Thursday, March 30, 2023

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 29

What once would have been a much anticipated match between title contenders will have lost some of its luster when Liverpool travels to the Etihad to face Manchester City. The two clubs have been battling for Premier League primacy during the era of uber managers Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. Manchester City is still clinging to hope for a fifth Premier League title in the last six years. This year their nemesis is Arsenal, however, as the Gunners lead the Citizens by eight points at the top of the table though Pep Guardiola’s crew can trim that margin to five points by winning their game in hand. Liverpool, meanwhile, has fallen down the table and is currently locked in a battle with Brentford and Brighton for Europa League qualification. Seven points currently lie between Liverpool and Champions League qualification. A win over rival City, however, could provide a much need spark for Liverpool to make a late charge for a Champions League berth. The Reds remain dangerous in attack with Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez now combining with Mohamed Salah in a reformed strike force. Manchester City, meanwhile, will be without Phil Foden (appendectomy) while Erling Haaland could also be a doubt as he tries to recover from a groin injury.

Newcastle is five points ahead of Liverpool and just two points behind fourth place Tottenham Hotspur entering the weekend. The Magpies host third place Manchester United on Sunday. Marcus Rashford could be a question mark for the Red Devils after the forward was ruled out of the England squad during the break over a minor injury concern. Rashford has been on fire since the World Cup, scoring 18 goals in 25 matches since returning from Qatar.

Spurs will be at Everton for a Monday matchup. Goodison Park can be an intimidating place to play, potentially more so for a club as rattled as Spurs. Tottenham Hotspur parted ways with Antonio Conte earlier this week after an emotional rant by the manager following the club’s last match, a draw with Southampton. The rant and exit punctuated an unhappy stay for Conte in north London where he perpetually would question the quality and mental toughness of his squad. Cristian Stellini is now the interim manager for Spurs, assisted by a former Spurs interim manager in Ryan Mason. Everton, under manager Sean Dyche, has emerged from the relegation zone with a win and two draws in its last three matches.

One of the clubs that has replaced Everton in the drop zone is West Ham. The underperforming Hammers could be one of the most talented clubs to ever face relegation from the Premier League. The Hammers host bottom of the table Southampton Sunday in a critical relegation battle.

Two clubs which have exceeded expectations this season, Brentford and Brighton, square up on the south coast Saturday. The Bees and Seagulls are on the same point total as Liverpool as all three clubs are currently locked in a battle for Europa League qualification.

The success of Brighton under Roberto De Zerbi is a stark contrast to the troubles former Seagulls manager Graham Potter has had at Chelsea. The tenth place Londoners are level on points with their Saturday opponent, Aston Villa. Potter’s job is reported to be safe as Chelsea continues to drift aimlessly through a league season where the manager has struggled to find a winning combination from his vast array of talented player options.

Roy Hodgson returns to the touchline at Selhurst Park when the former and current Crystal Palace manager leads his squad against Leicester in a match with relegation race implications. The 12th place Eagles are three points from the relegation places while Leicester is dangling just one point above the drop line. Hodgson replaces the sacked Patrick Vieira as manager for the Eagles in a move born of desperation. Leicester ownership, meanwhile, continues to stand behind manager Brendan Rodgers despite the Foxes’ steep decline in results this season.

Wolves visits Nottingham Forest in another matchup between clubs in the relegation mix. Both clubs have lost three of their last four league outings to further ensnare themselves in the relegation battle.

League leading Arsenal has won six consecutive league matches as it prepares to host Leeds on Saturday. The Gunners can damage Leeds’s hope for survival with another impressive win at the Emirates where Arsenal has lost only once all season, winning 11 of their 14 home matches to date.

Only Bournemouth has lost more road matches than Leeds this season. Thankfully the Cherries are at home this weekend as they try to climb out of the drop zone. Bournemouth’s opponent is a Fulham squad which impressed through much of this season. The seventh place Cottagers, however, seemed to implode in their FA Cup match with Manchester United. Red cards incurred in that match meant suspensions for Aleksandar Mitrovic, Willian, and manager Marco Silva. The Cottagers’ league form had already begun to slide with two losses in their last two Premier League outings.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Battle for Premier League Survival

Manchester City is chasing Arsenal for the Premier League title. Tottenham Hotspur is barely holding on to the final Champions League spot. The real drama this season, however, is at the bottom of the Premier League table where an unprecedented number of teams are fighting to return to the league next season. A distinct chasm exists between 11th place Aston Villa and 12th place Crystal Palace where 11 points separate the two clubs, widening to 14 points should Aston Villa win its game in hand. From Palace on down, however, is a distinctly different story. The Eagles are a mere four points better than bottom of the table Southampton. Seven other teams lie between the Eagles and Saints within that four point margin and all nine clubs are in danger of relegation from the league for the 2023/24 season.

The tension and panic are evident in the many managerial changes that have been made. Six of the nine clubs have changed their manager in the hope of changing the season’s trajectory. Two managers with extensive Premier League resumes, Brandon Rodger at Leicester and David Moyes at West Ham, remain under increasing pressure. Nottingham Forest has stood behind manger Steve Cooper who guided the club to promotion last season. Time will tell whether that was a good move as things remain tricky for the Trees.

Crystal Palace made perhaps the most panicked move of the season last week when the Eagles sacked Manager Patrick Vieira to bring back 74 year-old former Eagle manager Roy Hodgson. Hodgson rescued the Eagles from a bad situation when Frank De Boer had the Eagles in a tailspin back in 2017. Hodgson successfully instituted defensive discipline and the Eagles went on to survive that season. This time, however, the Eagle aren’t bad defensively. The problem is a lack of goalscoring, and Hodgson’s style of play promises little improvement in that department. Hodgson also failed miserably in taking Watford down last season. Not all is lost for the Eagles who have a favorable upcoming fixture list but all eyes will be on chairman Steve Parish to see how his gamble on Hodgson works out.

Wolverhampton is level on points with the Eagles and is also tied with Crystal Palace and two other clubs for the lowest number of goals scored this season. Wolves pulled the plug on manager Bruno Lage earlier this season and have pegged their hopes to former Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui.

