FC Barcelona 0-3 Bayern Munich – Barcelona look a shadow of the side that dominated the sport a decade ago.

Barcelona 0-3 Bayern Munich

10 years ago FC Barcelona beat Manchester United 3-1 in the Final of the UEFA Champions League at Wembley Stadium so convincingly; it was actually quite terrifying. Fast forward a decade later and the Catalan club now look a mere shadow of the once formidable European giants they once were.

Under the command of popular manager Pep Guardiola, Barça had just won their second Champions League crown in three years in London. They played with confidence, flair and with a style everyone could only sit back and admire. ‘Tiki-Taka’ was used by pundits and commentators alike to describe this new way of playing which very quickly revolutionised the game before our eyes.  Now under the watchful eye of former player Ronald Koeman, the Catalan club are worlds away from those heights after a 0-3 home drubbing to German champions Bayern Munich last night at Camp Nou.

Barça looked lost and out of ideas. They struggled to really challenge the Munich defence with any meaningful attacks and instead seemed content on keeping men behind the ball and try to frustrate their German visitors. In the end they were tactically inept against their Bavarian opponents.

The young Julian Nagelsmann, who managerial trajectory is following a similar pattern to that of 2011 Guardiola, has already got Bayern playing a free-flowing, high-pressing offensive style that Koeman and co couldn’t handle. It was like the ghosts of that infamous Barcelona side from a decade ago had turned up, possessed the away side, and taught the current crop of Barça stars a lesson in their own back yard.

Summer signing Memphis Depay was an isolated onlooker up front with limited service from his teammates. He was probably wishing he had an Antoine Greizmann or a Luis Suarez to partner him up the top of the pitch. Alas, this is not that team either anymore.

The home side was crying out for some magic, some inspiration to come from nowhere. They were crying out for Lionel Messi.

Many were intrigued by how Barcelona would fare in their first European match without their hero after a summer of turmoil saw to his abrupt and shocking exit from the club. An attempt to launch what was an absurd idea of a European Super League was a seismic failure, and club president Joan Laporta has been left trying desperately to clear the truckloads of debt the club had accumulated under the previous regime ever since.

This saw many players head for the exit including Messi – arguably the greatest footballer to ever don the infamous red and blue stripes of Barcelona. This was something many believed was impossible. Messi lived and breathed the city. If he was a prince, then Camp Nou was his castle. The Argentine himself cried during his farewell press conference, admitting he was ready to sign a new contract extension at the team he so dearly loved – but in this tale there was to be no happily ever after for player or club. With Barça confirming that Messi had no future at the Spanish giants, he received a royal reception days later at Paris Saint-Germain after agreeing a two-year deal with the French club. This was quickly followed by the departure of Greizmann, who joined former Barça striker Suarez at Spanish champions Atletico Madrid on deadline day earlier this month.

Senior household members of the team that stayed at Barcelona, such as Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique, have all had to take substantial pay cuts in order for the club to register new signings such as Depay, Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia, due to La Liga’s salary cap restrictions.

It’s not been all doom and gloom. Barça have got off to a decent albeit unimpressive start domestically. A 4-2 win on the opening day against Real Sociedad was followed by a 1-1 draw at Bilbao. A hard-fought 2-1 victory over Getafe at the weekend sees Koeman’s side currently seventh in the La Liga table, undefeated and on seven points with a positive goal difference.

But Champions League nights are special in this part of the world. Barcelona haven’t won the competition since 2015 – and their fans are desperate for the team to regain the European Cup they cherish so much. They have played decent sides in La Liga so far this season, but Bayern Munich are a different animal together and they proved last night just how far Barcelona have fallen in a very short space of time.  

The Bavarian side were comfortably better in every department. Bayern’s press was relentless, they moved the ball quickly and accurately, they created more goal-scoring opportunities. If it wasn’t for a lack of composure in front of goal and a couple of decent saves from Marc-André ter Stegen then the away side could have had five or six goals to their name and no one would have complained.

Camp Nou is only operating at 40% capacity due to the ongoing pandemic, but even then there were plenty of pockets of empty seats all around. Messi’s departure has descended the club’s attendance into low numbers unseen in my lifetime, when usually there are queues upon queues of supporters scrambling for the best seats in the house. Usually a fortress to behold, especially on European nights against the biggest clubs the continent has to offer, Camp Nou was unusually quiet for a majority of the 90 minutes – but in these uncertain times the atmosphere was missing just as much as the tiki-taka Barcelona style we have became all too familiar with over the past 10 years or so.

