Three things: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

Posted by Miguel Delaney

Gareth Bale celebrates after netting the winning goal for Real Madrid.GettyImagesGareth Bale celebrates after netting the winning goal for Real Madrid.

Three observations from Real Madrid's 2-1 Copa del Rey win over Barcelona at the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia.

1. Bale displays the Real difference

Real Madrid completed the first triumphant step of a potential treble. Barcelona sank into even deeper trouble. That one high-profile summer signing in Gareth Bale scored the scintillating winner, and the other in Neymar missed an eminently presentable chance for an equaliser, further displayed the different directions of the sides. Continue Reading...

Wilfried Zaha wanders from the path to greatness

Posted by Rory Smith

Wilfried Zaha found himself completely out of favour at Man United under David Moyes.GettyImagesWilfried Zaha found himself completely out of favour at Man United under David Moyes.

There was a song they used to sing about Wilfried Zaha. This time last year, not a game went by without Crystal Palace fans offering a chorus of it at some point. It greeted every shimmy, every feint, every dropped shoulder, every body-swerve, every virtuoso sleight of foot. "He's just too good for you," it went. Nobody sings it any more.

Zaha was on the bench for Cardiff City on Saturday. He has been on the bench a lot recently. He has started a game just once since being removed at half-time as Hull City dismantled Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side on Feb. Continue Reading...

Grit must guide the Gunners

Posted by John Brewin

Arsene Wenger GettyImagesArsene Wenger faces a familiar situation at Arsenal.

Age before beauty. On Tuesday night, Arsene Wenger opted for a squad that was the oldest -- by average age -- he had selected in 1,000-plus Arsenal matches. If Arsenal are to get over the line in both Champions League qualification and the FA Cup, they will do so via the force of experience. Two goals from a player with over 100 international caps, in Germany’s Lukas Podolski, and the crucial effort from 27-year-old striker Olivier Giroud did the job against West Ham. On Saturday in the FA Cup semifinal with Wigan, it was Per Mertesacker, a 29-year-old with 96 German caps to his name, who saved the day with a late equaliser before the pressure on penalties told on the Latics. Continue Reading...

The 'Iranian Messi' who wants to hug Arsene Wenger

Posted by Michael Yokhin

Sardar AzmounGettyImagesSardar Azmoun (C) has been tipped for a bright future.

If Arsenal do indeed intend to sign Sardar Azmoun, as widely reported recently, they should expect some very unorthodox demands from his parents. The 19-year-old striker is strangely dubbed the "Iranian Messi" by some, but his role model is Neymar. He strives to emulate the Brazilian -- and not in the sense you would expect. Azmoun’s goal is different; he aspires to become a father at a young age, just like the Selecao star.

“I noticed that all the big stars got married early, so I am planning to marry in the near future,” he said in a recent interview in Iran. Continue Reading...

With FFP progress imminent, what does it all mean?

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Jean Catuffe/Getty ImagesWill PSG be alright under UEFA's imminent FFP announcements?

Financial fair play is here. At least the next step. UEFA's Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) got together in Nyon, Switzerland, this week and soon -- possibly in the next few days but definitely before the end of the month -- those clubs who are in breach will be notified.

When I wrote about this back in September 2012, I used a Q & A format and it seemed to be pretty well received. So, given the amount of confusion out there, here's a follow-up.

Q: OK, so we've been hearing about this for a long time. Continue Reading...

Hope springs for Zenit and Andre Villas-Boas

Posted by Eliot Rothwell

Andre Villas-BoasGettyImagesAndre Villas-Boas is smiling again after a fine start to life back in management.

A winter of discontent has given way to a spring of hope for Zenit St. Petersburg and their new manager.

"People insult my integrity, my human values, my professionalism," Andre Villas-Boas lamented as a string of bad results and burned bridges brought his Tottenham tenure to a close. Four months later, though, AVB has taken Zenit back to the summit of Russian football, becoming the club's first manager to win each of his four opening games.

The 4-1 demolition of FK Krasnodar this past weekend, with title rivals Lokomotiv Moscow dropping points to Anzhi Makhachkala, saw Zenit rise to the top of the Russian Premier League for the first time since the start of the winter break. Continue Reading...

