The battle for Premier League safety

As you would expect, a lot of the focus on the English Premier League is directed to the top of the table. Even more so this season, as we have a title race that looks like it could go right down to the wire. The fight at the other end, the one to retain premier league status should definitely not be ignored though. It is every bit as fierce and close, and involves several teams that know the very future of their clubs hinge on what happens over the next 8 or so games.

Those that have gone

With apologies to Huddersfield and Fulham fans, I am going to assume you are already down. Fulham have been hamstrung from day one by a raft of signings that were bought with little or no knowledge of what it would take for a fight in the world’s most competitive division. As for Huddersfield, if they have achieved nothing else this season, they have made life easy for punters around the globe as a shoe-in for their for their weekly football accumulators. On the plus side, The Terriers at least will look like they will be well equipped for a challenge next season for a quick return.

Those that are relatively safe

Several teams that have flirted with the drop zone appear to have pulled themselves out in recent weeks. Newcastle are a case in point. They have had far from a vintage season, but they have picked up some crucial wins of late and have done enough for another season in the top flight. It is a reverse situation for Bournemouth. Their form and points picked up in the first half of the season should be enough to see them safe despite a worrying drop in form in recent weeks.

Those very much in the fight  

Crystal Palace

I was very tempted to put these in the preceding category. Though they have not got the points on the board to guarantee safety, they have been playing well – especially away from home – and have a team that should have enough to see them over the line. A win against rivals Brighton would have all but seen them safe, but it wasn’t to be, their poor home form coming back to haunt them. Their run in is not the easiest but they should be able to pick up the 3 or 4 points they need.

Brighton

Back to back wins, including that one at Selhurst have breathed new life into the Seagull’s fight for survival, and it has come at just the right time. They play Arsenal and Man City on the last two games of the season. They do however have home games against Cardiff, Southampton and Bournemouth, and you would think in those games alone they would be able to secure the points required.

Southampton

Sticking or twisting regarding the manager is always a tricky decision, but bringing in a new man in the shape of Ralph Hasenhüttl looks like it may be the difference to the Saints’ survival. They are playing with a belief and freedom that just was not there before, and crucially they are scoring goals. Their last three games are against Bournemouth, West Ham and Huddersfield, all who are unlikely to be playing for anything other than pride. They should be safe, and it will be interesting to see how they push on next season.

Burnley

Sean Dyche’s team payed heavily for their European run, one which meant their season started when most of their rivals were still on the beach. Since the turn of the year they appeared to have turned a corner, going on a run and picking up crucial points. Suddenly however their form has deserted them, just when they had safety in their grasp. Their run in is tricky to say the least. They face Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City as well as Wolves and Everton. It is doubtful how many points they will amass from that, and their fate will more than likely depend on how the one remaining team fare:

Cardiff

The Welsh outfit were all but down at the end of the year, but they have shown a fight and crucially a nose for goal, that has seen them still in with a sniff of safety. It comes down to a head to head with Burnley. Like The Clarets, Neil Warnock’s team have not been handed a comfortable run in, with games against Man U, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea to come. They will need to pick up points against Brighton, Palace and Fulham. There is however one game that could decide it all. Saturday 13th April sees the ultimate relegation 6 pointer when Cardiff go to Turf Moor. The winner of that match, as well as the 3 points could well also be taking home EPL survival.

The rise of the talented central midfielders from outside of the Premier League top-six

Neves

The top-six of the Premier League are blessed with a large number of central midfielders, with the likes of David Silva, Fernandinho, N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba seen as the main and obvious ones around. These individuals have shown their quality for their respective teams over the last couple of years, whether it’s with their attacking contributions or their ability defend in front of the backline.

The midfield department has become a very demanding position, where many of the top clubs in Europe aim to have enough quality and depth in order to compete in all competitions effectively. Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City are good examples, three clubs that have the players available on and off the bench to take control of the game and to importantly dominate it.

Now, it is time to look at the talented central midfielders from outside of the Premier League top-six, those who play a crucial role for their sides and are expected to become a wanted man from the end of the season till the final days of the 2019 summer transfer window. For sure, it is still early days to consider these key players, but some individuals have been really impressive in recent months.

With no further ado, here are the central midfielders that deserve more appreciation and credit…

Abdoulaye Doucoure

Javi Garcia’s Watford are enjoying a top notch of a season in the Premier League, because of how consistent they are in front of goal and how they are expected to break a personal record of the most points they have picked up in a single campaign before the current term comes to an end. And one of the main players that have allowed this to happen is Abdoulaye Doucoure, thanks to his technical ability and intelligence on and off the ball as well as his displays in the middle of the pitch.

