Andrey Arshavin

Andrey Arshavin Returns to Zenit Saint Petersburg After Arsenal Release

Andrey ArshavinAfter a turbulent four months in North London, Andrey Arshavin has finally ended his spell with Arsenal after making a free transfer back to his former club Zenit Saint Petersburg in his homeland Russia. He was one of a number of players released by the club at the start of this summer at the end of his contract, along with players like Denilson and Sebastian Squillachi, making him free to join a new club as he reaches the latter stages of his career.

There have been both highs and lows in Arshavin’s career, from scoring four in a game at Anfield in the 2008-09 season, to making just seven league appearances throughout the entirety of last season. Though a popular signing at the start of his time at the Emirates, many fans will feel he won’t be missed now that the midfielder has departed back to his home country.

This is now the 32 year-old’s third spell with Zenit, having started with the club in 2000 and making over 230 appearances before moving to the Premier League, and Arsenal, in early 2009. After two and a half successful seasons in terms of playing time, he moved back to the Petrovsky for the second half of the 2011-12 season in order to ensure he was in Dick Advocaat’s plans for Euro 2012. He played 10 league games in this spell, and was included in Russia’s squad for the Euros, which they unfortunately went out of in the group stages. However, Arshavin did start all of Russia’s games, and was statistically named the best midfielder based on his three appearances in the tournament.

After making just 11 appearances in all competitions, it was a shock to few when it was announced Arshavin would not be having his contract renewed by Arsenal, and many expected him to jet off back to Russia or another eastern European country. Despite clubs such as Anzhi being linked with a move to sign the player, Zenit were the only real contenders once they came in for him. They are Arshavin’s boyhood club, and a love for Zenitchiki could well have persuaded the midfielder where his future lied.

He signed a two year contract in recent weeks, and has already made his third Zenit debut in an away win at FC Krasnodar. He’s said himself that he’s delighted to be back in a Zenit shirt again, and given that’s where he has had all his success as a player, it’s understandable why. He’s won two league titles at Zenit so far, as well as domestic trophies in Russia, coupled with ones on the continental stage too. In 2008, they triumphed in the Europa League (then labeled the UEFA Cup) at Etihad Stadium with a 2-0 victory over Scottish giants Rangers, with Arshavin being named man of the match.

Andrey ArshavinArshavin joins a number of high-profile players now playing in the Russian Premier League, alongside players like Belgian international Axel Witsel, who signed for Zenit last summer from Benfica for just over £30 million. Zenit also possess talents such as Domenico Criscito, formerly of Juventus and Genoa, and Danny, a Portuguese international who has also played for clubs such as Sporting Clube de Portugal. These are just a few of the many talents that have now switched to playing in the Russian league, and I’m sure many more will also make that switch in the future.

Looking at Arshavin’s age, I feel he will be used as a first-choice replacement for Hulk, who looks set to leave St. Petersburg after just a season in Russia. Signing from Porto just last summer in a deal worth nearly £35m, his move to Zenit was a shock to many considering how heavily the Brazilian had been linked with a move to Chelsea at the start of the summer. However, the London club are now supposedly once again after the powerful international, along with their rivals Tottenham, who have already made some good purchases in this window such as Paulinho and Nacer Chadli. However, despite the interest from these two big clubs, Hulk looks set to join big-spending AS Monaco in a deal worth £52m, which would take the French club’s spending this summer to nearly £200 million.

This deal means Hulk will need replacing with a quality alternative, and although this deal will leave Zenit with a large budget to shell out for a replacement, I feel we could see Arshavin utilized as one instead, as they both play in the same position. However, the age could be a big factor deciding whether this happens or not, and at the ripe old age of 32, we could indeed see Luciano Spalleti’s team spending big to bring in a younger, better replacement instead of using the assets already at his disposal.

