Liverpool aren’t the only losers if Premier League is null and void- spare a thought for Leicester

One would have thought that we had stepped into another dimension trying to confirm that in 2016 Leicester had actually won the Premier League, but win it they did. That isn’t to take anything away from Claudio Ranieri’s team, it was fully deserved but still even in March of that season Leicester had their doubters that they would actually push on and win it.

It was a magnificent victory from a team that had started at odds of 5000/1 to win the league title at the beginning of the season. Indeed because of them and the fact that some bookmakers were stung by that price, teams of equal standing are now quoted to win the league at around 1000/1 when a new one kicks off.

Leicester had reached their Everest and it was at this point that we could fully accept their achievements. The next part of the script was to see the fall of the team. After all surely they couldn’t hang on to the players that won them the league, maybe the manager would leave too, and what Leicester fan would mind, they achieved the unthinkable just be glad you witnessed it.

What followed over the years didn’t quite run out like that. Sure the club lost quality in the likes of N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez both going to former champions Chelsea and Manchester City respectively, indeed Mahrez would win another league with City. In the end Ranieri didn’t leave, instead with unrealistic expectations to do well in the following season he was sacked. Although it was clear that the Italian had maybe lost focus, he was being asked to try and win another lottery after just doing so, perhaps the full motivation wasn’t there.

Anyhow Leicester were supposed to just become a staple Premier League team, maybe finishing in the top 10 from time to time. But this season has been a revelation for them and it all started at the back end of last season when Brendan Rodgers left Celtic to join up with them. Leicester finished the season strong, maybe that meant they could start this season in similar fashion?

The team went for it and challenged both Liverpool and Manchester City, easily the two best teams in the league. For a time being 3rd wasn’t good enough and they passed champions City despite Liverpool being so far out in front in the lead. The season has caught up with them, and they have lost some games but with 10 games to go they are in 3rd place.

8 points separates them from 5th and they are well on course to qualify for the Champions League, though Chelsea in 4th and Manchester United in 5th have been eating into their lead. Still one couldn’t see the Foxes giving up a Champions League place at this stage. Now playing in the Champions League when they won the league was as ever expected and they did well in their debut time there reaching the knock out stages before narrowly exiting to Atletico Madrid by the odd goal.

But there seems something more fulfilling to return to the Champions League through sheer Premier League consistency. It would also say a lot about Rodgers- maybe some thought the ex Liverpool manager was spent after deciding to manage Celtic in the Scottish Premier League. But Rodgers has made a huge statement with Leicester. It is sure that his future lies away from the King Power Stadium and his achievements should land him a big job.

However despite all of the hard work, Leicester could miss out on playing in the Champions League if the league is declared null and void. That would mean that this league didn’t in fact happen. So no Champions League qualifiers needed because we would just use the four teams that qualified from last season, a reset button if you like.

Now we can have sympathy if this happens to Liverpool who have in theory won the league and could miss out. The big difference though is that we know Liverpool will bounce back, that remains uncertain that Leicester will, and playing in the Champions League for next season could have been their last in some time, who knows?

But it is important to remember that if the league is null and void it isn’t just Liverpool missing out, Leicester’s hearts would surely be broken too.

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Jack Grealish has the talent but needs to act like a professional

Aston Villa’s highly talented player Jack Grealish was in the media for all the wrong reasons recently. With no football being played it couldn’t be because he had a disaster of game. Instead it appeared that the player broke the law during the Convid-19 outbreak to allegedly see a friend.

But it gets worse for Grealish. The next day he was spotted in a car accident, thankfully no one was hurt but he reportedly crashed into two parked cars and iron railings. This spelled PR disaster for the player who has spent a chunk of time trying to clean up his career and trying to get into England manager Gareth Southgate’s good books.

On top of this just a few days prior Grealish appealed via video for football fans to stay safe and stay at home, underlining that he may well just be the biggest sporting hypocrite of the year so far.

Grealish has had history of going down the wrong road in the past but to be fair to him and has pretty much kept out of trouble for the past five years. But he wouldn’t have been the first Englishman to possess so much talent and natural ability but then be undone by his actions.

