Chelsea Break Away

Chelsea’s season just went from good to even better. The Blues did not even have to defeat Liverpool last night to extend their lead over their rivals. A 1-1 draw was more than enough to keep Arsenal and Spurs away. In fact, the Blues afforded missing a penalty late on in the game and it probably won’t come back to haunt Antonio Conte.

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Arsenal had the chance to make use of Chelsea’s draw but instead they trembled. The Gunners saw themselves two goals down before pulling back a consolidation goal to end the game with a 2-1 loss at home to Watford. Elsewhere, Tottenham failed to make use of both results as they themselves were stuck in a 0-0 draw against struggling Sunderland. Arsenal should have done better on several occasions and they were lucky to scrap results against the Premier League’s small sides: scraping a 2-1 home win against Burnley last week with a penalty seven minutes into injury time, a last-gasp 3-3 draw away to Bournemouth after trailing 3-0 and an 86th minute winner against West Bromwich Albion meant that a loss to a small side was inevitable.

While Chelsea continue to fly at the top of the table, a new battle is about to emerge. The fight for the Champions League spots will probably go down to the very last week. Only a single point separates second placed Tottenham from 5th placed Manchester City while Manchester United are just four points away from the fourth spot. The battle for the top four will be an interesting one. It will be interesting to see how Arsenal and Manchester City will cope with the pressure of having to play Champions League football without compromising their performance domestically.

Chelsea are nine points clear from their closest rival after just 23 games. The Blues are not having a great season at Stamford Bridge, they aren’t playing their best football. However, they have shown their resilience and strength by doing what is needed to win consistently. The title race is far from over but we have all the reasons to believe that Chelsea will hold on to their lead until summer. The real questions is, will Conte guide Chelsea to European success or is the league title enough?

Still Not Over for Mourinho

Jose Mourinho’s bright start to life at Manchester United has been halted to the surprise of many following three consecutive defeats. However, a win two nights ago against Northampton Town in the EFL Cup might be just what they needed to get back on track in the Premier League. Manchester United’s manager seems to be under a lot of pressure to succeed especially after his failure last season at Chelsea and his mission to bring the Red Devils back to the top of the Premier League is not an easy task at all but United are not in a crisis, at least not yet.

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Today the media and the fans have placed considerable amounts of pressure on both Manchester United and Jose Mourinho especially since both the team and the manager are trying to get rid of recent failure. Manchester City’s success led by Pep Guardiola has not been helping at all either. The blue team of Manchester has won all nine games they’ve played this season and this only puts more pressure on the people at Old Trafford. However, even Pep himself admits that the perfect start could reach an end soon: “I have to recognise that I’m so happy, but I have to tell you I’m going to lose games.”

Two days ago Manchester United returned to winning ways thanks to veteran Michael Carrick who made his first appearance of the season and even scored a goal. At the age of 35 Carrick cannot be expected to play every game of the season but he should feature more often. A start against Leicester City could help add stability to United’s midfield particularly in shielding the defense while Paul Pogba makes forward runs.

There is no crisis at Old Trafford. Manchester United are just one point below fourth placed Arsenal. Nevertheless, it has been Mourinho’s weakest start to a season since managing Porto in 2002. The fact that United spent big on adding new players puts extra pressure on them. These signings require time to improve the chemistry in between them. Zlatan may be scoring goals but he’s yet to become fully integrated in his team’s game. Paul Pogba will do better as he gets used to his new team and position. A lot of factors combined caused Mourinho to lose three games but the Red Devils can get back on track this weekend if they grab a win against Leicester City.

Success requires time and United are not required to win the Premier League in their first season under Mourinho but a top four finish should be the least they aim for. There is no shame in losing games even if it was the derby and at home. However, Jose Mourinho needs to change the way he handles them. He needs to accept criticism and that it’s part of the game, work to improve his team and move on.

Champions League Matchday 1 Round-up

The first round of the UEFA Champions League group stages was played over the past two days with big teams such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leicester City and Manchester City scoring a whopping 25 goals in-between them and conceding none at all! Real Madrid had to wait till the final minute to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win, Juventus were held to a stalemate by Sevilla and Arsenal and PSG  were pleased to come out of their match with a draw.

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Barcelona and Bayern Munich were competing for the spotlight on Tuesday evening as the Catalans scored seven past Celtic and the Bavarians scored five past FC Rostov. The two, as always, are among the top candidates for the Champions League title but they may seem to find tough competition this year. Champions Real Madrid who scored a total of 15 goals in the past three Champions League opening fixtures had to settle for only two this time around. Cristiano Ronaldo saved Real Madrid from a potential loss by scoring his 550th career goal (366th for Real Madrid) in the 89th minute before Alvaro Morata added a second to gift Madrid the win. City-rivals and last year’s runners-up Atletico also settled for a small win as they beat PSV 1-0 away from home.

Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City was meant to change their fortunes in the Champions League and put them back on top domestically. The Catalan manager had already led his side to four straight victories in the Premier League putting his team two points ahead of rivals Chelsea and three above Manchester United but this is no surprise. However, on the European stage, City scored six goals past Steaua Bucuresti over two legs to qualify to the group stage and today they showed that they are still in form. Sergio Aguero who scored a hat-trick in the first game repeated that last night against Borussia Moenchengladbach as the Cityzens emerged with a 4-0 victory. Guardiola became the first Manchester City manager to win his first ever 7 games at the club, scoring a total of 21 goals and conceding only four. This can be already classified as a big achievement for Manchester City and a big boost for their confidence. Many expected Guardiola to transform his new team but very few thought he would do it this fast. Moreover, City had only won one out of their five Champions League opening games but that is history now.

