Y’all off the Hirving Lozano hype train yet? No? Well it’s about time to. There’s a new Mexican wonderkid in town. We present you, Diego Lainez.
Labelled ‘the Mexican Messi’ , he’s similar in both size and style to the Barcelona icon. At just 17 years of age Lainez has already made 12 appearances for Club America in the Mexican first division, making his debut on 5th of March at Leon’s Nou Camp. He caught the eyes of scouts around the globe with his performances in the u17 World Cup in India, as the stand out performer of an underachieving Mexico team, notably scoring two goals against England (who would later go on to become champions).
How did it all start?
When he was thirteen, he left his family and his hometown of Tabasco to pursue his dream of playing for Las Aguilas, and It didn't take him long to make a positive first impression. He arrived at the club for an open trial and after impressing the coaches he was asked to “hang around”, as he himself explains in an interview for http://Goal.com . 2 hours later, the team from his age group played against Puma. He scored a goal and got an assist, which helped him earn a place in the academy.
One of the reasons he’s compared to Leo Messi is his dribbling. It’s no longer be a surprise when he takes the ball and dribbles past defenders for fun, rather, it’s be expected from him, he’s unplayable in 1v1 situations. Lainez can play behind the striker or as a midfielder, he can use both feet and has shown the ability to spark attacking chances from the center and right side of the pitch as well. He’s really quick on the ball, he is a great ball carrier (the ball seems to be glued to his feet), and even though he’s not the fastest, the acceleration he possess is deadly.
It's clear that Lainez still has several aspects on which to improve. One thing that stands out in his game, is that his decision-making in the final third tends to be too rushed. When he's able to utilize his superior dribbling skills to beat a defender 1v1, he often doesn't send a precise pass into the box. And the defenders tend to go too hard on him. After all, no one wants to be fooled by that unknown 15-year old.
Interest from Europe?
Obviously, you’d expect to have a few European Club circling around him after his performances in India. http://Mirror.co.uk and Daily Mail reported that Jurgen Kloop’s Liverpool had expressed their interest on the player, however nothing concrete so far.
Even though he is still so young, and so small (currently standing at 5'5”), Lainez isn't intimidated by the fact that he's a boy in a man's world. Indeed, he says that America's biggest stars have helped him adapt to life in the professional game, pointing out William Da Silva, Darwin Quintero.
If he does realize his potential, we can sense a Mexico-USA rivalry between him and the States’ standout performer, Christian Pulisic. However as Lainez himself admits, he has a long road ahead of him and it's best to just continue taking it one step at a time. After all the recent events, Lainez is about to start an important stage in his career. Only a few days after returning from India, Lainez was given a start in America’s round of 16 game against Cruz Azul. They won 1-0 and Lainez got on pretty well, playing for 74 minutes before being substituted by Cecilio Dominguez, who’s his biggest competitor for a place in the team sheet. Although it was Dominguez who started the season playing lights out, his form as of late has been so poor, that we wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the season, Lainez has more minutes under his belt than the Paraguayan.
Most football fans could have barely told you anything about Leon Goretzka before the 2016/17 Bundesliga season. The star player in Schalke’s bid to reclaim a spot in the Champions League, Goretzka’s path has now placed him in the spotlight of the entire world. Described as a “once in a century talent” by former manager Peter Neururer, teams across Europe are readying up their best offers this winter. Schalke have already offered a contract extension worth about €10m per year, with current Schalke captain Ralf Fährmann stating that Goretzka can have the captaincy, should he remain in the Ruhrpott.
Playing for VfL Bochum since Under-8 level, Leon Goretzka’s professional career began in 2012. Goretzka, born in Bochum, still lives in the working-class city. He made his debut for Bochum’s senior team against Dynamo Dresden on the first matchday of the 2012/13 Bundesliga 2 season. Goretzka marked his professional debut with a headed goal to spark a comeback as Bochum won 2:1. Goretzka won the Fritz Walter Medal – an annual award given to outstanding young players by the DFB – in 2012 for the Under-17 age group. Current Schalke teammate and best friend Max Meyer took silver for the same category.
After an outstanding 2012/13 season in which Goretzka got 4 goals and 8 assists with Bochum, Goretzka transferred to FC Schalke 04 for a fee of approximately €3,250,000 in July 2013. Goretzka featured in 32 matches across all competitions in Jens Keller’s final season at Schalke, including five substitute appearances in the Champions League. Goretzka finished the season with 5 goals and 1 assist in all competitions. Goretzka sat out a large portion of the 2014/15 season with a muscle tear in his left thigh, making just 10 appearances in the Bundesliga.
Goretzka solidified his claim for a starting role under Andre Breitenreiter in the 2015/16 season as Schalke disappointingly finished in 5th. Making 34 appearances in all competitions, Goretzka finished the season with a pair of goals and five assists. Goretzka captained Germany’s 2016 Olympic team, but a shoulder injury meant he had to withdraw from the squad.
2016/17 was the season of Leon Goretzka in Gelsenkirchen. The dynamic central midfielder was a bright spot in Schalke’s worst finish since 2011. Goretzka became more involved further forward under Markus Weinzierl. During the 2016/17 season, Goretzka transitioned from a deeper central midfielder to an energetic, box-to-box threat. Goretzka utilized his deceptive pace by carrying the ball forward to start counterattacks and making late, surging runs into the box. Goretzka scored important goals throughout the season and improved tremendously across all areas of his game.
Goretzka has garnered widespread attention for his efforts in 2017. For the German national team, Goretzka scored 6 goals and assisted 2 more in just 9 matches since the beginning of the calendar year. The pick of the bunch was his excellent backheel against Azerbaijan in October. The playmaker has operated in a more attacking role under Domenico Tedesco and continues to shine for Schalke. Goretzka's work ethic off the ball can be likened to that of the supporters', Goretzka is seemingly fully behind Tedesco's system at Schalke. The midfielder is in-sync with the whole squad as they simultaneous hound the oppositions' defense. Video on Domenico Tedesco's tactical system at Schalke here.
