Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez needs to return to Arsenal or leave the Premier League

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Despite the odd good game for Manchester United it is fair to say that Alexis Sanchez will never be remembered as one of the Old Trafford greats and even though he has only been at the club for one season perhaps it is the right time to quit the club.

United are good, Sanchez is good but for whatever reason the two entities just don’t fit. When Jose Mourinho bought Sanchez from Arsenal last summer it was seen as a fantastic deal. Because Sanchez was far and away Arsenal’s best player of the past few seasons. It seemed almost bizarre in fact that Arsenal would sell to a Premier League rival but sell they did.

Once at United Sanchez just didn’t perform most blamed Mourinho’s tactics and let’s be honest the whole team were not performing. But what has been surprising is that Sanchez has not picked up his form under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite the rest of the squad doing so.

Even Solskjaer has admitted that there isn’t anything they can do with the player- but he will give him time and has commented that the player is a quality one who needs to find himself. The truth is that Sanchez does not seem happy at United and has simply not settled into life up in Manchester- it happens and perhaps the Chilean should not be too harshly judged about it.

Could he return to Arsenal? There were rumours that he wanted to play for Manchester City, but he has become the shadow of the player that everyone knew and it is unlikely now that City manager Guardiola would go for his signature. But at Arsenal as long as Unai Emery wanted him, he would be welcomed back. It was clearly an environment that Sanchez enjoyed and revelled in, but of course everyone needs to be on the same page for that to happen.

Otherwise perhaps the simple solution for Sanchez would be to leave the Premier League- maybe a return to Spain is on the cards? It just might be a culture that suits Sanchez more anyway. Although a return to Barcelona does not seem possible, but Sanchez is still good enough to play for any of the top six sides in La Liga.

Sanchez is a quality player that there is no doubt, but has there been a more unhappier high profile Premier League player of  the past six months?

Wolves have been nothing short of spectacular in the Premier League this season

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Such is the gulf between teams in the Premier League now that it has been referred in the past to a three leagues in one. First you have the elite six teams who always seem to sprint away from the middle pack and create their very own league. From about 13th place to 20th you have the bottom clubs and even if you are near the top half there is every chance of getting sucked down to the bottom three.

And then there is a very important pack, the middle one which ranges from 7th-12th. These are the teams that are well capable of upsetting the teams at the top end and in effect influencing the league. These teams have been managed well, through budgets and players brought in and genuinely have quality managers. Put it this way if you are a manager of one of these clubs and you have an off season and get sacked, your next job will still be in the Premier League, you simply became an established member of the world’s most hyperbole and yet utterly fascinating league.

The only thing that honestly separates the teams is budgets. The top six might be able to spend £100m and upwards, these teams it’s more realistic to strike around the 50-60m mark.

With all of that said here comes the unofficial Premier League ‘real’ leaders, who will reside in 7th- they are the so called best of the rest and that accolade as we roar through February and into the home straight in the league goes to Wolverhampton Wanderers, or simply known as Wolves.

Under Nino Espirito Santos Wolves have been a revelation this season. They started the season brightly becoming a real force to be reckoned with. First they stopped Everton in their tracks with a 2-2 draw at Molineux and they improved on their home form by also forcing champions Manchester City into a 1-1 draw.

They took a point away to Manchester United and before you knew it Santos was picking up manager of the month. All was good before Wolves hit a slump, and it seemed that the club had simply gone through a honeymoon period with their new coach.

But their strength in character really showed and they have been back on form for the past few months. They have lost just 2 games in their past seven and have climbed deservedly so to 7th place, playing attack minded football and making games very difficult for their opponents.

Now they find themselves in 7th and 11 points from 6th and Chelsea who have hit a wall. Could Santos’ team rally on and even threaten that place? Watford are the only team at this moment who are near to the club and these two teams have really been able to punch above their weight this season.

However Wolves remain the leader of the pack and don’t look like they will be tamed anytime soon.

 

Nuno Espirito Santo

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.

Pep Guardiola is changing the Premier League for the better

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Pep Guardiola is arguably the best manager in world football and yet he still has his critics but one thing is very sure he is the best man manager out there.

It’s true of course that everywhere Guardiola has been he has had money to spend, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City- although one could argue that at Barcelona he just inherited an insanely fantastic squad of players who ended up being hailed as perhaps the greatest club team of all time, and tika taka as we know it was born.

It would be a mistake just to think that Guardiola throws money at the problem, because as Real Madrid proved throughout the 2000s when they went through their first phase of galactico mania, money doesn’t always buy the best balanced team.

But with Guardiola there is a huge difference. First he identifies the problem areas and then asks for the money, yes he has been lucky to have that privilege but then he knows despite the talents of the incoming player that they will still need proper coaching. Guardiola will never do a Jose Mourinho and have a total meltdown at at football club, it isn’t in his nature and it isn’t in his nature to have a major public falling out with a player.

Guardiola remains a winner and wants to win all trophies his team are entered into. It is why Manchester City currently lead the Premier League, even though Liverpool have arguably been the best side this season and have lost just 1 game. Him and his teams never give up, relentless is a good word to use.

