Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Manager Rankings

Nine managers have been sacked in the Premier League this season, just one less than the record ten sackings which has occurred three times in Premier League history. What kind of job have the current incumbents delivered to this point in the season? We rank their performances as follows:


1. Jurgen Klopp – Klopp now has his club positioned just a point behind Pep Guardiola’s league leaders, dramatically closing the gap on the league leaders in recent weeks. Liverpool has already captured the Carabao Cup trophy this season and remains alive in both Champions League and FA Cup competitions.


2. Pep Guardiola – Guardiola has his club in first place as they defend their Premier League title. The Citizens have stumbled just a bit in recent weeks, however, and relinquished their Carabao Cup trophy to ultimate winner Liverpool after City fell to West Ham in the Round of Sixteen. Guardiola’s charges continue in Champions League and FA Cup.


3. Thomas Tuchel – While Tuchel has been unable to mount a league title chase, he has kept Chelsea in the top four, taken them to the final of the Carabao Cup and continues to advance his team in Champions League and FA Cup. Tuchel has also exhibited exceptional leadership during Chelsea’s ownership issues and government sanctions.

 

4. Mikel Arteta – Arteta has his club poised for a return to European competition next season. Guardiola’s former assistant has overcome a difficult start to the season and a controversial parting with his team captain to finally put his imprint on a young club which has brought exciting football back to the Emirates. 


5. Eddie Howe – Howe has rescued Newcastle form the relegation zone and built a nine-point cushion against the drop heading into the international break. Continuing to battle against injury issues afflicting a thin roster, Howe has shown his quality in his return to the Premier League.


6. Antonio Conte – One of the premier managers in world football has experienced some bumps this season while bemoaning the quality of his roster. An up and down season has seen Spurs win at Manchester City only to lose at Burnley the following week. There have also been embarrassing performances against lesser squads in cup competitions. Still, Conte has his team challenging for top four.

 

7. David Moyes – Despite slipping to seventh in the league table, Moyes has kept the Hammers competitive in the chase for table position and, more impressively, advancing to the Europa League quarterfinals. Moyes’s team is highly disciplined and excels in the finer points of the game, particularly with respect to set pieces.


8. Bruno Lage – Lage took over a roster virtually devoid of attacking quality after last year’s head injury to and subsequent drop in form by striker Raul Jimenez. Employing a pragmatic and less than thrilling style, Lage has eighth place Wolves challenging for a Europa League berth despite the club scoring only 31 goals in 30 matches this season

 

9. Patrick Vieira – Vieira took over a Crystal Palace club which not only changed managers but overhauled both its roster and style of play. Palace’s moves were risky for a middle to lower table club, but Vieira has delivered both results and entertaining play executed by a younger roster than Crystal Place fans have seen in years.

 

10. Ralph Hasenhuttl – Hasenhuttl has his club flirting with a top half finish with a bottom half roster. A long season may be starting to wear on the Saints’ thin roster as the club has lost its last three in the league

11. Ralph Rangnick – Rangnick has failed to imprint his philosophy and tactics upon the team. Success would have been surprising during his curious interim appointment. Positive results have come from moments of individual brilliance by Cristiano Ronaldo who appears to not be a fan of the German manager.


12. Thomas Frank – Frank has newly promoted Brentford eight points clear of the relegation zone as the Danish manager has his club on track to qualify for a second Premier League season. The Bees showed resilience in recently responding to a poor run with back-to-back wins. 


13. Steven Gerrard – Gerrard’s ride has been bumpy at times but overall, the former Liverpool playing legend has done fine since taking over the Villans. The future could be even brighter with an ownership which appears willing to further invest after gifting Gerrard with Philippe Coutinho this past window. 


14. Brendan Rodgers – It has been a lost season for Rodgers and the Foxes. Injuries have taken their toll, but Rodgers has done little to overcome them. After two consecutive seasons finishing fifth in the Premier League, Rodgers is currently battling to keep the Foxes in the top half of the table. Often considered elite, such a word would not describe Rodgers’ performance this season.


15. Jesse Marsch – While far too early to draw conclusions on his suitability for the role, the American manager is off to a good start at Leeds where he has won half of his opening four matches. Marsch is also waging an effective public relations battle to overcome the stigma attached to American coaches as he replaces the iconic Marcelo Bielsa.


16. Graham Potter – Potter often draws kudos for a playing style which can be entertaining to the eye but seldom delivers the required goal production. The Seagulls looked to have taken a step forward in winning four of their opening five matches this season before embarking on a 12 match non-winning streak. The Seagulls are currently on a run of five consecutive losses in which they have scored just a single goal.

 

17. Sean Dyche – Having worked magic in the past, Dyche looks unlikely to extend Burnley’s six year stay in the league. Dyche’s grueling tactics continue to wear on opponents, but the attack is worse than ever with the Clarets scoring just 22 goals in their 27 matches. Dyche looks out of tricks to keep his small budget club in the Premier League. 


18. Roy Hodgson – The former Crystal Palace, Liverpool and England manager left retirement to help the Hornets escape relegation. Unfortunately, Watford is still in the drop zone. Hodgson’s ranking will change if the Hornets can go on a run and survive

.

19. Dean Smith – Smith was fired once this season from Aston Villa before landing at Norwich where he has made little difference for the cellar dwelling Canaries.

