Friday, 25 December 2015

Foxes Top at Xmas While Hornets Sting Reds

Ahead of the packed festive programme, gameweek 17 of the Premier League saw some early Christmas presents for struggling sides while some high-fliers suffered massively. A mixed week for defences with three sides scoring three goals while just four teams kept a clean sheet.

As there was no early kick-off on Saturday, six games took place at 3pm but after the sacking of Jose Mourinho and subsequent re-signing of Guus Hiddink for the remainder of the season, the focus was on Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hosted fellow strugglers Sunderland. The Blues seemed to have shrugged off their recent woes by taking an early lead inside five minutes via Branislav Ivanovic and were soon two goals to the good just eight minutes later as Pedro made it 2-0. Oscar looked to have sealed the win as he made it 3-0 from the penalty spot in the 50th minute but a quick response from the visitors saw Fabio Borini score for 3-1 but they were unable to cut the gap as the Blues earned a rare victory.

Everton hosted league leaders Leicester City at Goodison Park looking to close the gap on the top four while the Foxes knew a win would see them top the tree at Christmas. Riyad Mahrez put the visitors ahead with a 27th minute penalty but the hosts responded well and were level within five minutes as Romelu Lukaku continued his scoring streak to make it 1-1. Mahrez made it two from two from the spot with his second in the 65th minute and the Foxes opened up a two goal lead with Shinji Okazaki's strike just four minutes later for 3-1. The Toffees set up a tense finish after Kevin Mirallas made it 3-2 in the 89th minute but the Foxes held on to cap a superb year going from sitting bottom last Christmas to at least two points clear at the top this time around.

Manchester United hosted Norwich City at Old Trafford with both looking for an upturn in their mixed run of form with the Canaries knowing a win could see them escape the bottom three while the top three called for the hosts. United had been poor in front of goal recently and were unable to register a shot on target in a first half that ended with them 1-0 down after a 38th minute opener from Cameron Jerome.

Norwich were two goals to the good within nine minutes of the restart as Alex Tettey slotted in for 2-0 but United did have a say on the scoreline if only a small one as Anthony Martial made it 2-1 in the 66th minute but the Canaries managed to hold on to their lead and secured a potentially crucial win that took them out of the danger zone and plied the pressure on United boss Louis Van Gaal.

Tottenham Hotspur had the chance to leapfrog United as they hosted Southampton at White Hart Lane with the Saints keen to move into the top half with a first win in five games. The sides seemed to be evenly matched in the first half an hour but they were anything but at the interval as Spurs scored twice in three minutes before the break as Harry Kane and Dele Alli made it 2-0. The hosts were unable to stage a comeback and suffered back-to-back defeats while the visitors secured their first success for four games.

Stoke City hosted high-flying Crystal Palace at the Britannia Stadium looking to move into the top half while the Eagles had they sights set on the top four. A tight first half ended with the Eagles being handed a penalty which Connor Wickham slotted in for a 1-0 lead at the break. Stoke were awarded a chance to level from the spot on 76 minutes which Bojan Krkic slotted in for 1-1 but they were to fall behind late on as Lee Chung-Yong sealed a 2-1 win for the visitors in the 88th minute.

West Bromwich Albion had their sights on a place in the top half as they hosted Bournemouth at The Hawthorns with the Cherries hoping to move further away from the drop zone. The Baggies suffered a blow on 34 minutes as James McClean was sent off for a horrible challenge but it took until the 52nd minute for the Cherries to take advantage as Adam Smith made it 1-0. Gareth McAuley levelled for the ten men in the 79th minute but a Charlie Daniels penalty with three minutes left looked to have sealed a 2-1 win but the woe for the hosts was compounded in added time as Salomon Rondon was sent off leaving them with nine men.

The evening kick off saw a battle between to struggling sides as Newcastle United hosted bottom side Aston Villa at St James Park with Villa hoping to seal just their second win in 17 games. The Magpies had other ideas though as Fabrizio Coloccini put them 1-0 ahead in the 38th minute but Villa avoided defeat with a 61st minute leveller from Jordan Ayew proving to be enough to secure just their seventh point of the season in a 1-1 draw.

Super Sunday began with high-flying Watford hosting Liverpool at Vicarage Road with the Hornets looking to move to within a point of the top four with a fourth win in a row while the Reds looked for a second win in four games. The hosts were gifted a perfect start as a fumble by Adam Bogdan allowed Nathan Ake open the scoring inside three minutes before a clever effort from in-form striker Odion Ighalo doubled the Hornets lead in the 13th minute. The Reds were unable to pull a goal back in a lacklustre hour after going 2-0 down and coupled with an injury to Martin Skrtel, they afternoon could only get worse as Ighalo made it 3-0 with five minutes left of the 90 leaving the Reds in ninth.

Swansea City hosted West Ham United at the Liberty Stadium in the second part of Super Sunday with both sides desperate for a win that would end a poor run of form. The Hammers had drawn the last three games while the Swans had lost the trio so in a close game, the hosts were the happier as they shared the points in a 0-0 draw.

