How Wolf Alice Are Dominating Music In Their Own Way

In the glory of an adrenaline-filled triumphant moment it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and say something you may later regret. However, fans of Mercury Prize winners Wolf Alice know that bassist Theo Ellis has always lived with his heart on his sleeve and remained his true charismatic self while giving the acceptance speech for their sophomore album, Visions of a Life. “I remember the first label meeting we ever had. We walked into a room and the geezer said ‘the fuck.. you lot don’t look like a band at all. What are you supposed to be? Your songs sound different, you don’t look like each other..’. We never really figured it out, but here we are. So fuck you.”

The Wolf Alice project originally began in 2010 as a folk duo of lead vocalist Ellie Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie before drummer Joel Amey arrived two years later. Ellis was the final addition, his wily charm and boisterous personality an entertaining and lively component of what makes Wolf Alice so special. In his own words, he was “not so much like a lion to an antelope but more like a kitten to a pretty ball of string” in becoming the band’s fourth member. While his quirkiness may be what is adored about him, Ellis’s ability on the bass has been instrumental in allowing Wolf Alice to chase alternative and exciting new sounds. Oddie’s quiet genius functions as the base which the band could not grow and thrive without, while Amey’s rhythms are the perfect complement for Rowsell’s stunning range.

Their debut LP My Love Is Cool reached number two in the charts and served as a platform for their preeminent follow up. Wolf Alice’s music explores many different directions and takes risks, but that’s something they like. “I’ll watch one band and be like ‘I want to be in that band’ and then I’ll watch another completely different band and be like ‘actually no, I want to be in that band’. But why do I have to be in one or the other?” Rowsell told the BBC’s Mark Savage. “We’re easily influenced, but I think the thing we’ve learned the most is that you have to trust your gut”.

It’s a good thing that they didn’t pay too much attention to early meetings with ignorant executives, then. Visions is a masterpiece exploring multi-faceted dimensions to their music, crafted from a maelstrom of emotions – it wouldn’t make sense to categorize it under one genre.

Rowsell both ridicules and romanticises young love in “Don’t Delete The Kisses”, a track that seriously reinforces Wolf Alice’s versatility, contrasting well with the band’s lead single “Yuk Foo” which illustrated pure and unadulterated rage. As Jazz Monroe of Pitchfork points out, the song shows that “clichéd romance is tedious and shallow only until it comes for you. Then, it’s electrifyingly real”.

“Formidable Cool” is an intense, raucous track that captures the precariousness of falling for someone that is better avoided. Wolf Alice’s capability of creating a tone that is harsh and merciless in its delivery is some of the most outstanding lyrical work on the album. “If you knew it was all an act / Then what are you crying for?”.

“St. Purple & Green” is one of my personal favourites as Rowsell delves into the concept of death after being inspired by her grandmother, creating the alluring notion of an afterlife that is exciting because it is unexplored.

The title track is arguably the best on the album, guided so masterfully through its seductive build up before launching into a fiery eruption of Rowsell’s piercing shrieks in tandem with Amey’s frenzied drumming and some astonishing solos, closing beautifully. In reflection, not awarding Visions the Mercury Prize seems incomprehensible now.

While their recent achievements could point to an imminent meteoric rise – they’ve already toured with Queens of the Stone Age and Foo Fighters – their feet remain firmly planted on the ground. For a band of Wolf Alice’s burgeoning stature, they’re still striving to include and reward their loyal fanbase. At last November’s Barrowland gig a teenager was invited to play in front of a sold-out crowd, while Rowsell arranged a proposal on stage during their recent Reading Festival set. There aren’t many who would go to such lengths.

They’re also outspoken on a number of important issues, chief among them mental health as Amey told Apple Music’s Julie Adenuga: “We’re very close with each other and if something’s up usually the other three can tell pretty quickly and we’re good about talking through things.

I’ve found myself feeling quite guilty about talking even if you’re tired or feeling low because from the outside it’s like the most exciting and amazing thing to be doing.. you don’t want to be seen like you’re complaining.

It is the most amazing thing ever but people, especially recently men in rock, [is] where a few people have committed suicide and you need to just talk and be encouraged and have people tell you it is absolutely fine. When would it not be fine?”

As well as championing positive wellbeing, Rowsell launched a benefit gig called “Bands 4 Refugees” in late 2016 after the destruction of the Calais Jungle, while in May they collectively decided to support the Palestinian people’s call for a boycott of Israel “as a means of peaceful protest against a brutal and bloody occupation”. Ed Nash of The Line of Best Fit believes that a band doesn’t have to compromise its values to be successful, and that is certainly something that Wolf Alice’s success has highlighted.

After a frenetic touring schedule Ellie, Joff, Joel and Theo will close out the year with two shows at the 02 Brixton Academy before returning home to remind loved ones of their existence. It may be a while before we see them at venues such as the Olympia Theatre again, but rest assured if Visions is anything to go by, the wait will be well rewarded.

 

 

The Ruhr Rivals: Tuchel Faces Breitenreiter As A New Era Begins

After disappointing campaigns for both Borussia Dortmund and their bitter enemies Schalke 04 in 2014/15, both teams are under new management, and both managers are quite unknown to those who do not follow the football in Germany closely. Who are the new tacticians behind the Revierderby?