Leeds also moved for a Spanish manager in an in-season change. The Whites dismissed Jesse Marsch and put Javi Gracia, who had a previous stint with Watford in the Premier League, in place. Leeds is currently tied on points with Everton and Nottingham Forest, all three clubs one point behind Crystal Palace and Wolves.

Everton’s replacement of Frank Lampard with former Burnley manager Sean Dyche has borne success to date for the Toffees. Dyche, no stranger to relegation battles from his time at Burnley, has lifted the Toffees out of the relegation zone since his appointment. Forest, meanwhile started the season miserably and then improved as ownership expressed confidence in manager Steve Cooper. The Tricky Trees, however, have stumbled of late in losing three of their last four matches and have not actually won a match since the first week of February.

Leicester and West Ham are next on the relegation roll call and are the two clubs perhaps most surprising to be in this mess. West Ham particularly, has too strong a roster to be in its current 18th place position which would send the Hammers down were the season to end today. How it all went wrong for manager David Moyes after two successive seasons of European qualification, is somewhat mystifying. Hammer fans believe Moyes’s overly conservative approach is holding the Hammers back from realizing their potential.

Leicester’s roster, while showing some degradation for a lack of investment in recent years, still boasts players such as James Maddison and Harvey Barnes who should be able to keep the club above the drop zone. Even amidst the failures of this season, Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers is still so well regarded as to be a rumored possible successor to Antonio Conte at Tottenham Hotspur.

The bottom two teams in the table, and considered by many to be odds-on favorites to drop from the league, are Bournemouth and Southampton. The Cherries entered the season with Scott Parker in charge. Parker looked at his newly promoted side, didn’t like what he saw, and erupted to the press about the poor quality of his roster. He was sacked after just four games of the season and has just been sacked again after less than 90 days in charge of Belgian club Brugge. Interim manager Gary O’Neil has soldiered on to keep the Cherries in the hunt for survival but Parker wasn’t all that wrong about the quality of the Bournemouth roster. Southampton, meanwhile, is on its third manager of the season as the cellar dwelling Saints desperately search for a survival formula. Ralph Hasenhuttl was first sacked and replaced by the strange choice of Nathan Jones. The thin resume of Jones did not bode well and his temperament and poor decision making quickly alienated supporters. Jones was sacked after seven losses in his eight matches and replaced by Ruben Selles. Selles’ credentials might also be questioned as he navigates his first senior team appointment. The young manager, however, has been well received by Saints players and supporters. Two victories and three draws in Selles first eight matches has Southampton battling with a puncher’s chance to survive the season. The Saints haven’t drifted far from the other clubs in the relegation race and are currently a mere two points from safety.  

Manager News

Spurs Part Ways With Conte

Tottenham Hotspur made the seemingly inevitable decision to part ways with Manager Antonio Conte. The separation, reportedly by mutual agreement, follows a rant by Conte after his last Premier League match where his club relinquished a late two goal lead to draw with bottom of the table Southampton. Conte blasted his players’ mindset and the club’s culture before heading back to Italy for the international break. He won’t be returning. Assistant Cristian Stellini takes over as interim manager. Stellini has been in charge of several matches already this season while Conte was recovering from gall bladder surgery and delivered important wins against Manchester City and Chelsea. Spurs have ten matches left to try to hang on to their current fourth place position in the table and qualify for next year’s Champions Lague competition. The “permanent” replacement for Conte, meanwhile, will be the 12th full time manager appointed by Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy since 2001. 

Thomas Tuchel Has A New Job

Former Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel, who tangled with then Spurs Manager Antonio Conte in a controversial confrontation early in this Premier League season, has been appointed manager of Bayern Munich. The German club took the somewhat surprising decision to abruptly sack Julian Nagelsmann last week. Tuchel now returns to the Bundesliga where he previously experienced success at Borussia Dortmund. The German manager, already currently residing in Munich, brings an impressive pan-European resume back to his home country. Tuchel won the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea in 2021 just one year after taking PSG to the final where the French squad lost to Tuchel’s new team, Bayern Munich. Nagelsmann, meanwhile, is already rumored as a potential candidate to replace Conte at Spurs after this season.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Euro 24 Qualifiers

The Premier League is on pause as players represent their countries in international competition. Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane immediately made news this international break by becoming England’s all-time leading scorer. Kane’s historic goal came in a 2-1 victory over Italy in Euro 24 qualifying on Thursday. A 44th minute penalty was Kane’s 54th goal in an England uniform, breaking the record of Wayne Rooney. Ironically, Kane’s first goal for England came in a 2015 Euro qualifier where he was a late substitute for the former Manchester United great. Kane was also on the pitch when Rooney became England’s leading scorer, breaking the record of Sir Bobby Charlton. The record is now Kane’s, and the 29-year-old is far from finished and likely to set a challenging mark for future English goal scorers. England’s top goal scorer has recorded a goal every 1.5 games he’s played for his country.

The 2-1 win over Italy provided a positive launch to England’s Euro campaign but Gareth Southgate will be looking for improvement from the squad. Manchester United’s Harry Maguire was guilty of an error leading to the goal by Italy’s Mateo Retegui and Maguire’s club teammate Luke Shaw earned a red card in the 80th minute which made the final minutes more stressful than necessary. Maguire continues to start for Southgate despite falling out of favor with Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag.

Kalvin Philips is another player who started the match versus Italy despite seeing minimal minutes for his club team Manchester City this season. Supporting Kane’s record performance was strong midfield play by Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham which kept England in control of the match. Rice would score the first goal for England. Borussia Dortmund’s Bellingham is perennially rumored to be a transfer target of Premier League clubs. West Ham’s Gianluca Scamacca and Arsenal’s Jorginho were among the Italian Premier League players facing England. Leeds’s 19-year-old Wilfried Gnonto also was a late substitute for Italy and his energy added to England’s worries in the final minutes. England hosts Ukraine on Sunday in Euro qualifying.

Former Manchester United legend Cristiano Ronaldo joined Kane in making history on Thursday. Ronaldo’s 197th match for Portugal established a new international appearances world record. The prolific goal scorer, with now 120 international goals, had two of the Portuguese goals in a 4-0 win over Liechtenstein in the countries’ Euro 24 qualifier. Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva  and Joao Cancelo (currently on loan to Bayern Munich) also scored for Portugal.

