In the early hours of Wednesday morning I tuned into the ‘Premier League Asia Trophy Preview’ while whittling my way through a packed Sky+ planner.
Said programme was an interview hosted by Sky Sports presenter David Jones, who spoke to four managers: Frank de Boer, Tony Pulis, Craig Shakespeare and Jurgen Klopp, as the title suggests, previewing the forthcoming pre-season tournament, the Asia Trophy.
Maybe watching such a show at the barbaric hour of 3am had the effect, but it seemed like I was in a world where all control had been lost, or maybe this was just an all-too-accurate reflection of Planet Transfer Market once the activity of Crystal Palace, West Brom, Leicester City and Liverpool was discussed.
Unlike in the eyes of most others though, the main issue is not necessarily people like Kyle Walker commanding circa £50 million fees – that is just the price you pay for mega-bucks television deals and English players, especially half-decent ones, being so few and far between.
No. What the real problem is, is the tremendous titillation of it all.
Presenter Jones, who emphasised the word ‘transfers’ in his introduction to the segment with so much vigour that it seemed Tourette-like, was, to be fair to him, just doing his job as the Sky Sports mouthpiece to what has long-been the entertainment within the entertainment.
In what is a ‘Chicken and Egg’ scenario, there is an issue football has now where the amount of people interested in the 90 minutes is decreasing while the hullabaloo before and after it seems to be sky-rocketing. Any print media journalist asked the difference in readership figures between the match report and the ‘Player X linked to Club Y’ story will tell you that.
How could you not be excited when, in the words of Jones, “all managers are battling the transfer spending, which is hitting new levels”?
The managers themselves are not getting caught up in it though. Pulis labelled it “ridiculous”, de Boer “crazy” and Shakespeare admitted he “doesn’t really like it, but you have to accept it.”
Klopp, who previously quipped Germany is still normal with players still moving clubs for fees such as £5 million and £7 million, put it better than anybody else, however.
When asked if he was planning any more incomings for the Liverpool fans with “baited breath” (again, a phrase fired from Jones’ mouth like a bullet out of a gun), he responded: “Look. There’s nothing I could say that could help.
“We are interested in a lot of players around the world, but at the moment I’m working with the squad I have. With all respect, that’s my job in the first place.
“If I go into training and think: Oh my God, still them? That’s not okay, but that’s the first part of the job – nobody thinks about improvement and development of the players you have.”
The crux of the matter though is why is nobody thinking about improvement and development? Is it all just too dull?
There is no flashy ‘totaliser’ for every player a manager improves instead of buying, there is no bold yellow strap at the bottom of a screen when an 18-year-old gets his first start and there is certainly no all-day event that some joke should be a national holiday quite like the perpetual damp squib that is Transfer Deadline Day.
Maybe it is time to get off the transfer train, maybe we missed our stop a long time ago, and, if so, maybe we are approaching the end of the line, we just need to hope we are not going completely off the rails.
Jurgen Klopp’s long-awaited appointment as Liverpool manager sparked mass excitement among Reds fans all over – and rightly so – he is a perfect fit for the club.
A quote by Klopp back in September that stated he would probably not end his sabbatical from management for a “top club” has been resurfaced by fans mocking Liverpool’s fall from grace but Klopp also said he would rather work on an exciting “project”.
Despite jibes, five-time European Cup winners Liverpool are still a big club, huge in fact, but restoring a team who has not won a top flight title in 25 years to contenders again is without doubt the “project” that tugs on Klopp’s heartstrings.
“The intensity of the football, how the fans live football in Liverpool, around Liverpool and all over the world (attracted him the club).
“It’s not a normal club. It’s a special club. I had two special clubs in Mainz and Borussia Dortmund and this is the perfect next step for me”.
The German also joked in a mesmeric first press conference that if he has not guided Liverpool to at least one title over the course of his four-year contract, he will move to Switzerland.
Chief Executive Ian Ayre was openly delighted with his new man saying:
“When we started the search (for a new manager), it was important that we found somebody that we thought could bring success to the club. It was important we could find someone who could take on the size, the might and the ambition of the club and Jurgen certainly ticks those boxes”.
