Friday, February 25, 2022

Races Heat Up at Top and Bottom: Liverpool Moves Closer After Routing Leeds; Burnley Sinks Spurs; Gunners Skin Wolves; West Ham Can End Wolverhampton Quest; Eagles Soar Over Former Manager

Liverpool smashed Leeds 6-0 on Wednesday to move within three points of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane scored two goals apiece and defenders Virgil van Dyck and Joel Matip completed the scoresheet.

Manchester City has opportunity to restore its six points lead this weekend while Liverpool engages with Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final. Pep Guardiola’s side travels to Everton for a match against Frank Lampard’s reeling Toffees. Everton and Leeds, each of which have lost four of five matches, are now central to any discussion of relegation.

Leeds returns home to Elland Road this weekend to face Tottenham Hotspur, yet another club reeling from a midweek result and a debilitating run of four losses in five matches. Just days after toppling the Premier League leaders, Tottenham Hotspur were awful in a 1-0 loss at Burnley which had Spurs manager Antonio Conte questioning his future after the game. Conte’s postgame theatrics diminished another outstanding performance by suddenly formidable Burnley. Thought to be a sure relegation bet till recently, the Clarets won for a second consecutive outing and have allowed just two goals over the course of their last six matches. Burnley is now within three points of currently safe but endangered Leeds, Everton and Newcastle United. Burnley Manager Sean Dyche has seen his club take 9 of 18 available points over their recent six match run, losing only to Liverpool by a goal.

The Clarets play at Crystal Palace Saturday. The Eagles thumped Watford and former Eagle Manager Roy Hodgson by a 4-1 margin to earn their first 2022 win during the week. Wilfried Zaha, quiet much of the season, scored a late second half brace to silence the Hornets.

Watford next faces Manchester United at Old Trafford, a venue where the Hornets have never experienced victory. Manchester United holds only a slim one-point lead over Arsenal in the race for the fourth Champions League slot after the Gunners dramatically defeated Wolves in a come from behind mid-week thriller. Little used substitutes Eddie Nketiah and Nicola Pepe combined on Pepe’s 82nd minute goal before a stoppage time shot by Arsenal captain Alexandre Lacazette was deflected into the net for an own goal by Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa. A second loss in four weeks to the Gunners should quiet any discussion of a top four finish by Wolverhampton. Arsenal, meanwhile, have won seven of their past nine matches to challenge Manchester United for a top four spot. The Gunners are idle this weekend.

Wolves play at West Ham Sunday in what will essentially be an elimination match for top four contention. The sixth place Hammers are two points above Wolves in the table but have been fading of late. West Ham has won just one of its past five matches and could now be realistically fighting with Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur for a Europa League berth.

Survival implications color the match this weekend between Newcastle United and Brentford. Newcastle has escaped the relegation zone with three wins and three draws in its past six matches. The Bees, meanwhile, have been riding the down elevator, losing eight of their last ten matches to enter the relegation discussion.

Norwich remains mired at the bottom of the table as the Canaries visit in-form Southampton on Friday. The Saints have situated themselves in the top half of the table by losing just once in their past nine matches.

A mid-table clash will feature a seaside outing for Aston Villa as Manager Steven Gerrard takes his charges to Brighton. Both clubs are on a two-match losing run. Leicester, as with Arsenal, is sidelined this weekend as a result of the Chelsea and Liverpool cup final. 

Carabao Cup Championship

Chelsea and Liverpool face off at Wembley Stadium Sunday in the Carabao Cup final. Scrutiny will be on whether Chelsea Manager Thomas Tuchel inserts Romelu Lukaku back into his lineup. Kai Havertz has delivered in big games for the Blues and the club seems more fluid in attack with Lukaku a spectator. Tuchel is seeking a third trophy in his brief time as Chelsea manager. The match presents a clash of styles as Chelsea’s defense will be tested by high flying Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s snipers have scored more goals this week than Chelsea has registered this calendar year. The Carabao Cup is the first of four opportunities for silverware which Liverpool is still in contention to win this season.

