Adam Grimshaw

The key to Solskjær’s success at United is this

It couldn’t have gone better for Manchester United’s new interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, winning 1-5 away to Cardiff in his first match in charge.

It’s been a whirlwind of a week for the Norwegian, who openly declared that he was supposed to be spending Christmas at his parents’ up until just a few days ago.

The former United forward is a club legend after spending 11 seasons with the Reds and earning numerous honours under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson.

All the big hitters were present

It’s no surprise then that Solskjær has admitted to contacting Sir Alex not long after he was appointed interim manager stating, ‘I’ve already been in touch with him - there’s no one better to get advice from’.

In fact Solskjær hasn’t just sought out advice from Ferguson, who he’s no doubt likely to meet in the hallways of Old Trafford. He revealed that since a serious injury in 2003 how he kept a sharp eye out for how the Scot handled specific situations, no doubt with a view to emulating him as a manager. Well, this is his chance.

Solskjær has demonstrated how he’s a chip off the old block already in his opening match with United. His United team was the first since Ferguson to score five goals in a match. It’s surely no coincidence.

The Theatre of Dreams is poised and ready

But Solskjær himself has admitted that the result against Cardiff was all down to the players. He’s spoken of the unbelievable quality and the talent he has at his disposal, but also the importance of their work rate, which will be the key to success.

Incredibly, the game against Cardiff represented the first time that United had outrun their opponents in a match this season. All the big hitters were present with Lingard, Martial and Rashford all on the scoresheet and superstar Paul Pogba setting them up.

Now United fans await Solskjær’s managerial home debut. The Norwegian will make his inaugural walk down the Old Trafford touchline against Huddersfield on Boxing Day at 15.00 UK time. The Theatre of Dreams is poised and ready to be entertained.

Manchester United's Christmas Fixtures
  • Wed 26 Dec: Man United vs. Huddersfield (15.00)
  • Sun 30 Dec: Man United vs. Bournemouth (16.30)
  • Wed 2 Jan: Newcastle vs. Man United (20.00)

Pochettino is keeping one eye on United and here’s why

Not many can doubt the immense strides that Tottenham Hotspur have made since the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino from Southampton in May 2014.

The Tottenham manager has instilled discipline, implemented positive, forward thinking tactical displays and recruited wisely in his time in North London.

It’s no wonder then the Argentine is attracting the attention of footballing giants Manchester United and Real Madrid. Both clubs have sacked their managers already this season, only to hastily appoint interims drawn from their own ranks.

That isn’t the only reason Pochettino will be keeping an eye on United

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, a former United forward, won numerous honours with the Reds during the 90s and 00s and has been installed as their manager until the end of the season and a suitable long term replacement can be found.

Likewise, Real Madrid terminated the services of former Spain national manager Julen Lopetegui back in October, only to replace him with Pochettino’s countryman and former Los Blancos midfielder Santiago Solari.

Both caretaker managers are largely unproven, especially in such high profile jobs, and Pochettino is no doubt at the top of their lists for long term replacements.

Such is fervour surrounding the Spurs manager that the club’s press representative was adamant in barring reporters from discussing Manchester United in particular in the pre-match press conference ahead of their Carabao Cup tie with Arsenal midweek.

Pochettino’s side are in fine form

But that isn’t the only reason Pochettino will be keeping an eye on United. The two clubs meet not long after the Christmas holidays. United will travel to Wembley on 13 January looking for revenge after the embarrassing 3-0 defeat at home to The Lilywhites.

Pochettino’s side are in fine form though following four straight victories in the Premier League. With United seemingly in resurgence under their new coach it could make for a fine spectacle of attacking prowess.

Spurs have one of the busiest schedules over Christmas. They host Bournemouth at home on Boxing Day, quickly followed by a visit from Wolves just three days later, topped off by a trip to Cardiff on the 2 January.

All eyes are sure to be on Pochettino and how his Spurs side navigate a tricky Christmas and New Year.

