Premier League Week 36: Will Leicester Take the Title?

Without any sliver of doubt, the most important match of the week is the Leicester and Man United clash. The Foxes only need one win, and the title is theirs – but first, there‘s the Red Devils to get through. There‘s also Tottenham, who is the only team that could still mathematically catch up to them, and they‘ve got a game against Chelsea.

According to the UK-licensed bookie TonyBet, Man United is a fair bit more likely to win in this clash, with their odds at a win being 21/20 vs the 3/1 that Leicester City got. It’s no wonder that the Foxes aren’t favourites this time around – their leading man Jamie Vardy, who has been crucial in many victories, will have to miss this crucial match due to his suspension.

Man United is going into this game with all their key players fit and ready to go – and considering just how much their performance will mean to their contenders, they’re sure to put up a very tough fight. While the first time that these two met in ended in a draw, this time the game’s an away for the Foxes, and United’s midfielder Ander Herrera told Sky Sports that they ”don’t want them to win the title at Old Trafford”.

Still, Leicester has been in a great form and the last time they lost was on February 14th to Arsenal which, by the way, was an away game for the potential champions-to-be. Now the Red Devils quite obviously have struggled a fair bit more, considering that they’re still fighting for a top 4 spot – but winning to them is just as important as it is to Leicester, if not more.

Leicester celebrate

The fact is that for Leicester not to win the title they would have to lose three games straight – and Tottenham would have to win three games straight at the same time. It’s safe to assume that this scenario is highly unlikely, so even if the Foxes do miss out on winning a title at the Old Trafford, their season is still probably going to be amazingly spectacular.

Back to the Spurs – their game against Chelsea could also play a big part in Leicester’s success, because if Tottenham loses, they secure the title for the Foxes. The bookies think that these teams have exactly the same chances to win at the Stamford Bridge – they both got the odds of 17/10 for that. In any case, the Blues don’t have all that much to lose – or to win – by now, unlike the Spurs.

Tottenham has been in a pretty good form lately, except they do sometimes draw games that they really should have been able to win, like the last week’s fixture against bottom-dwelling West Brom. Their upcoming opponents are even more inconsistent in their gameplay, and they have started losing again after a pretty long period of only winning or drawing games. Can they beat the Spurs though? In theory, yes, but the reality has been a whole different ordeal this season for Chelsea.

If we take a look at the beginning of this season, it’s pretty amazing to think just how many surprises were about to happen that really took everyone by storm. The most amazing part of that is that the following year is going to be something, too, because these results will impact the international leagues quite a bit – Leicester, for example, has already secured a Champions League spot. Will they add a debut Premier League title to that? This Sunday may reveal all.

Man United players have every reason to question Louis van Gaal

Manchester United’s defeat to Danish minnows FC Midtjylland in the Europa League on Thursday night represented a new low in Louis van Gaal’s reign at Old Trafford and a real indication into just how dire things are for the historic club.

Reports in the press since have suggested that senior figures in the playing squad are questioning their manager, with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho favoured to come and host football training drills to get the team back winning.

Despite Van Gaal possessing an enviable track record, experience and tactical acumen, it is clear after 18 months in charge that the club is not moving forward under his stewardship.

Ryan Giggs and Louis van Gaal
United fans have become accustomed to a certain brand of attacking football, which has been sacrificed in the name of progress by the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.

In the first half of the season when the Red Devils were not playing well but grinding out results, the stale nature of performances could be accepted to some degree.

However, with flat showings being compounded by embarrassing results of late, Van Gaal is surely on his last legs in Manchester.

It is not an issue of not having the right quality of players, needing extra endurance training or issues of luck – the Dutchman simply isn’t getting the best from the personnel at his disposal.

At this stage, Van Gaal has had adequate time and expenditure in the transfer market to turn things round, with it now time for a change.

Whether Mourinho is the man to bring United back to the glory days remains to be seen, but one thing is evident – just how good a job Sir Alex Ferguson did over such a long time at the club.

