Memorable season for the Premier League’s top 10

This year turned out to be quite a memorable season for the Premier League; from historic to disappointing finishes, the season was filled with drama. Nonetheless, it was one of the more exciting seasons in recent memory outside of Leicester’s magical 2016 run. Let’s make a magical run ourselves down memory lane for the top 10 from the 2017-18 EPL season:

Manchester City first ever to reach 100 points

Pep Guardiola has brought an exciting brand of football to England and doesn’t look to be slowing down.

Manchester City are historic champions; the only to finish with 100 points in a 38 game season. While they were the best, they still need better defenders to contend for a UCL title; Kompany is old, Otamendi doesn’t fit into Pep’s system and Stones hasn’t developed yet. The left-back position needs the most depth with Mendy out most of the year and Delph having to shoulder the majority of the load. And with Agüero expected to leave this summer, it couldn’t hurt to sign a striker to back up Gabriel Jesus. Pep Guardiola recently signed a contract extension through 2021. With that extension, a new dynasty in Manchester could be on the rise with the hope that European success comes with it.

Jose Mourinho guides the Red Devils to 2nd place

Manchester United finished as runner-up unspectacularly. The Red Devils got off to a hot start this season but fizzled out by Christmas. Man United had to resort to grinding out results and one goal wins. The Manchester side was unable to grab any trophies this season having lost in the FA Cup Final to Chelsea. Mourinho has been at odds with his stars and their instincts; Mourinho appears to want his players to be defense oriented, despite the attacking prowess his team possesses. And yet, Manchester need a better defense. This team needs to buy-in to what the coach’s system or the coach needs to allow his attacking players to let their instincts take over; some sort of balance between the two. If they’re able to find that balance, this could be the challenger to Man City’s dominance over the league.

Another season without a trophy for Spurs

Tottenham edge out Liverpool for 3rd and a few questions pose Spurs fans. Will Pochettino stay? Will Real Madrid come calling for Harry Kane? Assuming both stay, what needs to change to put some silverware on the shelf? They need a better midfield outside Eriksen. Or at least better than what Dembélé and Wanyama can offer. While these players have done well in Pochettino’s system, they haven’t produced trophies throughout his tenure as manager; something has to change to pull this team out of limbo. An FA Cup semi-final appearance and a round of 16 appearance in the UCL hasn’t made this season feel any better for Spurs. At this rate, they are the next Arsenal; always finishing in a top spot, but not a trophy to show for it.

Reds reach UCL qualification for 2nd straight year with Klopp

Liverpool land into the final UCL qualifying spot. Mohamed Salah wins the golden boot with a record-breaking 32 goals this season. The 2018 UCL finalists have a couple glaring needs behind their lethal attack that need to be addressed to contend for a domestic title next season; Goalkeeper, defense and midfield. Dejan Lovren‘s days in that backline should be numbered; van Dijk can only influence him so much to sure up the back. The Reds need a better goalkeeper to continue to compete with Europe’s elite; this would solidify their defenses and get them through their defensive woes. And after letting Coutinho go to Barcelona, Emre Can leaving for Juventus, and Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain battling injury, the midfield could use some depth that Klopp can depend on. If they’re able to address all of these needs, Anfield can start expecting titles to come; Liverpool was one of the few teams that beat Manchester City over the course of the season. Imagine how unstoppable and entertaining Liverpool would be without the defensive woes.

Liverpool boast one of the most entertaining brands of football the world is currently witnessing

Underwhelming title defense for Chelsea

Chelsea go from EPL Champions and UCL qualification to Europa League. Despite winning the FA Cup, Antonio Conte could be leaving (or be told to leave) the club after a disappointing season following his successful 2016-17 campaign. Chelsea is hoping to extend Eden Hazard’s contract or else succumb to his desires to leave for Real Madrid. Whether Conte leaves or not, Chelsea will need to recruit a more able forward than the seemingly mentally fragile Alvaro Morata; the departure of Diego Costa in January decimated the depth at the position. While Olivier Giroud seems to have taken away appearances from Morata, Chelsea would relish the chance to sign a better striker. And with John Terry and Nemanja Matic gone, a gaping hole was left in the Blues defense; a hole that will have to be filled to contend with the top 4.

The end of Wenger means a new Arsenal

Arsenal look to replace Arsene Wenger before the next transfer window (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

The Gunners barely squeeze into the Europa League at 6. Arsenal are looking for a new manager for the first time in 22 years. Whoever replaces Arsene Wenger, will have to rebuild the entire team with exception of about a handful of players. The defense is the portion of the team that requires the most attention. Cech, Mustafi, Koscienly and Mertesacker have all seen better seasons; Gunner fans would love to see some competition to get them into gear or be shown the door. A new mentality is what this team needs and the next manager needs to embody that.

A good season by Burnley standards

Burnley overachieved this season and almost unseated Arsenal completely in European competition at 6; the team, unfortunately, slipped up towards the end. A scrappy and fundamentally sound side; Certainly manager of the year considerations go to Sean Dyche for his work with what would be considered a cheap team by the standards of the “big 6” mentioned above. No one is sure how they’ll be able to financially compete with those 6 next season, but that’s why we play the games.

Investments don’t pay off for Everton

Everton end the season in the top 10, which I would say that was their goal this season. However, given how much they spent in the last two transfer windows, they are probably disappointed with how they played. Sam Allardyce recently has been sacked, so the first order of business would be a new manager. Whoever that ends up being will have to find a replacement for Wayne Rooney as the Englishman is leaving for MLS. Striker and midfield would be the areas most in need of improvement for the Toffees; their goal difference of -14 was the worst of any top 10 team.

Foxes return to the top 10

Leicester City finish top 10. Despite some January drama with Riyad Mahrez wanting a transfer, the Foxes were able to stay out of the relegation battle this season. The club expect Mahrez to leave this summer; the club hopes to invest in more talent with his transfer. Defense will have to be addressed as the Foxes were in the negative on goal difference.

Leicester City return to the top 10 for the first time since winning the title in 2016

Benitez has brought Newcastle back to EPL relevance

From relegation a couple seasons ago and back to the top flight, Newcastle United round out the top 10. Rafa Benitez ought to be satisfied with his job thus far in restoring the historic club. Benitez will have to look for better attackers in the coming transfer window; Newcastle struggled to find the back of the net this season averaging about one goal per game.

 

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Premier League

The relegation zone: What’s next for the Premier League’s losers

The 2017/18 Premier League season wrapped up this past Sunday with as much fanfare here in the States as NBC/Universal could muster. Manchester City ran away with the league title, rampaging through the fixture list practically unopposed to finish with 100 points, 18 ahead of Man United. Most of the other drama had played out in the weeks beforehand, with only Chelsea’s spot in the top four (a spot that the Blues fumbled in spectacular fashion with a 3-0 loss to Newcastle,) and Swansea’s last desperate chance to catch Southampton at stake. Still, NBC pulled out all the stops, blanketing the cable dial with live coverage of every match to celebrate another season of the most popular league in the world.

Man City’s domination of the top of the table certainly drained some luster from the season, but there were still some great stories. Liverpool introduced the world to the Egyptian whirlwind Mohamed Salah, who led the league with 32 goals and will get one more chance to shine in the Champions League final against Real Madrid next Saturday.

The FA Cup saw a quarterfinal match between almost relegated Southampton and giant killer Wigan Athletic FC. In only their third ever Premier League season Burnley will be heading to Europe, their 7th place finish qualifying the Clarets for next year’s Europa League. And for the first time since 2012 all three of last year’s promoted teams, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton Hove Albion hung on to top-flight status. Good news for them, bad news for three storied franchises who will compete next year for the Championship instead of the fancy Barclays trophy.

