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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Chelsea losing grip, United everything 5/5 (3)

Chelsea’s first season defeat comes against fellow Champions League hopefuls and city rivals Tottenham at Wembley. While actual title contenders distance themselves from the chasing pack.

Big game of the round pitted London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham at Wembley. The Blues came into this still undefeated but with 4 draws while the Spurs already suffered the bitter result 3 times in the Premier League this season.

Pochettino and Sarri

Chelsea’s defence, again

Chelsea played the worst match since Sarri took over in the summer. Tottenham’s high pressing game didn’t leave any chance to somewhat uninspired Blues.

Spurs started strongly and took the lead already in the 8th minute and doubled it 8 minutes later. Chelsea was never renewed for rock solid defence and if additional prove was needed it was served in this match.

First goal displayed all the liabilities in Sarri’s team defensive phase. Kane gets the ball in behind Alonso. There’s not much he can do there beside getting a foul. And when David Luiz is close, so is a free kick.

Absolutely unnecessary offense in a completely innocuous area. Accompany the Spurs striker and don’t let him turn. That’s all Luiz had to do. Instead he brings him down without any apparent reason.

Dele vs Chelsea

The following free kick showed next defiance in Chelsea’s defence. Alli had nobody contesting the ball. Nobody jumped to get the ball or at least disturb him! Kepa could perhaps done better in goal but that’s not the issue here.

Marking and stopping the opponent…what?

Second goal wasn’t any better. Home side most dangerous player was allowed way too much space to shoot. Again there was nobody to challenge him! No defender, no midfielder at 20 meters from goal to at least try to stop the shot.

If at the first goal Kepa could done a bit better, here he really should done much better! It wasn’t neither incredibly powerful nor anywhere near the post. The second goal is also on goalkeepers soul.

Kane vs Chelsea

Third goal conceded isn’t really worth commenting, right? Son scored but it was as Sarri himself assisted him.

Stop Jorginho, stop Chelsea?

Dele Alli shadowed Chelsea playmaker Jorginho all game long and didn’t allow the Ital-Brazilian to display his abilities. And that was basically enough to stop Chelsea.

Having the metronome cut out of play Chelsea had a lot of difficulties getting the ball in the attacking third. Any timid attempt organizing attacks from the back were quickly closed down by Pochettino’s men.

Jorginho

So Chelsea had to play it in behind Tottenham’s defence. However with Morata failing to time his runs no real danger came out of it either. Only meaningful shot the Spanish striker managed came when he was nearly 2 meters in offside.

Only in second half Chelsea managed to get a little more time on the ball but even that was due to Tottenham consciously retrieving and leaving initiative to the opposition. Just to hit it on the counter.

However the hosts couldn’t make use of the space in wide area as it isn’t what they’re used to do.

Response? Pedro!

Playing against a team that leaves open the flanks and substituting your striker with Pedro is not the way to go. Even if Hazard is up top. Neither him nor the Spanish fellow attacker can win in a duel for a cross!

Giroud is the only player capable of winning headers in opposition box. Waiting until the end to release him was just as bad decision as it was to play Kovačić who’s only contribution was a “rabiona” that started a counter-attack.

The match was always going to be tough and chances would be coming rarely. However failing to adopt to the situation on the pitch with adequate changes isn’t permissible at this level.

Giroud

Sarri will surely take important conclusions from this game and acknowledge own mistakes. But must be very fast in finding the solution to this kind of approach.  

Fabregas, anyone?

Limiting Chelsea’s attack so easily must be worrying Sarri. What if everybody does that? Risking a player to stop opposition fluency is something all managers will adopt without thinking twice.

Sarri’s game is based on prolonged possession and setting the rhythm. Perhaps playing a second playmaker could add some diversity. Something Real Madrid was doing so successfully last few years with Kroos and Modrić.

Since Kovačić isn’t living up to expectations and Barkley just recently picking up form, playing Fabregas next to Jorginho and Kante woudn’t be a bad idea. The Spaniard is capable of dictating the tempo and distributing the ball around the pitch.

In this way play-making burden would be divided between 2 players and hardly anybody would risk two players to man-mark deep midfielders. Thus your play wouldn’t depend on the passing ability of your center-backs.

Leaders routine wins

Man City Sane

Manchester City continue with running at full speed. West Ham practise was basically wrapped-up by 20th minute mark when Sterling extended the lead. Sane’s double just rounded the result but West Ham rarely threatened.

The fact that City scored 3 goals from open just by tapping it home from few meters demonstrates their superiority.

Similarly Liverpool archived Watford practise. Just that reds left it a bit late but nevertheless without particular scares.

United continues with…disasters

Manchester United continues to disappoint. Or is a home draw a disappointment any more? Frustrating situation for fans of one of the biggest club in the world.

It’s there for anyone to see that things aren’t working out. Fortunate win against Juventus in Champions League can’t mask all the shortcomings demonstrated in all other matches.

14 points behind league leaders, 7 points away from Champions League spot and negative goal-difference.

Mourinho vs CP

Why aren’t there any actions taken? How long will the club tolerate this kind of performances? How long will the fans?

A lot of questions remain unanswered and United continues with disasters. Unless the club decided that this season no trophies are to be won or even contested. Then everything is clear.

Elsewhere

Arsenal gained 3 points the hard and lucky way in Bournemouth, Everton won against Cardiff City at Goodison part and Leicester City managed to grab a point after being a man down for over an hour.

Important wins for Fulham, first game for new manager Ranieri and Huddesfield Town.

Fulham Mitrović

Chelsea losing grip but more importantly having exposed all weaknesses in a game that mustn’t be forgotten. It must serve as a reminder that you need a plan B.

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