Five potential replacements for Mesut Ozil


Mesut Ozil’s future at Arsenal is just as unclear as fellow teammate Alexis Sanchez and manager Arsene Wenger. The German playmaker has been linked with moves to Turkey as well as a return to his homeland and even Manchester United have reportedly expressed and interest, which would bring with it a reunion with former Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.


Should Ozil leave Arsenal in the summer here are five potential replacements for the classy creator:



Mario Gotze

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Cost: £30m – £40m

Currently out injured with a metabolism problem, the scorer of the goal which crowned Germany world champions has many hallmarks of Ozil. Gotze is classy with a deft touch and the ability to spot passes which slice open opposition defences. Another hallmark he shares with his fellow German is his consistency – or lack of as it may be. Gotze failed to impress during his spell at Bayern Munich which lead to a reunion with Dortmund.


However, the German would offer almost a like for like replacement for Ozil. With the 24-year-old also keen to play in the Premier League he may well be wooed by Arsenal should they express and interest in the playmaker.



Ivan Rakitic

Club: Barcelona

Cost: £35m – £50m

The Croatian wizard made Barcelona tick in his early days at the Catalan giants but has since been wildly inconsistent and has fallen out of favour with Barca boss Luis Enrique. Rakitic offered a replacement for long-time metronome Xavi in the heart of the Barcelona midfield along with Andreas Iniesta. That alone speaks to how highly the former Sevilla man is rated.


Rakitic has been deployed in a deeper role in Spain but could easily push up the field and influence attacking play more. Arsenal is a club with many similarities to the Spanish powerhouses in terms of their style of play which would suit the Croat perfectly. His elusiveness in between the lines and vision often leaves defenders scrambling and attacking players licking their chops at the service he provides.


Rakitic may prove costly but with his pedigree at the top level he would almost certainly be worth the large outlay and with Arsenal making noises that they are ready to throw the kitchen sink at the Premier League next season they may be able to tempt the Barcelona midfielder to London.



Bernardo Silva

Club: Monaco

Cost: £55m – £75m

This guy is going to cost an awful lot. Silva is being courted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs and a bidding war could soon ensue.


With Leonardo Jardim’s side in vogue with young, exciting players strutting their stuff in both domestic and continental competition, Silva is just one of a handful of sort after players.


A classic number ten Silva has been highly praised by former Portugal great Deco, who believes the former Benfica product can be one of the world’s best. With the ability carve open a defence with his combination of exception dribbling and passing the young superstar is a difference maker for his current employers. If Manchester United, Real Madrid and other have their way he will soon be a difference maker for them, too.


The 22-year-old Portuguese playmaker has scored six goals to date as well as contributing seven assists this campaign as Monaco continue their charge towards the title.


Perhaps a wildcard for Arsenal with them no longer mentioned in the bracket of elite clubs when talking about Europe’s brightest youngsters going elsewhere. However, if they are willing to bid an extraordinary amount and pay the youngster extraordinary wages then they may just get their man.



Riyad Mahrez

Club: Leicester City

Cost: £35m – £48m

The Algerian made noises at the end of last season that he wanted to make the step up from The Foxes. However, then manager Claudio Ranieri convinced the playmaker to stay at least one more season to spur Leicester on their maiden Champions League campaign.


While the English champions have surprised many with their run to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition, their form in the league has been dismal – costing Ranieri his job. Mahrez has often looked disinterested during Leicester’s faltering title defence which could be cause for concern for any club interested in the Algerian’s services. However, much like Ozil, his ability should see perspective buyers overlook some of his inconsistencies.


At the start of the season Arsenal expressed an interest in the Algerian playmaker, as well as Barcelona, and it seemed to have turned his head. Should Mahrez leave the champions this summer he could well be a replacement for Ozil.


Mahrez is already acclimatised to the Premier League way of playing, technically gifted and with an eye for goal – as displayed during Leicester’s title run he may offer a slight upgrade over Ozil, who is often criticised for his lack of goals for Arsenal.


The 26-year-old has certainly see his stock drop from where it was this time last year. Leicester may not be able to command the same fee for the playmaker as they perhaps could have 12 months ago but would still get a handsome amount for their star player. Arsenal would probably be willing to pay the £45m it would take to acquire the Algerian.




