For the second season in a row, there’s no springtime doom and gloom at Newcastle. No talk of fans rallying with banners demanding a club that tries, no claim of the players letting down the fans, and no sign of a squad underachieving. Tyneside feels alive and buoyant, smiles are on faces fans, and the team is overachieving by sitting in the top half.

‘It’s very good what is happening in this club, in this city. We are where we deserve to be, I think’, said Mohammed Diame, who put in a man of the match of performance as Newcastle came from behind to beat Arsenal. Yes, Newcastle beat Arsenal. After 10 defeats in a row, spanning six years, and no wins against the Gunners in eight years, the Magpies grabbed a completely deserved win, their fourth in a row, as well their fourth successive home win. ‘With the last four results, we’ve won four games in a row now, and confidence is high’, said defender Paul Dummett.

And there was no shortage of confidence, even when Arsenal took the lead. It had been 13 years since the Toon celebrated a home win over Arsenal, Nolberto Solano bagging the solo goal back in the winter of 2005. Then Alan Shearer and Michael Owen were the headline men up front, Rafa Benitez was managing at Liverpool, with Glenn Roeder in charge. Normally Newcastle heads would have dropped, conceding the first goal against a bogey team and that familiar feeling would start to creep in, of those 10 games in a row that they lost to the Gunners, only in one of them did they score equalisers- yet they were hit 7-3 in that one- so perhaps a shot in morale would have been expected the moment Alexandre Lacazette latched on to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pass, and became the first player to score against Martin Dubravka at the St. James Park this season.

But dropping heads isn’t quite a feature of the new Toon, not what has made punch above their weight, made them win four games on the bounce. This may have been a shuffled Arsenal side, but there’s no discrediting Newcastle’s resolve. ‘People were talking about the changes they made but you could see the quality which they had, especially in the first half’, said Benitez. For quality, Benitez would have been delighted to see that that was the word surrounding his side’s equaliser. From Jonjo Shelvey’s superb pass, to Deandre Yedlin’s one-time cross, and Ayoze Perez’s one-touch finish, the goal that gave Newcastle parity involved eight of their 11 players, with nine passes.

It was a third goal in as many games for an in-form Perez, who bagged winners against Huddersfield, and at Leicester lately, but it’s the Spaniard’s work ethic that has been his most brilliant characteristic, and that has also been the watchwords for the rest of the squad. That work ethic, not so similar with Newcastle’s Premier League teams in recent past, always accused of a lack of trying and giving up too easily in the past. Not this side. ‘Everyone was pulling in the same direction…’ said Benitez, while Dummett pointed out ‘the organisation between the back four and midfield’ as key. But perhaps bigger proof of their hard work and focus is Diame pointing out that the team would enjoy this ‘for a few days, then get back to work’. There’s no room for resting on laurels, no room for slacking off, as they showed in the second half, with Islam Slimani and Perez combining to play in Ritchie, who- just like he did against Manchester United here- grabbed the winner.

With 41 points, Newcastle are one point behind ninth-placed Everton, whom they face next. ‘We’ll go to Everton hoping to beat them and take over them’ Dummett added. A win at Goodison Park next weekend takes them to ninth place; only twice in the past 11 Premier League seasons have they finished higher. Not that Benitez is one to get carried away, it’s still a case of one step at a time. The first step was always survival, and with 41 points that has been achieved, just ask Dummett. ‘Yes, definitely’.

City kings of the land, inevitably

You could excuse the nerves from the Manchester City fans and manager when Tottenham halved their advantage. City had been on top and took a deserved- yet fortuitous- two-goal lead, until Christian Eriksen pulled a goal back for Spurs (insert Harry Kane joke here). There was semblance to City’s implosion at home to Manchester United the previous weekend, and Spurs sensed it, the fans roaring them on while the players forced City to cede the ball, both at the end of the first half, and the start of the second. But City didn’t give up control or their lead this time, and with less than 20 minutes left, Raheem Sterling- guilty of a few misses in the derby and here as well- put the game to bed. City have won at Chelsea, Arsenal, United and Spurs this season; more importantly they got to within touching distance of the title. A West Brom win at Old Trafford would suffice.

Not that Pep Guardiola was watching, though. The City boss was presumably on the golf course when United took on West Brom, laboured at home to the bottom club, and, courtesy of a Jay Rodriguez header, suffered a second home league defeat of the season to hand City the title. Which means United had delayed City’s coronation at the Etihad on derby day, only to gift them the title by losing to a side that had won only twice in the league all season. Sums up this week of football. This also means City have won the league at the joint-fastest time ever (with five games to spare, just like United in 2000-01), and in seven years they’ve won three league titles, half the number of times United manager Jose Mourinho pointed out that he has won eight career championships in his post-match conference.

Elsewhere:

  • That defeat at St. James means Arsenal are yet to record an away point in 2018, the only side in the top four divisions in the country awaiting their first spoil on the road. Incredible.
  • Now it’s five wins in a row for Burnley. Not only did Sean Dyche’s side put some considerable daylight between them and recent opponents Leicester, they are now only two points behind sixth-placed Arsenal.
  • Mohammed Salah scored. Next!!
  • The jubilation was uncontainable, from the pitch to the dugout and the fans, when the goal went in and at the final whistle. It looked like Huddersfield-Watford would peter out to a goalless draw, until Tom Ince popped up for the Terriers in the 91st minute, his fifth goal against Watford. More Importantly, it has them on 35 points, on the brink of survival.
  • And in the crisis Clasico, Southampton managed to toss a two-goal lead at home to Chelsea, and grab defeat from the cusp of victory.
  • Oh, and welcome back to the big time Wolverhampton Wanderers

Results:

Newcastle 2-1 Arsenal

Tottenham 1-3 Manchester City

Southampton 2-3 Chelsea

Manchester United 0-1 West Brom

Huddersfield 1-0 Watford

Swansea 1-1 Everton

Crystal Palace 3-2 Brighton

Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth

Burnley 2-1 Leicester

Monday Night Football: West Ham v Stoke

Published in International Watch

Floyd Mayweather Jnr has hinted that he could invest in Newcastle and lure his friend Cristiano Ronaldo to join the club.

