Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Premier League Results Match Week 3: Manchester City Smashes Arsenal; Ten Man Chelsea Makes Point at Anfield; Spurs Top table With Third Win; Manchester United Makes History; Foxes Swallow Canaries; Crystal Palace Scores!; Saints Blessed With Late Point

Manchester City added to the woes of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, Chelsea got the better of a 1-1 draw at Liverpool and Manchester United made history over the weekend.

Arsenal fans, encouraged by a 6-0 Carabao Cup win over West Brom earlier in the week, received a dose of harsh reality as the Gunners were smashed 5-0 by Manchester City as Arsenal failed to manage a single shot on target. City, on the other hand, demonstrated that a striker, even one as accomplished as Harry Kane, is not necessary to generate goals in abundance. Ferran Torres, playing at the center forward spot City once hoped to be occupied Kane, scored a brace for the Citizens. Arsenal, for its part, delivered yet another embarrassing and undisciplined performance. Granit Xhaka drew a first half red card with his team already trailing by two goals, the 10th red card for Arsenal in the Premier League with Mikel Arteta as manager. No club is more looking forward to the international break than the Gunners who have failed to score a goal in losing their first three topflight matches for the first time since 1954.

Chelsea made a strong defensive statement in remaining unbeaten. Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side were forced to play an entire half with ten men against Liverpool with the match tied at one. The mercurial German manager went into lockdown mode, playing five at the back and replacing goal scorer Kai Havertz with an additional center back in Thiago Silva. The strategy worked to frustrate Liverpool and salvage the point for the Blues. Havertz had put Chelsea ahead with an acrobatic header in the first half before a penalty and red card was assessed on a hand ball by Chelsea wing back Reece James in first half stoppage time. Mohamed Salah converted the penalty to knot matters for the Reds. Chelsea, however, refused to concede for the balance of the match as Edouard Mendy’s six saves were the most he has made for Chelsea in any competition.

Spurs recorded a third consecutive 1-0 victory, defeating Watford, as Harry Kane returned to the starting line-up. It was Kane’s teammate Son Heung-min, however, who scored his second match winner of the young season for Nuno Espirito Santo who became the first Spurs manager to win his first three topflight matches.

Spurs are alone at the top of the topflight table while archrival Arsenal sit bottom, the first time those clubs have sat at opposite ends of the table. Watford, meanwhile, failed to score in a second straight loss after the Hornets stung Aston Villa on opening weekend.

Mason Greenwood delivered a 1-0 Manchester United win at Wolverhampton with his third goal of the season as Wolves’ fans howled at what they believed was a foul by Paul Pogba in the lead up to the decisive goal. The victory extended Manchester United’s unbeaten run to 28 matches, establishing a new record for all four tiers of English football. Wolves, falling for a second consecutive match at home, have lost all three of their league matches by an identical 1-0 score despite playing an attacking brand of football under new manager Bruno Lage. Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho made their first starts for Manchester United which will welcome latest transfer window acquisition Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club following the international break.

Jamie Vardy had a goal and an assist in a 2-1 Leicester win at Norwich. Norwich scored its first goal of the season on a penalty kick from Teemu Pukki. The Norwich score enable them to move from the Premier League cellar on goal differential as Arsenal assumes the ignominious honor. Danny Albrighton scored the 76th minute winner for the Foxes who were challenged by a Canary side which had a potentially tying goal overturned by VAR. Leicester responded well after their loss to West Ham the week before but suffered another blow to its injury ravaged back line as defender Ricardo Pereira limped off early in the match.

Conor Gallagher scored the first two goals of Crystal Palace’s season as the Eagles grabbed a surprising point from West Ham at London Stadium. The midfielder, on loan to Crystal Palace from Chelsea, provided an offensive spark to an Eagle attack which has lacked performance at its forward positions.

West Ham dropped points for the first time this season, relinquishing two leads in the match, the second on striker Michail Antonio’s 50th Premier League goal. Crystal Palace, earning a draw for a second consecutive week under new manager Parick Vieira, had a chance to take all three points on Saturday when young defender Marc Guehi missed a header in stoppage time.

Promoted Brentford remained unbeaten with a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa as the Bees’ Ivan Toney, scorer of 31 goals in the Championship last season, scored his first Premier League goal. Emiliano Bendia, recently acquired from Norwich by Aston Villa, opened his own Premier League scoring account with the tying goal. Prior relationships provided additional context to the battle at Villa Park. Villa manager Dean Smith once managed Brentford with current Bees’ boss Thomas Frank as his assistant while Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins returned from injury to have several close chances against his former team.

Everton extended its unbeaten run under new manager Rafa Benitez with a 2-0 win at Brighton. Benitez had not gone undefeated in his first three league fixtures in three prior Premier League jobs. The Toffees’ Demarai Gray, a transfer window signing from Bayer Leverkusen, scored for a second consecutive match and Calvert-Lewin scored on a penalty kick. Calvert-Lewin’s penalty, his third score of the season, was taken only after heated debate with teammate Richarlison as to who should take the kick. Brighton was frustrated in attack, raising unpleasant memories of last season’s struggles after the Seagulls’ bright start in their first two matches of this season.

Late game drama ruled at St. James Park where Newcastle and Southampton exchanged stoppage time goals in a 2-2 draw. The Magpies thought the game won when Allan Saint-Maximin scored one minute into extra time. The Saints prayers were answered, however, when Southampton’s Adam Armstrong was fouled in the penalty box minutes later. James Ward-Prowse struck the equalizer to end a run of seven away defeats for the Saints. Newcastle Manager Steve Bruce was targeted by fans at halftime and following the match which saw visiting Southampton dominate play with 64% possession and 22 shots.

Burnley striker Chris Wood scored against his former team and Leeds’s Patrick Bamford scored his first goal of the season as the Clarets and Whites shared points at Turf Moor. Bamford’s goal topped an excellent few days for the striker who signed a long-term club contract and was called up to the English national squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Bamford’s 86th minute goal robbed Burnley of the chance to defeat Leeds for only a second time in the last 23 matches between the clubs. Leeds have responded with two draws since their embarrassing 5-1 opening weekend loss to Manchester United. Burnley, meanwhile, earned its first point of the season as the league enters the international break with Wolves, Norwich and Arsenal occupying the early relegation zone.

