The end of the season: such a routine time, where the expected play themselves out: some teams reveal kits for the new season (yes, you, Everton), Manager XYZ says he’s leaving club XYZ at the close of the campaign, a tearful farewell follows the departure of a long-serving cult hero at a club, and Real Madrid win the Champions League (just typical).

Oh, right, and also, supposed writers run out of gas and opt to take a look at those Premier League players who might well switch clubs at the end of the season (or June 30 in Football-Managerish). It’s the ti…errr.. like I said, out of gas. So, straight to it then. Who are those players you could just about bet on to switch clubs after the season is read its last rites?

Arsenal

It’s likely there’ll be a raft of changes at the Emirates come the end of the season, the biggest one being the departure of Arsene Wenger. After 22 years, the French gaffer will call time on his Arsenal tenure at the end of the campaign, and it’s not unlikely that some players will also depart. Jack Wilshere’s contract runs out at the end of the season, as does the recuperating Santi Cazorla (although there’s an option of a one-year extension for him), while there are rumours linking Hector Bellerin with a move away. And with a new manager coming in, there’s expected to be a squad shake-up. No rest for the Arsenal revolving door in the summer, then.

Bournemouth

With first team opportunities hard to come by lately, Artur Boruc might well move on at the end of his contract in the summer. Harry Arter remains linked with the exit door, the rumours putting West Ham in front of the queue. Marc Pugh and Rhoys Wiggins are also out of contract at the end of the season.

Brighton

There’s always a worry for the Seagulls that bigger guns might come calling for Pascal Gross, who has been involved in 44% of the team’s goals in the Premier League this season. Liam Rosenior and Steve Sidwell will have no contracts once the season ends, and are likely to be moved on. Same might go for Niki Maenpaa and Uwe Hunemeier.

Burnley

There’s the big Burnley conundrum in terms of who’ll be in goal next season. Tom Heaton is arguably the best English goalkeeper in the league, but having been side-lined for most of this season, his deputy in Nick Pope hasn’t done too badly, even managing to force his way into World Cup contention. Both are good for number one spots at club level, and come next term, it’s likely one would move in search of it. Stephen Ward and Dean Marney are out of contract soon, while Scott Arfield has already agreed to join Rangers (no, not the one in Enugu).

Chelsea

It’s not Chelsea if there’s no forthcoming change for a new season once an old one is coming to a close, and this term looks to be no different.  Antonio Conte looks as likely to stay at Stamford Bridge next season as pigs are to fly, Chelsea are reportedly in talks with other managers already, and this- coupled with the fact that Champions League football for the next campaign is unlikely, means changes to the playing staff as well. David Luiz has spent most of this season- injury or otherwise- out of the team, Danny Drinkwater’s time at the club looks to be coming to an end, and it remains to be seen whether Tiemoue Bakayoko would get another season to get into shape, while backup goalkeepers Willy Caballero and Eduardo are out of contract in the summer. The big question is whether Eden Hazard would stick around for a second season with European elite football in three years. One thing’s for certain, though: there’ll be lots of loanees, as always.

Crystal Palace

Palace’s problematic position for the past couple of years has been in goal, with the men between the sticks having rarely convinced. All three are about to be out of contract, though, as Julian Speroni, Wayne Hennessey and Diego Cavalieri are bound to be free agents by the end of the season (although Vicente Guaita is due to join from Getafe). There’s also bound to be a hairy transfer window for the Eagles, with Wilfred Zaha likely to be subject of speculation, while there’s uncertainty surrounding Christian Benteke- even if he has said he intends to stay. Joel Ward, James McArthur, Bakary Sako, Lee Chung-Yong, Damien Delaney, Yohan Cabaye and Martin Kelly are also out of contract soon (I know right, too long).

Everton

There’s bound to be another busy summer for the Toffees, not least in terms of the exit door, likely starting with manager Sam Allardyce himself. The likes of Sandro Ramirez, Davy Klaassen and Cuco Martina are likely to be moved on after just a season, while fans would pay to drive Ashley Williams away. Joel Robles becomes a free agent once the season ends.

Huddersfield

Errr…. Not much to talk about here. Dean Whitehead and Rob Green are soon to become free agents, but (not to sound mean) who’d really miss them? Aaron Mooy might attract clubs in the summer. 

Leicester

Goalkeeper Ben Hamer runs out of contract at the end of the season, as does Robert Huth, who’s been out of the side this season thanks to a combination of injury and Harry Maguire. Riyad Mahrez has reportedly revoked his transfer request, but his case is still tagged under ‘remains to be seen’. Currently out on loan players Leo Ulloa, Islam Slimani, and long-serving Andy King are likely to also move on. As is customary at the time of the season, Claude Puel is reportedly likely to be dismissed.

Liverpool

The big transfer issue for Liverpool, since Philippe Coutinho said bye, has been Emre Can, who runs out of contract in the summer. The injured German is under Juventus’ radar, and there have been reports of a deal being signed with the Italian club. The right-back position looks rather clogged, and one of Nathaniel Clyne, Joe Gomez, and Trent Alexander-Arnold might well move on, something Daniel Sturridge would also be considering. James Milner and Alberto Moreno can also leave on a free at the end.

Manchester City

Who’d wanna leave? Okay, Yaya Toure has confirmed his departure at the end of the season, while loanee Eliaquim Mangala’s contract runs out. Joe Hart would also return from his temporary stint at West Ham, but surely be on the way out again.

