Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak: What does the Future hold for them at Liverpool?

Liverpool’s defensive issues have been well documented over the past few months. Shortly after Virgil van Dijk suffered a season-ending injury against Everton in October 2020, Jurgen Klopp also lost Joe Gomez and Joel Matip for the rest of the 2020-21 campaign. The German manager experimented with Fabinho and Jordan Henderson at the back, before the latter tore his groin.

With a lack of options, the Reds sealed a loan-to-buy deal for Ozan Kabak in January. His recent partnership with Nat Phillips has given Liverpool supporters optimism for the business end of the season. Few can argue that the pair aren’t doing a respectable job in the short term, but their long-term futures are up in the air. So, what will Klopp do with Phillips and Kabak?

The Most Unlikeliest of Partnerships

At the start of the campaign, Liverpool supporters would never have believed that a fringe squad player and a loan purchase from bottom-of-the-league Schalke would be keeping their season on track. Although the Reds have fallen well short in defending their title, a top-four finish isn’t out of the question. As of April 6th, Liverpool are 10/11 in football betting to finish in the top four this season. If the Reds hope to qualify for the 2021-22 Champions League through the Premier League, Kabak and Phillips may hold the key.

Prior to Kabak’s substitution against Arsenal in the Reds’ three-goal victory at the Emirates, he and Phillips had played together for 263 minutes. As a result, this made them the club’s longest-serving partnership this season. Liverpool’s unexpected central defensive pairing kept clean sheets in their first four games together against Sheffield United, RasenBallsport Leipzig, Wolves, and Arsenal.

The Reds Have Decisions to Make

There can be no doubts that Kabak and Phillips have brought some much-needed solidity to Liverpool’s season. However, things could have been very different for the Bolton-born defender. In the 2020 summer window, the Reds allowed Phillips to talk to Swansea ahead of a loan move, but the Swans instead opted to pursue other targets. The 24-year-old’s contract at Anfield doesn’t expire in 2021, and with Gomez, Matip, and Van Dijk set to return next season, Phillips may once again find his opportunities limited.

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Kabak, on the other hand, is playing for his Liverpool career. The Reds aren’t obliged to pay the £18 million fee to make the Turkish international’s loan move permanent. Despite impressing after quickly adapting to a new club, country, and league, Klopp’s team are in talks to sign Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig. Although the deal isn’t near completion, it raises question marks over Kabak’s future. Along with Gomez, Matip, and Van Dijk, do the Reds need both Kabak and Konate? That said, one thing is for sure; if the six-time Champions of Europe go for both, a repeat of this season’s crisis is avoidable.

Football is a Game of Opportunities

Few would have expected Liverpool to end the 2020-21 season with Kabak and Phillips in defence. While that’s not a reflection of their talents, it instead speaks volumes of the standards that supporters expect at Anfield. As a partnership, they may not take Liverpool to the title or a seventh Champions League triumph, but they have given hope to the Anfield faithful.

 

Premier League: Best 11 Players of Week 30

Chelsea losing 5-2 at home to West Bromwich Albion, let that sink in because it may have to do over the course of several weeks. This season in the Premier League has thrown out some very surprising results, and it is as if the league was giving a welcomed if not delayed response to the arrival Thomas Tuchel. The defeat was Tuchel’s first in charge of the Blues and it has come at a dreadful time for them.

Liverpool beat Arsenal 3-0 and perhaps Jurgen Klopp’s side are over their dismal form and they are just 2 points from the top 4 now. Both Manchester teams won with Manchester City beating Leicester and they are 14 points clear. Manchester United consolidated 2nd place and they will surely finish in the top 4 now and are 11 points clear of 5th.

Let’s look at the players who made a difference over this past weekend.

Goalkeeper: Alisson- Liverpool 7pts

Alisson will have been very happy to keep a clean sheet away to a quality side like Arsenal as Liverpool looked solid again to win the match 3-0. That was Alisson’s 7th clean sheet of the season so far and he had to make a few good saves early on as well and stayed very focused throughout the game.