Swansea takes a dive

The Swans had a slim lifeline going into the weekend, needing to beat Stoke City by many goals whilst Southampton lost and surrendered many goals to Man City. Neither of those things happened, so the first Welsh team to compete in the Premier League will trade places with the second, Cardiff City. This ended a six-year run in the top flight for the Swans. Never really threatening to crack the top half of the table, the Swans limped to the finish with five straight losses. The high point of the season was a 3-1 February upset of Arsenal, then a 4-1 thrashing of West Ham in front of the home fans to begin March got hopes up. But the victory over the Hammers was the last time they would smell success.

Swansea heads into next year without their longest serving veteran, as Leon Britten hangs up his cleats after 16 seasons and 537 appearances for the club. Korean international Ki Sung-Yueng’s contract has expired and he has already announced his intention to move on. That still leaves exciting young forwards in Jordan and Andre Ayew, plus Tammy Abraham to build around. Keep two of those three and add some better recruiting and the Swans could get back to getting pummelled by Liverpool fairly quickly.

Stoke City Collapses

Premier League

Peter Crouch is tall/ Swansea City.com

Stoke City is in trouble. They have been in the Premier League since 2008, never finishing higher than ninth but acquitting themselves honorably for a mid-table team. This year the bottom fell out.

The Potters tied with West Ham for the most goals conceded despite keeper Jack Butland leading the league in saves. Butland and their best player, attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaquiri are too good to be playing in the Championship and are already drawing feelers from teams with bigger checkbooks. The best of the rest of the team is either on the wrong side of 30 like Mame Diouf or Big Bird impersonator Peter Crouch or are young and unproven like Spaniard Jese Rodriguez.

This team could have its entire identity stripped away when the transfer window opens this Thursday.

West Brom, too little too late

Premier League

Darren Moore/ BeIn Sports

The hottest team in the Premier League for the last 6 weeks of the year wasn’t inevitable champion Man City or Champions League contender Liverpool, it was the cellar-dwelling West Bromwich Albion Baggies. They finished on a tear, picking up 11 points in the standings over the last six matches after Darren Moore was tabbed to bring an end to the disastrous tenure of Alan Pardew, who was brought in after Tony Pulis was sacked in November.

Neither Pulis nor Pardew appeared to inspire the squad, and both were stultifyingly conservative. Forwards Solomon Rondon and Jay Rodriguez often found themselves with no support after chasing down long passes. Moore tightened up the passing game, getting wide midfielders James McClean and Matt Phillips more involved downfield and keeping everyone focused, avoiding late concessions that had plagued them in the winter.

Like both of their fellow relegated teams, the Baggies stand to lose some of there top talent next season. Rondon and Rodriguez are going to be too expensive for a rebuilding team to keep. But I’m more optimistic about their chances of bouncing back quickly. A lot of the changes we’ll be seeing at the Hawthorns were likely to happen even if the Baggies had clawed their way out of the zone. Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak never fit in, and January transfer addition Daniel Sturridge failed to impact the lineup. But replacements lurk in Oliver Burke and Sam Field and if they retain Moore there’s reason to believe that the true talent level of the team is closer to the side that beat Spurs and Man U in the last month than the side that slogged through Pardew’s tenure.

They are also my adopted team so I’m not completely objective.

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UEFA Champions League Final preview

The UEFA Champions League Final is set. Real Madrid vs. Liverpool FC. One game, winner is showered in glory, loser goes home in disappointment. Real Madrid are looking to win their third straight UCL title. Liverpool are looking to cap off an exciting season and begin a new era at Anfield. Both teams are filled with history. Both teams have the two best scorers in the world at the moment; Mohamed Salah (43 in all competitions) and Cristiano Ronaldo (41 in all competitions). The anticipation built once the final whistle blew of the semifinal between Liverpool and Roma. Now we get to mentally prepare ourselves for the best football the world has to offer at the club level.

How did each team make their way to Kiev?

Los Blancos finished second in their group behind Tottenham and drew Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 to begin their run towards the Ukrainian capital. On experience alone, Real Madrid was able to blow away the smoke emitting from the mouths of the players on French outfit, including one Brazilian mega-star in Neymar, advancing 5-2 on aggregate. In the round of 8, Real Madrid squeaked by Serie A champions Juventus on a last-second penalty taken by who else, but Cristiano Ronaldo.

The two legs of the tie could not have been more different; First leg, Real Madrid blank Juventus 3-0, but the second leg, Juventus staged what would have been a great comeback to force extra time tying the aggregate score at 3-3, until Ronaldo’s penalty in stoppage time of the second leg that sent Real through to the semifinal.

In the semifinal, Real Madrid again edged their opposition by controversy and a goal. Bayern Munich goalkeeper Sven Ulreich’s blunder in the second leg that handed Los Blancos the one-goal lead on aggregate (advancing 4-3) could go down as the ultimate gift to Madrid in route to their third straight UCL title.

Overall, Real Madrid’s 2018 UCL campaign has yielded the results they wanted, but how they got those results would be more than likely undesirable. Zidane’s side did not seem to play consistently well in the knockout rounds and the trail they left has been littered with controversy. And just think, by the start of the knockout stages, rumors were speculating that Zidane would lose his job as the manager if Madrid had been knocked out by PSG early on. It is safe to say now that his sacking has been saved for another year with a third straight UCL final appearance and looking to complete a three-peat.

Real Madrid looking to win three straight UCL titles.

Liverpool FC took a slightly different route to Kiev. The English side finished fourth domestically last year, so they drew Hoffenheim in a preliminary round to get into the group stage. Liverpool advanced convincingly with a 6-3 aggregate score. Liverpool finished top of Group E that included Sevilla (Spain), Spartak Moscow (Russia) and Maribor (Slovenia).

In the round of 16, the Reds rolled over Portuguese side, Porto, in a 5-0 route and exciting display of attacking football. Liverpool drew the soon-to-be Premier League champions in Manchester City for the round of 8; a tie that was easily dubbed matchup of the season prior to kickoff. The Reds had taken an astonishing 3-0 lead heading into the second leg and was able to hold off Man City advancing on aggregate 5-1.

Liverpool faced off with fellow American-owned Italian side, AS Roma, who had just completed an incredible comeback against Barcelona. Roma would have to complete another comeback in the second leg as Liverpool had a 5-2 lead. Liverpool was able to hold on to that lead and advanced to the final on a UCL semifinal record aggregate of 7-6 (most goals in the semifinal of the competition). To summarize Liverpool’s journey to Kiev, it boasted a lethal attack and a defense that could crack at any moment given enough pressure. Fortunately for the Reds, their offense was their best defense; the greatest the UCL has ever seen having their front three slot home 31 of their 40 UCL goals this season.

Likely Line-ups

Madrid will most likely deploy a 4-4-2 with diamond. Most of the 11 will be easy to predict to start barring any injury. Keylor Navas will be in goal and in front of him will be Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Rafael Varane; the fourth member of the backline will be Theo Hernandez if Dani Carvajal is unable to go. The midfield diamond will be made up of Casemiro (back of the diamond), Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and if Isco cannot play due to injury, expect Lucas Vasquez to take his place at the front of the diamond. Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo will be the attacking forwards.

Liverpool will probably stick to their same formation of a 4-3-3. Due to injury, this lineup is easier to predict. Loris Karius in goal with Dejan Lovren, Virgil van Dijk, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold in front of him. The midfield will be made up of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum. The front three will be Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.

