Wolves believe they are the best of the rest in the Premier League

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As the Premier League reaches week 31 all eyes are on the battle between Manchester City and Liverpool as just one point separates the two teams for the league title. Then there is the chase for the top 4, with just three points the difference between three teams. There is a lot to play for. And then we have 7th place and Wolverhampton Wanderers. and this is the club we will focus on this week.

Wolves have really punched above their weight this season with some excellent results and once we take out the top 6 ‘elite’ teams we seem to have another league within a league. And if we believe that then we can see that Wolves are leading it- and not many pundits or fans could have predicted that at the beginning of the season.

What has made Wolves progress this season even more remarkable is that they are newly promoted from the Championship and this is their first season in the top flight since 2012.

A lot of the praise has gone to the owners who recruited the Portuguese manager Nuno Espirito Santo. The 45 year old guided the team to first place in the Championship but he hasn’t stopped there. With the help of chairman Jeff Shi Wolves are breaking all expectations and there is a feeling that England could well get 7th place as a Europa League qualifying as long as one of the big teams can win the FA Cup.

Shi and Santo realised quickly that the club would need to completely reshape after promotion to arguably the most competitive league in the world, certainly Europe and brought in 20 players to the squad even though they had done so well in the Championship the need to do better was recognised and adopted.

Santo also used his connections to being in loans, which has paid dividends. One such player who has come in and lit the place up is Raul Jimenez who was brought in from Benfica.  Nine players were sold on, with most being for undisclosed fees and to lighten the squad up another 30 players were loaned out, Wolves potentially had the biggest overall squad in the league and it was clear that Santo needed to work with a group that he believed could achieve what he set out to do in the Premier League.

There have been some inspired buys from the club. Notably Diogo Jota who first arrived in the Championship on loan from Atletico Madrid, he was bought for proper last summer and he has scored 23 times for the club in under two seasons. Joao Moutinho has been able to shore up defence and comes with bags of experience and Rui Patrico a club legend at Sporting in Portugal has guarded between the sticks as clubs regular goalkeeper.

The result has been quite incredible as the team have won 12 games this season and at home they have lost just 35% of their games claiming 24 points from 45. It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Wolves, but it was never going to be. But if the club can finish in 7th place it would be a fantastic achievement for a club that many thought might finish 10 places below that at the beginning of the season.

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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.

Where now for Claudio Ranieri after Fulham sack him due to dismal run?

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It may well come as very little surprise that Fulham have sacked Claudio Ranieri after just 17 games in charge. The Italian was brought in to keep the club up, but ended up losing 11 of his games.

Fulham look certainties to be relegated now as they are as much as 10 points from safety and Scott Parker has been drafted into the hot seat, where he is in a win-win situation as the club will now prepare for Championship football next season.

But what of Ranieri who will always be remembered for leading Leicester City to a stunning league title in 2016? The truth is Ranieri isn’t the kind of manager known for keeping teams up from relegation. But at 67 he must be nearing the end of a long managerial career which has seen him manage 16 different teams, the national team of Greece over 33 years.

Ranieri of course will always have that special relationship with the Premier League but the league has possibly seen the end of him. As he nears 70 he may be looking for one more big pay day in the Middle East or perhaps with a Russian side, somehow one cannot really begrudge him of it, or perhaps he will go back to his beloved Italy and coach one final time.

What he does come away with is that he was one of the good guys of the coaches and even though his resume is not brimming with trophies like some current managers, he will be keeping good company and of course will always have a lot of respect. That was evident when Fulham’s owner Shahid Khan released a statement about the Italian.

“Claudio Ranieri agreed to my decision that a change was in the best interest of everyone. No surprise to me, Claudio was a perfect gentleman, as always. Be assured he is not solely to blame for the position we are in today. Claudio walked into a difficult situation, inheriting a side that gained only one point in its prior eight matches, and he provided an immediate boost by leading our club to nine points in his first eight matches. Though we were unable to maintain that pace thereafter, I am grateful for his effort.”

In many ways then everything is mutual with Ranieri now walking off into the sunset, his name etched into Premier League history and it will be very interesting to see where the so called Tinkerman ends up at next.

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.

Arsenal can show Man Utd what they are missing

It was the best performance of Unai Emery’s time as Arsenal manager so far. Indeed, the Gunners’ display in the North London derby against Spurs on Sunday was everything the club’s fans wanted to see from their team in the post-Arsene Wenger era. It was fast and furious. There was a game plan. And most importantly, there was a victory.

One wonders what those Manchester United supporters who just so happened to catch the game thought of what they saw. 24 hours earlier, their team had struggled to a 2-2 draw against Southampton- the bottom team in the Premier League. It was in stark contrast to what Arsenal served up.