Tottenham's Christmas Fixtures
  • Wed 26 Dec: Spurs vs. Bournemouth (15.00)
  • Sat 29 Dec: Spurs vs. Wolves (15.00)
  • Tue 1 Jan: Cardiff vs. Spurs (17.30)

Boxing day represents a busy day for everyone, and it won’t be long after the turkey’s been carved that you’ll be glued to your boxes again watching the Premier League action.

All but two Premier League sides will be in action on Boxing Day, all rueing a difficult but exhilarating set of fixtures that makes English football the centre of attention over the Christmas and New Year period.

Three games will be shown on Sky Sports on Boxing Day including Fulham vs. Wolves in the early kick off, and then Brighton vs. Arsenal, quickly followed by Watford vs. Chelsea in the evening.

Christmas is always a hectic period for English football and anything can happen with a heavy set of fixtures putting pressure on players and managers alike. Someone’s sure to slip up and the league table could look considerably different come January. Be sure not to miss it.

Boxing Day Fixtures
  • Fulham vs. Wolves (12.30) - Live on Sky Sports
  • Burnley vs. Everton (15.00)
  • Crystal Palace vs. Cardiff (15.00)
  • Leicester vs. Man City (15.00)
  • Liverpool vs. Newcastle (15.00)
  • Man United vs. Huddersfield (15.00)
  • Spurs vs. Bournemouth (15.00)
  • Brighton vs. Arsenal (17.30) - Live on Sky Sports
  • Watford vs. Chelsea (19.30) - Live on Sky Sports
  • Southampton vs. West Ham (Thu 27 Dec, 19.45) - Live on Sky Sports

*All kick off times are to UK standard time

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Adam Grimshaw

7 rules to sort out your Boxing Day

Has Christmas drained you of all your energy?

Do you just want to spend the day in peace watching the footy on Boxing Day?

Not to worry, follow our 7 simple rules for everything you need to sort out your Boxing Day and you’ll be guaranteed onto a winner.

Premier League Fixtures on Boxing Day
  • Fulham vs. Wolves (12.30) - Live on Sky Sports
  • Burnley vs. Everton (15.00)
  • Crystal Palace vs. Cardiff (15.00)
  • Leicester vs. Man City (15.00)
  • Liverpool vs. Newcastle (15.00)
  • Man United vs. Huddersfield (15.00)
  • Spurs vs. Bournemouth (15.00)
  • Brighton vs. Arsenal (17.30) - Live on Sky Sports
  • Watford vs. Chelsea (19.30) - Live on Sky Sports

*All kick off times are to UK standard time

1. Tinnies in the fridge is a must

Whether it’s Coca Cola or a can of lager, you’ll be in need of constant refreshment. Before you go to bed on Christmas night, make sure you restock the fridge with plenty of supplies for a full day of footy the next day.

Anything can happen over the Christmas period when managers are forced to rotate their squads. Don’t be left parched after a flurry of goals and contentious incidents. VAR doesn’t show up on English shores until next year!

2. Have FIFA at the ready

If you’ve been good this year then hopefully Santa has rewarded you with a brand new copy of FIFA 19 in your Christmas stocking. Whether it’s for half time or in the break between matches, have FIFA setup and ready to go so you can smash your mates and ruin their Christmas cheer.

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3. Pack off to the pub for the 3 o'clock kick offs

We’re all more than familiar now with the weird way football TV rights work in the UK. So don’t be surprised that Boxing Day is being treated by the boffins over at the FA as a regular Saturday.

Out of the 9 fixtures that are being played (Southampton and West Ham play on the 27th) no fewer than 5 of them are 3 o’clock kick offs. That means UK residents won’t be able to watch their favourite team until Match of the Day on Boxing Night.

If you can’t wait for Lineker and co. maybe you need to find another option. Outside of the UK the TV rights for the Premier League are handled differently and many countries are allowed to show all 3 o’clock kick offs. Wink, wink.

