Friday, May 28, 2021

Champions League Final - History beckons for Man City

It's an all-English final in the Champions League underlying the quality of the Premier League amongst its Europrean peers. It is a final between 2 loaded (with money) teams in Man City, guided by the riches of Abu Dhabi and Chelsea, the club of Russian billionaire Ambramovich. It will be a first European Cup final for the Citizens while the Blues will be at their third final. 

If this match were played a couple of weeks ago, I would have given both teams a 50-50 chance of winning it. Chelsea were almost unbeaten under Tuchel and even went to win at the Etihaad. However, since then, the Blues have lost 3 of their last 4 matches and Tuchel's Midas touch seems to have evaporated. They needed crucial wins in the FA Cup final and in the last EPL match and lost both. So, the Blues are lacking form at the moment.

For their part, Man City have been playing on 3rd gear towards winning the league. They were not in the same mode of urgency as Chelsea. Even though they lost 2 matches against Tuchel's Blues, I don't think they necessarily go in this match with a psychological disadvantage. They might have lost the match at the Etihad but they were resting their first team for the occasion and more importantly, had Aguro converted his failed Panenka penalty, they would have won that match easily. So, I don't think there will be any mental barrier in their minds that they cannot beat Chelsea. I think Guardiola will get his tactics right and the Citizens are worthy favourites.

I mentioned the lack of form of Chelsea above and the other downside with them is the quality of their marksmen. The ability of Werner to convert his chances will certainly be a factor to consider; the German has proven to be a serial expert in missing open goals and continuing on this streak will be fatal for the Blues. There is little doubt that Tuchel will p refer to stay with his fellow German up front and not opt to start with Giroud but either way, I see the defensive pairing of Dias and Stones effectively containing either Chelsea forward.

The Man City squad is so deep that dangers for Chelsea will lurk from anywhere. However, it's a match of 90 minutes and anything can happen; the Blues could score the first or odd goal and park the bus; or the City stars could be on an off-day; or lady luck might decide to give a trophy to the Londoners. But the odds are that Guardiola will have his tactics right and have his players primed for the occasion. Foden, De Bryune, Mahrez, Dias and Gungodan have dominated all year long and shown up on big occasions. If they fail to fire, there are the likes of Aguero and Sterling on the bench who can turn a match on its head in an instant. The Citizens should not only be up for this but they have the quality to make the difference over 90 minutes, extra time or penalties. An out-of-form Chelsea do not look a formidable proposition against them.

Win: Man City

Saturday, May 22, 2021

European leagues - Curtain Call

 It's the curtain call for European leagues this week-end and today the verdict fell on La Liga where Atletico Madrid hang on to its slim lead to win the title over arch-rivals Real Madrid. There's still much at stake in the other leagues and here are some predictions.

Premier League. What is mainly of interest here is which of Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester are going to miss out on a UCL spot; only two of them will be happy fellas by the end of the day. The Kops were saved by the most improbable goal from keeper Allison in stoppage time last week to have their destiny in their own hands. They host Crystal Palace, a team that is capable of the best and worst depending on their mood. It will be Roy Hodgson's last match at the helm for the Eagles but I don't think the esx-Liverpool manager will be throwing a wrench to his old club's UCL aspirations. Liverpool should win this one although it will not surprise me if the Kops are made to sweat till the end.

I believe Leicester will overcome Spurs although this is bound to go to the wire as well. The Foxes will have to wait for Chelsea's result at Aston Villa, a rather difficult match on the cards for the Blues. Again here, old connections can play a role as Villa assistant coach John Terry might play villain against old club Chelsea. The Villains are a tough nut to crack although I feel they are more apt to get a result on the road than at home. Chelsea have enough quality to edge this match and I think they will. So, for me, Liverpool and Chelsea will bear the 2 remaining UCL spots at Leicester's expense.

In France, coronation will either go to Lille or PSG. Monaco has an outside chance but will need those 2 to falter and scoring bucketloads against Lens to win the title. It won't happen. As it stands, Lille has a slightly harder task on paper than PSG as they visit 12th place Angers while PSG go to 16th place Brest. However, the latter are fighting their lives in a relegation scrap, so PSG's might actually be having a harder match-up. Lille have a strong record on the road, so they have quality to go get a result at Angers and hence sccure the title.

