong, attacking and enterprising team. The Wolves even eased past Bayern Munchen 4-1 in January.

 

 

 

 

 

He’s brought in two Chelsea outcasts; Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle. The former has blossomed into a top talent at the Volkswagen Arena after a frustrating spell at the Bridge as he has weighed in six assists since the turn of the year and leads the German Division with fifteen. The latter has an assist in four league games for Die Wolfe.

 

 

 

 

 

Furthermore, Dutch Forward, Bas Dost has been in incredible form since Bundesliga resumed on the 30th of January. He has scored 13 goals in 8 games with 11 of those 13 strikes coming in the Bundesliga. This spellbinding form is made more impressive when you consider the fact that the former Eredivisie top scorer had registered just one goal before the winter break. Only Messi has scored more than the 6’5 feet Striker over the same period among the top five leagues in Europe.  This Wolfsburg squad has almost everything a Coach wants: a Top Goalkeeper, Diego Benaglio and Young Prospect, Ricardo Rodriguez, Roger Federer’s countrymen; Solidity, you talk of Brazil’s Naldo; Experience, look to Gustavo,  Flair and Pace, Andre Schurrle and Ivan Perisic tick the boxes in that regard and the Forgotten Man, Nicklas Bendtner.

 

 

 

 

 

At this rate, Hecking’s men are currently on course to smash the fifth place finish they posted in the 2013/14 season. They are also one of the top contenders for the Europa League. There’s no stopping them one is tempted to say. However, this is where it might end. Why? Well because of a certain High Voltage Power in the Division that has the Financial and “Electric” Power to suck life out of a rival who enters the “danger zone” leaving them dry; Bayern Munchen the name of the culprit. The Bavarians have developed a knack for poaching the best talents in their rivals nest just when the eggs are ready to hatch. Uli Hoeness, former Bayern President said in February 2012 “Honestly it is not our intent to weaken other teams” before later soberly admitting that “We have done that at times in the past but it is a side issue”. Well said, a side issue that leaves Die Roten rivals in the side of things right?

We at TouchlineUI have done a run-down of 10 Players who were bought over by the Bavarian Power from Rival Clubs for your reading pleasure:

1              Lothar Matthaus (Borussia Monchengladbach) (1984)

In the 1970s, Borussia Monchengladbach enjoyed domestic success winning the German Bundesliga. Die Fohlen however struggled to replicate such feat in the 80s save the 1983-84 season in which they narrowly failed in their bid to win a sixth Bundesliga Title on goal difference.  Instrumental to that near success was a 23 year old Lothar Matthaus.

 

 

 

 

 

Ahead of Monchengladbach DFB-POKAL Final against Bayern Munchen in 1984, Matthaus announced his transfer to rival Die Roten for a then record 2.5 million Deutshce Marks. Munich would go on to win the German Cup 7-6 on penalties with Matthaus missing the decisive kick. He was branded “Judas” by fans of Monchengladbach.

Lothar Matthaus went on to become one of the greatest players in German history winning 7 Bundesliga Titles and 4 DFB Pokal Crowns in his two spells with the Bavarians while Borussia Monchengladbach finished fourth the following season with 39 points, 11 adrift of champions – Bayern Munchen. Matthaus weighed in 16 League goals, the highest by a Bayern Player.

 

 

 

 

 

*Do you know Lothar Matthaus is the first recipient of the FIFA World Player of the Year Award? The 53 year old won it in 1991. He’s also the only German to have received the award.

*Do you know he played in five World Cups (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998)? That is more than any outfield player. He’s also holds the record for most World Cup matches played by a single player (25).

* Do you know Lothar Matthaus is the most capped German player of all time with a total of 150 appearances?

2              Stefan Effenberg (Borussia Monchengladbach) (1990, 1998)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Munchen would again in 1990 return to the Prussian club to sign 22 year old tireless midfielder, Stefan Effenberg nicknamed Der Tiger.

 

 

 

In his first two years with the Bavarian Giants though, the German failed to win silverware and was shipped to Italy where he had a spell with Fiorentina before returning to Monchengladbach in 1994. In 1998, he however made a surprise return to Munchen (a surprise considering the fact that he made quite a few friends in his first stint at the club), was made captain in 1999 and won 3 Bundesliga Titles and a German Cup. The crowning moment of his Bayern career came in 2001 when Die Bayern won the UEFA Champions League thus cementing his status as one of Bayern’s greats.  For Monchengladbach, since his departure, they’ve finished in the top three places just once and that was in the 1986/87 season.

 

 

 

 

 

*Do you know that upon Der Tiger’s retirement, his 109 career yellow card was a Bundesliga record?

