Friday, January 28, 2022

Premier League: The Race For Survival

The race at the bottom of the Premier League table became far more interesting over recent weeks. Norwich City, long considered a lock to go down, shocked most observers by putting together back-to-back wins before entering the winter break. The six points moved the Canaries out of the relegation zone for the first time this season and rekindled hope in East Anglia. Should Manager Dean Smith save the Canaries this season, it might rank with Leicester’s jaw dropping escape from the relegation zone during the 2014/15 season which, of course, paled next to Leicester’s first and only Premier League title just a year later.

The Canaries, however, will not be counting their chickens just yet. Norwich’s recent victories came over two struggling clubs in Everton and Watford which have been slowly sinking in the table. Josh Sargent’s brace versus Watford was an anomaly in an otherwise goalless season for the American striker. The managers of both Everton and Watford were fired immediately after the horror of losing to lightly regarded Norwich. The Canaries should be applauded for not giving up on their season and launching a win streak following six straight losses. To be sitting safe after scoring just 13 goals in their 22 matches to date is remarkable. Ultimately that lack of production, however, is likely to pull them back down.

Watford and Everton have now joined the battle to avoid the three bottom places in the table which have been occupied much of the season by the Canaries, Newcastle, and Burnley. Burnley is in an unusual position, having played four fewer matches than the currently safe Canaries. Sean Dyche’s club have been in the Premier League for seven consecutive seasons and have a roster populated with several cagey veterans who have survived previous relegation battles under Dyche. The roster is not deep, however, and will be tested by the congestion created by rescheduled matches. There is also little pop in attack where the club has surprisingly moved veteran striker Chris Wood on to rival Newcastle. Things look grim for the Clarets despite their additional points opportunities versus relegation rivals.

Newcastle has added Wood and former Spurs and Atletico Madrid defender Kieran Trippier to their roster and may not be finished doing business in the January window. With motivated ownership and five points from their last three matches before the break, Magpie prospects look a bit brighter.

Watford’s inevitable drop into the relegation zone occurred with the result of their final match before the break which put a depressing exclamation point on a run which has seen the Hornets lose 11 of their last 14 matches. The short tenure of one-time Premier League champion manager Claudio Ranieri was a depressing failure mercifully ended. Defense has been the primary issue for Watford, only Norwich having conceded more goals, and the club now looks to former Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson to implement his pragmatic principles and discipline which effectively kept the Eagles safe in recent years. The defensive personnel at Watford are worse than Hodson had to work with at Palace, however, and cavalry is unlikely to arrive this window. The Hornets are in trouble.

Everton, currently four points clear of the drop zone, could be joining the survival struggle as their own troubles continue to mount. A flawed roster has lost 10 of its last 13 matches. The Toffees are spending this window trying to identify a successor to fired manager Rafa Benitez. The technical director of the club, Marcel Brands, was shown the door weeks earlier. The Everton Board and ownership are reportedly at odds over the managerial appointment. Wayne Rooney has declined interest in the manager post. A rumored candidate remains Frank Lampard, former Chelsea manger. Despite the turmoil and roster holes, the Toffees remain a better team on balance than those below them in the table. A Lampard appointment would generate much needed enthusiasm and excitement on Merseyside.

Everton and Newcastle, with more backing from their ownership, should stay up this season. Newly promoted Norwich and Watford are likely to return after just a season to the Championship. Sadly, Burnley’s longer run in the league under charismatic manager Sean Dyche would also seem to be ending.  

The Premier League Returns From Winter Break on February 5th.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Premier League Preview Match Week 23 Results: City Drops Points Versus Saints; Liverpool Closes Gap; Chelsea Spanks Spurs; Manchester United Climbs Over Hammers Into Top Four; Gunners Frustrated By Clarets; Canaries Fly To Safety; Ranieri Sacked; Newcastle Wins; Lighting Outages, Bottle Tosses, Drones and Fires

Manchester City dropped points after 12 consecutive league victories as the Citizens were held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton at the Etihad. Three second half Manchester City shots glanced off the woodwork and Raheem Sterling missed on a close-range opportunity as the Saints miraculously held on for a point against the Premier League leaders.

A 3-1 win over Crystal Palace moved Liverpool to within nine points of Manchester City with a game in hand. Palace manager Patrick Vieira had legitimate basis for complaint though after a match in which two of Liverpool’s goals reflected questionable officiating. An offside Bobby Firmino was not flagged on one of Liverpool’s goals while a second goal resulted from a penalty kick awarded after extensive VAR review of a seemingly non-existent transgression by Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.

Chelsea won for the first time in four matches to move within ten points of Manchester City as the Blues defeated an overmatched Tottenham Hotspur side 2-0. The loss by Spurs was the first by former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte in his return to the Premier League. Conte was again vocal after the match regarding his dissatisfaction with a Spurs’ roster in need of reinforcement to compete with top clubs such as Chelsea.