Currently, a wide range of clubs such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus, and various English clubs have shown interest in the 22-year-old. A short list of Goretzka's English suitors include Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool. With his contract set to expire at the end of the year, Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel stated at the beginning of the 17/18 season that he and Tedesco did not see a reason to sell Goretzka prematurely. Goretzka’s agent and former club would stand to get 20% of the transfer fee each, should Goretzka leave Schalke in January.
“Either his contract is extended, or he remains until 2018. [...] We believe that it is best for him to stay here. The ball is now in Leon's court.” – Christian Heidel
The relationship Goretzka has with new manager Domenico Tedesco may just be too good to turn down. Should he stay, Leon Goretzka would become ‘Mister Schalke’, a title that does suit the midfielder very well. However, the possibility of playing for a European giant could be too enticing for Goretzka. Barcelona’s midfield would certainly be enhanced with a player of Goretzka’s quality and stature, while Bayern are well-known for attracting key players from rival domestic clubs. Wherever Leon Goretzka ends up come the summer of 2018, his club will no doubt be receiving a player of massive quality and undeniable potential.
Ethan - @TedescoTime
It’s been a long international break, but club football is back, and back with a bang. Matchweek 12 of Premier League football kicks off with bitter rivals facing each other, as Tottenham Hotspur will be facing Arsenal in the North London Derby. The surging Spurs have been on great form as of late, in both the Champions League and the PL. Leading their group consisting of Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and APOEL as well as being 3rd in the league shows that. The Gunners may not have shown the same level of success, but don’t let that fool you. Teams can always turn on like a switch when they play a rival. That could very well be the case at Emirates Stadium.
As stated earlier, Spurs have gotten off to a great start in domestic and European football. Their recent success is down to two key things. First off, the signing of Davinson Sanchez has been fantastic in many ways. Tottenham have signed a young CB who’s inserted himself into the XI nicely. Alderweireld & Vertonghen are both CBs with excellent ball carrying abilities, and win the ball via intercepting and well timed tackles for the most part. However, the backline was lacking a more “rash” CB in the middle. With Sanchez, we’ve seen a composed player who wins the ball with ease, goes stride for stride with most forwards, and is comfortable on the ball. At first, many would’ve questioned why Pochettino sought out for him instead of a forward to bolster the team some more, but there’s no doubt that he made the right decision.
With the 3-4-2-1, Tottenham maintained possession of the ball, but struggled to create in the final third. When being forced to move men into the final third, they weren’t stable defensively. That is a prime moment in the game to counter. In a 3-5-1-1, the team is very narrow. The team stays compact unless a fullback/winger is on the ball. Then, a wingback + a midfielder will press, giving them a numerical advantage on one side of the pitch. Alli may drop deep to cut off a passing lane, while Trippier and Eriksen push forward to pressure the man on the ball. Forcing the opposition to give the ball away in a dangerous area is one of the things Pochettino emphasises. It allows a striker like Harry Kane to run at the CBs and cause havoc. When Spurs do build up, the central CM (typically Harry Winks) will be the one distributing the ball to all areas of the pitch. Eriksen will push forward, leaving the other CM the duty of providing an option for Winks. With WBs that are knowledgeable enough to time forward runs, Tottenham have been capable of utilizing the channels. The 3-5-1-1 has benefited the Lilywhites defensively and offensively, and played a detrimental part in their success.
Unlike Tottenham, Arsenal haven’t had the greatest season so far. The Europa League may be going well at the time being, but they’ve had some struggles domestically. Sure, they may have already faced two potential top 4 teams in the league, but Arsenal didn’t look like they were much of a fight. This comes down to mistakes that haunt the players, and the management. If we look back at the Jese goal vs. Stoke, Ramsey was so far up the pitch for someone who’s meant to be in a double pivot. On top of that, Xhaka pinches forward at the wrong time, completely taking him out of the play. Stoke counter, and Jese scores. Stoke later went on to win the game 1-0 at full time. The 3-4-2-1 hasn’t been too bad, but the inconsistency and mediocre results are coming in. The team’s xG90 and xA90 are at 1.91 and 1.54. Despite this, there has been 5 games this season where they scored less than two goals. Converting chances to goals is detrimental to a team’s success, and Arsenal can be poor at times. Take Chelsea - Arsenal, for example. Lacazette and Welbeck’s chances that they failed to score had a combined xG of 1.04. 2 shots in the 1st half equalling an xG of 1 or greater alone is a lot. In every game that Arsenal have won, they scored at least 2 goals in. In some cases, it may be in dominant fashion. When they lose however, it’s been to either a top 6 side of that time, or against Stoke where finding a goal was the main struggle.
The NLD isn’t something to take lightly, no matter what form you’re in. However, I do believe that Tottenham’s system, Arsenal’s form against top 6 sides this season, and the news that Jan Vertonghen is fit to play will give the Lilywhites the edge in this game.
Noah - @EriksensationaI
It seems like just yesterday, that Italy was eliminated from the European Championship and all Italians felt proud of their team's accomplishments despite being eliminated. Now, a bit more than a year later, Italy has had their next big exit from a tournament and many Italians feel ashamed and embarrassed by their team. Ask almost every Italy fan why we missed out on this World Cup, and they will give you the same answer: Gian Piero Ventura.
The main problem for Ventura was at times not being able to make the simplest tactical decisions, that any Italy fan watching the game could make in order to get the results we needed. For many fans, myself included, the serious doubt started to build after the lose to Spain at the Bernabeu. Decisions like playing in a two man midfield against Spain, a team that has several world class playmakers that need marking, as well as playing your best attacking player - Lorenzo Insigne - out of position, and sometimes not at all were some of the problems. The problem was, that there were many more tactical decisions other than the two I named that caused many fans to doubt him. As the games went on, it only seemed to get worse and worse. Italy began to struggle to get favorable result against weaker teams. As time went on, more and more people were calling for Ventura to be sacked, if they weren't already. Besides the poor tactics, it was the mentality of the players that became more worrying. As the occasion got tougher, most thought the player would rise to it. However, under Ventura it seemed as though the players were scared, timid, and clueless during big games that Italy had. This is something many Italian fans aren't used, especially after a tournament like the European Championship were, under Conte, the Azzurri gave everything for the shirt and only increased their intensity as the games got bigger. To me, the lack of intensity is single handedly due to Ventura. Not only did he most times not seem to care, but it was also clear that by his last game, he had completely lose trust and respect from every player on that team. As everyone knows, this is the last straw for a manger, and it sure was for Ventura.
