Blog

Week in Review: Matchweek 2

A weekly roundup of the games in the Premier League from Matchweek 1 – 38.

After a frantic opening weekend, clubs lined up for the second round of action which kicked off in Wales with Swansea City playing hosts to Manchester United. The game started well for the hosts, but for a Phil Jones header that hit the crossbar following a Juan Mata free kick, Swansea managed to repel most of United’s attacks. The Red Devils got the breakthrough just before the half. A corner met by Paul Pogba’s header was saved before the rebound was stabbed home by Eric Baily. After the break the game followed a similar pattern and not much quarter was given by either side until the 80th minute. Substitute Anthony Martial dribbled past a few before the ball reached Henrikh Mkhitaryan who played in Romelu Lukaku for a simple finish. Mkhitaryan then played provider again as he slipped Pogba in about 2 minutes later. Pogba started the move, intercepting a pass and continued his run, to finish with a neat dink over the keeper. Martial wrapped up proceedings with a 4th in 4 minutes for United as the Frenchman coolly finished after beating two players.

Watford travelled to AFC Bournemouth and it was the visitors who left the happier. In a closely contested match Watford managed to carve out more meaningful chances that had to had been taken eventually. That came in the second half as new signing Richarlison poked home after his initial shot was saved but not gathered. While still on the ground the Brazilian managed to fling a leg at it and gave the Hornets the lead in the 73rd minute. This was followed by superb strike by substitute Étienne Capoue (86’). One of the goals of the season, so far; Capoue collected the clearance following a corner 25 yards out, before hitting it on the half volley finding the bottom left corner.

A new look Burnley dominated in possession and created some decent chances against an as ever defensive West Bromwich Albion side. The game was ultimately decided by a lively 20-minute cameo by Welshman Hal Robson-Kanu. Having come off the bench Robson-Kanu made West Brom appear more threatening and latched onto a flick on quicker than his marker, he then shrugged on his defender and finished emphatically in the 71st. He was then sent off 12 minutes later for what was deemed a flailing elbow.

Premier League newcomers Brighton &Hove Albion continued their tough start to life. The Seagulls lost 2-0 to title favourites Manchester City and again this weekend to Leicester City. Riyad Mahrez’s 1st minute shot could have been dealt with better by Albion keeper Mat Ryan; Shinji Okazaki made no mistake putting in the rebound. In an easy win for the Foxes, Harry Maguire rose highest to head home a Mahrez corner (54’), putting last week’s 4-3 loss to Arsenal behind them.

In an admittedly forgettable game, Liverpool bounced back from their 3-3 draw at Vicarage Road last week to win 1-0 against Crystal Palace. Palace have a decent record at Anfield in recent years and hoped for a favourable result after a shock 3-0 defeat to Huddersfield at home last week. Both teams were guilty of wasting opportunities but it was Liverpool through a Sadio Mané goal that proved the difference. Mane kept moving and was rewarded for his industry with a fumbled ball rolling through for him and he rightly prodded in the ball in 73rd minute.

By stark contrast a dramatic game at St. Mary’s Stadium saw hosts Southampton win 3-2 over West Ham United. The Saints hadn’t scored a goal at home in 6 games and finally did so when Manolo Gabbiadini slotted past Joe Hart in goal in the 11th minute. They followed that up with a Dusan Tadic penalty in the 38th minute; the ball actually hit Hart and ricocheted high into the net. A double from new boy Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, first in the 45th then again the 74th brought the Hammers level, despite a red card for record signing Marko Arnautovic in the 33rd. The game seemed destined for a stalemate but a last-minute penalty conceded by Pablo Zabeltta (another new recruit) was converted by Charlie Austin leaving West Ham and their manager Slaven Bilić feeling hard done by.

In Saturday’s late game Arsenal faced a difficult trip to Stoke City’s Bet365 Stadium. Stoke fended off a relentless Arsenal attack to snatch a 1-0 win. Jesé Rodriguez may be late to the party but joined the debutant scorer club as he finished smartly in the 47th. Arsenal bombarded Stoke’s goal with shot after shot. Despite an overwhelming dominance, there was an air of futility about their attempts. Ultimately, a disallowed goal (rightly called but amazingly so) was the closest they came to an equalizer.

In a fairly even encounter Huddersfield looked more convincing and came away deserving winners in their first home game. The goal by James Mooy was good enough to win any game but especially one lacking quality. Mooy produced a neat curling strike from the edge of the box with the time he was afforded. Two wins in two for the newcomers in contrast to 2 losses in 2 for Newcastle who the Championship last season to be promoted.

