Soccer

Man City – 2019/2020 Premier League review:

My beloved Man City finished second in the league this past season, 18 points behind Liverpool, losing 9 matches.

After winning the last 2 premier league titles, racking up 100 points and 98 in successive seasons, what happened this season to essentially the same team from the last 2 campaigns?

For starters – Liverpool were consistently great. They only dropped 4 points prior to winning the title quickest in the history of the Premier League. Having lost the league by 1 point last season, Klopp and the Reds had hunger, desire and confidence to beat any team they played and went on to prove their superiority. I have new found respect for Klopp in that I think he is a far superior motivator of men than Guardiola. He has the qualities of a superior leader who is able to get the best out of his players and motivate them to play for the team. The players trust Klopp and will go the extra length on the pitch to give it their all. Also, the team is well drilled, meaning they practice well and seldom make mistakes, this was evident throughout this season where they had very few mental lapses.

City in contrast had many mental lapses this season that led to dropping of points. In the 2nd match of the season – Aguero did not cover Lucas that allowed him to score of a corner in the dying stages of the match, this was only the second shot Spurs had taken all match, the game ended 2-2. Two weeks later, Otamendi made an errant back pass to Ederson which was intercepted by a Norwich forward who put the ball into the back of the net. Norwich 3 City 2 – Norwich only took 3 shots, scored all 3 times.

The injuries to Sane and especially to Laporte also had major consequences. City missed a speedy outlet on the left wing that Sane provided that created tap in goals for Aguero and Sterling. Laporte’s injury depleted a porous back line. Fernandinho having to move back to defense created a massive hole in the City midfield that was dominated by probably the best player in this position.

But ultimately the other teams figured out City were slow and prone to mistakes in the middle of the park and went about attacking that weakness. United did it 3 times this season. Wolves did it twice.

The formula to play City is deceptively simple: allow City to have possession, hang back put men behind the ball and defend to give City wide men and forwards very little. Counter attack the City high line which lacks speed and is ordinary on any given matchday. I saw this happen over and over this season. The teams that beat City had speedy wingers and forwards who stretched the City defense and created confusion in the box. Guradiola wants his center backs to come to the half way line when City have the ball to provide additional outlet to move the ball around but this essentially leaves half the field open for a ball over the top.

A 38 game schedule played over 9 months is a grueling test of a team’s character. Only teams who are cohesive, well drilled, mentally strong, injury free and having a deep talented bench will do well. This season Liverpool had it all while City didn’t.

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2019/2020 Champions League Quarters: How City Lost to Lyon!

In the biggest remaining match of the season Pep Guardiola decided to become uber cautious knowing his team’s defensive frailties against a speedy counter attacking team and played with 3 center backs, 2 defensive midfielders and 2 wing backs. This 3-4-1-2 formation on attack or 5-2-1-2 formation on defense was only the second time City had played this way all season long. 

With 5 defenders, the 2 wing backs – Walker and Cancelo have to push up as attacking wingers but also must contain the opposing wingers on defense. Kyle Walker was totally ill suited for this role. He is not a natural winger. A winger needs to be crafty and skillful to take on opposing defenders, cross the ball or attack the box. Walker has none of these skills other than to bomb up and down the wing. And Walker has a mistake in him every match, he’s always been a defensive liability, I can think of so many instances where his mistakes have cost City a goal and he made a school boy error yesterday when did not run back to cover his man allowing Cornet to score. 

But mostly Pep’s 3-4-1-2 did not allow Kevin Debruyne to play in his natural position which is tucked inside of the right wing and right back forming a ever shifting triangle where most of KDB’s crosses and passes into the box come from. KDB was played as a number 9 behind the 2 forwards – this role technically should suit him but the Lyon  defenders swarmed him and gave him very little space high up the pitch, thus KDB had to move around trying to find space which never really worked.

In the second half Pep went back to the City favored lineup of 4-3-3 bringing in Mahrez and removing Fernandinho the extra CB. The game immediately started going in City’s favor. Mahrez and Sterling were pushed out wide – their natural positions from which they could attack the box and City started controlling possession pushing Lyon back into the defensive third as City usually does to opposing teams, a goal came from this. 

But ironically Pep played into Rudi Garcia’s trap – which Pep wanted to avoid – by switching to 4 defenders. Any ball over the top or through City’s high line defense has been City’s weakness this season which often leads to goals and Lyon’s goals 2 and 3 came from passes that split City’s high line defense.