With Arshavin now permanently back in Russia after a four-year absence, it will certainly be interesting to see what effect that he can still have in the top flight, especially in a team who will be challenging for the title. Age can often be a factor that affects a player’s ability in their later years, but we haven’t really seen enough of Arshavin in the last year or so to judge whether this has been the case. Hopefully, we will see him have one last hurrah with Zenit, and finish off his career in style.

Written by Ben Warner

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Hulk

AS Monaco Sign Hulk from Zenit Saint Petersburg in £52m Deal

HulkAS Monaco have continued their assault on the Ligue 1 title with the £52m signing of Brazil forward Hulk from Zenit St Petersburg, says the ‘Metro.’ Hulk joins other signings such as Falcao, Joao Moutinho, and Eric Abidal at the newly-promoted club, who have now spent close to £200million over this summer. Competing with PSG’s signings of Edinson Cavani and Hulk’s teenage compatriot Marquinhos from Roma, Monaco manager Claudio Ranieri has stated that more signings must be made if the Monte Carlo club are to challenge for the title in the coming season.

Since Hulk left Porto for Russia last September, he has endured a difficult time on the pitch in more than one respect. After suffering racist abuse from Zenit fans, he has scored only 11 goals in 30 games, a significant decrease from his impressive scoring record in Portugal and Japan.

He was widely regarded as one of the most disappointing players at the recent Confederations Cup in Brazil, despite playing in all five games in the hosts’ run to the trophy. That said, he was frequently substituted, providing only one assist and no goals over the course of the tournament. There is still obvious class, as evidenced by a thumping long-range free kick against Italy that was well kept out, and several powerful, pacy runs down the right wing.

The move will see Hulk reunited with his former Porto teammates Falcao, Moutinho, and James Rodriguez, and their partnerships may go some way to helping Monaco gel early in the season. So far, the new-look team hasn’t flourished, losing in pre-season friendlies to Fortuna Dusseldorf and Augsburg. Moutinho and Rodriguez will be the most important in that respect as they were still playing together last season, but the striking duo of Hulk and Falcao, who scored 128 Porto goals between them, will need to be firing on all cylinders if they are to challenge the PSG front-line of Ibrahimovic, Cavani, Lucas, and Lavezzi.

Hulk only made one domestic appearance in his native Brazil for Vitoria before making the unusual move to Japan, signing for Kawasaki Frontale. He also played in Sapporo and Tokyo in his four years in the J-League, scoring 74 goals in 111 games and winning many admirers on the way. He earned his big move to Porto in 2008, and although he only scored nine goals in his first season, he also assisted nine, and was called up to the Brazil squad for the first time in 2009; he now has 27 appearances for La Selecao.

HulkHis next season was better, with goals and assists in double figures for his club, but his third season in Portugal was his finest. He was the club’s top scorer in the league, even ahead of Falcao, and he contributed 21 assists in addition to 36 goals in all competitions. Porto won the league, Europa League, Portuguese Supercup, and the domestic cup under the leadership of Jesualdo Ferriera before Andre Villas-Boas took charge at the end of the season.

His form continued in 2011-12, and he scored all of his six Brazil goals in 2012, although they were all in international friendless due to Brazil’s lack of competitive matches. An unhappy few months in St. Petersburg followed, so Hulk will be hoping he can set his career back on track in the lavish setting of Monaco.

One criticism of Hulk is that he has never played in one of the major leagues; England, Italy, Germany, or Spain. The Russian league is certainly growing, and he was by no means the only star there, with Samuel Eto’o and fellow Brazilian Vagner Love having made the move in recent years for financial reasons or other.

The French first division is also growing in global influence, but declining in terms of competitiveness. Six clubs have won the league title in the last six years, but the influx of stars moving towards only two clubs means it is unthinkable that anyone other than PSG or Monaco can win it in the coming seasons. With Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Dmitry Rybolovlev investing millions, will this be a golden age for French football or the beginning of the end for historic clubs such as Lyon and Marseille?

