What I Learnt from the UEFA Champions League this week

One for the road: Sergio Ramos celebrates scoring for Real Madrid against Napoli. Photo credit: @realmadriden

“We are only halfway through the tie. There are 95 minutes left and lots of things can happen.

“I go into the game with a positive mood. We have to do everything really well, both in defence and in attack. PSG are a really good side.

“Of course, lots of things have happened since the first leg. We have improved and have put in some good performances. We are optimistic by nature and convinced of what we can do. We will try to make the most of the favourable circumstances.

“If a team can score four times against us, we can score six times against them. We have seen that before this season. We have nothing to lose.”

What better way to begin discussing one of the most exciting weeks in UEFA Champions League history than to start with the words of the Barcelona coach cum prophet, Luis Enrique?

The 7th and 8th day of March, 2017 will remain etched in the memories of football fans for as long as I can think of. History was made, records were shattered and the already-immortal ones became even more immortal (if that word exists).

While so many will talk about how Arsenal ’10-d 2′ bottle things up after a fine start to a football season, the major talking point of the week was the showdown in Barcelona.

It’d have been hard to think of any record that Barcelona had not shattered. But a 4-0 first leg deficit was a high hurdle, a new one for the ‘Catalan gods.’ But they proved themselves once again, as one of the best, if not the best, in the world of football.

The greatest comeback you’ve ever seen? I thought so too!

Aubameyang came to life with a hattrick. Benfica couldn’t hold on. Real Madrid stuttered at first (a trend fast becoming a norm for the Los Blancos), then came back to win in Napoli.

What else did I learnt about the UEFA Champions League (UCL) this week?

Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall

1. The UEFA Champions League is in a World of its Own…

When day turns into night midweek, and the stars litter the sky, the best in Europe come out to play. The competition is the UEFA Champions League and the word ‘play’ has been taken to another level.

It may not be the most-watched football competition in the world but, the Champions League has a way of catching (capturing too) attention the world over.

It’s not certain there’s a puppeteer pulling the strings behind the curtains, but if there is, this one puppeteer is a good one, one that is getting better with each passing Matchday.

Each night, drama is expected to happen. And with each night of football, the UCL doesn’t fail to disappoint. It serves up high drama with each passing night and the fans everywhere (well almost, taking timezones and who won or lost into consideration) go to bed satisfied.

It’s fair to say it’s just the Round of 16. But that makes things scary too. What level of action awaits fans in the quarter-finals? Semi-finals? Of course, we know mouth-watering clashes await fans… but no one knows how exciting they’ll be. We can only anticipate.

 

2. … and the Premier League Can’t Seem to Keep Up

For letting Barcelona overturn such a massive first leg deficit, the whipping league for the week should be the French Ligue 1. PSG should be ashamed of themselves, right? Well, it’s a two-sided coin – and I’ll let you choose which side to stick to.

While you’re choosing, I’ve singled out England’s Premier League for some butt-whopping in this piece. This is a league that prides itself on being the toughest, – they’re closely followed by the English Football Championship. Lol, I know I know, I sound incredulous to most right now… but that’s how the bitter truth can look like sometimes. – meanest, unforgiving football league in the world.

On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and even on some Mondays, these big shots strut their stuff, confidently and amazingly. The display takes your breath away. You see amazing goals, and master tactical plans being executed by players who are obviously close to the top of the football world’s food chain.

But when Tuesdays and Wednesdays appear, England’s top guns disappear into thin air. The fearsome English lions all of a sudden transform into harmless cubs. Then they’re knocked around haplessly by Europe’s ‘Senior Men.’

Then with repeated terrible European outings, Europe’s so-called minnows get the required confidence to step up to the plate too and either try a home run or slam dunk or a hole-in-one. And most times, they succeed, overpowering most of these ‘English Local Champions.’

The Gunners tried to prove themselves in the first half of their clash against Bayern Munich, but they couldn’t hold on or increase their lead. They had to let another five in, yet again!

I know you’re tempted to quickly mention the ref’s decision to send Koscielny off and how it affected the display of Wenger’s men on the night. But, as a football team, if you can’t keep playing well regardless of the kind of hand you’re dealt, aren’t you a spine-less, weak-hearted football club?

Sounds harsh, I know but English clubs have to wake up to the current reality. Benitez’s Liverpool, Fergie’s Manchester United and the rest didn’t win the UEFA Champions League by playing like boys. They weathered the storm, played like men and created space for themselves in history.

3. Referees?

You know, it’s almost impossible to talk about football these days without certain refereeing issues rearing their ugly heads.

The most recent episode of this unsatisfactory series before this week started was the Zlatan-Mings incident (just so you know, I still feel Ibrahimovic should have been sent to the showers earlier than scheduled. But heck, what do I know? I’m just a bloody football fan).

I can easily make a case for these referees: They’re humans, not robots or machines. As thus, they have EVERY RIGHT to make some terribly questionable calls every once in a while. But, what happens when those calls have huge, permanent effects on games?

Case 1: Arsenal, Koscielny, Lewadowski and the Red Card

It’s the responsibility of a player, defender for that matter, to know what to do while he’s sharing his own 6-yard box with an opponent. Rules are rules. Break them and get broken.

Koscielny, inside the six-yard box, stops a Lewadowski who is through on goal (stops here means he slightly touches the Polosh international who milks the situation and goes to ground faster than you can say “Alice in Wonderland.”).

Centre ref points to the spot, flashes a yellow and everything is fine. Remember, during this time, the Gunners were in cruise control. They had their hands, in a way, wrapped around the necks of the Germans.

One of the extra refs (those ones that stand beside the goal post) says something to the center ref. Yellow transforms into red and Arsenal go on to ship in 5 at the end of the day). A famous Frenchman called the ref’s move a scandalous one. I concur!

Case 2: Barcelona, PSG, and the Suarez Dive

I’ll save my breath for this one and let the gif do most of the talking.

I know they can’t see it all everytime but, arrrggghhhhh, some mistakes can’t be condoned at this high level of football. It’s just unforgivable.

Two weeks ago, Impossible. Two weeks after, “Nothing is impossible.”