3              Oliver Kahn (Karlsruhe SC)

Following his role in Karsrusher’s 1994 run to the UEFA Cup semi-final and a sixth placed-finish in the Bundesliga, Kahn transferred from childhood club to Bayern Munchen, the defending champions, for 4.6 million Deutshe Marks (a record-fee for goalkeepers at the time). Bayern finished sixth the following season while Kahn’s former side finished eighth but have been since been relegated (1997-98).

 

 

 

 

 

Over his 21`year career, he established himself as one of the greatest if not the greatest goalkeeper of his generation. He’s also one of the most successful German players of all-time. He won 8 Bundesliga Titles and 6 DFB Pokals, the UEFA Cup in 1996, the UEFA Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup both in 2001.

 

 

 

 

 

*Do you know that at the 2002 World Cup, Oliver Kahn became the first and only goalkeeper in the tournament’s history to win the Golden Ball?

4              Michael Ballack (Bayer Leverkusen (2002)

 

 

 

 

The 2001/02 season is one that 38 year old Michael Ballack wouldn’t want to remember. That season saw him finish runner-up in every competition he entered. Leverkusen finished second in the
German Bundesliga to Borussia Dortmund after squandering a five point lead, lost 4-2 to Schalke 04 in the German Cup Final, lost 2-1 to Real Madrid in the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League thanks to a wonder goal from Zinedine Zidane. Bayer Leverkusen was even dubbed Bayer Neverkusen.  Germany also lost to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup Final though Ballack missed the final due to suspension, thus crowning a miserable season for him.  Despite the misfortunes, the “Little Kaiser” had an outstanding individual season finishing third in the Bundesliga goal-scoring charts with 17 league goals.

 

 

 

 

 

So it was no surprise when Bayern Munchen, also coming off their first trophyless season since 1995, came calling and a fee of 12.9 million Euros was agreed thus bringing to an end a 3 year association with Bayer Leverkusen. The German would win three Bundesliga Titles and 3 DFB Pokals (2003, 2005 and 2006) but for Leverkusen, the transfer was catastrophic with Ballack’s departure ushering an era of unrest in the successful 2002 squad as they slipped from second to fifteenth the following season and just about avoided the drop. He later returned to the Bay Arena later in his career in 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

*Do you know Michael Ballack wore the number 13 shirt for every team he played for except Kaiserslautern?

5              Ze Roberto (Bayer Leverkusen) 2002

 

 

 

 

Following Michael Ballack to Bayern Munchen was Brazilian Ze Roberto. It wasn’t however easy for the Bavarian Giants to secure the talents of the Brazilian as Leverkusen Chairman, Reiner Calmund, was determined to keep his successful squad intact. After all the verbal and media exchanges which included the Brazilian saying “After all, there have been lots of players from Leverkusen that end up with Bayern”, Roberto was eventually sold for a fee of 12 million Euros. He would claim the League and Cup Double twice while Leverkusen has since failed to replicate their success of the 2002 season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6              Lucio (Bayer Leverkusen) 2004

 

 

 

 

Leverkusen managed to hold on to Lucio for two more seasons despite the exits of Ballack and Ze Roberto. However, in 2004, following another trophyless season and after a transfer war between Juventus, AS Roma and Bayern, the Bavarian Giants secured the services of the Brazilian. He went on to win three titles and cup doubles. Two years later, only three players out of the starting eleven in the 2002 UEFA Champions League Final remained at Leverkusen. The club slid into further mediocrity.

*Do you Lucio was the one that got the leveler for Bayer Leverkusen after Raul put Real ahead in the 2002 UEFA Champions League?

7              Miroslav Klose (Werder Bremen) 2007

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh from winning the German Bundesliga, Werder Bremen signed Polish born German Forward, Miroslav Klose. He joined on a 4 year contract for a fee of 5 million Euros from Kaiserslautern.  However in 2007, the poacher was a subject of a controversial move from North German side, Werder Bremen, to Bayern Munchen. The World Cup All-Time Highest Goal scorer announced on the 7th day of June, 2007 that he would be leaving for Bayern the following summer after the expiration of his contract. Bremen’s hands were tied and they were forced to sell their star forward to their rivals. Perhaps Lewandowski took a ‘Polish’ cue from this.

 

 

 

 

 

Though his time at Bayern Munchen was not as successful as his time with the German National Team, he still won two League and Cup Doubles and he also formed a lethal partnership with Luca Toni. For Werder Bremen, despite being one of most successful clubs in the early 2000s, they slipped down the ladder in recent years and have failed to appear in a European competition since the 2010-11 season.

