Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Premier League Preview Matchweek 27: Manchester Derby Headlines Weekend Schedule

Manchester City sent a frightening message to its Premier League rivals in Tuesday’s FA Cup match when Erling Haaland found the net five different times, assisted four different times by Kevin De Bruyne, in a 6-2 rout of Luton Town. Goals had been scarcer in recent Premier League matches with Manchester City scoring but a goal in each of its last three league outings. The defending champions have still been able to extend their unbeaten run in the league to 11 matches by relying on a defense which has conceded only two goals to the opposition in the Citizens’ last five league matches. The re-emergence of Haaland and the attack could not come at a better time as Manchester City will be tested with its next five matches coming against top seven clubs in the Premier League table. How the Citizens, currently a point back of league leading Liverpool, fare during that run will have a large say on this season’s title race.

The challenging stretch begins with Sunday’s Manchester derby at the Etihad. Manchester United was on a run of four straight Premier League victories before it all came crashing down on Sunday at Old Trafford. The Red Devils’ loss to Fulham highlighted how dependent the squad has been on the goals of injured striker Rasmus Hojlund. Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has been but a shadow of the player who netted 17 Premier League goals last season and provided little threat against the Cottagers. Manchester City has won five of the last six matches between the cross-town rivals.

Liverpool should have Mohamed Salah, and potentially Darwin Nunez, back in the lineup when the Reds visit Nottingham Forest this weekend. Forest have been in a rough patch of late, losing four of six matches to enter the relegation discussion.

Luton Town is four points back of Forest and possible survival as the Hatters host Aston Villa on Saturday. While the Hatters are just trying to survive, Aston Villa has its eyes set on a Champions League berth.

Manager Unai Emery has his club five points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur in the battle for a top four finish. Spurs host a London derby against Crystal Palace on Saturday. New Eagles Manager Oliver Glasner will get a much truer test of Premier League competition at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this weekend after winning his debut against 10-man Burnley last week. Spurs have won the last four matches between the two London clubs by an aggregate 10-2 margin. Eberechi Eze may return for Crystal Palace this weekend which will help but probably not be enough against a Tottenham Hotspur side still smarting from a home loss to Wolves two weeks ago which allowed Aston Villa to leapfrog into the top four.

Wolverhampton is at Newcastle this weekend with Manager Gary O’Neil’s side harboring dreams of European qualification. Three wins in four matches have advanced Wolves to just a point behind seventh place Brighton in the Premier League table. Wolverhampton has moved a point ahead of their Saturday opponent as Newcastle have won but two of their seven 2024 matches. The Magpies were pounded by Arsenal last weekend as whispers have begun regarding Manager Eddie Howe’s job security.

The scramble for the presumptive final European qualification spot sees two points separating clubs currently in the seventh through tenth places in the table with Chelsea a further two points back. Brighton is currently in seventh place by a goal differential edge over West Ham. The Seagulls must travel to Fulham this weekend where the Cottagers have won seven of their thirteen matches at Craven Cottage. Fulham have been a much more formidable opponent at their home ground, winning but once away from Craven Cottage before historically triumphing at Old Trafford for the first time in 20 years on Saturday. A low scoring affair might be expected as Brighton and Fulham have only scored six goals between them in the last five matches played between the clubs. Only once did either side score more than a goal in those matches, three of which resulted in draws.

Everton has drawn five of its last six matches as the Toffees battle to stay above the relegation line. That cause was helped this week by four points conceded back to the Toffees via reduction of their league imposed financial misdeed penalty. The Toffees are five points above the line as they host West Ham this weekend. The Hammers ended a six-match winless run in emphatic fashion at London Stadium last week when Jarrod Bowen scored three times in a 4-2 defeat of Nottingham Forest. The Hammers are still battling for a European berth as manager David Moyes looks to silence his critics once again.

Chelsea are four points south of West Ham in the table as their own European hopes remain on life support. The 11th place Blues are at Brentford for a London derby this week. The Bees have even bigger problems as losses in five of their last six matches has placed Brentford in relegation danger, five points from the drop line. Only those clubs sitting below the line have shipped more goals than Brentford this season, welcome news for Chelsea’s gang of inaccurate young marksmen up front.

Burnley’s defense is even leakier with the Clarets’ having conceded 58 goals this season. Bournemouth will take aim at the Burnley defense when the Cherries visit Turf Moor on Sunday. Bournemouth has lost two of its last three matches but will have its best chance yet to score the Cherries’ first victory of 2024.

Sheffield United, of course, is the worst defense in the league, its 66 conceded goals setting a new standard for Premier League helplessness. The Blades host Arsenal on Monday in a massive mismatch. The Gunners’ 62 goals scored are second only to Liverpool. While the Blades cleaned things up a bit by conceding just one goal to Wolverhampton last week, Monday’s match could get ugly. Arsenal was a 5-0 winner when the teams met in October and, given Arsenal’s recent goalscoring proclivity, a comparable rout might be in store.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Premier League Results Matchweek 26: Gunners Keep Firing; Villa Restores Home Form; Foden Leads City To Win; Manchester United Stumbles At Home; Glasner Wins Crystal Palace Debut; Everton Draws on Pitch, Point Deduction Reduced; Bowen Hat Trick Leads Hammers Over Bees

Arsenal’s goal scorers kept firing in a 4-1 pasting of Newcastle at the Emirates. The Gunners have now scored 25 goals in their last six Premier League matches. Bukayo Saka scored for the seventh time in his last five appearances while a rejuvenated Kai Havertz scored for a second straight match. Manager Mikel Arteta’s squad is two points back of Liverpool in the table and one point behind Manchester City in the Premier League title chase after 26 matches.

Liverpool, winners in the league on Wednesday against Luton Town, were otherwise occupied this weekend in winning the EFL Cup.