Written by Sam France

Europa League Round of 16 Second Leg Review: Part 1

Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Basel 1893

Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Basel 1893Zenit had a hard time in Switzerland in the first leg of this match, having failed to score any away goals, which would have been important for them as they prepared to host the same team for the second leg. The Russian side had, hence, created a problem for themselves, as Basel had proved to be a very strong team. Zenit, however, did not lose any hope as they had a perfect home record in the competition, having won all six of their home games by 2-goal margins.

Basel started their game hungry for goals with Stocker threatening a bit at the beginning, before having to be sent off to make way for Fabian Frei after an injury by Zenit’s Kerzhakov. The hosts continued to struggle to get both goals back, and managed to get the first one inside just half an hour and restoring faith in themselves. A Hulk corner, met by Lombaerts, allowed Witsel to get his shot past Sommer in the Basel goal, and the hosts were hoping once more.

Zenit’s work was made easier when Basel’s Diaz picked up 2 yellow cards in the margin of just 4 minutes and got himself sent off right at the end of the first half. The home side were now stronger and threatened more, but none of their last-minute attempts (in the first half) translated into goals.

The second half started well for the home side, although the Swiss visitors were very strong at the back, making their lives even more difficult. Sommer was tested a few times, but he just kept holding on. A strong Streller made way for Sauro, and the 23-year-old Argentinian made sure to reinforce his side’s defense.

Zenit had an opportunity to equalize on aggregate and take the game to extra time when Shirokov was gifted a penalty. Sommer made no mistakes, however, making sure to save and taking his side through to the quarter-finals on.

Statistic-wise, Zenit were, by far, the more threatening side, having had a total of 26 attempts (hitting the woodwork once) against Basel’s 3. Zenit had 68% possession throughout the night, as compared to Basel’s 32%. 4 yellow cards were issued during this game and they all went to the home side. Only 1 red card was issued and it went to Basel’s Marcelo Diaz.

Luciano Spalleti and Murat Yakin lined up the following squads:

Zenit Starting XI

Zhenov, Anyukov, Lombaerts, Hubocan, Shirokov (c), Denisov, Alves, Kerzhakov, Hulk, Witsel

Subs: Baburin, Rodic, Lukovic, Semak, Bukharov, Fayzulin, and Bystrov

Basel Starting XI

Somme, Ho, Dragovic, Schar, Streller (c), Degen, Diaz, Salah, Cabral, Elneny, Stocker

Subs: Vailati, Yapi, Frei, Zoua, Frei, Steinhofer, and Sauro

Final Score: Zenit Saint Petersburg 1-0 Basel 1893* (Agg: 1-2)

Witsel 30′

Quarter-Finals

Having eliminated Zenit, Basel are through to the quarter-finals of this competition and will face Tottenham Hotspur of England as their opponents, as announced in the draw on March 15th. They will play the first leg of this game away, and the second leg at home.

Girondins de Bordeaux vs. SL Benfica

Girondins de Bordeaux vs. SL BenficaHaving managed to hold Benfica, and only just conceded one goal, Bordeaux’s mission in the second leg wouldn’t be too tough, given they had a strong team planned. All they needed to take the game to extra time was 1 goal, which they were confident they would get. They would, however, only go through if they managed to prevent a strong Benfica from scoring any away goals.

This match started well for the home side, who were looking to erase their opponent’s goal with early attempts from Diabate and Saivet. Carrasso wasn’t too bothered in the Bordeaux goal for the first 20 minutes, but slowly, the away side picked up on their pace and started to counter much more confidently.

30 minutes in, the away side had their first goal, adding to their tally significantly, and making their hosts more uncomfortable. A corner from John found Jardel, who was able to head the ball into the net to make it 2-0 on aggregate. The home side now had to up their game even more.

The second half came and the home side played with more urgency, managing to scare their visitors a few times before they could respond. It was an all-Bordeaux game until Jorge Jesus decided to make a very important change to his side’s attack; Oscar Cardozo in for Rodrigo.