Manchester United crashed the top four with a 1-0 victory over West Ham as Marcus Rashford scored for a second consecutive match in a substitute role for the Red Devils. Rashford’s winner came in the waning moments of stoppage time as the young forward scored for a second time in four days.

Running mate Anthony Martial, also a late substitute, is now reported to be off on a transfer to Sevilla after butting heads with manager Ralf Rangnick in recent weeks.

Arsenal’s top four aspirations were not helped by a goalless home draw against Burnley. The veteran Clarets, aligned in a narrow formation, conceded the wide areas of the field to their opponent, and harmlessly headed away seemingly unending crosses from the young Gunners. The lack of a clinical striker was evident for both clubs. Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette missed chances while the status of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remains anyone’s guess. Burnley, meanwhile, is without Maxwel Cornet, away on Africa Cup duty, and has said goodbye to long time striker Chris Wood, now plying his craft at Newcastle.

Newcastle won its second match of the season, a 1-0 defeat of Leeds, to move to within a point of currently safe Norwich City.

Norwich pulled free of the relegation places when the Canaries defeated the spiraling Hornets of Watford by a 3-0 margin as American Josh Sargent scored his first two Premier League goals. While Norwich celebrated winning back-to-back matches for a second time this season, Watford lost for a 10th time in 13 league matches under manager Claudio Ranieri who was sacked on Monday. There was symbolism for Ranieri’s flickering tenure when the lights failed at Watford’s stadium, causing a delay in Friday’s painful proceedings for Hornets. Roy Hodgson, the former Crystal Palace manager who once referred to the antics of Watford mascot Harry the Hornet as “disgraceful,” appears the choice to replace Ranieri, which would force an awkward reconciliation with Harry.

Everton may soon be joining the relegation fray after the Toffees lost their first match under interim manger Duncan Ferguson, a 1-0 loss to an Aston Villa side managed by former Liverpool legend and Toffee nemesis Steven Gerrard. Everton seems to have no clear direction on their next manager with reported differences of opinion between the Board and Owner Farhad Moshiri after six failed appointments in six years. Adding to the chaotic circumstances in Merseyside were unruly Toffee fans who hit Aston Villa players with water bottles after the match’s deciding goal.

Wolverhampton’s 2-1 win at Brentford was a fourth win in a five-match unbeaten run for, moving the club to within four points of a top four berth. Bees’ manager Thomas Frank, meanwhile, is starting to show the stress after a fourth straight defeat. The Danish manager was assessed a red card for his comments to officials after a match which marked a sixth loss in seven matches for the Bees. The match at Brentford Community Stadium was temporarily halted when an unidentified drone hovering over the stadium was deemed a security threat by the referee. Wolves’ Molineux Stadium, meanwhile, was the site of a damaging fire Saturday night causing reportedly significant damage to the grounds.

A more common event this weekend was Brighton’s 1-1 draw with Leicester. The Seagulls have tied their opponents in more than half their matches and lead the league with 12 draws in their 22 league matches. By comparison, Sunday’s result was only the fifth draw by Leicester in 20 league matches this season.

The league now embarks on a two-week winter break. Proceedings reconvene Saturday, February 5th when Watford and presumably strange bedfellows Harry and Roy visit Burnley. Other league matches ensue that midweek as FA Cup matches dominate the first weekend of February. 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Premier League Preview Match Week 23: Battle for Fourth at Old Trafford; Chelsea and Spurs in London Derby; Gunners Host Rusty Burnley; Hornets and Canaries in Basement Brawl; More Goose Eggs for Eagles?

West Ham visits Manchester United in a battle of two clubs vying for the final spot in the Top Four. The Hammers sit fourth currently but three clubs, including their Saturday opponent, are within two points of West Ham. The Hammers have dropped three of five matches to endanger their Champions League position. Manchester United, meanwhile, remain the object of criticism from media and supporters for spotty play and locker room drama. The Red Devils, however, have lost just once in their last nine league matches.

Tottenham Hotspur is another club vying for the coveted fourth Champions League slot. Antonio Conte has won six of nine while going unbeaten in the league to date as Spurs manager. The north London club is just a point outside the top four as it travels cross-town to face third place Chelsea. Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea squad has struggled of late, winning just one of their last eight league outings to fall out of title contention.

Arsenal is the fourth club in the fight for fourth, two points adrift of West Ham. The Gunners host a presumably well rested Burnley side at the Emirates.

Sean Dyche’s bottom of the table Clarets, whose last league match was January 2nd, have played five fewer matches than some of the other Premier League clubs due to multiple Covid and weather postponements. Burnley have played just 17 matches as they enter a weekend where they should be playing their 23rd of the season.

