This Week’s Definition of the Premier League’s Big Five (Gameweek 3)

The Premier League

Another weekend of Premier League action has now come and gone. The world’s most-watched league is 3-games old and its table is gradually taking shape. Some will try to counter and say it’s still early days. That’s true but then again, there’s something about the early birds, right?

No, I’m not picking favorites to win the league just yet. After all, “nine points after three matches is nothing different… because we did that last season,” a famous manager said over the weekend.

With the Premier League set to take the backseat for international football and the grand finale of the long summer transfer window, I present to you this week’s edition of the definition. I will be taking a closer look at how the big teams in England fared, probably suggest encouragements for the superb ones and “medications” for the ailing ones.

Okay. That was just me joking. Let’s get to the meat of this article.

Ozil reacts after Arsenal lose 4-0 to Liverpool.

  1. Arsenal: Disastrous

Seeing my description of the Gooners, you’d think it’s harsh and unforgiving. But when you think of how others used words like “abject,” and “a bunch of schoolboys,” you’d rethink your judgment of my own description.

It was as if the Arsenal players had never seen Liverpool play. It was a shambolic performance by Arsene Wenger’s men. And some fans are looking past players like Ozil, Sanchez and Chamberlain and pointing accusing fingers at the French gaffer, blaming him for the heavy loss.

Why field players whose hearts are already miles away from the Emirates?” one said to me after the game. Names like Alexis Sanchez may be suspect for a poor showing on the day but, what of Hector Bellerin’s miscue that led to the third goal?  And how do you begin to explain not registering a single shot on target in such an important game?

Arsenal failed to attempt a single shot on target against Liverpool

Thierry Henry was right when he said they were “unwatchable.” Moves have to made, and quickly too, or else, the downward spiral may just have begun.

Chelsea vs Everton: The statistics

  1. Chelsea: Comfortable

What else is more comfy than beating your opponents? Maybe outscoring them on the day and making sure they don’t come anywhere near “your yard.”  And that’s what exactly Chelsea did.

In a bid to put the “blues” of losing to Burnley behind them, Antonio Conte’s side scored two first half goals – for security reasons I guess. It was all Chelsea from then on as the Evertonians could only manage three touches in the opposition box before the 85th minute and four in the final five minutes (and injury time).

Oh, there was little case of Morata setting a Premier League record too.

  1. Liverpool: Fast, Furious and Dangerous

Famed for the blistering fast attack that they boast, names like Mane and Salah didn’t hesitate to put Arsenal to the sword when the chance presented itself. In all honesty, I thought Liverpool and its shaky defense would concede at least a goal.

But the reverse was the case as the stats showed. Jurgen Klopp took full advantage of a dysfunctional side and successfully scored 2 in each half. If it was a case of Arsenal being the worse of the two sides is hard to tell.

But, it was Liverpool’s 3 points on the day. And boy did they win it in some style.

Saved by Sterling

  1. Manchester City: Struggling

For a while now, Pep has been accused of overly complicating things at and for Manchester City. Maybe that’s what made him switch to a back four against Bournemouth, playing a four-man midfield behind Gabriel Jesus.

With all the quality they possess, they still struggled to breakdown the Bournemouth defense and needed a 97th-minute Raheem Sterling goal to seal the deal. Maybe Eddie Howe’s side sat in too deep for City’s comfort. Maybe I can blame Man. City’s poor performance on that.

Bu then again, why did De Bruyne have to play so deep? Why can’t Bernardo Silva play 90 minutes? Can Yaya Toure play more often? These are just some of the questions – plus the others I asked on my Instagram page – that makes it obvious Pep Guardiola’s side are struggling.

Apart from killing games off as quickly as possible, the players need to soak up Pep’s philosophy as quickly as possible. Or maybe Pep should just learn to be flexible and switch his style of play.

But we all know Pep won’t change his style of play.

Jose Mourinho is the man.

  1. Manchester United: Marching On

In his post-match conference, Mourinho said, “I think we played well.” In all honesty, it’s hard to tell whether he was playing down the importance of 3 wins on the bounce or he really meant what he said.

The Red Devils put another foot forward in the right direction with a 2-0 win over Leicester. Unlike their last two games, it wasn’t the most glamorous of wins but then again, 3 points is all that matters, right?

Jose Mourinho’s men are being touted as favorites for the 2017/2018 Premier League title already. Why not? After playing 3 games, scoring 10 goals and keeping three clean sheets, it’s hard to argue about their title-winning chances.

There will be no Premier League games this weekend as it’s time for the international break. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon will fare against each other. Hopefully both games will produce good football and I shall be entertained.

Which of the international games are you looking forward to seeing? Leave me a comment and lets get talking!

This Week’s Definition of the Premier League’s Big Five (Gameweek 2)

It’s a late post that describes how the big guys fared in the second MatchDay of the 2017/2018 Premier League season. Scoring 8 goals and conceding 3 among them, I continue from where I stopped last week by reviewing the performances of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Premier League (Gameweek 2)

 

Arsenal: Sloppy and Standing Still

I have chosen to use the words of Steven Gerrard and some other pundit whose name I either missed out on or I’m forgetting to remember. Sounds harsh? Considering the way Xhaka gave the ball away in the build up to the Stoke City goal and how the Gooners failed to convert those chances, maybe not.

