Premier League: Our round 16 predictions

In 8 days, this is the third(!) time I’ve written this post. The fixtures just keep on coming, and we here at FootyFans will be (badly) predicting it the whole way. Well, not all of us – Oliver couldn’t get his predictions in this week.

Oliver is knocking on the door as he leads the pack on 94 points, Alf continues to narrow the gap as he’s on 86, and I’m also starting to pick up more points as I sit on 71.

On with the tipping!

Bournemouth vs Liverpool

Dan

Liverpool’s unbeaten streak has to end. It has too. And what better team to end it than one of the most criminally underrated in the league? I’m backing Bournemouth to win here. 2-1 Bournemouth

Alf

Bournemouth may have lost the last few games but they all hit the back of the net successfully as a consolation. Liverpool just won against the Clarets, although Salah’s not scoring, Firmino and Shaqiri will be there to take the points back home. 3-1 Liverpool

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Burnley vs Brighton

Dan

Brighton struggle on the road, while Burnley aren’t too bad at home. Sean Dyche & Co should be able to eek out a 1-0 here. 1-0 Burnley

Alf

Yes, Burnley may have lost against a quality Liverpool travelling party but finally, they’ve scored a goal. Hopefully, this will help to gain the confidence of the forwards. Brighton, though, would not want to leave Turf Moor with nothing. It’s going to be a draw. 2-2 draw

Manchester United vs Fulham

Dan

United continue to just draw with sides, both good and bad. I can see that sort of mediocrity continuing, when you look Mourinho’s struggles and Ranieri’s quality. 1-1 draw

Alf

The Fulham players must be jotting notes when they were watching Arsenal playing against their opponents next game. Honestly, Mourinho should go when if the home side get nothing after the 90 minutes. It should be an easy win, on paper. 4-1 United

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Arsenal vs Huddersfield

Dan

Undefeated in 20 games in all competitions now, Arsenal continue to show just how much they have improved under Emery, and Huddersfield should be brushed aside fairly easily. 3-0 Arsenal

Alf

I’m a bit disappointed that my team slipped the lead twice when they faced Manchester United to force a draw. To be honest, in the “Herbert Chapman derby”, Arsenal should be able to get the points, but they won’t win big like last season, where they humiliated the visitors 5-0. 2-0 Arsenal

Cardiff vs Southampton

Dan

Southampton have a new manager, so this could potentially go anyway. However, Cardiff have won 3 out of their last home games and are proving a tough challenge, and a challenge that Southampton will not be able to overcome. 2-1 Cardiff

Alf

It’s Ralph Hasenhüttl’s first game in charge as the Saints manager. It’s also his first 90 minutes in England and is not going to be a smooth sailing for the former RB Leipzig boss. Cardiff will be working hard to get the win and force the Saints to make mistakes. But that’s okay, who doesn’t? 1-1 draw

West Ham vs Crystal Palace

Dan

With six goals and two wins in their last two matches, I think we are finally seeing the West Ham we thought we’d see at the start of the season. If they can keep that sort of form up against Palace, then it’ll be another easy win. 2-0 West Ham

Alf

Palace lost the M23 derby away against Brighton. West Ham won against Cardiff. The scores for both fixtures were 3-1. Is history going to repeat itself? I think so. 3-1 West Ham

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Chelsea vs Manchester City

Dan

God damn it Chelsea. Two weeks ago, I was confident that this match was going to be City’s first defeat. But, then you had to go and fall out of form. I hate myself for doing so, but I’ll tip City to win here. 2-1 City

Alf

Chelsea were beaten 2-1 away by the Wolves while City won 1-2 away against Watford. Sarri will demand his men to put up a good fight to against the table toppers. Not going to lie but I really like the away kit of the visitors this season (you won’t see me later, I guess). 3-1 City

Leicester vs Tottenham

Dan

Leicester are another criminally underrated side, and beating them is no easy task. They’ll be able to frustrate Tottenham a lot in this game, and come out with a point. 1-1 draw

Alf

Well, it’s Tottenham and they’re visiting Leicester. Unless the Foxes are planning to stage a comeback like what Arsenal did in the North London derby, I can see the Lillywhites to grab all 3 points back to north London. 3-0 Tottenham

Newcastle vs Wolves

Dan

I have to pinch myself to remind myself that yes, Wolves did actually Chelsea. Considering the inconsistent form, and goal scoring issues of both teams, I can see this being a goalless draw, although I don’t think it’ll be boring. 0-0 draw

Alf

Did anyone really expect the Wolves to win against Chelsea? Even I myself was surprised! Newcastle will be an uphill climb for the wolves but they’re hungry enough to catch the magpies off guard for a tasty “chicken dinner”. 3-1 Wolves