The final game before Christmas saw a clash between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium with the Gunners looking to leapfrog their opponents in second place with a win while City had the chance to cut Leicester's gap at the top to three points. The Gunners took a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute through Theo Walcott before going two goals to the good just before the interval as in-form Olivier Giroud made it 2-0 in the 45th minute. City remained in the hunt as the game entered the final 15 minutes and set up a tight finish as Yaya Toure made it 2-1 with a superb strike on 82 minutes but it was to be only a consolation as the Gunners went into the festive period just two points off the top.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Foxes Stun Champions While Reds Late Show Denies Baggies

Ahead of what could be the one of the most exciting festive periods in Premier League history, week 16 became one of the lowest scoring weekends of the season with just seven sides managing to score twice while only four sides claimed clean sheets.

Saturday's opener saw Norwich City host Everton at Carrow Road with the Canaries looking to move out of the bottom three and prevent the Toffees from closing up on the top four. However, their hopes were dented early on as Everton opened the scoring in the 15th minute as the in-form Romelu Lukaku made it 1-0. The Canaries bounced back just after the restart as Wes Hoolahan equalised in the 47th minute for 1-1 and despite both sides rallying for a winning goal, they were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.

In a battle between two sides looking to move into the top half, Crystal Palace hosted Southampton at Selhurst Park in the first of just four 3pm games. The Eagles were in good form ahead of the game while the Saints were on a mixed run so it was no real surprise that the hosts struck first as Yohan Cabaye fired them into the lead after 38 minutes. Southampton looked to draw level but were unable to breach the Palace defence which ensured the hosts sealed a 1-0 win leaving the Saints without a win in four.

Manchester City had eyes on taking top spot as they hosted a Swansea City side desperate to end a poor run of form which had seen them win just once in nine games. The hosts struck an opener in the 26th minute as former Swans attacker Wilfried Bony made it 1-0 and his side were unlucky not to add to their advantage as the game went on.

The win looked to be on course for the hosts until a leveller from Bafetembi Gomis in the 90th minute saw him end a barren run in front of goal for 1-1. The joy was soured by a deflected effort just minutes later from Kelechi Ihenacho for 2-1 which saw City leapfrog Leicester into top spot.

Sunderland hosted high-flying Watford at the Stadium of Light looking to move out of the bottom three while the Hornets had the chance to go up to seventh. The hosts have had a poor season so far and less than four minutes into the game, their woes were extended as Odion Ighalo fired the visitors into the lead. The game became a tight one between the sides and though they battled on, Sunderland were unable to draw level leaving Watford to claim the points in a 1-0 win and sit comfortably in the top half.

West Ham hosted Stoke City at Upton Park with both sides harbouring hopes of bridging the gap to the top four. However, the sides seemed to evenly matched not only in the table but also on the pitch as they shared the points in a 0-0 draw.

Saturday Night Football saw Bournemouth host Manchester United at the Vitality Stadium with the Cherries looking to record back-to-back SNF wins after last week's win over Chelsea while United had the chance to close up at the top. The Cherries raced out of the blocks with an opening goal from Junior Stanislas coming straight from a corner in the second minute. United drew level in the 24th minute as Marouane Fellaini made it 1-1 but the hosts were able to regain the lead just seven minutes after the interval with as Josh King struck the winning goal to seal a 2-1 win.

Sunday's action started with bottom side Aston Villa hosting Arsenal at Villa Park with the Villa looking to secure a rare victory while the Gunners eyed up top spot. A good start for the visitors saw them given a great chance to open the scoring as they were awarded a penalty in the eighth minute which Olivier Giroud slotted in to make it 1-0.

Villa's woes this season have seen them have two managers and current coach Remi Garde's task of a win grew even tougher before half-time as Aaron Ramsey made it 2-0 in the 38th minute. The two goal lead for Arsenal proved to be enough to send them above Man City at the top and leave Villa eight points from safety.

Liverpool hosted West Bromwich Albion at Anfield looking to avoid back-to-back defeats while the Baggies hoped to widen their advantage over the bottom three. The Reds opened the scoring in the 21st minute as returning captain Jordan Henderson scored on his first league start since August but his effort was soon cancelled out by a clever equaliser from Craig Dawson who made it 1-1 on the half hour mark.

Completing Sunday's trio of games was Tottenham Hotspur's hosting of Newcastle United at White Hart Lane with Spurs eyeing up a top four spot while the Magpies hoped to increase their advantage over the bottom three.  The hosts struck first with Eric Dier heading in to make it 1-0 after 39 minutes and the sides remained just one goal apart until deep in the second half when Aleksandar Mitrovic levelled in the 74th minute and the Magpies sealed their second win in a row with a last-gasp strike from Ayoze Perez for 2-1.

The weekend's action came to an end with Monday Night Football which saw high-flying Leicester City host struggling champions Chelsea with the Foxes keen to regain top spot and prevent the Blues from moving clear of the bottom three. After missing out on the chance to extend his scoring record last week, Jamie Vardy laid the foundations for a new streak as he made it 1-0 to the hosts in the 34th minute and the Foxes doubled their lead just three minutes after the interval. Riyad Mahrez fired in a stunning effort to make it 2-0 and leave the visitors with a huge task to prevent a ninth defeat in a poor season so far. They ticked the first box to a comeback with a 77th minute strike from Loic Remy but at 2-1 they were unable to draw level leaving them just one point above the drop zone while the Foxes moved two clear at the top.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Europa League Matchday Six Review

After the Champions League group stage reached the end leaving eight third placed sides confirmed to drop down into this competition, the Europa League itself also ended the group stage this week with matchday six.

