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Simeone, Loew or Ancelotti – who should win the 2014 FIFA Coach of the Year?

By Waddah Hassani

FIFA has announced its final shortlist for the 2014 FIFA Coach of the Year award and it was (sort of) what everyone was expecting it to be; it included Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, World Cup winner Joachim Loew and La Liga winner Diego Simeone.

Aside of the detailed statistical comparison provided, who deserves the award the most?

FIFA 2014 COTY Comparison

Carlo Ancelotti: Where do we start? The experienced Italian has literally done it all in 2014, from winning titles, matching records, breaking records, winning over the fans and locker room, to re-inventing players.

Lets start with the titles; Ancelotti has won three titles thusfar in 2014 in the shape of the famed La Decima, the Copa del Rey, and the UEFA Super Cup. This list is very likely to see an addition in the form of the Club World Cup, which Real Madrid will contest in late December.

So, with three titles in 2014, Carlo Ancelotti is the coach with the most tiles won between not just the final shortlist, but the entire 10-man list initially released by FIFA.

Carlo Ancelotti

He also ventured into the ‘record breaking’ path as he orchestrated Real Madrid’s longest winning streak ever in all competitions (currently stands at 17 wins), longest winning streak ever in the Copa del Rey (10 wins), most goals scored in one Champions League campaign (41 goals), being the fastest coach in Real Madrid’s history to reach 50 official wins, and if Los Blancos wins the CWC, he will also be the first coach in the club’s history to win four titles in one calendar year.

He also equaled Bob Paisley’s record of three European Cups won and in the process became the first and only coach to win three European Cups with two different clubs.

The former Chelsea chief has guided Real Madrid to the top of the La Liga table with 10 consecutive league wins and secured the first spot in Group B of this season’s Champions League thanks to winning all the team’s matches so far in the competition.

On top of all that, Ancelotti also ‘re-invented’ players like Di Maria, James, and Isco to better suit the dynamics of the team, which in part lead to them being better overall players themselves. Certainly an eventful year this has been for the Italian mastermind.

Joachim Loew: With Ancelotti you see a lot of records and achievements, but some may argue that all of these feats are not equal to what Joachim Loew has won in 2014; the World Cup.

Loew guided Germany to the World Cup title with consistent, entertaining, direct, and brutal football that ruthlessly destroyed Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals; providing the biggest ever semi-final result in World Cup’s history and the South American nation’s biggest home defeat ever.

Joachim Loew

While many teams showed promise but eventually delivered below par performances, Loew’s Germany dominated with sheer consistency. They were on point throughout the tournament and deservedly won the title to prove it.

The World Cup is without a doubt the biggest title in world football so winning it in style surely can’t hurt your chances in winning the COTY award.

Diego Simeone: Quite possibly the ‘dark horse’ in this year’s COTY award race, Diego Simeone has to go up against a coach that has won more titles and broke more records than anyone else in 2014, and a coach who has won the grandest prize in football in the shape of the World Cup.

And what does he have to go against them? Just a La Liga title and the Supercopa with Atletico Madrid.

Diego Simeone

On the surface it might not seem enough, but once you realize that Simeone achieved this with a Vicente Calderon outfit that was battling relegation when he was first appointed, you will come to know the magnitude of his achievement.

He lifted Atletico to heights that saw them challenging the two Spanish powerhouses in the form of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and he actually beat them to the La Liga title. Something that hasn’t happened in a decade.

With a budget that pales in comparison to the Clasico giants, and with a squad that may lack the flair of traditional world-class players, Simeone relied on sheer hard work and discipline to battle through the opposition.

This eventually led Atletico to the final of the 2013/14 Champions League where he was just a 100 seconds away from winning the title, and a La Liga triumph that will surely go down in Spanish folklore as one of the most surprising upsets in league history.

On any other year, what Simeone has done might have been enough, but in 2014, with a Champions League winner and a World Cup winner; it may not be the safe to bet on the Argentine.