The inclusion of Welbeck by Wenger is still a mystery. Playing three at the back (most of which were full backs) is another mystery too. Selling Gabriel to Valencia? I’ll rather not talk about it. Since a defeat in the first game of the season was avoided, I thought it’d probably come later. Now that one L is on the books, hopefully Liverpool won’t rub salt on their injury this coming weekend.

Chelsea: Still a Team to be Feared

In his post-match analysis, Thierry Henry said, “There was something about Chelsea today. We asked them questions, and they answered.” He said this while he was talking about the way David Luiz took the ball off of Wanyama and started off the move that saw Marcos Alonso grab his second of the day.

Yes, there may be some arguments about Tottenham playing on “unfamiliar grounds.” But after losing to Burnley, Antonio Conte seemed to find a way to revamp his side psychologically. While most thought the Burnley loss was the beginning of the end, Conte found his way around and surprised all, me inclusive.

Yes, I expected Spurs to put the final nail in the blue coffin but the champ has refused to die that easily. I’ll pretend I didn’t see that Batshuayi own goal.

Liverpool: Well MANEd

Just like in their game against Hoffenheim where Mane was at the centre of everything that the Reds had going for them, Mane was the centre of attraction in the game against Crystal Palace.

The difference between the two sides was crystal clear as chance after chance fell to names like Firmino, Salah and Sturridge. Maybe they should have been more clinical than they were but they weren’t wasteful.

Yes, before I forget, there’s the argument that they’re missing Coutinho. Maybe in the game against Watford but not against Benteke and co. Mane proved Liverpool are more than just Coutinho.

 

Manchester City: Great but can be Better

Right after the game against Everton, I mentioned something about how Pep Guardiola’s side and Manchester United were the most deadly sides in the Premier League. And one reason why City appears on the list is this: the number of chances they create in games is mind blowing.

See the number of shots? The last time I saw Manchester City this rampant was they played FC Barcelona and Luis Enrique quipped, “City pressed us to the stands.

For the most part of the game, City dominated but were wasteful – a problem that just won’t go away. The Kyle Walker red seemed to wake the sleeping giant as they played like a side on fire. Sterling, Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne were all amazing.

Yes, they survived the first home game of the 2017/2018 Premier League season with a draw. But some other teams won’t balk like Everton did when they come visiting. They will make Pep pay for making that wrong selection.

Manchester United: On the Rampage

Eight goals in the first two games is not a number to overlook. When you consider the fact that Mourinho’s side have not conceded any goals this season, those numbers carry even more weight.

While the Swans were able to keep the Red Devils at bay for the most part of the first half, they weren’t able to complete the job. One way or the other, Man. Utd managed to score 4 goals on the day – 3 inside the final 10 minutes of the game.

Leicester City must be wondering how to stop them from scoring because this Red Devil is one on a rampage!

 

About Author

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav

 

[BANTER] 6 Talking Points From the Opening Weekend of the Premier League

Banter is a supple term used to describe activities or a chat that is playful, intelligent and original. It is one of the key ingredients for communication amongst rival fans. We all love some good banter, don’t we?

Fantastic Banter

Fantastic Banter

However, just like it is much more pleasurable to give than to receive and not forgetting that givers never lack, I’ve applied same when it comes to banter. One sure thing is that everybody gets a turn and in this article, I take a look at some of those “talking points” from the weekend:

1. Wenger Out?
It can be argued that if the Arsenal team put in the same effort the Arsenal supporters put in during their #WengerOut campaigns, they’d win the league every year. Seven minutes was the time it took from Jamie Vardy’s first and Leicester’s second goal of the night to get #WengerOut trending on twitter barely just 30 minutes to the start of the new season.

After an extraordinary comeback (Arsenal being very good at comebacks don’t mean much), the #WengerOut band would have been delighted again with their manager (except Piers Morgan).

In what could be “their year”, the Arsenal supporters would be happy to finish in the top four, I really mean to win the FA cup and move on.
2. Liverpool Can’t Defend Corners
History merchants couldn’t do the job away at Watford in a display that typifies the club. They conceded after eight minutes from a Stefano Okaka header and conceded the equalizer in added time via a corner.

With the focus being Phil Coutinho’s transfer request, it seems that Liverpool are in need of a Van Dijk (no apologies). Saido Mane says ‘we’ll work harder’ and I’ll say maybe, just maybe next year.

Premier League MatchDay 1 results

Premier League MatchDay 1 results

3. Conte Kante
That would be my answer if you asked me if Antonio Conte could lead Chelsea to a defense of their League title. And with a thin squad and European commitments this season it seems like Chelsea might not enjoy this season.

 

A 2-3 loss to Burnley FC in which captain Gary Cahill and midfielder Cesc Fabregas were given their marching orders and Twitter striker Michy Batshuayi had no impact in the game and was substituted for 70m summer signing Alvaro Morata who immediately helped Chelsea at least finish with some dignity ensured the season started on the right note for Chelsea’s rivals.

