Courtois conundrum for Atletico raises issue over loan system

Tomorrow afternoon we will know the make-up of the Champions League semi-finals. After overcoming Barcelona, Atletico Madrid will be hoping to avoid Chelsea in the last four, and indeed the final should they make it.

Why? It’s not because they fear Jose Mourinho’s side, but rather because their first choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is on loan from the London side since 2011, and were Atletico to field him against his parent club, it would cost them in the region of €3m.

While there is no denying the short-term benefits of loan arrivals to smaller clubs, the system is weighted in favour of clubs like Chelsea. Clubs who can afford to buy high quality players then send them on loan to gain experience instead of parachuting them immediately into the first team. These high quality players in many cases end up playing in the same league as their parent club, yet clauses in the loan deal stipulate that they cannot compete against them.

A case in point is Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker joined Chelsea for around £17m (including add-ons) in 2011. After a relatively underwhelming debut season, the 20 year old has matured into an exceptional attacking threat. Not for Chelsea, however. He joined West Bromwich Albion on loan in the summer of 2012 and went on to score 17 goals in the league for his adopted club. That was more than any individual playing for Chelsea managed that season. He scored for the Baggies against Liverpool, and netted a hat-trick against Manchester United on the last day of the season before returning to Chelsea for the summer.

On transfer deadline day last September, despite featuring in two of Chelsea’s early league games, Lukaku moved to Everton on loan after being deemed surplus to the requirements of Jose Mourinho. This season he has again been in good scoring form, with 13 so far. He (along with other loanees Barry and Delofeu) has been a vital component of Everton’s pursuit of Champions League football, and of Chelsea’s title tilt. His two goals in the first Merseyside Derby of the season prevented Liverpool from taking all three points. He scored last weekend against Arsenal to once and for all dump them out of the race for the Premier League trophy.

It didn’t go unnoticed by other managers in the league that Mourinho may have loaned out Lukaku primarily to take points off of Chelsea’s direct rivals. The fact that he couldn’t play against his parent club may also have shaped the title-race. In a tight game at Stamford Bridge in February, Chelsea took three points with a late John Terry goal.

The Blues aren’t the only team who have used the loan system to their advantage however. When Sunderland beat Chelsea 3-0 in November 2010, on loan Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck put in a man of the match performance, scoring one in the process.

It might be naive to hope for a system where on-loan players can line-out against their parent club, particularly in the same league. But when it obstructs a young player’s opportunity to play in the biggest games, such as it could with Courtois, then the system is inherently flawed.

After three years as Atletico’s number one, the Belgian will decide on his future at the end of the current campaign. Chelsea view him as a long term successor to Petr Cech, and he may return to Stamford Bridge in the summer to challenge the Czech keeper next season. But were he to miss out on either a Champions League semi-final or final because his presence in goal would disadvantage his parent club, the only parties that would benefit would be Chelsea and Daniel Aranzubia, Atletico’s number two.

 

Bayern Munich vs Manchester United as it happened

After Real Madrid and Chelsea secured their places in the Champions League semi-finals last night, there are two more spots up for grabs at the Allianz Arena and the Vicente Calderon tonight.

With the score 1-1 in both games, Bayern Munich host Manchester United while Atletico Madrid welcome Barcelona to the Spanish capital.

This live blog will have regular updates on the Bayern-United game, but I’ll keep you informed of important goings on in Spain too.

Manchester United had concern over Wayne Rooney but he appears to have recovered enough to start the game tonight. Marouane Fellaini and Rafael sat out United’s last training session yesterday and won’t be available. Juan Mata, who put in an excellent performance against Newcastle at the weekend, is cup-tied.

Bayern Munich are without Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez due to suspension tonight. Thiago Alcantara, a former Manchester United target, is still out injured, as is Xherdan Shaqiri.

Team News:

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Dante, Ribéry, Mandzukić, Robben, Boateng, Götze, Lahm (c), Müller, Alaba, Kroos

Subs: Raeder, van Buyten, Rafinha, Pizarro, Weiser, Hojbjerg, Weihrauc

Manchester United: De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; Welbeck.

