Leicester’s Sacking of Claudio Ranieri is Ludicrous and Shameful

Thursday night, Leicester City shocked the world by announcing they were parting ways with manager Claudio Ranieri just nine months after winning the Premier League title. A man who just led the club to arguably the greatest underdog triumph in all of sports is being shown the door.

The club is making a huge mistake by not trusting the man who steered them to greatness before. In the middle of one of the craziest times of the club’s history, an ill-advised managerial change is not what the club needed.

Leicester City are undergoing a managerial change just nine months after winning the Premier League.

Leicester currently sit seventeenth in the Premier League table, just one spot ahead of the relegation as the final quarter of the season approaches. It has been frustrating for the Foxes as the attack has failed to score (they have not scored in the Premier League in 2017), and the defense has looked old and tired at times.

Last seasons superstars Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have been poor and the team miss midfielder N’Golo Kante, who moved to Chelsea in the summer. All of these factors have contributed to Leicester’s struggles, so it is unreasonable to blame all the bad on Ranieri.

Ranieri’s last game in charge was Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie. Sevilla is a very difficult place to play and Leicester were able to grab a critical away goal.

All things considered, to make it to this stage of the tournament is a feat in its own right. To fire Ranieri in between the two fixtures against Sevilla gives the Foxes little time to prepare for the next leg under their new manager.

Ranieri gained a lot of knowledge about Sevilla during Wednesday’s game and would have been able to implement it in the second leg. Leicester looked significantly better after some half time adjustments in Sevilla on Wednesday. The new manager will not have this knowledge and Leicester will suffer because of it.

Then there is the moral aspect of it, firing the man who brought successes to the club that Leicester ownership and fans could have never dreamed of. Where is the loyalty? This man has brought the club to greatness before and they don’t trust him in their darkest hour. The firing is shameful for the entire LCFC organization for betraying a loyal servant of the club.

Leicester are wrong here both from a business standpoint and a moral one. This massive mistake may prove to cost them a spot in the Premier League.

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Can Guardiola Make the Difference for Manchester City?

Building on Last Year

Manchester City’s run in the Champions League last year was halted by Cristiano Ronaldo & Real Madrid.

 As Manchester City prepare for another run in the knockout stages of the Champions League, the burning question is whether or not the addition of decorated manager Pep Guardiola can push City over the top and into the winner’s circle. Last season, Manuel Pellegrini led City to the semifinals, the furthest they have ever gone in the competition. Guardiola, who won the tournament twice while managing Barcelona in addition to several deep runs in the tournament, knows how to organize his players on the main stage.

While very talented, Manchester City do not have the quality of European giants such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Striker Sergio Aguero and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne are world class and City have very talented youth. However, if the Champions League trophy makes it’s way to Manchester this season, it will be a result of Guardiola’s tactical genius and his ability to outsmart opposing managers.

No Easy Path

 

Monaco has scored more goals than any other club in Europe’s top five leagues this season.

City’s first test starts this week against French Ligue 1 leaders Monaco. Monaco boast an amazing 76 goals in 26 league games this season and have reignited the career of former Chelsea and Man Utd striker Radamel Falcao. The club from the south coast of France also fields several young talents, many of whom have been linked to major European clubs. Midfielders Thomas Lemar and Fabinho both feature on WhoScored.com’s Ligue XI of the year.

The key for Guardiola and Co. against Monaco is to control the tempo and not get bitten on the counter attack. Monaco don’t play possession, instead the strike quickly and decisively once they gain possession. Manchester City’s questionable defense will be tested and young John Stones will need to step up against the quick strike ability of Monaco. Yaya Toure is another player to watch as he needs to be careful not to get caught creeping to far forward in the midfield.

If Manchester City are precise with the ball and avoid mistakes, they should have enough control of the tempo to get by Monaco, but it isn’t easy to stay mistake free for ninety minutes, and Monaco will certainly put them to the test.

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First to Worst? Who is Leicester’s Competition in Relegation Battle?

As Chelsea has maintained its stronghold atop the Premier League table, the excitement has been at the bottom. A fascinating and close relegation battle features six teams within four points of the bottom three. Among those teams are the defending champions Leicester City who have endured a miserable campaign thus far. The Foxes sit in seventeenth place just one spot above the relegation zone. The Foxes face a variety of different sides in their battle to stay up.