Manchester United

Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw. The young left-back has been subject of some finger-pointing by manager Jose Mourinho, and there wouldn’t be a shortage of clubs coming in for English defender, who’s departure from Old Trafford seems inevitable. Michael Carrick retires at the end of the season, Anthony Martial remains linked with the exit door, while Marouane Fellaini’s contract issue remains unresolved. Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind are also bound to leave. Have I mentioned Luke Shaw?

Newcastle

Most of the Magpies’ squad is still comprised of their Championship side, even if some of them don’t appear on the pitch. Much depends on whether or not players arrive, although the likes of fringe players in Jesus Gamez, Curtis Good and Massadio Haidara, as well as loanee Tim Krul, are all out of contract at the season’s close.

Southampton

The future of a few players, and perhaps the manager, depends on whether the Saints can avoid the drop (which is likely), while Sofiane Boufal is likely to move after his exile by Mark Hughes. Jeremy Pied and Stuart Taylor are soon to no longer have contracts.

Stoke City

With relegation having been confirmed, clear-outs are not unlikely. Xherdan Shaqiri is unlikely to follow the club to the Championship, same goes for Joe Allen (picture Brendan Rodgers in Glasgow with open arms). Glenn Johnson, Jakob Haugaard, Stephen Ireland and Charlie Adam all run out of contracts soon, but dropping them a tier might make the team reconsider.

Swansea City

Another side whose players’ futures might hinge on whether or not they go down, although Alfie Mawson is likely to have a busy summer no matter what. The likes of Martin Olsson and especially Lukasz Fabianski are bound to move on should relegation be the case, while Ki Sung-Yeung is out of contract and has been linked with AC Milan, while long-serving veterans Leon Britton and Angel Rangel are also soon to be free agents.

Tottenham

It’s the stuff of mini-battles at Tottenham, with the likes of Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld seemingly on the losing side of off-the-pitch tussles with manager Mauricio Pochettino. Both have a fair amount of suitors, and both are likely to be moved on. There are also rumours of Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama leaving, while Fernando Llorente might consider the exit door considering the (lack of) playing he has had. Backup goalie Michel Vorm is soon to be out of contract.

Watford

It’s not Watford if you don’t expect change at the end of the season. Manager Javi Gracia only arrived in January (on an 18-month contract), yet there are more than a few suggestions that he might be shown the door once the season reaches its close, especially with their usual end-of-season form. Any potential managerial change is always likely to lead to changes in the playing staff as well, so expect departures as well as arrivals- some Hornets fans might bite your hand off for the opportunity to drive away the inconsistent Etienne Capoue. Miguel Britos is out of contract at the end of the campaign.

West Brom

With relegation now sealed, there’s going to be changes at the Hawthorns, beginning with the managerial post. Ben Foster has declared his intention to stay even in the Championship, but clubs are surely going to come for defender Johnny Evans; Salomon Rondon has done his reputation little harm, and will lure admirers, while the likes of Nacer Chadli and Jay Rodriguez might remain in the top-flight with someone else. Chris Brunt might stick around, but his contract is currently due to expire at the season’s end, same goes for Gareth Barry, James Morrison, Gareth McAuley, Claudio Yacob and Boaz Myhill.

West Ham

If the fans had their way, the changes would begin from the boardroom. They might well settle for the departure of manager David Moyes, whose short-term contract runs out at the end of the season. Same applies for James Collins and Patrice Evra, the latter of whom is unlikely to get any renewal. Expect Robert Snodgrass to depart almost as soon as he returns from his loan at Aston Villa.

Published in International Watch

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

Rewind back to a fortnight ago. Manchester City, one league defeat to their name all-season, and four in all competitions- two of which were inconsequential, prepared for a weekend game at Everton. A win there would give them the chance to confirm the league title at home to neighbours Manchester United, and though their record at Goodison had been a bit underwhelming, on the evidence of this season, victory there looked a sure-fire certainty. And so it proved; by halftime City were in command, the win already in the bag, now it was United next, but first a Champions League quarter-final first leg across Merseyside awaited.

But a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, after a chaotic 19-minute period, had them staring at European exit. Nevertheless, there was still the chance to win the league in front of United, and by halftime in the Mancunian derby they were two up, in control, and should have been out of sight. Yet, almost inexplicably, they managed to turn a position of complete dominance into utter desperation, this time it was a 16-minute period, and their 2-0 advantage became a 2-3 deficit, that they would never recover from. There was more misery to come in Europe again, as, despite City threatening a comeback with a fast start and a dominant first half, they would suffer another loss to Liverpool. Suddenly, in the space of six days, Pep Guardiola’s men have gone from near-invincible to a pack of cards, the tendency to fold all too common now.

It might well have been different, with the ever-so-common what might have been situations: what would have happened had Pep not set them up to be short-handed at Liverpool and if they didn’t panic in that first half at the back. What would have happened if Raheem Sterling had buried those first half chances against United. What would have happened if Leroy Sane hadn’t been wrongly disallowed by the linesman’s flag in the second leg against Liverpool. But that’s the thing about what might have been situations, they never happened, and because they never happened, in the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is that City are out of the Champions League, and haven’t won the league yet. They might not even do it this weekend, even with a win, but it’s just as important to find a response to a troubled week, as they face another tough test.

