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How will the three promoted teams fare in the Premier League 2011/2012?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Monday 30th May marked the final game in the English domestic calendar – the Championship playoff final. Often dubbed “the 90 million match”, this year Swansea outshone Reading and joined Queens Park Rangers and Norwich as the Premier League new-boys. While The Premier League may be the most watched league in the world, the Championship isn’t as popular, and so for those wondering who exactly their favourite teams will be playing next season, here’s a quick summary of the lucky three.

Queens Park Rangers -
There was, in fact, nothing lucky about QPR's rise to the Premier League. They ran out comfortable winners, and in truth the margin of 4 points probably isn't enough to represent the gulf in performances between QPR and the best-of-the-rest. In Paddy Kenny, QPR have the best goalkeeper the Championship saw last season, and in captain Adel Taarabt they have an inspirational attacking midfielder who not only has the full range of passing, but also pops up with a huge number of goals too (19 this season). The problem, as it always is with a smaller Premiership team housing an outstanding player, could be holding on to him. With numerous larger clubs struggling to create an attacking presence in midfield, it’s highly likely there will be bids for Taarabt this season.  But QPR are by no means a one man team, and Iceland’s Heiðar Helguson and Scotland’s Jamie Mackie both provided a decent number of goals too.

One thing that has to be mentioned though, is that QPR have two things that neither of the other newly promoted teams have. Firstly, QPR have money. And more to the point, they have no small amount of it either. The club is owned by Formula 1 tycoons Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore, assumed to have a combined wealth of close to £2billion. They may not be Roman Abramovich, but you can expect a decent investment in the QPR squad over the summer to ensure that they stay put in the Premier League.  Secondly, they have players with previous Premier League experience. Pascal Chimbonda,  Danny Shittu and Peter Ramage are just three of a number of players that have played in the top flight before, and this experience will give the club a massive advantage over Norwich and Swansea.

After the furore and upcoming fine about the transfer of Alejandro Faurlin, QPR will hopefully have learned how to follow the proper protocol with any summer signings they make, and these could include some fairly big names. Robbie Keane, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Yakubu have all been mentioned in the same sentences as QPR recently, and whether you think them realistic or not, the club certainly have ambition. Of the three promotees, it has to be said that they are easily the best placed to follow through with this ambition too.

Norwich - Norwich became the first club in over a decade to achieve back to back promotions into the Premier League, and while this is a phenomenal achievement, many think that the Premier League may have come a season too soon for the Canaries. Manager Paul Lambert has already stated that the club can realistically manage no more than try to survive in such a competitive league.

Norwich do however have their stars. Captain and top goal-scorer Grant Holt has been in sensational form for the team, but still has a reputation of being a lower-league player, and like the vast majority of the squad has no previous Premier League experience. The outstandingly versatile Wes Hoolahan has played all over the park in recent season, and this year found the next 10 times. The incredibly fit Russell Martin played every single minute of every Norwich game this season, and both he and Hoolahan will have to continue their excellent lower league form if the club is to prosper in the Premier League.
Manager Paul Lambert has claimed that he aims to bring in as many as seven new signings in order to avoid the drop, and a deal has already been done to bring Everton’s striker James Vaughan to Norwich, at a cost of about £2.5 million – in my opinion an outstanding buy. However, with Vaughan already arriving, a very public courting of Millwall’s top scorer Steve Morison underway, and captain Grant Holt guaranteed a starting position, the future doesn’t look so bright for Norwich’s close-season star Simeon Jackson.
Many expect keeper Fraser Forster to rejoin Norwich after a season's absence away at Celtic, this time on a permanent deal.  Another realistic target is Joe Ledley, who could fill the gap left by Henri Lansbury returning to Arsenal after his loan finishes. Liverpool's Dani Pacheco, a January 2011 loan signing for Norwich, has openly said that if he is not given the chances at Liverpool this season, Norwich will be his preferred destination, whether it be through a temporary or permanent deal.

Norwich barely escaped going into administration a couple of years ago, and even with the increased wealth of the Premier League, money is tight, so you can expect them to raid the lower leagues’ better players, rather than the top leagues’ mediocre. More specifically, the fellow Championship clubs which fell short in the playoffs (Reading, Cardiff and Nottingham Forest), and the three clubs demoted from the Premier League (Birmingham, Blackpool and West Ham) are likely to be the main sources of players for Norwich. One name being touted more than most to join the Canaries is Cardiff’s midfielder Peter Whittingham.

Swansea – Swansea did things the hard way, having to go through the nailbiting play-offs to reach the Premier League. Things didn’t look good when they had a player sent off within 2 minutes of the opening match, but the 10 men played the next 88 with huge commitment to see a 0-0 draw and ultimately win in the second leg. In the play-off final, a Scott Sinclair hat-trick helped them to a 4-2 win, in a pulsating match in which they suffered numerous nervous moments considering they led 3-0 after 40 minutes.

This said, it’s a refreshing change to be able to say that for once, the best team in the play-offs won and reached the Premier League. Swansea become the first Welsh team to reach England’s top flight and now we have the fantastic prospect of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and more visiting Wales for Premier League matches for the first time.

Swansea gained a lot of fans from their attacking style of play. After going 3-0 up in the play-off final, most teams would sit back after half time and play out the win, but it was said numerous times by the commentators that Swansea simply don’t know how to do that, and in the end this turned out to be a problem for them as they conceded two quick goals and the game suddenly looked loseable. Like Blackpool, it was their exciting, attacking style of play which got them promoted, but equally, and again like Blackpool, it will probably be the same thing that sees them demoted too.

