Tag Archives: Champions League

What will it take for Donny Van de Beek to get a chance at Manchester United?

Another lacklustre performance from Manchester United under Ralf Rangnick, with the much-spoken about control completely missing from the game.

United crawled to a 1-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday night to progress to the FA Cup fourth round thanks to an early Scott McTominay header.

Villa were the dominant side on the night though, having two goals disallowed by VAR and missing a host of other chances throughout the 90 minutes as United failed to contain them.



Manager Rangnick once again opted for the ‘McFred’ duo in midfield and it started well with Brazilian whipping in a brilliant cross for the Scot to head home the opening goal.

But as the game went on it was clear that the ‘control’ Rangnick so often speaks about was once again missing, as Steven Gerrard’s side repeatedly walked through the middle of the pitch to create chances.

Somehow McTominay was given the man of the match award by BBC commentator Dion Dublin, but his performance was pretty poor even by his own standards.

Donny Van de Beek was brought on to the pitch with around 20 minutes to go as Rangnick changed the system to try and gain some control, and they stemmed the flow of the game in order to see out their victory.

It raised yet another question about the Dutchman’s chances in the side, with just one start to his name since the German’s arrival at the club.

When the team sheet was announced, fans immediately reacted negatively to the fact that he wasn’t in the side.

It seemed as though despite his obvious qualities on the ball in a position that the team are at their weakest, something is happening behind the scenes that means he isn’t being picked.

He wasn’t being called upon if the team were winning, losing or drawing, if performances were good or bad or even if the team was being rotated. So what is the point of him being here.

Add to that the fact that the midfield area is consistently underperforming in their duties on the pitch, and surely he is due a chance?

Donny van de Beek of Manchester United warms up ahead of the Premier League match between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old...

Rangnick praised the control that Van de Beek brought to the midfield at the end of the game so surely now it’s worth giving him a run in the team?

He can’t be any worse than the current options and if he performs badly, then at least there is a reason for him to not be playing.

The same can be said for Jesse Lingard in the attacking positions, with all of the attackers underperforming and yet someone who has all the attributes that Rangnick waxes lyrical about is sitting on the bench struggling for minutes.

McTominay is suspended for the weekend which would provide another golden opportunity for Van de Beek to get in the team and show if he can provide what nobody else seems to be able to.

If he can’t, then there is literally no point in him being part of the squad and Rangnick should just allow him to leave during the January window.

Ousmane Dembele won’t be renewing Barcelona contract – report

Ousmane Dembele will not be renewing his Barcelona contract beyond this summer after negotiations between the two parties broke down.

The French winger joined the club in a €145m deal from Borussia Dortmund to replace Neymar when he left for Paris Saint-Germain back in 2017, but he has suffered hugely with injuries ever since.

In fact, Dembele has featured just 126 times for the club in four-and-a-half years, scoring 30 times.



The 24-year-old’s contract is due to expire in the summer and Barcelona had been confident that they would be able to convince him to re-sign with the club, with manager Xavi publicly admitting they want to keep him.

However it emerged on Wednesday night that negotiations between the two parties had broken down over wages, with Barcelona claiming they can’t afford his demands.

Dembele’s agent leaked a statement to the press in Spain, where they questioned Barcelona’s claims considering they just signed Ferran Torres in a €55m deal from Man City and are also keen on signing Erling Haaland in the summer from Dortmund for his €75m release clause.

While their statement may be factually correct, the feeling behind it seems more like an excuse than a reason to not re-sign.

Dembele’s injury problems mean he can’t be relied upon for a prolonged period of time and if Barcelona are planning to sign Haaland alongside Torres then they won’t want to waste their wage budget on someone who’s rarely available.

With that said, ‘Dembouz’ is without a doubt one of the most talented wingers in the world when he’s fit and would definitely be a big asset to the club if he were to stay.

Barcelona are right to not be held to ransom by the player, it’s part of the reason they’re in the financial mess they’re in to begin with. But Dembele has every right to feel aggrieved too that Barcelona want to pay others more than him after initially agreeing terms.

