Everton v Arsenal: As it happened

Welcome to coverage of a game that will go a long way to deciding who takes the last Champions League spot. Everton host Arsenal this Sunday lunchtime and whoever wins will have fourth place within their grasp.

If Everton win today, they move to within a point of their opponents with a game in hand. If the Gunners win however, they’ll go seven points clear and feel they’ve probably done enough finish in the top four yet again.

The home side have not beaten Arsenal since March 2007, but they are second only to Liverpool in the Premier League form table. The Toffees have won their last four league games, while Arsenal have won just once in their past five away fixtures.

Ross Barkley should be fit for Everton after being substituted with a calf complaint in the win against Fulham. Republic of Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson is nearing a return to first team training after a serious knee injury.

Arsene Wenger can name Aaron Ramsay in his match-day squad for the first time in 2014. The Welsh midfielder had an incredible first half to the season before being sidelined with a thigh injury.

Team news:

Everton- Howard, Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman, McCarthy, Barry, Osman, Naismith, Mirallas, Lukaku. Subs: Robles, Hibbert, McGeady, Deulofeu, Barkley, Garbutt, Alcaraz.

Arsenal- Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud. Subs: Viviano, Jenkinson, Bellerin, Kallstrom, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Sanogo.

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.

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Full time thoughts – It’s advantage Everton in the race for the final Champions League spot. They remain one point behind Arsenal but they have a game in hand. The two Manchester clubs still have to come to Goodison Park so it’s a difficult run in for Roberto Martinez’ men but based on today’s performance they should fear no one. They have two of the finest full-backs in the league, a solid midfield and real attacking threat. They have six wins in a row in the league, a club record, and if they can play in the same manner for the rest of the season they will be mixing it with Europe’s elite next season.

Arsenal were ten points clear of today’s opponents at the start of February. However a downturn in form has cost them dearly at the stage of the season when they usually kick on. The past few seasons it has been their performances in the run in that have allowed the Gunners to clinch a spot in the top four after underwhelming results early in the campaign. This year looked different and Arsenal fans dared to hope of a first title in a decade. However yet again it is the lack of consistency over the course of a season which has cost Arsene Wenger’s men dear.

The visitors never really looked like scoring today, with Olivier Giroud unable to convert the few half-chances that came his way. Creative influences like Santi Cazorla couldn’t get possession close enough to the Everton goal to threaten. The introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave Arsenal a bit more potency in attack but it came after Everton had wrapped up the game with their third goal. The only bright side for Arsenal today was the return from injury of Aaron Ramsay. Their season stuttered once he got injured in December.

93  mins – Sanogo found by Sagna and the substitute finally beats Howard. But… He’s offside and it doesn’t count. Howard takes the free-kick and the final whistle goes.

90 mins – Three minutes added.

88 mins – Barkley shows great strength to hold off Arteta and takes umbrage to an arm to the face. He shoves Arteta and Baines has a go too. Capping off a torrid afternoon for Arsenal, Arteta is the one who gets a yellow card in the aftermath. Not a happy day for the midfielder at his former club.

85 mins- Substitution for Everton as loanee Lukaku makes way for loanee Gerard Delofeu. Lukaku caused problems all day for the Arsenal defence.

85 mins – Oxlade-Chamberlain with a thumping shot from 25 yards that Howard tips onto the crossbar and out for a corner.

84 mins – Oxlade-Chamberlain hip checked by Gareth Barry in the box. I’ve seen them given but the referee waves play on.

81 mins – Ramsay threads a pass into space for Cazorla to run onto but the Spaniard didn’t read his intentions and the ball rolls out of play. Sums up Arsenal’s day.

80 mins Substitution for Everton as former Aiden McGeady replaces goalscorer Stephen Naismith.

75 mins – Sanogo called back for a dubious offside. He dragged his shot across the goal and wide anyway.

 72 mins – Seamus Coleman really enjoying his afternoon. Another sublime bit of skill to make a fool of Monreal on the right. It’s not just Coleman though, every single Everton player looks supremely comfortable on the ball right now.

70 mins –  Substitution Final throw of the dice for Arsene Wenger as Sanogo comes on for Olivier Giroud. The French striker huffed and puffed today without really creating any chances of note.

68 mins – The visitors finally in possession and Cazorla gets a shot away that doesn’t really trouble Howard.

67 mins – Cheers following every Everton pass now as Arsenal can’t get near the ball.

65 mins – Substitutions for Arsenal. Ramsay and Oxlade Chamberlain on for Flamini and Podolski. Might be too little too late from Arsene Wenger.

62 mins – This could be a rout if Arsenal don’t regroup quickly. Coleman showboats down the right, doing keepy ups at full pace. He finds Lukaku whose pass reaches Barkley and the youngster shoots straight at the goalkeeper.

60 mins – GOAL! No sooner have I said that and Everton score on the counter attack! Mirallas surges forward in midfield and attempts to find Naismith. Scezny gets to the ball but pushes it back in front of the goal where Arteta seemed to get the last touch ahead of the on-rushing Mirallas.

60 mins – An hour gone at Goodison Park and while Arsenal have been brighter in the second half so far, they still don’t look much like threatening Tim Howard. Everton are looking to exploit the visitors on the break.

55 mins – At the other end Vermaelen does well to stop the ball from getting to Naismith who had nipped in behind the Arsenal defence.