In terms of what might have been, none will be wondering this season than Spurs. What might have been: had they started the season well at Wembley; had they not had that torrid run in November and December; had they not been caught napping by Juventus in the Champions League in March. Yet here they are, unbeaten in 14 league games, 20 domestic outings, but have nothing more than a top four spot and a semi-final place in the FA Cup to show for it. They are well lodged in a top four place, despite their November-December scare, 10 points behind fifth-placed Chelsea, level on points with third-placed Liverpool, but having played a game less; even second place is not unrealistic, only four points separate them from United. A win at Wembley this weekend, and they all but seal their place in the Champions League next season, a win and they keep pace with Manchester United, a win and they retain their advantage over Liverpool.

A win, also, and they would have beaten all the sides in the top six at Wembley bar one. For all the talk of how much the stadium would be a drawback (and it did start like it), Liverpool, Man United and Arsenal have all tasted defeat here, and not just defeats, deserved defeats which probably should have been by even greater margins, only Chelsea managed to nick a win in August. They will be full of confidence going into this game, thanks to their form and the fact that City look like they’re there for the taking, like they can fold with the littlest form of pressure, and there’s what the league leaders need to avoid, the growing sense of invulnerability, the fear factor perhaps diminishing, the psychological beating of teams perhaps been chiselled away. It’s the sort of reputation that sort have built so far this season, and wouldn’t want to trample so late in it. A win here and they would have won away at Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs in the same season, a rare feat. More importantly, though, a commanding win here, and the sneers are discarded.

Elsewhere:

  • Separated by seven points and five places, Stoke’s chances of catching West Ham, not too dissimilar with their chances of survival, look like they will boil down to their Monday night trip to the London Stadium. They’ve won only once in 10 games under Paul Lambert, and have a knack for not scoring. Get one here early, though, and they might just benefit from a potentially tempestuous atmosphere.
  • In another game with potentially massive consequences at the bottom end of the table, it’s derby day as Brighton travel to Crystal Palace. Chris Hughton’s side are within touching distance, even though they passed up quite an opportunity against Huddersfield last weekend. A win this time, and they would be on the cusp of survival, not to mention the added bonus of keeping their 17th-placed rivals firmly in the mire.
  • Mark Hughes would have had cause for optimism over Southampton’s performance at Arsenal last weekend (who wouldn’t), but as they host Chelsea on Saturday lunch-time, the question isn’t whether they can kick on but rather bag wins, even draws will hardly help their cause anymore. Chelsea’s semi-crisis wasn’t helped by last weekend’s stalemate against West Ham. At least one of these team’s worries will find little relief this weekend.
  • Oh, and there’s every chance Mohammed Salah would continue his scoring spree as Liverpool host Bournemouth. Shame that he’ll miss out on the golden boot, given all of Tottenham’s goals from now till the end of the season are likely to be awarded to Harry Kane.
  • And in what’s basically a Europa League play-off, Burnley play host Leicester City. Who’d have thought that in September?

Fixtures

Tottenham v Manchester City

Liverpool v Bournemouth

Manchester United v West Brom

Crystal Palace v Brighton

West Ham v Stoke

Swansea v Everton

Southampton v Chelsea

Burnley v Leicester

Huddersfield v Watford

Newcastle v Arsenal

Published in International Watch

Peter Shreeves. Doug Livermore. Ray Clemence. Osvaldo Ardiles. Steve Perryman. Gerry Francis. Chris Hughton. Christian Gross. David Pleat. Glenn Hoddle. Jacques Santini. Martin Jol. Juande Ramos. Harry Redknapp. Andre Villas-Boas. Tim Sherwood. Even Mauricio Pochettino had had three previous tries and failed. But he’s the one who finally broke that jinx, it’s in his tenure that the ghost has been laid to rest. That Tottenham finally came to Stamford Bridge and left with all three points. That the Spurs fans were able to look in delirious disbelief as Dele Alli raced away celebrating the side’s third goal, that they could out-sing the home crowd.

‘It was very good’ said Pochettino. ‘For our fans it was fantastic to feel again the victory after 28 years’. And the fans certainly felt it- why wouldn’t they? They had felt a fair bit when it comes to playing against Chelsea. Before November 2006, they went on a drought of beating Chelsea- either home or away- and it was a feeling of relief mixed with joy when Michael Dawson and Aaron Lennon scored the goals to beat the Blues back then. It was Chelsea who confirmed that the title would slip away with that draw in 2016, Chelsea who were the only side to finish above them in the league last season, and knocked them out of the FA Cup, Chelsea who denied them League Cup glory in 2015, Chelsea whose Champions League triumph in 2012 rendered their fourth place that year to be irrelevant. Even at times when they managed a draw at the Bridge, it seemed like worse, so this was always going to taste gloriously in their mouths.

The story for the Lilywhites against Chelsea had been a little routine lately, Spurs would dominate and be on the front foot, then the Blues would snatch the lead, and it was little different here, as Alvaro Morata capitalised on some poor judgment from Hugo Lloris to head home Victor Moses’ cross and put the hosts in front. That sinking feeling at the Bridge seemed to be rearing its cruel head, but on the stroke of halftime Christian Eriksen would restore parity, a superb dipping shot that had Willy Caballero stranded in goal. ‘I wasn’t always confident of scoring from that range but I was definitely going for it and trying to hit it’ said the Dane, whose goal wouldn’t have happened had Alli not shown persistent to chase a seemingly lost ball.

