Premier League: Player of the Week: Nicolas Pepe

It has been a slow start for Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe who was being thought of as the next best player to come from Ligue 1 football. Pepe had just completed a brilliant season with Lille, who had finished 2nd in the French league to inevitable champions PSG. To further that Pepe had scored 22 goals in the league and was a major reason that Lille qualified for this seasons Champions League. Despite qualification Pepe chose to join Arsenal in a deal that cost the Premier League club £72m.

This past weekend Pepe showed the best side of his game, something that Arsenal fans had been waiting for since August. Arsenal beat Newcastle 4-0, a rare result for the Gunners this season given that they have drawn 13 games and have only won 7 games so far. But this was more than a result, it seemed like a statement, even if the club had only really started playing in the 2nd half, given that the match was all square at 0-0 in the first.

Pepe was given the man of the match after a dazzling spectacle that all kicked off in the 54th minute when he set up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Arsenal’s first goal. Two minutes later Pepe himself was making it 2-0, and it was crucial not just to get the second goal but the fact it came so close after the first, Arsenal were going to triumph here and Newcastle had just been shocked into submission.

Pepe then assisted Alexandre Lacazette when the game was at 3-0 to the home side and Lacazette duly obliged by making it 4-0 in the fifth minute of injury time. It was a great result for Arsenal but a fantastic display by Pepe.

The Ivory Coast international earned 8 points at the weekend, the most of any player in the Premier League, even with reduced fixtures given that there was a winter break on.

So far Pepe has a total of 21 points and is valued at 8m, if he starts his form now that could be a great price as Arsenal try to recover their season from 10th place. The attacking winger has scored 4 goals so far and assisted in a further four and has received 3 yellow cards.

Maybe Pepe’s career with Arsenal has started slow, one remembers though the same applied to both Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry and they ended up being club legends. Also in the fantasy rankings Pepe is the 3rd best Arsenal player of the season so far but is more than double the points behind Aubameyang.

Something says that Pepe is going to get better and better this season,and the Gunners next game will be at home to Everton at the weekend who lie just in front of them in 9th position.

How well do you know English football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.

 

Has the 4-0 victory over Newcastle green lit Arsenal’s season?

There are always turning points good and bad in football and one senses that Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Newcastle United at the weekend could just be the turning point that Arsenal have been looking for all season.

Arsenal don’t win games 4-0 anymore, in fact they don’t win many games at all. Currently they have 13 draws and this game against the Magpies looked like it would be number 14- and that was if they were lucky.

In truth it was a first half mostly dominated by the away team, who created very good chances and the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin and Joelinton looked very lively. Arsenal looked confused at home and woeful. The first half ended 0-0 and never felt not for one moment that Arsenal would score 4 goals in the second half. But they did.

A lot of that is down to manager Mikel Arteta’s half time talk, and it was interesting how he was able to identify the clubs positives and Newcastle’s weaknesses. Arsenal came out firing on all cylinders and it was the chasing down of the ball and the intensity that they showed right off the bat that won the game for them. Indeed they had started the match this way, and then were huffing and puffing with no ideas after five minutes. But the club in the second half looked a completely different side.

The Gunners are so very lucky to have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as a striker- how many times has he got the club out of trouble when the chips have been down? And they have been down for so long. But Aubameyang keeps scoring and keeps hoping and he opened the scoring 9 minutes after the re start. When Nicolas Pepe scored the 2nd goal, three minutes later the game was over, Newcastle’s hearts had left the stadium.

It’s true that goals number 3 and 4 put a shine over a game that felt like a 2-0 victory but at the end of the day goals and wins bring confidence to a team. That was only Arteta’s 2nd win in 8 games, although he has only lost one so far.

The question now being posed is is this the beginning of a strong run for Arsenal now, who could still claim a good position. After Manchester City were banned by UEFA in participating in the Champions League, 5th place would now be up for grabs, pending their appeal. If so Arsenal are only six points from that target. With clubs ranked 4th-9th not being consistent enough, Arsenal really could make a charge and a statement and what a comeback it would for the club who have remained around 10th place for much of the season.

What is interesting is taking a look at the clubs upcoming fixtures. Their next game will be tough but they will be at home to Everton. They then have another home match against West Ham. There are trips to both Brighton and Southampton followed by a home match against Norwich and a trip to Wolves before returning home to face Leicester. All of those games look like Arsenal could get points in. Their biggest problem is projecting their home form over to their away form, where they have really struggled not just this season but for the past 3 at least.

