Could Aston Villa’s Christmas curse drag them into relegation scrap?

Aston Villa are currently 13th in the Premier League table and sitting five points above the relegation zone as we approach the traditional busy Christmas period of fixtures.

Having gone on a six-game losing run between September and the beginning of November, Villa have turned it around slightly and have lost just one of their last six, picking up two wins and three draws.

However, a look at their form over Christmas in the last five years makes for a worrying read to those affiliated with the Midlands side.

Aston Villa’s Christmas fixtures in the last 5 years:

AV stats

They’ve managed just two wins in the festive period in the last five years, and with the one game they had postponed against Wigan in 2010, that makes for a record of two wins from 14 games.

Perhaps even more concerning for Villa is the recent end of year results, as the last two seasons has seen them gain just one point from those six games and they’ve lost the rest.

If the history since 2009 repeats itself then Aston Villa will find themselves very much in a fight to beat the drop once again.

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Paul Lambert’s side welcome the in-form Manchester United to Villa Park at the weekend before a trip to Wales to face Swansea City on Boxing Day, and then they host Sunderland in their last game of 2014.

Will Aston Villa comfortably survive relegation this season?

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The reasons why 2014 was the most entertaining MLS season for nine years

Fans of the game don’t need to be told how entertaining the most recent Major League Soccer campaign was in terms of the tension, adrenaline, jubilation and despair that it created.

Having been through the emotional roller coaster of supporting your club through a season, most will now be at peace with how their team performed in 2014 – whether they are pleased or disappointed is another question entirely.

In terms of entertainment value, MLS has come up trumps once again as the 2014 season saw 924 goals hitting the back of the net – the most ever scored in a regular season.

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Since 2012, MLS has seen more matches being played over the course of the season due to more teams being in the league and format adjustments, so it would be easy to say that the only reason we’ve seen the most goals is because there are more games.

While that is true, it’s important to bear in mind that 2014 managed to produce the highest average goals-per-game ratio since 2005 and that the standard of play in the league is now far higher than nine years ago.

MLS, year by year:

mls season stats

A closer look at the numbers will also tell you that the 2014 season saw the highest average attendance in the history of Major League Soccer.

The average attendance is up by 554 on last season and is 341 higher than the previous record of 18,807 that we saw in 2012.

With New York City and Orlando City joining in 2015, it’s clear for all to see the growth of MLS and if ever there was proof needed that the league was on the rise, then the attendance figures for this year just about confirm that fact.

Is Major League Soccer becoming one of the biggest leagues in the world?

How will New York Red Bulls cope with life after Thierry Henry?

Losing a player of Thierry Henry‘s quality and presence is never an ideal situation, but it’s the one that New York Red Bulls are now currently faced with.

Henry scored 10 goals in 2014, but perhaps more importantly, he made 15 assists over the course of the regular season and the MLS playoffs combined.

A large proportion of the credit for the Red Bulls success last season will have been given to Bradley Wright-Phillips for his scintillating goalscoring form, but it will be interesting to see how he manages now that his key creator is no longer around.

Thierry Henry played the role of provider for nine of the goals that Wright-Phillips scored last season which accounts for just under one third of his overall combined total of 31.

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Upon equalling the record for most goals in one MLS regular season, Bradley Wright-Phillips has since been rewarded with a designated player contract.

And with no clarification over Tim Cahill’s future as yet, there may still be two DP slots available should he decide to move on to pastures new.

It will then be down to whether or not the Red Bulls choose to fill the spaces, but it certainly allows them the option to bring in world-class talent in an attempt to replace the legendary Frenchman.

The assumption would be that New York are currently on the hunt for an attacking player to partner BWP in 2015 as Henry has played such a crucial role for the last four years, so that void will certainly need to be filled.

Can New York Red Bulls cope with life after Thierry Henry?

Can Jermaine Jones help New England Revolution dominate MLS in 2015?

New England Revolution will still be licking their wounds after an agonising defeat at the hands of LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup Final, but all isn’t lost and they have plenty to look forward to in next year’s campaign.