Mike Ashley has been under intense pressure to sell the club, and it was reported that a deal that was said to be in place to sell the club last October fell through – with Ashley describing the process of striking a deal “frustrating.”

The English billionaire is reported to have placed a fee in the region of £350m on the club, and Mayweather had indicated interest in investing in the club.

The 41-year-old said he loved to invest in businesses, and revealed that the City of Newcastle was the major reason he was showing interest in investing in the club.

"I love Newcastle, these boys like to celebrate as hard as in any city in the world, I got to know some of the players last year and they are good guys," he explained

"I am always looking at new business opportunities and I love all sports but I invest with my head and not my heart.

"Invest with the heart is the fastest way to lose money but if someone puts together a business plan then my people can look at it and tell me if I can make money, then I would invest.

“Maybe football is not my game but I have connections everywhere.

"Cristiano is a friend of mine for a long time and he could even finish his career in Newcastle."

Question of whether Cristiano would like to work again with Benitez would be the first thing Mayweather needs to answer if he gets to secure Newcastle.

And with the goal machine CR7 not ready to turn to a defender soonest, all things being equal, this dream from The Money Bag himself is way off the mark

 

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

Nine places, yet a gap of seven points. That’s the reality of ninth to 18th in the Premier League, as this season’s ever-changing, ultra-unstable relegation battle continues. In a season where there was as much of a title race as there has been in the past five Bundesliga, the fight to keep heads above is dominating the headlines (next to Manchester City’s absurd form, that is).

The first relegation spot (bottom of the table) is currently occupied by West Brom, who have had one hell of a season, almost literally. From their win drought which lasted from August to January, the sacking of Tony Pulis and then the dismissal of the club directors, to the taxi-gate incident involving for first-team players, it’s been a campaign to forget. The Baggies are currently seven points from safety, with three wins all season, and would surely start to feel cut adrift from the rest. They go to Watford this weekend, and it’s little gain saying a win is of utmost importance.

In 19th place, Stoke are only a point away from safety, a cause for optimism, but they seem to have garnered a habit of dropping points from positions of advantage, as last weekend’s draw at Leicester shown. There have been improvements under Paul Lambert, and the Potters host Southampton in what would be described as a six-pointer. It’s fair to say it hasn’t gone to plan for Southampton this term, their decision to ditch Claude Puel for Mauricio Pellegrino as a result of the style of play hasn’t quite worked out, both on an aesthetic and substantial basis. The Saints only clawed their way out of the bottom three thanks to Manolo Gabbiadini’s late goal in that draw at Burnley last weekend, though one defeat in their last nine games in all competitions may suggest an improvement.

Occupying the final relegation spot are Swansea, even if the Welsh side have been resuscitated under Carlos Carvalhal. Since the Portuguese arrived at the end of last year, Swansea have only lost twice in the league, although the latest of those defeats was the 4-1 hammering at Brighton which took them back into the drop zone. It’s another game akin to a six-pointer, as they take on 13th-placed West Ham, who they can actually overtake. West Ham’s form have stalled a bit after their resurgence under David Moyes, and they were heavily beaten at Liverpool last time out, but a win here would take them to 33 points, which, considering the state of things this campaign, would put them on the tethers of survival.

And that’s the word for these sides at the bottom half of the log, the ‘S’ word. Not excluding Crystal Palace (in 17th), Brighton (12), Huddersfield (14), Newcastle (15), who have the toughest tests this weekend, on paper at least. Crystal Palace play host to Manchester United this weekend, still short of Wilfred Zaha, whom they seem unable to play without- the Eagles have also hit a reef, dropping from 12th to 17th in recent weeks. Brighton are in 12th place, three points away from the top half, but only four points above the drop zone. They grabbed that impressive 4-1 win against Swansea a week ago, and will fancy their chances against an Arsenal seemingly in crisis.

For Huddersfield, it’s a trip to Spurs, where they received their first lesson of the season, a 4-0 loss in September which forced them to be a little more cautious (if not too cautious). They have managed two wins on the bounce, though, and won’t be short of confidence. Newcastle, meanwhile, have a trip to Anfield to look forward to, not that many have looked forward to it this term. Only West Brom have managed to win here in any competition this season, keeping the Reds’ Fab Three at bay is no enviable task.

With 10 games to go for all teams this season, it’s definitely crunch time, where two straight wins shoots you up, and two straight losses leaves you in danger of being cut adrift.

Elsewhere

  • Too soon for a guard of honour? Following Manchester City’s 3-0 win at Arsenal on Thursday night, Pep Guardiola’s side only require five more wins to guarantee the title, so who’s a better opponent immediately after that calculation than champions Chelsea. Blues manager Antonio Conte has already urged his side to spend like City this week. Playing like them, however, seems to be a different case.
  • That Burnley are still seventh despite being unless since mid-December is testament to how much of a great start they had. It’s also testament to how horrendous the sides below them have been, especially next opponents Everton. The fees spent on transfers in both windows this season is no secret, yet they’ve spent more time trying to survive than qualify for Europe. Yet they could go level on points with Burnley, proof of how the rest of the league are rather inferior to the top six. But with Everton away this season, a shot on target, let alone a win, would be as welcome as it would be surprising. 

