Manchester United, Liverpool and the biggest Premier League losers of 2011-12

Despite a fantastically entertaining season with a raft of Premier League winners this term, it has been a campaign to forget for some teams and individuals. Euro 2012, the Olympics and the summer transfer window are approaching, and for some 2011-12 could not come to an end quick enough. Here are Ninety Minutes Online’s biggest losers of 2011/12.

Liverpool

Despite lifting the Carling Cup with victory over Cardiff, 2011/12 has been the worst campaign for Liverpool for quite some time. The Anfield outfit’s fans expected their side to be challenging for a top four berth, but a eighth place finish, 17 points adrift of Tottenham in fourth, has been a massive disappointment.

From Fenway Sports Group’s ill-fated home-grown transfer policy, to Luis Suarez’s racism ban, defeat in the FA Cup final to embarrassing home defeats to some of the division’s lesser lights, Liverpool fans will want to forget 2011/12.

Andre Villas Boas

After leading Porto to an unbeaten league title and lifting the Europa League in 2010/11, Andre Villas Boas was heralded as the next Jose Mourinho and the man to lead Chelsea back to the summit of the Premier League. However, an at times bullish squad rotation system saw the senior players at the club alienated, the Blues floundering outside of the top four and Villas Boas given Roman Abramovich’s axe.

The £13 million Chelsea paid Porto for AVB’s services was not rewarded, and the young trainer is still out of work after seeing his stock drop in west London.

Wolves

Wolves have been in a fight to stay in the Premier League over the last number of seasons, but Mick McCarthy has led them to survival and commanded the respect of the squad. Steve Morgan’s decision to sack McCarthy, despite a poor run of form, was an ill-sighted one, and the appointment of assistant Terry Connor a disaster.

The Molineux club reportedly interviewed the likes of Alan Curbishley and Steve Bruce for the role, but were reluctant to offer the experienced pair long-term contracts. The appointment of Connor has backfired, with the club finishing bottom with a woeful five wins all season.

Sir Alex Ferguson

2011/12 will be a season to forget for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. The Old Trafford outfit are known for their will to win and mental toughness at the business end of the season, but the relinquishing of an eight-point lead is sure to give the legendary Scottish manager nightmares for years to come.

A lame Champions League exit in the group stages, a 6-1 hammering from City at Old Trafford and FA Cup elimination to Liverpool have been hard to take for the defending champions’ fans.

Alex McLeish and Aston Villa

Alex McLeish was a shock appointment at Villa Park last summer given his links to rivals Birmingham City, and the club’s supporters have not warmed to the Scot since. A toothless tally of seven wins, weak defending, a lack of creativity and the division’s second-lowest goal tally have had the Villa fans with their heads in their hands.

McLeish’s position as Villa manager must come under scrutiny this summer, but Randy Lerner must also invest in new players if the team are to have a better 2012/13 – Stewart Downing and Ashley Young have simply not been replaced.

Honourable mentions

  • Venkys – With Blackburn relegated this term, Steve Kean has received most of the flack from the media and the club’s fans. However, the Lancashire outfit’s Indian owners Venkys have not given the Scottish coach any funds to spend, and the side are now reportedly in financial trouble.
  • John Terry – Due to stand a court case in July for reportedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, the Chelsea skipper has lost the captaincy of his country and there is a train of thought that Terry may be excluded completely from Euro 2012. Add to this a sending off against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals for petulantly kneeing Alexis Sanchez, and Terry has had better years.
  • Jermain Defoe – The diminutive striker has proved time and again that he can score goals at the top level, but has simply not been given enough time on the pitch this season. Harry Redknapp’s preference for Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart could cost Defoe a place at Euro 2012.
  • Jack Wilshere – The talented Arsenal midfielder has not seen one minute of action this season, with consecutive knee cruciate injuries keeping him on the sidelines throughout. Wilshere will also miss Euro 2012 due to injury.
  • Joey Barton – Barton is no doubt talented and able when in the correct mindframe, but stupidity, ill-discipline and a terrible attitude have continued to blight his career. A red card against Manchester City on Sunday cost his team the game and his constant abusive and opinionated Twitter comments should see Mark Hughes ditch his troubled ‘captain’ this summer.

