Ah, yes, 2019 has come and gone. And so comes the obligatory “best of 2019” content from all your favourite media outlets. So I took it upon myself to
jump on the bandwagon.look back on this past year in the world of football, and highlights the best, most iconic events across the sport.
Luka Modric breaks the streak
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi: the two greatest footballers of not only this generation, but arguably of all time. They have had a firm grasp on the prestigious Ballon D’or award for well over a decade. Brazilian and AC Milan legend Kaka was the last man to best both Portugal’s goal machine and the Argentine Messiah for the award.
Step up Luka Modric.
As polarising as the Croatia captain’s win was this year (I personally would have given it to Kylian Mbappe after his World Cup triumph with France) one cannot deny Modric thoroughly deserved it. Another Champions League triumph at the heart of Real Madrid’s midfield, like his boss Zidane did in 2002. Then being one of the main men in Croatia’s incredible journey to the World Cup final, surpassing Davor Suker and co.’s efforts in 1998.
Whilst the maestro did not even make the top 30 nominees for this year’s award (the only time this has happened since the inception of the Ballon D’or), Luka Modric has etched his name into the history books.
Who’s managing who?
Managers and players having disagreements at all are a rare occurence to see unfold, but on the pitch during a domestic cup final !?!
That’s exactly what happened when Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea met Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final back in February. With the game nearing penalties, Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga looked to have picked up a minor injury, and Sarri was looking to replace the Spaniard with penalty specialist Willy Caballero.
Remarkably, Kepa refused to be substituted off. The linesman held aloft Kepa’s number for substitution, but Kepa stayed put between his sticks. With a phrase I’m likely to repeat later on in this article, the footballing world had not seen anything like it.
Kepa stayed on as Sarri was fuming on the touchline, desperately in need of 1000 cigarettes to even grasp the situation. Kepa was surely mad? Sarri had dealt with Gonzalo Higuain’s expanding waistline during his Napoli days, he was not a man to be trifled with.
Man City would go on to defeat Chelsea in the shootout as they continued their domestic dominance of England. With Kepa being rightfully criticised for not stopping Sergio Aguero’s soft penalty that could have completely changed the outcome of the penalties.
Sarri would go on to depart Chelsea after their Europa League victory in Baku in the Summer, Kepa retained his place as Chelsea’s number one, and some say Willy Caballero is still on the bench at Wembley waiting to come on. It works out for some people in the end I guess…
Have you ever seen a Mackem in
A wry smile forms on the face of the Newcastle-supporting author, he knew this moment was coming…
This one is purely for my own entertainment.
Did Sunderland have the worst 2019 of any team in, not just football, but all of sport?
March 2019 saw the Black Cats make the first of their two trips to Wembley; this being the EFL Trophy clash against Portsmouth. Hundreds of Mackems took to Trafalgar Square to send the message that Sunderland was still alive and fighting. No Netflix documentary or double relegation would hold down this club for long.
Well, that’s not how things panned out for Jack Ross and his men. Despite taking the lead in the match, the game ended 2-2 and went to penalties; where Lee Cattermole missed from the spot to give Pompey the victory and trophy.
At least they won the Trafalgar Square trophy though, right guys? And at least they didn’t lose at Wembley AGAIN only a few months later and stay in the third division for another season….wait what?
Can we get a VAR check on this one?
Every day, seemingly with every single match, the VAR debate rages on: does it help or harm football? Keep it surprising or kill the suspense?
Well in April of this year, VAR was once again at the forefront of discussion when Spurs met Manchester City in the Champions League quarterfinals. Man City led 4-3 on the night, but needed one more goal to go through, or Spurs would advance thanks to 3 vital away goals.
The greatest football game of the year seemingly peaked with Raheem Sterling’s last gasp winner putting Pep Guardiola’s sky blue side through to meet Barcelona in the semi finals. But it wasn’t quite done there…
Referee Massimiliano Irrati was summoned to the side over a potential offside in the City attacking play. The atmosphere in the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium had suddenly changed. “OFFSIDE” read the electronic boards around the Stadium, City had had victory snatched from them, and no one could really believe what was unfolding on the pitch before their eyes.
The comeback kings
Football is game of two halves…well legs in this case but the point still stands
The stage was all set for an Ajax vs Barcelona Champions League final. Ajax had beaten and frankly dominated Spurs in their own stadium, whilst Barcelona shut out Liverpool 3-0 at the Nou Camp.
No one, absolutely no one, could have predicted what would unfold next.
On perhaps the two most enthralling consecutive nights in European football history, Liverpool and Spurs defied all expectations to set up an all England final for the first time since 2008.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool stunned Barcelona 4-0 thanks to goals from Gini Wijnaldum and Divock Origi to advance 4-3 on aggregate. Whilst in Amsterdam, Spurs came from 2-1 down to win 3-2 in the last minute, courtesy of a Lucas Moura hat trick.
Sure the final between Klopp and Pochettino’s men didn’t live up to the high expectations, but what led to were simply unprecedented scenes: cementing the 18/19 UCL campaign as one of the best in recent memory.
Women shine on the World stage
Is women’s football finally on the rise? In quality, it’s still much to be desired. But in terms of mainstream appeal and recognition, the sport has never reached such heights.
The 2019 Women’s world cup, located in France, saw the United States successfully defend their 2015 crown in front of record crowds both live in the stadiums and in front of TV screens across the globe. The likes of Lucy Bronze, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Wendie Renard became household names for that month in the Summer.
We could thank the World Cup for piquing an interest in the women’s game, as record crowds have since attended domestic and cup ties in the women’s game here in England.