Alli was particularly impressive on the day, and his display came at the right time, when they had been questions over his form and whether h would be a starter in the World Cup. ‘It’s great’ said the midfielder ‘It’s always nice to win so I’m feeling good’. He certainly felt good in the 63rd minute, when he raced onto a delightful Eric Dier pass and saw his shot go in off the post. Then it got better three minutes after, after Caballero had denied Son Heung-Min twice in succession, Alli was quick enough to get the ball under his feet and find the net for his second, for another big win this season.

The victory also puts them eight points clear of the Blues in the top four race, with seven games left, just about granting a third successive top four spot. Trophies or no trophies, it highlights Spurs’ development once more, big wins have come this term, over Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Dortmund (twice), and now this. Mental blocks are being broken, and steel is being formed at the heart of this side, plus they still have a cup semi-final to look ahead to. Not that Poch is ready to relax. ‘For me it’s not enough’ he said. ‘We need to be focused and fight to the end, trying to win games’

At the moment they are winning them, and they are winning them big.

Blues on the rack

That result now means Chelsea have a mountain to climb in terms of getting into the top four this season. Antonio Conte has said he’ not worried about his future, and the club will keep fighting, but there wasn’t much fight in them today, especially in defence. That FA Cup tie in two weeks is starting to look more and more important.

Elsewhere:

  • They were boos at the London Stadium, but this time it was from the away fans, as West Ham made light work of Southampton. A brace from Marko Arnautovic clearly meant a big deal to him on the day, especially with Mark Hughes as the opposing manager. For Sparky, it was a torrid start to Premier League life with the Saints. They are in danger of being cut adrift.
  • It was the kind of game where Liverpool would fail to win in the past, as they would try but would have to settle for a point, and questions would be asked over their mettle. But who needs grit when you have Mo Salah.
  • 0, 0, 0, 0, 2, 4, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 1. That’s the sequence of goals for Huddersfield in their last 13 league games. Eight scored, in four games, including Saturday’s loss at Newcastle where they barely threatened. With the kind of run-in they finish the season with, this may well cost them.
  • Manchester City win a game. Manchester City win a game comfortably. Manchester City dominate the opposition to the near state of submission. Is that now starting to sound… boring? It was a first win for Pep Guardiola over Everton. Another victory in the league confirms the title. It’s derby day next weekend.
  • And if you think Eriksen’s goal was good (which you do), check out Ashley Barnes’ for Burnley against West Brom as well. Wow!

Results

Chelsea 1-2 Tottenham

Newcastle 1-0 Huddersfield

West Brom 1-2 Burnley

West Ham 3-0 Southampton

Brighton 0-2 Leicester

Arsenal 3-0 Stoke

Manchester United 2-0 Swansea

Watford 2-2 Bournemouth

Everton 1-3 Manchester City

Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool

Published in International Watch

Cast your minds back to May 2nd, 2016, which shouldn’t be that hard once you consider that night was when the ‘Battle of Stamford Bridge’ happened. Spurs, needing a win to keep track with log leaders Leicester City, raced into a two-goal halftime lead, but Chelsea fired back with two second-half strikes, to salvage a draw, and send the title to Leicester. It was a day that still tastes bitter to Spurs fans, and hasn’t quite being avenged, as last season saw them get ousted from the FA Cup semis at by the Blues at Wembley, where they also suffered a late defeat to the champions earlier this season.

On Sunday, though, may lie Spurs’ chance of exacting some form of vengeance, as they travel to the Bridge, visitors to Chelsea, who are five points behind their opponents in the battle for a top four spot. For Chelsea, the need for a win here can hardly be over-estimated, lose here and they’ll be eight points behind Spurs with seven games left. Even a draw would serve little purpose to the champions.

‘This is an important game for us’ says Antonio Conte, who has seen his side record only three league wins in 2018. It was only in December that they were in second place, primed to win their Champions League group, still in the League Cup. But things haven’t gone so smoothly since then, they failed to win their European group, which played a key part in their elimination earlier this month, by then they had already been out of the League Cup, and out of the top four. They did manage to progress in the FA Cup, and have a semi-final against Southampton to look forward to, but finishing inside the Champions League spots is the bigger priority.

The Blues do have history on their side, the last time Tottenham won here, Nelson Mandela was still in jail (albeit for one more day), but Spurs have the present, in terms of form. Not since December have they lost a domestic game, they also have an FA Cup semi to look forward to, and even without Harry Kane, have firepower upfront to trouble a defensively-suspect Chelsea side, particularly in Son Heung-Min. The Korean has 12 goals this season, including four in his last two league games, and is likely to be handful for the backline, especially a rather rusty Gary Cahill, who’s almost certain to come in for a side-lined Andreas Christensen.

Chelsea don’t quite have their fate in their own hands, but have a big shout, considering they host third-placed Liverpool as well, not long after this, and Spurs still have to play Manchester City. But this game is one they need to win, in terms of both closing the gap and gaining momentum. It’s a tiny window for the Blues, nigh-on unmissable.