Published – Soccerlens

Write off Barcelona at your peril: The European champions show their worth at the Santiago Bernabeu

Saturday’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid lived up to all expectations; there was passion, spell-bounding skill and goals – the only thing missing was the heavily anticipated Madrid victory. Pep Guardiola’s European champions are not ready to hand over the Primera Division crown to their bitter rivals just yet, as an Alexis Sanchez strike, a Marcelo own goal and a Cesc Fabregas header gave the Catalans a deserved 3-1 victory.

With Jose Mourinho’s men top of the Spanish top flight by three points having played a game less and winning their last 15 fixtures in all competitions in menacing fashion, the stage was set for a change in power in the country and the continent. When Victor Valdes inexplicably gave possession away within the first minute and Karim Benzema converted from close range to give Los Blancos a 1-0 lead after 22 seconds, Madrid were ready to overtake their age-old rivals. However, this Barcelona team, as so many times in the last three years, collected themselves and showed world football just why they are the best club team on the planet.

After a mesmerising run and through-ball by Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez displayed a clinical finish under pressure to level things up. Madrid were rocked and needed half time. The second half saw the Blaugrana emerge from the tunnel as the team we have all come to love, applaud and fear, and complete dominance in the second half resulted in a comfortable victory.

Barca’s second goal did have a touch of fortune as Xavi’s shot deflected off Marcelo and the post to give the visitors the lead. Despite this, Barcelona were simply too good for their star-studded opponents in the second period, and their familiar brand of possession football had the Madristas chasing the ball like a bunch of schoolboys. The killer blow came as a sweeping counter attack resulted in Dani Alves delivering an inch-perfect cross for Fabregas to head home, and condemn the home team to defeat.

Messi was mercurial and at the heart of everything in the Camp Nou side’s attack, linking up with his midfield confidants Xavi and Andres Iniesta to blistering effect, and looking almost unstoppable every time he received the ball to feet. Pep Guardiola made a brave decision to select Sanchez for his first Clasico ahead of established European champion David Villa, but his decision proved to be a masterclass, as the Chile international forward hounded and plagued the home defence throughout. At the back Carles Puyol displayed as good a defensive performance as has been seen in recent times, as he, at times single-handedly, snuffed out everything Madrid had to throw at Barca.

With Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo up for this year’s Ballon d’Or, the 90 minutes in the Spanish capital should put any doubters over who the winner should be to bed. The Portuguese attacker missed two glaring opportunities and proved largely ineffectual throughout, whilst the Argentine gave a masterclass in a highly-pressurised environment to once more prove his mantle as the best footballer on this planet.

With Iniesta and Messi still attacking in the dying moments of the clash, Madrid were lucky to escape with only a two-goal deficit, as Barca could and probably should have scored more than their three goals. The teams were worlds apart in the second half; and despite all the hype surrounding the likes of Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo, the trio were completely and utterly toothless. Barca’s almost telepathic understanding between their midfield players, ability to completely dominate possession and pass their opponents to submission shows that the European champions should not be questioned; they are still at their unrelenting best.

If Madrid win their game in hand they will still lead La Liga by three points, but Mourinho and his men will be demoralised by the nature of their thorough defeat. Madrid can still win the Spanish top flight this season, but one thing has been proven in their defeat on Saturday; Barcelona are still Europe’s top team and will take some beating this term.

Published – http://soccerlens.com/write-off-barcelona-at-your-peril-the-european-champions-show-their-worth-at-the-santiago-bernabeu/86379/

El Clasico preview – Real Madrid vs Barcelona: The visitors’ champions status to be tested at the Santiago Bernabeu

The first El Clasico of the 2011-12 season sees Barcelona’s Spanish dominance over the last three seasons set to be thoroughly challenged by Real Madrid. The quality, passion and electric atmosphere of a contest between Spain’s top two teams will be present as always when the duo meet, but this fixture has the potential to swing the balance of power in the country and the continent. Barcelona have been untouchable, mesmerizing and victorious at home and abroad over the last three years, but are showing signs of inconsistency and have not been at their menacing best this term, whilst Madrid are top of the standings and ready to wrestle the crown back from their bitter rivals. A mouth-watering match in the offing, football doesn’t get much better anywhere in the world than this.

