How the Europa League could decide Arsene Wenger’s future

After nearly 22 years at the helm, Arsene Wenger has earned the right to a certain amount of power in north London. The Arsenal boss helped to drag the English Premier League into the modern era while transforming the Gunners into a team that was admired far and wide for their expansive and entertaining brand of football.

In the eyes of many fans, he should be one who decides when he steps down and it seems those in charge are reluctant to break this unwritten agreement. After all, if they fire him in the summer, they will bear total responsibility for the club’s immediate future. But if they wait until he walks and things don’t work out, they can claim their hand was forced. Wenger has another year to run on his contract and has insisted that he will honour those terms.

This impasse at the Emirates has been blamed for the club’s recent stagnation, which has seen them slip down the Premier League pecking order. They currently sit in sixth-place in the table, 30 points behind champions-in-waiting Manchester City and 13 points outside of the top four. However, they have won three of the last four FA Cup finals and are currently 5/2 at William Hill to win the Europa League, having already put one foot in the semi-finals with that 4-1 win over CSKA Moscow.

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This steady if unremarkable accumulation of silverware has so far been enough to keep the wolf from the door for the Frenchman. If he can add a European trophy to his haul, leading the club back into the Champions League in the process, there is no reason to suggest he will not continue his role.

While it may not be enough for some fans, a Europa League victory would once again put the board in a very difficult position. After all, how can you sack a loyal servant who is still delivering major silverware on a regular basis while running the club on a relatively strict budget? Last year, the North London club were one of only five Premier League teams to record a profit in the transfer window and this shrewd financial management has been a feature of Wenger’s tenure since the club moved into its new stadium 12 years ago.

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There has been speculation that if Arsenal win the competition, Wenger might still decide to step down, leaving the club with a major trophy and Champions League football to look forward to. It would certainly be a fitting way to end his time at the club – walking away on his own terms. However, much of this seems to be wishful thinking from those who are desperate for change at the club.

Wenger himself seems content in the role and has shown in the past that he is capable of proving his doubters wrong and will be keen to do so again. If he can lead the Gunners to European glory, the power to choose his destiny would remain in his own hands.

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Have Manchester United gone backwards under Mourinho?

Manchester United’s season has been filled with ups and downs so far. Jose Mourinho’s side are trailing the top four by six points but do have two games in hand. As we know, they have already won the League Cup and remain on course to reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League but their exit from the FA Cup to Chelsea crushed their hopes of a cup treble. Many United fans remain happy with the appointment of Mourinho but have they gone backwards since he took over last summer?

By comparing how they performed last season under Louis Van Gaal it is clear to see there have been a huge number of changes at United and with plenty of games still to come, their 2016/17 campaign still has a lot to unveil.

Premier League

Last season United missed out on the top four on goal difference. Although they qualified for Europe it wasn’t for the competition they were hoping for. They are 17 points off their total tally of 66 reached in the 2015/16 campaign but they do have 12 games left in the league, a possible 36 points to play for. If United were to win every game to the end of the season they could even be within a chance of winning the league, but the reality is their form has been too inconsistent, hence why they’ve been outside the top four for so long.

The Premier League has been fiercely competitive again this season and the race for a Champions League finish is being hotly contested by six teams. United have spent nearly £160 million since Mourinho took the job and he needs to improve on last year’s 5th-placed finish but at this stage of the season that is up in the air.

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FA Cup

The Red Devils won the FA Cup last season. Although cup competitions are luck of the draw, United will be disappointed not to have reached the semi-finals and another trip to Wembley. While it is very difficult to consistently win domestic cups, by not reaching the next round Man Utd have failed to equal their performance levels of last year’s FA Cup run.

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Europe

United are on course to reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Realistically this may be their best chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season and Mourinho will be aware he has two chances to get the club back in the mix with Europe’s elite. If United are to win this competition, that and the League Cup would be an obvious sign of progression at the club.

They can better last season’s performance in Europe, where they failed to make it out of their UCL group and were knocked out in the round of 16 in the Europa League.

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League Cup

Mourinho’s record in the competition speaks for itself. While it may be United’s only competitive silverware this season, it’s still a trophy worth winning. By comparison, there is a good chance that this trophy alone will see United end the season with more silverware than a number of their rivals and they improved on their League Cup performance from last season where they exited the competition in the fourth round.

