Champions League QF Preview Part 2

Wednesday brings another exciting day of Champions League football. 

Liverpool vs. Man City 

This fixture should be epic! 

Liverpool in years since Benitez left had been a side with plenty of history but not one which offered no real threat to any top teams in the Premier League. That of course changed under Brendan Rodgers and they came ever so close to ending their poor run only to slip up (pun intended) at the last moment. Liverpool decided it was time to make some changes so they appointed Jürgen Klopp in the winter of 2015. What followed has been gradual improvement, an implementation of a philosophy (gegenpressing*), and a mixture of smart buy’s and promotion of youth. Klopp and Pochettino are similar in that they have not won anything in recent years but what they have built at their respective clubs should bring them trophies sooner rather than later. This season Liverpool have reeked havoc in the Premier League and Europe obliterating teams with their front three of Sadio Mané, Mohammed Salah, and Robert Firmino.

It was thought that losing Coutinho to Barcelona would cause a few problems but that has not been the case. Liverpool’s standout player this season has been Mohammed Salah. 34 goals in 36 games is an amazing return for any player and Salah is on course to reach 40+ goals this season. The front three of Liverpool are what make them tick as elsewhere on the pitch Liverpool do tend to lack quality. Karius has been able to push Mignolet out to become the first choice goalkeeper but he is definitely not a great goalkeeper. Defence wise Liverpool usually have a back four of Robertson, Matip, Van Dijk, and Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool’s defence has been known to concede goals although Robertson has been a standout performer in the left back slot. The midfield is an area where Liverpool probably need to add some creativity and grit. The summer arrival of Keita should fix that problem but for now they can rely on experienced players like Milner, Henderson and Oxlade Chamberlain to do the job. 

One would need a dedicated blog to describe how amazing City have been this season. Manchester City unlike Liverpool tend not to dwell much on finances and usually can buy who they want when they want. They did just that last season by hiring Pep Guardiola and gave him money to buy players he wanted in the team. Last season Pep was still implementing his philosophy at Manchester City and it at times seemed that the pace and unpredictability of the Premier League caught him off guard. Last summer Pep brought in numerous defensive reinforcements as well as sold the dead weight of the squad. After spending around 400 million pounds in total City are have torn apart the Premier League this season. Almost all players in the team have been consistent throughout the season whether it be Ederson and the defence providing clean sheets, the creativity of De Bruyne and Silva providing goals and assists, or the attacking prowess of Sané, Sterling, Aguero, and Jesus. 

The recent league meeting at Anfield was a showcase of attacking masterclass finishing in a 4-3 win for Liverpool. The defence of both teams made several errors throughout the game and Liverpool led 4-1 till the 84th minute. As mentioned before Liverpool’s defence has been suspect and that almost led to them losing 2 of the 3 points. 

Do not expect any of the players to hold back, Liverpool will be hoping to defend their heart out at Anfield while nicking a goal or two. The same can be said for City, both teams will not want to slip up but there can only be one winner. 

Barcelona vs. AS Roma 

Barcelona lead their league by 9 points are unbeaten this season with only 8 games to play. While Barcelona used to be known as the Tiki Taka playing attacking machine under Pep, Valverde has balanced the team out bringing better performances defensively as well. Barcelona’s main threat remains Lionel Messi as was proved in the 2-2 draw in Seville at the weekend. Without Messi Barcelona are much less daunting and as was showcased in the round of 16 tie against Chelsea where if it were not for Messi and Chelsea’s inefficiency Barca could have been knocked out. 

With nothing left to play for in Serie A except remaining 3rd, Roma can focus all their energy on this tie. Their champions league performances this season have shown that they have plenty of attacking talent in the form of Dzeko, Shaarawy, Perotti etc. Their midfield and defence is also packed with players in good form such as Nainggolan, and Manolas. 

Roma and Barca both had decent opposition in the round of 16 with Shakhtar, and Chelsea respectively. As Roma will be looking to get an away goal at the Camp Nou which is no easy task while Barcelona will try to score a few at home to take to Rome for the return leg. This tie could be close but if Messi is on form and plays well in both legs Barcelona will probably reach the next stage. 

Champions League QF Preview Part 1

It is back!