Club: Real Madrid

Cost: £25m – £35m


The Real Madrid misfit looks set to leave the Spanish capital this summer with a number of potential suitors trailing the former Malaga midfielder. Falling behind Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the pecking order for manager Zinadine Zidane the frustrated Isco is desperate for first team action.


Arsenal would offer the diminutive Spaniard a chance to start games with a void left by Ozil as well as experience the Premier League and – perhaps – be part of a rebuilding process at The Emirates should Arsene Wenger leave the Gunners in the summer, or even if he stays.


Isco was heavily linked to Manchester City in 2013 before being tempted to Madrid. Clearly the Spanish international is open to plying his trade in England.


Isco may have his inconsistencies but that could be put down to him not getting a run of games in the Madrid team. What is clear, is that when he is on his game he beautifully links defence to attack and can open pick the killer pass which results in a goal.


His style of play is very comparable of fellow Spaniard David Silva. If he could replicate anywhere near the standards Silva has set in England then he shall be very well received indeed by Arsenal fans.


Weight of pass in the modern game is often overlooked but Isco has the class and technique to perfectly pick out runners without them having the break stride before firing into the back of the net.


The price tag may start to rise with rumours circulating that even Barcelona are looking to prize Isco away from their bitter rivals. Arsenal are certainly in the mix, however. A tug-of-war for the 24-year-old’s signature is a likely outcome – in the past Arsenal have often fallen away when the bidding wars start. They did manage to outmuscle Liverpool for the signature of Alexis Sanchez however, so perhaps the Arsenal hierarchy are no longer afraid to go toe-to-toe with other clubs to get their man.


Five potential replacements for Alexis Sanchez


Alexis Sanchez’s future is still in the air at Arsenal. The Chilean cuts an increasingly frustrated figure at Arsenal and while his manager Arsene Wenger dances to the tune of ‘He wants to stay’ the consensus is that Sanchez will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.


Should the former Barcelona forward leave The Emirates here are five potential players who could replace the dogged Chile frontman:



Anthony Martial

Club: Manchester United

Cost: £35m – £55m

A bit of a wildcard to start off with. With Jose Mourinho and Wenger’s open dislike for each other it is unlikely that Mourinho would want to sell a talented player to a rival. However, Martial is well out-of-favour with The Special One and could be offloaded this summer. Should Arsenal submit a bid which would recoup a lot – if not all – of what Louis van Gaal paid for the then teenager Mourinho may well be willing to part with the young Frenchman.


Martial offers directness, pace and can finish. He is still inconsistent Wenger will no doubt have patience with the former Monaco man and give him the love he looks like he needs.



Yannick Carrasco

Club: Atletico Madrid

Cost: £51m – £65m

Carrasco will cost a lot of money; the type of money Arsenal have never parted with. However, the Belgian is becoming a star under Diego Simeone in the Spanish capital. The winger has eight goals and four assists this season for Atletico.


An explosive winger who can play on both flanks, Carrasco causes nightmares for opposition full-backs who have a difficult time dealing with tricky wide man. Carrasco is still 23-years-old and can get better with the right nurturing.


Carrasco would bring with him the directness which Sanchez would leave behind. While the young Belgium international may cost a lot but the windfall Arsenal should receive for Sanchez, should he leave, would go a long way to bringing the Atletico Madrid winger to The Emirates. Having said that, with speculation over the future of Antoine Griezmann, Simeone will be more than reluctant to let two of his star men walk away in the same transfer window.



Mohamed Salah

Club: Roma

Cost: £30m – £40m


After failing to shine during his first brief stint in England with Chelsea Salah has gone on to light up Serie A with goals and assists galore. The Egyptian forward has 11 goals and eight assists this campaign and 27 Serie A goals in total since joining Roma in 2015.


Salah himself is still only 24-years-old, although in recent years he has felt like somewhat of a journeyman since his Chelsea move did not work out with stints at former club Basel and Fiorentina before finally settling in Rome.


The Egypt frontman has pace in abundance, can play with either foot and finish in a variety of ways. Arsenal are always looking for classy forwards and Salah has shown that he is certainly one of them. His eight assists and 60 chances created this term show he can pick a pick a pass also – perfect ammunition for Olivier Giroud, or maybe a new Arsenal forward.



Douglas Costa

Club: Bayern Munich

Cost: £22m – £30m

Douglas Costa is reportedly unhappy at Bayern Munich and is seeking a move away. Now at 26 the Brazilian is at a stage in his career where he needs regular games – which he is not getting behind Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.


