The Premier League has turned into a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool

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What, where when? Just when we thought a few weeks ago that there were at least four teams capable of winning the Premier League, everything has all of a sudden opened up. After the midweek games which was the 15th round of matches in England two teams have emerged as possible title winners. The first and in top place is champions Manchester City, the second is Liverpool who have yet to win a Premier League title and have not won England’s top division since 1990.

So how did Chelsea and Tottenham suddenly fall away from contention? Maurizio Sarri’s side have won just 1 game in their past four matches and yet up until the 12th game of the season he had an unbeaten side at his disposal. But first they were exposed by Tottenham at Wembley, easily losing 3-1. They bounced back against Fulham in the west London derby only to lose to Wolves, which was seen as a shock result given how poor Wolves have been in the past month.

Chelsea are now 10 points behind City and are clinging onto 4th place only on goal difference to Arsenal. Tottenham in beating Southampton are back in 3rd place after being dislodged in the top 4 over the weekend when they lost to eternal nemesis Arsenal by 4-2. But Spurs have bounced back well. But they are still evidently a few levels below City and Liverpool, they have 33 points and are 8 points behind the league leaders.

All of this means of course that the league has turned into a two horse race before Christmas, although the flurry of fixtures could well shake that up. Manchester City will play Chelsea away next and a win for Pep Guardiola’s side will surely signal the end of Chelsea’s title hopes. Games follow against Everton, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Southampton. It is fair to think that from all of those matches City could expect 13 points which would put them on 54 before the year is out.

As for Liverpool who are the romantics choice of league winners giving how it has been 28 years since they won the league they will have to play Bournemouth, Manchester United, Wolves, Newcastle and Arsenal. The Reds seem to have a tougher run and could end up with 11 points which would put them on 50.

It is possible then that only 4 points will separate the two teams. And you can guess which fixture comes after the new year- that’s right these two teams will meet and it will be Manchester City who will be at home in what could be a big step to deciding the title. Still there are plenty of games to be played before then and like a typical Premier League campaign there will be plenty of twists and turns that is for sure.

After 19 games unbeaten, has Emery stepped out of Wenger’s shadow?

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Unai Emery is being hailed as the new messiah by Arsenal fans after the club convincingly beat their arch rivals Tottenham 4-2 at the weekend.

The Gunners have now gone 19 games in all competitions unbeaten after losing their first two matches of the season. But still question marks remained over the club because they had not beaten a top 4 side- at the weekend that changed with victory over Tottenham, and it was a win to saviour for the Arsenal faithful.

Not only did Arsenal beat the team they most want to beat every season but they also leapfrogged them into 4th place on goal difference, which has been richly deserved this season. This version of Arsenal, Emery’s version is slick, attacking and determined. Sure there is still some naivety at the back which allowed Tottenham back into the game but the team had fighting spirit circa Arsene Wenger’s team from 2004 and it showed this past weekend.

Every fan at the Emirates seems to have forgotten about Wenger, well at least the last couple of seasons version of him and all praise has rightly been aligned to Emery who has been a massive success for the club given that this is his debut season. The fans wanted change and were finally given it and Emery for now seems like the perfect coach to have been chosen. But have the club really improved this season from last?

It may be surprising to note that at least statistically almost nothing has changed at the club from last season. This time last season after 14 games Arsenal had 28 points under Emery they have 30. If this trend was to continue then Arsenal may finish the season with 5 points more than last giving them 68 points and perhaps missing out on  a top 4 place. But this is simply talk and this Arsenal team look like they will kick on.

But of course it is in how the Gunners are playing, and there is a massive change in how the team approach their games under Emery. The belief has been reinstalled and it was interesting to see how they reacted once going 2-1 down after leading the game. That should tell you everything that we needed to know about how Arsenal are playing now under Emery.

The real tests are yet to come, games such as playing Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United away from home. But for now considering Emery is just 4 months into the job, the man deserves respect and 10/10 for effort. Arsenal look like they are going places and that can only be a good thing for a team that have suffered from a lack of confidence for the past decade.

