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? 

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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?

Getting Stuck In: Should they stay or should they go?

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into whether American players should strive to play in Europe or keep their feet grounded on home soil…

When Jurgen Klinsmann claimed that he wanted American players to push themselves to play at the highest level, he intentionally took a jab at MLS. Actually, it was more like a slap. The American soccer landscape shook. Just this week, Klinsmann’s second in command Andi Herzog was quoted as saying: “Our goal is to get as many players to Europe as possible.”

How could Klinsy dismiss MLS this way? I mean, this is his adopted country where he gets his tan and laid back SoCal vibe. And with so many MLS players on his January roster (20), why alienate them? How does that help his cause?

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It’s no secret Europe is the highest level when it comes to soccer, with Champions League football being the toughest competition out there. And Helen Keller could see that MLS is nowhere near the level of Europe in general. That being said, the American player has always faced a dilemma: ‘Do I stay in the States and play college, get drafted by an MLS team and maybe get a shot in Europe later, or do I try and ply my trade in Europe right away (given the chance)?’

So many players have made the wrong choice. They either went too early or too late to Europe. Or they never go at all, leaving US fans wondering, what if.

Landon Donovan, arguably America’s finest footballer, did go to Europe but was all over the map – literally. His journey is the best example of what American footballers face; chaos and confusion.  He was brave and bold by going over to Germany as a teenager, playing with Bayer Leverkusen. Most players would recognize this as a dream – the Bundesliga, a big club, living in Germany – But he just never adjusted to the German culture. Donovan was just homesick (or maybe a victim of an unwritten anti-US bias). He was subsequently loaned to San Jose in MLS. When given another chance with Leverkusen years later, he lasted just seven games before getting homesick again.

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Many US fans dubbed Donovan a bust in Europe despite having won two MLS Cups before the age of 23. It’s obvious LD went too young. But when Bayern Munich and his former Cal pal and Bayern manager Jurgen Klinsmann called in his late twenties, well, we all thought this was it. LD will do work for the Bavarian giants. But he worked for only six miserable games on loan. He would go on to have two incredible loan spells with Everton near the end of his career, that included winning a player of the month honour. His performances would leave me and my buddy Eric glued to the television going bananas with pride over how he looked like a legit Premier League player. But the verdict on LD’s career has to be MLS rich, European poor.

Players are plucked at different points from MLS rosters with varying degrees of success. Clint Dempsey (Revs) was young. Brian McBride (Crew) was old. And Carlos Bocanegra (Fire) was somewhere in between. They all are legends with Fulham so their timing was right. But the timing for players like Jozy Altidore was probably all wrong.

Jozy did well with the Red Bulls (37 games and 15 goals) and caught Villarreal’s attention while still a teenager. He was raw, but again Helen Keller could have seen he had talent. After a few loan spells he went to Hull and laid an egg: 1 goal in 28 appearances. Then, after crushing the Dutch League (my grandmother could score in that league and she has no left foot), he went to Sunderland and laid an even bigger egg: 1 goal in 42. As a result, most would label him a European catastrophe.

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So Jozy went back to MLS where maybe he belonged all along. Some think Jozy got a fair chance in Europe. But some would say the deck was stacked against him from the start. Hull and Sunderland were bottom-dwelling teams clawing their way to stay up. Most managers don’t trust unknown commodities like US players to save their clubs and their jobs.

Fair? Not really. US players may lack technical skills and flair but they work hard, are extremely fit and are total professionals. That’s why when ex-Sounder DeAndre Yedlin got subbed after 18 minutes for Sunderland in December I thought: “Man, he sure wasn’t ready for England, and he sure didn’t deserve that.”

So now, with the January transfer window open, I thought I would look at three US players linked with European moves and evaluate whether they should stay in MLS or listen to Klinsy.

Matt Miazga – Age 20 – Central Defender – New York Red Bulls

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Rumors: The Polish-American (hasn’t decided which national team to play for) was linked in the fall to Chelsea, Leicester, Stoke and Swansea.

What he does well: Strong in the air, exceptional pace for his size and defends set pieces like a warrior.

What he needs to work on: Ball at his feet, less fouling and temper.

Stay or go?: Will he sit on a bench in Europe if he goes? If he goes to the Prem, most likely. Germany? Less likely. His game needs to develop and getting matches under his belt in MLS (only 34 appearances so far) defending against the likes of Drogba, Villa, Kamara, Giovinco and Keane can’t hurt. STAY (for now)!

