Premier League

The hangover

This season has been an unprecedented season for so many different reasons. As previously discussed in my blog post, which can be found here; https://ayyazmalik.com/2021/01/09/a-season-like-no-other/. This season has been an unusual one to put it mildly. In the English Premier League, there has been some normality that’s returned as Manchester City seem odds on to win their third title in four seasons.

Across Europe, Real Madrid/Barcelona neither of them are leading Laliga, it’s Atletico Madrid who seem to be running away it, but a surprise 2-0 home loss to Levante, means that the gap has closed at the top to just three points, but Diego Simeone’s side do have a game in hand.

In Germany although usual league leaders Bayern Munich are still top, ever since they returned for a successful and triumphant Club World Cup, The Bavarians have conceded 31 goals already this term, one less than they did in the entire 2019-2020 season. Their 2-1 defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt means that the Bundesliga is more competitive this year.

With the example of Bayern, the Champions League winners have been far from flawless. In France last year’s Champions League beaten finalists PSG, have been suffering from indifferent from and they too aren’t have thing their own way in Ligue 1 as they trail league leaders Lille by four points. This is the same that could be said about Italian champions Juventus.

Juve, who have had a strangle hold on the Scudetto for a past best part of a decade, trail league leaders Inter by a massive 11 points, it must be noted that The Old lady have two games in hand over The Nerazzurri in Serie A. Regardless of this fact, even Juventus haven’t had things their own way.

This bug, shall we call it has travelled to Scotland too. Celtic who were looking to complete the ’10 in a row’, have been thwarted by a resurgent Rangers who are just seven points away from a first trophy in the Steven Gerrard reign. Covid, has affected us all and here’s to thinking that May can’t come quick enough.

But there’s some good things to have come out football being the way that is due to Covid, it’s not as boring and predictable as what it has been across Europe. That is a good thing, here’s to hoping that next season will be something similar, but I am not holding my breath.

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Klopp the unstoppable Jurgen-aught?

He came to English shores as something as a phenomenon. Touted for Manchester United, amongst other jobs and even earmarked by Sir Alex himself.

So when Jurgen Klopp agreed to come to Liverpool manager after he came out of a sabbatical, The Merseyside club celebrated this monumental coup of getting one of club footballs hottest managers.

A sharp whit, a charming personality, a whiter than white smile but a steely determination about him, made Jurgen the man Liverpool fans have come to love and adore.

Ever since he became Liverpool boss in 2015, 53-year old Klopp has only seen nothing but success at Anfield.
A Europa League final loss to Sevilla, which there’s no shame in as that tournament should almost be renamed the Sevilla League as they have such a stranglehold of that tournament.

Despite this setback, there were signs that Liverpool were improving. With back to back Champions League finals in 2018 and 2019, the latter of which they won their sixth in their history.

The Reds would enjoy a trophy-laden period thereafter. The club World Cup, the Super Cup and most satisfying of all for Liverpool fans, the Premier League all made their way into Anfield’s already bulging cabinet.

Nineteen League champions Liverpool were at the top of the world (literally) at this stage. There was one challenge left for manager Jurgen Klopp, who has enjoyed nothing but success since.
How to see through the transition of a great team? This has been a dilemma for many great sides, Manchester United and Barcelona come to mind.

Liverpool are in this same situation too arguably. After the unprecedented success in recent seasons, both star Firmino and Mane look to be in decline.

Injuries too have depleted Liverpool and the supporting cast too look to not be Oscar-winning worthy.
No Virgil Van Dijk, no Joe Gomez or Diogo Jotta too, that’s some serious talent in the treatment room.
One can’t argue it’s been a disappointing season this season. What people shouldn’t do is write Liverpool off.

The Reds have a tricky task when it comes to it to evolve this team. Now this team isn’t at the end of its cycle, but this great Liverpool team can’t last forever.

Jurgen Klopp has pretty much turned everything into gold that he’s touched so be he’s been in Merseyside.
This season has been unfortunate with the number of injuries that they have suffered. No matter how great the team, injuries come back to bite, just ask Pep at Man City.

At the time of writing, Liverpool are fifth. With the quality of the squad that they have, to qualify for Champions League football next season shouldn’t be an issue.

When (hopefully sooner rather than later) they get their star player Van Dijk back. When he does come back and the other injured players too, I want to raise the issue again of evolving this Liverpool team. Tottenham although they didn’t win a trophy, managed to turn into a consistent side.

