Can Manchester City pull off a quadruple winning season?

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Pep Guardiola’s quadruple hopes are well and truly alive, just, after Manchester City fought back from two goals down against Swansea City in the FA Cup. Sergio Aguero clinched City’s place in the semi-final – of which they’ll play Brighton and Hove Albion – with a goal two minutes from time to complete a comeback against a fighting Swansea. Continue reading

Wolves 2-1 Manchester United: Back to back defeats for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men

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Manchester United had a really good chance to stamp a marker of being the favourites to win their first silverware in the FA Cup under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Though, the quarter-final fixture was not straightforward with it being a difficult one against Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves away from home, a side that have picked up a number of results against the Premier League’s top-six so far this season.

Overall, United started on a positive note and dominated possession for majority of the match, but failed to breakdown the opposition’s defence and did not test goalkeeper John Ruddy until the final moments of the game. Meanwhile, Wolves were defended in numbers and created the bigger chances and were ruthless on the counter, with the goals coming from Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez.

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

Squad has been burned out from top to bottom

With Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku unavailable due to current injury problems, whilst the likes of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic have been rushed back into the starting line-up, it is not a surprise that the team have struggled to get going following the monumental Champions League comeback against Paris Saint-Germain. The side have been lacking the quality from the bench to help them effect and turn the game around, leading to back-to-back defeats.

On top of that, Solskjaer himself has not got the ideal options available for him to use in the squad as a whole and the blame should definitely be referred back to the board and Ed Woodward. When looking at the current team and the fact that only Diogo Dalot, Fred and Lee Grant came into the club in the previous summer transfer window, it can easily be stated that the new arrivals was simply not enough to allow Jose Mourinho or Solskjaer to guide the side to a successful season.

The problems in the final third have started once again

At this moment of time, the problems in the final third have returned to what it once was in the final months of Mourinho’s time at the club, where the front three fail to provide enough creativity and movement on and off the ball. There was one stage in the match last night at Molineux Stadium, where it had seemed like Martial and Rashford were nowhere to be seen in the opposition’s half.

For sure, if Lukaku was fit and in good condition to play, the side would have played more down the flanks and would have sent constant crosses into the box for the Belgian international to pounce on. However, with his much needed presence missing, the back-three/five of Wolves were able to isolate United’s attackers and left the midfielders with no choices but to play backwards or sideways.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got outdone by Nuno Espirito Santo  

Since his arrival as Manchester United’s interim coach from the middle of December, this has been Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game where he has tactically been dominated and outdone by the opposition. In his favour, Wolves have actually eased down in the league over the last couple of weeks and have quietly been preparing for this match through less training and more resting.

On the other hand, the signs of a goal coming were there in the early moments of the second half, with the hosts becoming more comfortable in possession and attacking with intent along whilst both Matt Doherty and Ruben Neves enjoying a lot of space and time on the ball. Had Solskjaer and Mike Phelan spotted this and looked to match up with Wolves’ setup, the game could have potentially been more balanced and the side would have had more control to the match.

The uncertain future of Danny Drinkwater, the Premier League’s forgotten man

Given that Maurizio Sarri is under pressure and Manchester United are the opposition, we can expect Chelsea to field a full-strength starting XI in their FA Cup fifth-round clash with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side on Monday night. With United now having overtaken the Blues in the race for fourth spot, Sarri knows that cup competitions could play a big part in determining his future at Stamford Bridge.

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Is a top 4 Premier League finish worth more than a cup trophy?

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How football has changed when certain managers and one of them being Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino admitted recently that finishing in a top 4 place was more important than trophies, but is that true? And why has this developed?

Make no mistake there are plenty of other managers who feel the same way about the top 4. The top four at least in England has become important because it is a gateway of course to play in the Champions League. Of course it is in fact the top 3 who automatically qualify for the Champions League. The team who finish 4th have to play in a special play off in order to get into the competition proper. But English teams have always achieved that.

It does seem rather odd though that some teams would prefer a top 4 place and not an FA Cup or League Cup win. For the bigger teams still winning domestic cups is important and let’s not forget that 90% of wins in the FA Cup over the past 25 years have come from the very best teams in England- Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. Sure the teams and players want to jump higher but winning is winning and keeps players in a good mental state.

Other teams who usually finish mid table have been guilty of not playing their strongest sides in the hopes of, what? Rare has it been to see one of these teams finish in a top 4 place. Leicester of course did it in 2016 when they won the league and Everton did it a decade ago, but it still remains a rare feat.

But has football come to when certain teams are not 100% into the domestic cup competitions? It’s not as if there is 10 different trophies up for grabs each season. There are 4, and for the teams outside the top six there is just realistically 2 each season- these teams should be and need to be going for victory all of the time.

Instead teams seem to be saving themselves for a top 4 place and the irony cannot be lost on anyone, because they are trying to qualify simply to be in another cup competition.

Arsenal did it for years, albeit they did win a few FA Cups in Arsene Wenger’s last years but it feels as though the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea might seem happy to act that way too. Surely this is short changing the fans who really do want that day out at Wembley and to experience and win a cup final.