Juventus vs. Real Madrid 

Last year’s final played over two legs. Juventus have maintained their dominance of Serie A this season although that might come to end if Napoli manage to win it. Real Madrid have not been able to mount a successful La Liga defense and Barcelona probably will end up winning it this season. Real Madrid and Chelsea have had similar seasons but while Chelsea have some how managed to fall further down this year Real Madrid have roared back led by a rejuvenated Cristiano Ronaldo. 21 goals from 13 games in 2018 has thrashed any talk of Ronaldo losing his touch, playing more centrally and relying on instinct rather than pace has helped in Ronaldo’s return to form and it could not come at a better time. The whole Madrid team seems to have found some sort of form with players like Bale also managing to notch a few goals in recent weeks, the only outlier seems to be Benzema who has been poor throughout the season. Real comfortably knockedout out PSG 5-2 on aggregate in the round of 16, a fixture that many thought PSG would win. Real however showcased why they have won the trophy in the last two seasons. 

Napoli have not let Juventus run away with Serie A this season but Juventus have still managed to gain some breathing space with 4 points separating the two teams. Juve’s star players this season have been Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain contributing 42 goals between them. Juve’s round of 16 fixture was against Tottenham Hotspur and a 2-2 draw in Turin in the first leg suggested that Spurs had the upper hand going into the second leg. That was certainly the case in the first half at Wembley when Son scored to give Spurs the lead and send fans into raptures. Allegri though has not come to be known as shrewd tactician for nothing and a strong defensive performance in the second half led to a goal by Higuain in the 64th minute. Dybala sealed the comeback in the 67th minute to knock Spurs out of the Champions league.

Real Madrid and Juventus were written off by several pundits in the round of 16 only to prove that experience plays a major part in the outcome of such games. Juventus have suffered heartbreak in two champions league final’s recently losing to Barca in one and Real the other, though a game over two legs should be different prospect. First legs are usually cagey affairs, Juventus will prioritise a clean sheet while Real will want to get an away goal or two. This will most definitely be the fixture to watch on Tuesday. 

Sevilla vs. Bayern Munich 

Sevilla sit 6th in La Liga so in most cases they will be prioritising their quarter final games against Bayern. A 2-2 draw with Barcelona at the weekend should encourage them but it should be noted that they were winning 2-0 till the 88th minute. Sevilla played Manchester United in the round of 16 and many thought there was really going to be only one outcome of that fixture. After a 0-0 draw in Seville which Sevilla dominated pundits suggested that United had the advantage going into the second leg at Old Trafford. In my opinion the fact that United had not managed to score an away goal was a disadvantage and Sevilla’s dominance in the first leg suggested that they were more than capable of getting a goal at United. The second leg remained a cagey affair although only one team looked like breaking the deadlock, and they did in the 74th minute when Ben Yedder gave Sevilla the lead. Ben Yedder doubled the lead in the 78th minute, and while Lukaku did manage to get a goal back it was no more than a consolation. 

17 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich can easily focus on dismantling Sevilla in Seville. Bayern played Besiktas in the round of 16 and an 8-1 aggregate scoreline should tell you all you need to know. Bayern had a poor start to their season according to their standards and sacked manager Carlo Ancelotti replacing him with a caretaker manager in the form of Jupp Heynckes (a Bayern legend). Their leading scorer has been Lewandowski with 31 goals in all competitions although other players like Muller, Rodriguez, Ribéry etc have hit a purple patch recently. A 6-0 win at the weekend against Dortmund would have only encouraged Bayern going into this fixture. 

Sevilla showed great character and attacking prowess against Manchester United, though it has to be said that United themselves have not been amazing this season. Bayern though should be a team too far for Sevilla and while it might be close in the first leg, over two legs there is no doubt that Bayern should reach the semi final of the Champions League. 

Chelsea 1 vs 3 Tottenham Review

Chelsea did what they do best this season and that is bottle it.

Chelsea’s lineup was standard the only exception being the unavailability of Courtois. The game started of well and Chelsea were able to restrict Spurs through the middle of the pitch where a 5 4 1 formation was keeping the front four of Spurs at bay. Rare Spurs attacks were repelled and Chelsea counter attacked with speed but the end product was lacking which has been the story of the season. At the 30th minute Rudiger broke into the Spurs midfield and was able to pass it to Moses on the right who gave a decent cross into the box which Morata was able to head into goal. There was poor judgement on Lloris’s part but that should not take anything away from Morata’s finish.

