Premier League Ramble – The Elongated Week

Premier League Ramble – The Elongated Week

It’s been an odd week of Premier League action. With just a few teams still involved in the FA Cup, teams have been playing league matches throughout the week, leaving just over half the league still with a game in hand. Champions Manchester City were welcomed onto the Etihad pitch by a guard of honour by Swansea and thanked the Welsh side by putting 5 goals past them. Stoke and Southampton drew their matches, moving them closer to the Championship, while West Brom followed up their win over Manchester United by coming back from 2 goals down to draw at home to Liverpool, who still had something to cheer this weekend as Mo Salah was named PFA Player of the Year.

Possibly more important than the football this week was the announcement that this season will be Arsene Wenger’s last in charge at Arsenal.


End of an era

Though results over the last 2 seasons have suggested change was coming and despite me even predicting as much, it was still a shock when the news broke on Friday that Arsene Wenger will be stepping down as manager of Arsenal at the end of the season. Having taken over at Arsenal on 1st October 1996, he has been the Arsenal manager through the entire time I have been watching football! I doubt the Premier League will ever see another manager have such a long tenure with a single club.

The results and standings may not have been to the level Arsenal – and Wenger – would have hoped over the last couple of seasons, but at a time like this it is important to look back at his achievements with the Gunners. These last 2 seasons are the only times Arsenal have not finished in the top 4 of the Premier League under Wenger, with the Gunners always finishing in the top 2 until 2005/06, while he has won 3 league titles (1997/98, 2001/02 and 2003/4), 7 FA Cups (1997/98, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2016/17) and 7 Community Shields (1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2014, 2015 and 2017). “The Invincibles” of 2003/04 remain the only team to go an entire 38-match Premier League campaign without losing a single match. Individually, Wenger has been named Premier League Manager of the Season in 1998, 2002 and 2004 and was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He has always sought to create teams who play attractive football and has maintained a high level of success throughout the years with only a handful of big-money signings, while also seeing the club through their move from Highbury to the Emirates in 2006.

wengUnfortunately for Wenger, his long tenure has perhaps harmed Arsenal in recent years as they have been unable to adapt to the football played by some teams, with organised, physical defences often denying them points they should not be dropping and expensive attacking teams exposing an inconsistent defence. For this reason, I do not think we will see managers getting anywhere near Wenger’s 22 years with a single club moving forward as managers will be changed to freshen things up once a team does not adapt. It is a credit to Arsenal that in such a cut-throat business they have stuck by Arsene Wenger despite the lack of silverware between 2005 and 2014. I can’t imagine any of the other classic “Big 4” teams would go more than a couple of seasons without silverware before changing manager. There has been a lot of fan hostility towards him in recent seasons, but I sincerely hope that they continue to use these final games as a way to thank Wenger for his service to the club over the year.

This summer, the focus turns to who will replace him… I don’t envy that manager at all!


The king has been crowned

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Mohammed Salah has won the PFA Player of the Year award for 2017/18. The Egyptian has been in fine form this season and looked a completely different player to the one who struggled for minutes at Chelsea.

He may not have had the best of performances at the weekend against West Brom, but he still managed to score another goal, leaving him with 31 goals from 33 Premier League games, level with Shearer, Ronaldo and Suarez for the most in a 38-game league season. I can’t imagine many people would bet against him breaking that record against Stoke. In fact at £34m he has already been worth less than £1m for each goal he has scored in all competitions, good value for money in the modern game!

When Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona many fans may have been worried, but Salah has more than picked up the slack and has been a big part in one of the most destructive attacks in the league this season, providing 9 assists to go along with those goals. Liverpool’s 80 goals scored leaves them comfortably second in the league rankings, and Salah has been directly involved (scored/assisted) half of them! I can’t even begin to imagine how many others involved him playing a big part in the build-up.

The question now will become what happens going forward? Will he have a sophomore slump in 2018/19 or will he be able to keep up the performances, even if the numbers drop slightly (I can’t imagine anyone being able to keep scoring so regularly over 2 seasons)? More than that, how long until Real Madrid or Barcelona inevitably come calling? And how long can Liverpool keep hold of him when they do?


A long-awaited goal

931 days. That’s how long Danny Ings went without scoring ahead of his 4th minute opener against West Brom. He’s had 2 serious knee injuries since moving from Burnley to Liverpool and as such was making only his second start under Jurgen Klopp. As well as his goal, he also had another great chance and should have also had a penalty when he was impeded by Craig Dawson trying to reach a ball through.

Ings remains a quality player and at 25 years old he can still be a star in the league if given the chance to play regularly, but despite Klopp backing him to start scoring I can’t see him getting the minutes he deserves with Roberto Firmino ahead of him in the pecking order and the front 3 being so effective as a group. There are very few top class English strikers so regular football could easily see Ings pushing for a spot in the England squad. I really think that Ings would benefit from a move away this summer to get his career back on track. But where could he go?

Spurs could do with another reliable goal scorer to back up Harry Kane, but that leaves Ings in the same situation as he is in now. The rest of the Big 6 are sorted up front or will be looking for more expensive options. In my opinion, the best spots for him would be the teams currently occupying 7th to 10th: Burnley, Leicester, Everton and Newcastle. All of these teams will be looking to compete for the spots outside the top 6 and a striker who can score 15-20 goals a season would be a huge benefit. Of those, I would see Burnley and Everton as the most attractive options. Burnley are Ings’ former club so he is used to the environment and 0Sean Dyche’s style of management, while I’m sure the fans would love to have back a player who was their top scorer in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons. Everton on paper probably have the strongest of the squads and Ings would certainly benefit from the calibre of players providing him with the ball.

Personally, I’d suggest he pick Everton, they have had a poor season but I would expect them to be more competitive next year, whereas Burnley’s smaller squad could struggle to repeat their heroics of this season. That said, if Burnley do manage to make it into the Europa League, the chance of European football would be a huge draw and really help his aspirations. A return to his former club to help them in Europe would be a wonderful story heading into next season.