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Carlo Ancelotti among Real Madrid’s all-time greats

By Waddah Hassani

“I hope to remembered here for a long time, hopefully not just for La Decima.” Carlo Ancelotti

When Carlo Ancelotti first arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu, he promised wins and beautiful football, and he has certainly delivered on both fronts.

Since he was appointed, Real Madrid have played 82 matches in all competitions, winning 64, making him the manager with the highest win percentage in the history of the club (78%).

Los Blancos have also scored 227 goals in those 82 matches at a rate of 2.77 goals per match, again the highest rate in the history of the club (of all managers with 30+ games).

And if that wasn’t enough, the Spanish capital city side have only conceded 66 goals in the Italian’s tenure at a rate of 0.80 goals conceded per game, yet again the best rate in the club’s history.

So with all of these stats,  it enough to call Ancelotti one of the all-time greatest Real Madrid managers?

Probably, because these are not the only things he has accomplished in his short time with Madrid.

On top of all the records mentioned, he was also the manager that ended Real Madrid’s wait for the coveted and long sought-after La Decima.

Florentino Perez spent over a billion euros in a dozen years as he longed for his dream of seeing the tenth European Cup in the Bernabeu, yet the former Chelsea boss ended his wait in his first season with the club.

Ancelotti didn’t just win La Decima, he did it in style.

Carlo Ancelotti

In arguably one of the most dominant campaigns in the competition’s history, Real Madrid steamrolled teams in last season’s Champions League and scored 41 goals in the process. Those 41 goals were an all-time record; breaking the previous tally of 35 goals by Barcelona.

Real Madrid also equaled the group stage record for most goals with 20, and the record for most goals scored in a UCL final with four.

All of these show that Real Madrid probably did have the most complete campaigns in Champions League history.

Adding on to it was the Copa del Rey triumph, beating Barcelona in the final. Ancelotti brought the first Copa del Rey trophy to the Bernabeu since 2011; it was also the first time that Real Madrid won more than one title in a single season since 2002/03.

Needless to say, starting this season with big hopes was not an uncommon thing, and Ancelotti did not disappoint with a UEFA Super Cup win in August.

Real Madrid currently boast the strongest attack in Europe and lead the La Liga table on top of being the only team to have won all five matches in Europe’s top tournament this season.

They currently need two wins to equal the longest winning streak in the Champions League, two home wins to equal the longest home winning streak in the European competition, and finally two away wins to equal the longest away winning streak in the Champions League.

All of these ‘near-records’ show how close Ancelotti is from breaking several long standing records with a Real Madrid team that is currently ranked as the best in the world and probably the best Madrid side in recent memory.

If all of that wasn’t enough, Ancelotti became the first manager in the club’s history to win 16 consecutive matches in all competitions. He has passed the 15-match winning run accomplished by Jose Mourinho and Miguel Munez, and needs just two more wins to equal the all-time record for most consecutive wins in Spain’s top-flight history (18, set by Barcelona).

Ancelotti also stands on the cusps of another feat, which is to be the quickest coach to get to 100 wins, currently held by Mourinho, who needed 133 games to achieve that record.

However, with Ancelotti at 64 wins from 82 matches already, it’s very hard not to see him take that record away from Mourinho as well.

So all of these stats, records, and accomplishments make Carlo Ancelotti without a doubt, one of the best Real Madrid managers in recent memory, but is he an ‘all-time’ great?

That might be more arguable, but with his and the club’s willingness in extending his contract to 2017 or 2018, it is extremely difficult not to see him as one of, if not the best, managers in the club’s history once his tenure ends at Real Madrid.

Assessing the English sides’ chances in the Champions League

After the hectic domestic festive season fixture list, the focus on Champions League football is set to return, with the knockout stages to be played next month.

England have four representatives in the final 16 teams, with Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Chelsea all eyeing up a place at this year’s Champions League final in Lisbon.

The Premier League sides have been given stern challenges in the next stage, but what are their chances of progression?

Chelsea vs Galatasaray

Jose Mourinho has experience of lifting the Champions League crown with Porto and Inter, and will be charged with bringing Europe’s top trophy to west London this season.

