Is the EPL the best league in the world? While that is the common thought and believed by many, this week was not the best week for the league. With 3 teams left in both the Champions League and Europa League coming into this week, hopes were high that they could make a big statement. Liverpool looked certain to advance with their great form and clean sheet at home. Tottenham had a disappointing draw but could still advance past a team most felt was not as good as them. Everton were already through to the round of 16 with their huge road win. In the Champions League, Manchester City looked like they had a chance to beat Barcelona and finally make a statement in Europe. Chelsea had their road goal and just needed a good result at home to advance. Arsenal had what many thought was the easiest road to the Quarterfinals. That was Monday. We sit now on Friday and look back at what has been a terrible week for the EPL. There is only one team who was in the Europa League Round of 16 draw, and only one team did not lose after the first legs of the Champions League. While many will argue that top to bottom it is the most competitive league, this was not the best week for the the top of the EPL. Do any of the English sides advance to the Quarter-finals of Champions League? I think one does in Chelsea, but the others will struggle.
Champions League Recap
This week was supposed to be the week Manchester City finally announced themselves as a top team in Europe, and that fell flat on its face. They were completely bossed all over the field in the first half. This half was dominated from start to finish by Barcelona and they looked extremely comfortable all over the pitch. Luis Suarez scored two goals as he made his return to England. Pellegrini chose to go with two up top and he paid the price in the midfield. In the second half, City played much better, but they could only really ever improve after the first half. Agüero did score a vital goal that will give Manchester City a glimmer of hope. With the last kick of the ball, Messi was denied from the penalty spot and his diving header was just wide on the rebound. This opened the door even more for City. While the two-legged tie is not over yet, it will be difficult for City, as they must score 2 goals to advance. They will get Yaya Toure back, but they will also be in Barcelona, and at home Barcelona have had one of the best defenses in all of Europe.
The other English side, Arsenal, played host to Monaco on Wednesday. Geoffrey Kondogbia opened the scoring with an absolute beauty from outside the box. Ospina barely even moved as the shot dipped and swerved past him. Then in the 53rd minute to make matters worse. Anthony Martial broke down the left side of the pitch and squared a great pass to Dimitar Berbatov, who calmly placed into the goal. Arsenal was now down 2-0 at home. In stoppage time the game picked up and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain controlled the ball just outside the box and curled a beautiful shot into the top right corner of the goal. A glimmer of hope for Arsenal was then dissipated when Carrasco broke away from the defense and shot the ball off the left post and into the goal with practically the last kick of the ball. The final score was 3-1 in favor of Monaco, and with a trip to the Principality scheduled for a couple weeks from now, Arsenal has their work cut out for them.
In the other game on Thursday, Atletico Madrid lost 1-0 in Leverkusen. In a game that was very chippy and involved 36 fouls with a total of 10 yellow cards. Two yellow cards were shown to Atletico’s Tiago as he was sent off with 14 minutes to play. Hakan Calhanoglu scored the only goal in the 57th minute on a nice strike into the center of the goal with a lovely assist from Bellarabi. Fernando Torres thought that he had scored off a corner kick, but the ball was judged to have gone out of bounds on the corner. The game ended 1-0 to the home side with it all to play for at the Calderon in March.
Juventus hosted Borussia Dortmund in the other game on Tuesday. In a match that featured two teams at opposite ends of their respective tables, the Italian champions came out as victors as they won 2-1. All of the scoring took place in the first half with Carlos Tevez opening the scoring after just 13 minutes. Then Marco Reus took advantage of Chellini slipping to gather the ball and calmly place it past Buffon. Then just before halftime, Alvaro Morata scored the winner off a great cross from Paul Pogba. With the second leg in Dortmund, can that crucial away goal come good for Dortmund or will the Old Lady finally make it back to the Quarter Finals?
At the half way point of the Round of 16, I feel there is no better time to make some predictions, so here are mine for who I think will make it to the Quarter-finals…
Porto, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Monaco, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Dortmund
Let me know your thoughts @SoccerPond
Europa League Review
In what was already a bad week for English clubs got even worse when Mario Gomez scored the opening goal in Florence for Fiorentina. To make matters worse, Salah then scored the second goal of the game and Tottenham were out of the Europa League. Liverpool meanwhile conceded a goal in the 72nd minute that led to penalties. While all of the first 8 penalty takers scored, Lovern stepped up needing to score. I am not sure if his kick has landed yet, as he soared it over the bar. This sent Liverpool crashing out in their first ever defeat on penalties in Europe. Everton was the last team standing and after winning 4-1 on the road, Lukaku continued his scoring run with two in the first half plus a goal from Mirallas sealing their spot in the last 16. Everton now face Dynamo Kyiv in the last 16. There are now 5 Italian teams left, with Torino facing Zenit Saint Petersburg, Intern facing Wolfsburg, Napoli taking on Dynamo Moscow, and the all Italian affair when Fiorentina face off with Roma. The defending champions, Sevilla, will play the only other Spanish team left, Villarreal. The other two matchups are Club Brugge against Besiktas and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk against Ajax. It should be interesting to see who can make it to the Quarter-finals, and if Sevilla can make it all the way back to defend their title.