 

Unai Emery’s Arsenal are losing pace with the favourites in the Premier League

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There is no doubt that there has been such an uplifting feeling at Arsenal this season, in with the new and out with the old, has seen fans feeling super refreshed about their team. This campaign has already seen the Gunners claim a 10 game in a row batch of wins and the club have remained undefeated in any competition since August. Under new manager Unai Emery the good times seem to have returned to the Emirates, or have they?

After tearing up the league table and claiming a succession of away wins, something that Arsenal under Wenger really struggled for last season the club seem to have hit a wall. Slipping back down to 5th place and currently out of a Champions League position they have drawn their last their last 4 games in all competitions and their last three in the Premier League. The Gunners last win came against Leicester when they won the game 3-1 on October 22nd.

These recent draws have knocked the stuffing out of the team and they are 3 points behind Tottenham in 4th and a massive 8 points behind league leaders Manchester City. Whilst it is true that nobody was realistically expecting Arsenal to challenge for the league, the question should be why not? As we have seen from Maurizio Sarri- also his debut season in the Premier League and yet Chelsea are in 3rd place, just 4 points behind the current champions.

This isn’t to discredit Emery, who has done a fine job after a tough and shaky start that saw his tenure at Arsenal start with 2 losses. But that can be overlooked given that they had to play the last 2 champions of the league in Manchester City and Chelsea. Fans can point to their recent and decent 1-1 draw against Liverpool of proof that this side are getting better and playing better than Arsene Wenger’s team last season.

But of course football is all about moving forward and to do so and keep your job you have to do it rapidly. After 12 games this season it is interesting to see that Arsenal have 24 points. Last season under Wenger at the same amount of games they had won 22. So yes there is an improvement of sorts but for now it is so minimal.

The good news is that the team are playing a different kind of football and are playing with much more confidence, in the long run if Emery is given the time this is a great sign. For now though it might be better if some fans and press in the words of a certain Larry David, curbed their enthusiasm.

Tottenham’s game against Manchester City was hijacked by capitalism

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Spin it anyway you please when Tottenham played Manchester City at Wembley Stadium in the Premier League the whole game was spoiled by capitalism. Suddenly the worlds best league and certain the most hyperbole one with television companies willing to spend upwards of £5 billion for rights was reduced to something no better than Sunday league football for youths.

The reason was how the Premier League and football grounds have sold their soul for money. It’s no secret that football changed in England once Sky the satellite broadcaster got involved over 25 years ago. There have been brilliant improvements to the league, let’s make no mistake but they have still come at costs. This was underlined on Monday night when one of the high profile matches of the season was reduced in quality because of an shambolic pitch.

This pitch didn’t belong to a non league team, although it might as well had. No that would be an insult to those teams. This was at the iconic Wembley Stadium. Tottenham champion pretenders against the champions Manchester City, and the pitch was simply awful. Why did this happen? Capitalism and the NFL had come to town like it does every year to rip the turf up. Not only that, the NFL logo was clearly visible in the centre circle as were all the markers for the different yards- the pitch looked like a Subbuteo one. As for the NFL they just got an extra 90 minutes of advertising too.

But the disgrace of the pitch which could have legitimately injured any of the players did not end there. There were also massive gaps around the famous stadium with the top tier almost empty. Just 54,000 people turned up, which feels significant only when you learn that when Tottenham played Liverpool here a few weeks ago there was over 80,000. Again the NFL was to blame as many City fans as well as some Tottenham could not come to the game which was originally scheduled to be played on Sunday and then changed to Monday evening.

And of course the change was because the NFL game was to be played on the Sunday. Finally the state of the pitch did affect the game, forget City’s normally free flowing football and Tottenham’s epic miss from Erik Lamela, all blamed on the pitch.

