Friday, April 29, 2022

Match Week 35 Preview: Magpies To Test Liverpool; Chelsea Visits Goodison As Everton Fights To Survive; Hammers and Gunners in Derby Battle; Can Spurs Find Attack Versus Foxes?; Bees Look To Swarm Manchester United; Rangnick To Be a Busy Man

Newcastle could provide a test for Liverpool when the Magpies host the Reds in Saturday’s early match. Liverpool, despite its deep roster, could feel the effects of a quick turnaround from Wednesday’s Champions League match. The Magpies, meanwhile, have won four consecutive league matches and have won their last six contests at St. James Park. Liverpool has captured 37 of their last 39 available points in the league to trail Manchester City by a point for the Premier League title.

Manchester City visits Leeds with the league leaders having lost just one away match all season. Leeds has moved five points from the relegation zone with a four-match unbeaten run under Manager Jesse Marsch.

Third place Chelsea can damage the managerial career of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard when the Blues face the now Everton manager at Goodison Park. Lampard’s Toffees are locked in a tight battle with Burnley for the final position of safety in the Premier League table. The Toffees fell into the relegation zone last Sunday with a loss to Liverpool while Burnley defeated Wolverhampton. Everton are two points back of the Clarets with a match in hand. Burnley can extend the lead to five points with a win at relegation bound Watford and a Toffee loss to Chelsea this weekend. Everton has registered seven of its eight total wins this season at home and will be counting on its supporters’ exhortations this weekend against a much more talented opponent in Chelsea.

Arsenal visits London Stadium to face West Ham with the Gunners holding a two-point advantage on Tottenham Hotspur for fourth place and Champions League qualification. The Gunners’ have scored seven goals in wins over Manchester United and Chelsea in the last two weeks. Arsenal had scored just once in the prior three matches, all losses which jeopardized the Gunners’ European aspirations. West Ham could miss European competition next season as the Hammers hold only a three-point advantage over eighth place Wolves for a Europa Conference League qualification berth. Wolves also have one additional match to play. The Hammers quest to win this year’s Europa League, and automatic Champions League qualification for next year, took a hit with their semifinal first leg loss to Eintracht Frankfurt Thursday.

Tottenham Hotspur has dropped five of six points in the last two weeks in its race with Arsenal to capture the fourth spot. Champions League qualification could be critically important for retaining Spurs Manager Antonio Conte who was rumored this week for a potential PSG appointment for next season. Despite a lineup featuring stars Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, the north London side failed to get a shot on target in its last two matches for next season. Spurs are home to Leicester Sunday. Leicester is treading water at 10th in the table, drawing three of their last five matches.

Manchester United’s chances for Champions League qualification became more remote as result of its 1-1 home draw with Chelsea on Thursday. The Red Devils trail fourth place Arsenal by five points while having played two matches more than the Gunners. Manchester United have won just one of their last six matches and Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored the goal versus Chelsea, appears the only player or even coach still interested this season. Current Manchester United interim manager Ralph Rangnick signed a deal this week to become the Austrian national coach while still retaining a consultancy role for Manchester United next season. The Red Devils host Brentford Monday. The Bees have been displaying nothing of the lethargy which has characterized Manchester United of late. Manager Thomas Frank and his promoted side have won on five occasions and drawn once in their last seven matches.

Wolves continue their pursuit of West Ham for the final European qualification berth in the table when they host Brighton. Wolverhampton and Brighton are two of the four lowest scoring clubs in the league.

Norwich Manger Dean Smith returns to face his former club when the Canaries visit Aston Villa. Smith has been unable to help the Canaries avoid relegation. After a brief flurry of success in January, Norwich has been buried at the bottom of the table since February. The Canaries have scored 47 fewer goals than their opponents this season. Steven Gerrard has not exactly delivered a sterling performance since replacing Smith as Aston Villa’s manager. Despite being backed in the January transfer market with the acquisitions of Philip Coutinho and Lucas Digne, Gerrard has Villa languishing in 15th position after losing four of its last five matches.

Despite an 18 better goal differential, 14th place Crystal Palace trails 13th place Southampton by two points in the table. The Eagles have only scored once in a current three match winless run and have won but twice in 21 topflight visits to Southampton. The Saints, meanwhile, have won only one of their last nine matches across all competitions.

Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Manchester City and Real Madrid combined for a thrilling spectacle at the Etihad in a wide-open contest. The English club went ahead by two goals on three separate occasions only to have the 13-time Champions League titlists claw back to have the tie balancing on a single goal entering next week’s second leg at the Bernabeu. Kevin De Bruyne opened scoring for Manchester City only two minutes into Tuesday’s match and Gabriel Jesus extended the lead less than ten minutes later. Karim Benzema halved the deficit for Real Madrid before halftime as Manchester City missed numerous chances to put the match, and potentially the tie, to bed. Phil Foden restored a two-goal advantage early in the second half only for Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior to strike two minutes later. Bernardo Silva then contributed to the goal fest when he rifled a shot into the top left corner while Real Madrid players seemed paused in anticipation of a foul never called. Manchester City’s third two goal advantage of the match evaporated with a penalty kick called for a handball by Aymeric Laporte. Karim Benzema coolly lofted a Panenka kick into the net for the 4-3 final.

Liverpool scored both goals of its goals in a two-minute span of the second half in the Reds’ 2-0 semifinal win over Villareal. Jordan Hendersen created the first goal when his long cross was deflected into the net for a 53rd minute own goal. Less than two minutes later Mohamed Salah poked a pass through to Sadio Mane who stabbed it home for the final goal of the match. Villareal, playing without striker Gerard Moreno, were unable to effectively counterattack from their match long defensive posture against the Reds. The “Yellow Submarine” looks sunk as the two clubs head to Spain.

