Barcelona

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: Barcelona

A JUVENTUS defense that has only conceded 24 goals this season will not be easy to break down, but a certain three men that have scored 120 between them will feel confident that at least one can find the back of the net on Saturday.

Lionel Messi (43), Luis Suarez (16) and Neymar (22) have scored 81 of Barcelona’s 110 league goals this season. To put that in some sort of context, the entire Juventus squad scored 70 goals this season, Chelsea scored 73 and Bayern Munich scored 80. Juventus (Italy), Chelsea (England) and Bayern (Germany) all won their respective leagues.

Despite the lethal form of “MSN” in front of goal, Barcelona did not finish as the top scorers in La Liga, as Real Madrid netted 118 times, but a reinvented Barca did concede the least amount in Spain (21), and only Bayern let in less in Europe’s top five leagues (18).

Tiki-Taka is not quite Tiki-Toast at Camp Nou, but, under Luis Enrique, Barcelona are certainly more dynamic.

Ivan Rakitic is one of the most notable men who spearheaded this change, with the Croatian play-maker being that bit more aggressive than the tippy-tappy Xavi and Andres Iniesta, with the former being dropped for Rakitic.

Iniesta, arguably the finest midfielder of his generation, has seen his role in the Barcelona fold somewhat decrease in value under the new style, contributing just one goal and five assists in La Liga and the Champions League combined compared to Rakitic’s eight assists and six goals in the two elite competitions. Rakitic also created 42 chances compared to Iniesta’s 32.

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

In comparison, the strike force has gone the opposite way to the midfield with the hard working Alexis Sanchez (sold to Arsenal for £35 million), and Pedro (benched) being replaced by the aforementioned Suarez and Neymar who are more intent on scoring, scoring…and scoring a bit more, as opposed to winning the ball back and setting up the micro magician Messi.

The Catalan kings are keen to return to the throne of being Europe’s finest once again having not won the Champions League since 2011 where they defeated Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley Stadium.

They have already snatched back their domestic crown after having briefly lost it to Atletico Madrid for a year and Saturday’s final in Berlin will see either Barca or Juve win the treble with Barcelona also winning this season’s Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win over Athletic Club and Juventus overcame Lazio 2-1 in the Coppa Italia.

If Barcelona are to win their first treble since 2009, the rebranded team are going to have to find a way past a very organised Juventus side, but very few have managed to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

 

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Manchester City 1 (Aguero ’69) Barcelona 2 (Suarez ’16, ’30)

Luis Suarez’s return to England resulted in a bang as his brace put Catalan giants Barcelona in a commanding position ahead of the second leg at Camp Nou.

The ex-Liverpool forward, who netted 31 goals in 33 league matches on English soil last season, set Luis Enrique’s side on their way with just 16 minutes played.

His headed knock-on landed back into his path and he was agile enough to steady himself and slot the opener into the bottom corner.

Suarez slid in his, and Barcelona’s second, on the half hour mark off the base of the post to all but end the tie as a contest before half-time.

A traditionally sumptuous bit of Barcelona pass and move resulted in the second which Ivan Rakitic started and Suarez finished, with a jinking Lionel Messi run and a pinpoint low Jordi Alba cross in-between.

Sergio Aguero responded on 69 minutes with an equally aesthetically pleasing strike, he latched onto a neat David Silva back-hell and lashed the ball into the back of the net to keep slim City dreams alive.

Gael Clichy was given his marching orders four minutes later though for a second miss-timed challenge and his second yellow card. The first of which for slicing down Rakitic, and a similarly stupid challenge on Dani Alves brought Clichy’s night to an end.

Messi had a 90th minute penalty saved by Joe Hart, and the headed rebound went wide to keep City somewhat in the contest, but with an uphill battle.

PREVIEW: Real Madrid vs Barcelona (Saturday 5pm BST)

Real Madrid welcome old foes Barcelona to Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday evening but will have to play the side who have still not conceded a league goal this season, without Gareth Bale.

The world’s most expensive player will miss the crunch match due to the same muscle injury that saw him sit out Madrid’s 0-3 midweek mauling of Liverpool in the Champions League.