Some balance, however little, was established between the two teams as time continued to run out for the French side. The hosts regained a little hope just 8 minutes later when Diabate finally got one in for his hard work. Henrique’s long ball forward was met by the 24-year-old Malian who managed to put it past Artur with class.

The home side’s joy was short-lived, however, when just seconds later, Oscar Cardozo did the same thing for his team. Carrasso had no chance against the Paraguayan striker. Hope was once again lost for Francis’ side. 4 minutes were added on at the end of this game, and 2 goals were scored during this time. The first was to the home side when Jardel accidentally put the ball into his own net, and the second was another marvelous strike from Oscar Cardozo to end Bordeaux dreams of going to the next round.

Statistic-wise, the home side had a total of 15 attempts, the away side managing only 6. Both sides were close, having each gotten 4 corners, 1 good attempt, and almost equal possession (Bordeaux had 52% possession against Benfica’s 48%). Ovidiu Alin Hategan issued a total of 6 yellow cards (3-a-side) between the two teams. No players were sent off during this match.

Francis Gillot and Jorge Jesus lined up the following squads:

Bordeaux Starting XI

Carrasso, Henrique, Sane, Tremoulinas, Plasil (c), Mariano, Sertic, Obraniak, Diabate, Saivet, Maurice-Belay

Subs: Olimpa, Marange, Planus, Poundje, Sacko, Poko, and Khalfallah

Benfica Starting XI

Artur, Roderick, Jardel, Andre Almeida, Salvio, Gaitan (c), Matic, Perez, John, Melgarejo, Rodrigo

Subs: Paulo Lopes, Miguel Vitor, Aimar, Lima, Oscar Cardozo, Carlos Martins, and Maxi Pereira

Final Score: Girondins de Bordeaux 2-3 SL Benfica* (Agg: 2-4)

Diabate 74′, Jardel 90+1′ (o.g) | Jardel 30′, Oscar Cardozo 75′, 90+2′

Quarter-Finals

Having eliminated Bordeaux, Benfica are through to the quarter-finals of the competition and will face Newcastle United, as announced in the draw on March 15th. They will play the first leg of this game at home, and the second leg away.

Written by @TrueBlueFemale

Europa League Round of 16 First Leg Review: Part 1

Basel 1893 vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg

Basel 1893 vs. Zenit Saint PetersburgZenit cruised through to the Round of 16 thanks to a great performance against Liverpool in the Round of 32, but their run of luck seemed to have come to an end when they traveled to Basel for the first leg of this tie. Basel, having managed to get past a tough Dnipro, were still determined to go for the title.

This match started well for the home side, who had an opportunity to go forward early, had Diaz not missed the target. The Russian visitors were by no means asleep during this game, and so they also went out and got an opportunity for themselves, but Basel were not going to concede early.

It was still anyone’s game; the first half having been a 50/50 game. Both teams held each other quite comfortably and there didn’t seem to be a goal coming at all. The team with possibly the better attempts and more possession was the home side, but Zenit held strong looking for an away goal.

The second half saw Luciano Spalleti introduce the fresh legs of Fayzulin on for a hardworking Semak. Hulk was more or less released now, and was able to make a few attempts, but Basel just wouldn’t let him. Steinhöfer then came off for Degen, and soon after that, Serey Die made way for Elneny. The game still looked tied and it didn’t seem like we would see a goal from either side for the first leg, not with the kind of defense Zenit had!

Murat Yakin put Frei on for Zoua, bringing a little more edge to the Basel game. 4 minutes later, Basel finally got their hard-earned goal when a Mohamed Salah effort paved the way for his teammate to get back a strong Malafeev. The home side didn’t think that one goal was enough for the 90 minutes and kept searching for one more into the 4 minutes of added time after the game. An opportunity to add to their tally came right at the end of the game, when Luis Neto fouled Salah in the box, granting Basel a last-minute penalty. Frei didn’t waste this chance for his team and put the ball into the net for a second Basel goal from the spot.

