The battle for Premier League safety

As you would expect, a lot of the focus on the English Premier League is directed to the top of the table. Even more so this season, as we have a title race that looks like it could go right down to the wire. The fight at the other end, the one to retain premier league status should definitely not be ignored though. It is every bit as fierce and close, and involves several teams that know the very future of their clubs hinge on what happens over the next 8 or so games.

Those that have gone

With apologies to Huddersfield and Fulham fans, I am going to assume you are already down. Fulham have been hamstrung from day one by a raft of signings that were bought with little or no knowledge of what it would take for a fight in the world’s most competitive division. As for Huddersfield, if they have achieved nothing else this season, they have made life easy for punters around the globe as a shoe-in for their for their weekly football accumulators. On the plus side, The Terriers at least will look like they will be well equipped for a challenge next season for a quick return.

Those that are relatively safe

Several teams that have flirted with the drop zone appear to have pulled themselves out in recent weeks. Newcastle are a case in point. They have had far from a vintage season, but they have picked up some crucial wins of late and have done enough for another season in the top flight. It is a reverse situation for Bournemouth. Their form and points picked up in the first half of the season should be enough to see them safe despite a worrying drop in form in recent weeks.

Those very much in the fight  

Crystal Palace

I was very tempted to put these in the preceding category. Though they have not got the points on the board to guarantee safety, they have been playing well – especially away from home – and have a team that should have enough to see them over the line. A win against rivals Brighton would have all but seen them safe, but it wasn’t to be, their poor home form coming back to haunt them. Their run in is not the easiest but they should be able to pick up the 3 or 4 points they need.

Brighton

Back to back wins, including that one at Selhurst have breathed new life into the Seagull’s fight for survival, and it has come at just the right time. They play Arsenal and Man City on the last two games of the season. They do however have home games against Cardiff, Southampton and Bournemouth, and you would think in those games alone they would be able to secure the points required.

Southampton

Sticking or twisting regarding the manager is always a tricky decision, but bringing in a new man in the shape of Ralph Hasenhüttl looks like it may be the difference to the Saints’ survival. They are playing with a belief and freedom that just was not there before, and crucially they are scoring goals. Their last three games are against Bournemouth, West Ham and Huddersfield, all who are unlikely to be playing for anything other than pride. They should be safe, and it will be interesting to see how they push on next season.

Burnley

Sean Dyche’s team payed heavily for their European run, one which meant their season started when most of their rivals were still on the beach. Since the turn of the year they appeared to have turned a corner, going on a run and picking up crucial points. Suddenly however their form has deserted them, just when they had safety in their grasp. Their run in is tricky to say the least. They face Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City as well as Wolves and Everton. It is doubtful how many points they will amass from that, and their fate will more than likely depend on how the one remaining team fare:

Cardiff

The Welsh outfit were all but down at the end of the year, but they have shown a fight and crucially a nose for goal, that has seen them still in with a sniff of safety. It comes down to a head to head with Burnley. Like The Clarets, Neil Warnock’s team have not been handed a comfortable run in, with games against Man U, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea to come. They will need to pick up points against Brighton, Palace and Fulham. There is however one game that could decide it all. Saturday 13th April sees the ultimate relegation 6 pointer when Cardiff go to Turf Moor. The winner of that match, as well as the 3 points could well also be taking home EPL survival.

Does Solskjaer Perform Miracles?

Well, frankly it is looking like he just might, and here at freetips.com, we are rooting for him. It has been a turbulent season for United, and the silverware has looked so far out of their grasp it has been a humbling time for the once glorious reds who ruled Manchester.

As if Manchester City winning last season was not bad enough for them, it is looking likely that the Manchester blues will retain the title for the second year running while Old Trafford languishes as a former ground of glory that has now seen a downturn in luck.

Such has been the gravity of the situation that in December manager Jose Mourinho was given his marching orders. He may now live to regret one of his final comments when he stated that it would need ‘almost a miracle’ for the team to pull out of the nosedive and finish respectably within the top four. Clearly, caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took that as ‘challenge accepted’, and boy has he turned around the performance level of the Red Devils. When Mourinho left the club they were 11 points behind the much coveted Champions League place. It was indeed looking like an impossible task.