Since his arrival to England from French side Rennes, he has shown his composure and quality in the centre of midfield alongside Etienne Capoue, where he completes the required interceptions and tackles in his own half to helping the side attack quickly through his dribbling ability and his burst of pace. Thanks to his positive mindset and attacking mentality, it allows the team to strive forward and to press high up the pitch whilst making sure that the goals don’t come only from the attackers.

Andre Gomes

Majority of the Premier League supporters would see Andre Gomes as a player that had failed to succeed the expectations that he once had at Barcelona, and he is now trying to revive his professional career in another country and league. However, Everton took a massive punt on him in the summer, and have reaped the rewards but are waiting to receive it consistently, due to the fact that he has had some minor injury issues and some difficulties in settling into the dressing room.

Nevertheless, the 25-year-old has regained fine form and reportedly expected to move to Goodison Park in the summer on a permanent basis, which instantly sums up the influence he has on Marco Silva’s midfield and how they are more proactive and efficient when he is in starting line-up. Without his range of passing and approach of how to control and dictate play, the Toffees would struggle to break the opposition’s defence down and would face a lot of defensive problems on the counter.

 

 

James Ward-Prowse

Despite Southampton’s below par season over the last two to three campaigns, James Ward-Prowse and his rise has been one of the most popular stories at St Mary’s Stadium. Having evidently proven himself on both sides of the pitch, he is also one of the few leaders that the Saints respectively have within the squad. On top of that, he has the incredible ability to pull off some insane free-kicks, which he did so against both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur over the last two weeks.

If he was playing for one of the top sides in the Premier League, he would be easily getting into the England squad and would have been a serious candidate in the midfield role of Gareth Southgate’s team. For the time being, he still has a lot of time to improve as a player and will have the perfect timeframe to review any potential offers that may come his way, given that he is in need of two more consistent seasons before deciding to move to Arsenal, Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur.

Ruben Neves

The main focus of this term has been Wolverhampton Wanderers and how they have turned up against the best teams in the league, where they have picked up victories against Chelsea at home, Tottenham away and crucial stalemates versus Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United. Players such as Diogo Jota, Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez have played the key role in Nuno Espirito Santo’s team, but it’s Ruben Neves who has stolen the media headlines and English press coverage.

With how the Portuguese international has been performing so far this Premier League term, it almost feels like he has been playing in the top flight of English football for quite a long time. Being a physical player off the ball and in the air, he has the ideal ability to distribute the ball that the full-backs and wingers look for from a midfielder. Also, he is another great player that is a dead ball specialist, whilst having the much needed understanding to play in any of the tactical role in midfield.

The EPL’s likely starting lineups for this weekend

Ross Barkley

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

Questionable: n/a

Out: Speroni, Sakho, Souare (Crystal Palace); Balogun, Gross (Brighton)

EPL Game of the Weekend – Man Utd vs Southampton

lukakuWhen Man Utd parted company with Jose Mourinho back in December and brought in club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a caretaker basis, many assumed this was little more than a nostalgia act – a chance to see Ole back at the club for a time while the hierarchy went about searching for a permanent successor to the Portuguese boss. However, in the time since Solskjaer’s return, United have gone on a run of 13 wins in 16 matches, tasting defeat only once – and this run of form has led many to assume that the 46-year-old will be given the job on a permanent basis at some point between now and the start of the 2019-20 campaign. This past weekend, the Red Devils welcomed Southampton to Old Trafford in what would turn out to be a modern-day classic game. Continue reading

Manchester United 3-2 Southampton: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men bounce back in some fashion

Rom

Manchester United had a big chance to re-enter the top four positions for the first time in recent weeks, with their next fixture being at home to Southampton, a side that have only won six league games and are just above the relegation zone. With Arsenal and Tottenham facing one another in the early kick off, it was important for the team to pick up the three points and in a secure manner.

Overall, United dominated majority of the game from the first second of the match till the final whistle, where they could have even scored a further couple of goals to pile on the misery. Though, the much needed wakeup call came through a screamer from Yan Valery and a peach of a free-kick from James Ward-Prowse, which led Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to make some vital tactical adjustments.

The first half was quite good despite the poor finishing, as the front three failed to make an instant statement and did not help the side’s cause of a magical comeback. Despite the side’s list of injuries and lack of depth available to them and the manager, a brace from Romelu Lukaku as well as an incredible goal from Andreas Pereira allowed the hosts to pick the victory over the hostile visitors in the end.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

Romelu Lukaku came up with the luxury goods

With the likes of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata missing due to injury issues, United were limited with their attacking options for the fixtures against Crystal Palace and Southampton. However, Romelu Lukaku showed up for when his side needed him the most, scoring four goals in United’s last two games and is now the side’s top goal scorer in the Premier League this season. Recent form of the Belgian striker could mean that it’s time to put him back into your Fantasy Premier League Team. To see which other players you should look at including in your selections for Fantasy Premier League take a look at Footy Accumulators.

