HOW HARAMBEE STARS BEAT GHANA

 

In recent times many have been pessimistic about Harambee Stars.

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The criticism may not be justified but in all fairness there has been little to write home about.Infact for the last decade and a half the team has been reduced to celebrating victories in friendlies and Obscure regional tournaments while our less illustrious neighbor Uganda improved massively and managed to participate in last year’s AFCON tournament.

 

This sense of inevitability was reflected in the sombre mood that preceded the AFCON 2019 qualifier against Ghana last weekend. A close friend of mine plaintively remarked that we would be given a hiding of unprecedented intensity. He was left swallowing his words on Saturday afternoon after Harambee Stars managed to pull off the seemingly impossible with a 1-0 win at Kasarani stadium

 

We never had any reason to dream about anything, but now we can dream of sauntering leisurely in the streets of Yaounde during next year’s AFCON tournament.(I hope I’m not being too ambitious,there’s still a long way to go)

 

 

But just how did they do it?

 

5 major talking points stood out for me tactically;

 

1. The Silent effectiveness of Dennis Odhiambo

When it was confirmed that Victor Wanyama would not make it for the game ,there were worries over who would be able to fill that gap in midfield.Anthony Akumu was the logical option given his past success in that position at national level .However Head coach Sebastian Migne went with his gut and selected Dennis Odhiambo who has had a stellar season playing in midfield both at Thika earlier in the season and also at his new club Sofapaka. Not only did Dennis break up play effectively but his calm assurance on the ball and his leadership skills injected belief into his younger midfield partner Ismael Gonzalez who also had a tidy game.Their reading of the game was admirable,Ghana’s main man Thomas Partey barely got to assert his authority in the game.

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2. Eric Johanna :The midfield protagonist

 

There has never been any doubt as to the talent possessed by Eric Johanna.The man who is affectionately nicknamed ‘Mapake’ stamped his authority on the game and it was clear the Ghanaians were not equipped to handle him.Playing primarily behind the striker, Johanna used his passing range to spot the lanky figure of Michael Olunga with several diagonal balls that really troubled the Ghanaian defense in several occasions including the one leading to the goal.

He had to be subbed off for David Ochieng after Joash Onyango’s red card but he put in a solid shift during his time on the pitch and with a bit more of consistency he may end up being the main man in this new look Harambee stars side.

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3. Musa Mohammed : The coach on the pitch

 

Musa Mohammed made his reputation at Gor Mahia as a tough tackling defender whose ability to read danger was a crucial factor in all the success he achieved with the green army.His proactivity was evident against Ghana where his handling of Abdul Majeed Waris and Raphael Dwamena was exceptional as well as his marshaling of the defense .He also communicated effectively with the rest of the team when trying to maintain their defensive shape.

He brought his big game experience and it helped Kenya keep a crucial clean sheet.

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4. Ovella Ochieng : Pace and selflessness

Ovella’s speed in the first half really stretched the Ghanian defence and his effort and discipline in the second half helped nullify Ghana’s left flank.

He may have come under criticism by some fans for his profligacy in front of goal but the former Kariobangi Sharks man gave 150 percent for his country on Saturday.

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5. Joash Onyango: The unsung hero

Joash’s tackle on Abdul Majeed Waris was a thing of beauty.Yes, I said it!

It was the most important foul of the day.The Gor Mahia man brought down his opponent on the edge of the box and saw Red.

His sacrifice was timely , Ghana was in the ascendency ,not only did he kill momentum but also he prevented what surely would have been an equalizer and an opportunity for Ghana to get back in the game.

 

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Everybody on the Harambee Stars squad put in a valiant shift.

 

If I were a rich man I would have bought all of them a year’s supply of fresh yoghurt.

But since I am not a rich man, I will settle for awarding them with this blog post.

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THE 2017 CONFEDERATIONS CUP:AN IN DEPTH LOOK INTO THE TEAMS.

This year’s edition of the confederations cup will be the 10th edition of the world cup tournament,the first one happening in 1992 as the King Fahd Cup in Saudi Arabia.Much has changed since then ,with the number of teams doubling from four to eight as well as new plans to use video assistant refereeing in this year’s tournament.Let’s have a look into the 8 teams that will do battle.