Welsh wizard Bale was also an unused substitute in Real’s last league match at Levante in which the visitors cruised to a 0-5 win.

Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed however that Sergio Ramos will be fit for tomorrow’s derby.

Barcelona meanwhile will be without Thomas Vermaelen, Adriano and Sergio Busquets.

Luis Suarez is expected to feature in his first competitive game for Barca with this weekend marking his long awaited end to a four month ban that started in June for biting Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s World Cup clash against Italy.

His new side did the double over Madrid last season, winning 2-1 at the Nou Camp and overcoming them again at Santiago Bernabeu in a ding dong battle that saw the away side return home with a 3-4 win.

It was a game in which Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick, two of which were penalties while his Ballon d’Or rival Ronaldo scored only once.

La Liga’s Catalan giants have kept clean sheets in all of their eight games this campaign, scoring 22 and only dropping points once so far (a 0-0 draw in Malaga).

Madrid haven’t been shy in front of goal though, notching 25 goals in their eight matches with Cristiano Ronaldo providing 14 of them.

However they already find themselves off the pace in the La Liga title race, having lost two games this season to Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad.

They are four points behind league leaders Barcelona but Saturday gives them the perfect opportunity to close the gap to just one.

UEFA Champions League Group Stage Draw

Manchester City have been handed a tough draw in this season’s Champions League, being matched up with German Champions Bayern Munich in group E.

The Premier League holders will also have to face a tricky trip to CSKA Moscow and AS Roma.

Bayern Munich, Manchester City and CSKA Moscow were all drawn in the same group last season with Munich finishing first and Manchester City second.

Chelsea meanwhile were paired with Schalke 04 for the second season running and they will be joined in group G by Sporting Lisbon and Maribor, who elimiated Celtic in the last round.

Arsenal have been matched up with Borussia Dortmund again as well as Galatasay and Anderlecht.

Liverpool, in the Champions League for the first time in five years, will re-enter the competition knowing they will have to play holders Real Madrid, Swiss Champions FC Basel and Ludogorets of Bulgaria who make their Champions League bow.

Elsewhere beaten finalists Atletico Madrid have been drawn with Juventus and Barcelona will play PSG in a mouth watering tie.

Draw in full:

Group A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiakos, Malmo

Group B: Real Madrid, FC Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets

Group C: Benfica, Zenit, Bayer Leverkusen, AS Monaco

Group D: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasary, Anderlecht

Group E: Bayern Munich, Manchester City, CSKA Moscow, AS Roma

Group F: Barcelona, PSG, Ajax, APOEL Nicosia

Group G: Chelsea, Schalke 04, Sporting Lisbon, Maribor

Group H: Porto, Shaktar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE Borisov

Cameroon 0-4 Croatia: Indomitable Lions exit without a roar

Cameroon exited the World Cup at the group stage for the fifth time in a row following a 0-4 defeat to group A rivals Croatia with goals from Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic along with a brace from Mario Mandzukic.

A bizarre red card from Alex Song summed up a miserable night for the Africans.

The Barcelona midfielder lashed out in an off the ball challenge with Mario Mandzukic, elbowing the Croatian in the back needlessly just before half time.

The Indomitable Lions were surprisingly domitable as Croatia run Cameroon ragged in the humidity of Manaus.

Croatia were already in front before the sending off thanks to Ivica Olic scoring a tap in following Ivan Perisic’s squared pass on 11 minutes.

Perisic scored himself three minutes into the second half to confirm Cameroon’s casualty when he broke free of the defense before slotting home past former Liverpool Goalkeeper Charles Intandje after a fine solo run.

Want-away Bayern Munich striker Mandzukic made it 0-3 just after the hour when he headed in Danijel Pranjic’s corner.

Super Mario: Mandzukic confirms Cameroon's exit.

Super Mario: Mandzukic confirms Cameroon’s exit.

He added his second with 72 minutes on the clock when Intandje parried Eduardo’s shot straight to Mandzukic who beat the offside trap and had the simple task to tap home the fourth.

