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Looking at the talent of an exciting Belgium team: Part 1

They may be 40th in FIFA’s latest rankings, but I believe that over the next few    years, Belgium have what it takes to be a team competing at the top. They have some exceptional players in their squad, in all areas and positions. The depth in their squad is also very good and they have many young, talented players coming through their ranks.

Their manager Marc Wilmots, was a tremendous player in his day, featuring in 4 world cups, earning 70 caps for his country and also being the leading goalscorer for Belgium in World Cup history. He took over from Georges Leekens in May, originally on a short-term basis, though he was handed the job full time, on a contract until 2014. As soon as he entered the job as first team coach, his intentions and targets whilst manager was clear. He had an ambition of guiding the Red Devils to the World Cup in 2014.

This is their Era. Belgium have qualified for major tournaments before but they will never have a side as good as they do today, so they must take advantage of it. They shouldn’t live in the past, because this team, has the potential to win tournaments, they have the ingredients to do it. Obviously they needed to alter certain things, but if you look at their options they have in their squad, you cant’t help but feel they are capable of being up their with Spain, Germany and the rest of the big teams. In their friendly with England, just before the Euro’s, this was the game when many started to realise how good this team was. Despite losing 1-0, they were very impressive. Passing the ball, being comfortable on the ball, moving into space, exploiting space, counter attacking well and looking superb. It seemed crazy how they had not even qualified for the Euro’s. I rate their chances of competing at the top so highly, because they could virtually have two teams and they are both capable of producing the same level of performance. Although one is slightly weaker, they still possess players who are extremely talented.

A look at their options of 2 teams.                            

Simon Mignolet – A very steady and reliable goalkeeper, brave and a brilliant shotstopper, his distribution is also very good.

Toby Alderweireld – Usually a centre-back but he is brilliant when deployed as a right-back aswell. Comfortable on the ball and a great reader of the game, he will be a key player for Belgium over the next few years.

Vincent Kompany – Kompany is one of the best defenders around, an excellent tackler and a force in the air, very good at handling and dealing with the very best strikers. Has an important role as skipper and is an influential figure.

Thomas Vermaelen – A very cultured defender, he is very quick with the ball at his feet and has terrific aerial ability. He will attack when he feels he has the chance to and has a sensational partnership with Vincent Kompany.

Jan Vertonghen – Vertonghen is one of the best all around defenders around, very versatile and a defender known for his attacking abilities aswell as defensive. He has good vision and is a great leader on the pitch.

Marouane Fellaini – Fellaini is always a dangerous player for any opposition, so powerful and strong. No-one can ever knock him of the ball, he is a monster in the air and deserves a shot at a major tournament with Belgium.

Axel Witsel – Witsel has recently just moved to Zenit and is a player that I believe is very underrated. He is so calm and assured in possession and has the ability to play through a killer pass. Still only young and will be a key figure if they are to have success over the next few years.

Moussa Dembele – Such a classy player, who’s control on the ball is simply exceptional. He has unbelievable vision and a sublime first touch, he will always threaten to unlock opposition defences and will provide the link from midfield to attack. A big player for Belgium.

Eden Hazard – One of the greatest prospects around, now plying his trade with Chelsea and already taking the Premier League by storm. Blessed with mesmorising dribbling skills and accompanied with blistering pace and confident finishing, fearless and explosive, able to play on either flank, most countries will be gutted he is from Belgium.

Dries Mertens – A player that really impressed me against England, technically and naturally gifted. Very skilful and a real gamechanger with a huge career ahead of him. He was impeccable for PSV in his first season, notching up  21 goals, which I think is outstanding for a winger. I think one of the massive clubs in Europe should take a punt on him.

Romelu Lukaku- I feel he is one of the best youngsters about and it is a real shame he is yet to be given a real chance by Chelsea. Strong, quick and dominant in the air, a nightmare for centre-halfs. He has good movement and a rocket of a left-foot. Can’t believe he is only 19 and it will be great to see how he fares on a big international stage.

This team is predominantly Belgium’s preferred XI and it is full of wonderful players, some of the players are fairly inexperienced, but I think they have a good balance. They have quick, attacking minded players, strong and powerful players, a top goalkeeper and some magnificent readers of the game. In my opinion, this side has the potential to plan an assault on Germany and Spain, but they are not ready just yet as every project takes time. 