Manchester City, meanwhile, edged Bournemouth 1-0 on Saturday when an awkward Erling Haaland shot was deflected by Bournemouth goalkeeper Neto into the path of an onrushing Phil Foden for a tap in goal. Foden’s 16th goal across all competitions matches his previous season high. Manchester City extended their unbeaten Premier League run to nine matches though the defending champions have uncharacteristically scored just a single goal in each of their last three matches. The normally prolific Citizens trail Liverpool and Arsenal in goal production and have scored just three times more than fourth place Aston Villa.

Villa prevailed at home 4-2 over Nottingham Forest Saturday to snap a three-match losing run across all competitions at Villa Park. Douglas Luiz led the way with two goals inside of 10 minutes during the first half for a Villa side which leads the Premier League in first half goals. The victory moved Aston Villa five points ahead of idle Tottenham Hotspur in the battle for fourth place in the Premier League.

A sluggish Manchester United attack reflected the absence of injured striker Rasmus Hojlund in a 2-1 home loss to Fulham. The Red Devils could generate little in attack without Hojlund though  Harry Maguire did create some late drama. The center back scored in the final minute of regulation to seemingly salvage a point for his side. Maguire and his teammates were then caught out in stoppage time when Adama Traore turned and broke past Maguire in Fulham’s end. The speedy former Wolverhampton and Barcelona player raced down the field before finding Alex Iwobi for the 97th minute Fulham winner. The defeat ended a four-match winning run for Manchester United while Fulham won for only the second time away from home this season.

Everton essentially captured five points in the last three days. The Toffees first secured a point at Brighton in a 1-1 final on Saturday, Everton’s fifth draw in its last six matches. The Toffees then had their league penalty for financial misdeeds reduced from ten to six points on Monday. Resultantly Everton stands 15th in the table, five points removed from the relegation line. Things could have been even brighter in Everton had not Brighton’s Lewis Dunk scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to salvage a point for the Seagulls. Still, the increased point total for Everton, now at 25 points after Monday’s decision, provides breathing room for the Toffees in the relegation battle.

Luton Town, on 20 points, would appear the only club currently in the bottom three with a chance to survive. Burnley and Sheffield United seem done and dusted at 13 points apiece. Though Sheffield United flashed an improved defense in a 1-0 loss to Wolverhampton Saturday, the end result was the same as the Blades fell for the 19th time in their 26 matches this season. Burnley has an identical record to the Blades at 3 wins, 4 draws and a disheartening 19 defeats after the Clarets lost 3-1 at Crystal Palace.

New Crystal Palace Manager Oliver Glasner saw three second half goals secure the win in his Premier League debut against a Burnley side reduced to ten men by a 35th minute Josh Brownhill red card. Jordan Ayew scored his second goal in as many matches for the Eagles and American Chris Richards scored his first goal for the club. A tougher test awaits Glasner and Palace next week at Tottenham Hotspur.

Week 26 concluded with West Ham’s 4-2  hammering of Brentford. Jarrod Bowen found the net three times to the delight of West Ham supporters who had not seen their club score in the Hammers’ last three Premier League matches. Bowen’s feat marked the  first hat trick by a West Ham player at the Hammers’ current London Stadium home. The victory also marked the first league victory for West Ham in 2024 and drew the club level on points with seventh place Brighton.

EFL (Carabao ) Cup

The stars were aligned on the Liverpool bench, providing Chelsea with a golden opportunity to win a trophy for their supporters and lessen the pressure on the Blues’ much maligned ownership and management. It did not happen as Liverpool triumphed 1-0 in extra time to lift the trophy. An extensive injury list forced Liverpool to dig deep into its bench on Sunday for a host of young academy players. Chelsea’s expensively assembled squad failed to take advantage as the London side suffered a sixth consecutive defeat in a domestic cup final at Wembley Stadium. Virgil Van Dijk, one of the few veterans left on the pitch for Liverpool, headed in the winner in the second half of extra time for Liverpool’s eighth EFL Cup trophy. Van Dijk had an earlier goal called back for an offside call. The disallowed and decisive goals both betrayed Chelsea’s defensive naivety. Chelsea fullback Ben Chilwell was marking Van Dijk in the first instance and winger Mikhailo Mudryk was the nearest defender on the winning play. Neither player had a chance against the more physically imposing Van Dijk. The head scratching at Chelsea goes far beyond that, however. Faced with an array of “Klopp’s Kids” in extra time, Chelsea played passively and showed no inclination to challenge Liverpool’s largely inexperienced lineup. Manager Mauricio Pochettino would afterward claim his squad was playing for penalties, much to the consternation of supporters. Chelsea’s fumbling of its golden opportunity for silverware also included its usual penchant for missed chances. Midfielder Conor Gallagher, hardworking as always, was nevertheless the most egregious culprit in missing his chances on Sunday.

The EFL Cup result raised more questions regarding the unusual project going on at Chelsea and the shortcomings of its own young talent. Liverpool, meanwhile, displayed the heart of a champion in winning yet another trophy. The Reds overcame the injury absences of such stars as Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Dominik Szoboszlai and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The injury curse even continued on Sunday when Ryan Gravenberch was stretchered off after a harsh tackle by Chelsea’s Moises Caicedo. That injury brought the total to 11 sidelined first team players for Liverpool. Teenagers James McConnell, Bobby Clark and Jayden Danns joined the fray for Liverpool as substitutes, marking the first time since 2017 that three teenagers appeared for a team in an EFL Cup final. The teens were joined by 21-year-old Jarrel Quansah as a second half substitute while 20-year-olds Harvey Elliott and Connor Bradley had started the match for the undermanned Reds. The youngsters filled in capably for Liverpool’s absent frontliners and, led  by their veteran captain Van Dijk, endured and ensured that Manager Jurgen Klopp has at least one trophy to celebrate in his final season in Merseyside.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Premier League Preview Matchweek 26: Arsenal Looks For Response After Champions League Loss; Villa Looks To Solidify Top Four Position; Manchester United Seeks Fifth Straight; Derby of the Dire At London Stadium; Glasner Debuts At Selhurst Park

Liverpool kicked off Matchweek 26 with a 4-1 win over Luton Town in a match pulled forward from the weekend when Liverpool will face Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Sunday. The league schedule thus features only eight matches this weekend and Monday.

