Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Premier League Results Match Week 35: Fading Liverpool Drops Points; Arsenal Survives Late Scare To Defeat Spurs; Haaland Scores In Manchester City Win; Everton Is Safe! ; Burnley Stokes Survival Hopes By Drawing At Old Trafford; Aston Villa Draws With Chelsea; Sheffield United Relegated

Things continue to worsen for Liverpool and departing manager Jurgen Klopp. Not only were points dropped in a 2-2 draw at West Ham but an unseemly argument between Mohamed Salah and Klopp on the touchline seemed to symbolize what is becoming a sad ending to the manager’s successful years-long run with the Reds. Liverpool allowed a critical three points to slip away when Michail Antonio headed in an equalizer to squash a Liverpool comeback. The Reds had overcome a first half deficit to lead by a goal before Antonio’s 77th minute score leveled a damning blow to Liverpool’s title hopes. Liverpool is now five points back of Arsenal with just three matches left to play. Salah started on the bench for the key match and was unable to bottle up his displeasure as he lit into his manager while awaiting a late substitution. Teammates sadly needed to intercede between the two individuals who are most responsible for Liverpool’s success in recent years. The public fracturing of that relationship is poignant as the curtain comes down on the Klopp era.

While Liverpool is facing a wrenching transition, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal project remains in ascendancy as the Gunners scored a 3-2 victory at the home of rival Tottenham Hotspur. The Premier League leaders sprinted to a 3-0 first half lead before a nervy second half which saw Son Heung-min bring Spurs within a goal with his 87th minute penalty kick. Arsenal saw out the remaining time, however, for its third consecutive victory since a damaging loss to Aston Villa. Kai Havertz continued his torrid form for the Gunners, scoring his third goal in three matches while also assisting on a goal by Bukayo Saka on Sunday. The Gunners’ lead over Manchester City, in what now looks to be a two-horse race, is a single point with the defending champions having a match in hand.

Manchester City prevailed over Nottingham Forest in workman like fashion in a 2-0 victory at the City Ground. Manchester City was without an ill Phil Foden and began with Erling Haaland on the bench after the league’s joint leading scorer had missed the previous two matches due to injury. No problem for the defending champions, however. Defender Josko Gvardiol scored for the second time in Manchester City’s last three matches to stake a halftime lead for his club. Haaland then entered as a second half substitute and scored to cinch Manchester City’s fifth consecutive victory and extend the Citizens’ league unbeaten run to 19 matches.

Tottenham Hotspur’s loss on Sunday helped mitigate Aston Villa’s disappointment with a 2-2 draw with Chelsea the day before. The fourth place Villans led by two goals at Villa Park before Chelsea roared back to tie the score on goals by Noni Madueke and Conor Gallagher. A potential stoppage time winner by the Blues’ Axel Disasi was disallowed when VAR identified a foul on the play. The point for Aston Villa gave Manager Unai Emery’s side a seven-point lead over Tottenham Hotspur, an important margin of safety as Tottenham Hotspur has two matches in hand to carve into Villa’s lead. The comeback by Chelsea was laudable after the Blues had conceded seven consecutive goals dating to Tuesday’s annihilation at Arsenal. Even with the positive performance on Saturday, however, Chelsea provided more cringeworthy moments as players, agitated over the foul call on the potential winner, menacingly crowded the referee after the final whistle before being herded away by Chelsea staff.

A heavy loss to Chelsea is the only blemish in a five-match run for Everton, which defeated Brentford 1-0 on Saturday to clinch a spot in the Premier League for next season. The victory was the Toffees’ fourth win in their last five matches, all coming by clean sheet as Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford trails only Arsenal’s David Raya in the Premier League’s clean sheet pecking order. Everton’s Idrissa Gueye scored the 60th minute winner against a Brentford side which ironically also became mathematically safe despite the loss.

The Bees clinched when Luton Town fell 2-1 at Wolverhampton. Hope of survival for the Hatters is fading fast as Luton Town lost for the 11th time in the Hatters’ last 13 matches.

Burnley now seems the club to watch for a possible late season escape from relegation after the Clarets grabbed a point in a 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Saturday. Zeki Amdouni’s 87th minute penalty kick silenced the crowd at Old Trafford after Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana violently crashed into Amdouni moments earlier to set up the tying kick. Onana was desperately trying to reach an ill-advised back pass from Casemiro when he clattered into the Burnley forward in front of the Manchester United goal. Burnley, which trails Nottingham Forest by two points with the two sides scheduled to meet on the final day of the season, have lost just one of their last eight matches to rekindle survival hopes.

It’s all over, however, for Sheffield United which was mathematically condemned to relegation following Saturday’s 5-1 loss at Newcastle. For a second consecutive week, the Blades took the lead before opening the floodgates to their opponent. A fifth minute goal by Sheffield United’s Anel Ahmedhodzic was washed away by five consecutive scores by the home team at St. James Park. Newcastle’s Alexander Isak posted a brace in the Magpie onslaught as Sheffield United allowed four goals or more for a third consecutive match. The 97 goals conceded to date by the Blades have already exceeded the record total for a 38 match Premier League season and the relegated side is now closing in on the record of 100 goals conceded by Swindon Town in the 1993/94 Premier League season which spanned 42 matches.

Midtable matches this past weekend having little to do with relegation battles or European qualification included Fulham and Crystal Palace playing to a 1-1 draw, sharing the points for the fourth time in their last five meetings, and Bournemouth putting an exclamation point on Brighton’s spiraling season with a 3-0 win on the south coast. Jeffrey Schlupp’s 87th minute goal salvaged a point for Crystal Palace at Craven Cottage, extending the Eagles’ unbeaten run to four matches.

