Monday, 31 March 2014

This week's transfer rumours, news and updates:

Hello and welcome to a new blog post where I have the latest transfer news, rumours and updates from across the world - including the EPL. There will be at least one blog post every week (which summarises the latest transfer news)

LATEST transfer news and updates:

Arsenal midfield trio Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and young German Gedion Zelalem have all signed new contracts with The Gunners, the club has confirmed. 

Promising: Ramsey is still a relatively young midfielder at 23, and has signed a new contract with The Gunners

Inspired form: Ramsey was in the form of his life until he got injured in mid-December

Young midfielder Gedion Zelalem also put pen to paper, along with team-mate Santi Cazorla
Liverpool are ready to make a move for PSV's young winger Zakaria Bakkali - who is highly-rated and poised to rise in price in the next couple of months. 

Liverpool are interested in signing Bakkali from PSV before the World Cup starts in June

Arsenal are rumoured to be scouting Bayer Leverkusen defensive midfielder Lars Bender and are ready to make another move for the 24-year-old German. 

Tough-tackler: Bender has impressed Arsenal with his powerful displays in the depth of midfield

No messing around: Bender is a very key player for Leverkusen - a move on the cards?
Just what we need: Arsenal are in search of a leader in midfield - could Bender be their man? 
They had a previous offer of £19million pounds rejected by the Bundesliga side back last year, but times are tough for Leverkusen (as they try to secure a top four finish as well as Champions League football) and they are increasing likely to take the money while they can for Bender. 

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has revealed that he will look to sign on-loan goalkeeper Pepe Reina from Liverpool on a permanent basis this summer.

Napoli signed Reina on-loan in the summer, taking advantage of Liverpool's issues with him

Influential: Reina has played 24 games, made 83 saves and has 8 clean sheets this season.

Safe hands: Will Reina return to Liverpool in the summer, or opt to stay in Italy?

Top stopper: Reina has been an influential figure for a solid Napoli side this season
The Spanish stopper has been an instrumental part of a solid Napoli side in the Europa League and Serie A this season, and with Liverpool having signed Mignolet in the summer it showed to Reina that he was not a part of the club's plans for the future. The question is whether he will stay in Italy or fight with Mignolet for the number 1 jersey at Anfield after the end of the current season. 

PSG have risked angering Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho ahead of their Champions League quarter-final by admitting their rumoured interest in midfield duo Oscar and Eden Hazard. 

Top player: Hazard (right) has flourished under Mourinho at Chelsea this season
Hazard has scored 14 goals in the league this season, as well as 7 assists for The Blues.  

Dominant: Oscar isn't doing too badly either - having forced former team-mate Mata out of the starting line-up with his consistently good performances
Oscar has played well this season, with the confidence and freedom to run at defences and split defences open with killer passes to start counter attacks

Team-mates Lucas Moura and Yohan Cabaye have both publicly stated that they would love the duo to join them next season at the Parc des Princes. 

Moura said: "Oscar is a very good player. A rare talent in today's football, given his qualities. He is very complete and is very smart. We need someone like him at PSG. I think he would help us a lot - the more quality players there are, the better it is for the squad."

"Also, he's a very good friend of mine. I would be very happy if he came to PSG, the club too."

Cabaye also said: "Who would I recruit if I was club director? Hazard is a player that I would like to see at PSG. It would do so much good in Paris and for the championship. He is one of the best players I've played against."

"Eden Hazard is the Chelsea player. he can make the difference at any time, can be dangerous every time he touches the ball." 

When asked if he would sell the midfield duo, Mourinho said: "No problem. If there is Financial Fair Play, they don't have the money to buy them.

If there is no Financial Fair Play and they threw something crazy, £300million pounds for both then I think that Chelsea has to think about it" (the offer) 

Arsenal vs Manchester City - match report:

Hello again everyone and welcome to my latest blog post, where I have a review and match report + analysis of the EPL matches being played on Saturday afternoon. Chelsea, United, Arsenal, City and Southampton were among the sides who were in action, in a very interesting day of football. 

My featured match of the day was;

Arsenal vs Manchester City:
This match was played at The Emirates Stadium, with The Gunners hosting Manchester City in an important and top-of-the-table clash between 3rd placed City and 4th placed Arsenal. If City won the match, they would go to the top of the table with 2 matches in hand on their other title rivals (Liverpool, Chelsea and potentially Arsenal) 

Here are the team line-ups from the match:
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud. 

Subs: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bellerin, Kallstrom, Gnabry, Sanogo.

