Far From Over

As we move into the final round of games, only Manchester City have sealed their place in the final 16 of the Champions League, and can somewhat relax. For the rest of the English clubs, it’s still far from over.

Arsenal have the biggest task on their hands. After a miserable opening 2 games, which saw them take zero points. They now find themselves in a winner takes all duel with Olympiacos. In order for the Gunners to avoid the drop in the Europa League, they must beat the Greek side by 2 clear goals. The last 3 visits to Athens has seen the Gunners lose on all occasions, but on previous visits, it was a dead rubber. Arsenal could easily obtain the 2 goal margin of victory required for progression, but as they have already shown several times this season, they could just as likely lose 3-0. They will provide the most interest to watching neutrals!

Manchester United also head into their final game looking for a victory to move into the next phase. United, PSV and Wolfsburg could still all qualify, setting up a tasty finale. United fly to Germany to take on the German side. On paper, it is a simple task, win, and they go through. In reality, it wont be as easy. United have already lost at PSV, and Wolfsburg are a side to be taken seriously. A draw would not be the end of the road for LvG, but a PSV win at bottom placed CSKA Moscow would prove fatal to their chances. Though it’s an easier task than the one Arsenal will have to face.

Jose Mourinho is still not certain to feature in the knockout rounds either. Chelsea find themselves top on 10 points, along with Porto. Who they will face in the final match. Porto won the fixture earlier in the group stage at the Estádio do Dragão. Though it will be a tougher task for Porto to take the 3 points at the Bridge. Dynamo Kiev will most certainly win their game against Tel Aviv, who are rock bottom on zero points. A draw between Chelsea & Porto, combined with a Kiev win would see all teams tied on 11 points, and then it could get very messy!

The group phases of the Champions League is usually much derided, it’s usually predictable, and seen as a money maker. But this year, especially for the English clubs, it could prove to be a defining moment for their season!


Leicester Light It Up

In a weekend that saw both Manchester City & Arsenal fail to score any points, it was an opportunity for the chasing pack to overhaul the early season pace setters.

While Manchester United took advantage of their rivals slipping up, with a narrow last gasp victory at Watford, it’s Leicester who currently reside in top spot!

It’s an impressive feat, regardless of how long they may enjoy that spot. With blockbuster teams like the Manchester Clubs & Arsenal snooping around top spot. No one would have guessed the Foxes would be in front.

All the headlines will be about Jamie Vardy, who is on a ridiculous scoring streak, which has seen the striker net in 10 games in succession, matching the record held by Ruud Van Nistelrooy. He also tops the scoring charts, ahead of names such as Sergio Aguero & Alexis Sanchez.

Though it’s not just the Vardy factor. Ranieiri has gotten the whole team to play some explosive football. This has been typified by the dynamic Algerian attacker, Riyad Mahrez . Not only has he found the net 8 times, but he has contributed 6 assists (with only Mesut Ozil ahead in terms of assists).

What has stood out this season is the sheer audacity of Leicester to play attacking football. Their defence is anything but tight. They have conceded 20 goals. City, United and Arsenal have conceded 13,9 & 11 respectively. They may be conceding loads, but they are making it up with their attack, ”you score 2, we’ll score 3” is their current mentality. Leicester have shown great mental strength on several occasions, recovering from a deficit to take points. Of the last 10 games, they have only lost once, to Arsenal. A game in which they attempted to go head to head with the Gunners, though they lost, their style of play did not once ease up.

There may be whispers of a shock Leicester title win, that is clearly a far fetched dream. To maintain this level of attacking vigour over 38 games is something only the most well equipped teams can do. Top 4 may even be a stretch, come May. But right now, let’s just enjoy a team other than the ‘Big 4’ on top. Let’s see how far they can take this magical run!




The Quarterly Report

With 11 games knocked off the fixture list, we are just past a quarter of the way through the season, and already, the league table is starting to shape up with intriguing story lines.

Let’s start at the top, with the fight for the title. Defending champions Chelsea look to be well and truly out of the race. Lying in 15th, with a daunting 14 point gap to the summit. Jose Mourinho looks to have imploded, and the fallout has been spectacular. It’s Manchester City & Arsenal who are the early frontrunners, with Arsenal on a current hot 5 match win streak. City were always going to be around the top, but Arsenal seem to have found a new resolve, helping them keep pace. Manchester United are close behind, though they will really need to turn it up if they are to mount a serious challenge after a string of turgid results.