A key reason for Tottenham’s success this season

Despite a frustrating 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle at the weekend, it has been an overwhelmingly positive season for Tottenham so far.

A stretch of 14 matches unbeaten in the Premier League can used to suggest that Mauricio Pochettino’s side will be more resilient this term, while the forging of a collective team spirit is evident on the pitch.

With a young and able squad at the Argentine’s disposal, there is every reason to believe that the North London outfit can finally ditch the nearleymen tag and finish in the top four this term.

However, a key reason for Spurs’ stellar showings this season has been Pochettino’s focus on group fitness and the subsequent attributes that this offers Tottenham as a team.

The former Southampton trainer prioritised football training drills in the off-season to have his young side capable of lots of running, which has helped him to install his philosophy at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham Hotspur

Pochettino urges his side to press the opposition high up the pitch, with the dual benefit of stalling the opposition’s attacking play and winning back possession in dangerous areas.

This tactic was deployed last season but not all the players bought into it; this campaign has been a different story, with the strikers and midfielders getting through their lion’s share of work in every game thanks to bolstered fitness.

The Newcastle game aside, it has been evident that Tottenham have had running in the tank late in Premier League games this season, which has helped the energetic and youthful side win points.

Participation in the Europa League and the subsequent increase in fixtures also means that Pochettino needs a squad with high fitness levels.

Over recent campaigns Spurs have had poor results in the Premier League games directly after European action, but this had improved this season before the defeat at the hands of Steve McClaren’s men.

The focus on endurance training has this Tottenham team as a mobile and persistent opponent, with the fans respecting the fact that the players will work to their maximum for 90 minutes and outrun the opposition.

Pochettino’s tactics can be successful but they are also draining, which was proved last year as North London side ran out of steam to some degree towards the business end of the campaign.

With a manic festive season schedule on the way and cup competitions ramping up, Spurs’ collective endeavour and desire is set to be put to the test, but their impressive levels of fitness can only be seen as a positive in the hunt for success.

The Chelsea tactic that could be a masterstroke for Man United

A broken leg for Luke Shaw in the recent Champions League defeat to PSV Eindhoven has given Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal a major cause for concern, with the England international facing a significant lay-off.

Without the former Southampton star, who was starting to come into his own at Old Trafford, the Red Devils boss must decide the best personnel in his back four to continue the form that has propelled the side to the top of the Premier League.

The natural replacement appears to be Marcos Rojo, who has played consistently for Argentina at left-back and could slot into the role.

Matteo Darmian

If Van Gaal sees fit, the South American could even be used as a centre-half, with Daley Blind slotting in at full-back as he has done in the past.

However, a potential ideal solution comes in the form of a tactic that Chelsea have used over the last 18 months.

The Blues have successfully deployed right-back Cesar Azpilicueta on the alternative flank, where the Spaniard has been one of the team’s most consistent players.

Against Sunderland at the weekend, Van Gaal opted to play his usual right-back Matteo Darmian on the opposite flank, with Antonio Valencia coming into the team on the other wing.

This has worked for Chelsea, and with the Italy international having experience of playing as a left-back for Torino, the tactic could be ideal to plug the significant gap left by Shaw’s injury.

The next Martial? Man United want another exciting Ligue 1 star

Manchester United’s summer capture of young French forward Anthony Martial has reaped dividends, with the former Monaco man fitting into the Old Trafford starting XI excellently, offering pace and a goal threat to Louis van Gaal’s attack.

However, it may well be that the Red Devils have not finished their Ligue 1 raid, with reports today linking the club with supremely gifted Lyon attacker Nabil Fekir.

The France international is part of a prodigious crop of young players to have come through the ranks at the Stade de Gerland in recent years – which ironically includes Martial.

Nabil Fekir

Last season Fekir’s attacking partnership with hotshot Alexander Lacazette was a key element to Lyon finishing in second place and powering their way back into Champions League football.