Seems to me Pep thought City could still prevail by being defensively cautious against a speedy team like Lyon. But having the luxury to analyze the match after its finished I wish Pep had played our natural formation of 4-3-3 and tried to out score Lyon with the stacked offensive players City have. 

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Are Manchester City’s titles tainted by Abu Dhabi ownership?

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I was having a spirited debate with a friend about our respective football clubs and he said City’s titles are “tainted by middle eastern oil.” I immediately knew this was an extremely loaded statement given what is going on in the world. It is extremely inappropriate to dismiss the Arab/Muslim City ownership as being dodgy foreigners who follow a religion we don’t understand, a culture we object to and a band of people hell bent on destroying western civilization while promoting their own way of life.

Of course none of this is true and only a small percentage of Islamo-fascists believe this. I don’t know why people have a problem with middle eastern oil when all of us fly on airplanes as often as possible and drive the latest cars. They have a commodity that everyone wants and they are rightfully supplying it. Also, this suspicion of what Arabs are doing with their money is uncalled for, when European, American and Asian Billionaires are busy parking their money in distant tax havens away from the prying eyes of their home governments. It seems like Arabs are taking their Billions and investing it in their own countries – Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar but also abroad buying soft power like football teams.

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Abu Dhabi has social problems – it has a ruling family like all Arab countries, it has draconian laws when compared to western countries: very little freedom of speech, no political opposition, human rights abuses of activists, exploitation of migrant workers, but the question is to what degree is Sheikh Mansour responsible for this? He is a member of the ruling elite and he runs the Abu Dhabi United Group – a holding company – which is partly owned by the Chinese – who own City Football Group. He is a deputy prime minister but does not have a direct line to the throne. No one is sure other than the ruling elite how much power the Sheikh wields in making social policy in Abu Dhabi or he could be insulated and only directed to manage the investment arm of the UAE, we don’t know.

But can we disregard the fact all major football clubs are owned by Billionaires? And even if the said Billionaire should invest a paltry sum in some questionable investment in Africa or another corrupt developing part of the world where people are being exploited should that Club’s fans also feel guilty? Should what the team is doing on the field be tainted? I don’t think so – I don’t think Chelsea fans should feel guilty about Roman’s money, or Liverpool fans of John Henry’s funds or Arsenal of Kroenke’s many holdings worldwide.

I can understand the frustration of rival fans when one team starts to dominate all competitions – we’ve all been there before, football is ultimately cyclical – no one team dominates forever, especially not in England. With money being spent freely any big club can hire a great manager and buy young promising players like City have done.

And for you rival fans tired of City sweeping trophies for the last 2 seasons – every time you put gallon of gas in your car think – I’m helping Manchester City buy a new striker!

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Pep Guardiola: Is he the very best?

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After City won the domestic treble, captured the Premier League back to back, racked up 198 points in 2 seasons and thrashed Watford 6-0 in the FA Cup there has been a lot of grousing and accusations in the British press of how City are dominant because they have access to unlimited funds and have purchased talent at every position. No one seems to appreciate or acknowledge that Guardiola’s well-honed football philosophy and intense practice sessions of possession, quick passing and pressing improves his players radically. Pep takes young, talented, promising players and transforms them into great players. Rival fans and ‘objective’ journalists seem hard to admit Guardiola has been one of the very best football managers since he took over at Barca, the best manager of his generation and one of the greatest, innovative footballing minds of the sport as I will argue below.

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Pep was appointed coach of Barcelona in May 2008. The previous 2 seasons under Frank Rijkaard Barcelona had won exactly ONE trophy – the equivalent of the Charity Shield in England: The Spanish Super Cup an exhibition game to start the season. This was a team loaded with talent: Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Deco, Samuel Eto’o, Carlos Puyol, Yaya Toure, Lilian Thuram, Eric Abidal, Xavi, Iniesta and a certain player named Lionel Messi, and yet in the previous 2 seasons they had won effectively nothing.

The moment Pep took over – and this was Pep’s first major managerial job – he announced that Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o would not be part of his plans going forward – these were among the 3 biggest, most popular stars on the Barca team. Ronaldinho was only 28, Deco was 30.

