The Football Season So Far
By Kevin Cain
As we go to print the Premier League is not quite done and dusted as there are still weeks 37 & 38 to play. However only a fool would back against Chelsea as the four times previous Premier League Champions are due to be crowned for a fifth.
There are perhaps two major reasons for this success; firstly and certainly a major contributing factor is their new manager for the 2016 / 2017 season, Antonio Conte. The animated touchline genius has brought amusement to many with his OTT activities cheering and goading his team on but the formation of a back three was a stroke of genius as he recognised he had the perfect trio of Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta to play it. And with one of the finest goalkeepers in the league, Thibaut Courtois behind them, the formation has proven to be near impregnable. Chelsea had well and truly parked the bus, and benefited with many clean sheets, and carried no passengers.
The second is that Chelsea have had only the league and domestic football to focus on with no European distractions and extra mid-week games to far flung places, their squad has remained fit and intact. This cannot be said of some of their top six competitors who have had tough Champions League and Europa League fixtures, and consequently suffered with squad injuries But fair play, Chelsea have played with flair and attacked with the ferocity of a last orders call in a Glaswegian pub. Victor Moses has been parting defences in waves, and Diego Costa has been his normal grizzly, brooding and menacing self.
So what about last year’s defending Champions? The Nation’s and Thailand’s favourite second team, Leicester City, have made an utter hash of their defence. To the point of having to battle with relegation. Claudio Ranieri who was formerly cited as possible mayor of Leicester was axed without ceremony. Many were disgusted by his treatment as when the most successful manager in the 133 year history of the midlands club was shown the back door, some said he should have remained as manager for as long as he wanted. Shame on many of the players he made into household names.
The relegation fight has been as fiercely fought as any season, but Sunderland once again have been floundering. Even with the addition of new dour new manager David Moyes they really have performed dismally. Newcomers Hull City and Middlesbrough have also found the going really tough and struggled in the most competitive league in the world.
The Championship Round-Up
As bad as they were last season, Newcastle were unstoppable under Rafa Benitez’s guidance. They went on one of their longest unbeaten runs for over twenty years and defeated just about anybody that came up against them.The other Premiership big gun that was relegated, fared a lot differently. Aston Villa to say the least had a bitterly disappointing season and their average home attendances dropped by nearly ten thousand fans. It will be interesting how their supporters will react next season still in the Championship.
Brighton, Huddersfield, Leeds United, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday ………….compete for playoffs.
The Champions League
Spills and Thrills were the order of the day in the Champions League this season. Once again the big Spanish clubs were dominant, and perhaps Barca’s win against PSG was one of the most thrilling games of the competition.
The quarter finals are due to be played on the 12th & 13th of April, and representing Spain will be three teams. The big two, Barcelona and Real Madrid are joined by Atletico Madrid and all three have managed to avoid one another in the draw. Undoubtedly the tie of the round is Bayern Munich against Real Madrid, which has installed Barcelona as favourites to win the trophy.
The English representation in the competition was to say the least poor, with a particularly dismal showing from Arsenal, leading to the “should he go or stay” arguement over Wenger.
Remarkably Leicester City, with all their problems are the last English team representing the Premiership. Their away draw at the Estadio Vicente Calderon in Madrid does give them a glimmer of hope, although their odds at 33-1 make them rank outsiders. But all I can say is remember last year!
The Europa League
As always the Europa League took its toll on many teams competing. For many years now the format of this second tier European competition has been causing many people to doubt its validity. In which other competition do a number of new entrants suddenly appear half way through? Especially those that have failed in another competition and been booted out. The amount of games that some teams have to endure to reach the final stages, often has a direct effect on their domestic league performances. Injuries and fatigue take their toll and surely a reconsideration of the Europa League’s format should be implemented, otherwise it may go the same way as the F.A Cup, or that other one…..what was its name?
At this stage of the competition, Manchester United are the firm favourites to lift the trophy, and their quarter-final away leg against Anderlecht should be enough to see them into the semi-finals. Olympique Lyonnais are possibly the Red Devil’s main rivals in the competition, but they face a tough Besiktas team at home in the first leg. Possibly the tie of the round is Dutch giants Ajax facing off against the powerhouse German team Schalke.