Tag Archives: Champions League

End of 2014/15 Premier League Season Thoughts

26 May

The End of the Premier League season is here, meaning the only games left until August are the Champions League Final in Berlin, the FA Cup Final at Wembley, some Euro qualifiers and friendlies, and of course, the summer international and exhibition tournaments.

My overall thoughts on the season: Congratulations to Chelsea. They were the best team in the league all season, and their consistency and ability to go undefeated against top teams such as Manchester United, Manchester City, and Arsenal reflects their resilience in contrast to their performances last season.

2 clubs that exceeded expectations: 

Crystal Palace: The Eagles from South London hired Alan Pardew on January 1st, at which time Crystal Palace was in the relegation zone 21 matches in. 5 months and 17 matches later, Crystal Palace finished in 10th place, their most successful season in their 109 year history. Yannick Bolasie, the young Congolese winger, emerged as one of top talents in English football.

Southampton: They lose Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and their 24 goals combined they scored last season to Liverpool . They lose manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham . Many believed this club would fall apart, and finish in or around the relegation zone.

2 Clubs that fell short of expectations:

Liverpool: It was clear Liverpool wasn’t going to be able to match last years success given the departure of player of the year Luis Suarez to FC Barcelona. It was thought however, with the additions of the Southampton crew listed above, Mario Balotelli, and the continued development of Raheem Sterling, that Liverpool would manage a top 4 finish and at least do better than they did in the Champions League. Brendan Rodgers is on the hot seat, as longtime Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard takes his remaining talents to sunny Los Angeles.

Newcastle: To me, Newcastle should be what Swansea was this year, and the past couple of years. A legitimate top 10 club, playing exciting football while conquering on occasion some of the league’s best (Arsenal, Manchester United, etc). Newcastle is far from that, and staved off relegation on the very last day of the season. The Magpies have a long summer ahead of them, starting with finding a new manager.

Memories from this season: In no particular order: Chelsea winning the league handily, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba Premier League exits, Charlie Adam’s Goal, Leicester’s run down the stretch to avoid relegation, Crystal Palace’s improvement after hiring Pardew, lack of success in the Champions League for English teams, Newcastle’s collapse, Diego Costa’s immediate impact…

What I look forward to next season: Changes in personnel of all of the teams, the success/struggle of the newly promoted teams, will Chelsea repeat?, changes at Anfield, the continued rise of Manchester United,

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Premier League, Week 34 Game of the Week

20 Apr

Recap: Chelsea beat Manchester United by a dull score of 1-0, thanks to a goal in the 1st half by Eden Hazard. Chelsea “did what it had to do to win”, playing a very defensive 2nd half and limiting the Red Devils’ attack.

This Week:

Chelsea FC vs Arsenal FC

Chelsea FC vs Arsenal FC

Sunday, April 26th, 10am CDT, Emirates Stadium

Why this Game is Intriguing: Because these two clubs are not only the best two clubs in London, but the best two clubs in English football. Chelsea has just about sealed their fate as the winners of the Premier League, as they currently lead the 2nd place Gunners by 10 points. Even with a Chelsea loss here, it’s hard to imagine the Blues dropping points against some of the remaining opponents on their schedule, including Leicester City, Crystal Palace, West Brom, and Sunderland. Coupled with the fact that Chelsea has been knocked out of the Champions League and FA Cup, these remaining matches after the Arsenal game will be taken incredibly seriously by Jose Mourinho and company. Chelsea has a way of creating a wall (or as many call it, a bus) in front of their own final third, and it will be incredibly difficult for Arsenal to have its chances.

Other Reasons to Watch: Arsenal is gunning for 2nd place. While the Gunners have all but secured another top 4 finish and Champions League bid, they remain just 1 point ahead of 3rd place Manchester United, and 2 points ahead of 4th place Manchester City. Arsenal have had a fantastic season despite major, long term injuries to key players including Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, the Ox, Jack Wilshire, and more. Arsenal would hate to finish 4th, because that would mean that they would have a play-in series, and thus 2 more key games to even qualify for the Champions League group stage. While it is impossible for the Gunners to overcome Chelsea in the standings, a victory over the Blues, and a victory for Arsene Wenger over arch nemesis Jose Mourinho, would do wonders for the pride in red based in North London.

Prediction: This one remains tight, and low scoring. I’ll go with 1-1 draw.

EPL Week 33, Game of the Week

13 Apr

Recap: The Manchester Derby was a delightful match, featuring some of the top players in world football. It was Manchester United that came away with a 4-2 win, and a game in which the Red Devil’s dominated.

