Premier League: 3 talking points after the weekend

Liverpool making their own luck:

Two penalties against Manchester United a few weeks back and two penalties yesterday at West Ham have been crucial to Brendan Rodgers’ side finding themselves top of the table with five games remaining.

However that’s not to say Liverpool have been getting it all their own way, as shown by West Ham’s equalizer yesterday. The fact is that Liverpool wouldn’t be getting penalties were they not creating chances, and they are top of the league by virtue of playing the most exciting football this season. They could still lose out if Manchester City come to Anfield next Sunday and win, but Brendan Rodgers deserves great credit for how his side have come from fourth place outsiders to title challengers.

Also, if there is a highly contested decision during a game, either video technology should be available to the referees or there should be no replay of it on the big screen. There can be no half measures. Liverpool players pointing to the big screen at Upton Park yesterday, screaming at the referee to watch Andy Carroll’s foul in the build up to West Ham’s goal while the referee refused to do so was farcical.

Norwich board take big gamble:

An underwhelming campaign thus far from Norwich City has led to the sacking of manager Chris Hughton. While lying fourth from bottom with five games left is bad enough, the fact that four of those five games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal leaves Norwich with much to do if they aren’t to be playing in the Championship next season.

Whatever the dire circumstances Norwich find themselves in, is it wise to sack Hughton at this stage of the season? Admittedly the team has been uninspired under the former Republic of Ireland international all season, but what makes the board think that this will change under the tutelage of youth team coach Neil Adams? Are they hoping for that “new manager effect” that sometimes lifts teams particularly in the early stages?

That doesn’t always happen. Ask Pepe Mel, the West Brom boss since December and Hughton’s final adversary as Norwich manager.  His first win didn’t come until mid March.

The final four games against the big sides pale in comparison to Norwich’s fixture next weekend. They come up against fellow strugglers Fulham in a game that could see the Canaries go eight points clear of Felix Magath’s side with a win. Depending on other results, three points for Norwich may leave them in 13th place by Sunday evening. For the club to disrupt the preparations for that game by sacking Hughton is a huge gamble.

 

McCarthy and Coleman thriving under Roberto Martinez:

Everton’s performances this season have been wonderful to watch. Yesterday was one of the best yet as they dismantled an Arsenal side who not three months ago were among the favourites for the title.

They may lose some of their key players during the summer if they cannot make their loan deals permanent. Striker Romelu Lukaku is certainly one they would like to keep, but Gerard Delofeu will more than likely return to Barcelona and Gareth Barry may also move on.

One thing is sure however, Martinez will be doing all he can to keep hold of Republic of Ireland internationals James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman. The pair have been key to Everton’s fight for a Champions League spot all season. Gareth Barry last week heaped praise on McCarthy, saying he was one of the best midfielders he had played alongside. Seamus Coleman is almost a certainty to be named in the Premier League team of the year. The Donegal man has been in outstanding form, chipping in with important goals from full-back.

All this is good news for Irish football fans, and if Everton manage to hold onto both players then they will only improve further under the astute Martinez. Darron Gibson may return from a serious knee injury before the end of the season, and with Aiden McGeady at the club since January, Martinez has a crucialrole to play in the development of important Ireland players in the Martin O’Neill era.

 

Featured Image: GETTY Images

Premier League Preview: Crucial weekend at top and bottom

Last weekend’s round of games saw a shift in power at the top of the table. With Manchester City and Chelsea both dropping points, Liverpool took full advantage with a convincing win over Tottenham Hotspur.

In the race for a Champions League place, Everton’s victory over Fulham saw them keep the heat on Arsenal. Fulham meanwhile remain rooted to the bottom of the table, five points from safety.

West Brom and Cardiff City played out a six goal thriller at the Hawthorns last time out, with a last gasp equaliser keeping the Welsh side within touching distance of safety, albeit with a game more played than last week’s opponents.

