Posts tagged Manchester City
The Counter Press EP 33

Josh and Vijay chat about all the Champions League matchups, PSG giving up 5 goals to Lille, and the Premier League.

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The Counter Press EP 31

The Counter Press is back with another episode. This time it's Puneet who joins Josh on the show. They discuss everything from Manchester United to the rumored expansion of the World Cup format.

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Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
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The Counter Press - You Hate to See It

The Counter Press Boys are joined by Spurs fan @ryne_jones to talk about all things Premier League including Tottenham's list of transfers. We also dive into Champions League matchups along with some Serie A talk.

Follow Vijay on Twitter: @VJVemu
Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits

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The Counter Press EP 27
The Counter Press EP 26
The Counter Press EP 24

Happy FIFA Day! Fire up your PS4 and turn The Counter Press up to ignorant levels! Josh and Vijay are back with friend @MindofDharma to talk about the opening month of the soccer season, from Champions League to domestic cup failures in England and a whole lot more!

Follow Josh: @highbiscuits
Follow Vijay: @VJVemu

Premier League Matchday: Five Games to Watch

Chelsea vs Liverpool

The marquee matchup of this weekend will most definitely take place at Stamford Bridge where Liverpool will face off against Chelsea, a quick rematch after these teams faced off midweek in the Carabao Cup with Chelsea emerging victorious, Both of these teams will head into this match with unbeaten records in the league, Liverpool having won all six of their contests so far. Liverpool can become only the second team in Premier League history to win their first seven matches of a PL season, the other just so happens to have been Chelsea in the 05/06 season.

Arsenal vs Watford

At the Emirates this weekend will be two teams trending in opposite directions matching up in red-hot Arsenal and middling Watford. While Arsenal come in having won their last four PL contests, Watford, on the other hand are losing steam, looking for their first win in their last three contests after starting the season with a four game winning streak of their own. The combination of Lacazette and Aubamayeng up top for Arsenal has been lethal as of late for Arsenal and will be looking to put Watford to the sword yet again.

Wolves vs Southampton

Most teams in their first year after promotion to the Premier League come into the season ready to scrape for points and prepare for a relegation battle but this is FAR from the case with Wolverhampton Wanderers. After dominating the Championship last season, Wolves have carried their momentum into the PL and are unbeaten in their last four games, including draws against Manchester City and Manchester United. The only teams with more shots on goal than Wolves heading into this weekend are all in the top three. Southampton have struggled out of the gates and with Wolves looking to stay unbeaten at home, those struggles may not been over yet.

Crystal Palace vs Bournemouth

Wrapping up the match day, on Monday, two mid-table teams in 11th place Crystal Palace and 8th place Bournemouth will clash at the Vitality Stadium. After a hot start to the season, Bournemouth head into this match after being on the receiving end of an absolute hammering by a Burnley team that had not yet won a game heading into last weekend. Crystal Palace continue to look to Wilfried Zaha to provide the majority of their offense and look for him to try to spark the team once again this week. It doesn’t bode well for Bournemouth that the team have never won a PL match played on a Monday but the team will be hoping to put an end to that unwanted record.

Cardiff vs Burnley

An early season six-pointer between relegation candidates Cardiff and Burnley will take place in Cardiff City Stadium this weekend. Sean Dyche and Burnley hope they have put the worst behind them and look to build on their first win of the season, a 4-0 battering of Bournemouth last weekend. Cardiff continue to chase their first win of the season but their recent history against Burnley can only inspire them knowing the team are unbeaten against Burnley in 13 matches since 2007. This may not be the prettiest game to watch but the importance of this result could be significant for both sides come season’s end.

Premier League Player Power Rankings

  1. Eden Hazard, Chelsea

  2. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

  3. Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool

  4. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham

  5. James Milner, Liverpool

  6. Jose Holebas, Watford

  7. Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal

  8. Lucas Moura, Tottenham

  9. Aymeric Laporte, Manchester City

  10. Ruben Neves, Wolverhampton Wanderers

2018-19 UEFA Champions League Preview: Group Stage Edition
Photo Credit:  Reuters Photo

Photo Credit: Reuters Photo

We are inching ever so close to having Champions League football back in our lives. The draw a few weeks ago helped us take one giant step towards us hearing “The Champions” blaring across our TV screens. The results turned out to be quite interesting. Sure some of the groups are real cakewalks (looking at you, Manchester City and Bayern Munich) but the rest of the teams surely have their work cut out for them.

There are some amazing matchups we are going to get during the group stages. Let’s take a look at the narratives in each of the eight groups along with who will make it to the Round of 16.

Group A

This is a good group if you want to watch two clubs with some young talent on display. Monaco and Borussia Dortmund both are well known for developing some of the world's best young players and selling them for mass profit. Atletico Madrid got younger too with the signings of Thomas Lemar and Rodri in the midfield. Lemar will have a reunion game as he faces his former club when Atletico and Monaco collide on Matchday 1.

Both Dortmund and Atleti will be looking to bounce back in the Champions League after crashing out in the group stage last year. It didn’t turn out so bad for them in Europe as Dortmund reached the knockout stages of the Europa League while Diego Simeone’s team lifted the trophy when it was all said and done. Atletico looked stronger than ever in the UEL final and in the UEFA Super Cup, beating Real Madrid 4-2. Dortmund had a huge win against RB Leipzig last week then followed it up with a 0-0 dud against Hannover. Lucien Favre has this team playing better than last year but they need to step it up a notch if they want to impress in Europe.

