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.

In 1977 -Reds joy & Lillywhite gloom

So 1977 saw the reds of Liverpool and Manchester claim the League and  FA Cup and Liverpool successful in the European Cup. Liverpool had in fact retained the League title. Liverpool had  battled in a three way title challenge with Ipswich Town and Manchester City, who would finish second. It was also Liverpool’s tenth league title and a new record.

The FA Cup that saw the final between Liverpool and Manchester United, had seen United along the way avenge their Wembley defeat against Southampton the season before. Liverpool in the Semi Final faced their Merseyside neighbours Everton. A 2-2 draw at Maine Road meant a replay at Goodi. It was definitely a case of the blues for the hosts as Liverpool stormed to a 3-0 win.

It was double misery for Tottenham as not only they ended up finishing bottom and relegated, they also went out in the third round to second division Cardiff City.

The 1976-77 had seen the introduction of yellow and red cards and a change from goal average to goal difference. The change to goal difference was designed to encourage more goals scoring.

International football saw a disappointing run of summer games for England compounded by Don Revie’s controversial resignation as he went off to manage in the Emirates. It was also the yeat that saw the famous scenes at Wembley where Scottish fans invaded the pitch and break the goal posts.

 1977 saw the beginning of the rise of Wimbledon, who were elected into the fourth division. Having seen a successful run in non league football, they were rewarded with League football participation and for the Dons, life in the league was about to get interesting and in ten years time it would become even more special.

It was soon time for a new season and newly promoted Nottingham Forest were making themselves known as they topped the table at the end of the first month. Other promoted sides, Birmingham City and West Ham both started winless.

Newcastle were in all sorts of trouble, bottom of the table, they found themselves sacking their manager Richard Dinnis who had also criticised the club chairman.

International misery for England once more as they failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup, making it an absence of eight years for the 1966 winners.

Finally it was big transfers as Kenny Dalglish became the most expensive player signed from a British club when he moves from Celtic to Liverpool. The price was 440,000. Pricey for the Scotsman, not sure whether it would work out though for the defending champions…..

Well that’s all for now on the opening Flashback 40 series. Be sure to check out more.

Sam Allardyce – Good riddance

I take a week off abroad and it seems all hell breaks loose. Having appeared to be the victim of a newspaper sting, the FA had no choice but to call time on Sam Allardyce’s England tenure. Allardyce was appointed following the resignation of Roy Hodgson following Euro 2016 exit.

The appointment of ‘Big Sam’was always a questionable one given that he had no major honours and a management win ratio of under 40%. How was a manager with a win ratio that low, ever going to be suited to being England manager. If it wasn’t the percentage rate, it was the unattractive football. There had to be better choices, even if the FA were looking at a foreign manager. Thanks to Celtic the English FA didn’t have to look at Brendan Rodgers.

If Allardyce was to depart from the post as England manager, we would have expected disappointing football and records. We should not have expected him to be booted after one game and under 70 days, unfortunately we shouldn’t have expected any different. Allardyce had been drawn into the darker side of football ten years ago along side his son. You might have expected him to avoid any kind of dodgy stuff but apparently not. In a secret filming he claimed he could get round things. Post departure he claimed he was doing a favour for a friend, in reality Allardyce should have known better.

It appears that the former Sunderland manager could be in further trouble with the FA following the recent incident, not before he apparently receives a £1 million pay off. The logic makes no sense, but then to be honest when did the FA have any logic? They did after all screw over the late Sir Bobby Robson by not offering him a deal post Italia 90.

It is likely that Allardyce will get some punishment, but not enough to keep him from managing again.

Euro 2016 Last 16 review

The group stages were finally over and it was down to the finer points of tournament football, yes that’s right the knockout stages. With the expanded tournament and four best third place nations joining in on the fun, we would see some interesting matchups and first time records.

Kicking off the knockout stages were Switzerland and Poland. This one seemed like it was always going to be a tight affair. The Swiss managed only two goals as did their opponents. Their defence was even stingier with only the Swiss conceding a single goal out of the two nations, so it seemed inevitable that the two sides would end up going to penalties after seeing one of the goals of the tournament.

Wales and Northern Ireland came face to face in a game where one home nation would be guaranteed in the quarter finals saw a quiet start but then the game got going when the tackles flying in. Gareth Bale was not as busy as he was previously, but it just took one moment for him to make impact and he didnt even score. His cross put pressure, with Kanu-Robson waiting in the centre, on McAuley who in trying to deny the Wales player, could only put it in his own net. It was a terrible way for the Irish to go out having contributed so much, but that is how the game goes.