Basel had a total of 21 attempts against Zenit’s 11; the home side had much better attempts as well. A total of 4 yellow cards was issued between the two teams; the away side only picking up 1. Zenit’s Luis Neto was the only player to be sent off during this match and will miss the second leg.

Murat Yakin and Luciano Spalleti lined up the following squads:

Basel Starting XI

Sommer (c), Park Joo Ho, P. Degen, Dragovic, Schar, D. Degen, Diaz, Salah, Cabral, Serey Die, Zoua

Subs: Vaillati, Voser, Sauro, Stocker, Elneny, Frei, and Steinhofer

Zenit Starting XI

Malafeev, Lombaerts, Luis Neto, Hubocan, Rodic, Shirokov (c), Denisov, Witsel, Semak, Hulk, Danny

Subs: Zhenov, Bruno Alves, Lukovic, Bystrov, Bukharov, Kerzakhov, and Fayzulin

Final Score: Basel 1893 2-0 Zenit Saint Petersburg

Diaz 83′ | Frei 90 + 4′ (pen)

SL Benfica vs. Girondins de Bordeaux

SL Benfica vs. Girondins de BordeauxHaving overcome tough ties against Leverkusen and Kyiv, Benfica and Bordeaux had an even tougher game to play against each other in the Round of 32. The first leg being played in Portugal, the French side were to make it their mission to take each and every chance as it would come and use it to score as many goals as possible.

Benfica, in the same way, were to avoid conceding at all costs, knowing how tough their opponents are known to be domestically. That said, both manager, (with teams seemingly of the same strength) played more or less the same kind of players on the night.

As soon as Alon Yefet blew the first whistle, the home side were already starting to threaten Carrasso in the Bordeaux goal; hoping that an early goal would demoralize their visitors and prevent them from getting any away goals. 12 minutes in, however, Bordeaux had their first shot, courtesy of Obraniak, but Artur saved it. And a 50/50 game went on.

What was to be the only goal in this game came in the 21st minute, thanks to a powerful shot by Rodrigo; onto the crossbar (with a touch from Carrasso’s back) in an embarrassing manner (for Carrasso), all to the delight of a Portuguese crowd.

The 50/50 game continued all the way to the final whistle, and Benfica would have the upper hand when they would visit France. Although there were some decent attempts from both sides in the second half, Carrasso, Artur, and both sides’ defenders prevented any other goals from getting in.

Statistic-wise, Benfica had a total of 8 attempts; 3 of them being off target. Bordeaux had a total of 11, 3 of which were off target as well. Both Carrasso and Artur were tested equally, both of them having made 3 saves each. More than 60% of this game was played in midfield. The home side had better chances on the night. Alon Yefet only issued 2 yellow cards on the night, both of which went to the home side. No players were sent off during this game.

Jorge Jesus and Francis Gillot lined up the following squads:

Benfica Starting XI

Artur, Roderick, Luisao (c), Garay, Almeida, Gaitan, Martins, Rodrigo, Melgarejo, John, Cardozo

Subs: Lopes, Pereira, Jardel, Aimar, Lima, Salvio, and Perez

Bordeaux Starting XI

Carrassso, Sane, Marioano, Tremoulinas, Plasil (c), Sertic, Maurice-Belay, Faubert, Obraniak, Rolan

Subs: Keita, Marange, Planus, Poundje, Ben Khalfallah, Traore, and Bellion

Final Score: SL Benfica 1-0 Girondins de Bordeaux

Carrasso 21′ (o.g)

Written by @TrueBlueFemale

Europa League Round of 32 Second Leg Review: Part 1

After having witnessed some very interesting first leg matches in the Europa League’s Round of 32, it was time for Europe and the rest of the world to find out which teams would be going through to theRound of 16 and get closer to becoming the second champions of Europe. For some teams, a second leg was an opportunity to finish what they had started; for others, it was an opportunity to turn things around. One thing’s for sure, though: each and every team was out to go out and do the best they could.

Some results were unexpected while some very few were predictable; all in all, however, Thursday, February 21st, 2013 was an exciting night in Europa League football!