In Italy, in a similar fashion to the Premier League, 3 teams namely Juventus, AC Milan and Napoli are vying for 2 UCL spots. Juventus should be able to rely on Ronaldo to get the must-win at Bologna. Napoli are also favoured at home against Verona. Milan have a very tough match as they visit Atalanta. The latter have nothing to play for, so that might ease things a bit for the Milanese; however the hosts are still a formidable team at their best and I think they will kill off Milan's UCL hopes. I see Juventus and Napoli making it to next year's UCL.

EPL UCL spots: Liverpool, Chelsea

French champions: Lille

Serie A UCL spots: Juventus, Napoli

Friday, May 14, 2021

FA Cup Final - Tough challenge for Leicester

Leicester have become a Premier League powerhouse in recent years and their history reached its apex when they won the league in shocking fashion during the 2015/16 season under Claudio Ranieri. Brendan Rogers has given the team a renewed impetus since taking the helm a couple years ago but has yet to make a major imprint by either winning a trophy or getting the team back in the Champions League. He is close to doing so this year as they are a match away from winning the FA Cup and a well-positioned third in the later stages of the EPL.

But here comes nemesis Chelsea who will battle them for the FA Cup trophy and third league spot as well. Since his arrival to replace Frank Lampard, manager Tuchel has made a major impact for the Blues. This is a team no-one will confidently play against; they have even beaten champions Man City twice in as many outings since the German took over. His team is in the FA Cup and Champions League finals and is well on the way to secure UCL qualification for next year. This has got to be considered an amazing achievement given that the results were oh-so-so under Lampard. 

The Blues are rock solid in the defensive and midfield compartments which are really their forte. Opposing teams find it hard to break them down as they are very well organized. Their Achilles tendon is up front with striker Werner being guilty of glaring misses all season long. The German forward seems to do everything right, except score. He will have to stop his profligacy in front of goal Saturday if the Blues are to have a live chance to win this.

Chelsea go into the match as deserved favourites. They have the momentum and the better team. Leicester are in no way push-overs and have a great stopper in Schmeichel. If it goes to penalties, I'd rather side with the Danish stopper in any match. The Foxes' form lately have been over-reliant on striker Iheanacho. The Nigerian is making a knack of scoring in every match and is clearly the in-form striker in England at the moment.  Him or Vardy have the quality to score against any defence, so Rudiger and Silva are warned for the Blues. The potential absence of Johnny Evans at the heart of the Leicester defence would definitely be a negative. The former Man Utd defender is a rock at the back and his absence for the past weeks has clearly been felt. Even if match fit tomorrow, he might have to battle early cobwebs to get back into match rhythm.

This will be surely a tactical battle between 2 managers known for their tactical minds. I think Chelsea are going to have the more chances to score and the question is whether they can translate them into goals. If Tuchel's men can smother what Iheanacho and Vardy can throw at them, they should have enough quality to do damage at the other end. Roger's wait for a trophy with Leicester will have to wait a bit more, I believe.

Win (trophy, 90 mins): Chelsea

Friday, May 7, 2021

EPL 2020/21 - Week 34

Leeds v Tottenham - Home

Sheffield Utd v Crystal Palace - Away

Man City v Chelsea - Draw

Liverpool v Southampton - Home

Wolves v Brighton - Away

Aston Villa v Man Utd - Away

West Ham v Everton - Home

Arsenal v West Brom - Home

Fulham v Burnley - Draw

Man City vs Chelsea is the dress rehearsal to the upcoming Champions League final and it is almost a certainty that both teams will give a display that will bear no resemblance to what they intend to unleash in a few weeks time. For sure, both camps might insist that tomorrow's Premier League match is all-important but the European final chips are way too important for them to divulge any tactical inklings or shows of weaknesses and strengths towards the opposing team on Saturday. I expect a drab match and a goal-less draw does not look far-fetched even at the Etihaad Stadium where the Citizens usually score by the bucketload. Both teams will have the intent not to lose this match from a psychological perspective; Chelsea will be keen to show that they can go toe to toe with the champions-to-be and also prove that their win over the same opponents in the semi-final of the FA Cup was no fluke. Another defeat for Man City to Chelsea might actually seed some doubt into Guardiola's men as to whether they can really beat Tuchel's side, so the Citizens will be keen not to lose this match; in fact, they have more to lose than the visitors. All in all, I expect a match with few occasions, with Chelsea should be playing tight as usual and City playing more possession football than carving clear-cut chances.

Draw: Man City v Chelsea