Here are the crucial fixtures this weekend:

Manchester City vs Southampton, Saturday, 12.45pm.

City dropped points at Arsenal last time out and need a win in today’s early kick-off in order to keep the pressure on Liverpool. They’re favourites against Southampton however, having lost just one of their last 19 Premier League games. Southampton had big win against a lacklustre Newcastle last weekend, consolidating 8th place in the table.  They haven’t lost in their last two meetings with City, drawing 1-1 at St Marys earlier in the season.

Kenyan midfielder VictorWanyama could make a return for the visitors. Sergio Aguero has resumed training but remains unavailable for City selection.

Chelsea vs Stoke, Saturday, 5.30pm.

Mistakes have cost Chelsea dear in their last two games. A John Terry own goal at Crystal Palace and three defensive mistakes against PSG have halted their momentum. Mourinho is less concerned about the defensive mistakes than he is about his strikers inablilty to score goals however, and it’s likely that an overhaul of the attack will take place in the summer.

Stoke won 3-2 at the Brittania in the reverse fixture and have four victories in their last five games. Interestingly, for all the criticism leveled at the Potters’ style of play in the last few years, they have only scored two headed goals all season. That’s the lowest of any side in the league.

Eto’o is still out for the home side, but Stoke welcome back Jonathan Walters from suspension.

Norwich vs West Bromwich Albion, Saturday, 3pm

Both sides hover just above the relegation zone and defeat for either side would mean a nervous run-in. The Canaries are unbeaten in last six at home and a victory could see them move up to 12th in the table. Pepe Mel has failed to turn West Brom’s season around. The midlands outfit have won just one of their last 21 league games. However a win at Carrow Road would put them level with today’s opponents with a game in hand.

Leroy Fer, who scored in victory against the Baggies earlier this season is still unavailable for Norwich. West Brom have received a boost in defence with the influential Jonas Olsson back from suspension.

Everton vs Arsenal, Sunday, 1.30pm.

The Toffees welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park for a high-stakes encounter at Sunday lunch-time. Everton are four points behind the Gunners with a game in hand. Roberto Martinez’ men have won their last four games in the league and have only lost one at home all season. The last time these sides met in the league it ended in a draw, however Arsenal took the spoils in the FA cup earlier this year. Victory for Everton puts them in the driving seat for fourth place, but they have the tougher run-in on paper.

Ross Barkley should be passed fit after being substituted with a calf complaint against Fulham last weekend. Aaron Ramsay makes a welcome return to the Arsenal squad for the first time in 2014 following a thigh injury.

West Ham vs Liverpool, Sunday, 4pm.

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“Yeah… I’m just gonna go.”

Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll came to Anfield in January 2011 as a result of Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea. Looking back now, it’s unbelievable to think that Suarez was the cheaper of the two. The Uruguayan has been in scintillating form this season, and has the opportunity to break the Premier League scoring record before the end of the season. He’s two goals from making it his own, and with six goals in his last five league appearances it’s difficult to see him not adding to that tally today.

West Ham will prove a different proposition for Brendan Rodgers’ men to the spineless Spurs outfit they encountered last weekend. Andy Carroll, now a permanent Hammers player following his £15m move last summer, will look to outmuscle an often-times defensively frail Liverpool back four, with another former Liverpool player Stewart Downing supplying balls into the big centre-forward.

Lucas Leiva made his return as a substitute for the Liverpool last weekend, and could make the starting line-up for the first time in almost three months. West Ham should have captain Kevin Nolan fit after coming off with a back problem in Monday’s win over Sunderland.

 

Weekend Round-up: Spurs in turmoil, toothless Chelsea and stylish Liverpool

1 – Everton serious contenders for a Champions League spot.

While other teams have suffered following the appointment of new managers last summer, Everton have had a fantastic season under Roberto Martinez. Astute dealings in the transfer market have given the team a strength in depth unseen for years at the club.