I know many Chelsea fans who were livid when Scott Sinclair was allowed to leave the club, and his 27 goals this season for Swansea could be good evidence that they were right to be angry. Darren Pratley and Stephen Dobbie hauled in another 22 between them, and it’s clear that there is no shortage of goals from this team. A big problem however, may come in the loss of Fabio Borini, a youngster on loan from Chelsea. He only joined the team in March, but was instrumental in their late surge of good form, which saw them leapfrog Cardiff, Reading and Nottingham Forest and end up 3rd in the Championship. Playing just 10 games but scoring 6 goals should give you an idea of how effective he has been for them, and after seeing how much of a better team they have been with him since March, a priority transfer has to be a Borini replacement.

Thankfully, manager Brendan Rogers used to be a coach at Chelsea, and so it is highly likely we will see a couple of other promising youngsters join the Swans for their Premier League adventure.  Permanent transfer targets supposedly include Sebastian Bassong and Danny Collins.

Overall – Overall, I’ll go out on a limb and say that as teams st
and at the moment, both Swansea and Norwich would head straight back straight down after a brief holiday in the Premier League. The Championship has produced some outstanding football this year, but the entertainment has come in the competition, and the gulf in class between it and the top flight is still enormous. My prediction doesn’t have to be so, of course. If Paul Lambert’s six other transfers to Norwich prove as shrewd as his tactics, and if Brendan Rogers can hold on to players such as Scott Sinclair, they could both cause upsets and knock out a couple of the Premier League’s longer-staying competitors.

I have faith that QPR are probably big enough to survive the drop. I would say that they are certainly better than their two promotees, as well as Blackburn, Wolves and perhaps Wigan as well. Add in the extra occasional points from big matches and home performances, and I can see them happily surviving the next season.
As always, the summer transfers will be fixating. There were a number of players who were demoted from the Premier League who are simply too good for the Championship (Adam, Vaughan, Bowyer, Larsson, Noble, Parker) and among others, these would all be exceptional transfers for our newly promoted three. As it stands, however, all we can do is welcome QPR, Norwich and Swansea to the Premier League, congratulate them on reaching it and wish them good luck. Because boy, they’re going to need it.

By David Astley

Manchester United: Why there is little to frown about

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Red Devils kept faith and pledged to battle to the very end, but everyone knew that a Barcelona triumph over Manchester United was but a foregone conclusion. And so it was, as Barcelona presented a footballing masterpiece that left everyone all the more lost for words to describe their footballing brilliance and absolute dominance over European football. Xavi and Iniesta demonstrated their ruthless mastery at the art of playmaking and keeping possession, while Messi was, as usual, at his lethal best on the ball.

In Rome, United simply imploded. Lacking a conventional midfield destroyer to stem Barcelona's probing build-up by closing down their midfielders meant that the Catalans had the midfield all to themselves. Instead of assembling a team specifically to beat Barcelona, Sir Alex Ferguson opted to best them at their own game. A decision that went horribly wrong with a resounding defeat. Afford them too much space and time on the ball and we all know what happens.

This time around, the Scotsman got it right. Park Ji Sung's dogged dedication to his midfield role was simply jaw-dropping. Granted, hunting about for a ball that is passed around like a pinball was always going to be a task of sisyphean proportions. But up till the dying moments of the game, Park ran like a man possessed. He was aided in his cause by the commendable Michael Carrick, who this time did his utmost to impose his influence on the midfield battle and halt the tirade of Barcelona attacks.

Then there was Ryan Giggs, at the grand old age of 37. It still is incredible how he manages it, providing the spark for a counter-attack at every opportunity and dribbling with the youthful vigour of someone half his age. He let United believe for those few minutes that an upset well and truly possible when he played Rooney in for the equaliser. Expect him to be sorely missed when he finally calls time on his illustrious career.

Prior to the match, Dani Alves claimed that United were stronger without Cristiano Ronaldo. Some accused him, as well as other members of the Barca squad, of employing mind games. The former held true; United's ripostes had more cohesion and teamwork this time around. Two years ago, Ronaldo seemed hell-bent on demolishing Barcelona all by himself, embarking on reckless individual runs and blasting the ball at goal from impossible distances. With his departure, they played as a more united strikeforce and threats didn't come from a single source.

While Hernandez had a performance to forget, Wayne Rooney finally stepped up to the plate at Wembley. He made the most of the little possession United had, drifting into dangerous positions and distributing the ball beautifully. He showed pace, stamina and sharpness in attack. His equaliser was expertly taken, curling away from Valdes' despairing dive. United can only hope he builds on this performance to reach even greater heights next season.

United's stubborn defence held strong and rallied, but it simply wasn't enough.
Perhaps Vidic and Ferdinand's only crime in the Final was to give Messi so much space and time to work the ball in for his goal. They can be proud of a defensive resilience of the highest order, frustrating Barcelona for all it was worth. Vidic stood fast in the face of Messi's vaunted close control, while Ferdinand was a commanding presence in the final third. 

A post-mortem on the Final would not reveal much to reflect upon. Antonio Valencia was decidedly ineffectual, contributing little more than a series of fouls on Messi. Hernandez went missing for most parts of the game. Evra was left exposed on so many occasions, belying the quality of his season.
United came out and did their utmost to stymie Barcelona's charge for the title. They were valiant and fought to the death, but were outmatched and routed by the better, if not the best team in the world.

