Premier League: Manchester United struggling in away games

Manchester United were crowned English Premier League champions in 2013. Since 2013, United had just one top four finish. In the Premier League era, beginning with 1992, United have not previously endured such an extended spell of struggling to challenge for the league title.

Under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, only on three occasions out of 21 seasons, did the club finish outside of the EPL’s top two spots. Each time, Manchester finished third. United’s league performances have witnessed a visible decline following Ferguson’s departure. The Scotsman had an innate ability to inspire his team to victory, even when his players were not performing close to their best. There were a few examples of that during his final season at the club.


Whereas second place Manchester City (and despite beating United 2-1 at Old Trafford) lost away games against Sunderland, Southampton, Everton and Tottenham, not to mention a disappointing 0-0 draw with last place Queens Park Rangers, United showed more resolve on their travels.  They did not lose a single away fixture during the second half of the season.

Narrow victories over Fulham, QPR, Stoke and Sunderland earned United the points which were ultimately vital in winning the title. A steely determination, instilled by an inspirational manager was one of the main catalysts for United’s uncanny ability to win tricky away fixtures. All has changed since Ferguson’s departure with United struggling for away wins.

Of 57 away games, United have lost 21, with several of those defeats coming against mediocre teams and not just their biggest rivals. The away struggles were particularly magnified when United was managed by Louis Van Gaal. A significant number of draws throughout the Dutchman’s first season in charge, eight in total, was followed by a disastrous away form during the next campaign. Swansea, Bournemouth, Stoke, Sunderland, West Brom, Tottenham and West Ham, all defeated United, to dent the club’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League.  United eventually failed to do so as goal difference ruled in Manchester City’s favor.

Although they performed much better on their travels during the 2016-17 season when Jose Mourinho improved an insecure defensive line which had conceded 26 goals away from Old Trafford during the previous campaign, United once again finished outside the top four. The reason for that was disappointing home form, winning less than half – eight – of 18 games.  Only one surprise away defeat, a 3-1 loss to Watford, was endured.


Mourinho’s art of setting his team up to contain and prevent opposition teams from playing, made United a far more balanced side.  They have continued to improve this season. Their progress has however been slowed by a surprise defeat to Huddersfield.  United’s away form so far has been less than convincing. Mourinho appeared to settle for a dire 0-0 draw at Anfield by setting up his team in a defensive manner before even kicking a ball against hosts Liverpool.

To challenge for the title, United will have to run some risks, in particular away from Old Trafford. The question is whether Mourinho will opt to play a more adventurous lineup, perhaps demand from his players to attack in bigger numbers, or if he will resort to negative tactics such as “Park the Bus” as infamously terms by his detractors.

With likes of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku on his team, it would be a shame if the Portuguese mastermind restricted their exuberance and attacking inclination.

Are Martial and Rashford on your Team? How about the excellent shot-stopper David de Gea? Is he on your multi-league Team?


Wales fail to make World Cup 2018 despite consistency

Perhaps the problem for Wales was being far too consistent and predictable in terms of approach and the familiar faces in the starting lineup. Some may argue Gareth Bale’s absence from the critical encounter versus the Republic of Ireland doomed the chances of the Welsh.

Despite failing to qualify for World Cup 2018, the Welsh can take solace in the fact that for a second successive qualification campaign, Chris Coleman and his squad remained competitive till the end. Coleman was able to call upon almost the same players the last 3 years.

Of all the player who helped beat Belgium 3-1 in the quarter finals of Euro 2016, only two did not feature for Wales in Tbilisi, as they beat Georgia 1-0 on October 6th, 2017. One of those players was the injured Bale. Continue reading

Burnley reach new heights in the English Premier League

Turf Moor is a stadium where most visiting teams leave either bruised physically or with little in terms of result. The visitors tend to be aware that they will be involved in a highly competitive game.

When they were promoted to the English Premier League in 2016 as champions of the English League Football Championship, Burnley lost just two of their 23 home games, whilst collecting 51 points. They continued that fine form through the 2016/17 season in the Premier League. Out of 19 matches at Turf Moor, Burnley collected 33 points after winning 10 home matches. Mind you they finished the season with a total of 40 points. Thus, there away form was miserable and just yielded 7 points.

On their travels, Burnley not only struggled but could not get more than a single win.  The solitary win was secured at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace. They did however earn a point by holding Manchester United to a goalless draw at Old Trafford. Despite their disappointing return of points from away fixtures, they still retained their place in the top tier of English football.


This season, they have already won two away games and secured a draw in two other games. From five away matches played during the current campaign, Burnley have amassed one more point than the number – seven – they did in the entire 2016/17 season.