The future does looks bigger and brighter in the sport, and as controversial as the plans to schedule the international tournament to once every two years (at a risk of damaging the prestige and anticipation of the whole competition), more and more people may well find themselves tuning in to watch women’s football.
“A tournament for Africa, for all of Africa…rejoice!”
In the years between the World Cup and the Euro tournament, the Summer can be a lull as the wait for domestic football drags on. But this year, the African Cup of Nations promised to be an exciting prospect.
Some of the rising talents of the last few years have been African, and have begun to make their name among the World’s elite: Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Riyad Mahrez all shone in this year’s edition.
In the end, It was Mahrez’s Algeria who went and lifted the Coppa d’Africa, after his sensational last gasp free kick in the semi final against Nigeria, and a narrow 1-0 win over Liverpool rival Mane’s Senegal in the final.
The North West remembers…
I genuinely contemplated giving this month’s moment to Joelinton netting his, so far, only goal in a black and white shirt away to Tottenham.
But no, August 2019, a relatively quiet months in terms of shocks and surprises saw two sides locked in a domestic duel for total glory. Manchester City emerged the victors in the Community Shield final over Liverpool on penalties. Their first trophy in Guardiola’s ever constant aim of quadruples.
And not one to be outdone, Liverpool themselves won a penalty shootout against Frank Lampard’s Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup final.
These games set a precedent for the football season ahead: the two top teams in England vying to be more successful than the other. The 19/20 season may usher in a new era of football dominance in the North West of England, something we haven’t seen since the final years of Sir Alex Ferguson as Man Utd manager.
New kids on the block
Jadon Sancho was perhaps the most talked about player of early 2019: as part of an enthralling Borussia Dortmund side that looked increasingly likely to win the Bundesliga (spoiler alert: they didn’t, #Bayernwinslol), Sancho has since been touted alongside the likes of Mbappe and de Ligt of the rising stars in football.
September 2019 saw another man reach the heights and media focus that Sancho received earlier: Erling Haaland. Hailed as a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his on -the-pitch performances and off-the-pitch attitude, the Norwegian striker scored a hat trick on his Champions League debut against Genk, making both history and all of Europe’s scouts take a serious look at the Austrian Champions and their new star.
And now, in December, Haaland has decided to jump ship to, you guessed, a certain side in Germany.
Borussia Dortmund may be one of the clubs to watch in 2020, with Haaland, Sancho, Hazard, Hakimi, and potentially Kai Havertz makes the boys in black and yellow a genuine top contender in European competition.
England victory marred by racism
Yeah, didn’t feel a witty heading was appropriate here, given the subject matter.
Racism is still, somehow, one of the most prevalent issues in 21st century society. As the world becomes more and more multicultural and tolerant, some refuse to accept these changes and instead resort to racism and violence to express their opinion and incite trouble.
The world of football is not immune from racism, as the matchup of England vs Bulgaria was marred by racist chants by the Bulgarian fans against England players like Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings, the latter who was making his England debut. The game had to be stopped twice with a tannoy announcement being made and a plea from Bulgarian captain Ivelin Popov to try and discourage the home fans from their abusive language. This of course did nothing.
Even after England ran riot and recorded a 6-0 away win, racism was THE post match talking point. Despite widespread condemnation for his lack of intervention, the Bulgarian Manager Krasimir Balakov denied the actions of his fans. Surely UEFA would intervene and make things right, perhaps punish the Bulgarian side and their fans for their actions in such a high stakes qualifier? Yeah…no, that didn’t happen.
With Euro 2020 on the horizon, and the tournament being an international affair, we could see a dreadful repeat of Euro 2016’s violence and tension between opposition fans. For as long as UEFA and many of the future participants of Euro 2020 ignore the racism issue, the longer it’s likely to persist and harm the nature of the beautiful game.
Return of the King
Friendly reminder that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still has the Manchester United job after a win rate of less than 30%. That’s closely comparable to Steve Bruce. I think that speaks volumes about who’s lucky to still be in their job.
November 2019 saw two high profile sackings in the Premier League, with Mauricio Pochettino suddenly departing from Spurs after a lengthy run of bad form and a diabolical away record. And his North London rival Unai Emery finally being dismissed amidst rising fan animosity and a 2-1 loss to Frankfurt in the Europa League.
But when these two doors closed, one surprisingly opened. Jose Mourinho was returning to manage in London, but at Spurs instead of his old home Chelsea. And his arrival has ushered in a new high quality of attacking football at Spurs. 3-2, 4-2, 3-2. For a man jokingly dubbed ‘The Bus Driver’ for his defensive tactics, Jose’s arrival and new found attacking mentality is a breath of fresh air in the Premier League. Heralded as one of the best managers of all time, the King is back, and Spurs could mean business in 2020.
A new, unbeatable World Champion?
There are tears in my eyes and a pain in my heart for not putting Miguel Almiron’s long awaited first goal against Crystal Palace here.
But one cannot deny Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp have dominated 2019. A skeptic would say that the EPL’s introduction of VAR has helped LiVARpool and hindered VARchester City. In reality, no one else has been able to match Liverpool’s high calibre.
Divock Origi was the hero in the Champions League with decisive goals against Barcelona in the semhai finals and against Spurs in the final (imagine writing that 2 years ago when he was flopping at Wolfsburg).
And Roberto Firmino got the winning strikes against Monterrey and Flamengo during December’s Club World Cup in Qatar, crowning the Merseyside club World Champions.
As 2019 saw the end of Real Madrid’s dominance of continental football, the question to ask heading into 2010 is “Will Liverpool be the best team in the world for years to come?”
You know what, we can have two for December, it’s the festive period after all: Miguel Almiron got more goals than Jesse Lingard in the Premier League in 2019. That’s it. That’s the sole stat I want to be remembered from this decade.