One of their key assets in the end of season run-in was USA international Jermaine Jones who joined the Revs from Turkish side Besiktas in August 2014 and went on to make 15 appearances combining the end of the regular season and New England’s MLS Cup run.

As well as his dominant midfield performances which further allowed playmaker Lee Nguyen to express himself, he also chipped in with three goals and four assists.

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With Jones in the side, New England won 11, tied two and lost two of the 15 games in which he featured – one of those being that painful 2-1 defeat after extra-time against LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup Final.

If they can continue that kind of form when the 2015 season gets underway then they will be a serious force and you would expect them to be the team to beat.

New England Revolution’s stats and projected points total with Jones on the pitch compared to without him makes for frightening reading for other MLS teams going in to the next campaign.

JJ Stats

[*Includes points that New England Revolution would have gained from MLS playoff fixtures]

The highest points tally in an MLS season came when LA Galaxy accrued a total of 68 in the 1998 season, which they did so at a rate of 2.13 points per game.

The stats show that if New England can continue to play the way they have been, then they could potentially blow that record out of the water.

Will New England Revolution break the record for the highest points tally next year?

West Ham continue their best ever start to a Premier League season

West Ham United continued their best ever start to a Premier League season with a 1-1 draw against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light this weekend.

The Hammers have amassed an impressive 28 points from their opening 16 games, which is their best total in the top flight at this stage for 29 years.

Their previous best start came when they had 29 points from their opening 16 fixtures in the 1985/86 season.

To put it in to perspective, Diafra Sakho, their top goalscorer in the Premier League at the moment, wasn’t even born when that happened.

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Manager Sam Allardyce has come under pressure in the past and a stuttering start to the season made it look like he was going to be in for another year of being questioned, but a run of ten games with just one defeat has turned the tide.

They are currently now sitting nicely in fourth position in the table and are well on course to mount a serious challenge to try and qualify for Europe next season, although they will face stiff competition from those around them.

West Ham’s top five best starts to a Premier League season:

WHU start to season

They host Leicester City next weekend before a tough Christmas test arrives in the shape of a trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea on Boxing Day. They then welcome Arsenal to Upton Park two days later.

If the Irons find themselves sitting in the top four come the new year, then they will certainly fancy their chances of maintaining their form for the second half of the campaign.

Can West Ham United qualify for European competition?

Playoff Preview and Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs LA Galaxy

Seattle Sounders welcome the LA Galaxy to CenturyLink Field in what will be the last game of the 2014 season for one of these sides and a place in the MLS Cup Final is at stake.

The Galaxy take a narrow 1-0 lead to Seattle with them thanks to a deflected second-half strike from Marcelo Sarvas in the first leg at the StubHub Center last weekend.

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The Sounders will be thankful that they limited the damage to just a one goal deficit in a game where they will be the first to admit that they weren’t at their full-flowing best, but they’ve still managed to keep themselves very much alive in the tie.

It has been an amazing season for Seattle no matter what happens but they appear to be stuttering slightly in recent weeks and they will hope that they don’t fall at the final hurdle, so to speak.

They’ll be looking to their usually solid home form and hoping that it will be their saviour in this clash and also hoping that Osvaldo Alonso will return from injury in time to give his side the edge they need in midfield.

Seattle Sounders 2014 home record: Played 18 – Won 12 – Drawn 2 – Lost 4

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Boosted from their 5-0 thrashing of Real Salt Lake in the semi-final, LA Galaxy look like a revitalised team from the one that succumbed to a 2-0 defeat against the Sounders on the last day of the regular season and will be happy with their lead, as well as being quietly confident they can get themselves over the line.

Hitting a good vein of form at the right time is crucial in competitions like this because one moment in a game can change the face of everything, so LA can be pleased that they’ve scored six in their last three games and conceded none.

They know that they are now the slight favourites as keeping a clean sheet at home means that the Sounders don’t have an away goal to their name, so if the Galaxy can knick one in Seattle, they will be firmly in the driving seat and will leave their opponents needing three.

