It's a Knockaert

The ramblings of a football obsessive and Game of Thrones nerd.


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Which league could field the best all-star XI?

All-Star games are something that features in a lot of sports, and in some of the world’s football leagues such as the MLS and the Australian A-League. They have not yet featured in European football, but if there was to be an all-star competition between Europe’s four best leagues, who would feature for each league, and who would win? Here I have selected my all-star teams for the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga. Let me know how you would have done it differently, and who you think would win!

English Premier League

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Teams featured: 6 (Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea, Liverpool)

Nationalities featured: 7

Domestic players: 1

La Liga

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Teams featured: 2 (Real Madrid, Barcelona)

Nationalities featured: 5

Domestic players: 6

Serie A

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Teams featured: 4 (Juventus, Roma, Fiorentina, Napoli)

Nationalities featured: 7

Domestic players: 5

Bundesliga

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Teams featured: 2 (Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund)

Nationalities featured: 7

Domestic players: 5

All four of these teams look incredible, it’s very hard to pick a best one but I believe that the La Liga team would beat the others, partly because they have Messi and Ronaldo working together. Let me know which you think is the best on the poll below, and leave a comment if you disagree with my team selections.


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Can Kevin De Bruyne help Wolfsburg back to the top?

It has now been 5 years since VfL Wolfsburg surprisingly won their first Bundesliga title in record breaking fashion, and it is fair to say the years since that moment have been turbulent at best.

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That title in the 2008/09 season was the club’s first and so far only major trophy, and they won it in emphatic fashion – equalling a record 10 game winning streak and becoming the first Bundesliga team to have 2 strikers score more than 20 goals each. One match from that season will live long in the memory – a 5-1 demolition of the mighty Bayern Munich, at a time when Bayern were ahead of Wolfsburg only on goal difference. Bayern weren’t at their best that season, but were still expected to win the league. This win marked them as serious challengers, and put them into first place where they stayed until the season ended. That game also saw Grafite score one of the greatest goals in Bundesliga history.

Despite managing to keep all their key players, Wolfsburg’s 2009/10 campaign was a great disappointment, finishing a lowly 8th and failing to get into the knockout round of the Champions League. Edin Dzeko continued to play brilliantly however, scoring 22 league goals, and began to be recognised as a world-class striker.

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Move into 2010/11, and things went from bad to worse. First they lost key creative player Zvjezdan Misimovic to Galatasaray, then in January Dzeko departed to Manchester City for £27million, and key defender Andrea Barzagli went to Juventus. Large transfer fees had been spent to bring in Brazilian playmaker Diego, Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic and Danish defender Simon Kjaer, but Wolfsburg finished a dismal 15th in the Bundesliga, narrowly avoiding relegation. An incredibly rapid decline for the club from Lower Saxony. Diego was considered one of the best playmakers in the world at the time, but he had a bust-up with the management and, along with Kjaer was packed out on loan.

The 2011/12 season began, and Grafite left the club for Al-Ahli, meaning the key components of the title-winning side were all gone. Diego and Kjaer were sent on loan to Atletico Madrid and Roma respectively. Despite this, Wolfsburg drastically improved in this season, finishing 8th. Mario Mandzukic had a strong season, and then went on to impress at Euro 2012, and seal a move to Bayern Munich.

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This improvement did not seem to continue in 2012/13 however, as they made a poor start in the league. However, things changed when unpopular manager Felix Magath was sacked. Diego, who had returned from his loan, and had a history of run-ins with Magath, was returned to the team and immediately began to show the kind of form that made him one of the world’s most coveted players. He scored 10 league goals that season, as VfL finished in 11th place, not a remarkable final position, but with their much improved form in the second half of the season, they were optimistic of having a strong season this year, 2013/14.

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And that brings us to this season. The transfer window saw the departure of Simon Kjaer, and numerous other players from a bloated and expensive squad. Brazilian international Luiz Gustavo arrived for a club-record fee from Bayern Munich, despite strong interest from Arsenal and Chelsea. There were also several young players expected to break into the first team, namely Maxi Arnold, Robin Knoche and Julian Brandt. Brandt is considered one of Germany’s best young talents, but Wolfsburg were unable to hold on to him and he left for Bayer Leverkusen.

