Wednesday, June 30, 2021

European Championships

The Euro round of 16 featured hotly contested matches and the elimination of the tournament favorite. The opening match of the round, however, was uninspiring as Denmark rolled over Wales, 4-0. Wales played poorly albeit some questionable refereed calls involving Wales striker Kieffer Moore were not helpful. Kasper Dolberg had two goals for the great Danes.

Italy faced its first nervous moments of the tournament and were forced to extra time before scoring their two goals and hanging on for a 2-1 defeat of a surprisingly game Austria squad. Fromer West Ham player Marko Arnautovic continued his dynamic play in the Euros but was unable to convert on three different opportunities for Austria.

The first surprise result of the round was Netherlands falling to the Czech Republic. A Matthijs de Ligt red card put the Orange down to 10 men at the 55-minute mark and the devastated Dutch were unable to recover against a Czech side which saw Patrick Schick clinch the 2-0 victory with his fourth goal of the tournament.

The Dutch failed to put a shot on target for the first time in a major European competition. Netherlands coach Frank de Boer, a target of Dutch fans’ criticism leading up to and through the tournament, announced his departure as manager this week.

Belgium displayed grittiness versus their usual flair in grinding out a 1-0 victory over Portugal on a first half goal by Thorgan Hazard. Portugal dominated play but was unable to break through a low block defense employed by the Belgians. Liverpool’s Diogo Jota, Wolverhampton’s Jao Felix and Manchester United’s Bruno Fernades and Manchester City’s Ruben Dias all missed chances for a Portugal side which had 24 shots, 5 on goal versus , 6 shots and 1 on target for the Belgians. Belgium may have paid a heavy price for its victory as Eden Hazard and Keven De Bruyne both exited the match with injuries.

Monday marked the most exciting day of tournament action to date. After conceding a deplorable opening own goal resulting from an egregious goalkeeper error, Spain scored three consecutive goals, including scores from Manchester City’s Ferran Torres and Chelsea’s Caesar Azpilicueta, for a seemingly safe advantage at the 77-minute mark. Croatia, however, was not done and tied maters with two late goals coming after 84 minutes had been played. The seesaw contest tipped to Spain in extra time as Alvaro Morata temporarily silenced his critics with a goal for Spain. Matters were then settled with a second Spanish goal in extra time. Croatia has yet to win a Euro knockout game in its history despite the success it has seen on the world cup stage. The own goal committed by Spain was the ninth of this year’s tournament which equals the total amount of own goals scored in the entire prior history of the Euros.

The upset of the tournament occurred Monday when tournament favorite and defending World Cup champion France fell to lightly regarded Switzerland. Down 1-0, France responded to a penalty kick save made by Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris to become more energized and exert its considerable talents. A Paul Pogba goal was to give the French a 3-1 advantage after 75 minutes. Switzerland cut the lead in half before Pogba reminded Manchester United fans why the enigmatic star can be so frustrating. Having earlier delivered an athletic wonder goal, Pogba lost possession in a vulnerable area to gift the tying goal to Switzerland in the 90th minute. France’s young superstar Kylian Mbappe missed the only one of ten penalty kicks taken to send France home. Mbappe had also missed on an opportunity in extra time. French manager Didier Deschamps received criticism for employing a three-man backline, seldom used by the French, which may have made the World Cup champions vulnerable to the collapse.

With France gone, England hopes have never been higher after a 2-0 win over Germany which saw Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling score his third goal of the competition and Harry Kane finally break into the scoring column after a drought which had extended to the 2016 Euros.

Kane’s clinching goal beautifully unfolded on a connection from Manchester United’s Luke Shaw to Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish to the head of Spurs’ Harry Kane. England posted a fourth consecutive clean sheet which has included outstanding play from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. Chelsea’s Timo Werner and Kai Havertz were both victimized by Pickford saves. Fan Criticism of England coach Gareth Southgate’s conservative approach is so far being outweighed by results. Germany coach Joachim Low, meanwhile,  coached his final match for Germany in the loss. Thomas Mueller perhaps played his last match for the Germans in a game which saw him miss a chance for a second half equalizer.