Two other clubs battling to avoid relegation will face each other when Norwich visits Watford. The Canaries trail the Hornets by a point in the race for the final safe position in the table.

The league’s top two teams are on the road this weekend as Manchester City travels to Southampton and Liverpool will be in south London to face Crystal Palace. League leading Manchester City has won a dozen straight league matches though they were held to a scoreless draw at the Etihad by the Saints earlier this season. Liverpool has hammered the Eagles by an aggregate score of 16-0 in winning the last four mismatches between the clubs.

Wolverhampton also makes a London visit when eighth place Wolves takes on a Brentford squad which has lost four of its last five league matches. Wolverhampton has won three of four matches, conceding only once during that run as their defense is surpassed only by that of Manchester City.

Leicester will try to recover from a staggering midweek collapse versus Spurs when the Foxes host Brighton this weekend. The Seagulls currently hold a four-point advantage over 10th place Leicester in the table standings. Brighton manager Graham Potter will be absent from the sidelines due to a positive Covid test.

Everton will play their first match since the sacking of Rafa Benitez when the Toffees host Aston Villa. Villa’s performance has been spotty, winning just one of its past five league matches, but Everton’s performance has been dreadful. The Toffees won just one of its 13 league matches preceding the sacking of Benitez.

Another manager who could desperately use a win right now is Newcastle’s Eddie Howe. Newcastle has won just one of eight matches with Howe in charge. The Magpies are at Leeds this weekend.

Midweek Results: Spurs in Shocker

Tottenham Hotspur engineered the latest come from behind win in Premier League history, scoring two goals in the fifth and seventh minutes of stoppage time to defeat Leicester 3-2 at King Power Stadium. Steven Bergwijn scored both historic goals as Spurs manager Antonio Conte remained unbeaten in nine matches since his return to the Premier League.

Leicester lost for a third time in its last five outings as deplorable defense was once again its undoing.

Manchester United overcame a poorly played first half to deliver a convincing  3-1 defeat of Brentford. The Red Devils moved to within two points of the Champions League places in the Premier League table and hold a game in hand on fourth place West Ham. Despite the positive result, drama still continued for United with Ronaldo sulking after his removal from the match and Manager Ralf Rangnick having to console him on the sideline.

Two trends continued in the 1-1 draw between Brighton and Chelsea on Tuesday. Brighton are masters of the draw, leading the league in the inconclusive result category. Chelsea, for all the riches showered on its forward players, is having difficulty finding the net as the Blues have scored one or fewer goals in five of their last seven matches, winning just once during a stretch which has effectively removed them from title contention.

Liverpool defeated Arsenal 2-0 to set up a Carabao Cup final versus Chelsea. Diogo Jota scored a brace for Liverpool. Another Arsenal midfielder received a red card and suspension when Thomas Partey, newly arrived back from the Africa Cup of Nations, was penalized in the 90 minute.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Premier League Results Match Week 22 Results: Manchester City Extends Lead in Title Chase; Liverpool Swats Bees; Hammers Fall; Man U Madness; Coutinho Stars In Return; Gunners Under Fire; Canaries Surprise; Rafa Sacked

 An individual moment of brilliance by Kevin De Bruyne was all that separated Manchester City from Chelsea in a 1-0 victory by the Citizens at the Etihad. De Bruyne’s 70th minute strike led Manchester City to its 12th consecutive league victory and effectively ended Chelsea’s Premier League title chase as the Londoners fell 13 points behind the Mancunians in the table.

The quality of the Belgian midfielder and his ability to step up in big moments was a stark contrast to the failures of Chelsea’s big money attackers such as Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic. Despite its heavy spending, Chelsea still has difficulty on the offensive end. Lukaku added to long standing doubts regarding his ability to influence big games as the Belgian striker failed to capitalize on at least two goal scoring opportunities on Saturday.

Liverpool remained 11 points behind Manchester City with a match in hand on the league leaders after a comfortable 3-0  Liverpool win over Brentford at Anfield on Sunday. Fabinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Minamino scored for Liverpool as the Reds played without scoring aces Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane who are participating in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Leeds surprised fourth place West Ham in a 3-2 surprise at London Stadium. Jack Harrison’s third goal of the match proved the charm for Leeds which had seen West Ham tie the match after each of Harrison’s two earlier goals. The former Major League Soccer player had one goal for the season before Sunday’s hat trick.

Dysfunction at Manchester United was on full display both on and off the field on Saturday. The Red Devils squandered a two-goal lead provided by a Bruno Fernandez brace to draw 2-2 with Aston Villa. Manchester United players seemed to “run out of gas” in second half action as they struggle to play Manager Ralf Rangnick’s more pressing form of game. Philippe Coutinho returned to Premier League action after a four-year absence to lead the comeback for Aston Villa. Entering the match in the 68th minute, Coutinho assisted on a goal by Jacob Ramsey who reciprocated by assisting on Coutinho’s equalizer in the 81st minute. Equally maddening for Manchester United fans was an internal squabble which seemed to confirm rumors of locker room unrest. Anthony Marital was missing from the Manchester United bench as Rangnick claimed the player refused to travel and participate in the match. Martial refuted that claim on social media as drama swirled about a once proud franchise.

