Champions League Final – Liverpool’s Road to Kiev

Saturday night sees the Champions League final in Kiev’s between Liverpool and Real Madrid in what looks certain to be a classic in the making. The 63rd final sees Liverpool go in as the underdogs despite having knocked out the likes of Man City and Roma whilst playing some quality football along the way.

Liverpool started their journey back in August with a play off tie against German club 1899 Hoffenheim. A 2-1 in Germany and followed it up with a 4-2 win at Anfield,  the tie being over after 21 minutes when Liverpool cruised to a 5-1 aggregate lead.

The Reds found themselves in the Group stage in with the likes of Sevilla, Maribor Branik and Spartak Moscow. The Reds had a good chance of progression with the Spanish club Sevilla being the club most likely to cause some uncomfortable moments. Sevilla indeed deny Liverpool a win as they took two points off the Merseyside club over the two ties.

Apart from a third draw at Spartak, the Reds dominated the group sticking a total of 23 goals past their opponents, a total only bettered  by Paris Saint Germain who had netted 25.

The first knock out stage saw Liverpool drawn against Porto. A Liverpool team that waste now minus Brazilian playmaker Phillipe Coutinho. It was thought that the Reds might suffer without him, but it seemed not to be. The Reds stormed to a 5-0 win in Portugal. The dynamic trio of Mane (3) Salah and Firmino secured the result in Portugal.

Next up for the Anfield club was an all English tie as Liverpool were drawn against Premier League leaders Man City. It was one of the ties that stood out and one that could see either side go far.  The two clubs had already produced 13 goals in the two league ties including an outstanding Liverpool performance at Anfield. So when the two sides met at Anfield in the first leg, wow what a tie that would turn out to be. Klopp’s team crushed City and by half time it seemed game over. Not even the departure of Salah with a possible injury could hinder the reds. The tie was certainly looking like a Reds win but the  game was not over, but given this competition and these two teams, anything could happen.

A week later the Etihad was to host the second leg knowing that anything could happen. City needed a an early goal and they did, Jesus struck early and set the game up. The Reds were up against it in the first half and a second goal would have made things very interesting and shortly before half time City were denied a legitimate goal. It was 1-0 at half time. The second half began with Guardiola sent to the stands.

Liverpool needed something and in the 56th minute they got it. Mane looked like he was felled, but as everyone looked to the ref, that Egyptian wonder Mo Salah took hold of the ball, took it around Ederson and poked it over Otamendi. It was significant and it made it 4-1 on aggregate. After the Premier League game, anything was still possible. Liverpool had conceded goals from being 4-1 up and at the same time they hadn’t beaten an English club away from home in the European Cup.  The visitors had the edge and the tide had seemingly turned. In the 77th minute it was good night City as Firmino capitalised on a City defensive error to make it 2-1 and totally game over. The Five time winners were through and into the semi finals. The next opponents were going to be tough and the Reds found themselves paired with  AS Roma, the team that had come back shocked Barcelona. It was another Anfield first leg and 90 minutes of tantalising football.

Tantalising football was most certainly the case. Liverpool didn’t change a thing tactically against Roma. Having watched Barcelona overcome, Liverpool knew that they Roma weren’t to be taken lightly. For all the talk, it seemed that Roma were the rabbit in the Liverpool headlights. Klopp’s team were running rings around their Italian opponents and should have taken the lead much earlier than they did in the 36th minute. Mane had missed a couple of opportunities but they were forgotten when Mo Salah struck with the first of two quality goals. The Egyptian was facing his former club, but he was certainly not being kind to his former employers. Salah made it 2-0 on the stroke of half time.

The Italians of course were still not out of it even when the Reds went 3-0 up through Mane. The Senegal player finally hit the score sheet. If the home fans were ecstatic at 3-0, they were delirious five minutes later when Firmino scored the fourth. Anfield was rocking and Roma could have been almost 10 down but five it would be when Firmino added goal number two.