  1. RUSSIA

The host nation comes into the tournament barely a year hoping to redeem itself after a disastrous outing at Euro 2016 which lead to the retirement of several of the team’s stars such as the defensive pairings of Ignashevich and the Berezutskiy brothers as well as veteran midfielder Romain shirokov.They will also be missing the services of top marksman Artem Dzyuba who is missing with a knee injury.The team under new coach Stansislas Cherchesov

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When Vasili Beresutzkiy had this smile during a game there was a striker somewhere who would leave with a sore leg!   Photo courtesy: Alchetron.com

PLAYER TO WATCH: Fyodor Smolov (Striker)

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Speed, speed and goals!

Photo courtesy Russianfootballnews.com

The Kuban Krasnodar striker netted 24 goals in 32 games at club level this season and he is likely to pose a unique attacking threat as Russia gear up to host Mexico ,Portugal and New Zealand who all have defences that may struggle with his pace .

 

  1. NEW ZEALAND

The Lily Whites qualified for the tournament by virtue of being the champions of the oceania region and they come into the tournament as underdogs .A key miss will be their captain Winston Reid who misses out with a knee injury sustained while on duty for West Ham.They have been having a series of friendlies to test their strength with two successive 1-0 defeats against Northern Ireland and Belarus respectively.Coach Anthony Hudson will be hoping for a steady defensive performance to help them build up for next year’s world cup.

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New Zealand were the only team to finish the 2010 world cup without loss.It was three consecutive draws though.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Chris Wood Striker (Striker)

The Leeds United striker was prolific in front of goal with 27 strikes and four assists in the English Championship last season.His physical presence as well as well as his workrate will be key for New Zealand as they are unlikely to have a lot of possession.

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Big lad! Photo courtesy of stuff.co.nz

 

  1. PORTUGAL

The Euro 2016 champions are hot favorites and it isn’t a surprise.Key in their structure is a defensive base of Jose Fonte and Kepler Lima( commonly referred to as Pepe).The youthful attacking talents of Gelson Martins , Andre Silva and Bernardo Silva have also been gelling well.

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Yeap that’s Ricardo Carvalho.Yeah he’s 39. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

PLAYER TO WATCH: Cristiano Ronaldo (Forward)

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Photo courtesy of FIFA

 The Real Madrid man has been at his best this season scoring a memorable double in the UEFA Champions league final against Juventus.He will be making his confederations cup debut and he will no doubt want to add the title to his long list of career accolades.However it will be no easy feat as most teams are likely to make special defensive arrangements to prevent him from beong effective.A long season with Real Madrid may also bring fatigue for the Portugese captain.

 

  1. MEXICO

The CONCACAF region champions enter the tournament on the back of stable form and are playing some good football as evidenced by their  recent 1-1 draw with perennial archrivals USA.They also won the 1999 Confederations cup and repeating that feat will no doubt be in the minds of the players.They have a wide array of attacking talent from Bayer Leverkusen striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ hernandez,Former Arsenal Star Carlos Vela and fast sing FC Porto star Jesus “Tecatito ‘ Corona.

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Chicharito after realising their playing against Germany in the First game!   Photo courtesy of Playing for 90

PLAYER TO WATCH: Raphael Marquez (Defender)

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Raphael Marquez vs Ronaldinho 1999

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Raphael Marquez vs Ireland 2017 . Ageless.

Mexico’s 38 year old captain is seemingly ageless and the veteran defender remains the only player in the squad who was also in the victorious 199 confederations cup squad.His experience will be valuable in what could prove a trick group for Mexico .His presence from setpieces has been a mainstay of Mexico’s international success with an acute sence of positioning as well as a great ability to convert freekicks,One of his more memorable moments would be his equalizing goal against South Africa in the 2010 World cup opener.

 

  1. CAMEROON

The African champions defied all odds to win AFCON 2017 despite a player boycott.They make their first appearance of the tournament since 2003 when they got to the final and lost to France via a Thierry Henry Golden goal.The tournament is also remembered for the unfortunate demise of Marc Vivien Foe after suffering from heart issues and collapsing in the semi final against Colombia.This will no doubt weigh heavily on the players’ minds and they will want to write a new chapter for Cameroon in the confederations cup with a more positive outlook.

