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Manchester City want Blaise Matuidi, but he’d be perfect for Arsenal

PSG midfield destroyer Blaise Matuidi has just a year left on his contract, which is of great interest to Manchester City who are rumoured to be interested in him as they transition away from Roberto Mancini’s 4-4-2 to Manuel Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1. Matuidi could possibly partner Yaya Toure deep in midfield in this new formation. However, if he does become available, he looks like an interesting option for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

Aaron Ramsey played well as the pure defensive shield as Wenger tweaked his system over the second half of last season and this new role allowed him to afford the defence good protection leading to them being the second tightest unit in the league. He is a good worker and interceptor of the ball and improved steadily in the role. However, unlike Marouane Fellaini whose rampaging menace would be near enough neutered playing this role at Arsenal, it is something Matuidi is amongst the best in Europe at doing. If Arsenal bought Fellaini and restricted him to being a pure shield, a simple and limited role, they would be wasting their time spending so much. However, with Matuidi the upgrade as this pure defensive minded shield would be big, big enough to justify the outlay.

Blaise Matuidi

If you don’t know much about Matuidi, just know this. PSG bought him to replace Claude Makelele. It sums his game up and shows what he would offer Arsenal. Wenger is teaching Ramsey to play that role and what is required is superb positioning and sensing of danger, tackling skill, intercepting ability and the awareness to select the correct distribution option. Ramsey is doing decently at getting stuck in but his distribution isn’t ideal for the job. Matuidi already has it all. He’s also a huge presence on the field with his leadership and reliability. Arsenal could do with a few more players that can be relied on to perform at the same level every week. Tactically it would also allow Wenger to continue to use Jack Wilshere further forwards where he seems to see his future.

The doubt in all of this is whether or not PSG would let him leave. Although he only has a year on his contract he is a key player for them. He has played 80 games in his two seasons in Paris and despite their infatuation with star power whoever ends up managing them, maybe Andre Villas-Boas, will be well aware of his importance. You can have all the attackers you like but unless you have someone with the discipline and sense of responsibility to work for the team and position themselves effectively then the team can’t win. He’s probably worth about £10-12m given his contract situation but it’s hard to see how PSG would let him leave. If they do though, Arsenal might hold an advantage over Man City.

At Arsenal Matuidi would be a guaranteed starter. At City, he wouldn’t have the same security. City have just spent £34m on Fernandinho to be their play maker. Manuel Pellegrini is an advocate of the 4-2-3-1, which would likely see Fernandinho partner Toure in the two, particularly if rumours linking the club to Isco come true. At Arsenal, his only competition would be Aaron Ramsey and he is much better at the role they would compete for.

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Tottenham’s AVB to PSG? Should he stay or should he go? It all depends on Bale

Real Madrid are not going to be popular with Spurs fans this summer. Not only are they actively courting their star man Gareth Bale but they may now also be responsible for them losing their manager Andre Villas-Boas. Real’s first choice to succeed Jose Mourinho as manager is PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti, and Ancelotti hasn’t hidden his desire to take up the offer. If he goes, PSG will need a new manager, and with their own first choice Guus Hiddink committing to another season in Russia the French champions have turned their attention to Villas-Boas. It is conceivable that Real Madrid may even cost Spurs both Bale and AVB. In fact, one may cause the other.

Andre Villas-Boas came to Spurs last summer with plenty to prove after his disastrous spell at Chelsea ended in disarray and sacking. He had been the hottest managerial name in Europe in the summer of 2011, fresh from an unbeaten and Europa League winning season with Porto and as one of the Jose Mourinho stable he had impeccable pedigree. However, by 2012 his reputation was sullied, seemingly unable to impose himself on the Chelsea dressing room that he had once been a mere analyst to. It was therefore a big leap of faith from Spurs to appoint him, and to essentially sack Harry Redknapp in order to do so. He was very grateful to the club for trusting him and he repaid them with fifth place and a points total that would have guaranteed Champions League qualification in most seasons. He took Gareth Bale from star to megastar and helped turn Jan Vertonghen in to one of the signings of the season. He did a great job at Spurs, and his reputation is quickly regathering, particularly in light of his work with Bale.

André Villas-Boas

This has made him a desirable proposition for PSG. They have their own burgeoning megastar in Lucas Moura who they will feel AVB can teach and coach up in the way he did with Bale. PSG invested nearly £40m in the young Brazilian so they need to get the most out of him and AVB has shown he can do that. The other reason they are turning to him is that they are very big on the ‘project’ in Paris. They want a long-term manager and they want him to win them multiple Champions League titles. Well, Villas-Boas is only 35 and has already shown he can win a European trophy, so he is a very logical choice. PSG play a 4-2-3-1 system, which is what Spurs used last year, so PSG wouldn’t need to overhaul the personnel either. It all makes sense.

