There was so much optimism on the blue side of Liverpool after last season. Roberto Martinez had led Everton to an astonishing fifth place finish, and qualified his side for the Europa League. The offseason only served to fuel the fire of enthusiasm that Everton supporters had as the club managed to sign their top striker Romelu Lukaku on a permanent deal from Chelsea, while also bringing in the highly-touted Christian Atsu on loan and fending off interests from Manchester City for their star midfielder Ross Barkley.
Everything seemed to be in place for a historic season this campaign. It did not take long for the Merseyside club to come crashing back down reality. The first game of their Premier League campaign saw newly promoted Leicester City hold the Blues to a draw. This was followed by a disappointing draw to Arsenal where Everton relinquished a 2-0 lead in the final ten minutes of play. The disappointment would follow into the next fixture as Chelsea battered Everton 6-3 at Goodison Park. It was not until the fourth game of the season that Roberto Martinez finally tasted victory.
So far, the longest streak of wins that Everton have been able to string together is a measly two games. Barkley and Lukaku seem unable to rediscover the form that made them one of the most feared young tandems in the league. Tim Howard was forced to miss an extended run of games through injury, and even before the injury the veteran goalkeeper was not his usual self, allowing 41 goals from just 21 games. At the halfway point of the season, Everton sat 12th in the table five points out of the relegation zone, and had been knocked out of the FA Cup by West Ham United.
Since then, Everton haven’t looked any better domestically. The team has dropped down two places in the table and hover only six points away from playing in the Championship next season. Their Spanish manager went as far to say the team’s current situation is a relegation battle. The increased number of games from European competition seems to have taken away from the team’s domestic performances with the short recovery time between games and long travel days taking their tolls on the players. Out of the eight Europa League matches played, Everton have only won the following domestic game twice.
The one bright spot for Everton this season, however, has been the Europa League. Where they lack in the Premier League, they thrive in Europe. No team has scored more than once against the Blues, and only two teams have managed to score while at Goodison Park. Lukaku has managed to put away six goals in only eight matches (compare that to his seven goals in 28 league games). On three separate occasions Everton have won by three goals, with one of those victories coming away to BSC Young Boys in their Round of 32 matchup.
The Blues have conquered the likes of Kevin De Bruyne’s Wolfsburg and Divock Origi’s OSC Lille on their way to the competition’s Round of 16 where they will face Dynamo Kiev. The Ukrainian side currently sit atop the Ukrainian Premier League and have lost only twice during their Europa League campaign, but are yet to face any elite European sides in the competition. Everton will be the biggest test, by far, for Kiev and will provide two difficult games for Roberto Martinez to plan for.
Kiev will travel to Goodison Park today to take on the last English side left in the tournament, and have been uplifted by the news that striker Andriy Yarmolenko has had his suspension reduced and will be available for both games against Everton. Yarmolenko is the club’s top European scorer with three goals and will surely test Howard and the Everton backline who have allowed seven goals over their last four games.
If Everton hope to advance into the quarterfinals, they will have to rediscover their scoring touch. Lukaku and Co. has been held scoreless for the last 228 minutes of play. However, in their last fixture against Young Boys, Everton managed to put away seven goals in the two game span. With this being the club’s only realistic opportunity of winning any silverware this season, I fully expect Roberto Martinez’s men to play their best soccer against Kyiv and continue their fine European form. Prediction: Everton 2-0 Kyiv.
Just when we thought that Manchester United and the England national team were descending into an irrecoverable nosedive, their captain Wayne Rooney has almost singlehandedly willed his squads to get back on track. On top of that, Wazza has put up some pretty awesome individual accomplishments as well, winning his 100th cap for England in a Euro Qualifier against Slovenia. He is only 3 goals away from Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time record of 49, while Peter Shilton’s 125 caps are also within reach for Rooney. All the while, Rooney has captained these sides to important victories in the last month.
Starting with Manchester United, it was looking like the Red Devils were destined for another season without European competition. It began with early season struggles, hitting its peak with Rooney’s red card against West Ham in September, ruling him out for all the club’s October fixtures. He was notably rusty for the first match back against Manchester City, a 0-1 loss, but bounced back against Crystal Palace and Arsenal. He scored on a breakaway against Arsenal, which would prove to be the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory. The win and three points lifted United to 4th place in the Premier League.