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A warm tribute to Marc Vivien Foe after the 2003 confederations cup final.

Key to the team’s defensive fortunes is the goalkeeper battle between Fabrice Ondoa of Sevilla and Andre Onana of Ajax who are actually cousins.

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Cousin my cousin! Photo courtesy of camer-sport.be

PLAYER TO WATCH: Benjamin Moukandjo (Forward)

 Group A - Cameroon vs Croatia

Respect to him for bouncing back from that infamous fight with Assou Ekotto at the 2014 world cup.

The Cameroonian captain was in splendid form this season helping the Indomitable Lions to Afcon glory in January and scoring 13 goals for Lorient despite releagation from the French top flight.His pace as well as finishing ability will cause problems to opposition defences and he is likely to combine upfront eith either Vincent aboubakar or Christian Bassogog to good effect.

 

  1. CHILE

The South American Champions are making their debut on the big stage with a team that is arguably one of the best in the world at the moment.Their squad seems to have played forever together with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal , Eduardo Vargaz,Jean Beausajour and Gary Medel being in the squad for at least 5 years.Their tenacity as well as their ability to defend and play on the counter in tough games will be key in their battle in the so called ‘Group of death’ against Germany, Cameroon and Australia.

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The only thing Claudio Bravo can save

KEY PLAYER: Alexis Sanchez (Forward)

Alexis is right now at his peak and his goal scoring ability is unquestionable. At Chile he has had a formidable strike partnership with Eduardo Vargas that may prove decisive for Chile.

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This remains the greatest picture in sporting history!

  1. AUSTRALIA

The Asian champions have their work cut out for them as they hope to make an impact in this year’s cup.Their recent 4-0 friendly loss at home to a second string Brazilian national team side raised several questions about their leaky defense and the loss of Mile Jedinak to injury adds to their further woes.Their over reliance on 37 year old captain Tim Cahill raises question over their attacking options.

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But can he do it on a cold night in St Petersburg?

KEY PLAYER: Aaron Mooy (Midfielder)

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The Manchester City man was on loan last season to Huddersfield town where he was the key component in their promotion to the Premier League.He will be the main supply line for the forwards and his immaculate setpiece delivery is also a cause for concern for opposing teams.

 

  1. GERMANY

The World Champions are with a relatively understrength side as Joachim Loew decided to rest some of his major stars in readiness for next season.The likes of Thomas Muller,Mario Gomez ,Mesut Ozil and Jerome Boateng are rested in favor of the likes of Julian brandt,Timo Werner,Kerem Demirbay and Leon Goretzka. Joachim Loew’s squad selection may prove to be a point of discussion if his experimental side fail to go past Australia, Cameroon and Chile.

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Half of the players in the picture below will not play in the confederations cup.

KEY PLAYER: Julian Draxler (Forward)

The young winger has been a sensation for PSG despite their unsuccessful season and the fact that he captained Germany in their recent world cup qualifier over San Marino is an indication of the faith coach Joachim Loew has in him.His pace and ability to run behind the defense will be a key asset for Germany.

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Acceleration!

5 TALKING POINTS FROM THE EUROPA LEAGUE THIS SEASON

1. MOURINHO AND THE GREAT OLD SAYING :FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD
Manchester United were the subject of heated debates all season long due to Mourinho’s style of play which many considered too defensive minded.Another contentious decision is Mourinho’s willingness to abandon the top four chase and focus on winning the Europa League as a means to achieve Champions League glory.However, this particular risk paid off handsomely as a disciplined tactical display by United outsmarted a youthful Ajax side.Fortune does favor those who take risks.