Champions League

Chelsea waltzed to a 2-0 defeat of Lille in their Champions League contest at Stamford Bridge. Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic were rewarded with goals for energetic performances which stood in stark contrast to those delivered by Romelu Lukaku in recent matches. The expensive Belgian striker was on the bench for Tuesday’s victory. Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy registered his 14th clean sheet in 18 starts in the competition, the best ratio ever by a goalkeeper starting at least five Champions League matches. Manchester United was less impressive but scored late to come away with a 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid. Substitute Anthony Elanga scored the equalizer at the 80-minute mark after Atleti took the lead just seven minutes into the match. Manchester United looked disjointed in attack before being rescued by their 19-year-old rising star. Manchester United had two shots on goal in the match versus one for Atleti. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Match Week 26 Results: Spurs Surprise Manchester City; Liverpool Closes Gap By Defeating Canaries; Chelsea Downs Off Target Eagles; Red Devils Lose Lead, Still Defeat Leeds; Newcastle Extends Run With Hammer Draw; Burnley Beats Brighton; Hornets Post Win

Tottenham Hotspur defeated Manchester City to inject life into the Premier League title chase. Liverpool was the beneficiary of a surprising 3-2 win by Manager Antonio Conte’s Spurs at the Etihad. Harry Kane arose from a season long malaise to score a brace which included the stoppage time winner against the club he wanted to move to this past summer.

Tottenham Hotspur can move level on points with fifth place West Ham should they defeat Burnley in a midweek clash this Wednesday. Manchester City’s lead over Liverpool in the table was reduced to six points with the Citizens’ first defeat since October. The Reds, meanwhile, hold a match in hand and visit the Etihad in April.

Liverpool took care of business on Saturday with a 3-1 defeat of Norwich. Mohamed Salah scored a league leading 17th goal in the Liverpool win.

Chelsea defeated Crystal Palace 1-0 on an 89th minute goal by Hakim Ziyech. The homestanding Eagles failed to direct a single shot on target in the loss. Despite accolades regarding a more entertaining style of play, Crystal Palace are six points worse than they were a year ago under former manager Roy Hodgson.

Manchester United squandered a two-goal lead before roaring back to bury Leeds 4-2 at Elland Road. Leeds’s supporters expressed their frustration in dangerous fashion as they pelted Manchester United forward Anthony Elanga with objects after he scored the match’s final goal.

The Red Devils increased their table advantage over fifth place West Ham to four points as the Hammers were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Newcastle United. West Ham has won only one of its last five matches as supporters decry the lack of transfer window activity to help the club’s chances to secure Champions League competition. Newcastle had an active window, helping the club to a six-match unbeaten run as the Magpies have risen from the relegation places under Manager Eddie Howe.

Arsenal avenged an opening weekend loss to Brentford with a 2-1 victory over the Bees on Saturday. Young guns Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka provided the scoring for Arsenal to keep the Gunners in the chase for the final Champions League position.

Brentford lost for the eighth time in their last ten matches.

Pressure is mounting on Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers as the disappointing Foxes extended their winless run to six matches in a 2-1 defeat at Wolves. The charging Wolves continued their chase for a European place with their fifth win in six matches this calendar year.

Brighton and Hove Albion lost a second consecutive match in a shocking 3-0 home loss to Burnley. Despite the absence of their top two center backs due to injury and suspension, the concession of three goals was embarrassing against a Burnley side which traditionally struggles in attack. Burnley will be encouraged by a first goal from newly purchased striker Wout Weghorst who also added an assist.

Everton is one of the clubs Burnley is chasing in its quest to escape relegation. The Toffees are but four points clear of the relegation zone after a 2-0 loss to Southampton. Everton failed to register a shot on target in a meek display versus the Saints. Southampton continues an impressive season under Manager Ralph Hassenhuttl. The Saints are currently 10th in the table as they seek their first top half finish in five years.

Aston Villa failed to score for a second consecutive match as the Villans stumbled at home in a 1-0 loss to Watford. Villa has won just one of its last seven matches under Manager Steven Gerrard. Watford won for the first time under new manager Roy Hodgson as the relegation bound Hornets declared victory for the first time since November.

Champions League

This week’s Champions League Round of 16 action will include Chelsea playing at home versus  French side Lille on Tuesday while Manchester United travels to Spain for a Wednesday match with Atletico Madrid. Lille is having a difficult season, currently sitting 11th in the French domestic table after their surprising dethroning of PSG as French champion last season. Lille striker Jonathan David has been linked to moves to Chelsea and other Premier League clubs. Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 25 career goals against Atletico Madrid, his former La Liga rival. Atletico is currently fifth in the La Liga table and ran second to Liverpool in the group stage of Champions League.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Match Week 26 Preview : Spurs Stagger Towards Etihad: Leeds Fans Await Manchester United; Welcome Back Chelsea; Gunners Seek Revenge; Wolves Face Foxes; Watford Woes

Following this week’s scathing assessment of his club and players by Spurs manager Antonio Conte, the outspoken manager drags his bedraggled group, losers in their last three outings, into the Etihad to face the league’s top team. Conte is likely setting the stage for his departure from the club while Harry Kane can only rue the failed summer transfer which would have had him playing for the Citizens this weekend.

