Category Archives: Studio 90

SportsZone’s soccer segment

The Curious Case of the Premier League

The Barclay’s Premier League has long marketed itself as the most unpredictable league in the world. And while in most years the claim serves as a strong advertisement and nothing more, this year the words are quite true.

Look no further than the league leaders with 15 games left to play. Don’t rub your eyes, that is Leicester City’s name you see atop the table. Led by the dynamic duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the Foxes have taken the English league by storm. While the struggles of Chelsea (in 13th place) and Manchester United (5th) have allowed room at the top of the table, Leicester City was not supposed to be a beneficiary of these struggles. Leicester was supposed to be in a relegation fight with new manager Claudio Raneiri, not a fight for a Champions League spot.

With each passing week, people claim Leicester City’s bubble will pop and they will return back to earth, and with each passing week Vardy, Mahrez and Co. prove everyone wrong. Vardy set the Premier League record for consecutive games with a goal when he scored in 11 straight matches in during a red hot period from August to November and has managed 16 goals overall. Mahrez, not to be overshadowed by his teammate, has managed 13 goals, giving Leicester two of the top five goal scorers in English soccer.

It is now too late in the season to say Leicester City is a pretender. They must be strongly considered to fight Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham for the Premier League title.

News just this week has made Leicester’s case for the title even stronger. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City’s $90 million man, suffered ligament damage in a League Cup match against Everton that will sideline him for up to 6 weeks. This injury coupled with Arsenal’s recent struggles (2 points from their last 3 matches) make it really seem plausible that it could be Leicester City’s year.

Leicester’s magical run at the top of the league has masked some of the other unpredictable elements of this year’s Barclay’s Premier League. West Ham United, Southampton, Stoke City and Watford (all typical mid-table/relegation fighters) sit on the top half of the table within 5 points of a Europa League spot. Tottenham is experiencing a youth revitalization under Mauricio Pottechino and are threatening to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since the departure of Gareth Bale. Liverpool is struggling under new manager Jurgen Klopp, Everton is underperforming for its talent level and AFC Bouremouth is surviving comfortably in its first top flight season in its 125 year history.

Yet all these stories are being overshadowed, rightfully so, by little Leicester City. Will Leicester City keep up their torrid pace and win the league? Who knows. They’ve already dodged what many perceived as a major bullet in retaining Mahrez and Vardy during the transfer window.

This Premier League season truly has been unpredictable and will be must watch TV from now until a winner is crowned in mid-May.

Messi wins Ballon d’Or, FIFPro World XI Announced

Barcelona and Real Madrid had a field day at the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich. The ceremony not only crowns the best male soccer player in the calendar year with the Ballon d’Or, it also names the best players at each position, naming a World XI team of the year.

Lionel Messi of Barcelona took home his record fifth Ballon d’Or, topping teammate Neymar and Real Madrid talisman Cristiano Ronaldo despite missing two months towards the end of 2015 with a knee injury. Messi still managed 52 goals and 26 assists for club and country in his injury shortened year, which is on par with Ronaldo, who managed 57 goals and 16 assists in 2015 and finished second in the Ballon d’Or voting. The numbers make it seem difficult to differentiate between the two, however there was little doubt it would be the mercurial Argentine who would take home the Ballon d’Or as Messi led Barcelona to have one of the most dominant years in the history of club soccer. Barcelona captured five trophies in 2015: the La Liga championship, the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.

In the Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich, Messi delivered one of the most iconic goals of 2015 when he glided past Jerome Boateng and delicately chipped Manuel Neuer. The goal carried Barcelona into the final, where Messi was at the heart of everything good for Barcelona and set up Luis Suarez’s go-ahead goal in the 3-1 victory over Juventus.

Messi was at his best less than a month later, scoring two goals in the Copa del Rey final, including a solo run that saw Messi dance down the right touchline past four Athletic Bilbao defenders.

Messi was also named to the FIFPro World XI team, joined by Barcelona teammates Neymar, Andres Inesta and Dani Alves. Real Madrid also had four players make the World XI team: Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Luka Modric. Paul Pogba of Juventus, Thiago Silva of Paris Saint-Germain and Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich rounded out the World XI.

Ronaldo and Messi’s appearance on the World XI team marked the ninth team each player had made the Team of the Year, while Inesta was named to the World XI for the seventh time in his career. Neymar, Pogba and Modric appeared on the World XI for the first time in their careers.

Real Madrid and Barcelona’s representation in the World XI continues La Liga’s dominance over the World team in the past six seasons. Since 2010, 47 of the 66 players on the World XI have come from La Liga. The Bundisliga is the next most-represented league, with seven Team of the Season players in the past six seasons.

The only major European league not recognized in the World XI was England’s Premier League.

Mourinho Out As Chelsea Boss

Well for many Chelsea fans, a page has turned!  After delivering the club an unprecedented 5th Premier League Title, the Chelsea boss was let go after a horrible start to the season.  The Blues currently sit in 14th place and have found themselves standing just above the relegation line in the Premier League.

Mourinho himself has had a storied managerial career that has led him through some of the world’s biggest clubs including: Chelsea, Inter Milan, Porto and Real Madrid.  Many of his players consider him to be one of the greatest managers of all-time and the best of his generation of bosses.  During his most recent tenure with Chelsea, he boasted an unheard of 80 wins  and 27 losses along with 29 draws.

He has also brought home quite a large sum of hardware for each of the respective clubs he manned the sidelines for including: 8 league titles, 11 national cups, 1 Europa league win and 2 Champions League titles.  Mourinho also holds some of the longest home winning streaks of any soccer manager in which he did not lose a game from February 2002 to April 2011.

Many teams are involved in the paper chase to possibly land Mourinho.   Manchester United, Bayern Munich, and the MLS have all been tied with Mourinho.  This transfer window will be very intriguing to watch, and this offseason can provide some fireworks depending on where Jose decides to take his talents to.  Either way, there will be no shortage of headline worthy news coming out of Mourinho camp for some time.

As for his replacement at Chelsea, Guus Hiddink has been named the interim manager for Chelsea.  During his short time as the manager of Chelsea, Hiddink has managed to keep the Blues afloat and they have been holding at 14th.  However, with news around Mourinho swirling, it’s only a matter of time before he potentially ends up on the other side of the pitch at Stamford Bridge.