Thursday, December 30, 2021

Premier League Preview Holiday Highlights: Leicester Influences Title Race; Boom Times for Gunners; Canaries Drop More Goose Eggs; Poor Return for Manchester United; Chelsea Falters; Seagulls Escape Schneid; New Year Begins with Top Four Clashes; Hammers Look to Rejoin the Chase

Leicester influenced the title race during the holiday week with two very different performances by the Foxes. Manager Brendan Rodgers’ team wanted to climb into a foxhole under a barrage of goals delivered by Pep Guardiola’s league leading Manchester City squad. The Citizens jumped out to a four-goal lead before Leicester came to life with three goals over a ten-minute span of the second half. Just as traveling Leicester fans thought their trip might have been worthwhile, Manchester City pummeled the Foxes with two more goals for a 6-3 final which marked a ninth straight victory for the defending league champions.

Just two days later, Leicester’s battered defense posted a clean sheet against Manchester City’s closest pursuer in a 1-0 Leicester win over high scoring Liverpool.

The Foxes’ defensive masterpiece included a penalty save by Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel on league leading scorer Mohamed Salah. Liverpool failed to score for the first time in 29 league matches as a second half goal by the Foxes’ Ademola Lookman secured the points for Leicester. Leicester’s win put Liverpool six points behind steamrolling Manchester City after 19 matches as the Reds lost for just a second time this season.

Chelsea moved level on points with second place Liverpool as the Blues put down Aston Villa 3-1. Jorginho converted on two penalty kicks for the win which also saw Romelu Lukaku return to the scoresheet for Chelsea. In the spirit of holiday giving, Chelsea conceded an own goal for Villa’s only score.

Arsenal increased its hold on fourth position by blasting Norwich 5-0 on Boxing Day, a fourth consecutive victory for the Gunners. Bukayo Saka scored a brace and Emile Smith Rowe scored in a substitute role for a third consecutive match as the young Gunners put the Canaries to the sword.

Norwich looks helpless to avoid a relegation fate as the Canaries were again held scoreless a few days later by Crystal Palace, a fifth consecutive defeat without scoring a goal for the East Anglia team.

After 19 matches played by all five of the top teams, West Ham was odd man out, the Hammers trailing Arsenal by four points in the top four chase. The Hammers fell 3-2 to Southampton on Boxing Day, a second consecutive defeat, before returning to the win column with a 4-1 hammering of Watford two days later.

Tottenham Hotspur trails West Ham by just a point despite having completed only 17 matches. Spurs picked up four points with a 3-0 Boxing Day defeat of Crystal Palace followed by a 1-1 draw with Southampton two days later. Manchester United, also having completed just 17 matches, trails Spurs by two points after a desultory 1-1 draw with Newcastle United on Monday. New manager Ralf Rangnick is having little positive effect in his short tenure which has included lethargic performances and periods of Covid induced inactivity.

The Red Devils are back at it Thursday when Burnley comes to Old Trafford. A win by the Clarets would see them escape the relegation zone for the first time since the third week of the season.

Brighton’s 2-0 Boxing Day win over Brentford snapped the longest Boxing Day losing streak in English football and marked the Seagulls first win in over three months. The Seagulls moved level on points with 10th place Crystal Palace after the win with Brighton having played two fewer matches than their rival.

Wednesday saw two of the top teams in action as Chelsea and Manchester City became the first teams to play a 20th match in this postponement plagued campaign. Manchester City notched a tenth straight win in a 1-0 victory over Brentford, a grinding victory quite different from recent City goal fests. Chelsea failed to keep pace as Brighton struck for a stoppage time equalizer in a 1-1 draw which put the Blues eight points back of Manchester City after 20 matches. Brighton’s late point marked the fourth time this season that the Seagulls have struck for a tying goal in the 89th minute or later. Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is already feeling pressure over Chelsea’s diminishing title hopes and was embarrassing in listing various excuses for Wednesday’s dropped points.

Upcoming Saturday and Sunday action features a pair of top four clashes when Manchester City visits fourth place Arsenal followed by a Sunday matchup between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal will be without Manager Mikel Arteta who has contacted Covid for a second time. Chelsea is in dire need of three points after three draws in their last four matches while Liverpool will be anxious to recover from their scoreless outing at Leicester. West Ham, meanwhile, will try to close the gap on Arsenal and rekindle its top four ambitions when the Gunners visit Crystal Palace for a London derby.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Premier League Preview Boxing Day: More Postponements; Red Devils Return; Chelsea Visits Villa; Manchester City Seeks Ninth Straight Win; Spurs Face Palace in London Derby; Gunners Take Aim at Canaries

Three of ten Boxing Day matches were to be postponed as of Friday due to COVID concerns. Liverpool v. Leeds, Wolves v. Watford and Burnley v. Everton will need be played another day. Watford’s fixture list becomes tricky as the Covid stricken Hornets will be three matches behind most of their competitors after the Boxing Day matches with another at risk match planned two days later for the Hornets. Burnley will be a full four matches behind schedule when they return to the field against Manchester United next Thursday. Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, had already voiced concern at playing on Sunday and Tuesday so the postponement of the Leeds match, if not its circumstances, is welcome news for the German manager.

Manchester United returns to action on Boxing Day for the first time in more than two weeks when the Red Devils visit struggling Newcastle. Newcastle has been fortunate with respect to Covid but unfortunate in having to play matches where the Magpies are thoroughly outclassed. Newcastle has won but a single match all season and has lost more matches than all clubs but Watford and Norwich.