15. Swansea City (24 pts)

After two managers and a miserable start to the season that saw them sitting in last for the majority of the first half of the season, Frenchman Paul Clement has turned the side around. With three wins in six league games, the Swans’ current form could see them to safety sooner than later.

Midseason hire Paul Clement has ignited Swansea and taken them out of the relegation zone.

Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurdsson is a class above everyone else on the team. Eight goals and eight assists show how much of a spark he gives to the attack. The aerial prowess of summer signing Fernando Llorente has also given Swansea a threat in the box. If Clement continues to coach inspired football, then Swansea could very well make their great escape.

16. Middlesborough (22 pts)

‘Borough’s four wins in the league this season is bottom in the Premier League. That pretty much sums of the season for the side as Middlesborough have consistently played defensive ‘park the bus” football in hopes of salvaging draws.

Their biggest problem is an inconsistent and uninspiring attack. 31 year old striker Alvaro Negredo is a poacher and has bagged six goals this season but the side lack creativity apart from inconsistent winger Adama Traore. Defensively, Middlesborough got a bargain when they signed goalkeeper Victor Valdes on the cheap. Valdes and a stout backline have kept Middlesborough in a lot of games this year and will need to continue to do so if they want to avoid relegation.

17. Leicester City (21 pts)

18. Hull City (20 pts)

The newly promoted Tigers started off the season well by stunning the reigning champs on opening day. Unfortunately for Hull, its been a bumpy ride then. As is the case with other newly promoted sides, Hull have endured major attacking struggles. Perhaps their best goalscorer Robert Snodgrass departed for West Ham in January. The second lowest scoring in the side needs to change that if they want to stay up.

The one positive for Hull is that two January signings have looked solid in defender Andrea Ranocchia and winger Lazar Markovic, formerly of Liverpool. It remains to be seen if the new signings can save the Tigers from relegation.

19. Crystal Palace (19 pts)

Apart from Leicester, Palace are probably the most surprising name on this list. With talented attacking players such as striker Christian Benteke and winger Wilfried Zaha and new goalkeeper Steve Mandanada, many fancied them to challenge for a Europa League spot.

Like Leicester, Wilfried Zaha (above) and Crystal Palace have underwhelmed this season.

However after several dull performances under former manager Alan Pardew, Palace are still struggling to put it all together under new manager Sam Allardyce. Big Sam has performed miracles to avoid relegation before but he will need to better utilize his players strengths. Still only a few months into his tenure at Selhurst Park, Allardyce is learning. But if Palace fans hope to stay up, adjustments must be made and they better hope Allardyce is a fast learner.

20. Sunderland (19 pts)

The only team below Crystal Palace is Big Sam’s former club, Sunderland. The Black Cats have been a one man show starring striker Jermain Defoe this season. The 34 year old Englishman is having a phenomenal season single-handedly carrying Sunderland’s attack. Having scored 14 of his sides’ 24 league goals, it isn’t hard to see why Sunderland did everything they could to keep him in January.

David Moyes has quite the job on his hand if he hopes to save Sunderland due to lack of funds. The inability to make purchases in January hindered Moyes’ plans for the club. He will need to improvise and get help from key players such as Defoe and center back Lamine Kone if Sunderland have any chance of saving themselves.

 

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Can Arsenal Break Round of 16 Curse?

As the match-ups for the Round of 16 were announced in December, Arsenal fans saw a picture that is all too familiar for them. Six consecutive seasons and six consecutive exits in the Round of 16 have shown Arsenal’s consistency, but also their underwhelming tendencies on the big stage.

The opponent this season is Bayern Munich. The Bavarian giants have twice been responsible for the Gunners’ early exits in recent years. This season, it will once again be a tall task to get by. Arsene Wenger will return to the touchline for Wednesday’s first leg and Munich and that is some rare good news for the Gunners.

Arsene Wenger will hope to end a run of six consecutive Round of 16 exits for the Gunners.