Club Brugge are the team from Pot 4 in this group. The good news for the Belgian side is that they have basically two weeks off before their first matchday and the only game in between is against Lokren, who are 14th in the Belgian Pro League. Then things get a bit tough as they have to play in all three competitions right after. Dortmund in the UCL, Gent in league play, and a Round of 32 cup clash against Deinzel all come in quick succession. They will fight hard in group play to snatch points against the big guns. Their best bet is nabbing some against Monaco.

Madrid and Dortmund are the favorites and rightly so, they are the two most talented squads. Monaco should be expected to finish around third with Brugge coming in the final spot.

Atletico Madrid and Dortmund advance

Group B

After impressing in the group stages last season (remember that 3-0 scoreline against Real Madrid?) Tottenham will be looking to do the same in this group. A summer with no transfers gave a lot of worry as to the squad depth of Spurs but they have started out the season in top form. We will truly get a sense of how much their lack of activity in the summer costs them as they try to advance deeper into cup tournaments along with fighting for a top 4 spot in the Champions League.

After getting a come from behind win against Lazio to get into the UCL, Inter Milan was rewarded by getting into a group with two of the top clubs in Europe. Inter have gotten a lot better in the transfer market, picking up additions such as Radja Nainggolan, Stefan De Vrij, and Keita Balde Diao. With Mauro Icardi up top and Ivan Perisic on the wings, Inter has solid threats in front of goal. They will be a much tougher out than many think and are certainly capable of an upset result in the group stages, especially at home in the San Siro.

PSV Eindhoven has a great young player in Chucky Lozano and he will be someone to watch for in the group stage. Lozano and Steven Bergwijn both possess talent on the wings. Even with PSV likely to finish last in the group, they should provide some highlights.

It’s not hard to determine who the best team in this group will be and it’s Barcelona. The Catalans are ready for a deep Champions League run, especially after the collapse they had against Roma. One of the topics Leo Messi talked about in his captain's speech to the fans was about winning the Champions League. It’s clear they want the Champions League title and should be favorites. With a summer of bringing in talent to solidify the bench, Barca is a deep team. It also helps that young starlet Ousmane Dembele has gotten off to a fast start this season. He scored the game-winning goal in the Spanish Super Cup and has been a menace on the wings every time he has featured for the Catalans thus far. He looks a lot more confident and could show those promising steps in development many Barcelona fans hoped for when he first signed with the club.

This will be a tough road for the top three teams but Barcelona will make it out of the group as winners. The Catalans should get enough points early to see their way through. Inter Milan will put up a fight but ultimately Tottenham should finish second. We will get to see some drama in the later matchdays of this group, including the final one where Barcelona will play Spurs. This could possibly decide who finishes first in the group.

Barcelona and Tottenham advance

Group C

This features a group with three strong attacking teams so look for some really high score lines on their given matchdays. We all know about Liverpool and their potent attack. With Sadio Mane and Mo Salah on the wings, they are a constant threat to burn your back line on counter attacks. Roberto Firmino does a good job as the central striker and his pressing defensively helps make Jurgen Klopp’s system run more smoothly. Liverpool also ramped up their midfield with the arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho. Keita will be instrumental in their success against Europe’s elite. They shocked the world by reaching the Champions League final before running into the buzzsaw which is Real Madrid. While back to back appearances to the final is highly unlikely, they can make some noise. Their defense has seemed stable so far in Premier League but they will be facing two teams with explosive attacks of their own. Both Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli can punch a couple of goals into the back of the Liverpool net if they are not careful.

PSG have had a great start to the Ligue 1 season as they look to dominate the French league once again. Like Liverpool, they have a big three of their own in Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe. It will be a nightmare for the rest of the three to try and stop Paris. They cruised in group play last season despite having giants such as Bayern Munich in their group. The real goal for Paris however, will be in the knockout stages. They will be pushed in this group stage as there are three legit teams who all have a shot at advancing. Questions are going to be asked about their defense as well as their depth in the middle of the park. They still haven’t totally gotten over the loss of Blaise Matuidi and need a real box to box player to solidify things. While the Parisians should be favorites to win the group, as they have the best side, it’s not certain.

Napoli had their share of losses too this summer with Maurizio Sarri and Jorginho heading to Chelsea. It doesn’t mean they have taken numerous steps back, however. Carlo Ancelotti still inherits a very talented squad and despite crashing out of the group stage last year, they have a puncher's chance to advance. It was clear from the onset last season they were more focused on the league and decided not to pursue any other trophies because of it. We will see this season how Ancelotti rotates the squad in Europe. At the very least they are slotted at a solid third. Red Star Belgrade will be a tough place to play and the atmosphere will be great. Against these three teams, however, it’s hard not seeing them finish anywhere other than last.

Liverpool and PSG have the most offensive firepower while their defenses seem more stable than Napoli’s at the moment. The Partenopei will be right with them step for step, though. If either of them slips up, Napoli will be waiting to pounce at a chance of reaching the knockout rounds.

