It's a Knockaert

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


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My Top 100 Footballers 2016

It’s that time of year when I cast aside all essays and assignments, and bring to you my totally unscientific, totally biased, top 100 footballers list. Prepare for hot takes.

100. Aymeric Laporte – Athletic Bilbao and France (NEW)

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99. Serge Aurier – Paris Saint-Germain and Ivory Coast (NEW)

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98. Riyad Mahrez – Leicester City and Algeria (NEW)

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97. Daniele De Rossi – Roma and Italy (Down 30)

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96. Mateo Kovacic – Real Madrid and Croatia (NEW)

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95. Mario Gotze – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Down 40)

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94. Samir Handanovic – Inter Milan and Slovenia (Down 18)

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93. Yaya Toure – Manchester City and Ivory Coast (Down 58)

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92. Adrien Rabiot – Paris Saint-Germain and France (NEW)

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91. Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea and Spain (Down 50)

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90. Blaise Matuidi – Paris Saint-Germain and France (Down 24)

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89. Vincent Kompany (Down 26)

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88. Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan and Italy (NEW)

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87. Ever Banega – Inter Milan and Argentina (NEW)

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86. Yannick Carrasco – Atletico Madrid and Belgium (NEW)

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85. Edinson Cavani – Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay (Down 32)

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84. Saul Niguez – Atletico Madrid and Spain (NEW)

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83. Fernandinho – Manchester City and Brazil (NEW)

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82. Dani Carvajal – Real Madrid and Spain (NEW)

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81. Douglas Costa – Bayern Munich and Brazil (Down 35)

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80. Nemanja Matic – Chelsea and Serbia (Down 21)

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79. Filipe Luis – Atletico Madrid and Brazil (NEW)

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78. Samuel Umtiti – Barcelona and France (NEW)

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77. Juan Mata – Manchester United and Spain (Down 27)

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76. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea and Belgium (Down 56)

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75. Julian Weigl – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (NEW)

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74. Gabi – Atletico Madrid and Spain (NEW)

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73. Radja Nainggolan – Roma and Belgium (Up 4)

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72. Marek Hamsik – Napoli and Slovakia (Up 3)

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71. Claudio Marchisio – Juventus and Italy (Up 3)

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70. Mauro Icardi – Inter Milan and Argentina (Up 2)

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69. Giorgio Chiellini – Juventus and Italy (Up 1)

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68. Alexandre Lacazette – Lyon and France (Up 13)

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67. Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Manchester United and Armenia (Down 7)

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66. Joshua Kimmich – Bayern Munich and Germany (NEW)

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65. Mohamed Salah – Roma and Egypt (NEW)

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64. Philipp Lahm – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 47)

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63. David De Gea – Manchester United and Spain (Down 12)

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62. Miralem Pjanic – Juventus and Bosnia (Down 19)

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61. Mats Hummels – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 4)

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60. Andrea Barzagli – Juventus and Italy (NEW)

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59. Arjen Robben – Bayern Munich and Netherlands (Down 44)

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58. Paul Pogba – Manchester United and France (Down 28)

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57. Javier Mascherano – Barcelona and Argentina (Down 24)

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56. James Rodriguez – Real Madrid and Colombia (Down 32)

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55. Marco Reus – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Down 28)

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54. Roberto Firmino – Liverpool and Brazil (Up 33)

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53. Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea and Spain (Up 8)

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52. Raphael Varane – Real Madrid and France (Up 27)

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51. Franck Ribery – Bayern Munich and France (Up 11)

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50. Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool and Brazil (Up 50)

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49. Isco – Real Madrid and Spain (Down 7)

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48. Gerard Pique – Barcelona and Spain (Down 4)

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47. Xabi Alonso – Bayern Munich and Spain (Up 5)

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46. Angel Di Maria – Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina (Down 27)

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45. Keylor Navas – Real Madrid and Costa Rica (Down 17)

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44. Harry Kane – Tottenham and England (Up 46)

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43. Dimitri Payet – West Ham United and France (NEW)

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42. Pepe – Real Madrid and Portugal (NEW)

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41. Ilkay Gundogan – Manchester City and Germany (Down 7)

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40. Thiago – Bayern Munich and Spain (Up 24)

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39. David Silva – Manchester City and Spain (Down 23)

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38. Ivan Rakitic – Barcelona and Croatia (Down 7)