I would decline to write a specific article in salutation of the European and Spanish Champions, for there is no more to say than what's already been. Barcelona have carved their legacy in stone and written their history. As a United fan, I would just like to say well played, well won and well deserved. We rarely lose, but when we do, there's no other team we would want than Barcelona.

Best Goals of the Champions League 2010/2011 - #1 Messi vs Madrid

Sunday, May 29, 2011

As the 2010/2011 installment of the Champions League comes to a close we will reveal the top five goals as decided by FOX Soccer.

Coming in at number one is Messi's solo effort against Madrid. Check it out below!

<a href="" target="_new" title="Goal #1: Lionel Messi - Barcelona">Video: Goal #1: Lionel Messi - Barcelona</a>

Best Goals of the Champions League 2010/2011 - #2 Chadli vs Tottenham

As the 2010/2011 installment of the Champions League comes to a close we will reveal the top five goals as decided by FOX Soccer.

Coming in at number two is Nacer Chadli's effort against Tottenham. Check it out below!

<a href="" target="_new" title="Goal #2: Nacer Chadli - Twente">Video: Goal #2: Nacer Chadli - Twente</a>

The winning goal will be released shortly

Barcelona greatness

By Paul Frederickson

There are moments in sport when teams ascend to greatness. Rare moments they are and as a football lover those moments should be savored. The best team in the world, in winning the 2011 UEFA Champions League, Barcelona are one of the best teams to have ever have played the game.

3 Champions League finals wins in 5 years, one of the great world players dominating the last two wins in Messi and a style of play that bows to no one. Individual brilliance supplemented with a unique team passing game is a joy to watch no matter who you follow.

The Inter Milan team of 1964-65 and the Ajax teams of the 70s and 90's are lauded as great teams and it is impossible to compare across eras. But surely the total football that Barcelona play, based on the Dutch and Ajax game style so passionately displayed and taught by Johan Cryuff, is the most breathtaking and complete football that many of us will ever witness.

Xavi, Alves, Iniesta, Villa and Messi. These names can sit along the likes Cryuff, Van Basten, Neeskens, Rijkaard, Suarez, Peiro, Domenghini, Picchi, Corso, Mazzola, Facchetti and Jair.

The club expects greatness, the team expects greatness and the supporters view greatness. With 11 titles in 3 years, Guardiola and Barcelona are meeting all of the lofty expectations.

What a pleasure to be able to watch, commentate and marvel at this wonderful team!

Barcelona line-up 2011 Final: Victor Valdes, Dani Alves (Carles Puyol, 88), Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique, Eric Abidal, Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Pedro Rodriguez (Ibrahim Afellay, 90), Lionel Messi, David Villa (Seydou Keita, 86).

Best Goals of the Champions League 2010/2011 - #3 Matheus vs Roma

As the 2010/2011 installment of the Champions League comes to a close we will reveal the top five goals as decided by FOX Soccer.

Coming in at number three is Matheus' solo effort against Roma in the froup stage. Check it out below!

<a href="" target="_new" title="Goal #3: Matheus - Roma">Video: Goal #3: Matheus - Roma</a>

Dont forget you can watch live action of the Final between United and Barcelona on FOX Soccer - follow the link for more info!

We will reaveal the final three goals before kickoff tomorrow!

Best Goals of the Champions League 2010/2011 - #4 Di Maria vs Tottenham

Saturday, May 28, 2011

As the 2010/2011 installment of the Champions League comes to a close we will reveal the top five goals as decided by FOX Soccer.

Coming in at number four is Angel Di Maria's screamer against Tottenham in the quarter final. Check it out below!

Dont forget you can watch live action of the Final between United and Barcelona on FOX Soccer - follow the link for more info!

We will reaveal the final three goals before kickoff tomorrow! <a href="" target="_new" title="Goal #4: Di Maria - Real Madrid">Video: Goal #4: Di Maria - Real Madrid</a>

Best Goals of the Champions League 2010/2011 - #5 Stankovic vs Schalke

As the 2010/2011 installment of the Champions League comes to a close we will reveal the top five goals as decided by FOX Soccer.

Coming in at number five is Dejan Stankovic's screamer against Schalke in the quarter final. Check it out below!


D<a href="" target="_new" title="Goal #5: Dejan Stanković - Inter Milan">Video: Goal #5: Dejan Stanković - Inter Milan</a>

Dont forget you can watch live action of the Final between United and Barcelona on FOX Soccer - follow the link for more info!

We will reaveal the final four goals before kickoff tomorrow!

The two best teams in Europe, no they really are!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

By Paul Frederickson

Manchester United and Barcelona meet this Saturday night at Wembley in the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final. Deservedly so as these two teams were the best in all stages of the competition thus far.

You cannot truly avenge previous defeats but the players from Manchester United who felt the pain of the 2009 loss to Barcelona in the same final will be doing everything in their power to make sure that there is no repeat. Barcelona on the other hand will take confidence in the fact that in 2009 no one could handle the brilliance of Lionel Messi which has been further enhanced in the two years that have passed.
Barcelona's Champions League campaign has been close to perfect with a hint of a scare in their Round of 16 game against Arsenal. The 2-1 home win for Arsenal never seemed enough against an Barcelona team returning to their fortress, the Bernabe'u.

Manchester United had a very similar progression from the group phase to that of Barcelona. The goals started to flow in the knockout phase of the competition and besides a scoreless draw away in Marseille they were never challenged in the path to the UEFA Champions League final.