EFL Championship Boxing Day Fixtures
  • Birmingham City vs. Stoke City (15.00)
  • Bolton vs. Rotherham (15.00)
  • Bristol City vs. Brentford (15.00)
  • Leeds vs. Blackburn (15.00)
  • Middlesbrough vs. Sheffield Wednesday (15.00)
  • Milwall vs. Reading (15.00)
  • Norwich vs. Notts Forest (15.00)
  • Preston vs. Hull (15.00)
  • QPR vs. Ipswich (15.00)
  • Sheffield United vs. Derby (15.00)
  • Swansea vs. Aston Villa (15.00)
  • West Brom vs. Wigan (15.00)

*All kick off times are to UK standard time

4. Set up a turkey sandwich station

One of the best things about Boxing Day is the leftovers, and many of us will appreciate the beauty that is the leftover turkey sandwich. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy all wrapped up into a sandwich.

For maximum efficiency take out all the necessary ingredients and line them up on your kitchen counter (or even in your living room). Perfect for half time breaks or for when the mood takes you, so you can get back to the tele in record time.

5. Have your favourite betting app at the ready

Whether you’re a regular punter or not, having a betting app on your mobile or tablet when there’s a flurry of football matches is an absolute must. Not just great for placing pre-match or live bets, it’s the perfect companion for all the stats and updates you need in an instant.

All the big betting sites now offer betting apps for their customers and they’re available for free for all Android and Apple users. All you have to do is set up an account and you’ll have live updates and odds at your fingertips, so you can keep track of everything from the comfort of your armchair.

Scottish Premiership Boxing Day Fixtures
  • Aberdeen vs. Celtic (14.00)
  • St Mirren vs. St Johnstone (14.00)
  • Dundee vs. Livingston (15.00)
  • Hearts vs. Hamilton (15.00)
  • Motherwell vs. Kilmarnock (15.00)
  • Rangers vs. Hibernian (15.00)

*All kick off times are to UK standard time

6. Get the shops done early

If you’ve planned this far ahead then you’re definitely a wiley one. Maybe it’s a good idea to save a bit of cash aside for whoever in your family (and we’re not suggesting who) will want to hit the Boxing Day sales instead of staying glued to the TV all day.

After all, this is supposed to be a day of rest after the madness of the month before. Maybe hold off on buying that key item of clothing that’s been suggested to you. Slip some money forward and stay tight to the sofa. You can’t go wrong.

If you absolutely have to go to the Boxing Day sales then make sure you get it done early. It might sound like a nightmare but a lot of stores with open at 6 or 7 in the morning. Better to be an early riser and back for the footy than to miss out. First kick off is 12.30pm. Priorities after all.

7. Pack the kids off to granny's

If you’ve successfully evaded the shops then you’re almost home free. There’s just one final obstacle to ensure a fuss free day of footy - the kids. It might be fun to lend a helping hand to set up the kids’ lego on Christmas Day, but by Boxing Day you’ll want to get back to the footy.

Why not agree to take the kids for the afternoon while your non-football loving family members hit the shops. A great way to combine with number six for ultimate success. When safely out of sight pack the kids off to granny’s or your in-laws so they can play with their cousins. Winner.

If you’ve followed our 7 rules you must have had a Boxing Day worthy of royalty. Give us a like and if you think we’ve missed anything or have some of your own tips then share with us in the comments below.

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Adam Grimshaw

New Kids on the Block: Champs League Preview

The Champions League kicks off over Tuesday 18 and Wednesday 19 September, and what a wait it’s been. This year’s competition features an alarming number of teams who’ve been there before, and it’s likely to be a tense, tight and competitive affair.

All the big boys are back in contention for the 27th installment of Europe’s premier football competition. The Champions League is no doubt the pinnacle of the modern game, featuring the richest teams, the most talented players and simply outstanding football from start to finish.

They'll certainly be looking to make their mark

All but four teams from last year’s round of 16 have made to this year’s tournament, only Basel, Besiktas, Chelsea and Sevilla miss out.

Real Madrid, Barcelona, City, United, Liverpool, Bayern and Juventus are all back to compete against one another for the trophy that every player and fan dreams of winning. It’s almost preordained that we’ll see the familiar titans in the latter stages, and while swathes have been written about their chances, but what do we know of the other teams to grace the competition? 

