A Good Summer Ahead for the English! (Part One)

With Aston Villa securing their way back into the Premier League on Sunday, the domestic season in England came to an end. As a result, all eyes can turn to the Summer ahead for English sports’ fans, starting with the Europa League on Wednesday evening and Ending with the Cricket World Cup on July 14th at Lord’s, London, England. English teams are guaranteed success in two of the five major events, while favourites in two of the remaining three competitions, but is a clean sweep actually possible. What better place to start than…Azerbaijan!

Europa League: Arsenal vs Chelsea (May 29th)

These two Goliaths of English football are going to make the almost 6,000 mile round trip to Baku, Azerbaijan. Something that is all the more ridiculous as the teams are separated by a not so lengthy 10 miles. For the fans who want to go support their team, they will need to pay between £450 – £800 for flights alone and that’s only if they are lucky enough to be able to score a ticket. You see the money grabbing, greedy so and so’s at UEFA have decided that both Arsenal and Chelsea are to be given 6,000 tickets each – guess that’s one ticket for each mile they are having to travel – even though the Olympic Stadium in Baku has a capacity exceeding 69000.

Eden Hazard looking for a fairy tail ending (Via WikiCommons)

Unfair but expected by UEFA, especially as they know that the tickets will be swooped up by the local Bill Gates, Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck and any other rich dude who wants to witness high quality football. Both teams will be near full-strength apart from Arsenal who will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who will miss the final due to safety concerns. Current affairs between Armenia and Azerbaijan has left the Armenian footballer no alternative than to pull out of this important match.

On the night, there will be many players looking to make headlines. Chelsea’s Hazard will be one of those stars. The Belgian is likely to be on his way to Real Madrid next year, and wants to leave with a win. While Arsenal strikers Aubameyang and Lacazette will be hoping to fire Arsenal to their first ever European trophy at the third attempt. Arsenal’s previous defeats came in 2000 against Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup (previous name for the Europa League) and Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League Final.


Champions League: Liverpool vs Tottenham (June 1st)

Prior to the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals, Barcelona and Ajax held the advantage, yet neither of those two clubs made it to the final on Saturday. Liverpool demolished Barcelona 4-0 while Tottenham secured a final berth with a hat-trick completing goal from Lucas Moura in the dying moments of the game.

Liverpool will definitely go into the game the favourites and rightly so. They have the stronger squad, better balance, superior form and have beaten Spurs in both the games that the two teams played against each other this season. If Liverpool play anything like they did against Barcelona, then there’s nothing Tottenham could do about it.

Tottenham on the other hand are likely to be rejuvenated by the return of their captain, Harry Kane. This will likely pose a problem for Mauricio Pochettino as he will have to drop someone from the starting line-up to make way for Kane. Do you drop Lucas Moura who scored a hat-trick against Ajax, Heung-Min Son who is arguably their best player this year, Dele Alli who can be incredible on his day.

800px-Wanda-Metropolitano
Wanda Metropolitana, Madrid (Via WikiCommons)

The Wanda Metropolitana in Madrid will definitely witness a great game of football and a fantastic advert for the English game. Thanks to UEFA, at least the teams will be well-represented in the stands with both sides allocated just over 16,000 tickets each. How generous of them…

So there you have it, the two events where the English are going to be taking home the spoils. Part two of three will look at the Cricket World Cup, while the final section will concentrate on the Nation’s League and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France… Unless UEFA prevent me from doing so…

Football: Could There Still Be All-English Finals?

Via WikiCommons

It is crunch time in both the Champions League and Europa League, with the second legs of the semi-final fixtures approaching. Most advocates of the English Premier League would have been expectant of an all-English final in the Europa while being hopeful of one in the Champions League.

So far, it isn’t really going to plan.

Last Tuesday saw Tottenham fall to a 1-0 defeat at home to Ajax, and Liverpool lost 3-0 to Barcelona just a day later. Thursday saw both Arsenal and Chelsea put themselves in an advantageous position with decent results against Valencia and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively.

Let’s have a closer look at the four games coming up.

Champions League first!


Liverpool vs Barcelona

Barcelona hold a 3-0 advantage thanks to a goal from Suarez and two from Leo Messi.

Liverpool have a mountain to climb, which is incredible when you consider that they were the better team in the first leg. Not many teams can go to the Camp Nou and outplay the side from Cataluna, but that is exactly what Liverpool did. They had more of the ball and created the better chances. For majority of the game they even stifled the brilliance of Leo Messi. Yet, time and time again, the Argentine genius produced brilliance when it mattered most. Combine that with the amateurish finishing of the Liverpool strikers, and here we are.

Can Liverpool actually turn this tie around?

No!

I don’t see how it will be possible for them to keep a clean sheet against Barcelona.