Tottenham Hotspur is beginning to find success under Manager Antonio Conte, winning three consecutive matches before grabbing a point versus Liverpool last week. Seventh place Spurs host a London derby versus Crystal Palace on the day after Christmas hoping to get back in contention for the European places. Palace defeated Spurs 3-0 when the two clubs met earlier this year and the Eagles, led by dynamic midfielder Conor Gallagher, pose a more attacking threat this season under new manager Patrick Vieira.

West Ham has failed to score in three consecutive league matches as the Hammers prepare to host Southampton. A dry spell from striker Michail Antonio has exposed a dearth of other attacking options for manager David Moyes’ side who may try to address the problem in the January transfer window. Southampton is six points from the relegation places as the Saints have failed to post a win since the first week of November.

Leicester has won just two of its last seven league matches as it approaches Sunday’s match with league leading Manchester City. City, meanwhile, will look to increase its lead on idle Liverpool with a ninth consecutive league victory.

Chelsea trails the league leaders by six points and will face a difficult test at Aston Villa. Thomas Tuchel’s side have struggled of late with a roster ravaged by Covid absences. Aston Villa has impressed in moving into the top half of the table under new manager Steven Gerrard despite dropping December decisions to top clubs Manchester City and Liverpool.

Fourth place Arsenal will try to win a fourth consecutive league match when the Gunners visit cellar dwelling Norwich. The Canaries, having earned valuable points during a brief November flurry, have faltered again in losing all three of their December matches.

Brighton has the longest winless run on Boxing Day of any team in the top four divisions of English football. The Seagulls will try to shed that unfortunate distinction by beating Brentford Sunday when the Bees visit American Express Community Stadium. Brentford will be playing in the topflight on Boxing Day for the first time since 1946. 

Carabao Cup

Liverpool staged a dramatic comeback to take Leicester to penalties and the Reds emerged triumphant to advance to the Carabao Cup semifinals. After the Reds were down 2-0 early in the match, Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino struck five minutes into stoppage time to knot the clubs at two goals apiece and send things to penalties. Leicester missed two of its penalty tries versus one for Liverpool and the Reds are on to the next round.

Chelsea and Brentford were scoreless until the 80th minute when a Brentford own goal put the Blues ahead. Five minutes later, Jorginho sealed Chelsea’s advancement with a successful penalty kick for a 2-0 victory. Tottenham Hotspur was a 2-1 winner over West Ham in the other London derby played Wednesday. The match was a bitter disappointment for a Hammers squad which had defeated both Manchester City and Manchester United to advance in previous rounds. Spurs will get to continue their hunt for a first trophy since winning the League Cup in 2007/2008. A third London club in the semifinal round will be Arsenal which was an easy 4-1 victor over League One side Sunderland in their quarterfinal match. The Gunners’ win was notable for three individual performances by players not habitually in Arsenal’s first team Premier League line-up. Eddie Nketiah struck for a hat trick. Nicolas Pepe had a goal and two assists. 18-year-old Charlie Patino, a much-ballyhooed youngster who has drawn comparison to a young Phil Foden, made his senior debut for Arsenal and scored 12 minutes after entering the fray in the second half. Arsenal will play Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will play Chelsea in the home and away semifinal fixtures in January. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Premier League Results Match Week 18: Manchester City Increases Lead as Liverpool and Chelsea Drop Points; Arsenal’s Young Guns Strike Again; Holiday Matches To Play On

truncated weekend schedule saw only four matches played but each of those matches included one of the top four teams in the table. Table leader Manchester City increased its advantage over Liverpool and Chelsea by taking care of business in a 4-0 defeat of Newcastle while the Citizens’ nearest pursuers both dropped points in their matches. Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka prevented matters from getting completely out of control but City’s four goal production on Sunday made it 17 goals in the last five matches for Manager Pep Guardiola’s men. Newcastle, meanwhile, has conceded 11 goals in losing its last three matches.

Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp was understandably displeased with the officiating in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. Harry Kane was given the benefit of the doubt on a severe tackle on Liverpool’s Harry Robertson in the first half which drew only a yellow card whereas a comparable foul committed by Robertson in the second half drew a red card and ejection for the Liverpool defender. More egregious, however, was Referee Paul Tierney failing to award a penalty kick when Liverpool’s Diogo Jota was clearly taken down in the box during first half action. Apart from the questionable officiating, the match was entertaining and saw both clubs come back from deficits to salvage the point. Kane made a rare appearance on the scoresheet for Spurs with his second league goal of the season.

Liverpool falls four points back of Manchester City with the result. Spurs are 7th in the table, one point behind sixth place Manchester United with a match in hand on the Red Devils.

Like Liverpool, Chelsea also faltered in its title chase by dropping points in a goalless standoff with Wolves. Chelsea has now dropped seven points in its last four matches as Manager Thomas Tuchel’s side had looked disjointed even before having to field a patchwork side on Sunday due to Covid absences. Chelsea asked for the match to be rescheduled due its depleted roster and growing virus concerns but was denied by the league. Christian Pulisic started at center forward for a second consecutive match and was again unproductive in an unaccustomed position for the American. Wolves, meanwhile, continue to be both tenacious and toothless. Neither side in the last seven Wolverhampton league matches has managed more than one goal. Wolves has scored a total of two goals in those seven matches while somehow managing two wins and three draws.

Arsenal had no trouble scoring in defeating Leeds 4-1 in the only Premier League match to be played as scheduled on Saturday. The streaking Gunners have scored nine goals in winning three consecutive matches to build a four-point cushion on West Ham for the final Champions League place. All four Arsenal goals were scored by players aged 21 or under as Gabriel Martinelli stuck for his first Premier League brace and Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka added onto Martinelli’s opening tallies. Smith-Rowe scored in substitute role for a second consecutive match and leads the Gunners in league scoring with his seven goals. Leeds lost for a third consecutive time and have won just once in their past eight league matches. Manager Marco Bielsa’s club is only five points clear of the relegation zone and a Burnley side which has three matches in hand over the Whites due to weather and Covid cancellations.

