The Champions League pre-match anthem will be played loudly and proudly before Liverpool’s opening Champions League Group A match with group stage newcomers Ludogorets Razgrad. The match will mark the opening of the first Champions League campaign for the Anfield side since December 2009 when the Anfield side were knocked out in the Group Stages following a 2-1 home defeat to Fiorentina.
Time will tell if it’ll be a tricky opening for the Merseysiders but with a number of players missing including key striker Daniel Sturridge, manager Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that the lack of a cutting edge seen in the 1-0 weekend defeat to Aston Villa will not strike again.
Well, according to Danny Welbeck, this is what he joined Arsenal for: the Champions League. He will get the chance tonight to prove he has what it takes to do it for Arsenal on the biggest club stage in Europe. However, Arsenal have numerous problems, notably in defence where there are players who quite simply will have to step up to the mark, notably 19 year-old Spaniard Hector Bellerin, if Arsenal are to leave Germany with a positive result. Welbeck will have to do the business up front as a makeshift defence may prove a difficult thing to shield against the Germans.
Another season, another Champions League campaign and…another trip to Bavaria for Manchester City. Is this last seasons campaign? No? Are you sure? Ok. Anyway, City will again have to face-off with the German champions and the might of Pep Guardiola if they’re to grab the initiative within their group.
On their last trip to Bavaria, City pulled off an amazing result coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and manager Manuel Pellegrini will be hoping that this trip is equally successful.
There are a lot of teams in this season’s competition that are making a welcome return or appearing in the Group Stage for the first time in their history. Notably, 1980 European Cup runners-up Malmo FF from Sweden are making their first appearance in the Champions League group stage since the format change in 1992. Malmo’s first match is of course away to Italian giants Juventus and they will be hoping to make an impression right away.
Apoel Nicosia face a daunting trip to Barcelona while NK Maribor and Sporting Lisbon face off against each other and Athletic Bilbao make a welcome return to the Champions League. All-in-all it could be a very exciting season with plenty of shocks!
There is of course a number of clubs who will face off against each other that also faced off last season, notably Chelsea v Schalke and Bayern Munich and Manchester City, hopefully there will some different outcomes when these teams meet as we don’t want things to turn out exactly the same do we?
The Premier League is back after the deplorable international break and the goals, shocks and talking points are back with a bang. So make those transfers, get the team settled and sit back and relax safe in the knowledge that your #FPL team will be the best it can be for the forthcoming weeks.
In what is a massive change at the top of the Guts league, 3-consecutive-week leaders Ludicrous Display managed by Daniel Breeze have been knocked off the top of the leaderboard and they are now in 5th place. What has happened Daniel? A relatively poor gameweek total of 51 points, compared with the previous 3, ensured that Daniel was caught and knocked off his early season perch.
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The new leader is Hristo Sultanov and his team Crabcakes who lays joint 1st with Temple Pilgrims managed by Ashley Temple and after impressive gameweek totals of 78 and 79 points respectively, lay top of the pile with 270 points each.
At the opposite end of the table, gameweek 3’s bottom team aye rennie managed by Paul Rennie were the big movers as a reasonable week total of 54 points resulted in a move up to 140th place. Come on Paul, you now have a total of 166 points, keep that average up and you’ll soon move out of the bottom half. The indignity of last place now falls to FavoTeam managed by Oleg O who after a horrid gameweek total of 16 points, prop up the table with a meagre 46-point total.
Transfers, who can you have? Well, Angel di Maria seems intent on proving his £59.7m price tag was worth it and I’m sure he’ll do that, with a goal and an assist on his Old Trafford debut, he is surely worth a place in anyone’s team. Leicester City’s Leonard Ulloa is also worth a tip after his goalscoring exploits at the weekend while Jack Wilshere, Ander Herrera and Cesc Fabregas all scored to score good totals at the weekend.
Rejoice and embrace all! The return of the Premier League happened this weekend after the turgid and frankly unwanted international break. It was a welcome relief from the seemingly endless fortnight that blights us all at the beginning of September every year. Oh well, with a healthy Guts bonus sports everything look a little better now, doesn't it?
However, back to the cut and thrust of the season and as it turns out it was quite an eventful one with a few routine and also a few spanners thrown into the works of a few while there were great individual and team performances and some great goals.
Manchester United secured their first competitive win under new manager Louis van Gaal with the 4-0 demolition of Queens Park Rangers at Old Trafford. It was new signings galore as the Reds established the pattern of what van Gaal will hope is the precedent of what teams coming to Old Trafford will experience from now on. Angel di Maria showed his £59.7m worth of quality with a performance laced with pace, power and work ethic while Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and Ander Herrera were all magnificent in ensuring the United defence remained solid and the attack was linked with every other facet of the team.
Daley Blind in particular was marked out for an impressive performance as his positioning and passing ability contributed to United enjoying 69% of possession. However, van Gaal will be quick to ensure that their feet remain firmly on the ground as QPR were frankly awful and offered nothing apart from a fluffed Matt Phillips chance that really should have ended up in the net.
Aston Villa produced a fine team defensive display to keep out a somewhat subdued Liverpool at Anfield, which has become quite a happy hunting ground for the Villans, the past couple of seasons. A Gabby Agbonlahor goal secured a 1-0 win and condemned Liverpool to their second defeat of the season. Arsenal and Manchester City battled out a 2-2 draw at the Emirates saw Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wilshere score brilliant goals in response to Sergio Aguero’s excellent breakaway goal.
Leicester City are fast becoming everyone’s second team this season and they’re producing the results when they need to. They have entered the Premier League this season perhaps one of the favourites to be relegated at the end of the season but yet they have produced several good performances, securing a draw to Everton on the opening day after being behind while pushing Chelsea and Arsenal close securing a point against the latter and beating a Stoke City side at the Britannia Stadium, which is as we know a very difficult ground to win at. Essentially, they have proved they can pick up results when needed and they will hope they can continue to do that.
As a whole, that includes the manager, staff, players and the performance, Newcastle were frankly awful against Southampton and were deservedly hammered 4-0. Their performance was inept in every way; the defence were continually split with gaps all over place, allowing Southampton to win first and second balls and also pick the right pass to play forward. Pardew must now fear for his future as the fans turned on him at the weekend and there were numerous banners visible with the simple words of “PARDEW OUT”.
Villa produced a fine team display to win at Anfield and defeat Liverpool again. It was the fourth successive game at Anfield that Villa had managed to come away with a result with the record now standing at 2 wins and 2 draws. Liverpool were unusually limp but were without the injured Sturridge and Raheem Sterling who was left on the bench following his exploits for England on Monday. It was however a disappointing display from the Merseysiders and condemns them to their second defeat of the season after four games.
The award for the goal goes to Alexis Sanchez who managed to scoop a wonderful finish into the top corner after City had failed to clear their lines. It was perfectly executed and surely a sign of things to come from him?
What is the purpose of scheduling a 4pm kick-off when that is the only Premier League game on that day? There surely has to be some common sense here, what was the purpose of it being a 4pm instead of say 1.30pm? TV companies have too much power in modern football and this surely has to be kerbed in the future but as long as they keep increasing the broadcast deal amount, that will not happen.
It’s taken a while, but Louis van Gaal finally had most of his new signings available for selection. Interestingly, he abandoned the formation he had so far persisted with. Whether this was due to the players performing poorly in their tactical duties, or simply because he has more attacking talent to fit into the same XI remains to be seen. One thing is undeniable, Di Maria has added a cutting edge not seen at Old Trafford in a long time (from the home team, anyway).
On the same weekend Real Madrid lost to their city rivals, Di Maria hosted a masterclass of attacking football at Old Trafford. There is an argument that Di Maria was not exactly what this top-heavy United squad needed, but when a player of his talent becomes available, it is very hard to resist.
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Arsenal and Manchester City played out one of the games of the season so far, with both sides contributing to a phenomenal 2-2. City fans will be disappointed that new signing Fernando missed the game through injury, while Yaya Toure was not included in the squad after his midweek travelling with the Ivory Coast. 36-year-old Frank Lampard made his debut in their absence and it was not surprising that City boss Manuel Pellegrini reshuffled his pack at half-time, moving James Milner into the centre and replacing Lampard with Samir Nasri. Lampard may have been a phenomenal player for Chelsea, but his influence waned towards the end and City will hope that Yaya Toure has sufficiently recovered to face Bayern Munich in midweek.
This was supposed to be different. At least, that’s the narrative we have been fed throughout the summer: Southampton had their heart ripped out, with their best players all jumping ship after a successful season together. Newcastle, meanwhile, had invested wisely, with Alan Pardew finally assembling the attacking flair required to replace Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa. Newcastle weren’t just beaten by Southampton, they were systematically dismantled. The result leaves Newcastle bottom of the table, while the Saints are in the Champions League places. It’s early days, but things have to improve on Tyneside, and quick.
Villa are another side who are defying the pre-season predictions. Widely tipped for a relegation struggle, the Villains have picked up 10 points from 4 games; a feat bettered only by table-topping Chelsea. In a game not dissimilar to Stoke’s win at the Etihad two weeks ago, Villa put in an impressive defensive showing against one of the title challengers. Liverpool will point to the injury Sturridge sustained whilst on England duty, but Villa were also missing their captain and defensive lynchpin, Ron Vlaar. Villa couldn’t have asked for a better start to an extremely difficult run of fixtures, but on current form, they will fancy their chances of taking points from Arsenal next weekend.
Oh, Stoke. A home game against one of the promoted sides should have been routine for Hughes’ men after their phenomenal victory against the Premier League champions last time around. Instead, the Potters fans watched their team lose at home for already the second time this season. The lack of a cutting edge was painfully evident as Stoke bossed the first half, despite a significant investment in attacking talent this summer. One of the biggest disappointments so far has been the impact of Bojan, but are we simply expecting too much from a young talent who hasn’t fulfilled his teenage potential?
Christopher Atkins looks at the man who could bring order to the new MUFC formation.
What had appeared so straightforward during an unbeaten pre-season campaign has proven rather difficult for Manchester United over the past few weeks, with two draws the sum total of their points haul from the opening three games of the Premier League season. Yet, despite those woes, there is positivity around Old Trafford at present following late transfer activity that sent out a significant statement of intent. The arrivals of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao, in particular, were largely unexpected and, indeed, potentially season-changing.
However, for all the quality that new manager Louis van Gaal has brought in over the summer, it is perhaps the club's cheapest purchase of the window—Daley Blind—who could have the biggest impact on what the team can seek to achieve in the weeks and months ahead. The central midfield area has been an issue of United's for some time and, even in Van Gaal's 3-4-1-2 system—designed to lessen the burden on that department—it has proved a continued concern.
Much spotlight was put on the team's overeagerness to play long-balls against Burnley in United's last fixture, with just under 20 percent of all the side's passes hit long. Given Van Gaal's much stated preference for a high-tempo, possession-based system it was somewhat bemusing and supporters were rightfully concerned. Youngster Tyler Blackett was one player singled out as overly keen to play the ball long rather than seek a more simple option, but all too often there were few avenues available.
Of United's 10 most common passing combinations this season, nine comprise solely members of the six-man defensive unit (including goalkeeper David de Gea). The Red Devils have not had an issue retaining possession, averaging an impressive 58.9 percent of the ball, but it would seem they have struggled to move the ball out of the defensive line. That only six sides have created less clear-cut chances this campaign would also suggest that their more creative players have been far from involved in the right areas of the pitch.
That is not to let those attacking options off the hook and, indeed, the signings of both Falcao and Di Maria will do much to address what has been at times this season a slow and ponderous unit. However, such talents must still be given the ball in attacking quarters and defences must be stretched. United may not have been helped by injuries to both Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick, but those deputising in midfield should have offered far more. Van Gaal's is a system of stretching play by maximising the width of the field through fast passing exchanges. Thus far, it hasn't been implemented.
What the Dutchman saw in his opening competitive games must surely have convinced him that a move for Blind was a priority. The zest with which United had played on tour had been lost and, when put under pressure, the midfield was creaking. While attempts for a dominant Arturo Vidal or Kevin Strootman figure are on hold, Blind will do much to ease the burden on the defence when it comes to distribution from the back.
His task will be a simple one, to collect the ball from the centre-backs and bring those around him—the Matas, Herreras, Di Marias—into play in the attacking half of the pitch. A converted left-back, he was excellent in a defensive midfield role for Ajax last campaign and, when used there, for Netherlands at the World Cup. For what he lacks in pace, Blind compensates for in intelligence and reading of the game. By the way, this Guts bonus sports will boost your bets.
Whether United opt to remain in their current system or switch to a 4-3-1-2 diamond setup as has been suggested in some quarters, improving distribution will be key to unlocking the side's attacking potential. As previously unavailable players return, the side will inevitably improve but Van Gaal still saw the need to sign a new midfield anchor as he seeks to fully impose his philosophy at Old Trafford.
Blind, a pupil of his school of thought, will be central to that system and it is he, rather than the eye-catching signings higher up the pitch, who could be key to United returning to challenge at the top of the Premier League table. Given the significant investment they have made, a Champions League return next season has to be the minimum expectation for the season ahead.
You can find Christopher on twitter at @ChrisAtkins_
Danny Welbeck hasn’t even kicked a ball for Arsenal yet but he continues to divide fans. After his move from his boyhood club, Manchester United, the Red Devils boss claimed that Welbeck simply was not of the standard required at United. Considering that Arsenal have eyes for the title and United’s priority should be firmly on reclaiming their place in the Champions League, it will be fascinating to see how Welbeck’s season pans out.
There is an argument that Welbeck’s scoring record hasn’t been helped by being constantly played out of position during his time at Old Trafford. Two match-winning goals for England in their EURO 2016 qualifier should help Welbeck’s case for starting through the middle for his club this weekend? The opposition? Manchester City.
It’s fair to say that Manchester United haven’t had the start the would have liked this season. Two points, gained against Sunderland and Burnley are the sum total of their Premier League efforts, while a 4-0 mauling at the hands of third tier opposition highlighted how the players are struggling to adapt to the new 352 formation.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though, as this weekend should United’s big spending finally translate onto the pitch. Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind and Falcao should all play some part against QPR. LVG asked for 3 months patience while the players blend and become fluent with the new playing style, but the crowd at Old Trafford will be expecting to get their first win of the season this weekend.
Daniel Sturridge has returned from England duty injured. It’s the worst case scenario for any club manager. Fortunately, Liverpool have a new striker ready to prove his worth to his side in Mario Balotelli. The Italian’s return to the league was extremely impressive, as his clever movement helped rip the Tottenham defence to shreds in the club’s last outing. A lack of match sharpness prevented him from getting on the scoresheet, but it would have been an extremely encouraging sight for the Anfield faithful to enjoy. Grab your chance to enjoy some bets on this weekend's Premier League action with the lates Guts bonus sports.
Balotelli is likely to become the focal point of a three-pronged attack this weekend, flanked either side by Sterling and Coutinho, but it would be unfair to forget Rickie Lambert’s part in all this. The veteran striker moved to his boyhood club this summer and will be eager to make his first PL start, in the absence of their first choice forward. How Rodgers decides to best use his forwards will likely decide the game against an Aston Villa side enjoying an impressive start to the season.
It’s almost like he never left. Cesc Fabregas has seamlessly slotted back into life in the Premier League, providing four assists in his first three games – a phenomenal return by anyone’s standards.
Chelsea’s attacking talent has blown away all challengers so far, with the exhilarating ‘we’ll score more than you’ 3-6 victory at Goodison Park already a contender for game of the season.
Chelsea are obviously favourites at the Bridge, but you wouldn’t put it past this exciting Swansea side to cause an upset. They have phenomenal pace on the break, with Routledge and Dyer never shy about running directly at the opposition full-backs. Wilfried Bony’s tireless running has opened up the space to allow the returning Gylfi Sigurdsson room to thrive.
In all of the transfer window madness, Hull City assembled an exciting, attacking outfit somewhat under the radar. Abel Hernandez joined from Palermo, while Tom Ince was convinced that his career would prosper in Hull rather than Milan.
Forget all of the owner-shenanigans for a moment; let’s concentrate purely on the squad of talented individuals Steve Bruce has assembled over the summer. Gaston Ramirez showed glimpses of his ability during his spell at Southampton, but it is the signing of Hatem Ben Arfa which could really get the pulses racing. It could be some time before the enigmatic Frenchman is truly matchfit, such is the level of isolation he suffered in his last season at Newcastle.
‘Talented individuals’ is the key element here. There is no denying that Hull have attacking talent in abundance, but how these all fit into the starting XI remains to be seem. A good place to start could be a home game against West Ham.
Super League enters its final round with a big question unanswered - who will finish top of the table?
The prize is the league leaders’ shield, or the hubcap as it has derivatively been dubbed by some fans, usually of clubs who have done bigger and better things than finish 1st.
Fans of some other sports have a hard time understanding why, after a gruelling league season, the team finishing top of the table isn’t crowned champions, even opinion within rugby league is divided on the issue.
But the Grand Final, held at Old Trafford, and the play-offs add interest to the end of the campaign, and most importantly, revenue.
The two teams who can finish top are St Helens, for whom failure to secure it would represent an embarrassment given they’ve been the only club in real contention for it for several weeks, and Castleford, 2014’s success story.
The shield’s status in the game is perhaps best represented by these two clubs - one, in St Helens, a four-time Super League champion, who’s fans are still calling for coach Nathan Brown’s head, despite the fact they’ve been ahead of everybody else for much of the campaign; and the other in the shape of Castleford, who were being talked of as a relegation candidate in pre-season. It will undoubtedly matter more to Castleford, just as it did to Huddersfield last season, when the Giants won it for the first time.
Warrington are perhaps the best example of how a change in a club’s fortunes can determine it’s attitude to the shield. In 2011, the Wolves were in dreamland, finishing top of the tree, securing a notable trophy for many a year, and making a big deal of succeeding in what had been a see-saw battle to claim first place, ultimately sealed by a decisive victory over nearest challengers Wigan.
But Tony Smith’s side then went on to fail in the Super League play-offs, and spent the close season mulling over what was represented as a failure.
The season after, finishing first was not on the top of Smith’s agenda - instead, he wanted to get his team in a position where they could make a real push for the Grand Final. While they’ve not won it yet, they’ve reached Old Trafford in both seasons since.
Another of rugby league’s quirks, the presence of a French team in its top flight, means that the two decisive games on the final weekend take place on different days.
St Helens can secure top spot if they avoid defeat against Huddersfield away on Friday night, while Castleford will be primed and waiting to pounce when they travel to Perpignan to play Catalan Dragons on Saturday.
With the recent announcement of the World Club Series, involving three teams each from both Super League and the NRL, finishing top has the prize of being included in that groundbreaking tournament. The play-offs kick-off in the NRL this weekend, with the eventual Grand Final winners set to join Brisbane Broncos and South Sydney Rabbitohs in the tournament set to take place in the UK next February.
By Natalie Shoebridge in Sydney.
September: the month when legends are born, loyalties are tested and quirky fan superstitions are at an all time high. Also the month the Guts sports promotion is bursting, so get in! As the winter chill begins to lift in Australia, tempers and passions are similarly spiking on the field as we charge towards the Grand Final. Certainly
The final round of the regular season saw Josh Dugan and Tyrone Roberts sin-binned in one of the biggest biffs since the strict ‘no punch’ rules were implemented last year, and losses to the New Zealand Warriors and the Parramatta Eels rendered these teams out of contention for this year’s finals series.
Along with tacky car-flags and bandwagon-jumping fans, September marks the return of NRL hysteria as the top eight teams battle it out for the title. And there’s no better way to celebrate the run to The Big One than to have a quick look at the top four contenders ahead of the first week of the finals.
We may have had the official farewell celebrations for departing stars Anthony Minichiello and Sonny Bill Williams – complete with cut-out face masks and impassioned video montages – but these two stars are still a long way from hanging up their boots for the year. After an arguably slow start to the season, last year’s premiers managed to retain the Minor Premiership, snatching it from the clutches of Manly in a fierce contest of for-and-against. The Roosters have peaked at the right time and seem to be a certainty to make a real impact on the contest for the 2014 title.
While coach Geoff Toovey may be known for his referee rants and coach’s box reactions, the tight ship he runs at Manly has set up a possible grand final rematch this season. After narrowly missing out on the Minor Premiership, only injury concerns could inhibit their appearance at the business end of September. There’s certainly no reason why Manly should book any Mad Monday celebrations just yet.
Russell Crowe’s Rabbitohs are often touted the Pride of the League, and look a real chance to break the hoodoo that has plagued the side since the late 80s. With the biggest fan base in the league and the experience of the last two years in the finals, Souths look to be a permanent fixture in September footy for many years to come if they can consolidate the form they have shown under captain John Sutton.
As one of the big surprises of the season, the Panthers have stepped out of the shadows and look to be the team to beat in the coming weeks. After buying up big for the last few years, the team curated by Phil Gould is a pleasure to watch, and the Western Sydney fans will be a big drawcard for this finals run.
The first game kicks off on Friday night, where the Sea Eagles take on the Rabbitohs, with the winner one game away from a Grand Final appearance.
You follow Natalie on twitter at @nat_a_shoe
Last night England won away in a competitive international for the first time since defeating San Marino in March 2013. As it turned out it was the perfect start to the qualification campaign of Euro 2016 which will take place in France and it was the response to the critics that the team, manager and fans (to a certain extent) would have wanted after the debacle that was England’s 2014 World Cup campaign.
Last night also saw the inception of a new system for Roy Hodgson’s side, the 4-4-2 diamond which was clearly implemented with the aim of utilising England’s attacking strength and specifically allowing Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling to replicate the damage he has caused playing for Liverpool in the exact same position; at the ‘tip’ of the diamond or seemingly just behind the frontmen of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck.
The youthful zest that Sterling has provided this particular England squad cannot be underestimated and his presence was greatly needed last night, even if he couldn’t quite reproduce the influence he has on Liverpool’s play. He was a willing runner and dragged the Swiss defence into areas of the pitch where they didn’t want to be.
Danny Welbeck was also aiming to prove the critics wrong that, after his £16m move to Arsenal from Manchester United on transfer deadline day, claimed he didn’t score enough goals to be considered that much of a threat. While that may ring true for his club side as it certainly did for Manchester United, the same cannot be said of his record in England colours. His two goals last night were his 9th and 10th England goals in 28 caps, which is an impressive strike rate at international level. Impressive is also this Guts sport bonus. Beleive us.
What the new system provided England was a significant threat on the break through the pace of both Sterling and Welbeck while the 3 in midfield provided a somewhat solid base to build upon. Jack Wilshere’s performance wasn’t what his undoubted talent suggests it could be and he was all too slow in showing for the ball while England’s defenders were in possession. The defence also had a few shaky moments and the Swiss would have equalised had it not been for Gary Cahill’s brilliant last-ditch goal line saving tackle to save the day.
Hodgson plumped for a surprise or two in his line-up both in terms of the system chosen as well as the players picked. Youngster John Stones was given his first competitive start in the England side at right-back while uncapped Fabian Delph was chosen in midfield on the left of the diamond. The Villa midfielder emerged with much credit after his performance, which settled down after an uncertain start in which he was booked within inside the first 10 minutes.
However, in a group that looks very easy on paper, England must beware of potential banana skins in Lithuania and Estonia and the Swiss will not be as blunt when they play at Wembley in a years time. What Hodgson must do now is ensure that his side remains settled and he continues to work on the frailties that this England side has such as in defence. The style of football must also continue to improve to a level that brings the English public back on side.
Hodgson has the players to do it and he now has the will to do it as he will surely not want questions aimed at him like the ones asked after the dire win over Norway last week. One thing that Hodgson must also do is make sure that qualification isn’t the end of the road for England which seems to be the story recently at international tournaments. The start to the Euro 2016 qualification campaign potentially exhibited to the English public how Hodgson plans on winning back that trust and faith - with results where they matter.