The Mailbox speculates over who can stop Manchester City. Send your thoughts to email@example.com.
Europa League key to Man City downfall
Despite Liverpool’s impressive form, I’ve long maintained City are strong favourites for the league. However, there’s always that glimmer of hope and last night was a game that I had naively pegged as a possibility where City might drop points. Yes, Leeds are poor, but fighting for their lives, a raucous Elland Road, sandwiched between the Madrid games? It seemed like there was a chance.
It wasn’t to be and we’re now running out of games where City conceivably might not win. I’d rule out the home games. As good as Newcastle’s form is and however motivated Gerrard might be, I can’t see Newcastle or Villa getting anything at the Ethiad. Which leaves Wolves away and West Ham away. Wolves seem to have decided European football isn’t for them and ended the season early, so the London Stadium does seem like the only real possible candidate for a result.
Which makes Thursday night absolutely key. Win it and West Ham will put out a second string against City, 3 days before the Europa league final. Lose on Thursday and West Ham will be desperate for points to be back in the Europa league next season. What happens on Thursday could be the decisive factor in who wins the title.
Of course, it might all be for nothing. There’s no guarantee of Liverpool winning their remaining 4 games and even a full strength West Ham would be underdogs against this City team. But as much as I’d love to see West Ham win the Europa League, I’ll be hoping they crash out on Thursday and give City a proper match.
Mike, LFC, London
You’ve got to hand it to Klopp today. He took a gamble with that line up but it paid off. Ultimately it means Trent got a full week off and Fabinho, Salah and Mané didn’t have to play a full 90 minutes.
You could see a couple of times Klopp lost his sh*t on the touch line as our forwards wasted a few big chances and fair play to him. Newcastle looked decent and forced us into bringing on our best players to try and contain the game. I think a lot of their players have an awful lot to play for this season so it’s no surprise they’re working so hard. I just hope they do something similar against Man City because they could’ve snatched a point today and you never know…
Robertson is such a class act. Just tears up and down that left side for 90 minutes every three days and doesn’t seem to show any signs of fatigue or complacency. This has possibly been his best season for Liverpool which was hard to imagine when he’s already had some outstanding seasons.
Credit to BT Sport too for trying to create some controversy from the least controversial tackle of the game in the build up to the goal. It wasn’t the most exciting match they did well to get so much talking out of such a non-event.
As a Magpie, the best thing I can say about that match is that it had absolutely no bearing on the relegation battle, which I wouldn’t have believed in December. Liverpool are irritating AF, but they’re just so good. It was like they had an extra man on the pitch the entire 90 minutes.
Liverpool easily did to us what we’ve recently been just managing to do to other teams: press hard enough to deny them time on the ball and take at least one of the chances on offer. More often than not, our passes were between stationary players, leaving us flat-footed and vulnerable to Liverpool’s press. They nearly marked St. Maximin out of the match, collapsing blind alleys around him time after time. Almiron’s speed counted for little against Liverpool’s midfield and defense, and the like rest of the forward and midfield lines, he simply was not as good as the opponents he faced. Even Guimaraes, though Bruno might have done better with more speed and touch around him in midfield. Shelvey’s immobility in particular was a real handicap.
You can’t really fault the way we defended. Krafth, who couldn’t cope with the pace, was blown after 65 minutes; it was amazing he made 84 without us conceding again. A brave, but revealing performance. Lascelles again did quite well in defense, replacing Schar. Burn was immense, as usual. I can’t think of a situation he didn’t deal with well; he was standing still for the goal, but once the ball was past him, there was little he could’ve done.
Heck, I was pleased that we managed to put the ball in the net at all, even if it was offside. All things must pass, and 0-1 to Liverpool is about the best imaginable way for our home win streak to have ended.
I would’ve loved, it, loved it if we’d put a dent in their title hopes, though.
Chris C, Toon Army DC
The Newcastle-Liverpool game just finished and have to applaud Newcastle for sticking to a much more positive game plan than the one Everton put in place.
Howe has done a great job. A lot of forward pressing kept Liverpool under pressure. And they managed to keep Liverpool’s opportunities to a minimum without a low block of two banks of 4 or 5. And apart from a couple of pushes in the game, it was a relatively clean game with no gamesmanship.
Heck, they did much better than Villareal. Hopefully Emery wasn’t watching and getting a few tips.
What a contrast between two English managers in Howe and Lampard. Newcastle are going to do well next season.
Crystal Palace thoughts
Had my hair cut an hour before kickoff in Soton v Crystal Palace. Don’t worry, my hair is probably still longer than yours. Not sure this is sustainable as a means of ensuring a Palace win but needs must.
*On Monday night, the Eagles struggled through a feisty 0-0 draw with Leeds United, in which the referee took a very lenient approach towards some of the crunching tackles that flew in. Predictably, Wilfried Zaha was the most often targeted, on the receiving end of several fouls that merited yellow cards (but did not), only for Kalvin Phillips to call him a diver after the match. I’m obligated to point out that in the three seasons since VAR was introduced, the only occasion on which a referee decided Zaha had dived, he was forced to overturn his decision and award a kick from the penalty mark. We can but speculate on what might have happened today with one of Phillips’s teammates had they been previously dissuaded from flying into the sort of challenges where people end up getting hurt.
