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Aapo Virtanen: Don’t Look Back In Anger

Started on 6 November 2018 by Jack
Latest Reply on 5 September 2019 by Justice

Following their qualification from Group 8 of the UEFA World Cup qualifiers, Finland have been pitted against Mexico and Ecuador in the group stages of the 2026 World Cup Finals.

The competition will be the first in its new format of 48 teams taking place. The tournament will open with a group stage consisting of 16 groups of three teams, with the top two teams progressing from each group to a knockout tournament starting with a round of 32 teams.

The number of games played overall will increase from 64 to 80, but the number of games played by finalists remains at seven, the same as with 32 teams, but one group match will be replaced by a knockout match. The tournament will also be completed within 32 days, the same as previous 32-team tournaments.

Hosted in the USA, Canada and Mexico as part of the United 2026 campaign, it will be the first World Cup that does not involve 5-time world champions Germany as both Finland and Norway knocked the international giants out in their group.

The current holders of football’s greatest prize is Spain, who were knocked out by Aapo Virtanen’s Finland national side just last summer in the European Championships Semi-Finals and no doubt Virtanen will be hoping that his final action as the Finland national team boss is to get as far as possible in the upcoming World Cup with his resignation from his post announced already to be after the tournament has concluded.

A surprising team in the 2026 World Cup is the qualification of Qatar following the 2022 World Cup in which they were the hosts and therefore received an automatic qualification. This time, Qatar have earned their qualification by merit as they finished third in the AFC World Cup Qualifiers, with Lebanon and North Korea missing out on this tournament by a large margin. They have been placed in a tough group against Spain and Ivory Coast.

In the build-up to the tournament, Finland have announced that they will be playing Venezuela two weeks before the start date, with more friendlies set to be announced in the coming months.

The World Cup squads must be announced on the 23rd May 2026 - just a few weeks before the start of the tournament. Finnish fans will be keen to see who Virtanen chooses in his side with Joel Pohjanpalo and Saku Ylatupa both finishing the Qualifiers on six goals a piece. This could possibly Pohjanpalo’s last major tournament in a distinguished international career that currently sees him level with Finnish legend Jari Litmanen on goals for the international side.

With Tuomas Keskinen becoming increasingly involved in first-team football at Virtanen’s old club Oulu, it will be interesting to see whether the 19-year-old 1-time international can overtake Internazionale’s 32-time Finnish international Jesse Joronen between the sticks.

Former Oulu players that played under Virtanen during his six-year reign at the club consists of Noah Nurmi, Antti Huhtamaki, Oliver Antman, Tatu Tiihonen, Thomas Makinen and Teemu Savolainen and Virtanen’s selection policy previously revolved around his old-guard at Oulu until recently when new prospects became more involved with the national side such as two recent debutants with KuPS’ Jorma Tahvanainen and Oulu’s 17-year-old winger Jukka Linnaluoto.

Virtanen is said to be ‘relishing’ the upcoming World Cup with Finland - the first that the nation has ever qualified for: “It’s another fantastic achievement to follow on from successes in the EUROs and the Nations League. Obviously Mexico and Ecuador are two very good sides, but we know well enough that no matter how much quality the opposition has, we have mountains of belief and tactical superiority as seen with beating the world champions in the EURO 2024 Semi-Finals.”

The 2026 World Cup will return to the traditional June until July arrangement rather than the November until December organisation around the predecessing Qatar World Cup in 2022.

Justice: I went mental when I saw Pohjanpalo stick the equaliser against Germany in the 85th minute when I thought all was lost - no shame.
Scott: As a title challenger, it’s as simple as you say - it’s growing impossible to deal with us in the form that we’re in and because we’re so consistent it becomes even worse for them. Pohjanpalo is level on Litmanen’s goalscoring tally for Finland, with one more goal to make him the nation’s best-ever scorer - he certainly is something special for this country!
LFCFan: It’ll be sure interesting how Liverpool deal with us this season! The records carry on at international level with the nation’s first-ever World Cup Finals now something to look forward to!
A rather kind group, I would argue. The new format is interesting...
Will be interesting to see how the new, controversial format plays out. A relatively kind group for Finland and hopefully they can build some momentum in the groups and cause a few upsets in the knockout rounds.
An opportunity for Max's little brother to make a name for himself at the World Cup and become the second most famous Finnish manager of all time.
Awesome work thus far. And running away with the league, which was probably expected to be honest.