Strategy: Real Madrid

Real will have to control the midfield with Kroos and Casemiro and trust them to find Modrić to help distribute to the front three. Casemiro drops back to help Varane and Ramos defending against the LFC front three when they try to counter; this helps cover for Carvajal/Hernandez and Marcelo wanting to push forward in attack. Isco/Vasquez and Ronaldo will create chances for themselves and Benzema. Apply constant pressure to the Liverpool defense, do not allow them to counter and it’ll be smooth sailing for Los Blancos

Strategy: Liverpool

Coach Jurgen Klopp has created this captivating Liverpool team with his pressing all-out attack style. They will need that energy to put Madrid’s age to the test. The midfield needs to outpace and outwork Modrić and apply as much pressure as they can to Kroos to force turnovers. Henderson or Milner may need to assist Lovren and van Dijk in closing up the holes Madrid may create on the attack. Similarly to their first leg performance against Roma, they should let Real Madrid’s full-backs press forward and utilize the long ball to hit Real’s backline with the pace that Salah and Mane offer. This forces a 3v3 with Casemiro dropping back with Ramos and Varane to spread the back line out. Marcelo and Carvajal will be running up and down the field all evening. Trust Robertson and Alexander-Arnold to stall, agitate and compete with the Madrid flanks and unleash the counter when they are able to win possession and unleash the best front three in the UCL.

Image courtesy of: https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR1am9Plt1oD7LaD4vd3Ul4E8VFYd7qJ4pa9TwxJG439phbJoQzEw

(From left) Firmino, Mane and Salah have made plenty of noise this season and look to cap it off with a UCL trophy

So who wins?

For Madrid to really stall Liverpool’s front three, Marcelo and Carvajal will have to be conservative when going forward. Zidane cannot expect Ramos to keep up with either Mane or Salah in a foot race. This point becomes irrelevant though if Madrid can control the midfield; Madrid would prefer it if Casemiro and Varane are the ones chasing the two wings leaving Ramos to mark Firmino, a much better matchup for Madrid. Both defenses can be exposed as Liverpool proved last round against Roma. Both attacking thirds have proven what they can do so this game will be won in the midfield.

So who wins? Can Liverpool end the reign that Spanish football has had over the UCL? A reign lasting almost five years (La Liga has produced the last four champions, three of them being Real Madrid). Given that their style of play suits the competition they’ve faced, I think Liverpool win their first trophy in 13 years as a result of their high pressing and deadly front three. Real Madrid have just escaped elimination the past two rounds and haven’t been punished for playing poorly. Liverpool only know how to play one way and while that may leave them vulnerable at the back, they boast the most dangerous front three in the world at the moment. You know what they say, the best defense is a good offense. Liverpool is the more consistent team than Madrid. While Madrid is more experienced at this stage of the competition in recent memory, they have limped their way to Kiev and haven’t been punished for their poor play. Liverpool wins 3-2 with goals coming from Salah, Firmino and van Dijk.

 

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The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

With the Champions League and relegations spots close to being done and dusted, the most compelling matches this weekend in England will come from the Championship. In The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championshipthe Championship, Wolverhampton Wanderers have already clinched promotion to the Premier League. One point separates second place Cardiff City and third place Fulham who are battling for the second automatic promotion spot. Villa sit comfortably in fourth. However, behind them, there are a large set of teams who are all striving to reach the playoff in order to achieve promotion. Derby County, Middlesbrough, Millwall and Brentford are all in contention for the final two playoff spots. Two fixtures during a pivotal matchday 45 will feature two sets of teams battling each other for promotion.

Aston Villa vs Derby County

Aston Villa

Aston Villa enter this game comfortably in one the playoff spots. They are in fourth place and ten points clear of fifth-placed Middlesbrough. In good form, they enter the match with four wins in their last five. Villa’s run-in will prove crucial in the promotion battle as they play both sixth-placed Derby and seventh-placed Millwall. They do benefit from the fact that this fixture is home at Villa Park.

With a playoff spot already confirmed, Steve Bruce could easily decide to rest a good portion of their starting eleven here. If he does so, look for a squad full of heavy rotation and youth. It is incredibly important that Villa avoid injury before the playoff. Conor Hourihane, one of Villa’s key midfielders, might be rested here to help him regain fitness in. If so, expect Henri Lansbury to start in his place.

Villa do have a very outside shot at second if the results go their way. Thus, Bruce may choose to play their strongest starting eleven possible in order to keep the pressure on the teams above them. Lewis Grabban had a great performance in their 4-0 victory over Ipswich and could see himself in the starting eleven if Bruce elects to play his strongest team. Grabban is tied for second in goals scored in the Championship with nineteen.

The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

Grabban has been immense for Villa since being recalled from loan (Image: PA)

 

Derby County

Derby enter this fixture in very poor form with just three wins in their last fourteen. However, they did have a huge victory in their last match with a 3-1 win over second-placed Cardiff. Derby sit in sixth place currently. However, a loss in this fixture could lead to them fall to seventh. Thus, for the second match in a row, Derby have a huge task ahead of them. A win would be ideal for Derby however even a point would be an incredible result and keep them in the playoff race.

The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

Vydra leads the Championship in goals scored (Image: Andy Clarke)

Despite the fact that Derby’s squad is drained from their midweek fixture against Cardiff, expect Derby to make very few changes to their starting eleven. Manager, Gary Rowett, should set Derby up in their familiar 3-4-3 formation. Cameron Jerome scored two against Cardiff and should get the start again against Villa. Matěj Vydra also looked prolific in attack after coming on in the second half and should find himself in the starting eleven this week. He leads the Championship with twenty goals.  Finally, Andreas Weimann should start at left wing back as he provides width out left and is very capable of both going forward and defending.

Line-Ups

Aston Villa: Johnstone; Taylor, Jedinak, Chester, Bree; Bjarnason, Lansbury; Kodjia, Grealish, Adomah; Grabban

Derby County: Carson; Keogh, Davies, Forsyth; Wisdom, Huddlestone, Johnson, Weimann; Lawrence, Jerome, Vydra.

Prediction: Aston Villa 2-1 Derby County

Middlesbrough vs Millwall

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough enter the game in decent form with three wins in their last five. This is a crucial game for Middlesbrough as they currently sit fifth in the table. With a win against Millwall, they will clinch their spot in the playoff.  However, a loss to Millwall would leave both teams equal on points, leading to a nervy final matchday for Middlesbrough. A draw would be a great result here for Middlesbrough as they would enter the final matchday three points clear of Millwall and with a far superior goal differential. Middlesbrough will also have the home support behind them for their final home game of the season.

The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

Traore will look to provide the creative spark going forward for Middlesbrough (Image: Richard Sellers/PA via AP)

Team-wise, Middlesbrough should start the same squad that beat Derby County 2-1 in their previous match. Adama Traore is tied for the most league assists in 2018 in any of the top four tiers of England. His creative presence will be integral to Middlesbrough’s attack. The only real difficulty for Middlesbrough’s manager, Tony Pulis, will be who to start up top. Britt Assombalonga started as striker against Derby and scored Middlesbrough’s second goal. That goal was his team-leading fourteenth in the Championship. On the other hand, Patrick Bamford is arguably better up top. He has 10 goals in the Championship and only lost his starting role earlier because of injury. However, form means everything for a striker and Assombalonga is in great form and should lead the line for the home side.

Millwall

Before their 3-0 loss to Fulham in their previous match, Millwall had gone seventeen matches unbeaten. This fixture is the final kickoff on Saturday so Millwall will know where they stand relative to the rest of the league when the game kicks off. They could start as high as seventh or as low as tenth, knowing they need a victory to stay in the race for promotion. Millwall are great away from home with their last loss away in the league coming on January 2. Millwall also won the reverse fixture over Middlesbrough 2-1.

The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

Neil Harris has had his team in fantastic form in 2018 (Image: Getty)

Look for Millwall to start with their typical 4-4-2 formation that has worked so well for them throughout their unbeaten stretch. Neil Harris, the longest-serving manager in the Championship, should set his team up to hit Middlesbrough on the counter. He has been very faithful to his first choice eleven throughout this season so it would be very surprising to see him make any changes to the squad he featured against Fulham. If he does make any changes, look for him to rest midfielder George Saville. Saville has looked somewhat passive during Millwall’s past few matches and may require a rest. However, with only two matches left, resting anyone would be a bold move.

Line-Ups

Middlesbrough: Randolph; Friend, Gibson, Ayala, Shotton; Besic, Clayton, Howson; Downing, Assombalonga, Traoré

Millwall: Archer; Meredith, Cooper, Hutchinson, Romeo; Marshall, Williams, Saville, Wallace; Morison, Gregory

Prediction Middlesbrough 1-1 Millwall

Featured image by Getty Images Europe

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Cincinnati Fights Back To Draw With Pittsburgh

FC Cincinnati played to a 2-2 draw with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Danni Konig and Kenny Walker provided the goals for Cincinnati. A crowd of 24,505 was in attendance to watch the match.

Pittsburgh jumped out to an early lead with a goal from Jordan Dover in the sixth minute. It took until the second half for Cincinnati to equalize with a goal from Konig in the 59’. Pittsburgh again took the lead in the 72’ from Thomas Vancaeyezeele. Walker pulled Cincinnati level again in the 78’ with the final goal of the night.

A match between two of the best defensive teams in the USL went from being what looked like a low scoring affair turned into a thrilling 2-2 draw. Cincinnati conceded two goals coming into tonight while Pittsburgh had given up zero.

Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch said after the match, “To come from behind twice to a team that hadn’t conceded so far this season is certainly not an easy challenge.” Later he said, “We literally took the script and threw it out the window at halftime. We changed everything, in the second 45 minutes.”

Cincinnati started slow giving up the early goal to Dover who was able to score off a small deflection off defender Forest Lasso. Pittsburgh was able to keep Cincinnati in their half for long periods. It was a lot of possession for Cincinnati with 62% for the half; a lot of it was swinging the ball across their backline or down the sides of the field with few scoring chances.

Coming out in the second half they displayed a sense of urgency and looked to be able to score on every attack in the first 20 minutes of the half. The passing play from midfielders Corben Bone and Nazmi Albadawi were opening up space for the full backs and wingers to get forward and cross the ball into the box.

Konig was the major beneficiary of the ball movement when Bone collected a loose ball at the top of the box and slid a ball to him in space where he scored in the 58’. Two minutes later Konig almost scored again putting a shot just wide of the net.

Another defensive breakdown led to the second Pittsburgh goal. The attacker was able to carry the ball to the endline and play a pass to an open Vancaeyezeele who slotted the ball home in the 72’.

Walker was able to equalize in the 78’ when a Albadawi shot was blocked and landed right. An easy finish from Walker into the far side of the net.

Cincinnati went right back to controlling the pace of play after the equalizer with a few good chances but couldn’t find the go ahead goal.

If Cincinnati could start matches quicker they could potentially have four more points. This is the third match in a row that Cincinnati has given up a goal in the first 15 minutes. They lost to Louisville City FC 1-0 and drew with Bethlehem Steel FC 1-1 in the last two matches.

Walker saw his first action since his concussion against the Indy Eleven on March 31st . He was slow at first and was outplayed in the lead up to the second Pittsburgh goal but was able to make amends minutes later.

Jimmy McLaughlin and Konig both got their first starts of the season tonight.

Moment By Moment

6’ Jordan Dover game Pittsburgh an early lead. Dover collected the ball inside the box his shot had a small deflection off Cincinnati defender Forest Lasso and by the outstretched hand of keeper Evan Newton.

10’ Danni Konig was called for a foul in the Pittsburgh box. He gave the Pittsburgh defender a knee below the belt, no card given.

36’ Jimmy McLaughlin starts a counter and has two great touches to run 30 yards before being brought down by Dover, who earns the first booking of the night. The resulting free kick was a little too far for a Cincinnati player to get on the end of it and harmlessly goes out for a goal kick.

45’ Free kick for Cincinnati in lone minute of stoppage time in a dangerous

50’ Penalty shouts for Cincinnati as Konig goes down in the box. The referee decides against giving the penalty and the Cincinnati bench was furious.

55’ Konig with a shot that goes just over the bar from eight yards out. His first touch was poor and allowed the ball to bounce and he got under it a bit too much.

59’ Goal Konig fires a ball past the keeper to tie up the match. A loose ball falls to the feet of Corben Bone at the top of the box, he picks out Konig in space, incredible vision from the midfielder.

61’ Konig taps a ball over the top just wide of the goal, almost two goals in two minutes for him.

68’ Emmanuael Ledesma picks up the first yellow of the night for Cincinnati after a late challenge at midfield.

73’ Pittsburgh retakes the lead with a goal from Thomas Vancaeyezeele. Kenardo Forbes got to the end line and played a pass back to Vancaeyezeele who was able to slide the ball into the net easily.

78” Kenny Walker scores to tie up the match, putting a rebound into the back of the net. Ledesma passed back to an open Nazmi Albadawi whose shot was saved but landed at the feet of Walker who was wide open in the box.

88’ Dekel Keinan is booked for pulling back on a Pittsburgh attacker on a counter attack.

Up Next

Cincinnati travels to Ottawa on next Saturday April 28 for a match at 2:10 pm.

Then traveling to Indianapolis for the second time this season on Wednesday May 2 at 7:00 pm. Cincinnati won the first matchup this year 1-0.

Returning home to Nippert on Saturday May 5 at 7:00 pm to play Atlanta United 2. This could see the return of former keeper Mitch Hildebrandt as he is currently a backup keeper for the MLS club and is working his wat back from an injury.

Final Thoughts

Cincinnati played their best half all season in the second half. The ball movement was incredible and players were getting in the right positions. The only drawback was the crossing was a problem all night, with most of the crosses being very easy for the Pittsburgh keeper to catch.

Lance Laing continues to impress even when being played out of position. He is normally a left winger but tonight he played as the left back with Jimmy McLaughlin as the left winger. There were a few growing pains with Laing back there, the first goal was scored from his side of the field, but his overlapping runs led him into a ton of space and he looked very dangerous for long stretches of the night.

Premier League Gameweek 34 Preview

Premier League Gameweek 34 preview

As we wrap up an exciting week of European football, EPL Gameweek 34 has an astonishing 14 games. This week’s game of the week is the clash between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs. This match will be previewed separately and in more depth. As the season starts to come to an end there is still lots to play for. Whilst the top four looks all but sealed, there are still seven teams fighting it out to avoid relegation.

Premier League Gameweek 34 – Saturday Fixtures

Southampton v Chelsea (12:30 BST)

Premier League Gameweek 34 Southampton v Chelsea

Image courtesy of lasthl.com

Southampton head into the game versus Chelsea needing a victory to drag them out of the bottom three. The 17/18 season has been one to forget for the Saints as they have struggled to put together any kind of form. Chelsea has also had a season they will hope to forget. From winning the title in the 16/17 season to most likely missing out on a top-four spot will be tough for most Chelsea fans.

Southampton’s last win in the Premier League was against fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion back at the beginning of February. Chelsea has begun to string together some ok form and will be expected to carry that on against the Saints.

Overall I think Chelsea will have too much for Southampton and will walk away with the 1-0 win.

Burnley v Leicester City (15:00 BST)

Normally a game between Burnley and Leicester this late in the season has mid-table bore draw written all over it. That is not this case this year, as both teams are scrapping it out for seventh place and a potential spot in Europe.

