Friday, March 29, 2024

Premier League Preview: Match Week 30

The three title contenders all play on Sunday with the weekend’s feature match pitting Arsenal against Manchester City at the Etihad. Earlier that morning, Liverpool will play host to Brighton. Eight consecutive league wins have moved Arsenal to the top of the table, the Gunners having defeated and overtaken Liverpool in the process. A fearsome attack has seen the Gunners score 33 goals during that eight-game stretch. And yet the match at the Etihad is widely regarded as a must win for Arsenal. The Gunners were run down by the Citizens in the closing stages of last season and a loss on Sunday would be devastating for the belief that they can avoid repeating a similar fate. Arsenal leads Liverpool on goal differential while Manchester City lurks just a point back of the other two contenders. The Citizens’ chances at home on Sunday will be greatly improved if Kevin De Bruyne is able to return from a recent groin injury. The Belgian superstar returned to training this week and should make the bench if not start this weekend. Arsenal, meanwhile, is holding its breath on the availability of Bukayo Saka who withdrew from the English squad due to a muscle concern.

Liverpool can again top the table should the Reds beat Brighton Sunday morning and then witness an Arsenal draw or loss to Manchester City later that afternoon. Liverpool fell from the top of the table when it dropped points in its own 1-1 draw versus Manchester City preceding the break. A victory over Brighton would mark the 300th win for Jurgen Klopp across all competitions for Liverpool as the charismatic manager chases a second Premier League title in his final season for the club. Brighton Manager Roberto De Zerbi has been rumored to be a potential successor to Klopp. His Seagulls, however, have been bang average of late with three wins, three losses and a draw in their last seven matches Brighton appears to be struggling with the cumulative demands of domestic and first time European  competition, its first ever participation on the continent.

Aston Villa leads Tottenham Hotspur by only three points in the race for fourth place and the Villans will be tested when Wolverhampton visits Villa Park on Saturday. Wolves are still in the fight for one of the lower hanging European qualification berths as Manager Gary O’Neil has done a remarkable job after being unceremoniously sacked by Bournemouth last season.

Tottenham Hotspur is home to Luton Town, a lesser opponent though one which presents just enough danger to create some worries. The Hatters have drawn two of their last three matches and should have beaten Bournemouth but for a memorable collapse some weeks ago.

Nottingham Forest replaced Luton Town in the relegation zone when the Premier League chopped down the Trees with a four-point deduction for financial violations. The Trees will try to escape the shade of relegation this weekend when they host Crystal Palace. Nottingham Forest has never lost in its seven previous Premier League matches with the Eagles. Forest desperately needs to keep that record intact this weekend.

Newcastle finds itself tenth in the table after dropping eight of the 12 points available from its last four Premier League matches. The club’s recent meek capitulation to Manchester City in the FA Cup further disappointed supporters of a Magpies’ side which is already guaranteed to finish with fewer league points than last season and is currently on the outside looking in with respect to next year’s European competitions. The Magpies will try to recharge their season at St. James Park on Saturday versus visiting West Ham. The Hammers will be without suspended midfielder Edson Alvarez and that could spell trouble as West Ham has been unable to win any of the four previous matches Alvarez has missed this season. West Ham is currently seventh in the table as it works to qualify again for a Europa League berth. Of course, the Hammers could also be in the Champions League if they win this season’s Europa League.

Chelsea can advance its own hopes for Europe by taking care of Burnley at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. The Blues are showing some brief glimpses of improvement from their young roster, winning five of their past ten matches and drawing on two other occasions. Burnley won for just the fourth time this season in the Clarets’ last outing against Brentford.

Things do not get better for Brentford this week as Manchester United pays a visit. The Red Devils still have fading hope of a Champions League berth and cannot afford a slipup against a Brentford side that has accumulated fewer points than any other Premier Legue team over its last 18 matches.

Fulham is only six points behind seventh place West Ham and thus has an outside shot at Europe despite four other clubs sitting between the Hammers and the 12th place Cottagers. A visit to bottom of the table Sheffield United this weekend is a golden opportunity to enhance Fulham’s faint hopes for Europe. Everton has other concerns. The Toffees are only four points above the relegation line with a potential second points penalty still possibly to come from the Premier League. Everton has not won a Premier League match since mid-December as the Toffees head to Bournemouth on Saturday. Five draws in their last eight matches, however, have kept the Toffees safe so far. The Cherries, meanwhile, have lost only to title contenders Liverpool and Manchester City over their last nine league matches.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Premier League Races As Play Resumes

The slate of international matches is winding down with Premier League stars heading back to their domestic clubs after a Tuesday slate of matches which includes England hosting Belgium at Wembley Stadium in London. Awaiting players and supporters is a Premier League run in with races up and down the table.

Supporters will be instantly rewarded for their patience over the break with a massive match at the Etihad with Arsenal visiting Manchester City Sunday at the Etihad. Arsenal is top of the table just as the Gunners were when the league reconvened in March of last year. Manchester City, however, returned from the break last season to run off nine consecutive victories, overtaking a faltering Gunners’ side and salting away a third consecutive Premier League title. Saturday’s match at the Etihad thus carries enormous psychological weight as the Gunners hope to prove themselves built to last this season and ready to end Manchester City’s run of titles.