Zenit making big deals proves they are the real deal

With the British transfer window closing on Friday night, you may of thought that the so called ‘big deals’ of the summer had already been completed. Infact we were all wrong.

Last night, Russian outfit Zenit St Petersburg splashed out a whopping £64 million on Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel and Porto’s Brazilian winger Hulk.

It has been reported that Zenit had payed around £32 Million for each player, signalling their intent to seriously compete in the Champions League. Both players have previously played in the elite competition in Europe and in my opinion, though the fees are very hefty, they have brought in two very exciting and talented players, who will fit in superbly. Witsel, is a very clever player, usually playing as a deep lying playmaker, who can get box to box. He is a brilliant passer of the ball and I think he will add a little bit of creativity to Zenit, as well as protecting their midfield.

Hulk on the other hand, is regarded as one of the greatest players around. Chelsea were huge admirers of the Brazilian international but were too shy to cough up a huge transfer fee. Porto were virtually a one man team last season and they heavily relied on Hulk throughout the season. He is capable of playing on either wing and can even be deployed as a striker, he is quick, skilful and has a rocket of a left-foot, he really can strike them from distance.

The signing of these players is very pleasing for the supporters of Zenit, but it also really signals the ambition of the club. They are prepared to pay big fees, but not any player, they have brought in two top players, who really will add to the team.

Zenit have been drawn in a very difficult Champions league group alongside Milan, Anderlecht and Malaga, but with these two additions, you get the feeling that they should be able to reach the knockout stages.

This is what Zenit spokesman Dmitri Tsimmerman had to say about the two deals.

“We were trying to sign them before the 3 September deadline for the Champions League so they can play for us in that competition as well as the Russian league,”

If you know look at their squad, it is very frightening, they have a variety of attacking options and they have players with a winning mentality. They are currently top of the Russian Premier League, after playing seven matches so far. Two very smart signings for a club that is now striving towards success, big step into the future for Zenit

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Any Feedback is appreciated on the article!

Follow me on twitter @BackOfTheNetJL

Assessing Rodwell’s performance against Saints

We learnt many things from the blues 3-2 win over Southampton, one is that we just love to win the hard way, 2 is that Samir Nasri has improved vastly and is playing brilliantly, 3 is that David Silva is not a penalty taker and 4 is that signing Jack Rodwell may be a good bit of business, unlike others had claimed.

I have always been a fan of Rodwell since he broke into the Everton starting 11, making his debut at the age of 16. Watching him, he has always looked very comfortable sitting and protecting the defence. He may not chip in with a bunch of goals, but he contributes to the team excellently and will work hard and give 100% every game.

Even before he had played a game for City, I was happy with the signing, because although he is still young and improving, he is a very mature lad and listening to his interview, he seemed very down to earth and happy to be part of the project at City. One moment in his career that always vividly stands out, is his goal against United, his first career goal. He powered past Jonny Evans and calmly slotted the ball past Van der Sar, almost identical to Yaya Toure’s goal in the Semi Final of the Fa Cup at Wembley.

Starting the recent fixture with Southampton, was actually quite a major surprise for Jack and most City fans. He had only trained with his team-mates twice and to make your debut infront of a big crowd at the Etihad, isn’t easy.

So here is an assessment of the youngsters performance:

Passing: His passing looked superb, he was able to play some great short passes into the path of Yaya Toure, Silva and Nasri, aswell as playing some lovely cross field passes. Apart from the one missed-placed pass for the 2nd Saints goal, his passing was very good. It is a good area of your game to have if your going to be playing for City, as they focus on a keeping possession and moving the ball around the pitch quickly. 8/10

Composure: For a 21-year-old to be making his debut for the Premier League Champions, he was so calm and confident when on the ball. He didn’t panic at all and he has good control of the ball, when pressured on the ball, he doesn’t quickly get rid of the ball, he looks up and spots a team-mate in a good position. He may not of had the confidence to take on defenders, but as a Defensive Midfielder, he was very composed on the ball. 7/10

