Premier League

Premier League Round-Up: Matchday 25/26

  1. MANCHESTER CITY (69 pts, GD + 55)
    LAST GAMES: 3-0 W vs. WBA, 1-1 D at Burnley
    NEXT GAME: vs. Leicester

City added to their defense with the club-record signing of 23-year-old Aymeric Laporte for £57 million ($81 million). Pep’s defense is worth over £240 million ($340 million). That’s an insane amount of money but given the age and talent of the players he has brought in, it’s not surprising that City has spent that much money.

Laporte: 23, £57 million
Mendy: 23, £ 52 million (was previous club-record signing)
Walker: 27, £ 50 million
Stones: 23, £47.5 million
Ederson: 24, £35 million

Yes, Pep has spent an incredible amount of money, but it looks like he is finally finished shaping his defense of the present and of the future. City are always going to be overcharged and young, world-class talent is always going to be expensive, but City has arguably the best and youngest defense across Europe. Laporte, Mendy, Walker, Stones, and Ederson are only going to get better.

Laporte was thrown straight into the line-up against WBA with Stones missing through illness. Laporte played well, but he and the expensive City defense was hardly tested by the Baggies. The game belonged to KDB. De Bryune was pulling the strings against for City and he deservedly got a goal and assist. He has 7 goals and leads the league with 11 assists this season.  Agüero’s lovely dink made it 3-0 and gave City all three points. In the win, City became the first PL team to score 100+ goals in all competitions.

On Saturday, City’s expensive defense didn’t have a great day. Danilo’s goal was a beauty and Ederson made some fantastic saves that kept the game close, but Burnley had several chances from balls over the top. It was a tough game, playing at Turf Moore almost always is, but this draw won’t hurt them too badly. Guardiola gave the players three days off to unwind and relax, so their siesta before the return of the Champions League and the final weeks of the PL season may be just what the players need.

  1. MANCHESTER UNITED (56 pts, GD +33)
    LAST GAME: 2-0 L at Spurs, 2-0 W vs. Huddersfield
    NEXT GAME: at Newcastle

Entering Wednesday’s game against Spurs, United had not conceded in the league since Boxing Day. That lasted 11 seconds. From the kickoff, United was dominated. The Red Devils were never in this game and never really threatened Hugo Lloris in Tottenham’s goal. Alexis was kept in check in his PL debut for United against his former rivals and Phil Jones will have nightmares about that game for the coming weeks. The loss, along with City’s win, reopened the 15-point lead between the two Manchester squads going into the weekend.

Luckily for Mou and company, City dropped points in the first game of the weekend, giving United plenty of motivation and a chance to regain the dropped points before playing the Terriers. Entering the game, Huddersfield were winless in their last seven, giving United the perfect team to bounce back against. Alexis marked his Old Trafford debut with a goal and United dominated the entire game. With the win, United cut the deficit to City to 13 points.

  1. LIVERPOOL (51 PTS, GD +28)
    LAST GAME: 3-0 W at Huddersfield, 2-2 D v Tottenham
    NEXT GAME: at Southampton

Liverpool sure knows how to make games interesting. In arguably the game of the season, Tottenham came back from a goal down twice to leave Anfield with a point. The game was riddled with controversy, especially surrounding referee John Moss. Liverpool got on the board early when Mo Salah scored in the third minute after a Spurs defensive error. His first goal was his 20th of the season, making him the fastest player in Liverpool history to 20 PL goals (25 games). The Reds dominated the rest of the first half but couldn’t find the back of the net.

Substitute Victor Wanyama scored a goal of the year candidate for Spurs with an absolute thunderbolt seconds after coming onto the field. Then the controversy that has sent the entire football world into chaos began… In the 83rd minute, Harry Kane is brought down by Liverpool keeper Loris Karius. It’s an easy penalty call, but after seeing different angles, Kane was in an offside position. However, it appeared that the ball was deflected by Dejan Lovren attempting to clear the ball. It is a terrible effort by Lovren, but it looks like it did take the slightest of slightest touches (after seeing it incredibly slowed down), meaning that Kane would NOT be offside. John Moss gives the penalty, then heads over to his assistant referee on the far side of the field to talk about it. NBC Sports picked up the raw audio from a field mic in this clip. You can hear that Moss has asked the fourth official—in this case, Martin Atkinson—what he has seen on the TV. Since Video Assisted Replay (VAR) was not in use for this game, that would make it illegal for the officials to use TV replay to make a decision. Moss gives the penalty anyway. Even after watching the clip over and over again in slow motion, it could still go either way to say if Lovren touched the ball or not. We have to remember that the officials are seeing this in real-time and have to make a judgment call in real-time. That fact that we, the viewers on TV, get to look at replays over and over again and there is still incredible debate shows how difficult of call it was.

