Tagged: RantSports

Kevin De Bruyne Sends Manchester City To Champions League Semifinal And Proves He Was Money Well Spent

Kevin De Bruyne Sends Manchester City To Champions League Semifinal And Proves He Was Money Well Spent

My piece for RantSports on Kevin De Bruyne’s impact at Manchester City.

Manchester City may not have expected this in their wildest dreams when they signed Kevin De Bruyne.

The Belgian attacking midfielder was the difference-maker in the English club’s quarterfinal Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain. The battle of the two nouveau-riche clubs trying to break into the European elite didn’t produce the highest quality football throughout, but City will feel their expenditure has been vindicated thanks to De Bruyne’s impact.

The former Wolfsburg man was the subject of transfer speculation during the summer of 2015. Manchester City were linked with the 24-year-old the most and finally got their man at the end of the transfer window. The reported fee of £50 million was high despite De Bruyne’s excellent displays in the Bundesliga during the 2014-15 campaign.

 De Bruyne has scored 15 goals and added 12 assists in all competitions for City this season. Those goals, and assists, played an important role in City’s march to the Capital One Cup trophy and he’s carried that impact to Europe. Many of City’s best performances this season have come with De Bruyne on the pitch.

The Citizens have disappointed in the league this season, but that has only solidified how important De Bruyne has been. City played seven Premier League games while he was out with injury and had four losses, two wins and a draw. Those results effectively knocked them out of the running for the title and left them clinging to the final Champions League spot. De Bruyne’s return at the beginning of April has seen City pick up two consecutive games for the first time since October. That’s no coincidence.

If there were any doubts about how De Bruyne would perform back in the Premier League they have all been dispelled. His time at Chelsea saw him loaned to Werder Bremen just a few months after signing before eventually leaving permanently only half a season into Jose Mourinho‘s second stint in charge at the club. Those who questioned Mourinho’s decision to let De Bruyne leave without giving him a proper chance will now feel vindicated.

The former Wolfsburg man has undoubtedly been more important to City’s attacking potency than David Silva, Yaya Toure and fellow big-money signing Raheem Sterling. The statistics back that up during City’s poor spell in the Premier League, and De Bruyne’s two performances against PSG add further credence to that argument.

De Bruyne has provided the clinical edge in front of goal that both Silva and Sterling lack. He’s certainly bested Toure in both the goals and assists department. Only Sterling matches him when it comes to assists, equaling his 12. One could argue that, given their importance, his two goals against PSG could have been the only for his club yet he would still surpass his teammates.

Manchester City now get a chance to prepare for their first Champions League semifinals. With De Bruyne leading the way they will feel that a place in the final is a possibility. That alone makes him well worth all that money spent.

Atletico Madrid Won’t Be Truly Elite Until Attacking Play Improves

Atletico Madrid Won’t Be Truly Elite Until Attacking Play Improves

And another piece of mine on Atletico Madrid and Their Problems in Attack

Atletico Madrid fans will breathe sighs of relief upon seeing their club return to the Champions League quarterfinals once more. This is Atletico’s third consecutive season appearing in the quarterfinals, adding strength to their growing claim as one of Europe’s best teams.

It took more than three hours for Atletico to breach PSV Eindhoven in their Round of 16 clash. That moment came in the form of Antoine Griezmann‘s penalty in the penalty shootout. Atletico, the favorites to progress, never truly lived up to the billing in either leg.

Diego Simeone has, quite appropriately, been praised in many corners for revitalizing the Spanish club. Atletico did the unthinkable in winning La Liga two seasons ago while making it to the Champions League final. The 2014-15 season saw a bit of sophomore slump, but Los Rojiblancos are back again, keeping things somewhat competitive in La Liga and returning to the latter stages of club football’s elite competition.

Despite these successes, the fact remains that Atletico will never be truly elite unless their attacking style improves.

Simeone has built a team in his image. Hard-working, tenacious, passionate, team-oriented and with a never-say-die attitude. Atletico have quality footballers in every department, yet they are still better in the underdog role. Tasked as they were against PSV, with the aim of controlling both games, Simeone’s charges mainly failed to sparkle. There were chances aplenty, especially for golden boy Fernando Torres and new talisman Greizmann, but it never seemed that PSV were ever really threatened.  The images of Simeone consistently active and flailing his arms on the sideline, waving the crowd on and yelling “vamos” suggested a manager who could think of little else to get past a well-organized opponent.