In Pep’s first season at Barcelona, Barca won the the Treble: The League, The Cup and The Champion’s League – this was the first time in the history of Spain that it had ever been done. Even the great Real Madrid sides of the 1950’s who won the first 5 European Cups in a row had not achieved this feat. Lionel Messi who had scored a total of 16 goals the previous season under Rijkaard, scored 38 goals in Pep’s first season. He went on to score 47, 53 and 73 goals in the remaining 3 seasons he played under Pep. And if you do not remember or did not witness the brilliant, dazzling football Barcelona played for the next 4 seasons where they won 14 trophies then you seriously missed out on watching the greatest team of all time play the most beautiful football in the history of this game. The 2010-2011 Barca team under Pep was considered to be the best team of all time by Sir Alex Ferguson whose team lost 3-1 to Pep’s in the Champions League final.

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Messi was a raw talent under Rijkaard – under Guardiola the player we now know as the greatest of all time came to life. Allowed to play as a free man starting on the right, Messi had the freedom to go anywhere on the pitch. And that he did: Forming perfect triangles and zipping short passes with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta, La Pulga – the flea – terrorized defenses in Spain and abroad and won the Balon d’or every season he played under Pep.

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Sergio Busquets was a 20 year old Barca B team player Pep promoted to the first team to replace the indomitable Yaya Toure, Gerard Pique was only 21. Busquets went on to become the best Defensive Midfielder in the world and 11 years later he still is the first name in the midfield for Barca and Spain – he also won 1 World Cup and 2 Euros basically playing the Pep method of possession, short passing and pressing for Spain. The World Cup winning squad for Spain had 7 Barcelona players in the starting lineup and it is no coincidence La Roja’s international dominance coincides with Barca’s dominance between 2008 and 2012 when Pep was at the helm.  And lest we forget how brilliant Xavi, Iniesta and Dani Alves amongst others were under Pep – easily in the top 5 of the very best in their positions and they were not at that level before Pep arrived at Barca.

After 4 seasons of the most intense pressure at one of the biggest clubs in the world Pep was burned out and needed to take a break. After one year off, he signed for Bayern. His first year, Bayern won 4 trophies, he won the league every season he was in Munich. But he did not win the Champions League, and critics always seem to bring this up but Bayern reached the semi finals all 3 seasons. Playing consistently winning football for 9 months and winning the league is harder to do than win a knockout tournament where a red card, a penalty, a bad call by the referee, a freak goal can knock a team out. And to prove that you do not have to win the Champions League to be acknowledged as a great manager – Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest of all time won only 2 Champions League titles while winning the league 13 times, and Zinedine Zidane has won 3 Champions League trophies but is hardly considered a great manager.

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Manchester City were lying in wait for Guardiola, even hiring 2 of Barcelona’s Spanish executives and Pep’s close friends to run the front office before Pep arrived. The ambitious City project with a new stadium, a new training facility was tailor made for Guardiola’s brand of football, if only Pep had the right players.

When Pep arrived in 2016 City had an ageing team: Zabaleta, Fernando, Yaya, Demichelis, Sagna, Kolarov, Clichy were not up to par to play the Pep way and in the first season the flaws in the team were exposed. City finished 3rd in the league and were knocked out early in the Champions League. Reinforcements were badly needed and Txiki Begiristain, Ferran Soriano and Pep slowly started buying young talented players who were not finished products yet: Leroy Sane for 37MM, Gundogan for 20MM, Gabriel Jesus 27MM, John Stones 47.5MM, Zinchenko 1.5MM, Bernardo Silva 43MM, Ederson 35MM, Benjamin Mendy 49MM, Laporte 57MM, Kyle Walker 45MM and Mahrez for 60MM. You notice a pattern here? There are no superstar purchases like Ibra or Pogba or Coutinho or Alexis or Cristiano. Most of the players the casual football fan had never heard of before they came to City and turned into a promising player. Bernardo was a young player from the Ligue 1 who has turned into one of the world’s very best and is a future Balon d’or winner in this writer’s opinion. Aymeric Laporte is the second best central defender in the league. Leroy Sane is probably the best left-winger in the world. Ederson is arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. Zinchenko a solid left back who could walk into any team. Raheem Sterling has turned into a world class player under Pep and should I say anything about Kevin DeBruyne the Chelsea washout, the two year Wolfsburg player who is a top 5 player in the world now. These players did not magically become great players on a great team – they are developing daily under an innovative football obsessive who sleeps and breathes football: the brilliant Pep Guardiola who learned under Johan Cruyff who learned under Rinus Michels – the architect of Total Football.