Burnley comes into this game with four straight league wins and within touching distance of both Arsenal and a first campaign in Europe. This season Burnley have surprised everyone, including many of their own fans. Leicester, on the other hand, are most likely looking towards the summer and the eventual departure of star player Riyad Mahrez.

Burnley will prove too much for Leicester here and will come away 2-0 winners.

Crystal Palace v Brighton (15:00 BST)

The third game of the weekend sees South East rivals Crystal Palace and Brighton scrap it out in a potential relegation six-pointer. Crystal Palace comes into the game three points clear of the drop, whilst Brighton is in 13th place but has a very tough run in.

Palace comes into the game of the back of a tough game versus Bournemouth and will hope that they can continue there miraculous recovery with a strong win over rivals Brighton.

Brighton will have been hoping to have reached the 40 point safety mark as they have the worst run in of any team in recent memory. They have 5 games left all of which are against teams in the top seven. A win against Palace this weekend is crucial for there survival.

Heading into this game it is all to play for and I think both teams will cancel each other out, leading to a 1-1 draw.

Huddersfield v Watford (15:00 BST)

Looking back at the first half of the season and both teams would have thought they would be safe by now. Instead, both have had trouble to pick up important points and are now looking to avoid relegation.

Watford comes into the game winless away since November 17, they are however only one win away from the safety of the 40 point mark. Huddersfield, on the other hand, has had a massive capitulation, not winning since February. They are five points clear of the drop but have a resurgent Crystal Palace on their heels.

Watford should show why they deserve to be a Premier League team here and come away with the 2-1 away victory.

Swansea v Everton (15:00 BST)

Another game, another relegation prospect. Swansea who has been a firm midtable favorite in recent years is getting closer and closer to the drop zone. This weekend they come up against an underwhelming Everton. The Merseyside derby was arguably the worst derby in years, in part because of Everton’s unwillingness to attack.

Everton has very little to play for and Swansea are in front of their home crowd. Swansea is desperate for a win and some breathing space from the chasing pack. Swansea should be able to aid their attempt to reach safety here with a 3-1 win over Everton.

Liverpool v Bournemouth (17:30 BST)

Premier League Gameweek 34 Preview Liverpool v Bournemouth

Image courtesy of youthgiri.com

Liverpool comes into this game on fire. They have the best strikeforce in the league and are hot off a controversial, but deserved, victory over league leaders Manchester City in the Champions League.

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth has struggled to pick up results of late and have a tough game against Mo Salah and the rest of the Reds.

Liverpool has been amazing this season and expect this to carry on with a strong 2-0 victory against the Cherries.

Premier League Gameweek 34 – Sunday Fixtures

Newcastle v Arsenal (13:30 BST)

In this clash between Newcastle and Arsenal, both teams have very little to play for. Arsenal will come into this game on the back of a tough clash against Russian CSKA Moscow. Newcastle is on 38 points and rooted firmly in mid-table.

Arsenal is set to miss out on the top four in back to back seasons, something unheard of in the Arsene Wenger era. Time seems to be running out for Wenger and he will be looking to the Europa League as a potential saving grace on a very average season.

Newcastle under Rafa Benitez is a side growing in confidence and will want to finish the season strong in a bid to set up a potential charge for the European spots next season. This game has score draw written all over it, with a 2-2 result likely.

Manchester United v West Brom (16:00 BST)

Man Utd comes into this game of a season-defining 3-2 victory against rivals Man City. They will be hoping to show the critics that they can win the title next year with a dominant display over a poor West Brom team.

West Brom, on the other hand, are already looking like a team preparing for life in the Championship. They parted ways with manager Alan Pardew after only four months and will now have caretaker boss Darren Moore in charge until the end of the season.

The Red Devils will look to make a statement with more than just Paul Pogba’s hair choice. Look to Man Utd to rack up the goals in a 3-0 victory.

Premier League Gameweek 34 – Monday Fixture

West Ham United v Stoke City (20:00 BST)

This Monday night relegation six-pointer has all the makings of a classic. A resurgent West Ham under David Moyes, a struggling Stoke City and the return of Marko Arnautovic who left Stoke in the summer.

West Ham took a shocking point off of Chelsea last week which as buoyed their survival hopes. On the opposite side of the pitch, Stoke is drifting further and further away from safety. Stoke are without a win in their last five and this game looks set to be no different.

West Ham at home, with the fans behind them and Marko Arnautovic, has a point to prove. This game looks set-up for a West Ham 2-1 victory over Stoke.


Premier League Gameweek 34 – Wrapup

This week looks set to cement two of the three teams that will be relegated this season. Man City are on the cusp of securing the title. Whilst Burnley look to take another step towards a first season in Europe.

The end of the season is upon us and things are beginning to get spicy.

Featured image by The Premier League

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Tottenham host Manchester City in top four battle

Manchester City

Tottenham host Manchester City in top four battle

Manchester City have struggled recently to find their form (Photo: REUTERS/Darren Staples)

For many Manchester City supporters, their worst nightmares have come to fruition. After seemingly coasting through the season with ease, Manchester City have hit a dip in form. They crashed out of the Champions League to Liverpool with a 5-1 aggregate over two legs. In between both Champions League games, they hosted Manchester United with a chance to win the title. Despite going up 2-0, they absolutely capitulated in the second half and lost 3-2. Their form has the chance to get even worse as they visit Wembley to play Tottenham, a team in fantastic form.

Manchester City can only clinch the title this weekend with a win and a West Brom victory over Manchester United. Make no mistake, Manchester City will still win the title. However, a slip up in this tie would extend the wait for the title for at least another week and would further mar Manchester City’s fantastic campaign

Injuries

Tottenham host Manchester City in top four battle

Benjamin Mendy has been out injured with a hurt knee (Photo: Getty)

Three key players will miss the tie for Manchester City. Center-back, John Stones, is close to recovering from his groin injury but is still not fully fit to play. Left back, Benjamin Mendy will also miss the tie as he is still dealing with a knee injury. Mendy’s absence was severely felt over both legs against Liverpool as Manchester City lacked a left back who could effectively get up and support the attack. However, most importantly for Manchester City, Fernandinho will miss the tie after receiving his tenth yellow card of the season. The Brazilian is absolutely instrumental in Manchester City’s midfield and is by far their best No. 6. It is near impossible for any Manchester City player to adequately replace him.

Line-up

Kyle Walker should start as the Manchester City right back, with Vincent Kompany and Nicolás Otamendi as the center-back pairing alongside him. The only question mark in the defense will be whether Fabian Delph or Aymeric Laporte start at left back in place of the injured Benjamin Mendy. Rounding out the defense, Ederson will play in net.

In the midfield, İlkay Gündoğan will likely fill in for Fernandinho as their No. 6. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva should round out the midfield trio. Silva was noticeably poor in both legs against Liverpool and will look to improve his form in this fixture.

Sergio Agüero has not been fit enough to play ninety minutes during their last few fixtures. He has come off the bench with Gabriel Jesus starting in front of him. If Agüero is fit enough, he should start up top for Manchester City. However, he may have to settle for coming off the bench in the second half for Jesus. Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sané should round out the Manchester City starting eleven playing on the right and left wings respectively.

Tottenham

Tottenham host Manchester City in top four battle

Spurs have not lost a pregame in 2018 (Photo: Getty Images)

Tottenham enter this match in fantastic form. Having gone 14 games unbeaten, they have equaled their longest unbeaten run ever in the Premier League. One more result will see them better their 2015 run of fourteen games unbeaten. However, the last team to beat Spurs in the Premier League were Manchester City in December by a score of 4-1. Ten points clear of Chelsea, they have all but guaranteed finishing top four and achieving Champions League football for next season. However, Spurs will certainly be hungry to continue to move up in the table as they could still easily finish as high as second.