Barcelona historically don’t travel well to England, and as destinations go, Liverpool’s Anfield stadium is not the nicest of places to visit. Expect Liverpool to come flying out the traps and if they can grab an early goal, anything could happen. The injuries to Salah, and Firmino have not helped the situation. Barcelona by no means are clear yet, but a goal will be more than enough. Expect an exciting game, full of drama and a lot of diving from both Suarez and Busquets. Whatever way you look at it, Liverpool have shown they are the better team, but Leo Messi, as he has done many times, will end up being the difference.

Images Via WikiCommons

Verdict: Liverpool 2 Barcelona 2 (Barcelona go through 5-2 on aggregate)


Ajax vs Tottenham 

Early goal from Danny van de Beek has the Dutch side 1-0 up. 

Tottenham’s manager, Mauricio Pochettino, came out after the game and admitted that he got it tactically wrong, and who am I to disagree. Spurs got overrun in midfield and never really competed. Expect a completely different game to take place in Holland.

Firstly, Spurs will definitely have one, possibly two of their star players back for the second leg. Heung-Min Son will definitely play and should be relatively fresh after being sent off just before half-time during the league game against Bournemouth. Also, Spurs’ captain and talisman, Harry Kane, may be fit enough to come off the bench for an important cameo in the last 15 minutes. If anything, Kane’s presence will provide the boost that the London side may need.

Ajax, on the other hand, have already surpassed expectation. They have been great for the neutral, knocking out Juventus and Real Madrid along the way thanks to some clinical finishing. They will go into the second leg as favourites, and if Spurs overcommit going forward, then the Dutch team will pick them off, just like they did the previous teams. So far Ajax hasn’t experienced a nervous final half-hour in any of the previous ties against Real Madrid or Juventus, so it will be interesting to see if they would be able to keep their discipline if they need to go searching for a goal with the game winding down.

This is definitely a game worth watching, as it will be full of attacking intent from both sides, and technically both teams can afford to concede a goal without the need to alter their game plans. The main advantage for Spurs is that a win at Ajax’s Amsterdam Arena will be good enough to take the game to extra-time at least, which makes it much easier. Unfortunately, an away win hasn’t been very common for Tottenham this year, who have won once in the five games they’ve had in Europe, which was a 1-0 win at Dortmund, in the round of 16. In that game, Dortmund absolutely battered Spurs!

Verdict: Ajax 3 Tottenham 2 (Ajax go through 4-2 on aggregate)


What about the Europa?

Valencia vs Arsenal

Arsenal currently hold a two-goal advantage thanks to a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium in London. 

Defensively, Arsenal have been a completely different animal in Europe. In the last round, they were able to navigate past a Napoli side who were considered one of the favourites to win the competition. So, against a weaker Valencia team, you would expect them to have no major problems, especially when considering the two-goal advantage they have.

Valencia have shown themselves a worthy semi-finalist by getting rid of fellow Spanish team Villarreal in the last round. In the first game, they showed a lot of class and not for the first time in this article, they are a team who are ruing the chances that they missed.

As with every game in recent weeks, Arsenal’s defensive performance will determine the team that goes through. In Mustafi, Arsenal have a defender who leaves me scratching my head in disbelief.

As a youngster, I always heard my coaches tell the defenders;

“Don’t dive in.”

“Hold him up”

“Follow the runner”

“Play it simple”

All things which Mustafi doesn’t seem  capable of doing. He is by far the worst defender I have ever seen in the Premier League. Yet, he keeps getting picked. Just incredible. Going forward, Arsenal have a lot of quality, but it’s no surprise that they are much more prolific in home games and go a little missing on away days.

Valencia’s home form this season hasn’t been anything to shout home about either, but when you consider their recent form, the Spanish side have been much better. Making Valencia the more likely team to make it through, especially if Mustafi “plays.”

Verdict: Valencia 3 Arsenal 1, 4-1 after extra-time (Valencia to go through 5-4 on aggregate)


Chelsea vs Frankfurt

The tie is nicely balanced after a 1-1 draw in Germany.

The game in Germany will leave Chelsea the happier of the two teams. Even though Chelsea had the better of the game, Frankfurt definitely created the better chances and should have won. That lack of clinical finishing being a problem for another of the teams represented in this article.

Chelsea will be very confident going into game knowing that they have not lost a single game in this year’s Europa League (W:11, D:2) and furthermore, only lost twice at home all season, to Leicester City in the Premier League and to Manchester United in the English Football League Cup. Not looking good for Frankfurt.

Frankfurt will be heavily reliant on  Luka Jovic to repeat what he did in the first-leg and score at Stamford Bridge. The Serbian currently lies second in the scoring charts with nine goals to his name. Only player ahead of him will be visible on the night. Olivier Giroud is top with 10 goals. If Jovic has a poor game, Kostic and Rebic may offer alternative goal scorers on the night.