With Hazard still not due from injury and suspensions to Cahill, Fabregas and a trip to Tottenham next, one would wonder how much weight Conte would lose.

4. It was just Brighton and Hove Albion
Former Arsenal fans, – sorry I mean Man City fans – shouldn’t get too excited as nobody expected the world’s third most-expensive defense to be breached by Brighton and Hove Albion. It would have been utterly ridiculous and Pep would have been called a fraud. There was nothing to laugh about in their dominant display and maybe the next match against Everton could bring some joy.

5. Mr. Dele
Bantering Tottenham is usually difficult. Not because they are quite exceptional, but you’d have to find their fans first and then get them to speak about any trophy they have won or nearly won or maybe a match day DVD would do then.

On the opening weekend, the verdict is banter postponed, many thanks in part to Jonjo Shelvey as he had to get himself sent off. Dele Alli delivered the first goal after getting on the end of a Christian Eriksen cross in a combination we will see many times this season.

Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku celebrate against West Ham

Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku celebrate against West Ham.

6. Anti-Mourinho United Display
After all summer signings scored on their debuts one would think Romelu Lukaku would feel some pressure. But there was nothing like that as he debuted in red with a brace. In what can be described as an exciting display by Manchester United, fellow new boy Nemaja Matic was equally impressive as Paul Pogba shone against West Ham in a 4-0 victory.

It seemed like an uncharacteristic pattern for Mourinho’s United charges – United under Mourinho have never won 4-0 in the Premier League and the last time they scored four was against Leicester City 4-1 at home last season. There would be plenty of time to laugh and call Pogba a “dabbing Mulumbu” but this week’s banter has been postponed.

Author

Awolope Kolawole

This Week’s Definition Of the EPL’s Big Five

This Premier League weekend had too much to offer in terms of action. It was almost impossible to keep up with actions and reactions the world over. How about the big five?

Arsenal: Vintage
The Arsenal win over Chelsea was the classic case of being run over by the better team on the day. Arsenal simply ran Chelsea over, scored those goals via running faster than the sluggish Blues and ran away with the win. You can now understand how the Gunners scored 3 against a Chelsea side, in 45 minutes.

Special Credit to Mesut Ozil (for losing Kante) and Alexis Sanchez for that third goal. Even more special credit to Mustafi and Koscielny for giving it their all to keep a clean sheet. It was an amazing performance which made Conte look so ordinary and sent Kante disappearing. Speaking of Chelsea…

Chelsea: Sixes and Sevens
The last time I saw a Chelsea defense this confused was against PSG. Any Conte-led side is usually known for their water-tight defense. But this side seemed to let open the floodgates between the 10th and the 15th minutes of the first half.

Looking past Cahill’s gift, how about this for a full comprehension of the disarray in the side:

You’ll be wondering what those three Chelsea players were doing attacking just one player in the upper part of that image. You must also be wondering how Chelsea just caved in dramatically, right? I think I’ve got some suggestions.

One: Maybe it’s because Michael Jackson is now the HNIC, not Antonio Conte.

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Two: Maybe because Chelsea, according to Sky Sports, have lost 38% of their games in which John Terry did not play. Or maybe, according to Ivanovic, it was because the players failed to follow the manager’s instructions. Who knows!

Liverpool: Five Star
It’s been said that a team has to make mistakes or errors before the other can win. But what happens when the opposition is just more than you can handle? We’ll have to know what exactly can be too much for a Premier League side to handle. To do that, let’s see the Match Stats via BBC:

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A 74% ball possession by the other team is already headache enough. You can’t do much without the ball. Add to that 32 shots, (the highest total by any side, in a game, in the Premier League this season), and you can already see the big picture! In addition, according to Mirror, Liverpool created 24 chances during the game. Rampant doesn’t get any better than that!

Manchester City: Unfamiliar
Fans of Manchester City must have had a pretty battle on their hands so far, as regards getting to fully understand their new gaffer and his methods so far. Pep has turned City inside out. And this has rattled all sides they’ve played against so far this season. Except Swansea.

Playing against them midweek seemed to give them this strange courage to go all out against the Cityzens. They were bold enough to come back from conceding an early goal, by scoring one of theirs almost immediately. Guardiola’s men were obviously rattled! They looked forlorn. Even though they eventually won, it may just be the beginning of things to come, with Spurs up next weekend and Kevin de Bruyne picking an injury.

Manchester United: Pogba + 4 In One Half
How else do you silence your critics? Those loud bags who have been running their mouth about your bad patch of form? Well, if you’re Jose Mourinho, you just make one hell of a tactical change to your team. Bench your captain then ask the rest of the team to score 4 unreplied goals, in the first half, against the current league champs.

What if you’re a certain Paul Pogba, who has been called just an expensive Seyi Olofinjana? Whose goals seem to have deserted him? Well, you just bully your way through the opposition’s defense, connect your head with your teammate’s corner kick and score your first English Premier League goal via a header. Then you run off to the corner flag, confused at first, on which celebrations to display, before choosing to just stare down those haters.

Then of course, share a dab with a teammate.