The Premier league decided Monday to proceed with the holiday period schedule without a formal league wide Covid induced break. Individual match cancellations will occur if a club is unable to roster thirteen healthy field players plus a goalkeeper. Six matches were cancelled last weekend. Beginning on Boxing Day, 30 matches are currently scheduled to be played through January 3rd.

Carabao Cup

The Carabao Cup plays its quarterfinal matches this week. Arsenal hosts Sunderland Tuesday in the only quarterfinal match to include a club from outside the Premier League. The Black Cats, currently third in League One, will be without Manager Lee Johnson for the match due to a positive Covid test. London derbies comprise two of the three Wednesday quarterfinal matches when West Ham visits Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea makes the short trip to Brentford. Leicester goes to Liverpool in the final quarterfinal pairing.


Premier League In Europe

Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur was booted from the Europa Conference League after UEFA ruled the club to have forfeited its final group stage match which was to have been played against Rennes. A Covid outbreak had rendered Spurs unable to play the match and UEFA indicated it could not be rescheduled. The London club may yet appeal the ruling. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Premier League Results Match Week 17: Cancellations Abound; Young Guns Crash Top Four; Leeds Destroyed by City; Liverpool Rolls; Chelsea Frustrated by Toffees; Wolves Nip Seagulls; Villa Plucks Canaries; Palace Saves Point

The Premier League is reported to be having a meeting on Monday to decide on a potential temporary stoppage of the Premier League schedule due to rising Coronavirus cases which are wreaking havoc with individual fixture cancellations. The chaos occurs as the league originally had 40 matches scheduled from this Saturday through January 3rd. Several of this upcoming weekend’s games are already postponed while three of the midweek matches were already lost to the virus outbreak.

Despite the cancellations, there were significant on-field developments during midweek play. Arsenal’s 2-0 win over West Ham moves the Gunners into the table’s top four as the club won a second consecutive match without suspended captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Despite the recent controversy surrounding Aubameyang, Arsenal supporters can be encouraged for the future by their club’s rising young talent. Excluding veterans Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey, the average age of the other eleven players making an appearance in the win over West Ham was 22 years old. Aubameyang’s presence to date has not been missed since his suspension and his future with the club is cloudy at best. Lacazette wore the captain’s armband versus West Ham and assisted on an opening goal by 20-year-old Gabriel Martinelli. Lacazette would later draw a penalty which reduced West Ham to ten men though the Arsenal captain would miss the penalty kick. 21-year-old Emile Smith Rowe clinched matters for the Gunners with an 87th minute goal assisted by 20-year-old Bukayo Sako.

Arsenal surpassed West Ham to enter the Champions League slots as the Hammers failed to score for a second consecutive match. West Ham has been a hard club to read as Manager David Moyes’s club has followed a four-match winning run by winning just one of its last six. In its last seven matches, the club has taken down Chelsea and Liverpool while losing three contests and drawing the other two. What is clear is that the club is in desperate need of an additional attacking threat. Striker Michail Antoino has been ice cold, failing to score in his last seven matches. Excluding an anomalous three goal explosion in the defeat of Chelsea, the Hammers have scored only twice in their last five matches.

Manchester City, meanwhile, had no trouble scoring on Tuesday, obliterating Leeds by a score of 7-0. The open play philosophy of Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa was exposed to a painful degree in a humiliating defeat for the Whites. Kevin De Bruyne had a brace for the Citizens while five other players joined in the fun leading to a seventh consecutive league victory.

Liverpool stayed on Manchester City’s heels, just a point off the top spot, as the Reds dismissed Newcastle 3-1 at Anfield. Mohamed Salah scored his league leading 15th goal of the season as he tied Jamie Vardy with a league record 15th consecutive match with either a goal or assist.

Teammate Diogo Jota’s goal tied him with Jamie Vardy for second in league scoring, six goals behind the prolific Salah. Newcastle took an early lead in the match with Liverpool, unfortunately playing well to no result as the Magpies lost for a ninth time this season. Only Norwich and Watford have lost more often than Newcastle.

Chelsea lost ground to the table’s top two teams as the Blues were only able to capture a single point in a 1-1 draw with Everton. Chelsea has now conceded a goal in its last six matches across all competitions, dangerous given its deficiencies in goal production. Chelsea produced just the single goal on Thursday despite dominating 80% of the possession and launching 23 shots, 10 on target against a poor Everton side. Everton salvaged a point behind the strong goalkeeping of Jordan Pickford and a 74th minute set piece equalizer marked by poor Chelsea defense. Nineteen year old defender Jarrad Brainthwaite was left unmarked at the back post for a goal in just his second appearance for the Toffees. Chelsea now sits four points adrift of table leading Manchester City with growing defensive questions added to a baseline attacking problem.

Wolverhampton had failed to score in four consecutive matches before eking out a 1-0 win over Brighton Wednesday. Eighth place Wolves owe their success this season to a defense which has conceded fewer goals than all but the top three teams in the table. The Seagulls, meanwhile, failed to emerge victorious for an 11th consecutive match and have scored only one more goal than the toothless Wolves this season as both clubs have bested only cellar dwelling Norwich in finding the net.

Aston Villa won for the fourth time in six matches under Manager Steven Gerrard in a 2-0 defeat of Norwich. Ollie Watkins had a goal and assist for Villa which moved to 10th in the table with the win.

Crystal Palace salvaged a point when Jordan Ayew ended a personal 44 match goal drought to register the final tally in a seesaw 2-2 draw between the Eagles and Southampton a Selhurst Park. Palace had taken an early lead only to fall behind before the rare Ayew strike. Southampton have the dubious distinction of dropping a league leading sixteen points from a winning position this season. Southampton remained three points behind 11th place Crystal Palace, six points clear of relegation danger, with a third draw in its last four matches. 