 

20. Frank Lampard – This legend of English football as a player is finding the going hard as Everton manager as he has the Toffees at risk of a historic relegation. Lampard has lost five of seven matches in charge and the club has looked disorganized, most particularly in defense which was an Achilles Heel for Lampard during his Chelsea managerial run.


Friday, March 25, 2022

Five Burning Questions


As the Premier League schedule pauses for international break before the season’s furious run -in, what are the league’s most burning questions?


Can Liverpool Catch Manchester City?

A stumble at Selhurst has heightened the drama surrounding the title race. A goalless draw by Manchester City at Crystal Palace, coupled with Liverpool’s victory at Arsenal, reduces the difference between the Premier League table’ top two teams to a single point. Liverpool has gained seven points in the last seven matches played by each club to create a true title race between the league’s past two champions. Expertly managed by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, Manchester City and Liverpool provide an entertaining contrast between Guardiola’s intricate possession scheme and the high pressing energy of Klopp’s counterattacking style. Liverpool’s bid for a second title in three years has been bolstered by the addition of Colombian forward Luis Diaz in the January transfer window. Diaz joins Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Diogo Jota in Liverpool’s glittering array of attacking talent which has delivered a league leading 75 goals to date this season. Defensively, Liverpool has conceded only two more goals than Manchester City which, in turn, has allowed the fewest in the league. Liverpool is more than capable of overtaking Manchester City now that the Reds are within striking distance of the leaders. Manchester City, however, will not cede their title easily and remain the bookmaker’s favorite. The clubs meet at the Etihad on April 10th in a match which could decide the season.


What Is Chelsea’s Future?

Manager Thomas Tuchel and his players should be applauded for maintaining focus amid the swirling ownership crisis at Chelsea. Roman Abramovich’s highly successful run as owner of the club is ending due to his association with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chelsea has won 21 trophies, more than any other Premier League club, during Abramovich’s 19 years of ownership. The Russian oligarch’s lavish player spending and demands for excellence from often short tenured managers now ends and what comes next is unclear. New York merchant bank Raine is sifting through offers to purchase the club from numerous high-profile parties, including groups with current or past connections to other sports franchises in England and the United States. Even the most well financed of bids, however, cannot be expected to take the blank check approach with which Abramovich endeared himself to Chelsea supporters. A golden era on the field for Chelsea could be ending because of the carnage being inflicted on Ukraine. Tuchel and the players have Champions League and FA Cup matches still ahead of them this season in addition to the remining league schedule. They could certainly be forgiven, however, for keeping one eye on the identity of their future employer and what it means for their career.




Can Arsenal Finish Top Four?


Arsenal hasn’t played Champions League football since the 2016/17 season, Arsene Wenger’s penultimate year in charge. Arsenal is not competing in any European competition this season for the first time since 1994/95. The failure to score a goal in three consecutive losses to open this Premier League season had Gunner fans fearing a second consecutive absence from the continent. Manager Mikel Arteta, however, has impressed his authority on the club and progressed a project which has re-energized the Emirates. Arteta is not afraid to make tough personnel decisions and bravely banished club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after recurring disciplinary issues. Aubameyang’s exit continued a multi-year cleansing of the club’s roster engineered by Arteta. The Pep Guardiola protΓ©gΓ© now has the youngest squad in the Premier League fully bought in and executing upon their manager’s possession based positional play. Academy graduates Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have joined with other young talent such as Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli to fuel a Gunner surge which has seen the club win 10 of its past 13 matches. Fourth place Arsenal is three points ahead of rival Tottenham Hotspur and four points ahead of Manchester United with a match in hand versus both clubs. Winners in six of their past seven matches, Arsenal has shown more consistency than the other contenders for the fourth spot. While the remaining fixture schedule is not onerous for the Gunners, their Champions League aspirations could be settled by a three-match stretch where they face Chelsea, Manchester United and West Ham in succession. Arsenal is poised to validate the strong hand exhibited by their bright young manager.     



Where Will Manchester United Finish?


Manchester United is currently sixth in the table. The Red Devils will need to overtake the two north London clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, to secure Champions League qualification. Even the final Europa League spot which Manchester United currently possesses is at risk with a feisty West Ham under Manager David Moyes currently two points back of the Red Devils. Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat trick carried Manchester United to a crucial victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Red Devils’ last league match. Unfortunately, the club is overly dependent on Ronaldo’s heroics. Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes are having sub-par years. Mason Greenwood is sidelined with legal troubles. Anthony Martial is on loan at Sevilla. Jadon Sancho has not made the impact anticipated by his transfer price. Edinson Cavani has lost minutes to both injury and Manager Ralph Rangnick’s selection choices. Rangnick, a lame duck manager, has had difficulty enticing his players to employ his tactics. One factor in Manchester United’s favor is that the club is eliminated from every other competition and can thus focus on its Premier League run-in. A second factor is that five of the club’s remaining nine fixtures are against clubs in the bottom half of the table. While it will be difficult to catch Arsenal for the final Champions League slot, Europa League qualification appears more probable under a scenario whereby either Spurs or West Ham fails to finish in the top six. European competition is particularly important for Manchester United to attract players next transfer window to play under a new manager. 




Who Will Be Relegated With Norwich?