Sweden suffered a red card in extra time and were seemingly about to push the game to penalty kicks before Ukraine snatched a 2-1 victory with a goal in injury time of extra time. Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko scored the opener for Ukraine and then assisted on the exceptionally late winner. Euro quarterfinal action begins Friday.

Top betting favorites of the remaining teams include Belgium and Italy, who will face each other in the next round, England, and Spain. England’s side of the bracket includes none of the other favorites in its route to the final.

Managerial Carousel

Rafa Benitez was officially named Everton manager on Wednesday. The former Liverpool man’s appointment by Everton President Farhad Moshiri has been controversially opposed by segments of the Everton fan base. Benitez becomes the first man in more than 100 years to have managed both Everton and rival Liverpool. Benitez replaces Carlo Ancelotti for a second time, having replaced Ancelotti at Real Madrid for a short ill-fated tenure. Ancelotti recently left Everton for a second run as Real Madrid manager. Benitez’s more recent accomplishments with Newcastle United have been somewhat dimmed by comparable success achieved this past season by current Newcastle manager Steve Bruce. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

European Championships

The final matches of the Euro group stage are completed and the Round of 16 set. The four teams in Group F put an exclamation point on an exciting group stage with both back and forth contests ending in 2-2 draws. Former Real Madrid teammates Christiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema traded goals as Portugal drew with group winner France. Ronaldo’s two penalty conversions, sandwiching Benzema’s tallies for France, gave him five goals as the leading scorer in this year’s group stage. Ronaldo earlier became the Euros’ all-time leading goal scorer, and, with Wednesday’s scores, he is now tied with Iran’s Ali Daei as the top international goal scorer of all time. Benzema, making a return to international football this tournament, scored his first two goals of the group stage to secure the point and the top spot in the group for France.

Portugal was in danger of elimination as Hungary twice took the lead before an 84th minute goal by Germany’s Leon Goretzka ended the Hungarians’ tournament journey. Chelsea’s Kai Havertz scored in a second consecutive match for Germany in the 2-2 draw. Spain, with one goal from their two previous matches, coasted to a 5-1 demolition of Slovakia. Manchester City’s Ferran Torres scored for the Spaniards while Newcastle goalie Martin Dubravka was guilty of a howler in committing an own goal as Slovakia exited the tournament. Knockout play in the Round of 16 takes place Saturday through Tuesday. Sweden finished on top of Group E, defeating Poland 3-2 and overcoming two goals by Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski. Gareth Bales leads Wales against Denmark in Saturday’s opening final 16 match while Italy carries its perfect tournament record to date into a match with Austria later that day. Sunday will see Netherlands, also perfect in the group stage, take on Czech Republic before a clash of titans between Belgium and Portugal. Spain will hope to continue its newfound scoring prowess when it faces a dangerous Croatia side Monday while tournament favorite France will be heavily favored later in the day against Switzerland. Tuesday offers a marquee match between England and Germany before Sweden faces Ukraine. On paper the brackets for knockout play appear unbalanced. World Cup Champion France, current top ranked national side Belgium, defending Euro champion Portugal, group stage star Italy, World Cup runner-up Croatia and traditional power Spain are all on one side of the bracket. The winner of England and Germany will have only Netherlands among pre-tournament favorites in their path to the final.  

Managerial Carousel

Crystal Palace were left at the altar for a second time as former Borussia Dortmund manager Lucien Favre backed out of a deal at the last moment, reportedly due to concern over transfer budgets. Earlier favorite Nuno Espirito Santo had reportedly backed out of a deal with the Eagles over differences on staff requirements. Santo is now a candidate for the vacant job at Tottenham Hotspur. Crystal Palace is back to the starting line in their search. Steve Cooper, manager of Championship side Swansea, has supposedly resurfaced as a possibility but Crystal Palace were previously reported to be leery of a buyout payment which would be due to Swansea. A delayed managerial appointment puts Crystal Palace in a particularly precarious position with 11 players out of contract, long time star Wilfried Zaha wanting out, young hope Eberechi Eze sidelined with serious injury, and a daunting opening schedule in the Premier League with five of their first seven league matches against teams finishing in the top seven last season. Everton is the third Premier League team without a manager. Rafa Benitez is reported to be the frontrunner for the Toffee job, a move not completely welcomed by Everton fans due to the manager’s previous stint with rival Liverpool and his pragmatic approach to play. 

Copa America

The Copa America opening round play concludes Sunday and Monday. The South American tournament format oddly eliminates only two of ten participating nations after first round play. Liverpool’s Bobby Firmino scored in Brazil’s 2-1 win over Colombia on Wednesday. Thursday action saw Newcastle’s Miguel Almiron bag a goal and an assist in Paraguay’s 2-0 win over Chile while Manchester United’s Edinson Cavani scored in Uruguay’s 2-0 defeat of Bolivia. Paraguay and Uruguay meet in one of the more attractive matches this weekend. Quarterfinal play begins Friday July 2nd.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

European Championships

The final four games of Euro group play take place on Wednesday. Group F, the tournament’s “Group of Death,” currently sees France on top of the group with four points as the World Cup champions face defending Euro champion Portugal in their final group match. Last in Group F is Hungary which held France scoreless in a goalless second match draw for their single point to date. Hungary, a first match loser to Portugal, needs an upset win over Germany today and a Portugal loss to France for a dubious chance to advance. Germany produced a statement win in defeating Portugal 4-2 in their last outing. The Germans pressed in attack and were rewarded by two own goals conceded by Portugal’s under pressure defense while Chelsea’s Kai Havertz became the first German to score against the opposition this tournament. Countryman Mats Hummel had an own goal versus France before Germany received the two own goals from Portugal before Havertz’s strike.

England will face the second-place team from Group F in the Round of 16 after topping their group despite scoring only two goals in group play, both by Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling. England followed up their opening victory over Croatia with a hard-fought goalless draw with UK rival Scotland before defeating Czech Republic 1-0 Tuesday. Bukayo Saka received a start against Czech Republic and the Arsenal youngster added some life to a still sluggish English attack. Fortunately, the Three Lions have posted three clean sheets in group play. Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, rumored for a move to Manchester United, was a late substitution Tuesday for England and perhaps can be another attacking option. Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, starved for service, continues scoreless for a second straight Euro competition.

Czech Republic will be one of four third place teams qualifying for the next round despite the loss to England. Scotland is one of four teams already eliminated from the competition after the Scots fell 3-1 to Croatia in their final group match. Croatia advances to the next round and looked dangerous with Luka Modric in a more attacking role versus a Scotland team playing without Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour who tested positive for COVID following the England match. Scotland joins Turkey, Russia, and North Macedonia as teams eliminated from the competition as of Tuesday’s results.

The third UK team in the tournament, Wales, has qualified for the next round despite a 1-0 loss to Italy in their final group game. The Italians, who have yet to concede a goal in the competition, are one of three teams with perfect records after completing group play, along with the Netherlands and Belgium. The Netherlands so far leads the tournament in scoring after Georgio Wijnaldum, who leaves Liverpool for PSG next season, scored a brace in a 3-0 win over North Macedonia. Belgium defeated Finland 2-0 as Romelu Lukaku scored his third goal of the tournament. Eden Hazard saw increased minutes for Belgium versus Finland as the former Chelsea star, and current Real Madrid disappointment, attempts to regain fitness after struggles with his ankle.

The remaining group to be resolved Wednesday is Group E which features a disappointing Spain squad which needs a result versus Slovakia to avert an embarrassing elimination. Spain drew their second match of group play 1-1 with Poland as a goal by much maligned Spain striker Alvaro Morata was negated by a tying goal from Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. A second consecutive draw leaves Spain vulnerable with coach Luis Enrique under fire for a poor Spanish offensive performance to date. Group leading Sweden, already qualified for the next round, faces Poland in the other Group E match Wednesday as Manchester United center back Victor Lindelof will be tested by Lewandowski. Sweden has yet to concede a goal in the tournament. Denmark exploded for four goals to defeat Russia 4-1 Monday in Copenhagen to advance in the tournament despite the loss of their first two matches and the emotional distress of Christian Eriksen’s medical emergency in their opening game. Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen was one of the goal scorers Monday for the Danes. Switzerland has also qualified for the final 16 after Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a brace in a 3-1 victory over Turkey. Turkey has been one of the more disappointing teams in the tournament, losing all three of their matches while scoring just once against eight goals conceded. Surprising Austria also qualified for the next round after defeating Ukraine 1-0 for their second win of the tournament. Following today’s conclusion of group play, the Euro Round of 16 begins Saturday.


