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The Copa Del Rey Clash

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As Atletico Madrid and Barcelona prepare to face off in the Copa Del Rey quarter final, anticipation is rising amongst fans expecting to see another classic in a tie that has thrown some thrilling encounters in recent years. We look at the some of the most memorable matches the pair have shared in recent years.

1997: Barcelona 5 – 4 Atletico Madrid

The two sides shared one of the most memorable matches of the season when they met at the same stage of the Copa Del Rey. After sharing an enjoyable 2 – 2 draw in Madrid, Atletico seemed to be heading towards the next round thanks to a first half trick from Milinko Pantic. Ronaldo pulled two goals back soon after half time only for Pantic to add his fourth of the match to surely send Atletico through. However, Barcelona were to throw a spanner into the works. After Luis Figo reduced the deficit, Ronaldo added two goals to send the Nou Camp wild.

El Mundo Deportivo described the tie as “the most vibrant, emotional and spectacular match of recent years.”

 

1998: Atletico Madrid 5 – 2 Barcelona

Although Luis Van Gaal’s Barcelona had already been crowned La Liga Champions for the season, the vast majority of the crowd at the Vicente Calderón Stadium took great pleasure in righting the wrongs of the result in the Copa Del Rey from the previous season. Whilst the match was a high scoring affair, the game will mainly be remembered for Rivaldo’s the first goal, scored by Rivaldo. After picking up a loose ball just inside the Atletico half and spotting the opposition goalie off his line, the Brazilian struck a venomous shot over the goalie’s head into the back of the net. Barcelona won the battle, Atletico won the war.

2009: Atletico Madrid 4 – 3 Barcelona

In a tie that once again pitted Madrid’s wits against a Pep Guardiola led Barcelona team that were running away with the title, Madrid once again prevailed with a positive outcome in a fast paced match. Although Barcelona twice led through goals from Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi, goals from Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero, including a stunning long range strike from the former gave Atletico all three points and continued Barcelona’s search for the title. Sid Lowe’s description of the match as a “fantastic, fun, breathless and brilliant” tie being appropriate to describe the affair.

2011: Barcelona 5 – 0 Atletico Madrid

The tie represents one of Pep Guardiola’s more memorable moments in his final season at the Nou Camp, as Barcelona lit up the stadium with a magical performance. Despite Atletico possessing the defensive and offensive talents of Diego Godin and Radamel Falcao respectively, the Madrid players were unable to contain the spellbinding performance of the Catalan side. Lionel Messi proved to be the stand out performer, wowing the both sets of fans with his unrivaled dribbling and finishing skills to finish the match with a hat trick. Messi’s striking partner, David Villa, also chipped in a goal of outstanding and noteworthy quality if his diminutive Argentine partner had not been on the pitch.

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The Biggest FA Cup Upsets

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After one of the most memorable weekends in FA Cup history, with no less than 10 Premier League casualties, we take a look at the biggest cup shocks of recent times.

January 2010: Manchester United 0 – 1 Leeds:

When the giants of English football were drawn against the League One club that had fallen on hard times both on and off the field over the previous decade, not many observers expected anything less than a victory for the home side. Sir Alex Ferguson had previously never tasted defeat to a lower league side in the FA Cup and observers had not foreseen any result bar a home victory. However, the form book counted for little; as Jermaine Beckford escaped the shackles of the Manchester defence to beat Tomas Kusack midway through the first half. This not only ensured Leeds progressed to the next round but also ensured the club would forever have a place in FA Cup folklore.

Manchester United v Leeds United - FA Cup 3rd Round

February 2004: Tottenham 3 – 4 Manchester City:

Whilst not a traditional FA Cup giant killing tie, the circumstances surrounded the victory ensured the game will go down in Cup history. Trailing 3-0 and down to 10 men at half time following a Joey Barton sending off, the odds were stacked up against City to progress to the next round. However, the away side staged a spirited revival in the second half, scoring four goals to leave Spurs stunned and complete one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the competition.

