Football Fixtures release review

It doesn’t seem so long ago that the domestic football season came to an end, but here we are yet again with the release of the Premier League fixtures. No doubt some will be happy with the opening few games whilst others will be looking towards the run ins their respective clubs will have to get through to either stay in the league, qualify for Champions League/Europa League and the grand prize of the Premier League title.

The opening set of fixtures sees Premier League Champions Chelsea kick off their defence with a home game against Burnley. It’s a repeat of last seasons opener and the blues will be hoping to have a repeat the same which saw a 3-0 win. The Blues find themselves though with a mix of the top six thrown in. Following Burnley it’s a trip to Wembley in the London derby at Spurs. By the end of September, they would have hosted four of last seasons top seven. Chelsea have a relatively good Christmas period as they have back to back home games where they face Brighton & Stoke City with the return trip to Everton just before Christmas. If Chelsea are in the hunt for the title come April, it will be a good run seeing how tricky March is. Trips to the Etihad and Turf Moor are mixed in with games at home against Palace and Tottenham. April brings West Ham and Huddersfield to the Bridge alongside trips to Southampton and Swansea. The final two games see a visit from Liverpool and a trip to Newcastle Utd.  Liverpool have started are currently unbeaten in the league against Chelsea since 2014. Results between Conte’s men and Newcastle have been even with a mix of wins and losses although United fans will be keen to forget their last visit to the Bridge.

Staying with Newcastle Utd, their return to Premier League football sees them host runners up Tottenham. It will be interesting to see how Spurs line up in the coming season, will players join or even leave, one thing is for sure is that the Magpies wont be fussed and will be looking to open their return with three points and Premier League security under the managerial guidance of Rafa Bentez. they follow that up with a trip to fellow promoted club Huddersfield Town. The Magpies will be looking to repeat the victory that they managed in the Championship last season. Newcastle Utd see a mixed bag affair for the Christmas fixtures. Pre Christmas Eve fixture sees a trip to West Ham, where the visitors will be hoping that they grab three points at the London stadium. Boxing Day and the final fixture of the year sees two home games in the shape of Manchester City and last seasons Championship runners up Brighton. A couple of juicy fixtures no doubt as many enjoy the festive period. Their  New Years Day fixture sees a trip to Stoke, possibly not the best journey for anyone with sore heads.

New boys Brighton kick off their top flight return with the hosting of Manchester City, not the easiest start for the club but as the old addage goes, everyone has to play each other at some point in the season. It’s a double dose on the road as they travel to Leicester City and Watford. These are certainly winnable games in the league. Christmas and New Year looks challenging as the Seagulls have the return  fixtures against Watford pre Christmas Eve, a trip to defending Champions Chelsea and a return against Newcastle Utd.

Their run in mind you is a bit trickier, they host Tottenham and Man Utd, before going to Anfield on the final game of the season. Certainly not the best run in if looking for Premier League survival.

Manchester City have a mixed start in terms of opponents. Having faced Brighton on the opening day, they find themselves facing Everton and Liverpool at home with Bournemouth sandwiched inbetween. Finishing wise Man City have a reasonable run in. Only Tottenham from the top five are in City’s possible title push. Finishing with newly promoted Huddersfield, who could be battling relegation or even securing mid table safety.

Liverpool kick off their campaign with a trip to Watford. Bogey team Crystal Palace are at Anfield next in back to back home games which sees Arsenal heading up next. It’s first of two games running which see top team clashes. Last season Liverpool came out top and unbeaten against Utd Chelsea Arsenal Spurs and City. This season they will look to repeat it once again. Pre Christmas sees a trip to Arsenal following home games against Swansea and Leicester City. Liverpool, hoping to be challengers once again for the title will see visits to Chelsea with home games against Stoke and a final game at home to Brighton. It will be interesting to see if  any summer signings make a huge impact during the season.

Manchester United will be hoping to go better than last season, where draws proved the end to United’s title and top four challenge. This season West Ham, Swansea, Leicester and Stoke are the opening opponents for the Europa League champions. Christmas looks certain to bring festive cheer, although a new look Everton might be a bit more tricky for United, who could be seeing the return of Ronaldo, if reports are to be believed. Whilst May might be easy, April could be tricky. Man City and Arsenal stand in the way together with Bournemouth and West Brom.