PSG and Liverpool advance

Group D

Out of all the groups in the Champions League, this is the one which is a toss-up. This is actually a pretty crazy group when you think about it as it’s not often you see four teams all with a shot at advancing. There aren’t any European giants or any real minnows in group D. It looks to be an all-out slugfest.

The four teams will be Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray, and Lokomotiv Moscow. If anything, it will be a group which requires a ton of traveling as both Porto and Lokomotiv will have to travel across Europe to play each other. None of these teams are particularly overpowering over the other so it will be hard to tell who is the favorite heading into the first matchday. Both Porto and Schalke have experience in the knockout rounds. Galatasaray and Moscow are tough away fixtures. If both are able to churn out a result or two on the road, it will go a long way in their hopes of finishing in the top two or even the Europa League spot. The team to watch out will be Schalke. They have gotten off to a shaky start in Bundesliga play with two losses to begin the season. Things could get even worse with a fixture against Borussia Monchengladbach awaiting them. A good start to their European season would calm down some of the voices of worry but you have to wonder if they will be able to handle both Champions League and Bundesliga simultaneously.

Out of all the teams in the group, Porto is the ones who are the most likely to advance given their pedigree in Europe. Hector Herrera still runs the midfield and Vincent Aboubakar will poach some goals in this group. Second place is honestly a toss up but in the end, talent tops all. Schalke should have enough to barely scrape by for second place. Lokomotiv will surely be in the battle for second too and are a dark horse to watch in this group. After making the Round of 16 in Europa League last year, it will be a big jump in talent for the Russian side. If there is a group where they can raise some eyebrows, this is the one.

Porto and Schalke advance

Group E

Now we enter the first of the two cakewalk groups. It’s a common joke to say the Bundesliga is essentially Bayern Munich and everyone else. It applies to Group E as well.

It’s clear the Bavarians are through and out the heavy favorites to win this group. Even after looking like they took a step back quality wise in the Champions League, Bayern still has enough depth in the middle of the field to keep things chugging along. Their 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt should ease concerns too. This will be the first real test for Niko Kovac, Bayern Munich’s new manager. Carlo Ancelotti was immediately sacked after their blowout loss to PSG so it shows you how seriously they view their form in Europe. Luckily for Kovac, there isn’t an opponent of the Parisians quality in their group. Bayern should comfortably finish first.

The battle for the second place spot probably won’t be a drama-filled one either. Despite both having to play in the playoff rounds to reach the group stages, there is a gap of quality between Benfica and Ajax. Like Bayern, this should be an easy group for the Portuguese side to navigate. Finishing second won’t be a hard task for Benfica.

This now leaves the third place spot between Ajax and AEK. The Greek side barely scraped by in the play-off round as well and Ajax fought in a tough two-legged battle against Dynamo Kiev. There are gaps in quality between everyone in Group E. The battle for third place is no different. Ajax is the better side and should make their way into the Europa League.

Bayern and Benfica advance

Group F

All you need to do for Group F is take one look at the teams lined up and know who will top it. Manchester City is far and above the best team and should have it all wrapped halfway through the group stage. Even with the injury to Kevin De Bruyne, the Man City machine keeps plugging along. Pep Guardiola’s side has played stellar and has done so despite the likes of Leroy Sane getting off to tough starts. With the addition of Riyad Mahrez and a healthy Benjamin Mendy, Man City have so much firepower to work with. Bernardo Silva looking more comfortable in the system is a boost too. Last year they got bamboozled by Liverpool in the quarterfinals and looked pedestrian during the tie. Guardiola should have this side motivated and ready to go from the start. They are favorites to not only win the league but are in the mix of teams who can win the entire competition.

Now for who will finish behind Manchester City in the second spot is another open-ended question. Shakhtar, Lyon, and Hoffenheim all have what it takes to rally a couple of strong results together and stumble into second. At the same time, there are numerous questions surrounding the consistency of the last two in the group in Lyon and Hoffenheim. You don’t know which versions of these teams will show up on a given matchday. Lyon, for example, has a very underrated attack with Memphis DePay at the helm but they can’t seem to find the back of the net often. A lot of times for Lyon it’s been a lot of low-quality chances from outside the box and on the counter. Hoffenheim have started their season on an ok note but the jury is still out on how they will stack up against tougher competition in Europe. Shakhtar Donetsk should be the leader of the pack in this race for second. Like Porto, Shakhtar has done well in Europe as of late. While they won’t necessarily trouble Manchester City, they should be favorites to finish second.

Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk advance

Group G

Last season was a magical Champions League campaign for both Roma and Real Madrid. It often illustrates the difference in the level of expectations for teams in Europe. While for Roma supporters it would have been grand to see them win the Champions League, just reaching the semi-finals was an amazing achievement. It was even sweeter considering how they reached there, on the heels of one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history. After being thrashed 4-1 in the first leg, Roma staged an epic comeback back home in the return leg. They beat the Catalans 3-0 and advanced thanks to an away goals tie-breaker. It was one of the best comebacks in a Champions League tie the soccer world has ever seen. Now Roma has to play another Spanish giant as it draws defending winners Real Madrid in their group. Apart from their numerous pre-season matches in the summer, 2016 was the last time these two teams played in a competitive game. It was the Round of 16 in the UCL and Real Madrid dominated the tie, earning back to back 2-0 victories to see off the Italian side.

