Merseyside Misery

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Premier League Preview

TOPIC Barclays Premiership trophy at the JJB Stadium

By Greg Hudson 

Saturday marks the Opening Day of the 2014-15 Barclay’s Premier League season, and the world’s premier league has added some of the world’s premier players to its ranks as the 20 clubs made moves looking to strengthen their squads. But whether a club is fighting for Premier League glory or simply for its Premier League survival, it looks to be an explosive and exciting season in England. The Starting Point’s Greg Hudson takes a look at the 20 clubs and looks at how each one should fare this season.

 
ARSENAL F.C.
Nickname: The Gunners
Kit Colors: Red/White; Blue/Yellow
Home: The Emirates Stadium
 
Arsenal come into this season on the heels of a 4th place finish last campaign, and while they’ll be disappointed to have fallen short of a series title challenge after sitting atop the league for more than half of the season, they’ll take comfort in securing another season of Champions’ League football with their 4th place finish, and claiming their first piece of silverware in nearly a decade by winning the F.A. Cup, and they’ll look to mount a series challenge this term.
 
They have the exciting addition of Alexis Sanchez to assist in that effort, having signed the Chilean forward from Barcelona after he lead his country to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Brazil. This will bolster an attack that at times seemed to lack grit last season. Conversely, Arsenal’s rock-solid defense last term looks to be slightly less impenetrable this season after the departures of fullback Bacary Sagna to Manchester City and captain Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona. This isn’t to say they’ll struggle defensively, but teams may look at Arsenal and go in with more of a belief that they can come out and score goals against the Gunners.
 
Predicted Finish: 5th
 
ASTON VILLA F.C.
Nickname: The Villans
Kit Colors: Claret/Sky; White
Home: Villa Park
 
The Villans were a top-half side just a few years ago, but the almost-mighty have fallen into the clutches of relegation fights each of the past two seasons, with the West Midlands side salvaging a 15th place finish last season, five points above the drop. But while some of their more notable players in the past five seasons are long gone, namely Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, the gap they left has been filled by younger players eager to prove themselves, and this explains their dip in performance.
 
But in 2014-15, look for their younger players like Christian Benteke and Andy Weimann to really step up their play. They’ve both got two full seasons of Premiership football underneath them now, and they’re developing the maturity that fully-fledged footballers need. That being said, they’ve also looked to add experience to the side by adding Joe Cole and Kieran Richardson.
 
But this team is not full of the kind of talent that will lead them to the top of the table, or, in fairness, even the top half of the table. Look for them to settle into a comfortable spot in the bottom half of the table, well clear of the drop zone.
 
Predicted Finish: 12th
 
BURNLEY F.C.
Nickname: The Clarets
Kit Colors: Claret/Blue; Black
Home: Turf Moor
 
The Clarets make their return to top-flight football for the first time in four years, but a successful season in the Championship is no sure sign of success in the Premiership a year later, because the level of competition is so much higher in this league. For many teams, a stay in Premier League often lasts one season, a lesson Crystal Palace took several attempts to learn.
 
Burnley have dipped into the transfer market to add proven Permier-League-calibre players to the squad, and among the signings are Michael Kightly and Matty Taylor, Premiership veterans both. But the blunt truth is that this is not a Premier League team, and they won’t be here for very long.
 
Predicted Finish: 20th
 
CHELSEA F.C.
Nickname: The Blues
Kit Colors: Blue; Yellow/Blue
Home: Stamford Bridge
 
Chelsea were title favourites last season after the return of Jose Mourinho and the addition of several major signings, but they often failed to live up to the potential they have, especially from an attacking perspective. Mourinho’s defense-first mentality limited the action of world-class attackers like Juan Mata, who left in January for Manchester United, but his tactics proved effective, if not infuriating. Their 2-0 defeat of Liverpool at Anfield in April was the Reds’ ultimate undoing, and while Chelsea can hardly be adjudged to have played football on that day, when they do come out to play football, there are few teams that do it better.
 