Liverpool is undefeated at home this season as the Reds welcome Norwich to Anfield. Norwich currently looks headed for relegation as Newcastle has recently distanced itself from the bottom three.

The Magpies visit West Ham for a contest between two clubs running two different races. Newcastle is on a run of three consecutive wins and are undefeated in their last five matches, a run which has seen them rise to safety in the table, four points ahead of Norwich. Survival, though, is still far from assured for Eddie Howe’s Magpies who received a blow with a long-term injury to Kieran Trippier in their last match. West Ham is trying to stay in the chase for a top four slot and possible Champions League competition next year. David Moyes’s side have tumbled from their fab four position by winning just once in their last four matches.

Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Brighton during the week vaulted them over West Ham into the fourth table position. The Red Devils now face long ago rival Leeds this weekend. Supporters at Elland Road will be present for a match between the two clubs for the first time in 18 years.

Chelsea will be playing a Premier League match for the first time since January 23rd when the newly crowned Club World Cup champions host a London derby versus Crystal Palace. The Eagles’ top scorer, Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher, will need to sit out the match against his parent club. The Eagles have yet to win in 2022, drawing three of their five matches. Chelsea are 16 points behind Manchester City as their league mission now focuses on staying in the top four where they currently own a six-point cushion on fifth place West Ham. 

Arsenal will hope to avenge an early season loss to Brentford when the Bees invade the Emirates this weekend.

Brentford’s fine start to the season is a fading memory as the team has struggled in recent weeks with the Bees capturing just one of the last 18 available points from their matches. Arsenal should be well rested for the derby rematch, having played just once in 2022. The Gunners are just four points form the final champions league berth, having played three fewer matches than currently fourth Manchester United.

Wolverhampton is home to Leicester for a Midlands derby this weekend. Wolves have won five of seven matches as they contend for the European places whereas Leicester is without a win its last four league outings. A smothering Wolves defense has not allowed more than a goal in the club’s last twelve Premier League matches. Conversely, the defensive minded club has failed to score in its last five meetings with the Foxes. Disappointing Leicester sits two points outside the top half of the table after running fifth in the last two campaigns.

Southampton currently occupies the tenth position in the table after losing just one of its last eight matches. Everton will be at St. Mary’s this weekend to face a Saints team which has lost just once at home this season. The Toffees, meanwhile, have won just once away from Goodison Park this season.

Inconsistent Aston Villa hosts woeful Watford at Villa Park. The Villans have lost four of their past eight matches. The Hornets have yet to score in three matches under new manager Roy Hodgson. Watford has lost 9 of its last 11 matches to sink deep into the relegation zone. 

Champions League

The top two teams in England were victorious in their opening Round of Sixteen ties in Champions League. Manchester City rolled to an easy 5-0 victory in Portugal over Sporting Lisbon. Bernardo Silva had a brace and a third goal disallowed in the rout. Liverpool was challenged by defending Serie A champion Inter Milan but ultimately prevailed 2-0 on second half goals by Bobby Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Chelsea and Manchester United resume their Champions League quest next week.

Europa Conference League

Leicester was an easy 4-1 winner over Rangers in a match that saw the Foxes direct 15 shots on target. The outcome in Glasgow may have caught the attention of Fox supporters. With Leicester’s Premier League season having been a major disappointment and the Foxes eliminated from both domestic cup competitions, a possible trophy from Conference League suddenly becomes more enticing. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Match Week 25 Results: Sterling Performance By Manchester City; Liverpool Edges Burnley; Late Point for Hammers; Saints Bedevil Manchester United; Wolves Devour Spurs; Newcastle Wins Third Straight

Manchester City continued to cruise towards a second consecutive Premier League title with a decisive 4-0 win over Norwich City. Raheem Sterling scored a hat trick to extend the Citizens’ current unbeaten run to 15 matches as the club continues to enjoy a nine-point advantage on second place Liverpool. The Canaries will pick up the pieces and continue their survival chase after the league leaders ended Norwich’s own encouraging three match unbeaten run.

Liverpool kept pace with Manchester City by narrowly defeating Burnley 1-0. Fabinho has become an unlikely offensive force for the Reds as the Brazilian scored for a third time in his last four matches.

Burnley provided a stern test for Liverpool in the wind and rain at Turf Moor, but the Clarets again failed to get a result and remain in the league basement with just one win on the season.

West Ham remained fourth in the table, one point ahead of Manchester United, with a 2-2 draw at Leicester as a second half stoppage time goal by defender Craig Dawson salvaged the point for the east Londoners. The Hammers’ Jarrod Bowen continues to be the maestro for Manager David Moyes’ squad. Bowen opened the scoring versus Leicester with his fifth goal in West Ham’s last five matches before delivering the corner leading to Dawson’s winning header.

