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Are Aston Villa Premier League title contenders?

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Aston villa manager Unai Emery

When Unai Emery took over the reins at Aston Villa barely 14 months ago, the club was in disarray. Former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard’s spell in charge at Villa Park ended with the club loitering just outside the Premier League relegation zone on goals scored. In the time since, the Villans have become a feared force in the English top flight. 

The former Villareal boss embarked on an incredible run throughout the second half of last season that led the club to its first foray into Europe in over a decade. A ten-game unbeaten run – which included victories away at Chelsea and at home to Newcastle – saw the club climb all the way up to seventh in the Premier League table, securing Europa Conference League football in the process. They have already qualified for the last 16 of that competition, but their Premier League exploits have the Villa faithful dreaming of much more than that.

One Point Off the Summit

It looked as though Emery’s honeymoon period was well and truly over when his side was thumped 5-1 by Newcastle at St. James’ Park on the opening day of the season. A 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool three weeks later should have sent the Villans plummeting down the table. But instead, they came back fighting. 

Villa have lost just once in the 13 games since that fateful day at Anfield, winning ten of them. And of those victories, plenty of them have been statement-makers. Ollie Watkins arrived late to secure a 1-0 win away at Chelsea before bagging a hat trick in a 6-1 victory against Europa League high-flyers Brighton just six days later. But it wasn’t until December got underway that we noticed just how far the Villans had come. 

They hosted Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City at Villa Park on December 6th and the home faithful were hopeful of a positive display. But no one could have expected what was to come. They dominated the reigning champions and were rightfully rewarded with a late winner by Leon Bailey, with the three points moving Villa past the Blues in the Premier League table. Three days later, the league leaders Arsenal were met with the same fate, this time with John McGinn’s early goal good enough to secure the win. 

They consolidated their spot in the top four with a come-from-behind victory against Brentford in West London. The visitors trailed by a solitary Keane Lewis-Potter goal to nil deep into the second half. However, Alex Moreno equalized in the 77th minute before Watkins grabbed the winner eight minutes later. The 2-1 victory saw Villa charge their way up to third in the table, behind leaders Arsenal by just one point. And perhaps more importantly five points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

So, Could They Win the League? 

Despite well and truly being in the hunt, no one at Villa Park will be expecting the club to actually win the Premier League. They may not even be expected to reach the Champions League next term, despite being in a commanding position. The Villans instead will be looking to win the Europa Conference League and secure Europa League football next term, either with victory in the continent’s third-tier tournament this season or securing a top-six finish. 

But, as we all know, stranger things have happened. We all remember Leicester City romping to the Premier League title as 5000/1 outsiders back in 2016. No one took their title charge seriously until they secured an away victory against Manchester City in the New Year. This Villa team is certainly stronger than Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes. 

Villa has players that plenty of Europe’s top clubs have coveted in recent years. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was recently named the world’s best following his heroics that led his beloved Argentina to the FIFA World Cup last year. Centre-back Pau Torres was seen as a coup when he was brought in from Emery’s former club Villareal, especially considering that the likes of Manchester United have been on the hunt for his signature in recent years. He has proven to be a reliable rock at the heart of the Villa defense and he will be integral to any potential title challenge this season. 

Add to that the performances of former Manchester City central midfielder Douglas Luiz. The Brazilian has become one of the hottest properties in European football this season and he has attracted the attention of Arsenal in recent weeks. Hanging on to him throughout the January transfer window will be crucial to the Villans’ hopes – and dreams – this season.

A lifelong Liverpool supporter with a passion for storytelling and an unhealthy obsession with Anime, NFTs, and Web3. When not cheering on the Reds or diving into the latest crypto trends, I'm busy crafting engaging content that'll keep you up-to-date on all things sports.

English Premier League

Arsenal’s Title Aspirations Intact After Dramatic Win Over Tottenham Away From Home

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Kai Havertz - German Forward while players for Arsenal

In the thrilling encounter between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal emerged victorious, but not without some nerve-wracking moments. Despite holding a commanding 3-0 lead, Arsenal allowed Spurs to claw back with two goals, raising concerns of a potential draw reminiscent of previous seasons.

How Did the Game Playout?