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February 2008: Liverpool 1 – 2 Barnsley:

In one of the most memorable matches in Barnsley’s history, the struggling Championship side knocked out the Premier League high flyers. Lead by their captain Brian Howard coupled with an inspired Luke Steel in goal, the minnows managed to overturn a Liverpool half time lead thanks to, firstly, a strike from Steven Foster before a rifled low shot by the captain sent the Barnsley fans into delirium and ensured Barnsley wrote themselves into FA Cup history.

The game spelled the beginning of a remarkable run for Barnsley in the Cup as the side reached the semi-finals, taking the scalp of a star studded Chelsea side in the process.

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January 1992: Wrexham 2 – 1 Arsenal:

Arsenal travelled to Wales as reigning league champions for what many forecasted as a routine third round tie against a Wrexham side that were planted to the foot of the fourth division of English football. Everything seemed to be going according to plan when Alan Smith gave the Gunners the lead on the stroke of half time. However, the unfavoured welsh side refused to give up, with two goals in the last ten minutes by Thomas and Watkins ensuring the Arsenal side had an unsavoury trip home.

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May 2013: Manchester City 0 – 1 Wigan

Entering into the final, the two sides were experiencing two widely contrasting fortunes in the Premier League, with Manchester fighting for the title and Wigan hoping to stave off relegation. Despite the gulf in class for much of the previous 9 months of the season, the final proved an experience not to forget for the Lancashire side. The tie was an extremely tight affair, with both sides sharing equal amounts of possession and shots on goal. However, as the game looked to be entering Extra Time, Ben Watson headed home a Shaun Maloney corner to send the 12,500 thousand Wigan fans into delirium and wrote the club into FA Cup history.

Soccer - FA Cup - Final - Manchester City v Wigan Athletic - Wembley Stadium

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The Curious Case of Lionel Messi

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The future of Lionel Messi has become the subject of much scrutiny in recent weeks, with speculation reaching fever pitch level at a preliminary news conference for the Ballon d’Or ceremony, where he revealed that “I don’t know where I’ll be next year.” Despite subsequent attempts to downplay his comments, putting it down to “just a way of speaking,” there is a growing sense that the Lionel Messi love affair with Barcelona has begun to sour. We examine the possible reasons for the player’s growing displeasure with life at the Camp Nou.

Messi’s discontent may stem from his displeasure with the members of the current board. Under the previous President, Joan Laporta, Messi was made to feel like the Prince, receiving annual contract renewals accompanied by bumper pay rises. However, in an attempt to impose a new rule, the current Barcelona board have taken the position that contract renewals will be based solely on player performance. Messi’s displeasure at the change of stance has been all too clear. In response to Vice President Javier Faus’s comments that there was no obligation to review Messi’s contract in December 2013, the player angrily snapped that the chief “doesn’t know anything about football.”

Messi-angry

Furthermore, the player’s dissatisfaction has also spread to manager Luis Enrique. Despite repeated attempts by the latter to downplay any possible rifts within the Barcelona Camp, tensions are reported to have risen to an irreparable level following Messi’s demotion to the bench against Real Sociedad. A broadcaster reporting during the Ballon d’Or ceremony quipped that, after listening through a video message by Enrique, Messi would then have to sit through a message from his mother in law and orthodontist, such was the pained looked on the player’s face. It may also be noted that Messi’s anger may stem from the coach’s insistence to adopt a style of play centred around Messi which had welcomed the club a high degree of success over the past half a decade. For a player so accustomed to be leading goalscorer in La Liga for much of his career, Messi has scored 8 fewer goals than his main rival Cristiano Ronaldo, an ode to the Barcelona’s attempts to reduce their reliance on the player.