Fixtures

Southampton v Stoke 

Liverpool v Newcastle 

Burnley v Everton 

Leicester v Bournemouth 

Manchester City v Chelsea 

Brighton v Arsenal 

Crystal Palace v Manchester United 

Tottenham v Huddersfield 

Watford v West Brom 

Swansea v West Ham 

Published in International Watch

Premier League Mid-Term Report: Part Two

Monday, 25 December 2017 12:44

Manchester City

Ah Yes. The seeming autocrats of the Premier League so far, no one beats them, no one attempts to have the ball against them, no one even dare avoid defeat to them. Top of the league, 17 league wins in a row, 60 goals scored (sixty!!), their goal difference tally is higher than the goals scored section of every other team, 13 points ahead in the league. Then again, Pep, we’re still not convinced. Let’s see you lead Chesterfield to the Quidditch championship.

Would they have taken this in August: Top of the league, won their Champions League group, into the last four of the League Cup, there’s quite literally nothing else on offer. 

Top performer: The squad, manager, back room staff, training pitch, everything about City, even roads in the city (okay quit drooling). David Silva is in prime form, Raheem Sterling looks unstoppable, Ederson is an upgrade in goal, but there’s no substitute for Kevin de Bruyne.

Should do better: Why are you here?

Grade: A+

 

Manchester United

Second on the table, 41 goals scored, 14 conceded, won their Champions League with ease, yet fingers are still being pointed. They have conceded points quite sloppily so far, but much has to do with their city neighbours being in abnormal form.

Would they have taken this in August: Would they indeed? After all the years of mediocrity post-Fergie, sitting pretty in second is much welcome. Again, but for City’s outrageous form, things would be looking a lot better. Their League Cup exit at the hands of Bristol City was a potential trophy gone, that would displease Jose Mourinho.

Top performer: Romelu Lukaku started like a house fire, 10 goals in his first 10 games in all competitions. Since then though he’s managed four, but he’s still having an impressive debut season. David de Gea continues to defy logic and normalcy, but the fluidity in the side is always lacking when Paul Pogba is unavailable. Credit to Nemanja Matic for allowing the Frenchman freedom to roam.

Should do better: Chris Smalling has improved of late, as has Victor Lindelof, but both started poorly. One man who has gone in the opposite direction is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, after the Armenian’s glorious first month of the season, his form has nosedived alarmingly, he even regularly misses out of the entire 18 these days.

Grade: B

 

Newcastle

‘Short blanket’ Magpies just climbed out of the relegation zone, having swung into poor form after their bright start. Rafa Benitez would be one waiting for the January window, although the potential takeover looks likely to be a stumbling block.

Would they have taken this in August: Probably, yes. Given Rafa’s complaints over his squad before the campaign, two points off the drop zone isn’t much cause for alarm. It isn’t one to get tongues wagging either, mind.

Top performer: Jamaal Lascelles has performed admirably when fit, and the skipper is never shy to speak out if things are going awry, loanee-turned-permanent-addition Mikel Merino has been impressive in the side. Perhaps with the way the summer looked, Joselu also leans towards ‘hit’ than ‘miss’.

Should do better: Aleksandar Mitrovic looks a more capable player in his position than those appearing regularly, but his attitude is still a giant hitch. Read that sentence again, although this time put ‘Jonjo Shelvey’ where appropriate.

Grade: C-

Southampton

Claude Puel is sacked for the torrid style of play despite finishing eighth and reaching a cup final. Mauricio Pellegrino is appointed with the prospect of better football. December, and the Saints in 13th, eight points behind Puel’s Leicester, who won at the St. Mary’s with some good football. The Saints lack of goals this term shows the blame shouldn’t have laid solely on Puel last season, though Charlie Austin is finding his feet with five goals in six.

Would they have taken this August: Probably not. The Saints were expecting to be among the best of the lot, and with constant attacking and goal-scoring football. They haven’t quite managed either, although there are worse positions to be in.

Top performer: Mario Lemina has been a top signing from Southampton, while Nathan Redmond continues to spark in non-existent attack. Austin also deserves a mention for his recent form.

Should do better: Plenty. Fraizer Forster’s form for the past 18 months has been alarming, and although he might have improved a bit in the few weeks, he still concedes soft goals, and seems to be an easy target. Dusan Tadic and Steven Davis have gone awfully quiet, while Manolo Gabbiadini’s early form at the start of the year seems like a flash in the pan. Oh, and let Virgil van Dijk go already.

Grade: D

 

Stoke

So rumours that Stoke would struggle again this year weren’t so daft after all. The Potters lie three points away from the drop zone in 14th, and though they won recently against West Brom, there is still a sizeable amount of pressure on Mark Hughes.

Would they have taken this in August: Maybe, the squad looked shorn of quality as the season began, and though Hughes dismissed talk of them set for a struggle as rubbish, it seemed inevitable.

Top performer: Eric Choupo-Moting has performed in patches for the team, but is among the better performers. Xherdan Shaqiri is still their hub of creativity.

Should do better: Everyone else? Kevin Wimmer has been a disappointing signing, Jese scored on his debut but has done little since, Darren Fletcher’s form is a bit of enigma, and Joe Allen has also dropped glaringly. Saido Berahino hasn’t scored in two years.

Grade: D

 

Swansea

Terrible defence, the league’s worst attack, no invention to come back and win games from behind, Swansea have acted by ridding themselves of Paul Clement. The witless display that was on show in player/caretaker manager Leon Britton’s first game means the Swans have a lot of work on to avoid the drop. Bottom at Christmas, and rightfully so.

Would they have taken this in August: Who would have taken being bottom of the table at Christmas? There was quiet optimi…okay no real cause for alarm at the start of the season, even as Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente left, the arrivals of Renato Sanches and Wilfred Bony were interesting arrivals. That seems to be the most interesting thing about them so far.

Top performer: Tammy Abraham. Goes without saying.

Should do better: From the rest of the squad down to chairman Huw Jenkins and owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien.

Grade: E

 

Tottenham

Seen as arguably the best team in the land at the start of the season, there were worries over Wembley, and for the first two months of the campaign they seemed justified, as Spurs won away but couldn’t buy a ‘home’ win. It’s been quite the opposite lately, Mauricio Pochettino’s men haven’t lost at home since August, but haven’t won in five away games.