Could the first half missed opportunities cost Liverpool in the second leg as Roma stunned Anfield with two late goals one of which was dubious penalty. Things were looking interesting now going into the Rome second leg. Liverpool knew of the risks that Roma could spring but the visitors grabbed an early goal through Mane. Advantage Merseyside, the aggregate score was now 6-2. That soon became 6-3 when a Lovren clearance hit James Milner square in the head and went in.

Liverpool were still in charge of the tie and didn’t really need to do anything stupid.There was no need to worry as Liverpool were back in front on the night and 7-3 ahead on aggregate as Gini Wijnaldum bagged his first ever goal away from  home.  Roma hadn’t just received a bloody nose, but they were on the canvas. Could they recover. They hit shot after shot, but couldn’t break through in the rest of the first half. Roma needed one hell of a team talk, the best half time team talk they needed.

The comeback looked certain to start as Dzeko bagged a leveller to make it 2-2  an 7-4 on aggregate. Could Roma repeat their Barca comeback? Surely not. The Italians were doing their utmost to get back in but it seemed all in vain as time started to run out. Nainggolan though netted Roma’s third of the night and fifth of the tie. Could they do it, could they burst the Red’s bubble? They would come close as Nainggolan converted another fortuitous penalty, it came at the death and all too late, with the ball in the back of the net, the referee blew his whistle and brought the game to a close. A thirteen goal thriller and probably one of the best ties of the knockout stages.

Liverpool were heading to Kiev for a Champions League final, the second European final under Klopp. On 26th May will it be Champions League number 13 for Real or trophy number 6 for Liverpool. Which ever way it goes, we are in for an exciting final.

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They Predict its All Over – It is now

So the final whistle went and the final predictions tailed away to a 50/50 performance, that’s not to say it they weren’t helped by the fact that some teams decided to turn up or go into holiday mode before the full time whistle.

Arsenal sent Arsene Wenger away with his first Premier League away win in 2018. Three points at Huddersfield gave the Frenchman a happy send off that he deserved. It was a shame that he was calling it a day, but that is football. I wonder though who Arsenal will appoint next and how long they will get before they are on the receiving end of an out chant. For Huddersfield, they would have preferred a draw at least but they knew they were safe. Whilst I had predicted a 3-1 win to Arsenal, they were having to suffice with a single goal victory. It was a correct result either way.

Burnley had hoped to finish their season with a win, but their opponents Bournemouth had other ideas. Having had a bit of a losing streak, Sean Dyche’s team had sealed a spot in the Europa League and some new destinations for next season. Despite taking the lead, the hosts saw the south coast club not only grab a second half leveller, but a 93rd minute winner. Burnley finished 7th whilst Bournemouth missed out on a top 10 spot on goal difference. My prediction was for a 2-1 home win.

Crystal Palace hosted relegated West Brom. It was unfortunate for Darren Moore, who had seemingly turned the Baggies fortunes round and maybe had he been appointed a few games previous, may well have kept the club up. West Brom were playing Crystal Palace who not so long ago, were in the midst of having to escape the relegation fight, they though had pulled away to safety under Roy Hodgson. The Eagles ended up finishing 11th on goal difference behind Newcastle Utd. I had predicted and end of season at the beach 1-1 draw.

Chelsea visited the already mentioned Newcastle United knowing they needed to win to be in with a chance of grabbing the fourth spot ahead of Liverpool.  Having beaten the Reds and having seen Spurs beat Newcastle United, Conte’s team we’re surely favourites to win. It was hard to imagine a more spineless defence of a Premier League title than Chelsea but that it was. The Blues had not even manage to hit a shot on target in the first half and paid for it when Newcastle went ahead after 23 minutes through Dwight Gayle. Nothing seemed to improve in the second half and the Chelsea were consigned to the Europa League when Ayoze Perez added two quick second half goals. It would turn out to be meaningless as Liverpool strolled to victory in their game at Anfield. My prediction was a 1-1 draw which would have reflected both sides recent performances.

