Friday, May 28, 2021

Premier League in Europe: Champions League Final: Manchester City To Face Familiar Foe Chelsea

Manchester City, Champions of the Premier League, will face league opponent Chelsea as the two Premier League sides battle to become Champions of Europe on Saturday. Two recent wins by Chelsea over Manchester City, in the FA Cup Final and in league play, add some further home bred drama as two English teams square off in the Champions League final for a second time in three years and third time in the competition’s history.


City is making its first appearance in the final while manager Pep Guardiola is seeking a third Champions League title following two wins while managing Barcelona, his last title coming a decade ago. Chelsea is making a third appearance in the final, having won the title in 2012. Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel, meanwhile, is the first manager to reach the finals with a different team in two consecutive years. Tuchel’s PSG team fell to Bayern Munich in last year’s Champions League final. 

Despite the two wins over Manchester City, Chelsea has experienced some recent downturn in results. After going unbeaten in winning 10 of its first 14 matches under Tuchel, Chelsea has lost five of its last 15 matches in all competitions. Chelsea lost two of its final three league contests and finished in the top four only when Spurs beat Leicester on the final day. The Blues have been exasperating in attack where they struggle to convert their chances. The team’s leading scorer in the Premier League this season was Jorgino who scored all seven of his goals on penalty kicks. Former Bundesliga attackers Timo Werner and Kai Havertz have had striking difficulty adjusting to the English game. Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic have had flashes of creativity for an otherwise stunted Chelsea attack while Hakim Ziyech scored in both wins over Manchester City.


Chelsea received good news this week when defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy were both able to participate in training and look to be available for Saturday’s final. Mendy was responsible for 16 of 18 clean sheets posted by Chelsea in league play this season, second in the league only to the 19 clean sheets by Manchester City and goalkeeper Ederson. Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has transformed his club this season to feature a staunch defense in front of Ederson. Center back Ruben Dias, acquired in September from Benfica, has been the catalyst for the improved City defense and was voted Footballer of the Year by English football writers earlier this month. In attack, the Citizens have relied on greater scoring from their midfield this season. Ilkay Gundogan led the club with 17 goals across all competitions while Phil Foden has scored 16 goals in an increased role following last season’s departure of David Silva. Kevin De Bruyne, who has been employed at times in a “false nine” position by manager Pep Guardiola this season, scored 10 goals in all competitions and was joint second in the Premier League in assists. Seven different Manchester City players have reached double figures in goals across all competitions entering Saturday’s match. 


Europa League Final: Yellow Submarine Sinks Manchester United

Villareal, dubbed the “Yellow Submarine,” defeated Manchester United in dramatic fashion to deliver manager Unai Emery’s fourth Europa League title and the first European Championship for Villareal. Emery’s fourth title provides some redemption for the Spanish manager who defeated former club Arsenal in the semi-final before dispensing of a former Premier League opponent in the final. The match was not decided until Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea, unable to make a save on any of 11 penalty kicks he faced, missed his own penalty kick. De Gea’s miss was the 22nd penalty try taken by the clubs following a scoreless 30-minute period of extra time. Villareal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli made the climactic save on De Gea moments after converting his own attempt for the winning goal.  

The clubs were deadlocked after regular time on goals by Villareal’s Gerard Moreno and United’s Edinson Cavani. Moreno’s goal was his 30th of the season, making him the first Villareal player to reach that goal mark in a decade. Cavani’s goal was his 17th of the season and was a solitary bright spot in a game marked by poor performances from Manchester United stars such as Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was denied his first trophy as Manchester United manager by a disciplined Villareal club which United was unable to break down but for an opportunistic goal by the crafty Cavani. United had but two shots on goal for the match while Villareal converted on its only attempt on target. A lack of depth was apparent for United which had no game changing options to draw from its bench. Solskjaer, in fact, made no substitutions during regular time. Questions were also being asked after the match as to why De Gea was left between the posts for the deciding penalty kicks. The United goalkeeper had failed to save any of 25 penalties he had faced for the Red Devils in the last five years before failing again on the 11 converted tries by Villareal on Wednesday. The disappointing end to Manchester United’s season marked a fourth season without a trophy since the club won the Europa League under former manager Jose Mourinho. The loss tends to mask progress made by the club in Solskjaer’s second full season as manager as the Red Devils improved on points and position in the Premier League table and advanced to the Europa League final after falling in the semi-final round the previous season.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Matchweek 38 Results: Liverpool Finishes Third with Fifth Straight Win; Chelsea Backs Into Top Four; Gareth Bale Sinks Leicester; Kane Swings Golden Boot; Hammers Head to Europa League; Aguero Scores Two as City Celebrates League Title; Everton Crashes; Arsenal Out of Europe

Liverpool concluded its remarkable finishing kick to place third in the Premier League with a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. Jurgen Klopp’s team overcame innumerable injuries to its backline this season to win its last five games and deliver eight wins in an undefeated 10 match season ending run. The Reds were eighth in the table, having just lost at home to Fulham, before beginning their 10-match run to Champions League qualification. Sadio Mane scored both goals for Liverpool, lifting his season total to 11 and marking the eighth consecutive match versus Crystal Palace that Mane has scored.

The Reds leapfrogged Chelsea into third place as the Blues fell to Aston Villa. Once again Chelsea was victimized by an inability to convert chances. Thomas Tuchel’s club launched 23 shots, seven on target, with only a goal by defender Ben Chilwell to show for their efforts as Chelsea’s forwards and attacking midfielders again failed to convert their opportunities. Former Chelsea player Bertrand Traore scored the opener for Aston Villa and drew a penalty which was converted by Anwar El Ghazi to give Villa a 2-0 lead. Worse yet, Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was injured attempting to save Traore’s goal and is a doubt for next weeks’ Champions League final. Chelsea pulled one back on Chilwell’s goal but was unable to avoid Tuchel’s third Premier League defeat and was thus reduced to relying on the charity of others to ensure next year’s Champions League participation. 

London rival Tottenham Hotspur gifted Chelsea their top four spot by defeating Leicester 4-2. Gareth Bale scored a brace in perhaps his final Premier League appearance and Harry Kane bagged his 23rd goal of the season to edge Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah for the league’s Golden Boot. Leicester twice took the lead versus Spurs on goals by Jamie Vardy, which sandwiched Harry Kane’s Golden Boot strike, but were undone by an own goal by goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel and the two goals by Bale. Kane, who assisted on the first of Bale’s two goals, finished the season at the top of the Premier League in assists (14) as well as goals. Leicester’s defeat secured Champions League qualification for Chelsea as the Foxes fell out of the top four in a late season collapse for a second consecutive season. Leicester’s fifth place finish provides the consolation of Europa League play next season. With their victory, Spurs secured a place in the less desired inaugural season of the Europa Conference League, a competition of questionable value for clubs accustomed to competing in the two senior European competitions. 

Joining Leicester as the second of the two Premier League participants in the Europa League next season will be West Ham United which resoundingly beat Southampton 3-0 to secure their sixth-place position and the club’s best topflight finish in 22 years. Pablo Fornals scored a brace and assisted on a goal by Declan Rice to key West Ham's 19th win of the season, the highest win total for the club in 35 years.