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Toure, Fernandinho, Navas, Silva, Nasri and Dzeko.

Subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Kolarov, Javi Garcia, Milner, Negredo and Jovetic.

Referee - Mike Dean 

Match report:

Both sides started the game well, with City looking dangerous on the counter attack with pace and intent from Silva, Navas and Fernandinho. Meanwhile, Arsenal were being encouraged to push forward up the pitch by the loud support from their supporters, who knew how important the match was after seeing Chelsea lose to Palace thanks to a Terry OG earlier on in the day - thus blowing the title race wide open. 

Spanish winger Jesus Navas had a curled effort from 20 yards out fizz past the post in the 2nd minute, and Arsenal did well to stay firm and press the visitors in the first 10 minutes of the match. MNC were comfortable to dominate possession in the early going as they looked to penetrate the Arsenal defence with a spliting through ball towards goal (67% possession in first ten mins)

Arsenal had a geniune penalty claim after Cazorla's through ball to Rosicky resulted in the Czech Republic midfielder going down inside the box after a late challenge from right-back Pablo Zabaleta, who stuck his leg out to try and halt Rosicky's run in the 12th minute - but the referee waved play on despite protests by the Arsenal players.

City broke the deadlock in the 17th minute after striker Edin Dzeko hit the post with a stinging shot before the ball bounced off the post and fell to Silva who tapped the ball into an empty net (with Szczesny on the floor)

Slotted: Silva had the easy task of tapping the ball into the net past Arsenal to open the scoring
I'll take it: The goal was deserved for City even though both sides started the game well
City celebrate Silva's opener against Arsenal at The Emirates. 1-0 ahead after 20 minutes.
Flamini equalised in the 21st minute with an acrobatic effort inside the box after Podolski's delivery into the box, but the fourth official signalled for offside and City were let off. The Gunners kept up the pressure with constant through balls into the box for the attacking-minded players, before Sagna had a great cross comfortably caught by English goalkeeper Joe Hart to deny Giroud who was lurking and running towards the inviting delivery. 

Arsenal kept up the pressure, trying to make the most of their attacking chances when they had the ball, but City did well to swarm around the player in possession to try and force them off the ball. 

Podolski did well to create a chance out of nothing on the counter attack, after a ball from Cazorla saw him burst down the flank past Zabaleta, but his cross was intercepted with a sliding challenge by Demichelis as both sides looked to take the best advantage into the half-time interval. 

Key players in the first-half: 
Mathieu Flamini - he broke up play well and made key passes to help set Arsenal up as they tried to push on the counter attack.

Flamini was key for the hosts in midfield to break down City counter attacks and chase the ball.
Santi Cazorla - the sole creator of counter attacks for Arsenal, he was the hub of midfield and made key passes when needed.

Vincent Kompany - The skipper himself had to lead from the back, and was needed to make vital clearances and interceptions near the 18-yard box whenever Arsenal were on the counter attack. 

David Silva - Dictated the play as the creative midfielder for City, making good runs and split the Arsenal defence with good through balls and fast movement in behind the centre-backs. Quality. 


The second-half started, and both sides were eager to start the second 45 well and score early. Kompany did well to clear the danger away after Giroud intercepted the ball from Demichelis in the 49th minute. Cazorla had a stinging long-range effort parried away by the legs of Joe Hart in the 51st minute, as Arsenal started the better of the two sides after the break. 

An unlikely source, but a source nonetheless as Flamini made it 1-1 after converting a chance, 12 yards out from Podolski's low cross into the area from the flank in the 53rd minute. 

Equaliser: Flamini made it 1-1 in the 53rd minute to make the second-half interesting 

Flamini celebrates his finish after having an earlier strike disallowed thanks to being offside
Vital goal: Flamini made up for his unfortunate own goal against Swansea to score against City
City were suddenly on the back foot after Flamini's equaliser, with Hart being busy to deny Arsenal on numberous occasions during the half and the City defenders were under pressure to stay strong at the back. 

Hart was under pressure again and made a vital save to deny Podolski in a one-on-one, making a crucial diving save to stop The Gunners from taking the lead after 60 minutes.
Then, City began to build-up pressure again, with Navas bursting down the flank but being chopped at the legs by Podolski, with the resulting free-kick coming of nothing as Silva's well-struck shot was blocked and cleared away by the Arsenal defence in the 62nd minute. 

City made the first substitution of the day as Navas was replaced by Milner in the 65th minute.