Vision: As a Midfielder, having good vision is what you look for in a Midfielder, and Rodwell has showed that he can pick out team-mates easily on some occasions. He linked up very well with Yaya Toure, and despite starting play from the back and passing backwards to Kompany, Lescott, Clichy and Zabaleta, he also found Silva and Nasri and played some incisive balls into the path of the two mercurial magicians. He is a very intelligent player and his vision clearly shows that. 7/10

Overall Performance: On the whole, I personally think it was a good debut for Rodwell, he was very impressive and showed some promising signs for the season. Apart from one mistake, he was solid, he was committed and determined, everything City fans want in a player. He may not of had the debut that consisted of Samir Nasri providing 3 assists in the game against Spurs, or Aguero’s stunning cameo debut against Swansea, but it is only the start of things to come from Rodwell and if he comes up with more performances like these and improves on other area’s of his games, it could eventually become a excellent signing for the blues. 7/10

Can Leeds achieve promotion without Snodgrass?

Robert Snodgrass has been the main man at Elland Road, for quite some time now and his departure to Premier League side Norwich may be a key factor if they are to fail in their quest to reach England’s top tier. So let’s have a look and see if they are capable of surviving without their former skipper.

Warnock Wonders:

Leeds Boss Neil Warnock has an impressive record with championship clubs and he has sent them on their way to the Premier League on different occasions, most notably with Sheffield United and QPR. He is good man-to-man manager, who sends a crystal clear message across to his players, he may not be obsessed with attractive football, but what he does get out of his players is passion, commitment, desire and a winning mentality. They play for him, they work for him and if they don’t, then they are in for it, come the end of the game. Warnock has brought in many new faces at Leeds, most of which he has managed before and some who have experienced promotion. What he also has is bags of experience, if you look at his squad he has players such as Michael Brown 35-years-old, Adam Drury is 33, Jamie Ashdown is now 31, Danny Pugh (29), Paddy Kenny (34) and Andy Gray (34). It’s not just a bunch of old-heads though, as there are also many exciting youngsters in the ranks aswell such as the versatile Aidy White, Alex Cairns, Jason Pearce and Tom Lees. Warnock will continue to bring in new players if he thinks they are required and as soon as his players arrive, they will understand what he expects of them.

Squad Depth:

Its obvious that Championship sides don’t have the largest of squads, but when you look at Leeds, they have a lot of players in each position, including 6 strikers, 8 midfielders, 9 defenders, players who can play in various role’s, aswell as 4 goalkeepers. There are some top class players in the squad, who can play at Premiership level; they have players who can come in when others are injured and suspended. They have quality in their back up aswell, they don’t want to be throwing a player in, who isn’t really committed to the club and is just there to make up the numbers; so that’s why they have great players in each position. A big squad is needed if you want to make a serious assault on the Championship and that’s what Leeds boast.

Becchio the key man:

It isn’t clear what formation the Whites will play, nor what system, but what is clear is that they have goals up their sleeve. They have many proven goalscorers to offer, although the main man up top is Argentinian Striker Luciano Becchio. Becchio is a natural goalscorer, who can find the net from all angles and distances. He only managed to score 11 goals last season, which was because he was suffering from a hamstring injury. He seems to have moved on from the injury and Neil Warnock is expecting him to recapture his goalscoring exploits.He thrived on the quality service of Snodrgass and now its up to his team-mates to deliver, if you put in a plate for him, he is likely to put it away. Different Combinations of strike partnerships can be tried out, but I believe that it would be best to play with Becchio spearheading the attack and Luke Varney occupying the second-striker role, playing just behind. I feel that Varney and Becchio would work very well together and spring up some goals. Whoever he plays with, Becchio will be a key player for the West Yorkshire outfit

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Leeds have always been a huge club and there home lies in the Premier League, this season is there real chance to achieve Premier League status once again, I believe they have what is required and what it takes to climb back into England’s top division.

Who can fill the void left by Ibra?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a key player for Milan over the years and his departure will have a huge impact on the team, so this article looks at any players, currently at Milan or currently playing elsewhere, who can fill the void that the Swedish striker has left.