Round 36 predictions:

Liverpool v Stoke City – Liverpool win

Burnley v Brighton & Hove Albion – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v Leicester City – Draw

Huddersfield Town v Everton – Everton win

Newcastle United v West Bromwich Albion – Draw

Southampton v AFC Bournemouth – Draw

Swansea City v Chelsea – Chelsea win

West Ham United v Manchester City – City win

Manchester United v Arsenal – United win

Tottenham Hotspur v Watford – Spurs win

Free 4 All II and Beyond…

Free 4 All II and Beyond…

The Schmoedown had its first PPV-style event of the 2018 season recently and the world went nuts. Fans arranged gatherings from Arizona to London and everyone came together for the joy of watching 48 competitors battle it to win Free 4 All II and earn a title shot. Last year, “The Inglorious One” Samm Levine came out late in the event and after clearing the table won a 1v1 against Tom Dagnino to earn a title shot that he cashed in at Collider Collision against Dan Murrell. This year, as well as the main prize, there was also a prize announced for the competitor who lasted the most rounds: a Number 1 Contender match.

There was so much to take in from the 2 videos I would be here forever if I tried to discuss everything, so I have decided to stick to the points that have stuck with me most. Obviously it goes without saying, there will be spoilers for the Free 4 All and also references to scenes in Scream Queens v Gardenhosers and Marc Andreyko v Ben Bateman as some storylines have been continued in these matches.

And your winner…!

Congratulations to “Miss Movies” Brianne Chandler on her victory. Coming out at number 44 is always going to give you a good shot but with William Bibbiani and Ethan Erwin at the table it will still take something special to win. In the 4 rounds she competed in, she averaged 4.75/5, the highest average of any competitor at the event. We have always known Brianne was a strong competitor and she proved it in this event.

f4awinHaving taken a step back from competing following her loss to Mike Kalinowski in the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown, it was great to see Brianne back at the table (and coming in with another great entrance), even if it was just for an exhibition match and not regular competition. She has been doing a great job looking after the Schmoedown’s Patreon and doing the interviews for the Patreon matches, so I am hoping this will lead to more time back in front of the camera. Even if she isn’t ready to compete regularly get her on the desk!

Now thoughts turn to what Brianne will do with the title shot. I would love to see her go for it if she feels comfortable, as I think she really could challenge for the Singles title. Or, following her split from the Missfits, she could create a new team (Kalinowski, anyone?) and go for the Teams title, though I don’t know if they would be able to take down The Patriots. Another option open to her would be to give the title shot to someone else. Ahead of Scream Queens v Gardenhosers, we saw Kalinowski suggesting using it for him to get a shot at the Innergeekdom belt. We’ve since seen Ken Napzok trying to convince Brianne to give him the title shot as insurance if he fails to win his live match against Joseph Scrimshaw and Alex Damon and regain the title he (wrongly) feels he was cheated out of. Perhaps these are the start of a series of competitors pushing their cases and trying to join up with Brianne to start a new faction or get her to join theirs. Who else will we see trying to get Brianne to pick them over the next couple of weeks? Top 10? Team Action? Drew McWeeny? I’ll be interested to see what happens with this title shot.

Beasting it

William “The Beast” Bibbiani has had an up-and-down ride in the Schmoedown. He is clearly a knowledgeable competitor but has had some awful luck in Rounds 2 & 3, leaving him with a 3-4 singles record. Since leaving the 4 Horsemen to create the Growling Commandos, he has joined up with Witney “The Beauty” Seibold to compete in the team league as Critically Acclaimed, however their results have also been mixed as they beat Only Stupid Answers on their debut but lost in the first round of the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown to Late to the Party (2017’s Upset of the Year) to leave them with a 1-1 record. If anyone needed a good showing in the Free 4 All it was Bibbs, and boy did he have a good showing!

beast
Growl Growl!

Coming in at number 20 was always going to make it hard for the Beast to win the event, but he put in an MVP performance that will be difficult to beat in future events. His 21 rounds competed in smashed Dan Murrell’s record from 2017 and he wasn’t just scraping through these rounds. His average score per round of 4.14 was bettered by only Marc Andreyko (4.40 from 5 rounds) and the winner Brianne Chandler (4.75 from 4 rounds), while his tally of 9 perfect rounds smashed Andreyko and Murrell’s joint record of 3 in 2017. Speaking on the Schmoedown Rundown, Bibbs discussed how for his Baby Driver-themed entrance he picked up a pair of non-prescription sunglasses which made it difficult to see the audience or the score, so he was just focusing on the questions. That, compared with a format more reminiscent of Round 1 (where Bibbs generally has more fortune) definitely seemed to benefit The Beast and I think he should have a word with Commissioner Thadd Williams about making his future matches into Iron Man matches.

And now to the future: by lasting the most rounds of any competitor, Bibbiani has earned a Number 1 Contender match. I’m not quite sure of the full conditions (whether he gets to choose his opponent) but he can decide which league he uses it in. So will he go singles or teams? Witney had a good showing in the Free 4 All but is still relatively inexperienced in the Schmoedown, so a Number 1 Contender’s match may be too early for Critically Acclaimed. A 3-4 record leaves The Beast a long way from a naturally earning a chance to compete for the singles title so I can see him cashing in for a chance to make it to a singles title match. Would he win? If he finally gets some luck in Rounds 2&3, he could certainly find himself with a belt around his waist.

While on the subject of Bibbiani, I just want to state how much I am enjoying him this season. Though he is clearly competitive, it was his lightheartedness that initially stood out to me when watching the match (until I realised just how long he was lasting). I have also really enjoyed his interviews with the Schmoedown Rundown and his appearances on the announcer desk, while his Patreon newsletter talking about how he plans his entrances was a great read – almost as good as his actual entrances! Coming into the Schmoedown midway through the 2017 season I was not a real fan of him, but his appearances this year have left me wanting more.

finstock“Poof!”

