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?

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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.

 

Transfer Madness: €1.4 billion on 42 players

“We can’t afford to outgun competitors that have far more money. We have to be very careful, very selective.” Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s chief executive, knows well that his club have not been as active as they should have been in the summer transfer window. However, the fact that huge inflated sums are being paid for players left and right helps us understand the logic behind Arsenal’s transfer policy.

Money is being spent everywhere and in any possible way, Arsenal were said to be following Riyad Mahrez and Alexandre Lacazette but as things stand, both players seem to be staying at their respective clubs and even keeping such players is a costly activity. Lyon offered Lacazette the biggest contract in the club’s history to convince him to stay.

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Many believe that Arsenal need to spend if they are to win the Premier League or at least remain in the top four. Nevertheless, recent history has told us otherwise, Manchester Untied spent big in the past two seasons and got little in return whereas Leicester City built a considerably cheap squad and managed to win the Premier League title. Football is no longer about the team that spends the most. Nevertheless, spending money helps a lot.  Arsenal’s current squad cannot win the Premier League, the Gunners need two more players to be able to compete throughout the whole season. Wenger has taken his sweet time in considering the options at hand but he has to make a move quickly before the end of the window, or else he will end up paying inflated prices just like his opponents.

Opponents Chelsea spent €76m on only two players and now are trying to sell players before they can add anyone to their team. While Antonio Conte’s preseason preparation shows positive signs, the Blues have wasted all their transfer money on only two players. There is no doubt that more players are needed if the London-based club is to win the Premier League this season. Their former star, Romelu Lukaku is a big target but would they spend over €70m on the striker that they once sold for much less? The two London clubs seem to be slightly behind their two rivals from Manchester. Both City and United spent big this summer as they are trying to dominate English football. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were the first two additions, and then big players followed on both sides. The pressure to perform is big on the two and that could turn against them.

The new Premier League TV deal has turned the tide. Following a few years of losing stars such as Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, now the Premier League teams are attracting them. Manchester United were set out on regaining their lost status as the Premier League’s best clubs and paying a record fee for a player they let go for free was no hindrance. Manchester City have won the Premier League on two occasions recently but their aim is to become a dominant European force, something they have failed to do ever since their takeover by the Abu Dhabi-based group. On the other hand, the spending hasn’t been restricted to the Premier League. Gonzalo Higuain, Hulk and Andre Gomes are three of the four most expensive transfers this summer and they moved to teams playing in Serie A, Chinese Super League and La Liga respectively. Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSG, Borussia Dortmund and even Schalke 04 have spent big this summer. All in all, the 42 most expensive transfers of this summer have cost football clubs almost €1.4 billion!

Spending power is not directly proportional to football success. However, it will be interesting to see how this season will end up after huge amounts were spent. Perhaps, some learn from the story of Leicester City while others aim to do it the Real Madrid and Manchester City way. Below is the complete list of the most expensive 42 players in this transfer window so far and more are yet to come, who do you think is worth his transfer fee and who is not?

 

Paul Pogba €110m (Juventus to Manchester United)

Gonzalo Higuain €90m (Napoli to Juventus)

Hulk €55.8m (Zenit to Shanghai SIPG)

Andre Gomes  €50m (Valencia to Barcelona)

John Stones €49m (Everton to Manchester City)

Granit Xhaka €45m (Borussia Moenchengladbach to Arsenal)

Leroy Sane €43.7m (Schalke 04 to Manchester City)

Michy Batshuayi €40m (Marseille to Chelsea)

Eric Bailly €38 (Villarreal to Manchester United)

Mats Hummels €38 (Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich)

N’Golo Kante  €36m (Leicester City to Chelsea)

Sadio Mane €36m (Southampton to Liverpool)

Renato Sanches €35m (Benfica to Bayern Munich)

Arkadiusz Milik €35m (Ajax to Napoli)

Kevin Gameiro €32m (Sevilla to Atletico Madrid)