Europa League

West Ham’s first European semifinal of the century was a bit rocky for the Hammers. Eintracht Frankfurt scored inside of the first minute. West Ham fans attacked German broadcasters later in the first half when West Ham tied the match on a Michail Antonio goal. West Ham then conceded a second half goal to lose 2-1. Tantalizingly, a Jarrod Bowen bicycle kick nailed the crossbar in the match’s stoppage time in a moment which could have changed the momentum heading into the second leg.

Europa Conference League

Leicester pressed the action in the second half and was rewarded by a Roma own goal in the 67th minute for a 1-1 final at King Power Stadium. The tying score resulted from a deflected cross from the Foxes’ Harvey Barnes. Roma Manager Jose Mourinho characteristically was content to play defensively with a one goal lead in a second half dominated by the Foxes. Despite the second half concession, Mourinho will be feeling confident with the sides level heading to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Match Week 34 Results: Burnley Breaks Free; Everton Sinks; City Swats Hornets; Gunners Blast Manchester United; Spurs Stung; Pulisic To The Rescue; Newcastle Crashes Top Half; Leeds Escapes Eagle Nest

Burnley emerged from the relegation zone for the first time since October with a gritty 1-0 home victory over Wolverhampton. The Clarets have moved two points ahead of struggling Everton in the race for survival with two wins and a draw under interim manager Mike Jackson who replaced the popular Sean Dyche. The managerial change is getting results despite widespread criticism of the sacking of the iconic Dyche. Matej Vydra scored the winner for Burnley, assisted by Wout Weghorst in the 62nd minute. Wolves lost for a sixth time in nine matches as the club failed to gain on seventh place West Ham in the battle for European qualification.

Burnley’s win loaded the pressure on Everton for its Merseyside derby against Liverpool later Sunday. The Toffees employed a low block defensive strategy which provided them only 17% possession against Liverpool. The strategy worked into the second half until Jurgen Klopp began reaching into his deep bench. Substitute Divock Origi worked a give and go with Mohamed Salah which led to Andy Robertson’s first goal for Liverpool at the 62nd minute mark. Origi then scored Liverpool’s second goal on a header made possible by an acrobatic bicycle kick assist from fellow substitute Luis Diaz.

The 2-0 defeat was a seventh consecutive away loss for the Toffees. Everton was last in the relegation zone this late in the season more than 20 years ago.

Manchester City stayed one point ahead of Liverpool in the title race with a 5-1 swatting of Watford. Gabriel Jesus became the first Brazilian player to score four goals in a Premier League match. Watford lost a fourth consecutive match as Manager Roy Hodgson’s Hornets trudge towards relegation.

Arsenal took command of the race for the fourth Champions League berth by defeating listless Manchester United 3-1. Manchester United increasingly becomes a one-man team as Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 100th Premier League goal which he dedicated to his recently deceased infant son. Ronaldo’s teammates seem to be merely playing out the string under interim manager Ralph Rangnick. Arsenal’s second consecutive win put the Gunners two points up on Tottenham Hotspur and six points above Manchester United for fourth place and Champions League qualification. It took only three minutes for Arsenal to take the lead at the Emirates on Nuno Tavares’ first Premier League goal. After Ronaldo halved the lead, the Gunners extended their advantage on a Bukayo Saka penalty kick. Granit Xhaka sealed matters with a frozen rope goal at the 70-minute mark.

Tottenham Hotspur is fumbling its chance for Champions League football next season by dropping five of its last six available points. Spurs failed to put a shot on goal for a second consecutive week in a 0-0 point sharing with a Brentford side which had the better of play often orchestrated by former Spurs midfielder Christian Eriksen. Spurs need to get past Leicester and Liverpool before a showdown with Arsenal on May 12th which could decide things between the rivals. Brentford notched its 40th point of the season in extending a four-match unbeaten run which has included wins over Chelsea and West Ham.

Christian Pulisic was the star of another London derby when he came off the bench at Stamford Bridge to score a 90th minute winner in a 1-0  Chelsea victory over West Ham.

The win snapped a three-match losing run at home for third place Chelsea. West Ham’s only fit center back, Crag Dawson, received a red card less than five minutes before  the Pulisic goal. West Ham Manager David Moyes started Declan Rice, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio on the bench as the Hammers rotated players in preparation for their Europa League semifinal tie with Eintracht Frankfurth which begins Thursday. West Ham is currently seventh in the league, two points behind Manchester United and three points ahead of Wolves. Sixth place would mean Europa League qualification. Seventh place would mean Europa Conference League qualification. But winning the Europa League this year would mean Champions League for the Hammers next season.

Newcastle moved into the top half of the table with a 3-0 win at Norwich. Joelinton scored a first half brace and Bruno Guimaraes finished the match’s scoring less than five minutes into second half play after intercepting a pass from Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul. Newcastle won for a fourth consecutive match. Norwich failed to add to its 22 goals for the season, six goals fewer than any other Premier League club at weekend’s end. The Canaries are eight points from safety and appear poised to fly back down to the Championship tier of English football.

Two clubs in the middle of the table, with little to play for, produced a meaningless result in a goalless draw between Leicester and Villa. The draw did end a four-match losing run for 15th place Aston Villa which is nine points removed from relegation concerns. Ninth place Leicester is more focused on Thursday’s Europa Conference League semifinal than any remaining league business.

Leeds, however, needs to remain focused to avoid joining Everton and Burnley in their relegation scrap. Manager Jesse Marsch’s side grabbed a crucial point in a goalless draw at Crystal Palace which increased Leeds’s cushion versus Everton and the relegation zone to five points. Everton has a match in hand, however, and Leeds faces a gauntlet of Manchester City, Arsenal, and Chelsea in its next three matches. Crystal Palace snapped a three-match losing run across all competitions. The Eagles sit comfortably mid-table in 14th position.