After winning three straight Champions League titles, this will be a completely different Champions League campaign for Real Madrid and we all know why. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus this summer shocked the club and not splashing the cash for a superstar to replace him was perplexing as well. While they almost certainly will try to land a top ten player in the world next summer, it looks like Real Madrid are making Gareth Bale the star of this team. The Welshman is now the star and will be looked upon to bag more goals for Los Blancos. Bale does have the talent to be a star for Real Madrid. His blistering pace causes so many problems for defenders and will open up spaces in the defense for others. Guys like Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio will have more goal scoring opportunities because of it. The midfield and the defense will still be the same as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the middle of the park. Raphael Varane, who had an exceptional season for both club and country, will lineup along Sergio Ramos. With the loss of Zinedine Zidane factored in as well, it will be a tall mountain to climb for Madrid if they want to win the UCL for the fourth time in a row. They might not make it back to the final but a quarterfinal appearance isn’t an unreasonable expectation.

The two other teams in this group are CSKA Moscow and FC Viktoria Plzn. These two teams will battle for the third place spot of this group with the Russian side being the favorites. They are currently 6th in the Russian Premier League as Zenit and Spartak Moskova have gotten off to great starts domestically. Plzn are huge underdogs and despite being in the thick of things in the Czech league, it will be difficult for them to get results in this group. Their best shot comes on matchday one when they face off against CSKA.

It’s clear who the two best teams are in this group in Real Madrid and Roma. They’ll be the ones who advance to the knockout stages. Expect Madrid to finish at the top despite the transition to a life without Ronaldo.

Real Madrid and Roma advance

Group H

To say it’s been a turbulent season so far for Manchester United is an understatement. Between the comments made by Jose Mourinho and the two losses to start the season, the pressure is on in Old Trafford. Despite finishing second in the league last season, it was still defined as an “ok”. Losing to Sevilla in the Champions League Round of 16 didn’t help either. This is a big year for Mourinho as he enters in the heavily talked about "Year 3 Mou". It's usually around the time things implode and the Portuguese manager is let go. It will be an uphill battle in the league as both Manchester City and Liverpool are favorites to lift the trophy. The Champions League draw did no favors for the Red Devils either. Manchester United can’t afford to have performances like they did against Brighton if they want to do well in this group. They have made some upgrades and depth signings this summer, especially in the midfield with the addition of Fred from Shakhtar. Mourinho still has a lot of questions left to answer about this squad. Who will start on the wings is the first question. Defense is in question as well with Eric Bailly in and out of the lineup constantly. There is a lot of shuffling in those two areas for Manchester United and it shows on match days.

United’s biggest problem will be Juventus. The Italian champions had a fantastic summer picking up Emre Can, Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and some guy named Cristiano Ronaldo. Last season’s UCL campaign ended in infamy as a fantastic comeback in Bernabeu was canceled out by a late penalty awarded against the Old Lady. Juventus are bringing back a lot of their old squad but have replaced Gonzalo Higuain with Ronaldo, an obvious upgrade. The only real question for this squad will be the goalkeeping situation with Gigi Buffon now gone. The adjustment of Ronaldo on this Juventus team has gotten off to a rocky start but expect him to start scoring goals soon. Now it’s up to Max Allegri to see how he can field the best starting XI. Juventus will be very hard to stop in the Champions League this season.

Valencia is a sneaky underdog in this group. They have some young talent in attack with Michy Batshuayi and Goncalo Guedes, who made his move from Paris permanent this summer. They can catch teams on the counter with the pace on the wings too. After finishing 3rd in a group with Gent, Lyon, and Zenit last season they will be itching to make it back to the Round of 16. They certainly have the talent to make this happen.

Valencia has a chance to finish second in this group, especially if Manchester United slips up. However, Manchester United should have just enough to squeak into second. This is setting up to be a group to pay attention to.

Juventus and Manchester United advance

2018-19 English Premier League power rankings: City favorites to repeat, but Liverpool hope to end the drought
PREMIER LEAGUE POWER RANKINGS.jpg

With the European football leagues getting underway this week, The Barber's Chair is taking a look at each of the major soccer leagues across the pond to see how each club stacks up this season. Yesterday, Jonathan Ramos examined the top tier in France, Ligue 1. Today, Vijay Vemu looks at arguably the most popular league in football, the English Premier League.

Premier League Power Rankings

One of the world's best leagues, the English Premier League, kicks off on Friday with Leicester City facing off against Manchester United. It's the beginning of a great soccer weekend (including Arsenal vs. Man City) and hopefully a fun EPL season. Let’s rank the 20 clubs and in the end, I’ll release my entire table predictions.

Class 1: Title contenders

Manchester City
Liverpool

Last year we saw Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City take the crown by the throat, ending the title race by Christmas. Their second-half spell wasn’t as dominant as their start, but it was enough to get the job done and win their third EPL title of the decade. Now with an invigorated squad filled with summer signings like Riyad Mahrez, City are favorites to repeat.

Pep retains the majority of his key players and will get a healthy Benjamin Mendy to fill in at left back this season. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are going to be goal poachers with Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling providing service. However, the title chase will be closer with one team, in particular, having an amazing summer in the transfer market: Liverpool.