LA Galaxy 2014 away record: Played 18 – Won 5 – Drawn 7 – Lost 6

It’s a clash of the Western Conference titans and the incentive to get to the final couldn’t be higher as both are seeking to make history – MLS Cup success for Seattle would see them become the first team in MLS to win the treble (Supporters’ Shield, U. S. Open Cup and MLS Cup) while LA Galaxy are looking to record their fifth MLS Cup glory and become the most successful club in the history of the competition.

Both sides know what to expect from each other and they both also know how tough a game it will be, which can only make for a tight and intense encounter which looks set to go down to the wire.

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Key Player: Clint Dempsey – he’s missed a few good chances of late and he knows he can do better. He’s a player of real high quality and the Sounders will be looking to him to inspire the team.

Key Stat: LA Galaxy are without a win on the road in their last five attempts – their last win away from home came at Chivas USA on September 1.

Seattle Sounders last five: D/W/D/D/L

LA Galaxy’s last five: D/L/D/W/W

Score Prediction: Seattle Sounders 1-2 LA Galaxy – We aren’t expecting a goal-fest but it should be a tight game. The Galaxy are high on confidence right now and look hungry for success, while Seattle look like they have run out of steam right at the end.

The 2014 MLS Cup guarantees to make history

The team that now goes on to win the 2014 MLS Cup will be making new history in some way or another which only adds to the excitement and intensity we’re all expecting.

Seattle Sounders have had a fantastic season irrelevant of the eventual outcome of their MLS Cup campaign as they scooped the Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup double.

However, should they manage to seal MLS Cup glory, they will become the first ever team to complete the treble and thereby print their name in the record books, which would be a remarkable achievement and truly cement the fact that they have been the best team this season.

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[Seattle Sounders enjoyed success in this year’s U.S. Open Cup]

LA Galaxy narrowly missed out on the Supporters’ Shield title when they lost 2-0 to Seattle Sounders, but they can focus all their attention on trying to bring home the MLS Cup.

If they go on to win it, they will become the most successful team in the history of the competition with five titles – they are currently tied on four with DC United.

Meanwhile, both New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls are hunting down their first ever title in this competition.

The Revs are probably the unluckiest team in MLS Cup history having been to four finals and finished on the losing end on every occasion, twice losing 1-0 after extra-time and once losing on penalties.

Title winners since 1996:

MLS HistoryWhatever happens, it promises to be entertaining and will also set new history for one of the clubs.

Who do you think will win the 2014 MLS Cup?

2014 MLS Season Review: Real Salt Lake

Western Conference Final Position: 3rd

Western Conference Playoffs: Semi-Final

Review

Real Salt Lake‘s capitulation in what turned out to be their last game of the season when they lost 5-0 at LA Galaxy was both inexcusable and inexplicable, but one poor game should not overshadow what was – on the whole – a brilliant season.

They made the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season and also enjoyed great form at home winning 11 games and suffering just one defeat. Only LA Galaxy and FC Dallas fared better on home soil in the 2014 MLS season.

Best Moment

The 12-game unbeaten run at the beginning of the season set the tone for a successful campaign and it shouldn’t be underestimated as to how hard it is to maintain that kind of form.

Worst Moment

An obvious choice, but the 5-0 defeat against LA Galaxy in the playoff semi-final will be a painful final memory for 2014 and one they’ll want to forget as soon as possible.

Player of the Year

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Javier Morales was a joy to watch and was truly inspirational for his side. Picking up nine goals and 12 assists from midfield makes it hard to look any further, although Kyle Beckerman deserves a special mention for another great season at the heart of the team.

Biggest Win

Real Salt Lake 5-1 Colorado Rapids (September 20 2014)

Biggest Defeat

Regular season: Seattle Sounders 4-0 Real Salt Lake (May 31 2014)

Including playoffs: LA Galaxy 5-0 Real Salt Lake (November 9 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

It’s hard to pinpoint any areas that specifically need improving for a side that are so consistent, but one disappointment for RSL would be their form on the road. They only managed to pick up four wins on their travels and if they could improve that number next season and maintain their strong home form, then they would be serious contenders for the Supporters’ Shield title in 2015.