A sign of progress: Klopp’s appointment could be the start of big things for Liverpool
The size of the project will not daunt Klopp in the slightest. His transformation of Borussia Dortmund into a European heavyweight for a brief period is not to be understated
Dortmund would have gone out of business in 2003 had it not been for a 2 million Euro loan from Bayern Munich and they came close to bankruptcy again in 2005.
Klopp was appointed at Signal Iduna Park in 2008 off the back of a season in which Dortmund almost got relegated but nevertheless qualified for the Europa League as they got to the DFB-Pokal final (a 2-1 loss against Bayern).
Just two years later, Klopp guided them to fifth and the following season they were champions and the year after that they were defending champions – with a then record of 81 points. Dortmund also claimed the DFB-Pokal (German FA Cup) in a famous double winning year.
They lost their title in what was ultimately a cruel 2012-13 campaign as they finished second to Bayern in the league, the Supercup and the Champions League, but it was no doubt a tremendous achievement nonetheless. Dortmund finished second again in 2013-14 before the slump last season that ended in them finishing seventh and Klopp’s famous tenure ending via resignation.
Under Klopp, Liverpool should also become a lot wiser in the transfer market. The club currently work with a transfer committee, which includes the manager, where the group work on who the club should sign.
During Brendan Rodgers’ three-year spell in charge, Liverpool spent just over £210 million and only Daniel Sturridge (£15 million), Phillippe Coutinho (£8.5 million), Simon Mignolet (£9 million) and Mamadou Sakho (£15 million) could be described as relatively successful buys.
Most notable flops include Fabio Borini (£10 million), Joe Allen (£15 million), Luis Alberto (£6.8 million), Iago Aspas (£7 million), Dejan Lovren (£20 million), Lazar Markovic (also £20 million) and the infamous Mario Balotelli (£16 million).
Of that not-so-secret seven, only two (Allen and Lovren) are currently part of the first team squad while Alberto, Markovic and Balotelli have been loaned out to Deportivo, Fenerbache and AC Milan respectively and Borini and Aspas have been sold to the likes of Sunderland and Sevilla.
Klopp is likely to be more astute. At Mainz and Dortmund he has picked up a reputation of signing unwanted or underrated players on the cheap and moulding them into some of the finest talents in the modern game.
Mats Hummels was acquired for Dortmund from Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich for just 4 million Euros, Ilkay Gundogan joined for the same fee from FC Nurnburg and Shinji Kagawa initially moved to the Black and Yellows from native Japanese outfit Cerezo Osaka for a modest 350,000 thousand Euros.
Klopp for the Kop: Could domestic silverware be coming to Anfield soon?
His finest achievements though are the players that left his Dortmund for arch-rivals Bayern.
Mario Gotze, scorer of the goal that won Germany the World Cup last summer, is a product of the BVB youth system and was given his first-team debut by Klopp. Robert Lewandowski, currently on a scoring streak of 15 goals in six games, also became a household name under Liverpool’s new boss after he was prized from Lech Poznan for just 4.5 million Euros.
With the mercurial Klopp at the helm, Liverpool could and should be wiser in the transfer market if the boss is given control and the esteemed youth academy could be used to good effect once again to produce the next Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher that the Merseyside club are crying out for.
What is arguably most important though, as the reaction to his unveiling proved, Klopp has the power, the prestige and presence to unite Liverpool supporters and give them a reason to shout once more.
Rodgers’ appointment led to mixed views, from the young exciting coach who transformed Swansea and to do the same for Liverpool to take them to the next level, to the manager who was inexperienced with a big club and only had a Championship play-off final trophy to his name.
Klopp however has got lips moving, hearts racing and fingers tapping excitedly on keyboards at the prospect of Liverpool becoming great again, to be feared again, and more importantly respected again.
“Liverpool think they’re a big club, but the real big clubs are not too worried about them, who they buy, what they are going to do”, according to Carragher, but now they have Klopp, that might just change.