 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Premier League Preview Match Week 3: Manchester City Faces Arsenal; Top Four Clash As Chelsea Visits Liverpool; Foxes Enter Canaries’ Cage; Manchester United Goes For Record

Manchester City leads off the weekend, facing Arsenal at the Etihad. The Citizens will be pleased to hit the pitch after a difficult week of off-the-field news. Harry Kane has confirmed he will be remaining at Spurs “this summer,” seemingly ending Manchester City’s current pursuit of the striker.

Manager Pep Guardiola also indicated this week that he will leave Manchester City at the expiration of his current contract following the 2022/23 season. Star midfielder Kevin De Brune, meanwhile, will miss the Arsenal match due to injury. Adding insult to injury for City was this week’s suspension of left back Benjamin Mendy who is charged with rape and sexual assault. The Citizens would have been expecting an easy time with a Gunners side which has struggled in its first two league matches but Arsenal exploded for six goals in a mid-week Carabao Cup match. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang notched a hat trick and Alexandre Lacazette also scored for Arsenal. Those two strikers, derailed by COVID in the season’s early going, could make a difference Saturday for embattled manager Mikel Arteta. Martin Odegaard will also be available for the Gunners following his recent transfer from Real Madrid. Arsenal defender Ben White, recovering from COVID, could be a game time decision.

The glamor match of the weekend will see top four rivals Chelsea and Liverpool face off at Anfield. The individual matchup of the weekend features Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku going up against Liverpool center back Virgil van Dijk.

Andy Robertson is expected to be again available for the Reds, though left back replacement Kostas Tsimikas has filled in admirably for the Scot during his injury absence. Chelsea have won just two of their last 13 meetings with Liverpool. Both clubs have won their opening two matches to date.

Table leading West Ham, having impressively disposed of Leicester last weekend, hosts a London derby against Crystal Palace. A third win by the Hammers would mark the first time West Ham has opened a Premier League season with three victories. Crystal Palace, meanwhile, is winless in its last ten league London derbies. The Eagles are scoreless this season and rumored to be urgently looking for a striker before the transfer window closes.

Leicester has opportunity to quickly rebound from their discouraging loss to West Ham when the Foxes travel to Carrow Road to face bottom dwelling Norwich on Saturday. Norwich signed Manchester United defender Brandon Williams on loan this week after conceding eight goals in their opening two matches. Leicester’s Jamie Vardy will be looking to score for the first time in 12 Premier League away matches while the Canaries are hoping to break a 12 match Premier League losing streak. The Foxes’ Jannick Vestergaard could return from a knee problem to help a Leicester back line which has been besieged by injury and was victimized against West Ham.

Nuno Espirito Santo can become the first Spurs manager to win his first three topflight matches when his club takes on Watford this weekend. An undefeated season to date and the news that club talisman Kane will continue plying his trade for Spurs has things looking up in north London. Watford has lost its last 10 Premier League matches versus London clubs.

Espirito Santo’s former club Wolves plays host to Manchester United. Under new manager Bruno Lage, Wolves have played entertaining and competitive football but have failed to score in their two matches to date despite leading the league in chances created from open play. Manchester United, frustrated in a 1-1 draw with Southampton last weekend, is looking to extend its Premier League road unbeaten streak to 28 matches and break the league record it currently shares with Arsenal. Midfielder Scott McTominay is out for United. Transfers Jadon Sancho and Raphel Varane could be possibilities for their first starts with the Red Devils.

Danny Ings will try to become the first Aston Villa player in 28 years to score in the first three Premier League matches of a season when he faces Brentford at Villa Park on Saturday. While Ings has scored in both of his two matches for Aston Villa, Brentford has yet to concede a goal this season. Aston Villa have only four shots on target in their two wins but all four have found the net. Brentford center back Ethan Pinnock is expected to be available versus Villa after picking up an ankle injury in the club’s mid-week Carabao Cup win. Aston Villa are hopeful of having attackers Ollie Watkins (knee) and Leon Bailey (hamstring) back for the contest with the Bees.

Everton travels to the south coast to take on Brighton in a matchup of unbeaten sides. Brighton hopes to win a third consecutive Premier League match for the second time in club history. The Seagulls are hopeful of having Neal Maupay available after the striker suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s win at Watford. Maupay has scored in each of Brighton’s two matches to date. Despite the conservative reputation of manager Rafa Benitez, Everton have launched more shots on target in their two matches than all league clubs but for Liverpool and West Ham. The status of Colombian international James Rodriguz remains a continuing uncertainty for the Toffees.

Fans at St James Park are sure to voice their displeasure with perpetually unpopular manager Steve Bruce should Newcastle fall at home to Southampton on Saturday. A third consecutive league loss after exiting the Carabao Cup in midweek would greatly raise the temperature in the northeast. Southampton will look to build on the point taken from Manchester United last week. New striker Adam Armstrong has looked bright in his two starts so far and is teaming well up top with Che Adams for the Saints. Former Chelsea man Valentino Livramento, only 18 years old, has been a revelation to date at right fullback for Southampton. Newcastle, however, has triumphed in its last four league home meetings with the Saints while Southampton has won only one of its last twelve road matches.

Leeds heads to Turf Moor to face Burnley as manager Marcelo Bielsa hopes to erase the bad taste left by the Whites’ embarrassing loss to Manchester United last week. Leeds has 10 wins and 10 losses in its 20 Premier League road matches under Bielsa. Burnley are winless in their last 11 home matches, equaling the club record. 