But what they didn’t do is not evolve at the right time. As a result Tottenham who were consistently qualifying for the Champions League places, are no way near as a result. Liverpool are very well run and I have no doubt that they won’t make this mistake that Spurs did.

On that, as the saying goes Auf Wiedersehen Pet!

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Now available on people per hour for your sports writing needs

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Just a quick note to say I am offering my writing services through the people per hour platform. I am a writer of six years on all things sport.

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The match made in heaven?

Love, is a very special thing when you are able to feel it in its entirety. Whether it be the appreciation, or the support, love is a magical thing. Premier League giants Manchester City were too in love. They though were yearning for love.

That love and support was what they craved so dearly, in the form of a reliable centre back. They went through a lot of ‘relationships’ (central defenders). When long term lover Vincent Kompany left for another woman (Anderlecht), City had to do the thing that no one likes doing … moving on and finding a new partner.

City and Kompany had so many memories together, they seemed inseparable, but this is life – nothing lasts forever. The Cityzens began the unenviable task of trying to find a new love. Elaquim Mangala, was a relationship that never worked and the French defender was dumped by City even before they could truly go public as couple.

Nico Ottamendi, Nathan Ake are a string of other defenders that Man City tried to settle down with, but it just didn’t seem natural. Emerick Laporte had been a reliable centre-back and still is, but he didn’t count on John Stones’ resurgence.

Former Everton defender Stones, looks like a player reborn ,but to keep with this analogy City needed a stable relationship .Manchester City spent money, gave them gifts, but these centre-backs couldn’t find a way into City’s heart of hearts.

Then came Ruben Dias, a signing from Benfica. The 23-year old Dias seems to have been the wish to all of City’s prayers and already seems to be the dream partner to have in a relationship. AKe, Ottamendi (who joined Benfica as part of the Dias deal) and Mangala are to name some expensive relationships that haven’t worked and ended with them splitting up from each other.

Here’s to hoping that Dias and Man City, remain the happy couple that they are. I don’t think City could handle the end of another relationship.

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The old London bus

There’s that saying, of the old London bus, nothing for ages then two come at once, this saying has become very popular in football too. With Liverpool’s football team, it proved to be the case of the old London bus.

When The Reds beat Crystal Palace 7-0 at Selhurst Park, a ground which is arguably their bogey ground, no one and I am sure no one would have expected Jurgen Klopp’s all conquering side to lose their touch in front of goal.

The usual sharp shooter, quick draw Mcgraw of the wild wild North West, were a shadow of themselves.

Games against West Brom ended (who have been close to hopeless with and without Big Sam’s intervention) goal less, as did the matches with Southampton and Burnley too.

With the latter two teams, both defeated the reigning champions 1-0, which started to lead to some questions if Liverpool were fielding their under 18’s in disguise. The golden boot of Salah, the pin point of Trent Alexander Arnold, where had they gone?

Maybe they were still stuck in South London and were a victim of the Prime Minister’s stricter lockdown rules. As the games passed by, and the minutes too, many were left wondering where have last seasons Liverpool gone?

This version of the Premier League winners has upgrades. Thiago Alcantara, the one man orchestra one of the best in the business in his position has left many Liverpool fans and non-Liverpool fans in awe in how he glides across the football pitch.

Bambi on ice? Were some of the thoughts of some, but a Lion in the jungle the former Bayern man is becoming with his commanding and demanding displays in the middle of the park so far. This was all fair and well, but there was still no goals?

Such a sequence couldn’t continue for long surely or could it? One hour, turned into seven. Has someone shrunk the goals for a laugh? It started to seem that way. Salah, Mane and Firmino couldn’t score no matter how much they tried.

From the Liverpool perspective, this barren run of no goals duly ended when Manchester United hosted The Reds in what turned out to be one of the best FA Cup games in recent memory. Mohammed Salah duly getting two on the day.

So the goals came back, but what about that first win of 2021? Well, that would come this evening against Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham team. This Spurs team is a far cry from the team under former manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Jose’s boys tend to park the bus. Now, I thought this was what they do at the Wembley bus station, but looks like Mr Mourino’s sat nav has gone slightly off. The trio of Mane, Salah and Firmino looked to have got their mojo back as Firmino and Mane both scored in tonights 3-1 win.