The standout fixture this weekend saw champions Chelsea face off against their closest rivals last season, Tottenham Hotspurs. Added significance was the venue; Wembley Stadium. In the first Premier League game to be played in the English national stadium, Chelsea ran out 2-1 victors. Going ahead in the 24th minute via an exquisite Marcos Alonso free kick, Chelsea were then pinned down for majority of the game until substitute Michy Batshuayi put the ball into his own net just 3 minutes after coming on. An unyielding Tottenham side finally got some reward for their efforts and seemed set for draw. But their keeper Hugo Lloris attempted an ill-advised throw to Victor Wanyama who did no better. Having won back the ball Alonso made a lung-busting final charge and fire a shot at Lloris who couldn’t sort his feet and let the ball through. Alonso’s second proved the winner and Spurs’ Wembley hoodoo continues.

In the first Monday game of the season Manchester City and Everton squared off. City’s attack seemed irresistible for most of the game and it was all the Toffees could do to keep them at bay. At the other end, Dominic Calvert-Lewin had the lonely role of being the out ball for Everton. It worked a treat though as he set up Wayne Rooney in the 35th against the run of play. With a simple placement, Rooney becomes only the second player to score 200 Premier League goals second only to Alan Shearer. The game was far from over however. Kyle Walker was sent off for a second bookable challenge, adjudged to have elbowed Calvert-Lewin in the 44th. The second half, even with a man less, City looked dangerous throughout and finally penetrated when an attempted headed clearance set up Raheem Sterling to one time a volley into the net. To consummate the equality of the teams, Morgan Schneiderlin got his second booking of the game and sent was off 2 minutes from time. In the end, the points were shared after a breathless game.

 

We’re eager to see what the next match day brings and how teams respond to the events of the preceding week.

Changing Tides

As the major European leagues return a common thread among them is the sense that times are a changing. Conventional wisdom suggests that preseason is never a clear indicator of things to come; so as competitive football returns we’ll be able to tell whether the general consensus is an uneducated hunch or prophetic assumptions.

 

France:

Beginning with Ligue 1, we start with the what’s less of a wave and more of a ripple. Last season AS Monaco stormed to a first Ligue 1 title in 17 years. Les Rouges et Blancs (The Red and Whites) steam rolled most teams who came before them including having the biggest home and away wins that season beating Nancy and Metz 6-0 and 7-0 respectively. Their team, comprised of young exciting talent were the surprise package of the French league as they also made it to semi-final stage of the Champions League. Monaco had usurped Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) as the most dominant French team that season. But with much of the key players from that sided either already departed or seemingly on their way out, plus PSG’s acquisition of Neymar from Barcelona; the Parisians can expect to reclaim top spot this season.

Germany:

There has been more of a splash in Germany than France, but it remains to be seen how big a splash and the subsequent waves are. Bayern Munich has reign mostly unopposed in the Bundesliga for years and have dominated since the turn of the decade; only 4 other teams have won the league since the 1999/2000 season. Borussia Dortmund won the league 3 times in that time including back-to-back in 2010/11 and 2011/12. Dortmund have posed the biggest threat to Bayern’s monopoly in that time. The two still stand apart from the chasing pack; but the pack has changed (the splash). Traditional powerhouses have fallen by the wayside. Werder Bremen, VfB Stuttgart and VfL Wolfsburg are the other teams to have won the league since 2000. Stuttgart spent last season in Bundesliga 2 after being relegated. Wolfsburg for two years running had to play in the relegation playoffs – a two-legged playoff between 3rd bottom in Bundesliga and 3rd place from Bundesliga 2 for a spot in the Bundesliga. The new chasers are Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig. The latter had a Leicester City-esque season finishing in second coming from near-obscurity the season before. Hoffenheim however, seem likely to sustain their presence, a debut European campaign this season will aid them to that end. Intriguingly both Dortmund and Bayern appear waning forces, in this period of (apparent) vulnerability will gap be further reduced?

Italy:

When Juventus win 6 consecutive Serie A titles it’s hard to say there’s any significant change in the dynamic. Juve lost defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves but the well has hardly run dry. The change instead comes from the surge of challengers; not too dissimilar to Germany. Admittedly, the battle for second would probably be hotter than the one for the title, as not much evidence suggests that the Bianconeri will struggle too much. Still, with the likes of AS Roma, Napoli, Lazio and the resurgence of the Milan clubs; the unprecedented free reign Juventus have enjoyed may come to an end soon. Roma finished second last season and continue to grow from strength to strength. Lazio beat Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana on Sunday (August 13,2017) and finished 5th in the league for straight passage to the Europa League. Napoli have flirted with the top 3 for several years and maintain a presence a in European competition. But perhaps the strongest currents can be found at the San Siro this season. Internazionale and A.C. Milan and have both had new money invested in the clubs. Milan, more recent of the two, have begun their rebirth (something I’ve already addressed.) Inter began their rebuilding the preceding season and now need to consolidate to make a run for European places; and like the others, eventually knock Juventus off their perch.