As the transfer window slams shut at the end of January, it’s time to look back on the last two months of football in which we managed to claim one more trophy to my Manchester City collection.

Coming up against our nearest title rivals at the time in Liverpool, we were held to a goalless draw at the Etihad Stadium at the beginning of December. This was followed by a 4-0 hammering of Blackburn Rovers down at Ewood Park. We rounded off the Champions League group phase with an impressive 4-2 win against the 2023 winners of the competition, Valencia. A return to domestic action was marked by a resounding 6-0 win against League Two side Bristol Rovers in which Maflamory Sylla netted a debut goal. Our attention then turned to the FIFA Club World Cup held in Seoul as we annihilated our feeder club New York City FC 4-0 in the semi-final before another emphatic 4-1 win against Independiente - the Copa Libertadores holders - in the final as I lifted my second trophy as Manchester City manager in the South Korean capital. Our month in the Premier League also finished off strong with two consecutive wins against both Fulham and Newcastle.

Leeds United were our first opponents in January on New Year's Day as the bottom side succumbed to a 3-1 loss in Manchester. Our participation in the FA Cup began with a 3rd Round tie with Championship outfit Crystal Palace before a two-legged semi-final in the League Cup ended 2-0 on aggregate against Tottenham Hotspur as we booked our place at Wembley for the League Cup Final against Chelsea in February. Kylian Mbappé was on form in the second Manchester Derby of the season at Old Trafford as he bagged a hat-trick within the first-half, despite United almost making a comeback from three goals down in the second half as Jadon Sancho and Ousmane Dembélé pegged two goals back for the red side of the city. Our FA Cup aspirations continued against Newcastle with a 2-0 win in the 4th Round before a gutting loss to Tottenham in the Premier League held us back by a few points although we did return to form a game later with a 3-2 win over Everton on the last day of the month.

Heading into February we remain top of the table by three points ahead of 2nd place Arsenal. We have a game in hand on the Gunners meanwhile we race ahead of the rest of the top four as we develop a current eleven-point gap between ourselves and 3rd place Liverpool.

Tottenham have returned into the top six with an impressive month including a 1-0 win over ourselves in January - meaning that they have beaten us both times in the league this season. Everton, Southampton and West Ham have also joined the hunt for European qualification this season.

All of the newly promoted teams from the 2024/25 Championship season now occupy the bottom three spots of the table as Brighton push themselves out of the red zone with Ralph Hasenhuttl at the helm after Chris Hughton was sacked from his 10-year stay at the AMEX Stadium. Blackburn Rovers now sit in 19th place as all three teams seem to have a limited chance of staying up at this current time with only Brighton being a realistic overtaking attempt. Leeds United now look down and out of the Premier League following their return to the top-flight under Neil Harris as they dangle eight points from safety.

Kylian Mbappé also dominates the team statistics as he remains the uncontested top scorer in the side with 35 goals in 38 games in all competitions and he is the 2nd top scorer in the league, only one goal behind the current leader Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United. He also holds the current assists record by some margin, too. With 16 assists this term he is seven assists ahead of joint-second players Leroy Sané, Mateo Kovacic and Leon Bailey. Our Japanese midfielder Nobuhiro Furuya holds the record for the best pass completion rates this season, achieving 88% in his 29 appearances this season.

The January transfer window also brought some changes within the first-team as the 32-year-old Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson was sold to Paris Saint-Germain who paid a one-time fee of £80million for the 12-time Brazilian international. The goalkeeper had become somewhat of an icon at the club after joining all the way back in 2017 in a £35million deal from SL Benfica. Since then, he has gone on to make 438 appearances in all competitions for City, keeping a remarkable 187 clean sheets in the process. In a long written letter to the club’s fans, Ederson stated that he felt ‘so lucky’ to be part of the various Manchester City teams over the years.

