A break from the premier league this week again as we see a flood of other competitions with FA cup, Champions League and UEFA cup all taking place in the interim. A lot of Arsenal’s top contenders figure into this and some playing twice. Manchester’s United and City both play in at least one competition alongside West Ham, Liverpool and Chelsea in two, Spurs and Everton then both take part in Europe later in the week.
The break might be a welcome time for teams like Southampton who look to battle their way in to fourth position and get a Champions League place as well as the financial windfall. Koeman’s men have fallen victim to mixed results of late, dropping points to lower sides. Still playing some decent football, albeit with tired legs, they cling to fourth place a point behind United.
With United, a conspiracy theorist might argue that the officiating gods are in their favor. Cambridge United and the Preston North End lined up back to back is giving their dutch master an easy ride to silverware, a ride Van Gaal is making increasingly bumpy, having just faired his Benitez moment after producing his ‘dossier’ of how they are a better team. We need more facts Louis. This should be routine training exercise for United and a warm up for their travel to Wales in a week’s time to face a poorly performing Swansea.
West ham, arguably, have the most evenly matched fixture this week against West Bromich Albion, you can’t help but to cheer on the Hammers after the derision from Van Gaal last week. Carol is done for the season in his latest of Knacks leaving space for Valencia and Sakho to start performing again and look like the inspired signings they were. Slipping away from European places this test will be taken very seriously for a chance of silverware. Returning to the premiership they will become a thorn in the side of some of the top four hopefuls, playing Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs back to back. Sam Alderdice will have a lot of incoming calls of good luck from the London area as many managers hope his side fair well.
Palace face a Gerard-less Liverpool in the cup before they welcome Bestikas in the Uefa on Thursday. The squad selection from Rodgers will open up great debate no doubt in the next couple of days. We will see what trophy Brendan really wants after conceding the Champions League so early on with poor team sheets. The FA cup believed, by many, to be Steven Gerard’s swan song is a very obtainable goal with many of the “big dogs” parting ways already. A player who has grabbed many games by the scruff of the neck will have to watch this week, injured, and hope he can play in the next round in a team who are clearly playing better without him. The FA cup final falls on Gerard’s birthday and would be Headline fodder if he could play his last game in England on the big stage before heading to LA. The pressure for Liverpool this week is off the pitch more than it is on.
Chelsea and City both face stern opposition in PSG and Barcelona respectively, neither have the FA cup to worry about and neither will notice it is even on. Diego Costa returns from suspension for Chelsea, chances are he will make a fool of David Luiz, but not without its drama as both vie for the title of biggest bully on the field. City seven points behind Chelsea might have just set their sights on this trophy as the one to win this year. Aguero, a doubt, struggling with ongoing fitness issues is their talisman and the goals don’t come from many other players now that Toure has slowed down. The sky blues may have bet on the wrong horse if this is the case as Barcelona finally find the Galactico feet with Neymar, Suarez and Messi all looking comfortable together recently – so much so Messi let Neymar take a penalty last week, the first time any player other than Lionel has taken a spot kick for Barca while the Argentine was on the field in over 5 years. Add to that fact Iniesta is looking more confident and scoring again, the Manchester Millions could be made to look like a pittance very quickly.
Arsenal go into the next two weeks with a strong suit. Middlesbrough in the Cup, Monaco and then Palace in the Premiership are a good bunch of teams to play back to back although they all have the potential to offer up some hiccups. Boro look destined for Premier league games next year and having dumped out Chelsea in the last round of the FA cup the opportunity of another scalp for this high flying side will certainly create a few headaches for Arsene Wenger’s team.
Monaco, may simply roll over, having been stripped of most of their assets recently, Wenger’s old club has been stripped of some of its fortunes also. The owner, undergoing a bitter divorce has had to quickly sell off some of the mega names they bought recently to furnish alimony to his wife, alongside a hefty tax bill the French FA imposed on them as they skirted the law of the French league due to the home nation of the club not being in France (Monaco). Through all that Monaco have prevailed somewhat, ten points behind leaders Lyon, they still host some big names like Berbatov. Monaco might be the gang of misfits that try and break down the injury stricken Londoners, although over two games, the second being on St. Patricks day, the luck of the Irish may be with Sanchez and the crew.
Wenger has some tough decisions over the next couple of games to rotate and win. If Sanchez can start building the energy again, vital energy that was lacking against Leicester, this should be a formality. Although many teams that were chasing the title last year will attest, the World Cup has helped drain many talents and opened the doors for the ’other’ teams to get a look in.
There is no sureties in football.
Enjoy the games.