Alas like most things in life it comes down to money, and the Champions League has plenty of it, and of course exposure and TV rights will play its part. But the big clubs have the big budgets and good squads and really should be going for everything once the season kicks off. Making choices and putting all of your eggs in one basket rarely works out.

Marco Silva is not the right manager for Everton

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Another week and another loss for Everton, this time it happened yet again at their home of Goodison Park where the club lost 3-1 against Wolves. There have been calls for manager Marco Silva’s sacking but is that justified?

First we need to look to look at the positives in Silva’s appointment. Some of his buys have reacted well, such as Andre Gomes and Bernard although the pair have not been consistent enough they have been willing to adapt to Silva’s tactics and have tried to play an attacking game. Richarlison was a cheeky buy from his former club Watford and in some ways it still seems bizarre that Watford were happy to sell to Everton when they had accused the club of coming forward for Silva. Richarlison has repaid his manager with 10 goals in the league and 11 in total, for a club like Everton that is a great debut season and return.

Everton have also played with a purpose and seemed much more of an attacking threat, especially at the beginning of the season. It is the reason that when the club did lose games, like away to Arsenal the fans stayed positive, because they knew that day the better side had lost. Some fans were happy to admit that they had not seen this type of play from Everton in a generation.

But then November came and since then Everton have been poor. Dumped out of the Carabao Cup and FA Cup too early and losing so many games that the club have won just 10 points from their last 30. Their form is on par with a relegation team. Even club owner Farhad Moshiri hinted at  a club AGM that this wasn’t good enough. It feels as if Silva’s tactics have been found out and found out too early. His insistence for example on zonal marking does not work, and Everton have put in plenty of toothless displays.

In all honesty Silva does not come across as a bad coach, but one has to question whether he is the right fit for Everton? The Toffees thought so last summer as they did everything to get a man that has relegated Hull and not done much with Watford, so what were they expecting?

Everton will be fine this season but if Silva survives will the club look for a replacement? If it wasn’t for their early form they could be in a bottom three battle right now, that’s the problem. It may do both parties the world of good if they were to go their separate ways.

 

Is Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino right about putting a top 4 place above trophies?

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It’s not been a good week for Tottenham Hotspur by any stretch of the imagination after the club were knocked out of the Carabao Cup and then at the weekend Crystal Palace beat them in the FA Cup. Manager Mauricio Pochettino in defending the club has come out and said that the most important thing for the club is finishing in the top 4 in the league and not trophies, but is he right?

There is no doubt of course that the lure of playing in the Champions League is what the elite clubs need, and then there is the money and extra gate receipts for European football. If Tottenham want to attract the best players they need to be playing in the Champions League full stop, so a top 4 regular finish is a must.

But one must wonder what Tottenham fans have made of what Pochettino has said- in effect that trophies give players egos. His priorities do not seem to be about filling up the trophy cabinet. Of course one could argue that if the club won the FA Cup but finished 5th that would be a sore point to their season. On the same hand surely the fans want that glory and to see their team win silverware?

Pochettino is perhaps just trying to take the pressure from himself given that he has yet to win any trophies in his managerial career- and let’s be honest the way he has coached Tottenham it seems like only a matter of time before Pochettino will start winning trophies.

He did seem to contradict himself a little when he says that a top 4 finish is more important than winning trophies, as a top 4 finish only qualifies the club to play in another trophy. Still it is clear that for Pochettino that the only trophies worth winning are the league title and the Champions League.

While that attitude should be applauded, sometimes we need to refer to the walk before you can run method and that trophies no matter if they are not as important should be taken with equal value. One could argue that if Tottenham started to win domestic cups the team would build a winning mentality to go on and then win the bigger prizes.

For now the club are left with the league which looks like a distant hope and the Champions League where they will face Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund in the last 16.

Why Maurizio Sarri needs Gonzalo Higuain to hit the ground running at Chelsea

In the end, the decisive goal came from the boot of a defender. After Eric Dier and Lucas Moura had failed to convert from 12 yards, it was down to David Luiz to score the winning penalty in Thursday night’s shoot-out against Tottenham Hotspur. The Brazilian made no mistake, slotting home the final spot-kick to book Chelsea’s spot in the final of the League Cup at their expense of their London rivals.

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Are Liverpool imploding after surprise FA Cup exit?

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At the start of the year Liverpool had much to celebrate, 7 points clear at the top of the Premier League, with the FA Cup coming up and in the knockout stages of the Champions League. It seemed that this season would be Jurgen Klopp’s one to finally pick up a trophy with the Reds. But a loss to Manchester City in the league and now being knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves has put that dream into check.

Just one week into 2019 has seen two losses for Liverpool, who had gone 20 games unbeaten in the Premier League. There has been a body blow to the club of epic proportions. The City loss means that they have just a 4 point advantage at the top of the standings. But the cup defeat means that after starting the season with 4 possible chances of silverware, Liverpool now have 2.

Like Leicester before them one does have to wonder why Klopp decided to play a weakened team against Wolves,  a fellow Premier League opponent who also had home advantage.