Tottenham will find themselves having to deal with a different stadium for their home games. With the renovation of White Hart Lane,  last seasons runners up will be hosting their games at Wembley.  Champions League is one thing, but 19 games might have an effect on their title aspirations. Chelsea, Burnley and Swansea are the first three visitors to Spurs temporary home. It’s natural to think that Spurs might struggle, but there is no guarantee that their opposition will necessarily have any advantage. Christmas for Spurs is Burnley, Southampton and West Ham. It will be interesting to see what presents they get.  Tottenham’s run in sees Watford, West Brom and Leicester in the run in.

Finally its Arsenal, who this season will be having Thursday night football. Having played Leicester and Stoke, it’s the tricky visit to Liverpool followed by a visit from Bournemouth and a trip to defending champions Chelsea. West Brom and Brighton are next. Christmas sees more return trips for the Gunners who will be hoping to have a happy Christmas. Arsenal’s run in, which could see them either challenging for the title or a top four place looks fairly easy as Man Utd look the strongest of the opponents Huddersfield and Stoke.

It is looking very interesting in the coming season, especially with the chase for Champions League football. There will be no worries about top four spots as they will all be automatically qualifying for the group stages.

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Two into one – Chase for the Champions League

With both Arsenal and Manchester City both winning their games in hand, the chase for the final two Champions League spots looks like going from three into two to two into one. As it currently stands, Manchester City have all but  sealed their Champions League in third with on 78 points and a goal difference of plus 36, fourth place sees Liverpool on 73 and plus 33 together with Arsenal on 72 points and plus 31 goal difference.

After a roller coaster season for the three sides, City look odds on to finish third. Only Liverpool can overtake the Manchester club should City lose to away to Watford. Say a 1-0 defeat for Man City and a Liverpool win of 3-0 and its City drop down into fourth. It wouldn’t matter on the Arsenal result unless the Gunners give the home fans some joy and spank the toffees 4-0, which would then Arsenal would go into the Champions League and Man City finish fifth. How interesting would that be to see.

Realistically Manchester City should finish the game Sunday knowing that they can put their feet up with regards to Champions League football. The only thing they need to worry about is if they say for example 4-4 and Liverpool win 4-1. In these set of circumstances you would see a playoff match at a neutral ground.  The likelihood of that though is very slim. I imagine though should that happen, come Sunday evening there would be a large number of nervous Liverpool and City fans.

For Liverpool, it is Champions League playoff if they win. Should they draw or lose to Middlesbrough, not only will it be typical of the season, but all eyes will be on the Emirates hoping that their neighbours Everton can do them a favour. Should Liverpool lose and Arsenal draw, then that is when it becomes interesting. Should Liverpool lose 2-1 and Arsenal win 2-1 then both teams would have a record of 76-44 and plus 32. Under the Premier League rules, this would require a play off to distinguish who would finish in 4th and 5th place. Im sure neither team would want to go through a play off given their post season activities. As a Liverpool fan like others, I doubt there will be much hunger for 90 minutes at a neutral ground. I guess the same for Arsenal fans.

Not since 1989 when Arsenal won at Anfield to take the title, have either Liverpool or Arsenal gone to the wire in deciding league placings. Personally I dont want to relive that moment any time soon.

Champions League – Last 16

The Champions League draw took place this morning and England’s three remaining representatives were hoping for a easier start to a possible run to the final. For Arsenal and Man City it was familiar ground but for Premier League champions Leicester, this was still new ground. In fact for the Foxes, they were the only debutants in the knock out stages in this rounds competition.

Having snatched the group on the final round of group games, Arsenal found them meeting their Champions League nemesis, Bayern Munich. Having lost to them at the same stage in 2013 and 2014, Arsene Wenger will hope it’s third time lucky for the Gunners. Bayern, who finished second in their group will look to progress to the final having lost to runners up Atletico Madrid.

Leicester City find themselves in at the deep end as they face Spanish club Sevilla, who won last seasons Europa League final against Liverpool. The Spaniards came second to Juventus in their group and in their domestic league are flying in third place. The fortunate thing for Leicester is that they will be at home in the second leg and if they are yet again flying in Champions League form and still within a shout, it could make all the difference.

Man City will hope to make it to the Semi finals again and will see their chance of progression the easiest out of the three home clubs Whilst they face French club Monaco beat Tottenham twice, they wont be easy. City will hope that their form has turned round by the time the two clubs meet.