Defender: Benjamin Mendy- Manchester City 9pts

It was the perfect weekend for Benjamin Mendy who kept a clean sheet as league leaders Manchester City impressively beat Leicester 2-0 away from home. The icing on the cake was that Mendy scored a goal- the opening goal just before the hour mark which set up the eventual win. That was Mendy’s 2nd goal of the season and his value is worth 6.5m.

Defender: Trent Alexander- Arnold- Liverpool 7pts

Liverpool beat Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates for a fantastic win for the champions. Alexander-Arnold now has 8 clean sheets to his name for this season he also assisted in the clubs first goal of the game bringing his total to 36 points.

Defender: Ruben Dias- Manchester City 5pts

Another solid performance from one of the most impressive defenders in the Premier League this season. Dias was commanding and very confident on the ball even away to Leicester who are in 3rd place in the league. Dias now has 78 points so far and his value is 7.5m.

Defender: Andrew Robertson- Liverpool 5pts

Andrew Robertson looked back to his self assured best holding the back line particularly well and frustrating Arsenal as Liverpool ran out 3-0 winners. Robertson earned 5 points in the process for his clean sheet and now has a total of 43 points.

Midfielder: Mohamed Salah- Liverpool 6pts

Salah looked back and sharp especially in the 2nd half of the Arsenal goal and the player scored his 18th goal of the season as he put the Gunners to the sword. He looks set to finish the season strongly.

Midfielder: Diogo Jota- Liverpool 9pts

An absolutely brilliant weekend for Diogo Jota saw the Liverpool player come back from an injury lay off to start scoring the goals again and he scored 2 for Liverpool as they beat rivals Arsenal 3-0. Jota now has 8 goals for the Reds and considering his injuries this season he has had a very good campaign in his debut season for the Reds.

Midfielder: Nathan Redmond- Southampton 6pts

Nathan Redmond was involved in one of the best games of the weekend as Southampton came back against Burnley from two goals down to beat them 3-2. Redmond assisted in Danny Ings 2nd goal for the Saints and then grabbed the winner.

Midfielder: Jack Harrison- Leeds United 4pts

Jack Harrison scored a good goal to open the scoring for Leeds as they beat Sheffield United 2-1 at the weekend. That was Harrison’s seventh goal of the season and he now has 54 points.

Striker: Harry Kane- Tottenham 8pts

Harry Kane has had a fantastic season and the Tottenham striker was on hand to score 2 goals as they drew 2-2 with Newcastle at the weekend. Ultimately it was a disappointing result for Tottenham given that they were leading 2-1 but personally for Kane those 2 goals means he has 19 goals. Kane is the top scorer now in the Premier League.

Striker: Callum Robertson- West Bromwich Albion 8pts

In an incredible game not just for Callum Robertson but for 19th placed West Bromwich Albion who beat Chelsea- unbeaten under Thomas Tuchel 5-2 at Stamford Bridge. Robertson scored 2 goals and now has 4 goals for the season. His value is 5m.

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The Best 5 Premier League players so far in 2020/21

Domestic football is on a break until the beginning of April, so there are no Premier League team of the week.

This is a chance then to see which Premier League players have been performing the best this season based on their fantasy points and gives you the chance to see if you have any players.

Together with picking out the top 5 we will also have honourable mentions of other players who have performed well this season and could well make their way into the top 5 by the end of the season.

The top 5 best Premier League players so far this season:

1. Bruno Fernandes- Manchester United 101 pts

If you had Bruno Fernandes in your team at the beginning of the season what a pick that would have been given that the midfielder costs just 8.5m. He has been such an important player for Manchester United that we can say that the club would not be 2nd without his input. And let’s talk about his contribution so far the Portuguese star has scored 16 goals and assisted in another 10 goals. If you want to know why United are doing well in the Premier League this season, look no further.

