Match Report: Neymar shines as Brazil progress

A spell midway through the first half was all it took for Brazil to get past Mexico and progress into the quarter finals.

Neymar linked up with Willian in a neat build up play to give the Seleção a 1-0 lead as Neymar finished off a low Willian cross, which came on the 51st minute.

A second goal to Brazil in the dying minutes confirmed the win when  Roberto Firminho scored from close range off a Neymar cross.

However, it was a slow start by Brazil as they were under an attacking siege from Mexico in the opening 25 minutes, who often caught their defence napping as they played on the counter and with speed. A lack of finishing meant   they couldn’t find the back of the net or force Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson into any forceful saves.

Brazil clicked into gear on the  25th minute, when  Neymar took on  Edson  Alvarez and had his shot saved by Mexican goal keeper Guillermo Ochoa.

It was the spark that Brazil needed as they  looked the far more threatening side and looked the first to use their attacking momentum to break the deadlock, but Ochoa guarded his goal well as he denied any trouble as both sides went into the main break deadlocked at 0-0 despite both teams having chances.

Ochoa had hardly anytime to settle in after the main break as he was forced into another save this time palming away a  Philippe Coutinho  shot two minutes after the restart.

Mexico ventured forward soon after off a counter attack  but  an Andres Guardado shot from distance went wide of the goal.

Moments later, the deadlock was broken as Neymar back heeled a pass to Willian, who then crossed it back to Neymar who then  slotted the ball to the  back of the net.

A Carlos Vela shot meant there was still fire in Mexico’s belly forcing   Alisson into to a terrific save for the first time since the opening minutes of the match on the 61st minute.

Ochoa who had been outstanding throughout the day made two more fantastic saves off a Paulinho and Willian strike midway through the second half.

However, any fire in the Mexico’s belly was soon lost as Neymar was in the action again  this time setting up  Firminho who then knocked the ball into the back of the net, to put the result to bed.

 

Fraser Stewart is the creator and journalist at ‘Behind The White’ Lines blog

 

 

Expectations need to be raised on the Socceroos

Gallant, valiant and unlucky are words commonly used to describe the Socceroos.

Read a Socceroos match report when they face a team ranked higher than them and you will likely see one of these words to describe the Socceroos performance.

In their opening two matches at the World Cup, the Socceroos have shown that they are capable of being competitive against the best teams in the world.

Australia were unlucky to lose against France and probably should have got all three points against Denmark.

But how long can Australia continue to use excuses for their lack of wins?

It is okay to praise competitiveness, but it is now time to start getting results.

Australians love to use the underdog status. We love to perceive ourselves as small-town heros taking on the big boys. The World Cup is the best example of this.

The Socceroos have qualified for four successive World Cups, making them only the 12th team to qualify for all four World Cup’s between 2006 and 2018 – Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland have all qualified for four consecutive World Cups.

Qualifying for the World Cup should be the minimum requirement for the Socceroos, yet it feels like it is an overachievement because football is not our number one sport and because prior to 2006, our only other appearance at the tournament was in 1974.

Australia’s record in the four World Cups is less than impressive. The Socceroos have played 12 games for a total of two wins, three draws and seven defeats.

It would be harsh to criticise the Socceroos performances, given the teams they have come up against. In 2006, the Socceroos lost to reigning Champions Brazil and Italy, who would go on to win the tournament.

In 2010, the Socceroos were smashed 4-0 by Germany, but then responded with a draw and victory over Ghana and Serbia.

2014 was never going to end well for Australia. The Socceroos were drawn in the ‘group of death’ and suffered defeats to Chile, the Netherlands and Spain.

This year the Socceroos were defeated by the seventh ranked France and the 12th ranked Denmark.

Going by ranking, Australia would not stand a chance against any of their opponents. But if you watched the game against Denmark, you would think otherwise.

The Socceroos had more possession, shots and corners than their Danish counterparts. They were compact defensively and always looked a threat when Matthew Leckie had the ball.

But they only secured a 1-1 draw, courtesy of a dubious penalty awarded for a handball.

Mile Jedinak slotted home his second penalty of the tournament, which was also the Socceroos second goal of the tournament.

Despite the positive performance, the only reason Australia secured a point was because of an incorrect decision by the referee.

The issue for Australia is they lack creativity in open play. Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy are the two creative forces in the team and have combined for a total of seven assists for their club teams this year.

Australia lacks a poacher that can score goals. Andrew Nabbout has been a workhorse in both matches, but has not created a clear opportunity on goal for himself.

Robbie Kruse is another who has started both games but does not have the quality in front of goal.

Without the quality to finish off the good work by Rogic and Mooy, the Socceroos never really threatened to score in open play.

Scoring in open play has been an issue for the Socceroos for quite some time. The Socceroos have not scored a goal in open play in a competitive match since their 2-1 victory over Syria in the second leg of their World Cup Qualifier.

Since the game against Syria, the Socceroos have played four competitive matches, excluding friendlies and have scored five goals. All five goals have been scored by Mile Jedinak. Four of those goals were penalties and the other was a free kick.

Against Denmark, the Socceroos relied too heavily on crossing the ball into the penalty area. Crossing should not be the number one option to create goals because the ratio of scoring from a cross is not high. The best evidence of this was in 2014, when Manchester United had a Premier League record 81 crosses against Fulham, but were still held to a 2-2 draw.