Manchester City will try to close its present four-point gap to league leading Liverpool when the Citizens visit Bournemouth on Saturday. City defeated Brentford on Tuesday to extend its league unbeaten run to ten matches. The defending champs have not been at their best, however, scoring just a single goal on Tuesday and in their 1-1 home draw with Chelsea last weekend. Bournemouth, meanwhile, remains in search of its first 2024 victory after drawing three of its last four matches.

Arsenal is back home at the Emirates to face Newcastle after an unpleasant midweek visit to Portugal. The Gunners, a point back of Manchester City in the Premier League table, were stunned by a stoppage time goal in a 1-0 loss at Porto in Champions League during the week. Porto’s Galeno scored the winner in a match where the Gunners failed to even get a shot on target. Expect Arsenal to be fired up after the midweek European loss as they return to Premier League play where they have won their first five matches of the calendar year for the first time in club history. Bukayo Saka, unusually quiet versus Porto, has been tearing up the Premier League with six goals in his last four appearances. Newcastle is unbeaten in its last four matches, recovering from a disastrous run of form which saw the Magpies lose six of seven Premier League matches. Manager Eddie Howe’s side are back in the European qualification discussion with a current eighth place position in the table.

Fourth place Aston Villa can increase its edge over an idle Tottenham Hotspur this weekend when Nottingham Forest visits Villa Park. The form of Manager Unai Emery’s side has been rocky of late, and Saturday’s match will see the Villans try to snap a three-match losing run across all competitions at their home ground. Forest scored a key home victory at the City Ground last week to move the Tricky Trees four points clear of the relegation line. The Trees are vulnerable, however, when uprooted from their home ground with only Sheffield United and Burnley having won fewer league away matches this season.

Manchester United is only five points south of Aston Villa after stringing together four consecutive Premier League wins. The Red Devils will look to make it five straight when they welcome Fulham to Old Trafford this weekend. Unfortunately, Manchester United will need to do it without striker Rasmus Hojlund who has been ruled out with a muscle injury after having scored in six consecutive matches for the Red Devils. Fulham, losers at home to Aston Villa last week, are having a terrible time this season away from the normally friendly confines of Craven Cottage. The Cottagers have won just once away from their home ground, a record of road futility shared only with cellar dweller Sheffield United.

Two clubs on a miserable run of form clash in a derby of the dire at London Stadium when Brentford visits West Ham. West Ham have lost three matches on the trot and have not won in their six matches this calendar year. The Bees have lost 11 of their last 14 league matches to find themselves just five points clear of the relegation zone. The recent schedule has been a killer for the Bees. The last five matches have seen Manager Thomas Frank’s squad matched up with Manchester City twice as well as facing Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspsur during that stretch. The one Brentford victory in those last five matches was over a formidable Wolverhampton side.

Wolves have lost just twice since mid-December and are coming off an impressive win at Tottenham Hotspur as the club returns to Molineux Stadium to host Sheffield United on Sunday. The Blades have earned their bottom of the table standing by shipping 65 goals already this season. Wolverhampton supporters, meanwhile, are dreaming of Europe as Manager Gary O’Neil has his side currently just three points behind seventh place Brighton in his first season in charge of Wolves.

Brighton, having humiliated Sheffield United 5-0 last week, is home to Everton on Saturday. The visiting Toffees are barely safe, holding a goal differential advantage on 18th place Luton Town, as the Toffees await a decision on their appeal of the 10-point deduction levied earlier in the season. That pending decision has obvious and massive implications for the relegation race.

Crystal Palace is five points north of Everton in the table as the Oliver Glasner era begins with a home match at Selhurst Park against Burnley. The Europa League winning manager takes over from Roy Hodgson who was suffering from health issues as well as poor results and supporter disaffection. Glasner comes in with a reputation for turnarounds, rousing moribund Bundesliga sides Eintracht Frankfurt and Wolfsburg to European qualification and, in the case of Frankfurt, silverware. The new manager will be immediately under the microscope with upcoming winnable matches in front of the home fans against current relegation sides. Following the match versus Burnley this weekend, the Eagles will host Luton Town in two weeks’ time after an away derby at Tottenham Hotspur next week. 

EFL (Carabao) Cup Final

This week’s Premier League schedule is overshadowed by a cup championship. Liverpool and Chelsea face off on Sunday in the final of the EFL Cup. Manager Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool have had Chelsea’s number in recent finals between the clubs. The Reds prevailed over the Blues in the 2019 UEFA Super Cup, the 2022 EFL Cup and the 2022 FA Cup. Chelsea Manager Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, has never won a title of any sort in England and his accomplishment in winning Ligue 1 with PSG is less than impressive given the Paris club’s historic dominance in its domestic league. The Argentine manager’s current project at Chelsea has shown some recent improvement with the Blues having drawn with Manchester City at the Etihad in their last outing, the second time this season that Chelsea has drawn with the defending champions. Chelsea’s inconsistent form this season, however, includes a 4-1 whipping at Liverpool at the end of January.