 

Jordan Morris – Age 21 – Forward – Unattached

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Rumors: Is training with Bundesliga side Werder Bremen this month but could sign with his hometown club, Seattle Sounders, who own his MLS rights.

What he does well: Bullish approach to the game like a young Wayne Rooney; physically gifted with good speed.

What he needs to work on: Defense, pro experience

Stay or go?: This is a strange case. Usually a player like Morris, who just finished his junior year at Stanford, would go to MLS. But he already has a goal and seven caps for the national team, which is unheard of for a college player. He wants to play in Europe. His tenacity and high IQ would work well in Germany. GO!

 

Gyasi Zardes – Age 24 – Forward/winger – LA Galaxy

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Rumors: The US international has been linked to Reading in the Championship and Belgian side Gent, while more recently there was an offer from an unnamed Championship side for $3 million.

What he does well: Big, strong and powerful, runs well down the flanks, links well with midfielders.

What he needs to work on: Passing.

Stay or go?: In 2014 he was a goal-scoring machine for the Galaxy. Struggled a bit in 2015. But he had a breakout year with the national team as Klinsmann used him as a winger. This is a tough call. Is the Championship that much better than MLS (a debate for another day)? Will he develop playing in a smaller league like in Belgium? He is 24, making decent money and playing for an MLS glamour club. STAY!

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?

Are Arsenal set to record their worst ever season under Arsene Wenger?

Arsenal are currently fifth in the Premier League table and find themselves in a real battle to achieve a top-four finish and qualify for Champions League football for the 18th consecutive season.

For the past ten years, it has at times looked as though the Gunners may finally let one of those top four slots slip through their hands, but each time Arsene Wenger has managed to galvanise the team and get them over the line, often by the skin of their teeth – most notably in 2005/06, 2011/12 and 2012/13 when they narrowly pipped North London rivals Tottenham to the post each time.

This season, Tottenham are once again in fine form, Southampton have burst onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere, while Manchester United and Liverpool are also in hot pursuit.

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Arsenal’s own inconsistency throughout this campaign has left them in a tricky spot once again and they’ve only managed three consecutive wins on one occasion.

The Gunners are currently on track to come worryingly close to recording their equal lowest points tally in Arsene Wenger’s entire 19-year reign at the club.

Previous lowest points tallies under Arsene Wenger:

  • 2005/06 – 67 points
  • 2006/07 – 68 points
  • 2010/11 – 68 points

Arsenal stats 2014/15

Defeat to Crystal Palace when they face the South London side at Selhurst Park this weekend would mean that their projected points total would fall to 65, signalling the possibility of the lowest overall tally recorded by an Arsenal team managed by Wenger.

These are just projected numbers and stats don’t mean everything of course – many will recall Arsenal’s impressive run-in at the end of the 2012/13 season when they won 10 of their final 13 games, losing just one.

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Some will also argue that Arsenal’s remaining fixtures are favourable, as they face eight teams from the bottom half of the table, although points already dropped against Leicester, Hull, Stoke and Swansea this season would suggest that the Gunners can ill afford to lose focus and the pressure to perform now is extremely high.

Every game becomes a must win fixture to ensure they can keep momentum as well as forcing the teams around them into mistakes through the stress of having to keep up with the pace.

One thing that is guaranteed is an exciting race to the European qualification finish line.

Will Arsenal record their lowest ever points tally under Wenger? And will they qualify for Champions League football?

Premier League Preview and Prediction: West Ham United vs Hull City

West Ham United host relegation strugglers Hull City on Sunday afternoon and both teams need a win for different reasons.

West Ham have fallen off the pace in the race for a place in Europe recently and will be looking to get back on track with a home game they will see as a game they should win.

West Ham’s home record: Played 11 – Won 6 – Drawn 2 – Lost 3

Hull on the other hand will be trying to get out of the dreaded relegation zone and will look to register only their fifth win of the season.

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West Ham come into the game having only won one of their last six, whereas Hull have won two of their last four in the Premier League and look to be improving at last.

Hull City’s away record: Played 11 – Won 2 – Drawn 4 – Lost 5

The Tigers are a shadow of the team that they were last season and Steve Bruce has a tough task trying to break down a West Ham side that has had a great campaign so far, especially at home.

The Hammers have exceeded all expectations playing a more attractive style of football and have only lost at home to sides above them in the table.

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Sam Allardyce has built a side over the last few seasons that now has a solid platform for success, and providing they stay consistent they could find a place in Europe next season.

This is a huge fixture for both sides and is one that should entertain as both team have players that can excite.

