Pep Guardiola’s strive for greatness brings the best out of Raheem Sterling

“The boy who grew up in the shadow of the Wembley arch.” A tattoo on his left forearm depicts a young Raheem Sterling wearing his favourite No. 10 shirt, holding a football and looking at the famous Wembley arch. To the Englishman, this place has always been home. It’s only fitting that Sterling bagged a brace in his first FA Cup final for Manchester City. 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.

Is the honeymoon period over for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United?

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In his first three months in charge at Old Trafford Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went undefeated and wooed everyone with an attacking brand of football not seen at Manchester United since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson.

All of a sudden there were goals at the club, attacking play, smashing teams and happy players. Solskjaer had built in 90 days what previous managers could not do in 6 years, a fantastic footballing unit. Much of this was down to Solskjaer being an ex United player under Ferguson and admitting that the clubs DNA and philosophy ran through his blood.

His biggest achievements have been United charging into the top 5 and given Tottenham and Arsenal food for thought for Champions League qualification. In December the club had no chance, but now they have every chance. Then there is the Champions League where against all odds and losing 2-0 to PSG in the first leg of the knock out round of 16, United came back in Paris and won 3-1. Now they will play Barcelona in a mouth watering quarter final.

But have the wheels come off of the project? United have lost 3 out of their last 4 games and questions will be asked. It’s unfortunate for the Norwegian who had just signed a 3 year full time contract with the club.

The first loss was being knocked out by Wolves in the FA Cup. Wolves have been brilliant this season and really punched above their weight but this result was still seen as a disappointment for the club who wanted to go further.

Then came the loss against Arsenal, this time 2-0 and a reality check that United still have a long way to go. Although to be fair to the Gunners they have become incredibly tough to beat at the Emirates and have lost only one game their. Still it was at that ground that United had visited a few weeks previously and knocked them out of the FA Cup.

A routine win against Watford followed when United returned home to more familiar territory. But the stench of defeat reared its ugly head again this week when United lost again to Wolves in the league, and by the same score line of 2-1.

The result has left some question marks over United and if they will have enough to finish in the top 4. The suggestion is that they will just miss out. And as harsh as the media can be there will be some growing pressure on Solskjaer- was he really the right man to lead the club full time?

For now we have to believe he is and it will be fascinating to see who he brings into the club in the summer. His philosophy and man management seem spot on and he needs time without pressure to get the right results over the long term, but will he be given it, that’s another question.

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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