On the 19th December 1909, seventeen men founded a football club in Dortmund, Germany after becoming unhappy with the constant monitoring by priests whilst they were playing for a church sponsored team Trinity Youth. A first brush with bankruptcy halted progress in 1929, when the club signed paid professionals to play for them. This only sunk the club further into debt and a rescue only came from the generosity of a local supporter who bankrolled BVB out of the red from his own pocket.

In the same year, a team by the name of Schalke 04 had won their first West German championship- only to be suspended from playing for six months following the emergence that the club had exceeded the salary cap for it’s players in the league. However, this didn’t curtail their support. In a game against Fortuna Dusseldorf in 1931, 70,000 fans were drawn to the ground. It was not until after the war that an intense rivalry between the two.

Back to the present day, and those two teams share that fierce rivalry ever still, though both have had various levels of success and failure. Both Borussia Dortmund and Schalke, however, have to admit that fortune has not shone brightly on either of them in the last year. Jürgen Klopp, after a extremely successful seven years at the Signal Iduna Park, had decided it was time to leave. He had nurtured and developed the likes of Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski slowly, but surely only to see them snatched by Bayern Munich.

Injuries, the uncertainty as to whether key individuals would stay, and poor form of players such as Ciro Immobile in the league resulted in Dortmund enduring a horrendous season. Being bottom at Christmas to the recovery that followed in the Rückrunde (second half of the season) gave Dortmund the consolation of a Europa League place. However, Dortmund had failed with their aspirations of further success in Germany and in Europe, and so had Klopp. A change was needed, and quickly.

Schalke, on the other hand, were under the guidance of the unfavourable Jens Keller from 2012 to 2014, when he was replaced by Champions League winning coach Roberto di Matteo in November of last year. The former Chelsea manager brought about a fresh sense of positivity for the club’s future, and it did start out quite well for him. An emphatic win over Hertha Berlin started his reign, and the most impressive “di Matteo styled performance” that followed was a stubborn 1-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach in a quite effective use of the catenaccio system. However, di Matteo’s honeymoon period was brought to an end as the rocky results that followed brought a miserable end to the season. The losses against Mainz and Hamburg in particular drove the final nails into the Italian’s coffin. Subsequently, he was removed from his post as Schalke finished 6th, failing to qualify for the 2015/16 Champions League.

As aforementioned, both camps have had to go under new management, but just who are the individuals given the task to rejuvenate their teams and bring back success?

Thomas Tuchel

Tuchel’s quite a popular figure in Germany having done a stellar job with Mainz before leaving with a year left on his contract at the end of 2013/14. Having taken a year’s sabbatical, it was widely expected that Tuchel would eventually take over Joachim Löw’s job as manager of the German national team. It was a surprise, then, when he was announced as Klopp’s replacement, but very much a welcome one in the eyes of the Dortmund faithful. His tutelage of Mainz led them to the Europa League, where Kasper Hjulmand unravelled his work rather quickly, losing in a qualifier to Greek outfit Asteras Tripolis. His shrewd management, and analytical thinking, should do the world of good as Dortmund head into a new era. He worked with a €20m budget, only a €5m increase on one of the relegated teams of 2013/14 in Eintracht Braunschweig. Having more room to swim in the transfer market could bring exciting things. Expect quick, attacking football with alternative patterns in approach play to always keep opponents wondering what the next move will be. Tuchel could be described like a chess master, often three steps ahead.

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Andre Breitenreiter

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It was an achievement in itself that SC Paderborn were promoted to the Bundesliga at the end of the 2013/14 season with Breitenreiter exceptional at the helm. After nine points from the opening nine games in the 2. Bundesliga, the club suddenly stormed to a second placed finish, earning a first-ever promotion to the top flight.
“We should seize this opportunity to drink up every type of beer in Paderborn” were the words of the coach. Despite battling all the way to the last day of the Bundesliga season, Paderborn were relegated and Schalke, after being turned down by Marc Wilmots, chose Breitenreiter as di Matteo’s successor. Relatively unproven at such a huge club, it will be interesting to see how Breitenreiter copes. His team at Paderborn were known for trying to play good football, and having a never-say-die attitude. His debut with Hamburg was certainly one to remember as a player, nutmegging Lothar Matthaus before firing past Oliver Kahn within the first fifteen minutes!

Both managers settled quickly and instantly became entangled in a fight to win- but with the Bundesliga over a month from it’s return, Tuchel and Breitenreiter’s attention turned to one player, Mainz’s influential starlet Johannes Geis.

An outstanding set-piece taker, Geis is the hub of the midfield and thrives with the responsibility. His four goals and four assists are not the stats you should be looking at, though. A whopping 74 chances were supplied by Geis for his team-mates, 54 tackles were won and with his 73 % pass accuracy from 1155 passes is impressive at only 21. Geis also played  a prominent role for Germany’s U21’s as the reached the semi-finals of the European Championships.

It was widely thought that it would be Dortmund who secured his services seeing as Tuchel had already worked with Geis, but Breitenreiter won the first battle in the market with his new counterpart, signing Geis to a four-year deal for an undisclosed fee.