Manchester United drew for a third time in their last five matches in a 1-1 final at Old Trafford versus Southampton. Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score for a sixth consecutive match, his longest such streak in 11 years. Southampton dominated long stretches of the match at a venue where they were embarrassed 9-0 just one year ago. The Saints have lost just once in their last ten matches across all competitions. Manchester United missed their opportunity to move back into the top four with a second consecutive draw. The Red Devils have drawn three of their last five matches in helping to fuel a scramble for the final Champions League slot. United gets a chance to overtake West Ham on Tuesday when Manager Ralf Rangnick’s side play a rescheduled match versus Brighton.

Wolverhampton is an unlikely entry to the Champions League race. Normally goal challenged Wolves ravaged a poor Tottenham Hotspur defense in securing a 2-0 over the London club. Wolves now trail fourth place West Ham by only four points despite scoring fewer goals than any club outside the relegation zone. Spurs manager Antonio Conte again threw his players under the bus in post-game comments as the Italian manager’s commitment to the club remains in doubt. Tottenham Hotspur, however, is only five points from Champions League qualification despite some disappointing results and the manager’s tired refrain regarding the players’ quality and heart.

Brighton extended its unbeaten run to six matches, winning for a third time in that span as the Seagulls disposed of Watford 2-0. Brighton have lost fewer matches than all but the top three teams in the table and is now racking up some victories to accompany its league high number of draws. Relegation bound Watford failed to score for a fourth consecutive match.

Newcastle defeated Aston Villa 1-0, a third consecutive victory which moved the Magpies four points clear of the drop zone. Kieran Trippier scored for a second consecutive match before suffering a broken bone in his foot. The loss of the former Atletico Madrid player could be a blow to Newcastle’s survival campaign. Aston Villa’s fourth loss in its past eight matches, meanwhile, has taken some of the shine off new manager Steven Gerrard.

Crystal Palace has not won a league match in 2022 and the Eagles continued their frustration away from home in a goalless draw at Brentford. Palace has won just once on the road this season. Brentford avoided defeat for only the second time in its last eight matches.

Frank Lampard earned his first Premier League win as Everton manager as the Toffees soundly defeated Leeds in a 3-0 final at Goodison Park. Donny van de Beek made his first start for Everton and the former Ajax and Manchester United player performed well in the Toffee midfield. The much-needed victory ended a four-match losing streak for Everton.

Club World Cup Championship

Chelsea are Club World Cup champions after a 2-1 win over Brazilian opponent Palmeiras. Kai Havertz scored the winning penalty in extra time and has scored the winning goal for manager Thomas Tuchel in both the Champions League and Club World Cup finals. The Chelsea trophy case now includes at least one trophy from every major competition since Roman Abramovich purchased the team in 2003. Chelsea joins Manchester United and Liverpool as Premier League clubs to have won the global competition. 

Champions League

Champions League competition resumes this week with the top two English clubs in action. Manchester City heads to Sporting Lisbon while Liverpool travels to Inter Milan. Two managers with Premier League ties face off in one of the competition’s other headline matches this week when Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG host Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid. 


Friday, February 11, 2022

Match Week 25 Preview: Saints Visit Devils; Wolves Descend on London; Manchester City Looks To Add To 43 Goal Advantage on Norwich; Lampard Needs Rebound Versus Leeds; Bees Face Eagles in Derby

Manchester United tries to right the ship when it hosts Southampton Saturday. Manchester United headlines have turned to the players’ reported discontent with manager Ralf Rangnick’s training methods and the qualifications of American assistant coach Chris Armas.

Southampton, meanwhile, has been taking care of business under Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl who celebrated his 500th
match in charge of Southampton during the week. The Saints have drawn with Manchester City and defeated Spurs in their last two matches and the club has improved six places in the table after losing just once in its last seven matches.

Tottenham Hotspur will try to avoid a second consecutive home loss when Spurs host Wolverhampton. A porous Spurs defense could have an easier time against a poor Wolves attack. Wolves, however, have managed three consecutive league road wins by employing one of the league’s best defenses. No team has conceded fewer away goals this season than Manager Bruno Lage’s tenacious defenders.

Norwich is unbeaten in its last four matches across all competitions but faces a huge challenge when it hosts Manchester City. Having played just one more match than the Canaries, the defending league champions have scored a league high 57 goals this season versus an anemic 14 scores by Norwich’s league worst attack.

Liverpool tries to keep its tenuous title hopes alive when the Reds visit Burnley.

