Mauricio Pochettino is the favourite to take over from Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid coach, with the Frenchman’s job hanging in the balance off the back of another humiliating defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday night.
The 48-year-old has been out of work following his sacking by Tottenham Hotspur in November 2019, and he has been linked with some of the biggest jobs in world football ever since. The Argentine’s stock remains high despite his dismissal, having taken the north Londoners to the unprecedented heights of a Champions League final, and transforming them into top-four regulars.
And Spanish outlet El Mundo reports that the ex-Spurs man is the heavy favourite to take over from Zidane at Madrid, with the Spanish giants’ season already in jeopardy of becoming a disaster.
The other man who is said to be vying for the Bernabéu hot seat is Madrid legend Raul. The former forward is currently in charge of the club’s Castilla youth side, and he may be promoted to steady the ship in Zidane’s potential absence.
The Frenchman led Los Blancos to La Liga glory last season, but the capital city club have failed to carry that form into the new campaign. The champions lie in fourth position in the league table, seven points off top spot with a game in hand, and a shock 2-0 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in Tuesday’s Champions League clash has left their European hopes in the balance and deepened their coach’s woes.
The man at the helm of Los Merengues is not willing to go quietly into the night, however. Speaking after Madrid’s disastrous loss to Shakhtar – a result which puts them on the brink of an unthinkable drop into the Europa League – Zidane maintained he has no intention of leaving his post as manager.
“There’s no chance whatsoever of me standing down. We’re going to keep going,” he said.
Real now sit in third place in their group, behind Borussia Monchengladbach and Tuesday’s victors, Shakhtar. Europa League football is simply not an option for Florentino Perez, who reportedly believes the club’s history will be tainted by participation in the secondary tournament.
So, let’s watch this space with interest. We may finally be seeing Pochettino back in action – sooner rather than later.
Jordan Henderson was full of praise for Liverpool’s young guns following the Reds’ 1-0 Champions League win over Ajax.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are in the midst of an injury crisis, leading to several youth academy graduates getting their chance to impress on Tuesday evening. Two of them, Neco Williams and Curtis Jones, combined to score the game’s only goal in the second half, while goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher made several important saves to deny Ajax.
Speaking after the game to Liverpool’s website, captain Henderson was quick to praise all three players for their contribution.
“Unbelievable, isn’t he? Outstanding, some of the saves he made, important saves,” he said of Kelleher. “His distribution was excellent, coming out and commanding his area. I thought he was outstanding and a real plus for us.
“I’m delighted for Curt because he’s worked really hard. He listens, he wants to learn all the time and I think over the last few weeks you’ve seen the maturity in his play and he’s been outstanding. He deserved his goal.
“A great ball from Neco – I thought he overhit it, so I might have given him a bit of stick when he hit it! But it was a fantastic ball in the end. So I’m delighted for both of them.”
The victory confirmed Liverpool’s progression to the round of 16, and Henderson said that the result provided further evidence of the Reds’ strong character.
“We knew it would be a tough game and there’s things we can be better in and, of course, we probably could have scored two or more goals, especially in the second half,” he added.
“But I’m really delighted with the performance and the character of the team with the setback of injuries that we’ve had of late. But to keep fighting and to get the three points and win the group is massive for us, so I’m delighted with that.”
Attention now turns back to Premier League action, with Jurgen Klopp’s side hosting Wolves at Anfield on Sunday.
In a world where we have access to millions of videos and endless footage at our very fingertips, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate genuine world class players from 15-second wonders.
Sure, there are many, many players capable of putting in top drawer performances at any given time, but sustained brilliance and possessing all of the traits to be truly world class is quite another.
A brief MAX COOPER SKILLS – THE NEXT LIONEL MESSI? YouTube search may trick you into believing this writer is in fact the second coming of Barcelona’s greatest ever player, when in reality he may have accidentally planted a deep cross beyond a particularly short goalkeeper on a windy day.
The point being, no matter how high or low the level, we can still be deceived by glimpses of brilliance.