53 mins – Mirallas is pressured by Sagna and brings the ball back into his own six yard box. Howard has to rescue the situation before Giroud pounces. Thirty seconds later Stones loses out to Cazorla on the left and an excellent Distin intervention is needed to stop Flamini from finding the target.

50 mins – Podolski finds some space on the left but John Stones comes across to cover. The 19 year old does well to get the tackle in and win a goal kick.

48 mins – Monreal sends in a dangerous cross after good build-up play from Arsenal, moving the ball across the field. No-one there to take advanatage of the ball in.

14:33 – Second half begins.

14:32 – Arsenal are back out early for the second half, talking among themselves. They need a big effort in the second half. Everton just emerging.

Half time thoughts – Arsenal have  lot to do if they are to overturn the deficit in the second period. Everton are getting joy down both flanks as the Gunners attempt to play through the centre. Baines has threatened down the left on a number of occasions and Lukaku had all the time in the world to come in from the right and pick his spot for Everton’s second goal. If Arsene Wenger doesn’t direct Cazorla to stay out wide, or bring on Oxlade-Chamberlain to give Baines something to think about, then it’s difficult to see Everton losing this. They looked very comfortable in the first 45 minutes.

45 + 2 mins – Howard gathers a cross with Giroud lurking. The half time whistle goes.

45 mins – Two minutes extra to be played at the end of the first half.

43 mins – Yellow card for Flamini who will miss the next two games. The French midfielder mis-controlled a pass and took out Barkley while trying to retrieve the ball.

39 mins – Two saves in a minute for Howard. First he parries a Podolski cross away from the on-rushing Giroud, then reacts acrobatically to tip away a Podolski drive.

37 mins – That was Lukaku’s 13th goal of the season and he tries to add to his tally almost immediately. He drags a similar effort to the left and wide.

33 mins – GOAL! Lukaku receives the ball in space on the right. No Arsenal player comes to meet him and the Belgian makes his way to the edge of the box and dispatches and unstoppable effort beyond the goalkeeper’s outstretched arms.

32 mins – Arsenal’s first corner of the game. Stones uncharacteristically shaky so far in this game and the young Everton defender miskicks the ball close to his own goal. Giroud unable to pounce before Everton clear.

30 mins – Scezny down smartly to stop a Mirallas effort creeping in at the near post. Everton’s movement causing Arsenal problems in the first half hour.

27 mins – Everton very comfortable at the moment. They’re making inroads down the left as Santi Cazorla is playing narrow and allowing Leighton Baines space to get forward. If Kevin Mirallas can get into the game more then Arsenal will need to shore up the right side of their midfield.

23 mins – Mirallas tries to find Naismith behind the Arsenal defence. A clearance from Mertesacker goes back to the Belgian who doesn’t trouble Scezny with a tame effort.

20 mins – Naismith gets on the end of a low McCarthy drive across the box but can only divert the ball into the arms of the keeper. At the other end, Giroud fails to connect properly with a searching Sagna cross.

17 mins – Good play from Everton results in a corner which Mirallas overhits.

13 mins – GOAL! Naismith finishes coolly after Lukaku’s initial shot is blocked by Scezny. This just after John Stones put his own team under pressure with a poorly executed pass across his own goal. Howard did well to rescue and set up the move that led to Naismith’s third goal in two games.

12 mins – Naismith with a dangerous tackle on Arteta. The forward escapes a booking. Arsene Wenger looks furious.

11 mins – Nice link up play between Mirallas and Baines but the full-back is judged off-side before he can find someone with a ball across the six yard box.

10 mins – Flamini tests Howard with a shot from distance after Distin fails to control a long ball.

8 mins – Substitution Ross Barkley on for Osman as the Everton captain is unable to continue. The captain’s armband goes to Leighton Baines.

6 mins – Early chances for Everton. Naismith fails to find Lukaku with a cross, Seamus Coleman eventually whips the ball in from the right and but it’s cleared to Sagna. Leon Osman takes the full-back out and gets a yellow card and a knock to the head for his troubles. He goes off to receive treatment.

5 mins – Podolski with another attempt which goes out of play even further from the goals than the last.

4 mins – Boos for former Everton midfielder Arteta.

2 mins – Lively start here. Podolski with Arsenal’s first shot. Wide to Howard’s left.

1 min – Close! Leon Osman lets fly with a volley from just outside the box. Narrowly sails past the top right-hand corner with the keeper beaten.

13:30 -And they’re off.

13:29 – Ross Barkley and Gerard Delofeu on the bench for Everton today. Kieron Gibbs is injured and Nacho Monreal takes his place at left full-back for Arsenal.

13:27 – They’re almost ready to kick-off on Merseyside. Remember a win for Everton would greatly increase their chances of finishing in the top four for the first time since the 04/05 season. A win for Arsenal will see the North London side put a near impossible distance between them and their opponents today.

13:25 – The teams are out. The tunnel in Goodison Park is barely big enough for the two sides.

13:20  – Everton’s on loan midfielder Gareth Barry has been talking up his team-mate James McCarthy this week, saying he’s one of the best midfielders he’s played alongside. High praise indeed, considering he’s played in teams with Steven Gerrard, Yaya Toure and Marc Albrighton.

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.

liverpool suarez carroll west ham southampton man city norwich west brom chelsea stoke

“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.