By guiding his team to wins over both Chelsea and Everton, whilst also drawing against Tottenham and Liverpool, manager Sean Dyche has succeeded in getting the best out of his squad and managed to rebuild their confidence away from home.

He has created a well-balanced team, made up of the same defenders who helped the club win the Championship along with some astute midfield and attack-minded signings. While Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes remain the forward options for Dyche, with the pair scoring 17 goals between them last season, Chris Wood has been recruited to strengthen Burnley’s attack. The 26-year-old Wood has seamlessly integrated into Dyche’s side and been on the receiving end of some quality service, with players such as Scott Arfield, Robbie Brady and Steven Defour delivering the passes.

Burnley aim to continue in this fine form and rather than battling against relegation, it may sound realistic to aim for a top 10 finish in EPL. This of course is based on their early season form. Last season, any points earned away from home were treated as an unexpected bonus, particularly since they lost 14 of their 19 games away from Turf Moor.

Now Burnely’s players are proving to be part of a team capable of competing with the bigger clubs in the English Premier League, as seen in the win over Chelsea and confirmed by the draws against Tottenham and Liverpool. Perhaps the big question is where will Burnley finish at the end of the Premier League season, but one thing is for sure- the aim is to sustain this promising start at all costs.

 Do not forget to challenge some of the best Fantasy Managers at

World Cup 2018: Northern Ireland rising under O’Neill’s Management

The rise of Northern Ireland since Michael O’Neill’s appointment in December 2011 has been remarkable. He inherited a team from his predecessor Nigel Worthington which ended the qualification campaign for Euro 2012 with four successive defeats.

As well as being beaten twice by Estonia, defeats to Italy and Serbia combined to leave Northern Ireland fifth in a six-team group. Thus, Worthington’s reign ended in disappointment, but that of Neill did not begin well either. He led his team to just a single victory from the 10 World Cup 2014 qualifying matches, as the Northern Irish once again ended a qualification campaign in fifth place.

michael oneill northern ireland

Despite the negative results, there were positives for O’Neill. Away draws against Portugal [1-1] and Israel [1-1], along with a 1-0 home victory over Russia, provided some hope and indicated there is potential for Northern Ireland’s fortunes to improve.

Although they amassed just seven points during their bid to reach World Cup 2014, Northern Ireland were given a rather decent draw for the Euro 2016 qualification campaign. Not required to face any of the strongest teams, such as France, Germany, Portugal or Spain, they took advantage of being placed in a winnable albeit competitive group.

By winning their first three qualifiers – as many as they had done in the two previous qualification campaigns – O’Neill’s side put themselves in a strong position to qualify for the finals.

After responding well to a 2-0 defeat to Romania by beating Finland 2-1 and avoiding defeat in their five remaining fixtures, Northern Ireland topped Group F to qualify automatically for Euro 2016.

The goals – seven in nine appearances – of Kyle Lafferty, were vital in helping them reach the ultimate objective of making Euro 2016. The great commitment of the players combined with the collective approach and team spirit, promoted by O’Neill, formed the foundation behind this team’s accomplishment. Each one of the attributes was again on display evidence in France during Euro 2016.

A 2-0 victory over Ukraine, courtesy of goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn, sufficed to secure a place in the last 16. Unfortunately, the end was marked in the Round of 16 following a 1-0 to Wales.

Despite the defeat, O’Neill kept faith in the squad and decided to regroup. He firmly believed the players were dedicated and competitive enough to help the Northern Irish compete for a spot in World Cup 2018.

That decision is proving to be the correct one so far. With their fine Euro 2016 journey fresh in the memory, O’Neill’s players comfortably secured second place behind Germany, in a group also featuring the Czech Republic and Norway. Most of the key players ply their trade in the English Premier League or the English Football League Championship.

Northern Ireland

A defensively solid unit, with key members such as Michael McGovern, Conor McLaughlin, West Bromwich Albion duo Jonathan Evans and Gareth McAuley, has been instrumental in Northern Ireland keeping clean sheets in all but two matches in their qualifiers – both defeats world champions Germany.  On the attacking front, the responsibility of scoring goals was shared by several players, with Chris Brunt, Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty, Josh Magennis and Jamie Ward, all having scored more than one goal.

Under O’Neill’s guidance, Northern Ireland have developed a good habit of defending well, whilst exploiting opportunities to score from set pieces. Their transition from the team which struggled badly in the Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 qualifying campaigns, into a team to be reckoned with has steadily evolved leading up to participating in Euro 2016.

Credit must be shared between the manager’s intelligent approach to focus on his squad’s best attributes while the players themselves have given their best on the pitch. The commitment of the players cannot be questioned. Will this be enough for Northern Ireland to overcome Switzerland and qualify for Russia 2018?