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You can always trust this guy’s tactics when it comes to a cup final
2. THE DISCIPLE FOLLOWS HIS MASTER : AJAX’S REBUILDING TO THEIR GLORIOUS VAN GAAL ERA
Ajax is known for producing the likes of Johan Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp and their philosophy of youth sometimes tends to act as a liability in continental competition.However, Louis Van Gaal had a brilliant young squad in the mid 90’s with the likes of Nigerian duo Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu as well as young Dutch Marksman Patrick Kluivert who eventually scored their goal in a 1-0 win over AC Milan in the 1995 final, a great feat considering their average age was just 23 .

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Ajax 1995, It is safe to assume Clarence Seedorf  never skipped leg day.Still no explanation for Van der Sar’s kit ,Iam assuming they were trying to give him leopard stripes

Fast forward to 2017, Peter Bosz , a staunch believer in the Ajax has managed a similar feat with a much younger squad.Bosz is a staunch believer in the Ajax way and it is said he even used to drive to Amsterdam regularly during the Van Gaal era to watch the team’s training sessions.What he has done this season is nothing short of unbelievable and it signals a shift towards Ajax’s former competitiveness in continental football.

Ajax v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League FinalThat Sanchez guy is a beast!
3. EUROPA LEAGUE A BETTER FIT FOR LYON?
Lyon used to be competitive in the champions league in the mid 2000’s when their squad boasted of the likes of Mahmadou Diarra and Juninho Pernambucano.A memorable knockout of Real Madrid in the round of 16 in 2009 after a Jean Makoun strike comes to mind.However in the past few seasons they have struggled to qualify for the competition and even when they do, going past the group stage has been an almighty challenge.

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When you spot your bro in the crowd wearing the shirt you told him not to take from yout closet..
However this season, after finishing third in their champions league group behind Juventus and Sevilla, they were sent to the Europa League where they acquitted themselves admirably only going out in the Semi final by a one goal margin.Now that they have finished fourth in Ligue 1 next season is going to be a Europa League season for them and they’ll be hoping to go one further and make it to the final.

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I just shared this photo of Depay wearing this. I also dont know why I shared it…
4. A TOURNAMENT FOR BELGIANS?
Belgian teams have not always been great at continental football.However ,the Europa League this season has brought out the best in their new generation.Three Belgian teams made it to the round of 16 .Gent,Genk and Anderlecht who were eventually knocked out by Champions Manchester United.This could be a good building ground for Belgian football as it seeks to assert itself among other European footballing nations.

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255 Champion boy Niite Mbwana Samatta ..Heh!!!
5. CELTA VIGO’S WOES REMINISCENT OF 2002 LEVERKUSEN
In the year 2002 ,Bayer Leverkusen were arguably the best team in Germany,they got to the final of the German cup ,were fighting for the bundesliga and managed to get to the Champions league final as well.However ,it was to be a season of sorrow as they finished second in all three competitions despite their hardwork.

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One of The Champions Leagues greatest ever goals by Zinedine Zidane sank Leverkusen in that 2002 final.Oh and thats Michael Ballack in the Background.

Celta Vigo 2017 almost mirrors Leverkusen’s unfortunate fate.Celta reached the Copa Del Rey Semi Final where they were knocked out by newly promoted Deportivo Alaves who scored a late goal and in the Europa League ,they were knocked out painfully in the Semi final by a single goal by eventual champions Manchester United (Guidetti’s miss probably still haunts him up to this day).If you feel like life is unfair just think of celta!

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No caption needed.

5 TALKING POINTS FROM LA LIGA 2016/2017 SEASON

  1. HOW THE LEAGUE WAS WON AND LOST AT DEPORTIVO

Despite having an illustrious history and a tendency to beat the top teams in Spanish football, Deportivo La Coruna managed a lowly 16th position in the Spanish top flight last season but few at the club knew what impact two games they played against Barcelona and Real Madrid would have on the league title.In early December last year they travelled to face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.On loan Stoke City forward Joselu scared his former club with a brace to put Depor 2-1 ahead after Morata had opened from Los Blancos.But then Colombian youngster Mariano Diaz grabbed an equalizer 6 minutes from time and Sergio Ramos completed the comeback with a trademark injury time header.