 

Champions League Review: 3 ties balanced but Dortmund doomed

With the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals over with, it’s time to reflect on this week’s performances and look forward to next week’s encounters.

Manchester United v Bayern Munich

On Tuesday night Manchester United entered unfamiliar territory as underdogs at Old Trafford. They were up against a much lauded Bayern Munich side under the management of the much lauded Pep Guardiola.

While United can’t claim to ever really have dominated the game, they did cause problems for Bayern and Danny Welbeck had two great chances. The striker was unlucky to have a goal disallowed early on but he should have done better with a later chance when one-on-one with Manuel Neuer.

United managed to strike first, with a wonderful Nemanja Vidic header off a Rooney corner. Bayern adopt zonal marking when defending set-plays and we’ve seen over the years that this tactic is open to exploitation. The German team further incapacitated themselves by neglecting to put a man on the posts.

Bayern had looked a bit lacklustre early in the second half, but that goal jolted them into action. Eight minutes after United took the lead, substitute Mario Mandzukic nodded down into the path of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the German blasted home on the half-volley. After that it was all Bayern. Antonio Valencia was lucky to escape a second yellow for a heavy challenge on Boateng, and Guardiola was seething when Schweinsteiger was sent off for a less robust challenge in the closing stages of the game.

The goalscorer will miss the return leg, as will Javi Garcia. However Mario Gotze was rested for the first leg and is a capable replacement for Schweinsteiger. Dante returns from suspension and will slot in instead of Garcia. With an away goal in the bag and home advantage for the second leg, it is difficult to see past Bayern for a semi-final berth. However stranger things have happened and if United can put in a strong performance at the Allianz Arena they have a chance.

You can see the two goals from Old Trafford here:

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid

In Tuesday’s other game Barcelona welcomed La Liga title rivals Atletico Madrid to the Camp Nou. This was the fourth meeting of the sides this season and it ended like the previous three, in a draw. Atletico manager Diego Simeone has exceeded expectations this season after the sale of lethal Colombian striker Falcao last summer. His side work hard to press teams high up the pitch and it has had the required effect against perceived bigger teams.

Falcao may have been the main man last season, but Atletico’s other striker Diego Costa has negated the loss in this campaign, scoring goals for fun and looking a threat every time he gets on the ball. He was an injury concern before Tuesday’s game but spearheaded the attack from the start. However he only lasted 28 minutes before having to be substituted with a hamstring concern. His fitness will be crucial if Atletico are to maintain their La Liga challenge.

His replacement on Tuesday night was the Brazilian Diego, who gave Atletico the lead in the 56th minute with an absolute screamer. Behind to the away goal, Barcelona responded quickly. Busquets was denied by Courtois before a sublime Andres Iniesta pass released Neymar for a cool finish in the 71st minute.

The score remained at 1-1 until the end and so Atletico Madrid have the slight advantage going into next week’s game at the Vicente Calderon. If they play their usual brand of high-tempo pressure football they have an excellent chance of advancing to the semi-finals, even without Diego Costa. But on the other hand, Lionel Messi.

All the goals from Tuesday night here:

 

Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea

Last night saw the clash of two major egos as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea took on a PSG team spearheaded by Zlatan Ibrahimovich. Both men were respectful before the game, playing down their own team’s chances while praising the ability of their opponents.

Ibrahimovich has been scoring at will all season, however last night he was well marshalled and came off with a hamstring injury in the second half after being ineffective in the main. PSG had taken the lead in the third minute from a Lavezzi half-volley which was a direct result of an uncharacteristically poor headed clearance from John Terry. An Eden Hazard penalty in the 27th minute levelled matters, and it remained that way until half time.

PSG were the more composed side in the second period, and it was further defensive errors which allowed the home side to take a 3-1 lead to Stamford Bridge. With Matuidi running towards the corner flag with the ball on the hour mark, David Luiz opted to barge into the midfielder from behind. From the resulting free, Luiz bundled the ball into his own net after it cleared everyone else. In the third minute of stoppage time Javier Pastore scored a brilliant individual goal, tempered somewhat by the quality of Chelsea’s defending and Cech’s goalkeeping.

After the game Jose Mourinho again did something to his strikers that they themselves seem uncapable of. He attacked. While noting that his defenders had been solid all season and were allowed to make the occasional mistake, he bemoaned his lack of strikers. He had opted to start winger Andre Schurrle as the furthest man forward and as such there was no one to get on the end of threatening balls from creative talents like Hazard, Oscar and Willian.

A two goal deficit is far from insurmountable, particularly at Stamford Bridge. However Mourinho must figure out in the coming days who is most likely to bridge the gap for Chelsea. It’s clear he doesn’t believe his strikers are up to the task.

Here are all the goals from Parc des Princes

 

Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund

The Santiago Bernebeu is a difficult enough place to come without having five of your first team players missing. Add to that the fact that the 4 goal hero against Madrid in last year’s semi-final Robert Lewandowski was missing througt suspension, and Borussia Dortmund were always going to have a mountain to climb.

Madrid were ruthless from the off, with Gareth Bale poking the ball into the Dortmund net from close range in just the third minute. Isco added a second from the edge of the box in the 27th minute and Ronaldo wrapped the game, and more than likely the tie, up in the 57th minute, showing quick feet to get a shot away from eight yards out.

Out of all the quarter finals, this one looks to be beyond doubt. Home advantage may not help Borussia Dortmund in the second leg. Just ask Schalke, who Madrid demolished 6-1 in Gelsenkirchen at the last 16 stage.