The managers

Undoubtedly two of the best managers in world football. At a base level it could be suggested that it is the master and his student in battle. Pep Guardiola is a student of the Barcelona school of football though and not that of the most winning football manager in British football, Sir Alex Ferguson. All the talk in the lead up to this game has been about the tactics that Ferguson will need to nullify the brilliant of Iniesta and Messi. Ferguson is too experienced to focus primarily on the opposition and will have plans of his own in relation to how United will play their game as opposed to stopping the stars of Barca.

Which manager will create the best midfield match-ups will go a long way to winning this game. If the obvious midfield paring Iniesta and Xavi is giving to much latitude by Carrick and Fletcher then their pin-point passes will give Messi and Villa too many opportunities to spurn. If Ferguson can get the combination right and break even with the Barcelona midfield then the game will be well and truly on.

Ferguson will have his team extremely organised whilst Guardiola will give his team the freedom to express their creativity. The talk of the EPL this season has been about the lack of quality in the United team. Others have stated that they are the 'worst' Manchester United team to have ever won the league title. But I believe that a champion team will always beat a team of champions. Unfortunately for United fans it appears that Barcelona is both.

Barcelona's main player:

Lionel Messi: His unbelievable close ball skills, swerving dribbling and move to a more central role will worry United all night. His finishing this season has been exemplary and he finished just shy of 50 goals in La Liga.

United's main player:

Wayne Rooney: Finally free of injuries and free of the goal drought that worried him for most of this season's EPL Rooney is as confident, arrogant and angry as ever. Where he may be able to win the game is not just his goal scoring but the ability to set up goals and bring others into the game.

This is not to say that Messi and Rooney are the only stars for these two teams. Xavi, Iniesta and Villa are out and out stars of the world stage and will have pivotal moments in the match for Barcelona. Likewise Hernandez and Giggs are able to set the field alight in Europe's biggest club game. How recent disclosures of Giggs' off-field indiscretions will affect his and Manchester United's chances may also be a factor.

Finally, can Wembley and the home ground advantage get Manchester United over the line on Saturday night. Perhaps, but if the game is close then the pro-England crowd's noise will lift United.

My opinion is that the best team in Europe this year will win the title. I will let you decide which team that is!

(1) ESPN Soccernet. UEFA Champions League Fixtures and Tables.

The All Important Champions League Final

You can use all the superlatives in the world still the significance and all the hype surrounding this showpiece at The Wembley will remain unassailable. Quite simply, it is the pinnacle of European football. Man Utd locking horns yet again with Barca. The recently crowned champions of England against once again crowned champions of Spain. Gaffa against Pep. 4-4-1-1 against 4-3-3. The impregnable defense versus the tikki takka passing game of the Catalans. Manchester United squaring off against Barcelona for the Champions League crown. The stage is set, only waiting for its heroes. And battle lines have been drawn up. 
 Having a look at the stats clearly tells you how consistent both the teams have been. Man Yoo are the only unbeaten team left in this season’s competition. Their defense has only leaked 4 goals in Europe this season. With 9 wins and only 3 draws out of the 12 games played there is no doubt that Man United are the team to beat this season. On the other side , Barca have created some history of their own as well.They have scored 27 goals in Europe ‘s premium club competition this campaign, which is the most among other teams involved . They have scored in every single European game this term. So one could easily guess what is coming our way. At Wembley, irresistible force in shape of Barca‘s attacking prowess meets the immovable object in the form of United‘s unbreachable defense.

As far as United are concerned, lessons must have been learned from the debacle of Rome. That night, two years ago Barca trio of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta teared the United midfield apart at will. Very few teams dominate United the way Barca did on the biggest stage of them all. But Sir Alex was quick to point out that this is a different United team now. Ronaldo is off to Madrid which means players are gelling together and are not relying on an individual . It’s a collective team effort nowadays at United and the rewards are for everyone to be seen. For me Park Ji Sung will be the most influential player for United. The outcome of the match would depend a lot on how well Park plays. Still remember , SAF describing it as the toughest decision of his professional career to leave park out of their 2008 final against Chelsea. Park will be employed on United ‘s left hand side probably. His main objectives will be to stop Dani Alves from making those runs behind full backs as well as keeping half an eye on Leo Messi. Player like Park is invaluable to United ‘s aspirations of winning a 4th European Cup. Over the years United have relied heavily on wing players. They always use the full width of the pitch. How often have we  seen Van Der Sar rolling the ball out to either Vidic or Ferdinand who are at some distance from one another. Also encouraging full backs to move forward and help the wing players. Chicharito ‘s agility and Rooney ‘s robust appetite to track all the way back should help United in this big match.

 While there are no intricacies involved on how Barcelona will set up. They will keep the ball , they always do. But unlike other free flowing teams e.g Arsenal, their possession is met with purpose. Barca’s midfield overpowers United when it comes to vision, an eye for the pass and to top them all to keep the ball. But one can rest assure that Gaffa will have a plan or two up his sleeve to break that stranglehold because possession is indispensable  at least when you are playing against Barcelona.
No matter how teams line up , we should have a fascinating and scrumptious game on our hands. One cannot expect a free flowing , you attack we attack kind of game. European finals are never like that. But there will be a plethora of drama and individual brilliance. With the talent on show this promises to be one heck of a season ending finale. The final of Rome would be forgotten if you are a United fan. After that final I personally felt as if there was no cure for the pain and no end to the grief that we suffered.
Even with 19 th title in the bag , you can expect that Sir Alex ‘s thirst is far from being quenched & As the saying goes ‘’ A hungry man is an angry man’’ Sir Alex will do anything in his grasp to ensure that the debacle of Rome never occurs again.