In a sense the incident won’t affect his season given the suspension of football because of the virus, but one has to wonder if Aston Villa manager Dean Smith will give out a fine as he can hardly suspend the player.

Of course more has to be known of the incident before we can 100% judge but it doesn’t look good for Grealish even being out in public and damaging his car when 24 hours beforehand he was asking fans to stay in.

Former football players Darren Bent and Danny Murphy have spoken out against Grealish and this story could run and run.

Grealish had been given the captain’s armband by Smith and that seemed to flick a switch in the player who had really turned it for Villa being a key player in helping the team gain promotion to the Premier League. Whilst the side have since struggled in the league Grealish has still put in some very impressive performances.

He will now want to have a very quite month or so and hope to get back to playing football. Also with Euro 2020 now delayed until 2021 he will have the chance to try and dig deep and have a good season next and try to make Southgate’s team. That’s a long way off and if the decision was having to be made today, he would most likely struggle.

Grealish is still learning that even at 24 you just can’t act like he has been doing if you are looked up to and a professional footballer. Will he learn from this latest setback?

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What next for Manchester United and Odion Ighalo?

Transfer policy at Manchester United has been something of a sour point for many fans over recent years, although the winter transfer window did see the club redeem themselves somewhat.

The capture of Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes was well received by supporters, while the player has also made an instant impact with his impressive displays. Meanwhile, the loan arrival of Odion Ighalo did raise more than a few eyebrows initially, although his displays have shown that, if United decide to make the deal permanent, he will continue to repay their faith in his attacking abilities.

Perhaps the signing of Ighalo can provide the Old Trafford hierarchy with a clear example of what they should be looking for. Players who offer the right mix of genuine desire to pull on the famous red jersey, alongside the talent and skill to provide exactly what the manager requires of them. Players who understand what it means to represent Manchester United.

Today, many avid fans are turning to digital representations to keep them entertained, playing video games such as Football Manager and FIFA. Such games have sparked renewed interest in eSports, with online gaming sites and bookmakers such as ComeOn Casino offering odds on the digital versions of teams like Manchester United in action. So, while we might not get to see Ighalo in action for a while, fans can keep their eyes peeled for any digital Man U matches coming their way.

There’s certainly no doubt that Ighalo will have had his stats updated on FIFA20, along with his facial image in the game and his customary goal celebration, which hasn’t changed over the last decade.

Deeply religious, Ighalo has always regarded scoring goals as his opportunity to give thanks to God. That’s why he’s kept the same celebration of running to the corner flag, hands in the air and looking to the sky. No matter where this journeyman striker has scored his goals, this has been a constant and considering where he was just a decade ago, Ighalo will always feel grateful.

Interestingly, back in 2010 life was completely different for Ighalo. Ten years ago he was playing for Granada CF in the Segunda B, the third tier of Spanish football. During his five seasons with the club, while never the most prolific of strikers, Ighalo is still regarded as a legend amongst their fans. He had a knack for scoring some of their most important goals, including one that secured promotion back to LaLiga for the first time in 35 years.

During his time in LaLiga with Granada, it’s fair to say that Ighalo wasn’t utilised as well as he could have been, as various managers came and went. He never complained, kept working hard and always sported his trademark smile. Patience and perseverance were eventually rewarded with a switch to Watford, with Ighalo quickly finding his feet in English football.

One of the key players who helped Watford return to the Premier League, the goals kept flowing for Ighalo with the Hornets buzzing amongst the English elite. His form was attracting attention far and wide, including Manchester United according to rumours at the time. Nevertheless, the next leg of a journeyman career took Ighalo to China, where he continued to shine with Changchun Yatai and Shanghai Shenhua.

More out of necessity with Marcus Rashford injured and a lack of alternatives in the January transfer window of 2020, United eventually made their move for Ighalo. He didn’t need to be convinced, didn’t need to think about it, and he was prepared to accept whatever role that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had in mind. This was the opportunity of a lifetime and for the 30-year-old, possibly the last chance to realise his dream of playing for the Red Devils.