Take out the Leicester game though and Arsenal won’t face a top 6 side until the end of April when they play Tottenham away. In May they will play Liverpool, but again all of their opponents now will not be classed as the biggest teams in the league. Still Arsenal have struggled against them anyway this season.

But surely scoring 4 goals in one game has given the club a lift and taken away that dark cloud that has hung over the Emirates since August. Is this the moment that Arteta makes a name for himself and the talented Arsenal players step up to the plate, or was it just a convenient speed bump on the road to a mediocre season?

How well do you know English football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.

Joelinton’s lack of goals are stopping Newcastle from claiming a European spot

As long as Newcastle keep doing what they are doing they won’t go down and would have had a decent enough season if unspectacular under manager and life long fan Steve Bruce.

However one cannot get away from the fact that the Magpies should be doing so much better, a top 7 team at least and trying to qualify for the Europa League. Of course you win, lose and draw as a team and no one wants to directly point the finger at one individual. But having said that surely there was more expected of Brazilian striker Joelinton?

Joelinton came in a flurry of media frenzy up in Newcastle, he’s South American and that brought back memories of the very entertaining if not volatile Faustino Asprillia, revered up here. It’s strange to think that Joelinton actually started the season well. He showed good speed, some technical skills and just when the fans were thinking ‘where are the goals’, he goes and gets the winner away to Tottenham of all teams- the same club that made the 2019 Champions League final. Not too bad.

But six months into the season he can be judged as a failure. That doesn’t mean his time in England is doomed, maybe he just needs readjustment to a different country and culture. Maybe his 2nd season will be HIS one. For now scoring just 1 goal this season is an utterly poor return on a player who cost Newcastle £40m last summer.

Maybe the problem lies though not so much with the player but with Newcastle and his former club Hoffenheim, after all it was the two parties who came to the agreement of £40m. That in itself isn’t a problem until you see the players stats.

For example he has never scored more than 8 league goals in a season and when he did it was for Austrian side Rapid Wien when he was on loan. One can imagine with all respect that football in the Austrian league is not of the highest standard. Even for Hoffenheim he managed just 7 goals in 29 league games. Plus why did no one at Newcastle see the alarm bells ringing given that Hoffenheim who had rated the striker so highly felt the need to loan him out to an Austrian league side?

So far he has 26 league goals in 7 seasons and that just won’t cut it. One doubts that he will suddenly become a star striker at 24 next season, and Newcastle fans can genuinely wonder why their manager did not look at buying another striker in the January transfer window. Had Joelinton scored for example another 10 goals, Newcastle would be in a great position now, instead this season as well as the player looks like a write off.

How well do you know English football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.

A resurgent Paul Pogba can fire Manchester United into the top 4, if he wants too

How will Paul Pogba be remembered at Manchester United and on the bigger picture how will he be remembered in world football, if for example, he was to stop playing this second?

Obviously Pogba is a world class player, you don’t win the World Cup and play for Juventus and Manchester United. But at the same time it does feel as if Pogba at times has not given everything to the cause. Was he ever 100% committed when he played for Juventus? His time at Manchester United in reality will be remembered for magical moments, bursts of inspiration and some great goals, but it will also be remembered for confrontations with managers especially Jose Mourinho and niggling injuries.

Pogba can still change that attitude and end the season on a high and it was telling how good Pogba looked when he made his return against Watford a week ago. True United in United fashion this decade lost the game, and against the bottom side but Pogba came on from the bench and in the 30 minutes he had changed the way United were playing. He was fearless in his attacks from midfield and his pace and vision were also superb. We were seeing the very best of Pogba, the same version of Pogba we saw at the 2018 World Cup where his performances especially in the knock out rounds were superb. There is no doubt that when Pogba wants it, Pogba is a wonderful player to witness.

It should have come to no surprise then that in United’s next game against Newcastle they would win 4-1 with an outstanding performance and another confident game for the Frenchman. So now one wonders if United has a chance to finish in the top 4?

At this moment Chelsea are making it rather easier for them than it should be. The gap to 4th should be and could have been 15 points at least instead it is just 4 points and United do have a genuine chance to make a top 4 challenge. Of course other teams have bunched up in the league because of Chelsea’s bad form and United are in 8th place.

