Friday, September 30, 2022

Match Week 9 Preview: Manchester And North London Derbies Headline Premier League Return

While absence may have made the heart grow fonder, a glittering weekend schedule also heightens the anticipation for the Premier League’s return from international break. There are attractive matchups at every level of the table. The top two clubs are involved in local derbies with heated rivals. Table leading Arsenal hosts Tottenham Hotspur while Manchester City welcomes Manchester United to the Etihad.

Manchester United has recovered from early season setbacks to win four consecutive matches and topple previously undefeated Arsenal at Old Trafford in the Red Devils’ last outing. The center back pairing of Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane has proven highly effective with captain Harry Maguire relegated to a bench role.

Tyrell Malacia has made himself a home at right back, forcing Luke Shaw to the bench. Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford appear more comfortable in Eric ten Hag’s free flowing system of attack. Cristiano Ronaldo has been largely reduced to a substitute role but could start Saturday should Rashford not be sufficiently recovered from a muscle pull. Antony makes his second Premier League appearance after scoring in his debut versus Arsenal. Ten Hag’s experiment of playing Christian Eriksen in a deep lying role has found success with the Dane triggering the United attack with his accurate passing from distance.

Manchester City is currently tied with Tottenham Hotspur with both clubs just a point behind Arsenal. The Citizens have become even more dangerous with the successful incorporation of Erling Haaland as a true number nine in Manager Pep Guardiola’s lineup. Haaland already has 11 goals in his 7 Premier League matches. Kevin De Bruyne is also in top form and leads the league with his six assists. Manchester City leads the league in goals scored, finding the net five times more than next closest Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs will try to knock Arsenal from its top of the table perch when Manager Antonio Conte takes his undefeated club to the Emirates. In Spurs last outing versus Leicester, Son Heung-min dramatically broke from a poor run of form which had seen him benched by Conte. Entering as a second half substitute against the Foxes, Son exploded for three goals, his first scores of the Premier League season. Son will need play a large role versus Arsenal, particularly with Spurs forward Dejan Kulusevski potentially sidelined by a hamstring injury. The match versus Spurs will represent a major test for Arsenal which fumbled its only meeting with a top six contender this season in its loss to Manchester United. The home match versus a historic rival should provide an electric atmosphere for the Gunners to prove themselves against a quality opponent.

Bukayo Saka is in a fine run of form for the Gunners, assisting on two goals for Arsenal in their last match versus Brentford and performing well for England over the international break. Gabriel Jesus leads the Gunners with four league goals, just one more than teammates Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard. Arsenal’s prospects this weekend could depend on the fitness of several key players. Odegaard encouragingly saw action with Norway over international break, a hopeful sign that he can return to league action after being held out from the Brentford match due to a calf injury. Thomas Partey, however, returned early from international duty after sustaining a knee injury. Ukrainian international Oleksandr Zinchenko sat out the international break after missing the Brentford match with a calf injury. The Gunners are hopeful all three players will be available for the derby. Arsenal will be looking to avenge a 3-0 defeat to Spurs in the clubs’ last meeting. That May loss at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was one of two defeats suffered by the Gunners in their last three matches of last season which foiled their hopes of a top four finish.

Graham Potter will manage his first Premier League match in charge of Chelsea when the Blues travel to Crystal Palace Saturday. Chelsea has defeated the Eagles in their last nine league meetings so eyebrows will be raised if Potter is unable to continue that streak. While currently seventh in the table, Chelsea is but three points outside its accustomed place in the top four and a good showing in a first outing under Potter could go a long way to reenergizing the Blues’ season.

Potter’s former club Brighton is under new management as the Seagulls surprisingly find themselves enjoying the rarefied air of the league’s top four. New manager Roberto De Zerbi faces a potentially rude welcome to the Premier League when Brighton travels to Anfield where Liverpool is unbeaten in its last 26 matches. The Reds have fallen to eighth in the league, winning but twice so far this season, and Manager Jurgen Klopp will be anxious to begin reversing their fortunes when they face the transitioning Seagulls.

Newcastle was touted for a potential top six challenge this season under Manager Eddie Howe but instead it is newly promoted Fulham which occupies sixth position as the Magpies visit the Cottagers this weekend. Newcastle has drawn five of its last six matches while not tasting victory since an opening win over Nottingham Forest. Fulham has won three of its last five matches, losing only to top four clubs Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur over that stretch. Aleksandar Mitrovic has six goals for the Cottagers, tying him with Harry Kane for second in the Premier League behind Erling Haaland.

Several of the remaining matches could factor in this season’s current and expected relegation fight. Bottom of the table Leicester is the only club not to have won a match this season. That could change on Monday when the Foxes play host to Nottingham Forest. Only a solitary win over West Ham in Week 2 accounts for the three points which separates newly promoted Forest from the feeble Foxes. Both sides look odds on favorites to go down.

The third member of the current relegation club, West Ham, has a golden opportunity to exit the drop zone this weekend when the Hammers host Wolverhampton. Goals could be scarce at London Stadium as Wolves and West Ham are the joint lowest scoring teams in the league this season with just three goals apiece after seven matches. West Ham would leapfrog Wolves and escape the relegation places with a win.

Bournemouth was expected to be a relegation contender but a three-match unbeaten run since the sacking of Scott Parker has raised the Cherries to 12th in the table. That unbeaten run faces a serious challenge when Brentford visits Saturday. Manager Thomas Frank will be looking for a response after the Bees’ abject capitulation to Arsenal in their last match before the break. Only three Premier League players have scored more than the five goals that Bees striker Ivan Toney has put in the net this season.

Everton and Southampton are level in the table as the Toffees head south to take on the Saints. Southampton has lost three of their past four matches, failing to score in each of those defeats. Everton has had similar scoring difficulties and hasn’t scored more than a goal in any match this season. The Toffees have not lost in five matches though, albeit drawing four consecutive meetings before a win over West Ham before the break. Nathan Patterson, a revelation at right back for Everton this season, is unfortunately sidelined by an ankle injury.