Match Week 18 Preview

Coronavirus postponements currently leave Match Week 18 with just five of the originally scheduled matches proceeding. Manchester City could find more scoring delight when the Citizens travel to the northeast of England to face a porous Newcastle defense. Newcastle have conceded the joint highest number of goals in the league while Manchester City has scored more goals than any club but Liverpool.

Second place Liverpool is scheduled to visit London to face a Spurs side resuming its schedule after needing to postpone two league matches and a European contest due to the virus. The fitness and match readiness of Spurs is a question as they face the league’s highest scoring team. Liverpool have won six straight league matches as they chase Manchester City in the table.

Fewer goals can be expected when third place Chelsea visits Wolves. Despite some recent lapses, Chelsea has still conceded fewer goals than any league club but Manchester City. Wolves has conceded only two more goals than Chelsea in nursing an anemic attack to a current 8th place standing in the table.

Arsenal travel to reeling Leeds as the Gunners look to continue recent momentum which has seen them crack the top four despite the suspension of unreliable former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Leeds will try to improve its sieve-like defense which conceded seven goals to Manchester City during the week.

The only blemishes for Aston Villa in six matches under Steven Gerrard have been one goal losses to the league’s top two clubs, Manchester City and Liverpool. The Villans host Burnley on Sunday with the Clarets anxious to seize an opportunity to claw out of the relegation zone. With a win in Brimingham, Burnley would move past idle Watford into the final safe place in the table. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Match Week 17 Preview: Coronavirus Concerns; Gunners and Hammers in Derby; Bottom Battle Between Clarets and Hornets; Fear For Newcastle; Will Anyone Score When Wolves Visit Brighton ?

Uncertainty surrounds several of the Premier League mid-week matches as coronavirus is beginning to wreak havoc as the league enters its busy festive period. Tottenham Hotspur is the most impacted roster and there is a strong possibility of postponing a third consecutive match for the north London club. Spurs are slated to travel to Leicester on Thursday. Manchester United’s Tuesday match with Brentford is in doubt after a breakout of the virus among the Red Devils which forced a closure of their training site this weekend. Aston Villa’s visit to Norwich Tuesday is also a question after positive cases have now spread through Villa’s roster. The matchup in Norwich, if played, would see Norwich City manager Dean Smith face the club which sacked him earlier this year. The Premier League has reinstituted additional protocols to try to control the virus spread but the vaccination status of players, with less than 70% of players being fully vaccinated, has been disappointing for the league.

West Ham faces a key on-field test this week when the Hammers visit Arsenal for a London derby on Wednesday. West Ham’s hold on the final Champions League qualification berth has grown tenuous after just one win in the Hammers’ last five league matches. Arsenal is just two points behind West Ham for fourth position in the table and have been formidable at home with the Gunners having won six of their eight matches at the Emirates.

The other key matchup mid-week is at the other end of the table where Burnley will have opportunity to climb out the relegation zone if the Clarets can take three points at home against Watford. A fifth consecutive loss by the Hornets would see them replace Burnley in the bottom three.

Another relegation zone dweller in Newcastle faces a daunting task after their embarrassing display versus Leicester on the weekend. The hapless Magpie defense will face the league’s highest scoring club when Manager Eddie Howe takes his motley crew to Anfield to face Liverpool.

Chelsea will be a heavy favorite when Everton visits Stamford Bridge. The London club, uncharacteristically shipping multiple goals of late, will look for a return to defensive solidity against an Everton side sorely missing injured striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

First place Manchester City faces a Leeds squad which is surprisingly unbeaten in its last four matches against the Citizens. A loss to the Whites at the Etihad could see both Liverpool and Chelsea sweep by Pep Guardiola’s men in the table. Manchester City, however, has won six consecutive league matches against all comers and is unlikely to falter here. Leeds will struggle for production absent striker Patick Bamford against a Manchester City team which has conceded only three goals at home this season while posting six clean sheets.

The match between Brighton and Wolves on the south coast features two of the league’s lowest scoring teams with 14 and 12 goals, respectively. Despite its low scoring output, Brighton is tough to beat with the Seagulls incurring fewer losses to date than all but the table’s top three teams.

Crystal Palace has lost only once at home this weekend and will hope to build on its home win over Everton last weekend when the Eagles host Southampton at Selhurst Park. The Saints, meanwhile, are praying for an end to their current five match winless run.

Premier League Results Match Week 16: Top Three in Narrow Wins; Hammers Drop Points to Burnley; Ronaldo Silences Canaries; Foxes Overrun Newcastle; Gunners Bench Star, Destroy Saints; Bees Swarm Hornets

The three top clubs all edged their opponents by a goal to remain within two points of each other in the Premier League Table. Manchester City remained leader of the pack in defeating Wolves 1-0. A Raheem Sterling penalty gave the Citizens victory over a Wolves side playing with 10 men after Raul Jimenez’s ejection in first half stoppage time.

Sterling’s 100th Premier League goal followed a questionable penalty award on a ball which appeared to hit the side of defender Joao Moutinho rather than the called contact with his arm leading to the penalty. A foolish pair of yellow cards in first half stoppage time by Jimenz further crippled an already weak Wolves attack which failed to find the net for a fourth consecutive match.

A penalty was also decisive in Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Aston Villa in Steven Gerrard’s return to Anfield. Tyrone Ming’s takedown of Mohamed Salah led to the league leading scorer’s 14th tally of the season on the ensuing penalty kick.