Over-crossing usually occurs when the team is frustrated by their inability to break down their opponents. Australia appeared reluctant to shoot from outside of the box against Denmark. One example of this was when Tom Rogic was running towards goal and had space to shoot, but decided to pass the ball out wide.

Rogic has scored plenty of goals from outside of the box for Celtic, but did not trust his technique on the big occasion.

Australia’s fate at the World Cup will be decided in their final group match against Peru. The Socceroos will need to win and hope France defeat Denmark to secure a place in the round of 16.

It would be a great achievement if Australia progress, given the calibre of the teams they are facing. However if they do fail to qualify, a majority of Australians will praise the gallant performances of the national team.

Yes, football is not the number one sport in Australia and yes we do not have the quality of players like Christian Eriksen in our team. But what is the point of going to the World Cup just to make up the numbers and put up a contest against the big boys?

Minnows have previously shown that they can cause upsets at big tournaments. Iceland defeated England at the 2016 European Championship and Greece won the same tournament in 2004.

It is time we start expecting more from our national team, because we have shown we are good enough to be at the World Cup, now we must start getting results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Premier League Season Review

Arsenal

A disappointing season that resulted in the end of an era. 22 years after coming into the top-job, Arsene Wenger finally made the decision to leave the the club. The French manager won 17 trophies at the Gunners, however the disappointments over the last few years were key to his decision. Arsenal have failed to qualify for the Champions League in the past two years. They were England’s only participant in the Europa League this year and many expected them to win the tournament. After an exciting run, they bowed out to Spanish side Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals.

Arsene Wenger farewells the fans.

Premier League wise, the season was a disaster. Many had become accustomed to Arsenal finishing in the top-four, however for the second consecutive season they missed out and finished in sixth place. They were on track to lose every away Premier League match in 2018, but a 1-0 victory at Huddersfield on the final matchday prevented that record.

The Gunners made an impressive run to the Carabao Cup final where they faced Manchester City, however a disappointing performance resulted in a 3-0 defeat. An embarrassing 4-2 loss to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup 3rd round did not allow Arsenal to retain their trophy. Overall, a shocking season with a sad end.

Grade: E

Tim Sperliotis

Bournemouth

The Cherries finished in 12th place and can consider their season a good one. Some highlights include the 3-0 away win against Chelsea and a 2-1 victory over Arsenal. They would be disappointed with their late November to December form, where they did not register a win in nine matches across all competitions.

April was also a difficult month for the Cherries, as they went five Premier League matches without a victory. Despite this, they finished off the season on a high, with two wins on the trot and with a few decent signings, they can push towards a top-half finish next season.

Grade: B-

Tim Sperliotis

Brighton

Coming into the season, there was only one goal for the newly promoted Seagulls, survival.

That mission was completed and we will once again get to see them strut their stuff in the big time next season. Despite threatening with the prospect of relegation in the back half of the season, the players stood tall when their club needed it most.

Manager Chris Houghton deserves to be in talks for manager of the season, after a terrific season. Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan drew plenty of plaudits throughout the season and rightfully so, producing several big performances, against the Premier League big boys. While he may have conceded goals, he certainly did stop a lot more finding the back of the net.

Pascal Gross was an exciting acquisition from Ingolstadt in Germany prior to the campaign and the Seagulls may have a battle to retain him with other clubs sure to be interested.

Grade: B

Brayden May

Burnley

Sean Dyche would have to be one of the only men to rival Pep Guardiola for manager of the season. Lifting the Clarets to seventh and subsequently securing a chance at the Europa League title.

While that may sound like a stretch for Burnley, so was finishing anywhere near the top sides of the Premier League 12 months ago.

Burnley managed just the one away win, along with 20 losses and a 16th place finish in the 2016/17 season. This year, The Clarets managed to take a total of 28 points away from Turf Moor as well as just the 12 losses for the entire season.

Dyche has transformed his side into a squad full of young, promising talent with great depth, particularly within the Clarets defensive third.

Burnley only conceded 39 goals for the season, one goal more than 4th place ranked Liverpool and Chelsea. James Tarkowski and Ben Mee lead the Clarets from the back, and rightfully put themselves in contention for team of the season.

New Zealand striker Chris Wood and Goalkeeper Nick Pope took their games to a new level, with Pope stepping up in the absence of Tom Heaton.

Dyche will look to stabilise the consistent efforts he found within his side this year, and perhaps turning to the transfer market to invest in a chance at grabbing a top six spot in 2019.

Grade: A

Mitch Keating

Chelsea

Once again the Blues failed to launch a proper title defence after ending the season as the reigning champions. Several players who helped guide the club to the title last season failed to reach the same heights this year, particularly their defence, which went through a major reshuffle.

On the new signings front, Tiemoue Bakayoko failed to fill the hole left by Nemanja Matic who joined Manchester United (and a player who evidently featured in the English Football Podcast’s Team of the Season). Meanwhile, Alvaro Morata started like a house on fire before being overtaken by January signing Olivier Giroud. Elsewhere, Antonio Rudigier proved to be a more than respectable signing.

Chelsea have failed to recapture their form from last season.

Rumours continued to swirl surrounding the future of Antonio Conte, who often cut a frustrated figure during the season. There was a lot more complaining from the Italian and it was clear he wasn’t happy with how the club was being run. His relationship with the club’s board has dwindled and we shouldn’t be surprised if he moves on.