A hard fought M23 derby resulted in a 1-1 draw between Brighton and Crystal Palace. Despite dominating much of the contest, Brighton needed an inadvertent own goal by Crystal Palace’s Joachim Andersen to secure the tie in the 87th minute after the Eagles’ goal came earlier in the second half on a strike by outstanding Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher. Crystal Palace goalkeeper Jack Butland saved a first half penalty kick in the contest, Butland’s first such save in 11 career penalty kick opportunities. The non-decision was a league leading 10th draw of the season for Brighton.

Another match which decided nothing between the participants was a 1-1 draw between Newcastle and Watford. The addition of new transfers Chris Wood and Keiran Trippier to the Magpies line-up was not enough for Newcastle to overcome the Hornets and to, at least temporarily, escape the relegation zone.

Both clubs lost ground in the relegation battle when the shock of the weekend occurred at Norwich where the Canaries’ 2-1 win over Everton snapped a six-match losing run and revived hopes of Premier League survival for the East Anglia club. Norwich moved to within a point of safety with the unexpected victory. The loss to Norwich proved the end of Rafa Benitez as Everton manager. The Spaniard was dismissed the following morning after an abbreviated and hugely unsuccessful tenure at Everton for the former Liverpool manager. The Toffees lost for a ninth time in their last twelve matches to finish the weekend just six points above the Canaries in the table as the specter of an unthinkable relegation begins to loom. The Everton manager position has been a revolving door under Owner Farhad Moshiri who now searches for his sixth manager, excluding interim appointments, in six years of ownership. Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard are two of the bigger names being rumored, though Moshiri may also just ride out the year with an interim appointment before taking his next big swing.

Postponement of the north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur triggered widespread criticism of both the Gunners and the league. Arsenal’s request to postpone the match was approved though only two player absences were attributable to Covid. The introduction of postponements principally attributable to factors other than the pandemic is viewed by many as a disturbing development posing a threat to the league’s integrity. 

Midweek Matches

Three rescheduled league matches will be played over Tuesday and Wednesday. A fourth match involving Burnley and Watford has been pushed again at the request of the Clarets. Postponements have caused Burnley to play five fewer league matches to date than clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea, and West Ham. Chelsea visits Brighton on Tuesday with the Seagulls having struggled on their home pitch. Three of four league losses for the Seagulls have occurred at Brighton’s American Express Community Stadium. Wednesday action sees Tottenham Hotspur travel to Leicester as Spurs continue to contend for a top four spot. Antonio Conte’s men trail fourth place West Ham by just four points in the table while having played four fewer matches than the Hammers. Manchester United has the opportunity to quickly rebound from its disappointing weekend draw when the Red Devils visit struggling Brentford. The Bees have lost four of their last five matches. The second leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal between Arsenal and Liverpool is tentatively scheduled for Thursday should Arsenal be able to field enough players.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Premier League Preview Match Week 22 Chelsea Tries To Derail Manchester City; North London Derby; M23 Derby; Villa and Man U Meet Again; Magpies and Hornets in Relegation Battle; Burnley Idled Again

Chelsea tries to derail Manchester City’s express ride to the Premier League title when the two clubs meet at the Etihad. Second place Chelsea trails their Saturday opponent by 10 points with 21 matches played. Manchester City is on an 11-match winning streak in the league which has created separation from the other top clubs. Chelsea, meanwhile, has dropped points in seven of their last 11 matches amid uncharacteristic defensive lapses and all too familiar scoring difficulties. Chelsea won the matchup at the Etihad last season and has defeated Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola more times than any other club.

The weekend schedule begins with the league’s oddest rivalry on Friday when Crystal Palace leaves south London and travels down M23 to visit seaside Brighton and Hove Albion. The two groups of supporters are passionate in their dislike of the other team in an intense rivalry having nothing to do with geography.

A more traditional derby takes place in London Sunday when Arsenal visits north London neighbor Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs are unbeaten at home the last seven times they have hosted the Gunners. The match could potentially be postponed due to illness and injury affecting Arsenal’s roster. If the match goes forward, Spurs manager Antonio Conte will look to extend his Premier League unbeaten run to nine matches since his return to the league. Yet another careless red card by Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka in Thursday’s Carabao Cup match has compounded the staffing problems of an Arsenal squad impacted by Covid, injury and Africa Cup of Nations call-ups. Xhaka has received more red cards across all competitions than any other Premier League player during his time at Arsenal. History is also not on Arsenal’s side this weekend as the away club has won but once in the last 22 league meetings between the two rivals.