League winners Manchester City provided some celebratory fireworks in a 5-0 torching of overmatched Everton before lifting the trophy in front of their home fans. Sergio Aguero scored a brace in his final Manchester City appearance and goals by Phil Foden, Kevn De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus added to the rout of the Toffees. City Goalkeeper Ederson stopped a penalty try by Gylfi Sigurdsson to ensure his 19th clean sheet of the season, three more than any other Premier League goalkeeper. Top of the table Manchester City dominated the league this season with the most points, most wins, joint fewest losses, best goal differential, fewest goals conceded and most clean sheets. Remarkably, club high scorer Ilkay Gundogan was joint 9th in the league for goals scored. Everton, which entered the match with flickering hopes of  European qualification, suffered its heaviest defeat of the season and the worst loss of manager Carlo Ancelotti’s career. 

Second place Manchester United became just the fourth club to finish a Premier League season unbeaten away from home, defeating Wolves 2-1 at Molineux Stadium. Anthony Elanga scored his first Premier League goal for Manchester United and Juan Mata perhaps his last for the Red Devils as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played a significantly altered lineup to keep key players fresh for Wednesday’s Europa League final. Nelson Semedo scored for Wolves who now face uncertainty with the departure of manager Nuno Espirito Santos after four seasons with the club. 

Arsenal received a brace from Nicolas Pepe for a second consecutive match to defeat Brighton 2-0. A fifth consecutive victory was unfortunately not enough to prevent the eighth place Gunners from missing out on European competition next season for the first time in 25 years. 

Leeds won for a fourth consecutive time in a 3-1 win over relegated West Brom to complete a top half finish in their promotion season. Rodrigo, Kalvin Phillips, and Patrick Bamford scored for ninth place Leeds while Hal Robson-Kanu scored in the 90th minute for the relegated Baggies. Bamford’s tally was his club leading 17th goal of the season. 

Newcastle defeated Fulham 2-0 as the irrepressible Joe Willock scored for a seventh consecutive league match, a feat previously only previously accomplished by club legend Alan Shearer. Fabian Schar scored the insurance goal for the Magpies with an 88th minute penalty. The Cottagers head to the Championship level next season having not won in their final 10 Premier League matches, losing 8 during their miserable run. A second consecutive victory for the Magpies leaves them with a 12th place finish in a season which once ventured perilously close to the relegation zone. Manager Steve Bruce led Newcastle to five wins and a draw in their final eight games to finish well clear of any relegation concerns. 

Sheffield United defeated Burnley 1-0 as David McGoldrick scored his eighth goal of the season for the Blades. McGoldrick accounted for 40% of the Blades’ total goals this season. Interim manager Paul Heckingbottom led bottom of the table Sheffield United to three wins in their final six games to perhaps merit consideration for a permanent role. Burnley finished the season losing seven of their final nine games.


Premier League in Europe: Europa League Final

Manchester United faces Villareal in the Europa League final on Wednesday. The Red Devils advanced to the final by defeating Roma in the last round while Villareal added to the disappointment this season for Arsenal fans by dispatching the Gunners in the semi-finals. Current Villareal and former Arsenal manager Unai Emery won the Europa League Cup three times with Sevilla and will be participating in his fifth Europa League final, having led Arsenal to the final before falling to Chelsea in 2019. Despite Emery’s track record, Manchester United is favored to win a first trophy of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s managerial tenure when it faces a Villareal side which placed seventh in La Liga domestic competition this season. Manchester United, however, will be without injured center back Harry Maguire as it looks to contain Villareal striker Gerard Moreno who tallied 23 La Liga goals this season. Manchester United striker Edinson Cavani has scored in seven of his last 10 appearances across all competitions and registered a brace in each leg of the Europa League semi-final versus Roma. Cavani played for Emery when both were at PSG.



Friday, May 21, 2021

Matchweek 37 Results and Final Weekend: Eight Teams Contend for Europe on Championship Sunday; Liverpool Crashes Top Four; Chelsea Rebounds As Foxes Fall; Hammers Respond; Spurs Stumble; Manchester United Extends Winless Streak; Sam Allardyce and Nuno Espirito Santos Say Goodbye

Eight teams have unsettled prospects for Europe entering Sunday’s season ending matches. Manchester City and Manchester United have clinched first and second in the table, securing their Champions League places for next year. All else remains unsettled. Heading into the final matches, each of the remaining teams in the top half of the Premier League table has a mathematical possibility to qualify for some form of European competition. Chelsea sits third in the table but could still be displaced from Champions League qualification. Fifth place Leicester, loser of its penultimate match of the season to Chelsea, is just a single point behind Chelsea entering the final weekend. Leicester is level on points with fourth place Liverpool but trail the Reds on goal differential with a four-goal difference currently separating fourth and fifth place. 

Liverpool surged into the top four by virtue of a 3-0 victory over West Brom on Wednesday coupled with Leicester’s Tuesday defeat at Stamford Bridge. Suddenly in-form Liverpool forward Bobby Firmino scored for a third time in his last three appearances after scoring just once in his previous 19 matches.

Defender Nat Phillips scored his first ever Premier League goal and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored for a first time this season to complete the unlikely cast of goal scoring heroes. The Reds have now won four consecutive matches and are unbeaten in nine league matches to put themselves in position for an improbable rescue of their season. 

Chelsea was determined if not impressive in a 2-1 Tuesday defeat of Leicester. Timo Werner missed on his usual assortment of goal scoring opportunities but was responsible for drawing the penalty which Jorgino converted for the winning margin. Antonio Rudiger had scored the opening goal for Chelsea shortly into the second half with a volley off his left thigh. With Chelsea ahead by two goals, Leicester’s Kelechi Iheanacho raised further question as to why the red-hot striker was not in the starting line-up when the second half substitute struck in the 76th minute from well outside the box, cutting Chelsea’s lead in half. A missed opportunity by Leicester’s Ayoze Perez in the closing minutes added to the woe of the flagging Foxes who risk a late fall from the top four for a second consecutive season. Emotions running high after back-to-back critical matches between the two clubs, a bench clearing brawl erupted between Chelsea and Leicester toward game’s end. 

Europa League qualification is the now assured consolation prize for whichever of Liverpool, Chelsea, and Leicester finishes outside the top four. Liverpool will enjoy the most favorable matchup of the three clubs on Championship Sunday when the Reds host Crystal Palace in front of returning fans at Anfield. Chelsea needs to go to Aston Villa which impressed in a win over Tottenham Hotspur last week with Jack Grealish back in the line-up. N’golo Kante and Kai Havertz are injury question marks to play against Villa for a Chelsea squad which faces a Champions League final next week. Leicester, meanwhile, is home to a Spurs side in contention for its own European place. Spurs striker Harry Kane, tied at 22 goals with Mohamed Salah in the chase for this season’s Golden Boot, has scored more career goals versus Leicester than against any other Premier League opponent. 