4. Football Is Just Crazy

That’s the best definition I can find.

It was hard to imagine Barcelona overturn that 0-4 deficit in Paris. I thought Arsenal had learnt their lessons. I thought Cavani’s goal had put the final nail in Barcelona’s coffin. I thought Napoli would give Real Madrid a run for their money on Italy.

All these were my thoughts… until football came strolling along with its craze. All norms became abnormal in seconds with a rebirth of that famous Aguero goal by Sergi ranking high on the list of ‘irregulars.’

It’s hard to put football in a box… football is JUST CRAZY!

So far, this year’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 has been ‘goals-full.’ And the drama continues next week before the highly anticipated draws for the quarter-finals.

Quick one before I stop writing…

Are there really draws? Or is it just one of the master plans of the puppeteer hiding behind the curtains? This was the topic in the blog’s discussion room yesterday.

With repeated draws in the past like Real Madrid v Lyon, Bayern Munich v Arsenal, Barca v PSG and more, what do you think? Are draws in football, especially in the UCL, really just draws or… is there more to it than meets the eye?

Let me know what you think by dropping your comments in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.

About Author

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst on radio (The Beat FM), 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

C. Ronaldo’s New Role, 1-5/02/2017, Beautiful Goals and more from the UEFA Champions League Week

Coincidence?

Coincidence?

“We have been royally treated this week in the UEFA Champions League”

– Match Commentator of the Real Madrid vs Napoli game.
Nothing could be truer than that statement. In just two days, the pain of the absence of Europe’s ‘Premier Football Competition’ was swept away by amazing contests, beautiful goals and shocking results (Hello Paris).

The stage had already been set, since last year, for exciting clashes between Europe’s best. Of course I looked forward, mouth-wateringly, to the encounter in France and the one in Spain the moment the draws were made.

But I got more than what I bargained for this week – and I’m sure I’m not alone on this boat!

After just two nights in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash, Barcelona are already four goals behind, a certain English team shipped in 5 in Germany and the current holders had to wiggle their way past Napoli.

How about a bigger picture?

All 4 Valentine

All 4 Valentine

1. From Paris… With Love

PSG vs Barcelona, in recent times, has always been a tight contest. It has never been an affair that was too one-sided.

In one corner of the ring, you’ll usually haven’t the French, busy trying to stamp their authority in European football. In the other corner, the Catalan giants, looking to further assert their European authority.

So, you can understand why it’s almost always the classic case of a game “kinda too close to call” whenever these two entities meet. But, the meeting between PSG and Barcelona on Valentine’s Day, in Paris, wasn’t one too close to call. IT WAS A ONE-SIDED AFFAIR!

You are forgiven if you thought Barça’s MSN gang ran riot and terrorized their French hostages on the night because that’s what they know how to do best. On this fateful night, it was the exact opposite. PSG scored two unreplied goals (two beauties by Di Maria) in each half of the game to take a four-goal advantage into the second leg.

Surprised Barcelona didn’t score? With the way the PSG players played, it was impossible for the clubside from Spain to score. The closest they came to scoring was a header from Umtiti that hit the woodwork.

The work rate of Unai Emery’s men was un-freaking-believeable! Names like Aurier, Rabiot, Cavani, Veratti seemed to be on the move every time. The little pockets of space Messi’d usually enjoy in games like this were closed up. The Argentine was locked out. Neymar was isolated. Suarez? You know the rest.

The French side never seemed to slow down. For example, Barcelona were encamped in their own half for the entire first 5 minutes of the 2nd half. This is testimony enough about PSG’s resilience to kill the game – despite being 2 up already at the time. Add another 5 minutes, and Di Maria had rattled the net again, this time with a beauty from his left foot.

3 – 0.

By the 75th minute, PSG’s left-back had dribbled past Neymar, went on a mazy run, and supplied Cavani who scored the fourth with a one-timer. During this time, PSG’ had already registered10 attempts on target compared to Barca’s lone attempt on target.

Barcelona went visiting... 4 nothing!

Barcelona went visiting… 4 nothing!

The Catalan giants seemed distraught. The big and mighty names disappeared at the sight of regulars like Rabiot, Aurier, Draxler and the young Presnel Kimpembe. The fabbled “Barcelona Connect” struggled to connect throughout the game.

Now, the Catalan giants have an uphill task of overturning a four-goal deficit at the Camp Nou, a challenge no club In Europe has ever tackled successfully.

2. Real Madrid and CR7’s New Role

Before this game, there was something unnerving about the UCL form of Napoli. This was a team that could spring surprises. They won their group. It’s almighty Real Madrid, I know. But the Italians almost pulled off a Spanish surprise.

Their set-up from the word go startled and rattled Zidane’s men. Their quick exchange of passes seemed to catch Modric and co off guard. Sometimes, it looked like tiki-taka. At other times, it looked like something never seen before.

The passes were fast, the runs sharp and it didn’t take long before they opened their account, scoring inside the first 10 minutes of the game thanks to Insigne. And to think that Real Madrid had been doing all the playing during this time. That was the wake up call for the leviathan.

Realising that the ‘highly dreaded’ away goal had just been conceded, Real Madrid started creating chance after chance and Benzema found a way to pull Madrid back on level terms.

C. Ronaldo then unselfishly cut one back for Toni Kross, who finished cooly with a low shot. Then there was Casemiro’s beauty of a goal that got Rafa Nadal laughing and left Morata stunned on the touch line.

Jubilant: In case you missed Casemiro's cracker, look it up and watch it. Thank me later ;)

Jubilant: In case you missed Casemiro’s cracker, look it up and watch it. Thank me later 😉

Speaking of C. Ronaldo, it’s not exactly clear who has given the Portuguese football god this new role he now performs in: maybe his age has forced him to start operating in this new capacity, maybe it’s Zizou. It’s quite hard to tell. But the obvious remains: Cristiano Ronaldo is now more of a team player and less selfish.

Case Study: His assist for Toni Kroos Is one CR7 would usually take aim from. It was inside the opponent’s 18-yard box, a confort zone for Ronaldo. But he chose to pass Instead.

There was the 85th minute pass to Marcelo which he could have chosen to fire home as soon as he received the pass in the 18-yard box.