If he was more clinical earlier on, Mandzukic could have walked home with the match-ball but somehow fired wide when he looked odds on to score.

Croatia now head into next Monday’s clash with Mexico with confidence where the winner will qualify for the second round with hosts Brazil joining them if they can overcome a despondent Cameroon.

Top 10: Best young League 1 players

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10: Dele Alli (MK Dons)

The first, and youngest, member of this top 10 list, Bamidele Jermaine (Dele) Alli is a real star in the making. A third tier regular at the tender age of 18 (having been 17 for the majority of the season), making 26 appearances for Milton Keynes this season and scoring six goals in the league along with two assists does not go unnoticed.

Those six goals makes him the third highest goalscorer at Stadium:MK and his impact would have both surprised and delighted his boss Karl Robinson who is a young Manager himself.

Alli has already got International recognition, with nine England Under 17 caps to his name.

Despite being so young, Alli has already scored his first senior hat-trick in a 1-3 away win at Notts County.

“He’s one of the most gifted 17-year-olds this country has ever seen” Robinson announced at the final whistle. High praise indeed.

9: Luke Freeman (Stevenage)

Stevenage’s go to man for success is former Arsenal man Luke Freeman.

The 22 year old winger is the Boro’s third leading scorer with six strikes and the club’s main provider with a further six assists. Freeman sadly couldn’t save Stevenage from the drop back down to League 2 but without him the Hertfordshire club would not have been as close to survival as they were.

Dartford born danger man Freedman is attracting attention from clubs in the higher divisions and following Stevenage’s relegation, it seems even more unlikely that he will stay at Broadhill Way.

8: Matt Tootle (Crewe) 

It would not be a list of young talents in League 1 without a Crewe player, would it? The Alex’s esteemed youth academy that has developed talents such as Leeds United’s Luke Murphy, Dean Ashton, Nicky Maynard and most notably Manchester United’s Nick Powell, has found another gem in Matt Tootle.

A Crewe regular since 2009, the 23-year-old has already notched up over 150 games for the Gresty Road club and has been an ever present, not missing a single game as the Railway Men avoided relegation from League 1 for a second successive year.

If Tootle keeps this sort of form up, don’t be surprised if the latest export from Alex’s Academy goes on to bigger and better things like many before him.

7: Harry Maguire (Sheffield United)

In a season that has seen Sheffield United perform well below what they are capable of, Jacob Harry Maguire has been a rare consistent performer at the back and was one of the key men during the second half revival under new boss Nigel Clough.

Thanks to Clough and also to Maguire’s performances at the heart of the Sheffield defence, the Blades soared from relegation fears to finish just one place outside the play offs in 7th along with an FA Cup run that would see them eliminated 5-3 by Hull in the Semi Finals.

Maguire has been a key figure at Bramall Lane since 2011, missing only nine league games in the last three seasons as Sheffield United seek to return to the Championship after three disappointing seasons in League 1.

With an ever improving Maguire, next year might just be their year.

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6: Nouha Dicko (Wolves)

11 August 2013 and Nouha Dicko comes on as an 86th minute substitute for James McCarthy at Wembley as Wigan go down 2-0 to Manchester United in the Community Shield. Fast forward eight months and he’s at Wolves in League 1.

Dicko had spent a brief loan spell in Wolverhampton last season, four appearances, all off the bench, one goal. Not enough as Wolves found themselves in the third division having been in the top flight two years previous.

Five goals in five goals for Rotherham United from November to January was all it needed to convince Kenny Jackett to bring Dicko back to the Midlands and the Frenchman’s goal scoring form has not slowed down with him netting 12 in 19 for Wolves as they powered to the League 1 title.

The winger/striker, who is also eligible to play for the Mali international team scored two goals on his return debut at Molineux, a 3-1 home victory over Bristol City while he also grabbed a hat-trick in a 6-4 win over Rotherham, showing no love for his former club.

21 year old Dicko finished the season as Wolves’ second top scorer, with only one behind Bakary Sako on 13. Not bad for a bloke who only joined in January. Wigan could yet rue letting this boy go.

