A meeting between two of the best footballing sides in the world, a mouthwatering match-up so let our guest writers talk you through it. In the red corner is award winning writer Sian Ranscombe her blog “From a girl who loves the Gunners” is superb. And she hopes her team can follow in her trophy winning ways.

Up until a few weeks ago, I think both neutrals and fans were largely assuming this tie would be a one-way battle won easily by Barcelona. Arsenal have been inconsistent this season and if they can drop points to West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United, and let leads slip as easily as they have done, what chance do they stand against the mighty Barcelona?

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Starting a new feature on gibfootballshow new writer Lee Garrity takes us to the second division in France. Each week Lee will be keeping us updated in everything that goes on in Ligue 2.

The race to join the French elite looks likely to go to the wire as before this weekend’s fixtures  any team outside the bottom four who can put a run of victories together will look at the table and think maybe , just maybe.

Leaders Le Mans held a 4 point gap between themselves and fourth placed Ajaccio and Les Manceaux ,who moved into the new 25000 capacity MM Arena just two weeks ago remain top courtesy of a 1-0 victory over bottom placed Grenoble, both teams were relegated from Ligue 1 last season but now find themselves heading in different directions. Norwegian International Thorstein Helstad’s 58 minute goal enough to give Le Mans the three points and take Helstad to the top of the scorer’s charts with 13 goals.

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Another huge match this evening as two teams that on their day can either excite or frustrate. Schalke have put their league form to one side and impressed in the Champions League group stage Kevin McCauley from World Soccer Reader looks at their chances against Valencia.

As most people know, Schalke 04 have been two different sides between the Bundesliga and European competition. Though they have climbed out of the basement domestically, Schalke are still in a mid-table position in Bundesliga when they were believed to be a title contender in the preseason. Meanwhile, they skated through the Champions League group stages, easily qualifying for the knockout round, where they drew Valencia.

However, this is not exactly the same Schalke side that qualified for the Round of 16. Two of the team’s key pieces are gone. One through contract issues, and one through personal issues. Ivan Rakitic has moved on to Sevilla in La Liga after being sold in the January transfer window. The attacking midfielder’s contract was up in January, and Schalke were keen to get some sort of compensation as opposed to letting him walk for free.

Under completely different circumstances, defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones has gone to Blackburn Rovers on a loan with an option to buy after falling out with Felix Magath. These players have been replaced with Iranian attacking midfielder Ali Karimi and Ghanaian defensive midfielder Anthony Annan. It remains to be seen what kind of an impact they’ll make, but Annan was very good in his first outing for the club in the Revierderby against Borussia Dortmund.

However, Anthony Annan will have to wait to play in the Champions leage for Schalke, as he is cup tied. Young Cameroonian international Joel Matip came in for Annan as a substitute in Schalke’s win over Freiburg, and I like him to start the first leg. Valencia could play with a 4-4-2 formation, starting both Aritz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado up top, which would lessen Annan’s responsibilities. However, it seems much more likely that Valencia will line up in a 4-2-3-1 shape with three of Juan Mata, Pablo, Vicente, Joaquin, and Jordi Alba making up that band of three.

Felix Magath will probably be hoping that Unai Emery opts to go with two strikers instead. Or, Magath could throw a wrench in things by starting someone else in that spot, but in the event that Valencia go 4-2-3-1, With Annan unavailable, Matip is the best man for the job of breaking up Valencia’s attacks.

On the other end of the pitch, the matchup between Schalke’s attacking players and Valencia’s back line seems like a favorable one for Die Königsblauen. It took a while for Klass-Jan Huntelaar and Raul to settle in with the club, but they’ve turned into a dangerous pair. Additionally, with Ivan Rakitic gone, Jefferson Farfan is now almost certainly Schalke’s most dangerous player and he seems the most likely man to wreak havoc on Valencia’s defense.
Talent-wise, the gap between these two teams doesn’t seem that large, so it might come down to luck and tactics. In the luck department, Valencia are certainly kicking Schalke’s tails this season. In the tactics department, it’s tough to separate Magath and Emery.

For now, I like Valencia to win the tie on away goals or penalty kicks, but I could easily see it swinging either way. To me, it seems too close to call.

Faced with the thankless task of trying to catch Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga, Valencia will be looking forward to the oppurtunity of a run in this competition. David Cartlidge from Spanishfootball.info fills us in on their chances.

Valencia come into the game on a fantastic run of form, having won six of their last eight games and are sitting pretty in 3rd place in La Liga. Many however, would say that form and placing doesn’t tell the full story.

A good amount of the victories have come in the very last moments in games, and they’ve also benefited from some fortuitous officiating as well as poor lapses in judgement by the opposition at crucial times – though it could be argued they’ve been proficient enough to capitalize on such errors.

The thing with Valencia has been their inability to blow opponents away as such, and they’ve never really looked in control throughout any game. There is always a decent period within the 90 minutes that they’ll switch and off give away 4 or 5 very decent chances to the opposition, purely down to the fact they like to coast all too often.