The season began indifferently, with the Wolves winning all their home games and losing all their away games. They also showed an astonishing lack of disipline, with 2 red cards on the opening day fixture, and 2 more in the next 5 games. However, after claiming their first away win at Augsburg on October 20, Wolfsburg have been unbeaten, claiming 7 wins and 4 draws, including a 2-1 win against Borussia Dortmund. They now sit in 5th place, and only 2 points off a Champions League spot. Diego has been flourishing in his new role on the wing, Maxi Arnold has been having a breakthrough season, and young left back Ricardo Rodriguez is rated by whoscored.com as the 5th best player in the whole of Europe this season.

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And now, in the January transfer window, the Wolves have made a big statement of intent to go for the top 4 by breaking their transfer record once again to sign Kevin De Bruyne from Chelsea for around £17million. With Diego’s contract expiring at the end of the season, it has been suggested KDB is a replacement, but should VfL manage to return to the Champions League, it remains possible that he could renew. The team is bursting in creativity now, all they need is a consistent striker in the vein of Edin Dzeko. Someone like.. Edin Dzeko! It has been reported that with him not a guaranteed starter at Manchester City, the big Bosnian could make a sensational return to the club where he made his name. With his contract expiring in 2015, City will likely be forced to sell this summer, and if chairman Klaus Allofs continues to show this current ambition, it could definitely happen. If it does, then Europe had better watch out for the return of the wolves.

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Game of Thrones Season 3: My Top Ten Moments

If it was difficult to pick just ten moments from seasons one and two, then season three was almost impossible. I was quite surprised that this season seemed to have the most amazing moments, as before I did these lists I considered it to be my least favourite season, but now I’m not sure. So, here are my ten favourite moments from season three. Spoilers of course.

10. Tywin V Olenna

The heads of the two most powerful families in Westeros, and arguably the two most formidable characters are sure to clash at some point, and the result is just as enthralling as you would expect. Neither of these characters are used to being refused, and in the end it is Tywin who gets his way.

9. Robbwind

The immediate aftermath of the Red Wedding is almost as harrowing as the wedding itself – Stark men being butchered everywhere, flags being burnt, and of course the foul mutilation of Robb’s corpse. Not the first thing Arya would have liked to see when she woke up.

8. Davos frees Gendry

I like this scene because it’s something that happens very rarely in Westeros – someone doing the right thing, and an innocent character escaping a gruesome end. Davos and Gendry are two of the few characters who can be called good people.

7. Rickon and Bran go their separate ways

If you didn’t feel a bit choked up when Rickon leaves Bran, then you must have a heart of stone. The youngest Starks provide some very emotional scenes over the course of the show, and this one tops the lot.

6. Gendry realises who he is

Another heart-warming moment with Gendry, who thought all his life he was just a nobody realises he is the son of king.

5. Robb executes Lord Karstark

The continuation of the Stark’s tradition of being too damn honourable for their own good. Executing Karstark was the right thing to do, so Robb felt he had no choice, but this was just one of his blunders that culminated in his demise.

4. Reek is born

Poor Theon’s life has been getting worse and worse since the start of season two, and this is as low as it gets for him, as he is stripped of not only his body parts but his dignity. He tries to resist, but the final little bit of fight is ripped away from him – and Reek is born.

3. The Red Wedding

Without doubt the most memorable and shocking moment, but it can’t be called my favourite moment because it was just so painful to watch and hear.

2. Jaime and Brienne in the bear pit

The first time we can see that Jaime is a changed man – risking his life to save a woman he can hardly stand to be around most of the time. And given this show’s history, my heart was in my mouth when the bear charged at him – unlike most shows, I truly didn’t know if we would get out of there alive. That’s what makes this whole series so special.

1. ‘By what right does the wolf judge the lion? By what right?’

I simply love this scene. Jaime reveals why he really killed the Mad King, and curses Ned Stark for never listening to his side of the story. A wonderful performance from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and from that moment Jaime has always been my favourite character.

So that concludes my top ten moments of each season of Game of Thrones so far. You can expect to see much more in the run up to and during season four.


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Game of Thrones Season 2: My Top Ten Moments

On to season two now, the best season in the opinion of most so it was very difficult to narrow down just ten moments. Spoilers obviously.

10. Yoren goes out heroically

Definitely one of the best death scenes in the show, Yoren takes a crossbow bolt through the heart, but then manages to take down several Lannister soldiers before they finally finish him off.

9. Valar Morghulis

Arya’s final encounter with the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar. He offers to take her to Braavos to learn how to be a Faceless Man, but she has to decline, to my dismay and I’m sure lots of others.