Southampton fought back from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 with Brighton. The Seagulls stunned the Saints with a Danny Welbeck goal less than two minutes into the match. Brighton’s lead doubled later in the first half on an own goal by the Saints’ Mohammed Salisu. James Ward-Prowse began the Southampton comeback in first half stoppage time with his 14th career Premier League goal from a free kick, four less than David Beckham’s league record. Ward-Prowse continued his man of the match performance with a tying goal early in second half play. The uneven performance further validated Southampton’s standing as one of the league’s most unpredictable teams. In their last four matches the Saints  were demolished 6-0 by Chelsea, impressively defeated Arsenal, floundered in a poor loss to Burnley and then rallied from a two-goal deficit for Sunday’s draw. Disappointed Brighton can take solace in breaking a five-match goalless run at home.

Only one Premier League match is scheduled before next weekend. Chelsea visits Old Trafford Thursday to take on Manchester United. 

Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Manchester City continues its quest for a first Champions League trophy when the Citizens host Real Madrid in Tuesday’s first leg of their semifinal tie. The club’s stated priority since its 2014 purchase by Abu Dhabi ownership has remained elusive despite massive player investment and the presence of one of the world’s great managers in Pep Guardiola. Real Madrid, which defeated Chelsea in the quarterfinals, is a 13-time winner of the competition. Liverpool faces Villareal and former Premier League manager Unai Emery on Wednesday in the other semifinal. Villareal shockingly eliminated Bayern Munich in the quarterfinal round.

Europa League

West Ham faces Eintracht Frankfurt Thursday in the first leg of their Europa League tie. The Hammers are making their first semifinal appearance in a European competition since 1976. Eintracht Frankfurt, who were also West Ham’s opponent in 1976, ousted Barcelona in the previous round of this year’s Europa League. The German side, however, has failed to impress outside of its Europa League run this season. The club is ninth in the Bundesliga table and in danger of falling even further after failing to win in its last seven domestic matches. West Ham manager David Moyes rotated his squad this past weekend in a narrow loss to Chelsea, clearly putting its priority on a Europa League title opportunity.  

Europa Conference League

Leicester visits Roma on Thursday for the first leg of the clubs’ Europa Conference League semifinal tie. Jamie Vardy should be available for the Foxes after the injury plagued striker returned to make just his third 2022 appearance versus Aston Villa Saturday. Roma Manager Jose Mourinho and striker Tammy Abraham will be familiar for their Premier League pedigree. Roma is fifth in the Serie A table this season.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Match Week 34 Preview: Merseyside Derby Affects Races At Both Ends Of The Table; Gunners Hope To Sink Manchester United; Spurs Look To Swat Bees; Burnley Fights For Survival Versus Wolves

The Merseyside derby has both title and relegation implications this weekend when Everton visits Anfield to face Liverpool. Burnley’s win on Thursday means Everton is just one point from  being relegated to playing outside the top tier for the first time since 1954. Liverpool is one point from overtaking Manchester City to claim a second Premier League title in three years.

Manchester City is home to a Watford squad which has lost its last 14 matches across all competitions against the Citizens.

Burnley hosts Wolverhampton in what promises to be a low scoring and bruising affair. Burnley has scored the second fewest goals in the Premier League. Wolverhampton has allowed the fourth fewest. Burnley has captured 7 of its last 12 available points to keep the heat on Everton as the two clubs battle for survival.

Tottenham Hotspur is holding onto fourth position in the table by virtue of goal differential over rival Arsenal. Spurs are away to Brentford Saturday following last week’s surprising home loss to Brighton. Christian Ericksen has fueled a successful run for Brentford which has seen the Bees win five of six matches to climb to 12th in the table. The great Dane will be facing his former team in Tottenham Hotspur and his former manager at Inter Milan, Antonio Conte.

Arsenal hosts a Manchester United side which has lost its last three away matches and has failed to score in its last three trips to the Emirates. Manchester United hopes will be pinned to Cristiano Ronaldo who is expected to return to action for the Red Devils.

Arsenal found its long missing attack by scoring four goals in its mid-week win over Chelsea which snapped a three-match losing run for the Gunners. Chelsea now hosts West Ham in a London derby Sunday. Chelsea will try to avoid losing a fourth consecutive home match for the first time since 1978. West Ham, meanwhile, have won four and drawn one of their last five away matches. Third place Chelsea is five points in front of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in the top four race. West Ham leads Wolves by three points for a Europa Conference League qualifying berth for next year but the Hammers could be more interested in next week’s Europa League semifinal.

Selhurst Park will be the venue for a rare Premier League matchup between former MLS managers when Crystal Palace hosts Leeds. Patrick Vieira has been lauded for making Palace a more exciting team though the Eagles have recently managed just a single goal in back-to-back losses. Leeds manager Jesse Marsch has made a positive impression in the league by winning three and drawing one of his last four matches in charge to move Leeds five points above the relegation zone.

Norwich and Newcastle were the league’s two bottom clubs on New Year’s Day. Newcastle has subsequently rocketed to 11th in the table under miracle worker manager Eddie Howe. Norwich manager Dean Smith, meanwhile, has been unable to do much with the Canaries after replacing Daniel Farke. Norwich remains in the league’s cellar, eight points from safety.

Aston Villa has been underwhelming under Manager Steven Gerrard, having lost four matches in a row. The Villans travel to Leicester this weekend. The ninth place Foxes will be tempted to rest players in advance of their Europa Conference League semifinal match versus Roma next Thursday.

A south coast derby has Southampton visiting Brighton. Southampton has won only one of its last eight matches, but the Seagulls are terrible at home. Brighton has no wins in its last seven home contests and has failed to score in its last five appearances before the home crowd.

Mid-Week Results: Liverpool Embarrass Manchester United; Arsenal Shows Fight; Everton Rescues A Point; Burnley Heats Up Relegation Race

Liverpool humiliated Manchester United in a 4-0 victory at Anfield. Liverpool has outscored the Red Devils by an aggregate 9-0 in the two league matches between the historic rivals this season. Jurgen Klopp’s side thus becomes the first Premier League team to score at least eight goals against Manchester United in a single season. Mohamed Salah broke out of his scoring slump to score two goals for Liverpool while line mates Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane also struck for goals in punishing a poor Manchester United defense.