So, we can all be forgiven for not batting an eyelid when the unknown Alisson Becker took over from Wojciech Szcz?sny as AS Roma’s number one goalkeeper for the 2017/18 campaign. While a huge club in terms of size and fanbase, I Giallorossi were realistically miles away from the level required to win the scudetto, and not much was expected of Eusebio Di Francesco’s men in the Champions League, either.
So, for the rest of Europe, the emergence of an untried rookie in his second season at a middling side would have understandably flown under the radar. It didn’t take long for regular Serie A viewers to stand up and pay attention, though.
Often kitted out from head to toe in a mysterious, all black goalkeeping strip, the Brazilian shot-stopper resembled Spiderman wearing the dark Symbiote Costume which you could unlock on the PlayStation.
And his reflexes were equally as spine-tingling. What immediately stood out about the developing goalkeeper was how capably he covered the basics of his role. His positioning, aerial command, awareness of his surroundings and confidence between the sticks gave his backline a calming boost. No jitters with a new man behind them, Alisson knew what he was doing.
So, if the ‘basics’ were simply second nature, what does that make the more difficult saves? Well, they became his basics. Alisson was so fast off his line that a one-on-one passed the striker by in the blink of an eye, as he threw himself in the line of fire before his adversary could even pop off an effort of note.
Shots fired with venom and swerve in his direction were gobbled up, smothered and held. No parrying. And if there was an extraordinary missile that did need palming away, he made sure the ball never rebounded into danger.
Calm, calm and calm again. In terms of out and out shot-stopping, there has seldom been better than Alisson.
But while these are all wonderful achievements for a promising goalkeeper, this skillset is not likely to catch the attention of Europe’s attentive eye. You need to put in a performance that really is world class. And so, I Giallorossi headed to Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League Round of 16 in mid-February 2018, having topped a group that included both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid.
For Roma, it was the type of game they have been known to choke on in the past. High expectations, low results. So a good performance and outcome was needed to get fans believing in this European dream.
Luckily, the Italian giants had a giant of their own between the sticks that day. The final score read as a 2-1 win for the visitors, but it could have been much, much worse. Roma dominated the opening stages, carving out plenty of opportunities until finally drawing first blood on the stroke of half-time.
But here came the wobble. Hello darkness, my old friend. I Giallorossi lost complete control of the game, sat back and allowed an onslaught toward their rookie goalkeeper. It didn’t take long for the hosts to find their breakthrough, either.
Alisson was left completely exposed by his defence, and Facundo Ferreyra did the rest with the whole goal to aim at. 1-1. But next came his moment. At least, one of them.
As Shakhtar pushed and Roma crumbled, Alisson stood tall, even while those around him lost their heads. He displayed the character and unwavering mentality which had been missing from this Roma side for a couple of decades.
A ball was cut back across the penalty area, and the defence could merely watch as it fell to Marlos, lurking just in front of the penalty spot. Big danger.
The forward took aim and fired hard and high, looking to beat a sprawling Alisson, who was returning to the centre from his front post. The shot was launched with such ferocity, that most goalkeepers would have only been able to watch as it whistled beyond them.
But this was the day we learnt about the Brazilian’s strong, steel-like wrists. He flung a right paw into the air, and met the meteorite head on. His hand didn’t flinch, as he somehow repelled the ball to safety, and Roma escaped.
Unbelievably, that wasn’t his best save of the season – it wasn’t even the best save he made in that match.
Shakhtar captain Taison fancied his chances from range against the Brazil international, and sent a swerving, dipping strike crashing towards Alisson’s top left corner. Now this, was curtains.
Yet again, he said no.
Alisson flew to his left, outstretched the longest left arm in football, and flicked the ball around the post with a firm glove. What makes the save so exceptional, is how easy he made it appear. Most goalkeepers wouldn’t have got a fingertip close to that strike, yet he managed to meet it with his palm and generate enough power to deflect it out of harm’s way.
At this point, Shakhtar knew it’d take something incredible to conquer this man mountain. Unfortunately for Roma, they conjured the impossible, and beat Alisson with a free-kick so vicious that it dipped and flew home off the crossbar.
