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Do Chelsea own Lazar Markovic’s rights?

For many months Chelsea have been linked with Serbian wonderkid Lazar Markovic so it came as a bit of a surprise when Benfica last night announced on their club website that they had in fact signed him, for five years to boot. The sense of confusion was then added to when the chairman of Markovic’s old club Partizan Belgrade was quoted as saying ‘It is true, Chelsea will send Markovic out on a loan for two years.’ So what’s going on? How can two clubs both claim to own the same player? The truth could be a little of both.

Chelsea have a recently established history of loaning players to countries with more favourable work permit restrictions to continue their development. The loaned Alex to PSV in order for him to accrue Dutch national qualifying time and loaned Slobodan Rajkovic, another Serb, to various Dutch teams for the same reason. If they were to return to the Chelsea first team squad they would do so having attained Dutch residency, thus making eligible for registration as an EU national and therefore exempt from work permit laws.

In the scenario where Chelsea own him themselves; as a 19 year old with only seven first team international caps, Markovic would not qualify for a work permit for Chelsea. Sending him to Portugal would be a way of ensuring that he does. He can gain Portuguese residency far more easily than in England, and would also be playing in a good league for a team that is perennially in the Champions League.

Lazar Markovic

The links between Benfica and Chelsea have tightened over recent years and this could be a way of utilising them. The two clubs are still on good terms after the deals for Chelsea to buy Ramires and David Luiz that saw Benfica net yet another Serbian, Nemanja Matic, in to the bargain. The two clubs were of course in Amsterdam together for the Europa League final and it’s not hard to conceive of them discussing a way in which Markovic could end up at Benfica for a little while before heading to Chelsea.

The other option is that Benfica actually do own him but that he is parked there with Chelsea owning a first option on him should they choose to take it up. If the clubs wanted to avoid accusations that they had worked together on the deal it possibly is why there is so much confusion.

The reason for thinking this could be the case is a possible issue of mistranslation of the Partizan chairman. There is some discussion as to whether he has been misquoted, possibly saying that Chelsea and Benfica were still in discussion over an arrangement; Chelsea wants to loan Marković to Benfica for two years, and honestly speaking, I hope to God that they don’t come to an agreement so that Lazar can stay six more months at Partizan

So is Markovic worth all this confusion? The evidence suggests that he is. Last season he scored seven and assisted seven in just 19 games from his left forward position. He is quick, direct and skilful, the qualities which both Chelsea and Benfica look for in their forwards and attacking midfielders. To have gained seven senior caps at just 19, whilst being injury hit last season too, is very impressive. In fact, he was only 19 in March, so a lot of his achievements came when even younger.

The only way for this to all be cleared up would be for Chelsea to come out and clarify their position but it looks like one of two things. Either Chelsea bought him and loaned him to Benfica or the two clubs have a gentleman’s agreement forged on recent good relations that sees Markovic go to Lisbon and probably to Chelsea in future.

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Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle have a real chance of Europa League glory

Even though there is no English interest in the Champions League, the same cannot be said of the Europa League where there are three teams battling to make the final at the Amsterdam Arena on May 15th. All the English teams face tough tasks though, and the draw has conjured up four ties between teams that have never met before.

Chelsea v Rubin Kazan

Whilst Chelsea may have been installed as bookmakers favourites following the draw they take a step into the unknown against the Russian outfit. Chelsea have been far from convincing in Europe this season, crashing out of the Champions League as holders at the group stage and then scraping past Sparta Prague and Steaua Bucharest in the first two rounds of this competition. Rubin meanwhile have been mightily impressive in getting to this stage. They topped their group ahead of Inter Milan who they thumped 3-0 at home. They then followed that by knocking out the holders Atletico Madrid 2-1 on aggregate, which included a 2-0 victory in the Vicente Calderon.

John Obi Mikel

Rubin have a mixture of nationalities in their squad including their danger man, the Venezuelan striker Jose Rondon who has scored five goals in the competition so far. While he is their main threat up front Rubin also have a solid backline, which has only conceded four goals in their 10 games so far and two of those came in the first group game away at Inter. Make no mistake; this is a massive test for Chelsea, and with the away leg coming second the Blues may need a couple of goals advantage to take to Russia. These two games also come in a spell of six games in 16 days for Chelsea and all that may add up to a shock in this tie.