Having just played at Old Trafford on Monday in the FA Cup, Manchester United and Aston Villa take the field at Villa Cup for a league contest in a short turnaround rematch. Former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, newly signed by Aston Villa, could make his return to the league against the Red Devils though his match fitness is a question.

Villa’s current 22 match winless streak against Manchester United is a topflight record.

West Ham will similarly replay an FA Cup matchup when the Hammers host Leeds at London Stadium, the site of a 2-0 Hammers victory over the Whites in Cup play last Sunday. West Ham are two points ahead of Arsenal for fourth in the league, having played one additional match than the Gunners.

Five points ahead of the Hammers in the table is Liverpool which will be home to Brentford on the weekend. Playing against a lower half side will be welcome for a Liverpool team temporarily missing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane due to the Africa Cup of Nations. Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota will need to lead the Liverpool attack against the Bees. Brentford has lost three of its last four matches, though the Bees remain 12 points clear of relegation worries.

Watford visits Newcastle in a key relegation battle this weekend. A win over the Hornets would move Newcastle into a safe position in the table with Watford joining Burnley and Norwich in the cellar.

Burnley is idle this weekend due to Covid issues afflicting the Clarets. The postponed match against Leicester is the fourth postponement of a Burnley match this league season.

Bottom of the table Norwich hosts Everton on the weekend. The woeful Canaries have failed to score in their last six matches, all losses, while conceding sixteen goals to the opposition over that stretch. Everton has its own troubles, having lost five of their last seven matches while tumbling to 15th in the table under much criticized manager Rafa Benitez.

Two clubs experiencing better times than the Canaries and Toffees are Wolverhampton and Southampton who will meet at the Wolves lair on Saturday. Surprising Wolves have resided in the top half of the table since the first of November and have conceded the second fewest goals in the league this season. Southampton has lost just one of its last seven matches to move to within one point of 10th place Leicester.  

Carabao Cup

One side of the Carabao Cup final is set after Chelsea swept Tottenham Hotspur from the competition with a 1-0 victory in the second leg of their semifinal matchup. Spurs failed to score in either of the two legs against their London rival. Defender Antonio Rudiger delivered the winner for Chelsea to put the Blues into the final and make Thomas Tuchel the first Chelsea manager to have led the club to the finals of Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao (English Football League) Cup. Tuchel’s trifecta comes in his first year as Chelsea manager. The match was marked by controversy and frustration for Tottenham Hotspur as two potential penalty kicks awarded to Spurs were rescinded upon VAR review and a Harry Kane goal was disallowed for offside. Chelsea’s opponent in the Cup final remains unknown. Arsenal doggedly held on for a goalless draw versus Liverpool in the clubs’ opening semifinal leg after Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka was assessed a red card in the 24th minute, leaving the Gunners to play the remainder of the match with ten men. Arsenal’s ability to post a clean sheet against their high scoring opponents was no doubt aided by the absence of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane who are participating in the Africa Cup of Nations. The second semifinal leg between the sides will be played this coming Thursday at the Emirates.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Premier League Results

FA Cup Storylines

Arsenal suffered an embarrassing 1-0 loss to Championship club Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup, highlighting some immediate needs to be pondered with the transfer window now open. The Gunners failed to put a single shot on target as a threadbare central midfield and a lack of finishing led to the Gunners exiting early from a tournament they have won more times than any club in English football. Arsenal departed in the third round of the competition for only the second time in the last quarter century with both losses curiously coming at the hands of Nottingham Forest in the last four years. Despite a recent run of good form, the FA Cup loss highlighted some current problems facing the north London side. Central midfield for Arsenal is threadbare in the near term due to Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny departing for the Africa Cup of Nations, Granit Xhaka testing positive for Covid and Ainsley Maitland-Niles departing on loan to Roma. The midfield versus Nottingham Forest featured 18-year-old Charlie Patino, forced into his first senior starting gig, starting alongside seldom used Sambi Lukonga. Eddie Nketiah was ineffective up front for the Gunners who are reportedly seeking a striker in the transfer window as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remains in exile.

Newcastle United was another Premier League club which flubbed its lines in a 1-0 loss to Cambridge United, a club newly promoted to League One this season. More than 50,00 fans witnessed the embarrassment at St. James Park. Adding to Newcastle’s misery was Manager Eddie Howe’s announcement that striker Callum Wilson will be out for eight weeks with a calf injury.

Tottenham Hotspur experienced a scare in its match with League One side Morecambe but overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit to prevail 3-1 in north London. Manager Antonio Conte substituted Harry Kane and Lucas Moura late into the match and the two attackers delivered goals to secure the win after Harry Winks had equalized in the 74th minute.