West Ham is currently sitting in the second of the two available Europa League places after late goals by Angelo Ogbonna and Michail Antonio cemented a 3-1 victory for the Hammers after a first half which saw a 46th minute score by Tomas Soucek negate an early West Brom lead delivered by Matheus Pereira. West Brom manager Sam Allardyce, loser for an eighth consecutive match against West Ham manager David Moyes, announced he is leaving his position with the relegated Baggies effective with the end of the season. West Ham is guaranteed, at minimum, a place in the Europa Conference League unless Everton can improbably overcome an 8-point goal differential with a Toffee win and Hammer loss on Sunday. A draw by West Ham against visiting Southampton would clinch Europa League competition and West Ham’s first top six finish in over 20 years.

A win on Sunday would see West Ham finish with 26 more points than their 2019/20 total. Tottenham Hotspur, who play at Leicester Sunday, remain a threat to bump West Ham from the more preferred Europa League should the Hammers lose, and Spurs defeat the Foxes. 

Tottenham Hotspur suffered a potentially devastating 2-1 home loss to Aston Villa during the week. An early Spurs lead on a Steven Bergwijn goal was eradicated by a Sergio Reguilon own goal before Villa’s Tammy Watkins provided the winner at the 39-minute mark. A miserable day for Spurs ended with the solitary figure of Harry Kane sadly clapping the Spurs fans at the end of perhaps his final home match for the club. Spurs, currently without a permanent manager and potentially soon without their top star, are clinging to a place in the Europa Conference League. A “proper” Europa League slot, however, remains possible for Tottenham Hotspur with a Spurs win and West Ham loss on the final day. 

Should Spurs lose on Sunday, both Everton and Arsenal can threaten for the Europa Conference League spot. An Everton win at Manchester City and a Spurs draw or loss would give the Toffees seventh place and the “Conference” position. West Ham’s 8-point goal differential advantage versus Everton likely makes Europa League too long of a putt for the Toffees even in the event of a West Ham loss and Toffee win on the final day. Everton’s slim chances are courtesy of a Richarlison goal in a 1-0 win Tuesday over Wolves. A meaningless final stretch of the season for Wolves was brightened this week by news that striker Raul Jimenez is sufficiently recovered from his skull fracture to resume training. 

Arsenal is eliminated from Europa League but could qualify for the Conference League should the Gunners win their match versus Brighton and both Spurs and Everton lose. Arsenal were 3-1 winners over Crystal Palace Wednesday, securing victory with two stoppage time goals by Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe. Pepe’s goal was his second of the game. Christian Benteke scored in a fourth consecutive appearance for Crystal Palace. Eagles manager Roy Hodgson was recognized by an honor guard provided by both teams before the game in the veteran manager’s final appearance before fans at Selhurst Park. Anything less than a Gunner victory over Brighton this Sunday automatically eliminates Arsenal from Europe. 

Mathematically, Leeds would have a chance for the Europa Conference spot should the Whites defeat West Brom and Spurs, Everton, and Arsenal all lose. Unfortunately, Spurs currently enjoys a 15-goal advantage on Leeds in tiebreaking goal differential, thus requiring a feat of goal production on the final day for Leeds which would seem insurmountable even for Marcelo Bielsa’s electric offensive philosophy. Leeds won for a third consecutive time this week in a 2-0 defeat of Southampton behind goals by Patrick Bamford and Tyler Roberts. 

Manchester City will receive the Premier League trophy in front of their home fans Sunday. The Citizens will be eager to punctuate their championship season with a victory over Everton after a frustrating loss by the Citizens to Brighton in their penultimate match last week. A ten-man Manchester side surrendered a two-goal lead in a 3-2 loss to the Seagulls. Jao Cancelo was ejected for Manchester City in the 10th minute with the Citizens holding 1-0 advantage on a goal by Ilkay Gundogan. Despite the disadvantage, City went ahead by two goals on a Phil Foden goal early in the second half before the Seagulls began to spread their wings. Consecutive goals by Leandro Trossard, Adam Webster, and Dan Burns brought Brighton all the way back against the tiring City defense. Dan Burns’s winner was his first Premier League goal as Brighton earned its first Premier League victory over Manchester City. City’s loss ended a league record 12 consecutive away victories and 23 match unbeaten run in all competitions. The ultracompetitive Pep Guardiola exchanged heated words with Brighton coach Graham Potter after the game. 

Manchester United failed to win for a third consecutive league outing as the Red Devils drew 1-1 with relegated Fulham Tuesday as a 76th minute goal by the Cottagers’ Joe Bryan negated a first half score by Manchester United’s Edinson Cavani. The Old Trafford crowd was orderly but for the tossing of a green and gold scarf onto Luke Shaw as he lined up to take a corner. Green and gold have the become the colors symbolizing protest of the Glazer family’s ownership of the club. Manchester United finish their league slate on Sunday at Wolves. The fans at Molineux Stadium will be saying their final farewell to Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santos who has surprisingly been announced to be leaving the club after this season by mutual agreement. The soon to be former Wolves manager will now be rumored to fill the vacant Tottenham Hotspur managerial position. While not meaningful for league positioning, the final league game for Manchester United is important to build some positivity before heading into the Europa League final against Villareal. 

Relegated Fulham say goodbye to the Premier League by hosting a finale versus Newcastle which was once thought to be an important relegation decider before the Cottagers late season collapse and a renaissance by Newcastle manager Steve Buce’s Magpies. Newcastle were 1-0 winners over Sheffield United during the week as Arsenal loanee Joe Willock scored in a sixth consecutive appearance for Newcastle. Relegated Sheffield United finishes its season with a visit from Burnley.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Matchweek 36 Results and Midweek Matches Goalkeeper Saves Liverpool; Chelsea and Leicester Battle For Top Four; West Ham Dealt Hammer Blow; Blades Cut Down Everton; Spurs Tame Wolves But Not Out of Woods; Kane Wants Out; Hodgson To Leave Crystal Palace

Liverpool’s late season surge to potential Champions League qualification took a dramatic turn with a 95th minute header by goalkeeper Allison Becker to keep hope alive with a 2-1 victory over West Brom. The game was difficult for Liverpool from the start as they fell behind to a Hal Robson-Kanu goal early on before Mohamed Salah’s  22nd goal of the season saw matters level at halftime. A taut second half played out before Liverpool’s final chance off a late corner. Allison’s expertly placed ball made him just the sixth goalkeeper to score in the Premier League and the first to achieve his goal via header. Allison is also the first Liverpool goalkeeper to score in club history.


Liverpool’s win moved the Reds to within a point of Chelsea and three points of Leicester as those two clubs prepare to meet on Tuesday for a second time in 72 hours. Leicester defeated Chelsea on Saturday in the FA Cup final which extended an unbeaten run versus Chelsea for the Foxes to six consecutive matches. A win on Tuesday would clinch Champions League football next season for Leicester. Liverpool, meanwhile, goes to Burnley on Wednesday with an opportunity to move into the top four. Chelsea, with a loss or draw against Leicester, would be overtaken by a Liverpool win at Turf Moor where Burnley has been abysmal of late, establishing a club record with nine consecutive home losses. Leicester could be overtaken by Liverpool on goal differential, dependent on the scores of this week’s matches,  if the Foxes were to lose at Chelsea and Liverpool wins the following day. Both Liverpool and Leicester have a goal differential of 21 heading into the week’s action while Chelsea is but one goal better. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side will continue to be without Diogo Jota who is out for the season with a foot injury. Leicester’s Jonny Evans will miss the Chelsea match with a heel injury. 