Friday’s Euro Qualifiers will include a high-profile match between France and the Netherlands. France begins to pick up the pieces after its loss in the World Cup final versus Argentina. The Netherlands will play its first match under new manager Ronald Koeman. Koeman, whose tenure as Barcelona manager ended badly in 2021, has Premier League ties from managerial stints with Southampton and Everton and is undertaking a second term as the Dutch manager. The Dutch were eliminated in the World Cup quarterfinals in penalty kicks by eventual winner Argentina. Having failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, Norway will be without its superstar striker Erling Haaland when the country faces Spain in Euro qualifying Saturday. Haaland sustained a groin injury in Manchester City’s FA Cup win over Burnley which will have him sitting out this international break. Missed time by Haaland when the Premier League resumes in another week could impact the Citizens title battle with Arsenal.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Premier League Results Matchweek 28: Spurs Lose, Conte Rants; Newcastle Closes On Top Four With Win At Forest; Gunners Defeat Crystal Palace After Vieira Sacking; Everton Grabs Point At Chelsea

Tottenham Hotspur squandered a two-goal advantage and manager Antonio Conte erupted into a scathing rant about everything wrong with his club after a 3-3 draw at Southampton. Up 3-1 after an Ivan Perisic 74th minute goal, Spurs conceded the final two goals of the match with a James Ward-Prowse penalty kick securing a much-needed point for the Saints in their relegation battle. Tottenham Hotspur manager Conte was irate after the match, blasting his players, ownership and the culture surrounding the north London club. Incredibly, Conte seemed to take no responsibility for the failings of his team. The Italian manager’s contract is up at the end of this season, and it now appears he may well depart in advance of that date. Southampton are two points away from safety in a crowded lower half of the Premier League table where nine teams are separated by no more than four points.

Crystal Palace is in 12th place but only three points removed from the drop zone. Fearful of relegation after a 10 year stay in the Premier League, The Eagles axed manager Patrick Vieira Friday after 20 months with the south London team.

Vieira’s club had not won in twelve matches and remains the only Premier League club not to have won a league match this calendar year. Interim Crystal Palace manager Paddy McCarthy inherited the unenviable task of visiting the Premier League leaders Sunday. The Eagles were crushed by Arsenal 4-1. Former manager Roy Hodgson, who Vieira had replaced, was recalled on Tuesday to keep the Eagles safe as he had throughout his previous tenure for the Eagles. The now 75-year-old manager failed to save Watford, however, when handed an identical mandate last season. Arsenal, meanwhile, received a brace from Bukayo Saka as the Gunners moved eight points ahead of Manchester City in the Premier League title chase. Gabriel Martinelli scored his sixth goal in his last six league appearances. Martinelli’s 13th league goal of the season leads the Gunners who also have double digit goal scorers in Saka and Martin Odegaard. Saka, meanwhile, assisted on Martinelli’s goal to become the only Premier League player this season with 10 or more assists and goals.

Newcastle United got two goals from Alexander Isak to engineer a come from behind win for the first time this season in a 2-1 victory at Nottingham Forest. Isak’s penalty kick in stoppage time secured a second consecutive league victory for the Magpies who moved within two points of Spurs and automatic Champions League qualification. Newcastle also has two matches in hand versus the troubled north London club. Nottingham Forest, meanwhile, is but a slender two points from the relegation zone after losing for a third time in their last four matches.

Everton is now ahead of 16th place Forest on goal differential after the Toffees salvaged a point in a 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The Toffees were behind twice in the match before securing the point with an 89th minute strike from Ellis Simms. The 22-year-old Simms has recently gained playing time under new manager Sean Dyche and Saturday’s goal marked Simms’s first in the Premier League.

The dropped points at home by Chelsea was disappointing for a club which had been performing better in recent weeks. Squandering two leads to the joint lowest scoring club in the Premier League was not a good look in front of home supporters.

Leeds escaped the drop zone and is now locked on the same point total as Everton and Nottingham Forest after a 4-2 win at Wolverhampton. The much needed three points moved Leeds up five places in the crowded bottom half of the Premier League table. Homestanding Wolves had closed an early three goal deficit to pull within a goal of the visitors on a Jonny score in the 65th minute. Jonny, however, would later receive a red card and Wolves were unable to equalize before Leeds sealed the deal with a 97th minute Rodrigo goal. Wolverhampton, level on points with 12th place Crystal Palace, is a precarious three points from the drop.

Leicester moved a point ahead of West Ham for the final safe spot in the table with a 1-1 draw at Brentford. Harvey Barnes struck the equalizer in the 52nd minute to offset a first half goal by the Bees’ Mathias Jensen and put an end to a four-match losing run for Leicester. The dropped points by the Bees, meanwhile, prevented Brentford from moving past Brighton and Liverpool into sixth place in the table. Brighton was playing in the FA Cup quarterfinals this weekend while Liverpool’s match with FA Cup quarterfinalist Fulham was also postponed.

Bournemouth was swatted 3-0 at Aston Villa, ensuring the Cherries remained in the relegation zone. Bournemouth is joined there by Southampton and an idle West Ham which replaced Leeds in the bottom three. Aston Villa put further distance between itself and the relegation scramble, climbing to 38 points after its win on Saturday. The 11th place Villans are 11 points clear of 12th place Crystal Palace and the nine teams currently in the relegation scramble. 

FA Cup

Citizens and Seagulls Roll; Madness at Old Trafford

Erling Haaland had a hat trick as Manchester City rolled to a 6-0 win over Burnley and manager Vincent Company in their FA Cup quarter final match. Haaland thus found the net eight times and Manchester City scored 13 goals in cup victories over Burnley and Borussia Dortmund inside of a week.

Brighton and Hove Albion had a similarly one sided scoreline in a 5-0 victory over Grimsby Town. Eighteen year old Irish international Evan Ferguson led the scoring for Brighton with two goals against the fourth tier Mariners.

