EPL Best XI – Week 35

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With the Premier League season continuing whittling itself down to what seems destined to be a thrilling conclusion, nothing more was decided during this past weekend’s action. The battle to avoid being the last side to be relegated from the top flight this season remains far from over, while various intricate races / challenges at the top of the table appear nowhere nearer to being resolved. Liverpool remain two points ahead of Man City at the top of the league with City having a game in hand, Everton impressed many by beating Man Utd 4-0 at Goodison Park and Crystal Palace pulled off a great 3-2 win over Arsenal at the Emirates. With all that said, let us now adopt a 4-3-3 formation and take a peek at which players performed the best this weekend.

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Everton 4-0 Man Utd: Top four hopes are definitely over for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men

Everton

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United had a big chance to go into top four for the first time in recent months, with their next fixture being against Everton, a side that are in the top half of the table and have produced several huge results against the league’s top-six this term at home.

Marco Silva’s side started the game on all fronts, as they enjoyed majority of the possession in the first half and were causing a number of problems in United’s own half. It only took the hosts 13 minutes to take the lead, which started off from a long throw-in from Lucas Digne, which was touched on by Dominic Calvert-Lewin before Richarlison volleyed the ball into the back of the net.

Everton doubled their lead through a counter attack just before the half an hour mark, which was via a well-taken shot by Gylfi Sigurdsson which somehow caught David De Gea off guard. On the other hand, the visitors were unable to do anything in the first half, as they allowed the hosts to play the ball around with flair and freedom whilst reaching the half-time break with no shots completed on target at all.

Things went from bad to worse for the visitors in the second half, as Everton were not even trying to pile on the pressure and still managed to score another two goals through Lucas Digne and Theo Walcott. As a whole, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United will now see this season as a finished one, with no trophies to play for as well as the hopes of finishing in the top four being over.

Here are the three factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

Lack of defensive composure from the team

United were all over the place from start till end, especially on the defensive side of the game, where they allowed Everton complete 15 shots, with eight of them being on target. Over the last couple of weeks, it has been more than clear that the side cannot soak up the pressure and defend for majority of the game, yet they still decide to sit very deep rather than making the opposition work on and off the ball.

Like many managers and players have said in the past, the best form of defence is to attack, meaning the more you play in the opponent’s half and the more you attack the ball in that side of the pitch, the less defensive duties you will have to worry about. If United were able to use this saying and put it into serious play, they would have a better chance of winning league matches constantly whilst being defensively sound.

No urgency or desire to dominate and retrieve possession

With the recent statistics stating the hosts ran 8kms more than the visitors, it really sums up the game as a whole of which side were more desperate and hungry for the three points and which one were not. On top of that, Tottenham Hotspur’s defeat against Man City yesterday and Arsenal losing to Crystal Palace today, will inflict more frustration and pain into United’s missed and wasted chance of going into the top four.

For sure, the Red Devils have had the chances here and there to return into the top four over the last couple of weeks, but it cannot be possible to complete without dominating possession properly and creating constant chances. The side looked like they became a high pressing team in Ole’s first few games in charge; however, they have now referred to a defensive or a park the bus method that was once deployed under Jose Mourinho, who was crucified by literally everyone for this specific style of play.

Manchester United need to act quickly and prepare for the summer window

With how the season has panned out so far and the fact that the club have gone through another campaign trophy-less, Manchester United need to get their act together and prepare themselves for a make or break summer transfer window. If they fail to buy and sell the correct players, they may not go on to compete in any competitions effectively for the next two to three years whilst also possibly losing their main stars.

Overall, the club have wasted a lot of money and have not planned well in each of the summer windows they have gone through since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. However, if they manage to spend aggressively and miss out on the areas that badly need strengthening, they will start to fall down the pecking in the Premier League. Something they are currently facing, and could fall even further below both Arsenal and Chelsea, two football clubs who have been facing their own problems in recent months.

Rotated Arsenal side lose out to Crystal Palace

Unai Emery

Unai Emery opted to rotate his starting line up against Crystal Palace. Arsenal were made to pay though, as goals from Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and James McArthur cancelled out strikes from Mesut Özil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, handing Palace the victory.

Emery clearly decided he needed to give some of his players a rest following Thursday night’s 1-0 win away at Napoli, which had secured the club’s place in the Europa League semi final.