Seeing as the usually goal-hungry CR7 hasn’t scored a UCL goal in 523 minutes, it’s weird to see him break the UEFA Champions League assist record. Wonders, they say… http://www.goal.com/en/news/8/main/2017/02/15/32726982/ronaldo-breaks-champions-league-assist-record?ICID=HP_BN_2

3. No Love Lost at Odds of 5-1

“The game ends Arsenal 1, Bayern 5, for the second year running.” – Match Commentator.

But for Ospina, the scoreline may have had three digits. And you know whose the double digits would have been. This one was a contest between men and boys.

Forget what Arsene Wenger said about missing Koscielny. The Arsenal team that played against Bayern Munich on Wednesday wouldn’t have survived if they had a XI full of Koscielny’s. The English side was just helpless.

Swept away by the Germans: Arturo Vidal  and Lewandowski

Swept away by the Germans: Arturo Vidal and Lewandowski

It was a mismatch from the blast of the ref’s whistle and Arjen Robben’s beauty of a goal (how many times have I said this?) was a testament of things to come. Yes they got an away goal, but shipping in 5? De javu. De javu. De javu.

Is it time for Wenger to go? I don’t know. I can’t say. Ask your friend who’s an Arsenal faithful (please let me know what they think by leaving me a comment. I’d love to hear from you).

A Round of Applause please?

A Round of Applause please?

Some may say the job’s only half done for the Bavarians. And they’re right. Only a handful of German goals in England will rightfully settle this one.

Benfica beat Dortmund by 1-0. That’s still the most open game of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 so far.

The games continue next week. Will there be more beautiful goals, large scoreline margins or even more surprising wins or defeats? Fingers are crossed.
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 him on Twitter @rotdav

The Grumblings of A Barcelona Fan

Who's To Blame?: Barcelona players in their game against Valencia in October 2o16. (Photo credit: Dailymail)

Who’s To Blame?: Barcelona players in their game against Valencia in October 2o16. (Photo credit: Dailymail)

I will always support my team, through thick and thin. But I will never forget the day we, as a club, made a mistake that is haunting us even today (I sensed, at the time, that we would regret it).

That was the day we decided to sell Thiago Alcántara do Nascimento to Bayern Munich and keep the hyped ‘prodigal son’ transfer of Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal.

Not Cesc, and not any midfielder we have brought in since Thiago’s departure is on Thiago’s level of talent and suitability to the playmaking role in the team.

Today we are sitting in a situation where our identity as a team is leaving us bit by bit. We are becoming just another team in terms of our style of play, even though we still have a high level of skill.

Our unique tiki-taka style is gradually going by the wayside. Someone managed to fool us and tell us that we needed to device a plan B in our play and that we needed to evolve, as teams had ‘figured us out‘.

That is the biggest lie in Barcelona’s recent history. The style we had under Pep was the best for our team and bringing back Cesc at the expense of Thiago was a signal of the start of the end of an era – an era which would have possibly been successfully continued by Thiago after Xavi’s imminent retirement.

Maybe Thiago’s departure was partly political – he was wearing 11 and the incoming wonderkid Neymar wears 11, so maybe our management felt something had to give – who knows?

In as much as I do praise them when they play well, players like Rakitic, Denis Suarez, Andres Gomes are a different breed to what makes Barca the team they were. Even Thiago’s younger brother, Rafinha isn’t quite woven into the ilk of his sibling.

These players are not the kind that help us keep the ball and oven-bake it to perfection before it goes to attack. Yes, there will never be another Xavi, but why did we have to sell our best chance of having a Xavi-like playmaker who has innate Brazilian flair?

Thiago would have been a giant in this midfield at this point. So, to compensate for our limitations in midfield, Lionel Messi is gradually becoming a more and more important figure in the middle third.

He now has to increasingly assume a mixture of a playmaking role, wing-play role and a striking role. And even though he shows he is capable, it should not have gotten to this point, because he won’t always hit the right note, regardless of how good he is.

With important players leaving our midfield (Xavi and almost Iniesta), things were always never gonna be the same. But so un-Barca-like is this Barca that I don’t know exactly where we are going in terms of style of play.

When our midfield lacks form (like it has in the past weeks), our deficiencies in the middle of the park become so evident for everyone to see. We become so thin, frail and lacking in purpose in the middle of the park.

This disturbs me.

The only time that our midfield plays well and shows the soul of Barca is when Sergio Busquets plays well. And, in this past few weeks, he has struggled for form. The blessing that we now have (MSN’s firepower and quick-attacking-style) also contribute towards our midfield being less important because, now the ball spends less time being cooked in the middle of the pitch and we rush it to the MSN Gang.

When it works, it works very well. But when it doesn’t, it exposes the lack of Barcelona soul that this Barca has. I guess we gained some by losing some. Was it all worth it, though?

The Face Off, El Clasico Version: Real Madrid take on Barcelona in the biggest football match in club football on Saturday. Photo credits: LaLiga

The Face Off, El Clasico Version: Real Madrid take on Barcelona in the biggest football match in club football on Saturday. Photo credits: LaLiga

This is my cry as a fan. I’m hopeful that somehow, we will dig deep into ourselves and come up with a performance for the ages this Saturday (the El Clasico)  bonus for me would be for it (the performance) to be a classic Barca performance.

But that may be asking for too much.

I can only hope that, throughout the season, our level of attacking skill makes up for the lack of soul in our play, and the lack of midfield control that is becoming part of our bloodstream in this past couple of seasons.

About Author

Nzudzanyo Ranwaha, a South African, is an engineer by profession. He loves watching football, playing football, playing pool (billiards), graphics designing and a few other hobbies many people would find boring. You can catch up with him on twitter @nzuu198

There’s Something About Pep Guardiola and Second Legs…

“There’s something about Pep Guardiola and second legs…”

Another Class Act in the City: Pep Guardiola reacts from the touchline during his side's 3-1 win over Barcelona. (Photo credits: Mirror.co.uk)

Another Class Act in the City: Pep Guardiola reacts from the touchline during his side’s 3-1 win over Barcelona. (Photo credits: Mirror.co.uk)

… and I’m not saying this because he just “beat the best team in the world.” In all honesty, the Philosopher oozes some kind of intellectual intelligence that kind of gives him an edge over all of his counterparts.

The ones who think Pep was made by Messi and co. will most likely argue with me on this one. “There’s nothing special about a coach who had one of the best of all time play, score and rip other teams apart for him,” they’ll say.

And just maybe they’re right. It’ll take another generation to surpass what Guardiola and Messi did to European and World football in general. And, during the time, while Guardiola was busy shattering all kinds of record, it seemed as if Messi was the middleman between the trophy and Pep. One was handing down trophies to the other.

But history has shown, that it takes a manager with intelligence to manage such an intelligent player like Messi. T. Martino and the previous coaches of the Argentine national team will testify to this. Yes, Messi is a football god! But you need to be another god to manage a god, to know how a god operates, how the god functions.

Conclusion? Maybe Pep was lucky enough to have players like Messi play for him. But it was his best chance to show to the world how good a manager he is. And the world hasn’t recovered from the awe of his managerial abilities. Now, whether you agree with the above argument or not is a personal thing. But the obvious has been stated.

Coming over to Manchester City and shaking things up so fast was a dangerous move for a club competing on all fronts. But Pep is just Pep. “That style of football is the only power I have,” he once said in a post-match interview, after being asked about changing his team’s pattern of play.

Finally! A win over Barcelona... and a night to remember. (Photo credits: Skysports.com)

Finally! A win over Barcelona… and a night to remember. (Photo credits: Skysports.com)

Playing against Barcelona was some sort of baptism of fire for him. To catch a monkey, you have to act like one, the saying goes. But this Catalonian monkey had always outsmarted him everytime he clashed with it. And why not? He had personally trained this monkey. He had taught the monkey most of what it knows. And now, the monkey had become a deadly machine that had its former trainer in its sights.

The first leg ended in a four nil drubbing. It wasn’t a surprise. “That was expected,” most said (myself inclusive). Man. City weren’t exactly outplayed on the night. But they were forced into making errors, a specialty of Barcelona.

I wasn’t expecting much from the second leg. I mean, what’s there to expect after a four nil loss in the first leg and then conceding the first goal of the second? But, as has always been, there’s something about Pep Guardiola and second legs. I think it’s one of the attributes that sets the Philosopher apart.

He knows how to make his team perform better in the return leg. While this is expected of any good football club manager, Pep has an obvious way of pulling his off. He wins in a kind of way that reads: I’VE DONE MY ASSIGNMENT. HERE’S WHERE WE GOT THINGS WRONG THE FIRST TIME. NOW, WE’LL FIX IT AND WIN.

During the pre-match interview of the second leg, Guardiola had talked about how Barcelona force opposing teams into making errors then take advantage of the situations. He had witnessed that strategy first-hand in their first leg clash. He must have been trying to avoid a repeat, being the philosopher that he is.

Are You Seeing What I'm Seeing?: Pep Guardiola passes instructions to his boys from the touchline during Manchester City's 3-1 win over Barcelona. (Photo credits: Mirror.co.uk)

Are You Seeing What I’m Seeing?: Pep Guardiola passes instructions to his boys from the touchline during Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Barcelona. (Photo credits: Mirror.co.uk)

So he decided to beat the grandmasters at their own game by forcing them into making errors too. This involved high-pressing and committing a lot of players going forward, leaving his team vulnerable at the back. Of course they conceded the first goal of the game but ended up winning by a 3-1 scoreline.

It’s hard to score 3 against Barcelona. It’s even harder to score those 3 goals after you’ve conceded the game’s first via the golden left foot of Lionel Messi. Trying to comeback from a goal down by going all out with your players is probably a suicide mission. And one of the hardest things to pull off against Barcelona.

But Pep Guardiola pulled that one stunt off and gave Man. City a first-ever win over the Catalan giants. He said, “Now they will realise that they have beaten the best team. Future generations will see that and know they have to do that again. That is a process.”

This win will be a major boost for the Cityzens. Now they’ll remember what exactly they’re capable of, the kind of firepower in their arsenal. After that winless run, one of the most important results in the history of Manchester City has happened. And it’s all because of Pep and his love for second legs.

Celtic and Borussia Moenchengladbach, be very afraid!

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

Barcelona vs Manchester City: How Will What Has Happened Affect What Will Happen?

image

'Em good old days

In all of the games to be played on the third Matchday of the 2016/2017 UEFA Champions League, I can’t see any other bigger than the Barcelona vs Manchester City clash. And it’s not hard to see the so many reasons why.

Pep Guardiola is returning to his roots, the one place it all started. Where the trophies piled up and records after records tumbled over each other. He’s paying the beast he created a visit. Camp Nou is the destination. And he’s taking his new (latest) project along with him.

Of course, it’s easy to call the bluff of this one game (not easy for a fan like me though). Afterall it’ll be tiki-taka vs tiki-taka, gengen pressing vs the same, high backline vs high backline. So why all the hype? It’ll just be a classic case of who can perform the routine better. Pffftt!

But that’s exactly what makes this Champions League game the one to watch, The One That Must Not Be Missed!

Barcelona, on the one hand, have had their own fair share of ups and downs in the La Liga this season. Some stunning results. Some amazing displays. And some surprising scorelines (Hello Celta!). But in all, they have consistently proved one thing: how deadly they are. How deadly they can be.

I experienced, first hand this season, some of the raw power that this Catalan beast possesses. It was an away game at Leganes, a Saturday mid-day kick off. Leganes flew off the blocks and threw it all at Barcelona! For the first quarter or so, Suarez, Neymar and co. were on the back foot. They seemed rattled, but they coped.

The first half ended with three goals, all scored by Barcelona. I was shocked. “That escalated quickly,” I said to myself. Yes I expected a beating. But with the way the newly-promoted side played early in the game, I didn’t expect it to come so quickly! The game ended 1-5 in favour of You-Know-Who.

I can almost hear you say, “It was only Leganes.” And I quickly agree. But this Leganes is a side with very fast players, all lacking just one thing: goal scoring techniques. It’s the kind of team that’ll make others drop points after 90 minutes. So, how did they end up losing by such a wide margin?

* The MSN Connect.
* A certain Lionel Messi.
* A show-boating Neymar.
* A be-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time Luis Suarez.
* A different kind of back four.

And with every game, the above-stated reasons grow stronger as seen in their display against Deportivo La Coruna over the weekend. So much to think about for Pep and his Citizens who have been described to be in some sort of crisis.

Judging by Guardiola’s standards, going three games without a win is crisis. A DLD form is not good news. And now, the dreaded visit to Spain. But it’s not all gloom for Man. City is it?

Actually, no. It’s hard to answer that question in the negative with that kind of form staring you in the face. But it’s the truth. And, like I did with Barca, I’ll use one of Man. City’s recent games to point out some of their strengths. Their game against Everton seems to be the perfect pick simply because they were the better team on the day, but still didn’t win.

It was Manchester City from beginning to the end (well, except for the part where Lukaku scored for Everton via a counterattack). It was a rampant Man. City against a well-organized, compact Everton. While De Bruyne and Sane and Sterling and Silva were doing all the playing, Everton was doing all the defending.

City needed Nolito who came off the bech to score for them, after missing two penalties. It was the tale of a team that was ‘Dominant, But Unlucky.’  What then is there to learn from a draw?

* Kevin De Bruyne is a secret weapon.
* Guardiola has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal.
* John Stones is a BETA version of Gerard Pique.
* A Silver Silva.
* Number of chances created.

The Philosopher has started a project in Manchester. So far so good, things are looking up. First on the log ain’t bad, at all.

I’ve discussed Barcelona and I’ve discussed Manchester City, albeit separately. Time to pitch them against each other. Move over boring Liverpool vs Manchester United game! Here’s what you can expect to see in the Barcelona vs Manchester City game:

– Neymar Will Definitely Showboat: It’s becoming a norm in his games these days. And it won’t be a surprise to see him nutmeg a certain Sagna/Zabaleta or give Otamendi a handful of headaches.

P.S: Note to Pep
A recipe for disaster will be to ask Otamendi to take care of Neymar. We both know how clumsy Nico can be. John Stones (that cool-headed lad) will be a more preferable option. That’s if you don’t mind of course.

– The Kevin de Bruyne-X Factor: Pep must have done something to the kid. He seems to have new tricks up his sleeves. He tends to work extra hard too. Players like Pique and Matthieu better be wary.

– Barcelona’s Fragile Backline: I know I’ve made a strong case for the Catalans’ defense. Attack is still the best form of defense. But the way they imploded against Celta Vigo should be a huge boost for Man. City. Then there’s the goalkeeper ish. We dunno which goalkeeper will show up: the really good one or the awkward one?

– The Pep Guardiola Factor: Let’s take a moment to reflect on the words of Everton manager, Ronald Koeman. “They (Manchester City) are the best team in my managerial career that I’ve played against.” With the kind of squad at his disposal, Guardiola can pull more than one rabbit from his hat. He’s that flexible. Hard to predict. That’s something in City’s favour, right?

– Messi the Mesmerizer and Suarez the Biter Fighter: It’s increasingly becoming hard to come up with anything to say about this 8th (or/and 9th) wonder of the world. The word MESSi, in all its literal sense, should be on display. Suarez will most definitely trouble the waters. May be a hat trick. May be a red card. May be a dive in the box. Another racial stunt? Who knows?

– Aguero and ‘Kompany’: After so many words, word play is allowed right? It’s not sure who will get the nod to play and who won’t. Of course e sure for some names. Players who have been STERLING will definitely get the nod over others. Why not? Pep will want to field his best.

So who will win?

Not sure. It all smells Barcelona from here. But with football, everything is crazy. But I can sense there’ll be goals. A handful of ’em. City aren’t the most disciplined side at the back. They seem to love conceding goals. And MSN will be happy to rattle their onion bag once or twice.

It’s not far-fetched to say Manchester City can score too. The only game they’ve failed to score in under Pep Guardiola, is the one against Tottenham.

Papi’s Predictions:
* Both Teams To Score
* Over 2.5 Goals

What do you think? What? You think it’ll end in a bore draw? A Barca win? City win? Let me know what you think. Please leave a comment in the comments section. I’d like to hear from you.

Like a famous man once said, please join me in saying this short prayer:

“Dear god of football, we thank thee, for this sumptuous meal of football we’re about to be served.”

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

Four REALLY GOOD Reasons Why Pep Guardiola Is NOT A Failure

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After losing the first leg of his UEFA Champions League semi final tie with Atletico Madrid, the stakes were raised even higher for Pep Guardiola.

He was now tasked with the responsibililty of finding a way past a superb defense mechanism and also qualifying for the finals.

Maybe it was all the pressure that cause him to say, “If I don’t win, you can kill me.” The pressure must have gotten to the philosopher.

On Tuesday, he completed only one of those tasks. He unlocked the Atletico defense,  went on to win the game but failed to qualify for the final thanks to the highly dreaded “Away Goal” rule.

His team got knocked out and different statistics started showing up of how he had failed to make it past the semi finals for three consecutive seasons and so on and so forth.

The social media stratosphere pounced on the trend and called the Philosopher a failure. Because he failed on the big stage, Pep has been called out and labelled a failure by most.

But is Guardiola, after crashing out for a third consecutive time, a failure?

I don’t think so and here’s four reasons to prove my point:

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– But Luis Enrique and His MSN Gang Lost To This Same Set of Iron Men Too…
… and were not labelled failures. The media did not throw stones at them. Why is Pep now being branded a failure? One of the most dreaded trio in football history gave their all (plus all the referee favours) and still lost to this awesone set up of a team. It just did not work for them. They, in the end, weren’t regarded as failures. For this same reason, Guardiola is NOT A FAILURE. He played against a compact, very disciplined team whose defense system alone aroused fear in other teams. He played against a side better than his. And Pep knows what it feels like to be the coach of the better side. He has seen coaches quiver with trembling hands (cue Sir Alex Ferguson in that Champions League final) at the sight of a team FAR BETTER than theirs. His team. He knows what it feels like to be in TOTAL CONTROL. Now, the roles have been switched. His team, against Atletico Madrid, was second best (although the scoreline may be deceiving). And the Philosopher must definitely understand this better than anyone. Only one team can win. Losing to a better team just sends you back to the drawing boards and scheming sheets  and blueprints. It doesn’t make you a failure.