Passion, hard work and teamwork can get you so far, but a clinical edge or useful strategy in attack is needed to be truly elite. When the usual avenues, counter-attacks and set-pieces in this case are closed, then a team needs something more. Atletico are still missing that. They are one clinical striker away from being truly feared across Europe. Torres used to be that player, and Griezmann seems to be heading down that path so there is some hope. In the interim, Simeone needs to get his side to the point where controlling games comes as naturally as playing the underdog.

Atletico did not have full control in either leg, and the failure to score against 10-men in latter part of the first leg showcased their weakness. The Spanish side did create chances, but the failure to find the finishing touch almost came back to haunt them.

Simeone does have the tools at his disposal to produce a team that is dominant in both aspects. Griezmann and Torres are backed by the likes of Koke, Saul and Oliver Torres in midfield. All those players possess the unique blends of creativity, skill and vision necessary, and Gabi, too, possesses the ability to play in a more refined manner. Atletico need not alter their hardened mental attributes but further progress requires, well, progress.

It matters little now.

Atletico head into the quarterfinals likely to regain their underdog status given the teams they will face. The majority of teams remaining will prefer to control the ball. That means Atletico can get back to their best, harrying teams that prefer possession and delivering the killer blow when given the chance. Simeone will need to go back to the drawing board when the summer comes, though. Many thought this season would result in a change in style for the Argentine manager’s squad considering the recruits brought in. That didn’t occur, but these two games against PSV, and indeed last season’s tight Round of 16 clash with Bayer Leverkusen, means that process needs to happen sooner than later.

Simeone has gotten his charges to this point by harboring a mentality and style very much in the mold of Simeone the player. Having shared the pitch with the likes of Juan Sebastian Veron and Youri Djorkaeff, among others, he knows there is more his players can do. He will need to add that level of control and creativity to his squad if he is to really put Atletico among the elite.

UEFA Champions League: Predicting The Group Winners – RantSports

UEFA Champions League: Predicting The Group Winners – RantSports

My piece for RantSports Predicting the Group Winners for the Champions League

UEFA Champions League: Predicting the Group Winners
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The Champions League gets started on September 16 and the group stages provide plenty of intrigue. Some groups are pretty straightforward while others, like Group D, are anyone’s guess. The usual contenders such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona are expected to win their groups while Manchester City is hoping to do so for the first time. Here’s a prediction for the Champions League group stages.

Group A: Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmo FF

Real Madrid
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Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain will be vying for first place. The Spanish club should edge it with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in their side. Shakhtar Donetsk will be troublesome for the top two, though, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they pip one to second place. A third place finish is most likely. Malmo will prove a tough nut to crack but will be lucky to get a win.

Group B: Manchester United, Wolfsburg, CSKA Moscow, PSV Eindhoven

Manchester United
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Manchester United may just be returning to the Champions League but have the necessary qualities to win the group. The battle for second will be between an experienced CSKA Moscow side and a very talented Wolfsburg team. PSV were stripped of talent during the summer and will find it tough going.

Group C: Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray, Benfica, FC Astana

Club Atletico de Madrid
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Atletico Madrid are surefire favorites for first place in this group. Diego Simeone’s side has greater depth and plenty of experience. Galatasaray are well-placed for second place as Benfica won’t be as solid without manager Jorge Jesus at the helm. FC Astana will do their best to make things hard for their opponents.

Group D: Manchester City, Juventus, Sevilla, Borussia Mochengladbach

Manchester City
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This group could go any direction and it’s definitely going to be a battleground. Manchester City are the strongest side on paper and may finally have what it takes to come out group winners. Juventus will benefit from their run to the finals last season but it wouldn’t be surprising if Sevilla pips them to second. Borussia Mochengladbach is an extremely talented side but they don’t have the experience to make a big push.

Group E: Barcelona, Roma, Bayer Leverkusen, Bate Borisov

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Barcelona will get the defense of their title on the right track by winning the group. Roma will want to make a much better impression than they did last season, and a strengthened side will give them the edge over Leverkusen. Bate Borisov will look to follow up on last seasons performance and grab at least one win.

Group F: Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb

Bayern Munich
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Despite two well-organized opponents, Bayern Munich and Arsenal will come first and second in the group. Bayern has too much talent to not win every game and Arsenal has the experience to make it through. There will be no easy games but Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb will be fighting for a place in Europa League.