There is still a huge amount of work for Mourinho to do at United to get the club back to the highest level and if he were to win the Europa League as well as a domestic cup that is undoubtedly a successful season. However, United will be at a standstill if they are to miss out on qualification for the Champions League again, with a single EFL Cup win a poor return for a team boasting that much quality under Mourinho’s leadership.

Is Mourinho making progress at Manchester United or are they going backwards?

United vs City: Are the Manchester clubs set for failure this season?

It’s no secret both Manchester Untied and Manchester City are not living up to the high expectations set by the fans, pundits and club in general so far this season. Both sides are currently outside the top four more than halfway through the domestic campaign, which is no where near where they expect to be, so are the two set for failure this season? Lewis Addley explores… 

Ten games into the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City things were looking like a foregone conclusion for the season ahead. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss looked to have bought his style of play to England with success, winning ten games on the bounce, but fast-forward to January and City are struggling in 5th place.

Things are not much different domestically for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United either. The Red Devils remain outside the top four and look a long way behind league-leading Chelsea.

Both clubs have reached the knockout stage in Europe, City in the Champions League and United in the Europa League, which surely will be the focus of their seasons respectively come the return of the competitions in a few weeks. United are on the brink of reaching the final of the League Cup, but that alone will not be enough to reduce the pressure on Mourinho, with more always expected of the Manchester giants.

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So are both of these clubs set for failure?

In a word, no. There are plenty of games for the league table to continue to change. But the competition for the top four is so intense that it is difficult, with current form in mind, to think both sides will make the cut. United had just began to pick up form but their consecutive draws suggest they’re still one step away from troubling the sides above them on a consistent basis.

City on the other hand seem to have no league form whatsoever, they’re fast becoming a side who look beatable from the off and Pep is going to have to change something. They’ve gone from having a powerful, tight backline to a nervy outfit who look like they will concede with every shot, something Claudio Bravo is picking up an unwanted affiliation for, having conceded the last six efforts on goal he has faced.

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As previously mentioned United are on track to reach the League Cup final but given the current nature of expectancy, that trophy alone is not enough for a title-chasing side. Both Manchester clubs are still challenging in the FA Cup, a tournament they are going to need to reach the latter stages in at least, such as the regard winning it is held in.

European action offers contrasting situations, City face PSG in the Champions League, while United drew Saint-Étienne in the Europa League. City’s performance last year was their best effort to date in the competition and given the strength of the sides they can pull in the latter rounds if they are to progress, winning it would be some feat, although not impossible given the quality of players available to Guardiola. 

United’s progression in the Europa League wouldn’t be something Mourinho is bothered by, if you’re to believe his stance on the competition, however winning it would guarantee them a place in the Champions League next season regardless of their league finish. With that in mind United have to take it seriously, no doubt they will.

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There is no doubt both Manchester clubs have the ability to win some silverware this season between them, but domestically it isn’t looking overly promising. With track-record in mind, many have been surprised with the struggles the two have endured in their first season. In the modern game transitional periods are becoming less and less acceptable, especially considering the amount of money that’s being spent on transfers. Perhaps not the first season of the Mourinho and Guardiola era their fans would have had high hopes for?

Is it too early for the word failure to be thrown around or have Mourinho and Guardiola not lived up to expectation so far? 

Premier League Preview and Prediction: Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur

Competition: Premier League – Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Venue: Old Trafford – Sunday, December 11 – 14:15 GMT (09:15 ET)

Match Odds: Manchester United 6/5 – Draw 23/10 – Spurs 23/10

Match Preview

Manchester United welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Old Trafford on Sunday in the standout fixture of the Premier League action this weekend.

United know they’ve got a game on their hands with the visit of Spurs, this meeting usually offers an exciting tie, but given recent league form for United a draw would be far from surprising.

Jose Mourinho’s side are frustrating their fans. They’re creating well in games but are missing hatfuls of chances and aren’t strong enough defensively to hold out when they take the lead.

Despite the negatives, United are unbeaten in five in the league (W1, D4). Their draw last weekend at Everton was a disappointing result considering they looked to have the points wrapped up, but it’s another game unbeaten nonetheless.

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Tottenham will be full of confidence coming into this game. They thumped Swansea 5-0 at home last weekend and it could and probably should have been nearer double figures.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men are six points ahead of United in the league. They sit 5th, three points outside the top four and six points off top spot, they’re well in the mix.