By Hanzla Ahmed Khan

European 2010/2011 XI - PTA admin pick

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Admin of PTA Adrian gives us his team of 2010/2011 in Europe. Look out for teams picked by our editors!

Formation: 4-2-2-2(1)

Goalkeeper - Roman Weidenfellar (Borussia Dortmund) - For someone who doesn't take a massive interest in the Bundesliga it may be hard to understand how, or why Bayern Munich are not dominating the Bundesliga. Then again that’s just me showing my ignorance, to what this year has been a stellar campaign by those men in yellow. Borussia Dortmund secured the league title by a staggering seven points ahead of nearest rivals Bayern Leverkusen. When looking over Dortmund's strengths the reason for their success is at first not apparant. But look at the number of goals that they have conceded throughout their campaign and things will become very clear. With Weidenfellar between the sticks Dortmund conceded only 22 goals in the league. In comparison Leverkusen conceded double this amount to finish second. Combined with a solid defence Dortmund were nearly unbreakable at the back.

Right Back - Dani Alves (Barcelona) - Generally overlooked by Ramos in most teams, but the role that Dani Alves serves at Right Back for Barcelona (although similar to Ramos) is something that most teams in Europe fail to fill, in pushing forward. The attacking nature of the Brazilian is a real asset when Barcelona decide to build up their play, his ability to sense the right overlapping run can open up even the most aware of defences, allowing that extra man in the box or the option to cut the ball back. He also possesses the ability to absolutely hammer a freekick if the opportunity arises. As is the case with all defenders he is extremely solid on the ball as well as pacy. In essence he is the perfect fullback you would want on any team you ever choose.

Left Back - Marcelo (Real Madrid) - Another Brazilian fills the reciprocal side of the field at the back. Along with his character which Ronaldo claimed brought the team together. Always realible down the left the man from Brazil has bagged 5 goals and 7 assists this season in all competitions. Marcelo remarkably started all league games under Mourinho, making him one of the most capped players of 2010/2011, which in itself was a remarkable achievement. Marcelo under Mourinho has flourished as a player and proven his worth at Madrid. Something he wasn't able to do in the past.

Central Back - Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) - With United securing yet another title, it is clear to say that the Red Devils are obviously doing something right at the back. With United turning to youngsters as replacements for the injured Ferdinand (Eg Smalling, Evans) and Rafael as the new right back, Vidic has found himself partnering a number of new faces at the back. However his ability to play according to those around him at the back shows his capability as a leader as well as quality as a defender. His figure alone is a presence to be reckoned with. Going forward he has scored 5 goals for United, mostly from headed efforts - but none-the-less. A season campaigner who deserves all accolades that come his way.

Central Back - Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus) - After the long season endured by Juventus and the terrible results that came with it; it would be hard to justify the presence of a Juventus player in the team of the year. However amongst all the chaos going on in Turin, Chiellini stands as a shining light. Moved around the backline to suit the team around him, Chiellini is more than capable of playing anywhere along the back. Probably the toughest of defenders in Europe, the Italian even boasted the title of Juventus' top scorer for a short while. All in all he scored 5 goals in Juventus' campaign.

Central Midfield - Xavi (Barcelona) - What can’t be said about Xavi? The Spanish midfielder began the season on a high after guiding Spain to a first ever World Cup, and from there the pass master has been instrumental in Barcelona's surge to the top of the La Liga and into the final of the Champions League. Xavi's performances against Real Madrid in the league as well as Arsenal in the Champions League are testament to his great ability. He narrowly missed out on the Ballon D'or but was voted as World Soccer Player of the Year. Xavi has scored three goals in the La Liga this year.

Central Midfield - Nuri Sahin (Borussia Dortmund) - With Borussia Dortmund comprehensively winning the Bundesliga title this year one must look to how they were able to dominate even the best of German teams. I've already touched on their almost unbreakable defence, but going forward Nuri Sahin has been Borussia's attacking backbone. The pass master lays claim to eight assists and six goals in the league this season. It no wonder he was picked up by Madrid, and will look to make his mark in Spain next season with Real. Sahin was voted best player of the Bundesliga for the 2010/2011 season.

Left Wing - Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Year after year Messi continues to impress, whether it be through the countless goals he's scored or the number of assists he has achieved. In the 2010/2011 instalment in Europe the little master took his ability to a new level, to the extent that he wasn't competing to win the league or Champions League but to beat Ronaldo to top scorer in the La Liga. A total of 52 goals in 54 games played in all competitions sees him cement himself as one of the most prolific attackers in football history. Critics have begun comparing the number 10 to legends such as Maradonna and rightly so. Where to now for the Argentinian? A Champions League title against Manchester would certainly not go astray....... yet another stunning season from the man they call "Leo"

Right Wing - Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - With an average of more than one goal per game for Madrid in the La Liga, Cristiano Ronaldo finished top scorer in Spain ahead of rival Messi. 2010/2011 really saw Ronaldo produce some real talent in the Madrid shirt. His second season at the club brought the League Cup to Madrid as well see Madrid take crucial steps towards the league title and Champions League. The Portuguese winger assisted 10 times in the league, and, although nowhere near as prolific in the assists department he outscored Messi marginally in all competitions. Ronaldo has it all, speed, strength, pace, skill, shot, header and fitness. It's just a question of whether he will have enough to see Madrid win the treble next year.

