Top Ten Italia 90 Memories

Italia 90′ is the first World Cup I can remember. I was six year old at the time and it’s the tournament that allowed me to fall in love with football.

When I announced on Twitter that I was going to make more retro blogs as the current football calendar was being suspended due to Covid-19, my good friend Andrew Gibney requested a top ten of Italia 90.

Not one to disappoint, here’s my top ten memories from that wonderful tournament.

If you have your own memories then share them in the comments section.

10. Ciao The Mascot

Ciao was a weird football guy(?). I had it in toy form and anytime I see Ciao now, I automatically go back to that summer in 1990.

As I was only six years old at the time, the mascot was a big part of the experience as was the Panini sticker book. I actually now have a Panini Italia 90 sticker book t-shirt.

While most mascots are cuddly and usually some type of animal or cartoon person, Ciao was a tricoloured matchstick person who had a football as a head. It didn’t make much sense but that kind of summed up the 90s!

9. Rijkaard Versus Voller

Probably the biggest gob in World Cup history.

Germany and the Netherlands have had a very rocky history, what with the Germans invading the low countries during World War II. The West Germans then beat the Dutch in the 1974 World Cup final before the Netherlands knocked West Germany out of their own Euros in 1988.c

Both had fantastic teams in 1990. The Dutch boasted a team with Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard. The Germans had top stars like Jurgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthäus, Andreas Brehme and Rudi Völler.

During the feisty battle, Rijkaard and Völler became embroiled in an argument after the Dutchman had founded the German forward. Frank was booked for his late challenge but the two opponents continued to mouth of as the referee branded his yellow card. As the dreadlocked Rijkaard jogged back towards his goal, to defend the freekick he’d just given away, the midfielder decided to grog up a big spit and launch it at Rudi. He hit his target as the phlegmy mess dangled disgustingly on top of Völler’s perm.

Understandably this upset the German and he chased after his rival. This caught the attention of the official and he decided to book Rudi. In the resulting free-kick Völler would make a silly challenge on the Dutch keeper. Rijkaard then decided to interfere once again and he shoved Rudi Völler over. The referee felt he had no choice but to send the two fighting players off. With that Frank once again dug deep down to his lungs before retching up another load of spittle and again cover Völler’s curly hair.

Frank Rijkaard trudged off to the tunnel, while Rudi Völler ran past him (no doubt hunting down the nearest shower). Afterwards Rijkaard accepted all the blame for the incident, the two would also later appear together in a tv advert.

8. Gazza’s Tears

A young Paul Gascoigne took the World and the World Cup by storm in 1990.

His energetic runs from midfield, his exciting dribbling skills and his unique personality had media and fans all over the planet instantly interested.

Unfortunately for Gazza his over exuberance got the better of the young midfielder during England’s semi-final tie against West Germany. Paul, as always, was running full pelt with the ball but then ran into trouble as he over played it. He would then lunge into a tackle. Gascoigne immediately got up and had his hands in the air apologising for the mistimed challenge.

As the German player rolled around the turf grimacing, the ref ran over to Gazza and produced a yellow card. The youngster instantly knew that that card would rule him out of the final, if The Three Lions were to reach that stage of the competition.

As it all dawned on Gascoigne tears started gathering in his eyes and his bottom lip started to tremble. Marksman Gary Lineker quickly noticed and turned to warn England manager Bobby Robson to keep an eye on the influential young middle-man. That image has since become an iconic image!

7. Rene Higuita’s Antics

Before sweeper keepers were a thing, we had Rene Higuita.

The Colombian nothing more than receiving the ball at his feet. He was always eccentric and that’s what caught the world’s imagination in 1990.

You couldn’t miss him with his distinctive goalkeeping jersey and lion like perm. If the ball was played forward, he would be out of his box to try and get their before an oncoming attacker. He even had the temerity to start doing keepie-ups during his side’s encounter against Yugoslavia.

Unfortunately for the keeper it all went horribly for him against Cameroon in the second round.

The game finished 0-0 after ninety minutes and thus we had extra time to contend with. Cameroon striker Roger Milla then gave his country the lead and then a few minutes later Higuita was halfway inside his own half, nowhere near his own penalty area. The ball was played back to him. His first touch wasn’t great and then the goalie tried to do a drag back as the forward approached him. Milla stole the ball from the hapless Rene and charged towards the Colombian’s goal. Higuita tried to smash Roger with a sliding tackle from behind but he couldn’t prevent the goal. Cameroon would win and Colombia were sent packing.

That embarrassing episode didn’t stop Rene Higuita from being outlandishly flamboyant. He would then wow the world with his inventive goal saving scorpion kick against England, years later.

6. David Platt’s Goal Against Belgium

Not many goals make this list but I’ve never forgotten this strike from England’s David Platt against Belgium.

It was yet another second round tie that had ended in stalemate in the first ninety minutes. It looked like neither team would break the deadlock in extra time, when Paul Gascoigne broke into the Belgian’s half and won his team a free-kick with one minute left on the clock.