Would they have taken this in August: Perhaps. This was seen as a season of transition for Spurs. Fifth place and a point off the top four isn’t that bad, 21 points from the top isn’t good. Neither was the manner of their League Cup exit against West Ham, although they did impressively top a Champions League that included Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, beating the European champions on the way.

Top performer: Davinson Sanchez might have dropped a bit, but the Colombian has been an excellent buy from Ajax. Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier have been impressive, same for Harry Winks. No one has scored more goals in a calendar year in the history of the Premier League than Harry Kane.

Should do better: Erik Lamela has returned from a long lay-off and should set his sights on improving as the weeks go by. Moussa Sissoko is still a curious case, and Dele Alli’s form has dropped considerably.

Grade: B-

 

Watford

Impressive start, and seemed like Dark Horses for a European place. Their form has tailed off a bit, but they still lie in the top 10. And eyes are still poking over manager Marco Silva.

Would they have taken this in August: No doubt. They might have been hoping for more considering how the season had been going, but should have no real complaints.

Top performer: Richarlison is such a watchable lad, the 20-year-old has had his fair share of glaring misses, but in general has been a big hit, as was Nathaniel Chalobah before he got injured. Defender Christian Kabasele has also been impressive, but none more than the ever-present Abdoulaye Doucoure, the French manager is enjoying a fine campaign, and even has six league goals to his name.

Should do better: From underrated forward to senseless front man, Troy Deeney and his mas cojones haven’t had the best campaign. He’s currently serving a four-game ban, having missed three over suspension earlier. Save some displeasure for Etienne Capoue as well.

Grade: B

 

West Brom

First two games, two 1-0 wins, it looked to be going rather nicely. Yeah, about that. Those are the only wins for the Baggies in the league so far this term, they haven’t won in 17 games. Tony Pulis has been dismissed, and Alan Pardew has come, yet the improvements haven’t. Second from bottom, West Brom are in need of some resuscitation.

Would they have taken this in August: Before the season began, surely not. After those first two games, absolutely not.

Top performer: Tough call, it’s been quite a collective mess at the Hawthorns. Gareth Barry set a new record of Premier League appearances this season, so that’s something. Goalkeeper Ben Foster and defender Ahmed Hegazi are probably the least disappointing of the lot.

Should do better: The lot.

Grade: F

 

West Ham

Following their rather eye-catching summer additions, much was expected of the Hammers this term, well better than last season at least. By November, though, Slaven Bilic had been dismissed, and replaced to the distaste of more than a few, David Moyes, who wasn’t a proponent of the ‘West Ham way’ (I don’t know what that is either). Things have considerably improved in the past few weeks, but the Hammers are still battling to stay up.

Would they have taken this in August: Not a chance. Even with how bad last season was, the Hammers didn’t expect to sink this low.

Top performer: Adrian has been doing well since usurping Joe Hart as the first choice goalie, even in his ageing state Pablo Zabaleta still gives his all, while Michail Antonio and Arthur Masuaku aren’t doing badly. West Ham, though, are hardly the same side without Manuel Lanzini.

Should do better. Hart was supposedly the headline arrival. Four months later, he’s struggling to maintain a starting spot. Andre Ayew still continues to swing one way and the other in extremities, Aaron Cresswell’s hasn’t been the same since injury in 2016.

P.S: Put Marko Arnautovic somewhere in-between? The Austrian announced himself by attempting to reshape Southampton defender Jack Stephens’ jaw in August and quickly developed into the boo boy. But his performances of late have been impressive, three goals in his last four games, including that one against former club Stoke.

Grade: D-

 

 

Published in International Watch

In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the Decepticons waited for quite a while for the return of Sentinel Prime, an Autobot; which was weird in its own, until it was revealed that Megatron- leader of the Decepticons- had colluded with Sentinel before the latter’s disappearance. Once Sentinel returned, the Decepticons had more than levelled the playing field against the Autobots, elevating themselves, and narrowing the distance, as well as quickening the transport (transition) of their ‘brothers’ to earth.

Paul Pogba might not be a truck that dynamically transforms into a kick-ass ‘robot’, he might not have betrayed one side to help the other, and he certainly doesn’t speak in an unavoidable heavy accent, but for weeks his return had been yearned for by Manchester United, manager and fans alike. And judging by how cut off the Red Devils’ midfield has been from their attack over the past month, the players were probably on the prowl for re-entry as well, and when the Frenchman did make his return at home to Newcastle, he was the engine that made things tick, as United scored more than once in a league game for the first time since the end of September. ‘He affects our football. With him we have more creation.’ said Jose Mourinho, and it did look it, his quick feet, his hold up play and his ability to transition the midfield into attack with such quickness took United to another level, and he bagged a goal and an assist to boot.

The assist came in the 37th minute, crossing for Anthony Martial to head home after gliding past Isaac Hayden. But that was an equaliser, as less than 15 minutes in Pogba had watched his side fall behind; a cross from DeAndre Yedlin, and a slip from Victor Lindelof (not winning friends at Old Trafford so far) let in Dwight Gayle, and the forward’s shot went into off the base of the post, and made him the first opponent to score at Old Trafford in the league since Gylfi Sigurdsson for Swansea in April, and the first to do so from open play since Middlesbrough’s Grant Leadbitter over a year ago. Newcastle were enterprising, and Jacob Murphy’s shot rolled wide as they sought. The Magpies didn’t let their heads dropp when Martial’s equaliser was followed five minutes after by Chris Smalling heading the hosts in front, and Hayden had to be denied by David de Gea, while Gayle deflected a shot just wide of United’s goal, both incidents on the verge of half-time.