A big off-season looms for the Stamford Bridge club if they wish to be in the title discussions next season, because as it stands they are a club with big question marks hanging over them. We shouldn’t be surprised if there are big changes during the summer transfer window, possibly with a new manager in charge.

Grade: C

Brayden May

Crystal Palace

The 2017/18 season could not have started any worse for Crystal Palace. After losing their opening four matches without scoring a goal – the first team in 93 years to have begun a top flight season in such fashion, Palace sacked manager Frank De Boer, making him the shortest reigning manager in Premier League history.

De Boer was replaced by Roy Hodgson who also had trouble changing the clubs fortunes. Hodgson lost his opening three matches in charge without hitting the scoresheet, before a 2-1 victory over Chelsea ended the Eagles seven game winless start to the season.

Palace looked like a sure bet to be relegated this season, but in the end Palace easily avoided relegation. A lot of Palace’s good form is due to the brilliance of Wilfried Zaha. The Ivorian played in a more central role this year and scored nine goals in 28 starts. Zaha was also named the April Premier League Player of the Month for his four goals in four games.

Hodgson also deserves a lot of credit for the way he turned Palace’s season around. Hodgson’s reputation took a hit after his failure as England’s national team manager. But his record has always been good in the Premier League and once again guided a team away from relegation.

Grade: C

Christopher Chrysostomou

Everton

At the start of the season Everton were expected to be challenging for the top four. The Toffees had spent A$250 million on new players and the blend of the new arrivals with the talent already at the club was expected to propel them up the table.

But the loss of Romelu Lukaku left a massive void in the team and by mid October, Everton sat in the relegation zone. The Toffees sacked manager Ronald Koeman and replaced him with Sam Allardyce.

Allardyce’s arrival saw improvement in results and quickly the Toffees were out of the relegation fight and moved into mid table. Despite guiding Everton out of relegation, there wasn’t any harmony between Allardyce and the club. Fans protested against the style of play and booed Allardyce’s negative approach at home games. The fans protest were heard by the directors, who sacked Allardyce after their final game of the season.

Majority owner Farhad Moshiri has grand plans for the club and wanted Watford’s Marco Silva to replace Koeman in October. Now that Silva is without a job, Moshiri may try to get his man.

Despite avoiding early fears of relegation, Everton’s season is a failure because they failed to live up to the pre-season expectations.

Grade: D

Christopher Chrysostomou

Huddersfield

The new boys surprised us all in the first part of the season, with a string of victories giving them some confidence. A 2-1 win over Manchester United was no doubt a great moment in their history. Their form then dipped and relegation looked to be inevitable. One win between March and May highlighted this, however the Terriers managed to survive the drop and will compete in the Premier League for another season.

Aaron Mooy has starred this season.

One of the main men was Socceroo Aaron Mooy, who impressed many and featured in 36 of the 38 Premier League matches. Once he burned out, so did Huddersfield’s form, however they could be a team that finishes in the top half of the table next season with some good acquisitions. Overall, they surprised many and will be ecstatic to remain on the top division.

Grade: C-

Tim Sperliotis

Leicester

When Craig Shakespeare departed the club in October 2017, there was a genuine fear that the Foxes could be in for a relegation scrap, just two seasons after claiming the league title. Then came Claude Puel, a former Southampton manager, and his arrival was not very warmly welcomed by sections of the club’s supporters.

Looking back on it now, the Foxes couldn’t have got the appointment any more correct. Puel guided the club to another top half finish, ninth place. He continued to get the best out of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, although the Algerian did prove difficult during the January transfer window.

At the other end of the pitch, Harry Maguire proved to be one of the signings of the season and is only set to develop further next season. As a whole, there is plenty of room for improvement in this team.

Grade: C+

Brayden May

Liverpool

A season which offered so much promise on the domestic front, ended in Champions League qualification once again for the Anfield club. The signing of Mo Salah was easily the biggest bargain of the season, with the Egypt international romping to the Golden Boot with 32 goals – a record in a 38-game season.

Mo Salah was the Premier League player of the season.

On the European front, Jurgen Klopp’s men have one more mountain to conquer, Real Madrid in the Champions League final on May 26. As they have shown throughout the season they are capable of anything so we should not be surprised if they do scale the heights of the Champions League mountain.

Throughout the season, Klopp had an instrumental effect on some of the lesser likes in the Liverpool side. That included Dejan Lovern and Andrew Robertson, who arrived from Hull City in the summer, with the pair both becoming important regulars. Consistency was once again the main issue the club faced in the Premier League and if they can fix this ahead of next season there is no reason why they can’t challenge for the title.

Grade: B+

Brayden May

Manchester City

It is hard to believe that Pep Guardiola was ever questioned if he could perform in England. 100 points and 106 goals later see his second season at the helm of Manchester City to be arguably the most dominant in premier league history.

Apart from defeats to rivals Manchester United and Liverpool, City could not put a foot wrong throughout the year. Guardiola has found the best out of every player who has stepped onto the pitch and represented the Sky Blues.

The midfield trio of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Fernandinho have taken over the league from matchday one. All three rightfully have an argument for a place in the Premier League’s team of the season.

Manchester City were unstoppable this season.