Elsewhere:

  • It’s a meeting of two teams either side of that dotted line on Saturday, as Southampton travel to West Ham. For Southampton, their slide this season has been a tad overlooked as it has been underwhelming, although they did win in the FA Cup Sixth Round, Mark Hughes’ first game in charge. Now it’s Sparky’s first league game in charge, and, given the Saints’ final run-in for the season, it’s just about a must-win for the side currently occupying the final relegation spot. West Ham, meanwhile, play their first game since their co-owners escaped from the angry mob in that tempestuous home loss to Burnley, and this one is at the London Stadium again. They’ve lost their last three games, conceding a total of 11 goals in that time. There’s likely to not be much fan support on the day, yet anything other than a win is unthinkable.
  • It’s the first of two potentially title-clinching games for Manchester City, as they go to Goodiso Parkn this weekend. Win there, and there’s the opportunity of confirming the league against Manchester United next weekend. Their record at this ground is hardly inspiring, though, two wins in over a decade, although both victories came in their last four meetings, and Everton are having such a shoddy season. A win is hardly unlikely.

Fixtures

Chelsea v Tottenham

Watford v Bournemouth

Manchester United v Swansea

Everton v Manchester City

Arsenal v Stoke

West Ham v Southampton

West Brom v Burnley

Newcastle v Huddersfield

Crystal Palace v Liverpool

Brighton v Leicester

Published in International Watch

And amidst the fog and mist, it was gone. Paris Saint-Germain’s assault at another Champions League season has suffered another premature exit. Like the previous campaigns,  the exit was early, signalled the French big-spenders as still behind the European elite, and casts the future of their manager right into question. But unlike most of the past seasons, this was less of a valiant effort, and more like a tame surrender.

Last season’s incredible exit at the hands of Barcelona at this stage, as jaw-dropping and eye-widening as it was, still witnessed a fair amount of fight from Le Parisiens, their first leg win was an indication of how good they could now be. This term, however, against Real Madrid, it was a bit of a let-down. French paper L’Equipe’s headline on Wednesday morning translated as ‘All that, for that?’. For all the money spent, the transfer records shattered, the acquisition of arguably a Ballon D’Or winner in the waiting, and the world’s most sought-after teenager, the thrashing of Bayern Munich in September, this was the best they could produce? 

For the most part of the first leg, PSG were the better side, but a rather bizarre substitution midway through the second half seemingly cost them, leaving them with a 3-1 deficit to overturn in Paris. There were messages to the crowd, and messages from the crowd ahead of the return fixture, PSG were going to be without their star man in Neymar, but they still had a top quality side, Angel Di Maria was Neymar’s replacement, Giovani Lo Celso was dropped for Thiago Motta, and skipper Thiago Silva came back into the side for Presnel Kimpembe, all changes from the first leg.

They did try to put Real in the back foot in the first period, but the best they could muster was a few good-looking Di Maria crosses that were dealt with by Raphael Varane. Unai Emery and his side were perhaps lucky not to have conceded in the opening 35 minutes, Alphonse Areola denying Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema on separate occasions, even if at the other end Keylor Navas was called upon to foil Kylian Mbappe and Di Maria.

Goalless it finished in the first half, PSG still needed two, and demonstrated their urgency early in the second half, when Thiago Silva appealed to the fans to ease on the flares, which caused referee Felix Brych to abruptly halt proceedings. PSG knew the work they had to do up front, but if they had forgotten that there was also work to do at the back, they were reminded when Cristiano Ronaldo flashed a header wide. It wasn’t a warning they seemed to take note of, though, as when Dani Alves played them into trouble in the 57th minute, Marco Asensio found Lucas Vazquez. A cross, a Ronaldo header and a knee slide followed, the Portuguese captain’s 12th Champions League goal of the season had broken the deadlock.

Now PSG needed three goals to just about force extra time, but they were making little inroads, and only the post prevented Asensio from putting them further behind. Still, for a side with such quality and having scored 104 goals this season, three might not such a hard ask, if only Marco Verratti didn’t go and get himself sent off for dissent, which was exactly what he did.

Now Mission Impossible looked like Mission as Good as Dead, but they would pull a goal back, Edinson Cavani deflecting home after Casemiro had deflected Javier Pastore’s header. Now it was only two more that was needed, on came Julian Draxler, but to little effect.

With 11 minutes left, Vazquez crossed into the box, Adrien Rabiot made a poor clearance, Casemiro’s follow up shot hit Marquinhos, wrong footed Areola, and bounced in. Real Madrid were through; with some ease. Los Blancos showed themselves to be at the kind of level that PSG strive to be. As Emery shook hands with opposite number Zinedine Zidane, he surely feared his time at the French Capital has been numbered.

Elsewhere:

  • 1-0 up on the night, 3-2 on aggregate, with the opposition needing to score twice and you well in control. Then suddenly, it all went South for Spurs, quickly too. First Stephane Lichtsteiner found the head of Sami Khedira, whose header was turned home by Gonzalo Higuain. Then Higuain turned provider, as Paulo Dybala raced past the Spurs defence and finished past Hugo Lloris with aplomb. All that was left for Juve to defend a lead, a job they do so well, as one they did here. Tottenham have claimed scalps over Dortmund and Real Madrid this season, but this is where their European journey ends.
  • It was a case of salvaging some pride for Basel, and that they did, as after fallen behind to Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus opener, goals from Mohamed Elyounoussi and Michael Lang secured a 2-1 win. A well-reshuffled City side suffered their first loss at home this season, not that it mattered much in context, but is still likely to bring some dressing room ire from Pep.

Results:

PSG 1(2)-(5)2 Real Madrid 

Manchester City 1(5)-(2)2 Basel

Tottenham 1(3)-(4)2 Juventus 

Liverpool 0(5)-(0)0 Porto

Published in International Watch

First Newport, now Rochdale, as another lower league side has fashioned out a stalemate at home to Tottenham, and earned a Wembley replay.