Unlike last season, there are three teams in the race for the Premier League title. Liverpool is behind the Gunners on goal differential and ahead of Manchester City by a point as the Reds seek a second Premier League title for outgoing manager Jurgen Klopp. As the top three battle for silverware, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur are fighting for the remaining guaranteed Champions League berth. Beyond prestige, the Champions League is a financial windfall for clubs. Tottenham Hotspur Manager Ange Postecoglou has thus been mocked for remarks that downplayed the importance of Champions League, claiming he is only interested in a Premier League title. His club is not winning the Premier League title this season but is only three points outside the top four with a match in hand on Aston Villa.

Of course, both clubs might qualify should the Premier League receive a fifth Champions League spot based on the results of this year’s European competitions. Beneficiaries of that potential fifth Champions League berth might have West Ham to thank. The Hammers advanced to the Europa League quarterfinals by eliminating German side Freiburg. The Premier League and Bundesliga are both competing for one of the two additional Champions League slots being added. Italy has all but wrapped up one of the spots with either Germany or England expected to secure the lucrative second new berth. Only the top three teams in the Premier League have earned more points in Europe this season than West Ham. The top three, the Hammers and Europa Conference League participant Aston Villa still have an opportunity to increase the European points haul for the Premier League. West Ham is currently seventh in the Premier League table which could result in a Europa League berth for next season if as many as eight Premier League sides qualify for Europe.

Manchester United’s chances for even an expanded Premier League delegation to the Champions League are fading. United are currently six points back of Spurs, nine points behind fourth place Aston Villa. Sneaking into Champions League qualification in the coming weeks could be the only way that Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag returns for a third season in Manchester.

Brighton and Hove Albion is currently eighth in the table but is only two points behind West Ham with a match in hand. The remaining weeks could be tumultuous, however, for Europa League and Europa Conference League slots. Four clubs are within four points of the Seagulls, extending all the way to 12th place Fulham after the Cottagers won three of four league matches heading into the break. Wolverhampton are just a point behind Brighton after also winning three of their last four matches.

Completing the quartet are Newcastle and Chelsea. Further down the table is a suddenly interesting relegation race. The three promoted sides have been expected to head right back down for much of this season. That might still be the case and would be a fair result based on performance. Off the pitch factors, however, may determine who gets relegated this year.

Nottingham Forest has dropped into the bottom three, elevating Luton Town, after a four-point league-imposed penalty for financial violations. The (Not So) Tricky Trees are appealing. Everton have already absorbed a six-point penalty and are facing a second penalty from the league. The Toffees are currently four points above the drop line. A second penalty could thus theoretically trigger the first Premier League relegation in Everton’s history.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Premier League Results Matchweek 29: Spurs Smashed; Aston Villa Draws With Hammers; Premier League Chops Down Forest; Burnley Defeats Bees

Just a week after routing Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur was on the wrong end of a decisive verdict as Fulham thrilled Craven Cottage supporters with a 3-0 victory over Spurs, ending a nine-match winless Premier League run for the Cottagers versus their London rival. Tottenham Hotspur saw its momentum towards a Champions League slot quizzically stall with a complacent effort versus its mid table opponent. Fulham, meanwhile, has seemingly filled the vacancy at striker which was created upon Aleksandar Mitrovic’s departure and the shortcomings of a late career Raul Jimenez. Rodrigo Muniz, scorer of two goals on Saturday, has now scored seven times in his last seven matches and becomes the first Fulham player to score in four consecutive home matches.

The damage of the loss to Spurs was somewhat mitigated the following day when Aston Villa managed only a point at London Stadium versus West Ham. Even the single point came hard for Villa. Nicolo Zaniolo scored in the 79th minute to equalize the match for the Villans. A potential winning goal in stoppage time by West Ham’s Tomas Soucek was then disallowed after a lengthy VAR review determined a handball violation. It was the second goal of the day ruled out for a West Ham handball. Michail Antonio scored West Ham’s first goal of the match and would have had a brace but for a later score being disallowed. Villa was thus fortunate to escape with a point from a London Stadium venue where they have never won. Aston Villa increased its advantage over Tottenham Hotspur for a guaranteed Champions League berth to three points with Spurs still having a match in hand versus the Villans.

The bottom of the table race for survival also saw an inconclusive result on the pitch as Luton Town scored late on an 89th minute Luke Berry goal to share the points with Nottingham Forest in a 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Park. The stalemate would have left the Hatters three points behind Forest for a safe position in the table, but matters would change off the pitch on Monday. A penalty of four points was imposed on Nottingham Forest for violations of Premier League profit and sustainability rules (PSR). Luton Town thus is at least temporarily removed from the three-club doom patrol at the foot of the table with Nottingham Forest now dropping below the line of safety.