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Everton vs Watford

Dan

When you compare the two teams, Everton have proven that slow and steady wins the race, as they sit in the top six while Watford, despite their electric start are in 11th. With their superior quality, Everton will show Watford who’s boss. 2-0 Everton

Alf

The “Marco Silva derby” is finally here. But the Premier League is no place for sentiment. Everton do have an advantage in getting the points but Silva, as the former Toffees coach, knows how they’ll do it. If it’s not a draw, I don’t know what it is.2-2 draw

 

 

The MLS conference finals are just around the corner

The MLS conference finals are just around the corner

In just three days’ time, the MLS Conference Finals will kick off. We’ve had a long season of football, with 34 regular season matches and now two rounds of finals action. The Conference Finals are effectively, well, just that – the match to determine the best team in the Western and Eastern conferences, and the match to qualify two teams to the MLS Cup Final on December 8th. Here’s what you need to know.

Which teams have qualified?

From the Eastern Conference this year, we’ve got Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls. The Western Conference is contributing Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers. That’s not much to go off, so here’s a quick rundown of each side.

Atlanta United

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This is just the Five Stripes’ second season in Major League Soccer, but they’ve made one heck of an impression so far. Last season, they finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, which qualified them for finals football. However, they went out in the Knockout Round (the first round) on penalty kicks to the Columbus Crew.

This season, Atlanta have upped their game even more, finishing second in the Eastern and qualifying for the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League. Venezuelan national team regular Josef Martinez has led that push with a huge 31 goals, the most ever scored in an MLS season, overtaking the 27 scored by Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips in 1996, 2012 and 2014 respectively. Once you see those numbers, it’s obvious why United are the top scorers this season, with 70 goals.

Miguel Almiron and Julian Gressel have been immense with their 14 assists each this season, and both of them – plus Martinez – are 24 or 25 years of age, meaning they’re coming into their prime. In addition, goalkeeper Brad Guzan, formerly of Aston Villa, has eight clean sheets (shutouts) this season, and Martinez, Almiron, Guzan, defender Michael Parkhurst and midfielder Ezequiel Barco were selected for the 2018 All-Star Game, held in Atlanta.

New York Red Bulls

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The Red Bulls have been going a little longer than Atlanta United – they were a founding member of the MLS, known at the time as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars. In 2006, the Austrian trash-makers and football-destroyers over at Red Bull swept in and purchased the club, rebranding it. That said, they’re still nicknamed the Metros. Last season, they finished sixth in the Eastern, qualifying for finals but going out in the Conference Semis to eventual champions Toronto.

In 2018, they’ve gone better – they topped the Eastern and won the Supporters’ Shield (top of the regular season) to boot. That’s despite a coaching change midseason which saw old manager Jesse Marsch become assistant at Leipzig in Germany. In terms of players, they’ve got ex-Premier League player Bradley Wright-Phillips, and with 20 goals to his name for the season, he’s not doing badly either. He’s supported by Alejandro Romero Gamarra, with the Red Bulls’ new signing making fourteen assists.

The Metros also boast having the best goalkeeper in the division by clean sheets – Luis Robles has fourteen – and he’s a big part of the reason they’ve conceded just 33 goals this regular season, the least in the league. In terms of All-Star quality players, Wright-Phillips is in there, alongside midfielder Tyler Adams and a defensive partnership of Michael Murillo and Aaron Long.

Sporting Kansas CityImage result for sporting kansas city

In the Western Conference, we’ve got Sporting Kansas City, the only Big 5 team based in Kansas (yep, the Big 5 is totally a thing). The Wizards are the only team left in the MLS Cup this season with more than one championship – they’ve got two, whilst the Timbers have one and neither Atlanta nor the Red Bulls have won one yet. Also founded in 1996, Sporting KC finished last season fifth in the Western and lost in the knockout round to Houston Dynamo.

They’ve jumped up the table this season, with a first-place finish in their conference, although they still sit behind both Eastern finalists on points. And it’s not like they’ve done this with a star-studded side – with all due respect to SKC, their squad isn’t full of the big names. One big name is goalkeeper Tim Melia, with thirteen clean sheets for the regular season. Former Betis midfielder Felipe Gutierrez and Andreu Fontas, once at Barcelona, are also in the squad.

Kansas City’s top scorer for the season is the Scot Johnny Russell, with just 10 MLS goals. Looking at their squad, it’s hard to see exactly where the goals have come from, but they have, with Sporting KC being the fourth-highest scorers of the season. And yes, of course they got a few in the All-Stars, with defender Graham Zusi and midfielder Ilie Sanchez finding their way into the squad.

Portland Timbers

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The Timbers, like Atlanta, are an expansion side. Founded in 2011, they’ve managed to lift the MLS Cup once, in 2015. Portland perhaps stand out among this crop of sides in that depending on what metric you use, 2018 may be considered worse for them than 2017. They’ve gone from first in the Western Conference down to fifth, but they’ve gained one point in the regular season and made it (at least) a round further than last season, where they lost to Houston in the Conference Semifinals.