2. Ederson Moraes- Manchester City 98pts

When Manchester City win the league this season people will talk about how well Ilkay Gundogan has performed alongside Phil Foden. But the key to City’s title will be in their defence and Ederson in goal has had a terrific season. So far he has helped to keep 16 clean sheets, which is a fantastic record. On top of that Ederson has even assisted in a goal, which is a remarkable fact. He continues to get better by each season.

3. Harry Kane- Tottenham 93pts

By far England’s best striker Harry Kane may not win any trophies this season (the Carabao Cup withstanding) but even if he doesn’t what a personal season it has been again for Kane. Kane’s record for Tottenham in the league is nothing short of mind blowing and he has been involved in 30 of the clubs league goals. Tottenham have scored 49 goals, just let that sink in. Tottenham will be doing everything in their power to keep their star forward this summer as he will surely be in demand.

4. Mohamed Salah- Liverpool 90pts

It almost feels like this has been a quiet season for Salah given his presence over the Premier League in the last 2 seasons. But actually Salah has been as busy as ever, it’s just that Liverpool as a team faced such an implosion that nobody could have seen it. Still for Salah he has scored 17 times and assisted in 3 goals, that is hardly a poor season and the Egyptian international himself is actually having another solid and brilliant campaign.

5. Edouard Mendy- Chelsea 86pts

In truth Edouard Mendy was scripted to be the 2nd goal keeper at Chelsea, but once given his chance he has impressed enough to become the clubs number 1 shot stopper. It’s encouraging for him that new manager Thomas Tuchel has kept him on and can also, like former manager Frank Lampard, see his immense qualities. Mendy has kept 14 clean sheets so far and is turning out to be a real star with the Blues.

Honourable mentions:

John Stones is having his best season as a professional player and is such an important part of the set up at Manchester City. Before this season his place was genuinely under threat but he has stepped up to the mantle and is not just defending well but is good to score goals too- he currently has 4 so far.

Ilkay Gundogan another Manchester City player, like Stones is having his best season. Gundogan can be provider but he has also scored some very important goals this season and has 12 so far. Ruben Dias is yet another City player in defence which has held everything together and looks like the perfect replacement for club legend Vincent Kompany. Dias has 73 pts so far.

Let’s not forget about Harry Kane’s strike partner, Heung-Min Son who has been unfortunate lately having his injury and missing some key games. But Son has had brilliant spells this season and has scored 13 goals and assisted in another 9. Indeed Kane and Son are arguably the best striker partnership in Europe when they are firing on all cylinders.

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Liverpool were great champions but they need to stop making excuses for this season

Last season was so phenomenally brilliant for Liverpool that it will be etched into the memory banks for some time to come. But this season has seen the champions fall from grace in quick time. It can happen, we have seen it with Chelsea only a few seasons ago. But Liverpool have to stop with the excuses which are doing nothing but cheapen the club.

Liverpool have been the kings of Europe so to speak for the past 18 months, winning the league title and reaching 2 Champions League finals and winning one of those. A 60 odd unbeaten run at home followed. The incredible talents of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino up front were simply devastating, even scary. Their goals reigned supreme, here was a team who were built more like a machine- and then 2021 happened.

This has been the year to end Liverpool’s cycle, what a cycle it was, but it was short lived, of course at one point Liverpool will come back and will be a threat once more, but the fall off has been huge.

The club lost six games in a row at home, that is something that has actually never happened in the clubs 139 year history. A few of these defeats have been against teams you would have expected the club to beat in the likes of Brighton and Fulham. Liverpool even lost against derby rivals Everton at Anfield something that had not occurred since 1999.

Hopes of winning back to back titles were dashed within a month and suddenly Jurgen Klopp was wondering if his team were even going to finish in the top 4? Currently it’s possible that the Reds will not achieve that status and they could be playing in the Europa League next season as clubs such as Manchester United, Leicester and Chelsea have moved on. Liverpool also face stiff competition for places against Tottenham, West Ham and Everton.