Arsenal stuck firm with some solid defending, with both teams piling on the pressure as they looked for the goal to set their team ahead. Cazorla had a whipped delivery into the box from 30 yards out, curled into the box for Giroud who jumped the highest to head the ball towards the ball - but his effort fizzed past the post and out for a goal-kick.

City passed their way around the midfield, before opening up the defence before Mertesacker and Vermaelen stood strong and denied a goal-scoring opportunity to keep the scores level. 

Silva's through ball almost released Nasri in the box, before Toure was closed down and forced to shot off balance, with Szczesny saving the first shot before Dzeko's follow-up was deflected wide of the goal in the 75th minute.

Giroud weaved his way past Demichelis outside the box before having a shot well wide of Joe Hart's goal, not troubling him in the 77th minute.

Arsenal made a sub, with Podolski being replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain with just over 10 minutes to play - pace injection, energy and strength going up the field which is something that The Gunners are lacking. 

Meanwhile, City made a substitution of their own. Nasri was replaced by Javi Garcia in the 80th minute - fresh legs for the visitors who were trying to solidify the midfield and stay strong for the last 10 minutes of the match. 

The Ox did well to burst forward on the flank, beating Milner before crossing the ball into the box (with no-one available to take advantage)

City made another substitute:
Dzeko was replaced by Negredo in the 84th minute as the Bosnian striker was lacklustre for the most part in the second-half.

ARS sub: Giroud OFF, Sanogo ON (84) - Giroud was also looking tired, ineffective and Sanogo would end the match as a result. Fresh legs for both sides

Milner with free-kick delivery into the box for a City header, Szczesny comfortably saved the delivery as the hosts pushed out of the box.

The hosts kept pushing for a late winning goal - Cazorla had a delivery into the box punched clear by Joe Hart as ARS kept up the pressure on the visitors with seconds to play of the match.

3 minutes of stoppage-time, with ARS desperate for play to continue as they tried to force a late winner. Good link-up play between Santi, Gibbs and Chambo, let off for MNC after an inviting ball into the box was inches away from Chamberlain's head towards goal, but the ball went out for a goal-kick.

Key players in second-half:
Joe Hart - was a vital player for City as he thwarted many shots from the hosts in the second-half as they pressed for a winner
Vincent Kompany - had to defend well to avoid a loss
Mathieu Flamini - arguably one of the best players on the pitch, worked hard on the ball and worked hard to win the ball back for his team
Kieran Gibbs - was an integral part of the team, needed to stay tight to his man and pushed forward when his side had the ball.

City miss the chance to go top of the table after being held at the Emirates. Arsenal responded well in the second-half and took a deserved point from the game, but it probably will not be enough to give them title hope. (Pictures still to be added)

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Arsenal's incapability to close out matches:

Frustration: Arsenal have struggled to close out matches this season, costing them points
Unlucky: Arsenal have been punished in matches that they should have won.
Hello again everyone and welcome to my latest blog post, where I look at the demise of an Arsenal side that started the season off well, winning the matches that they needed to with a good run of form - but gradually fell from first place and are currently in a battle to try and keep pace with the other teams in the top 4 (Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool) 

Arsenal's incapability to close out matches, and what it means about their overall performances:

Arsenal have come under some criticism (harsh perhaps?) over the past few weeks after their lacklustre performances of late - which have seen them fall from first place and struggle to keep pace with league leaders Chelsea along with Manchester City and Liverpool.

Their 6-0 thrashing against Chelsea last weekend showed that they were not at the required level to challenge for the league title as of yet - from the start of the match when Eto'o scored in the 4th minute the players' heads dropped and their performances suffered as a result.

Their 2-2 draw against Swansea during midweek highlighted the fact that they are currently unable to close out matches against the weaker teams - conceding in the dying seconds of the match (albeit an unfortunate own goal by Flamini)

Here are the matches that they have failed to close out this season, or should have won to prove that they are title contenders:

Arsenal 1 Aston Villa 3 - opening day of the season
Well perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Everyone was calling for Wenger to resign after this game, then he silenced his doubters for a few months after a good run of form, with their next loss in the league coming against Manchester United in mid-November.

West Brom 1 Arsenal 1 - October 6th, 2013
Regardless of the fact they were trailing, their 1-1 draw away from home at The Hawthorns was two points lost instead of one point gained for The Gunners, who had Wilshere to save Arsenal's blushes. Started the game slowly and were taken advantage of at the back. Lethargic performance.