Liverpool increased its current lead in the Premier League title race to four points over Manchester City with a midweek 4-1 thrashing of Luton Town. The Reds, however, are battling injury concerns entering Sunday’s final at Chelsea. Forward Diogo Jota, defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, midfielder Curtis Jones and goalkeeper Allison are definitely out. Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez are questionable. Salah is reportedly suffering fatigue after his recent return from a lengthy hamstring injury. Nunez suffered a knock versus Brentford. The potential absence of Salah and Nunez could finally slow the Liverpool scoring machine. Defender Thiago Silva could be back available for Chelsea though young center backs Axel Disasi and Levi Colwill played just fine without him against Manchester City. Malo Gusto, meanwhile, has made major strides in ably stepping in for Chelsea’s perpetually injured right back Reese James. A win by underdog Chelsea on Sunday would be a major boost for Pochettino and much criticized Chelsea ownership.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Premier League Results Matchweek 25: Manchester City Drops Points to Chelsea Again; Wolves Take Down Tottenham Hotspur; Hojlund Scores Twice in Manchester United Win Over Hatters; Bottom Clubs Sheffield United and Burnley Blasted by Identical 5-0 Scores; Glasner To Take Over Crystal Palace; Everton Moves to Safety

Manchester City has dropped four points to Chelsea this season. That is also the number of points by which the Citizens trailed Liverpool after the defending champions drew with Chelsea for a second time. Saturday’s 1-1 draw could have title implications for Manager Pep Guardiola’s side. Manchester City and Liverpool resume their title race with midweek matches versus Brentford and Luton Town on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. However, if the race at the top of the Premier League table remains this tight, with Arsenal part of the three-way chase, Chelsea may well have played spoiler to another Manchester City title. City salvaged a point at the Emirates on Sunday when an 83rd minute Rodri goal offset a first half goal from former Manchester City player Raheem Sterling which staked Chelsea to an early lead. Sterling also scored against his former team in the reverse fixture between the sides. The match Saturday was less thrilling than the 4-4 shootout in November. It was, however, an encouraging result for a young Chelsea club trying to find its footing. Axel Disasi was outstanding at center back for a Chelsea back line which was playing without the injured Thiago Silva. Malo Gusto also proved a nuisance for Manchester City as the Brazilian right back played perhaps his best game deputizing for the injured Reese James. Chelsea also benefitted from Erling Haaland playing one of his worst matches since entering the Premier League. The imposing Manchester City striker missed nine different shots, a plethora of misguided missiles which included some makeable headers which would have changed the match outcome. In total, Manchester City launched 31 shots, nine on target. The Citizens lost ground to both Liverpool and Arsenal in the Premier League title chase.

Liverpool sailed past Brentford 4-1 on Friday as Mohamed Salah, of course, scored in his return from a lengthy absence. Arsenal had an even easier time with Burnley in a 5-0 laugher on Saturday. Martin Odegaard scored four minutes into the match, Bukayo Saka added two goals and Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz joined in the goalscoring fun. Saka now has six goals in his last four matches and Arsenal has averaged more than four goals a game in posting five straight wins. Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya was not required to make a save as Burnley suffered yet another abject defeat.

There is, however, one team lower than Burnley in the Premier League table. The bumbling Blades of Sheffield United lost by the same 5-0 score on Sunday versus Brighton. The match at Bramall Lane was effectively over in the 13th minute when the Blades’ Mason Holgate was disqualified for an ill-advised high tackle. Brighton’s Simon Adringa, newly returned from winning the Africa Cup of Nations title with Ivory Coast, scored twice amid the carnage inflicted by the Seagulls. Brighton has now scored four or more goals in seven different matches across all competitions this season. Brighton surged past West Ham and Newcastle into seventh place in the table with the win.

A six-point gap remains between the Seagulls and sixth place Manchester United after the Red Devils outlasted Luton Town 2-1 at Kenilworth Road. Rasmus Hojlund scored twice for Manchester United in the first seven minutes of Sunday’s match, finding the net for a sixth consecutive match. Luton Town showed character, however, by scoring seven minutes later and continuing to aggressively pressure the Manchester United defense. Red Devil Manager Eric ten Hag lifted defensive midfielder Casemiro and center back Harry Maguire at halftime as those veteran defenders, along with Rafael Varane, struggled to match the energy of the Hatters. Eighteen-year-old midfielder Kobbie Manoo was far more effective for the Red Devils in holding off the Hatters as Manchester United won a fourth consecutive league outing.

United are now just three points behind fifth place Tottenham Hotspur after a 2-1 Spurs home defeat to Wolverhampton. Joao Gomes bagged a brace as Wolves triumphed for the fourth time in their last six visits to the north London side. The defeat knocked Tottenham Hotspur out of the top four and kept Wolves’ hopes alive for a possible European berth. Relegation seemed more probable than Europe when manager Gary O’Neil took charge of Wolverhampton just days before the season began. Now the side is level on points with 10th place Chelsea, only three points behind seventh place Brighton and the lower rung of European qualification.

Aston Villa, meanwhile, moved back into the top four with a 2-1 win at Fulham. Ollie Watkins delivered both goals to secure all three points at Craven Cottage. Watkins’ output on Saturday matched that of his previous ten matches as Villa’s recent performances had been spotty during their star striker’s dry patch. Watkins’ goals on Saturday gave him 23 goal involvements (combined goals and assists on the season), just one behind Premier League leader Mohamed Salah.

The pressure increased on West Ham Manager David Moyes after his Hammers lost a third consecutive Premier League match with a 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest. Three consecutive draws preceded the recent losses as the Hammers have scored but three goals in a six-match winless league run. Goals by Taiwo Awoniyi and Callum Hudson-Odoi moved Nottingham Forest four points clear of the relegation line. Moyes, meanwhile, will not be happy with the result or the fact that his Hammers conceded in stoppage time of each half.