Brighton Manager Roberto De Zerbi apologized to Seagull supporters after his club’s latest non-winning effort. The Seagulls began this season by winning five of their first six matches, further burnishing the growing reputation of their manager. Things have since soured. Brighton has won only six of its last 28 matches and Sunday’s defeat marked the fourth loss in the club’s current six-match winless run. Brighton supporters are no longer so concerned at rumors of De Zerbi, who was once a rumored candidate for the Liverpool job, moving on to bigger and better things. The situation is far different at Bournemouth where Andoni Iraola has justified his hiring after the controversial sack of former manager Gary O‘Neil. Victory on Saturday pushed Bournemouth to its highest ever Premier League point total.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Premier League Preview: Match Week 35

The north London derby takes center stage this weekend as the rivalry match takes on greater importance with the races currently being run by both teams. The Gunners are chasing a title. Tottenham Hotspur is dueling for a Champions League slot. Aspirations collide when the rivals meet at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. Arsenal is a point ahead of Manchester City in the Premier League title chase though the Citizens have played one less match than the Gunners. Arsenal has been in peak form but for the club’s potentially season spoiling loss to Aston Villa two weeks ago. The Gunners have outgunned opponents by an aggregate 12-0 in the two matches preceding and two matches following that Villa loss. Spurs will be trying to rebound from a 4-0 thrashing by Newcastle which leaves the club six points behind Aston Villa in the chase for a top four and Champions League berth.

Manchester City will be at Nottingham Forest’s City Gound on Sunday where the Tricky Trees are still trying to put down roots and stay in the Premier League for another season. Forest enters the weekend one point ahead of currently relegation bound Luton Town and three points above Burnley. Luton Town is at Wolverhampton on Saturday while Burnley is at Manchester United that same day.

Aston Villa is currently holding onto the fourth and presumably final Champions League qualification slot as Manager Unai Emery’s side prepares to face Chelsea at Villa Park on Saturday. A fifth slot in the prestigious competition is likely being awarded to Germany after English failures in Europe last week. While Aston Villa might be six points clear of Tottenham Hotspur for the top four spot, the Villans have also played two additional matches than the London club. Goal differential favors Aston Villa should they finish the season deadlocked with Tottenham Hotspur. Aston Villa is riding back-to-back league victories with two of its main trigger men stepping to the fore. Ollie Watkins had a goal and two assists in the victories. Winger Leon Bailey had two goals and an assist. Chelsea, meanwhile, will be trying to rinse the bad taste of Wednesday’s shellacking at the hands of Arsenal. Cole Palmer is expected to be back in the Chelsea lineup after missing the debacle at the Emirates. Even that will not matter unless Manager Mauricio Pochettino can figure out something to improve his defense. Following their 5-0 annihilation versus Arsenal, the Blues have already conceded the most goals in their Premier League history with six matches still left to play.

Now written off by most, Liverpool will try to prove it is still in title contention when the Reds visit London Stadium to face West Ham. Hammer Manager David Moyes will have noted Liverpool’s problems defending Everton’s free kicks in a midweek loss to Everton. Moyes’ men also present a dead ball threat with James Ward-Prowse being one of the most dangerous takers of free kicks in Premier League history. The Hammers, however, have won only one of their last seven Premier League matches as West Ham’s European hopes for next year are now on life support. Like Klopp, Moyes could well be managing his final matches at the helm of his current club. Klopp was despondent in his comments leading into Saturday’s match as he addressed Liverpool’s slim title hopes after losing two of its last three league matches. A miracle finish would need to see an unlikely collapse by both Arsenal and Manchester City to send Klopp off with another parade.

Spirits are brighter at Crystal Palace. While the Eagles have nothing left to compete for this season, their recent upturn in play under Manager Oliver Glasner has energized the fan support with hope for the future. The Eagles take a three-match winning run to Fulham for a London derby on Saturday. Fulham are three points above Crystal Palace in the netherworld of the Premier League table where clubs must find their motivation in causes not involving titles, Europe or, more worryingly, survival from relegation. Unlike Palace, the Cottagers have been struggling, losing three of their last four matches.

Newcastle remains a club with much to play for this season. The Magpies start the weekend only three points behind Manchester United for a likely Europa League berth. Alternatively, seventh place Newcastle is only two points ahead of West Ham. Though having played one match fewer than the slumping Hammers, Newcastle could still be at risk of losing out on even Europa Conference League qualification should they not take care of business in the final weeks. The first step in avoiding such a fate should be relatively easy this weekend when cellar dwelling Sheffield United visits St. James Park. The Blades have already conceded 92 goals, the  most ever by a Premier League side in a 38-match season. They also have only scored 33 times and leading scorer Olie McBurnie is out for the rest of the season.

Three wins in four matches has Everton all but safe as the Toffees sit eight points above the drop line entering this weekend’s home match versus Brentford. The recent run has been all the more remarkable as it began after a club record 13 match winless streak which had relegation nipping at the Toffees’ heels. Brentford, two points above Everton in the table, is also in a good run of form. The Bees have strung together a five-match unbeaten run capped by victories in their last two outings, albeit those wins came against relegation stragglers Sheffield United and Luton Town.

Brighton has failed to win any of its past five matches and will try to rebound from its 4-0 pummeling by Manchester City when the Seagulls alight in Bournemouth on Sunday. Bournemouth leapt over the Seagulls and moved into the top half of the table for the first time since the opening weekend of the season when the Cherries defeated Wolverhampton during the week. 

Premier League Mid Week Results (Match Week 29): Arsenal and Manchester City Hammer Opponents While Liverpool Loses; Eagles Soar Over Newcastle; Fernandes Leads Manchester United Win

Jurgen Klopp’s final Liverpool season now includes three non-winning efforts across all competitions to Manchester United and a first ever loss at Goodison Park to Everton. This latter milestone may also have cost the German manager a chance for a second Premier League title. Arsenal and Manchester City crushed their opponents during the week while Liverpool was lamely capitulating to its neighborhood rival. Arsenal now leads Manchester City by a point in the title chase while Liverpool trails the Gunners by three points. Manchester City has a game in hand versus both other contenders while Arsenal has a seemingly insurmountable goal differential advantage.

Arsenal began the midweek festivities on Tuesday when the Gunners demolished Chelsea 5-0. It was the heaviest Premier League defeat the Gunners had ever inflicted on their London rival. Arsenal’s Leandro Trossard quickly put the Gunners ahead in the fourth minute of play before the sides settled down to a relatively evenly played match for the balance of the first half. Chelsea striker Nicolas Jackson even provided one of his patented glaring misses as Chelsea missed an opportunity to level matters. The Gunners, however, then exploded in the second half as former Chelsea player Kai Havertz and teammate Ben White each notched braces to create the rout. Havertz, much unloved during the latter stages of his Chelsea tenure, showed no hesitation in celebrating his goals against his former employers. Martin Odegaard was at the center of the fearsome Arsenal attack, assisting on two of the second half goals as the Gunners ran over and past Chelsea’s high priced midfielders Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez. Cole Palmer and Malo Gusto were unavailable for Chelsea. Palmer has 29 goal involvements for the Blues this season and is tied for the league lead in goals. Gusto has been a revelation deputizing at right back for the perpetually injured Reese James. The absence of those two players on Tuesday demonstrated how wanting is the rest of the team in performance and attitude.