This year’s tournament features three teams who are making their inaugural appearance in the Champions League, and although they’re not likely to be given a warm welcome, they’ll certainly be looking to make their mark.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Hoffenheim managed to make the grade for this year’s competition after finishing an impressive third in the Bundesliga, even finishing ahead of Borussia Dortmund, albeit on goal difference. 

The boys from Baden-Württemberg have had an impressive rise to success over recent years. Residing in the 5th Division only in 2000, their climb up the ladder has been nothing short of meteoric, initially earning promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history in 2008. Since then they’ve continually punched above their weight finishing in the top half of the table an impressive five times out of ten.

Money doesn't always buy success

Backed by local boy and software mogul Dietmar Hopp, Hoffenheim have had considerable financial support aiding their rise. But as we know, money doesn’t always buy success. Qualifying for the Champions League represents a significant statement of intent for Die Kraichgauer, who will be looking to make an impression on this year’s competition.

Never shying away from a challenge, Hoffenheim have difficult trips away to Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk. But if they play their cards right, it’s not unthinkable that they’ll battle it out of their group in the second spot. A consolation third place finish ensuring entry into the Europa League wouldn’t be a terrible result either.

Hoffenheim Quick Facts
  • Manager: Julian Nagelsmann
  • Last season: 3rd
  • Group F: Man City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon
  • Key players: Krmaric, Linton

Red Star Belgrade

We say ‘newcomers’ but technically Red Star Belgrade have been here before...technically. The Serbians are making their first appearance in the competition since it was rebranded into the “Champions League” in 1992.

They have a successful and illustrious history behind them. Emerging after the Second World War, Red Star have been consistent participants on the European stage since the 1950s. However, they reached the pinnacle when they won the European Cup in 1991, led by the legendary Dejan Savicevic.

Red Star Quick Facts
  • Manager: Vladan Miljo
  • Last season: 1st
  • Group C: Liverpool, Napoli, PSG
  • Key players: Marin, Nabouhane

They successfully navigated RB Leipzig in the final qualifying round to make it to the group stage. Unfortunately, due to the damage their fans caused to the home team’s stadium in Austria, UEFA has banned supporters from attending their first two away matches at Anfield and the Parc Des Princes.

A lack of support in their key away games isn’t the worst of it. Red Star have been drawn into a group containing Liverpool, PSG and Napoli - easily their stiffest competition in some time. You can bet their legendary home support will be in full swing, after their three home fixtures sold out in just three hours.

Red Star have made an impressive start to the new the season winning all of their seven league matches, but the opponents they face in Napoli for their opener are something else. The Italians know that they’ll need to register back to back wins against Red Star who are undoubtedly the weakest team in the group.

Young Boys

Swiss champions Young Boys are making their first appearance in the Champions League, but not for want of trying. They've tripped at the last hurdle on several occasions, to CSKA Moscow last year, to Borussia Mönchengladbach the year before that and most notably to Tottenham in 2010.

After claiming the title last year they only had to successfully navigate Dinamo Zagreb, drawing away from home but clinching a 2-1 victory at home in Bern.

Young Boys Quick Facts
  • Manager: Gerardo Seoane
  • Last season: 1st
  • Group H: Juventus, Man United, Valencia
  • Key players: Mbabu, Suljemani

They display a distinctive attacking style that helped them to their first title in years, becoming the first club to break Basel/Zürich dominance in over 10 years. It’s served them well this season and they're already looking to run away with the title after claiming an impressive six wins out of six and 19 goals scored.

They’re drawn into a difficult group against Manchester United, Juventus, and Valencia, but the Swiss will take encouragement from compatriots FC Basel who have rumbled United on more than one occasion on Swiss soil. If they can get their attacking balance just right, they might be in with a chance.

Back on track

While we have three fresh faces in this year’s competition we’ll also be seeing some long lost friends who’ve had notable absences returning to the fray.

Greek champions AEK Athens are back in the competition for the first time since 2006-07. The boys from the capital ran beat PAOK to the championship by six points, and in doing so broke a seven year Olympiacos winning streak.

In Group D, Lokomotiv Moscow are gracing the tournament with their presence for the first time since 2003-04 after pipping cross town rivals CSKA to the title by two points last season. They face trips to Porto, Schalke and Galatasaray before they can entertain ideas of the group stage.