SubsLindegaard, Büttner, Ferdinand, Giggs, Januzaj, Young, Hernandez

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.

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Full time thoughts: Bayern make their third consecutive Champions League semi-final but United wave goodbye to the competition. They won’t be dining at Europe’s top table next year. The first half wasn’t one for the neutral, as both sides failed to carve out many clear-cut chances. The second half started slowly too before an absolutely stunning goal from Patrice Evra sparked the game into life. That goal woke Bayern up and they replied immediately through Mandzukic.

Two more goals killed off the United challenge but in reality besides Evra’s goal the away side offered very little in attack. Wayne Rooney was clearly effected by his toe injury tonight. He had United’s best chance with the scores level but couldn’t direct a shot on target with the goal at his mercy. He looked uncomfortable striking the ball all night.

Bayern advance, but they have much to do to make the finals. They weren’t quite at their best and will face more potent opposition next time out.

90 + 3 mins – The final whistle goes at the Allianz Arena. In Spain too, Atletico Madrid have beaten Barcelona 1-0.

90 mins – Three minutes added. 1999 all over again? Probably not.

87 mins – Great strength shown by Pizarro to get a shot away under pressure from Vidic. He shrugs off the challenge but can only find the arms of De Gea.

86 mins – United players increasingly frustrated as this game nears its conclusion. Evra fouls Robben near the touchline.

83 mins – Substitution for Bayern. Claudio Pizarro on for goalscorer Thomas Muller, who receives a standing ovation.

80 mins – Substitution for United. Januzaj on for Danny Welbeck. The striker will look back with regret on his squandered chance at Old Trafford when he had just Neuer to beat.

No more goals to report in the other quarter final. Atletico are ten minutes away from a famous victory over Barcelona. 1-0 since the 6th minute, 2-1 on aggregate.

78 mins – Mandzukic could have added to United’s woes just now but he couldn’t make contact with an Alaba cross from the left.

75 mins – GOAL BAYERN! 3-1 on the night as Arjen Robben slaloms through the United defence and his attempted shot takes a heavy deflection off Vidic and past the helpless De Gea. That should be that.

73 mins: Bayern with 22 attempts to United’s 4 and 74% possession so far. Substitution for United as Hernandez comes on for Fletcher. Rooney will drop a little deeper. United have just over quarter of an hour to rescue this game.

71 mins – Good tackle from Vidic in the box on Muller. Sixty thousand Bayern fans scream for a penalty but the ref rightly gives a corner.

69 mins – Yellow card for Patrice Evra. The Frenchman brought down Robben as the winger looked to be straight in on goal.

66 mins – GOAL BAYERN! Thomas Muller gets a toe on a whipped cross from Arjen Robben! 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. If United score another they will go through, so all is not lost for David Moyes’ men. That was Mullers 5th goal in this season’s Champions League competition.

64 mins – Mandzukic rises highest to head a corner just wide. Rafinha is on for Mario Gotze as Guardiola makes his first substitution. That presumably means Philip Lahm will go to midfield with the sub slotting in at right back. Slightly defensive substitution from Pep there?

61 mins – Wayne Rooney misses what looked like an easy chance! The goal seemingly at his mercy after Welbeck slid the ball across the six yard box, the United striker scuffed the ball wide.

57 mins – GOAL BAYERN! Mandzukic with an immediate response for the home side. A close-range header after a cross from the right hand side. You wait all night for a goal and then two come along at once. Away goals cancelled out, the sides are level and one must score to go through. Game on!

56 mins – GOAL UNITED! Patrice Evra with a screamer into the top right hand corner from 20 yards! Great work by Valencia in the build-up to get a cross in from the right.

54 mins – It’s taken until the 54th minute but Manuel Neuer finally has to make a save. He gets down to his left to save a Kagawa effort from 20 yards. One you’d expect him to save really.

53 mins – Vidic takes one where it hurts. blocking Mandzukic’s shot from the edge of the box.

52 mins – This game really needs a goal to liven things up. Neither side posing much of a threat yet though.

46 mins- Smalling lands awkwardly after corner number two for United early in the half. The young defender is ok.