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Whilst Messi’s frustrations may have led him to question his future at Barcelona, Financial Fair Play severely limit the prospect of a potential exit. Under FFP regulations, if a club exceeds losses of £23.5 million over a duration of three years, they will face Uefa sanctions. Therefore, only Real Madrid and Manchester United will be able to afford the £195 million buyout clause placed on Messi’s head. However, with the player’s contract not expiring for another 4 years, Barcelona will not agree to a succession of staggered payments from United whilst Madrid will be unwilling to replicate an unsavoury situation created by the transfer of Luis Figo in 2000.  Furthermore, with the club operating under the constraints of a transfer embargo for 2015, the club will be unwilling to sell its prized asset. Therefore, Lionel Messi will find that his path to pastures new is paved with uncertainty.

Whilst Lionel Messi is undoubtedly unhappy at numerous aspects of the club, recent murmurous from his camp are most likely a strategy for player to earn a new contract. The example of Wayne Rooney, where the player twice insisting he will leave Manchester United only to perform a U-turn when offered a pay rise, illustrates the modern day player is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to force a club to reward them financially.

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January Transfer Window News

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With the January transfer window well and truly open in England, the level of anticipation is steadily growing amongst fans waiting for any sign that their clubs have signed any player to plug the deficiencies in their squad.

We’ll take a look at the the potential transfers that could take place before the close of the January transfer window.

Winston Reid: West Ham to Arsenal

Sam Allardyce’s recent admission that he does not expect the defender, who only has 6 months to run on his contract, to sign a new deal to stay at the Hammers has opened the possibility of the player leaving this month. With Arsenal’s deficiencies in the central defensive positions having a hugely negative impact on the club’s form during the first half of the season, it seems reasonable to expect Arsene Wenger may be prepared to snatch the defender from their London Rivals this January.

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 Fabio Coentrao: Real Madrid to Manchester United

Despite his undeniable talent and the astronomical fee for which he arrived at the Bernabeau, Coentrao has often found a long term residency in the Madrid team hard to come by. United unsuccessfully attempted to buy the defender 18 months ago. However, with the club’s injury crisis continuing, the signing of Coentrao will provide both much needed cover as well as invaluable experience for the young trio of Luke Shaw, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair.

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Gonzalo Higuain: Napoli to Liverpool

Liverpool have undoubtedly struggled with the loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge to chronic injury, leaving them 7 positions and 13 points worse off compared to last January. Despite Higuain’s success at Napoli, it has been rumoured that the arrival of Manolo Gabbiadini coupled with the team’s poor showing in the league may signal an exit for the striker. With Liverpool’s continued struggles in front of goal, a move to the merseyside team may not be beyond Higuain.

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Jermaine Defoe : Toronto FC to QPR
After starting life in the MLS well with 11 goals in his first 16 games, Defoe has become unsettled with life in Toronto and is openly seeking a move from the states back to home shores. With staying in the Premier League of paramount importance to QPR, a move for the striker is likely for Harry Redknapp as he looks to be reunited with the player for an unprecedented fourth time. However, wages may be sticking point, with QPR reluctant to break their wage structure. Based on past experiences, this transfer is likely to go to the wire.

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Scott Sinclair: Manchester City to Aston Villa

Sinclair’s move to Manchester in 2012 was supposed to spell the completion of a transformation from Chelsea reject to Premier League champion. However, the player has spent much of the past two and a half years as a bench warmer, only making a handful of appearances for the club. However, Sinclair’s may soon end his terrible experience at the Ethihad with a permenanant move to Paul Lambert’s Villa. The club has severely struggled with a lack of creativity and goals in recent months and the move is much needed for both parties to get their seasons back on track.

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Best Of The Rest: 

Martin Odegaard: Stromsgodset IF to Real Madrid

After making his national team debut last year at the tender age of 15 years, Odegaard has become the hottest property in world football. Having taken tours across the biggest European clubs during the last quarter of 2014, the player may be changing the sleepy hollows of Norwegian football for the bright lights of Madrid during the January transfer window. With Madrid already have an array of riches to choose from in the Attacking Midfield position, the club ‘s decision to sign the youngster may signal the club’s attempts and guaranteeing future success as well as ensuring their European rivals do not get their hands on the next potential footballing star.