Croatia faced a Portugal side who looked like they could be there for the taking. Croatia looked like the dark horse of the tournament, whilst Portugal were grateful for the expansion of the group stage qualifiers as they finished third. Sadly though for what seemed like a potential game of the tournament, it turned into a dour affair where the game entered into extra time. The stats showed a disappointing reflection of the match. Croatia had 17 shots and none on target.Portugal had 6 shots and two on target of which one came in the form of the winning goal in extra time. Ronaldo too was also below par again. Whilst Poland only won on penalties, Portugal will have to be better prepared when facing an unpredictable Poland side.

France came back from an early set back to beat the Republic of Ireland. The Irish took an early lead through a penalty and held the lead to half time. The lack of firepower would sadly be the downfall of the Irish. The goal would be the only one of the six that they would get on target. The French however would bounce with two quickfire goals leaving the Irish rocked. The final to Irish hopes would come just a few minutes later when they were reduced to 10 men following Duffy’s red card. Irish eyes may not have been smiling but at least they could go home with some pride.

Germany faced Slovakia  in a game that showed England’s scoring issues when they took apart Slovakia with a 3-0 hammering. The World Cup holder were in fine form and really should have been more. An interchangeable line up dominated possession having just over 60% but unlike other nations they converted that possession into shots and goals. A total of 21 shots with 7 on target. The Germans nette through Boateng, Gomez and Draxler and based on this performance, they look like sure fire favourites.

The pitiful opening performance from Belgium seems a very long time ago and they showed in this last sixteen tie against Hungary that they should not be underestimated although to be honest had the Hungarians taken their chances when it was 1-0, they might have made it a little more difficult for the hotly  tipped Belgians. They shall go home with some pride and positivity as they look towards the Russia 2018 qualifying campaign.

In what was to be an unexpected big nation tie, defending champions Spain fell to a second defeat in a row. Spain seemed out of sorts for a team looking to defend their title and had it not been for David De Gea, it could have been the reverse scoreline from their Euro 2012 final match up. It seems that it could well be the end of the dominant Spain on the international front and when the second goal went in to finish off the game the faces of the Spanish players said it all.

They say about leaving the best till last and they certainly did…from an Icelandic position. England were taking on Iceland in what should have been a win albeit a narrow one. Sadly it was the same old story and an embarrassing exit. Apart from the penalty England barely turned up. We saw Sterling start, misplaced passes, goalkeeping blunders, Harry Kane taking free kicks.

Fair play to the Icelandic team who have impressed and taken the tournament by force. French fans beware of what may come.

My Euro 2016 Group stage predictions – The results

So, at the start of the competition I wrote two blog posts covering the six groups. In these posts I shared my predictions and with the group stages at an end, it’s time to see how well or not so well I have done.

Group A

So this group looked like being quite a reasonable one to predict. The hosts France would top the group with Romania coming second on goal difference. Switzerland would finish third together with Albania finishing bottom. Well what do I know. Turns out France would finish top  of the group. They wouldnt be held by Romania, who would end up finishing bottom. The Swiss would go unbeaten with one win and two draws.

Group B

The group featuring two of the home nations was always going to be an interesting one to watch. The top two in my predictions would see both home nations finishing in the top two with Slovakia finishing third. I wasnt too far wrong, a solid defence by Slovakia denied England a win and top of the group. I did though predict Slovakia finishing third and Russia bottom.

Group C

Thia group saw another home nation representative, this time Nothern Ireland. In a group containing Germany, Poland and the Ukraine, very few would have given them hope of getting anything. For me though the determination would see them get third and thats exactly how it finished. I was spot on with my predictions on places so that was quite impressive.

Group D

This group seemed to be an easy one to predict, Spain would come top with Croatia and the Czech Republic battling it out for second spot…..Turns out it wasnt. It had started well, Croatia and Spain opening with victories followed with a draw between Czech Republic and Croatia. Come the last round though, both Croatia and Turkey both changed the script. The Balkan nation beat the holders to win the group and Turkey decided to find where the opposition goal was. Thanks Group D for literally nothing.

Group E

This saw the Republic of Ireland in amongst Italy, Sweden and Belgium. It looked pretty tricky for the Irish, who would have to be on their top form to progress. Italy won the group ahead of Belgium who started off slowly. After their indifferent opener, they beat Ireland 3-0. Sweden with the mighty Ibrahimovic, continued their Euro finals woe. They came bottom with a point, thanks to the unfortunate own goal from Ireland. The Irish did fulfil one prediction of beating Italy and claiming third spot.

Group F

The final group saw one that was a little drab but actually come the group matches, it turned into something more interesting. I was quite bold in my predictions. For me I tipped Hungary to win with Portugal second. Little did I know that Portugal didnt fancy their shooting boots till late on. The Hungarian side would get the draw against Portugal but also Iceland, who themselves surprise.

Euro 2016 – My predictions The group stages Part 1

It’s that  time again, yep a major football tournament finals finally arrives. Eighteen years after the World Cup was there, we are back in France. Euro 2016 sees the first expanded Euro finals for years and sees it take a leaf from FIFA’s book. With the top two in each group qualifying together with the best four third place teams. So thanks to Sky Sports wall chart predictor, I give to you my predictions.