Injuries

Although neither were likely to start, Harry Winks and Kyle Walker-Peters will miss the fixture due to injuries. Right back, Kieran Trippier, has also been dealing with fatigue recently and missed Tottenham’s last match against Stoke City because of it. Serge Aurier started in his place. However, Trippier should be fit enough to feature against his former club. In addition, left back, Danny Rose, was recently ruled out with a calf strain. However, Ben Davies was always the more likely of the two to start at left back anyway.

Line-up

There is very little uncertainty about Tottenham’s starting eleven this week. Ben Davies will start at left back.

Tottenham host Manchester City in top four battle

Rumors are swirling about Toby Alderweireld’s possible departure from Tottenham (Photo: PA)

Alongside him, Jan Vertonghen will almost certainly be paired with Davinson Sánchez at center-back. Although Toby Alderweireld has seemingly been fit, Mauricio Pochettino has been hesitant to feature him. This could be due to the ongoing contract saga between Alderweireld and Tottenham. Alderweireld wants higher wages but that just won’t fit in Spurs’ current wage structure. Nevertheless, it would be a brutal welcoming to bring Alderweireld back against Manchester City. Thus, he will likely be left out of the starting eleven again in favor of Sánchez . Finally, either Kierran Trippier or Serge Aurier will feature at right back. It will likely be Aurier as Pochettino will not want to risk bringing Trippier back too soon. Lloris will start in net.

Eric Dier and Moussa Dembélé should be the midfield pairing. Victor Wanyama should be fit enough to come off the bench for either midfielder in the second half if Pochettino deems it necessary.

In the attack, fresh off his goal fiasco, Harry Kane should start up top. Dele will play just behind Kane and will often make runs beyond Kane, testing Manchester City’s defense. Alongside Dele, Christian Erisken and Son Heung-Min will play on either wing. Dele, Erisken and Son, should form a fluid line of three behind Kane and will drift into space all over the pitch. The fluidity of this trio is part of what makes Tottenham’s attack so potent.

Prediction:

Manchester City Starting XI: Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Kompany, Delph; De Bruyne, Gündoğan, D. Silva; B. Silva, Jesus, Sané.

Tottenham Starting XI: Lloris; Trippier, Sánchez, Vertonghen, Davies; Dier, Dembélé; Eriksen, Dele, Son; Kane

Manchester City played very well in the first half of their previous two games but were unable to put either tie to bed. However, in both ties, Fernandinho played and he will not be available against Tottenham. He is arguably Manchester City’s most important midfielder as no one can truly replicate his defensive abilities. Without him, Tottenham should be able to dominate the midfield and exert pressure on Manchester City’s back line.

In the first meeting between these clubs in December, the high press for both teams played a huge factor. Manchester City pressed Tottenham’s defense and Tottenham often looked very uncomfortable on the ball. They misplayed a multitude of passes and Lloris especially looked uncomfortable with the ball at his feet. On the other hand, Manchester City dealt with Tottenham’s press fairly easily. Ederson, in particular, had himself an incredible game. As a goalkeeper, he finished with more completed passes than two of Tottenham’s stars, Erisken and Dele. However, Pochettino has had a week to prepare for this fixture and should drastically change the tactics from the first meeting.

Final Breakdown

Overall, this fixture will come down to how well Tottenham can deal with Manchester City’s high press. In the first half against Liverpool, Manchester City’s press was world-class, and Liverpool could hardly ever retain possession. They were under constant pressure and were lucky to only concede once in the first half. If Tottenham plays like Liverpool did in the first half, they will be overwhelmed. With Manchester City usually being a very clinical side, they could easily be down 3-0 at half. On the other end of the spectrum, if Manchester City concede early, it could lead to a very long day for the visitors. Conceding early while already in a horrible stretch of form would be a disaster. If Tottenham get the early goal, expect them not to sit back but rather go for the throat and try to put this game to bed early.

 

Prediction: Tottenham 3-1 Manchester City

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Manchester City have a mountain to climb to top Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals

By all standards, it has been an absolutely horrible week for Manchester City. Entering the week, they not only had the chance to clinch the Premier League title but also to put themselves in a great position to advance to the semi-finals of the Champions League. They completely failed to capitalize on both opportunities.

Away from home, they lost 3-0 to Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals. This match may have been their worst performance of the season as Liverpool thoroughly dominated them throughout.

Manchester City have a mountain to climb to top Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals

Vincent Kompany scored the opener against Manchester United (Getty Images Europe)

They then followed that up by playing in the Manchester Derby with a chance to clinch the Premier League title. Despite going up 2-0 in the first half, they capitulated in the second half and lost 3-2 to Manchester United. Blowing such a great opportunity to win the title against their cross-town rival capped off their week from hell.

However, their next fixture is the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals against Liverpool. With this match being at home, they should have the home support thoroughly behind them. Nevertheless, they will need an absolute masterclass performance from the manager and players alike in order to even have a chance of overturning the 3-0 deficit.

What Went Wrong In The First Leg

Lineup Woes

Pep Guardiola’s starting 11 for Manchester City missed its mark. He elected to go with Aymeric Laporte at left-back. Laporte, although a fine player, just does not offer much going forward. Thus, Liverpool’s defenders could focus on shutting down Leroy Sané on the left wing without having to worry about Laporte threatening going forward. In addition, Guardiola started İlkay Gündoğan in the center-midfield instead of starting a wide player on the right wing. Manchester City had only Kyle Walker, their wing-back, to look for on the right side of the pitch. Thus, they had to force the ball to Sané repeatedly on the left side. If Guardiola had started a true winger, such as Raheem Sterling, a new dimension would have been brought to Manchester City’s attack

Liverpool’s Tactical Masterclass

In the first leg, Liverpool utterly dominated Manchester City with their press. Coming into the match, the common thought was the team that won the midfield battle would win the game. Liverpool achieved this with their press. They barely allowed Manchester City’s back-line any time on the ball and did a great job of clogging the passing lanes in the center midfield.

Kevin De Bruyne kept dropping deeper into the midfield but Liverpool did a great job of denying him the ball. And once he did receive the ball, he was swarmed by Liverpool players and his distribution options were incredibly limited. He played an uncharacteristic number of misplayed passes and lost possession far more than the norm. This was the trend of all of Manchester City’s midfield. None of them looked comfortable on the ball.

Manchester City have a mountain to climb to top Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals

Trent Alexander-Arnold was immense for Liverpool in the first leg (Photo: Anthony Devlin/AFP)

The other key in the first leg was that Trent Alexander-Arnold managed to blanket Manchester City winger, Leroy Sané. Coming into the match, many thought Sané would absolutely expose the inexperienced wingback. However, despite being only nineteen, Alexander-Arnold played the best match of his young career. He shut down Sané throughout the match and never let him get any threatening opportunities on goal. Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren were also immense in covering for Alexander-Arnold and helping him defend Sané. Sané kept receiving the ball from his midfielders and consistently lost possession or made the wrong decision. He, along with the rest of the attack, looked visibly frustrated by the end of the match.

Keys For The Second Leg

Manchester City have a mountain to climb to top Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals

Bernardo Silva was noticeably missing from the starting 11 in the first leg (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

One of the things that forced Manchester City to struggle was the fact they played in a shape they were not accustomed to. So, for the second leg, Guardiola should revert back to the formation that has worked so well this season. He should play a left-back such as Fabian Delph who can get up the pitch. He also needs to play a true right-winger such as Bernardo Silva or Raheem Sterling. Both players would provide width to Manchester City’s attack that wasn’t present in the first leg. Finally, he should play their potent center-midfield midfield trio of David Silva, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne.