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Tuchel and Dortmund did convince Ilkay Gündogan to sign a new contract after it was widely expected he would leave Germany for Manchester United, or join bitter rivals Bayern Munich. In truth, it seemed Gündogan backed himself into a corner and was left with no choice to agree a new deal with Dortmund to repair a damaged relationship. It is no doubt Gündogan is a fine player, though the strings attached to his purchase for a club, namely his poor injury background, would ward off interest. The addition of Gonzalo Castro from Bayer Leverkusen will pay off handsomely in an astute transfer to bring some balance and strength back into the Dortmund midfield.

Ultimately, it is the job now of Tuchel and Breitenreiter to restore glory back into the clubs they now are in charge of. The question is, who will thrive, and who will disappoint? With fresh rivals for the Champions League places now in place in the shape of Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg, both Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 will have to fight tooth and nail to bring Europe’s best to the Ruhr region again.

Inside Championship: The Football League Weekly

Derby County have sent out a roaring message to the rest of the Championship with the addition of Austrian forward Andreas Weimann in a reported £2.75m deal with Aston Villa.

With over 100 top flight appearances to his name, and thirteen caps at international level, Weimann is certainly an outstanding signing in the second tier of English football and is a brilliant addition to have at Paul Clement’s disposal. Darren Bent, who scored twelve goals in seventeen appearances in a loan spell at the iPro stadium last season has already joined the club permanently, alongside former Reading and Leeds defender Alex Pearce and Wigan goalkeeper Scott Carson.  Real Madrid’s former assistant manager had high praise for his new signing.

“It goes without saying that we are very pleased to welcome Andreas Weimann to Derby County and we very much look forward to working with him.

“He has a good amount of top flight experience to his name and, at the age of 23, he still has a lot of potential.”

Elsewhere in the Championship, Jamie Mackie has been relishing the chance to perform week in, week out at Queens Park Rangers after rejoining the club he had a three year stint with back in 2010.

“People say never go back, but I feel as though I’ve got some unfinished business here and under the guidance of Les [Ferdinand] and Chris [Ramsey], I can only see a bright future for this club.” Mackie said, talking to the club’s official website.

He joins former Swindon duo Massimo Luongo and Ben Gladwin as well as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas at Loftus Road.

Bolton have looked to Ireland as a source for potential signings with a rumoured interest in talented duo Richie Towell and Daryl Horgan of Dundalk.

The duo won the league with the club last season, whilst the latter player has been in fine form, the left-winger winning the League Of Ireland’s player of the month award for May.

Finally, Paul Gallagher has said it was a “no-brainer” to sign permanently with Preston North End after their play-off success in May.

Gallagher, 30, has spent the last two years on loan with the Lilywhites from Leicester and was delighted to get the deal done, extending his time with Simon Grayson’s outfit for a further two years.

“It was something I wanted to get done quite quickly and it’s great that it’s been done,”

“Being here last year and witnessing what happened and with the team spirit and the staff that we have here it was a no-brainer.”

Gallagher’s permanent stay is not the only good news for fans of the club, with star forward Joe Garner agreeing to a new three-year contract. Garner’s outstanding partnership with Jermaine Beckford will be reunited, with Beckford himself signing on a two-year deal after his release from Bolton.

Bundesliga Review: Matchday 13

Jürgen Klopp must be feeling the warm breath of the Dortmund board on the back of his neck after Sunday’s 2-0 loss in Frankfurt. Qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League has been achieved, yes, but they still languish bottom of the league.

Eagles captain and Bundesliga leading scorer Alexander Meier put the home side in front with his eight goal of the season in the opening five minutes and in the closing stages a mistimed Matthias Ginter header allowed Haris Seferovic to intercept the ball and round custodian Roman Weidenfeller to finish BVB off.

Their closest rivals in the relegation zone, Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart, both picked up outstanding wins to pile the pressure on Die Borussen. Viktor Skrypnyk’s reign has begun well and another win steers them further away from trouble. A surprise 4-0 rout of SC Paderborn thanks to goals from Zunuzovic, Selke, Bartels, and Aycicek. Stuttgart won the curtain raiser of the Bundesliga weekend in a 4-1 triumph away to SC Freiburg, who will be nervously looking over their shoulder after dropping into 15th. Vladimir Darida cancelled out Martin Harnik’s goal midway through the first half but Gruezo, teenage starlet Timo Werner and a second from Harnik won the game for managerless Stuttgart, though Stefan Mitrovic’s red card after seventy minutes undoubtedly helped.

Bayern Munich narrowly beat Hertha BSC at the Olympiastadion thanks to Arjen Robben’s goal but still have to keep up their incredible pace at the top as Wolfsburg triumphed over third placed Mönchengladbach, Robin Knoche’s (slightly) fortunate goal early into the game proved decisive, Diego Benaglio producing an outstanding save from an Andre Hahn header, Kevin de Bruyne had a goal disallowed before a late scramble in the Wolfsburg box proved fruitless in Die Fohlen’s attempts to salvage a point. Here’s what André Hahn had to say after the game, courtesy of the Borussia site:

“That’s our third Bundesliga defeat in a row. It was unlucky and consequently we are annoyed. We didn’t put in a bad performance but we need to be more clinical in front of goal. We struggled in that regard today. There’s a lot of work to be done in front of us but I’m optimistic that we will return to form sooner rather than later.”

Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke romped to resounding victories over Köln and Mainz. Both Champions League sides went into their games on the back of disappointing results in mid-week, but both would have delighted their managers.

