As most weekends go at the end of the season there wasn’t a ton of games that had enormous meaning but there were still significant developments all over Europe.
Let’s start up with Liverpool. They came into the weekend with an eight point lead over Chelsea for a top 4 spot. Tottenham is actually 4th but staying ahead of Chelsea is all that stands between the Reds and a guaranteed spot in the top 4 and a trip to the Champions League next season.
Stoke on the other hand started the weekend 4 points behind Swansea from safety from relegation.
As I’m sure everyone knows at this point Livepool and Stoke played to a scoreless draw. If you woke up early in the states to watch this you were probably wishing you didn’t get up early to do so.
The game played out the way you probably would have expected it to. Liverpool had a lot of the ball as Stoke sat back and tried to soak up pressure to keep Liverpool off the board.
- Stoke’s approach
I have a problem with this mentality from Stoke in this game. I get you’re going to have to soak up some pressure against Liverpool and you’re going to have to play defensive but at the same time Stoke should little ambition in this.
I shouldn’t have said I have a problem with it, as much as I should have said that I’m very surprised. Yes, getting the draw was good for Stoke but in the whole grand scheme of things will that point make a difference at all?
Currently Stoke sits with 30 points in 19th, Southampton is in 18th with 32 points and Swansea is in the all important safety spot of 17th with 33 points.
So, yes Stoke is still mathematically alive, but so is West Brom, but Stoke does have a path to safety but that requires them getting all 6 of their remaining points and get help in Southampton’s and Swansea’s remaining games. Even more problematic for Stoke is that Southampton and Swansea all has a game in hand on them.
It’s Stoke’s funeral but I am shocked that their entire approach was to play for a 0-0 draw. It’s realistically won’t be enough. Yes, they had to be pragmatic or they would have gotten blown off the pitch, but at the same time Livepool was resting some regulars and they were probably given it about half of what their full effort would be.
Give Stoke a bit of credit Liverpool didn’t create that much despite having 71% possession and a 20-5 shot edge.
It kind of looked a lot like a bunch of Liverpool’s frustrating performances of the past against bus parking teams, where they have a lot of possession a huge shot advantage, but never really generate chances that you really consider should have been a goal.
Mo Salah had the best chance in the first 5 minutes where he found himself get behind the defense but his attempted chip over Stoke goalie Jack Butland missed the target wide. This was the type of chance he’s been pouncing on so it was shocking to see him not finish this. But this was a sign of things to come. This was a frustrating day and the chances didn’t get any better.
Liverpool only had 2 chances on target in the match, which just isn’t enough. When you’re playing against a team like Stoke playing the way they did, If you’re clinical and efficient in your attacking play you will win. The chances will be there, but if you’re not you’re playing into their hands. They need you to be off your game, to get something using this approach is always going to rely on a bit of luck that you have an off day, which Liverpool did. Scoring goals is hard and if you back men back in the box it makes it difficult. It’s not courageous as people call this but at the same time, the goal is to take away the time and space that an attacking side like Liverpool thrives on and make it tough and sometimes it works out.
- The role of the ref
I hate doing this. I hate bringing the ref into the outcome of the game. I find it to generally be lazy but this time I can’t help myself. Andre Marriner was an absolute joke in this one. But this is a bigger problem with mentality in England.
I believe I have mentioned my thoughts on this a bit in recent blogs and we had a fun little debate in our group chat for the blog about this but this is something I have been thinking about a lot lately and I think is a problem with the league and the mentality in England about the sport.
I could rant about the handball that wasn’t called that should have been a penalty. In a lot of ways it was the same type of handball that was called against Liverpool against Roma last week or the other 3 calls that could have been given as penalties that Marriner ignroed, but nah whatever fair play to you Stoke. You played the English way and you got a point.
You could have just picked 10 guys out of a pub and got them to play the way they played to get a point at Anfield and had just as much of a chance, but in England this type of play gets applauded for how couregous it is and for all the hard work that it require. (Rolling my eyes emoji) this is mostly about luck and you don’t have to know how to kick or dribble the ball by using this mentality.
In all seriousness Stoke didn’t get a point because of how they played they got a point because Liverpool was terrible. It’s that simple. Liverpool was awful in this game and to be honest as long as they finish top 4 and advance to the Champions League final then I don’t care one bit. But I still hate the way that Stoke played.
Just run hard and play physical and you will be fine and in England you will be a hero like the royal family. Don’t play with skill or be a foreigner or you will be looked down upon. I mean should we be surprised this is the same country who went ahead with Brexit. So, to think that the footballing mentality in this country gives more praise to players who mug their opponents, work hard, and tackle hard than players like Mo Salah.
This is what Stoke did on Saturday. Stoke didn’t try to attack at all, they took away space, defending, and played very physical. Every time they got a chance to make a hard tackle they did. If Mo Salah was treated the way he was treated on Saturday on the street the perp would have been arrested for assault, but it’s cool guys he’s a good English boy who plays the game the right way.