But in the second period, their performance, almost inevitably, dropped, and United would create daylight between both sides, Pogba tapping home from Marcus Rashford. All that was left was for Pogba to leave to a standing ovation, for Romelu Lukaku to end his goal drought, and then the biggest cheer came when Zlatan Ibrahimovic to make his return from a long time out. The lion had returned, but the day belonged to Pogba, who needed just an hour to emphasise how much he’d been missed.

Sentinel’s plan for the Decepticons failed eventually, however, Megatron ultimately proving to be his downfall. For Mourinho and United, the hope is that Pogba’s re-appearance becomes the spark to upstage the Autobots from across the City.

Gunners Get Firing in NLD

It was an Arsenal masterclass on Saturday, as they dispatched Spurs with ease in the North London derby. Both goals might have seemed contentious, but they were either-way decisions and the win was thoroughly deserved, and a certain Mesut Ozil provided a gem of a performance. In truth, the win flattered Spurs, who had to get on the front foot after conceding twice in five minutes, but they hardly threatened and had Hugo Lloris to thank at the other end for keeping the score-line down. Christian Eriksen looked like those Danish exploits had taken a bit out of him, Harry Kane and Moussa Dembele looked clearly unfit, while Moussa Sissoko looked… like Moussa Sissoko. The discussion has shifted from a shift in the balance of power in North London, to Spurs’ failures away to the top six. Four wins in 87 games away to the rest of the top six. That’s cause for discomfort, if not concern.

Pulis sees Nowhere to Hide

It was another defeat for West Brom and Tony Pulis, a meek surrender at home to the champions did little to alleviate the pressure the manager is under. On the ground where Chelsea laboured to a title-clinching winning in May, there was no such difficulty this time around, class acts from Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata ensured it’s four league wins in a row for Antonio Conte and his side.

Elsewhere:

  • Chelsea have won four in a row, Liverpool three, United have scored four times in five league games, yet they’re all still well behind the top; all because Manchester City keep steamrollering past every side they face. 1-0 up at Leicester on Saturday, two centimetres and 15 seconds changed everything. Harry Maguire hit the post for the Foxes midway through the second half, and less than 20 seconds after, Kevin de Bruyne smashed in a peach at the other end, almost re-asserting City’s status as a side built for crushing opposition hopes. 10 league wins in a row, they’ve already beaten three of last season’s top five.
  • It was a new era for West Ham, but it was an old feeling for the Hammers; and as a matter of fact for their latest manager David Moyes as well. A two-nil loss away to Watford was completely deserved, it’ll surely take some time before the new rein gets going (if it ever does). They’re still in the bottom three.

Results

Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham

Manchester United 4-1 Newcastle

Liverpool 3-0 Southampton

Leicester 0-2 Manchester City

Bournemouth 4-0 Huddersfield

Watford 2-0 West Ham

West Brom 0-4 Chelsea

Crystal Palace 2-2 Everton

Burnley 2-0 Swansea

Monday Night Football: Brighton v Stoke 

Published in International Watch

A decade ago Arsenal probably wouldn’t have envisaged such a situation. The North London derby of autumn 2007 saw the Gunners leave White Hart Lane with three goals, three points and a top class performance as they maintained their early-season form, and nudging Spurs manager Martin Jol another step toward his inevitable sacking. That was the seventh season in a row where they hadn’t tasted defeat in the league to the Lilywhites, the laughing stock of the capital, always stuck in limbo as they bid relive the glory days of the ‘60s.

Well 10 years later, it may not quite be the glory days that Spurs fans had always dreamt about, but they look quite a cut above their North London rivals at this point, two- admittedly far-fetched and ultimately futile- title challenges in the past two seasons, finally finishing above their neighbours for the first time in 22 years last term, by 11 points as well, one could say the balance of power between those two has shifted.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger doesn’t agree though, considering more of an open debate than a forgone conclusion. ‘I think the question about the balance of power in North London is one we have to answer and the only way to answer is on the pitch.’ said the Frenchman. But Wenger did admit that the Gunners have ground to make up ‘with the top teams’, as Arsenal lie four points off their upcoming visitors, and 12 behind leaders Manchester City. Not that he considers his side as underdogs, though, and why would he, the Gunners have won five out of five league games at home this season, scoring fourteen times and keeping three clean sheets, so it bodes well for their clash against Spurs at the Emirates.

‘We have no fear’, says Wenger. ‘We are focused on nullifying their strengths and expressing ours. Tottenham are a good side but we have the quality’.

In a game of such magnitude, it’s hardly down to just quality, a touch of brashness and the willingness to scrap are also requirements, something Arsenal don’t show on frequent occasions against the big guns.

They might need to get down in the mud to dig out a positive result in this one, that fearlessness Wenger boasts of would surely come in handy.

Elsewhere:

  • Second place. Closest challengers to leaders City. Best defence in the league, yet this weekend’s game against Newcastle has the looks of a must-win for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. The good news is Paul Pogba is back in the squad, so is Zlatan Ibrahimović, although the latter is extremely unlikely to feature. A win for the Red Devils, and Newcastle will have lost four in a row, the promising start to the season would start looking a distant memory.
  • Virgil van Dijk is going to Anfield. Although it’s probably not the way the Dutchman would have anticipated at the start of the summer. Despite the endless bouts of speculation linking him to a move to Merseyside and undeniable interest from the Reds, no move materialised. Now Van Dijk will lead out Southampton as they play visitors to Jurgen Klopp’s side, whose opposite number Mauricio Pellegrino would be more worried about Liverpool’s three wins in a row and 10 goals scored. Well, if Pellegrino was the kind of guy who worries, that is.
  • The last time Chelsea played at the Hawthorns, Michy Batshuayi bagged a late winner, Antonio Conte leapt into the arms of his assistants, and Batshuayi tried his hand some photography as the Blues celebrated winning the league title. That was just six months ago, but discomfort isn’t something that dilly-dallies in terms of flying to the Chelsea camp, their win against Manchester United before the International Break was a welcome result with the pressure rising on Conte. Well Antonio, it could be worse, you could be your next opposition manager. Tony Pulis isn’t particularly having a time to cherish in the Midlands at the moment, no wins since August, and the fans unrest over his style of football won’t go away. The Baggies supporters would happily take a ‘shit’ win here, though.
  • And there’s a new era beginning for West Ham. More than a few eyes will be watching to see the Hammers’ first game under David Moyes, away at Watford, who could easily have under a new manager themselves, had the Hornets not rejected Everton’s approach for Marco Silva.  More pressingly, though, they come into this on the back of three defeats in a row.