While Arsenal proved itself worthy of title contention, Liverpool fell flat on its face in Wednesday’s Merseyside derby, meekly capitulating to rival Everton in a 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park. The Toffees scored on two set pieces. Everton’s 21-year-old center back Jarrad Brathwaite scored first in the 27th minute on a scrappy close-range effort as Liverpool desperately tried and failed to clear the ball. Dominic Calvert-Lewin then followed with a majestic header at the 57-minute mark. Liverpool, meanwhile, failed to convert its own chances as Jurgen Klopp’s farewell tour continues to sour. The spectacle of Everton fans chanting “You lost the league at Goodison Park,” on Wednesday is sure to remain a painful memory for the manager. The unexpected loss was not only the first time Klopp had lost at Goodison Park but also the first time that Everton had prevailed over their rivals since 2010. The Toffees have rebounded in grand fashion from a pummeling versus Chelsea almost two weeks ago. Everton defeated Nottingham Forest in a key battle between relegation rivals last week. The win over neighborhood rival Liverpool on Wednesday likely ensured Premier League survival with the Toffees rising eight points above the drop line with four matches left. The resurgence of the oft injured but supremely talented Dominic Calvert-Lewin cannot be understated nor can the belief instilled in the club by Everton Manager Sean Dyche, a veteran of many successful relegation battles during his time with Burnley. Of course, Dyche’s sartorial shift in uncharacteristically donning a track suit on Wednesday instead of his customary suit and black raincoat, may also have contributed to breaking the recent Merseyside hex for the Toffees.

The stage was then set for defending champion Manchester City to finish the trifecta of title influencing midweek matches. The Citizens responded in the manner of Arsenal, crushing Brighton in a 4-0 walkover. Phil Foden scored a pair of goals as the Citizens seemed unaffected by the injury absence of leading scorer Erling Haaland. Julian Alvarez, Haaland’s replacement, scored one of the other goals while Kevin De Bruyne rounded out the scoresheet with an uncharacteristic header. Defender Kyle Walker assisted on both De Bruyne’s opening goal and the final Manchester City goal by Alvarez. Meanwhile, despite the alleged brilliance of Brighton Manager Roberto De Zerbi, the Seagulls continue to sink in the table, now having lost half of their last ten matches.

Manchester City is the only club in the Premier League with a longer winning streak than Crystal Palace. The Eagles won their third straight match, all over top half sides, with a 2-0  defeat of Newcastle as striker Jean-Philippe Mateta delivered a brace for a second consecutive match. The victory clinched Premier League survival for Crystal Palace, an accomplishment which looked uncertain when Manager Oliver Glasner took over in February.

Manchester United, unimpressive in its recent FA Cup win over lesser side Coventry, again walked a tightrope against an inferior side before the Red Devils ultimately put away Premier League cellar dweller Sheffield United on Wednesday. The Blades, winners of only three matches all season, led twice at Old Trafford. A 2-1 deficit at the 60-minute mark for Manchester United was transformed to a 4-2 victory when Bruno Fernandes scored twice and then assisted on the final goal by striker Rasmus Hojlund. Fernandes now has seven goals and two assists in Manchester United’s last five matches. His efforts on Wednesday moved his club into sole possession of sixth place with Newcastle’s loss to Crystal Palace.

Bournemouth moved into the top half of the table with a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton and former Bournemouth Manager Gary O’ Neil. Antoine Semenyo’s 37th minute goal proved the winner as Bournemouth survived a 79th minute red card to frustrate Wolves at Molineux Stadium. Stuart Attwell, the VAR official at the center of Nottingham Forest controversy last week, was the on pitch referee for this match and was again at the center of a dispute. Attwell disallowed a tying goal by Wolves for a seemingly innocuous and unrelated foul in the buildup. A second potentially tying goal by Wolves was chalked off in extra time for offside.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Premier League Preview: Match Week 29 Reschedules

The midweek schedule features six contests from Match Week 29 which needed to be rescheduled due to conflicts with the FA Cup. The congestion adds to the building frenzy around the Premier League title chase. Arsenal and Liverpool cannot afford a slipup as they play midweek just days after keeping themselves in the chase with weekend victories.

Manchester City could be four points back when they take to the pitch versus Brighton on Thursday assuming Arsenal and Liverpool win on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Arsenal faces a dangerous Chelsea at the Emirates. The Blues are unbeaten in eight consecutive league matches and still have a faint hope of playing in Europe next season. The Chelsea threat, however, could be severely diminished given the uncertain status of Cole Palmer for the match. The young star, who sits alongside Erling Haaland at the top of the Premier League scoring table, is reported to be unwell and is a question for the match. Arsenal, meanwhile, will need more production during this stretch run from Bukayo Saka. The 22-year-old English international has scored but once in the Gunners’ last six Premier League matches, his lone score coming via penalty kick. Chelsea Manager Mauricio Pochettino will be looking for his first ever league win at the Emirates.

Liverpool takes to the pitch the following day against rival Everton in the latest incarnation of the Merseyside derby. The Reds have won 29 of these league derbies since the turn of the century versus only five wins for the Toffees. The match is vital to quite differing objectives for the rivals. Liverpool is chasing a second Premier League title for departing Manager Jurgen Klopp. Everton is drawing closer to ensuring their survival in the league. The Toffees are currently five points clear of the relegation line after a key win on the weekend.

Manchester City has not lost a Premier League match since December 6th as the Citizens head to Brighton on Thursday. The defending champions could again be without injured striker Erling Haaland who missed the FA Cup semifinal due to injury. Others battling lesser knocks and fitness issues include John Stones, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Sunday’s match winner Bernardo Silva. Fortunately for Manager Pep Guardiola, no club is blessed with a deeper roster than Manchester City. Brighton has struggled of late, winning only one of their past seven Premier League matches. With hopes of European qualification largely gone and Manager Roberto De Zerbi rumored to be leaving after the season, motivation for the Seagulls could be a growing problem.