After City beat Chelsea 6-0, Guardiola was most likely beaming inside but he wasn’t letting the press know it. If you had not known the score you could have thought that City had perhaps scrapped to a 1-0 or 2-1 win. This is in his DNA his mentality because a win is just a win. It was also telling to see that Guardiola admitted that his City side are not on the same level as Barcelona when he coached them. For arguments sake he could have said yes, but he refused to say so. Instead he stuck to the truth that City haven’t even won the Champions League yet.

And onto that City are now the favourites to win their first ever European Cup, and yes they have come a long way.

Arsene Wenger has been celebrated in the Premier League as a foreign coach who came in and changed how players saw their fitness and changed diets which spread from Arsenal right through the league. If Wenger was the founder of that in the modern age then Guardiola is the torch bearer. His qualities and professionalism seem to know no boundaries. You can tell when you look into his eyes that he is thinking about City and football 24/7. That is what City bought into when they decided to make Guardiola boss, and now the club are reaping those awards.

Why is Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri ready for the sack when others aren’t?

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One of the most bizarre stories to come out of the Premier League this season is the impending doom of Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. It’s even more scarier that it appears to be true and that Sarri may be sent his marching orders from the Chelsea hierarchy after just 6 months in charge.

But why is Sarri facing the sack when nothing is being said of other managers? Most notably look at Arsenal’s Unai Emery. Now he doesn’t deserve the sack but if it’s good enough for Sarri then why isn’t it good enough for Emery. After all both teams have 50 points.

The pressure on Sarri makes no sense at all, it’s not like he is having a Jose Mourinho 3rd season Chelsea stint. The Blues are in the top six and just one point from being in the top 4. They are also let’s not forget in the final of the Carbao Cup and still in the FA Cup and in the knock out stages of the Europa League.

So Sarri being announced as one of the managers who is under real pressure feels like a sad day for football. And of course we know that Chelsea do not mess around once those rumours swirl up.

It is true of course that Chelsea’s form over the past few months has dipped and they have just been smashed by Manchester City 6-0 and the other week they lost away to Bournemouth 4-0. They are having a bad time of it away from home- but let’s not forget that they also beat City at Stamford Bridge earlier this season winning 2-0, in what was an utterly professional display.

So yes The Blues form has slipped and it does look like Eden Hazard will be leaving the club. But even with all of this considered, to sack Sarri despite the promise he has shown in what is his debut season is to punch the philosophy of football in the face. Why are Chelsea not considering keeping Sarri on at least for another season?

There are possibly two reasons for this; The first is that he criticised the players the other week after their listless loss against Arsenal. In this day and age you just can’t do that. The second is that the league has become all about finishing in the top 4, and right now Chelsea are heading for more Europa League football. But it is so tight up there anything can still happen.

Sacking Sarri feels like it will be Chelsea’s loss, and actually they are imitating somewhat the chaotic circus that was Real Madrid from the mid 2000s. History says stick with your man just a little through the hard times, but Sarri’s number seems up.

Sack or back Sarri? Chelsea’s decision will define the type of club they want to be

It seems strange to say now, but Chelsea actually began brightly in Sunday’s clash with Manchester City. The visitors to the Etihad Stadium made their intentions clear early on, pressing high up the pitch from the very first whistle in an attempt to disrupt their opponents’ build-up play. To an extent, it worked: City, who have grown accustomed to visiting sides camping on the edge of their own penalty area, initially looked uncomfortable, but their superior quality ultimately told – and to devastating effect.

Continue reading

Manchester City rampant as they climb above Liverpool

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The difference in class between Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea was clear on Sunday afternoon. Irresistible in the first half, City’s five shots at Kepa Arrizabalaga’s goal resulted in four of them hitting the back of the net after just 25 minutes.

Raheem Sterling had the hosts a goal up inside after just three minutes with an emphatic finish at the far post and while Sarri called for concentration after conceding so early, it should have been two just seconds later, only for Sergio Aguero to miss seconds later from a yard. Continue reading

Tottenham can still win the league with an almighty run

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So the scenario is that the Premier League is a two horse race between Liverpool and Manchester City, but perhaps Tottenham have a chance too. While the media pour column inches over the two teams nobody is really talking about Tottenham who are just five points behind Liverpool. Could they really have a chance?

If the form books go as they should it looks like the new champions will end up with anything between 90-94 points. No matter how good Liverpool and City have been they are going to drop more points this season.

Tottenham looked out of the league a few weeks back after falling almost 10 points behind Liverpool, but the Reds have dropped points through drawing games and City lost in between that and the teams look more bunched up and close than many people think.

So do Tottenham have a chance? There is the possibility of it. They have 39 points left on the table and have 57 in total. If they were to win every game they would end up with 96 points which should be enough to win the league. The problem is not many teams are capable of winning 13 games in a row, but if it is going to happen then it should towards the end of the season when your club are going for a title.

Of Tottenham’s 13 fixtures 7 are at home if we can imagine the club winning at least all of their home fixtures that would take them to 78 points alone. Of course Spurs have some difficult matches coming up where they will have to play the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool and only the Arsenal game will be at home. On top of that is the Champions League, and if Spurs are going to try to maintain a league challenge it’s difficult for them in their present state to also go full throttle for Europe.

Still Mauricio Pochettino’s side will feel that they can exert real pressure on the top two teams. Their next fixtures both look winnable at least on paper when they will entertain Leicester before an away match against Burnley. Having said that you never can quite tell what Leicester side will turn up and Burnley have really improved as a team.

At the very least Tottenham should be finishing 3rd this season and if Pochettino is given some cash injections in the summer they have to go for the title that has eluded them since 1961 next season.

 

Why brilliant Sergio Aguero won’t beat Alan Shearer’s Premier League record

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If you were to list the best ever strikers in Premier League history, surely Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero has to be up there. The Argentinian scored a superb hattrick at the weekend as City beat Arsenal 3-1 to keep up the pressure on Liverpool at the top of the league and has been such a consistent player for the Manchester side.

Indeed one could say that Aguero has been the best forward in the Premier League for the past five years. Aguero has now scored 157 times since joining City in the summer of 2011 from Atletico Madrid, and he has scored some brilliant and memorable goals and been able to win countless trophies with City.

But question remains, if he is that good can be beat a record that has stayed since the early 2000s, the one of all time Premier League goal scorer? The answer seems to be no.

Let’s look into that deeper. Firstly Shearer’s record stands at 260 goals, and so Aguero would need 104 goals to beat it. Aguero is averaging 20 goals a season once we take his tally into account and divide that by the seasons he has played. This season he has scored 14 goals and he is on course to get anything between 25-30 goals. His highest ever in the league was recorded in 2014/15 where he notched 26 goals, even though City didn’t win the title, that year it went to Chelsea.

One problem for Aguero is how long does he have left in the Premier League? By the start of next season he will be 31 and it does seem unlikely he will leave the club in the near future. At the same time he may be tempted to go to China for an even bigger pay day but there is also the calling card of his home country Argentina, where Aguero would love to end his career there. We are seeing in some aspects how footballers can extend their careers by a few years, but at the very top where Aguero is now, he has at best 2 more seasons on top of this one.

That is the real problem in Ageuro breaking the record. Because if he was to do so, he would need at least another four seasons of scoring 25 goals in each one and not trying to get injured which is a possibility for him. What Aguero does have is a better games to goals ratio than Shearer, but it is unlikely he will be able to beat the former Blackburn and Newcastle forwards record.

A realistic option for him would be to break the 200 goal barrier. Only two players have ever done so, Shearer of course and the other being Wayne Rooney who left the Premier League having acquired a total of 208 goals. Aguero has the chance to break it and he is currently in 8th place. His next target will be to get to 164 goals where he would overtake both Jermain Defoe and Robbie Fowler and one suspects that Aguero will be able to do that this season.

If he stays fit and remains at City for another two seasons after this he could end up with as much as 220 goals which would put him in 2nd place- he would be richly deserving of that as he has clearly been one of the best strikers not just in the Premier League but in Europe of the past decade.

February could be key to Liverpool winning the Premier League

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The league table doesn’t lie and as we have entered February Liverpool are still top of the standings. Their lead is just 2 points from current champions Manchester City but The Reds will play West Ham on Monday night and so they could have their 5 point lead restored.

But a 5 point lead isn’t going to quite cut it against a team like Pep Guardiola’s City side and Liverpool know they should be 7 points in front after dropping points at Anfield last week when they drew against Leicester- and in that game they were an early goal up.

This season has been all about Liverpool and the question remains, can they really win their first league title since 1990? There is also pressure on manager Jurgen Klopp who has done a terrific job, identifying which players Liverpool have needed and the team have played wonderful football since he has arrived, but awkwardly there has been no trophies as yet.

But February does seem to be the defining month for Liverpool and even though the title won’t be decided this month, it could take a large swing that way. Liverpool start the month of with a trip to West Ham. On paper this looks like 3 points and we must remember that The Reds have scored a whopping 16 goals against the Londoners in their past 4 meetings.

West Ham have been hit by a series of injuries and Liverpool will fancy their chances. However the game is in London where West Ham have already beaten Manchester United and drew with Chelsea. The month continues with a home match against Bournemouth who have been terrific at home but poor away- even an out of form Everton were able to beat Eddie Howe’s side, and this should be a good win for Liverpool.

Then comes the Champions League first leg tie again at Anfield but against a super European heavyweight in Bayern Munich. Liverpool with their fantastic atmosphere of a crowd will fancy their chances, but the feeling is that the league is more important this season- and this is another game that could take a lot out of Jurgen Klopp’s players.

The following weekend they will face the resurgent Manchester United at Old Trafford on what could prove to be a pivotal match. United do not want Liverpool to win the league- although they wouldn’t want City to win it either, but at the same time they are going for a top 4 spot, so that could well be the game of the season so far.

They then finish the month off with what could be another win, as they are back home against Watford. So there are some pressure cooker games for The Reds, then again there are for Manchester City too and even Tottenham are not that far behind. One thing for sure is that we will have a clearer picture of who will be Premier League champions at the end of the month.