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37. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus and Italy (Up 58)

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36. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid and France (Up 2)

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35. Thomas Muller – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 25)

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34. Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal and Chile (Up 14)

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33. Paulo Dybala – Juventus and Argentina (Up 55)

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32. N’golo Kante – Chelsea and France (NEW)

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31. Jan Oblak – Atletico Madrid and Slovenia (NEW)

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30. Thiago Silva – Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil (Down 16)

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29. Marco Verratti – Paris Saint-Germain and Italy (Down 3)

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28. David Alaba – Bayern Munich and Austria (Down 3)

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27. Koke – Atletico Madrid and Spain (Up 12)

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26. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid and Spain (Up 21)

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25. Diego Costa – Chelsea and Spain (Up 29)

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24. Jerome Boateng – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 2)

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23. Marcelo – Real Madrid and Brazil (Up 17)

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22. Arturo Vidal – Bayern Munich and Chile (Down 4)

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21. Gonzalo Higuain – Juventus and Argentina (Up 15)

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20. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Borussia Dortmund and Gabon (Up 12)

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19. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Manchester United and Sweden (Down 10)

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18. Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus and Italy (NEW)

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17. Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid and Uruguay (Up 12)

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16. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City and Argentina (Down 11)

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15. Mesut Ozil – Arsenal and Germany (Down 3)

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14. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona and Spain (Down 8)

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13. Gareth Bale – Real Madrid and Wales (Up 36)

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12. Antoine Griezmann – Atletico Madrid and France (Up 33)

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11. Sergio Busquets – Barcelona and Spain (Down 3)

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10. Eden Hazard – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 13)

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9. Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 2)

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8. Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City and Belgium (Up 29)

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7. Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich and Poland (Up 6)

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6. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid and Portugal (Down 2)

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5. Neymar – Barcelona and Brazil (Down 3)

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4. Toni Kroos – Real Madrid and Germany (Up 17)

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3. Luka Modric – Real Madrid and Croatia (Up 8)

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2. Luis Suarez – Barcelona and Uruguay (Up 1)

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1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina

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Fin.

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11 Truly Underrated Players

The word ‘underrated’ has become misused in football. The same old players are always mentioned, to the extent that they are no longer underrated, but overrated if anything. A truly underrated player is someone who consistently plays well, but doesn’t receive much attention for it. So with that in mind, here are 11 players who could be called truly underrated.

Nabil Fekir – Lyon and France, CAM/ST, 21

The subject of an international tussle between Algeria and France, Nabil Fekir has elected to represent France, the country of his birth. He has been overshadowed by the remarkable scoring exploits of team-mate Alexandre Lacazette, but he has been just as crucial to Lyon’s good season. Capable of playing as an attacking midfielder or a striker, he has 11 goals and 7 assists in Ligue 1 this season. Probably the best-known player on this list, he is destined for great things.

Nicola Sansone – Sassuolo and Italy, LW, 23

Sassuolo have defied expectations of a swift relegation and become a solid mid-table side in Serie A over the last two seasons. Their first choice XI features ten Italian players, and the attacking trident of Sansone, Zaza and Berardi has attracted rave reviews. Sansone is the least heralded of these three, An inside forward with a powerful long-range shot, it would not be a huge surprise to see him called up by the Azzurri in time to come.

Franco Vazquez – Palermo and Italy, CAM/ST, 26

Another Serie A player who is overshadowed by a team-mate is Franco Vazquez of Palermo. His partnership with Paulo Dybala has been described as mesmerising, and unlike anything else in Serie A. He is the top assister in Serie A this season, with 9 assists, as well as 7 goals. Despite being born in Argentina, he has just accepted his first call up to the senior Italian team. When Dybala inevitable moves on in the summer, his new club would do well to consider bringing Vazquez in as well.

Robin Knoche – Wolfsburg and Germany, CB, 22

Wolfsburg have been having an excellent season, and the strong centre-back partnership of Naldo and Knoche is a big reason for it. A local lad who came through Wolfsburg’s academy, he has been a regular for the last two seasons and is rumoured to be close to a call up to the world champions’ senior squad. Knoche boasts maturity beyond his years with his calmness in possession and ability to position himself perfectly.

Jordan Amavi – Nice and France, LB, 21

France seem to have an endless conveyer belt of talented young left backs, Amavi has both the attacking and defensive qualities to make it ahead of competitors such as Lucas Digne and Layvin Kurzawa. Already a regular for OGC Nice, he also currently holds a place in whoscored.com’s Team of the Season.