Gazza then chipped the ball into the penalty box. It floated over over Platt’s right shoulder. The English midfielder followed the ball’s flight and as it fell from the sky, David turned and volleyed the ball home.

It needed something special to separate the two sides and David Platt’s goal was sensationally special!

5. Klinsmann’s dive

We are all used to see footballer’s fling their bodies into the air as they’re fouled or nearly fouled in some cases.

But in 1990, Jurgen Klinsmann seemed to start the craze. A dfedneer would get close to him and then the West German striker would be flying and diving through the air.

The best example of this came in the final against holders Argentina.

Jurgen is on the right wing and bombing forward. He then knocks it beyond and incoming Pedro Monzón. The Argentine then follows through with his tackle.

Klinsmann launches himself right into the air, almost like an olympic diver. As he connects with the turf, Jurgen then inexplicably throws himself up again in what can only be described as a dramatic, over the top forward roll!

That was enough for the referee to send Monzón off and give West Germany a player advantage. That was the first ever red card in a World Cup final.

I think it was a foul and the defender’s foot was high. But did it really merit Jurgen Klinsmann’s reaction? I don’t think so. I wonder what VAR would’ve made of it.

4. Nessun Dorma

It’s not often that we can combine football with the culture art form of the opera but the BBC managed to do it wonderfully when they used Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma as their title music.

The song quickly became synonymous with football and Italia 90 in particular.

Italy has given us some truly wondrous things over the centuries. Thankfully they can add hosting a superb World Cup to that list.

Anytime I hear Nessun Dorma now I go right back to Italia 90.

3. Roger Milla’s Goal Celebrations

Roger Milla was definitely a veteran by the time the World Cup came around in 1990.

Being thirty-eight years of age, didn’t stop Milla or dampen his goalscoring instincts. He scored four in Italy that summer. Two against Romania and that brace against Colombia that saw Cameroon reach the quarter final stage, the first time an African side had every done so.

While his goalscoring technique and his age were talking points not matched his goal celebrations. After each strike the hitman would run towards the corner flag, lift one arm while his other would be on his hip as he then gave a wee jig. He would then reach out both ams out to the crowd. It has since become one of the most iconic goal celebrations ever!

2. Claudio Caniggia Getting Hacked By Cameroon

Argentina had a real electrifying goal threat in Claudio Caniggia. The long haired forward would go on and score very nice goals against Brazil and Italy. But alas it’s his dribble against Cameroon that lives on in the memory.

The forward picked up the ball inside his own half. He then used his pace to charge forward. One Cameroonian tries to step across him, but Claudio dodges his attempt. The Argentine is now in the opponent’s half as defender makes a more serious attempt to get the ball with a reckless tackle but again Caniggia keeps his feet. Cameroon’s Benjamin Massing then arrives on the scene but before he can get there Caniggia taps the ball passed him.

Massing isn’t messing around and even though the ball is now nowhere near him, he flies in with a karate-like kick that brutally forces the Argentinian to the floor. It was so hard that Massing actually lost his boot during the attack. The official had no option but send the African off.

  1. Roberto Baggio’s Goal Against Czechoslovakia

Let’s just remember I was only six when I saw this goal and it has never left me!

Roberto Baggio really shone at this World Cup and would go on to be the world’s best player. His country were obviously hosts and as you can imagine that meant a lot of added pressure for the Azzurri. But you couldn’t have guessed it by watching the magician that is Il Divin Codino.

It was against the old Czechoslovakia.

Baggio would pick up a pass and he’d step back into his own half, he would lay the ball on before receiving it back again. He would surge into the Czechs half, cutting inside from the left and dodging a desperate lunging challenge. Baggio would then dribble the ball further and reach the penalty area, where he managed a neat step-over, which sent another defender the wrong way. Then the Italian superstar would then side foot his shot beyond the goalkeeper.

Roberto Baggio would fall to the ground, realising what a great goal he had just scored in his homeland, during a World Cup.

A terrific individual goal from an excellent talent, who would go on and feature in two more World Cups and have a story to tell from both of them!

Ronaldo, Barcelona And That Phenomenal Year!

I was a Ronaldo fanboy since I first heard about his talents pre the 1994 World Cup, when he was known as Ronaldinho!

He just burst onto the footballing scene. Possessed electric pace, raw unique power, a carnival amount of skills and a prolific eye for goals.

Even later in his career, when he basically had no knees, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima never lost his keen eye for goals.

Even when he was half the player he once was, carrying a wee bit of extra weight, the Brazilian was still better than most.

I always find myself reminiscing about Ronaldo, probably more than any other player.

With that in mind I thought I’d look at possibly his most defining year, the 1996-97 season he spent at FC Barcelona.

He had moved to the Camp Nou after acclimatising himself to the ways of European football after two years at PSV Eindhoven. He would leave PSV after scoring fifty-four goals in fifty-seven games for the Dutch club. Quite a remarkable feat for a teenager adapting to a new continent.

His performances in the Eredivisie as well as that with his national team in the 96 Olympics had caught everyone’s attention and imagination.

Barcelona were the winners for his signature and he moved to Spain, signing on for a record deal at the time.