The remaining incentive for Wolverhampton and Bournemouth is a potential top half finish, and perhaps a personal grudge, as the two clubs prepare to meet in the Gary O’Neil derby at Molineux Stadium on Wednesday. Wolverhampton Manager Gary O’Neil was axed by Bournemouth this past offseason and has his current club 11th in the table, one point above his former employer.

Newcastle and Manchester United are deadlocked on points in their battle for Europa League qualification with the Magpies holding a favorable goal differential. Newcastle has a tricky visit to Crystal Palace on Wednesday with the Eagles flying after recent victories over Liverpool and West Ham. The Magpies are also in good form, having won three league matches in a current four match unbeaten run.

Manchester United will be at Old Trafford to host Sheffield United on Wednesday. Things could potentially get ugly in the home team’s favor as Manchester United will want to perform well in front of the home supporters after a concerning display at Wembley versus Coventry on Sunday. Alternatively, if the Red Devils struggle against the anemic attack and porous defense of the Blades, things could get even uglier for Manchester United Manager Eric ten Hag. 

Premier League Results Match Week 34: Arsenal and Liverpool Win To Move Past Manchester City; Aston Villa Tightens Grip on Top Four; Everton Defeats Forest In Relegation Battle; Crystal Palace Routs West Ham

Arsenal and Liverpool both took care of business over the weekend, winning their matches to rise above Manchester City once again in the table. The defending champions, otherwise occupied with an FA Cup semifinal, now trail their two rivals in the title chase by a point.

Arsenal was a 2-0 winner at Wolverhampton on Saturday. Leandro Trossard scored the first Arsenal goal in three games when he broke through in the final minute of the first half. It was Trossard’s career high ninth goal of the season. Martin Odegaard scored his eighth of the season in the 95th minute of the match to salt away the win for Arsenal. A sixth consecutive away clean sheet by Arsenal goalie David Raya matched the Premier League record established by former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

Liverpool were 3-1 winners at Fulham as Manager Jurgen Klopp rotated his squad to the largest extent in his Premier League tenure. The departing manager made six changes to his lineup from the side which had faced Crystal Palace a week ago. The risky strategy worked as three of the newly inserted starters scored in the victory. A now healthy Trent Alexander-Arnold opened the scoring with a well-placed free kick which found the corner of the net from 25 yards out.

Gravenberch would then restore the Liverpool lead after Fulham had equalized. Jota added the insurance goal at the 72-minute mark with the former Wolverhampton man scoring his 100th career Premier League goal. Liverpool thus secured a critical three points but also enter their midweek Merseyside derby with a more rested squad. The Reds will face an Everton side which just delivered its most important victory of the season.

The Toffees defeated Nottingham Forest 2-0, the goals coming from Idrissa Gueye and Dwight McNeil, to move five points clear of the relegation zone. Forest, meanwhile, remains just a point above the drop after Sunday’s loss. The stress is reaching a boiling point for the Tricky Trees who claimed to have been cheated by poor and biased officiating in their weekend loss. Three controversially uncalled penalty shouts, all involving Everton defender Ashley Young, were the subject of a statement released by Nottingham Forest after the match. In that missive, the club accused VAR referee Stuart Attwell of being a Luton Town fan. That allegiance was alleged to be the reason that he did not send referee Anthony Taylor to the monitor on any of the three occasions. Taylor, for his part, stands accused of being no more than a lousy referee.

Luton Town trails Forest by a point in the fight for the final safe position in the table. The Hatters did not help themselves by getting pummeled 5-1 at home by Brentford. It was the second consecutive match in which the presently relegation bound Hatters surrendered five goals.

Burnley, long given up for dead, is now only two points below Luton Town and three points below Nottingham Forest and the land of the safe. The Clarets comfortably won their relegation rumble with Sheffield United by a 4-1 final scoreline at Bramall Lane. The second victory, added to four draws, in Burnley’s last seven matches has created a flicker of survival hope. The club faces a difficult run-in, however, with upcoming matches against Manchester Unted, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur before Burnley’s meeting with the Tricky Trees on the last day of the season. After another terrible defensive display, Sheffield United is just one goal removed from matching the all-time Premier League record of 89 goals conceded in a 38-match season.

Much further up the table, Aston Villa took another major step toward a top four finish by defeating Bournemouth 3-1 at Villa Park. Ollie Watkins assisted on two of the Villa goals and his 12 assists on the season now leads all Premier League players in that category. Watkins also leads the league in total goal involvements, having found the net himself 19 times, only one fewer than joint Premier League top scorers Erling Haaland and Cole Palmer. Aston Villa increased its advantage over Tottenham Hotspur to six points in the fight for the top four though the London side has two matches in hand. Bournemouth, meanwhile, fumbled away an early lead provided by Dominic Solanke’s penalty kick. It was the third consecutive league match where Bournemouth failed to win a game in which it held the lead.

West Ham’s European qualification hopes were dealt a Hammer blow at Selhurst Park where Crystal Palace routed the Hammers 5-2. Crystal Palace dented Liverpool’s title hopes last week and may have ruined West Ham’s European hopes this week as the Eagles’ young stars are thriving under the tutelage of Manager Oliver Glasner. Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise and Jean-Philippe Mateta all scored in the Eagles’ soaring victory. The question for Crystal Palace this off season will be whether the Eagles can hold onto their young stars with Eze and Olise, particularly, sure to be targeted by bigger clubs. West Ham’s defeat leaves the club in eighth position, outside the European places. The Hammers trail seventh place Manchester United by two points despite having played two additional matches than the Red Devils. The Hammers goal differential is also far worse.  

FA Cup Semifinals

Perhaps never has a victory been more embarrassing than Manchester United’s defeat of Coventry in the FA Cup semifinal. The Red Devils were ahead 3-0 after 70 minutes before an epic comeback by their second-tier opponent. Coventry scored three unanswered goals to send the deadlocked match into extra time. There the epic comeback stalled when a potential game winning goal by Coventry in the extra period was disallowed on a tight off-side call. Manchester United then recovered to take the match in penalty kicks. Rasmus Hojlund scored the winning penalty in the shootout but received little in the way of congratulations from many of his shamefaced mates. The young striker presented a solitary figure as he attempted to celebrate with supporters. Topping off the cringey display was the sight of Manchester United’s Antony, a late and ineffectual substitute in the match, taunting Coventry players after the contest.

