Thursday, January 18, 2024

Premier League Preview Week 21 (Partial Slate)

The second tranche of Week 21 matches takes place this second weekend of the Premier League’s version of winter break. Each of the 20 clubs has a week off from league competition just past the season’s midway mark. Table leader Liverpool returns to action Saturday at Bournemouth. The Cherries were punched in the mouth by Tottenham Hotspur their last time out, a decisive defeat which ended Bournemouth’s four match winning run. Liverpool, meanwhile, put up four goals against Newcastle in the Reds’ first outing since Mohamed Salah left to compete in the Africa Cup. Liverpool is a mere two points ahead of Manchester City as the Reds look to secure their second Premier League title. In addition to Salah, Wataru Endo is also away on international duty in the Asia Cup while Trent Alexander-Arnold will be an injury scratch. Liverpool will be facing former player Dominic Solanke who scored his six times for Bournemouth in December to become the Premier League Player of the Month.

Arsenal, in fourth place by virtue of goal differential over Tottenham Hotspur, will engage in a London derby at the Emirates versus Crystal Palace. The Gunners have dropped back-to-back matches to tumble from the top of the table. A scoring drought has seen the Gunners score only four goals in their past five Premier League matches, a run of form which has seen Arsenal win just one of those five matches. Crystal Palace secured a vital three points against Brentford in its last outing. The victory marked the Eagles’ first win since November 4th and muted at least some of the criticism being directed at venerable manager Roy Hodgson. Hodgson admittedly plays a conservative and unexciting style. He is, however, fielding a mediocre lineup except for oft injured young stars Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze.

Brentford is now in the relegation mix after seven losses in its last eight Premier League matches. The Bees are three points clear of the drop zone as they prepare to host Nottingham Forest on Saturday. The Tricky Trees are only a point better than their Saturday opponent, but their league performance has improved in recent weeks. New manager Nuno Espirito Santo has defeated Newcastle and Manchester United in winning two of his first three matches in charge. A shadow was cast on that recent performance with this week’s announcement of potential financial fair play violations by the club. Everton were also named for a second time; the Toffees already having been socked by a 10-point deduction for other violations. The relegation race could well be determined by the ultimate rulings and point deductions assessed against these two lower half of the table clubs.

Wolverhampton has won three consecutive matches as Manager Gary O’Neil’s 11th place side are making a run at the top half of the table. McNeil deserves much credit for the success to date of a side that was expected to be battling relegation when then Manager Julian Lopetegui resigned just before the season’s start. Wolverhampton visits Brighton Monday where the home side has lost just once this season at its home American Express Stadium. The Seagulls, however, have now fluttered down to just three points above Wolverhampton in the table after just one win in their last five league matches.

Sheffield United continues its march of shame when the Premier League’s worst team hosts West Ham on Sunday. The broken Blades have scored just 15 goals while conceding a staggering 49 in their 20 matches this season. West Ham, meanwhile, has lost just one league match since the first week of November as the Hammers have risen to sixth in the Premier League table. 

FA Cup

Third Round FA Cup replays involving seven Premier League clubs took place during the week. Tuesday saw the biggest surprise to date when Bristol City eliminated West Ham. The Hammers managed only one shot on target in each half versus their second-tier opponent. Bristol City scored in just the third minute of play and the Hammers went down to ten men on a 51st minute Said Benrahma red card. The deficit proved too much to overcome for a West Ham side which was already playing without injured stars Jarrod Bowen and Lucas Paqueta. Mohammed Kudus, meanwhile, is away at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Bristol City now moves on to face Nottingham Forest after the Tricky Trees were 3-2 winners in their replay at Blackpool. Forest relinquished a two-goal lead as Blackpool equalized in the 78th minute and sent the match into extra time. Then it was Chris Wood to the rescue for the Trees as the New Zealand striker won the match with his goal in the 110th minute of play. The two-leg tie proved one of the best of the third round with Forest having scrabbled back from a two-goal deficit of its own in the first leg at the City Ground to force a second chance at Blackpool.

Luton Town spotted its opponent an early goal before coming back to beat League One side Bolton in a 2-1 final. The Hatters advanced to the fourth round for a fourth consecutive season after Chiedozie Ogbene struck the winner in the 57th minute.