In a group where three sides battled for two qualification places, Ajax hosted Molde with the hosts needing a win to advance while the visitors could qualify even with a defeat. The Dutch side boosted their hopes of qualifying as they took an early lead via a 14th minute opener from Van de Beek before being pegged back on 29 minutes by an equaliser from Singh for 1-1. The sides remained level long into the second half with the only notable action before the end seeing Gudelj dismissed on 90 minutes for the hosts who exited the competition.

Fenerbache hosted already eliminated Celtic knowing that a win would guarantee qualification but a draw would need a similar result in the other game for them to advance. Their pursuit of a win was boosted as early as the 39th minute as Lazar Markovic fired them 1-0 ahead but they received a blow on 67 minutes as Diego was dismissed. Celtic utilised their numerical advantage to good effect as they levelled through Kris Commons on 75 minutes but a 1-1 draw was the best they could salvage.

Already eliminated Bordeaux hosted Rubin Kazan with the visitors needing a win and a favour from Liverpool to qualify for the next stage. They started their hunt for the win with a 31st minute opening goal from Kanunnikov for 1-0 before the hosts who turned the game around to 2-1 in the space of five minutes with strikes from Laborde and Rolan on 58 and 63 minutes. The Russians levelled with 14 minutes left through Ustinov for 2-2 and despite the hosts going down to ten men with Guilbert's 86th minute dismissal, they were unable to regain the lead and joined their opponents in exiting the competition.

Already qualified Liverpool had eyes on confirming top spot as they hosted a Sion side knowing a draw at the very least would see them join the Reds in the next stage. Both sides seemed to be evenly matched in an average 90 minutes that saw the Reds field a mixed team but in a 0-0 draw, they were happy to end the stage unbeaten while the Swiss side celebrated reaching the next stage for the first time.

Already qualified Borussia Dortmund had eyes on top spot as they hosted a PAOK side who looked for their first win with third spot already confirmed as their best possible finish. A tight game between the sides was settled by just a single goal as the Greeks sealed their long awaited first victory with a 33rd minute strike from Robert Mak to seal a 1-0 win.

FC Qabala hosted group leaders FC Krasnodar having already been eliminated but hoping to end with their first win while the Russians hoped to guarantee top spot having already qualified for the next stage. The visitors opened the scoring in the 26th minute as Sigurdsson made it 1-0 before they doubled their lead to 2-0 just before the interval through Pereyra. The gloss on a comfortable win for the group winners came as Carneiro struck for 3-0 in the 76th minute.

In a three way battle against Legia Warsaw to advance, FC Midtjylland hosted Club Brugge knowing a win would guarantee qualification as would a draw but the latter would depend on Legia's result while Brugge knew only a victory would see them advance. The hosts struck an opener in the 27th minute through Sisto and looked to be on course to sail into the next stage as the game reached the hour mark but they were soon pegged back by a leveller from Vossen on 68 minutes for 1-1. Both sides pushed for a winner but to no avail as they shared the points and in doing so the hosts secured their place in the next stage.

Already qualified Napoli hosted Legia Warsaw with an immaculate group campaign of 18 points in their sights while the Poles looked to avoid finishing bottom with a win. A seven goal thriller between the sides saw the Italians strike first with a seven minute salvo ahead of half-time as Chabolah and Insigne scored in the 32nd and 39th minutes for 2-0. Callejon added a third just before the hour mark before Vranjes pulled one back for the visitors to make it 3-1. However, any hopes of a comeback were dented within five minutes as Mertens made it 4-1 but Poles looked to have the last say as Prijovic made it 4-2 in the final minutes but even that joy left them as Mertens claimed his second to secure a 5-2 win and confirm a 100% record for Napoli atop the group.

Already qualified Rapid Vienna looked to confirm top spot as they hosted eliminated Dinamo Minsk who in turn hoped to avoid finishing in bottom spot. The Austrians struck an opener in the 29th minute as Hofmann made it 1-0 and they were two goals to the good by the hour mark after Jelic's effort for 2-0. Dinamo had the last say on what has been a disappointing campaign as they made it 2-1 through Abdussalam on 64 minutes but the goal was just a consolation as the hosts celebrated topping the group.

Viktoria Plzen having already been eliminated and guaranteed third spot had nothing really to lose as they hosted a Villarreal side who had already qualified but were hoping a favour from Dinamo would enable to try and top the group. The two sides shared six goals in a thrilling game that saw the lead change three times and started with Kolar slotting in an eighth minute opener from the penalty spot for 1-0 only to have the effort cancelled out just before half-time as Bakambu equalised for 1-1. Dos Santos put the visitors 2-1 up on 62 minutes before a rapid leveller just three minutes later from Kovarik made it 2-2. The hosts regained their earlier lead in the final minutes as Horava made it 3-2 but their joy was quickly dampened as Soriano Llido scored in added time to salvage a 3-3 draw.

Already eliminated FC Groningen hosted group leaders and already qualified Sporting Braga who knew a positive result would confirm them as group winner while the hosts looked to end the stage with their first win. However, the group standings were defied by the match itself as the two sides shared the points in a 0-0 draw which was enough to seal top spot for the Portuguese side.