Looking forward, Manchester United has some excellent opportunities to pick up points before the end of 2014. The next three matches are against Hull City, Stoke City, and Southampton, all teams that United can pick up points from. Above all, the club is beginning begin to play well, starting with their captain. With van Persie struggling, and Falcao being injured, Louis van Gaal will need Rooney to continue his inspiring play.
As for the England national team, things were looking pretty grim during the World Cup. Many were calling for Roy Hodgson to be sacked, claiming he was too old and not adapting to the new styles brought by South American players. Then Hodgson named Wayne Rooney captain, and the Three Lions have rattled off 6 straight wins. Rooney got his 100th cap in a Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia, scoring a goal in the process as well. Three days later he scored a brace against Scotland in a friendly. On top of all of that good news, England are tops in the Group E table with the maximum 12 points. While there are 6 match days to still be played, a six point cushion is pretty substantial at any stage.
Any rumors about sacking Roy Hodgson have been squashed, and Rooney with the captain’s armband seems to be working out pretty well. England are hoping that Wazza can continue his goal scoring streak all the way to next year, as the next time the Three Lions play is at the end of March 2015. If England are going to continue their success and qualify for Euro 2016, Rooney will be a major piece to the puzzle.
Maybe the break from international play will be good for Rooney, as he can concentrate on getting Manchester United some much needed points to ascend on the table. Teetering on the line between Champions League and Europa League is not a place that Red Devils supporters would like to be, but it is a welcome change from 7th place and being left out of European competition entirely. These past couple weeks have really been a pivotal stretch, while it seems United have turned the proverbial corner to success.
We would be remiss if we did not highlight some of the individual accomplishments of Wayne Rooney. He is now one of only 9 Englishmen in history to gain 100 caps for their national team. Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, and Frank Lampard are still playing, but have retired from international football with 107, 114, and 106 caps respectively. He joins Sir Bobby Charlton as the only forwards in the century cap list, while the all-time leader Peter Shilton is the only goalkeeper on the list. Bending legend David Beckham is second on the list with 115 caps over a 14-year span. As of today, he is 24 caps behind Peter Shilton, and 3 goals behind Sir Charlton.
There are questions as to whether Rooney will be able to eclipse both the caps and goalscoring records before his international career is over. We have a few numbers that might clear the picture. Despite 2014 not officially being complete, the English national team does not have any fixtures scheduled for the rest of the year. That means that Rooney will finish 2014 with 8 goals in 13 appearances. He had 6 goals in 10 appearances during 2013. His career average goals per appearance is .4554, roughly meaning he scores in just under half of the matches he plays. His 2013-14 average is .6086, which is considerably better than his career average.
Barring injury, Rooney will likely captain England through Euro 2016, assuming they qualify. England have 9 scheduled fixtures in 2015 between Euro qualifying and friendlies. Even with his career average, it is likely that Rooney will either tie or better Sir Charlton’s goalscoring record in 2015. There is no way he catches Peter Shilton’s cap record in 2015, but 9 more appearances would put Rooney in 4th place with 110 caps. 2016 would have friendlies, Euro 2016 competition, and probably some 2018 World Cup qualification. In 2012, England played 13 fixtures after advancing to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012. Another 13 matches in 2016 would put Rooney within spitting distance of Sir Charlton.
It is no sure thing that Rooney will play in every England match, but it is more likely now that Hodgson has made him captain. At age 29, Wazza still has plenty of good football left in him, injuries and age may slow him down. For now, we will say that the goal scoring record is probable, while the caps record is possible.
For all the debate about Rooney as a captain and a footballer, 100 caps for your country is an amazing achievement. We give two thumbs up and a standing ovation to Wazza, and wish him all the best in the years to come.
Banned for the first five games of the season and seen as a piece that was teetering on the edge of being more “problem” than “solution” for Liverpool, Luis Suarez seemed destined to depart his English club for greener/Champions League pastures at the end of the 2013/14 season. With the attitude of the whiny Uruguayan during the summer having most speculating that his performances for Liverpool would be poor, it seemed unlikely that Suarez would be seeing Champions League football provided by Liverpool and his sale would be forced through.