All the goals from Madrid’s victory here:

 

 

He is Zlatan – Greatest goals and incidents in Ibrahimovich’s career

Zlatan Ibrahimovich was surprisingly humble before tonight’s Champions League clash with Chelsea, calling Jose Mourinho’s men the favourites to progress to the semi-final.

It’s not often you see humility from the Swedish striker, but then with a goal catalogue like this why should you?

 

He has  been one of the best strikers in Europe for nigh on a decade, and has played at some of the greatest clubs on the continent. Ajax, Juventus, AC Milan, Internazionale, Barcelona and now a PSG side intent on becoming a European superpower.

His goal-scoring record is phenomenal, averaging out at around a goal every 2 games throughout his career. He has never won the Ballon d’Or, but has a wealth of other accolades to his name. In these years of Messi and Ronaldo dominance, only Ibrahimovich can claim to have been as consistently brilliant. Such is his reputation in the game that the World Cup playoffs between Portugal and Sweden was a mere side show to the main act, Ronaldo vs Ibrahimovich.

His supreme confidence is backed up by his ability on the pitch, as seen above. However sometimes that confidence goes beyond scoring goals… This video shows what happens when Ibrahimovich loses his temper on the field, when journalists question his ability, and when he has to play second fiddle to a certain Lionel Messi…

 

What a man.

 

Manchester United v Bayern Munich: As it happened

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United will look to Rooney for inspiration tonight

Welcome to this evening’s Champions League live-blog.

It’s the quarter finals stage of Europe’s premier club competition, and tonight plays host to two cracking games. Manchester United welcome old adversaries Bayern Munich to Old Trafford, while first and second in La Liga meet at the Camp Nou where Barcelona take on Atletico Madrid. This live-blog is for the United-Bayern game, but I’ll keep you up to date with what’s happening in Spain too.

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And so to Old Trafford and the meeting of Manchester United and Bayern Munich. If the home side win tonight it would be a bit of an upset, but United have beaten the odds against Bayern before…

History won’t save United tonight if they don’t perform in all areas of the pitch however. Bayern Munich are the reigning European Champions and boast an embarrassment of riches in midfield. The visitors though will be without Thiago Alcantara and Dante tonight. Alcantara sustained an injury in league action at the weekend, while defender Dante  is suspended.

The team news is in:

Man Utd: De Gea, Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Buttner, Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Giggs, Rooney, Welbeck. Subs: Lindegaard, Hernandez, Nani, Young, Fletcher, Januzaj, Kagawa.

Bayern: Neuer, Ribery, Martinez, Robben, Rafinha, Boateng, Lahm, Muller, Alaba, Schweinsteiger, Kroos. Subs: Starke, van Buyten, Mandzukić, Shaqiri, Pizarro, Gotze, Hojbjerg

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.

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Full time thoughts: United’s performance will have delighted manager Moyes and the fans. Not so much for the quality but for the commitment the players showed. They were second best in the first half with Bayern dominating the possession and dictating the play but second half they gained more of a foothold. Guardiola may be a bit disappointed with his side for losing some of their intensity in the second half but even with Schweinsteiger and Martinez suspended for the second leg Bayern should have enough to advance to the semi-finals. Ribery and Robben create too many chances for them not to score at the Allianz Arena.

93 mins – Full time comes somewhat bizarrely as Neuer’s attempts to take a goal kick  are hampered by paper being thrown at him by the United fans.

90 mins – 3 minutes added here.

89 mins – RED CARD! Schweinsteiger gets a second yellow for a late challenge on Wayne Rooney. Not the smartest move from the German knowing he was already on a caution. Bayern might feel hard done by after Valencia escaped similar action earlier.

88 mins – Yellow card for Javi Martinez for a cynical tackle on Hernandez, who had spun smartly. He was clear on goal if Martinez hadn’t taken him down. He’s out of the second leg for that caution though.

84 mins – Substitution for United. Hernandez on for Welbeck, who will be ruing his disallowed goal and his other missed chance in the first half.

81 mins – Mandzukic booked after fouling Nemanja Vidic in the air.

79 mins – Bayern haven’t dominated this half quite like they did the first but they’re still creating chances. Robben knocks a ball across the six yard box but Mandzukic isn’t in the wrong place.

78 mins – Incidentally Neymar has levelled for Barcelona at the Nou Camp. 1-1 there but Atletico have the away goal.

77 mins – Robben comes close after taking advantage of confusion near United’s goal. He drags his right-footed shot just wide.

73 mins – Substitutions: Buttner injured so Ashleyon in his place. Gotze on for Kroos. Valencia moves back into the United defence. Fortunate not to be down the tunnel.

72 mins – Valencia a lucky boy. Already on a yellow, he jumps into a challenge with Boateng and catches the German defender. The ref shows leniency.

70 mins – Gotze receiving instructions from Guardiola. He’s on next.

67 mins – An away goal for Bayern and Old Trafford is a little quieter, except for the corner the away fans are in.

66 mins – GOAL! United’s lead lasts just 8 minutes. Rafinho finds sub Mandzukic with a cross and the striker nods down for Bastian Schweinsteiger to thump in on the half volley from close range.

65 mins – Boateng stings De Gea’s hands with a shot from distance. The Spaniard holds on.