With Chelsea’s demise, the possibility of gate-crashing the Top 4 is most certainly there. Liverpool will be looking to pounce, after a meek start to the season, they will hope the Klopp factor can take them back into Europe’s elite. Spurs will want to make the most of the opportunity to also make a dash for that 4th spot. With the North London club slowly gaining traction as the season has started to settle.

The biggest surprises so far this season have been a splendid Leicester City and the upset specialists West Ham. Under Claudio Ranieri, Leicester have been a breathe of fresh air, their gung ho attacking spirit has lit up the season, with both Jamie Vardy and Mahrez up near the top of the goalscoring charts. They currently find themselves in 3rd, it wont last, but Leicester fans have all the right to enjoy their current blistering form. West Ham are also aiming high, they have had a simply sensational away record this season. Taking 3 points from The Emirates, Anfield and The Etihad. Along with a victory against Chelsea at Upton Park. Though losses to the likes of Bournemouth and Watford still show the terrible inconsistency of the side.

Focussing our attention to the other end of the spectrum, and the dreaded drop. Out of the 3 promoted clubs, it’s Quique Sánchez Flores’s Watford who look the most impressive. Sitting cosy in mid table. Its been tougher for both Bournemouth and Norwich, who are sitting close to the trap door. Bournemouth have been especially unlucky, losing key players to season ending injuries, It will be a challenge for them to survive all season.

Some teams are already looking like they will be fighting the plunge into the Championship all season. Both North-West clubs look in shambles. Sunderland have already replaced their manager, and Newcastle are stuttering just like they were late last season. Villa prop up the table (as we speak!), with only 1 win all season, and Tim Sherwood removed from the top seat, things look uncomfortable for the Villans.

As the season takes its course, the Xmas period will determine what the table will start to look like come 2016. It’s still a long way to go, but the sub-plots are already starting to sprout!


A Sterling Weekend……..

It was a comfortable weekend for the so called Top 4. Arsenal, City, United and Chelsea all recorded wins. The first time this season that has occurred.

Frontrunners Manchester City had to deal with a bruising international break, losing top scorer Sergio Aguero and playmaker maestro David SIlva to injury.  This meant that others now had to step up, and both Wilfried Bony and Raheem Sterling duly obliged. Sterling bagging his first senior hat-trick, and Bony scoring a brace to crush Bournemouth 5-1 at the Etihad.

Arsenal find themselves second, chasing City after their impressive victory against United in the previous game week. That would mean nothing had the Gunners stumbled against newly promoted Watford. After a tough first half, goals from Sanchez, Giroud and Ramsey meant that the Gunners keep up the pace with City.

United were looking for a rapid response to their horror show at the Emirates. They were up against an Everton team who may have had other things on their mind, having to deal with the news of the death of former manager Howard Kendall earlier in the day. This showed as United ran out a comfortable 3-0 victory. They are level with Arsenal in the chasing pack.

Its been a shocking season for Chelsea, and they were up against another manager under huge pressure, Tim Sherwood and his Aston Villa team. Chelsea were not at their best again, but Villa were feeling generous. A rash Guzan clearance was pounced upon by Willian, allowing Costa with the simplest of finishes. It didn’t get any better for Villa, when an own goal sealed the points for Chelsea.  Villa are now under immense scrutiny, a long season awaits for them.

Away from the Big 4, the biggest fixture of the week was the debut of new Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp. He would have liked an easier fixture to open with. Tottenham have proved to be a dangerous team, having put 4 past City recently. Klopp would have taken a point before hand, and that was the case. Neither team could find the breakthrough, and it ended up a 0-0 stalemate.

Newcastle suffered an embarrassing defeat last time around, conceding 6 to a rampant City side. They made amends for that, firing 6 past Norwich City, thanks to 4 goals from Wijnaldum. Newcastle finally recording that first win of their season, and managing to lift themselves off the foot of the table. To make things better, their local rivals Sunderland now find themselves rooted at the bottom. Sam Allardyce finds himself back in the hot seat, this time at the Stadium of Light. In a tightly fought contest at the Hawthorns, it was the home side that emerged victorious. Allardyce would not have been best pleased with keeper Pantilimon, whose shoddy handling allowed Saido Berahino to put away the dropped ball into the net.