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So a criticism of Pep Guardiola that he buys great players and had Messi to win him all the trophies is not only false but very lazy analysis. Guardiola has proved over and over he transforms good players into great players, creates awesome teams, wins stacks of trophies and with time will go on to become the greatest, most decorated football manager of all time.

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Marcelo ‘El Loco’ Bielsa is a genius!

If you follow English football closely, by now, you surely know about the spy-gate scandal involving Leeds and Derby County where a member of Leeds FC staff was stopped by police outside the Derby training ground with a pair of binoculars. On this incident being published in the papers, the Leeds manager – the 63 year old Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa took full responsibility for his actions saying “I’m the only one responsible for it…I’ve been using this kind of practice since the World Cup qualifiers with Argentina. This is not unlawful, we’ve done it publicly…” One can imagine the outrage as the British sporting press ran with the story and turned it into a major controversy regarding sportsmanship, ethics and legality issues especially as Leeds comfortably beat Derby 2-0 the next day. The Football Association opened an investigation and talking heads in the press are calling for Leeds to be docked points.

With this controversy swirling in the background – Bielsa called an unscheduled press conference yesterday at the Leeds training ground. There were whispers Bielsa had decided to call it quits after only 4 months in English football – that his position was untenable given he confessed to sending a spy to watch his opponents train before a match. But what happens as the press conference starts? Bielsa speaking exclusively in Spanish for over an hour using his translator gives a powerpoint presentation of his preparation for the Derby match. It is nothing short of a coaching masterclass. It was well known before the press conference that Bielsa was scrupulous in his preparation, but for him to display the amount of work he and his staff do to study every opponent before a match was still amazing: Bielsa and his staff had watched EVERY Derby County match this season and last – a staggering 51 matches, it took them 4 hours to watch and analyze ONE match, he had statistics and data of every Derby County player and what positions they had played in every game, he knew every formation Derby County had ever used in all of their 51 matches and the exact percentage of the times they played in their favorite formation. He further states he has observed all 23 teams in the league practice and he has compiled similar data on all of them. Bielsa further goes on to say, for their next match they face Stoke but since Stoke have a new manager and has only coached them for 3 matches, Bielsa and his staff watched 26 matches of the team the new manager was in charge of before Stoke. Holy mother of god, can you say indefatigable?!?

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I have known about Marcelo Bielsa since 2011 when he coached the fantastic Athletic Bilbao team that beat Manchester United twice in the Europa League. I had read sparingly that he was a football obsessive, a student of the game and a master tactician. It wasn’t until Pep Guardiola called him the “best coach in the world” in 2017, I really got interested in the man they call El Loco (Madman) Bielsa. Jorge Sampoli, Diego Simeone, Pocchetino and Guardiola have been heavily influenced by him, he favors a revolutionary attacking 3-3-1-3 formation where he uses only 2 midfielders: one to hold and the other to attack. His wingbacks tuck in, coming into the middle of the pitch – a tactic Guardiola ‘borrows.’ After a match in la liga where Pep’s Barcelona beat Bielsa’s Bilbao 3-0, Bielsa gave Guardiola all the data he had collected on Barcelona, Pep was amazed by the sheer volume of it saying, “you know Barcelona better than me.”

Bielsa did not need to spy on Derby County to beat them, he and his staff had done over 300 hours of total analysis for the match, but yet he felt that he needed that slight edge to make sure nothing was left out. This short of preparation is something most people know nothing about, but as one reads more and more about the greats in every field one realizes, this the level of practice, studying and preparation that is needed to be at an elite level to rise above the good and the ordinary. Bielsa should not get into trouble for this episode, instead he should be celebrated for his dedication and marveled for his industriousness.

 

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4 points! Where will it be dropped?

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4 points separate Liverpool and City at the top of the premier league table. 4 points! with 17 matches and 51 points to play for. The title is still Liverpool’s to lose: 2 drawn matches by the Reds would tie City and Liverpool on equal points, and a draw and a loss would put Liverpool in second place, 1 point behind City…, granted the Skyblues do not drop another point until the end of the season – meaning winning 18 straight in the premier league – which would tie the premier league record – a tall order – which also is not going to happen.

So what lies in store for both teams going forward? Where are the pitfalls, the traps? What matches are the fans of both teams looking ahead in the schedule and getting anxious about?

Liverpool still have to visit Old Trafford in late February, and have the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park in March, and they entertain Spurs and Chelsea at Anfield respectively. City host Arsenal and Chelsea back to back in early February, and visit Manchester United in mid-March while hosting Spurs in late April.