On top of that, Alexis Sanchez failed to take this massive opportunity to prove to the coach and the critics that he is still a quality player. Focusing back onto Lukaku, he may not be the fan’s favourite player or a clinical forward, but he is showing huge signs that he has improved since the managerial change. The Belgian international may have done enough to remain in the club’s long-term plans.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed off his in-game management

Week after week, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is proving that he has the intelligence to make the much needed changes to the team or the system, whether it’s to increase the amount of chances the side are creating or to see out the game until the final whistle. Some of his decisions maybe seen as bizarre and questionable, but in the end, he is yet to suffer a league defeat since taking on the job.

Solskjaer showed off his flexibility in the second half of the match, where he went to a back-three setup to match Southampton’s style, placing Ashley Young at right centre-back, whilst allowing both Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot to play as the advanced wing-backs. Due to this fine tweak, it allowed United to have an advantage on the opposition, letting them to turn around the game for the win.

The Red Devils are evidently missing a world beater of a centre back

At this moment of time, it can easily be stated that Victor Lindelof is United’s best centre-back, but he is in need of a partner that is vastly experienced and that has the presence to lift the mentality and spirits of the defence. Until this hole is filled within the backline, the side will constantly have grey patches and dark moments, where they will lapse in concentration and are bound to suffer from this setback.

If the board and Ed Woodward want to fix the ongoing defensive issues the side are facing, they should look to relentlessly target either of Jose Gimenez, Kalidou Koulibaly or Toby Alderweireld. These three centre-backs should be seen as the perfect and most realistic candidates, especially when you consider the incredible defensive contributions they have produced for their respective teams.

EPL predicted lineups for this weekend

Chelsea

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)

Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL fixtures

Premier League predicted lineups

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)

Premier League chief Richard Scudamore’s pay off feels like short change in the long term

Richard-Scudamore-to-ACCEPT-mega-5m-bonus-Premier-League-chief-pockets-cash-despite-fan-fury-742692(1)

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and on these very pages I wrote an article detailing the grotesque story that emerged of Premier League chief Richard Scudamore being handed a £5m golden handshake payment following his decision to step down after two decades. But in contrast to some of the news in the Premier League his bonus seems like short change.

Take Mark Hughes who keeps failing at clubs and getting chances where other better managers are missing out on Premier League jobs. He was reported to have received £6m when Southampton sacked him earlier this season, and yet Hughes was not at The Saints for two decades like Scudamore.

The bigger story is left to the bigger fish, the one and only Jose Mourinho who has received or will receive a reported £15m after being sacked from Manchester United. The blame must go on the shoulders of United’s vice chairman Ed Woodward who gave Mourinho a contract extension at the beginning of 2018, which resulted in this pay off. Some outlets put the figure much higher at £22m, whatever the total amount, Mourinho has been paid at least 3 times the figure of Scudamore for failing.

At least Scudamore can claim not to have failed in his job and whilst his payment from he outside feels unjustified to the person in the street he has been able to grow the Premier League into what it is today. Sure its not all roses- mostly the same teams win the title. But anyone that wants to question Scudamore’s great job need only look at Italy’s Serie A. A one great league that is now a shambles of concrete stadiums, racist abuse to players and fans and hardly family friendly. Perhaps Scudamore’s next role should be in Italy, the man has the golden touch that cannot be denied.

Could Hughes or Mourinho claim the same? What type of legacy did they leave at their clubs? And yet they were paid handsomely well and no fan was ready to protest their pay offs like people did with Scudamore’s £5m which feels like petty cash given that he has injected billions into the very same teams that these fans support.

So whilst being paid two times your salary as a bonus does not feel right it must be taken in the context of the sport of football which is locked and loaded with money one thing is for sure and that is at least in the context of the crazy world that is football Scudamore earned his pay off.

 

Everton are seriously underperforming in the Premier League

marco-silva-watford-manager_4211247(1)

With a new coach in Marco Silva the future was supposed to be bright and starting from this season all change was predicted on the blue half of Merseyside, but has that really been the case?

At the weekend Everton slumped to their 7th loss of the season and fell to 10th place with 27 points. All of this seems quite underwhelming considering two things; the hype surrounding Silva’s appointment and the money spent in the summer.

The excitement around Silva always of course seemed out of place given that the 41 year old has achieved very little in Europe’s major leagues in the 7 years he has been a manager. As manager of Hull the team were relegated although he did only step in that January but then when Watford snapped him up his win rate with the club was just 30% and his tenure lasted just 6 months. The Hornets had become frustrated that we wasn’t focused enough as Everton had come calling, and he joined the club this summer.