Leeds has lost two of its last three matches after a stinging 5-2 defeat at Brentford before the break. The Whites return home Sunday to face Aston Villa. Striker Patrick Bamford is reportedly fit for the match which is a huge boost but will matter little if the defensive shortcomings versus Brentford are not corrected. Aston Villa began to correct course with a draw and win before the break after Manager Steven Gerrard faced mounting pressure following four losses in Villa’s first five matches this season. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Premier League Hopes and Frustrations Evident In England v. Germany Match

The hopes and frustrations of two Premier League clubs were on display as England drew 3-3 with Germany on Monday. England, despite its abundance of Premier League talent, was relegated from the UEFA Nations League by its loss to Italy Friday. Things looked even darker on Monday as Manager Gareth Southgate’s squad fell behind 2-0 in the 67th minute of the Germany match.

Chelsea fans can empathize with England’s struggles. Chelsea forwards have been snakebit in front of goal in recent years, contributing to the recent sacking of Manager Thomas Tuchel. Those form of difficulties have also plagued the English national team which had failed to score from open play in the five matches leading into the Germany match. Former Manchester City and current Chelsea forward Raheem Sterling continued the poor track record as he came up empty on three different scoring opportunities in a goalless first half Monday.

Another underperforming Chelsea attacker, however, would find his scoring touch in a Germany shirt. Kai Havertz, scorer of one Premier League goal this season, struck twice for Germany in the match. Havertz’s first strike, for Germany’s second goal of the match, was a thunderous kick from afar following a pass from former Chelsea teammate Timo Werner. Further hope for both the Chelsea and England attacks was provided when Havertz’s Chelsea teammate Mason Mount would score to bring England even at 2-2 as Southgate’s club became far more aggressive after falling behind by two goals. England’s comeback, which saw a Harry Kane penalty give the Three Lions a 3-2 lead, ultimately failed when Havertz scored for a second time to rescue the draw for the Germans with just three minutes left in regulation.

Manchester United storylines were also front and center on Monday. Germany’s early two goals resulted from the continuing misadventures of Manchester United center back Harry Maguire. Manchester United’s captain had frustrated supporters with poor play earlier this season before being benched by Manager Eric ten Hag. England Manager Gareth Southgate, however,  has steadfastly kept the unpopular Maguire in his lineup. Booed by fans before the match, Maguire first gave the ball away and then immediately committed the penalty worthy foul leading to Germany’s first goal. Maguire would later be again dispossessed of the ball in the build up to Havertz’s first, and Germany’s, second goal.

Southgate is left to rue whether he needs to adopt ten Hag’s view on Maguire. The Red Devils have, after all, won four consecutive matches since Maguire was benched. Southgate was, however, rewarded for his faith in another Manchester United player. Luke Shaw, buried this season on the Manchester United bench, began England’s comeback on Monday by scoring on an assist from Chelsea’s Reece James. Shaw can now hope to start for his country in Qatar despite his plummeting club fortunes.

While Shaw and Maguire continue to play for England despite their club misfortune, two other United players were left off the national team roster for these latest Nations League matches despite their improved Premier League play. Marcus Rashford is rehabbing a hamstring, hoping to be ready for the Manchester derby this weekend. Sancho was a more puzzling omission. Both Red Devils may still hope for an opportunity to help Southgate’s often-stagnant attack in Qatar.  

Friday, September 23, 2022

As Premier League Pauses For International Break, How Do We See The Table Races ?

The Title Chase

There was debate before the season began as to whether Arsenal could mount a meaningful top four challenge. The Gunners have done better than that as they have taken the league by storm in leading the table after seven matches. Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have proven to be wise transfer acquisitions and Mikel Arteta has his club playing with flair. The club seems to be surviving a recent injury crisis in midfield where transfer acquisition Fabio Vieira is beginning to flash his talent. Young players such as Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka have helped to ignite a Gunner attack which trails only Manchester City and Spurs in goals scored.

Arsenal has won six of seven matches, but should a rough patch invariably materialize, Manchester City will be ready to pounce. Erling Haaland has wasted no time in answering questions regarding how he would adjust to the Premier League and how Manchester City would adjust to him. Haaland has burst from the gate with 11 goals in his first seven Premier League matches. Despite dropping points in two matches so far, Manchester City seems well poised for another title run, currently trailing surprising Arsenal by a single point.

Liverpool, on the other hand, is troubled right now. The front line has not been producing. The midfield lacks depth and possesses little creativity but for the oft injured Thiago. The defense has been a shambles as Virgil van Dijk has delivered some of his worst performances since joining the club and the offensive minded fullbacks are being consistently caught up field. Manager Jurgen Klopp and his talented roster will figure most things out, but this doesn’t look like a title year for Liverpool.

Undefeated Tottenham Hotspur deserves mention as a potential dark horse title contender, but Spurs haven’t really been challenged by an accommodating early season schedule. A draw with now seventh place Chelsea has become less impressive with the turmoil at Stamford Bridge which has largely removed Chelsea from title consideration this season. More might become clear regarding the title potential of both Arsenal and Spurs when the two clash in  the north London derby October 1.  

European Places

The top four would seem to have a reserved place for Manchester City and, despite early troubles, Liverpool would still seem to have too much talent to fall from the Champions League places. The remaining two Champions League berths should be a battle among four clubs. An exciting prospect for Premier League watchers should enfold as historic and bitter London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur cross swords in the battle for the top four.

