Manchester United’s problems aren’t just managerial:
After such a convincing victory against Norwich last weekend, there were calls from certain quarters for Ryan Giggs to be handed the Manchester United manager post on a full-time basis. Sub-keeper Anders Lindegaard reckoned the Welshman could be the next Pep Guardiola.
Saturday’s loss at home to Sunderland has brought the Red Devils right back to earth, and highlighted the shortcomings on the field that will have to be addressed no matter who the manager is next season.
United have nothing but pride to play for at this stage of the season, but the ability to dominate sides in the midfield hasn’t been evident for quite a while. None of Carrick, Cleverley, Fellaini or Fletcher strike terror in the hearts of opposing teams the way Yaya Toure does for Manchester City, or Aaron Ramsey at his best for Arsenal.
Change may take place in the dug-out this summer, but personnel changes in the centre of the park are just as vital.
Jose Mourinho has a sense of humour:
In the aftermath of a turgid nil-all draw with Norwich on Sunday, Jose Mourinho complained that only one team had attempted to play football. Surprisingly, that team was Chelsea.
Norwich City have been absolutely awful in front of goal this season, and at Stamford Bridge they sat deep and attempted to catch Chelsea on the counter, rather than going gung-ho at a team that could punish them.
Sitting deep and hitting teams on the counter is something that Chelsea have done with varied results in the recent past. It worked against Liverpool and categorically didn’t against Atletico Madrid. It doesn’t matter if it’s pleasing to the eye, football is a results game and Mourinho’s teams exemplify that mind-set more than most.
The Portuguese coach knows full well the reputation his team has for playing negative football, and you can imagine him turning a corner after giving his post match comments about Norwich yesterday, and laughing his head off.
Sunderland’s detractors need to take a look at themselves:
A team that takes 7 of a possible 9 points against the two Manchester Clubs and Chelsea deserves to stay up. Sunderland have done just that and with Saturday’s victory at Old Trafford they look almost certain to beat the drop.
Going into the game against United, Gus Poyet’s team had a cloud hanging over them due to the threat of a points deduction. Norwich, Cardiff and Fulham had joined to petition the FA regarding Sunderland’s fielding of an ineligible player.
The Black Cats had already been fined by the FA for playing Ji Dong-Won in four games at the start of the season without international clearance from FIFA, but the three teams below them were desperate to drag Sunderland deeper into the relegation dog-fight.
Unfortunately for them, there is no rule that forces the FA to dock points in a scenario such as Sunderland found themselves in. Fulham and Cardiff were relegated at the weekend, and Norwich are favourites to join them next weekend.
Sunderland have fought their way out of the relegation zone with their results in the run-in. If the teams below them want to lay the blame for their relegation somewhere, they’d be best served to look at their own performances.
With both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid’s obvious penchant for sitting back and hitting opponents on the break, tonight’s game may not be for those looking for a spectacle.
Liverpool decided on Sunday to stick to their usual style of football when Chelsea visited Anfield. One Steven Gerrard slip allowed the Blues to score through Demba Ba, and the league leaders spent the rest of the game attempting desperately to break down Jose Mourinho’s defensively watertight unit. The Blues invited Liverpool forward and then hit them on the counter, eventually culminating in Willian’s injury-time insurance goal.
Atletico Madrid haven’t suffered defeat in their past 14 games, and will have watched Sunday’s game with interest. Diego Simeone is unlikely to adopt a gung-ho approach as he knows with so much at stake the team who makes the least mistakes will progress to May’s final in Lisbon. One away goal from Atletico will force Chelsea to chase the game and leave themselves more vulnerable at the back. Simeone’s side won’t throw the kitchen sink at the home side early on, instead they will play the ball around and probe for weaknesses.
It may not make for the most glorious game of football, but last night’s meeting of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich -billed beforehand as an ad for the beautiful game- was hardly high-drama either. With the outcome decided by half-time, the second half was a tawdry affair. It is difficult to see tonight’s game being less than competitive for the duration.
Full time thoughts – For all the talk about Chelsea’s defensive strengths. their lack of a cutting edge up front has cost them dearly tonight. They may have struck first but Atletico responded in emphatic fashion. It would have been understandable if Diego Simeone had set up his team defensively in the second half to protect the away goal lead, but Atletico came out and attacked Chelsea in admirable fashion.
Atletico are having an excellent season and even faced with an ultra defensive Chelsea line-up tonight they were well capable of creating opportunites. All the players worked hard for each other, and collectively they deserved the victory tonight. In contrast, Mourinho’s defensive know-how is only as effective as the players who implement his instructions on the field. Eden Hazard was at fault in the build up to two of Atletico’s goals tonight. Mourinho’s decision to omit the lively Schurrle in order to play Azpilicueta in midfield will be scrutinized in depth in tomorrow’s papers.
90+5 mins – The final whistle goes and Atletico’s incredible unbeaten Champions League season continues! They will face cross-city rivals Real in the final on May 24th. What a game that will be.
90+3 mins – Chance! Hazard gets through on goal and Courtois blocks his shot with his legs. Terry blasts the follow up over the bar. Courtois desperate to keep a clean sheet.
