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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Nightmare week for Manuel Pellegrini

In a week that could have seen Manchester City prove themselves in Europe with a big performance at home against Barcelona and where they could have closed the gap at the top of the Premier League to just 2 points with Chelsea not playing, nothing has gone right for Manuel Pellegrini and his side. Instead City find themselves on the brink of another early Champions League exit after losing 2-1 to a Suarez inspired Barcelona and still sit 5 points off the summit of the Premier League having played a game more after Liverpool recorded a 2-1 home win over the defending champions.

City fans had come into the week with such promise,Yaya Toure was back from the African Cup of Nations in great form, Aguero was finding his feet on his return from injury, Chelsea had just dropped points at home against Burnley, the gap was down to 5 points and City knew with Chelsea not playing in the Premier League that it would be huge physiologically to cut the gap to just 2 points with a win over Liverpool. First and foremost the whole of Manchester City had their eyes firmly set on Barcelona, having ended the group with great wins over Roma and Bayern Munich there was a sense Pellegrini’s side had turned a corner in Europe and they were all set for revenge against the side who knocked them out at the same stage last year.

The reality is however, a week that promised so much may well have ended any hope Manchester City had for silverware this season and it could possibly be a defining week in the future of Manuel Pellegrini. Chelsea look to have won by some miracle the Capital One Cup and the Premier League on the same day as should Chelsea win their game in hand they will move 8 points clear at the top, a lead a Jose Mourinho side does not relinquish. Their high hopes in the Champions League though still alive are hanging by a thread, going to the Nou Camp already losing 2-1 is a huge task, one that in all likelihood this Manchester City side are not capable of achieving. With the Premier League all but out of their grasp and their Champions League exit imminent you feel, City’s season is in danger of fading out with a whimper.

Manager Manuel Pellegrini is one man who will be trying to make sure this is not the case and that his players will fight for the title and their place in the Champions League valiantly, in the same period he may also be fighting to save his job. Regardless of his Premier League win last campaign, the Manchester City owners expect results and right now the Chilean is not delivering. They have shown in the past they have no mercy with the sacking of Roberto Mancini, the man who won the first ever Premier League title for the blue side of Manchester but that was quickly forgotten about once results began to turn. It is hard to see Pellegrini’s side salvaging anything from this season at the moment and his faith may already be sealed.

The performance of the side as of late has been particularly unimpressive, the return of Yaya Toure seemed to have rejuvenated the side but today against Liverpool he was average at best and often looked disinterested. There appears to be a real mystery as to what Pellegrini’s game plan is, instead of a team they resemble a collection of players not really gelling as a team. Despite possessing the talent of David Silva, Toure and Aguero, City do not threaten half as much as they should recording only one shot on target against Liverpool, which may well be down to the way the manager has set up. Defensively they are also beginning to look ragged with captain Vincent Kompany looking increasingly out of his depth and way off the standard we have come to expect from the big Belgian.

Jamie Carragher pointed out after the Liverpool game the tactical naivety of Manchester City and Pellegrini for not putting a player in between the line of defence and midfield, the position in which Phil Coutinho and Adam Lallana thrived all game. Poor performances against big opposition has been a problem this season, looking back at the Arsenal game at home and even their recent European clash with Barcelona. This tactical naivety has effectively ruined Manchester City’s season and may well have ended Manuel Pellegrini’s spell as manager.

Liverpool the form side in top4 race

Brendan Rodgers’ sides 2-1 victory against defending champions Manchester City pushed the Merseysiders into 5th place, the highest they’ve been since October and they now lie just 2 points away from Manchester United who are 4th and with all the momentum Liverpool now look the team to beat in the race for Champions League places.

Fantastic strikes by Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho were enough for Liverpool to see off the challenge of Manuel Pellegrini's side and take all three points at Anfield in similar style to the fixture last year. Many expected a tired Liverpool to show up after their poor European performance on Thursday and the quick turnaround but Brendan Rodgers’ side were fantastic from start to finish heaping the pressure on their top4 rivals.

The win means Liverpool have not lost a game since December when they were considerably outdone at Old Trafford by 3 goals to nil but since then they have been unstoppable. A change in style from Rodgers has sured up the defence and completely rejuvinated his sides season, something he as a manager deserves a lot of credit for. From the last available 30 points Liverpool have picked up 26 and are the form team in the Premier League.Their last three games have been victories against Southampton, Spurs and now Man City, massive statements of the standard the team is playing at.