Whilst it is brilliant to have the NFL come to London and showcase a match, we should be very careful in future not to overlap prime sports all for the sake of greed, and that is exactly what happened on Monday night. If the NFL game was confirmed it was confirmed and that should have taken place no matter what. Tottenham are of course to blame in this fiasco with their stadium delays. But sense should have taken hold and this game should have been postponed to a later date. Annoying yes, but at least more spectators could have witnessed the game, and a missed beautiful exciting one at that.

 

West Ham are back to the beginning of the season after latest loss

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How football can be cruel, wonderful and highly ironic and West Ham have tasted all three moments so far this season. But after their latest loss, this time to Tottenham the Hammers are back to the drawing board.

The season of course for the Londoners started off in nightmare fashion when Manuel Pellegrini’s side lost all of their first 4 games of the campaign to dive down to the bottom of the league. And then it happened, an international break which seemed to give Pellegrini more time with some of his players, in the days they were not playing to go through some more training drills and get his team to where they needed to be.

What followed was remarkable and started by them going to Goodison Park and beating Everton 3-1, a match that they had folded in less than 12 months before by going down 4-0. West Ham seemed to have turned a corner with their first win of the season. And yet nobody was giving them any chance longer term as their next two matches would be against Manchester United and Chelsea.

So what did underwhelming West Ham do? They beat United and ended Chelsea’s 100% win rate record by drawing 0-0 with them. For long standing fans of the Hammers this was almost expected that when everything was against their club, they would find an extra gear from somewhere and start playing once the better teams in the Premier League came to visit the London Stadium.

The victory over United was a rare one and almost cost Mourinho his job. As for the Chelsea draw, the Hammers earned plaudits for their new found attacking play and keeping a clean sheet against the 2017 champions. All was good and all was even better for then under fire coach Pellegrini. progress was expected to happen, but West Ham have gone back into their shells.

It was evidence a few weeks ago in the dour 1-0 loss to Brighton, which was a huge come down of sorts and then the nail was hammered in (pardon the pun) when Tottenham won by the same score line. There is no love lost between the two clubs who are fierce rivals, and the defeat did not sit well with fans.

The loss has left the club in 15th place with 6 defeats already and 2 points from the bottom three. Looking ahead the next fixtures come against Leicester away which could be very tricky. Then the Hammer get to face Tottenham again, and again it will take place at home in the Carabao Cup. This is a massive game for the Hammers who are looking to win their first piece of major silverware in 39 years.

So West Ham have been very good at times, but football has also been a little cruel to them and ironic, for now they have to improve and improve fast or they could be facing a genuine relegation battle.

 

Elite Premier League teams are struggling in the Champions League

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We are often told that the Premier League is the best in Europe if not the World and yet the Champions League has been a good measure of failure for the very best Premier League teams not just so far this season but for a good few years now.

The last time that an English team won the competition was Chelsea back in 2012 when they beat Bayern Munich and before that we have to go back to 2008 when Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties in an all Premier League final. Apart from Liverpool’s run to the final this year no team has reached the showpiece event since Chelsea won it.

This season the Champions League has kicked off with a massive wake up call for the teams that have qualified. Take Premier League champions Manchester City, vying for their first ever European Cup, they lost their opening game at home to Ligue 1 side Lyon. In their next game they found themselves 1-0 down to Hoffenheim within a minute of the game starting, although clawed their way back to stake a 2-1 win, but they had to work very hard for the result. Had City drawn or lost that game they could have been looking at an early exit from a competition where they have been tipped as the favourites to win just a few weeks ago.

Manchester United have had all sorts of problems in the Premier League but last season they racked up 82 points to finish 2nd. In the Champions League they won easily against Young Boys but suffered a 0-0 draw at the hands of Valencia in their next game. Had this match taken place in Spain this result would have been acceptable- but it didn’t and that is 2 clear points dropped for Jose Mourinho’s team. Add to the fact that they still have to play Juventus twice and United may not qualify for the next round, their chances are certainly in the air at the moment.