The 2015-16 Premier League season is slowly dawning upon us and, soon enough, so will the dreaded “sack race”. Here are five managers that will need a good start this season to prevent themselves being dragged into the mire.
1) Steve McClaren – Newcastle United
Newcastle’s murky issues off-the-pitch seem to finally look like they are coming to an end. Alan Pardew resigning as manager to take over at Crystal Palace in December 2014 was the beginning of the end of the “Cockney Mafia” and now owner Mike Ashley is set to step down to much fanfare from the Newcastle faithful.
New manager McClaren hopefully signifies a new dawn at St.James’ Park, however he arrives in Tyneside having twice failed to gain promotion from the Championship with Derby County following a brief stint as a coach at QPR, a failed return to FC Twente where he previously won the Eredivisie, a four month spell at Nottingham Forest and a dismal period at Wolfsburg where he was sacked after less than a year.
McClaren has defiantly announced his intentions to be the first man to bring a major honour to Newcastle since Stan Steymour who won the FA Cup in 1955 while in charge, which could suggest the Magpies’ league position could be sacrificed in order to pick up some shiny silverware.
A home match against Southampton offers McClaren a decent prospect of a promising start as Newcastle boss where he will be backed by a 50,000-plus capacity crowd, but defeat will only remind his new fans that he was once a man leading arch-rivals Middlesbrough to a 2004 League Cup win and a 2006 UEFA Cup final.
Man About Toon: McClaren is the new Newcastle boss.
2) Brendan Rodgers – Liverpool
What a year for Rodgers – and not in a good way. He finished May 2014 by signing a four-year extension to his Liverpool contract after winning the LMA Manager of the Year award a few weeks earlier having guided the Reds to 2nd place in the Premier League scoring 101 goals in the process – the club’s most since the 1895-96 season and the third highest in Premier League history. He finished May 2015 with Liverpool in sixth and his job under scrutiny.
Raheem Sterling’s likely departure gives him another headache, as for already the second time in his tenure, he has to find a replacement for his top goalscorer – although Daniel Sturridge missed most of last season through injury.
That ultimately made his job a lot more difficult, as did £15 million man Mario “the postman does not celebrate when he posts a letter” Balotelli failing to deliver.
The Northern Irishman has wasted no time in recruiting for next season, already bringing in six new faces at the time of writing.
Charlton’s Joe Gomez (£3.5 million), Roberto Firmino of Hoffenheim (£21.3 million), Manchester City’s James Milner (free), Burnley striker Danny Ings (tribunal), Bolton’s Adam Bogdan (free) and Southampton right-back Nathaniel Clyne (£10 million) are the early Anfield arrivals to bolster what was a small side that struggled to cope with both Champions League and Premier League matches last season.
It is not a problem they will have this time around, which could work in their favour like it did two seasons ago, but with Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City being seven of Liverpool’s first eight away games and Jurgen Klopp still as yet being unemployed, Rodgers could well be soon nervously looking over his shoulder.
3) Arsene Wenger – Arsenal
Two successive FA Cup triumphs has certainly relieved some pressure on Arsene Wenger – it has silenced a few doubters, anyway – but this needs to be the season the Gunners finally start firing on all fronts.
The blow-your-socks-off signing of Alexis Sanchez for £35 million around this time last summer was the second sign of intent after the £42.5 million capture of Mesut Ozil the previous season from a manager who had attracted a reputation of being a bit stingy in the transfer market.
Sanchez swiftly showed with his performances why his manager paid the big bucks and the Chilean would later be named Arsenal Player of the Year.
Other signings Danny Welbeck, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina, and January buy Gabriel Paulista did not quite have the same impact though – with unexpected progress coming from academy players Hector Bellerin and Francis “Le Coq” Coquelin.
Whether Coquelin really is the rock-solid holding role midfielder Arsenal have been craving for years remains to be truly seen, but for now it has filled a reasonably large gap in the “how far are Arsenal away from being Premier League champions?” puzzle.