5: Moses Odubajo (Leyton Orient)

Arguably the division’s surprise packages this season, Leyton Orient have sealed themselves a play off spot thanks to a number of quality performances from their young squad.

None more so than from 20-year-old midfielder Moses Adubajo. The Leyton Orient club graduate scored 10 goals from midfield this season and added six assists to his season tally.

Premier League clubs have been alerted to the goal scoring midfielder’s achievements with Tottenham among the clubs reportedly after his signature this Summer and if Russell Slade’s side fail to cross the promotion line then it may be difficult to keep hold of Odubajo.

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4: Callum Wilson (Coventry)

Few would have predicted how much of an impact Callum Wilson would make this season following a poor showing this time last year. His total of one goal in 11 last season became 21 in 36 after just a year.

Wilson enjoyed a prolific partnership with Leon Clarke in the first half of this campaign but while Clarke’s goals dried up as he switched Midlands allegiances, Wilson continued to flourish.

21 goals makes Wilson the joint third top scorer with Rotherham’s Kieran Agard, some achievement for a man who missed ten games and being part of a side with -10 points at the start of the season. On top of that, every match being theoretically an away trip with Coventry playing their “home” games 33 miles away at Sixfields in Northampton.

Coventry finished the season in a very respectable position of 18th considering their points deduction and small squad, in addition to losing Clarke midway through the season. Without Wilson, it could well have been a very different outcome.

3: Britt Assombalonga (Peterborough)

Powerful striker Britt Assombalonga has proved to be the signing of the season in League 1 this term. A relative risk by Darren Ferguson to sign him as the Zaire forward had never played third tier football, and had never scored for Championship Watford (playing five games).

Five goals in five for Conference side Braintree Town in 2011/12 and 15 in 43 for League 2 Southend the following season though was enough to convince Ferguson Jnr to snap up Assombalonga for a club record fee, which is unknown, but the 21-year-old proved he was worth his weight in goals, notching 23 in 40 games.

He would turn out to be a villain to Swindon fans, first netting on his Posh debut at London Road in a 1-0 win over the Reds and then leveling the scores in the JPT second leg to force the tie into penalties. Peterborough won to book a spot at Wembley.

Assombalonga would keep up his JPT scoring habits, slotting home a penalty in Posh’s 1-3 win over Chesterfield to win the competition for the first time in their history.

The former Watford man will be looking to show the Hornets what they have let go next season with Peterborough looking to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt via the play offs. Should Posh earn promotion, they have a certain Ferguson risk to thank.

2: Alex Pritchard (Swindon)

Out of the four loan signings from Tottenham (a further two joining permanently), one young Hotspur stood out from the crowd. So much so that on Tottenham’s first game since Pritchard’s return to North London he was named on the bench away to West Ham.

Voted the second best player in League 1 and short-listed for the football league young player of the year award, the tiny midfielder clearly has a huge future ahead of him.

The 5 foot 6 inch winger ended his time in Wiltshire with six goals to his name, one of them being a fantastic free-kick away to MK Dons, something he is fast picking up a reputation for.

Pritchard may find himself back out on loan next season, quite probably a division or more up from this term with QPR reportedly keen on him but the 21 year old has expressed his desire to prove himself at Tottenham after signing a two year contract  in January last year to quash interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

One thing is for sure is that he will be fondly remembered by Swindon supporters and the feeling is mutual. Pritchard calling this “the best season of my career”. Hopefully many more to come for the England Under 20 International.

1: Adam Forshaw (Brentford)

League 1’s player of the year, Adam Forshaw has been exceptional in the Red and White of Brentford, contributing eight goals and four assists from the centre of midfield as the Bees recovered from the sting of losing out on promotion on the final day of last season.

Brentford also had to show mental toughness to bounce back after then suffering more heartbreak that season, losing the play off final to Yeovil.

The Griffin Park faithful finally saw their side gain promotion to the Championship thanks largely to Forshaw’s performances and Manager Mark Warburton keeping the ship steady midway through the season following Uwe Rosler’s departure to Wigan in early December.