Tottenham Hotspur v FC Basel

The easiest looking tie for the English clubs on paper begins at White Hart Lane as Spurs take on the rank outsiders FC Basel. Tottenham cruised through their group as runners-up behind Lazio and have then fought their way through two tough ties against Lyon thanks to a late Mousa Dembele goal and against Inter Milan on away goals. Basel started the season in the Champions League but lost out to Cluj in the final play-off round. Having dropped into the Europa League they finished second in a weak group behind Genk before seeing off Ukrainian minnows Dnipro. They were impressive in the last round though, knocking out Liverpool’s conquerors Zenit 2-1 on aggregate.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto

Basel have a good blend of youth and experience with the Swiss pairing of Marco Streller and Alex Frei still scoring goals at this level. Over two legs though Spurs will surely be a class above and if Inter Milan struggled to contain the likes of Gareth Bale then it is hard to see how the Swiss will fare any better. Being at home first does make things harder for Tottenham as they have not been too convincing away from home thus far, but they will surely be too far ahead after the first leg for it to make a difference.

Fenerbahce v Lazio

The only tie that does not contain an English team but it is still very tough to call. Fenerbahce are another team who came down from the Champions League after losing their play-off to Spartak Moscow. Their path through the group stage was easy enough finishing top of their pool, however during the knockout rounds they have been unconvincing in getting past Bate 1-0 on aggregate and Plzen 2-1 over the two games. Lazio have been much more impressive, topping the group ahead of Spurs and then scoring five times in each of their knockout rounds against Borussia Monchengladbach and Stuttgart.

Raul Meireles

Both sides have a lot of experience running through their teams. Lazio have the likes of Miroslav Klose and Lorik Cana while Fenerbahce have some well-known faces in the form of Joseph Yobo, Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt. Lazio may well just have the edge in this tie though through their goal threat. They have the Czech striker Libor Kozak who has managed eight goals in eight games so far and the unpredictable Mauro Zarate. With Lazio at home second they have to be favourites and will have too much firepower for an unspectacular Fenerbahce side.

Benfica v Newcastle United

The final tie should be an absolute cracker as Portuguese heavyweights Benfica take on Newcastle. Newcastle have been solid if unspectacular so far, coming second in their group behind Bordeaux and then going through 1-0 on aggregate in both knockout rounds against tricky opposition in the shape of Metalist Kharkiv and Anzhi Makhachkala. Benfica are another team that dropped out of the Champions League, finishing third in their group behind Celtic and Barcelona despite a creditable 0-0 draw at Camp Nou. They have won every game in the Europa League so far though beating both Bayer Leverkusen and Bordeaux home and away.

Moussa Sissoko

Benfica’s main threat is of course their goal machine Oscar Cardozo who already has three in four games in this competition. They also have exciting young midfielders in Nicolas Gaitan and Nemanja Matic and the experience at the back with Luisao and Ezequiel Garay. Newcastle could not have wished for a tougher task and a lot will depend on how their young team cope with the intimidating atmosphere in Lisbon in the first leg. If Newcastle can continue their solid defensive form then they may give themselves a chance of a special European night at St James Park in the return game.

By Chris Newman

Five playmakers Manchester United should target as Paul Scholes’ replacement

Paul Scholes took the option to retire at the end of last season, but Manchester United missed the playmaker’s creativity and guile so much that the 37-year-old came out of retirement to aid the Red Devils in their title charge.

Sir Alex Ferguson chased Wesley Sneijder as a potential replacement last summer, but with the Dutchman out of form and sure to be an expensive option, here are five alternatives that the Scottish manager has witnessed first hand, and who will be in his thoughts once the transfer window reopens.

Eden Hazard

By now, the talent and ability of the Belgium international is evident for all to see, and Hazard is one of the hottest prospects in European football. The 21-year-old’s attacking abilities helped Lille to the Ligue 1 Championship last term, and he has matured with the chance to play Champions League football this campaign.

With Hazard already admitting that he will leave the Stade Lille-Metropole this summer, suitors such as Manchester City, Real Madrid, Arsenal and Tottenham are all in the hunt for the starlet, but Sir Alex has also made it across the channel to watch him in action.

 

Iker Muniain

Given Athletic Bilbao’s excellent performances over two legs to dump United out of the Europa League, the English champions are more than aware of this Spanish prodigy’s talent.

Marcelo Bielsa’s men have evolved into an excellent side this season, with the 19-year-old schemer catching the eye in the process. With the ability to be the future of Spain’s creative midfield once the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta retire, the bigger boys of European football are sure to be circling San Mames in the near future.

Christian Eriksen

A product of the fabled Ajax youth academy, Eriksen has technical ability and poise in possession in spades. The 20-year-old has won the Eredivisie, experienced Champions League football and also faced United this term in the Europa League.