Spain:

La Liga has always been something of a duopoly with Real Madrid and Barcelona maintaining an iron grip on the top two spots in Spain; except for a year of Diego Simone magic that saw Atletico Madrid steal the title away from them both. Nothing is particular strange about one or the other taking the ascendency every now and then. As it is, we’ve waded through the rapids of Madrid’s rise already, now we’re floating in the Real distributaries. The significance of Madrid taking over from Barca however is, the Catalan club appears to have begun sinking. They recently begrudgingly sold Neymar to PSG (for a world record fee at least); but they retain the services of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi as part of that “MSN” front three. Meanwhile, Madrid have kept their fabled “BBC”. Both Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were thought to be on the way out once; but seems unlikely now, and Karim Benzema continues to be relevant at the Bernabéu. The problem Barca face goes beyond Neymar’s departure. The once infallible ensemble they had have left or are fading and a backup plan obviously had never been discussed. Madrid by stark contrast have a team for the present and the future, and the perfect manager to lead them both. Barca may not be shipwrecked just yet, but the hull has been reached and they’re taking on water rapidly.

England:

The Premier League is widely thought of as the best league in the world because its competitivity. Several clubs are touted as title challengers in England, certainly if Leicester can do it, everyone has a fair shot. Now with the money rolling in from TV rights, the top clubs are swimming in cash and can use this monetary foundation to level the playing field. Once upon a time there was talk of the “big four” – conversations have become the “top six” or even seven now. All of Manchester(s) City and United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool believe they’re in with a shout for the title this season. The fight for European places have become a secondary battle that is just as enthralling. Even relegation is not beyond the realm of reality if you’re not sitting in those places. Last season as many as 10 teams were trying to avoid the drop. Soon 40 points won’t be the magic number for survival, or conversely, it could become even harder to achieve. When Leicester won the league, the giants were sleeping and they slipped in like sly Foxes and took the title. This season by contrast, the giants have reawakened and they are to fight each other for supremacy. Similarly, about 4 teams are vying for the final European spot, Everton look the favourites, but that would be just as hotly contested.

 

It’s been a long time, a long time coming, but I knew a change was gonna come. As in everything; all good things must come to an end, football is no exception. Constant ebbs and flows is what makes the game so interesting and as we witness the changing tides we wait to see who gets stranded at sea and who can stay on solid ground.

Week in Review: Matchweek 1

A weekly roundup of the games in the Premier League from Match Day 1 – 38.

The Premier League returned last weekend to bring back some meaning to our weekends. This season, the 26th season of the Premier League, kicked off on a Friday for the first time in its history. To mark the occasion Arsenal welcomed Leicester City at their Emirates Stadium home. In an exhilarating game that served as a harbinger of things to come, a topsy-turvy game ended 4-3 in the Gunners’ favour. New boy Alexandre Lacazette marked his Premier League debut with a goal in the 2nd minute with a snap header from an innocuous ball into the box. The Foxes replied in short order through Shinji Okazaki before Jamie Vardy gave them the lead. Danny Welbeck equalised before the half. Vardy with a second made it 3-2 and Leicester seemed in control despite mounting pressure from Arsenal. Substitutes Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud scored in the 83rd and 85th minute respectively to seal the win.

The floodgates still ajar, Liverpool and Watford kicked off Saturday’s activities at Vicarge Road with a 3-3 draw. Watford’s new manager Marco Silva, who impressed with relegated Hull City last season, couldn’t ask much more from his new charges. Despite leading twice through strikes from Stefano Okaka (8’) and Abdoulaye Doucouré (32’) separated by a Sadio Mané goal (29’); The Hornets performed admirably. Liverpool on the other hand will feel disappointed, as hopefuls for top 4 should be beating a Watford side that would (at best) be lumbering midtable come May. The Reds had the better of second half as Roberto Firmino converted a 55th minute penalty after Watford keep Heurelho Gomes felled Mohamed Salah. The latter, making his debut, gave his new team the lead in two minutes. Miguel Britos secured a point for Watford in added time after a scramble in the box following a set piece saw Britos head home from point-blank range. The Uruguayan was in an offside position though, but the goal stood as the officials were likely blindsided by the confusion in the box leading to the goal.

The goals kept coming in as newly promoted Huddersfield Town beat Crystal Palace 3-0 at Palace’s Selhurst Park. Palace shot themselves in the foot in the 23rd as Joel Ward turned in a poor cross into his own net. Steve Mounié joined the goal scoring debutants with a brace of his own. First a thumping header (26’) and then slotting home in the 78th minute on the counter killed off The Eagles.

Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion squeaked past AFC Bouremouth at home. Egyptian Ahmed Hegazi’s 31st minute was the only goal of the game, another to score on his debut but he’s the only defender among the bunch.

Elsewhere at Goodison Park, in a debut of sorts, Wayne Rooney brought a housewarming gift with him back to his old stomping ground. The Englishman put his trade mark on the match by heading home neatly to ease Everton past Stoke City. Rooney started the move before bursting into a vacant area in the box to meet an excellent cross from youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

In the standout game of the weekend, champions Chelsea were beaten at home 3-2 by Burnley. Sean Dyche’s side were given assistance by Blues captain Gary Cahill who went flying in, studs up, and received his marching orders in the 14th minute. Down a man, Chelsea were down a goal ten minutes later as Sam Vokes’ scuffed shot crept pass Thibaut Courtois in goal. The impetus now with The Clarets, they kept applying pressure to a reeling Chelsea defence as something of a set piece routine saw left wing-back Stephen Ward play his way into the box before unleashing a superb strike from the left side of the box and bulge the net. Now 2-0 down Chelsea shipped a 3rd as yet another short free kick was taken before a cross was swung in from deep finding the unmarked Vokes again, this time for a purer connection (with his head). Chelsea boss Antonio Conte rallied his troops and they came out swinging. Alvaro Morata came off the bench to score his first goal for his new side. Before the comeback could really get going, Cesc Fabregas picked up a second yellow and was sent off. Now down to 9 men Burnley sat back as Chelsea piled on the pressure. Ultimately a ruled-out goal by Morata (who was offside) and a David Luiz goal, assisted by Morata was all they could muster.

In the late kick on Saturday title favourites Manchester City overcame a resilient Bright & Hove Albion to win 2-0 away. But for a few slick passing moves, the game didn’t feature much of the flair we expect from the Citizens, but a Sergio Agüero goal and a Lewis Dunk own goal saw them through. Despite a relatively dour performance they still managed to pick up 3 points, the hallmark of potential champions.

Sunday began with Tottenham Hotspurs trip to St. James’ Park to face Newcastle United who made a quick return to the league, spending just one season in the championship. Spurs, like City have lofty ambitions and like City, were being pegged back by lesser opposition. The breakthrough came through a stupid red card for Newcastle captain Jonjo Shelvey, paving the way to Spurs’ 2-0 victory. A goal from Dele Ali and Ben Davies saw the visitors get 3 points in a difficult away game.

Another title hopeful, Manchester United wrapped things up this weekend; doing so in style, sending a signal of intent to their rivals. Not to be upstaged by the other debutants this weekend Romelu Lukaku put two past West Ham United’s Joe Hart, on loan from Manchester City. His first, assisted by Marcus Rashford was fine finish from a tough angle. Set through, Lukaku raced onto the ball and hit a hard shot that hit the inside of the post and went in. His and United’s second came from a free kick delivered by Henrikh Mkhitaryan as the big Belgian nodded home. United fans had more to cheer as Anthony Martial came on to score United’s 3rd with a tidy finish to the far post before assisting Paul Pogba for the 4th. In a dominant home performance by the Red Devils, Slaven Bilić’s West Ham were never in it and United look a force to be reckoned with this season.

 

We’re eager to see what the next matchweek brings and how teams respond to the events of the preceding week.  

One Last Bolt: Forever

When a player or athlete breaks onto the scene and does something unprecedented, the sporting world takes notice (particularly of that of their respective discipline). When that player or athlete is consistent, their nation pays attention. When that player or athlete breaks a record, and does something no one else has before, they make their nation proud. When that player or athlete consistently breaks records; the world doesn’t want it to end. Throughout sporting history, there have been great competitors. Athletes who push the boundaries of their sport and suspend our sense of belief. They do things seemingly beyond the realm of possibility and for their fans and those whose depend on them, they can do no wrong. Not often do we find ourselves in the presence of such great sportsmen that evolve their respective trade. In an era featuring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, LeBron James, Mohamed (Mo) Farah, Chris Gayle, Kumar Sangakkara and company; it takes something special outshine these sporting superstars. Nothing short of a force of nature can compare to their influence on the world. But, if we’re talking about a blinding light, that also happen to be a force of nature, certainly lightning qualifies. How fitting then that the greatest athlete of our generation is named Usain Bolt.