Ighalo hasn’t wasted his opportunity. While his Premier League appearances have been fleeting, typically appearing from the bench, his cup appearances have been spectacular. 2 goals in 1 FA Cup appearance, 2 goals and 1 assist in 3 Europa League appearances. The last outing for Ighalo in the continental competition also produced an absolutely stunning strike, which has left United fans drooling for more from their new attacking idol.

Amidst talk of negotiations for a permanent switch from Shanghai Shenhua, there’ll be no difficulties presented by Ighalo. All that remains is for United to agree terms with the Chinese club, with the Nigerian international certainly deserving of the opportunity to stay put at Old Trafford.

Should the Premier League really restart on April 30th?

Let’s face it we all miss football and it would be great to get back to some normality and have ‘our’ weekends back again. But in the light of the terrible Coronavirus we seem some time away from that.

People’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake and of course so many people have already died of the virus that talking about wanting football back seems very superficial. But as humans have done for literally millions of years of disasters and destruction and acts of God so to speak, we have gotten through it, and folks the show must goes on.

That is essentially what the English FA said when they held an emergency meeting a few days ago. According to them the league must go on, and importantly teams want to go on and finish the season. That sounds like great news if it didn’t feel the world was coming to an end.

When people’s jobs are at risk and small businesses are closing, and many cities throughout the world are on a standstill it feels bizarre to think that the FA believe that the situation will be so much better in five weeks that we will be able to restart the Premier League once more, scheduled for April 30th.

If the situation hasn’t changed then football will surely be making a mockery of the public efforts and the brave nurses and doctors and in England the brilliant NHS staff who have done an outstanding job. Some have come out of retirement to help, and that should be applauded the country over.

This isn’t a piece saying that the league should be null and void, but it is questioning the time frame of the FA’s decision. With no summer tournaments now the league could run right through past the summer, although UEFA would have to relax different players contracts and the transfer window would have to open up later and finish later. In truth take out meaningless friendlies and internationals and a new league season could start as far back as October if need be.

Of course in five weeks the world could be a different place. The Coronavirus could have dissipated, and most things could have returned to normal. But the worry is that April is just over a week away and the news has not improved and the FA want players back in training at the beginning of April.

Of course games would be played behind closed doors. But you still need a staff of between 300-500 to make these games happen, and again if small clubs and pubs are being closed down, then football even behind closed doors needs to be too.

Maybe it comes down to this:Imagine we were in May and the season had ended, would the FA or anyone else be talking about bringing football back? All summer friendlies and pre- tournaments would be cancelled no question. So it seems like football is returning because of the money being lost tied up to billionaire TV deals, and simply put that is not right and again is underlining all of the hard work and efforts being made by the general public.

We love football, and we want it back. But let’s remain sane about the situation, and not rush it back just yet.

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If Arsenal sell Aubameyang they could be in serious trouble

Recent reports have suggested that Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be sold in the summer, and this isn’t just fabricated given that the player is delaying signing a new contract.

Losing Aubameyang would be a huge blow to the Gunners. He has been the difference on so many occasions for the club. It has been an incredibly difficult season for Arsenal which has seen the club flirting with 10th position for long periods. However one has to wonder without his goals if Arsenal would be in the bottom half of the table?

In a difficult period for the club, which in truth has been for the last five years or so, Aubameyang is their one true stardust player, a striker that can make almost anything happen and does the most important of jobs, getting those goals. Of course he isn’t perfect and it is his huge missed chance that resulted in Arsenal being knocked out of the Europa League against Olympiacos a few weeks ago. But maybe the bigger picture shouldn’t just be highlighted on him and could be turned to the overall clubs performance in that 2nd leg.

In all competitions for Arsenal Aubameyang has scored 61 goals from 96 games which is a great return and he has scored 17 goals from 25 league games. Last season he was the joint top scorer in England with 22 goals. Arsenal have scored 40 goals in the league this season and Aubameyang has 17 and assisted in one other. That means he has been involved in 18 of their 40 goals which accounts for 45% of all of their league goals so far this season.