After five consecutive losses the Canaries are eight points from safety with little hope on the horizon. For a club which has scored a paltry 18 goals in their 29 matches to date, the future is dark. The question is who will join the Canaries in their flight to the Championship. Two consecutive wins by Leeds has given that improving club some breathing room. Everton, current occupant of the last safe position in the table, is not improving but has at least two matches in hand versus all the bottom six clubs except Burnley. Burnley, however, has failed to score in losing three consecutive matches and trails Everton by four points after 27 matches played by each side. Watford, after a surprising win before the break over Southampton, is only a point below Everton but has played two more matches than the Toffees. London bookmakers favor Burnley and Watford to join Norwich in the Championship. Everton is next likely to suffer the drop should  any of the three relegation favorites go on a surprising run. 


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Match Week 30 Results: Spurs Blunt Hammers; Streaking Leeds; Gunners Rebound; Foxes Trot

Tottenham Hotspur defeated a fatigued West Ham side 3-1 to remain in the conversation for a top four berth. A West Ham own goal provided an early lead for Spurs before the most lethal combination in Premier League history struck twice. Son Heung-min found the net twice on assists from teammate Harry Kane. Son and Kane have combined for more goals than any two Premier League teammates. The victory kept Tottenham Hotspur three points back of fourth place Arsenal in the race for Champions League qualification. West Ham limps into the international break having lost two of three matches in the league. The Hammers were victorious in Europa League midweek and their roster is stretched to deliver on multiple fronts. West Ham is now six points behind Arsenal and have played two more matches than the Gunners.

Arsenal responded to a midweek loss to Liverpool by winning 1-0 at Aston Villa, the Gunners fifth consecutive away victory. Bukayo Saka bagged the winner as Arsenal increased its lead in the table over fifth place Manchester United to four points with the Gunners having played one less match than the Red Devils. Saka’s goal was the 2,000th for Arsenal in the Premier League as the storied club joins Manchester Unted and Liverpool as the only two clubs to share that rarefied air.

Leeds United won in dramatic fashion for a second consecutive match in a 3-2 come from behind victory over Wolves. The Whites were behind by two goals when Wolves striker Raul Jimenez was ejected with a second yellow card in the 53rd minute. Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier was injured in the collision with Jimenz and joined Leeds players Diego Llorente, Mateusz Klitch and Patrick Bamford who were all forced from the match with injuries. Despite going deep into his bench, Leeds Manger Jesse Marsch saw his charges capitalize upon their on-field numbers advantage to knot the match with goals three minutes apart by Jack Harrison and Rodrigo. Luke Ayling scored the winner for Marsch in extra time as pandemonium erupted with post game extracurriculars initiated by angry Wolves.

By escaping Wolves, Leeds is temporarily out of the woods with respect to relegation, the club’s cushion versus the drop now extended to seven points with the win at Wolverhampton. Wolves drop to eighth in the table, four points from a possible Europa League berth.

Leicester City is a further ten points below Wolves despite the Foxes’ 2-1 defeat of Brentford. It has been a discouraging season for Leicester caused in large part by key injuries. Some of Leicester’s injured back line players are now returning to the fold and producing results. Timothy Castagne scored versus Brentford in his first 2022 appearance and Jonny Evans also made his first 2022 appearance of the season against the Bees. Wesley Fontana was rested Sunday after providing the goal which advanced the Foxes in the Europa Conference League on Thursday in the youngster’s return from a broken leg. James Maddison’s goal proved the winner Sunday for Leicester which survived a late goal by the Bees’ Yoane Wissa. Defeat at Leicester ended a two-match winning run for Brentford which still looks a good bet to secure a second Premier League season.

FA Cup: Eagles Soar Amid Other Likely Suspects

Crystal Palace plays the underdog role in this year’s FA Cup Semifinals. The top three clubs in the Premier League table will join midtable Palace in the semifinal round. The Eagles demolished Everton 4-0 in their quarterfinal match to reach the semifinals where they will face Chelsea. Four different Crystal Palace players scored versus the terrible Toffees with Everton manager Frank Lampard disparaging the quality on three of the four goals while admonishing the poor play of his own club. The sour grapes from Lampard evidenced further strain on the young manager who is yet to have any positive impact on his new club which is at risk of relegation in the league table.

Crystal Palace, meanwhile, are enjoying life under manager Patrick Vieira as the Eagles employ a more attack minded scheme than in recent years. Crystal Palace will face Chelsea next, a circumstance which will deprive the club of the services of one of its bright young players. Midfielder Conor Gallagher is on loan to the Eagles from Chelsea and unable to play against his parent club when the clubs face off at London’s Wembley Stadium on April 16th. Chelsea advance to the semifinals following their 2-0 quarterfinal victory over Middlesbrough. Championship tier Middlesbrough was unable to take down a third Premier League club in the competition after eliminating Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in earlier rounds. Romelu Lukaku started for Chelsea and the unhappy striker, who is enduring a difficult season in his return to London, scored the opener off an assist from Mason Mount. Mount also assisted on Hakim Ziyech’s goal which gave the Blues a 2-0 halftime lead which stood as the final margin.

Chelsea is seeking to lift ticket restrictions for the club’s tilt at Wembley versus Crystal Palace after away attendance at Middlesbrough was limited by government sanctions.

Manchester City and Liverpool supporters have concerns how they will support their teams as rail service from the northwest to London is currently projected to be disrupted by maintenance work on the day of the two clubs’ semi-final match on April 16th. Manchester City struck three times in the second half to break a first half deadlock in its 4-1 quarterfinal victory over Southampton. The Saints benefited from a Manchester City own goal in a match where they controlled only 35% of the possession versus the Premier League leaders.