Chelsea continued to dominate the game but time and time again were not clinical enough. Chelsea have not played poorly in recent games but individual mistakes have cost us the most and another one came in the 46th minute. An overplayed cross was kept in by Dele Alli on the right, Moses was able to take the ball from him only to play a poor chip pass to Willian which was intercepted by Davis. Davies was able to pass it to Eriksen who rifled a shot down the middle which had a ronaldoesque dip to it. Too many times this season goals against Chelsea have come from them trying to play intricate passes when what is needed is a simple clearance. Chelsea of last season would have come back from this setback but recent form suggested only one team was going to achieve a comeback.

The second half saw a rejuvenated Spurs take the game to Chelsea, to say that Chelsea had no fight or played poorly would be harsh, there have been games where Chelsea have been poor but the fact is that Chelsea’s best efforts this season have not been able to compete with the other top teams in the league. Spurs got their break in the 62nd minute when Dier played a decent ball to Alli who had made a run in behind Christensen, through on goal Alli was able to finish smartly to give Spurs the lead. The final nail in the coffin came in the 66th minute, Son’s shot was saved by Caballero but instead of booting the ball out of play Christensen fumbled and Alli was on hand to knock the ball into the net. Spurs were able to manage the game for the remaining minutes to achieve a first victory at Stamford Bridge in 28 years without a certain Harry Kane.

Conte was quizzed on his future in the post match press conference and gave his routine answer of “im not worried”. Conte was further asked why in recent history Chelsea have not been able to mount any real title defence. Conte refused to answer the question stating that he would keep his thoughts to himself and that saying them would probably get him into trouble. Conte never blames his players but has outlined that the lack of finishing and poor judgement has cost Chelsea this season. A top four finish is still mathematically possible but would require an implosion of epic proportions from either Spurs or Liverpool, a push for the FA Cup still remains but that should not be enough to rectify Chelsea’s failings the season.

As far as Spurs are concerned they are 8 points clear of Chelsea and for this season (league wise) they are the best team in London. Their slow and steady progression finally yielded a victory at Stamford Bridge and an impressive one at that, if you are Spurs fan. Spurs should probably win a trophy to back their claims to supremacy, hopefully Jose can end that hope for them before we end that hope for Jose (can’t help but be optimistic). For now Spurs have a moment of “success” to focus their season DVD on.

 

 

 

Weekend Football Review

An interesting weekend fo results in the Premier League and across Europe. 

Premier League MW 32

Crystal Palace 1 vs. 2 Liverpool 

Crystal Palace had a good first half in which they restricted Liverpool to the odd chance, and managed to get a goal through a Luka Milivojevic penalty when Zaha had been brought down by Karius. The second half was played with a higher tempo and Sadio Mané scored via a James Milner corner in the 49th minute to get Liverpool back in the game. Though like I mentioned in the preview as long as Liverpool had Salah on the pitch they would be able to get 3 points and his goal came in the 84th minute through a Robertson cross and a composed finish in the penalty box. Crystal Palace have played well in the last few fixtures and have not deserved the results they have been dealt, that is why they should avoid relegation this season. Liverpool go 13 points clear of 5th place Chelsea and can concentrate on the champions league fixture against City. 

Brighton 0 vs. 2 Leicester 

Brighton lost only their 3rd home game of the season in what was very close game between the two sides. Brighton had the chance to take the lead in the 77th minute via a penalty when Izquierdo was fouled by Ndidi in the box. Murray missed the penalty and Iborra managed to give Leicester the lead in the 83rd minute following a Chilwell cross. Ndidi was send off for Leicester in the 87th minute due to a second yellow but, Leicester sealed the win in the 96th minute via a Vardy goal. Brighton dropped to 13th while Leicester maintained their position at 8th. 

Man United 2 vs. 0 Swansea 

Lukaku got is his 100th goal in the premier league in the 5th minute to give United the lead, and Sanchez added to the lead in the 20th minute to score is second goal for United. United dominated the first half and their star man was Jesse Lingard who has been in good form this season. Swansea fought back in the second half and De Gea (as he does so often) had to make two brilliant saves to deny Tammy Abraham. Swansea will be encouraged by their second half performance and should survive relegation. United stay second and can look forward to a certain Manchester Derby on Saturday. 