The game was no contest between the two mismatched sides. Manchester United was playing without Cristiano Ronaldo who was grieving the loss of his infant son. Supporters of both teams expressed their sympathy and support for the Portuguese legend in a seventh minute tribute. There are few positives this season for the Red Devils beyond Ronaldo and goalkeeper David De Gea. The club has now formally announced Ajax’s Erik ten Hag as their manager for next season. The task for the Dutchman will be enormous. Current interim manager and future consultant Ralph Rangnick has claimed that as many as ten new players will be required to change the club’s current trajectory.

Manchester City maintained its one-point lead over Liverpool with a 3-0 defeat of Brighton. All three goals came in the second half after the league leaders had struggled early to break down the Brighton defense. Mahrez, Foden and Silva found the net for the defending champions in second half play. Brighton has never won a Premier League match at Manchester City.

The Arsenal attack awoke from its slumbers to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat in a 4-2 defeat of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Eddie Nketiah got off the bench and out of Manager Mikel Arteta’s doghouse to score two goals in the Arsenal victory. The Gunners are now even on points with fourth place Tottenham Hotspur in the race for Champions League qualification. Chelsea, meanwhile, continued to display defensive frailty. Manager Thomas Tuchel has watched his club concede 11 goals in three consecutive home defeats across all competitions. A Richarlison goal in stoppage time versus Leicester could prove critical to Everton’s Premier League survival. The point gained in the 1-1 draw is the current difference between Everton and Burnley who are battling to avoid relegation. Current relegation zone occupant Burnley closed distance on Everton with its 2-0 win over Southampton on Thursday. The Clarets won for the first time since the sacking of Manager Sean Dyche and declared themselves still in the fight for survival with the victory. Newcastle won its third consecutive league game and sixth consecutive home match in a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. Miguel Almiron’s 32nd minute goal was the difference for Newcastle as Crystal Palace managed just two shots on target. The Eagles have scored once in losing their last three matches across all competitions. 



Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Match Week 33 Results And Midweek Preview: Ronaldo Shines; Seagulls Strike Again; Gunner Slide Continues; Bees Strike Late

Cristiano Ronaldo rescued Manchester United with his 50th career hat trick as a Red Devil in a 3-2 defeat of Norwich. Manchester United had squandered a 2-0 lead over the League’s cellar dwellers before Ronaldo rescued his underperforming teammates with a 76th minute free kick for his third goal. Ronaldo has hat tricks in two of his past three league appearances to single handedly keep Manchester United in the top four race.

The Portuguese superstar now trails only Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-min in Premier League scoring this season and has surpassed 20 goals across all competitions, becoming the first Manchester United player to do so since Ronaldo’s 2008/09 season for the Red Devils. Manchester United is solidly back in the top four race, three points behind fourth place Tottenham Hotspur, after rival competitors for the number four spot suffered a rough weekend.

Brighton and Hove Albion continued to prove surprising spoilers in the top four race when the Seagulls defeated Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 on Saturday, one week after the Seagulls defeated Arsenal. Brighton held Spurs without a shot on target as the Seagulls scored in the 90th minute to record a second consecutive win in north London. Brighton has shockingly emerged from a six-match losing run spanning February and March to remain in contention for its first ever Premier League top half finish.

Spurs remained three points ahead of Arsenal, Brighton’s victims of the week prior, when the Gunners again showed a lack of firepower in a 1-0 defeat to a Southampton side which had conceded six goals in a loss to Chelsea the week before. Arsenal’s third consecutive loss and fourth in five matches has changed the complexion of the top four race. Arsenal has scored twice in that run of five matches as the absence of a Premier League quality striker has become glaringly evident.

West Ham wasted an opportunity to go level with Manchester United and Arsenal on points when the Hammers drew 1-1 with Burnley at London Stadium. Burnley were bright in their first match since the sacking of Sean Dyche but bungled the chance for the win when Maxwel Cornet missed a penalty kick. West Ham dominated play towards match end but was stonewalled by the acrobatic efforts of Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope.

Brentford’s 2-1 win over Watford was the Bees’ third consecutive win and Brentford’s fifth victory in the Bees’ last six outings. Christian Ericksen has been integral to Brentford’s run and the Danish international’s cross was headed in by teammate Pontus Jansson five minutes into second half stoppage time to further damage Watford’s survival hopes. The Hornets equaled a Premier League record with a tenth consecutive home defeat. Jansson’s goal for the Bees was the 15th time Watford has conceded in the final 10 minutes of a Premier League match this season, more times than any other league team.

Newcastle also scored five minutes into final stoppage time to take all three points in 2-1 home win over Leicester. Bruno Guimaraes scored a brace for Newcastle, including the match winner and the January transfer now has three goals in five starts for the Magpies. Newcastle has won eight of 12 matches to eliminate any relegation threat for the Magpies. Leicester manager Brendan Rogers made eight lineup changes from the team’s Europa Conference League match on Thursday. Guimaraes first goal off came off a corner kick, marking the 17th goal from a set piece that the Foxes have conceded this season, more than any other Premier League team.

Mid-Week Matches

Six Premier League matches are scheduled from Tuesday through Thursday this week as the league catches up on rescheduled matches. Action begins Tuesday with the latest chapter of the historic Liverpool and Manchester United rivalry. That rivalry has dimmed in recent years due to the struggles of Manchester United and the ascendancy of Liverpool under manager Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool’s clashes with Manchester City and its legendary manager Pep Guardiola have had far more bearing in determining recent Premier League and cup championships. Liverpool cannot afford a loss, or they could lose touch with Manchester City in the league race where they trail by a point. Manchester United is still trying to grab the final Champions League slot for next year. The Red Devils will be without Ronaldo who will miss the match due to the passing of his infant son. Without their primary goal threat, the match at Anfield should be an uphill challenge for United.