A match at Wembley between the Premier League’s top two teams was ascertained by Liverpool’s narrow 1-0 win over Championship side Nottingham Forest. Like Manchester City, Liverpool controlled 65% of possession but could not break though until a Diogo Jota goal in the 78th minute punched their ticket for Wembley. Liverpool and Manchester City are scheduled to meet in the FA Cup semifinal less than a full week after their April 10th league match which could well decide the Premier League title.  

Friday, March 18, 2022

Match Week 30 Preview


London Derby As Spurs And Hammers Try To Remain In Top Four Chase 

An abbreviated league schedule this weekend features a London derby as West Ham tries to keep its top four hopes alive when the Hammers visit Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs, 2-0 winners over Brighton Wednesday, have their own top four aims which would be all but dashed should they fall to the Hammers on Sunday. Currently fourth place Arsenal tries to rebound from a 2-0 mid-week loss to Liverpool when the Gunners visit Villa Park for a visit with Manager Steven Gerrard’s mid-table Villans. Aston Villa had a three-match winning run ended at West Ham last weekend. Leeds Manager Jesse Marsch seeks his second Premier League win when Leeds visits Molineux Stadium for a match with Wolverhampton. A fit and impactful Patrick Bamford will likely be necessary for any Leeds result against the formidable defending of Wolves. Leicester are home to a Brentford side which has won back-to-back matches to distance themselves from any imminent relegation concerns. The Foxes could be vulnerable after placing their focus on their midweek clash with Rennes. 


FA Cup  


The FA Cup quarterfinals take center stage in England this weekend. Chelsea travels to Middlesbrough to face a club and supporters angry at a Chelsea request to have the match played behind closed doors. Chelsea wanted the exclusion of supporters on the pretext of “sporting integrity” as Chelsea is unable to sell any additional tickets to its fans because of government sanctions. Middlesbrough ownership deemed Chelsea’s request, which the London club retracted just hours after making it due to severe backlash, as “bizarre and without any merit.” Chelsea will have motivated Middlesbrough players and supporters who have already seen their club knock out Premier League teams Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur the last two rounds. Crystal Palace hosts Everton with the Eagles still soaring after their gutty draw with league leading Manchester City on Monday. Everton will hope to build on a mid-week 1-0 victory over Newcastle in league play which temporarily halted a frightening slide down the Premier Table for the Toffees. Manchester City heads to the south coast to take on Southampton. The Citizens will be smarting from their draw at Crystal Palace and anxious to continue the chase for another trophy. The Saints could need a miracle to advance. Nottingham Forest eliminated Arsenal and Leicester in earlier rounds of the tournament and are home to Liverpool on Sunday. With Liverpool now locked in a tight title race, Nottingham Forest is hoping Jurgen Klopp may elect to rotate players additional players for the FA Cup matchup.  Nottingham Forest is playing in its first FA Cup quarterfinal in more than a quarter century.

 

Premier League in Europe


Champions League

Manchester United is eliminated from the Champions League. The Red Devils failed to advance beyond the Round of 16 in losing 1-0 to Atletico Madrid at Old Trafford. The defeat likely ends any thoughts of Ralph Rangnick continuing next season as manager. Depressingly for Manchester United fans, the other two rumored managerial candidates for the Red Devils, Eric ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino, both saw their favored current clubs bow out in this round of the Champions League as well.  Atletico Madrid took the lead in Tuesday’s match when Renan Lodi was left unmarked to head in a cross from Antoine Griezmann. Atletico shut the match down from there. There was no magic this time from Cristiano Ronaldo, without which Manchester United looks average at best and dysfunctional at worst. Atletico now moves on the quarterfinals to meet another Premier League club from Manchester. The Spanish club visits the Etihad on April 5th for the first leg of its tie with Manchester City. Chelsea, meanwhile, defeated Lille 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals. Goals by Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta helped the London club move on 4-1 in aggregate over the French squad. Chelsea draws Real Madrid in the quarterfinals, the first leg to be played at Stamford Bridge on April 5th.  Real Madrid surprised PSG to boot Messi, Neymar, Mbappe, and friends out of this year’s Champions League. Liverpool will be in Portugal April 5th for their quarterfinal first leg contest with Benfica, surprise winners over Ajax in the Round of Sixteen.


Europa League 


Ukrainian Andriy Yarmolenko struck for the winner in extra time to carry West Ham to a 2-0 win over Sevilla, overcoming a one goal deficit from the first leg and lifting the Hammers into the Europa League quarterfinals. David Moyes’ side will be home to Lyon on April 7th for the opening leg of their quarterfinal tie. Yarmolenko’s goal on Thursday was his second in less than a week, accomplished despite the sorrow at the devastation of his war struck homeland. Tomas Soucek had the opening goal on a night when the gritty Hammers eliminated a Sevilla club which has won the competition in four of the last eight years. West Ham reaches its first European quarterfinal since 1981.