Everton fans will hope that the bubble doesn’t burst when loan signings like Gerard Delofeu and Romelu Lukaku return to their parent clubs. A Champions League club needs players of that quality, and if Everton can beat Arsenal at Goodison Park in two week’s time, they have an excellent chance of mixing with Europe’s elite next season.

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Everton were 3-1 winners at Fulham yesterday,

2 – Chelsea need a new striker.

Jose Mourinho has conceded defeat in the race for the Premier League title, a race that he said Chelsea weren’t really in anyway. The defeat at Crystal Palace was Chelsea’s first against a newly promoted club in Mourinho’s two spells at the club. A John Terry own goal gifted Palace a much needed victory, but it was the lack of a cutting edge on Saturday that really hurt Chelsea’s title tilt.

It’s all very well having the creativity of Oscar and Hazard, but who is there to finish off the chances they create? Fernando Torres started at the weekend and Demba Ba made an appearance towards the end but neither made an impact.

Mourinho spoke after the game about the need to add a striker during the summer. Diego Costa is rumoured to be the main target and the question is which current front-man will be surplus to requirements.

3 –  Arsenal’s glimpses of quality not enough for team with title ambitions

Paul Scholes’ assessment of Arsenal last week irked Arsene Wenger enough that he responded before his side’s game with Manchester City. Scholes said that Arsenal were a “million miles away” from being able to challenge for a title, with Wenger retorting that six points cannot be called a million miles. However the points difference doesn’t tell the whole story. In games against other big sides this year Arsenal have looked out of their depth at times. Chelsea scored six against them last weekend, following on from another hammering from Liverpool in February.

Against Manchester City on Saturday evening, it took a David Silva goal for the visitors to spark Arsenal into life. They look nervous when faced with the big challenges, and until they can prove they can put it up to other teams with title ambitions on a regular basis they will have to be content with chasing a Champions League spot.

4 –  Spurs heading for another summer of change.

Spurs fans knew that it would take time for the multitude of new players bought with the Gareth Bale money to settle in. Nevertheless having broken their transfer record three times in the space of a few weeks with Paulinho, Soldado and finally Erik Lamela the hype was such that fourth place and the Champions League was the least expected from the White Hart Lane faithful.

Whatever hope was left of a fourth placed finish vanished within a minute at Anfield yesterday when Younes Kaboul knocked the ball into his own net. Now Spurs are looking at another summer of big change where there will certainly be players leaving, and perhaps the manager too.

Tim Sherwood was handed an 18 month contract in December following the sacking of Andre Villas Boas and won supporters initially due to Spurs playing a more attacking brand of football. However results have been inconsistent and questionable tactical decisions have contributed to rumours that current Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal will take over in the summer.

Yesterday’s game at Anfield was viewed as a chance for Sherwood to prove his worth to the Spurs board, and it was a test failed by both players and the manager. If a new manager does come in, then Spurs fans hopes for a settled squad by this summer will be dashed as he moulds the squad to his liking.

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Soldado and Spurs set for another summer of change

5 – Liverpool worthy of top spot.

Liverpool would not have gone top of the Premier League table yesterday if it weren’t for results elsewhere. However it is hard to argue with their league position given their recent form. They have won eight on the trot in the league, and have won 12 out of 13 at home.

They are playing the best football too, with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge contributing 49 league goals between them this campaign. Suarez’ 29th goal of the season against Spurs yesterday gave him the accolade of most goals scored by a Liverpool Player in a Premier League season.

Equally important to Liverpool’s run-in are the likes of Henderson, Gerrard and Coutinho. These three (along with yesterday’s man of the match Raheem Sterling) are a big part of the reason the strikers are so prolific this season. Their work-rate in the midfield has been second to none, and the link up play has been wonderful to watch at times.

Manchester City still have the title in their grasp, and if they manage to overcome Liverpool at Anfield in a few weeks time the title race will be as good as over. However Liverpool have the greatest goals per game ratio since the 1960/61 Spurs team, and that in itself shows their title credentials.