But after all of that controversy, Karius saves Kane’s penalty and Salah scores a fantastic solo effort four minutes later to put Liverpool up 2-1. But four minutes later, in the literal dying seconds of the game, Tottenham was awarded ANOTHER penalty. The assistant referee, the same one Moss spoke with regarding the first penalty, raised his flag after Virgil van Dijk fouled Erik Lamela in the box. Lamela, in my opinion, exaggerated the challenge and it was a dive. Moss had a good look at it and awarded the penalty. Harry Kane converted from 12 yards out and it ended 2-2.

Liverpool fans will feel hard done, but they still sit in third place in the league. With his 20th and 21st goals of the season, Salah becomes only the fourth African player to score 20+ goals in single PL season. He joins African PL legends Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayor and Yaya Toure.

  1. CHELSEA (50 PTS, GD +23)
    LAST GAME: 3-0 L vs. Bournemouth, 4-1 L at Watford
    NEXT GAME: vs. WBA

A terrible week for Chelsea. Back-to-back embarrassing losses and Antonio Conte is on the hot seat. If you were curious how much pressure there is on the managers to succeed in this league, look no farther than Conte. The Italian won the PL for Chelsea less than a year ago, now there is a story every week about his unhappiness or how he is on the hot seat. The same thing happened to Pep Guardiola last season. The English are complicated—they pride themselves on how difficult their league is and then toss their managers under the bus when they hit a rough patch. If there are backroom problems at Chelsea, then the results on the field should be the least of Chelsea fans’ worries.

Chelsea was looking for a big man throughout the entire transfer period and they got two on deadline day. The Blues signed Olivier Giroud from Arsenal and Emerson Palmieri from Roma to give competition to Alvaro Morata up front.  Both players added height and goal-scoring ability, but it will be interesting to see how both fit into Conte’s system. Michy Batshuayi joins Borussia Dortmund on loan for the rest of the season. Batshuayi, whom I’m a big fan of personally, was always number two at Chelsea and never really got his shot to lead the line. BVB is famous, and possibly one of the best in the world, for developing young talent, so it may be the move that Batshuayi needs to rejuvenate his career and he’s already off to a great start.

Chelsea was flat out torched by a hungry and energetic Bournemouth side last week and then embarrassed again by Watford five days later. A 3-0 loss at home to a Bournemouth team that has only won twice on the road all season prior to the game is a bad loss for a team of Chelsea’s caliber. But the way they were dominated, poor defending and being forced to make bad decisions, was very un-Chelsea like. The same problem happened again on Monday, but Chelsea had to play the last 60 minutes down a man.

Conte and his team have games against WBA and Hull before they face Barcelona, United, and City in consecutive games. Chelsea needs to turn it around quick.

    LAST GAME: 2-0 W vs. United, 2-2 D at Liverpool
    NEXT GAME: vs. Arsenal

Okay, so I covered all the controversy in the TOT-LIV game under Liverpool, but Tottenham is lucky to leave the northeast with a point. I thought it was a clear dive from Lamela who doesn’t even make an attempt to touch the ball. There may have been very little contact, but easily not enough to warrant the reaction it got from Lamela. Either way, the penalty was given, and Harry Kane scored his 100th PL goal. Kane becomes the second fastest player to score 100 goals. It took Kane 141 games, second to Alan Shearer, who did it in 124.

Spurs signed Lucas Mora from PSG on deadline day. It’s a good signing, but not the big signing Tottenham might have been looking for. He’s a great player and will add to Spurs’ midfield, but he’s not a player that makes Spurs better. Spurs—aside from Manchester City—were a team that didn’t really need to add anything to their squad. Tottenham’s starting XI is one of the best in the league and rarely changes unless it’s due to injuries. Lucas is fast and adds pace, but I can’t see him being more than a rotational player.

