Previewing the UEFA Champions League Round of 16

On Monday, fans in Paris and Madrid lost their minds. While Manchester City gets Basel and Bayern gets Besiktas, PSG will face Real Madrid in the Round of 16. After the Whistle previews and predicts the chaos.

Basel vs. Manchester City

Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, and Manchester City are 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League, and get a favor from UEFA. This won’t be close.

Pick: Manchester City

Bayern vs. Besiktas

This is the point where I make an argument for Besiktas.

This is the point where I acknowledge Bayern is going to win by 90 goals.

Pick: Bayern

Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

The Ukrainians were so good in the group stage that Shakhtar eliminated Napoli and pushed Man City for the top spot. Meanwhile, Roma sits at fourth in the Serie A, and doesn’t have Mo Salah to carry the team when Edin Dzeko can’t score. I’ll take the upset here.

Pick: Shakhtar Donetsk

Juventus vs. Tottenham

The Spurs were flying through the first five games. Tottenham then made the mistake of playing red-hot Arsenal in the Premier League, and haven’t beaten a team since, except for Stoke. Juve has surged up the Serie A standings, and run into an Inter Milan roadblock. The team from Torino possesses a little¬†more firepower, and should put up a few goals on a stuttering Totteringham defense.

Pick: Juventus

Porto vs. Liverpool

Vincent Aboubakar will be a handful for Liverpool’s vertically challenged defenders, but Porto isn’t the power they once were. Mohamed Salah’s incredible run of form should continue as the Reds advance to the quarters.

Pick: Liverpool

Sevilla vs. Manchester United

While their weekend performance at Real Madrid didn’t show it, Sevilla is a dangerous side to come up against. Romelu Lukaku’s struggles against high-quality opposition pose problems for MUFC, but Mkhitaryan, Martial, and the on-fire Marcus Rashford will propel Manchester United to a most-needed victory. Too many M’s?

Pick: Manchester United

Chelsea vs. Barcelona

The Blues haven’t been terrific, dropping to third in the loaded Premier League. Arsenal and Liverpool are nipping at Chelsea’s heels, and Antonio Conte might choose to focus on England. Barcelona have no such qualms, as Lionel Messi and Co. are on top of La Liga. This won’t be close even if Chelsea fields their starting XI.

Pick: Barcelona

Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Neymar and Dani Alves face a familiar foe in Spanish giant Real Madrid. Kylian Mbappe’s transformation into superstardom has continued, and the Parisians won’t struggle to light up the score sheet. Defending will be the concern.

Real Madrid has slipped this season, slotting in at fourth in La Liga. Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. have focused more on the Champions League, and draw the best team in Europe for their troubles. Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos will have to anchor a surprisingly ineffective defense, while Ronaldo, Marco Asensio, and the attack will have no problem scoring. This should be an amazing two games.

Pick: Paris Saint-Germain ūü§Ď

 

Far too early semifinals prediction: PSG, Bayern, Barcelona, Manchester City

Far too early finals prediction: Paris Saint-Germain over Bayern Munich

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Reacting to the 2018 World Cup Draw

The draw for the 2018 World Cup has concluded, with surprises, favorites, and Groups of Life and Death. Italians look away.

Group A: A little help for the hosts

Hosts Russia came out first, as is traditional. Uruguay joined them from Pot 2, with Mo Salah’s Egypt from Pot 3. Saudi Arabia rounded up the first group,

Uruguay are the favorites in the easiest group of the eight. Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Salah and Egypt will contend with Russia for the second spot, and the Saudis appear to pose no threat.

Group B: The Iberian Supergroup

Portugal was the second team out of Pot 1, and are joined by Spain, Morocco, and Iran.

Portugal and Spain are two of the best teams in the tournament, and whoever wins the group will make a deep run in the knockout stage. Iran and Morocco stand little chance of advancing in place of the Iberian duo. That first matchup will be fun.

Group C: France’s to lose

France will bring their young squad up against fellow Europeans Denmark, while Peru and Australia will look to exploit the Danes’ over-reliance on Christian Eriksen.