Leicester City record a 3-0 win in their first Champions League game in their first ever Champions League campaign. Riyad Mahrez will be glad to have scored a brace and he will be hoping to carry that form into the Premier League to put his team back on the track. On the other hand, the two London teams, Arsenal and Tottenham failed to impress even though Arsenal managed to earn a 1-1 draw against French champions PSG in Paris. Their arch-rivals Tottenham lost at Wembley against Ligue 1 leaders Monaco. Things don’t look very bright for Spurs at the moment but all is possible in the remaining five fixtures. The French teams are showing the change is finally coming to France and PSG perhaps is no longer the best team out there. The third French team in the competition, Lyon is on top of group H after an easy 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb. Could this be the year Monaco outshine PSG and win the League?

Elsewhere, Mario Götze scored his first goal for Borussia Dortmund in 1250 days. His return to the club helped the team record their biggest ever away victory in the Champions League, 6-0 over Legia. Finally, it seemed ironic that Juventus failed to score a single goal against Sevilla despite signing players such as Benatia, Pjanic and Higuain to help them in Europe. Whereas, Napoli who had lost Higuain were able to win thanks to his replacement Arkadiusz Milik who scored a brace in a 2-1 away victory against Dynamo Kyev.

This season promises to be an exceptional one, filled with big surprises and big achievements. It is really early to predict any potential winner or any potential flop but it is certain that the quality of the top teams has definitely improved compared to the previous seasons as we see the big competing for Europe’s most prestigious title.

 

13 Teams Broke Their Transfer Records This Summer

The news is no longer a novelty; over £1 billion has been spent in the Premier League only in this transfer window. However, many other teams across Europe have spent heavily on new players. In total, 13 European clubs have broken their own transfer record. Ideally, that could mean that 13 clubs signed the best player in the history of their club this season. Nevertheless, it doesn’t work like that. The market has been inflated and so huge transfer fees do not mean that the signed players are going to be the best out there. In fact, some may feel the pressure and end up being a flop.

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Schalke 04 signed a 19-year-old striker, Breel Embolo. The player is yet to be tested on a big stage. His performance in Euro 16 was average yet the German side had no problem breaking the bank for the young man. Borussia Moenchengladbach sold Granit Xhaka to Arsenal for a huge fee and that set them up to break their own record to make Christoph Kramer’s move permanent. Elsewhere in Italy, Ante Budimir joined Crotone for a club-record £850k. The same player was sold just four days later for £1.53m to Sampdoria.  Staying in Italy, Torino signed former Roma, Inter and Fiorentina forward Adem Ljajic and even Pescara broke their club record twice by signing former Roma midfielder Valerio Verre and Cristiano Biraghi. Even in Spain, newly promoted Deportivo Alaves and Leganes signed Daniel Torres and  Gabriel respectively. In France Angers broke their own record by signing Famara Diedhiou and finally of course, Juventus and Manchester United did the same by signing Gonzalo Higuain and Paul Pogba respectively.

This isn’t going to be an easy season at all. Small and big teams alike were forced to spend in order to improve the quality of their teams and this means that the risk is even higher for all teams. Surprisingly, Real Madrid did very little business this summer while teams like Juventus, Manchester City, Manchester United and Barcelona are under pressure to justify the money they spent but they surely improved their teams significantly. The Premier League title is definitely returning to Manchester this year, whether to the blue side or to the red one. Meanwhile Juventus and Barcelona will be hoping to replicate last season’s success domestically and go one step further in Europe. A big season awaits us, we’ve already seen glimpses of what is waiting for us and it is quite promising.

Joe Hart Won The Hearts of the Fans

Manchester City’s Champions League match last night had little meaning in terms of its importance on the team’s upcoming season. They had already won 5-0 away from home, guaranteeing themselves a spot in the group stages of the Champions League. While it may have seemed like a calm evening in Manchester, it was completely the opposite; Joe Hart bid his team farewell. The English goalkeeper was given the starting spot and even the captain’s armband in what was seen by the fans as Hart’s last night on show for the team he served for years.

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City’s fans are fully behind Pep Guardiola but they were split between supporters of Hart and those who agreed with the coach that the team needs a diffrent type of goalkeeper, one that can get involved in building up play. No matter, what each fan thought of Guardiola’s decision, they all stood up and applauded Joe Hart every single time he touched the ball. Another player who has earned the respect of the fans in the past few years is Yaya Toure. The midfielder seems to be on his way out of the club if not this week then surely in the winter. The player was also given a full 90-minute appearance in front of the home crowd. The two may not be part of Guardiola’s plans but he did give them the chance to bid their fans farewell.

Guardiola’s approach last night was different from the one he had with players that were not part of his plans at previous clubs. Instead of ignoring them, he empowered and respected them by allowing them to be involved in action until their very last moments at the club. Joe Hart, City’s longest serving player will leave as a legend as the affection of the fans reflects upon his success at the Etihad Stadium. ‘He passes when he wants.’ Those were the chants of the Cityzens in a clear sign of support to a man who wrote history in the blue side of Manchester.

It was a special night for Hart, Claudio Bravo is set to arrive from Barcelona and he is probably better than the Englishman and more suitable for Manchester City’s game but he is not going to win what Hart won, the heart of the fans. Today City begin a new chapter and Guardiola took the right decision to honor a player like him rather than ignore him and leave him on the bench. The expectations are now higher, City have a Champions League winner in goal. Can he guide them to European success?