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Mariano Diaz’s equalizer that brings back memories of Jared Borghetti vs Italy in 2002

However a few months later, Barcelona travelled to Deportivo and they had no late surprises as Joselu and Alex Bergantinos steered Depor to a 2-1 win.Despite the fact that earlier in the season Barcelona had put four past Deportivo with no reply ,the fact that Real Madrid did not drop points against Depor gave them a three point advantage, a points difference by which the league was eventually won.

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At least you didnt lose your tax case………

  1. ZIZOU LEFT WITH THE UGLY TASK OF RESTRUCTURING

Luka Modric 32, Sergio Ramos 31, Cristiano Ronaldo 32,Pepe 34 .Those are the names and ages of four crucial members of a Real Madrid team which for the last 3 years has been arguably the best team in Europe.Those stars may be performing now but the effects of age are catching up as illustrated by frequent injury problems sustained by the likes of Pepe and Modric.pepe-dive-2-26-12.gif

Throwback to this awful foul commited on Pepe.I heard he had to get stitches for that.

It’s now up to Zinedine Zidane to find a way to replace some of his ageing stars as he seeks to continue Real’s dominance domestically and continentally.He does have some younger players though his ability to retain them will be tested as bids will no doubt come in for the likes of Isco Alarcon,Alvaro Morata and the highly impressive Colombian James Rodriguez who has had to be content with a place on the bench for many matches this season.

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Just in case you needed evidence of what Isco can do

  1. DEPORTIVO ALAVES DOING THE IMPOSSIBLE

Deportivo Alaves are definitely not the same team that faced Liverpool in the final of the UEFA cup in 2001 .They have had a see saw of relegations and promotions and 2016/17 was their first season in La Liga since 2007.However, a combination of very strong cup performances (They’re in the copa del rey final against Barcelona by the way) and a tactically brave coach in the shape of former Liverpool defender Mauricio Pellegrino who managed to boost the same squad that won promotion with a variety of decent loan signings including Brazilian forward Deyverson from Levante and highly rated young French defender Theo Hernandez from Atletico Madrid.The highlight of their season was their 2-1 home win over Barcelona in la liga where Deyverson and Ibai Gomez put the Barcelona defence to the sword.Its no surprise that Mauricio Pellegrino is now wanted by many teams all over Europe ,finishing 9th on your promotion season and getting to the Copa Del Rey final is not an easy feat.

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Yeah ,we’re still not going to forgive deyverson for that one….

  1. SOMEONE HAS TO TAKE A GAMBLE ON BAKA-GOAL

Despite the fact that Cedric Bakambu left Villareal mid season to play for the Democratic Republic of Congo at the 2017 Africa cup of Nations and also being sidelined for 47 days at the beginning of the season with a hamstring issue, he still ended up being Villareal’s top scorer in all competitions with 12 goals in only 31 appearances.The former French youth international commonly known as ‘Baka-goal’ is approaching his peak.He recently turned 26 and any sensible team in Europe in need of a prolific marksman can get him on the cheap,popular statistical database Transfermarkt estimate him to be worth around 16 million pounds.Not bad for a man who only a season ago was the Europa league’s second top scorer.

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Concept:Kuficha

Teacher: Cedric ‘Bakagoal’ Bakambu

  1. BARCELONA NEED A NEW IDENTITY

Its never easy to beat Barcelona.But its always easy to score against them.Champions league horror shows against PSG and Juventus painfully proved this and in La liga they fell foul to this as crucial losses to Deportivo La Coruna , Deportivo Alaves and Malaga showed this.As Luis Enrique leaves the club , the new coach has to be brave in terms of tactics and try to give Barcelona a more diverse style of football otherwise their possession based football might end up being the recipe for their ultimate downfall.