If you hadn’t seen him play before that moment, you’d be forgiven had you asked what all the fuss was about?

Here was this gangly, awkward, buck tooth smiling, bald, soon to be twenty year old holding up a nice looking Kappa/Barca jersey looking extremely nervous in the full glare of the footballing media.

If he was nervous and awkward during his presentation, he had banished those negative feelings by the time he stepped onto the football pitch. In that arena, Ronaldo was a young gladiator who would slay any dragon who was stupid enough to step into his path!

In that one hugely bright season, La Liga couldn’t cope with or stop El Fenomeno!

He would make rampaging runs, skipping beyond desperate defenders and would love to then dump goalkeepers on their backsides as he took the ball around them before slotting the ball into the empty net.

Barcelona’s Brazilian number nine just couldn’t be contained. He had the pace, the power and the dribbling skill-set to evade any defence.

The raw youngster played with a smile on his face as those he was playing against just looked on in awe while scratching their heads. Kicks and shirt tugs were applied but neither could stop the energetic whirlwind from getting into the box and sticking yet another ball into yet another net.

The young Ronaldo had perfected the step-over and would often drag the ball back before flicking it around opponents. It was skills like this that would have kids in schools playgrounds all around the world playing with the ball at their feet as they tried to copy his unique and devastating style.

Ronaldo would score inside the first five minutes of his debut against Atletico Madrid, he grabbed a hat-trick during October against Valencia and grabbed two strikes in three games against Barca’s biggest rivals Real Madrid that year.

Probably his greatest goal that season came against Compostela. He received the ball just inside his own half, two defenders instantly fell over themselves by the mere sight of the young striking sensation. Another opponent was then on top of him but Ronaldo resisted his blatant kicks and shirt pulls to evade that challenger. The number nine would then use his pace (he actually seemed faster with the ball at his feet than he did without it) to glide passed a defended who seemed to be running in quick sand. As Ronaldo raced towards the penalty area the forward would focus his eyes on goal and then power away from two more challenges and then he dragged his shot into the hear post. It was a goal that showed off all his great traits!

Ronaldo was surrounded by very talented teammates in Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola, Luis Figo and Hristov Stoichkov but none of them could carry the team like the young prodigy.

In Bobby Robson, Ronaldo had a veteran coach who would guide him expertly that season and who trusted the striker’s ability.

In 2014, Ronaldo would state that Sir Bobby had a paternal influence on his career:

“I’m proud to have worked with him. He was an awesome coach and an awesome person. He was like a father to me.”

Via The Chronicle

Robson would always speak of Ronaldo’s footballing ability in glowing terms. Once he had retired the former England and Barcelona manager confirmed Ronaldo was the best player he had ever worked with:

‘The best player I ever worked with?

Tough competition, but it has to be Brazil’s Ronaldo. I signed him for Barcelona in 1996 after I failed to get Alan Shearer from Blackburn.

Ronaldo was lean, mean, as quick as an Olympic sprinter and some of the goals he scored had me shaking my head in disbelief.’

Via The Daily Mail

The greatest achievement Ronaldo had during his season with the Catalan giants was helping them win that year’s European Cup Winners Cup.

On route to the final, Los Cules had knocked out AEK Larnaca, Red Star Belgrade, AIK and Fiorentina.

Ronaldo would score four times in that competition before the final in Rotterdam.

Once again the big stage didn’t scare the raw youth as he and his teammates took on PSG.

In the thirty-eighth minute, Ronaldo would win his side a penalty after he was hauled down inside the box. The young hitman would then dust himself down before cooly sending the keeper the wrong way. That penalty strike was enough to give Barca the cup win!

Unfortunately it was to be a sad and bitter end to the campaign and to Ronaldo’s life in Catalunya.

The prolific marksman would miss the final few La Liga games of the season due to international commitments. Barca would lose one of those games to Hercules and that inevitably saw them finish in second place, just two points behind Real.

(It’s funny but Ronaldo would only ever secure one league title in Europe. Ironically that was with Real Madrid in 2003.)

Barcelona fans were understandably upset and angry that their star man had deserted them just when he was needed the most.

The player had also shown traits of arrogance that comes with being young and in the limelight. He would make slight digs at Robson’s tactics. But then again name me a young twenty something person who didn’t fall out with their parents at that period of their life?

We also had the tedious contract negotiations. Barca were probably a bit slow to tie the player to a better deal in a quicker fashion. His agents would then take advantage of the situation. Just when Barcelona’s supremo’s thought they’d reached a deal, his advisors would request a move (Source Goal.com).

The whole ending left a bitter taste in the mouths of the support and they would select Luis Enrique as their player of the year rather than the striker who would win the world player of the year award in both 1996 and 1997!

Inter Milan would jump at the chance to complete a world record £19.5m transfer and the rest is history. He would suffer from severe knee injuries that would restrict his natural talent, lose a World Cup final in 98 before finding redemption in 2002 by securing that same title and winning the golden boot.

He would retire in 2011 after returning to his homeland to play for Corinthians.

