As It Stands- England, really?

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Roy Hodgson’s England side are this week’s #1

# UP/DOWN The Culprit As It Stands
10 Jack Wilshere Back in training…again. And still in contention to be part of the England squad-how?! The midfielder is rarely fit and certainly won’t be at the physical levels required for the European Championship.
9 Remi Garde It’s a shame that  a man with such a reputation for attractive attacking football and youth development chose to dive into the viper’s nest that is Aston Villa. The club have been on the slide ever since the departure of Martin O’Neill and look set to be playing in the second tier next season. That being said, Garde did himself no favours during his short stint at the club, with it looking as though he’s given up before ever really getting started.
8 Ronny Deila With Rangers nearing promotion back to the Scottish top flight, Ronny Deila’s perceived underperformance at Celtic could see him leave at the end of the season. This is in spite of winning a Scottish Premiership and League Cup double last year and leading the table this season. The real gauge of his success will be the Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers at Hampden Park in a few weeks time.
7 Benoît Assou-Ekotto The man who admitted that football is just a job has gone one step further, saying that he buys his boots on eBay- saying that he would “rather be free than prostitute myself for a sponsor“.
6 FIFA, UEFA and Gianni Infantino The man that is meant to usher in a new era of transparency for FIFA has a lot of explaining to do. Amongst the 11 million documents leaked in the Panama Papers scandal, contains some regional broadcasting contracts signed off by Mr.Infantino while he was at UEFA. The problem is that the rights were sold to two men currently wanted for extradition to the United States as part of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in football. If any evidence comes out against the new FIFA president, it could be the final nail in the coffin for the governing body.
5 Non-League Another gem plucked out of obscurity is Freddie Ladapo, signed by Crystal Palace from Margate. The 23-year-old had scored 10 goals this season before his dream move and will now have to step up a level and force his way into Alan Pardew’s matchday 18.
4 The FA Cup The spirit of the cup is alive and well. With teams like Crystal Palace, Watford and (potentially) West Ham reaching the semi-finals, the Cup can almost claim to match this year’s Premier League for entertainment.
3 US Women’s National Team Equal pay should be a given in the modern game, but the US WNT have filed a complaint against the US Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to gain parity with their male peers and have the backing of many in the Women’s Super League on these shores.
2 Johan Cruyff It seems strange to be ranking Cruyff in this table, but there is a reason he gets an upvote- sometimes you cannot truly appreciate something until it is gone. The impact that the Dutchman had around the world can be measured in the worldwide outpouring of emotion and gratitude for one of the greats of the game.
1 England A scintillating finish to the friendly against Germany and a burgeoning crop of bright young players…are you sure this is England? The usual hype surrounding major tournaments could actually be justified for the first time since the ‘golden generation’ under Sven Goran Eriksson. We however, are keeping our powder dry…it’s better to be surprised than disappointed- just ask Leicester City fans.
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Hot Prospect- Marcus Rashford

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Whenever a young player makes an instant impact on their debut, the resultant fanfare around their limitless potential can often be premature and overhyped.

I for one am wary of putting the cart before the horse. But in this case, Manchester United may have a real diamond in the rough.

Marcus Rashford was thrown into the United starting line-up against FC Midtjylland at the last minute, after Anthony Martial sustained an injury to his hamstring in the warm-up.

The teenage forward from Wythenshawe in Manchester responded to this by scoring a brace as the Red Devils came back from behind to win and progress to the Europa league last-16.

 

The Manchester United academy has become a conveyor belt for professional footballers, although many of them go on have better careers elsewhere- current examples being Danny Drinkwater and Danny Simpson.

A then 17-year-old Federico Macheda enjoyed a goalscoring debut, but never went on to fulfil the promise of his early showings. The hope is that Rashford will  buck that trend.

The 5’9” frontman followed up one brace in his European debut with another in his Premier League debut against Arsenal. Cue pandemonium. It is still perhaps too early to say whether he can continue his impressive early form for Van Gaal’s struggling side, but what is positive is that he has come up with the goods in the big games, scoring the winner at The Etihad in the Manchester Derby.