Fixtures

Arsenal v Tottenham

Crystal Palace v Everton

Watford v West Ham

West Brom v Chelsea

Manchester United v Newcastle

Burnley v Swansea

Brighton v Stoke

Liverpool v Southampton

Bournemouth v Huddersfield

Leicester v Manchester City

Published in International Watch

 

We’ve been here before. Not just once. These days there always seems to be a post-mortem once Arsenal are done with an away trip to the Premier League ‘big boys’, and this was no different. Four goals conceded, no shots on target, looking at sea throughout the encounter. Yet the most immediate, and perhaps most accurate, conclusion was that it should have been a lot worse. Although it would be ridiculously unfair to overlook how scintillating and irresistible Liverpool were, the biggest talking point would always be Arsene Wenger’s side’s capitulation, not for the first time in recent years under the Frenchman’s stewardship. There had been an 8-2 shellacking to Manchester United in 2011, a 6-0 humbling at Chelsea in 2014, the same year in which they were thumped at Anfield as well, by a difference of four goals. But could this be the most damaging? With players still seeking the exit door, it might be. Want-away men Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez- making his first appearance of the season- were shown no reasons why it was worth hanging around, although they hardly made a case for themselves either, while another player with an uncertain future, Mesut Ozil’s most notable act of the match was being on the brink of tears after the final whistle.

The return of Sanchez, which had been arguably the headline in the build-up to the game all week, was seen as a boost to the Gunners, but Wenger left fans scratching their heads with his decision to drop record-buy Alexander Lacazette on the bench. Jurgen Klopp made his own bizarre decision for the hosts, choosing to leave out Simon Mignolet and put Loris Karius in goal- the German’s first league appearance since December- citing that he was simply giving the Belgian a ‘rest’, but on the looks of it, he could have even given Mignolet a rest by putting him in the game. Liverpool began the game well on top, and only a combination of not-so good finishing from their winger Mohammed Salah and a good save from opposing goalkeeper Petr Cech prevented them from going in front inside 10 minutes. But Cech could do nothing on 17 minutes, when Joe Gomez’s inch-perfect cross was met by Roberto Firmino to give the hosts a merited lead. Cech could have done nothing, but the Arsenal defence should have done something. Instead, despite the return of skipper Laurent Koscielny, they stood almost in unison to watch Firmino leap to glance home the opener. Five minutes before the break, it was two, a swift Liverpool counter-attack ended with Sadio Mane scoring a very Sadio Mane goal, his third strike in as many league games. Before then, the game had seen Salah denied by Cech once again, then the linesman’s flag, and a rather comical back-heel by Gunners midfielder Granit Xhaka in front of his own goal which gave away a corner. The visitors had to improve after the break, and for about 10 minutes after the restart it looked like they did, until they won a corner on 57 minutes. Then events transpired, Salah robbed a sloppy Hector Bellerin around the halfway line, and the Egyptian ran half the length of the pitch before finishing with deadly assurance. All that was left was for Daniel Sturridge to come on and score his first goal of the season within two minutes of his entrance, crowning the Reds’ perfect day.

The traveling fans- well those that remained- watched in horror; this is not the first time in recent years they had been subjected to such humiliating conditions. And you wouldn’t begrudge them wondering whether this wouldn’t be the last.

 

Football’s Irksome Rule Strikes Again

97th minute at the Goldsands stadium, Manchester City are being held away at Bournemouth, much to their angst. Then Raheem Sterling scores the latest of late winners and runs into the clutch of the away fans. Such a nice and heart-warming moment, until Sterling returns to the pitch and is shown a second yellow card for over-elaborate celebrations by referee Mike Dean. The irritating rule remains, and in this case it begs two questions. First, the most obvious and recurring one, why are players not allowed to celebrate with the fans who chant their names and pay their wages? Second, why was Sterling the only one cautioned when clearly a herd of City players followed him into the crowd? The Englishman will be suspended for the game against his former club Liverpool, after the International break; the unsavoury end overshadowed a decent game, which had an absolute howitzer from Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels to open the scoring. The Cherries are still waiting for their first point of the season, although the headlines of this game were the dismissal of Sterling, some fans unrest, and a quite interesting conversation between Sergio Aguero and a Matchday steward.

 

Elsewhere:

Leicester City proved to be the biggest test so far, but Manchester United still passed it. They had to wait for the breakthrough, and even missed a penalty, as it looked like being a throwback to one of many games at Old Trafford last season, but eventually the Red Devils found a way past the Foxes. Jose Mourinho’s side are three for three so far; they’ve scored 10 times, and have conceded 10 goals less.

Spurs still can’t get any joy at Wembley. It looked like they would manage to steal three points in a hard-fought and frustrating afternoon against Burnley, until the Clarets’ new boy Chris Wood struck gold for the visitors in the 92nd minute. Another sickening late collapse for the Lilywhites, who need to sort out that national stadium itch. And soon; with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund still to come there.

In the battle of the unrests, Newcastle saw off West Ham with three unreplied goals on Saturday afternoon. It was a more than welcome relief for Rafa Benitez and the Toon, while West Ham are supposedly going to review manager Slaven Bilic’s position during the week, the Hammers lie bottom, pointless and with the worst defence in the league.

Speaking of zero points, Crystal Palace are also in that category, having suffered another home loss, this time to Swansea. The Eagles are yet to even score a league goal under new gaffer Frank de Boer; that philosophy will take a while.