90+2 mins – Chelsea pumping balls into the box but Atletico deal with them easily.
90 mins – Five minutes added but there’s little chance of a Chelsea comeback.
87 mins – Atletico fans in fine voice behind Courtois’ goal. They’re already wondering how to get their hands on tickets for the final.
84 mins – Chelsea reduced to scraps. Courtois watches as an Eto’o attempt to control the ball dribbles past his post.
82 mins – Nope. There was a bit of confusion there as Sosa looked injured and Simeone wanted to check he was ok before making the substitution. The change can be made now as Turan makes way.
81 mins – Diego Simeone applauds as Arda Turan makes way for Cristian Rodriguez in Atletico’s final substitution.
79 mins – Atletico still look the team most likely to score. Chelsea looking disorganized, even in defence.
76 mins – If Atletico hold on, it’ll be the first European Cup final encounter between two sides from the same city. The entire population of Madrid will be in Lisbon on May 24th. Apart from a few sullen Getafe fans.
75 mins –Substitutions. Diego Costa limps off to be replaced by Jose Sosa. Another midfielder on the field for Atletico. Willian is replaced by Schurrle in Chelsea’s final substitution.
71 mins – GOAL! 3-1 Atletico! Arda Turan reacts quickest to slot home a ball that came off the crossbar from his own header. Eden Hazard yet again switched off to allow Juanfran get the initial cross in. Surely that’s the end of the road for Chelsea!
69 mins – Ivanovic’s shot is smartly saved by Courtois but the whistle had already gone for a Demba Ba foul on the goalkeeper.
66 mins – Demba Ba on for goalscorer Fernando Torres, who applauds both sets of fans on his way to the bench.
65 mins – Raul Garcia comes on for Adrian. Diego Simeone shoring up the midfield.
64 mins – Adrian Lopez gets a yellow card for a needless foul near the Chelsea box.
63 mins- Chance! David Luiz’s header ricochets off of the post and Courtois parries clear. Chelsea almost managed to claw one back immediately.
62 mins – Chelsea fans look apprehensive. Can their team score twice in the next 30 minutes or so?
59 mins – GOAL! 2-1 Atletico! After getting yellow carded for marking the penalty spot (or time-wasting maybe), Costa makes no mistake. His penalty finds the roof of the net and now Chelsea need two goals.
58 mins – PENALTY! Eto’o trips Costa just inside the box. Clumsy striker’s challenge from the substitute.
57 mins – Atletico look like the side chasing the game. They’ve been liveliest in the first ten minutes or so of the second half.
54 mins – Atletico calls for a penalty as Azpilicueta appears to drag down Turan are waved away by the referee.
53 mins – Substitution for Chelsea as Eto’o replaces Ashley Cole. Azpilicueta reverts to left back.
52 mins – Chance! Great save from Courtois as John Terry arrives like a train to head a long free kick towards goal.
50 mins – Courtois gathers a long ball with ease with Torres challenging. The Belgian goalkeeper is playing at Stamford Bridge for the first time tonight, even though he’s technically a Chelsea player the past 3 years. Eto’o getting instructions from Mourinho.
47 mins – Schwarzer spares the blushes of Terry and Ivanovic as they fail to deal with another ball across the face of the goal. The shot from Adrian blocked away by the goalkeeper.
20:48 – Back underway at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea must score in the next 45 mins to advance to the final.
Half time thoughts – Both lauded defences have been breached and the momentum is definitely with Atletico going in at the break ahead on away goals. For the first half an hour it was difficult to see who would make the breakthrough, and when Torres put Chelsea ahead you expected the home side to park more double deckers than Evil Knievel would jump over. A lapse from Hazard allowed Juanfran to create Adrian’s equalizer and now Chelsea need another goal if they are to progress. Atletico will defend ferociously and look to catch Chelsea on the break. The manager whose team progresses tonight will have earned their night’s wage.
45 mins – The referee adds no time at the end of the half so the teams trudge off with the bare 45 gone.
43 mins – GOAL! 1-1. Juanfran escapes Hazard at the back post and when Tiago’s cross finds him he squares to Adrian who scuffs the ball into the ground and into the top corner of Chelsea’s goal. The advantage has swung firmly back in Atletico’s favour! Terry and Cole could maybe have done better defending the ball across the square from Juanfran.
41 mins – Another decent delivery from Koke reaches Adrian who can’t direct the ball past Schwarzer. The Australian gathers gratefully.
39 mins – So… That was an assist by Azpilicueta. Playing in an unfamilia midfield role. Cue fawning tributes to Mourinho’s tactical genius if Chelsea win tonight.
35 mins – GOAL! 1-0 Chelsea! Willian with excellent work down the right allows Azpilicueta to find Torres in the centre. The striker’s shot deflects off Mario Suarez past the helpless Courtois. First goal Atletico have conceded in 7 games. They’ll need to work even harder to break down Chelsea’s defence now!
34 mins – Costa is getting a little annoyed with the quality of ball played up to him. The latest effort is easily dealt with by John Terry again.
30 mins – First yellow card of the night for Gary Cahill for a challenge on Costa ten yards outside the Chelsea box. Koke’s ball was dangerous but well cleared by Terry.
27 mins – Chelsea have had a lot of the possession so far but don’t seem too keen to push forward. For Atletico, Diego Costa is moving around to find the ball, but in doing so he’s leaving his midfielders one option less through the middle.
24 mins – A corner for Chelsea nearly finds its way to John Terry at the backpost. It’s cleared by Atletico for another corner but Terry complains to the referee that his shirt was pulled.
22 mins – Even cheekier shot from David Luiz as the ball comes in from the throw. He chests the ball facing away from goal and unleashes a scissors kick which flies narrowly past the far post.
21 mins – Cheeky dummy from Eden Hazard allows Ramires in behind the Atletico defence. Miranda does well to put the ball out for a throw/
18 mins – One of Chelsea’s six defenders makes a mistake and atones immediately. Gary Cahill misplaces a pass and has to scramble to block a shot from Costa close to the Chelsea goal.
15 mins – A good run from Diego Costa ends when he opts for a shot himself from a difficult angle. He might have been better served laying the ball off to the onrushing Tiago at the edge of the box.
14 mins – Willian commandeers the set-piece and scoops it over the bar. Not enough room there to get it over the wall and back under the crossbar.
13 mins – Free-kick in a promising area for Chelsea as Koke fouls Ramires on the edge of the “d”.
12 mins – You get the feeling that the longer it remains nil-nil the more each team will be happy to get men behind the ball. A goal from somewhere however… and all hell could break loose as the team behind will have to chase the game.
8 mins – Very crowded in the centre of the field early on as both teams are quick to close down the ball.
3 mins – Chance! Nearly an early away goal for Atletico. A Koke cross loops over everyone including Schwarzer, hits the crossbar and post before ricocheting off of Cahill and over the bar.
2 mins – Fernando Torres with a lovely bit of juggling in the midfield but he’s eventually disposessed. Himself and Diego Costa could be swapping clubs this summer if reports are to believed. Costa wanted by Chelsea and Torres could be used as the bait that makes his former club to bite.
1 min – Dave (alright Azpilicueta) has lined up on the right side of midfield.
19:45 – They’re ready to go at Stamford Bridge, just as soon as a minutes silence for Tito Vilanova and Vujadin Boskov is observed. Actually, it’s a minutes applause. The done thing nowadays.
19:40 – Meanwhile on RTE, Billo is commentating on Maradona taking a selfie on a phone that looks like a minion from Despicable Me. As you do.
19:35 – Gary Neville commentating on Sky tonight. Cover your ears if Torres scores at any stage.
19:30- Ex-Chelsea midfielder Tiago starts for Atletico tonight in place of Gabi. Prolific striker Diego Costa will hope to shake off the shackles of the Chelsea defenders. If he or partner Adrian Lopez can’t find a breakthrough, David Villa is on the bench.
19:25 – Plenty of attacking options on the bench for Chelsea tonight however. Schurrle, Oscar, Ba and Eto’o all among the substitutes.
19:15 – Interesting team selection from Jose Mourinho. Six defenders (if you count David Luiz) named in the starting XI. Will there be three centre-halves with Cole and Azpilicueta as wing backs? Sky Sports reckon Azpilicueta (the Spaniard known simply as Dave) will form part of a midfield three with Luiz and Ramires.
No matter how good a season you’re having, one mistake can unravel much of the stellar work gone before.
Both Seamus Coleman and Steven Gerrard were named in the PFA Team of the Year last night, and deservedly so. The Irish full back has been magnificent in defence and attack for Everton throughout the campaign, and Gerrard has been a driving force behind Liverpool’s title tilt.
Yet on the same weekend that they received the PFA accolades, mistakes by the duo have helped hinder their team’s lofty ambitions. Coleman scored the second of two own-goals as Everton succumbed to Southampton on Saturday, while Gerrard’s slip on the Anfield turf allowed Demba Ba give Chelsea a lead they wouldn’t relinquish yesterday.
These errors cannot take away from the wonderful work done by both players this campaign, but they may yet prove fatal to the ambitions of both clubs on Merseyside.
2. Mourinho can dispense with the mind-games.
Chelsea frustrated Atletico Madrid for a full 90 minutes on Tuesday night. It wasn’t pretty, but it gave the London side the advantage ahead of this week’s second leg.
Speaking to the press in the Vicente Calderon afterwards Jose, Mourinho turned his focus to the clash with Liverpool at the weekend. Or did he? He spoke about resting players for the game in order to focus on the second leg with Atletico. Which was his real concern. But was he bluffing? Oh never mind.
The long and the short of it is that Chelsea (minus a few players due to injury) turned up at Anfield yesterday and put in another exquisite defensive performance. Liverpool had the majority of the possession, but could not break down the banks of blue shirts between them and the Chelsea goal.
Mourinho’s celebrations after Willian doubled Chelsea’s lead at the death belied his suggestion that he didn’t care about the game. It had been just another case of psychological posturing from the Portuguese coach.