If there is any truth in United’s potential interest in the 22-year-old, the Old Trafford faithful should be excited as he is technically superb, creative and has proven that he knows where the back of the net is.

Fekir is currently on the sidelines having damaged his cruciate ligament while on international duty and as such he will not be back in the action until next year.

If he can regain his best form for Lyon in early 2016, the attacker will surely feature for France in next summer’s Euro 2016 competition on home soil – with United sure to have a close eye on his performances.

Manchester United pen new striker deal

Manchester United have announced that up-and-coming striker James Wilson has agreed a contract extension at the club on their official website.

The 19-year-old forward is a product of the club’s fabled youth academy and has made inroads into the first-team squad in recent times.

Although the teenager is a fringe figure this season under Louis van Gaal, a new deal to keep him at Old Trafford until 2019 has been agreed.

James Wilson

The gifted centre forward has made 18 senior appearances for the Red Devils, scoring four goals, but finds the substantial obstacles of Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial blocking his path into the starting XI in 2015-16.

It is clear that Wilson has a bright future in the game and it is an embodiment of United’s supposed dedication to youth that the starlet has penned a contract extension.

The next step in his burgeoning career is clearly a loan move to a Championship club, with regular first-team football a necessity for the attacker to progress.

Why Angel Di Maria will win the Manchester United fans over

Ahead of the recently completed season, Manchester United’s objective was to regain a place in the Champions League, which Louis van Gaal has achieved.

The bar may well be lifted slightly higher next term as the Old Trafford that spend their hard-earned money at to watch their team crave a return to the glory days.

Although the campaign has had its fair share of positives, one of the perceived negatives of the season was the form of Angel Di Maria.

Signed for an extortionate transfer fee from Real Madrid, this Champions League-winning attacker’s arrival was treated with excitement from the Red Devils fans but the Argentine had a season to forget.

By the end of the campaign Van Gaal was preferring the much-derived Ashley Young ahead of the club’s record signing, which shows just how far the mighty have fallen.

Angel Di Maria

Despite the fact that the Argentina international has not shown his best form at the Manchester club as yet, it would be foolish to write Di Maria off.

Although transfer rumours are starting to swirl around stating that the South American could leave the club, United will not be ready to cut their losses on the star just yet.

It is worth noting that despite the fact Di Maria has not been at his best, the former Madrid man offered up ten Premier League assists; the most of any United player and more than Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero or Alexis Sanchez.

A key issue over Di Maria has been the question over where he is best deployed, with Van Gaal guilty of chopping and changing the Argentine’s position in the team.

Ahead of next season, with the South American having more time to acclimatise to the club and his new surrounds, the Rosario Central youth graduate will surely be ready to start 2015-16 with a bang.

The old adage that form is temporary and class is permanent applies here, with the skilful winger having the ability to be a Premier League star if he can get back to his best.

Unleashing the Argentine in a fluid attacking system that is based around possession and swift counter-attacking could well get the best out of this star, who on his day is one of the best attacking midfielders in the business.

Simeone, Loew or Ancelotti – who should win the 2014 FIFA Coach of the Year?

By Waddah Hassani

FIFA has announced its final shortlist for the 2014 FIFA Coach of the Year award and it was (sort of) what everyone was expecting it to be; it included Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, World Cup winner Joachim Loew and La Liga winner Diego Simeone.

Aside of the detailed statistical comparison provided, who deserves the award the most?

FIFA 2014 COTY Comparison

Carlo Ancelotti: Where do we start? The experienced Italian has literally done it all in 2014, from winning titles, matching records, breaking records, winning over the fans and locker room, to re-inventing players.

Lets start with the titles; Ancelotti has won three titles thusfar in 2014 in the shape of the famed La Decima, the Copa del Rey, and the UEFA Super Cup. This list is very likely to see an addition in the form of the Club World Cup, which Real Madrid will contest in late December.

So, with three titles in 2014, Carlo Ancelotti is the coach with the most tiles won between not just the final shortlist, but the entire 10-man list initially released by FIFA.