8. Tyrion and Lancel 

There aren’t as many funny moments in season two as in one, but Tyrion’s repeated manipulation of the hapless Lancel is one of them.

7. Stannis after the battle

Stannis seems to finally come to terms with what he has done, and expresses his regret that he killed his brother. Melisandre gets him to look into the flames, and whatever he sees must have been both awesome and terrifying.

6. ‘Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.’

Nothing Theon does goes how he wants it to. He didn’t want to kill Ser Rodrik, but Dagmer convinced him he must, and he didn’t want to look like a coward so he did it himself, but made a mess of it.

5. White Walkers

The final scene of the series was certainly a memorable one, and a terrific cliffhanger as we see the white walkers and their army of wights descending on the unsuspecting Night’s watch.

4. Theon “kills” Bran and Rickon

Maester Luwin’s scream is truly haunting, and the look in Theon’s eyes as he realises just what he has done is brutal, making us really think that the Stark boys are dead.

3. Theon’s speech

First there is Theon’s darkly humorous and heartbreaking talk with Maester Luwin, and then his brilliant speech to his men encouraging them to go out in a blaze of glory. Unfortunately for him they had other ideas.

2. Jaime and Brienne’s first encounter

Our first scene with one of the best double-acts in any TV show or book series. Two polar opposite human beings who create a hilarious couple, their scenes only get better in the next season.

1. ‘You are a lion. You mustn’t be afraid’

This scene has everything. Cersei’s superb monologue over the end of the battle, with Tyrion bleeding in the mud, Stannis having to be dragged away, and finally Tywin and Loras Tyrell coming in to save the city.


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Game of Thrones Season 1: My Top Ten Moments

There hasn’t been anywhere near enough Game of Thrones content on this blog so far, so I’m going to change that with three posts counting down my ten favourite moments for each of the three seasons we’ve had so far, starting now with season one. There will obviously be spoilers, so don’t read if you don’t want anything spoilt.

10. The King’s too fat for his armour

A comical moment that shows the great friendship between Ned and Robert, and the complete haplessness of Lancel Lannister, being sent off for the non-existent ‘breastplate stretcher’. This is almost the last time Ned and Robert will be able to laugh together, as this is just before events take a rapid downward spiral.

9. The Mountain V The Hound 

The first real fight scene of the series didn’t disappoint, as the Clegane brothers square off after an ugly end to Ser Gregor’s joust with Ser Loras.

8. ‘You Wouldn’t Know Him’

One of Bronn’s classic one liners, as he is being introduced to Tyrion’s seriously unimpressed father. The look in Tywin’s eyes as he sees the sorts of people his son has for allies is fantastic.

7. Tywin and Jaime

This is our first introduction to Lord Tywin, and it is made very clear what kind of man he is: nothing is more important than the family name, and anyone bringing it to disrepute needs to sort themselves out. Jaime for once can’t think of anything to say, he retreats in a stunned silence after hearing some harsh truths.

6. Bronn V Ser Vardis

Another gripping fight scene – although at this point we don’t know anything about either of the participants, Bronn is fighting for Tyrion’s life, which makes it very important to us that he wins. When he cunningly defeats Ser Vardis with speed and dexterity, he is accused of not fighting with honour. “No” he admits, gesturing down the Moon door. “He did.”

5. Tyrion meets the Hill Tribesmen

Definitely one of the funniest moments in the whole show, we see just how clever and witty Tyrion is, as he convinces Shagga, son of Dolf, who is nothing more than a savage, to escort him through the Vale of Arryn with his quick thinking.

4. The King in the North

No matter which family has your allegiance, you can’t help but be inspired by Robb’s bannerman declaring him King in the North. A heart warming and quite emotional scene, quite heart wrenching by Theon’s pledge of allegiance when we know what is to come.

3. Ned’s Death

Without question the most notorious moment in season one, and a famous moment in television history. It is almost unprecedented for a main character, played by the headline actor to be killed off in the first season, and the manner of it was even more unbelievable: Ned betrayed everything he stood for by lying, and then Joffrey revealed his true colours by going back on his promise to be merciful.

2. Love is the death of duty

A great monologue from a very underrated character in Maester Aemon that really hits home for me and I’m sure a lot of other people as well. Not only that, but the reveal of the ancient Maester’s true identity as one of the last Targaryens.

1. ‘Are you a brother of the Night’s Watch, or a bastard boy who wants to play at war?’