West Ham’s last five: W/L/L/D/D

Hull City’s last five: L/W/L/W/L

Key Stat: Hull have won only two of their last 14 in the Premier League.

Key Player: Stewart Downing – The England midfielder has been sensational for West Ham this season and is arguably the most creative Englishman in the league at the moment. Expect him to be the difference here.

Score Prediction: West Ham United 2 – 0 Hull City

Can Stoke City push for European football?

Stoke City entertain league leaders Chelsea on Monday in the last of this weekend’s fixtures and they have already seen off the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur this season, so Mark Hughes’s men will have no fears about his side ahead of this tie.

There is added pressure on Chelsea, as Manchester City could draw level on points when they face Crystal Palace in the lunchtime fixture on Saturday.

Stoke have beaten Chelsea and drawn against the leaders twice in home games since their return to top-flight football.

They have had a steady start to this campaign and will be looking to push themselves into the top half of the table.

With big name signings for this season like Bojan Krkic, they are heading in the right direction to becoming a club who can push for European football in the next few years.

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The Potters have a difficult festive period and new year ahead, with tough games coming thick and fast:

  • Stoke City vs Chelsea (22/12/14)
  • Everton vs Stoke City (26/12/14)
  • Stoke City vs West Bromwich Albion (28/12/14)
  • Stoke City vs Manchester United (01/01/15)

They will be looking to improve on last season’s 9th place finish and if they can turn defeats into victories, finishing in the top six within the next few seasons could be a real possibility.

Upsetting the ‘bigger sides’ in the Premier League is helping their progression no end and although teams don’t take any games for granted in such a tight league, people are taking note.

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They have moved a long way since their dreaded references to playing football in a ‘rugby’ manner, with less long passing and throwing, but the reality of that style of play is teams use those techniques when their backs are up against the wall.

With this developing style of play it will be an intriguing tie on Monday night.

Jose Mourinho has already spoken about how difficult Bojan can be as a player and will be expecting a tough tie this time around.

Could Stoke City make the push for Europe?

The Europeans are coming, send them home with something to think about

The football season is over for the European teams, and they are now planning their assaults on their relevant leagues next season.

Part of that planning involves pre-season friendly matches against opposition which will give them a good game, and also add the chance for some additional marketing opportunities at the same time.

This year a whole host of European clubs are off to the USA to play against teams from various US leagues.

From Great Britain there are clubs such as Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Fulham and Swansea.

That is nearly 50% of the current EPL clubs set to make the trip stateside this summer.

To emphasise the current view of MLS, it is Arsenal who are perhaps showing their hand more than any other. The Gunners are coming for just one game in a friendly against their former club legend, Thierry Henry, and his NY Red Bulls side.

This is the only pre-season friendly they are playing outside Europe, so it must be thought of great benefit to the club to warrant the effort involved.

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(Photo: Thierry Henry can’t wait to face his former side this summer)

Other European clubs making the trip across the pond are giants such as Real Madrid, Inter Milan, AS Roma, AS Monaco, Atletico Madrid and Olympiacos.

These clubs are not heading across for the benefit of their health; they are looking at potential opportunities for future growth and expansion. They are most likely aware MLS is on the up and now is a good time to for a US tour to get your brand name into the hearts and minds of American soccer fans.

The English Premier League is already popular in the US and it certainly won’t hurt to get your club to the front of the shop window.

But lets not think the relatively young Major League Soccer is naive. This trip works both ways and MLS is not going to be shy in coming forward.

MLS clubs such as Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC, Columbus Crew, Philadelphia Union, LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, San Jose Earthquakes and Chicago Fire will be hosting these teams and promoting the fastest growing league in the world, to some of the sports biggest teams.

With the huge array of talent amongst the visiting teams, it will certainly get public attention from both sides of the Atlantic. The European audience will be eager for the new season to start and to forget their possible World Cup disappointments.

While the American fans will be looking to see how the improving US teams now compare to the European old guard.

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(Photo: Cristiano Ronaldo and his Real Madrid team is one of many giant clubs heading to the US this summer)

Sport is of course synonymous today with business, and all of these clubs involved will be looking to increase revenue as a result of the tour.

The biggest winner to come out of this though should be MLS.

The European fans will be keen to watch their own team and also the other Euro opposition in early action. In doing so they will get a ringside seat of what is currently on offer from MLS and all being well, MLS will benefit most from the venture.

This is another giant stride in the right direction for Major League Soccer, and interest from across the pond should increase dramatically as a result.