The match presented a challenge to categorize. Despite being 3-0 up at halftime, there seemed to be little to separate the two sides, a sentiment echoed by the statistics. In the first 45 minutes, the hosts commanded more than double the possession (72 percent), boasted a higher expected goals total (0.85 to 0.7), and registered eight shots compared to Arsenal’s four. However, Arsenal capitalized on crucial moments with ruthless efficiency. 

The opening goal unfolded in an unexpected manner, originating from an own goal off a corner kick. As Arsenal applied pressure, Bukayo Saka whipped a menacing corner into the penalty area, creating chaos in the Tottenham defense. Hojbjerg’s unfortunate own goal handed Arsenal an early advantage and further displayed Spurs’ weakness from set pieces.

Tottenham had an equalizing goal disallowed for offside following a VAR review, and within five minutes, Arsenal doubled the lead to 2-0. The second goal coincided with a penalty appeal for Spurs being denied. Although Tottenham hit the post in the first half, Havertz managed to score the third goal with only the second shot on target in the entire game.

Subsequently, Tottenham capitalized on a mistake from David Raya, who opted for long passing for much of the first half. Raya’s pass went right to a Spurs player and Romero slotted the ball in the net with a calm finish from the center-back. VAR intervened again to award a late penalty for the home side. In the remaining ten minutes, including injury time, Arsenal faced mounting pressure, but held firm. Raya excelled in claiming every cross into the box, and ultimately, they did not face another shot on target. The celebrations at the final whistle were tempered with a palpable sense of relief.

Player Ratings – Tottenham vs Arsenal

Tottenham Player Ratings

  • Guglielmo Vicario: 6 – Made some crucial saves and wasn’t to blame for Arsenal’s goals, but struggled to deal with corners.
  • Pedro Porro: 6 – Kept Trossard in check and provided attacking threat with crosses, although lacked precision.
  • Cristian Romero: 8 – Impressive performance, scored a goal, hit the post, and was involved in numerous challenges, setting the tone for Tottenham.
  • Micky van de Ven: 7 – Scored a goal that was disallowed, utilized his pace to help Spurs defensively, but questions remain about his role in conceding Havertz’s goal.
  • Ben Davies: 4 – Had a difficult time containing Saka and seemed overwhelmed, possibly not suited for his role in the defensive system.
  • Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg: 5 – Put in effort but struggled to influence the game against Arsenal’s midfield quality.
  • Rodrigo Bentancur: 3 – Poor display, subbed off at halftime, failed to control the midfield and left Spurs vulnerable defensively.
  • Dejan Kulusevski: 6 – Worked hard and created chances both from the right and centrally, showing directness in his play.
  • James Maddison: 4 – A subpar performance, lost possession frequently under pressure from Arsenal’s midfield.
  • Timo Werner: 5 – Substituted early due to injury, had limited impact in the opening half-hour.
  • Heung-min Son: 5 – Had a quiet game for the most part, aside from scoring a penalty, missed a crucial chance before halftime.

Arsenal Player Ratings

  • David Raya: 5 – Made a costly mistake for Romero’s goal but handled crosses confidently.
  • Ben White: 7 – Provided excitement in set-pieces and defended effectively against Werner and Johnson.
  • William Saliba: 7 – Maintained composure amidst the chaos, delivering a solid defensive performance.
  • Gabriel: 7 – Formed a strong partnership with Saliba, effectively neutralizing Son’s threat.
  • Takehiro Tomiyasu: 5 – Struggled against Kulusevski and made some careless passes.
  • Martin Odegaard: 6 – Had limited involvement in the first half and was substituted late in the game, unable to make his usual impact.
  • Thomas Partey: 7 – Broke up play effectively and distributed the ball well to initiate Arsenal’s attacks.
  • Declan Rice: 7 – Dominated the midfield but conceded a penalty with a tired challenge, adding tension to the finish.
  • Bukayo Saka: 9 – Outstanding performance, scoring a well-taken goal, delivering excellent crosses, and showing resilience despite heavy challenges.
  • Kai Havertz: 9 – Scored and showcased impressive movement and hold-up play, contributing significantly to Arsenal’s attack.
  • Leandro Trossard: 6 – Put in effort on the left flank but couldn’t influence the game significantly.

What’s Next for Both Teams?

The outcome of this derby holds significant implications for both Arsenal and Tottenham as they navigate the remainder of the season. For Arsenal, who are just one point behind Manchester City with a game in hand, every match becomes crucial in their pursuit of the league title. With Manchester City holding the advantage, any slip-up from them could provide Arsenal with a fighting chance to clinch the title. As the race for the top spot intensifies, Arsenal must maintain their form and capitalize on opportunities to close the gap on Manchester City.