Chelsea is poised for potential disaster as their fine run under Tuchel has hit a major bump. Losses to Arsenal and then in the FA Cup final have further highlighted scoring deficiencies and the failures of their two German attackers, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, acquired last offseason. Meanwhile, joint top scorer for the season Tammy Abraham has played little under Tuchel and was not even on the bench for the past two games where Chelsea failed to score. Tuchel also uses Christian Pulisic as a “super sub”, a role the young American cannot be pleased with. Where just weeks ago Tuchel’s run with Chelsea was considered one of the season’s success stories, the Blues are now in danger of finishing outside the top four and with no trophies to show should they lose the Champions League final. Tuesday will be a major test of the Tuchel regime against a Leicester squad which has the third best away record in the league, and which will have gained confidence from their Cup victory. 

Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham also have a mathematical chance for top four but would need to win out and have both Chelsea and Liverpool lose their final two matches. West Ham would have an inferior goal differential in any tie breaker scenario with Spurs or the other top four contenders. The Hammers were dealt a blow to their Champions League chances in a disappointing 1-1 draw at Brighton. The Hammers salvaged a point when an 87th minute goal by Said Benrahma offset a goal of three minutes earlier by the Seagulls’ Danny Welbeck. West Ham are seventh in the table, equal on points with sixth place Spurs but with a 12 goal poorer goal differential. A seventh-place finish in the Premier League table would mean qualification for the newly created  Europa Conference League. While paling against the more prestigious Champions League and Europa League competitions, the new tournament would still represent European football and a big step forward for teams such as West Ham or possibly Everton. West Ham would have been thinking three points more than manageable from their upcoming Wednesday match with West Brom, but the outcome now becomes more questionable after the Baggies’ strong performance against Liverpool and recent failures by the Hammers who have failed to win in four of their last five matches. 

Eighth place Everton are on the outside looking in after a devastating 1-0 home loss on the weekend to last place Sheffield United. The Blades showed surprising ambition against the Toffees and 17-year-old Daniel Jebbison became the youngest player to score in their first Premier League start.

Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti expressed embarrassment in postgame comments at the poor effort made by his club in such a critical game as Everton tied a club record of nine home losses in a season. The reeling Toffees are three points behind Spurs and West Ham as they face another home test Wednesday versus Wolves. 

Spurs positioned themselves for Europa League qualification with a 2-0 victory over Wolves. Harry Kane’s 22nd goal of the season opened the scoring and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg provided the insurance goal to keep Spurs on course for a likely Europa League berth under a manager to be named later. Kane, who is tied with Mohamed Salah in the chase for the Premier League’s Golden Boot, celebrated the Spurs victory by telling the club that he wants to leave in the coming transfer window. Next task for Spurs is to defeat Aston Villa on Wednesday. 

The Villans were surprised 3-2 by Crystal Palace over the weekend in a surprisingly entertaining game which saw the launch of 42 shots in aggregate between the two teams. Christian Benteke scored in a third consecutive match for the first time in five years for Crystal Palace and young defender Tyrick Mitchell notched his first Premier League goal for the south London club. Wilfried Zaha also scored for the Eagles who were able to overcome two different leads taken by Villa on goals by John McGinn and Anwar El Ghazi. Manager Roy Hodgson has now announced his departure from Crystal Palace effective the end of the season. The 73-year-old manager rescued a desperate situation upon his 2017 hiring and has admirably kept Palace safe in his care. The Eagles host Arsenal in a London derby on Wednesday. Arsenal take a three-match winning run into their league match with Crystal Palace as the ninth place Gunners retain an improbable mathematical chance to sneak into a Europa League or Europa Conference spot. 

Another poor performance by Fulham was in stark contrast to the valiant efforts over the weekend of similarly relegated clubs West Brom and Sheffield United. With their 3-1 loss to Southampton, the Cottagers and manager Scott Parker have now failed to win in eight consecutive matches, losing seven during an egregious streak which wrecked any chance of their Premier League survival. Southampton won a second consecutive match for the first time since December behind goals by Che Adams, Nathan Tella and Theo Walcott. 18-year-old Fabio Carvalho scored in his first Premier League start for the Cottagers. Fulham’s prospects do not improve as they go to Old Trafford on Tuesday to face a Manchester United side anxious to end a two-game losing skein. Southampton have a difficult matchup when they host an in-form Leeds team Tuesday. 

Ferran Torres delivered a hat trick, including the winning goal, as Manchester City defeated Newcastle 4-3 in the first appearance by the Citizens since clinching the league title. Joao Cancelo also scored for the champions who were able to overcome Newcastle goals by Emil Krafth, Joelinton and Joe Willock. Krafth’s goal was his first in the league while Arsenal loanee Joe Willock scored in a fifth consecutive appearance for the Magpies. Willock’s stock has risen considerably in recent weeks and Arsenal has a decision to make regarding the young midfielder’s future. Willock exhibits energy and a scoring spark but is not the type of possession player which Gunner manager Mikel Arteta purportedly prefers. With the win over Newcastle, Manchester City established a Premier League record of 12 consecutive away wins. Manchester City are away again at Brighton on Tuesday while Newcastle hosts Sheffield United the following day. 

Fans return in limited quantities to Premier League stadiums for the mid-week matches and Sunday’s final games. Particularly interesting will be the atmosphere at Old Trafford where Manchester United fans made a premature visit as part of their protest efforts just two weeks ago. Crystal Palace fans will have opportunity to salute departing manager Roy Hodgson on Wednesday while, that same day, Harry Kane could potentially be making his final appearance before Spurs home fans.

FA Cup Final

Leicester City won its first FA Cup in club history with a 1-0 victory over Chelsea. Youri Tielemans struck in the 63rd minute for the Foxes and goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel, and perhaps a bit of good fortune, enabled Leicester to hold off furious Chelsea efforts at a comeback. An offside goal by Ben Chilwell and an own goal by Leicester’s Wes Morgan were both ruled off in the second half for a Chelsea squad which pressed the action to no avail. There was also question as to a potential hand ball by Leicester in the lead up to Tielemans’s goal but Chelsea’s futile attack and questionable line-up decisions by Thomas Tuchel were more the story of Chelsea’s performance. For Leicester, it was an impressive and emotional win for players, manager, and ownership. The two clubs have another monumental battle Tuesday which could determine Champions League qualification.  

Friday, May 14, 2021

Matchweek 36 Preview: Liverpool Shakes Up Top Four Race; Do Or Die For Hammers; Everton, Spurs Try To Hang On

Liverpool's 4-2 dismantling of Manchester United ensured excitement over the remaining ten days of the Premier League season. The race for Champions League qualification tightened substantially with Liverpool’s win at Old Trafford, Jurgen Klopp’s first at the hallowed venue and Liverpool’s first away win versus their rival since 2014. A brace from Bobby Firmino was sandwiched between goals by Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah to account for the Liverpool scoring while Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford scored for Manchester United. Salah’s 21st goal ties him with Harry Kane for the league lead while Fernandes’s 18th of the season is more than all but the two league leaders. Liverpool’s victory was their fifth in an unbeaten run of seven matches which now puts them in the thick of the Champions League race.