The Reds had a fantastic season in 2017/18 and got even stronger in the summer, adding the duo of Naby Keita and Fabinho to shore up the midfield. Both players fit right into Jurgen Kloop's system, with the former having a great motor to press. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mo Salah all come back healthy as well. Liverpool even went out and spent money on a quality keeper in Brazil's Allison, who sures up the backline and makes the Reds a dangerous contender in the Premier League. One question worth asking given Klopp’s system: will they run of steam in the second half of the season? If that happens in the middle of a serious title chase, we could see another Liverpool collapse.

Any year in the Premier League is a toss up, but with City being so far above everyone else and Liverpool improving, it’s hard to talk yourself into another big club being a title contender. At least right now. I expect the race to be pretty close, but for now, these are my two teams.

Class 2: European contenders

Manchester United
Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea
Arsenal
Leicester
City

I’m just gonna get this out of the way right now... I don’t see Burnley making a push like they did last season. Sean Dyche’s team did a fantastic job of playing park-the-bus soccer and making the Europa League out of it. They made great use of set pieces and defended like crazy, but we know what happens when you mix a Europa League run with trying to compete in the Premier League. Ask Southampton and Everton; it creates a disaster in one competition or another. The Clarets are going to naturally have to make a sacrifice about which competition to care for; but even if they solely focus on the Premier League, they will need another monster season to qualify for Europe.

As for who will actually be competing for European qualification, expect the rest of the big guns to be competing for Champions League. Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho’s comments have made things especially wild around Old Trafford. The whole thing regarding Anthony Martial raised a few eyebrows but thankfully there are people at United who realize his value. Making Marcus Rashford the number 10 is a big deal; hopefully, he can get more playing time this season. Mourinho has a lot of decisions to make attacking wise and if he can’t get it right, he may be on his way out.

Antonio Conte is finally out at Chelsea, and the Blues have brought in their man from Napoli. Maurizio Sarri will bring an exciting style to Stamford Bridge and hopefully convince Eden Hazard to stay with him by getting more attacking help. Adding Jorginho to boss the midfield along with N’Golo Kante is a big boost. Chelsea fans hope Sarri can make Alvaro Morata look at least 20% of what he was last year. I think if Morata is given a chance in Sarri’s system, he will have a fine season. But one man who is on his way out is Thibaut Courtois. Chelsea reportedly have his replacement lined up in Kepa, but it means even more shuffling defensively. You also have to wonder how Conte’s back three now fit with Sarri’s 4-3-3 system. Marcos Alonso will have real problems playing as a full-time left back.

No movement in the transfer window have left Tottenham fans mad as there have been barely any incomings to the club. Losing Toby Alderweireld and Moussa Dembele won’t ease any of the tension. Spurs still have a super talented squad and manager Mauricio Pochettino will have his guys ready to go. Harry Kane will still be smashing in goals and the likes of Heung Min Son, Christian Eriksen, and Dele Alli will provide a ton of offensive support, but they needed an upgrade on their squad to take the next step into title contention. Sadly for Spurs fans, there was no upgrade at all.

Arsene Wenger is finally out and Unai Emery is in at Arsenal. The Gunners have a potent attack with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette up front. Emery will have to figure out make the two strikers together instead of what happened last season when the latter was moved out to the left wing and looked all out of sorts. The midfield got a boost with the addition of Uruguay’s Lucas Torreira. He can be a good cover in front of Arsenal’s shaky backline and will look to be their backbone in midfield. It’s a project that Emery has got in his hands. Wenger left him a depleted squad, and it'll take a couple of years for Emery to get his type of players. Expect another topsy-turvy year from the Gunners.

Another team I would like to throw in for Europe contention is Leicester City. Even after losing Mahrez, they made some smart signings in Ricardo Pereira, Richard Ghezzal, James Madison, and Danny Ward. All of those signings strengthen a talented and dangerous squad with Jamie Vardy still up top, and Ndidi and Vicente Iborra solid in the midfieldl. Getting Jonny Evans to play in the back will help the backline depth, especially if Harry Maguire leaves (which he might this transfer window or next).

Class 3: Mid-table

Crystal Palace
Wolverhampton
Everton
Watford
Newcastle United
Fulham
West Ham
Burnley

The team who will get the most eyeballs here will be Wolves. Like Newcastle last year, they are easily a mid-table team and won’t be fighting for their lives this season. They brought in a lot of quality players in the past two years, and the way they ran the Championship showed they can make some noise in the table. I know it’s ambitious to put them in the top 9 but you can argue given the troubling summers the three teams behind them in the list, it’s not unreasonable. Crystal Palace had a good end to the summer and given the chaos in the middle of the table, if they keep Zaha they will be fine.

Newcastle has had a very troubling summer with Rafa Benitez expressing his concern for the lack of transfers. It’s not out of reason for them to be in the relegation race when the season comes to a close, but I think Benitez is a talented enough manager to pull them out of it.

Fulham will be fun too and they kept their best young players, which bodes well for them staying up. Everton is a toss up under Marco Silva; they could be in contention for 7th, but given how their pre-season has gone it seems they are in a fight for 10th place again. West Ham hope their signing of Felipe Anderson will be a big boost for them; he's a smart purchase who can spark the Hammers offensively like Dimitri Payet did a couple of years ago.