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About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav

This Week’s Definition Of the English Premier League’s Big Five

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The new Premier League season has started with a bang. It’s just a MatchDay old but there’s been a lot to talk about already.

Brazilian flair, Cruyff turns, lovely through balls, incredible free kicks, outrageous goals from distance and some breathtaking piece of footwork have been the order of the day.

Of course there’s also been some open-eyed rantings, back slapping, hugs, fists bumping and exciting celebrations.

But, after Matchday 1, how have the big names performed? How did they fare?

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Arsenal: Not Ready… Yet
Arsenal lost their opening day game against Liverpool. And it did not exactly come as a surprise (especially if you’re an Arsenal fan). What more can a team that almost did not function in the transfer window do? And although the mart is still open, it’s unsure if Wenger will splash the cash.

And that is what the Gunners need, now that the Arsenal infirmary is getting filled again. After Wenger’s men succeeded in conceding 3 goals in the first 16 minutes of the second half against Liverpool, it’s obvious that plenty of work still needs to be done. “Arsenal are not ready physically for the title,” Wenger said. And, so far so good, he’s

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Chelsea: CONTEgious
As witnessed against West Ham, Chelsea’s new manager showed all of the above. After his team’s 89th minute winner, he went bonkers! It’s said that a man’s true creation will carry a mark that identifies with his character. And Chelsea’s display yesterday, – their urgency and decisiveness – against one of the teams that performed very well last season, showed marks of Conte’s organisation and ruthlessness.

Certainly if you’re being coached by the man that threatened to kill his players during the Euros (it’s not just a game), you’d definitely play to instructions, whether you’re Hazard or Costa. We’ll definitely see more of his energy being replicated amongst the Chelsea squad or… just maybe he’ll kill someone after all.

Liverpool: Deadly… and Conceding.
Jurgen Klopp’s men scored 4 goals against Arsenal… in just 20 minutes. And that was only their first game of the season. You can see where I’m going with this one, right?

Liverpool started the season with a powerful statement: “We’re now a team!” The build-up to Lallana’s goal, the break-neck pace of Mané and the jubilation that followed, will make them a nightmare for any club this season. And although the three goals conceded was a dent on the side, Liverpool, so far, have proved that they can outscore their opponents. Watch out!

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Manchester City: A New City
When Manchester City starts their Premier League campaign with their new and expensive signings, it’s not much of a surprise. But when the Cityzens kick off a Premier League campaign without Yaya Toure and Joe Hart, then you know something’s up!

Pep Guardiola is what’s up! The Philosopher has transformed the Man. City side and has turned it into his own team. Players like Fernandinho played in defense against Sunderland, Caballero was the first choice goalie, there was the 3-man defense formation and the “keep the ball” play. They needed a McNair own goal to win but it’s obvious: Manchester City is a different team now.

And given that they scored four goals in an European competition, for the first time, under Pep, it’s sign enough that this City is a brand new one.

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Manchester United: A Winning Start
New Man. Utd coach, Jose Mourinho, kicked things off with a win against Bournemouth. It was one that was expected and the Red Devils did not disappoint. What’s more, their big names shone bright… except one.

Zlatan got his debut goal, maintaining his record of having scored a debut goal at any club he’s joined. Bailly performed well. But the expensive did not feature. #PogBanned was all over social media as Pogba was not eligible to play for United. He was to serve a one-match suspension for getting two yellow cards in the Coppa Italia final. José has started well. And he’ll want to keep it up!

Demba Ba, New Jersies and more Talking Points from #FootballThisPastWeek

It’s that time of the football season where everywhere’s quiet. Golf and other sports kick football to the back of the news queue and only ‘short scenes’ instead of ‘season-long movies’ are the order of the day.

But of course, with football, even short scenes are major sells thanks to the news media and social media. From friendlies to transfers and all, football never really gets quiet.

So, what has been happening over the past week?

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High Flyers: Iceland benefitted from their surprising display at the Euro 2016

– The Latest FIFA Rankings
FIFA, as usual, released its latest rankings of football-playing countries across the globe. Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Chile, Portugal, France, Spain, Brazil and Italy made up the top 10.

One of the biggest movers on the rankings was Venezuela that jumped 31 spots to 46th. Thanks to the Euros, Croatia, Poland and Iceland jumped up 12, 11 and 12 spots respectively to now occupy the 15th, 16th and 22nd positions. Wales jumped 15 sppts to the 11th position.

On the other, Austria dropped 11 spots to the 21st position while the Netherlands dropped 12 spots to 26th.

Nigeria? Sliding down the list as they’re now ranked the 70th best football-playing nation in the world.

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Cross-Country Move: Chelsea FC confirmed the capture of N'Golo Kante from Leicester City

– The Transfer Mart
There have been major movements in the football supermarket:

* Newcastle made its fifth signing of the summer.
* England seem to want Sam Allardyce.
* Kante joined Chelsea from Leicester (this one still baffles me).
* The 50m Pound of Stones: Everton will not sell their star defender for anything less.
* Leroy Sane moved to a new City in Manchester.
* Antonio Conte completed his move to Stamford Bridge. He came along with his record: In his three seasons with Juventus, his side never conceded more than 24 goals. It’s the first time he’s coaching outside the Italian Serie A but his “work” mantra may just work out fine for him.

Of course that’s just a little of the whole news, this one transfer market is bubbling.

– The Friendlies Season
Clubs resumed from their various hiatuses and needed to get the engines rolling. Of course, playing friendly games is the way to go!

Jose Mourinho and Manchester United started off with a win over Wigan while Antonio Conte could not get the better of Austrian side, Rapid. So much for taking charge of your first game just after two days of becoming a coach.

But of course we know the obvious: friendlies are important but they don’t determine how well a club will perform in the season. Louis van Gaal knows this too well

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New Jersies: Necessary or not? Photo credit: BleacherReport

– The New Jerseys: How Necessary Are They?
So many clubs have unveiled new kits to be used for the upcoming season. Some, great while some weren’t exactly so great. Since it has been a tradition to have new jerseys for new seasons, the question arises: Why does there have to be a new one? If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, right?

Most times, the jersey used by the club the season before does not become obsolete. Most fans still love it: partially because it’s their club and partially because they’ve bought it for their closet.

Now, the club goes ahead to change the style, outlook or colour of the existing jersey. It’s simply a “reformation” or “refurbishment” or “simple improvement” of the existing one. But it comes with all the fuss of a new one. Sales tactics if you ask me.

The fans (loyal, die-hard ones though) go on out there and snap them up. The “old” jersey becomes history. The trend continues over the years.

The question arises again: Is the “New Jersey for a New Season” really necessary?

Worthy Mentions
The most exciting game of the 2015/2016 NPFL season was played on Saturday. Akwa United vs Rangers International. The five-goal thriller was a “balanced diet for a football fan’s appetite.” In the end, Rangers won and ended up at the summit of the table.

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Awkward Angle: Demba Ba broke his leg while playing in China.

Demba Ba, 31 years of age, suffered a devastating and heart-wrenching injury where his leg got broken. The sight of the awkwardly-bent leg was a gory one. I ran away from the video and only managed rhe sight of the picture. Get well soon Ba. In other news, after that injury, I’m not sure of his football-playing career.

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

Euro 2016: The Men Who Lit Up the Eiffel (A-G)

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The Reward For Hardwork: C. Ronaldo posts a picture of the Euro 2016 trophy on his Instagram page

Les Rendez Vous in France kicked off June 10 after much anticipation. 51 games and a 108 goals later, a new champion has been crowned.

However, Euro 2016 won’t be forgotten in a hurry. It was a tournament with twenty four teams participating, the first in the history of the competition, and one that saw all football jinxes broken. For emphasis’ sake:

– Not even Didier Deschamps was born the last time France beat Germany in a competitive game.

– Gigi Buffon, the oldest outfield playerin the tournament, wasn’t born the last time Germany beat Italy competitively.

– Fernando Santos was twenty, the last time Portugal beat France in an uncompetitive game.

– Vicente del Bosque was still a footballer the last time Italy beat Spain.

Things have changed now. Don Del Bosque has stepped down following the end of an era. Roy Hodgson resigned as England now carry the unwanted title of being the team to have played the most games in the Euros without lifting the trophy.

Antonio Conte is now at Chelsea starting a rebuilding process while Hemir Halgrimsson, the dentist coach of Iceland has now taken sole charge after he and Lars Lagerback masterminded perhaps one of the most fascinating fairytales in Euro history.

All these names put together golden moments that lit up the tournament.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the players (and managers alike) who made the Eiffel glow over the past month. Let’s take a look:

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A Box of Emotions: Antonio Conte screams out orders to his players against Belgium

Antonio Conte
Perhaps, the most animated figure on the touchline at the tournament, Conte threatened to kill his players if they bottled it against Belgium according to reports.

It led to Xavi admitting the new Chelsea boss had built a team half Barcelona, half Atletico. He turned players like Emmanuele Giacherini, Eder, Marco Parolo and Antonio Candreva into world beaters.

He admitted his team lacked talent, and he made the best of it. He made lemonade out of lime. With a smile from Lady Luck and a lot less drama from Uncle Zaza, Conte could have masterminded an Italian job on the Euros.

An emotional man with the heart of a warrior and the demeanour of a gladiator, only Conte understood how he made his team tick and Chelsea fans are definitely in for a treat. For the players… I say no more.

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Bale and Baby: Gareth Bale and his daughter at the Euro 2016

Gareth Bale
The dragon, they called them. Wales, unlike their neighbours (you know who), travelled to France with a game plan, one that would see them play six games and none like their rivals.

However, central to that plan was a certain shooting star, the world’s most expensive player who duly lived up to that tag. Twice he cannoned home free kicks that would tilt the game in his country’s favour. More often he got involved in play for his team: Snapping at tackles, making interceptions, spreading elite passes (one reminiscent of Mesut Ozil) and performing key blocks as well.

He ensured his name was written in the sand of time. Not so many will forget that dipping free kick that Joe Hart couldn’t stop or that pass that sent Ramsey on his way against Russia.