All signs point to the end of the road between the two parties now, so it will be very interesting to see if Dembele leaves the club in January so that Barcelona can get some cash for him instead of losing him for nothing.

Ferran Torres close to joining Barcelona in £55m move from Manchester City

Barcelona are close to agreeing a £55m deal with Manchester City for forward Ferran Torres to join the club in January.

The La Liga giants are looking to add firepower to their squad after the retirement of Sergio Aguero earlier this month due to heart problems and have returned to the Etihad Stadium to get a deal done.

Torres is keen to join the club and return to Spain, just 18-months after joining the Premier League champions from Valencia.



Torres started the season well with Man City, taking ownership of the central striking position following the departure of Aguero and the failure of the club to sign a striker in the summer window.

However an injury on international duty with Spain meant his campaign was cut short and he hasn’t featured for City since October.

His form for the international team under Luis Enrique in the number nine position has convinced Barcelona that he is the answer to their attacking problems and according to The Times a fee agreement has been reached.

Barcelona will pay £46.7m up front for the 21-year-old, with add-ons of £8.5m allowing the deal to reach almost triple the amount that they paid for him.

The deal makes a lot of sense for all parties too, so the fact they could agree on a fee is a positive.

Torres wants to play more regularly and as a Spaniard, playing for either Barcelona or Real Madrid is always the pinnacle of their career.

He will start far more regularly at Barcelona than at City, where he was competing with six other players for just three positions in a highly successful team. Even playing extremely well doesn’t guarantee your spot in the team.

Torres will be back with his family in Spain, will be a key player for a team looking to rebuild as one of the best in the world again and City make good money on a player who doesn’t weaken their squad with his absence.

Jesse Lingard’s decisions leaving him in a rut at Manchester United

Jesse Lingard’s future at Manchester United has been up in the air for the best part of two years, and yet nothing seems to be changing any time soon.

The 29-year-old has been at the club since an infant, coming through the academy at Carrington and making his debut under Louis van Gaal way back in 2014.

His future looked bright, but it just never really took off and for the best part of three seasons the door has been open for the player to leave.



It seemed like he finally got the message last winter, when he joined West Ham United on a six-month loan deal after a severe lack of minutes under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

He was brilliant, scoring nine times in 16 appearances as West Ham made it to the Europa League and everything looked set for him to return on a permanent contract.

But despite just 12 months remaining on his contract, the decision was made for him to stay at the club. The same United side that he couldn’t even get on the bench for six months prior, who had added Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo to their attacking ranks, were keeping Lingard again.

Lingard had a bit of a run of form off the bench, scoring the winner against West Ham on his return to the London Stadium and also notching against Newcastle. But since then he saw his minutes deplete again and he rejected a new contract with the club, meaning the expectation was that he’d leave in January.

Jesse Lingard of Manchester United looks on during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and BSC Young Boys at Old...

However with Solskjaer getting sacked and Ralf Rangnick coming in, The Athletic are reporting that Lingard will now be staying at Old Trafford for the rest of the season and will only make a decision on his future in the summer – when his contract expires.

Obviously there isn’t much of a sample size under Rangnick, but the chances of him getting greatly improved game time in the second half the season are likely to still be poor.

In a World Cup year, his decision not to push for a move away to get an extra six months of regular football under his belt is just baffling.

There would be plenty of clubs interested in January that would give him regular game time at a high level, but instead he is choosing to stay and fight for his place from the bench with limited opportunities.

Jesse Lingard of Manchester United in action during a first team training session at Carrington Training Ground on December 07, 2021 in Manchester,...

At this point, any loss of form or lack of playing time has lost sympathy among neutrals and United fans. He’s been given ample opportunity to show he is good enough and move away to play elsewhere and he’s done neither.

His career has stalled during his prime years at the club and he’s done nothing to change that. He’s in a rut and he’s stuck there because of his own strange decisions.