Didier Drogba

The Blues have been handed the task of 180 minutes against Turkish champions Galatasaray, with a number of familiar faces set to feature for the opposition.

Didier Drogba will return to face his former club, while ex-Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is at the helm of the eastern European outfit. With a former Mourinho favourite in the form of Wesley Sneijder also in Gala’s ranks, it should be a test for the London side.

However, despite Galatasaray’s progression at the expense of Juventus in the group stages, Chelsea will fancy their chances of making the quarter-finals.

Arsenal vs Bayern Munich

Defeat to Napoli in their final group stage fixture has come back to haunt Arsenal, with the Gunners facing European champions Bayern in the next round. That said, Arsenal fans will have rushed to buy Champions League tickets when the draw was made, as the tie should be of the highest order.

Pep Guardiola’s star-studded squad will be motivated to retain their crown, and eliminated the north Londoners on the way to the title last term.

Arsene Wenger will be buoyed on by his side’s win at the Allianz Arena in the tie last season, and will look to improve on home soil this time round.

In what is set to be an explosive encounter, the Emirates Stadium side will need to be at their best to progress.

Manchester City vs Barcelona

A real glamour tie, this one pits a new force in European football against one of the perennial mainstays.

Yaya Touré

The sheer quality on both sides will make this a top-notch encounter, with Lionel Messi and co’s visit to fortress Etihad sure to be an eye-catching clash.

Yaya Toure will feature against his former club, while City’s credentials will be thoroughly put to the test at Camp Nou.

The winner of this tie will be confident of making it to the latter reaches of the tournament, and the clash could go either way.

Manchester United vs Olympiakos

The easiest of the four ties was handed to Manchester United, who face Greek side Olympiakos over two legs.

With domestic form the cause of agony for David Moyes, the Scottish manager will hope for a comprehensive progression through to the quarter-finals of the European tournament.

The opposition have one deadly striker in their midst in the form of Kostas Mitroglou, who has the ability to end United’s dream on the continent.

Despite a hostile environment in the away leg, anything other than a United progression would be something of a shock here.

Can Arsenal qualify from their Champions League group?

Arsenal were undoubtedly handed the toughest Champions League group of the Premier League competitors, and at the halfway stage sit on top of Group F.

However, having played two games at the Emirates Stadium and the weakest side away from home, the second half of the fixture list looks slightly more daunting.

Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli all sit on six points with two wins from three games, while Marseille have been the whipping boys with three consecutive defeats.

The game against Dortmund at the Emirates last time out had the potential to see Arsenal with one foot in the knockout stages if they won it. However, last season’s beaten finalists showing their clinical edge to win 2-1 in England, all is to play for. The Emirates Stadium faithful will hope they will be buying tickets for the Champions League in 2014, but whether there team are in the last 32 remains to be seen.

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger’s men must travel to Germany in their next game and face the intimidating atmosphere that Signal Iduna Park possesses. The French coach will urge his side to remember their 2-0 away win over Bayern Munich from last season’s tournament, but the visitors will have a tough 90 minutes without a doubt.

From there Marseille are the visitors to north London in Arsenal’s last home game; a must-win clash if the Gunners are to get through to the next stage.

Finally, a trip to San Paolo to face Napoli completes the group fixtures. It remains to be seen just how the other teams will go against each other and what the state of play will be before Arsenal travel to Italy. However, there is every chance that it could be a winner-takes-all clash against the accomplished Serie A side.

Napoli have proven to be tough opponents on the continent for a number of seasons, and beat Manchester City in Naples two seasons ago to see the Premier League side eliminated.

With Arsenal summer target Gonzalo Higuain leading the line for Rafa Benitez’s men, it could well be a nervy end to the campaign for the Gunners.

Realistically, Arsenal need to try to avoid defeat in all three games, drawing twice away from home and winning once at home. This should be enough to clinch a spot, but they may well rely on Marseille to get a point at some stage against either Dortmund or Napoli.