Midfielder Mesut Ozil will need to be in top form if Arsenal are going to keep up with Bayern’s scoring prowess. Ozil is one of the few players on Wenger’s squad who’s talent is equal to his Bayern opponents. It will be paramount for Ozil and Prem top scorer Alexis Sanchez to show up. Defensively, Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi are a quality centre back pairing, but they don’t face strikers the quality of Robert Lewandowski week in and week out in England. For Wenger and Co. it will be important to keep themselves in the tie on Wednesday so they have a shot when these two sides meet again at the Emirates in March.

Bayern are yet to recapture the magic they had in 2013, winning the tournament over arch rivals Borussia Dortmund. Carlo Ancelotti’s first season with the club has seen the look underwhelming at times in the Bundesliga. Nevertheless, the former Madrid manager has Bayern seven points atop the table and his European successes make him a dangerous opponent in this tournament.

Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski will be a handful for the Arsenal defense.

Lewandowski has as strong a case as any for world’s best striker. With him and an attack that also includes Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and Douglas Costa among others, Bayern are always a threat to put up goals. And defensively, Sanchez and Co. will have their hands full on the attack against arguably the best back four in the tournament, and the world’s best goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. Many would say Bayern have the most complete side in the world and that is why they are among the favorites to lift the trophy in Cardiff this spring.

If Bayern avoid mistakes and play to the level we have accustomed them to playing, it will take something pretty special from Arsenal to advance. A good result on Wednesday could shift momentum in the Gunners’ favor, but they are clearly over-matched here. Arsenal do not have the talent at fullback and on the wing to compete with Bayern’s outside talent and that will turn out to be the Gunners downfall in a seventh consecutive Round of 16 exit.

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Preview & Predictions: Matchweek 25

Following a dominating 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Saturday, Chelsea still enjoy that comfortable nine point cushion at the top of the table. The only side showing any signs of catching them this season is Tottenham, who face a very real test against an albeit struggling, but desperate and dangerous Liverpool at Anfield. The relegation battle is very exciting however, as five team including Leicester could be in safe or in last at the end of fixtures this weekend.

Jurgen Klopp has been under fire as Liverpool have endured a brutal start to 2017

Liverpool vs Tottenham:

The weekends’ marquee match-up takes place at the home of the desperate Reds. Jurgen Klopp & Co. haven’t won in five matches and will not have it easy against a Tottenham side that is oozing confidence as they have jumped to second in the table.

Liverpool have dominated most if not all of their recent defeats. Their failure to convert chances has been their downfall. Now, against the best defense in the league, Sadio Mane and Co. will need to be sharp in the final third. For Spurs, they also could improve their finishing as they have been reliant on penalties to get them three points this season. Dele Alli is the highest scoring midfielder in the league.

Liverpool are known to play well against big competition, expect them to give Spurs a tough test on Saturday.

Liverpool 1 Tottenham 1

Leicester’s star striker Jamie Vardy has been mostly quiet this season and will look to score against Swansea.

Swansea City vs Leicester City

A surprisingly big matchup this weekend in Wales. Leicester, following an embarrassing display against Manchester United, will likely be in the relegation zone if they lose this one. The same can be said for Swansea, who know what its like to be threatened by relegation this season. A recent spike in form under new manager Paul Clement has the Swans temporarily safe.

Leicester have the talent to succeed in this league, as they proved last season. Their stars have been quiet the entire year and that will need to change if the Foxes hope to avoid the drop. Jamie Vardy will look to end a seven game dry run against a team that has allowed the most goals at home this season in the Premier League.

For Swansea, they need to lean on their veterans to save them from relegation. Striker Fernando Lllorente is a proper threat in the air and midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson plays at a Champions League level. If the Swans sure up at the back, they have the firepower up front to make Leicester trouble.

Swansea 1 Leicester 2

Other Matches

Arsenal 1 Hull 1: Hull in improved form and Gunners have been shaky without Wenger on the touchline.

West Ham 1 West Brom 1: Two sides in good form, expecting a hard fought draw here.

Man United 2 Watford 1: Watford are dangerous but United have confidence after thrashing Leicester

Middlesborough 0 Everton 1: Everton are very underrated and have enough to win at pesky ‘Borough.