Everton, however, faces a second points penalty of its own in coming weeks, which could again change the look of the relegation race. One of the three clubs currently riding the relegation express experienced some rare success on Saturday. Burnley won for just the second time this season at home as the Clarets capitalized on an early Brentford red card to defeat the Bees 2-1. A Sergio Reguilon foul on Vitinho in the eighth minute of play was adjudged a red card offense by VAR. The resultant penalty kick gave the Clarets a lead and reduced Brentford to ten men. David Datro Fofana then added a second goal for the Clarets and the home side held on despite an 83rd minute goal by Brentford which resulted in some anxious moments for home supporters, particularly when a potentially equalizing goal by the Bees was disallowed. Fofana, a Chelsea loanee, scored in a second consecutive match for Burnley which is now five points from safety.

FA Cup

There will be no quadruple for Liverpool in Manager Jurgen Klopp’s farewell season. Manchester United eliminated their rivals from the FA Cup with a dramatic 4-3 victory at Old Trafford on Sunday. A wild back and forth match saw the Red Devils’ Ahmad Diallo score the winner in stoppage time of extra time. Little in the way of defense was played by either side. Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag was even playing midfielder Bruno Fernandes and winger Antony together in the Red Devils’ back line during extra time as both teams committed to relentless attack. Each side had the lead twice in the match. Harvey Elliott’s goal in the 105th minute of play looked like it might be the winner for Liverpool, but Marcus Rashford equalized for Manchester United at the 112-minute mark. Diallo’s dramatic winner would then bring a rare smile to the face of ten Hag as the embattled manager greatly improved his job security, at least till season end, with the win over a hated rival. His counterpart Klopp, meanwhile, was at his surliest as he berated a reporter and stormed out of his presser after the match.

Sunday’s other FA Cup match also provided rollercoaster moments as Chelsea defeated Leicester 4-2. Despite advancing, Chelsea once again riled its unhappy fan base. The Blues were comfortably ahead by two goals in the 51st minute of play when Chelsea defender Axcel Disasi inexplicably shot the ball into his own net from distance, a back pass to an absent goaltender gone horribly wrong. Leicester would seize momentum and score an equalizer to force extra time. Chelsea fans were understandably less than thrilled entering that extra period. Raheem Sterling missed a first half penalty which would have given Chelsea full command of the match as the far better penalty taker, Cole Palmer, stood idly by and Manager Mauricio Pochettino made no move to have the right player take the chance. Pochettino would again do nothing as Sterling later stepped forth to take an opportune free kick from the edge of the box and sent it into the stratosphere. Chelsea supporters loudly voiced their displeasure when Pochettino initially substituted for Mudryk, leaving Sterling on the pitch and then when Chelsea’s senior disappointment was ultimately taken off the field. Pochettino got some redemption when substitutes Carney Chukwuemeka and Noni Madueke scored in extra time to send Chelsea into the semifinals. A red card reducing Leicester to ten men in the 73rd minute was no small factor in sending the Blues through.

Awaiting Chelsea at Wembley will be Manchester City which rode a Bernardo Silva brace to a 2-0 victory over Newcastle on Saturday. The Citizens became the first club to advance to an FA semifinal in six consecutive seasons as they enjoyed an easy stroll past a Magpies side that managed just a single shot on target in a passive submission.

The fourth semifinalist will be Coventry after the Championship tier side dumped Wolverhampton out of the competition on Saturday. US international Haji Wright scored in the 10th minute of stoppage time to upset Wolves at Molineux Stadium. Coventry Manager Mark Robins will now face the team he once played for, Manchester United, in the semifinals as his club bids to become the first side from outside the topflight since 1980 to win an FA Cup. 

Friday, March 15, 2024

Premier League Preview Matchweek 29: Abbreviated Schedule Sees Key Relegation Match; Aston Villa Visits The Hammers; London Derby For Spurs And Cottagers; Battle Of The Bumbling B’s

Only four matches feature in an abbreviated Premier League slate this weekend as multiple Premier League clubs participate in FA Cup quarterfinal matches. Two Premier League clubs, however, will be more focused on survival than cup glory this weekend.

Luton Town, currently 18th in the table, will try to regroup after a massive collapse on Wednesday. The Hatters had a 3-0 lead over Bournemouth at halftime only to concede four second half goals in what could be a season defining 4-3 defeat. Fortunately for the Hatters, another opportunity in their survival battle presents itself this weekend when Nottingham Forest visits Kenilworth Road. A dreadful run has put the Tricky Trees within striking distance of the relegation bound Hatters. Three points separate the sides while goal differential sees the Trees only two goals better than their Saturday opponent.

Brentford is also in potential danger as the Bees are only two points above the falling Trees. Manager Thomas Frank’s side has won only two matches since November but has a golden opportunity to add to that total on Saturday. The Bees visit a bumbling Burnley side which has won only a single match at home the entire season. The dreadful Clarets have also won only twice on the road this season as they hurtle towards relegation.