This is the reason that Arsenal losing the player will hurt them. Of course he is now 30 and it has been traditional for Arsenal in past seasons to give out only rolling contracts for players who are 30 or over. The problem with that is it is outdated. Players are fitter now and can last much longer. Aubameyang isn’t going to suddenly lose his quality and has at least four to five years still at the top.

However it may not boil down to Arsenal’s choice even if they do want to keep the player. At the end of the day he has kept delaying signing a contract and one can believe that the main reason is to see if the Gunners qualify for next seasons Champions League. The problem is that they are currently 3 wins from that and have too many teams between them and 4th.

The other problem is that Barcelona have come knocking. Currently they have had to panic buy through a shortage of strikers and bring in Martin Braithwaite. If they could get Aubameyang that would represent quite a capture. Though they don’t like Arsenal’s asking price of £50m, in this current climate and with the brilliant form that the player has been in that price looks like a steal.

Where ever Aubameyang ends up next season, sadly for Arsenal it doesn’t look like he will be playing with them and the club are going to have to have a very successful summer transfer window and bring in the right kind of players to feel this loss. Right now Aubameyang is keeping Arsenal afloat.

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Could Liverpool really be denied the Premier League title over Coronavirus?

These are strange times we are living in, it almost feels like a science fiction movie, streets are emptying as are shops, and all of a sudden there is panic in places as the coronavirus hits. All of this has led to football being suspended in many countries including England and that could hit league leaders Liverpool hard.

In a season where no other club was going to catch them, Liverpool could be denied winning their first league title since 1990 by the virus instead. For now the league is taking a 2 week break but there are mutterings that it will need to take at least a 5 week break, and there are 10 games still to be played.

Karren Brady vice chairman of West Ham has come out and said that this season should be null and void, but is that a realistic option? On one hand she could have a point if the season can’t be finished and the cut off deadline would have to be sometime in July. On the other hand one has to wonder if she simply has her own club at heart who are just above the relegation zone. Whilst a null and void league would be a huge blow to Liverpool, it would also affect the teams in the Championship who have worked so hard to try and gain promotion, then again an act of God that no one could have predicted has intervened.

How realistic is it that after being by far the best team in the league and having an incredible 25 point lead that it could mean nothing? The good news for Liverpool is that UEFA are set to postpone the European championships until 2021, so that does free up the summer. With clubs mostly being able to play 2 games a week, there would then be plenty of time to finish the season, but of course that all depends on how long restrictions will apply for.

There have been suggestions in some countries that the peak of the virus could extend until June, and if the seasons resume say in the middle of June, that could be fine for the leagues to restart. Instead of having pointless pre- season tournaments we can get the league sorted out.

Anyone declaring a league season to be null and void really needs to check themselves because it feels like the people saying it are doing so through self interest. Would Brady be declaring such a statement if West Ham were top of the league?

It would surely be an odd moment in football if the league was voided and a huge twist and such a painful sucker punch for Liverpool. Let’s hope though that football and general life can get back on track as soon as possible.

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Facts are facts Manchester City have been poor this season

Manchester City lost to rivals Manchester United 2-0 yesterday in the infamous Manchester derby as they came up short once again this season.

For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the Manchester United manager has seen his side knocked out of the Carabao Cup against City, although they did win the second leg, but he has now done the league double over Pep Guardiola and the current champions.

For bragging rights between the two teams, that will reside in the red half of Manchester and whilst Solskjaer and United will be praised for their upturn in performance and form can the same be said for City?

City’s season really seemed to collapse around November when everyone was admitting and seeing that Liverpool were going to win the league, the Reds after the disappointment of last season had more hunger, passion and commitment, the gulf between them and any other club but including even City was huge, there was always going to be just one winner, and everyone knew it even if some tried to pretend that the title race was still on, it really wasn’t.