Liverpool looked impressive in their 3-2 win over PSG at Anfield, though they were leading that game at one point 2-0. But when they travelled to Italy to play Napoli they lost 1-0. True Napoli’s goal came in the final exchanges where the game looked like it was heading for a 0-0 result but Liverpool did not have a shot on target the whole game and it looks clear whilst Liverpool may reign supreme at home they could well struggle away in Europe. Given that they still have to travel to Paris to play PSG this loss could come back and haunt the Reds.

And then there is Tottenham who pound for pound have been one of the best teams in England of the past 18 months. But when it really matters the club seem to come up short time and again and their latest loss to Barcelona which ended 4-2 could be the nail in the coffin to their Champions League hopes this season. They are already 6 points behind both Barcelona and Inter Milan and their best shot now looks like trying to qualify for the Europa League.

All in all the best teams in the Premier League have struggled in Europe, unable to adapt to a plan B and finding out that defending on the continent is much more superior to the Premier League. On this evidence it doesn’t seem likely that a club from England will be winning the competition this year which would stretch the winless run to 7 editions. That would be the longest ever that a club from the Premier League has gone without winning it. The current record is 6 editions from the inaugural start of the Champions League up to 1998, with Manchester United infamously winning it in 1999.

For all the money being pumped into the league it isn’t guaranteeing success on the highest level.

The debate is over- Tottenham are better than their London rivals Arsenal

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It is something that has raged on and got bigger over the past decade and then the last five years, have Tottenham become a bigger and better club than Arsenal? Have the pretenders stepped out of their neighbours shadow? The answer has to be an emphatic yes as we head into a week that will concentrate on European football and only underline the gap that now exists between the sides.

Take Wednesday night where Tottenham will play Barcelona as mere evidence at how the club have progressed. Barcelona are a club that Arsenal almost got used of playing in the Champions League-but not anymore. Arsenal aren’t even in the competition and a day later they will be pitted against Qarabag in a tie that with all due respect to their opponents does not have the television companies or fans running for excitement. It is a major step down for Arsenal, and this isn’t a one off.

Last season Tottenham welcomed and beat Real Madrid in London and it is Mauricio Pochettino’s men who are rubbing shoulders with the elite of European football. This has to be a measure of how far Tottenham have come in the past few seasons. Arsenal can of course hit back with the trophy question- how many have you won? And that is admittingly a sticking point in the debate about how is the better club. But in the past decade you take away 3 FA Cups and Tottenham have been pound for pound the better side.

Tottenham have emerged when Arsenal under Arsene Wenger’s tight purse strings and a new stadium crumbled. That isn’t to say that Arsenal are only a shadow of the side they once were but they are a team who don’t finish in the top 4 anymore. It has taken a long time and a lot of effort for Tottenham to reach this far and there has been a lot of frustration including delays on their new stadium, and yet with only the minor of blips the team continue to march on.

For some Tottenham will only be a bigger and better club when that first trophy rolls in, and whilst we should be critical of a side that have achieved so much on the pitch with no silverware we should be able at least to say that Tottenham have risen high and above over Arsenal in the current climate.

Tottenham will now be hopeful of putting a performance in against the mighty Barcelona to reaffirm that idea, and who would bet against them not coming away with a positive result?

Crisis at Barcelona is headed by Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez

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Yes not winning for 3 games in a row is indeed a crisis at Barcelona and Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez could be to blame.

The problems for the club started at home against Girona were the Catalan giants were heading for a home defeat, their first in over 2 years which is an incredible record in itself. It was Gerard Pique of all players that saved the team on that occasion, and that amended for some of his defending in the game.

The next game was the shock loss away to Leganes more of a shock given that they had taken the lead through a Philippe Coutinho 12th minute goal, but Barca could not add to that and lost 2-1. This was their first defeat of the season. But it was in the clubs next game where the concerns grew the most where they could only draw at home 1-1 to Athletic Bilbao, again after going a goal down.