He definitely was central in their Cinderella tournament, and the Welsh can only hope that he leads them to more success on and off the pitch, starting with qualification for a first World Cup since 1958. Never rule them out, because Bale is involved.

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Lol.. err, too much to handle Ronnie? C. Ronaldo "in action" against Austria

Cristiano Ronaldo    
Il capitane, and now… an international trophy following his travails with the national team. He can just retire now and leave on a high.

However that isn’t Cristiano. He sets very high bars (just search for #CR7Bars on Twitter to see for yourself), he wants more, and now, he will head to Russia for his first Confederations Cup tournament. The silver ball recipient and prospective balon d’or winner (love him or loathe him), contributed 66.67 percent of his side’s goals at the tournament.

And while many would say he played a minor role in the final, he had his team set up for that moment. In fact his Diego Simeone demeanour on the bench, reminded one of Diego Maradona’s personality talk.

It may be his last Euros, given he will be 35 come 2020 but he can look back at the Eiffel and smile because it would be his most cherished moment.

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A Silver Medal Not Good Enough: Didier Deschamps taking off his silver medal after France lost to Portugal in the final of Euro 2016

Didier Deschamps & Dimitri Payet
The coach of the tournament, he is the stark opposite of Antonio Conte (hello Iron Man). He is much calmer and just like Conte, isn’t afraid to make big calls.

His decision to bring off Dimitri Payet wasn’t loved by many, but football enthusiasts would have felt Kingsley Coman should have started the game. His ability to unite the dressing room despite the ruckus that rocked the FFF after Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena contrived to let him down is unique.

That he managed to get a team, whose centre-forward was Olivier Giroud, to the final, is enough achievement. Arsene Wenger might need to tear a leaf from his book to learn how to utilize the Arsenal forward.

Deschamps is a legend and while he might be unable to fill a Zinedine Zidane or Michel Platini-sized boot in French hearts, he will be remembered for ushering a new era in French football; a period of discipline, and talent.

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Stamping Your Authority While Having Fun: Payet celebrates after scoring against Albania. Image credit: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

Simply put, he has made the French people believe again.

Who remembers France’s winning goal against Romania? The one that sunk Albania? That goal against Iceland? He lit the torch before handing it over to Antoine Greizmann.

So much so that the nation had their hearts in their mouths when he was subbed in the final. 50 odd million? I’d sure give it a thought. Of course you know who, right?

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The Eder: Eder spearhEaDED Antonio Conte's attack at the Euro 2016

Eder
The irony is, while one was busy setting the tournament alight, the other was busy enduring a torrid time on the bench, like a man who was in bondage until he was set loose in the final.

The Italian Eder was an embodiment of his coach, all action, and combative while his Portuguese version, showed up only when he was needed the most.

From the first game against the Belgians, Eder epitomized everything Conte stood for: some bit of aggression, speed, agility, craftiness and more.

So much for one name.

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Dad and Son: Fernando Santos hoists the trophy in the air with Cristiano Ronaldo after touching down in Portugal

Fernando Santos
The wily 61-year old tactician who masterminded Portugal’s unlikely triumph in France admitted his side played ugly, but better win ugly than lose sexy he said.

He never seemed to care and stuck to his guns. He executed a perfect gameplan with the right tools. His reunion with Ronaldo and the respect he commanded in the dressing room made communicating instructions easier.

Little wonder they are unbeaten under him. He maximized the potential of his squad, with all 20 outfield players getting a look-in at some point or the other. The image of him and his star man on the touchline in the final moments echoed a father and son relationship that Ronaldo claimed he had lacked.

With the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign on the horizon, he’ll be hoping to mastermind yet another unlikely road to glory in Russia and for him, the work begins now.

This is the dawn of a new era and he will lead the nation into it.

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The European Golden Boy: Antoine Griezmann celebrates a goal scored with Dimitri Payet

Antoine Greizmann
The top scorer, and undoubtedly, the tournament’s best player; the Atletico Madrid forward was in the mood from start to finish.

And he basically took matters into his own hands, whenever it mattered (pun or no pun?) after having a taste of the bench following a below-par opening game. He looked more alive than the £100million player, and even earned the nickname Grizou along the way.

He made the nation believe, and even if they fell short, the prospect of he and a repentant and returning Karim Benzema will give the French hope for the future… and make some mouths watery. Football mouths of course.

About Author
Tosin Adesina is an ideal young man, a soccer aficionado. He prefers being called Fijasewa Arogunyo because that’s who the world would grow to know. He is a disciple of Pep Guardiola, a follower of Jurgen Klopp, a lover of Jose Mourinho, an admirer of Cholo Simeone, a fanatic of Carlo Ancelotti and an avid fan of Antonio Conte. You can connect with him on Twitter @teetunez

Euro 2016: So Far, So Good… (Le Rendezvous)

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The last 16 is done with. We’re on to the Quarters now. But Euro 2016 just won’t stop surprising. Surprises here, there and everywhere!

Poland beat Switzerland (unsurprisingly for me). And even though Shaqiri’s goal left me speechless, it wasn’t enough to bail them out.