De Bruyne and Silva join winger Leroy Sane as the first trio of players to reach double digits in assists in Premier League history. Along with Sane, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and veteran Sergio Aguero together put on an unstoppable force for City, breaking the single season record for goals by one club.

It wasn’t just the forward half of Pep’s side that stood apart from the rest of the league. It was made clear after City’s record-breaking spending that Pep was looking to bolster his defensive stocks and managed to do so perfectly. Half backs John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi have came under immense scrutiny shortly after signing for City and this year made any critic look foolish. Along with Kyle Walker and Brazilian Goalkeeper Ederson, City’s defense managed to concede just the 27 goals for the season, proving to be both an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

City will go into next season outright favourites and with such a youthful side already taking the championship, Premier League fans could be in for more of the same for some time.

Grade: A+

Mitch Keating

Manchester United

A second place finish and a spot in the FA Cup final would usually signal a successful season for a club. That is unless the team is Manchester United.

United 2017/18 campaign will be remembered as a season of unfulfilled expectations. United were supposed to be a title contender, after spending over A$500 million on player acquisitions in the past two years.

The season got off the best possible start, with successive 4-0 victories over West Ham and Swansea. United were on the tails of City until October, when Jose Mourinho parked the bus at Liverpool. From there, the gap between United and City was too large to overcome. United had the opportunity to reduce the deficit when City traveled to Old Trafford in December, but the 3-1 defeat ended any hopes of a title push.

Manchester United became a team to fear again this season.

2017/18 was not all doom and gloom for United. United defeated all the ‘big six’ teams, including an amazing come from behind away victory over Manchester City. United had little trouble coming up against the best sides in the Premier League, however, it was their inability to kill off the bottom half teams that proved costly.

United suffered defeats to all three promoted sides (Newcastle, Brighton & Huddersfield). The Red Devils either drew or lost to seven of the bottom 10 teams in the league. Added to this, they were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Bristol City and the Champions League by Sevilla.

Despite their poor record against the bottom teams, United have proven they are a defensively competent team, conceding the second fewest goals and goalkeeper David De Gea awarded the Golden Glove for most clean sheets.

United will be expected to put up a better title fight next season, but to do that they will need to close the gap to a Manchester City side who only look like getting better.  

Grade: C+

Christopher Chrysostomou

Newcastle

The Magpies finished in a respectable 10th position under manager Rafa Benitez. A disastrous November and December left them with only one win and put them at risk of relegation. However, they recovered and results such as a 1-0 win over Manchester United, a 2-1 win over Arsenal and a 3-0 victory over Chelsea on the final day ensured they gained some confidence.

The off-season will be key, as some new signings can make them stronger and allow them to challenge for a European place. Ayoze Perez scored eight goals and got five assists, while Jonjo Shelvey’s looks to only get better.

Grade: C

Tim Sperliotis

Southampton

A Manolo Gabbiadini winner against Swansea confirmed Southampton’s survival in the premiership. While the success of avoiding relegation has brought a sigh of relief to the club, Saints fans should still feel on-edge heading into the new season.

For a side that has finished 8th or higher in the last four years, a 17th placed finish is nothing to celebrate. The Saints’ ability to perform at home has become an ongoing concern with just four wins to show for the season.

The mid-season loss of Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk certainly left a large gap in the Saints defense and soon cost the club its form.

The Saints endured an eight game winless run between February and April and soon found themselves deep into the relegation battle, prompting the sacking of Mauricio Pellegrino.

Mark Hughes failed to lift the Saints’ spirits and soon found himself relying on the poor performances of other sides to help his side stay out of relegation.

Crucial home wins against Bournemouth and Swansea saw Southampton move out of the bottom three and guaranteed a spot in the Premier League next season.

Grade: D

Mitch Keating

Stoke City

After years of mid-table finishes, Stoke City have been relegated and the blame game has begun. Midfielder Charlie Adam said on BBC Five Live that some of his teammates were “getting away with murder”.

“As players, you have your seven or eight in the group that try to make it work, and we failed.

“I think some players have been getting away with murder for a long time and it’s difficult for supporters. It’s not just one or two, I think there are four or five that could be counted.”

Stoke had all the ingredients to cement a top half finish this season. The club had more Champions League winners in their squad then any other Premier League team this season.

But that was also the reason for their failure.

Players like Jese, Bojan and Ibrahim Afellay were frozen out of the squad because of poor performances and attitude. Giannelli Imbula was Stoke’s record signing but he was loaned out to Toulouse. Saido Berahino was once a top transfer target for Tottenham, but has failed to score a goal in his two seasons at Stoke.

Because of the poor form of these players, Stoke had to reply on the old brigade to keep them up. Peter Crouch was relied on to score goals, Adam and Joe Allen were expected to patrol the midfield.

Stoke messed up with their recruitment and paid the price with relegation to the Championship.

Grade: F

Christopher Chrysostomou

Swansea

At Christmas it looked as if Swansea were guaranteed to drop to the Championship, when Carlos Carvalhal took over from Paul Clement and for some time it looked as if they would survive towards the back half of the season. The 2017-18 campaign started in impressive fashion off the field, when the club captured Bayern Munich and Portugal youngster Renato Sanches on a season-long loan.

But just like the South Wales’ club season, that would end in disappointment. The club hit a purple patch between January and April where they lost just two matches to Brighton and Manchester United in a run of 11 games. During that period, Carvahal guided his side pass the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Burnley. And for a time it looked as if they would survive.

