Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year, New Faces?

Written by Ashwin Raja.

The end of the year always brings with it a feeling of joy and optimism. After all, it's the season of hope and merriment. It's no different for the footballing world either. The teams that are riding on a high will hope to see their form continue, and bear fruit as silverware at the end of the season. On the other hand, those at the deep end of things will be praying for a re-invigoration of spirit; a fresh lease on life so to speak.

The footballing community have not just the opening of the transfer window to look forward to, but also the beginning of a World Cup year. The January window can be an incredibly trying, but also a promising time for clubs and players alike. For clubs, their relative activity or inactivity can make a world of difference whether they are in a title scrap or relegation dog-fight. For players, the choice of club can either make or break them. Take for instance, Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres who both made big money moves in January that proved to be ill-fated. However don't let the stories of Carroll and Torres fool you, there have always been a few diamonds in the rough. Edin Dzeko, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, are just a few.

 Here are eight of the top names that could swap clubs:

1. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid):

Saint Iker, as he is affectionately known by the Madridistas continues to find himself on the bench even after the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti. Such has been the form of Diego Lopez, that he has hardly been able to force his way back into the starting eleven, with the exception of the Champions League matches. With the re-emergence of Victor Valdes, his spot in the Spanish national team that has for a long time been set in stone is now under threat. Nothing but regular playing time can allay his fears.Though he has made public his desire to stay and help Madrid achieve La Decima, he has embraced that a move away would be his best option. Though a permanent move may not be on the cards, a loan is certainly a possibility.

2. Leighton Baines (Everton):

After holding on to their star left back in the summer, Everton's resolve will once again be put to the test as David Moyes will look to infuse some quality into a lack-lustre Manchester United team. Despite Baines being nowhere near his best so far, Everton boast the strongest defense in the Premier League alongside leaders Arsenal and are sitting pretty in 4th spot. Seamus Coleman has been a revelation this season and if Baines does go to United, they can be content knowing they may potentially have a player of his ilk already coming up.

3. Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid):

If there is one constant in football's ever changing landscape, it has to be Atletico Madrid having a world class striker. Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao and now Diego Costa. The powerful Brazilian has been in scintillating form hitting the 20 goal mark in no time at all. Granted that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been hampered by injuries, it still takes something speical to be topping the goal scoring charts half way through the season, and it will not have gone unnoticed by the top clubs in Europe.

4. Koke (Atletico Madrid):

It is rather poetic that Koke, who also goes by his birth-name of Jorge Resurrección Merodio, could be the man that completes the mid-season resurrection of Manchester United. After a horrendous start to the season that many attributed to the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, the glue that has bonded the United dressing room for as long as memory can serve, they have staged a commendable recovery. In the absence of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney has certainly come to the fore. Nonetheless, David Moyes will have noted the appalling lack of creativity in midfield and Koke could be the answer.

5. Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham):

Despite having a below par season the previous year, it came as a bit of a surprise when Manchester United let Berbatov go in the summer of 2012. United's record signing since joining Fulham hasn't set the goal scoring charts ablaze, but has shown flashes of brilliance, albeit too sporadically. His astute awareness, finishing and aerial ability do not seemed to have deserted him however. With Fulham struggling to avoid relegation, Berbatov will certainly be weighing up his options and a move to Arsenal is not unfathomable. With an abundance of flair and creativity in the Gunners' midfield he will not be left wanting of service and at the same time solve their problem of sparse attacking options besides Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, who prefers a wide role rather than the number nine role of late.

6. Adam Lallana (Southampton):

It has been a stellar year for Adam Lallana, having won his first England call up and spear heading Southampton's charge for a top 7 finish. Ever since, Maurecio Pochettino arrived on the south coast, Southampton have been playing some vibrant, attacking football, and none have benefited from that more than Adam Lallana. His natural drive and vision go hand in glove with Pochettino's style of play and he has been a regular goal scorer and creator. His age (25) is also a big point in his favor as he continues to notch up admirers that include Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and David Moyes. It may be a long shot, but if not now, the top clubs will definitely come calling in the summer.

7. Daniel Agger (Liverpool):

Napoli have strongly been linked the Danish center back and could take advantage of his lack of game time at Liverpool. Following a freak gym injury, Agger has had a hard time to break back into the starting eleven as Brendan Rodgers continues to persist with Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel in the center of defense. His allegiance to Liverpool is unquestionable, but a reunion with Rafa Benitez could be tempting as he looks for some game time ahead of the World Cup.

8. Mohamed Salah (FC Basel):

Dubbed the 'Egyptian Messi' in following with the customary tradition these days of likening any up and coming talent with the Argentinian, Mohamed Salah has impressed with a series of consistent, if not spectacular performances for Basel in both the domestic league as well as the Champions League. His performance against Chelsea caught the eye as he tormented the Blues' defense with some real pace and trickery and scored in both legs. Liverpool are believed to firm favorites to snap him up as they look to offset their lack of wide options.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Round of 16 Champions League Draw 2013/14

UEFA recently held their ceremonial drawing of the Champions League round of 16 stage, and there's a variety of enticing draws especially for Arsenal and Manchester City. Here's the results of the draw below:

Manchester City FC v FC Barcelona
Olympiacos FC v Manchester United FC
AC Milan v Club Atlético de Madrid
Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Paris Saint-Germain
Galatasaray AŞ v Chelsea FC
FC Schalke 04 v Real Madrid CF
FC Zenit v Borussia Dortmund
Arsenal FC v FC Bayern München

Although there's a definite excitement about the Arsenal v Bayern and Manchester City v Barcelona, I'm really looking forward to see AC Milan v Atletico Madrid. A stern test for Diego Simeone's team to really start the knockout phase of the competition on a strong foot, and to prove that Atletico Madrid can contend for a variety of silverware. There's also something to be said about Drogba getting a chance to return to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea hasn't quite managed to truly find its groove, but Mourinho will have a chance to show if he can conquer Europe again like he did back with Inter Milan and Porto.

What are your favourite ties? Share your thoughts and predictions in the comments.

Friday, December 6, 2013

2014 FIFA World Cup Groups Drawn... and Possibly Fixed

Is this the toughest group of the 2014 World Cup?
The final draw of the 2014 World Cup groups has been made, and there's a definite certainty for some big nations to face early elimination as a variety of "Groups of death" have been formed. Here are the groups below:

Group A - Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Group B - Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Group C - Colombia, Greece, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan 
Group D - Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy 
Group E - Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Group F - Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria 
Group G - Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Group H - Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic

It's fairly difficult to properly identify which of these groups is truly the "Group of death", groups B, D, and G will be attracting the majority of attention with some big clashes like Spain - Netherlands, Italy - England, and Germany - Portugal. One must consider that various "dark horse" teams like Belgium, Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, and the Ivory Coast are in strong positions to make it out of the group stages, and with the possibility of a few top nations being knocked out early in the groups of death, these groups could lead to one of the most surprising and entertaining World Cups yet.

If all of this isn't enough to get you mildly interested in FIFA's big tournament, perhaps the possibility of this whole draw being fixed (as this Twitter account suggests) will manage to grab your attention. This account tweeted the World Cup groups before the draw, even predicting details like Italy's move from the fourth pot to the second pot. There are some who suggest the account might have tweeted every possible group possibility, and then deleted the incorrect ones, however for now nobody is sure.

With the groups as exciting as they are, what are your early predictions on which teams will make it into the second stage? What are your opinions on the possibility of the draw being fixed? Share your comments below!


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