Friday, April 14, 2023

Premier League in Europe

The Champions League matches for Premier League sides featured two clubs moving in different directions. Manchester City seems to be approaching peak form as the Citizens swept aside Bayern Munich 3-0 on Tuesday. Chelsea, meanwhile, continues to unravel as the Blues failed to score for a fourth consecutive match across all competitions. A 2-0 loss at Real Madrid was the second consecutive loss for Chelsea under new manager Frank Lampard. Manchester City were magnificent. Their defense blunted the attack of the German side while their attack sparkled. Rodri opened the scoring with a long-range wonder goal from the defensive midfielder. Erling Haaland then showed he can create as well as finish goals by setting up teammate Bernardo Silva’s header for a two-goal advantage. Haaland then capped the scoring with his 45th goal of the season across all competitions. Chelsea can only dream of such scoring prowess. Joao Felix and Raheem Sterling had chances which they muffed. No one else came even close to finding the net as a lot of Chelsea’s high priced attacking talent, such as Mykhailo Mudryk, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech remained on the bench while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang didn’t even make the squad. Defensively, transfer acquisitions Wesley Fofana and Marc Cucarella weren’t up to the task and Ben Chilwell, attempting to cover for an error by Cucarella, was red carded in the 61st minute. Given the circumstances, Chelsea was fortunate to come away with just a 2-0 deficit, victimized by goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Ascensio.

Two early goals by Marcel Sabitzer had Manchester United on cruise control in their Europa League match at Old Trafford versus Sevilla. Things did not remain that way as a series of disasters unfolded. Both United center backs, Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez left the match due to injury. Martinez was stretchered off and presents a potentially longer-term issue. A Bruno Fernandes yellow card means he won’t be available for the second leg. Fearing a potential red card for the emotional Fernandes, Manager Eric ten Hag removed the midfielder from the match. The decision to remove Fernandes and to substitute out Anthony Martial hurt the Red Devils’ chances to kill off the match with a third goal. Victory still seemed assured until misfortune stuck in the form of two own goals in the closing stages of the match. Manchester United defender Tyrell Malacia was victimized for Sevilla’s first score in the 84th minute. Harry Maguire, the much-maligned club captain forced into service by the earlier injuries, then diverted the equalizing Sevilla goal off his head into the Manchester United net in the 92nd minute of play. Manchester United thus scored all four goals in a match which keeps Sevilla’s chances alive as the tie heads for Spain. Sevilla, despite fighting for survival this season in La Liga, can’t be easily dismissed based on its historical success in this tournament.

West Ham also posted a draw in a 1-1 Europa Conference League result at Gent. Balancing the club’s Premier League relegation battle against the possibility of a cup title, and European qualification next year, made for some difficult personnel decisions by West Ham Manager David Moyes. Moyes made six changes to his line-up Thursday and a weakened Hammer side was perhaps fortunate to keep matters level heading into the second leg at London Stadium. Supporters won’t feel that way, however, after the Belgians equalized in the 54th minute after a Danny Ings’s first half stoppage time goal for West Ham. The Hammers would manage only four shots in total and two shots on target for the match.

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