Christian Eriksen’s goal 11 seconds into the game against United was the second fastest EVER goal in the PL. Tottenham legend Ledley King scored the fastest goal in PL in 2000 when he scored 10 seconds into a game. Aside from Tottenham’s 4-1 over Liverpool earlier in the season, this may have been Spurs’ best win of the season.  Tottenham dominated United and it wasn’t even a close game to be fair. Tottenham could have easily had three or four more goals. With the win over United and draw at Anfield, Spurs are now unbeaten in their last ten games in all competitions.

  1. ARSENAL (45 PTS, GD +16)
    LAST GAME: 3-1 L at Swansea, 5-1 W vs. Everton
    NEXT GAME: at Tottenham

Arsenal signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on deadline for a club-record fee of £56 million ($79 million). Auba is one of the best strikers in Europe and there is a lot to be excited about if you are an Arsenal fan. The 28-year-old is in the prime of his career and could be the piece Arsenal need to reignite their top-four fight. He got off to a good start when Arsenal flat out obliterated a woeful Everton side 5-1 at the Emirates last weekend.

In his home debut for Arsenal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan had three assists and Auba bagged himself a goal. To make a great day even better for Arsenal, Aaron Ramsey scored his first ever hat-trick in his entire career. If this is the Arsenal we are going to see for the rest of the season—Mkhi playing in a free-flowing role alongside Ozil, Ramsey, and Auba—Arsenal are very much still alive in the PL race for the Champions League. They will just have to avoid pulling the “Classic Arsenal,” by losing to teams like Swansea and Bournemouth. Next week’s north London derby will be a doozy, it typically is anyway.

  1. BURNLEY (36 PTS, GD -2)
    LAST GAME: 1-1 D at Newcastle, 1-1 D vs City
    NEXT GAME: at Swansea

Burnley may have given some their fans some heart attacks last week. The Cardiac Clarets were able to salvage draws in both games with a Karl Darlow own goal and a Johann Berg Gudmundsson late goal to equalize against City. We saw Burnley return to the form that had them hanging out near the Champions League spots earlier this season. Against City, Burnley was resilient in defense and lethal when they got the chance to go forward. With games against Swansea, Southampton, and Everton in their next three weeks, we’ll see if Burnley have one more push in them for the Champions League.

    LAST GAME: 2-1 L at Everton, 1-1 D vs. Swansea
    NEXT GAME: at City

Not a great week for the Foxes last week. Leicester was outplayed the entire first half and let Everton run all over them. It was so unlike Leicester, that you wouldn’t even have recognized that they were playing at all. It was their first loss of 2018 so there is no need to hit the panic button, but when they had the chance to rebound, they drew to Swansea. Leicester outplayed Swansea for about 85 percent of the match but was only able to get a point out of the game.

The Foxes sit in eighth and are safe for next season, but they will want to avoid another week like this.

    LAST GAME: 3-0 W at Chelsea, 2-1 W vs Stoke
    NEXT GAME: at Huddersfield

Last week could not have gone any better for AFC Bournemouth. After two incredible wins, the Cherries are in ninth and seven points from the relegation zone. Eddie Howe and his side embarrassed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It was a tight game for a majority of it, but it was ALL Bournemouth in the second half.  Callum Wilson, who has been able to stay and healthy and is getting extended time in the squad, scored the first goal and assisted on the second one. Bournemouth has beaten Chelsea twice in the PL and both wins have come at Stamford Bridge. The last win was a 1-0 win in December 2015 and Glenn Murray scored the game’s only goal. This may be the win that guarantees Bournemouth’s safety for another year.

Then three days later, Bournemouth come from a goal down at home to win 2-1 against a struggling Stoke side. Two goals in 10 minutes from Josh King and Lys Mousset in the second-half was all it took for the win. In both of these games last week, the Cherries dominated the games in the second half. Five second-half goals in two games is an incredible stat and one that is going to keep Bournemouth in the PL next season. With Huddersfield, Newcastle, and Leicester in their next three games, Bournemouth may just be getting started.

