Thursday, 19 May 2016

Gunners Seal Second While Baggies Hold Reds

In a season which has to go down as the most exciting and unpredictable in Premier League history, even the final day could not escape some strange circumstances as the game between Manchester United and Bournemouth was abandoned due to a 'bomb scare.

This meant that while the other 18 teams played the final day, those two would close the season on Tuesday evening. Traditionally, the final round of games kicks-off at the same time of 3pm so for this review, I will go in alphabetical order given there were no major positional permutations.

Arsenal hosted relegated basement boys Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium with the hosts keen to secure a second place finish ahead of bitter rivals Tottenham. The Gunners started superbly with Olivier Giroud firing them ahead inside five minutes but from there it was to be a close game for the majority. Villa did well to keep the gap to a single goal until deep in the second before capitulating in the final 12 minutes as Giroud sealed his hat-trick on 78-80 minutes before a Mark Bunn own goal completed a 4-0 rout.

The deposed and newly crowned champions met at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hosted Leicester City looking to dampen the Foxes jubilant end to the season. The game proved to be a tight one with the sides remaining level at 0-0 until just after the hour mark when the Blues were awarded a 65th minute penalty. Cesc Fabregas slotted into to make it 1-0 but the Blues were denied a victory in the final period as Danny Drinkwater salvaged a point by making it 1-1 in the 82nd minute.

Everton hosted relegated Norwich City at Goodison Park looking to finish as high as 11th in a poor season which saw the sacking of Roberto Martinez in mid-week. The Toffees got off to a good start as they took an 18th minute lead through James McCarthy before a Leighton Baines penalty just before half-time doubled the lead.  The points were wrapped up just three minutes after the restart as Kevin Mirallas made it 3-0 to leave the Canaries to end the season just one place off the bottom of the league.

Relegated Newcastle United hosted second-placed challengers Tottenham at St James' Park looking to avoid finishing in the bottom two and thereby deny Spurs a top two finish. The Magpies struck first as Georginio Wijnaldum set up a 1-0 lead inside 19 minutes before a strike from Aleksandar Mitrovic doubled the led on 39 minutes, Spurs fought back on the hour mark through Erik Lamela before they were given a boost as Mitrovic was dismissed seven minutes later. However, the ten men on Newcastle powered on with Wijnaldum making it 3-1 on 73 minutes before a late double from Rolando Aarons (85) and Daryl Janmaat (86) completed a superb 5-1 rout.

Southampton had the chance to claim a European spot as they hosted FA Cup finalists Crystal Palace at St Mary's while the Eagles looked to avoid a bottom five finish. The hosts opened the scoring with three minutes left of the first half as Sadio Mané fired in before Graziano Pellé doubled the lead on the hour. Jason Puncheon pulled one back for Palace three minutes later but to no avail as a Ryan Bertrand penalty (75) and Steven Davis strike late on (87) completed a 4-1 success.

Alike the Saints, West Ham had the chance to finish in a European spot as they travelled to face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. The Hammers struck first as Michail Antonio fired in on 23 minutes for a 1-0 lead but Stoke battled back and levelled on 55 minutes through Giannelli Imbula before a late strike from Mame Biram Diouf sealed a 2-1 win that left the Hammers seventh and relying on the outcome of the FA Cup final in order to secure European football while Stoke made it three ninth placed finishes in a row.

Manchester City knew a point would be enough to secure a top four spot and Champions League place as they visited Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. The visitors started superbly by taking the lead inside five minutes through Kelechi Ihenacho but were pegged back just before the interval by a superb leveller from André Ayew whose equaliser was enough to seal a point in the 1-1 draw.

After securing safety in mid-week, Sunderland looked to end on a high as they travelled to face Watford at Vicarage Road. Jack Rodwell put the visitors ahead on 38 minutes before Sebastian Prodl levelled for the Hornets just two minutes after half-time. Jeremain Lens restored the lead for the visitors on 51 minutes but another leveller for the Hornets saw Troy Deeney secure a point in a 2-2 draw with a 61st minute penalty.