Premier League in Europe: Champions League and Europa League Draws

The group stage draws are set for Europe’s top two cup competitions. Chelsea’s Champions League draw appears the most favorable for the English clubs. The Blues draw Juventus, potentially without the disaffected Cristiano Ronaldo, in a group which includes Zenit St. Petersburg and Swedish club Malmo. Manchester City draws Paris St. Germain, with new addition Lionel Messi. Potentially spoiling the party for the two mega clubs could be RB Leipzig under American manager Jesse March. Club Brugge of Belgium presents a lesser threat. Liverpool has drawn potentially the deepest group as it joins Atletico Madrid, Porto, and AC Milan. Manchester United will again face Europa League winner Villareal. Italian club Atalanta could surprise in United’s group which also includes Swiss club Young Boys. 

In the Europa League group stage West Ham will join Dinamo Zagreb, conquerors of Spurs in Europa competition last season, in a group which also includes Genk and Rapid Vienna. Leicester draws Napoli with the two clubs expected to advance past Legia Warsaw and Spartak Moscow.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Premier League Results Match Week 2: Chelsea Outguns Arsenal; Devils and Saints in Standoff: Spurs Win in Nuno Return; Manchester City Crushes Canaries; Ings Sparkler Leads Villa; Foxes Hammered

Romelu Lukaku scored in the fifteenth minute of his return to Chelsea as the Blues proved too much for an undermanned and tactically outmatched Arsenal squad in a 5-0 Chelsea win at the Emirates. Arsenal center back Ben White was yet another COVID casualty as the Arsenal defense, already without injured center back Gabriel, was overrun in the first half. Gunner defenders Pablo Mari and Rob Holding were no match for Lukaku’s physicality in the center of the defense.

Arsenal left back Kieran Tierney, meanwhile, managed not a single tackle during the match as Chelsea’s right wing back Reece James took advantage to assist on Lukaku’s goal before scoring on his own. Fortune would later smile on Reece when he escaped a penalty call when tangling with Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka. Cursed with injuries to his squad, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is also under fire for tactical decisions and man management issues as the Gunners are off to their worst start in the history of the club.

Southampton delivered the surprise result of the weekend, sharing points with Manchester United in a 1-1 draw at St. Mary’s. Manchester United equaled a Premier League record by avoiding defeat for a 27th consecutive away match but Red Devil fans were nonetheless hot over dropping points to lightly regarded Southampton. The Saints were blessed with an early own goal by Manchester United midfielder Fred who scored for a second consecutive match, his goal on Sunday unfortunately finding the wrong net. A Mason Greenwood goal, enabled by Paul Pogba’s fifth assist of the young season, allowed United to escape with the point. Southampton, which conceded nine goals to Manchester United in their last meeting, appeared improved on defense with the additions of center back Mohammed Salisu and 18-year-old right back Valentino Livramento.

Spurs maintained a perfect record and Harry Kane made an appearance as Nuno Espirito Santo won at his former club in a 1-0 defeat of Wolves. Dele Alli scored the first half winner, drawing and converting a penalty kick for the match’s lone score. Alli, playing in a deeper position this season, has been a key performer for his new manager.

Twenty year-old Spurs defender Oliver Skipp, who helped Norwich win the Championship while he was on loan there last season, has also factored in the two victories, combining with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to form a solid defensive midfield. Harry Kane made a second half experience for Spurs and went close with an opportunity. Kane, if he were to stay in north London,  would substantially upgrade the attack for a defensively sound side which has won its two matches by the same 1-0 score. Wolves have lost their two matches by the same 1-0 score despite impressing over large stretches of both their matches. The Wolves have proven toothless in front of net with the dynamic Adama Traore at once both exciting the crowd and exasperating fans with his lack of marksmanship.

Manchester City rebounded from an opening weekend loss by rolling over struggling Norwich in a 5-0 win at the Etihad. The Canaries, registering a second consecutive poor outing, have conceded eight goals without scoring this season and managed just one off-target shot in Saturday’s match against Manchester City. Gabriel Jesus factored prominently in the Manchester City attack as his cross was deflected into net by Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul in the seventh minute before Jesus added two later assists.

Jack Grealish, assisted by a Jesus cross, scored his first goal for Manchester City in the romp. Danny Ings delivered the Premier League goal of the season to date in a 2-0 Aston Villa win over visiting Newcastle. Ings’s bicycle kick in first half stoppage time resulted in a goal on the first shot on target by either side. The wonder goal occurred off a long throw-in by Matty Cash which was flicked on by Tyrone Mings to the acrobatic Ings.

A second half penalty kick by Anwar El Ghazi provided the insurance as the Villains won their first match since the departure of Jack Grealish. Newcastle remains searching for its first point of the season. The Magpies had a chance to take an early first half lead, but Callum Wilson missed a breakaway opportunity. The Newcastle striker would later be denied a penalty kick opportunity by VAR.

Liverpool notched a second consecutive victory with a 2-0 defeat of Burnley at Anfield. Diogo Jota scored for a second consecutive week before Sadio Mane clinched the match with his first goal of the season and 50th in a Liverpool shirt. Jota’s goal was his 14th in his last 31 Premier League games. 18-year-old Harvey Elliot made his first Premier League start for Liverpool which also saw captain Jordan Henderson return to the starting line-up. The Reds registered a second consecutive clean sheet while Burnley has yet to score this season. Liverpool left back Konstantinos Tsimikas, who assisted on Jota’s opening goal, has ably filled in for the injured Andy Robertson.

Leeds came from behind twice to gain a point at home in a 2-2 final with Everton as a 69th minute strike by Rafinha secured the tie for the home Whites at Elland Road. Rafinha has now scored in each of his three matches versus Everton. Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored for a second consecutive week for Everton, drawing and then converting a first half penalty for the Toffees. In an interesting clash of style, Leeds controlled 70% of possession but managed just four shots on target versus the eight placed on net by the Toffees who threatened Leeds with their pace in counterattack.

Crystal Palace snatched a first point of the season with a home draw versus Brentford. Conor Gallagher was a welcome addition to the Palace midfield, providing all-out effort throughout the match. Forward Wilfried Zaha, in comparison, seemed more focused on arguing with officials as the Ivory Coast international is not receiving the foul calls he has been accustomed to in past seasons. Palace remains seriously deficient in attack where Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew provide little production. Brentford, meanwhile, remains undefeated after two Premier League matches in their maiden season.