Looks like things are about to get interesting in the Schmoedown. After last year coming out as the final competitor in the 2017 Free 4 All, Tom Dagnino was not so lucky this year. The manager of the Lion’s Den was the second competitor out and, though he lasted longer than expected, he was still out relatively quickly in the event. That wasn’t it for Tricky Tom though as competitor number 39 was revealed to be his alter-ego Finstock, ironically coming out right after his former Mega Powers teammate Josh Macuga. Again, he didn’t last long at the table, but the possibilities of what Dagnino and his multiple personalities will get up to moving forward – Finstock stated that he is not part of the Lion’s Den – is frightening!

But that wasn’t all for the Dagnino news at the Free 4 All as Brianne was seen to trick Thadd into signing a contract with a clause stating that at 2100 patrons, Dagnino will be named Commissioner for a week. With it only being a week I can’t imagine that he will be able to get up to much trouble in that time, but it will certainly be an interesting shakeup to the league. One of the benefits of the delay to posting this is that I have seen Kristian tweet a screenshot of a text from Dagnino:

“You better hope these numbskulls don’t make me commissioner for that week cos I’m looking to start a civil war. At 2500 patrons, you’re playing ya buddy Ellis. Deal with it.”

I can hear the masses signing up already…

Though I am very much aligned against the Lion’s Den, I can’t help but agree that Dagnino makes things interesting. I look forward to seeing what happens with Dagnino and Finstock over the coming months.

Prison does strange things to you

“And their next opponent…” I wonder who’s next, there’s so many veterans we haven’t seen yet. *Jaws music begins* No way! “Representing… Screen Junkies…” YES! “Ladies and gentlemen… “Dangerous” Dan Murrell!” OH MY GOD!! *Andrew Ghai walks out* Oh for **** sake!

I’m sure my mind wasn’t the only one with similar thoughts as we witnessed the biggest shock of the 2018 Free 4 All. I do enjoy watching Team Action on the Schmoedown even though I would consider myself more of a Top 10 fan, but this entrance from Andrew Ghai on his return to the league following his ban for The Tackle was immense. In his absence, we have heard his teammate Ben “The Boss” Bateman saying that he’s been in prison, something Ghai confirmed in the post-match interviews when discussing his early exit:

“There’s no movies in jail, OK, so I couldn’t study. I just drank and shanked people”

Whether it was his time in jail or losing to his ‘dad’ John Rocha before that, something in Ghai’s mind has snapped. Coming out at the Free 4 All, Ghai claimed that he had killed Dan Murrell and hidden the body 6 feet under. Since then, we have seen him have a number of shirts released, including “I’m the Ghai that beat the GOAT” – a claim Ghai has been making loudly since the Free All – and a mockery of the new Murrell order nMo design. We’ve also seen him drinking heavily and being even louder and more foul-mouthed than usual, as well as using Bateman’s post-match interview as a chance to invite Clarke Wolfe out for something that sounded nothing like a match.

ghai4wolfeRight now, Ghai is the biggest heel in the league by a mile and it will be very interesting to see where things go from here. Will his antics get too much for “The Boss” as he starts pushing for a singles belt, forming a rift within the team? Will his claims of beating Murrell bring the GOAT out of his retirement, even for just a one-off match to put him back in place? Or will he just get himself banned and thrown back in jail again?

As an aside: going back to Ghai’s entrance and it is interesting that Thadd appeared to go behind Kristian’s back and pull a fast one on him by putting Murrell’s name in the order rather than Ghai’s. Team Action have certainly had some help from the Commissioner and I wonder if he is trying to get them onside for a possible power battle with Kristian Harloff.

What’s up with K.O.?

Mike Kalinowski currently seems to be at a crossroads as to his future in the Schmoedown. He has not been seen with The League this season following a disappointing loss for DC Movie News against Top That at the end of last season. We haven’t seen much of K.O. this season – his only match so far was the Triple Threat Number 1 Contender match where he was thoroughly outplayed by JTE and Rachel Cushing – but when we have, it has generally been on his own. It looked like his time with The League was over and his future was down one of 3 paths:

thornbush
If The League does disband, it looks like Roxy has her next faction

I was shocked then to see Kalinowski introduced as representing The League at the Free 4 All. Is he sticking with the guys who supported him during his rise up the rankings last season? I get the feeling we’ll get some answers following his match with Wolfe.

If he does walk away from The League, what is next for his old faction? Other than Kalinowski, they have not been that active in the competition. Jonny Loquasto is a great mouthpiece, but his competitive debut at the Free 4 All resulted in 3 points over 2 rounds, though it must be remembered that he came to the table during a period where we were seeing some of the strongest tables of the entire event. The only other member of The League to compete has been K.O.’s DC Movie News teammate Adam Gertler, who has so far stuck to the teams league. Losing Kalinowski could see the end of The League as a faction.

New faces and welcome returns

It is a real measure of the growth of the Schmoedown that the Free 4 All was able to expand from 35 competitors in 2017 to 48 in 2018. Not only were we treated to the regular contenders, but we also had a couple of players making their debut (such as Wendy Lee Szany), plenty of competitors who have debuted this season and so far made just a couple of appearances (ranging from Dale the Dude and Taylor Robinson to Ethan Erwin). Looking at the more established names, we had a number of competitors making only their first or second appearance of the season, but were also treated to a number of players who were making grand returns to the Schmoedown table after extended absences, like Brianne and Mark “Yodi” Reilly, which made Ghai’s Murrell tease even more believable. It was great seeing them competing again, even if it was just for an exhibition match.

Yodi back
Yodi’s return to the table was one of the best surprises in the match

What really shows the strength of the Schmoedown in the list of players who did not feature at this year’s event. Current Champions Jeff Sneider, Jason Inman and Sam Witwer, former Champions Matt Knost and Hector Navarro and other veterans like Clarke Wolfe and Scott Mantz were all absent from the competition, while former Commissioner Kristian Harloff was at the desk and current Commissioner Thadd Williams appeared only in the scenes before and after the event.

With so many competitors, it allows such a great variety of matches. With the live shows and the Patreon, we are already seeing more matches that will have no bearing on the title picture this year and it is making the league even more enjoyable.