Manchester United has fueled the Champions League race with successive losses this past week to Leicester and Liverpool. Liverpool travels to relegated West Brom this weekend with a chance to pull within one point of Chelsea for the fourth and final Champions League berth. The gap to third place Leicester would be sliced to three points with all three clubs having two matches and six points available to them. 

Chelsea had seemed to have things well in control and were in good form until a shocking loss to a poor Arsenal team this week. Should Chelsea be the odd team out in the final four race, the Blues would still have opportunity to qualify should they win this year’s Champions League final versus Manchester City later in May. Chelsea and Leicester play in the FA Cup Final this weekend before the two clubs meet again on Tuesday in a huge league match. 

West Ham has only the slightest of chances to finish in the top four after losing three of their last four matches. The Hammers face Brighton, a club which West Ham has never beaten in the league, away this weekend with Europa League qualification also at risk should the Hammers lose. West Ham can pull within three points of fourth place Chelsea with a win but are also only two points ahead of both Tottenham and Everton in the race for the Europa League places. Helping the Hammers’ chances as they travel to the south coast are the red card suspensions of Brighton defender Lewis Dunk and striker Neal Maupay. 

Everton, which failed to score in a damaging goalless draw with Aston Villa on Thursday, should have an easier task when it hosts bottom dweller Sheffield United. The Toffees, however, are in the bottom six of the league in home performance this season and are struggling for goals of late. Relegated Sheffield United has conceded six goals in their last two matches and have lost 11 of their last 13 league contests. 

Spurs, listless in last week’s loss to Leeds, will play host to Wolves this week as they seek to salvage something from their disappointing season. The north London side needs to win home matches against Wolves and then Aston Villa to make for a meaningful final day matchup versus Leicester. Wolves are playing better of late, winning three times and drawing once in their last five matches as manager Nuno Espirito Santo has reason to be encouraged by the performance of young players such as Fabio Silva and Morgan Gibbs-White.

Harry Kane has not scored in the last two matches for Spurs and has fallen into a tie with Mohamed Salah in the chase for the league’s Golden Boot. 

Manchester City will receive their honor guard when entering the field at Newcastle as the Citizens play their first game since clinching the league title. With safety in hand and Callum Wilson out injured, its questionable how much resistance the Magpies will present against the league champions who will use their remaining games to tune up for the Champions League final versus Chelsea. 

Leeds, who face Burnley at Turf Moor, proved again in their defeat of Chelsea last week that the Whites have not yet made their vacation plans. Marcelo Bielsa’s club have lost but once in their last eight league matches. A top half finish for currently tenth place Leeds would be an impressive accomplishment in their promotion season. Burnley, hosting Leeds in a topflight match for the first time since 1975, is winless in its last eight home matches. 

Aston Villa are a point behind Leeds in the table as the Villans host Crystal Palace. Villa saw the return of their long-injured captain Jack Grealish in their goalless draw with Everton and will have Ollie Watkins back from suspension against the Eagles. Defensively, however, Aston Villa will be without injured fullback Maty Cash while center back Tyron Mings could be a game time decision. Manager Dean Smith will hope for a strong finish to a season which has seen Aston Villa accumulate its highest point total in the Premier League in more than a decade. Crystal Palace have lost four of their last five matches amid swirling rumors on who will manage and who will play for the club next season as the Eagles have an enormity of expiring contracts, including that of their manager. The long dormant Christian Benteke has erupted for five goals in his last 11 appearances for Crystal Palace. 

Relegated Fulham travels to Southampton. While only Sheffield United have scored fewer goals than the Cottagers, Fulham will be facing a Southampton squad which has allowed the most goals in the league this calendar year and has recorded only one clean sheet in its last 18 matches.   

FA Cup Final

Over 20,000 fans are expected in the Wembley Stadium stands for the 140th FA Cup final on Saturday. Eight-time FA Cup winner Chelsea, which lost last year’s final to Arsenal, faces a Leicester club which is winless in its four prior trips to the finals. Manager Thomas Tuchel will be seeking his first trophy as Chelsea manager with opportunity to potentially add a second in the Champions League final later this month. A first FA Cup title for Leicester, meanwhile, would greatly enhance the resume of manager Brendan Rogers. The two teams are locked in a struggle for the top four in the league and face each other again in a crucial league match on Tuesday. In the meantime, the clash of top caliber teams in the final of the iconic English tournament, in front of returning fans, will be something for all to enjoy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Matchweek 35 Update: Manchester City Clinches Title As United Falls to Leicester; Chelsea Trips City Again; Hammers Fall; Spurs Stumble; Last Chance For Liverpool; Fulham and West Brom Relegated

Manchester City clinched its third title in four years by virtue of Manchester United’s 2-1 loss to Leicester on Tuesday. City manager Pep Guardiola now has nine league titles in total which includes three won at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in addition to his three English titles. Manchester City has already won the Carabao Cup this season and can achieve a treble by winning the Champions League. Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer heavily rotated his squad against the Foxes, making 10 changes from the Red Devils winning side of the weekend. Solskjaer’s squad must take the field again on Thursday in a match of critical importance for rival Liverpool. Leicester was fortunate to benefit from the congestion of United’s schedule as the Red Devils are likely to start a stronger squad against their traditional rivals later this week. Goals by Luke Thomas and Caglar Soyuncu delivered the goals in a critical win for the Foxes who had faltered badly over the weekend in a loss to Newcastle. Mason Greenwood scored his sixth goal of the season for United.


Chelsea had delayed Manchester City’s title by a few days by defeating the Citizens 2-1 on Saturday. Marcos Alonso scored in stoppage time to give Manchester City much to think about heading into the Champions League final between the two teams on May 29th. Chelsea also defeated Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final the last time the two played. City took a first half lead Saturday on a goal by Raheem Sterling and had opportunity to pull away when Sergio Aguero lined up for a penalty kick. Aguero muffed his chance, however, as he elected to go with a Panenka try which was easily handled by Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. Hakim Ziyech, who scored the only goal in the FA Cup semi-final, levelled matters for Chelsea in the 63rd minute. Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola thought his club would again take the lead when Raheem Sterling tumbled in the box on a tackle by Kurt Zouma, but no penalty was awarded. Alonso’s winner gives Chelsea a six-point advantage over West Ham in the race for the fourth Champions League spot as the Blues prepare for their Wednesday derby with Arsenal. 

Leicester was felled by Newcastle in a 4-2 shocker which temporarily dropped the Foxes to fourth in the table before their Tuesday win over Manchester United. Newcastle scored four times before late Fox goals by Marc Albrighton and Kelechi Iheanacho proved too little, too late. Joe Willock scored for a fourth time in his last four appearances to open the scoring for Newcastle which also saw Magpie defender Paul Dummett head in a first half goal before Callum Wilson further extended the lead with a second half brace.

Leicester was consistently outfoxed on defense and were disorganized in the absence of veteran defender Jonny Evans who was injured in pregame warmups. Newcastle, once at relegation’s door, are 12 points clear of the now settled relegation zone after a third win in their last five matches. 