The Seagulls’ swarming defense smothered Watford in Brighton’s 2-0 win as the Hornets managed just one weak attempt on target for the match. Brighton’s second win in as many weeks extended their winning streak dating to last season to six matches. Neal Maupay scored in a second consecutive match for the Seagulls but worryingly left the match with a shoulder injury. Watford have now split their two matches in their Premier League return.

Leicester was sloppy and West Ham was relentless in a 4-1 win by the Hammers at London Stadium. A Jamie Vardy giveaway in midfield led to an opening Hammers’ goal by Pablo Fornals. After Leicester went down to ten men following an Ayoze Perez red card, the Foxes committed further clumsiness. Defender Caglar Soyuncu’s sloppy back pass was intercepted by West Ham’s Michail Antonio who crossed to Said Benrahma for a two goal Hammer lead at halftime. After Leicester’s Youri Tielemans provided momentary hope for the Foxes with a 69th minute goal, Michail Antoino sealed the match with two late goals. Antonio’s first of his two scores made him West Ham’s all-time leading Premier League goal scorer, his 48th goal breaking a tie with club legend Paolo di Canio. The Hammers finished Week Two atop the Premier League table for only the second time. 


Friday, August 20, 2021

Premier League Preview Match Week 2: Gunners Under Fire in London Derby; Foxes Face Hammers; Nuno v. Bruno; Benitez and Bielsa in Stylish Clash; Devilish Task for Saints

The pressure increases on Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta as Arsenal moves on from its embarrassing defeat last week to Brentford only to face a more daunting task this week in front of their home fans. Chelsea and new striker Romelu Lukaku visit the reeling Gunners in a London Derby. Arsenal could get Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back from his COVID illness though fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette remains sidelined. The Gunners will also be without injured midfielder Thomas Partey and center back Gabriel as they face their powerful London rival. Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic has contracted COVID and will miss the match.

A meeting of top six clubs from last season takes place at London Stadium as manager Brendan Rogers leads his Foxes against West Ham. Leicester has moved to address its injury riddled defense with the addition of transfers Ryan Bertrand and Jannick Vestergaard from Southampton. West Ham striker Michail Antonio scored his 47th career Premier League goal last weekend, tying him with Paolo di Canio as the Hammers’ all-time leading scorers in the league.

Spurs Manager Nuno Espirito Santo returns to Molineux Stadium to face his former club when he faces Wolves under new manager Bruno Lage on Sunday. A swarming defense and a goal by Son Heung-min propelled Spurs last week to an impressive win over defending champion Manchester City despite the absence of an unhappy Harry Kane. Son has now scored six goals in his last seven appearances without Kane in the lineup. Kane’s status for the game against Wolves is uncertain. Wolves played well in Lage’s Premier League debut last week but exhibited a frustrating lack of finishing as speedster Adama Traore missed key chances in the loss versus Leicester. A return to form by striker Raul Jimenez, who returned last week from a serious head injury, would seem imperative for success by the home side.

A contrast of coaching style will be on display when Rafa Benitez and Everton go to Elland Road to face Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds. Benitez teams are generally known for pragmatic defensive discipline. Bielsa philosophy incorporates free wheeling attack which can sometimes backfire as in last week’s 5-1 loss to Manchester United. Benitez, meanwhile, won over some of his Everton detractors with an opening win over Southampton last weekend. The Toffees will again be without James Rodriguez this weekend as he recovers from COVID. Leeds will be bolstered by the return this week of defensive midfielder Kalvin Philips who saw heavy minutes for England in the recent European Championship.

Southampton will be given little prayer of the Saints derailing Manchester United as the Red Devils invade the south coast. United scored five goals on opening weekend and outscored the Saints in two victories last season by an aggregate 12-3 margin. Since those two losses, Southampton has lost its top scorer, Danny Ings, and arguably best defensive player, Jannick Vestergaard. Manchester United flashed its star power on opening weekend with Bruno Fernandes scoring a hat tick and Paul Pogba carving up Leeds with four assists. Center back Rafael Varane, winner of Champions League and World Cup titles for Real Madrid and France, respectively, could make his debut for Manchester United versus the Saints.

Manchester City hosts Norwich in what should be a substantial mismatch at the Etihad. The Canaries won just once away from home in their last Premier League season two years ago and Norwich did not look to be an improved side in an opening loss to Liverpool. Manchester City, meanwhile, will be anxious to rebound strongly in front of their home fans  from an opening weekend loss to Spurs.

Burnley returns to Anfield for their first visit after ending Liverpool’s 68 match home unbeaten streak last season. The Clarets were poor in an opening loss to Brighton and have done little to improve a side which flirted with relegation last season. Liverpool took the first step in a hoped-for return to title contention last weekend by easily disposing of Norwich. Mohamed Salah, with a goal and two assists on opening weekend,  leads the attack for the Reds while Virgil van Dijk has returned from injury to take his accustomed place in the heart of Liverpool’s defense.

Aston Villa continues to adjust to life after Jack Grealish when it hosts Newcastle this weekend. The Villains fell behind early and lost to newly promoted Watford last week. Sorely missed against the Hornets was the pace of Villa striker Ollie Watkins who missed the opener and is expected to be absent again this week as he recovers from a preseason injury. Newcastle is likely to again start goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, who conceded four goals on opening weekend, as Karl Darlow and Martin Dubravka recover from COVID and injury, respectively. Joe Willock, who starred on loan for the Magpies last season, returns for Newcastle after his permanent transfer from Arsenal. Willock scored in his last seven matches for Newcastle last season.

Brentford plays a second consecutive London derby after its emotional win over Arsenal as the Bees head to Selhurst Park for a match with Crystal Palace. The Eagles are winless in their past nine London derbies after a 3-0 defeat to Chelsea in their first match last week under manager Patrick Vieira. Palace will have Conor Gallager available to make his debut for the Eagles on Saturday after the on-loan midfielder was ineligible to play against his parent club last week. Brentford last won at Selhurst Park in 1957.