And while we’re on the subject of new faces, how good was it to finally see Jenn Sterger announcing a match?! Fans have been begging for it for so long and she proved us right by doing a great job. The Schmoedown is doing a great job of rotating the announcers this season, hopefully this will mean we are not left waiting too long before we see Jenn at the desk again.

 

What were your thoughts on Free 4 All II? Who impressed you the most? Who was your favourite competitor? What are you looking forward to moving forward? Did you attend one of the viewing parties? Let me know in the comments.

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 34

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 34

Congratulations to Manchester City whose 1-3 win at Wembley, combined with United’s shock defeat at home to West Brom, won them their third Premier League title, proving my early season prediction wrong in the process. Despite the win at Old Trafford, West Brom’s chances of survival are still slim (at best) as they are at least 9 points behind Swansea – who have a game in hand – with an inferior goal difference. Andy Carroll’s late equaliser may have doomed Stoke to life in the Championship, while Southampton’s 2-0 start against Chelsea was ruined by 3 goals in 9 minutes and leaves Mark Hughes close to his first ever relegation as a player or a manager.

Congratulations also to Wolves, who are now guaranteed a place in the Premier League next season!


What’s next for the best?

City’s run to the title has been dominant this season! In 33 matches, they have only failed to take maximum points 5 times (2 losses and 3 draws) and they currently have a goal difference of +68, 25 higher than the next best goal difference (Liverpool). Pep Guardiola will have very little competition for Manager of the Season – I would argue only Sean Dyche can potentially beat him to this award – as he has made this team almost unbeatable in the toughest of the top domestic leagues. He has clearly worked hard on developing his players and it is helping players like Raheem Sterling begin to live up to their potential.

But the Sky Blues cannot rest on their laurels and will need to work hard to defend their title next year, especially if they plan to progress further in the Champions League.So what do they need to look at ahead of next season:

  • Plan B – As dangerous as City have been in attack this season, they will eventually come up against teams who set up well enough to stop the Sky Blues’ current tactics. For that reason I feel they need to look at finding another striker. Jesus and Aguero (if he stays) are both fantastic strikers but they have similar playing styles, I would argue that Guardiola needs to find a taller and more physical striker to give their attack an extra dimension and a more direct option. Imagine the fun De Bruyne and Sané would have crossing the ball in to a target man. The quality of the supporting players is such that it will not require a top name to fill this spot, as they will get the chances and just need to be able to finish them – just look at how Kelechi Iheanacho has struggled since leaving the Etihad. If they could get him, a player like Fernando Llorente would probably have more success in this team than he has had at Spurs this season.
  • Increased depth – If City want to defend their league title and win the Champions League next season then they need to improve their depth. They were heavilylinked with Riyad Mahrez in January and I think that he would be a great addition for them as he, Sané and Starling will give Guardiola great selection headaches and allow for greater rotation, while Phil Foden should also continue to get more minutes as he develops. Fernandinho is probably one of the most underrated players in the squad and I would recommend Guardiola try to find a capable understudy to ensure City do not struggle if he picks up a long-term injury, while the team could also do with improving their depth at fullback, as we saw this year that the quality wasn’t quite there behind Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, who missed so much of the season he will almost feel like a new signing next season.
  • Settled defence – 
    26535165526_452185cb2b_o
    Is Pep set for the Manager of the Season award? – Image from Flickr – Pedro Haas

    Last week when discussing the importance of David de Gea to United’s season, I compared some of his key stats to the main keepers in the other Top 6 clubs. Despite playing the same number of games and Ederson having to make only half as many saves, United had still managed to keep more clean sheets in the league so far this season. City have a number of quality centre backs (Stones, Kompany, Laporte and Otamendi) yet they still concede more goals than they should. Injuries have not helped, but the form of these players has been up and down like a yo-yo. It will be difficult for City to keep scoring at such an impressive rate next season, so they need to make things safer at the back. They have the players, now they just need to perform.


Crime and punishment

2 challenges this weekend, both awful, but different punishments. Ben Davies put in a horrible high challenge on Vincent Kompany with his studs catching him not far below the knee. How he did not receive a red card I don’t know, I can only assume the officials had a bad angle as he only received a yellow. Even more ridiculous was the lack of punishment from Mike Dean when Marcos Alonso planted his studs in the top of Shane Long’s calf right under the referee’s nose. It was an unnecessary and horrible challenge, but luckily as Dean missed it Alonso will receive a retroactive punishment, unfortunately Davies will not receive any further punishment as the referee clearly saw the incident and acted on it during the match. To me, this is ridiculous.

This isn’t the first time this season that I have suggested introducing an idea from rugby, but I think that football could benefit from a citing system. In rugby, a player can be cited for an on-pitch incident regardless of whether the referee has seen and acted on the incident. This means that if an independent panel finds that the referee’s punishment has been too lenient – as with the yellow card to Davies – the player can still receive a fitting punishment for his actions. For such a professional sport, there is far too much of an opportunity for a poor refereeing decision to impact the league, not just that week but for the next couple of weeks! I can see already the arguments that football has managed fine without this for years and that it is taking away the authority of the referee, but nobody treats the referee with any respect or authority as it is (just look at the hordes of players around him every time he blows his whistle) and surely as fans of the sport we would rather see the right decisions being made and players receiving the punishments they deserve. Just imagine if Davies nets the winner against Brighton…


The race for Europe

Who would have thought all those months ago when Burnley started the season well that they would still be in with a shot of qualifying for the Europa League with just 5 games remaining. They had a poor spell towards the middle of the season but have recovered well and are back to winning ways, just 2 points behind Arsenal. Regardless of whether they do qualify, for a team with the smallest playing budget in the league, to be pushing for such a high league position – despite having lost Robbie Brady and Tom Heaton to injury early in the season –  is fantastic and I would argue Sean Dyche is the only person who can realistically compete with Guardiola for Manager of the Season honours.