Now, thirty goals and an impressive number of assists later, Suarez has been the catalyst that has pushed Liverpool back into the competition that Anfield demands and actually has Liverpool fans hoping (albeit hoping that City stumbles more than Liverpool succeeds) for a possible Premier League title. His work effort as a striker is second to none and he is, easily, the hardest attacker for Premier League defenses to keep track of for 90 minutes. While Sturridge and other Liverpool attackers have also been finding the back of the net with impressive regularity, it takes very little courage to say that Sturridge and the others would probably have their goal totals slashed in half without teams having to also focus on El Pistolero and without Suarez providing them with so many promising chances.
While there have been other impressive players in the Premier League this season, Suarez would probably be flirting with 40 league goals this season if he had not been absent for the first five matches of the season. It is also difficult to add-in the club’s accomplishments with a player when deciding who should win this award, but Liverpool’s jump from the second-best club in their own city to one of the best clubs in all of England (maybe even Europe?) this season has to be attributed to the other-worldly level play of Suarez. Considering the amount of goals that Liverpool have allowed this season, they would probably be battling for Europa League spots (at best) if Suarez was not playing at this level.
If his conduct remains as impressive as it has been this season and he keeps up any semblance of the form he is currently in, he has the ability to become one of the greatest players that Liverpool (and even England) will have ever seen. The only thing that should scare Liverpool fans would be that his stellar play will have caught the interest of clubs with the resources available to tempt the sale of Suarez. Still, from that perspective, Suarez’s play this season (and his new contract) will have increased his transfer fee by incredible amounts. If Liverpool are to experience any type of CL success and remain in Champions League contention next season, the Uruguayan forward will be absolutely pivotal.
In parting, if Suarez is not (at least) on the shortlist for the upcoming Ballon D’Or…then somebody has messed up. If the striker is able to carry his form into Brazil this summer, underestimating Uruguay would be at your own peril. Suarez deserved this award, and he has made it where Liverpool deserves Champions League football. Impressive for a man that was only seen as a cannibal and racist around one year ago…very impressive…
Any follower of the MLS post-season will be well aware of how Clint Dempsey and the Sounders made their exit at the hands of their most hated rival and really looked like they had been run off the pitch by a team without a true high-dollar star. Considering how much work the Sounders obviously need in the off-season in order to justify the money placed in their squad and in order to reward one of the greatest fan bases in the world, it is surprising that Dempsey would choose to head back across the pond…the biggest question now becomes: will this work?
For Fulham, the Cottagers need some serious help. Their defense is positively porous and their attack sputters if Berbatov is unable to find the back of the net. Martin Jol, the manager the last time Deuce found himself in Fulham, has already been sent packing and Dempsey will have to try and become a big part of Rene Muelensteen’s plans. If Dempsey is able to swing back to the stage where he became a household name and save Fulham from relegation, he might get a boost similar to what we would see when Landon Donovan returned from his time with Everton. Considering they are currently heading for relegation, Fulham has nothing to lose and everything to gain in this move.
For Dempsey, it is a chance to return to form. His time in MLS definitely started with more of a whimper than a roar and the Sounders would love for their big money asset to return to his defense-terrorizing ways. This move allows Dempsey to jump back into one of the most intense leagues in the world and face competition that will push his game to a completely different level. In reality, this move should please USMNT fans more than any other. The last thing the U.S. needs heading into their difficult group would be a sub-par Deuce. If Dempsey jets off to Brazil after a big impact at Fulham that carries over into the early MLS season, he will be a force at the World Cup. Considering the man is making BANK in Seattle, this move is a no-brainer for Dempsey.
The only downside for any of the parties involved with this loan would be if Dempsey flops. Considering the talent he has and how badly I (and any other USMNT supporter) want him to succeed, that seems unlikely. However, this is football..and anything (absolutely anything) can happen. Will Dempsey return to Fulham as a savior or will he leave England with his ex-club going down in flames? LET’S WATCH!
The English Premier League continues to grow in strength throughout their table. Where a few seasons ago any light follower of the EPL could predict places 1-7 as soon as the first ball was kicked in the season, the EPL now has the talent pool and the coaching talent to provide shocks, surprises, and quality play from top to bottom. With the way the EPL is growing, will the battle for Europa League spots become as heated as making the top-four once was?