The trip to Old Trafford for both teams poses the most problems in this writer’s opinion – a tricky fixture for both teams facing a rejuvenated United squad fighting for a Champion’s League place playing for pride against their two bitterest rivals. Manchester United would like nothing more than to either spoil Liverpool or City’s season with a convincing victory at Old Trafford while moving up the table. I see either one or both teams losing at Old Trafford and leaving with serious damage done to their season.

And lest we forget about Spurs who are only 2 points behind City in third place and Chelsea in fourth, 4 points off Tottenham. Spurs and Chelsea have everything to play for  and even a daunting task of visiting Anfield and the Etihad in the spring should have both the teams motivated to make a mark in their season. If Liverpool and City drop points as both teams are likely to do – then Spurs and Chelsea could easily move to the top – crazier things have happened, like Newcastle United blowing a 12 point lead with 13 matches remaining in 1996.

With 17 matches remaining and only 6 points separating the top three teams in the league – this season is more than likely going down to the wire, which means heartburn, ruined weekends and marital problems for all of us.

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Liverpool are going to win the League – Jan 1st, 2019.

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It is close to impossible for Manchester City to win the league now owing to the fact City cannot drop another point going forward. The Sky Blues literally have to win their next 18 Premier League matches in a row and then hope Liverpool who have been in scintillating form drop points.

The best-case scenario for City to rein in Liverpool is to beat them on Thursday, cut the deficit to 4 points and hope going forward Liverpool either:

  • Lose 2 (drop 6 points).
  • Lose 1 & Tie 1 (drop 5 points).
  • Tie 2 (drop 4 points).***
  • Tie 3 (drop 6 points).

If City and Liverpool tie on Thursday then it remains at 7 points, this deficit becomes super hard to make up, again City cannot drop even 1 point in the remaining 17 matches and Liverpool would have to:

  • Lose 3 (drop 9 points).
  • Lose 2 & Tie 1 (drop 8 points).
  • Lose 1 & Tie 2 (drop 7 points).***
  • Lose 1 & Tie 3 (drop 9 points).
  • Tie 4 (drop 8 points).

If Liverpool beat City on Thursday and open up a 10 point lead then you can crown Liverpool champions immediately, because the only way they don’t win the league is if Liverpool FC:

  • Lose 4 (drop 12 points).
  • Lose 3 & Tie 1 (drop 11 points).
  • Lose 2 & Tie 2 (drop 10 points).***
  • Lose 2 & Tie 3 (drop 12 points).
  • Lose 1 & Tie 4 (drop 11 points)
  • Tie 6 (drop 12 points).

You get my drift. City are not going to win 18 straight matches, and Liverpool are not going to tie or lose many games.

*** If Liverpool & City should finish with equal number of points, I gave the advantage to Liverpool on goal differential. 

 

 

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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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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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Music; Film Review

Bipul Chettri – Live in NYC – August 25, 2018.

Bipul Chettri and his Traveling Band made a triumphant return to New York City last night playing a sold out 16 song set at the Melrose Ballroom in Astoria, Queens. For those of us lucky enough to see him for the second time in the Big Apple the show was a jubilant return to NYC for the Kalimpong born and raised, supremely talented Nepali singer/songwriter/composer and his formidable band.

Playing a mixture of his classic hits from his first two albums Bipul and the band started with a rollicking version of ‘Allarey Jovan’ then moved on to the sublime ‘Wildfire’ then slipped easily into the breezy ‘Siriri’ and the buoyant ‘Mero Maya.’ Considering that most of the New York City crowd had not heard songs from his second album: Maya, performed live, the audience was euphoric and in a jubilant mood. The devastatingly tender ‘Ram Sailee’ was followed by the melancholically beautiful ‘Nau Lakhey Tara.’ By the time Bipul and the band started on their breakout hit ‘Syndicate’ the crowd was bouncing in unison.

Music that resonates with the soul has the magic to bring people together – it is a remarkable social glue that communities are formed on. The concert last night brought everyone at the venue closer and more connected because of the experience of singing and dancing and laughing with one another. And for a still young Nepali diaspora in NYC, evenings like this remind us of our similarities, our Nepaliness and our shared heritage – no matter what Nepali speaking part of the world we come from. So thank you to Bipul and Pranai and Kiran and Rahul and Achint and Aman and Binaya for the special gift you have shared with us. Keep making beautiful music!

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