A 2-1 defeat for I Giallorossi, but they were aware it could have been ‘tie over’. It had also become clear, that their goalkeeper was simply too good for this team, and while Roma fans longed for him to stay, stifling his brilliance would have been cruel.
As it was, that first leg loss was the launch pad for one of the greatest Champions League runs in history, as Di Francesco’s men overturned the deficit, before producing the most remarkable of comebacks against Barcelona, and almost repeating their heroics against Liverpool in the semi-finals.
In the end, the Reds just about limped over the line to reach the final, but a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid, combined with a Loris Karius disaster-class, inspired Jurgen Klopp to spend €70m on the missing piece of the jigsaw.
One Champions League trophy and a long-awaited Premier League title later, the German’s decision has been easily vindicated, and Alisson’s genius has been justly rewarded. As for Roma, they’ve endured two miserable years trying to find the 28-year-old’s successor.
But in the end, it’s a near impossible task to replace world class – a category that Alisson seamlessly falls into.
Arsenal have confirmed that David Luiz will not be involved in Thursday night’s Europa League game against Rapid Vienna as a result of the cut he suffered during the sickening accidental clash of heads that also left Wolves striker Raul Jimenez in need of surgery on a fractured skull.
The game was stopped for 10 minutes and Jimenez required oxygen on the pitch, before being taken to hospital. But Luiz was bandaged up there and then and played on until half-time, much to the distress of fans around the world worried about a potential concussion.
Arsenal insist that Luiz showed no signs of concussion when he was assessed on the pitch and the only reason for his withdrawal before the second half was ongoing bleeding from the cut.
A Gunners statement reads: “Immediately after the accident on Sunday, protocols were completed with David, who thankfully maintained consciousness at all times. Stitches were applied to a cut on David’s forehead pitchside, and a bandage was secured on his head to protect the wound.”
“With David showing no signs of concussion, the decision was made for him to continue playing with close monitoring. At half time David was further assessed and it was decided that due to the bleeding and discomfort he was experiencing from the deep cut to his head, that he would be substituted.”
Arsenal explained that Luiz was visited by the club doctor at home on Monday on a scheduled day off after the game. The 33-year-old Brazilian then reported to the training ground as normal on Tuesday and his health and wellbeing are continuing to be monitored.
The club confirmed, “The cut to David’s head will take some days to heal and therefore he will not be available for Thursday’s match. We will continue to closely support and monitor David’s progress.”
For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter and Facebook!
Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel has admitted that Marcus Rashford has started to annoy the French champions because of his scoring record against them.
The Manchester United star netted a famous last minute penalty to knock PSG out of the Champions League in 2019, while he scored another winner against them earlier this season. Both times, Rashford did it at Parc des Princes in the French capital.
Tuchel says PSG are happy to appreciate Rashford from a distance, but not against them.
“We value him very much when he plays in England and not Parc des Princes, honestly, because [him scoring against PSG] gets a little bit annoying,” the German is quoted as saying by Sky Sports.
Tuchel praised Rashford’s personal qualities, labelling him a ‘humble’ and ‘nice’ guy. As for his ability on the football pitch that has given PSG nightmare…
“For me personally, the sporting side is clear – he’s a big threat with his speed, with his ability to score, with his determination and his finishing,” Tuchel explained.
“He’s very precise, taking shots inside and outside of the box. He is super rapid on counter-attacks and strong in the air with headers. He’s had a big impact and it’s nice to see guys like him from the academy having such a big impact in a big, big club like United.”
As the two clubs prepare to meet at Old Trafford, United are aware that just a point will be enough to put them into the knockout rounds with a group game to spare. They could also win the group depending on RB Leipzig fare against Istanbul Basaksehir in the other game.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have taken nine points from a possible 12 on offer so far, recovering from a setback in Turkey on matchday three to beat Istanbul comfortably at home last time out.
United are generally in good form ahead of this one and have also won each of their last three Premier League games to shoot up the Premier League table.
For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter and Facebook!