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 2 - October 29th, 2013 (Capital One Cup)
Even though this was a cup match, most Arsenal supporters would have appreciated a good domestic cup run to boost their hopes of ending a 8-year trophy wait.

Losing 2-0 to your London rivals at home is never ideal, especially when both goals could have been prevented and the players Wenger decided to use for the game struggled to live up to the billing. It just reiterated the fact that Chelsea's squad is bigger and has more quality than Arsenal's. Disappointing.

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0 - November 10th, 2013
It may come as a surprise to see this fixture listed as a game that Arsenal should have won, but it's true. The game was open for both sides throughout, and Arsenal failed to take their chances while former striker Robin van Persie took his opportunity to head home past his old club and celebrate like mad. Questions asked whether Arsenal should have sold him, let alone to a RIVAL. Painful.

Arsenal 1 Everton 1 - December 8th, 2013
Everton are a quality team with good players, do not get me wrong here. But after breaking the deadlock late on thanks to a fine strike from record-signing Mesut Ozil with just over 10 minutes to play of the match, surely you would tighten up the defence at the back and hold out for the win?

Not Arsenal. Lost ball possession in a key area of the pitch, failed to track back with pace and were eventually beaten by the fast footwork and good dribbling of Ross Barkley and substitute Gerard Deulofeu who hit a great strike past Szczesny with only a few minutes to play. Everton did what Arsenal should have, and stayed strong at the back for a vital point. Take note Mr.Wenger.   

You can see a pattern emerging here already can't you? What makes it worse is the lingering fact that there is still more to come...

Manchester City 6 Arsenal 3 - December 14, 2013
Another game that Arsenal should have made the most of, but paid the price for some weak defending under pressure from City and conceded 6 goals.

City were 2-1 up at half-time with The Gunners fully in the knowledge that they could still get a good result out of the match, but sloppy passing resulted in Fernandinho making it 3-1 a few minutes after the restart and although Walcott pulled a goal back just over 10 minutes later, City were the team that took their chances in an open game from start to finish.

You can debate whether Arsenal deserved to get something out of the match or not, especially having conceded two late goals from Fernandinho and Yaya Toure, which added gloss to the scoreline in which both teams had equal opportunities to score - with the hosts taking their chances. Frustrating. 

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0 - December 23, 2013
The second meeting between the London rivals this season ended in a score-draw game on a wet night at The Emirates. Chelsea held tight at the back and forced Arsenal to make errors, with their hosts struggling to beat Cech from close range.

Arsenal should have won this game, not just because the match was at home but because of the importance of the game. Playing against title contenders should give you a boost and make you hungry to beat them regardless of what time of the season the match is. Just before Christmas, Arsenal looked more focushed on Christmas celebrations and eating their turkey than winning pivotal games. Lacklustre. 

Southampton 2 Arsenal 2 - January 28, 2014:
It's similiar to the Everton match in the sense that Southampton are a good side with lots of youth talents and good players in their team, but you would expect Arsenal to beat them comfortably. It was an even match, one that The Saints took their chances in and scored twice against The Gunners (thanks to Fonte and Lallana) with strikes either side of half-time. 

Arsenal found themselves trailing and needing inspiration, with Cazorla and Giroud making it 2-1 in the 52nd minute before Lallana equalised. Southampton held firm and even had a few half-chances to win the game late on, but Arsenal failed to show why they deserved to be classed as real title contenders. Same old story, struggling to find their feet early on in the match and then conceding before waking up dramatically towards the end when they are already losing. 
A point gained for Southampton, two points lost for Arsenal. 

Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1 - February 8, 2014: 
Arguably one of the worst performances of the season from an Arsenal side. Not just the scoreline, but the way the team played and how their heads' dropped as soon as Skrtel broke the deadlock with a header from an inswinging cross from Gerrard in the first minute. Yes the goal was offside but those things happen. 

The worst thing you can do after conceding is turn off. And of course, that's what Arsenal did. Skrtel made it 2-0 in the 10th minute with another power header after some sloppy man-marking from the corner kick before Sterling and Sturridge got in on the rout to make it 4-0 in 20 minutes. Yes. 4-0. After 20 minutes. 

The sad part is that Arsenal improved significantly in the second-half (despite Liverpool keeping themelves comfortably in-front) and showed the kind of dogged performance that they should have performed from the first whistle. Liverpool's counter attacking with pace was too much to handle on the day, but when can you say a top four team loses a game against one of their rivals 5-1. Huge disappointment. 

Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0 - February 12, 2014:
Not good enough. United travelled to London in the hope that they could get a good result out of Arsenal, a side that needed to beat them in order to keep pace with Chelsea and City, who both beat United earlier on in the season. It was a case of not taking their chances for The Gunners, who were denied by a goal-line clearance from Valencia as well as some impressive stops by de Gea who saved shots late on from Cazorla and Giroud. 

Stoke City 1 Arsenal 0 - March 1, 2014:
Well then. Losing away from home against Stoke is one thing, but the fact of the matter is that Arsenal cannot claim to be title contenders and lose to a team that are currently struggling in the league. Whether the penalty was a penalty or not (which in my opinion it was not) - Arsenal should have still taken their chances and not relied on a draw having played simply "meh" throughout the game. Story of the season.

Chelsea 6 Arsenal 0 - March 22, 2014:
The same again. Just if you thought it couldn't get any worse after the 5-1 rout against Liverpool, The Gunners shipped 6 goals against their local title rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge LAST WEEKEND. It makes you wonder if they are actually title contenders, or if they just choke under pressure when playing against the bigger clubs. Apart from Tottenham and Liverpool (the 5-1 thrashing was actually a surprise, believe it or not), Arsenal struggle in big games, when it really matters.

Maybe that's why they have not won anything in 8 years. They have improved, do not get me wrong there. Just not good enough, as of yet. Flashes of brilliance, and then disappointment. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

UEFA Champions League Draw Reaction + Analysis:

The draw for the Last 8 of the CL has been concluded with some interesting ties.... 
Chelsea and United are the only two British teams left in the competition (order of pictures does not correlate to the draw)

Hello again everyone, and welcome to my latest blog post where I have reaction and analysis of the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final draw (along with the Europa League), which took place on Friday morning in Nyon, Switzerland.

Here is the official Champions League draw, with ties to be played on the 1st/2nd and 8th/9th of April:

  • Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid
  • Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund
  • PSG vs Chelsea
  • Manchester United vs Bayern Munich 
Glory up for grabs: Chelsea and United are still in this season's competition, but can anyone knock Bayern off their perch? 
At first look, all four-ties could easily be fiery affairs, with all teams involved having a decent chance of progressing to the semi-finals... 
An all Spanish affair, a repeat of last year's semi-final (Real vs Dortmund), a new challenge for Chelsea against Ibrahimovic and co, while David Moyes manages his first UCL quarter-final game in charge of United against arguably the best team in the world on current form right now in Bayern. 

Individual match analysis:

Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid -
An-all Spanish affair will be played in this quarter-final, with both teams having one eye on their current league positions in Liga BBVA while trying to battle over supremacy in the Champions League for a spot in the semi-finals later on in April. 

The two sides are level on points in Spain as the race for the title heats up, but both sides will be equally bullish about their chances of reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League also. 

Barcelona have been hailed as having their "weakest side in a long time" in a few years, yet they will be high on morale from their 4-3 win in the Madrid-Barca derby on Sunday night (which says something about Real if they lose to a weak side).

My prediction: Barcelona
Atletico are in-form with Courtois, Diego Costa and Koke all proving their worth, but Barcelona will probably be too strong for them.
In-form: Courtois is highly regarded as one of the world's best goalkeepers

The likes of Iniesta, Xavi, Sanchez, Neymar and the Magical Messi will be on display, and regardless of how "weak" they look on paper - looks can deceive.  

Class: Iniesta is one of the best creative midfielders in the world, and will be a catalyst for Barca's counter attacks against Atletico
Messi broke the record for most goals in Barca's history - with over 370 goals for the club

Weak? Not by any stretch: Messi and co will be lethal against Atletico

Stepping up to the mark: Magical Messi scored a hat-trick against Real Madrid last Sunday
Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund - 
A repeat from last year's semi-finals as Spanish giants take on a weaker-looking Dortmund side than they played this time last year. 

Both teams have new-look sides since their clash in the semis, with Real signing Tottenham forward Gareth Bale and breaking the world transfer record to buy him for £86MILLION POUNDS (astronomical, I know) while Dortmund were forced to sell their star midfielder Mario Gotze to rivals Bayern after they activated his £32million pound release clause in April last year.

To look out for:
Ronaldo and Bale vs Subotic and Hummels
Reus and Lewandowski vs Ramos and Pepe 
Diego Lopez vs Roman Weidenfeller
Xabi Alonso vs Ilkay Gundogan

Dortmund will be hoping that they can provide the same shock result that they produced last season against Real, but they will be aware that they obliterated fellow German side Schalke in the Last 16 and who knows - they could do the same again...