With the first-team starting goalkeeper sold for £80million, we turned our attention to signing a new number one for the side and we chose FC Porto’s talented shot-stopper Juan Otálvaro for his release clause of £52million. Starting his career out at Colombian giants Independiente Santa Fe, Otálvaro made 59 appearances for his hometown club before a €900,000 move to Portugal to join the Liga NOS holders Porto in what turned out to be a bargain as the goalkeeper developed into a magnificent talent. The Colombian 23-year-old became Porto’s first-choice goalkeeper almost instantly after arriving at the age of 19. He has been given the number one jersey at the Etihad Stadium as Gavin Bazunu returns to being a back-up goalkeeper for us.

In a move that didn’t make much sense, Álvaro Odriozola was subject to a big offer made by Spanish giants Real Madrid. Due to his age and declining ability, the bid was accepted and the money gained from the sale was used to move back into the club to put towards a new right-back. With Álvaro Odriozola not the starting right-back with only six appearances to his name this season, mainly off the bench, I decided to select a much younger option in the form of Mamadi Fernandes.

The Bissau-Guinean right-back became my all-time record signing as he joined for a fee of £92million which could rise up to £100million from Paris Saint-Germain - the team who had only just purchased Ederson from us. Fernandes needn’t be good enough to start already with Nelson Semedo performing excellently enough this season, but the 23-year-old has incredible potential as well as great ability at the moment. Fernandes has already made 45 caps for Guinea-Bissau internationally and has played alongside our fellow new signing Otálvaro when he played at Porto - his first professional club. After loan spells at big clubs including Sevilla and Roma, Fernandes became a first-choice at Porto before a £44million move to the Ligue 1 holders.

Next up in the footballing calendar is February and March as we head towards the closing stages of the season. We begin with a Premier League fixture up against 15th place Burnley before an FA Cup 5th Round appearance against Championship side West Bromwich Albion in what has been a relatively easy path so far in the cup. A huge game for the club but especially for me is the upcoming two-legged Champions League Last 16 fixture against my old club Fiorentina - who I won the treble with last season. The club are currently in 4th place in Serie A under Leonardo Jardim and I am excited to be able to link up with old players such as Nikola Boskovic, Rostislav Hora and Davide Merola. The opportunity for my third piece of silverware this season is available in February with the League Cup Final approaching at Wembley against Chelsea after already lifting the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup this season. A return to Premier League football follows against League Cup finalists Chelsea and relegation battlers Brighton.

In March, the schedule for Premier League games does not bring up any very tough games, but like we did against Brentford this January it is always an opportunity for lower teams to spring a surprise and make us drop points. The highlight of March is obviously the second leg of the Champions League tie against my old club Fiorentina when they arrive at the Etihad Stadium following a successful group stage campaign, finishing 2nd in their group behind Manchester United.

Scott The group could’ve been a lot worse but thankfully because we won our Qualifier group we were highly seeded this time to avoid many really talented sides.
LFCFan: I’m really looking forward to trying out the new format in its first unveiling! Hopefully the extra teams involved can dampen the quality and allow for new nations to sneak into the later rounds!
Justice: I don’t know a Max Virtanen in this world? Hm.
SonOfAnarchy: Cheers mate :) The league is always closing up and then letting loose again so it’s all about maintaining consistency!
Mbappe is just incredible! 35 goals and it's only just February, quite incredible. Some further big transfers happening at the club and Aapo is building a phenomenal side!
Great work, as per usual. Congratulations, firstly, on winning the Club World Cup and achieving success in the Carabao Cup by earning a place in the final. Virtanen has a remarkable possibility of achieving yet more success in your brief spell in Manchester. The league table is making for good reading, especially with the game in-hand which could stretch the gap at the top to six points - leaving a good cushion for potential error.

Some absolute huge fees being thrown around, both in-terms of joining the club and leaving. Both players joining the club and players who are relatively young, yet have great quality in their arsenal. I suspect they'll become great players under Aapo. Besides, the decision to sell both Ederson and Odriozola is understandable!

Good luck in the upcoming fixtures. The game against Fiorentina obviously stands out. That will be an absolute cracker and I'm keen to see the reception Virtanen receives in Florence.
Another day, another trophy for Virtanen. Some big activity in the transfer market. Big money in and out. Will be interesting to see how the squad develops with the change in complexion.