The way in which he sets out his team in big games may not be pretty at times. Some might even call it hypocritical, given that Mourinho is quick to criticise clubs who park the bus against Chelsea. However the defensive displays Mourinho’s teams are able to produce when it counts show the extent of his tactical acumen.
Mourinho is one of the best tacticians around. The mind-games may be great fodder for the media, but his ability to bring the best out of his own player renders them unnecessary.
3. Norwich impotence in front of goal to cost them Premier League place.
After Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Old Trafford, Norwich fans can’t be holding out much hope for a great escape. Their final two fixtures are Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Arsenal at home. Supporters at Carrow Road on May 11th may turn up hoping for a miracle,. but it looks more likely that they will be bidding farewell to the Premier League for next season at least.
It doesn’t matter who the manager is, the reality being that if your three main strikers can only manage 12 goals between them all season, you’re going to struggle to stay in the league. Gary Hooper has managed eight goals, Johan Elmander three, and the beacon of hope that was Ricky Van Wolfswinkel has scored a single paltry goal since his £8.6m move from Sporting Lisbon last season.
Connor Wickham cost around the same amount when he moved to Sunderland from Ipswich a few years back. It’s taken him quite a while to come anywhere near justifying that fee, but four goals in his last three games have seen the Black Cats move outside the relegation zone for the first time since February.
A few weeks back, Sunderland looked dead and buried as a Wes Brown own goal handed Everton three points at the Stadium of Light. In the meantime, a draw against Manchester City and victories over Chelsea and Cardiff City have seen Gus Poyet’s men become favourites to beat the drop.
Norwich can take heart from Sunderland’s story, but unless they somehow find goals against Arsenal and Chelsea, they’ll be a Championship side next season.
Another day of reckoning in a season-full of them has arrived. Three points for Liverpool today and the final few games become a victory procession for the first league title to go to Anfield in 24 years. A win for Chelsea and it’s squeaky bum time for the team so desperate to get back on the perch.
Just five points separate the sides going into today’s game. If you are to believe Jose Mourinho however, Chelsea are more concerned with beating Atletico Madrid in the Champions League than challenging Liverpool for the league. Brendan Rodgers may be a friend of the Portuguese coach, but he won’t be taken in by Mourinho’s mind games. The Chelsea team selection may be restricted somewhat due to injuries to John Terry and Petr Cech, but whoever takes to the field, they won’t roll over at Anfield.
Full time thoughts – Mourinho may have started without a few key players but those that took to the field in blue executed the game plan to perfection. Liverpool went out looking for a 12th straight win and that played right into Mourinho’s hands. Chelsea were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure and hit Liverpool on the counter. Liverpool remain top, but the advantage is now with Manchester City again. If Pellegrini’s team win their three games they will win the league on goal difference. Again.
Mourinho indicated during the week that the Champions League was the main priority for Chelsea but he forgot to tell his face after Willian’s goal. The master of mind games has done it again, but it was his game plan that won out today, not the codology.
95 mins – Full time.
93 mins – GOAL! 2-0 Chelsea! Willian! As Liverpool press for an equalizer Willian pounces on a loose ball and feeds Torres. The Spaniard races clear and presents Willian with a tap in with Mignolet helpless. Game over. Mourinho celebrates like he actually cares about the Premier League.
92 mins – A yellow card for Jose Mourinho for something he said on the sidelines. Torres follows him into the book with a trip on Sakho.
91 mins- Suarez swerves a shot at Schwarzer which he parries over. Iago Aspas wastes the resultant corner.
90 mins – 4 minutes added on.
89 mins – Chelsea just playing the clock down now. Matic runs the ball into the corner.
85 mins – Suarez with two poor passes in quick succession as Liverpool try and force the game.
83 mins – And now Ba makes way for Fernando Torres. A smattering of boos for the former Liverpool player as Jose Mourinho makes his final substitution.
82 mins – Ba may have scored but other than that he’s having an absolute shocker. He takes far too long to spot Willian who was clear on goal. His eventual pass hits off Ashley Cole.
81 mins – Sterling wins a corner after getting behind the Chelsea defence. Another corner results as Coutinho’s shot is deflected.
80 mins – Coutinho tries to find Suarez but his pass goes just beyond the Uruguayan at the back post. Iago Aspas comes on for John Flanagan as Liverpool make another substitution.
78 mins – Suarez hangs the ball on the penalty spot and Gerrard rises to head weakly into the arms of Schwarzer. The captain is desperate to atone for the error that led to the Chelsea goal.
76 mins – And another from Gerrard. Substitution for Chelsea as Schurrle makes way for Gary Cahill. Mourinho putting more bodies between Liverpool and the Chelsea goal.
74 mins – Gerrard with another shot from outside the box. 15 minutes left to find a breakthrough.
72 mins – Suarez with a sublime turn on the byline to make some space. Nothing comes of his low drive across the box however. Chelsea with almost everyone behind the ball. Impossible to break down.