Jamie Vardy continued his sensational start to the season, adding another 2 goals to his name. A rousing second half display salvaged a point at St Mary’s, after Southampton had taken a 2-0 lead in the first half. West Ham continue to impress, this week managing to beat the lively Crystal Palace team at Selhurst Park. It seemed like Palace would hold on to a point, after being reduced to 10 men and having valiantly held on to a 1-1 score line heading into the dying embers of the game. But two rapid goals from Lanzini and Payet late on took all 3 points back over the river.

Swansea City host Stoke in the Monday night match, to cap off this week. The fixtures for next week already look delicious. At the top of the table, its the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford. While its the fight to avoid bottom place in the Tyne-Wear derby in the North East!


Who Will Join England?

Qualification for next Summer’s Euro 2016 tournament in France will end during this International Break, several other of the home nations & Ireland will be looking to join England for the party next year!

For England, it has been a very cosy road to France, played 8, won 8, scored 26. The only team with a 100% qualifying record during this phase. As with England though, a serene qualification does not always equate to a comfortable tournament! We shall see if they can preform when the time comes.

Due to the expansion of the tournament to 24 teams, the chances of the other home nations to join England next summer have risen. Now the top 2 in the group will go through automatically, with a play-off for the 3rd placed teams (though the best 3rd placed team will also directly go into the Finals)

Wales have been in excellent form as of late, and has seen them rise up to 8th in the FIFA rankings. Wales have not been present at a major tournament since 1958. Surely that dire record will come to an end over the next few days. The Dragons missed out on confirming qualification last time around, a draw against Isreal had to see the home fans put the champagne back on ice. Only a solitary point is needed from games against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Andorra. The champagne should be flowing not too soon!

Northern Ireland last appeared at a major finals at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, and haven’t even featured in the European Championships since their inception in 1960. That record may finally change, as the Green & White Army find themselves top of their group with 2 to play. They have a slightly more tougher job at hand to qualify. Needing 2 points against Greece and Finland. They will be looking for a win at home vs. Greece, to avoid requiring a result in their final game away at Finland.

Scotland and Ireland find themselves together in the same group. and both nations will face a tough task to secure qualification. Bring drawn in the same group as Germany and Poland was always going to make it difficult to get a top 2 finish. That has been the case so far. For the Republic of Ireland, a shot at the top 2 is still possible. Currently laying wait in 3rd but with their final two games against both Germany and Poland, it will be an uphill struggle to finish in the automatic spots. Scotland have the most formidable task. Currently 4th, and with a 4 point gap to 3rd place Ireland, they will hope to recoup at least 4 points from their final 2 games, and hope Ireland get some hammerings to reduce their goal difference.

England have been going on solo trips to these tournaments for the last few occasions, and it would be nice to see some of the neighbours joining in too. Let’s hope for all the best come next week!


The Weekly Wrap

Well that was one eventful weekend of Premier League action! What a time for the international break to come by and leave the fans wanting more!

With no managerial casualties so far this season, we got two in one weekend. Sunderland won the ‘Sack Race’ and pulled the trigger on Dick Advocaat. Sunderland now find themselves in utter shambles, Advocaat was instrumental in saving Sunderland from the drop last season, and was convinced to sign on for another year following his decision to leave at the end of last term. But the journey only lasted until October, their match against West Ham being the final straw.After taking a 2-0 lead, the team managed to self destruct .With the help of a pointless red card which saw West Ham level it at 2-2, giving up the 3 points they so dearly needed.

Liverpool soon followed, sacking Brendan Rodgers after their draw to local rivals Everton. Liverpool have had a stuttering start, but still are only 3 points off 4th. The owners seemingly losing patience with their recent drab results. Liverpool will need to act quick to fill the void before the league resumes, Jurgen Klopp & Carlo Anchelotti are the big names linked to the vacant seat.

The big match of the weekend was at the Emirates, a game that finally saw Arsenal well and truly outplay one of their big rivals. Last season saw Arsenal pay dearly for all their missed chances against United. This time around, there was no repeat. A blistering opening 20 minutes saw the Gunners fire 3 past a bewildered Untied defence. Alexis helping himself to another 2 goals, and Mesut Ozil opening his goal scoring account for the season.