20:47 – Second half is underway.

Half time thoughts – Of the two sides, Manchester United can claim to have had the better half. The away side have been fairly solid in defence, albeit against a lacklustre Bayern Munich performance. Neither side seem eager to throw caution to wind just yet, which is understandable with so much at stake. However Manchester United need a goal and so the second half should be a more open affair. If United push forward they are liable to be caught on the break by the pace of Ribery and Robben on the Bayern flanks but it’s a risk they have to take if they are to progress to the semi-finals.

45 + 1 mins: Boateng blasts a ball high and wide to end the first half.

45 mins – One minute added at the end of the half.

43 mins – Robben takes on four United players in the box and lets off a shot when he should perhaps have found his teammates in better positions. Smalling blocks for a corner which comes to nothing.

39 mins – Lahm takes Evra out on the edge of the Bayern box, hurting the United full-back but the referee waves play on. Carrick eventually puts the ball out so his team mate can get attention.

37 mins – Kroos has an attempt from the edge of the box which fails to threaten De Gea’s goal.

35 mins – Manchester United comfortable with everything Munich have thrown at them so far. The home side haven’t been at their best as of yet. A bit ponderous in attack.

30 mins – They’ve reached the half hour point in Munich and it’s all very tentative at the moment. Neither side really committing going forward because both fear a counter attack.

27 mins – Yellow card for Vidic for climbing all over Mandzukic.

26 mins – Ribery with a shot from distance after Valencia failed to close him down properly. Fizzed past the near post but De Gea had it covered.

23 mins – Bayern with a lot of possession in the last five minutes…

Whoops! Forgot to mention that Atletico Madrid have taken the lead against Barcelona! 1-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate after Koke scored in the 6th minute.

20 mins – Intricate play from Gotze releases Ribery. The Frenchman is flagged outside after he squared the ball to Muller in front of goal.

16 mins – Antonio Valencia has a goal disallowed for Manchester United! Both he and Kagawa were offside as a cross came in from the left and the Ecuadorian finished to no avail.

12 mins – Plenty of crosses early on from Bayern Munich. Not many reaching their target as of yet. Curious to see them deviate from their usual passing game but they do have the imposing figure of Mandzukic up front.

7 mins – Huge chance for United! Rooney gets the ball in space in the Bayern box and all he had to do was slide it left to Kagawa. The Japanese player had the time and space for a shot on goal. Rooney eventually opted for the shot himself which was easily blocked.

6 mins – Rooney instigates United’s first attack with a cross from the left. Dante clears easily.

3 mins – First half chance for Bayern as a Robben cross finds Thomas Muller. He fails to direct his header on target.

1 min – The field opens up for Arjen Robben who brings the ball from the half-way line to the edge of the box before distributing to Ribery. A cross from the Frenchman fails to find Mandzukic.

19:45- The teams are out and we’re underway!

19:40 – Philipp Lahm reverts to right-back tonight for the home side. He’s been playing a lot in midfield under Guardiola this year but with Mario Gotze back in the side and Thomas Muller dropping back into the centre, the captain moves back to defence. He’s been so good in his new midfield role, Roberto Martinez brought Leighton Baines to watch the German play recently. The Everton manager thinks Baines could make the transition to midfield in the years to come.

19:35- Bayern haven’t won in three games, their longest drought since early 2011. Though that could be something to do with the fact they have the Bundesliga wrapped up for a few weeks.

19:30- Guardiola on Sky Sports. Playing down talks of a second successive treble for Bayern, saying the focus is on getting to the Champions League semi-finals. The coach says his side will attack tonight, and that it would be mistake to play for the draw.

19:20-  Gary Neville has been tweeting his thoughts on how United can go through to the semi-finals;

19:15- United need to score tonight, with Bayern taking an away goal from Old Trafford. The omens are good as Bayern have not won their past four home games against English opposition. The first loss in the streak was against Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final at the Allianz.

19:12 – David Moyes on Sky Sports now. Talking about Bayern’s high back line and how United must exploit it.

19:00- So with 45 minutes until kick-off the teams are in. Shinji Kagawa starts for Manchester United tonight following an impressive display as a half time substitute in the first lef. Wayne Rooney also makes the first XI, having had a pain-killing injection after his toe injury.

Mario Mandzukic starts up front for the home side, the Croatian setting up Bastian Schweinsteiger’s goal at Old Trafford after coming on as a substitute. Mario Gotze begins in midfield instead of the suspended Schweinsteiger after being limited to a substitute appearance last week.

 

Premier League: 3 talking points after the weekend

Liverpool making their own luck:

Two penalties against Manchester United a few weeks back and two penalties yesterday at West Ham have been crucial to Brendan Rodgers’ side finding themselves top of the table with five games remaining.

However that’s not to say Liverpool have been getting it all their own way, as shown by West Ham’s equalizer yesterday. The fact is that Liverpool wouldn’t be getting penalties were they not creating chances, and they are top of the league by virtue of playing the most exciting football this season. They could still lose out if Manchester City come to Anfield next Sunday and win, but Brendan Rodgers deserves great credit for how his side have come from fourth place outsiders to title challengers.

Also, if there is a highly contested decision during a game, either video technology should be available to the referees or there should be no replay of it on the big screen. There can be no half measures. Liverpool players pointing to the big screen at Upton Park yesterday, screaming at the referee to watch Andy Carroll’s foul in the build up to West Ham’s goal while the referee refused to do so was farcical.

Norwich board take big gamble:

An underwhelming campaign thus far from Norwich City has led to the sacking of manager Chris Hughton. While lying fourth from bottom with five games left is bad enough, the fact that four of those five games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal leaves Norwich with much to do if they aren’t to be playing in the Championship next season.

Whatever the dire circumstances Norwich find themselves in, is it wise to sack Hughton at this stage of the season? Admittedly the team has been uninspired under the former Republic of Ireland international all season, but what makes the board think that this will change under the tutelage of youth team coach Neil Adams? Are they hoping for that “new manager effect” that sometimes lifts teams particularly in the early stages?

That doesn’t always happen. Ask Pepe Mel, the West Brom boss since December and Hughton’s final adversary as Norwich manager.  His first win didn’t come until mid March.

The final four games against the big sides pale in comparison to Norwich’s fixture next weekend. They come up against fellow strugglers Fulham in a game that could see the Canaries go eight points clear of Felix Magath’s side with a win. Depending on other results, three points for Norwich may leave them in 13th place by Sunday evening. For the club to disrupt the preparations for that game by sacking Hughton is a huge gamble.

 

McCarthy and Coleman thriving under Roberto Martinez:

Everton’s performances this season have been wonderful to watch. Yesterday was one of the best yet as they dismantled an Arsenal side who not three months ago were among the favourites for the title.

They may lose some of their key players during the summer if they cannot make their loan deals permanent. Striker Romelu Lukaku is certainly one they would like to keep, but Gerard Delofeu will more than likely return to Barcelona and Gareth Barry may also move on.

One thing is sure however, Martinez will be doing all he can to keep hold of Republic of Ireland internationals James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman. The pair have been key to Everton’s fight for a Champions League spot all season. Gareth Barry last week heaped praise on McCarthy, saying he was one of the best midfielders he had played alongside. Seamus Coleman is almost a certainty to be named in the Premier League team of the year. The Donegal man has been in outstanding form, chipping in with important goals from full-back.

All this is good news for Irish football fans, and if Everton manage to hold onto both players then they will only improve further under the astute Martinez. Darron Gibson may return from a serious knee injury before the end of the season, and with Aiden McGeady at the club since January, Martinez has a crucialrole to play in the development of important Ireland players in the Martin O’Neill era.

 

Featured Image: GETTY Images

Premier League Preview: Crucial weekend at top and bottom

Last weekend’s round of games saw a shift in power at the top of the table. With Manchester City and Chelsea both dropping points, Liverpool took full advantage with a convincing win over Tottenham Hotspur.

In the race for a Champions League place, Everton’s victory over Fulham saw them keep the heat on Arsenal. Fulham meanwhile remain rooted to the bottom of the table, five points from safety.