Costa tore Arsenal apart during their 5-1 hammering of the Gunners in the last-16 tie of the Champions League with trickery and pace that neither Hector Bellerin nor Nacho Monreal could handle.


Costa’s inconsistency is perhaps what drives Carlo Ancelotti to leave him out of the Bayern first XI but he certainly has the ability to get Arsenal fans out of their seats. Not as direct as an out and out winger, Costa is strong on both feet and can float inside to get involved through the middle as well as beating his full-back down the line.


With his unhappiness at Bayern and the German giants seemingly happy to offload the wide man Costa would probably be the cheapest option of the list – which would probably appeal most to Wenger as he is notoriously tight with the  purse strings.



James Rodriguez

Club: Real Madrid

Cost: £45m – £55m


James is maybe the most likely player to make his way to The Emirates on this list. Not so much because he is desperate to join Arsenal or Arsenal are desperate to take him, but because Real Madrid and the Colombian have made no secret about his desire to leave and Madrid’s keenness to offload him.


James is typically a number ten but can play out wide. His goal in the 2014 World Cup against Uruguay was the stand out moment that summer and announced James to the world stage – it is also a glimpse of what he can do in a split second.


If Arsenal part ways with the £50m sum the Spanish giants are asking for then they will be getting a player that will not hound and harass defenders like Sanchez will, but will give you quality in abundance when going forward. In order for the Colombian to succeed he may need, perhaps like Mesut Ozil, a world-class holding midfielder who will pick up his lack of work ethic.


The former Monaco man has the flair that Arsene Wenger loves in a player and the technical quality which the Arsenal boss also looks for in his attacking players. He can float between the lines exposing the gaps in midfield and defence which can carve teams apart.



James is a different type of player to Sanchez – perhaps more in line with Ozil’s style of play but his quality cannot be denied and if Sanchez leaves Arsenal must replace him with quality – and James is certainly that.

Top 10 disappointments of Euro 2016


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As we gear up for the quarter finals stage of the European Championships we are beginning to turn pencil to ink when it comes to formulating our team of the tournament selections.


However, with the last eight imminent it is a time for reflection. Enough of the tournament has been played that we can get a very good assessment of nearly every player we’ve watched – superstar or an diamond in the rough. Gareth Bale, Dimitri Payet and Jerome Boateng have all but cemeted their place as part of the best XI for the tournament.


But what of the others? The ones who promised so much but ultimately fell flat for one reason or another. Well it’s not an XI but I give to you the top ten players who disappointed at Euro 2016. Granted the tournament is not over yet but at this stage it would take quite a lot for these ten names to turn their tournament around.


  1. David Alaba, Austria


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group F match between Iceland and Austria at Stade de France on June 22, 2016 in Paris, France.

Austria were the cliché Dark Horse in the tournament and their superstar was one of Europe’s brightest in Bayern Munich left back Alaba. Unfortunately, much like the rest of the squad, the promising defender endured a miserable campaign. Often played in midfield he looked like a fish out of water and desperate to return to his more familiar full back role. Coming off after just over an hour against Portugal Alaba did not look fit. His campaign ended with the ultimate wretchedness of Iceland snatching a victory from Austria in the 94th minute to leave the Austrians rock bottom of Group F.


  1. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Sweden and Belgium at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 22, 2016 in Nice, France.

He has two goals to his name and ran a mock against the Republic of Ireland. However by enlarge the bruising Belgian has not had much to smile about these Euros. With the Everton forward angling for a move to one of Europe’s elite clubs this was seen as the perfect shop window for him to showcase his abilities against the best in the world.


Unfortunately for Lukaku he didn’t get off to a flying start against Italy: often making the wrong runs, inability to hold the ball up and wayward shots were the key ingredients which led to a cocktail of boos when he was eventually substituted for Divock Origi with 73 minutes played.


While Lukaku could still turn things around with Belgium still in the tournament his performances have fallen flat for a striker that often promises so much.


  1. Arda Turan, Turkey


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D match between Spain and Turkey at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 17, 2016 in Nice, France.

The Barcelona man has endured a mixed year. Having to wait until January for his Barca debut due to their transfer ban and then finding the net only twice in 18 appearances. The former Atletico Madrid midfielder would have been hoping for a successful European Championships to kick start his 2016/17 season but as the old saying goes: “Hope into one hand and spit into the other and see which one fills up first.” Turan – along with the rest of his Turkey teammates is has to be said – had a hard time in Group D.