Central Forward - Edinson Cavani (Napoli) - Napoli did the impossible this season and qualified for a historic Champions League, finishing third in the Serie A ahead of the likes of Roma and Juventus. Along with a solid midfield Napoli were lead upfront by loaned out man Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan scored 26 goals in the Serie A this season, including a memorable hat trick against Juventus and a great performance against Lazio leading a 4-3 season. Cavani was unable to realistically challenge for the title of top scorer after being handed a two match ban at the end of the season. Nevertheless the Uruguayan proved himself in Italy this season and this was exemplified by the signing of a five year contract with Napoli. Next year he will face the best in the Champions League, and really be able to show his talent.

Striker - Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) - Never before has a player who has been so unhappy at a club performed so well. Lead by Tevez upfront Manchester City qualified for a historic Champions League. The Captain at Eastlands scored a total of 21 goals to collect the title of top scorer jointly with Dimitar Berbatov. City through his leadership collected their first piece of silverware in over 25 years. The Argentinian showed countless flashes of brilliance scoring in almost every way possible. Rumours recently surfaced about his unhappiness at the club, and his desire to leave or possibly retire early. Whatever the future may hold for Tevez he would certainly be a loss if he was to leave City.

Manager - Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) - Yet another league title, took United to a total of 19, creating Premier League history. Once again the Red Devils find themselves in a Champions League final. Ferguson has rekindled talent in many of the veteran’s of the club, but has also ensured that the transition of the younger players into the first team has been as smooth as possible. The ability to achieve all this as well as ensure United remain successful on the pitch is truly something to be marvelled at.

Players that could save your life, or something like that!

Monday, May 23, 2011

By Paul Frederickson

Every league has a player with which you could put your life in their hands. Well more likely their deft touch, zigzagging dribble, swerving crosses, delicate chips, sublime skills, powerful headers, devastating shots and overall brilliance!

So let us have a look at these players in which we could trust our lives.

Love him or hate him but Wayne Rooney has been a talisman for Manchester since crossing from Everton in 2004. Even when he is not playing to his full ability he will bring others into the game and never gives up. It is no coincidence that when Rooney broke his drought and then scored the goal of the season that Manchester United looked unbeatable this season. Would he save your life? Yes, as long as you do not have a go at him on Twitter!

In a competition that is fast falling down the chain of European leagues in terms of prestige and interest one man has stood out is a giant in the Italian arenas, Samuel Eto'o. Arguably Cameroon's greatest ever player and leading goal-scorer of all time, Eto'o has led goal scoring in Spain and Italy over the last few years. Inter would be playing more like Brescia or Bari if Eto'o was not up front for them. Not only would his football skills save your life but his mouth would also defeat your enemies. Outspoken, maybe, devastating in his support of you, definitely!

Christiano Ronaldo scored the most goals in La Liga history this season and so he is the obvious choice right? Wrong! This is your life we are talking about. Ronaldo would be more interested in how his football was looking than the impending doom that hangs over your head. Lionel Messi on the other hand is not only a winner, but arguably the best player on the planet and would make you look just as good as he saves your life.

They did not win the Bundesliga but without Arjen Robben Bayern Munich may not have even finished high enough to make the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League for the 2012 version. Injured for much of the early rounds of the Bundesliga the sublimely skilled Dutchman made the Munich giants look like the team everyone expected them to be once he returned to the field. He did the same to the Dutch World Cup team and he would save your life, blindfolded, hopping on one leg and whistling the tune to the Great Escape.

What do you think? Could these four save your life or would the ball slip sideways off their boots and go out for a goal kick as you walk towards the light?! Before you go there is one final warning, you must avoid placing your life in the hands and feet of the players below!


Juventus coach Del Neri announces he will leave Turin

Sunday, May 22, 2011

After another below average season, Juventus will once again put all their troubles down to the quality of their coaching staff. This time its Luigi Del Neri who will feel the force of the Juventus board. The former Sampdoria boss was adamant that he could've made an impact had he been given another season in Turin. However the Juventus board had other plans axing Del Neri - effective season end.

Juventus are at risk of not playing in Europe at all after falling three points behind Roma come last matchday. Juventus play Napoli, a team in scintillating form, not to mention the fact that they have also qualified for the Champions League. But Del Neri wants to end on a high note, and a win will certainly leave a sweet taste in the mouth of all Juventini, especially if Juve are able to leapfrog Roma into that elusive Europa League spot.

Last season Ciro Ferrara and Alberto Zaccheroni alike were sacked from the top spot in Turin. This along with a number of failed signings saw Juventus just qualify for Europe.

Rumours have already been floating around with Antonio Conte being linked with the job. For now however Del Neri will need to ensure that he finishes his time with Juve on a positive note. Qualifying for Europe is key for Juventus' ability to attract funding, sponsors and players alike. Lyon man Michel Bastos confirmed his interest in the Bianconeri this week, and could complete a move to Turin within the coming days, which would surely boost team spirits for next season!

The perfect A-league, a dreamers dream!

Friday, May 20, 2011

By Paul Frederickson

Everyone wants their team to be the best it can be. They also want their team to be in the most competitive and successful league possible. Imagine, if you can, that I have been presented with wishes by an FFA genie allowing me unlimited changes to the A-League. So here is my wish list for the A-League, granted it may be unrealistic, but nevertheless here it is!

Free-to-air channels and Pay television enter a massive bidding war in which the FFA reaches a $1.5 billion dollar deal that is distributed evenly to the ten A-League clubs. 3D games are shown in all local clubs and bars for no additional cost.

People can purchase pay-per view games for $1.99 on their mobile or home computer, accessing the game where and when they want.