71 mins – Great ball from Gerrard across the box but Azpilicueta heads away before it can reach anyone in a Liverpool shirt.
68 mins – Suarez getting a bit annoyed with the constant dawdling on the ball that Schwarzer has been guilty of today. Tries to hurry the keeper into utilising the ball quicker.
66 mins – Constant Liverpool pressure results in a Joe Allen shot from distance. Schwarzer comfortable again. Liverpool need to find a way behind the Chelsea defence. Even as I write Gerrard has another unsuccessful pop from outside the box.
62 mins – Schurrle forces a good save from Mignolet who has had little to do in the second half so far.
59 mins –Substitution for Chelsea as Willian on for Salah. The Brazilian works hard and will be an asset defensively for the blues as well as a threat up front.
58 mins – A Joe Allen volley forces Schwarzer into a fine save. In the aftermath of the corner Suarez tries a cheeky lob which is easily managed by the Australian keeper.
57 mins – Substitution for Liverpool as Lucas makes way for Daniel Sturridge. A positive move from Brendand Rodgers.
55 mins – A deflected Gerrard shot is gathered easily by Schwarzer. That’s the Liverpool captain’s second shot in the second half as he attempts to make amends for his slip at the end of the first half.
50 mins – Kalas nudges Sterling just inside the box and the Liverpool forward goes flying. Appeals from the Liverpool fans for a penalty but it was sheer strength from the young centre-half.
50 mins – Hectic first five minutes to the half. Liverpool again with a lot of possession but Chelsea resolute at the back. Sturridge warming up for the home side.
45 mins – Almost a chance for Liverpool already. Suarez knocks it beyond the Chelsea defence but Lucas seems to get in the way of the striker and the ball goes out for a goal kick.
45 mins – The game’s back under way at Anfield.
Half time thoughts: Chelsea have the lead but it’s against the run of play. Demba Ba’s touch has been terrible all day but Gerrard’s slip gifted him an opportunity and he stuck it away well. Liverpool have been well on top in the first half without really creating any major chances. Chelsea have been happy to sit back and soak up the pressure and it’s unlikely that will change in the second half now that they have the lead. Jose Mourinho’s men have executed their game plan to perfection so far.
If you want to win titles you have to prove your worth in games like this, so Brendan Rodgers and his side need to find a way to penetrate the Chelsea defence or Manchester City will sense blood.
45 +2 mins – GOAL 1-0 Chelsea! Demba Ba capitalizes on a slip from Steven Gerrard to race through and slip the ball under Mignolet.
45 + 2 mins – Kalas lost his marker from a Chelsea corner and had the chance to become an instant fan favourite.
45 mins – 3 minutes tacked on to the end of the first half.
42 mins – Another yellow card, again for a tackle on Raheem Sterling. This time for Frank Lampard.
40 mins – A relatively poor ball across the Chelsea defence somehow finds Sterling. The youngster picks out Suarez who curls a shot just over from the edge of the box.
39 mins – The referee Martin Atkinson talks to Chelsea keeper Schwarzer about time-wasting. His card is marked.
37 mins – Shouts for handball from Chelsea as a Salah shot strikes Flanagan. Definitely hits his hand but there was little the defender could to to get his hand out of the way.
35 mins – Fernando Torres looking on from the subs bench. Amazing to think that less than half the money Liverpool made off his sale went on buying Suarez.
30 mins – Chelsea have played quite conservatively so far. They’re content to let Liverpool retain possession and then attempt to create something on the counter.
24 mins – Cole barges into Suarez as he tries to challenge for an aerial ball. Clever from the Uruguayan striker to stand in Cole’s way. As Gerrard lines up the free-kick, the two managers have an amicable chat on the sidelines.
23 mins – Handbags in the corner between Sterling and Azpilicueta. Nothing much in it and the ball goes out for a Liverpool corner.
20 mins – First yellow card of the day. Sterling challenged Mohamed Salah to a race and the Egyptian trips him before he can run at the Chelsea back-line.
19 mins – Coutinho drags a show well wide from the edge of the box. All the game being played in and around the Chelsea defence at the moment.
16 mins – Chelsea can’t secure possession outside their own half so far.
13 mins – Big chance! The corner hits Mikel and Cole half clears off the line. When it eventually comes back in from Suarez, Sakho blasts over.
12 mins – Another corner for Liverpool. The home side has looked liveliest early on.
10 mins – Sublime no-look ball across the box from Suarez. Coutinho could have knocked back in to Joe Allen but opted to take on the shot and hits the side netting from a tight angle.
7 mins – Good tackle from Salas as Sterling looks to accelerate onto a ball behind the Chelsea defence. Corner Liverpool.
5 mins – Ashley Cole forces Mignolet into an early save. Touches the ball past Raheem Sterling on the edge of the box and lets fly. The keeper parries to safety.
3 mins – Schurrle feeling the force of a Glen Johnson challenge. Wincing on the sideline as club doctor Eva Carneiro sees to him. She’s the only team doctor most football fans can name. Funny that.
14:05 – And they’re off!
14:02 – Kop in full voice. Chelsea fans trying to make themselves heard through You’ll Never Walk Alone. Not happening.
14:00 – Teams are in the tunnel. Kalas looks calm, for someone making his full Premier League debut…
13:55 – Now all eyes on Anfield for a crucial clash at the other end of the table. Full house on Merseyside. 10 minutes to kick-off.
13:52- And it’s all over in the North East. Sunderland move up to 17th in the league, Cardiff slip to the bottom of the table. Long journey home for Bluebirds fans.
13:43 – In today’s first game, Sunderland will move above the relegation zone with a comfortable win over fellow strugglers Cardiff. 4-0 at the Stadium of Light with less than 5 mins remaining.
13:35 – Daniel Sturridge starts on the bench against his former club. The striker, with 20 league goals to his name this season, missed last week’s 3-2 victory over Norwich with a hamstring injury.
13:20 – So the teams are in and Mourinho, true to his word, has rested some key players. Cahill and Willian start from the bench, with Kalas and Salah deputising. Tomas Kalas is a Czech 20 year old with zero Premier League experience. Will he be and Ivanovic be the defensive partnership who can muzzle Suarez? Ivanovic sure hopes so.
After all the talk about players loaned from Stamford Bridge, there was a touch of irony that it was Chelsea who suffered at the hands of a loan player on Saturday. One from title rivals Liverpool no less. Fabio Borini scored the penalty which gave Sunderland a much needed three points and condemned Jose Mourinho to his first home defeat in 77 games.
There may have been controversy over whether Chelsea should have been awarded a spotkick before Sunderland were, but Gus Poyet and his team won’t mind. Their luck had to change sometime.
The defeat for Chelsea means they must go to Anfield and win next week to stand a chance of winning the Premier League. Brendan Rodgers might have enough forward talent at his disposal right now, but the least the Liverpool manager could do is send Fabio Borini a very large Easter egg.
Seamus Coleman’s wonderful season:
His manager recently described him as one of the best full-backs in the world, and his man of the match performance against Manchester United will have done Seamus Coleman’s burgeoning reputation no harm either.
The Donegal man has scored six goals in the league from right back this campaign, but it is his marauding runs from his own half deep into enemy territory that have really caught the eye. He has a wonderful ability to control the ball at pace and an eye for a pass too. It was his through ball that set up Kevin Mirallas for Everton’s second goal today.
Leighton Baines has been a key player for Everton for a long time now, and with Coleman on the other side of the defence the Toffees can probably claim to have the best full back pairing in the league.
Irish fans will hope that Coleman can be as effective in a green jersey as he has been in blue when the qualification campaign for Euro 2016 begins in September.
Mid-table a kind of purgatory:
When there’s nothing left to play for bar league position, it seems that some teams find it difficult to motivate themselves for the end of season run-in. Spurs, Manchester United and Southampton have all been unpredictable in the last few games, but no team seems to be looking forward to the summer holidays as much as Newcastle United.
The Magpies have lost their last five games in the league, most recently at home to Swansea on Saturday. Their poor run of form has coincided with Alan Pardew’s stadium ban, but a lack of motivation has to be a factor too. They have been at the wrong end of some hammerings lately, but on Saturday it was a lack of focus which let them down. Wilfried Bony struck twice for Swansea at the end of each half, with Newcastle players seemingly thinking of the comfort of the dressing room.
Newcastle fans are getting restless, and rightly so. Liverpool fans will be happy though. If Newcastle are this lacklustre with a few games to go, how bad will they be when they come to Anfield for a potentially crucial clash on the last day of the season?
Ten wins out of ten for Liverpool, and even if it wasn’t a ten out of ten performance today, all associated with the club won’t care. A 3-2 win against Manchester City leaves them five points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
Steven Gerrard was close to tears after the final whistle, the Liverpool captain debriefing his side in front of an ecstatic Kop. There is no player who deserves a league title more, but for vast swathes of the game today Manchester City looked like they might take the driving seat in the race for Premier League glory.
Liverpool started the brighter, with Raheem Sterling bamboozling Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart in the box before coolly converting in the sixth minute. Manchester City’s cause wasn’t helped by the loss of Yaya Toure with less than a quarter of the game gone. A knee injury led to him being replaced by Javi Garcia, with Fernandinho taking the Ivorian’s position as the most advanced central midfielder.
Garcia simply doesn’t have the mobility of Toure or Fernandinho, and throughout the rest of the first half Liverpool ran at City again and again. Minutes after Toure went off Martin Skrtel doubled the home side’s advantage with a header from a Steven Gerrard corner and it looked like Liverpool could do to City what they have done to many teams at Anfield this season and run riot. Pellegrini’s men were thankful for the half-time whistle.
The second half seemed to be from a different game entirely. City began to dominate the midfield exchanges, with David Silva in particular a constant threat. It was he who made the breakthrough, prodding home in the 57th minute from a James Milner cross. Milner had come on for Jesus Navas and offered a little more physicality as City pressed for an equaliser. It was Silva again however who created the second goal for his side, when neat link-up play with Samir Nasri allowed him the space to get a shot off on goal. Glen Johnson’s attempt to block only served to divert the ball beyond Simon Mignolet.