Clint Dempsey says Seattle Sounders are “feeling good” ahead of LA Galaxy clash

Following their Western Conference playoff semi-final victory over FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey has been looking ahead to the conference final against LA Galaxy in a fortnight.

“We believe in ourselves – to win the Supporters’ Shield we had to play two games against them (LA Galaxy) and get the right result, so we’re a team that’s done well this season in terms of silverware.

“We have that confidence moving forward and we feel good,” he said to the Seattle Sounders YouTube channel.

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Despite the high level of confidence in the team, Dempsey is still cautious of the quality that the Galaxy possess.

“They’re a good team with a lot of quality – that’s the reason why they’re still in the playoffs.

“We have to figure out a way to manage these games in the right way because you don’t want to leave yourselves with a mountain to climb come the second game.

“To be the best you’ve got to play against the best and we’ve got to stay hungry for more.”

Dempsey’s partnership with Obafemi Martins has been inspirational to the Sounders this season and is one of the main reasons that they’re where they are.

“I love playing with Oba, he’s a world class player, we have a good chemistry, I think you can see that all year, we work well together and create chances for each other.”

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Although Dempsey has been left off the roster for the upcoming USMNT friendlies, he still “wishes them the best” and he’s had a “good conversation with Jurgen (Klinsmann) and looks forward to 2015”.

Every cloud has a silver lining though, as his omission from the squad for this international break should leave him feeling fresh and ready to fire on all cylinders in the next stage of the playoffs.

How crucial is Clint Dempsey to Seattle Sounders?

Playoff Preview and Prediction: LA Galaxy vs Real Salt Lake

LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake meet again in the reverse leg of their Western Conference playoff semi-final at the StubHub Center on Sunday.

This second leg is so delicately poised after a hard-fought goalless draw in the blustery wind at the Rio Tinto Stadium last weekend, much to the credit of the Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo who kept them in it.

The onus will very much be on LA Galaxy to produce after they’ve now gone four games without a win if you include the three games at the end of the regular season and have hit a stale run of form at the worst possible time.

The Galaxy have drawn two and lost two of the last four and it equals their worst run of form since the turn of April in to May when they went on a four game winless streak, also recording two draws and two defeats.

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[Jaime Penedo kept his side in it last time out]

LA will be looking to their strong home form and desperately hoping that it’s going to come up trumps for them once again.

With just one home defeat in the entire regular season, they will take some confidence from that, but they need to win this game or they risk being eliminated on away goals.

LA Galaxy’s home form: Played 17 – Won 12 – Drawn 4 – Lost 1

Real Salt Lake will come away from the first-leg with mixed emotions after they spurned the opportunity to take a lead with them to LA.

They dominated the majority of their home game but couldn’t capitalise on it and it may come back to haunt them.

However, a 0-0 draw at home is never a bad result in the first-leg as they know that a score draw sees them through on the away goal rule.

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[Main man: Joao Plata has had a great season for RSL]

They haven’t won on the road for six games since a 1-0 win in Colorado at the beginning of August, so they’ll be thankful that a draw could be enough to see them home.

Real Salt Lake’s away form: Played 17 – Won 4 – Drawn 6 – Lost 7

With the game on such a knife edge, it promises excitement and drama, especially as the newly introduced away goals rule may well play a crucial role in the final outcome.

Many will be expecting another tightly contested game and it could take a moment of magic or a moment of madness from someone to turn the tide in favour of either side.

Extra-time and penalties are looming if we see a repeat result of last weekend’s game, so can either side take the initiative?

Key Player: Landon Donovan – he will be desperate to ensure that this isn’t his last ever game for LA Galaxy and there isn’t a better moment for him to shine.

Key Stat: These two sides have only produced four goals in their last four meetings so we expect another cagey affair.

LA Galaxy’s last five: W/L/D/L/D

Real Salt Lake’s last five: L/W/D/W/D

Prediction: LA Galaxy 1 – 1 Real Salt Lake – The Galaxy to suffer the pain of an away goals defeat for the first time in Major League Soccer.