Newcastle 1 vs. 0  Huddersfield 

Ayoze Pérez got the winner for Newcastle in the 80th minute via Kennedy pass in what was a tightly contested fixture. Newcastle dominated the first half while Huddersfield had some chances in the second. Newcastle managed to keep their lead and now move to 12th while Huddersfield drop down to 16th. 

Watford 2 vs. 2 Bournemouth 

A close fixture between 11th and 10th, Femenía gave Watford the lead in the 13th minute while King equalised via a penalty in the 43rd minute when Holebas had handled the ball in the box. Pereyra scored for Watford in the 49th minute to restore the lead but Jermaine Defoe earned a point for bournemouth in the 92nd minute with a poachers finish. 

West Brom 1 vs 2 Burnley 

West Brom continued their dismal form by suffering a club record 8th successive loss. Barnes got Burnley the lead in the 22nd minute which was extended in the 73rd minute by Chris Wood. West Brom did have a better second half getting a goal back via Rondón in the 83rd minute. The goal had no real effect other than costing me a clean sheet in my Fantasy team. Burnley remain 7th 2 points off Arsenal while West Brom remain at the bottom. 

West Ham 3 vs. 0 Southampton 

Southampton looked to have gained some confidence from reaching the semi’s of the FA Cup but 2 weeks seems to have been enough for them to lose it. West Ham looked like they were in a downward spiral but Mário got them the lead in the 13th minute and Arnautovic got followed up by getting a brace in the first half to finish off a positive response by West Ham. West Ham moved to 14th 5 points off relegation while Southampton remain there. 

Everton 1 vs. 3 Man City 

Three first half goals from Sané, Jesus, and Sterling were enough to give City a win at Goodison Park. Bolasie managed to get Everton a consolation goal in the second half but thats pretty much it. City have a Champions League quarter final against Liverpool to look forward to while a win at home against United on Saturday would be an amazing way to seal the title. 

Arsenal 3 vs. 0 Stoke City 

Stoke City could not capitalise on what was a poor first half performance from Arsenal at the Emirates. Aubameyang gave Arsenal a lead through a penalty at the 75th minute and added to his tally in the 86th minute. Lacazette came off the bench to score a penalty in the 89th minute one which should give him some much needed confidence. Back to Back wins for Arsenal since November take them to within 5 points off Chelsea in 5th. Stoke remain in the relegation zone. 

Rest of Europe

Bayern Munich 6 vs. 0 Dortmund

Two goals from Lewandowski along with goals from Rodriguez, Müller, and Ribéry destroyed dortmund in the first half. Lewandowski managed to complete his hattrick in the second half in what was a resounding win for Bayern Munich showcasing why they are 17 points clear of Schalke in 2nd. 

Sevilla 2 vs. 2 Barcelona 

Vázquez and Muriel scored in the first and second half respectively to give Sevilla what looked like a comfortable lead against an underperforming Barca team. Barca though had a certain Lionel Messi on the bench who provided an assist for Suárez in the 88th minute and then scored himself in the 89th minute to gain a point for the Blaugrana. Barcelona still lead La Liga with a 9 point gap. 

Juventus 3 vs 1 AC Milan 

Dybala got Juventus the lead in the 8th minute while ex Juve defender Bonucci levelled for Milan in the 28th minute. A late push by Juventus saw Cuadrado and Khedira seal the victory, and as Napoli had earlier drawn to Sassuolo the lead at the top has been extended to 4 points. 

 

 

Weekend Football Preview

Premier League MW 32 

Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool 

Liverpool are third in the table going into the gameweek, a win at Crystal Palace would take them to second and 10 points clear of 5th place Chelsea. Crystal Palace are in the midst of a relegation battle and while their start to the season was awful, under Roy Hodgson they have managed to regain some form. Playing at Selhurst Park is always tough but a certain Mo Salah should be enough to take 3 points for Liverpool. 