The final game on Sunday saw West Brom host Liverpool with the Reds looking to sign off ahead of the Europa League final with a win. However, their hopes suffered an early blow as Salomon Rondon fired the Baggies in front after just 13 minutes. Jordon Ibe levelled for the Reds with his first league goal and 1-1 is how it stayed meaning the Reds would end the season in eighth.

The season ender came on Tuesday night as Manchester United hosted Bournemouth with the hosts looking to claim fifth place with a win. United struck an opener late in the first half through Wayne Rooney before Marcus Rashford doubled the lead on 74 minutes. The win was wrapped up three minutes from then end by Ashley Young's strike but a last-gaps own goal from Chris Smalling made it 3-1 and denied United 'keeper David De Gea both a clean sheet and the Golden Glove award.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Champions League/Europa League Semi Final Reviews

Just 90 minutes away from two potential finals in Milan and Basel, the English duo of Manchester City and Liverpool had work to do to move closer to securing Champions League spots for next season and a trophy to go with it.

Tuesday night saw Bayern Munich host Atletico Madrid looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg. The hosts took just 31 minutes to level the tie as Xabi Alonso swept in a superb free-kick for a 1-0 lead on the night. However, the advantage swung back to the visitors as Antoine Griezmann levelled at 1-1 but in doing so made it 2-1 on aggregate and with a potentially vital away goal. Bayern needed two to avoid an exit and with 16 minutes left they got the first of the required double as Robert Lewandowski fired in to give them a 21 lead on the night but that was how it ended. The hosts secured the win but missed out on the final via away goals in the 2-2 aggregate.

Wednesday night saw Real Madrid look to join their city rivals in the final as they hosted Manchester City with the tie evenly poised after a goalless first leg. The second leg was almost as close as just one goal settled the tie, a superbly angled shot from Gareth Bale deflected off Fernando and past Joe Hart to put Madrid ahead in the 20th minute. City pushed to drawl level and in doing so secure a place in the final but to no avail as they slipped to the 1-0 aggregate defeat that sets up an all Madrid final.

Thursday night saw the Europa League resume with Liverpool looking to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit as they hosted Villarreal. The Reds took just seven minutes to level the tie as an effort from Daniel Sturridge cannoned in off Bruno Soriano Llido for 1-0 on the night. Sturridge doubled the lead just after the hour mark to put the Reds in control of the tie and their luck was in on 71 minutes as the dismissal of Victor Ruiz all but ended the visitors' hopes. The gloss on the win came nine minutes from the end as Adam Lallana sealed a 3-0 win and 3-1 aggregate win to send the Reds into their first European final in nine years.

Holders Sevilla hosted Shakthar Donetsk looking to reach a third consecutive final and potentially become the first side to secure three titles in as many seasons and after a 2-2 draw in the first leg, they had the advantage of away goals over the Ukrainians. They took just nine minutes to increase their advantage as Kevin Gameiro opened the scoring for a 4-2 lead overall. Eduardo levelled on the night in the 44th minute but a second from Gameiro just two minutes after the restart looked to have wrapped up the tie. However, Sevilla completed a comfortable 3-1 win and 5-3 aggregate success just before the hour through Filho whose strike ensured they would face Liverpool in Basel on May 18th.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Foxes Seal Maiden Title While Swans Stun Reds

The finale to what will surely go down in history as most exciting and unpredictable Premier League season is just three weeks away. Game-week 36 focused around the unique title battle between Leicester and Tottenham with both after an historic triumph.

The weekend began with five 3pm games with the review starting with Everton's hosting of Bournemouth at Goodison Park with both sides just looking to boost their final positions in the league having avoided the drop. The Toffees struck an early opener as Tom Cleverley fired them into the lead on seven minutes but an instant reply from Marc Pugh levelled at 1-1 inside ten minutes. The Blues sealed a 2-1 win midway through the second half as Leighton Baines struck on 64 minutes with his first goal from open play since January 2013.

In a battle to avoid the drop, Newcastle United hosted Crystal Palace at St James' Park knowing a win coupled with negative results for their fellow battlers could leave them above the drop zone. They did their job in securing a potentially vital win as Andros Townsend continued his fine form since joining from Tottenham by slotting in the winner on the hour for a 1-0 success.