The pros to staying at Spurs are that if Bale stays he has one of the best players in the world at his disposal. His job is under absolutely no threat, the club seem willing to commit money to him in the transfer market and they gave him his opportunity to return to management at a major club. He may feel a sense of loyalty.

The cons to staying at Spurs mostly revolve around Bale. If Spurs sell him then despite pocketing a massive transfer fee they would have sold one of the top five players in the world. It’s all well and good signing decent replacements in different positions, but without Bale it will be much harder to get in to the Champions League. This could be something AVB feels he can’t achieve at Spurs. With such congestion at the top of the Premier League, seven teams to fit in to four, three will always miss out and more often than not Spurs would likely be in that three without Bale.

The pros of going to PSG are that he will have a ton of money at his disposal, far more than Spurs could offer. He also would be taking over a better team. Spurs have three elite players, but PSG have twice that. They are near enough guaranteed to get in to the Champions League every year, which then gives him an opportunity to win it. PSG seem willing to be patient with a manager.

The cons to moving to PSG are that the club has only had success so far. If, as is likely, they struggle to make an impact on the market this year despite their money and don’t progress in Europe the patience of the ownership would be tested. They haven’t had to experience a negative outcome yet. If he did fail he would have failed at two of the richest clubs in the world, pretty much ending his chances of getting another go somewhere else.

It would be a big decision for AVB to make. If Spurs keep Gareth Bale and add to their squad he should stay. No one in the Premier League has a player like Bale so with the right additions they could even compete to win the league. If they sell Bale he should go to PSG where he would have more chance at winning regularly.

Should Arsenal push harder to keep Bacary Sagna?

Ever since arriving in England in 2007 Bacary Sagna has been regarded as one of the top right backs in the Premier League. His consistent play highlighted by inefficiency in central defence. However, over recent years he has suffered two broken legs and this has taken it’s toll on his fitness levels and performance standards. Once the epitome of robotic consistency, he has allowed errors, some of them ghastly, to creep in to his game. Even despite this though, Sagna was the right back in the second best defence in the league. A defensive unit that looks, for the first time in years, to be settled and able to operate to a high standard. Arsenal have a big decision to make on him. He is 30 years old, Arsene Wenger’s traditional cut off age for long term commitment, has suffered two big injuries, has one year left on his contract and is being openly courted by Monaco and PSG which would give him a shop window as he battles to get back in to the French national team.

Sagna recently told French newspaper L’Equipe that a move; ‘is possible. We would have to see in which conditions and, in sporting terms, what they propose. I won’t go just anywhere’. And on his contract impasse with Arsenal; ‘There are talks [with Arsenal], but I still haven’t extended my contract. I am talking, and I am not at a bad club either’. He is clearly torn on what his best option would be. In ‘sporting terms’ his best option would be to stay at Arsenal. He is the first choice, and playing in a settled unit. He knows the system and his team mates.

Bacary Sagna

A move to PSG would be dubious in sporting terms. If Sagna is concerned about winning back his place in the French national team it’s a big risk. PSG have Christophe Jallet, and more importantly Gregory van der Wiel already at the club. If he can oust them then it’s perfect, but if he gets stuck on the bench his World Cup will vanish. A move to Monaco would be solely driven by money at this stage of Sagna’s career. He maybe has two or three years left at the top, and Monaco aren’t going to win the Champions League in the next three years. Again, playing in France would have an appeal to him for both sporting and personal reasons. This could be his last big contract, and he’ll get a bigger one at PSG or Monaco than he will at Arsenal. He’ll also get a longer one than he will at Arsenal.

Sagna will be 31 at the end of his contract next summer and Arsenal would be unlikely to offer much more than a one or two year deal. PSG or Monaco could offer three or even four years if they wanted to. Arsenal have shown some flexibility on this rule compared to previous years, and in Sagna’s case they should do again. There are several reasons that Arsenal should push harder to keep him. They only have Carl Jenkinson at right back other than him, and although Jenkinson has promise, he’s not got the quality of Sagna. Just as pressingly, there is a lack of quality full backs in world football at the moment that are gettable for Arsenal. Their first choice, Lukasz Piszczek is having hip surgery and is out for 6 months. If they at least keep Sagna for this season they can re-evaluate based on his performances and then make a decision on Piszczek or give them time to scout out another right back.