Stoke 2 Crystal Palace 1: Palace will look to regroup after embarrassing outing vs Sunderland. Wont happen at stingy Stoke.

Sunderland 1 Southampton 1: Sunderland gained confidence last weekend. Lets see what they can do with it.

Burnley 1 Chelsea 1: Burnley one of the best home sides in the league will steal a point against league leaders Chelsea.

Bournemouth 1 Man City 2: City’s youth revival will continue at Bournemouth.

 

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Promising Premier League Players To Watch Under the Age of 21

The Premier League has long prided itself on having some of the greatest youth programs in the world. Some of the world’s greatest players rose to the top at a young age. Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Gareth Bale (Southampton/Tottenham), and Wayne Rooney (Everton/Man United) are a few recent examples among the many quality players produced by the Premier League.

There is youth talent galore in the Premier League at the moment. Many managers have made a recent effort to get youth talent more involved and to start planning for the future. Here are some players who could be top dogs one day.

Alex Iwobi (Age 20), Arsenal/Nigeria

Alex Iwobi broke into the Arsenal first team last year and his promise has tempted Arsene Wenger to continue playing him. Iwobi is a winger with decent pace. He is very dangerous in one-on-one situations and crosses the ball effectively. If he can improve on his finishing, Iwobi will add another aspect to his already multi-faceted game.

Mason Holgate (20), Everton/England

Holgate is a very versatile defender who has thrived for Ronald Koeman when he has been called upon. With seven caps on the season, Holgate has amassed a 7.24 average match rating on WhoScored.com. This figure puts him third on the team. Holgate’s quickness allows him to get forward if he is playing at fullback, but he is also very strong and wise beyond his years for a young centre-half.

Tom Davies (18), Everton/England

Davies has exploded onto the scene in the last month. The previously unknown midfielder was impressive against Hull in December and put on a masterful performance in the Toffees’ 4-0 thrashing of Manchester City.

Davies shows tremendous poise in tight areas for someone his age. His goal against City showed he is a clinical finisher as well.

Ben Chilwell (20), Leicester City/England

The heir-apparent left back to the steady Christian Fuchs at Leicester, Ben Chilwell is highly coveted by many top teams across Europe. He is an outstanding dribbler who gives the Foxes a threat going forward when on the field. In addition to dribbling, Chilwell is also a prolific passer.

The one area in which he needs to improve before he is a regular starter at Leicester is his mentality. Too many times Chilwell has been caught out of position or put his team in a tough spot by trying an ambitious tackle. If he can stop mental mistakes, Chilwell has world-class potential.

 

Demarai Gray (20), Leicester City/England

Gray has seen his playing time increase this season at Leicester following some promising performances early. Gray is a skilled dribbler and a very solid finisher for a winger. He is still improving his passing, prompting Leicester to play him at striker on occasion. His pace and size suggest Gray is better suited on the wing, where he can give opponents nightmares.

Kelechi Iheanacho (20) Manchester City/Nigeria

Like his Nigerian countryman Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho seized his opportunity when given substitute appearances under Manuel Pellegrini last season. New manager Pep Guardiola apparently sees the massive potential Iheanacho possesses as he has continued to keep him in the playing rotation.

Iheanacho is an excellent finisher with eight goals in 21 appearances this season for club and country. He also possesses a cannon left foot and is a threat from well outside the box. If Iheanacho can improve on his heading ability, he will be a complete striker who will be around for years to come.

Gabriel Jesus (19) Manchester City/Brazil

The most anticipated Brazilian youth since Neymar, Gabriel Jesus has already shown European fans what he can do since arriving in early January. After having a potential winner against Liverpool called back in his first appearance as a substitute, Jesus made history by becoming the first player in club history to score and assist in his Premier League debut.

Jesus is unique in that as a striker, he gets back and defends very well and threatens on the counter attack. He is still just 19, and mental lapses are not to be unexpected. If he matures with age and avoids injury, there is no reason he can’t fulfill his massive potential.

