London derby – Football review 5/5 (2)

The London derby

London derby seems to be a constant fixture in Premier League. With 7 clubs from English capital in the league, it’s easy to understand why.

However, this weekend took place North London derby, Arsenal versus Tottenham, over 100 years of fierce rivalry between neighboring boroughs.

With Chelsea’s rise in the last 2 decades other hot derbies are taking place in London but given the short history, it still can’t get the same pedigree.

London derby of managers

In total Arsenal has an upper hand in head-to-head count with almost 20 victories more than Tottenham, 82 to 63 with 51 draws. 20 vs 12 in Premier League.

Gunners have advantage also in trophy collection with 3 Premier League titles and 13 FA Cup, among other, while the Hotspurs tasting success 8 times in FA Cup with no Premier League winners medal to show.

But fortunes have changed recently with Tottenham placing above the arch-rivals last few years and participating regularly in the Champions League. Building an international reputation in the process.

Meanwhile, Arsenal took too long to part ways with a manager who brought a lot of honors to the club but ultimately couldn’t keep up with game’s evolution. Once regarded as a trend-setter, in later years couldn’t quite make it work.

And once Wenger couldn’t catch the famed Champions League spot it was time for fresh ideas. Please enter Mr. Unai Emery.

New manager same old story?

Taking over from a manager after 20 years is an arduous task itself. Taking it in a club in constant spotlight where results must be achieved is another thing. Check further North, in Manchester, for additional explanation.

London derby strikers

Anyhow Emery had a few details working in his favor. Firstly, he can hardly do worse than his predecessor. At least lately.
Secondly, inherited squad has a lot of talent.

Thirdly, after his adventure in Paris, he’s used to demanding crowd and dressing room full of stars. He’s used to volatile characters and big egos which need to be addressed adequately.

Oh, and he also won things. Taking French championship for granted, he’s had some success with Sevilla. International. Three in a row to be precise! It was in Europa League, second European competition but still, nobody else did it.

So, an undoubtedly talented bunch of players with international pedigree and a manager in the same mould. Match made in heaven!

Well, not at first. First points came only in match-day 3 in another London derby, against West Ham.
That opening two games were against defending champions and one of the contenders wasn’t helping the Spaniard settling in.

Big against small

But Emery survived heavy criticism and continued with his ideas. The team was playing better and better but more importantly getting results.

London derby
Schedule didn’t offer first class opposition until beginning of November and Unai had time to asses material at disposal and find some kind of balance. A run of wins followed before Liverpool came to town.

Arsenal was coming from a draw in another London derby, against Crystal Palace. Who, by the way, has a better defensive record.
Winner-less big match against the Reds carried two messages; Arsenal can compete against the best. But can’t win in direct confrontations.

Reds challenge was the first maturity test. After suffering loses against other two title contenders a draw was a step up. A baby step, but still up.

Third draw in a row came in Wolverhampton. Discontent between fans and pundits was loud again.
Defensive phase still leaves a lot to be desired but at least they don’t have problems with scoring.

Second attack in the league behind well oiled Manchester City has to mean something.

Tottenham test

Another month of fine tuning before next maturity test – London derby against high flying Tottenham. But this time Arsenal passed it, cum laude!

London derby fight

The Spurs were in red-hot form! After completely outplaying Chelsea the weekend before and doing the same to Inter in midweek no doubt Tottenham was the favorite. Especially considering Arsenal’s struggles when facing top opposition.

But Emery and his team learned their lesson by now! Relentless pressing, high line, and speedy attacks surprised Pochettinho’s men. Arsenal took control from the kick-off and never let it go.

Early lead was just reward for a strong start. It came from a penalty converted by Aubameyang after Vertonghen’s handball.

The mantra “who doesn’t score, concedes” once again proved correct. Totally against the run of play Tottenham equalized thanks to Eric Dier. And also Bernd Leno who let a seemingly innocuous header somehow squeeze in on the near post.

Gunners didn’t absorb equalizing shock when they were surpassed! Son was released on goal and brought down in the box. Penalty which Kane transformed without any issues!

Déjà vu! Arsenal playing and creating chances but unable to complete the job and paying the price. Just on the stroke of halftime.

New manager new story

This is not the same Arsenal anymore! This Arsenal has grown and knows how to react when punched in the face.

More importantly, has a manager who admits his mistakes and corrects them immediately.

London derby subs

Wasteful Iwobi and timid Mkhitaryan remained in the locker room. Decisive Ramsey and Lacazette joined the fight.

Within 10 minutes after the break result was there. Bellerin found Ramsey in space. The pass wasn’t perfect but the Welshman somehow managed to deflect it just enough to serve Aubameyang.

Aurier allowed Gabon striker just a few centimeters and it proved costly. Auba smashed the ball in the corner and reinstalled parity. Only in terms of result because Tottenham was dominated throughout the whole match.

Perhaps last two nearly perfect games took a huge physical and emotional toll on the Spurs. Could be that Emery surprised his counterpart with a propositive setting and 3 man defense.

Whatever it was it’s hard to believe that the same team dismantled one of the contenders just a week ago. Tottenham looked disinterested and lacking concentration in key moments.

Arsenal took advantage of another black-out in Hotspurs’ defense and with a bit of luck took the lead again.

Ramsey caught Foyth in possession on the halfway line and served fellow substitute Lacazette. The Frenchman adjusted the ball and with a slight deflection found the bottom corner.

To put the game beyond doubt this time the Gunners needed just additional few minutes. Torreira found himself facing Lloris and finished expertly to give the home side a 2 goal cushion.

London derby goal

With Tottenham not threatening too much little Uruguayan’s first goal in Premier League seal the deal.

London derby justified the expectations and served us a real spectacle. It’s a shame that only one team played to its potential. And let’s not forget the small matter of Ozil’s absence.

The other derby

Right after the London derby, another one was played in the Beatles’ city. Reds hosted Toffees.

With Everton pushing for high places after a few seasons in the wilderness, it was a balanced affair.
And when it looked that there will be no winner Everton’s best player decided otherwise. Unfortunately for Everton’s fans not to their likening.

Liverpool derby Pickford

Last Liverpool’s assault ended with Van Dijk slicing the shot on the edge of the box and the ball flew towards the goal in a looping trajectory.

Even the Dutch defender turned around to re-take his position before the ball was anywhere near Pickford. Everton’s keeper followed the flight closely and decided to catch the ball instead of punching it over the bar.

Intervention wasn’t successful as the ball was bouncing on the crossbar and refused to go out. Origi was as surprised as everyone seeing the ball falling on his head with no defenders around him and Pickford picking himself out of the net.

Such a gift won’t go to waste! The Belgian striker thanked and accepted.

This goal is even harder to explain then Tottenham’s performance.

Sorry United

Manchester United did it again! Disappointed his fans! Southampton is languishing in relegation zone and didn’t manage a single victory in its own back-yard this season.

United nearly allowed the hosts their first internal joy but for two Rashford moments of craft and served golden chances to Lukaku and Herrera.

Mourinho

True, Mourinho has great problems composing the defensive line however if Southampton can’t be beaten with a personnel crisis, who can?

As the world is upside down Mark Hughes was sacked after the game. Internal draw against one of the biggest clubs in the world!

Of course, we all know that the sacking was due to all other results, not his one. However, it makes an impression; relegation strugglers fire the managers after home draw against Manchester United!

United’s problems are much deeper than just lack of central defenders. In fact, Matić and McTominay didn’t do to bad in the back three with Jones. Problems are further up the field and particularly in midfield.

Pogba looks to be playing in a game of his own, Fellaini can jump and win headers. Herrera can run the extra mile but who’ll bring the ball in dangerous areas?

Why was Fred bought? If he can’t play against relegation candidates in full emergency when can?

And next opponent is in-form Arsenal. What will The Special One prepare for this game? We’ll find out very soon but I’m not sure United’s fans will be pleased.

Elsewhere

Manchester City continues with routine wins and Fulham with routine defeats. Albeit against redemption-seeking Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Ranieri

New manager Claudio Ranieri already proved that he can dig a team out of the abyss and lead it to glory. Fulham won’t repeat Leicester City’s fairy-tale but staying up is possible.