Group G: Chelsea, Porto, FC Dynamo Kyiv, Maccaba Tel-Aviv

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Despite some tough travels, Chelsea’s talent will see them come out as group winners. Porto are Champions League regulars as well and will benefit from Iker Casillas’ experience. Dynamo Kyiv made a strong run in the Europa League last season and will have to contend with a similar feat this season. Maccaba Tel-Aviv will find it tough going against these teams.

Group H: Zenit, Valencia, Lyon, Gent

FC Zenit St Petersburg
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This group is interesting on paper but Valencia and Zenit are favorites. Zenit has more experience and should come out winners of the group. Lyon’s poor start to the season and lack of experience will work against them and Gent will struggle to make an impact.


AC Milan’s Performance In Milan Derby Shows Midfield Is Team’s Biggest Issue – RantSports

AC Milan’s Performance In Milan Derby Shows Midfield Is Team’s Biggest Issue – RantSports

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AC Milan and Inter Milan faced off in an early-season version of the Milan Derby.

Inter, hosts on the night, came out on top 1-0 courtesy of a Fredy Guarin strike. It was well deserved. Inter were the better team from start to finish and now have three wins out of three. Milan suffered their second loss of the season and have plenty to ponder.

A summer of upheaval in both camps generated some much-needed excitement before the season began. Rather than rebuild from the ground up, both Milan and Inter waded into the transfer market to speed up their recovery. The fact that neither team will take part in European competition didn’t dissuade the likes of Carlos Bacca, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Stevan Jovetic from joining.


While both sides made some solid moves, it remained to be seen just how well they would work out. Inter, it seems, are ahead of their rivals.

The home side were better in all thirds of the pitch. The match was generally controlled by an Inter midfield fielding three new signings in Felipe Melo, Ivan Perisic and the aforementioned Kondogbia. Elsewhere on the pitch, Jeison Muirillo stood tall for Inter in defense and Stevan Jovetic was again a menace in attack. The same couldn’t be said for most of their opponents. For the third game running, Milan’s midfield were second best, and the attack and defense suffered as a result.

A mixture of questionable selections, substitutions and under-performances from new signings played a part in all that. With the two sides playing a similar formation, the battle for control in midfield was even more important. That makes some of the personnel decisions even more baffling for Milan.

An injury to new midfielder Andrea Bertolacci meant one change was necessary, but Nigel De Jong stayed on the bench for Milan when his physicality and defensive nous was needed. Instead, Sinisa Mihajlovic chose the trio of Riccardo Montolivo, Juraj Kucka, another new signing, and Gaicomo Bonaventura. That group didn’t have the requisite power to match Inter’s midfield, and the fact that Inter’s Melo controlled the game says it all. Kucka and Bonaventura both tried to make things happen, but both came up short in their individual duels, or failed with their end product.

Montolivo spent more time trying to track the movements of Jovetic and Perisic than being the creative force Milan needed from deep. That problem was exacerbated by the fact that Keisuke Honda was almost non-existent in the attacking midfield role. The lack of defensive protection Montolivo provided was evident as Guarin was sent on his way to score the eventual winner. Montolivo didn’t put himself in a good position to intercept the pass to Guarin and failed to catch up to the Colombian before he unleashed his shot.

With the lack of service from midfield, newly signed forwards Luiz Adriano and Carlos Bacca were left to fend for themselves. Bacca, surprisingly, took on the role of creator with two great passes for his partner. Adriano then contrived to miss those chances and was otherwise anonymous minus some tireless running. Those things considered, it was strange to see Adriano last the full 90 minutes while Bacca was substituted.

All these issues meant an easier time for an Inter side also adjusting to new players. There was one positive for Mijhalovic, though.

Mario Balotelli‘s introduction midway through the second half almost turned the game for Milan. The enigmatic forward immediately became Milan’s biggest threat. A couple of skillful dribbles and a few rasping shots to test Samir Handanovic led to increased interest from Inter’s defense. Balotelli showed in his cameo that he could be the man to play behind the two forwards, even hustling defensively a few times. If this is the Balotelli that Milan are getting, then he will be key to their hopes of success.

With no Europe to contend with, and added time to prepare in between games, the midfield issues should be rectified. According to WhoScored, Milan has an average of 47.6 percent possession each game. That needs to be fixed. Mihajlovic may continue to experiment, but some decisions will be easier than others. What to do with Balotelli will be one of those tough questions. If he can keep him engaged, then it’s possible he has the man he needs to spark the attack. It won’t make a difference if the midfield doesn’t work though.