As one of Denmark’s shining lights, Eriksen will be given a chance to star at Euro 2012 this summer, which may make it difficult for the Amsterdam Arena outfit to hold onto their superstar.

Nicolas Gaitan

Benfica’s exciting attacking midfielder has been linked with a move to Old Trafford since he proved a thorn in the English team’s side in the Champions League earlier this term.

The Argentine has skill and pace in bundles, but whether he has the passing range and guile of some of the other candidates remains to be seen. Sir Alex may still try to sign the South American, but as more of a winger or second striker.

 

Luka Modric

The Tottenham talisman is the life and soul of a much-applauded Spurs side; the Croatian is also the White Hart Lane club’s most prized possession. Another excellent season under his belt, Modric will more than likely be the subject of attention this summer.

Spurs fought off advances from Chelsea a year ago, rejecting a £40 million offer, but the eastern European playmaker’s future depends on where Tottenham finish in the Premier League this term. The most expensive of the five options but arguably the most gifted, Sir Alex budget will play a part in any potential move for Modric.

Honourable mentions must also go to Adam Mayer of AZ and Younes Belhanda of Montpellier. The duo have been pivotal in their team’s current campaigns, with the underdog sides both fighting for their respective titles. The pair may be a bit inexperienced to step straight into the United first team, but have the potential to make a move to the Premier League this summer.

Published – Bleacher Report

Champions League quarter-finals preview: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich & Chelsea the favorites

This season’s version of Europe’s most prestigious club competition has thrown up surprises and shocks along the way, with a number of sides in the last eight exceeding expectations and defying Champions League odds. However, the usual suspects and biggest teams in Europe remain, with four mouth-watering ties having their first legs played this week.

APOEL vs. Real Madrid

This tie arguable epitomises what the Champions League is all about; David vs. Goliath, minnow vs. superpower. The Cypriot champions have delighted their fans with a fantastic showing this term, becoming the first side from their country to make the knockout rounds and beating some strong sides, including Lyon and Porto, along the way.

However, their opponents in the last eight are quite the step up. Real Madrid have been in scintillating form this campaign, lead the Primera Division and are unbeaten in this year’s tournament. Jose Mourinho has the experience of winning this competition with two other clubs, and with a masterfully in-form Cristiano Ronaldo in Los Blancos’ line-up, Madrid have every chance of glory this year.

Benfica vs. Chelsea

A tie between two very-evenly matched sides, Chelsea will go in as favourites but not by much. The Portuguese side have been markedly better this term, and eliminated Manchester United in the group stages. With the likes of Javi Garcia, Axel Witsel and Nicolas Gaitan in a youthful and exciting midfield, Jorge Jesus’ men will look to get ahead in the first leg at the Estadio da Luz.

Chelsea staged a remarkable comeback to overturn a 3-1 first leg defeat to Napoli in the last 16, and now must be considered as challengers. Roberto Di Matteo has sparked a bit of life in his seasoned squad, and if the English side can deal with a hostile reception in the first leg, will be confident of progression.

Marseille vs. Bayern Munich

Both Marseille and Bayern Munich have been inconsistent this term, with lacklustre domestic campaigns being redeemed by the progress on the continent. Didier Deschamps’ men played well to eliminate Inter in the last round, but have lost seven out of their last eight games in a terrible run of form; to stand a chance in this tie they must recapture some form and resolve.

Bayern started out of the blocks at a lightning pace this term and dominated the ‘group of death’, knocking out Manchester City in the process, but have stalled in 2012. With Dortmund looking odds-on to retain their Bundesliga crown, the Bavarians are desperate for glory in Europe. Much is expected of Jupp Heynckes men this term, especially given that the final is at the Allianz Arena.

AC Milan vs. Barcelona

Arguably the tie of the round, Italy and Spain’s champions go head-to-head. These teams met in the group stages, with a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou leading to a 3-2 Catalan victory at the San Siro. Milan are one of only a few sides that may be able to stop Pep Guardiola’s men from winning this year’s trophy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in form and will be motivated to beat his former employers, but Massimiliano Allegri’s side will need to win the first leg at home to give themselves a fighting chance.

Barcelona are lagging behind El Clasico rivals Real Madrid in La Liga, but the Blaugrana have kicked into form recently, and have won their last nine games in a row in all competitions. Ballon d’Or holder Lionel Messi is in ominous form, becoming the club’s top all-time goalscorer in past weeks; the Argentine seems to deliver in all the biggest games, and no team has managed to figure out a way of nullifying him as yet.

 Published – Champions League Talk

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