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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EPL: Premier League Predictions for Week 35

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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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Eden Hazard used as striker as Chelsea lost against Liverpool

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Many Chelsea supporters have called for Callum Hudson-Odoi to be given more first team opportunities. Maurizio Sarri has finally begun to oblige, putting his faith in the 18-year-old in recent games. However, this has brought up another conundrum for the Italian manager: with Willian in fine form and Eden Hazard being Chelsea’s main man, it’s difficult to drop either of them.

Rather than doing that, Sarri started all three today, with Hazard playing as a makeshift striker, while Hudson-Odoi and Willian operated from the wings. The plan of action could have been deployed because Sarri didn’t believe Gonzalo Higuain or Oliver Giroud weren’t up to the job against Liverpool or simply to get all three wingers into the side. The only thing that is certain is it didn’t work.

Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk marshalled Hazard very well throughout the game, as he struggled to make his usual impact. It was only when Hudson-Odoi was substituted for Higuain in the 56th minute, which meant Hazard was moved back to the wing, that the Belgian began to thrive. With Chelsea failing to get on the score sheet in a 2-0 at Anfield, it was too little too late. However, there is definitely a lesson to be learned.

Hazard has played as the central figure of Chelsea’s attacks in other games during this season, with varying levels of success. He scored twice in a win against Watford from the centre and also assisted twice against Manchester City from the same position. However, with Hazard being Chelsea’s greatest and most threatening player, he should surely be deployed in the position he plays his best football in, which is undoubtedly from the wing.

As well as potentially detracting from Hazard’s game, playing him in a central role can also be of detriment to his team mates. While he has impeccable control, he doesn’t have the height of someone like Giroud, meaning his team mates don’t have the option of clipping in a high ball for him to battle for in the air.

While Sarri does like to have his team play a passing game, which involves keeping the ball on the floor, Jorginho likes to send a dinked ball into the front man to move the play on. Hazard is usually the beneficiary of these kinds of balls, as his link up play with whoever is occupying the striker spot allows him to get in behind defences once the initial ball has been flicked on.

Today’s loss means that Chelsea are relying on Arsenal and Manchester United losing their games in hand to retain their top four status. With four more Premier League matches remaining, one of which will see them travel to Old Trafford, the Blues can’t afford anymore slip ups if they’re going to get back into the Champions League through the Premier League.

Though before they focus on the league run in, Chelsea will face Slavia Prague in the Europa League on Thursday, a competition which offers them an alternative route into Europe’s primary competition.

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How Tottenham are fighting for Champions League glory & top 4 position even without a transfer policy

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This weeks club ownership focuses on Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur who have had quite a successful season when one thinks that the London club have brought in no new players.

When some clubs are spending staggering amounts of money in the summer window, somehow the days, weeks and months rolled on with Tottenham not dipping into the transfer market. Chairman Daniel Levy knew that the clubs new stadium was going to cost much more than anticipated and purse strings had to be tightened.

The predictions were already in for the season that Tottenham would do poorly in the Champions League and that they had no chance of winning the Premier League and that they wouldn’t even be able to challenge for a top 4 position.

What compounded everything for the club was the news that they would have to play their home games at Wembley Stadium with the redevelopment and in the end brand new stadium on the site of their old stadium. Delays were fraught with frustration and when it seemed that the club would be moving into their new stadium by the end of the year that was delayed once more.

But still the players like Harry Kane and Dele Alli and the terrific Son Heung-Min stepped up, the whole team did and in doing so have done manager Mauricio Pochettino proud. Tottenham may not win any trophies this season but they have done themselves proud.

At the time of writing the club have one foot in the semi-finals of the Champions League after beating Manchester City 1-0 in the 1st leg quarter final tie. The match is far from over but the club have given themselves a chance.

In the league Tottenham have been 3rd for most of the season and competitive at that. They have slipped up in recent weeks but despite injuries to Kane and Alli they continued to win games, and they have continued to upset teams who have spent much more than them.

Levy and Pochettino had a plan, true it was risky but they both realised that they had the squad to cope with this season. Of course having a no transfer budget plan is football suicide in the long run, but instead of spending £100m upwards this season the club have held back in order to go into a fresh season in their new stadium and have one would hope a good budget and deals for next season.