PSG's 'mini-crisis' turns up the pressure on Blanc

Posted by Julien Laurens

Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty ImagesPSG's small slump has the likes of Edinson Cavani under fire.

It is funny how much difference a week can make in football. This time seven days ago, Paris Saint-Germain were on the verge of the last four of the Champions League, even billed as potential winners of the competition. They had what was considered one of the best offensive lines in Europe, and they believed so much in manager Laurent Blanc that they had offered him a new, and much-improved, contract.

A week later and PSG has lost two games in a row for the first time this season: They were knocked out of the Champions League by Chelsea after a very disappointing performance last Tuesday and then lost 1-0 at Lyon in Ligue 1 on Sunday. Continue Reading...

Silver lining for Wenger?

Posted by Ian Darke

AllsportWenger took charge of Arsenal early in the 1996-97 season.

Nothing lasts forever. Not even the Arsene Wenger Show at Arsenal, which has been running almost as long as "Les Miserables" in London's West End.

After 18 years and more than 1,000 matches, a sizable portion of Gunners fans are wondering whether the final curtain can be far away for their urbane and classy manager.

Wenger has delivered three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, the fabulous "Invincibles" of the 2003-04 season and endless Champions League football, including one final, in 2006. Continue Reading...

England duo suffering wear and tear

Posted by John Brewin

Daniel Sturridge and Wayne RooneyGettyImagesDaniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney are struggling with injuries towards the end of the season.

It is fair to say that Anfield has not proved to be the happiest of hunting grounds for England coach and former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson. Some might say he is rather brave to bother re-visiting. A mix-up last September that saw him denied access to the directors’ box for the game against Manchester United might hasten further reluctance.

However, needs must. Liverpool might provide England with as many as six players for the summer’s World Cup campaign. On Sunday, Hodgson and assistant Ray Lewington witnessed a classic match between Liverpool and Manchester City and were able to view eight probable squad members featuring for both sides. Continue Reading...

50-50 Challenge: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

Posted by Rob Train and Dermot Ledwith

Boris Streubel/Getty ImagesAngel di Maria's fine form of late could sway Wednesday's Copa final in favor of Real Madrid.

Real Madrid take on Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Copa del Rey on Wednesday from Valencia's Mestalla Stadium. We asked club experts Rob Train and Dermot Ledwith to go head-to-head in the latest edition of our 50-50 Challenge series.

Rob Train writes for the English version of El Pais, contributes to Bleacher Report and is one of ESPN's authorities on all things Real Madrid.

Dermot Ledwith does freelance work for a number of magazines and news agencies, including AFP and the Press Association and is one of ESPN's authorities on all things Barcelona. Continue Reading...

Liverpool and Atletico title wins would be great for football's soul

Posted by Andy Brassell

Steven Gerrard Liverpool and Gabi Atletico MadridGettyImagesCaptains Steven Gerrard and Gabi have been inspirational in Liverpool and Atletico Madrid's respective title challenges.

It is, in both cases, the power of “unbelievable belief,” to reprise a favourite from the Paul Merson back catalogue. How, you wonder at times like these, could it be any other way in the cradle of stadiums like Anfield and the Vicente Calderon? England and Spain could feasibly both have new champions by mid-May, and there is little at present that suggests either Liverpool or Atletico Madrid would be anything other than worthy winners of their respective league titles.

As hardly needs repeating, Liverpool’s thrilling win over Manchester City on Sunday was a 10th in succession in the Premier League. Continue Reading...

Quinonez stars as Bolivar make Libertadores challenge

Posted by Tim Vickery

Buda Mendes/Getty ImagesBolivar goalkeeper Romel Quinonez has helped his club reach the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores.

One of the most famous images of the final game of the 1950 World Cup, where Uruguay came from behind to beat hosts Brazil 2-1, is that of Danilo Alvim, the prince of the hosts’ midfield, overcome with the emotion of defeat and having to be helped away from the Maracana pitch.

Over a decade later, he was coach of the national team of Bolivia and led them to their greatest triumph: victory on home soil in the 1963 Copa America. But there were moments when he felt as distraught as that fateful afternoon in 1950, some of which involved the local goalkeepers. Continue Reading...