The 2022 World Cup vote is re-staged and Australia is awarded the World Cup. Many tourists who stay afterwards attend A-League games and local supporters buy memberships in record numbers.

Games sell out on a regular basis and people go on waiting lists to see games and buy club memberships.

Merchandise is varied, well designed and people purchase home and away jerseys on a yearly basis.

Australian teams regularly win the Asian Champions League and perform well in the World Club Championships.

The A-League is the most followed and watched sport in the country and heads the sporting news on television. Football is on the back pages of the national newspapers for all the right reasons.

The competition has promotion and relegation where relegated teams are still well followed and financial. Thus, football supporters never have to worry about the financial status of their club.

People call soccer football.

Football fans who hear the word soccer embrace it for its history and do not get overly upset by its use.

The best footballers from around the world ask to come and play in Australia.

Finally, the people who run the game, love the game and even more importantly, know what they are doing!

A man is allowed to dream!

Special 1 TV: All In

The last episode of the season. Jose vows to returns for another season if "Manchester United win the Champions League". Do it!


European team of 2010/2011 - Vote Now!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

 As the end of all competitions in Europe approach, Play the Advantage asks you to vote for your team of 2010/2011 in Europe. The compiled team will be analysed by PTA and posted with analysis on the website, at the conclusion of voting. What are you waiting for vote now. Not all voting is open yet and we will update the positions as we make them avaliable!

Ensure to add your selections if you feel we have missed out on any players. For some polls you may have to pick two players. We will also feature a substitution bench with seven players and a manager. Feel free to post suggestions you may have about the team. It will be a standard 4-4-2 formation. Get your votes in before polling closes. Our writing team will also post their suggested teams, which you can also comment on! 

Click here to vote for Goalkeeper - Van der Sar is currently leading

Click here to vote for Right Back - Abate is currently leading

Click here to vote for Left Back - Marcelo is currently leading

Click here to vote for Center Back - Chiellini and Vidic are currently leading

Click here to vote for Right Midfield/Wing - Robben currently leading

Click here to vote for Left Midfield/Wing - Bale currently leading

Click here to vote for Central Defensive/Central Midfielder - Xavi currently leading

Click here to vote for Central Attacking/Central Midfielder - Ozil currently leading

Click here to vote for Striker/Forward - Ronaldo and Messi currently leading

Click here to vote for Manager/Coach - Sir Alex Ferguson currently leading

The remainder of the positions will be released shortly. Until then vote for the back line of the team of 2010/2011 and feel free to add players you feel we have missed out on!

Special 1 TV: Pariah

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This weeks epidsode sees Jose booted from his own show. Do it!

Can Juventus rebuild?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Turin giants Juventus have all but ended their hopes for another Champions League birth after being defeated 1-0 by Parma in a clash which saw loanee Giovinco score yet again against his parent club. Juventus sit 7th on the table just one point ahead of Palermo and three points behind Roma.

Juventus began the season in poor form losing 1-0 to Bari in the opening matchday. From here the Bianconeri seemed to improve going on a long unbeaten streak, just before the Christmas break, where they lost to Chievo and lost Quagliarella for the season. Winger Milos Krasic found his form and last season flop Felipe Melo began to take leadership in the middle of the park, brutally dominating any midfield that stood in the way of the Bianconeri.

The men from Turin alo had a brief spell in the Europa league, bowing out on the group stage after scoring six consecutive draws and equalling a record set by AEK Athens. Lively games against Manchester City brought out the best in the Bianconeri, who were unlucky to have done better in both legs against the Sky Blues.

It would be fair to say that the Bianconeri have the team to win the Serie A, when compared against the top seven in head to head the Bianconeri come out on top beating Milan, Inter and Roma this season. Where they have really lacked quality though, is in the area of consistency. Due to consecutive injuries and constant formation changes, Juventus never really developed into a team you would put your money on - so to speak. Even Del Neri's usually "set in stone" 4-4-2 merged into a 4-3-3 as less and less first team players became avaliable for selection.

So where to now for the Bianconeri?...... The transfer market?......... Again? In the last two season campaigns big name players have failed to make an impact with Juve, most notably Diego and Felipe Melo. But with the Juve board stating that they are keen to sign one or two big names, Juventus may just be turning to the cash once again as a solution.

In this constant spiral of buying and selling, Juventini around the world will be asking, when will we start to see results? Hope may just be on the horizon. Juventus' new stadium is nearing completion and will be in operation for the 2011/2012 season, this feat will see Juventus be the first Italian club to own their own stadium, also meaning they are the first Italian clubs to reap the benefits of owning their own stadium. With the new financial fair play system coming into play, the stadium could just be the saving grace for Juve, allowing them to sign high profile names, without falling beneath benchmarks set by FIFA and UEFA.

Juventus will, for a long time, be regarded as the best team in Italian history, but if they wish to hold that mantlepiece, they will need to prove that they have rebuilt from Calciopoli. Beating Milan, Inter and Roma all within the one season is a start, but qualifying for the Champions League for successive seasons, and progressing through the knockout will highlight that Juventus are back...... to their best!

Answering your questions!