There are many factors to this, one being Unai Emery’s fascinating, albeit frustrating pragmatism when it comes to setting up his side. Emery likes to tinker with his formations and personnel, and while many acknowledge his obvious talents as a manager there are some questionable features of his management style.

Valencia at one time or another has played with at least five different formations this season, though Emery perhaps favours his 4-2-3-1 over any of the others due to its stability at the back while at the same time focusing on the side’s main strength – wide play.

In midfield Los Che contain a lot more depth, and the most impressive player this campaign has been Tino Costa. The Argentinean signed from Montpellier in the summer and hit the ground running, becoming an integral part of any system which Emery employs, operating well in midfield by showing good ball retention as well as distributing it to more advanced players as he sits deep in the central areas ‘pulling the strings’.

Costa’s job is one seemingly vacated by Ever Banega, who was the star of last season but he’s failed to shine this season, perhaps finding unease with constant chopping and changing of systems as well as having ongoing off the field problems with Emery.

Juan Mata looks set to miss out the first leg through an injury, and this is of great benefit to Schalke as Mata has become the star of the team since David Silva and David Villa both departed for new pastures. Despite playing through of his career so far predominantly as a left-sided winger, Mata has found a new lease of life in an almost free-role operating all across the front line and has supported the lone striker well when in the team.

In a nutshell I’d say Valencia are a team who are vulnerable at the back and whom can be opened up when put under pressure, but must be watched incredibly closely on the counter attack when taking into account the quality they have in wide areas. The central hub of Costa and Banega is also a key facet, to let them keep the ball and dictate would be mistake of the German side’s part – and could be the difference between qualification and having their European trip cut short.

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Welcome to the start of the gibfootballshow Champions League previews. Instead of listening to me waffle on, who better to tell you all about each teams chances in the tournament than from the fans themselves. So over the eight games you will read the thoughts of sixteen talented bloggers.

In Tottenhams first ever foray into Europe’s elite club competition they have impressed everyone. Now they face a side top of Serie A, could Tottenham reach the Quarter-Finals. Jack McInroy from You’ll Win Nothing With Yids looks at their chances.

So much for winning the group! We beat the Italian (and European) champions Inter only to be drawn against the current Serie A leaders. It could be worse. While we’ll be underdogs against AC Milan, Arsenal play Barcelona with the sole aim of keeping the aggregate score down to a respectable level.

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So the the news out of Brazil last night was all about Ronaldo’s pending retirement. I thought out writing a fitting tribute to one of my favourite players of all time, but then I looked at my good friend Scott’s site and he had already captured everything I wanted to say.

So go to his site and read a wonderful tribute.

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WELCOME…..Anyone who has stumbled across this site before will know that I have a strong love for French football, especially Ligue 1 and everything that goes with it. Recently I had a go at a solo podcast “Le Beau Jeu” was a chance for me to chat (to myself) about my love of football over the channel.

Through my twitter journey I crossed paths with a gentleman by the name of Chris Oakley, a man who had also recorded his own solo podcast as he got interested in Ligue 1. Both Chris and I are part of our own fairly successful podcasts gibfootballshow & Sound of Football. However these pods didn’t give us the chance to talk about Ligue 1 as much as we would like.

A plan was hatched at the recent NOPA awards, we decided to come together and form our own podcast concentrating solely on all things French. Inspired by Terry Duffelen and Jon Hartley’s “Bundesliga Show” we knew that working together was much better than going solo.

So the plan is to record the podcast after the last game in Ligue 1 and hopefully capture all the action that’s gone on that week. As the show grows we hope to bring you some top top guests from the world of French Football and we hope you enjoy the show.

Without further delay, may we present to you.

FRENCH FOOTBALL WEEKLY

(iTunes subscription coming soon)

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After the disappointment of missing the Inter game due to family commitments, I made sure that even though Wednesday was a busy day I made time to sit down and watch the Rosanero take on the Old Lady. Making sure to avoid the score all evening, I was in for a treat.

Coach Delio Rossi made only one change from the team that took a 2-0 lead over Inter only to see the Nerazzuri come back to win 3-2. Ezquiel Munoz was replaced by Sinisa Andelkovic, another chance to see the Slovenian centre back.  Palermo started the game strongly, winning a game in the 1st minute, Palermo’s intentions were clear, and the advantage was soon theirs.

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Throughout today ten French teams will battle it out for a place in the last eight of the Coupe de France. Last night the well fancied Stade Rennes were surprisingly dumped out by Ligue 2 side Reims. With the game poised at three all Rennes were awarded and missed two penalties, and of course then lost the game 4-3 in extra time.

Everyone likes a shock and last night’s was good but there is one team that everyone should be looking out for today. Sochaux after their fantastic 5-1 demolition of Rennes at the weekend make the daunting trip to the small town of Chambéry. Why “daunting” I hear you ask?