Chelsea and Manchester United are the other two clubs with Champions League aspirations. Chelsea is under new ownership which acted much like old ownership in firing Champions League winning manager Thomas Tuchel after a ragged start to the season. Former Brighton Manager Graham Potter has replaced Tuchel. While respected for his tactical acumen, Potter has no big club experience and his Brighton clubs struggled to score much as Chelsea does. Expect the Blues to be in the mix but most likely drop to a Europa League versus Champions League berth.

Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag has made some bold personnel decisions and is molding the Red Devils to his style of play. After two embarrassing opening losses, United has rattled off four consecutive victories culminating an upset of table leading Arsenal. The Red Devils, currently fifth in the table, should be in position to qualify for Europa League once again and just possibly could bid for a Champions League berth. Brighton and Hove Albion is fourth in the table entering the international break. The loss of Manager Graham Potter to Chelsea, however, will be difficult to overcome. Robeto De Zerbi, with prior experience at Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk, takes over for Potter but could find it difficult to keep the low budget Seagulls aloft.

Fulham are another early season success with the newly promoted side sitting sixth at the break, though having played a match more than Chelsea and Liverpool who trail the Cottagers in the table by a small margin. Brighton could potentially contend for a Europa or Europa Conference berth. Fulham can be expected to fall back to where a mid-table finish would be a major success. An ambitious ownership group will be disappointed if Newcastle does not make a run for a European place. If the Magpies don’t improve from their current 10th place position, it could spell problems for Manager Eddie Howe.

The Middle of the Pack

Brentford currently sit one place above Newcastle in 9th position. The Bees seem to have alleviated concerns they would falter measurably due to the loss of Christian Ericksen. A midtable finish would mean success and the Bees under Manager Thomas Frank should have the roster to do so. Brentford striker Ivan Toney is in good form and is joined by other scoring options for the hardworking Bees.

Everton, Crystal Palace, and Aston Villa should also have enough to steer clear of relegation worries and finish midtable. Everton appears headed in the right direction with its rebuilt defense and now needs to work on its attack. Crystal Palace is also thin in attack but should be safe absent an injury to star Wilfried Zaha. Notably, the Eagles’ only two losses to date have been to the table’s top two clubs, Arsenal and Manchester City. Aston Villa has a roster deserving of a mid-table finish despite questions surrounding Manager Steven Gerrard. A recent draw with Manchester City did much to improve the club’s outlook after confidence waned earlier this season.

Leeds and Southampton reside in the mid-table neighborhood currently. The performance of both clubs has been inconsistent, however. Both should finish mid-table, but no one would be surprised if one or the other were to be drawn into the relegation scrap. Fulham will be more than happy to finish midtable and stay above the relegation fray.

Relegation Race

West Ham, Nottingham Forest and Leicester are currently on pace to be relegated. Oddly for a club that has won its first two European matches, West Ham sits in relegation infamy. The Hammers should be able to recover if Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen can awaken from their early season slumbers and if transfer acquisitions Lucas Paqueta, Maxwel Cornet, and Gianluca Scamacca can begin to make meaningful contributions.

Forest and Leicester, however, seem solid candidates to leave the division next year. A record number of signings has seemed to only create chaos for Forest which has conceded more goals than any club but for bottom dwelling Leicester. Leicester appears in a death spiral amid little investment from the club’s ownership. Defensive failings for the Foxes have seemed irreparable under Manager Brendan Rodgers who likely already would have been dismissed but for a lucrative severance arrangement in his contract.

Bournemouth is currently 12th in the table after a three-match unbeaten run under interim Manager Gary O’Neil has followed upon the sacking of Manager Scott Parker. There is little expectation that the “new manager bounce” effect will continue for much longer before the Cherries take their rightful place in the relegation fight.

Wolverhampton, currently hovering just above the relegation zone, can’t be excluded from the discussion of who will go down this year. The club’s desperation for scoring options is such that Diego Costa was recently signed, likely several years beyond when he might be expected to offer a meaningful contribution.

Southampton and Leeds also could be pulled into the fight for survival. Southampton has a young, unproven roster. Leeds must prove that Manager Jesse Marsch’s system can work over a full Premier League season. Newly promoted Fulham, despite its lofty current standing in the table, might also experience some relegation threat over the course of the long season.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Match Week 8 Results: Gunners Swat Bees; Erling Haul Increases; Son Rises; Everton Nail Hammers; Cottagers Move Into Top Six; No Victors in Howe Derby; Villans Defeat Saints

Arsenal rebounded from their loss to Manchester United with a dominant 3-0 victory over Brentford. Fabio Vieira, signed this past transfer window from Porto, replaced the injured Martin Odegaard in the starting lineup and delivered his first goal for the Gunners. There remains uncertainty as to how well Vieira’s slight fame will hold up against Premier League physicality but Manager Mikel Arteta’s pairing of Vieira with the more bruising presence of teammates Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka provided a balanced midfield that was effective against the Bees.

Vieira’s 49th minute goal removed all doubt from a contest where the Gunners had taken a two-goal halftime lead on first half goals by Gabriel Jesus and William Saliba. Bukayo Saka was credited with the assist on both the Vieira and Saliba goals for Arsenal. Brentford and star striker Ivan Toney, meanwhile, were quieted by an Arsenal defense which registered its third clean sheet of the season. The victory kept Arsenal at the top of the table by a single point over Manchester City.

The Citizens had an easy time of it at Wolverhampton in a 3-0 win. Jack Grealish scored one minute into the match, getting onto the end of a well-placed ball across the box from Kevin De Bruyne. Erling Haaland would then score his 11th goal of the Premier League season for a two-goal lead before Wolves were reduced to 10 men in the 33rd minute on a dangerous challenge by defender Nathan Collins. Phil Foden added a third Manchester City goal in the second half as Kevin De Bruyne earned his second assist of the match. De Bruyne’s two assists moved him to within one of Manchester City career assists leader David Silva and tied the Belgian midfielder with Steven Gerrard for seventh on the Premier League’s all-time list. Haaland’s goal, meanwhile, made him the first Premier League player to score in his first four away matches. Wolves failed to score for a fourth time this season and have the joint lowest goal output this season with West Ham, each club having found the net just three times in seven matches. Boos raining down from the home fans at Molineux Stadium may not bode well for the job security of Wolves Manager Bruno Lage.