Despite their wonderful show of fight, things came to a grinding halt as the club lost five straight matches to end the season. The final nail in the coffin, a 1-0 defeat at fellow relegation battlers Southampton, a result which left the club needing a miracle on the final matchday. A wonderful fightback ended in disaster, as their goal of remaining in the top-flight ended in tears.

Things weren’t made better by Cardiff City’ automatic promotion to the Premier League.

Grade: E

Brayden May

Tottenham

The 2017/18 season was another year which promised a lot, but delivered little for the Spurs. This season will be highlighted by a victory over Real Madrid and finishing on top of their Champions League group.

The Spurs also made the Semi-final of the FA Cup, but let slip of a 1-0 lead to Manchester United. Tottenham will rue their failure in the tournament because they have played home games at Wembley all season and would have had the home ground advantage if they made the final. Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to pick Michel Vorm, instead of captain Hugo Lloris in goal will be questioned for a long time as Vorm was at fault for United’s winning goal.

Tottenham have been arguably the most consistent side over the past three years but have no silverware to reward their good work. The squad is not deep enough to challenge for the Premier League title and their is an over reliance on Harry Kane to score the goals. This season Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool overtook Tottenham in the race for the title and with Chelsea and Arsenal likely to spend big in the summer transfer window, Tottenham may find themselves dropping out of the top four. Lucas Moura was brought in to compliment Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min in attack, but he has struggled for consistency.

Harry Kane showed why he is one of the best strikers in the world.

The Spurs needed to secure Champions League football, ahead of the move to their new stadium. Pochettino was able to deliver on expectations, but it is now time to deliver silverware.

Grade: B-

Christopher Chrysostomou

Watford

No Watford fan would be satisfied with a 14th place finish during their season previews. Yet after the sacking of Marco Silva, Hornets fans would probably have taken anything outside of the relegation zone.

A strong start to the season saw Watford sitting high on the table, losing only one of their first eight matches.

Abdoulaye Doucoure and Brazilian forward Richarlison were pivotal in the Hornets early season form but soon faded, along with Watford’s performances in the second half of the season.

Kiko Femenia was another name to burst into the spotlight under Silva but his formed dropped off as the season progressed.

Javi Gracia took over the reigns of first team responsibilities in January but struggled to find any growth in results.

The Hornets conceded 31 goals at home in 2017/18, the most in the premiership and continued to drop points to sides below them in the standings.

Heading into next season, Gracia will look to the transfer market to add to what ended up being a disappointing finish for a side that had the potential to push for the top six.

Grade: D+

Mitch Keating

West Brom

Relying on three managers in the one season sums up the efforts made by the Baggies. Whilst a late run of form under caretaker Darren Moore gave West Brom fans hope, damage had already been done by the tenures of Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew.

The Baggies managed to win their first three games of the season, but were unable to grab a victory in their next ten and soon sent Tony Pulis packing.

The appointment of Alan Pardew had little to no effect on the sides performances with West Brom winning only one of 18 games under the silver fox.

In the midst of their nightmare run, the Baggies were soon under fire after Gareth Barry, Jonny Evans, Boaz Myhill and Jake Livermore were accused of stealing a taxi in Barcelona in February.

Moore took over the managerial position in April. Coming into the caretaker role, Moore soon increased his chances of the full time job with a fantastic run of late form, including a 1-0 win against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Unfortunately, the run was too little, too late as relegation was confirmed with one game remaining. The Baggies have the squad to be successful in the Championship next season and could make a swift return to the Premier League.

Grade: F

Mitch Keating

West Ham

The Hammers finished in a disappointing 13th and manager Slaven Bilic was sacked mid-season. The campaign began with three straight Premier League losses and new manager David Moyes allowed them to find some form, with a 1-0 victory over London rivals Chelsea standing out.

Despite some disappointing results, West Ham finished the season on a high, going undefeated in their last three matches. Marko Arnautovic led the scoring for the Hammers with 11 goals and no doubt they would want to sign some more important players to help them charge up the table.

It was a tumultuous year at West Ham.

David Moyes left the club at the end of the season, after being told by the owners that his position was not guaranteed and that they would be interviewing other candidates for the manager position.

Grade: D

Tim Sperliotis

You can hear Brayden, Mitch, Tim and Chris weekly by subscribing to the English Football Podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud

 

EFL Play-offs Semi-final recap

Championship

Derby 1-0 Fulham

Cameron Jerome 34

Derby stunned Fulham with a hard fought victory at home. Cameron Jerome was the match winner for the Rams, heading home his fifth goal in four games.

Fulham had plenty of possession but could not find the killer pass to break down the resilient Derby defence. Fulham’s sideways passing was reminiscent of Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal. Teen sensation Ryan Sessegnon had a night to forget and was subbed off in the 76 minute. The Cottagers will need to improve if they are going to overcome their first leg deficit. Fulham have not won any of their past seven playoff games.

Middlesbrough 0-1 Aston Villa

                                                  Mile Jedinak 15

Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak gave Aston Villa the advantage in their playoff tie against Middlesbrough. The midfielder headed home from a corner to secure the all-important away victory. Villa possessed more quality in attack and almost doubled their lead when Robert Snodgrass hit the woodwork late in the first half. Middlesbrough committed more bodies forward late on in the game but could not create any chances. The two sides will meet again on Wednesday morning.