The loss by Leicester presented opportunity for West Ham to improve their top four chances but the Hammers failed to take advantage in a 1-0 home defeat to Everton. A goal by Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin, his 16th in league play this season, handed the Hammers their third loss in four games. A surprisingly impotent West Ham attack failed to launch a single shot on target during the match. Rather than taking a decisive step forward in chasing Champions League qualification, West Ham now finds itself only three points ahead of eight place Everton with the Toffees having a match in hand. Everton, winner of more league away matches this season than any club but Manchester City, sits just two points off Liverpool and Europa League qualification. The Toffees now face a must win at Aston Villa Thursday. 

Liverpool, 2-0 winners over Southampton, retain an outside chance at Champions League qualification but must win out and hope for stumbles by Chelsea or Leicester. Sadio Mane scored a first half goal and Thiago delivered the insurance goal in the 90th minute for the Reds win over the Saints. Mohamed Salah assisted on the Mane goal, incredibly the first time this season the two line mates have combined on a score. Liverpool must now win at Old Trafford on Thursday where manager Jurgen Klopp has yet to win a match. 

Tottenham Hotspur’s hopes for Europe were damaged by a 3-1 loss to Leeds as Spurs tumbled to seventh in the table. Leeds’s goal scorers were Stuart Dallas, Patrick Bamford, and Rodrigo. Bamford’s goal was his 15th in league play this season. The Spurs goal by Son Heung-min was his 17th of the season, joint third highest in the league behind Spurs teammate Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah. Kane had two goals ruled out for offsides and a free kick deflect off the crossbar to epitomize the frustrating loss for Spurs. The crippling loss at Elland Road was a fifth defeat in 10 away matches since the turn of the year for Spurs. 

Manchester United clinched a top four position with a 3-1 win over Aston Villa on Sunday as the Red Devils came from behind for a league record 10th titime this season. A Bertrand Traore goal provided Villa with a halftime lead before Manchester United roared back on second half goals by Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, and Edinson Cavani. Fernandes’s penalty conversion marked his 17th league goal of the season, tied with Spurs’ Son for third in the league. Cavani, who signed a contract extension with Manchester United this week, scored for an eighth time in a run of seven appearances for United. The victory extended an away unbeaten streak for the Red Devils to 25 consecutive matches as United has not dropped an away match since Fernandes joined the club. Aston Villa continues to struggle without Jack Grealish who was absent for a twelfth consecutive match. The Villans, who face Everton on Thursday, will try not to taint in the final weeks what has been a massively improved season versus their near relegation at the end of the 2019/20 season. 

Arsenal rebounded from their poor Europa League semi-final performance to defeat West Brom 3-1 as Emile Smith Rowe scored his first Premier League goal and Nicolas Pepe added his sixth league goal of the season before Willian scored for a first time as a Gunner. West Brom scored with its only shot on target, a 10th goal of the season by Matheus Pereira. The loss by West Brom assures relegation for the Baggies who equal the Premier League record of five demotions. The demotion from the Premier League is a first for manager Sam Allardyce who has built a reputation for saving clubs such as Sunderland and Crystal Palace in similar endangered circumstances. Arsenal recorded back-to-back league victories for just a second time this season and will be gunning for a trifecta when they face Chelsea on Wednesday, hoping to derail the Blues’ top four hopes. 

Fulham, 2-0 losers to Burnley, joined West Brom and Sheffield United in the parade headed to the Championship division of English football next season. Fulham teased at their possible Premier League survival during a brief run of success in February but are finishing their season in miserable fashion, losing six of their seven matches played since March 7th. In an exceptionally poor showing by the clubs being relegated, the bottom three places in the league have remained unchanged since December 13th and it is the first time in Premier League history that relegation has been decided with three matches still left to play. Ashley Westwood and Chris Wood scored for Burnley which secured a sixth consecutive season of topflight competition. 

After trailing by a goal due to a first half header by Brighton’s Lewis Dunk, Wolves clawed back for a 2-1 victory over the Seagulls after the Brighton defender was ejected with a red card. The dramatic 90th minute winner came on 21-year-old Morgan Gibbs-White’s first Premier League goal. Second half substitute Adama Traore had earlier tied the match for Wolves with his second goal of the season. The victory for Wolves was the club’s first win over Brighton in the topflight. No Premier League club has dropped more points from a winning position than Brighton this year as the Seagulls flight to safety has been solely attributable to the poor quality of the three relegated teams. Neil Maupay of Brighton received a red card at the match’s conclusion for verbal abuse directed at the referee as Brighton tied Arsenal for the most red cards (5) received in the league this season. 

Crystal Palace eased to a 2-0 win over Sheffield United on goals by Christion Benteke and Eberechi Eze as the Eagles are confirmed for a ninth consecutive season in the Premier League. Benteke’s seventh goal of the season put him one ahead of the total for his three previous Premier League seasons combined. The Blades were again less than sharp as they failed to register a single shot on target. Only three clubs have failed to score in more Premier League matches in a Premier League season than the attack challenged Blades. The Eagles’ celebration, meanwhile, was short lived as Crystal Palace were beaten 3-1 by Southampton on Tuesday. Danny Ings scored twice for the Saints, bracketing a score by teammate Che Adams. Christian Benteke scored for a second consecutive match for Crystal Palace.   

Friday, May 7, 2021

Matchweek 35 Preview: Manchester City and Chelsea Face Off in Champions League Preview; West Ham Hosts Everton; Liverpool and Spurs Try to Stay in the Hunt; End Is Near for Fulham and West Brom

All eyes will be on the Etihad this weekend as the Champions League finalists face off in league play. Manchester City can clinch the Premier League title with a win. Chelsea needs the three points in its continuing battle to finish in the top four. A league title would be a fifth for Manchester City, matching the total of Chelsea and surpassed only by the 13 of Manchester United. Chelsea is battling to secure its top four position with the Blues currently only three points removed from fifth place West Ham. Chelsea have yet to lose an away match under Thomas Tuchel and defeated City on neutral ground in the FA Cup semi-final. Both teams have featured outstanding defense in their successful seasons to date. Manchester City has posted clean sheets in 18 of its 34 league matches while Chelsea has registered clean sheets in 11 of 15 league matches, conceding only eight goals, under Tuchel. If Sergio Aguero can score one more goal in league play this season, he will match Wayne Rooney as the Premier League’s highest scorer with a single club.

West Ham remains on Chelsea’s heels as the Hammers host Everton. David Moyes’s Hammers have accumulated more points at home this season than any club but Manchester City as Moyes prepares to welcome his former employers. West Ham stayed in the top four race by ending a two-match losing run in defeating Burnley last week. Everton has won just one of its last seven matches to dampen the Toffees own European hopes. A West Ham win would mark the club’s first home and away double over Everton since the 1972/73 season. After a brace in his last match, West Ham’s Michail Antonio is one score removed from double figure goal production for a second consecutive season and would become only the fifth West Ham player to do so. Jesse Lingard is also seeking a tenth goal for West Ham in just his 13th Premier League appearance for the club. 