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– Destiny Is TOO Powerful…
… and by destiny, it was just Diego Simeone’s time! Of course I’m not a seer or a fortune-teller but this one was completely out of Pep’s hands. You may not agree with me on the validity of this point and that’s okay. But you’ll agree that football requires plenty of luck. The kind of luck Ramos needed to be in the right place at the right time for that header in that Champions League final against Atletico Madrid. The kind of luck Shevchenko did NOT HAVE that cost him that penalty against Liverpool and ultimately the trophy. The Terry slip against Man. Utd? It’s an endless list and Pep just signed on to this list; The Luckless Ones. But luck equals opportunity plus preparation you may say. History tells me Guardiola was prepared for this opportunity to qualify for the Champions League final. How? He always finds a way to produce a master-piece after losing the first legs of encounters like this. Games against Porto and Barcelona come to mind. So what happened? He was simply unlucky. Or, to put it better, he has just been unlucky with Bayern. It’s obvious that no matter what he tried at Munich, the Champions League trophy would have eluded him still. Why? Because HE HAD TRIED ALL THAT A COACH SHOULD! All that a coach could. He shuffled formations and even benched Muller. If you were the Philosopher, what else could you have done to qualify? I thought as much. It just wasn’t part of destiny to win the Champions League with the Bavariansimage

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– Carlo Ancelotti’s Announcement Caused Pep To Falter in Europe
Although he (Pep) may not admit it, this affected him in a number of ways. It couldn’t have affected his Bundesliga dominance because Bayern owns German football. So the effect showed up in his European campaign. Allow me to propose a theory to prove my point. The past two seasons before this current one, Guardiola had failed in Europe. Although Bayern dominated the Bundesliga, it was too easy there. And the Bayern executives were bored. There was a sharp hunger amongst the executives to win another Champions League trophy. At least that’s why they employed the Philosopher… to win the ultimate prize again so that they could show off to clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona as fellow European power houses. And for two years, they were patient with Guardiola. But Pep failed to accomplish what he was signed for. And at a big club like Bayern, two years is a long time. So they set out to look for a household name in Europe; a name synonymous with winning the Champions League. They found Ancelotti and made the “mistake” of announcing the Italian. Pep must have felt bad. He must have seen the appointment as a “thank you for coming, you’ve tried but failed” note. And like Pellegrini, no matter how much Guardiola tried, Bayern’s “Carlo move” was always going to hunt the Spaniard. And hunt it did.

– What If He Didn’t Win Anything At All?
Of course this is a completely unreasonable point to make given that Pep was a coach at a club as good as Bayern Munich. But what if? What if, in his three years in Munich, he constantly got beaten to the league title by Dortmund and Leverkusen and co.? There’s a reason why I added this point to my article. Furthermore, there’s a  reason why I made it the last point of the article. Here’s why. According to the book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion: “There is a principle in human perception, the contrast principle, that affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another.” The book goes on to explain how much difference it makes which point is made first or which fact is presented last. In this case, to buttress my point, I’ll like to present Guardiola’s three Bundseliga titles as the final exhibit in my defense of the Philosopher. My Lords (dear readers), what if he didn’t win those titles? It would have been a disaster right? But he did. The only trophy that eluded him was the Champions League and the Super Cup and maybe the Club World Cup. When compared, Guardiola won some and lost some. Now that doesn’t make him a failure does it? I rest my case.

It’d be great to hear from you. What do you think? Kindly share with me in the comments section below.

About Author:
Rotimi Daramola is a full time footballing polygamist that loves watching football and is in love with writing about the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and engage him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

Is the Fun Over in Barcelona’s Wonderland?

The MSN Gang: Just a blip or teams are now defending better?

The MSN Gang: Just a blip or teams are now defending better?


The argument about whether Barcelona’s defense is a solid one or a defense that’s merely benefitting from the “Attack is the best form of defense” cliché has been on for years. Since the Guardiola years I suppose (Puyol or not) – although my friend Kolawole thinks it started since the Rijkaard days.

Recently, Barcelona have answered the question themselves. They’ve been unable to “outscore” their opponents in recent games which was (and is still) their most deadly weapon. Their “total football” has not been so total of late.

Now their opponents have been scoring against them. They’re coming out to play against the Catalans more. They’re no more scared. What they used to be scared of is dying. Or at least has been used up so much, it is dying. That “it” is the famous MSN Gang: Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

MSN, a name that usually terrify defenders (still should) have hit an unfamiliar patch. Two goals in the last three games makes MSN look below par, makes C. Ronaldo look like the best in the world again and makes Barcelona toothless.

Discussion Time: Is now the right time for a break?

Discussion Time: Is now the right time for a break?


For a front 3 that have combined for more than hundred goals this season, it looks like the foot is off the pedal… at the wrongest of  times! First, they lost against Real Madrid in their own backyard. Then they lost to Real Sociedad, throwing open the race for the La Liga title.

In the Champions League, Barcelona struggled against Atletico Madrid. Of course  these days, a struggling Barcelona is a struggling MSN. Why? When the MSN Gang is alive, Barca is unbeatable. Remember the legendary 39-game unbeaten run?

Or maybe the underlying problem is not the front three but the rest of the team and squad? Maybe I have focused too much on the trio from the South American part of the world and ignored the fact that a football team consists of 11 men, not 3.

Thinking about it, Barcelona’s midfielders haven’t stepped up to score goals. This is very much unlike other teams in the Europe. Most teams are set up to have their midfielders deputize as goalscorers. That is, when the strikers are having a bad day, the midfielders start scoring. Not this Barcelona.

Too tight?: Maybe there's a lack of depth in the squad.

Too tight?: Maybe there’s a lack of depth in the squad.