Chelsea show no sign of recovering from their hapless start to the campaign. Things were looking rosy early on against Southampton. WIllian putting the Blues ahead, with his 4th consecutive goal from a free kick. Southampton responded well, the pace of Mane caused Chelsea problems all game, and the Saints came from behind to lead following goals from Davies and Mane. Pelle then sealed the win with an emphatic finish. Jose Mourinho will be feeling the pressure now, the team find themselves stuck down in 16th place.

Sergio Aguero stole the headlines at the Etihad with an outstanding 5 goal salvo. Newcastle managed to take a shock lead against City, and could have doubled their lead.  They were made to pay for their missed chances in punishing style, Aguero firing 5 past Krul in a devastating 20 minute period. Kevin De Brunye joined in the fun to continue his fine goalscoring form. Things now look grim for Newcastle, rock bottom of the league, and shipping goals for fun.

Leicester City and Crystal Palace continued their fine starts to the season. Both recorded another win to keep up the pace for the European spots. Palace dealt with a West Brom team who look to be slipping down the table at a fast rate. While Leicester managed to win a tightly fought contest at Carrow Road, Jamie Vardy adding another goal to his impressive season.

Among the rest of the weekends fixtures, Swansea hosted Spurs. The spoils were shared, twice Swansea went ahead, only to see 2 Eriksen free kicks drag them back to level par. Bournemouth failed to convert a late penalty which would have seen them beat Watford, the game finishing 1-1. Stoke City’s stumbling start to the season showed small signs of improving, though they would have liked to beat a dire Villa team by more than the single goal.

So that’s all for this game week, will Jose still be around by the next round of fixtures? Who will be taking charge of Liverpool? and can Arsenal show that their conformance against was not a one off? All of which will be answered soon!

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10:  The Manchester United and Arsenal players acknowledge a minutes silence for Remembrance Sunday prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on November 10, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

An Old Rivalry Reignited

It’s been a while since Arsenal v Manchester United has had any significant relevance in regards to the title race, but on Sunday afternoon, the clash between these two giants will once again see them battle over top spot.

Last season was a fairly even contest between the two clubs, United recorded the first blow at the Emirates, with a 2-1 win. The two met again in the FA Cup at Old Trafford, a ground Arsenal have had a shocking record at. But it was the Gunners who took the spoils, sealing a narrow 2-1 win courtesy of United old-boy Danny Welbeck. Neither team could seal the 3 points in the return league fixture, with a 1-1 draw late in the season.

This season has seen a resurgent Manchester United side fire themselves to the top of the table. The Red Devils have managed to capitalize on the capitulation of Man City in recent weeks and find themselves on top of the pile. Though they may not have the same fire-power as their city rivals, but the current form of the likes of Juan Mata and Chris Smallings, combined with the signing of Anthony Martial, who has been a revelation since joining, has proved to be vital for United this season. Though doubts still remain in the team, the form of captain Wayne Rooney has been a great concern, the form of Martial has somewhat eclipsed the worrying trajectory of United’s other striker. The team has not really clicked on the pitch either, though the results have been good, the play is not as fluent and dynamic as their rivals.

United though, will travel to the Emirates to face an Arsenal team that has so far failed to show any sustained run of good games. Though they may be able to go level with United if they are to win on Sunday, many fans will believe that Arsenal should be above the Red Devils anyway. A shocking loss to West Ham and a dire draw to Liverpool has seen the team drop points in games they really should have won. The form of Alexis Sanchez will be key to the gunners, after a slow start to the season following his victorious Copa America campaign scoring no goals until last week. A sensational hat-trick v Leicester City last week, followed by a European goal in midweek has seen the Chilean hit form at the most opportune of times. An abysmal performance against Olympiacos in midweek for Arsenal will have shattered the team, both physically and mentally. They will need to use that disappointment and turn it into motivation in they want to close the gap on the leaders. If they are to pick themselves up and take the 3 points, the outrage from the Champions League fallout may subside.

The key to the match will be the Arsenal attack, until Leicester, it has failed to click into gear. Though they may have peppered the goal with a large number of attempts, their strikers have failed to hit the target regularly . Last week has shown that Arsenal can still be a devastating team when on point. They will have to make the most from and chances that they may get on Sunday against a well drilled United team. Martial has shown early signs of being a calm clinical finisher, who will take advantage of any missed chances that the Gunners may spurn. The game at the Emirates last season was a perfect example, Arsenal dominated the game until United scored, with their first shot on goal, a shot that was off target. If Arsenal fail to be ruthless again, it may be a 6 point gap to the top come Sunday evening.