62 mins – Substitution. Muller off and leading goalscorer Mario Mandzukic on for Bayern. Guardiola’s side have scored at least one goal in their last 60 matches and it has been two years since they failed to score in an away fixture. An interesting half hour in store.

60 min – Kagawa races in behind the Bayern defence and Neuer has to punch clear. Schweinsteiger booked for a tackle on Carrick. The away side are rattled. Rooney wastes the free-kick.

57 mins – GOAL! A Wayne Rooney corner is directed brilliantly into the bottom left corner by the head of Nemanja Vidic. No-one picked up the captain and no Bayern players were covering the posts either. Game on!

56 mins – Chances both ends now as the game opens up once more. Fellaini should have done more controlling a high ball near the Bayern penalty spot and Schweinsteiger gets a shot off the other end.

53 mins – Muller, Robben and Schweinsteiger combine well to allow the Dutchman a shot at goal. Blocked away. United support is right behind their team and has been since before kick-off. No sign of a plane over Old Trafford tonight.

52 mins – Rooney gets a header on target following good play from Kagawa on the right. The Japanese playmaker has looked bright so far.

51 mins – Neither side dominating the in the early stages of the half. Still 0-0 in the other quarter final at the Camp Nou incidentally where Barcelona are hosting Atletico Madrid.

46 mins – Early chance for Bayern. Rafinha plays a ball through to Schweinsteiger who has crept behind the United defence but he fails to find the targer.

45 mins – We’re underway again.

20:46 -Second half about to begin and substitution for United. Giggs is off, and Kagawa on. Positive change from David Moyes, but it was forced due to a groin injury.

 

Half time thoughts: Bayern dominated that first half, and if their final ball improves they should be able to bag an away goal in the next 45 minutes. However United have had chances of their own, most notably Welbeck’s. They need to find a way to stem the flow of Bayern’s passing in the second half, as they can’t get their foot on the ball as of yet.

Roy Keane pleased with Mancester United’s commitment in the first half, and calls the home side’s problems “nice” ones because the chances Bayern have created in general haven’t been clear-cut.

45 mins – The half time whistle goes to boos from United fans. Not because of their team’s performance but because they thought the ref should have allowed United to take another corner. He’s not obliged to do so and the teams make their way down the tunnel.

44 mins – Valencia’s shot deflected over for a corner after Rooney and Welbeck cause problems at the edge of the box.

39 mins – Big chance! Boateng loses his bearings and allows Welbeck to race onto a through ball from Rooney. The striker tries to chip it over Manuel Neuer instead of drilling it hard and low and the keeper gets a hand to it. Moyes doesn’t look happy.

38 mins – The Old Trafford surface must be slippy. Everyone is losing their footing. Phil Jones more than most.

36 mins – An Alaba cross is heading towards Muller for a tap in but Vidic makes a vital interception.

33 mins – The game is opening up now. Commotion in the United box as Jones and Ribery both slip and the ball is cleared by De Gea. Seconds later, A Rafinha shot hits Buttner on the arm but calls for a penalty are waved away.

31 mins – At the other end Danny Welbeck bounces a shot in front of Manuel Neuer. The German keeper was always behind it though.

30 mins – Robben tests De Gea with a nice curling effort from the edge of the box. The Spaniard is equal to it and palms it to his right for a corner.

28 mins – The only thing saving the home side is the quality of Bayern’s final ball so far. Crosses haven’t reached their targets.

25 mins – United can’t string three passes together. All the play in and around their box. Arjen Robben popping up everywhere.

21 mins – A Vidic slip almost allows Ribery’s cross-field ball to reach Robben, but the Dutch winger mis-controls.

19 mins – United fans cheering any indication of passion from their team. It’s all they’ve got so far, as Bayern are playing keep-ball.

18 mins- Ribery with a speculative shot from distance. Well wide from the Frenchman, who came third in the Ballon d’Or last year.

16 mins- Ribery and Robben have such a good understanding of each other’s game. The two link up down the left to win a corner.

14 mins – United haven’t been out of their own half for the past five minutes. Valencia picks up a yellow card for a tackle on Lahm.

10 mins – A Ribery cross finds Muller in the six yard box but Muller doesn’t connect properly and United clear their lines. Chances for both sides early on.

8 mins – Neuer forced into a hasty clearance under pressure from United’s forwards.

7 mins – Arjen Robben curls a first shot a yard or two wide of De Gea’s right hand post. Nice passing from Bayern in the build-up.

2 mins- Danny Welbeck finds the net for United! But… Bayern get a free out for a high boot. Good work by Rooney and Valencia to set up the chance. That decision could have gone either way really but it’s given United and their fans encouragement early on.

1 min – And we’re off!

19:40 – With nothing left to play for in the Premier League, winning the Champions League is the only way United can take their place among the European elite next season. They’re quoted at odds as high as 6/1 to even beat Bayern tonight. 5 mins to kick-off.

19:35 – Roy Keane on ITV calls it a “big ask” for United tonight.

Lahm isn’t playing in the Bayern defence after all. He’s in the midfield with Rafinha slotting in at right-back.

19:25 – In the build-up to tonight’s game, Utd manager Moyes and veteran midfielder Ryan Giggs were in bullish mood. Moyes predicting that tonight would be the first of many times he will come up against Pep Guardiola, while Giggs had this to say;

“As players we don’t see ourselves as underdogs, we see ourselves as Man Utd playing at home in the Champions League and we can’t wait. These are the games that you want to be involved in as a player and we will go out there and try and win the game.”