France should run away with Group C √° la 2014 Colombia. Denmark doesn’t seem to be equipped for a World Cup, as Christian Eriksen is the only notable attacking star. However, Mathias Jorgensen and the defense could be difficult to break down. Australia desperately needs answers in the coming year to inject life into the Socceroos’ aging squad. Don’t underestimate Peru, the fifth-placed South American side.

Group D: Stars, old and young

Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, and Nigeria form the most star-studded group so far. Lionel Messi and Argentina look the part of a favorite, while Luka Modric’s Croatia and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s Iceland will battle it out for the second spot. Nigeria doesn’t seem cut out to contend yet, but a promising generation of young talent headlined by Alex Iwobi will get a shot at the world’s finest.

Group E: A challenged favorite

CONMEBOL champs Brazil came out of Pot 1 to face Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia. The two European nations are capable of causing trouble for anyone if given the opportunity, while Costa Rica is a challenge once again. Los Ticos went all the way to 2014’s quarterfinals before bowing out on penalties to the Netherlands.

Group F: A Confederations Cup rematch

The defending world champs face the harshest test of any seeded side. Germany will face CONCACAF champions Mexico, and then turn around to face Emil Forsberg and Sweden. Last year’s Bundesliga assist king leads a dangerous Sweden side. If Mexico and Sweden meet on the final day of the group stage, an electric atmosphere will take shape in Russia.

Group G: European domination

Belgium and England face few tests in Tunisia and Panama, and should advance. In what order, though? Belgium has the talent to beat anyone, but can’t seem to play well together. England. . . well, they’re England.

Group H: 

Disputed top-eight Poland face a tough task. A star-studded Senegal attack including Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao will present defensive concerns. Japan might challenge better than in recent years.

The real focus is Colombia. 2014 World Cup’s top scorer James Rodriguez has ignited into one of the world’s finest center attacking mids. Radamel Falcao and Freddy Guarin are very good once again. Jeison Murillo anchors the defense. Colombia is so good, it’s frightening. Los Cafeteros¬†will wreak havoc in the latter knockout rounds in Russia.

The group winners will be. . .

A: Uruguay

B: Spain

C: France

D: Argentina

E: Brazil

F: Germany

G: Belgium

H: Colombia

 

Wait, where’s Italy?

The USMNT is doomed? Try again.

Remember the halfway point?

Sadness. . .

Last night the United States faced their final game of FIFA World Cup qualifying. Win and go to Russia. . . or lose and go home.

The opponent was Trinidad and Tobago, two small islands from the Caribbean whose backup goalkeeper is still in college. A winnable game? Yes. Did they win? No, they played like they didn’t care. Clint Dempsey didn’t break the goalscoring record. Christian Pulisic’s heroics didn’t rescue the United States. Small, lonely T&T knocked off the land of “fake news”.

Naturally people are bound to overreact, and of course I get to rip this apart. A common phrase sweeping around the Internet is “the USMNT are doomed!” Clint Dempsey will be 38 in four years. Michael Bradley will be 34. Tim Howard will be ancient. How could we possibly recover?

Look at the players coming up through the youth system. Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath has proved himself a decent shot stopper for one of the Belgian Pro League’s finest sides. He’s only 22.¬†We don’t have to talk about 19 year old Pulisic. We can mention¬†Darlington Nagbe, a 27 year old energetic playmaker that burst onto the scene last summer, and should fill Bradley’s shoes.

Remember the name Weston McKennie. The lively 19 year old midfielder is making waves in the Bundesliga, and Schalke 04 have rewarded him with a five year contract extension. He’s appeared in six of Schalke’s eight games since the end of preseason, and is creating chance after chance for Leon Goretzka and Co.

I can’t wait to see him play alongside Pulisic in the red, white, and blue. Both will be 24 when Qatar rolls around, and even Gedion Zelalem might take strides at mighty Arsenal. To everyone who thinks the USMNT are doomed:

McKennie ‚ÄĒ Nagbe ‚ÄĒ Pulisic

 

 

Look out.

How Paul Pogba ruined the transfer market

In 2013 a young Brazilian named Neymar Jr. was sold to Barcelona for ¬£53 million. For many years people judged transfer fees off of Neymar. For example, Mesut Ozil. He’s an amazing player, but not quite as good as Neymar so he went for ¬£50 million. That‚Äôs how it worked. That is how soccer functioned. Until Manchester United and Paul Pogba had to go ruin everything for everyone. Don’t get me wrong. Pogba is world class. Is he better than Ozil and Neymar? Is he worth the ¬£89 million? Only about half of the money was for his current ability. The rest was for what he could become. Now clubs have to pay based on a player’s potential. The big bullies like PSG will thrive. (‚ā¨140 million for Kylian Mbappe; what the heck?) Sure Mbappe has insane potential and is already world class. But the guy only has had one good season. Again, big clubs with a cash influx will dominate.

The one thing smaller clubs always had is buying players with potential on the cheap. No more. Now they have to scrounge around in Nowheresville, Pennsylvania to find the next Christian Pulisic.

So what’s next? Paul Pogba killed world soccer. One of the most enjoyable things in life was watching a small team loaded with young talents take on PSG or Bayern Munich. Now there is no hope for a team with anything less than ¬£100 million in the bank.

Although with everything I said, Lukaku for £79 million is outrageous. Pogba completely flipped the transfer market on its head. The best striker in the Premier League goes for less than a top 10 midfielder in the Serie A. Only a few Italian teams would even have a remote chance in the PL. So take a minute to think about how Paul Pogba and Manchester United ruined not only the Prem but all of world soccer. I mean, John Stones went for £47.5 million! if you think that is even close to what he is worth, you are simply stupid!

Premier League Gameweek 5 Roundup

Did Romelu Lukaku become the fourth youngest player to score 90 goals in the PL?¬†Could Arsenal keep up with Chelsea without Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez? How would Tottenham perform in their second game at Wembley? We at After The Whistle answer these and many more, as I put my own twist on why Spurs su‚ÄĒer, the week’s happenings. Have fun.

Southampton 1, Crystal Palace 0 

Water is wet. Snow is cold. Crystal Palace still haven’t scored a goal this year.

Water is wet. Snow is cold. Southampton maintained a clean sheet.

In all seriousness, it was a fairly boring game. A moment of magic from Steven Davis spoiled Roy Hodgson’s debut as Palace manager, as the Saints took home all three points.

Huddersfield 1, Leicester City 1

No goals were scored in the first half of this one, and Laurent Depoitre decided to do something. The defender powered into the Leicester penalty box and fired the Terriers in front. The lead lasted four minutes, as Jaime Vardy equalized from the penalty spot.

Bournemouth 2, Brighton 1

Solly March’s 55th minute strike looked to be the game winner for Brighton. . . until Andrew Surman finished spectacularly 12 minutes later, and Jermain Defoe flipped the result on its head. Jordon Ibe was electric, assisting both goals and running the show for Bournemouth.

Burnley 1, Liverpool 1

A rare inclusion in the squad for Scott Arfield proved to be key, as the left mid buried  a shot in the 27th minute. The lead was short lived, as a wayward Emre Can pass found Mohamed Salah, who controlled it well and stroked it past Nick Pope. No other scores were to be had, though Dominic Solanke had a point blank shot saved.

Newcastle 2-1 Stoke City

Chants of “NEWCASTLE ARE FOURTH!” galloped around the stadium as Matt Ritchie once again ran the show for Newcastle, assisting Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles en route to a defeat of Stoke.

Hey, Xherdan Shaqiri scored. For once.

West Brom 0-0 West Ham

Skip.

Tottenham 0-0 Swansea

Ahaha Spurs dropped points AT HOME to SWANSEA.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Manchester City 6-0 Watford

Watford looked helpless. A Sergio Aguero hat trick led the way to a complete battering of Watford‚ÄĒand Pascal’s FPL team.

Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea

You would expect us to get blown out without Ozil and Sanchez. Wrong! The defense held up quite nicely as Arsenal did their best West Brom impression. Chelsea couldn’t get anything going. Come on you Gunners!!

Manchester United 133439‚ÄĒer, 4-0 Everton

Romelu Lukaku is indeed the fourth youngest player to 90 goals in the PL. Everton met their bogey team and got DESTROYED!

 

That about rounds it up. I’d just like to take the end to welcome ArsenalFan9 ( the aforementioned Pascal) to the After the Whistle team!

Premier League Gameweek 3 Roundup

Harry Kane still has NEVER scored an August goal. SLUMP ALERT!

It’s the summit of world soccer. Third time’s the charm. What could go wrong? Well. . .

 

Manchester City 2-1 Bournemouth

Oh, this crazy league. Left back Charlie Daniels produced a goal of the season contender in the 13th minute to put the massive underdogs ahead. Gabriel Jesus’s tap-in eight minutes later equalized. This game was destined to be a draw, we all said. Then referee Mike Dean gave ten (!!!) minutes of stoppage time! Raheem Sterling played hero in the seventh minute of these, and was then given a second yellow card and sent off‚ÄĒfor running into the crowd in celebration. Cheers, Mike Dean.

Swansea 2-0 Crystal Palace

Loan signing Tammy Abraham volleyed home a spectacular ball from Leroy Fer to open the scoring just before halftime. From there it was all Swansea, and Jordan Ayew’s goal emphasized it.

Huddersfield 0-0 Southampton

Skip.

Brighton 0-0 Watford

Skip.

Newcastle 3-0 West Ham

This was a special performance from the recently-promoted Newcastle. Matt Ritchie ran the show, picking up a nice assist to pad his stats. Christian Atsu, Alexander Mitrovic, and Joselu all scored, delivering Slaven Bilic one more conundrum to deal with.

Manchester United 2-0 Leicester City

Ah, yes. Romelu Lukaku missed a penalty, making his FPL owners (like me) furious. Henrikh Mkhitaryan also racked up his fifth assist in three games en route to a dominant win for the Red Devils.

Chelsea 2-0 Everton

Alvaro Morata is enjoying playing in London, isn’t he? The striker racked up another goal and another assist, carrying the Blues to three points. The scoreline may flatter them a bit though. Ashley Williams and Idrissa Gueye were both inches away from changing the landscape of this game.

Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal

Can we just move on?

West Brom 1-1 Stoke

Two boring, park-the-bus sides went up against each other. Both scored crummy goals and parked the bus thereafter. What’s left?

Oh, right. The Baggies signed Kieran Gibbs.

Fun.

Tottenham 1-1 Burnley

Yes, Clarets! New signing Chris Wood buried a pinpoint pass from Robbie Brady to prolong the “Wembley curse” of Tottenham. Harry Kane still hasn’t scored in any August, ever.

 

That will do it for this week! If you would enjoy me berating Arsene Wenger’s infinite ¬†failings, please leave a like! Transfer deadline day is tomorrow, and Arsenal probably won’t sign anybody. What a time to be a Gunners fan, am I right?

2017-18 UEFA Champions League: Reviewing the group stage draw!

Manchester United.

Liverpool.

Manchester City.

Chelsea.

Tottenham.

2017 is the first year in history that five Premier League teams will participate in the Champions League. Some of them were drawn into favorable groups. Some, more average. And two were absolutely shattered. Read on to find out!

Group A

Benfica, the champions of the Portuguese Liga NOS, were the first team off the board. Featuring the dangerous Goncalves Jonas, they are still a beatable opponent. Most sides would be content with facing them.

Manchester United would like their chances. They have posted two straight 4-0 wins at the start of the Premier League, and the attack of Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford may not be PSG/Barcelona/Atletico Madrid quality, but is still quite fearsome. But. . .

Swiss giants¬†FC Basel¬†were the team from the third pot. The last time the Red Devils faced Benfica and Basel in the same group was the disastrous 2011/12 campaign in which they crashed out of the group in third. Don’t underestimate CSKA Moscow either.

 

Group B

It’s time for “supposedly predictable group with four really, really good teams”, featuring Bayern Munich. The Bavarians added Colombian superstar James Rodriguez from Real Madrid, (more on them later) which adds yet another element to an attack already featuring Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben.

The defending German Bundesliga champions were drawn against perhaps the best Pot 2 side in PSG. The Parisians shattered¬†transfer records and shocked the world, acquiring Neymar from Barcelona for ‚ā¨222 million. They also manage to include Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria, and Marco Verratti in what must be an enormous wage budget.

Anderlecht¬†won their 34th¬†title domestically in Belgium last year. Due to Belgium’s rapid rise in the UEFA coefficient rankings, they would be in Pot 1. . . next year. As it stands, everybody is ignoring a dangerous side that features Leander Dendoncker and ŇĀukasz Teodorczyk.¬†Whoever of Anderlecht and Celtic¬†finishes third will likely go far in the Europa League. It’s a shame one of these talented sides has to finish fourth.

 

Group C

How fun! The Diego Costa transfer saga has reached a new height, as Chelsea and Atlético Madrid were the first two teams drawn into the group. Eden Hazard vs. Filipe Luis? Yes, please!

However, they will have a tough time of it. Italian giants AS Roma were in the third pot thanks in part to an awful coefficient. Just to name names, how will the vaunted Blues defense manage against the likes of Radja Nainggolan, Edin Dzeko, and Stephan El Shaarawy? All three of these sides will also have to take the long, loooong trip to Qarabag in Azerbaijan, a place that has become a bit of a fortress as of late.

 

Group D

There will be a high level of quality in this gauntlet UEFA calls a group. First off, Italian champions and last year’s UCL runners-up,¬†Juventus¬†need no introduction. Barcelona¬†don’t either, though it is curious how they will replace the departed Neymar.

Olympiakos are sneaky good. Quality summer signings such as Vadis Odidja-Ofoe add to a side that has dominated Greece’s Superleague for what feels like forever. Are they ready to make the jump and progress to the knockout rounds of the UCL? Not in this group. Not with Sporting CP¬†pushing them just to stay out of the bottom.

 

Group E

Spartak Moscow¬†are probably not going to win their group. The surprise Russian champions occupy the spot that would have gone to Anderlecht if any Belgian side’s goal differential would have been one better last year.

One.

At the moment, star Dutch winger Quincy Promes hasn’t left for a bigger club. They will need him to stay if they have any hope of beating¬†Liverpool¬†and Sevilla.¬†Good luck. NK Maribor¬†likely won’t pose a threat, as they only managed to keep six clean sheets all season in the Slovenian league.

 

Group F

Because Real Madrid won the Champions League and La Liga, and because they are one team, not two. . . the other Pot 1 spot for some reason goes to Shakhtar Donetsk? Not sure how that works, but okay. Having produced the likes of Douglas Costa, the Ukranian side’s academy has propelled them into the UCL. They face a tough task with Manchester City. The three-pronged attack of Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, and David Silva has been ripping apart Premier League defenses so far this year. I didn’t even mention Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, or Leroy Sane.

The Napoli are no stranger to the underdog role. They live it every year in the Serie A with Juventus and Roma. But that attack. Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Jose Callejon highlight a side that also appreciates the defending of Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol.

When you beat Ajax and PSV, you’re no joke. When you do it twice? Enter¬†Feyenoord. The Dutch side’s chances in this brutal group start and end with star midfielder Jens Toornstra.

 

Group G

AS Monaco shocked the world last year. Not only did they beat out PSG and Lyon to win Ligue 1, they dominated it. But Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, and Tiemoué Bakayoko have all left for the Premier League. Kylian Mbappe and Thomas Lemar are the subjects of massive transfer sagas that seem to have no end. They should get past a weakened Porto side, and an always-underperforming Besiktas.

RB Leipzig¬†are a Pot 4 team. Why? They’ve not been in the Champions League since the club was founded in 2009. Apparently that trumps having the likes of Naby Keita, Emil Forsberg, and Timo Werner in a side that beat out Borussia Dortmund to finish second in the Bundesliga.

I don’t get it either.

 

Group H

Just what is this group?!?!?!?

Title holding¬†Real Madrid don’t need any introduction. What does is how screwed they were with this group. Borussia Dortmund¬†actually finished above Madrid in last year’s group stage, but they have lost Ousmane Demb√©le to Barcelona.

Tottenham¬†finished second in the Premier League last year behind Golden Boot winning Harry Kane and Young Player of the Year Dele Alli. The added burden of the UCL will be more difficult for them, especially in this group. Don’t dismiss¬†APOEL Nicosia, as the Cypriot champions usually pull a surprise or two.