Newcastle and Huddersfield Town lost important matches at home against West Ham and Brighton respectively in salvation battle. Same did Burnley away to Crystal Palace.

No London derbies in Premier League’s midweek fixture, therefore, all eyes will be at Old Trafford for Arsenal’s visit.

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Champions League groups decided 5/5 (2)

Champions League group stage is mostly decided. Only in three groups out of eight qualified teams for next phase have to be decided.

And there have been little surprises. Not in terms of game results but in terms of clubs progressing to knock-out stage.

In my first posts I gave my prediction and till now beside Ajax beating Benfica to second place in group E everything else is as expected. True, majority of them were no-brainer and many expected the same.

Group A

Champions League groups decided

Atletico Madrid 2 – 0 Monaco

Borussia Dortmund 0 – 0 Club Brugge

Standings:

Atletico Madrid 12

Borussia Dortmund 10

Club Brugge 5

Monaco 1

No surprises here regarding progression. Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have secured knock-out stage with a game to spare however Monaco’s last place and overall season performances could hardly be predicted.

The French side are going thru hell also in domestic league and might even take advantage from lack of European games in the remainder of the season, beside the one left in group stages. If additional proof that this is one of those seasons was needed they got it in Madrid.

Atletico took immediate lead thanks to a deflected shot. Towards the end of the game Monaco got a chance to get back in it but Falcao missed a penalty. Probably still wouldn’t be enough to get anything from this match but at least it wouldn’t be another blow to already low team morale.

Club Brugge took advantage of Principality club crisis and secured Europa League competition. Given the opposition they couldn’t hope for more and should be happy with their achievement.

Last match will serve only to decide group winner. Dortmund needs a win in France combined with Atletico not winning in Belgium to climb in first place. But the Spanish side won’t let it happen.

Group B

PSV 1 – 2 Barcelona

Tottenham 1 – 0 Inter

Standings:

Barcelona 13

Tottenham 7

Inter 7

PSV Eindhoven 1

Champions League groups decided

No surprises in this group either. Tottenham complicated their qualification with severe lapses in Milan and Eindhoven. Therefore is obliged to match in Barcelona Inter’s result against PSV having an advantage on Italians in direct confrontation.

Hotspurs showed at Wembley that they can play it out against the Catalan club. But needs to be concrete.

Barcelona is blowing hot and cold and with no result imperative could be up for a surprise. PSV demonstrated that blaugrana offers you a lot of chances. However if you don’t take them they’ll punish you.

At the start I expected Spurs to secure promotion before their visit to Spain. They still have everything in their hands just that they chose the tougher path.

Internazionale collected the points more due to sheer persistence then quality football or anything else.

However at this point Inter’s chances of progression look better.

Group C

PSG 2 – 1 Liverpool

Napoli 3 – 1 Crvena Zvezda

Standings:

Napoli 9

PSG 8

Liverpool 6

FK Crvena Zvezda 4

The only group where everything is still open! Three clubs have a chance of progression to Champions League’s second phase, all of them could end up in Europa League and two of them can finish this seasons’ international run.

Every goal scored will have a massive impact and turn the standings on its head.

Interestingly till now nobody won on the road! However Liverpool’s away malaise is nothing short of incredible.

Having already visited all opponents the Reds accumulated a total of 0 points! Same as Crvena Zvezda!

Champions League groups decided

But even more worrying are the performances out-up during the visits. Except for a discrete showing in Belgrade where they had their fair share of chances to score, the only goal scored was a penalty in Paris.

Even that was a generous gift from Di Maria who brought down Mane on the edge oof the box when he wasn’t a direct threat to Buffon.

And even more interesting fact is that Liverpool suffered the greatest deficit while visiting the Serbian champions! In Neaples and Paris they lost by a single goal. In Belgrade they lost by 2 goals.

Anyhow the English side still has everything to play for! At Anfield they need to beat Napoli by 2 goals and will surely progress. Not the easiest task but Klopp’s men already proved they can come up with any result.

Napoli on the other hand, if fail to qualify will rue missed chances in Belgrade and in Paris! If Liverpool was hard to recognize on their travels Napoli played some decent football and should already be sure of progression. But they didn’t and now have to fight it till the last second of the last game in one of the hottest stadiums in Europe.