Third place Leicester hold a five-point advantage on West Ham in the Champions League qualification race as the Foxes host Newcastle. Three points against Newcastle would help quiet lingering concerns on the part of Leicester supporters who will see the Foxes take on Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs in a difficult remaining slate of matches. Joe Willock has scored in his last three appearances for Newcastle, enabling the Magpies to earn points in each of those three matches against top seven opponents. Along with Allan Saint-Maximin, Willock has been perhaps Newcastle’s most influential player during their recent survival run. A win or draw for Newcastle can mathematically secure survival for the Magpies dependent on Fulham and West Brom results.  

Liverpool needs all three points when it hosts Southampton as the defending champions’ current seventh position in the table, two points behind Tottenham Hotspur, would mean no European football next season. While unbeaten in their last five matches, the Reds have dropped four vital points in drawing their last two matches. Liverpool has been uncharacteristically vulnerable at home this season and has won but once in the past 10 league matches at Anfield. Southampton surprised third place Leicester by drawing with the Foxes last week, only the third time the Saints have not gone down to defeat in their last 16 matches. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has 20 league goals, trailing Harry Kane by a single goal in the chase for the league’s Golden Boot award. Salah has seven goals in seven prior league matches versus Southampton. 

Tottenham Hotspur is just five points behind fourth place Chelsea as the club heads to Leeds where a victory would make Ryan Mason the first Tottenham Hotspur manger to win his first three topflight league matches. Gareth Bale, scorer of a hat trick last week versus Sheffield United, needs just one goal to establish a new league mark for the longest gap (8 years) between double figure goal seasons in the league. By not losing to Spurs, Leeds would become the first Premier League team in five years to go undefeated at home versus the traditional “big six” (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur). 

Manchester United, returning from Thursday’s Europa League match in Rome, begins a run of three league matches in six days when the club travels to Aston Villa. The postponed Liverpool match from last week has been rescheduled for this coming Thursday while the Red Devils face Leicester on Tuesday. Second place United is unbeaten in its last 24 league away matches, three behind Arsenal’s topflight record, and the Red Devils have lost only once in their last 27 Premier League matches. Aston Villa, meanwhile, has won just one of its last 44 league matches against United. While Villa’s 14 clean sheets are their most in over a decade, the club has no clean sheets in its last seven matches. Aston Villa will again be without Jack Grealish as they continue to battle with Arsenal and Leeds to avoid finishing in the bottom half of the table. 

Arsenal returns to league action, hosting West Brom at the Emirates. The Gunners would seem out of ammunition this season with their crushing elimination from the Europa League and current seven-point deficit to rival Spurs for the final European berth in the league table. Arsenal have already lost seven league matches at home this season, equaling the club record. West Brom, however, have lost their last seven visits to the Emirates by an aggregate 15-1. West Brom could be relegated this weekend, even with a win, depending on results elsewhere. 

Fulham hosts Burnley with mathematical relegation a possibility this weekend for the Cottagers while a Burnley win would ensure safety for the Clarets. Both clubs are in poor form, each having lost four of their last five matches. Only Sheffield United has scored fewer league goals than the 25 achieved by the anemic Cottagers in 34 league matches this season. Burnley’s Chris Wood has been a bright spot for the Clarets with seven goals in his last seven appearances for Burnley. 

Wolves will attempt to beat Brighton for the first time in topflight competition when the clubs play at Molineux Stadium. The winless streak of Wolves versus Brighton is the longest in English topflight history. The teams have drawn their last four meetings. Brighton needs four points in its final four matches to match the Seagulls’ point total of last year. Wolves, meanwhile, are 17 points off the point total of last year’s seventh place finish. Brighton would pull within two points of Wolves in the table with a win. 

Sheffield United will host Crystal Palace in one of the less attractive matchups of the weekend. Sheffield Unted has already lost 12 home matches this season and can equal the Premier League record with a loss to the Eagles and, in the final match of the season, to Burnley. Crystal Palace, loser of its last three matches, is trying to avoid a repeat of last season where the Eagles lost their final seven matches of the season.


Premier League in Europe

The Champions League will feature an all-English final for a second time in three years after Manchester City and Chelsea won their semi-final ties. Manchester City defeated PSG, and former Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino, 2-0 on Tuesday to close out the tie versus the French giants. Riyad Mahrez scored both Manchester City goals at the Etihad and three of the four goals scored by the Citizens in the tie.

Mahrez’s second goal at the 63-minute mark punctuated the tie for a frustrated PSG squad who lost discipline and incurred a red card by Angel DiMaria just six minutes later. PSG’s Idrissa Gueye was already unavailable for the match due to a red card in the first leg. Phil Foden’s assist on Mahrez’s second goal made him the sixth Premier League player this season to record double figures in both goals and assists across all competitions. Manchester City reaches the Champions League final for the first time while manager Pep Guardiola ends a personal streak of four consecutive semi-final eliminations. Kylian Mbappe was unavailable Tuesday due to a calf injury and Neymar was foiled by a Manchester City defense which received outstanding performances by Ruben Dias and Oleksandr Zinchenko.  PSG were held without a shot on target. Chelsea will face their league rival in the final after Thomas Tuchel’s squad eliminated Real Madrid with a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. Timo Werner and Mason Mount scored the goals for Chelsea while Edouard Mendy was called on to make several key saves to preserve the 18th clean sheet for Chelsea in 24 matches under manager Thomas Tuchel. Christian Pulisic, scorer of Chelsea’s goal in the first leg, began the match on the bench before coming on to assist on Mason Mount’s decisive clincher. N’golo Kante played a key part in the build up to both goals for Chelsea. Thomas Tuchel becomes the first manger to lead different teams to a Champions League final in consecutive years. Manchester United advanced to the Europa League final despite a 3-2 defeat at Roma. The Red Devils advance on aggregate because of the 6-2 win in the first leg at Old Trafford. Discipline lagged in the second half for United which relinquished a 1-0 halftime lead, perhaps understandable given the aggregate goal position at that point. David De Gea was outstanding in goal to prevent a nervier situation for United.  Edinson Cavani scored both goals for the Red Devils. Arsenal went out of the Europa League competition quietly in a goalless draw with Villarreal at the Emirates. Former Arsenal manager Unai Emery leads Villareal to the final versus Manchester United. Emery has won the Europa title three times in the past and brought Arsenal to the final just two years ago. Thursday’s loss served as an exclamation point to the lack of progress for Arsenal since Emery’s sacking and Arteta’s hiring. Arsenal looked listless and disorganized against the more organized Villareal side. Arsenal had two isolated chances where Pierre Emerick Aubameyang hit the post once in each half before he was surprisingly removed by Arteta with Arsenal in need of a goal. Arsenal failed to score for a tenth time this season across all competitions, the first time that has happened. Currently ninth in the Premier League table, seven points outside the league’s top six, Arsenal is staring at no European play next season for the first time in a quarter of a century.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Matchweek 34 Results: Manchester United v. Liverpool Postponed; Havertz Brace Leads Chelsea; Hammers Keep Pace; Foxes Falter; Bale Lifts Spurs; Everton Fades; Jose Lands at Roma

Liverpool's stretch run for Champions League qualification was put on hold due to Manchester United fan protests. Demonstrating their displeasure with Glazer family ownership of Manchester United, groups of fans broke though meager security at Old Trafford and entered the hallowed pitch. Outside the stadium, physical confrontations with police occurred as the teams were relegated to the safety of their hotels. The match between Manchester United and Liverpool was postponed, the first time a Premier League match has been postponed due to fan protests.

