Soccer

Liverpool Blitz Arsenal; City are Back; United are Free.

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Blitzkrieg – German word for ‘Lightning-War’ is a form of warfare where an attacking force breaks the opponent’s line of defense using speed and surprise to unbalance the enemy by making it difficult for them to respond to continuous waves of attack pummeling the opposition by overwhelming it in numbers. This past Saturday we witnessed Juergen Klopp’s Red Army Blitzkrieging through another hapless opponent who had no answer to the speed and strength of the marauding Liverpool army.

Arsenal are not a bad team, at one point going 22 straight matches without defeat. Unai Emery their new Basque coach has them organized, and Aubameyang their fleet footed striker is co-leading the league in goals scored. But this past matchday at Liverpool Arsenal were no match for the juggernaut that is Liverpool Football Club playing football at different speed than their opponents. Salah, Mane, Firmino, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold attack the opposition in waves, never relenting until the opposition are bloody and battered and eventually vanquished. Arsenal got the treatment the rest of the league have been getting lately from Liverpool who more than likely are headed to Premier League glory after 28 long years and breaking records set by Manchester City one season ago.

Manchester City got their act together and finally won a football match against mid table opposition for only the first time in 3 tries and second time in 5 matches. This drop in form, precipitated by injuries to key players came at a very unfortunate time for Pep’s boys who were on course to repeating as champions, toying with their opponents with their short passing game. But injuries happen and often times to key players and the cohesive unit that is a team becomes unbalanced having to fit new players into a system who are not accustomed to playing with one another – this ultimately leads to a lack of rhythm in the team which leads to bad results. Fingers crossed, MY City players stay healthy and get back to playing Pep’s football.

Manchester United have their swagger back winning 3 in a row after firing their ego-maniacal ultra defensive coach Jose Mourinho. Football is known as the beautiful game – attack, create chances, score goals, win games but no, Mourinho will do none of that – his only purpose is not to give up goals and then to score on a break if possible, this is the worst kind of football, it is ugly to watch and antithetical to everything what football should be. Win ugly…, no screw that! Win playing beautiful football like Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Juergen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Solskjaer has unshackled the United players and it genuinely seems like they are enjoying playing football again. Pogba one of the best in the world was often benched and asked to play as a holding midfielder under Mourinho – now he is getting forward playing in his natural position and creating chances, scoring goals and more importantly United are winning and the Old Trafford faithful are totally behind the team. United have won 3 in a row scoring 12 goals since the new manager’s appointment and confidence should be high in the Red Devil’s camp that they can sustain this winning streak and brand of football.

With 20 matchdays in the books Liverpool are the team to catch with a clear 7 point lead over second place City – a massive Battle of the Titans match looms this Thursday when Liverpool visit City at the Etihad, if Liverpool beat City and open up a 10 point lead, Liverpool should be 1-100 odds to win the league, but if City win and cut the lead down to 4 points, then its anyone’s to win. Bon Chance!

 

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Soccer

2018 – 2019: Premier league half season thoughts.

Screen Shot 2018-12-27 at 9.46.24 AMWith 19 games in the bag and 19 more to go, thoughts on how the season has gone so far (top 3 teams only).

Liverpool FC: Liverpool have deservedly been in 1st place with a 6 point cushion over 2nd place Spurs at the mid point of the season. Playing an irresistible brand of high octane football Liverpool FC have speed to burn: Mane and Robertson on the left, Salah and Alexander on the right, Firmino up top. The muscle of Keita, Fabinho, Henderson, Milner and Shaqiri in the midfield, the steel of Virgil Van Dijk to shore up the defense and one of the best keepers in the league in Allison. When not attacking, Liverpool hunt in packs to get the ball back through a high press that often throws the opponent off. This brand of high intensity football has handsomely paid off with Liverpool blowing away their opponents and racking up an eye popping 51 points in 19 matches. A clear favorite to win the league now, barring catastrophic injuries and a loss of form.

Spurs: Who, what, where, when? How did Spurs ascend to second place of the premier league above City at the midway point of the season? Like every other season Spurs have the talent, they have the right coach, they are brilliant some of the time but they are inconsistent – world beaters one week, an ordinary team next week. But has this team matured? Has the added experience of being together for a few seasons now gelled the likes of Kane, Ericksen, Alli, Son, Alderweild, Trippier, Rose, Winks into a cohesive unit that can actually challenge the other top teams for the title? I guess only time will tell. I would not write the Spurs off though, not this season, should easily finish in the top 3, maybe even win the title if Liverpool should falter.

