Weekend Preview

Can Man. City start to gain momentum? Can Arsenal set themselves apart from the rest? Will Leicester keep up the pressure? Who will win, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool or Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United? It’s set to be an intriguing weekend of Premier League football!

Tottenham and Sunderland play in the early kick off, with Tottenham coming into the game off the back of a late defeat to Leicester. Despite that, Mauricio Pochettino’s side have been in good form and sit 4th in the table. Performances from Harry Kane and Dele Alli have been important in their rise up the table, and if they can bounce back straight away with 3 points it could be very handy. But, in their way will be a Sunderland team high on confidence after their vital 2-4 win over fellow strugglers Swansea in midweek, and striker Jermain Defoe, who scored a hat-trick in that game, will be hoping to keep us his good form with a goal against his former club.

Meanwhile, Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth host Alex Neill’s Norwich, and Bournemouth, who have lost their way in recent weeks, could start Lewis Grabban, who rejoined the club he was at last season, and if he were to play, his first game for his new (old) club would be against the  club that he has just left, Norwich! Norwich’s form has been more up and down lately, with wins against Manchester United, Aston Villa and Southampton along with defeats to Manchester City, Tottenham and Stoke, but whatever happens, it is set to be a hugely important game between two of last season’s promoted sides.

One of the most interesting ties will take place at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea take on Everton. Both drew in midweek, but Everton’s draw would have been more satisfactory as they picked up a point after the 0-0 draw with Manchester City, whilst Chelsea were denied 3 points by West Brom. In form striker Romelu Lukaku will be hoping to continue his form, and Chelsea will be hoping to keep up their unbeaten run under interim manager Guus Hiddink.

Crystal Palace will hardly be going into the weekend with great confidence, as they became only the second team to lose to Aston Villa in the league this season, (the last being Bournemouth’s 0-1 defeat on the opening day,) and now they travel to Manchester City. As for City themselves, Sergio Aguero will be keen to build on goals against Watford and Norwich, and as a result keep the pressure up on Arsenal and Leicester.

Newcastle will come into their game against West Ham with a new hope, after their 3-3 draw with Manchester United in midweek, and new signings Jonjo Shelvey and Henri Saivet could start along with Emmanuel Riviere and Rolando Aarons, who are both back from injury. Looking at West Ham, Dimitri Payet made a huge impact in his first game back from injury against Bournemouth, with a sumptuous free kick, a classy assist and an all round dazzling display helped the Hammers to a 1-3 win.

Southampton host West Brom at St Mary’s, and after their important 2-0 win against Watford on Wednesday the Saints will be hoping to build on that result with 3 more points. New Saints signing Charlie Austin will be watching on as an in form Shane Long faces his former club, whilst Rickie Lambert of the Baggies will be facing his former club also. The match finished 0-0 the last time these two sides met at the Hawthorns earlier this season.

A repeat of the 3-2 thriller at the King Power stadium earlier this season sees Aston Villa host Leicester at Villa Park. The reverse fixture saw Villa go 0-2 up through brilliant goals from Jack Grealish and Carles Gil before goals from Danny Drinkwater, Jamie Vardy and Nathan Dyer turned the game on its head. This time Vardy will be hoping to get his first goal since the 2-1 victory against Chelsea, whilst Villa will be in a much happier mood after just their second win of the season against Crystal Palace in midweek, although there is still a lot of work to be done for the Premier League’s bottom side.

Sunday will see English football’s most famous fixture as Liverpool welcome Manchester United to Anfield, before league leaders Arsenal travel to the Britannia to face Stoke.

The Monday night game will be huge for Swansea after their disappointing 2-4 defeat against Sunderland, and they face Watford, who also lost in midweek. Swansea sit just 1 point outside of the relegation zone and a win today would be crucial.

Who will be top of the table at the end of the week? Who will be in the relegation zone? We’ll have to wait and see.

Manchester United v Liverpool Rivalry #2

On the 17th January this month, English football’s most famous fixture will take centre stage at Anfield once again, and although the two most successful teams in the history of the English game might not be the forces they once were, the Manchester United v Liverpool derby has never lost it’s sensational thrill.