  1. EVERTON (31 PTS, GD -16)
    LAST GAME: 2-1 W vs. Leicester, 5-1 L at Arsenal
    NEXT GAME: vs. Palace

Everton dominated against Leicester and they have new-boy Theo Walcott to thank for that. But in true Big Sam style, Everton get blown out in their very next game against Arsenal. There is Blitzkrieg and then there were Arsenal’s first 20 minutes against Everton. Before the Toffees even realized the game started, they were down 3-0. Everton were 4-0 down at halftime for the first time ever in a PL game.  Dominic Calvert-Lewin pulled one back for Everton in the second half, but the game was long over by that point.

Last week for Everton was a microcosm for their entire season: one step forward, two steps back. Everton played really well against a very good Leicester team. Then three days later, all of the momenta they built was completely obliterated within 20 minutes.  Big Sam has turned their season around and will keep Everton in the PL—he deserves that much credit. However, until Everton can consistently play the way they are capable of, it will continue to be one step forward, two steps back.

  1. WATFORD (30 PTS, GD -8)
    LAST GAME: 0-0 D at Stoke, 4-1 W at Chelsea
    NEXT GAME: at West Ham

A boring game at Stoke was followed up with a resounding 4-1 win against Chelsea. The Hornets dominated the second half with Chelsea playing with 10 men. Once Hazard equalized for Chelsea, Watford scored three times in eight minutes to embarrass Chelsea at home.

Watford signed former Everton standout Gerard Deulofeu on loan from Barcelona and he terrorized Chelsea the entire game, cumulating with his well-deserved goal. If he can play like that for the rest of the season, he will undoubtedly be the sighing of the winter transfer window.

  1. WEST HAM UNITED (27 PTS, GD -14)
    LAST GAME: 1-1 D vs. Palace, 3-1 L at Brighton
    NEXT GAME: vs. Watford

West Ham was completely outplayed at the Amex in the Premier League’s 10,000th game. It was 1-1 at the half against Brighton, but West Ham never showed up in the second half. The Hammers have done well under David Moyes and have responded to his methods of coaching, but they are still only three points ahead of the drop zone. If they don’t start picking up points, West Ham could be back where they were under Slaven Bilic. This weekend’s game against Watford is going to be huge for both squads.

    LAST GAME: 1-1 D at Southampton, 3-1 W vs. West Ham
    NEXT GAME: at Stoke

Brighton is sitting pretty compared to the other two promoted teams and last week definitely helped. The Seagulls were unable to hold onto their lead against Southampton but then dominated West Ham in the second half a few days later. Pascal Groß returned to his dominating ways that had him as one of my signings of the summer earlier in the year. His goal and assist against West Ham made sure Brighton got all three points. If he can find his form and continue to play like this, there is no reason that Brighton will fall out of the PL.

  1. CRYSTAL PALACE (27 PTS, GD -15)
    LAST GAME: 1-1 D at West Ham, 1-1 D vs. Newcastle
    NEXT GAME: at Everton

Back-to-back 1-1 draws made it a boring week for Palace fans. The Eagles blew their lead against the Hammers but then fought back to earn a point against Newcastle. Palace has signed three players from smaller leagues across Europe, but we will have to wait and see if these players can cut it in the PL. What hurts Palace the most is that they have lost Bakary Sako for the rest of the year after injuring his ankle against West Ham. Sako had re-found his goal-scoring ability and was one of the reasons Palace has turned it around the last couple months.

  1. SOUTHAMPTON (26 PTS, GD -10)
    LAST GAME: 1-1 D vs. Brighton, 3-2 W at WBA
    NEXT GAME: vs. Liverpool

Even though it almost slipped away from them, Southampton’s win over WBA was one they desperately needed. In a game between two teams that needed points, the Saints got their first win in their last 13 PL games. Two goals in the final five minutes of the first half turned the game on its head going into halftime. Southampton controlled the game when James Ward-Prowse hit a peach of a free kick to extend the lead to 3-1. Rondon’s goal in the last 72nd minute made it a hectic ending, but the Saints held on.

The win took them out of the relegation zone for now, but it’s so close on the bottom half of the table, that one slip up can send them straight back into the bottom three.