League 1

Charlton 0-1 Shrewsbury

                                Jon Nolan 80

A superb Jon Nolan volley was the difference in a closely fought contest at The Valley. Both sides looked destined to remain level, before Nolan’s wonder strike gave The Shrews the advantage. Both sides will do battle again on Monday morning.

Scunthorpe 2-2 Rotherham

                                       Jon Taylor 17’
Michael Ihiekwe 18’ (OG)
                                      Joe Newell 64’
Cameron McGeehan 88’

Scunthorpe and Rotherham played out the most entertaining match in the first week of the playoffs. Jon Taylor put the visitors ahead, before an own goal from Michael Ihiekwe levelled the scores. Substitute Joe Newell took 58 seconds to score and give the Millers the lead, which was again pegged back by the Iron, as Cameron McGeehan scrambled home a goal.

League 2

Lincoln 0-0 Exeter

Lincoln City and Exeter could not be separated as they fought out a tense goal-less draw in the first leg of the play-off semi-final. Both sides found it difficult to create any chances on goal, with the one-standout chance coming early in the second half, when Matt Rhead headed the ball onto the woodwork.

PPAUK_SPO_Lincoln_City_120518_043JPG

Coventry 1-1 Notts County

                                           Jonathan Forte 49’
Marc McNulty 87’ (P)

Marc McNulty kept Coventry City’s Wembley hopes alive with a late penalty to ensure the tie hangs in the balance at the halfway stage. The Sky Blues dominated the affair in the opening half, but could not convert their chances. Jonathan Forte gave the visitors the lead with a fine finish early in the second half. But just as it looked like the Magpies would come away with the win, Tom Bayliss was caught by Magpies right-back Matt Tootle on the edge of the box and was awarded a penalty.

The week that was (Premier League Matchweek 29)

News

MEN uses tragedy as click bait

The football world was in mourning this weekend after Fiorentina captain Davide Astori sadly passed away aged 31. Heartfelt messages from colleges were published on social media for the Italian international, including one from Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon.

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Ciao caro Asto, difficilmente ho espresso pubblicamente un pensiero riguardo una persona, perché ho sempre lasciato che la bellezza e l'unicità di rapporti, di reciproca stima e affetto, non venissero strumentalizzati o gettati in pasto a chi non ha la delicatezza per rispettare certi legami. Nel tuo caso, sento di fare un'eccezione alla mia regola, perché hai una moglie giovane e dei familiari che staranno soffrendo,ma soprattutto la tua piccola bimba, merita di sapere che il suo papà era a tutti gli effetti una PERSONA PERBENE…..una GRANDE PERSONA PERBENE….eri l'espressione migliore di un mondo antico, superato, nel quale valori come l'altruismo, l'eleganza, l'educazione e il rispetto verso il prossimo, la facevano da padroni. Complimenti davvero, sei stata una delle migliori figure sportive nella quale mi sono imbattuto. R.I.P. Il tuo folle Gigi.

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The Manchester Evening News however decided to use Astori’s death as click bait. Manchester United defender Matteo Darmian was a former teammate of Astori and the paper used the headline ‘Matteo Darmian woke up to some terrible news’.

The paper received backlash on social media for their actions.

https://twitter.com/BillyBeanpole84/status/970381170792943617

Henry says ‘yes’ to managing Arsenal

Thierry Henry admitted he would be willing to manage Arsenal if the club asked him to.

However, the Frenchman continued to support Arsene Wenger in the role but said he had never shied away from a challenge and if the club and Wenger wanted him to coach, he would be willing to step up to the task.

“Listen, I’m a competitor, you don’t back down from a challenge,” Henry told Sky Sports.

“We are hypothetically speaking before people jump ahead of everything, [but] I have never backed down from a challenge since I was young.”

Pipe bomb from Antonio Conte

Antonio Conte branded Sky Sports pundits Jamie Redknapp and Gary Neville ‘stupid’ after they described Chelsea’s display against Manchester City as ‘anti-football’.

Informed of the comments, Conte said: “The pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics. I think you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way. You have to accept every criticism but I am not so stupid to play against Manchester City open and to lose 3-0 or 4-0.

Maybe if Conte’s side showed as much fight as their manager they would be challenging for the title instead of trying to secure a spot in the top four.

Results

Burnley 2-1 Everton

Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle

Leicester 1-1 Bournemouth

Southampton 0-0 Stoke

Swansea 4-1 West Ham

Tottenham 2-0 Huddersfield

Watford 1-0 West Brom

Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea

Brighton 2-1 Arsenal

Crystal Palace 2-3 Manchester United 

Sir Alex Ferguson Award

 The Sir Alex Ferguson of the week is awarded to the best-performed team of the week.

 Swansea

Swansea moved out of the relegation zone following their big win over West Ham. The Swans looked relegation bound at the end of 2017, but the appointment of Carlos Carvalhal has changed the fortunes of the Welsh club.

The Swans have won four of their eight games in 2018 to ignite the hopes of an unlikely relegation survival.

The victory over West Ham saw Swansea jump up to 13th on the table, three points above 17th place Crystal Palace.

Jordan Ayew, Andy King, Ki Sung-yueng and Mike van der Hoorn all found the back of the net in the victory. Van der Hoorn’s goal was his first for the club.