Frankfurt will definitely need to come out and play with confidence, but Chelsea are just too strong for them. Expect Chelsea to be very dominant from the off, and take a good lead into half-time, similar to the way that they did against Slavia Prague in the previous round.  But this time, I expect them to be a lot better equipped defensively, and make far fewer errors on the night.

Verdict: Chelsea 3 Frankfurt 1 (Chelsea go through 4-2 on aggregate)

My phone alarm is already set for 3am. Don’t tell my partner, though …

Final Push For Glory!

With the end of the football season nearing, many fans all around the world are weeping at the prospect of a summer without anything to watch. Something that I have worried about on many occasions. For the fans of some teams, namely Juventus and Paris St. Germain, there’s nothing left to play for as they’ve wrapped up a successful domestic league campaign with many games to spare. However, there is still a lot at stake for many teams around Europe.

Everybody keeps up to date with the Premier League, so there’s no need for me to go into too much detail about that, but what about other domestic leagues?

Here’s a look at some of the most exciting finishes that all football fans should keep an eye on!

First Stop…Turkey!

I know many people will see this as a subjective suggestion, but I insist you hear me out first.

With four games left, there are three teams in with a chance of winning the title.

Screenshot 2019-05-03 at 21.04.59
Via WikiCommons

Istanbul Basaksehir (IBB) are aiming to win their 1st title, which would make them the 6th team to win the Turkish Super Lig since its creation in 1959. Turkish F.A, is one of quite a associations around the world that uses head-to-head results as the first tie-breaker if teams are tied on points (usually to avoid match-fixing), which makes the final few games even more interesting as Galatasaray will play both IBB and Besiktas. Besiktas have also got to face Trabzonspor, who are statistically the fourth best club in Turkey, and a difficult team to play away from home because their fans are absolutely “mental!”

To be honest, this league should have been over by now, but a poor run by Basaksehir (one win in the last five games) has allowed both Galatasaray and Besiktas with a chance to win a very unlikely title. If the title run-in isn’t exciting enough, then add to that an incredible relegation battle that Fenerbahce are involved in.

Screenshot 2019-05-03 at 21.05.26
Via WikiCommons

With Fenerbahce due to play both Akhisar Belediyespor (who have made it to the Turkish Cup Final), and Erzurumspor, they have to be on their game to avoid an embarrassing relegation.

The oldest professional team for now?

At the start of the season, I always predict my potential title winners, put on a season bet and watch it all unfold. At the start of the League Two season, I was stuck between Lincoln City and Notts County. Do I go for Lincoln City, the team from the city I studied at, or with the oldest professional team, Notts County, who have been a recognised club since 1862. I went with the latter!

As my partner put it, I couldn’t have really done much worse. Notts County are lying in 23rd place and needing a win in the final game of the season away at Swindon who are 14th and have nothing left to play for. Any other result and Notts County’s professional status will no longer be. If County win, then all heads will turn to see what Macclesfield Town (22nd) have done at home to Cambridge United (21st). If Macclesfield get a draw then Notts County will be relegated, simply because of their “superior” goal difference.

This could be a long and devastating day for Notts County. Lincoln City on the other hand have already won League Two. Like my partner said, couldn’t have done much worse with my prediction.

Going Dutch.

Two games to go. Two teams tied on 80 points. Champions League semi-finalists Ajax are looking certain to beat rivals PSV Eindhoven on goal difference. A free scoring Ajax team have netted 111 goals while conceding only 31 times. Even though PSV have conceded 7 goals less, they have “only” scored 95 goals. This league should be fun to watch just for the sheer attacking excellence. It will be a nail-biting finish whichever team you are supporting.

Finally… Spain.

I realise Spain is one of the top leagues, so many fans would keep a close eye on the league, but usually because they want to see who out of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid would win the title. Yet this year, the battle for the final Champions League spot (4th) is an exciting one. The current position is held by Getafe.

No need to check the league, it really is!

Getafe have never finished higher than 6th, which was a final position achieved last year. What’s more impressive is that they have both Sevilla and Valencia following them in 5th and 6th respectively.

Screenshot 2019-05-03 at 20.34.30

Similar to Turkey, in Spain the first tie-breaker is based on head-to-head performances and Getafe have the better of Sevilla, but Valencia are more superior than both of the teams directly above them. Combining that with the easier schedule that faces them, makes Valencia favourite to finish 4th.

If Getafe can somehow manage to keep hold of their current position, then it will be a historic occasion for both the club and the league itself.

How could you miss out…

I realise many people will be reading this article and feel disappointed that I didn’t list the German title race or the battle for the Premier League, but for me, both of those are wrapped up. Man City could secure the title this week, as Liverpool face a difficult away trip to Newcastle, and in Germany, Bayern will very unlikely loosen their grip on the title. They will have as firm a grip as I will have on the remote, which I am sure will not please my partner…