The final scene with Jon and the Night’s Watch from season one, and my favourite speech so far on the show from Commander Mormont, set against the chilling backdrop of the black brothers marching out beyond the wall. It is one of the few scenes that still gives me goosebumps over a year after seeing it for the first time. My favourite moment of season one.


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The Best of the Rest in La Liga

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For a long time now, La Liga has been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona, leading many to dismiss it as a boring, two-team league. Atletico Madrid are now starting to match them, but the gulf between these three teams and the other 17 is not getting any smaller. With these three teams dominating not only Spain but Europe as well, it has meant that a lot of talented players from La Liga are going unappreciated when they deserve to be recognised as the quality players they are. So, here is my La Liga XI, not including any players from Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid.

Goalkeeper: Willy Caballero – Malaga

Willy Cabellero was one of Malaga’s stand out players in their run the the Champions League quarter-finals, pulling off heroic saves in the games against Dortmund. He has been strongly linked with a move to Manchester City, where he would be reunited with former manager Manuel Pellegrini, and Malaga are said to want £12million for him, a serious amount of money for a 32-year old, which shows how highly he is valued by the Andalucian club.

Right-back: Hugo Mallo – Celta Vigo

22-year old Mallo broke into Celta’s first team in 2011 and has been one of their more impressive players in a difficult period for the club. He missed seven months of the last campaign with injury, but is now back in the team and linked with a move to Everton or Manchester United. He has also played in Spain’s under-21 side, and he has been touted as the replacement for Alvaro Arbeloa.

Centre-back: Inigo Martinez – Real Sociedad

Real Sociedad surprised everyone last season with their 4th placed finish in La Liga, and defensive rock Inigo Martinez was one of their stand-out players. Still only 22 years old, Barcelona want him as a replacement for Carlos Puyol, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are also interested, and he has been named in Spain’s senior squad. It would take a very large transfer fee to convince Sociedad to sell, but should they fail to retain their place in the Champions League it may be necessary.

Centre-back: Mateo Musacchio – Villarreal

Villarreal have taken to life back in La Liga as if they never left, picking up their impressive performances from before they were relegated. 23-year old Argentine centre back Musacchio has been a big reason for their success, which has inevitable led to him being linked with Real Madrid and Chelsea. There is some confusion over the player’s contract – some say it expires at the end of the season, but the Villarreal president says he is contracted until 2018, and that interested clubs will have to pay 50million Euros to sign him.

Left-back: Juan Bernat – Valencia

Juan Bernat

Juan Bernat has filled the role left by Jordi Alba brilliantly, and is one of Spain’s most promising young players. He is very similar in style to Alba, at home playing left back or left midfield, and the academy product is a firm fan favourite. With Valencia struggling in the league, it remains to be seen how long they can hold on to their talented youth product.

Centre-midfield: Benat – Athletic Bilbao

Benat was the best player at Real Betis last season, as they managed to qualify for the Europa League. That they now sit rock bottom after selling him shows how important he was, and it was something of a surprise that he signed for Athletic Bilbao, a club who finished 5 places below Betis. He has also gained 4 caps for Spain, no easy feat when you consider the midfield talent they have available.

Centre-midfield: Ruben Pardo – Real Sociedad

Only 21 years old, Ruben Pardo has admirably filled the hole left in Sociedad’s midfield by the £30million departure of Asier Illarramendi. With an impressive 2 goals and 5 assists in 11 starts in the league this season, he is one of the clubs most prized assets and has been called the next Xabi Alonso. It won’t be long before he is starting every game for them.

Right-wing: Carlos Vela

No stranger to Premier League fans, having spent 6 seasons as an Arsenal player, albeit most of them out on loan, Vela has looked like the player we all thought he could be since moving to Sociedad. He has made himself at home on the right wing, a departure from his normal position up front, but it has paid dividends with 34 goals in 86 league games for them. It is rumoured that Arsenal have an option to buy him back for just £3.5million, and with them crying out for another striker, they could do a lot worse than turning to a former player – although whether he would want to return to a club where he wasn’t given much of a chance is another matter.

Attacking Midfield: Ivan Rakitic – Sevilla

According to whoscored.com, Ivan Rakitic has statistically been the 9th best player in the whole of Europe so far this season, with an impressive 8 goals and 6 assists in 17 league games. The Croatian is now the club captain, and is a very versatile player who has played also in defensive midfield and on the wing.