Continued performances like this will see the Swans avoid relegation and could see Carvalhal named manager of the season.

Bebe of the week

Bebe is widely considered Sir Alex Ferguson’s worst ever signing. The Bebe award is given to the most disappointing team from the week.

Arsenal

The last time I wrote one of these articles, Arsenal had just beaten Everton and were my Sir Alex Ferguson of the week. Four consecutive defeats in all competitions have changed the entire dynamic of the club and the ‘Wenger Out’ movement has reached a level never seen before.

The Gunner’s latest defeat to Brighton leaves them in sixth position, 13 points behind fourth place Tottenham.

Arsenal’s only chance of qualifying for next years Champions League is by winning the Europa League, which will not be an easy feat. The Gunners will face AC Milan in the round of 16, which will not be an easy task given Milan have not lost a game in 2018.

Some Arsenal fans, such as Troopz from Arsenal Fan TV believe the club will sack Wenger if they are knocked out by Milan in the Europa League.

As Troopz said in his recent video on Arsenal Fan TV, “Every story has an ending and for Wenger his story ended five years ago.”

Player of the Week

Son Heung-Min

Son is pushing his claim to be regarded Tottenham’s second best players behind Harry Kane.

The South Korean netted both goals in the Spurs 2-0 victory over Huddersfield on the weekend. Both goals showed off Son’s array of abilities, with the first being a fine shot with this left food and the second being a header from distance.

https://twitter.com/officialuwem/status/969959377766637568

Son has now scored 16 goals in all competitions this season, making him the Spurs second highest scorer, behind Kane.

Sportdot goal of the week

Riyad Mahrez

A 96 minute equaliser from a free kick is the perfect way to get back into the fans good books. Mahrez’s sublime curling free kick was his first goal for Leicester since the closure of the January transfer window.

Mahrez’s was said to have sooked it up after his transfer to Manchester City was blocked. But by his celebration after the goal against Bournemouth, it appears he is happy to be at the club for the remainder of the season.

Retro clip

Premier League launch advert 1992

This is Sky Sports launch advert for the Premier League. Check out the bad haircuts and try naming some of the players.

 

The week that was – FA Cup

News

VAR controversy

Image courtesy: Goal.com

It seems no matter what country it is being used in, VAR is causing a lot of havoc. The technology was used twice in the match between Liverpool and West Brom. First it was used to rule out an early West Brom goal from Craig Dwason for offside.

It was then used on the pitch-side monitor by referee Craig Pawson – the first time the on-field review has occurred in English football – to change his decision and award a penalty to Liverpool, after Jake Livermore fouled Mohamed Salah. Fortunately for West Brom, Roberto Firmino missed his spot kick.

After the game Baggies manager Alan Pardew said the first goal would not have been disallowed without VAR’s intervention.

Pardew also complained that nobody watching in the stadium knew what was happening.

“In the stadium it was bizarre,” Pardew told the BBC. “There’s no screen for us. It’s not like tennis, we were completely in the dark.”

Sooky Pep cries foul

For a man on top of the league, Pep Guardiola sure does complain a lot. The Manchester City manager has urged the referees to protect the players more after it was reported Leroy Sane will be out for two to four weeks with an ankle injury, following a physical tackle from Cardiff full-back Joe Bennett.

“It’s his ankle. I have said many times – the only thing they [the officials] have to do is protect the players,” Guardiola told the BBC.

“But please protect the players. Not the Manchester City players, [all] the players. The only thing they can do is that: protect the players. Or it will happen again. The players are the artists and you have to take care of them. That’s why you are here and why I’m here. For them, the players.”

It’s not the only topic Guardiola has complained about this week. The Spaniard said he has been restrained from making big money purchases by Manchester City’s budget.

“Their salaries we cannot pay. There are budgets for the transfers and we cannot pay. In the future, it may change but we haven’t paid more than £80m-£100m for one player. We cannot pay that right now, it is the truth.”

In Guardiola’s two seasons at the club, Manchester City have spent A$639 million on player acquisitions, more than Manchester United have spent in that time. Three of the five biggest transfer fees paid for defenders have been by Guardiola at City. The Sky Blues are also about to spend close to A$100 million on Athletic Bilbao centre-back Aymeric Laporte.

I think I will end the argument with the words of Cardiff manager Neil Warnock.

“City dished out a bit, as well. He [Guardiola] is in England. What do you expect? I suppose when you’re like that you want everything to be nice and pretty but you don’t get that in England. You get different challenges, don’t you?”

Gunners edge closer to Aubameyang

Arsenal are close to finalising a deal for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The deal is believed to be in the region of A$105 million and will allow Oliver Giroud to move to Chelsea.

Aubameyang has netted 13 goals in the Bundesliga this season and will be expected to link up with former Dortmund colleage Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Results

Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 Reading

Yeovil Town 0-4 Manchester United

Peterborough 1-5 Leicester

Southampton 1-0 Watford

MK Dons 0-1 Coventry

Hull City 2-1 Nottingham Forest

Millwall 2-2 Rochdale

Sheffield United 1-0 Preston North End

Middlesbrough 0-1 Brighton

Huddersfield 1-1 Birmingham

Notts County 1-1 Swansea

Wigan 2-0 West Ham

Newport County 1-1 Tottenham

Liverpool 2-3 West Brom

Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle

Cardiff 0-2 Manchester City

Sir Alex Ferguson award

The Sir Alex Ferguson of the week is awarded to the best-performed team of the week.

