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Premier League Round-Up: Matchday 34

With Fulham’s draw versus Brentford in the Championship last weekend, we have our first newly promoted team for next season. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Wolverhampton Wonders—simply known as Wolves. Located in the city of Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, the city is 30 minutes northeast of Birmingham and about two and half hours northeast of London. Wolves will be playing in the PL for the first time since the 2011/2012 season. Wolves fan are delighted that they will be in the PL next season, but they will be even happier that their biggest rival, WBA, will be dropping to the Championship. However, for the neutral, it’s a shame that the Black Country Derby (the game between Wolves and WBA) won’t be played. The Black Country Derby is one of the oldest derbies in the world and it hasn’t been played since the 2011/2012 season.

Wolves promotion comes with some scrutiny. Much like Paris Saint-Germain, City and other clubs around Europe, Wolves has been bought by incredibly wealthy and foreign owners who have spent a lot of money on the club. Fosun, a Chinese conglomerate, bought Wolves in the summer of 2016 and used their deep pockets straight from the offset. Despite the huge spending from day one, it did not mean automatic success. One man is mainly responsible for the turnaround: Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes. Mendes, who is the agent of Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, is closely related to Fosun. Mendes has been responsible for bringing key players like Rueben Neves, the youngest Championship captain and who already has five appearances for Portugal at the age of 21. The backroom working at Wolves is dodgy at best. Wolves posted losses of £23 million for the 2016/2017 season, and potentially more losses this season could be a breach of the ever-confusing Financial Fair Play rules. 

Nonetheless, Wolves will bring flair and entertaining football to the PL next season. Wolves has the talent and the right manager where they could stay in the league for a couple of years.

1.🏆MANCHESTER CITY (87 pts, GD + 68)
LAST GAMES: 3-1 W at Tottenham
NEXT GAME: vs. Swansea

With City’s convincing win at Wembley and United’s loss against WBA, Manchester City is the Champions of England for the 2017-2018 season. City has been the best team in the league for the entire season, but if you would have told a City fan that they would clinch the title because the worst team in the league would beat United at Old Trafford, no one would have believed you. With the title, Pep Guardiola becomes the first Spanish manager to win the PL. City fans are also enjoying that their team has finished above United in the table every year since the 2012/2013 season.

After an awful ten days where City lost three straight games, the Blues needed a solid performance. Pep Guardiola and his men cruised at Wembley and looked like a different team than the ones that lost to Liverpool and United. City was dominant in possession and looked like the City team that was simply unstoppable earlier in the year. Tottenham controlled the first 20 minutes after halftime but couldn’t find the goal they desperately needed to get themselves back into the game. Raheem Sterling killed the game off when he scored his 17thgoal of the season in the 72ndminute.

  1. MANCHESTER UNITED (74 pts, GD +39)
    LAST GAME: 1-0 L vs. WBA, 2-0 W at Bournemouth
    NEXT GAME: vs. Arsenal (4/29)

After an embarrassing loss at home to WBA that gifted City the title, United responded well with a convincing 2-0 win over Bournemouth. United controlled the game for the kickoff and never looked like losing. Callum Wilson came close for Bournemouth on one occasion, but other than that, Bournemouth hardly even threatened David De Gea.

United’s loss to WBA is typical United under Mourinho. United was absolutely fantastic in the second half against City and then a week later, lose to the worst team in the league. It’s one step forward, two steps back. United has all but confirmed their spot in the top four and will probably finish second—their best finish since they last won the league in the 2012/2013 season.

  1. LIVERPOOL (70 PTS, GD +43)
    LAST GAME: 3-0 W vs. Bournemouth
    NEXT GAME: vs. WBA

Liverpool was fantastic once again this weekend. Liverpool is playing their best football of the season at the exact right time. With the Champions’ League semifinals coming up against Roma, Liverpool looks like one of the best teams in Europe at the moment. Mo Salah has been garnishing most of the praise—rightfully so—but Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Virgil van Dyke have been playing out of their mind too.

Bournemouth didn’t stand a chance against the Liverpool press and didn’t have an answer for that attacking three. If Liverpool keeps playing like this, and there is no sign of them slowing down, they are a good bet to make it to the Champions League final and even win it.