It seemed like heartbreak for Dale and Keith Hill, after Harry Kane’s late penalty put Spurs in front, but the League One side would not lie down, and in stoppage time grabbed a remarkable equaliser. Perhaps on other occasions, they might have been down and out, crestfallen to a state of deflation, at the sight of conceding a late goal against such a top side; and perhaps those occasions would be ones where Spurs don’t play their home games at Wembley.

Like a top class concert where only few can attend, playing away at Spurs seems like the equivalent of winning a raffle, if you can’t get there the routine way, why not some other way?

Considering the fact that playing at Wembley is supposed to be a unique occasion, the prospect of turning up there seems to be spurring on the lower-tier sides to earn a trip to the national stadium, it’s almost not about qualifying for the next round for these lads, as it is about just being there. The spectacle, the sense of occasion, the media attention, not to mention the revenue, seems to be factored in by these teams below the elite level, and Spurs are finding it hard to deny them the luxury of traveling to the capital.

It’s not inconceivable that Spurs will negotiate the replay with ease against Rochdale, a result that could lead to a potential tie with Sheffield Wednesday. Rinse, repeat? 

Published in International Watch

In the end it petered out. A game that started so ferociously in Turin and with Tottenham on the verge of early capitulation ended in a rather drawn-out fashion, and with Spurs having delivered another solid statement against an elite European side.

Mauricio Pochettino and his side had already beaten Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in this season’s Champions League, but this was probably a much harder, they were up against a Juventus side that had won 10 games in row, conceded only once in 16 games (none in 2018), and had won 50 of their last 55 home games in all competitions, fortress-like. Spurs knew they had to be wary, but after only two minutes they seemed careless, caught napping from a free-kick, as Miralem Pjanic played in Gonzalo Higuain, whose wonderful shot on the turn sent the home fans into early cacophony. But if 1-0 down after 200 seconds seemed bad, then two down after eight minutes was just as horrible, Ben Davies with a reckless challenge on Federico Bernadeschi, and Higuain’s resulting penalty found the net via the gloves of Hugo Lloris.

Spurs were suddenly in trouble, their impressive form before this game, as well as their group stage performances, seemed long in the memory; but they weren’t about to lie down, as they took charge and put Juve on the back foot, only a wonderful Mehdi Benatia interception prevented Christian Eriksen from playing in Harry Kane. And when Eriksen did find Kane afterwards, the latter’s point-blank headers was beaten away by Gigi Buffon.

Spurs’ attacking forays, mixed with a tinge of desperation, were always likely to leave them vulnerable at the back, and so it proved, although Higuain could only fire a shot just narrowly wide after a Bianconeri break. Spurs had ridden their luck, and would claw themselves back in the game- and the tie- with less than 10 minutes of the first half left; Eriksen caught Giorgio Chiellini in possession, then Dele Alli slipped in Kane, who rounded Buffon and filled an empty net. Now the deficit had been halved, and Spurs had an away goal to boot, but when Serge Aurier recklessly tripped Douglas Costa in the box for a second Juve penalty, all seemed lost. Except it wasn’t. Higuain blasted the kick from 12 yards onto the bar, referee Felix Brych blew his whistle, and half time came.

Pochettino spoke on the need for Spurs to remain calm after the game, and they were calm during, as they had to bide their time in the second period in their search for an equaliser. It came in the 72nd minute, Eriksen’s low free-kick bamboozling Buffon, who didn’t quite get a strong enough hand, and had to watch the ball find its way into the bottom corner. The action seemed to die down after this, Lloris making a couple of saves from Bernadeschi the biggest highlight, and Pochettino made his three changes all inside the final 10 minutes, proof of him being content, at least, with the draw.

The Spurs manager did describe things in the dressing room as a little angry after the game, but Spurs had a mounted a superb fightback here, the first side to score against Juventus in over 21 hours of football, and erased a seemingly unassailable two-goal deficit.

They’ll have undoubted optimism for the second leg in three weeks’ time, not to mention an advantage, however slim.

Elsewhere:

  • Marcelo couldn’t help himself, as he slid towards Zinedine Zidane in the Real Madrid dugout with less than five minutes to play, the left-back whose fall earlier in the game seemed to have alarm bells ringing, health-wise. Those bells were definitely in sync, when, in the 34th minute, Adrien Rabiot got on to a Neymar flick to put Paris Saint-Germain in front. Real did respond before halftime, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a penalty after Toni Kroos had been fouled by Giovani Lo Celso. Ronaldo added his- and Real’s- second with eight minutes left, bundling home after a cross from substitute Marco Asensio, and Asensio was at it again moments after, another cross, another goal, this time from Marcelo as Real ensured they’ll take a 3-1 lead to Paris. As Unai Emery watched on with a grim face, it wasn’t hard to tell that his job is likely to depend on what happens three weeks from now.
  • For the first 28 minutes, Basel proved to be something of a match for Manchester City, then Ilkay Gundogan headed them in front, and for the final 72, it just seemed like torture for the Swiss champions. 0-4 loss at home; they did give a decent account themselves overall, but put it this way: when Taulant Xhaka (brother of Arsenal’s Granit) reached the yellow cards limit after being booked for upending Kevin de Bruyne in the 37th minute, it was clear that that was his last game of this Champions League season.
  • It’s also, barring a Quidditch-like Golden Snitch capture of a second leg, the end of the road for Porto, as they were taken apart on home soil by Liverpool, whose fab three were on song again; Sadio Mane bagging a hatrick, while Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah were just as impressive. At some point, their attacking dominance will stop being news.