Although being located fairly close to each other, this game is so much bigger than a local derby. A rivalry built on success, it takes precedence over the respective derbies against Manchester City and Everton, and that takes some doing as there’s much more than three points at steak in those games.

As Ander Herrera said before United’s meeting with local rivals Man City earlier this season “This game is huge, but I know that for the fans, the game against Liverpool is bigger”.

In 1977, the two sides renewed rivalries in the FA Cup final, with title winners and European Cup finalists Liverpool going in as favourites, but, as we all know in the FA Cup, anything can happen, and it was Manchester United who prevailed 2-1 winners. Stuart Pearson put them ahead with a powerful near post finish, but that was cancelled out by Jimmy Case who showed terrific skill, agility and finishing as he made the score 1-1. The winning goal came due to a huge slice of luck as Lou Macari’s shot was deflected in by his own team-mate, Jimmy Greenhoff.

11 years later, United the underdogs again, clawed their way back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 after a last gasp equaliser from Gordon Strachan rescued an important point for the Red Devils. United skipper Bryan Robson had opened the scoring early on as he rounded off a well worked move, before Liverpool turned things around either side of the break, starting with a superb team goal scored by Peter Beardsley followed by goals from Gary Gillespie and Steve McMahon, the latter being a stunning strike from almost 30 yards out. But, United rallied in the form of a deflected Bryan Robson strike before Strachan finished with composure for the late equaliser.

More recently in 2009, the two sides were the two best teams in the English game, and despite an early penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo, goals from Fernando Torres and Andrea Dossena aswell as a Steven Gerrard penalty and a Fabio Aurelio free-kick turned the game on it’s head as Liverpool completed a shock 1-4 win at Old Trafford.

Two seasons later, despite a brace from Steven Gerrard, Dimitar Berbatov stole the headlines with a stunning hat-trick. His first was a clever header, before a sensational over-head kick was followed by another good header.

The most recent meeting was also a classic, as all eyes were on Manchester United’s new signing, Anthony Martial, the world’s most expensive teenager, costing around £36m. The Frenchman started on the bench, and watched his new side take a two nil lead after a well worked Daley Blind goal and a terrific penalty from Ander Herrera. Then Liverpool’s Cristian Benteke gave them a life-line with a superb over-head kick to make the score 2-1. Step up Anthony Martial. Just minutes into his debut, the 19 year- old waltzed around the Liverpool defence before slotting the ball into the far corner, displaying great skill and composure in the process.

No doubt in the calibre of Real Madrid vs Barcelona and Boca Juniors vs River Plate, Liverpool vs Manchester United rarely disappoints.

 

The new world beaters #1 Griezmann

For the past 7 years, world football and Ballon D’Or awards have been dominated by, well, you know who. But, as the Messi and Ronaldo era begins to draw to a close, it is time for a new crop of outstanding talents to take the reigns. This series will be analysing the potential new world beaters, the players who, in four or five years time, could be the real deal.

We will begin with 24 year-old Frenchman Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann started his career at Spanish side Real Sociedad in 2009 after spending 4 years in their youth academy, and immediately became a regular starter in the left wing position. In his first professional season, he scored 6 goals in 40 appearances including a goal against Huesca in his first start. His performances helped Real Sociedad gain promotion to Spain’s top division in 2010.

The following season in the top flight, having turned down interest from Arsenal, Manchester United and Lyon, Griezmann, now under a contract until 2015, had another good season in which he scored 7 goals in in 39 games. This was when people first started to take notice of the young talent, as he displayed skill, ability, and from a young age, he was scoring quite a few goals.

After three more impressive years for the Basque team which included the goal that secured qualification for the Champions League and a stunning overhead kick against the club he supports Lyon, Griezmann attracted interest from Atletico Madrid, who were willing to pay the 30million euro release clause in his contract. It was then that he decided that it was time to move onto a bigger club and challenge for silverware, as Atletico had just beaten all the odds and won La Liga and become just seconds away from winning the Champions League.