You can almost hear the “Mission Impossible” title credits rolling as Ole worked his magic, racking up an incredible eight wins and one draw in just six short weeks, landing Man United into that fourth place position one point clear of Arsenal and Chelsea. There is little doubt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer considers United his home, and his own playing career there was rather successful.

The Baby-faced Assassin as he was dubbed earned a reputation as a super sub frequently coming off the bench at the last moment and scoring some incredible goals. Unfortunately, a severe knee injury ended his career in 2007 and keen to stay with his club he became a coach and ambassador. Later his role was augmented, and he took on coaching responsibility for the reserve team.

He returned home in 2011 to manage Molde and secure them their first ever Tippeligaen title, and then just to prove it wasn’t a fluke he did it again for a second time. In his third season, he took them to the 2013 Norwegian Football Cup Final where the team triumphed. After a brief stint at Cardiff, he was back at Molde until 2018 when Man United came knocking, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer answered.

It is clear that momentum is building as fans, and players alike, feel that it is time Solskjaer was officially made the manager, but not everyone agrees. Gary Neville has said that he does not think the timing is right and the situation should be looked at in March and decided in April.

Wes Brown, however, feels that Solskjaer is by far and away the best fit the team have had for some time and that the formalities should be put in place to make him full-time manager. Whatever happens, it has to be said that Ole has actually performed the much-needed miracle.

Will Mourinho last the season as Man Utd manager?

For a short while it looked – on paper at least – as though Manchester United had recovered from their poor start to the new season and Jose Mourinho was back on track. Wins in tricky matches, such as the 2-1 at Bournemouth before the international break and a 2-1 win in Turin against Juventus, had the hallmarks of vintage Mourinho.

Successive league games without victory, along with a wholly unconvincing last-minute win against Young Boys, has reopened the debate. It should never have been closed.

Mourinho’s complaints against his own players and general hostility in the media have long portrayed a man desperately trying to preserve his own image rather than protect the club or its players. A few wins should not have stopped pundits from questioning his methods and certainly should not have made anyone assume the Portuguese had the support of the United players.

Even when winning United have been unconvincing, their performances coming in bursts of quality or emotional comebacks – a sure sign the players are not being coached effectively. There is far too much volatility within each 90 minutes for the dressing room to be feeling genuinely affectionate towards their manager. And why should they? Mourinho has thrown his players under the bus countless times over the last two years with no clear game plan. It hasn’t worked.

Man Utd are lucky to be as high as seventh in the Premier League table. Having started matches so poorly and rarely (if ever this season) looking like the better team, it was only poor opposition finishing that prevented them from losing several matches they ultimately won – including Bournemouth, Watford, Everton, and Leicester. It is simply good luck that separates their points tally this season from Chelsea’s abysmal points tally in 2015/16.

But this is a results business – and Manchester United is increasingly little more than a business. The owners won’t care about performances until it begins to affect their commercial revenue, which is why Mourinho’s tediously dull football is tolerated – for now. Surely eventually, and sooner rather than later, the monotony of their football matches will impact how the club is viewed globally, negatively affecting their commercial interests.

That’s the main reason why pundits assume Mourinho won’t last beyond the current campaign, something the manager also seems to think (judging by his self-preservation tactics after every United game). However, it is certainly possible Ed Woodward will pull the trigger much sooner.

United currently sit seven points off the Champions League places. That is the one fact that Woodward will not be able to ignore. Mourinho would be due a huge compensation package should he be sacked this season, and yet this financial loss pales in comparison to the money they would lose from failing to qualify for Europe’s premier competition. Money governs everything United do these days – and Mourinho could be about to cost them tens of millions.

Anything less than victory at Southampton will pile the pressure on Mourinho and onto Woodward to act. Should the gap between United and the top four widen between now and Christmas then it seems unlikely Mourinho will last the whole season.

There are lots of people at Man Utd to blame for the malaise since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, and yet Mourinho must take the brunt for a dreadfully dull couple of years at Old Trafford. His time is surely coming to an end.