Spurs need to win this game to keep pace with the top four. If results go in their favour they could end the weekend in third place.

The North London side have lost just once in their last 14 outings. They’re in fine form and are scoring freely, so they have to start with their usual high-press and intensity to put United on the back-foot from the word go.

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Team News

Manchester united are still expecting to be without Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw for this tie. Eric Bailly could be in line to start his first Premier League game in six weeks, he played 90 minutes in the Europa League in midweek. Wayne Rooney is available again after serving his one-match suspension.

Tottenham have just three injury concerns ahead of this tie. Erik Lamela and Vincent Janssen are both expected to remain out, while Ben Davies is a doubt. Toby Alderweireld could make his first Premier League start since October 15 after he featured in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Key Points

Manchester United’s last five: D/W/D/D/D

Tottenham’s last five: D/D/W/L/W

Key Stat: Manchester United have won just once in their last nine Premier League games.

Key Player: Harry Kane – The Spurs talisman is in fine form. He has netted seven league goals this season and will be excited at the prospect of getting at a nervy United defence. He will have to outshine Zlatan Ibrahimovic to ensure Spurs take all three points here.

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Score Prediction

Manchester United 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur – United to fall to another unfavourable result against one of the top sides in the league. Spurs know they have the chance of taking all three points at Old Trafford, but just because United are out of form by no means makes this an easy tie.

Will Manchester City hang on to secure a top four finish in the Premier League?

Manchester City are enduring a rough patch of Premier League form with just one win from their last six domestic outings and with some key games coming up, are they at risk of finishing outside of the top four? Lewis Addley explores…

The Premier League title race looks all but out of Manchester City‘s reach now as they trail leaders Leicester City by a huge 15 points. Recent form has seen City pick up just four points in their last six games and they are struggling to hold onto fourth place, let alone challenge at the summit.

After another poor performance at the weekend in their 1-0 loss against rivals Manchester United the gap has narrowed even more. They are now in the uncomfortable position of having to look over their shoulders at the chasing pack of Champions League hunters – fuelling talk among fans and pundits alike that they could slip out of the top four.

Current Premier League top six standings

Current Premier League standings – top six 

As we can see City are just two points ahead of West Ham United and Manchester United as we enter the international break. Over the previous six games City have dropped from second place to fourth and the gap has closed between them and fifth place by six points.

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When looking at Manchester City’s remaining league fixtures, a fair argument could be made that they have to deal with one of the trickiest run-ins out of any club.

Manchester City's remaining fixtures and previous league results

Manchester City’s remaining Premier League fixtures and corresponding results

By using the theory of mirroring their previous results this season against the sides they face in the run-in, Manchester City would finish this season on 69 points, picking up six more wins and adding 18 points to their current tally of 51.

While we aren’t suggesting those results will mirror exactly, it does give some good grounding to provide a potential final league points tally for City.

Wedged within these fixtures are City’s two season-defining ties against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, so the pressure will be on Manuel Pellegrini to ensure his squad priority is right when resting players for those games.

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So lets have a look at how this potential tally of 69 points compares to the number of points required to finish in the top four over the last five Premier League campaigns.

Points required to finish in the top four in the last five seasons

Points required to finish in the top four – last five seasons

As we can see, over the last three seasons 69 points would not have been enough to finish in the top four, but it would have secured Champions League football in the 2010/11 and 2011/2012 seasons.

City fans will be concerned about their league position as they will not want to be without Champions League football next season, especially with the imminent arrival of new boss Pep Guardiola. Playing in Europe’s top competition can certainly influence potential transfers and with a squad overhaul expected to take place, Guardiola will want to be able to lure some of the world’s top talents to the Etihad Stadium.

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It’s now time for the current City squad to step up and prove any doubters wrong by winning as many of their remaining fixtures as possible to ensure they finish in the top four. They do also have the potential pathway into the Champions League by winning the competition this term as they head towards that huge quarterfinal tie against PSG.

City have finished in the top three of the Premier League in each of the past five seasons and lifted the title at the end of the 2011/12 and 2013/14 campaigns.

Do you think Manchester City will finish in the top four this season?

