With the Premier League now very much entering the business end of the season, and with just a few matches remaining to decide the respective fates of several teams, there was a full schedule of games in England’s top-flight this past weekend. Once again, the spread of fixtures was great with Newcastle winning at Leicester on Friday night, six games taking place on Saturday, title challengers Man City and Liverpool winning their respective games on Sunday and Arsenal travelling to Watford on Monday. Results this weekend meant that both City and Liverpool are guaranteed to finish first and second in either combination. With that in mind, let’s take a look and see which players performed the best in their position, using a 4-3-3 formation.
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.
Though it is still mathematically possible the grandest of miracles aside, both Huddersfield and Fulham will be relegated from the Premier League this season. To put the clubs fate into more prespective there is 21 points left on the board and Huddersfield are 16 points from safety and Fulham are 13 and we can firmly discount either team from making a stunning comeback.
That leaves just one more team who will be playing in the Championship next season. And here are the main contenders: First up is the team in 18th and currently going down Cardiff City who have 28 points. Their last league game ended up being a massive result for Neil Warnock’s side who beat West Ham 2-0. Had they lost that game they would have lost touch with safety and been five points behind. Instead there is just a two point gap to the two other contenders.
Both Burnley and Southampton have 30 points each, although it is interesting to note that Southampton has a game in hand over Burnley and so does Cardiff. So out of these 3 teams who is the favourite to go down? The bookmakers have made Cardiff the favourites since there is a 2 point gap, but the best gage of this surely are the clubs remaining fixtures.
Cardiff will have to play 4 of their 7 games away from home and they have some very tough fixtures. Just look at their next two for evidence, Chelsea followed by Manchester City. They also have to play Liverpool at home and finish the season away to Manchester United. It is unlikely they will be picking up many more points although they will fancy getting maximum points against Fulham and Crystal Palace- the Palace match is at home and by the time they face Fulham, the Cottagers should be properly relegated.
Burnley have some tough games also and it should be noted that in a few weeks time they will come head to head with Cardiff in a fantastic ‘six pointer’ which will be played at home. But Sean Dyche’s team have a nightmare run in that sees the last 4 league games having to play Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton and Arsenal. That really could seal their fate.
Finally there is Southampton who out of the three teams look on paper to have the easiest run in and if they can continue their solid form they should be fine. The Saints only have to face one top 4 side in Liverpool in the run in and even then they will be at home. But they have a smooth run in which includes home games against Bournemouth and Huddersfield and they should be safe this season.
The relegation battle is hotting up, that is evidently clear and it seems like a straight run off between Burnley and Cardiff, our tip is that Burnley with such a tough final run in may just be the third and final team to be relegated.
It’s FA Cup weekend coming up so there are just five EPL matches to look forward to.
Saturday’s games see Bournemouth host Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United at the Vitality Stadium while Huddersfield Town make the trip to London to face West Ham United.
Brendan Rodgers brings his Leicester team to face Burnley at Turf Moor at the same time. Burnley have lost their last three league games while Leicester won 3-1 against Fulham last time out.
On Sunday, Liverpool travel to meet Fulham as The Reds look to go back to the top of the Premier League, temporarily at least. Everton play host to Chelsea later that day. The Toffees have won just once in their last six games. Chelsea drew 1-1 with Wolves last Sunday.
This weekend we have another full schedule of ten EPL matches to look forward to. Here are the predicted lineups for every EPL game.
Crystal Palace v Brighton
Crystal Palace XI: Guaita, Wan-Bissaka, Dann, Tomkins, Van Aanholt, Kouyate, Milivojevic, Schlupp, Townsend, Batshuayi, Zaha
Brighton XI: Ryan, Montoya, Dunk, Duffy, Bernardo, Propper, Stephens, Bissouma, Knockaert, Andone, Jahanbakhsh
Out: Speroni, Sakho, Souare (Crystal Palace); Balogun, Gross (Brighton)
How safe is Maurizio Sarri’s job at Chelsea? If we had asked that question a few weeks ago the answer would have been, not very. But a lot can change in a few days no matter a few weeks and Sarri’s job is much more secure at The Blues than it was then, why so?
First up was Chelsea’s performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. True it ended in defeat but The Blues did not concede against City and they only lost on penalties. This was seen as a massive improvement after they had lost to the very same team 6-0 only a matter of days before. The Chelsea hierarchy could clearly see that there had been a big talks in the dressing room and hard work done in training- Chelsea lost the cup final but they did so with their heads held up high.