Before Liverpool had taken to the field on Sunday, Man United had already won their game beating Sunderland at home 2-0 to keep themselves in the top4, United have been inconsistent as of late and Van Gaal’s side will be very worried about Liverpool lurking up behind them especially with a trip to Anfield still to come in the near future. Van Gaal’s minimum expectation is to gain a top4 place and the pressure may begin to tell if the aim begins to fall from his reach.

Arsenal took to the field after Liverpool as they played host to the blue Merseysiders Everton on the back of one of their worst ever Champions League defeats in their history, a 3-1 home loss against French side Monaco. The Gunners responded in style however seeing off Everton with relative ease by 2 goals to nil and concealing their place in 3rd, momentarily at least.

Spurs did not play due to their Capital One Cup final while other Chamions League challengers Southampton were beaten. At the moment it looks like a three way battle for the final two Champions League spots with Spurs maybe making it a four way battle if they can keep up with the pace.It looks to be in Liverpool’s hands and should they keep up their current run of form you would expect them to secure a 3rd place finish and maybe even catch Man City in 2nd.

Arsenal and Manchester United are both struggling for consistency and look set to battle against each other for that fourth and final Champions League spot.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Is a draw out of the question?

Sunday sees the only two unbeaten sides left in this years Six Nations go head to head in the Aviva Stadium in what is expected to be a championship decider. Former players and pundits have labelled the game too close to call, raising the question if this huge game has draw written all over it.

Ireland go into the game on a 9 match winning streak including victories over South Africa, Australia and only two weeks ago France, although they have not been massively impressive in some of those games they have been well organised and stuck to their game plan with great efficiency. Joe Schmidt has instilled a great sense of confidence amongst the players that can only be achieved by winning, the fans have similarly gained confidence from the great form of their side, its hard to remember a French game where the people of Ireland were as confident they would come out on top as was the case in Ireland’s last outing. That confidence is evident once again going into the English game with nothing less than a victory expected.

Stuart Lancaster and his England side are not short of confidence themselves, they are unbeaten in 4 and after overcoming Wales in the Millenium stadium they will be confident they can go anywhere and win. Lancaster’s side have been full of flair in the opening two games, they blew Italy away by 47-17 while their 21-16 win at the Millenium was not only a huge statement of intent but also a showcase of the threat the English side have amongst their backs.

A huge amount of hype has been made about young centre Jonathan Joseph who has scored 3 tries in 2 games so far and is expected to be the biggest threat to Ireland when he graces the Aviva pitch. Joe Schmidt’s sides are known for their great organisation but they will have their work cut out against the tricky 23 year old. Joseph wont be the only threat with Burrell, Nowell and Watson alongside him offering a lot going forward.

Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo will be looking to offer the threat for Ireland this Sunday down their respective wings and will be looking to make amends for not getting any tries on the scoreboard against France. Bowe has shown his prowess in the air fielding many of Sexton’s kick off’s and gaining valuable ground for his side, Zebo has been relatively quiet thus far in the tournament but his potential for moments of brilliance will have Lancaster planning to keep him under control.

Last seasons encounter saw Ireland score a try through Rob Kearney off the back of a set piece, something that Ireland have become renowned for and where they will look to plan most of their attacks this weekend.

The breakdown is often where games are won and lost in modern rugby and it could well be the case when the two sides face off this weekend, Ireland under Schmidt have been brilliant in their rucking and discipline at the breakdown but last week against France they were turned over too many times and they were uncharacteristically ill-disciplined, if they repeat the performance England will have a field day and George Ford will kick penalties for fun if they continue to give him the chance.

The biggest clash of the match will take place between Jonny Sexton and his fellow number 10 George Ford emphasising the importance of number 10’s in the game these days. Sexton is one of the greatest playmakers in the game as he showed last day against France, if he plays to his best it is hard to look past an Ireland win but George Ford will have something to say about that. 21 year old Ford has looked at home so far in the absence of Owen Farrell and will see this big occasion as a chance to show his credentials. Ford will also try to dictate the game to England’s favour through his accurate kicking although his decision making will be vital and any mistake or misjudgement will be punished.

Most games in International rugby at this high level are decided by just one score and with Ireland and England being so well matched you can expect that at the Aviva. It is not out of the realm of possibility that this championship decider could end as a draw, its just too hard to pick a winner.