Friday, June 18, 2021

European Championships

Tournament favorite France began play with a 1-0 victory over Germany, courtesy of a Mats Hummels own goal for Die Mannschaft. Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba was dominant for France and figured prominently in the build up to the deflected own goal by Hummels. Chelsea’s Kai Havertz was ineffective in attack for the Germans who looked more dangerous after the second half substitution of Havertz’s Chelsea teammate Timo Werner and former Manchester United, and current Bayern Munich, player Leroy Sane.

Portugal was unable to score for 83 minutes against Hungary before a late flurry featuring two goals by Cristiano Ronaldo led to a 3-0 victory for the defending Euro champions. Ronaldo’s goals make him the all-time leading Euro goal scorer with 11 goals, breaking a previous tie with former French player, and suspended UEFA administrator, Michel Platini.

Aaron Ramsey scored off an assist from Gareth Bale and Swansea City’s Connor Roberts clinched matters, after a penalty miss by Bale, in a 2-0 Wales win over Turkey.

Italy was impressive for a second straight game as the Azzurri defeated Switzerland 3-0 as Manuel Locatelli struck for a brace and Ciro Immobile scored his second goal in as many tournament matches. Italy, quickly moving into the discussion for tournament honors, is undefeated in its last 29 matches.

Russia was much improved after a decisive opening loss to Belgium as the Russians defeated Finland 1-0.

Former West Ham player Marko Arnautovic was suspended for Austria’s 2-0 loss to the Netherlands. An opening match goal scorer for Austria, Arnautovic was suspended for vile comments made in that game to North Macedonian and Leeds United player Ezgjan Alioski. Netherlands won for a second straight match as former Manchester United player Memphis Depay opened scoring with a penalty kick before Denzel Dumfries sealed matters with his second goal of the tournament.

West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko scored for a second straight match in Ukraine’s 2-1 win over North Macedonia with Leeds’s Alioski notching the goal for the losing side.

Denmark shocked Belgium with a goal two minutes into their match only to lose 2-1 as Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne made his tournament debut by assisting on Belgium’s opening goal and netting the winner for the Red Devils’ second win of the tournament. The match was emotional for both sides following the misfortune which befell Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen in Denmark’s opening match. Play was stopped at the ten-minute mark of the match to show support for Eriksen, Denmark’s number 10.

Sweden is undefeated after their opening goalless draw with Spain and 1-0 victory over Slovakia on Friday. The Swedes, with little to offer in attack, have played outstanding defense in the tournament and leveraged a penalty by Emil Forsberg in their win.

Czech Republic was looking for a second win on Friday when taking on Croatia, opening match losers to England.

England and Scotland face off later in the day for their first meeting in a major tournament since 1996, a Euro match-up in which current England manager Gareth Southgate participated. Wembley Stadium, the site of Friday’s match, is limited to 25% capacity but there were reports of a significant influx of Scottish supporters in London, with or without tickets. A win by England on Friday will punch their ticket to the next round of this year’s competition. Manchester United’s Harry Maguire is reported to have sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury to be available versus Scotland.

Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson are other England players hoping to push into the starting line-up. Southampton’s Che Adams may get a start for Scotland who benefitted from his energy in a substitute role in an opening tournament loss to Czech Republic.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

European Championships

A shadow was cast over the opening weekend of the Euros when former Tottenham Hotspur and current Inter Milan midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac event Saturday while playing for Denmark in his country’s game against Finland. After frightening moments where CPR and a defibrillator were employed on the field, Eriksen was revived and later was awake and communicating with teammates after transport to a local hospital.

The suspended match was restarted later in the evening with Denmark falling 1-0 to the Finns as an uncharacteristic mistake was made by Leicester goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel who would have been understandably distracted by the day’s events.