Arsenal have too many other areas of need to have to make themselves another hole by selling Sagna. He clearly wants some security on his contract having suffered two broken legs and if Arsenal aren’t prepared to offer that they should just lose him for free next year unless PSG or Monaco make a huge offer. If Arsenal get an offer they are satisifed with, and feel sure on a replacement, they can sell, but otherwise it just creates a weakness that doesn’t currently exist.

No Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or City: Champions League quarter-final preview

For the first time since 1996 there is no English representation in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Despite this, the draw has still thrown up some potentially exciting ties that are bound to produce plenty of goals and talking points.

Malaga v Borussia Dortmund

Probably the least glamorous looking of the ties but has the potential to be one of the most entertaining. Both teams have been extremely impressive in getting this far. Malaga topped their group, remaining unbeaten, and finishing ahead of AC Milan and Zenit, before overturning a first-leg deficit against Porto in the last 16. Dortmund meanwhile were put in the so-called Group of Death alongside Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax. They too remained unbeaten though, and also finished first in their group before sweeping aside Shakhtar in the last 16.

Mario Gotze

While most people will look at Isco as Malaga’s main threat, the experience they possess with the likes of Joaquin, Toulalan, Saviola and Demichelis is not to be under-estimated though, and they will be prepared for the occasion. Dortmund’s youth and attacking style may just prove to be too much for the Spaniards however, and with the guaranteed goals and creativity of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski along with home advantage in the second leg, the Germans may well be a good outside bet to make it all the way to Wembley.

Real Madrid v Galatasaray

The second favourites meet the rank outsiders in this quarter-final tie. Madrid cruised through their group, even though they finished second to Dortmund, and then controversially saw off Manchester United over two tense games. Galatasaray just edged through their group ahead of CFR Cluj and their attacking prowess saw them score three in Germany to get past Schalke.

Didier Drogba

There is no doubting the Turkish side’s attacking options. Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder were the big name signings in January but they also boast the joint top scorer in the competition with Burak Yilmaz. Add to this the experience of Felipe Melo and Hamit Altintop in the midfield and they certainly have a strong core to their team. Over two games though it is hard to see a defence which has already conceded in all but one game in the competition so far this season containing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and company. Galatasaray do have the advantage of being at home for the second leg but they cannot afford to be more than a goal or two behind after their trip to the Bernabeu.

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona

Undoubtedly the tie of the round, the big-spending French team against the side who have raised most of their players through their youth team. Despite a couple of wobbles along the way against Celtic and in the first leg against AC Milan, the Catalan giants still remain the team to beat. As they showed in the second leg against Milan they are still unstoppable when they are on form. PSG were very impressive in topping their group and despite a nervy second leg against Valencia they deservedly fought their way through.

Jordi Alba

The biggest problem for the French side in the first game will be the continued suspension of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. To have any chance against Barcelona they will need their strongest team and it will be a big blow to not have their talisman. Not that PSG are a one-man team though. Ezequiel Lavezzi continues to show his talent with five goals in this tournament and they have the exciting young talents of Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore. The problem they may find though is getting the ball to these players, but if they can there is no doubt they can cause Barcelona problems. It would be no surprise if Paris Saint-Germain got a positive result at home but as Milan found out in the last 16, it needs a big lead to take to the Nou Camp for the return game.

Bayern Munich v Juventus

The final tie pits together two of the heavyweights of European football over the years. Bayern have been very impressive to this stage and despite their second-leg defeat to Arsenal they still dominated in terms of attempts at goal and possession. Juventus came through a slow start to qualify first from a group containing Shakhtar and defending champions Chelsea, before brushing aside the challenge of Celtic.

Andrea Pirlo

Bayern will be determined to make amends for their final defeat to Chelsea last year and they certainly have a team who find it easy to create chances and, certainly at domestic level, score goals. They are coming up against a side though that is more of a stereotypical Italian team. Solid at the back and good in possession, Juve play the game at their own pace. They may be short of big names but they have an Italian core that are well drilled and know exactly what they are doing. This is probably the hardest of the quarter-finals to call, but it may well be that Bayern’s extra options in the attacking third will be enough to see them through; but only just.

By Chris Newman

Manchester United’s wingers must show they are up to the job

This was going to be a piece about the worrying decline of Antonio Valencia, whose abject display against Chelsea on Sunday was that of a man who has forgotten what he is good at. But the truth is none of Manchester United’s first-team wingers have had a season to write home about. In fact you would be hard-pressed to recall the last great performance from any of Valencia, Nani or Ashley Young.