Away from the relegation muck are a couple of matches which could impact European qualification for 2024/25. Aston Villa will travel to London Stadium to face West Ham. Both clubs advanced in their current European competitions this week, West Ham in the Europa League and Aston Villa in the Europa Conference League. Their league performance last week was less inspiring. The Villans are a point clear of fifth place Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League table after being thumped at home by Spurs last week. The Hammers almost suffered an acute embarrassment at home against Burnley last week. David Moyes’ boys spotted two goals to the relegation headed side before coming back to salvage a point in a 2-2 draw. The London side looked much better in a 4-0 midweek win over Ajax and home supporters will be hoping for more of that in their league matchup this weekend. Aston Villa, meanwhile, will look to rebound from last week’s to a Spurs side which is now in hot pursuit of the Villans and still has a match in hand in the race for Champions League qualification.

Tottenham Hotspur are at Craven Cottage this weekend for a London derby against Fulham. While Spurs are noted for their freewheeling attack under Manager Ange Postecoglou, only the top three clubs have conceded fewer goals than his side after last week’s clean sheet at Aston Villa. Fulham are bobbing safely in the middle of the table, neither Europe nor relegation beckoning to Manager Marco Silva’s team. The Cottagers struggle mightily against their London neighbors, losing 14 of their last 16 Premier League meetings against the north London club.

FA Cup

Six of the Premier League clubs compete in this weekend’s FA Cup Quarterfinals. Old Trafford will be the site on Sunday for a match between historic rivals Manchester United and Liverpool. The Red Devils have appeared in the FA Cup quarterfinals more often than any other English club but will have a hard time advancing further. A suspect Manchester United attack has failed to score in six of the last nine matches against Liverpool, including the last two times the clubs have met. Liverpool has already captured the EFL Cup and remains in contention for Premier League and Europa League titles as well in Manager Jurgen Klopp’s farewell season. Another pairing of Premier League sides takes place Saturday at the Etihad where Manchester City hosts Newcastle. The Magpies have been losers in nine consecutive visits to Manchester City across all competitions but eliminated the Citizens from the EFL cup at St. James Park earlier this season. Wolves and Chelsea will be favored to eliminate lower tier sides Coventry and Leicester City, respectively. Chelsea, however, could be challenged on Sunday by the Foxes who currently lead the table in the English Championship division despite some recent hiccups. Wolves should be expected to have an easier time Saturday at Molineux Stadium against a Coventry side which sits eighth in the Championship table.

Premier League in Europe

Arsenal advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time since 2010 after a gritty 1-0 victory and subsequent penalty shootout win over Porto. The Portuguese, led by their venerable captain Pepe, carried a one goal advantage into the second leg at the Emirates on Tuesday and employed their low block defense once again to choke off Arsenal’s normally free flowing attack. The tactic worked but for one incisive pass by Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard which set up Leandro Trossard’s goal in the 41st minute of Tuesday’s otherwise scoreless match. The aggregate 1-1 stalemate for the two-leg tie was then decided in penalty kicks. Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya helped justify his acquisition by the club earlier this season by saving not one but two Porto kicks as the Gunner penalty takers were perfect on all four of their tries. Raya’s heroics and the recent form of Kai Havertz help validate the moves supported by Manager Mikel Arteta to add those players, moves which were not universally welcomed by supporters and pundits.

The Gunners now move on to a colorful quarterfinal which will feature Harry Kane returning to London as Bayern Munich have been matched with Arsenal in the next round. Kane has been outstanding in his maiden season in Germany, scoring 30 goals in his 25 Bundesliga matches. His club has not fared nearly as well, however, as the perennial German champions are 10 points behind Bundesliga leader Bayer Leverkusen, leading to an already decided end of season departure for Bayern Munich Manager Thomas Tuchel.

Manchester City have also been drawn to a glamor tie as the defending Champions League titlist Citizens will face 14-time champion Real Madrid. The retooled Spanish side is once again atop the La Liga table with 20-year-old Englishman Jude Bellingham now featuring in a starring role. Arsenal and Manchester City will face each other in the Champions League semifinals if both survive their quarterfinal challenges.

Liverpool routed Sparta Prague by a 6-1 margin on Thursday, routing their Czech opponent by an aggregate 11-2 margin to advance to the Europa League quarterfinals where the opponent will be Serie A side Atalanta. The Italian side is currently sixth in the Serie A table and have yet to lose a Europa League match this season. Liverpool, clearly one of the Europa League favorites, remains in the hunt for four trophies as Manager Jurgen Klopp’s conducts his farewell tour.

West Ham has a horror draw in their Europa League quest. David Moyes’s side advanced by hammering FC Freiburg 5-0 at London Stadium, overcoming a first leg 1-0 deficit. As a reward, the Premier Leaguers have been matched against Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen. The Germans, managed by Xabi Alonso in his first season with the club, are the only undefeated team in Europe’s top five leagues. Alonso has been rumored to be a potential replacement for both Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Thomas Tuchel at Bayern Munich. Robeto De Zerbi has also been connected with Liverpool rumors, but his star has faded a bit with recent results. His Brighton side limped out of the Europa League despite a 1-0 win over Roma Thursday. The Seagulls had needed to overcome a four-goal deficit suffered in the opening leg in Rome. Brighton remains on the fringe of European qualification for next year, sitting ninth in the current Premier League table.