To add to their chances, standout midfielder Cesc Fabregas joined the ranks from Barcelona, and La Liga superstar Diego Costa signed on from Atletico Madrid. Costa will likely prove the more essential to their success, as Chelsea strikers scored just nine goals all season last term.
 
But it was Chelsea’s defense that saw them to their 3rd place finish last season, and that defensive unit has been weakened, somewhat significantly, by the departures of David Luiz and Ashley Cole. So it will be interesting to see how the Blues fare this season with what will almost certainly require a re-working of tactics. But don’t expect it to mean a drop in their finish.
 
Predicted Finish: 2nd
 
CRYSTAL PALACE F.C.
Nickname: The Eagles
Kit Colors: Blue/Red; Yellow
Home: Selhurst Park
 
Palace were last season’s shockers. After tallying just four points by the beginning of November and sitting at the bottom of the table, Tony Pulis was appointed manager and the club’s fortunes reversed. The Eagles not only surprised fans by beating the drop for the first time in the club’s history, but they finished an incredible 11th, gaining wins against high-fliers Chelsea, Everton, and Arsenal, and rallying from 3-0 to take a point from Liverpool in May. 
 
But while Pulis was able to get the most out of his players, his departure from the club in the summer could be construed as a minor cataclysm. But it isn’t as bad as it might seem. Progress cannot be undone, and the confidence and quality in this side suggests they can continue their mid-table success. Their additions of Brede Hangeland and Martin Kelly will only help to shore up a defense that on occasions looked thoroughly amateur. A solid defense and a confident attack spells a good season for the Eagles.
 
Predicted Finish: 10th

Winner-Take-All?

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Liverpool and Man City clash could well decide the Premier League title.
By Greg Hudson
 
When Liverpool beat Cardiff City in December to sit first in the Barclay’s Premier League at Christmas for the first time in nearly two decades, few pundits or fans believed they’d remain there for long. And two narrow defeats to championship rivals Manchester City and Chelsea in the final week of 2013 left the Reds in fourth place, down but not out.
 
But while other title contenders have stumbled – Chelsea suffered shock defeats to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace; City were held 0-0 by Norwich City; Arsenal lost 6-0 to Chelsea, 5-1 to Liverpool, 3-0 to Everton – Liverpool have emerged in 2014 as legitimate title contenders. They are unbeaten in 2014, a run of 14 matches since their loss to Chelsea. The Reds are currently on a nine-game winning streak, and when they thrashed Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 at Anfield at the end of March, they regained the top spot in the league with just 5 matches to go.
 
Liverpool now have destiny entirely in their hands. If they win their five remaining matches, they will lift the trophy for the 19th time, but on the first occasion since 1990.
 
But Manchester City have seven games remaining, and they too have destiny entirely in their hands: win their remaining games and they win the title. And a 2-1 victory over Liverpool after Christmas will give the Citizens confidence.
 
A win for either side could potentially decide the title, with Liverpool poised to put themselves 1 point clear of City’s maximum remaining points, while City could move past the Reds’ potential by 5 with a win of their own, though that task will be difficult against a Liverpool side that lead the league in goals scored and are on a run of for unrivaled in the league this season.
 
A draw, on the other hand, could prove fatal for both sides, as it would potentially allow Chelsea back into the championship argument. And with a month left in this the season of seasons, truly anything can happen.

And Then There Were Three

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Chelsea Knock Arsenal Out of Title Race with 6-0 Rout: Liverpool, City Keep Pace

 
By Greg Hudson
 
When Arsenal traveled to Stamford Bridge for Saturday’s match, they came in knowing that a win against Chelsea would put them only one point behind their bitter London rivals in the Premier League title hunt. 
 
But on the day that marked Arsene Wenger’s 1000th match in charge of the Gunners, it was Chelsea’s game from first whistle to last, in a match that saw 6 shots find their way into the Arsenal net but will be forever remembered as the day the wrong man was given a red card.
 