It’ll be a maturity test for a side lack in international pedigree that might cost them dearly.

Paris SG is still a step behind the best! Despite all economical power and investments made the last few years they still can’t establish themselves as a European force.

They managed somehow to secure 2 points against Napoli but performances have been average at best. Not to mention the one in Liverpool. There’s enough individual talent to hurt all kinds of opposition but still lacking authority to command the play when facing top continental clubs, particularly away.

Crvena Zvezda exceeded all expectation with 4 points up to now and still in with a chance to qualify for Europa League! To achieve that they’d have to win against PSG at home and Napoli to win against Liverpool.

Difficult scenario but in this group everything is possible judging what we saw till now!

Originally I predicted Napoli and Liverpool to advance but with the current situation that’s hardly an option.

Champions League groups decided

PSG most likely won’t allow additional surprises at the Marakana and I’m hoping for Napoli to progress. Just because of Ancelotti.

Group D

Porto 3 – 1 Schalke 04

Lokomotiv Moscow 2 – 0 Galatasaray

Standings:

Porto 13

Schalke 04 8

Galatasaray 4

Lokomotiv Moscow 3

Europa League spot is still possible for Galatasaray and Lokomotiv while Porto and Schalke already secured their places in Champions League’s second round.

The Turks are favorites to qualify not only for point advantage available but also because they play the decider at home. Beside that a better head-to-head record with Lokomotiv should be enough to earn third spot. In case point parity should occur.

Group E

AEK 0 – 2 Ajax

Bayern 5 – 1 Benfica

Standings:

Bayern Munich 13

Ajax 11

Benfica 4

AEK Athens 0

Champions League groups decided

Ajax took advantage of Bayern’s troubles to snatch a draw in Munich on match-day 2 and is still in with a chance to win the group. All they need to do is win against serial German champions in Amsterdam in group’s final match.

Two weeks ago it would seem fairly possible. However Bavarians dismantling of Benfica could be a sign of resurrection after a series of under-par performances and reported dressing room disharmony.

And even if the Dutch don’t succeed next round is already guaranteed thanks to Benfica’s lack of challenge.

Portuguese club earned Europa League qualification but they need to take a good look in the mirror. Last year’s disastrous international campaign ended with 0 points. This year they can only thank that AEK’s drawn with them. Otherwise it would be another win-less European participation.

I expected much more from them and in fact predicted them finishing behind Bayern. But performances shown indicate that they belong to European second tier at the moment.

Group F

Lyon 2 – 2 Manchester City

Hoffenheim 2 – 3 Shakhtar Doneck

Standings:

Manchester City 10

Lyon 7

Shakhtar Donetsk 5

Hoffenheim 3

In the 90th minute in Hoffenheim everything was decided. Lyon and Manchester City progress to second round and Shakhtar and Hoffe will fight it for the third place.

But then Taison scored the winner and earned Ukrainian side the chance to qualify! And to make it even more interesting, last game will be against direct promotion competitor.

Shakhtar will host Lyon in the final match and if they win second place is theirs! All other results will make the French side happy. Win imperative for Ukrainian champions but at least they’ll have home advantage in the deciding game.

Champions League groups decided

Nevertheless Lyon should some on top in this one.

Manchester City respected the odds and topped the group. In some scenarios the they could finish second which would potentially complicate the proceedings. However all group winners are hoping Citizens will not let it happen.

Despite domestic dominance City have found it very difficult to display similar authority in Europe. Even if not faced with any of the favorites or historical giants. Are Premier League clubs doing something very wrong? Or is Guardiola taking Champions League group stage very lightly?

It surely would be an interesting subject to examine.

Similarly to City also Hoffenfeim respected the expectations. Played some good football and proved a stern opposition but ultimately stumbled and gave away cheap points. It’ll serve as invaluable experience for the future but remain a huge regret!

They can still catch Europa League train but if the main condition to do that is winning at Etihad don’t bet your money on them.