This year, if we have a situation like last season where top four clubs win the continental club cups, the Europa League spots will be fought over by six to seven clubs. Although either Tottenham or Arsenal will probably end up in the top four when the final game is over, the teams that will be in the hunt for the Europa spots include Everton, Liverpool, Swansea, West Brom, and Stoke City. Considering teams like West Brom and Swansea have rarely ever been in a situation to be involved in European competition, this is making for a fascinating race.
European competition adds serious money to any team’s coffers. Although you will only be making a fraction that the Champions League provides, entry into the Europa League still provides your squad with a definite addition to your bankroll. Teams like Everton and Liverpool would prefer to be in the Champions League, but their coaches and players will start to look towards the Europa league once they realize that CL qualification is out of their reach.
Swansea is definitely a club that would be great to see in European competition. Their nickname of Swansea-lona is very apt and their passing would provide some fantastic football for the entirety of Europe to enjoy. Swansea may also find their qualification route through winning the League Cup, so they definitely have the most likely pathway of the smaller clubs.
West Brom has started to fall off their early season hot-streak that saw them sitting in the top four for a large portion of the season, and a fixture against Liverpool will definitely define the direction that the rest of their season will be heading in. Steve Clarke has done wonders with the club, and Europa qualification would be a dream-realized for a club the size of West Brom.
Liverpool and Everton will both want Europa qualification merely so that they can hold it over the head of their rival. Although Everton have been consistent this season, they are experiencing a similar situation to West Brom and the nagging injury that star-man Fellaini continues to play with may end up costing them in the long run. Liverpool, however, have shown that they are coming back to prominence by collecting draws against Arsenal and Manchester City.
Although this will definitely take a better shape in the next few weeks, the depth of the EPL is providing excitement across the entirety of the table. For all we know, the battle for Europa qualification may soon become something that clubs start to target at the beginning of a campaign. All I know is, I am loving this!
Written by: Andrew McCole, soccerprose.com
Earlier this week, we posted about the possibility of Manchester United having already secured the Premier League title. With a nine-point lead and the fact United has not lost since Nov. 17, United seem to be cruising. However, Manchester City’s manager does not think the title is locked up and neither does United striker Wayne Rooney.
“They have nine points more than us because they did better than us. But in three months, everything can change like last year. If we can recover eight points in six games, I think to cover nine points in 13 games will be easy,” Mancini said according to ESPNFC.
“Results are the most important thing now. Look at Manchester City against QPR. They should have got the win, had a lot of chances but ended up dropping points,” Rooney said according to ESPNFC. “Once it comes down to the last four or five games, then we will see what position we are in and work out what we have to do.”
If City is looking for a chance to get back into the title race, this weekend is the perfect opportunity. Everton head to Manchester United this weekend while Manchester City head to Southampton.
In the two clubs first match of the season, Everton beat Manchester United 1-0 at home. This second matchup could have huge ramifications for each team depending on the result. Manchester United are trying to maintain their nine point lead atop the table and Everton is currently three points behind Tottenham for the final Champions League qualifying spot. Everton has not been on quite the same run of form as United, however, Everton has not lost a game in the Premier League since Dec. 30.
Manchester City, on the other hand, will not have as difficult of a game this weekend as league leaders United. Southampton is currently in 16th in the Premier League, only three points above the relegation zone. Even though Southampton has been struggling to get points, they have been a hard team to beat at home. This season, they have won three games, drew five and lost only four games playing at St. Mary’s Stadium. In their past four matches, Southampton has tied Chelsea, Everton and Wigan and only lost to Manchester United 2-1. When these two clubs met earlier in the season, Manchester City won narrowly 3-2.
Even though the quality of opponent is much lower for Manchester City than Manchester United this weekend, neither game will be easy for the teams from Manchester to win. However, for City, if United is to lose this weekend, you cant get a better opponent than Southampton to try and pick up points against. With a United loss and City win, the lead at the top of the table will be cut to six and make the title race exciting once again.
Written By: Eric Stoyanov, Contributing Writer, soccerprose.com
The other day, we posted about Barcelona and their domination this season in La Liga. Despite only holding a nine-point lead on Atletico Madrid, it seems predetermined that Barcelona will win La Liga this season. However, when we look at Manchester United, it does not seem predetermined that they will win the Premier League, even though they hold the same nine-point lead as Barcelona.