It’s also fitting that seemingly as quick as Usain emerged, he’s gone again like a flash of – well you get the idea. There’s no great need for a narrative of how great he has been, to his country, the sport and individually for what he has achieved. Instead, let’s celebrate his swansong performance. By no means a stellar Bolt showing but, as other sporting legends who have come and gone before him can tell you, the curtains do come down eventually and sometimes they do so unceremoniously.

Since the 16th IAAF World Championships began, it has been talked up as the final hurrah for Usain Bolt, part of the most elaborate victory lap in history; One Last Bolt. Nowhere near his peak, admittedly, his performances were far from vintage. But a solitary bronze medal isn’t the worse way for a legend to bow out. A comparison constantly floated around during the competition was Bolt’s similarity (in reputation) to the late great Muhamed Ali. But even Ali had a poor end to his fantastic career. If Bolt’s inability to finish his last race was tragic, Ali’s end was catastrophic. In a back and forth will he won’t he saga re his retirement, Ali entered more than a few ill-advised fights, biting off more than he can chew. In the aftermath of one particularly ugly fight against Larry Holmes, Boxing writer Richie Giachetti said of the fight “awful … the worst sports event I ever had to cover”. It was a one-sided bout that inevitably ended in Holmes’ favour. To add insult to injury, the pummeling The Champ (Ali) took was said to have contributed to his Parkinson’s syndrome. At least for Bolt it was a hamstring strain (apparently), now, I’m no doctor but I don’t think a pulled hamstring is linked to terminal injuries last I checked.

As a phenomenal an athlete; as he was, doing the unthinkable, it was hard (for some) to grasp the concept that he was a natural specimen. With doping issues cropping up in the sport intermittently, Bolt faced his doubters who assumed he must be doing “something”. In truth, it’s actually a little ridiculous when you think about it. How can a man run 100 meters in nine and a half seconds? I dare you to get into a crouching start and dash like a bat out hell for 10 seconds. I guarantee you wouldn’t get further than 65 metres. It’s something to marvel at really. But I read somewhere that Caribbean people through their genes and their anatomy are built for running. I harp back to my glaring lack of the letters ‘MD’ behind my name; but I certainly buy into that based on the article I read, and my own observations subsequently. Back on topic now; another sporting legend once vehemently defended his name countless times, saying very clearly, he was not a drug cheat. Unfortunately, he was lying the whole time; I’m talking about Lance Armstrong – the guy who “confessed” to doping years after he won a record 7 consecutive Tour de France competitions. The American (former) cyclist said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013, he didn’t think he was cheating. Since the denotative meaning of the word is “to gain an unfair advantage” in his mind he figured “well, if everyone’s else doing it, it’s fine”. His mother must have been so disappointed. His legacy and reputation has since been tarnished and many of his awards have been rescinded and all his achievements since 1998 have been made null and void. Bolt can rest assured that his legacy will be intact because he is certifiably a clean (if unbelievably so) athlete.

As my final reference to sporting legends of old I reach way back into the archives. Australian Don Bradman is largely considered as the greatest batsman in cricket history. Without getting into a cricket lesson for the uninformed, Bradman is considered the most prolific batsman ever with a batting average of 99.94 upon retiring. To put that into perspective; I mentioned Chris Gayle among great sportsmen of this generation, both he and Bradman share the record for the most triple centuries (300+ runs) in test cricket. Gayle has a batting average of 42.18; less than half of Bradman’s. In his last match, The Don (as he was called) needed just 4 runs for an even batting average of 100. Simple enough for someone who scored 6996 runs, averaging about 100 every time he steps out. He was bowled the second ball he faced, he didn’t bother to trouble the scorers. That wasn’t according to the script. But if Bolt fears we will forget what he’s done just because his last innings was a duck, he’s in for a pleasant surprise. “He reminded Australians that they were capable of great things in their own right. “He was the greatest, nobody will be anywhere near him. He was a hero to me as a young child and he remained a hero to me all of my life.” That’s the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard speaking about Bradman. You replace “Australians” with “Jamaicans” and that echoes the exact sentiment of the whole of Jamaica who grew up watching his legend unfold and indeed that of the athletes who raced beside him in the World Champs this year.

 

I’ve rambled on long enough, I’ll give his name a rest. He’s certainly earned some r & r, but knowing him, it won’t be long before he’s on the beach somewhere in Portland hosting a party with his friends, laughing and dancing. For reference, please his CV. Truly, there’s no need for poetic, fairytale goodbyes. He is simply, and will always be a legend no matter what had happened. #OneLastBolt forever.

Everton: 2017/18 Preview

Predicted Finish: 7th

The Toffees have been trying to make strides in the league in recent years, strides that would take them into European competition. Last season (not for the first time) they achieved this objective; with new manager Ronald Koeman leading Everton to a 7th place finish; good enough for a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds. For a project still very much in the developmental stages, a 7th place finish is a favourable outcome especially given they appeared less than convincing in some key games and dropped point they probably should have claimed.