Liverpool is nine points behind Manchester City but has a match in hand versus the table leaders. Burnley is at the bottom of the table but is just four points below Newcastle which currently holds the last safe position in the table. The Clarets have also played two fewer matches than the Magpies.

Newcastle, home to Aston Villa this weekend, has leveraged a current four match unbeaten run to safety. The Villains are unbeaten in three consecutive matches as Manager Steven Gerrard’s men are a point outside the top half of the table.

West Ham will visit Leicester as the Hammers try to protect their current top four standing. Leicester is struggling mightily with both injuries and performance problems in its back line as the Foxes have fallen to 14th in the league table. Defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi was forced by injuries to be employed as a center back in the Foxes’ Thursday loss to Liverpool.

Everton manager Frank Lampard needs to quickly dust himself off after a debilitating loss to Newcastle in his first league match in charge of the Toffees. Everton’s fourth consecutive loss puts the club just two points from the relegation zone. Leeds are four points ahead of Everton and appear re-energized in attack after early season struggles. The Whites have scored three goals in three of their last four matches.

Watford has not won since November as the Hornets welcome Brighton to Vicarage Road. The club has lost eight of ten matches since that victory and new manager Roy Hodgson has stepped in to try to pick up the pieces of a seemingly shattered season. Brighton has won but twice since September but has maintained a position in the top half of the table by drawing 12 of their last 17 matches.

Brentford will try to end a five-match unbeaten run when the Bees host a London derby versus Crystal Palace. The Bees have been stung for 14 goals over that stretch while scoring just three times. Crystal Palace are just two points above Brentford in the table and have been poor on the road this season, winning just one of 11 matches away from Selhurst Park.

Chelsea’s originally scheduled match versus Arsenal will be rescheduled as the Blues compete Saturday for the Club World Club championship versus Brazilian club Palmeiras. 

Match Week 24 Results: Manchester United Tumbles to Sixth With Burnley Draw; Hammers Crash Top Four; Wolves Fall To Sloppy Gunners; Saints Nick Spurs; Rude Return for Lampard as Magpies Fly to Safety; Wild Ride for Villa and Leeds; Zaha Plays Hero and Goat for Palace

Manchester United dropped points to cellar dwelling Burnley to crash out of the top four. Underperforming captain Harry Maguire was guilty of both a foul which disallowed a goal by teammate Raphael Varane and of being victimized in the buildup to the equalizing goal by Burnley’s Jay Rodriguez in a 1-1 draw. Rodriguez’s first goal in 50 matches was assisted by new Burnley striker Wout Weghorst who impressed in his second appearance for the Clarets.

Paul Pogba scored his first goal of the season at the 18-minute mark for Manchester United, but the Red Devils failed to add to their tally despite taking 22 shots for the match.

West Ham moved past Manchester United into the top four with a 1-0 victory over woeful Watford. Jarrod Bowen delivered the second half winner for the Hammers who held the Hornets to a single shot on target.

Wolverhampton’s six match unbeaten run ended in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal. Arsenal made a first half goal by defender Gabriel Magalhaes stand up despite being reduced to 10 men on an unusual feat by the Gunners’ Gabriel Martinelli who acquired two yellow cards on the same run of play. Martinelli first interfered with a throw in before racing down the pitch to mug a streaking Wolverhampton attacker. Wolves were unable to claw back despite the extra man for the final twenty minutes as the league’s third worst attack disappointed the home fans. Arsenal, meanwhile, has four red cards versus only two goals in six 2022 matches.

Southampton scored two goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation in a 3-2 come from behind victory over Tottenham Hotspur. James Ward-Prowse crosses led to both late goals for the Saints as Southampton moved to tenth in the table after three victories and two draws in their last six matches. Tottenham Hotspur remains seventh in the table after a second consecutive loss.

Newcastle ruined Frank Lampard’s league debut as Everton manager when the Magpies dominated the Toffees in 3-1 home victory. The win moved the Magpies out of the relegation places for the first time since opening weekend.

Aston Villa and Leeds played to a 3-3 final in a shootout at Villa Park. Philippe Coutinho continued his successful return to the Premier league with a goal and two assists for Aston Villa. Jacob Ramsey benefitted from both of Coutinho’s assists to score a first half brace. Leeds had opened scoring only to fall behind 3-1 before Daniel James’ second goal of the match closed the deficit to one in first half stoppage time. Leeds completed the comeback on Diego Llorente’s second half goal.

Crystal Palace Manager Patrick Vieira had prophetically commented on Wilfred Zaha’s need to be more consistent in the days leading up to the Eagles’ 1-1 draw with Norwich. Zaha’s inconsistency was on full display in that contest as the Ivory Coast international scored a wonder goal to tie the match only to flub a penalty kick which would have provided a winner just moments later. Norwich extended its unbeaten run across all competitions to four matches.