19:10 – Injury and suspension have forced David Moyes’ hand too, with Alexander Buttner replacing the suspended Patrice Evra and Phil Jones at right back instead of Rafael. Record signing Juan Mata is ineligible in the Champions League.

19:05 – With Dante suspended, it looks likely that Philipp Lahm will play at  right-back. It’s a position that he’s pretty familiar with… It’s only this season under Pep Guardiola that the Bayern captain has pushed up into the midfield.

19:00 – As I said at the beginning Bayern are spoilt for choice in midfield. One of their stand out performers is Tony Kroos, who David Moyes is rumoured to be interested in buying this summer in an attempt to strenghten United’s centre. The German international has yet to sign a new contract at Bayern, however that’s not to say United will have an easy time acquiring his services.

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.

everton fulham

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.

liverpool chelsea spurs arsenal everton

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.

 

Liverpool vs Spurs as it happened.

Liverpool Suarez Sturridge

This season’s most potent strike partnership

Welcome to coverage of today’s game between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. After fellow title-chasers Chelsea and Manchester City dropped points yesterday, Brendan Rodgers’ side have the opportunity to top the Premier League table by 6pm this evening. Tottenham have been in underwhelming form all season, but a last gasp victory at home to Southampton last weekend was a timely boost to morale.

It will take more than morale for the visitors to leave Anfield with three points today. Liverpool start as firm favourites following seven consecutive league victories, the most recent being a hard fought win over Sunderland in midweek. The strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge has produced 48 league goals so far this season, and if Spurs play to the same level they did in the reverse fixture in December, they may well reach the half-century.

That 5-0 defeat before Christmas was Andre Villas Boas’ last in charge of Spurs, and while a similiar result would be unlikely to cost successor Tim Sherwood his job on Monday, it would do serious damage to his chances of holding onto his position beyond the summer. Louis Van Gaal has been heavily linked to the club, and fellow Dutchman Ruud Gullit has said this weekend that there has been contact between Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and the veteran manager.

Updates will appear throughout the game, with the most recent on top. If nothing’s happening just hit refresh. Have your say on the game by commenting underneath or tweet me @AlanKeane23

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17:54 – Thanks for following the game. Leave your thoughts below, or tweet me @AlanKeane23

93 mins- The final whistle goes at Anfield. An easy day at the office for Liverpool as Spurs were never at the races. A goal in the first minute set the tone. Spurs head back to London with their season well and truly over, while Liverpool head to the top of the table. A terrific end to come in this Premier League season.

91 mins – Liverpool players still working hard. Everyone wants to impress the manager and consolidate a starting place for the run-in.

90 mins – 3 minutes added at the end of the game. To compound Spurs’ misery, Soldado is taken off on a stretcher after landing awkwardly.

88 mins – Suarez flagged for offside. Doesn’t look like he’ll be adding to his tally today but you never know…

86 mins – Spurs players look like they wish they were anywhere else. Dawson comes close with a header from a corner.

82 mins – Substitution Sterling makes way for Victor Moses.

78 mins – Of course Spurs were up against it today considering their main source of goals against Liverpool the past few seasons retired in the summer. Jamie Carragher is watching from the stands today.

77 mins – Chadli and Sigurdsson have chances for Spurs which come to nothing.

72 mins – GOAL! 4-0 Liverpool Henderson assumes free-kick responsibility and whips one in from the left. Luis Suarez lets it run and so too do the entire Tottenham defence. Suarez makes sure everyone knows it was the midfielder’s goal by running directly too him.

69 mins – Substitution Gerrard makes way with Liverpool fans applause ringing in his ears. Lucas on in his place. Brendan Rodgers will be pleased his captain didn’t pick up a yellow card today. It would have kept him out of the next game.

67 mins – Sturridge nearly gets gets on the score sheet with a cheeky back-heel.

65 mins- Suarez picks up a slight knock. Rodgers may consider taking him off soon with this game wrapped up.

61  mins- Coutinho hassling and harrying in midfield. The difference in desire is plain to see, Liverpool are up for this game and the chance to win the title. Spurs are on already on their summer holidays and, in the case of Tim Sherwood, they could be long ones.

59 mins – Substitution Bentaleb and Lennon make way for Dembele and Townsend as Tim Sherwood rings the changes.

57 mins- Liverpool fans singing “Wer’e going to win the league.” Manchester City and Chelsea still have to come to Anfield though… An interesting end of the season coming up.

54 mins- GOAL COUTINHO! Spoke too soon! Coutinho allowed too much room at the edge of the box and he drills a right-footer beyond the despairing dive of Lloris into the bottom left corner. Good finish but the Brazilian was allowed far too much time to pick his spot by the Spurs defence.

53 mins – Henderson fluffs his lines after a beautiful one-two between Sterling and Sturridge. Sterling squares the ball to the former Sunderland man and with the Tottenham defence in disarray he fails to find the target. Spurs lucky to still be within two goals of their hosts.

51 mins – Flanagan almost plays in Suarez but Dawson manages to intervene. Down the other end. Soldado shows pace to outrun Agger but the Dane gets back and wins the goal-kick.