Ronald Koeman joined Everton in June of last year, after a respectable stint at Southampton. The Dutchman was brought in to steer the ship as the Merseyside club sets sail into this new era. With the money from the lucrative TV rights deal for Premier League clubs plus their own new investor, things look to be on the up at Goodison Park. In fact, especially if results go their way in Europe, Everton faithfuls can feasibly expect stadium renovations in the near future. Before then acquiring players would be the order of the day for any progressive club, Everton have certainly followed that pattern. Not just the number, but the quality of players coming is promising; to create a blend of promising young talent and experienced campaigners. The list includes: future England no.1 Jordan Pickford (23); Manchester United youth product Michael Keane (24); last season’s captain of an impressive Ajax side, Davy Klassen (24); and starting forward in Spain’s runners-up performance in the 2017 U-21 European Championship, Sandro Ramírez (22). Another ‘new’ recruit coming in this transfer window is Wayne Rooney. After ascending to the apex of football with United, Rooney returned to his hometown club to help usher his beloved Everton into this age. For proliferating clubs, just as important as bringing new players on board, is lightening the load. The offloading process began when Koeman came in last season and continued this year. Last season players like Leon Osman were released, this season players like Aroune Koné were released and the likes of Tom Cleverly and Aiden McGeady were sold

For more than a few reasons there are high expectations at Goodison this season and for the future. In a few years, the Toffees hope to be in among the conversation of the best in the league, and at least make their appearance in continental competition a more regular occurrence. Until then, cracking the top 4 would be best they can hope for. If you were a betting person, not being odds on favourites with an outside chance, the good money is in believing in their potential. But more it’s probable that they will finish in one of the European spots, even finishing 7th again wouldn’t be stagnation as the competition for these spots is sure to heat up. The likes of Southampton and West Ham will be sure keep the pressure on, all season.

Liverpool: 2017/18 Preview

Predicted Finish 6th

Twice under Klopp Liverpool made a final; they lost both, but they had never gotten into the Champions league under the German. They did achieve a 4th place finish to secure a play-off berth at least. There wasn’t much that was exceptional about the Red’s campaign last season. Out of the FA Cup in the 4th round, losing to Wolverhampton Wanders; out at the semifinals in the EFL Cup to eventual defeated finalists Southampton. They also lacked consistency; Liverpool took more points off the other top 6 clubs than any of others in that group, but they constantly dropped points against lesser opposition. This stuttering form meant a top 4 finish at times looked precarious despite being arguably the 4th best team in the league last season.

Similar to their previous campaign, this transfer window has been unremarkable for Liverpool. They did manage to sign Mohamed Salah from Roma. Last season Liverpool’s front three each had 10+ goals for the season. In theory Salah was brought in as an option for Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino who tallied 14, 13 and 12 goals (respectively) as the highest scorers in league for Liverpool. At different points in the year Liverpool was without up to 2 out of that 3 and looked the worse for it. In the Egyptian, Salah, they have a player that can replace or complement this attack. Faster than most, Liverpool will be even more dangerous on the break and with Klopp’s brand of high pressing, Salah will be a thorn in the side of opposition defences. Another issue that needs redressing is striker role. Daniel Sturridge is a fantastic striker when fit, but that is crux of the problem right there; when is, he fit? Divock Origi leads the line well but apparently not better than Firmino who more often than not spearheaded the attack. Still in Origi, Liverpool have a young powerful forward and half a man in Sturridge; Dominic Solanke, the 19 y-o coming in from the Chelsea youth teams, can be the other half as an understudy to Sturridge. Solanke has already impressed in preseason and won the Golden Ball at the U-20 World Cup this summer, which he and England won. He scored the lone goal in the quarterfinals and two in the semis, clearly a man for the occasion. He can expect some decent minutes, one to watch this season.

All in all, Liverpool should strap in for much a similar season to last. That being said, Jürgen Klopp is among the best managers in the world and his Liverpool charges are household names for good reason. It doesn’t seem likely that the Merseyside club will challenge the Manchester or London clubs for the title, but they will certainly be hot on their heels for top four. They face a potentially tricky encounter with Hoffenheim from Germany in the Champions League playoff, but for the former Champions who seek to be among the best again; this is the kind of test they can expect. Getting through that round would already be a success but it doesn’t stop there.