Left-wing: Antoine Griezmann – Real Sociedad

Yet another Sociedad player, and probably the best known player on this team, young Frenchman Griezmann has been impressing in Spain for a while before he caught the world’s attention with a spectacular overhead kick goal against Lyon in this season Champions League qualifiers. This season has been his best yet, with an excellent record of 12 goals in 17 games in the league, and it seems his days at Sociedad may be limited, as Manchester United and PSG are waiting in the wings. He needs to work on his crossing however, and only has 2 assists to his name this season, but if he can then he will be a big player for France and a major club in the years to come.

Striker: Giovani dos Santos – Villarreal

Another player who wasn’t given the chance to show what he can do for a Premier League club, Dos Santos has reinvented himself as a striker at Villarreal and repaid his transfer fee with 8 goals and 5 assists in his 16 league appearances. He put in a remarkable showing on the day I am writing this, contributing 2 goals and 2 assists in a 5-1 crushing of Real Sociedad, becoming the first player in the history of Villarreal to contribute to 4 goals in one game. His talent was never in question as he would always impress for Mexico, but it has taken Giovani a while to find his home at club level, and found it he now has at El Submarino Amarillo.


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Can Milan Turn It Around In 2014?

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AC Milan began 2014 with a 3-0 win over Atalanta, with two goals from Kaka – his 100 and 101st for the club – and a first goal for 18-year-old Bryan Cristante, making his full professional debut. Under-fire manager Massimiliano Allegri called the game a relegation dogfight – something Milan fans would have never dreamed they would be a part of, but the fact was that before the game, they were only 1 point ahead of their Lombardy rivals, and were in the bottom half of the table. The win lifts them up to 10th, but they are still a million miles away from where one of Italy’s greatest clubs should be. The first half of this season was simply a disaster for Milan, amassing only 4 wins in 17 games, although they somehow managed to scrape into the knockout stages of the Champions League. So what was going so wrong for them, and can they fix it in the coming year?

Poor Transfer Window

Milan were criticised in the summer of 2012 for selling star players Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and for releasing several experienced players. This summer wasn’t much better, as they failed to address the problem areas, overspent on flop Alessandro Matri, and brought in players far below the calibre they are used to, like Valter Birsa and Matias Silvestre. The players they needed were a centre-back, and a creative midfielder – and they have already addressed these two areas in the very early days of the January window, sigining Keisuke Honda on a free transfer from CSKA Moscow, and Adil Rami on loan from Valencia. This suggests that whoever is in charge of transfers has learnt a harsh lesson from and moved quickly to fix things.

‘Youth Revolution’

Towards the end of last season when Milan had turned their form around, thanks to the young talents of Mattia De Sciglio, Stephan El Shaarawy, Mario Balotelli and M’baye Niang, Milan were hailed for putting their trust in youth. The latter three were expected to spearhead Milan’s attack for the next decade, but the so-called youth revolution failed to continue this season. El Shaarawy had many niggling injury problems, and even when fit was rarely selected to start. De Sciglio also missed several months injured, but is now back in the team. M’baye Niang also struggled to get into the team, making only one start before being sent on loan to Montpellier this January. Balotelli failed to continue his prolific form he had shown since he left Manchester City. Milan also had several new young talents expecting to break into the first team this season, namely Bryan Cristante, the creative midfielder they desperately needed, Andrea Petagna and Riccardo Saponara. Cristante made his first start of the season against Atalanta and managed to score, so perhaps he will be given more chances in the second half of the season.

Puzzling Team Selections and Substitutions

‘Count Max’ as some Milan fans have taken to calling their manager, has repeatedly perplexed them by selecting out-of-form or simply not good enough players. The likes of Constant, Zaccardo, Nocerino, Muntari, Birsa, Matri and Robinho have been out of form for a long time, or should never have been signed in the first place. It is even more aggravating when they are being selected over promising youngsters like Niang and Cristante. The general consensus is that Allegri is on borrowed time, and he seems certain to be gone by the end of the season at the latest, if not sooner. Should he go, Andre Villas-Boas has been suggested as a replacement.

Milan’s problems are great, but if they can put their trust in youth, get rid of the poor players in their squad and bring in a few more quality players, there is no reason why they cannot make a late charge up the table like last season, although the Champions League is likely beyond them. It may require the replacement of their much-maligned manager, but if that is what it takes then the Milan hierarchy should waste no time.

Best Milan XI:

Abbiati

Abate – Mexes – Rami – De Sciglio

Montolivo – De Jong/Cristante

Honda – Kaka – El Shaarawy

Balotelli