Results

Juventus 2-2 Tottenham

Basel 0-4 Manchester City

Real Madrid 3-1 PSG

Porto 0-5 Liverpool

Published in International Watch

SpotkickNG

 

As the most memorable aspect of February rolls around (sit down, Valentine’s Day), spotkick’s trusted pick up their crystal balls and cast their predictions on which teams will remain when 16 gets trimmed to eight in the Champions League:

Ola Fadahunsi 

Man City vs Basel

City have been one of the best sides in Europe this season; the tie with Basel should be a banana peel.

City, duh! 

Juventus vs Tottenham

Spurs made a good statement by topping Madrid in the group stage but Juventus' experience in Europe should see them above the North London side.

Juve to knock out Spurs

Porto vs Liverpool

The oddity here is Liverpool qualifying if history is anything to go by. But I will still stick with the Merseyside Red.

Liverpool for me

Real Madrid vs PSG 

Madrid are going into this tie with little or nothing to lose as many have written them off - thus putting enormous pressure on PSG. I doubt PSG's ability to contain this pressure even with their star-studded side led by Neymar: last year's exit to Barcelona at this stage is a perfect example.

I still think Real will qualify.

Chelsea vs Barcelona

The Blues' strength playing Barca over the years has been how solid they've been at the back but this year’s tie will be different - as Barca's strongest household has been their back line and when you sync that with what Messi and Suarez can offer upfront, Chelsea will bow out in style.

Barcelona to progress

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Consistency has been a problem for the two sides but i think United have more than enough to deal with whatever Sevilla would be throwing at them.

United to go through. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

An even tie. Against all odds, Roma made it pass group stage - topping both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, but if you've been a follower of the UCL for years, you'll know how dangerous Shaktar can be in games like this. As a lover of history, I'll give it to Shakhtar

 

Kunle Ajao

Juventus v Tottenham

Spurs have delivered much better than expected in this season’s competition, after underperforming in the previous campaign. They topped a group that comprised Dortmund and Real Madrid, and their 3-1 win over the latter was mighty impressive. Juve, though, have pedigree in this competition, and have been finalists for two of the last three seasons. They’ve been here and done it before more times than their opponents at this stage. With both sides possessing formidable defences and midfields as well, it might well boil down to which striker, in Harry Kane and Gonzalo Higuain, will have a better day.

Juventus to just about sneak through. 

Basel v Manchester City

There’s no doubt who the overwhelming favourite is for this one, Man City have looked impeccable most times this season. Basel were impressive in qualifying from Group A, beating Manchester United on the way, but have lost Manuel Akanji and Renato Steffen to the Bundesliga. They might spring a surprise, but this looks a hard ask.

Barring a shock, City to go through 

Real Madrid v PSG

The tie of the round, the game that is most likely to determine the future of both managers. For Paris Saint-Germain, it’s finally a chance to prove they can roll with the elite after all the years of spending, especially with last year’s capitulation to Barcelona still in the memory. Real Madrid, meanwhile, have their whole season riding on this.

PSG to make the last eight for me

Porto v Liverpool

This tie seems finely poised, pitting two teams who’ll equally fancy their chances of progress. Liverpool’s front three, despite the departure of Philippe Coutinho, has been one to envy, even if Sadio Mane’s form has dipped recently. Their defence still leaves much to ponder, though, and Porto will look to capitalise on any slackness. But Liverpool’s best form of defending has been attacking, and it has worked so far.

Will be no straightforward task, but Liverpool should progress

Bayern Munich v Besiktas

No prizes for guessing the favourite here, Bayern haven't quite looked the same since Jupp Heynckes took over from Carlo Ancelotti, with only one defeat in all competitions since September. Besiktas do have an experienced, if not ageing, squad which helped finish top of Group G, but that also owed a big part to Cenk Tosun, whose January departure is a big blow.

The odds look overwhelmingly on Bayern Munich

Chelsea v Barcelona

This seems like the most ill-timed meeting of them all, Chelsea’s form having dropped massively, and not helped by Antonio Conte’s constant complaints over transfer dealings. Barcelona have lost just once since that supposedly-crushing Super Cup defeat in August. Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied, but Ernesto Valverde’s side are still favourites in this tie, if not the whole competition.

Barcelona to make progress here.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma

Roma were impressive in finishing top of a group that involved Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. But they haven’t been at their best lately in Serie A, and have slipped well out of the title race. Shakhtar are just as impressive a side, and have previous when it comes to the two teams meeting at this stage, they beat the Giallorossi in the last 16 in 2011.

Roma to qualify, just about. 

Sevilla v Manchester United

Sevilla are still searching for that first Champions League quarter-final appearance. They came close in 2008 (losing to Fenerbahce) and last season (eliminated by Leicester), but this looks like the hardest task of all. Jose Mourinho is a master at negotiating ties like this, and only the most courageous would bet against United going through, particularly with this being perhaps their most likely chance of silverware.

Manchester United to progress

 

Shehu Idris

Basel v Manchester City 

Does this actually need a prediction. Better luck next time Basel. A full scale hurricane is coming Basel's way, perhaps they shouldn't even bother showing up for both legs but, in Ed Sheeran's voice, "What do I know?". 