Arsenal: 2017/18 Preview

Predicted Finish 5th

As per usual there was much commentary on Arsenal last season, and true to form it was too often focused on something other than football. Of course, ultimately it would mean nothing as they would inevitably finish in a Champions league position and if recent years are anything to go off, they would win or at least reach the finals of one of the domestic cups. Last season however, their FA Cup wasn’t big enough for them to hide behind as their 5th placed over- shadowed everything that happened last season. Their 16-year consecutive run in the Champions League ended but at least they won the FA Cup again right?

Arsene Wenger notoriously has some kind of aversion to spending money on players. Who can forget his audacious bid for want-away Luis Suárez in 2013 to pry him away from Liverpool. For those who don’t know or remember, it was audacious not for the reason you might think. Suárez’s release clause was £40 m; Wenger made an official bid of £40,000,001. The Frenchman seemingly got over this complex and broke the club transfer record this summer bringing in Alexandre Lacazette for £52 million. Olivier Giroud has been unfairly scapegoated for years, can Lacazette finally be the fabled striker Arsenal has been missing, to complement or possibly replace Giroud? Only Wenger (and their respective performances) can determine that. Arsenal also signed Sead Kolašinac from Schalke on a free transfer (that sounds more like Wenger). He’s expected to play on the left as wingback in a 3-4-3 system. A notable (permanent) departure is the loss of Wojciech Szczęsny to Juventus. The Pol would have likely been 2nd to Petr Cech, although he faces a similar role behind Gigi Buffon in Turin. The biggest transfer news coming out of the Emirates this summer is who will or won’t leave, namely Alexis Sanchez.

Wenger grabbed enough headlines for himself last season with his indecision over his future. Although Wenger will tell you he had made up his mind for months. This season he will be in the dugout for another year, to begin his 21st season in the job. His legacy is undisputed, but he’s a victim of his own success. Staying on means he will need to find the formula earlier than he did last season. Before switching to a back 3 Arsenal seemed destined to finish outside the European spots of any description, but a simple tactical tweak transformed their fortunes and got them to within touching distance of the top 4; falling just short. They did however manage to take that late season form into the FA Cup final against a Chelsea side that was perhaps a little caught up after lifting the Premier League trophy the preceding weekend. This season Arsenal still have a European competition to compete in, just not the one we’re used to. They might like to make a run in it should league placement become a challenge, and of course the FA Cup is in their sights but ultimately only if they miss out on the Champions League will next season be a failure.

Tottenhman Hotspur: 2017/18 Preview

Predicted Finish: 4th

They say consistency is the hallmark of excellence; that might be true but in Tottenham’s case, they probably weren’t aiming to be perennial bride’s maids. For the second year running Spurs finished runners-up in the league. By itself that isn’t a bad record, as it ensures their presence among Europe’s elite in the Champions league. For a club whose ambitions have evolved in tandem with the coming of age of their players; that is satisfactory. The only thing that would make their accomplishments to this point better is if their progression as a club, both on and off the pitch, can bring them a piece of silverware. Trophies eluded them again last season.

Spurs have a crop of young English players that have come up through their ranks. Harry Kane has already become one of the league’s top strikers. His link-up play is superb making him a threat to opposition defences as he doesn’t just score but create for his teammates. Added to that, his versatility as forward is a hallmark of his game. He’s quick, with good strength, some aerial prowess and can beat a man or find half a yard. That description also aptly describes his club and international teammate, Dele Ali who, together with Kane is the driving for Tottenham (and England). The likes of Christian Eriksen behind them spraying passes; and Victor Wanyama shielding a defence which includes Toby Alderweireld – the standout defender from last season; it’s no wonder Spurs have yet to make a single signing. Even Michel Vorm, the backup goalkeeper, who is a regular for the Dutch national team, can’t displace French no. 1 Hugo Lloris. Similarly, anyone brought in this season would be little more than a squad player used primarily for rotation. Unless they fill the Kyle Walker shaped hole left at right back before September.

Mauricio Pochettino has built a decent career for himself since landing in England with Southampton and he has further his repertoire since moving to White Hart Lane. He’s assured his bosses that he’s the right man to lead Tottenham into a new era as their new stadium nears completion. For the time being they’ll be based at Wembley Stadium; last season that was their home for European games, that didn’t go so well for them. With the stadium serving as their regular home ground this season perhaps they will adjust to the new surroundings and get better results this season. On the topic of a failed European campaign, that too is something that needs to improve. Spurs crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages and immediately out of the Europa League (after being transferred to the competition for finishing 3rd in their group) – losing 3-2 to Gent in the round of 32.  Like Chelsea, Tottenham’s squad is looking meager. But while they would aim for the top, realistically top 4 is about the pinnacle of their potential this season. If they can achieve that via a cup competition, then that should be a success for White Ha—er—Wembley (that’ll take some getting used to).