A London derby Wednesday also has top four implications as Arsenal heads to Chelsea hoping to snap a three-match losing run for the Gunners. Arsenal has lost four of five matches to surrender its command of the fourth and final Champions League berth to rival Tottenham Hotspur. The Gunners trail Spurs by three points in the table and are level on points with Manchester United. Third place Chelsea has won five of its last six matches to build a five-point lead over Tottenham Hotspur for third position in the table with two matches in hand.

Brighton and Hove Albion shook up the race for fourth with wins the past two weeks over Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. The Seagulls can now play spoiler in the title race when they visit Manchester City on Wednesday. Manchester City and Liverpool are separated by a point at the top of the table with a loss potentially fatal to the title hopes of either side. The Seagulls have never won a league match at the Etihad and failed to score a goal in three consecutive and five of their last seven league visits to Manchester City’s home.

Two matches bear watching this week in the battle for survival by teams further down the table. Everton hosts Leicester on Wednesday hoping to build on its three-point lead over Burnley for the final invitation to compete in the league next season. There has been no place like home for the Toffees who have registered seven of their eight wins in the league this season at Goodison Park. Leicester, meanwhile, has lost six of its last eight away matches. A Burnley win versus Southampton on Thursday, coupled with an Everton loss to the Foxes, would put the Clarets even on points with the Toffees though Everton would still have a match in hand. The two clubs battling to avoid relegation have the same goal differential entering this week.

Mid table sides Newcastle and Crystal Palace meet at St. James Park Wednesday. The two teams are level on points, but Newcastle has been a tale of two seasons as Eddie Howe has reversed the direction of a franchise which was dwelling in the relegation zone for much of the first part of the season. The Magpies have won their last five home matches at St. James Park. Crystal Palace has successfully transitioned to a younger, more attacking club under Manager Patrick Vieira. Club stalwart Wilfried Zaha has seemed re-energized for the Eagles this season and needs one more goal to establish a new personal best for league goals in a season. 

FA Cup

Liverpool and Chelsea advance to Cup Final

Liverpool and Chelsea will face each other in the FA Cup final. The two sides met earlier this season in a Carabao Cup final which saw Liverpool prevail when Chelsea’s substitute goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga missed the game’s final kick in a match which went to a penalty shootout. Liverpool advanced to the rematch by outlasting Manchester City in a 3-2 FA Cup semifinal win. The Reds had sprinted to a 3-0 halftime lead before Manchester City made it more a of a contest with two second half goals. Sadio Mane scored a first half brace for the Reds after Ibrahima Konate scored the opening goal with his header. American goalkeeper Zack Steffen played in place of Ederson in goal for Manchester City and was culpable on Mane’s first goal, providing a two-goal lead for Liverpool, after Steffen lost possession of the ball in his own box. Liverpool remains in contention for a quadruple of titles this season. The Reds, one point behind Manchester City in the Premier League race, have won the Carabao cup, advanced to the final of the FA Cup and will be playing in the semifinal of the Champions League against Villareal.

Chelsea advanced to face Liverpool in the FA Cup final when the Blues eliminated Crystal Palace 2-0 in the other semifinal match. Crystal Palace played well organized defense and kept Chelsea scoreless until the 65th minute when substitute, and former Crystal Palace loan player, Ruben Loftus-Cheek gave Chelsea the lead. Mason Mount scored the clincher 11 minutes later. Crystal Palace, playing without the Chelsea loaned Conor Gallagher, presented little threat in attack despite the loud exhortations of its boisterous fan base which was in full voice at Wembley. Chelsea will be playing in its third consecutive FA Cup final when it faces Liverpool. The Blues lost last season’s final to Leicester. 


Friday, April 15, 2022

Match Week 33 Preview: Focus on Fourth; Burnley Rolls Dyche; Hornets and Bees on Different Flight Paths

The top three clubs are involved with FA Cup semifinals this weekend as league competition focuses on the battle for fourth place and Champions League qualification. Tottenham Hotspur is home to Brighton as Manager Antonio Conte looks to protect Spurs’ fourth-place position and ensure Champions League competition for next year. Qualification for Spurs could be a key determinant in the club’s ability to retain both its highly successful manager and star striker Harry Kane. Spurs’ run-in will unfortunately be without wing back Matt Doherty who has been ruled out with injury for the rest of the season after contributing two goals and four assists in Tottenham’s last six league matches. Brighton is in London for a second straight week after shocking Arsenal at the Emirates in its last contest. The victory over Arsenal ended a seven-match winless run for the Seagulls.

Arsenal is at Southampton this weekend trying to revive their top four hopes after two consecutive losses and three defeats in their last four matches. The Gunners have failed to score more than a goal in those four matches as the absence of an effective striker is beingly keenly felt by Manager Mikel’ Arteta’s young squad. Main center forward Alexandre Lacazette has failed to score since December. The Saints, meanwhile, are reeling from a 6-0 home loss to Chelsea last week and it will be interesting to see the response from Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl’s club. Hasenhuttl reaffirmed this week a stated goal of finishing in the top half of the table.

Four different clubs are within a point of currently tenth place Crystal Palace. West Ham is six points removed from the top four as the Hammers welcome Burnley to London Stadium. Burnley made news on Friday by sacking Sean Dyche who had been the Premier League’s longest serving manager.

Dyche seemed a miracle worker in his decade long tenure, navigating a low budget squad to become a Premier League presence. Burnley is completing a sixth season in the league after Dyche brought the club up for a second time. Dyche qualified Burnley for European competition, the club’s first such participation in 51 years, after the 2017/18 season. A lack of investment by the club seems finally to have taken a toll this season as the club has struggled to escape the relegation zone. Burnley’s purchase in a leveraged buyout by ALK Capital has put further financial pressure on the club. Dyche’s dismissal appears a panicked move with eight matches remaining to preserve Premier League survival and the wealth which comes with that competition. Ironically, Dyche may have given Burnley its best chance to survive. The managerial change follows the Clarets’ devastating loss to bottom of the table Norwich last weekend, just days after a memorable win over Everton. Burnley fell back to four points behind the Toffees with the Claret loss to the Canaries and Everton’s win at home versus Manchester United.