Group G

Roma 0 – 2 Real Madrid

CSKA Moscow 1 – 2 Victoria Plzen

Standings:

Real Madrid 12

Roma 9

Viktoria Plzen 4

CSKA Moscow 4

Real Madrid somehow won in Rome and secured top spot no matter what happens on final match-day.

Watching first half in the Eternal city it’s unbelievable that defending champion managed to do so!

Roma was on the front foot, dictated the tempo, controlled the proceedings and missed a number of opportunities to take the lead. And even double it!

Under’s miss has became viral but beside that Roma had other possibilities which went unrealized.

Football doesn’t forgive and neither does Real in Champions League. Immediately after the break Italians made a mess of a simple situation and duly conceded.

Home side was in shock and visitors took advantage to extend the lead soon after and the Roman first place dreams were crushed.

Roma continue with giving away points in games they deserved better and Real continues with mediocre displays after embarassing weekend defeat. Solari can’t be please despite the win.

Champions League groups decided

It could been a great story; after Barcelona also Real suffers humiliation in Rome. But it wasn’t meant to be.   

Third place fight is wide open after Victoria came from behind and won in Moscow. On level points with CSKA and with a more favorable last match the Czech’s have a real possibility to grab EL spot.

Group H

Juventus 1 – 0 Valencia

Manchester United 1 – 0 Young Boys

Standings:

Juventus 12

Manchester United 10

Valencia 5

Young Boys 1

Routine victory for Juventus but first place not sealed yet due to black-out against Manchester United last time out.

And another United’s last gasp victory, this time against Swiss minnows, re-opened, theoretically, top spot question.

Mourinho seems to have more lives then a cat but I’m sure he’s slowly running out of them. His United doesn’t pose particular threat to Europe’s giants.

But second spot could be a very intriguing verdict because United would play against a group winner in the next phase.

And the opposition could be Porto!

Champions League groups decided

It would be one of life’s ironies if the club that lunched him at the top level would also “finish” his career…

Stories only Champions League can write!

Majority of spots have been assigned. Those which are still up for grabs will bring exciting games.

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Milan blows it, again 5/5 (2)

Milan blew it up right at the death. Again! So did Napoli and Roma but against significantly lesser opposition. Juventus and Inter duly took advantage of it.

Game of the round was played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome with Milan visiting fellow Champions League hopefuls Lazio. All square at the end which leaves the rossoneri still without a win against higher standing club. This time at least they got something out of it.

Credit to Gattuso

A lot of clubs have injury problems but none more than Milan at the moment. First choice center backs, first back-up and basically the only playmaker on the sidelines. And to cap it all also star-striker suspended for the outburst against the referee last time out against Juventus.

Milan Gattuso

Only 4 players missing, you’d say, but it’s the back-bone of the team, the whole central line! The biggest issue is that Milan doesn’t have quality alternatives.

Juventus without Chiellini, Bonucci, Pjanić and Ronaldo can count on Benatia, Rugani, Bentancur and Dybala or Mandžukić to fill the void. Not exactly the same but not bad at all anyway.

Inter missing Škriniar, De Vrij, Brozović and Icardi would present Miranda, Ranocchia, Borja Valero and Lautaro Martinez. Still enough to compete in Serie A.

Gattuso reinvented the whole set-up and proposed a 3-4-3 formation with 1 natural central defender. Left- and right-back tightened it up and filled-up the central trio.

Borrini was preferred to Laxalt in the left-wing role with the Uruguayan perhaps playing the price for the error that led to Juve’s second goal two weeks ago.

Lazio vs Milan

With a decimated squad and emergency formation managed to take home a point from a direct competitor. Credit where is due!

Angry Gattuso? With who?

The interesting fact is that Milan didn’t make a single substitution during the whole game! Not even in the final minutes when leading by a single goal to steal some time and disrupt Lazio’s assault.

As far as I remember, similar behaviour had Fabio Capello when still in charge of Juventus just before Calciopoli in a European cup match.

Admittedly Gattuso’s options were limited, to say the least, however there were some changes he could made. There were some players that already participated in important matches waiting for their chance.

One is surely aforementioned Laxalt. Replacing off-from Calhanoglu and adding some bite and dynamism would be welcome.