The Kop was quieter now, and with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge not really able to make an impact on the game Manchester City looked the more likely to take the three points. Suarez in particular would have concerned Brendan Rodgers, as the Uruguayan was booked very early on and was involved in a few incidents throughout the game. He may have cut down on his diving antics for the most part but on one or two occasions today he was fortunate that Mark Clattenburg did not brandish a second yellow.
Liverpool did what title contenders must however, and scored against the run of play. Much of the credit will have to go to a player who will want none. City captain Vincent Kompany snatched at a clearance in the box and only found the onrushing Coutinho. The Brazilian still had much to do with the ball slightly behind him but the number 10 finished with aplomb.
In the closing stages Pellegrini pushed Garcia forward as City pressed for another equalizer, but even a Jordan Henderson sending off for a rash challenge late on was enough to derail Liverpool. On a day of remembrance for the 96 souls lost in the Hillsborough tragedy, Liverpool have given themselves the opportunity to make the perfect tribute 25 years on.
Chelsea still have to come to Anfield in a few weeks time, and there are enough games left for there to be twists and turns in the title race yet. Brendan Rodgers may play down the significance of today’s win, but with each victory the expectation grows on Merseyside. How Liverpool deal with the pressure will determine whether or not they lift the Premier League trophy on May 11th.
It’s not something to be said lightly. After all, no current Premier League manager has served for so long or given so much to the game. Yet this summer Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal.
Arsenal have not won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup. That same competition represents the club’s only chance of silverware this season. A win after extra time and penalties this evening leaves Arsenal facing either Sheffield United or Hull City in May’s final. However should Arsenal end the agonising wait for an accolade, it must be Wenger’s swansong, not the beginning of a new chapter for him at the club.
The Frenchman may have the final say on whether or not he signs a new contract, and indeed there has been talk of him being handed £100m to spend in the summer transfer window, but the time is right for Arsenal’s longest serving manager to go.
Incredible to say about a club who have consistently qualified for the Champions League, but Arsenal are stagnant. Their seasons have predictable peaks and troughs. This campaign, while they and their fans remained defiantly certain that their excellent pre-Christmas form would carry through to the end, everyone else waited for the implosion.
It wasn’t Schadenfreude on the behalf of non-Arsenal supporters and analysts, it was just recognition of the Arsenal condition. Consistently inconsistent. The past few seasons have followed the same narrative. A slow start, concern over Champions League qualification only appeased by a strong finish from February to May.
This season however, boosted by the capture of Mezut Ozil and the form of Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal started strongly. They looked like genuine title contenders in the first few months of the campaign, but it just couldn’t last. The usual problems arose. A lack of strikers, poor performances against the other top teams, a lack of leadership when games got tight.
Heavy defeats to others in the title race have derailed Arsenal’s season and left them fighting for a place in the Champions League once more. Whilst shipping five and six goals against Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, what was more alarming for Arsenal fans was their capitulation to Everton last Sunday.
Watching the game at Goodison Park, there were two major talking points. It was striking to see how much Roberto Martinez’ side looked like the Arsenal of old. A team that passes the ball with aplomb and tears opponents apart with the speed of their play. The second thing was just how indecisive Arsene Wenger was when it came to substitutions.
He’s not a manager to make hurried changes, but with Arsenal 2-0 down at half time to the team threatening to put a stop to their incredible Champions League qualification record, something had to be done. Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman were causing all sorts of problems down the flanks. Santi Cazorla was playing too central, allowing Baines space a player of his class can exploit. On the other side, Romelu Lukaku wasn’t being picked up by either Lukas Podolski or Nacho Monreal. This led directly to Everton’s second goal.
With Aaron Ramsay back in the squad after injury and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also available, the break or just after was the time to bring these players on and give the Everton midfield and defence something to think about. When did Wenger make these changes? With an hour gone and Everton 3-0 up.
Wenger can’t shoulder all the blame for not making changes in time. The players he selected to start the game have to step up and perform. That just didn’t happen and as a result Arsenal were blown away, not for the first time this season. Leaders seem few and far between on the pitch. Tomas Vermaelen is the captain but with a fully fit squad the Belgian would not make the starting XI. Why is a certified starter not handed the arm-band, someone such as Per Mertesacker or even Jack Wilshere? Because there is no one on the team right now who has shown the necessary leadership to be captain.
Wilshere and Ramsay are definitely future captain material, but they are still young and raw and they need a Patrick Vieira like figure to bring their game on to the next level. Paul Scholes may have drawn the wrath of Arsenal fans for his assessment of Wilshere on Sky Sports a few weeks back but he doesn’t seem the type to court publicity for his opinions. He was just giving his honest opinion. A Jack Wilshere playing to his full potential would not just be good for Arsenal but for England too.
That is where Arsene Wenger has failed most blatantly, and perhaps the main reason the Gunners have not won a trophy in a decade. Wenger has not brought in a leader to replace the likes of Viera, Martin Keown and Tony Adams. Cesc Fabregas may have become that player had he stayed. Wenger has placed an emphasis on talented youngsters and while that project was and remains admirable it is nothing without the grit that a good leader adds to a side.