The Turkish trequatista struggled to impact his nation’s attacking play. While it was always going to be a tough ask against opponents with such pedigree as Spain and Croatia we all expected more from a player who has played well consistently.


  1. Will Grigg, Northern Ireland


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France.

He didn’t play a single minute. Forget stats, the eye test analysis and all the rest. Tha man that had his own song, had Eric Cantona sing that song and became a social media sensation did not play a single second of Euro 2016. Northern Ireland are one of the great stories of the Euros and a justification to the format change. But we needed a Will Grigg sighting. Let us hope he does not fall into the Emmanuel Frimpong (remember him) bracket of being better known for their viral attention that football ability.


  1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal


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I toyed with putting Ronaldo further up and further down. He started at six, went up to nine, down to four then back to six. When you are one of the two or three best players on the planet these are the tournaments where the magnifying glass can begin to burn you if you stand under the intense heat rays too long.


Ronaldo has two goals and could be credited with an assist after his shot forced a good save from Danijel Subasic for Ricardo Quaresma to head in the rebound. Overall though the Real Madrid superstar has cut a picture of frustration. Trying far too hard like a teenager asking out a girl for the first time Ronaldo looked stiff, irritated and the more he tried the more he failed.


His brace against Hungary was a glimpse of the CR7 we know and loath but it was back to square on in the Round of 16 when “MISSING” posters could have been taped to lampposts all over France.


Like Lukaku, Ronaldo still has time to become a hero at Euro 2016 but it’s fair to say he’s been disappointing by the often lofty standards set by himself and the spectators.


  1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden542162686

This one feels a touch harsh as Ibrahimovic was hardly helped by his supporting cast. If ever there was a one man team at the Euros it was Sweden. Lead by their charismatic captain many felt so long as the rest of the Swedish side could supply the bullets Ibrahimovic would fire them to their necessary targets.


In the final group game against Belgium the decorated striker had eight touches in Thibaut Courtois’ box but failed to test the strength of the net like he has done on so many occasions.


Many suspected it would be Ibrahimovic’s last major tournament and he announced that would be the case in the middle of the group stages. To see such a great character of the game end his international career with a whimper may be the biggest diappointment of them all.


  1. Thomas Muller, Germany


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Much like Ronaldo the Bayern Munich attacker has built a rod for his own back in many ways. Five goals in 2014 helped propel Germany to World Cup victory in Brazil. Muller also endured a quiet 2012 tournament too after being joint top goal scorer in the 2010 World Cup with another five goals. The man turns up to play for big international tournaments.


However he has been held goalless so far yet again. The Germans have been their usual efficient selves doing just enough to get through each round. Their attacking play has not been at its fluid best and it has had an effect on Muller.


Often isolated in the wide areas and smothered when coming central it has been left to players such as Mario Gotze, Mario Gomez, Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil to pick up the slack.


  1. Robert Lewendowski, Poland


    during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Switzerland and Poland at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on June 25, 2016 in Saint-Etienne, France.

It has been a real shame to watch the Poland predator struggle in front of goal like he has done. Lewendowski has worked tirelessly for his team but there is no doubt that he is best when he is facing goalkeepers and making the art of finishing look as easy as one, two, three. The chances have been there for the Munich striker but like many forwards at this years’ European Championship he has struggled for consistency and to find the net.


Portugal will still fear the forward as he is truly world class – perhaps the best out and out striker on the planet. But failing to register a single shot on target in four games  (His cooly dispatched penalty in the shoot-out victory over Switzerland does not count) – bringing his total drought with Poland to over ten hours – is more than disappointing, it is a disaster.


  1. Paul Pogba, France541498868

Speaking of disasters, poor Paul Pogba. The pressure on him heading into this tournament was gargantuan. He is the poster boy for this tournament and has found himself outshone by an inspired Dimitri Payet in the group stages and a rescuing act from Antoine Griezmann against the Republic of Ireland. It could be argued that his biggest affect on France’s Euro 2016 campaign was digging the hole they had to claw their way out of in the Round of 16 after clumsily conceding a penalty.


The Juventus playmaker has shown little touches here and there of what has made him the most sought after player in Europe but it has not been enough. He looks to be a player weighed down by the expectation instead of thriving in the face of it. This tournament is a true acid test of Pogba’s superstardom and if he can be classes as exactly that. Again, there is still time but now over the half was stage of the tournament it has to be said that he has been pretty woeful.