In Europa Conference League play, Aston Villa cruised at home by a 4-0 margin over Ajax on Thursday. In so doing, the Villans advanced to the quarter finals of a major European competition for the first time since 1998. Aston Villa will be matched against Ligue 1 side Lille in that next round.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Premier League Results Matchweek 28: Arsenal Leads The League After Liverpool And Manchester City Draw; Spurs Smash Aston Villa; Luton Town Keeps Hope Alive; Burnley and Sheffield United Miss Their Chance

Arsenal leads the Premier League with 10 matches left to the season. The Gunners leapfrogged Manchester City and Liverpool in the table when those two clubs drew at Anfield on Sunday, one day after Arsenal were winners at home versus Brentford. The Arsenal win was far form easy. Declan Rice provided the opening goal to put Arsenal into the lead in a first half dominated by the north London side. Disaster then struck before the Gunners could make it into the locker room. Arsenal Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was between the sticks because Manager Mikel Arteta’s usual number one choice, David Raya, was prohibited from facing his parent club. Ramsdale was rusty and it cost the Gunners. A lazy clearance by the Gunner goalkeeper was deflected into the net by Yoane Wissa who alertly flashed across the box to embarrass the Arsenal keeper and knot the game moments before the first half whistle. Fortunately for Ramsdale, Kai Havertz continued his hot run of scoring. The German’s 86th minute goal restored Arsenal’s lead and put them top of the table with the 2-1 win. Havertz, the former Chelsea disappointment, scored in his fourth consecutive Premier League appearance and has become a key cog in Arsenal’s rise to the top. The Gunners still needed a draw the next day between the other two title contenders and the 1-1 tie at Anfield on Sunday completed Arsenal’s ascent to the top of the Premier League table, on goal differential versus Liverpool and by a point versus Manchester City in the razor thin race for the Premier League title.

John Stones gave Manchester City the early lead on Sunday, converting a well-placed delivery by Kevin De Bruyne in the 23rd minute. The lead would be gone five minutes into second half play after Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez was taken down by Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson for a penalty. Alexis Mac Allister converted the resultant spot kick to knot the game at a goal apiece. The match would end that way despite numerous second half chances by both sides in a back-and-forth pitched battle in the final league meeting between the departing Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola. Liverpool will, of course not be happy with dropping points at Anfield but the Reds impressed again despite key injuries. Mohamed Salah was able to participate for just a half hour due to his hamstring problem, Diogo Jota is a long-term absence, and the Liverpool defense featured youngsters Conor Bradley and Jarell Quansah filling in for injuries on the back line. Manchester City frustration was evident when an angry Kevin De Bruyne jawed with Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola after being substituted in the second half. Guardiola remains on just one win in nine managerial visits to Anfield.

While the spotlight remains on the Premier League title battle, the battle for fourth place and a berth in next season’s Champions League also tightened on the weekend. Tottenham Hotspur went into Villa Park Sunday and emerged with a 4-0 victory to pull within two points of fourth place Aston Villa with Spurs also holding a game in hand. The home side could generate nothing against a Spurs side which controlled 70% of the possession and held their hosts to just a single shot on goal. James Maddison and Brennan Johnson scored within three minutes of each other early in the second half to break open the game. Villa’s John McGinn was then ejected in the 65th minute and it was all over by the time Son Heung-min and Timo Werner scored stoppage time goals to further inflate the scoreline. Son assisted on two of Spurs’ four goals in addition to finding the net on his own.

Manchester United held onto its slim and fast receding hopes of Champions League football by defeating Everton 2-0 at Old Trafford. The Red Devils remain six points south of Spurs while having played one more match than the London club. Alejandro Garnacho was the key to Saturday’s win, drawing two first half penalties which were converted by teammates Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford. Everton’s winless run stretched to 11 matches with the defeat which highlighted once again the Toffees’ lack of bite, Everton having scored just seven goals in those 11 matches.

West Ham fell four points behind Manchester United in the race for sixth in the table when the Hammers achieved only a draw at London Stadium versus relegation side Burnley. It could have been worse for West Ham as Burnley was shockingly ahead 2-0 at halftime. The relegation bound Clarets then remembered who they were and threw away the lead in the second half to further seal their relegation fate. Lucas Paqueta scored for the Hammers in the first minute of second half play. Substitute Danny Ings equalized to salvage the home point with a stoppage time goal. With the point, Burnley remain level on points with Sheffield United at the bottom of the Premier League table.

The Blades also threw points away on the weekend, blowing a two-goal lead on the south coast against Bournemouth. Just as with Burnley, the Blades conceded the equalizer in stoppage time as Bournemouth’s Enes Unal found the net to grab a point for the Cherries and ensure two more lost points for Sheffield United.

Luton Town completed the trio of relegation zone clubs which grabbed a point this weekend. Unlike Burnley and Sheffield United, however, the point could be meaningful for Luton Town. The Hatters pulled to within three points of 17th place Nottingham Forest and Premier League safety with Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace. The Eagles scored early on an 11th minute goal by Jean-Philippe Mateta, controlled the match at Selhurst Park from there and seemed destined to claim all three points until conceding in the final minute of stoppage time to hand the much-needed point to the Hatters. Crystal Palace has conceded more goals in the final 15 minutes of play than any other Premier league side this season and a key challenge for new manager Oliver Glasner will be to prevent the type of late breakdowns such as that which occurred once again on Saturday. Making matters more painful for the Selhurst Park supporters was that the equalizing last gasp header by Luton Town’s Cauley Woodrow was made possible by a pinpoint cross from former Crystal Palace player and fan favorite Andros Townsend.