In the other last sixteen fixtures Real Madrid look favourites against Napoli, despite the defending champions finishing second in their group albeit behind Borussia Dortmund. Benfica face a tricky tie when they face Borussia Dortmund. The Portuguese club will need to be tight at the back against the strong German club. PSG’s failure to top the group with a final round draw sees them face Barcelona. The French club will host Barcelona in the first leg and travel to Spain for the second. It should prove to be a mouthwatering tie with both teams looking to reach the final.

Premier League Preview – Part One

Well here we are Saturday 8th August and the football lovers around the country see the return of league football in England, although the Championship opened up with Brighton v Nottingham Forest yesterday evening. Noticeably, the 2015-16 season starts a little earlier in August. and this is to enable the domestic season to be completed with a gap to the European Championship finals in France next Summer ( is that a sigh from the partners who done like football?)

The Premier League season looks certain to be exciting with various teams having made various changes over the last few weeks. Will the likes of Norwich, Watford and Premier League debut boys Bournemouth cause and upset the odds, will Chelsea retain the title or can Arsenal bring the title home. Can Manchester United push forward from their fourth place last season. Can Manchester City jump back. Will Liverpool’s new signings turn out better and see the Reds push forward in a future without Steven Gerrard. Can Tottenham finally break into the top four and stay there. Can Crystal Palace push further up the table.

Current Champions Chelsea will look to successfully defend their title being the first club to successfully defend the title since Manchester United retained the title in 2008. A fairly quiet summer for Jose Mourinho in the transfer market in regards to players coming in. The West London club signed Asimir Begovic, Nathan and probably what will be a big gamble, signing Radamel Falcao on loan. Chelsea fans either took in great gulps at the prospect of a struggling striker or were rubbing their hands at the opportunity of seeing the player finally come good.

Several players left the Bridge, notably Petr Cech who moved north to Arsenal and Didier Drogba who bid farewell to the Premier League once more, this time to sign for Montreal Impact, Filip Luis’ short stay in the Premier League came to an end as he joined Atletico Madrid.

The Blues will naturally start as favourites after their dominant season and will hope to continue to rule the roost once more over the coming nine months. I think though that the quest for Champions League glory, may overtake their quest for defending the title and see them miss out on successfully retaining the title.

Staying in London, its Arsenal next. There is much enthusiasm and positivity around the Emirates, it seems to stem from the signing of Petr Cech. Whilst he may have struggled to keep Courtois out the first team at the Bridge, the Czech goalkeeper can bring a certain consistency and confidence at the back. With Arsenal known for their form not kicking in till the latter half of the season, with the addition of a player with such a presence (there may still be others to come in) it will not only give fans hope and players confidence at the back. With various players signing new deals, they will though be hoping that the one backroom team less required this season will be the medical staff and physio. A full fit Arsenal side that Wenger can consistently rely up on will give much belief to the Gooners, who would love to add the Premier League title to the recent FA Cup victories.

I think Arsenal will kick off the season and start early and generally maintain their form and win the Premier League, although it will be tight.

Manchester City will look to forget about the disappointing surrender of their title defence and be hot on the heels of Chelsea and dealing with the threat of Arsenal and derby rivals Manchester United. They certainly made their intentions known with the signing of Raheem Sterling from Liverpool, for a fee that could rise to £49 million. Questions were asked about the fee involved. Liverpool fans probably relieved to see the back of the youngster who had not exactly excelled himself in the weeks leading up to his departure. Many including Liverpool fans were thinking that he wasnt worth the big money, especially for someone so young, but when you have a player who doesnt want to stay and a club willing to offer big money for him. Any club would be foolish to say no. There were plenty of comings and goings at the Etihad over the early part of the transfer window and I imagine that there will be plenty more to come before the window shuts once again.

The big question though is whether the club can bounce back. Depending on what happens between now and the end of August, it will take a great effort to overhaul Chelsea or Arsenal. Third place I reckon.