The goal for Manchester City in the second leg is fairly straightforward. They need to score three without conceding in order to have a chance of advancing. If they do concede, then they need to score five goals to advance. So clearly, they need to put out a very attacking side. However, Manchester City have scored the most goals in the Premier League by a considerable margin. At home, they have scored three or more goals twelve out of twenty-three times this season. So, they definitely have enough attacking talent to score an abundance of goals in the second leg. However, in those matches, they have only kept nine clean sheets.

Liverpool’s History

When they played Liverpool in the Premier League in September, Manchester City won 5-0. Liverpool did pick up a red card early on, but that match proved that it is possible for Manchester City to overcome their current deficit. If Liverpool picks up a red card or even concedes early, this match becomes instantly tenser.

Liverpool do have a bit of a history of blowing big leads in important matches. In the group stages of the Champions League this season, they went up 3-0 in the first half against Sevilla. However, they conceded three times in the second half and ended up drawing 3-3. Likewise, while chasing the league title in 2013-2014, Liverpool led 3-0 in the second half against Crystal Palace. However, Palace scored three times late in the match and drew Liverpool 3-3.This all but ended Liverpool’s title push that year. If Sevilla and Crystal Palace could stage comebacks in just one half, Manchester City certainly could do so in a full game.

Injuries And Suspensions

Manchester City have a mountain to climb to top Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals

Jordan Henderson will miss the second leg due to suspension (Photo: Jonny Weeks)

Most importantly for Liverpool is the fact that Jordan Henderson is missing this leg after picking up a yellow card towards the end of the previous match. Henderson did a great job in the first leg of shielding the back-line and containing Manchester City’s midfield. He was instrumental in Manchester City having no shots on target in the first leg. Liverpool do not have a player who can slot in seamlessly to that role. So, it will be up to Jürgen Klopp to set up his team in a defensively sound structure that mitigates the loss of Henderson.

Another big key for the second leg involves the health of multiple key players for each side. For Liverpool, Emre Can is injured and will most likely not be able to feature in the midfield. In addition, their leading goal-scorer, Mohammad Salah, picked up an injury in the first leg. Sarah missed the Merseyside Derby over the weekend against Everton.  According to Klopp, he should be fine to play in the second leg. However, if he does miss the game, it will be a huge loss to Liverpool’s attack.

For Manchester City, the health of their star striker, Sergio Agüero is of the utmost importance. Manchester City missed him in the first leg as their attack looked absolutely toothless. However, Agüero did feature against Manchester United over the weekend so he should be good to go in the second leg. It will be interesting to see if Guardiola decides to play Agüero up top along with Gabriel Jesus or decides to just bring Jesus off the bench.

Overall, despite the 3-0 deficit for Manchester City, this tie is far from over. Manchester City do have the attacking firepower to score a plethora of goals in this tie. And with Liverpool’s defense being very suspect at times, that is a real possibility. This should a be a cracking second tie and the most entertaining of the four quarter-final second legs.

 

Prediction: Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool (Liverpool Advances 4-3 on Aggregate)

Featured image by Andrew Yates/Reuters

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FC Cincinnati Falls To Louisville City FC

FC Cincinnati lost to rival Louisville City FC 1-0 in front of a USL home-opening game record crowd of 25,667 on a cold night in Cincinnati. The lone goal scored by Cameron Lancaster in the 13’.

Cincinnati had a few good chances but nothing ultimately came of them. Corben Bone had a shot cleared off the line in the 25’ and Lance Laing had a long shot sent away by the keeper a few minutes later.

Emery Welshman had the best chance in the second half when he got on a loose ball and sent the shot several feet over the bar. Late in the match, two headers were sent over the bar from good positions.

Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch stated after the game, “ Disappointed to lose the derby. I don’t think anybody, anywhere in this business has been happy to not win a derby when you get to represent your team, your fans, and your city.”

Winger Lance Laing was distraught in the postgame press conference. As Koch was talking he was shaking his head in his hands. He commented, “ I feel like I lost a cup final. It’s my first home game, I just wasn’t expecting this. I had high hopes.” Later saying, “We weren’t great tonight and that’s it.”

Louisville played a very good game by packing it in defensively and cutting down the space Cincinnati had to work in. This was very evident in the later stages of the second half as Cincinnati was trying to find an equalizer. Two Louisville defenders to one Cincinnati attacker were on the end of every cross.

Cincinnati possessed the ball for the majority of the first 10 minutes of the match but the best chance was for Louisville. A diving save from Evan Newton kept the scoreline level in the 10’.

Louisville took the lead minutes later after poor defending allowed Lancaster to put a loose ball into the back of the net. A pass from the right was allowed into the center of the box where three Cincinnati defenders watched the ball land at Lancaster’s feet.

Cincinnati had a chance to equalize in the 25’ after a shot from Corben Bone was cleared off the line. Ledesma did a great job setting up the chance after beating his defender and running 30 yards into space before passing to Bone at the top of the box.

Cincinnati took control around the 30’ mark, possessing a lot of the ball and putting a few shots in the area. Laing had a long shot from 25 yards out but it was comfortably knocked away for a corner.

Early in the second half, Louisville’s Lancaster picked up a yellow card after going down in the box. It was either for diving or dissent after he didn’t get the penalty call.

Cincinnati had a great chance in the 54’ when a loose ball in the box made its way to Ledesma who rocketed the ball over the net from 10 yards out. It was a chance he would have liked to have back.

Chances were very hard to come by for Cincinnati for the last 30 minutes. Louisville did a very good of packing it in and not allowing space for Cincinnati to move the ball comfortably.

After the 80’ Cincinnati had two headers go just over the bar, one from Konig and another from Keinan. A loose ball in the six-yard box at the end of stoppage time was cleared by the Louisville defense as the last chance for Cincinnati.

Up Next

Cincinnati travels to Pennsylvania to play the Bethlehem Steel next Saturday 4/15 at 7:00 P.M. Bethlehem is currently in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with three points (1-2-0).

The next home game is in two weeks on 4/21 at 7:00 P.M. when the Pittsburgh Riverhounds come to Nippert Stadium. Pittsburgh is currently in 8th place in the East with five points (1-0-2).

Final Thoughts

This was not a great game for Cincinnati, but also not the end of the world. In the short term, a loss to your biggest rival always hurts and right now many fans will be upset. Big picture, two wins out of the first three games with only three regular starters returning is huge. Those starters are Bone, Justin Hoyte and Kenny Walker who started the first two matches. Once this team gets a little better cohesion things will come together in a big way.

One thing Cincinnati needs to work on is providing support for the striker up top and not leaving him on an island. Welshman was fed a lot of crosses but was going up against two Louisville defenders every time because he was the only Cincinnati player in the box. Danni Konig was brought on in the second half but he wasn’t able to provide much relief for Welshman due to Louisville packing the box.

This is a loss against the defending USL champions who returned 17 players. There is good reason they are projected to finish at the top of the league again.

The race for top four heats up this weekend as Chelsea host Tottenham in a London derby

After a short international break, the Premier League is back with matchday 32. A London Derby highlights this set of fixtures as Tottenham travel to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea.

The race for top four heats up this week as Chelsea host Tottenham in a London derby

Premier League table heading into matchday 32 (Source: TheScore)

Stamford Bridge has been a place of horrors for Tottenham as they haven’t won there in any competition since 1990. Just two seasons ago, Tottenham visited Chelsea late in the season in the midst of the title push. They went up 2-0 before conceding two goals in the second half to draw 2-2. Throughout the fixture, tempers flared between both sides and with that draw, Leicester City were crowned champions.