In the battle to claim the remaining qualifying spot, Slovan Liberec hosted Olympique Marseille knowing a win for either side would be enough to qualify but a draw would see the French side claim a place in the last 32. The visitors started the better of the two sides and opened the scoring inside 14 minutes through Batshuayi before storming into a 3-0 lead with two goals in five minutes either side of the interval from Mdiba and Barrada before two goals in as many minutes from the hosts in the 75th and 76th minutes made it 3-2 as Bakos slotted in a penalty ahead of Sural's effort. Marseille sealed the win and a place in the next stage with a 90th minute strike from Ocampos who made it 4-2.

In a meeting between the two eliminated sides, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk hosted Rosenborg with both sides hoping to avoid propping up the group. The hosts started the better of the two sides and took a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute through Nasciemento who added a second on the hour to make it 2-0. Rosenborg went into the game without a win in their five games and the woeful streak was extended further as Shakhov sealed the points for the Ukrainians with a 79th minute effort to make it 3-0.

St Etienne hosted fellow qualifiers Lazio with the Italians knowing anything but a heavy defeat would result in them becoming group winners. A tight affair between the two sides saw Lazio open the scoring in the 52nd minute through Matri only to be denied the win with 14 minutes remaining as Eysseric struck to salvage a point in a 1-1 draw.

This group saw all but the eliminated Skenderbeu Korce remain in contention to qualify going into the final round of games with the basement boys playing host to Lokomotiv Moscow who knew a win coupled with a failure to win from Beskitas would secure top spot and qualification to the next stage.

The Russians started their task well by taking an early lead in the 18th minute as Tarasov made it 1-0 but the hosts did well to keep the gap down to one goal long into the second half and with five minutes left, the visitors were anxious of a late equaliser but they were soon safely in the next round as Niasse and Samedov struck in the final two minutes to wrap up a 3-0 victory and secure top spot in the group.

The battle for the other spot in the last 32 saw Sporting Lisbon host the current group leaders Besiktas who needed just a draw to secure a spot in the next stage while their hosts needed a win. The Turks opened the scoring in the 58th minute as Mario Gomez made it 1-0 but the hosts turned the game around with two goals in the space of five minutes from Slimani and Ruiz. Sporting extended their lead with a quick third from Gutierrez to secure a 3-1 win which was enough to leapfrog their opponents and claim a place in the last 32.

Already qualified Fiorentina hosted eliminated Belenenses knowing regardless of the result they would finish in second spot while the visitors looked to avoid propping up the group with a win and hoping Lech failed to better their result. The Italians sealed the points with a single goal victory courtesy of a 67th minute strike from Babacar to finish on 10 points and leave the Portuguese side to hope Lech suffered a heavy defeat in order to finish in third spot.

Lech Poznan hosted group winners Basel hoping to claim third spot with only their second win of the campaign while Basel hoped to end the stage with five wins from six games. The Swiss side needed only one goal to secure the win with the vital strike coming in the 50th minute from Boëtius which secured their fifth success and as the hosts only suffered a narrow defeat they sealed third spot ahead of Belenenses. 

Already qualified RSC Anderlecht hosted eliminated FC Qarabag needing a win to remain in the hunt for top spot while a win for the visitors would give them a chance of avoid propping up the group. The visitors took a surprise lead in the 26th minute as Quintana put them ahead at 1-0 only for his effort to be rapidly cancelled out by an equaliser from Najar for 1-1. The Belgians struck again just three minutes later as Okaka made it 2-1 and despite a battling spirit from the visitors to draw level, the host held firm to claim the win and leave Qarabag bottom of the group. 

Alike Anderlecht, Tottenham had already qualified and as they hosted eliminated Monaco, they knew that a positive result would be enough to secure top spot in the group while for the French side even a defeat could see them finish in this spot. A 35 minute first-half hat-trick from Erik Lamela saw Spurs take control with the midfielder striking in the second, 15th and 37th minutes to make it 3-0. Monaco pulled one back through El Shaarawy in the 61st minute before Tom Carroll completed the 4-1 rout for the hosts with a 77th minute strike. 

Eliminated Apoel Nicosia hosted already qualified Sparta Prague looking to move off the foot of the group with a win while the visitors knew a win and a defeat for Schalke in the other game would see them claim top spot. The hosts took a surprise lead as early as the 16th minute as Cavenaghi made it 1-0 and Apoel did well to maintain their lead past the hour mark before being pegged back by a 63rd minute equaliser from Julis. The Czechs built on their leveller with two goals in ten minutes from Lafata whose 77th and 87th minute efforts secured a 3-1 win which condemned the hosts to fourth spot in the group.

Already eliminated Asteras Tripoli hosted group leaders and already qualified Schalke 04 who knew that a win would be enough to see them become group winners into the last 32. The Germans took the lead in the 29th minute as Di Santo made it 1-0 and they were two goals to the good as Choupo-Moting made it 2-0 in the 37th minute. The hosts had scored four times in their five games but were unable to add to their collection as Schalke struck a third and fourth in the final 12 minutes with Choupo-Moting claiming his second on 78 minutes ahead of Meyer's 86th minute strike to complete a 4-0 rout.

Already qualified Athletic Bilbao hosted eliminated AZ Alkmaar knowing a win would see them claim top spot. However, they fell behind inside 26 minutes after an opener from Van Overdeem but went into the interval on level terms after Clemente equalised in the 44th minute for 1-1. The hosts completed the comeback by taking a 2-1 lead just two minutes after the restart with Mikel San Jose slotting in a penalty but their joy was soured late on as the visitors salvaged a draw with an 88th minute own goal from Teixidor for 2-2.