Wissam Ben Yedder – Toulouse and France, ST, 24

Toulouse are currently staring down the barrel of relegation from Ligue 1, and should they suffer that fate there will be a long queue of teams interested in striker Ben Yedder. The player of Tunisian descent managed to score over 15 goals in each of the last two seasons, and currently stands on 10 for this season. He has skill and speed in abundance, but he is also decent in the air. His biggest problem is consistency.

Nolito – Celta Vigo and Spain, LW, 28

The La Masia graduate has found his home at Celta Vigo, after bouncing around various clubs for most of his career. 14 goals last season led to a debut cap for Spain, and he has followed that up with 8 goals and 8 assists this season. Lots of players struggle after leaving Barcelona, but Nolito has thrived.

Giannelli Imbula – Marseille and France, DM, 22

Marcelo Bielsa has revolutionised Marseille this season, and Imbula has been ever-present for them this season. Chelsea were reportedly prepared to part with £25m to acquire his services. A tough-tackling holding player, he is also strong in possession and excellent at carrying the ball forward. Eligible to play for the Democratic Republic of Congo or Belgium, he has elected to represent France, and should do just that in the near future.

Denis Cheryshev – Villarreal and Russia, LW, 24

Russian winger Cheryshev has been Villarreal’s player of the season so far, and has impressed so much that Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, from whom he is on loan, has said he plans to incorporate him into his first team next season. He has an impressive 9 assists, and after a long time spent at Castilla, next season could finally be the time for his Bernabeu breakthrough.

Allan – Udinese and Brazil, CM, 24

Udinese have a fantastic track record of turning unknown South Americans into stars, and combative midfielder Allan has the potential to be the next. An excellent all-rounder, he has been crucial for the Zebrette this season, and has been linked with both Milan clubs. He is Serie A’s top tackler, averaging 4.6 per game, but he is also a skilful attacker.

Felipe Anderson – Lazio and Brazil, LW/RW, 21

Formerly Neymar’s partner in crime at Santos, Anderson will not remain an unknown for much longer, as on current form he is arguable the best player in Italy. He struggled with injury and form in his debut season for Lazio, but this season he has become absolutely crucial. Despite only starting 12 games, he has 8 goals and 6 assists so far. He has spectacular pace and dribbling ability, as well as a lethal long shot, as evidenced by his wonderful goal in the Rome derby. He is also equally comfortable on either foot. This array of attributes, as well as his young age, should propel him to a brilliant career.


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My Top 100 Footballers 2014

After the release of FourFourTwo’s annual ranking of the top 100 footballers currently playing, I was prompted to compile my own ranking, following on from last year. It’s impossible that a perfect ranking could be created that everyone agrees with, because it’s entirely based on opinion, but here is my list for this year anyway. It isn’t based on who had the best 2014, simply who I think the best players are overall right now. In brackets is how their position has changed from last year’s list, which you can find here: https://mattdale95.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/my-top-100-footballers-2013/

100. Radja Nainggolan – Roma and Belgium (NEW)

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99. Memphis Depay – PSV Eindhoven and Holland (NEW)

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98. Marc-Andre ter Stegen – Barcelona and Germany (NEW)

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97. Alessio Cerci – Atletico Madrid and Italy (NEW)

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96. Mathieu Valbuena – Dynamo Moscow and France (No move)

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95. Daley Blind – Manchester United and Holland (NEW)

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94. Santi Cazorla – Arsenal and Spain (Down 35)

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93. Simon Kjaer – Lille and Denmark (NEW)

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92. Luiz Gustavo – Wolfsburg and Brazil (NEW)

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91. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Borussia Dortmund and Gabon (NEW)

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90. Giuseppe Rossi – Fiorentina and Italy (Down 19)

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89. Jose Callejon – Napoli and Spain (NEW)

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88. Jackson Martinez – Porto and Colombia (NEW)

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87. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus and Italy (Up 3)

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86. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – Schalke and Holland (NEW)

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85. Borja Valero – Fiorentina and Spain (Down 24)

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84. Stevan Jovetic – Manchester City and Montenegro (NEW)

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83. Marco Verratti – Paris Saint-Germain and Italy (NEW)

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82. Carlos Vela – Real Sociedad and Mexico (NEW)