Juventus vs Tottenham

This is like a classic ole battle between an old, experienced and embittered war veteran and a young, greenhorn who's shown that his youthful exuberance can bleed giants to death if allowed. I'm tilting towards the green-necks from North London they should handle the Old Lady pretty easily. 

Porto vs Liverpool

This should be easy for Jürgen Klopp's men, they'll do it on both legs and if by deeds of their typical Liverpool-ism they don't, take this prediction as a tongue-in-cheek bluff. 

Real Madrid vs PSG

We'll plumb this pseudo-big club money sack with over-pampered players who're only there because of the jiggling coins it has in coffer. Real Madrid to progress, yes of course. 

Bayern Munich vs Besiktas

It’s hard for anyone to not see Bayern progressing here 

Chelsea vs Barcelona

Chelsea are but a sorry shadow of their true selves currently, with their coach a 'Noob Saibot' of his usually maniac, football-loving self and against a Barcelona side that haven't lost in the league this season and have Lionel Messi? May God have mercy on them. Barcelona to progress. 

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Sevilla struggled under Eduardo Berrizo, are still struggling under Vincenzo Montella, plus this season has been what they projected it will be. Manchester United will help see to that. United to ease pass them. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

Who are these ones? Me, I'm tired ooo. Anyway, Roma to progress.

 

So, according to we at spotkick.com, the potential quarter finalists are:

Barcelona 

Manchester City 

Manchester United 

Roma

Real Madrid 

Juventus 

Bayern Munich 

Liverpool

Keep in mind, keyword, ‘potential’,  there’s not many things as humbling as seeing a seemingly genius and iron-clad prediction go all kinds of wrong.

 

Feel free to disagree with us in the comments section.

Published in International Watch

It’s a bit of a cliché, almost annoying really, that once a North London derby comes round, it’s described as the most important one yet. From top four battles, to title challenges, and issues of a power shift in the North of the capital, every derby is seen as the most pivotal to have come, until the next one.

So, in that vein, this is probably the most important derby yet. Okay, maybe not, but there’s a fair bit riding on the 195th meeting between Arsenal and Tottenham, especially in the case of chasing a top four spot. It’s a measure of how much the Gunners have risen and slipped to note that they were well behind Spurs before the first leg in November (which they won), and by December they were well ahead of the Lilywhites. Inconsistency, squad unrest, and sometimes, just plain erratic football has seen them tumble down and firmly rooted to sixth place, five points away from the top four. Alexis Sanchez finally left, this January, but the arrivals of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has brought its fair share of optimism, which was augmented last weekend, Mkhitaryan with a hatrick of assists, while Aubameyang scored on his debut as they thrashed Everton out of sight.

But there’s still Arsenal’s tendency to implode when optimism takes hold, and the fans would surely have that on the back of their minds, not so long ago they followed up a 4-1 win against Crystal Palace with a 3-1 loss at Swansea. Arsene Wenger will undoubtedly know his side can’t afford the same here, lose at Wembley, and they’ll be at least seven points off the top four with 11 games left. The Gunners have an enviable record at the national stadium of late, though, they’ve won their last nine at the ground (including penalty shootouts), and Spurs will have one eye on Juventus, whom they face this midweek when the UEFA Champions League returns.

In spite of their European commitment, Spurs know their best chance of a successful season lie on the domestic fronts, and securing a top four spot come the end of the season will a part of that. With Chelsea slacking off since the start of the year, there’s a window of opportunity for either side. One neither can afford to miss.

Elsewhere

  • It seems like there’s a grudge match lying in wait at Goodison Park this weekend, as Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace travel to face Sam Allardyce’s Everton. It’s one in which the focus is going to be placed on both managers a bit, Hodgson having demanded an apology from Allardyce, following the latter’s comments after succeeding the former for the English job back in 2016. With both sides not out of danger though, on the pitch is where the more pressing matters lie. Hodgson would surely take a win over an apology.
  • No wins in eight. All defeats in five. Huddersfield are basically steering into the skid at the moment, the Terriers have dropped into the relegation zone following last weekend’s defeat at Old Trafford, where, once again, they showed little enterprise going forward. Surely that’ll change at home to high-flying Bournemouth. Eddie Howe’s Cherries are top of the 2018 form table, and will relish the chance to play in front what would be a rather edgy home crowd.
  • Two years ago this week, Leicester arrived at the Etihad stadium to face a Manchester City side who had recently found out that Pep Guardiola would be their manager once the season ended. The Foxes came, played City off the park, scored three goals, and earned all the plaudits on their way to that unprecedented title. Two years on they arrive in relatively comfortable state, although the absence of Riyad Mahrez is not a cause for jubilation so far, the Algerian hasn’t played since Leicester rejected a bid from Man City. They haven’t won any of the two games without him in the side, which doesn’t make facing the log leaders a particularly pleasant task at the moment. Not that it would be pleasant at any moment, mind.
  • Plus, expect a ring of boos when anytime Virgil van Dijk touches the ball for Liverpool at Southampton this weekend.

Fixtures

Tottenham v Arsenal

Newcastle v Manchester United

Southampton v Liverpool

Swansea v Burnley

Stoke v Brighton

Manchester City v Leicester

Huddersfield v Bournemouth

Everton v Crystal Palace

West Ham v Watford

Chelsea v West Brom

Published in International Watch

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