Leverkusen fell behind due to Andreas Lehmann’s early penalty but the Billy Goats false start was reversed as braces from Karim Bellarabi and Josip Drmic, a summer signing from Nuremberg, who will hoping to kickstart his season from here, and another absolutely sumptuous free kick from Calhanoglu, which can be seen below, won the game for Roger Schmidt’s men 5-1. This young man is among the best in Europe, certainly at set pieces.

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Schalke’s Klaas Jan Huntelaar made it 100 goals in the Bundesliga to set a personal milestone for the Dutch forward. The Royal Blues led 2-1 at half time, Shinji Okazaki’s goal an attempt to claw the 05’ers back into the game after Die Hunter had put his team 2-0 ahead. Huntelaar notched another to complete his hat trick in the second half after Tranquillo Barnetta had extended Schalke’s lead nine minutes after the break.

Augsburg also continued their impressive form with a 3-1 win over Hamburg, Rafael van der Vaart’s well placed effort from Rudnevs’ pass gifting the visitors the lead on the stroke of half time, but  Halil Altintop equalised soon into the second half, Raul Bobadilla put Weinzierl’s side in the lead just after the hour and captain reliable Paul Verhaegh smashed home a penalty to kill Hamburg off, who again find themselves struggling after narrowly escaping relegation after a play off win over Greuther Fürth. Augsburg, on the other hand, had a fantastic season in 2013/14, finishing 8th, and despite losing stars like Hahn and Ostrzolek find themselves in a Champions League spot in December.

The game of the weekend was at Hoffenheim who faced Hannover. Pirmin Schwegler scored a fantastic, low-drilled free kick before a superb squared ball from Jin-Su Kim was met by Kevin Volland, who fired past Ron Robert Zieler. A poor misjudgement on Oli Baumann’s part let the ball bounce over his head and allowed Lars Stindl to nod home, before Joselu met Jimmy Briand’s pass and sweetly lofted the ball into the top corner, not worrying about respect towards his former team in terms of celebration! Eugene Polanski scored arguably the goal of the weekend to restore Hoffenheim’s lead before Niklas Süle headed home Polanski’s free kick, though awful marking didn’t help Zieler. Lars Stindl got his second of the game to give Korkut’s side some hope but Hoffenheim held out.

Here’s the table at the end of matchday 13:
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Balotelli to Liverpool: Do or die.

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When Luis Suarez took his leave for Barcelona in the summer, many of social media’s crazy gang took their time to laughing at Liverpool, predicting in July a Champions League spot was impossible without their key man. A reported £75m transfer fee sent Liverpool’s accountants into jubilation, but the task was still at hand to replace Suarez and strengthen the whole team, most notably in the wing back positions, where on the right side Glen Johnson was entrusted to defend against the likes of Eden Hazard and David Silva in the race for the Premier League title last season. Liverpool’s additions have been impressive over the summer but they still failed to find a solution to their striking problem before last Sunday’s opener against Southampton. Fortunately for monsiuer Brendan, his side triumphed 2-1, and developments regarding a possible Mario Balotelli transfer to Anfield rose rapidly in the media this week. The controversial Italian has had a number of bust ups with managers and fellow team mates over the past few seasons, and only moved to Milan in January 2013 after an eventful time at Manchester City. What can we expect of the colourful character?

It’s hard to argue despite Balotelli’s infringements, he is an upgrade in behaviour to Suarez. The Uruguayan has had countless incidents with club and country over his career (three cases of biting, being found guilty of racism against Patrice Evra, pretending to be injured after breaking an opponent’s leg). Man management is among the most crucial, if not the most important aspect of management these days and when Balotelli is in an environment in which he’s comfortable and happy, he’s among the best forwards in the world. He can create moments of magic and madness out of nothing. Exploding fireworks in his bathroom before appearing in a safety advert in the use of fireworks, as well as his sublime, exquisite, oh so good finish against Bologna are probably astute examples.

It’s fair to say Balotelli did not have the best World Cup (still managing to score against England) but with Milan in somewhat of a crisis it is a damaging club for Mario to be with in an important stage in his career. Who’d have thought people would have been saying that looking at Milan’s team ten years ago? The Milan we used to know is in tatters, and a move to Liverpool would have the effect of a renaissance on his career, rather than stagnating with Milan, who won’t appear in Europe this season.

Born in Palermo, Sicily, to Ghanian immigrants, Mario was fostered by the Balotelli family at the age of three. After an unsuccessful trial at Barcelona, Inter Milan signed him on loan with a view to a payment of €150,000 to secure a co-ownership of the forward from Serie C side Lumezzane, a side he made his professional debut for aged 15. Inter were impressed with their find and exercised the right to have full ownership of the player, having to fork out an additional €190,000.  Despite his respectable tally of twenty goals in fifty nine appearances in the blue of Inter, he had his fair share of mishaps and controversies during his first stay at the San Siro. In 2009, Jose Mourinho was in charge of I Nerazzurri and was less than pleased with Balotelli’s work ethic in training. “I can’t accept that (no effort) from someone who is a nobody, who hasn’t made it yet, who is still a talent with potential. He needs to work harder. as far as I’m concerned, a young boy like him cannot allow himself to train less than people like Figo and Zanetti.”