In a contest of Premier League clubs, Fulham imploded in a 3-1 loss to Manchester United. The Cottagers took an early lead on a goal by Aleksandar Mitrovic, but all would unravel in 60 seconds of madness during which Fulham would receive three red cards, one of which went to manager Marco Silva. The controversy began with VAR adjudging that Fulham’s Willian had used his hand in clearing a Manchester United shot off the line. The denial of a scoring opportunity resulted in a red card to Willian. Marco Silva’s protests over the call then earned the manager a red card. The final blow for Fulham came when an enraged Mitrovic pushed the referee and earned Fulham’s third red card, reducing the Cottagers to nine men. Bruno Fernandes converted the kick on Willian’s penalty for Manchester United. Marcel Sabitzer then put United ahead two minutes later and Fernandes added his second goal, Manchester United’s third, in stoppage time. The Red Devils move on to face Brighton in the semifinals.

Sheffield United scored in the 92st minute to cap a 3-2 victory over championship rival Blackburn Rovers in the most competitive match of the FA Cup weekend. Unfortunately, the Blades draw Manchester City in the semifinal.

Premier League in Europe

The draws for April’s European Cup quarterfinal matches were announced on Friday. The marquee tie will see Manchester City play Bayern Munich in a matchup of Champions League title favorites. Chelsea, meanwhile, draws defending champion Real Madrid. The other Champions League matches will see AC Milan and Napoli in an all Serie A clash and fellow Italian side Inter Milan take on Benfica. The Europa League quarterfinal matches will include a favorable draw for Manchester United which will be paired with Sevilla. The Spanish side, six-time champions of the Europa League, is struggling this season. Sevilla Manager Jorge Sampaoli was sacked this week with his club just two points above the relegation line in the La Liga table. The Europa Conference League quarterfinal draw will have West Ham facing KAA Gent. The Belgian side is the most threatening opposition the Hammers have faced in the competition. Gent’s 20-year-old Gift Orban has scored seven goals in his last two appearances.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 28

Newcastle faces a tricky trip to the Tricky Trees as the Magpies visit a City Ground venue where Nottingham Forest has notched five of its six league victories this year. Along with five draws, Forest has been formidable in its 13 home matches this season. Newcastle is still in the hunt for a top four finish as the Magpies are four points behind Tottenham Hotspur with two matches in hand.

Spurs are at Southampton to face the Saints this weekend. St. Mary’s has been far from a fortress for Southampton this season. Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Brentford was a sixth defeat in the Saints last seven home matches. Southampton is having dire troubles finding the opposition net after scoring just three goals in the club’s last eight Premier League matches. Spurs, however, have not traveled well in a four-match losing run away from home in all competitions. The London side has failed to score in the last three of those losses. Perhaps Richarlison can help remedy matters for Spurs Manager Antonio Conte. The former Everton player, seeking his first Premier League goal for Spurs, has five career Premier League goals against the Saints.

Brentford is back on a winning track after a 2-0 defeat of Southampton Wednesday which moved the Bees into eighth position in the table ahead of Fulham. Ivan Toney scored for a 16th time this season and the Brentford striker has been rewarded with a call up from England manager Gareth Southgate for England’s upcoming European Championship qualifiers. Next up for the Bees is Leicester on Saturday. Leicester is currently on a four-match losing run, failing to score in three of those defeats. Despite Leicester’s troubles this season, only two clubs outside the top four have more away wins than Leicester this season.

Bournemouth is level on points with the Foxes but remain in the drop zone by virtue of goal differential. The Cherries have played better in recent weeks, putting a scare into Arsenal and then defeating Liverpool last week. Bournemouth travels to Aston Villa this week hoping a result can lift the Cherries from the relegation zone. Remarkably, Bournemouth has won its last four meetings with Aston Villa, scoring twice in each of those matches. Aston Villa, meanwhile, has won only two of its last six Premier League matches at Villa Park.

Wolverhampton is home to Leeds in another match with relegation implications. Leeds is above only Southampton in the Premier League table as new manger Javi Gracia has a mountain to climb. Wolverhampton, meanwhile, had seemed to claw free of the relegation fight but three losses in their last five matches has left the club just three points clear of the drop. Goals remain the problem for manager Julen Lopetegui’s Wolves who remain the league’s joint lowest goal scorers.

Chelsea has begun to find the net and takes a three-match winning run, across all competitions, into its home match versus Everton. The Blues have bagged five goals in their last two outings. Everton, meanwhile, has worked its way clear, at least temporarily, of the relegation zone under pragmatic tactician Sean Dyche. Dyche will likely be parking the bus at Stamford Bridge and daring Chelsea to break through and find the net, something the Blues have recently shown a proficiency for. Chelsea and Manager Graham Potter need to sustain their current momentum if the club is to qualify for the European places in the table.

A London derby between Arsenal and Crystal Palace on Saturday seems wholly uncompetitive on the surface. The Gunners have won 10 of their 13 Premier League matches at the Emirates this season. Crystal Palace has won only twice away from home. League leading Arsenal has scored 62 goals this league season versus the 21 scored by Crystal Palace. Arsenal has already won seven games since the turn of the new year while Crystal Palace is still seeking a first 2023 victory. The Eagles attack has been absent for much of the year. Remarkably, prior to Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Brighton, Crystal Palace had not even put a shot on target in its three prior matches. Though finally putting three shots on target against the Seagulls, Crystal Palace failed to beware the Ides of March as Brighton’s Solly March scored the only goal of Wednesday’s March 15th match in the 15th minute. 

FA Cup

The FA Cup quarterfinals take place on Saturday and Sunday. Manchester City plays Burnley in Saturday’s only match. Burnley Manager Vincent Kompany returns to the Etihad where a statue actually exists honoring the former captain’s service to the Citizens. Manchester United and Fulham square off Sunday in the only one of the four quarterfinal matches pitting two Premier League sides. The Red Devils will be without midfielder Casemiro who received his second red card of the Premier League season last weekend. Brighton will take on League Two Grimsby Town in a nautically themed contest as the Seagulls will try to take down the Mariners as   Grimsby fans again wave their inflatable “Harvey Haddocks.” The fish has become perhaps the most well-known mascot of this football season as Grimsby has advanced through the Cup. Championship sides Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield United will battle for the final semifinal berth and a trip to Wembley Stadium. 