 

Premier league debut vs Arsenal 🔴

A post shared by Marcus Rashford (@marcusrashford) on

If you look at the statistics, Rashford has hit the target with every shot in the Premier League, converting 60% of those, despite averaging just over a shot per game . In  plain English, the kid is clinical. If he gets a clear chance, at this moment in time, you could very well put your house on the ball ending up in the back of the net. And if the stats are to be believed, Rashford has the potential to eclipse the goalscoring records of Shearer, Van Nistelrooy and Henry. His goals-per-minute ratio is better than all of the above.

But it is difficult to tell how good he really is, after all, as a goalscorer in a good (albeit underperforming) Manchester United side, could he turn into another Macheda? He does not create chances, nor does he win many aerial battles, but he does get on the scoresheet, and many players, see Jermain Defoe, have made a career out of doing just that.

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Averages per game in the Premier League. Stats generated by squawka.com

Nicky Butt has called for patience and understanding from the media and from the FA, so that Rashford can focus on his present and not his future. A crystal ball is no help to you if you want to determine the path Rashford will take in his career. If he is afforded the right game time and guidance he could flourish and grow into the player the Red devils so desperately crave. But with United continuously linked with a host of genuine world-beaters, Zlatan Ibrahimović included, this does not look likely.

The Old Trafford club have a reputation for giving youth a chance and are said to hold an appreciation for Mauricio Pochettino, should they dispense with Louis van Gaal’s services, who also shares a talent for developing young players. It is no coincidence that Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Thomas Carroll and Kevin Wimmer have improved under his stewardship. But United have also been heavily linked with a move for Jose Mourinho, out of work since leaving Chelsea in December. The Portuguese however, is not at all strong in this area and his appointment could signal the end to any hopes of Rashford becoming an all-time great.

It seems slightly mad that United could end up paying up to £61.5 million pounds for Anthony Martial, when they had Rashford playing in their youth and reserve sides. This is not to knock the ability of the Frenchman, he is a great young player, but you would hope that the upper management, and whoever calls themselves Manchester United manager in the future can look closer to home rather than at the transfer market. If they want to strengthen their striking options in the summer, there may be no need. So long as Rashford stays injury-free, and can maintain this level of performance, then he could be just the player they are looking for. If not, we may well see him competing for titles at clubs like Leicester City in the future.

End To End- PSG 9-0 Estac Troyes

Paris Saint-Germain served up the game of the week, cruising to a fourth successive title win after beating bottom of the table Troyes by nine goals.

A four-goal haul from the capital club’s maverick talisman Zlatan Ibrahimović came after three first half goals that had put Laurent Blanc’s men out of sight before the break.

The Qatari-owned side have invested heavily in world stars since they were taken over in 2011, and that paid dividends as they broke a record set by Olympique Lyonnais in 2007 for the fastest team to win Ligue 1. This led to Lyon President Michel Aulas conceding that “They’re the best French team of all time” in an interview with Le Parisien.

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Zlatan Ibrahimović (right) scored four goals en route to a title-clinching victory.

Les Parisiens have led from the front and sealed the title with eight games remaining, only losing to Lyon at the Stade des Lumières.

They have 77 points, 25 more than their nearest rivals AS Monaco- who tried to match PSG’s spending before realising even they could not compete- with a staggering goal difference of +62.

They have effectively swept aside all comers, and there was no relent in their momentum as they dispatched Troyes at the weekend.

The home side’s Mathieu Saunier looked bereft of confidence after an exasperating season, he managed to play in Edinson Cavani, his shot was saved but Matthieu Dreyer was only able to divert the ball back into the path of the Uruguayan, who converted at the second time of asking.

The second goal came through Javier Pastore, who was played in after a neat piece of skill by Ibrahimović (who else), the Argentine international then calmly lifted the ball over the man between the sticks to put PSG two goals to the good.

Blanc’s charges made it three in 20 minutes after Pastore chipped the ball over the home defence to Cavani, who was once again denied by Dreyer, but Adrien Rabiot- who has been a long-term transfer target for Arsenal- was able to turn in the rebound.

You could not tell that Troyes were the home side, and that trend continued after the break. That Ibrahimović had not scored against a team making countless defensive errors was strange, but he soon sent the travelling fans into rapture as he scored a 9-minute hat trick.

Cavani passed to the Swede, who switched it to either foot before deciding on his left, passing the ball into the back of the net.

Right footed this time, the former Milan man was completely unmarked as he met the cross of Angel Di Maria from the left and finished with a side foot volley.

To make sure Zlatan went home with the title-winning match ball, Di Maria released Layvin Kurzawa on the left, producing a near mirror image goal. Les Rouge-et-Bleu’s captain this time volleying with the help of a deflection off the unfortunate Saunier.

Kurzawa was again free on the left, and as they say, if you cant beat them join them. Saunier managed to do his best Ibrahimović impression as he latched on to the end of Kurzawa’s cross, volleying past his disbelieveing keeper to put the tin lid on a miserable day for the centre-half.

PSG were then awarded a penalty for a foul on Cavani, who stepped up to take the penalty himself. The problem with Cavani is that for a player of his quality, he should really be putting the ball in the back of the net more often. He again required a rebound to finish. Dreyer had made three saves from the hulking centre-forward in this game, but all three were subsequently converted.

If by any chance you had lost count, the score was now 8-0. The final goal was put away once again by Ibrahimović, as PSG broke away from a Troyes corner. The pass was delayed, allowing Ibrahimović to run through the middle and put the icing on the cake. He now has 102 goals in 115 Ligue 1 appearances.

The Swede has been linked with a move to Manchester United after he confirmed he would leave the capital after his contract expires in the summer.

He told beIN Sport that he would only stay if the Eiffel Tower was replaced with his statue. Laurent Blanc would surely like to keep hold of him but there is no guarantee the coach will be there either after his reputation has grown in the last few years.

Hot Prospect-Ousmane Dembele

After the eye-watering (potential) £61.5 million move for Anthony Martial was concluded in the summer the next French starlet to take Ligue 1 by storm has come from a familiar source.

Ousmane Dembele, 18, was born in Vernon, about 45 miles outside of Paris, and played in nearby Evreaux before transferring to the highly successful Stade Rennais youth system.

The Rennes club have an excellent track record for producing young stars such as former Arsenal attacker Sylvain Wiltord, and more recently Sunderland’s Yann M’Vila, Yacine Brahimi who plays for Porto in the Champions League and new Watford signing Abdoulaye Doucouré.

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Ousmane Demebele (centre) has been a revelation this season for Stade Rennais.

Dembele probably resembles Wiltord the most in his playing style, as he is able to play across the attacking line, the 5’8” forward making up for his lack of height with an abundance of pace.

Mikael Silvestre, the former Manchester United defender and now Rennais’ Chargé de Missions (Sporting Director), persuaded Dembele to stay on and sign a 3 year contract after the youngster expressed concerns over a lack of first team football. Patrick Vieira had even travelled over to sign him for Manchester City’s youth academy before the forward agreed a new deal.

The French U19 international, who also qualifies for Mali should he not be capped at a senior level by France, made his senior professional debut in November and has scored 9 goals in 17 Ligue 1 appearances since then, attracting the attention of Europe’s top clubs.

He has also caught the eye of French national team boss Didier Deschamps, who confirmed he has been watching Dembele for the past two years, although he admitted it may be too soon for him to be called up to the senior squad for Euro 2016.


To date, Liverpool, Manchester City, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal and most notably, Barcelona have all been credited with an interest in the Rennes attacker. Silvestre has likened the young man to Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

Barcelona’s Technical Director Robert Fernandez and his assistant Urbano Ortega flew in from Catalonia to watch Dembele in Rennes league game against FC Nantes. He duly responded with his first senior hat trick.

Dembele has already expressed his interest in playing for the Blaugrana, admitting that it is “a dream” to play at the Nou Camp. But other sources claim that the youngster is aware of the benefits of first team football at his age after breaking into the Rennes team and wishes to stay in Ligue 1 for another season at least.

His form has not dipped after being thrust into the limelight following his exhilarating display against Nantes. Stade Rennais played Olympique Lyonnais on Sunday, coming back from two goals down at home to draw 2-2, largely down to the influence of Dembele.

He whipped a corner in for defender Fallou Diagne to score Rennes’ first, before finding himself in between Lyon’s centre-halves, breaking the offside trap and using his acceleration to break away and get a shot on goal. His effort was saved by Anthony Lopes but the rebound fell to half-time substitute Jeremie Boga who stuck it in the back of the net with the help of Lyon full back Rafael on the line.

Stade Rennais are not a club known to hang onto their best players, and rely on selling their diamonds in the rough to ensure the club remains self-sufficient. If he can continue racking up goals an assists, the figures (ranging between €10 and €30 million) being mentioned around his possible transfer could skyrocket.

As It Stands- FA People’s Cup

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Gianni Infantino became the new president of FIFA this week.

# UP/DOWN The Culprit As It Stands
10 The Sun And the Oscar for worst front page of the year goes to…you guessed it…The Sun. The “Paedo in his Speedos” headline the day after the verdict was delivered in the Adam Johnson sex abuse trial has already drawn scathing criticism from all quarters.
9 the ‘Big Five’ In a season where the ‘big’ clubs have bemoaned the amount of fixtures they have to face compared to shock-title-contenders Leicester, you have to question their motive behind the proposed ICC ‘Big Five’ tournament over the summer months.
8 Galatasaray Banned from participating in European football for a a year after breaching financial fair play regulations. This to be honest is not entirely unexpected after a season where Turkish league rules on foreign players have been relaxed allowing more investment. But the real question is how are clubs like PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City getting away with a slap on the wrist while Gala get punished?
7 Paok Fans It’s all Greek to me. Over and over again, there is Greek crowd trouble. Whether its at home or in Europe. It seems no punishment deters those bringing the game into disrepute. Perhaps something more drastic is needed- a season of games played behind closed doors perhaps? It ,may be harsh, but it would ensure it never happens again.
6 Arsenal Yet again Arsenal are falling away as the pressure increases towards the end of the season. Yet again Arsene Wenger blames referees and injuries for their post-Christmas dip in form. Jack Whitehall’s opinion of Robin van Persie is humourous, but at this rate RVP is looking like the clever one after leaving the Gunners to win titles elsewhere.
5 Women’s Football Eight months on from the hugely successful Women’s World Cup, the SheBelieves Cup provides the sport with the opportunity to take another step forward. England are not competing in the Summer Olympics in Rio so will look to Mark Sampson-Women’s World Coach of the Year- to give them a plan for success.
4 FIFA (maybe) Gianni Infantino is the new President of FIFA, and says he is looking to push through major reforms- some of which have already been implemented. The Legends match (in which he also played) was a slick bit of PR. But we have our reservations about a man who grew up a stones throw from Sepp Blatter and was  one of Michel Platini’s closest allies…
3 Sport Relief- 5-a-side Watching former footballers pull their boots back on is a real treat. Seeing Robbie Savage get nutmegged by someone half his age is even better. The memories that are conjured up as Alan Shearer performs his trademark celebration after scoring a goal, brilliant. But the best thing is that it’s all in a good cause. Sport Relief seems to be getting bigger and better every year and AIS applauds them for their good work.
2 Liverpool After capitulating against Manchester City in the League Cup Final penalty shootout at Wembley, Liverpool were able to regain some pride by beating the Citizens 3-0 on Wednesday night. it was particularly memorable for Jon Flanagan’s full blooded tackle on former red Raheem Sterling.
1 FA People’s Cup This is real all-inclusive football. no racism, sexism, or prejudice of any kind. Men against women, amputees against the able bodied. A fantastic initiative from the FA to open football up to everyone and anyone- football as it should be.