Watford travels to Brighton in a battle of unbeaten Hornets and Seagulls. The Hornets stung Aston Villa last week and have won more matches this calendar year any club in the four tiers of English football except for Manchester City. Brighton, which scored a come-back win over a poor Burnley squad on opening weekend, is undefeated in three previous Premier League matchups with Watford.


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Premier League Results Match Week 1: Promoted Bees and Hornets Sting Opposition; Misery and Mystery at Arsenal; Manchester United Blitzes Leeds; Kane Watches Spurs Stun Manchester City

Two of the three promoted sides were victorious in the Premier League over the weekend, Manchester United delivered a dominating performance, and Nuno Espirito Santo won his Spurs debut, defeating Manchester City while striker Harry Kane observed the proceedings.

Brentford delivered an emotional win over Arsenal in a 2-0 curtain raiser for the Premier League season on Friday. Brentford was facing the same opponent it last played in a topflight match 74 years ago and the Bees proved the more motivated squad, outplaying their larger London rival throughout the match.

Spurred on by a 22nd minute season opening goal, the Bees clinched matters with a long throw-in to the box which was headed in when Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno was effectively blocked from reaching the well-placed toss. Arsenal were poor throughout but for some brief flickers of form from youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka and a second half strike by Nicolas Pepe which was foiled by Brentford goalkeeper David Raya. Veteran Arsenal forwards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both missed the match with undisclosed illnesses, details of which were withheld from the public, raising speculation that other factors may have factored in their absence.

Manchester United smashed Leeds in an impressive 5-1 romp at Old Trafford. The stars were out for the home side as Bruno Fernandes delivered a hat trick and Paul Pogba contributed four assists. Pogba made a strong statement as to his star capabilities amid his current contract uncertainty. The Red Devils, meanwhile, sent an early message regarding their title contention. Before the match, United announced the completed signing of defender Raphael Varane from Real Madrid. Old Trafford continues to be a House of Horrors for a Leeds side which has not won there since 1981 and conceded six goals in its visit last season.

Burnley confirmed they could be in trouble this season, dropping a 2-1 decision at home to Brighton. The Clarets squandered a lead gained in the second minute of play as two second half goals lifted the Seagulls to an opening victory. Burnley would manage just two further shots on goals after their opening score, neither in a dismal second half as Brighton engineered its comeback. Seagull substitutions factored in both second half goals for Brighton whereas Burnley manager Sean Dyche had few options to change the game with his threadbare bench.

Christian Pulisic scored his fifth goal in as many matches against Crystal Palace as Chelsea defeated the Eagles 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. New Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira experienced a rough return to the league where he starred as a player. Vieira never lost to Chelsea during his playing career but on Saturday looked as if he might never beat them as a manager. Crystal Palace mounted little in the way of opposition against the Champions League titlists, managing just a solitary shot on target. Chelsea academy product Trevoh Chalobah scored in his Premier League debut.

New Everton manager Rafa Benitez was triumphant in his debut as the Toffees erased a first half deficit to defeat Southampton 3-1. BenΓ­tez, becoming the first man to manage both Liverpool and Everton since the 1890’s, displayed his tactical nous with a half time adjustment to put Richarlison up top alongside striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Richarlison responded with a second half goal and an assist on a Calvert-Lewin score as Everton took control of the match. Southampton striker Adam Armstrong, acquired from Blackburn earlier in the week, scored the opening goal for the Saints.

Jamie Vardy’s 41st minute goal was the difference as Leicester defeated Wolves 1-0. An evenly played match in Wolves manager Bruno Lage’s Premier League debut ultimately came down to Wolves’ inability to capitalize on their opportunities. Only 3 of 17 shots by Lage’s men were on target. Leicester manager Brendan Rogers, meanwhile, continues to enjoy the services of 34-year-old sharpshooter Vardy, who scored 17 goals last season for the Foxes.

Aston Villa stumbled into its new era without Jack Grealish. Promoted Watford stung the Villains 3-2 after scoring the opening three goals of the match. Emmanuel Dennis had a goal and assist in his Premier League debut for the Hornets who won for a 10th consecutive time at home in a streak begun last season in the Championship. The two late scores by Villa included a penalty kick by newly acquired Dany Ings seven minutes into stoppage time.

Mohamed Salah scored a goal and added two assists as Liverpool romped over newly promoted Norwich. Salah became the first Premier League player to score on five consecutive Premier League opening weekends. Norwich, meanwhile, delivered a performance reminiscent of their last failed Premier League campaign which resulted in relegation two years ago. The open style of the Canaries continues to leave them vulnerable to the talent of clubs at the Premier League level.

West Ham took a large first step to convincing fans that last year’s success was not an anomaly. The Hammers roared back from a 2-1 half time deficit to defeat Newcastle 4-2. Said Benrahma scored one of the three second half goals as the former Brentford man is being counted on to replace some of the firepower lost with Jesse Lingard’s return to Manchester United. Perpetually unpopular Newcastle manager Steve Bruce heard boos from home fans following the match as the Magpies, oft criticized for a lack of attacking intent, instead displayed defensive frailties on Sunday.

All eyes turned to North London for the final match of the weekend as Manchester City visited Tottenham Hotspur. The Spurs’ Japhet Tanganga, starting in the right back role played disappointingly by Matt Doherty last season, was instrumental in shutting down Raheem Sterling and Manchester City debutante Jack Grealish in a 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur victory which capped the opening Premier League weekend. New Spurs Manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s 4-3-2-1 formation proved a tactical masterclass, allowing Manchester City space on the wings but choking off any meaningful penetration. Heung-min Son scored the winner for Spurs while Dele Ali put in his most industrious performance since Mauricio Pochettino roamed the touch line for Spurs. Harry Kane was reportedly watching from a private box as the saga regarding his future employment continued.