As Ventura exits, many wonder who will be the next coach of the Azzurri. Many may call for Antonio Conte to be re-appointed, but I would prefer someone who will ditch the 3-5-2 for good. We simply have too much talent going forward to play a 3-5-2 and limit ourselves. For me, it is too early to decide who I want to take charge of the national team. I, for one, believe that a lot of time should be taken to make the right decision and pick someone who is willing to stay with the Azzurri until at least the next World Cup. Conte is great, but there is no guarantee on whether or not he will leave again like he did last year. I would like to see the new coach give youth a chance, and potentially even use Euro 2020 not as a tournament to win (Though we should still go for it), but more as a tournament to get new players experience at a major tournament in order to make a real run for the World Cup, since we will still have the talent to win it.
Antonio - @lorenzinho18
Since their creation back in 1984, Red Bull have been nothing short of a revelation in their respective fields, having sold an estimated 50 billion cans in more than 166 countries around the globe (as of 2016). Although, it’s not the fact that their high sodium drinks possess a large share on the energy drink market that has seen them become one of the most renowned businesses on the planet, but it’s their utilisation of sports ever-growing commercial market.
Throughout the years, the company have plastered their brand all over a multitude of events, ranging from soapbox racing to paper aeroplane throwing. But the pinnacle of their sporting adventure saw Red Bull’s name engraved into the history books. In an operation that came into fruition in October 2012, Felix Baumgartner was hoisted 24 miles (39 kilometres) into the stratosphere above New Mexico, USA, in a 550 foot hellium balloon, before free falling at a speed of 843.6 mph. Witnessed by an approximate 8 million spectators on YouTube, Baumgartner became the first human being to break the sound barrier without the assistance of a motorised vehicle.
Albeit the tidal wave of success, Red Bull have never been too far away from controversy. The company have been scrutinised numerous times for the fact that their product increases the risk of a heart attack, but it was their adventure into football which would see them compared to Adolf Hitler and Josef Fritzl. The game of football is an ever-growing phenomenon thanks to money invested into it by television organisations, corporate sponsorship and sugar daddies looking for entertainment. So this is where I diverge into an anecdote about SV Austria Salzburg, a club demolished by a company’s desire to expand their image.
Formalised in 1933, after the merging of Hertha and Rapid (Salzburg), SV Austria Salzburg was once a club enriched with a history that included 8 domestic honours, 3 of which were Ö Bundesliga titles (93-94, 94-95 and 96-97). Over the course of their 72 year existence, the club were no stranger to a rebranding, having seen their name modified twice. The first came in 1979, when the club became known as SV Casino Salzburg. The ‘casino’ era turned out to be the most successful period in the clubs history. In a duration spanning 18 years, 3 league titles entered their trophy cabinet, alongside reaching their first ever European final in 1994. After overcoming Sporting CP and Eintracht Frankfurt in the latter stages of the competition, Casino Salzburg faced an Inter Milan looking to rectify for their dismal domestic campaign. In a final played over 2 fixtures, Salzburg agonisingly succumb to a 2-0 aggregate defeat to the Nerazzurri.
The second name change came in 1997, when the club went into business with Wüstenrot-Gruppe, an Austrian-based financial service and real estate company that possessed subsidiaries in building and insurance. Due to their newfound partnership, the club became SV Wüstenrot Salzburg, but were primarily known as their traditional title. The change in name saw a change in fortune for the Salzburg-based club. Under Wüstenrot’s 8 year reign, the club were unable to add a single piece of silverware to their collection. It was a frustrating period, as the closest they came to success was after the turn of the century, when an excruciating penalty shoot-out defeat to Grazer AK saw the club come runners up in the ÖFB cup. It wasn’t until Red Bull arrived that the success would return.
Having become accustomed to the concept of rebranding, when the fans first heard about Red Bull’s desire to become acquainted with their local club, the general consensus was of sheer delight, as in recent years, the club had fallen on hard times, financially. But within weeks, their pleasure became dismay, after the realisation that Red Bull’s intentions weren’t what they were thought out to be. But it was too late to have an impact on the decision. The new owners were quick to leave their mark on the club, making the 2nd (3rd in total) name change in less than 10 years, renaming the club: FC Red Bull Salzburg. Their full steam approach didn’t stop there. In an attempt to envelope the remaining aspects of Austria Salzburg, the colour scheme was changed from violet to red and white, the colours that represented their brand, as well as the badge being alternated, too.
Alongside the change in management personnel and staff, Red Bulls next move would make their previous decisions look like Samaritan work. A statement was released declaring that RB Salzburg was a brand new club with no preceding history. An announcement that was forcibly alternated by the ÖFB, threatening to evoke their playing license if their history wasn’t honoured. The recent turn of events caused the fans to feel enraged, leaving them no choice but to offer an ultimatum: restore the clubs colours or a departure would be made. In an attempt of appeasement, Red Bull reluctantly offered them the chance to have violet on the goalkeepers socks. An offer which was refuted.