Things are becoming desperate for Nottingham Forest after a 1-0 loss at Brighton marked a third consecutive defeat, a sixth loss in the Tricky Trees’ last eight league outings. Brighton should have been ripe for the plucking, staggering from a Europa League shellacking in Rome on Thursday and missing injured stars Kaoru Mitoma, Solly March and Joao Pedro. Even with Saturday’s win, the exceedingly average Seagulls now have but three wins and an equal number of losses and draws in their last nine Premier League matches. The Tricky Trees are in worse shape, however, now having lost six of their last nine league outings. A second consecutive 1-0 loss, courtesy of a 29th minute own goal by Nottingham Forest’s Andrew Omobamidele, dropped the Trees to within three points of the relegation zone.

A win by Luton Town against Bournemouth this Wednesday could set up a dead heat for the final place of safety in the table. Coincidentally, Nottingham Forest visits Luton Town at Kenilworth Park on Saturday. The win by Brighton on Sunday moved the Seagulls to within a point of seventh place West Ham.

One point back of the Seagulls lurks Wolverhampton. Surprising Wolves was a 2-1 winner over Fulham as Manager Gary O’Neil’s side continues to stay in the hunt for an improbable European berth. Rayan Ait-Nouri’s first goal of the season and an own goal by Fulham’s Tom Cairney were enough to power Wolves to a fourth win their last six Premier League matches.

Wolverhampton’s chances for Europe were helped by Monday’s result at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea were 3-2 winners over Newcastle. The Magpies dropped a point behind now ninth place Wolverhampton amid a group of five clubs within a four-point band in table places seven though tenth. West Ham currently leads the band in the race for the Europa Conference League. Chelsea is in 10th position, four points back of the Hammers after an encouraging day at the Bridge. Cole Palmer provided yet another fine performance in his maiden season for the Blues, notching a goal and an assist in Chelsea’s 3-2 victory. Tireless but seldom accurate striker Nicolas Jackson also found the net against the Magpies. Most noteworthy, however, was a spectacular goal by Mykhailo Mudryk. The Ukrainian speedster provided the ultimate winning margin with a weaving run though the Newcastle defense before converting off a difficult angle in the 76th minute. Mudryk has provided few of those moments and it was encouraging for both the player and Chelsea supporters witnessing a brief glimpse of what ownership must have been hoping for when they splashed an excessive transfer fee for the winger. Newcastle, meanwhile, continues to ship goals at an alarming rate. Only bottom of the table Sheffield United has shipped as many away goals this season as the Magpies. The porous Newcastle defense has allowed 48 goals home and away in 28 Premier League matches versus only 20 concessions in the same amount of matches last season.  

Premier League in Europe

The new Premier League leader must now turn its attention to a tenuous Champions League position as Arsenal hosts Porto at the Emirates on Tuesday. The Gunners lost the opening leg 1-0 in Portugal when Wenderson Galeno scored in final stoppage time. Arsenal must thus quickly regroup from the weekend’s Premier League action and find a way to penetrate what is sure to be a stacked Portuguese defense. Arsenal is attempting to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2010.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 28

League leading Liverpool faces defending champion Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday with just a single point separating the two giants. Liverpool has enjoyed a resurgence in Jurgen Klopp’s final season in charge of the Reds after last year’s disappointing fifth place finish. A win on Sunday would leave Liverpool just a point short of their full season 2023/24 Premier League total with 10 matches still to be played. Klopp’s men have lost but twice, once to third place Arsenal and once, in controversial fashion, to fifth place Spurs. Liverpool has navigated a difficult stretch of injuries in recent weeks to deliver results in both league and cup play. Mohamed Salah and Dominik Szoboszlai should be fit and ready for Sunday’s high stakes clash although Trent Alexander -Arnold remains absent with 20-year-old Conor Bradly likely to deputize. Manchester City, meanwhile, is hitting its stride with only a frustrating draw versus Chelsea preventing a ten-match winning run. Erling Haaland and Phil Foden have been terrorizing opponents in recent matches while the Manchester City defense has conceded only two goals in the Citizens’ last five Premier League matches.

Arsenal could leapfrog to the top of the table should Liverpool and Manchester City draw their titanic clash. The Gunners will first need to take care of business on Saturday when they host Brentford, a club floundering just six points above the relegation line. After losing just 1-0 to Manchester City in February, the Bees have conceded a total of 10 goals in their last three matches. Arsenal, meanwhile, has scored 24 goals in their last five matches and have won seven consecutive Premier League matches to stay in the think of the title race, two points from the top and one point back of Manchester City.