The drop off has been huge and then the questions are inevitably asked as to why Liverpool have fallen out of form. Of course one could point to Virgil van Dijk’s injury earlier in the season, which has ruled him out of the majority of the season. But let’s not forget that van Dijk was part of the Liverpool team that lost 7-2 at Aston Villa, the signs were already there that Liverpool were going to struggle this season.

Mental fatigue has been thrown about and it has been accepted by many as a fine excuse. Yes Liverpool have been relentless in their pursuit of trophies and you can’t always win games. But the champions losing six in a row at home and probably finishing with 35 points less compared to the season before is just unthinkable.

The term mental fatigue is easy to throw around. But one has to look at other champions from the past to see what is happening in the present. Did Manchester United in their 20 years of dominance ever complain of mental fatigue? Sure United didn’t win the league every time in those 20 years and with 13 titles that was still an incredible achievement. But even when United failed to win the league, they remained a threat and they consistently qualified for the Champions League. There was no significant drop off not even in the mid 2000s when hundreds of millions was injected into Chelsea to make the Blues competitive. Soon after United won 3 league titles in a row and then beat Chelsea in the Champions League final in 2008.

Even Arsenal who remained in United’s shadow but still were a fantastic team did not drop off in their prime. If they were losing the title to United then they were finishing in 2nd place. One can look at Chelsea’s drop off in 2016 after winning the title in 2015 but that was more to do with manager Jose Mourinho losing the dressing room and the players going directionless as a result. Klopp has not lost any dressing room, so we can’t blame the manager and we shouldn’t be using mental fatigue as an excuse.

Perhaps quite simply the truth is that the players are not performing to their best. Maybe they are simply missing the famous stadium being filled up to the brim with fans and hearing the passionate Kop fans screaming their names and singing ‘you’ll never walk alone’. Then again how does that account for the fact that Liverpool have reached the quarter finals of the Champions League?

Surely if one is mentally fatigued then one is not even going to get out of their group stage? That isn’t the case and for whatever reason Liverpool have found a nice distraction from domestic football. Indeed if Liverpool were to reach the final that would be their 3rd in just four years, win it and much of this season could be glossed over.

As it stands excuses need to stop. Liverpool are where they are in the league because the players we expect to perform are having average to poor seasons and there is nothing wrong with admitting that. Liverpool could still finish 4th or win this seasons Champions League and have the last laugh, but the excuses need to stop.

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UEFA need to say no to the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool for a super league

In this past week a story has emerged yet again of the proposal of a super league which would replace the Champions League and would not be a part of a UEFA competition.

Super Leagues have been touted seriously since the early 1990s and UEFA already had to react to the threat and created the Champions League in the 1992/93 season. Before that the European Cup was of course only open to the winners of each European league. The Champions League used an expansion that went from 2 clubs with some of the top leagues in Europe having four clubs that can qualify for each season.

Now the elite teams are flexing their muscles again and UEFA’s Champions League is under threat once more. There is more money to be made and more exposure to be had with an independent super league and the richest and most successful clubs want as much as they can get. Instead of rejecting any ideas UEFA have tried to react again, and if these new proposals go through then if you support a mid table club this has far reaching implications and you will want to read on.

The controversial move would be backing the bigger clubs even if they are having, by their standards, a poor season. Take Arsenal who are in 10th place currently in the English Premier League. UEFA are proposing that if the league was to end today that Arsenal would qualify for the Champions League not based on their league position of course but based on their co-efficient points. In other words the last 5 seasons would count. It would mean that if, say Manchester City had a poor couple of seasons coming up, it wouldn’t matter their qualification for the Champions League would be secured anyway.

This is a slap in the face of course to the integrity of the sport and gamesmanship. What about the ‘surprise’ teams of the season, do they not count? Do we not reward the hard effort of for example West Ham and Everton who have punched above their weight this season? Do they just get disregarded? What do real fans think about this?

Once we make a mockery of a sport there seems no going back and UEFA have bent over once to create the Champions League for the elite teams, why would they feel they have to bend over again, why be put to ransom? Well the answer of course is not losing your product which brings in tens of millions of euros per year. But at the same time you are the governing body, does that not count for something?

It is easy to blame UEFA for changes in the rules, but in truth they are being held to ransom and panicking about losing their competition. Clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool need to stop throwing their tantrums and demands about. They are involved in competition that is what sport is all about, if you have a bad season you can get punished, accept it and move on and work harder.

The irony of course is the fear that the elite teams have of not qualifying for a competition where only one team can win it. But the owners do not care as much as the fans for trophies, it’s the money involved that reigns supreme in their minds and the added sponsorship on top- related of course to money.

The big clubs are at fault here. New ideas should always be welcomed in football, but not to the point that it destroys the very fabric of the sport and the people within it.

 

 

Premier League Game of the Week: Liverpool 0-1 Fulham

This game between Liverpool and Fulham only had 1 goal, but what a significant and history making game it was all the same.

You see Liverpool have never lost 5 games in a row at home before, but that’s old news. The defeat to Fulham made it six games in a row, Liverpool in their 139 year history have, at least for this period, never looked so poor. This is all the while astonishing given that for the past 18 months the club has arguably been the best club side in the world. How funny and quite complex football can be and the implosion of this great club chortles along at rapid speed.

So devastating has Liverpool’s form been that one has to question if they will be playing in the Champions League next season? This comes after reaching the final in 2018 and winning the competition the year after. The defeat to Fulham has left Liverpool 7 points adrift of a top four place and for now they look out of contention. However surely one would assume with the players that the Reds boast they will find their swagger again before the end of the season to recharge their batteries.

For now the game at Anfield swung on a different story and that was Fulham’s possible survival. The Cottagers have looked destined for a speedy return to the Championship for much of the season but since December Scott Parker has got his troops pointing in the right direction. Their hunger and desire has been brilliant albeit the majority of their results in the past three months have ended in draws, but by and large they are picking up points here and there and avoiding defeats. That’s how you survive in arguably the worlds most competitive league.

The only goal of the game in which Fulham would win 1-0 came just before half time. Mario Lemina was today’s hero for Parker’s side he had a bit to do but the ball was nicely set up for him in the area and he was able to score with relative ease. Up until the goal it was Fulham who were on the front foot, this in itself seems bizarre that the Cottagers would have chances and time on the ball at Anfield and indeed Liverpool would finish the game with just 3 shots on target.

Inevitably Liverpool had their best moments in possession in the 2nd half but made no real threat on goal in the final third and had just 1 real chance in this period. It was another limp display from the champions and for Fulham more glory on Merseyside given that they had beaten Everton here a few weeks ago by 2-0.

Will Fulham stay up? The omens are looking good for Parker’s team because of the fight they have shown and they have reduced a seven point gap to just goal difference over Brighton. Fulham could also have a challenge at Newcastle in 16th place given that the Magpies are only 1 point in front of Fulham.

As for Lemina that was his first goal of the season and scoring the winning goal against the champions he would have taken that to be his debut of the campaign.

If you beat the champions surely that will only reinforce the belief that you are going to stay up. Brighton, Newcastle and even perhaps Burnley in 15th place will be on high alert and the last few weeks of the Premier League season will be unmissable.

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Premier League: Best 11 Players of Week 27

Manchester City finally lost a game and to all of the teams who could have been against they wouldn’t want to lose to their arch rivals Manchester United but that’s exactly what happened as United ran out 2-0 winners. It doesn’t change the league standing much and City are 11 points in front of their rivals. Nevertheless it was a great result for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side and they now look a shoe in for a top 4 place.

Liverpool lost their 6th game at home in a row in what is now a stunning downfall for the current champions. They have dropped to 8th place as Fulham beat them 1-0.

Let’s take a look at the players who made the grade this week in the fantasy football team for the Premier League, the formation being used is 4-4-2.