I wonder whether Guardiola, Messi and co from that team a decade ago on that beat Manchester United at Wembley would believe you if you told them that Barça would only go on to win the Champions League only once more in the next 10 years. Whether they would believe that a team as mighty as Barcelona would go from a possession-based, attacking style of play to a defensive, men behind the ball, counter-attacking style like the one we saw last night?

One is right to fear for this once great European superpower. It is a transitional period for the club and football fans know how long those periods can take. Barcelona probably will bounce back from this and challenge amongst Europe’s elite once again in the future – the question is how long will it take them to reach those levels again or am I wrong? Could the class of 2011 be the last hurrah of this great club?

The story behind: AEK Athens

Celtic will be looking to overcome revitalised Greek outfit AEK Athens as they continue their bid to qualify for the 2018/19 Champions League group stages.

The two sides meet in the third qualifying round on Wednesday evening with the first leg taking place at Celtic Park (kick-off 19:45).

While most British fans will know plenty about the Bhoys – many can be forgiven for not knowing a single thing about their opponents.

AEK – who dominated Greek football in the 1990s – are looking to put the difficulties of the past decade behind them. After a couple of years in the lower tiers of Greek football, the Athens-based outfit secured their first Superleague title for 24 years last season. It’s been a roller coaster ride for their supporters, and victory over the Scottish champions would solidify the notion that the Club are heading back towards the good times once again.

Here’s a closer look at their rise, fall and rebirth.

Formation and early years

AEK Athens – nicknamed Kitrinomavree (The Yellow-Blacks) or Dikéfalos Aetós (Double-Headed Eagle) – were founded in 1924 by a group of Greek refugees from Istanbul in the wake of the Greco-Turkish War.

The Club’s popularity rose significantly throughout the 1920s, with AEK seen as a positive symbol for immigrants in the city. Another factor was the influence of their first President Konstantinos Spanoudis, a known associate of the Greek Prime Minister at the time, Eleftherios Venizelos.

In 1928, AEK broke away from the Greek Football Federation (EPO) alongside fellow sides Panathinaikos and Olympiakos to form an alliance known as POK. They would organise friendlies against each other and other European Clubs rather than participate in domestic football. However, the conflict ended a year later in 1929, and they all re-entered the EPO.

They won their first Greek Cup in 1932 after beating Aris Thessaloniki 5–3 in the final. They then went on to win the league and cup double in 1939 – before retaining the league title a year later.

European football achievements (1968-2003)

Celtic fans will need to be aware that of all the Greek sides to have competed in Europe, AEK Athens have been one of the most successful.

In 1968-69, they became the first Greek club to make it through to the European Cup quarter-finals under the guidance of Serbian coach Branko Stanković.

During the 1977-78 season, AEK beat Dynamo Moscow, Derby County, Red Star Belgrade and QPR as they made it through to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, before being eliminated by eventual winners Juventus.

The Club then became the first Greek side to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League in 1994-95 after beating Rangers in the qualifying round. In 2002-03, AEK went through the group stages unbeaten – drawing all six games in a group that included European giants Real Madrid and European regulars AS Roma. Despite failing to come out of the group, their courage and positive performances won many admirers.

Nikolaidis becomes AEK’s saviour

The Club began to struggle off the field at the turn of the century. In 2004, Boyhood fan and star player Demis Nikolaidis was reportedly assaulted by then President Makis Psomiadis’ bodyguards. He left the Club on a free that summer, before Dušan Bajević resigned as manager due to the hostility shown to him by AEK supporters.

Nikolaidis formed a new supporters’ club in 2004 and following strong backing, bought the Club and became President. He managed to clear the outstanding debt the Club owed the Greek judicial system, thus saving the Club. His passion drove crowds back through the turnstiles, and they once again qualified for the group stages of the Champions League in 2006-07. The Greek side just missed out on qualifying for the last 16, but did manage to beat eventual winners AC Milan on an infamous night in Athens during the group stage.

Court case controversy and relegation

In 2008, AEK finished the Greek Superleague in first place. However, they lost the title to rivals Olympiakos due to a court decision in the Piraeus club’s favour. AEK had been found guilty of fielding an illegible player earlier in the season, and the decision sparked outrage. It all went downhill from here for AEK, as the club’s financial problems worsened due to the Greek economic crisis.  