He also caused uproar by appearing in an AC Milan shirt on an Italian football show. Despite apologising afterwards, he left for Manchester City in 2010. Again, Balotelli impressed for the most part on the pitch but couldn’t help getting himself into trouble and being antagonistic, claiming when winning the Golden Boy award in the same year of his arrival in Manchester that only one winner of the award in the past had been “slightly” better than him in Lionel Messi, before saying he had no idea who Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere was, a player he had narrowly beaten to the award. As I’m sure you know, Mario had an eventful time in Manchester, scoring some fantastic goals, getting himself sent off a few times as well as having a  tussle with his manager on the training ground before returning to Serie A with AC Milan, which I’m sure riled a few Inter fans. Roberto Mancini, his manager at the time, said sanctioned Balotelli’s sale to Milan for his own good, describing the forward as “like another one of my children” and hoping he could become one of the world’s best when returned to Serie A.

His first half season with the Rossoneri was outstanding, scoring twelve goals in thirteen appearances, largely contributing to Milan’s qualification for the 2013-14 Champions League, as well as matching Olivier Bierhoff’s record of four goals in his first three matches for the team.

Balotelli has been on the end of numerous racial abuse incidents whilst in Italy, particularly from former club Inter’s fans, who abused Balo in a match in the Derby della Maddonia as well as in a match that didn’t even involve the player a couple of weeks before. Back in February of this year, Mario started to cry after being substituted in a game against Napoli. Widespread rumours were made that his tears were due to racial abuse from Napoli supporters, but instead it was because he had missed a fantastic chance. Clarence Seedorf called the moment “beautiful” probably because it showed the mark of  a man who truly cared about the cause. Team mate Ignacio Abate commented on the situation: “Mario really cares about doing well with Milan and making his mark. He is sentimental. It’s a shame that he got so downhearted about it, as he needs to keep his head up.”

I believe it’s clear to see that Balotelli and everyone associated with him knows the move to Merseyside will be his last chance saloon to become a truly world class player. His agent Mino Raiola spoke to Italian media about whether this was true.

“At the top level, yes,” Raiola told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera “Either it works here or it’s a bust. If it goes wrong? Mario is 24 years old. He no longer has the alibi of his age.”

“Milan are a great club and I couldn’t have asked for any more from them,” he added. “Mario played well for six or seven months, giving a decisive push for them to enter the Champions League. But then you could see he is not ready to be a leader. Will he ever be a leader? It’s not mandatory that every player has to be a leader.

According to the Liverpool Echo, Balotelli would have to cut his wages by 50 % initially- he’s still be earning £100,000 a week, a tidy sum of money, but could restore his wage back to what it was with Milan if performance related and behavioural clauses are met.

Mario Balotelli is a fantastic striker, but this move to Liverpool will be a career defining one. Will he mature and become one of the world’s best, or let his attitude dictate his future? Brendan Rodgers is a fantastic man-management coach,  but his next project could make or break Liverpool’s progress in the Champions League after a long absence.  Right now, Liverpool need Balotelli, and Balotelli needs Liverpool.

Pre season: Borussia vs Bilbao

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Saturday’s friendly represents Moenchengladbach’s final test before kicking off their 2014/15 campaign against FC Homburg in the DFB Pokal on the 16th of August. They play Spanish opposition in Athletic Bilbao, who are in action in the Champions League play off stage, albeit facing an arduous task in overcoming Napoli.  “We were paired with the most difficult side of the five we could have faced, Athletic are the strongest of them all, no doubt about that. They play good football and the great support of the 50,000 fans at the San Mames makes them difficult to beat for anybody. ” Rafa Benitez said after the draw.

Lucien Favre’s men have a relatively easy tie in the Europa League play off tie against Bosnian outfit FC Sarajevo. Nevertheless, both sides have shown over the last campaign their obvious qualities and are a good test for each other as the new season approaches.

Pre season form

Borussia: Victories over 1860 Munich and Rennes before a 1-1 draw against Premier League opposition Stoke City is how ‘Gladbach began their pre season games, then participating in the annual Telekom Cup, a Max Kruse double forcing the game against Bayern Munich to penalties, which the German champions won 7-6, before losing 3-1 in the third place play off to Hamburg. They recovered from this minor disappointment with a strong 4-1 victory against Dutch side FC Twente in their penultimate pre season fixture.

Bilbao: Ernesto Valverde’s team have had an indifferent pre season, collecting wins against Getxoko, Al Hilal, and Paderborn, drawing with Werder Bremen, with their only losses coming against Toulouse and Osasuna, not that the results will worry the manager too much. They go into the match against their opponents on Saturday having recently defeated Europa League finalists Benfica 2-0.

Of course, both sides have lost massive players in their teams, Moenchengladbach goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen joining Barcelona whilst Bilbao’s Ander Herrera linked up with Manchester United, much to the annoyance of club president Josu Urrutia, who claims Herrera “deceived the club” by saying he was happy to stay put before leaving San Mames for Old Trafford. In contrast, Borussia were able to keep hold of one of their very important men, on loan World Cup winner Christoph Kramer, who will stay at Borussia Park for the remainder of his two year loan thanks to Bayer Leverkusen’s stance against entertaining any kind of offer from Napoli, the interested party in Kramer’s services.