West Brom and Cardiff City played out a six goal thriller at the Hawthorns last time out, with a last gasp equaliser keeping the Welsh side within touching distance of safety, albeit with a game more played than last week’s opponents.

Here are the crucial fixtures this weekend:

Manchester City vs Southampton, Saturday, 12.45pm.

City dropped points at Arsenal last time out and need a win in today’s early kick-off in order to keep the pressure on Liverpool. They’re favourites against Southampton however, having lost just one of their last 19 Premier League games. Southampton had big win against a lacklustre Newcastle last weekend, consolidating 8th place in the table.  They haven’t lost in their last two meetings with City, drawing 1-1 at St Marys earlier in the season.

Kenyan midfielder VictorWanyama could make a return for the visitors. Sergio Aguero has resumed training but remains unavailable for City selection.

Chelsea vs Stoke, Saturday, 5.30pm.

Mistakes have cost Chelsea dear in their last two games. A John Terry own goal at Crystal Palace and three defensive mistakes against PSG have halted their momentum. Mourinho is less concerned about the defensive mistakes than he is about his strikers inablilty to score goals however, and it’s likely that an overhaul of the attack will take place in the summer.

Stoke won 3-2 at the Brittania in the reverse fixture and have four victories in their last five games. Interestingly, for all the criticism leveled at the Potters’ style of play in the last few years, they have only scored two headed goals all season. That’s the lowest of any side in the league.

Eto’o is still out for the home side, but Stoke welcome back Jonathan Walters from suspension.

Norwich vs West Bromwich Albion, Saturday, 3pm

Both sides hover just above the relegation zone and defeat for either side would mean a nervous run-in. The Canaries are unbeaten in last six at home and a victory could see them move up to 12th in the table. Pepe Mel has failed to turn West Brom’s season around. The midlands outfit have won just one of their last 21 league games. However a win at Carrow Road would put them level with today’s opponents with a game in hand.

Leroy Fer, who scored in victory against the Baggies earlier this season is still unavailable for Norwich. West Brom have received a boost in defence with the influential Jonas Olsson back from suspension.

Everton vs Arsenal, Sunday, 1.30pm.

The Toffees welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park for a high-stakes encounter at Sunday lunch-time. Everton are four points behind the Gunners with a game in hand. Roberto Martinez’ men have won their last four games in the league and have only lost one at home all season. The last time these sides met in the league it ended in a draw, however Arsenal took the spoils in the FA cup earlier this year. Victory for Everton puts them in the driving seat for fourth place, but they have the tougher run-in on paper.

Ross Barkley should be passed fit after being substituted with a calf complaint against Fulham last weekend. Aaron Ramsay makes a welcome return to the Arsenal squad for the first time in 2014 following a thigh injury.

West Ham vs Liverpool, Sunday, 4pm.

liverpool suarez carroll west ham southampton man city norwich west brom chelsea stoke

“Yeah… I’m just gonna go.”

Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll came to Anfield in January 2011 as a result of Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea. Looking back now, it’s unbelievable to think that Suarez was the cheaper of the two. The Uruguayan has been in scintillating form this season, and has the opportunity to break the Premier League scoring record before the end of the season. He’s two goals from making it his own, and with six goals in his last five league appearances it’s difficult to see him not adding to that tally today.

West Ham will prove a different proposition for Brendan Rodgers’ men to the spineless Spurs outfit they encountered last weekend. Andy Carroll, now a permanent Hammers player following his £15m move last summer, will look to outmuscle an often-times defensively frail Liverpool back four, with another former Liverpool player Stewart Downing supplying balls into the big centre-forward.

Lucas Leiva made his return as a substitute for the Liverpool last weekend, and could make the starting line-up for the first time in almost three months. West Ham should have captain Kevin Nolan fit after coming off with a back problem in Monday’s win over Sunderland.

 

Advantage Liverpool as Chelsea and City drop points

Liverpool Tottenham

“Really? John Terry!?”

Liverpool can go top of the Premier League tomorrow evening after results went their way today. Brendan Rodgers’ side host Tottenham Hotspur in the Sunday afternoon kick-off and victory will see them leapfrog Chelsea to the summit.

A John Terry own goal gifted a struggling Crystal Palace side a vital win at Selhurst Park this afternoon, and Liverpool fans had more to cheer about as Manchester City could only draw at Arsenal.

David Silva gave City the lead at the Emirates, but a Mathieu Flamini equaliser ensured Manuel Pellegrini’s men left London with just one point.

Liverpool go into tomorrow’s 4pm kick-off knowing that a win will put them top, two points ahead of Chelsea and four ahead of City, albeit with two games more played than the Manchester side.

The Merseyside club have been in a rich vein of form recently, winning their last seven games in the League and scoring 26 goals along the way. This weekend’s however can only dream of that consistency. Tottenham have lost three of their last six games in all competitions. Tim Sherwood’s chargers haven’t lost three consecutive away games in the league since January 2009, but that record is under threat tomorrow.

Brendan Rodgers will again look to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge to lead the charge. The SAS partnership has yielded 48 league goals so far this season, and with Spurs short of defensive cover, the strikers will be confident they can add to that tally tomorrow as Liverpool chase their first league title in 24 years.

Tottenham have little left to play for this season, however with Louis Van Gaal openly courting the managerial position, Tim Sherwood will be keen to show that his side can compete with the top sides in the league. They snatched victory late on against Southampton last weekend, keeping the pressure on Everton in the race for fifth.

Striker Roberto Soldado showed some intelligent link-up play in last week’s win, however the Spaniard is still struggling for goals and Tottenham will be hoping that Emanuel Adebayor will have recovered sufficiently from his ankle injury to take some part tomorrow. Jamie Carragher has retired so Spurs can’t depend on him for goals anymore in this fixture.

3 vital points at stake as Arsenal welcome Manchester City

arsenal

Wilshere and Silva clash in December’s clash

Manchester City go to Arsenal on Saturday evening chasing the three points that will keep their title tilt on track. Arsenal meanwhile need the victory to stave off Everton who are breathing down their necks for the fourth and final Champions League spot.

If this fixture had occurred a few weeks back it would have been billed as a battle between two title contenders. However a bad run of league results in March for Arsenal, victory over bitter rivals Spurs notwithstanding, has left them adrift of the top three. Last weekend’s 6-0 hammering by Chelsea was followed by a calamitous midweek draw at home to Swansea. Everton are now just 6 points behind the Gunners with a game in hand and Arsenal still having to visit Goodison Park in April.

Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes was quick to put the boot in on Tuesday night, questioning Arsenal’s lack of leaders and heart in big games. Even his own beleaguered former club has taken four points off of Arsenal in the league this season. In games against strong opposition this campaign Arsenal have crumbled. Against Liverpool in February they shipped 5 goals away to Liverpool while in the December’s reverse of Saturday’s fixture Manchester City hit them for six.

As is usually the case with Arsenal, talks of a crisis don’t tell the whole story. They may be out of the Champions League after losing to Bayern Munich and have no chance of lifting the Premier League trophy, but they are still in the FA Cup (felling Liverpool the week after losing 5-1) and haven’t fallen below fifth in the league all season.

Nevertheless February and March have, for the past few seasons, seen the start of a good run of form for the Gunners which would consolidate their place in the top four. That has certainly not been the case this campaign, and if they should capitulate to Manchester City on Saturday then Everton will certainly fancy their chances of overtaking them.

City go into the game having scored 8 goals in their last two outings. Yaya Toure has helped himself to half of that total and Arsenal have to  find a way to subdue the big Ivorian, along with the in-form David Silva. Pellegrini’s men had no difficulty in demolishing Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, even with the home side crowding the midfield in an attempt to curb Toure’s influence. If Arsenal’s midfielders don’t harry and hassle City in the middle of the park at every opportunity, they will leave their defence with too much to do.

With City only three points behind league leaders Chelsea, with two games in hand, they know that a victory at the Emirates will give them the upper-hand going into a crucial period of games which includes a trip to Anfield to face second placed Liverpool.