Carlo Ancelotti

He also ventured into the ‘record breaking’ path as he orchestrated Real Madrid’s longest winning streak ever in all competitions (currently stands at 17 wins), longest winning streak ever in the Copa del Rey (10 wins), most goals scored in one Champions League campaign (41 goals), being the fastest coach in Real Madrid’s history to reach 50 official wins, and if Los Blancos wins the CWC, he will also be the first coach in the club’s history to win four titles in one calendar year.

He also equaled Bob Paisley’s record of three European Cups won and in the process became the first and only coach to win three European Cups with two different clubs.

The former Chelsea chief has guided Real Madrid to the top of the La Liga table with 10 consecutive league wins and secured the first spot in Group B of this season’s Champions League thanks to winning all the team’s matches so far in the competition.

On top of all that, Ancelotti also ‘re-invented’ players like Di Maria, James, and Isco to better suit the dynamics of the team, which in part lead to them being better overall players themselves. Certainly an eventful year this has been for the Italian mastermind.

Joachim Loew: With Ancelotti you see a lot of records and achievements, but some may argue that all of these feats are not equal to what Joachim Loew has won in 2014; the World Cup.

Loew guided Germany to the World Cup title with consistent, entertaining, direct, and brutal football that ruthlessly destroyed Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals; providing the biggest ever semi-final result in World Cup’s history and the South American nation’s biggest home defeat ever.

Joachim Loew

While many teams showed promise but eventually delivered below par performances, Loew’s Germany dominated with sheer consistency. They were on point throughout the tournament and deservedly won the title to prove it.

The World Cup is without a doubt the biggest title in world football so winning it in style surely can’t hurt your chances in winning the COTY award.

Diego Simeone: Quite possibly the ‘dark horse’ in this year’s COTY award race, Diego Simeone has to go up against a coach that has won more titles and broke more records than anyone else in 2014, and a coach who has won the grandest prize in football in the shape of the World Cup.

And what does he have to go against them? Just a La Liga title and the Supercopa with Atletico Madrid.

Diego Simeone

On the surface it might not seem enough, but once you realize that Simeone achieved this with a Vicente Calderon outfit that was battling relegation when he was first appointed, you will come to know the magnitude of his achievement.

He lifted Atletico to heights that saw them challenging the two Spanish powerhouses in the form of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and he actually beat them to the La Liga title. Something that hasn’t happened in a decade.

With a budget that pales in comparison to the Clasico giants, and with a squad that may lack the flair of traditional world-class players, Simeone relied on sheer hard work and discipline to battle through the opposition.

This eventually led Atletico to the final of the 2013/14 Champions League where he was just a 100 seconds away from winning the title, and a La Liga triumph that will surely go down in Spanish folklore as one of the most surprising upsets in league history.

On any other year, what Simeone has done might have been enough, but in 2014, with a Champions League winner and a World Cup winner; it may not be the safe to bet on the Argentine.

Carlo Ancelotti among Real Madrid’s all-time greats

By Waddah Hassani

“I hope to remembered here for a long time, hopefully not just for La Decima.” Carlo Ancelotti

When Carlo Ancelotti first arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu, he promised wins and beautiful football, and he has certainly delivered on both fronts.

Since he was appointed, Real Madrid have played 82 matches in all competitions, winning 64, making him the manager with the highest win percentage in the history of the club (78%).

Los Blancos have also scored 227 goals in those 82 matches at a rate of 2.77 goals per match, again the highest rate in the history of the club (of all managers with 30+ games).

And if that wasn’t enough, the Spanish capital city side have only conceded 66 goals in the Italian’s tenure at a rate of 0.80 goals conceded per game, yet again the best rate in the club’s history.

So with all of these stats,  it enough to call Ancelotti one of the all-time greatest Real Madrid managers?

Probably, because these are not the only things he has accomplished in his short time with Madrid.

On top of all the records mentioned, he was also the manager that ended Real Madrid’s wait for the coveted and long sought-after La Decima.