Antonio Cassano:

Cassano didn’t play too much football last season for Milan due to a minor-stroke he suffered which put him out of action for 6 months. But when he returned in April, he impressed and force his way into Italy’s Euro 2012 squad. His Record for Milan isn’t brilliant, maybe because his first team opportunites were limited as Pato, Robinho and Ibrahimovic were ahead of him in the pecking order. However, I believe that after a very good Euro 2012 and Ibrahimovic’s move to PSG, we could be seeing Cassano featuring a lot more as from next season. The 30-year-old is a very gifted player, he occupies the role just behind the striker, which he fits the role perfectly due to his vision, awareness and other attributes. It is questionable whether he can step up to the mark and replace Ibrahimovic though, he is an entirely different player and although he’ll start appearing a lot more for the Rossoneri, I don’t believe he is completely the right player to fill the void left.

Alexandre Pato:

At only 22, Pato seems to have been around for a long time. He is still only young and is yet to reach the peak of his career, yet he also has a lot of valuable experience, playing at the top level, in Club World Cup’s and Champions League’s. He is a very pacey forward, who is always a danger to the opposition. He has a very good goalscoring record for Milan, since joining in 2007, he has netted 61 goals for the Italian Club, most of them came in the 2008/09 season, when he contributed with 18 goals, the most amount for a Milan player that season. It was believed that Pato was heading to PSG this summer, but instead Ibrahimovic has been the man who moved to the French Giants, suggesting Pato will remain at Milan, after he committed his future to the Club. In my opinion, Pato is the ideal candidate to succeed Ibrahimovic.

Robinho:

Robinho has performed quite well since moving to Milan in 2010, scoring 20 goals over 2 seasons and forming a sensational partnership with Ibrahimovic. He will be affected the most from the departure of the Swede as they had an understanding when playing together and struck up a prolific partnership, they both scored 14 goals a piece in the 2010/11 season and fired Milan to the Serie A title. Robinho relied on Ibrahimovic massively and looked lost without him, when he was either injured or suspended. Robinho, is very incosistent aswell, he will be absolutely brilliant one game and then very poor the next, you never really know what sort of performance you’ll get from him. I don’t feel has enough about him to really rise  to the challenge and fill the void left by his former strike partner.

El Shaarawy:

El Shaarawy is an extremely talented youngster, probably the second best whizkid around, behind Neymar. He was 1st in My Top 10 Young Talents in Serie A https://thedisguisedpass.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/top-10-young-talents-in-serie-a/ and I reckon that he will become a fantastic player, if he reaches his full potential. He managed to make 22 appearances in Serie A last term, which I think is quite remarkable for a player who is only 19 and is behind some exceptional players in the Milan’s pecking order. His Ability is clear to see, its just whether he can step it up a gear and have the right attitude. He still has time to develop and improve and gain more experience. At the moment I think its too sudden to put too much pressure on El Shaarawy as he’s still learning, right now I don’t think he is ready to feel the pressure of succeeding a player of Ibrahimovic’s calibre and therefore not able to fill the void that Ibra has left, for the time being, although I do feel he definitely will in the long term.

Edin Dzeko:

Dzeko has been somewhat surplus to requirements for Man City last season and has been ‘frozen out’ at the Club.  He is constantly being linked with moves away from the club, despite his agent reiterating his desire to remain at City. The Bosnian International started the season excellently, scoring in the first game of the season against Swansea and running riot at Spurs, with 4 breathtaking goals. As Mario Balotelli returned from Injury, Dzeko began to sit on the bench a little and sat on it even more when Tevez returned. Nevertheless, he still made a huge contribution to City’s title win, scoring 14 goals, providing 3 assists and helping City on their  way to Premier League glory by grabbing the equalizer against QPR. Dzeko would be an ideal replacement for Ibrahimovic, because he is born to score goals, he may not be the most technically gifted of players but he has the natural instinct and knows where the goal is, your typical fox in the box. With either Robinho, Pato, Cassano or El Shaarawy behind him, feeding him and giving him service, he’d score goals for fun. Its just a matter of signing him that is difficult, Juventus are also interested in acquiring the former Wolfsburg man and he may not even to want to leave City. He is the perfect man for Milan but its a question of whether they can bring him in.

