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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Game of the Week – Wigan embarrass Manchester City in FA Cup, again

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Premier League took a break this weekend, as eight sides battled it out in the quarterfinals of FA Cup.

In the most incredible result of the weekend, League One side Wigan Athletic claimed a shocking 1-0 win over Premier League leaders Manchester City at DW Stadium. The defeat put an end to City’s quest of winning a quadruple this season.

The Citizens were not helped by the fact they played the second half of the game with ten men, due to Fabian Delph receiving a sending-off in the injury-time of the first half.

Nevertheless, it was an incredible result for the Latics, considering the kind of form City have been in this season. The result was City’s only third defeat in all competitions this season, and one of these defeats has come in a dead rubber against Shakhtar Donetsk in Champions League. Continue reading

FA Cup Probable Lineups – Fifth Round

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Here’s our take on probable lineups for the upcoming round of FA Cup games:

Leicester City vs Sheffield United

Leicester City possible XI: Hamer, Simpson, Maguire, Fuchs, Albrighton, Silva, Ndidi, James, Mahrez, Diabate, Iheanacho.

Injuries: Shinji Okazaki

Doubts: Wes Morgan

Sheffield United possible XI: Blackman, Basham, Stearman, O’Connell, Baldock, Stevens, Evans, Duffy, Fleck, Clarke, Sharp.

Injuries: David Brooks, Paul Coutts, Kieron Freeman

Suspended: Simon Moore

Ineligible: Ryan Leonard, Lee Evans and Ricky Holmes Continue reading

The Managerial Merry-Go-Round – Are Managers Always To Blame?

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The FA Cup is renowned across the world for it’s “magic” – that intangible quality which, on occasion, allows a lower league club to up their game and put up a good battle for victory over a team of, say, highly paid international stars.

We saw that this past weekend, with several notable “giant-killings” taking place in what seems to be something of an annual tradition. One of these, as it transpires, would prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back this time. Continue reading

Arsenal: Great Promise but Little Success in the English Premier League

Arsenal once went an entire league season unbeaten. Today that achievement feels like a glorious episode from another lifetime! By winning 26 matches and securing a draw in the remaining 12 English Premier League games during the 2003-2004 season, Arsenal won the title while remaining undefeated.

Ever since that title, whilst they have consistently shown great promise and potential, Arsene Wenger’s Gunners have enjoyed little success in the Premier League. The London side has found it much easier to impose its will in the FA Cup. Wenger has overseen Arsenal’s last 7 FA Cup triumphs, including an impressive haul of three FA Cup trophies out of the last four tournaments. However, Arsenal have struggled to contend in the Premier League and have been unable to add to their haul of three EPL titles under Wenger. Continue reading

Arsenal set to compete in Europa League

Despite a 3-1 win over Everton, Arsenal will miss out on the Champions League next season after finishing in 5th place in the English Premier League.

Arsenal won their last 5 EPL games following the London derby defeat to Tottenham on April 30th. The Gunners 5th place finish is their first outside the top four in the Premier League since the 1995-96 season when they ironically finished in 5th spot as well.

Lots of questions will be asked with regards to the commitment of some players and the future of some of the bigger names, in particular Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. Will the key players want to stay with club which will not be competing in the Champions League for the 2017-18 campaign?

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An even bigger cloud looms over the future of long-time manager Arsene Wenger. There is no doubt Wenger played a decisive role in creating consistency at Arsenal. He guided the club through 6 FA Cup triumphs and more significantly he won the EPL crown 3 times. However, it is perhaps that last figure, three Premier League titles, which has become back to haunt Wenger since the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea have usurped his side despite some believing Wenger’s and Arsenal’s time will come following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement from Manchester United’s dugout.

Some of the same fans who have shown much admiration for Wenger while he led Arsenal to three league titles in his first 8 years in London have grown disenchanted as his next 13 years in charge led to no additional EPL titles.

One thing is for sure, Arsenal will be showing up in the Europa League next season, but will Sanchez and Ozil be wearing the club’s kit? An even bigger question is whether Wenger will be back next season in charge of the club despite a disappointing 2016-17 campaign.

Wenger and Arsenal still have the FA Cup to play for, but even lifting that famous trophy might not be enough to save his job this time around.