Fix it or lose it – VAR is ruining football

Liverpool and Tottenham produced one of the best games of the season in north London on Sunday evening, serving up an excellent 2-2 draw.

Harry Kane notched his second goal of the season before Diogo Jota equalised to go into the half-time break level. Andy Robertson then put Liverpool ahead, but the lead lasted just four minutes before an Alisson Becker error allowed Heung-Min Son to roll the ball into an empty net.

But it was the VAR decisions throughout the game that stole the headlines, and it wasn’t the only occasion this weekend that the video assistant referee rued it’s ugly head with decisions.



In the first half Harry Kane was shown a yellow card for a reckless lunge on Robertson, a clear red card after the replay was shown. It seemed as though the player’s reputation saved him on this occasion, with VAR reviewing and dismissing the challenge.

There was then a penalty appeal for Liverpool completely dismissed when Jota was blasted from behind by Emerson Royal when played through in a one-on-one situation.

According to Jurgen Klopp, referee Paul Tierney claimed that he didn’t give the penalty because Jota “stopped on purpose” to attract a foul but replays showed that was absolute nonsense.

Once again, VAR looked and did nothing about a clear incorrect decision.

Robertson himself was then sent off late on for a blatant swipe on Royal and after initially only giving a yellow card, the referee used VAR to change his mind and show red.

Earlier on Sunday there was a crazy call in the Newcastle vs Man City game too, with a clear penalty not given to the Magpies with the score at 2-0 to the league leaders.

A through ball was played and as Joao Cancelo took the ball away from Matt Ritchie, Ederson came sliding out and completely clattered Newcastle man. VAR didn’t even look at it.

That’s just a handful of decisions over the weekend, from only two games. VAR is ruining the game.

The point of it was supposed to be to help referees, but for some reason they seem to have given off this impression that they don’t want to “re-referee” games. So what’s the point of it?

If they’re not willing to correct refereeing decisions that are wrong, then there’s no use for it. The best way to use it is to get rid of this “clear and obvious ruling”, since it’s impossible to police subjective decisions in that way.

Let the referees manage the game themselves, but have VAR for everything that is either a yes or no answer. Give managers one appeal per half so that if they disagree with a decision vehemently they can appeal it and force the referee to view it on the pitchside monitor.

It gives everyone a bit of control over the situation and ultimately puts the final decision on the referee. Anything that goes wrong from there can be dealt with by the Premier League and FA.

Stop protecting referees and instead start improving them. That’s what VAR was brought in for in the first place.

Barcelona Femeni: The epitome of technical excellence

I write this having seen how utterly ridiculous this Barcelona team are live in the flesh.

Having had the opportunity to witness the magic of the Barcelona Femeni team at the Emirates last week in the Women’s Champions League, I can honestly say that they’re like no other team.

Their style of play is clear and apparent from the offset and their system relies on one thing – the fact that everybody in the side is so technically secure.



This is something that is true both in and out of possession and is at the basis of their dominance on the field. It’s why the team constantly look as though they’re suffocating opposition teams no matter the level.

Barcelona Femeni have been hit with lots of injuries over the past 4-6 weeks and so we’ve seen drastic changes in both the line-up and in their formations. If anything, the volatility in their line-ups have epitomised the fact that their philosophy is clear and defined.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen midfielders playing out of position and starting on the wing, as well as forwards like Fridolina Rolfo being used as full-backs. The changes however have been seamless because on the ball, each player is so comfortable in playing a possession-based game, meaning that in high pressure areas they’re all comfortable playing their way out of trouble.

In this year’s Ballon d’Or, there were three players ranked within the top five from this Barcelona team, showing their dominance in the sport over the past 12 months. The winner was none other than Alexia Putellas, who epitomises everything about what the club is about.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded the women's Ballon d'Or award during the 2021 Ballon d'Or France Football...

Due to injuries, we’ve seen the Barcelona captain play in every single position in midfield; both as the deepest in the pivot as well as the most advanced in a midfield trio. She’s able to slot into these roles without looking out of place because of her understanding of the game, but also because of how her technical ability manifests itself on the pitch.