Yet even though it ended bitterly in Barcelona, in that season we saw a wonderful superstar flourish and probably enjoy his best season as a footballer. He would smash countless opponents both in Spain and in Europe. In the end he would grab forty-seven goals in forty-nine games for Barca.

He took the world by storm and was without doubt the most phenomenal predator of his generation!

Liverpool Can’t Sell Virgil Van Dijk At Any Price

Sunday newspapers had reports linking Serie A giants Juventus with a world record bid for Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.

Eurosport cited a rumour that the Italian champions were ready to offer a whopping £150m for the Dutch centre-back.

That would see the Premier League leaders double their return after paying £75m for the player in January 2018.

That’s a huge sum for a defender, well any player for that matter.

But in all honesty, I don’t believe The Reds can afford to sell Van Dijk at any price.

The Dutchman is a cornerstone of this current Liverpool side. One that won the Champions League last term and that are currently running away with this season’s Premier League title, they currently enjoy a twenty-one point lead over nearest rivals Manchester City.

Now there’s several men that can be seen as top class at Anfield. You’ve got three great forwards in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. In goals. Alisson is a fantastic goalkeeper. In Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold Liverpool possess players that can provide as well as defend.

But if you take any of those out of the team, I think Liverpool could survive without too much fuss (especially in the short term).

I don’t think that would be the same with Van Dijk out the team.

The Reds defence always look a bit vulnerable and lacked concentration before the arrival of Virgil. Yet they looked almost invincible since he stepped through the doors at Anfield.

Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez have all looked far superiors defenders when they’ve been placed alongside Van Dijk in the heart of Liverpool’s defence.

When you look at their unbeaten run in the league this season, you’ll notice The Reds of Merseyside have built their success on the back of having the top flight’s best backline. Virgil van Dijk is the key to all that happening!

After Jurgen Klopp, Virgil van Dijk is the most important person at Anfield at this minute.

The German coach knows exactly Virgil’s worth. He usually plays down Van Dijk’s accomplishments and makes it more about the team. But Jurgen stated in November that the Dutch internationalist deserved the Ballon d’Or:

“But if you give it to the best player of last season, then it was Virgil van Dijk. I don’t know exactly how it will work but that is how I see it.”

Liverpoolfc.com

Van Dijk is header and shoulders the best centre-half in the Premier League. He’s probably the best defender in the world currently.

He’s smart, fast and great in the air. Van Dijk is a wonderful all-round defender.

It has taken Liverpool so long to get to this stage and it would be extremely foolish for them to even consider selling Virgil van Dijk.

Jurgen Klopp wouldn’t sanction the sale and that’s because he knows that he has a gem in the Dutch centre-back.

Man United Should Be Going All Out For Moussa Dembele

If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer truly believes his side can go throughout this season with just three strikers then he’s very deluded.

Anthony Martial missed a decent chunk of the first half of the season due to an injury.

In their last game, an FA Cup win over Wolves, United boss Solskjaer decided to bring on his top-scorer Marcus Rashford. The forward would last just sixteen minutes before being forced off with a knock.

Solskjaer now believes Rashford will miss Man United’s big Premier League game against rivals and league leaders Liverpool:

“I’m not going to hold my breath,”

“I probably think he wouldn’t be ready.”

Via Sky Sports

While The Red Devils also have a top prospect in Mason Greenwood. The youngster has struck nine times in twenty-seven outings thus far this season. But Greenwood is still a raw eighteen year old and you can’t put all your chips on him just yet, that’s too much pressure!

If United are going to claw their way back into a Champions League place, then they will probably need another striker to give them more options up-top.

Man Utd are fifth in the league and are five points behind fourth placed Chelsea. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that United are sitting behind the only four teams in the Premier League that have scored more than them.

The other thing I should say is that while Rashford is Manchester United’s top scorer this term, he has scored most of his goals while he’s started on the left and not through the centre. So again it makes sense for United to bring in a hitman that can lead the line and get goals from the number nine position.

PSG marksman Edinson Cavani would be a serious option if he’s available this week. He has bagged a serious amount of goals in both France and Italy. He would add experience and more power in the final third. The Daily Mail suggest that Atletico Madrid are currently leading the race for the Uruguayan’s signature.

Another potential target could fit Solskjaer’s philosophy more and that’s Lyon’s Moussa Dembele.

Moussa is another prolific striker. He has bags of pace, can finish with either foot and is a forward that thrives in big game situations.

The Frenchman is also younger than Cavani and the twenty-three year old also has experience playing in Britain. He impressed at Fulham before stepping up and becoming even better at Celtic.

If Man United were able to bring in Moussa, then I have no doubts that they’d add more goals to their squad.

There could be a few difficulties in concluding the transfer this month.

Ligue 1 side Lyon are notoriously a tough team to deal with when it comes to buying their top talents. Club President Jean-Michel Aulas always holds out for top dollar. The French side have also said they aren’t looking into selling their striker this month.

That being said French football expert Jonathan Johnson believes the player himself wants to move back to England:

“I think Dembele would be open to a move to the Premier League, if not now then at the end of the season.”