As as result, the foundations were set for an entirely fan run operation, adopting the name that had been neglected by Red Bull: SV Austria Salzburg. The clubs resurrection received an overwhelming amount of support from fan groups throughout Europe. Through this support, the club received a sufficient amount of funds that would allow them to bulldoze through the lower divisions. Winning 4 consecutive titles between 06-07 and 09-10, with an overall goal difference of +291. Thanks to their astronomical rise, the club found themselves within touching distance of RB Salzburg, before even reaching their 5th birthday. In 2015, after 5 seasons lingering in the Regionalliga West (Austria’s 3rd division), promotion to the Erste Liga was finally achieved. In the forthcoming season, Austria Salzburg would come up against a Red Bull affiliate. In 4 fixtures that took place against FC Liefering, the Violette’s only managed to take away 2 points out of a possible 12. Including a 4-0 and 5-2 defeat at the formally known Wals-Siezenheim Stadion, a place that was once called home for the Austria Salzburg faithful. Unfortunately, the season ended in relegation for the club, and have been competing in the 3rd division ever since.
Dietrich Mateschitz (Red Bulls co-founder) has never been a self-proclaimed football fanatic, being someone who’s more partial to Formula 1. But the power of football as a spectacle and commercial venture was a topic frequently discussed between Mateschitz and 2 time Ballon d’Or winner, Franz Beckenbauer. Over time, the German managed to convince Austria’s richest man into buying a football club. Although, the latter was quick to make it publicly clear that he has no interest in turning the purchase into a personal adventure, but using it as a method of growing his company further.
“This has nothing to do with passion, playfulness or a profiling neurosis […] in everything we do, we must distinguish between activities as a brand, and as me as a person. It was not a personal indulgence to enter football, but an idea to grow the brand.”
Using Der Kaiser’s links to Bayern Munich to their advantage, in 2006, the club were able to entice Giovanni Trappatoni into becoming their director of sport, as well as Lothar Matthäus to become their first-team manager. Both would share coaching duties over the course of the 06-07 campaign. Despite co-leading the club to its 4th ever Bundesliga title, Matthäus was subsequently sacked after a unanimous decision from the board.
Even though the club won 4 consecutive titles prior to 2012, Salzburg lacked a distinct philosophy and long-term vision. This would change in the summer of 2012, when the highly rated Ralf Rangnick was appointed Red Bull’s global football director. Working on similar projects at Hoffenheim and Schalke, Rangnick would find Red Bull a footballing identity. Using the company’s demographic as an inspiration, a high intensity, attacking brand of football was introduced. With the (then) 51-year-old in full control to implement his philosophy, a managerial change was promptly made, relieving Ricardo Moniz of his duties and replacing him with ex-Paderborn manager, Roger Schmidt.
Under the Germans guidance, Salzburg exemplified Rangnick’s vision. Putting Red Bull’s name well and truly on the footballing map. Introducing a free-flowing rendition of the traditional 4-4-2, Salzburg played some magnificent football. With Mané and Kampl being deployed as ‘inverted wingers’, this allowed the side to create an overload in the centre, giving Schwegler and Ulmer the freedom to venture forward on their respective flanks. In case of a turnover, Salzburg’s counter press wouldn’t go into effect until the possession was situated in the wide areas, limiting their space and cutting off passing lanes, ultimately forcing their opposition into dispossessing themselves. One team, in particular, that couldn’t cope with Salzburg’s intense pressing and ball-orientated movement was Frank de Boer’s Ajax. In the 2 fixtures scheduled between the clubs in 2014, Salzburg comfortably came out victorious with a 6-1 aggregate scoreline. Limiting Ajax’s passing options, Schmidt’s side were able to frustrate their opponents into playing outside of Cruyff’s teaching.
Learning from the mistakes made by clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City under new ownership, Red Bull elected not to inject hundreds of millions into transfers, in an attempt to build a short-term super team, to only see themselves in excruciating debt within a decade.
“It would be wrong to buy a team of mercenaries […] Time and growth of the club is more important than an astronomical budget and dazzling names.” – Dietrich Mateschitz.
Therefore, the club opted for an ‘organic’ approach. Utilising their array of scouting networks at affiliated clubs in Europe, Africa, South and North America, Red Bull are able to create an advantage for themselves in the transfer market. Scouting obscure leagues and teams to have a greater understanding of the market, the club’s scouting department use a wide range of methods to build a profile on a potential target. If said player fits the Red Bull mould, then he’ll be scouted further. Speaking at an IFA conference in Zurich (2014), Rangnick explains the process in more detail:
“The difference between us and other clubs is that in the first place, we sign players aged between 17 and 23. Our transfer policy is to sign players who are onto maybe the 2nd contract of their lives and they want to develop their careers step by step, and if you get the right offer, you have to let them go and have other players in the pipeline.”
Talking to Daniel Fieldsend upon his visit to Salzburg for his book ‘The European Game’. Salzburg’s head of scouting, Christopher Vivell, explains the procedure required when following Rangnick’s guidelines:
“Our whole club’s philosophy is part of a Red Bull one and is based that on our former sport director Ralf Rangnick. We still continue that idea which is based on fast, aggressive play close together with team spirit and quick regains of the ball.”
“If he has no character for pressing, then he will not be signed. But we do not always get to see the potential of the player in his environment – perhaps his coach is telling him to relax when out of possession – so we need to use our imagination.”
In modern football, a clubs geographic is an important factor as to whether the contract is signed or not. Although the club might be appealing, their location might not. In Die Roten Bullen’s case, there is no such issue. The club are situated in a magnificent city with a mix of vintage and modern architecture. Overlooked by Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg is a city of royalty and sophistication. Surrounded by Museums and Cathedrals, horse and carriage roam the eminent Kapitelplatz Square, as tourists gather round games of chess. Having an average squad age of 22.2, the night clubs come in handy, too.
Situated within a stones throw away from the Austrian-German border, another piece of modern architecture lie. Opened in September 2014, Red Bull Akademie is seen as the central hub of Rangnick’s vision. Spanning 10 acres with a 200 metre long building made out of local resources, Akademie possesses facilities that caters for both FC Red Bull Salzburg and EC Red Bull Salzburg (Ice Hockey), with 7 pitches and 2 ice courts at their disposal. Within its circumference, 5,000 square meters are dedicated to 8 youth teams between the ages of under 8 to under 14, accommodating for more than 180 players.