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I can imagine how painful this is for Jeremy Mathieu and Javier Mascherano to watch

5 TALKING POINTS FROM THE ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE 2016/2017 SEASON

1. END OF AN ERA IN NORTH LONDON?

A few weeks back Tottenham thrashed Arsenal 2-0 in the North London derby, a result that contributed to Arsenal directly missing out on next season’s Champions League .It also confirmed that Spurs would finish above Arsenal for the first time in 22 years.After the game Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger dismissed a power shift but the results seem to speak otherwise.Tottenham’s stability under Mauricio Pochettino saw them finish second this season after last year’s third placed finish .Their graph is definitely pointing upwards in stark contrast with Arsenal who are now facing the daunting prospect of playing Europa league football.The ‘Wenger out’ brigade is growing in number of confidence and the typical false sense of belief normally held by Arsenal fans is becoming increasingly stretched.His contract is due for renewal in the summer and its difficult to predict what will happen.
A welcome Europa league stat though for Gunners fans,the last time Arsenal played in the Europa league league was in the 1999-2000 season (then it was called the UEFA Cup) after finishing third in their champions league group.The Ray Parlour inspired side made it all the way to the final with the likes of 1998 world cup top scorer Davor Suker, Nwankwo Kanu,Marc Overmars and a young Thierry henry before losing on penalties in the final to a Gheorge Hagi inspired Galatasaray who had legendary Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel in between the sticks.(If it makes you feel any better they beat Real Madrid later that year to win the UEFA super cup)

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When you realise that next season you may have to face Spartak Tsimonjelo from the Ukrainian province of Lurambi (Photo:The independent)
2. TO DRAW OR NOT TO DRAW?:JOES MOURINHO’S LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH A SINGLE POINT
Despite the fact that Manchester United have played more games than most teams in England,they have been remarkably solid at the back conceding only 29 goals the Premier League, a feat only bettered by Tottenham with 26 goals conceded.However they only scored 54 goals the whole season, a feat bettered even by 9th placed Bournemouth who scored 55.A dependency on Zlatan ibrahimovic for goals seems to have been their main undoing but also the goals from midfield have been lacking as star signing Paul Pogba scoring only 5 times.610084506.jpg

So thats what they said when they said he’ll have the team on his back.(Photo:Daily Mail)

Criticism has been levelled at Jose Mourinho for setting up his side to play football that isn’t entertaining though the experienced Portuguese tactician managed to appease the fans with a solid showing in the Europa League.However,attacking solutions are likely to be on Mourinho’s mind as the Summer transfer window is set to commence soon.

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Rui Faria right next to Mourinho is day dreaming reminiscing his youthful days when Manchester United’s football was not similar to counting sheep. (Photo:Daily Mail)
3.Sunderland lose their 9 lives in the Premier league.
After 10 years of constantly avoiding relegation from the English Premier League,Sunderland have finally been relegated after a horror season under David Moyes which saw them collect only 24 points.

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Moyes to Sunderland:You cant get relegated if you never fought

The only bright light was Jermain Defoe who despite his age has been scoring freely.They will need to have a positive attitude like their crosstown rivals newcastle who achieved instant promotion or else they will wander amongst the lower leagues like Portsmouth.

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Old is gold(Photo:Daily mail)
4.    CONTE DOES THE ITALIAN JOB AT CHELSEA
A trademark of Italian gaffers has always been their distinct formations.Carlo Ancelotti’s famous Milan side conquered Europe with the famous 4-3-3 Christmas tree formation while Antonio conte’s Juventus was known for using a 3-5-2 with Andrea pirlo as a ‘Regista’ (deep lying playmaker ).Conte exported his tactical revolution to Chelsea where he deployed a 3-4-3 formation where he deployed Victor Moses , the perennial loan ranger of Chelsea (pun intended) as a right wingback, signing former Bolton Leftback Marcos Alonso to play on the left.

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Eka kafirfiri kadogo kwa hio mutura bro

His master signing was bringing in N’golo Kante from Leicester to partner Nemanja Matic in central midfield.The remaining chink in the puzzle was bringing in David Luiz to complete a three man defence containing Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpiliqueta.The squad galvanised into a title winning squad with Diego Costa leading the line.The Italian’s man management skills as well as his sense of urgency was reflected in the way his team played and if he continues to maintain his squad,Chelsea will be a force to reckon with in the Champions league next season.

 

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He literally ran all the way to Leicester to get the trophy (Photo:Dailymail/getty)

5. NO SAFE PLACE FOR MANAGERS!
A total of 7 managers lost their jobs in the 2016/2017 season,(big shout out to Bob Bradley who only lasted 85 days).