  1. The entire England team


    Joe Hart (ENG), goal, during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between England and Iceland at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 27, 2016 in Nice, France. (Photo by Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto)

We all knew this was going to be number one. What can be said that has not already been uttered about this 23 man wrecking crew. Wrecking our hopes and dreams that is.


Harry Kane looked like he was playing in boots made out of cement. Wayne Rooney – not even the best midfielder in a Manchester United – was deemed England’s most creative midfielder and had a nightmare in the second half against Iceland, Roy Hodgson made some of the most head scratching decisions of any England manager and Joe Hart – oh dear. The man who endorses shampoo certainly lived up to the second syllable in that word.


Nobody expected England to win the tournament but many deemed this to be the best team since we last made a semi final at Euro ’96.


However, much like in Euro 2012 – a fast opening half an hour was ultimaetly met with disappointment. Against Italy in 2012 England started with wave after wave of attack but were ultimately beaten 2-1 by an Azzuri orchestra conducted by the brilliant Andrea Pirlo. “If we play like that we’ll do well.” Said many, sound familiar? It should do because it was the same sentiment after a 1-1 draw against Russia in Marseille.


Many expected Hodgson’s men to kick on and a last gasp Daniel Sturridge winner papered over the cracked that England were simply not ruthless enough and had no tactical plan.


Lacklustre against Slovakia and abject verses Iceland this tournament will go down as one of the greatest disappointments in England’s long and heartbreaking history.

What We Learned: 5 things from the Champions League final


during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.

Real Madrid lifted the Champions League trophy in the San Siro after dramatically beating Atletico Madrid on penalties after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes. Juanfran missed the decisive penalty which gave Cristiano Ronaldo the chance to win it and he blasted home the dramatic winner to see Zinedine Zidane lift the trophy for the first time as a manager and become only the seventh person to win the competition as a player and a manager.


For Real they win the big eared trophy twice in the last three years. Sergio Ramos opening the scoring inside 15 minutes as he scrambled home a Gareth Bale flick on from a Toni Kroos free kick before winger Yannick Carrasco equalised with a thumping finish from close range in the second half. French forward Antoine Griezmann saw his penalty smack off the bar in between the goals in what was another intense Madrid derby.


The city of Milan rocked with both sets of supporters singing loud and proud but it is the fans of Real that will sing long into the night while Atletico are left to fix broken hearts for the second time in just three years. It seems that fate does not want Atletico to win the biggest prize in club competition with them just seconds from victory in Portugal in 2014 and a post width away from going to sudden death this time around. Without further ado, here are the five things we learned from the Champions League final.


  1. Simeone set up wrong

In the opening 45 minutes Atletico looked overrun in midfield as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos controlled the middle of the pitch and gave their opponents nothing when they had the ball. While Madrid had the better chances in was Atleti who had more of the ball but found themselves playing square passes in midfield leaving Antoine Griezmann and in particular Fernando Torres isolated. Zinedine Zidane set up his side to frustrate the opposition in the first half and they did exactly that plugging up any holes Atletico wanted to exploit. Atletico had no creativity in midfield and Koke was often pushed wide to try and get involved. Nothing went to plan for Atletico in the first half and the entire team from the stands to the side line to the pitch looked flat.


  1. Penalty misses will haunt Atletico

When Yannick Carrasco scored Atletico’s equaliser there won’t have been a man in the world more relived than Griezmann. His penalty miss will now be magnified even more by the miss from Juanfran from the spot during the shoot-out. A post width stopped Atletico from putting pressure on Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty which he would have needed to score to keep his side in it had the Atletico full back been able to find the net.


Griezmann showed great nerve to step up in the shoot out and bury his penalty with great coolness only for him to look on in disgust as if to say “Why couldn’t I have done that earlier?”. When every other player finds the back of the net it makes the one miss even greater and one that no doubt Juanfran will never forget.