Moving the bus was hell for us in the streets of Fiorentina. When I first took over the violet city, the football fans were nowhere near as impassioned as they are now. I compared my first European night at the club in the Champions League group stage with Fiorentina to tonight and the streets were empty whereas now there was not an inch of room between the smoke bombs and the swaying bodies below us banging on the side of our sky blue coloured customised team coach.

This was the team that I had won four trophies with in the space of a year and a half yet I looked across the crowd in the city square where the same people celebrated my presence like the Second Coming of Christ just last summer and now where there were once banners comparing me to a higher being stood a huge poster - large enough to see from miles away - of a burlesque caricature of myself depicting my beheading. I tried to not look at the daunting imagery on the streets yet I couldn’t help but look over to Thomas Jorgensen in the seat next to me and think that we unleashed this hellish atmosphere by giving the football club the oxygen to provide the fire that the fans flamed over the course of my tenure.

The Manchester City bus was absolutely silent with the players looking on in horror at the angry faces of men that could easily be shown side-by-side with a Renaissance painting and nobody knew the difference. My summer signing, Matthijs De Ligt snuck up in the seat behind me and grabbed my shoulder. “Boss, I can feel what you’re thinking at the moment when you look out there,” my centre-back began. “It’s impossible to ignore it but I got the same treatment in Holland as a 17-year-old club captain at Ajax almost every game. Just turn their hatred to fuel your own energy.”

I pondered the 26-year-old’s way of thinking before taking one final glance at the depiction of my decapitation held up by my former fans before we drove out of sight. De Ligt was right, my manner of thinking switched from being frightened into beginning to turn their image around on themselves. I was going to deploy the best tactics I’ve known to take apart this club that once loved me. In about four hours time I wanted to be glaring Leonardo Jardim in the eye, shaking his hand with a face of a stone-cold assassin, taking down his former partners who had done him wrong in the most revengeful way possible.

I flew out of my seat as Artemio Franchi Stadium came into the focus of the side windows of all the players and staff. “We’ve all just seen what they think of us,” I belted out passionately. “They are trying to show Roman spirit, thinking they can take over the world starting with tonight. Well, just a little snippet from history - the reason why Rome fell all those centuries ago is because of the Barbarian raiders. Tonight, we are the Barbarians! And we will crush them, tonight!” I shouted before the players themselves were banging the windows of the bus.

The bus parked up before the rusty looking gates that hadn’t been replaced for decades, much like the whole of the stadium. The Fiorentina fans were awaiting us with all sorts of objects in their hands. I stated to the team that I would be the first person to step off the coach beforehand and as I did it a flurry of abuse streamed my way. There were security officers either side of the fence but they could not stop objects being thrown at me. I grinned at all of the Fiorentina fans throwing things at me. I held my hands out wide to receive the torrents of abuse aimed at me. “LASCIA CHE TI PORTIAMO GIU!” I screamed out, translating to “Let us take you down!” in English, which only enraged the crowd for longer as my team flooded past me so I could take all of the abuse away from my players in the meantime.

Stepping inside the stadium for the first time in around eight months, I knew that tonight we were entering a war situation unlike any others with the Fiorentina faithful brimming in their ego that I had enhanced whilst manager of their club. They thought they were back on the world stage, but tonight I would throw them back down into their grave.

LFCFan: He is the undisputed best player in the world right now, without a doubt. I'm just glad I can get the most out of him!
Scott: A huge shame we missed out on the Community Shield earlier as it knocks down the 100% trophy achievement for the season. The decision to replace the ageing Ederson and Odriozola for much younger replacements is a good decision in my mind to create the legacy that I intend in Manchester. Fiorentina will be firey that's for sure!
Justice: Yeah, just the 15th career trophy for Virtanen there, someone needs to do a bit of catching up ;)
Once a hero and now a villain. Hopefully Aapo will show Fiorentina what they are missing out on and I am sure he will.
Well, to be fair... Aapo did kind of snake them off... ;)
From Florence to Florins.... it was inevitable. Oh well, time to burn the bridge!