The inactivity leaves Liverpool seventh in the table, looking up at European qualification. With a match in hand, Liverpool is two points behind Tottenham Hotspur for sixth and seven points behind Chelsea for the final Champions League slot. 

Chelsea moved to within two points of third place Leicester with a 2-0 defeat of Fulham. Kai Havertz scored a brace for Chelsea with the two goals set up by flawless passes from Mason Mount and Timo Werner, respectively. With his assist, Timo Werner reached double digits in both goals and assists for Chelsea across all competitions, just the fourth Premier League player to do so this season and the first Chelsea player to accomplish the feat in his first season with the club since Eden Hazard in 2012/13.

Werner and Mount have had the most goal involvements across all competitions during Tuchel’s tenure as manager. Havertz’ seventh and eighth goals of the season flashed some of the promise which has largely been unrealized this season. Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy registered a 16th clean sheet in 28 Premier League appearances. 

Fulham lost for a fifth time in their last six matches to further assure their impending relegation. The Cottagers have captured only four of the last 24 points available to them. 

West Ham kept pace with Chelsea by defeating Burnley 2-1 to remain three points behind the Blues in the race for fourth. Michail Antonio returned from a four-week injury absence to post a brace for the Hammers who were creative and aggressive in attack at Turf Moor, launching 22 shots. West Ham has scored two or more goals in 2021 league matches more often than any club but Manchester City. Antonio’s goals for the Hammers overcame an early deficit created by a Chris Wood penalty conversion for Burnley. The Clarets failed to win for an eight consecutive home match but appear safe as they sit nine points above relegation with four matches to go. The remarkable West Ham European chase follows a 2019/20 season where the club finished just five points from relegation. 

Third place Leicester is only five points above West Ham after the Foxes could only draw 1-1 at Southampton despite enjoying a man advantage from the tenth minute onward after a Southampton red card. A second half James Ward-Prowse penalty kick gave the Saints a short-lived lead before Leicester defender Johnny Evans’s scored his second goal in his last three appearances for the Foxes. Evans had scored twice in 95 matches leading into his current three match run. The draw was heartening for a beleaguered Saints squad which had lost 12 of its 15 prior matches and incurred some heavy losses in recent seasons. Southampton conceded nine goals to Leicester in this same fixture last season. The Foxes will be frustrated to have generated just the single goal in Friday’s match despite 23 shots, nine of which were on target. 

Gareth Bale ensured that Spurs stays in the European chase by bagging his second Premier League hat trick, and first since 2012, in lifting Spurs to an easy 4-0 win over Sheffield United. Son Heung-Min’s 16th goal of the season rounded out the scoring and his earlier assist on Bale’s second goal made Son the third player, along with Harry Kane and Bruno Fernades, to reach double figures in both goals and assists this season. Sheffield United, which had only one shot on target versus Spurs, has conceded 15 goals in six league matches under interim manager Paul Heckingbottom. Spurs moved past idle Liverpool into sixth position in the table which would translate to Europa League qualification. The north London side are five points removed from Champions League qualification. It was announced Tuesday that recently sacked Spurs manager Jose Mourinho will take the helm at Roma in Serie A next season. 

Eighth place Everton damaged their hopes for Europe in a 2-1 home loss to Aston Villa. Anwar El Ghazi scored in the 80th minute as Aston Villa secured only its third win in 11 matches. The teams traded first half goals by Ollie Watkins (13th of the season) for Villa and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (20th of the season) for the Toffees before El Ghazi’s deciding strike. Everton fall nine points adrift of Chelsea for the Champions League, four points removed from Spurs and Europa League qualification. Everton’s home performances have garnered only 19 points from 17 home matches with their eight home losses being the most since the 1993/94 season at Goodison Park. 

Arsenal defeated Newcastle 2-0 in a match more important as a primer for Arsenal’s Europa League clash with Villareal this week than for any league implications. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang assisted and scored in his first league appearance in almost a month. Mohamed Elneny scored his first Premier League goal for the Gunners. Newcastle’s work is all but done with still a nine-point cushion versus relegation bound Fulham. 

After failing to score in its two prior matches, Brighton got the goals it needed in a 2-0 win over Leeds which all but assures the Seagulls of Premier League play next season Pascal Gross converted a first half penalty and Danny Welbeck scored the clincher to put Brighton 10 points clear of relegation. The Seagulls have allowed only one goal cumulatively in their last four matches and have conceded fewer goals than any club not in the top half of the table. Leeds saw an end to their six-match unbeaten run. 

Manchester City continued to march towards the title with a 2-0 win which saw Sergio Aguero score for a first time at Selhurst Park in his final appearance at the home of Crystal Palace. The club legend will be leaving Manchester City at the end of the season and has been lightly used of late by Pep Guardiola. Aguero made the most of a rare start for a Citizens side which reflected eight changes from the line-up employed against PSG in Champions League play earlier in the week. Aguero and Ferran Torres both scored in the second half as Manchester City was held without a shot as of halftime. Crystal Palace played well but will rue the two minutes during which both goals were scored. City’s 11th consecutive Premier League away victory equaled the Premier League record. Raheem Sterling failed to score for an 11th consecutive appearance for City amid tabloid rumors he may be leaving the club in the next transfer window. Crystal Palace lost a third consecutive match, raising fearful memories of last season’s seven consecutive losses by the Eagles to end the season. 

West Brom’s Mbaye Diagne’s second half goal canceled out the first half strike of Wolves’ Fabio Silva as points were shared in a 1-1 Black Country derby. Wolves will have been frustrated at not scoring a winner despite 20 shots, half of them on target. West Brom find themselves 10 points adrift with just 12 points available from the club’s remaining matches. Wolves curiously are the only Premier League club yet to lose when scoring first in a league match this season.

Premier League in Europe

Manchester City looks to advance to the Champions League final for the first time in club history by successfully closing out PSG at the Emirates on Tuesday. Manchester City came from behind to post a 2-1 win in Paris last week. Kylian Mbappe, ineffective in the opening leg, will reportedly not start Tuesday’s match due to a calf problem. Chelsea host Real Madrid Wednesday following the clubs’ 1-1 opening leg draw in their Champions League semi-final. Wednesday’s match could see the return of Real Madrid defenders Sergio Ramos and Ferland Mendy. The return of Ramos could allow Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane to revert to his favored four-man backline. Manchester United heads to Rome with a 6-2 advantage after the first leg of their Europa League semi-final. The tie, already a lost cause for the Italians, becomes an afterthought following Tuesday’s announcement of Jose Mourinho, recently sacked as Spurs manager, as the new manager of Roma next season. Arsenal will try to avoid the embarrassment of losing to former manager Unai Emery at the Emirates where the Gunners will try to overcome a 2-1 deficit in their Europa League semi-final tie with Villarreal.