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Three Quality Chelsea players to include in your Fantasy Team

One of the most important things to consider when compiling your fantasy team is which big club players you are going to include. These are players which come with higher price tags than most and thus reduce your spending power. This is why it is crucial that you include only those players which you feel will yield the maximum possible points per round.

It is even better if you include players from top clubs which you feel have lower price tags than they should. In this case you profit on the same player twice. First by bringing him in to your team and then by paying less than his real value.

There is a similar concept in football betting and it is called a value bet. This is a bet which you feel certain about, but the bookmaker, for reasons only known to him, has given it much higher odds than he should have.

We will try to do something similar in this article as we will try to find the best value players for your fantasy team playing for Chelsea. These are players who don’t come with overinflated price tags, but still manage to yield quite a lot of points per round.

Antonio Rüdiger

Antonio Rüdiger is probably the last name that you think of when it comes to including someone from Chelsea’s back four. This is because Marcos Alonso scores a lot of goals and provides lots of assists, Azpilicueta pitches in with an assist here and there, and David Luiz puts in a lot of quality balls in the opposition box which might also result in an assist. On top of that, all of them get additional points for keeping clean sheets.

However, out of all of these four players, Rüdiger comes with the lowest price tag and has decent points output as well. He is regularly involved with corners and free kicks and he is Chelsea’s main threat in dead ball situations, which translates to more goals. Furthermore, he is much fitter than Luiz which means that he will start more matches than the Brazilian.

Ross Barkley

Snapping Barkley before the season started was the smartest thing that you could have done. However, you probably didn’t, and now you can hope for the next best thing and that is to snap him as soon as possible.

The talented box-to-box midfielder has been going from strength to strength and you get the feeling that with each next match his numbers will get even better.

Olivier Giroud

Picking Giroud is somewhat of a wild card, especially as Sarri seems to prefer Morata. However, Morata’s consistency has often been a problem and sooner or later he will start misfiring again.

When this time comes, it will be the much cheaper Olivier Giroud who will take his place, and unlike Morata, he doesn’t needed to be cuddled and comforted to score. In fact, he has shown that even when everybody thinks that he is past it, he can still produce the necessary assist or goal.

Sarri’s Blue Belgian Puts Cardiff to the Sword

Eden Hazard

After an exceedingly exciting weekend in the Premier League, only Chelsea remain as unmatched as Liverpool. But while the ladder faced a tough away match at Wembley, the former enjoyed a day out in the sun at Stamford Bridge tearing Cardiff City apart.

Maurizio Sarri’s front three of Willian and Eden Hazard led by Olivier Giroud  all finished the game with success, but it was the Belgian who claimed our Player of the Weekend – finishing with Man of the Match and a tidy hat-trick. Continue reading

The transformation of Robert Snodgrass’ West Ham career

Robert Snodgrass

This time last year Robert Snodgrass had been shipped off on loan to Aston Villa. He was still a West Ham player, but it seemed unlikely that he would play for the club again, just a year into his stay. By December it looked impossible, as co-owner David Sullivan revealed in the Daily Mail that his children had begged him not to sign the Scotsman or Jose Fonte. Understandably Snodgrass wasn’t too pleased about this and it was difficult to see how he could come back to the club and play under him, especially when first team opportunities were sparse. Karren Brady had added fuel to the fire when she added “Robert Snodgrass wasn’t exactly a triumph” in one of her columns in The Sun.

Snodgrass had done some speaking of his own in the media, as he said of former manager Slaven Bilic: “”I was coming on against City and he said ‘Where do you want to play, on the left or right? I thought ‘You have just signed me and I have played on the right or behind the striker at Hull City all season’ That was my debut and alarm bells were ringing right away.” There was a level of toxicity between club and player, so it was difficult to envision Snodgrass staying there for too long.

The other victim of Sullivan’s sharp tongue, Euro 2016 winner Fonte, is now plying his trade with Lille following an unsuccessful spell in China with Dalian Yifang. However, Snodgrass remains in East London. Not only has he stayed with West Ham, but he has quickly established himself as a key part of new manager Manuel Pellegrini’s plans. Having come on at half time in the season opener against Liverpool, he has started all three matches since, getting an assist in the Carabao Cup win over AFC Wimbledon.