In a couple of months where Kylian Mbappé netted an unbelievable 15 goals, taking his tally in all competitions for the season up to a half-century, we got our hands on our third trophy of the season as the League Cup came back to Manchester.

February began in familiar style with Mbappé getting his name on the scoresheet three times in the first fixture against Burnley in which we won 3-1. The FA Cup tie against Championship outfit West Bromwich Albion also turned into a goalscoring riot with Salvatore Venturelli getting his first goal for City in a 6-2 victory. The intimidation of the Fiorentina fans in the first leg of our European tie as I returned to Florence for the first time also terribly failed as it only fuelled a 4-0 demolition at Stadio Artemio Franchis with Mbappé netting a brace against my former team. We played Chelsea two times in a row in the League Cup Final and in the league, creating a combined scoreline of 7-2 across the two fixtures. Leroy Sané rounded off the month with a scintillating hat-trick in a 4-1 win over relegation battlers Brighton & Hove Albion.

March began with two consecutive 4-0 wins against two Yorkshire-based opponents in the form of Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town. Fiorentina then arrived in Manchester for the second leg of the Last 16 tie with relatively low spirits following the 4-0 hammering they received back in Italy and consequently suffered another loss, but not to the extent of the first leg with João Mario scoring a consolation for La Viola. Our FA Cup campaign continued with a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur, leading up to a much-anticipated Manchester Derby in the competition’s Semi-Final set to take place in April. Leicester City ruined what could have been a 100% record across two months as they beat us 2-1 in the final fixture of March, handing the top spot to Arsenal going into the last two months of the Premier League season.

Much attributed to the fact that they have played two more games than us at the end of March, Arsenal have taken the 1st place spot away from us following our defeat against Leicester. The rest of the top six are nowhere near us and are scrapping among themselves to decide who makes the Champions League or the Europa League for next season. Chelsea have slipped down the table to 8th as Watford, Southampton and West Ham all take the advantage over Chelsea, leading to Marcelino’s sacking in March.

At the bottom of the pile it seems to be the three promoted clubs from 2024-25 who will be heading straight back down to the Championship as Brighton take an eight-point lead over 18th placed Blackburn Rovers with Brentford and Leeds United even further behind.

As stated earlier, Kylian Mbappé’s ultimately consolation goal against Leicester marked his 50th goal of the 2025-26 campaign in all competitions as he is having the best season of his career to date. He also leads the assists charts and the best average rating throughout this season. Nobuhiro Furuya also maintains the best pass completion rates in the squad.

We will begin the penultimate month of our season against Europa League hopefuls Southampton in the Premier League before heading to Wembley for the third time this season following earlier ventures in the Community Shield and League Cup. We will be going there to play out the third Manchester Derby of the season in the FA Cup Semi-Final against our arch-rivals Manchester United. In the Champions League Quarter-Final our opponents will be Italian once again following our 6-1 aggregate victory over my former club Fiorentina as we travel to Milan to face Internazionale, firstly at the Etihad Stadium before heading to Giuseppe Meazza. Liverpool will be awaiting us at the Kenny Dalglish Stadium upon our return from European football after falling short of competing for the title a fair while back. West Ham will be looking to enter the Champions League contenders in the game after in what will be two consecutively tough games. The big title decider will occur at the end of April as Arsenal host us in the 36th game of the season as they currently lead us by one point in the table.

We finish the season with games against Newcastle United and Fulham but hopefully we will have two May cup finals to look forward to in the FA Cup and the Champions League as well as a Premier League title to hold.

TheLFCFan: For a league that has seen R9 play for both Milan clubs, they’re no strangers to club heroes trading places with domestic/continental rivals!

Scott: For the good of the individual ;)

Justice: I’d prefer to believe I left Fiorentina for a little more than two shillings ;)
Well the Fiorentina faithful were certainly silenced over the two legs, especially in their own backyard. Mbappe has been in magnificent form and has prompted an immaculate set of results, prior to a surprising defeat against Leicester. Progress in the FA Cup has been accompanied by progression in the Champions League, with games against difficult opposition in Manchester United and Inter Milan, but certainly tasks you can overcome. The league table is misleading at the moment, as you are in pole-position to overtake Arsenal at the top of the division - it's all about ensuring those spare games turn into three points each.

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