With a lack of resource, the titles began to dry up for AEK, and when fans stormed onto the pitch in 2013, the Club were docked three points and condemned to relegation for the first time in their history.

Regeneration and return to the top

AEK decided that summer to self-relegate themselves and start again from scratch in the third tier of Greek football. The move proved to be a masterstroke, with back-to-back promotions secured (including an undefeated season in the Greek Football League).

In their first season back in the top flight, they won the Greek Cup (a first trophy since 2010-11) and secured European football with a third-placed finish, they however lost the subsequent Europa League qualifying match to Saint-Etienne.

Last season saw the Club qualify for the group stages of the Europa League – their first appearance at this stage for six years. They went through the group stage unbeaten – including two 0-0 draws with AC Milan, and qualified for the round of 32. In April they secured their first title for 24 years, solidifying their return as one of Greece’s biggest football clubs.

Current squad – players to watch

Marinos Ouzounidis joined the Club as manager in May, following the departure of Manolo Jiménez. He won the Cypriot title with APOEL in 2007 but has yet to win another honour since.

AEK have lost some of their key players this summer, but Argentine loanees Lucas Boyé and Ezequiel Ponce could cause Celtic’s defence problems if given the opportunity, whilst Ukrainian centre back Dmytro Chygrynskiy used to be on Barcelona’s books.

Striker Marko Livaja netted eight times for the Greek side last season, whilst 24-year-old goalkeeper Vasilios Barkas is considered one of Greece’s future stars.

Notable former players and managers

Jack Beby: A former English goalkeeper who played for Leicester City and Bristol Rovers – managed the Greek side between 1948-1951. He introduced professional standards, which had never been seen in Greece before – including shirt numbers and the WM (3-2-2-3) formation used frequently in Britain at the time. AEK enjoyed success with Beby at the helm as they won the Greek Cup in 1949 and 1950.

Dimitris Papaioannou: all-time goalscorer and record appearance maker. He scored 234 goals in 480 games for AEK Athens.

Kostas Nestoridis: The striker went on to score 141 goals in 226 appearances for AEK Athens and formed a devastating partnership with Papaioannou through the late 50s and early 60s.

Thomas Mavros: One of Greece’s greatest ever strikers and a goal machine, Mavros scored 174 goals in 277 appearances between 1976-1987.

Dušan Bajević: He is one of the most controversial figures in the history of the club. He was a successful player, loved by AEK’s fans, who gave him the nickname “Prince”. He featured 106 times for the Greek side, scoring 65 goals before going on to manage the club on three separate occasions. During his first spell as manager, he won three consecutive league titles in 1992, 1993 and 1994.

Stylianos Manolas: The defender spent the entirety of his club career at AEK Athens, making 447 appearances for the Club between 1974-1998. He captained the side during their most successful period in the 1990s.

Rivaldo: The Brazilian legend spent a single season at the Club, scoring 12 goals in 35 games.

So to sum it up…

With 31 domestic honours to their name, AEK Athens may not be as easy an opponent as some Celtic fans expect. The defending Greek champions have a history of upsetting the odds in Europe and will be determined to do that again by winning this tie. After many years of hurt, this could be the fairytale ending for AEK Athens supporters and Greek football as a whole.

The events that took place during West Ham United’s heavy defeat to Burnley showed that the atmosphere around the club has now gone beyond toxic.

Two seasons ago West Ham United finished seventh in the Premier League and qualified for Europe under the guidance of Slaven Bilic, in what was their final campaign at the infamous Upton Park. 

There was a sense of optimism in and around the club during the summer of 2016 ahead of their move to the Olympic Stadium. The directors and supporters both felt that this was the beginning of a historical period for the Hammers – visioning a team containing a plethora of talent that would challenge in and around the top six.

Fast forward 24 months and Bilic has now gone – replaced by an uninspiring David Moyes, with the club languishing dangerously above the relegation places.

A lack of incomings in the January transfer window, a ever-extending list of injuries and players severely underperforming have all played a part in the team’s dismal form of late.

The Hammers have won just one of their last seven league matches, been knocked out of the FA Cup by League One side Wigan Athletic, and have conceded 11 goals in their last three outings.

So for some, yesterday’s 3-0 heavy home defeat to Burnley was the final straw.

