Thursday, 28 February 2019

Premier League: February Review

It was another terrific month of Premier League action as February saw the title race very much become a two horse race as Liverpool and Manchester City battle for the title. The Premier League delivered in February with plenty of quality goals, excellent football and more managerial changes. As Liverpool and City scrap for the title, as many as 6 sides battling to avoid the final relegation spot with Fulham and Huddersfield doomed to the Championship.

The title race is definitely going right to wire and heading into the final three months of the season Liverpool lead the way. However, a decent month of results has seen Liverpool be questionned with a severe lack of intensity and firepower in their attacking play. Jurgen Klopp has defended his team's performances despite the lack of intensity in recent performances. But their end to February firmly silenced their critics as they put 5 past an improving Watford team at Anfield. Mane impressed with his finishing but its the crossing of Trent Alexander-Arnold won the night for Liverpool and the result saw them maintain top spot. They kick off March with the Merseyside derby as they make the short journey across to Everton. Jurgen Klopp knows they must win this and their remaining 9 games as Manchester City continue to hunt them down. Speaking of City, it was a very good February for Guardiola's team as City collected their first piece of silverware as they go for the quadraple. City had a perfect February winning all 4 of their league games and have dominanted 2019 losing just once in all competitions and winning the rest of their games. Sergio Aguero is a master in finishing and he has found his groove at the right time with key goals against Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham. His league tally stands at 18 and he will fancy his chances of reaching 25 at least if not 30 before the season finishes. The title race is getting very exciting indeed and no doubt its a two horse race question is will the title be heading for Merseyside or Manchester?

The battle for a top 4 finish is also going to be interesting as Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea fight for the remaining two places in the Champions League next season. There are 7 points between the 4 teams but Chelsea in 6th do have a game in hand. Tottenham in 3rd are looking good for a top 4 finish however, they head into March on a run of back to back defeats having suffered poor defeats to Burnley and Chelsea on their travels. Sleepy defending and poor mistakes have cost an unusually flat Tottenham in recent games and Mauricio Pochettino will be desperate to Spurs to gain their mojo back. Arsenal meanwhile head into March just 4 points behind Spurs having won 3 on the spin. Unai Emery's team are going well with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang in excellent form while Mesut Ozil glistened in their recent win against Bournemouth. Emery still has issues at the back to sort out but Arsenal are heading in the right direction under their manager and their form is good in 2019 having won 6 of their 8 league games. Tottenham and Arsenal kick off March with the North London Derby as the two sides clash in a must win for both at Wembley. Spurs need a morale boost while Arsenal need to close the gap on Spurs and should they complete the double over Spurs the gap will be closed to just a point. Big game for both teams and certainly Manchester United and Chelsea will be looking to close in on both teams. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has enjoyed a magnificent run as United boss with the legendary United striker yet to lose a league game. United's excellent run had them back in the top 4 at one stage until they drew with Liverpool at Old Trafford. United head into March a point behind Arsenal and 5 behind Tottenham. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have flourished under Solksjaer while the likes of Victor Lindelof and Ander Herrera have found a new level. Solksjaer's targets remain in reach and United will fancy their chances of securing a top 4 finish having vastly improved under Solksjaer.

It was a very mixed month for Chelsea with embarrasing actions on and off the pitch but terrific performances and results in other matches. Chelsea's 6-0 trashing from Manchester City saw plenty of people question Maurizio Sarri's management and the 'Sarri-ball' philosophy. The players have lacked team spirit and cohesion in many matches this season with Sarri calling on Eden Hazard to provide the spark to win games while big money signing Jorginho hasn't delivered despite knowing Sarri's style. While N'Golo Kante is certainly being played out of position to the frustration of the Chelsea. Furthermore, to make matters worse, Chelsea face a tranfer ban for the whole of next season having been punished by FIFA meaning Maurizio Sarri cannot add to his squad in the summer and the 2020 January window. Despite these issues, Chelsea impressed in their couple of matches in February. Despite losing the league cup final to Manchester City, Chelsea were excellent throughout showing spirit, endeavour and determination but all that was overshadowed by Kepa Arrizabalaga's ignorance and petulance to ignore the orders of his manager. Chelsea carried that excellent momentum into their solid win over Tottenham. Chelsea head into March full of confidence as they hunt those Champions League places.