Tottenham currently sit third in the table, five points clear of Chelsea who sit in fifth. However, Chelsea are the only team to win at Tottenham’s temporary home ground this season, Wembley Stadium, winning 2-1 in August.

Tottenham Preview

Tottenham enter this fixture in great form having won five out of their last six in all competitions. Their only loss in that span came in the Champions League at the hands of Juventus. With Chelsea hot on their tail in the race for the top four, a win at Stamford Bridge would go a long way towards guaranteeing top four for Spurs.

Injury Concerns

Like their previous two games, Tottenham will most likely be without their star striker Harry Kane who is dealing with an ankle issue. Nevertheless, they have scored seven goals in their past two matches without Kane, albeit against worse defenses. Toby Alderweireld, who hasn’t featured in the starting eleven in the Premier League since November because of a hamstring issue, was fit enough to play ninety minutes in the Belgian back-line in a 4-0 defeat of Saudi Arabia. However, Mauricio Pochettino holds his players to incredible fitness standards. So, being fit enough in the eyes of Belgian manager, Roberto Martinez, is not equivalent to being fit in the eyes of Pochettino

Probable Line-up

Attack

The race for top four heats up this week as Chelsea host Tottenham in a London derby

Son is currently enjoying the best form of his career (Source: AFP)

Son Heung-Min enters the match in the best form of his career and should start in place of Kane up top. The prolific Korean attacker has scored seven goals in his past five matches in all competitions for Tottenham. With Son playing up top, either Erik Lamela or Lucas Moura will start in his usual position out wide. Lamela is the more likely of the two as he not only has attacking prowess going forward but is also exceptional tracking back and helping out his fullbacks. Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli will round out the attacking quartet.

Midfield

Dembélé will almost certainly start as one of the two center midfielders against Chelsea. The other spot in the midfield will be held by either Eric Dier or Victor Wanyama. However, Wanyama was rumored to have picked up a small knock on international duty. Thus, expect Pochettino to play it safe and start Dier. A jack-of-all-trades, Dier has already played as a center midfielder throughout this season while Wanyama was previously injured.

Defense

With Chelsea entering the fixture in desperate need of a win, a sturdy Tottenham defense will be key. Both Kieran Trippier and Serge Aurier are both possible options for Pochettino at right back. Aurier is better equipped to deal with the pace of Chelsea’s wingers. However, he is also incredibly prone to making mistakes and is known to give away boneheaded penalties. Trippier is certainly the safer option although Aurier has a bigger upside.

The race for top four heats up this week as Chelsea host Tottenham in a London derby

Alderweireld has battled hamstring problems throughout this season (Source: PA Images)

Toby Alderweireld, who is in the midst of a contract dispute, has recently regained his fitness. However, it is a tall task to ask him to start his first Premier League match since November against Chelsea. When in form, Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen form a dynamic center-back pairing. However, in Alderweireld’s absence, Davinson Sánchez has filled in remarkably well. Pochettino should keep Alderweireld on the bench for this match and wait to bring him back in a more favorable setting.

Look for Tottenham to line up in a 4-2-3-1 with a back line of Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen and Ben Davies. In the center midfield, Moussa Dembélé will start along Eric Dier. Ahead of them will be the trio of Lamela, Alli, and Erisken. Leading the attack, Son will try to continue his great goal-scoring form playing as the lone striker. Finally, Lloris will get the start in net for the away side.

Chelsea Preview

Chelsea conclude a relatively difficult set of fixtures, including games against Manchester United, Manchester City, and Barcelona by hosting Tottenham. The Blues enter this match in less than stellar form having won just two matches out of their last six in all competitions. However, they did pick up a win in their last outing beating Leicester City 2-1 in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Manager, Antonio Conte is already under immense pressure from both the fans and the board alike heading into this fixture. Thus, winning against Tottenham is of the utmost importance for Chelsea. They are already slightly adrift from the top four and a loss in this fixture would only exasperate that. However, with history on their side, they have to feel incredibly confident heading into the match.

Injury Concerns

The Blues enter the match with fewer injury concerns than their counterparts. There are question marks around the fitness of goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, and center-back, Andreas Christensen. However, both are expected to play. Center-back, David Luiz, is unlikely to play as he is still recovering from a previous ankle injury. Although he was not expected to play to begin with, Ross Barkley will also likely miss the match due to injury.

Probable Line-up

Attack

The race for top four heats up this week as Chelsea host Tottenham in a London derby

Alvaro Morata will look to build upon his goal vs. Leicester City (Source: AP)

The biggest concern facing Conte ahead of the match is who he wants to lead his attack. If he decides to play one striker, he could elect to play Eden Hazard up top in a false-nine role. Willian and Pedro would both play alongside him on either wing. Conte could also decide to go a different route and play either Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud, both more typical strikers. Morata broke his goal-scoring drought in Chelsea’s last fixture. This should instill some confidence in him heading into the clash with Tottenham.  If Conte decides to go with a two-striker formation, he will start Hazard alongside either Giroud or Morata. However, playing a two-striker formation would involve benching Willian who has been in incredible form.

Midfield

The midfield combination that Conte decides to go with will depend on which formation he uses. If he goes with his usual 3-4-3 alignment, N’Golo Kanté and Danny Drinkwater will be the center-midfield pairing. If he elects to go with a 3-5-2 formation, Kanté and Drinkwater will most likely be joined by either Tiémoué Bakayoko or Cesc Fàbregas in the center-midfield. Despite his poor form, Bakayoko is the more likely of the two as he is more defensive minded and could help contain Dembélé. In either formation, Marcos Alonso will line up on the left side while Davide Zappacosta will line up on the right.

Defense

The race for top four heats up this week as Chelsea host Tottenham in a London derby

The status of Christensen heading into this fixture is up in the air (Source: Getty)

The only question mark for the Chelsea defense is whether or not Christensen will be fit. If he is fit, he should slide into a back three along with Antonio Rüdiger and César Azpilicueta. However, if he is not fit, Gary Cahill would start in place of him. There is a noticeable dip in quality for Chelsea going from Christensen to Cahill. Thus, if Cahill starts, expect Tottenham to attempt to exploit him throughout the game.

Look for Chelsea to use a 3-5-2 formation as Conte adapts his tactics to better contain this Tottenham squad. Assuming they’re all fit, Christensen, Rüdiger, and Azpilicueta should line up together in the back. Bakayoko, Kanté, and Drinkwater will all play in the center midfield as they pack in tight and try to dominate the middle of the field. As per the usual, Zappacosta and Alonso will line up on the right and left sides respectively. Up top, Hazard will play alongside Morata as Chelsea look to cause the Tottenham back-line trouble with the two-striker approach. Finally, Courtois will start in net. Willian, Giroud, and Fabregas should all provide good attacking options off the bench if Chelsea are chasing a goal late.

Prediction

Tottenham enter the match in far better form out of the two teams. However, previous form never seems to matter in this fixture, especially following an international break. Despite not missing a beat in their previous two games without Kane, Tottenham might struggle to break down Chelsea’s defense. Chelsea’s backline is a totally different monster compared to those of their previous opponents, Bournemouth and Swansea City. Tottenham would likely be content with leaving Stamford Bridge with a draw. Thus, they may play fairly defensively and try to hit Chelsea on the counter while settling for a draw.

Desperately needing three points, Chelsea should come out of the gates playing very positive attacking football. An early goal would especially do wonders to bring the home supporters behind the squad. If Kante and Bakayoko can effectively contain Eriksen and Dembélé, Chelsea should be successful in stifling Tottenham’s attack. With great options off the bench, Chelsea will be able to bring on attacking quality if chasing a late goal.

Chelsea 1-1 Tottenham

Featured image by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

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