The end result, however, advances Manchester United to an all-Manchester final for a second consecutive season as defending cup holders Manchester City prevailed 1-0 over Chelsea in the other semifinal. Bernardo Silva scored the winner in the 84th minute, providing some redemption for his missed penalty in the midweek loss to Real Madrid. It was to Manchester City’s credit that they rose to the challenge after a short turnaround from Wednesday’s Champions League loss. Chelsea, meanwhile, squandered numerous opportunities with striker Nicolas Jackson failing to convert on at least three gilt edged chances. Chelsea’s futility in high profile domestic cups continued as the club’s scoreless run at Wembley Stadium now extends to 344 minutes. 


Friday, April 19, 2024

Premier League Preview: Match Week 34

With Manchester City busy in the FA Cup semifinals, Arsenal and Liverpool have the opportunity this weekend to rise to the top of the table once again, as temporary as that status might be. Arsenal has suffered back-to-back losses after its midweek Champions League ouster and losing league effort last weekend. The Gunners will be at Molineux Stadum to face Wolverhampton on Saturday. It could be a good time for that visit. Wolves have lost three of their last five home matches and will be without their leading scorer, Matheus Cunha, who joins  a lengthy injury list. Wolverhampton forward Hwang Hee-chan should play but is expected to be limited to no more than 45 minutes as he recovers from a hamstring injury.

Liverpool was ousted from the Europa League on aggregate despite a narrow and meaningless win at Atalanta on Thursday. The Reds, like Arsenal, can now put their full focus on the Premier League as they head to London to face Fulham on Sunday. Their opponent has been wildly inconsistent in the past five matches. The Cottagers lost to Nottingham Forest and struggled to draw with Sheffield United while defeating European contenders Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham. The only unsurprising result was a 1-0 loss to a resurgent Newcastle side. On their day, the Cottagers can cause trouble.

West Ham, 2-0 losers to Fulham last weekend, takes part in another London derby as they head to Liverpool slayers Crystal Palace on Sunday. The eighth place Hammers will likely need to overtake either Newcastle or Manchester United to enjoy a fourth consecutive season of European football. With both of those clubs having played one fewer match than the Hammers, three points is desperately needed by West Ham at Selhurst Park on Sunday.

Aston Villa will have played two more matches than Tottenham Hotspur after Sunday’s match with Bournemouth at Villa Park. The Villans are three points ahead of Spurs in the race for what will likely be the final Champions League place. Tottenham Hotspur is idle this weekend.

Two matches on this week’s schedule will greatly influence the relegation battle. Luton Town can move out of the relegation zone with a win at Brentford. The Hatters are currently one point below Nottingham Forest and two points below Everton in what has become a three-sided relegation battle. The Tricky Trees are at Everton for a crucial match which could mean survival for one of those teams.

In contrast, the match between Sheffield United and Burnley at Bramall Lane means virtually nothing as both clubs have already earned their pending relegation. 

Premier League in Europe

Four Premier League sides exited the European competitions over two days this week. The Champions League ousters were particularly disappointing. Manchester City went to penalty kicks before falling to Real Madrid after the clubs were deadlocked at a goal apiece through extra time. Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic were unable to convert their penalty tries against Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin and the defending champion Citizens were eliminated from this year’s competition. The penalty kicks turned against Manchester City with Silva’s miss. His strike, directed towards the center of the goal, found goalkeeper Lunin standing tall and not diving to either side. The Ukrainian goalkeeper easily collected Silva’s soft poke. Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, on loan to Real Madrid, purportedly tipped his teammate regarding Silva’s penalty taking tendency.

At least Manchester City provided some drama. Arsenal went out with barely a whimper in a 1-0 loss to Bayern Munich in Germany. This was not a great version of Bayern Munich which Arsenal faced. Manager Thomas Tuchel’s side are 16 points removed from their customary perch at the top of the Bundesliga table. Joshua Kimmich’s 63rd minute goal, however, was enough to see the Germans through to the semifinals to face Real Madrid. Arsenal generated little in attack, once again raising questions regarding the absence of a true striker. Bayern Munich has one of those in former Tottenham Hotspur star Harry Kane who perhaps took extra glee in eliminating his former Premier League rivals. In four days, Arsenal lost its standing at the top of the Premier League and was bounced from the Champions League. The Premier League exits from the Europa League were largely expected.

Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Atalanta, featuring a penalty kick from Mohamed Salah, was not enough to overcome the three-goal deficit from the first leg. West Ham, meanwhile, took a two-goal deficit into its match with Bayer Leverkusen and made things interesting for a while after Michail Antonio gave the Hammers a lead at the 13-minute mark. A second goal went wanting, however, and Leverkusen remained unbeaten across all competitions when a Jeremie Frimpong 89th minute goal secured a 1-1 draw and a place in the semifinals for the Germans.

Germany looks a lock for the additional Champions League berth which the Premier League once thought was coming to England. England trails Germany for the spot and has only Aston Villa still competing for co-efficient points. The Villans lost the second leg of their Europa Conference League quarterfinal tie with Lille 2-1 but prevailed in penalty kicks to break the aggregate deadlock and advance to the semifinals. Germany, meanwhile, has Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League semifinals and Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League semis. Arsenal and West Ham’s losses to German sides in the Champions League and Europa League, respectively, were particularly damaging to Premier League hopes of a fifth Champions League place. 

FA Cup

Manchester City must regroup quickly from its midweek Champions League loss and head to London for an FA Cup semifinal match on Saturday with Chelsea. One Chelsea player will be especially looking forward to Saturday and that’s former Manchester City player Cole Palmer. The 21-year-old bagged four goals in Chelsea’s destruction of Everton on Monday to tie Erling Haaland as Premier League top scorer. Scoring against the club which sold him last summer and seeing his current club through to a Wembley final might be the next best thing to Palmer’s  Monday quadruple. Chelsea drew with Manchester City in both of the clubs’ Premier League meetings this season. Manchester United faces Coventry on Sunday in the Cup’s other semifinal match. The Red Devils have not played Coventry since 2007. The English Championship division squad surprised  Premier League side Wolverhampton last round to arrive here in the semifinals. Managed by former Manchester United player Mark Robins, Coventry has since been in a bit of a rough patch, losing three of their last four league matches.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Premier League Results Match Week 33: Manchester City Surges To Top As Arsenal and Liverpool Lose; Newcastle Blasts Spurs; Cole Palmer Grabs Four Goals In Chelsea’s Win

Manchester City is now in pole position to win a fourth consecutive Premier League title. The Citizens blitzed Luton Town 5-1 on Saturday and then watched title contenders Liverpool and Arsenal lose on Sunday. The shocking events at Anfield and the Emirates turned the Premier League title chase on its head.