*The after-effects of Monday’s game took their toll on the Palace team, with Patrick Vieira taking the bold decision to put Zaha on the bench from the start. This decision looked to have backfired early on when Soton took the lead, yet another goal Vieira’s team have conceded from a corner.
After that, Palace dominated the game. Jeffrey Schlupp found plenty of space behind the Saints defence. as his side created several good chances. The equaliser arrived courtesy of a fantastic move finished off by Eberechi Eze. It’s been a long road back from his horrific injury, he’s had limited playing time and not really shown his full potential when he has played. That said, he has had to learn new roles in the team and his commitment has never been in question while we acknowledge he is a work in progress. I’m really pleased for him to get his goal today.
*Shortly after the goal, enter Zaha. Appropriately enough for today’s opposition, I can’t think of a player who has that important to his team and that fun to watch since Matthew Le Tissier in his pomp. For clarity I am talking exclusively about his playing career. Combined with the later introduction of Michael Olise, Vieira made changes knowing full well the game was there to be won. Inevitably, it was the man who can legitimately claim to be Palace’s greatest ever player who settled the tie with a moment of trademark magic. Readers with long memories may recall the time Zaha was sent off for sarcastically clapping a referee, and James Ward-Prowse celebrating the decision like he’d scored a goal. It shows just how much more mature Zaha is than you or I that he didn’t celebrate in Ward-Prowse’s face, Martin Keown-style. Or do a Jurgen Klinsmann dive.
*Speaking of that ridiculous officiating line in the sand, prior to that red card, Zaha had scored four goals in 23 appearances; he then scored six in his next 13; when he was sent from the field against Tottenham earlier this season, I suggested a similar effect may take place. Sure enough, having scored five goals before the Boxing Day game, he has scored seven since returning from suspension (and AFCON), which makes this his most prolific season in the top flight.
*This was the first time all season that Palace have recovered from a losing position to win a game, and remarkably the first game they’ve won by a single goal. The result doesn’t really affect too much in the grand scheme of things; all either side is playing for is exactly where they will finish in the midtable pack. However, this was an important demonstration from Vieira that his side can carve out results when their attacking verve doesn’t immediately blow teams away.
*With this result, Palace match their points total from 34 games last season, but with a goal difference of +3 compared to -20. While this matters little in the bigger picture, just as the number of times they’ve won the xG battle, it does indicate how much more attacking they have been this year. By coincidence, their next match sees them face Roy Hodgson’s Watford, a fixture that will see the Hornets relegated if they don’t win.
*There is a lot of noise suggesting Aaron Wan-Bissaka could be set to re-join Palace on loan next season. As often as possible during his time at Old Trafford I’ve been saying he’s not good enough for Manchester United and they should send him back, and people are starting to think my motivations are self-interested. Despite what is said about him, Wan-Bissaka is a great player; however, he established himself thus in a team that did a lot of defending, where he was able to show off his incredible tackling. The trouble is, he joined a Manchester United team wanting their right-back to be a bit more attacking than he would be for Roy Hodgson, which isn’t his strongest suit. The trouble is, at no point did it occur to anyone at Manchester United to teach him how to play the way they needed him to.
*When Burnley announced they had terminated Sean Dyche’s contract, I was one of the very few people to suggest that it wasn’t a mistake and that Dyche’s playing style had held the Clarets back. That an inexperienced manager has taken over and simply encouraged his team to attack cannot be a coincidence.
If anyone ever needed reminding why football fans have a reputation for being boorish, immature, intellectually challenged halfwits, thank you Leeds for doing the honours.
Launching scrunched up paper on the pitch and at players. Wow. Been a long time since I’ve been awestruck at something so idiotic, childish and pointless.
Marc, MCFC, Bolton
League One promotion
This is it. 45 rounds of football, and it’s all come down to this. As a Wycombe fan, writing this as he’s traveling to the match. I’m bricking it.
First it speaks to the quality of the league, that only one team in both the relegation, and promotion spots, is mathematically secure (well, in the case of Crewe, insecure)
Three teams can win the league, three teams can get automatic promotion, six teams are involved in the chase to ensure they have playoffs to play after today, whilst five teams at the Bottom have everything to give today.
Thought I would give my views on the promotion candidates and their matches, since honestly I’m just nervous and need to get it off my chest
Wigan Vs Shrewsbury – won’t imagine any surprises for Wigan. Should be a fairly easy, if not nervous, victory and trophy for them.
Rotherham Vs Gillingham – theoretically an easier match than Wigan’s, but they need Wigan to lose or draw to have a chance at winning that title. Should secure the automatic promotion though
MK Dons Vs Plymouth – this is the big match today, MK want the chance of automatic if Rotherham lose or draw, whilst Plymouth need a win to ensure they stay ahead of Wycombe. Could honestly go either way, both teams have everything to gain and nothing to lose, so should be a very interesting match
Sunderland Vs Morecambe – As much as I don’t want to admit it, Sunderland should have this. As a Wycombe fan I’m split between wanting them to lose now, or possibly getting them in the playoffs and having another chance to rile up Sunderland fans again.
Wycombe Vs Burton – Theoretically a good game, and Wycombe have absolutely nothing to lose. Can theoretically overtake Plymouth even if they win, since we are only 2 behind on GD and we beat them in the H2H comparison. We’ll have a packed out away stand which hopefully will help.
I’m loving today. I’ll take a day like this over the Premier League any day. This has been an incredible competitive league with alot of amazing matches, and win or lose, I’ve loved it all