There was a total of six changes. Bernd Leno was back between the sticks for the Gunners, as is usual for league games, replacing Petr Cech who is their cup keeper. Shkodran Mustafi and Konstantinos Mavropanos replaced Nacho Monreal and suspended Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the back three. Matteo Guendouzi and Mohamed Elneny replaced Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira at the base of the midfield, while Mesut Özil replaced Aaron Ramsey.

Perhaps the most surprising addition of the lot was Carl Jenkinson, who was making his first competitive start in a red and white shirt since February. It was also just the second time Mavropanos has started this campaign. Neither made an impact though, as they were both brought off at half time to be replaced by Alex Iwobi and Maitland-Niles, with Mavropanos having already been carded.

Arsenal will have seen this loss as a wasted opportunity to solidify their place in the Champions League places. A victory would have taken the Gunners two points ahead of third placed Tottenham Hotspur and three ahead of fourth placed Chelsea with just four games of the Premier League season remaining. They are still clinging onto that fourth spot though, as they lead Chelsea on goal difference.

That Emery decided to make so many changes in this match, rather than resting men against Napoli -especially as his side already had a two goal lead from the first leg- could show that he is prioritising the Europa League. His record with Sevilla in Europe’s secondary competition is well known and it is now the only trophy he can possibly win in his maiden Arsenal campaign.

He will be wary of Arsenal losing their place in the top four though, as to do so would put added pressure on his side winning the Europa League. If the Gunners slip up and fail to secure Champions League football for next season, it would mean missing out on a spot in Europe’s biggest competition for a third year in a row. This is something they surely can’t afford to happen.

The Arsenal manager will now need to perform a balancing act, regarding who he rests and starts, if his team are to fight on both fronts for the remainder of the season. The Gunners have two Premier League games in a week -against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City- before their Europa League semi final first leg against Valencia on May 2nd.

Many will argue that he has done well since taking over from Arsène Wenger, though his side’s performance between now and the end of May will dictate how his first season is remembered.

 

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Why Liverpool should prioritise the Champions League

Champions League

Ask Jurgen Klopp to choose between winning the Premier League and the Champions League, and he’s unlikely to give you a definitive answer. It’s a decision the Liverpool manager may have to make soon, though.

With the season in its final stages, Liverpool find themselves as serious contenders for both trophies. Their win over Porto over two legs has set up a semi-final meeting with Barcelona. Meanwhile, in the Premier League, they find themselves top of the table, two points clear of Manchester City with four games left to play.

Not since 1984 have they found themselves in this situation. They finished that campaign as English champions and European champions.

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Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL games

EPL Logo

After all the midweek Champions League drama, it’s a return to English Premier League action this weekend with all 20 teams involved.

Here are our predicted lineups for those EPL fixtures so have a read in preparation for another EPL fantasy football round.

Manchester City v Spurs

Manchester City XI: Ederson, Walker, Kompany, Laporte, Mendy, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, D. Silva, B. Silva, Aguero, Sterling

Spurs XI: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Winks, Wanyama, Alli, Eriksen, Moura, Son Continue reading

EPL: Premier League Predictions for Week 35

Richarlison(1)

The English Premier League only has a few weeks left and there is clearly a reason why football fans regard the league as the most exciting and competitive. That is because the league title is the closest of all the European major leagues and will most likely go down to the wire between Liverpool and Manchester City.

There are 2 Champions League places to take care of as Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham do battle to secure a top 4 place. And Cardiff have given themselves a chance by beating Brighton in midweek- all is to play for as we enter another weekend of Premier League football which should be enthralling and fascinating.

Manchester City v Tottenham

Just where do we start after the teams played out an incredible Champions League 2nd leg quarter final where City won 4-3 on the night but went out on the away goals rule. City need to win this game or that could be the title over too. They will be utterly determined to win this game at home now. Watch out for Raheem Sterling who was denied a hat trick because of VAR, a system not used in the Premier League yet. Manchester City to beat Tottenham

Bournemouth v Fulham

Fulham got a terrific victory over Everton last weekend even though they are down, but their away form is very poor. Eddie Howe’s side are safe and beat Brighton 5-0 in their last match. Callum Wilson could be the difference between the sides, but this should be a close game. Draw