Jose, that parked bus has been moved. Someone left the hand break down *rolls his eyes*

Tonight’s visitors Liverpool played like their hand break was down too.

Those Liverpool’s boys have been starved of a goal for a while, they’ve fulfilled some of the craving tonight.

These lads though? They’re hungry boys and still need feeding.

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Chelsea sack Frank Lampard

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, has been sacked after 18 months in charge at Stamford Bridge.

Former midfielder Lampard who took over the reigns in West London after the departure of former boss Maurizio Sarri, leaves his role with the club ninth in the Premier League.

It’s been reported that former PSG manager Thomas Tuchel, is in line to take over at the West London club.

Frank Lampard’s job has been in jeopardy for some time, especially after looking like he hadn’t been able to motivate a squad that had £200 million injected into it over the summer.

Having said that in my own humble opinion, in a previous article, which can be found here;

https://ayyazmalik.com/2021/01/03/lampard-for-the-sack/

I feel it was a tad harsh to disperse of the services of manager Frank Lampard.

Thomas Tuchel, who himself was sacked by PSG, will be coming into the Stamford Bridge hotseat, with unfinished business at the highest level.

If Tuchel, is indeed appointed, this will mean another high profile manager will be hired, after the one before them was fired.

Saturday fourth round FA Cup round up

Southampton, knocked out holders Arsenal with a 1-0 win against The Gunners. South Coast club Southampton, who last won the FA Cup in 1976, were full value for their win against an Arsenal side who have been in good form of late.

The visitors were missing star forward Pierre Aymerick Aubameyang due to personal reasons, just couldn’t live with the home side’s attack intent in the first half. The Saints were full value for their win, and for visitors Arsenal this was their first loss in seven, and the first time they have conceded in over 500 minutes of football.

A trip to Molineux against Wolves awaits for Ralph Hassenhutl’s men, where they will fancy their chances. Wanderers, who have been struggling in the league, edged out non-league Chorley who put up a spirited showing in their fourth round game on Friday night.

The Midland club, have now addressed one of their weaknesses in a key area, by signing striker Jose Willian from Spanish side Real Sociedad. So maybe Southampton, won’t have it all their own way in this one.

Elsewhere in the Saturday games there were big wins for West Ham and Swansea City respectively. Premier League side West Ham, who have been impressive this year, and find themselves in seventh, faced a Doncaster Rovers team who are chasing promotion in League One.

Rovers were always going to be up against it, especially how well the East London side have played this season. Any chances of an upset were quickly dispelled as early goals from Pablo Fornals and Andriy Yarmolenko, helped the home side to a 4-0.

The other high scoring game of the day was between Swansea and Nottingham Forest. The Swans, who are flying high in the Championship, took their confidence into this one, and were simply too good for their Championships visitors as they steam rolled them 5-1.

Goals from Liam Cullen and Matt Grimes, effectively ended this game as a contest. The shock of the day was at Oakwell where midtable Barnsley defeated runaway Championship leaders Norwich 1-0.

To end my round up, the final game of the evening saw League two Cheltenham take on Premier League giants Manchester City. The League two side, looked set to cause an all mighty upset after they took the lead through Alfie May.

Town, battled really hard and kept out their illustrious opponents until 81 minutes. Phil Foden, who had some chances earlier in the game, finding the equaliser. Goals from Gabriel Jesus (84) and Ferran Torres (90+4) added further gloss on the scoreline, that arguably flattered the visitors.

Manchester City, will play Swansea in the next round. That’s my FA Cup round up, Sunday’s games will also be covered here on ayyazmalik.com.

Debruyne out for six weeks for City

Manchester City have been rocked by the news that star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne for six weeks with a hamstring injury, news which was confirmed by manager Pep Gaurdiola. The Belgian playmaker has been a crucial player for The Citizens this season, the 29-year old has three goals and an impressive 15 assists this season.

Former Chelsea player De Bruyne picked up the injury in the 2-0 win against Aston Villa and will miss this weeks fourth round game against Cheltenham .

The loss of the new club captain, is clear for all to see. When the former Wolfsburg man got injured in the 2016 season, the season where Leicester against all odds won the Premier League title. The Blues will be hoping that, the same affects won’t happen this time round, especially with players like Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden on their books.

De Bruyne, is irreplaceable whatever way you look at it. This might force Pep into a late move for Martin Odegaard? We will have to wait and see.

Liverpool are in a crisis?