 

Europa Conference League

Leicester moves into the quarterfinals of the Europa Conference League despite a 2-1 loss at Rennes. The Foxes claimed the tie 3-2 in aggregate thanks to Wesley Fofana’s goal on Thursday. The young Leicester defender delivered a command performance in his first match in seven months since breaking his leg in a preseason contest. The Foxes draw Dutch side PSV as their quarterfinal opponent. The first leg of the tie will be at the Foxes’ King Power Stadium on April 7th.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Match Week 29 Results: Standoff at Selhurst; Ronaldo Answers Critics; Reds, Gunners, Hammers Win; Sanctioned Chelsea Edges Newcastle; Watford Says It Ain’t Over; Marsch Madness Begins For Leeds

Manchester City was held to a scoreless draw at Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace registered their second clean sheet against the Citizens this season. The pesky Eagles had previously defeated City in a 2-0 victory at the Etihad. Manchester City had 74% of the possession in Monday’s draw but was unable to put a shot past Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita who was aided by the woodwork on two of Manchester City’s attempts. Palace also received outstanding defensive performances from left back Tyrick Mitchell and midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate.

The dropped points at Selhurst leaves Manchester City only four points ahead of Liverpool in the title chase.

A massive match occurs Wednesday when Liverpool visits a red-hot Arsenal team. The Reds and Gunners have each won 8 of their last 10 league matches, each losing but once over that span. Liverpool defeated Brighton 2-0 on Saturday to keep the pressure on Manchester City. Luis Diaz bravely scored Liverpool’s first goal despite being violently fouled by Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez. VAR review quizzically assessed no card on the Seagull goalkeeper. Mohamed Salah ended Brighton’s hopes when the league’s top scorer converted a second half penalty kick. Salah’s score marked his 20th league goal of the season and Liverpool’s 2,000th goal in Premier League play. Salah became the sixth player to score 20 or more Premier League goals in four consecutive seasons. Brighton lost a sixth consecutive match, a run which has seen the club score only once. The Seagulls are likely safe from any relegation concern, however, due to points accumulated earlier this season. Brighton won four of its first five fixtures, winning just three more matches since then though posting a joint league leading 12 draws.

Arsenal defeated Leicester 2-0 for their fifth consecutive win. Thomas Partey opened scoring in the 11th minute by heading in a corner kick from Gabriel Martinelli. Leicester has conceded a league leading 15 goals from set pieces this season. Alexandre Lacazette’s converted penalty kick provided the insurance goal. Arsenal leads Manchester United by a point for the final Champions League berth with the Gunners having played three fewer matches than the Red Devils heading into Wednesday’s contest with Liverpool.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the target of much recent criticism, reminded everyone of his greatness with a hat trick at Old Trafford which kept Manchester United in the hunt to secure Champions League football for next season.

Ronaldo’s scoring burst on Saturday was historic as his 807 career goals now surpass the 805 attributed to Austrian-Czech striker Josef Bican, making the Portuguese legend the all-time greatest goal scorer for club and country. Ronaldo’s first hat trick for the Red Devils in 14 years came as his club desperately needed a spark and the footballing legend stood accused of much of the unproductive drama swirling about the club. A recent trip by Ronaldo home to Portugal, reportedly without his manager’s knowledge, was the latest controversy. Even after Ronaldo’s best performance this season, Manager Ralf Rangnick chose to speak of the challenges of managing Ronaldo in postgame comments. Ronaldo’s brilliance, however, can cover sins elsewhere in an underperforming Manchester United lineup. A penalty kick by Harry Kane after a United handball and an own goal committed by struggling Manchester United captain Harry Maguire kept Spurs in the match before Ronaldo settled matters in the 81st minute. Before being substituted to a standing ovation from United supporters, Ronaldo was credited for eight shots, five on target, for the match with three of his shots finding the back of the net. Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, continued an up and down season which has seen alternating wins and losses over its last seven matches across all competitions. Spurs fell to eighth in the Premier League table, six points behind fourth place Arsenal and will try to pick up the pieces when they head to Brighton for a Wednesday match.

West Ham stayed in the race for a Champions League berth by delivering a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa at London Stadium. Ukrainian Andriy Yarmolenko was understandably emotional celebrating his 70th minute goal which broke a scoreless tie. The Hammers’ Pablo Fornals added a second score before Aston Villa’s Jacob Ramsey scored a consolation goal for Villa in the 90th minute. West Ham stayed three points behind Arsenal. Aston Villa lost for a first time in three matches.

Chelsea overcame a week of distractions to grab three points on an 89th minute goal by Kai Havertz to defeat Newcastle 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.

The victory was emotional for a Chelsea club facing an existential threat from government sanctions levied because of owner Roman Abramovich’s connection with Russian President Valdimir Putin in light of that country’s Ukrainian invasion. Newcastle, which has its own controversial Saudi Arabian associated ownership, lost for a first time in 10 matches. An outstanding defensive effort by the Magpies was wasted when Chelsea’s Jorginho lofted a perfectly placed pass over the defense to find Havertz for the winner. Wolves jumped over Tottenham Hotspur, into seventh in the table, with a 1-0 win over struggling Everton. The Toffees have now scored one or fewer goals in 20 of their 29 matches this season as Sunday’s home defeat inflicted further misery on Everton and their manager Frank Lampard. Only cellar dwelling Norwich has accumulated fewer league points than Everton since Lampard took charge of the Toffees. Things won’t get easier when resurgent Newcastle visits Goodison Park for a Thursday match up.

A surprising 2-1 victory by Watford at Southampton put the Hornets level on points with Everton, the Toffees tenuously holding on to the league’s final safe position due a better goal differential. Two goals by Cucho Henandez provided hope for a Watford side which had been left for dead after only one victory in its previous 16 matches. Southampton lost for a third consecutive time as Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl’s 10th place side is experiencing a rough patch within an otherwise successful season.