Crystal Palace has a new manager after the Eagles’ 1-1 draw Monday with Everton. The newly appointed Oliver Glasner watched from the stands at Goodison Park as a familiar story played out on the pitch for Palace. The Eagles tempered their attack after Jordan Ayew provided them an advantage with his first half goal. Everton went on the front foot and finally broke though in the 84th minute on an Amadou Onana header. Only Sheffield United has conceded more goals in the final 15 minutes of play than Crystal Palace this season. The 17th such concession by the Eagles enabled Everton to steal a point and emerge from the relegation zone by virtue of a goal differential advantage over Luton Town. The Hatters have a match in hand, but the Toffees are also waiting for a ruling that may reduce their current ten-point penalty which has them navigating the relegation rapids in the first place. Crystal Palace, meanwhile, is trying to steer clear of those rough waters with the Eagles flying five points above the drop line as Glasner takes over. The Austrian manager has won a Europa title with Eintracht Frankfurt and taken both that club and Wolfsburg to Champions League qualification. His more upbeat style of play will be welcomed, at least initially, by Crystal Palace supporters. The club has tried to pivot from its traditional, stodgier, style of play twice in recent years. Those failed ventures under former mangers Frank De Boer and Patrick Vieira were short lived with Roy Hodgson coming to the rescue on both occasions to install discipline and organization at the expense of flair and minutes for young developing talent. The 76-year-old Hodgson now steps down after a worrying hospitalization last week. Glasner undertakes a two-pronged challenge in keeping the Eagles safe while transforming their playing philosophy.

Bournemouth similarly tried to change their approach with the preseason appointment of Andoni Iraola. A more expansive style was slow to be grasped by the players during a rough start to the season. The Cherries then went on a run spanning November and December where they won six of seven matches to shoot up the table and separate from the relegation battle. Things have gotten rocky in the new year as Bournemouth searches for its first 2024 victory. A golden chance slipped away at Newcastle Saturday in a 2-2 draw when the equalizer was scored in stoppage time by the Magpies’ Matt Ritchie. The Cherries stay in 13th place, eight points above the drop. Newcastle sits eighth in the table, on the fringes of European qualification.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 25

Chelsea fans will see whether recent wins over Aston Villa in the FA Cup and Crystal Palace in the Premier League represent a turning point for Manager Mauricio Pochettino's project when the Blues visit Manchester City on Sunday. Chelsea has teased before this season before again frustrating supporters with poor finishing and leaky defense that has characterized the young squad for much of this season. One of those illusory moments occurred at Stamford Bridge versus Manchester City when a late Cole Palmer goal delivered a thrilling 4-4 outcome. The point versus City followed a win over Tottenham Hotspur where the Blues also netted four times. Things appeared to be looking up, but Chelsea would proceed to lose three of their next four matches as grumbling and hand wringing resumed for supporters. Manchester City, of course, is intent on another title and is known to be inhospitable to Etihad visitors. The Citizens are yet to lose at home this season, a distinction matched only by Liverpool.

The league leading Reds are at Brentford this week where Mohamed Salah could potentially make a return. The prolific goal scorer joined training this week after time missed with a hamstring injury. Even without Salah, Liverpool has averaged three goals a game over its last six matches.

Arsenal is also away this weekend as the Gunners travel to Burnley where the Clarets and Manager Vincent Kompany have just one win this season at Turf Moor.

Arsenal’s north London rival, Tottenham Hotspur, will try to maintain its top four standing at home against Wolverhampton. Spurs are undefeated in their last five matches at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium but face a Wolves side which is unbeaten in its last three away matches. Wolverhampton is often problematic for Spurs. In the last six clashes between the sides, Wolves have come out on top three times while drawing once. The most recent clash between the sides at Molineux Stadium in November saw Wolves prevail 2-1. Spurs, however, have not lost yet this year and will be keen to continue the momentum that has put them back in the top four.

Aston Villa sits a point behind Spurs in the table after losing two of its last three league matches in addition to the FA Cup loss to Chelsea. Manager Unai Emery will try to get his side back on track when Aston Villa visits Craven Cottage to face Fulham on Saturday. While Villa is clearly experiencing a rough patch, Fulham’s largely positive recent performance has also featured some quizzical results. In a five-match run that has seen only one defeat, the Cottagers have beaten Arsenal but only managed to draw versus relegation sides Everton and Burnley. Fulham smashed Bournemouth at Craven Cottage last week so the troubles for Aston Villa may not be over.

Manchester United, victors over Aston Villa last weekend, will try to continue its recent run of positive form with a visit to Luton Town. The Hatters were embarrassed last weekend by Sheffield United at Kenilworth Road and have lost more home matches than any Premier League sides but for recently promoted and soon to be relegated Sheffield United and Burnley. Another home loss would seem to be on the cards as Manchester United has been on a roll of late, moving into the top six with three consecutive Premier League victories. Young striker Rasmus Hojlund has scored in five consecutive matches for the Red Devils.

Everton could have a chance to leap over Luton Town into a safe place in the table when the currently relegation bound Toffees host Crystal Palace on Monday. The Eagles are sinking in the table and are just five points above Everton as the clubs approach Monday’s match. Crystal Palace Manager Roy Hodgson’s job hangs by a thread as the Eagles have won just twice in their last fifteen matches. Sadly, the venerable manager was taken ill at practice this week and hospitalized. While his condition is stable, he will not be on the touchline Monday and might well have managed his last match for the Eagles.