48 mins – Roberto Soldado has been kept quiet all afternoon. While his goal-scoring record has been poor this season, he has shown promise in his link-up play. However Skrtel and Agger have him well marshalled. Spurs miss the physical presence of Adebayor. Any long balls played so far today have been eaten up by the Liverpool defence.

46 mins – Sigurdsson booked for a drag back on Coutinho.

17:03 – And we’re off again. No changes to either side.

17:00 – Suarez is 6 goals from the Premier League record for goals in a season. Could he do it today? If Spurs continue defending the way they have done, he could get a few more anyway.

16:47 – The half time whistle goes and the teams go down the tunnel. Their two goals have come from mistakes but Liverpool are well on top in this game. A stunning save from Lloris in the closing minutes of the half have kept Spurs somewhat in it but they’re going to have to be bolder going forward second half if they are to rescue anything from this game. And that’s going to leave room at the back for Liverpool’s pace to exploit.

45 mins – Two minutes added. Spurs want the whistle and the chance to regroup.

44 mins – Naughton slips and handles the ball at the edge of the Spurs box. Suarez curls the resulting free-kick agonizingly wide of the far top corner.

40 mins- BIG CHANCE! Oof! A mistake from Rose down the left and Sterling’s cross reaches Suarez at the back stick. He thumps a header which Lloris punches against the crossbar and somehow Spurs clear.

39 mins – A prolonged period in the Liverpool half for Spurs. Soldado gets  the ball on the left of the box and aims a shot at the far top corner. Parried by Mignolet and Liverpool clear their lines.

37 mins – A hopeful long-range shot from teenager Nabil Bentaleb is easily gathered by Mignolet in goals for Liverpool.

34 mins – Spurs just can’t string two passes together, and that’s largely due to the intense pressure Liverpool are putting them under. Brendan Rodgers’s side are playing a high-tempo game and the visitors aren’t able to keep up.

32 mins – Kaboul is booked for a late tackle on Sterling at the edge of the box. The central defender is having a nightmare and with Vertonghen gone and the technically weaker Dawson now alongside him, he might be wishing this game was over already

31 mins – Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish are interested onlookers today. Bet they’d like to have played along-side Suarez.

25 mins – Spurs almost pull a goal back immediately. Eriksen’s shot well blocked by Skrtel.

24 mins – GOAL Suarez! No sooner has the substitution been made and Liverpool double their lead. Dawson horribly misjudges the flight of the ball, Suarez out-muscles Kaboul  and shoots hard and low across Lloris into the bottom right hand corner. A new Liverpool league scoring record for Suarez. 29 this season.

23 mins – Suarez blasts the free-kick over the bar. Vertonghen’s race is run. Dawson comes on in the Belgian’s place.

21 mins – Free-kick for Liverpool in a dangerous area following a dubious Sigurdsson hand ball. Spurs players have an emergency meeting while Vertonghen gets treatment from the physios.

20 mins – Chadli and Eriksen have both made surging runs in the past few minutes but couldn’t execute the final ball into the runners.

15 mins – Liverpool sharp on the ball. Some trickery from Sterling down the right leads to a cross. Kaboul clears but from the throw in Suarez gets on the ball and picks out Couthinho. The Brazilian volleys just wide from 12 yards.

12 mins – Spurs just can’t get on the ball in these opening stages.

9 mins – CHANCE! Suarez glides beyond Naughton on the left and whips in a cross that is just too high for Sturridge on the back post.

7 mins – Just before the goal, I was about to say Spurs hadn’t scored a goal in the first 15 mins of any league game this season. I guess they have now. Wrong end however.

5 mins. The Liverpool crowd smell blood. Spurs haven’t spent any time inside the Liverpool half yet.

1 min – GOAL! Kaboul OG. A Glen Johnson cross hits the French defender inside the 6 yard box and trickles in. Disaster for Spurs. 1-0 Liverpool.

16:00 – And we’re underway!

15:58: It will be interesting to see if Cristian Eriksen or Nacer Chadli start behind Roberto Soldado today. Chadli is a more natural winger with Eriksen a creative presence at number 10. That’s not how they lined up last week however, and Sky Sports graphics suggest Eriksen will once more find himself out on the left.

15:57 – The teams are out and Anfield is rocking.

15:55 – The teams are in the tunnel. Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen looks relaxed, considering he’s about to come up against the 48 goal strike partnership of Suarez and Sturridge.

15:50 – Ten minutes to kick-off at Anfield. @OptaJoe has a stat that shows just why Liverpool are favourites today. Liverpool have won 11 and lost none in their last 12 league games at home.

15:48 – Tim Sherwood on Sky Sports now. Says he hasn’t watched the video of the 5-0 drubbing Liverpool dished out to AVB and Spurs in December. Pays tribute to Suarez and Sturridge, calling them the best strike partnership the Premier League has seen in a long time.

15:45 – Both sides have named attacking line-ups today. No holding midfielder for Tottenham and that has to be a worry for Spurs fans as Jordan Henderson has been doing damage through the centre in recent weeks for Liverpool.

15:42 – Brendan Rodgers being interviewed on Sky Sports now. Says supporters can dare to dream of a first league title in 24 years but the players must remain calm. Also mentions Spurs’ high line, which could be a source of much joy for the home side today.

15:40 – Raheem Sterling makes his first league start since the 3-0 win at Old Trafford two weeks ago. Joe Allen drops to the bench for the home side.