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Friday, August 13, 2021

Premier League Preview Match Week 1: Four Clubs To Play Under New Managers; Sancho, Grealish Debut For New Teams; Aston Villa and Crystal Palace Field Retooled Squads; Bees and Hornets Join Premier League Buzz; Canaries Hope To Avoid Same Old Song

The 2021/22 Premier League season begins Friday with Arsenal playing at newly promoted Brentford. Brentford, advancing from the Championship playoffs last season, replaces Fulham among six London teams represented in the Premier League. The Bees begin their first Premier League season and face Arsenal in a domestic league match for the first time since 1947.

Brentford is led by former Newcastle United striker Ivan Toney who scored 33 goals across all competitions last season for the Bees. Arsenal face a critical campaign for manager Mikel Arteta in his third season with the club after posting back-to-back eighth place league finishes. Center back Ben White, formerly of Brighton, makes his debut for Arsenal. The Gunners’ Thomas Partey is injured.

Manchester United hosts Leeds at Old Trafford. Jadon Sancho could make his debut for the Red Devils after scoring 36 goals across all competitions in the last two seasons for Borussia Dortmund. Newly acquired and former Real Madrid center back Raphael Varane is a less likely participant on Saturday. Leeds United will look to build on their top half finish in last season’s return to the Premier League after a 16-year absence. Leeds midfielder Kalvin Philips is a doubt for the match after a delayed return to training following his play for England in their Euro campaign.

Burnley welcomes Brighton to Turf Moor in a battle between clubs with the lowest Premier League point totals to survive last season. Neither the Clarets nor Seagulls have materially invested to improve their position for this season.

Chelsea, coming off Wednesday’s victory in the UEFA Super Cup, will host a London derby against a rebuilding Crystal Palace side. Hakim Zyech was injured in the penalty shootout win over Villareal and will be out for weeks, creating more playing time for American Christian Pulisic. Chelsea’s Kai Havertz played 120 minutes on Wednesday which may impact his participation on Saturday. Newly signed Romelu Lukaku is unlikely to factor Saturday. Crystal Palace will be playing its first match under new manager Patrick Vieira with a radically changed roster as the club embarks on a youth movement and potentially more creative playing style. On loan midfielder Conor Gallagher will be unavailable for the Eagles against his parent club Chelsea.

Rafa Benitez will make his debut as Everton manager when the Toffees play Southampton at Goodison Park. A strong start to the season would improve Benitez’s standing with Evertonians, many of whom were not pleased with the appointment of the former rival Liverpool manager. The Saints, meanwhile, must be concerned with relegation risk after a poor second half last season and the recent departure of top scorer Danny Ings to Aston Villa. Southampton has signed forward Adam Armstrong, scorer of 28 goals for Blackburn in the Championship, and taken 18-year-old Armando Broja on loan from Chelsea to try to offset the loss of Ings.

Highly regarded Southampton center back Jannik Vestergaard, meanwhile, appears headed to Leicester. The Foxes were devastated at the news that young center back Wesley Fofana will miss the season after suffering a preseason leg injury. The reported acquisition of Vestergaard from Southampton would address the vacancy on the back line for the Foxes who are hoping to crash the final four after two consecutive fifth place finishes. This weekend Leicester host Wolves who will play their first Premier League match under new manager Bruno Laga. Raul Jimenez makes his Premier League return for Wolves after missing much of last season with a head injury.

Watford returns to the Premier League after a one-year absence when the Hornets welcome Aston Villa to Vicarage Road. Watford placed second to Norwich in the Championship last season, earning automatic promotion. Captain Troy Deeney returns to the Premier League as Watford’s all-time leader in appearances. Hornets midfielder Will Hughes has not practiced with the team due to a contract dispute. Aston Villa lost club talisman Jack Grealish to Manchester City but have added firepower in Danny Ings and Emi Buendia who was Championship Player of the Season last season for Norwich. Leon Bailey, acquired from Bayer Leverkusen, will also help to offset the loss of Grealish.

Promoted Norwich hosts Liverpool at Carrow Road. Like Watford, the Canaries rebound one season after being relegated from the Premier League. The Canaries hope to improve on their league cellar finish of two years ago but will struggle to replace Emi Buendia and his 31 goal involvements from last season. Teemu Pukki returns at forward for Norwich and the club this week announced the signing of US striker Josh Sargent. Liverpool will be expected to mount a title challenge to Manchester City after the Reds were plagued with injuries during the 2020/21 Premier League season. Former RB Leipzig center back Ibrahima Konate makes his debut for Liverpool.

Newcastle is home to West Ham as the Magpies hope to build on last season’s 12th place finish. Newcastle is closing a permanent deal for Arsenal midfielder Joe Willock who was instrumental to Newcastle late season success after his February 2021 loan. Unclear is whether Willock will be registered in time for Sunday’s match. West Ham, facing European competition this season, have been concernedly quiet in the transfer window. Reinforcements seem necessary to accommodate the heavier match schedule, particularly given Jesse Lingard ‘s return to Manchester United after helping spark the Hammers’ drive to European qualification last season. West Ham will visit St. James Park this weekend hoping to avoid a sixth straight loss in season opening fixtures by the club.

The final match of the weekend features reigning champion Manchester City visiting Tottenham Hotspur. City added Jack Grealish this transfer window but is yet to address its striker position need. Rumors continue to swirl regarding the Citizens’ interest in unhappy Spurs star Harry Kane, who could sit out this match between current and possibly future employers. New Spurs manager Nuno Espirito Santo, meanwhile, is hoping to implement a more aggressive style versus the “sit back and counter” approach Jose Mourinho employed at the club.

 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Ten Questions As the Premier League Season Kicks Off


The 2021/22 Premier League season kicks off Friday when newly promoted Brentford hosts Arsenal.
 


How does Romelu Lukaku Change The Title Race?