Substituted Spur Tanguy Ndombele exhibited less than professional behavior when he sauntered about before exiting the pitch, was booed off by supporters, refused to acknowledge his manager and stormed down the tunnel. Ndombele has been an unhappy camper dating to Jose Mourinho’s reign at Spurs and may be edging closer to the exit door.

Crystal Palace came from behind to defeat Championship division Millwall 2-1 in a hotly contested south London derby. Michael Olise scored the equalizer for the Eagles before assisting on the winner by Jean-Philippe Mateta. Millwall’s stadium, The Den, proved an inhospitable venue for the visiting Eagles. Olise was hit in the head by a bottle, Crystal Palace midfielder Conor Gallagher was subjected to homophobic taunts by Millwall supporters, and Palace players were booed while taking a knee in support of anti-racism efforts before the match.

A 2-1 Burnley loss to Championship side Huddersfield was not surprising as the Terriers are playing well this season and may well be promoted to replace the Clarets in the Premier League next season. Sean Dyche’s Burnley side have won but one Premier League match all season. Manchester United completed the third round on Monday with a less than inspiring 1-0 victory over Aston Villa. Scott McTominay scored early for the Red Devils who then held on as the Villans had two second half goals disallowed.

The FA Cup resumes in February with its fourth round.

Midweek Premier League Matches

A pair of rescheduled matches from Week 18 will be made up midweek when Brentford visits  Southampton and West Ham plays host to Norwich. The Saints have drawn six of nine home matches this season, losing just once at home. James Ward-Prowse will be looking to score in a fourth consecutive Premier League match for Southampton which trails Brentford by two points in the table as the two clubs meet in the topflight for the first time. West Ham can move past Arsenal into the top four with a Hammers’ win over Norwich. The relegation bound Canaries have failed to win in their last eight league visits to West Ham. 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Ten Takeaways To Date

the Premier League schedule pauses following the holiday schedule, what are the key takeaways with most teams now having completed half their league schedule?

Unbeatable Manchester City

Manchester City has separated from its closest pursuers with 10 consecutive league victories. Pep Guardiola’s deep and talented roster has proven to be far better positioned to deal with schedule congestion, injuries and COVID than other Premier League clubs. Preseason concerns regarding the absence of a true striker have not been realized in league or European play to date. The defending Premier League champions currently have a 10-point advantage over second place Chelsea in the domestic table. Will this be the year that Pep captures his first Champions League title since his Barcelona days? 

Problems Remain For Manchester United

Manchester United’s problems extended well beyond former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. New, and yet temporary, manager Ralf Rangnick has his hands full with a collection of difficult to manage individual stars whose performance as a group has not met expectations. The temporary nature of Rangnick’s managerial reign and his lack of personal accomplishment as a coach raises doubt as to how his ideas will be received by the players. The club is currently closer in the table to last place Norwich than first place Manchester City. Good luck Ralf…

Rough Patch For Chelsea

Sunday’s draw with Liverpool marked the fifth time in its last seven matches that Chelsea has failed to win. The dry patch has all but conceded the trophy to Manchester City and put pressure on Manager Thomas Tuchel for the first time in his highly successful Chelesa run. Chelsea’s defense is no longer impregnable and an inability to finish on the part of the club’s attacking players remains problematic. Romelu Lulaku has not been the answer expected and his recent interview comments and benching by Tuchel introduced player drama to what had been a positive Chelsea locker room. 

Arsenal’s Resurgence

After a concerning start to the season which saw the club held scoreless in three opening losses, Arsenal has now charged into the top four of the league. The resurgence has been led by young players such as Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard, Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, and unheralded defender Takehiro Tomiyasu. Manager Mikel Arteta has delivered both results and promise despite sidelining his captain and most expensive player in Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. A sense of optimism and excitement has returned to the Emirates. 

West Ham Proves Last Season Was No Fluke 

Following last season’s surprising fifth place finish, the Hammers have occupied the top four after 11 of their 20 matches this season and enter the break just a point behind fourth place Arsenal for a Champions League berth. David Moyes’ disciplined crew is not colorful but maximizes its talent and has turned around the difficult environment at London Stadium of just a few years ago. The Hammers show no sign of falling from the rarefied heights they are enjoying and enter the break on a two-win run. Kudos to Moyes on resuscitating a managerial reputation that had been on the wane. 

The Brilliance of Mohamed Salah

The brilliance of Mohamed Salah has him six goals ahead of teammate Diogo Jota in the Premier League goal scoring race. Across Europe, Salah’s goal total is surpassed only by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. As a winger, Salah is more reliant than Lewandowski in creating his own opportunities, often in magical style such as his hesitation move to freeze Marcos Alonso which led to Salah’s goal versus Chelsea last weekend. His big game performance further burnishes Salah’s reputation. Hopefully, agreement on a new contract is reached with Liverpool and Salah can continue to thrill Premier League fans for years to come.