They have been solid at the back all season and players like James Tarkowski and Nick Pope have deservedly received England call-ups during the season, but earlier in the season they did not necessarily look overly dangerous up front. Recently though, the decision to pair Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes has made them look much more dangerous up front. It reminds me of Stoke’s progression in the past from a defensively organised team under Tony Pulis to a team that could also attack well under Mark Hughes, but this has been done over the space of a season and with the same manager, which is very impressive.

The high league position will be huge for the Burnley budget and with such an impressive manager I think players will be interested in coming to Turf Moor next season. However I have faith that Dyche will be smart with his signings and continue to bring in players that complement the team. Could a return for Danny Ings or Charlie Austin be on the cards this summer? I wouldn’t bet against it.


17/4/18 – 23/4/18 predictions:

So the next week of football will be interesting for the table as some teams try to make up their game in hand while other teams end up playing twice. I have no idea how soon I will be able to write about any of these games (it will most likely not be until after the weekend), so rather than class it as a specific round of matches, I have decided to group all these matches together for my next set of predictions. Typical cup football getting in the way of league schedules, eh?

Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester United – United win

Burnley v Chelsea – Draw

Leicester City v Southampton – Leicester win

West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Watford v Crystal Palace – Draw

Arsenal v West Ham United – Arsenal win

Stoke City v Burnley – Burnley win

Manchester City v Swansea City – Man City win

Everton v Newcastle United – Draw

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 33

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 33

Manchester City were denied the opportunity to celebrate winning the title against their fierce rivals Manchester United following a United comeback at the Etihad that saw them go from 2-0 down to 3-2 up. While City will still win the league (though maybe not away at Spurs on Saturday), it will have felt good for United and their fans to escape the title celebrations that would have been at their expense. Despite resting a number of regulars in attack, Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Southampton brings them closer to Chelsea – who could only draw 1-1 at home to West Ham – while the Saints’ loss leaves them 3 points away from safety, but with a game in hand over Crystal Palace.


The Manchester Derby

There was so much that took my attention during United’s 2-3 victory over City, but many of the points wouldn’t join into a coherent post of its own, so I have instead looked discuss my thoughts on the match in a quick-fire fashion:

  • Full credit to United for coming back from 2-0 down at half time and win 2-3. Against a team as good going forwards as City, going 2 goals down in the opening 30 should be terminal as teams would generally have to open themselves up so much to find the goals needed to draw level that they would leave gaps at the back for City to exploit and score more goals. Away from the tactical side of things, to go 2-0 down in 30 minutes away at your local rivals should hit the morale so bad, it is a measure of the quality of the United players that they held their heads high and kept pushing to get back in the game rather than capitulating under the occasion.
  • That said, how City did not get a penalty for Ashley Young’s challenge on Sergio Aguero is beyond me! The days of a challenge being legal as long as the player got the ball first are way back in the past, Young may have got the ball first but his foot then clearly came over the ball and caught Aguero high. There is no doubt in my mind that it was a penalty and in today’s climate I would have found it difficult to argue against a red card for the fullback.

    table
    A comparison of the keepers who have played 5+ games for clubs in the top 6 this season (stats from the league only)
  • Where would United be without David de Gea? The Spaniard’s distribution may not have been at its best in the build-up to Ilkay Gundogan’s goal, but he more than made up for it with a world-class save from Aguero late on. Only City (24) have conceded less goals than United (25) this season and de Gea’s 16 clean sheets puts him top of the league this season, but these stats do not show the full story. His 103 saves in the league this season is the 4th most of any keeper this season, but you need to go down to 12th in the list to find the next keeper currently playing for a top-6 team. Compared to his fellow top-6 keepers, de Gea is having to make too many saves! Data from Opta suggests that where de Gea has conceded 23 goals (excluding own goals) he would have been expected to concede 37 goals, the highest differential for a keeper in the league this year. This guy is saving United’s season! United need to look at upgrading their defence this summer as they cannot continue to rely on de Gea every season.
  • Following Young’s challenge on Aguero mentioned above, United broke on City but the attack was stopped by a foul on Jesse Lingard. While the foul was clearly stopping a chance to counter against the Sky Blues, Lingard’s decision to roll around on the floor 100 times (only a slight exaggeration) was absolutely pathetic! If the FA are serious about getting simulation out of the game and attempting to deceive an official by exaggerating the effect of a challenge then he has to be banned for this.

The Great Dane

It must be hard when in the same team as Harry Kane, but Christian Eriksen rarely seems to get the love he deserves in the Tottenham attack. Considering the quality of Kane and Alli and the improved form of Son Heung-Min it is understandable, but he is such an important part of the attack. In terms of goals scored he is on pace to have one of his best seasons ever – especially if the FA do award him the second goal against Stoke rather than switch it to Kane – and in recent weeks he has done a great job of keeping Spurs’ attack going while Harry Kane has been injured. His ability to play across the width of the pitch behind the striker allows him to move around and pick up the space that gives his team the best advantage, while he has a great range of passes and is lethal over a dead ball.

Spurs need to improve their depth throughout the squad, but I think they would struggle to adequately replace the Dane if he was out with an injury.


Double trouble

When you’re fighting against relegation, you should be trying to do everything you can to get all your best players on the pitch at the same time. To me, therefore, it is a shock that Javier Hernandez seems to start so rarely for West Ham. With 34 points, they are only 6 points outside the bottom 3 so every goal they can score is vital.

Marko Arnautović has been revitalised since moving from the wide position to the central striker role, but Chicharito is another proven goal scorer and has showed in the past that he is more effective with regular playing time rather than appearances off the bench. With relegation still a threat, I think David Moyes needs to find a way to fit both of these players into the starting XI as a strike partnership. I can’t imagine he’d be able to pick either player next season if West Ham get relegated…


Round 34 predictions:

Southampton v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Burnley v Leicester City – Draw

Crystal Palace v Brighton & Hove Albion – Palace win

Huddersfield Town v Watford – Watford win

Swansea City v Everton – Draw

Liverpool v AFC Bournemouth – Liverpool win

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City – Draw

Newcastle United v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion – United win

West Ham United v Stoke City – West Ham win

The New Horsemen?