“I do think he would welcome a move but I think he’d appreciate at this moment in time that Lyon cannot afford to let him go.”

Via Sky Sports Podcast

Now Jonathan mentions that timing could be a big problem this month. That may change as Lyon are now on the verge of signing Karl Toko Ekambi from Villarreal:

Then there’s Chelsea’s interest in the player. The club that are fighting with Man United for fourth place are also wanting more depth in their striking department and have a big chequebook to play with.

So Man United will first need to identify which striker they want to add to their squad. If that’s Moussa Dembele (my preference) then they’ll need to offer Lyon a lot of money and hope that they can get a deal done this window, if not then they should try and get one done now for when the summer transfer window opens.

Milan Duo Could Help Save Aston Villa’s Premier League Status

Aston Villa have been very unfortunate in the last month.

The Birmingham based Premier League club have lost four in their last six games and are sitting just outside the relegation zone, only a point away from the bottom three!

The Villains have also lost three key players to longterm injuries.

Midfield dynamo John McGinn has been up there as one of Villa’s top performers this term but will now miss around three months of action due to fracturing his ankle just before Christmas (Source BBC Sport).

Then days into the New Year, Aston Villa announced that both goalkeeper Tom Heaton and main striker Wesley would miss the rest of the season due to serious knee injuries (Via Sky Sports).

These injuries have provided Villains boss Dean Smith with a problematic headache as he needs to fill these gaps within his side if he and his players can keep Villa in England’s top flight.

Thankfully the manager has the month of January to bring in new recruits to bolster squad numbers for the rest of the current campaign.

I’m guessing Villa will want to stick to the loan market as their future in the league remains in doubt!

Smith has already gone into that particular market to bring in central midfielder Danny Drinkwater. The former Premier Legaue winner has arrived from Chelsea on loan and it’s hoped his vision for a pass can make up for the loss of industrious McGinn.

Villa have also been linked with a vast amount of goalkeepers and forwards.

Former England international shot-stopper Joe Hart (Source Daily Mail) has been linked as has AFC Bournemouth keeper Asmir Begovic.

Joe Hart hasn’t had the best of times since leaving Manchester City. He had two disappointing loan spells at Torino and West Ham United before moving to Burnley, where he failed to keep hold of the number one jersey. His confidence is shot and he probably needs a new longterm home rather than another short loan spell, if he’s going to rediscover his best days.

Birmingham Live have suggested that Cherries boss Eddie Howe will be reluctant to let Begovic leave for relegation rivals. To be fair to Howe, it really wouldn’t make sense for him to strengthen a fellow struggling team.

In the striking department, Christian Benteke has been linked with a return to Villa Park (Source The Sun). I’d urge Villa not to bring the Belgian back. The international marksman can’t get into the Crystal Palace starting line-up, he’s only started four times in the league so far this season. In his fifteen appearances the central striker hasn’t scored. It wasn’t much better last year, when Benteke scored just once for the Eagles!

Olivier Giroud has also been linked with a move to The Midlands but I can’t see the French World Cup winner leaving Chelsea for a relegation battle. It would make much more sense for Giroud to end up at Inter Milan before February hits.

A move for two AC Milan players could be the best solution for Villa, in my opinion.

The Daily Mail have reported that Villa have been offered the chance to sign veteran goalie Pepe Reina and that Dean Smith also wants to discuss bringing Milan striker Krzysztof Piatek.

Reina would be an experienced shot-stopper that would give stability to the backline. The Spaniard has plenty of Premier League experience from his Liverpool days and he has always been a reliable top class performer. At this juncture Villa need a veteran to come in and command his penalty area as they try and stay clear of the drop zone.

Piatek would offer an interesting solution in the number nine role. The Pole was sensational last season, scoring twenty-two goals in thirty-seven Serie A games.

Like so many for the Rossoneri, Krzysztof has found consistency hard to come-by during this campaign. Changing his location and finding himself the focal point in Villa’s frontline could help turn things around for the international hitman.

The Polish forward is a big frontman that won’t be scared to bully opposing defences. Last year he was taking his chances early and was able to finish with either foot or with his head. You’d imagine that he could thrive with the possible ammunition he’d get from Jack Grealish, Danny Drinkwater and Anwar El Ghazi.

A short term loan move with the possibility of making it permanent could suit all parties. Milan have just brought Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to the San Siro, they may want to lose Piatek’s wage. While the player himself could want a move to get more guaranteed first team football between now and the end of this season.

A move for the Polish international may have to happen fast as Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur might also be interested in Krzysztof due to Harry Kane’s recent injury!

Moves for players based abroad could be the best Aston Villa get this month. Krzysztof Piatek and Pepe Reina could be the ideal individuals to come in and help try and save the Villains for relegation!

Liverpool Are Already Winning This Transfer Window

Liverpool are flying high in the Premier League, leading the table by thirteen points and also possessing a game in hand over their rivals.

But The Reds boss Jurgen Klopp hasn’t rested on his laurels. The German manager first signed a new deal in December (Liverpoolfc.com). That news swelled the club’s already brimming confidence levels.

