Adam Grimshaw

Flamengo and River Plate set for fierce finale

The semi finals of this year’s Copa Libertadores have finally been decided. Argentina’s River Plate saw off bitter rivals Boca Juniors, while Brazil’s Flamengo beat a broken Gremio side in emphatic fashion at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. 

Will River record a double?

River Plate rolled out as eventual winners of last year’s Libertadores after a bitter and difficult two legged tussle with fierce rivals Boca Juniors. 

Over two legs Los Millonarios sealed their place in a second consecutive final, but only just. They overcame their rivals in the first leg in furious fashion, peppering the goal throughout the match but ultimately leaving with a comfortable but uncertain 2-0 lead. 

The second leg, taking place at Boca’s famous Bombonera was turned into a cauldron as expected, and the tables were turned with Boca dominating throughout the match.

River Plate and Flamengo's South American Successes

River Plate

  • Copa Libertadores (4): 1986, 1996, 2015, 2018
  • Copa Sudamericana (1): 2014

Flamengo

  • Copa Libertadores (1): 1981

Carlos Tevez led the line for Boca with a solitary goal from Jan Hurtado in the 79th minute not enough for Boca to progress.  

For River it’s a welcome boost to a recent record of form that has been anything but exceptional.

Is Flamengo's 38 year wait finally over?

“Hoje tem gol do Gabigol” is what the Flamenguistas have been screaming all season, the 32 million strong support that Flamengo commands in nationwide in its home country have fallen in love with Inter Milan drop out Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa

Flamengo have been the biggest club in Brazil for sometime but have failed to achieve the lofty heights they should expect in the Libertadores. They have only registered one final appearance, which they won with the famous Zico in 1981, before seeing off Kenny Dalgish’s Liverpool to be crowned world champions not long after. 

It’s been a weary few years for the Flamengo faithful, bouncing around the top half of the Brasileirao, Brazil’s national league with little direction. However, with a serious cash injection and the appointment of former Benfica manager Jorge Jesus they’re currently on a 14 game unbeaten streak domestically.

Copa Libertadores Final Facts
  • Where? Santiago, Chile
  • When? 25 November 2019 (11.30 BST)
  • Watch: UK so far undecided
  • Key players: Matías Suarez, Exequiel Palacios (River Plate); Gabigol, Bruno Henrique (Flamengo)

After a tense draw away to Gremio in Porto Alegre they saw off the three time continental champions in emphatic fashion with a 5-0 battering, the sort of prowess and ruthlessness that has seen them excel so well already this season.

European Starlets vs. South American Stallions

Reigning champions River have largely kept their continent conquering side intact, with a squad assembled largely of South American talent

Flamengo are quite the opposite. Following a vast amount of money spent, the Naçao have assembled a team of big hitters with a massive amount of European experience under their belts. 

The likes of Inter’s loanee Gabigol, former Atletico Madrid defender Felipe Luis and ex-Bayern full back Rafinha are just of the names that have propelled the Rubra-Negra to a ten point lead in the Brazilian championship and their first Libertadores final since they last won it back in 1981. 

In Santiago, Chile on the 25 November the stage is set for a final of epic proportions. It will be a game that transverses fierce national rivalries but also of opposing football philosophies (as well as bank accounts).

Both teams have a lot to prove, and it’s definitely one worth staying up for.

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Adam Grimshaw

Mixed Messages from Europe's Champions

As we hurtle into the international break last year's champions from the major leagues of Europe are undergoing vastly different experiences. While it's business as usual for some, the others will be wondering just what the hell has happened.

City bitten by Wolves 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

75% possession, 16 shots on goal, 9 corners and home soil. But where it did go wrong for Manchester City? In the last fifteen minutes that's where, as Wolves' Adam Traore bags two to seal an unexpected win at the Etihad.

City's makeshift defence with Nicolas Otamendi in place of injured team mates and an absence of Kevin de Bruyne in the middle shows that the Sky Blues are perhaps more reliant on certain individuals than they would care to admit. 

Pep Guardiola's second loss of the season came in the wake of a last minute penalty that saw title rivals Liverpool maintain a perfect record. It now leaves the Blue half of Manchester 8 points off the mark, wondering if they will ever be able to make up the difference. 

Barça bounce back 🇪🇸

What a night it was at the Camp Nou. Barcelona saw off in Sevilla in a matter of minutes with goals from Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal and Ousmane Dembele coming in quick succession to go 3-0 up in the first half. The fourth coming from a curling Lionel Messi free kick in the last minute.

Still, it didn't go all Barcelona's way, having to concede that two dismissals to debutante Ronald Araújo and Dembele in the dying minutes of the game reveals this Barcelona side has a lack of discipline that needs to be tackled.

It could've been a very different story as it so often could if Sevilla had put their chances away. It leaves Barcelona two points off league leaders Real Madrid with Atletico trailing them by one. 

What was looking like a shake up in the first weeks in La Liga has given way to an all too familiar title race. 

Dropped points in Derby D'Italia 🇮🇹

Juventus made their way to the San Siro to meet league leaders Inter Milan with the chance to steal top spot in what had to be the most highly anticipated fixture of the weekend. 

The game didn't disappoint with a Paolo Dybala strike on four minutes igniting the contest from the off. Both teams continued to press each other hard with Inter's efforts paying off when Lautaro Martinez converted a spot kick.

Cue a more attritional and cautious contest in the second half with the game potentially going either way. But it was Juventus who were to have the last laugh as they so often do when reborn Gonzalo Higuain made the difference to take Juventus to pole position. 

Let's hope we finally get the title race we've all been waiting for this season.

Nobody wants the Bundesliga 🇩🇪

If La Liga and Serie A are shaping up as we expected, in Germany it's all going to pot. Top three favourites, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig are all doing their best to dare someone else to take the title. 

Following a Dortmund draw away to Freiburg, and Leipzig failing to earn all three points at Leverkusen, current champions Bayern Munich followed up their midweek demolition of Spurs with a loss at home to Hoffenheim. 

It leaves all top three contenders with far from perfect records and Borussia Mönchengladbach sitting pretty at the top, much to their own surprise.

Plenty of twists and turns to follow we hope.

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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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