The battle for fourth place heats up this weekend when Tottenham Hotspur visits Villa Park. The host Villans maintain a five-point lead over fifth place Spurs, though having played one additional match than the London side, as the two clubs battle for Champions League qualification. Though a fifth spot may be granted to the Premier League for next season’s tournament depending on this year’s performance by league teams in European competitions, both Villa and Spurs would rather be safe than sorry as they approach their head-to-head match. Aston Villa has won three consecutive matches after navigating a rough patch which notably had proved them vulnerable at  their previously imposing home ground. The recent resurgence has seen striker Ollie Watkins catch fire with five goals in his last three matches. Tottenham Hotspur is hoping to see  Pedro Porro and Richarlison return from the injury list for Sunday’s match. Richarlison has stepped up his game this season with 10 Premier League goals.

Two consecutive losses have dented Manchester United’s Champions League hopes as the Red Devils prepare to host Everton at Old Trafford on Saturday. Everton’s last win was on December 16th although The Toffees have relied on draws, five of them in their last ten matches, to provide enough points to stay above the relegation line. Manchester United has historical dominance on its side when the clubs meet on Saturday. A win by the Red Devils will establish a new record for the most wins by one club over another in the topflight. A victory would mark the 41st time Manchester United has trumped Everton, with the Toffees winning only two of 31 matches played at Old Trafford between the clubs.

West Ham is just two points below Manchester United in the table after back-to-back wins. After failing to score a goal in three consecutive Premier League matches, the Hammers have broken out with seven goals in the last two victories. Chances are that scoring will continue against a porous Burnley defense when the Clarets visit London Stadium on Sunday.

Fulham, winners of three of their last four league matches, will try to end a hex when they play Wolverhampton Saturday at Molineux Stadium where the Cottagers have not won since 1985.

The Cottagers blanked Brighton last week as the Seagulls continue to lose attitude. Even as Brighton Manager Roberto De Zerbi is rumored to take over a larger club (Liverpool ?), his current charges have stumbled and bumbled of late, winning just two of their eight 2024 matches to fall to ninth place in the table, out of the European places for now. The Seagulls were beaten 4-0 in the Europa League by Roma this past week and must quickly pull it together for a home match versus Nottingham Forest on Sunday. The Tricky Trees are desperate for points as Forest sits just four points from the relegation zone after losing three of the past four matches.

Newcastle sailed past Brighton in the table with a win last week and the Magpies will look to keep up that momentum Monday at Stamford Bridge against unpredictable Chelsea. Mauricio Pochettino is coming under increasing pressure from Blues supporters who have lost patience with the progress of the Chelsea project. Newcastle Manager Eddie Howe, meanwhile, may be out of a job if his Magpies fail to qualify for Europe. Newcastle is eighth in the table after last week’s win over Wolverhampton.

Current relegation sides Sheffield United and Luton Town follow their trail of tears to Bournemouth and Crystal Palace, respectively, this weekend. Sheffield United is just playing out the schedule. Luton Town still has hope as the Hatters are four points behind Nottingham Forest and five points behind Everton in the struggle for safety. Both of those clubs are facing possible point penalties to be assessed by the Premier League which could prove a boon to the Hatters.

Premier League in Europe

Manchester City cruised to the next round of the Champions League with a 3-1 victory over Copenhagen, the same scoreline as the first meeting between the mismatched sides. Liverpool, meanwhile, easily handed Sparta Prague 5-1 in the opening leg of their Europa League tie. Brighton, unfortunately, was on the wrong end of a 4-0 trouncing at the hands of Roma. Former Premier League star Romelu Lukaku was one of the four goal scorers for Roma. Brighton Manager Roberto De Zerbi continues to cite injuries for the poor performance versus Roma and in recent Premier League matches, a refrain becoming somewhat tired to Seagull supporters. West Ham was victimized by an 81st minute goal by Freiburg in the Hammers 1-0 Europa League loss. The match ended in controversial fashion when West Ham was not awarded a penalty in stoppage time for an apparent handball by Freiburg. Aston Villa Manger Unai Emery made five changes to his lineup and seemed happy to walk away with a 0-0 result at Ajax in a Europa Conference League match. Villa faces a crucial Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur this weekend as Emery’s side contends for a Champions League place for next season.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Premier League Results Matchweek 27: City Trumps United In Battle of Manchester; Liverpool Wins On Late Nunez Goal; Gunners Blast Bumbling Blades; Villa Survives Luton Scare; Fulham Flogs Listless Seagulls

Manchester United began brilliantly with a rare goal by Marcus Rashford to take the lead on Manchester City in the opening five minutes of the clubs’ Manchester Derby. That was the end of Red Devil highlights for the day, however, as Manchester City’s Phil Foden scored twice, and Erling Haaland added another in stoppage time as the defending Premier League champions swept to a 3-1 victory. Foden and Haaland have scored all 11 of Manchester City’s goals in the Citizens’ last four matches across all competitions, an unbeaten run of three wins and a draw. A second consecutive loss leaves Manchester United 11 points removed from the top four with just 11 matches left to play.

Manchester City, meanwhile, remains a point behind Liverpool in the title chase as Darwin Nunez provided the heroics with his stoppage time goal at Nottingham Forest. Nunez’s game winning header in the 99th minute was made possible by a brilliant cross from teammate Alexis Mac Allister. The Reds remain atop the table, a position they have occupied since Boxing Day despite the best efforts of Manchester City and Arsenal to run them down.