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81. Marcelo – Real Madrid and Brazil (Down 25)

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80. Daniel Sturridge  – Liverpool and England (NEW)

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79. Ilkay Gundogan – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Down 11)

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78. Antoine Griezmann – Atletico Madrid and France (Up 19)

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77. Antonio Candreva – Lazio and Italy (NEW)

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76. Kevin De Bruyne – Wolfsburg and Belgium (NEW)

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75. Blaise Matuidi – Paris Saint-Germain and France (No move)

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74. Samir Handanovic – Inter Milan and Slovenia (NEW)

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73. Mario Mandzukic – Atletico Madrid and Croatia (NEW)

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72. Kevin Strootman – Roma and Holland (NEW)

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71. Lukasz Piszczek – Borussia Dortmund and Poland (NEW)

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70. Oscar – Chelsea and Brazil (Down 24)

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69. Andrea Pirlo – Juventus and Italy (Down 25)

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68. Marek Hamsik – Napoli and Slovakia (Down 38)

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67. Raphael Varane – Real Madrid and France (Up 3)

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66. Arda Turan – Atletico Madrid and Turkey (NEW)

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65. Gonzalo Higuain – Napoli and Argentina (Down 33)

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64. Vincent Kompany – Manchester City and Belgium (Down 31)

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63. Giorgio Chiellini – Juventus and Italy (Down 23)

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62. Juan Cuadrado – Fiorentina and Colombia (NEW)

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61. Paul Pogba – Juventus and France (Down 20)

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60. Roberto Firmino – Hoffenheim and Brazil (NEW)

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59. Wayne Rooney – Manchester United and England (Up 15)

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58. Daniele De Rossi – Roma and Italy (Down 21)

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57. Hugo Lloris – Tottenham and France (Down 6)

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56. Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City and Argentina (Up 16)

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55. Ricardo Rodriguez – Wolfsburg and Switzerland (NEW)

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54. David De Gea – Manchester United and Spain (NEW)

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53. Robin van Persie – Manchester United and Holland (Down 29)

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52. Carlos Tevez – Juventus and Argentina (Up 46)

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51. Nemanja Matic – Chelsea and Serbia (NEW)

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50. Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea and Spain (NEW)

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49. Javi Martinez – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 20)

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48. Xabi Alonso – Bayern Munich and Spain (Down 1)

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47. Franck Ribery – Bayern Munich and France (Down 41)

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46. Juan Mata – Manchester United and Spain (Down 21)

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45. Mehdi Benatia – Bayern Munich and Morocco (Up 13)

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44. Mesut Ozil – Arsenal and Germany (Down 30)

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43. David Alaba – Bayern Munich and Austria (Up 2)

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42. Radamel Falcao – Manchester United and Colombia (Down 23)

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41. Miralem Pjanic – Roma and Bosnia (NEW)

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40. Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 3)

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39. Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal and Chile (Up 15)

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38. Edinson Cavani – Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay (Down 21)

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37. James Rodriguez – Real Madrid and Colombia (NEW)

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36. Gareth Bale – Real Madrid and Wales (Down 20)

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35. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid and France (Up 7)

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34. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid and Spain (Up 15)

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33. Marco Reus – Borussia Dortmund and Germany (Up 5)

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32. Javier Mascherano – Barcelona and Argentina (Up 37)

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31. Ivan Rakitic – Barcelona and Croatia (NEW)

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30. Eden Hazard – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 22)

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29. Mario Gotze – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 5)

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28. Bastian Schweinsteiger – Bayern Munich and Germany (Down 8)

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27. David Silva – Manchester City and Spain (No move)

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26. Koke – Atletico Madrid and Spain (Up 51)

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25. Diego Costa – Chelsea and Spain (Up 23)

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24. Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich and Poland (Down 12)

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23. Isco – Real Madrid and Spain (Down 5)

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22. Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid and Uruguay (NEW)

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21. Yaya Toure – Manchester City and Ivory Coast (Down 12)

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20. Arturo Vidal – Juventus and Chile (Down 7)

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19. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea and Belgium (Up 38)

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18. Jerome Boateng – Bayern Munich and Germany (NEW)

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17. Cesc Fabregas – Chelsea and Spain (Down 2)

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16. Thomas Muller –  Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 34)

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15. Angel Di Maria – Manchester United and Argentina (Up 21)