Florentino Perez spent over a billion euros in a dozen years as he longed for his dream of seeing the tenth European Cup in the Bernabeu, yet the former Chelsea boss ended his wait in his first season with the club.

Ancelotti didn’t just win La Decima, he did it in style.

Carlo Ancelotti

In arguably one of the most dominant campaigns in the competition’s history, Real Madrid steamrolled teams in last season’s Champions League and scored 41 goals in the process. Those 41 goals were an all-time record; breaking the previous tally of 35 goals by Barcelona.

Real Madrid also equaled the group stage record for most goals with 20, and the record for most goals scored in a UCL final with four.

All of these show that Real Madrid probably did have the most complete campaigns in Champions League history.

Adding on to it was the Copa del Rey triumph, beating Barcelona in the final. Ancelotti brought the first Copa del Rey trophy to the Bernabeu since 2011; it was also the first time that Real Madrid won more than one title in a single season since 2002/03.

Needless to say, starting this season with big hopes was not an uncommon thing, and Ancelotti did not disappoint with a UEFA Super Cup win in August.

Real Madrid currently boast the strongest attack in Europe and lead the La Liga table on top of being the only team to have won all five matches in Europe’s top tournament this season.

They currently need two wins to equal the longest winning streak in the Champions League, two home wins to equal the longest home winning streak in the European competition, and finally two away wins to equal the longest away winning streak in the Champions League.

All of these ‘near-records’ show how close Ancelotti is from breaking several long standing records with a Real Madrid team that is currently ranked as the best in the world and probably the best Madrid side in recent memory.

If all of that wasn’t enough, Ancelotti became the first manager in the club’s history to win 16 consecutive matches in all competitions. He has passed the 15-match winning run accomplished by Jose Mourinho and Miguel Munez, and needs just two more wins to equal the all-time record for most consecutive wins in Spain’s top-flight history (18, set by Barcelona).

Ancelotti also stands on the cusps of another feat, which is to be the quickest coach to get to 100 wins, currently held by Mourinho, who needed 133 games to achieve that record.

However, with Ancelotti at 64 wins from 82 matches already, it’s very hard not to see him take that record away from Mourinho as well.

So all of these stats, records, and accomplishments make Carlo Ancelotti without a doubt, one of the best Real Madrid managers in recent memory, but is he an ‘all-time’ great?

That might be more arguable, but with his and the club’s willingness in extending his contract to 2017 or 2018, it is extremely difficult not to see him as one of, if not the best, managers in the club’s history once his tenure ends at Real Madrid.

What if Liverpool had signed Diego Costa, not Chelsea?

Diego Costa seems to be the final piece of Jose Mourinho’s jigsaw at Chelsea, with the powerhouse forward showing lethal form in front of goal since a summer move from Atletico Madrid.

The Blues had a trophyless campaign last term despite the expenditure on their playing squad, with a lack of cutting edge in front of goal the key reason.

Costa may well have given the Stamford Bridge side the necessary clinical edge that sees Mourinho’s men unbeaten this season, but what if the Spanish international had joined Liverpool last summer instead?

Charity tournament for the families of Soma victims: Chelsea vs Fenerbahce

Brendan Rodgers had identified the Brazilian-born striker as a potential new recruit, but the Spanish side did not allow the player to leave after selling Radamel Falcao to Monaco.

Costa went on to have a fantastic campaign with Atleti, proving himself as one of the best centre forwards in the world and firing the Vicente Calderon side to the La Liga title.

Given the problems that the Reds are currently having with goal-shy Mario Balotelli, had they landed Costa in the summer of 2013 surely the side would be higher in the league than the 11th place they currently hold.

Pipped by Manchester City at the death last season, a frontline containing Costa, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge would surely have fired the Merseyside outfit to their first top-flight title since 1990.

Over the last number of seasons Liverpool have missed out on a number of transfer targets for one reason or another, but not landing Costa must now be a major regret for Rodgers.

%d bloggers like this: