It’s always fun times when the Champions League returns because as a fan you get to see the best competing against the best.
I remember dreaming of one day playing in the Champions League after going to watch Ajax by myself. My friends would tell me it is too cold to watch, so I would go to my teammates and ask them – but would hear the same thing. “It’s too cold, you’re crazy!”
So I would go on my own. If I told you the number of times that I sat on my own in the stadium watching Ajax, with my knees and ankles being frozen, you would tell me this guy is an iceman. But I learned so much and sometimes I got goosebumps and sat there with a big smile on my face as the team walked out with flowers to throw to the fans while the famous Champions league music played.
Not long after it was my turn to play against the best, with the likes of Zidane showing me football that was out of this world. Damn that guy was good. I can go and talk to you for days about how great it was but it think we will need a couple more pages for that because watching and playing will be never the same sensation.
Now that I’m a fan and watch the action from a birds eye view it still gives me that amazing feeling when I hear the Champions League song. That piece of music gives you the feeling a boxer gets when he hears “let’s get ready to rumble!”
Back to the guys who are active and entertaining us today, I think Madrid are looking great again. Ronaldo is always demanding the best of himself, which is what makes him so unique, and the team is so well-oiled and look like the hunger is still in the team and I love seeing that. They all want it again and will do whatever it takes to make it three in a row.
All the English teams have started strong and I expect a lot from them this season because they have invested a lot of time, money and effort to make their squads big enough to compete in two competitions. This is going to be a long season so all the players want to end it with a big trophy before going away for the summer to fight for the even bigger one, the World Cup.
Chelsea’s main focus is winning the Champions League because that’s always the next objective after you win the domestic league. You want more and there’s only one trophy out there to make your season even better. But they have Man Utd and City going after it with the same determination, that we could see in all of their first games. This season could be the time that the English teams start ruling again.
Spurs also looked impressive in their win over Dortmund. This German side have become one of the dark horses to watch out for in Europe, finishing as runners-up in 2013 and making the quarterfinals last season. But Spurs showed why they are becoming one of the top sides in England with a 3-1 win.
Liverpool could also cause some surprises with their counter attacks and speed. They’re England’s most successful club in Europe and their comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 final shows how you can never rule them out.
PSG look great but can they play the way they did in that great first half against Barcelona throughout the whole tournament? I’ll be watching them closely over the next couple of games to see if they are solid enough to win it. The surly have the players to do so.
Barcelona are impossible to leave out of the conversation as they are always in contention of winning it. Messi and co can pass their way through any defence in the world as they showed against Juventus in their opening game. It’s Buffon’s last chance to lift the trophy and if they can repeat their performances from last season and get a bit of luck along the way it could be the best sendoff possible for Gianluigi.
Bayern are the other big team that are in with a real chance of winning the competition. They have made the final three times since 2010, winning it in 2013.
Whatever happens this season it can’t be missed. Watching and playing football is still one of the happiest things in my life!
It was the most anticipated weekend of the summer for football fans everywhere, and the excitement was answered with plenty of goals and entertainment.
Arsenal and Leicester kicked things off with a seven goal thriller. Lacazette headed the Gunners ahead 94 seconds into his Premier League debut, only for Okazaki to equalise just two minutes later. We were off to a flyer and that intensity continued over the 90 minutes with Leicester taking a 3-2 before Ramsey and Giroud swung the balance in Arsenal’s favor in the last 10 minutes.
Arsenal are always one of the teams that play the brand of football that, on its day, can be out of this world. Going forward they are always deadly but they are still missing something. If Wenger can find the balance and keep more clean sheets but continue to score plenty of goals, this season could see them push for the title again.
Watford and Liverpool were next up and the goals continued. Miguel Britos scored a controversial 93rd-minute equaliser for Watford to give them a share of the spoils at Vicarage road. As good as Liverpool were in attack, their defense was showing the same problems of last season.
If you want to be a title contender you have to win games like this. I know it’s tough playing away at Watford but you are still Liverpool – a club that should be aiming to win the league. You can’t be that easy to cut open. To be in with any chance of contending the title, they need to be more solid, especially away from home.
Chelsea were involved in the shock result of the weekend, falling three goals behind Burnley at Stamford Bridge. The team looks too light. I already said it weeks ago – I don’t see Chelsea winning this one because the big focus is the Champions League. Your squad needs to have the depth to handle both compeitions, and at the moment it is too thin. If you want give the youngsters a chance it will take time and patience is needed, but I’m not sure the blues want to wait for glory and if that’s the case they need to strengthen if they want a great season again.