  1. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (68 PTS, GD +35)
    LAST GAME: 3-1 L vs. City, 1-1 D at Brighton
    NEXT GAME: vs. Watford (4/30)

A terrible few days for Tottenham. On Saturday, Spurs were completely dominated and outplayed by City and then dropped points in the top four race with a draw at the Amex. Out of a possible six points, Tottenham only picked up one.

With a massive FA Cup game against United this weekend, Tottenham needs to snap out of their funk. Spurs are only two points behind Liverpool and need Liverpool to slip up if they want to take that third spot. If Tottenham finishes in fourth place, they will need to play qualifiers before next season to be put into the Champions League draw, similar to the first four games in the NCAA Tournament. Those qualifiers will be relatively easy games for Spurs, but they will still be very important and require less rest and an earlier start to the season compared to the other top teams in England.

  1. CHELSEA (63 PTS, GD +25)
    LAST GAME: 3-2 W at Southampton, 2-1 W at Burnley
    NEXT GAME: at Swansea (4/28)

It was almost a disastrous weekend for Chelsea, but thanks to some late heroics, the Blues pulled out maximum points.  Nine minutes after coming on against Southampton, Olivier Giroud scored to begin the comeback for Chelsea. Much like he was at Arsenal, Giroud was the wakeup call the Chelsea players desperately needed. Eden Hazard scored the equalizer five minutes later and then Giroud scored his second and the game-winner eight minutes after his first goal. The three goals in eight minutes completely deflated Southampton and despite a few half-chances towards the end, Southampton was truly beaten.

In their second game of the week, Chelsea cruised to a win against Burnley. The Clarets tied the game in the second half, but five minutes later, Victor Moses scored the game-winner for Chelsea. Chelsea’s two wins this week, combined with Tottenham dropping points, close the gap on fourth place to five points. With four games remaining, we may have a late top four push on our hands. Tottenham better not look over their shoulders, because Chelsea is on their tail.

  1. ARSENAL (54 PTS, GD +17)
    LAST GAME: 2-1 L at Newcastle
    NEXT GAME: vs. West Ham

If this loss proves anything, it’s that Arsenal has given up on the league and is putting their main priority on the Europa League…and it is the right decision. Arsenal has no shot at earning a top-four spot and with only one more game against a top four side, they need to reprioritize.

After starting the game against Newcastle well, Arsenal got a deserved goal from Lacazette. Once Newcastle equalized, Arsenal looked defeated and never really threatened going forward for the rest of the game. Matt Ritchie scored the game-winner in the 68thminute and secured the massive three points for Newcastle.

With a tough two-legged affair with Atletico Madrid standing between Arsenal and the Europa League final, the competition is their only chance to play in the PL next season. Arsenal needs the Champions League because, without the prospect of competing for a PL title and no Champions League, it will be nearly impossible for Arsenal to sign anyone of true quality this summer.
BREAKING: Arsene Wenger announces he will not return for the 2018-19 campaign.

  1. BURNLEY (52 PTS, GD +3)
    LAST GAME: 2-1 W vs. Leicester, 2-1 L vs. Chelsea
    NEXT GAME: at Stoke

After starting 2018 off very slow, Burnley was undefeated in their last six games (five straight wins) before going up against Chelsea. Ashley Barnes equalized in the 64thminute, but Chelsea responded five minutes later through Victor Moses. The win would have taken Burnley over Arsenal, but they remain two points back.

Against Leicester, who has been struggling to end the season, Burnley scored twice in the opening ten minutes to kill the game. Burnley’s defense has been their backbone all season, and with a two-goal lead at home, they were more than comfortable to rely on that defense to get the win. Burnley will be a great club to watch next season to see if they can replicate their success.

  1. LEICESTER CITY (44 PTS, GD +2)
    LAST GAME: 2-1 L at Burnley, 0-0 D vs. Southampton
    NEXT GAME: at Palace (4/28)

The Foxes struggles continue. Their third straight game without a win leaves Leicester eight points behind Burnley. Against the Clarets, Leicester was dominated in the first 10 minutes and struggle to claw themselves back in the game. In the game against Southampton, Leicester hardly created any chances, only having three shots on target the entire game.