One piece of the jigsaw has definitely been found, however with the acquisition of goalkeeper Petr Cech from London and title foes Chelsea for £10.9 million.
While the Czech Republic international was no longer the main man between the sticks for the Blues, he is still clearly a top stopper and a definite upgrade on both Wojciech Szczesny and Ospina with Jose Mourinho openly reluctant to sell Cech to a Premier League rival.
Unlike McClaren and Rodgers, Wenger is not wary of an early sacking, but only picking up six points from their opening 12 last season opened the door for Chelsea to romp to the title. A better start this August, and we may just see a first Arsenal triumph since that “Invincibles” team of 2004.
4) Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur
Despite failing to reach the much-coveted Champions League places, Pochettino’s first year as Tottenham boss was a success, finishing fifth and guiding the north Londoners to a League Cup final, but some fans are still not totally sold on him due to a lack of plan B.
The Argentine has wasted no time in planning for next season though, bolstering what was an, at best, dodgy defense with the proven Premier League buys of Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld (both undisclosed fee) who enjoyed successful seasons with Burnley and Southampton respectively in addition to FC Koln’s Kevin Wimmer (also undisclosed fee).
Spurs may attract some neutral admirers this season too with the English core that has the potential to develop in the coming years. Harry Kane had a phenomenal rise last season, going from third choice at Tottenham to most prolific English marksman in the Premier League in the space of seven months.
Ryan Mason, who has spent the majority of his seven-year Tottenham career out on loan to clubs such as Yeovil, Doncaster, Millwall and France’s Lorient ended the 2014-15 season as a once capped England international just a year after spending time on-loan at League One Swindon Town.
Eric Dier also found himself in the spotlight and the new additions of the aforementioned Trippier and Dele Alli (£5 million from MK Dons) join a rejuvenated Danny Rose, Three Lions regular Andros Townsend and Alex Pritchard who returns to White Hart Lane after two successful loan spells at Brentford and Swindon while, although Algerian, academy graduate Nabil Bentaleb will generate admirers from those who love a home-grown player.
This is similar to when he was at Southampton with Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert all getting England recognition as well as Calum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse, Nathaniel Clyne and Jay Rodriguez all earning plaudits while Pochettino was in charge at St.Mary’s.
Pochettino will get a good opportunity to get some early points on the board once the difficult task of Manchester United away is chalked off with Stoke at home, Leicester away, Everton at home, Sunderland away and Crystal Palace at home following that as they look to go one step further and finally reach the promised land of the top four.
Maur of the same please, Poch: Pochettino with rising star Harry Kane.
5) Manuel Pellegrini – Manchester City
It is fair to say that Manuel Pellegrini starting the 2015-16 season at the helm of the Citizens a little surprising.
His pedigree of taking Villarreal to the semi-final of the 2005-06 Champions League and fellow Spanish side Malaga to the same stage five seasons later got him the Manchester City job with the target of making them in a force in Europe, which he has so far failed to do so.
Winning the league title in 2014 did Pellegrini’s reputation no harm, but a trophy-less season where City did not really challenge for the title, only made the last 16 of the Champions League and round four of both the FA and League Cup was underwhelming to say the least.
A huge rebuilding is expected at the Etihad this summer with young talents Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Wilshere and Fabian Delph all linked with a move to the blue side of Manchester in order to give them a new lease of life and restore them as champions of England, and finally get them to worry Europe’s elite.
Failure to do so, however, may just result in the Engineer Pellegrini needing a servicing.
Unbeaten in the Premier League since December 21 2014, Liverpool are now well and truly in the mix for a place in the top three, largely due to the very thing that hampered them last season.
Offensively, Liverpool were dynamite in 2013/14, scoring 101 goals in 38 games, largely thanks to Golden Boot winner Luis Suarez with 31 goals and runner up Daniel Sturridge with 21 of his own.
Defensively, however, they fizzled out. 50 goals were conceded by the Reds, 12 teams conceded more, only two of which (Tottenham and Newcastle) finished in the top half.
A collapse at the back in the iconic 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace when 3-0 up comes to mind as the match that lost Liverpool the title.