Rafa’s Rough Ride 

Everton has dropped eight of its last eleven matches to fall ten places in the table. Manager Rafa Benitez is in his first season at the helm but was an unpopular choice with supporters based on his former employment by Toffees archrival Liverpool. Benitez’s preferred conservative style of play also does not excite supporters. Poor results for the now 15th place club has ratcheted fan criticism of the Spanish manager who won an internal power struggle when Technical Director Marcel Brands left the club in December. Benitez, however, could be next over the side if results do not improve.

Brentford Means To Stay

Promoted side Brentford has won two of its last four matches and has notched six victories on the season. Twelfth place Brentford are ten points better than Watford and 13 points better than Norwich, the other two promoted sides. Manager Thomas Frank has delivered an entertaining style of play while not conceding defensive integrity in the manner of certain other promoted clubs in the past (i.e., Leeds, Norwich) The Bees have rebounded from a concerning four match losing run in October and November and look to have staying power for a second season battling the big boys. 

Antonio Conte Stops The Bleeding

Despite his public professions of Tottenham Hotspur’s deficiencies, new manager Antonio Conte has poked and prodded his new club back into contention for European places in the table. Spurs lost half of their first 10 matches before Conte’s arrival but have not lost in the subsequent 8 matches under Conte to move to sixth in the table, just three points back of fourth place Arsenal. Conte has stopped the bleeding but his pessimism regarding the level of his team was validated in a poor Carabao Cup loss to Chelsea. Conte has stopped the regression but will need backing to  improve his roster to compete with the top clubs. 

Four Clubs in Relegation Battle

Only three points separate four clubs residing at the bottom of the Premier League table. Only three of those clubs will return next year. Watford holds the last safe position in the table but has lost eight of its last nine matches and looks ripe to be overtaken by any of the current three relegation teams (Burnley, Newcastle, Norwich). Norwich looks done. Burnley and Newcastle have each won only one match all season. Newcastle manager Eddie Howe has lost four of eight matches after replacing much maligned manager Steve Bruce who lost six of eleven. The Magpies, backed by their new Saudi Arabian ownership, would seem best poised, however, for impactful January spending to escape the relegation trouble they find themselves in. 


Carabao Cup

Romelu Lukaku was back on the pitch after a one match suspension as Chelsea defeated Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the first leg of the clubs’ Carabao Cup semifinal. Fences seem to have been mended between the Belgian and his current club after inflammatory statements regarding a return to his former Italian employer. Lukaku played well on Wednesday, but it was a fifth minute goal by Kai Havertz and an own goal by Spurs which provided the scoring in a match dominated by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Spurs lost for only a second time in 12 matches across all competitions under Manager Antonio Conte. The other semifinal match between Arsenal and Liverpool needed to be postponed due to Covid issues afflicting the Liverpool squad.


FA Cup

The popular David and Goliath competition which is the FA Cup plays its third round this weekend as clubs from disparate levels of English football face off. Some of the mismatches include fifth tier Chesterfield playing at Chelsea and Premier League leader Manchester City visiting League Two Swindon. Two south London clubs battle when the Premier League’s Crystal Palace visits Championship side Millwall. Perhaps the most interesting “all Premier League“ contest has Aston Villa paying a visit to Old Trafford for a match with Manchester United.



Philippe Coutinho is returning to the Premier League on loan with Aston Villa. The Barcelona property has been a failure in La Liga after forcing a transfer to the Spanish club from Liverpool four years ago. Liverpool, amply compensated for his departure, won a Premier League and European title while Coutinho floundered in Spain. The Brazilian international now gets a chance to redeem his reputation playing for former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Premier League Results Match Week 21(?): Manchester City Streaks to 10th Straight as Gunners Implode; Chelsea and Liverpool Thrill But Lose Ground; Hammers Survive Eagle Flurry; Spurs Strike Late; Manchester United Stumbles

An abbreviated Match Week 21 slate played out amid continuing COVID cancellations. Manchester City and currently second place Chelsea are the only two clubs to have completed 21 matches to date. At the other end of the spectrum is a Burnley side which has taken the pitch for only 16 league matches.

Manchester City notched its 17th victory, continuing its winning ways at the top of the table, with a 2-1 New Year’s Day win over Arsenal. The Gunners took an early lead on the defending champions when 19-year-old Bukayo Saka scored his sixth goal of the season to give the Gunners a halftime lead. Saka’s goal broke a streak of four scoreless home matches for Arsenal versus Manchester City and put Manchester City behind in a league match for the first time since October. A well-played match then disintegrated for Arsenal in the second half as Granit Xhaka incurred a penalty on an awkward interaction in the box with Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva. Riyad Mahrez converted the equalizing penalty try for City. Loud protestations, and a scuffing up of the penalty spot by Arsenal’s Gabriel resulted in a yellow card. Just minutes later, the young defender jostled a City attacker for a second yellow and accompanying ejection to put the Gunners a man down. Arsenal did well to hold off the relentless City attack until stoppage time when Rodri struck for the winner to provide Manchester City’s 10th consecutive victory.