Chelsea’s 3-2 victory over Leeds United was in doubt until a stoppage time penalty in a chippy match which saw three of five goals scored via penalty. The match marked three consecutive contests across all competitions that Chelsea has conceded multiple goals, an occurrence which occurred for the first time this season just last weekend.

West Ham and Burnley played to a scoreless draw at Turf Moor as West Ham striker Michail Antonio extended his personal scoreless run to seven matches. The dropped points to relegation bound Burnley did nothing to enhance West Ham’s Champions League aspirations and continues a frustrating trend versus lower table clubs. The point for Burnley moves the Clarets within two points of safety.

Fifth position Manchester United moved within a point of West Ham with a 1-0 victory over Norwich. The Red Devils have picked up five points on the Hammers in the last four matches as they continue their unbeaten run since the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Cristiano Ronaldo was again the hero for United, drawing and converting a penalty for the win in East Anglia. Norwich was foiled by the goalkeeping of Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea as well as their own offensive futility which has seen the Canaries score four fewer goals this season than the next lowest scoring club.

Arsenal suspended wayward captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang before their match with Southampton and then proceeded to down the Saints in a 3-0 final. The win for the Gunners moved them past Tottenham Hotspur into sixth position in the table.

Spurs’ match versus Brighton was postponed due to coronavirus.

Leicester City pounded a helpless Newcastle side in a 4-0 rout at King Power Stadium. Youri Tielemans had a brace in the Foxes’ demolition of the Magpies who had earned their first win versus fellow relegation zone occupant Burnley the week before.

Brentford, down a goal with less than 10 minutes remaining and missing top striker Ivan Toney, mounted a late comeback for a 2-1 win over Watford. A penalty kick in stoppage time by Bryan Mbeumo provided the winner for Brentford. Watford, extending its run of matches without a clean sheet to 27 matches, closed to within two points of the relegation zone with a fourth consecutive loss.

Conor Gallagher continued his electric season for Crystal Palace, scoring a brace of goals in a 3-1 Crystal Palace win over Everton. Gallagher’s stoppage time goal to put the game away was his team leading sixth of the season. Chelsea will be eyeing closely the performance of their loaned property. The victory ended a three-match losing run for the Eagles while Everton’s win last week versus Arsenal proved to be fool’s gold as the Toffees lost for a seventh time in their last nine matches. 

Premier League in Europe

Champions League Draw

Monday’s initial draw was flawed due to technical issues, nullified by UEFA, and redone a short time later. The final pairings represent a mixed bag for Premier League clubs. Chelsea was the big winner as Lille will be their opponent, the French side being the least challenging of the four possible clubs who Chelsea could have faced. Neutrals will be disappointed that a Manchester United versus PSG matchup, which would have pitted Ronaldo versus Messi, was nullified after the flawed first draw attempt. Ronaldo will instead face some other familiar faces in a matchup with Atletico Madrid. The footballing legend has four career hat tricks against his former La Liga rival. As so often seems the case, Manchester City draws a relatively soft opponent in Sporting Lisbon. Liverpool, one of the tournament favorites, will be challenged in the next round by current Serie A leader Inter Milan. First legs will be played in mid-February. 

Europa and Conference League Draw

West Ham essentially gets a bye as group winner as the next Europa League round is a playoff between other Europa group play qualifiers and those descending from the Champions League to determine the Europa League Round of 16. Of note in the upcoming Europa League playoff round will be a pairing of Barcelona, bounced from the Champions League, and a Napoli side which placed second in its Europa League group. The Europa Conference League draw will see Leicester, moving down after a disappointing Europa League exit, playing Danish side Randers in the playoff round to determine the third-tier tournament’s Round of 16 participants. Should Tottenham Hotspur defeat Vitesse in their postponed Europa Conference League group stage match, Antonio Conte’s boys will face Austrian side Rapid Wien in the next playoff round. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Premier League Preview Match Week 16: Manchester City Home to Wolves; Gerrard Returns To Anfield; Wobbly Chelsea Hosts Leeds; Rangnick Hits The Road; Hornets Head To Beehive; Virus Plagues Spurs

Manchester City hosts Wolves this weekend as the league leading Citizens aim for a sixth consecutive league victory. Manchester City has conceded the joint fewest goals in the league this season while Wolves have scored fewer league goals than all but Norwich. Ironically, the two sides have historically averaged more goals per game when they meet than any other English League matchup of at least 60 occurrences since 1888. It is difficult to see Wolves posing a meaningful goal scoring threat on Saturday, however, after scoring but a single goal in their last five league matches. City could be without Phil Foden but has firepower to spare led by Bernardo Silva who leads all Premier League midfielders in goals, including six tallies in his last eight league matches.

Chelsea, which has matched Manchester City for fewest goals conceded in the league this season, has suddenly showed defensive cracks as they prepare for this weekend’s home clash with Leeds. The London club conceded three to West Ham in their last league match and Wednesday allowed three more goals in the Champions League versus Zenit St. Petersburg. Chelsea had not allowed more than a goal in any Premier League or Champions League match prior to those two results. Toppled from the top of the table last week, Chelsea will try to get back on track when Leeds visits Stamford Bridge Saturday. The visitors are riddled with injuries, missing such stars as Patrick Bamford (injured again after a brief cameo last weekend), Kalvin Phillips and Rodrigo.

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard returns Saturday to Anfield, where he took the field more than 70 times as a player for the Reds. The Aston Villa manager has won three of four matches in his return to the Premier League as a manager. Liverpool, in the midst of a title chase, will have no qualms in dispensing with its former captain and his new charges. Liverpool is a single point back of Manchester City after four straight wins and has blitzed opponents all season with nine more goals scored than any other Premier League squad. Mohamed Saleh leads the league with his 13 goals. Just as daunting for visiting Villa is that, defensively, Liverpool has conceded just once in its recent winning run.

Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick faces his first test away from Old Trafford when the Red Devils visit Norwich. The manager rested many of his stars in mid-week Champions League play but may be without Aaron Wan-Bissaka for Norwich after the right back was stretchered off from the match versus Young Boys. Forward Mason Greenwood, meanwhile, starred in midweek for the Red Devils and could crack the weekend lineup. The Norwich loss to Spurs last weekend ended a four-match unbeaten run for the club as it battles for Premier League survival.

Arsenal will welcome a return to the Emirates where it will face Southampton.

Only north London rival Spurs have won more home matches than the Gunners this season. Arsenal have lost three of their last four matches, all three defeats coming on the road. The Gunners will potentially face a rusty goalkeeper in the Saints’ Willy Caballero, recently signed to fill in for the injured Alex McCarthy. The Saints take to the road after having played well in two consecutive home draws versus Leicester and Brighton.

Following last week’s exhilarating London derby win over Chelsea, West Ham travels to Turf Moor to face Burnley. In their last five matches West Ham has defeated both Chelsea and Liverpool but needs to avoid a letdown versus the Clarets after already having dropped points this season against Brentford, Southampton, and Crystal Palace. David Moyes’ squad sustained another blow to their defensive corps when Kurt Zouma suffered a hamstring injury last week, joining fellow center back Angelo Ogbonna on the injured list. Burnley has been a tough matchup on home turf at Turf Moor, scoring three goals in each of their last two home contests. A third consecutive home goal trifecta Sunday would mark the first such streak of scoring prowess for the Clarets in over fifty years.

Crystal Palace hopes to end a three-match losing run when it hosts Everton on Sunday. The Eagles have lost at home just once this season and should prove a formidable test for an Everton side which snapped an eight-match winless run with its defeat of Arsenal on Monday. Former Eagle Andros Townsend will have a personal interest in securing a second consecutive victory for Everton.

Watford makes the short trip to Brentford for a Friday match which marks the first time the two clubs will meet in the topflight. Both the Bees and Hornets have been regularly feeling the sting of defeat, combining to lose 11 of their last 16 outings in aggregate. Watford is the only Premier League side not to register a clean sheet this season, extending a club record run of 26 topflight matches in which opponents have scored. Striker Ivan Toney is expected out for Brentford.

Tottenham Hotspur’s away match to Brighton has been postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak in Antonio Conte’s squad which also forced postponement of its midweek Europa Conference League match. Newcastle, winners of their first match of the season last week, travel to King Power Stadium to face Leicester. A so far disappointing season for the Foxes has them 12th in the league table after their two successive top six finishes. 

Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Chelsea stumbled in Champions League play, allowing a stoppage time goal to Zenit which tied the match 3-3 and dropped Chelsea to second in their qualifying group. As a second-place finisher, Chelsea will face one of the top seeded group winners. Chelsea cannot be selected to face any Premier League teams or Juventus which won Chelsea’s group. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Ajax, and Lille thus constitute the knockout round possibilities for the Blues. Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United had all clinched their top spots before the week’s action and took the opportunity to rest key starters in their final group matches. Liverpool still finished the group stage in style by winning a sixth group match, the first English club ever to do so. Manchester City lost 2-1 to an RB Leipzig side which qualified for Europa League with the win. Manchester United drew 1-1 with Young Boys, a club which had embarrassingly defeated the Red Devils in their first matchup. The draw to determine pairings for the next stage of Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League will be Monday, December 13.

Europa and Conference League

West Ham were 1-0 losers to Dinamo Zagreb in a Europa League contest which had no implications for the Hammers and one in which David Moyes took opportunity to rest his key front-line players. West Ham advances to the next round as group winner. Leicester will not be advancing. The Foxes dropped a 3-2 decision to Napoli and accordingly will drop down to the Europa Conference League playoffs. Following the embarrassing early exit from the Europa League, Brendan Rodgers was frank in post-match comments where he admitted his unfamiliarity with the third-tier competition the Foxes will now find themselves in. Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa Conference League group match with Rennes, meanwhile, was postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak impacting the north Londoners. 


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Premier League Results Match Week 15 Hammers Top Chelsea; Manchester City Goes Top; Liverpool Leaves It Late; The Eagles Have Landed; Spurs Silence Canaries; Arsenal Outgunned; Newcastle Wins!

The Premier League has a new leader after West Ham sent Chelsea down to a 3-2 defeat and  Manchester City were again dominant in a 3-1 win over Watford.

The Hammers prevailed at home in their London derby versus Chelsea when Arthur Masuaku beat Chelsea goalie Edouard Mendy in the 87th minute to register his first Premier League goal.

West Ham came from behind twice in the match as the Hammers again established their credentials as a top four contender. Chelsea conceded multiple goals in a league match for the first time this season and received shaky performances from goalkeeper Mendy and midfielder Jorginho for a second straight match. A botched back pass from the latter to the former led to a penalty on Mendy and West Ham’s opening goal.

Manchester City sailed past Chelsea in the standings as the Citizens marked a fifth consecutive league victory with their league leading 11th win of the season. Bernardo Silva scored a brace for City, continuing the torrid form which has seen the Portuguese midfielder score five goals in Manchester City’s recent five match winning run. Pep Guardiola’s squad moved to the top of the table for the first time this season. Watford, meanwhile, lost for a sixth time in eight matches under Manager Claudio Ranieri.

Liverpool moved past Chelsea and sit second in the table, a point behind Manchester City, after Divock Origi scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time to defeat Wolves in a 1-0 final at Molineux Stadium. Origi’s second goal of the season, Saturday’s winner assisted by Mohamed Salah, delivered a fourth consecutive victory for Liverpool.