Tottenham Hotspur remained unbeaten and level on points with Manchester City after a 6-2 destruction of Leicester. Son Heung-min scored his first three goals of this Premier League season with a second half hat trick which broke open the match. The Spurs star had been removed from the starting lineup leading into the game and seemed newly inspired upon his second half substitution and goal explosion.

Leicester’s collapse saw the Foxes lose for a sixth consecutive match. The 22 goals they’ve conceded this season are now the most allowed by any Premier League side in history after seven matches. Leicester goalkeeper Danny Ward has proved a poor replacement for club legend Kaspar Schmeichel as more than half the shots the Welsh goalie has faced have found the back of the net. Eleven of the 22 goals conceded by the Foxes have occurred in just the past two matches as the situation under Manager Brendan Rodgers continues to deteriorate.

Nottingham Forest are another club beset with a goal shipping defense as the promoted side has now conceded 14 goals over the last four matches. Forest, above only Leicester in the table, dropped a second consecutive match by a 3-2 score, falling to visiting Fulham on Friday. Fulham featured three different goal scorers, none named Mitrovic, in a six-minute burst of scoring beginning in the 54th minute. The Cottagers are proving they are more than a one-man team and have scoring options beyond prolific striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. Fulham’s third win in their past five matches moved the Cottagers into the top six of the table.

Everton secured their first win of the season after drawing their previous four matches. The Toffees were able to grind out a 1-0 victory over West Ham as former Brighton striker Neal Maupay delivered his first goal as a Toffee in the 53rd minute. A rebuilt Everton defense has been paying dividends for Manager Frank Lampard as his attack continues to evolve. Newly signed center backs James Tarkowski and Conor Coady have formed a solid pairing and right back Nathan Patterson has become a supporter favorite with his hardnosed play which included his foiling of a late attempt by West Ham forward Maxwel Cornet which might have tied Sunday’s match. West Ham is yet to see returns from transfer signings such as Cornet, Gianluca Scamacca, and Lucas Paquet. With holdover attack options such as Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen also struggling, the Hammers have generated only three goals all season and remain in the relegation zone after losing for a fifth time.

Bournemouth captured a point at Newcastle as the Cherries faced former manager Eddie Howe for the first time. Despite tying Saturday’s match with a second half Alexander Isak penalty kick, Newcastle failed to win for a sixth consecutive match as Howe is coming under increased scrutiny for perhaps the first time in his Newcastle tenure. Bournemouth Manager Gary O’Neil remains undefeated in three matches since taking over following the Scott Parker sacking though his status remains very much interim as rumors of an ownership change swirl about the south coast club.

A Jacob Ramsey goal in the 41st minute provided the only score in a 1-0 Aston Villa win over Southampton. Southampton offered little in a dreary match where embattled Aston Villa Manager Steven Gerrard was more than happy to take the points for just Aston Villa’s second win of the season. The win moved the Villans level with the Saints on 7 points for the season. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Match Week 8 Preview

The Premier League returns with 7 of 10 originally scheduled matches moving forward this weekend. Chelsea’s home match versus Liverpool and Manchester United’s scheduled contest against Leeds United are postponed due to concerns surrounding adequate police presence. Brighton’s home match versus Crystal Palace had been previously postponed over concerns surrounding a now cancelled rail strike.

Arsenal’s match at Brentford on Sunday was given a green light despite the unusual circumstances in London as crowds pour into the nation’s capital in advance of Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral on Monday. The always swarming Bees could provide a stern test for Arsenal which looked vulnerable in a loss to Manchester United before the unexpected break from both league and European action for the Gunners. Youthful Arsenal makes for an exciting watch under Manager Mikel Arteta but there remains concern with squad depth, particularly as the schedule becomes more congested after the recent postponements. A potential boost for the Gunners came with the announcement that midfielder Thomas Partey may be fit for a return to action versus the Bees.

Brentford have lost but once this season to situate themselves in the top half of the table. Forward Ivan Toney has five goals this season for the Bees, earning him a place on the England team for the upcoming Nations League matches.

Manchester City travels to Wolverhampton Saturday hoping to overcome its one-point deficit to Arsenal in the table. Diego Costa, who once terrorized Premier League defenders for Chelsea, has signed as a free agent for Wolves and could possibly make his return to the league this weekend.

London based Tottenham Hotspur is approved to play its home match Saturday versus Leicester amid some scratching of heads as to how a major London fixture proceeds while a match in Manchester (United v. Leeds) is cancelled due to the Queen’s funeral. Spurs will be pleased to avoid further rescheduling issues and to take advantage of facing a Leicester squad that is reeling right now. The Foxes have lost five straight matches to take up residency in the league’s basement.

West Ham will try to claw out of the relegation places when the Hammers visit Everton on Sunday. Everton have drawn four straight matches. The Toffees are level on points with the Hammers, each with four points, but Everton currently enjoys the superior goal differential between the two sides.

Nottingham Forest is the third member of the current relegation club, along with Leicester and West Ham. Forest is home Friday to fellow promoted club Fulham. The Cottagers have had a more successful league campaign to date and are 10th in the table after capturing two wins and two draws in their first six matches. Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has powered the club’s league performance with six goals to his credit.