Group A sees host France battle it out with Switzerland, Romania and new boy Albania. for me its a case of no surprises. Les Bleus, whilst opening up with  a draw against Romania, find themselves beating the Swiss and new boys Albania. Romania also remain unbeaten and it comes down to goal difference and the host nation taking top spot. The Swiss having managed two pre tournament friendly wins, will  continue to see their disappointing form continue as they only muster a win against debut nation Albania.

Group B is the interesting one for Home nation fans as it features England and Wales. They are joined by Slovakia and Russia. It looks to be a tight group. England go into the group with genuine positivity of progressing far in the tournament. Wales in the first finals since 1958 look to stake a claim in the top two. The Russians and Slovakians look to upset Engand and Wales, but in my opinion they will fall far short.

This is how I see Group B finishing. England will top the group whilst Slovakia will battle for second against Wales.finish second. What will lack in experiencec for Wales, will be made up with passion and unpredictablility. The Welsh will make it a home nations top two. Russia having struggled pre tournament will struggle in the finals only gaining two points.

Group C sees another home nation in the form of Northern Ireland. The Irish face a tricky group but they are on a great run and could certainly throw a spanner in the works. I cant see them finishing in the top two but they could find themselves finishing a respectable third. In their group are Germany, Ukraine and Poland. Germany will look to add to their World Cup win and bring the Spanish dominance to an end. An uninspiring pre tournament run will of course count for nothing as the Germans turn it on for the main event. Poland will look to push forward and make up for the disappointing Euro 2012 performance that saw them finish bottom of their group.

Group C will end with Germany pipping the Poles to second, Northern Ireland finishing third with the Ukraine missing out once more.

Well thats all for Part one, the next part will be coming very soon.

Football Flashback – 15th June

With Summer not playing ball as it should be (any wonder why it’s really called ‘Flaming June’), lets take a look back to possibly sunnier summers and June 15th in years gone by and see what delights were brought to the world. These will of course be all the ones I can remember starting with World Cup 86 in Mexico.

The World Cup was lucky to be held in Mexico as not long before, the nation had suffered an earthquake. Despite that, the competition went ahead. It started towards the end of May, believe it or not. Would never happen now, but by mid June, the finals were at the knock out stage. Mexico 86 was a good tournament all round and there were plenty of goals and Belgium ensured they weren’t going to miss out. They faced the Soviet Union who had netted 9 in the group stage. Belgium themselves had netted 5. I guess with two nations with a taste for goals it would hardly be of much a surprise that there were seven goals in a game that went to extra time. Having gone 1-0 and then 2-1 up, the Soviet’s might have been thinking of progression but a goal in each period of extra time from the Belgians meant that the only joy that the Soviet’s saw was Belanov bagging a hat trick.

The tournament in Mexico saw all but Wales reach the finals and only England progress out of the group stage. We of course all know what happened in the Quarter Final against Argentina.

In 1988, World Cup finalists, West Germany hosted the European Championships. Back then it was just two groups of 4 nations with the top two taking part in the semi finals. The finals competition that featured West Germany,Italy, Spain, Netherlands and England amongst the front runners,  did not see a single sending off, a 0-0 draw or any of the knock out games go into extra time or penalties. Quite an achievement not to see the likes of West Germany and Netherlands battle it out with no sendings off, although the game will be remembered for the spitting incident.

For England it was a tournament to forget. Having been drawn alongside the USSR, Netherlands and Republic of Ireland, the work was certainly cut out. Having previously lost to Ireland in the opener, it was not a game against the Dutch. A game that would look ok after Robson levelled for England, the Dutch magician Marco Van Basten would have other ideas and would bag himself a hat trick. The Oranjemen would find themselves winning the only major tournament in their history to date an no doubt enjoyably in their ‘enemies’ back yard.

Italia 90 saw the World Cup that saw few goals but quite a number of red cards. Come the 15th June 1990, it was still group stage and the only action in this day was to see some the group where the number of goals bucked the trend. West Germany in their final tournament before unification netted 5 against the unfortunate United Arab Emirates. The West Germany scorers list showed something more akin to a whose who of footballing great. Rudi Voller bagged two, along with a certain Jurgen Klinsmann and Lothar Matthaus. Later in the tournament West Germany would face England and the start of the inevitable penalty shoot out defeats would begin. It would also be remembered for Gazza’s tears in the semi final.

Scotland would find the 15th June a date to forget as they were up against World Cup winners West Germany. The Scots could have really upset the applecart in this group. The went into the final game only requiring a point to make the next round. A simple task for most nations…except if you are Scotland and having to play West Germany to progress. The Scots lost 2-0 and went home. England failed to progress under what was Turnip Taylor’s first and only competitions finals. England having drawn 0-0 against Denmark (included due to the international situation with Yugoslavia) and against France, had to get a result against Sweden. England who had been robbed of various players through injury before the tournament, lost against the hosts in a game that was to be Gary Lineker’s last international game and replaced by Alan Smith.