Eighth place Wolves, meanwhile, continued a scoring drought which has seen the club score but once in its last five league outings.

Antonio Conte remained undefeated in the Premier League as Tottenham Hotspur manager and Spurs marked a third consecutive victory to stay in the top four chase with a 3-0 victory over Norwich in north London. Spurs’ Son Heung-min scored his sixth league goal of the season as fifth place Spurs remain just two points behind West Ham for a Champions League berth. Harry Kane, however, remains stuck on one league goal for the season despite a team leading 32 shots. Norwich, meanwhile, managed just a single shot on target as Manager Dean Smith suffered his first defeat in charge of the Canaries.

The Ralf Rangnick era at Manchester United began successfully as the Red Devils defeated Crystal Palace by a 1-0 margin at Old Trafford. Midfielder Fred was the unlikely match winner, striking for his second league goal of the season. Manchester United remained unbeaten in four matches following the sacking of Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Eagles, meanwhile, have now landed with a thud, losing a third consecutive match after tantalizing fans with a seven-match unbeaten run. The 13th place Eagles are six points removed from a relegation place.

Arsenal fell to seventh in the table with a 2-1 defeat at Everton, a third loss in four matches for the Gunners. The lack of veteran leadership and production was again glaring for Arsenal. A healthy and available captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang occupied the bench for 85 minutes before coming on to miss a potential equalizer as his goalless streak extended to a sixth Premier League appearance. The Arsenal goal by 22-year-old Martin Odegaard, meanwhile, was the ninth consecutive goal scored for the club by a player 23 years old or younger. The win for Everton, secured on a stoppage time goal by Demarai Gray, was enormous for Manager Rafa Benitez as the club ended a streak of six losses in seven winless matches. Monday’s victory marked a second win in 48 hours for Benitez following Sunday’s departure of Everton football director Marcel Brands. For better or worse, Everton’s ownership and board seem committed to Benitez to right the ship.

Brighton and Hove Albion maintained their ninth-place position in the table for a fourth consecutive week as the Seagulls drew 1-1 at Southampton. The non-decision was a league leading eighth draw of the season for Brighton which rescued a point only after 8 minutes of a lengthy stoppage period on a goal by Neal Maupay. The Brighton striker had also rescued a point for the Seagulls with his goal at West Ham in the 89th minute of Brighton’s previous match. Maupay’s strike negated a Saints goal by 20-year-old Chelsea loanee Armando Broja.

Steven Gerrard made it three victories in his first four outings as Aston Villa manager in a 2-1 win over Leicester. The victory elevated Aston Villa to 10th in the table, moving past the Foxes and Gerrard’s former Liverpool Manager, Brendan Rodgers.

Leeds striker Patrick Bamford made a dramatic return from injury as he scored an equalizer in the fifth minute of stoppage time in a 2-2 draw with Brentford. A three-match unbeaten run and the return of their striker has things looking much more positive for Leeds and Manager Marcelo Bielsa as the club moved to 14th in the table after being perilously close to the drop zone before their recent run. Brentford remains a point above Leeds.

Every Premier League team has now won at least one game this season after Newcastle broke through under new manager Eddie Howe in a 1-0 home victory over Burnley. The club’s leading scorer, Callum Wilson, had the match winner with his sixth goal of the season. Burnley was held to just a single shot on goal as the Clarets are now in a three-way tie on points with fellow relegation roommates Newcastle and Norwich, all three clubs sitting three points from the final safe place currently occupied by Watford. 


Premier League in Europe

Champions League

The final week of Champions League group play is largely non-consequential for all English teams but Chelsea. Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United have already clinched their groups before their final group match. Chelsea, facing Zenit on Wednesday, has already clinched advancement to the next round but could still cede the top spot they currently hold to Juventus depending on this week’s results. Manchester City’s group opponent is RB Leipzig. The German squad just sacked American manager Jesse Marsch in advance of a match which could still see them qualify for entry to the Europa League competition with a successful outcome. Liverpool opponent AC Milan could still qualify for the Round of Sixteen with a win over the Reds and a draw between Porto and Atletico Madrid. Manchester United has nothing at stake but for pride in their match as they try to avenge an earlier loss in the group stage to Young Boys.

Europa and Conference League

Leicester currently leads its Europa League group but could fall out of the top two qualifying spots with an unsuccessful result against an injury ravaged Napoli team. The two clubs drew when facing each other in their first group match. West Ham, meanwhile, has already clinched the top spot in its group heading into the Hammers final match in group play versus Dinamo Zagreb. Europa Conference League play will see Tottenham Hotspur host group leader Rennes. Spurs cannot finish first and are currently level on points for the second qualifying spot in the group with Vitesse. Vitesse faces NS Mura who humiliated Spurs in the last set of group stage matches.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Premier League Results Match Week 14: Ronaldo Reaches 800 in United Win; Liverpool Dominate Merseyside Derby As Everton Crisis Grows; Chelsea Stays Top With Win Over Hornets; Citizens Defeat Villans; Canaries and Newcastle Fail To Determine Who’s Worse; Toothless Wolves

It was Cristiano Ronaldo once again to the rescue as Manchester United overcame an early deficit to defeat Arsenal 3-2. Ronaldo’s first of his two goals in the match gave him 800 for his illustrious career.

United’s “temporary interim” manager Michael Carrick finished his stint in charge undefeated before announcing he would leave after the game. New interim boss Ralf Rangnick takes over next for the Red Devils. The loss for Arsenal once again highlighted the dichotomy present in Manager Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal current squad as young stars Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka provide hope for Gunner fans while highly paid veterans such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey and bench bound Nicolas Pepe contribute little. The jury remains out on Martin Odegaard, still only 22 years old, who scored against the Red Devils but also committed an egregious penalty resulting in Ronaldo’s winning penalty kick. An oddity occurred in the game at Old Trafford when Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea was stepped on by teammate Fred, crumpled to the ground, and made no attempt to stop a goal by Smith Rowe.