 

Results

Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal

Manchester United 2-0 Leicester

West Brom 1-1 Stoke

Chelsea 2-0 Everton

Bournemouth 1-2 Man City

Newcastle 3-0 West Ham

Watford 0-0 Brighton

Tottenham 1-1 Burnley

Crystal Palace 0-2 Swansea

Huddersfield 0-0 Southampton

Published in International Watch

So they meet once again, Liverpool and Arsenal, having served up so many classics, particularly at Anfield, come face-to-face for the umpteenth time in Merseyside. For Jurgen Klopp’s men, it's a case of continuing their momentum after three straight wins, two of which sealed Champions League group stage qualification, an opportunity they had gotten by pipping Arsenal to fourth spot last term. As for the Gunners, the aim is an immediate response after suffering defeat at Stoke last weekend.  Arsene Wenger has said Alexis Sanchez will be fit for the game; the Chilean, who's been clamouring for a move away from the Emirates, surprisingly started from the bench the last time these two met (a 3-1 Liverpool win March), but it would be of little surprise if his name is not in the starting teamsheet on this occasion. This is a fixture that hardly wants for drama, or goals- there's been 20 of it in the last four Anfield meetings- and though it might be early in the season, there's already a lot riding on this game, particularly considering that Liverpool won at the Emirates on the opening day of the previous campaign and finished above the Gunners by s solitary point. The stakes are high on this one. They always are.

 

Must-Win?

It's probably too early in the season to talk about a crisis, but Newcastle and West Ham clash this weekend aiming to get their seasons up and running; you can almost say both Uniteds are lodged in disharmony. At least one side is guaranteed to their first points(s) on the board, but if the spoils aren't shared the worries are unlikely to ease for the losing side. 

 

Must-Win!

Spurs welcome Burnley to the national stadium, in what should be a record Premier League crowd, although Mauricio Pochettino and his side hope the game will be memorable for another reason.  They need to get that Wembley monkey off their backs real soon, and while talk of a stadium curse might be overblown, failure to beat the Clarets won't bode well.

 

Elsewhere:

Another big test: Everton visit the champions on Sunday, another examination of their new-look Toffees' credentials after a solid point at Manchester City last Monday. Chelsea got back on track at Tottenham last weekend and will be looking for that first home win.

Aspiring champions v dethroned champions: Two wins. Eight goals scored. None conceded.  United look the business so far and will only be boosted by Zlatan Ibrahimovic re-signing for the club. They are likely to face their toughest test yet, when Leicester visit the Theatre of Dreams. The Foxes are certain to have more attacking impetus than United's previous opponents. Craig Shakespeare's team have scored five goals in their first two games.

 

Fixtures

Liverpool v Arsenal

Man Utd v Leicester

Bournemouth v Man City

Chelsea v Everton

Tottenham v Burnley

Newcastle v West Ham

Watford v Brighton

Huddersfield v Southampton

Crystal Palace v Swansea

West Brom v Stoke

Published in International Watch

 

By Kunle Ajao

Hugo Lloris was chock-full of disappointment, feeling a sense of utter frustration having allowed Marcos Alonso’s shot to squirm under him and into the net with three minutes left. Spurs had fought hard to level matters, spending virtually the entire game on the front foot after falling behind midway through the first half, and to concede late on in such manner was a more than bitter pill to swallow, the reaction of the home fans after that moment was one of disbelieving dejection. Spurs had gone into this game with the question hanging over their heads as to whether or not they could get to grips with playing at Wembley, and what better way to answer the question right than beating the champions, who came to the national stadium without three key players, plus a continuously AWOL, sure-to-depart Diego Costa; and, as Antonio Conte had inferred pre-match, rushed Tiemoue Bakayoko into a first start for the club. But it was another man making his first Chelsea start, Alvaro Morata, who would have felt disappointed not to have headed the visitors in front early on from close range. Spurs looked a little flat in the opening 20 minutes and seemed like they needed a wakeup call. And they got one on 24 minutes, Alonso curling in a delightful free-kick beyond a jumping wall and a helpless Lloris in goal. Spurs responded well after that setback, with Chelsea more than happy to sit back and absorb what their hosts would throw at them. It felt like Mauricio Pochettino’s side were constantly tweaking the kind of siege they laid at the Blues goal, first coming up with a handful of fizzed crosses from the flanks, some of which were dealt with by David Luiz, others just racing across the face of goal; then they moved up to testing Thibaut Courtois with a few decent efforts, most of which the Chelsea shot-stopper had little trouble in dealing with. Then when the Belgian goalkeeper was finally beaten five minutes before the break, Harry Kane’s effort rebounded off the base of the post. Spurs began the second period as they ended the first, relentless pressure on the Chelsea backline, but still they had very little to show for it in terms of troubling Courtois, and could have easily conceded a second, but Willian’s shot hit the woodwork in a rare Chelsea attack. That was the Brazilian’s last significant contribution before being withdrawn alongside Morata to make way for Pedro and Michy Batshuayi. Batshuayi in particularly was under pressure to redeem himself following a not-so glamourous start to the season, but his first impact of the game wouldn’t have gone down well with the away fans. From a Christian Eriksen free-kick, the Belgian forward contrived to head the ball into his own goal with 10 minutes left, to draw the game level. Spurs had the wind in their sails and looked the likelier side to grab the winner if one was up for the taking. But events that transpired afterwards gave Spurs supporters every reason to feel like there is a Wembley curse; another rare Chelsea foray forward, Alonso’s low shot, Lloris’ error; Conte went into his usual overdrive. Chelsea had given Spurs the Wembley blues again.