In a battle to claim the remaining spot in the last 32, Partizan Belgrade hosted FC Augsburg knowing that a positive result would see them advance while a win for the Germans would put them into the next stage. The hosts boosted their position by taking the lead after only 11 minutes through Oumarou but in the space of eight minutes either side of the interval they went from 1-0 ahead to 2-1 behind as Jeong-Ho and Verhaegh scored for the visitors. The hosts chances of a comeback suffered a blow as the game reached the final ten minutes as Zivkovic was sent off and their fate was sealed late on as Bobadilla struck in the 89th minute to confirm a 3-1 win that sent Augsburg into the last 32. 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Champions League Matchday Six Review

Ahead a long winter break for the Champions League which will see eight sides exit European competition and eight more drop down to the Europa League, matchday six saw the final structure of the last 16 confirmed with a few surprises in the mix.

Already qualified PSG played host to a Shakthar Donetsk side who were preparing for a drop into the Europa League but hoping to exit this competition on a high. However, it was to be the French side who ended the group stage with success as they secured a 2-0 win with second half strikes from Lucas Moura and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 57th and 86th minutes.

Real Madrid were guaranteed top spot in the group having already qualified but they fielded a strong side as they hosted already eliminated Malmo FF. Malmo's campaign has been a miserable one and after a 5-0 loss to PSG in the previous game, anything less would be a slight consolation. Real had other ideas though as they raced into a 2-0 lead inside 24 minutes courtesy of a brace from Karim Benzema and with Cristiano Ronaldo adding a third on 39 minutes, it was set to be a long night for the Swedes.

Ronaldo stunned the visitors by completing a 19 minute quadruple as after adding strikes in the 47th and 50th minutes for his hat-trick, he made it 6-0 overall in the 58th minute. Humiliation confirmed for the visitors but it got even worse as Kovacic added a seventh on 70 minutes and Benzema completed his treble for 8-0 in the 74th minute.

PSV Eindhoven hosted CSKA Moscow knowing a win would guarantee them a spot in the last 16 while the visitors harboured chances of securing the consolation prize of the Europa League spot.  A tight game coupled with eyes on the other from the Dutch fans left them going into the last 15 minutes at 0-0 but on course to advance but they fell behind after Sergei Ignashevich scored a penalty for 1-0 but a superb fightback saw De Jong level within two minutes before Propper sealed a 2-1 win and qualification in the 85th minute.

Wolfsburg hosted Manchester United in the battle to secure top spot ad both knew that a draw coupled with a CSKA win would see them both through to the last 16. United started the better of the two as they took an early lead inside ten minutes via Anthony Martial's opener. However, the hosts wasted no time in levelling as Naldo equalised in the 13th minute. The turnaround was complete in the 29th minute as Vierinha put the hosts 2-1 ahead but their fate was on a knife-edge with eight minutes to go as Guilavogui deflected into his own net to bring United level at 2-2. The Germans had one more ace up their sleeve though as Naldo sealed a 3-2 win just two minutes later with his second goal which meant the EPL side dropped into the Europa League.

Benfica hosted Atletico Madrid in a battle to top the group with both sides having already qualified for the next stage. The visitors opened up a 1-0 lead inside 22 minutes with a strike from Niguez before doubling the advantage ten minutes after the restart as Vietto made it 2-0. The hosts remained in the hunt with a 75th minute effort from Mitroglou but were unable to draw level meaning that the Spanish side secured top spot and the hosts finished in second.

Due to the top two having qualified for the last 16, Galatasaray hosted FC Astana in a battle to secure the Europa League spot and avoid propping up the group standings. The visitors had yet to claim a win so far at this stage but boosted such hopes with an opener on 62 minutes from Twumasi only to be rapidly pegged back by Inan's leveller within two minutes for 1-1. The sides remained level until the end meaning that the Turks dropped into the Europa League and the Kazakhs ended their first Champions League group campaign with four draws in six games.

Already qualified Manchester City hosted a Borussia Monchengladbach side who were looking to secure the Europa League spot with a win and prevent City from topping the group. The hosts started the better of the two sides with David Silva putting them 1-0 up only for Korb to level for 1-1 within three minutes. The turnaround was complete for the visitors in the 42nd minute as Araujo made it 2-1 but City battled back in style with three goals in the space of five minutes as Raheem Sterling struck a brace in the 79th and 81st minutes ahead of a strike from Wilfried Bony for a 4-2 victory.

After reaching the competition as a prize for their Europa League triumph, Sevilla looked to continue their pursuit of a trilogy of titles by securing the Europa League spot with a win over already qualified Juventus. The hosts secured the win they needed with a 1-0 success courtesy of a 65th minute strike from former Juve striker Fernando Llorente and his haunting of his former side meant that the Italians had to settle for second spot in the group.

Barcelona travelled to face Bayer Leverkusen having secured top spot and qualification but looking to end the group with an unbeaten record while their hosts knew a win could be enough to join the Catalans in the next stage. The hosts struck an opener after 20 minutes as Javier Hernandez made it 1-0 only for his effort to be rapidly cancelled out within three minutes as Lionel Messi equalised for 1-1. The sides both pushed for a winner but had to settle for a share of the point leaving the Germans hoping for a Roma-BATE draw in order to progress.