Newly promoted Bournemouth sits just a point behind Fulham and has a win and draw in two matches since the sacking of Manager Scott Parker. The Cherries travel to Newcastle this weekend with both clubs having accumulated seven points to date even though Newcastle owns a staggering 14 goal advantage over the Cherries in goal differential. Bournemouth’s goal differential was irreparably damaged in a 9-0 defeat to Liverpool in Parker’s last match with the club. Newcastle has managed to stay midtable despite numerous injuries to key players such as Bruno Guimaraes, Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin. The Magpies could make a move up once some of those stars return to duty. Guimaraes and Saint-Maximin could make an appearance this weekend against the Cherries.

Aston Villa will hope to retain some of the positive feeling from their draw with Manchester City in the club’s last action before last week’s slate of matches was lost to the Queen’s passing. Manager Steven Gerrard and his Villans host Southampton Friday. The Saints disappointingly lost to Wolves in their last outing which quickly eliminated the good feeling from Southampton’s triumph over Chelsea in their preceding match. 

Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Liverpool got a much needed 2-1 win over Ajax Tuesday. Mohamed Salah opened scoring in the match, assisted by the now fit Diogo Jota. Salah’s score was his 15th Champions League goal for Liverpool, surpassing Steven Gerrard for the most by a Liverpool player. The match hung in the balance following an Ajax score until Liverpool’s Joel Matip headed the late winner in the 89th minute. Center back Matip’s return to the lineup following an injury absence was a major boost to a Liverpool defense which has struggled. Left back Kostas Tsimikas, playing for the injured Andy Robertson, also performed well and provided the corner for Matip’s goal. The defensive issues for the Reds are not fully solved, however, as Trent Alexander-Arnold was once again caught out of position for the Ajax goal.

Tottenham Hotspur was victimized by late game drama as Sporting Lisbon scored twice in stoppage time in a 2-0 win over the Premier League side. Sporting has now won its first two Champions League matches for the first time in its history. Spurs Manager Antonio Conte was angered by his team’s collapse and would later threaten that no member of his squad was “undroppable.”

The Graham Potter era began in disappointing fashion for Chelsea as the new manager watched his side concede an equalizing goal in the 75th minute of a 1-1 draw with FC Salzburg. Raheem Sterling provided the earlier Chelsea goal, but the Blues once again squandered numerous opportunities to increase their advantage. A defensive mistake by the usually reliable Thiago Silva led to the Salzburg score. Due to their postponed Premier League match this weekend and subsequent international break, Chelsea and Potter will not have another competitive match until the calendar turns to October.

Manchester City extended its unbeaten record at home in the Champions League to 21 matches with a 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund took the lead early in second half play on a goal by 19-year-old Englishman Jude Bellingham before Manchester City struck twice in the final ten minutes of regulation to secure the come from behind victory. John Stones knotted matters for the Citizens and then Erling Haaland decided the contest with an acrobatic 84th minute winner. Haaland’s goal was his 26th in just 21 Champions League matches. 

Europa League

Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag made five changes to the starting lineup which lost to Real Sociedad in the Red Devils’ Europa League opener last week. A lineup more resembling that which has found recent Premier League success was victorious in a 2-0 win over FC Sheriff. Marcus Rashford was one notable absence from the lineup after his two-goal performance versus Arsenal. With Rashford sidelined by a muscle pull, Cristiano Ronaldo took advantage of a starting opportunity to score his first goal of the season. Ronaldo’s penalty kick followed an opening goal by Jadon Sancho for the Red Devils. Despite their improved play in recent weeks both Sancho and Rashford were omissions from the English national team announced this week for the upcoming Nations League matches. Arsenal’s Europa League match versus PSV is rescheduled for October 20. 

Europa Conference League

West Ham held on for a 3-2 win over Danish side Silkeborg as the Hammers now have six goals in their two Europa Conference League victories to date. After taking a 3-1 lead on Thursday, West Ham was forced to a nervy finish when Silkeborg closed the gap in the 75th minute. All in all, a good trip for West Ham traveling fans who were treated to free beer as they picked up their tickets for the match, courtesy of the host club. Aaron Creswell and Craig Dawson returned to the starting lineup for West Ham after recent injuries.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Premier League in Europe

Following a weekend of respectful inactivity, most Premier League club involved in European competition return to the pitch this week. Arsenal is the exception as their Europa League home match against PSV Eindhoven, originally scheduled to take place in London on Thursday, has been postponed due to concerns surrounding adequate policing numbers as Britons gather in the capital city in advance of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. The status of next weekend’s Premier League matches still bears some uncertainty, particularly for matches occurring in London. 

Champions League

Champions League matches involving all four Premier League participants are scheduled to proceed in midweek. Chelsea, somewhat surprisingly given the cancellation of the London based Arsenal Europa League match, is on the docket to play at its west London home against RB Salzburg on Wednesday. New Manager Graham Potter will be in charge for his first match at the helm of Chelsea. Potter has no prior experience with Champions League and Salzburg may not be an easy opponent. The Austrian side, competing for a fourth consecutive year in the prestigious tournament, advanced to the Champions League knockout stage last year and drew 1-1 in their opening match with reigning Serie A champion AC Milan last week. Much attention will be focused on Potter’s lineup selections and tactical set up for his maiden match for the Blues. Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has been missing training and could be an injury doubt for the Salzburg match.

Liverpool is home to Ajax on Tuesday as the Reds hope to rebound from their humiliating loss to Napoli in their opening fixture. Liverpool has never lost its opening two matches of a Champions League campaign. Manager Jurgen Klopp’s club faces numerous challenges to regain its form. Mohamed Salah is slumping badly, and the absence of Sadio Mane appears to be having an even greater than anticipated impact on the front line’s productivity. Liverpool’s midfield is riddled with injuries but there is also frustration that the club has not adequately invested in that area of the pitch. The defensive has featured poor performances across most of the back line. Virgil van Dijk is not playing well while center back Joe Gomez, pushed into the lineup due to injuries, suffered an embarrassing display versus Napoli. Attack oriented fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are being caught out with the center backs unable to cover for their venturesome mates. Robertson is expected to miss Tuesday’s match due to injury. Ajax had no problems is defeating an overmatched Rangers side 4-0 in their opening Champions League match and the Dutch champions remain formidable despite the defection of Manager Eric ten Hag and several of the club’s key players key players to Liverpool rival Manchester United.