His decision to rest some of his key players for the Premier League has heavily backfired and why rest them anyway, when Liverpool do not play their next game in the league for another 5 days, it is just makes no sense what Klopp has done. With Leicester who rested players when they lost to Newport County the decision seemed more bizarre given that they won’t come in the top four and won’t be relegated so why not fight on all fronts?

Alas with Liverpool, priorities might be different given that the one trophy they crave this season is the league title-something they haven’t won since 1990. And then there is the little matter of winning the Champions League and they will take on Bayern Munich in the two legged last 16 affair next month.

But then there is the matter of Klopp and how his Liverpool team have won zero trophies under him. He has spent hundreds of millions of pounds, and there have been some wonderful displays, great signings, great wins and two European finals both ending in defeat but nothing there to show for it in the end.

When the league resumes Liverpool will be under pressure to start winning games again, and of course Klopp will pick his strongest available team. His latest move feels like he is disrespecting the importance of the FA Cup, which becomes all the more apparent and bizarre given that Liverpool have not won a trophy since 2012.

Liverpool are sensing their first league title since 1990

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And then there was one- that’s right just a few weeks ago the Premier League had turned into a two horse race between Liverpool and Manchester City, but since then City have looked like a shadow of themselves losing a staggering 3 games in their last four which has set Liverpool free.

The Reds have continued to win games and at the halfway point are still unbeaten. Liverpool currently have 51 points and have pulled 7 points clear of the current champions who are of course Manchester City. Perhaps a new rival in Tottenham has emerged as their great form has seen them move past City and into 2nd place on 45 points. But Liverpool still have a big 6 point gap.

Liverpool have incredibly never won the league since it’s been known as the Premier League which was established for the beginning of the 1992-93 season. Their last title was in 1990 and so winning the league is the main priority this season above everything else. It would be absolutely huge for the club, fans and city if they were to do it and they do look like they are in pole position. For now City look like they have imploded, as for Tottenham history says that as good as the team have become they usually do not have the staying power.

The excitement then is brewing on Merseyside but maybe that kettle needs to wait to be poured as Liverpool have some tough games coming up and plenty of tests. It starts this weekend when they will take on Arsenal. Although they will be at home and be clear favourites. But Arsenal have the team to force a draw at least and they did so earlier in the season. Next week is the huge game against Manchester City and they will be away for that fixture. Let’s be honest these two matches will be very interesting to watch and if Liverpool got maximum points from these games we have to seriously start thinking that they can win the league.

Jurgen Klopp’s team will also have the FA Cup and Champions League to contend with in between but after those two very dangerous fixtures Liverpool will not face a top 6 rival until the end of February when they will take on Manchester United at Old Trafford.

It is going to be a fascinating season that is for sure and even though Liverpool are not over the line, and we have to remind ourselves we are only at the halfway point of the season they are looking like the strongest team in England right now.

In football everything can change so quickly, just ask Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.

 

FA Cup would be mere decoration on a poor season for Manchester United

Appearances can be deceptive. On the face of things, Manchester United have enjoyed great improvement this season. Sunday’s win over Watford put the finishing touches on a Premier League campaign which has seen the Old Trafford side jump from sixth to second place in the space of a year.

On top of that, United made the last 16 of the Champions League and have the final of the FA Cup to look forward to this weekend. If they beat Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday, Jose Mourinho will be able to reflect on winning three major trophies in two years, re-establishing Man Utd as a force, the second best team in the country.

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And yet all this would be window dressing on a project that has lost its momentum under Mourinho. Man Utd aren’t nearly as bad as many like to make out. It’s true that they can be tough to watch at times, particularly in the big games, but more often than not, Mourinho still gets results. But a sense of malaise has set in at Old Trafford over the past year and that has started to manifest itself in the performance of many players at the club.

For United to return to the very top of the English game, this malaise must be shifted. It could be argued that winning trophies, like the FA Cup this weekend, will help in doing this, but more fundamental change is needed at Old Trafford if their full potential is to be realised. At present, it feels like a number of players are being held back. Take Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, for example.

The FA Cup used to struggle for relevance, but it has found some in being a way for teams to salvage their season. Look at how Arsenal celebrated their triumph over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at the national stadium last season having finished in fifth place in the Premier League. Before that, Louis Van Gaal went out with in a blaze of FA Cup glory after missing out on the top four, resulting in the Dutchman’s dismissal.

Both Chelsea and Man Utd are looking for some sort of salvation for a disappointing season this weekend, with the former arguably most in need of a trophy to lift after a campaign which has seen them go from champions to top four outcasts. Whatever happens, Antonio Conte is unlikely to still be at Stamford Bridge for the start of next season.

Mourinho will remain at Man Utd past the summer, but in his third year at the club much greater progress must be achieved. The Portuguese coach’s reputation is on the line. At every club he has been at all the way back to Porto, Mourinho has succeeded, winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid.

United would be the odd one out if he fails to finish atop the pile in at least one of his seasons at the club. At present, there’s little to suggest that Mourinho is on course to take Man Utd back to the top. This season, not matter what happens on Saturday, just adds to the evidence of his decline.

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