Luton Town will face Everton in the next round after the Toffees eliminated Crystal Palace 1-0 on Wednesday. An Andres Gomes goal from a free kick in the 42nd minute sent the Toffees into the fourth round against the Hatters.

The other replay involving a matchup of two Premier League sides saw Wolverhampton defeat Brentford 3-2 on Tuesday. Wolves had to work hard to overcome the Bees. Down 2-1, Wolverhampton tied the match on a Nathan Fraser goal in the 72nd minute. A penalty kick in extra time by Matheus Cunha then put Wolverhampton through to the fourth round to face former Premier League side West Brom.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Premier League Results Week 21 (Partial Slate): De Bruyne Stars In Return For Manchester City; Hatters Strike Late To Tie Burnley; Toffees Hang Tough With Villa; Spurs Grab Point At Old Trafford

Burnley had a chance to change the trajectory of its largely unsuccessful season. It failed. Playing at home versus fellow relegation zone resident Luton Town, the Clarets conceded the tying goal in the 92nd minute of a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor. Burnley Manager Vincent Kompany was irate as he claimed goalkeeper James Trafford was interfered with on the fateful goal by Luton Town’s Carlton Morris. VAR review, however, found no fault on the part of the Hatters as Luton Town remain a point behind 17th place Everton after the weekend’s action. The nervy Hatters scored a goal in the 80th minute or later for the 12th time in the league this season. Burnley, meanwhile, remained four points behind Luton Town after a match and play which could well affect its survival chances.

In a match which had little consequence for either side, Chelsea defeated Fulham 1-0 as the Cottagers failed to score in a seventh consecutive visit to Stamford Bridge. Cole Palmer’s penalty kick in first half stoppage time provided the margin of victory for Chelsea after Raheem Sterling was tripped up in the box by Fulham defender Issa Diop. The victory, a fourth straight Premier League home win for Chelsea, lifted supporter spirits after the club’s opening leg loss to Middlesbrough in the Carabao Cup earlier in the week. While the three points are to be celebrated, Chelsea could have eased to a larger win over the Cottagers but for numerous missed opportunities, including two post rattling misses by Raheem Sterling and Conor Gallagher. Fulham, meanwhile, posed little threat in losing for a fourth time in its last five Premier League matches.

Newcastle appeared poised to snap its own streak of futility when the Magpies carried a 2-1 advantage into the 74th minute of play against Manchester City. The fatigued home side collapsed however as Manchester City substitutions stole the show. Kevin De Bruyne made his Premier League return after a lengthy injury absence by equalizing the score with his 74th minute goal just five minutes after entering the match. The club legend then assisted on fellow substitute Oscar Bobb’s winner in the first minute of stoppage time. The 20-year-old Bobb’s first Premier League goal sent Newcastle to a fourth consecutive league defeat. The Manchester City victory sent the Citizens sailing past Aston Villa in the table.

Villa’s goalless draw at Everton allowed Manchester City to take over second place in the table behind idle Liverpool. It was only the third time this season that Aston Villa has not scored a goal in a league match. It was also the first time in 97 career Premier League matches that Manager Unai Emery had presided over a goalless draw. The point was useful for an Everton side locked in a relegation battle. The match’s lack of production, however, continued to highlight a sterile Toffee attack. Striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin has not scored in 13 matches. Only Crystal Palace and, surprisingly, Manchester United, have scored fewer goals than Everton among clubs outside the relegation zone.

Manchester United had a veritable scoring explosion at Old Trafford where even Marcus Rashford scored in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. The Red Devils took the lead twice before allowing Spurs equalizers. The second Tottenham Hotspur goal came just one minute into the second half, raising some questions about the quality of Eric ten Hag’s halftime talk and adjustments. Hopes for a thrilling home win in front of new part owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe were dashed for the Red Devils when Scot McTominay missed an uncontested header in stoppage time. Richarlison scored his sixth goal in as many league matches for a Tottenham Hotspur side which saw Timo Werner return to the Premier League and assist on Pedro Porro’s second half equalizer.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Abbreviated Premier League Slate This Weekend; Chelsea Stumble In Carabao Cup

The Premier League executes its form of a winter break beginning this weekend. The league will play five matches this week and then five matches the following weekend, thus providing some time off for each individual club. Two of the clubs competing this weekend will be coming off Carabao Cup disappointments.