Within 5 years of Rangnick’s philosophy implementation, Salzburg have become one of the most enticing propositions in Europe for young players. In recent years, the club have been able to convince the likes of Dayot Upamecano and Mahamadou Dembélé to turn down offers from Barcelona and leave PSG, respectively, to be a part of Salzburg’s project. Thanks to their power of persuasion, the clubs academy has become one of the best in Europe. A status that was confirmed last season.
Winning Austria’s U18 Jugendliga a season prior, Salzburg qualified for the UEFA Youth League through its newly introduced domestic path. Forced to take an unconventional route to the knockout stages, the club would participate in 3 play-off fixtures. Surpassing FK Vardar and FC Kairat with ease. In the final round, Marco Rose’s men would come up against a Man City side consisting Jadon Sancho and Brahim Diaz. After a close cut affair, Salzburg would come out as victors in an intense penalty shoot-out.
The Austrian’s journey to the summit was no walk in the park. Triumphing over PSG and Atlético Madrid, Die Rotten Bullen’s semi-final fixture would see them come up against the renowned La Masia. Within 20 minutes, the Catalans would be 1-0 ahead, after Jordi Mboula evaded 3 markers to curl the ball into the far corner, leaving Bartłomiej Żynel helpless. During the first-half, the home side would waste a number of chances to increase their lead, and were left ruing their mistakes, as Sergi Puig’s wayward clearance was met by a bleach-blonde Hannes Wolf, who slotted home the equiliser from outside the area. In a game dominated by Salzburg, the underdogs finally received their just reward, taking the lead with minutes to spare. Becoming the first Austrian side to reach the competitions finale.
In the final, Salzburg would come against a Benfica sides who’s path was fairly easy in comparison to their opponents; coming up against PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid en route to Nyon. For decades, Benfica have been haunted by Bela Guttmann’s curse, with their senior side reaching 8 European finals without success. With that fact in mind, Salzburg must’ve felt confident going into the tie, but yet again, would find themselves 1-0 down at half-time. João Felipe’s corner evaded everyone and landed on the head of José Gomes, putting his side ahead just before the half-hour mark. Just like their semi-final victory, Salzburg had a large share of possession, but for a long period, were unable to break down their opponent. It wasn’t until the 70th minute that Salzburg equalised. Once again, it was from a corner, but this times Wolf’s cross was met by an almighty leap from Daka, placing his header in the identical corner as Gomes’ opener. After the goal, Salzburg maintained their period of dominance, changing the games complexion 5 minutes later. As Schmidt tucked away Hannes Wolf’s pull back from a byline, a goal that would turn out to be the winner, despite Ingolitsch’s late red card.
Salzburg’s success at youth level stems down to their use of FC Liefering. Founded in December 2011 after Salzburg signed a co-operation pact with FC Pasching and USK Anif. Liefering are used as an incubator club, operating similarly as a ‘B’ team would in Spain and Portugal, allowing players to freely interchange between the clubs throughout the season. Although, in Liefering’s instance, they are reportedly capable of playing in the same division as their mother club, should promotion be achieved. Due to registering themselves under USK Anif’s playing license. During the 16-17 campaign, Salzburg’s starting XI against Benfica had accumulated more than 10,000 minutes of senior football, giving them the experience needed to win the competition.
Once described as a ‘sleeping giant’ by Franz Beckenbauer, Salzburg are finally making strides in the game. Despite being forced to register under an alternated name and badge because of UEFA regulations, the club are making their presence known on the European stage. It’s now only a matter of time before they reach their goal of making the Champions League group phase and build upon from there.
Born in Belgium, Svilar is another amazing product of Anderlecht's youth academy. Making his Uefa Youth League debut at just 15 years old and his Champions League debut two months after he turned 18, he holds the record for the youngest goalkeeper to have ever played in both competitions. Frequently compared to the likes of Michel Preud'homme and Thibaut Courtois, there is no question that Mile Svilar is one of Belgium's best prospects. His mentality is often praised because he tries to focus all his energies on being the best, not only in training but also when he has free time (he even has a personal trainer). It was precisely because of this ambition and confidence in his own qualities that he did not accept the fact that Anderlecht continued to postpone his promotion to the main team. After so many years of investment, one would expect Les Mauve et Blanc to quickly come to terms with the young goalkeeper and let him have enough playing time to earn experience at top level but this wasn't the case and Benfica, after selling Ederson, snatched him up with the promise of making him their starting goalkeeper.
After his first appearance as a Benfica player against Olhanense in the Portuguese Cup, Rui Vitória decided to start him against José Mourinho's Manchester United. In a game where both teams played decently, Svilar and Rúben Dias were the young players who stood out from the rest. Benfica's start to the season was horrible, the game against United was very important to prove a point and to get back to winning ways. Svilar had a solid game in general, showing why he is so highly rated by Europe's biggest clubs. The Red Devils exploited his lack of experience by making a series of crosses and shooting from outside the box. Unfortunately, he made a mistake that led to Rashford's goal - and it was pretty embarrassing. Despite the mistake, he didn't let that affect him, as he said in an interview after the game: "A striker can make a mistake, score a goal and everything is forgotten but a goalkeeper can have a perfect game and then make one mistake and it's over."
• Svilar is a sweeper-keeper, very comfortable at using the space ahead of him. Doesn't shy away from having the ball at his feet and can help at building from the back or even at breaking the opposition lines. He comes out of the goal line, acting as the last defender, either to offer a passing lane to teammates or to close down the opposition in 1v1 situations. This allows Benfica to play with a higher defensive line, an approach frequently used by Benfica's manager.
• Much like Ederson, his reflexes and shot stopping are remarkable. Making use of his frame, he is not afraid to use every part of his body in order to stop shots from close range.
• In terms of distribution there is still a lot of room to grow, sometimes he has to be calmer and pass to the center backs or the fullbacks instead of trying long balls. It is something he will get better at as he gets more experience.
• Before joining Benfica, Svilar had only played in the UEFA Youth League, and played really well, but it is very different from the real Champions League. The truth is that his inexperience may cost Benfica games, just like happened against Manchester United.