What came to light was quick and that was after conquering the league and winning it two times in a row Guardiola set in motion the objective for the team to win the Champions League, which would be the clubs first ever win, and with time running out on his contract Guardiola knows it could be this season or never. It’s why City went to the Bernabeu and put in such a professional performance to come out of the game leading 2-1 going into the 2nd leg at home. City had just beaten a team who had won the competition four times in the last decade including three in a row, this was a huge statement. Could you think of an equal huge statement City have made in the Premier League this season?

Liverpool have blown everyone away domestically and let’s not pretend that even if City were much stronger Liverpool would be winning the league. But seeing a gap of 25 points, which could be 22 if City win their game in hand is simply embarrassing. City as champions, with the money they have spent on players, their infrastructure and having one of the best managers in the world should not be almost a quarter of 100 points behind Liverpool, and we’re not even at the end of the season.

Of course City are in 2nd place where they will most likely finish and have just won the Carabao Cup, for almost any other team this is a huge success and would be amongst their best ever seasons. When you’re City winning the 2nd domestic cup and being so far behind in the league isn’t going to cut it, no matter how harsh that sounds, it simply isn’t.

City have gone backwards this season, and even if they won every game from now on they would finish with 87 points, last season it was 98 and the season before it was 100. Indeed City are on a par to finish with the same points as they did (78) in Guardiola’s first season with the club. This all confirms that the Citizens have gone 1 step forward this season but two back.

City have lost 7 games this season and that’s more than they lost in the previous two seasons combined. There is no question that this season up until now has been disappointing for the club. You can finish 2nd and lose, but this has been a major step down for them. It is obvious that only seeing the sight of the Champions League trophy gleaming back towards them when they lift it aloft will be the only redemption for the club this season.

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Man Utd 2-0 Man City: The Reds complete the league double over the Citizens as they continue to push for a top four finish

After dropping points away to Everton in their last league game, Manchester United’s intention were the three points only in their next fixture, which was against no one else but their local rivals in Manchester City at Old Trafford. They went on to achieve the victory with conviction, as the team managed to do the league double over the Citizens for the first time since the 2009/10 season.

Due to Chelsea and Sheffield United winning their respective games whilst Leicester City face Aston Villa on Monday night, it was a must win game for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his men, who were quite confident going into the game as Pep Guardiola’s key man in Kevin De Bruyne was unavailable to play because of a shoulder injury. And without the Belgian international, Man City were still able to dominate possession, but did not have the cutting edge of quality to create the key chances.

The visitors, as expected, were in full control of the game from the first second of the game to the final whistle, as they went on to achieve 73% possession of the ball and just under 150 passes in the attack third compared to United’s 50 successful passes in the final third. However, it was the hosts that made the key moments count, as the crucial goals from Anthony Martial and Scott McTominay were more than enough for the side to pick up much needed victory to go back into fifth-place.

At the end of the day, the noisy neighbours simply did not have much to play for in the league and did not bring their A Game to a fixture they have dominated on so many occasions over the past three to five seasons. On the other hand, the Red Devils had the motivation of the manager and most importantly the whole of Old Trafford behind them, to proceed onto winning the game.

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

The back-three/five setup is proving to be the perfect plan for the Red Devils

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not had a regular system or style of play in place that has been consistently successful and effective at the same time. However, the back-three/five setup fits the current squad of players like a glove, as it allows the team to totally nullify the opposition’s attack before going onto producing a few attacks of their own. The perfect example was honestly from today’s game, as City had managed to create one chance and complete just seven shots throughout the whole game.

And when United had their time and space on the ball, they were able to counter attack through the likes of Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Daniel James, who were offering the perfect mixture of creativity, movement and burst of pace on and off the ball. Meanwhile in midfield, Fred and Nemanja Matic did more than enough to cover the middle of the pitch, two individuals who have the aggression and intelligence to protect the backline whilst help the team to push high up the pitch.

Solskjaer’s record against the top-six teams continues to grow and flourish

For sure, after doing the league double over Chelsea and now over Man City, the talks about Solskjaer’s incredible record in the big games will continue to increase, as he has played the top-six teams on 12 occasions in all competition so far this season, having won seven times, drawn twice and lost three times. This is actually quite a positive record for a young manager who does not have the greatest of squads and is still missing the key individuals in Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba.