The Leicester attack has been MIA the last few weeks and Claude Puel will need to find them, so the Foxes can end the season strong.

  1. EVERTON (42 PTS, GD -15)
    LAST GAME: 1-1 D at Swansea
    NEXT GAME: vs. Newcastle

This game meant a lot more to Swansea than it did Everton, but the Toffees should have played better. I’ve been pretty critical of Everton all season, but that is because I think they should be playing way better. Everton has spent the money trying to compete with the top six clubs, but it hasn’t gelled together. Not only have the players and the whole squad not gelled together, they haven’t had a performance all season that shows there is any progress being made. Big Sam will most likely not be at the club next season, so Everton needs to find a manager to change the whole philosophy of the club.

  1. NEWCASTLE (41 PTS, GD -7)
    LAST GAME: 2-1 W vs Arsenal
    NEXT GAME: at Everton

The Magpies have been on a tear lately with four straight games, and because of their hot streak, they will be in the PL next season. With five games remaining, Newcastle is 13 points clear of the relegation zone. A resilient and come-from-behind victory against Arsenal showcased the belief Rafa Benitez has instilled in this team. I’ve said it numerous times this season, but Rafa Benitez deserves a legitimate shot at being the manager of the year.

  1. AFC BOURNEMOUTH (38 PTS, GD -17)
    LAST GAME: 3-0 L at Liverpool, 2-0 L vs. United
    NEXT GAME: at Southampton (4/28)

A rough weekend for the Cherries after playing some of the best teams in the country. Liverpool and United both flexed their muscles in these games and Bournemouth really never had a shot at winning in either game. It was a bad two games for Cherries fans, but they won’t mind because they will be playing in the PL again next season and have very winnable games against Southampton, Swansea, and Burnley to end the season. Southampton and Swansea will be fighting for their lives, so Bournemouth should expect tough and challenging games. However, Bournemouth has the talent to win those games easily.

  1. WATFORD (37 PTS, GD -18)
    LAST GAME: 1-0 L at Huddersfield
    NEXT GAME: vs. Palace

Watford is safe, but they are winless in their last five. If they are not careful, the Hornets will be drug into the mess that is the relegation zone. Only four points separate Watford from 17th. In their next four games, Watford faces Palace, Tottenham, Newcastle, and United. Two of those teams are fighting to stay in the league and the other two will be competing in the Champions League next season. Watford needs a wake-up call and they need it fast.

  1. BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION (36 PTS, GD -15)
    LAST GAME: 3-2 L at Palace, 1-1 D vs. Tottenham
    NEXT GAME: at Burnley (4/28)

Following a tough loss against one of their biggest rivals, the Seagulls had a tough follow-up against Tottenham and picked up a hard earn point. The loss in the M23 derby against a fellow relegation rival put a dent in Brighton’s relegation battle but stealing a point from Tottenham almost cancels it out. 18 seconds after Harry Kane broke the deadlock, Jose Izquierdo was brought down in the box and earned Brighton a penalty. Pascal Gross converted and earned Brighton a much-needed point.

Brighton sits in 13thand are eight points clear of the relegation zone, so I’m going to say that they are safe and will be playing in the PL next season. However, as we have all learned this season, that it is not over until it is over. Brighton’s last three games are against United, City, and Liverpool. That is a daunting stretch to end the season.  If Brighton can get a win over Burnley next weekend, it should officially be enough to keep them in the league.

  1. WEST HAM UNITED (35 PTS, GD -18)
    LAST GAME: 1-1 D vs. Stoke
    NEXT GAME: at Arsenal

Andy Carroll earned West Ham a crucial point in their battle to fend off relegation. Before Carroll’s goal in stoppage time, the Hammers had two goals disallowed for offside, but West Ham’s constant pressure the entire second half was too much for Stoke to handle.

The Hammers aren’t of the woods yet. West Ham has games against Arsenal and City in the next two games and then end the season against United and Everton. David Moyes and his men still have a lot of work left to do before the season ends.