The Euros had debuted Friday with an impressive 3-0 victory by Italy over Turkey. Dominating midfield play for Italy was Chelsea’s Jorginho, one of 17 Chelsea players represented on national teams competing in the Euros, the most of any club team.

Early Saturday action saw Wales, with six Premier League players in its starting line-up, salvage a point with a second half goal to tie matters in a 1-1 draw with Switzerland. Belgium then cruised to an easy 3-0 win over Russia as former Premier League star Romelu Lukaku scored twice for the Red Devils and dedicated his first goal to Eriksen, his current Inter Milan teammate.

On Sunday, Raheem Sterling justified his presence in Gareth Southgate’s starting line-up after a difficult domestic season in the Premier League. The Manchester City forward scored the match’s lone goal in England’s 1-0 defeat of Croatia, receiving a surgical pass from Leeds’s Kalvin Philips. England’s defense was little troubled by a Croatian attack unable to mount any form of threat. Austria’s third goal in a 3-1 win over North Macedonia on Sunday was scored by former West Ham player Marko Arnautovic, a second half substitute.

The game of the weekend was perhaps Netherlands versus Ukraine. Embattled Netherlands coach Frank de Boer was being criticized pre-match for his refusal to employ the Dutch team’s traditional 4-3-3 formation. Temporary redemption seemed at hand when the Netherlands jumped out to a 2-0 lead, the first of which was scored by now former Liverpool midfield Georginio Wijnaldum who has just signed with PSG. The Ukraine then halved the lead on a goal by Andriy Yarmolenko, barely used at West Ham this past season, at the 75-minute mark and knotted matters four minutes later. Just when it appeared that Frank de Boer must be cursed, Manchester City’s Nathan Ake delivered a perfect cross like clockwork for the Orange as Denzel Dumfries headed in the 85th minute winner.

The goal of the tournament to date, however, was Patrik Schick’s second goal for Czech Republic in a 2-0 defeat of Scotland. Schick launched his shot from the halfway mark with the ball sailing past an out of position Scottish goalkeeper for the longest goal to be scored in the Euros since 1980.

Scotland featured four Premier League starters in the match, including left back Andy Roberson of Liverpool, while West Ham teammates Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal were in the Czech line-up.

Slovakia was a 2-1 winner over a Polish side which yielded the winner after being reduced to 10 men by a second half red card.

Spain found it difficult to convert its opportunities into goals in a scoreless draw versus Sweden. Former Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata was among the Spaniards missing chances. Spain controlled 85% of possession but was unable to find joy against a Sweden defense featuring Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof at center back and Everton back up Robin Olsen in goal.

Tuesday’s action features an attractive matchup between top ranked France and a Germany squad playing its final tournament under long-time national team manager Joachim Low. Chelsea will be well represented in the match with Germany players Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Antonio Rudiger facing club teammates Olivier Giroud and N’Golo Kante of France. Giroud has been involved in some internal discord with the French team, the Chelsea striker’s public complaints of lack of service in matches leading up to the Euros being ill received by PSG star Kylian Mbappe. Manchester City leading scorer Ilkay Gundogan starts in midfield for Germany. Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris are starters for France, the 2018 World Cup winners. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Premier League Season in Review: Liverpool

A once lost season for Liverpool was recovered over the course of a five-match winning streak to end the season which enabled the Reds to qualify for next season’s Champions League. The club’s third-place finish can be judged a moderate success given the devastating injuries the team encountered during their title defense. Center back Virgil van Dijk, the heart of Liverpool’s defense, went down with a knee injury in only the fifth game of the season against cross town rival Everton. Van Dijk was lost for the season and the back line was further impacted by injuries to center backs Joe Gomez and Joel Matip and mid-season acquisition Ozan Kabak. Midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson would spend time at center back and incur injuries of their own. Make-shift line-ups began to take their toll as the calendar turned and 2021 began with a 12-game stretch marked by seven of the season’s nine losses, including five consecutive home losses for the first time in the club’s history. After losing to ultimately relegated Fulham on March 7, Liverpool was eighth in the table and even manager Jurgen Klopp admitted Champions League was likely impossible. Showing their class however, Liverpool went undefeated in the next ten matches which included their season ending five-win run which moved them from sixth to third in the table as a young and inexperienced center back pairing of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams performed under intense pressure. While much focus was placed on this season’s defensive injury problems, the front three for Liverpool also seemed less cohesive than in years past. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah did not combine on a goal until Salah assisted on Mane’s goal against Southampton on May 8th. Mane’s 11 league goals were six fewer than his prior season output while fellow forward Bobby Firmino failed to reach double figure goal production for a second consecutive campaign. Mohamed Salah, however, continued his outstanding play, striking for 22 goals, just one behind Harry Kane for the league lead.