Nottingham Forest has already fired a manager and yet the Tricky Trees could still fall into the relegation zone if a current four match winless run is not remedied soon. The Trees are two points north of the drop line as they prepare to host West Ham this weekend. The new manager bounce, which saw Nuno Espirito Santo win his first two matches in charge, did not last long as Forest lost three of its next four contests. West Ham Manager David Moyes, meanwhile, is once again on the hot seat after back-to-back losses and a five-match winless run in the league. The poor stretch was capped by a 6-0 annihilation at the hands of Arsenal last weekend. Moyes’s style of play, more cautious and even boring than that of most other Premier League clubs, is often subject to criticism from supporters. When the results tank, the temperature instantly rises on Moyes.

Bournemouth plays a much more upbeat style but is also struggling. Manager Andoni Iraola seemed to be finding his stride as his Cherries went on a run of seven wins in nine matches, losing just once, before a sobering New Year’s Eve loss at Tottenham Hotspur. The Cherries now are yet to win in the new year and have not scored more than a goal in any of their last five matches. Bournemouth travels to St. James Park to face Newcastle this weekend. The Magpies have regrouped to win two of three matches after a string of four losses in a row. The recent three match run has seen the Magpies register 10 goals with a different player contributing a brace in each of those three matches.

A win over rival Crystal Palace is Brighton’s only win since December as the Seagulls visit Sheffield United on Sunday. Brighton will be wary of this trip to the league’s basement dweller. The two sides played to a draw in the reverse fixture and the Blades are coming off a win at Luton Town.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Premier League Results Matchweek 24: Gunners Destroy West Ham; Aston Villa Bedeviled At Home; Spurs Crash Top Four Party; Manchester City and Liverpool Stroll; Blades Spoil Hatters’ Party

Several Premier League clubs fell on their sword at home this weekend. West Ham was most egregiously hammered at home, losing to Arsenal 6-0 at London Stadium. Bukayo Saka struck for two of the goals in a barrage that saw a total of five Gunners find the net. The final Arsenal goal was scored painfully by West Ham’s former captain and fan favorite, Declan Rice. Arsenal’s fourth consecutive win keeps Mikel Arteta’s side level with Manchester City, two points behind Liverpool.

Aston Villa’s 2-1 home loss to Manchester United was less embarrassing but just as painful. Concern is mounting as the Villans tumbled out of the top four with their third consecutive defeat at Villa Park, once a fortress for Manager Unai Emery’s side. Manchester United, meanwhile, secured a third consecutive Premier League win when super-sub Scott McTominay scored his 86th minute header. The Scottish midfielder has demonstrated a flair for winning goals, previously scoring winners in Manchester United wins over Burnley and Chelsea this season. Rasmus Hojlund opened the scoring on Sunday with his fifth goal in five matches for Manchester United. After Douglas Luiz equalized for Villa, it was McTominay with the late game dramatics to move the Red Devils within five points of now fifth place Aston Villa, just six points behind Tottenham Hotspur and a spot in the top four.

Back in London town, Chelsea moved into the top half of the table with a 3-1 victory at Crystal Palace. The first half was a poor effort by the traveling Blues who were down 1-0 at halftime after a Jefferson Lerma long range wonder goal gave the Eagles a lead at Selhurst Park. Chelsea failed to manage a single shot on target in the first half. Things changed quickly in the second half. Conor Gallagher, a star and fan favorite during his loan stint at Crystal Palace, scored just two minutes after the interval. The teams remained tied until Gallagher scored his second goal in stoppage time. A late Crystal Palace collapse also saw Enzo Fernandez score in stoppage time with Chelsea’s Cole Palmer coolly assisting both late goals. The home loss by the Eagles further raised the temperature on the hot seat of embattled Crystal Palace Manager Roy Hodgson. Chelsea has now defeated the Eagles 13 consecutive times in the Premier League. With the victory, Chelsea moved into tenth place in the table past Wolverhampton, victims of yet another home invasion over the weekend.

Wolves were 2-0 losers to Brentford at Molineux Stadium. Bees’ striker Ivan Toney has not taken long to regain his form after his long betting suspension. Toney scored the clincher in the 77th minute on Saturday to mark his third goal in his last four Premier League appearances. Brentford won its first away match since October while Wolves have now lost back-to-back home contests. The victory over Wolverhampton provides some breathing room for Brentford which now sits six points above Everton with a match in hand in the relegation battle royale.

In other bottom of the table action, Luton Town failed to put some separation between the Hatters and the current relegation zone clubs when the Hatters were surprise 3-1 losers to Sheffield United at Luton Town’s Kenilworth Road home. A three-match Luton Town unbeaten run ended in front of its home fans as Sheffield United won its first away match of the season. The loss leaves Luton Town just a point above 18th place Everton and the relegation line. Sheffield United remains in the basement. While level on points with 19th place Burnley, Sheffield is last on goal differential, in no small part due to the Blades having conceded a league record 60 goals for 24 matches. Despite Saturday’s win, Sheffield United is seven points below Luton Town and safety.

Nottingham Forest is only two points above Everton after the Tricky Trees lost 3-2 to visiting Newcastle. Bruno Guimaraes scored his second goal of the match to provide the winning margin in the 66th minute for the Magpies. Nottingham Forest Manager Nuno Espirito Santo has now lost three of his last four matches in charge after beginning his tenure with two victories for the Trees.

Not every home side experienced frustration this weekend. Manchester City and Liverpool enjoyed staycations with easy home wins versus relegation sides Everton (2-0) and Burnley (3-1), respectively. Erling Haaland provided both scores for Manchester City, the Norwegian’s first goals since November as he looks to have finally put his nagging foot injury behind him. Liverpool, meanwhile, has scored 24 goals and won six of eight matches since Mohamed Salah last played for the club. Salah remains sidelined by a hamstring injury suffered while playing for Egypt in the African Cup of Nations.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium saw Spurs leapfrog Aston Villa into the top four with a 2-1 win over visiting Brighton. Brennan Johnson struck the winner for Spurs in stoppage time, assisted by the newly returned Son Heung-min. Tottenham Hotspur has also been boosted by the return  of midfielder James Maddison from a lengthy injury absence. Combined with improved scoring production from forward Richarlison, Spurs have become a handful for opponents. Brighton, meanwhile, has become all too predictable when playing on the road, winning just one of their past ten Premier League away matches. Suspended manger Roberto De Zerbi watched from home as he was spared yet another fruitless trip by the Seagulls.