AS Roma and BATE Borisov faced off with both knowing a win coupled with a failure to win from Leverkusen would seal a place in the next stage. However, the sides were unable to outdo each other and shared the points in a 0-0 draw, this meant that the Italians advanced due to their superior record against Leverkusen who in turn dropped into the Europa League leaving BATE propping up the group.

Bayern Munich had already secured top spot and qualification as they travelled to face a Dinamo Zagreb side playing their last European game due to finishing bottom of the group. The Germans continued their near perfect run in the group with a 2-0 win that saw the in-form Robert Lewandowski strike in the 61st and 64th minutes to secure the three points which saw Bayern finish on 15/18 overall.

Olympiakos hosted Arsenal in a battle to finish second to Bayern and join them in the last 16 but for the EPL side only win by two clear goals would be enough to force the Greeks into the Europa League spot. The Gunners' pursuit of a comfortable win saw them take a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute as Olivier Giroud continued his good form in front of goal before he added the crucial second goal just four minutes after half time. At 2-0, Arsenal were on course for the next stage but when they were awarded a 67th minute penalty, Giroud stepped up to complete his hat-trick and confirmed the win for the Gunners who advanced into the last 16 for the 16th year in a row.

In the tightest group of all, three sides went into the final game all with the chance to qualify so when Chelsea hosted FC Porto both sides had the chance to qualify even if they shared the points. The Blues were boosted early on by a Sierra own goal which gave them a 1-0 lead inside 12 minutes and they looked to have sealed the win and top spot in the group when Willian made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute. Porto battled to close the gap but were unable to breakthrough a strong Blues defence leaving them to hope Dynamo Kyiv failed to win in order to join Chelsea in the next stage,

Dynamo Kyiv hosted already eliminated Maccabi Tel Aviv knowing that a win coupled with a Porto defeat would see them reach the last 16 and thereby leave their opponent rock bottom of the group without a single point from 18.  The Ukrainians needed just one goal to secure a crucial win as Garmash struck the winning goal in the 16th minute and due to the positive result for them in the other game, they sealed a place in the last 16 while Maccabi Tel Aviv joined the list of sides who failed to claim a single point in the group stage.

KAA Gent hosted already qualified group toppers Zenit St Petersburg looking to prevent the Russians from completing a perfect campaign by sealing a spot in the next stage with a win coupled with a negative result for Valencia in the other game. The Belgians pursuit of a surprise win was boosted early on as they took a 1-0 lead via a strike from Depoitre in the 18th minute. However, Zenit drew level just after the hour mark as Dzyuba extended his superb scoring streak for 1-1 but the hosts secured the win with 12 minutes left as Milicevic made it 2-1 and handed the Russians their first loss of the group stage leaving them on 15 points.

Valencia hosted already eliminated Olympique Lyonnais needing to win and hoping Zenit avoided defeat in order for them to progress to the last 16. Lyon had yet to claim a win in the group but boosted their hopes with an opening goal in the 37th minute from Cornet for 1-0. The visitors doubled their lead in the 76th minute through Lacazette who made it 2-0 which is how it ended meaning that they avoided joining a list of sides who failed to earn win in the group but in doing so ensured Valencia dropped into the Europa League in their first game under the charge of Gary Neville.

Last 16- Real Madrid, Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Zenit St Petersburg.

Europa League- Shakthar Donetsk, Manchester United, Galatasaray, Sevilla, Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiakos, FC Porto and Valencia.

The draw for the next stage will be posted alongside the Europa League draw next week before the break in writing until the competition resumes in February 2016.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Foxes Back On Top While Magpies Stun Reds

Week 14 of the Premier League comes just ahead of the final European midweek programme of the year but for the six EPL sides in the UCL/EL it was a mixed weekend with just one side securing a win.

Saturday's early kick-off saw Stoke City host league leaders Manchester City at the Britannia Stadium with the Potters keen to move further up the top half of the table. Their pursuit of such a feat saw early success as Marko Arnautovic fired them into a 2-0 lead with strikes in the seventh and 15th minutes. The visitors battled hard to cut the deficit but were unable to create a good enough opening to beat the Stoke defence which managed to hold firm for the full 90 minutes as the Potters claimed the points.

In the first of six 3pm games, Arsenal hosted Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium with the Gunners looking to capitalise on Man City's failure to open up a gap at the top of the table.The first third of the game was a pretty tight one between the two sides but Arsenal soon made a breakthrough as Joel Campbell slotted in a 33rd minute opener for 1-0. However, Sunderland were to go into the half-time break on level terms as Olivier Giroud deflected into his own net to make it 1-1 in the 45th minute but the French striker went from villain to hero as he scored at the correct end in the 63rd minute to give the hosts a 2-1 lead. The three points and a leapfrogging of Man City were confirmed late on as Aaron Ramsey made it 3-1 in the 90th minute.

Manchester United had the chance to end the weekend in at least second spot as they hosted a West Ham United side looking to add another away scalp to their growing list this season which includes Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. However, the Hammers had to settle for just a point in their visit to Old Trafford as the sides cancelled each other out in a 0-0 draw.