Manager Thomas Tuchel characterized Chelsea as lucky to have survived a scare from Watford and remain atop the Premier League table with a 2-1 victory over the Hornets. Mason Mount was one of the few Chelsea players operating at an accustomed peak level as the English international scored the opening goal and assisted on the winner by Hakim Ziyech. Chelsea injury concerns increased with the loss of wingback Trevoh Chelobah to a hamstring injury. Fellow wingback Ben Chilwell is out indefinitely while Reece James can hopefully return to active status for the weekend. Saul Niguez, who played some wingback at Atletico Madrid, was abysmal in his second Premier League start for Chelsea and was yanked at halftime for a second time. Watford put up a commendable fight at home but continues to court danger with a fifth loss in seven matches under Ranieri.

Liverpool inflicted an embarrassing 4-1 derby loss on Everton in their Merseyside derby as the Toffees continued their death spiral. Mohamed Salah scored twice to increase his league leading goal total to 13 on the season while Diogo Jota scored his fourth goal in his last three league matches for the Reds. In scoring four goals for a fourth consecutive league match, Liverpool have now scored the most league goals this season of any club in the top five leagues of Europe.

Everton’s uncompetitive loss to their rivals caps a winless run which has caused increased fan displeasure not just with unpopular manager Rafa Benitz but also with the Everton board, owner, and chairman. There were reports of an emergency board meeting to be held at Everton in the coming days. Everton are currently one of three clubs deadlocked at 14th position in the table.

Manchester City made it four straight wins to stay a point behind league leading Chelsea. The Citizens also handed Steven Gerrard his first loss as a Premier League manager in a 2-1 Manchester City win at Aston Villa. The victory marked the 150th Premier League win for Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola who set a league record by achieving that milestone in only 204 matches. Jack Grealish, the former Aston Villa star who has underperformed with his new team, was a late substitute for Manchester City and received a mixed welcome from Villa supporters.

A Neal Maupay goal in the 89th minute stole a late point for Brighton in a 1-1 draw at West Ham. The Hammers had led the match since a fifth minute header from Tomas Soucek. Maupay’s equalizer came on a brilliant overhead kick and was the striker’s fifth goal of the season.

The disappointed Hammers retained their fourth-place position in the table while Brighton remained ninth.

In a bottom of the table basement derby, Norwich extended its unbeaten run to four matches in a 1-1 draw at Newcastle. The Canaries needed to come from behind to grab the point despite playing with a man advantage after a Newcastle red card in the ninth minute. After Callum Wilson put shorthanded Newcastle ahead on the Magpies’ only shot on target, the Canaries’ Teemu Pukki notched his fifth goal of the season for a Norwich side which has seen no other squad member score more than once. Winless Newcastle remains bottom of the league with seven points while Norwich is 19th with ten points and a staggering goal differential of negative 20.

Only Norwich has scored fewer goals than Wolverhampton this season so its goalless draw versus 18th place Burnley is not particularly surprising. A second consecutive goalless outing against clubs in the relegation places, however, must be dispiriting for a Wolves side which tumbled from sixth to eighth place in the table after the weekend’s results. Burnley have now lost only one of their last eight matches after losing four of their first five. Only one of those last eight matches was a win, however, which explains why the Clarets remain 18th in the table, three points off the deteriorating situation at Watford.

Leicester remains mired in 10th position in the league after grabbing just a point in a 2-2 draw at Southampton. The Foxes secured the point on an early second half tying goal by James Maddison, his fourth in six matches across all competitions. The point for Southampton ended a two-match losing run and leaves the Saints five points clear of the relegation zone and tied for 14th in the table with Leeds and Everton.

Brentford proved just the remedy to provide a boost for Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur team. Spurs moved into sixth place in the table with a 2-0 victory which saw an early Bees’ own goal and a clinching tally by Spurs’ Son Heung-min. Brentford suffered a fifth defeat in their last seven matches and lost whatever good feeling emanated from the Bees’ win over hopeless Everton the week before.

Crystal Palace lost a second consecutive match when the Eagles fell to Leeds 1-0 in a driving rain at Elland Road. The Leeds winner came on a stoppage time penalty kick following two missed goal opportunities by Crystal Palace’s star-crossed striker Christian Benteke in regulation. A third win of the season gives Leeds five points of breathing room from the relegation zone

Match Week 15 Preview

Premier League clubs barely have time to catch their breath before taking the pitch again this weekend. A London derby, as Chelsea pays a visit to West Ham, is among the feature matches which also include Ralf Rangnick making his interim manager debut when Manchester United hosts Crystal Palace. Steven Gerrard will face his former Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers when Aston Villa plays host to Leicester. Claudi Ranieri’s painful tenure at Watford is likely to see another loss when the Hornets head to in-form Manchester City while similarly suffering managerial compatriot Rafa Benitez will hear it once again from the Goodison faithful when his Everton side host Arsenal. Wolves, scoreless in two matches, must face juggernaut Liverpool, scorers of 12 goals in their last three matches. A matchup with relegation implications plays out when cellar dwelling and winless Newcastle hosts a Burnley side which has not lost in weeks and is eager to claw its way from its present relegation position. A south coast derby will feature a visit by Brighton to Southampton. Norwich, beginning to show signs of life, will try to remain undefeated under new manager Dean Smith when the Canaries fly to north London to face Spurs. Brentford, meanwhile, visits Leeds for a match between two clubs hoping to stay above the relegation fray.