This campaign has pretty much been the complete opposite, Liverpool’s strikers have been rather pathetic, while defensively they have improved massively, despite early season stick.
Summer signing Mario Balotelli has just one Premier League goal, as does Fabio Borini, while Rickie Lambert and Sturridge (who has been out injured until recently) have just two each.
Simon Mignolet’s goalkeeping has been brought into question regularly this season, despite this though he does have the joint second highest amount of clean sheets (10) from 24 games. Only Southampton’s Fraser Forster (12) has more.
Simon says “don’t let them score”: Mignolet can thank his defence for his clean sheet tally.
This is largely due to Brendan Rodgers’ new system of defenders with three centre backs – Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and the most impressive of the trio Emre Can playing in-between the wing-backs of Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno.
Can and Markovic deserve the main plaudits here, due to them both being played in unfavoured positions.
Bayern Munich castaway Can has slotted into the heart of Liverpool’s back line since his £9.75 million arrival from Bayer Leverkusen in July, and does not look out of place despite his astute frame and young age of 21.
Markovic, meanwhile has adjusted to playing in a deeper role than what he was used to at Benfica and Partizan Belgrade.
Moreno too on the other flank is the closest thing Liverpool have come to replacing the marauding full-back that was club legend John Arne Riise, probably best underlined by the gif of each player’s first goal for the club.
Not forgetting Anfield cult hero Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian has been subject to both boo boys and fan boys during his time in Merseyside, but everyone loves him now – and rightly so.
Seven of the 10 clean sheets Liverpool have amassed this season have came when Lucas was in the side with the 28-year-old also boasting a passing accuracy of 86%, and has also made 57 tackles in 14 games.
Although the other end of the pitch has been a problem for Rodgers’ side, Philippe Coutinho is now more pivotal to his side and Sterling has blossomed in a false nine role up top, leading the club’s scoring charts with six goals.
Sturridge’s return to injury, and hopefully form, may now make this Liverpool squad the most complete in recent history as they march on to the coveted Champions League places.
Steven Gerrard is reportedly currently pondering signing a new one-year deal at Liverpool with his current one set to expire in the summer but is it time for both parties to move on?
The Anfield icon, 34, is expected to suffer a drop in wages if he accepts the proposed offer instead of leaving the club in June.
Liverpool’s captain has also had to deny a rift with boss Brendan Rodgers this week after the manager dropped Gerrard as he marked his 16th anniversary at the club as well as benching him when the Reds faced Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Champions League.
Rodgers revealed he “wasn’t aware” of the landmark until he walked into the dressing room and saw the programme. Gerrard insisted in an Instagram post the following day that a rumoured rift was “nonsense”.
Matters on the football pitch obviously need to be considered too of course with Rodgers admitting his skipper can no longer play two full games a week.
He has been forced to play in a much deeper role in Liverpool’s diamond formation which limits his influence in the final third of the pitch that he was once so needed for.
Gerrard looking a frustrated figure on the Liverpool bench
Jordan Henderson (55), Philippe Coutinho (57) and Adam Lallana, then at Southampton (63), all completed more key passes than Gerrard (54) last season and Lallana created more chances (68) than Gerrard (67) too. Henderson and Coutinho fashioned 62 and 64 respectively.
Gerrard did contribute the most assists (13) but only one of these did not come from either a corner or a free-kick. He also notched the most goals out of the five, also 13, but 10 of them were penalties.*
Veteran talisman Gerrard has only missed one match this campaign (the League Cup win over Middlesbrough) – making 16 starts and two substitute appearances but some of his displays have left a lot to be desired.
Most notably the 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace where Mile Jedinak dominated the midfield (even scoring a free-kick in a similar vain of a younger Gerrard), as well as Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie repeatedly leaving him for dead with their speed, strength, power and guile.
The much improved Henderson is starting to become the beating heart of Liverpool’s midfield much like he is for England since the former Three Lions captain retired following their dismal World Cup display where they finished bottom of their group.