The New Horsemen?

4return“You’re still vastly outnumbered right now by The Lion’s Den though.”

“That’s right I am. So, there’s only one way to solve… actually, there’s four ways to solve it. And I’m gonna tell you the four real soon.”

Since John Rocha teased the return of the Four Horsemen following his defeat of JTE at the Schmoedown Live event, everybody has been wondering at who will be joining The Outlaw’s new stable. The Schmoedown’s first faction, the original Four Horsemen comprised Rocha and his Top 10 teammate “Mighty” Matt Knost, William “The Beast” Bibbiani, who was being touted as a future singles champion follow his debut victory and the then-Innergeekdom Champion “The Captain” Robert Meyer Burnett. Though arguably still one of the fan-favourite factions, the Horsemen’s success did not last, with Rocha winning the Singles belt against Dan Murrell but losing in his first title defence against Mark Reilly, while Burnett also lost his first title defence to Hector Navarro. Bibbiani betrayed Rocha at Collider Collision to join new manager Ricky Hayberg and for the Growling Commandos, while Burnett’s betrayal was not far behind as he jumped ship to the Lion’s Den.

old4
The original Four Horsemen

Knost has always stuck by Rocha through his heel and face days and Top 10 have created a bitter rivalry with the Patriots, helped largely by their 3 team matches and the perceived injustices that have favoured the Patriots and the Den. However Rocha’s win over JTE appears to be part of a personal crusade against the Lion’s Den, and I can see the Den taking on the new-look Four Horsemen regularly throughout the season. Yet even if Rocha does find 2 competitors to join his stable, the Horsemen are still outnumbered. Mark Donica has just joined the Den after an impressive entry into this season’s Innergeekdom League, and while Grace Hancock’s not been present this season due to other commitments, there is nothing to suggest that the Lioness has parted ways with the Faction. While Rocha may choose quality over quantity, a recent interview with the Schmoedown Rundown suggested that Rocha may not limit his numbers and choose to bring more than 2 competitors into the faction. So who could be joining him and Knost?

justiceJason “Justice” Inman

The reigning Innergeekdom Champion is a friend of John Rocha’s and even walked out with him for his Ultimate Schmoedown match against Samm Levine. A player with experience in all 3 of the main leagues, it was a shock to see Emma Fyffe try to bring Donica into the club rather than Inman, especially considering Inman is very much a face persona whereas Donica appeared to embrace a heel persona right from the off. Inman could choose to create his own faction, but given Top 10’s rivalry with Team Action, he may be persuaded to join the Horsemen, giving the faction not just a bona fide Innergeekdom presence but also a Belt. With Donica joining the Den and earning a title shot against Inman, the title match would be the perfect moment for The Horsemen to unveil their latest recruit by accompanying him out for the match.

Bringing in Inman could also lure in another experienced competitor in the form of his Team Trek teammate Scott Mantz. “The Mantzman” may have been Rocha’s first rival in the Schmoedown but time can be a healer and the chance to take down the heels with the Horsemen may be too big a lure to ignore. This would also help tie towards a father v son exhibition match between Rocha/Mantz and Andrew Ghai/Hal Rudnick, which I’ve seen a lot of people hoping for online.

KOprofileMike “KO” Kalinowski

Another competitor who the Outlaw would call a friend, Kalinowski’s future is at a crossroads. He had success in the Ultimate Schmoedown both on his own and as part of DC Movie News and was the posterboy for The League. However The League have been pretty quiet since DC Movie News were TKO’d by Top That and Kalinowski has more recently been seen with Miss Movies. He has only played once this season, where he was thoroughly outclassed by JTE and Rachel Cushing.

Joining the Horsemen would give him the chance to go up against the heels of the league, while also bringing in the option of a rivalry with Jay Washington’s Viper Squad. Like Inman, Kalinowski has experience in Singles, Teams and Innergeekdom, so could always pair with Rocha to create a new team to face The Patriots if their reign as Team Champions continues and Top 10 continue to be banned from challenging them for the title again.

However, the reveal that Kalinowski has been picked as Clarke Wolfe’s opponent in her Number 1 Contender match could be part of a plan to bring KO into the Fyffe Club, as this has given him a shot straight back into title contention without going through a number of other teams first. Again, this could further his feud with the Viper Squad as they appear to be targeting the Fyffe Club at the moment following Clarke and Rachel both turning down Jay Washington’s invitations last season. Or perhaps he and Brianne are in the process of creation their own faction…

Dale “The Dude” Gibbs

One of the competitors who may benefit most from an expanded stable is Dale the Dude. A reactor living in Arizona, Dale may not be able to feature as often as some of the more local competitors, but he has been a big part of Top 10’s recent appearances. A big fan of The Outlaw, after Top 10 saved him from Team Action when they accosted him in a corridoor, he came out with Top 10 at Schmoedown Spectacular II and got under Andrew Ghai’s skin when he ruffled his hair. The Dude was also one of the first over to Rocha following The Tackle and has continued to be closely linked to Rocha and Knost since. Dale was accompanied by Rocha when he came out for his debut against Ben Bateman and was quick to repay the favour by jumping a railing in the crowd to help Knost shepherd Sneider, Ken and Dagnino offstage at the Live Schmoedown when they crashed Rocha’s match with JTE. If Rocha is looking for competitors who have his back, look no further!

dtdrochaDale the Dude has already made clear that he is here to try to deal with the heels of the league. He has already faced up to Team Action and has continued to make clear that his endgame is defeating Dagnino, while Ken Napzok has also appeared to catch his eye following some disparaging comments when announcing matches. Even if Dale doesn’t become a Horseman, I expect him to continue featuring with the faction, which will be interesting once his idol Dan Murrell returns to the league.

 

While I feel these are the most likely competitors to join the Four Horseman as it stands, there are a couple of other competitors who could potentially join the faction, but for one reason or another I feel unlikely.