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Then a Gareth-Bale-inspired Wales leapt over the line against Northern Ireland. I wouldn’t have predicted at the start of the tournament that they’d be the last nation from the British Isles standing. But they are, thanks in part to a certain Woy’s decisions. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Uncle Ronaldo!: Mother and child meet their hero. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

Uncle Ronaldo!: Mother and child meet their hero. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

There was Portugal. Were they inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo? I beg to differ. I think the “inspirer” was Fernando Santos, who finally awoke to the reality that pairing Carvalho with Pepe was a ticking time bomb. *Round of applause for you gaffer*

I'm alive!: Hazard celebrates after scoring for Belgium against Hungary. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

I’m alive!: Hazard celebrates after scoring for Belgium against Hungary. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

I wasn’t at all surprised with Germany’s or Belgium’s showings. They showed what meeting a tournament heavyweight earns you: a straight ticket back home!

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France were a scam until Griezmann bailed them out, (with help from Giroud. You know what I mean).

Which brings me to Italy and Iceland, the biggest winners of the round. They displayed to the world that team spirit trumps individual quality no matter how much the talent abounds in a team (Hello England!).

With each of the 8 games in the second round, there was one case or the other. Case studies if I may.

Let’s see Case1:

MISSION: Eliminate Defending Champions and Avenge Final loss.

It seemed impossible from the word go. Conte and the Italian camp tried their best to maintain expectations, but then we all know Antonio Conte. He always has an ace up his sleeve and there was one in Saint-Denis, the collective.

He himself admitted that talent-wise, they were never going to match the Spaniards. But talent hadn’t exactly stolen the show in France.

From the blast of the whistle, they went toe-to-toe with Spain for everything. The farce of Spain keeping the ball so their opponents wouldn’t hurt them was what it was. Then came the goal… and the Red Fury never recovered.

It was the kind of goal that knocked them out. They tried to come back. Pull one back. Draw level. The closest they came was from Gerard Pique, who drew a masterful reflex save from the great Gigi Buffon (who was in awesome form).

Add to Buffon the wall of defense akin to the Great wall of China that La Roja encountered. Defensive organization unrivalled. This wasn’t parking the bus. It was the Italian defense. It brought back the old saying that Catenaccio is the solution to the famed Tiki-Taka, whose remains were definitely extinguished on the day.

The Italian Wall.

The Italian Wall.

Italian greatness aside, Don Del Bosque also handed the initiative to the Italians. Italy’s 3-5-2 would have suffered had Hector Bellerin started in Juanfran’s stead. Besides, I still don’t understand his aversion to Koke. His decision to go with the tested and trusted, instead of switching things up, failed him again and all this could have been avoided.

Decisions like dropping Isco and Saul, the former whose case in particular was disheartening. Besides, Aritz Aduriz would have offered more in attack than the ineffective and uncertain Pedro who has looked shorn of confidence since leaving Barcelona.

He did give Lucas Vazquez a chance, but it was too sudden, especially for a kid who isn’t used to playing against the brute force of an Antonio Conte-inspired team; a team led by a coach whose energy is so amazing (and contagious), it made him jump on the top of the dugout after Graziano Pelle landed the knockout blow.

So much passion inside one man. Chelsea players had better prepare. Dear Klopp, you now have a touch-line-drama-acting competition.

MISSION UPDATE: Mission Accomplished

Case2:
MISSION: Eliminate Woy’s Bunch of Jokes

Not the Sunniest Euros for England. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

Not the Sunniest Euros for England. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

This has got to be the best thing to happen to Euro 2016. Don’t get me wrong. Payet’s goal and that 3-3 scoreline were beautiful but… the elimination of one of the saddest and shambolic teams in the tournament? Awesome!

What most don’t know is, England practically got knocked out the day the draw was made. Upon realisation that they’d face Wales, all focus was on the game in Lens. Come squad announcement time, Roy Hodgson announced his squad with that game in mind, dropping more reliable options in favour of injured and unfit players.

It was going to come back to haunt him. And it did. They drew against teams they should have beaten: bottling it against Russia before failing to solve a puzzle called Slovakia. Sandwiched in between, they had won the only game they came to France to play. They had beaten Wales.

Considering the Dragons are in the Quarter finals and the Three Lions are back at Heathrow wondering where it all went wrong, that’s an achievement innit?

From #Brexit to #Eurexit. What a week to not be an Englishman.

They somehow agreed to throw away the favour that the god of football bestowed upon them after Iceland finished second rather than Portugal. Or… could it be that when you have screwed with fortune, it screws you back?

You decide.

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Great credit to the Icelanders by the way who don’t have great football facilities that the Manchester City alone can boast of.

This should be a time of reflection for the FA. The failure began when they appointed Roy Hodgson. He led them to three major tournaments, all ending in Heartbreaks. Who remembers Euro 2012? Brazil?

Three Lions or Three Lambs?

Three Lions or Three Lambs?

In reality, England lack the mentality to win football tournaments. It says a lot that since 1966 when they won the World Cup on home soil, they have only won seven knockout games. No wonder, they sulked to stupor and behaved like babies when they lost the bidding rights to the 2018 World Cup.