Arsenal’s goal scoring binge continued in a 6-0 rout of poor, hapless, and helpless Sheffield United. The cellar dwelling Blades have now conceded a staggering 72 goals this season while scoring only 22. The Blades were down 5-0 at halftime on Monday as their supporters streamed out of Bramall Lane. With a Champions League match looming this week, Arsenal substituted freely and took their foot off the gas in the second half, or the score could have been much worse. Even showing some mercy to the beleaguered Blades, the Gunners still became the first league side in England to score five or more goals in three consecutive away games. With Monday’s 6-0 scoreline in the bank, the Arsenal scoring machine now has 15 goals in its last three Premier League matches. The three-way Premier League title race has the Gunners one point back of Manchester City and trailing league leading Liverpool by two points in the table.

The gap widens from there as fourth place Aston Villa trails Arsenal by six points after the Villans escaped Kenilworth Road with a 3-2 victory over a resilient Luton Town. The Villans had sprinted to an early two goal advantage on the 15th and 16th goals of the season by Ollie Watkins. The Aston Villa striker’s production is now only two goals short of Erling Haaland in the chase for the Premier League Golden Boot. While things looked dark for the home side, Luton Town refused to quit. Second half goals by Tahith Chong and Carlton Morris brought the sides level. It was heartbreak for the Hatters, however, when Aston Villa’s Lucas Digne headed in an 89th minute winner for the visitors. The lost point could prove a difference maker for Luton Town’s survival chances as the Hatters remained four points south of the drop line with the loss.

Aston Villa, meanwhile, stayed five points ahead of fifth place Tottenham Hotspur who came back to paddle Crystal Palace in a 3-1 win on Saturday. Palace broke a scoreless tie in the 59th minute when Eberechi Eze scored to give the Eagles the lead. Spurs responded, however, with three goals by Timo Werner, Cristian Romero and Son Heung-min in the final thirteen minutes of play to tag Crystal Palace Manager Oliver Glasner with his first Premier League loss.

West Ham drew within two points of sixth place Manchester United as the Hammers staged their own comeback to defeat Everton 3-1. Everton forward Beto atoned for a first half penalty miss when his goal in the 56th minute put the Toffees in the lead at Goodison Park. West Ham defender Kurt Zouma equalized just four minutes later, and Toffee hopes were dashed by stoppage time goals from Tomas Soucek and Edson Alvarez. Everton are five points above the drop line as they battle for survival both on the pitch and off, threatened by a second financial fair play charge which could deduct vital points. Nottingham Forest also awaits a similar verdict from the league which could prove exceptional news for current relegation side Luton Town.

Further up the table, four clubs are within six points of Manchester United in the race for sixth place and a Europa League berth. Newcastle moved into eighth place with a 3-0 defeat of Wolves at St. James Park. The Magpies’ first home win since mid-December featured goals from Alexander Isak, Anthony Gordon and Tino Livramento. Newcastle Manager Eddie Howe marked his 100th Premier League win as his current club works to re-establish itself in the fight for European qualification. Wolverhampton, meanwhile, suffered its first away defeat since mid-December in a blow to its own hopes for Europe.

Brighton was a 3-0 loser at Fulham as the Seagulls are struggling to stay aloft in their hunt for a top six berth. Manager Roberto De Zerbi’s side has lost three of their last six league matches as the manager pointed to fatigue and injuries as factors in Saturday’s loss. Winger Kaoru Mitoma was declared out for the season this week and De Zerbi rotated seven positions from the club’s midweek FA Cup win. The Seagulls must quickly regroup for a Europa League match this Thursday. Fulham Manager Marco Silva, meanwhile, deserves plaudits for the Cottagers’ 12th place position with a roster which might seem more suited to spots further down the table. A current six match run of form that has seen the Cottagers lose but once while winning three of those matches. A key contributor to that success has been Brazilian striker Rodrigo Muniz. Deputizing for an injured Raul Jimenez, Muniz has scored five goals in the past month, including one on Saturday versus Brighton, to lift the Cottager attack.

Chelsea supporters are losing patience with Manager Mauricio Pochettino. Away supporters directed vile chants toward the Argentine manager after the Blues squandered an early lead to fall behind at Brentford. A late goal by Axel Disasi salvaged a point for Chelsea but did little to mitigate the increasing unhappiness of supporters. A useful point for Brentford moved the Bees six points clear of the relegation zone.

Another home failure saw 19th place Burnley lose 2-0 at Turf Moor to Bournemouth. The Clarets have won just one Premier League match at their home ground this season. Bournemouth registered its first 2024 victory.  

Premier League in Europe

Manchester City is in a comfortable position as they hold a 3-1 advantage when they host Copenhagen on Wednesday.

The Europa League Round of 16 matchups begin Thursday. Premier League leader Liverpool visits Sparta Prague while Brigham heads to Italy to take on Roma. Aston Villa will be in the Netherlands to face Ajax on Thursday in the Europa Conference League Round of 16.