The positive reaction promised by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp to his club’s midweek Europa League loss failed to materialize as yet another blow was dealt to hopes of any more silverware in the manager’s final season. The Reds followed up Thursday’s Europa League debacle with a second consecutive loss at home. Crystal Palace were 1-0 winners at Anfield, the Eagles’ first victory there in seven years. For Liverpool, it was the first home Premier League loss after an unbeaten 29 match run at its historic venue. Eberechi Eze’s 14th minute goal for the Eagles was the difference on Sunday as Liverpool squandered numerous scoring opportunities. The misses up front have been a key feature of a difficult stretch for the Reds which has seen frustration and failure across three different competitions. Crystal Palace, meanwhile, likely guaranteed its survival for another season in the Premier League with the Eagles’ first away win since November.

Liverpool’s loss was in the books before Arsenal took the field at the Emirates versus Aston Villa. The question has been whether this Arsenal side is made of tougher stuff than the club which suffered an April swoon to derail its title hopes last season. A 2-0 loss to Aston Villa would say perhaps not. With the opportunity to take a step forward in the title chase, the Gunners found their former Manager Unai Emery and former Arsenal goalkeeper Emi Martinez in the way. Aston Villa won for a second time over Arsenal this season with Martinez posting a second clean sheet. Sunday’s game hung in the balance until Leon Bailey broke the scoreless deadlock with his 84th minute goal for Aston Villa. Ollie Watkins, a childhood Arsenal supporter, would then score the clinching goal just three minutes later. It was Watkins 19th goal of the season, one behind joint Premier League leaders Erling Haaland and Cole Palmer in the Golden Boot chase. With the defeat, Arsenal relinquished first place in the table to defending champion Manchester City as both the Gunners and Reds sit two points back with each of the three teams having six matches left to play. Aston Villa, meanwhile, boosted its top four aspirations with the win at the Emirates coupled with a Tottenham Hotspur loss the day before. The Villans lead Spurs by three points in the chase for fourth. While the London side have a game in hand, Villa now owns the goal difference advantage after Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-0 capitulation to Newcastle at St. James’ Park.

Newcastle moved into the top six with a dominating performance which featured two goals by Magpie forward Alexander Isak. Newcastle is now ahead of Manchester United on goal differential for sixth and an assured Europa league place.

The Red Devils dropped points at Bournemouth in a 2-2 draw which saw them salvage the point with Bruno Fernandes’ equalizing penalty kick in the 65th minute. It was the second tying goal of the match for the Manchester United captain who leads his club with eight goals this season. Saturday’s draw extended a four-match winless run for Manchester United which has pretty much extinguished hopes of Champions League and now has the Red Devils in danger of missing out on Europa League as well.

West Ham is two points back of Manchester United and eighth in the table after losing 2-0 to Fulham. Andreas Perreira scored twice to sweep all three points for the visiting Cottagers and give Fulham its first league double over West Ham since the 1965/66 season. The defeat was a Hammer blow for a West Ham side trying to qualify for a fourth consecutive season of European football.

There was little change to the bottom of the table over the weekend. Luton Town was smashed when five different Manchester City players, including joint league scoring leader Erling Haaland, found the net.

The 18th place Hatters fell a point back of Nottingham Forest which crept a point closer to securing safety in a 2-2 draw with visiting Wolverhampton. Wolves’ Matheus Cunha scored twice for the visitors, preventing the home side from further distancing themselves from the relegation muck.

Everton remained two points above the drop line after an embarrassing 4-0 loss at Stamford Bridge. Young Chelsea star Cole Palmer scored four times in the rout to tie Erling Haaland at the top of the Premier League scoring table with 20 goals apiece. Palmer is also now tied with Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins for the most goal involvements in the league at 29 combined goals and assists. The victory moved Chelsea to within three points of Newcastle and Manchester United with the Blues having played one less match than either of those clubs.

And yet, despite Palmer’s heroics and the impressive scoreline, Chelsea still managed to disappoint its supporters with the childish actions of some of its young stars. Nicolas Jackson and Noni Madueke first bickered with each other and then fought with Palmer over the penalty kick which was to become Palmer’s fourth goal. The would-be penalty takers were rebuffed by Palmer and Chelsea Captain Conor Gallagher. Gallagher wresting the ball from Madueke and Palmer shoving Jackson away from the spot. A still petulant Jackson then refused to celebrate Palmer’s conversion. Manager Mauricio Pochettino, who has allowed these penalty taking disputes to fester among the players in the past, affirmed Palmer as the club’s designated penalty taker and apologized to Chelsea supporters after the match for the embarrassing actions which tainted one of the season’s best days for his club.

Burnley fumbled a late lead in embarrassing fashion to draw 1-1 with visiting Brighton. Goalkeeper Arijanet allowed  a straightforward back pass into his own net for a backbreaking own goal in the 79th minute. It was the second consecutive match in which a  mistake by the Burnley goalkeeper led to a goal for the opponent.

Bottom of the table Sheffield United were 2-0 losers to Brentford as a 63rd minute own goal by the Blades and a stoppage time goal by Brentford’s Frank Onyeka ended a nine-match winless run for the Bees. Brentford thus gets some breathing room, moving seven points clear of the drop line with Saturday’s victory. 

Premier League in Europe

The second legs of the quarterfinals in all three European cups take place this week. Only Aston Villa is in a commanding potion among the Premier League clubs still playing in Europe. The Villans carry a one goal advantage into Thursday’s second leg of their Europa Conference League quarterfinal with Lille. A late goal by Lille in Villa’s 2-1 win in the opening leg gives the French side hope, however. Both English Champions League contenders are level with their opponents after one leg of the quarterfinals.

Defending champion Manchester City will host its second leg with Real Madrid at the Etihad on Wednesday.

Arsenal, meanwhile, must travel to Germany in hopes of favorably breaking its deadlock with Bayern Munich. All eyes will be on how Arsenal responds to Sunday’s devastating loss in the Premier League. The Premier League clubs still competing in the Europa League are in the most difficult positions to advance.