However, the Basque side have been able to tie down defensive duo Mikel San Jose and Aymeric Laporte to long term contracts with buy out clauses of €35m and €40m respectively.

While Valverde and co. were working hard to make sure none of his stars would leave on the cheap, Gladbach acquired a number of talented individuals on a next to nothing basis- namely Fabian Johnson, who impressed many at the World Cup, from Hoffenheim as well as Andre Hahn for a ridiculous fee of €2.25m from Augsburg, and ter Stegen’s replacement, Basel’s Yann Sommer, for a rumoured €6m fee. “I can’t wait to play in front of my new fans for the first time,” said  Sommer. “It will be my first home game in Gladbach colours. I hope that lots of fans will be there,” added Ibrahima Traoré, another new summer recruit from VfB Stuttgart. Bilbao have added Borja Viguera from Alaves to add depth in the striking department, meeting his buy out clause of around €1m.

Prediction: A free flowing game. 2-2 draw.

Lisbon demand more as Southampton chase Rojo

Ronald Koeman’s search for a replacement for Luke Shaw took a hit today as Sporting Lisbon reportedly announced they would only sell for their World Cup star Marcos Rojo for a fee of £16m.

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According the various media outlets, Sporting have already rejected an initial bid of €11m for their star defender from the Saints and will not want to lose him, as well as fellow defender Eric Dier, who is a target of Tottenham. However, the player himself has given Southampton some good news, be hinting he may be open to a move.

Rojo said: “Everyone has a price. If a good deal arrives, then I’m sure I will sit down with the club and evaluate things. We still do not know what my future will be. It is a matter for the club and my representatives. I’m cool.”

The Argentinian, 24 was arguably one of the best performers at the World Cup and is rumoured to have attracted interest from Liverpool and Chelsea, though the signings of Lovren from Southampton for the Merseyside club and the arrival of Filipe Luis at Stamford Bridge have cooled the interest. It seems that Koeman’s side is in pole position to land Rojo but will have to act quickly. Rojo operated as a wing back for Argentina in Brazil but can also play centre back and scored six times for Lisbon in the Portuguese league last season.

Mainz begin European adventure

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After a hugely successful campaign last season under Thomas Tuchel, Mainz finished in seventh place to book themselves a potential place in this season’s Europa League. A new season, a new manager, and a few new players, they take on Greek opposition Asteras Tripolis in the third qualifying round. “Playing in the Europa League’s a massive opportunity for us,” enthused Mainz sporting director Christian Heidel. “We’re really excited about it. Balancing domestic and European football will be a challenge, but that’s part of the attraction” (via Bundesliga.com).

Summer Ins & Outs

Besides the disappointing resignation of popular coach Tuchel, the loss of Cameroon international Eric Maxim Choupo Moting to Schalke on a free left new manager Kasper Hjulmand with the task of replacing the 25 year old, who scored ten times and assisted three in Tuchel’s final season. Serbian attacker Filip Djuricic arrived from SL Benfica on a year’s loan with a view to a €12.5m permanent move. “He is a talented, agile, versatile and dangerous in front of the goal. Due to his versatility he will give us greater variability,” Hjulmand said of his marquee signing. Chile international Gonzalo Jara also signed for free,  Greuther’s Furth’s Daniel Brosinki as well as Stefanos Kampino from Panathinaikos as back up for number one Loris Karius after a bid for Bolton’s Adam Bogdan was rejected. The only one other notable departure was Shawn Parker to Augsburg.

The Opposition

Asteras’ rise has been impressive, having competed in the fourth division of the Greek league ten years ago they had reached the qualifiers for last season’s Europa League and having already played twice competitively this season, whilst Mainz are still in pre- season. Finnish side RoPS Rovaniemi stood in Asteras’ way of the tie against Mainz, and after a 1-1 draw in the first leg they triumphed 4-2 at home last week to set up a tie at the Coface Arena this Thursday.

Key Players- Mainz

There’s a number of key individuals in this Mainz team- Karius, Diaz, Bell, Muller, Okazaki to name a few, but the real leader of this team is holding midfielder Johannes Geis.

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Geis, 20, joined from Greuther Fürth at the start of last season and wowed many with his industrious displays, usually in a pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The German is among the best in the league and is the complete midfielder. Of the 250 players to attempt 50+ crosses in Europe’s top 5 leagues in 2014, Geis had the best cross accuracy (43.8%, via Who Scored), creating 70 chances and winning 47 % of his duels last season (Squakwa). He is the anchor to the 05’ers defence and should protect his team well and possibly assist offensively considering his attacking prowess and the admittedly weaker opposition come Thursday.

Key Players- Asteras Tripolos

Attacking midfielder Pablo de Blasis scored a total of nine goals and contributed seven assists in the Greek Super League and is probably Asteras’s main threat going forward against Mainz. De Blasis netted twice against RoPS and should give Geis and co. some work to do on Thursday evening.

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Predicted Mainz line up: 
L. Karius, D. Brosinski, S. Bell, N. Noveski, J. Díaz, J. Geis, E. Soto, N. Müller, F. Djuricic, J. Koo, S. Okazaki

Predicted Asteras line up: G. Bantis, B. Lluy, K. Sankaré, D. Goian, T. Panteliadis, D. Kourbelis, M.Usero, M. Rolle, A. Bakasetas, P. de Blasis, J. Barrales

Score prediction: Mainz 3-1 Asteras Tripolis.