Class 4: Relegation Zone

Bournemouth
Southampton
Brighton
Huddersfield
Cardiff City

There are two teams here who are good bets to land in the relegation zone: Huddersfield and Cardiff City. Both clubs, talent-wise, don’t have enough firepower to stay in the Premier League. It was a miracle that Huddersfield stayed up last year, and this year will be even harder for them. They’ve made some signings which could help them stay up, so it’s an automatic drop but it’s hard to see them trying the same thing they did last year and have it work.

The last relegation spot will come between Brighton and Southampton. Much like Lille in France, Southampton's drop in quality has been shocking and sad to see. The Saints were once in the Europa League, now they are fighting for their Premier League lives. They are going to have to rely on a young core to get them out of this. Bournemouth is also in here but Eddie Howe can get the job done, much like Rafa at Newcastle.

Full table prediction

  1. Man City

  2. Liverpool

  3. Manchester United

  4. Spurs

  5. Chelsea

  6. Arsenal

  7. Leicester

  8. Crystal Palace

  9. Wolves

  10. Everton

  11. Watford

  12. Newcastle

  13. Fulham

  14. West Ham

  15. Burnley

  16. Bournemouth

  17. Southampton

  18. Brighton

  19. Huddersfield

  20. Cardiff City

 

The Counter Press EP 20
Champions League QF second leg preview

After a world wind of first legs in the Champions League quarter finals, all eight teams must quickly get back into the swing of things. Unlike previous rounds, the ties are beginning to be played back to back as the Champions League revs up towards the final in Kiev. Despite some lopsided score lines (3 teams are up 3 goals on aggregate), there are still storylines and themes to discuss. Let’s get started

FC Barcelona vs. Roma (First leg: 4-1 Barcelona)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Although they didn’t look like they were playing their A game, Barcelona still cruised to a 4-1 win over Roma in the first leg at the Nou Camp. It was an interesting strategy from the Italian club in the first leg to go out and press Barcelona, unlike most teams. But the Catalans had two slices of luck fall their way as the two opening goals in the tie were Roma own goals. They were bitter pills to swallow for the away side and things got even worse when Gerard Pique made it 3-0. The scoreline didn’t reflect how the game was being played on the field. Roma were able to generate somes chances throughout the game but only were able to capitalize on one of them, scoring a crucial away goal thanks to Edin Dzeko. Despite being the only player who was consistently in Barcelona’s half, the striker found a chance to pounce and did just that. Even with Barcelona up 3-1, an away from Roma at least made things a little interesting heading to the second leg in Rome. But Luis Suarez put all hope away as he knocked in a 4th for the Catalans before the referee blew the final whistle.

Heading back home for the return leg, Roma will surely have to go out in attacking mode. But they have to be wary of a Barcelona counter attack, especially if Ernesto Valverde plays the likes of Ousmane Dembele on the wing with the usual pairing of Messi and Suarez. Having Sergio Busquets back in the midfield should help normalize the Catalans, who often looking shaky in the midfield without the 29 year old. Valverde made some interesting choices in his starting XI in the first leg so who honestly knows who he is going to put in the midfield or up top on the wing.

Roma will obviously come out and attack to make Barcelona sweat. Also given how Valverde’s tactics ensure Barcelona don’t get exposed, they may be more willing to let the Romans have possession. Valverde’s Barcelona preaches defensive structure than anything else and it likely be on display in the second leg. But that doesn't mean they still can’t get up in attack. Given the form Leo Messi is in, all Barcelona need are a couple of chances on the counter and that’s it.

Prediction: 2 - 1 Barcelona

Liverpool vs. Manchester City (First leg: 3-0 Liverpool)

IMG_8588.JPG

This was one of the bigger shockers in the first legs. Liverpool thrashing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, scoring 3 goals in the first half and never looking back. It was clear Guardiola’s side did not look ready for this game at all. This was also another example of Guardiola’s downfall as he went away from the successful gameplan which has his side basically led his side to run the English Premier League. Putting a midfielder like Kevin De Bruyne on the wing didn’t help Manchester City either as it opened up their midfield to be exposed. However, credit should be given to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side, who took advantage of the opportunities given to them. The likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino had a field day with acres of space to work with. Manchester City opened themselves vulnerable to speedy wingers which is Liverpool’s strength.

We have seen mistakes like this from Guardiola before as he played 3 at the back against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side a couple of years ago in the first leg and it costed him dear. Like in Merseyside, Guardiola’s tactics backfired and it led to the same result he suffered at the hands of his former club, 3-0.

Now returning back to the Etihad for the second leg, Manchester City have a mountain to climb. But as long as Guardiola realizes his mistakes and runs with City’s normal lineup. Expect the Citizens to control a lot of the possession and generate a ton of chances. Get a goal early and it’s game on. It’s no secret that Liverpool’s defense has been suspect this whole season and don’t expect things to change over night.

But with all the controlling Manchester City will do in this game, they do play into Liverpool’s game plan of counter attacking and pressing. Klopp’s side is fine without the ball and if Manchester City slip up one moment, they could be picking the ball out of their own net in the next.

This second leg will be so hard to predict given how powerful City have shown to be but also at the fact of Liverpool being up 3-0. I say Manchester City will make this an interesting tie but Liverpool strike back with an away goal and it proves to be vital for them.