So how did we get to this point? The first thing that must be taken into account is his time at Aston Villa. Rather than sulking about how things were going with his parent club, Snodgrass took the Championship by storm with the Villans. The Scotsman played 43 times for the club, scoring seven goals and assisting 14. This helped them to the Play Off Final, though they were eventually beaten 1-0 due to a goal from Tom Cairney.

If Aston Villa had been promoted that day, Snodgrass could easily be playing for a different team in claret and blue this campaign. There had been an option for Villa to sign him for £12 million once the loan spell was up, though they were unable to do so due to financial difficulties. This meant he would return to the Olympic Stadium. Though he came back to a completely different scenario to the one he had left.

Gone was the foolish prerequisite that he was Dimitri Payet’s replacement. Gone was Slaven Bilic (and David Moyes). Gone was the questionable tactics which involved playing him out of position. Snodgrass has come back to a manager who clearly believes in his abilities and has shown that consistently by playing him in his two preferred positions- on the right hand side or in the middle depending on the formation used.

He has also come back to a squad which has clearly been upgraded. The Hammers are yet to win a point in the league this season, but the signs are encouraging in attacking areas. Snodgrass is central to that. His link up play with record signing Felipe Anderson and Marko Arnautovic –who has been completely rejuvenated as a striker since Snodgrass left on loan- has been exciting at times. Pellegrini wants his side to play an attractive style of football without fear and display their technical ability; that is something Snodgrass has been obliged to do so far and will likely continue to.

Snodgrass’ West Ham career has completely turned on its head since the arrival of Pellegrini. Expect to see him starring against Wolves… and most other teams for that matter.

 

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West Ham secure first win of the season

It has been a tough start to the season for West Ham, with the club having lost each of their first three league matches. The Carabao Cup offered a chance for them to get their season started, as they faced League One outfit AFC Wimbledon in the Second Round. The team may have made hard work of it at times, but the Hammers secured a 3-1 win at Kingsmeadow and their first win of the season.

The game didn’t get off to a great start for West Ham. In just the second minute Joe Pigott rose above Angelo Ogbonna to head in Mitchell Pinnock’s corner. Adrian got a hand to the ball but was only able to push it into the roof of the net. As the Wimbledon striker peeled away in celebration there will have been a sinking feeling of de ja vu for the Hammers faithful.

However, West Ham were helped out in the 18th minute. Having been booked just five minutes earlier, Rodney McDonald was sent off for a second bookable offence after fouling Javier Hernandez just outside of the box. West Ham were unable to get a goal in the first half though, with the score remaining 1-0 at half time. The scoreline seemingly forced Manuel Pellegrini’s hand, as he brought Pedro Obiang off for Felipe Anderson at half time, a decision which undoubtedly helped to change the game in West Ham’s favour.

The Dons managed to keep West Ham at bay for just over an hour, but the Hammers’ resilience eventually paid off. In the 63rd minute, Anderson played the ball across to Issa Diop, who took a touch out of his feet and smashed the ball into the bottom corner from outside the box. The relief on Pellegrini’s face was clear to see. There was even more joy from Diop though. Having struggled so far in a West Ham shirt, the happiness at getting his first goal for the club was there for all to witness as he brought out his trademark celebration.

Ogbonna could have done a lot better with Wimbledon’s goal, but he made up for that in the 83rd minute. Robert Snodgrass sent a corner ball into the box, with it somehow evading all of Wimbledon’s defenders. The Italian defender was able to capitalise on the loose defending and volleyed it into the gaping net to get the Hammers ahead for the first time in the match.

The victory was secured beyond any reasonable doubt in the 92nd minute. Arthur Masuaku played a ball in behind the Dons defence for Chicharito to run onto. The Mexican rounded Wimbledon goalkeeper Tom King before sending the ball into the goal via the legs of William Nightingale.