Come the end of the group fixtures, Wenger will hope that he is not left cursing Robert Lewandowski’s counter-attacking winner at the Emirates two weeks ago.

Bayern Munich vs Arsenal: Last hope or no hope?

Following last week’s eliminations of Manchester United and Celtic, Arsenal are now Great Britain’s last remaining representatives in the Champions League. Fans not susceptive to tribalism may, for one night only, cheer on a club simply for being close to home. But should they bother?

Gunners fans will point to the absence of Franck Ribery through injury and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng through suspension as causes for optimism. Add to that the potential absence of Arjen Robben due to a calf problem and Bayern are without some key ingredients in what has been an outstanding season to date.
But with the German side already holding a 3-1 advantage, with three away goals to boot, everything points to an Arsenal exit.

Theo Walcott

The current Bundesliga leaders have lost only one league game and one European game all season. In short, the team who were once called “the invincibles” are facing their (almost) modern day equivalent. And in order to overcome them, Arsenal require three goals without reply. This against a team that has conceded only nine home league goals all season, and only one away!

With statistics like that, it is no wonder football observers are wondering what will happen when Pep Guardiola takes charge next season. It is a scary prospect when they are already near-perfect without him.

Arsenal’s last outing was their 2-1 league defeat against Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsene Wenger will be hoping for the perfect response from his team. The only downside is that the perfect response may still not be good enough against a side that almost invariably score. Should they do so, the pressure on Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla will be huge.

Bayern Munich celebrate

Their only hope is to score first, keep it tight at the back, and play the game on their own terms. The speed of Theo Walcott on the counter-attack could be crucial, but against a side that don’t need to leave gaps, it may be in a set-piece – at least for the opening goal – that Arsenal’s best hope lies.

With Jack Wilshere ruled out for three weeks and Lukas Podolski also missing, Arsenal will hope the players they can call on will prevent it being a hat-trick of last-16 eliminations. But with Manuel Neuer in goal, the likes of Philipp Lahm and Javi Martinez in front of him, and Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic a constant threat up front, it will take an almighty performance from the London side.

Anything is possible in football, but some things are more possible than others.

Manchester United vs Real Madrid: Does the winner of the tie become favourite for the tournament?

Champions League football returns tonight with a mouth-watering last 16 clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford. The tie is on a knife-edge after an end-to-end 1-1 draw between the teams at the Santiago Bernabeu a couple of weeks ago, with the game very unpredictable. However, with the calibre of the defeated opposition, will the victorious team become frontrunners to lift the trophy at Wembley come May?

Both Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho will know that progression will give their respective team a massive psychological boost and lift confidence heading into the quarter-finals. Plus, with the possibility that Barcelona could be eliminated by AC Milan, the winner of this tie has every chance of going all the way.

United have all but wrapped up the Premier League title, with a 12 point advantage at the summit and only ten games to play. The Red Devils are on a run of scintillating form, and a 4-0 victory over Norwich at the weekend is a continuation of recent victories.

Shinji Kagawa and Cristiano Ronaldo

Ferguson will be pleased with how the tie is positioned given the draw in the Spanish capital, and now knows that victory at home will send his side through. However, this will be no easy task.

At the turn of 2013 Real Madrid looked to be a faded force from the team that lifted the La Liga title last season, with internal wranglings and inconsistent form making the headlines. However, over the course of the last month Los Blancos have set the record straight; back-to-back victories over arch rivals Barcelona show that on their day Madrid can beat anyone in world football.

The 3-1 victory at Camp Nou in the Copa Del Rey will be of specific relevance to the United clash. Madrid sat back and allowed Barca to have the ball, defended diligently and pressed the Blaugrana’s main attacking players. Consequently, when this pressing resulted in a turnover, Madrid hit their Catalan foes on the break clinically and with devastating precision.

At Old Trafford United will be expected to have the bulk of possession and look to kill the tie off by scoring the goals needed to win the game. The English side must be wary of committing too many men forward however, as Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria in particular have all the attributes to punish.