West Brom

West Brom have had a difficult time in the Premier League this season, but their form in the FA Cup has been a highlight. Liverpool went into the tie with a 19-game unbeaten home record. The Baggies on the other hand entered the match sitting last in the Premier League and had lost 12 of their 20 away matches. In a match filled with controversy – courtesy of VAR, West Brom held on for a 3-2 victory. Former Southampton striker Jay Rodriguez was the hero netting two goals.

Bebe of the week

Bebe is widely considered Sir Alex Ferguson’s worst ever signing. The Bebe award is given to the most disappointing team from the week.

Liverpool

How can you not go past Loserpool (sorry I mean Liverpool). The Reds are the gift that keeps on giving. With the thrilling three up front and a A$122 million defender in the team, the Reds were expected to easily account for a side sitting bottom of the Premier League. But as is the case, the Reds failed to land the knock out punch and have now been knocked out of the FA Cup in the fourth round for the fourth consecutive year under Jurgen Klopp. Ironically the man who tormented the Reds was former Southampton player Jay Rodriguez. Liverpool have purchased six players from the Saints since 2014, yet the one player they didn’t purchase was the one who single handily beat them. Maybe Rodriguez will be in Liverpool’s summer transfer plans.

Player of the week

Will Grigg

West Ham’s defence was terrified because Will Grigg was on fire. The man with the best chant in world football has been a revelation in the FA Cup, scoring six goals in four games. Grigg scored both of Wigan’s goals to send the Hammers packing from the cup. Hopefully Grigg continues to perform so us fans can keep singing his song.

Sportdot goal of the week

Jesse Lingard

Could Lingard be a bolter for the Ballon d’Or? The Manchester United star has been a revelation this season, becoming a first team starter and scoring 12 goals in all competitions. Lingard has always had the knack of scoring stunning goals and his run and shot against Yeovil Town is Messi-esque. Watch him be a star at the World Cup.

Retro clip

1973 FA Cup Final

Mighty Leeds United were the reigning FA Cup holders when they came up against Second Division Sunderland in the 1973 FA Cup Final. Ian Porterfield first half strike gave the Black Cats the lead and Leeds responded but throwing everything at goalkeeper Jim Montgomery.

Montgomery stood tall and produced one of the best goalkeeping displays ever seen, with the highlight being an amazing double save.

When the full time whistle sounded, Sunderland manager Bob Stokoe ran on to the pitch to celebrate, a celebration that has been captured in a stature at the Stadium of Light.

One of the true football fairy tales.

English Football Transfer Wrap (Week 3)

Marcus Edwards – Tottenham to Norwich City (Loan)

Jason Cummings – Nottingham Forest to Rangers (Loan)

Ricky Holmes – Charlton Athletic to Sheffield United (A$701,260)

30-year-old Ricky Holmes said his move to Sheffield United was a no brainer. The winger has been heavily criticised by Charlton fans on social media, but Holmes said at his age, moving to Sheffield United may be his last chance to play in the Premier League. The Blades sit in the playoff positions in the Championship and are potentially 19 games away from promotion to the top tier. For Holmes, the decision to leave Charlton for Sheffield was about completing a life-long dream.

https://twitter.com/ricky_holmes/status/952939959777923072

Russell Martin – Norwich City to Rangers (Loan)

Kean Bryan – Manchester City to Oldham Athletic (Loan)

Jack Payne – Huddersfield Town to Blackburn Rovers (Loan)

Michael Madl – Fulham to Austria Vienna (Undisclosed/Market value: A$1.6 million)

Michael Madl departs Fulham.

Keshi Anderson – Crystal Palace to Swindon Town (Undisclosed/Market value: A$155,840)

Cameron Jerome – Norwich City to Derby County (A$2.65 million)

Derby have boosted their attacking options with the signing of 31-year-old striker Cameron Jerome. The deal is seen as a huge step towards promotion for the Derbyshire club. The Rams sit second on the table but have had little output from their strikers. Attacking midfielder Matej Vydra has netted 15 goals this season, nine more than forwards David Nugent and Sam Winnall. Jerome has only scored one goal for Norwich this season, but has netted 124 goals in his career.

Martin Samuelsen – West Ham to Burton Albion (Loan)

Marko Grukic – Liverpool to Cardiff City (Loan)

Marcus Tavernier – Middlesbrough to MK Dons (Loan)

Deniss Rakels – QPR to Cracovia (Loan)

Theo Walcott – Arsenal to Everton (A$35.06 million)

Walcott unveiled at Everton.

After 12 years of service, Theo Walcott departed Arsenal with his belongings in a bin bag. The winger has been at the Gunners since the age of 16, but a lack of game time this season has seen him move to Everton. Walcott thanked Arsene Wenger for giving him the opportunity at such a young age and said he is looking forward to working with Sam Allardyce. Walcott was the third-highest scoring Englishman in the Premier League last season with 19 goals, behind Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

Brandon Comley – QPR to Colchester United (Undisclosed)

Cameron Carter-Vickers – Tottenham to Ipswich Town (Loan)

Daniel Pinillos – Cordoba to Barnsley (Undisclosed/Market value: A$ 468,300)

*Market value’s courtesy of Transfermarkt.co.uk