2014/15 Premier League Season Review: Everton

Premier League Final Position: 11th

Review

Participation in the Europa League has undoubtedly hindered Everton’s performances this season and they just haven’t managed to replicate the kind of form that saw them finish fifth with 72 points last time around. While the Toffees can’t blame their below par season entirely on the fact they had European commitments, it’s certainly been a major factor with ten extra games to play. Roberto Martinez isn’t a man to make excuses and he will know that the league form hasn’t been good enough with just 12 wins all season – their lowest number of victories in a season since the 2003/04 campaign when they recorded nine. Everton’s 11th place finish was also their worst final league position since 2005/06 when they also finished 11th.

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Podcast Review

Best Moment

Easing past Manchester United at Goodison Park – Everton’s 3-0 victory against United at the end of April signified their best spell of the season. That win extended a mini-unbeaten run to six games (W5, D1) and was also the highest placed team in the league which they managed to secure all three points against. It was one of the few highlights of a fairly average campaign.

Worst Moment

The 2-0 defeat away at Hull City – Everton arrived in Yorkshire on New Year’s Day with hopes of turning a corner and using 2015 as a fresh start. It wasn’t to be and a poor performance led to a defeat that came in a barren mid-season run of 16 games that saw them win just twice (D5, L9). It was also the fourth straight defeat at the time and a sixth loss in eight games – an ultimate low point.

Player of the Year

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Romelu Lukaku – Although the big Belgian striker hasn’t had the greatest season, he’s still been one of Everton’s brightest sparks throughout the campaign. He’s scored ten goals and made five assists in 36 Premier League appearances, which isn’t in a bad return for an Everton side that never got going.

Biggest Win

Everton 3-0 Aston Villa (Oct 18, 2014)

Everton 3-0 Newcastle United (Mar 15, 2015)

Everton 3-0 Manchester United (Apr 26, 2015)

Biggest Defeat

Everton 3-6 Chelsea (Aug 30, 2015)

Southampton 3-0 Everton (Dec 20, 2015)

What to improve for the 2015/16 season…

It seems obvious, but Everton’s defensive frailties this season were a real concern. They conceded 50 goals, which is 11 more than last season and their worst defensive record for 11 years. This is clearly a key area to improve on, as well as trying to take more points from the tougher teams in the league. The Toffees only won two games against top nine opponents (D6, L11) – a worrying record for a side that has come so close to finishing in the top four on numerous occasions.

Frank Lampard’s career in numbers ahead of MLS move

Frank Lampard played his final Premier League game on Sunday and signed off in style, winning and scoring as captain of Manchester City. He will be joining up with New York City FC in July, where the fans eagerly await his arrival, as they are struggling at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

The 36-year-old will turn 37 before his first game for the club, but he has proved age is not a problem in his final Premier League season, scoring six goals in 32 appearances.

He has won a whole host of trophies and personal awards, all of which came in his Chelsea career, throughout his career and his experience is arguably what the NYCFC midfield is lacking.

So lets have a look at Lampard’s career in numbers.

Trophies: 

  • Premier League (3) – 2004/2005, 2005/2006, 2009/2010
  • FA Cup (4) – 2006/2007, 2008/2009, 2009/2010, 2011/2012
  • League Cup (2) – 2004/2005, 2006/2007
  • Champions League – 2011/2012
  • Europa League – 2012/2013
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Notable Individual Awards:

  • Ballon d’Or Silver Award – 2005
  • UEFA Midfielder of the Year – 2008
  • Premier League Player of the Decade – 2001-2010
  • Premier League Player of the Season (2) – 2004/2005, 2005/2006
  • PFA Team of the Year (5) – 2004/2005, 2005/2006, 2006/2007, 2008/2009, 2009/2010
  • Chelsea Player of the Year (3) – 2004, 2005, 2009
  • Chelsea Golden Boot (5) – 2004/2005, 2005/2006, 2007/2008, 2011/2012, 2012/2013
  • Chelsea all-time leading goalscorer – 211 goals
  • England caps – 106

Lampard is renowned for his late arrival into the box and finding the back of the net, which is something NYCFC will surely profit from.

He has scored a staggering 259 club goals in 882 appearances and picked up 106 England caps, scoring 29 goals for his nation.

The former England international will bring a wealth of experience to NYCFC and will be eager to make an impact.

How good will Frank Lampard be for NYCFC and how excited are you about his move to MLS?

Mauricio Pochettino REVEALS worrying news for Spurs fans

Tottenham Hotspur head coach, Mauricio Pochettino, has revealed some worrying news about Harry Kane ahead of next season.