Bournemouth is still looking for its first win of 2024 after the Cherries were defeated 3-1 by Fulham at the Cottagers’ Craven Cottage home. Muniz Carvalho scored a brace in what was the Cottagers’ own first win of the calendar year. Fulham’s win pushed the Cottagers ahead of the Cherries in the table, Fulham moving to 12th with the Cherries falling to a still comfortable 13th position.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 24

Matchweek 24 does not offer the type of titanic confrontation that we were treated to in last week’s Arsenal v Liverpool showdown. While no title contenders face off against each other this weekend, the schedule does present some key matches in the races for European places, a match towards the bottom of the table that could enhance one participants’ survival chances, and a match between managers under recent fire.

Fourth place Aston Villa will be challenged at home this weekend by a Manchester United side which has flashed rare goal scoring proclivity in notching back-to-back wins. The prominence of young players in each of the two victories was particularly encouraging for Red Devil supporters. Young striker Rasmus Hojlund scored in both wins, extending his scoring run to four consecutive Premier League matches. Teenage midfielder Kobbie Mainoo scored the stoppage time winner in the victory over Wolverhampton. Alejandro Garnacho had a brace in the most recent win over West Ham. The Red Devils now travel to Villa Park where the home side has won 9 of 11 Premier League outings this season, the joint highest number of home victories in the league. Aston Villa’s league form has been less than stellar in recent weeks, however. The club’s only wins in its last six league matches have come over relegation clubs Burnley and Sheffield United. Aston Villa’s perceived invincibility at home was shattered in a 3-1 league loss to Newcastle less than two weeks ago. More shocking was a loss by the same score to Chelsea in the FA cup on Wednesday. Saturday’s match could determine which of the two sides is a true top four contender. Sixth place Manchester United trails fourth place Aston Villa by eight points in the table.

Tottenham Hotspur currently sits between Villa and United in the table as Manager Ange Postecoglou’s charges prepare to host eighth place Brighton on Saturday. Spurs trail Aston Villa by two points after a disappointing draw by the London side at Everton last weekend. Son Heung-min returns for the match versus Brighton after South Korea’s exit from the Asia Cup. In Son’s absence, Richarlison has stepped forward as a legitimate goal threat, netting nine goals in his last eight Premier League appearances for Spurs. The outburst of goal production has been shocking given that Richarlison scored but two goals in his first 39 matches for Tottenham Hotspur. Brighton beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 at their home American Express Stadium in late December. The Seagulls then experienced an uncharacteristic goal drought where they failed to score in their next three matches. Their attack then took wing again against rival Crystal Palace last Saturday in a 4-1 victory. Both Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton, when at their best, are aggressive attack-oriented sides who sacrifice a bit of defensive solidity in the pursuit of goals. Supporters and neutrals could thus be treated to an entertaining matchup this weekend.

Following its key home victory over Liverpool last weekend, Arsenal now travels across London on Sunday for a derby versus West Ham. The Hammers are winless in their last four matches and looked toothless in a loss to Manchester United last week. David Moyes’ side remains in the thick of the European chase, however, trailing sixth place Manchester United by two points and holding a one-point advantage over Brighton entering this weekend’s matches. The Hammers may also draw some confidence from their 2-0 win over the Gunners at the Emirates in December.

A mid table clash on Monday between Chelsea and Crystal Palace features two managers under the microscope. The only question regarding Crystal Palace Manager Roy Hodgson is whether he gets replaced during or after this season as the decision to go a different direction was reportedly decided by the Crystal Palace board after the embarrassing defeat to Brighton. The Pochettino situation at Chelsea is more uncertain. The embattled manager may have received a reprieve with Chelsea’s unexpected FA Cup win on Wednesday. The victory showed a glimpse of what some key players might be capable of and included a proactive tactical change by the manager which was nice to see. Striker Nicolas Jackson was highly effective and scored a goal from an unaccustomed left-wing position. Conor Gallagher scored a long overdue first goal of the season. Enzo Fernandez impressed with a long rage free kick goal and helped control the midfield with fellow high-priced partner Moises Caicedo. Pochettino, however, will need to see another such performance against an overmatched Crystal Palace to truly lighten the pressure.

Luton Town will have the opportunity to improve its survival prospects by taking all three points when it hosts basement dwelling Sheffield United on Saturday. Sheffield United and Burnley are assuredly going down. Luton Town currently is one point north of a similar fate, a full ten points better than the Blades.

Absent further point deductions, Everton is a threat to pull itself out of the relegation zone it currently shares with the doomed Blades and Clarets. That probably will not happen this weekend, however, as the Toffees must go to the Etihad to face title contender Manchester City.