Liverpool vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg

Liverpool vs. Zenit Saint PetersburgLiverpool were not in a very comfortable position after having lost in Saint Petersburg, and even worse, not having scored an away goal. Having put this under serious consideration, Brendan Rodgers’ men went into this match with only one mission: to win, and win by a big margin. Knowing that even one Zenit away goal would make their hill even harder to climb, they lined up a very strong defense along with a very strong attack. Zenit, in the same manner, were looking to get some away goals to finish what they had started in the first leg, and they planned to do so by lining up a strong team all in all. Unfortunately for the former, however, they made one very serious mistake, and that cost them their lives in the Europa League. A Jamie Carragher back-pass fell to Hulk, who got Zenit the away-goal they had planned to get. Liverpool controlled the whole game from then on, and scored three goals of their own, but were unable to get a fourth, meaning that Zenit were through on the away-goal rule.

The home side had more attempts and better chances, but the away side’s defensiveness paid off in the end. Only two yellow cards were issued between the two teams and no players were sent off during this game.

Brendan Rodgers and Luciano Spalletti lined up the following teams:

Liverpool Starting XI:

Reina, Johnson, Enrique, Agger, Carragher, Gerrard (c), Lucas, Downing, Allen, Suarez, Henderson

Subs: Gulacsi, Coates, Wisdom, Suso, Assaidi, Shelvey, and Sterling

Zenit Starting XI:

Malafeev, Anyukov, Luis Neto, Hubocan, Lombaerts, Semak, Shirokov (c), Denisov, Witsel, Danny, Hulk

Subs: Zhenov, Bruno Alves, Bukharov, Kerzakhov, Fayzulin, Rodic, and Criscito

Final Score: Liverpool 3-1 Zenit Saint Petersburg* (Agg: 3-3)

Hulk 19′, Suarez 28′, 59′, Allen 43′

Round of 16:

Having eliminated Liverpool, Zenit will face Basel in the round of 16. They will play the first leg away and the second at home.

Viktoria Plzen vs. SSC Napoli

Viktoria Plzen vs. SSC NapoliNapoli were probably faced with one of the biggest challenges on the night, as they had already conceded three goals in Naples and had a whole mountain to climb in Plzen. They would need a miracle to get past the Czechs and did as much as they could to get something back but it was all in vain. The away team had a few more attempts than the home team (17 against 10), although they had fewer good chances. Plzen took advantage of Napoli’s slips and added to their tally, making it 5 goals (6 if they hadn’t hit the woodwork) against Napoli. One thing I’m sure many of us were very surprised to see was Cavani not start! Referee on the night, Viktor Kassai, issued 8 yellow cards for 40 fouls committed between the two teams, but no players were sent off during this match.

Pavel Vrba and Walter Mazzarri lined up the following squads:

Plzen Starting XI:

Kozacik, Limbersky, Reznik, Prochazka, Clsovsky, Horvath (c), Darida, Kovarik, Kolar, Bakos, Rajtoral

Subs: Pavlik, Hejda, Zeman, Duris, Stipek, Tecl, and Fillo

Napoli Starting XI:

De Sanctis, Maggio (c), Rolando, Gamberini, Zuniga, Dzemaili, Behrami, Pandev, Insigne, Calaio, Donadel

Subs: Rosati, Campagnaro, El Kaddouri, Mesto, Inler, Cannavaro, and Cavani

Final Score: Viktoria Plzen* 2-0 Napoli (Agg: 5-0)

Kovarik 51′, Tecl, 74′

Round of 16:

Having eliminated Napoli, Viktoria Plzen will face Fenerbahçe in the round of 16. They will play the first leg at home and the second away.

Written by @TrueBlueFemale

SSC Napoli vs. Viktoria Plzen

Europa League Round of 32 First Leg Review: Part 1

February 14th couldn’t have been more action-filled! Well, at least for me! 16 exciting fixtures, and so many great goals (35 to be precise)! Tears for some teams, joy for others; but excitement all in all. Some results, we never saw coming, but some weren’t so surprising.