Everton reserve player of the year 2012 Forshaw, 22, was linked with a move out of West London in January but committed his future to Brentford stating “My aim is to get promoted with Brentford. I’m really enjoying it here.

“I feel I’m gaining a lot of experience playing regularly. Last year was a massive learning curve for me.”

Bees fans will be hoping Forshaw shys away from speculation for a second successive season in the Summer and stays on at Brentford with the club looking to establish itself as a Championship side.

Forshaw will very much be key to any chances of that.

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Top 10: Best young Championship players

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In yet another Championship season that has seen thrills, spills, excitement and drama, here’s a look at some of the young players who made an impact and could be destined for bright things in the future.

10: Jamaal Lascelles (Nottingham Forest)

The first of three Nottingham Forest players to make an appearance in this list, Jamaal Lascelles is hot property. The 20-year-old Centre Back has already attracted interested from the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal in the Premiership with the latter submitting a £5 million pound bid for the Forest man when he was just 17. Everton are also keeping an eye on his progress.

The Derby born defender spent time at League 1 Stevenage last season, scoring one goal in seven games with his first start for the club coming in a 6-0 away win over Yeovil Town, who would of course go on to earn promotion via the play offs.

Lascelles has made 31 appearances this campaign, scoring two goals and has also made two caps for the England Under 20 squad.

9: Karl Darlow (Nottingham Forest)

Karl Darlow is the second member of the Forest contingent to appear in the top 10 and the only goalkeeper. Darlow began his career at Aston Villa as an eight-year-old but found himself without a club by age 16.

Weeks after his release he was snapped up by Nottingham Forest on recommendation by Villa goalkeeping coach Eric Steele and the Englishman hasn’t looked back since.

Darlow is eligible to play for Wales through his Grandfather Ken Leek who was a former pro himself, netting 49 goals in 104 games for Birmingham City, and representing Wales in the 1958 World Cup. Darlow however has rejected a call up from the Red Dragons in hope that he’ll one day attract interest from England.

The 23-year-old has had to be patient for his Forest chance, having been at the club since 2010 and being away from the club twice on loan in 2012 (Newport and Walsall) but he has now established himself as the number one at the City Ground following Lee Camp’s departure.

We could well be seeing Darlow in the Premier League soon, either with Forest who came close to promotion this season, or via another route with Liverpool and Tottenham keen on the youngster.

8: Rohan Ince (Brighton)

Rohan Ince, third cousin of Manchester United legend Paul and second cousin of Crystal Palace winger Tom, has made a big impression since joining the AMEX after his release from Chelsea.

Liam Bridcutt’s January move to Sunderland had Seagulls fans on edge, fearing a big gap had been left in the midfield but Ince has filled it admirably as Brighton push to finish in the final play off place.

The former Centre Back, now defensive midfielder, has looked solid in a Brighton shirt, making 28 appearances this season, including a number of man of the match performances as he looks to emulate both his cousins with Paul and Tom both gracing the Premier League in their careers.

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7: Anthony Knockaert (Leicester)

Villain turned hero. Knockaert was the man who missed “that penalty” against Watford that led to Troy Deeney’s magnificent counter attack goal that took Watford to Wembley instead of Leicester as the Hornets stung the Foxes at Vicarage Road.

Leicester’s Frenchman has redeemed himself however scoring five goals in 38 games as they have stormed to the Championship title.

The cunning Fox will have to be kept at arm’s length by Premiership defences next season as this tricky wide man will be keen to ensure Leicester do a lot more than just compete in England’s top tier.

6: Jamie Paterson (Nottingham Forest)

The third and final Forest man to feature is winger-cum-striker Jamie Paterson who has made a real impression in Nottingham since his hat trick in a 5-0 demolition of West Ham, his first three goals for the club.

He scored his first league goal in the following game, a 1-1 away draw at Bolton and then he scored in his third successive game in a 4-1 trouncing of Blackburn back at the City Ground.

Paterson would go onto score another five in the season as the Tricky Trees went on a terrible run of form leading up to Billy Davies’ sacking.

5: Matt Phillips (QPR)

In what has been a disappointing season by all accounts, Matt Phillips has been a rare top performer in a Rangers shirt this season.