Premier League in Europe

Manchester City and Erling Haaland made a statement as the Norwegian wunderkind scored five goals in a 7-0 destruction of Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of their Champions League tie. Haaland joins Lionel Messi and Luiz Adriano as the only players to score five goals in a Champions League match. Haaland’s 39 goals on the season, across all competitions, are the most ever in a single season for a Manchester City player. Things were a bit quieter in Madrid where Liverpool meekly exited this year’s Champions League in a 1-0 loss to Real Madrid. The Reds entered the day with the smallest of chances to survive as Jurgen Klopp’s club carried a three-goal deficit into the second leg of the tie. Karim Benzema had the goal for the Spanish club as Real Madrid advanced in its quest to win the competition for a 15th time. Arsenal will be able to fully concentrate on Premier League competition after the Gunners were eliminated from the Europa League by Sporting Lisbon. The two clubs were tied at two goals apiece after the first leg and each added a goal before Thursday’s match went to penalties. Sporting Lisbon prevailed, making all five of its attempts against Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. It was a tough day at the office for Ramsdale. Sporting’s tying goal came on a 46-yard boot by Pedro Goncalves that caught Ramsdale off his line. The goalkeeper would later require medical attention after being struck in the face by a ball. A missed attempt by Gabriel Martinelli in the penalty shootout sealed Arsenal’s fate. Manchester United advanced to the quarterfinals as Marcus Rashford scored the goal in a 1-0 Europa League win over Real Betis. The Red Devils move on after outscoring the Spanish by a 5-1 margin over the two legs of their tie. West Ham were dominant in eliminating AEK from the Europa Conference League in a 4-0 final at London Stadium. The Hammers held the Cypriots without a goal over the two legs while scoring six of their own. West Ham thus remains in contention to be the first club to complete the odd double of winning a European cup competition and being relegated from its domestic league in the same season.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Premier League Results Matchweek 27: Oh, Liverpool…Really?; Gunners Cruise; Man City Nips Futile Eagles; Man United Overcomes Red Card To Salvage Point; Spurs Chop Down Forest; Almiron lifts Newcastle; Chelsea Scores Three; Everton Ends Brentford Run

A five-match unbeaten run, four of them victories including a historic 7-0 win over historic rival Manchester United, came crashing down on Saturday when Liverpool fell 1-0 at Bournemouth. Liverpool supporters were just beginning to see hope for a difficult season as the Reds began to climb the table in recent weeks. Then, just one week after putting seven goals past Manchester United, Liverpool was unable to score against the league’s worst defense. The loss to the Cherries was made all the more sour for the Reds by a missed penalty kick by Mohamed Salah. Credit to Bournemouth as the Cherries moved within a point of safety in their battle to avoid relegation.

League leading Arsenal’s Leandro Trossard, a January transfer, assisted on three first half goals as the Gunners cruised to a 3-0 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage. Gabriel Martinelli scored for the fifth time in his last five league matches as the club’s leading scorer now has 12 goals for the season. In yet another positive sign for the Gunners, forward Gabriel Jesus made his first appearance since suffering his serious knee injury.

With no scoring threat of its own, Crystal Palace parked the bus against Manchester City and almost salvaged a point at Selhurst Park. The Eagles were undone, however, by Erling Haaland’s 78th minute goal, his 28th of the Premier League season.

Crystal Palace, which has yet to win a match this year, has not put a shot on target in three consecutive games and seems headed for a relegation battle. Twelfth place Crystal Palace and the bottom most eight teams in the table are all separated by no more than five points after the weekend with no clubs yet set adrift.

Southampton remains bottom after failing to capitalize on a man advantage in a goalless draw at Manchester United. Manchester United survived a 34th minute red card to Casemiro to salvage the point at Old Trafford. Casemiro’s second red card of the season means the midfield stalwart will miss the next four matches. The Saints have been better since the sacking of manager Nathan Jones but their joint league worst goal production left them unable to take advantage of Sunday’s numerical advantage.

Wolverhampton shares that dubious non-production distinction with Southampton and have scored more than a goal just four times in their 27 matches this season. Scoring one or fewer goals for the 23rd time this season, Wolves fell at Newcastle 2-1 on Sunday. Miguel Almiron’s 11th goal of the season lifted Newcastle to its first win in its last six matches across all competitions and moved the Magpies past Liverpool into fifth place in the Premier League table.

Tottenham Hotspur regained its scoring touch in a 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest after Spurs was held without a goal in its prior three matches across all competitions. Harry Kane scored two goals and Son Heung-min scored once to remind fans of the firepower still resident on this inconsistent club. Spurs are still fourth in the league but just four points ahead of Newcastle while having played two more matches than the Magpies. Only Bournemouth has allowed more goals than Forest this season as the Tricky Trees have allowed 12 in just their last five matches.

Leeds’s Jack Harrison scored the final two goals of the match, one for each team in a 2-2 draw with Brighton. Harrison followed his 60th minute own goal with a 78th minute equalizer as each club walked away with a point. Unfortunately for Leeds, weekend wins by Bournemouth and Everton puts the Whites in the drop zone.

Everton ended Brentford’s 12 match unbeaten run with a 1-0 victory at Goodison Park. The Toffees’ Dwight McNeil shocked the visitors by scoring in the first minute of play. Just over eighty-nine minutes later, Everton was out of the relegation zone and Brentford had lost its first Premier League match since October.

Chelsea scored three goals in a Premier League match and won back to back league matches for the first time since October in a 3-1 victory at Leicester. Those consecutive league wins were also sandwiched around a 2-0 Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund for the resurgent Blues.

Leicester, meanwhile, lost for a fifth consecutive outing, including an FA Cup defeat to Blackburn. The run of losses for Leicester is the longest since 2014.

West Ham remains safe on goal differential after a 1-1 draw at London Stadium versus Aston Villa. The home crowd was not impressed as boos rained down from the stands in cumulative frustration at a season of  underperformance by the Hammers. Said Benrahma scored the West Ham goal on a penalty kick. Ollie Watkins scored his ninth goal of the season for an Aston Villa side which is a comfortable 11 points above the Hammers in the table and is focused on a first half finish as opposed to the dread relegation concern clouding London Stadium.

The Premier League will play some makeup matches on Wednesday. Brentford will try to start a new unbeaten run when the Bees visit Southampton. Brighton will host Crystal Palace in the latest iteration of their strange M23 derby competition. The two rivals are headed in different directions. Brighton is trying to qualify for Europe. Crystal Palace is trying to stay in the Premier League.  