Marcus Rashford (19) Manchester United/England

Speaking of seizing their opportunity, Marcus Rashford did just that when Louis Van Gaal put him in the lineup last season. He became the youngest United player to score in their debut and has gone on to become a regular player for the side under Jose Mourinho. Seven goals in 29 appearances is solid for someone who is still a teenager. If Rashford can use his pace to his advantage and broaden his game, Man United could have their Zlatan Ibrahimovic replacement already waiting in the wings.

Dele Alli (20) Tottenham Hotspur/England

Dele Alli burst onto the scene in early 2016 after his wonder goal against Crystal Palace. Since then, Alli has shown he is not a one trick pony. His eleven league goals are the most in the Premier League among midfielders this season. Starting out as a defensive midfielder, Alli has developed an attacking threat to his game that has torched opponents. His two headed goals against Chelsea in January kept Spurs’ title ambitions alive.

Known to get a hot head on occasion, Alli needs to be more careful if he wants to stay out of the referees book. Overall, many could argue that Alli is the best young talent in the world and he certainly backs up that high regard with his play.

 

 

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FC Cincinnati Officially Running For MLS Expansion

FC Cincinnati owner and CEO, Carl Linder III, delivered Cincinnati’s proposal to MLS headquarters Tuesday. Joining 11 other cities in announcing their intention for one of the four expansion slots. This was a widely expected move for FC Cincinnati and many of the other cities.

One of the two big surprises were Phoenix, who currently have the newly re-branded Phoenix Rising FC in the USL. The other was Indianapolis, Indiana who is currently the home of the Indy Eleven in the NASL and also the Indy Eleven II in the NPSL. Phoenix was added to the running last week and Indianapolis was a shock addition on Monday night Jan. 30 (one day before the deadline).

A new soccer-specific stadium is most likely what will hinge on Cincinnati being awarded a MLS team. The biggest way to get a stadium passed would be to have it all privately funded due to the taxpayers already paying off stadiums for the Bengals and Reds. Also a list of potential sites was supposed to be provided to the Cincinnati City Council before the end of January, but most likely won’t be released to the public.

Even though Nippert Stadium has a large capacity and FC Cincinnati has spent $2 million to widen the playing surface to the FIFA regulations, it is still controlled by its main tenants the University of Cincinnati Football team.

Coming off a fantastic season on and off the field FC Cincinnati is considered to be a front-runner for a call up to the MLS. On the field, it ended prematurely in the first round of the playoffs, after a third place finish in the Eastern Conference, in front of USL playoff record 30,187.

In the stands it was an incredible season with a total attendance of 259,457, 17.3% of the league total. They averaged 17,296 in league games and setting a league attendance record in their second home game with 20,497 and breaking that mark two more times later in the year, capping the record at 24,376.

The crown jewel of the season was the friendly match against English Premier League club Crystal Palace where a sold out 35,061 crowd witnessed a Palace 2-0 win.

Image courtesy of Tana Weingartner of WVXU

The blueprint that FC Cincinnati seems to be following is that of Orlando City SC who played in the USL from 2010-2014 and set attendance records along with solid average attendances over their four years in the league before moving to MLS in 2015. Solid ownership and a plan for a stadium in a soccer crazy environment was able to get a team to the MLS, Cincinnati can repeat this process.

Assuming FC Cincinnati gets a stadium, there is a decent shot that the MLS could come to Cincinnati but it will be very tough. St. Louis and San Diego both had their NFL franchises leave and have a large hole in their market of the professional sports world.

Also, the close proximity to the Columbus Crew won’t help.

Due to the outstanding ownership group and rabid fan support last year, with having already sold 9,000 season tickets for the season, it doesn’t look like FC Cincinnati going anywhere soon. But like most things in US professional sports, things will be decided behind the scenes instead of on the field.

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What is Going on With Leicester?

May 2, 2016

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard scores against Tottenham to force a 2-2 draw and clinch the unlikeliest of Premier League titles for Leicester City. One of the greatest underdog stories of all time, Leicester’s story is now well known. They had been fighting relegation the season before and were expected to go down last season before going on an unbelievable run.

The individual stories within Leicester’s team made the story even better. Whether it was Jamie Vardy rising from the seventh tier of English football to breaking the consecutive Premier League goals record in the matter of a few years or Kasper Schmeichel finally escaping the shadow of his legendary father. There were great feel good stories throughout the Foxes’ team last season that made them very likable as many rooted them on to the title.