At the top of the table, Manchester City and Liverpool won by identical 2-0 margins over Brentford and Leicester, respectively. Kevin De Bruyne scored his seventh goal of the season, tying him with three others as his team’s top league scorer this season. Diego Jota scored a brace in Liverpool’s win. Jota now has 12 goals this season, second in the league to teammate Mohamed Salah’s 16 tallies.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Match Week 24 Preview: Premier League Returns

The Premier League returns with three matches on Tuesday as Match Week 24 is played over the next three days. Frank Lampard manages his first league match in charge of Everton Tuesday when the Toffees head to Newcastle.

Lampard’s side welcomed their new manager with a smashing 4-1 defeat of Brentford in the FA Cup this past weekend. Everton hopes Lampard can reverse the Toffees league slide which sees them just four points above Tuesday’s relegation zone opponent. Newcastle returns from break with several new faces, the Magpies having actively shopped during the transfer window to aid their survival chances. The Northeast club are just a point from safety but received the unfortunate news this week that star striker Callum Wilson will be out much of the season following reassessment of his calf injury.

Manchester United and West Ham draw the other two relegation teams in Tuesday matches. Manchester United stays in the northwest to face bottom of the table Burnley. The Red Devils generally enjoy their visits to Turf Moor, having won there five consecutive times and not having conceded a goal away at Burnley since 2009. West Ham are home to Watford and new Hornets manager Roy Hodgson. Hodgson’s side grabbed a point in a scoreless tussle at Burnley in the manager’s Watford debut over the weekend. The Hornets will face a West Ham side anxious to put an FA Cup scare versus Kidderminster behind them and to renew their Champions League chase. The Hammers enter the week one point behind fourth place Manchester United.

League leading Manchester City host reeling Brentford on Wednesday. The Bees have lost four straight league matches and were stung by Everton in their weekend FA Cup meeting. Manchester City had won 12 consecutive league outings before a draw at Southampton before the break.

The Saints travel to London Wednesday to face Tottenham Hotspur. Southampton could be missing as many as five players to injury when they face Spurs. The London side, meanwhile, have leading scorer Son Heung-min and defender Cristian Romero back in the squad after prolonged injury spells. Antonio Conte lost his first league match in charge of Spurs in a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea before break.

Crystal Palace visits Norwich and Aston Villa are home to Leeds in other Wednesday matches. Norwich is on a surprising two match league winning streak which has pulled the club, at least temporarily, from the relegation places.

Thursday action features a tricky match for Arsenal when the Gunners travel to Wolverhampton. Wolves is just two points behind the sixth place Gunners and has won four times in a five-match unbeaten run. Arsenal’s thin front line will be facing the league’s second stingiest defense in a match where goals should be at a premium.

Thursday’s other match sees Leicester face Liverpool at Anfield. Liverpool is the only Premier League club unbeaten at home this season.

FA Cup Surprises and Near Misses

Premier League clubs had their struggles in the FA Cup 4th Round this weekend. Manchester United exited the tournament when Anthony Elanga missed in penalty kicks after extra time versus Middlesbrough had left the clubs tied at one goal apiece. Middlesbrough were perfect form the penalty spot to advance. Cristiano Ronaldo had missed a penalty try in regular time as the Red Devils squandered many other opportunities in a frustrating loss. The Manchester club’s own failings were compounded when Middlesbrough’s tying goal in regulation time was allowed to stand despite a seeming handball.

Defending Cup holder Leicester lost in far less exciting fashion as the Foxes were overwhelmed 4-1 by Nottingham Forest. It was a second consecutive FA Cup win over a Premier League side by Nottingham Forest which eliminated Arsenal in the prior round.

West Ham struggled as well in the Cup against sixth tier Kidderminster. An historic defeat was narrowly avoided when Declan Rice scored an equalizer in second half stoppage time. Kidderminster hearts were then broken by Jarrod Bowen’s winner in the 121st minute of play.

Chelsea required an extra time goal by Marcos Alonso in a 2-1 defeat of League One Plymouth Argyle. Despite dominating the action, the European champions needed a second half penalty kick save by goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to send the match to extra time.

Norwich won for a third consecutive match across all competitions as the Canaries advanced to the FA Cup’s next round with a surprising 1-0 win at Wolverhampton.

Everton demolished Brentford 4-1 in Frank Lampard’s managerial debut for the Toffees.

Tottenham Hotspur swept Brighton out of the tournament in a 3-1 victory over the Seagulls which featured a brace by Harry Kane.