But things have gotten better for the club when after that match they took on Tottenham in 3rd place and beat them 2-0. This was a massive result for the club and they followed that up with a 2-1 win over West London neighbours Fulham. The Fulham game was an expected 3 points but made awkward given that it is a derby and that Scott Parker was managing his first game at home after Claudio Ranieri’s sacking. It could have gone south for Chelsea, instead they rose to the occasion.
Chelsea are still in 6th place, a position that they slipped to last month but they now have a game in hand, win that and they would go 4th and would only be 2 points behind Tottenham. When all things are considered Sarri in his debut season really hasn’t had a bad one, at least not one that deserves to be sacked.
Another advantage for the Italian is UEFA’S impending transfer ban on the club, that at the moment spreads to two windows. If the ban goes through after appeal it would mean that Chelsea could not buy any players until the summer of 2020. Now what new manager coming in would want such a situation? As far as the very elite go, no one and that is why Sarri might just be a good choice to stay with the club.
For now Sarri’s job is safe and yet the bookmakers still believe that England assistant Steve Holland will be taking over very soon. We can conclude with all validity that Sarri being fired in his first season in the job with a top 4 place on the line would seem very harsh indeed.
Kepa Arrizabalaga returned to the Chelsea starting line up today. He was dropped for Chelsea’s 2-0 derby win against Tottenham Hotspur, following the League Cup shenanigans surrounding his substitution- or lack of it. However, he was reinstated for the club’s second London derby in two games, as they won 2-1 against Fulham.
There was a shaky start from the stopper, as in the 18th minute he spilled a ball into the box which should have been taken easily. He got away with his error though, as Ryan Babel (who’d been the ball’s target) turned his back on Kepa. This allowed the Spaniard to retrieve the ball before any further embarrassment could be caused.
10 minutes after that incident, with the score now at 1-0 after Gonzalo Higuain’s opening goal, Kepa made a terrific save. Aleksandar Mitrovic had fired a powerful header towards the top corner, but Kepa was equal to it and tipped it over the bar. However, he won’t have been happy with what followed. Ryan Sessegnon played the ensuing corner short to Babel who sent the ball towards the back post. Calum Chambers was found completely unmarked and scored with a first time finish that the goalkeeper had no chance of stopping.
Jorginho put the men in blue ahead in the 31st minute, giving Chelsea the lead going into half time. Kepa didn’t have that much to do for the majority of the second half, as Chelsea kept Fulham’s attacking talents at bay for large periods of time. The goalkeeper looked comfortable on the ball, as he usually does, passing the ball out from the back in the way Maurizio Sarri desires. He also saved efforts from Tom Cairney and Joe Bryan convincingly.
It wasn’t until the 88th minute when he was truly challenged again. Fulham substitute Floyd Ayite had made a darting run behind the Chelsea defence. The Togo international hooked the ball towards Mitrovic who powered a header towards the goal. The Serbian had plenty of space to aim for, but while it was a good effort, he placed his shot just within Kepa’s range. The Spaniard palmed the ball away from goal well, getting it to safety.
Chelsea were given another defensive scare in the 94th minute. Sessegnon had latched onto the ball in the box after Luciano Vietto had nudged it towards goal. The young Englishman finished well, sending the ball into the net with a first touch finish. However, Chelsea’s three points were saved by the linesman, as he raised his flag flagged for offside.
There were no more real chances in the game and Kepa marked his return to the starting line up with a win, even if he hadn’t quite managed a clean sheet. He may have got back into the team, but it is likely he’ll immediately be back out of it again- though this time not for disciplinary reasons. Chelsea host Dynamo Kyiv in the Europa League on Thursday, meaning Willy Caballero is likely to temporarily return to the Chelsea goal, before Kepa retakes his place between the sticks for Chelsea’s next league match, at home against Wolves.
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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.
There is another full list of Premier League fixtures this coming weekend with all games being played over Saturday and Sunday.
Spurs v Arsenal
Spurs XI: Lloris, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Aurier, Sissoko, Winks, Rose, Eriksen, Kane, Son
Arsenal XI: Leno, Sokratis, Koscielny, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles, Ramsey, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Questionable: Jan Vertonghen (Spurs); Lars Koscielny, Stephan Lichtsteiner (Arsenal)
Out: Dele Alli, Eric Dier (Spur); Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)
It’s time to look ahead to this weekend’s Premier League action as we predict the starting lineups for each EPL game.
Cardiff City v Watford
Cardiff XI: Etheridge, Peltier, Manga, Bamba, Bennett, Paterson, Gunnarsson, Arter, Murphy, Cordova-Reid, Niasse
Watford XI: Foster, Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra, Sema, Deeney, Deulofeu
Questionable: Ashley Darel Jazz Richards (Cardiff)
Out: Sean Morrison (Cardiff); Holebas, Kiko Femenia (Watford)