Southampton played hosts to bottom of the table Aston Villa looking to move into the top half while Villa were desperate to claim only their second win of the season so far. In a season with little to cheer about for the Villa fans so far, they had the joy of leading 1-0 at half-time after a 44th minute strike from Joleon Lescott. However, Villa were only able to hold on until the 73rd minute as Oriol Romeu drew the Saints level at 1-1 which is how the game ended leaving Villa six points adrift of 19th place.

Leicester City travelled to face struggling Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium knowing a win coupled with bad results for other sides in the top four would see them move two points clear at the top of the table while Foxes striker Jamie Vardy looked to set a new record of scoring in 12 consecutive games. However, only one of those hopes came true as the Swans found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline that saw a superb hat-trick from Riyad Mahrez. The midfielder struck a fifth minute opener before efforts in the 22nd and 67th minutes in a game that saw Vardy's record halted at 11 games.

Watford hosted Norwich City at Vicarage Road looking to move into the top half and such a win would  leave the Canaries on the fringes of the danger zone. The Hornets struck the opening goal on the half hour mark as Troy Deeney slotted in a penalty for 1-0 and they wrapped up the three points in the final stages as in-form Odion Ighalo struck in the 90th minute for 2-0. 

West Bromwich Albion hosted Tottenham at The Hawthorns hoping to move closer to the top half while Spurs had the chance to cut the gap to the top four. However, the two sides shared the points in a 1-1 draw that saw Dele Alli put the visitors ahead in the 15th minute before James McClean equalised in the 39th minute to ensure a share of the spoils.

The evening kick-off saw struggling Chelsea host a Bournemouth side sitting just five points behind the Blues as they visited Stamford Bridge and the Cherries were hoping to become the first promoted side to defeat a defending champion. The sides seemed to be evenly matched in a first half where they score remained level at 0-0 and the parity continued deep into the second half until substitute Glenn Murray sealed a 1-0 win for the visitors with eight minutes remaining.

Super Sunday saw just one game as Newcastle United hosted in-form Liverpool at St James' Park with the Magpies looking to leapfrog rivals Sunderland into 18th place against a Reds side that included six changes from the midweek demolition of Southampton.  A tight first half saw both sides falter in front of goal leaving them level at 0-0 into the interval but the Magpies got lucky in the 69th minute as a shot from Georginio Wijnaldum deflected in off Martin Skrtel for 1-0. Wijnaldum might not be able to claim the effort as his goal but he made sure of a mark on the score-sheet as he confirmed a 2-0 win with a 90th minute strike.

The final game of the week came in the Monday Night Football meeting at Goodison Park as Everton hosted Crystal Palace in a match that saw both sides looking to close up on the top four. A tight first hour saw the score remain level at 0-0 but the Eagles made a breakthrough on 76 minutes as Scott Dann made it 1-0. However, Everton were able to salvage a point as Romelu Lukaku equalised for 1-1 in the 81st minute.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Capital One Cup Quarter Final Review

After a while since the previous round, the Capital One Cup resumed at the quarter final stage as eight teams looked to book a place in the semi finals and be just two games away from a trip to Wembley.

Tuesday night saw a trio of meetings which began with Manchester City's hosting of Championship side Hull City and it was no surprise that the hosts scored the opening goal as Wilfried Bony struck in the 12th minute. Hull did superbly after going behind to old the hosts to just the single goal but the difference between the sides began to tell as the game entered the final ten minutes.

Kelechi Iheanacho doubled City's lead before two goals in five minutes from Kevin De Bruyne made it 4-0 but despite an exit now being certain for the Tigers, they did have the last say as Robertson struck a late effort for 4-1.

Championship side Middlesbrough hosted top flight Everton at the Riverside Stadium with 'Boro hoping to edge closer to repeating their past glories in the competition while the Blues were keen to boost hopes of a first triumph. The Blues struck twice in eight minutes before the half hour mark with Gerard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku striking in the 20th and 28th minutes to open up a 2-0 lead. Middlesbrough battled on to try and close the gap but to their despair, the two goal lead was too much as the Blues held firm to reach the next round.

Completing a trio of cross-division meetings, top flight Stoke City played host to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday with both sides knowing a win and a good semi draw would put them in good stead for an unlikely trophy win. However, the Potters showed the prowess in the first third of the game as Ibrahim Afellay put them ahead in the 30th minute and the visitors hopes were dashed last into the second half as Phil Bardsley added a strike on 75 minutes to seal a 2-0 victory.

The final game of the round came on Wednesday night and saw an all-top flight meeting between Southampton and Liverpool with the Saints looking equal their best run in the competition since the '80s while the Reds looked to seal a record 16th appearance in the semi finals. Southampton made a perfect start to the game at St Marys as Sadio Mane headed them into a 1-0 lead in less than 42 seconds. However, Liverpool staged a superb turnaround in a four minute period just before the half hour mark as fit again Daniel Sturridge struck a brace in the 25th and 29th minutes for 2-1.

 The Reds extended their lead just before half-time as Divock Origi connected to a shot from Alberto Moreno for 3-1. Southampton were being ripped apart by a Reds lineup which had six changes from their previous game and it only got worse for the hosts as Origi scored his second on 68 minutes for 4-1 before Jordan Ibe made it 5-1 just five minutes later.  A woeful night for the Saints ended with a sixth for the visitors as Origi sealed his first hat-trick for the Reds with a strike in the 86th minute to complete the rout.