Therefore, I pose the question: Is it safe to say United will win the Premier League? Through 25 games, United has won 20, tied twice and lost only three times. Is the reason people don’t give United enough credit in the Premier League because they find them boring? In January, Fox Soccer columnist Leander Schaerlaeckens voiced his opinion of United.
I’m sorry, but I find Manchester United the most boring team in the Premier League.
— LeanderLastNameNoFit (@LeanderOnFOX) January 20, 2013
I’m not saying United isn’t good. I think they’ll win league because they’re the most seasoned, consistent and among deepest. But… *yawn*
— LeanderLastNameNoFit (@LeanderOnFOX) January 20, 2013
However, United has scored 60 goals, the most in the Premier League. The next closest team is Chelsea with 51 goals, and those 60 goals are only 12 goals behind the team many claim to be the best team in the world, Barcelona. So it is not like United are playing 0-0 draws every week. Maybe it isn’t the lack of goals, but the fact that United are so consistent, a fact that Schaerlaeckens pointed out, that makes them boring. If you want to find the last time United lost a game in the Premier League, you must go back to Nov. 17.
Maybe the reason they are boring is because, despite being a big name club, United do not have many big name players. As ESPNFC’s Mark Payne points out, United has Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, but who else?
“When asked to discuss the midfield, United fans often scratch the back of their heads and say something like, ‘They’re okay,” according to Payne. “This has not been the most illustrious year for United’s defence. Seven teams have been more effective at protecting their goal than the league leaders this term.”
The ultimate question remains: Is it safe to say United will win the Premier League? Is United boring because we are just too used to their winning ways? Let us know what you think about the Premier League title race and United’s style of play.
Written By: Eric Stoyanov, Contributing Writer, soccerprose.com
Mario Balotelli is heading back to Milan, however, this time he will be with the other Milan club. Balotelli played for Inter Milan before joining Manchester City in 2010. Balotelli has played in seven games in the Premier League for City this season, but has only scored once.
“Milan reportedly paid $27 million plus bonuses for Balotelli, who will be taking a pay cut to play for the club he has supported since childhood,” according to ESPNFC.
Balotelli’s time at City has been up-and-down. Last season, Balotelli netted 13 goals with one assist as City claimed the Premier League title. That’s the good. The list of bad, as documented by BBC Sport, is much longer. Balotelli has always been a controversial figure and it seemed his time at City was finished several times before the news of his transfer.
Balotelli will be a welcome addition at AC Milan after striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic departed for PSG. AC Milan is currently 12 points behind league leaders Juventus and six points behind Lazio for the final Champions League spot. AC Milan must be hoping the addition of Balotelli will help the team net more goals and climb the table in order to be in the Champions League next season.
Written By: Eric Stoyanov, Contributing Writer, soccerprose.com
If you are a soccer fan, Sunday is the perfect day for you. Not only do Liverpool travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, but Manchester City travel to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal as well.
Both teams come into the match with plenty of positive recent results. Both teams come into the match winning four of their past five games in the Premier League. However, they are still separated by 11 points in the league.
The game is also a must-win for both teams. Manchester City is currently seven points behind league leaders Manchester United. A loss on Sunday could extend United’s lead at the top to double digits, which would be hard to come back from. Since City has already been knocked out of the Champions League, they will want to compete for the Premier League if Mancini is to keep his job after the season.
As for Arsenal, they are currently 18 points behind United, but, more importantly, four points behind Chelsea. Chelsea is currently in fourth place and holding onto the Champions League qualification spot. Arsenal cannot afford to drop points this late in the season if they hope to be part of the Champions League next season.
On a side note, the two teams are having a spat off the field already. Some Manchester City fans are refusing to pay the high-ticket price to watch the game.
“The English champions were given an allocation of 3,000 tickets, but 912 have been sent back and are being sold to Arsenal supporters,” according to ESPNFC.
ESPNFC continues, “A survey carried out in October confirmed Arsenal have the most expensive adult match day ticket and season ticket in the Premier League.”
The dispute between clubs on ticket prices and the fact that both teams need a win on Sunday should create for an exciting match. The first match between these two teams on Sept. 23 ended in a 1-1 tie. Hopefully, this time one of the teams will be able to find a winner and fans will get to see more goals.
Written By: Eric Stoyanov, Contributing Writer, soccerprose.com