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Now, the two teams will face each other on Wednesday night. For both teams, this could be a season-defining clash. Man United are in desperate need of a win to give their chances of finishing in the top four a shot in the arm, while Arsenal also need a victory to shore up the progress they have made in recent weeks.

In terms of a sporting identity, there are plenty of parallels between Arsenal and Manchester United. They were fierce of rivals for years, when Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson locked horns for major honours, but in retrospect, there was more to unite them than there was to divide them.

Both sets of fans expect their team to play attractive, dynamic and attacking football. They also expect their team to challenge for silverware having grown accustomed to success. In recent years, the parallels have become even clearer, with Arsenal and Man United left looking upwards at teams like Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and even Leicester City.

But while United have festered and allowed malaise to grow at the club, Arsenal have taken measures to overhaul themselves. The replacement of Wenger with Emery in the summer was the most public- most significant part of that overhaul- but changes have also taken place behind the scenes.

This has manifested itself in what we have seen on the pitch from Arsenal so far this season. They have a transfer strategy, a clear and coherent notion of what they want the club to be, and of what they want the club to represent. This led them to the hiring of Emery through a comprehensive recruitment process in line with this approach.

United, on the other hand, are utterly dependent on one man, Jose Mourinho. And that one man is charged with imposing an identity on the club. This is an infrastructure that rarely works in the modern game, and we are seeing that in the way United have struggled this season.

Arsenal can show Manchester and their fans what they are missing on Wednesday night. They can show the Old Trafford club what happens when there is a plan and when that plan is implemented properly.

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After 19 games unbeaten, has Emery stepped out of Wenger’s shadow?

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Unai Emery is being hailed as the new messiah by Arsenal fans after the club convincingly beat their arch rivals Tottenham 4-2 at the weekend.

The Gunners have now gone 19 games in all competitions unbeaten after losing their first two matches of the season. But still question marks remained over the club because they had not beaten a top 4 side- at the weekend that changed with victory over Tottenham, and it was a win to saviour for the Arsenal faithful.

Not only did Arsenal beat the team they most want to beat every season but they also leapfrogged them into 4th place on goal difference, which has been richly deserved this season. This version of Arsenal, Emery’s version is slick, attacking and determined. Sure there is still some naivety at the back which allowed Tottenham back into the game but the team had fighting spirit circa Arsene Wenger’s team from 2004 and it showed this past weekend.

Every fan at the Emirates seems to have forgotten about Wenger, well at least the last couple of seasons version of him and all praise has rightly been aligned to Emery who has been a massive success for the club given that this is his debut season. The fans wanted change and were finally given it and Emery for now seems like the perfect coach to have been chosen. But have the club really improved this season from last?

It may be surprising to note that at least statistically almost nothing has changed at the club from last season. This time last season after 14 games Arsenal had 28 points under Emery they have 30. If this trend was to continue then Arsenal may finish the season with 5 points more than last giving them 68 points and perhaps missing out on  a top 4 place. But this is simply talk and this Arsenal team look like they will kick on.

But of course it is in how the Gunners are playing, and there is a massive change in how the team approach their games under Emery. The belief has been reinstalled and it was interesting to see how they reacted once going 2-1 down after leading the game. That should tell you everything that we needed to know about how Arsenal are playing now under Emery.

The real tests are yet to come, games such as playing Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United away from home. But for now considering Emery is just 4 months into the job, the man deserves respect and 10/10 for effort. Arsenal look like they are going places and that can only be a good thing for a team that have suffered from a lack of confidence for the past decade.

 

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.

Why Claudio Ranieri is the right manager to turn Fulham around

Football is a cruel sport. Slavisa Jokanovic performed miracles turning Fulham from a mid-table Championship side into a Premier League one, and yet within three months of beginning his adventure in the top flight the Serbian is already out of a job. Having been sacked by Watford the summer after gaining promotion in 2015, Jokanovic has every right to feel hard done by.

Continue reading

‘Farewell’ for Rooney is pathetic

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There was a time when earning an England cap really meant something.

It was the absolute pinnacle of every player’s career, and a responsibility that each took seriously.

The difficulty of consistently finding oneself in the senior set-up was obvious by the lack of players that had managed to amass anywhere close to 100 caps, let alone exceed that number.

In the recent past, the handing out of caps has become more and more contentious, but none more so that the most recent; a 120th appearance for Wayne Rooney, two years after his last game for his country. Continue reading

The Three Lions from different backgrounds ushering in England’s new era

Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount were all included in Gareth Southgate’s recent Nations League squad and all three have taken unique routes to get there. They are the first set of players coming from the academy set-up that threaten to overshadow the wonderful era of Gerrard and Lampard and could well usher in an exciting period for our international team. Continue reading