Watford moved ahead of Burnley in the relegation places as the Clarets lost 2-0 to Brentford, a third consecutive loss for Manager Sean Dyche’s Burnley side. While trailing Watford by a point, however, Burnley has played two fewer matches than the Hornets. Brentford, meanwhile, won for a second consecutive outing to build  a comfortable eight-point cushion against the drop. Ivan Toney, scorer of the two goals on Saturday, has been all the buzz for the Bees. Toney has all five goals for Brentford in the two-match winning run, three scored by penalty.

American Manager Jesse Marsch registered his first Premier League victory in a 2-1 defeat of Norwich. The struggling Whites needed a stoppage time goal by 19-year-old substitute Joe Gelhardt, who entered the match just minutes before, to dispense with the bottom dwelling Canaries at Leeds’s Elland Road home.

Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Manchester United can advance in the Champions League by defeating Atletico Madrid at Old Trafford Tuesday. Anthony Elanga set the Red Devils up nicely for the return fixture when he scored a late tying goal in the first leg at Madrid. 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to play against his former La Liga rival despite the quick two-day turnaround from Ronaldo’s hat trick performance in the Premier League Sunday. Chelsea travels to France to face Lille in the second leg of their Champions League tie. The Blues carry a two-goal advantage following their first leg win at Stamford Bridge and will hope for another performance from in-form Kai Havertz. Havertz has stepped to the fore of Chelsea’s attack in recent weeks, including his late winner versus Newcastle in league play Saturday. The German and American teammate Christian Pulisic scored the goals in the first leg versus Lille.   


Europa League 


West Ham provided itself an opportunity at London Stadium by keeping the deficit to a single goal in a first leg loss at Sevilla. The Spaniards, despite a track record of success in the Europa League and its predecessor UEFA Cup, have lost their last five away matches in European competitions. Thursday’s match could well turn on the fitness of West Ham attackers Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio who are both trying to overcome injuries and participate in West Ham’s effort to advance in Europe.

 

Europa Conference League


Leicester carries a two-goal advantage into its second leg match at Rennes. Rennes, fourth in their domestic table, is on a four-match winning run in Ligue 1 while Leicester will again be  without star striker Jamie Vardy. Leicester, however, realizes this competition is all they have left to play for this season and playing at home with a two-goal advantage should be enough to see the Foxes through.

 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Match Week 29 Preview: Manchester United v. Spurs in Critical Top Four Clash; Vardy Out For Arsenal Clash; Chelsea Sanctions; Streaking Villa Visits Hammers; Must Win for Marsch and Leeds

The Fight for Fourth sees a critical battle Saturday when Tottenham Hotspur travels to Old Trafford with an opportunity to overtake fifth place Manchester United. Spurs trail the Red Devils by two points and fourth place Arsenal by three points in the race for the final Champions League berth. Both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United have been inconsistent this season, making Saturday’s outcome difficult to predict. Spurs have rolled over their last two league opponents to revive their top four hopes. Manchester United hopes to recover from a bruising defeat to Manchester City last weekend. A goal Saturday by Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane would tie him with Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney for the most away goals by a Premier League player.

Arsenal’s task versus Leicester on Sunday becomes easier with the news that Jamie Vardy will be an injury scratch for the match at the Emirates. The loss of the oft injured striker undercuts momentum that was building for the Foxes after back-to-back league wins. Arsenal has been in top form, led its by its young stars, winning eight times while drawing once in their last 10 matches.

The Gunners’ Bukayo Saka has scored six times and assisted on three other goals in those ten matches.

Chelsea is home to one of the league’s other streaking clubs when Newcastle visits Stamford Bridge Sunday. Newcastle, which was in the relegation zone for 16 weeks this season, is on a current nine-match unbeaten run which includes wins in five of their last six matches. The Magpies won 2-1 at Southampton on Thursday when January transfers Chris Wood and Bruno Guimaraes each scored their first goal for the club. Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Norwich Thursday was overshadowed by announced sanctions on owner Roman Abramovich. Chelsea is now a “frozen asset” operating under special license from the UK government. The ramifications are significant for the club which cannot sell merchandise or tickets or partake in any player contractual matters. Transfers in or out are banned as well as any new contracts for current players. Concerns regarding solvency and potential administration have caused the club to appeal for some loosening of the restrictions. Some reports indicate the club could be insolvent in less than 90 days. The sale process of the club by Abramovich was paused pending further clarification of the government restrictions. Chelsea Manager Thomas Tuchel needs to keep his club focused on the on-field challenge of extending a current nine match home unbeaten run and capturing a fifth consecutive league win.

West Ham has won just two of its last seven league matches to fall out of the top four. The Hammers host a streaking Aston Villa club which has averaged three goals per outing, conceding none, during a three-match winning run. Aston Villa Manager Steven Gerrard is finally getting production from his group of talented attackers which includes Philippe Coutinho, Danny Ings, and Ollie Watkins. The Hammers, meanwhile, are sputtering in attack with Jarrod Bowen injured and Michail Antonio scoreless in his last eight league matches.

The league’s top two clubs are on the road this weekend.  Manchester City visits Crystal Palace which defeated the Citizens 2-0 earlier this season. Another surprise is unlikely as the league leaders have won five and drawn one of the last six meetings between the clubs at Selhurst Park.