The league leaders also assessed their fantastic squad and worked out that they needed to strengthen their attacking options. Before the January transfer window opened the Anfield side agreed a deal with Red Bull Salzburg to bring in Japanese forward Takumi Minamino (Source The Guardian).

Klopp knew he needed a player that could come in and impress if one of his forwards got injured or suspended. Yes they have Divock Origi there and the Belgian can do well in the centre, as he showed in the latter stages of last term, but they needed someone who could be creative in the final third.

Minamino showed against Liverpool in the Champions League earlier in the campaign that he has the traits needed to succeed in a Jurgen Klopp squad. The Japanese international didn’t just impress with his goal and assist but also with his speedy passes, his guile and poise on the ball.

Now he won’t walk into the Reds first team. In Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah Liverpool have almost the perfect fluid front three.

Takumi will have to wait for his chances to shine. He played and looked decent in The Reds FA Cup win over Merseyside rivals Everton last weekend.

Jurgen Klopp was very happy with the twenty-four year old’s debut:

“Your first game in a team you don’t know, if it’s a settled team it’s already difficult – this team we threw more or less on the pitch with two sessions together. And then showing this kind of game understanding, football skills are exceptional, attitude is outstanding, led the chasing pack so often in different situations, which I loved.”

Via Liverpool Echo

But we can’t forget that Minamino has been brought in to bolster numbers not to walk into the starting line-up. Plus Klopp likes to bring in players and allow them time to adapt to their new surroundings before giving them regular game time. Klopp knows that strength in depth is important when battling for major trophies and that’s why Takumi has been brought in.

The Reds manager is also very much a forward thinker, it’s not all about the here and now. He knows that Rhian Brewster has a huge future at Anfield. But at the moment the nineteen year old needs more game time than Klopp can give him at Liverpool.

So today The Reds confirmed that Brewster was being loaned out for the remainder of this campaign to Championship side Swansea City (Via Sky Sports). If Rhian can prove himself at The Swans and score regular in England’s second tier then he’ll be all the better for it and come back next preseason to challenge for a top team spot at Liverpool.

Liverpool have acted quickly this January and they’ve bolstered their first team squad and they have also protected their future by loaning out Rhian Brewster.

The best sides strengthen from a strong position and they also prepare for the future. This month Liverpool have done both and look all the better for it!

Jesse Lingard Needs Manchester United More Than They Need Him

Making Mino Raiola your new agent could be seen as handing in a transfer request at Manchester United.

The super-agent recently said this about the Premier League giants:

“I wouldn’t bring anyone there now,”

“They’d also ruin Maradona, Pele and Maldini. Paul needs a team and club like the Juventus team he played in.”

Via The Mirror

That was a big statement given Mino is Paul Pogba’s agent, the French World Cup winner has been linked constantly with a move away from Old Trafford in the last few transfer windows. Both the player and his deal broker have done little to quell those rumours.

Raiola’s negative statement about United took another twist today as it was revealed by sources such as Sky Sports that he had agreed to take on Man United star Jesse Lingard as his latest client.

I’m pretty sure the Man United hierarchy won’t be jumping for joy at the news, they’ll know that Mino comes to the negotiating table with strict demands and is obviously not scared to run down the club to the press.

It’s a pretty bold move for Lingard.

The England international had an ordinary 2019, where he didn’t score in the league. As well as not scoring in the English top flight this term, Jesse has also failed to notch up an assist!

There’s plenty a Red Devil supporter out there that have questioned the forward’s worth to the team this season.

In fairness, Lingard did impress in United’s two impressive Premier League wins over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur. In such games, the twenty-seven year old leads the press, runs all day for his team and doesn’t go hiding.

Manchester Utd boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stated in a recent press conference that he believes Jesse has turned a corner after a poor 2019:

“Jesse has had his ups and downs as I’ve spoken about before,”

“Of course we want him back scoring goals and making assists, there is no one who runs as much as Jesse, he is a great trigger in the pressing, a bubbly character.”

“But say the games against City and Tottenham, they are examples of how important he can be for us.”

Via TalkSport

The problem is that the United faithful didn’t see enough of that determination in the last twelve months and they still expect their attacking players to either score or set-up goals for other attackers.

Jesse Lingard’s contract is up in 2021 and he was being linked with a move away from Old Trafford even before his change in agents. The Metro have reported that United are weighing up offering Lingard plus £45m for Leicester City playmaker James Maddison.

Now I’m not a firm believer that Manchester United want rid of Jesse Lingard this month. I do think Solskjaer really appreciates the traits the England star brings to United’s team when he’s on-form.

But the longer Lingard fails to produce the goods on a consistent basis, the easier it will be for Man United to say farewell to their youth product.

The player needs Man Utd more than they need him because I don’t think a bigger club will sign the player and give him as much game time. Mino Raiola might get him great payday elsewhere but it won’t be the same for Lingard if his performances aren’t being enjoyed at the Theatre of Dreams!

Ancelotti Could Turn Everton Forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin Into An England Star

Copyright – TheFA.com

Everton have enjoyed an upturn in fortune during this festive period.