Play the challenging Premier League Fantasy Football using our new Mobile App here:


Arsenal: Great Promise but Little Success in the English Premier League

Arsenal once went an entire league season unbeaten. Today that achievement feels like a glorious episode from another lifetime! By winning 26 matches and securing a draw in the remaining 12 English Premier League games during the 2003-2004 season, Arsenal won the title while remaining undefeated.

Ever since that title, whilst they have consistently shown great promise and potential, Arsene Wenger’s Gunners have enjoyed little success in the Premier League. The London side has found it much easier to impose its will in the FA Cup. Wenger has overseen Arsenal’s last 7 FA Cup triumphs, including an impressive haul of three FA Cup trophies out of the last four tournaments. However, Arsenal have struggled to contend in the Premier League and have been unable to add to their haul of three EPL titles under Wenger. Continue reading

Joe Hart no longer the best English Goalkeeper?

Since 2012, Joe Hart has been England’s first choice goalkeeper. Three successive England managers – Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate – have all showed great faith in the Manchester City goalkeeper over the course of the last seven years.

While he has largely repaid their faith, he is also prone to making errors, such as allowing Gareth Bale to score from a long range free-kick in England’s 2-1 win over Wales in the group stage of Euro 2016. Therefore, there is room for other goalkeepers to challenge Hart for a place in manager Southgate’s side.

Joe Hart

A few contenders exist.  Some have done so for a bit longer, whilst others are starting to establishing themselves as potential England candidates. Already with some playing experience for The Three Lions and perhaps part of a group of possible replacements for Hart are Jack Butland and Fraser Forster.

One name catching the eye of pundits and fans alike is Burnley’s backup goalkeeper Nick Pope who is taking advantage of the injury to Tom Heaton to stake a claim as a starter in the English Premier League. Pope remains a rather fresh face in EPL, with no prior experience at the top level, yet his recent performances for Burnley show he is worth keeping eyes on.

Another goalkeeper worth mentioning whilst he is gradually developing a good reputation is Jordan Pickford. Despite Sunderland being defensively susceptible last season, the 23-year-old Pickford excelled to earn himself a move to Everton.

At Everton he trains with the assured Dutchman Maarten Stekelenburg, who provides healthy competition for Pickford and can play a role in his progression. Pickford has represented England at every level from U-16’s to U-21’s.

At present, Hart remains England’s no.1, but his hold on the position is not as strong as it once was.  He has the opportunity to earn a spot to play at his second World Cup finals by doing well for West Ham.  Additional incentive exist for him to do so, from the way Pep Guardiola set him aside at Manchester City to his struggles with Torino in Serie A.

Perhaps an even greater motivation for Hart is the presence of goalkeepers such as Butland and Forster, along with the emergence of Pickford and Pope. Nevertheless, the greatest incentive of all, for any footballer, would be to participate in a World Cup tournament so Hart needs to step up for the Hammers in order to secure his place in England’s squad for Russia 2018!

Falcao’s Resurgence Complete: One of Best Strikers in Ligue 1

For two seasons, Radamel Falcao’s best form completely deserted him. Previously a prolific goal scorer for FC Porto, Atletico Madrid and AS Monaco, on loan from the Ligue 1 club to Manchester United and then Chelsea, the Colombian struggled to make a positive impact in the English Premier League.

In a combined 36 Premier League appearances, he scored just five goals, whilst unable to retain full fitness. Only occasionally did he show glimpses of his predatory instincts which along with his indefatigable work rate, combined to make him one of European football’s most feared strikers.

At one point, a fine instinctive finish on just his fourth appearance for Manchester United against Everton indicated he could become a success in English football. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to build upon that good start, as Falcao returned to Monaco from Chelsea after having made just one substitute appearance in his last seven months for a side then managed by Guus Hiddink.


Rather than losing all his confidence following his disappointing and frustrating two years in England, the former River Plate striker, showed great determination and desire to re-establish himself as a key player for Monaco. He has done so, emphatically.

As well as ending his first season back in France as the third top goal scorer in Ligue 1 with 21 goals, with only Edinson Cavani and Alexandre Lacazette finding the net more often, Falcao excelled in the Champions League.

With Monaco reaching the semi-final, he scored seven times in ten appearances, including twice in the away leg of their last 16 encounter against Manchester City. His goals proved vital, as they enabled his team to advance on away goals after the tie ended 6-6 on aggregate.

The ghosts of the feared striker who scored regularly prior to his injury leading to World Cup 2014 (which he missed) did not torment Falcao but rather fueled his turnaround. He has continued to score at a great this season- he has already managed to find the back of the net 13 times in just 9 league appearances.