Prediction: 2-1 Manchester City

Real Madrid vs. Juventus (First leg: 3-0 Real Madrid)

AP

AP

Usually you hate to say ties are finished after the first leg but this one might as well be all but over.

It was a horror show for Juventus during the first leg in Turin. Despite controlling a lot of the action, the reigning Italian champions were bamboozled by Real Madrid and were witnesses to the one man wrecking crew of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo had his way with Juventus the whole night and took advantage of two horrible defending mistakes by Juve centre backs for both of his goals. First, Barzagli failed to mark him in the box and Ronaldo pounced to poke home a cross for Real’s first away goal. Then a mistake by Chiellini spraked a crazy sequence with forced Gigi Buffon to make a sprawling save on Lucas Vazquez. Then the ball came to Dani Carvajal who crossed it into the middle of the penalty area. Ronaldo then went up and performed a bicycle kick to a tee. The ball landed in the corner of the Juventus net and it was the one which buried the spirits of the Old Lady. Marcelo added a third to add salt to the wound and then a red card by Paulo Dybala all be sealed Juventus’s fate.

Unless Juventus can go out and attack without fear, they won’t have a chance in this second leg. Problem is that it’s against their DNA to senselessly attack. But their backs are against the wall and they need 4 goals to advance. Time for Allegri to put Juve’s tactics on all out attack. But it will leave them more vulnerable at the back and with a hungry Ronaldo ready to pounce.

Prediction: 1-1

Bayern Munich vs. Sevilla (First leg: 2-1 Bayern Munich)

This was closest first leg out of all the ties and it was also the wackiest. Like Barcelona, Bayern Munich came out of the gate looking out of sorts and it costed them. Sevilla pounced on Bayern’s weariness with a goal and sprung the tie into life. But Bayern quickly responded as an own goal from Jesus Navas came about as a result of great build up play by the Bavarians. They then picked up a second goal in the second half thanks to Thiago. It left Bayern with two away goals but the early goal does Sevilla some hope.

As bad as Bayern have been away from home, they have been dominant in the Allianz Arena. That place is a fortress and very few teams come away from there the victors in a two way tie. The good news for Sevilla is the past three teams which have been successful at Allianz Arena have been Spanish teams. Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid all had good performances to defeat Bayern in their own labyrinth and advance. Problem is that Sevilla isn’t like those other teams.

They also won’t have the luxury of walking into a two legged tie with the scoreline 0-0 like they had against Manchester United. But Sevilla have shown some resilience and won’t quit, it just likely won’t be enough. Bayern aren’t about to sit back and let Sevilla back into this tie, they will go for the jugular immediately and then open the flood gates. Or we could be in store for another La Liga team knocking out Bayern.

Prediction: 3-0 Bayern Munich

Takeaways from the first leg of Champions League quarterfinals

After a couple of weeks hiatus, the first leg of the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League finally got underway. We had four grand matchups on the cards. Two which featured two Spanish teams taking on Italian sides along with a matchup of two English squads while Bayern faced off against underdogs Sevilla. All four first legs provided us with some top entertainment while also leaving some questions to be answered for the second leg next week. Here are some takeaways from the first leg.

Real keep rolling

AFP Photo

AFP Photo

Like I’ve continued to say after each Real Madrid victory in the Champions League so far, they continue to play in Super Saiyan form in the Champions League. Forget what they are doing in La Liga but Real Madrid are flying in Europe. It was a dominant performance by Los Blancos as they thrashed Juventus and gave Gigi Buffon even more nightmares. Although Juventus controlled much of the possession and at most times much of the game, it was Real Madrid who generated the most chances and struck. They got off to a quick start as Juventus failed to mark Ronaldo in the box and we all know what happens if he gets a free chance. Just like that Juventus conceded an away goal. Things only got worse for Juventus as the game went on. Despite seeming to control the tempo of the game, they failed to generate more than one A+ chance. It was off a free kick and it was brilliantly saved by Keylor Navas.

Then the game stopped still as Ronaldo scored arguably one of his most brilliant goals of his career. It was a beautiful bicycle kick and it came off one of the wackiest sequences. A mistake between Giorgio Chiellini and Buffon led to Ronaldo almost scored on an open net but had his angle cut off by Buffon. Then Lucas Vazquez had his shot saved by Buffon before it fell to Dani Carvajal, who then lobbed up a cross to Ronaldo and the rest was history. Marcelo then added a third and added to the misery for Juventus.

Despite it being only the first leg, you have the feeling that this tie is already over. With 3 away goals and already in superstar form, Real Madrid are running away with this tie.

Barcelona and Bayern endure shaky starts to get results

While Real Madrid ran away, Barcelona and Bayern stumbled out of the gate at the beginning of their first legs. Both Bayern and Barcelona had slow starts to begin and looked off from the get go. Things got worse for the Bavarians as Sevilla scored a goal to get things going. At least for the Catalans, they got an own goal to start things off. Despite both of them winning in the first leg, it wasn’t the most convincing performances. Both teams relied on own goals and mistakes from the defenses. They were really shaky performances.

These first legs are tough pills to swallow for both Roma and Sevilla. Both teams played hard, especially the Italians who had two valid penalty shouts not called. The two losing sides had a combined 3 own goals and against the giants like Bayern and Barca, you can’t afford mistakes like that.

