Is it the coaching that has made English Premier League teams the best in Europe in 2019?

By May 09, 2019
Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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  • Messi still trying to forget Barcelona's Anfield nightmare Messi still trying to forget Barcelona's Anfield nightmare

    Lionel Messi feels Barcelona are still yet to recover from their crushing Champions League loss to Liverpool.

    Ernesto Valverde's side have the chance to complete back-to-back domestic doubles when they face Valencia in Saturday's Copa del Rey final.

    LaLiga glory was wrapped up at a canter, meaning their remarkable collapse to a 4-0 thumping at Anfield – having won the first leg of the semi-final 3-0 – threatens to define an otherwise excellent campaign.

    Messi was unable to stem the tide as Jurgen Klopp's side ran riot after half-time and, more than two weeks on, the loss still stings.

    "The Liverpool game was a really, really hard blow. It was the hardest moment of the year, it was hard to get back up," Messi told a pre-match news conference, where he insisted he and his team-mates should take responsibility for what unfolded on Merseyside.

    "I blame the players, not only the coach. I heard a lot of the critics of Valverde but I do not make him guilty for the loss to Liverpool. The coach has done impressive work.

    "I blame the squad. We cannot afford games like that any longer."

    Messi is guaranteed to collect the European Golden Shoe unless Kylian Mbappe scores four times in Paris Saint-Germain's Friday encounter against Reims on Friday.

    But the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is not thinking of such individual awards and the bad taste of what happened against Liverpool still lingers.

    "I'm still thinking about the Liverpool loss. I don't really have time to think about the Golden Shoe award," said Messi, who observed the parallels with last season's Champions League quarter-final defeat against Roma - when Barca won the initial game 4-1 - were particularly tough to take.

    "I am focused on winning tomorrow and trying to forget the game at Anfield.

    "We did a very similar game to in Rome the year before. In the second half we didn't compete and that's something we cannot afford. Liverpool were much, much better than us.

    "We played a lamentable game. It can happen one year, but to happen two years in a row [when you] have the chance to be in a Champions League final… it's impermissible.

    "The sensation is strange and that's why the team have to focus on trying to get a double. We were hit so hard by Anfield. We were so focused on the Champions League and trying not to repeat the performance from Rome."

    Messi rejected the suggestion that such a loss could persuade him to call time on his exceptional Barcelona career – likening such a reaction to the hysteria that accompanies his every setback with Argentina at international level.

    "No, no and no. It happens the same with the Argentina national team," he said. "Whichever time we lose, I am wanting to fight on and on and on to win titles. It is the same with Barca.

    "I have to apologise for the second half at Liverpool, not because of the result but because of the image we gave."

    Messi added: "We have to be focused on trying to win and trying to get the Copa del Rey. If we lose, it is going to be even worse than the way that we are at this moment.

    "Apart from the Liverpool game, Barca have made a great year, winning LaLiga and trying to win the Copa del Rey. Apart from that game at Liverpool, we've done a really nice job. We've had a great year if you take out that game."

  • Neuer to start for Bayern in DFB-Pokal final Neuer to start for Bayern in DFB-Pokal final

    Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will return from six weeks out injured to start the DFB-Pokal final against RB Leipzig on Saturday, Niko Kovac has confirmed.

    Neuer was substituted in the second half of the 4-1 Bundesliga victory over Fortuna Dusseldorf on April 14 after aggravating an existing calf issue.

    The captain was initially ruled out for two weeks but has not played since, with Bayern keen not to rush him back into action.

    However, Neuer trained this week and Kovac revealed the World Cup winner will be back between the posts against Leipzig in Berlin.

    "I can say Manuel will play," the coach told a news conference on Friday. "He is our captain and has done well this season. He is a cornerstone of our team."

    Saturday's match will be the last opportunity for departing stars Rafinha, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben to feature for Bayern.

    However, Kovac insists he cannot allow that to play into his thinking when it comes to team selection.

    He said: "It will be the last competitive match for these three top players, but we have a very difficult task - as we did against Eintracht Frankfurt [in the Bundesliga last weekend].

    "It will be a very difficult decision for me, because I know how hard it is. But we have players who did a great job in the second half of the season, so I have to give them the confidence that they deserve.

    "I can only choose 11 players, but everything is possible [on Saturday]. Everyone can play - even the three that are leaving Bayern."

    Kovac and Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have insisted he will remain as coach next season, yet the former Frankfurt boss was not willing to discuss his future.

    "We have a cup final ahead of us," he said. "We should talk about football. I want to throw all my energy into the team and the job. My future is secondary."

  • Benfica want full €120m release clause for Joao Felix Benfica want full €120m release clause for Joao Felix

    Benfica will not sell teenage forward Joao Felix unless his full €120million release clause is met, according to club chief Domingos Soares de Oliveira.

    Joao Felix scored 15 Primeira Liga goals in a breakout season, reportedly attracting the attention of several top European clubs - including Premier League pair Manchester City and Manchester United.

    But the 19-year-old has a significant release clause in his contract and Benfica do not plan to let the player move for anything less.

    Indeed, Soares de Oliveira insists Benfica are in no rush to part with the Portugal youth international, not even for €100m.

    "Selling for the release clause is what we are trying to do," Benfica's chief executive officer told TVI24. "If Joao Felix is to leave for another club, we are looking for them to meet the clause.

    "But hopefully that will not happen. The aim is to keep the squad together.

    "If someone bids €100m for Joao Felix, the intention is not to sell. €100m is a lot of money - there has never been a player sold for that amount in Portugal - but the aim is to win on the pitch.

    "We will do everything to move in that direction. If they do not bid €120m, the player stays."

    Soares de Oliveira added that there is still the possibility Benfica will look to alter the release clause, though Felix's interests must be considered in any negotiations.

    "I believe the president still has the intention to review it," he said. "But on the other side, there is the player, the agent, the family.

    "What we have to consider is the potential of the player, as long as we can convince the other club.

    "No offer has come. There are talks and rumours - the biggest European clubs have been linked - but no proposal has come to us."

    And Soares de Oliveira adds that Benfica do not necessarily now need to sell their top players, as was the case in previous years.

    "The financial situation is more robust than in the past, but still the sale remains part of the business," he said. "[Outgoing players] do not need to be the starters."

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