On the other hand, Tottenham’s aspirations lie in securing a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League. Currently, they sit seven points behind Aston Villa in the battle for fourth place. With the extra Champions League spot probably going to a team from Germany or Italy, Tottenham cannot afford any slip-ups if they are to maintain their aspirations for the tournament. With the competition for the coveted Champions League places heating up, Tottenham must rally and put in consistent performances to stay in contention for a top-four finish.

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Arsenal, Liverpool, and Man City Locked-in Three-way Battle for EPL Title

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Arsenal FC Winger Bukayo Saka

With just 10 games left in the EPL, Arsenal and Liverpool are joint top of the table and hold a 1 point lead over Manchester City. Aston Villa are also in the race, sitting eight points behind the Gunners and Reds. Jurgen Klopp is attempting to go out on a high note after recently announcing his plan to leave Liverpool at the end of the season.

Klopp has been in charge of Liverpool for nine years. During his tenure, Liverpool underwent a massive resurgence, winning the Champions League and the EPL. If he can guide Liverpool to another title, he’ll surely go down as one of the greatest EPL managers of all time.

However, standing in Klopp and Liverpool’s way is one of the most dominant EPL teams we’ve ever seen and a resurgent Arsenal side. Man City under Pep Guardiola have been unstoppable. The Spanish manager has led Man City to five EPL titles too date.

Liverpool and Man City have had some epic battles over the years, with, unfortunately for Liverpool fans, Man City coming out on top most of the time. Who could forget Man City pipping Liverpool by just one point in 2018/2019? Then, in 2021/2022, Man City had to fight back from a two-goal deficit to defeat Aston Villa in the last game of the season to snatch the title away from Liverpool.

Man City Are the Favorites to Win the EPL

Liverpool and Arsenal, being one point ahead of Man City, is paying 3.25 while Man City is the heavy favorite, paying 1.9. Due to Man City’s history of winning clutch games down the stretch and the sheer amount of titles it’s won over the years, the sportsbooks are predicting a repeat of the 2018/2019 and 2021/2022 campaigns. The dominant view is that Liverpool, Arsenal, and Man City will be neck and neck before, ultimately, Man City pulls away.

It’s incredible how even the Reds, Gunners, and the Blues are this season. Liverpool and City have both won 19 games; Liverpool has scored 64 goals, while Man City has netted 62. Liverpool has conceded 25, the second-best in the league, while Man City is just behind, letting in 27 goals this season. Arsenal meanwhile have exceeded expectations, they’ve won 20 games; scored 70 goals and have let in just 24 goals.

Key Players to Watch for Man City and Liverpool

Liverpool and Man City both have elite strikers such as Mohamed Salah and Erling Haaland. Salah is having another tremendous season for the Reds with 15 goals and nine assists. Haaland continues to be unstoppable, with 18 goals and five assists. If either of these top-producing strikers takes a form hit, then so do their side’s title chances. 

At the other end of the pitch, Liverpool and Man City both have an iron wall defense led by world-class defenders. Manuel Akanji for Man City has been one of the most underrated signings in the whole EPL. The Swiss international has incredible technical abilities, allowing him to play out from the back, while at the same time, his 6 ft 2 frame is a problem for opposing strikers.

For Liverpool, the key defender to watch is Virgil van Dijk. The 6 ft 4 Dutch player is an immense physical presence on the pitch known for his aggressive style of play and can go one-on-one with any striker.

Man City vs. Arsenal Clash on March 31st Could Reveal Eventual EPL Winner

Man City is set to host Arsenal on March 31 at the Etihad Stadium. The tipsters are giving Man City a 43% chance of victory, while Arsenal is the clear underdog with a 32% shot at securing the win. If Arsenal can record an upset, the Gunners will jump to a four-point lead and have a bit of breathing room down the backend of the season. Liverpool could once again join Arsenal if they manage to overcome Brighton during the same gameweek.

However, if Man City secures a draw or wins, Arsenal will be in a tough psychological position. No longer being league leaders, it’ll have to chase down Man City and Liverpool which is a nearly impossible task.