This was what Stoke did but Marriner did nothing about it. I don’t blame Marriner he is just doing what he is supposed to be doing. Which is let the physical stuff go. You reward the underdogs for playing hard and give then any advantage they can get. Under no terms do you take care of your star players or elite teams. No wonder star players are always running away to Spain.
Proof is in the pudding with this. The four teams that have received the least amount of penalties this season have been Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Spurs. How is that possible? Well, it’s really not but it’s the mentality in England that roots for that. Think about the corny magic of the cup stuff where people live for a team to get outshot 35-2 and have 22% possession but still win. It’s so magical watching a team that is so bad that they can’t complete 2 passes in a row beat a Premier League that is playing all reserves. It’s so awesome let me tell you.
It will probably never change it will be the only league in any sport in the world that doesn’t take care of their stars. Look I don’t want the stars to receive unfair advantages. I just want to see it be fair. I want every team, every player, and every situation reffed without bias and without giving anyone an advantage. Is that too much to ask?
I also feel this is why England’s national team has performed the way they have. They are more concerned with producing the English type of player over a Month Salah or Eden Hazard that they hold themselves back from having the skill necessary to compete at Euro’s or the World Cup.
I’m plenty will crush me for this because how dare I crush the all mighty Premier League, so bring it. I know how dare I criticize the all mighty Premier League, that is so perfect.
- Should we be worried
Chelsea beat Swansea 1-0 on Saturday to cut the gap to Liverpool to 6 points. Chelsea has a game in hand and Liverpool travels to Stamford Bridge on Sunday to face the Blues.
The reality of the situation is that Liverpool needs 3 points either gained or dropped from Chelsea to lock up the top 4 spot, but there is no doubt the situation is much more fragile as it was a couple weeks ago.
Had they won at West Brom and at home against Stoke it would be wrapped up already but the price of getting so far in the Champions League and all the injuries have taken a huge toll on this team.
The top priority still remains the Champions League and getting the result that’s needed when they head to Rome on Wednesday to advance to the final.
The good news is either way they won’t have any more even if they do advance to the final. They final is May 26, so after Wednesday they have 3 days off till the Chelsea game and even if they lose that, which is realistic, they would have a full week before playing Brighton at home in the season finale only needing a win there to wrap up the spot.
No one wants it to come down to 1 game. The dream screnario is getting the result in Rome and getting at minimum a draw at Chelsea so they will be in the Final and have top 4 wrapped up before the final game but if they can’t get the result at Chelsea I still have the confidence that they can win against Brighton and everything will be fine.
But as I seem to mention almost every blog I write about Liverpool is that these injuries have been a problem and proves even more that probably the most important thing this summer is to spend money on squad depth, so come next season they can compete on all fronts even if they have to deal with injuries that they have dealt with. But the truth to this is squad depth will help and should be a priority but I can only think of one team and that is Bayern Muncih that could deal with the injury crisis that has hit Liverpool.
Then on Sunday came the news that Klopp’s top assistant Zeljko Buvac has stepped away from the club. The two of them have been together for 17 years starting back with Klopp’s time with Mainz and has followed him everywhere since.
Liverpool said he has left the team for the rest of the season for personal reasons, but there is a lot of speculation and panic going on.
Rumors are saying that there has been some sort of rift between the two that strained their relationship so bad that it led to this.
Then we have the panic that Liverpool is now in some trouble for the rest of the season as Buvac is known for being the tactical genius for Klopp, so now folks are worried Liverpool will not have the tactical advantage they seem to often have.
I don’t know what happened but I also trust Klopp and the rumors said Buvac hasn’t been involved in tactical meetings for a while and things have been going quite well tactically but this is another thing to worry about going into Wednesday which is not ideal but where as this and injuries are not what you want I still have the full confidence they will do what’s needed to advance.
2. Scudetto over?
Juventus beat Inter Milan 3-2 on Saturday in one of the crazier games this season and 10 man Napoli lost to Fioretina on Sunday 3-0 and now Juventus has a 4 point lead with 3 games to be played, so it’s all but over for Napoli at this point.
A week ago Koulibaly was the toast of the town scoring the 90th minute winner against Juventus but how quickly you can go from hero to goat in this sport.
It was his red card in the 6th minute that left his team a man down for almost the entire game. It was originally called a penalty and a yellow but the was changed from that to a red and a free kick right outside the box.
Napoli would have been in better shape if it was a yellow and a penalty then the red and the free kick even if they were down 1-0.
Sarri had to add another defender for Koulibaly so someone had to come off but for some reason he chose to take off Jorginho. Why he took off Jorginho I have no idea.
Jorginho is the brains behind the operation with Napoli and in a lot of ways their most important player and they looked lost without him. Being a man down and without him made them look all out of sorts.