Her range of passing, as well as her control of the ball and flow of the game when in and out of pressure is immeasurable in actual terms.

It means that the team is able to manoeuvre through games and tournaments based on what the team needs for that specific game as opposed to being rigid and predictable. This can only be done because of the fact the technical level of the individuals in the squad is of a supreme level.

There were sequences that they played on the edge of Arsenal’s box at the Emirates where I think every single outfield player touched the ball at least once. Where they distinguish themselves from other teams in the world is the fact that under pressure, they retain and look after the ball so well, allowing them to build attacks even when pressed.

Arsenal are actually a very well drilled side and are a team that also like to press high, but the difference between how they were on the ball when faced with Barcelona’s press and how Barcelona reacted to being pressed was night and day.

From a coaching perspective, having people so composed on the ball gives them the option of experimenting. There were situations when the midfield of Barcelona would be pressed both in the Arsenal game, but also against HB Koge by multiple people.

Whilst saying this, the feeling was always that they would escape this pressure – either through dribbling out from the back or from passing out from the danger. Having this unpredictable nature means that not only is it difficult for opposition to plan ahead of time what their means of containment are, but also creates uncertainty and unsettles their players into making mistakes during games.

Having a squad full of players of this ilk brings such stability to the side and is a huge reason as to why they look so difficult to beat. The model of what they’re looking for in players is evident, and they also have a great pipeline of young players coming through their academy.

Aitana Bonmati of FC Barcelona poses with the VISA Player of the Match trophy after victory in the UEFA Women's Champions League Final match between...

Aitana Bonmati is the perfect embodiment of someone who has come through their youth ranks and has now found herself with well over 100 appearances for the club at the age of 23.

Not only is she playing in games, but she’s pivotal to everything they’re doing in an attacking sense as well as contributing crucial goals to the side. She had the base of being technically secure, and with the experience that being at Barcelona is giving her, she’s well on her way to being one of the best at executing the Barca way.

The time is right for Anthony Martial to leave Manchester United

Manchester United are not short of quality attacking options in their squad currently, but that number could drop by one or two in January.

With Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes all vying for starting places, Anthony Martial has found first-team opportunities hard to come by recently.

This has led to his agent publicly announcing that the France international will look to leave the club in January.



This is a player who two seasons ago was the club’s top goalscorer and leading number nine for the whole season as they finished third in the Premier League.

It finally looked to be clicking for him after a thunderous start was somewhat curtailed by Jose Mourinho’s use of him as a substitute, while he was adamant about being a striker and now a left winger.

He was given that chance under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who then brought in Cavani for added competition. Martial didn’t react to that particularly well, scoring just seven goals in a poor season and then United brought in Ronaldo.

Since then, Martial has been a shadow of himself. He has suffered with injury problems in his defence, but that raw ability that struck fear into opposition defences during his first season with the club has completely gone.

He has lost a couple of yards of his pace, he is reluctant to take players on when dribbling, he basically refuses to make runs in-behind the opposition defence and his finishing is nowhere near as reliable as it once was.

He has rightly fallen down the pecking order at the club with the emergence of Greenwood too, which means he just can’t secure a prolonged run in the first-team to get back into tip-top shape anymore.

Martial is now 26-years-old and is entering the prime years of his career. He needs to play regularly and is obviously talented enough to be first-choice at a successful club.

But right here, right now, Manchester United isn’t that club. They have better options than him for their systems, many of whom are younger than him.

Anthony Martial of Manchester United celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham...

They have great academy talent coming through too who they will feel can replace him and with time still to run on his contract, they can probably get a pretty good sum of money for a want-away player.

It’s a deal that suits all parties at this point and ultimately is the right decision. If he goes on to be successful elsewhere, United shouldn’t be criticised for his sale, because he’s clearly talented.

For all the qualities he has, he isn’t the best option at Old Trafford now and losing him isn’t really going to put a dent in the squad.