 

Advantage Liverpool as Chelsea and City drop points

Liverpool Tottenham

“Really? John Terry!?”

Liverpool can go top of the Premier League tomorrow evening after results went their way today. Brendan Rodgers’ side host Tottenham Hotspur in the Sunday afternoon kick-off and victory will see them leapfrog Chelsea to the summit.

A John Terry own goal gifted a struggling Crystal Palace side a vital win at Selhurst Park this afternoon, and Liverpool fans had more to cheer about as Manchester City could only draw at Arsenal.

David Silva gave City the lead at the Emirates, but a Mathieu Flamini equaliser ensured Manuel Pellegrini’s men left London with just one point.

Liverpool go into tomorrow’s 4pm kick-off knowing that a win will put them top, two points ahead of Chelsea and four ahead of City, albeit with two games more played than the Manchester side.

The Merseyside club have been in a rich vein of form recently, winning their last seven games in the League and scoring 26 goals along the way. This weekend’s however can only dream of that consistency. Tottenham have lost three of their last six games in all competitions. Tim Sherwood’s chargers haven’t lost three consecutive away games in the league since January 2009, but that record is under threat tomorrow.

Brendan Rodgers will again look to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge to lead the charge. The SAS partnership has yielded 48 league goals so far this season, and with Spurs short of defensive cover, the strikers will be confident they can add to that tally tomorrow as Liverpool chase their first league title in 24 years.

Tottenham have little left to play for this season, however with Louis Van Gaal openly courting the managerial position, Tim Sherwood will be keen to show that his side can compete with the top sides in the league. They snatched victory late on against Southampton last weekend, keeping the pressure on Everton in the race for fifth.

Striker Roberto Soldado showed some intelligent link-up play in last week’s win, however the Spaniard is still struggling for goals and Tottenham will be hoping that Emanuel Adebayor will have recovered sufficiently from his ankle injury to take some part tomorrow. Jamie Carragher has retired so Spurs can’t depend on him for goals anymore in this fixture.

Poyet calls Liverpool mid-table team without Suarez

“Hey! Liverpool! Ye’re nothing without Suarez!”

Sunderland manager Gus Poyet has earned the wrath of Liverpool fans by suggesting the Reds would be a mid-table team without his fellow Uruguayan Luis Suarez.
Poyet was speaking to El Observador, a Uruguayan publication, and to be fair to the Sunderland manager he was probably just heaping praise on Suarez rather than trying to question Liverpool’s squad depth. However his decision to do so in the run-up to such an important game for his Sunderland side, embroiled in the battle to avoid relegation, was inadvisable at best.
Suarez has of course been in stellar form this season after returning from his 10 game suspension. Currently level with Robbie Fowler as top Liverpool goalscorer in a Premier League season on 28 goals, there’s every possibility he’ll make the record his own tonight.
However to imply that Liverpool are a one man team would be to do them a disservice. Take Suarez out of the equation, and the next highest goalscorer in the Premier League is his strike partner Daniel Sturridge. Captain Steven Gerrard is also having an excellent season, scoring two penalties at Old Trafford ten days ago to bring his tally for the campaign into double figures. Coutinho, Henderson, Sterling and Skrtel have all contributed goals for Brendan Rodgers’ side as they keep the pressure on Manchester City and Chelsea.
Sunderland go into tonight’s game in 18th place, three points behind Crystal Palace in 17th but with a marginally better goal difference and two games in hand. No win in their last 6, coupled with Liverpool’s perfect record in the same period, would suggest tonight is a write-off for Poyet’s team. It will be interesting to see whether he puts out a weakened side and focuses instead on Saturday’s game against fellow strugglers West Ham.
A win for Liverpool tonight would lift them to second in the table, two points above Manchester City albeit with two games more played. Both City and Chelsea have yet to come to Anfield, and those encounters in April may very well be crucial in deciding who lifts the Premier League title come May 11th.