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. 

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