When Valencia moved to Old Trafford in 2009, he was talked of as one of the league’s best wide-men, and as he began beating fullbacks and supplying inch-perfect crosses, it was clear why Sir Alex Ferguson parted with £12million for his services. The Ecuadorian made wing-play look easy.  He broke it down to its simplest form – knock it and run. And his speed meant he won the race more often than not.

Antonio Valencia

When Wayne Rooney enjoyed arguably his best season to date, when everyone started referring to his head as a goal-scoring threat as deadly as his feet – that was down to Valencia. There were no tricks in his armoury, no step-overs or showboating. He ran. He crossed. And United invariably scored.
So who was the player wearing number 7 on Sunday? The player who beat himself more often than his opponent? It certainly wasn’t the man who was voted both fans’ and players’ Player of the Year last season, nor the man who came back from a horrific ankle break to become one of his team’s most consistent performers.

It would be easy to say the pressure of the number on his back has got the better of him. But do players really notice what is behind them when they are so focused on what is ahead? Can a number so significantly alter a mind-set?

With the impending arrival of Wilfried Zaha, many expected Nani to make way. But in United’s last two games it was the Portuguese player’s departure (for two very different reasons) that had a detrimental effect on the team. So perhaps Zaha will be taking the place of Valencia next season, a man who has forgotten that in football, if you can win the race, the goal is all but scored.

Nani

And yet two brief cameos and being championed in his absence should not disguise the fact that Nani has been equally erratic this season. Unquestionably talented, there came a time – back in 2010 – when it all made sense. Outstanding displays against Manchester City and Arsenal showed a winger of terrifying ability, clinical, incisive, a man very much in tune with his talent.

It seemed that finally the penny had dropped. But three years later, it is clear that Nani is a man for whom the penny drops often, only to be forgotten again shortly after. Both United fans and the wider football world must sometimes wonder what he could achieve with consistency. But perhaps that is a trait to be born with or learnt as much as any other in football.

The last of United’s three wide-men, Ashley Young, is the least so in the traditional sense. A right-footed player on the left, it is his natural and often effective inclination to cut inside and cross. He doesn’t beat a man, he stands up to them and relies on his foot to find the box regardless. It was a skill that led his former manager at Aston Villa, Martin O’Neill, to call him “world class”. And it was a skill that has resulted in some truly outstanding goals for his current club, most notably an unstoppable double in the 8-2 win over Arsenal in 2011.

Ashley Young

And yet the truth is United lack pace; which is something of an indictment on the three men employed to supply it. It is no coincidence that Ferguson did all he could to secure Lucas Moura in the summer. In his short time at PSG he has shown just what all the fuss was about.

Perhaps on his arrival, Zaha will share the fearlessness of the likes of Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, adding directness to his new team and shaking up the old guard.

But whatever happens, if United’s current wingers wish to remain, they need to find the form that some have displayed for seasons and others only for games.

Paris Saint Germain: Are they a threat to Manchester United, Barcelona and the big boys in the Champions League?

Paris Saint Germain have given themselves a golden opportunity to reach the Champions League quarter-finals with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Valencia in Spain. The Ligue 1 side were good value for their win against Los Che, and will now eye another strong performance at the Parc des Princes to consolidate their progression.

Admittedly, Valencia are not the same beast that made the Mestalla a cauldron in the 2000’s. However they did recently hold Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at home, and as such PSG’s achievement of an away victory must be applauded.

Ezequiel Lavezzi scored against Valencia for PSG

With the backing of the Qatari Investment Authority, Carlo Ancelotti as head coach and a host of top-notch players at the club already, the sky is the limit for the French capital-city side. No doubt further investment and more new faces will arrive in the summer, but what can PSG achieve this season?

Domestically PSG are sitting six points clear at the top of Ligue 1, and the realistic aim for the club’s owners, and their priority, must be to win the title. Given the fact that they have not been crowned French champions since 1994, this is well overdue.

In the Champions League a solid home performance against Valencia should get them through to the last eight, and from there the competition becomes unpredictable. The likes of Barcelona, Juventus, Mancehster United or Real Madrid would certainly be favourites over two legs against the French side, but none of this side would necessary relish being drawn against PSG.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s foolish dismissal late in the game put a dampener on PSG’s performance, as did the conceding of a late goal, but come quarter-final time the French side may well pose a tricky customer for some of the traditionally bigger teams given the quality in their ranks.

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