They can learn from the team that eliminated them though. Team spirit and the right mentality will conquer mountains. Just ask Lars Lagerback and his co-coach. It’s not the first time Lagerback would engage in such co-coaching skills. He did likewise at Euro 2004 with Sweden, where they eliminated Italy in the group stage.

It’s his blueprint. France would only be wise to beware, because even if they have overachieved, they can sense something special. It would be their driving force when they take to the pitch on July 3. So much for beating England.

MISSION UPDATE: Mission Accomplished

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On a final note, I hope to see some Quarter final upsets, Italy knocking out Germany on Saturday, Wales edging Belgium on Friday. Now is Ronaldo’s time to step up and lead Portugal like a real leader, because Poland could be wasteful, but Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik could just find their scoring boots.

Then there is France on Sunday. As much as I’d love to see Iceland win, I’d rather keep my fingers crossed. This, really, is Les Rendez Vous

About Author
Tosin Adesina is an ideal young man, a soccer aficionado. He prefers being called Fijasewa Arogunyo because that’s who the world would grow to know. He is a disciple of Pep Guardiola, a follower of Jurgen Klopp, a lover of Jose Mourinho, an admirer of Cholo Simeone, a fanatic of Carlo Ancelotti and an avid fan of Antonio Conte. You can connect with him on Twitter @teetunez

Belgium 0 – Italy 2: 5 Tricks Antonio Conte Is Bringing To Chelsea

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The UEFA Euro 2016 game between Belgium and Italy was described by many as a winner-takes-all game.

That, in other words, meant that whoever won the fixture, would be in pole position to top the group after the group stages of the competition. And whoever lost the game risked being behind (and being knocked out too) in a group that seemed so complex.

So much at stake.

In the end, Italy won the game thanks to plenty of teamwork, great tactics and a great first half of football.

One name was behind the scenes, successfully pulling all the strings that made the Italian puppet outperform its Belgian counterpart. His name?

Antonio Conte.

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The Italian, with his usual 3-5-2 formation, was on top tactically throughout the first half. His formation successfully frustrated the Belgians during the period, forcing them to make shots from outside the box.

In anticipation of his move to Chelsea, I’ve analyzed the tactics Conte used against Belgium and how it can be implemented/utilized at Chelsea.

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– Plenty of Dynamism & A Compact Defense
Against Belgium, the Italian players moved around the pitch as a unit, especially in the first half. When going forward, there was always that support play. Defensively, he seemed to assign two players to one Belgian, anticipating every second move made by the Belgians. The players covered for each other with names like Giacherrini and Candreva dragging back to defend. This made the Italians HARD TO BREAK DOWN. And even when they were broken down, they made sure they CROWDED OUT the opposition player in their 18-yard box. Throughout the first half, the Italians forced Belgium into making shots from outside their 18-yard box. With this kind of technique, they were caught on the counter ONLY ONCE!

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– Loads of Wing Play
Emanuele Giaccherini and Antonio Candreva were Conte’s wings men in the 3-5-2 formation. They were also his tool of rattling the Belgian defense. These two players troubled Ciman and Vertoghen while freeing up space for Eder and Pelle (and Immobile when he came on). A run-in behind the opposition defense by Giaccherini made him to score the opening goal.

– Counter-Attacking Football
The Belgians came out firing on all fronts in the second half, trying to get the equalizer. They were now applying all their strength and numbers on this stubborn Italian defense system. They bolstered their attack line and ignored their defense, leaving them vulnerable. Instead of bringing in another defender to complement his team, Conte brought on Immobile and De Sciglio. Fresh legs to take advantage of the Belgian defense. This move paid off within minutes as Immobile’s first shot on target forced Courtois into making a save. In the 90+3 minute, 4 Italians were up against 3 Belgian defenders in a counter-attacking play. The end result? Pelle scored the second goal of the game in style, dashing all hopes of a Belgian comeback.

– Defenders…
…who are great passers of the ball. In the build-up to the tournament, several key names in Italy’s midfield got injured. Veratti, Montolivo. Pirlo was absent. It seemed the Italians would not be able to connect defense to attack. But Conte had other ideas: defenders with an eye for defense-splitting passes. Their responsibility would be to thread balls over the top of opposition defenders and into the path of strikers (or any player available) who would have found their way behind the last line of defense without triggering the offside flags. Their first attempt at this technique led to the game’s first goal.

– A Striker That Won’t Stop Running At the Opposition
This in a way was some sort of “counter-attacking” play. Antonio Conte, in his 3-5-2 set-up, fielded Pelle and Eder up front. Eder was given a mandate of running at the Belgian defense whenever they had the ball. This was to unsettle the Belgians and force them into launching the ball into the air, thereby turning their ball-possession into a “free-for-all” possession. Then the Italians would either win possession or “bully” the Belgians into giving it up. By the time Eder was exhausted, Conte subbed him off for Immobile to continue the running.

Even though it was Antonio Conte’s first game at the Euros as a coach and Belgians like Fellaini made things easy for the Italian, Conte has showed signs of how much he’s bringing to the Stamford Bridge.

Now imagine a Chelsea side with NO EUROPEAN COMMITMENTS and ALL THOSE TRICKS UP THEIR SLEEVES…

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn