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Football Bids a Fond Farewell as Riquelme Retires



Languid, nonchalant and mercurial, Juan Roman Riquelme has cut a divisive figure within the football world for almost two decades. Riquelme announced on Sunday that this season would be his last, turning down a contract worth $110,000 a month. A genius to some, a liability to others, the Argentine refused to alter his approach to the game in a career spanning eighteen years. Riquelme turned out for Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Villareal and Argentinos Juniors where he regularly lit up games as an incredibly naturally gifted old-fashioned no.10. However, as the 36-year-old draws the curtain upon his career, there is a feeling among many that Riquelme is not quite regarded as the true great that his ability should have merited.
Beginning his career at Argentinos Juniors, Riquelme moved to Boca Juniors at the age of 17. By the time he had turned 18, he was a regular fixture for the titans of Argentinian football. Riquelme quickly established himself as a skillful and flamboyant playmaker, capable of changing the outcome of a game at a whim. After 6 years at Boca, in which he played 194 games, scoring 44 goals and receiving international recognition, Riquelme moved to Barcelona. Louis van Gaal described Riquelme as a ‘political signing’ and treated the Argentine with, at best, indifference. Shipped out to the wing, Riquelme was never able to display his true ability at the Camp Nou. In 2003, Riquelme headed south down the Spanish east-coast to Villarreal, first on loan but the move would later become permanent.
Manuel Pellegrini became the manager of the side in 2004 and afforded Riquelme the freedom he needed to flourish. Now 27, Riquelme was showing himself to be quite simply one of the finest footballers in the world. In the 2004-05 campaign, Riquelme pulled the little-fancied Villarreal up to a third placed finish in La Liga, scoring 15 goals in 35 games. There was little mention of the Argentines insouciance or apparent laziness in a season that saw Riquelme nominated for the FIFA Player of the Year Award as well as winning La Liga’s Foreign Player of the Year and La Liga’s Most Artistic Player award. The following year Riquelme was outstanding once more, taking the side into the last four of the Champions League.
True to form though, Riquelme fell out with manager and director alike and went from untouchable to unwanted in a remarkable twist of fate that took place over a matter of months. Riquelme regularly refused to train and was even known to refuse to play, the club made numerous allowances for the playmaker due to his importance to the side, but could take no more. Following the defeat to Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final in which Riquelme failed to convert a penalty, he appeared a shadow of his former self. No longer an unplayable force of nature, Riquelme was seen merely as a disruptive influence at the club and returned to Boca Juniors where he became the highest paid player in Argentina.
Boca not only rewarded Riquelme with a generous contract but also assurances that his behavioural tendencies would go unpunished. Riquelme played a further 187 games for the club, placing him in the clubs all-time top 10 charts for both appearances and goals. Riquelme made 51 appearances for Argentina, most Argentina fans consider that figure to be only half what the playmaker should have racked up in his career. Riquelme first retired from international football in 2007 after being heavily blamed for Argentina’s 3-0 defeat to Brazil which reportedly sent his mother into poor health. He retired a second time in 2009 before the 2010 World Cup due to strong disagreements with Diego Maradona. Disagreements which led to large-scale praise and criticism in equal measure from the Argentine public. He would never return after his retirement in 2009, despite numerous attempts from following manager Alejandro Sabella.

Riquelme may be regarded by many in Europe as a wasted talent restricted by his leisurely approach to the game and refusal to work on any terms other than his own. In Argentina though, Riquelme sits among the genuine pantheon’s of their national game as a magnificent and unique talent who played the game at his own pace with remarkable grace and flamboyance. Four time Argentine Footballer of the Year, Riquelme has the same number of wins as Diego Maradona and only Lionel Messi has more than the pair. Riquelme’s legendary status has become all to clear in the wake of his retirement announcement this week. Fans of River Plate were quick to praise their bitter rivals legend, an appraisal that is not too often afforded. Meanwhile, many have called for Boca to retire the number 10 shirt in the memory of the great man.


Sevilla 0-0 Manchester United – The Paul Pogba problem remains for Jose Mourinho

Jake Jackman



Manchester United

Manchester United earned a credible away draw against Sevilla in the first leg of their Champions League tie, but the manner of their performance will be a disappointment. They were reliant on David de Gea, as their goalkeeper made a number of good saves to keep the scoreline at 0-0. It was far from an assured defensive display and there are clearly cracks begin to emerge in the Jose Mourinho era.

Paul Pogba was once again centre of attention as he was left out of the starting eleven for youngster Scott McTominay. The academy graduate had a decent game, but it speaks volumes about Pogba’s current relationship with Mourinho.

Although the club will suggest the decision was made due to the Frenchman’s recent illness, the midfielder came on in the first half and was clearly fit to play. Here are three talking points from the dull game at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium:

The Paul Pogba problem remains

The past week has been filled with negative press stories regarding Paul Pogba and the midfielder was the centre of attention when the teams were announced. He wasn’t in the starting eleven, but was fit enough to take up a place on the bench and came on shortly into the match after an injury to Ander Herrera.

It wasn’t his best performance, but he added quality and offered more in the final third than the rest of the Manchester United midfield. If they can get him motivated and settled into a system, they will be a lot stronger for it.

On Wednesday, he completed five dribbles and 90% of his passes. Every time he got on the ball, he tried to be positive and United need a player like that considering their negative style of play.

At the time of writing, it appears that there is only room for one of Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford. They clash and their relationship is damaging the rest of the squad.

The focus should have been on the game against Sevilla, but it is on the friction between midfielder and player. If they don’t find a solution soon, it could ruin their season.

Joaquin Correa caught the eye

Sevilla aren’t the team they once were and the loss of Monchi has had a negative effect on the club. However, there remains a lot of talent in the squad and Joaquin Correa caught the eye on Wednesday.

Every time he got on the ball, Manchester United looked nervous and he was the player most likely to make something happen in the final third.

The winger attempted three shots, completed three dribbles and made one key pass. In a match short of attacking quality, he was a bright spark and got the home fans off their feet.

His movement was superb and there were times when the wrong decision was made in the build-up, which meant the ball didn’t arrive at his feet.

Correa seems to be a player well-liked by Vincenzo Montella and he could kick on over the next few months. His end product needs to improve, as he has yet to contribute a goal or assist in La Liga, but he has had better showings in the cup competitions. Across the Champions League and Copa del Rey, he has got six goals and two assists.

David de Gea showed his worth yet again

The world has run out of superlatives to describe David de Gea. The goalkeeper has emerged as one of the leading players in his position since joining Manchester United, if not the best.

The club’s decline during the last five or six years would have been sharper if it wasn’t for the Spanish international. He regularly bails them out and Wednesday night was no different.

During the contest, he made eight saves, including one superb stop to deny Luis Muriel. The Colombian striker should have done better, but that doesn’t take anything away from the work done by De Gea between the sticks. It was an excellent display of anticipation and athleticism as he made a save from point-blank range. Few other keepers in the world would have kept the ball out.

At the age of 27, De Gea has a long future ahead of him and he will want to challenge at the very top of the game. It remains to be seen how long he stays at Old Trafford as the team isn’t progressing at the same rate.

Only one player in their team played to their maximum on Wednesday and that was the goalkeeper. Until the rest of the team match him, United aren’t going to challenge.

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Everton 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from Goodison Park

Jake Jackman



Manchester United

Manchester United managed to return to winning ways with an impressive away victory against Everton. This is a fixture that has caused United with problems down the years and Wayne Rooney was the focus of attention in the build-up as it was going to be only his second appearance against the club since leaving in the summer. It was a quiet one for the forward, as he picked up a yellow card and didn’t threaten as much as he would have hoped. The visitors took the three points thanks to strikes from Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard. Here are three talking points from Goodison Park:

Jesse Lingard continues to impress and deserves his place in the starting eleven

The 25-year-old has been a slow developer, but he looks ready to step up a level and become a regular starter for Manchester United. He has been a good squad player for the club since breaking through as a young player, but he is now ready to make the move up to be a more important player at Old Trafford. He ended 2017 in impressive form and has started the new year in the same vein.

The attacking midfielder scored the second goal of the evening, as he struck an excellent effort to beat Jordan Pickford and put the result beyond doubt. He wasn’t short of confidence and looked to take shots at every opportunity. Lingard attempted five shots and his direct approach is one of the reasons he is in the team, as United need more goals from their midfield.

Lingard is an entertaining player to watch and isn’t afraid to take responsibility and run with the ball. He completed three dribbles against Everton and caused problems every time he got on the ball. Creatively, he will be hoping to improve during the coming weeks, as he made only one key pass on Monday. At times, his decision making could be improved, but he is headed in the right direction and his form in front of goal means that Jose Mourinho can’t drop him.

Everton need to sign a new striker

They didn’t have to deal with the return of Romelu Lukaku to Goodison Park as he was missing through injury, but it was clear that Everton need to sign a new striker in January. Oumar Niasse led the line against Manchester United and there was some good movement from him and the rest of the attacking players, but they caused few problems for the opposition when they had the ball.

The 27-year-old hasn’t fully convinced any of the three managers that he has played under at the club and it is unlikely that he is going to be the answer up front. There is no criticising his effort, as he was a willing runner and tried to impress, as his four successful dribbles show. However, he doesn’t have the required ability to deliver the level of performance that Everton want from their main striker.

Everton have been heavily linked with Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun and there had been speculation that a fee had been agreed, but the Mirror report that the deal is no in danger of collapse. It is a risk to sign a striker from Turkey and expect them to replicate the same form in the Premier League, but he appears to be the club’s primary target at the time of writing. If they can’t get his transfer over the line, they must move on to other targets. The current striking options aren’t good enough for a team with the Toffees’ ambition.

Paul Pogba showed why he is important to Manchester United

The French international continues to be doubted by many that like to point towards his huge transfer fee, but his influence can’t be understated. Paul Pogba is the most important player in the current Manchester United team. The club haven’t lost a Premier League game when the midfielder has played since October 2016. Meanwhile, United have lost five matches without him during this period.

Pogba is a forward-thinking player and is always looking to play positive passes. During the match, he completed five key passes and assisted both goals. As a creative presence from deep, there are few better players in the Premier League and there is hope that he can step up to the next level during 2018. He has been touted as a future Ballon d’Or winner and there is no reason why he can’t do that at Old Trafford.

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Three talking points from Newcastle United’s comeback against West Brom

Jake Jackman




Newcastle United fought back from 2-0 down to end their losing streak in the Premier League against West Bromwich Albion. They played poorly for much of the game, but their performance in the last 30 minutes has given them something to build on. This was a precious point and one that could be looked back on as a turning point at the end of the season. The Baggies will be disappointed that they weren’t able to hold on to the lead and it is crucial that they appoint a new manager sooner rather than later. Here are three talking points from the match:

Aleksandar Mitrovic needs to start

This has been a hotly debated topic on social media as Newcastle supporters have been demanding that Mitrovic is given a chance to start in then Premier League. Since Rafa Benitez was appointed as manager at St James’ Park, his relationship with the striker has been rocky. The Spaniard is a control freak and likes to have players that he can trust. He doesn’t trust the 23-year-old and that is why he has been on the sidelines. There is no doubting his talent, but he can’t be relied upon to carry out the manager’s instructions.

In recent matches, Newcastle have offered little in the final third, with Joselu being one of the players that has received most criticism for that. He offers little goal threat and needs to be taken out of the firing line to save what is left of his confidence. Mitrovic offered a lot more when he came on, as he ran the channels and worked hard pressing the opposition defenders. His link-up play was better than Joselu’s and he managed to score, although it was disallowed for an earlier offside. Benitez needs to change something in his attack and the Serbian deserves a chance.

Salomon Rondon has a lot more to offer West Brom

There was a lot of excitement when Salomon Rondon signed for West Brom and he has yet to live up to that billing. His performance against Newcastle suggested that he has more to offer the club and that a new manager could be what he needed to fulfil his potential. During the match, he won three aerial duels, completed two dribbles and made one key pass. It was a great display from the striker as he showed intelligent movement and link-up play, playing a huge role in the Baggies attack.

In the first-half, the Venezuelan international hit the bar from range, as he displayed incredible technical skill to scare Karl Darlow in the Newcastle goal. The one disappointment will have been his role in the equalising goal, as Matt Ritchie’s free-kick was deflected off the striker, but there was little he could do about it. Overall, it was an encouraging performance and continued his positive momentum since the sacking of Pulis.

Newcastle miss Jamaal Lascelles

There would have been many Newcastle supporters that would not have had Lascelles in their starting eleven this season, despite the centre-back being their captain. The second-half of the Championship season was underwhelming for him, as he made several mistakes and looked nervy in possession. However, he was suffering with a hernia problem and in reflection, it was clearly affecting him on the pitch. This season, he has been one of the stars of this Magpies team and moved into the thinking of Gareth Southgate.

Since the centre-back suffered an injury against Bournemouth, Newcastle have picked up only one point and conceded ten times in only three and a half matches. In the 10 matches prior, the Magpies had only conceded nine goals and it has become evident that Lascelles is key to their survival hopes. They miss the organisation and leadership that he offers, as it brings a calmness to the rest of the team. The sooner he is back, the better for Rafa Benitez and this group of players.

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