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14. Arjen Robben – Bayern Munich and Holland (Up 21)

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13. Sergio Busquets – Barcelona and Spain (Up 10)

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12. Toni Kroos – Real Madrid and Germany (Up 14)

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11. Neymar – Barcelona and Brazil (Down 1)

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10. Thiago Silva – Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil (Down 3)

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9. Luka Modric – Real Madrid and Croatia (Up 19)

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8. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona and Spain (Down 5)

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7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden (Down 2)

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6. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City and Argentina (Up 15)

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5. Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 17)

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4. Philipp Lahm – Bayern Munich and Germany (Up 4)

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3. Luis Suarez – Barcelona and Uruguay (Up 1)

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2. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid and Portugal (No move)

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1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina (No move)

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European Team of the Season

All of Europe’s major leagues have drawn to a close, and it is that time when we look back and reflect on the star performers over the last 9 months. There have been many players bursting onto the scene this season, many upcoming young players enhancing their reputations, and many established stars continuing to do what they do best. Here are my picks for the best players across the five major leagues.

GK: Thibaut Courtois, Atletico Madrid

The Belgian keeper, still only 22 years old, has progressed more than anyone could have imagined in his three years on loan in Madrid from Chelsea. This season has been simply incredible for Madrid’s second club, as they won their first La Liga title since 1996, and were within  a few minutes of winning a first ever Champions League. Diego Costa grabbed the headlines for them, but equally as important was their outstanding defence and goalkeeper. As Courtois won’t be able to return to Atletico next season due to the rule forbidding players from spending more than three years on loan at the same club during one contract, he is at something of a crossroads in his career. He has stated that he has no emotional attachment to parent club Chelsea, and as one of the world’s best keepers he would not be prepared to be the understudy to Petr Cech. He had been linked with Barcelona, but their capture of fellow young keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen seems to have scuppered any chance of him moving there. There is always the chance Atletico could sign him permanently, but would Chelsea be prepared to let him leave? The most likely outcome is that he will return to Chelsea and become their number one, and Petr Cech will move on.

RB: Serge Aurier, Toulouse

He might not be the most famous name, but the versatile Ivorian Aurier has had as good a season as anyone. The attacking right back has contributed 6 goals and 6 assists in the league for Toulouse, which is a record any full back would be proud of. He has also played at centre back and right midfield. Aurier is only 21 still, and is set to play at the World Cup for the Ivory Coast, which will see his stock rise even more if he puts in a good showing. Toulouse only finished 9th in Ligue 1, so it is unlikely they will be able to hold on to him over the summer. He has been strongly linked with Arsenal as a replacement for the departing Bacary Sagna, and if they were to be able to sign him, it would be a very smart piece of business.

CB: Diego Godin, Atletico Madrid

Another crucial member of Atletico Madrid’s squad is the Uruguayan defender Diego Godin, who has been described as their John Terry due to his willingness to throw himself in front of anything. He has a perfect partnership with Miranda, and there is very little between the two of them. The team conceded only 26 goals in their 38 league games thanks mainly to this pair and the keeper behind them. They put in the defensive performance of their lives in the Champions League final, keeping Real at bay for 92 minutes, and it was so close to being enough to win them the trophy.

CB: Mehdi Benatia, Roma

In the first 10 rounds of Serie A, Roma won every single game, and somehow conceded just a single goal in those 10 games. A big reason for that is Moroccan defender Benatia, a summer arrival from Udinese for around £10million. He is arguably now worth around three times that. Last season Roma were excellent going forward but hopeless at the back, and after bringing in Benatia to solve that problem, they were able to return to the Champions League, and for much of the season, they were pushing Juventus all the way for the title. Sadly for Roma, Benatia seems set on a move away to Barcelona. If he were to make that move, it would be exactly the signing Barcelona need to make to return to challenging for the Champions League.

LB: Ricardo Rodriguez, Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg had their best season in a long time, and a big part of that was the 21-year old full back Rodriguez. Rodriguez has excellent stats for a full back, scoring 5 goals and making 9 assists in the Bundesliga, and he is considered one of the best crossers of a ball in the game. Next season, with Wolfsburg in the Europa League, he will get to show what he can do on the European stage, and more people will stand up and take notice of him.