This was the final blow of the game, as the referee’s whistle soon confirmed West Ham’s 3-1 victory. The result sees the Hammers progress to the Carabao Cup Round Three, the draw for which will take place at seven o’clock tomorrow night. The fixture for the round will be played during the week commencing 24th September.

In the meantime, the club will be hoping that the momentum from this win can be transferred over to positive league form. Having lost against Liverpool, AFC Bournemouth and Arsenal, the Hammers will now face Wolverhampton Wanderers at home on Saturday. It will be a tough test, but with matches against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United following this fixture, it is important to get some points on the board sooner rather than later.

Last night’s result won’t do that, but it has got West Ham through to the next round and added some positivity to a tough start.

 

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Chelsea need to figure out their defensive woes

sarriIt has been a great start to the Premier League season for Chelsea in terms of results. They beat Huddersfield comfortably in the first match of the season, 3-0, before winning a thrilling contest against Arsenal 3-2 last weekend at Stamford Bridge.

If there is one thing that we have learned from the first two games, it’s that Chelsea are really trying to play Maurizio Sarri’s style of football. The players all seem to have bought in to the manager’s philosophy.

Unfortunately, to get going properly under Sarri, it takes time. This is something he was not afforded as he was not even in charge of the squad from the first day of preseason training. We are starting to see now what the delay has cost the Blues and their Italian manager. Continue reading

Why Manuel Pellegrini won’t last at West Ham, who may face a relegation battle

West Ham United are never far from crisis, or at least that’s been the case ever since their ill-fated move to the London Stadium. Dispossessed and disillusioned, Hammers fans have been dragged from their historic home in the heart of Upton Park to a soulless concrete bowl in Stratford, a venue better designed to synchronise with Westfield Shopping Centre – the retail monolith that runs parallel to the stadium – than host football matches. Continue reading

Richarlison proving the doubters wrong

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When Everton decided to pay £40 million for Richarlison from Watford, many football watchers expressed their surprise.

The 21-year-old Brazilian hardly set the world alight at Watford, though he was far from the worst player there either.

It just seemed to be an indication of how ridiculous the transfer market, particularly in relation to Premier League clubs, had become.

New Toffees boss, Marco Silva, asked for patience and calm to allow the player to settle in, convinced that the youngster has the qualities to help Everton bring back the glory days of the mid-1980s.

He also took a swipe at those pundits who’d questioned the size of the fee, citing the capture of Jordan Pickford as the prime example.

With the keeper now England’s confirmed choice at No.1, no one is taking about how much Everton paid for him.

Silva also noted that prices between Premier League clubs are at a dangerously high level, but that they have faith in the player and the price is the price. Don’t’ want to pay it? Don’t get the player. Simple.

After three goals in his first two games, Richarlison is already making a number of journalists and supporters eat their words.

Lively, quick and with a super eye for goal, at this present moment, the world is the Brazilian’s oyster.

How well he develops from this point requires diligence and determination as well as a guiding hand, and Silva is best placed to deliver the latter, bearing in mind they’ve worked together before, to mutual benefit.

His team-mates have enjoyed having a front man to relieve the pressure too. A ball over the top is no longer aimless with Richarlison so keen to impress that he’ll literally chase anything. Nothing is a lost cause.

It’s no real surprise that opposition teams have already targeted him and are ‘roughing him up.’ A real threat when he gets into his stride, he’s very difficult to shake off of the ball in full flight and is deceptively strong for a slightly built front man.

His presence has also allowed others to benefit from having more freedom across the pitch too, that superior movement creating space in almost every attack Everton have.

Perhaps his colleagues could take a leaf out of his book, because it’s already been noticed that on occasions they are one or two steps behind the quick-thinking striker.

His hunger won’t abate either.

That’s due to the fact that Brazilian national team coach, Tite, has left Richarlison out of both of the Selecao’s next two games against the United States and El Salvador.

He waited for a call that never came, and then took out his disappointment on Southampton.

It remains one of his three ambitions for this season; a call up to the senior Brazil squad, become the Golden Boot in the Premier League and take Everton back to the Champions League.

There will still be those that’ll scoff at such fanciful notions, but they’ll be the same people who were criticising his move to Everton and are now left with egg on their faces.

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