The other is Castillejo. Coming on for Cutrone in the dying minutes just to steal a few seconds if nothing else could be useful.

If a manager like Mourinho would do something like that the message would be clear to his employers; I need more quality players!

But Ringhio isn’t like that. He doesn’t play mind-games with anybody. He’s a sincere, straight-forward person, perhaps too much occasionally.

Laxalt and Castillejo

Milan doesn’t have a roster to compete with the big boys, proven on different occasions. Everybody knows it and the manager probably said it loud and clear to people upstairs in private. Ergo reported deals for Paqueta and Ibrahimović are being finalized.

Being an emotional individual he’s probably angry at mentioned players, Laxalt and Castillejo. Or at least not happy with their contribution in the last outings.

Should that be the case the duo are in for a very intense and most likely long period of regaining manager’s faith. Wouldn’t want to be in their shoes…

Milan blew it, again

Against a strong rival in difficult circumstances and with an experimental starting eleven, Milan still had three points in their pocket right until the end. Maybe not entirely deserving but had the win.

However this season they just have to concede. Only Udinese didn’t hit their net this campaign in Italy’s top competition. All others did and so did Lazio. In the most dramatic of fashions with the last kick of the game after a half-cleared high ball in the box.

Correa goal

Just as in the city derby against Inter and earlier in the season against Atalanta.

True, Milan did beat Genoa and Udinese with last-gasp goals but those were games Gattuso’s men deserved to win. Getting points from Lazio, Inter and Atalanta, direct competitors, would also add weight to their bid for Euro places.

Inzaghi also dissatisfied?

Biancocelesti’s manager also made a move that raised a few eyebrows. Contrary to his counterpart he made all the substitutions however unexpected ones.

Midway thru the second half he called out Luiz Alberto and Sergej Milinković-Savić. Two most talented players of the team with the score still tied at 0-0.

The pair didn’t set the world on fire but weren’t as bad as they were on several other occasions either.

Playing Correa instead of Alberto seemed logical and made sense and eventually payed dividends.

However Lukaku for Sergej, left wing-back replacing an attacking midfielder when pushing for a win, was very surprising.

Gattuso and Inzaghi

Not a strange thing for Lazio to lose at home but this time they saved themselves.

Both teams got a point for their troubles and neither can be really pleased with it.

Juventus and Inter cruise

Juventus displayed typical performance; routine victory without breaking sweat. Never free-scoring but also rarely allowing opponents a sniff at goal. Calm, steady, always in control and consistent. Champions stuff!

Ronaldo

Inter got over their embarrassing result in Bergamo 2 weeks ago with a “walk i nthe park” against Frosinone. And discovered a new weapon in the process. Balde Keita showed glimpses of what he’s capable of win a brace.

Lautaro Martinez also opened his account in Serie A. After a fruitful pre-season finally managed a goal in the league and a lot more should follow if given the chance.

Napoli and Roma fail, again

It’s hard to think of better opposition to face before crucial Champions League matches the following week then Chievo Verona and Udinese. However Southern giants succeeded in not taking advantage of the calendar.

Ancelotti

Napoli usually made light weight of games like this. Lost to Sampdoria and Juventus and drew with Roma but against bottom half teams eventually got what they needed.

Slippery turf played in favor of the team that didn’t care too much where the ball ended as long as it’s away from goal however Chievo shouldn’t pose any kind of challenge to title hopefuls. Especially not his season!

With Juve seldom failing to get the result final triumph for Napoli, and everybody else for that matter, looks more and more unlikely.

However it’s hardly a big surprise for Roma. Roller-coaster campaign already brought some astonishing results and 4th domestic defeat. If you lose to Bologna and SPAL, why not doing the same with Udinese?

Di Francesco

Elsewhere

Gervinho-driven Parma continue to impress and hold on to Europa League place. Salvation remains primary objective but after a third of the season gone it’s fair to say that targets could be reinspected.

Similarly important win for Empoli in their relegation battle. Not as high on the standings as Parma but nevertheless capable of causing a few headaches to anybody.

Home supporters can be quite happy this round as no guests took a victory. Milan could and should but ultimately didn’t.

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