Referee Andre Marriner’s error came 15 minutes into the 6-0 thrashing, with Chelsea 2-0 up, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain punched the ball off the Arsenal goal line. Marriner assessed the situation and made the correct judgement in issuing the red card, but instead of sending off Oxlade-Chamberlain, he showed the red to Kieran Gibbs, the Arsenal left back who was 20 yards from the incident.
 
But in the end, regardless of the misplaced red card, there was no denying Chelsea. Eden Hazard converted the resulting penalty kick to make the score 3-0 inside of 20 minutes, and Arsene Wenger’s big day ended in a nightmare 6-0 rout that all but ends Arsenal’s title ambitions.
 
The win put Chelsea seven points clear of Liverpool and nine points clear of Manchester City, who went into their games that evening knowing they must likewise win in order to keep up the pressure on the Blues, despite both clubs having at least one extra game to play.
 
City faced a seemingly easy task at home against basement club Fulham. City have lost just once at home all season, and dominated proceedings from whistle to whistle in a match which also saw a penalty and a sending off for Fulham defender Amorebieta. Yaya Toure converted that penalty en route to a hat trick and a 5-0 City win.
 
Liverpool, meanwhile, faced a slightly tougher obstacle in Wales against a resurgent Cardiff City side fresh off a 3-1 win against Fulham and eager to prove they deserve their Premier League status despite being mired in the relegation zone. But Liverpool came into the fixture on the back of a five-game winning streak and an unbeaten record in 2014, and few expected anything less than a Reds victory.
 
But Liverpool would not have it all their own way. Cardiff opened the brighter and took advantage of a Liverpool error on eight minutes: Joe Allen’s misplaced pass was cut out by Frazier Campbell who squared up for youngster Jordan Mutch, who fired past Simon Mignolet to give Cardiff a shock lead.
 
Liverpool awakened from their slumber almost immediately and leveled the scores on 15 minutes when Jordan Henderson’s perfectly-weighted pass sent Glen Johnson into the penalty area and the England rightback found prolific striker Luis Suarez, who made no mistake from six yards and wrested the momentum in Liverpool’s favor.
 
But it was Cardiff who scored next, when Campbell latched onto a loose ball at the edge of the Liverpool area and hit a shot through the crowd and past the unsighted Mignolet. It seemed the scoreline might hold until the half time interval, but Liverpool clawed their way back into the game from a corner kick. Cardiff’s clearance only found Phillipe Coutinho, who sent the ball back in for Martin Skrtel to deflect into the net to send the teams into the break with honors even.
 
But Liverpool weren’t finished yet. A strong start to the second period seemed to go stale, but it was Skrtel who again provided a moment of magic – again from a corner kick – sending a perfectly-weighted header into David Marshall’s net to give the Reds a 3-2 lead.
 
Liverpool then made it 4-2 minutes later with a goal-of-the-season candidate. Another low cross from Johnson picked out Daniel Sturridge, who deftly back-heeled the ball into the path of Suarez who netted his second of the game.
 
Suarez then turned provider for Sturridge on 75 minutes after a classic Liverpool counter. Suarez drew the keeper Marshall off his line before crossing to Sturridge who had the easiest of tap-ins into an empty net to make it 5-2.
 
A late goal for Mutch gave the home fans something to cheer, but Liverpool and Suarez had the last say when the Uruguayan ran through on Marshall deep into stoppage time. Suarez made no mistake and completed his third hat trick of the campaign.
 
The win keeps Liverpool very much in the title race, but only Manchester City have fate entirely in their own hands. However, both City and Chelsea must visit Liverpool in their remaining games, where the Reds have not lost in 12 games. And with City facing another road challenge against Arsenal, the road to the title may well go through Anfield.
 
The Table:
 
1. Chelsea, 69 points, 31 games
2. Liverpool, 65 points, 30 games
3. Manchester City, 63 points, 28 games
4. Arsenal, 62 points, 30 games.