Liverpool needs to stay within striking distance of the Citizens by winning at Brighton and Hove Albion this weekend. Only Leeds and the three current relegation zone occupants have won fewer matches at home this season than the Seagulls. Brighton has scored just once in losing four consecutive league matches. High powered Liverpool has scored 45 more goals than Brighton this season.

Leeds Manager Jesse Marsch could be facing a must win situation in just his third match in charge. After one respectable loss and one sound defeat, Marsch’s squad host eminently beatable Norwich. A loss to the bottom dwelling Canaries would be a devastating blow to Marsch’s credibility and Leeds’s survival hopes. Leeds is two points clear of the drop zone after losing four consecutive matches. Patrick Bamford may provide a boost for Marsch’s club as the striker could be fit to make his first start in six months. Norwich is six points south of Leeds after its own four match losing run. The Canaries have scored the fewest goals in the league while Leeds has conceded the most.

Everton will try to reverse its fortunes under manager Frank Lampard when the Toffees face Wolverhampton at Goodison Park. Everton have lost four out five matches under their new manager and are one point removed from relegation. Wolverhampton has also been experiencing a rough stretch, losing three consecutive matches before defeating woeful Watford on Thursday.

The Hornets look to have their ticket punched for the Championship division next season as Roy Hodgson’s charges travel to Southampton. The Saints, meanwhile, have lost back-to-back matches to surging clubs Aston Villa and Newcastle. The Newcastle loss was only the second time Southampton has lost at home this season. A loss to the Hornets at Saint Mary’s would be a far greater sin. Burnley has an opportunity to escape the drop zone this weekend when the Clarets travel to Brentford. Burnley could move ahead of either Everton or Leeds for the final survival place dependent on the weekend results. Brentford is trying to steer clear of the relegation fray and helped themselves with last week’s defeat of Norwich in Christian Eriksen’s first start for Brentford

Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Liverpool lost at home for the first time in over a year but still advanced on aggregate in their Champions League tie with Inter Milan. The Reds lost 1-0 at Anfield but move on due to their 2-0 first leg victory in Italy. A red card assessed to former Arsenal and Manchester United player Alexis Sanchez in the 63rd minute dashed momentum which was building for the Italians after a Lautaro Martinez goal just two minutes earlier. Liverpool was relieved to escape a frustrating afternoon where Mohamed Salah twice hit the woodwork with attempts. Manchester City played to a goalless draw at the Etihad versus Sporting Lisbon. The Citizens move on to the next round because of their resounding 5-0 first leg win in Portugal.



Europa League 


West Ham kept hope alive, losing by a single goal at Sevilla. The 1-0 margin gives the Hammers a shot at advancement when the clubs resume their tie at London Stadium. A faltering West Ham attack, however, will likely need Jarrod Bowen back fit to threaten the Spaniards in London.  



Europa Conference League

Leicester have now won four consecutive matches across all competitions after a 2-0 victory over Rennes. Marc Albrighton provided a first half lead for the Foxes who could finally breathe easily after a 93rd minute clincher by Kelechi Iheanacho.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Match Week 28 Results: Gunners Shoot Past Manchester United and West Ham Into Top Four; City Outclasses United; Liverpool Keeps Pace; Hammers Fall; Spurs Sink Everton; Newcastle Rolls; Canaries’ Sad Song

Arsenal swept into the Champions League places by defeating lowly Watford while Manchester United and West Ham fell to the top teams in the table. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta’s youth project paid dividends once again as 23-year-old Martin Odegaard was the oldest of three Gunner goal scorers. Sharing the score sheet with Odegaard was Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, both of whom are 20 years old. Saka, who assisted on Odegaard’s opening goal, is second in Europe’s top five leagues in combined goals and assists by players under 21 years of age. Saka also had a hand in Marinelli’s winning goal via an expedited throw-in which seemed to catch the Hornets off guard. Alexandre Lacazette, one of the few influential Arsenal veterans, assisted on the Saka and Martinelli goals. The two goals by Watford represented an offensive explosion for the Hornets but failed to keep the table’s penultimate team from losing for an 18th time in 27 matches this season.

Manchester United and West Ham came up short against far more difficult opponents than the Gunners faced. The Red Devils were overwhelmed 4-1 by crosstown rival and table leading Manchester City. United’s shaky defense was no match for the ruthless efficiency of the Citizens’ attack. Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez each had two goals in the one-sided victory.

Poor play by Manchester United center back and captain, Harry Maguire, played a role in both De Bruyne goals as well as Mahrez’s second score. Maguire’s teammate, right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, was also targeted by the City attack. Jadon Sancho provided the lone bright spot for Manager Ralf Rangnick when the former Manchester City property momentarily tied matters in the first half. Sancho’s goal came on one of only two shots on target by Manchester United for the match, none in a less than energetic second half by the Red Devils. Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani missed the match due to injury with manager Ralf Rangnick resorting to playing Bruno Fernandez in a forward attacking role for which the Portuguese midfielder seemed ill suited.

West Ham mounted a more spirited effort but was unable to convert its chances in falling 1-0 at Liverpool. Liverpool’s score came on a precise Trent Alexander-Arnold low cross which threaded the Hammer defense to find the foot of Sadio Mane for the winner, Mane’s twelfth goal of the season. West Ham manager David Moyes remains in search of his first career win at Anfield as the Hammers dropped to sixth in the table after failing to win for a third time in their last four league matches. Liverpool remains six points behind league leading Manchester City, having played one less match than the Citizens.