The absence of Phil Jones will mean that the hosts lack a real physical force in the centre of their midfield, and as such the likes of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, if selected, will need to work their socks off to close Madrid’s playmakers down.

A fixture that would be a fitting final, both teams will treat this game as such, and come full-time a new favourite to lift the 2012-13 Champions League crown could well book their place in the last eight.

Bayern Munich: The German giant rising from its slumber

On Wednesday evening, a team who have been all-but-invincible since August won arguably their biggest game of the season.

Despite being 17 points clear in the Bundesliga, qualifying from their Champions League group at a canter and already with one foot in the quarter-finals, it was a German Cup match against Borussia Dortmund that ended any doubt that Bayern Munich are, once again, back to their best.

The 1-0 win, courtesy of a first-half strike by Arjen Robben, finally ended Bayern’s three-year wait for a victory against the side who, in recent times, have replaced them as the top team in German football.

Arjen Robben celebrates against Borussia Dortmund

While Dortmund ended last season with a second successive league title, Bayern suffered a hat-trick of near-misses, finishing runners-up in the league, losing to Chelsea in Europe and being humiliated 5-2 by Dortmund in the German Cup final.

So to heal old wounds, it was the perfect competition to finally seal the win that ends an unwanted statistic and sees them one step closer to a potential double of their own.

Much has been said about Pep Guardiola’s imminent arrival at the Allianz Arena.  Hyperbole has it that he will single-handedly transform the Bundesliga into football’s hottest destination, and his new team into Barcelona Mark II.  But the truth is Bayern do not require transformation.

Under current manager Jupp Heynckes, they are on course for their most successful season in years. And there should be no doubt that the frustration of ending last year trophyless, particularly in the Champions League, makes them a very dangerous proposition.

In fact, events at Camp Nou pending, the Germans could go into the quarter-finals clear of two of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
Come next season, Guardiola could be asked to continue, rather than reintroduce, success; because there is a very real chance that his new team could be the first German side to win the perfect treble, ending their three-year wait for a trophy in some style.

Having finally ended the hoodoo of Dortmund’s domestic and personal dominance, their fans may just see the club’s outstanding success of the mid-70s as a benchmark if not to be matched then certainly attempted.

Lionel Messi and Barcelona have potential to end AC Milan’s Champions League in first leg

Two European powerhouses collide on Wednesday evening, when Spanish maestros Barcelona travel to the San Siro to face seven-time European Champions AC Milan.

Having met in last seasons Champions League in both the group and knockout stages, the teams will be all too aware of the dangers each present.
Milan held Barcelona to a draw at Camp Nou in last years group stage; also drawing the first leg of the last-eight clash before the Spanish league leaders went on to win the second leg 3-1 courtesy of goals from Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. If the Italians are going to qualify for this years quarter-final they will have to come away from this first leg with some sort of advantage. Stephan El Shaarawy will be hoping to start after his late fitness test, but Giampaolo Pazzini will definitely be part of the squad having overcome a thigh injury. Milan will be missing Mario Balotelli (cup-tied); otherwise they have their strongest available line up.

Lionel Messi

Barcelona, sitting top of La Liga by 12 points, may feel they have a point to prove in this competition. Arguably the best team in the modern era, Barca have won the Champions League three times in the last seven years – and were it not for stout defending by Chelsea last year, may have made another final. Having faced Milan several times in recent seasons they will know that an away goal will be key in this tie.

Barca will welcome Xavi back into the squad after a fitness test on Monday, but it seems David Villa will unfortunately miss the tie. Lionel Messi will of course start the game; the Argentine with five goals in the competition already will look to add a couple more to his ever-impressive scoring record.

Milan will look to keep this game tight – but if they fail to defend properly against Messi and co, the tournament could be over before it has even started.

By Stephen Reid

Arsenal vs Bayern Munich: Home leg crucial for the Gunners

The Champions League returns this week with the second quartet of last 16 fixtures; one of the standout games must be Arsenal’s match-up with Bayern Munich. The Germans are looking ominous domestically and on the continent, whereas the Gunners’ inconsistency is blighting their season. Arsenal go into the tie as underdogs but should be by no means written off.