The World Cup in 1994 wouldnt kick off until 17th June, although some might wish it never kicked off at all. Brazil won on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

Ah yes Euro 96 was next, now that was a Summer of football sun and nerves. Not only that but the cult hit Three Lions was echoing around the stadiums. The competition was in England and had seen a bit of controversy involving the England squad and Paul Gascoigne….surely not. Anyway 15th June 1996 saw England face Scotland, the auld enemy and what a game to be had. The sun was out, Wembley was full the fans hopeful. After a goalless first half, Alan Shearer broke the deadlock in the first ten minutes of the second half. The game seemed to edge ever closer towards a single goal win and then Seaman committed a foul and gave away a penalty. The then Arsenal goalkeeper made amends by saving the penalty from Gary McAllister. Moments later and England are on the attack and Gazza receives the ball chips it over Colin Hendry and bang, ball in the back of the net 2-0 game over. England would win the group with a 4-1 pasting of the Netherlands in the final game. The single goal from the Netherlands would prove crucial as it would deny Scotland progressing into the knock out stages.

So to France 98 and another release of three lions reworked for the World Cup. England and Scotland made the short trip across to France. A warm sunny day in Marseille saw England kick their campaign off. A relatively easy group for England. Only Tunisia, Columbia and Romania…ahem to deal. England opened with a win against Tunisia with Paul Scholes finishing the scoring with a goal one minute from the end. This World Cup would be the tournament that saw England make its damned hardest to actually not progress.

Not much happened in Euro 2000. It was wet miserable awful and that was just the England performances. We did however beat Germany 1-0. France won the tournament with a golden goal win against Italy. What they should have called it was the anti climax goal.

So to World Cup 2002 in Japan and South Korea. A tournament to be enjoyed…unless you were French, Argentinian, Portuguese. These three nations failed to get to the knock out stages. The 15th June was proving to be a good day for England. This time round it was the first knock out stage and a tie against the Danes. The Danes had topped their group whilst England had laboured to second after a second group draw, this time against Nigeria. There would be no slacking in the knock out round. The Danes who had looked like being a threat to England, found themselves turfed out with a 3-0 defeat. England of course would go out in the next round after Brazil beat England 2-1 with Seaman being lobbed on the line (Stop it you filthy lot).

Now if there was a competition for nations making it completely difficult for themselves, England would be record holders. It was Euro 2004 this time and England who thankfully avoided the playing on the 15th, stole defeat from the jaws of victory. England had taken the lead against France in the first half, but with the matter of a few minutes remaining saw France bag two goals in the 90th minute including a penalty. England managed to progress only to lose to Portugal on yes you know what. Having lost Rooney through an injury in normal time, the game saw extra time and then penalties. Mr Reliable David Beckham took England’s first and when he slipped and missed, it kind of summed things up.

World Cup 2006 saw England make it easier on themselves in the group stage and even recorded a win on the 15th, but alas could still not beat Sweden as they were held to a 2-2 draw. Like Euro 2004, England faced Portugal. Like last time Rooney was involved, this time he was sent off and England lost the penalty shoot out….You expected something else?

Euro 2008, no England, no real shocks. France disappointed and Spain started their international domination beating Germany in the final.

World Cup 2010 saw Fabio Cappello guiding England down in South Africa. The 15th June saw New Zealand open their group with a 1-1 draw against Slovakia whilst disappointment would reign supreme for Italy who picked up a solitary point. Controversy would come in the England match in the knock out. Lampard seeing his shot cross the line only for the referee to miss it entirely. Apart from that it was a cracking world cup which saw a fantastic game between the Netherlands and Uruguay.  The winners would be Spain after beating the Dutch by a single goal in the final.

Euro 2012 saw England feature in the finals again. Another joint held tournament saw goals a plenty England win on the 15th AND beat Sweden in a finals tournament. Who would have expected that. Surprises were to be had in the tournament. The Dutch who had looked like world beaters in the World Cup, finished bottom of their group without a win. France who had previously struggled saw themselves finish second behind England. A 2-0 defeat in the final group game costing them top spot.

Of course where you get the surprise, you also get the quelle surprise. England faced Italy in the knockout round. It finished goalless although Italy could have won in normal time. It went to penalties. Having seemed like things might change when England went 2-1 up, that’s as far as it went as Young and Cole both missed their penalties.

So there we have it June 15th is reasonably good for England and the home nations to be honest…Hang on what about World Cup 2014? Well some things are best left forgotten.

And so that brings the end to the Football Flashback, keep an eye out for another one coming soon.