This Week:

Chelsea vs Manchester United

Chelsea vs Manchester United

Saturday, April 18th, 11:30am CST, Stamford Bridge

Why this game is intriguing: Form. Again. Manchester United is in splendid form, particularly after beating rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford 4-2 just last week. Louis van Gaal’s men are currently in 3rd place, just 1 point behind Arsenal, and 8 points (and 1 game) behind 1st place Chelsea. Now 4 points clear of City, the Red Devils have all but reached their #1 goal at the start of the season: Finish in the top 4, and earn a UEFA Champions League spot. United is one of, if not the biggest club in the world, with a globalized fan base. Their story this season, while not yet complete, is absolutely worth the headlines and the news coverage they receive. Chelsea have won their last 3 matches in a row, and having been eliminated from the Champions League and the FA Cup, winning the league is their only chance of getting a trophy this season, minus the Capital One Cup.

Other Reasons to Watch: The Manchester United midfield is something to behold, and while it did take awhile, this unit is the strength of the club. Marouane Fellaini is showing glimpses of the player he was at Everton before David Moyes brought him with to Manchester. He scores, he’s unselfish, and he’s a large presence in the box on crosses and corner kicks. Juan Mata is an intelligent Spaniard- the archtype of a number 8, and a player with great ball handling skills, vision, and scoring ability. Ander Herrera and Daley Blind are smooth passing defensive midfielders (Blind the more defensive of the two, Herrera more offensive). This unit thoroughly dominated the likes of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho in the Manchester Derby, and have really stepped up in the latter part of the season.

Prediction: United is on a train that can’t be stopped. I’m going Red Devil’s 3, Chelsea 1

EPL, Week 33 Game of The Week

9 Apr

We are back for the Manchester Derby!!

 

Manchester United vs Manchester City

Manchester United vs Manchester City

Sunday, April 12th, 10am CST, Old Trafford

Why this Game is Intriguing: Present form. While Manchester United has seemingly gone through hell in the last 12 months with David Moyes’ blunder last season and an initially struggling Louis van Gaal this season, it seems as if the Red Devils are finally hitting their stride. Manchester United, 3rd in the table, leads City by just 1 point heading into the final Manchester Derby of the season. Manchester City has been struggling as of late, losing to Crystal Palace, FC Barcelona in the Champions league, Burnley, and Liverpool. Manchester United, who early on in the season had plenty of hiccups, including a disastrous loss to Leicester City who find themselves at the bottom of the table, are now playing like one of England’s best clubs. Manchester United has won 5 of it’s last 6 matches, including a precious road win over rivals Liverpool.

Other Reasons to Watch: Could we be witnessing another changing of the guard in Manchester? Louis van Gaal and his squad, particularly the partnership of Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, and Fellaini in the midfield, are playing lights out. They appear to have a swagger about them that Manchester City guys like Jesus Navas, Fernandinho, and particularly Yaya Toure have lost in the last several games, and for much of this season. City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s seat has never been hotter at the Etihad, and you can bet that a blowout loss to their rivals at Old Trafford would absolutely seal his fate.Van Gaal on the other hand, with a victory here, would take a large step towards securing Manchester United’s return to the Champions League, which means United will have the cash and the legitimacy to build on what is already a strong team in this summer’s transfer market.

Soccahaus Prediction: Manchester United 2, Manchester City 0

 

La Liga, Week 12 Game of the Week

17 Nov

Recap: Valencia vs Athletic Bilbao ended in a 0-0 draw. Athletic Bilbao is, for now at least, comfortably out of the relegation zone, while Valencia is in 3rd place, just 3 points behind league leaders Real Madrid.

This Week:

FC Barcelona vs Sevilla FC

FC Barcelona vs Sevilla FC

Saturday, November 22nd, 1pm (CST) Camp Nou

Why This Game is Intriguing: Sevilla is just 2 points behind 2nd place FC Barcelona, and will be looking to jump them in the standings with a win over the Catalans at the Nou Camp. Sevilla has 7 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses thus far in the La Liga campaign, and is led by Colombian striker Carlos Bacca (who had a goal against the United States in a friendly last week in London). Bacca is a terror in front of goal, and an extremely talented forward capable of scoring from anywhere. Sevilla also has a nice infusion of youth from Barcelona loanees Denis Suarez and Gerard Deulefeu. Sevilla is a club capable and talented enough to push for a top 4 finish and Champions League bid, so it is worth keeping an eye on them as the season progresses.