Some dissatisfied fans ran onto the pitch, whilst others headed towards the directors box to voice their discontent. Joint chairman David Sullivan is said to have been hit by a coin thrown by an angry fan, whilst team captain Mark Noble got caught up in an unpleasant tussle on the half-way line with another.

These unsavoury actions confirmed that the atmosphere in and around West Ham has gone beyond toxic.

Whilst I understand fans wanting to voice their opinions and wanting to protest against how their club is being run, yesterday crossed a line. The havoc that occurred will have done nothing to stop the team from sleepwalking towards the trapdoor.

West Ham’s record at London Stadium since moving to their new home has been appalling to say the least, but the players need their fans to stick by them on a matchday, not riot both on and off the pitch.

You could hear it in Noble’s post-match interview that the crowd trouble had a terrible effect on them. Why would anyone want to play in claret and blue when the stadium suddenly becomes a war zone after the team concede a goal.

Credit must go to Burnley. Their staff and players allowed young home supporters to sit on their bench, away from the chaos. What were West Ham’s bench doing at that time? Twitching their thumbs and wondering how it had all come down to this.

The Football Association have condemned the crowd disturbances and have said they will be in close contact with the club to make sure that similar events never reoccur.

Could the Hammers be forced to play their home matches behind closed doors? Potentially.  That would be something nobody associated with West Ham wants, and something that could further hinder any chance of them retaining their top flight status.

Moyes’ men face a crucial six-pointer against fellow strugglers Southampton in three weeks’ time at London Stadium. During these next 20 days or so, everything has to be done to make sure nothing like we saw against Burnley resurfaces.

It was a day where the home supporters had initially gathered to commemorate the life of club legend and World Cup winner Bobby Moore before kick-off. But by full-time a dark mist had quickly descended in and around the stadium.

I wonder what the late great Moore would have thought of yesterday’s events?

Dreams of playing the likes of Milan, Madrid and Lyon on big European nights are now long gone, and instead replaced by thoughts of travelling to the likes of Middlesbrough, Millwall and Barnsley in the Championship. This is quickly becoming a realistic future for West Ham United, should nothing radically change both on and off the field.

MLS 2018: Despite his disastrous tenure at Aston Villa, Remi Garde is still quite a coup for Montreal Impact.

When Remi Garde left his position as Aston Villa manager in March 2016, his managerial reputation was in tatters. 

The 51-year-old Frenchman won just two of his 20 league matches in charge of the Villans, which culminated a win percentage of just 10%. It’s the lowest of any Aston Villa manager in the club’s history.

Yet, his unveiling as Montreal Impact’s fifth head coach in seven years is still quite a coup for the Canadian outfit and for the MLS in general.

Before his disastrous spell at Villa Park, Garde had worked up a rather impressive CV. As a player he won at least one trophy at every club he played for- including a Premier League title with Arsenal in 1997-98.

The former Lyon, Strasbourg and Gunners midfielder also saw success follow him in his early coaching career.

Garde took over from the dismissed Claude Puel at Lyon in 2011. During his time in charge of Les Gones he won two trophies – the Coupe de France and Trophèe des champions.

This resulted in him being linked to some of the biggest jobs in football – including a possible return to the Emirates to replace his mentor Arsene Wenger.

Whilst his ill-fated tenure at Villa has probably seen that opportunity fade away for Garde, the manager’s job at the Villans was at the time a poisoned chalice.

The club were rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, and the players at the club lacked the desire the 51-year-old demanded. A promise of January signings by Randy Lerner never materialised into nothing more than false pretences. You could therefore say that he had no chance of turning the fortunes of the club around.

It may surprise some that he’s decided to move halfway across the world for his new managerial venture at Montreal, but his appointment may prove to be shrewd bit of business by owner Joey Saputo.

The main issue will be the longevity of this partnership between Garde and Impact.

Montreal have a reputation in the MLS to hire and fire head coaches on a consistent basis. The 51-year-old becomes the franchises’ fifth in just seven seasons, and may need to get off to a strong start in order to keep the board happy.

On the other hand, the temptation and the glamour of European football could sway Garde back across the Atlantic Ocean should he do well in Canada. He only lasted at Lyon for three years before leaving for family reasons. Neither party likes to overstay their welcome.

The Frenchman is another recognisable manager to have joined the MLS in recent seasons as the league’s appeal continues to gradually grow. Former Barcelona and Argentina boss Tata Martino became head coach at Atlanta United last year, with Bob Bradley returning to the league to take charge at new franchise Los Angeles FC.