Here is my review of the 1st leg matches of this past week’s Europa League ties:

Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Liverpool

Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. LiverpoolThis was an exciting match that could have gone either way because we expected both teams to be as strong as they’re normally known to be. On this night, however, the home side was far stronger than Brendan Rodgers’ men. Luciano Spalleti seems to have told his men to do everything possible to go into the 2nd leg with a great advantage. At some point in the game, you’d think that Brendan Rodgers’ men had fallen asleep because of the little time (four minutes) it took them to concede a second goal from when they had already were down one!

Statistic-wise, Zenit had many more attempts, more corners, and more shots on target, whereas Liverpool only had fewer bookings and more shots off target. Liverpool had a few offsides as well. There were a few bookings between the two teams (three in total), and no sending-offs. Zenit controlled most of the game, and capitalized where Liverpool failed to. Hulk, and substitute Semak, saved their team halfway through the second half.

As expected, both managers brought out strong squads:

Zenit Starting XI:

Malafeev, Anyukov, Lombaerts, Neto, Hubocan, Shirokov (c), Denisov, Witsel, Danny, Kerzakhov, Hulk.

Subs: Zhevnov, Fayzulin, Rodic, Lukovic, Semak, Djordjevic, and Evseev

Liverpool Starting XI:

Reina, Johnson, Jose Enrique, Carragher, Skrtel, Gerrard (c), Henderson, Downing, Allen, Sterling, Suarez

Subs: Jones, Coates, Wisdom, Shelvey, Borini, Suso, and Lucas

Final Score: Zenit Saint Petersburg 2-0 Liverpool

Hulk 69′, Semak 72′

SSC Napoli vs. Viktoria Plzen

SSC Napoli vs. Viktoria PlzenThis match was one of the most anticipated games on Valentine’s night! The manner in which it ended was a shock to many, but certainly a joy to all Czechs! So many of us expected Napoli to go all out and win this tie, but Plzen, even from early on in the game (28th minute to be precise), had other plans! Statistics-wise, Napoli had more attempts (15), although most of those were off-target (12). Plzen only had 4 attempts, 3 of which turned out to be goals! No players were sent off during this match; there were only three bookings between both teams.

Pavel Vrba and Walter Mazzari brought out the following squads:

Napoli Starting XI:

De Sanctis, Britos, Maggio (c), Rolando, Zuniga, Dzemaili, Gamberini, Donadel, Cavani, Pandev, El Kaddouri

Subs: Rosati, Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Mesto, Hamsik, Inler, and Calaio

Plzen Starting XI:

Kozacik, Limbersky, Reznik, Prochazka, Clsovsky, Kolar, Horvath (c), Darida, Kovarik, Bakos, Rajtoral

Subs: Pavlik, Zeman, Stipek, Adamov, Fillo, Tecl, and Hejda

Final Score: SSC Napoli 0-3 Viktoria Plzen

Darida 28′, Rajtoral 79′, Tecl 90′

Written by @TrueBlueFemale

Europa League Round of 32 Preview: Part 1

It’s been a long two months since we all last had a taste of European action, and our thirst for some of it has only been increasing since then; increasing to a point where we all can’t wait any longer! Just when we thought it wouldn’t get here fast enough, February’s finally here to quench our thirst for European football!

UEFA Europa LeagueFor many of us football lovers, February 14th signifies, more than anything, the resuming of some breathtaking European football; the kind of breathtaking football from which we derive a special kind of excitement we can’t find anywhere else in any domestic league anywhere in the world! While we all love the UEFA Champions League, there is no denying how entertaining its little brother, The UEFA Europa League can be.

There have been a few additions to the Europa League from the last time we saw it, and many of these additions have the potential to change the competition as we know it. Anyone who’s been in the Champions League is a strong opponent from the point of view of teams that were already in the Europa League, and more than anything else, the teams that were already there will be looking to prove themselves to these new entrants in the round of 32.