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Chinese Asian Cup Success Rooted In Evergrande Football School

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With the Asian Cup starting in a week, 16 nations are finalising their preparations for the region’s footballing centre piece. Whilst much attention will be placed on 2011 finalists Japan and Australia, much focus will not be placed on the Chinese national team. The side has a less than complementary record in the competition, with an unsuccessful appearance in the 2004 final serving as a mere blip in a hugely unspectacular run over the past 20 years. Such results have left the national side often facing a barrage of criticism from their own supporters. After losing to Uzbekistan and Holland last year, the Beijing Evening News commented that “the national football team has written a new chapter once again in its ‘history of shame’ of repeated defeats.”

However, China’s poor performances in the Asian Cup may soon change owing to the recent opening of the Evergrande International Football School, situated in Guangdong province in southern China. The brainchild of Chinese billionaire and football enthusiast Xu Jiayin and costing a reported £115 million, the youth academy opened in 2012 as part of China’s plan to rule both the global economic and sporting rankings. The complex resembles a miniature city with no expense having been spared to provide the optimum environment for academic and sporting education of the youngsters. In addition to 50 football pitches and halls of residences for students and full time staff, the compound also houses supermarkets, cinemas and an Entertainment Centre to ensure children are as comfortable as possible.

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Evergrande Football School

Whilst the grandiose nature of infrastructural design is fast becoming China’s trademark, Evergrande’s greatest achievement has been its openness to adopt new values for benefit of the students. Whilst China advocate teaching methods of drilling youngsters resembling military precision, Liu Jiangnan, the academy principal, soon recognised that such techniques may not be conducive for footballing development and sought the advice of foreign coaches to help proceedings. As part of a multi million euro deal with Real Madrid, foreign coaches were imported in an to educate both children and fellow coaches to promote creativity amongst students that were more accustomed to fearing constant criticism. A number of coaches explained that “when we arrived, we found that the Chinese coaches trained the kids in a military way….[but] football is supposed to be fun. It’s a sport but the way to learn is by having fun.”

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Children Battling In A Training Match

Evergrande is also tackling an issue that is often overlooked in traditional western academies; education. Whilst the school is primarily utilised for footballing development, a great emphasis is placed upon academic education for the attendees. Housed within the complex are primary and secondary teaching buildings as well as a library and auditorium. Therefore, outside of four 90 minute weekly training sessions, students spend the remainder of their time in the classroom learning the traditional curriculum. Furthermore, the large community of Spanish coaches has positively impacted students as they are able to learn an extra language with relative ease. Shouts of “hola” are often heard around the complex, with one coach commenting that “when we leave the school in a few years all the players will speak Spanish.” The hope remains that the school’s attempt to balance students academic and footballing development will breed youngsters with an instilled belief of hard work, perseverance and flair that will serve them well for the future.

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Coaches Passing On Wisdom

Whilst the school may be seen as a feat of both infrastructural and practical brilliance, scepticism remains over the project. Analysts point to the source of the school’s funding as a reason of concern. Yan Qiang, a journalist who has extensively covered Chinese football, expressed his doubt in the success of the project owing to the fact that the school only receives about £6 milllion annual funding. Furthermore, since the country is experiencing a severe slowdown in its economy, critics suggest that the parties involved may be less inclined to invest in a complex that is unlikely to yield significant results for another decade in favour of protecting their capital during such uncertain economic times. Critics have also questioned the lastingness of the school if immediate success is not delivered, pointing to the example of the closure of 4,000 football schools in the 1990s upon China’s failure to win an Asian Cup.

Despite scepticism surrounding both the longevity of the academy and football as a whole in China, the creation of such a facility represents a step in the right direction for the country’s attempts to boost its chances in competitions as the Asian Cup. With such a comprehensive system currently in place in Guangdong coupled with plans to build 100 new football pitches will be built by 2016 in Guangzhou, the nation’s youth should have the support to reach their dreams to one day play football at the highest level.

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