Wolves, Tottenham and Sheffield United stand between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team and 4th. But United do have fire in their belly and before the Watford loss there is no doubt that the club had found their form again and we were seeing a United side who looked the business when Solskjaer first took over from a sacked Jose Mourinho a year ago.

United though need Pogba to be on his game if they are going to challenge for a top 4 spot. Sure form came to the club when Pogba was ironically injured and on the sidelines for a few weeks. But now he is fit he will play and if he doesn’t find consistency then that will be an extra ‘ghost’ player on the field for the club which will help no one.

Does Pogba want to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the United greats? He could be and still has the time to be. Now much like he did with France in that glorious World Cup win he needs to drag his team across that line, or he may just forever be known as a player that could have instead of something that did.

How well do you know English football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.

Three U-23 players to keep an eye on throughout the Premier League season

As gameweek one has come to an end, a large number of Premier League supporters will have already predicted which teams will have a successful season and which specific individuals will go on to being the game changers compared to the rest of the players in the top flight of English football.

Meanwhile, a small group of young talents are aiming to have a bright season at a personal level and are looking to make a name for themselves. A lot of these youngsters will be looking up to the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, James Maddison and Matteo Guendouzi, players who had their breakout moment over the last 12 months and are now seen as a hot property by their club and manager.

With no further ado, it’s time to look at the three U-23 players to keep an eye on this campaign.

Callum Hudson-Odoi

Although he has had a decent amount of first-team experience under Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri, Callum Hudson-Odoi will be hoping that the managerial arrival of Frank Lampard will allow him to play on a regular basis. Also, the fact that Eden Hazard left a month ago and the club are not able to bring in any players for another transfer window, it may grant him a couple of chances to prove himself.

Currently on the sidelines after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon at the end of last season, the 19-year-old is expected to return to full training over the next couple of weeks before he begins to feature on the pitch once again. Once he gets going and is back on the pitch, there is no doubt at all that he goes straight into the Chelsea team, as they are currently lack pure quality in the final third of the pitch.

With the side missing a player that can take the game by the scruff of the neck or create something out of nothing, the return of Hudson-Odoi would help the team’s creativity and movement on and off the ball massively whilst the likes of Christian Pulisic and Tammy Abraham will benefit from his presence. For the sure, the departure of Hazard may hurt the Blues mentally in the long run, but they have a player in Hudson-Odoi that can confidently open up a defensive side and come up with the vital contributions. 

Max Aarons

Reviewing Norwich City’s last year in the Championship, they could have easily fallen down into the play-off area rather than winning the league, if it wasn’t for the crucial shift that Max Aarons had completed on both sides of the pitch. From being a speedy outlet on the flanks as a full-back to completing the required defensive duties, the youngster has it all to be a top player in his specific position.

If he goes on to replicating the same types of performances in the top tier of English football, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur gain interest in the player once again. However, the standards between both leagues are massively high, as Aarons’ discipline and positional awareness will have to be top notch in what could be his breakout year of his professional career.

Given that the attacking-minded players in Emiliano Buendia and Todd Cantwell are expected to be constantly marked by the opposition, Norwich have a full-back to rely on to make those striding runs down the wings and to put in the inch-perfect crosses into someone like Teemu Pukki. Also, a consistent campaign for the rising talent could see him become one of the best players in his department within the league.

Sean Longstaff

Newcastle United are going through a serious transition period, as they attempt to put the Rafa Benitez era behind themselves as well as produce new memories under manager Steve Bruce. Though, one of the positives that the Toons will have become aware of throughout this year, has been the incredible rise of central-midfielder Sean Longstaff, someone who spent a crucial loan at League one side Blackpool during the 2017-18 season and is now being a regular starter in top flight football.

At the age of 21, the youngster is living the dream that all young English football supporters have of playing in the Premier League and for their local club. And not only that, he received a new four-year deal back in November 2018, and is already expected to receive another huge increase over the next couple of weeks, as Manchester United were regularly interested in the Newcastle-born midfielder in recent months.

If Longstaff can go on to reaching his potential and the expectation of the Newcastle supporters, then the team will surely have stabilised midfield that allows them to push for success in the domestic competition and also aim for a higher finish in the league. If and once that eventually happens, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the club requesting for £50million and over for the player, purely to ward off any interest from other clubs.

6 managers who crossed the divide to manager their former club’s rivals

Steve Bruce (Sheffield United/Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham City/Aston Villa and Sunderland/Newcastle United)

Bruce’s appointment as Newcastle boss is not the first time he has crossed the divide of a fierce rivalry. He is unlikely to manage the Magpies against former club Sunderland, with whom he spent two full seasons between 2009 and 2011, given the two divisions separating the two sides at present, but it is unlikely that such a fixture would faze him.

Continue reading

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard is right to turn down approach from Newcastle

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz(1)

Steven Gerrard has turned down the chance to manage Newcastle United and it seems the ex Liverpool legend has made the right choice.

Gerrard is new to the managership game and has chosen Rangers to make his debut in the dug out. Gerrard did well and finished 2nd in the league only to Celtic and only by 9 points. That means that Rangers will be playing in the Europa League next season and he should be happy with his first season.

Rangers are trying to win their first league championship since 2011 after a troubled decade which has seen them relegated due to internal problems. Surely the challenge then for Gerrard would be to see Rangers as champions, and leaving after just one season would make little sense.

This would be underlined when it comes to Newcastle as Gerrard has seen his former Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez not treated so well at the Magpies by owner Mike Ashley, so why would Gerrard leave a stable job like Rangers to manage Newcastle who could well be a likely candidate to struggle next season and could be relegated. With Rangers there are goals to be won and one of those is finally displacing Celtic and bringing the league back to Ibrox after 9 years.

Gerrard is also showing total respect to Rangers as he has already been involved in pre season and this week Rangers will be taking on St Josephs in the Europa League qualifying. Rangers are expected to win the game against the minnows from Gibraltar but this is over 2 legs.

One could take a leaf out of Gerrard’s book though. It is still puzzling that Brendan Rodgers left Celtic in March, two months before the end of the Scottish season to take charge of Premier League team Leicester City, why not wait until the end of the season, after all that is what it is about respect.

Anyhow Gerrard has decided to stay and done the right thing, and there would have been no guarantee anyway that he would have gotten along with Mike Ashley- few seem to do.

Gerrard’s long term plan looks evident enough and that is to put Rangers back on the map to winning trophies and then one day return to the Premier League and manage his beloved Liverpool. Well if Frank Lampard can do it for Chelsea why not Gerrard for Liverpool, it will take longer to achieve but that will be his ultimate goal no doubt.

Are Newcastle about to become the next Manchester City?

ashh(1)

There isn’t a whole lot of love for Newcastle United’s owner Mike Ashley, from the current manager Rafa Benitez to the fans there has been friction between the ‘three’ which has caused problems on the pitch as well as off. Now that could be set to change in a massive way as reports suggest that Mike Ashley will sell the club for around £350m.

Of course we have been here before and it was revealed just last year that Ashley almost sold the club to Sheikh Mansour who of course went on to purchase Manchester City and the club never looked back.

But this time it feels more concrete more real and unless something dramatic happens in the coming days it seems that now is finally the time that Ashley will sell his beloved club, a team that he has supported for his whole life. But what will leave fans and the football world flabbergasted is that Ashley looks set to sell the club to Shiekh Khaled.

Shiekh Khaled is a cousin of Shiekh Mansour and the thinking is that if Khaled does take over the club that the Magpies could end up being one of the big teams of the Premier League.

Newcastle have had to endure a torrid time in recent years and it has been almost 25 years since they nearly won the league which was scuppered in the heat of the moment when Alex Ferguson’s mind games got the better of the then Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan and the club blew a 12 point lead. Since then it has been a battle without any trophies and one wonders if a new era could be taking shape at the infamous club.

What is certain is that manager Rafa Benitez who has been incredibly loyal to the club after coaching them in the Championship could leave the club at the end of June when his contract runs out. No one at the club wants that given that the Magpies have to stabilise. It is thought that if Khaled does take over the club that he wants to keep Benitez as manager, which would be good for the club.

As far as how much the Premier League has changed it all started when Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea in 2003. That signalled the end of Arsenal and Manchester United’s reign of the English league. A few years later it was Manchester City. As we enter a new decade could it be that Newcastle will join them? Will Khaled change the history of the club? This summer will undoubtedly be one of the biggest of Newcastle’s in some time.

EPL Weekend Picks – Week 36

eriksen

With only three or four games left in the Premier League season depending on which side you are following, things are starting to get serious! The title race looks all set to go down to the wire, while the relegation battle appears closer than many thought possible just a few weeks ago. Cardiff and Brighton appear the two sides most immediately in danger of claiming 18th and the final relegation place, though Southampton are not yet mathematically safe. Title contenders Liverpool and Man City both have games where you would fancy them to win, with City’s arguably the slightly tougher game. With that said, let’s go for a 4-3-3 again and see which players are worth keeping an eye on and including in your fantasy squads this weekend.

Continue reading

EPL: Premier League Predictions for Week 35

Richarlison(1)

The English Premier League only has a few weeks left and there is clearly a reason why football fans regard the league as the most exciting and competitive. That is because the league title is the closest of all the European major leagues and will most likely go down to the wire between Liverpool and Manchester City.

There are 2 Champions League places to take care of as Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham do battle to secure a top 4 place. And Cardiff have given themselves a chance by beating Brighton in midweek- all is to play for as we enter another weekend of Premier League football which should be enthralling and fascinating.

Manchester City v Tottenham

Just where do we start after the teams played out an incredible Champions League 2nd leg quarter final where City won 4-3 on the night but went out on the away goals rule. City need to win this game or that could be the title over too. They will be utterly determined to win this game at home now. Watch out for Raheem Sterling who was denied a hat trick because of VAR, a system not used in the Premier League yet. Manchester City to beat Tottenham

Bournemouth v Fulham

Fulham got a terrific victory over Everton last weekend even though they are down, but their away form is very poor. Eddie Howe’s side are safe and beat Brighton 5-0 in their last match. Callum Wilson could be the difference between the sides, but this should be a close game. Draw

Huddersfield v Watford

More than likely Watford’s mindset will be preparing for the FA Cup final even if it is still a month away. They will be without influential player Troy Deeney who was sent off in the defeat against Arsenal. Huddersfield are relegated and have little to play for, except for home pride and we could see a surprise result here. Huddersfield to beat Watford

West Ham v Leicester

West Ham have been in poor form but the players put in a great shift against Manchester United at Old Trafford and if they can take something from that game even though they lost they could do well here. Felipe Anderson played very well. Leicester have been strong under Brendan Rodgers but lost their last game at home to Newcastle where they didn’t turn up. West Ham to beat Leicester

Wolves v Brighton

Wolves have been excellent this season but they have just 1 win in their past four games. However at home against a poor form side like Brighton this should be 3 points and they could be back in the hunt for a 7th place finish. Brighton continue to be poor in 2019 and could now face a relegation dog fight. Wolves to beat Brighton

Newcastle v Southampton

The Magpies pulled off a great result last weekend going to Leicester and getting a 1-0 win and playing well. Southampton have just 1 win in their past four games and this is their furthest trip in league fixtures. We will opt for the home win here in a game where we could see plenty of goals. Newcastle to beat Southampton

Everton v Manchester United

Since the beginning of March Everton have found form and Marco Silva’s job has been saved. But they put in a toothless display against Fulham last weekend and lost. Back at home where they beat Arsenal and Chelsea recently they can give United a game. United have been in average form and were knocked out in the Champions League against Barcelona, but remain a danger as they hunt for a top 4 finish. Could Everton’s Richarlison be the difference? Draw

Arsenal v Crystal Palace

Arsenal should have few problems against Palace and get all three points. The Gunners have been one of the best teams in the league at home and have lost here just once back on the opening day of the season. Palace are safe and have little to play for. Pierre Emerick- Aubameyang is in great form and will relish this game. Arsenal to beat Crystal Palace

Cardiff v Liverpool

Cardiff got a massive victory over Brighton in midweek to give themselves a chance for survival. But they must keep winning. The problem is they are facing Liverpool and this will be a difficult match. Liverpool just keep on collecting the points, and whilst this will be  a difficult game for the Reds they should have enough quality up front to hurt the home team. Liverpool to beat Cardiff

Chelsea v Burnley

Chelsea still have a great chance to finish in the top four, the problem is that their direct rivals have 5 games to play while they have 4. That means that every game counts but winning at least at home is essential. Eden Hazard is looking the business as he possibly wraps up his career with the Blues. Burnley are in excellent form with 3 wins from their last 3 games but have lost 9 times on the road this season. Chelsea to beat Burnley

Play the newest EPL Fantasy game here!