Huddersfield v Watford

More than likely Watford’s mindset will be preparing for the FA Cup final even if it is still a month away. They will be without influential player Troy Deeney who was sent off in the defeat against Arsenal. Huddersfield are relegated and have little to play for, except for home pride and we could see a surprise result here. Huddersfield to beat Watford

West Ham v Leicester

West Ham have been in poor form but the players put in a great shift against Manchester United at Old Trafford and if they can take something from that game even though they lost they could do well here. Felipe Anderson played very well. Leicester have been strong under Brendan Rodgers but lost their last game at home to Newcastle where they didn’t turn up. West Ham to beat Leicester

Wolves v Brighton

Wolves have been excellent this season but they have just 1 win in their past four games. However at home against a poor form side like Brighton this should be 3 points and they could be back in the hunt for a 7th place finish. Brighton continue to be poor in 2019 and could now face a relegation dog fight. Wolves to beat Brighton

Newcastle v Southampton

The Magpies pulled off a great result last weekend going to Leicester and getting a 1-0 win and playing well. Southampton have just 1 win in their past four games and this is their furthest trip in league fixtures. We will opt for the home win here in a game where we could see plenty of goals. Newcastle to beat Southampton

Everton v Manchester United

Since the beginning of March Everton have found form and Marco Silva’s job has been saved. But they put in a toothless display against Fulham last weekend and lost. Back at home where they beat Arsenal and Chelsea recently they can give United a game. United have been in average form and were knocked out in the Champions League against Barcelona, but remain a danger as they hunt for a top 4 finish. Could Everton’s Richarlison be the difference? Draw

Arsenal v Crystal Palace

Arsenal should have few problems against Palace and get all three points. The Gunners have been one of the best teams in the league at home and have lost here just once back on the opening day of the season. Palace are safe and have little to play for. Pierre Emerick- Aubameyang is in great form and will relish this game. Arsenal to beat Crystal Palace

Cardiff v Liverpool

Cardiff got a massive victory over Brighton in midweek to give themselves a chance for survival. But they must keep winning. The problem is they are facing Liverpool and this will be a difficult match. Liverpool just keep on collecting the points, and whilst this will be  a difficult game for the Reds they should have enough quality up front to hurt the home team. Liverpool to beat Cardiff

Chelsea v Burnley

Chelsea still have a great chance to finish in the top four, the problem is that their direct rivals have 5 games to play while they have 4. That means that every game counts but winning at least at home is essential. Eden Hazard is looking the business as he possibly wraps up his career with the Blues. Burnley are in excellent form with 3 wins from their last 3 games but have lost 9 times on the road this season. Chelsea to beat Burnley

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EPL Player of the Week – Lucas Moura (Tottenham)

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Tottenham welcomed Huddersfield Town to their new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium at the weekend, and sent the home crowd home very happy indeed with a 4-0 win over the Premier League’s bottom side. The performance was as impressive as one may expect of a side with Spurs’ quality, though goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was barely troubled throughout the game. He was only called into action in the dying stages to keep a free-kick from Huddersfield’s Juninho Bacuna out of the net, but otherwise it was a great showing all round. The star, however, was easily Spurs midfielder Lucas Moura. Victor Wanyama opened the scoring on 24 minutes, but Moura scored just three minutes later when he was played in by Moussa Sissoko – and never looked back.

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On this day in 2012: Chelsea beat Barcelona en route to Champions League glory