Manchester City, Liverpool, Southampton, and Crystal Palace advanced with victories over lower division clubs. 

Friday, February 4, 2022

Premier League European Chase - Beyond The Big Three

Manchester City has the title chase well in hand pending a late charge from most likely challenger Liverpool. Chelsea completes a “big three” which appears a cut above other clubs chasing European places. Below those three, the field is congested with clubs seeking the fourth Champions League spot in the table, the two Europa League places, and the less coveted Europa Conference league berth.

At the winter break, five teams were within four points of that final Champions League spot. Manchester United jumped over Arsenal and West Ham into fourth position by winning its past two contests while the other two clubs dropped points as they stumbled into the break. Despite self-damaging dysfunction and drama, the Red Devils have the strongest roster of those clubs below the big three but need overcome their own internal dysfunction and drama. The arrest of young forward Mason Greenwood for alleged sexual assault is the latest and most disturbing controversy to shake Old Trafford. From a football perspective, Manchester United has the roster depth to manage through Greenwood’s absence which follows on the exile of Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek on loan as part of the club’s recent transfer window business. Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford can absorb more minutes. Jesse Lingard is more than ready to jump into the fray, having been thwarted in his desire for a transfer to seek playing time elsewhere. Already increasing minutes for young academy product Anthony Elanga had already reduced reliance on Greenwood.

West Ham has no such plethora of roster options. The fifth place Hammers have lost two straight and four of their last six league contests and Champions League qualification probably required a more active January window to supplement their striking capability and perhaps their center back depth. The oft injured Michail Antoinio continues to carry too much of the scoring burden for the Hammers. Forward Jarrod Bowen could be employed in an unaccustomed central striking role given the lack of options for the Hammers.

Arsenal, currently positioned for Europa League, also has questions in attack. Their star striker and manager could not get along and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a Gunner no more. Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah do not inspire confidence. Gabriel Martinelli could be the X-factor for the north London club. As with Bowen, Martinelli may move inside from his more comfortable wide position. A more likely outcome than Martinelli saving the day, however, is that Arsenal will struggle to score and maintain its Europa League ticket. Champions League certainly seems too long a putt for the sputtering Gunner attack.

Tottenham Hotspur is in the same seventh position as the club finished last season. Harry Kane has been terrible, and Son Heung-min has been hurt. If the former ignites and the latter is healed, Spurs could have a large say in who goes to which European competition next year. Tottenham Hotspur management did its best to appease unhappy manager Antonio Conte by picking up two players late in the window from Italian giant Juventus and shipping out several players that Conte had no use for. Spurs should pose a serious threat to West Ham and Arsenal, though wresting Champions League from Manchester United is unlikely.

A wild card for Europe is Wolverhampton. Wolves has enormously difficulty putting the ball in the net but manages to keep winning by conceding the second fewest goals in the league. Portuguese manager Bruno Lage is doing an outstanding job in his first year in the West Midlands.

It seems inevitable, though, that Wolves will falter in challenging for European places due to their lack of scoring bite. 

FA Cup

The FA Cup 4th Round will be played this weekend with 14 Premier League clubs in action. Three matches pair Premier League teams as Wolves host Norwich, Brentford travels to Everton and Brighton comes to London to face Tottenham Hotspur. West Ham plays Goliath as it goes on the road to face sixth tier club Kidderminster. Manchester United plays its first match since the shocking Mason Greenwood sexual assault allegations when the Red Devils begin 4th Round play Friday against Middlesbrough, currently seventh in the Championship division under former Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder.

Burnley v. Watford

Turf Moor is the site of the only Premier League match this weekend, an important relegation scrap as Burnley hosts its new relegation zone neighbor, Watford. The Hornets have dropped into the relegation zone after losing 11 of their last 14 league matches. Friday will mark Watford’s first match under new manager Roy Hodgson, who replaces Claudio Ranieri on the touchline. Burnley are bottom of the table but trail currently safe Norwich by only four points with the Clarets having played four fewer matches than the Canaries.


Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Premier League Transfer Window Edition: Aubameyang Leaves Arsenal For Barcelona; Second Chances at Everton; Newcastle Girds for Survival Challenge; Spurs Revamp Midfield; Liverpool Adds to Attack; Wout About Burnley ?; Christian Eriksen Returns

The standoff between Arsenal Manager Mikel Arteta and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is over. The Gabonese striker has joined Barcelona on a free transfer. Arsenal receives no transfer fee but is excited to be done with the messy situation and to be saving more than £25 million in wages over the balance of Aubameyang’s contract. Aubameyang for his part will take a reduction in wages to ply his trade in sunny Spain. The messy end to Aubameyang’s Arsenal career is the latest in a string of Arsenal contract disasters in recent years, following on similar bitter endings to the London careers of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. Arsenal failed in their attempts to add a different striker this window, leaving just Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah to lead the line. The Gunners, who didn’t have enough players to field a team versus Spurs weeks ago, have ushered out six players while adding no reinforcements for their current top four chase.