Premier League in Europe

Manchester City host RB Leipzig Tuesday hoping to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals. RB Leipzig proved a determined opponent at Red bull Arena in the first leg when a 70th minute Josko Gvardiol header drew the Bundesliga side level in a 1-1 draw. Pep Guardiola has failed to win Europe’s biggest trophy since taking over at Manchester City, staining an otherwise sterling resume in England. The Citizens, however, have never lost a Champions League home match.

Liverpool’s chances to advance aren’t looking good as they travel to Spain for their second leg with Real Madrid on Wednesday. The Reds collapsed in a 5-2 first leg loss at Anfield after taking an early two goal lead. A 1-0 loss at Bournemouth in the Premier League Saturday doesn’t raise hopes for manager Jurgen Klopp and his men to be able to overcome their three-goal deficit against the Madridistas.

Arsenal benefitted from a Sporting Lisbon own goal to equalize matters in a 2-2 first leg Europa League draw in Portugal. Mikel Arteta understandably rotated a number of players in that match as he balances the Premier League race with European competition. With tournament advancement now on the line at home Thursday, expect Arteta to play a strong squad and for the Portuguese to have a difficult time.

Manchester United will be on the road Thursday to face Real Betis in the second leg of their Europa League tie. The Red Devils have a three-goal cushion after walloping the La Liga side 4-1 last week at Old Trafford. Europa Conference League action will see West Ham hosting Cypriot squad AEK Larnaca Thursday at London Stadium. The Hammers took the first leg in Cyprus 2-0. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 27

Arsenal continues its title quest when the current league leaders stay in London for a derby match with Fulham. Arsenal has responded to a loss versus Manchester City by running off four consecutive victories. The Gunners’ lead is five points over a Manchester City side which visits struggling Crystal Palace this weekend. Newly promoted Fulham is having a fine season under manager Marco Silva. The Cottagers stand seventh in the table which would mean a Europa Conference League berth should the season end today.

Crystal Palace, meanwhile, will be looking for their first win of 2023 when they host Manchester City.

Manchester United will be home at Old Trafford to face relegation bound Southampton. The Red Devils, big winners in their Europa  League match this week, will try to get back on track in the Premier League after their devastating loss at Liverpool last weekend. Southampton has a chance to escape the bottom three with a surprise win at Old Trafford. The Saints have delivered victories in two of new manager Ruben Selles’s three matches in charge.

Tottenham is tottering in fourth position with only a three point lead on Liverpool while having played one more match than the Reds. Spurs host Nottingham Forest on Saturday and it is frightening to anticipate the supporter reaction to a loss this weekend after the club went scoreless and was booted out of the Champions League at home during the week. The expectation is growing that Tottenham Hotspur manager Antonio Conte will not be at the club next season. Forest is four points clear of the drop as the promoted side tries to avoid a quick return to the Championship division.

Liverpool has four wins and a draw in a five-match unbeaten run punctuated by the historic win over Manchester United last week. The Reds visit Bournemouth Saturday as they try to keep the pressure on Tottenham Hotspur for the final Champions League qualification berth. 

Eighth place Brighton is chasing the European places as the Seagulls visit Leeds this weekend. New Leeds Manager Javi Gracia is tasked with keeping the Whites in the Premier League for next season. Leeds is currently safe on a better goal differential than Everton.

The Toffees will try to snap Brentford’s 12 match unbeaten run when the Bees visit Goodison Park Saturday. The Bees are level on points with eighth place Brighton, just a point behind Fulham and potential European Conference League play next year.

Newcastle has lost two consecutive matches and won only once this year as the Magpies have tumbled from the top four. Manager Eddie Howe will hope for a boost from home supporters when Wolverhampton visits St. James Park Sunday. Wolves are trying to stay away from the relegation fray despite having scored the joint lowest number of goals in the league this season.

Chelsea can win a third consecutive match across all competitions should the Blues defeat Leicester at King Power Stadium this weekend. Leicester is just two points from relegation as manager Brendan Rodgers could actually be having a worse year than Chelsea’s much maligned Graham Potter.

West Ham is a point worse than the Foxes and a slender one-point form relegation as the Hammers host Aston Villa Sunday. A loss could be one more nail in the coffin of manager David Moyes’s Hammer career. The Villans, meanwhile, are safely ensconced in the middle of the table under former Arsenal Manger Unai Emery.

Premier League in Europe

Chelsea earned a much-needed win for embattled manger Graham Potter and advanced to the next round of the Champions League with a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund at Stamford Bridge. The two goals were not elegant, but it was the first time this year that Chelsea had scored more than once in a game and they could not have come at better time as the Blues overcame a one goal deficit from the first leg played in Germany. Raheem Sterling scored the opening goal when he made connection on his second swing at a ball before Dortmund defenders could react. Kai Havertz later was given a second chance to successfully convert a penalty kick after a Dortmund player encroached on Havertz’ s miss on his first try.

Spurs had no such luck at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium where a goalless draw put AC Milan through to the next round based on the Italian side’s 1-0 victory in the first leg.  Manager Antonio Conte returned to the sideline after his extended rest after surgery only to see his club deliver a lackluster performance in Europe’s most important tournament. Spurs failed to score in either leg of the tie and are deservedly eliminated from this year’s tournament as their manager continues to be evasive regarding his future at the club.

Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag, meanwhile, was well pleased with the way his club responded to their humiliating loss to Liverpool. The Red Devils snapped back with a dominating 4-1 Europa League win at Old Trafford versus Real Betis. Midfielder Bruno Fernades, much criticized for his performance at Anfield, delivered a goal and an assist in the much-needed victory. Marcus Rashford, Antony and Wout Weghorst completed the scoresheet for United. Arsenal salvaged a draw in Portugal courtesy of a Sporting Lisbon own goal in the 62nd minute of their Europa League tie on Thursday. The two clubs meet at the Emirates next Thursday to decide matters. Michail Antonio scored a brace to lead West Ham to a 2-0 Europa Conference League win in Cyprus versus AEK Larnaca.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Premier League Results Matchweek 26: Liverpool in Seventh Heaven; Gritty Gunners Prevail; Manchester City Blanks Newcastle; West Ham Hammered; Brentford Extends Run in Derby Win; Praise The Saints

Liverpool surged past Newcastle into fifth position in the table by smashing rival Manchester United 7-0 on Sunday. Cody Gakpo, Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah had braces and Bobby Firmino joined in the goal scoring fun in a dominant victory by Jurgen Klopp’s side at Anfield. The seven goals were as many goals as scored by Liverpool in its previous eight matches combined. Salah’s second goal, his 129th in a Liverpool shirt, moved him past Robbie Fowler to become the club’s  all-time Premier League scoring leader. Manchester United, meanwhile, were shredded by their opponent in a worst ever Premier League defeat as the Red Devils dramatically extended a record of futility at Anfield where they last won a Premier League match in January of 2016. Sunday’s collapse by Manchester United was even more shocking as the annihilation ended an 11-match unbeaten run across all competitions by the Red Devils. Liverpool are now just three points behind fourth place Tottenham Hotspur with a match in hand versus the London club.

The Liverpool victory on Sunday stole some of the weekend headlines from a dramatic win by league leading Arsenal the day before. The Gunners responded to a two-goal deficit, which included the second fastest goal in league history, to pull out a 3-2 victory over visiting Bournemouth and maintain its five-point lead in the table. After Manchester City had already won its match over Newcastle, Arsenal was stunned at the outset of play at the Emirates when the Cherries’ Philip Billing scored only nine seconds into the match. A 57th minute header by Marcos Senesi put the league leaders down by two goals to relegation bound Bournemouth. The ensuing comeback was orchestrated by unexpected Gunner goal scorers. Midfielder Thomas Partey scored Arsenal’s first goal at the 62-minute mark which was followed by substitute defender Ben White’s equalizer at 70 minutes. The tying goal was White’s first league goal of the season. Tension then mounted as Bournemouth resorted to massive time wasting, hoping to salvage a point from its first half efforts. Arsenal wasn’t to be denied, however. Substitute Reiss Nelson capped the epic comeback in the seventh minute of stoppage time to claim all three points in front of euphoric Arsenal home supporters.

Manchester City won in far less dramatic fashion by capturing all three points against a Newcastle club which has now won only once in its last nine league matches. Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva scored in a 2-0 win for the Citizens. Newcastle lost a second consecutive match and has scored but twice in a five-match winless run. A passive January window which failed to bolster a poor attack could undercut what had been a magical season for the Magpies who had spent twelve weeks in the top four before tumbling from the ranks of the mighty last week.

Spurs continued its inconsistent form with a 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton. Spurs had moved into the top four with two consecutive league wins entering the week. Elimination from the FA Cup in a loss to Sheffield United on Wednesday and Saturday’s loss to a toothless Wolves opponent continues a pattern of roller coaster results. Second half substitute Adama Traore scored the winner in the 82nd minute for Wolverhampton which is five points clear of the relegation zone after the weekend.

Brentford extended its unbeaten run to twelve matches in a 3-2 victory over Fulham. Ivan Toney had a penalty kick in the victory, his 22nd successful conversion in as many tries as a Bee. Toney’s 15th goal of the season leaves him behind only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane in the Golden Boot chase. A cloud hangs over the forward, however, as he has already admitted to violating league betting restrictions with the consequences yet to be determined. The loss by Fulham snapped a four-match unbeaten run for the seventh place Cottagers who remained a point better than both Brentford and Brighton in the chase for the final European places. Fulham’s Manor Solomon scored for a fifth time in his last five matches. Alvis Morais scored in the ninth minute of stoppage time for the Cottagers to present a more respectable final scoreline.

Brighton and Hove Albion remains in contention for a European place after a 4-0 hammering of West Ham. The eighth place Seagulls are just a point outside the European places after four different players found the net against the Hammers. West Ham failed to score a goal from just two shots on target just one week after putting four goals past Nottingham Forest. The Hammers are just a point from the drop as the pressure mounts on manager David Moyes.

Chelsea found a way to capture three points despite another fruitless performance by its forward line. Defender Wesley Fofana scored his first Chelsea goal to relieve some pressure on Manager Graham Potter in a 1-0 win over Leeds at Stamford Bridge. Fofana’s goal was just Chelsea’s fifth goal in ten league matches this year. Chelsea remains tenth in the table after its second win of 2023. Leeds is presently safe from relegation only by virtue of a better goal differential than Everton.

The Toffees missed an opportunity to emerge from the drop zone when Everton relinquished two leads in a 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest. Two goals by Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson deprived the Toffees of what would have been just a second away win of the season. The goals were the sixth and seventh of the season for Forest’s 21-year-old scoring leader. Everton, while discouraged by the dropping of two points, will find some encouragement from its two goals which matched the output from Manager Sean Dyche’s first five league matches in charge.

Southampton was seemingly left for dead after an embarrassing loss to Grimsby in the FA Cup followed on a critical loss to Leeds in league play last weekend. Praise is due the Saints and their interim manager Ruben Selles, however, for responding with a 1-0 win at St. Mary’s over visiting Leicester on Saturday. Carlos Alcaraz scored in the 35th minute to give the Saints just their second win at home this season. The victory moved Southampton out of the cellar as Bournemouth fell to the bottom on goal differential. More importantly, Southampton are just a point from safety and only three points behind their Saturday opponent, Leicester. The 15th place Foxes have now lost three consecutive league matches to raise the specter of a relegation fight for the one-time Premier League champions.

Eleventh place Aston Villa won for a second consecutive week in a 1-0 home victory over Crystal Palace. Crystal Palace could not get out of its own way in a match where they provided Villa’s winning margin with a Joachim Andersen own goal, failed to launch a single shot on target, and went down to ten men on a 62nd minute red card. Questions are being asked of Manager Patrick Vieira as the Eagles remain the only Premier League club to not have won a match in 2023.

European Cups

London is the site of two Champions League matches this week as both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur try to overcome one goal deficits in the second legs of their Champions League Round of Sixteen ties. Chelsea is down a goal to Borussia Dortmund as the German side visits Stamford Bridge Tuesday. The task is a bit daunting as Chelsea has not scored more than a goal in any match in any competition this year. One positive for the Blues is that Dortmund’s first leg goal scorer, speedster Karim Adeyemi, will miss the London rematch with injury. That’s good news for Enzo Fernandez, Chelsea’s high priced new midfielder who was exposed by Adeyemi’s pace in the match in Germany.