As long as he is able to do the double over Jose Mourinho’s Spurs next week as well as pick up maximum points in the remaining league games, to help the side qualify for next year’s Champions League football, he may end up managing the club for another couple of years, despite the recent rumours of Max Allegri or Mauricio Pochettino taking over as manager. And if he does end up doing the unthinkable, the board will have no choice but to back him up in the summer, which could lead to a potential charge for the league title along with possible success in the domestic competition.

The complete performance from the likes of Bruno, Martial and Wan-Bissaka

The whole United starting line-up played intelligently and superbly from start till end, even the likes of Eric Bailly, Scott McTominay and Odion Ighalo had put on quite the perfect cameo from the bench towards the last 15 to 20 minutes of the game. However, the key individuals that stood out the most were none other than Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes, three important players that are pure specialists in their expertise and are truly indispensable from the first XI.

Wan-Bissaka, who has been the side’s player of the season just after Fred, has got the whole right flank on lockdown time and time again, as he successfully kept Raheem Sterling in his pocket for the third time this campaign. Bruno Fernandes, since arriving to United in January, has completely transformed the team around and has helped to bring the best out of a number of players. Finally on Martial; he has had a lot of unnecessary criticism towards him in recent weeks, but his performance as well as his key goal to give his team the lead should be enough to see him getting back to his best.

The FA would be wrong to punish Tottenham’s Eric Dier

Eric Dier made more headlines off the pitch then on it as Tottenham crashed out of the FA Cup in midweek against Norwich, who are currently bottom of the Premier League table.

As the players were leaving the pitch with his side Tottenham having just lost on penalties to the Canaries Dier could be seen to jump into the crowd in amazing scenes. What transpired was that he was reacting to something that was said to his brother who was in attendance. As a fan had shouted abuse, Dier found his tipping point, blood boiling and entered the stands to confront the fan. As cowards go, this fan was top of the list and seeing Dier coming towards him he ran off. Not in a million years did he actually think Dier would jump the advertising boards to confront him, but he did.

Inevitably the FA have got involved and Dier could be looking at a ban, but the FA need not show their power in this incident. When matters of racism arise in England the FA are always quick on the mark and show a zero tolerance attitude and they need to be applauded for that, other leagues can learn from the FA’s attitude on this. But it does seem that the FA love to show their power to other matters.

Take the Everton game when Carlo Ancelotti was sent off for swearing at the referee after seeing a last minute Everton winner ruled out against Manchester United. Whilst the FA rescinded the red card, they still fined Ancelotti £8,000. Pocket money to him, but why the fine for a swear word?

What Dier did was nicely summed up by his manager Jose Mourinho who said it was not professional but he could understand the circumstances as it was an attack on his family member.

Some have tried to compare the incident to Eric Cantona’s infamous kick on a fan in 1995, and that is so wide of the mark. There was no violence in this confrontation, although the fan ran away so we will never know. What Dier did wasn’t correct but there is two sides to the story. No abusive fan bullying his brother and no incident. That is as clear as day and one would hope that the FA would consider this.

The ideal scenario would be to see the fan banned from the ground, if not for life at least for the next couple of years. The season is almost over, so a season ban makes no sense. They should talk to Dier and that should be it, no ban and no fine. But make it clear that they won’t tolerate that behaviour again. For example why didn’t Dier motion to the stewards to act on the incident before he had too?

So Dier was silly to react but he was also protective. Maybe the people who decide his fate need to think what they would do in that situation before handing down judgement.

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Jurgen Klopp must resist temptation to rest Liverpool stars against Bournemouth

It has been an unfamiliar week for Liverpool. Prior to last Saturday, the Reds had tasted defeat just three times all season. The first loss came against Napoli in the Champions League, although it did not prevent Jurgen Klopp’s side qualifying for the round of 16. The second came when Klopp sent the club’s team to face Aston Villa in the quarter-finals of the League Cup, with the senior squad taking part in the Club World Cup instead.

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