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 couldn’t have come as any less of a surprise when Claudio Ranieri was announced as Premier League Manager of the Year.
There are now many clubs who would fancy their chances of winning the title every year, and Ranieri’s Leicester blew them all out of the water, finishing 10 points clear of second place Arsenal and 30 (thirty!) points ahead of last year’s champions Chelsea.
It’s been an unpredictable and unforgettable season, dominated by the character of Leicester City.
Just look at the investment in Ranieri’s team. The club spent a total of £26 million in last summer’s and January’s transfer windows. To put things in perspective, that’s £10 million less than Anthony Martial’s price tag for Manchester United, and less than half of what Manchester City paid for Kevin De Bruyne.
The success came from getting the best out of their resources, from the players to the sports science team and backroom staff. The focus has been there all season and the club showed a ton of character, which most teams were missing.
The goals were coming mostly from Vardy, we saw some great creative play from Mahrez, and Kante was the engine in midfield. The players managed to be in the right places at the right times, all season.
With most of the top clubs performing far from their best, many would argue this should have been the year for Arsenal – or even Spurs who were breathing down Leicester’s back for the second half of the season. It was the best opportunity Arsenal have had in a long time, but they missed that bad boy killer instinct that they need with the beautiful game they play.
Even great teams have off day, and you need a player that can pull you trough it – and I think that was the biggest thing missing from Arsenal.
Where is the class mixed with a dose of badness, like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vierra of Martin Keown? Those guys did not mess around when they saw their opportunity.
Spurs came so close but you could see that the experience killed them. When the time came to stay calm and grind it out they didn’t really have anyone lead the team forward. They looked more like they were relying on Pochettino to make all the calls, and on the field, the manager can’t always help because sometimes the pace is too quick to readjust, and half-time could be too late.
Chelsea failed to create any momentum at all, even going right back to their American tour. On top of that the club were probably over-confident after lifting the trophy last season. After being champions it was all falling apart, and it needed (and still needs) some adjusting. Next season we will need to see a lot of hard work from Conte, and it looks like it will be a tough job from the start.
Manchester City also struggled this year, and if you look at them as a team you may be looking at the best squad in the league. But it started to crack when Yaya got injured. Vincent Kompany had similar injury problems, and without these two in the team regularly, performances can start to crumble.
Liverpool is a team that was always looking to rebuild this season but with Klopp arriving I think it’s looking pretty positive and calm again. But of course the madness comes back him when his team scores. This man does not hold back his emotion so I’m always waiting to see what he does next.
Next season we should be more critical towards Liverpool because Klopp’s had some time to work with his squad and they should be ready to fight for the league.
Manchester United had a season full of ups and downs, after bringing in a stream of new players. We all know a new team needs time but expectations are incredibly high in the Premier League, not least at Man Utd. It’s a brutal league and if you don’t fix your problems immediately you’ll get punished again and again. When you think you’ve just got out of your difficult time, you get another set-back. Now there are a lot of rumours around the club and Van Gaal’s future, and it’s time they fix that so they can start the next campaign stronger.
We all look forward to seeing how every club will shape up next season. Every team will be ready for Leicester, and they will have the added luxury pressure of being the champions that everyone wants to beat.
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.
As a football-crazy kid you sit down in front of your TV and watch the weekend’s games, dreaming about celebrating a goal like Harry Kane.
Before establishing himself at Tottenham, Kane spent time on loan in League One playing for Leyton Orient. Many players at Premiership clubs would snub a chance to play in the lower leagues.
“I’m part of the Premier League elite. I’m already playing at the highest level – I’m too good for them.”
This is because their ego’s eclipse the opportunity to gain experience that could take them 10 steps forward.
In the Championship playing for Millwall and Leicester City, and in the Premier League for Norwich City, Kane found his feet and became confident in front of goal – growing into a name which was at home with the score sheet. Now he’s playing against world renowned defenders that fear him the day before the big game.
“I’m going to stick to Harry like glue tomorrow, he’s not even going to get a chance in front of goal!”
The next thing they know Kane is running up to the Spurs faithful after slotting his third past the helpless keeper.
“Help… Please blow the whistle ref?”
He’s always a step ahead of defenders, waiting for the right moment when they slip up because they’re too focused on him and forget about their own game.
Playing in the Premier League and scoring for his country at Wembley is what Kane would have dreamed about as a kid. The man is living that dream and good luck to him. He’s still got a way to go before he can be added to the list of Shearers and Linekers, but I’ll be sitting on my sofa with some chips and popcorn watching the goals fly in.
Harry Kane headed home his 23rd goal of the season at White Hart Lane last weekend, clinching all three points for Spurs in the North London derby and prompting a media frenzy around the young striker. He is “the goal scoring gift that keeps giving,” and it would be hard to argue a case against his reported England call-up and January Premier League Player of the Month accolade.
Kane has engineering Spurs’ recent success, bagging almost half of the clubs goals so far in 2015. He’s passionate, well rounded and clinical in front of goal – making him indispensable to his club at the moment.
Meanwhile, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is wreaking havoc across England’s top grounds from week to week. Hazard has found the back of the net 13 times in 36 games this season, and has been fouled 74 times (the most in the league), indicating how much of a tricky individual he is to deal with. Former Chelsea star Pat Nevin has claimed “he could become one of the best players in the world,” and his recent performances have helped him secure a new five-and-a-half year deal at Chelsea worth £200k per week.
But perhaps the most influential player in the Premier league today is Yaya Touré. One jaw-dropping statistics to come out of English football of late is that Manchester City, the Premier League title holders, had failed to win a single game without the Ivorian powerhouse since April (up until their midweek romp at The Britania). It just goes to show how impactful the talismanic midfielder is on the Sky Blues – who will be heavily relying on Touré to influence a comeback in this year’s title race.