It should be an interesting summer at Tottenham and if the club can hold onto their best players and buy 3-4 ones that they really need then next season could be the one where Pochettino breaks his duck for the club. Of course let’s not forget that they are still in the Champions League and if they get past City they could face either Juventus or Ajax in the semi’s for a mind dazzling final. Now that would be something.

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Can Chelsea star Eden Hazard rise up to the occasion and derail Liverpool’s title dream?

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We already knew how great a player Eden Hazard was coming into the new English Premier League season  and there has been rumours surrounding the Belgian with a big money move to Real Madrid in the summer, but at the tail end of the season Hazard has to prove just how good he really is.

Hazard has scored 16 times and assisted in 12 other goals which is a fantastic record and Chelsea are now up to 3rd place. However the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United could well relegate the Blues to 6th, a position they have occupied for the last month.

All in all it hasn’t been a great season for Chelsea with their league title chances evaporating before Christmas and everyone will remember when they were destroyed 6-0 by the champions Manchester City.

Chelsea did reach the Carabao Cup final where they were unlucky to lose to Manchester City losing the final on the dreaded penalty shoot out. The club are in the Europa League quarter finals and Hazard has the opportunity to end his career with the London club by winning the competition.

Hazard has been brilliant with Chelsea and brilliant this season, but the problem for the 28 year old is he hasn’t been consistent. Surely that is what separates the great from the geniuses of the game? Can Hazard make the step up to Real Madrid? Yes he can but if he doesn’t perform on a regular basis, one wonders if the move could be a bad career one for him. Still the lure of playing for the side will be too great. Another question that must be posed is, does Zidane need or want him? We will find out in the summer months.

But back to now and the Premier League. And Hazard was showered with praise after his superb display against West Ham and he got a brace in that win. But with all due respect to West Ham, they are not of the same quality as Liverpool, and that is Chelsea’s next opponent.

The question is, can Hazard’s brilliance defeat Liverpool at Anfield? If Zidane is wondering about Hazard or any other top club for that matter they will be looking closely at a game where Liverpool have looked almost unstoppable this season, especially at home where they have yet to lose a game.

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If Hazard is that good and wants to be considered a different level player one suspects he is being asked to show it. Or will we get a quiet game from the maestro only summarising his career with one week looking great the next looking average.

Let’s not forget how big the Liverpool game is. Manchester City will be keeping a close eye on the game of course but this is massive also for Chelsea in trying to finish in the top four.

If Hazard cannot help deliver a top 4 place for Maurizio Sarri’s team may be he will always be known as a very good player instead of a brilliant one which he has been touted about for some time. Bottom line is he needs to show his worth against a quality side away from home like Liverpool, and this weekend he is going to be presented with that very chance.

EPL: Premier League Predictions for Week 34

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The top 4 teams all won in their last games and nobody can quite tell who has the advantage in for the Premier League title. Liverpool are 2 points clear of Manchester City and yet City have a game in hand, but that match is against rivals Manchester United away from home. Chelsea have made a splash back into the top 3, so again there is all to play for as the excitement reaches fever pitch.

Below we take a look at how the results could work out for this weekend and give our predictions.

Leicester v Newcastle

Leicester would be 3rd in the league based on recent form and the appointment of Brendan Rodgers has been an inspired choice, the Foxes have won their last 4 games in a row. Newcastle have been poor on the road with just 2 points won from their last 15. Leicester to beat Newcastle

Tottenham v Huddersfield

Tottenham have Manchester City and the Champions League 2nd leg on their mind but they must focus for this game. Back at home they should win comfortably. Harry Kane is out but Son will relish this moment and could score a few. Tottenham to beat Huddersfield

Brighton v Bournemouth

Both teams come into this match with the same form and Brighton are still not safe. However a win would be massive for the club and they are at home. Callum Wilson will be a danger for the home side though and Eddie Howe’s team could add more misery to Brighton’s season. Bournemouth to beat Brighton

Burnley v Cardiff

Burnley are almost safe but this win would more or less assure that. Sean Dyche’s team have won back to back games and have found form. Cardiff keep losing and have lost 4 games in their last 5. They need to win this game to have any chance of staying up, but it will be difficult for them. Burnley to beat Cardiff

Fulham v Everton

An interesting statistic for Everton is that they have won 3 games in  a row coming into this match and all 3 have been against London teams- they can make it 4 against Fulham who have already been relegated. Everton’s Richarlison may just relish the chance to play against Fulham’s defence which has conceded 76 goals this season. Everton to beat Fulham