The pacey winger who has also previously spent time at Wycombe and Blackpool has contributed two assists and three goals during the R’s stuttering season which has seen no-one score more than five goals apart from Charlie Austin, who spent a large chunk of the year out injured, and Ravel Morrision who only joined in January on loan.

Scotland International Phillips, 23, was voted Wycombe’s Young Player of the Year in 2009 (aged 19), and also picked up the prestigious Football League Two ‘Apprentice of the Year’ award the same year.

Phillips was also a regular for Blackpool when they graced the Premier League and following their relegation was subject to a £5 million bid from Southampton, which was turned down. Phillips handed in a transfer request soon after.

4: Patrick Bamford (Derby County, on loan from Chelsea)

Bamford is quickly establishing himself as one of the most talented young strikers England has to offer after firstly impressing at League 1 MK Dons and then a level higher at Championship’s Derby County.

Lincolnshire lad Bamford, 20, netted 18 goals in 37 League 1 games at Stadium:MK over two seasons before Steve McClaren invited the young forward to upgrade to the Championship which he took to like a duck to water scoring 8 in 20 in Derby colours.

Chelsea’s latest prospect will be hoping he is a Premier League player next season, either with Derby County who have guaranteed themselves a play off spot or with his parent club who are having a well documented problem with their forward line.

His International future is as open in the air as his club career with Bamford having featured for the Republic of Ireland under 18’s as well as England’s development squads (Under 18, 19 and 21 level) but it looks like he has opted for the three Lions, to the delight of many.

3: Will Hughes (Derby County)

When the phrase “top young talents in the Championship” is ever mentioned, Will Hughes springs to the mind of most football fans, none more so to those who watch him week in week out at Pride Park.

“Pride” is the operative word around the Derby area when talking about this young man, making his first team debut aged just 17 years of age.

He was immediately on the radar of Manchester United and City, as well as Chelsea and even Barcelona.

It’s Liverpool fans though who are most confident of the midfielder’s signature with Hughes being a fan of the club.

The midfielder’s development hasn’t slowed down, despite all the hype surrounding him at such a young age and the now 19 year old is firmly focused on getting Derby County, where he is now a regular, back into the Premier League.

Hughes is not much of a goal scorer, having only been on the score-sheet five times for County in 73 games but it’s his flair that excites clubs and fans alike with him. Hughes has assisted five goals this season and was voted the 10th best player of the season in the Championship.

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2: Kieran Trippier (Burnley)

Burnley Right Back Kieran Trippier has been a key cog in the Clarets doing so surprisingly well this season but hasn’t had the headlines he perhaps deserves with Sam Vokes and Danny Ings’ strike partnership stealing most of the attention.

The Manchester City Youth Graduate (who captained the side to 2008 Youth Cup glory) has plenty of Championship experience under his belt already with two loan spells at Barnsley followed by one at Burnley before Sean Dyche brought him to Turf Moor on a permanent deal.

Trippier is one of the league’s top assisters this season with 14 and also finds himself in the division’s meanest defence, Burnley have conceded just 35 goals in 45 games this season. He was also voted the Championship’s 8th best player this season.

1: Danny Ings (Burnley)

The Championship’s best young player, the Championship’s best player.

Danny Ings, aged just 21 was voted the player of the season this year as Sean Dyche’s cash-strapped Clarets, who many were backing for relegation to League 1, were promoted to the Premiership as runners up.

20 goals in 45 games makes Danny Ings the joint fifth top scorer with Derby’s Chris Martin and Sam Vokes who he’s enjoyed a fruitful goalscoring relationship with this season.

Just last season, Ings only managed three goals in 32 games which highlights his vast improvement this season.

Following his successful campaign he is now touted as a transfer target for title chasing Liverpool as they look to bolster their thin squad ahead of their first Champions League campaign in five years.

If Ings signs the dotted line at Anfield this Summer, it will be a far cry from 2010 when he found himself on loan at Dorchester Town.