Garde has had all winter to prepare his team ahead of their opener against Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend. A key signing he has brought in is that of former Inter Milan midfielder Saphir Taïder to help bolster the midfield.

Last year was one to forget for Impact, with a ninth place finish in the Eastern Conference and 17th overall. But if Garde can find that formula that saw him win trophies with Lyon, he could make this Montreal side a real force in the league and regular post-season contenders.

Something that will surely have a positive impact on his dented managerial career and help him recover that early reputation of being one of the best in the business.






Juventus First Team Review: A beautiful insight into Italy’s most prestigious football club.

Netflix have released the first half of episodes in a six-part series following the Italian giants during the 2017-18 season. WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS 

“Juventus uses it’s past to define it’s future.”

Football club documentaries haven’t exactly been successful in the past. Just look at 2012’s Being: Liverpool.

However, Netflix’s new documentary “Juventus: First Team” is a beautiful insight into Italy’s most prestigious football club. After watching the first three episodes (the rest will be released in the summer), you’ll find yourself understanding the club’s philosophies and ethos. It’s a real eye-opener that is stunning to look at and easy to absorb.

Focusing on the first half of the season, episode one introduces the team and their recent achievements – six successive Scudetti and three consecutive Coppa Italia’s. However, these honours are overshadowed by failures in the Champions League, with two final defeats in the last three years. The club’s aims are simple: more silverware.

We learn during the pre-season how the culture of the club centres around it’s fans. The players see their supporters as family members- making it a tight bond between the two. Six straight wins to start the campaign makes the opening 40 minutes a rather upbeat viewing.

But the show isn’t shackled by Juventus wanting to portray themselves positively, as we see in episode two. The documentary also delves into the struggles and setbacks the club and the players faced whether that be form, pressure or injuries.

Gigi Buffon features heavily in this, which is no surprise given his legendary status at the club and the fact he is nearing the end of his career. Retirement is a question brought up almost every time he is on screen, and it’s interesting to watch as he and others throughout Italy discuss when he should call it a day and what he plans to do next.

The documentary also sometimes shifts away from Juventus and onto other subjects- such as Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals in Russia this summer. Much of the side that lost to Sweden in November’s play-off play for Juve, so seeing them in the aftermath was a nice change of direction, and didn’t feel like an unnecessary distraction away from the main focus point.

We are treated to beautiful cinematography of Turin and the Allianz Stadium, making the city look as bright and vibrant as ever. The football pitch looks like a sea of emerald gemstones and really stands out on the screen.

There is a fine balance on and off the field, with unprecedented access to Massimiliano Allegri’s training sessions in Vinovo, the stadium facilities and player’s homes.

We learn a lot about Allegri and his management style. The Italian is very psychological and is constantly talking about mentality. During his training drills, he is always reminding the players to be focused and to think like the opposition, which we see quite evidentially as they prepare for a defining match against Napoli.

Current and past players such as Claudio Marchisio, Gonzalo Higuain, Alessandro Del Piero and Pavel Nedved provide us with powerful and insightful interviews that help not only portray Juventus Football Club, but also the joys and struggles of being a professional footballer.

The series isn’t perfect though, and there are scenes that do seem to have been put in for commercial reasons and to fill time. Obviously it’s interesting to see the players doing what they are obligated to do in their contracts, but these segments just seemed to have been put in for the sake of it and without any real meaning.

This is not a history lesson either. After the opening five minutes the focus is very much the present. If you were hoping to find out more about Juventus’ past, then this won’t be where to find it.

The one issue that was frequent throughout is the subtitles. They have a tendency to jump around the screen, whilst introductions of interviewees come in mid-way through a sentence, making it difficult to read and understand at times.

Above all though what helps makes this series tick over is the fact that it hasn’t been plain sailing for Juventus this season, making the narrative much more tense than it could have been had the show been constructed two or three years ago.

If you are a football fanatic that’s fascinated by the day to day life at a famous football club, than this is the show for you. It may even be one that defines the future making of football documentaries.









Real Madrid look ordinary and have no plan B.

Real Madrid’s 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last night capped off a miserable week for the Spanish giants.

Fans and pundits alike were expecting a response from Zinedine Zidane’s side following Sunday’s embarrassing 2-1 loss to Girona.

Instead everyone got the opposite, as a Delle Ali brace and Christian Eriksen strike condemned the reigning European champions to their heaviest defeat in the Champions League since their 4-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in 2013.