AC Milan visits Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, also holding a one goal advantage versus their Premier League opponent. The second leg could turn on the health of first leg goal scorer Brahim Diaz. The former Manchester City player is questionable with a knee strain which forced him to miss AC Milan’s Serie A game on the weekend. AC Milan striker and former Arsenal star Olivier Giroud returns to London with the defending Italian champions.

The Europa League Round of Sixteen begins Thursday with both Arsenal and Manchester United in action.  The Gunners play at Sporting Lisbon in Arsenal’s first Europa League match since November. As group winners, Arsenal avoided the playoff scramble to enter this next round. That scramble saw Manchester United eliminate Barcelona to progress to Thursday’s matchup versus Real Betis. The Red Devils return home to Old Trafford trying to pick up the pieces from their devastating league loss to Liverpool this weekend where the club incurred its worst thrashing since 1931. Real Betis, fifth in the La Liga table, played a goalless draw with Real Madrid Sunday. Thursday will also see West Ham return to Europa Conference League play when the Hammers travel to Cyprus to face AEK Larnaca.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Premier League Preview Matchweek 26

Manchester United is in the ascendancy and Liverpool is trying to salvage a troubling season as the two clubs approach their iconic matchup at Anfield this weekend. The Red Devils haven’t won at the home of their historic rivals in seven years. Manchester United manager Eric ten Hag, however, has his club on an 11 match unbeaten run across all competitions and in the hunt for four different titles this season. Liverpool, poor for much of this season, could gain some much-needed confidence with a win over their rivals. Jurgen Klopp’s side has won three of its last four matches in the league to rise from 10th to 6th place in the table and a 2-0 win at Wolverhampton during the week was helpful to renewing top four hopes. An embarrassing Champions League loss to Real Madrid and a confounding deadlock with Crystal Palace have provided recent reminders, however, that this is not the same club which has dominated the rivalry with Manchester United in recent years.

Manchester City can help Liverpool and deal a major blow to Newcastle’s fading top four hopes with a win at the Etihad against the Magpies this weekend. Newcastle has won just one of its last seven matches to fall four points behind Tottenham Hotspur for the fourth Champions League qualification spot. Manchester City, meanwhile, must keep winning or risk falling out of title contention.

Arsenal’s midweek 4-0 win over Everton extended the Gunners’ lead over Manchester City to five points. Manager Mikel Arteta’s league leaders will be expected to notch another three points at home versus Bournemouth on Saturday. Gabriel Martinelli struck for a brace against Everton and now has four goals in his last three appearance for the Gunners. Bournemouth, meanwhile, have earned the fewest points in the Premier League since play resumed after the World Cup.

Tottenham Hotspur will look to shake off a midweek FA Cup loss by taking care of business at Wolverhampton where Spurs have won four times and drawn twice in their previous six visits. It won’t be easy on Saturday, however, as Wolves are desperate for points to avoid falling into the relegation quagmire. Manager Julen Lopetegui has seen his Wolverhampton side drop eight of the last nine available points in the league to bring the drop zone into sight. Three points separate Wolves from the bottom dwellers. Spurs have won four of their last five matches to move past Newcastle into the Champions League places. All four victories came by clean sheet.

A surprisingly important London derby could impact the European places when seventh place Fulham visits Brentford. The newly promoted Cottagers are one of the biggest surprises in the league this season and have proven they can find goals even when injury prone striker Aleksandar Mitrovic is sidelined. Fulham are on a four-match unbeaten run, winning twice in that stretch. Brentford, meanwhile, can pull within a point of the Cottagers with a win in Monday’s match. The Bees have also played two fewer matches than Fulham There’s been surprisingly little buzz about a Bees’ unbeaten run which extends back to October. The Bees, however, have drawn a joint league high eleven times this season, perhaps accounting for both the lack of excitement notice and why manager Thomas Frank’s side haven’t risen even further in the table than their current ninth place standing.

Brentford is level on points with eighth place Brighton which hosts West Ham this weekend. The Seagulls have never lost in eleven Premier League meetings with the Hammers. Manager Roberto De Zerbi has seamlessly taken the reins from former Brighton manager Graham Potter and the club has performed even better than under the now embattled Chelsea manager. Brighton have more wins across all competitions at this stage of the season than any previous top flight campaign. West Ham, meanwhile, is in the midst of a relegation battle, two points above the drop.

Former Brighton manager Graham Potter has found no success at Chelsea. His side has scored only four goals in their eleven 2023 matches. The Blues are at Stamford Bridge in front of their disillusioned supporters to face Leeds this weekend. A third consecutive loss by Chelsea could endanger even the seemingly untouchable Potter’s employment status. The absence of center back Thiago Silva to a serious knee injury worsens the misery at Stamford Bridge where the Blues will try to secure just their second league win of the new year. Leeds escaped from the relegation zone last week with a win in Manager Javi Gracia’s first match in charge.

Everton Manager Sean Dyche is fast discovering that he could have even less talent in his Toffee side than his budget-conscious Burnley teams. Aside from the always injured Dominic Calvert Lewin, Everton has few other scoring options. The club has scored just two goals in five league matches under Dyche and losing their last two matches by an aggregate 6-0 margin has greatly reduced hope for a great escape from the clutches of relegation. The Toffees travel to Nottingham Forest Sunday where the Tricky Trees have some scoring issues of their own. Everton will likely look for a result by parking the bus and hoping to scratch a goal from a set piece.

Southampton is home to Leicester and the Saints may not be looking forward to trudging back out in front of the home fans after their embarrassing FA Cup loss to Grimsby Town at St. Mary’s during the week. A chance for redemption looms, however, against a Leicester side which also lost to a lesser opponent in cup play during the week and has lost its last two league matches.

Crystal Place visits Aston Villa Saturday in a meeting of midtable clubs which will have little interest for anyone but their club supporters. Aston Villa has too much talent to be dragged into the relegation fray and too little to realistically compete for a European berth. Crystal Palace is comfortably safe for the moment but is at far more risk to enter the relegation fray given its lack of scoring threats.