Wherever Ings finds himself next season, we know it will be in the Premier League where he will be hoping to make a big impression and who knows, he may even find himself in Roy Hodgson’s plans.

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Why Arsenal need to change their philosophy to progress

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Arsenal are well known for their patient passing play but eight, possibly nine barren seasons without a trophy needs changing. Fast. It could all improve if they ditch their modern tactics.

Following Wednesday’s 0-2 defeat to reigning European Champions Bayern Munich, the Gunners look all but out of this season’s competition which would see them fail to get past the last 16 for the fourth successive time. They haven’t got past the quarters in five years.

What was highlighted most on Wednesday was how Arsenal were completely played off the park at their own game, at home, with Bayern having an astonishing 79% possession statistic. This wasn’t helped of course by Wojciech Szczesny’s dismissal on 37 minutes which forced Arsene Wenger to replace Spanish play-maker Santi Cazorla but Arsenal looked second best even before that.

England’s best “Spanish Footballer” comes in the shape of Jack Wilshere but he was non-existent for the full 90 minutes while Mesut Ozil was his usual “passenger” self, looking uninterested for the whole game, even his crucial penalty was incredibly lazy. He missed.

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Ozil’s dip in form should have him looking over his shoulder.

This is not the first time Arsenal have been beaten by their own game, Barcelona did the same to them in 2011.

One of the most worrying aspects of the modern Arsenal is Wenger’s decreasing tactical knowledge. Following Szczesny’s sending off, the Frenchman brought off Cazorla while the consistently average Ozil was kept on. Even worse, when 0-1 down with 15 minutes to play, Arsenal’s main, possibly only, attacking threat Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was hauled off for the defensive minded Tomas Rosicky.

Holding onto a narrow loss at home is embarrassing enough, even when a man down. What’s more embarrassing however is when it doesn’t work, Thomas Muller made it 0-2 with two minutes remaining.

Should Wenger have kept “The Ox” and Cazorla on, Arsenal would have possibly created more chances with Cazorla’s passing followed by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s powerful jinking runs, but there was none of that, Arsenal stepped off Bayern and allowed them to pass them to death.

The argument that this would have left Arsenal more open defensively is a valid one, however Chelsea proved in 2012 that it can be done when they earned their hugely impressive 2-2 draw over Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and that was with ten men following John Terry’s clumsy challenge.

Wenger’s tactical failings also apply to his forward line. Promising striker Yaya Sanogo looked isolated for large periods of the Munich match however he won most, if not every header. This suggests that the France Under 21 International would benefit from a striking partner, something Arsenal don’t use. Sanogo could use his strength and heading ability to knock balls down to his partner, possibly Olivier Giroud or a new acquisition, and even grab the odd goal himself as he does get in the right areas but lacks the decisive finishing touch at this stage.

Where Chelsea’s formation, which is exactly the same as Arsenal’s, succeeds is that they have better goal scoring midfielders in the shape of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, formerly Juan Mata and occasionally Ramires. These get on the score sheet enough times that the limited scoring ability of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba isn’t too much of a problem. Whereas Cazorla, Ozil, and Oxlade-Chamberlain have 10 league goals between them, Hazard boasts 12 on his own.

This season has been a lot better for Arsenal, the double is still realistically on the cards in theory. Where they struggle however is overcoming the big teams. Their league results against last season’s top four are a 6-3 away loss to Manchester City, a 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea, and an away loss and home draw against a below par Manchester United team. Not forgetting a 5-1 thumping away to Liverpool.

The Gunners have a tough end to March with Tottenham away followed by a trip to Chelsea before finishing at Manchester City at home. February’s fixture list has been cruel to Arsenal with that Liverpool loss and the home draw against Manchester United joining an FA Cup and Champions League tie. If they end March where they are now they will still be in the title race but given this season’s record against the top sides it looks doubtful.

The FA Cup is realistic after they eliminated Liverpool to reach the quarters but they meet Everton which is not an easy prospect. Arsenal will be boosted by Chelsea and Man United’s elimination but Man City are clear favourites to lift the trophy and carry on Arsenal’s long wait for silverware where it all looked so promising just few months ago.