Man City’s meltdown

AP

AP

The biggest shock of the first leg results was at Anfield where Liverpool ran riot on Manchester City. At the end of the day, it was a 3-0 destruction of Pep Guardiola’s team and made Man City look average. Goals from Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Mane in the first 30 minutes bamboozled the Citizens and had Anfield rocking.

Guardiola made some questionable decisions with this lineup, playing a midfielder like Kevin De Bruyne on the right wing. It left City’s midfield open and add that to the centre back pairing of Kompany and LaPorte, Liverpool attackers had a field day. They looked out of sorts and this rock solid team was smashed to pieces. Guardiola ended up switching KDB back into the midfield but it was too little too late. It also hurts Manchester City that they failed to score an away goal. Now they have to score 4 goals in the Etihad, which sets up for a crazy attacking second leg. There will be plenty of action next week.

This seemed like a perfect pairing for Liverpool. They love to counterattack and against a team which controls possession, this seemed like a matchup where Liverpool could expose City. But nobody expected them to do something like this.

Manchester City's midfield maestros
Manchester City

Manchester City

Although it’s only February, the Premier League title race is all but over. Just take a look at the standings: while seven points separate second place and fifth place, a whopping 13 points is the gap between table leaders Manchester City and second place Manchester United. City are running away with the league and it’s not even close. They are clearly the best team in England and have established themselves as a Champions League contender. Pep Guardiola’s side is one of the top three in Europe, if not the best, and are the cream of the crop in terms of quality.

City bolsters a team which is absolutely trashing their opponents, registering a goal difference of 55 thus far in league play, 22 higher than Manchester United. Although they aren’t so ruthlessly killing off their opponents like they did in the opening stages of the Premier League, City are still running like a well oiled machine. 

Now there are a lot of different parts to this seemingly unstoppable City train. One major part has been Guardiola and his tactics. Another part has been the fullbacks and their ability to push up the pitch and overload opposing defenses. It’s also the growth of players like John Stones and the arrival of Emerson. But an even bigger, if not the biggest part of Manchester City’s success has been their midfield.

The trio of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Fernandinho have been spectacular this season and have been the cog which puts everything together for the Citizens. All three of them have been world class this season and each of them has a unique role within the team. Each player brings their own strengths and does what they are needed to. Each play a unique part in the dazzling display of City football.

Out of the trio, Fernandinho is the least attacking minded and is the one who is usually sitting back in front of the back line. He’s a destroyer and is responsible with helping in breaking up opposing counter attacks. Fernandinho proves another resistance to goal in the rare times City opponents gain possession. Although they have played well at the back, the City defense is prone to silly mistakes and Fernandinho is the one who helps clean it up. Fernandinho’s average tackles per game tally of 1.9 is one of the highest totals on this City team. Actually, if you only factor in City players who have played most of the season (25 games or more), his average is the top spot on the team. He’s been the perfect player to stay in front of the backline of Manchester City while also offering some offensive support when needed to.

After coming back to the Premier League, Kevin De Bruyne has showed that Chelsea made a huge mistake by selling him off. He’s been one of the best midfielders in all of Europe, forget just England. KDB has been on fire this season, registering 7 goals and 11 assists in just 26 appearances. If Manchester City’s deadly attack could be compared to a basketball team, De Bruyne would be the do-it-all small forward. Registering a pass success percentage of 83.4%, De Bruyne has shown the precision to pick out teammates in key areas along with being the link between the defense and offense. When Manchester City are in attack, he has been the man in control and dictates where the play flows. He’s also shown to be Manchester City’s set piece specialist, delivering some delicious crosses off set piece plays. In the past two years Kevin De Bruyne has taken the leap from young starlet to a top five player in the world. He’s been the catalyst to City’s attack while also being able to track back on defense. Showing defensive capabilities alongside players like Fernandinho and Silva are very important as KDB is able to give a little bit of everything in all parts of the field. He isn’t a prototypical box to box midfielder and that’s perfectly fine. In Guardiola’s system he doesn’t need to be. Kevin De Bruyne has been Manchester City’s best player this season and it’s not even close.

But while KDB might be their best player, David Silva is their most important midfielder and one on the pitch. If De Bruyne is small forward, Silva is the flashy point guard who is able to shift into the lane while also finding his teammates for easy scores. A wizard with a dynamite left foot, Silva is still going strong at age 32 and although his work rate isn’t exactly what it used to be, he’s still a huge offensive threat. He’s had an ok season in terms of stats, scoring 5 goals and dishing out 8 assists but his influence on this team is as important as ever. If KDB is the link between offense and defense, Silva is the architect to a lot of soul crushing City goals. His on the dot passing and ability to split defenses with timely runs has helped Manchester City take an even bigger leap offensively. He’s been able to find wingers like Sane and Sterling, who are converting more, for easier goals than years past. It’s been great to watch for anyone who loves attacking football. Silva’s health might not be on his side but when he’s in the City XI, they are exponentially better.

After a first year where he had to sort everything out, Pep Guardiola has got this City team working as one and under his control. He’s got everything figured out and City are rolling everyone in sight. A lot of it has been due to his midfield trio and the work they are able to put it. If all three are able to stay healthy, City go from really good to great and it could mean a lot as they progress further into the Champions League.