Goalkeeper: Alphonse Areola- Fulham 7pts

Fulham didn’t just beat Liverpool at Anfield they also kept a clean sheet as they won the game 1-0. Areola had to make some good saves and keep focused throughout and that was the keeper’s 9th clean sheet so far and he has a total of 39 points.

Defender: Matt Doherty- Tottenham 6pts

Matt Doherty put in a strong performance for Tottenham as his confidence grows as they easily beat Crystal Palace 4-1. On top of his performance the player also assisted for the clubs 3rd goal and set his side well onto victory. Doherty’s value is 6m.

Defender: Luke Shaw- Manchester United 8pts

Luke Shaw had a weekend to remember as Manchester United beat their rivals in the famed derby 2-0. Not only did United win but they won at the Etihad and also Shaw scored the 2nd goal to win the game. It was Shaw’s first goal of the season and what a time to get it. The defender now has 45 points so far.

Defender: Ola Aina- Fulham 5pts

Especially in the second half of the season Ola Aina for Fulham has come on, if he isn’t scoring goals which he can do from the back four he is doing his prime job of defending. The player was under considerable pressure against Liverpool but put in a sterling job to shut the champions out. Aina has 41 points and has helped to keep 8 clean sheets so far.

Defender: Michael Keane- Everton 5pts

Michael Keane has been one of Everton’s best defenders and helped to keep his 7th clean sheet of the season as Everton beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 in their last game. Keane has been in good form this year and has 32 points so far.

Midfielder: Bruno Fernandes- Manchester United 6pts

Bruno Fernandes is so pivotal to Manchester United and he proved once again how important he is by scoring a very early penalty as Manchester United beat Manchester City 2-0 away from home. That was Fernandes’ 16th goal of the season so far.

Midfielder: Gareth Bale- Tottenham 9pts

Gareth Bale is on fire right now and following his fantastic performance against Burnley, Bale turned it on again to score another 2 goals as Tottenham beat Crystal Palace 4-1 at home. Bale now has 5 goals and has amassed 29 points.

Midfielder: Mason Mount- Chelsea 6pts

Mason Mount keeps scoring important goals for Chelsea and he has been one of the Blues’ most important players so far in this campaign. Mount has scored 5 goals and has 48 points in one of his best seasons as a professional.

Midfielder: James Ward-Prowse- Southampton 6pts

James Ward-Prowse started the season very positively but in recent months had taken a step back and of course a few weeks out due to injury didn’t help. But he stepped up to open the scoring with a penalty as Southampton recorded a 2-0 win over Sheffield United.

Striker: Harry Kane- Tottenham 12pts

It was another stunning weekend for England’s number 1 striker Harry Kane. Kane scored 2 goals and also assisted in another. Kane has now scored an incredible 16 goals but also assisted in a further 13 and he has 89 points. That makes Kane the best player in all of the fantasy leagues competitions so far.

Striker: Kelechi Iheanacho- Leicester 4pts

Kelechi Iheanacho scored his 3rd goal of the season to help Leicester come back against Brighton and eventually win the game 2-1. The forward isn’t normally a regular but has been given the chance because of injuries and has scored a few goals lately. He currently has 10 points overall but could get more opportunities and his value is 6m.

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In Europe Manchester United are bullish and brilliant but in the Premier League they have lost direction

The difference seemingly can’t be measured when Manchester United play in Europe and then switch to domestic football. Here we have a club whose form this season in the Premier League has been amongst the best, but United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keep having their dips in form.

Every team of course has form problems and can go on an average to bad run, the problem with Manchester United is that it seems to hang around longer. The flipside to this is that they can pull out 5-6 game winning runs. But in this moment it feels as though the Red Devils have lost some direction in the Premier League.

Perhaps this is down too the fact that their city rivals Manchester City have shot away from the rest of the league and are now 14 points in the lead over United who are in 2nd place. It seems as if United have given up the chase and let’s face it they will not claw those points back now. However at the same time any United fan and anyone associated with the club would love to see them finish 2nd if being champions was always going to be too much for them to achieve this season.