Other Reason to Watch This Game: The Catalans, despite an easy win over Ajax a couple of weeks ago in the Champions League, appear to be struggling. They are just 1-2 in their last 3 La Liga games, including an ugly 2-1 over Almeria, and losses to Real Madrid and Celta Vigo- the latter at the Nou Camp. While it is understandable that it will take time for the likes of Neymar, Messi, and Luis Suarez to all get on the same page- frankly, no amount of practices can simulate and garner chemistry like minutes on the pitch in a competitive, meaningful game- this team can’t seem to get their defense straightened out. There are real issues at the back with Pique not playing well, with Bartra’s inconsistency, and with Mathieu’s injury woes- the centerback position is a revolving door for the Catalans, and that is their biggest achilles heel.

Soccahaus Prediction: Barcelona 2, Sevilla 1

English Premier League, Week 11 Game of the Week

17 Nov

Recap from 2 weeks ago: Although not the most dominating of efforts, Chelsea handled Liverpool at Anfield thanks to goal by Gary Cahill and Diego Costa. Chelsea remains in first place, 4 points clear of the surprising Southampton Saints.

This Week: 

Arsenal FC vs Manchester United

Arsenal FC vs Manchester United

Saturday, November 22nd, 11:30am (CST) Emirates Stadium

Why This Game is Intriguing: Teams 6 (Arsenal) and 7 (Man United) in the Premier League face off in North London. Just a point apart, this is a crucial game as we head into the middle of November. The Gunners are coming off an ugly loss to Swansea City, a game which they controlled for about the first 60 or so minutes, before things got wildly out of hand. Man United won their last game at home against Crystal Palace thanks to a 67′ goal by Juan Mata. While not as significant of a rivalry as say the Manchester Derby, the North London Derby, or Liverpool vs Manchester United, this game, because of the history of the two clubs, has meaning beyond just two good teams playing.

Other Reasons to Watch This Game: What does the future hold for both Arsenal and Manchester United, and where they end up finishing could all come back to this game. Both clubs are struggling mightily stringing together wins in a row, and both are dealing with bad injuries. The laundry list of injuries for Manchester United undoubtedly is hurting their chances: Falcao, van Persie, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera- each have missed or are slated to miss several games. For Arsenal: Olivier Giroud, Debuchy, Arteta, Ozil, Koscielny. Both of these clubs have Champions League aspirations, but have a ways to go. Even the Europa League, particularly for Manchester United, would be a positive step in the right direction for the club- however, as it stands and the way these clubs have looked, missing out on the top 6 entirely is a possibility that both would like to avoid.

Soccahaus Prediction: 1-1

La Liga, Week 11 Game of the Week

3 Nov

Recap: In what was the most shocking upset of the La Liga season thus far, Celta Vigo defeated FC Barcelona at Nou Camp to give the Catalan Giants their 2nd loss in their last 2 La Liga games. Joaquin Larrivey scored the game’s only goal in the ’55, handing Barca their first loss at home in almost a year.

This Week:

Valencia CF vs Athletic Bilbao

Valencia CF vs Athletic Bilbao

Sunday, November 9th, 12pm CST Mestalla

Why This Game is Intriguing: Because Valencia is in 2nd place in La Liga, leading Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, and are just 1 point behind league leaders Real Madrid. Valencia is 7-2-1, and winners of 3 of their last 4, including a huge 3-1 over Atletico Madrid at the Mestalla. The Mestalla has been good to its club; Valencia have an unblemished 5-0 perfect record thus far at home, and the ground is causing all kinds of problems for visiting teams. Valencia is led by Spanish forward Paco Alcacer who already has 4 goals and 4 assists. The 21 year old is a jack of all trades type of player, and has already featured for Vicente del Bosque’s Spanish side in friendlies and Euro 2016 qualifiers. Expect the youngster to continue improving his game as he grows with the Valencian and Spanish sides over the next couple of years.

Other Reasons to Watch This Game: Athletic Bilbao are on the rise after winning their last 2 games, including a major win over Sevilla to vault themselves out of the relegation zone. Athletic, currently in 11th place, are struggling with the rigors of a La Liga and Champions League schedule. Athletic is currently in last place in their Champions League group and have yet to win a game; They have 0 wins, 1 draw (against Shaktahr Donetsk), and 2 losses, including a loss to BATE Borisov. Bilbao is led by striker Aritz Aduriz who has 4 goals to his name, and Ibai Gomez with 2 assists. Athletic Bilbao is one of 3 La Liga clubs (the others being Real Madrid and FC Barcelona) to have never been relegated from top flight Spanish soccer. Bilbao must continue to win games, and play with more consistency, if they want to continue that streak.

 

Soccahaus Prediction: Valencia 1, Bilbao 1