They’re in unchartered territory, a place where they haven’t been for some time, but it can be argued that Liverpool are in very poor form. With last night’s 1-0 defeat to Burnley taken in to consideration too, a home defeat which was there first in the league since 2017. Plus the fact that The Reds haven’t scored for over 400 minutes, then off hand, you can say the Anfield side are in a major slump.

Defeats to Southampton and now Burnley, alongside draws against West Brom, Newcastle and Fulham suggests that all isn’t well at Liverpool. It’s well documented that Liverpool have a whole host of injury problems, with Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Diogo Jota all on the treatment table to name just some.

Dutch centre-back and star man Van Dijk, is stepping up his recovery, but he won’t be able to play again this season most likely.

With those defeats and draws that Jurgen Klopp’s side have suffered, as strange as it may sound they haven’t been too bad. The game against Manchester United for example, The Reds pressed and probed, Thiago Alacantra was their one more orchestra.

The Spaniard, was truly pulling the strings and not one United player could get near him. As the game wore on however, Liverpool ran out of steam and it was Man United who had the better of the game.

This is partly due to confidence lacking, but also the fact that teams are trying to be more narrow when defending against Liverpool attacks, this seems to have been one way that’s thwarted Liverpool’s creativity. Another factor has been the poor form of Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian, largely criticised for not scoring enough, has been a key player for the Merseyside club, due to his unselfish work and how he brings others to play.

At the moment, he’s not even doing that I am afraid and other players are suffering as a result? But on the flip side the big man needs a rest! That’s evident for all to see.

The famed front three of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and of course Firmino have been a massive part of all the good things for Liverpool in recent seasons. All three are struggling, hence the goal drought the 19-time domestic champions are going through. Jordan Henderson and Fabino, the midfielders who are the rock in the middle of the park for Liverpool, are having to fill in at the defence.

With this enforced position change, The Reds have been affected at a result. So to conclude my thoughts and findings of Liverpool’s current situation, I would say this. Yes, Liverpool are struggling and not scoring goals, but no they’re now not all of a sudden a terrible team. The Premier League title looks highly unlikely at this point, it’s returning to Anfield, but this has been such an unusual season.

Three teams have been top of the table in the past 24 hours, which only emphasises that point. This is just a bad patch of form that Liverpool are going through, all teams go through it, Manchester United went through theirs earlier in the season, and Chelsea too are in a slump in form, but we don’t talk about that. Liverpool ironically for all their defensive injuries, are struggling to score goals but haven’t conceded too many .

Form is temporary and class is permanent as they say. It will be tough for them to win this year’s title, but this Liverpool team like any other needs subtle changes and evolution, it’s what the great teams do. Liverpool are a great team. Don’t let this month allow you to forget that, it wasn’t too long ago that they won 7-0 against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Palace.

Liverpool vs Manchester United preview

Tomorrow’s top of the table clash between Liverpool and Manchester United will be the first time in more than 20 years, that these two arch-rivals will be squaring off as first and second in the table.

The rivalry might have died in recent years it could be argued. With United top of the league and leading by three points, reigning champions Liverpool will want to and be eager to make up ground on their arch-rivals.

Win and The Reds are top, lose and Liverpool will be further behind. They won’t be out of the title race, especially since Man United will need to still play Man City, Tottenham and Leicester.

Trying to claw back a six-point deficit, although not impossible won’t be easy.

This Manchester United team, although not being at their sparkling best, they have been good enough to win several matches this year.

Merseyside club Liverpool have a very proud home record, and The Red Devils are unbeaten in 15 games away from home. The game between these two promises to be a classic.

Rashford and co coming up against a patched-up Liverpool defence, but Jurgen’s men have on the whole done well this term despite a depleted team sheet.

United’s defence, having conceded six against Tottenham earlier this season, have somewhat tightened up in recent weeks.

The return to form and fitness of Eric Bailly has been crucial to this renaissance. Ivorian Bailly, will be crucial to Manchester United’s hopes of getting a positive result from this top of the table clash at Anfield.

Liverpool centre back Joel Matip, who is close to full fitness, will be assessed before a decision is made to see if the former Schalke will feature .

As for the visitors United, Anthony Martial, Victor Lindelof and midfielder Nemanja Matic will be looking to prove their fitness.

As for my prediction, sorry to be nice and boring … I am going for a 1-1 draw. But what do you think? Let me know in the comments.