  1. NEWCASTLE (25 PTS, GD -12)
    LAST GAME: 1-1 D vs. Burnley, 1-1 D at Palace
    NEXT GAME: vs. United

If you’re a soccer fan, you have to feel bad for the Toon Army. These are some of the most loyal fans in all of European football and they are feeling truly abandoned by their owner Mike Ashley. After putting the team up for sale, the deal has fallen through and the fans are the ones paying for it. The work Rafa Benitez has been able to do without any help from the board is truly amazing and I think it speaks volumes to the kind of manager he is.

The Toon Army used a quote from Newcastle legend and former manager Kevin Keegan before their game against Burnley. You can see it here. The fans truly love this team and they are not feeling the love in return.

As for the play on the field, draws are not going to cut it. Newcastle has four draws in their last six league games and those are games they should have won. The Magpies do have one of the best goal differentials of the bottom seven teams which helps them tremendously, but until they can start turning draws into wins, they will continue to hover around the bottom three.

  1. SWANSEA CITY (24 PTS, GD -18)
    LAST GAME: 3-1 W vs. Arsenal, 1-1 D at Leicester
    NEXT GAME: vs. Burnley

Andre Ayew is going back to Wales and joins his younger brother to help save Swansea’s season. However, the Swans have lost both Wilfried Bony and Leroy Fer to injuries for the rest of the season.  With wins over Liverpool and Arsenal in back-to-back weeks, then a draw against Leicester, Carlos Carvalhal has Swansea out of the relegation zone. Wins over Liverpool and the Gunners were not only big because of the points they picked up, but beating squads like that in back-to-back weeks, especially in dominant fashion, does wonders for a team’s confidence.

It’s pretty typical—and not that shocking—that teams in the relegation zone are usually struggling with confidence or momentum. Now with those two wins and only one loss in their last five games, Swansea have regained some much-needed confidence and momentum. If the Ayew Brothers and Tammy Abraham can start scoring some more goals and Renato Sanches can get healthy and be the world-beater that he can be, Swansea will avoid relegation once again.

In historic news, midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng is now the most capped South Korean to play in the PL. His start against Leicester was his 155th appearance in the PL league.

  1. STOKE CITY (24 PTS, GD -26)
    LAST GAME: 0-0 D vs. Watford, 2-1 L at Bournemouth
    NEXT GAME: vs. Brighton

Stoke continue to struggle and are back in the bottom three. Stoke scored early at the Vitality Stadium, but never really threatened for the rest of the game and let Bournemouth come from behind. The Potters only have two wins in their last 10 PL games and have only scored seven times in those games. Paul Lambert has a mountain to climb if he wants to keep Stoke City in the PL, and the only way he is going to get to the top of that mountain is if his team can start scoring goals. The Potters have the quality and the depth to remain in the league, Lambert just needs to get the most out of that talent.

    LAST GAME: 3-0 L vs. Liverpool, 2-0 L at United
    NEXT GAME: vs. Bournemouth

It is a very dark time for the PL new boys. After being dominated by Liverpool and United in back-to-back games last week, Huddersfield is now in the bottom three for the first time this season. The Terriers have lost their last five straight PL games and have only scored once in those games. Huddersfield hasn’t won in the league since a 4-1 win over Watford back in the middle of December.

What is even more worrying for Huddersfield is that they have the worst goal differential in the league. Especially in a season like this, where the bottom half of the table is so tight and only separated by a few points, it is vital to have a favorable goal differential. Huddersfield has had the worst of it of all the new boys in the league this season over the last few months, but with games against Bournemouth and WBA in the next two weeks, it may be the perfect time to steal some crucial points.

    LAST GAME: 3-0 L at City, 2-3 L vs. Southampton
    NEXT GAME: at Chelsea

Another bad week for the Baggies. A result at the Etihad would have surprised everyone, however, a game at home against a struggling side like Southampton was one they desperately needed to win. With Swansea’s two wins and a draw in their last three games, WBA now finds themselves at the bottom of the table. I think WBA did the best under-the-radar move of the January transfer window when they brought in Daniel Sturridge on loan for the rest of the season. Sturridge is from the area so going back home could be the jolt that his career desperately needs. If it works out and he stays healthy, he is a goal-scoring machine and can save WBA.

Alan Pardew needs to find a way to motivate and inspire his club. If not, WBA will surely be one of the teams that will be relegated from the PL.

@ClayBenjamin_ for  @CincySoccerTalk

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