My prediction: Real Madrid
I certainly love to root for an underdog, but the loss of Gotze in the heart of midfield means that Dortmund are missing a creative spark. Reus and Lewandowski will be under increasing pressure to perform, but Real will be pumped to try and win the Champions League trophy for the first time since 2002. 

PSG vs Chelsea -
This match is a very intriguing one for the neutral, seeing as Mourinho has a tough test in store against Ligue 1 defending champions PSG. PSG lost at this stage last year against Barca, while Chelsea moved into the Europa League (and won it) after finishing third in their group last season.
Both teams have strong sides and a solid starting line-up on paper, so the feeling is that the two-legged games will be open and even but both teams can go into the game with relative confidence that they can expose each other's weaknesses.    

This tie is too close to call so I'm going to "go on the fence" as it were and pick out the reasons why both teams can win the game:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - in my opinion over-rated, but he can sure win a game. He will be key for PSG up-top alongside Cavani and Lavezzi

Eden Hazard - his first taste of Champions League proper since his move to Chelsea, he will be looked upon to perform well under pressure to help get his side to the semis.
Petr Cech and Salvatore Sirigu - the goalkeepers. Both reliable, both have strengths and weakness to exploit. Who will come out on top in the battle of the keepers?
Gary Cahill and David Luiz - 
Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Alex - The latter looks a less attractive defensive proposition, a weakness in the PSG side but his attacking runs and solid defending think otherwise. Interesting. 

Who will win? Not sure. 

Manchester United vs Bayern Munich -
Probably the most anticipated clash of the quarter-finals, the defending EPL champions play against the current UCL champions in a two-legged fixture that could not come sooner for David Moyes and his new United side. Bayern have been pretty unstoppable in the UCL and Bundesliga this season, and have virtually sealed their fate as reigning German champions domestically while United are currenly struggling to challenge for a top 4 spot for the first time without influential manager Sir Alex Ferguson in over 25 years. 
Bayern will be the favourites to win the game overall having been fairly fortunate to see off Arsenal in the last round and boast having the stronger team on paper, but United will take pleasure from the fact that if they start the tie off well then they could get a good result - but if they do not, they will be consequently punished by the likes of Gotze, Mandzukic, Robben, Ribery and Muller who are hungry for goals.

United have been unpredictable throughout this season which is to be expected, but they will also take into account that there probably is no pressure put upon them to win the game as they are already being called underdogs. This could be the last time we see United in the competition for a few years unless Moyes signs the right players in the summer, so look out for this tie!

My prediction: Bayern Munich
Their team is just too strong. United will make it hard but fall short over two legs. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

EPL Derby Day - Super Sunday Review:

Hello again everyone and welcome to my latest blog post, where I have match reports, analysis and a review from the two interesting derby day matches in the EPL.

Manchester United hosted Liverpool at Old Trafford in the early afternoon kick-off, while Arsenal looked to keep up with their title rivals with a win against fierce London rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane. 

Super sunday - double header: United hosted Liverpool while Tottenham played against Arsenal in the two derby games of the day 
Manchester United vs Liverpool: 

This match was played at Old Trafford, with 7th placed United hosting 3rd placed Liverpool in an important game for both sides. 

A win would take the hosts within 1 point of 5th placed Tottenham, who played against Arsenal later on in the day - as they looked to improve on their past performances of late and challenge for a top 4 finish to a lacklustre first season in charge under new management (with the scapegoat being manager David Moyes)

Liverpool are still within a chance of the title, a win over one of their biggest rivals (who they used to look up to) would show they are one of the best in the league and put them within 4 points of league leaders Chelsea, with a game in hand. 

Here were the team line-ups for the match (players highlighted in yellow/red were given cards): 

Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Vidic, Evra, Fellaini (Cleverley 76'), Carrick, Mata, Rooney, Januzaj (Welbeck 76') and van Persie. 

Subs: Lindegaard, Young, Valencia and Kagawa (subs unused)

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan, Henderson, Gerrard, Allen, Sterling (Coutinho 72'), Sturridge (Aspas 90+1') and Suarez.

Subs: Brad Jones, Aspas, Moses, Sakho, Cissokho, Lucas (subs unused) 

Match review -
And it was The Reds who started the game off the quickest, taking advantage of small pockets of space in-behind the United defence, passing the ball around well and having a few shots on target but nothing too strenuous for De Gea to save in the first-half. United were always back-pedalling when having to defend the Liverpool counter attack and struggled to move forward at times. 

