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?

Opposition in focus: Manchester United (H)

Brighton and Hove Albion will be looking to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing defeat at Watford when they host Manchester United at the Amex Stadium on Sunday. (kick-off 16:00)

Pascal Groß netted the winner when the two sides last met back in April – a fixture Seagulls fans will remember fondly as they guaranteed Premier League survival against Jose Mourinho’s men. Before that the pair had faced each other twice at Old Trafford – with both games ending in a United victory.

The Red Devils finished second in the Premier League last season but failed to win a single trophy. Pressure will now by on Mourinho and the team to lift some silverware, but they got off to the perfect start last week a Paul Pogba penalty and Luke Shaw’s first competitive goal saw off Leicester City 2-1 at Old Trafford.

Manchester United fan and Stretty News contributor Jamie Spoor explains his thoughts on United’s lack of spending, Luke Shaw and the game against Brighton on Sunday.

Manchester United had a rather turbulent pre-season. In your opinion what were the reasons for that and who is to blame?

Our pre-season was a complete nightmare. Mourinho certainly didn’t help matters by his negative demeanour, frequent outbursts and criticism of the players, especially the younger ones. He was frustrated that the World Cup deprived United of several key men during the US Tour, but we knew that was always going to be the case and we only won one game. Although it was only pre-season, the results were disappointing – especially the defeats against Liverpool and Bayern Munich. Plodding around the US with a scratch side made up largely of reserves and fringe players, we learned little and it was far from ideal preparation ahead of the season.

Fred and Diogo Dalot were the only major signings that came through the Old Trafford doors this summer, with Mourinho obviously unhappy about the amount of targets missed. Does the lack of business during the transfer window worry you?

It is very concerning – particularly as Mourinho had devised a list of players he wanted to bring in to strengthen our squad. Top of that list was a top class centre-back alongside Eric Bailly as Smalling and Jones are simply not good enough. We were linked with Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire among others, but the window closed without us bringing in anyone apart from Dalot and Fred. I’m looking forward to seeing what both can do, but I didn’t feel they were players we necessarily needed. Overall, our transfer window inactivity was a shambles, the board have a lot to answer for and Mourinho has a right to be very frustrated by the lack of signings.

There is still a lot of speculation regarding the futures of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba. Are you confident either one of them or both will stay at the Club this summer?

I very much hope so. The transfer window for the rest of Europe is open for another couple of weeks, which means the club are unlikely to sell them both as we couldn’t get a replacement. Pogba in particular is a player we should look to build our team around, he is a player I believe has world class ability as we saw with France in the summer. Martial I’d be less unhappy about losing, he is an unbelievable talent but his attitude leaves a lot to be desired. The fact he has earned the nickname Le Sulk tells you everything you need to know. Mourinho wanted to let him go in the summer, but the board were unwilling to sell. Martial looked like a world beater when he first came, he was magnificent in that first season but has lost his way since and looks like a player that doesn’t want to be at United. It feels like his United career is at a crossroad at the minute.

One player that really impressed during United’s victory over Leicester last week was Luke Shaw. Do you see this as a golden opportunity for him to prove his right to be at the Club?

Absolutely. Luke Shaw should be starting at left-back for Manchester United week in, week out. He’s better than Ashley Young in every conceivable way, and his performance against Leicester was probably the biggest positive, apart from the result. It felt like it could be the start of a new beginning for him, a chance of redemption for a player whose United career has been one of unfulfilled promise so far. He’s had rotten luck with a loss of form, fitness and a number of injury problems, not to mention several public and acrimonious run-ins with Mourinho. He seemed certain to leave in the summer, and the one before that, but has worked hard to turn his fortunes around and get back in the manager’s good books. He’s got a long way to go before we can say he’s finally lived up to his burgeoning potential and makes the left-back spot his own, having shown only glimpses of the form that persuaded United to sign him from Southampton in 2014, where he was regarded as the finest young full-back in the country.

Who poses the biggest threat to Brighton’s defence on Sunday?

Romelu Lukaku looks set to play in this game, and on his day he is unplayable. He scored 27 goals last season, which would have been 30 if not for injury. After a good World Cup with Belgium, hopefully he’ll hit the ground running and come back fit and firing. Marcus Rashford is always a handful with his pace, and we all know about the world class talent of Alexis Sanchez, although he’s yet to show it in the red of United. The battle between our front three, and Brighton’s centre half partnership of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy – who were really impressive last season – could well hold the key.

Brighton could give home debuts to Martin Montoya, Yves Bissouma and
Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Do you feel that it will be one of the new signings that causes United the most problems on the pitch?

To be honest, I don’t really know too much about any of Brighton’s new summer signings, they are something of an unknown quantity. For Albion to sign a Champions League winner in Martin Montoya is a real coup, and shows the ambition and upward mobility of the club. He is the only one I’ve heard of and could be a tough nut to crack.

When we came down to the Amex last time, it was Anthony Knockaert who ran the show – he terrorised our defence and is a player who I’ve always been a big fan of. Although he is mercurial and unpredictable, for me he is still Brighton’s go-to match winner. His pace and directness causes problems, and hopefully Matteo Darmian will be able to deal with him better this time around. With their new strikers now on board, it will be interesting to see who Chris Hughton calls upon to lead the line.

The Seagulls began the season with a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Watford. Chris Hughton will be expecting a response from his players, so are you nervous about playing Brighton this weekend? A team who may also be buoyed from last season’s victory over United at the Amex?

Any away game in the Premier League is a difficult one, no matter who you are. Brighton were very strong at the Amex last season – I think they only lost three times – which is very impressive for a newly promoted side. Hughton is an under-rated manager, he will send Brighton out to get in our faces, not be cowed and to play without fear. They are well-drilled, well organised and work hard. They have pace in their team and are going to be hard to get through. The atmosphere will be feverish, Brighton won’t show us any respect at all, and it certainly won’t be an easy game. It was a poor result for them at Watford, but what better way for them to respond from that with a home result over the mighty Manchester United to get them off and running for the season. I think it will be a different type of game from the one we saw last time, Albion will be scenting another big name scalp and I expect a very tough test of United’s credentials.

How do you see Brighton and Hove Albion doing this season?

The second season in the Premier League is always much harder than the first for a new team, and I think that could be the case for Brighton this time. Goals proved hard to come by last season and Albion were the third lowest scorers in the league, even though they survived in relative comfort in 15th place. Hughton has attempted to rectify that by bringing in the aforementioned Jahanbakhsh and Florin Andone to bolster striking options, but it remains to be seen how the new arrivals will fare. I do have a soft spot for Brighton and I like Chris Hughton, but I think they could get found out a bit and will struggle. I’d loved to proved wrong, but I think there could be a relegation battle to contend with.

Many are suggesting that it is imperative that Manchester United win a trophy this season. What do you think will be classed as a successful campaign for Jose Mourinho’s side?

Any season without silverware of some sort has to be considered unacceptable when you’re Manchester United. Last season was a marked improvement in the league, we finished second on 81 points in our best league placing since Sir Alex retired. But we lost the FA Cup Final, so had nothing to show for it. We’re certainly not good enough to win the Premier League or the Champions League, but we’re no better and no worse than last season so I think we’re comfortably going to finish in the top four. I think our best chance of a trophy will come in the FA Cup – where we’ll look to go one better that last season – or the Carabao Cup, which Mourinho has always had a lot of success in. I would be more than happy with a top 3 league finish and a cup win, I think that’s realistic and a good season.

What do you think the score will be on Sunday?

United are very hard to predict – we can be brilliant one week, bang average the next. The Amex is a difficult trip and Brighton cannot be ruled out. Under Mourinho, we’ve struggled at times against the so called ‘lesser’ sides, so this is tough to call. I’m fond of Brighton and wish them luck for the season (after Sunday of course), so I’m going to sit on the fence and go down the middle. I actually think the Albion will nick something from this, so I’m going for the safe option of a draw. 1-1.

*** You can read Jamie’s articles on Manchester United here:  https://strettynews.com/author/jamie-spoor/.

Brighton before: Watford (A)

Here we go again. For the next nine months we will feel a roller-coaster of emotions whilst following Brighton and Hove Albion through their second successive season in the Premier League.

The Seagulls begin their 2018/19 campaign in Hertfordshire against Watford and many will recall our last visit to Vicarage Road, where Miguel Britos chopped down Anthony Knockaert and was deservedly sent off during the 0-0 stalemate.

Watford fans are quietly optimistic that this season will be an improvement on the last, and you can read what one Hornet’s fan said to me about their season’s chances here.

But here are my own personal thoughts on Saturday’s match in this first match preview of the season.

It’s opening day, but it’s important we bring something back to Sussex. 

Brighton’s season will not be decided by the events that take place on the pitch at Vicarage Road. They won’t be guaranteed survival if they win, nor will they be doomed for relegation should they lose.

However it is important Chris Hughton’s team bring something back with them to Sussex. It might be opening day, but this is a fixture many would have highlighted as one the Seagulls should aim to win or at least draw.

It’s also worth noting that following their trip to the Hornets, Brighton face four of the top six within the next six matchdays. Manchester United visit the Amex next weekend, before Albion make the long trip up to Anfield and take on a Liverpool side that many predict will be Manchester City’s closest rivals for the title.

With Tottenham and Manchester City to play in September, it is imperative that Brighton take as many points as possible from the games against the smaller sides, starting with Watford.

New signings will get their chances to shine, but it will probably be from the bench. 

Fans will be discussing how the team will line-up right up until 2pm on Saturday afternoon. How many of the new signings will start? Which formation will Hughton use?

Personally, I don’t see him doing too much tinkering. I know in a previous post I suggested a change in formation to free up the opportunity to start Yves Bissouma, Davy Propper and Dale Stephens, but I doubt that will happen.

This is a huge opportunity to get some points on the board early and although the Club has spent over £60m strengthening the squad, it is only Bernardo that starts for me. Hughton will stick with the players that did so well last season in keeping Albion in the league. They now have a season worth of experience to their advantage, which could help see away form improve this year.

I would guess that we will probably get to see Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Bissouma both come off the bench and get their chance to shine with 20-30 minutes to go, if required.

Watford could be dangerous on the offensive, but their big stars may still be rusty. 

Watford have some good talent within their ranks. Their main man last season, Abdoulaye Doucouré, has recently signed a new long-term deal to remain with the Hornets. Gerard Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra, Andre Gray and captain Troy Deeney are all also capable of winning any game for Javi Gracia’s men.

Another huge talent is Will Hughes. The former Derby midfielder is known to pull the strings in the middle of the park and could be the one that causes the Seagulls’ defence the most problems.

However not all of them have featured in pre-season. Rustiness could be a factor towards the end of the game, which could play into Brighton’s hands.

Knockaert will be fired up after last season’s encounter. 

Now with bleached blonde hair, AK seems to have picked up where he left off towards the end of last season.

The winger was immense against United at the Amex, and was the best player on the pitch during Brighton’s 2-1 win over Nantes last week.

Following the Britos incident last August, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Frenchman fired up for this game from the outset.

This will be a tight, cagey affair and it may take just a single moment of magic to separate the two sides. Knockaert has the tools at his disposal to produce said magic, and if the little magician plays as well as the supporters all know he can, then he could be the one that makes the difference.

A win would be an early sign of intent towards Brighton’s rivals. 

As mentioned above, it’s crucial we play for the win on Saturday and try and get something from the game.

The mood from the camp looks calm and focused from the outside, but I’m certain the players understand how important it is to get off to a good start.

Victory away from home would be an early sign of intent to Brighton’s rivals. Every point picked up on the road in the top flight is a precious one. It is never easy to get something on your travels, and if Brighton were to get that first away point so soon, it will calm the nerves for the team and supporters.

But if they can be three points ahead of a team also fighting for an 11th-17th placed finish, that will provide the players with an early safety cushion. Last season, Brighton only flirted with the relegation spots – they were never in the bottom three for long periods of time, unlike Crystal Palace or Swansea City. Hopefully it will be a similar outcome this time around.


I can see the opening few minutes being quite cagey. There may not be many chances in the game, but I think Brighton will score and finish the stronger of the two sides. You can never rule Watford out with the attacking threat though, so I’ll say a draw.

Watford 1-1 Brighton and Hove Albion.

Opposition in focus: Watford (A)

Brighton and Hove Albion begin their second season in the Premier League away to Watford on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 15:00).

The Seagulls drew 0-0 at Vicarage Road last season – a fixture which Albion fans will fondly remember after Miguel Britos’ moment of madness led to a dangerous lunge on Anthony Knockaert and subsequent red card. Pascal Groß’s 64th minute strike earned Brighton a 1-0 victory in their last encounter at the Amex back in December.

Watford finished a place and a point ahead of Albion in the table back in May, but some suggest that their top flight status is under serious threat this season.

They have been notoriously quick out of the blocks during a league campaign, accumulating the majority of points needed for survival before Christmas. They are also notorious for seeing their form jump out of the window, and the Club consequently drop from European contenders to Premier League survivalists. Some predict that the contrasting form and constant managerial changes will eventually catch up with them, whilst others believe that they will be in for a fully fledged relegation battle this season.

Watford supporter Adam Rowe explains how the Hornets could surprise a few this season, should they can keep their key players fit.

How have Watford fared in pre-season?

“Results wise it’s been a very successful pre-season for us. We have gone throughout the whole summer unbeaten, however key players such as Abdoulaye Doucoure, Nathaniel Chalobah and Gerard Deulofeu have yet to feature due to injury, which is a cause for concern.”

How would you rate the Hornet’s transfer window? Have any new signings impressed? What are your views on Richarlison’s big-money move to Everton? 

“The biggest signing of our window has been the contract extension of Doucoure, he is a massive player for us. The permanent signing of Gerard Deulofeu is pleasing too, he showed in glimpses how valuable he could be to us before he got injured.

“Although it’s disappointing that Richarlison departed (particularly because he’s going to join Marco Silva), it’s a huge fee that the club were never going to turn down. He didn’t make the starting-11 for large parts of the second half of last season so I’m pretty confident we will be okay without him.”

Javi Gracia has been in charge for a while now, has he implemented a new style that the fans are happy with?

“Javi Gracia has certainly divided opinion amongst Watford fans. He is most definitely a nice guy and based on personality he is well liked. However, his playing style in the second half of last season was somewhat negative and we eventually crawled over the line in terms of survival.

“But he did what he was brought into do, which was to keep us in the league. We are yet to score a goal away from home under Gracia and have only picked up a solitary away point. That away form has got to change or I feel fans could soon be on his back. In my view I think now he has had pre-season he can be better judged.”

Who would you say are the danger men Brighton should watch out for?

“Will Hughes has been nothing short of superb when he’s been fit. He is a match winner for us and makes the team tick through his creativity. Another is Roberto Pereyra – he finished the season in very good form so again if he is on song then he can be a real threat. Then there is the obvious one in Doucoure, our player of the season last year and a firm fan favourite, when he plays well Watford tend to.”

What are your opinions on Brighton’s heavy spending this summer and how do you think the Seagulls will do this season?

“I think Brighton will probably replicate what they did last season in terms of the main aim has to be survival first and then trying to finish as high up as possible. You guys have certainly brought in some reinforcements, which I think is key to your chances of survival. The second season always tends to be harder than the first so it was key that you freshened up the squad. The Seagulls have a top manager in Chris Hughton and I think you’ll stay up again this season.”

Are there any Brighton players that you feel Watford need to keep an eye on? Do
you expect to see another Britos v Knockaert battle?

We have signed a new left back over the summer, Adam Masina and from what I have seen of him I have been impressed. He is probably much more suited to dealing with Knockaert. I am sure Knockaert will be subject to his usual pantomime abuse. Personally I think he is a massive player for the Seagulls and always tends to play pretty well against us.

Where do you think Watford will end up this season?

If we keep the squad fit, I think we can honestly challenge to come in the top half of the table. However if we have the injury record we have had in the last two seasons then I fear for us this season. Signing a striker before the deadline would certainly bolster our chances of a successful season. On the whole I think it’s another season of finishing in mid-table.

Finally, what do you think the score will be on Saturday?

I will always back us at home so I will go with a tight 2-1 Hornets win.

**You can follow Adam on Twitter (@adzrowe) and read his own blog here: https://adamrowefootball.blogspot.com/.



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.

Brighton target Yves Bissouma would help unlock their attacking pedigree.

The 21-year-old midfielder has been linked with a move to the Premier League over the last few days, and he could be the signing that makes Chris Hughton’s team one to watch in 2018/19.

Brighton and Hove Albion are reportedly closing in on Lille midfielder Yves Bissouma.

The Ligue 1 club want £17.5m for their man’s services, and the 21-year-old looks set to reject Portuguese giants Porto in favour of a move to the Amex stadium, should the Seagulls cough up the money.

Many Albion fans will agree that the Club has been very shrewd in the transfer market this summer – but this big money deal could well be the star signing that makes the Seagulls one of the teams to watch out for in 2018/19. Bissouma would not only bolster the centre of Brighton’s midfield, but also help unlock their attacking pedigree.

The central midfielder broke into the first team at Lille two years ago and made 30 appearances for Les Dogues last season. He has already got 15 international caps for Mali and has scored three goals for his country.

According to whoscored.com, Bissouma recorded his best stats playing as a defensive midfielder – with a rating of 7.62. Should he take up a defensive role within the Albion line-up, it would enable Dale Stephens or Davy Propper to take up a more attacking position next season.

Propper has been used as a number 10 in the Dutch national team, and could now look to support Pascal Gross further up the pitch when the side are threatening in the final third.

Bissouma would hopefully help improve the team’s away record next season, which is one of the aims I’m sure Chris Hughton has for the upcoming campaign.

Brighton finished bottom of the away form table in 2017-18, registering just two wins (against West Ham United and Swansea City) and 11 points away from the Amex. Bissouma would add that extra protection for the backline. His physical presence, with Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk behind him, could provide Brighton with a strong defensive spine that enables them to build a more offensive team around them.

It’s not clear yet how Hughton plans to set his side up next season – with plenty of forward options to choose from: Glenn Murray, Jurgen Locadia, Florin Andone, Tomer Hemed and Sam Baldock.

He could go 5-3-2, with Gross and either Stephens, Propper or Beram Kayal pushing forward to support the two strikers. Jose Izquierdo, Solly March, Bernardo and Bruno could all play as wing backs, leaving Dunk, Duffy and Balogun as a solid back three.

I very much doubt he will continue to use the relatively successful 4-4-1-1 formation which he used predominantly last season, considering who has joined the club since last August.

We must remember that the Bissouma deal hasn’t been finalised yet, but should it happen, Albion fans should get very excited for the season ahead.

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.