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Another talented writer makes his début on gibfootballshow. Euan Marshall originally from Glasgow and now a resident in South America uses his new found love of Latin football to tell Blackburn Rovers fans all about their new signing Mauro Formica.

Under ambitious new ownership and with some decent form under their belt, Blackburn Rovers have all the makings of a football club on the rise. To go along with the shrewd loan signings of Schalke 04′s Jermaine Jones and the returning Roque Santa Cruz, Blackburn have decided to go out and buy a South American attacking midfielder. They did not end up with Ronaldinho Gaúcho, but they have managed to sign an extremely exciting and promising young Argentine, Mauro Formica.

Formica’s recent form for Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina has generated a lot of buzz and interest throughout the football world. His 16 appearances and 2 goals in the 2010 Torneo Apertura attracted suitors from all over Europe, with Rubin Kazan, Galatasaray, Genoa, Blackburn Rovers and Monaco all looking to facilitate his move across the Atlantic. He looked certain to sign for Les Rouge et Blanc in France, but as Newell’s tried to squeeze more money out of the principality club, the move stalled. That was when Blackburn jumped in and made an improved offer which was swiftly accepted by Newell’s. Finally, “El Gato” (“the Cat”) agreed a contract with Rovers which will see him in Lancashire for the next three years.

A Newell’s boy born and bred, Mauro signed his first professional contract with la Lepra in 2006 when he was 18 years old. He has always been highly coveted at Newell’s, and after three years he broke into a regular first team place in the 2009/2010 season, managing 38 appearances and 8 goals in all competitions. However it was not until this season’s Apertura where 22 year-old Mauro really blossomed, becoming a key player in the Newell’s squad.

Formica hails from a nation notorious for hyping up their young talents, with several youngsters tipped to be reincarnations of national football heroes like Diego Maradona or Ariel Ortega. Unsurprisingly, Mauro has not been able to escape this, with several pundits dubbing him (inexplicably) the “new Batistuta”; however the more accurate comparison comes from Argentina’s neighbours Brazil, in the shape of Real Madrid’s Kaká.

Not only does he bear a truly startling physical resemblance to Kaká (everything except the 80s style mullet), Formica also has several similarities to the Brazilian in his playing style. Watching the way he drives at defences, with the ball appearing to stick to his boots, you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a young Kaká. He skips past defenders in the same way that Kaká does, naturally and with pace.

However Formica isn’t just a dribbler, he has technique and flair in abundance, making him a fantastic player to watch. He has a tremendous passing range, a great first touch, he hits a great shot from distance, and he is able to pull off deft flicks, back-heels and nutmegs when the situation calls for it. Without trying to over-hype the 22-year old, he really does possess the skill set of a truly world class attacking midfielder.

Mauro Formica belongs to a generation of very talented Argentine footballers, and unfortunately for him this could seriously affect his chances of featuring for the national team in later years. Formica is a number 10, an attacking midfielder, what the Argentines refer to as an enganche, and he’s going to have some serious competition on the international scene. Already Ángel di María has made a name for himself at Real Madrid and has appeared several times at international level, furthermore two of the game’s most promising players will be desperate to fill the number 10 role; Javier Pastore of Palermo, and Erik Lamela of River Plate.

As I have mentioned earlier, Formica is a proper South American number 10. At Newell’s he played either behind two centre-forwards or as the left sided attacking midfielder in a 4-3-2-1. He serves as an excellent link between the midfield and attack, and is able to intuitively move into the right areas to receive the ball and then produce the killer pass. He has all the wonderful passing attributes of a great playmaker, and his equally wonderful dribbling skills mean he can go it alone if necessary and provide a different threat to opposing defences.

Certainly the main question regarding Formica’s move to Blackburn is whether he will be able to adapt and thrive in the Premier League. English football is certainly a very different game from what Formica is used to back home, the pace is much higher, with creative players not allowed much time on the ball, and overall the game is a much more physical affair. It is expected that Formica will need some time to adapt, and he may find it hard to make much of an impact between now and the end of the season.

Formica will be hoping to slot into a position similar to his number 10 role at Newell’s. He will have players like Morten Gamst Pedersen and Junior Hoilett to link up with in midfield, and two good forwards to aim at, fellow South American Roque Santa Cruz, and the Croatian Nikola Kalinić. A main part of his success at Newell’s was his excellent ability to link with players around him, so Formica will be hoping to develop the same rapport with his new Ewood Park team-mates.

With all of these qualities and obvious potential, Blackburn will be hoping that the introduction of Formica will bring some real South American class to their midfield to help their push for European qualification. How much of an immediate impact he will make is impossible to know, but with Formica’s style and talent we can be sure of plenty breathtaking moments from el Gato for years to come.

To read more of Euan’s work please have a look at his wonderful website “I like football me” and also catch him on twitter for all the goings on in Brazil and South America. Also soon to join the gibfootballshow podcast ;)

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