Everton can hand Liverpool title advantage heading into Premier League final straight

Both the red and blue halves of Merseyside will be intently focused on the happenings at Goodison Park tomorrow.

It would be some twist to the tail-end of this Premier League season if Everton were to hand the impetus in the title race to their local rivals. Yet, should the Toffees beat Manchester City in tomorrow’s evening kick-off, Liverpool would be favourites to win their first championship in 24 years next weekend.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility either. Manchester City’s record at Goodison Park is woeful, with one paltry win in the last 21 years. On the other hand, Everton have only conceded defeat twice at home this season.

Roberto Martinez’ men have had an excellent campaign, something acknowledged last weekend with the inclusion of full-back Seamus Coleman in the PFA team of the year. Two defeats in their last three games have halted their momentum however. The last defeat was a hard one for Everton fans to take, as their side handed Southampton victory through two own-goals.

That loss  at Southampton  has seen Everton’s Champions League aspirations all but vanish, however a win against City would put the pressure on fourth place Arsenal ahead of their game with West Brom on Sunday. Everton are currently four points behind the Gunners and will be hoping to take the fight for fourth to the last day of the season.

Chelsea’s win at Anfield last weekend has allowed Manchester City to take control of their own destiny once more. They are three points behind Liverpool with a game in hand and a superior goal difference. After the trip to Everton, they end their season with two home games against Aston Villa and West Ham.

David Silva is set to return to the City line-up having missed the win against Crystal Palace last weekend with an ankle injury. For Everton, Gareth Barry is ineligible to play against his parent club, and Sylvin Distin could miss out due to a hamstring injury.

The Toffees have received some good news on the injury front however with captain Phil Jagielka available for selection having been out since February.

 

Both the red and blue halves of Merseyside will be intently focused on the happenings at Goodison Park tomorrow.

It would be some twist to the tail-end of this Premier League season if Everton were to hand the impetus in the title race to their local rivals. Yet, should the Toffees beat Manchester City in tomorrow’s evening kick-off, Liverpool would be favourites to win their first championship in 24 years next weekend.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility either. Manchester City’s record at Goodison Park is woeful, with one paltry win in the last 21 years. On the other hand, Everton have only conceded defeat twice at home this season.

Roberto Martinez’ men have had an excellent campaign, something acknowledged last weekend with the inclusion of full-back Seamus Coleman in the PFA team of the year. Two defeats in their last three games have halted their momentum however. The last defeat was a hard one for Everton fans to take, as their side handed Southampton victory through two own-goals.

That loss  at Southampton  has seen Everton’s Champions League aspirations all but vanish, however a win against City would put the pressure on fourth place Arsenal ahead of their game with West Brom on Sunday. Everton are currently four points behind the Gunners and will be hoping to take the fight for fourth to the last day of the season.

Chelsea’s win at Anfield last weekend has allowed Manchester City to take control of their own destiny once more. They are three points behind Liverpool with a game in hand and a superior goal difference. After the trip to Everton, they end their season with two home games against Aston Villa and West Ham.

David Silva is set to return to the City line-up having missed the win against Crystal Palace last weekend with an ankle injury. For Everton, Gareth Barry is ineligible to play against his parent club, and Sylvin Distin could miss out due to a hamstring injury.

The Toffees have received some good news on the injury front however with captain Phil Jagielka available for selection having been out since February.

 

 

Merseyside mistakes, Mourinho masterclass and no-goals Norwich: 3 talking points after the weekend’s Premier League action

1. Mistakes mar excellent seasons.

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.

 

 

Advantage Liverpool in race for Premier League title

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.

Premier League Preview: Crucial weekend at top and bottom

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

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

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

Here are the crucial fixtures this weekend:

Manchester City vs Southampton, Saturday, 12.45pm.

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

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

Chelsea vs Stoke, Saturday, 5.30pm.

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

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

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

Norwich vs West Bromwich Albion, Saturday, 3pm

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

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

Everton vs Arsenal, Sunday, 1.30pm.

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

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

West Ham vs Liverpool, Sunday, 4pm.

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“Yeah… I’m just gonna go.”

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

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

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

 

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

1 – Everton serious contenders for a Champions League spot.

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

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

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Everton were 3-1 winners at Fulham yesterday,

2 – Chelsea need a new striker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 –  Spurs heading for another summer of change.

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

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

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

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

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Soldado and Spurs set for another summer of change

5 – Liverpool worthy of top spot.

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

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

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

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

 

3 vital points at stake as Arsenal welcome Manchester City

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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.