Liverpool hosted Brighton & Hove Albion knowing a point would be enough. Klopp’s side weren’t interested in finishing the season with another home draw but instead stormed to a 4-0 win including a Mo Salah goal, that clinched the golden boot. The Reds were on fire and probably should have had more than they did. Lovren, who was disappointing in games throughout the season, connected well to net a powerful header 5 minutes before half time. Lovren had headed home an Andy Robertson cross. The signing of Robertson last summer seemed to raise a few eyebrows, but the Scotsman has been quite impressive with his attacks from defence this season. It seemed fitting that he should bag a goal and he did five minutes from time to seal the win for his first Liverpool goal. He wasn’t the only one bagging his first Reds goal as Dominic Solanke scored with his shot powering off the crossbar. My prediction for this game was 3-0, so I was not too far off with this one.

Man Utd who had already secured second spot signed off not only their Premier League season with a win, but were also saying farewell to Michael Carrick. It wasn’t much of a game, but the former England international helped set up the only goal of the game when sent a lofted pass to Mata, who in turn set up Rashford.

Carrick looks certain to join the Man Utd coaching squad, is a player who England often missed. He was given an ovation in the 85th minute when replaced by Frenchman Paul Pogba. In regards to the game, I had predicted a 1-1 draw.

Tottenham hosted Leicester City in their final game at Wembley, they were assured of a place in next seasons Champions League, but a failure to win combined with a Liverpool win, could see the Lilywhites finish fourth. It seemed that Leicester were not in the mood to just give Spurs an easy game, especially having previously beaten Arsenal. Jamie Vardy opened the scoring early in the game, the hosts were level three minutes later through another England striker, Harry Kane. Previously wantaway Mahrez put Leicester back in front and it stayed that way till half time.

It looked even bleaker for Tottenham as the fell 3-1 behind whilst Liverpool were 2-0 up. Lamela scored his first of two early in the second half to make it 2-3. Spurs were level in the 53rd minute when Fuchs put through his own net. Lamela put Spurs ahead for the first time when he netted on the hour. Leicester though seemed unlikely to be finished and they were back level when Vardy struck again. The game saw its ninth goal a few minutes later when Kane netted again and with the game like it was, many wondered if he might even steal the golden boot off Mo Salah. It wasn’t too be as the game finished 5-4. It will probably be a while until we see another nine goal thriller at Wembley. My prediction had been a slightly narrower result of 2-1.

At the other end Southampton who were virtually saved were unlucky not to finish the season with a point as they lost at home to Man City with a injury time goal. I had a correct result here although I had predicted 2-1.

The Saints defeat mattered little as Stoke won at Swansea. Relegation was inevitable for the Welsh side but a 14th minute goal gave them hope. That hope though was squashed as Stoke netted two goals in the space of ten minutes to take all three points. It was Stokes first win since January very much all to late. I had predicted a 2-0 win for Swansea.

Everton and West Ham faced off in a match where both managers of each club were likely to be departing at some point after the game. The Hammers always seemed to be in charge of the game having almost 60% possession. Possession doesn’t necessarily give you the points, but in this case it did as the Hammers nailed their chances to win 3-1. For David Moyes, he had done his job in East London and secured their Premier League safety. In the end they finished two points off tenth spot. For Sam Allardyce and Everton they turned things around and secured Premier League safety. His style of management did not go down well with the fans who will not be to sad to see him depart Goodison Park.

Having spent several million during the summer, the club and their fans must feel really disappointed that they didn’t fair better. Silva of Watford is being linked with taking over the helm at Goodison Park.

My prediction wasn’t too far out with a 2-1 win for West Ham.

 

 

 

FA Premier League Predictions – Week 39 The Final Hurrah

So a disappointing penultimate round of fixtures three  correct results out of six. The footballing gods were throwing a curve ball and Southampton seem to have made the great escape as they beat Swansea. That was one of my correct results predicted. Man City provided the other, although somewhat predictably.

