Five Things to Expect from this World Cup

With having the advantage of being able to guage the first round of gmes from the group stages, we give you our predictions for the World Cup.

5) Messi’s Argentina will fall short again

Argentina, the bookmakers second favourites, ended their opening game with more questions than answers.  Sabella’s change in formation at half-time against Bosnia led to the trio of Higuain, Messi and Aguero being used as the attacking trident for the second period.  That half illustrated perefectly why you cannot have a devastating attack with three players who all want to do nothing but score.  There was too much eg and not enough selfless sacrfice on show.  The addition of Lavezzi or Palacio instead of one of Aguero or Higuain would go a long way to alleviate this.  Whatever Sabella does though, he will only be re-arranging the deckchairs on the titanic as his midfield lacks enough quality to support the attack and his defence bleeds mistakes.  Not even Lionel Messi can save this Argentina.

4) The current Ivory Coast is Africa’s greatest ever hope

The Ivory Coast’s golden generation have been unlucky in that they drew two very difficult groups in previous World Cups.  Although some of the stars of that time are now no longer at their peak, they still have a significant role in this current squad (DRogba versus Japan being a prime example) and with the unwanted weight of expectation off them, they could be a dark horse in the knockout stages if they get past Greece in the final group game. And with stars like Yaya Toure, Wilfred Bony and a wildcard in a rejuvenated Gervinho, they represent great value for a deep run in the tournament.

3) USA will reach at least the Quarter-Finals

Things couldn’t have gone better for the US in the Germany-Portugal match.  The incidents in that match will leave Portugal without Fabio Coentrao, Pepe and possibly even Cristiano Ronaldo, Rui Patricio and Hugo Almeida for the crunch game of Group G.  In the other match Germany will almost certainly steamroll Ghana and we could see a repeat of the standings in Group B.  The USA are gathering momentum under Klinsmann and the togetherness of that squad is as clear as day.

2) Jorge Sampaoli’s Chile will surpass Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile

Chile find themselves in a very similiar position to the one they had in the World Cup in South Africa, winning the hearts of neutrals but the failure to top the group will almost definitely mean they face Brazil in the last 16.  The Brazilians bulldozed Bielsa’s team 3-0 in 2010.  Sampaoli knows Scolari’s Brazil are hand-carved to thrive against teams like his Chile and as a result they will beat the Netherlands in the final game of Group B and top the group.  As the winner of group B, a matchup against Croatia or Mexico would be ideal and would pave the way for a strong chance of reaching the semi-finals.

1) Thomas Muller will win the Golden Boot and will be the player to surpass Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima’s World Cup scoring record.

Muller’s hat-trick in the opening match against Portugal has already made him the stand-out favourite to win the tournament’s Golden Boot.  He is currently still valued at 5/2 with Betbright.  Muller is also well on his way to becoming the greatest ever goalscorer in World Cup history.  Brazilian legend Ronaldo currently tops the list with 15 goals in 19 matches, a goal-to-game ratio of 0.79.  Twenty four year old Muller is entering his second tournament with 8 goals in 7 matches, a goal-to-game ratio of 1.14.  And with time still well and truly on his side, and the coming generations of German football looking very strong, expect Muller to be the man to set the new record.

What effect would independence have on Scottish football?

I’m not sure how big a story this has been around the world, but next month Scotland is voting to decide whether or not they should become an independent country for the first time since 1707.

Scottish nationalism may be very high at the time voters go to the polls. Glasgow has just successfully hosted the Commonwealth Games, in which the UK countries compete as separate nations, and the Ryder Cup will soon be held at Gleneagles.

Opinion polls seem to suggest that, at the moment, Scotland will stay in the UK, but let’s say hypothetically that the ‘yes’ campaign is successful and Scotland becomes independent.

An independent Scotland would face a lot of major obstacles they would have to quickly overcome to be successful. For starters, they currently haven’t got a plan in place for what currency they’d use, if, as the UK insists, they couldn’t keep the Pound. But while others debate that, the question on my mind is…

What effect will independence have on Scottish football?

In international terms, Scotland is already an independent country. However, due to politics, independence may have a negative effect on Scottish football, both at international and club level.

Well, there may be an issue about the eligibility of Scottish players to play other countries. The UK is a member of the EU, and EU rules state that anyone from an EU country can live and work in another, which is how foreign footballers play in other leagues.

There is a real question as to whether or not Scotland would be in the EU. A key part of Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond’s independence campaign is that because the UK is an EU member and Scotland’s part of the UK, Scotland will automatically become a member of the EU.

However, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission has suggested that Scotland would need to apply. There’s no reason that an application by Scotland would be unsuccessful, but the process is a lengthy one and could take several years.

This could have a huge effect on Scottish football.

I think that until Scotland gets EU membership, it would be far more difficult for Scottish players to play abroad than it is presently. Scottish players have proven far more willing than their English counterparts to move abroad, though the relatively weak standard of the Scottish Premier League probably has a lot to do with that.

I’d assume that some sort of deal would be reached where Scots would be eligible to work in England or Wales, but in other European leagues, especially those with restrictions on how many non-EU players a team can have, Scottish players would be a far less attractive proposition than they currently are.

This may cause a situation where some Scottish players opt to play for another EU nation if they are eligible to do so. In recent years, and for different reasons, Scotland has lost both Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy, two hugely talented players, to Ireland. Others players may follow suit, especially if it means they have a greater chance of a lucrative move abroad at some point in their career. This may weaken the Scotland team and generally set Scottish football back several years.

At present Scotland’s league is pretty uncompetitive. Last season Celtic won the Scottish Premier League (SPL) with ease, winning the title by 29 points and not losing a game until the league title had been sewn up, which is the earliest a team had won the title for 85 years and they only dropped 15 points all season. Even though Celtic are weaker than last season, they we still 1/66 with bookmakers to win the SPL, which is about as close to a sure thing as you can get.

This lack of competition is having a detrimental effect on Scottish football. Celtic, who have done relatively well in the Champions League in recent seasons, including a win over Barcelona, were comprehensively beaten over two legs by Legia Warsaw in the Champions League qualifiers, but have been reinstated after the Polish side fielded a suspended player. All the other Scottish sides have already been eliminated from European competitions.

I’m not sure what Scotland’s policy on immigration would be, but not being in the EU may make it more difficult for Scottish clubs to sign players from abroad as there may be all kinds of work permits and visa issues to be sorted out. Also, if it’s more difficult for a player to bring their family with them, it would make moving to Scotland a far less attractive proposition than it currently is.

Scottish Football doesn’t attract anywhere close to the TV deals English football does. The only games of interest to the rest of the UK are the Old Firm games and to a much lesser extent, the Edinburgh Derby. Well, the Old Firm games haven’t been played for two seasons now, due to Rangers being booted down to the Third Division and having to make their way back up. Similarly, the Edinburgh derby will now be a Championship fixture, as both Hearts and Hibernian were relegated last season.

In fact, after Rangers were banished from the SPL, there was a real fear that the TV contract, which contained clauses guaranteeing rights to show all four Old Firm games per season, would be voided. Scottish clubs had to pay broadcasters back some money to keep games being broadcast.

So, if it becomes harder for clubs to attract good players from abroad, it will in turn reduce the standard of football on offer, which will mean TV companies will want to pay less to show games in the future, which will adversely affect clubs, many of which are already struggling for money.

I’ve focused on the negatives so far, but there may be some ways in which Scottish football benefits from independence.

A split with the UK would presumably mean a change in the way TV is broadcast. At the moment, BBC Scotland broadcasts the SPL highlights, but they are less prominent than the Premier League highlights. If Scotland becomes independent, chances are there wouldn’t be a BBC Scotland, so whatever replaces that as the broadcaster of the SPL highlights might put it in a more prominent timeslot, which might help raise its profile in Scotland.

Also, a lack of opportunity to sign players from abroad could mean that Scottish clubs would be more willing to buy from other Scottish clubs, which will help to spread money around Scottish clubs, which hopefully would make them more competitive.

This could also mean a far greater emphasis on youth development. There are some Scottish clubs with excellent academies, such as Motherwell, Dundee United and Hamilton Academical, the team that produced James McCarthy and James McArthur amongst others, who were promoted to the SPL last season using a side which was mostly filled with academy products.

But if clubs were encouraged to develop their own talent rather than to buy, it could mean that a talented new generation of Scottish players could come through, and improve the standard of both the Scottish leagues, but also the national team.

Welbeck Rewards Wenger’s £16 million Faith with Hat-trick

Danny Welbeck came through the ranks at Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson. So, it would be fair to assume that the 23-year-old was special just like the crop of stars like David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, and Paul Scholes who had preceded him. Welbeck, though, failed to live up to the expectations that were once placed upon him as a youth team product from United. Even Ferguson did not see him as a first choice centre forward even with his abundant qualities like pace and power. Betfair places Welbeck at a distant 33/1 to win the Golden Boot award this season.
The 23-year-old made a £16 million move to Arsenal on transfer deadline day. This probably ranks as one of the first transfers where all parties involved came up extremely happy. United seemed more than happy to have received £16 million for a player who was openly stated as ‘not good enough’ for the club by manager Louis Van Gaal. Arsenal, on the other hand, were delighted to have secured an England international with many years ahead of him for what they perceived as a bargain.
Welbeck, meanwhile, was overjoyed at having joined another big club along with the promise of playing in a central position. His versatility has often seen him being played in a number of positions across the pitch. Welbeck responded to Van Gaal’s comments by saying that he would score goals if he played regularly at the top. The start to his Arsenal career has not exactly set the world alight on fire. In fact, he took three games to get his opening goal.  Arsene Wenger’s decision to sign Welbeck over Mario Balotelli and Loic Remy has been viewed as a master stroke by Arsenal fans and a few critics. Welbeck is seen as the next Thierry Henry despite the player yet to appear in more than 10 matches. Henry is a legend at Arsenal, but few would have expected this ascent when the Frenchman came to Arsenal as a talented but unfulfilled potential.
Wenger converted him from being a winger to a striker.

Comparisons are already being drawn to Thierry Henry.

His decision to play Welbeck as a striker has also sparked comparisons with Henry.  Those comparisons may not subside for quite some time after Welbeck made a huge statement by scoring the first hat-trick of his Arsenal career in the 4-1 win over Galatasaray. The Champions League match was seen as a huge test for Welbeck, who had previously missed easy opportunities when playing in this competition for United. Armed with the confidence provided by recent goal against Aston Villa, Welbeck took his chances with ease against a poor Galatasaray team.Felipe Melo was playing in defence for the Turkish club; he was constantly bullied around by Welbeck through physicality and pace. The opposition simply had no answer for Welbeck and the England international had the necessary finishing skills to announce his arrival to the Arsenal fans.Wenger will undoubtedly be happy to see his striker on song, but another Champions League match also showed that he might have come close to making a wrong decision. Balotelli was believed to be on the verge of joining Arsenal after the World Cup 2014. However, he moved to Liverpool for the same £16 million. Compared to Welbeck, Betfair places Balotelli at 50/1 to finish as the top scorer this season. Even though he has been playing regularly, Balotelli has been far from being convincing for the Premier League runners-up of last season. Liverpool’s latest 1-0 defeat against FC Basel showed the worst in the Italian international. Of course, Balotelli’s Liverpool career is not going to be judged on just one match, but Welbeck is already proving to be a much better purchase.

Does Scotland Have a New Side Capable of Dethroning Celtic?

The top flight in Scotland is largely frowned upon by the UK let alone other countries around Europe. Celtic and Rangers have won the highest tier in Scotland since the 1985-1986 season which has been evident proof of their dominance. Rangers were demoted to the Scottish League 2 in 2012 due to liquidation which pretty much sealed Celtic’s fate as being crowned Premiership champions until Rangers returned to the top tier but the 2014/2015 season has seen a new rise.

Aberdeen were the last side to win the Scottish Premiership before Rangers and Celtic under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson. His departure struck the club hard and they’ve never been able to replicate the results of the 80’s which saw them win 3 Scottish League titles (1980, 1984, 1985), 4 Scottish Cups (1982, 1983, 1984, 1986) and the European Cup Winners Cup for the first time in their history. They’ve been out of Europe’s most prestigious competition for almost 30 years and have struggled in the Europa League/UEFA Cup.

As it stands, Aberdeen are occupying first place in the Premiership but 5 points separate the top 5 clubs. In all truth, Aberdeen have taken advantage of the struggles occurring at Celtic. Neil Lennon’s departure from the club at the end of last season dealt them a massive blow and they decided to appoint a foreign manager in Ronny Deila who has found life tough at Scotland’s biggest club.

Their previous 7 Premiership games has also brought maximum points for Derek McInnes, staggeringly conceding 0 goals in the process. Taking 21 points from a possible 21 in the league has seen Aberdeen head into the New Year topping the table. It is the first time that neither Rangers or Celtic have been leading at the start of the year when Hearts lead in 1992.. Much has been made of Real Madrid’s recent run which they were on course to break the world record of wins in a row but their loss has signalled the end of that. Aberdeen are currently the 4th highest in the world of consecutive wins behind only Santiago Wanderers (10) of Chile, Hibernians (9) of Malta and Bayern Munich (8) of Germany. However, in terms of clean sheets Aberdeen are ahead of anyone with 7 in a row.

It is their defensive displays which have largely contributed to their success this year. Derek McIness has worked tirelessly with his defensive coaches on what he expects and it has paid dividends. Goalkeeper Scott Brown has virtually seen the same back 4 in front of him for the majority of the season with Shay Logan, Mark Reynolds, Ashton Taylor and Andrew Considine. Having the consistency of playing alongside each other week in week out can only benefit their understanding of one another’s game and McIness rarely disrupts the defence unless injury strikes.

The confidence of the players in front of the defensive third must be huge if they can push forward and be able to rely on their defence snuffing out counter attacks and not being punished on the break.

Derek McIness was staring at football abyss as he was sacked as manager of Bristol City this time two years ago and was appointed manager of Aberdeen shortly after in March 2013. The worry for their players and fans now will be that the English Premiership merry go-round could link him with a move back to England to manage. Neil Lennon is now at Bolton and Hamilton Academicals boss, Alex Neal is widely speculated to be taking over at Norwich City. But McIness has expressed his desire to stay at the club and finish what he deems as ‘unfinished business’.

The chairman, Stewart Milne, were also pleased to announce last month that the club is debt free for the first time in two decades. The prize money from winning the European Cup Winners Cup and European Super Cup back in the 80’s eventually drained out and the club has relied on selling players to keep finances at some sustainability. In past years players such as Chris Maguire and Charlie Mulgrew have been moved on to keep the money side of the club balanced. Now they’ll be hoping to keep the current group of squad to gain some longevity whilst also adding 1 or 2 new faces to improve what they’ve already got.

Adam Rooney can also take some credit for Aberdeen’s rise with 19 goals in 27 games this season. His latest double came in the 2-0 win over Motherwell and the Irish centre forward has been a big part of their success since signing in the 2014 January transfer window. He scored the decisive penalty in the 2014 Scottish League Cup Final against his former club Inverness, to clinch Aberdeen’s first trophy in 19 years. He recently signed a contract extending his stay at the club till the summer of 2018 and his commitment to the club emphasises the belief amongst the players which has many wondering whether Aberdeen can really dethrone Celtic off the top.

The Resurgence of Valencia CF

For a long time, no one seriously believed that Real Madrid and Barcelona would ever be challenged at the top of La Liga. However, the 2013/2014 season defied the odds as Diego Simone’s Atletico Madrid sealed the league title by drawing at Barcelona on a dramatic final day. Four or five years ago, Atletico was not a contender for the title in most people’s eyes. If any club was going to break the duopoly at the top of La Liga, it was going to be Valencia.

Los Che used to include the likes of Juan Mata, David Silva and David Villa within their ranks, before selling them for record amounts in order to resolve the club’s huge debt. Spain’s recent economic struggles have been well-documented and the debts of a host of Spanish clubs are continuing to climb. The sale of these players helped ease Valencia’s crisis but they were still considered a selling club as recently as 2013, when star forward Roberto Soldado joined Tottenham for 30 million Euros.

Valencia’s debt, which was rumored to have reached 400 million Euros at one point, was finally settled when Singapore businessman Peter Lim gained 70.4% of the shares at the club. He was brought in just after the summer of 2014, which meant they didn’t benefit from his financial backing in the market, but it looks as though the 2015 summer transfer window could be an exciting one for fans.

It is clear that settling the debt had a very positive effect on the players, who are no longer worried about getting paid and can now fully concentrate on the job at hand. But it seems that one of the main reasons for the club’s newfound success has been the managerial change, with Nuno Espírito Santo replacing Juan Antonio Pizzi in July 2014.

Nuno has been a breath of fresh air since his arrival from Rio Ave, where he lead the Portuguese club to two cup finals while encouraging his players to play attractive football. He is only 40 years old and is not afraid of giving youngsters a chance, partly because of their ability to quickly adapt to his tactics. It is harder for older players, who often find that learning new methods and tactics at their age can be overwhelming. The likes of Paco Alcacer (21), Jose Gaya (19), Rodrigo (23), Andre Gomes (21) and Shkodran Mustafi (22) make up half of the current Valencia side and have all come on leaps and bounds this year.

Jeremy Mathieu was a big loss for the club but when Barcelona come calling, not many players can turn them down. He wasn’t the only one departing the Mestalla: Helder Postiga, Philippe Senderos, Fernando Gago, Ricardo Costa, Ever Banega, Aly Cissokho, Michel and Jose Andres Guardado were the other high profile names shown the door, replaced with players hungry to succeed. Nicolas Otamendi was brought in from Porto and the Argentine centre half has adjusted very well to Spanish football. Shkodran Mustafi came in from Sampdoria and the German has already been called up to the national team.

Nuno also took advantage of the loan system to make his most influential signings, with Enzo Perez and Andre Gomes coming in from Benfica, while Alvaro Negredo and Bruno Zuculini joined the club from Manchester City.

These signings were all brought in to fit the system Nuno planned to use during the season. The style of play at Valencia in the past couple of seasons had been too slow, and bringing in quick and powerful youngsters would greatly benefit the club.

The Portuguese manager spent a lot of pre-season stressing to his players the importance of fighting and working for each other. He highlighted Atletico Madrid’s success under Diego Simeone, despite the fact that Real Madrid and Barcelona had better players than Atletico. In terms of hard work, Simeone’s team was miles ahead and Nuno shares this philosophy when playing against the bigger clubs: hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. This has already been evident this year, with wins against the division’s strongest sides. So far they’ve picked up six points out of a possible nine against Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona, compared to last year when they picked up only four points out of a possible 18.

Another reason for their upturn in fortunes is their strong record at home. This season, they’ve won eight games out of a possible 11 at the Mestalla, which included victories over Malaga, Atletico Madrid and a sensational 2-1 win over Real Madrid that put an end to Los Blancos’ 22-match winning run. Compare that to this stage last season, when they were defeated five times at home, including a shocking 2-1 defeat to Almeria.

Working with a young, up-and-coming manager has significantly helped Valencia this season. He has got the fundamentals right and has built a young side prepared to graft and reap the benefits. Under Nuno, the future looks bright at the Mestalla.