5 Key Matchups For Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona In La Liga Week 3 – RantSports

5 Key Matchups For Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona In La Liga Week 3 – RantSports

 My piece for RantSports on Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona
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Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona has become a hotly contested game in recent seasons. Both sides will look to get the upper hand early in this title race. There will be plenty of talent on display and here are five key matchups that could decide the outcome.

5. Diego Godin vs. Luis Suarez

Diego Godin
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Luis Suarez and Diego Godin know each other’s tricks from their time on the national team and either player can decide the outcome. The battle between the two fiery Uruguayans will be fun to watch.

4. Thomas Vermaelen vs. Jackson Martinez

Thomas Vermaelen
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While Javier Mascherano will be snapping at Antoine Greizmann’s heels, the battle between their partners could be more important. Thomas Vermaelen and Jackson Martinez are new to La Liga and are a unique matchup. Martinez adds pace, power and clinical finishing to Madrid’s attack, and Vermaelen is Barcelona’s best bet to combat him in Gerard Pique’s place.

3. Lionel Messi vs. Luis Filipe

Lionel Messi
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Filipe Luis is back in Madrid and immediately solidifies Atletico’s defense. He faced Lionel Messi when the Argentinian played on the right in his younger days. This is a different version of Messi though, and if Luis doesn’t handle it well, Atletico will have troubles.

2. Koke vs. Sergi Roberto

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Sergi Roberto is a makeshift right-back against Atletico Madrid’s key creative threat. Both players could match up in the middle as well, but their battle out wide will be just as important. Koke has the intelligence to make the most of Roberto’s lack of experience in his new position and have a big impact as a result.

1. Neymar vs. Juanfran

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Neymar had some big games against Atletico Madrid last season and will be looking to continue that. Juanfran’s experience means he is no pushover, but he’ll have a tough time keeping up with the skillful Brazilian. If Neymar has things his own way then Barcelona have a good chance of success.

5 Key Matchups For Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City In EPL Week 5 – RantSports

5 Key Matchups For Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City In EPL Week 5 – RantSports

 My piece for RantSports on Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City
Jesus Navas
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The two teams that are top of the Premier League table face off in this fixture. Crystal Palace will be looking to beat Manchester City with their tactical approach, while City will hope superior talent sees them through. Here are five key matchups for Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City.

5. Yohan Cabaye vs. Yaya Toure

Yohan Cabaye
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It doesn’t seem like a fair matchup in physical terms, but both Yohan Cabaye and Yaya Toure play similar roles for their clubs. Toure has been in great form to start but that’s on the offensive end. Cabaye is solid on both ends, and if Toure loses concentration then Cabaye will be free to do damage offensively.

4. Aleksandr Kolarov vs. Yannick Bolasie

Aleksandr Kolarov
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Yannick Bolasie’s flair and unpredictability make him a tough man to mark. Aleksandr Kolarov has the strength to bother the Congo attacker, but if it comes down to pace then Bolasie gets the nod. Kolarov will have to be wary not to leave too much space for Bolasie to work with.

3. Sergio Aguero vs. Scott Dann

Sergio Aguero
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Shutting down Sergio Aguero is key to any chance of success for Manchester City’s opponents. Scott Dann will be tasked with keeping a close eye on the Argentinian. Dann won’t be expected to get the better of Aguero in one-on-one situations but marshaling him to less dangerous areas will be just as beneficial for Palace.

2. Bakary Sako vs. Bacary Sagna

Bakary Sako
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Bakary Sako has had a big impact since he’s appeared for Crystal Palace. He’s been another wing threat with dribbling skills, pace and has shown himself to be a goal threat. Bacary Sagna has shown of the form that once made him the league’s best right-back. It will be an interesting battle.

1. David Silva vs. James McArthur

David Silva
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David Silva is in fine form for club and country right now. James McArthur will have to take on a more defensive role to keep track of Silva. If McArthur can stifle Silva then the onus will be on City’s other attackers to make a difference.

5 Key Matchups For Everton vs. Chelsea In EPL Week 5 – RantSports

5 Key Matchups For Everton vs. Chelsea In EPL Week 5 – RantSports

 My piece for RantSports on Everton vs Chelsea
Eden Hazard
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Everton and Chelsea is one of the most exciting Premier League matches in Week 5. There will be lots of good talent on display and some key battles that could decide the outcome. Here are five key matchups for this game.