Chelsea provided a reality check to Burnley as the defending Champions League and Club World Cup winners outclassed the Clarets 4-0. A second straight loss leaves Burnley in the relegation zone looking to re-ignite the spark which had them taking points in four of five matches before their more recent struggles. Kai Havertz had two goals and Christian Pulisic and Reese James also scored for a Chelsea attack which seems energized with the return of winger James from injury and the emergence of Pulisic as a more consistent force. Pulisic and James assisted on the Havertz goals.

Everton could be the team Burnley overtakes in the race for survival. The Toffees delivered a listless performance in a 5-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur to remain a slim point above Burnley and the possible first relegation for Everton in 70 years. Spurs stayed in the Champions League discussion as the wildly inconsistent club has now defeated Manchester City, lost to Burnley and FA Cup opponent Middlesbrough, and smashed Leeds and Spurs by an aggregate 9-0 margin over its last five matches in all competitions. Manager Antonio Conte has his club poised just three points below rival Arsenal for the final Champions League qualification berth despite the Italian manager’s withering public criticism of his roster. Harry Kane scored two of the five Tottenham Hotspur goals. Carlo Ancelotti appears to have made the wisest decision in football when he abandoned the sinking Everton ship for Real Madrid where the Italian manager is currently leading the La Liga table. Donny van de Beek, meanwhile, reportedly spurned opportunities with other Premier League clubs such as Newcastle and Crystal Palace to go on loan to the Toffees. The Manchester United loanee and new Everton manager Frank Lampard may both regret their decisions to join the blue side of Merseyside. Lampard’s managerial future in the Premier League will be severely damaged if he takes Everton down.

Patrick Vieira is tasting managerial success as his Crystal Palace Eagles moved into the top half of the table with a 2-0 win over Wolves. Viera’s men have lost but one of their last six matches as a superior goal differential has moved them ahead of three other clubs which are level on points with the Eagles. Wolves lost for a third straight match as their European dreams are being quickly extinguished. A second straight goalless effort saw striker Raul Jimenez relegated to a substitute role for a second consecutive match as Manager Bruno Lage desperately seeks some form of spark for the Wolves attack. Only Burnley and Watford are less productive in front of goal than the toothless Wolves.

Newcastle won for a fifth time in its last six matches and extended its unbeaten run to eight matches as Manager Eddie Howe continues to engineer a Magpie miracle. Newcastle’s rise after Howe’s appointment stands in stark contrast to the failure experienced to date by Frank Lampard at Everton. A 2-1 victory over Brighton moves Newcastle seven points clear of the relegation zone. Brighton exhibited intricate play to little result, a trademark outcome for a club whose English manger, Graham Potter continues to receive the praise of the British press. The Seagulls’ goal on Saturday was the first time they have scored in a four-match losing run in the league.

Christian Eriksen made his first start for Brentford and the Bees won for a first time in nine outings in a 3-1 win over Norwich which likely ended the survival hopes of the Canaries. Norwich Manager Dean Smith was critical of two penalties which provided the margin of defeat for his club as Brentford’s Ivan Toney made the two penalty kicks to complete his hat trick for the Bees. A stoppage time goal by the Canaries’ Teemu Pukki was only the 16th goal of the season for Norwich in 27 matches. The Canaries are five points from safety with little indication of the club having the capabilities necessary for survival.

Aston Villa registered a second consecutive clean sheet and played the most complete match of Steven Gerrard’s managerial tenure in shocking Southampton 4-0 at Villa Park.  Villa’s attack overran the Saints with four different players finding the net. Danny Ings scored the fourth goal after providing two earlier assists. Philippe Coutinho had a goal and assist for the Villans. The Saints lost for just the second time in 11 matches as they managed only one shot on target versus a barrage of nine shots on target by Aston Villa. The Saints return to St. Mary’s Thursday for a rescheduled match with Newcastle. The Premier League has three other rescheduled matches that day, all three contests involving teams engaged in the relegation battle. Watford visits Wolves, Leeds is home to Aston Villa, and Norwich plays host to Chelsea. 


Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Manchester City and Liverpool conclude their Round of 16 ties this week with Sporting Lisbon and Inter Milan, respectively. Manchester City manhandled the Portuguese by a 5-0 margin in their opening match and their more formidable opponent on Wednesday may be overconfidence. Liverpool has a two-goal advantage on Inter Milan entering Tuesday’s match at Anfield. Inter Milan, currently second in the Serie A table, had the potential to challenge Liverpool in their tie but likely dug too deep a hole by allowing a second goal at home in the opener between the two teams. 


Europa League

West Ham has a tall task in drawing Sevilla in the Europa League Round of 16 as the Hammers head to Spain on Thursday to face the six-time winners of the competition. Sevilla is experiencing an outstanding season in domestic competition, running second to Real Madrid in the La Liga table. The Spanish club has injury concerns, however, with numerous players including former Manchester United forward Anthony Martial doubtful for the match with the Hammers. West Ham will be without forward Jarrod Bowman as they enter their most advanced stage of European competition in 40 years. 


Europa Conference League


Leicester hosts Rennes at King Power Stadium in the first leg of the clubs’ Europa Conference League Round of Sixteen tie. Rennes is currently fourth in Ligue 1 on the heels of a three-match domestic winning streak. The Foxes have won two straight Premier League matches coinciding with the return from injury of striker Jamie Vardy.