The hosts are looking as dangerous and on-form as a Madrid team have over the last ten years, and sit top of La Liga with 12 wins from 14 games; Los Blancos are three points ahead of Barca and have played a game less. A 3-0 win over Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday night made it a club record 15 victories in a row for the Santiago Bernabeu giants, and Jose Mourinho’s men go into the game more prepared, motivated and ready than in any Clasico fixture in the recent memory. The Portuguese coach’s winning mentality and inability to accept second best has rubbed off on his team, as ‘The Special One’ looks to replicate his dominant track record with Porto, Chelsea and Inter in the Spanish capital.

Mourinho’s countryman Cristiano Ronaldo will continue his personal battle with Lionel Messi on Saturday, as the debate to whom the best footballer on the planet is rages on. Both players are in the offing for the 2011 Ballon d’Or, and the ex-Manchester United attacker will look to stake his claim by leading the hosts to victory. Midfield lynchpin Xabi Alonso will return from suspension in a massive boost for the home team, whilst Mourinho has a tough decision to make in deciding whether to go for the combative Lassana Diarra alongside the Spain international, or the more creative and attacking minded Mesut Ozil. If Madrid win they will increase their lead at the top of the Primera Division to six points with a game in hand, and receive a massive boost going into the new year.

With three consecutive La Liga titles and two Champions League triumphs in three years, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team will go down in history as one of the greats. However, Guardiola’s genius is set to best tested, as the game on Saturday is arguably the biggest challenge the former midfielder has faced in his coaching career to date. With a world-class opponent and a hostile reception guaranteed, Barcelona will need to be at their best to leave the Spanish capital with three points. With Madrid’s current ruthless streak, the Blaugrana will know that they can ill-afford to let their age-old rivals get too far ahead in the race for the title, as even though it is early in the season they may not be caught.

Despite drawing more games than they would like this season, Barcelona have the same personnel and winning mentality that has made them deserved champions over recent campaigns. Madrid will need to breach the tightest rearguard in the Spanish top flight; Barca have only conceded seven goals in 15 La Liga games this season, and will be boosted by the inclusion of pivotal centre back Gerard Pique. The usual midfield suspects such as Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and the third Ballon d’Or contender Xavi, will look to dominate possession and starve their amped-up opponents of the ball, whilst feeding their sprightly forward line. Guardiola has a decision to make in terms of whether to play 2010-11 mainstay David Villa or exciting summer signing Alexis Sanchez, whilst all eyes, as usual will be on Lionel Messi.

Madrid go into the game as slight favourites, but small margins will settle what should be a scintillating game of football. Barcelona will be asked to prove their mantle of champions in the most daunting environment, whilst Real Madrid have to state their case that they are ready to eclipse a team of a generation in the form of their most bitter rivals.

Publishedhttp://soccerlens.com/barcelona-real-madrid/62008/

Barcelona to add Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas to their ranks – but where will they play?

Barcelona have been Europe’s best side for a number of seasons and showcased total football in winning their third consecutive La Liga title and the Champions League crown in 2010-11. With the transfer window well and truly open, the Catalan side have signed Alexis Sanchez from Udinese for €37.5 million and are in negotiations with Arsenal over the return of Cesc Fabregas to Catalunya. The new faces are of top quality, no doubt, but with the dream team already at Pep Guardiola’s beaconing, will the new men get into the team?

Sanchez is fresh from a Copa America campaign with Chile, and the 22-year-old suitably impressed once-more, showing trickery, speed and great ball control to standout as one of the brightest lights in the tournament. Internationally, he Tocopilla born man is used as a second striker alongside Humberto Suazo; he tends to drop deep to pick up the ball, and also offers a ball over the top with his speed. For Udinese, Sanchez found himself in more of a right winger role, with licence to support main striker Antonio Di Natale, but starting from wide.

The European champions play a 4-3-3 formation, with Lionel Messi supported by David Villa and Pedro last season. It looks evident that the new South American signing will be in direct competition with La Masia graduate Pedro for a starting berth, but this is by no means a given. The 24-year-old Spanish international has made a real impact since entering the first team fray in 2008, and scored valuable goals last season, including in the Champions League semi-finals and final. He has recently just signed a new contract at the club with a €150 million buyout, giving you an idea of his worth to Pep Guardiola.