Chelsea: 2017/18 Preview

Predicted Finish: 3rd

Coming off the back of a brilliant domestic campaign last season, champions Chelsea had it all their own way following the tactical switch employed by manager Antonio Conte. The Italian was known to favour a 3-4-3 formation prior to taking the helm at Chelsea, the formation has since been so successful that other teams have adopted the idea for their own purposes. The only sour point of last season for Chelsea was missing out on a double after losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup final.

If there are “buying clubs” such as Real Madrid and the like; and “selling clubs” like Ajax Amsterdam and FC Porto; then Chelsea might be the perfect example of a “loaning club” if there were such a thing. Most of the Blues’ transfer business revolves around loans and their loanees. Such is the extent of their loan system that the return of the 21 y-o Danish international, Andreas Christensen from a 2-year loan spell at Borussia Mönchengladbach is almost like a new signing. On the flip side of that, is Juan Cuadrado, a player bought in 2015, who has spent more time at Juventus than at Stamford Bridge. After a 2-year loan spell in Turin with the Italian Champions, Cuadrado (somewhat mercifully) was allowed to leave Chelsea. Chelsea do however make proper purchases fairly frequently as well. This summer they brought in Tiémoué Bakayoko, Álvaro Morata and Antonio Rüdiger. With the Blues returning to the Champions League this season, like most of the big boys, they chose to strengthen the spine of the team for added depth. They also brought in Willy Caballero from Manchester City as backup to Thibaut Courtois.

Despite winning the league last season and maintaining virtually the squad from last year, there are serious doubts about Chelsea defending the title. For starters, Conte all but exercised star forward Diego Costa from the team, the climax to tension that was being built up behind the scenes. Morata is as complete a forward as you’re likely to find, but he differs from Costa and what the brawling front man brings to the team; that X factor is what made the difference in a lot matches last season. Still the issue is not so much the personnel they have, but rather the quantity of quality. They have an excellent starting XI, with top class players who play Conte’s system perfectly. The task for coaching staff this season would be how they manage to compete on all fronts. Few can match Conte’s passion and competitive nature (Jürgen Klopp might have a shout) but with a paper-thin squad like their own it would be feat to stay in contention for the League, Champions League, FA Cup and EFL (league) Cup. They would hope to win at least one of those this season. Chelsea certainly have the goods to make top 3 and ensure straight passage to the Champions League again next season but they will be aiming for the league title. Only the Manchester clubs appear direct rivals for that.

Manchester United: 2017/18 Preview

Predicted Finish: 2nd

The Red Devils haven’t won the league since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, they’ve had a difficult transitional period since the end of the Scott’s reign. Last season was no different. Those of us who see the glass as half-full will tell you it was a good season, but even they have little defence for their league finish. For a team who has won it all and holds a record amount of league titles, a 6th place finish (just 4 years on from last winning the league) is disappointing. But winning the Europa League and the League cup does soften the blow considerably, especially since the former gets you into the Champions League; something their league position wouldn’t have gotten them.

Mourinho has never been one to make wholesale purchases in a single transfer window. Being the pragmatist, too many changes may upset the rhythm and balance of team and the potential for growth is lost (or at least proportional) to the amount of time it takes for the new recruits to acclimatize. True to that formula United have only made 3 signings to date (though Mourinho wants one or two more). Victor Lindelöf, the Swedish international from Benfica, was the first signing of the summer. The centre-back is just 23 y-o and expected to come into his own in due time. United’s other two signings were less obscure as they were playing in Premier League last season. With the indominable Ibrahimović getting injured for an indefinite period late last season, United opted not to renew his contract for this season (that story may not yet be punctuated though). That was only compounded by the loss of club captain and record scorer Wayne Rooney who returned to boyhood club Everton after a 13-year stint at Old Trafford. United in return got Romelu Lukaku, a separate arrangement, that saw the big Belgian take Ibra’s role and number as United’s new number 9. The midfield has been an issue at United for years but recently, first with van Gaal and continuing with Mourinho, the issue is being addressed. This summer a replacement for the aging Michael Carrick was needed and in Nemanja Matić, from Chelsea, they found one.

Mourinho did well in his first season, all things considered. In fact, he managed something no other manager has in their long illustrious history; he won an official trophy in his first season, and he got two, one of which is a European title. Ultimately the goal was to get back into the Champions League and they did so; in that regard Mourinho would get a passing grade at least. This season though, because triumph in Europe’s elite cup competition is not likely, focus should be on finally winning the league again. It won’t be easy you’d imagine, with rival clubs strengthening as well and traditionally smaller clubs becoming formidable forces, it should be a hotly contested title race. But for a team called “Devils”, they should have the credentials.