A place in the play-offs awaits the winners. The second leg is scheduled for August 7th.

World Cup: England vs Italy-review

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Fans of England were sent into celebration almost immediately as Raheem Sterling’s ferocious effort seemed to nestle into the right hand top corner, though on closer look the Liverpool winger’s effort had ended up in the netting on the wrong side of the net, before his club team mate Jordan Henderson’s 20 yard drive was clawed away by deputising Italy goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, in the team after Gianluigi Buffon missed out late on through injury.

Both sides were playing open and attractive football and a wonderful move down England’s right hand side was chased by Daniel Sturridge who turned his marker inside out but couldn’t carve open an opportunity as his ball into the box was comfortably caught by Sirigu. The Italian’s first real effort came from the impressive Lazio winger Antonio Candreva, a dipping and swerving effort being parried by Joe Hart before being cleared away. Gerrard then beautifully found Sterling deep into the Italy box, the 19 year old beating Marco Verratti and squaring the ball into the box, unfortunately for the Three Lions no one was able to be on the end of the delivery.

Italy began to press the English further and the orchestrator of brilliance Andrea Pirlo’s decise pass was flicked on by Darmian and Balotelli almost reached the ball to put the Italians in the lead, though It wasn’t long before the Azzurri were celebrating.

Candreva’s corner was passed short to Verratti, he found Pirlo who cleverly noticed Juventus team mate Claudio Marchisio prowling behind him, opting to let the ball pass between his legs before Marchisio lined up his shot and rifled home through the onlooking England defence, perfectly finishing into the left hand bottom corner. Italy lead but England’s response was fast and brilliant.

Raheem Sterling, who was causing his opponents multiple problems in the No.10 role, did well to intercept an Italian move and played an exquisite through ball to Wayne Rooney, who was appearing on the left flank. The Manchester United star’s cross was accurate enough for the onrushing Sturridge to calmly strike the ball past the helpless Sirigu, though poor England physio Gary Lewin dislocated his ankle in the celebrations that followed.

Italy were keen to head into the break in the lead and another Andrea Pirlo through ball was met by Balotelli. Hart unwisefully decided to try and rush the AC Milan striker into the decision, who then calmly lofted the ball over the ‘keeper. Much to Mario’s dismay, Phil Jagielka was on hand to head away off the line to save Hart and England’s blushes. Candreva then burst into the box to rocket a shot off the post as the half time whistle blew.

Five minutes into the second period Cesare Prandelli’s side did take the lead again. Torino’s Matteo Darmian was a troublemaker with his blistering pace and he located Candreva who beat Baines easily, who then saw Balotelli at Hart’s near post and crossed superbly for the 23 year old to head home with Glen Johnson and Gary Cahill in disarray in England’s defence.

Wayne Rooney made his first real attempt at goal, beating Daniele de Rossi and firing just past Sirigu’s far post, then wasting a terrific chance after Baines had done well to find him in the swarm of Italian defenders, turning and shooting awfully wide when everyone in the ground expected a goal with a Steven Gerrard penalty shout not given after the England captain had tumbled with Chiellini sandwiched in between Rooney’s chances.

Candreva then left Rooney behind on England’s left hand side which was in truth quite poor for most of the evening, found de Rossi who’s lofted pass was brilliantly controlled by Darmian but a chance couldn’t be constructed. England then rapidly made a counter attack, substitute Ross Barkley at the forefront of it all, his curling shot tipped away well by Sirigu, who was filling in for Buffon quite aptly.

Barkley was in charge of everything good that England did after his arrival on the pitch, a stunning run with the ball was robbed by Rooney was miscued and hit the ball well, well over before the Everton midfielder did well to set up his Liverpool rival Sterling, though at this stage the hard working Sterling was running out of energy and could only muster an effort similar to Rooney’s.

Steven Gerrard narrowly hit a free kick over the bar in a decent position before Baines’ set piece forced a save from Sirigu, though the man of the match by a distance Pirlo had the final say with a stunning free kick, that swerved away from Hart and cannoned off the bar. Hart’s post match comment to Pirlo was simply “wow, what a free kick!” If ITV’s lip reading experts were correct.

After Uruguay’s surprising 3-1 loss to Costa Rica has blown the group wide open, the Three Lions meeting Uruguay on Thursday hoping Luis Suarez will not be fit enough to make an appearance on the pitch in a must-win game, whilst Italy obviously take on Costa Rica hoping to effectively secure passage into the last 16.  Italy’s passing accuracy vs England tonight ( 93.2 %) is the highest ever recorded in a World Cup game since 1966. (Thanks to @OptaPaolo for that incredible stat).

England manager Roy Hodgson: “It’s difficult when you lose a game to take positives. Even when it was 2-1 I thought we’d get back and & go on to win. The only positive I can take is that it was undoubtedly the best I’ve seen the team play during my time with them. It’s very good to know that we have so many players who will help us become a much better team going forward. I’ve got great confidence that we can do well enough in the next 2 games to qualify.”

Italy manager Cesare Prandelli: “It was a hard fought game, and we fought well. I was optimistic of a victory because we worked hard.”

FIFA World Cup preview: England

England 2014 World Cup Home Kit

Sunday, 27 June 2010.