As part of the Game of two Halves column I will answer weekly questions posted on the PTA Facebook site,
This week's questions are from Adelusi, Joshua and Christopher. Thanks guys!
Adelusi: Can Manchester United Beat Barcelona in the upcoming European Champions League final?
Manchester United can definitely beat Barcelona in the Champions League final on Saturday the 28th of May at Wembley stadium. Whether they can is another matter. I have included reasons that they can:
REASON 1 - Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the greatest managers of any era. Winning Manchester United's 19th title on the weekend with a game to spare can be topped off by outfoxing Pep Guardiola. The canny Scotsman will definitely have a game plan, A, B, C and D and if needed E.
Premier League
1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011
FA Cup
1990, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004
UEFA Champions League
1999, 2008
FIFA Club World Cup
UEFA Super Cup
UEFA Cup Winners Cup
Inter-Continental Cup
FA Charity / Community Shield
1990 (shared), 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010
REASON 2 - Wayne Rooney, discovering his touch and scoring again. The angry pills see Rooney back to his rampaging best.
REASON 3 - Ryan Giggs, ageless. Pilate's and yoga see the 37 year old as quick and nimble and remarkably more skilled than most of his peers half his age. His pace down the left side and ability to cut inside may open up a sometimes fragile Barcelona defence.
REASON 4 - Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the nimble footed Mexican has given United the spark and flair that many believe that Manchester United lost when Ronaldo left their ranks. Flair that may match that of a certain Argentinian maestro on the day.
REASON 5 - Home ground advantage. Wembley, England's spiritual football home. A parochial home crowd will lift United and put pressure on the officialdom throughout the match.
Joshua: Who in the A-League do you think is good enough for European football?
There are many players who have come from European competitions who are having successful careers in the A-League. We now have many players who are leaving the A-league and going the other way, overseas. Whilst there are A-League players who are ready now for Europe, but not all of them are destined for the top tiers. I have chosen a player from each of the A-League teams who I think could make it in Europe's competitions.
Marcus Flores (Adelaide United) He may already be on his way out of the A-League but the skilled Argentinian has blossomed as the key play maker in the United team. Perfectly suited to the Spanish game.
Matthew McKay (Brisbane Roar) Organised, efficient, passing machine. The Brisbane captain would be perfectly suited to the hustle and bustle of the English Championship, if not the Premiership. At the age of 28 he has the experience and poise not to be overwhelmed by the experience.
Mustafa Amini (Central Coast Mariners) Talk about putting pressure on a young man! The 18 year old is the Mariner's youngest ever first team singing. Amini has the touch, poise and energy to make it to the very top. One or two more years in the A-League should help with the progression. Looking forward to the day when he is playing at the top level and I can turn to someone and say, "Remember when he played in the A-League?"
Joel Porter (Gold Coast United) In a team that has lost a lot of talent in the off-season, Joel Porter stand out as the player who could still make the transition to Europe. Age and fitness may be against him but the former Hartlepool forward would still be a valuable asset in Europe's lower leagues.
Alex Terra (Melbourne Heart) Watch the video below for just one reason that the 27 year-old Brazilian could have a great European career. Quick, with an eye for goal, he would terrorise defenses in any competition that he plays in.
Archie Thompson (Melbourne Victory) How the mercurial 33 year old has never made it in Europe is honestly beyond me. The skillful, quick striker has the football nous and trickery to be a great support striker wherever he plays. Although age is now against him he could still play in Europe.
Ben Kennedy (Newcastle Jets) The first keeper in the list, Ben Kennedy is nearing the perfect age (24) for a keeper to venture overseas. Having represented the Qantas young Socceroos has hopefully given him a taste for the top job. The best way to do that is to make your way to Europe.
Tommy Amphlett (Perth Glory) Tommy started in 6 of the 15 games that he played for Glory this season. Another example of how the A-League is further developing the career paths of young players, Amphlett was a standout junior in WA at youth and senior level. Could be the answer to striking problems at Perth and higher levels in Europe.
Dimitri Petratos (Sydney FC) The archetypical modern footballer, fast, skillful and athletic, Petratos will need to replicate the 2010/11 season form that saw him become a regular for Sydney FC. If he does then Europe will most certainly beckon.
Paul Ifill (Wellington Phoenix) The Phoenix have lost the player that would have filled this spot, Marco Rojas, to Melbourne Victory. Paul Ifill is a more than adequate replacement and only other likely candidate in Wellington's aging squad. He has already had a decorated career in Europe's lower leagues and would fit back into these teams in the twilight of his career.
Christopher: Do you think the sudden decrease in "effective" marketing of the A-League from Season 3 onwards was the major factor that led to the A-League's decline?
                                       A-League Season 3 commercial. Where have the gone?
There are a number of factors that have led to what people have considered the A-League's decline. If we consider that crowd numbers and loss of two clubs a decline then it certainly has. But I must stress that I think the quality of play on the field has markedly improved and it is the off-field performances that seem to have declined.
(FTA) Free-to-air coverage is the answer that most pundits offer up as the main reason for the A-League's decreasing crowds. The chances of FTA coverage in terms of live games or even highlights packages are not likely under the current and potential new network agreement with Fox Sports.
Free-to-air advertising on the other hand is definitely where much needed interest and information can be spread by both the A-League and FFA. This is still the forum in where many people will see the game. Social networking is great for those who believe in the product but does not seem to capture the imagination of the casual attendee.
The FFA need to deliver on the marketing 'blitzes' that they promise to deliver season after season. Even a generic advertisement campaign that shows upcoming games graphics in each state would at least let people know when upcoming games are to be played.
Effective advertising needs to not only satisfy the niche' market but reach out to the subconcious of those that the league has yet to capture. So whilst I disagree that it is the only reason that the A-league is in a downward trend it has definitely not helped in the battle to maintain football's position in a very crowded sporting market.
(1) Manchester United Homepage, Managers, Alex Ferguson, 2011.