In terms of top players, there’s not much to talk about from this season. Their one All-Star representative is brilliant midfielder Diego Valeri, who’s been running the show in Oregon for what feels like forever, but is actually since 2013. In goal, Jeff Attinella has been a decent replacement for Kiwi Jake Gleeson, and there’s another Kiwi in the squad in Bill Tuiloma.

Apart from that, there isn’t much to say about the Timbers. They’ve been OK at best for most of the season, with a +6 goal difference, the eleventh-best attack and the eighth-best defence. They qualified for the playoffs by six points only, compared to 14, 23 and 25 for the other sides in the Conference Finals. And, because of their fifth-place finish, they had to play one more round of football than the other Finalists.

What happens now?

The Conference Finals start on Sunday US time, Monday NZ time. Atlanta meet the Red Bulls in Georgia at 5pm Eastern Time (11am Monday in New Zealand) before Sporting KC visit Portland, with that match kicking off two and a half hours later. These matches are double-legged, however, and the second matches will be on Thursday US time, Friday NZ time. New York host Atlanta first, at 7:30pm Eastern (1:30pm NZ) and two hours later, Kansas City welcomes the Timbers. Only then will we find out who will meet in the MLS Cup final on December 8th.

 

What happened to star defenders?

What happened to star defenders?

Tuesday this week was the birthday of one of the greatest footballers of all time, in my opinion: Franz Beckenbauer. The German played nineteen years of football for Bayern Munich, Hamburg and the New York Cosmos, as well as making over one hundred appearances for West Germany. He won nineteen trophies as a player, including the World Cup, the Euros and three European Cups. Oh, and he managed a Ballon d’Or or two. Beckenbauer was a star.

And yet he wasn’t banging in the goals like those we admire today. He wasn’t playing in the forwards or setting up chances, and he only broke the ten-goal barrier once, back when he was in the second tier as a youngster. No, Beckenbauer was at the other end, getting tackles in from anywhere and everywhere, marshalling the defence and looking to get the ball up the other end. He was one of the first, if not the very first sweeper in top-level football. He was immensely popular, and it’s not like his talent wasn’t recognised – after all, he won two Ballons d’Or. But what about those players now?

Image result for hummels tackle of the season

It’s not like we’ve got a shortage of talented defenders. Ramos, Varane, Pique, Boateng, Hummels, Kompany, Azpilicueta, Chiellini and that’s just centre-backs. Wider out there’s Alba, Alaba, Kimmich, Carvajal, Marcelo, Danilo, and the greatest player of all time, Seamus Coleman. And yet despite this talent, players who have been doing this for years on end, we’ve decided to focus almost exclusively on forwards.

Just look at the shortlists for the FIFA awards. Last year, twenty-four players were shortlisted for the Best Men’s Player – four were defenders. In 2016, there was just one on the list, and this year, there was also only one (out of ten this time). No defender had been in the final three for the award since 2006 when Fabio Cannavaro won in 2006, and that victory wasn’t as clear-cut as others from its time period.

In part this doesn’t surprise me – after all, would you rather watch Messi or Cristiano score goals and terrorise defences, or Ramos or Pique trying to organise a defence and clear the ball away? There’s a reason FIFA have the Puskas Award for best goal and not one for best tackle or block. But it isn’t something that’s going away soon.

Image result for mathieu peybernes save

Take the World Team of the 20th century, for example. The front six is about what you’d expect, with the slots going to Pele and Garrincha, plus Maradona, di Stefano, Cruyff and Platini. But it’s in defence where the names become less recognisable – Nilton Santos, anyone? Beckenbauer joins Moore, Nilton and Carlos Alberto in a sturdy defence.

But it’s clear to see the gap in recognition between the two groups. For Nilton and Carlos Alberto, these are their only individual awards (alongside the FIFA 100, Pele’s list of people he likes). Beckenbauer of course has two Ballons ‘Or and three World Cup All-Star Team selections, and Moore has one selection to the same team. That’s ten awards across the defence, less than Pele by himself and as many as Diego Maradona. Neither of them were eligible for the Ballon d’Or but the awards have been retroactively reevaluated and alternate winners announced – Pele, Maradona and Garrincha get ten. Add on the seven extra from Cruyff, di Stefano and Platini and the massive gap starts to become evident.

What can be done to fix this, if it even requires fixing? I don’t know. People will always be drawn to the obvious flair, the talent that doesn’t require effort to spot. They’ll find more enjoyment in watching a Kevin de Bruyne scorcher rip into the corner than they will watching Mats Hummels get a toe in and knock the ball out for a corner. It’s unfortunate to see people choose Beckham over Beckenbauer or Socrates over Sokratis, but that’s football.

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