Or is it the lack of depth in the squad that is finallyv coming to haunt them? It should be noted that there really isn’t any quality substitution when MSN are on the pitch. Maybe it is because no player with great skills will want to be on the bench while they play. Maybe that is why the Gang has been used up so much.

Maybe it’s just Barcelona tiring. Or it may be that teams are now defending against MSN better. Maybe they’ve given off so much that they’re now exhausted. I wonder, “Is the fun is over?” No one knows. Only time will tell.

You can catch up with me on twitter @rotdav

Barcelona vs Real Madrid: The Story & 4 Reasons Barcelona lost to Bale and Co.

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el Clashico: Ramos brings Messi down outside - or inside ? - the box 18

It started as a boring, one-sided game. Well, the first El Clasico of the season started the same way so this kind of start wasn’t surprising. Barcelona was everywhere, asking questions without mercy. The domination was in full force!

Real Madrid on the other hand had nothing to show. They seemed to be on the defensive from the start. They tried to thread passes to the wings – unsuccessfully though – after everything they tried down the middle either ended up in the hands – or legs if you will – of the Catalans.

It was hard enough playing a Barcelona side that was in TOTAL control of the game and kept asking questions of Navas. So hard it was that Real Madrid rarely got the chance to have a feel of what the pitch in Barca’s 18-yard box was like in the game’s opening minutes. Dominant Catalans vs Struggling Spaniards.

But half way into the first half, Madrid started getting their rythm. They found a way to keep Messi and co. at bay and registered their first shot on target courtsey of C. Ronaldo. They started getting fouled more and getting freekicks in “good spots.” They were trying.to become the dominant ones. But the scoreline didn’t change.

All the while it was an eventful game but… you could feel the drabness of the game. Somehow, somewhere, it was there.

While all this drabness dragged on, there was time for Pepe to crack a joke for Messi to laugh to and Marcelo and Neymar found space to whisper some Brazilian gossip to each other. The Brazilian president the topic of discussion maybe.

End of 1st half. No goals.

The second half started with a Sergio Ramos elbow on Dani Alves’ mouth. But an El Clasico is incomplete without jabs and kicks and some rolling on the floor, clutching your leg. Ramos had been booked earlier so Dani made the most of it. But the ref didn’t see it. Play on.

Then came the nervy moments for Real Madrid. Defending against one cornerkick is work enough. How about defending against 3 consecutive cornerkicks? Hectic! They conceded three cornerkicks in quick succession. They couldn’t hold on and conceded the game’s first goal from the third cornerkick. Pique found space after Pepe lost him and nodded home.

Barcelona one up!

In a way, it was a wake-up call for Zidane’s men. You could tell from the way they played. But how do you play to score against a team that plays “complete football”? You risk going all out and getting caught off guard. Then you concede another goal and then more problems.

But Real Madrid had other ideas.

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Karim the Point Man: A scene from the Overhead Kick series

“Speed kills,” the popular saying goes. Well, speed was the idea. Zidane’s idea. Not a bad idea for a team whose area of strength is in their pace. A bust down the left flank of the field by Marcelo rattled the Catalans who had been in control after scoring their goal.

While the Barca defenders were still getting together, Marcelo found Kroos who tried a shot on goal. The ball deflected off a Barca defender, looped over Piquè’s head and onto Karim Benzema’s path. He finished in style, choosing an over-head kick to put the ball in the net and pull one back for Real Madrid.

Now the tables were turned. All the momentum was now with Real. The midfield was all Madrid. The flanks? Real Madrid. The MSN gang were pulling strings but the Madrid defense was holding the fort. It was like the Catalans had disappeared into their shell.

Finally, all the Madrid pressure paid off and Bale found the back of the net. Another counter-attack that paid off. But his goal was ruled out because he infringed on another player to nod the ball home.

But that didn’t discourage Zinedine Zidane’s men. They kept piling the pressure. They wanted to win the game. A draw would not be enough. If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again right?
Chance after chance came along for Madrid’s superstars one of which was CR7’s shot that hit the bar. Madrid kept coming again and again, using their speed to break on the counter.

Bale, via the flanks again – for the umpteenth time – found some space on the right, again. He crossed the ball to Ronaldo. It seemed like a bad cross. But Ronaldo controlled the ball with his chest and found the back of the net. This was in the 85th minute… after Sergio Ramos had been sent off for his second yellow card! That’s how badly they wanted to win.

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Ronnie the Man: Up goes CR7, down goes Barca's unbeaten run

Real Madrid, deservedly, won the game 1 – 2. They were the better team of the night and deserved all three points. Sweet revenge for their 0 – 4 loss last year. Real Madrid was also the team that brought an end to Barcelona’s legendary run of 39 games unbeaten.

Even sweeter revenge!

In my opinion, Madrid won the game simply because of their undying will to win. They just would not back down! In a way, they knew the game was up for the taking.

Add to that the fact that they made their chances count and you have two major reasons why Madrid beat Barcelona; two reasons apart from Bale and Casemiro.

The Comebacks & 5 Other Things I Learnt from #FootballThisPastWeek

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Let me ask you a question: “What is football to you?” Ever thought of it?

I bet you might end up saying, “Depends on which side I’m on.” Smart answer if you said that. If you didn’t, don’t feel bad. Football has been crazy – has gotten even crazier these days – enough to make people have “mixed feelings” with every game.

To the Bayern fan who saw his team make a comeback from 2 goals down to win the game against the Italians 4 – 2 and qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League, football could be overwhelming. On the flip side, to the Juventus fan, football could be painful. Football is that crazy!

And we had plenty of crazy this week.

First,

The Curse of the “Away Goal”
Valencia, after going down a goal to Ath. Bilbao in the first leg of the Europa League, managed to score the first two goals in the return leg at home. Superb! Then came the 74th minute and they conceded the “highly dreaded” away goal – after trying so hard to finish off the game earlier by trying to score more goals, all to no avail. The end result? Valencia 2, Athletic Bilbao 2. But here, some goals are more important than the others. Bilbao had scored one of those goals. Bilbao marched on. Valencia fell out… despite the game ending in a draw.

Bus-stop. Hearts broken.

Welcome to European Football.