This is only the second time during the Zidane era that Los Blancos have lost two matches in a row, yet it’s already looking a sorry sight for them. They currently sit third in La Liga, eight points behind leaders Barcelona.

Defeat at Wembley was the club’s first in a Champions League group stage match since October 2012, and although they only need one more point to guarantee themselves a place in the last 16, many would have expected them to win this group (which is also contested by Dortmund and Apoel Nicosia).

So what exactly has gone wrong for Real Madrid this season? Injuries have played a part with Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane and Gareth Bale among those sidelined. But there are other superstars currently on the pitch that just aren’t playing to the high standard we have come accustom too.

The often-influential Cristiano Ronaldo has this season looked a shadow of the player that has been competing with Lionel Messi for the Ballon d’Or in recent times. Sergio Ramos and Marcelo have not been as colossal at the back as one comes to expect, whilst Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have failed to unlock defences or stretch the play with their usually exceptional passing.

Because of this, Real Madrid have looked ordinary so far this campaign and have no Plan B to fall back on.

Zidane relies on his best players to perform week in, week out because there is no squad depth. Looking at their bench last night, you’d be forgiven asking who exactly some of those players were. Many of Real’s substitutes often play in the youth side, and aren’t yet ready to challenge for a first team place.

For that reason, players like Karim Benzema haven’t got to look over their shoulder or worry about being dropped, as there is no one waiting in the wings to take their place.

The sale of Alvaro Morata to Chelsea and letting James Rodriguez go to Bayern Munich on loan have both looked more and more costly. Had they remained at Madrid, they would have at least provided competition for places and perhaps got better performances out of others.

As a consequence, Zidane now faces the toughest period of his tenure to date. His rotation policy that worked so well last season has backfired on him this campaign. He now needs to work out how he can get his players back on top form, scoring goals and beating every team that comes in their way.

Real Madrid return to La Liga action on Sunday evening when they host Las Palmas, where anything less than a win could spiral the current situation at the Bernabeu from disastrous to catastrophic.

A commander within the Toon Army: Cheick Tiote 1986-2017.

This afternoon, the footballing world found out the tragic news that former Twente and Newcastle midfielder Cheick Tiote had collapsed during a training session in Beijing and died at the age of just 30.

The Ivorian, who made 52 appearances for his country, had only signed for second-tier Chinese club Beijing Enterprises four months ago. He made just 11 appearances for the Asian outfit.

His career took off at Anderlecht, where he won two Belgian titles and a Belgian super cup. He then moved to Holland, where he played for both Roda and Twente. There, Tiote won the domestic double in 2010 with the latter under Steve McLaren.

He then moved to Newcastle United and made 156 appearances for the Magpies during his six-and-a-half-year stay on Tyneside.

When he took to the field, he didn’t light up the stadia with fancy footwork and tricks. Instead he was the man in the middle doing the dirty work: intercepting passes and making crucial challenges for his side.

He was without doubt the commander within the Toon Army. He was a player that dictated any game he was involved in.

Newcastle are one of the country’s leading clubs, with a fantastic fanbase. He galvanised their love for the game on the pitch. He was Newcastle through and through and It’s no wonder he was adored by their supporters.

Tiote wasn’t a prolific goalscorer either. In fact, the Ivorian only netted once for Newcastle, although it was a goal that will live long in the memory of most fans.

His strike secured a remarkable point for the Magpies as they came back from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 with Arsenal at St.James’s Park in 2011.

The central midfielder represented his country at both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups in South Africa and Brazil respectively. He was also part of the Ivory Coast side that won the 2015 African Cup of Nations.

An underrated footballer taken from us all way too early.

RIP Cheick.




Whoever comes in at Swansea has a major job on their hands.

Bob Bradley’s ill-fated tenure at Swansea City ended on Tuesday night following a 4-1 home defeat to West Ham United on boxing day. 

The 58-year old became the first ever American to manage in the Premier League, but he only lasted 11 games and 85 days at the Liberty Stadium.

Swansea won just twice during Bradley’s brief spell, with the team conceding 29 goals in that time.

Once again, pundits and fans alike have questioned the mentality of the Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins and American owners Stephen Kaplan and Jason Levien.

Ever since Brendan Rodgers left south wales for Liverpool in 2012, the club have sacked four managers in four years- Michael Laudrup, Garry Monk, Francesco Guidolin and Bradley. As a result, the constant change in management has slowly affected the Swans’ league stature.