DM: Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich

The captain of last season’s treble winners has always been one of the most consistent players in the world. That was no different this season, and he took to playing in a new position as if he was born to it. Traditionally a full back, he played mainly as a defensive midfielder this season, and did it so well he kept Javi Martinez, one of the world’s best defensive midfielders, out of the team. Pep Guardiola has called him the most intelligent player he has ever coached – high praise from a man who has coached geniuses such as Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. Sergio Busquets was credited as one of the most important players for Barcelona under Guardiola, and Lahm has all the attributes to play the same role for him at Bayern.

CM: Yaya Toure, Manchester City

In 2010, Manchester City spent £28million on a defensive midfielder called Yaya Toure. This year, that same Yaya Toure finished as the top scorer in a squad containing Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo. He has been transformed from a decent defensive midfielder into a colossal attacking powerhouse. The goal he scored in the penultimate game of City’s title-winning season, summed up his season, when he picked the ball up deep in his own half, and just run all the way down the pitch, shrugging off challenge after challenge, and expertly finishing it off. He has also become something of a free kick specialist this season, and to have finished with 20 goals in the league is simply remarkable for a midfielder. The best business City could do this summer is convince him to stay, because he is simply irreplaceable.

CM: Angel Di Maria, Real Madrid

The arrival of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid seemed to signal the end of Di Maria’s time at the club. 9 months on, Di Maria arguably outshined the Welshman, playing in a different position and still managing to contribute 17 assists in La Liga. He was named man of the match in the Champions League final against Atletico, a game when Bale and Ronaldo were virtually anonymous. After being seemingly discarded by Real, he emerged as one of their most important players.

RW: Alexis Sanchez, Barcelona

Alexis has constantly been outshone at Barcelona by his more glamorous team mates, and with the arrival of Neymar this summer, many didn’t think he would get a look in any more. Despite an excellent season when he scored 19 goals and made 10 assists in the league, he continues to be unappreciated by Barcelona, with them reportedly offering him to other clubs to make room for new signings. Whoever signs him will be getting a brilliant player at probably a bargain price.

LW: Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

After being continually outshone by Lionel Messi ever since he moved to Spain, this was the season when Ronaldo finally stepped out from behind Messi’s shadow. With the little Argentine sidelined by injury for several months, Ronaldo took the opportunity to fire Real Madrid to the Champion’s League title, scoring a record 17 goals in the competition. and a total of 51 goals in 47 games. His statistics since joining Real Madrid continue to defy logic, and now the argument for who the best player in the world is is more difficult than ever before.

ST: Luis Suarez, Liverpool

Love him or loathe him – and most people do the latter – Luis Suarez was easily the best player in the Premier League this season, and almost single-handedly dragged Liverpool to what would have been an unbelievable title win. His 31 goals and 12 assists in the league are even more remarkable considering he missed the first 6 games of the season, and they were enough to win him the Player of the Year award. And yet he came so close to leaving Liverpool before the season started – some Liverpool fans were even hoping he would leave after bringing so much controversy to the club. Those people have almost certainly changed their minds about him now, even if does still infuriate many with his diving antics.

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GK: Keylor Navas, Levante

It was a big surprise when the Costa Rican Navas was named in La Liga’s team of the season over Courtois, but it was totally deserved. In his first season as a first choice keeper in La Liga, he kept 15 clean sheets for mid-table Levante.

CB: Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid

It was his last-gasp goal in the Champions League final that allowed Real to go on and win in extra time, and that was the pinnacle of a season when many believe he proved himself as the best defender in the world.

RB: Seamus Coleman, Everton

Coleman, and Leighton Baines on the opposite flank, were a major reason for Everton’s excellent season, and at £60k he is one of the best bargains in football.

CM: Arturo Vidal, Juventus

While Juventus continue to dominate in Italy, they flopped in European competition this season, despite Vidal’s heroics. He is a very well-rounded footballer, scoring 11 league goals and also defending very well.

LW: Antoine Griezmann, Real Sociedad

The Frenchman who has spent his whole career so far in Spain had his best season yet, scoring 16 league goals. and scored an incredible overhead kick to take Sociedad into the Champions League group stage. At only 23, he will only get better.

RW: Eden Hazard, Chelsea

Hazard improved on his first season at Chelsea, scoring 14 goals and assisting 7. He was also crucial in their run to the Champions League semi finals.