Sunday afternoon sees the Premier League reach the final hurrah, we finally reach the final round of games and Premier League predictions. There is not too much left to play for. The title is won, Man Utd need at least a point to secure second, Tottenham have qualified for next seasons Champions League. That just leaves the final Champions League spot to play for. Liverpool currently hold fourth spot after Spurs win and Chelsea’s surprise draw. Liverpool know that a point at home to Brighton will be enough should Chelsea win. This though due to Liverpool’s significantly better goal difference.  I can’t imagine Liverpool losing at Anfield home on their final home game of the season. Chelsea will need to go to Newcastle and win, which given any other season wouldn’t be in doubt, but this season the London club has been all over the place.

At the other end it’s seemingly a formality. Swansea host Stoke City  whilst Southampton host Man City. Only a heavy mauling by Man City in Southampton and a heavy win by Swansea over Stoke City would see the south coast club doomed to the Championship. Depending on results, the Swans could even finish bottom but again that depends on Stoke being able to win 4-0, which would seem a tall feat.

So for the final time, my predictions for the last round of Premier League. I will though be looking back through the whole season to see how well or not so well my predictions turned out.

 

  1.                                  Burnley. 2-1 Bournemouth     Hosts end fab season with a win
  2.                       Crystal Palace.  1-1 West Brom.        Point each in nothing game
  3.                        Huddersfield.  1-3. Arsenal.             Wenger signs out with a win
  4.                              Liverpool.   3-0. Brighton.          Reds win and seal CL spot
  5.                                Man Utd.   1-1. Watford.           Hornets take point at Man Utd
  6.                    Newcastle. Utd.  1-1. Chelsea.              Chelsea blow CL hopes
  7.                       Southampton. 1-2. Man City.            Saints lose but stay up
  8.                       Swansea City.   2-0 Stoke City.          Swans win but go down
  9.                          Tottenham.   2-1 Leicester City.    Spurs end with Wembley win
  10.                             West Ham.  2-1 Everton.             Hammers end season with win

 

So the Premier League curtain comes down for another season, Liverpool give their fans a sense of relief as they get vital win to secure Champions League for next season. Can they add the trophy itself. Chelsea finish with a draw that costs them a Champions League place and will it cost Conte his job.

Man Utd end their league season with a drab draw although Watford, their opponents will miss out on a top ten spot.

FA Premier League Predictions – Week 36 and time ticks away

It’s back to a full week of Premier League fixtures this weekend and after last weeks poor show, I’m totally pleased. Week 35 brought a miserably 2 out of 6 correctly predicted. Only Arsenal and Man City gave me any joy as Liverpool were denied late on, Everton beat Newcastle and whilst Stoke and Watford games both finished as draws. This week can only be an improvement as the chase for Champions League football hots up and the battle for Premier League survival moves closer to being resolved.

This weekend sees Liverpool in another Saturday lunchtime kick against Premier League strugglers Stoke City. The Reds will look to avoid a repeat of last weekends dropped points as they also look towards Wednesday nights second leg in Rome. Having drawn the last two games, Stoke might think they have a chance. That maybe their only hope given that the Reds are now the only team left unbeaten at home in the Premier League.

  1.                           Burnley.  2-1.  Brighton            Clarets closer to Europa League
  2.                          C.Palace   1-1.   Leicester City   Eagles closer to security
  3.                 Huddersfield.  0-2.   Everton.            Terriers lingering closer to drop
  4.                       Liverpool.  2-0.   Stoke City.         Stoke heading for drop
  5.                         Man Utd.   1-2.  Arsenal.             Wengers final Old Trafford win
  6.              Newcastle. Utd.  2-0.  West Brom.        Toon send Baggies down
  7.                Southampton.   1-1.  Bournemouth   South Coast draw
  8.                        Swansea.   2-2. Chelsea.              4 goal thriller no good for either
  9.                    Tottenham.   1-1. Watford.             Dropped points for Spurs
  10.                    West Ham.    1-3. Man City.            City not easing off

 

Another week sees chances missed and costly points dropped for some sides. Palace look certain to be taking their fight for survival right to the end of the season after drawing 1-1 at home. Stoke City’s trip to Anfield might come inbetween a Champions League semi final, but that won’t be enough to get even a point thus pushing them closer to relegation. For Liverpool the win will strengthen their top four spot.