Huddersfield also looked like a surprise package, defeating Palace 3-0 in their own back yard. Most people have predicted Huddersfield to finish rock bottom this season and on paper they are the smallest club in the league, but if they can stay positive and take each game as it comes they could cause some surprises. As we all know football isn’t played on paper, and they can look at the likes of Bournemouth and Swansea for inspiration.
Man Utd looked the best they have for some time during their 4-0 win over West Ham. It was Lukaku who grabbed the headlines with his brace, but Matic was key in midfield and looked like the piece that had been missing from Jose’s puzzle. He’s not Roy Keane, but his presence in the midfield was reminiscent of the former skipper and could turn out to be an important player for United this season.
I never understood Chelsea for letting Matic go to their rivals. I’m sure Chelsea thought they are paying over the price, but still, you know how much Mourinho needed him after last season. Pogba was doing both jobs and with Matic in the team now he has the security behind him so he can start producing more of the stuff that should make him one of the best midfielders in the world.
Away from the Premier League, Neymar made his PSG debut with a goal. There was so much expectation on the Brazilian and he delivered the goods saying that he feels more alive than ever. Barcelona played the El Classico without him, and Real Madrid got the better of them with goals from Asensio and, of course, Ronaldo. Ronaldo was sent off and will miss 5 games for pushing the referee. He can play in the Champions League but will not return to domestic action until 20 September against Real Betis, giving Messi a 5 game head start in the season’s battle for top scorer.
Barca looked like they were out of balance without Neymar and I’m sure they knew they were about to miss magic when he left to PSG. But in the Clasico they got the confirmation. Madrid was too strong and the quality that came off the bench was no different to what was starting.
It maybe will take some time to fix the Neymar shaped whole, but I’m sure Barca are working hard behind the sense to find an answer.
We’re almost at the half way point in the Premier League season and Chelsea will sit at the top of the tree this Christmas. A 10th straight win for Antonio Conte puts the blues 6 points clear at the top. Fabregas’ goal also meant Sunderland stay pinned at the bottom of the league.
It’s exciting at both ends of the league and everyone will have different opinions about how the table will look come May.
Man City made a flying start to their campaign under Pep, winning their opening 6 games. It wasn’t just the results but the way they picked apart their opponents that had many making early calls for City winning the title.
On their day City can be unplayable, and if Guardiola get’s them playing at the top of their game quickly they will cause the other title contenders a lot of trouble. As it stands though, they have won just 6 of their last 15 games in all competitions going into Sunday’s tie with Arsenal.
Arsenal have also been great to watch. Their mid-week game with Everton was the first they have lost since the opening day of the season, and Alexis Sanchez has looked particularly brilliant. His pace and finishing is causing defenders all kinds of problems and he’s adjusted to his new role excellently. The game on Sunday could be one of the games of the season with the way both teams like to play.
Liverpool have also been great so far this season, but they will need to sort out their defensive problems if they are to be serious title contenders. They’ve scored the most goals in the league but they’ve also conceded more than any of the top 7. Their 3-0 victory against Middlesbrough last night shows they can be solid at the back, but Klopp will need to make sure they stay consistent.
Man Utd have struggled a little bit and Mourinho is always under the microscope so everybody knows it. But Jose is a winner and you can never count out Utd going on a crazy run of form until the end of the season. Spurs are also in the mix and can always cause a surprise like they did last season. Pochettino has played 3 at the back a few times to great success and it looks like it suits the players. They could be a dark horse in the new year.
At the other end of the table things are quite tight for the bottom eight. Sunderland sit rock bottom but are only 6 points off 13th place Burnley. The pack includes the Champions Leicester who were always going to have a tough season after winning the league last year. The extra games that come with being in Europe was going to be tough as they don’t have as much strength in depth as the usual big four.
Hull, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Palace join Sunderland as the favourites to go down, all winning only 3 or 4 games so far. It will probably be a fight to the end and it will be interesting to see who spends in January.
Whatever happens it will be thrilling for the fans and I hope Chelsea can repeat history: Each of the four times they have been top of the Premier League at Christmas they have gone on to win the title.
In football one of the hardest things is when you play against your friends.