City Back On Top As Reds Edge Out Swans

As the season nears its busiest month due to the festive period, the Premier League schedule reached week 14 which saw a mix of high scoring games and tight encounters.

In the first of five 3pm games, Aston Villa hosted Watford at Villa Park with the hosts desperate to end their woeful form of just one win this season while the Hornets looked to edge closer to the top half. The visitors opened the scoring after just 17 minutes as in-form Odion Ighalo continued his scoring streak for 1-0 but Villa struck back just before the interval as Micah Richards made it 1-1. Villa scored again in the 69th minute but at the wrong end as Alan Hutton's own goal put the Hornets 2-1 in front and they looked to have wrapped up the win as Troy Deeney made it 3-1 with just five minutes left of the 90. Villa set up a tense finish as Jordan Ayew fired in on 89 minutes for 3-2 but to their dismay, that was how it ended. 

Bournemouth hosted Everton at the Vitality Stadium with the Cherries hoping to move out of the bottom three and prevent the Toffees from closing up on the top four.  The Blues struck an opener in the 25th minute as Ramiro Funes Mori gave them a 1-0 lead and they were two goals to the good within 11 minutes as Romelu Lukaku scored for 2-0. Bournemouth stormed back into contention in the final ten minutes as Adam Smith fired in for 2-1 before Junior Stanislas equalised for 2-2 in the 87th minute. Everton ended the Cherries streak with a strike five minutes into added time from Ross Barkley for 3-2 but the game ended 3-3 as Stanislas got his second in the final seconds.

Newcastle made the long trip to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park hoping to move out of the bottom three while the Eagles had a focus on the top four. The Magpies made a superb start with Papiss Cissé opening the scoring inside ten minutes for a 1-0 lead but the Eagles bounced back in style with two goals in three minutes to take a 2-1 lead. James McArthur and Yannick Bolasie edged the hosts in front before another quick double either side of the half-time break from Wilfried Zaha and a second from Bolasie made it 4-1. Newcastle's miserable afternoon got even worse as the game entered the final stages with McArthur scoring his second to complete a 5-1 hammering.

Manchester City hosted Southampton at the Etihad Stadium with the hosts looking to regain top spot while the Saints hoped to move closer to the top four. City started the better of the two sides and were two goals to the good inside 20 minutes as Kevin De Bruyne's ninth minute opener was followed by an effort from Fabian Delph for 2-0. Southampton pulled on back just after the interval as Shane Long made it 2-1 in the 49th minute but it was to be only a consolation as Aleksandar Kolarov sealed a 3-1 success in the 69th minute.

Sunderland and Stoke City met at the Stadium of Light with the hosts looking to move out of the bottom three and the Potters hoping to advance into the top half. A tight first half saw the sides remain level at 0-0 into the interval but the Potters were dealt a blow within two minutes of the restart as Ryan Shawcross was sent off. Despite having an extra man, Sunderland only made an effect in the final ten minutes as strikes from Patrick Van Aanholt (82) and Duncan Watmore (84) sealed a 2-0 win.

The evening game saw a top of the table clash as Leicester City hosted Manchester United at the King Power Stadium with both sides knowing a win would put them clear at the top above Manchester City. The Foxes had another focus in the form of aiding Jamie Vardy's hopes of setting a new record by scoring in 11 consecutive games and they did just that as the red-hot striker struck the record breaking goal in the 24th minute for 1-0. Manchester United's recent form has seen few goals scored by the Red Devils but just one proved to be enough to secure a point as Bastian Schweinsteiger levelled just before the interval for 1-1 which is how the game ended.

Sunday began with a lunchtime London derby as Tottenham hosted Chelsea at White Hart Lane with the visitors looking to increase their gap ahead of the bottom three and prevent the hosts from closing on top spot. Both sides seemed battled to score an opener but across the 90 minutes seemed only to cancel each other out as they shared the points in a 0-0 draw.

Super Sunday coverage began with West Ham United hosting West Bromwich Albion at Upton Park with the Hammers having eyes on the top four and the Baggies on moving into the top half.  Mauro Zaraté gave the hosts an early lead with a 17th minute strike for 1-0 but alike their previous game, the Baggies benefited from an own goal as a shot from Rickie Lambert cannoned in off Winston Reid in the 50th minute to make it 1-1 which is how it ended.

The sole game not to be televised was Liverpool's hosting of Swansea City at Anfield with the Reds looking to close up on the top four and the Swans keen to boost their flagging form that saw them on the fringes of the danger zone. The sides seemed to cancel each other out in a first half where neither was able to mount a single shot on target and the second half seemed to be going along the same lines until a breakthrough came on the hour mark. Neil Taylor was unfortunate to concede a penalty and just like he did a few days earlier in the Europa League, James Milner stepped up to fire the reds into a 1-0 lead which they held on to to claim the three points.

The weekend ended with part two of Super Sunday as Norwich City hosted Arsenal and with both sides at opposite ends of the table, the Gunners were tipped to claim a comfortable win. Their pursuit of such success saw them open the scoring on the half hour mark as Mesut Ozil took advantage of a John Ruddy mistake to make it 1-0 but the Canaries battled back and drew level just before the interval through Lewis Grabban and at 1-1, the sides had to settle for a point each.