In his first season with Atletico,  Griezmann delighted the Madrid faithful with 25 goals in 54 games along with some dazzling performances, and after the recent success of forwards Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa at the club, it looked to be that he was overshadowing fellow attackers Fernando Torres and Mario Mandzukic and becoming a real star.

This season Griezmann has continued his rich vein of form, and it’s looking like this so called ‘form’ is more likely to be permanent class. With this summer’s Euro 2016 in his home country of France, he will have the chance to produce his magic on an even bigger stage and show the world what he is capable of.

However, it could be possible that if he, ironically, performs TOO well in this summer’s tournament, he could be snapped up by local rivals Real Madrid, as club president Florentino Perez seems to have a habit of spending record fees on ‘the next big thing’. Surely, looking at the history if these types of players moving to Real, it would be a huge gamble, as it seems that Real Madrid at times look like an unbalanced team of superstars that put the manager under pressure to play them all and therefore not play his favoured system, and therefore, at times, it has cost Real trophies. Of course, some of these signings have been successful, like Ronaldo and James, but meanwhile, some of them, not so successful, like Kaka or depending on opinion, Gareth Bale. If he does decide to go there, Griezmann will hope to be in the bracket of  the former, rather than the latter.

Some suggestions have been made that a move to the Premier League could be on, and the most likely club for that would be Arsenal, with there lack of firepower up front. The move could be increasingly likely if Arsenal win the league this season, but it still doesn’t seem all that likely that move could be on.

What does seem to be a possibility would be a move to his home country, and PSG or Lyon would be candidates, PSG because they want to become a major force in world football and conquer Europe, Lyon because they want to shift PSG off their throne in domestic French football, and also because Lyon is the team that he supports.

So, Antoine Griezmann. 24 years young, a bright talent with a bright future – but we will see if success beckons.

Biggest Top Four Race in Years

After the recent midweek matches, the top end of the table makes for interesting reading. And I’m not talking about Chelsea and Manchester City. I’m talking about how there is a 5 point gap between 3rd place and 7th. This means that, in theory, in two weeks time, Liverpool, who haven’t been near the top four position-wise all season, could jump from 7th to 3rd. That is how tight things are in the race for the Champions League at the moment. 5 or 6 teams are all vying for a spot in the biggest competition in Europe, and every single team has a chance. No team ever seems to be safe when they have reached the top four this season though, with West Ham being a classic example. Not so long ago this season, the hammers were in the top four and things were looking very cosy, but, within just 2 or 3 defeats, they were down to 8th, 4 points away from 7th place. That shows how if you want to be a top team you’ve got to keep on winning, which is what teams like Arsenal and Manchester United are capable of doing. But that doesn’t mean we should rule out Southampton.

They have shown that when the team is fit and firing at all cylinders, they can beat anyone on their day, but injuries and key players not performing at times this season has lead to them sliding down the table very quickly. But one, credit to them for one getting this far, and two showing that they will only be satisfied with European football, and even 6th place will be a disappointment. But, their midweek draw once again proves that even  the tiniest of slip ups, like missing one good chance (in their midweek game against West Ham) can affect your season massively.

In terms of Manchester United, they are the favourites to come 3rd, and will be tough to beat, so a good run of games could put them in a great position and leave it to the rest of the teams to battle for 4th. But they need to be wary of the other sides, as one or two slip ups could cost them, and Arsenal, Southampton, Tottenham and Liverpool will be ready to pounce.

All 5 teams have their strengths and weaknesses,  and Harry Kane is definitely one of Tottenham Hotspur’s strengths. The 21 year-old is likely to be selected for England the next time the chance comes, and in 2015, has scored as many league goals as Lionel Messi (8), and double as many as Cristiano Ronaldo (4). He has also already in this year won the January player of the month, and won the North London derby with two goals to beat Arsenal.

So, with 13 games left this season, it is still all to play for. But, the question is, who do you think will make the top four?