The truth is, at this point, United will have a challenge on their hands to finish in the top four. Currently they are in 2nd and have 51 points and the gap to 5th where Liverpool currently are is 8 points. The Reds have a game in hand and those points could be reduced in midweek.

Manchester United have won just once in their last 5 games and have earned just 15 points from their last 30. With their standing that just isn’t good enough. Leicester could be poised to take 2nd place from United too and they have a chasing pack of West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham to contend with. Jose Mourinho’s side do not look a threat at present being 12 points behind United but they have 2 games in hand and all could change rather quickly if teams find more consistency.

In drawing 0-0 with Crystal Palace, United also have gone their last 2 games without a goal and when one looks at their strike force including Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani one would expect better. After all Palace were not fighting for anything when the clubs met this week.

United fans will know this form isn’t just a blip, not under Solskjaer who has had a good 5 dips of form since becoming manager of the club, those dips have stretched out for two months at a time. And that form would have cost Solskjaer his job at many clubs especially a club like Chelsea which Frank Lampard found out just a few weeks ago.

So in the Europa League when United were pitted against Spanish side Real Sociedad it was thought that the club were going to struggle and could get knocked out of the competition. Sociedad had led La Liga this season for several weeks and had taken points from the bigger teams. In Portu Sociedad have their own Bruno Fernandes, a versatile attacking midfielder who also scores plenty of goals. Just last weekend his goal helped the club to take 2 points from Real Madrid away from home as that match finished 1-1. In short Sociedad are a very good side. And yet Manchester United in poor form beat Sociedad 4-0 and knocked them out of the Europa League.

It feels as if United have that fire in the belly and man for man one could say that United have the better team than Sociedad, but one would also have to agree that they thought this match up would have been very close and not settled with such a large score. In Europe in this cup competition under Solskjaer United seem to have found their footing, their place where everything clicks and they should be among the favourites to go on and win the competition.

The players seem more focused in Europe and there is a goal to reach, and perhaps domestically United understand that they need an extra push to stay in the top 4 but apart from that not much can be achieved now, but in Europe and also the FA Cup the fire in the belly remains.

United will play Milan in the quarter finals of the Europa League and should be content in the fact that this isn’t the Milan of 15 years ago. Milan are a good side of course but United over two legs, one would think, would have too much for the Italians.

But Solskjaer needs to be mindful this his side do not lose focus in the Premier League, it is a tough and competitive league that takes no prisoners. If you start to lag and stop winning you will be punished and United are not certain for a top four place. They would be foolish to put all of their eggs in one basket and go for the Europa, they need to maintain some desire to pick up points in the Premier League also.

The next few months will reveal the story more and Solskjaer will be well aware that his job despite an overall good season is far from safe.

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Why this seasons Champions League has been tarnished

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected the world like something we could never have imagined and of course this means that football has suffered as a result too. Players being tested twice a week and no fans at grounds for almost a year bar in very rare instances it has been an odd time for the game we all love.

The biggest European competitions have been affected too, especially the Champions League. And this season the most elite club competition of them all feels like it has been tarnished, and simply feels very unfair.

Let’s explain.

The games affected have all involved English teams, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. Some EU countries have said that persons from England cannot travel to Germany and Spain because of the new variant, which means in effect that the football clubs cannot travel to these countries to play their first legs.

This in itself is a real head scratcher given that players and coaches are tested twice a week and they will be the only personnel entering the countries. We are not talking about fans being present, so one has to wonder where the problem lies? Of course the other side of the argument would be, why would football players be given special access and not members of the public?

So for English clubs playing in Europe their first leg matches were directed to Budapest, Hungary. But this is wholly unfair on the likes of Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach. It is unfair because the 2nd legs will all take place in England at the respective clubs grounds. What happens in that instant is the most elite competition loses its integrity and gamesmanship- and no sport should be losing either of those.