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The Champions League and Europa League Draws
UEFA, as if to put the icing on the cake of what had already been a breath-taking week of European football, released the quarterfinal draws of the UCL and EL. It was more like dessert.

Atletico Madrid was picked as the side to face Barca. Who better to dare the MSN gang than Diego Simeone’s Daredevils?

PSG was paired with Man. City. Talk about the Clash of the Super Rich Titans

Then, Klopp was handed a return ticket to Dortmund and Athletic Bilbao got Sevilla.
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Talk about icing on the cake!

Saido the Mané

Saido the Mané


The Comebacks!
First it was Bayern Munich that came back from 2 goals down to win the game 4 – 2. Then Espanyol reaped the fruit of being persistent as they scored two against Athletic Bilbao after conceding the first goal of the game. Southampton was next.

The Saints needed only the 2nd half of their game against Liverpool to reply the Reds’ first two goals and then score the match winning goal while Villarreal forced Barcelona to a 2 – 2 draw after going down 0 – 2. Napoli also enjoyed a comeback win against Genoa as they won 3 – 1 after conceding first.

To the weekend and…

Gigi Buffon stole the show in the Italian Serie ‘A’. The legend became more of a bigger deal than he already was before. The Italian became the first goalkeeper in the history of the league to go 974 minutes without conceding a goal. That’s approximately 11 games. Titan! Legend and some more.

And then..

The EPL Top 10 is buzzing
Leicester has started dreaming and want to run away with the Premier League. Tottenham is hot on their heels. Arsenal is 11 steps behind, Man. City is playing like they prefer the Europa League to the Champions League while West Ham obviously wants some European football. Man. United just beat their cousins – big deal! Bragging rights too! Southampton climbed at the expense of Liverpool – the lion’s Mané was messed with – who have two games in hand, Chelsea remain unbeaten and I’m still totally unsure of Stoke City.

Worthy Mentions
Sounds like Mourinho is going to Old Trafford afterall. Heard a pre-contract has been agreed. Looking forward to the future Manchester derbies already!

I don’t know what it is but there’s something obviously wrong with Ikorodu United of Lagos. The players, in their game against Giwa FC, “hugged the ball” too much, made irrational decisions – and passes too – and looked sloppy. Little wonder they lost at home again. The new coach sure has a lot on his plate. He needs to promote this team to the NPFL because they seem to be stuck in the league they came from.

Imagine you’re a goalkeeper. Your team concedes two penalties in a game. You’re so good, you saved those two penalties but you and your team lost the game 3 – 0. Ironic right? Well, that was the situation in the game between Philadelphia Union and New England in the MLS.

The international break is in town. I hope Nigeria’s Super Eagles gets the better of Egypt. I hope I can write about the games too.

Cheers to a great week ahead my friend! ♡

Your comments are highly welcome. Little, next to nothing, delights a writer more. I’d like to hear from you. What do you think?

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a full time footballing polygamist that loves watching football and is in love with writing about the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and engage him on Facebook (Rotdavdara) on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

The Chinese Invasion, Sevilla Will Win the Europa League Again and more from #FootballThisPastWeek

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It’s been a football-full week. Every day had one game or the other, one name or the other that made headlines. Bologna surprisingly holding Juventus to a goalless draw, Valencia and Gary Neville tearing their opponents apart, Barcelona and Messi. It was the week Mikel – of all people – scored a Champions League goal for Chelsea and CR7 stormed out of the press conference room.

Dramatic right? But there’s more:

The Chinese Football Invasion!
No one knows exactly what’s going on – I’m at least sure I don’t – but China is the new go-to country for all things football. Forget England and Spain. Forget Man. City and PSG, the Chinese league and its clubs are splashing the cash effortlessly. It’s like they’re poaching European football. They’re literally buying any player in sight!

The weird part? The players are responding! They’re moving effortlessly. Some years back, it would have been weird for any player plying their trade in England or Germany to talk about finishing off in the Chinese league. It was either America’s MLS or Australia’s A-League (the Indian I league joined the fray too). All of a sudden, some players and their move to the home of the ‘Great Wall’ is now a “dream come true.” Well, money does play an important role in making dreams come true right?

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The UEFA Champions League is Back!
Good times are here again! Erm, I should have said instead, “Real football just started in Europe.” It’s the business-end of the UEFA Champions League. It’s “go big or go home” time. Here the boys are seperated from the men and a goal is counted as two goals.

Weird right? But awesome too! And the stand-out clash – and obviously the stand-out game – was PSG vs Chelsea. It was a show of total domination by the Parisiens as they won 2 – 1. Why not? They were playing at home and had a certain Di Maria and Veratti in their arsenal which they utilized effectively. Di Maria especially. And then talk about Thiago Silva and David Luiz snuffing life out of Diego Costa but letting Mikel score. I’m sure Luiź wasn’t expecting it. Before I forget, Cristiano Ronaldo must love to do his talking with his legs more than with his mouth. Why else do you storm out of a conference room and go on to score?

Sevilla WILL Win the Europa league, again!
Like the Champions League, the Europa League resumed action too. Yeah, that “very stressful” league. And guess who was back competiting for the trophy? You’re right. They played against Molde and in all honesty, it felt like a mis-match in every sense of the word. Okay. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe that was me exaggerating. Then again, maybe not.

The ‘Moldeans’ – what else do you call Molde players? – seemed to move fast. They seemed to be up to the task until Sevilla started knocking them around and doing what they do best in this league: press, press and press. To be more elaborate, they dictated the pace at which their opponents chased the game. If they wanted the Molde players to run faster, they passed the ball around faster. If they wanted their opponents to catch their breaths, the boys from Spain kicked the ball around less faster. From start to finish, Unai Emery’s Sevilla had that competitive, always-fighting-for-the-ball-possession edge. By the 72nd minute, they were already 3 up. So much for being in your comfort zone. The Europa League is back and Sevilla will win it, again! No disrespect to the remaining 31 teams.

Worthy mentions
Can we give Barcelona the La Liga title now?

Cheers to a great weekend of football!!

About author:
Rotimi is a football lover whose love for the game translates into writing about the beautiful game, talking about the game and some times getting into ‘profitable’ arguments. You can engage him on Twitter @rotdav