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Adam Grimshaw

The Nations League is a stepping stone for England

The UEFA Nations League landed on English shores on Saturday night with England taking on Spain at Wembley. But what can this new competition do to help propel Gareth Southgate’s new look England outfit to the top?

Increased competition

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard about the UNL and the motivations behind creating a new competition to be played during domestic football’s international break.

For quite some time many football fans have bemoaned the onset of the international break, not least in disrupting their team’s progress in the domestic league, but also because of the borefest friendly matches that it often brings with it.

For some time now England have been caught between two posts

Up until now the highlight of the international break is undoubtedly when big teams get drawn against each other in qualifying for major tournaments, but this often doesn’t happen. While we’re all delighted that England have managed to qualify for major tournaments with standout success, it’s not until they get to said tournament, like a World Cup or European Championship that England have really been able to test their mettle.

Glancing back over England’s qualifying groups over for the last four major tournaments it’s easy to see that England have been outright dominant - and therein lies the problem. For some time now England have been caught between two posts: dominating in qualifying and facing below par opposition where there’s no real test, to underachieving in major tournaments where the opposition in unmanageable.

England's last four qualifying campaigns

WC QF 2018

  • Games played: 10
  • Number of points: 26
  • Finished: 1st

Euro QF 2016

  • Games played: 10
  • Number of points: 30
  • Finished: 1st

WC QF 2014

  • Games played: 10
  • Number of points: 22
  • Finished: 1st

Euro QF 2012

  • Games played: 8
  • Number of points: 18
  • Finished: 1st

Perfect timing

The UNL couldn’t come at a better time for England. With a manager who is attempting to shake things up with a new philosophy and an eager, young squad well and truly behind him, the UNL is a welcome addition to England’s international calendar.

The very nature and structure of the UNL means England will get to meet stronger opponents in a competitive setting, to gain much needed experience outside of major tournaments. Because the UNL puts teams into leagues and groups according to their strength does away with having to face less skilled opposition.

It represents a better chance than anyone else in Europe to utilise it for their own gain

England are drawn into a three team group alongside two world class sides in Croatia and Spain. Because the groups are small means that the competition is fierce, to battle for only a limited number of points available. The winners get a chance to compete for a trophy against Europe’s best, and the losers get relegated. The stakes are high.

True, you could argue that the UNL’s League A, comprising Europe’s 12 best sides including England will sharpen everyone up, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But for a young and progressive England that’s on the ascent and are looking desperately for chances to improve, it represents a better chance than anyone else in Europe to utilise it for their own gain.

England put some impressive moves together against Spain

Three successive defeats

The English press are at it once again, they build you up only to knock you down. They love it, and there are headlines being bound around that following a 2-1 defeat to Spain at Wembley in the inaugural match of the UNL, it’s the first time England have lost three successive games since 1988.

The closer you fly to the sun, the greater your chances of getting burned

Three successive defeats? Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill here. It isn’t a problem. These three defeats have come against Croatia, Belgium and Spain in the semi-final of the World Cup, the third-place playoff and in a ferocious group in the UNL. The closer you fly to the sun, the greater your chances of getting burned.

Spanish lessons

England went up through an early Marcus Rashford goal on Saturday night, only to squander a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1, having a goal disallowed in the dying minutes of the game. Southgate himself has admitted that England were ‘disjointed’ in their attacking play, and that they struggled to push forward against a team that also wanted to press.

It's a process of developing tactical flexibility and awareness

There were other problems that were acutely apparent as well. England’s defence struggles to deal with set pieces, which is ironic considering that was their very modus operandi at the other end of the pitch in Russia. The question of having a world class midfielder to dictate play in the centre of the pitch needs to be answered as well.

But the very fact that Gareth Southgate said in his post match press conference that he couldn’t have asked more of his players goes to show where England need to improve. The manager obviously believes England have the talent and the capability in their ranks, but it’s rather a process of developing tactical flexibility and awareness.

“Brave enough to stick to our principles”

This is where the UNL can work to England’s advantage. Already after a tough match up against top quality opposition in Spain, it’s clearer to see what England need to work on. With matches coming up thick and fast against Croatia home and away and Spain away, don’t expect it to get any easier, but certainly don’t lose heart either if it appears difficult. As Southgate has said himself, there’s no going back to the old ways. This is an enlightened England that’s emerging. Expect there to be bumps along the way, but be certain that the UNL will work positively for their development.

England take on Switzerland in a friendly on Tuesday 11 September at the King Power Stadium in Leicester (KO: 20.00 BST)


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Where To Get Your Footy Fix

It’s already been over a week since the World Cup ended in French victory, and you’re probably already desperate for club football to make its way back. Unfortunately for all of us the big European domestic seasons don’t start up until mid-late August. Nightmare! Or is it?

Football fanatics shouldn’t fret and can breathe a sigh of relief - there’s plenty of football already underway to get you through the summer until we hit the professional club season.

International Champions Cup

(20 July - 20 August)

The International Champions Cup (ICC), a super-charged pre-season friendly tournament the likes of the world had never seen until only recently has already begun. This year’s tournament is the most expansive iteration to date, since the inaugural tournament began in 2013. This year the ICC is played over 22 venues across three continents, featuring some of Europe’s top clubs.

We can all admit that friendly games often don’t mean much, but this isn’t just an opportunity for far-flung fans to see their favourite teams before they head home to their respective leagues. The ICC is also a brilliant opportunity for football fans to see the biggest teams display their new signings and get a taste of how they’re bedding in.

Teams Competing in the ICC
  • Arsenal (ENG)
  • Chelsea (ENG)
  • Liverpool (ENG)
  • Manchester City (ENG)
  • Manchester United (ENG)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)
  • Atlético Madrid (SPA)
  • Barcelona (SPA)
  • Real Madrid (SPA)
  • AC Milan (ITA)
  • Inter Milan (ITA)
  • Juventus (ITA)
  • Roma (ITA)
  • Bayern Munich (GER)
  • Borussia Dortmund (GER)
  • Lyon (FRA)
  • Paris Saint-Germain (GER)
  • Benfica (POR)

It’s true many of the biggest stars of the game who featured in the World Cup are enjoying some much needed downtime after a hectic summer in Russia. Players like Neymar, Ronaldo, Mbappé, Griezmann and Lewandowski are yet to join up with their respective squads but should be back for selection relatively soon.

The upside to not seeing the superstars just yet? It’s a great chance to see the future stars of tomorrow. With the big guns missing for the start of the tournament, managers pick the cream of the crop from their academies to blood youngsters in, to see what they’re made of, and to give them a chance to play with more senior players.

Yes, the ICC while not quite the pinnacle of footballing competition, has plenty for you to get your teeth into.

Branch out and go further afield

With the domestic season in Europe not beginning for another few weeks, this is the perfect opportunity for earnest football fans to explore what else there is to offer from around the world. In other parts of the globe, domestic leagues work to different schedules and are played at different times of the year. Let’s take a look at some of the best picks to supplement your footballing repertoire.

MLS (Major League Soccer)

Despite cynics questioning its reputation, the premier North American league is serious business these days. Fans of European football will be quick to point fingers at how the older statesmen of European football still depart European shores in the twilight of their careers for the MLS, to make mere cameo appearances.

Maybe a statement such as this was true of the 1970s when Franz Beckenbauer, George Best and Pelé moved to the states to kickstart the game across the pond. We can still draw a parallel in that the bigger stars from Europe like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, or most recently Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic made the move late in the game. But the MLS is anything but new and is now an entrenched feature of the sports landscape of the US and Canada.

Without the distractions of the European leagues, give the MLS a shot and you’ll be seriously surprised. It’s much more competitive than many leagues in Europe, and there isn’t really a dominant team has been able to consistently emerge as victor, although LA Galaxy are trying. The MLS is the perfect thing to keep you from going crazy now the World Cup has come to an end.