Another Fourmality

You bet Manchester United fans wouldn’t worry about the pun, the bounce in and around the club showed no sign of departing at the weekend, as Swansea were the ones on the receiving end of a quartet of goals this time. It might not have seemed to be heading that way, particularly with the score still 1-0 with 10 minutes left, as the Swans defended stoutly, but after Romelu Lukaku added the second- his fourth in three games for United- the floodgates opened. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial added the gloss on the scoreline, as they did last week. It’s the first time the Red Devils have scored four goals in successive games since April 2014.

The Stoke Test is Still a Thing!

It looked like Arsenal had finally exorcised the ghost of the Brit… Bet365 stadium following their 4-1 win there in May, which meant they arrived at the same ground feeling rather confident, particularly with Stoke and Mark Hughes under pressure, which their manager discarded as rubbish. Sparky had claimed the criticism his side had been receiving was over the top, and if this performance was anything to go by, he’s got a point. Well actually he’s got three points, an early second half goal from debutant Jese giving Stoke their first win of the season, while Arsene Wenger bemoaned his team’s ‘stupid mistakes’ and poor refereeing as the reasons for the defeat. Also, water is wet.

Elsewhere:

Six points. Four goals scored. None conceded. It looks like Huddersfield saved up enough fairy-tale fuel for more than a season. A 50th-minute strike from Aaron Mooy enough to see off Newcastle, whose manager’s case for signing new players seems to be getting more justified as the games go by.

In the weekend of flailing arms, West Ham’s record buy Marko Arnautovic decided to reshape Jack Stephens’ neck with his elbow, with his side a goal down at Southampton. He promptly received his marching and on his way off kicked out in frustration, presumably because he didn’t do as much as damage as he hoped he would. Despite the setback, the Hammers rallied from two goals down, thanks to Javier Hernandez, and were on the cusp of snatching a point when Pablo Zabaleta gave away a penalty- the second one they conceded in that game- in the 92nd minute. They still have zero points to their name.

And in the Burnley v West Brom game, with the match scoreless, substitute Hal Robson-Kanu comes on and breaks the deadlock with 15 minutes left. Robson-Kanu might have spent some of his time on the bench watching the Southampton v West Ham encounter, as minutes after scoring, he also decides to try his elbow at the neck of an opponent. Despite his sending off, West Brom held on for a second consecutive 1-0 win. Just the way Tony Pulis likes it.

 

Results

Tottenham 1-2 Chelsea

Bournemouth 0-2 Watford

Burnley 0-1 West Brom

Liverpool 1-0 Crystal Palace

Swansea 0-4 Manchester United

Leicester 2-0 Brighton

Southampton 3-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 1-0 Newcastle

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal

Monday Night Football: Manchester City v Everton

Published in International Watch

 

How will Spurs cope with playing at Wembley?’ has been the question asked by many after it was confirmed that the Lilywhites will use the national stadium for their home games while their new stadium is being completed. The query came about following the less than stellar performances and results from Mauricio Pochettino’s side at that ground last season, which was arguably responsible for their Champions League group-stage elimination (two defeats) and their Europa League round of 32 exit to Gent, and it was where they lost the FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea. Coincidentally, it’s Chelsea who will be the first side to visit Spurs at Wembley in the Premier League, the champions making the short trip as they seek to kick-start their season, after losing their first game, a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Burnley doing nothing to quell the malaise going on at the Blues’ camp, the Diego Costa situation still unresolved and Antonio Conte still demanding more signings. Chelsea will be without the injured Eden Hazard, suspended duo Cesc Fabregas and Gary Cahill, while they’re still sweating over the fitness of summer arrival Tiemoue Bakayoko; although Victor Moses returns for the champions, after missing the defeat last Saturday. The Blues haven’t won away at Tottenham in four games, and have just one win in 11, but those were at White Hart Lane, and Spurs’ hopes of re-creating the old ground’s atmosphere at Wembley will not have been helped by the restriction placed on ticket purchases- some 20000 tickets won’t be sold for the game. But the bigger issue is how comfortable the hosts will feel at their temporarily new home, particularly in terms of their high-pressing game, while for Chelsea it’s about avoiding talk of any sort of crisis at the club. It may be early in the season, and it may not quite be as defining, but it could be a blueprint of things to come.

 

Elsewhere:

First big test for two new-look teams: On Monday night Manchester City and Everton meet at the Etihad stadium, in what might be a first indication of how strong both teams are. Both sides have spent big in the transfer window, both sides won their opening games in solid if not unspectacular fashion, and both sides are aiming to make significant progress from the previous campaigns. The Toffees haven’t lost in any of their last two league games here, but they haven’t won in six either.

The most unwelcome of guests: Crystal Palace travel to Anfield on Saturday, seeking a fourth win there in succession. And they could do with it, after last weekend’s humbling against newly-promoted Huddersfield; there’s still more than a few teething problems early in the Frank de Boer era, but Liverpool are always vulnerable, as Jurgen Klopp’s men showed at Vicarage Road last weekend.

The most haunting of trips: Well it used to be, until last season, when Arsenal thumped four past Stoke at the Bet365 stadium (the name’s still terrible). The Gunners make the trip to the Midlands on Saturday evening aiming for two wins out of two in the new season, something they haven’t quite managed since the 2009/10 campaign. Stoke meanwhile need to get some points on board before the pressure on Mark Hughes- the bookies favourite to get the sack- reaches altitude.

And at Turf Moor that same day, Burnley host West Brom in what could potentially be the weekend’s most boring game. Or maybe not; both teams- who won last weekend- have shared eight goals in their last two meetings in Lancashire. Don’t bet the house on an all-action packed encounter though.

 

Fixtures

Saturday

12:30: Swansea v Manchester United

15:00: Liverpool v Crystal Palace

Southampton v West Ham

Leicester v Brighton

Burnley v West Brom

Bournemouth v Watford

17:00: Stoke v Arsenal

Sunday

13:30: Huddersfield v Newcastle

16:00: Tottenham v Chelsea

 Monday

20:00: Manchester City v Everton

Published in International Watch

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