32 representatives from 16 different countries will compete against each other to claim the Europa League title, and below is my analysis on how all 16 round of 32 matches could go:

Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia) vs. Liverpool (England)

Luis SuarezLiverpool, having finished top of the table in group A, are not going to be an easy opponent. Brendan Rodgers’ men were able to overcome their strong group A opponents (strong because it was a tight group) and this, in my opinion, was their way of proving that they’re not about to give up on a chance to earn European glory anytime soon. Their performance, in my opinion, has been shaky, but they’ve managed to work on their weak areas & have tried to avoid making the same mistakes a second time. Their new addition, Daniel Sturridge, is another asset to the Liverpool team because of what he’s shown so far.

Zenit have had an okay season so far. Having been only just kicked out of the Champions League, despite having put some pressure on many teams, they will be looking to regain their honor. With a player like Givanildo de Souza (whom we all know and refer to as Hulk) on their side, Luciano Spalletti’s men will be feared by many opponents.

Key Players

For Zenit, you look at the likes of Danny & Hulk and know that you need to have a strong defense! Although these two weren’t anywhere near the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo & Yilmaz in terms of goalscoring records in the Champions League this season, they will get any opportunity to score and take it. Also, they have a strong midfield with characters like Shirokov & Faizulin in the picture. I think that if they work on their defensive problems and avoid allowing themselves to concede, everything will go their way.

For Liverpool, Jonjo Shelvey, who’s been absolutely brilliant in the competition, will be highly considered as a threat. Luis Suarez & Daniel Sturridge have started to strike great combos & could also put a lot of fear in the minds of the opposition. A midfield composed of Raheem Sterling and Sebastian Coates could also be interesting to watch! With the departure of Joe Cole to West Ham, Liverpool will be looking to fill his gap in European competitions appropriately.

Prediction

My prediction for the first leg of this match to be played at the Stadion Petrovski would be win for Liverpool. For the 2nd leg to be played at Anfield, I predict a 1-1 draw; meaning a Liverpool win on aggregate to take Liverpool to the Round of 16.

1st Leg: Zenit Saint Petersburg 1-2 Liverpool
2nd Leg: Liverpool 1-1 Zenit Saint Petersburg

SSC Napoli (Italy) vs. Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic)

Edinson CavaniWhen you look at Napoli’s performance in the Serie A, you know that they are no walkover! Not only do they have a strong squad, they also have a desire to win trophies this season. Despite not being able to finish top of their group during the group stages and having won just three and lost three of their group-stage matches, they were really very strong competitors, and anyone who’s played against them would agree. Just because it’s been 24 years since they last won this title doesn’t mean that they won’t be one of the biggest competitors for it this year!

Plzen, in the same manner, have proven during every single match in this competition that they’re not going to let anyone come between them and the trophy. Having finished top of their group with 13 points, (the same group as the reigning champions, Atletico Madrid) they’ll be out to prove that they’re the biggest & toughest in the Czech Republic. Although some may argue that they were lucky, I believe that they’re everything but toothless competitors. It will most certainly be a very interesting match!

Key Players

Edinson Cavani! I’m sure he was the first to pop into your mind too! Having scored the most goals in the competition so far, how’s he not to be the first to pop into your mind? Absolute class! Eduardo Vargas (now on-loan from Napoli) was also another player with beautiful form for Napoli in the competition. Blerim Dzemaili will also be closely watched by the Plzen defense.

For Pavel Vrba’s men, two of the biggest threats will be Pavel Horvath & Daniel Kolar in midfield. Marek Bakos, on his great days, is also a delight to watch!

Prediction

My prediction for the first leg of this game to be played in Naples would be a tie. For the second leg of this match to be played in Plzen, I predict a crazy game with Napoli emerging as winners.

1st Leg: SSC Napoli 2-2 Viktoria Plzen
2nd Leg: Viktoria Plzen 1-3 SSC Napoli

Written by @TrueBlueFemale