All week you’re focused on how you are going to get the better of them. You could be facing, for example, Liverpool or Manchester United and you know it’s going to be a big game with a full house. The fans are excited and fired up, talking about the game during the week.
You’re getting questions on the street like “Mario are you ready for the weekend? Do you think you’re going to win?”
And even if history showed my team would normally lose I would still go into the game with the mentality that today could be our day so let’s get in there.
Now that I’ve mentioned Liverpool I’ll take one of my friends Ryan Babel as a perfect example for preparing right. Normally we might talk or text each other during the week, but when I was going to be playing against him at the weekend I would break all contact and be more than ready to face him.
On matchday we’d be In the tunnel and he would walk up to me and shake hands with a smile but it would always be a short exchange. Today we won’t be friends for at least 90minutes.
I would really think about all the things he’s good at before and during the game. He is fast has a great right foot and loves to come inside to use it. But I knew one thing I would beat him in. My fitness. I always made sure I was fitter than any opponent I would face so I could keep attacking from the start of the game until they wouldn’t have enough energy and focus to attack me.
This would be something for Ryan to worry about and I could hear him breathing heavy sometimes during the game. When I heard that I knew that I had him and I would just have to keep going so soon he won’t be thinking about attacking but making sure I don’t attack. I would do this every game until one day he said: “I never play well against you.”
I thought I’m in his head and will keep doing the same the next game. The only time I told him how he could stop me was in the national team because when we’re in the same team it’s all about winning that game. I told him to stop standing next to me or 5 meters away. Hold 10m space between me and you so you can always see me making a move when I want to attack. But I didn’t tell him to press me when I had the ball because I wanted that advantage for the next game!
And yes, the next one he would use the tactic of standing off me but he would give too much time on the ball which allowed me to pick the pass while he was worried about me attacking again. Next thing you know he would be screamed at: “Go tight on him, don’t give him so much time on the ball!” and then I would attack again.
After the game we would always meet and he would laugh and joke but would say: “Bro you love to attack…” So I knew I was in his head again the whole game. I hope he reads this so he knew the trick I was using against him. But I’m not sure he will call me, and if not, I will call him and I know it’s going to be jokes all over again.
With the Premier League season drawing to a close, there’s a lot of talk about statistics, records and highlights. Members from 100 clubs have been voting and nominees have been announced for the 42nd PFA Awards. But who should take the glory in 2015?
Philippe Coutinho is like the young guy you take to a concert and end up losing after five minutes. No matter how hard you try to stick with him, he will drift into the crowd and leave you standing by yourself for the whole night. Defenders just can’t keep up. Missing out on the World Cup seems to have fired him up and he works harder and dominates the midfield with superb dribbles and skills. The little man’s game is topped off with an extraordinary shot that, with little back-lift, generates power normally seen in much bigger players.
Diego Costa doesn’t use doors. He enters the room through the wall like the Hulk. Powerful, hard to mark and always scoring goals – Costa is a nightmare for defenders. And if you try to torment him on the field he will take advantage of your reduced concentration and punish you. His record speaks for itself with 18 goals in 22 Premier League appearances so far this season.
Always bursting with energy, Alexis Sanchez is like that guy who can’t stand still in the club. If he’s not throwing dance moves he’s buying drinks or chasing girls. He’s always lively and never stops creating on the pitch, making him Arsenal’s key player this season. His direct style of play makes him hard to stop because he sits so low and changes direction with ease.
Harry Kane is like the guy next door that always ruins your day. Every time you try to stop him he crushes your dreams by scoring. He’s exactly what England need – a striker who works hard, never gives up and scores a bag full of goals. His winning combination of confidence and intelligence keeps him a step ahead of defenders and I hope he keeps progressing and proves consistency in seasons to come.
David De Gea is like a cat that saunters into your house uninvited. You try to catch him and when you think he have him he jumps out of your grasp, embarrassing you. That’s how strikers feel when they think they’ve scored – De Gea will always have something to say about it. He’s the goalkeeper you can count on – very reliable and keeps defenders focussed, often the difference between teams.
Eden Hazard is my choice for PFA player of the year. He’s the prince telling everyone how it should be done and if they can’t do it he’ll take the ball and do it himself. After a world cup that didn’t go to plan he’s taken the world by storm. Strong, skilful and incredibly agile, Hazard also has a great understanding of the game. What I love the most about him is that he takes responsibility on the field. When Chelsea aren’t playing well he’s the man that will make it happen. He is exactly what his name suggests.