5. Bryan Oviedo vs. Pedro

Bryan Oviedo
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Everton still aren’t at full strength at left-back and Chelsea could take advantage. Pedro has made a bright start to life in the Premier League, and while he may face a more experienced opponent in Bryan Oviedo, he has the class to make a big difference.

4. Romelu Lukaku vs. Gary Cahill

Romelu Lukaku
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This could be Romelu Lukaku’s best chance to show up Jose Mourinho. The Belgian forward has asserted himself well to start the season and will fancy himself against Gary Cahill. Cahill can hold his own but is better when John Terry is on form. If he doesn’t get help from his partner it will be a tough day for Chelsea.

3. Branislav Ivanovic vs. Kevin Mirallas

Branislav Ivanovic
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Branislav Ivanovic has endured a rough start to the season against wingers. He’ll face another speedster in Kevin Mirallas, and the Belgian will look to take full advantage of his pace.

2. Eden Hazard vs. Seamus Coleman

Eden Hazard
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Everton’s energetic presence on the right flank, Seamus Coleman, will have to show focus in this encounter. Eden Hazard hasn’t been at his best so far this season, but if he’s given the space on one of Coleman’s forays forward then he can do some damage.

1. Ross Barkley vs. Nemanja Matic

Ross Barkley
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Nemanja Matic has seemingly been overrun by opposition attacking midfielders so far this season. Ross Barkley has been in great form for Everton. Should Matic find his form and put Barkley off his game, Chelsea have a good chance of success.

5 Key Matchups For Arsenal vs. Stoke City In EPL Week 5 – RantSports

5 Key Matchups For Arsenal vs. Stoke City In EPL Week 5 – RantSports

 My piece for RantSports on Arsenal vs Stoke City
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
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Arsenal and Stoke have built a rivalry in recent seasons. Both sides won their home fixture when they met last season. Those games were decided by some key matchups being won and lost, and it will be the same this time around. Here are the key matchups for this encounter.

5. Mame Biram Diouf s. Laurent Koscielny

Mame Biram Diouf
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Mame Biram Diouf is a lively, hard-working presence up front for Stoke City. Laurent Koscielny will match up with him with Per Mertesacker sweeping up behind. Diouf has good movement and will score when given the chance. Koscielny will need to be fully focused to slow him down.

4. Hector Bellerin vs. Marko Arnautovic

Hector Bellerin
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Stoke City may look to make Marko Arnautovic their main outlet out wide. Bellerin’s speed will help him out when recovering on the counter but the Stoke man will look to overpower the young Spaniard. How Bellerin withstands that approach will be key.

3. Xherdan Shaqiri vs. Francis Coquelin

Xherdan Shaqiri
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Francis Coquelin will face an opponent with plenty of skill, strength and pace in the form of Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss international is a goal threat as well, and Arsenal will be in trouble if he gets the better of Coquelin.

2. Olivier Giroud vs. Geoff Cameron

Olivier Giroud
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Olivier Giroud will continue to lead the line for Arsenal. His physical presence will be a big help against an always solid Stoke City defense. Geoff Cameron can hold his own against Giroud and can make the Frenchman work defensively as well.

1. Alexis Sanchez vs. Glen Johnson

Alexis Sanchez
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Alexis Sanchez is still yet to fire fully for Arsenal this season, but it’s only a matter of time before that changes. Glen Johnson is an experienced defender but doesn’t have the pace of old and can lose focus sometimes. Sanchez may just get the chance to open his account for the season and help Arsenal to victory if Johnson isn’t at his best.

Charlie Austin Staying At QPR Is A Surprise – RantSports

Charlie Austin Staying At QPR Is A Surprise – RantSports

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Queens Park Rangers can pat themselves on the back now that the transfer window is closed. The Hoops held onto their best player, the very man who could fire them straight back into the Premier League.

QPR were a disaster in the 2014-15 season, but Charlie Austin was their leading light. The English forward didn’t look out of place in his first season in the Premier League, scoring 18 goals in 35 games. He also added five assists.

How QPR held onto him was a mystery.

Austin may have only spent one season in the Premier League, but few forwards were better in that time. Only big hitters like Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa, and the major surprise of the season, Harry Kane, were ahead of him in goals scored. Austin played as a lone striker in a side that at times struggled to give him the service he required. Yet he thrived. His power, clinical finishing and contribution to the cause defensively stood out. While not a mazy dribbler by any means, Austin had to create his own chances at times. He did that with fairly accurate long-range shots, which also pointed to the confidence he had.