Gabriel Jesus €32m (Palmeiras to Manchester City)

Miralem Pjanic €32m (Roma to Juventus)

Alvaro Morata €30m (Juventus to Real Madrid)

Andre Schurrle  €30m (Wolfsburg to Borussia Dortmund)

Henrikh Mkhitaryan €30m (Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United)

Ilkay Gundogan €28 (Borussia Dortmund to Manchester City)

Georginio Wijnaldum  €27.5m (Newcastle to Liverpool)

Mario Gotze  €26m (Bayern Munich to Borussia Dortmund)

Grzegorz Krychowiak €26m (Sevilla to PSG)

Breel Embolo €25m (Basel to Schalke 04)

Jese €25m (Real Madrid to PSG)

Samuel Umtiti  €25m (Lyon to Barcelona)

Nicolas Gaitan €25m (Benfica to Atletico Madrid)

Andre Ayew €24m (Swansea City to West Ham United)

Marko Pjaca  €23m (Dinamo Zagreb to Juventus)

Vincent Janssen  €22m (AZ Alkmaar to Tottenham Hotspurs)

Antonio Candreva €22m (Lazio to Inter)

Kevin Volland €20 (Hoffenheim to Bayer Leverkusen)

Ahmed Musa  €18.75m (CSKA Moscow to Leicester City)

Lucas Digne  €16.5m (PSG to Barcelona)

Nolito €16.5m (Celta Vigo to Manchester City)

Sime Vrsajlko €16m (Sassuolo to Atletico Madrid)

Nampalys Mendy €15.5m (Nice to Leicester City)

Graziano Pelle €15.2m (Southampton to Shandong Luneng)

Ashley Williams €14m (Swansea City to Everton)

Victor Wanyama €13.5m (Southampton to Tottenham Hotspurs)

Raphael Guerreiro €12m (Lorient to Borussia Dortmund)

Is It Spurs’ Year?

Ever since Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal, their North London rivals, Tottenham Hotspurs, always finished below the Gunners. Just a month after Arsenal were tipped to win the Premier League title, Spurs seem to be ahead of Wenger’s team in second thanks to the goal difference rule. While the gap is still very tight and it’s highly likely that Arsenal finish above Mauricio Pochettino’s team, Tottenham’s season has been a fantastic one and it’s safe to assume that they will be taking part in next season’s Champions League edition.

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This Tottenham is a different than any of the Tottenham sides we’ve seen since the start of the Premier League era. The team is in the top four at the moment and even though it will not be the first time that this happens, this time around they are not relying on a single player like the days of Gareth Bale. In fact, the same players who were heavily criticized a few seasons back have finally proved that they can play well together. New additions and young names such as Dele Alli have given Spurs a great boost in terms of offensive power. In fact, the Lilywhites have the best goal difference (+26) in the league. In previous times, we’ve seen their defensive line concede on plenty of occasions but this season there’s no team better defensively and only Manchester City and Leicester City have scored more, but only by two goals.

Under Pochettino, Spurs are more resilient and challenging. The team has a clear vision and strategy on the pitch which is very much different than the way they played under managers likes Juande Ramos and Harry Redknapp. They are over 16 shots per game and it will be interesting to see what they can do against Manchester City next Sunday. Spurs are undefeated in 22 of their last 24 matches in the Premier League but The Citizens won’t be an easy opponent.

It’s still really early to say whether Spurs can win the title or let alone finish above Arsenal, but one thing for sure is their consistency on the pitch and their presence in the top four is guaranteed. The Premier League season has been a weird one, there’s still four teams challenging for the title and none of them can be crossed out before late April. We will definitely see entertaining football and surprising results from the competing four. Tottenham have already achieved their goals for the season. Whether they finish above Arsenal or not is a different case.

Who Will Win The Premier League Opener?

After Arsenal won the community shield title against Chelsea, it’s time for the Premier League to start. Manchester United have been building momentum but their first test is against Tottenham next weekend. Do you think you can predict the score?

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