The reported imminent signing of Romelu Lukau addresses Chelsea’s most glaring deficiency – finishing. Chelsea’s leading scorer in the Premier League last season, Jorginho, never scored a goal from open play last season as his seven penalty goals led the club’s scoring race. Bundesliga imports Timo Werner and Kai Havertz both experienced drastically reduced production as they had difficulty acclimating to the Premier League in their maiden seasons. Lukaku, meanwhile, scored 24 goals in Serie A for Scudetto winner Inter Milan last season. Lukaku is also well familiar with the Premier League, having spent seven seasons leading the line for Everton and Manchester United. After scoring 64 goals across all competitions for Inter the last two seasons, Lukaku has raised his game to become one of the world’s top strikers. His signing instantly makes Chelsea a threat to a Manchester City team which outscored Chelsea by 25 goals in winning the Premier League title last season. 


Where Will Harry Kane play this season? 

The Harry Kane saga looms large over the coming Premier League season. Should the wantaway star move to Manchester City, the Citizens become prohibitive favorites for a fourth title in the last five years. Having already acquired the dynamic Jack Grealish, procuring a true number nine would check the last box on Pep Guardiola’s shopping list as he pursues not only league success but the Champions League trophy which has so far eluded him at Manchester City. If Spurs owner Daniel Levy refuses to part ways with his striker, Spurs should remain a relevant force in the table under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo. A true wild card scenario would have Manchester United make a late entry into the Kane sweepstakes. The Red Devils, who signed 34-year-old Edinson Cavani for one more year, would immediately see their title chances improve with the addition of the top striker in English football.


Can Manchester United Win the Premier League Title?

Manchester United ran second to their cross-town rival last season and made two key acquisitions this off-season. Center back Raphael Varane joins the Red Devils from Real Madrid and forms an impressive center back pairing with Manchester United captain Harry Maguire. The experience and dependability of Varane should instantly elevate the play of Maguire. The headline acquisition in attack was Jadon Sancho who brings a different element to the team with his ability to attack defenses. Sancho’s ability to take defenders will address difficulty United experienced in attacking packed in defenses. Questions for the club still include whether 34-year-old Edinson Cavani can hold up over an entire season at striker. Can a currently injured Marcus Rashford regain his form after a disappointing league season and diminished role for the English national team? United’s best chance at a title may be the 2022/23 season should they acquire Erling Haaland or another world class striker.


Have Liverpool Done Enough To Return To Title Contention? 

Liverpool did early business in the transfer window by bolstering their defense with the acquisition of Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig who can hopefully pair with a fit Virgil Van Dijk returning from last season’s injury absence. There has been little other transfer activity for the Reds, who edged into the Champions League slots with an impressive five match unbeaten run to end last season. The club also lost Gini Wijnaldum to PSG. The hardworking Wijnaldum appeared in every match for the club last season, making 34 starts. With Naby Keita a perpetual injury risk, Manager Jurgen Klopp may need to look to young midfielders Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott. Though Mohamed Salah remains world class, Liverpool will also need improved form from linemates Sadio Mane and Bobby Firmino. Most important to title contention may be how quickly Konate adjusts and how well fellow defenders Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip return from their injury ravaged 2020/21 seasons. 


Is the Arrow Pointing Up or Down for Leicester?

So far in 2021 Leicester have won the first FA Cup in club history and on Saturday captured their first Community Shield in 50 years. Kelechi Iheanacho burst forth in the latter part of the 2020/21 season while Harvey Barnes returns from injury to bolster Leicester’s attack. What’s not to like after finishing just outside the top four in the past two seasons? A contrary view is that Leicester forfeited its best opportunity to crack the top four with agonizing collapses in each of the last two seasons. With several key competitors upgraded this offseason and Jamie Vardy turning 35 years old this season, the Foxes may be at an inflection point. The club, however, has so far retained young players Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi and James Maddison despite interest form other clubs. 24-year-old striker Patson Daka, acquired from RB Leipzig, adds to a stable of young talent. Despite worrisome injuries to key defenders entering the upcoming season, Manager Brendan Rogers’s Leicester project  continues to show promise.


Can Aston Villa Be Better Despite The Loss Of Jack Grealish?

While suffering the blow of losing long time star and captain Jack Grealish, Aston Villa may emerge a more balanced squad with squad additions providing the path forward. The impact of the Grealish departure was tempered by the acquisition of Dany Ings, fourth highest goal scorer in the Premier League over the past two seasons. The club additionally moved to pluck Emiliano Buendia, last season’s Championship Player of the Season from newly promoted Norwich City. Buendia delivered 15 goals to go with 16 assists in the Championship last season. Jamaican international Leon Bailey, a winger acquired from Bayer Leverkusen, is also expected to enliven an attack which already includes young goal scorer Ollie Watkins. Where previously the club’s attack focused on getting the ball to Grealish and allowing him to create, there are now several options for a club which struggled in attack last season, particularly when Grealish went down to injury. 


Is Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta On the Hot Seat?

Two consecutive eight place finishes, and a fall completely out of European competition, should mean that the honeymoon is over for Mikel Arteta. Thoroughly embarrassing for the club was a loss to Arteta’s predecessor Unai Emery in last season’s Europa League semifinal. Arteta needs to build off the five consecutive wins to end last year’s league campaign and challenge for a top six position in the league. A position in the top four, once thought a birth right for Gunners fans, remains a bridge too far for this current Arsenal team. Arteta will need young players Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe to continue to blossom. Ben White, the center back acquired form Brighton should provide a defensive upgrade. Aubameyang needs to return to form after a poor 2020/21 season. If Arsenal continues to struggle in the league for a third straight season, the resolve of the Kroenke ownership to trust in Arteta will be tested. A preseason injury to Thomas Partey last week was exceedingly unwelcome news for the young manager. 


Is West Ham Headed For a Fall?

