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
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Demolition Derby

Liverpool Rout Neighbors Everton 4-0 in 222nd Merseyside Derby

By Greg Hudson

No rivalry in American sports can compare to an English derby match. Certainly, the U.S. has classic sporting rivalries: Yankees and Red Sox; Steelers and Patriots; Canadiens and Bruins. But nothing in America approaches the intensity found when two teams from the same city square off in the English Premier League, where opposing fans are kept segregated to prevent violence that threatened the future of European football during the 1970s and 80s. Derby games, matches between local rivals, are particularly heated and often produce the most intense and hostile atmospheres both in the stands and on the pitch.
While all local derbies are special, the Merseyside Derby is something truly unique. Liverpool and Everton football clubs are located less than a mile apart, separated only by a small park, so the entire city is divided between Liverpool red and Everton blue. But what makes the Merseyside Derby, England’s longest-running local derby, so special is the relationship between the opposing fans, who, away from the field, support each other through good times and bad, earning the nickname the “friendly derby.” In recent years, however, the fixture has produced many memorable and hotly contested games. In the past 20 seasons, no matchup has produced more red cards than the Merseyside Derby.
When the two sides met at Everton’s Goodison Park in November, another hot contest produced a stunning 3-3 draw which saw both teams rally from losing positions in the second half. The match was not without controversy, however, as Everton’s Kevin Mirallas escaped what should have been a red card for a tackle on Luis Suarez which was both late and high and actually drew blood from the right knee of the Uruguayan striker. Mirallas later provided an assist for Everton’s second goal, sparking debate among the two sets of fans as to whether or not Everton really deserved the draw, or whether Liverpool really deserved to win. Tuesday night, Liverpool set out to answer those questions definitively, this time in front of their home crowd at Anfield, where they had not lost in 9 games, and where Everton had not won in their last 13 visits.
Both teams entered the game after being struck by an injury bug plaguing defenders in both camps. For Liverpool, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, and Jose Enrique were all unavailable through injury, along with midfielder Lucas Leiva, while Everton were forced to play without start fullbacks Seamus Coleman, nursing a pulled hamstring, and Brian Oviedo, out for the season after horrifically breaking his leg the previous week. In their places Everton fielded John Stone and Antolin Alcaraz, a significant step down in terms of defensive strength, which would be a concern against Liverpool’s high-powered strike pair of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who had combined for 33 goals in 22 matches.
But it was the visitors who opened the brighter, attacking Liverpool right from the kickoff, and less than a minute was on the clock when local phenom Ross Barkley sent a long-range effort whistling over the Liverpool crossbar, much to the relief of keeper Simon Mignolet.
The Reds soon found their stride however, and created a chance of their own just moments later after some scintillating passing enabled Jordan Henderson to slot the ball into the Everton penalty area for Suarez, whose shot was blocked back to Henderson, who volleyed over the crowd and forced a strong save from American keeper Tim Howard.
It set the tone for an attacking, end-to-end game which took shape during the opening 20 minutes, and a trend quickly developed: Everton possessing the ball well but failing to carve apart the Liverpool defense, and Liverpool counterattacking with fast-paced breaks looking to set up Suarez or Sturridge.
The two strikers, who combined for 33 goals entering play, soon figured out the Everton defense and began peppering Tim Howard’s goal with shots, and it was little surprise when the Reds took the lead after 20 minutes when Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard rose highest to head home a Suarez corner. It was Gerrard’s eighth career goal against Everton, more than any other player in the history of the derby.
Liverpool, known for striking twice in quick succession, looked to press home another goal, but Everton responded well to falling a goal behind and dominated the game for the next ten minutes, bending but not quite breaking the Liverpool defensive resolve, with Mirallas firing just wide from the edge of the 18-yard box on 32 minutes.