European Championships

The Euros kick off Friday after a one-year Covid postponement. The best European players, many from Premier League clubs, will be representing their countries in a 24-team tournament which will unfold over 51 individual matches in the next month. The July 11th final will be at Wembley Stadium in London, England.

England’s national team will field as many as six to seven starters from Premier League clubs and the team is one of the top betting favorites, along with France and Belgium, to capture the title. Perennial threats Spain, Germany, and Portugal also lurk as contenders to raise the trophy. England has fans excited by a plethora of options in attack led by captain Harry Kane, currently unhappy at Tottenham Hotspur, and rising young stars such as Manchester City’s Phil Foden and Chelsea’s Mason Mount. Other familiar Premier League faces in attack for England include Raheem Sterling of Manchester City and Marcus Rashford of Manchester United. It is on the back line and in goal where England could vulnerable. Center back Harry Maguire of Manchester United is trying to return from injury and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford will need to be in good form. Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne hopes to soon be in Belgium’s line-up after recovering from facial injuries suffered in the Champions League final. Manager Roberto Martinez’s Belgium squad will also include former Premier League stars Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois. Germany’s squad includes Chelsea products Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, and Antonio Rudger. Chelsea teammates N’golo Kante and Olivier Giroud will be trying to capture the title for France. Defending Euro champion Portugal will feature eight Premier League players including Manchester City center back and Premier League Player of the season Ruben Dias and Manchester United midfield star Bruno Fernandes. Spain will likely have Manchester United’s David de Gea in goal with Liverpool’s Thiago and Manchester City’s Rodri playing key midfield roles.

The tournament’s group stage is organized into six groups of four clubs. Group F is the tournament’s “Group of Death” as underdog Hungary is grouped with 2018 World Cup champion France, four-time World Cup winner Germany and defending European champions Portugal. England draws UK rival Scotland, 2018 World Cup finalist Croatia and the Czech Republic in Group D play. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Premier League Season in Review: Manchester United

As with league champion Manchester City, a loss to end the season in a tournament final was a disappointing end to a season of progress for Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s project took another step forward with a second-place finish in the league reflecting an eight-point improvement on last season’s third place finish. Tied for joint fewest losses with Manchester City, United incurred three of their six defeats in their opening six games. From there the Red Devils put together 13 and 14 match unbeaten runs sandwiched around an incongruous loss to Sheffield United before the club dropped two late games to Leicester and Liverpool during the final run-in. 

A highlight for Manchester United fans came when the Red Devils put an end to the 22-match unbeaten run by cross town rival Manchester City. The Red Devils also completed the entire season unbeaten in away matches. On the downside, the club drew more of their matches in the league than all but 16th place Brighton and relegated Fulham. The dropped points prevented a meaningful run against their league winning rivals. Midfielder Bruno Fernandes was far and away the club’s most valuable player this season, leading the Red Devils with 18 goals and 12 assists. Striker Edinson Cavani, acquired on a free transfer in October, was also a huge success as the Uruguayan veteran found the net 10 times in just 26 appearances, 13 as a substitute. Cavani has signed on for another season in Manchester after some early doubt regarding his future plans. Cavani’s goal scoring abilities were essential to United’s attack. Forward Marcus Rashford regressed as his 11 goals were six fewer than his prior season output. The club is overly reliant on Fernandes for offensive production and the team suffers when he comes up short as was the case in the Europa final. While Cavani’s extension is helpful, the club will likely be looking for another goal scoring threat in the transfer market. Defensively, the team received solid performances from captain Harry Maguire and major improvement from left back Luke Shaw who responded positively to the competition provided when the club acquired Alex Telles. There was change at goalkeeper as Dean Hendersen became the first-choice goalkeeper in league play after David De Gea spent time on a family matter in Spain. Overall, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s project is progressing but a trophy is sorely needed which made the loss in the Europa League final so painful. The club’s investment during the transfer window activity will be closely monitored by fans who have expressed unhappiness with United’s Glazer family ownership. Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund remains a rumored addition to the attack while there has also been suggestion of potential upgrade at center back alongside Harry Maguire. 