Southampton v Wolves

This game has the potential of being very exciting and the way the two teams play there could well be a lot of goals. Wolves have been good this season but have no away wins in their last 4. This is set to be a very close game. Draw

Manchester United v West Ham

Manchester United had a bruising Champions League defeat to Barcelona and that may have fatigued some of the players. But they will be the favourites to beat West Ham, whose form and leaky defence has let them down in recent weeks. United should cruise to a win and Marcus Rashford could show no mercy. Manchester United to beat West Ham

Crystal Palace v Manchester City

Crystal Palace remain the only club to beat Manchester City at The Etihad this season- can they do the double over them? City should have the quality to win but will also be tired after their Champions League game v Tottenham. But it is difficult not to see a response from Pep Guardiola’s side and Sergio Aguero will want to make up for his dismal display in the Champions League in midweek. Manchester City to beat Crystal Palace

Liverpool v Chelsea

Liverpool just keep winning games, and this match looks to be the teams real final test in their quest for the league title-their first since 1990. Chelsea are in good form but have beaten teams below them. Eden Hazard is being called a great player- it is in these games he must prove it. Liverpool to beat Chelsea

Watford v Arsenal

Watford will be in great spirits coming into this match having reached the FA Cup final and Troy Deeney has emerged as a genuine hero for the club. Arsenal lost their last away game 1-0 to Everton and could struggle here if the home side get a positive start. Draw

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Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City – how Pep Guardiola got it wrong

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“I don’t feel we played badly, we created chances and we controlled the game,” said Pep Guardiola post Manchester City’s Champions League defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Yes, perhaps the Premier League leaders did have 59% possession of the ball but with 10 shots at goal and just two on target, Tuesday night’s performance is just the latest that shows Manchester City aren’t just as clinical as they shown previously. Guardiola’s side have scored 23 fewer league goals this season and with just six Premier League games remaining, it’s unlikely they’ll beat last season’s EPL tally of 106. Continue reading

Manchester City have a problem, they are not scoring enough goals

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Manchester City are still on course to win the quadruple and create history this season and whilst the club are winning games and staying competitive, they have one problem- they are not scoring enough goals.

Sure winning 1-0 or 7-0 is still 3 points and still a victory but at the same time champions-elect teams usually win bigger and better and that is not what we are seeing from Pep Guardiola’s team. This is a team which is basically Barcelona mark 2, and yet the goals are not always flowing. The other worry weirdly enough is that City are playing excellent football and dominating games and creating so many chances- if they play a poor team and miss some clear cut chances, they will get another chance? What happens if they are playing quality and they do it- it could be the difference between staying in a competition and going out.

When did City stop scoring goals? It started with the Carabao Cup final where in 120 minutes of football they couldn’t score a goal against a team in Chelsea that a few days before they had put 6 goals past. In the end what did it matter, they won on penalties and picked up their first trophy of the season.

Their next league game was at home to West Ham, and they were expected to thrash The Hammers- they had in the past- and whilst they dominated the game they only won 1-0. At such a slight score they obviously left themselves open to a shock equaliser which would have dented their league title chances. Where was that 2nd goal?

Another 1-0 win followed at Bournemouth. Should a multi millionaire team be putting their fans through so much heartache? A tasty 3-1 victory against Watford followed but all 3 goals came in the 2nd half. Back to the cup matches and they had no problems when they destroyed Schalke 7-0 in the Champions League making a mockery in the process of the lack of quality that can make the knock out stages. A lucky 3-2 win in the FA Cup over Swansea followed, But at least the goals had rolled back- 10 in their last 2 games. But again in the league those goals would be tuned down.

The clubs next two games were against two bottom three teams in Fulham and Cardiff, both wins so no complaints but 4 goals scored in those matches when it should have been 10. Last weekend City took a break from the league and made it to the FA Cup final when they beat Brighton 1-0 in a dour semi final that could have gone either way.

Again it seems harsh to criticise City because they are getting the wins and playing great football. But evidently they are not scoring as many goals as they should do. This may not bode well for the remaining games, the crunch ones, or perhaps the team will have the final trick on us and are just saving themselves. Whatever the deal it will be a fascinating end to the season for the club.

Sarri to put more trust in Chelsea’s youngsters?

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One of the things Maurizio Sarri has been most criticised for this season is his unwillingness to trust youngsters. Callum Hudson-Odoi was the main absentee who got people talking about this, but there are other examples within the Chelsea team.