It doesn’t look promising for Southampton. They need to win and their league game against Chelsea saw them throw away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2. Holding on to that win might have given them hope of survival. The game against Bournemouth looks certain to give them nothing more than a point.

It’s Arsenal travelling to Man Utd on Sunday in what is Arsene Wenger’s last game at Arsenal against United. This fixture has seen a rivalry throughout the years and the Gunners will no doubt look to turn it on at Old Trafford for Wenger’s last trip to Manchester as Arsenal boss. Usually it would be more than likely a home win, I expect Arsenal to steal a 2-1.

Chelsea travel to Swansea knowing they need to ensure a win to keep Champions League qualification hopes up. They went 2-0 down against Southampton before stealing a win against Southampton. They host Swansea City who are looking to ensure Premier League status next season. The Swans wont be as easy to overcome and Chelsea are still prone to moments of unpredictability. Expect the visitors to get a point and deny Chelsea Champions League football.

 

Is this really the best eleven – Dan Raywood guest blog

Today saw the announcement of the PFA team of the year.

 Unsurprisingly the team was dominated by players from Manchester City (5), Spurs (3) and Chelsea, Man United and Liverpool got one player in each.

 PFA team of the year:

GK | David De Gea
RB | Kyle Walker
CB | Jan Vertonghen
CB | Nicolás Otamendi
LB | Marcos Alonso 
MID | David Silva
MID | Kevin De Bruyne
MID | Christian Eriksen
FWD | Harry Kane
FWD | Mohamed Salah
FWD | Sergio Agüero

It is unsurprising that Manchester City dominated this team, as they have dominated the league. But in the case where U2 are the greatest band, does that mean that The Edge is the greatest guitarist? Of course not, there are some sublime guitar players in this world, and would The Edge be as revered if he were in a different band?

 To drop the analogy, my issue here is with the inclusion of Sergio Aguero. To be very cynical, has this really been an outstanding season for Aguero? Yes he’s third in the goal scoring charts, but no one really mentions him as being in the form of De Bruyne, Sane and Silva – a lot of players could count themselves as being very unlucky to not be selected.

Think the likes of the of Leroy Sane, Sadio Mane, Dele Alli, Glenn Murray and Ashley Barnes, they can count themselves unlucky to have not been included.

Is it the case that some players are in great teams, and therefore are better? Arguably yes, but I do wonder if the PFA are looking at an easy spine, and rest are filled in by looking at the form teams.

 As for the problem positions, well De Gea has been the outstanding goalkeeper this year when some others have faltered, and the overall poor form of Chelsea and Manchester United has left some players, who should have been outstanding (hello Pogba, Lukaku. Morata) very much in the B team.

Overall it is hard to pick fault as apart from De Bruyne and Salah, the rest of the top 11 have had consistent patches of form but I do wonder if a better representation of the league would have been better for all.

FA Premier League Predictions – Week 32

Welcome back Premier League, how we missed you what with VAR and all that. It’s back to normal this Easter Weekend as the Premier League moves closer to the finishing line and City adding another league title to the trophy as everyone else scraps for Champions League football or Premier League survival.

So as you will remember the weekend before the International break saw a 4 game Premier League week and what a weekend it was. I nailed 1 correct score and 2 correct results. The game that let me down was Huddersfield against Crystal Palace. I had expected the home side to win but the Eagles decided to spoil the 100% wins.