Premier League Season Awards

League winners Manchester City registered a hat trick in the Premier League season awards announced this week. Ruben Dias was named the league’s Player of the Season, Pep Guardiola garnered Manager of the Season and Phil Foden claimed the Young Player of the Season Award. Dias, acquired from Benfica last summer, transformed the Manchester City defense this season and was involved in 15 clean sheets for the league titlists. The center back was the fourth defender to receive the Player of the Season award and becomes the second Manchester City player in as many years to win the award as City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne was named last year. There will be some disgruntlement in London regarding the naming of Dias as Player of the Season. A certain Tottenham Hotspur striker named Harry Kane led the league in both goals and assists but his candidacy for honors was clearly damaged by Spurs’ disappointing seventh place finish in the table. Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola won his third Manager of the Season award after leading the Citizens to their third league title in four years. Guardiola’s third win of the award ties him with Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, with all three managers trailing the 11 Manager of the Season awards won by legendary Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson. An argument for this year’s Manager of the Season could have been made for Ferguson’s fellow Scotsman David Moyes who led West Ham to a European place this season after last year’s relegation threatened campaign for the Hammers. Young Player of the Season Phil Foden registered nine goals and five assists in league play as he stepped into a starring role for the Citizens after the departure following last season of David Silva.

Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Erik Lamela won the Premier League Goal of the Season for his Rabona kick which nutmegged a defender before beating the goalkeeper and finding the net versus rival Arsenal. The Premier League awards are determined by a vote of the public, captains of the 20 Premier League clubs and a selected panel of football experts.   

Friday, June 4, 2021

Premier League Season in Review: Manchester City

loss in the Champions League final to Premier League rival Chelsea proved a disappointing end to a hugely successful league season for Manchester City. The Citizens regained their title as league champions, remaking themselves after a poor start to the season which saw them 13th in the Premier League table in November. From that point the club became a defensive force, suffocating opponents over an ensuing 19 match unbeaten run in the league which included 15 consecutive victories. Pep Guardiola’s men ultimately cruised to the league title with a 12-point cushion over second place Manchester United. Center back Ruben Dias made himself a candidate for Premier League player of the year as the Benfica product acquired in September commanded the back line in a manner unseen since Vincent Kompany captained the Citizens. Goalkeeper Ederson’s 19 clean sheets were three more than the next highest league total as Manchester City conceded the fewest goals in the league. An improved defense was necessitated by a lack of production from several attacking players including Sergio Aguero, in his final season with the club, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling. The club relied on its stellar constellation of midfield players to offset the power outage up front. Ilkay Gundogan transformed himself from a one-time holding defensive midfield player to lead the club in scoring. Keven De Bruyne, the club’s assist leader, remains one of the league’s finest players while Phil Foden ably stepped in to replace departed club legend David Silva. The striker position deficiency for Manchester City makes them a possible contender for wantaway Spurs striker and Premier League scoring leader Harry Kane. While other lesser needs may also be addressed in the transfer window, Manchester City has an array of talent to both successfully compete for yet another league title and maybe, just maybe, the elusive Champions League title next season.