ST: Lionel Messi, Barcelona

He may have had a ‘below-par’ season in the minds of some, but Messi was still the second-highest scoring player in Europe behind Ronaldo, with 36 goals in 38 games. He now heads to a World Cup many are tipping Argentina to win, and if he were to help them do so, he would surely go down as the best player of all time.


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Facing the Abyss: Five Teams in Danger of Relegation

All across Europe, teams near the foot of their respective leagues are starting to panic as the prospect of relegation becomes more and more likely. Relegation is disastrous for any football club, but even more so in the current financial climate, as the loss in revenue can be crippling and it is not uncommon for teams to go into administration, or even go out of business after dropping out of their country’s top division. This season, there are several teams in real danger of relegation that you might not have expected to be back in August.

English Premier League: Fulham and Sunderland

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Fulham and Sunderland are two of those teams that always flirt with relegation at some point in the season, but eventually the quality in their relatively expensive squads lifts them out of danger into a boring mid-table position. This season however, they have both been in trouble since the first day and are running out of time to sort things out.

Fulham

After 13 years in the Premier League, which has included a run to the Europa League final and escaping relegation on the final day, Fulham look to have run out of steam and inspiration. A squad with players such as Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz, Scott Parker and Lewis Holtby ought to be well clear, but some of those players have been accused of laziness and lacking the ‘fight’ for a relegation battle. As such, Barbatov and Ruiz were shipped out in January and they broke their transfer record to sign Konstantinos Mitroglou – who has gone on to make just two appearances. Sacking two managers also hasn’t helped with stability – Rene Meulensteen replaced Martin Jol in December, who only had 16 days of experience as the main man at a football club, and he was then replaced by notorious megalomaniac Felix Magath, the first German manager to take charge of a Premier League club. The Cottagers are currently five points from safety, but they are at a disadvantage because of their significantly worse goal difference, and have also player more games than the sides just outside the bottom three. As it stands, they look the most likely team to drop out.

Sunderland

Despite several magical moments provided by the on-loan striker Fabio Borini – including a late winner in the Tyne-Wear derby, a winning goal against Chelsea and putting the Black Cats ahead against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final – Sunderland have had a very disappointing season. They took a big gamble in appointing the unpredictable Paolo Di Canio as boss, and it has backfired spectacularly. After splashing the cash on several little-known players from obscure foreign teams, he then fell out with his players and was sacked after just five games in which they mustered only one point. They appointed Gus Poyet to replace him, who had done well at Brighton in the Championship but results haven’t improved enough to lift them out of danger. They currently have home games remaining against fellow strugglers Swansea, West Brom and Cardiff, coupled with away games at Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City and Spurs, so they simply have to win their home games if they are to survive. Currently four points from safety, but with a game in hand on several of their rivals, they have shown this season that they can pull off a shock win when they need to – but will they be able to do enough?

Bundesliga: Hamburg and Stuttgart

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Stuttgart and Hamburg are two of Germany’s biggest and most storied clubs, but they are both in danger of the drop. Stuttgart were Bundesliga champions as recently as 2007, while Hamburg have been in the Bundesliga since World War One, and have never been relegated from the top flight.

Stuttgart

The five-time champions Stuttgart have missed only two seasons of the Bundesliga since it’s conception in 1963. They surrendered a two goal lead to lose to Dortmund at the weekend, and have only one win in 2014. They face Bayern, Schalke and Wolfsburg in their last six games, they need to get something from their next game against Freiburg to try and kickstart a comeback.

Hamburg

German legend Franz Beckanbauer has said it would be ‘unthinkable’ to see Hamburg in the Bundesliga 2, and with players like Rafael van der Vaart in their squad it would be a huge shock to see them go down for the first time in their history. They and Stuttgart are both only two points from safety, so they still have their future in their hands.

La Liga: Real Betis

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After last season’s 7th placed finish and entry into the Europa League, Betis seemed to be heading in the right direction. It has all gone very badly wrong this season, following the sale of star man Benat and the long-term injury of star striker Ruben Castro. Popular manager Pepe Mel, who led the club out of the Segunda and into Europe was sacked, their President has recently resigned and they are still in administration. All the signs of a club in chaos. The only highlight of their season was a decent Europa League run, but that ended in heart breaking circumstances – a penalty shootout defeat to bitter city rivals Sevilla. A massive eight points from safety with seven games to play, if they were to escape the drop it would be one of the most dramatic turnarounds in football history – but they have been looking more like their old selves lately, so don’t right them off just yet.


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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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