15:25 – The final whistle has just gone at Craven Cottage and Everton come away with a 3-1 win. They are hot on the heels of Arsenal now for the fourth and final Champions League spot. Fulham meanwhile are in serious trouble. 5 points from safety with 6 games left, and with the worst goal difference in the league. A whopping minus 42!

15:15 – A blow for Spurs before kick-off as Emanuel Adebayor fails to even make the bench. Gylfi Sigurdsson is rewarded for his late winner last week with a start in midfield.

15:10 -Team news just in.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez. Subs: Jones, Sakho, Cissokho, Lucas, Moses, Allen, Aspas.

Tottenham: Lloris, Naughton, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Rose, Bentaleb, Sigurdsson, Lennon, Chadli, Eriksen, Soldado. Subs: Friedel, Dawson, Dembele, Sandro, Townsend, Winks, Kane.

 

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.

3 vital points at stake as Arsenal welcome Manchester City

arsenal

Wilshere and Silva clash in December’s clash

Manchester City go to Arsenal on Saturday evening chasing the three points that will keep their title tilt on track. Arsenal meanwhile need the victory to stave off Everton who are breathing down their necks for the fourth and final Champions League spot.

If this fixture had occurred a few weeks back it would have been billed as a battle between two title contenders. However a bad run of league results in March for Arsenal, victory over bitter rivals Spurs notwithstanding, has left them adrift of the top three. Last weekend’s 6-0 hammering by Chelsea was followed by a calamitous midweek draw at home to Swansea. Everton are now just 6 points behind the Gunners with a game in hand and Arsenal still having to visit Goodison Park in April.

Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes was quick to put the boot in on Tuesday night, questioning Arsenal’s lack of leaders and heart in big games. Even his own beleaguered former club has taken four points off of Arsenal in the league this season. In games against strong opposition this campaign Arsenal have crumbled. Against Liverpool in February they shipped 5 goals away to Liverpool while in the December’s reverse of Saturday’s fixture Manchester City hit them for six.

As is usually the case with Arsenal, talks of a crisis don’t tell the whole story. They may be out of the Champions League after losing to Bayern Munich and have no chance of lifting the Premier League trophy, but they are still in the FA Cup (felling Liverpool the week after losing 5-1) and haven’t fallen below fifth in the league all season.

Nevertheless February and March have, for the past few seasons, seen the start of a good run of form for the Gunners which would consolidate their place in the top four. That has certainly not been the case this campaign, and if they should capitulate to Manchester City on Saturday then Everton will certainly fancy their chances of overtaking them.

City go into the game having scored 8 goals in their last two outings. Yaya Toure has helped himself to half of that total and Arsenal have to  find a way to subdue the big Ivorian, along with the in-form David Silva. Pellegrini’s men had no difficulty in demolishing Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, even with the home side crowding the midfield in an attempt to curb Toure’s influence. If Arsenal’s midfielders don’t harry and hassle City in the middle of the park at every opportunity, they will leave their defence with too much to do.

With City only three points behind league leaders Chelsea, with two games in hand, they know that a victory at the Emirates will give them the upper-hand going into a crucial period of games which includes a trip to Anfield to face second placed Liverpool.

 

Jury still out on UEFA’s Nations League

Spain v Italy - UEFA EURO 2012 Final

Spain, winners of a 16 team Euro 2012

In the future, international friendlies will be a thing of the past. The 54 members of UEFA this morning unanimously ratified the proposed Nations League, which will come into effect from 2018 onwards.

The aim of the competition, according to UEFA’s website, will be “to improve the quality and standard of international football.” UEFA admits in its statement that the exact format of the Nations League is yet to be determined, but “the concept is for the 54 teams to be divided into four large groups according to co-efficient rankings.”

When news of this possible development broke earlier in the week, it was easy to dismiss it as a PR move to make international friendlies more appealing. However it has emerged that the Nations League will be linked to the Euro Qualifiers, with extra places in the European Championships at stake.

In some respects this is a welcome move. Weaker countries will get extra opportunities to qualify for the European Championships. Anything that adds some spice to international friendlies can only be good for supporters, particularly Irish ones. If it wasn’t for the appointment of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane last autumn, the Aviva Stadium would have been harder to fill for games against Latvia and Poland.

However is there really a need to throw another competition into the mix? The Nations League runs the risk of becoming the Europa League of international football; important to the smaller sides but treated with contempt by the top teams. Furthermore, if it is important to the weaker nations, does that allow less room for them to blood new talent? International friendlies, while often tedious, have always been the stepping stone for younger players between club football and the higher intensity of competitive international fixtures. If the Nations League threatens teams with relegation should they lose, will they be reluctant to field inexperienced players?

In any case, with the expansion of the European Championships to 24 teams taking place, surely the current qualification route would have been enough of an opportunity for the weaker teams to stake their claim. Traditionally the group stages of the Euros have been more exciting than those in the World Cup due to fact that there were only 16 teams of a decent quality involved. Raising the quota to 24 teams has already given the third-best side in a qualification group the opportunity to progress to the flagship tournament via the play-offs.

UEFA run the risk of not only diluting the quality of the championship itself but also of the qualifiers. If a team is doing well in the Nations League, will they focus more on achieving their qualifying objective in that manner than in the qualifiers?

These are all questions which cannot be definitively answered until the inaugural Nations League in 2018. The tournament could be a success, or it could be just another ridiculous idea like those linesmen behind the goals who don’t actually do anything.