The unsettled Burnley situation is welcome news for homestanding West Ham as the Hammers will be fatigued from their quarterfinal win in the Europa League Thursday. While enjoying European success, the Hammers have lost two of their last three league matches and are only two points ahead of eighth place Wolverhampton. An eighth-place finish could drop the Hammers from European competition next season, absent the London club capturing the Europa League title this season.

Manchester United is level on points with West Ham as the Red Devils host Norwich this weekend. United has dropped 10 points in its last five matches as criticism of the underperforming and seemingly disinterested squad has intensified. Police were called to disperse disgruntled fans protesting at the club’ training ground on Friday. Ajax Manager Eric Ten Hag is rumored to have reached agreement to manage Manchester United next season and the Dutchman will be closely watching and evaluating the players he may be inheriting in coming weeks. Despite picking up four points in their last two matches, Norwich remains seven points from survival with seven matches to play.

Watford seems certain to join Norwich in the Championship next season. Manager Roy Hodgson, the third Watford manager of the season, has been unable to rally the Hornets. Watford has lost four of its last five matches and boasts a point total and goal differential superior only to Norwich. The Hornets play host to Brentford Saturday. The two promoted clubs are on entirely different paths. Brentford are 13th in the table after winning four of their last five matches. The addition of midfielder Christian Eriksen has ignited the Bee attack led by forwards Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumu.

Newcastle no longer has relegation concerns with the Magpies enjoying a 10-point cushion versus the current relegation line when they host Leicester Sunday. Leicester have won four of six as their injury plagued season has taken an upturn with the return of once injured defenders.

FA Cup

Manchester City and Liverpool face each other for the second time in a week when the Premier League elites meet in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley. While Manchester City retains a slim margin over Liverpool in the league title chase, it is the Reds who remain in contention for a quadruple of titles this season. Liverpool has already claimed the Carabao Cup and, like City, has advanced to the semifinals of the Champions League. Manchester City suffered injury blows in its bruising Champions League match with Atletico Madrid during the week. Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Waler are doubts for the FA Cup match with Liverpool. Chelsea plays Crystal Palace in the other semi-final on Sunday. Crystal palace will be without star player Conor Gallagher who is disallowed from playing against his parent club. The play of youngsters Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise thus become even more critical for the Eagles.

Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Manchester City and Liverpool could be headed for yet another matchup as the two clubs advanced this week to the semifinals of the Champions League. Manchester City will face Real Madrid on their side of the draw after the Citizens held Atletico Madrid to a bruising 0-0 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano. City’s goal in the first leg at home, an impressive collaboration between Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne, held up over the course of a hard-fought battle Wednesday which deteriorated into thuggery in its late stages.

After Foden was violently fouled by Atletico’s Felipe, former Manchester City player Stefan Savic tried to drag the prone Englishman from the pitch. In the ensuing melee Savic both pulled Jack Grealish’s hair and head-butted Raheem Sterling. Police separated the two teams in the tunnel following the game. Manchester City emerged from the chaos to put Manager Pep Guardiola into his ninth Champions League semifinal, breaking a deadlock with Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho for the most appearances by a manager.

Ancelotti will be facing Guardiola in the semifinal after Real Madrid eliminated Chelsea in a classic quarterfinal. Chelsea overcame a 3-1 defeat in the first leg to sprint to a 3-0 advantage in Madrid on goals by Mason Mount, Antonio Rudiger and Timo Werner. Werner’s 75th minute goal appeared to complete a historic comeback only for Real Madrid’s Luka Modric to unleash a piece of magic five minutes later with a lofted pass to Rodrigo who converted to put the tie into extra time. Karim Benzema put Real Madrid through to the semifinals with his extra time goal, his seventh in his last three Champions League appearances. The brilliance of Benzema and Modric eclipsed Chelsea’s valiant defense of its title as Real Madrid now moves on to face Manchester City in pursuit of a 14th Champions League title.

Liverpool has reached the Champions League semifinal for a twelfth time, equaling the mark of Manchester United for most appearances by an English club. Liverpool maintained a two goal first leg advantage in its tie with Benfica as the Reds drew 3-3 at Anfield. Bobby Firmino had a brace for the Reds in an entertaining match which saw Benfica erase three different Liverpool leads. Suspect defending by the Premier League club could be a risk in the remaining rounds of the competition, starting with a semifinal pairing with surprising Villareal.

Former Arsenal manager Unai Emery is once again proving himself expert in cup competitions as he directed Villareal to an upset of Bayern Munich in their quarterfinal match. Emery has won the Europa League on four separate occasions and is now proving his mettle in the Champions League by defeating the German giant.

The first legs of the two Champions League semifinals take place on April 26th and 27th.

Europa League

West Ham advanced to the Europa League semifinal with a 3-0 walkover at Lyon. The two sides had been knotted at a goal apiece after a first leg in London which saw West Ham play much of the match with only 10 men. The fully staffed Hammers had an easier time in France as Lyon had no response after West Ham went up 3-0 at the 48-minute mark on a goal by Jarrod Bowen. Manager David Moyes’s side now moves on to face a coincidental foe in the semifinal. Eintracht Frankfurt, conquerors of Barcelona on Thursday, will face the Hammers in a rematch of the 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup, the last European semifinal in which West Ham appeared. The German squad eliminated Barcelona from the competition on Thursday.