  1. Passions did not boil over

Two years ago the final was soured with passions boiling over prompting Simeone to gesticulate wildly on the pitch and several high intensity clashes on the pitch made the final probably the edgiest in history. Not so much this time around, sure the passion was there but it was tempered and referee Mark Clattenburg handled it expertly – something for England to be pleased about. Maybe clutching at straws with that one. It was evident that Atletico learned a lot from their loss two years ago and kept their cool even when things were going against them. It seemed we could be in store for more of the same after 47 seconds when Koke committed a foul and every jersey on the field flocked towards the fluorescent yellow stature of Clattenburg but by enlarge the final was kept in check when talking about a Madrid derby in the biggest club game of them all. After Giezmann’s penalty miss you would not have been surprised to see Atelti implode but they simply kept going. Madrid by contrast were as professional as could be – they upped their antics after Atletico equalised with Ramos committing a dangerous foul when Yannick Carrasco looked to be breaking through the Real defence.


  1. Zindane’s tactical flexibility

We’ve discussed how Simeone got it wrong in the first half now let’s flip the coin and half a look at how Zidane got it so right. With the Frenchman’s future at the Santiago Bernabeu a lot of pressure was on Zidane to deliver a solid 90 minutes – which turned into 120 minutes – of management. He showed that he could mix it up with Madrid daring Atletico to come on to them in the first half. Atleti looked confused and did not know how to deal with having the lion share of possession and having such an attacking outfit defend so deep.


The game plan worked perfectly with Real Madrid making the most of set pieces and defending with 10 behind the ball every time Griezmann and company had the ball. Honestly this is not a typo – it was Real Madrid who did most of the running and defending. It was quite a shock to the system to watch such a disciplined 45 minutes. As the game wore on naturally it got more chaotic but Zidane showed he has more strings to his management bow on the biggest club stage of them all.


  1. Simeone learned his lesson

Two years ago the heart ruled the head and after eight minutes Diego Costa limped off with a hamstring injury forcing Simeone to use an early substitute. By the time Sergio Ramos scored that dramatic 93rd minute equaliser Atleti were out on their feet having gave their all. Simeone had no fresh legs to bring on and help his side close out the game.


Not the same story this time around. While his managerial counterpart had showed his hand by the end of regular time – which will have no doubt worried him when Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo required attention heading into the second half of extra time and soldiered on with Bale hardly able to run by the time penalties came round – the astute Argentine still had two substitutes to use heading into the final 15 minutes of extra time. In fact in this final Atletico seemed to get stronger as the game went on especially Carrasco who will haunt the nightmares of Brazilian full back Danlio for years to come.


It was a more mature display from Simeone and his team who looked composed throughout the 120 minutes. The last time these two sides met on such a stage it was more like organised chaos from the team in red and white but as the cliché goes you learn more about yourself in defeat than you do in victory.


Perhaps their lesson will be even more harsh this time around with the cruelty of the defeat. There was to be no redemption story for Simeone but in terms of the 120 minutes before penalties Atletico learned their lesson from the 2014.

What We Learned: 5 things from Bayern Munich vs Atletico Madrid


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Atletico Madrid reached their second Champions League final in three years after defeating Bayern Munich on away goals after the tie ended 2-2 on aggregate. Losing 2-1 in the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night Diego Simeone’s men played their part in an animated clash in Germany which saw two missed penalties, one controversial penalty call and much more drama. Here are five things we learned:


5. Bayern wanted to up the tempo

Last week in Madrid Bayern did not have the same quick, incisive attacking to their game. That all changed in Munich as Pep Guardiola’s side attacked in waves and had 12 shots in the opening 27 minutes. Even the balls boys had to be at their fastest as the home side looked to keep Atletico under pressure with their speed and intensity. The return of Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller helped push Munich up the pitch quicker and at times the Atletico defending resembled Bambi on ice as they could not get anywhere near their opponents. Every chance Atletico had to slow the game down they tried: delaying the restart of the game at set pieces, arguing with officials and Bayern players, whatever they could do to try and catch their breath.


4. Atletico were better when they had to attack

Simeone is possibly the best manager in the world over two legs. Steal a goal then defend diligently and attack on the break trying to add to the lead. It’s a recipe that works most of the time but they were actually far more effective when they had to go forward and score. In the second half they committed more players forward and although Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann had less support than Kanye West’s plea to Mark Zuckerberg the one slick attack they had resulted in a goal – a counter attack too. After that they threatened much more and looked much more composed in possession and had a number of their own chances they wasted, Torres having a late penalty saved which would have killed off any Munich hope.


3. Missed chances cost Bayern

Possibly the biggest thing that cost Bayern a spot in the final was Bayern themselves. While their build up play was first rate their finishing certainly was not. Muller missed the biggest chance in the first half when he saw his penalty saved by Jan Oblak just moments after Xabi Alonso had put Munich back into the tie with a deflected free-kick. Robert Lewendowski spurned two big chances in the first half and while the visitors had a penalty miss of their own which could have swung the pendulum late on in the game it was Bayern who created the lion share of the chances – especially in the first half. The home side had Madrid on the ropes looking punch drunk after fending off relentless attacks. However a combination of poor finishing and Oblak doing his best impression of an octopus between the sticks saw Atletico survive.


2. Guardiola could be seen as a failure at Bayern

Regardless of how many records Guardiola’s Bayern have set and broken during his reign the big hole in his CV will be failing to win the Champions League with them. Not only did he fail to win the competition with them but he failed to even navigate them to a final. While domestic trophies are all well and good Guardiola was brought in to help usher in a new era of Continental dominance for Munich and it simply has not happened. Failure may be too strong of a word to use but that is how many die hard Bayern fans may perceive his tenure at the club.


1. Atletico want Real Madrid

Make no mistake, Atletico want Real in the final. While Simeone and his players will claim to not care they will want to avenge their heartbreaking 4-1 AET defeat of 2014. Atletico were literal seconds away from winning their first Champions League title before Sergio Ramos scored to take game into extra time and by the end it seemed a one sided result. Simeone and his squad are passionate men and will want to right the wrongs of 2014 as well as last year being dumped out of the competition at the quarter-finals stage by the same opponent. Winning the trophy against one of their fiercest rivals and avenging previous defeats in the process is the kind of motive that drives Simeone.

What we learned: 5 things from Atletico Madrid vs Bayern Munich


during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.

Atletico Madrid defended diligently and attacked smartly during their 1-0 Champions League semi-final first leg victory over Bayern Munich. Saul’s magnificent weaving run and finish was enough to separate the two sides and was the outstanding piece of skill in a highly contested affair. Pep Guardiola’s last chance to win the prestigious competition with the German club is now hanging in the balance as he attempts to rouse his side to overturn their one goal deficit in Munich next week. Here are the five things we learned:


5. Atletico startled Bayern

Atletico used their home stadium to their advantage particularly in the first half. Bayern looked stunned in the opening half an hour and could not get to grips with the game. The hostile atmosphere the Atletico fans created at the Vicente Calderon teamed with Diego Simeone’s tactics to harass Munich put Guardiola’s side into a fit of shock, even resorting to route one tactics when they were unable to link up with Lewendowski.


Saul’s goal capped off what had been an inspired opening quarter of an hour from the home side and at that point, had Atletico grabbed a quick fire second, Munich may well already be out of the tie. Although Bayern came roaring back into the game in the second half the mood of their play suggested they were not fully comfortable playing an Atletico side against such an emotional backdrop.


4. Gabi and Koke ran proceedings

While the pairing of Xabi Alonso and Thiago Alcantara are the more universally known central midfield masters they were hugely outshone on the night by the midfield paring of Koke and Gabi. Ian Darke commented on the amount of Atletico fans that had “Gabi” displayed on the back of their shirt calling him “an unsung hero” and the Spaniard was exactly that. Gabi epitomised everything about Simeone’s team’s performance with a blend of grace and grit. Working hard in the midfield areas stamping his authority on the game Gabi allowed him midfield partner, Koke, to roam and create chances for the attackers.


Koke pulled the strings along with Saul for the La Liga side. This gave Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann to the ammunition they require to make Manuel Neuer’s life difficult at times.


3. Tactics & missing players hurt Bayern

Not one to question Guardiola’s tactics often, if at all, but leaving Thomas Muller on the bench has to be seen as a mistake. Muller is a player who links up the attack and midfield brilliantly for Bayern and also works harder than any Munich attacker.


When coming up against such a well drilled, hard working outfit you need the personnel to match Atleti’s worth ethic and Muller may have made a difference had he started the game rather than being introduced from the bench.


Arjen Robben’s absence was felt greatly also. While not the most industrious player he possesses the individual brilliance that could have snatched Bayern the all important away goal.


2. Atletico are the real deal in Europe

After their 2014 final heartache against Real Madrid and reaching the quarter-finals of last season’s competition, only to be thwarted again by Real, Atletico have shown that they are one of the best three or four teams in Europe. If they make it through the test to come at the Allianz Arena it will be the second time in three years that Simeone has guided his side to the final.