The weekend starts early in France as Marseille host Caen today. Marseille will look to get back to winning ways as they have drawn their last 2 games. Meanwhile, Caen comes in having won 5 of their last 6 matches. Marseille need to win to get back in the title race. On Saturday, Lille will host Lyon as these two teams both need all three points. Lille is in danger of being dragged into the relegation fight, while Lyon need to hold off PSG at the top of the table. In the big match of the weekend Monaco host PSG. Monaco is coming off a huge result in the Champions League, and they will look to keep that going as they play PSG. This could be a big weekend in which we see a new team at the top of the Ligue 1 table.
The leaders of the Bundesliga kick off the weekend as Munich host Cologne today. The leaders have won 12 of their last 133 home games in the Bundesliga, and I would not expect anything different today. Dortmund will look to continue their climb up the table when they host Schalke on Saturday. Schalke need to win to stay in the Champions League hunt. Monchengladbach host Paderboon, and both of these teams could use a win this weekend. Stuttgart will work to get some points at the bottom of the table as they face Hannover, who with a loss will be right in the middle of the relegation battle.
In Serie A, the big match is Monday when Roma host Juventus. About a month ago this looked to be the match that would decide the title, but Roma have fallen off the pace and this game looks to be a coronation for Juventus if they win. Roma now have to look over their shoulder as Napoli is closing in on second place. Napoli will travel to Torino is weekend with the hopes of tying Roma on points before their big game against Juventus.
Real Madrid has a 4 point lead at the top of the Spanish top division and will look to extend it as they host Villarreal this weekend. While Villarreal are coming off two straight wins, the number of fixtures may get to them as they host the hot Real Madrid. Sevilla host Atletico Madrid this weekend. Sevilla need points in a hurry since they have fallen 5 points behind Valencia. With their progress continuing in the Europa League, this will be a huge game for them. Valencia host David Moyes and Real Sociedad where they look to close in on the top 3. On Saturday, Barcelona will hope to temporally close the gap to 1 point at the top when they travel to Granada.
Four teams will not take the field in the EPL this weekend, as the League Cup final takes place on Sunday. The first trophy will be up for grabs when Tottenham and Chelsea face off in Wembly. Leicester and QPR were going to be their opponents this weekend, so they also have the weekend off. Tottenham will scramble to win their first trophy since 2008, when they last won the League Cup. They have won this competition 4 times and been in 7 league cup finals. This would be Pochettino’s first trophy as a manager. For Chelsea, they will try to add their 5th League Cup trophy, and first since 2007. Their last trophy was the Europa League in 2012-13. This would be Jose Mourinho’s first trophy since his return to the club. He has won the League cup twice with Chelsea already.
In the EPL, Manchester City will attempt to take advantage of Chelsea not playing, as they look to close the gap. Their opponent this weekend hopes to overcome their devastating defeat on penalties in Europe, Liverpool. Both teams will try to grab all three points in what has become a big game for both teams. City can close the gap to 2 points on Chelsea, where as Liverpool could jump into the top 4. Manchester United host Sunderland, as they work to maintain their spot in the top 4. Sunderland have been struggling lately, and Gus Poyet is under a lot of pressure. Three points here would go a long way for him as he tries to escape relegation. Southampton travels to West Brom where under Tony Pulis, West Brom has lost just one game. Southampton will need to find their form in front of goal and make their great play count with goals. Arsenal host Everton as they need to bounce back from one of their worst performances in Europe. A loss for Everton could really leave them in a lot of trouble in the league.
EPL Pick ‘Em
In what was an amazing weekend for Buzz, he has extended his lead to 185 to 167. He correctly predicted 3 scores last weekend and had 3 more correct winners for 12 points, whereas I was only able to correctly predict one score and had only 2 correct winners for 5 points.
My picks – West Ham 2-1, United 1-0, Stoke 2-1, Swans 1-0, Saints 1-0, Newcastle 2-1, City 2-1, Arsenal 3-1
Buzz picks – W Ham 2-1, United 3-1, Toon 1-0, Saints 2-1, Burnley 2-2, Stoke 1-1, pool 2-2, Gunners 2-1
Don’t forget to check out the twitter feed this weekend – @SoccerPond
Don’t forget about the bottom of the table as we watch the relegation battles unfold.