With the potential of a transfer ban looming, if Sarri remains as Chelsea manager past this season he will need to start using the talented academy graduates at his disposal. Throughout the campaign it seemed as though this was something the Italian wasn’t happy to do, though Thursday’s win against Brighton & Hove Albion could be the signal for change.

Sarri had declared Hudson-Odoi ready to play shortly before the Brighton game. He ended up giving the teenager his first ever Premier League start, while also giving Ruben Loftus-Cheek his first league start of 2019.

Both players duly repaid his trust. Hudson-Odoi assisted the opening goal of the game when he breezed part Anthony Knockaert, before firing a low ball into Olivier Giroud who bundled the ball home.

Having scored a controversial winner against Cardiff City, Loftus-Cheek was the scorer of Chelsea’s final goal as they won 3-0. He received the ball from Eden Hazard on the turn before calmly side footing it into the top corner from outside the box.

Both of the goal contributions from the Chelsea youngsters were executed with supreme skill and confidence. They must have seen this game as a chance to prove they should be in the line up for the latter stages of this season; they certainly took the opportunity to show what they’re capable of.

The question now is whether Sarri will continue to play them from the start of games in the league. Both players have impressed numerous times in the Europa League and with their latest performance, it would seem they’ve done everything possible to force their manager’s hand.

Tomorrow night will see Chelsea host West Ham United, with a chance to go from fifth to third in the table- though Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal will both have a game in hand on them. Each match between now and the end of the season will be vital for Chelsea going forward, as well as for Sarri’s job security. If he decides to play the youngsters against West Ham and beyond it will be a sign that he truly trusts them.

There is of course plenty more talent outside of Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi, which Sarri can utilise this season and next if he wishes. The likes of Andreas Christensen and Ethan Ampadu, 22 and 18 years old respectively, are likely to be deployed in the Europa League and could be used sparingly in the league.

Looking ahead to next season, players such as Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Mason Mount -who have all impressed on loan in the Championship this campaign- could all be brought back into the Chelsea fold.

Chelsea have had an incredible talent production line for years, which has been criminally under used by those in the Chelsea hot seat. Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek could be heading up the group that finally make their mark on the first team.

 

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EPL: Premier League Predictions Week 33

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With just over a month to go until the Premier League wraps up the two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool continues, there is just 1 point in it and this battle looks sure to go down to the wire. Champions League places are also up for grabs. Fulham and Huddersfield have been relegated but there is still one more place to decide although it looks likely that could be Cardiff who need to start picking up the points.

Below we take a look at the games ahead of the weekend and predict who we think will come out on top.

Southampton v Liverpool

Liverpool need all three points but Southampton will be a difficult opponent at St Mary’s when the two teams go head to head on Friday night. Goals have dried up for Mohamed Salah but Sadio Mane has been on fire and Liverpool will be the odds on favourites to win this game. When they are not playing well they are getting just the right amount of luck and look unstoppable. Liverpool to beat Southampton

Bournemouth v Burnley

Bournemouth have been in poor form but at the same time they are safe and have won just 1 game in the last five. Burnley can really turn the screw on 18th placed Cardiff with a win here and go further clear which could virtually secure their status in the Premier League. The boost for them is that they have just beaten Wolves and ended a 4 game losing streak. Draw

Huddersfield v Leicester

Now that Huddersfield are down they might just be able to relax and enjoy their football. Leicester are trying to be the best of the rest and finish in 7th place and are in very good form now under new coach Brendan Rodgers and Jamie Vardy will be hoping to get back on the score sheet. Leicester to beat Huddersfield

Newcastle v Crystal Palace

The teams come into this game with the same form and Palace are just 1 point above Newcastle. Newcastle’s form is spectacular at home where they have won their last 5 games in a row and they should have too much for Palace. Newcastle to beat Crystal Palace

Everton v Arsenal

Can Everton win 3 games in a row? They will face  a difficult team in Arsenal and the Gunners are in very good form. Arsenal are looking good for 3rd place and have more quality than  Everton. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is in good form and they have plenty of goals in their team. Arsenal to beat Everton

Chelsea v West Ham

West Ham have had some poor results lately and even the games they have been winning they haven’t been very convincing. Chelsea at home have been superb this season and Olivier Giroud has finally found his goal scoring boots. Chelsea to beat West Ham

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