After a fantastic season, which saw Kane pick up PFA Young Player of the Year, the starlet is expected to be selected for this summer’s Euro Under-21 Championship, named tomorrow.

Kane has netted 30 goals in 50 games this season and Pochettino is worried that Kane will be sapped of energy ahead of next season if he plays in this summer’s tournament, reported by the Sun.

“It is not easy but it is not about tiredness, it is about the next campaign. We see Harry as the future, not just for us but or the senior England team.”

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“He is not tired but the problem is if you play a lot of games in the Premier League and in the Europa League over a season, you expend a lot of enegry.”

If picked, Kane could potentially have just five weeks to fit a in a holiday and Spurs pre-season training before the start of the 2015/16 season, if England were to make the final on June 30.

Pochettino has spoken of the importance of the right decision being made regarding Kane’s inclusion in the England squad.

“You can advise him but, in the end, it is the FA’s decision and the player’s too. I am very sure the FA will take the right decision for Harry Kane and all England players.”

Pochettino is worried that his key man will not be fully fit ahead of the new season and he will no doubt play a pivotal role once again for Spurs.

Is Pochettino right to worried? Will Kane play in this summer’s tournament? 

Everton boss heaps praise on Premier League’s ‘revelationary’ Saints

Everton boss Roberto Martinez has given great credit to Ronald Koeman’s Southampton side ahead of the Toffees clash with the Saints on Saturday, insisting they have been a “revelation” in the Premier League this season.

Southampton are still chasing Champions League football with just eight games to go and head to Goodison Park looking for another victory on Saturday afternoon.

Everton have had a hugely disappointing campaign by their standards and this time last year they found themselves in the same position Southampton are currently in – six points adrift of the top four with eight games to go.

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The Toffees ended up finishing fifth and earned a place in the UEFA Europa League, a competition they have thrived in this season but Martinez has heaped praise on Saturday’s opponents.

“The Saints have had a fantastic campaign, currently sitting just a point behind Liverpool in fifth place,” Martinez told the Liverpool Echo.

“We are facing a difficult side of the weekend. In my eyes they are the revelation team of the season.

“I will be very very surprised if Southampton don’t qualify for Europe and don’t finish in the top five.

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“They are very flexible in how they approach games tactically. They have foreign players who have come in and performed so well and that tells you a lot about the environment they have. It’s very strong.

“They are physically really strong, well structured and have creativity with their  forward play. Defensively too they have the best record in the league and that’s why they’ve been so competitive in every game they go into.”

The Saints beat Everton 3-0 at St Mary’s in the reverse fixture back in December and Roberto Martinez will be hoping his side can earn a result this time around after back-to-back league wins.

Do you agree with Roberto Martinez? Have Southampton been a revelation this season?

Traditionally poor March could cost Spurs Champions League qualification

Tottenham have had a fairly successful season and optimism was flying high until Sunday’s League Cup Final defeat to Chelsea and elimination from the Europa League against Fiorentina three days earlier dampened the spirits.

Spurs can now solely focus all their attention on trying to secure a top-four Premier League finish as they’re also no longer competing in the FA Cup after they suffered a shock fourth round exit at the hands of Leicester City back in January.

The North London side welcome a Swansea team that will be a tough nut to crack at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night and Mauricio Pochettino has got a big task on his hands to try and motivate the players after such a disappointing week.

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A victory for Spurs in that fixture would go a long way to boosting the morale, but recent history makes for slightly worrying reading for those affiliated with the club.

The month of March has proved a stumbling block for Tottenham in the past, so they will need to improve on recent seasons at this time of year if they are to have any hope of finishing in any of the Champions League slots.

Tottenham’s Premier League results in March since 2011:

Tottenham's form in March

Tottenham have managed just four wins from the 15 games they’ve played in March over the last four seasons, picking up 16 points from a possible 45 available.

As it currently stands, Spurs are six points off Manchester United in fourth place, but they do have the advantage of having a game in hand because of their League Cup commitments at the weekend.

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Failure to beat Swansea would be a major blow for the Lilywhites as not only would they lose pace in the European qualification race, but the Swans would then only be one point behind them in eighth position, which could really pile the pressure on Pochettino’s men.

If Tottenham’s Premier League form in March doesn’t improve on recent years, then they could find themselves in real trouble to make the cut for the Champions League places.

Will Tottenham finish in one of the Champions League qualification spots this season?