Pique has been a brilliant servant to Barcelona and that cannot be in question but he has started the season in lethargic fashion. He has made some telling mistakes, and not made the right decisions. With the other defenders looking at him for guidance this has meant that the club are constantly making late decisions and this has been costing them.

As for Luis Suarez the forward is the shadow of the player that he was at Liverpool and in his 2nd season with Barcelona. Yes he has continued to score the goals and has a fantastic record at Barca netting 155 times in 207 appearances but he doesn’t seem like the same joyful player that joined the club. His reading of the game isn’t the same since Neymar left and he doesn’t seem to be able to fit into a system that can include both Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele.

Barca coach Ernesto Valverde did come under stick after dropping Messi to the bench for the teams latest game. Trying to explain to the press that sometimes his best players need to rest mostly fell on deaf ears. But it is true that the club have some very important games coming up.

Next week they head to London to face Tottenham in the Champions League and they will be expected to give a performance to the Premier League team. A tricky tie away to Valencia is next week and then they will play Sevilla after the international break a team who have just beaten Real Madrid 3-0.

So tough fixtures await the club though it should be remembered that they are still 1st in the league standings and for most clubs picking up 1 point from a possible 9 would not classify as a problem. But then again Barcelona are not most clubs, the coming months are set to be very interesting.

Luciano Spalletti should shoulder blame for Inter’s earlier wobbles.

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If you cast your mind back to how Luciano Spalletti’s team started last season, you realize that Inter Milan have been less productive this season. Before their one zero win over Sampdoria last Saturday, the Nerazzurri had amassed just four points from four games and sat 15th position on the league rung. That is nine points short of what they achieved after match day four in the previous campaign.

There are a couple of factors that have accounted for this bad start, and one of them could be laid right at the doorstep of the manager Luciano Spalletti. Spalletti has been doing a lot of tinkering with his team selection and system, which hasn’t helped them much. It’s quite understandable that the Italian tactician wants to his new recruits to bed into his method and assimilate his ideas very early in the season, but the lack of consistency in his approach has been problematic.

Now let’s photograph some of Luciano Spalletti’s confusion with clear illustrations.

In Inter’s opening fixture against Sassuolo at the MAPEI Stadium, the manger played a back four which comprised of João Miranda and Stefan de Vrij as center back pair, whiles Dalbert Chagas and Danilo D’Ambrosio played as laterals. In the midfield, Luciano Spalletti opted for Matías Vecino  alongside Marcelo Brozović with new signing Lautaro Martínez playing behind Mauro Icardi. The captain had Kwadwo Asamoah supporting him from the left wing and Matteo Politano on the other side. Inter dominated possession but was on par with Sassuolo on the number of shots on targets and corners. In the end, the home side held onto Domenico Berardi’s 27th minute penalty kick.

At home to Torino at San Siro, Luciano Spalletti altered his starting line-up and changed the system to a back three. Miranda was pulled out for M. Škriniar alongside S. De Vrij and Danilo D’Ambrosio to form a trio at the back. Š. Vrsaljko and Asamoah played as wing backs whiles Perisic and Politano attacked the flanks with Icardi as the target man. He maintained the midfield duo of Brozovic and Vecino.  Inter squandered their two goal lead before the interval as Torino rallied in the second half to level the score.

Against Bologna, Spalletti returned to a back to four and made three chances to the previous line- up. M. Škriniar and S. de Vrij continued their centreback partnership. D. D’Ambrosio and Asamoah played as lateral defenders. Roberto Gagliardini took the place of Vecino with Radja Nianggolan playing behind Keita Balde Diao. Inter produced an assured performance in the second period of that game, scoring three goals through Nainggolan, Perisic and substitute Antonio Candreva.

It’s normal for coaches to rest players in a league game ahead of a Champions League fixture, and given Inter’s absence in the European Competition for the past seven years, it was imperative that they started with a win on home soil. And before that, was a home game against promoted side Parma who are proving to be tough customers for the established teams in the league. Spalletti maintained a chunk  of the players in the previous game but still made two changes with Dalbert Henrique taking the place of Asamoah and Candreva coming in for Politano.

The change of players and systems means the manager is not wedded to one particular approach, but it sends the message that Luciano Spalletti is yet to find the right permutation for the team. Nainngolan is a huge character in midfield, dominant and very demanding. The Belgian is all about strength, passion, technique and athleticism. Playing him behind Icardi or Keita doesn’t seem to be the ideal fit. Nainggolan has proven to be a threat from A distance with his long range shots, but he is not a reliable creative player. He can function better in tandem with Brozovic in the middle of the pitch.

In Kwadwo Asamoah, Spelletti has got a versatile player capable of operating both as a left back and a winger, but Asamoah’s favorite position, the role he revels in, is playing behind the attack. Inter’s midfield is currently oversubscribed with the manager having to rotate between Borja Valero, Vecino and Gagliardini. However, the Ghanaian will be a vital component in the Nerrazurris charge for a successful league campaign.

It would have been ideal for inter to have approached the Tuesday’s Champion league game against Totteham Hotspurs in a much healthier position. The Nerazzurri didn’t look like a team prior to the 2-1 win over the English side. They looked disjointed and uninspiring, with their defending a bit abject this season. Luciano Spalletti’s comments after overcoming Spurs was quite significant about his team’s performance “We weren’t at the level, in a couple of areas, which we had prepared to be. Some phases of the game could have been managed better. “A victory like this, after having come from behind, gives us a lot of enthusiasm and allows us to believe more about the future’’

We can’t say how far Inter will go into the Champions League, but after showing determined spirit to come from behind to secure a very important victory they could go far. The win over Spurs proved to be a shot in the arm for Spalletti’s men as they continued with another victory away to Sampdoria on Saturday. Hopefully Inter will make up for their early stutters to close the gap on their opponents in the league.

Support for the manager was beginning to sag after a year, but winning two games on the trot should blow the doubt and lift confidence around the team. Talent wise, Inter are the best of the chasing pack, but Spalletti’s team need to be a real title threat by churning out consistent performances. The manager’s lack of clarity of how to deploy his players in the right system is what contributed to their poor start.

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Like their stadium Tottenham’s season is back tracking

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They say things come in threes good or bad and that is true of Tottenham Hotspur. No new signings in the summer, a stadium delay and now a run of bad form which ironically stretches to 3 games.

A loss against Watford when taking the lead ended their 100% record in the Premier League and that was followed up by defeat to Liverpool at their temporary home of Wembley Stadium which has in effect became their 2nd home given how many games they have now played in the iconic venue. The defeat to Liverpool left a bad taste in the mouth because pundits and possibly fans could see the result coming a mile off.

Now the club have lost to Inter Milan in their opening Champions League game. Admittingly Spurs were unlucky and looked like they would be heading for a 1-0 victory courtesy of Christian Eriksen. But Inter struck twice in the final four minutes to claim a shock win, because Tottenham were in control of this game.

Make no mistake this defeat and witnessing 3 points grabbed out of their hands will only further affect a team that seem to have lost some confidence after their confident swagger and start to the season seen them win their first 3 games.

This Tottenham team look very tired, much of the squad played in the final stages of the World Cup and Harry Kane has been unfairly made a scapegoat of, because like tonight against Inter he missed a chance that he would have normally scored. Kane needs time off and Gareth Southgate the England manager should have given him that. Or should Kane have asked. Lionel Messi did to get out of Argentina’s recent friendlies as these important matches come thick and fast.

But surely some blame has to go to chairman Daniel Levy, who has been around for a while and seems like one of the better owners in the Premier League. But as the French call it, Levy made a faux pas not authorising or chasing new players for the squad. Yes this Tottenham team are highly talented but at times this season as evident right now some positions need cover.

Perhaps there is a slither of hope given that Son has come back from the Asian Games a tournament his country South Korea won. Son has become something of a cult player with the fans and knows how to score goals. The question is will spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino trust Son enough to leave out Kane?