The club spent upwards of £80m mostly on Richarlison who came from Watford and Yerry Mina from Barcelona. The upside has been that Everton started the season very solid and played good attacking football, even when faced with tough opposition. When they lost at Arsenal they were arguably the better side and they also went to Chelsea and drew 0-0 which is no meat feat this season.

Goals have come with 31 to their name but goals have also been shipped to the tune of 30. The first problematic signs was losing at home to West Ham, at that moment The Hammers had not won a game and Everton were not only in form but had traditionally given the Londoners difficult matches, not this time and West Ham ran out easy winners. Then came the Carabao Cup exit again at home to Southampton who have struggled all season. This was a huge blow given that the club only have 2 chances of realistic silverware each season, that cup and the FA Cup. And now they were out of one of them.

Recent form has been a big worry though and even though the club are in 10th place if we look at the last five games they would be in 17th. They have lost 3 of their last four games and only the Burnley win which was a great win stands out over the last five weeks. Can Silva turn it around? Well he has a good chance too.

Everton have some favourable fixtures coming up at the turn of the year including two home games against Leicester and Bournemouth. Then they have two away games against Southampton and Huddersfield. If he can get at least 9 points from those matches he may win over the fans again. For now they have to start winning matches because it is hard to see much improvement from the Toffees so far.

 

 

Three things we learned from Manchester United’s stalemate away to Southampton

GettyImages-1067234858

The game began with the hosts starting on a positive note, which led to them taking the lead as a successful dribble and pass from Michael Obafemi was followed by a perfect shot into the far corner of the net by attacking midfielder Stuart Armstrong. The goal summed up the poor defending from United’s point of view as none of the defenders decided to take charge of the opposition’s attack.

Seven minutes later, Southampton found themselves with a free-kick in a good position and surprisingly it was the right-back Cedric Soares that stepped up to take it, who shockingly hit the ball over the United wall and into the top left corner of the net. Immediately, the Southampton supporters were more than certain that they would pick up their second win of the campaign.

However, United were given a life line as Marcus Rashford made a fast break through the middle and his loose ball after taking on two Southampton defenders landed at the feet of Romelu Lukaku, who made no mistakes as he smashed the ball into the net. Five or so minutes after, Rashford came up with another crucial dribble and assist, which led to Ander Herrera scoring the vital equaliser.

The second half of the fixture was completely opposite to the first half, where both sides did not attack enough to go for the winner and neither of them completed many shots on target as they would have intended. The Red Devils had majority of the possession and were looking to create clear-cut chances, but Southampton were able to defend tight and aggressively when required.

In the end, Southampton would have seen the result as two points dropped whilst United would have felt unsatisfied that they could not complete the full comeback to take the three points back to Manchester. Now, both Mark Hughes and Jose Mourinho are under a lot of pressure, as another few unconvincing results in the Premier league could lead to them being sacked by their respective club.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

United’s defensive issues keep on increasing

Although the likes of Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof were unavailable for the Southampton fixture due to injury problems, it did not mean that Mourinho was forced with no other option but to start Nemanja Matic as a centre-back. Due to this, the side were struggling to keep up with the opposition’s attacking players and could not close them down quickly enough.

Meanwhile, defender Marcos Rojo was selected in the match-day squad but was not utilised at all, which does raise serious questions to why the manager did not play him when the side needed a centre-back badly to pair up with Phil Jones. Overall, United’s defence were caught napping from time to time and they had to rely on David De Gea to come up with a couple of important saves.

If Pogba doesn’t play well, the side simply doesn’t too

Yesterday, United’s defensive-minded midfield showed how easy it is for Paul Pogba to drift away from the team and most importantly from the match, especially when the game is being played slowly and there is not enough movement on both sides of the pitch. It could actually be stated that the French international arguably had one of the worst performances in a Manchester United kit.

Those who watch Manchester United on a regular basis, will know that Pogba is someone that has the ability to drop deep and help the team to play out from the back to helping the team to be effective in the final third of the pitch. When he is not in the starting line-up, the side are awfully slow at recycling the ball and they do not have the ideal intelligence to create constant chances.

Mourinho’s time at the club should be up soon rather than later

Since being appointed as the manager of Manchester United in May 2016, Mourinho has managed to splash out a huge figure of over £350million on transfer signings, and he is yet to deliver a major trophy such as the Champions League or the Premier League to the Old Trafford faithful. Instantly, the question is raised of whether his time at the club has been unlucky or is he now past his best.

Looking through his time at the club, he has relied on the signings that were made by previous managers in David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal whilst the players he has brought have not improved or been taken to the next level. Weighing the positives and negatives, it is more than fair to say that the 56-year-old Portuguese international’s time at the football club has to come to an end very soon.