The league is split up into two regional conferences, the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference, and with around 20 games already played, the fight for an all-important top-6 playoff position is well underway on both sides of the continent

In the Eastern Conference new kids on the block LA FC have been upsetting the establishment, edging just in front of local rivals LA Galaxy, while FC Dallas are storming ahead at the top. In the Western Conference the New York teams are in the mix as per usual, while unlikely leaders Atlanta FC sit astride top spot.

Campeonato Brasileiro Série A

Amazingly the Brazilian national championship only took a three week break for the World Cup, and it already started up again on Thursday 19 July, playing two rounds of games to date. With the biggest and most popular team in the country Flamengo leading the line, everyone in Brazil is already transfixed despite it not yet being even half way through the season.

Played out in the southern hemisphere, the Campeonato Brasileiro is played at the opposite time of year compared to the majority of Europe’s leagues, meaning they’re in full swing during our off-season.

Why not give yourself the opportunity to see the next Neymar, Ronaldinho or Ronaldo by watching Brazil’s premier football league. The Brazil national team is famous the world round for their silky skills and offensive football play, but it has to start somewhere. Despite European clubs poaching talent ever earlier nowadays there’s still a wealth on offer. Only this month, the hotly-tipped Vinicius Junior transferred from his native Flamengo to Real Madrid for a reported £40 million at the tender age of 18.

The Brazilian league combines fast and skilful football with scrappy defensive displays, and often full force tackling, not of the like you’ve come to expect from the country’s national side.  There’s no shrinking violets in this game, that’s for sure. But the depth of talent in this footballing behemoth is often unbelievable. More importantly it’s spread more evenly than in many European leagues and makes for a much tougher, tighter and tense competition.

With such a passionate fan base and an unpredictable league, Brazilian football still has a lot to offer despite losing their premier talents ever earlier on. The league is dominated by southern teams from Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro who have intense and entrenched rivalries, and their teams are widely supported throughout the country. It will come as no surprise that names such as Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo, Corinthians and Palmeiras will be familiar to you.

Despite regular inter and intra city derbies occuring fairly regularly, if you find yourself dipping into Brazilian football you won’t be disappointed with the passion, the intensity or the quality of South America’s best domestic league. Tempers run high south of the equator and don’t be shocked if you see an on-pitch brawl either.

European Qualification

For the big boys the world’s premier club competition, the Champions League begins with the group stages in September and ends in an illustrious final of epic proportions in June. Some of the world’s heavyweights with the best players from around the globe fight it out for the ultimate title in club football.

In contrast, smaller clubs from some of European football’s more modest leagues must first prove themselves worthy of a place in the main competition by playing up to three qualification rounds. It begins a lot earlier and often a lot less glamorously for some of Europe’s smaller sides and already we’re well underway with the first legs of the second round of ties being played next week over Tuesday 24 July and Wednesday 25 July.

Some of the teams you might want to take a peak at have illustrious histories and are already fighting it out. They’re after financial benefits that qualification to the main competition can bring, but also the prestige, the chance to test their wits against stronger sides from Europe’s bigger leagues, and of course for the enjoyment of their fans.

Some of the names you might be familiar with that are already vying for a spot in the Champions League or will enter in the third round include: Celtic, Ajax, FC Basel, Malmö FF, Red Star Belgrade, APOEL Nicosia and Rosenborg. It might not be the pinnacle of European football, but it’s certainly the most competitive football in Europe over the summer with many teams fighting for their lives to get that all important spot in the Group Stage of the Champions League. Expect there to be some intense matches being played out.

Community Shield

(5 August)

Regardless of whether you count this as a real trophy or not, the Community Shield ushers in the new season as we all wait will bated breath, Not to mention it’s often the only chance we get to see the Wembley turf baked in sunshine until end of the season as the FA Cup comes to a close.

This year it’s runaway champions Manchester City against FA Cup Winners Chelsea who go up against each other. A lot of questions are still to be answered, and this one will mostly likely bring up more queries than answering any questions. Can Pep Guardiola and co continue to dominate, and how will new Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri adapt to life, and football, in England?

Start dates for major European leagues
  • Premier League (England) 10-11 August
  • La Liga (Spain) 19 August
  • Serie A (Italy) 18-19 August
  • Bundesliga (Germany) 24-25 August
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