Luis Suarez

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.

 

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.

Change needed for England? Again?

Following what looks to be England’s latest failing at a major tournament, there are yet again calls for major overhaul.

After the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where England crashed out in the last 16 with a 4-1 hammering by rivals Germany, the Three Lions were encouraged to base their style on the tiki-taka of Spain who went on to win the coveted trophy.

St George’s Park was built with this philosophy grained into it and the effects have been predicted to come to fruition for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

The problem now however is that tiki-taka looks tiki-toast after Spain themselves were dumped out the group stages this summer by The Netherlands and Chile.

To Roy Hodgson’s credit, England did play the positive attacking football in their opener against Italy and were arguably the better side but Uruguay was a different story as static, nervous England seemed to be back as the pressure looked to have got to them.

England need to create their own identity, possibly starting with a new Captain.

Steven Gerrard has come into particular light as the 34-year-old has probably waved goodbye to the World Cup due to his age and it did not end on a high, his header setting up Liverpool teammate Luis Suarez’s winner to all but send England home.

Liverpool’s iconic hero has been a loyal servant to his country with some fantastic highs including scoring the equalizer in England’s famous 1-5 win over Germany in 2001, scoring a brilliant goal against Trinidad and Tobago at World Cup 2006 and of course his crucial World Cup qualifying goals against the likes of Croatia for 2010 and Poland for 2014.

Along with this though, he has had his lows including a dodgy back-pass at Euro 2004 against France which led to Thierry Henry being fouled for Zinedine Zidane’s winning penalty as well as the Uruguay gaffe.

If Gerrard is replaced, either by choice through International retirement, or by force as Hodgson continues to build for the future, who could replace him?

Joe Hart: The England goalkeeper would be a popular choice among fans as he is one of few England players who has a safe spot in Hodgson’s starting eleven.

Two time Premiership winner with Manchester City, Hart, has established himself as England’s number one after Robert Green’s high profile error against the United States at the last World Cup and then number two David James has since retired.

Hart is a known leader on the pitch, often seen barking instructions from his penalty box and is refreshingly honest in interviews, something that adheres to England supporters as he is one of very few players who embodies himself among fans as “one of them”.

It is a myth that England players do not care about their national side as much as the fans but Hart is a rare example of someone who truly proves this. Perfect Captain material.

Wearing his Hart on his shoulder: England's number one.

Wearing his Hart on his sleeve: England’s number one.

Gary Cahill: John Terry’s partner in the heart of Chelsea’s defense is starting to emerge from the former England Captain’s shadow.

Since joining Stamford Bridge from Bolton in 2012, Cahill has blossomed working with Terry and has picked up plenty more England caps to boot as he ‘s built up a solid partnership with Everton’s Phil Jagielka.

Along with this, Cahill has similar personality traits to his colleague such as on-pitch leadership and an equally similar playing style. The 28-year-old is often seen putting his body on the line for his team much like Terry (“Superman” dive vs Slovenia esque) in true English lion-heart style, something the Three Lions have missed since Terry’s acrimonious departure from the national fold.

Another positive of Cahill’s, he also does not come with the baggage of John Terry with his personal life stories of affairs and racist allegations.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

Wayne Rooney: Expected to be the bookies and media favourite to replace Gerrard. The England poster boy is undoubtedly the star man.

94 caps and 40 goals would be an impressive return by anyone’s standard but the main criticism of “Wazza” is that he does not turn up on the big stage.

The Manchester United forward, 28, has only scored six goals in major tournaments (four at Euro 2004 where he was just 18, one at Euro 2012 which was a header from two yards against Ukraine, and his leveler against Uruguay) – his first World Cup goal at the third attempt.

Criticism of his attitude would also be a harm to him, frequent contract issues with his club where he seems to be constantly demanding more money does not portray him in a good light.

Many also believe that we have never seen what Rooney is truly capable of, citing that if he had more drive and determination he could have been one of the best players in the world, possibly even ever.

Rooney’s rant into a camera following a 0-0 draw with Algeria at the last World Cup will also live long in the memory of many an England supporter. “Nice to see your home fans boo you, that’s what loyal support is”, is not a sentence that endears you to fans well.

Despite all this though, Rooney is still seen as the man to lead England. Why? Because he is England’s best player and, after all, isn’t that what the Captain should be?

Wayne's World: England's next captain?

Wayne’s World: England’s next captain?

Uruguay 2-1 England: Super Suarez all but eliminates England

England’s hopes of qualifying from Group D looked dashed due to to a brace from Luis Suarez either side of Wayne Rooney’s equalizer.

The Manchester United forward, 28, scored his first goal in a World Cup to level the scores with 15 minutes left when he tapped home a Glen Johnson squared pass to give England hope.

Rooney could have dragged England level earlier but shot straight at Fernando Muslera ten minutes into the second half after he knocked the ball past a La Celeste defender.

Suarez killed English dreams though when he tucked the ball past Joe Hart after Muslera’s goal-kick has flicked on by England Captain Steven Gerrard.

Suarez had earlier given Uruguay the lead when he scored a controlled header past Hart but the spine of the England team were largely at fault.

Gerrard and Jordan Henderson were caught out and allowed Nicolas Lodeiro space in midfield and teed up Edinson Cavini who easily lost Glen Johnson and FCavani’s cross was headed in by El Pistolero when Phil Jagielka failed to follow the runner.

Bolt from the Sky Blue: Star Suarez breaks England hearts.

Bolt from the Sky Blue: Star Suarez breaks England hearts.

England did show signs of promise in the first period though, Wayne Rooney curled a free-kick narrowly past the post after ten minutes and later hit the bar with a close range header from Gerrard’s free-kick.

Uruguay threatened themselves after quarter of an hour when Jagielka’s sliced clearance landed at the feet of Cristian Rodriguez who shot inches over from the edge of the box.

A low Luis Suarez corner was also blazed over from Cavani.

Daniel Sturridge had the last opportunity though when Rooney’s intelligent through ball found the Liverpool man who had his shot from a tight angle parried by Fernando Muslera at his near post.

Controversy overshadowed the match however as the stand in Uruguay Captain Diego Godin should have been sent off for putting his elbow up to Sturridge’s face in a body check. He had previously been yellow carded for a handball.

The Three Lions now need Italy to defeat both Costa Rica tomorrow and Uruguay next Tuesday while England must also beat Costa Rica themselves, relying on goal difference, to have any chance of making it to round two.

 

 

 

France 3-0 Honduras

A fiery encounter that will live long in the memory ended 3-0 to favourites France who earned a much deserved win against a physical Honduras side.

Karim Benzema was the star of the show, scoring two goals of his own and was unfortunate to have not claimed another.

France’s second goal of the game was one of the most bizarre in World Cup history. Benzema scoring a placed volley off the inside off the post which went across the goal-line and off the Goalkeeper Noel Valladares and into the net. Or so it seemed.

Benzema appealed to the referee and the goal was given, cue celebrations but when the crowd was shown the replay “no goal” flashed up on the goal-line technology system referring to when the ball hit the post, sparking uproar from Honduras fans, players and coaching staff but more replay showed after the ball hit Valladares it was in fact a goal.

Goal line technology played a vital role in France's second goal.

Goal line technology played a vital role in France’s second goal.

Number nine Benzema bagged his brace when he thundered in a rebound following Mathieu Debuchy’s blocked cannoned shot, Valladares had little chance having just stood up after diving for Debuchy’s drive.

The sub-plot of the first half was Wilson Palacios vs the world with Paul Pogba taking most of the brunt from the brute. Palacios and Pogba both picked up yellow cards when Palacios trampled on the Juventus youngster but Pogba gave as good he got, kicking out at the Stoke man. Both could have easily seen red.

Palacios did receive his marching orders soon after when he clattered into Pogba and gave away a penalty which Benzema dispatched with ease.

Les Blues hit the crossbar twice before that, Blaise Matuidi first after his shot was tipped onto the bar by the ‘keeper following Mathieu Valbuena’s free-kick being headed into his path and then Franck Ribery replacement Antoine Griezmann cracked a header against the woodwork after Patrice Evra’s cross.

Honduras caused little damage to France in terms of goal scoring opportunities with Hugo Lloris not having to make any major saves but the tackling from Luis Suarez’s side may have left a few bruises on French legs, a real horror show from Honduras at times.

World Cup Preview: England

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Possibly the first World Cup ever where England do not go into the tournament tipped as being one of the favourites, Brazil could be the start of something new for Roy’s boys.

Up and coming young stars such as Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling will all be looking to gain valuable tournament experience ahead of being future England figureheads.

England are hindered by being drawn into the so called “group of death” with 2006 World Cup winners Italy and Luis Suarez’ Uruguay and will need to hit the ground running if they have any chance of making it past the group stages.

The Azzuri are England’s first opponents and three points are needed in that or England’s second match against Uruguay if they are to progress. A win also must come against expected whipping boys Costa Rica.

Much of the attention, as ever, going into the tournament is centered on Wayne Rooney with some calling to drop the Manchester United forward.

Rooney, 28, has never scored a World Cup goal in the eight games he’s played in and must prove his undoubted ability this summer to finally show his worth when it counts for England.

Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City

Coutinho

Liverpool defeated title rivals Manchester City 3-2 at Anfield thanks to Phillipe Coutinho’s late winner on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster as Jordan Henderson saw red in the second half.

Brendan Rodgers’ side opened the scoring with the first chance of the match. Luis Suarez held off Martin Demichelis well before playing a pinpoint pass to Raheem Sterling who broke free of Vincent Kompany.

The Belgian had a lapse in concentration and failed to pick up his marker. The young England winger Sterling showed fantastic composure in front of goal, skipping away from Joe Hart and then slotting home the opener after just six minutes.

Manchester City’s afternoon got worse soon after when Yaya Toure landed awkwardly following a wayward shot from long range and was replaced by Javi Garcia soon after.

Liverpool doubled their lead 20 minutes later when Sterling’s corner was headed in by Skrtel after a second example of poor marking from Kompany. An uncharacteristic poor performance from the Manchester City captain.

Edin Dzeko had a decent shout for a penalty on 33 minutes when he was tripped by Mamadou Sakho but referee Mark Clattenburg ruled that there was no wrong doing.

Liverpool had a penalty shout of their own in the second half when Suarez went down following an altercation with Kompany. Referee Clattenburg waved play on to the dismay of many Liverpool fans.

The Citizens halved the deficit just before the hour mark when David Silva tapped home from close range following a beautiful passing move. Substitute James Milner played a neat one-two with Fernandinho before setting up Silva who had the easy task of making it 2-1.

City supporters had to wait just five minutes for their leveller. Milner played in Silva on the left side of the box whose cutback pass across goal deflected off Glen Johnson which caught Mignolet flat footed and deflected into the net to level the scores.

Liverpool regained the lead when Coutinho fired home the winner with an accurate first time finish past the despairing Joe Hart 12 minutes from time from the centre of the area into the bottom right corner of the goal.

The second half was an edgy affair with City enjoying the majority of the play. A real Dr.Jekell and Mr.Hyde performance from Liverpool who dominated the first 45, with City only causing the hosts problems towards the end of the half.

City’s best chance of the first period came from a corner just before half time. Simon Mignolet drifted too far off his line and was beaten in the air by Kompany. Sterling cleared the ball off the line first before Glen Johnson headed it away from danger.

Fernandinho came even closer seconds later. In space, he managed to get a shot away and was only denied by a superb fingertip stop by Mignolet and shortly afterwards, an eventful first half came to an end.

Suarez was fortunate not to see red in the second half when he dived following an incident with Demichelis but Referee Mark Clattenburg decided not to book the Urugayan despite awarding Manchester City the free kick.

With the home side holding onto their narrow lead, Jordan Henderson was sent off three minutes into five added on when he went overboard on a challenge and fouled Samir Nasri. He will miss three of Liverpool’s four remaining games.

Martin Skrtel was incredibly fortunate not to give away a penalty in the very last minute as he used to his hand to clear a deep cross into the Liverpool box. Clattenburg failed to spot the incident in what was a bad refereeing performance by him.