Of course there will be arguments against and that at the end of the day it is not the clubs fault that England are allowing German and Spanish nationals into the country and it isn’t like this in the opposite direction. But it is unfair on the clubs.

Some will say that Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City will give up their home advantage anyway because the 12th man- the fans- will not be allowed to attend the games. But hang on one second. What about the extra travel time for the away sides having to arrange drives to the airport and planes, hotels etc. What about the familiarity of the home teams ground, players have a connection to that even without the fans. When Atletico visit Chelsea they are not in Madrid anymore.

It is odd to think that UEFA have not stepped in. If English based players cannot play in Germany and Spain then there is nothing wrong with playing in Budapest as a neutral venue. But why not also have the 2nd legs take place in the country too. Why change and have one team have an advantage by playing in their backyard so to speak, even if the advantage is decreased by a lack of fans, there is still some there.

Fans of the clubs will care little of course, and probably won’t see the argument either. But surely if you’re in love with the game and value fairness within it, this way of playing this seasons Champions League could feel like the soul just got ripped out of it.

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Premier League Game of the Week: Liverpool 0-2 Everton

The last week in the English Premier League was always going to be about the Merseyside derby, and it ended up being an historic one as Everton beat their city rivals Liverpool 2-0.

Just to put the victory into context this was Everton’s first victory of any kind over Liverpool in 11 years. But it gets better as the records tumble and this was also Everton’s first victory at Anfield since 1999.

The game as one would expect started at a frantic pace even without fans present. Liverpool had set up as a 4-3-3 with again Jordan Henderson being deputised in defence and with that alarming 3 at the front strike partnership of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

Jurgen Klopp’s side had come into the game having lost their last 3 home matches, lose this and it would be the first time since 1923 that the Reds had lost 4 games at home in a row.

Everton were expected to be more cautious but still played 2 up front away from home in the form of Richarlison and James Rodriguez who had been pushed further forward. Manager Carlo Ancelotti understood about the looming threat of the hosts and deployed 5 at the back.

Everton got off to the best start possible as James threaded a beautiful ball through to Richarlison who made no mistakes with his shot and Everton were in the lead of the derby within 180 seconds of kick off. That was Richarlison’s 4th goal of the season. For his standards the Brazilian has been quiet in this campaign however in the last few weeks starting with the Tottenham victory in the FA Cup Richarlison has found his form.

Possession wise after the goal was scored Liverpool dominated but interestingly Everton seemed like they could deal with whatever Liverpool presented them- and it wasn’t much. The champions had just 2 shots on target, Everton away from home had one more in the first half.

In the end Liverpool would end up with 72% possession and had a further 4 shots on target and Salah looked to have broken through near the end but Jordan Pickford in goal made some fine saves. Michael Keane really stood out at the back for the visitors and while Liverpool were now creating the better chances Everton were containing them.

Of course it didn’t help that Henderson had to leave the pitch with a groin injury, though at the present time the club captain isn’t expected to miss any further games.

Everton sealed victory after Dominic Calvert-Lewin was sent clear his shot rebounded from Alisson but Trent-Alexander Arnold went for the tackle, he didn’t touch Calvert-Lewin but was adjudged to have impeded him in his run and Everton were given a penalty. There was a VAR call but the referee had made his mind up. Gylfi Sigurdsson made no mistakes in converting the penalty and that was his fourth goal of the season so far.

Man of the Match: Jordan Pickford

There were two Jordan’s on the pitch, one in blue and one in red. But Jordan Pickford for Everton was superb in goal. He has just come back from a rib injury and made some vital saves to keep his side in the game. Simply put if it wasn’t for Pickford’s display Everton could have lost the game.

Pickford only has 7 fantasy points this season because he has played 19 games and been injured and of course conceded goals early in the campaign. His value is 7m and this is the type of performance that could drive him to achieve more clean sheets. So far this season he has 4.

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