This Building is About to Blow!

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Premier League Set for Explosive Finale

By Greg Hudson
 
In August the big talk of the Barclay’s Premier League was whether David Moyes would guide Manchester United to yet another league title in his first year after taking the managerial helm from Sir Alex Ferguson after 27 years in the Red Devils’ dugout.
 
As the season heads into the final 10 weeks, however, the discussion is very different. Not only are there four clubs currently contending for the title, but Manchester United are nowhere to be seen at the top of the table, where they have finished in the top three since the founding of the Premier League in 1992. 
 
Instead, the focus of debate and speculation centers on who will lift the trophy in the absence of the perennial giants. London clubs Chelsea and Arsenal lead the way thanks to their stifling defenses, while United rivals Liverpool and Manchester City trail by the slightest of margins with their high-powered attacking play. With the top four clubs separated by a total of only four points with eleven games to go, truly any club can win the title in a season where anything can – and often does – happen. Here’s a club-by-club rundown of each team’s chances of glory.
 
Arsenal (2nd, 59 points)
 
Arsenal have the joint second-best defensive record in the Premier League, having allowed just 27 goals in 27 matches. But their struggles on the road have been well documented, including away losses of 6-3 to Manchester City and 5-1 to Liverpool. They still have games against Chelsea and City yet to come in the final 10 matches and taking the points in those games will be crucial. They’ll need to get their offence firing on all cylinders to make that happen, and with their lone striker Olivier Giroud struggling to find form in recent weeks, it will be a tough ask for the team that have topped the table for most of the season to take it back again.
 
Chelsea (1st, 60 points)
 
Chelsea have conceded just 21 goals all season while finding the net 49 times. But while they have yet to lose at home, they have a crucial away game at Anfield against Liverpool, who have lost just once at home all season and have the league’s best offense. They’ll need to shut down the Reds if they want to stay at the top. They played well in a 2-1 win against Liverpool at home in December but faced a Reds side without striker Daniel Sturridge, and were the beneficiaries of several questionable decisions that may have influenced the outcome. They’ll need to play almost perfectly if they want to repeat the result this time around.
 
Liverpool (4th, 56 points)
 
Few pundits would have thought that with 10 matches to go, Liverpool would be contenders in the title race, albeit as dark horses. But the Reds have a lot to recommend them, namely their lethal striker partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who have combined for 41 goals this season, more than 15 league teams have scored in total. But defensive struggles have plagued them at the back and costly errors have left them four points out of first place. That being said, unlike their competitors, Liverpool have neither the Champions’ League or the FA Cup to distract them from their task, and will be focused entirely on finishing as close to the top as possible. While they lost away to both City and Chelsea, the Reds have a stellar home record, winning 12 of their 14 games at Anfield, losing just once. They’ll need to continue their home form and clean up their defensive performance if they want to win the title, but make no mistake about it, Liverpool are very much in the race.
 
Manchester City (3rd, 57 points, +1 game to play)
 
The upstart rivals of neighboring United, City are looking to win their second title in three seasons, and boast both the second-best attack and second-best defense., and after winning their first 11 home games this season, City looked odds-on favorites to keep the trophy in Manchester. But a recent run of poor performances including a shocking 1-0 home loss to Chelsea and a 0-0 draw away to Norwich City leave City four points behind Chelsea, albeit City have an extra game to play. The Citizens certainly have both the quality and depth of squad to win the title, and their veteran base of players who won the title in the dying seconds of the 2011/12 season won’t be fazed by the prospect of rallying to win the title. But they have away matches against Arsenal and Liverpool to come, and both those teams will be hungry to avenge defeats at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season. They have a tough challenge ahead, but in the end, they’re probably more than up to the task, even with their Champions’ League aspirations to distract them.
 
Prediction
Champions: Manchester City
2nd: Liverpool
3rd: Chelsea
4th: Arsenal