Much has been made of Arsenal’s toiling in the Premier League, with a similarly slow start to the campaign that frustrated Arsene Wenger last season. The north London side have rarely been in the top four so far in 2012-13, and currently sit four points adrift of rivals Spurs in the final Champions League qualification berth.

A shock 1-0 home defeat to Championship side Blackburn made the headlines for all the wrong reasons for the Emirates faithful at the weekend, and resulted in Arsenal’s elimination from the FA Cup. Given that Arsenal beat Rovers 7-1 in the corresponding fixture in the Premier League last season, alarm bells are ringing.

Arsene Wenger

However, despite this the Gunners’ form has been showing some signs that improvement could be just around the corner, with wins over West Ham, Stoke, Swansea and Sunderland since the turn of the year. Despite this, Wenger will not be enamored with his side’s results against the bigger teams. The Gunners have picked up only one point from their last meetings with Manchester United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

For Arsenal to stand a chance in the tie against Bayern a big first leg performance in England is needed on Tuesday night. If Wenger’s men can take a lead to the Allianz Arena, no matter how small, it could well be telling. However it calls for 90 minutes of concentration and a strong performance against a top side.

Bayern have been stung by Borussia Dortmund’s dominance domestically over the last two seasons and seemingly have a point to prove after they lost out in the final of the Champions League last season to Chelsea. Jupp Heynckes’ men eased through their group this time round and their form in the Bundesliga has been intimidating of late; they have won their last five games, scoring 13 goals and conceding none. Included in this was a 4-0 victory over Schalke, a side that outplayed and beat Arsenal in the Champions League group stages.

With the attacking threat of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez and others, Bayern are rightly favourites. However, if Arsenal can come out of the blocks quickly in the home leg and take the game to their opponents a first leg result is there for the taking.

Can Wayne Rooney ever be called “world-class”?

Watching Wayne Rooney’s performance against Real Madrid this week, one word sprang to mind – selfless.

It is a word that describes many of his performances in the Champions League, certainly in recent years, as he regularly sacrifices his attacking intent for the good of the team.  But it is also a trait that may prevent him from ever breaking into that elite group that some argue contains only two.

One school of thought is that ‘world-class’ equals ‘showman’.  While the other claims it is more akin to ‘catalyst’.  The very best – in the case of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – are both.

Wayne Rooney

And yet, in Europe at least, Rooney is neither of those.  He works tirelessly, carrying out his manager’s orders with a tenacious energy and unquestionable will to win.  But on nights like Wednesday, few would call him world-class.

Is it the case that Ronaldo and Messi are at the peak of their sport because they are allowed to be, because they are rarely given other jobs to do?  Similarly with the likes of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, who make the game adapt to them rather than the other way round?

Rooney is an outstanding footballer.  Of that there is no question.  And he has evolved perhaps more than anyone else currently in the Premier League, from a fearless teenage striker to a deep-lying forward who sprays passes, creates for others and still finds time to score plenty himself.

But he is too good at too many things to ever be allowed to do just one.

This is a man who as a boy tore league and international defences apart, who scored a hat-trick on his debut for Manchester United and didn’t look surprised.  And so the footballing world may always wonder what would have happened if he had remained that player – if that were even possible.

In a game that evolves, players who do the same should be championed, and 155 goals in 336 appearances are proof enough that Rooney was and remains an outstanding talent.  You just wonder, although United would be weaker without everything he brings to every area of the pitch, what would have happened if he had focused on just one.  Perhaps then we would be talking of three not two.

For United fans, he will go down as a legend.  While for English football, he will be remembered as possibly the best of his generation.  And of course at only 27, there is plenty yet to come.

But he has evolved in such a way as to prevent the possibility of joining those termed world-class, not when it is defined as one man standing out from ten more.

Instead he does what is asked of him.  And with every win he contributes to, he will be happy, even if the world doesn’t always notice.

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