This was because The Reds would either break play or the final ball was poor from a United player, with the deadlock being broken from the penalty spot in the 37th minute.

Suarez drove into the box, trying to whip a cross into the box while being tracked by full-back Rafael, who hit the ball with his hand as the delivery was being crossed towards the back post. The referee had no choice but to point to the spot, but Rafael was considered lucky to still be on the pitch after being booked two minutes earlier for a scissor-like tackle on Gerrard.

Stone-wall penalty: Rafael was lucky not to be sent off after a blatant handball inside the box 
Captain and Mr Reliable Gerrard stepped up to take the shot, and made no mistake beating De Gea from the spot.

Send you the wrong way: Gerrard opened the scoring in the 34th minute from the spot.

Taking charge: Liverpool's goal was well-deserved, dominating away from home at OT.
Just before the break, United started to build a bit of momentum, with Rooney having a 20-yard stinging shot parried away well by Mignolet - but Liverpool did well to withstand the counter attacking pressure of their hosts and went into half-time with a 1-0 lead. 

United felt they could easily get back into the match provided they started the second-half well, based on the fact that they were ultimately punished for a sluggish start and overall poor performance in the first 45. 

However, things went from bad to worse for the hosts in the first 35 seconds of the second-half, after an over-the-top through ball towards Allen inside the box was halted by the charging run of English full-back Phil Jones, who clattered into the Welsh midfielder and gave away a penalty. Gerrard stepped up to the plate again, scoring again to double the lead for Liverpool. 
From bad to worse: Allen was clattered by Jones, resulting in another penalty for Liverpool
Taking advantage: Gerrard ultimately made United pay for their mistakes inside the box
2 for me: Gerrard celebrates scoring his 2nd penalty of the game, to double Liverpool's lead
Kissing the camera: Gerrard ran to the corner flag to kiss the camera after his second
Mixed emotions: United couldn't believe they were 2-0 down straight after half-time.
Remember this? Gerrard did the same against United in 2009, after a 4-1 win with then team-mate Fernando Torres

United looked stunned after conceding the second goal of the game almost instantaneously after the restart, and the players' heads began to drop as they realised that they were on the verge of losing against one of their fiercest rivals. Liverpool were staying firm at the back in defence and United looked as though they were struggling to contain them on the counter attack. 

Rooney had to drop deep into midfield to try and help create chances for United, but he was pretty much ineffective aswell because as soon as he got the ball in space he was swarmed by 3 Liverpool players, pressing for ball possession. 

Both sides made substitutions late on, before Liverpool were given a third penalty in the 77th minute after a clumsy and late challenge by Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic on English striker Daniel Sturridge inside the box was adjudged to be a foul by referee Mark Clattenburg, despite claims that Sturridge fell theatrically to try and win a penalty.

Vidic was the last defender before De Gea, denying a goal-scoring opportunity and was consequently sent off for his second bookable offence (already on a yellow beforehand) 

Gerrard was unlucky to hit the post with the resulting penalty, and United supporters felt some justice was done after the penalty was given.

In the 85th minute, Liverpool made it 3-0 with a neat finish from striker Luis Suarez after a loose ball fell to Sturridge, who passed a long through ball into Suarez's feet who slotted the ball past de Gea into the net. 

Both teams used up all of their 3 substitutions before the end of the game, with United clearly down and out (annd lucky not to concede more than they did on the day) 

The full-time whistle was eventually blown, signalling the end of the day for United who tried and failed to beat their rivals. 

Liverpool will still be hoping that they can win the title this season, but it will not exactly be easy with matches against Chelsea and City among others before the end of the season in May.

United on the other hand are going through a transitional period which takes time, but it would be a big surprise if they were able to salvage a Champions League qualification place at the end of this season. 

The balance has shifted in the fixture, United are significantly weaker than they were a few years ago and Liverpool are going from strength-to-strength as they build their squad for the very real possibilty of UEFA Champions League football once again at Anfield. 

5 interesting facts to take from the game:

1. Suarez and Sturridge have a combined total of 41 goals this season, 5 goals less than Manchester United have scored throughout the current campaign.
2. United have only scored 18 goals at home this season - the same number as Fulham.
3. This loss is United's 9TH league loss of the season, and their 5th at home.
4. Liverpool are now only 4 points behind league leaders Chelsea, with a game in hand over The Blues.
5. The Reds have now done the double over their rivals, beating them twice in the league (2013-14 campaign) for the first time since the 2008-09 season (1-0 at home, 3-0 on Sunday)

Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal: 

This match was played at White Hart Lane, as Spurs looked to bounce back from their disappointing two-game loss streak in the space of a week to Chelsea and Benfica (EPL and Europa League respectively) 

Here were the team line-ups from the match (players in yellow were carded):

Tottenham Hotspur:
Lloris, Naughton, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Rose, Sandro, Townsend, Bentaleb, Eriksen, Chadli and Adebayor.