The new Gerrard: Jordan Henderson, finally justifying that £20 million price tag
It was a disappointing display in Brazil from most members of the 23-man squad but unfortunately for him, Gerrard will be tainted with providing the nail in England’s coffin with a mistimed header that played in then club colleague Luis Suarez to knock Roy Hodgson’s men out after only two games.
By Liverpool fans, Gerrard will be remembered as the “one club man” who turned down the glamour of Chelsea’s riches and Premier League titles in 2004 for his beloved Reds and pretty much single handedly dragging them to glory in the 2005 Istanbul Champions League final.
But to many others, Anfield’s legendary number eight will forever remind them of individual errors.
From the dodgy back-pass that led to France beating England 2-1 at Euro 2004 after being 1-0 down in injury time as well as doing the same again, teeing up Didier Drogba in 2010 to all but win the title for Chelsea and of course that slip last season against the same club that cost him his best chance of winning the Premier League.
And as more of these mistakes creep into Gerrard’s game in tandem with his influence on a football pitch fading, Liverpool need to respectfully shun their skipper in order to retain his status as a bona fide Liverpool legend.
At 23-years-old, Nathan Thompson is the second youngest captain in League One leading the youngest side in the division, Swindon Town – a team with an average age of just 22, but while experience at the County Ground may be low, the ambitions are high.
“I look at the talent and potential we have in our team and I think the Championship is where we belong”, Thompson insists.
“The ethos of football we play is different to any team in League One, and arguably the Championship and Premier League too. In my opinion it is the way ‘the beautiful game’ should be played and, when we are in form, the opposition can’t compete with us.”
It is big talk from the sprightly Swindon skipper who seems completely unfazed at the task of captaining such a youthful side.
“The fact I’m the longest serving player (at the club) helped me take to the role and my team mates have been extremely supportive of me, so I’m grateful they’ve helped make the transition a smooth one”.
His team mates may well be the secret to his success but it was Thompson that took the plaudits after Town’s 0-3 win at Chesterfield last Tuesday night.
Swindon’s two games previous had ended in a 2-3 loss and a 2-2 draw on their own patch to Rochdale and Colchester respectively in what were disappointing results considering the Robins were the fourth best team at home in League One last season.
Thompson missed those two games due to a suspension but his return match ended with Swindon securing their first clean sheet since September 27 where they beat Barnsley by the same score at Oakwell.
This is even more impressive given the fact that Thompson is now playing a sweeper role in a three man defence instead of his favoured full-back position.
Nathan Byrne, arguably Town’s stand out performer so far this season, is occupying Thompson’s right wing-back spot while the left has been covered by former loanee from Liverpool Brad Smith and now Amari’i Bell who has joined temporarily from Birmingham City.
“Throughout pre season I trained in the wing-back position and I only switched to centre back a couple of training sessions before our first game”, Town’s back-to-back Player of the Year explains.
“It was a shock but I didn’t have time to dwell on it – which I think has helped me. As time’s gone on and I’m learning more about the position, my confidence has grown and I enjoy the new role I play during games”.
This attitude is a testament to Thompson’s character who genuinely gives his all for the club he has been at since the age of 12.
When asked how he felt about being awarded Swindon’s Player of the Year award for two years running he responded:
“What makes this award so special is that it’s voted for by the fans, and each game I try to give 100% for them and the club, so to be recognised in this way is very humbling indeed.
Top of the Tree: Rockin’ Robin Thompson with the first of his Player of the Year awards
“It goes without saying I’m immensely proud to captain a club that I’ve been at not just for my professional career, but for my Centre of Excellence years and youth development too. I take the role extremely seriously – working hard to ensure the team morale is high – so that this team gives back to the fans and the club.”
Giving back, as he puts it, is clearly very much at the forefront of the man’s mind as he is also an ambassador for the girls’ Centre of Excellence as he “feel(s) it’s important to show them I was in a similar position once, and with perseverance they could be in my boots one day too”.
Said perseverance and more importantly hard work have reaped the awards for “Thommo”, something he did not forget as he recalled the time he first put pen to paper on a professional deal for the Wiltshire side in 2009.
