Chelsea’s remarkable title victory last season is one that is well documented. Antonio Conte took a side that was on the verge of complete breakdown and turned them into champions. Things didn’t start out that well though. After a home defeat to Liverpool, Chelsea were battered 3-0 in a calamitous display against rivals, Arsenal. Conte finally gave into the pressure and switched the formation to the one that earned him fame in Italy – 3-4-3 (or 3-5-2). Much has been said about the influence of David Luiz, N’golo Kante, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa that allowed this formation to be a success. These players played a huge part, but in my opinion, the most important position in a 3 man defense formation, for it to work effectively, is the wingback role.
The new Premier League is upon us to take us away from life’s many miseries and give us something to cheer about. As always, the new season begins with high optimism as clubs bring in new faces while casting out some old ones in an attempt to do better than the previous year. Arsene Wenger, for the first time in my memory, decided to be take a stubborn stance in the transfer window, spent a club record amount for Lacazette and even managed to keep hold of Sanchez and Ozil. The same can’t be said for Conte though as many players were offloaded, and the squad is stretched thin with injuries to key players. All the top 6 sides (except Spurs) have spent a lot of money to bring in marquee players as the title race promises to much tighter than last year. Everton and West Ham have made some smart buys while relegation candidates, Swansea and Burnley have not made any significant additions yet. It’s a custom for every football fan to start the year with a bunch of predictions and to argue with friends about the same. I’m no different and here are my predictions for this season.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is the body that determines the rules and regulation of the game of football. It is a separate body from FIFA, consisting of all the football associations of the countries belonging to the English Isles (England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) and FIFA itself. Although FIFA is just one member, it has 50 percent of the voting rights. Two weeks back, the IFAB proposed a few changes to the way the game was played, as part of their ‘Play Fair’ initiative. While taking a conservative approach to change is the usual way for the IFAB, the new proposals are, what many would call, radical.
In the aftermath of the thrashing at the hands of arch rivals Pakistan in the finals of the Champions Trophy 2017, a lot questions were raised. Fingers were pointed at the captain’s tactics and many were left bewildered as to how a team, that was so strong till then, just collapsed. While the loss was more of a bad day at the office than anything else, it did highlight some of the problems within the team. With the World Cup set to happen there again in a couple of years time, a few tactical tweaks are very much required to ensure that India push all the way for the title. Below, I have listed 5 major areas where I believe change is required.
Chelsea’s victory over West Bromwich Albion secured their 5th Premier League title and their second one in the last three years. Spurs pushed their London rivals till the end, but ultimately felt just short. The Manchester Clubs are facing a rough period of transition, while Liverpool keep falling short because of injury problems. #WengerOut trended once again as Arsenal are fighting a losing battle to secure UCL football next season. Palace and Swansea turned up the style in the last few weeks to confirm safety while Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull City went down. In a season of many twists, certain individuals stood out from the rest due to their stunning performances and decisive contributions for their clubs. The team of the season is as follows:
The R-16 in the Champions League this year has to go down as the most exciting one yet in recent history. There were plenty of goals, comebacks, flashes of individual brilliance and some high octane drama for the viewers to feast their eyes on. Real Madrid overcame an early scare in both games to comfortably qualify for the next round. Arsenal produced another no show as Bayern steamrolled their way past them. Juventus and Atletico hardly broke a sweat after an impressive first leg win. The biggest highlights of the round were the incredible comebacks of Barcelona and Monaco. Winning with aggregate scores of 6-5 and 6-6(away goals) respectively, they proved that no lead in the first leg is insurmountable. But what really set this round apart from many in the past was the decisive role the next generation of football stars had in it.
The English Premier League is considered by many to be the best football league in the world. There are atleast 3-4 favourites to win the title at the halfway point every year and you can never consider any fixture to be an easy win. Not only the title race, but even the relegation battle becomes increasingly thrilling as the season progresses. It’s not just high on quality, but high on the excitement levels as well. But year after year, Premier League teams struggle in the Europe’s Premier competition and fail to compete at the same level as the Spanish, German and even the Italian giants. In each of the 2006/07, 2007/08 and the 2008/09 seasons, the EPL produced 3 of the 4 semi finalists with the 2008 final being an all English final between Manchester United and Chelsea. However, in the last 6 years, the EPL has produced only 4 semifinalists in total. Why has the level of domination deteriorated so quickly?
A couple of month back, I watched the movie ‘Goal!’ on television. When the protagonist is informed of his father’s sudden death, he immediately leaves to the airport to get back home. Waiting there at the lounge, he thinks long and hard and decides that the best way to honour his dad’s memory would be on the football field and returns back to the club. Although this is not exactly similar to the story of Frank Lampard, I think we can all agree that not many players can return after such a personal tragedy after just a week and guide their team to the Champion’s League final like he did.
As Federer triumphed over Nadal in a hard fought contest and won his 18th Grand Slam, social media was flooded with tributes and posts for the Swiss Maestro. The recovery after injury to perform at his prime even at the age of 35 is something amazing. What makes Federer so special is his graceful style. There are no aggressive shots, no punches into the air, no screams. Just a calm and controlled approach with a beautiful back hand stroke that no one else can match up to. I’m not the biggest Tennis fan to know all the intricate details of the sport, but watching the game and his elegance, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to legends from sports that I follow religiously, Rahul Dravid and Andrea Pirlo.