City’s title run was further bolstered a day later when Chelsea and Liverpool shared points. The contest between the league’s second and third place clubs thrilled fans with a dramatic opening half. Liverpool sprinted to a two-goal lead on goals by linemates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. Just as things appeared darkest for the home Blues, Mateo Kovacic halved the deficit with a “worldie” struck on a half volley from well outside the box. Minutes later, Christian Pulisic scored his third league goal of the season to tie the contest in first half stoppage time. The two sides then settled down to a scoreless second half which saw both clubs ultimately lose ground in the title race. A reportedly unhappy Romelu Lukaku was held out of the critical match by Manager Tomas Tuchel after the Belgian striker voiced his unhappiness at Chelsea in an interview. The strong stance by the manager was a debatable position after the club dropped points in the high-profile match against a key rival. Post-match, Tuchel was vocal in asserting Liverpool’s Sadio Mane should not have been in the game to score the match’s first goal. A Mane elbow to Caesar Azpilicueta’s facial area six seconds into the contest was adjudged no more than a yellow card by the referee to Tuchel’s displeasure. Chelsea’s comeback was a bitter pill for Liverpool which was unable to control the game with a lead despite a solid effort from stand in goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher. Liverpool’s regular goalkeeper Alisson and Manager Jurgen Klopp were both sidelined by Covid for the match.

As Manchester City stretched its advantage over Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the table to 10 and 11 points, respectively, West Ham closed the gap on fourth place Arsenal with a 3-2 victory at Crystal Palace. Michail Antonio opened the scoring and Manuel Lanzini had a first half brace in a London derby which seemed over at the break. The Eagles, however, sprang to life in the match’s late stages to provide some nervy moments for West Ham. Goals in the 83rd and 90th minutes preceded a stoppage time bicycle kick attempt by Crystal Palace’s Jean-Philippe Mateta which sailed wide to leave the Eagles just short of salvaging a point versus their London rivals. The narrow win pulled West Ham to within a point of the final Champions League slot.

Antonio Conte remained unbeaten as manager of Tottenham Hotspur following a 1-0 New Year’s Day win over Watford. Davinson Sanchez scored the winner in the sixth minute of stoppage time to extend Spurs’ unbeaten league run to eight matches.

The London club now trail fourth place Arsenal by only two points with two matches in hand versus their north London rival. Watford, just moments away from recording their first clean sheet of the season, lost for a sixth consecutive time.

Falling behind Spurs after the week’s results was a Manchester United squad struggling to find an identity under new manager Ralf Rangnick. A desultory performance left the Red Devils 22 points behind table leader Manchester City. Wolves were again tenacious in defense as goalkeeper Jose Sa registered an eighth clean sheet. Manager Bruno Lage’s charges have conceded only 14 goals all season, just one more than Manchester City. Joao Moutinho’s winner was also the club’s 14th goal scored, 16 goals less than a Manchester United team which Wolves now trail by only three points in the table.

Burnley experienced a less satisfying experience at Old Trafford just days earlier when the Clarets fell 3-1 to Manchester United. Burnley squandered the opportunity to escape the relegation zone by dropping Thursday and Sunday matches by an identical 3-1 score. While a loss to Manchester United was perhaps understandable, a resounding defeat by the same score line Sunday at the hands of Leeds was devastating for the Clarets. Leeds put further distance between the Whites and relegation with its first win since November.

Among the clubs enjoying the holidays was a Brighton and Hove Albion side which followed a Boxing Day win by grabbing a point at Chelsea before traveling north to Everton Sunday for a 3-2 win at Goodison Park. Alexis Mac Allister scored twice in the win over Everton as Brighton notched its second win in three matches. The Seagulls’ only defeat in their past seven matches has been a 1-0 mid-December decision to in-form Wolves. Everton, meanwhile, has lost eight of its last eleven matches under Manager Rafa Benitez.

Aston Villa lost for a second time since Christmas in a 2-1 Sunday loss to Brentford which marked the first back-to-back defeats for Villa under new manager Steven Gerrard. Brentford, meanwhile, was ecstatic to leapfrog Villa into 12th in the table as the newly promoted side continues to surprise league watchers with unexpected success.

The Premier League schedule now takes a break, returning with a pair of matches on Tuesday, January 11th. Filling the void will be domestic cup action with the first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinals scheduled for midweek to be followed by the third round of the FA Cup this upcoming weekend.