Europa Conference League

Leicester advanced to the semifinals of the Europa Conference League with a come from behind 2-1 win over PSV. Down a goal late in the second half, Leicester pulled even on a James Maddison goal assisted by Ayoze Perez. The Foxes’ Ricardo Perriera then ended PSV’s 15 match unbeaten run across all competitions with his 88th minute winner. Leicester will be playing in the club’s first ever European semifinal just a year after capturing their first FA Cup title.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Match Week 32 Results: No Decision In Title Duel; Super Spurs; Everton Embarrass Manchester United; Seagull’s Dive Bomb Arsenal; West Ham Stung By Bees; Burnley Bumbles Its Chance; Chelsea Romps Over Sinful Saints; Leeds Dispose of Watford; Eagles Run Ends

Two evenly matched clubs failed to produce a winner for a second time this season as Manchester City and Liverpool fought to a 2-2 draw at the Etihad. The clubs similarly drew 2-2 at Anfield earlier in the season. Manchester City had the better of play and took the lead twice only for a tenacious Liverpool side to twice reinsert itself back into the Premier League chase. Kevin De Bruyne scored in just the fifth minute of the match and Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus gave the Citizens a 2-1 halftime lead after Diogo Jota had scored for Liverpool’s first equalizer. Mohamed Salah, quiet in the first half, provided the pass for Sadio Mane to tie the match a second time just a minute into the second half. Manchester City’s best hope for a winner and separation in their title race ended when Riyad Mahrez lofted a chance over the crossbar in the final minutes. Pep Guardiola’s side retain their one-point lead in the Premier League table but allowed Liverpool to stay hotly on their heels with the shared points. Liverpool missed a chance to overtake the leaders but remain poised to capitalize on any future slip by the defending champions. The two sides clash again next week in the FA Cup semifinals when Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have another chance to gain separation in their record against each other which remains dead even dating back to their days in the Bundesliga.

Tottenham Hotspur Manager Antonio Conte is demonstrating his own managerial pedigree in turning around a Spurs season once thought lost but which is now on track to capture a top four spot. The former Premier League and Serie A title winning manager saw his current club run over Aston Villa 4-0 on Saturday for a fourth consecutive league win and sixth in Spurs’ last seven league outings. Son Heung-min struck for his first hat trick of the season to put Tottenham Hotspur three points ahead of rival Arsenal for the final Champions League berth as Spurs’ turnaround has seen them gain nine points on their north London rival in the last three weeks.

Villa lost a fourth consecutive match as questions are asked about Steven Gerrard’s impact on the club. Gerrard has now suffered 11 losses in his 20 matches in charge at Villa after his defense was sliced open by Spurs in front of the home fans in Birmingham.

Arsenal awoke from a match long slumber to score in the 89th minute of its match with Brighton only to cruelly tease fans of a comeback win versus the Seagulls. The miracle finish was not to be as the Gunners fell for a second straight week in a 2-1 loss which damages their Champions League hopes. The away loss last week against a Crystal Palace side which had been playing well was understandable. Losing to a Brighton squad at home was a completely different matter and raises alarm bells for the Gunners’ European qualification hopes. Brighton’s two goals were double what the Seagulls had scored in their prior seven league matches and the surprise win by Brighton was just the fourth win of the season for the south coast team.

Everton Manager Frank Lampard was able to celebrate a rare positive moment in his brief Everton tenure as his Toffees rose up in front of the Goodison faithful to capture all three points in a 1-0 win over lifeless Manchester United. The Toffees went ahead in the first half hour on a goal by favorite son Anthony Gordon who first joined the club a decade ago as an eleven-year-old. Gordon’s shot ricocheted into the net off a statuesque and immobile Manchester United center back Harry Maguire.

That one goal was enough as Manchester United were unable to generate any sustained form of threat. Just days after a devastating defeat at Burnley, the Toffees responded and may have saved their season. The Red Devils, meanwhile, showed no sense of urgency amid a purported chase for Champions League football next season. Interim Manager Ralph Rangnick seems unable to stoke his players’ interest and the interim manager now holds the dubious distinction of having the lowest Premier League winning percentage, at 47%, of any Manchester United manager. Cristiano Ronaldo was the rare Red Devil to show emotion on Sunday. After first receiving a yellow card for kicking a dead ball into the crowd, a frustrated Ronaldo later slapped a phone from the hand of an Everton supporter as the Portuguese superstar limped down the player’s tunnel following another abject defeat for his club. “Phone Gate” is under investigation by local authorities.

West Ham also lost ground to Arsenal in the top four chase when the Hammers lost at surging Brentford. Playing just three days after their Europa League draw with Lyon, the Hammers appeared fatigued and failed to have a single shot on target in the second half as they tried to overcome goals by Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumu and Ivan Toney each of whom was assisted by the other on the Brentford goals. The Bees won for a fourth time in their last five outings, a run which has coincided with the addition of Christian Eriksen to their midfield.

Burnley may have bungled their chances for survival this season by inexcusably losing 2-0 to Norwich just days after the Clarets’ huge win over Everton. Burnley’s loss and the Toffees’ win over Manchester United now undoes the once meaningful win for the Clarets. A brutal miss of an open net by Burnley’s Maxwel Cornet in the 65th minute epitomized the frustrating day for Burnley in a match where it needed to secure all three points. The Clarets have failed to score in three matches to date against the teams currently below them in the table, Norwich and Watford. Everton and the Leeds were the clear beneficiaries of Burnley’s bungle.

Leeds further removed itself from relegation concern in a 3-0 win at Watford. Manager Jesse Marsch has now led Leeds to three wins in a four-match unbeaten run which has put the Whites nine points above the relegation zone. Watford Manager Roy Hodgson faces his first Premier League relegation after a fourth loss in the last five matches for the Hornets. Watford managed just  a single shot on target against a Leeds side which has improved its defensive work under Marsch.

Southampton experienced another of its inexplicable defensive meltdowns which have been sprinkled across the relatively successful managerial tenure of Ralph Hasenhuttl. Chelsea was the beneficiary Saturday in a 6-0 destruction of the Saints at Saint Mary’s which conjured bad memories of 9-0 Saints defeats in recent years to Manchester United and Leicester. Southampton, which held Manchester City to a single goal in drawing twice with the league leaders this season, was undone by an energetic Chelsea attack which had been on sabbatical in recent matches. The victory provided a well needed boost for a Chelsea side which had lost two consecutive matches to Burnley and Real Madrid, respectively. Mason Mount and Timo Werner scored braces in the goal fest for Chelsea while Southampton managed just one shot on target versus the 14 put on net by the Blues.