Above The Line: Samm “The Inglorious One” Levine & Drew “The Godfather” McWeeny

If Rocha is serious about creating a faction that holds all the belts and all the records, look no further than Above The Line. Samm Levine is certainly in contention to be called the GOAT as he looks like he could hold the Singles belt for a long time and has a great chance of becoming the first competitor to hold 2 belts at the same time when ATL take on the Patriots in their next title match. In my opinion bringing in ATL would give the Four Horsemen 2 of the top 5 teams and also 3 of the strongest singles competitors (sorry Knost).

However, I don’t see this happening for a couple of reasons. First of all is Samm and Rocha’s rivalry, which does not appear to be slowing down if his Jane Fonda joke against Modok is anything to go by. Also, Above the Line are so impressive it feels like they don’t need a faction to be successful!

codyvJTE“The Olympian” Cody Miller

I can’t imagine that this one would ever happen, but if Rocha ever wanted to get really under JTE’s skin, he would bring in Miller as an honorary member of the Horsemen. Back in October 2016, JTE challenged Olympic gold medallist Cody Miller to a match in the hopes of ending a horrible losing streak. Despite taking an early lead in Round 1 “Little Evil” fell apart in Round 3 and missed his 5 point question to hand Miller the win, much to the joy of the crowd.

JTE showed at the 2017 Awards that he was not happy with being named Comeback Player of the Year as it is just a reminder of how poor a run he had, bringing out Miller ahead of a match could be the perfect way to put JTE off his game and it would be great to see the crowd’s reaction.

Team Action: Ben “The Boss” Bateman & “Dastardly” Andrew Ghai

Team Action have said in the past that the old Rocha heel persona was their inspiration. While Rocha may not be turning back into a heel, he is looking much more like the old Outlaw that fought his way to the title, so could this lure Team Action to join the Horsemen? It could also be part of the reconciliation between father and son Rocha and Drew once he returns from his ban.

However, for me there is too much bad blood between Top 10 and Team Action as it stands and I think a reconciliation so soon after The Tackle would not feel right. Perhaps Ben and Drew could join the stable much further along the line, but I think that for the foreseeable future they will continue to antagonise the Horsemen at any chance they get and see where things go from there.

 

Regardless of who joins the faction, the big question is will they finally be able to wrest back control of the Schmoedown from Bobby Gucci and the rest of the Kitten Club? Sound off in the comments who you can see joining the Horsemen and how you see things going for the faction as they reform.

 

Rugby Rambles – the March 2018 News

Rugby Rambles – the March 2018 News

Qualification nightmare

I’ve been planning this post for over a week but deliberately held off writing it while I waited for a resolution to this to discuss in full. However, the entire process appears to be dragging on indefinitely and I could not hold off writing this any longer.

As a fan who has pride in the values of rugby, the whole mess between Spain and Rugby Europe these last few weeks has been a shock to the system. With Georgia already qualified for the 2019 World Cup courtesy of finishing 3rd in the pool in 2015, the final European automatic qualifying spot for 2019 would go to whoever won the 2018 Rugby Europe Championship (or whoever came second if Georgia won). So often it would be expected that Romania would take the final spot, but their loss to Spain in Round 2 meant that Spain went into the final round of matches needing a win against Belgium – who had 1 win and 3 losses to their name – in order to take the final qualification spot, which would consign Romania to a play-off against first Portugal and then Samoa.

The game ended 18-10 in favour of the Belgians and all hell broke loose. The referee had to be escorted off the field at full time as a number of Spanish players surrounded the referee in outrage of his performance. Was this win due to biased refereeing? I wasn’t there so can only go on the word of people who were there, but Spain had a poor game, however it has also been noted that the referee did have a poor game. While that alone does not imply a bias, what makes this an issue is that both the referee and his touch judges were all Romanian. Considering Romania stood to benefit from the outcome of this match, to have set of Romanian officials is always going to put that seed of doubt in people’s minds. Granted the officials were picked well ahead of the tournament, but it doesn’t look good that Rugby Europe – whose president is Romanian – chose not to change the officials when requested by the Spanish Rugby Federation, despite South African Marius van der Westhuizen being removed from running touch during Ireland’s Grand Slam victory over England on the same weekend for a perceived conflict of interests having spent time with the England camp in the build-up. It’s going to be all-but impossible to prove something untoward happened here, but it certainly leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

The story has since taken another turn as Romania, Spain and Belgium have all been accused of fielding ineligible players during the tournament, which could lead to all 3 countries being disqualified from World Cup qualification – as happened recently to Tahiti. If this happens, then Russia (who finished 4th) would be the automatic qualifier and Germany (who face relegation from the Championship) would go into the play-off. These questions of eleigibility all centre around a stupid idea of when a player is considered “captured” by a country’s second team. The teams that “capture” players can change by the season but are generally an U20s team or a second team like the England Saxon. Then it also depends on the tournament the player was involved in or the team they were playing against to decide if they are captured. To consider a player captured because they played a couple of games for a U20s team years ago but also not players like Henry Trinder and Mike Haley (who have featured for the England first team in uncapped matches against the Barbarians) is absolutely ridiculous and far too complicated! In my opinion it would be much better for everyone involved if a player was only captured once they have been capped for their country.

With all this going on, European qualification for the World Cup is currently a mess and I think regardless of the results, there will be some who feel the team that qualifies does not deserve their place in the tournament. With World Rugby now involved, I’ll be interested to see the fallout from all this… once we finally get a decision!


Increasing availability

Though nothing has been confirmed as of yet, there are rumours that Argentina will relax their eligibility criteria for the national team to allow European-based players to feature for the Pumas. The rumours suggest this may be in place for the Summer Tests but more likely the Rugby Championship.

To me, this is wonderful news, as under the current rules, they are basically limiting themselves to the Jaguares squad and players in a domestic competition that would likely be too large of a step up to international rugby. Picking European-based players would strengthen the national team as players like Facundo Isa, Juan Figallo, Juan Imhoff, Santiago Cordero and Marcelo Bosch could all come back into consideration. Los Pumas have gone backwards since they hammered Ireland in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup. Hopefully this relaxation of the law comes in and we can get back to having a strong competitive Argentina team.