This week sees West Ham and Southampton battle it out in a relegation fight.  West Ham are two points above Southampton who are third from bottom. A Hammers win would make their stay in the Premier League a little more secure although that is not the only concern they have had having seen the fan trouble. A win for the Saints though could seem them move out of the bottom three depending on other results. Stoke City will go to the Emirates hoping they can grab a win and help strengthen the Wenger Out cause. Newcastle Utd take on Huddersfield. A win for the Toon should secure their Premier League status and put more pressure on Huddersfield. West Brom are virtually down barring any great escape miracle.

Crystal Palace host Liverpool in a game that has a bearing both at the bottom and top. A win for the Eagles will edge them closer to safety although given Liverpool’s recent goal spree, it doesn’t bode well for the Palace defence especially with Mo Salah able turn nothing into something. Second place Man Utd host Swansea City. Not so long ago you would have expected the Manchester side to pummel the Swans, but the manager change with Carlos Carvalhal, the Welsh club have only lost three in seventeen so the outcome could go either way especially with the way United seem to play every so often. it wouldnt be the first time that the Swans won at Old Trafford in recent times. Leaders Man City look certain to inch their way closer to glory with maximum points ahead of their Champions League visit to Anfield on Wednesday night.

Anyway time to lay down the predictions

  1.                                                       Arsenal 2-0  Stoke City        City’s woes continue
  2.                                                     Brighton 1-2  Leicester City  Important win for Foxes
  3.                                                      Chelsea  1-1 Tottenham        Honours even at the Bridge
  4.                                           Crystal Palace  1-3  Liverpool         Reds go for glory
  5.                                                      Everton  0-2  Man City           Visitors head towards title
  6.                                                     Man Utd  1-1  Swansea City  United held by Swansea
  7.                                          Newcastle Utd  2-0  Huddersfield   Toon head closer to safety
  8.                                                     Watford  2-1  Bournemouth  Hornets steal win
  9.                                                West Brom  0-2  Burnley             Clarets moving up
  10.                                               West Ham   1-1 Southampton   Draw cranks up pressure

 

Some big results this weekend for teams chasing European places and relegation survival as the games whittle down. Whilst the Premier League title might be done and dusted. It’s all very much to play for as we chomp on our Easter eggs.

 

FA Premier League Preditions – Week 31

This week sees a smaller programme due to the FA Cup quarter finals but what it does give is another opportunity for me to get a good round of predictions. Week 30 saw a total of 8 correct results out of 10. There were no correct scores predicted, but hey who is going to turn down the 8 out of 10 correct results either way.

This week there are four Premier League fixtures of which three affect teams battling to avoid relegation, so with the reduced number of games it is crucial that those clubs playing this weekend take vital points. The other fixture sees a chance for Liverpool to take all three points at home to Watford and keep the pressure on the others in the chase for a top four spot. Liverpool will know that had they got a point at least from Old Trafford, a single point would have separated Man Utd, Liverpool and Tottenham and a Merseyside club would have been third on goal difference. Now though Man Utd have a four point lead over Tottenham and five over Liverpool. Chelsea winning moved them to within four points of Klopp’s team as well. I expect the home side to come out on top and take all three points. There certainly wont be a repeat of the opening game of the season.

At the other end West Brom travel to Bournemouth looking for a league win or maybe jus some dignity as relegation looms ever closer. Stoke City host Everton. Based on form it seems inevitable that the visitors will win. Huddersfield host Crystal Palace in what is another relegation battle. The Eagles look certain to be doomed as they look for a much needed win. This came close against Man Utd only for them to blow it. Then a game against Chelsea brought no joy and a trip up north doesn’t bring any likelihood of joy.

So lets see if I can get 100% this week

  1.                            Bournemouth  2-0   West Brom       No joy for the Baggies
  2.                             Huddersfield   2-0   Crystal Palace  Relegation looms for Eagles
  3.                                   Liverpool   3-0   Watford            Reds back on track
  4.                                   Stoke City   1-2   Everton            Things looking bad for City

The short number of games leads the relegation battle looking even tighter as those teams affected are certain to lose leaving things remaining as they are.