Chelsea is host to Fulham after both clubs dropped the opening leg of their cup semifinal this past week. Fulham were losers at Liverpool in a predictable outcome. Perhaps also predictable, but disappointing nonetheless, was Chelsea’s latest stumble as the Blues fell to Championship level Middlesbrough. Chelsea’s lower tier opponent is currently 12th in the Championship table but outclassed the Premier League club. Middlesbrough Manager Michael Carrick outcoached Mauricio Pochettino. The goal came through victimizing Levi Colwill, a natural center back, as he clumsily attempted to play fullback  in Pochettino’s setup. Chelsea did nothing with 80% possession in the second half as the Premier League side displayed no hint of how to attack the Middlesbrough defense.

Liverpool needed a second half comeback to put away Fulham but realistically the outcome was only to be expected as Premier League leading Liverpool seeks to win its 10th English football League Cup. Chelsea and Fulham will get second chances in a couple of weeks in the second leg of the semifinals.

In the meantime, the Cottagers and Blues meet in a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Chelsea prevailed 2-0 when the sides met at Craven Cottage in October. Former Chelsea man Timo Werner could make his return to the Premier League when Tottenham Hotspur travels to Manchester United on Sunday. The German has participated in training for Spurs this week and could be rushed into the line-up with Son Heung-min having left the London club to compete for South Korea in the Asia Cup. Spurs are still without the injured James Maddison and Werner could potentially provide a spark. Werner’s speed should be a good fit for Manager Ange Postecoglou’s attack as the German joins the club on loan from RB Leipzig with an option to buy. Heading the other direction is disaffected Manchester United winger Jadon Sancho who is going back to Borussia Dortmund on loan. Sancho previously enjoyed success at the Bundesliga club before his ill-fated Manchester United career.

Manchester City has Kevin De Bruyne back available and that’s bad news for Newcastle as the Magpies host the Citizens on Saturday. Erling Haaland remains doubtful for the match in the northeast, but he is getting close as Manchester City revs up for another title bid. Manager Pep Guardiola’s men are currently 5 points behind table leader Liverpool. Newcastle, meanwhile, has played terribly of late, losing five of their last six Premier League matches.

The most impactful match of the weekend could be the one occurring on Friday at the bottom of the table when Luton Town travels to Burnley. Luton Town has performed better than expected this season and a win at Turf Moor could enable them to escape the relegation zone this weekend should Everton fail to win versus Aston Villa. A Burnley victory, marking just a second home win of the season, would bring the Clarets within a point of the Hatters and deal a nasty blow to Luton Town’s survival chances.

Everton is currently safe by virtue of a one-point advantage over Luton Town. The Toffees face a difficult matchup as Aston Villa comes to Goodison Park on Sunday. Aston Villa is second in the Premier League table and has lost just twice in its last sixteen league matches. Everton did receive good news this week when Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s three match suspension was overturned, meaning the striker will be available for the match versus the Villans. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

FA Cup Third Round: Gunners Firing Blanks

The surprises were mild in the FA Cup third round. West Ham and Nottingham Forest were held to draws and thus will need to replay their matches against Bristol City and Blackpool, respectively. No Premier League team, however, was outright ousted by lower-level competition. Crystal Palace and Everton as well as Wolverhampton and Brentford will also need to replay the third round after drawing their contests. Twelve of the Premier League clubs are already through to the fourth round with just two clubs eliminated after falling to other Premier League sides. Unsurprisingly, Burnley was bounced 1-0 by Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal is gone from the tournament after a 2-0 loss to Liverpool.

Two weeks after drawing at Anfield, Arsenal was defeated at the Emirates Sunday by a Liverpool side playing without Mohamed Salah. These are concerning times for the Gunners. The defeat to Liverpool marked the sixth time in the last seven matches across all competitions that Arsenal has walked away without a win. Back-to-back losses during the holiday period saw Arsenal topple from the top of the Premier League standings to fourth place, just a point above rival Tottenham Hotspur. Through 20 matches, the Gunners have accumulated 40 points. That is ten points less than Arsenal had in the Premier League after 20 matches last season. On the surface, the returns do not look great from the investments in Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and goalkeeper David Raya. More impactful, in fact, might be the loss of Granit Xhaka. Goal production after 20 matches is down by eight goals year over year. Goals allowed are three greater. Manager Mikel Arteta almost nonsensically insists after non-winning outcomes that his club “deserved” to win, the latest claim coming after the FA loss to Liverpool.