Ironically, the one player that could have contributed that leadership, albeit on a temporary basis, was Kim Kjallstrom. The Swede came to Arsenal in January, incredibly while nursing an injury that has kept him out until now. His experience may have been exactly what Arsenal needed for the second half of the season, but the decision to take him on injured, even with his parent club paying the wages while he remained out, was ludicrous.
Arsene Wenger’s detractors will point to Gervinho, Andre Santos, Sebastian Squillaci and others as examples of his inadequacy in the transfer market. That doesn’t do the man justice, as he was also responsible for signing Thierry Henry, bought for £11m and one of the bargains of the Premier League era. Nevertheless, the fact that flop Andrei Arshavin was Arsenal’s record transfer signing until Mezut Ozil shows a stubbornness on Wenger’s part to move with the times financially. While he has bought in some excellent players at reasonable fees, with Santi Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain two recent examples, he has yet to adequately replace Cesc Fabregas in the centre of midfield. Bringing in the 30 year old Mikel Arteta in the same transfer window that as Cesc left, with all respect to the former Everton man, was insufficient compensation for the loss of the younger Spaniard.
Manchester United have been criticised this season for their poor performances, and much of the blame has been put on the board and David Moyes for failing in the transfer market last summer. The last minute purchase of Marouane Fellaini at an inflated price has been questioned and rightly so. The Belgian has yet to prove his worth, and that money may have been better spent on a ball-playing central midfielder. But what of Mezut Ozil’s transfer to Arsenal? £42m for the German who, while undoubtedly a spectacular creative force, occupies a role in the team that other players already at the club could have filled.
The acquisition of Ozil brought Arsenal’s spending over the past three years close to £150m. This has been offset of course by the sales of key players Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri for a combined total of around £80m. The loss of this caliber of players certainly impacted on Arsenal’s ability to challenge for trophies, but it must be remembered that Tottenham Hotspur spent over £100m last summer and now look set to change managers for the second time since. Spending lots of money, whether you are a top six club or QPR, leads to expectations from the board and from the fans. Failure to meet those expectations usually proves to be the end for a manager.
David Dein leaving Arsenal in 2007 no doubt hindered Arsene Wenger. As Arsenal’s vice-chairman, he had a big part to play in transfer dealings during first decade of Wenger’s reign. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas… All of these players were bought on Dein’s watch. In the interim, the club has been less of a force in the transfer market.
Thierry Henry was the first big-name player to leave in the aftermath of Dein’s departure. In the seven years since, Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, and Gael Clichy to name but a few have followed suit. Wenger said in the summer of 2011 that if Arsenal sold both Fabregas and Nasri the club could no longer be called ambitious. Both players left in August. Former Arsenal player Niall Quinn said recently that if Wenger was to stay at Arsenal past the end of this season Dein should be reappointed. Given that Dein left due to irreconcilable differences with the rest of the board, his return to Arsenal is unlikely.
Dein’s exit left Wenger without a key ally, and it has shown in transfer dealings in the meantime. With the exception of Ozil, there has been no major financial investment in a player in recent years. What Arsenal fan can honestly say that Arsenal have bought a world class striker since Robin Van Persie came to the club in 2004? Eduardo had the potential before his leg-break, but Chamakh? Gervinho? Even Giroud can’t be considered in the same bracket. Wenger’s supporters may point to constraints put on the manager while Arsenal continue to pay off the Emirates Stadium, but if £42m can be spent on Ozil, then why could Arsenal not secure the quality striker they desperately need? Wenger’s reluctance to buy a proven goal-scorer in January has cost them dear this season, with Nicklas Bendtner the only senior replacement for Giroud.
Wenger cannot bring the club any further. Three losses on the trot and the “Wenger Out” brigade are in full voice. Three wins and they are title challengers, before another loss has Wenger vilified by certain sections again. There is no consistency on the field, and no consistency to some of the support off of it. The average level-headed Arsenal fan, who appreciates how much Wenger has done for the club, must also recognize that the time is approaching for the Frenchman to leave. The average Arsena fan is grateful for the Arsenal legends Wenger brought to the club, for the Invincibles, for the style of play that at times made Arsenal better to watch than Barcelona. But the average Arsenal fan, without setting up Facebook pages on the issue, surely knows that it’s time for a new manager to come in and breathe new life into the team.
Wenger’s battles with Alex Ferguson and later Jose Mourinho were some of the most fascinating in Premier League history. The trophyless Arsenal narrative would be but a bed-time fairytale for young Spurs fans were it not for goalkeeping errors in the 2006 Champions League final and the 2011 Carling Cup final. Arsene Wenger introduced a style of play to the Premier League that entranced Arsenal fans and neutrals alike, but this summer he must leave before his legacy is tarnished.
Sheffield United and Hull will have other ideas but an FA Cup to end almost a decade of drought would be the perfect goodbye gift from Arsene to Arsenal.
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.
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…