Tottenham Hotspur are at Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday. The Portuguese side surprised Eintracht Frankfurt with a dominant 3-0 victory in their opening match. Spurs, meanwhile, eased past 10-man Marseilles 2-0 on two goals by Richarlison as the Brazilian is making a strong push to steal minutes from Dejan Kulusevski in the Spurs lineup.

Champions League action wraps up on Wednesday with Manchester City’s Erling Haaland welcoming his former club, Borussia Dortmund, to the Etihad. Haaland scored 86 goals in 89 appearances for this former employer. Despite prevailing in their opening Champions League match over Copenhagen, Dortmund has struggled in recent Bundesliga losses to Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig, failing to land a single shot on target in Leipzig. Haaland, meanwhile, has continued his goalscoring ways, storming to 10 goals in the Premier League so far and finding the net twice in the Citizens’ Champions League win over Sevilla.  

Europa League

While Arsenal’s home match is postponed, Manchester United journeys to unknown territory Thursday to face FC Sheriff in Transnistria. Transnistria is an unrecognized breakaway state from Moldova and Sheriff plays in the Moldovan domestic league. The previously little-known club gained notoriety last year with a group play win over eventual Champions League winner Real Madrid. Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag will be keen to avoid a similar fate as Madrid, particularly after his club dropped their opening Europa League match. 

Europa Conference League

West Ham travels to Denmark to face Silkeborg in a Europa Conference League match on Thursday. Silkeborg have failed to win any of their previous nine matches in European competition. The Hammers will be without the injured Maxwel Cornet for the match but should have more than enough firepower to put down the Danes. 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Week In Suspension: Premier League Pauses; Tuchel Terminated; Potter Takes Reigns At Stamford Bridge

Premier League matches are suspended this weekend in a show of respect for the passing of England’s Queen Elizabeth II. An overly crowded schedule thus becomes more problematic in this unusual World Cup year. The formal state funeral for the Queen is scheduled for next weekend which could mean a further series of match suspensions. Rescheduled matches are unlikely to be played before mid-January following the World Cup and annual holiday match congestion.

The table for the moment is likely frozen until clubs return after international break this month. That could be good news for Chelsea as a new manager gets time on the training ground with his new charges. Thomas Tuchel was fired on Wednesday following Tuesday’s surprising 1-0 Champions League loss to Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. Tuchel has had a career long history of tense relations with ownership and others in club management and his relationship with the new Chelsea owners had apparently deteriorated. Tuchel’s prickly personality combined with poor results on the field ended his stay Stamford Bridge. Points of difference between Tuchel and Chelsea management ranged from disagreement over specific transfer targets to a level of required involvement by Tuchel in transfer dealings that he apparently was uncomfortable with. The club’s on-field performance has been spotty at best amid rumored discontent on the part of several players. Tuchel’s attacking scheme had long been a source of concern and the once mighty defense had deteriorated amid key player turnover on the back line.

The latest attacking solution is now problematic as the club signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang just as the transfer window was closing. The former Arsenal captain has had off-field issues with other managers such as Mikel Arteta but had a reasonable relationship with Tuchel when the two were together at Borussia Dortmund. Aubameyang now becomes someone’s else problem (or solution). Responsibility for turning things around at Stamford Bridge now becomes that of Graham Potter.

The Brighton and Hove Albion manager was quickly named on Thursday as the 30th manger in Chelsea history. Potter is widely admired for his tactical acumen, stressing a creative and attacking style, but has a resume which is relatively sparse after managerial stints with Swedish side Ostersund, Championship side Swansea and most recently in the Premier League with Brighton. Chelsea represents a large step up for the British manager to a role normally filled by more proven winners. Potter walks into a pressured situation for a club which spent a record amount on summer transfers but sits sixth in the Premier League and was embarrassed in Champions League group play this past week. Brighton fans will rue the loss of the young manager who had the Seagulls currently occupying a top four berth despite the sale of several key players. Potter will be taking virtually his entire coaching staff with him to London. A successor at Brighton was yet to be named as of Friday. 

Premier League in Europe

Champions League
Chelsea and Liverpool both dropped their opening Champions League group matches. Chelsea were desultory in a 1-0 Tuesday loss to Dinamo Zagreb in Thomas Tuchel’s final game as Chelsea manager. Chelsea suffered its normal difficulty in converting chances and Graham Potter will  now be tasked in overhauling a stalled attacking scheme. Liverpool was even more dreadful on Wednesday as the Reds were smashed 4-1 at Napoli. Liverpool suffered failure at each level of the pitch in an embarrassing display which raises the level of alarm for a club which has been mediocre this season but for a thrashing of lowly Bournemouth in league play. On a more positive Premier League note in Europe’s top competition, Erling Haaland continued his magical season by scoring two goals in a 4-1 Manchester City walkover against Sevilla. Haaland’s goals made him the youngest player to score 25 goals in Champions League competition. Tottenham Hotspur’s Richarlison also had a brace this week as his two second half goals led his London club to a 2-0 victory over Marseilles after the French side went down to 10 men with a 47th minute red card.  