  1. HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (35 PTS, GD -27)
    LAST GAME: 1-0 W vs. Watford
    NEXT GAME: vs. Everton (4/28)

In stoppage time, Tom Ince scored the massive goal to give Huddersfield the win and a huge boost in their fight to stay in the PL. Despite being outplayed for the first half, the Terries didn’t concede. After halftime, the Terriers were the better team and it paid off with Ince’s goal. Their first win in their last six games, Huddersfield are now in 14thwith 35 points. Those three points against Watford could prove to be the three points that keeps Huddersfield in the league.

  1. CRYSTAL PALACE (34 PTS, GD -18)
    LAST GAME: 3-2 W vs. Brighton
    NEXT GAME: at Watford

A massive result for Palace. In a relegation battler with one of their biggest rivals, Hodgson and his men picked up a crucial three points and are now six points clear of the relegation zone with four games remaining. The man main at Selhurst Park and Palace’s best player, Wilfried Zaha scored twice in the first half and it was his second goal that proved to be the game winner. Wayne Hennessey made some great saves in the second half to keep Palace in front and pick up the win.

The M23 Derby may not be the most glamorous or even the most popular derby, but to the fans of these clubs, it’s been the two biggest games of the season. With both teams on the verge of clinching another season in the PL, we will get to enjoy two more M23 derbies next year.

  1. SWANSEA CITY (33 PTS, GD -19)
    LAST GAME: 1-1 D vs. Everton
    NEXT GAME: at City

Swansea came from behind to earn a vital point in their battle to stay in the PL. Andre Ayew hit a sweet half-volley in the 71stminute to equalize. Everton almost went back ahead immediately following Swansea’s goal, but Seamus Coleman’s shot hit the bar. The draw drops Swansea into 17th, one spot ahead of the relegation zone. The Swans are winless in their last four games, but are still five spots clear. Swansea has City and Chelsea in the next two weeks and they will need the other teams around them to lose because it will take some of Swansea’s best play to take points from City and Chelsea in back-to-back weeks.

  1. SOUTHAMPTON (29 PTS, GD -20)
    LAST GAME: 3-2 L vs. Chelsea, 0-0 D at Leicester
    NEXT GAMES: vs. Bournemouth (4/28)

After the heartbreak against Chelsea, Southampton needed to respond against a slipping Leicester side and they didn’t. Southampton struggled to create chances the entire game and only mustered two shots on target.

Southampton started the game really well against Chelsea. The Blues looked unenthusiastic and it gave Southampton the perfect chance to pick up some vital points.  The Saints deserved their two-goal lead, but it was that second goal that woke the beast in Chelsea. Conte made some great substitutions and Chelsea was fantastic in the last twenty minutes.

It’s not looking good for the Saints. They have four games remaining and need to close that four-point gap. With Swansea playing tough competition in their next two games, Southampton should feel confident. They have Bournemouth and Everton the next two weeks and they must win those games.

  1. STOKE CITY (28 PTS, GD -33)
    LAST GAME: 1-1 D at West Ham
    NEXT GAME: vs. Burnley
     

Stoke was so close to stealing vital points from West Ham, but in the dying seconds, had it snatched away by Andy Carroll. The win would have taken Stoke just three points from safety, but with the draw, the Potters stay in 19thand five points away from safety. Stoke are winless in their last 10 league games and hasn’t won a game in the league since January 20th. The only good news for Stoke is that Peter Crouch became Stoke’s all-time leading PL scorer with 44. The Potters will really need his help and some more of his goals if they wish to pull themselves out of the relegation zone with four games remaining.

  1. WEST BROMWICH ALBION (24 PTS, GD -25)
    LAST GAME: 1-0 W at United
    NEXT GAME :
    at Liverpool

WBA will need the greatest of great escapes is they want to stay in the PL, but their fans will feel over the moon with their win at Old Trafford. All the news surrounding WBA’s 1-0 win at United was lackluster performance, but the Baggies deserve a lot of credit. They hung in their defensively and picked their times to attack.

It is still a longshot that WBA will stay in the PL, but in two games under interim manager Darren Moore, WBA have picked up four of a possible six points.

 


@ClayBenjamin_ for @CincySoccerTalk

 

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