Champions League 2017 final in Cardiff could give English teams a platform for success

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The final of the biggest club competition in world football is expected to come back to Britain for the third time in six years, however, not to the capital.

Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is the current favourite to host the 2017 final with UEFA likely to announce their decision in Prague on the 29th June.

If the decision were to go in the way of the Welsh national venue, it would give English clubs another stab at winning the competition on home soil and to catch up with Spanish and German clubs in European competition.

This would be hugely beneficial to the Premier League after a transitional period where England’s dominant club, Manchester United, failed to make the Champions League for the first time since 1995/96. In the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons no English team progressed beyond the last 16; a dismal portrayal of English football in comparison to the 1999-2011 era, where at least two Premier League teams reached the quarter finals in 10 out of the 12 seasons.

The last Champions League outing at Wembley in 2013 was solely represented by Germany, as Bayern Munich triumphed over Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund. Two years earlier, Man United made their way to the capital to face Barcelona, but were outclassed by Pep Guardiola’s unstoppable Barcelona.

European football has been dominated by the Spaniards in recent times and they have proved a giant obstacle for English clubs. Despite winning two of the last four Premier League titles, big spenders Manchester City have consistently struggled in Europe and became the seventh English club to be knocked out by Real Madrid or Barcelona in the last six years.

Although winning two Champions Leagues and appearing in finals, Premier League teams seem to come unstuck against the Goliath figures of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid. When you look at the domestic leagues however, the Premier League has higher calibre of competition, fiercer rivalries and a greater portfolio of players compared to others in Europe; so why do they struggle when reaching the knockout stages after the turn of the year?

A difference between the leagues is the winter break applied by other countries. When the February knockout stage comes around, other European big guns come fresh from a two week break. English teams have come straight out the back of a gruelling Christmas fixture list, playing two games over three days in some cases.

Cardiff’s 74,500-seater stadium missed out on its bid to host Euro 2020 matches, however has proven it can host these momentous occasions as it did whilst hosting the Football League play-offs and FA Cup finals between 2001 and 2006.

This year’s final was held in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, while next year’s final will be held at the San Siro in Milan. English teams must show a substancial improvement in next year’s competition in order to start dominating the continent as they did in the 2000’s, and withstand any chance of glory in Cardiff by the time 2017 comes around.

Acca tips- Gameweek 23

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Last week we were one Bournemouth goal away from a huge 44/1 FA Cup upsets Acca, after Middlesbrough beat Manchester City and Bolton earned a replay with Liverpool. The Premier League is back this week and we have a tasty accumulator to add more excitement to the weekend’s action…

Palace to beat Everton @ 7/4

The dreaded penalty spot has caused the Toffees plenty of misfortune in the past few weeks. After being dumped out of the FA Cup on spot kicks, Kevin Mirallas saw his saved when they came up against West Brom a week later, denying them a much needed win. Whatever Alan Pardew is conducting at Selhurst Park it seems to be working. With tree wins on the trot after coming from behind and the trio of Dwight Gayle, Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon in inspired form, we can’t see Everton being the team to bring Pardew’s steam-train to a sudden halt.

Villa no goals vs Arsenal @ 4/7

Yes they scored a couple versus lower league opposition at the weekend, but we can’t see Aston Villa grabbing any headlines versus an Arsenal side on the up in what’s been a topsy turvy season for them. There seems to be a real bore- factor surrounding Paul Lambert’s side, and they’re far from the Villa of old who, with the likes of John Carew, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and James Milner, were challenging for European places each season. Arsenal’s injuries woes are almost behind them and they boast a mouth-watering attack; the only question is who will Wenger chose?

Southampton to beat Swansea @ 4/7

Swansea come straight off the back of a five-goal thrashing by the League leaders Chelsea and a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup. Whilst Southampton also lost in the Cup, they have begun to find their form again in the League after a dip in form during a tricky set of fixtures just before the festive period. It’s no secret that the Saint’s hold the meanest defensive record in the league, and with start striker Wilfried Bony off to Champions Manchester City, we envision Garry monk’s men coming up short at Saint Mary’s.

Total- 4 fold @ 6/1

Mid-season Fantasy Football Scouting report- Gameweek 22

Where has 2014 gone? We are now into the second half of the season and injuries, suspensions and run of fixtures are taking their toll on struggling teams, on top of the loss of key men to the African Cup of Nations. Here is a round up of upcoming key battles and how to utilise your use of transfers/wildcards…

Finding a goal scorer at Villa Park…

For a team with 11 goals scored since the season began, Aston Villa aren’t fairing too bad in 13th place. Narrow 1-0 victories have kept them in a solid position going into the back end of the season; however it is unlikely the same scoring form in 2015 will keep them there. Main goal threat Christian Benteke has been back for a while now and will be looking to use his recent average form as a spring to terrorise the shaky Liverpool defence; who have shipped 27 goals past them already this season. Holding on for dear life and squandering opportunities has been a familiar tale for Liverpool this season and looking at Brendan Rodgers’ attacking options you wouldn’t expect them to be sitting on a goal difference of plus two. If Liverpool can’t find goal scorer and become unsettled, Benteke could be the man to unlock the defence and be in for a field day.

Kane is able…

…to lead Tottenham into rekindling their impressive form. The inform striker for the inform team (minus the Selhurst blip) will be hoping to keep the Spurs marching on Versus Gus Poyet’s Sunderland – who find them 17th in the form table and 16th in the Barclays Premier League. In front of the White Hart Lane faithful and with a £5.8 million price tag, Harry Kane is well worth a punt considering the amount of misfiring strikers almost double his asking price. With seven goals each, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli are also worth a thought in the short term. When Spurs are high flying they can compete with any midfielder, however inconsistency may overshadow this good form in coming weeks.

Hamer over Schwarzer…

When Mark Schwarzer signed for Leicester on the 2nd January, Ben Hamer had conceded seven goals in five games and was under huge pressure after the injury to number one Kasper Schmeichel. However, as soon as the Aussie came in Hamer and his backline have had a complete transformation, shutting out Hull, Newcastle and Aston Villa on their way to 1-0 victories. Stoke are lacking a prolific goalscorer this season, but seem to share the accolades between Mame Biram Diouf (5 goals), Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters (4 goals) and Bojan Krkic (3 goals). If Mark Hughes doesn’t measure his attacking options right, Leicester could be on their way to a fourth clean sheet in five games.

Potential midfield diamond for United on their travels…

After the unsatisfying performance against Southampton using his beloved 5-3-2 formation, Van Gaal may opt for a 4-4-2 against QPR. With another week’s training under his belt, Marcos Rojo is likely to come back in to the team alongside Michael Carrick at the back- this change will allow Daley Blind to push forward and play the most defensive position in a midfield diamond. This formation has seen Man United flourish this season with the right players available, plus the manager has plenty of options in attack with Radamel Falcao and Marouane Fallaini possibly coming into the starting Xl. Of the midfield quartet, it is Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria – virtually unchallenged for the number ten role- who hold the greatest threat at Loftus road, both from open play and set pieces.

Back five a risk for the Swans…

Chelsea have failed to find the net only once this season – an unwelcoming stat for any Fantasy manager with one of the Swansea back four, who haven’t kept a clean sheet in four games. Now that there is light between them and City in second place, Jose Mourinho’s men will not put on the breaks once they find the back of the net and we could be in for another goal fest- as was the case in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge, where the Blues ran out 4-2 winners. Safety first would see any Swansea defenders dropped to the bench for this Gameweek, before reinjecting them into the team for games they would deem winnable versus Southampton, Sunderland and West Brom. The likes of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa are not to be taken lightly and have already proven that they deserve their place in the overall Dream Team this season.

The future’s bright, the future’s Pardew…

After the comeback versus Tottenham and the talk of Alan Pardew’s attacking style, little seems to be going wrong for the South London outfit. Looking to their next four fixtures and they are up against teams who have leaked goals at the back, starting with a tricky, however hopeful trip to Burnley. then Everton, Leicester and Newcastle. With an asking price of just £5 million, Dwight Gayle is sure to be on everyone fingertips along with Wilfried Zaha, who sparkled after coming off the bench versus Spurs and topped it off with a fine assist.

Saints utilising defence to defend 3rd place…

It’s North vs South when these two meet at St James’ Park with Southampton on the up, and Newcastle spiraling downwards. The best defence in the league take on the manager-less Geordies, who have failed to score in the last two matches. The Saints are on a six game unbeaten run, conquering top four rivals Man United and Arsenal in the process. Dusan Tadic will be hoping for a starting position after his match winning display at Old Trafford, however it is in the defensive areas where points could be picked up. At under £6 million each, wing-backs Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne will bomb forward and provide for Graziano Pelle, whilst knowing they have a more than capable defensive structure to shut Newcastle out in this fixture for the 3rd time in a row- the previous 2 finishing 4-0 to Southampton.

Injuries a real concern for struggling Hull…

With record signing Abel Hernandez and top scorer Nikica Jelavic out for the foreseeable future, it’s difficult to see who will come up with the goods for Hull – especially against a well-drilled West Ham side. Enner Valencia could be the man to step up into Diafra Sakho’s scoring boots, after scoring the opening goal in the midweek FA Cup triumph over Everton. It was the Ecuadorian forwards first strike in front of the home crowd, and he will be looking for similar link up play leading to that goal with the man mountain that is Andy Carroll, whilst praying Stewart Downing’s sweet left foot delivers – as it has done all season. These three are the main goal threat for the Hammers and are all at a reasonable price at under £7 million.

Exploiting the hole in front of Arsenals back four…

In the stand-out clash in Gameweek 22, we see a well-documented problem for Arsenal – who have a dismal record against clubs challenging for the title. If they were going challenge the physical strength of Man City, they’d need a proven defensive midfield player, something they have lacked since the days of Gilberto Silva. With Mikel Arteta injured, Arsene Wengers options are Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky, both of whom will find it difficult keeping up with the fast paced movement and creativity of Silva and the physicality of his accompanying team mates. Despite not coming away with three points, Silva was instrumental last weekend against Everton, creating pockets of space for others as well as typical creative flair in City’s attacks. At £9.4 million the 29-year-old doesn’t come cheap, but he is a consistent performer if he stays away from injury troubles.

Will Saido be celebrating?…

Monday night’s game has great potential for both Saido Berahino and Romelu Lukaku, who will be looking to continue their good form since the turn of the year. Lukaku has already scored against West Brom this season and will be eager to show the away fans what they are missing. The Belgian scored 17 in 35 games for the Baggies but has struggled for goals so far in the League. In recent games however, Everton have been forced to pump the ball forward to the big man, and Lukaku looks dangerous once again. At the other end of the pitch is a great finisher with five goals in his last two games. The last thing on Berahino’s mind is a celebration – the kid just wants to find the back of the net. New boss Tony Pulis has stated he will not be sold, so expect his name on the score sheet for Baggies a lot more in the coming weeks.

A look back at the great Arsenal vs United rivalry

These two clubs dominated domestic football in the late 90’s/ 2000’s and created some of the biggest rivalries in the English game. When the fixture lists come out in the summer Arsenal vs United is always one to watch out for, whether you’re a neutral or a die hard fan. Here we take a look at some of the factors contributing to the rivalry…

1998 Charity Shield

Arsenal won both the FA Cup and the Premier League and so faced 2nd place United in the Charity Shield at Wembley. Both starting XIs contained some future world stars; United consisted of the Class of 92, whereas Arsenal’s Dutch and French imports stole the show with Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka getting on the scoresheet as Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners. This was the start of a period of dominance for the Gunners and a growing rivalry between Wenger and Ferguson.

Crossing the Divide

In this instance, Robin Van Persie vs Danny Welbeck. Other greats like David Platt and Andy Cole have played for both, but when Arsenal lost RVP to bitter rivals United it was the captain and the Premier League’s top scorer they stole; Arsenal fans are yet to get over this.

Van Persie topped it all off by becoming top scorer again the next season, scoring against his former club in the process. This season however, most of the talk is around the excitement of Welbeck; Who’s goals and assists have proven vital for Arsenal already since joining from United.

Who’ll come out on top, the Manchester born and life long United fan or the traitor?

“PizzaGate” (2004)

The game that ended Arsenal’s invincible’s 49 game unbeaten run, but it was off the pitch that grabbed all the headlines. At full time there was a full on bust up when the other Flying Dutchman Van Nistelrooy told his boss that Wenger had been having a go at him all game and of course, the angry Scotsman confronted the him causing a braul in the tunnel; which resulted in Cesc Fabregas launching a slice of pizza at Sir Alex’s face.

It makes you think, there needs to be more CCTV around the grounds… Half the nation would have paid to see this!

Man United 8 – 2 Arsenal (2011)

August 2011 saw Fergies boys tear Arsenal apart at Old Trafford, with an average at best United team. A Rooney hat trick and Ashley Young’s best game for the club sealed the victory, in which Sir Alex didn’t even bother celebrating half of the goals. Wenger admitted he was ‘humiliated’ by the result. Last season the Gunners still struggled against the top clubs being thrashed by Liverpool, Chelsea and City.

Man Utd 0 – 0 Arsenal (2003)

At 0-0, a last minute sending off for Paddy Vieira resulting in a United penalty was every United fans dream, but the spot kick was missed by Van Nistelrooy, resulting in Keown, Lauren, Parlour and Cole all verbally abusing and jumping on the Dutchman.

Six Arsenal and two United players were charged with improper conduct from the aftermath of the missed penalty and Arsenal would carry on being unbeaten for 49 games. Van Nistelrooy had the last laugh a year on, scoring a penalty and ending Arsenal’s run.

United Arsenal Champions league Semi final (2009)

Arsenal and United had had enough of each other by the time the Champions League Semi Final came around in 2009 having played in the FA Cup, League and 2 Champions League clashes all in a short space of time. United were already 1-0 up from the first leg, and were unstoppable at the Emirates winning 3-1 thanks to an early Ji-Sung Park goal (who always had a blinder against Arsenal) and a Cristiano Ronaldo brace.

Ryan Giggs FA Cup Semi final (1999)

One of the greatest goals ever by the most decorated footballer on the planet. After a sloppy pass from Vieira, Giggs took the ball in his own half and with pure determination flew passed the sorry Arsenal backline before smashing it past Seaman into roof of the net. United were down to 10 men and counted on Schmeichel to save a last minute penalty. In a game that had everything, United ran out 2-1 winners and Giggs added to his legendary status he was building at the time.