Unfortunately, a club deserves to win when it scores more goals than the opposition. Arsenal seems short of a goal scorer who can consistently help accomplish that aim. Gabriel Jesus has a cranky knee again. An overworked Bukayo Saka seems stuck in neutral. Eddie Nketiah is not taking the next step as a dependable Premier League striker. Gabriel Martinelli is unusually quiet. Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz have also largely gone silent after brief moments in the sun. Captain Martin Odegaard was guilty of missing Arsenal’s best chance on Sunday when his uncontested shot from close range caromed off the top bar. There are a lot of potential goal scorers for Arsenal. The club creates a lot of chances. But there is no real threat in front of goal. Havertz started as a striker against Liverpool in a role he played poorly for Chelsea before his puzzling move to the Gunners. The ball is not finding the net often enough for Arsenal and the Gunners’ title hopes could rest on addressing that issue. That is easier said than done, however, as the Gunners are boxed in by financial fair play concerns this transfer window. They may have the opportunity to address other areas, such as a need at fullback, but a move for a goal scorer would first require outgoing deals for players such as Emile Smith Rowe and/or Nketiah. If it could somehow be maneuvered, the addition of a goal scorer like Brentford’s returning Ivan Toney would add instant accelerant to the Gunners’ title bid.

Friday, January 5, 2024

FA Cup

The Premier League clubs join in on the competition as the third round of the FA Cup is played this weekend. The headline entrรฉe on the menu is a Sunday rematch between Arsenal and Liverpool. The clubs drew their league match 1-1 just two weeks ago. This time, however, the match is at the Emirates and Mohamed Salah is unavailable due to the Africa Cup of Nations. There is still speculation as to how Jurgen Klopp will fill the vacuum created by the absence of the club’s and, arguably the Premier League’s, best player. An outside the box possibility is to play midfielder Dominic Szoboszlai on the wing, a position he has played for his native Hungary. Struggling Arsenal, winner of just one of its last five league matches, has won the FA Cup 14 times, more than any other club.

All twenty Premier League sides are in tournament action which began with Thursday’s goalless draw between Crystal Palace and Everton, a match that will need to be replayed under the tournament’s odd format. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was red carded in the 79th minute for the Toffees as the game crept towards its goalless conclusion. Palace was forced to play without Michael Olise who once again injured his hamstring in the club’s last Premier League win. A June hamstring injury while on international duty kept Olise out until November. Two goals in his last league match had once again stoked transfer interest from other clubs in the talented yet injury prone winger.

Brentford will host Wolverhampton on Friday in a rematch of their December 27th Premier League match which saw Wolves destroy the Bees 4-1. Also on Friday, Tottenham Hotspur plays host to Burnley in another all Premier League matchup.

Saturday features a traditional northeast England rivalry when Newcastle visits the Stadium of Light to face the Black Cats of Sunderland. Controversy erupted this week over signage placed in one of the stadium’s bars featuring slogans of hated Newcastle. While the bar will function as a hospitality suite for Newcastle away supporters, Sunderland fans protested strongly at the desecration of their home venue and the signage was removed. The club issued a public apology to Black Cat supporters.

A third major footballing club from the Northeast is in action Saturday when Middlesbrough hosts the Premier League’s current second place club Aston Villa. Middlesbrough, managed by former Manchester United player Michael Carrick, has already advanced to the quarterfinal of the English League Cup this season, though their league form in the Championship has been tepid at best.

Defending FA Cup champion Manchester City faces Huddersfield on Sunday. The mismatch versus Huddersfield, relegation threatened in the Championship, could see Kevin De Bruyne return for the Citizens. Less likely to see game time are Erling Haaland and Jeremy Doku, who both returned to full training this past week as the treble winners frighteningly move closer to full strength.