Thanks for the memories Toto, but it’s time to go.

Full redrawn Champions League Last 16 draw – Fixtures and dates

The UEFA Champions League last 16 draw has been re-drawn after a botched attempt on Monday morning, and has thrown up some cracking ties.

At the second attempt of trying, Manchester United were drawn with Spanish champions Atletico Madrid while Real Madrid will take on Paris Saint-Germain in the tie of the round.

Manchester City will face Sporting CP, while Liverpool take on Inter Milan. Chelsea were the winners of the redraw, keeping their original opponents in Ligue 1’s Lille.



The original draw saw Manchester United once again set to face off against Paris Saint-Germain, with Cristiano Ronaldo to go head-to-head with Lionel Messi once again in the tie of the round.

Atletico Madrid were scheduled to take on Bayern Munich in the other mega tie, while the other English sides would have been happy with their draws as Liverpool faced Salzburg, Man City faced Villarreal.

However UEFA accidentally put Manchester United into the pot to be drawn against Villarreal and then they were selected, despite being ineligible to do so having come from the same group.

United then weren’t put into the pot for the potential opponents of Atletico amid the confusion, meaning they could never have been drawn against each other.

The draw will now be re-done at 14:00 UK time after several complaints that the botched draw affected the integrity of the competition going forward.

The fixtures will take place in February, with the first legs taking place on February 15/16 or 22/23 with the second legs taking place on March 8/9 or 15/16. Group winners will play their home game in the second leg.

Full draw and fixture dates:

FC Salzburg vs Bayern Munich – February 16th 2022
Bayern Munich vs FC Salzburg – March 8th 2022

Sporting CP vs Manchester City – February 15th 2022
Manchester City vs Sporting CP – March 9th 2022

SL Benfica vs Ajax – February 23rd 2022
Ajax vs SL Benfica – March 15th 2022

Chelsea vs Lille – February 22nd 2022
Lille vs Chelsea – March 16th 2022

Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United – February 23rd 2022
Manchester United vs Atletico Madrid – March 15th 2022

Villarreal vs Juventus – February 22nd 2022
Juventus vs Villarreal – March 16th 2022

Inter Milan vs Liverpool – February 16th 2022
Liverpool vs Inter Milan – March 8th 2022

Paris Saint-Germain vs Real Madrid – February 15th 2022
Real Madrid vs Paris Saint-Germain – March 9th 2022

Diogo Dalot will never get a better chance to be first-choice for Manchester United

Sometimes in the world of elite sports, it takes an act of pure luck to stumble upon something that turns into a great decision.

Manchester United know this better than most. They were desperate to sign Alan Shearer once upon a time, but when he turned them down they instead signed Teddy Sheringham and won the treble.

They also would never have signed the catalyst for their success in the 1990’s, Eric Cantona, if they hadn’t received a phone call from Leeds enquiring about the availability of Denis Irwin.



So with a new manager in Ralf Rangnick taking charge recently at Old Trafford and everyone starting with a clean slate, full-back Diogo Dalot has another chance to make it at Manchester United.

The Portuguese defender has had a tough time at the club since joining under Jose Mourinho back in 2018 from FC Porto. He made 23 appearances in his debut campaign for the club, but in the two-and-a-half seasons that have followed he’s played just 21 times for them

He was loaned out to AC Milan last year and had it not been for an unsuccessful move for Kieran Trippier in the summer, he probably would have left on a permanent deal.

Manchester United's Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United's Portuguese defender Diogo Dalot chat from their seats on the...

This season, Dalot barely featured under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before the Norwegian was sacked. He started in the League Cup and in the Champions League when Aaron Wan-Bissaka was suspended, and made some substitute appearances.

An injury to Wan-Bissaka’s hand meant he was handed a start by interim boss Michael Carrick against Arsenal where he played well, and Rangnick opted for an unchanged team against Crystal Palace a few days later.