Leandro Damiao:

Leandro Damiao is another player that would be ideal for the Rossoneri, but yet again its whether he is available as Internacional’s president Giovanni Luigi has made it clear that he is not for sale. He would offer something very different to the side, as he is a rather old fashioned striker who thrives on top quality service.  He is an exceptional striker, who has good movement and can finish clinically. He would fit in nicely at the San Siro, but again it is whether a transfer can be secured.

Carlos Tevez:

Tevez was very close to signing for Milan in January, but a transfer couldn’t be agreed as Milan were put off by City’s asking price. It still seems very unlikely for Tevez to join now, especially with him now returning to city and apologizing to Roberto Mancini. Milan are still interested in signing the Argentine, realistically though, they simply can’t afford his transfer fee or his wages, he has always been a successful player wherever he has played and won over the fans, he is a top, top player and it would be outstanding to sell Ibra and bring in Tevez as his replacement, but I honestly cannot see that happening.

Milan really need to act swiftly to bring in a replacement for Ibrahimovic or hope that one of their own players can shine as from next season, or else they will begin to slowly melt and fade away from the giant Club that they are, it was a very bad decision to agree to sell 2 of your most important players and they must redeem themselves by buying a big, top class striker, if they don’t I really can’t see them challenging for Top 4 in Serie A, never mind the title.

PSG – Ready to dominate European Football?

There are many terrific teams in Europe, some with some phenomenal players who achieved so much in the game, some with exciting players with big futures ahead and some teams with exceptional resources and funds, PSG certainly fit into all three categories and here is an article on the French Giants project to dominate European Football.

PSG had been hanging around in European Football since 1970, when Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain merged to form Paris’s main football club. They had very successful periods in the 80’s, where they captured the French Cup in 1982 and 1983 as well as securing their first league title In 1986. Greater Success followed as the next decade provided even more silverware, they won the Coupe De France in the 1993, 1995 and 1998, added the UEFA Cup Winners Cup to their trophy room in 96, reached the UEFA champions league semi-finals and got to same stage in the UEFA Cup twice. The claimed the French League title for the 2nd time in 1994, won the Coupe De La Ligue twice in 95 and 1998 and won the Trophy Des Champions the same amount of times in the same years. Because of their dominance, PSG were ranked the best club in the world in 94, 98 by IFFHS and was also named the best team by UEFA.

Les Parisiens continued to achieve success in the 2000’s, by winning the Coupe De La Ligue a further 3 times, winning the Coupe de France 3 times and also claiming the UEFA intertoto Cup in 2001. But PSG hit a bad period, they finished 9th twice on the trot from 2004 – 2006, the next season was even worse as they finished the 2006/07 season in 15th place, without a trophy and only 3 places above the relegation zone. Things kind of improved in 2007/08, they won the League Cup, reached the French Cup Final, but only narrowly avoided relegation and eventually ended the campaign in 16th position. The Club improved step by step the following season and finished in a respectable 6th place finish.

But a drastic change occurred in 2011, as a mega-rich Qatari investment consortium bought the club and vowed to build a club capable of winning the Champions League, they acquired some illustrious names to their squad such as Javier Pastore, Jeremy Menez, Maxwell, Kevin Gameiro, Mohammed Sissoko, Diego Lugano, Alex, Thiago Motta,Ezequiel Lavezzi, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They finished the 2011/12 season in 2nd  place with 79 points, achieving automatic Champions League qualification.

PSG are here to stay, they have followed in the footsteps of Manchester City and have attracted many big stars and tempted them to join the on-going project, the funds available are outstanding and we can expect more quality players to be brought in. They have an excellent manager in Carlo Ancelotti, who has vast experience managing at the very top level, he has achieved success with every club he has managed and it will be no different with PSG. They also have former A.C Milan and Inter manager Leonardo as Director of Football and he is involved at the heart of the project and responsible for some of the marquee signings.

Signing A.C Milan duo Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a massive statement of intent that the club are heading in the right direction, their line-up for next season looks frightening, and they may not be finished in the transfer market yet, we can all expect PSG to attempt to compete with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as dominate French Football and one day they may reach European Football domination.

Follow me on twitter: @BackOfTheNetJL

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