Fabregas has not yet signed for the Blaugrana, but a deal looks set to be completed, as the player wants to leave and Barca are closing in on the Emirates’ club’s asking price. The 24-year-old had a dip in form last term, and if he does return to the side he started his career with, he will have to be at his best to commandeer a place in the side.

In the 4-3-3 system, one holding player (Sergio Busquets) plays in front of the defence, with Xavi and Andres Iniesta playing ahead of him and orchestrating the game. This Spanish international trio have their play down to a fine art, and are the reason that the Catalans boss almost every match they play; they are the fulcrum of the team.

As good as the Arsenal man is, he, nor anyone in world football, is going to take Xavi or Iniesta’s place in the Barcelona starting line-up. When they are fit and available they are automatic selections, and are as important to the Barca team as Lionel Messi. Busquets has more of a battling quality than his two more creative team-mates and the potential new arrival, and protects the Barcelona centre-halves with the utmost diligence.

If Fabregas is to get a start for Barcelona, one would think it would be in place of Busquets, and in a more deep lying role than he is accustomed to at Arsenal. It would also mean that he would be responsible for the winning of the ball and anchoring of the midfield, something he has not been accustomed to doing in England. Does the new man really want to be the one to try to shackle Cristiano Ronaldo? And is he the man to do it?

Such is life; if you want to join the best team in the world, even for almost €40 million, you are not guaranteed a place in the team, as the players who are already in the position you want to play in are worth that and more.

Published – http://soccerlens.com/fans/barcelona-look-to-add-alexis-sanchez-and-cesc-fabregas-to-their-ranks-but-where-will-they-play/

The £30 million transfer shortlist

With the end of the season upon us, the transfer window re-opens in June and the biggest clubs in European football will look to strengthen their playing squads for the forthcoming campaign. The continued investment in the world game has resulted in transfer fees rising, and there are a number of players that this summer could conceivably cost £30 million and up.

1) Javier Pastore
The Palermo playmaker has had another sparkling season and has led the Sicilan side to the Coppa Italia final; ‘El Flaco’ or ‘the skinny one’ is one of world football’s hottest properties. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan and Roma are all ready to part with £30 million to secure the services of the 21 year old, however this may not be enough as controversial Palermo president Maurizio Zamperini has been quoted as saying he feels the player is worth €100 million.

2) Kaka
With Real Madrid in the hunt for Pastore and already signed creative midfielder Nuri Sahin from Borussia Dortmund, first team opportunities for Kaka may be limited. Since his world record £56 million move from Milan to Los Blancos in 2009 the Brazilian has failed to make the required impact, and is currently playing second fiddle to Bernabeu main-man Cristiano Ronaldo. I Rossoneri president Silvio Berlusconi has ruled out a return to the San Siro, so England looks the most likely destination, with long term admirers Manchester City and Chelsea battling it out for his signature.

3) Alexis Sanchez
The Chilean left sided midfielder has been one of the main reasons for Udinese’s charge towards Champions League football, with pundits raving over the 22 year old’s performances. Both Milan and Inter are believed to want the ex-River Plate attacker, but Manchester City again seem to be the frontrunners, with a £30 million summer transfer touted in the Italian press.

4) Cesc Fabregas
Arsenal’s captain has been linked with a move back to Barcelona for a number of seasons, and the move may happen this summer as The Gunners may look to cash in on the 24 year old whilst he is out of form. With Jack Wilshere emerging this season to potentially take Fabregas’ place as Arsenal’s go to midfield man, a move back to the Nou Camp for £30 million or more could be on the cards.

5) Gareth Bale
The PFA Player of the Year has had a strong season domestically and in Europe, and shot to worldwide acclaim with a hat-trick against Inter at the San Siro in the Champions League Group Stages. Due to Tottenham missing out on the competition for next season, Bale may be tempted by the bright lights of Italy or Spain, with Inter and Barcelona linked with the player. United and City are also thought to want the Welshman to come to Manchester, and given his performances the fee would exceed £30 million.

6) Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Tevez
Big spending City may find a change of personnel in attack, with any big name departures or arrivals costing more than £30 million. The club have been linked with an audacious move for Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whilst club captain Carlos Tevez’s future at Eastlands is under scrutiny, with Inter the reported chosen destination for the Argentine forward.

Published – http://forum.footballidentity.com/default.aspx?g=posts&m=1852916

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