• According to Het Nieuwsblad writers, Jürgen Geril and Gert Gysen, his main weakness is overconfidence. It pretty much shows what kind of goalkeeper he is, risky and confident of his quality. They also think that leaving Anderlecht was not the right choice for the young goalkeeper because he had never played at the highest level before.
• Another weakness of his is set-pieces. It is clearly something that he will have to work on throughout the season.
Oblak and Ederson are two goalkeepers who recently have left their mark at Benfica and now are two of the best goalkeepers in the world. If Svilar's progress is proportional to his potential, one expects him to follow the steps of these great goalkeepers. The Portuguese champions are definitely the right club for his development. From being one of Belgium's future goalkeepers to being close to being called up to Serbia's National Team, it's safe to say that Svilar's career has changed drastically in the last few weeks. He still hasn't chosen which country he is representing but as a Benfica fan, I would like to see him and Zivkovic playing for Serbia at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
October has come and it’s that time again; the kickoff of the 2017 MLS Playoffs. It’s gotten off to a wild start, consisting of blowouts on Wednesday, and nail biters on Thursday.
Wednesday’s games have been a little disappointing if you’re a neutral watching, but fantastic for Whitecaps and Red Bulls fans. The 6th seeded Red Bulls traveled to Toyota Park, and have made a statement to the other teams in the Eastern Conference. It only took 7 minutes for them to score, with Bradley Wright-Phillips getting on the end of a lofted pass from Damien Perrinelle and going ‘round the keeper to score. It doesn’t end there, though. Sacha Kljestan doubles New York’s lead with another goal 4 minutes later. The local boy Tyler Adams has continued his good form after a low cross that finds Kljestan at the far post. You’d expect Chicago to put up more of a fight, but this game was all New York as they put two more goals past Matt Lampson. Oddly strange that players like Nemanja Nikolic and David Accam were silent, but the playoffs separate the pretenders from the contenders, and they weren’t up for the task. The Red Bulls will be playing their two-legged Semifinal vs. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC on Oct. 30 (H) and Nov. 5 (A)
The second of the two games played on Wednesday was San Jose @ Vancouver. The home fans at BC Place had lots to celebrate that day as the #3 seeded Whitecaps had a field day offensively. Leitch’s men conceded 5 goals in an absolute route. Fredy Montero led the charge with a goal in the 37’, assisted by Kendall Watson. At the end of the first half, the score was only 1-0. It didn’t seem too bad for the Quakes, and a second half return could put them through to the Western Conference Semifinal. However, the Whitecaps had other plans. 12 minutes into the 2nd half, Cristian Techera absolutely blasts one from outside the box, doubling Vancouver’s lead. It turned ugly from there for the Quakes. A 4 goal second half propelled Vancouver to a 5-0 victory and a place in the semis against their Cascadia rival and defending MLS Cup champions, Seattle Sounders. The two legged tie will be played on Oct. 29 (H) and Nov. 2 (A).
Unlike the Wednesday games, the games played on Oct. 26 had fans on the edge of their seats. The first game of Thursday’s doubleheader was the Columbus Crew vs. Atlanta United in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The game may have ended 0-0 AET, but don’t let that fool you. This was a very end to end game, with chances, big saves, goal line clearances, and shots going off the woodwork on both ends of the pitch. Atlanta’s flair and high powered offense really showed, but they lacked what it took to put the ball in the net. Columbus keeper and MOTM winner Zack Steffen was forced to make 8 saves in the 120 minutes played, and a lot of them robbed Atlanta from a goal. Don’t let that distract you from the fact that Columbus had some chances of their own, creating a combined xG of 4.32 for the two sides. After 120 minutes, it was time for everyone’s favorite game: Penalties. Gressel, Gonzalez-Pirez, and Larentowicz have failed to convert, while Federico Higuain, Niko Hansen, and Adam Jahn found the net resulting in a 3-1 win in pens for the Crew. They will be playing NYCFC in the Eastern Conference Semifinal on Oct. 31 (H) and Nov. 6 (A).
The knockout round of the MLS Playoffs concluded with Sporting Kansas City @ Houston to take on the Dynamo. Another nail biter, but ended with a goal in extra time. Unlike the Columbus-Atlanta game, things didn’t truly heat up until extra time. A fantastic effort from Vicente Sanchez led to finding Alberth Elis who takes a couple of touches and finds the back of the net to give the game its only goal. Although it did only end 1-0 in favor of the Dynamo, both sides started to see the game open up more. Considering that Melia didn’t start for SKC, you may find it strange that the Dynamo were incapable of scoring more than one goal, especially when Sanchez has a 1v1 and a penalty that could’ve sealed the game. Nonetheless, the Houston Dynamo are going to face #1 seeded Portland Timbers on Oct. 30 (H) and Nov. 6 (A).
Toronto FC vs New York Red Bulls
A matchup between the best team in MLS and the *underdog* Red Bulls. In the regular season, the two sides clashed twice, with a 1-1 draw in May at Red Bull Arena and a 4-2 win for Toronto FC in September at BMO Field. The Supporters Shield winners are on good form, whereas the position New York is in is awfully strange for Red Bulls fans, as they’ve never been #6 seed entering the playoffs under Jesse Marsch. However, Marsch’s side aren’t pushovers. It doesn’t matter if they qualify for the playoffs as the #6 seed, or the #1 seed. They’re in the playoffs, and they’re here to win. With that being said, Kljestan & Wright-Philips have to show up as the high profile players they are in the league, Tyler Adams will need to continue his form, and most importantly, they’ll need to find a way to keep Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco off the scoresheet. If that can be done, they could have a shot at advancing to the Eastern Conference Final.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Seattle Sounders
For me, this is the best matchup in the semifinal. Two bitter Cascadia rivals going at it for not only bragging rights, but a chance to face the winner of Portland/Houston in the Western Conference Final. Both sides have faced each other multiple times in the regular season, as part of the Cascadia Cup. In the three meetings between the two sides, Seattle and Vancouver are both 1-1-1. It’s been quite the stalemate, and seeing this matchup in the playoffs makes the stakes higher, and enhances the rivalry. With the playoff experience that Seattle has, they’re the favorites to get out of this tie. Don’t let this fool you however, because upsets have happened in the past and there’s no reason that it couldn’t happen again. Regardless of the result, the two teams will go at it like cats and dogs in this matchup.