Europa League

Arsenal edged past FC Zurich to win their opening Europa League group match. The partnership of 19-year-old Brazilian winger Marquinhos and 23-year-old Eddie Nketiah featured for the Gunners in their European opener. Nketiah fed Marquinhos for the opening goal and Marquinhos returned the favor in the 62nd minute for Nketiah’s match winner. While the outcome may have been a bit close for comfort, Arsenal Manager Mikel Arteta was able to secure the win while rotating his Premier League leading squad. Manchester United had less success in rotating some of its bench players as Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Maguire, Fred and Casemiro were all underwhelming in a 1-0 Europa League defeat to Real Sociedad. The winning goal for Real Sociedad occurred on a penalty kick following a handball verdict against Red Devils defender Lisandro Martinez. The loss stalled the momentum Manchester United had built up over the course of four consecutive Premier League victories. 

Europa Conference League

West Ham overcame a first half deficit to run away from Romanian side FCSB 3-1 in their Europa Conference League clash at London Stadium. Second half goal scorers for the Hammers were Jarrod Bowen, Emerson Palmieri and Michail Antonio.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Match Week 6 Results: Manchester United Surges Past Arsenal; Villa Holds Haaland To Single Goal In Draw; VAR Decisions Cost West Ham and Newcastle; Kane Climbs Scoring Ladder; Seagulls Blast Foxes; Scoreless in Merseyside; Wolves Score ! ; Forest Not Out Of The Woods

Manchester United defeated league leading Arsenal 3-1 for the Red Devils’ fourth consecutive victory. Newly signed Antony opened the scoring at Old Trafford with his first Premier League goal just 35 minutes into his Manchester United career.

Marcus Rashford’s two goals then secured victory for the Red Devils after Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka had tied the match in the 60th minute. Oft criticized Rashford, who also assisted on Antony’s opening goal, delivered a brace for the first time since December 2020. Manchester United draws within three points of league leading Arsenal as the Red Devils have remade themselves after a disastrous start to the season. Arsenal failed to win for a first time following five consecutive victories and, after failing their first major test against a top half club, the Gunners saw their lead at the top of the table reduced to a single point over Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

Erling Haaland scored “only” one goal, after back-to-back hat tricks in his prior two matches, as Manchester City was held to a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa. The Norwegian striker’s 10th goal of the season makes him the quickest to achieve double digit production in Premier League history. Haaland’s 50th minute goal gave the Citizens a lead, but Leon Bailey smashed home a 74th minute equalizer to prevent Manchester City from overtaking Arsenal in the league table. Aston Villa crept out of the relegation zone as they ended a run of three consecutive losses and at least temporarily reduced the volume of catcalls directed at embattled manager Steven Gerrard. Undefeated Manchester City dropped points for a second time this season.

Richarlison made his first start for Tottenham Hotspur and assisted on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s opening goal in Spurs’ 2-1 defeat of Fulham. Harry Kane’s 75th minute goal proved the winner as Spurs survived a late goal by the Cottagers’ Aleksandar Mitrovic to take all three points. Kane now trails only Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer in career Premier League goals with the England captain 20 goals behind Rooney and 72 goals short of former Newcastle striker and Premier League scoring champion Shearer. Third place Spurs are undefeated in their last 12 league contests and have lost only once in their last 16 Premier League matches. Fulham’s Mitrovic scored his sixth goal of the campaign as Fulham lost for only a second time this season.

Brighton rounds out the league’s top four after the Seagulls soared to a 5-2 win over Leicester. Leicester was fortunate to be tied at two goals apiece at the half time break after a questionable VAR decision disallowed a potential third first half goal for the Seagulls. The decision deprived Alexis MacAllister of a wonder goal but the Argentinian midfielder responded with two of Brighton’s three second half scores to finish off the fading Foxes. Leicester sits bottom of the table after a fifth straight defeat.

Chelsea was fortunate to emerge with a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge over West Ham when a tying goal by the Hammers was controversially disallowed on VAR review. Maxwel Cornet’s 90th minute equalizer was chalked off based on a determination that Jarrod Bowen had fouled Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy moments before Cornet’s strike. Bowen attempted to avoid a sliding Mendy by vaulting over the prone goalkeeper and barely clipped him with his well intended effort to avoid contact. A goal by substitute Kai Havertz thus held up for a Chelsea win that featured a goal and assist from Ben Chilwell. West Ham lost for a fourth time this season as Michail Antonio’s first goal of the season for the Hammers went for naught.

An entertaining Merseyside derby saw Everton and Liverpool share the points in a goalless Merseyside derby. Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was the star of a hotly contested match which saw Liverpool frustrated on numerous occasions by the England keeper. Both sides also rattled the woodwork in the highly entertaining but ultimately scoreless battle. Everton scrambled from the relegation zone with a fourth consecutive draw as the Toffees’ rebuilt defense and star keeper have yielded no more than a goal in any of those four matches. Liverpool, meanwhile, drew for a third time this season as the Reds have accumulated the fewest points after six league matches since Jurgen Klopp’s arrival.

Brentford scored five goals in a topflight match for the first time since 1938 as Ivan Toney’s hat trick keyed a 5-2 win over Leeds. Excitable Leeds Manager Jesse Marsch perpetrated some touchline histrionics in his frustration with some VAR decisions and was tossed for his troubles. Brentford leapfrogged Leeds to eighth in the table with the victory.

Crystal Palace escaped with a point at Newcastle behind desperate defending, good goaltending and a friendly VAR verdict.

Newcastle was the aggressor throughout the match but was frustrated by Crystal Palace goalkeeper Vincente Guaita and center back Joachim Andersons’s 17 clearances, the highest number of clearances by a defender in the Premier League this season. Anderson’s one gaffe, a first half giveaway to Newcastle striker Alexander Isak, proved non-lethal when Isak was unable to successfully lift the ball over Guaita. An own goal by the Eagle’s Tyrick Mitchell was later taken off the board as VAR called foul on Newcastle’s Joe Willock for barreling into Guaita. Incensed Newcastle supporters will dispute the call as it appeared Mitchell himself shoved the Newcastle man into the Eagle keeper.