Since dismissing former boss Marco Silva, The Toffees have gone on a five game unbeaten run in the Premier League. That run has seen them climb up to tenth in the table.

Caretaker gaffer Duncan Ferguson revitalised the Everton squad and that brought with it positive results. The club then went out and brought in world class manager Carlo Ancelotti to take up the helm at Goodison.

The Italian has seen his side win both games in his first two outings as the Everton boss. The team look more settled and play with more discipline.

Players have stepped up and are now showing the Everton faithful what they’re capable of. None more so than young forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

During the club’s recent five game unbeaten run, Calvert-Lewin has scored five goals.

He was fantastic in his team’s win over Chelsea, the game in which started the recent impressive run. In it, the twenty-two year old didn’t let up on the Blues defence. He hurried and harried them, challenged for every ball in the air and made intelligent runs in behind the Chelsea backline. His performance was rewarded with a fine brace that helped his side to a vital victory.

While Dominic possesses pace and is good on the ball, it’s his aerial ability which is really starting to shine this term. He has a fantastic person to learn from in coach Duncan Ferguson. The Scotsman is one of the Premier League’s best ever in the air. Calvert-Lewin has wins on average 4.7 aerial battles per league outing thus far this season.

The number nine scored with a lovely diving header in Ancelotti’s first game in charge of The Toffees. That goal was enough to put Burnley to the sword.

The youngster followed that up with another double against Newcastle United on Boxing Day. Both his strikes were poachers goals and those are the kind that will see a striker consistently scoring double figures and that should be the aim for Dominic Calvert-Lewin!

His recent performances have also seen him linked with a move to Manchester United (Source The Guardian) but I don’t see that one happening this season as Carlo Ancelotti seems determined to have Calvert-Lewin as his team’s focal point in attack.

After the win over Newcastle, Ancelotti stated:

“He is a fantastic striker, in my opinion – fantastic with the head, clever in the box and sharp,”

“I think he is going to be at the top in England and in Europe. He has all the qualities to be a top striker.”

Via BBC Sport

Calvert-Lewin has all the potential to meet Carlo’s expectations. If he can do as the Italian wishes and continue to learn from Duncan Ferguson, then the striker could force his way into the England squad ahead of Euro 2020.

Obviously Gareth Southgate will have Harry Kane as his number one striking choice but then there’s a battle to be the next centre forward on the list.

With Jamie Vardy out of the reckoning, then it could be between Callum Wilson, Tammy Abraham, Danny Ings and Calvert-Lewin.

The Everton man has proven himself at under-21 level with his national team and he’s now showing us that he has the skill-set to be a top Premier League hitman too.

If he can continue this rich vein of form, scoring goals and hassling top defences, then an England call-up is surely just around the corner!

Consistent Rangers Left-back Borna Barisic Deserves All The Plaudits

I’ve lost count the amount of times on this blog that I’ve stated fans need to give new players time to settle in at a new club. Patience is especially needed when it’s a foreign player arriving at a new country.

I often cite Didier Drogba as a prime example. He made a huge move from Olympique Marseille to Chelsea in a £24m deal in 2004. Yet the Ivorian struggled to be himself in his debut season in the English Premier League, it was only after a year in England that Didier started to establish himself as the team’s top striker. He would go on to become a Blues legend, helping them to win league titles and the Champions League.

A new example of a player just needing time to shine is Croatian left-back Borna Barisic.

Last season Rangers signed the Croat after he impressed playing against them in the Europa League. Yet for much of his maiden season, Barisic struggled to impressed.

Anytime he seemed to gain any momentum, Borna would suffer from an injury, fatigue or have a disappointing performance. That would see either Jon Flanagan or midfielder Andy Haliday coming in to replace Barisic.

Many questioned if the full-back would get a second season at Ibrox. Rumours circulated that Gers manager Steven Gerrard had lost patience in the Croatian international.

Thankfully for Rangers and their fans, Gerrard showed he had faith in the twenty-seven year old and boy has he been repaid.

Borna has enjoyed a terrific second season thus far at Ibrox. He was outstanding as he first helped his club to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League and then out of a tough group. He was particularly great as Rangers beat Feyenoord in Govan, just after the death of former Gers fullback Fernando Ricksen. It was an emotional night and it called for heroes to step forward and contribute and that’s exactly what Barisic did that evening!

He also scored a vital free-kick in an away fixture against St Mirren in the Scottish Premiership and that wonder strike was the goal that gave his side an important win.

Borna Barisic hasn’t just had standout moments this term, he has also added consistency to his game. He is now probably the best left-back in the Scottish game right now.

His showing against bitter rivals Celtic in Glasgow’s East End proved that to a lot of people yesterday.

Rangers beat their opponents on their own turf for the first time since 2010. Gerrard’s men outplayed and outfought the Scottish champions and totally deserved their win.

Barisic was key to their success. The left-back was dogged and disciplined in defence. He didn’t give Celtic winger James Forrest a sniff during the game.