Manchester United will be hoping their summer signings. Having spent just over £83 million, Van Gaal will be hoping that his side can get back into the swing of things. Several players have arrived at the Theatre of Dreams, mostly of an midfield and forward nature. There were many questions asked about the Manchester United defensive frailties at times and despite the signing of Darmian and a goalkeeper, it seems doubtful whether those issues at the back will be fixed. With the ongoing saga involving the future of David De Gea, this is not likely to go away anytime soon. Saying that though, the attacking options are a little on the thin side what with the departure of Robin Van Persie to Turkey and the disappointing Radamel Falcao’s loan ending. Chiqarito maybe back, but with James Wilson shipped out on loan, an injury to Rooney could throw a spanner in the works for United’s attacking options. I would imagine though that before the deadline arrives, another striker will find himself donning the red devils shirt.

This season squad depth may come back to haunt United and with a place back in Europe, they may struggle to repeat the fourth place of last season. I see them finish fifth.

Wrapping up this first part with Liverpool. Last season was one to forget for the clubs fans. Injuries, disappointment, humilation, squad depth issues, the Gerrard contract debacle. This season it’s all change. Rodgers who is very much on borrowed time, strengthened his attacking option with Christian Benteke, Danny Ings and Brazilian youngster Roberto Firminho. The attacking element was greatly necessary after the major decrease in goals scored. The Irishman having seen the departure of Glen Johnson has also brought in defensive options in the form of another player from Southampton. Nathaniel Clyne will give the side not only a good defensive option, but the ability to provide good attacking lines, something that Glen Johnson would often disappoint. There is some definite good news for Rodgers though and that is the return of Daniel Sturridge, who was injury hit for most of the season.

With several disappointments leaving the club over the summer, it will free up money for signings that can make decent headway. Looking at the players such as Benteke and Ings, with previously having not so strong support, it is very possible that they can improve on last season.

With fewer distractions and more goal opportunities, I think that Liverpool will put the disappointment of last season behind them and finish fourth. If things are looking bleak by Christmas, I imagine Rodgers maybe looking towards the end of his time at Liverpool.

Liverpool FC – Old Trafford to Anfield the club bounce back

With this blog I have kept it relatively general about football and not showing any bias towards my favourite club Liverpool FC. Today though, I thought I would take time and write a blog about Liverpool and the season so far.

 The summer of 2014 had seen much change for Liverpool and the first transfer was the arrival of Rickie Lambert from Southampton, the first of three signings from the South coast club. Adam Lallana joined a month later followed by Emre Can from Bayer Leverkusen. The third transfer from Southampton would not come till the end of the month. Overshadowing that period was yet another Luis Suarez incident. This time on international duty in the World Cup, he decided to bite Chellini of Italy. What followed were hands in faces, eyes rolling and the words here we go again.

Barcelona who had their transfer ban suspended managed to acquire the services of the Uruguayan despite his ban from any football related activity. With around £75 million to spend, Rodgers set about improving the squad whilst letting those surplus to requirements go elsewhere. Making their way to Anfield were several youngsters including Moreno, Origi and the surprise transfer of Mario Ballotelli. Origi went back to Lille on loan as part of the agreement whilst the signing of Ballotelli caused much surprise as Rodgers had previously ruled out any deal involving the controversial Italian.

Liverpool’s season opened with a win at home to Southampton, but defeat away to Man City saw the start of a mixed run. A storming 3-0 win away to Tottenham was then derailed by a three game winless run which also didn’t help with the injury to striker Daniel Sturridge. The club then bounced back with a four game only to see another three game winless stretch. Then came what turned out to be the season turner for Liverpool. Mignolet was dropped, Liverpool couldnt find the back of the net in a game which Man United won 3-0. Rodgers looked like he was in trouble and on the verge of being sacked. He made changes including a formation change to 3-4-3. A brave decision and one seemingly risky for a manager whose job was under threat, but it seemed to work even with Daniel Sturridge still missing from the team.

When Liverpool had lost to Manchester United, they were 11th in the table, seven points behind 4th place West Ham and 17 behind second place Manchester City and ten points behind Man Utd. As Liverpool host Manchester United at Anfield tomorrow, things are much different. Liverpool are fifth, the inform team of the moment,unbeaten in the league since Old Trafford, six games unbeaten, six clean sheets, two points behind Man United and four behind Manchester City. If someone had said back in December that Liverpool would be still in with a chance of a Champions League spot, you might have been given a strange look.

It seems yet again another season for Liverpool under the Rodgers stewardship that the second half of the season the Liverpool manager has seen the club perform better in the second half of the season and with Manchester City struggling, is it really out of the question that the club could finish in the top two yet again? Who knows, but the team arent going to give up without a fight.