Subs: Friedel, Walker, Lennon, Paulinho, Sigurdsson, Kane and Soldado

Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud.

Subs: Fabianski, Monreal, Vermaelen, Jenkinson, Flamini, Gnabry and Sanogo. 

Match report:
Arsenal took the lead early on against their North London rivals within 2 minutes of the game, thanks to a well-taken 20-yard half-volley strike from Czech Republic midfielder Tomas Rosicky after good link-up play with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the box which beat Lloris and flew into the top corner of the net. It was a truly perfect start for The Gunners, who knew that playing away from home against a top 4 contender would not be easy. 

It's fair to say that Tottenham had their fair share of chances in the first-half, but failed to create many clear-cut goal scoring opportunities to test Szczesny and struggled with the final ball when up against one of the best (if not the best) defensive partnerships in the league (Koscielny and Mertesacker). 

Adebayor and Oxlade-Chamberlain had the most notable chances as Arsenal kept the 1-0 lead into the half-time break while Spurs would have felt they should have scored against their north London counterparts.

The hosts kept up the pressure from the start of the second-half however, with some inswinging crosses from Naughton and Chadli being dealt with badly under pressure from Szczesny with his defence having to clear out the danger in the first 5 minutes of play in the second-half. 

Tottenham started the second-half well and put Arsenal under intense pressure, but in hindsight probably should have equalised and took their chances from one of the deliveries that Szczesny struggled to deal with.

Kaboul was the rock in defence for Spurs, as he made two last-ditch tackles to deny Podolski and Giroud in quick succession with a sliding tackle and defensive block to make sure the home side were not punished on the counter and lost their momentum. 

Arsenal were failing with their final ball distribution when it mattered, after some good movement from Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Spurs half found Giroud in space to pass the ball back into their path, but his attempted through ball was cut out as Tottenham tried to push for the equaliser. 

Adebayor did well to pressure his old side with his lurking movement into the box, but whenever he had the ball at his feet he was not as threatening as when he didn't, with Townsend and Chadli's attempted crosses to the Togo striker failing to test Szczesny.

However, Arsenal eventually had their share of possession with 25 minutes to play, trying to keep hold of the ball and create a few chances to put Spurs "on the ropes" as it were. 

Kaboul and Vertonghen were staying strong, but Tottenham's momentum was fading as they could not win the ball back in midfield as effectively when The Gunners began their passing spell and dazzling movement. 

Both sides made substitutions in the 70th minute, with Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood opting with Paulinho and Sigurdsson to replace Sandro and Chadli, while Arsenal made a defensive change as the goalscorer Rosicky was replaced by Flamini (almost instantly getting booked, I might add)

FACT: By the 72nd minute, Spurs had recorded 29 crosses, compared to 2 from Arsenal. 

The Gunners then had a clear-cut penalty shout not given by the referee, as Arteta's free-kick delivery was whipped into the box for Koscielny to latch onto - the French defender was held back by Vertonghen who was pulling his shirt and tugging at his arm but no penalty was given and play carried on, much to the luck (of Spurs) and confusion (of Arsenal). 

Wenger made another defensive substitution as The Gunners looked to grind out a 1-0 win over their rivals, with Spanish left-back Nacho Monreal replacing a fatigued Podolski after 80 minutes of play - just before Mertesacker was denied a power header with a good stop from Lloris who dived to his right quickly to react to the low effort. 

Adebayor had a late effort comfortably saved by Szczesny late on, before Vermaelen replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain as a precautionary measure for a tight calf. 

Arsenal did well to hold on and the match eventually finished 1-0 at White Hart Lane, with Tottenham feeling aggrieved that they were unable to take advantage of the chances that they had, while their rivals took one opportunity early on and virtually "shut up shop" in an effective but overall unattractive Arsenal performance.

Arsenal move above City into third place, 4 points behind Chelsea with a game in hand over the league leaders and only behind Liverpool based on goal difference. The loss leaves Tottenham struggling in 5th place, with their hopes of qualifying for Champions League next season fading gradually..