Assessing the English sides’ chances in the Champions League

After the hectic domestic festive season fixture list, the focus on Champions League football is set to return, with the knockout stages to be played next month.

England have four representatives in the final 16 teams, with Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Chelsea all eyeing up a place at this year’s Champions League final in Lisbon.

The Premier League sides have been given stern challenges in the next stage, but what are their chances of progression?

Chelsea vs Galatasaray

Jose Mourinho has experience of lifting the Champions League crown with Porto and Inter, and will be charged with bringing Europe’s top trophy to west London this season.

Didier Drogba

The Blues have been handed the task of 180 minutes against Turkish champions Galatasaray, with a number of familiar faces set to feature for the opposition.

Didier Drogba will return to face his former club, while ex-Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is at the helm of the eastern European outfit. With a former Mourinho favourite in the form of Wesley Sneijder also in Gala’s ranks, it should be a test for the London side.

However, despite Galatasaray’s progression at the expense of Juventus in the group stages, Chelsea will fancy their chances of making the quarter-finals.

Arsenal vs Bayern Munich

Defeat to Napoli in their final group stage fixture has come back to haunt Arsenal, with the Gunners facing European champions Bayern in the next round. That said, Arsenal fans will have rushed to buy Champions League tickets when the draw was made, as the tie should be of the highest order.

Pep Guardiola’s star-studded squad will be motivated to retain their crown, and eliminated the north Londoners on the way to the title last term.

Arsene Wenger will be buoyed on by his side’s win at the Allianz Arena in the tie last season, and will look to improve on home soil this time round.

In what is set to be an explosive encounter, the Emirates Stadium side will need to be at their best to progress.

Manchester City vs Barcelona

A real glamour tie, this one pits a new force in European football against one of the perennial mainstays.

Yaya Touré

The sheer quality on both sides will make this a top-notch encounter, with Lionel Messi and co’s visit to fortress Etihad sure to be an eye-catching clash.

Yaya Toure will feature against his former club, while City’s credentials will be thoroughly put to the test at Camp Nou.

The winner of this tie will be confident of making it to the latter reaches of the tournament, and the clash could go either way.

Manchester United vs Olympiakos

The easiest of the four ties was handed to Manchester United, who face Greek side Olympiakos over two legs.

With domestic form the cause of agony for David Moyes, the Scottish manager will hope for a comprehensive progression through to the quarter-finals of the European tournament.

The opposition have one deadly striker in their midst in the form of Kostas Mitroglou, who has the ability to end United’s dream on the continent.

Despite a hostile environment in the away leg, anything other than a United progression would be something of a shock here.

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Football – a game of what ifs

Every football fan on the planet has a list of excuses of what could change to allow their team to excel. “If we didn’t concede from corners we would be top of the league,” or “if we stopped giving away penalties we would not be in the bottom three.”

In reality though, it is very interesting to see hypothetically just where in the table a team would be if they didn’t concede goals from one specific avenue, or how the side would be getting on without a certain player’s influence.

However, instead of voicing your opinion without any real evidence or statistics to back it up, a new website called League Of Your Own has been created to churn the numbers for you.

Ever wanted to see where Liverpool would be on the table without Luis Suarez? Or which team would have the most improvement if they stopped conceding from free-kicks?

All this and much more can be calculated at League Of Your Own, with the new and improved Premier League table at your fingertips as an aid for you to make your point.

From having a quick play on the user-friendly website I have come up with a few interesting factoids that will be relevant to Premier League followers.

  • Stoke – a team renowned for their aerial ability, would be four places higher in the table than they currently are if you take out all Premier League goals scored from corners this season.
  • If every Premier League game finished at half-time this season, Liverpool would be top of the table. Cardiff would be bottom.
  • If you take out all the goals scored from the penalty spot, Newcastle would be level on points with Manchester City.
  • Without Romelu Lukaku, Everton would be ninth, not fifth.
  • If Arsenal had not signed Mesut Ozil, taking out his goals and assists, they would still be top of the Premier League table. Take out Aaron Ramsey’s goals and assists and they would be second.
  • If you take out goals scored in first or second half injury time, Manchester United would be fifth, not eighth.

Football is certainly a game of what ifs, but the League Of Your Own website now gives us the tools to bring our theories to life.

United need Reus more than Arsenal do

Borussia Dortmund winger Marco Reus is in high demand after an impressive start to the new season, with the German club recently admitting that the attacker has a release clause in his contract. This has shortened the football betting odds on the talented forward making a move to the Premier League.