 

 

 

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Premier league owners are fast losing patience with underperforming managers (Except Arsenal’s owners).The fans also tend to contribute a lot to this trend.A relevant example was on the last day of the season where Southampton manager Claude Puel was booed by the crowd despite delivering the Saints to a reasonable 8th place final position.Even so called ‘super manager’ Pep Guardiola limped to a third place position with his highly fancied Manchester City team .

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How you look after a season of  convincing Clichy Mureithi not to trip someone in the box Photo (Daily Mail)

 

 

THOMAS PARTEY: A MIDFIELDER AFTER DIEGO SIMEONE’S OWN HEART

During Atletico Madrid’s last training session before their Round of 16 tie with Bayer Leverkusen, Head coach Diego Simeone pulled aside Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Partey and was seen having intense discussions with the 23 year old for a few minutes. When the team sheets for the game was released and Simeone had lined up Partey in central midfield for his first ever champions league start and the youngster gave a man of the match performance with a near flawless performance.

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Some could argue that Thomas would have started out of necessity as team captain Gabi is still nursing a hand injury but Diego Simeone’s willingness to use Thomas Partey in his midfield structure has increased despite the fact that the Ghanaian international only returned from the Africa   of Nations recently. But Simeone’s trust in the Ghanaian international’s potential has been evident in recent years.

Thomas’ ability from the centre of midfield was seen in 2014 when Atletico Madrid sent him on loan to Almeria where he scored thrice in 28 appearances prompting interest from Watford and Southampton. However Diego “ El Cholo “ Simeone held on to him giving him 15 appearances in the 2015-2016 season including one from the bench in the Champions league final against Real Madrid.

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Thomas challenges Lionel Messi for the Ball during his loan spell at Almeria. Photo:Courtesy of fourfourtwo.com

It is clear why Thomas Partey is used sparingly, Gabi, Koke and Saul Niguez are one of Europe’s best midfield trios and they suit Simeone’s athletic style of play. But one of the main reasons Thomas is slowly growing in influence at Atletico is his style of play. He bears a stunning resemblance to Simeone in terms of technique as he is very adept at set piece delivery and execution and he does not hesitate to drive forward from the centre of the park as he has decent dribbling ability. Despite only 8 appearances this season in La liga he already has two assists. He has already drawn comparisons to former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Cameroon player Geremi Njitap.

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Photo by Telemundo Deportes

It is quite possible to assume that Diego Simeone sees a lot of himself in Thomas Partey, but the Ghanaian always seemed to be suited for a substitute role. Could we have seen his big break against Bayer Leverkusen? Only time shall tell…

 

 

FRANK KESSIE: NEXT YAYA TOURE OR NEXT DJEMBA DJEMBA?

Every time someone hears of an African youth player doing good in foreign league the inevitable comparisons to great African footballers like Jay Jay Okocha and Abedi Pele begin. In fact if memory serves me right, former Arsenal striker Christopher Wreh was likened to his cousin George Weah by many a scout before signing for the Gunners where he helped the bench retain its thermal temperature with only 28 appearances in 3 years!

The hype does affect many a player. A relevant example was Manchester United’s signing of Cameroonian midfielder Eric Djemba Djemba who was supposed to be the natural heir to Roy Keane’s midfield position. But the lad ended up being way below expectations. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of young African talents end up having a decent career.However, extended pressure to perform and high levels of publicity may affect the mental level of the players.

In our current context we look at the intriguing case of Atalanta’s Ivorian sensation Frank Kessie who is already a full international at the age of 19 and an integral part of an Atalanta squad that are occupying 5th in Serie A currently. His 5 goals and 1 assist so far already trumps most midfielders in the division and his ability to drive from the midfield no doubt gives Atalanta an attacking edge. His performances have earned him the attention of huge European teams such as Manchester United and Arsenal.

But at the age of 19 ,it would be foolish to say he is a complete footballer, he has shown traces of poor discipline and his tackling is below average.Kessie is a great one for the future but without a conducive environment he may find himself constantly transferring from club to club without any stability. If he’s not careful, in a few years’ time I’ll be writing another column on African players who failed to live up to expectations, and he might find himself on that list.