Despite being underdogs, Arsenal will fancy its chances against Man City on Sunday as they are still clearly not at their absolute best. You don’t want to miss this title-defining match-up. Let’s hope for Klopp’s sake that Liverpool can channel that home crowd energy and come out on top by the end of the season.

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A Look at the Contrasting Trajectories of Chelsea and Liverpool in the 2023-2024 Season

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Enzo Fernandez - Chelsea FC Midfielder

Over the weekend we witnessed Chelsea F.C. and Liverpool F.C. go head to head in the Carabao Cup final, and it was a good day if you’re a Liverpool supporter. However, this final showed 2 very contrasting stories. On one end, you have a flourishing team that gets it done no matter what. On the other side, you have an accomplished team that seems to be spiraling downward. 

Liverpool came into the game not at their full strength, having several players missing from the starting squad as well as ending the match with more than half of their team coming from the youth team. Chelsea on the other hand, were at their full strength squad playing the same team that drew against treble winners Manchester City the week before.

Down for Chelsea

Chelsea’s ownership has spared no expense in building a squad designed for success, making headlines with a series of high-profile signings. With a financial commitment exceeding $1 billion, expectations were understandably sky-high for the club’s performance. However, the correlation between investment and on-field success is proving to be more complex than anticipated, leaving fans and pundits alike questioning the efficacy of the considerable expenditures.

Despite their substantial investment, Chelsea FC’s performance in the Premier League has been underwhelming this season. Inconsistencies in form, unexpected losses, and an inability to secure crucial points have left the club trailing behind their competitors. Currently sitting in 11th place in the prem with 10 points behind the top 6, this season may be a bust for Chelsea if they can not win the FA Cup. The disparity between financial outlay and on-field results raises questions about the team’s synergy, managerial strategies, and the challenges of integrating the expensive signings into a cohesive unit.

Still Climbing Liverpool

Liverpool on the other hand, seems to be in a very good spot for the remainder of the season and can do the unthinkable. With one trophy in their cabinet this season already and multiple chances to win more, can Jurgen Klopp win the quadruple on what would be his last season with Liverpool FC? This would make Liverpool the first-ever English team to have ever won the quadruple(4 trophies in one season) and only the second in history, the first coming in 66/67 by Celtic’s Lisbon Lions.

What sets Liverpool apart this season is their relentless pursuit of success on multiple fronts. Despite the managerial change on the minds of the fans and players, the team is still in contention for three prestigious trophies – the Premier League, the FA Cup, and the Europa League. Liverpool’s ability to maintain focus and competitiveness across various tournaments is a testament to the depth of their squad and the resilience instilled within the club.

What are both teams looking to do?

For Liverpool, the primary objective this season is clear – clinching the coveted Premier League title. The league trophy has eluded them for a few seasons after winning it in the 19/20 season, and with their current form, they remain strong contenders next to Man City. Beyond the Premier League, Liverpool eyes success in the Europa League, offering an additional avenue for silverware. While not as big as the Champions League, the Europa League is still a highly sought-after European cup. Jurgen Klopp’s side, known for their attacking prowess and resilient defense, is well-positioned for a thrilling conclusion to the season.

In contrast, Chelsea, despite a challenging season, has an opportunity to salvage their campaign by targeting the FA Cup. This domestic competition offers the Blues a chance at redemption and a silver lining to what might otherwise be considered a below-par season. Winning the FA Cup would not only provide a morale boost but also add a tangible achievement to Chelsea’s trophy cabinet, making the season more palatable for the fans and stakeholders.

Amidst their on-field challenges, Chelsea may begin exploring strategies to navigate Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations for the upcoming season. Speculations suggest that the club might consider selling some of their homegrown players to ensure compliance with FFP guidelines. This strategic move aims to balance financial responsibilities while maintaining the competitive edge that has defined Chelsea in recent years.

Titans in Turmoil: Final Thoughts

As Liverpool and Chelsea navigate the complexities of the remaining fixtures, both clubs have distinct aspirations and challenges. Liverpool’s emphasis on securing the 2023/24 Premier League title and making strides in the Europa League underscores their ambition for domestic and European success. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s focus on the FA Cup provides them with a tangible goal to salvage a season that has fallen short of expectations. Additionally, the strategic considerations surrounding FFP hint at the intricate balance that top football clubs must strike between on-field prowess and financial sustainability. The coming weeks promise a thrilling culmination to the season for both Liverpool and Chelsea, each aiming to make the most out of their contrasting situations.

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