As such, both Arsenal and Manchester United have been linked with a move for the former Borussia Monchengladbach man, with his release clause thought to be in the £30 million region.

Arsenal’s link to the prodigious attacking midfielder is understandable, as Arsene Wenger has been steadily adding players from Germany to his squad over the last 12 months.

Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld and Mesut Ozil are all on the books of the north London club already.

Marco Reus

However, with the Gunners in real need of an out-and-out striker to take some of the load and responsibility away from Olivier Giroud, Wenger should have other priorities in the January transfer window.

Reus’ considerable abilities mean he would be an excellent addition to any squad, but given the presence of Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski and Ozil, another attacking midfielder is not necessarily what Arsenal need if they are to win silverware this term.

United on the other hand need a player of Reus’ ilk more than the Gunners do. The Premier League champions are over-reliant on Wayne Rooney to provide the craft and creativity to break teams down, while their wingers have been hit and miss over the last 12 months.

With the pursuit of a creative central midfielder falling flat, it has been up to Rooney to link United’s midfield and attack. The likes of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have failed to impress of late, while Shinji Kagawa has been limited in his chances to play.

Reus’ addition would be a real boost for the Premier League champions, as he would bring energy, guile and technical quality to Old Trafford. His tendency to cut inside off his wing and play intricate passes with his number ten, Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Dortmund, would be a key bonus of signing him, as he could link up with Rooney in a way that United’s current wingers do not.

Kagawa still has a lot to prove at Old Trafford, and offering him in part-exchange could well be a mistake. Alternatively, should United meet Reus’ release clause and bring him to Manchester, two former Dortmund stars on the flanks for the champions looks like a mouthwatering prospect.

Forward Thinking at The Bridge

Francis Johnston examines Fernando Torres’ upturn in fortunes of late.

As Britain braced itself for the onslaught of the St Jude storm on Sunday afternoon another natural phenomenon was already in full swing at the so called “clash of the cash” in West London. Those in the know about climate will be familiar with“El Nino” which is Spanish for “The Kid”. Those familiar with the English Premier League over the last couple of years however, are more likely to translate to “has-been”, “expensive flop”, or, going back a bit now, Fernando Torres. The nickname was given to Torres in Spain, during his days of youthful goal-grabbing for Atletico Madrid. The difficulties of recent seasons, since his £50 million move from Liverpool to Chelsea have been well publicised but against Manchester City at the weekend the forward worked himself up to gale force and eventually blew the roof off the Bridge.

With two of the league’s title contenders and financial heavyweights preparing to touch gloves, Sky showed a graphic during their build up which compared the goals already scored by strikers at the two clubs this season. While City’s front men were streaking into double figures, Chelsea’s marksmen had registered one between them.

Fernando Torres

Much has been made of Jose Mourinho’s decisions regarding his team’s forward line and especially the move to allow Romelu Lukaku, prolific last term, to go on loan to Everton where he is already scoring like nobody’s business.

Enter Torres: he worked like a man possessed, caused constant problems for the City defence, eventually bagged the winning goal and with it, a precious three points for Mourinho’s men. He looked, to use a phrase invented in 2011 and widely used since, like the Torres of old.

We have however, been here several times before. Multiple Torres “returns to form” have been heralded and then petered out before he could even begin to dream about putting the doubters in their place. He has netted a goal here and a couple there, scoring in fits and starts. He threatened under the tenure of Rafa Benitez, who many would say was appointed to “fix” him more than anything else, but ultimately he failed to see his rejuvenation through and has largely remained in the shadow of El Nino, his alter-ego. This time though, under the Special One, there are signs that things may be different, also that Mourinho’s choices about strikers may well yet turn out to be a masterstroke.

Here’s why: firstly Torres himself, why will this be the time that he finally comes good? The answer is attitude. It is early to make this call but it seems his manager has given him reassurance and belief. Before being sent off against Spurs the Spaniard was looking committed, dynamic and dangerous. On his return from suspension his selection to lead the line against City despite Samuel Eto’o’s encouraging display in his absence, was a show of faith from Mourinho. In the first half Torres got what he wanted, a glorious chance to repay his boss. Cue the ball in the stand rather than the net and another shot of the forward looking despondent, disbelieving his own failure. His response to this setback is the key. Shortly afterwards he was dropping a shoulder and surging beyond Gael Clichy, one of the league’s more fleet-footed full backs propelled mostly it seemed, by sheer desire to make amends. He reached the by-line, supplied the pass, Schurlle scored, but the Bridge rose to salute the role of Torres. Buoyed, the 29 year old then smashed a dipping effort against the bar, unlucky yes but something to dwell on, no. Fernando was looking to create his own luck. Constantly he tried to make something happen. Mourinho kept the faith as the game wore on. Over the last two years Torres has constantly been substituted but, in the final minute, when Hart and Nastasic suffered a communication breakdown in City’s rearguard, Torres was still on the pitch. A gut-busting run saw him reach the ball before it rolled behind the goal to slot in the winner. It was a simple finish but absolute vindication of his afternoon’s effort, a lost cause he had chased down. Symbolic even of his career at the moment, not pretty, but he was going to turn it in the right direction through pure guts.

Fernando Torres

Whatever way it works out for Torres it cannot be argued that he lacks experience and that is something Mourinho seems to value highly. Apart from the former Liverpool man his options include Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba. Both with plenty of miles on the clock. Almost invariably he prefers to deploy one main striker ahead of an ensemble of attacking midfielders and supporting wide men. Given Chelsea’s embarrassment of riches in terms of creative midfield talent this would seem the way to go. Even if El Nino doesn’t hit form, the Manager can opt for Eto’o and if that doesn’t work he can fall back to Ba or even the midfield itself. Oscar and Hazard for example are contributing well in terms of goals.

Even if Chelsea are scoring heavily as a team Mourinho’s decision to let Lukaku leave on loan will be heavily scrutinised as long as the young Belgian’s tally continues to outshine that of the front men who remain at Stamford Bridge. People though are looking at Lukaku’s goals and failing to see the bigger picture. The grand plan of a man who has been an instant success in almost every dugout he has sat in, been sent from or conducted borderline inappropriate celebrations from. Mourinho sees Torres and Eto’o as proven winners, ready-made title chasers, the sort of footballer his track record suggests he can turn into champions. He will no doubt appreciate Lukaku’s physical ability, his raw talent and his potential for goals. This is precisely why he’s been despatched northward. The Portuguese knows Everton are not good enough to pose a threat in the title race. They are however, more than good enough to beat a big team on their day. Lukaku will only increase their chances of doing so and he is now allowed to do so against all the big teams except Chelsea.

In what is shaping up to be the most open title race for years all of Chelsea’s strikers including those not currently at the club will have a big role to play. Regardless of what has been about his selection policy up until now, Mourinho’s men are sitting a close second. Don’t bet against some more theatrical celebrating come May.

Will Jack Wilshere’s injuries threaten his World Cup place?

Jack Wilshere’s fledgling career has been full of ups and downs to date, with the Arsenal midfielder showing incredible ability, but not as often as Arsene Wenger would like.

The Emirates Stadium club youth graduate has been heralded as one the brightest prospects in the English game, and when fit and on form has been a great player for club and country.

However, despite the playmaker’s tender age of 21, Wilshere has had a number of serious injuries blight his career so far, which have held him back considerably.

This season Wilshere seems to have picked up innocuous ailments and has struggled to complete 90 minutes on regular occasion. Wenger has admitted that he wants to wrap the midfielder in cotton wool, and it is clear that the French coach is concerned that another serious injury could derail the player’s career.

Wilshere should consider new methods of conditioning, and the use of bcaas could boost his fitness and increase his physicality.

Jack Wilshere

With England qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil next summer, Wilshere is expected to be a key man for the Three Lions in the tournament.

With the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard ageing, the Arsenal man will be needed to provide stamina, energy and hard work to the English midfield.

However, in hot conditions, the games will come thick and fast over the space of the tournament. With Wilshere’s injury concerns at club level still apparent, whether he can play at his best every couple of days at international level remains to be seen.

There is no doubting the midfielder’s ability, and if he was fully fit and firing he could be the driving force in the England midfield for years to come. However, this looks far from assured at the moment.

Club team-mate Aaron Ramsey suffered a leg break earlier in his career, with the Welshman on the sidelines for a long period as a result. However, he has returned to action and looks as sharp, fit and able as ever. He never shirks a challenge and is one of the most-rounded midfielders in the British game.

Wilshere on the other hand has been held back by the physical nature of the English game and has struggled to show his best form consistently due to injuries.

Can Arsenal qualify from their Champions League group?

Arsenal were undoubtedly handed the toughest Champions League group of the Premier League competitors, and at the halfway stage sit on top of Group F.

However, having played two games at the Emirates Stadium and the weakest side away from home, the second half of the fixture list looks slightly more daunting.

Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli all sit on six points with two wins from three games, while Marseille have been the whipping boys with three consecutive defeats.

The game against Dortmund at the Emirates last time out had the potential to see Arsenal with one foot in the knockout stages if they won it. However, last season’s beaten finalists showing their clinical edge to win 2-1 in England, all is to play for. The Emirates Stadium faithful will hope they will be buying tickets for the Champions League in 2014, but whether there team are in the last 32 remains to be seen.

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger’s men must travel to Germany in their next game and face the intimidating atmosphere that Signal Iduna Park possesses. The French coach will urge his side to remember their 2-0 away win over Bayern Munich from last season’s tournament, but the visitors will have a tough 90 minutes without a doubt.

From there Marseille are the visitors to north London in Arsenal’s last home game; a must-win clash if the Gunners are to get through to the next stage.

Finally, a trip to San Paolo to face Napoli completes the group fixtures. It remains to be seen just how the other teams will go against each other and what the state of play will be before Arsenal travel to Italy. However, there is every chance that it could be a winner-takes-all clash against the accomplished Serie A side.

Napoli have proven to be tough opponents on the continent for a number of seasons, and beat Manchester City in Naples two seasons ago to see the Premier League side eliminated.

With Arsenal summer target Gonzalo Higuain leading the line for Rafa Benitez’s men, it could well be a nervy end to the campaign for the Gunners.

Realistically, Arsenal need to try to avoid defeat in all three games, drawing twice away from home and winning once at home. This should be enough to clinch a spot, but they may well rely on Marseille to get a point at some stage against either Dortmund or Napoli.

Come the end of the group fixtures, Wenger will hope that he is not left cursing Robert Lewandowski’s counter-attacking winner at the Emirates two weeks ago.

Premier League preview

Saturday

Newcastle United vs. Liverpool
The last time the two teams faced each other ended in an enormous 6-0 victory for Liverpool. Newcastle currently holds 11th place with 10 points whereas Liverpool is placed 2nd with 16 points after seven matches played. Key players are Luis Suarez for Liverpool and Loic Remy for Newcastle.

Arsenal vs. Norwich City
Even after their 1-1 draw against West Brom, Arsenal still holds the first place with 16 points in the bag. Norwich lost 3-1 to Chelsea and are now in the relegation zone with 7 points and 18th place. Key players are Aaron Ramsey for Arsenal and John Ruddy for Norwich City. The last match between the two clubs ended in a 3-1 victory for Arsenal.

Chelsea vs. Cardiff City
Jose Mourinho’s team is starting to get in form since they are unbeaten in the last three matches. Cardiff lost with a disappointing 2-1 at home against Newcastle two weeks ago. Chelsea holds 3rd place with 14 points and Cardiff 14th place with 8 points. Their last meeting ended in a 3-3 draw. Key players are Edin Hazard for Chelsea and Gary Medel for Cardiff City.

Everton vs. Hull City
The unbeaten streak ended with a 3-1 loss against Manchester City for Everton two weeks ago. They are in 7th place with 12 points. Hull City is one point behind and is in 8th place. They are unbeaten during the last three matches. Key players are Romelu Lukaku for Everton and Robbie Brady for Hull City. The last meeting ended in a 5-1 victory for Everton.

Romelu Lukaku

Manchester United vs. Southampton
The disappointing form of Man. United will make the match against Southampton a difficult one. Moyes really needs this win to maintain the connection with Arsenal and Liverpool. United currently holds the 9th place with 10 points. Southampton has won their last 3 matches and holds 4th place with 14 points. Key players are Wayne Rooney for United and Rickie Lambert for Southampton. United won the last match between the two clubs with 2-1.

Stoke City vs. West Bromwich Albion
Losing the last three matches Stoke is placed 16th with 7 points. West Brom hasn’t lost in the last three matches and holds the 12th place with 9 points. The last meeting ended in a 0-0 draw between both teams. Key players are Robert Huth for Stoke city and Victor Anichebe for Stoke City.

Swansea vs. Sunderland
Although Sunderland has lost their last 5 matches they have shown signs of improvement under their new coach Gus Poyet. They hold the 20th place with 1 point. Swansea didn’t have a good start either and is 15th with 13 points. Key players are Mich for Swansea and Emanuele Giaccherini for Sunderland. The last match between them ended in a 0-0 draw.

West Ham United vs. Manchester City
A 3-0 victory in the away match against Tottenham two weeks ago gave them their first win in six games. West Ham hold the 13th position with 8 points. Man. City won 3-1 against Everton in their last match and holds 5th place with 13 points after seven games played. Key players will be Ravel Morrison for West Ham and Yaya Toure for Man. City. The last meeting ended 2-1 for Man. City.

Sunday

Aston Villa vs. Tottenham Hotspur
The 3-0 loss that Tottenham suffered at home against West Ham positioned Tottenham 6th with 13 points. Aston Villa hasn’t lost in the last three matches and is placed 10th with 10 points. The last match between the two clubs ended in a 0-4 victory for Tottenham. Key players are Fabian Delph for Aston Villa and Andros Townsend for Tottenham Hotspur.

Monday

Crystal Palace vs. Fulham
Crystal Palace is in the relegation zone after seven rounds played. They hold the 19th place with 3 points. Fulham won their last match against Stoke but are on the 17th place with 7 points. The last meeting ended in a 3-1 win for Fulham. Key players are Dwight Gayle for Crystal Palace and Darren Bent for Fulham.

It seems it will be a classic Premier League weekend again and you can follow all the live football scores of all the matches that will be played!

Januzaj is United’s new star – but they risk losing him

Manchester United fans have a new hero after 18-year-old winger Adnan Januzaj bagged a quickfire brace against Sunderland on Saturday to ensure victory in his first Premier League start.

Red Devils manager David Moyes has suggested that the teenage sensation is good enough to live up to the hype and could be the next Wayne Rooney in the making. However, the current Premier League champions are walking on a tightrope over Januzaj’s future, as he is out of contract at the end of the season. As such, Januzaj will be free to sign for a new club come January, with a pre-contract agreement with a domestic or European rival a real possibility. If it is not already, one of United’s main priorities must be to tie the prodigious talent down to a new, long-term contract. The likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid are said to be interested in the young Belgian and could land a windfall similar to those available on pocket fruity if they can turn Januzaj’s head.

Adnan Januzaj

United have been in a similar position before. Paul Pogba, who made waves in the Manchester club’s famous youth academy, was earmarked as the long-term successor to Paul Scholes. The young French star’s blend of physical and technical abilities, along with his creativity, meant that the Le Harve prodigy looked ideal to replace the outgoing English midfielder.

However, with Pogba in a similar situation to the one that Januzaj finds himself in, the player opted to spurn a new contract from United to move to Juventus at the end of the 2011-12 season.

A year later he is a France international, driving force in the Italian champions’ midfield and a player that United would love to have in their side. The players that the Red Devils looked to sign over the summer had similar abilities to the young star that they let slip through their fingers.

Januzaj is in a better position currently than Pogba was. The Frenchman found first-team opportunities tough to come by, whereas Januzaj now looks set to play a considerable role in Moyes’ plans. With other United wingers struggling for form and fitness, Januzaj can be a key man for the Old Trafford side this season. However, if United do not move quickly to resolve his contract situation he could be playing for one of their rivals this time next term.

Real Madrid, Gareth Bale and why it’s not just about the football

At the Santiago Bernabeu, the stage is literally set for what could be the unveiling of the world’s most-expensive footballer. Gareth Bale’s proposed move from Tottenham to Real Madrid has understandably monopolised recent back pages as fans await the conclusion of a transfer saga that has left many questioning the financial implications of the reported £85 million deal.

Aside from the moral qualms many have about such an astronomical figure, most fans have been left querying whether Bale is worth the record-breaking fee. The Welshman is a phenomenal footballer on a par with other Premier League heavyweights; Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Yet these players aren’t nearly attracting the astronomical figures to their names as Bale. Robin van Persie, last season’s top goalscorer, was bought for a measly £22.5 million last year. One of the finest all-round English players of the last decade, Wayne Rooney, was only recently valued at a mere £25 million by Chelsea. Luis Suarez, scorer of 30 goals last season, has attracted massive offers from Arsenal but that famous 40 million and a one pound pales in comparison to the reported Bale fee.

The residing question then is this: what exactly are Madrid up to? Gareth Bale is undoubtedly a superb footballer. Not even the most ardent of Arsenal fans would question that. For club and country, the midfielder scored 31 goals last term. He single-handedly won games for his team in sublime fashion on more than a handful of occasions. These are facts that nobody can deny. They are also facts that fans of Manchester United (Rooney and van Persie) and Liverpool can boast of their stars yet no record transfer fee hangs over the heads of these players. Real Madrid president Florentine Perez obviously sees value in the Welshman and is willing to part with £85 million to prove it.

Real Madrid are no strangers to blockbuster signings. In 2001 it was Zinedine Zidane (a then world record £45.6 million). In 2009, it was Kaka (another world record of around £56m) and then Cristiano Ronaldo (yet another world record fee of £80 million). At a cheaper, but no less significant, level they signed David Beckham from Manchester United in 2003 for £24.5 million.

Real Madrid is unashamedly a brand and each of the players mentioned slotted perfectly into the on-going mission to solidify the Galácticos as the largest global brand in football. Through sponsorships and worldwide touring Madrid have become the most recognised football club on the planet.

Gareth Bale

With Beckham they acquired Europe’s most valuable sporting personality. From the very beginning of his Spanish adventure David Beckham was helping his new club recoup the money they had dished out on him – even his medical was sponsored by a health-care firm. Add this to multi-million pound Adidas deal to match Madrid’s and a merchandising agreement that reportedly had Beckham handing 50% of his personal sponsorship earnings to Madrid then it is safe to say that the Spanish giants have an idea of how to spend money to make money.

‘Brand Madrid’ seek players that are able to enhance not just their on-field success but also that off it. Jose Mourinho’s managerial credentials need no clarification yet he was considered surplus to requirements at Madrid as his controversial antics were just not in keeping with the angelic sheen of the nine-time European Cup winners. When Mourinho was seen to poke then Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye the Spanish press called it ‘deplorable’. Not an image football’s biggest commercial club wished to convey.

Madrid were often linked to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez this summer, a player with statistics that at times outshine Bale’s, yet this interest never gathered any momentum and it can only be assumed that this is down to the tainted image of the Uruguayan. Like Mourinho, Suarez is capable of too much brand-damaging controversy to justify spending such amounts of money regardless of his talent.

Just a quick glance at Real Madrid’s history of signings provides a clearer picture of why they are willing to spend such an enormous amount on a clean-cut, fresh faced, superstar in the making. In Bale, Madrid have a young star in the making that they will be able to mould and shape to fit their own needs. In Madrid, Bale has a platform to expand his own brand. It was not so long that it was revealed Bale was attempting to trademark his heart-shaped goal celebration – he is clearly aware of the benefits of building his own brand beyond the game and the benefits of a Madrid move will not be lost on the 24-year-old.

Even on a brand-building level, Bale at such a price will still be seen as a gamble for Madrid. Unlike, Zidane, Kaka, Ronaldo or Beckham, he is not a pre-packaged global star just waiting to become a shirt-selling machine. He doesn’t yet transcend sport like, say, Beckham did. The more cynical of supporters will assume the long drawn-out pursuit of Bale by Madrid is merely a clever marketing ploy to allow the world time to catch up and get to know the world’s most expensive footballer-elect before the eventual finalities are complete.

Simply by being attached to such lucrative and high-profile transfers in recent history, Real Madrid have ensured their names in both the history books and newspapers all around the world; the Gareth Bale situation is no different. Madrid are being talked about by football fans and non-fans alike the world over, and that is just the way the like it as the brand continues to flourish with the latest star commodity preparing his keepy-up skills for the big Bernabeu reveal.

by Jack Poland

Why Nicolas Anelka’s absence is good for West Brom

Nicolas Anelka’s future at West Brom is unclear, as despite only moving to The Hawthorns in the summer he is currently on compassionate leave and is thought to be considering retiring from the game.

With no Romelu Lukaku to call upon this term, Steve Clarke’s men look slightly light on options in attack.

Saido Berahino

However, a 3-0 win over Newport in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night showcased the considerable talents of a certain Saido Berahino. The 20-year-old bagged a 36-minute hat-trick in the win and now must be considered for a place in the West Brom starting XI for the game against Swansea at the weekend.

With Anelka absent, maybe it is time for Clarke to give Berahino a chance to shine on the biggest stage.

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