West Ham were the surprising “feel good” story of the Premier League last season and the Hammers will be playing in Europe this coming season as reward for their sixth-place finish. Unfortunately, their most noteworthy roster change to date is the return of Jesse Lingard to parent club Manchester United after his outstanding loan assignment with West Ham last season. Lingard was critical to West Ham’s drive to Europe last season, contributing nine league goals after his January loan acquisition. The club also remains exposed at the striker position where Michail Antonio has significant durability issues with his troublesome hamstrings. Rather than kicking on from their successful 2020/21 season, West Ham is in danger of taking a step back, particularly given a perception they may have overachieved in last year’s exciting run. From a positive standpoint, the Hammers have successfully held on to Captain Declan Rice who has attracted attention from some of the larger Premier League clubs. 


Will The Transformation of Crystal Palace Prove Successful?

Crystal Palace has undergone significant makeover, transforming from a pragmatic, aging team under Manager Roy Hodgson to a younger squad headed by former Arsenal player Patrick Vieira who hopes to implement a more creative playing style for the south London club. Nine players from last season’s squad have moved on while the roster has been refreshed with younger players. 19-year-old midfielder Michael Olise was signed from Championship side Reading. 21-year-old defender Marc Guehi was purchased from Chelsea. Conor Gallagher, also 21, joins on loan from Chelsea. 25-year-old defender Joachim Anderson joins the club after playing well at Fulham last season. The amount of personnel change is daunting, and the adoption of a more open playing style will raise memories of the disastrous Frank De Boer managerial tenure of some years back. Guehi and Anderson will need form a solid defensive partnership and veterans Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke will need to score for this project to work.


What Can Be Expected From The Promoted Clubs?

Watford return to the Premier League with a side that conceded the fewest goals in the Championship last season. Ismaila Sarr led the Hornets attack with 13 league goals last season. Scoring will likely be the greater issue when Captain Troy Deeney leads his mates back to the Premier league after a one-year absence. Spanish manager Xisco could become the latest Watford manager to be on the hot seat. Norwich City had a terrible experience two years ago when they managed just 21 points in finishing in the Premier League cellar. They hopefully learned some lessons and will temper the wide-open style that manager Daniel Farke employed to little success in their last visit. Hurting the Canaries will be the loss of Emi Buendia to Aston Villa. Buendia’s 31 combined goals and assists will be difficult for the Canaries to replace. Brentford makes its first appearance in the Premier League led by forward Ivan Toney who had a sensational season in the Championship last year, leading the division with 33 goals. The Bees combined their potent attack in the Championship last season with a defense which conceded the joint fewest shots per game to division opponents.


Preseason Cups

Leicester's 1-0 defeat of Manchester City in the Community Shield saw Kelechi Iheanacho draw an 89th minute penalty and convert the winner against his former club. The goal was Iheanacho’s first in his ninth appearance versus his original team. The win by Leicester was exactly 50 years since their last Community Shield victory. Manchester City rested numerous starters, providing opportunity to a number of academy players. Making a second half appearance for City, to the delight of those fans in attendance, was the newly acquired Jack Grealish. Though the loss by Manchester City means little, the loss by Pep Guardiola’s men marked a fourth defeat in their last six matches across all competitions.


Chelsea faces Villareal Wednesday in UEFA’s Super Cup, pitting last season’s Champions League victors against the Europa League titlists. Chelsea returns to the Cup for a fifth time while Villareal makes its first appearance. The match will be played at National Stadium in Belfast, Northern Ireland in front of a COVID limited crowd of 13,000 fans. Chelsea will not be at full strength due to the number of players who have returned to late to training from the Euro Championship. Villareal Manager Unai Emery looks to place a Super Cup alongside his four Europa League trophies. 


Friday, August 6, 2021

Transfer News: Jack Grealish Heads to Manchester City; Lionel Messi Headed To?

Manchester City completed its English record £100 million acquisition of Jack Grealish from Aston Villa. Pep Guardiola is reportedly enamored of Grealish who, while a fine player, does not address the club’s need for a striker and will compete for time in the City lineup with such stars as England teammate Phil Foden.

Despite the Grealish acquisition Manchester City, retains an interest in acquiring disgruntled Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane though Spurs seem an unwilling seller. Aston Villa, anticipating the loss of Grealish, had previously moved to sign Danny Ings from Southampton, Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen, and Emi Buendia from Norwich City. Ings provides impressive scoring punch for the Birmingham side should he be able to stay healthy. Despite frequent time missed to injury, Ings’s 34 goals over the course of the past two Premier League seasons are exceeded only by  Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah, and Jamie Vardy. Buendia, meanwhile, had 15 goals and 16 assists to help Norwich City win automatic promotion from the Championship last year. Bailey, a Jamaican international, scored 15 goals across all competitions last season for Bayer Leverkusen. Villa has also added 36-year-old Ashley Young, the former Manchester United player who played last season at Italian Champion Inter Milan.

Competing for the headlines with the Grealish deal was the announcement by Barcelona that Lionel Messi will be leaving the club due to financial restrictions.

While Messi is hotly rumored to be reuniting with Neymar alongside Kylian Mbappe at PSG, Premier League fans dream of a different reunion, with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, or a more farfetched shock move to address Chelsea’s scoring deficiencies should rumored Romelu Lukaku to London talks prove unfruitful. A PSG deal for Messi, meanwhile, would end speculation of Manchester United’s Paul Pogba moving to the French giants. While the Kane and Lukaku sagas might dominate Premier League transfer conversation, Arsenal fans are waiting on further moves from the Gunners. Having earlier addressed center back concerns with the acquisition of Ben White from Brighton and Hove Albion, the club is thin in midfield, particularly after a preseason injury to Thomas Partey. Arsenal has been in talks with Leicester regarding James Maddison while Lyon’s Houssem Aouar may represent a more affordable option. Less likely is the prospect of the Gunners successfully convincing Real Madrid to allow an encore for Martin Odegaard in north London. Joe Willock still struggles to find favor with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and could be sold to Newcastle with those funds to be reinvested in another midfielder. While Arsenal is short in midfield, injuries have created serious defensive concerns for Leicester which earlier in the window acquired Reyan Bertrand on a free transfer from Southampton. Schalke defender Ozan Kabak, who played on loan for Liverpool last season, is one name that has connected with the Foxes’ need for defensive reinforcement.