He was then rested for the Champions League clash against Young Boys in midweek, where Wan-Bissaka’s performance caught the eye for all the wrong reasons. A bad night for him got even worse when on the final whistle he went crashing into the advertising hoardings and had to be stretchered off with a knee and wrist problem after the final whistle.

That paves the way for Dalot to get back in the team for the weekend’s clash against Norwich City and potentially secure a prolonged run in the team.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Manchester United lies injured during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Manchester United and BSC Young Boys at...

He won’t get a better chance to make that spot his own than now, because he is the better suited option for the way the German wants to play football.

Dalot is so much more comfortable on the ball and is capable of playing dynamic passes with both feet. He is also a willing runner with the ability to beat a man with dribbling, while his crossing is far superior.

Defensively he has more to learn and offer, but with coaching there is a solid young full-back there. That’s what Rangnick is looking for and that’s why he’s there, to help develop the raw talent at the club.

But his attacking skillset is so much better suited to the modern full-back of today’s game, where the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Joao Cancelo, Andrew Robertson and Alphonso Davies are key parts to their club’s successes.

Ralf Rangnick the interim / caretaker manager / head coach of Manchester United and Diogo Dalot of Manchester United at full time during the Premier...

A run in the team with a string of good performances under the new management will give the boss no reason to leave him out of the side when Wan-Bissaka is eventually fit again.

There is no time like the present and with Manchester United firmly in transition to a more attacking unit, the time is now for Dalot to step up and make a claim for the right-back spot.

Cristiano Ronaldo is Manchester United’s poison and medicine

Manchester United secured a huge point away to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, but bigger than the result was Michael Carrick’s decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo.

United started the game in a 4-3-3 shape with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho flanking Bruno Fernandes as the striker, with all of Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic playing in midfield.

The Reds took the lead in the second half as Sancho pounced on a Jorginho error to slot past Edouard Mendy, before the Italian converted a penalty to ensure a nervy finish.



Ronaldo wasn’t on the pitch when United went ahead but had been called upon by Carrick before the penalty decision, while he was largely anonymous on the field for the rest of the game.

Carrick implemented a high press to try and force Chelsea into errors higher up the pitch, but the home side managed to cope fairly well for the most part.

While some speculated that the incoming Ralf Rangnick may have had something to do with the team selection and decision to drop Ronaldo, Carrick completely ruled that out and it was pretty clear from the style that the German had no involvement.

But what it did offer up were some questions about how Ronaldo will fit in going forward.

Manchester United's Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo replaces Manchester United's English striker Jadon Sancho in the second half during the...

The Portuguese forward is the club’s top goalscorer this season with ten goals, but the Premier League has proved tough for him with just four goals in nine appearances so far. His lack of defensive nous means United are often a man down when it comes to the transitions and keeping clean sheets.

Despite that though, he has proven to be United’s saviour on several occasions already. He scored twice on his debut in a 4-1 win over Newcastle, scoring the opening and go-ahead goals in the game.

He scored the equaliser against West Ham, the opener against Young Boys, the winner against Villarreal at home, the winner in the home game against Atalanta, the opener against Tottenham, both goals in a 2-2 draw with Atalanta away and the opener in the return game against Villarreal too.

All of his goals to date have been meaningful and contributed towards United winning points. So how is it that someone so important can also potentially be a hinderance to the current United squad going forward?

Ultimately, that is the case. His defensive frailties don’t help the side whatsoever on the pitch, but going forward you can’t just ignore how good he is when it comes to being clinical and winning you games.

Forward of Manchester United Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate after scoring the 0-1 goal with his teammate during Champions League match between...

With Ronaldo now 36-years-old, you get what you’re given with him at this point. United knew what he offered when they signed him and they did it anyway. To his credit, he has performed too.

For United and Rangnick now, the task remains the same. They need a cohesive defensive unit on the pitch, which also contains Cristiano Ronaldo in attack to have the perfect balance to win games, especially at the highest level.

The Portuguese legend is currently both a poison and a medicine to the Manchester United squad, but United must now find a way to perfectly balance the doses of each.