Reeling Everton made the headlines with some familiar names. Frank Lampard was named manager at Everton just in time to preside over a busy last day of the transfer window. The former Chelsea playing legend and short tenured manager gets a chance to helm a Premier League club for a second time and immediately added two other individuals seeking a second chance. Donny van de Beek, earlier rumored to be heading for Crystal Palace, is staying in the northwest as he joins Everton on loan. The former Ajax star will try to revive a career which stagnated on the bench at Manchester United. Dele Alli will join van de Beek in the Everton midfield picture after a prolonged period of decline at Tottenham Hotspur. Ali is still only 25 years old and if he can recapture the magic of his early years at Spurs, Everton will have struck gold. A third player added on the final day to the Everton roster squad is Anwar El Ghazi, on loan from Aston Villa. The Dutch winger’s goal scoring could be a factor in Lampard’s battle to keep the Toffees safe this season.

Tottenham Hotspur not only sold Dele Alli but further validated Antonio Conte’s poor assessment of his inherited squad by shipping out three other big money players on loan. Giovani Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndombele, and Bryan Gil will all be playing elsewhere for the balance of this season, and thereafter if Spurs can find willing buyers. The London club brought in Rodrigo Betancur and Dejan Kulusevski (on loan) from Juventus to replenish their depleted midfield.

Newcastle ownership flexed its financial muscle to help keep the Magpies from relegation. Having added striker Chris Wood and defender Kieran Trippier earlier in the window, the club added three more key players in the window’s final 48 hours. Defenders Dan Burn and Matt Targett (on loan) joined from Brighton and Aston Villa, respectively. Most intriguing was the purchase of box-to-box midfielder Bruno Guimares from Lyon. The 24-year-old Brazilian international should help to protect the Magpies’ still fragile back line while adding excitement with his forays forward. Burn and Targett further reinforce a suspect Newcastle defense for the coming relegation battle.

Fellow relegation combatant Watford have added five largely anonymous players during the window to strengthen the squad of new manager Roy Hodgson. Burnley, having lost Chris Wood earlier in the window, secured a replacement striker on the window’s final day with the acquisition of 6’ 6” Wout Weghorst from Wolfsburg. Norwich, meanwhile, made no additions as the Canaries will rely on a roster that showed a bit of life with two wins before the break.

The top of the table clubs were selective in their dealings if making any moves of note. Liverpool opportunistically swooped in to grab Porto winger Luis Diaz after Tottenham Hotspur were thought to be closing in on the Columbian international. Diaz has 14 goals this season for Porto and adds another option up front for the loaded Reds.

Manchester City also signed a south American attacker in Argentine striker Julian Alvarez. The 22-year-old Argentina international will complete the season at River Plate and represents a speculative bet by the Citizens. City sold forward Ferran Torres earlier in the window to Barcelona.

Chelsea, West Ham, and Manchester United did nothing to improve their clubs in the current window. Manchester United trimmed a bloated roster by loaning out Anthony Marital, van de Beek and Ahmad Diallo. Jesse Lingard, object of several teams’ interest, remains a Red Devil for now. Chelsea had no blatant needs this window. West Ham, though, may rue taking no action to seize a rare top four opportunity.

While not a top four or even yet a top six contender, Aston Villa showed ambition this window in backing new manager Steven Gerrard. Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Digne have both experienced past success in the league and the final day acquisition of Callum Chambers gives Gerrard additional roster flexibility. The Villans also added goalkeeper Robin Olsen to support starter Emi Martinez.

Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton experienced quiet windows while taking opportunity to make permanent the status of currently rostered loan players. Wolves inked South Korean forward Hwang Hee-Chan while the Eagles firmed up their association with young French striker Jean Philippe Mateta. Adama Traore left Wolves for Barcelona but had been having negligible impact for manager Bruno Lage. Palace were close to making a splash for Donny Van de Beek before being spurned by the Dutchman in favor of Everton.

Other mid table clubs Brighton, Leicester, Leeds, and Southampton made no major additions this window. Brentford, however, delivered one of the best stories of the window by signing Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen. Ericksen returns to the Premier League after suffering a cardiac event during this past summer’s European championship. The former Spurs and Juventus midfielder will try to come back from the life and career threatening event by helping the Bees stay safe in England’s top division.