Manchester United concludes the third round with a relatively short trip to Manchester County based Wigan on Monday. The Red Devils have won 18 of 19 matches against their opponent though it should be noted that, since its 2014 relegation from the Premier League, Wigan has won more FA Cup ties versus topflight opposition than any other English club. Premier League matches resume on Saturday January 13th. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Premier League Results Match Week 20: Liverpool Extend Table Lead With Win Over Newcastle; Arsenal Slide Continues With Loss At Fulham; Aston Villa Moves Into Second With Burnley Win; Spurs End Cherries Run

Liverpool extended its lead in the Premier League table to three points over now second place Aston Villa. The Reds defeated Newcastle 4-2 as Mohamed Salah scored a brace in his final Premier League appearance prior to joining Egypt for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations tournament. Salah is now level with Erling Haaland for the Premier League goal scoring lead. That should change in coming weeks with Salah’s absence and Haaland expected return from the foot injury he suffered in early December. A 1-1 tie on Monday was broken by Curtis Jones’ 74th minute goal which opened the floodgates at Anfield as Liverpool regained its home mojo after drawing in its last two contests at its historic ground.

Arsenal tumbled from second place down to fourth after the Gunners lost 2-1 at Fulham. The defeat at Craven Cottage was the second consecutive league loss for the Gunners who have now won just of their last five Premier League matches. A fifth minute goal by Bukayo Sala went for naught as Fulham came from behind on goals by Raul Jiminez and Bobby De Cordova-Reid.

Aston Villa is now second in the table, three points behind Liverpool, after a 3-2 win over Burnley at Villa Park. Burnley fought valiantly and tied the match in the 71st minute despite playing with ten men after a Sander Berge red card 15 minutes earlier. Lyle Foster struck the equalizer for the Clarets, his first goal after missing several months to deal with mental health issues. Burnley’s hopes for its first earned point of the season from a losing position, however, were dashed when Jhon Duran was taken down in the box for a Villa penalty. Douglas Luis then sealed the victory with his 89th minute penalty kick. Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins assisted on Aston Villa’s first two goals to move level with Mohamed Salah at a Premier League high eight assists.

Manchester City also moved past Arsenal and is now third in the table after a 2-0 spanking of Sheffield United. Both Manchester City goals were assisted by Phil Foden, creating some high-end selection issues for Manager Pep Guardiola with the imminent return of Kevin De Bruyne from a long injury absence. Meanwhile, an unhappy end to the season appears inevitable for Sheffield United. No team has avoided Premier League relegation after accumulating as few points as the Blades have this season after 20 matches.

Tottenham Hotspur is now just a point behind north London rival Arsenal after Spurs dominated Bournemouth in a 3-1 win. Giovanni Lo Celso had two assists as Tottenham Hotspur dealt the Cherries their first loss since the first week of November. West Ham and Brighton played to a goalless draw on Tuesday.

The Seagulls dominated the action but were stymied by the efforts of West Ham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola who recorded eight saves in a man of the match performance. The point earned by Brighton moved the Seagulls past Manchester United into seventh place in the table on goal differential.

The Red Devils continued a trend of following a positive result (win or draw) with a loss. That happened for a fourth consecutive time with Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Nottingham Forest. Any momentum from the dramatic come from behind win at Aston Villa disappeared for the Red Devils with the loss at the City Ground. Insult was added to injury when former Manchester United player Anthony Elanga assisted the winning goal by Morgan Gibbs-White. A second consecutive win by the Tricky Trees moved the club five points clear of the relegation line.

Chelsea won for the third time in its last four league matches in a 3-2 win at Luton Town. Cole Palmer had a brace and an assist as the former Manchester City player continued to shine for his new club. Palmer’s eight goals lead the London club, and his four assists are joint high for Chelsea with Conor Gallagher. Nothing comes easy for Chelsea this season, however, as Luton Town made things interesting with two late goals after Chelsea had taken a three-goal lead.

Michael Olise scored twice to lead Crystal Palace to a 3-1 win over Brentford. The win for the Eagles ended a dreadful run where Crystal Palace had not won any of its previous eight league matches. Brentford, meanwhile, lost a fifth consecutive match as the specter of a relegation battle beckons.

Everton are very much a part of that relegation battle as the Toffees remained safe by just a single point after a 3-0 loss to Wolverhampton. Three consecutive defeats have compounded the damage of the 10-point penalty enforced by the league to create the dilemma for Everton. Wolves, meanwhile, won a third consecutive league match as the club extended its home unbeaten run to eight matches.