Nottingham Forest and Brentford are other relegation candidates hovering within three points of Everton and the drop line. The Tricky Trees host unpredictable Newcastle while Brentford must go to Molineux Stadium to face Wolverhampton. Wolves position in the top half of the table is one of this season’s surprises while Brentford is hoping the recent return of striker Ivan Toney from suspension will provide enough of a boost to keep them safe in what is probably his last season with the club. League leading Liverpool will be a heavy favorite when Burnley visits Anfield on Saturday. Craven Cottage, meanwhile, will be the site of a mid-table clash between host Fulham and visiting Bournemouth.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Premier League Results Matchweek 23: Arsenal Stops Liverpool Momentum With Win at Emirates; Foden Leads Manchester City Win; Wolves Embarrass Chelsea; Youth Movement Shines For Manchester United; Hatters and Newcastle In High Scoring Draw; Brighton Smashes Crystal Palace; Everton Shares Points With Spurs

Arsenal sent a strong message by defeating Liverpool  3-1 at the Emirates on Sunday, just the second loss in 34 matches for a Liverpool team playing its final season under Manager Jurgen Klopp. The Gunners have been dismissed by many as lacking the firepower to compete with Manchester City and Liverpool for this year’s title. Victory on Sunday, however, pulls Arsenal to within two points of the league leaders as Liverpool was defeated for the first time since a controversial late September loss to Tottenham Hotspur. The Gunners extracted a measure of revenge after falling to Liverpool at this same home ground in the FA Cup in January. A surprisingly shaky Liverpool defense helped the Gunners change that result in the rematch. The first half of Sunday’s match was deadlocked after an early Bukayo Saka goal was neutralized by a deflected Gabriel own goal in the 45th minute. The second half would see Liverpool’s downfall. A mix-up between Liverpool goalkeeper Allison and center back Virgil van Dijk would lead to Gabriel Martinelli’s tie-breaking goal at the 67-minute mark. Allison would suffer additional embarrassment when Arsenal’s Leandro Trossard squeezed the final goal though the Liverpool keeper’s legs in stoppage time. Despite the assistance of Liverpool errors, Arsenal had the better of play and particularly dominated the midfield behind Declan Rice and former Chelsea man Jorginho who made his first start for the Gunners since November. Liverpool, meanwhile, was playing without injured Hungarian midfield star Dominik Szoboszlai (not to mention a certain Egyptian forward as well).

Looming over both Arsenal and Liverpool is a rejuvenated Manchester City intent on a third consecutive Premier League title. Manchester City lurks just two points from the top of the table, holding a goal differential advantage over Arsenal and a match in hand versus both the Reds and Gunners. The Citizens won for a fifth consecutive time in the league with Monday’s 3-1 win over Brentford. Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne started a match together for the first time since the league’s opening weekend and yet it was another star from Pep Guardiola’s talent laden squad who won the day. Things took an early surprising turn when Neal Maupay scored his fifth goal in as many matches for the Bees to put the home side in front. Brentford goalkeeper Mark Flekken, stopping 10 shots on target in the first half alone, would then preserve that lead until Phil Foden deflated Brentford hopes in first half stoppage time. Foden was just getting started as he added two more goals in the second half to complete his second career hat trick and secure Manchester City’s victory.

Meanwhile, Aston Villa returned to the top four as Unai Emery’s men rebounded from a difficult home loss to Newcastle with an easy win at Sheffield United. The 5-0 win over the Blades moved Villa past Tottenham Hotspur which was held to a 2-2 draw at Everton. A 94th minute goal by the Toffees’ Jarrad Branthwaite thrilled the Goodison Park faithful who were braced to accept defeat at the hands of former Toffee Richarlison. The Brazilian scored both the London side’s goals but had his homecoming tainted by Brathwaite’s late heroics.

Manchester United moved into the top six with a 3-0 win at Old Trafford over West Ham. Alejandro Garnacho netted a brace and Rasmus Hojlund scored for a fourth consecutive Premier League match to lead the Red Devils. Hojlund was celebrating his 21st birthday on Sunday while Garnacho is only 19. They were joined by 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo in the starting lineup on Sunday as Manager Eric ten Hag can point to the development of those young stars as a positive in what has at times been a difficult season for the Red Devils.

Mauricio Pochettino is seeing most of his young players fall on their face as Chelsea was embarrassed at home in a 4-2 loss to Wolverhampton. Matheus Cunha led the visitors with a hat trick against the flimsy Chelsea defense. The Blues have spent exorbitantly on young players who have failed to deliver on their perceived promise at Stamford Bridge. Through 23 matches Chelsea has the same number of points in the Premier League as it had at the same stage of last season, a season which saw Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter lose their jobs at Stamford Bridge.

While questions are asked of Pochettino, things are getting even uglier across London at Crystal Palace. A 4-1 loss at Brighton saw defender Joachim Andersen restrained after the match from going after vocally abusive Eagle away supporters. Demands for the sacking of Manager Roy Hodgson are growing louder and President Steve Parish is being called out by frustrated and angry fans. The contrast with perceived rival Brighton is stark as the Seagulls have climbed the Premier League table and are competing in Europe while Crystal Palace still equates success with survival. Palace is currently five points clear of the drop zone, having won just two of its last twelve matches.

Luton Town remained one point clear of the relegation zone after a 4-4 shootout at Newcastle. The home Magpies were down two goals before salvaging the point on second half goals by Kieran Trippier and Harvey Barnes. Sean Longstaff had earlier given the Mapgpies two first half leads before the Hatters stormed to their two-goal advantage. Ross Barkley and Carlton Morris each had a goal and an assist for 17th place Luton Town. While disappointed with the blown lead, the Hatters can take heart in grabbing a point at a formidable away venue and avoiding defeat for a fifth time in their last six matches as they try to hang onto safety and another year in the top tier.

A looming points deduction to Nottingham Forest for financial fair play violations would do wonders for Luton’s survival chances. Forest remained a point ahead of the Hatters after a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth. Former Chelsea man Callum Hudson-Odoi equalized for the Tricky Trees in the 45th minute. The Cherries held on for their point despite playing the last six minutes with ten men. A fourth draw on the weekend saw a 2-2 final at Turf Moor in the match between host Burnley and visiting Fulham. The point did little to advance the fortunes of either side. Burnley is seven points from safety with its survival hopes continuing to fade. Fulham is presently safely ensconced in 13th place; seven points clear of relegation doom.