After five seasons of mid-table stability, the club now faces a major battle to avoid relegation to the Championship.

So who should take over the managerial reigns at a club short of confidence and lacking Premier League quality.

Wales boss and former Swansea player Chris Coleman (left) is thought to be one of the front-runners, along with Bayern Munich assistant manager Paul Clement (centre) and unemployed Gary Rowett (right).

Ryan Giggs is not being considered for the job, according to BBC Sport.

Of the three listed above only Chris Coleman has Premier League experience as a manager.

The 46-year old previously managed Fulham in the top flight between 2003-07, winning 61 of his 171 matches.

Clement and Rowett have proven their worth in the Championship, with both unlucky to lose their jobs at Derby County and Birmingham City respectively.

Clement was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea between 2009-2011, during which the west London club won the Premier League in 2010.

Rowett is yet to coach in the top flight, and considering the job that needs to be done at Swansea, he would be a major gamble.

The club needs a man with experience and knowledge of the league. Sam Allardyce would have been a good fit, but he was snatched up by Crystal Palace last week.

He replaced Alan Pardew, and if he is looking for a quick return to management, then he should consider the Swansea job should he be approached.

The owners have money they can give him to buy better players, especially in defence, and his work at Newcastle United and Palace (pre-2016) has proved his worth in this division.

What we definitely know is that Alan Curtis will take charge of Swansea’s home match against Bournemouth on Saturday, with the club hoping to have their new manager installed before the crucial six-pointer at Palace (Even more incentive for Pardew you’d think) on Tuesday.

Following that is an FA third round match at fellow Premier League strugglers Hull City, before tough fixtures against Arsenal (H), Liverpool (A) and Southampton (H) to end the month.

The new manager will need to improve a fragile defence that has only kept three clean sheets all season and struggled to defend set-pieces.

Ashley Williams has not been replaced since he departed for Everton in the pre-season, and the club needs to try and buy a central defender who will be vocal and command the defensive line.

Barnsley’s Marc Roberts and Leeds’ Pontus Jansson are two players that have impressed in the Championship this season, but could they make the jump up to the Premier League? Would buying from the league below show a lack of ambition?

Perhaps a loan move for Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho would be better?  We are really pulling at strings here. There aren’t too many defenders in England available that have good Premier League expereince.

The team has also been heavily reliant on Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurðsson. The 27-year old is Swansea’s most influential player with five goals and five assists this season.

Striker Fernando Llorente hasn’t lived up to the expectation many had of him, and club-record signing Borja Bastón still needs to adapt to English football since his summer move from Atletico Madrid.

A proven goalscorer is needed to help the club at the top end of the pitch.

Chelsea pair Marco Van Ginkel and Kenedy  could be good loan signings for the club, if they can afford their wages.

These are some suggestions, as its been proven that players from other leagues in Europe aren’t always the best solution short-term, just look at how Aston Villa turned out last year.

Whoever comes in, they really do have a job on their hands.



BHAFC: Fringe and youth players leave Chris Hughton with early selection headache.

Albion Analysis: #2 Colchester United, 9th August 2016

Brighton and Hove Albion progressed to the second round of the EFL Cup with a convincing 4-0 victory over Colchester United at the Amex on Tuesday night.

Manager Chris Hughton made 11 changes from the side that drew at Derby at the weekend, with three Under 23 players making their senior debuts for the club.

Ben White, who signed his first professional contract this summer, made the biggest claim to start against Nottingham Forest on Friday with a fantastic performance.

His defensive positioning and commandment of the air was clear to see, and it limited Colchester to any worthwhile chances during the whole 90 minutes.

Hughton could only praise him during his post match interviews, and there would be no harm in giving him another opportunity so early into the season.

It would also allow Bruno to return to his best position at right back, although White would need to form a very quick partnership with Lewis Dunk at the heart of Brighton’s backline against far better opponents.

Fellow under 23 players Rob Hunt and Sam Adekugbe also played the full game at right and left back respectively. They both worked extremely hard up and down the flanks to provide an option going forward and then track the Colchester wingers back.

The quality of all three’s performances just how far the youth side has progressed under Simon Rusk.

Perhaps allowing the youngsters to play in the recently revamped EFL Trophy isn’t such a bad idea, as it will provide them with the opportunity to play more fixtures against opponents of Colchester’s level, as well as prepare them better for the first team.