City: Clear favorites to retain the title on paper after racking up a historic 100 points last season and breaking 8 other premier league records, but they don’t play the game on fucking paper do they? The lunacy not to buy a backup for a 33 year old Fernandinho but instead to spend that money on a nonessential winger – Mahrez – is more than likely to bite the City hierarchy in the butt this season. Having just lost 3 out of 4 Premier League matches for the first time in the Pep Guardiola era, City are looking wobbly. But all was well with the City team until December 7th when City were rightfully in first place playing their style of keep away football and making their opponents look silly while dominating the pitch with their passing and winning second balls. Even with their best player: KDB, out for much of the season City looked like they would retain the title fairly comfortably.

Then the injuries came, first Benjamin Mendy, then David Silva, then Aguero, then Fernandinho and now the City team look hesitant, apprehensive, uncertain and look like a team wandering around in the fog without a flashlight. The absence of Fernandinho in the middle of the park to boss the midfield, to break up play, to chase down attackers and to join in the City attack is the cause of City falling apart in December in this writer’s opinion, in addition to playing with a new starting eleven every week for the past few matches. City can still get back in this race and push Liverpool until May granted David Silva, KDB, Aguero, Fernandinho stay healthy for the remainder of the season. If City fall 9 points or more behind Liverpool by February, Pep should give precedence to the Champions’ League.

Manchester United: (Guest post from Dhendup Sherpa): First things first, it’s not a great time to be a Manchester United fan. After the SAF era, United have been struggling even with world class players/managers in the team. Many pundits believe it’s the combination of SAF and David Gill (Chief Executive) leaving at the same time which has led to the recent struggles. But with the caretaker manager getting off to a good start and the players playing the brand of football United are usually associated with, it looks like United are headed in the right direction and there is reason to be optimistic.

2018-2019 – The season started with Jose Mourinho (JM) complaining about not getting his defensive transfer targets and the defeat against Brighton and the thrashing from Spurs made it seem like it was going to be a long and frustrating season. To add to the misery, JM’s feud with the likes of Pogba, Martial and Valencia did not help the cause. It probably seemed like Deja Vu for JM from his Chelsea days. It was just a matter of time before he got sacked.

Unlike Liverpool, where every signing Klopp has made and every substitute he brings on seems like a genius move, United have been just the opposite. With the likes of Sanchez and Pogba not performing to their full potential or justifying their insane price tags. The defensive issues continue to haunt United even though they have one of the best goalkeepers in the world. A few seasons ago, it seemed like Smalling and Jones would be the natural replacement for Ferdinand and Vidic but with consistent injuries to Jones, Smalling’s inconsistent performance and new signings Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly not convincing enough, United’s defense is still a work in progress. (It’s never a good sign when a team’s goalkeeper wins the player of the year award for years in a row).

The attack has been mediocre as well with Lukaku out of form and Rashford showing flashes of brilliance but never consistent. The same goes for Martial who had a terrific first season at United but is nowhere close to that level at present. In my opinion, Lingard looks more promising than ever (maybe because I didn’t expect much from him) and with his speed, he does provide a threat to the oppositions defense.

Matic, Pogba and Fellani provide a strong physical presence in the midfield and are always an aerial threat especially when it comes to set pieces but we are yet to see the best from them. New signing Fred is yet to feature consistently in this United lineup and I am curious to see how Ole is going to use him, if at all.

You know a team is in trouble when halfway through the season you still don’t know who your best eleven is (except the goalkeeper). The last two matches have shown what United are capable of given the opportunity to play attacking football and allowing the players to express themselves but the real test for Ole will be the away game against Spurs.

A top four finish this season would be quite an achievement but I am highly doubtful.

As a United fan, the biased and unrealistic part of me is secretly hoping that United would repeat what Chelsea did in the 2012 UEFA Champions League (don’t laugh, I have the right to wishful thinking). But more than anything, I am curious to see how the caretaker manager resolved the lingering issues at Old Trafford and even more curious as to who will be in charge at United next season.

I do see a light at the end of the tunnel, but then again, I have seen those lights before.

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