“When I think back to to when I first signed my professional deal this club had a very different ethos in developing young players. The average age of the first team was around 26 and not many players remained at the club past their scholar.
“While there were occasions of concern and anxiety (that he would never get his chance at Swindon), I had a very strong support network around me and that helped me to keep focused and determined to break into the Swindon Town first team.
Interest from Premier League teams Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur around that time did not distract him either.
“One thing I have learned is to keep attention focused on my game and, at that point in particular, leave off-field discussions to my parents and third parties.
“It’s often seen where youngsters leave lower league teams to join top flight clubs and too often it’s unsuccessful. Therefore, while it’s always flattering to have interest from these sorts of clubs, the last thing I wanted to do was get carried away so I was committed to establishing myself at Swindon.”
That sort of attitude will be music to the ears of many a Swindon Town fan I’m sure. The future of SN1 is in a safe pair of feet with Nathan Thompson with a wise and selfless head on those young shoulders too.
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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.
Reigning champions Real Madrid kept up their 100% start to this season’s Champions League campaign thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and a brace from Karim Benzema.
Ballon d’Or holder Ronaldo set the Galacticos on their way 23 minutes in, capping off a wonderful one-two with James Rodriguez, letting the ball bounce before beating a despairing Simon Mignolet inside the box with an accomplished finish.
Benzema doubled the visitors’ lead on the half hour mark with a looping header from Toni Kroos’ cross, leaving Mignolet stranded in the Liverpool goal once again.
The French forward netted his second of the tie four minutes before the break when he bundled in a badly defended corner. Pepe scrambled the set piece into the path of the 27-year-old to end the contest before half time.
Phillipe Coutinho came closest for the hosts with a rasping drive in the first half that rattled the post but did not find the net to the relief of the under fire Goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Ronaldo, the ex Manchester United star who scored his first ever goal at the home of their arch rivals tonight, was keen to silence the boo boys during the 90 minutes but could not add to his tally, shooting wide on one occasion and was denied by Mignolet on a few occasions.
He was replaced later on in the second half by Sami Khedira with Carlo Ancelotti clearly having one eye on Saturday’s El Clasico which promises to be an exciting occasion on Saturday evening.
As a result of their 2-0 loss away to Chelsea on Sunday, Arsenal have now gone 14 games without being able to defeat a side in the previous season’s top four.
Eden Hazard and Diego Costa provided the goals while the away side did not even fashion a shot on target at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal have been bullied by the top sides in recent seasons. Chelsea have notched eight goals and conceded none in the last two meetings between the sides, Liverpool romped to a 5-1 win at Anfield last season, Manchester City won 6-3 at the Etihad and even David Moyes’ under performing Manchester United side took four points off their old adversary in the 2013/14 campaign.
Many suggest the reason behind this is that Arsenal get out-thought in midfield, esteemed pundit Gary Neville labelled them “confused” after their 3-0 loss away at Everton in April.
“Arsenal become so confused by it, if you’re going to defend in a four-four-two system you need legs and you need discipline, everything this Arsenal team didn’t have.
“They don’t understand how to defend a cross, they don’t understand the fact that when a left sided player goes across to the left side, the midfield player comes across.
“This is why Arsenal will never move forwards playing attacking players with attacking mindsets”
The likes of Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour and Gilberto Silva who were all so prominent in the 2003/04 “Invincibles” side are long gone and have been replaced by a new brand of midfielder who play a with a delicate passing style.
Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are the three players most likely to provide bite in the middle but Wilshere is too often sidelined and it is no secret that Wenger is looking for a new defensive midfielder.
Happier times: Arsenal haven’t quite been the same since Viera’s departure.
Sami Khedira and William Carvalho were both heavily linked to a move to the Emirates but neither signed on the dotted line at the North London club.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have all added top class defensive midfield players in the shape of Nemanja Matic, Fernando and Daley Blind respectively.
Arsene Wenger’s outfit are already nine points behind the league leaders only seven games in, only two of which have been won along with four draws.