New York City FC vs Columbus Crew
An interesting tie, to say the least. The #SaveTheCrew movement continues as they unexpectedly beat Atlanta United in penalties and carry over the unbeaten run they had in the regular season into the playoffs. The Crew will look to Justin Meram, Federico Higauin, and even captain Wil Trapp to rise to the occasion. Columbus aren’t new to the playoffs. They made it to the MLS Cup Final in 2015. Columbus may have lost 2-1, but it shows they have the experience to compete on the big stage. However, the Crew have yet another big task in front of them as Vieira’s men look to put last season’s playoff woes behind them. Columbus will need another big performance from young goalkeeper Zach Steffen if they want any chance of staying in this. The likes of MVP candidate David Villa, along with a supporting cast of Jack Harrison, Maxi Moralez, and others plan on making it a long, hard day at the office. If NYCFC can get off to a hot start, there might be no stopping them.
Portland Timbers vs Houston Dynamo
Portland are the #1 seeded team in the Western Conference. Now this question lies; Will they perform like a #1 seeded team? The Timbers could play without striker Fanendo Adi in the first leg, who has a hamstring injury. He’s listed as “questionable”, but I doubt that will affect Portland too much. MVP candidate Diego Valeri has had a wonderful season, and Portland are used to competing in the playoffs. Houston have had a great year, after finishing last in the Western Conference and stayed in the bottom of the league for quite a while now. So most fans may already be claiming this season to be a good one for the Dynamo. Despite DeLaGarza being unavailable, Houston shouldn’t be written off easily. Deric has come off a great performance vs. SKC, Elis and Martinez are clicking in the playoffs, and like Columbus, they’re coming off great form. We may see a conservative game due to the amount of possible suspensions due to yellow card accumulation, but a great start at home could lead to an upset over Caleb Porter’s Timbers.
The Conference Semifinals consist of nothing but good matchups, and will surely entertain the neutral fan. Who advances to the Conference Finals is uncertain, but no team has an easy road to the MLS Cup Final.
Noah - @EriksensationaI
RB Leipzig's recent rise has been a massive talking point for football fans all around the world. In their first full season in the Bundesliga, they stunned the world and managed to finish 2nd above the likes of Dortmund and Hoffenheim. In their heroic first season, many stars emerged in this young and dynamic Leipzig side such as Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita. Many players stood out for Leipzig, however Timo Werner stood out the most and this was indeed the season where he officially introduced himself to the footballing world.
Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Werner is currently just 21 years of age and stands at a height of 5 ft and 11 in. His 16/17 season was as good as it gets and as a result, he is now recognised as one of the most prolific strikers in the Bundesliga. Werner has been touted as the heir to Miroslav Klose's throne for the German National Team and he has already proved his worth when Germany won the Confederations Cup in July. Even before playing for the German National first team, Werner was already representing Germany tremendously at youth level. In his first U-15 game he scored a hat-trick against Poland and later on was a runner up for the 2012 U-17 UEFA European Championship.
Timo started his career in his home town in the youth academy of Stuttgart at the age of 6. He impressed massively in the youth team and as a result, was promoted to the first team at the tender age of 17. He made his debut for Stuttgart that year in the Europa League qualifying stage against PFC Botev Plovdiv, becoming the youngest player ever to play in an official game for them. On top of this, Werner became the youngest ever player to make 50 appearances for the club. Despite all this, Werner's time at Stuttgart was somewhat disappointing as he only scored 13 goals in his time there. Furthermore, Stuttgart were relegated to Bundesliga 2 in the 15/16 season which added salt to the wounds. On the contrary, however he was being played on the left-wing for the majority of his Stuttgart career and despite not scoring many goals, big things were expected from the German wonderkid. His rather underwhelming radar for his time at Stuttgart (By @Fussballradars) can be seen below.
In the summer of 2016 he secured a move to RB Leipzig for a reported fee of around €10 million, and this is undoubtedly when his career really kick-started. His first goals for the club came against Hamburg in September when he scored a brace. In the same month, he reached a 100 Bundesliga appearances, becoming the youngest ever player to do so. Soon the name on everyone's lips was that of Timo Werner's and he proved what the hype around him was all about as he was undoubtedly the main man for Leipzig in the 16/17 season. He ended the season with 21 goals with a conversion rate of 28.3% which is somewhat impressive but can however be improved. In addition to this he assisted 5 goals and was the club's top scorer for the season.
Werner's tremendous skill set is as good as it gets for a striker. He has got electric pace and he utilises it extremely well, making exceptional runs in behind the defence. The biggest advantage Werner has is the fact that he has a lot of strength as well, this in turn complements his pace and allows him to not be bullied by defenders that may have a distinct physical advantage over him. His intelligence about committing into physical challenges is commendable, if he doesn't succeed in a physical battle, he can use his pace as an asset to get past defenders. His successful take-on percentage for the season was an astounding 36.36%. Out of the 21 goals he scored, 4 were headed, which shows that he offers something other than just runs in behind the defence. His percentage of aerial duels won was also 37.14%. On top of all this, he is extremely intelligent in the box, knowing when to be in the right position. Werner's finishing indeed speaks for itself, if he gets an opportunity inside the box, you best believe he takes it. The only thing that there is some complaint about is him taking on more shots from outside the box. He didn't score any goals from outside the box last season and this is something that he should improve as he can strike the ball immensely well. Furthermore, he has a great engine and his work-rate in games is stupendous, actively pressuring defenders that have the ball. Many have called him a "complete striker" and he is proving those claims to be right. His football radar (By @Fussballradars) for his outstanding 16/17 season can be seen below.