The day that brought an end to a, to put it simply, disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa four years ago in what was then manager Fabio Capello’s last spell in charge of England at a competitive tournament. The group games were terrible. The opening match against the United States will always be remembered for that mistake by Robert Green which effectively ended his England career, a drab 0-0 against Algeria where Wayne Rooney took out his frustrations on the booing fans via the camera, before scraping through against Slovenia. After that, the Three Lions were drawn against bitter rivals Germany, in which they were soundly thumped 4-1 by a side who had Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller breaking onto the scene.

October 15, 2013.

The final group game against Poland at Wembley. Three points was needed to top the group and the pressure was intense, as you expected and thankfully the team pulled through, winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Rooney and Gerrard. The plane tickets could be booked for Rio in June 2014.

May 12, 2014

The squad is announced. Roy Hodgson decides to name the 23 man squad straight away and ignore the usual method of naming a provisional method- a great idea according to former goalkeeper David James, eliminating any worry or anxiety in the camp regarding who’s staying or going.

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Man City), Ben Foster (West Brom), Fraser Forster (Celtic).

Defenders: Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Man Utd), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Man Utd), Leighton Baines (Everton), Luke Shaw (S’ton).

Midfielders: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (S’ton), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Man City), Ross Barkley (Everton).

Forwards: Wayne Rooney (Man Utd), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Man Utd), Rickie Lambert (S’ton)

Stand-by list: John Ruddy (Norwich) John Flanagan (Liverpool), John Stones (Everton), Michael Carrick (Man Utd), Jermain Defoe (Toronto), Andy Carroll (West Ham), Tom Cleverley (Man Utd).

Goalkeepers:

Joe Hart had a poor campaign last season and started this one in similar fashion, and his Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini was brave enough to do what former boss Roberto Mancini could not-drop the England no 1. Thankfully, this was a wake up call for Hart and his performances have been apt enough to earn his call up and more than likely retain his role as the best goalkeeper in the England set-up. Fellow Premier League ‘keeper Ben Foster was a surprise inclusion but in my eyes more than deserved, with Celtic stopper Fraser Forster making the cut also.

Defence:

Most fans are happy with Hodgson’s selections in defence. Glen Johnson isn’t the best right back in the world to put it nicely, but with Tottenham’s Kyle Walker being ruled out with injury and Johnson participating in the group stages, it’s understandable he makes the side. Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka both had very strong seasons with Chelsea and Everton, and though there was fears Jagielka could miss out after the 31 year old sustained an injury towards the end of the season, the experienced centre back has made a fully recovery. At left back, there was a little controversy created after Ashley Cole was excluded, but Leighton Baines is a wonderful left back and Luke Shaw should provide a nice alternative option should Baines under perform or get injured. Manchester United duo Phil Jones and Chris Smalling make up the the rest of the defensive team.

Midfield:

Unfortunately Theo Walcott is ruled out as expected after leaving the pitch early in an FA Cup triumph over Tottenham, the Arsenal winger would have been an excellent asset for Hodgson to have but on the positive side the midfield is mixed with youth and experience. Captain Steven Gerrard narrowly missed out on his first Premier League title with Liverpool and is usually passionate and assured in a Three Lions shirt and his team mate Jordan Henderson has performed admirably after a rough beginning at Gerrard’s team. Frank Lampard and James Milner boast past tournament experience with England whilst Adam Lallana’s superb season with Southampton earned him an inclusion in the 23. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley are both exciting young talents playing in Merseyside and although a somewhat brave move from Hodgson in some people’s eyes to include players so young, sometimes youthful exuberance can boost a team in a way an experienced player cannot, though Sterling could be utilised as a forward. James Milner has been consistently good in Man City colours when given the opportunity and although not expected to start, he will be a reliable man to be called upon when needed from the bench- he could well by key in what will be a huge match against Uruguay. Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere make up the rest of the midfield section.

Forwards:

It was a massive shame to hear that Jay Rodriguez ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament towards the end of the season after making massive strides in the last two seasons. Otherwise, England’s attacking options are altogether strong but a fear exists as always that the strikers will turn into players of Evo-Stik Northern Premier League quality rather than their usual best. The England team of today may not have the striking partnership of Sheringham and Shearer but they do boast the talents of Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, both having credible seasons with their clubs, whilst Rickie Lambert hit 13 goals and 10 assists for Southampton and the 32 year old is set to be rewarded with a move to Liverpool. Danny Welbeck beat Jermain Defoe and Andy Carroll to the final spot in the striking set up.

The group:

Grey Dyke is not a popular figure as it is but before the “B team” nonsense his “cut-throat” gesture after England drew Italy, Costa Rica and Uruguay was not met with praise from England’s passionate supporters. Italy seem to be under valued by other fans every tournament but after finishing as runners up in Euro 2012 and the same position at the U21 tournament last summer they should be feared. South American teams always do well at World Cups and Uruguay are no different, reaching the semi-finals in 2010. Costa Rica appear to be the whipping boys of the group but every opponent needs to be respected, but being realistic England should really put them to the sword being the easiest of the three opponents.

Prediction: 2nd place in the group which could set up a last 16 fixture against Colombia, but I believe that will be as far as England will get. However, this tournament will be an excellent stepping stone to Euro 2016 in France and ultimately the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Come on you Three Lions!