Now captain of Monaco, the club he initially joined from Porto in 2013, Falcao scored twice in the 6-1 destruction of Marseille. The class and confidence which he exuded prior to his disappointing spell in England has fully returned.

More than just being a great benefit to his current club Monaco and the Colombian national team as well as football in general, his resurgence serves as a timely reminder for those struggling to recover from serious injury. Work hard and put in the hours to rediscover your fitness and form but, above all, believe in yourself and you may end up a rejuvenated star like Falcao.


Quality does not diminish with age for David Silva

David Silva

Although now in his 32nd year, David Silva remains a player of immense quality, which shows no sign of diminishing.

As well as still being a key member of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side, he continues to be selected for Spain.

That is despite the emergence of a crop of fine young players, including Thiago Alcantara, Marco Asensio, Gerard Deulofeu and Saul Niguez, becoming available to play in his position.

It is testament to Silva’s ability that three different managers at Manchester City – Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Guardiola – have made many changes to their teams, but seldom has his place been placed under any threat. Continue reading

Koeman exit means no excuses left for Everton under performers

Ronald Koeman

Great optimism naturally greets the arrival of several quality players to a football club.

The return of England’s record goal scorer, along with the acquisitions of multiple other talented individuals, has greatly improved Everton’s squad.

In addition to Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson, manager Ronald Koeman also had available to him goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, fellow Dutchman Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen, Nikola Vlasic and Sandro Ramirez.

Despite the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United for £75m, Koeman and Everton’s director of football, Steve Walsh, worked diligently during the summer to enhance the group of players available to them. Continue reading

First Madrid derby of the season pivotal for Atletico

Euro 2016

Fine Real side in fine form

In La Liga this season Real Madrid is the only team with an unbeaten record, which they will aspire to preserve against their fierce city rivals Atletico.

Of their eleven games, Real has won eight and drawn three to amass 27 points, which is two more than second placed Barcelona.  Three successive draws against Eibar, Las Palmas and Villareal, were preceded by Real winnning each of their first four games of the La Liga season.  Subsequently Zinedine Zidane’s side are currently amidst a four game winning run, which began with a 6-1 away victory over Real Betis.

Whilst that win was impressive so to have been those which Real Madrid achieved against Atletico Bilbao, Alaves and Leganes, with striker Alvaro Morata scoring in each of those games.

The 24-year-old striker has been the beneficiary of some excellent service, the chief architects of which are Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.  Nevertheless the duo is not solely responsible for their team’s fine attacking build-up, with other major contributors to that being Isco, Mateo Kovacic and Toni Kroos, who combine to form an accomplished central midfield unit.

Whilst being a potent attacking force, Real are at times vulnerable defensively, having kept just three clean sheets in La Liga this season, whilst conceding seven goals in four Champions League group stage games.  The most recent of those games was a highly entertaining 3-3 draw away to Legia Warsaw, whereby Kovacic scored a late equaliser for Real after they surrendered a 2-0.

Room for Real to improve

Therefore as is the case with any team, there is vast scope for Real Madrid to improve, with their being great incentive for them to do so, so as to ensure that they are as well-equipped as they possibly can be to retain their position at the top of La Liga throughout this season.

Atletico strive to challenge arch rivals

At present whilst holding a two point advantage over Barcelona, Real are also six points ahead of Atletico.  Therefore the outcome of the upcoming Madrid derby may prove pivotal in terms of Atletico’s prospects of being able to challenge their fierce rivals to win La Liga.

Victory for Diego Simeone’s side would result in them moving to within just three points of Madrid and inject fresh momentum in Atletico’s season after they fell to a 2-0 defeat to Real Sociedad in their last La Liga fixture.  Conversely should Atletico lose to Real the gap between the two team’s will widen to nine points.  Even at this early stage of the season, that represents a significant deficit to overall.

Of late, Atletico’s form has been inconsistent with them losing two of their last four La Liga games, whilst winning the other two 7-1 and 4-2 against Granada and Malaga respectively.  During that spell, despite not scoring domestically, Antoine Greizmann’s brace helped Atletico to a 2-1 Champions League group stage win over FC Rostov.  However the 25-year-old may miss the Madrid derby due to having a haematoma on his left foot which he sustained whilst playing for France as they won their 2018 World Cup qualifier 2-1 against Sweden.  With the expectation being for Greizmann to undergo treatment this week, it is entirely uncertain as to whether he will be fit to face Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderon.

Latest battle in Atletico and Real rivalry as vital as ever

Ultimately the game is vitally important for both teams but particularly for Atletico as they strive to prevent Real from extending their lead over them at the top of the La Liga table.

An intriguing battle is set to unfold between two giants of European football.