Midweek Musings: Handicapping the EPL run-in

While the English Premier League title title and relegation battle have all been sorted out and won, the top-four battle is still wide open. Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Everton all battle to earn that crucial spot in next season’s Uefa Champions League, and if not, a spot in the Uefa Europa League. Only one of the sides will not be competing for a European trophy next season, while one will have the sometimes aggravating spot in the Europa League. So, here is an analysis of the final run-in for the teams competing for a spot in Europe:

Current table
Only one Champions League spot has been taken (Manchester United took first place), with Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Everton still competing for the final three spots. Manchester City currently sit in second, Chelsea in third, Arsenal in fourth, Tottenham in fifth, and Everton sit in sixth. Continue reading

Match-Day Musings: “Should the EPL be worried?”

All of the English Premier League teams are now out of the UEFA Champions League, and it is only the quarterfinals. Four EPL teams entered the competition (Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City) and all of them were knocked out in the Group Stage or the Round of 16. Manchester City and Chelsea were knocked out in the group stage, with City ending up last place in “the group of death” (Group D with Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, Ajax, and City) and Chelsea falling behind Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group E. Manchester United and Arsenal qualified for the Round of 16, but both crashed out of the competition with United losing 3-2 on aggregate to Real Madrid and Arsenal getting knocked out (via the away goal rule) to Bayern Munich. The Premier League is widely considered to be the best league in the world, but now they could lose that status since they are already out of the Champions League. This brings up the questions “Are the Premier League teams becoming worse?” and “Will Premier League teams do well in the Champions League anymore?”.

No, the Premier League teams are not becoming worse, but teams in other countries are narrowing the gap. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus are in peak form and rivaling or exceeding teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal who were the best teams in the world a decade ago. Also, managers like Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have built up squads outside the Premier League that have all gone to dominate the global stage. Most of the teams in the Premier League also don’t have the financial backing like some of the teams outside of the United Kingdom like Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

The Premier League teams will still play a major part in the Champions League and will still to win the competition. Out of the last eight seasons, Premier League teams have appeared in seven Champions League finals and won three of them. That stat shows their dominance in most competitive club competition in the world, and in my view there is a small gap (in skill level) between teams like Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the top sides in the Premier League, but it is nothing that the Premier League sides can’t overcome.

To conclude, the top Premier League sides should not be too worried after one poor showing and rather stay focused on the Premier League, and qualifying for and improving in next year’s Champions League.

Match-Day Musings: Can Liverpool make the Champions League?

Liverpool have recently been on good form, especially in the English Premier League, and could still qualify for the Champions League if they keep on this form through year-end.  They have won each of their last four games in all competitions and out of those games they have scored fifteen goals and allowing just three.  But it has largely been a one man show, with their star forward Luis Suarez has scored seven goals during this run and an impressive twenty-seven so far this season.  The Uruguayan has helped Liverpool rise to sixth in the Premier League and Liverpool’s only tough matches they have to play left in the season are against Everton and Chelsea which could help them rise more if won.  This raises two questions “can they qualify”  and “is Liverpool a one man show (with Suarez)”.

Qualification is defiantly possible if they win most of their remaining games (against Southampton, Aston Villa, West Ham, Reading, Chelsea, Newcastle, Everton, Fulham, and QPR) despite the seven point gap verses Chelsea in the fourth spot.  Also, Chelsea (and Arsenal) have a game in hand which could make the gap ten points.  Their competitors for the final two spots (assuming Manchester United and Manchester City stay in first and second place) are Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Arsenal, and to a lesser extent Everton.  All of those sides still have to play two or three good sides in the run-in and if they drop points Liverpool could pounce.

As for Suarez, he is definitely one of the main reasons Liverpool are playing well and along with new signing Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard he is what makes Liverpool tick.  Liverpool can function without him, but to stay a side competing for European qualification Liverpool need Suarez and they are lucky that the twenty-six-year-old has played thirty-nine out of Liverpool’s forty-five competitive matches so far this season.  If Liverpool were to not qualify for any European tournaments, Suarez could seek to leave the club, and unless Liverpool sign a comparable front man, this could be the end of Liverpool’s European hopes next year.

In my view, Liverpool can qualify for the Champions League and, if not, then will likely qualify for the Europa League.  Making the Champions League would take a dash of luck however.  Yes, Suarez is their best player and is their best hope for Champions League but they can still be a side competing for a Europa League spot without him.  If Suarez leaves next season, the next hope (for Liverpool) could be eighteen-year-old Raheem Sterling, who is already one of Liverpool’s best players and recently signed a five-year contract extension with Liverpool.

Match-day Musings: What’s next for Chelsea

Chelsea, one of the best teams in the world, were heavily criticized this week by their coach Rafa Benitez. He said that he will leave them in the summer, and criticized their fans and also indirectly owner Roman Abramovich . But with Benitez leaving in the summer, who will coach Chelsea? Another risk is that the club is still battling for Champions League qualification, a requirement for most world class coaches and players.

At first it appeared that they had set their sights Pep Gaurdiola, but he announced that he will coach German club Bayern Munich when he returns to coaching in the summer. Another good candidate, Jose Mourinho, is probably out of their reach to, and in my view, he will most likely move to wealthy Paris Saint-Germain. After those two they don’t have a clear choice coach, and that brings up the question “who will coach them next season?

There is the remote possibility of their former coach, Roberto Di Mateo, who was sacked by Abramovich only six months after winning the Champions League, could return, and would be a popular choice with the fans, but Abramovich likely still wants a more high profile manager. But in my view, Chelsea’s best chance comes in the shape of Jurgen Klopp who currently coaches Borussia Dortmund. He won two consecutive league titles with them, and led Dortmund from being a middle of the table club to a side competing in the Champions League, and could be a perfect fit for them.

But in my opinion Chelsea’s reputation has been somewhat tainted no matter whom they appoint, and the Benitez attack certainly did not help. They recently beat West Bromwich Albion though, but scarcely and, only won off a Demba Ba strike in the twenty-seventh minute. But even if they recover from Benitez’s comments, if they do not achieve Champions League qualification it is hard to see any world class coaches wanting to coach them.

Midweek Musings: Barcelona’s woes

Barcelona, dubbed the best team in the world for the last five years, have recently been on catastrophic form, and some are already calling it “the end of an era”.  But that is overreacting in my view, as there are many reasons why Barca could be on bad form:  their coach, Tito Vilanova has been in New York getting treatment for his relapse of cancer and Barca’s bad form started when he left.  It could be that they are fatigued as they have played three games in the last week.  It could be that the opposition teams can too easily predict how they will play.

But it is most likely a combination of all of them, and once Tito is back and they sign somebody like Brazilian star Neymar or on form Gareth Bale to mix up their style of play a bit, the problem could be resolved.  Still, there are doubts about that too, as shown when Barca brought on David Villa to add to their points of attack against Real Madrid, but the substitution failed to make an impact.  So that brings up the question, is it really an end of an era, or just a bad streak in in a sensational run?

It is almost positively just a bad run, and with their vulnerable defense getting pounded by counterattacking teams like AC Milan in Barca’s 2-0 loss at the San Siro, despite Barca dominating possession, it is most likely that they need to mix up their style and the addition of Gareth Bale or Neymar could be the perfect fit for them.

They are currently top of the La Liga table, but are out of the Copa del Rey with a 3-1 loss to Real Madrid at the Nou Camp.  They also are most likely out of the Champions League after losing to 2-0 AC Milan in the first leg of their tie.