Title Hangover

Unfortunately, Claudio Ranieri and his men have put up a less than encouraging following act. At this point last season, the Foxes were tied at the top of the table with Arsenal on 44 points. This year?, they have 21 points, less than half of last years points. Many predicted a setback for Leicester, but few could have guesses they would regress as severely as they have. Leicester stand only three points clear of relegation! They will look to avoid the unflattering title as the first reigning champ to go since Manchester City in 1938. There are many possible causes behind Leicester’s sharp decline. The first and foremost may be that last year was an anomaly. Leicester were fortunate to be the healthiest team in the league last year. They also enjoyed down years from many of the top contenders. Finally, the lack of an impact from last years stars have all likely contributed to Leicester’s decline.

The 2015-16 championship team was guided by three previously unknown commodities. Vardy scored 24 goals last season to lead the team but has only managed five to this point. Riyad Mahrez emerged as the team’s best play-maker but has also regressed. Mahrez looks set to take his talents to greener pastures in the summer, deepening Leicester’s future anxieties. The third was N’Golo Kante, a tenacious midfielder who only stayed at the King Power for one season before leaving for Chelsea in the summer. Kante led the Premier League in tackles last season. His ability to regain possession for the Foxes allowed them to get on their deadly counter attack. Kante’s departure forced Ranieri to tinker the way the team plays. He clearly still hasn’t figures out the right way.

N’Golo Kante’s departure in the summer was a big blow to the reigning champions.

Other contributors have also fallen off. The veterans on defense who saw Leicester through so many 1-0 victories last season have started to show their age. The lack of athleticism has seemingly caught up with the center back pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth as Leicester have nearly flip flopped their goal differential from last season, going from +13 to -13 at this point in the season. Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson have also struggled to give Ranieri’s men a threat going forward as they did last year from their fullback positions.

It is not all trending down for Leicester. They have talent with Vardy and Mahrez as well as summer signings Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa. The Foxes are also home to some of the more talented young players in the Prem. Ben Chilwell (age 20), Demarai Gray (20), Daniel Amartey (22), and Wilfred Ndidi (20) have all shown potential at Leicester.

Quick winger Demarai Gray is one of the brightest young talents at Leicester.

If the Foxes can avoid the drop this season, the future is still bright. Maintaining key players and developing youth will determine if Leicester can use its shock title to build its future. If the transition from the veterans of the title team to the exciting youth is seamless, Leicester will be a force to reckon with.

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Weekend Preview and Predictions: Matchweek 22

Another weekend of important matches is nearly upon us in the Premier League. This slate of games has potential to shake up the table quite a bit. The marquee matchup of the weekend is between a red hot Tottenham Hotspur side and desperate Pep Guardiola-led Manchester City. Manchester United faces a test to stay relevant. Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all face manageable games, which they must take advantage of.

 

Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur

Man City Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has been heavily criticized in recent days. He will need to be stellar in between the sticks on Sunday against Tottenham.

The difference in current form between the two sides could not be larger. Tottenham are winners of seven straight in the league dating back to last month. They are also enjoying second spot in the table on goal differential over Liverpool. As for City, they have lost two of their last three including an embarrassing performance last weekend at Everton. City’s slim title hopes and fading Champions League aspirations are on the line this weekend.

The key player in this match will be City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Bravo was brought in from Barcelona to replaced the out of favor Joe Hart. His play has been heavily scrutinized as he owns the worst save percentage in the league this year. Tottenham is playing too well to not get their chances, but can Bravo make enough saves to keep City in it? Man City’s attack has also stalled recently and must get back on track. Although it won’t be easy against league-best defense. Can City break through? Maybe, but it won’t be enough for three points at home.

Manchester City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1

 

 

Stoke City vs Manchester United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will look to get on the score sheet against Stoke City.

 

The Red Devils travel to Stoke this weekend in what is always a tricky match to get three points from. Stoke have long prided themselves on tripping up title contenders late in the season and derailing their hopes. If Mourinho wants to keep any chance of a title this year, United must get three points from this match.

One thing to watch for will be who controls the aerial game. This match features the top two aerial sides in the Prem according to WhoScored.com. It is not hard to see why, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Stoke’s 6’7 striker Peter Crouch featuring in the game. In the end, it will come down to what it always has this season for United, finishing chances. Mourinho’s men will dominate possession, but can they score enough?

Stoke City 1 Manchester United 2

 

 

 

Chelsea vs Hull City

 

Chelsea will reportedly welcome back star striker Diego Costa to the lineup.

 

The Blues have built a seven point lead for themselves already in their first year under the guidance of Antonio Conte. They managed to win last week despite the absence of Diego Costa and the drama surrounding his situation. Costa will reportedly be back on the pitch at Stamford Bridge this weekend against Hull City. The Blues will be heavy favorites to continue to build on their impressive point total.

Unfortunately for Hull, a David and Goliath story doesn’t seem to be in the cards this weekend. The Tigers have only taken four points away from home all season and Chelsea have taken 29 of a possible 33 at Stamford Bridge. Look for Chelsea’s attacking trident of Costa, Eden Hazard, and Willian/Pedro to feast on one of the worst defenses in the league. Unless Conte’s men show up horribly under-prepared, I would expect no problems for the hosts here.

Chelsea 4 Hull City 0

 

Other Matches: 

Arsenal 2 Burnley 0: Burnley is worst in the league away from home, and Arsenal don’t seem in the mood to drop points at the Emirates.

Liverpool 4 Swansea 1: League-worst Swans are badly undermanned defensively to deal with Liverpool’s attack.

Middlesborough 0 West Ham 0: Two stingy, conservative defenses play to a stale mate with no Dimitri Payet to guide the Hammers.

Bournemouth 1 Watford 1: Interesting match up, thinking Watford sneaks one in here to salvage an away point.

Crystal Palace 1 Everton 2: Everton look good were very impressive last week, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them lay an egg here.

West Brom 1 Sunderland 0: West Brom are very sound defensively and aren’t in eighth for no reason.

Southampton 1 Leicester 1: Maybe a bit optimistic for Foxes to get an away point sans Mahrez and Slimani.

 

Why West Ham Should Let Dimitri Payet Leave

No Going Back

It is never easy to lose your best player. Especially in a game like soccer where there are no salary caps. For a team like West Ham United, talent such as French midfielder Dimitri Payet doesn’t come around very often. As a matter of fact, there are many West Ham supporters who would say Payet is the most talented player West Ham has ever had.

It is easy to understand why the Hammers are doing everything in their power to keep Payet. The disgruntled Frenchman reportedly told manager Slaven Bilic that he no longer wanted to play for the club. Payet’s eight goals and eight assists on the season in are perfect examples of his value. If Payet is truly homesick, then there is nothing West Ham can do but send him back to France and cash in on his success.What Bilic and the board need to realize is that they are at the point of no return.

It is very rare in any sport for a player to publicly acknowledge he wants to leave a team and then continue playing for them. The way Payet has handled the situation has turned the fans and his teammates on him. Even if he were to stay, the strain on the relationship between him and cub would be very tough to overcome.

An important aspect to remember is that Payet is 29. He is approaching the twilight of his career in the next few years. West Ham would be foolish to invest massive amounts of money into an aging star. A Payet sale will undoubtedly bring in lots of spending money. West Ham should sell while they still have time to use the money to buy in their bid to stay up.

Scott Hogan has had a wonderful season for Brentford and has caught West Ham’s eye

Replacement?

If West Ham do sell Payet, they will need to replace his tremendous talent as best they can in their relegation battle. One target is Hull City’s Robert Snodgrass. Snodgrass has been a surprise this season and one of the primary reasons that Hull is still competitive. His nine goals leads the team and is one more than Payet. If West Ham snatch him up for cheap they can chose to spend again.

West Ham’s other top target in January is from the Championship. Brentford striker Scott Hogan is just 24, and enjoying a breakthrough season. The Englishman has 14 goals in 25 appearances. A Snodgrass/Hogan combination would surely help West Ham with damage control post-Payet. And the cost of these two players would likely still leave money left over for summer.

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