For a long while, Chelsea and the Champions League was a tale of frustration. Boosted by Roman Abramovich’s investment and Jose Mourinho’s brilliant management, the Blues won two Premier League titles at a canter in 2004/05 and 2005/06. They then added anotherchampionship crown to their honours list under Carlo Ancelotti in 2010, and also scooped an additional five trophies in the form of three FA Cups and two League Cups in the first eight years of the Abramovich era.
Despite their domestic dominance, though, Chelsea repeatedly failed to make the breakthrough in Europe. Under Claudio Ranieri in 2003/04, they were unable to take advantage of a surprisingly open tournament by suffering elimination at the hands of eventual runners-up Monaco in the semi-finals. They were also knocked out at the same stage in Mourinho’s first season thanks to Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’ for Liverpool, before exiting in the round of 16 following defeat by Barcelona in 2005/06.
After more semi-final heartache against the Reds the following year, Chelsea reached their first Champions League final in 2008. They came within a penalty kick of lifting the trophy too, but John Terry’s crucial slip took the shootout to extra time and gave Manchester United a second chance which they did not pass up. Some questionable refereeing decisions played their part in the semi-final loss to Barcelona in 2009, before Mourinho beat his former club while in charge of Inter in the round of 16 the subsequentseason. After a two-legged defeat by Manchester United in the quarter-finals of 2010/11, Chelsea fans were beginning to question whether they were cursed on the continental stage.
It was evidence of football’s unpredictability that the Blues finally got their hands on the trophy when it seemed as if they were past their best. Much of 2011/12 was a disappointment, with Andre Villas-Boas sacked in March after failing to get his ideas across to a group of players who were unconvinced by his methods. Roberto Di Matteo was handed the reins on a caretaker basis, and in his second game in charge the Italian somehow masterminded a 4-1 victory over Napoli which gave Chelsea a 5-4 aggregate triumph inthe round of 16.
The quarter-final draw was kind to Di Matteo’s men, who dispatched of Benfica with a minimum of fuss, but a last-four meeting with Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona – the holders who had made light work of Manchester United in the previous season’s final – was likely to be a step too far. Di Matteo had still only suffered a single defeat by the time the first leg rolled around on April 18, but Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and co. would surely prove too strong for a side who were sixth in the Premier League standings.
As it happened, Chelsea turned in a resilient performance in front of their own fans at Stamford Bridge to establish a first-leg lead. Barcelona dominated the opening exchanges and were unfortunate not to go ahead when Alexis Sanchez hit the crossbar in the ninth minute, with Cesc Fabregas miscuing from a brilliant position soon after. The Spain midfielder, playing against his future employers, then saw an effort cleared off the line by Ashley Cole, but it seemed like only a matter of time until Barcelona edged ahead.
Instead, on the stroke of half-time Didier Drogba broke the deadlock, turning home Ramires’ cross at the far post to send Stamford Bridge into raptures. Chelsea then faced a predictable second-half onslaught, with Adriano, Sanchez and Carles Puyol all going close before Pedro Rodriguez hit the post in stoppage time. Di Matteo’s charges somehow held on, though, winning the first leg 1-0 despite registering just a single shot on target all night.
“Tonight was about a great collective defensive performance,” Di Matteo said afterwards. “It wasn’t just our defenders: we needed to be able to close down the spaces as much as possible and limit Barcelona’s threat. Ultimately, with the quality of some of their individuals, they still create problems.
“Sometimes it feels like they have 20 players. They play like that against Real Madrid, against Milan, too. But our team were prepared to be patient in defence and not get frustrated. We looked very organised and the boys were really determined not to let them through.”
Chelsea redefined ‘backs to the wall’ in the second leg at the Camp Nou, yet despite the fact that Guardiola believes it was one of his Barcelona side’s best ever displays, the west Londoners escaped with a 2-2 draw which sent them through to the final. That game is remembered fondly seven years on, as is the equally improbable triumph over Bayern in Munich in the showpiece, but neither would have been possible without that 1-0 defeat of Guardiola’s all-conquering team on this day in 2012.

EPL Weekend Picks – Week 35

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With just a few games left in the Premier League campaign, things are starting to take shape and will continue to do so with this weekend’s round of matches. There is no Friday night fixture this week, but instead we have a big card of games on Saturday with three coming on Sunday and one on Monday evening, with games every day next week except for Thursday as matches in hand are played. Man City taking on Tottenham in Saturday’s lunchtime kickoff looks to be the biggest game of the weekend, but there are plenty of games in store to keep us guessing. Bournemouth host relegated Fulham hoping to build on their impressive 5-0 win at Brighton last weekend, while Newcastle host Southampton in Saturday’s late game. Let’s go for a 4-3-3 here!

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EPL Game of the Weekend – Liverpool vs Chelsea

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Sport has many different forms, of course – competitive, friendly, amateur, professional – as well as different disciplines of course such as tennis, rugby, basketball and of course football. One thing every sport shares is that it really takes that special something to crown a champion. Patty Berg – record holding female PGA golfer – once stated “what does it take to be a champion? Desire, dedication, determination, concentration and a will to win.” Apt words indeed, and words which could well be applied to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side as they maintained their pursuit of a first-ever Premier League title by beating Chelsea 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday. The Reds have looked sublime this season, but this game showed a grit and determination lacking in recent years.

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