Now the question on everyone's mind is "What's next for the talented Timo Werner?" Well for a start, his 17/18 season so far has been tremendous. He's scored 5 goals in 7 games in the Bundesliga but he is yet to open his account in the Champions League. There are high hopes for the rest of Werner's season with fans hoping he can at least reach the heights he did last season. This season is crucial for him to prove that he's more than just a "one hit wonder." If he performs well this season, big things could be expected for the German.
Maaz - @GoonerMaaz
‘’Retirement league’’: that’s how people talk about football leagues in the Gulf such as Qatar Stars League or Abdullatif Jamil League (KSA). They're attractive destinations due to the large amounts of money a player can earn when he plays there. Although, there are some talented players who joined these leagues for the same purpose. Here are the players who make those leagues so special.
Omar Abdulrahman (26) - Al Ain (UAE) - UAE
The Saudi born Emirati international midfielder has always played for Emirati club Al Ain despite an interest shown from Man City who even offered him trials back in 2012. Abdulrahman is seen as one of the best players in Asia leading his club to 3 league titles, a cup and a supercup as well as reaching Asian Cup semi-finals in 2015 with his national team. Omar Abdulrahman is a very technically talented player always coming up with moments of magic with his amazing skill moves and technique.
Youssef Msakni (26) - Al Duhail (Qatar) - Tunisia
Coming from a footballing family, the Tunisian international attacking midfielder was seen as a future world star by the whole African continent. After following his father’s footsteps by playing for Tunisian and African giants Esperance then made the massive error of joining Qatari League in 2013 after interest was shown from PSG, LOSC and Espanyol Barcelona after he led Esperance to 3 Champions League finals with 1 single success and several national honours at the age of only 22. He has also shined with his national team especially in big games and AFCON winning only an African Nations Championship in 2011. Msakni can play in multiple positions in the front line thanks to his wonderful technical abilities and extraordinary long shots and set-piece abilities.
Omar Al Soma (28) - Al Ahli (KSA) - Syria
Probably one of the most clinical strikers in the world with a 1.03 goal per game ratio since joining Saudi Arabian side Al Ahli in 2014, Al Soma is one of the most famous stars in Arab world and Asia. Having won multiple trophies with his clubs, Omar also won WAFF Championship (unofficial tournament opposing West Asian Nations) with Syria in 2012. Since people are tired of seeing him waste his career in the Gulf, he has recently been linked with German giants Bayern Munich as a backup for Robert Lewandowski. Al Soma is one of the most complete centre forwards in the world with his great speed, finishing and set-piece ability. He also has great jumping stretch and heading which along with his height make him an excellent target man. One of his great strengths is his ability to score with both feet. This led him to be compared to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and be called ‘’The Syrian kid with golden feet’’.
These players along with some others like Vladimir Weiss, Yassine Chikhaoui, Asamoah Gyan, Youssef El Arabi and Lukasz Gikiewicz are the proof that leagues in the Gulf and in Asia are not just retirement homes for the past greats of Europe and are totally exportable.
Youssef - @Fabregassisting
Balance of power in African football has always been the same since the previous century. Here are the three teams that have been dominating the black continent for decades.
Al Ahly - Club of the Century
Also dubbed as ‘’The Red Devils’’, Al Ahly are the club with the most African titles with 8 Champions League titles, 6 CAF Supercups, 4 Cup Winners’ Cups, 1 Confederation Cup as well as 1 Afro-Asian Cup, which made them the Club of the Century. Al Ahly have always been the superior team in Egypt with 39 league titles and 36 cups as well, their main rivalry is against Cairo neighbors Zamalek, who also are African giants. Currently, Al Ahly are still a dominant team in Africa remaining unbeaten in the league and only losing 2 games.
Some of their greatest ever players are Mohamed Abou-Trika, Imad Moteab, Wael Jomaa and their current manager Houcem Badri.
Espérance de Tunis - The Monster of Africa
Another Arab club being one of the biggest in Africa. The Blood and Gold, are the oldest Tunisian club and by far the most successful. Espérance won 2 Champions League titles, 1 CAF Supercup, 1 CAF Cup, 1 Cup Winners’ Cup and 1 Afro-Asian Cup. They are along with Al Ahly the only clubs to win all the possible African trophies and some of the very few to win the Champions League in both its formats and win the treble. On the national stage, Esperance have always been the most successful club, in front of other African giants like Club Africain, Etoile du Sahel or Club Sfaxien. Esperance are unbeaten since 2015 in national competitions, and only lost 1 on the continental level.
Some of their greatest players ever are Khaled Ben Yahia, Tarek Dhiab, Ayadi Hamrouni and Nabil Maaloul.
Esperance have had the first ever ultras groups in African and Arab groups. Ultras always sit in the south end of the stadium they call "Curva Sud".
Tout Puissant Mazembe- The Ravens
Previously known as Englebert, the Congolese giants started to obtrude themselves on in the start of the current century despite previously winning 2 CLs in the 60s. They now have 5 Champions League titles and have been the first non-European or non-South American team to ever reach Club World Cup final in 2010. They entertain a local rivalry with Vita Club as they almost have the same number of local titles. TP Mazembe is also one of the few teams in Africa to have its own stadium thanks to its owner Moïse Katumbi who is one of the wealthiest men in the world. He especially owns diamond mines. TP Mazembe have been less successful in the last couple of years by failing to succeed in Champions League but remain one of the most feared clubs in the continent.
Along with these giants you have the Moroccan big four: Wydad and Raja Casablanca as well as FUS and FAR Rabat who equally share their domestic and continental success. There are also the eternal title contenders in Tunisia; Etoile du Sahel, Club Africain and Club Sportif Sfaxien. Same does apply to Egypt with Zamalek and Ismaily. South Africa also have some big clubs like Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and reigning African Champions Mamelodi Sundowns. There are more big clubs in Africa like ASEC Mimosas, Canon Yaounde, USM Algiers, AS Vita, Horoya Conakry and more; but it would be too long to list them. Africa is full of competition as the winner of each CL or Confed. Cup is unpredictable every year.
Youssef - @Fabregassisting