Sarri elected to keep his front 3 together and use their press against Firoentina but once Fiorentina got past the initial press there was all kinds of space in the midfield without Jorginho, it left Allan to fill two positions which was too much for him and they couldn’t track Giovanni Simeone’s movement. His movement was brilliant and this and that’s before I mention he had a hat trick.
It was a very bad time for this to happen to Napoli especially when things looked good on Saturday that Inter was going to give them the help they needed to control their own desitny.
Inter like Napoli received an early red but unlike Napoli they managed the early red fine, was the better team and was minutes from winning.
Inter was creating more on the counter attack in the first half and it continued in the second half. Marco Icardi hammered home a header to equalize things in the 52nd minute than they got lead in the 65th minute thanks to a Barzagli own goal.
It was such a strange turn of events for Juve. You could destroy them for their play. It was pathetic in a lot of ways like their play against Napoli. They didn’t offer much going forward and looked lost for ideas and didn’t even seem like they were into the match . It was very strange to see from them, but just when you think they’re dead the rise to life, they get an own goal thanks to a great run by Cuadrado who was incredible in this game. He played right back which was questioned heavily on Twitter but it was a move that paid off. He was Juve’s best player and not doubt the man of the match. He had 4 clearences, 3 tackles, and 2 interceptions. He assisted on Costa’s opener with a brilliant cross to Diego Costa, had the afformentioned run to set up the late equalizer. Cuadrado also completed 87.2% of his 54 passes. He picked Juve up when they needed it the most.
Even the draw wasn’t a great result. They needed to win to put the pressure on Napoli and a win to control their own desitny.
It somehow happend when Paulo Dybala found Gonzalo Higuain for a header, yes the same Dybala who doesn’t show up in big games and the same Higuain who can’t finish in big games combined to complete the come back.
Just like in the Napoli there are some moves to question that may have had an impact on the outcome.
Inter manager Luciano Spilaletti took off forward Mauro Icardi in the 85th minute for Davide Santon. So, Spaletti had them finish the game in a 5-4-0 which gave them no outlet which is Icardi’s specialty. He may not touch the ball a lot which he makes up for with the goals he’s scored but his work rate and movement is also critical to his teams success. Not having him late was a mistake they needed an outlet to get out of trouble to hold Juventus off.
3. Relegation battle
We talked about the relegation fight a bit. Obviously Stoke drew with Liverpool, Southampton beat Bournemouth, and Swansea lost to Chelsea despite a fairly good effort.
Swansea travels to Bournemouth and Southampton travels to Everyone this weekend. Stoke meanwhile faces Crystal Palace.
Also, remember that Southampton and Swansea play midweek in a game that could very well decide this.
Don’t forget about Huddersfield and West Ham though. Huddersfield was awful in a home loss to Everton and West Ham lost to Man City which is well expected.
As it stands it looks like this
15th West Ham 35 points
16th Huddersfield 35 points
17th Swansea 33 points
18th Southampton 32 points
19th Stoke 30 points
20th West Brom 28 points
Despite things getting a little nervy for Huddersfield and West Brom I think they will be fine.
I also think Stoke and West Brom are done so I think it comes down to the Swansea/Southampton game. I just have that feeling that Southampton gets it done and Swansea will go the Championship with Stoke and West Brom.
4. Barelona crowned
Barcelona completed their league double with a 4-2 win at Deportivo La Coruna, which clinched the title for them.
Messi was at his best doing it in style with the hat trick. It was the perfect send off for Iniesta who will be leaving Barcelona.
This is their 7 title in 10 years which is incredible and the double is even more incredible for a team that everyone thought was doomed to fail before the season started.
Now all that’s left is see if they can finish the La Liga season without a loss. Even if they are able to accomplish this it still won’t be enough for some to call a failure due to what happened in the Champions League. Only Barca.
Tuesday is the second leg for Real/Bayern. Real won the first leg 2-1 in a game that Bayern dominated but it was the type of game that Real has become accustomed to winning.
If you remember back to leg 1 I talked about how the injury to Robben hurt due to their tactics. It also killed them that David Alaba and Kingsley Coman missed out. Well for the second leg the good news is they will have back Alaba which will give them some width on the right side to go with Kimmich on the left side, but they’re still without Coman which to me is their biggest loss, will be without Boateng after the injury he sustained in the first leg as well. They will likely play a 4-2-3-1 with Kimmich, Hummels, Sule, Alaba, James, Javi, Ribery, Alacantara, Muller. I hope they learn from last week and have Alcantara as a 10 and not have him and James both in midifled. Without Coman or Robben it will be vital that Kimmich and Alaba get up the pitch. There is no reason to hold back so they should be trying to get up the pitch all match.
I don’t think that this is over I still give Bayern a 40% chance to win. As a neutral I hope they score first which will ramp up the excitement.
I think Real Madrid will advance they always do. But I think Munich puts up a fight and this is a bit wild. I am thinking this will be 2-2. Which will have Madrid advance 4-3 on aggregate.