Managerial Carousel

Carlo Ancelotti surprised Everton by announcing he will leave Merseyside to return as Manager of Real Madrid in replacement of Zinedine Zidane who left the club in May. Ancelotti, who won three Champions League titles in his previous stint at the Spanish giant, led Everton to a disappointing 10th place finish in only full season heading the Toffees. Everton is said to be in talks with former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo to replace Ancelotti. Santo was earlier rumored to be a candidate for the vacant Crystal Palace position. Tottenham Hotspur remains perhaps the highest profile current Premier League managerial vacancy. Former Spurs and current PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino has been rumored to have had discussions with the club on a possible return engagement. Antonio Conte, who recently left Inter Milan after winning Serie A, has also been reported to have interest in a Premier League return. Bruno Lage, last of Benfica, has been rumored to be the leader in the clubhouse for the vacant Wolves managerial post. Laga would seem a natural fit for a Wolves roster dominated by Portuguese players.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Champions League Final: Chelsea Are Champions of Europe

Chelsea are champions of Europe after defeating Manchester City 1-0 in the Champions League final. Kai Havertz scored the winning goal, navigating past Manchester goalkeeper Ederson after receiving an expertly placed through ball from Mason Mount in the 42nd minute.

Chelsea joins Liverpool and Manchester United as Premier League clubs to win multiple Champions League trophies as the London club added to its 2012 title. The victory for Chelsea was a third in six weeks over Manchester City as Thomas Tuchel, who lost in last year’s Champions League final while managing PSG, joined Jurgen Klopp as the only managers to defeat Pep Guardiola three consecutive times since the current City manager began managing first division football. Guardiola again faced criticism for his line-up decisions in major matches, choosing on Saturday to play an attack oriented starting eleven, leaving defensive midfielders Rodri and Fernandino on the bench. One or both of those defensive specialists had played in 60 of Manchester City’s 61 previous matches this season and their absence seemed to disrupt the flow of City’s team. The play of Ilkay Gundogan, the club’s leading scorer entering the match, and Kevn De Bruyne, the club’s leading assists man, seemed affected by uncertainty regarding their altered roles in the revised line-up. Meanwhile, the insertion of slumping forward Raheem Sterling into the line-up brought no dividend as Chelsea defender Reese James thwarted Sterling’s every effort. Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante dominated midfield play while Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy recorded a ninth clean sheet in 12 Champions League matches, matching the tournament record. Neither of the two Premier League clubs was able to put a shot on target after Havertz’s goal despite City’s second half substitution of strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero and the second half appearance of Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic. Chelsea had the better of the match’s few chances with Pulisic missing a second half opportunity to ice the game while snake bitten Timo Werner missed on two scoring opportunities preceding the Havertz goal. Pulisic became the first American to play in a Champions League final. Aguero’s second half substitute appearance marked his final appearance in a Manchester City shirt. Tuchel becomes the third consecutive German manager to win the Champions League after Hansi Flick won with Bayern Munich last year and Klopp and Liverpool were victorious in 2019.

Championship Playoff Final: Brentford Stings Swansea To Earn Premier League Promotion

Brentford earned the right to compete in the Premier League next season with a 2-0 defeat of Swansea in the Championship Playoff Final. The Bees will return to the topflight after a 74-year absence and will become the 50th team to appear in the Premier League. Brentford replaces neighboring club Fuham, relegated from the topflight this season, as a sixth London based club in the Premier League. The victory was redemption for a Brentford club which had lost in nine previous playoff appearances, including four defeats in the playoff final. The Bees needed to retool this season under manager Thomas Frank after a semi-final playoff loss to Fulham last year as key players Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma moved onto Premier League clubs Aston Villa and West Ham, respectively. The acquisition of Ivan Toney ensured the Bees’s attack continued to hum with the former Newcastle player racking up 33 goals this season for Brentford, including the opening goal ten minutes into Saturday’s match via a penalty kick converted in his distinctive walkup style. Brentford’s second goal came on an Emiliano Marcondes strike 20 minutes later. A red card ejection of Swansea’s Jay Fulton in the 65th minute effectively ended hopes for the Swans. Swansea was eliminated in a playoff match by Brentford for a second consecutive year, having lost in a semi-final matchup last year. The Swans’ task is more difficult going forward as three years of parachute financial payments following the club’s 2018 relegation from the Premier League are now ended. Swansea coach Steve Cooper has been rumored as a candidate for the open Crystal Palace manager position.