Brighton vs. Leicester 

Brighton were early relegation contenders though they sit 14th while Leicester are 8th. A win for Brighton would see them move to 10th, while a win for Leicester would move them to 7th and a potential Europa League place. Brighton have played well at home this season although a resurgent Vardy and Mahrez could cause them problems. 

Man United vs. Swansea 

United have had their fair share of problems recently both on and off the pitch. Swansea have been a different team under new manager Carlos Carvalhal. A win for United is on the cards but Swansea will make them work for it. 

Newcastle vs. Huddersfield 

Two teams very much in the battle for relegation. Newcastle have been in good form recently and should be able to get 3 points from the fixture. 

Watford vs. Bournemouth 

A fixture of no real importance although Watford fans will be seeking a response from the players after losing 5-0 to Liverpool. 

West Brom vs. Burnley 

WestBrom are most definetly going to be relgated come the end of the season and Burnley have been steadily progressing under Sean Dyche. Burnley should win to strenghen their claim for a place in the Europa Leaue next season. 

West Ham vs. Southampton 

Both teams desperately need a win if they are to avoid relegation. The environment at West Ham is toxic and with Southampton having appointed Mark Hughes along with having progressed to the FA Cup semi’s momentum should be on their side. 

Everton vs. Man City 

Hard to see anything but a win for Man City. Everton might make them fight for the 3 points with Tosun having picked up some form in recent weeks. A win for Man City would set them up to beat Man United to become Champions next week. 

Arsenal vs. Stoke City 

Stoke have been poor and Arsenal having nothing to fight for in the premier league can afford to rest players for their Europa League quarter final against CSKA Moscow. 

Rest Of Europe

Bayern Munich vs. Dortmund 

Bayern Munich have once again ran away with the Bundesliga sitting 17 points clear of second placed Schalke. Though this fixture does not disappoint and if Dortmund were to win they would move to second. 

Sevilla vs. Barcelona 

A close game that Barcelona should win to move 14 points clear of second placed Atletico. 

Juventus vs. AC Milan 

Juventus have not been able to run away with league this season mainly due to an amazing Napoli side managed by Maurizio Sarri. Milan have turned up under the management of former player Genaro Gattuso and could cause Juventus problems. This should be an interesting fixture. 

 

 

Chelsea Vs Tottenham Preview

There cannot be a better game to start this blog off than the one this weekend!

Chelsea vs Tottenham is a London derby which in recent years has not only increased in intensity but also one that has a lot more at stake. Spurs have gone from a top 10 team to one that has managed to throw its weight amongst the top 6 all without winning anything. Many fans and critics argue (mostly Spurs fans) that they are the best team in North London if not in London, when it has been more than a decade since Spurs last won a cup of any sorts. While Chelsea usually find it difficult to win at White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge is an entirely different story.

Chelsea have had what I would say is an inconsistent season but that is a discussion for another post. The game follows an international break (why?) both teams having won their last games to progress to the semifinals of the FA Cup. Chelsea need to win this game to stand any chance of reaching the top four while a Spurs win would increase the gap to 8 points.

Chelsea Team Preview:

Chelsea approach the game with a few doubts in selection with Courtois and Christensen both facing late fitness tests. While Caballero has proven himself when called upon this season, Cahill has been anything but reassuring. With Luiz out for the next three weeks and Ampadu out for the season we need Christensen to be fit or for Rudiger or Azpilicueta to play in the center of the three with Cahill playing on the left or right. Other than that Chelsea need Hazard to turn up for this one and Morata to follow up his good performance against Leicester with another great one.

Tottenham Team Preview:

Tottenham have the same objectives as Chelsea for the remaining season which are to finish in the top four and try to win the FA Cup. While Harry Kane may or may not make it for the game on sunday, Tottenham have no injury problems. Many believed Spurs would face problems without Harry Kane but the players have turned up in the strikers absence to win convincingly although Chelsea is whole different proposition. While Eriksen has been recieving several plaudits, the biggest threats in my opinion are Son and Dembele. Son has had an incredible season so far and Dembele has been imperious in recent weeks. 

Starting XI prediction: 

IMG_6459    IMG_6460

This is a massive game in the race for the top four and with only eight games to play a lot is at stake. The game should be decided in the midfield and according to which Chelsea show up though it is Spurs and it is Stamford Bridge and with so much at stake the blues always show up.