While they may not have the budget to compete with Real and Barcelona on a year in year out basis their squad, style of play and fine coaching and management makes them a legit contender for the big-eared trophy every year – every year as long as Simeone is there anyway.


1. Bayern to up the pressure next week

While not a huge defeat to overturn Bayern will be keen to get back into the tie as early as possible next week. This should see them attack with more venom right from the first whistle but it will also leave them more open to the counter attack – and Atletico do not need any invitation to hit teams on the break.


Guardiola will have to find a balance perhaps in both personnel and tactics to attack with real intensity while still remaining stable at the back. Jerome Boateng will be fit for the return leg next week and many would expect Muller to start. Munich should be stronger in terms of options for the return leg.


However Simeone will set up his team much like on Wednesday and will look to frustrate Bayern, forcing them into several long range attempts which kept Lewendowski isolated. Bayern will be more susceptible to the break in Munich and one away goal could kill off any real chance they have.

What we learned: 5 things from Manchester City vs Real Madrid


MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – APRIL 26: during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Manchester City FC and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on April 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a cagey 0-0 draw in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at The Etihad Stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo travelled with the rest of the Madrid squad but was not deemed fit enough to even make the bench. With the tie for a place in the final delicately poised heading into the return leg at the Bernabeu. Here are five things we learned from the clash:


  1. Karim Benzema was not fit

As well as Ronaldo Benzema was also a doubt to be fit. Manager Zinedine Zidane opted to roll the dice and start the French forward only for him to be replaced by Jese at half time. Benzema looked slugging in the Manchester City penalty area and his one half chance, a shot on the turn, was bended clear over Joe Hart’s crossbar. The Frenchman limited the Real Madrid attack and was clearly not fit enough to be his usual deadly self. The big question now is will he be fit for Madrid’s home leg next week.


  1. City did not take advantage of Madrid’s lack of creativity

While Benzema did hinder any Madrid creativity, Ronaldo being out was another huge factor in Real Madrid’s lack of creative flair. Such individual brilliance can turn games on their head and Madrid started to look lost for ideas in the second half as their brilliant winger looked on unimpressed from the sidelines.


Manuel Pellegrini’s side had a real chance to attack Madrid and not worry so much about the counter attacking threat. A Gung Ho approach was not to be advised but a more freedom would have been welcome. Perhaps City’s inexperience during the latter stages of the Champions League caused them to ease off slightly but there were several chances in that game to edge ahead in the tie and if Ronaldo and Benzema are fully fit for the return leg it could come back to haunt City.


  1. Madrid respect Man City

Such an experienced campaigner in the latter stages of the competition Real Madrid may have been complacent against such a rookie in the final four. However Zidane’s men showed Sergio Aguero and company a lot of respect often sitting eight or nine men behind the ball when Man City got circulation of the ball in a controlled flow.


Madrid did have their chances but a solid defensive display was the top order of business for Zidane and an away goal was a bonus. Madrid started to grow into the game after the break with Pepe having a solid game at centre half and Modric pulling some of the strings in midfield. There is no doubt Real will be more aggressive in the return leg.


  1. It makes Pellegrini think for the return leg

Madrid will want to be aggressive at home and will hope to have Ronaldo raiding down the flanks but for Pellegrini it will give him something to think about when he comes to his team selection and tactics for the test in Spain. David Silva hobbled out of the game in the first half for Kelechi Iheanacho. Iheanacho’s pace could be used to effect should Silva be unavailable for the second leg.


Equally City could be aggressive in their own way as throughout the first leg they created the better chances with Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero both going close. Although Pepe’s glorious chance towards the end of the game may give City an air of caution.


  1. Manchester City are hungry

While their Premier League title charge has fizzled out and they look to consolidate third spot. City have remained hungry in the Champions League and turned in a dogged display. City pressed hard and hassled Madrid not allowing Luka Modric too many opportunities to impact the game from midfield and isolating Benzema and later Jese.


While they did not throw numbers forward recklessly they did attack with options. When they breached the Madrid penalty area their end product was not at its best but they showed no signs of frustration and stayed disciplined. Not their prettiest performance but an effective one which sees them on the brink of the final. Beating PSG in the quarter finals looks to have instilled belief into Pellegrini’s side that they can lift the trophy inside the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in May.