Relegation battlers Sunderland travelled to the Britannia Stadium to face a Stoke City side with an outside chance of securing a European spot with the visitors needing a win to move closer to safety. After a goalless first half, their task was made difficult by an opening goal from Marko Arnautovic just five minutes after the restart for 1-0 and as the game entered the final minutes, the hosts looked on the cards for success. However, Sunderland secured what could be a vital point in the relegation battle via a late strike from Jermain Defoe who secured a 1-1 draw.

Watford hosted already relegated Aston Villa looking to boost their hopes of a top half finish by extending Villa's horrific campaign. The visitors took a surprise lead on 25 minutes through Ciaran Clark only to be pegged back just before half-time by Almen Abdi's equaliser for 1-1. Jordan Ayew fired Villa back in front within three minutes of the restart and despite the dismissal of Aly Cissokho on 73 minutes, Villa looked to be on course for a rare win. However, Watford and Troy Deeney especially staged a stunning hate show as the striker fired in twice in the final minutes to secure a 3-2 win.

Rounding off the afternoon was West Brom hosting West Ham United with the Hammers still in the hunt for a top four spot while the Baggies were happy to have secured safety from the drop zone. The Hammers struck the opening goal on 34 minutes as Cheikou Kouyate fired in before Marc Noble doubled the lead just before half-time. A comfortable win was wrapped up on 79 minutes as Noble struck for a second time to make it 3-0 and close the gap to the top four.

The evening game saw top four challengers Arsenal host relegation battlers Norwich City at the Emirates Stadium with the Canaries knowing anything but a win would leave them two points from safety. The Gunners sealed a narrow win courtesy of a Danny Welbeck strike on 59 minutes which opened up a gap on their chasers but also left Norwich with a gap to safety.

Sunday's action saw an early kick-off at the Liberty Stadium as Swansea City hosted a Liverpool side still in the hunt for Europe on two fronts and with the Europa League semi on Thursday, the Reds fielded a very young side. However, it was to be a mixed gamble as the Swans raced into a 2-0 lead through Andre Ayew and a stunning effort from Jack Cork. Substitute Christian Benteke cut the gap on 65 minutes before an instant blow as Ayew made it 3-1 with his second. A miserable afternoon for the Reds was compounded by the dismissal of Brad Smith on 76 minutes in a loss that leaves them all but out of the top four hunt.

The Super Sunday double header saw top four hopefuls Manchester United host table toppers Leicester City at Old Trafford with the Foxes needing a win to wrap up an historic first league title. Their hopes were dealt an early blow as Anthony Martial fired the hosts ahead inside eight minutes before Foxes captain Wes Morgan levelled in the 17th minute for 1-1.The sides remained level long into the second half and the Foxes hopes of a win were dented by the late dismissal of Danny Drinkwater leaving them to wait at least one further day to claim the title.

In a battle between two sided challenging for European spots, Southampton hosted a weakened Manchester City side who looked to have one eye on their upcoming Champions League semi final. The Saints took full advantage as they raced into a 2-0 lead inside the half hour mark with Shane Long and Sadio Mané on target. Kelechi Iheanacho cut the gap just before half-time but two further efforts from Mané either side of the hour made it 4-1. The last say on the game came from Iheanacho as he struck his second goal on 78 minutes for 4-2.

The final game of the weekend proved to be the most pivotal as Chelsea hosted rivals and title challengers Tottenham in what turned out to be one of the most fiery London derbies between the sides in EPL history with a total of 12 players booked yet none sent off across the 90 minutes.

Tottenham knew that anything but a win would mean Leicester City would claim the title with two games to spare so it was no surprise that the visitors struck first as Harry Kane fired in on 35 minutes with Son Heung-Min doubling the lead just before half-time. Gary Cahill cut the gap for the Blues just before the hour mark before Eden Hazard levelled for 2-2 with seven minutes left to create history for the second season in a row by scoring the goal which decided the destination of the league title. The draw meant Tottenham's challenge sadly ended but a first ever top two finish looks on the cards.

To end the review, it is surreal even now to say - Leicester City - 2015/16 Premier League Champions.