Liverpool must travel to Italy in hopes of overcoming Atalanta’s three goal advantage. The Reds could be demoralized after two consecutive losses this past week have sent their season into a spiral.

West Ham will be home trying to overcome a two-goal hole in their quarterfinal tie with Bayer Leverkusen. The German side clinched the Bundesliga championship on Sunday while the Hammers were losing at London Stadium to Fulham. 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Premier League Preview: Match Week 33

League leading Arsenal faces the stiffest challenge of the three title contenders this weekend when the Gunners host Aston Villa on Sunday. Manager Mikel Arteta’s crew leads Liverpool in goal differential in a tight Premier League title chase where the two clubs jointly lead Manchester City by just a point.

The performance of Arsenal and other English clubs in Europe this week interestingly makes this match more important for Aston Villa. Results in Europe during the week damaged the prospects of the Premier League obtaining a fifth Champions League berth for next year. The battle for fourth place between Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur thus has more significance. Aston Villa is currently fifth on goal differential while also having already played one more match than Spurs. A result on Sunday could thus be critical to Villa’s top four hopes.

Tottenham Hotspur also has a potentially difficult match, travelling to St. James Park to face Newcastle. The eighth place Magpies are currently scuffling to secure a Europa League or Europa Conference League berth.

Liverpool and Manchester City face lesser competition this weekend. Liverpool hosts Crystal Palace at Anfield on Sunday. The Reds will be smarting after a poor European performance during the week and Manager Jurgen Klopp has already promised a strong reaction from his club. The Eagles have been losing altitude during a five-match winless stretch and are coming into the match off back-to-back losses.

Manchester City, which bested Palace by two goals last weekend, hosts current relegation zone occupant Luton Town. The Hatters scored a massive victory over Bournemouth last weekend to draw even on points with 17th place, and currently safe on goal differential, Nottingham Forest. The survival hopes of the Hatters, however, could take a hit this weekend when they face a loaded and motivated Manchester City while Forest hosts Wolverhampton at the City Ground. Wolves have been vulnerable of late, losing three times and winning but once in their last five league matches.

Manchester United hurt the title chances of rival Liverpool with a draw last week. The Red Devils, however, lost ground to the two clubs pursuing them for Europa League qualification when both West Ham and Newcastle won their league matches. The sixth place Red Devils travel to Bournemouth on Saturday where they have won on four of their last five visits. The Cherries’ Dominic Solanke will be attempting to set a new club record with a 17th Premier League goal of the season.

West Ham will be hosting a London derby versus Fulham. The Hammers are just a point behind Manchester United as they face a Fulham side which in recent weeks has seemed to be already focused on offseason vacation plans. West Ham also leads Newcastle by a point, but the Hammers have already played one more match than either the Red Devils or Magpies.

Chelsea still has an outside shot at European qualification after a seven-match unbeaten run. Supporters are still not convinced, however, as four of those seven matches have been draws, several of the draws coming against bottom of the table competition, and the team has been leaking goals at an alarming rate. The Blues can establish a new English top tier record when they face Everton on Saturday if Chelsea both scores and concedes at least two goals for an eighth consecutive league match. Everton is two points clear of the drop with a helpful match in hand over 18th place Luton Town.

The bottom two teams are really just playing out the string at this point. Burnley hosts Brighton this weekend while Sheffield United travels to Brentford. 

Premier League in Europe

A fifth Champions League berth could be slipping away from the Premier League after a rough week in Europe. Liverpool was stunned at home by Atalanta in a 3-0 defeat at Anfield. Elimination from the Europa League now looms as the Reds travel to Italy for the second leg next week. Manager Jurgen Klopp made six changes after his club’s weekend draw with Manchester United and the result was not pretty from a side which played without spark and was victimized by the much higher energy of Atalanta. Former West Ham forward Gianluca Scamacca scored two of the three goals for Atalanta while Liverpool’s front line was wasteful. Darwin Nunez, in particular, was guilty of two egregious misses on gilt edged opportunities. The result represented the joint heaviest defeat suffered by Liverpool in a major European competition. The three-goal deficit will be exceptionally difficult to make up in Italy as things trend downward for the Reds. Rival Manchester United, having already eliminated Liverpool from the FA Cup, knocked the Reds from their perch atop the Premier League with last week’s result.

Arsenal, the Premier League leaders, have work to do in Germany after a 2-2 draw at the Emirates in the opening leg of the Gunners Champions League tie with Bayern Munich. With the German side playing far better than its disappointing domestic form would indicate, Arsenal improved its hopes for the second leg when Leandro Trossard scored the equalizer in the 76th minute to send the clubs to Germany level on goals. Both clubs thought they should have one goal more but for the decision of the referee and his friends in the booth. No penalty was awarded after a collision between Bukayo Saka and Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer as the contact, perhaps rightfully, was deemed to have been initiated by Saka. A second uncalled penalty benefited the Gunners. After the referee had whistled a restart, Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya kicked the ball to center back Gabriel. To the horror of those who understood what they were seeing, Gabriel picked up the ball and resituated it on the ground before kicking it back to Raya. The clear handball was not called. Bayern Munich Manager Thomas Tuchel later claimed the referee’s explanation was that he did not want a Champions League quarterfinal to be decided by a playground mistake. A subjective decision thus trumped an objective application of the rules.

Manchester City is in a bit better position heading into next week than the Gunners. The Citizens will be home at the Etihad for the second leg after drawing 3-3 with Real Madrid in Spain. Of concern, however, will be the manner in which Real Madrid took advantage of a lack of pace in Manchester City’s back line, particularly in the absence of Kenny Walker. The Citizens still looked headed for an away victory in Tuesday’s back and forth match before an equalizing goal by Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde in the 79th minute. Erling Haaland was scoreless for City, attempting just one shot in Spain.

Two late goals put West Ham on the brink of Europa League elimination after a 2-0 first leg loss at Bayer Leverkusen. Goals in the 83rd and 91st minutes by the current Bundesliga leaders rendered an otherwise solid defensive performance by the Hammers meaningless. The question will be whether the Hammers can generate enough in attack to overcome the deficit when the clubs meet in London this coming  Thursday. The possible return of Jarrod Bowen from injury would go a long way in bolstering belief in what would be an extraordinary comeback for the Premier League side. West Ham did overcome a one goal deficit to advance with a strong second leg performance in the Round of Sixteen.