Borna was also terrific when he went forward. When the ball crossed into The Hoops half, the left sided defender wasn’t scared to venture forward and offer himself as an outlet. He played a fine ball into the box that was then swept into the net by Ryan Kent for the opening goal. In the second half, Barisic would deliver a lovely pinpoint corner into the Celtic box and it was met with a superb header by countryman Nikola Katic.

Personally I felt Borna Barisic was the game’s man of the match.

In the last week, Gerrard has hailed his defender’s improvement in a Gers jersey:

“Very satisfied. I think he’s been a lot more consistent this season. I think he’s shown everyone the reason why he is the number one left-back for Croatia.”

“I think he was a player that we always knew had the talent and the ability. It was about him putting it together on a regular basis.

“I think he had settling-in issues and it took him time to win the dressing room and the supporters over, but at the moment he’s in a fantastic place.”

Via OneFootball

His outstanding performances have also seen him linked him with moves to a bigger league. The Daily Record have reported that Serie A clubs AS Roma and AC Milan are currently monitoring the Croatian left-back.

Rangers end 2019 just two points behind Celtic in the Premiership table with a game in hand. That suggests Rangers really could challenge for the league title in 2020.

For that to happen they will need to have all their players playing consistently well. At the moment Borna Barisic is showing us that they won’t have any issues in the left-back role, if more step up like that then The Gers could be in for a successful new year!

This Season Proves Jamie Vardy Was Right To Stay At Leicester City

After winning the Premier League with Leicester City in 2016, striker Jamie Vardy had a decision to make… Stay with The Foxes or leave for Arsenal?

Plenty of eyebrows were raised as the Englishman decided to turndown The Gunners and stay with Leicester.

Three and a half years later and it’s hard to think that Vardy regrets making that decision.

The Foxes are once again flying high in the English top flight, this time under Brendan Rodgers, and once again Jamie Vardy is leading in the scoring charts.

No striker has managed to outscore the thirty-two year old, who has bagged a magnificent sixteen goals in the opening seventeen games of the Premier League. He’s contributed 40% of Leicester’s league goals this term!

Ironically it’s an Arsenal hitman that’s second in the scoring charts but Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang is five goals behind Vardy.

Arsenal are also lagging behind Leicester City in the league table. The Gunners are in tenth spot and a whopping seventeen points behind the second placed Foxes. In the start of November, Jamie Vardy scored one and assisted in another as his side beat Arsenal at The King Power Stadium (BBC Match Report).

Rodgers has transformed Leicester back into a team that can threat any other side in the Premier League.

Jamie is once again the go-to striker, play him in behind any defence and you’ll be betting on him hitting the back of the net!

The former England international might be a veteran now but he still has the pace that can take him beyond opponents. He also has that lethal ability to put away chances.

In that 2016 title winning season, Vardy scored twenty-four times in the league. I believe he’ll beat that tally this term. But he was a good scorer in all the seasons since that win; scoring thirteen in 2016-17, twenty in 2018 and eighteen last term.

Some might say that Vardy would’ve been better served leaving and winning trophies elsewhere like N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez.

I tend to disagree.

Firstly, Arsenal haven’t done much in the league or the Champions League in that timeframe.

Then there’s his hero status at The King Power Stadium. Now he’ll always have that and would’ve kept it had he left but it’s just grown in the years after the title win. Out of all the title winning squad, Jamie Vardy is probably the player that really resonates with that magical Foxes season!

He worked up the leagues, much like the club. He too was written off in previous years. He was consistent throughout the whole campaign.

He has a terrific manager in Rodgers, a boss that always believes in his experienced players. He got an extra great season out of Steven Gerrard at Liverpool and he also got another level out of club captain Scott Brown at Celtic. Brendan will have seen Vardy’s skill-set and also the player’s relationship with the home support and decide to build his team around the hitman. Jamie thrives when he’s the main man and that’s why he is flourishing this term.

As well as causing a constant threat by staying on the shoulder of defenders, Vardy’s smart runs also creates space and that’s seen James Maddison shine.

Rodgers is understandably delighted with his striker:

“Jamie’s playing consistently at a very high level.”

“For me, it’s like having two players up there because of his work and his threat.”

“People sometimes ask me, ‘Why don’t you play with two strikers?’ Well, when you have the likes of him and Luis Suarez, who I had at Liverpool, it’s like having two. They are so good and offer such a threat.”

“I mentioned Luis because he played as a single striker for me as well. They are so good that they can occupy defenders on their own.”

“You look at his speed last week when he was breaking away – it’s a huge testament to him, how he’s looking after his body.”

“He’s so dangerous and I think you’ve seen his intelligence as well. He’s getting better in how he’s setting up the game.”

Via The Mirror

Only Liverpool are outperforming Leicester City in the Premier League. The Foxes currently sit ten points behind the league leaders. If any team were to have a fairytale run to catch Jurgen Klopp’s men then it would be Leicester City, especially if Jamie Vardy can continue his fine scoring form.

But even if Leicester don’t go on and win the league, they have an excellent chance to qualify for the Champions League in only their second time in their history. That would be another dream season and cement Jamie Vardy’s hero status for the club and prove he was right to stay there.