Wolverhampton scored a goal in a 1-0 victory over Southampton. The scoring strike by Daniel Podence increased the club’s season long goal production by 50%. The victory, Wolverhampton’s first in the league since April, allowed Wolves to claw out of the relegation zone. Supporters should not necessarily become accustomed to a newly turbocharged Wolves attack, however. Long time striker Raul Jimenz was injured in warmups and newly acquired striker Sasa Kalajdzic, inserted to start in Jimenez’s place, was injured during the match. Southampton missed out on a point when the Saints’ leading goal scorer, Che Adams, was correctly adjudged to have used his arm in scoring a disallowed goal. Adams also missed out when his later header rattled the crossbar.

Nottingham Forest Manager Steve Cooper is gaining ground in the latest manager sack race. A 3-2 loss to Bournemouth marked the fourth loss this season by Cooper’s squad. Unlike Bournemouth, which has already sacked its season opening manager in Scott Parker, Nottingham Forest has tried to upgrade its roster, establishing a Premier League record with 21 signings in the recent window. With Forest falling to 19th in table after a third consecutive defeat, Steve Cooper could be in trouble if improvement doesn’t start to show. Bournemouth, meanwhile, has registered four points in two matches played since parting ways with Manager Scott Parker.

Premier League in Europe

Champions League

Champions League group play begins Tuesday as Chelsea and Manchester City travel to Dinamo Zagreb and Sevilla, respectively. Wednesday sees Liverpool playing at Napoli while Tottenham Hotspur hosts Marseilles.

Europa League

Arsenal looks to get back on a winning tack when the Gunners visit FC Zurich for a Europa League match on Wednesday. Manchester United, meanwhile, will be hosting La Liga side Real Sociedad at Old Trafford.


Europa Conference League

West Ham is home to Romanian club FCSB for their Europa Conference League opener on Thursday.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Match Week 6 Preview: Gunners And Red Devils In Top Five Tilt; Merseyside and London Derbies

League leading Arsenal takes a step up in competition when the Gunners travel to Old Trafford to face streaking Manchester United. Only one of Arsenal’s first five victories was against a club currently in the top half of the table, that victory being over newly promoted Fulham. Manchester United have overcome a poor start to the season to grind out three consecutive victories. Newly acquired forward Antony could possibly debut for the Red Devils in Sunday’s match. Arsenal, meanwhile, have several injury concerns with both Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and midfielder Martin Odegaard suffering knocks in their last outing. Oleksandr Zinchenko remains doubtful, and Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are definitively out. Arsenal was unsuccessful in attempts to add midfield depth in the final days of the transfer window.

Sixth place Liverpool will try to continue its climb back into the top four wen the Reds take the short trip to Goodison Park to face hometown rival Everton in the Merseyside derby. Liverpool edged Newcastle with a late stoppage time goal on Wednesday to post back-to-back wins after its slow start to the season. Liverpool moved this week to improve its midfield depth with the loan acquisition of Juventus player Arthur Melo on deadline day.

Darwin Nunez returns for the derby, having completed his suspension.

Everton should see striker Neal Maupay, acquired from Brighton, make his debut for a club that has been starved for goals. The Toffees successfully resisted overtures for their midfielder Antony Gordon, a rising star, in the late stages of the transfer window. The matchup between the two bitter Merseyside rivals has been lopsided at best as Everton has won only one of the last 23 meetings between the clubs.

Third place Tottenham Hotspur puts its unbeaten run on the line in a London derby with promoted Fulham. Both clubs have won two of their last three matches. Spurs have not flashed the attack prowess expected to date but Antonio Conte’s side continues to grind out results and are unbeaten in 11 league matches dating to last season. Fulham is eighth in the table after a surprisingly strong start in their return to the Premier League. The Cottagers raised eyebrows, however, on deadline day with the signing of Willian. The 34-year-old former Chelsea star joins Fulham after recent flops at Arsenal and Corinthians. Winger Dan James was also acquired on loan from Leeds among other transfer deadline deals for the Cottagers.

Chelsea are home to West Ham in the other London derby this weekend. Lucas Paqueta could make his first Premier League start for the Hammers and will instantly elevate the club’s midfield quality. Chelsea is unsettled right now which offers opportunity for West Ham Manager David Moyes to potentially win his first match at Stamford Bridge in his 18th attempt.

Manchester City will expect to encounter little resistance at struggling Aston Villa this weekend as striker Erling Haaland continues to enjoy his tour of the Premier League.

Brighton, smarting from its first loss of the season suffered at Fulham, should quickly recover when it hosts winless Leicester on Sunday.

An entertaining and balanced matchup should be on display when Leeds visits Brentford. Leeds scored a 90th minute goal  in each of its fixtures against the Bees last season, the first in securing a draw and the second delivering victory in the final fixture of the season as Leeds avoided relegation.

Nottingham Forest established a new Premier League record with 21 transfer signings in the now closed window. Manager Steve Cooper can now start putting the pieces together as his club host Bournemouth Saturday. Both clubs sit on four points for the season, a point removed from the relegation zone.

Allan Saint-Maximin and Bruno Guimaraes remain injury doubts, and Callum Wilson remains sidelined for Newcastle’s match with Crystal Palace. The Magpies still have more assets to call upon than a thin Crystal Palace squad which remains overly reliant on club talisman Wilfried Zaha. Fortunately, the Eagles were once again successful in retaining Zaha through the just closed window despite the reported perennial interest from rival clubs.  Palace are one point behind twelfth place Newcastle in the table.

Wolverhampton looked to help its anemic attack on deadline day with the acquisition of 6 ft. 7 in. Austrian striker Sasa Kalajdzic. At this point, Wolves are willing to try anything to put the ball in the net. Southampton, meanwhile, will be hurt by the injury absence of Romeo Lavia. The young midfielder was withdrawn with a hamstring injury after scoring in the Saints victory over Chelsea during the week.