Likewise, Bayern in 2007 signed rising German star Jan Schlawdroff from Aachen in order to stop him from moving to rivals, Werder Bremen. He made only eight appearances in the 2007/08 season before Bayern sold him. He was never called to the National squad again.

8              Manuel Neuer (Schalke 04) 2011

 

 

 

 

I don’t think any transfer has ever been as controversial as this, generating anger from both set of fans. Manuel Neuer was coming off the back of a hugely successful season leading his boyhood club, Schalke 04 to surprise Champions League Semi-Final finish and a DFB-Pokal title in the 2010/11 season. With Bayern struggling to replace the legendary Oliver Kahn, it was no surprise they cast their eyes on Manuel Neuer. In his final games at the Veltins Arena, Schalke fans greeted him with chants of “Judas” while other held signs that read, “You wanted to be a Schalke boy? You’re just a Bayern pig”. If he thought he would receive a better reception at Allianz Arena, he was mistaken. His reception at Allianz Arena was arguably worse with the Bayern fans angered by his open support for his former side and his mockery of Oliver Kahn’s goal celebration.

 

 

 

 

Since joining Bayern, the soon-to-be 29 year old goalkeeper has won the League and Cup Double twice (2012-13 and 2013-14), the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. Unlike other clubs that saw their stock crash after the departure of their key players, Schalke 04 are still one of the stop sides in Germany though they have struggled to replace Germany’s Number One.

*Do you know Manuel Neuer’s  22 million Euros move from Schalke 04 to Bayern Munchen made him the second most expensive goalkeeper, only behind Gianluigi Buffon?

9              Mario Gotze (Borussia Dortmund) 2013

 

 

 

 

 

If Manuel Neuer’s departure prompted anger, then this one prompted heartbreak. Gotze joined Dortmund’s youth setup at the age of eight and will spend a further twelve years at the Black and Yellows. He was the symbol of the revitalization that took place at the Signal Iduna which was building a youth setup following a financial meltdown between the early and mid-2000s. It was on the back of this youth setup the club won back-to-back Bundesliga titles between 2010-2012 with Gotze key in that successful side. It looked like Bayern’s stranglehold on the league had been broken…

 

 

 

 

However, in the hours leading up to Dortmund’s Champions League with Real Madrid, Munchen announced that it had agreed to meet the young German’s release clause which was 37 million Euros. Decision was cruel but timing was worse. Dortmund would advance to the final only to fall to, well your guess is as good as mine, Bayern Munchen with Gotze looking on from the stands. Despite finishing
an admirable second the following season, it was the 25 point difference that highlighted the gulf between the two sides. Gotze on the other hand has won the League and Cup Double once since his switch.

 

 

 

 

*Do you know Mario Gotze’s 37 million Euros move to the Allianz Arena makes him the second most expensive German player to date, behind Mesut Ozil?

10           Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund) 2014

 

 

 

 

 

While Gotze’s was a shock and sudden, Robert’s Lewandowski free transfer to Munich had an air of inevitability. The Pole announced his intention to join Bayern for the 2014/15 season in November 2013. The Pole, before announcing his intention, had played for Dortmund in a sorry and moody state. The Pole is currently on his way to winning the Bundesliga title while his old side, until January, was publicly flirting with relegation. Dortmund is yet to recover as the likes of Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos have simply not stepped up to the plate.

 

 

 

 

Others worthy of mention include:

Karl Del Haye: Borussia Monchengladbach-Bayern Munchen

Claudio Pizzaro: Werder Bremen- Bayern Munchen (twice)

Mario Gomez: VFB Stuttgart- Bayern Munchen

Dante: Borussia Monchengladbach- Bayern Munchen

CONCLUSION

Bayern have never shied away from poaching the best talents from rival clubs. While that might not have been a cautious effort in the 80s and 90s, their trophyless 2001/02 season and a strong Bayer squad saw the strategy change. They raided the Leverkusen squad and left it short of inspiration. With Dortmund providing the very same threat at the turn of the decade, the Bavarians employed the strategy again.

 

 

 

 

 

Now with the Volkswagen revolution on ground, one begins to wonder what will happen; especially with Ribery battling injuries and Lewandowski far from settled… one can only wonder. Good one Wolfsburg have entered the “danger zone” but beware, the Bavarian “high voltage” is just around the corner. There might be the argument that the last time Wolfsburg won the league which was in 2008, Bayern did not snap their two key players, Grafite who finished top scorer with 28 goals and Edin Dzeko who finished with 26 goals in the 2007/08 season. That’s just an exception, it sure doesn’t rule out a potential purchase of motor parts at the Volkswagen Arena. Well, if you can’t beat them, don’t join them, just buy them!

Over to the Volkswagen Drivers, let’s see how far they can drive the “people’s car”!!