Going 4 the Champions Cup

Possibly the news that excited me most in March was that Channel 4 have bought the rights to show Champions Cup matches for the next 4 seasons. Fans will be able to watch one match from each round of the pool stages, one quarter-final, one semi-final and the final all on free-to-air TV.

This is great news for the sport as it means that top-level club rugby is becoming more accessible to more people and with the World Cup happening next year as well it will only help to grow the fanbase. Granted the Premiership matches on Channel 5 have not been quite up to the standard of BT Sport, but they have been good enough to draw in fans, hopefully having the top teams in European Rugby facing each other will draw the crowds. What is important is they get the right pundits involved, so that we get enthusiasm as well as good explanations from them to entice in new fans. I often find myself thinking the BBC panels during the 6 Nations are a little stale, but if Channel 4 can get pundits like David Flatman on board it will certainly help.

We are entering a golden age of rugby broadcasting, hopefully the amount of free-to-air top flight rugby just continues to grow. Now I just need to hope Gloucester qualify for the top competition…

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 32

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 32

Manchester City took another step towards the Premier League title this weekend with a 1-3 demolition of Everton. That win at Goodison Park means that they can win the league at the Etihad on Saturday with a victory against local rivals Manchester United, who beat Swansea 2-0 this weekend. Staying near the top of the table and Tottenham’s 1-3 victory at Stamford Bridge (including stunning goals from Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli – who needs Harry Kane?!) has almost guaranteed them a place in the Champions League next season, while the defending Premier League Champions will be back in the Europa League. West Brom’s relegation is as good as confirmed following their 1-2 loss against Burnley and with Alan Pardew leaving, the club will surely be looking for a manager who will help them in the Championship rather than rushing to find someone who can potentially save them from inevitable relegation. Mark Hughes’ attempts to save Southampton from relegation got off to poor start with a 3-0 loss at West Ham in an atmosphere unrecognisable to that of Round 30, while Stoke fell to a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal.


Undefendable

I feel so sorry for Jack Butland on pretty much a weekly basis. With Joe Hart out of favour, this is his big chance to represent England in a major tournament, yet Stoke’s form could be his undoing. The Potters have the worst defensive record in the league (61 goals conceded – 4 more than West Ham or Watford) and yet despite that, Butland has actually had a pretty good season. He has made some mistakes, but he has also put in a number of great performances an made some brilliant saves. In fact, he has made the most saves of any keeper in the league this season with 120, 11 more than Łukasz Fabiański in second.

Butland’s problem has been the men in front of him. Despite a selection of good quality defenders (Wimmer, Shawcross, Zouma, Martins Indi), Stoke just haven’t been able to defend effectively! This weekend the defence allowed Arsenal 11 shots on target, including 2 penalties… I doubt there are many keepers who would have conceded less than 3 goals had they been in Butland’s place. I still expect him to make the England squad, but he may have to make do with a space on the bench. Hopefully Gareth Southgate will look closely at Butland and give him every chance to compete with Jordan Pickford for the number 1 jersey.


Bright future

plstatNo Aguero? No problem this weekend for City as they ran out 1-3 winners at Goodison Park. Their front 3 of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sané all got on the score sheet in this game and showed that even if the City careers of the original stars that brought City success (like Aguero and Vincent Kompany) are coming to an end, there is still plenty of success to come for City. Take a look at the table to the side showing the 2017/18 Premier League stats for the starting front 3 against Everton. With the oldest of them being 23, it can be argued that none of these players have even yet reached their peak and yet they have scored more goals between them than almost half the teams in the league this season! With Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva playing just behind them, this attacking quintuplet will cause problems for any team and should probably be the focal point of this team going forward over the next few years. If they can keep Aguero then that will be fantastic for them as he is such an experienced and natural goal scorer that these players can learn off even if he is not playing so many minutes going forward. If not, bringing in a player like Riyad Mahrez would push all the front 3 to be at their best, though I feel they would be better suited to bringing in a striker with a bit more physicality and height to give them a Plan B if the usual beautiful attacking play doesn’t work.


Mixed day for Mané

Sadio Mané may have got Liverpool’s first goal against Crystal Palace but he had mixed fortunes in this match. As well as having a first half goal disallowed for offside, he was also booked for simulation following a challenge from Andros Townsend. While the replays clearly show Townsend making contact with Mané, the Senegalese winger’s fall to the floor was not only delayed but also highly theatrical. Going by the ban earlier in the season for Oumar Niasse when he “exaggerated the effect of a normal contact to deceive the referee”, then this is clearly a dive and I can see no defence for Mané. It’s just a shame that the referee punishing him for the dive means that eh will not receive a ban for his actions.

In the second half, he was lucky to stay on the pitch as he tussled on the edge of his box with a couple of Crystal Palace players, ended up on the floor and – with all the arrogance of a striker at a top-table club against a lesser raked team – reached out and grabbed the ball with his hand even though the ref was allowing play to continue. This denied Crystal Palace a chance in the final third so I have no idea how the referee has not given him a second yellow here. It was clear that Jürgen Klopp knew Sané had got lucky as he subbed him off within minutes of the incident. I can’t help but wonder how the match would have finished had Sané received the card he deserved.

While on the subject of cards not being given, there are very few things I hate more than players waving imaginary cards at referees as Yohan Cabaye did following Sané’s handball. There is no need for it and professional players should be setting a better example. Unfortunately, respect to referees generally seems low on FIFA or the FA’s agenda, so the Frenchman is sure to get away with this.


Round 33 predictions:

Everton v Liverpool – Liverpool win

AFC Bournemouth v Crystal Palace – Palace win

Brighton & Hove Albion v Huddersfield Town – Brighton win

Leicester City v Newcastle United – Leicester win

Stoke City v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Watford v Burnley – Draw

West Bromwich Albion v Swansea City – Swansea win

Manchester City v Manchester United – City win

Arsenal v Southampton – Arsenal win

Chelsea v West Ham – Chelsea win