Ahead of the defence, Albion fans were treated to see new signing Oliver Norwood make his debut for the Seagulls in centre midfield.

The Northern Irish man made a decent start to his Albion career as he was involved in most of the Albion chances in the first half.

His set piece and passing ability was on show occasionally, as he came close twice to assisting Brighton’s opener.

He also had an effort just before half time fizz just wide of the post from 20 yards.

But for me, he still remains a little rusty after helping Northern Ireland reach the last 16 of the Euros this summer; and it paved dividend in the second half as he faded out of the game and became less influential.

However, he could easily slot in alongside Beram Kayal in place of Steve Sidwell against Forest in order to give more match time with his new team mates and allow them to gel further.

Hughton’s biggest selection test for Friday however, remains to be the wingers.

Kazenga LuaLua and Jamie Murphy were Albion’s dynamic duo, as they tore the Colchester defence to pieces in the final 25 minutes.

Murphy scored twice, including a very fine solo effort, whilst LuaLua assisted in two of Albion’s goals.

Most will say Anthony Knockaert is a certainty for the right wing position, and I would probably go with that, seeing as he is our most creative player and can change a game in an instant.

That therefore leaves three wingers fighting out for the left side of midfield; Murphy, LuaLua and Jiri Skalek.

Whilst Skalek provides the biggest threat offensively with his delivery ability, one cannot simply ignore the performances by both Murphy and LuaLua last night, even if it was against Colchester.

All three will be confident going into Friday’s match, and I reckon Chris will be constantly changing his mind right up to game day.

Even the Albion strikers last night made claims for a starting position after both found the target.

Sam Baldock and Elvis Manu scored their first goals of the campaign respectively, and with Tomer Hemed and Glenn Murray firing blanks at Derby, would it be worth bringing in the pace of either Baldock or Manu to freshen up the side?

Baldock in particular impressed with an energetic performance. Last night’s stand in captain opened the scoring with a lovely curled effort into the top right corner and will be as eager as anyone to do the same against Forest.

Some will read this and think hang on, we played extremely well up at Derby so why change it?

I completely agree, we did play well, and we have no need to change the side from last weekend for the Forest match, but the cup game last night showed us how competitive this squad is now.

Where we have failed ever so slightly with our team up to now is squad depth. Whilst some may think we still don’t have enough and need to bring more in, I think we have raw quality coming through the youth sides nowadays compared to five or six years ago. For me, they deserve an opportunity to show us and the manager just how good they are on the biggest of stages.

We have a healthy competition for places, and that can only do more good than harm.

The joys of being a manager, eh Chris?

BHAFC: Oliver Norwood signing a clever bit of business by Chris Hughton.

Brighton and Hove Albion’s new signing Oliver Norwood shouldn’t take too long to adapt at the south coast club, as he is a player who fits the mould of manager Chris Hughton’s way of playing perfectly.

The Northern Ireland international signed from Championship rivals Reading on a three-year deal, and could make his debut for the Seagulls against Derby County in this weekend’s Championship opener.

Norwood, 25, is a defensive midfielder who likes to dictate the play and spring the forwards into counter attacks through his vast range of passing.

The former Manchester United youngster is also a fine set piece taker, and his deliveries from corners and free kicks could offer something different for Brighton going into the new season.

Some see this move as a bad omen, and feel that the consequence of this signing will be the departure of Dale Stephens. The box-to-box midfielder has been on Burnley’s  wishlist all summer but there is no reason why Norwood, Stephens and Beram Kayal can’t all play in the same team.

Hughton may decide to switch from his traditional 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 formation. This would allow Norwood and Kayal to play alongside each other, with Stephens in a more advanced position.

In his first interview with the Argus, Norwood insisted that it was Chairman Tony Bloom and his determination to keep all of Albion’s in demand players at the club was key to him signing the contract.

This is positive news to hear, after the most recent speculation linked Anthony Knockaert with a move north to Newcastle United.

Bloom, like the manager and players, is as determined as ever to finally get this club into the Premier League, and keeping the star players during the transfer windows is the first little step towards that.

He may not be an Alex Pritchard, nor an attacking midfielder who will score 10+ goals for us this season, but Norwood didn’t cost eight million pounds to buy, and with just under 200 appearances in this league, he knows the Championship like the back of his hand.

With just under four weeks to go before the transfer window slams shut, fans will be hoping to see more new faces come through the doors in the coming days.