As the Champions League battles heatens up, the relegation battle is also getting very interesting. With Huddersfield and Fulham doomed to the Championship, the rest are scrapping to avoid the final relegation spot currently occupied by Cardiff. 6 points from 4 games for Cardiff in February but they have lost their last 2 by an aggregate of 8-1 and that isn't good enough. Neil Warnock is running out of time to try and avoid relegation for the first time as a Premier League manager. Southampton meanwhile ended February with a priceless win over Fulham which saw them climb out of the bottom 3. Hasenhuttl's side overall had a disappointing February collecting just 4 points from 4 games and Hasenhuttl knows that must improve if they are to ensure their safety. Meanwhile, it was an excellent February for other strugglers Burnley and Newcastle. Prior to their defeat to Newcastle, in their final game of the month Burnley were unbeaten in 2019 and had collected 7 points from their February matches including a magnificent home win over Tottenham. Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood have delivered scoring Burnley's last 8 goals. Both Barnes and Wood have scored 14 between them this season and their form couldn't have come at a better time with Burnley edging towards safety. Newcastle also had a terrific month with Rafa Benitez's side finally finding some form and goals especially at home with Newcastle winning 5 on the spin at St James' Park having lost their first 4 home games. Soloman Rondon has found form while record signing Miguel Almiron has already won the hearts of the Geordie faithful with a string of impressive cameos and performances. But its one of their own impressing as young midfielder Sean Longstaff has become a fixture in the side and his hardworking ethos and performances is certainly delighting Benitez and the fans. Longstaff is impressing and even scored his first Newcastle goal against Burnley to crown off a truly brilliant start to his Newcastle career. Burnley and Newcastle are 5 points clear of Cardiff and are only looking up while Brighton sink down. Chris Hughton's team are having a difficult patch with Brighton winless in 2019 and have lost 5 of their last 6 league games and find themselves level on points with south coast rivals Southampton and only 2 points above the relegation zone. Brighton need to find that winning formula and fast having been so comfortable for much of the season.

February also saw two clubs change their managers as Leicester said au revoir to the quiet Claude Puel and Fulham sacked Claudio Ranieri after just 3 months in charge. Puel leaves Leicester after just over a year in charge and leaves Leicester afer a six match winless run. However, despite having to deal with the plane crash tragedy, Puel has failed to get the best out of the Leicester players including Jamie Vardy whose caught on camera remarks highlighted his frustrations. But Leicester lacked an identity and playing style with Puel's tactics very reserved. Leicester's season has been flat and even 4 straight home defeats something not done in the Premier League era has left the club unhappy and at a real low. However, they ended February with a home win under caretaker manager Mike Stowell beating Brighton. Puel's replacement is former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers who arrives in the East Midlands after a very successful 2 and half years at Celtic. Rodgers' arrives excited and determined to push Leicester forward and implement his exciting attacking style which brought his success at Liverpool and Celtic. His reign kicks off in March with a trip to Watford who they are competing with for a top 7 finish. Rodgers will want a good start and victory over Watford would be a dream start for the Northern Irishman. Meanwhile, Fulham are now on their 3rd manager of the season and after just 3 wins in 16 league games and losses in 7 of the last 8 games has seen the club dismiss Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri leaves following that loss to fellow strugglers Southampton. He had lost the fans and seemingly some of the players but Ranieri cannot take all the blame as a £105M spend in the summer has seen a lack of cohesion in the team and their defence is abysmal to say the least. Their former midfielder Scott Parker has been promoted to caretaker manager until the end of the season having been a first team coach at the club. He is tasked with attempting to mount a serious charge towards survival but in reality he will be looking to show he is the right man for the job in the Championship next season. His reign kicks off with the West London Derby against bitter rivals Chelsea. 

March is upon us and no doubt the Premier League will deliver more twists and turns as well as plenty of quality goals and excellent football. March kicks off with 3 massive derbies as Tottenham face Arsenal, Chelsea head to Fulham and Liverpool clash with Everton while the rest of March also has crucial, mouth watering games includes Crystal Palace vs Brighton, Southampton vs Tottenham, Manchester City vs Watford, Arsenal vs Manchester United, Everton vs Chelsea, Brighton vs Southampton, West Ham vs Everton and Liverpool vs Tottenham. The business end of the season has arrived as the final 3 months of the season begin and the Premier League is very wide open at both ends of the table. We are in for an exciting climax..

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