Around The League Roundup – 25th February

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This week we saw the Premier League title-race hotting up and the small matter of a League Cup Final to be contested, as well as much more which will all be discussed in this week’s Premier League Weekly Roundup.

The week kicked off with the tie of the FA Cup 5thRound as an out-of-form Chelsea hosted a Manchester United side resurgent under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Paul Pogba was in exquisite form as his goal and assist for Ander Herrera was enough to send United into the FA Cup Quarter-Finals, where they will play Wolves at the Molineux. This result also tipped many Chelsea fans over the edge, with many calling for manager Maurizio Sarri to be sacked by the club. These scenes are not really what you want to be seeing in the week leading up to the Carabao Cup Final, but the recent poor form has been enough for some.

Onto Tuesday which saw Liverpool in action against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. In a tight affair, without talisman Virgil Van Dijk and up against a solid Bayern defence, Liverpool drew 0-0. This in my eyes was a good result for Liverpool, as not conceding an away goal was so important, which now allows us to go to Munich with belief we can get in behind their defence and get through to the next round. The only worry I have with this game is our European record away from home this season, where we lost all 3 away games in the group stage. However, Jurgen has built a squad capable to going to Munich and doing the business, and I fully believe we can!

Wednesday saw Manchester City in action as they were away at Schalke 04. City took the lead through Sergio Aguero, however 2 quick penalties for Schalke gave them the lead going into half-time. An Otamendi red card seemed to end City’s hopes of a comeback, but Leroy Sane sent a free-kick into the top corner on 85 minutes against his former club to seem to salvage a draw away from home, only for Raheem Sterling to score a winner in added-time to seal the tie in City’s favour late on.

Thursday saw the Europe League back in action, with both Arsenal and Chelsea winning at home 3-0 to go through to the next round. Arsenal overturned their first-leg defeat, and as a reward for going through will play French side Rennes in the next round, with Chelsea drawing against FC Dynamo Kyiv from Ukraine.

Premier League action this week kicked off on Friday evening, with Watford beating Cardiff 5-1 at the Cardiff City Stadium. A Hat-Trick from Gerard Deulofeu helped Watford gain all three points and keep their push for 7thspot alive. In the other game of the evening, West Ham United saw of struggling Fulham 3-1 at the London Stadium. An early goal from former red Ryan Babel gave Fulham hope, but sadly that’s all it was as West Ham replied with 2 quick goals before half-time, adding the killer blow late on thanks to Michail Antonio, who clearly enjoyed his goal as could be seen with his dancing celebration.

Onto Saturday’s action and the early kick-off at Turf Moor where Burnley hosted Spurs. In a game where Spurs could close the gap on the top 2, and which also saw the return of star-striker Harry Kane, they failed to do so as they came out losing the game 2-1. Chris Wood opened the scoring for Burnley, but it was Kane on hid return who scored a brilliant equaliser. Burnley however would have the last laugh as Ashley Barnes latched onto a scuffed shot to poke the ball home from close range to seal all 3 points and continue their good run of form. Tensions rose after the game, with Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino clearly been angered by comments made by referee Mike Dean, showing the frustration as it’s another time his side have seemingly ‘bottled it’ when the pressure was on and closing the gap was there or the taking.

Elsewhere on Saturday Bournemouth drew 1-1 with Wolves, Newcastle continued their good run in form as they beat 20thplace Huddersfield Town 2-0. The evening game on Saturday saw Crystal Palace travel to Leicester City. In a game which saw Palace manager Roy Hodgson become the eldest person to ever manage a game in the Premier League, his players did him proud as they came out 4-1 winners to further extend the gap from the relegation zone.

Sunday saw 2 huge games take place, as well as Arsenal v Southampton. Alexander Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored the goals to seal the home win for Arsenal, leaving the Saints in a fragile position in the league.

In the biggest game of the weekend and of the season, Liverpool travelled to Manchester United in their game-in-hand on Manchester City. These games are always tense, with this game being no different. The game ended 0-0, with many Liverpool fans seeing this as a missed opportunity as the United side was weakened and used all its substitutes in the 1sthalf, however others see it as a good point away at a ground we’ve always struggle at and sent us top of the league in the process. I view this as both arguments are correct. Yes, we could have maybe done more in our own game as well and take advantage and capitalise on United’s changes, but remember we were very poor and the United changes were still that of class, bringing on Alexis Sanchez doesn’t make life easier for our defenders!! But, at the end of the day were top of the league and I see why people are frustrated at people’s negativity, but this is all you can come to expect on a run-in for the title.

After the game at Old Trafford, all focus was on Wembley and the Carabao Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester City. This game was similar to that at Old Trafford, with the score-line after 90 minutes also 0-0. Extra-time was required, but the game still had no goals and so went to penalties. It was at the end of extra-time however where things got interesting, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri wanted to sub off his goalkeeper Kepa for Willy Caballero, a penalty saving master. However, Kepa refused the instructions of his manager and didn’t come off, leaving his manager in a state of rage and anger, nearly resulting in him walking down the tunnel. With Kepa reluctant to come off it meant he was in goal for the penalties, but he couldn’t come to the rescue and prove Sarri wrong as City won 4-3 on penalties to claim the first piece of silverware for the season.

In all of the commotion which has made the headlines today, I feel for Sarri in all of this, and sorry for managers as player power in the modern game seems to be strengthening. In my eyes, if you are the manager and want to change goalkeeper, you have the right to do that. As a player, if your manager wants you to come off in the interest of the team winning, in my opinion you should do it even if you do not agree with it. This shows a little insight into the cracks that maybe to blame for Chelsea’s poor run of form recently, as is an embarrassing event I’m sure they wish will never happen again.

The next Premier League games will take place in midweek, where there are some crucial games at the top and bottom of the table. Liverpool will host flying Watford, whilst City host an also in-form West Ham. Chelsea play Spurs in the pick of the games, with both teams needing to bounce back after the weekend. Further down the table, a relegation battle will take place as Southampton host Fulham, where a win for both teams in critical. Recently resurgent Burnley will welcome also recently resurgent Newcastle to Turf Moor, where 3 points for either side would create a healthy gap away from the relegation zone, and this game I predict will be a very close affair.

 

By Sam Hodgkiss – @SamuelHodgkiss

 

 

 

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