Wolverhampton’s hopes for Europe took a hit in a 1-0 loss at Newcastle. Newcastle striker Chris Wood scored a penalty for his first home goal as a Magpie to account for the match’s only scoring. Wolves were surprisingly sluggish in a match where three points would have moved them up to sixth in the table, surpassing Manchester United and West Ham who also lost on the weekend. Newcastle, 19th in the table at the close of January, have moved ten points clear of the drop zone.

Leicester was a 2-1 winner at home versus Crystal Palace as Leicester midfielder Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall assisted on Ademola Lookman’s opening strike before scoring his own first Premier League goal. Wilfried Zaha put in the rebound of his own penalty miss to halve the second half deficit in the 66th minute but the Eagles ultimately failed to extend their seven-match unbeaten run. 

Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Manchester City and Liverpool return to Champions League action on Wednesday. Manchester City takes a 1-0 advantage to Spain for its match with Atletico Madrid. Liverpool has a 3-1 lead in their tie with Sporting Lisbon which resumes at Anfield. Chelsea has the most difficult mountain to climb as they occupy a 3-1 hole and play a day earlier at Real Madrid Tuesday in the second leg of the tie with the current La Liga leaders. Romelu Lukaku is a reported injury scratch for Chelsea which probably ranks surprisingly low on supporters’ concerns.

Europa League

West Ham is at Lyon with the teams tied at a goal apiece in their Europa League tie. The Hammers survived a first half red card to keep things level after the first leg at London Stadium.

Europa Conference League

Leicester travels to PSV for the second leg of a tie in which neither club has yet found the net.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Match Week 32 Preview: Clash of the Titans; Spurs Try To Keep Seat at the Table; Hammers Head to Beehive; Manchester United Could Deal Relegation Blow to Everton; Burnley Looks For Great Escape

Manchester City and Liverpool collide with the Premier League title in the balance on Sunday. A 10-match winning run by Liverpool, during which Manchester City has dropped seven points, leaves the league’s top two clubs just a point apart entering the weekend clash. The title chase was thought done and dusted when earlier this season Liverpool was as many as 14 points behind the Manchester juggernaut. Sunday’s match pits the past two winners of the Premier League and two clubs who once again have separated themselves from the rest of the league.

Third place Chelsea is a distant 13 points behind second place Liverpool. Both Manchester City and Liverpool have accumulated positive goal differentials in excess of 50 versus 35 for Chelsea. Liverpool leads the league in goals scored with 77 while Manchester City has conceded a league low 18 goals this season. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola have faced each other 22 times with each winning nine matches.

Fourth place Tottenham Hotspur, currently fourth in the table, continues its quest for Champions League qualification with a trip to Aston Villa. Spurs have won five of six matches since a dispiriting loss to Burnley to climb from eighth in the table and displace rival Arsenal in the top four with last weekend’s results. Villa have lost three in a row to fall out of the top half of the table.

A London derby will see surprising Brentford host West Ham. The Bees have won three of their last four matches as the promoted side has been energized by the addition of Christian Eriksen who is once again displaying his elite skills following a life-threatening health scare at Euro 2020.

The Bees have captured 11 points in London derbies this season including a win at West Ham. Only Chelsea has garnered more points this season from contests with London rivals. West Ham is locked in a battle with Manchester United and Wolverhampton for the sixth spot in the table which would mean automatic Europa League qualification for next season. The Hammers also have an outside chance to overtake north London clubs Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur for a Champions League berth.

Arsenal are home to Brighton with the Gunners still licking their wounds from a surprising loss at Crystal Palace. Manager Mikel Arteta will be pleased to have the Seagulls in his sights as the south coast club has been abysmal, scoring just a single goal in losing five of its last six matches.

Chelsea visits the south coast hoping for a restorative stay in Southampton. The once stingy Chelsea defense has been ravaged for seven goals in smashing defeats to Brentford in the Premier League and Real Madrid in the Champions League. Chelsea Manager Thomas Tuchel has never lost consecutive Premier League matches. Southampton had lost three in a row before the Saints’ draw at Leeds last weekend.

Leeds visits Watford in a match with relegation implications. Watford sits three points behind seventeenth place Everton for the final safe table position. Leeds is positioned six points above the dreaded relegation zone after two wins and a draw under Manager Jesse Marsch in their last three matches.

Burnley heads to Norwich with a chance to emerge from the relegation zone for the first time since August. The Canaries appear cooked, but Burnley edged closer to survival with a critical 3-2 win over Everton on Wednesday. Maxwell Cornet’s 85th minute winner moved the Clarets to within one point of the Toffees and safety in the table.

Downward spiraling Everton will try to regroup at home this weekend versus Manchester United. Everton, while burdened with the worst away record in the league this season, has more home wins than any team in the bottom half of the table. Manager Frank Lampard is desperate for points to avoid the relegation of the historic club he has so recently joined. Manchester United, meanwhile, visits Goodison engaged in a battle for European places which may not have the full attention of all of its players. The dispirited squad awaits the appointment of a new manager for next season as several players shun the system and practices of interim manager Ralph Rangnick. Disgruntled players such as Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo could be pondering their futures more than the current race. A vast difference in roster quality, however, should lift the Red Devils and potentially drop the Toffees into the relegation zone.

Leicester drew at Manchester United last weekend and now face an unexpected challenge at King Power from a Crystal Palace side which has been wreaking havoc in the past few weeks. The Eagles have lost just once in their last eight league matches which have included a draw with Manchester City and wins over Arsenal and Wolves. Leicester has also been an improved club in recent weeks as long injured defenders have returned to the line-up. The Foxes have won three of their past five matches.

Wolves face a Newcastle side which has experienced a rough stretch in recent weeks. The Magpies have lost three straight matches following an impressive nine match unbeaten run which removed them from the relegation discussion. Wolves have won three of four as they chase a Europa League berth.