The only Premier League club to win in Europe this week was Aston Villa which won its Europa Conference League opening quarterfinal leg 2-1 over Lille at Villa Park. The continued European progression for Aston Villa in the Conference League would help the cause for an additional Premier League Champions League berth, a berth which could well be filled by the Villans. An Arsenal win over Bayern Munich and/or a less probable West Ham conquest over Bayer Leverkusen, however, would be of even greater impact. Germany right now is marginally ahead of England for the coveted additional Champions League spot. Head-to-head European competition between the two leagues thus takes on greater importance.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Premier League Results Match Week 32: Liverpool Draws, Arsenal Strolls To Top; Everton Wins on Saturday, Has More Points Taken Away on Monday; Victorious Hatters Have Hope

Manchester United is doing its best to spoil Jurgen Klopp’s final season at Liverpool. The Red Devils eliminated their historic rivals from the FA Cup on St. Patrick’s Day. Sunday’s 1-1 draw between the sides, again at Old Trafford, knocked Liverpool from the top of the Premier League table. Arsenal is now on top by virtue of goal differential with Manchester City trailing both Arsenal and Liverpool by a single point.

Liverpool was fortunate to escape Old Trafford with a point when a foolish challenge from Manchester United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka led to an 84th minute equalizing penalty kick by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah. Depending on how the title race unfolds, that point could prove vital or the dropped two points could be fatal for Liverpool.

While Liverpool struggled, Arsenal was in cruise control the day before in a 3-0 win at Brighton. Bukayo Saka, Kai Havertz and Leandro Trossard polished their goal scoring resumes in disposing of the Seagulls. Saka’s penalty kick in the 33rd minute marked his 14th goal of the season, matching his Premier League total for all last season. Brighton, meanwhile, has seen its attack largely go dormant in recent weeks as Manager Roberto De Zerbi no longer seems the golden boy who was rumored to be replacing Klopp at Liverpool nest season. The Seagulls have scored only three times in their last eight fixtures across all competitions as their hopes of another year competing in Europe are fading quickly.

Manchester City rolled over Crystal Palace in a 4-2 victory at Selhurst Park. Kevin De Bruyne scored twice and assisted on an Erling Haaland goal as City outclassed the Eagles after Palace had jumped to an early fourth minute lead. Haaland’s goal keeps him one ahead of Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins in the chase for the Premier League Golden Boot. Manchester City’s 19-year-old defender, Rico Lewis, also scored for the Citizens whose squad is so deep that Phil Foden, who scored a hat trick in his team’s last league game, was able to cool his heels on Saturday and rest up for this week’s Champions League match with Real Madrid.

Tottenham Hotspur leapt past Aston Villa into fourth in the league after Spurs was a 3-1 winner over Nottingham Forest while Aston Villa dropped points in a 3-3 draw with Brentford. Aston Villa is level on 60 points with Spurs but trails on goal differential and has played one additional match than the north London side. Tottenham Hotspur benefitted from a first half Nottingham Forest own goal on Saturday before second half goals by Mickey van de Ven and Pedro Porro sealed the victory. Aston Villa wasted a two-goal lead and a brace from striker Ollie Watkins in failing to better a Brentford side which was playing without its own star striker Ivan Toney. Brentford came back from two goals down to take the lead before Watkins’ second goal of the match equalized for Villa. Watkins’ 28 goal involvements (combined goals and assists) lead the Premier League and are already the most ever by an Aston Villa player for a full season. While the race between Villa and Spurs to finish in the top four is entertaining, it is more than likely that both will make the Champions League with another berth for the Premier League all but assured.

Manchester United, West Ham and Newcastle are battling for the two table-based qualification berths for next season’s Europa League. West Ham and Newcastle both won on the weekend while Manchester United was drawing with Liverpool. Newcastle’s 1-0 victory over Fulham, courtesy of an 81st minute goal by Bruno Guimaraes, moved the Magpies within two points of Manchester United while Eddie Howe’s crew remained one point behind the Hammers.

West Ham was a 2-1 winner at Wolverhampton when an 84th minute free kick by James Ward-Prowse found the net. Controversy ensued in stoppage time when a Wolves equalizer was disallowed on a questionable foul call. The Hammers’ victory moved them six points ahead of their outraged hosts.

Everton won for the first time in its last 14 Premier League matches in a 1-0 victory over Burnley. Dominic Calvert-Lewin took advantage of an errant clearance by the Burnley goalkeeper to score for a second consecutive match. A Burnley red card would later alter any hope of a comeback by the Clarets. Toffee fans had barely finished celebrating the victory on Monday when Everton received notice of an additional two-point deduction from the Premier League for violation of the league’s profit and sustainability rules (PSR). The two points deduction now means Everton has been penalized a cumulative eight points this season for PSR violations. The Toffees, successful in reducing their first deduction from 10 points to 6 points, immediately appealed Monday’s penalty as well.

Nottingham Forest is also appealing a four-point penalty recently assessed against the Tricky Trees. The bottom of the Premier League table has lost credibility as supporters and neutrals wait for the next haphazard, position altering, announcement by the league. A club might think itself safe from relegation based on performance on the pitch but that will not be the only factor determining survival this season.

Luton Town is the key beneficiary in all this madness as the Hatters, with a gutsy 2-1 win over Bournemouth this weekend, are only separated from now barely safe Nottingham Forest by an unfavorable goal differential. The Hatters are now also only two points removed from Everton. Carlton Morris’ 90th minute winner at Kenilworth against Bournemouth once again showed the tenacity of the newly promoted Hatters. Survival for a second season, however, will only come with a little help from their friends at the league office.

Sheffield United and Burnley would seem to have two of the three relegation positions locked up. That reality, however, has not stopped the Blades from continuing to compete aggressively for Manager Chris Wilder. Ollie McBurnie scored in the 93rd minute Sunday to salvage a point versus Chelsea in a 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane. It was the third draw in four matches for the battling Blades. Chelsea, meanwhile, took a not surprising step backwards after its dramatic victory over Manchester United in its previous match. Manager Mauricio Pochettino is yet to coax consistency from his young squad. Only twice this season has Chelsea put together back-to-back wins.