Sides like Leicester City, Sunderland and Crystal Palace were reportedly interested but nothing came of it. Part of that may have come to the alleged £15 million fee QPR requested. While that may be a lot for a player with little experience at the highest level, the benefits surely outweigh the costs.

Austin could have been the difference between relegation and survival for a more organized side than QPR. At 26, he was just heading into his prime and could even have sell-on value. Aside from Leicester, none of those sides had players score more than 10 goals. Sunderland didn’t even have anyone score more than six goals.

Further up the ladder you sense that teams like West Ham and Tottenham could have used his services. Aston Villa and Newcastle too. All of these teams either looked abroad for players to fill their forward needs or took on players who cost less. Was £15 million really too much for Austin? There’s no telling what the fee will be if these clubs come calling in January. You expect that to happen in some cases.

Judging by his start to the season, Austin has already moved on. Four goals in five games to start the Championship season is evidence of that. He could, and really should, be doing that back in the Premier League.

10 Best International Games To Watch During The Break – RantSports

10 Best International Games To Watch During The Break – RantSports

 My piece for RantSports on some interesting international matches we have in store. They are numbered but not in any particular order of importance or anything.
Romelu Lukaku
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International football is on display in the next few days with some good games in store. Qualification for Euro 2016 is coming down to the business end and it’s all or nothing for some teams. There are also some high-profile friendlies worth a watch. Here are the 10 best International games to watch during the break.

10. United States vs. Brazil

Brazil vs United States
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The USA set up a very tough test for themselves against Brazil. Neymar made his mark against the USA at the beginning of his international career and will be the highlight of the show. It will be interesting to see which version of these teams show up after some other solid friendlies.

9. Netherlands vs. Iceland

Netherlands v Argentina: Semi Final - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
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Netherlands can’t afford to fall any further behind in qualification. A loss to Iceland put them in this rocky position and nothing but three points will do. Czech Republic are ahead of them with two very winnable games, and Turkey behind them should get a win in their first. The Netherlands going for the win should make this fun to watch.

8. Turkey vs. Netherlands

Turkey v Netherlands - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier
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Turkey and Netherlands have been disappointing in qualification so far. They sit fourth and third in the group, though that may change after the first set of games. However those pan out will have an effect on this game, but a loss for either side could mean the chance to qualify for Euro 2016 is lost.

7. Germany vs. Poland

EURO 2016 qualifying match - Poland v Scotland
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Poland handed Germany their first loss in qualifying for quite some time. That means the Poles lead the group by one point with both teams having played six games. The World Cup champions are in transition but still have arguably the best team in the world. Automatic qualification is again key here.

6. France vs. Portugal

Argentina v Portugal - International Friendly
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It’s not all about qualifying, though. France, the hosts of Euro 2016, have played a number of high-profile friendlies. Portugal are still finding their way with new manager, Fernando Santos. Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Nani are just some players on display. It should be a good game.

5. France vs. Serbia

France national team
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This is another high-profile friendly for France against solid opposition. Serbia have had a horrific qualification campaign and won’t be at Euro 2016. This still a good test for the French though, and it will be interesting to see where the hosts are. It may be a chance for certain French players to stake a claim for a starting spot.

4. Argentina vs. Mexico

Argentina National Team
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Mexico’s second game under new coach, Ricardo Ferretti, will be a good one. Argentina are still stinging from the loss in the 2015 Copa America final. Mexico have to prepare for the CONCACAF playoff against the USA. There should be plenty of good football on display with Lionel Messi and company on the pitch.

3. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Belgium National team
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Belgium and Bosnia and Herzegovina have plenty to play for when they meet. Wales can ensure themselves automatic qualification as the top team in the group, so a place in the playoffs meaning one of these sides could miss out on the tournament altogether. Both sides have plenty of talent and are looking to progress from the 2014 World Cup.

2. Spain vs. Slovakia

Spain v Costa Rica - International Friendly
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Spain sit three points behind Slovakia in qualifying. Why is that? They were beaten by this group in one of their first games. Spain aren’t the mighty side they once were but still have plenty of talent available. Slovakia have a solid side though, and don’t need to push for a win. That should make this game interesting.

1. Brazil vs. Costa Rica

Costa Rica National Team
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Costa Rica will hope to continue their ascent as a CONCACAF powerhouse with a win over Brazil. Anytime the Brazilians are on display is cause for intrigue. There’s nothing at stake in this match, but that may make it even more interesting as the sides experiment.